Wednesday, April 30, 2008
"At least that bowl won't be encrusted with dried on cereal cement when I go to do the dishes. Could it be that you've finally gotten a message from God about soaking your cereal bowls? Yes. Yes I think you have. "
"I disagree with your interpretation. I think this means that YOU should rinse out my bowls because this activity is clearly too dangerous for me and the baby in my delicate condition."
"You're very good at guilt, but I still don't understand how this happened."
"Pregnancy makes you clumsy."
"You're always kind of clumsy."
"Don't be mean."
"I meant that in the nicest way possible."
"Oh yeah? Well you're a jerk. I mean that in the nicest way possible."
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
My grandmother died two years ago today. With her went the recipes for the dinners that she served on these plates - spaghetti with meat sauce, pepper steak, chop suey - because she wouldn't teach anyone how to make these dishes. There were times when I tried to learn culinary skills from her, but those times always ended in angry exchanges because she couldn't relinquish control and I couldn't learn just by watching quietly. I had the annoying habit of needing to touch things, try things, maybe even make mistakes.
I know there were things about the way I needed to live my life that just terrified her. From the vantage point of a woman whose agoraphobia got worse with each passing year, the thought of her beloved granddaughter moving to strange cities, doing god knows what with god knows whom must have been a source of constant worry. She was always telling me to be careful and I always brushed her off because her opinions almost always seemed based on the latest inflamatory news story or some vague memory from her past. Our ideas of what pain was seemed horribly mismatched. To me it was being trapped in one place, observing life through the frame of a window or a television set. To her it was the heartache and loss that could come from trying something and failing horribly.
In the last face to face conversation I had with her about a year before she died, she told me that the reason that I was getting divorced was because God was punishing me for marrying an atheist. She didn't mean this to be a hurtful statement. Like most devout people, her religion was a source of making sense out of the universe. She was seeking an explanation as to why something so horrible could happen to someone whom, despite our differences of opinion, she always saw as having good judgment and great intelligence. She was seeking to help me regain control. If I would just follow the rules, then I could be safe from hurt and harm. In the end, I couldn't make it clear to her that even though the pain was tremendous from the dissolution of an eight-year relationship, I did not hope to try to avoid the future hurt that life held for me anymore than I hoped to avoid the future happiness that was just as inevitable. We could never quite connect even that one last time. I could not hold her to what I believed anymore than I could allow myself to be held to what she believed.
Two years ago, I let her go. When she died, the outcome of this argument that lasted most of my life, seemed less important than the struggle itself and how it helped me to form key parts of myself. Rather than hold a grudge, I want to encounter things that remind me of her with a fondness and a lightness that lets both of us be who we are with our strengths and our weaknesses.
Monday, April 21, 2008
April 15, 2008
Dear Friends at the Traffic Violations Bureau,
I had planned on contesting this ticket because at the time it was issued I was walking as fast as my six months pregnant body could carry and ended up returning approximately five minutes late to my meter. The officer that was issuing the ticket as I arrived at the car and saw my state indicated that there was nothing he could do to reverse his action. I am, however, enclosing a check for this ticket, because being now seven months pregnant I have even less will and energy to haul myself into downtown St. Paul, pay for parking, and contest this ticket in person. I hope that you are able to put the $30 to good use.
I would suggest, however, the following changes to the situation that led to this ticket:
1) Do something about parking around the capital. On the day I received the ticket, I was exercising my right as a citizen by meeting with my state representative. As a person with temporary mobility issues, I was forced to park at a meter with a short expiration time because walking great distances is challenging for me. The current lack of real parking solutions inhibits access to the government decision makers who are elected and serve at the pleasure of the citizens of the state of Minnesota. We should be able to easily connect with these public servants.
2) Please enable your officers to reverse tickets when faced with a legitimate reason for parking violation and/or allow people to contest tickets in some other manner besides a personal appearance. I understand that this will affect the revenue received from tickets, but honestly, you’ve probably spent my $30 on the administration of this ticket already.
Thank you for hearing my concerns.
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
It's no surprise that I recently dreamed about moving back to Chicago. I've been reading The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, in which the city is a character in the book. I've also been listening to Illinois by Sufjan Stevens, who channels that place through the music. Clearly, my hometown has been on my mind.
