Friday, January 31, 2014

Astronaut Air and Popsicles

Henry had a tonsillectomy on Wednesday.

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I think he's over the worst of it finally, tonight. But there has been a lot of barfing. A lot. And some crying.

Mostly his.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

You know, whatever else.

Anyway.

Yesterday's existential, laundry-related angst is purged. Let's talk about some of the ways I've been spending my time lately. Cool? Cool.

Once again, I am a slow, slow runner.

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I mean, that pic doesn't even prove run in the active sense of the verb. Well, that last one was a run. But my body, moving through space, you guys! With the breathing, and the heart pumping and all that. It can't be not good, even when the seniors on the treadmills next to me are matching my pace. Fitness.

WHAT I'M SAYING IS, I'LL GET BETTER. I hope to just be moderately slow again soon so I can run some more slow races.

Hey, we have a new nephew.

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Watching the kids do the whole I want to hold him but I'm scared to hold him thing completely melts my heart. (Don't worry, we stayed close to Henry, especially.)

Speaking of Henry, one of my favorite activities lately is trying to interpret his iMessages. The kid has an iPod, and has found emoji, so most of what he sends are riddle-like chains of drawings. I'll get texts like: pig, cow, up arrow, turtle, chicken. Mom, do you get it?

Usually I do not get it. But it cracks me up trying to figure it out. And sometimes it doesn't mean anything, he just likes how it looks. Respect.

This past weekend he started sending pictures.

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Right. Of course you are. (I like that you can see our blue ceiling in his pics, too.)

Also fun: Sending him the "did you do your homework?" face from a remote location.

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In the category of WHAT?!: Did you know you can make ice cream in your blender? Because: Hello. That happened.

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Yes to books with pages. But also yes to this:

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Yes forever.

And THANK YOU SWEET BABY JESUS, E is done doing whatever it was that he has been doing on his old car for the last few months that made this noise:


ALL THE TIME WITH THAT NOISE. Because that has been playing nights and weekends 'round here, and YIKES. Not the best writing environment. Not the best being environment. Just yikes.

Two final details:

1. I've decided that carrying my space heater around with me at work is the way to go. Then, even if I have to leave my classroom, I take my own warm.

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2. Car is the new office.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Floating

I couldn't get out of bed on Monday.

I wasn't sick. I had cramps most of the weekend--the kind that remind me I keep putting off a decision about a hysterectomy or endometrial ablation--but by Monday, the pain had abated. Nope, Monday I just couldn't get my ass out of bed.

Was I tired? I guess. I mean, not really as a primary symptom of anything. I was tired in that way you're tired to cover up other shit you don't want to deal with. Was I anxious? That's more accurate. When I get frozen like that, it's usually the crazies. I woke up on Monday with my nervous system amped, and I just thought, Here we go, okay. I had the feeling that precedes a panic attack. The feeling that just tells me it's only a matter of time. I hunkered down and finished the first season of Masters of Sex. Hoped that if I just let it be there, it wouldn't get bigger. It might go away?

Nope.

By lunch I was stuck. Worse. By lunch I'd let the to-do list in my head build to the point where I didn't think I could begin to touch it. I had the heavy legs and cold pinkies and sinking weight in my chest that comes with the I just can't feeling. I dragged myself into the tub, I soaked. But immediately after that, I rolled myself right back to my flannel cocoon. Back to avoidance and back to sleep for the entire day.

When I woke up the second (or third? time), I found myself thinking about that questionnaire I have to fill out when I visit my anxiety doc. How many days in the last week did you find yourself unable to complete basic tasks? Busted. Here I was: unable. With the not completing things.

Anxiety is such a dumb surprise every time. I think I'm fine, I'll be having a good week, I'm managing my endless list of things, and then I'll be in bed because I feel unequal to any task, even things like eating and getting in the shower. And I'm overwhelmed and cold, and I hide. It's never a conscious building for me, but always a this-already-happened-so-I-better-figure-out-why scenario. Always, anxiety forces me into dissection of my feelings, a cutting open of the form I walked around in all week so I can pull out the dark thing inside.

