Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thankful for a blessed curse

I am not talking about my menstrual cycle.

That is an annoyance and one that will, eventually, go away.  It is not a lifetime sentence.

But being an empathetic person is different.  It is both a gift and a curse.  I cannot imagine being any other way, and yet I often wish I could shrug it off as easily as a coat.

My best friend, K, and I used to have discussions in college about our tendency to overthink, which I now suspect is our shared tendency to both overthink and over feel.  It is exhausting.

I have said for many years that I catch people's emotions like a hooker catches the clap.  Having three children isn't easy for someone who has this tendency.  It's is like dodging emotional bullets all the time.  It feels like I have a harder time than many shaking emotions off.  (Of course, I don't know this for sure since I only have the misfortune of being inside my own head and not every other person's head.)

I suspect this is why I can't lose myself in movies and television the way other people can.  Seeing people emote on television is inviting more psychological bullets into my life for me to try to avoid.

One thing I wonder is whether my empathy spawns my anxiety or whether my anxiety spawns my empathy?  Perhaps they aren't related at all?  I don't know.  But I know for certain that fear is an emotion it takes weeks and weeks for me to work through.  I watched the films Melancholia and On the Beach (remake of 2000), and I still am not over them.

Reading is different for some reason.....maybe because it is imaginary and not in-my-face like television or real life.

As much as I hate being empathetic because of the emotional discomfort it causes me, it is also something I consider a gift.  Maybe I'm off my rocker about this, but I almost feel like people can sense it about me.  Kids, especially.  Maybe I am more obviously vulnerable than what I think I am.

I think my honesty is part of it.  I say what others think and are too uncomfortable to say themselves.  Is this empathy or stupidity?  Maybe both.

Every year around Thanksgiving, I try to think about all the things for which I am grateful, and there are many.  Most of them are things I didn't earn.  A family of origin that loved me and taught me responsibility and the value of learning.  A brain that works quickly and makes weird and wonderful connections.  A body that is mostly healthy with all appendages working up to this point.  A husband who values many of the same things I value and three healthy children to whom I am trying to instill those same values.

I despise sentimentality so it is in looking at my life that I acknowledge the burden of these things, too.  The brain that works quickly is also the brain that worries and has caused me pain with its over-empathizing.  The relationships that are well worth it but also, at times, the cause of much worry and anger and frustration.  The mostly healthy body that also currently has laryngitis and nighttime coughing fits that are interrupting my sleep.

These are not overwhelming burdens.  They can barely be considered burdens in the grand continuum of burdens, really.

But in my empathizing heart today, I am with those who have lost mothers and fathers and siblings and children, with those who fear what may come politically, with those whose financial burdens seem insurmountable, with those whose lives are chaotic, with those who learn frustratingly slowly, with those whose emotions they cannot control, with those who lack friendship.

My empathy forces some of the joy out of my personal thankfulness---the darkness and the light combined. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A different goal for 2017

In 2016, I set a goal to read 45 books.

I didn't really think this through, but I figured that since I had read 44 books in 2015, I could probably add one more without too much trouble.

The problem with setting goals is that then you feel compelled to meet your goals.  And depending on what is going on in your life, meeting said goals can feel, or actually be, impossible.  And even if it isn't impossible, knowing that you have a goal to meet and a deadline can make you feel a little stressed.  

I don't really like feeling stressed as it concerns reading since reading is my escape and relaxation.  

These are the books I have read in 2016:

A Man Called Ove
Out of My Mind
The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Ordinary Grace
The Things They Carried
The Girl on the Train
As I Lay Dying
Good Masters, Sweet Ladies
A Single Shard
Julie of the Wolves
Long Day's Journey Into Night
So We Read On
Modern Romance
All the Light We Cannot See
We Were Liars
When Breath Becomes Air
Their Eyes Were Watching God  (a reread in order to teach)
Stone Fox
Slaughterhouse Five
The Double Bind
The Light Between the Oceans
The Mysterious Benedict Society
When You Reach Me
The Hunger Games
And Then There Were None
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night
Catching Fire
The Little Prince
The Family Fang
Gathering Blue
The Doll Bones
The History of Love
Beowulf (Seamus Heaney version)
Light in August
The Outsiders
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Life Drawing
We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Gertrude and Claudius
Fortunately, the Milk
The Speckled Band
A Case of Identity

I just started The Shack and will finish that up before the end of the year.  