Unlike the places that I've chosen to live - Valparaiso, New York, and my beloved Twin Cities, I lack a sense of nostalgia for the city in which I was born. In recent years, I've come a little closer to appreciating the city, avoiding the south suburbs and focusing my visits in Oak Park with my friend Val and visiting my dad, who recently became a Hoosier, in his historic Pullman row house. Nevertheless, even when I am there with people I love, I can't shake the sinister undercurrent I feel from the city that never quite lets me relax. It would be easy to chalk it up to the bad memories from my childhood, and there is some basis to my negative feelings to be found there. I can also point to some emperical things, which I usually do when my fellow Minnesotans gush about how much they love Chicago. They see the culture and architecture of a "real city." I see snarling, ugly racism, corrupt machine politics, a relatively barren landscape, and the brutality of working class life (I can be fun at parties). However, these things don't really add up to the fact that Chicago just gives me a really bad vibe.
That vibe is present in Niffenegger's and Steven's work, which are achingly beautiful pieces of art that are dead on at capturing the complexities of the place they describe. I listen to Illinois for a few days each spring, around the anniversary of my grandmother's death because it helps me process the conflicted feelings about my origins. I was wrecked when my grandmother died and cried unconsolably even though I was so angry for the damage she inflicted upon me. I rejected her and Chicago in my adult life as much as one can reject one's own life's history and one's DNA. Without that city and without my family of origin, I float without substance like a ghost or a fictional character, but if I get too close to either I become a physical shell with a scared soul crouching small in the corner. So I need my dreams and I need the art that captures Chicago to reconcile these things in myself. Through an archetypal world, I am finally able to say, "I forgive you, Grandma, I forgive you, Chicago, but for my own good, I need to keep my distance."
Friday, April 4, 2008
This week the conversation around the lunch table at work focused on board games that we liked to play when we were younger. A unanimous favorite was Life. I know that the appeal for me as a little girl, besides the really cool spinning wheel, was the chance to dream about the possibilities that the future held for me. My satisfaction with the game boiled down to two things:
- Get a really great job (I never took the route that didn't include a college education)
- Have lots of children (As my friend April pointed out, the best game she ever played was the one where she needed a second car because she ran out of space for all the blue and pink plastic pegs she won)
Likewise, those two things represent probably the oldest dreams I've had for my life, even though when I was eight years old the details surrounding those two things were definitely fuzzy. My childhood was filled with more counter examples than role models. There were no illustrious careers or college educations among my parents. They all worked jobs, and the women in my family were clear that it was no picnic when they had to work to bring in extra money. In terms of children, there was just me and my sister - a disappointment that could never be made up for with the imaginary brothers and sisters I created for myself. So, I, like many unhappy children, decided that I would be different and I set off to do that with few guides beyond the game of Life, television, and juvenile fiction.
The lunch conversation brought something into sharp focus for me. On a basic level, I have managed to accomplish my childhood dreams. I could say I have done so in ways I never quite imagined, but then, I didn't have a very solid plan in the first place. Much of the dissatisfaction I feel now happens when I obsess on the details: my love/hate relationship with full time employment that pulls energy away from parenting and my creative endeavors, the fact that two of our kids can't live with us all the time, or the projects that I start and never finish. The truth remains, though, that I have a life that is at core really good, and that if I get frustrated enough with something, I have tremendous freedom to change things. This is the beauty of living by a rough outline.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
The truth is, there is no escaping this pain. Ultimately, Ellis's job is to grow away from me, and there will come a point when I am no longer the woman he loves the most, his best friend, the sun around which he orbits. Having a child is a lesson in impermanence. The baby Ellis does not exist anymore and the five-year-old will soon enough disappear to replaced by the next iteration of this unique person. The nature of my relationship with him is to move to smaller and smaller levels of intimacy starting from the point of once having inhabited the same body.
In some ways, I have an advantage through my arrangement of shared custody. I train a little bit in heartbreak every week on the days he doesn't live with me and the couple times a year that he is gone for a more extended period of time. I learn that although it hurts, I can carry grief in me and not be broken by it. I learn that my essential self, the part of me beyond the willing servant to this child's life, is still intact and has its own meaning and purpose. I learn that the energy that I have poured into him has not weakened me, but actually given me greater creative capacity that can be directed toward endeavors of my choosing. Each of these moments without him holds both loss and potential. Like life can hold all things - like I can hold all things.