On Monday it took me three tries to explain to E. The first two attempts at "I've got the crazies" came out sounding like "I can't get myself moving" -- more of the I'm feeling lazy variety, the variety that wants to be reasoned with or motivated away. Unfortunately the former is completely unresponsive to things like rational explanation or encouragement. I'm not good when I'm in that mode. I can't hear helpful. I can't be coached out of that bad guy-less fear, even by myself. But by Monday night we sorted through it: a list of things I'd been avoiding verbalizing or really letting myself feel. And just like always, by saying things out loud, they all got better.

The "what" of it isn't significant, really, but this all relates to a larger feeling I'm having. Something that, I think is probably as much responsible for my anxiety as my not taking the time to deal with two or three very specific things that were bugging me last week.

I feel like I'm floating.

No, not like that. I'm not actually floating. Nor is this like the time the crazy lady at the Mt. Shasta spa told me she could talk to whales, then gave me a massage and left me naked and alone in the treatment room for ten minutes so I could "float." I'm floating, a bit, because I don't know what kind of person I'm supposed to be right now. I'm doing things without focus.

Am I a good mom?
Am I going to all those baseball games and swim meets?
Am I a full time teacher?
Am I a writer?
Am I reviewing books?
Am I reading all the books in the world?
Am I the kind of person who runs?
Am I cooking dinner every night?
Am I managing the laundry?
Am I able to be a good wife about the "project car" in the garage?
Am I the sort of person who picks up after herself?
Am I actually responding to all those emails?
Am I writing letters?
Am I a person who naps?

Seriously, what kind of person am I?

It occurred to me as I was driving home today that I have bitten off so much, right now, that not only can I not chew it, I can't even bear to have it all in front of me. Things that should be enjoyable--napping, spending time painting nails with my daughter, cooking, reading, running, watching TV--these all make me feel guilty, like I should be doing something else. And even when one of these things (reading, writing, sleep) is linked to a job or, you know, my general well-being, the guilt is still there. Because maybe--maybe!--I should be doing something else, instead.

I've spent about three weeks floating. I spend an hour in my car reading, here, an hour at the gym, there. I come home and start the laundry, cook dinner, put things away, answer emails, write some, feel guilty about not spending time with somebody or another, feel like I inadvertently pissed someone else off. I am moving from dawn to dusk. My concentration is terrible. I collapse into a heap at night. I enjoy nothing.

Is it easier for me to do something when I have to? When it's required of me for school? I actually think it is. Or at least, I think it is easier to portion out the time, to feel like there's a reason for it. And to brush it off, to justify it with that kind of complainy I have to do this because my professor told me to, shrug. But for the last few weeks--notably, those since the quarter has started and I have not been in the safety of the MFA pond--I've been scheduling myself within an inch of my life and carrying around my own guilt. I've been scolding myself for every minute spent off task. Even minutes spent off task doing other tasks. (Because guilt is a way of proving you're responsible, right? HSP is sooo damn responsible.)

Yuck. I know.

I can't live a life like this. I'm giving myself nightmares. I know it is going to take me a while to find it--to find myself--but I'm struggling a bit while I find myself, post MFA. I'm different, and I know this is part of whatever moving forward looks like. This is human growth.

I'm still walking a tightrope at work, trying to figure out what (if anything) is the right amount of responsibility for me to carry in the years ahead. And I'm trying to maintain a writing schedule without the pressure or deadlines of school. On the one hand, the writing workload has been basically the same. Which is good.

On the other hand, I need to calm the frick down.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Wednesday/Tuesday

Wednesday I watched the forgotten carrot under Gram's bed rather than stare at her while she slept. The slice of carrot. It wasn't whole. Probably a stray piece from a soup, or maybe they serve them soft like that at the care facility. On one side it flattened into the beige flecked tile where the hospital bed tray had rolled over it.

She was sleeping. Maybe. There's a lot I don't know. Most information I have is filtered through texts and conversations that work down generational lines until it gets to the grandchildren. As with her diagnosis, sleep seemed complicated. Nebulous. She talked. Moved. Grabbed at her sheets, slid her legs around, lifted her eyebrows.

Every once in a while, she'd startle herself awake and talk to me, but I don't think she knew who I was.