Even though I beat my goal, I think I've decided that next year I'm going to have a different strategy.  Rather than quantity, I'm going to focus on selecting some quality books that I've never read.  I did a bit of this in 2016 with Faulkner.  I had never read him and knew that I should probably forfeit my English degree as a result.  There are other authors I know I should read but whom I haven't yet, such as Dostoyevsky.  Some authors I have read, but I haven't read their magnum opus; Les Miserables (Hugo) and War and Peace (Tolstoy) are examples.

The first of these "quality books" for 2017 is Moby Dick.  Brave New World or Alas, Babylon might make the list, too. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

I'm still not back to normal

Let me preface this post by saying I am not suicidal.  I have no plans to kill myself.

But I admit I have been thinking a lot about not existing anymore.  I have felt very overwhelmed, and there is something that comforts me in knowing that at some point, I will be free from consciousness.  I do not remember my life before my birth, and I expect death will be similar.  There will come a point when none of this will matter.

It really makes me look at the whole scrapbooking thing as a bit of a time-waster.

(My kids might care about my scrapbooks a little, but their kids won't, and their kids won't.  It will all eventually be garbage.  I admit this is not a hopeful outlook on life, but that is how my brain works.)

I am still angrier than I should be, perhaps.  I think what I am most angry about now is that I feel like I can't trust media outlets for news.  Am I reading real news or fake news?  Should I do my due diligence and read 26 other news articles to corroborate the news that I just read?

I feel a lot like I did when I had gestational diabetes and every single bite of food I put in my mouth was analyzed and scrutinized and very much not enjoyed.  That feels a lot like trying to be a responsible person who keeps up with world events right now.

I have lurked a bit on Facebook, and posted a couple things via Instagram, but I find it a little troubling how quickly everyone went from election elation/agony to posting photos of dinners.  Of course, at the same time, whenever someone I know does post something political, I feel my chest tighten up because I'm wondering about the validity of information in the post and what lens they are viewing things from and what source they got the info from and whether they skew left or right or whatever.

Suffice it to say, social media right now is not my friend.

Substitute teaching would be a good distraction if it wasn't so damned depressing at times.  I am often subbing with kids whose lives are chaotic and the stuff of which nightmares are made.  Kids who have been getting their education in the midst of being in a treatment facility for depression or other more difficult and complicated psychological issues.  Kids who flee their homes in the middle of the night because a parent comes in and starts whooping up on them.

I have been submerged in my little middle-class cocoon for many years and forgotten.  I guess it has been good for me to be around middle schoolers who don't read as well as my first grader.  It makes me thankful for my own life and determined to make whatever positive difference I can make in their lives.

But it is not much....that difference.  And that is when I take a deep breath, think about my future freedom from consciousness, feel a wash of comfort at my trivial place in this world, feel a wash of sadness at my trivial place in this world, and continue (somehow) plugging along.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

If Macbeth came to Jesus

A big part of teaching is theft.  You see someone else's good idea, and you swipe it to use with your students.

That seems like a really bad way to begin a post about Macbeth coming to Jesus.

I guess I should qualify this statement by saying I thieve things that are free online.

The point, though, is that sometimes, in the interest of not spending every second of my life creating questions from scratch for my students, I use questions that other people have been kind enough to write and share.

When we studied Macbeth, one of those questions was about Banquo, and it was kind of a loaded question.  The question was:  To what extent does Banquo deserve the death that befell him?

On the one hand, you might say that Banquo sensed that Macbeth was acting weird about the witches and felt pretty sure he had killed Duncan.  Given this, he didn't get the heck out of dodge and away from Macbeth.  Rather, he told Macbeth, "Why, yes, I'm going riding alone in the dark woods with my son, whom the witches have said will be the progenitor of a long line of kings, while you, Macbeth, will remain forever childless and won't be king for long."  This seems a little like "blaming the victim," but it also seems a little like, "use your good common sense to avoid psychotic tyrants."

