Monday, June 30, 2014

Would I have resolve?

This weekend we watched 12 Years a Slave.  As intended, it was simply brutal to watch.

In typical 20th century fashion, I thought to myself a number of times, "How could this happen?  How could anyone allow this to happen?"

And then it struck me that despite my best intentions and beliefs in what I think I would do, I really don't know.  It made me ask myself how much injustice goes on in my own city that I do nothing about.  I tell myself that any injustice in my city, in my town, that may be going on isn't systemic, as clearly obvious as slavery was, but what if it is systemic, and I just don't know that it is?

How long did Nazi genocide go on before people outside the obvious knew it was happening?

When I even think about what I could do to make change, I pull back and think, "But I am so busy raising my children."  My own survival and that of my offspring is most important and necessary to me.  This is human nature.  

What struck me most about the film was how Solomon Northrup, as seen in the acting by Chiwetel Ejiofor, seemed to ask himself the exact same questions that I asked myself as a viewer.  How could he allow himself to watch this injustice happening without fighting it?  He saw it, he hated it, he was part of it, and he did what he had to do in order to ensure his own survival, which meant not doing anything obviously risky to fight slavery.  When he was hanging from a tree, and his fellow slaves went about their own business the entire day, it brought home that although they wanted to help him, they didn't.  Understandably they didn't, but also ultimately they didn't.

In the case of Patsey, Solomon had the chance to be merciful to her, and yet he couldn't do it.  Taking her out of the horrors of slavery would not be merciful to his own soul, and so he didn't.

I was struck by Edwin Epps' character as well.  As played by Michael Fassbender (one of my favorites), he was revolting and evil and horrible, and yet I could see his misgivings, his hatred of himself in rare moments for doing what he did to his slaves.  I could see how participating in such evil destroys one's soul.  I could also see a weird feeling of genuine care for his slaves.  He considered them his property, but at certain times I could see that he felt more for them than what he admitted to himself and them.

What makes this film fascinating to me is that in showing all slavery itself is 100% evil, it didn't show the slaves as 100% saints and the slaveholders as 100% sinners.  I think it did a remarkable job as showing all of them as complex, painfully human characters who had imperfect opportunities to make imperfect choices in a grossly imperfect world.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Summertime....and the living is....

just not as easy for me as I'd like.

I spend most of my time running along the seesaw, back and forth between these two trains of thought:
"Just let the kids enjoy themselves and quit fretting over how much time they spend dorking around on the computer/video games"
"So help me g*d I am going to light all the technology in this house ON FIRE if they don't find something else to do."

I've written about how I very much need the schedule of days dictated to me by school or work or children's naps, something....anything....outside of myself, otherwise I sort of bumble around.

These two weeks of summer have felt like this:

See, that is what happens to my sense of humor with too much unscheduled time.

I took the time to make a very detailed schedule for each child with 1/2 hour increments allotted for activities of their choosing.  If they wanted to do something for an hour, like play Legos, that is fine, but limits on screen time.  That lasted about 2 days before I realized that it is impossible to plan a schedule when my kids wake up at all different times of day....from 6:00 am to 9:30 am.   And mom cannot be expected to follow a schedule when she wakes at 6:00 am, but her coffee doesn't fully kick in until sometime around 8:30.  I can do many things, but coordinating 4 different schedules for 4 different people is out of my range of skills.

So then, I tried making a more general schedule, with the times of 10-12 being screen-free and 1-4 being screen-free.  But this system posed more questions and stress.  Like, we are sometimes out of the house from 9-11, so do the kids forfeit their one hour or do I add another hour and make screen time until 1?  And how does this affect lunch?  And if it rains all day, then having endless hours of no screens might be impossible (for me, I mean, because my kids aren't terribly good at entertaining themselves without pestering the heck out of me).

Two schedules, neither of which work very well, which has me sorta just wanting to throw up my hands and say "forget it."

And maybe that is what I should do....

Maybe I should just really lower my expectations of what I think my kids should do during summer?   I'm not a very good judge of whether my own expectations are realistic and actually achievable or so strenuous and pie-in-the-sky as to result in my hospitalization if I continue trying to push the impossible.

Would it be the end of the world to just stop fretting over this junk?  Would I then be able to be around my children in a state of semi-enjoyment rather than semi-anxiousness because I "should" be having them do other more productive things with their time?

Because right now I have thoughts like this:
"Last week I took the kids to 2 different parks for playtime and a botanical garden with friends and the pool once, but I really should have N and G select an author and have them compose a letter to said writer, and make them do a math skills website, and N should really work on learning a new song on piano."  Stew, stew, stew, stomach discomfort, blergity-blerg.