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"See that camellia bush outside?"

I saw a plant. I wasn't sure it was a camellia. "I do, Gram."

"It's not blooming now, but when it did it was so beautiful."

"Tell me what color it was."

"It was so pretty. That's the official flower of Sacramento, you know."

"It is? I never knew that." It's funny what sticks in the mind.

"The kids had to learn all those. I never did."

Back to sleep. Back to moving. My eyes went to the carrot, not wanting to intrude. Sleep is so intimate. But I didn't want to leave. At this point I don't know how long she has. How much time I have left in the room with her. Again, my eyes traced the streak of squished orange across the tile. She brought her hands to the buttons on her blue muumuu. Her mouth. Mumbled. I felt like an eavesdropper on her unfiltered words. Every once in a while, I'd catch the name of her niece, her brother in law, her dog.

They don't call it the convalescent home anymore. Just care.

*    *    *

Henry spent Tuesday night in my bed. Or rather, on my pillow, stomach, side, and face. I got up to pee for two minutes and he rearranged himself exactly into the top third of my warm spot, and I had to roll his weight back so I could slide back under the covers. A rough day of fourth grade math and anxiety about his tonsillectomy had him so worked up that I brought him to bed with me to stop his worrying at about 10:00. Henry and I spent the night wrapped together like we did from birth to age four, when sleep eluded his little body and came only in fidgety, wild and emotional bouts of movement.

Eric took the couch, admitting to me and himself that our bed won't hold two 34 year olds and an 8 year old.

When he'd let me, I held Henry tight. I was worried about Gram.

Tuesday night I'd gotten got a call from my mom. Another trip from the care facility to the hospital meant another diagnosis that didn't look good for Gram, who wasn't conscious Tuesday night. By 10:00 I was breathing into Henry's hair, trying to ground myself with tangible family.

*    *    *

Before Gram's latest trip to the hospital, her room in the care facility looked more like it was her room. By Wednesday it was bare again. There wasn't much to look at besides the carrot. The din of nurses and patients in the hallway carried in. I stared out the door and tried to picture the mauve and gray-blue decor in their heyday. I couldn't.

What do you say to somebody who is going to die?

Truthfully, I never really knew what to say to someone who was going to be born. I didn't talk to my belly when I was pregnant, other than to joke around. My inexperience with death means I haven't had to do this a lot yet. I have as much guilt about that as sadness. Wednesday I sat in the chair and considered the carrot and thought about whether or not there was something I should say to someone if today might be the last time.

When Gram was talking, I went with it. I talked about her green balloon, the nurses, anything that would catch her fancy. But then she was asleep again, kicking through her memories. I couldn't talk at her.

I tried praying, then staring. Neither felt right.

I just kept being.

*    *    *

Tuesday night, Henry's anxious body relaxed in a manner of minutes. I could feel him soften next to me as I finished watching TV. Eventually he was breathing rhythmically and clutching Green and Puppy under the flannel sheets, our cocoon allowing him to finally give in to sleep.

*    *    *

Wednesday, Gram eventually woke up. When the nurse came to bring her medicine, I got about a half hour of good conversation with her, and by then my sister had joined us. We talked about work, the kids, the staff at the facility. She called me by name, and by the time I left I knew that when I said "I love you," she knew it was me and she understood it.

Gram's gift to me was in something she mumbled as she started herself awake for just a moment in the afternoon, though. After the camellia. Somewhere in that hour that I sat and looked at the carrot smudge, wondering what to do with myself. 

One of my favorite memories with her is of my whole family gathered for a dinner or some holiday, recounting how when they were young, they were all jumping to touch the ceiling, and they dared Grandma to do it. My memory is of them all reenacting Gram's swinging arm jump, and of Gram herself laughing and retelling the story as everyone mimicked the back and forth of her arms.

When she startled awake, she looked across the room at the closet.

"They should paint that whole ceiling that color."

"Yeah?"

"There's no way in the world I'd ever be able to touch it, though."


Monday, January 06, 2014

Where The Junk Isn't

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Yesterday I finally found five stamps I'd lost, and I'm not joking when I say I feel really good about it. That's a whole $2.30.

