Archive for July, 2012

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Witness

July 31, 2012

I am a witness in a friend’s lawsuit. I won’t talk about the details, but she was badly injured and her attorney is trying to piece together the story of who she was before and after her injuries.

I don’t know if you’ve ever spent over an hour on the phone with someone grilling you about your best friend, but it’s exhausting. And I don’t think I can tell him quite the story he wants – or maybe even the story she wants. He, of course, would love it if I could tell him that when I first met her I knew she was the most brilliant mind I’d ever encountered, but while she was smart (we met in graduate school – we were all smart), her intelligence isn’t what made her stand out, at least in my mind. It was her confidence and her ability to bring people together and to create good conversations because she could make just about anyone feel interesting. Those things have both been – not lost, but greatly diminished, too. And whether or not she will be able to reclaim those parts of herself – that’s uncertain, and that’s a great sorrow.

And I know he is trying to help her, and apparently he is good at his job, but it’s fascinating to me, how problematic complicated truths are. And also fascinating is how important truth – in all its complexity – is to me. It is going to be hard for me to pretend things are simple when they’re not. Even for her.

And it occurs to me that this kind of witnessing, the coached, coaxed, carefully orchestrated kind, is a pale shadow of the real witnessing that we all want for our lives. N and I dropped Dot off at daycare this morning, and she went skipping away with her pigtails and her sunny little-girl face that just months ago was a baby face, and my heart swells with how much I love her and how lucky I am. With how I love the freckle on her temple that marks a perfect spot for kissing and how I love her sleepy hugs and her little stories and the way that she holds my face between her soft hands and then kisses my chin. With how I love even her temper and the way that she works so hard to put off bedtime every night. With how I love the smell of her and how lucky I am to be able to bury my nose in the back of her neck while she is sleeping and inhale baby soap and shampoo and faded sunscreen and that particular smell of her.

And then I hold N’s hand and think of how lucky I am to be able to watch him grow as a teacher and partner and father. How we’ve held each other up and have watched each other be strong and have watched each other fall apart. How I still love his collarbone and the strong, clean lines of his wrists, but how I now love his unfailing generosity and how hard he tries and how he can make me laugh even when things are grimmer than grim even more.

And then I think of my friend and how we cooked Thanksgiving dinner together (so many pies!), of how I watched her struggle through exams and coursework, through living apart from her husband for a semester so she could finish her coursework. I think of watching her with her dog and how well she’d trained him, of all of our talks about mystery plays and early modern drama and teaching and books. I think of her Halloween parties and how much she loved filling her home with people who enjoyed talking with each other. And I think of how hard she worked to make a home for herself and her husband, and of how they wanted children and of how hard it was to find out that they couldn’t have them. And I remember watching her struggle as her marriage fell apart, and then almost came back together, and then fell apart again. I watched her fighting to become someone she never thought she’d have to be, and I saw how writing helped with that – how happy and alive she felt when working at writing. I think of how witnessing her life has made me love her and how I’m lucky to know her.

I think of my Teddy, his kicks and wriggles – so very alive while he was inside me. I remember his beautiful stubborn face, obscured by tubes. I think of his hands and feet, more purple than they should have been as he lay on that cold blanket that the NICU used to try to prevent brain damage. I remember the weight of him – so very precious and warm, but still – in my arms. I wonder what he know of me and his father through the morphine and what I can only imagine as exhaustion. I remember his small last breaths and the feeling of the life leaving his body – such a momentous thing but so lightly done. Like a butterfly lifting itself off of a flower.

I think of how humbled I am to read the words of other babylost parents, to hear so many stories. So many important stories, all packed full of love and longing and howling and thorns and grace and revelation and despair and hope. I think of how grateful I am when someone reads my words and says, I hear you. I am listening.

Listening to the stories that are not simple. That may not play well in front of a jury. That contain contradictions and surprising strengths and weaknesses.

It takes a lot of love to be a good witness.

Thank you for being one of mine.

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Uff da

July 25, 2012

My dossier is turned in. Finished. Complete. I can make no changes and it is out of my hands.

Uff da, I say. It’s what my mother says when picking up or setting down something heavy. The oh-so-useful Scandinavian-American expression that expresses relief and/or weariness and/or a sense of being overwhelmed and/or a sense of dismay. And it’s appropriate because while there’s a relief that comes with being done, there’s some initial anxiety about letting it out of my control, too.  I am trying my best to stick with the knowledge that I gave it my best shot. And since I don’t hear anything back until March (I know, who dreamed up this nightmarish timeline?) I need to let it go.

I pulled quite a few of my supporting materials from my 3rd year review. My review from when I was a golden child and right on track. The review I wrote while stuck in an overheated office in January of 2008, only just aware that I was pregnant and so sleepy with first-trimester tiredness that I had to get up out of my chair every five minutes to stay awake to write. I remember feeling fiercely protective – I was going to write the best third-year review ever so that when I told people I was pregnant they wouldn’t worry about it affecting my work and I’d be able to provide for my child.