Or maybe I should just think thoughts like this:
"Hmmmm, this week I WANT to go blueberry picking and to the pool and get to the gym at least once.  And unless the kids tell me something specific they want to do, I'm going to just let them do whatever, provided it doesn't involve alcohol, knives and/or pedophile midgets."

It is like fundamentally changing my entire personality to think such things.
But perhaps I should try anyway?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Almost half my life

For some strange reason I've been feeling particularly thankful for my husband, which is a sure sign I have a brain tumor or something terribly amiss with my noodle.  It is really not in my nature to be lovey-dovey, especially publicly.  I am not one of those women who talks about "my man" or "my lover" or "my soulmate."  I don't like to throw-up inside my mouth that much.

However, June marks 19 years of togetherness for us, and I've been thinking on that a lot.  In November, we will be married 17 years.

I don't remember specific dates anymore.  It was sometime in June when we had our first date.  I think we became engaged on May 28 the following year, but I'm not sure.  So much of what I have thought I would never forget, I have forgotten.

We worked at the same dental insurance company when we met.  He was completing his masters degree, and I was wrapping up my bachelors.  Colleagues had been trying to get us together for awhile.  Despite D's extreme reserve and avoidance of social events, he went to have drinks with a bunch of coworkers on a Friday evening, where I proceeded to chat it up with a mutual colleague's husband (who was far more talkative than D).

Two days later, on a Sunday, D called me and asked to go for a walk at a park that afternoon.
After our walk, he asked me out for the following Friday.  I was mightily impressed with him giving me so many days notice.
On the Friday of our first date, we went to see the play "Angry Housewives," which I find quite funny now.

I have often said that there are two main reasons I hooked up with D.

First, he liked the movie "Orlando" with Tilda Swinton, which he told me on our first date.  I thought he must be pretty enlightened if he was commenting on this movie and not some beat-em-up, testosterone-laden guy movie.

The second reason is that he doesn't care one whit for sports.

Recently, I was reminded of another reason why, 19 years later, I am glad I hooked up with D.  I was reading a newspaper article about the Malaysian jetliner that disappeared and discussing it with him.  As our conversation was dwindling, he said, "I think Gru took it."  Days and days later, I am still chuckling about this.

Perhaps my re-reading of Jane Eyre is what has me thinking on my marriage and the nature of love.  Being with someone who, while not perfect, is well-suited to my nature.

Or maybe it is that it has been a month since I've had my weekly 6-hours-of-solitary-grown-up-time, so I'm clinging to things that are adult and not endless childhood babble, and D is the most readily available thing.

Whatever the reason, I'm thankful he's in my life.
And now I'm going to go cuss or something to get all this sentimentality out of my system.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The every-decade book

Some people reread their favorite books every year, but I do not.  As a general rule I feel about books the way I do about vacation destinations.  With all the wonderful places to see in the world (and books to read) why should I revisit the same place (or book) over and over, year after year?

People don't change much from year to year, but a lot of changes take place in a decade or in a series of decades.  In preparation for teaching in the fall I recently reread Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, a book I loathed the first time I read it.  Almost 30 years later, I found it to be much better and surprisingly, much funnier, the second time around.  It is no longer on my "Most Hated Books of All Time" list.  It has been 20 years since I read James Joyce's Ulysses, so perhaps in another ten I'll give that one another go.

There is one book that I have made a point to read every decade since I was 15-years-old:  Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre.  It remains one of my all-time favorites, but with every decade, I take something new from the book.  The one thing that remains is my abiding adoration of Mr. Rochester, although this time around I'm having a bit of trouble with him.

When I was 15, I disliked the book immensely when I began reading it.  It was so.slow.  But then I got to the orchard scene, which is Chapter 23 (or thereabouts depending on your edition), where Mr. Rochester declares his true feelings, and at that point I couldn't read the book fast enough.  I fell in complete love with Mr. Rochester and considered the book a great romance.

In my twenties, I still loved Rochester, but I read with my eye on Jane's independence.  Her feminism, her strength, her resolve.  As a young woman finding my own way in life, I looked at Jane through that lens.

In my thirties, as a mother, I looked at Jane's childhood differently, and I looked at both her and Rochester's treatment of/relationship with Adele.

And now, at 40, I am finding myself less forgiving of Rochester's lies to Jane.  For the first time, I have seen what he says and does as desperation rather than ardent proofs of love.  I think he does love her, but I also see his need for control and how that hurts her so profoundly.  I understand why he does it, and I don't necessarily blame him for doing it, especially since he had no other options, but I see him as kind of emotionally abusive to her, which makes her decision to leave him even more powerful and indicative of her strength.

I am very excited to teach this novel to my high schoolers in the fall, although I have to say it feels WAY weird to be teaching to kids just as I was taught nearly 30 years ago.  Full circle, indeed.