Besides stamps, though, I found a few other things. Like the floor in my bedroom and closet, the quilt on my bed, the top of my nightstand. These had been, previously, stacked with the detritus of a crazy December, my still-unpacked suitcase full of shoes from Palm Springs, and the mountain of clean laundry that needed sorting, folding, and hanging up. We've been Christmasing around this mess, closing the door on our shame and hoping I'd find time for it before I went back to school. Well, I did, but only at the very last minute and only because I was so bummed about going back to work that I spent the whole day in sweatpants, watching The Good Wife.

Hey, you know how I know I'm getting old? I stash Chapstick and hand cream everywhere. When I start jamming Kleenex up my sleeves, we'll know I've made the full transformation into my grandma.

I'm back at school today, but also (hopefully) making a stop by the post office to turn in my passport application. Making good on my resolution to get going this year, by first doing the thing I am most afraid of in the world. The thing I avoid like the plague. No, not travel. Not other people.

Paperwork.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Back to Small Life

This week rocked. This week felt normal. This week I wasn't obligated to anyone. This week I just got to be Mom. No finishing grades or finishing theses or driving to Palm Springs running around to six Christmases. Just being home, shopping for things we needed, checking in with kiddos, cooking meals. Lots of sitting on the couch. Lots of sleep. Lots of Downton Abbey with E. A day of shopping with Addie. Two days at the doctor with Henry. Cats. Dog.

Desserts.

Rest.

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Friday, January 03, 2014

Five Years and a Day

January 2, 2009, five years and one day ago, I went to blogger.com and started to write. For the second time. I tried it in 2008, but I'd failed at blogging while my marriage failed, too. I was writing smiles and positivity while my marriage was unbearable. By January of 2009, I was living alone. I only had the kids during the week, and on the weekends they were with E. My weekends were long, quiet, and sad. I was trying to figure out how to live by myself for the first time in my adult life. But for the first time, ever, I was writing honestly.

In 2009 I was also coming to terms with another loss. I'd quit dance for the second time in my life. While I'd packed away bags full of dirty pointe shoes in 2001 just as I got a teaching credential, quitting Contemporary dance in 2008 was much more painful. I'd discovered Contemporary later in life (late 20s is late in life for a dancer), and found a company accepting of older dancers with day jobs, families, husbands. Having to admit to myself that even so, I couldn't maintain a schedule of 8PM-11PM weeknight rehearsals and all day Sunday training meant accepting that I had to close the chapter on dance, fully. Giving it up didn't just mean giving up those hours. It meant accepting a different body shape and level of fitness. It meant losing the freedom of artistic expression, and the chance to be physically close to other people. But the hardest thing about it was that it meant changing my definition of myself. From age four to almost thirty, I'd been Heather, the dancer.

It makes sense that I spent the next five years writing almost daily. I couldn't not train. I couldn't not express myself. I was used to putting on my leotard when I didn't want to, dragging myself to the studio and pushing through the stiffness of the first four or five barre exercises. Because I knew how good it felt when I got to fly across the floor with abandon. It didn't happen in every class, but even the chance that I might get to go a grande allegro or improv that day made me try, and put up with the hurt and the grief of training. Even if I couldn't be the dancer, I was chasing that artistic high.

IMG_9873 - Version 2My life is different now. In many ways, it's circled back to the picture of what I wanted my family to be in 2009, but wasn't able to force. Whenever I talk to people about our marital separation, I say that it needed to happen. We couldn't have met at fifteen, married at twenty one and stayed together. And we're not the vision of what I imagined. We're not the story that I had in my head. I'm still glad we got married. And glad we married again, difficulties and all. I think I'm just difficult. Probably, we both are.

Around my writer friends, sometimes I'm embarrassed to admit how new I am to writing. Or that I became a writer with a blog. (A blog! How pedestrian. How self-publishy.) Five years doesn't seem like much, when I'm with people who've been working for newspapers or in film. And many of them have been writing since they were tots. This post from my friend JA got me thinking. Was I a writer as a kid? I'm not sure.