I can’t help but to contrast the then with the now. The now when I don’t write Teddy’s name or story on any of my context statements or in the narrative describing my work, even though he is there, hidden behind the words. Subtext. (And how lonely and sad and strange a thing, to tell one story while your heart writes another.) Comparing then and now, with the help of so much documentation, makes me feel pretty awful about the person I’ve become in some ways. I really do have less energy, less certainty about future projects. My plans have changed – they are smaller in scope. I am less trusting of the future and less willing to claim that I can shape it, which is what people like to hear.

On the other hand…

I am not yet done becoming. I am newly aware of some of my broken places, and some of those places weren’t in great shape before they were broken, you know? I don’t get credit for self-awareness, and perhaps no one should, really. But I think that it will help me become better in the long run. Maybe not better than the person I would have been, but – I am finding surprising strengths within myself all the time – maybe so. I am not going to judge myself that way anymore, in any case. It feels good to make that decision, even though I know it’s one I’ll have to re-make as self-doubts appear.

The other thing about a massive review and presentation of years of work is that it helped me realize how much I’ve done. I’ve done a lot, and a lot of that is really good. Many friends and allies came out of the woodwork to support me while I was putting it together, which I think bodes well, but (and much more importantly) made me feel a lot happier and more at peace with the whole process. They were there for me because I’ve been there for them, and because, in my years here, I’ve made my workplace better. Not everyone can say that. And that will be enough for me, no matter what happens.

It’s good to know that, too.

Anyway, on to August, and to becoming whoever I will be.

Uff da.

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Hysterical laughter in August’s shadow

July 5, 2012

August is going to own my ass this year, you guys.

In light of that, please forgive the run-on sentences and all of the places where I make no sense. This is not an artful post so much as, well, the blog version of a giant, hairy, manifestation of one hundred large anxieties.

My tenure dossier is due on July 23. Which happens to be the day after my birthday. And also, probably, the day before I drink myself into a state of utter oblivion while abandoning N and Dot to the mercy of each other. Well, not really, but I may be pouring myself a few gin and tonics, yes.

Tenure is supposed to be a given, really, if you’ve been doing your job. But for me, because I stopped the tenure clock twice but don’t have more publications than are required for someone who didn’t, it could go either way.  Because of this, I am a woman obsessed, bouncing between procrastination, manic writing spurts, manic pacing the building spurts, the need to review all my past work, the need to strategize how to best present myself and my work, the need to watch the Lizzie Bennet Diaries on YouTube (see above, procrastination), and the need to overcome petty practicalities such as how best to deal with the really frustrating requirement of turning everything I’ve done, including web work,  into a pdf so that my reviewers don’t have to click on links to anything.

I am finishing an article that was supposed to be co-authored but turns out to be authored by just me, which is frustrating when writing for your life, honestly, and I’m wondering if I need to include my (so far) non-writing co-authors as co-authors when I submit it or if there’s a politic way to say, “Could I just credit you in the acknowledgements instead?”

And then there’s the especially fun challenge of figuring out how the hell I write a context statement that contains the words “my first child died” without making it glaringly unprofessional but while still making sure that the, well, gravity of the event is clear so that there’s some sort of explanation for what I probably will describe as my years of decreased publication activity rather than as my years of brokenness.

And then there’s the usual work to be getting on with, as well.

I have colleagues who are rooting for me, who have offered to help with reviewing. I am grateful. And I’ve done good work here. I’ve given my best, insofar as it was mine to give. One of the painful things about examining the aftermath of Teddy’s death is realizing that, for a long time, I couldn’t give anyone my best. My best was replaced by numbness and survival. I don’t blame myself for that, but I can see how I could’ve done better. If I knew then what I do now, which of course I didn’t, then.

Part of what helps me is to remind myself that I’ve done good work, that I’ve learned a lot, come through a lot. That sometimes doing just that is amazing, even if it isn’t recognized by the outside world as such. That I am doing better work now than I was when I started out, and some of this is in spite of everything, and some of this is because of everything. A writer I love called my attention to the Dar Williams song, “You’re Aging Well,” and that song is where I go for validation and courage these days, even though it makes me all weepy. And I think it applies to all of us, this song, even when we feel weary and crone-like, or obsessed and hysterical.

All of my emotional energy is going to this thing. To propping myself up and getting through this looming, imminent thing that will profoundly shape my (and my family’s) future and to trying to shield N and Dot from my rocketing stress levels by preserving some fun and normalcy at home.

Which means…

I want a month to sandwich between July and August this year. A buffer month. A now-you-can-collapse month. I can see the shadow of August looming up at me, but I can’t prepare, can’t ponder, can’t deal with any of it until, well, until it’s here. This scares me into actual shuddering fits. I feel like I’m going to be fighting a dragon without my armor, without my horse, without my dragon-burn balm.

But it’s not like the armor, horse, and burn balm ever worked especially well, anyway. Maybe it won’t be as bad as I fear. Maybe it will be just the usual badness, only different, because year four will be different from years three, and two, and (thank goodness) one.

Remember me kindly, if the next thing you hear from me is essentially “eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

Not that this post isn’t, essentially, “eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”