On the other hand, does anyone ever deserve death?  (Another potentially loaded question, there.)

A prospective parent sat in on this particular class and made a comment about the bible, which is appropriate since this is a Christian cottage school class.  It got me thinking.

So the next week, I asked the students what would happen to the story if Macbeth accepted Jesus as his savior and became a better, nicer, less murderous human being.  One of my students said, "It would make the story suck!  I would be disappointed because it was like, 'That's it?'"

That isn't to say that coming to Jesus makes everything in one's life easy or perfect, but it does provide a cleansing of the soul (as does any religious conversion, I imagine), and one of the greatest dilemmas for Macbeth is his increased understanding that he is on a path to his soul's condemnation.  He understands that he is at a place where to turn back to good is as long of a journey as just moving forward into full-gone evil.

I admit I was sorta happy that my student offered his comment on Macbeth's conversion because this was my thought as well.  Macbeth is a tragedy and what makes him tragic is that he could make different choices and doesn't.  If he repented, I'm not sure what we would call it, but it wouldn't be a tragedy.

Macbeth's pathos stems from the fact that he doesn't repent--he keeps plugging forward even as his world crumbles at his feet.  He is a lost soul.  What is interesting to me, as a teacher, is asking my students to use their Christian world-view to dissect Macbeth's character.  Asking them about his motivations (not that they excuse his behavior, but perhaps they help explain his behavior).  Asking them to consider what choices they see being made in our modern world and how those align with Macbeth's grasp for power.  What are the dangers in ambition?  What codes of honor (against kin, king, and guest) do we see being violated in real life?  How, as moral people, do we reconcile forgiveness with the horrors that Macbeth enacts?

To say, "Because Jesus" and be done with the struggle in Macbeth is simplistic.

As readers, we have polar opposite wishes for Macbeth:  we want him to keep making terrible choices because that makes the story better, but we also wish that he would do differently.  We both know that it is a story and lose our selves enough in it to feel like it is real life.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

I'm angry, too

As a kid, I often felt sad.  Not chronically sad, but sad enough.  Maybe more sad than other kids.  I felt like my heart was so easily broken.  I was just a sensitive kid.

At some point in my life, and I'm not sure exactly when, I determined that sadness felt weak.  I was tired of feeling sad and tired of feeling easily heart-broken.  I determined that anger was better.

Anger didn't seem to last as long as sadness...although I have reservations about this sentiment now.

So over the years, I became quite adept at feeling angry.  I trained myself very well since anger is still my go-to emotion.

I rarely cry, but I frequently rage.

If someone hurts my feelings, I get angry.
If I am frustrated, I become angry.
If I am uncomfortable or tired, I very easily swing into anger.

I have this sign hanging in my kitchen:

When G and I were in therapy to try to manage his temper tantrums, our therapist wrote these down for him.  Considering my own issues with anger, I felt it was probably good to keep it up for the both of us.

It isn't easy to talk about anger.  People don't know what to do with anger.  Even if someone is not directing it at you, it feels like they are angry at you.  And when someone feels like anger is directed at them, they go into fight mode, which results in greater anger on both sides.

Tonight at dinner, we were talking about how D is the type of person who shuts completely down when confronted with anger, while I'm the type of person who would engage in an angry battle.  It didn't take very long after our marriage for me to realize that getting angry and blowing up wasn't the way to get anything accomplished with D.  In some ways, this blog has been a communication tool for us.  I write and try very hard to work my feelings into some thoughtful shape.  He reads and is able to see what I'm thinking and where I may be coming from without feeling attacked.

I saw this the other day, courtesy of The Gottman Institute, and realized that this is what half the electorate is feeling.  Anger masking all kinds of other emotions.  Anger was felt by a different group of people in 2008 when Obama was elected president.  What was motivating their anger? Was it the same thing that is motivating people now to feel angry?

For me, personally, even though I know that people had a variety of reasons for voting for DT, I have found myself watching people.  I am looking at them as if I could bore a hole into their souls.   The people in line in front of me at the grocery store.....are they xenophobic or racist?  Are they anti-Semites?  What is in their hearts?

It is hard enough to manage my grocery shopping without fretting about the intentions of my fellow cart-pushers and whether they would do harm to others.

I have never felt this way....this wondering what people are really feeling.  I know people hold darkness in their hearts...we all do in some small way... but I never felt like it was pulsing right under the surface, ready to bubble up, potentially ready to blow.

Now I worry that it is.

And I'm angry about it, too.  

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The dream, The Chosen, and the reality

Yesterday morning, the day after the election,  I awoke from a bad dream at 5:30 am.  I don't remember too much about the dream.  There was one part where I was watching men landscape the grounds at my sons' school.  I'm not sure if I was happy about this or angry in the dream (in reality I would be very, very happy since I'm usually the one doing the landscaping at my sons' school) because from what I can remember the dream soon switched to me throwing a full-on temper tantrum.  I even picked up M and threw him at someone (no small feat, considering he's over 50 lbs and 4'2.")

I woke up startled and moody as a result, and I felt that the dream was a foreboding.  I don't think I'm a modern day Cassandra since it didn't take a rocket scientist on election night at 10 pm to see where things were headed.  I look at the campaign as one gigantic temper tantrum, so perhaps my unconscious mind was just playing it out for me.

My day yesterday was uneven.   I felt out of sorts, a bit uncertain that reality was jiving with me.  Unpleasant dreams can do that.  So can unpleasant campaigns and elections.

I heard an interview yesterday in which a Republican discussed her confusion about whether to vote for Trump in the general election.  She voted for him and when asked how she felt now that he had been elected she said, "Terrified."  I'm not sure how I feel about people voting for a person that instills them with terror once elected (since that was an obvious possibility of running in an election). However, I must admit that my own feelings had Clinton been elected might have been a decided, "I feel uncertain." (This would mostly be because I suspect unhappy Trump supporters would be behaving exactly as unhappy Clinton supporters are now.)

Back to the temper tantrum theme again.

On election day, because I couldn't tolerate too much social media, I opted to complete my annotating of Chaim Potok's The Chosen.  I had read it before, but I will be teaching it to my high schoolers in the spring, and that requires more careful study and consideration.

It was a balm to me to reread this story---the story of two boys, both Jews, but decidely different types of Jews, with decidedly different interests and academic strengths, with decidedly different home lives and relationships with their fathers.  And despite these differences, there is friendship between them, even in the midst of angry words and lashing out at each other because they are a safe haven in which to lash out.

This is a book that made me cry the first time I read it---if the final chapter doesn't tear at your heart, you might not actually have one.  It is a book in which love and suffering and compassion are deeply entertwined.

This is not a book of feel-goodness, of platitudes and optimism and "we love each other; we're all the same" like what I see as I check-in but am not currently participating in social media.  I put little store in platitudes.  If you know me at all, you know I am not a "love you to the moon and back" person.

What I do put store in is meaning....depth....development and change as a result of discomfort and pain and suffering.  I put store in my own experience that whatever I've gotten too easily I have forgotten or not valued as I should have.  What has changed me the most has been difficult and has pushed me to the far corners of my comfort zone.

What I put store in is my firm belief in the Golden Rule, and that regardless of how anyone else lives their lives, I can live no other way than to treat others the way I want to be treated, even if on the inside I am vexed and uncomfortable and apprehensive and uncertain and all the things that I am right now.  Even if I feel like yelling at people and being downright nasty because I am overwhelmed with said vexation and discomfort and apprehension and uncertainty.

I feel quite certain that no matter who won this election, I would be feeling these things but for entirely different reasons.

It made me happy to have spent my day gaining perspective from literature.
It made me happy to be here last night, with my Girl Scout troop, doing community service by hanging out with children whose parents are learning English as their second language.
It made me happy to see their faces light up when I used my very limited Spanish to try to make them feel welcome.

It was a day of living a meaningful life and living the Golden Rule and modeling both of these things to others.

Not a bad ending to a day that began with a nightmare.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Something else I enjoyed doing more that I still enjoy but don't do as often


For years, blogging was a lifeline for me.  A way to stay sane.  A way to vent all of my frustrations and catalog my life in a way that made it feel more meaningful.  I mean it was meaningful, but staying at home with one's children is an isolation unlike any other.

Didn't I just blog about how I like being socially isolated----why, yes I did.

But there is a difference in choosing to be socially isolated when I have the option and ability to be (which is now) versus the isolation imposed on a person when she stays at home with her baby and has to put her baby's needs above her own.  And even though I am socially isolated in terms of entertaining or "hanging out,"  I am not socially isolated in that I am around people all the time by teaching and subbing.  And I have three children now who often max out my sociability by the time 9:05 am rolls around.  That sits in stark contrast to first-time mom with a newborn who is in her house all the time after being a professional working gal for a decade.

I still enjoy blogging, but I often find it difficult to find things I want to write about.

There are topics about which I've thought of blogging----

*like about how I wonder if I did things as a childless teacher that the parents of my students felt like ringing my neck for because my assignments and their due dates probably didn't take into account how freaking difficult it is to manage homework for children in the midst of fixing dinner and getting baths and doing activities.  I don't remember, but I ask myself if I ever gave assignments over long weekends when families probably just wanted to do nothing and not have the hassle of a long-term assignment.

*like about how when I sub at the high school for kids with emotional problems, I see myself in them, especially now when I can fly off the handle and rage for seemingly unimportant reasons (mostly PMS-related).  But I see the combination of my OCD/GAD and my hormones and what they make me feel inside and how they make me lash out at times.  I see this in those kids.  I worry that G will be the same.  I think that it is probably a bonafide miracle that I am not an abusive parent.

I used to regularly do NaBloPoMo, but now to blog every day would feel like a chore rather than a lifeline.

And yet, to not blog, to give it up completely, would leave me empty.

I'm working on this balancing act.  

Things I did that I enjoyed even though I don't normally enjoy them

Sometimes I wonder if I spent the early years of motherhood in an invasion of the body snatcher-type scenario since I volunteered to coordinate class parties and be a room mom, and I enjoyed it.

When N began preschool, I eagerly went to planning meetings and parties.  I took photos at every party.  I even dressed up for parties to be festive.  Same for G, although with decreased enthusiasm.  By the time M was in his second year of preschool, when parties were on Fridays, I was working at the cottage school and wasn't able to attend them except for the one in December.  And I didn't entirely mind.

For awhile, I hesitantly told teachers that if they were absolutely desperate I would be room mom (or preferably, share room-mom duty), but if someone else wanted to do it, I was happy, thrilled, ecstatic to let them have at it.  I am not, nor have I ever been, a room mom who aspires to Pinterest-greatness.  I have far too much party-related crap in my house to want to be the person who gives kids party-related crap to take to their own homes.  I think this is one of the reasons I'm more suited to middle school---give 'em pizza and let them listen to music or watch a movie.

This school year, for the first time, I didn't even put my name on the lists as even possibly being interested in helping with parties or being room mom.  I'm happy to buy icing and stickers and send them in, as well as attend the party if I'm able, but I don't want the responsibility for the party or the room decorating or the door decorating or the anything entertaining/festivity-related.

I am not a person who enjoys entertaining.  I never rarely invite people to my home.  I invite my brother, my parents, my MIL, and my SIL to the kids' birthday parties, and I host bookclub one time a year.

I don't just invite friends over for brunch or a party.  D and I don't invite couples over for dinner.  Maybe once every other year we meet another couple for dinner at a restaurant.  That's it.  I cannot imagine ever traveling with another couple on a trip.

I enjoy visiting with one friend at a time.  I enjoy going to bookclub but especially when there are only about 5 people in attendance, when we can have one single conversation that stays on track and doesn't end up being 2-3 separate conversations around the room.

For someone who likes to discuss things with other people, I really hate socializing.  If you are one of the five people on the planet (my mom included) whom I meet with for coffee or to take a walk or something....well, you are pretty damned special.

Anyway, the point of this whole thread is how I enjoyed doing things that I don't, when other opportunities abound (like teaching or writing), enjoy doing.  I'm not sure what to think about this....I ask myself, "Was I faking?"  I don't think so....I did really enjoy doing these things, and I wanted to do these things.  But my preference, especially after I've done them for years and years, is to do something else that I naturally enjoy (and it helps if I'm getting paid to do those other things).