41065_1596652434738_6805986_nIt will surprise nobody that as a child, I did ask for a file cabinet for about three Christmases, straight. (I didn't get one, to my great disappointment. Oh, the things I would have filed...) But I'm not sure I was the writer. I was, as I said, the dancer. Always. I was the crazy, crazy reader. And the collector of words, sure. One who wrote letters. One who loved writing the essays and linking together ideas. One who wrote letters and journals and loved organizing concepts. I wrote a few stories. But they didn't have dragons. Or fairies. Or time traveling cyborgs. The were painfully ordinary. As, I suppose, my stories are now.

I don't think I have to know if this matters that I didn't come out of the womb, quill pen in hand, but thinking about this the last few days has led me to this conclusion: maybe in me, the muse was split. Or maybe interpretation was my thing, channeled first through my body in dance and then through my hands in writing when my body could no longer leap. Maybe reading, music, connection to other humans: those are the constants.



Thursday, January 02, 2014

Goal Setting for 2014: Part II

Finishing up what I started...

IV. Goals for Your Children

1. What are ways you’d like each of your children to grow in the following areas?

a. Physically:

Addie has found some real joy in competitive swimming. In 2014 I'd like to encourage her to continue with this. I think it will really help her in so many aspects of her life to be a part of our local swim team. Henry loves baseball. If we can just be supportive, encouraging parents to both of them (and I say this, knowing I am in no way a sports mom), that would be a pretty good year.

b. Emotionally:

I'd like to see Addie take a little bit more responsibility for her own assignments. She's better about this, but every once in a while, we still have an uh oh, I have a huge project due tomorrow freak out night. I'd like to see her try to learn some time management skills.

We're working on confidence with Henry. To anyone who knows him, this probably seems like an unusual goal for him. He's happy all the time and seems well-adjusted. But he's doing this thing lately where he will ask us a question about something he has to do--say, eat dinner, or feed the dog, or get dressed for school--and then when we answer him, he'll ask the same thing three more times just to make sure. I'd like to see him feel a little more confident that he knows what he's doing. We've been working on it.

c. Relationally:

They're both (currently) doing okay. The hardest thing for me as a parent--after potty training them, which was ridiculously difficult and frustrating--is to watch them navigate the difficulties of social circles. It's so hard to know that your kids will get hurt and that you have to let them make their own choices so they can grow up to be normal, well-adjusted adults. But there you go. So right now they're doing third grade and sixth grade, and those grades come with their challeges. In 2014 Addie will also start junior high. I just hope we can be her soft, comforting place to land at home.

d. Spiritually:

The older the kids get, the more they notice the world around us. And they're good at asking about it. I think the best goal I can have is to try to be a model for them of the values that are important to us as a family. I can be honest when they ask questions, and I can gently guide them toward being kind people.

e. Educationally:

A really specific goal I have as it relates to their learning is to try to help them find more things to read for pleasure so we can strike a better balance of reading for fun instead of reading because they have to. They do it either way, but I'd like it to be something they don't see as a chore.

f. Other:

This is the same goal I had here last year, but I think it was a good one so I'll say it again. I want to try to continue to show both kids that I trust them. There's a lot of pressure from the world at large to shelter kids--and while I think there are plenty of things that I need to protect them from, I think there are also lots of opportunities to let them show me that they can be trusted. In the last year I was really pleased when I gave them a little bit of freedom. I hope to create opportunities for them in 2014 as well.

2. How will your children be educated this year? What are some resources you’d like to explore to help your children develop intellectually and academically?

They will be at the same wonderful school they've been at since Addie was in kindergarten. This is her last year there, and in the fall she will move to the same junior high that Eric and I attended. Henry has a few more years there. We can continue to support them as they navigate the difficulties of the upper grades, and I think the best thing we can do is make sure we know what's going on with them at school. The kids I see who are in trouble at the high school often have parents who have been assuming for a long time that everything was getting done.

3. What are your children’s strengths? How will you help them use these well?

Addie is incredibly kind. When teachers talk about her, they're always mentioning how she helps kids in class who don't understand, and how good she is with kids who might not fit in. She's so good with younger cousins, her brother, and animals. I want to make sure I encourage this sensitivity, but sometimes she ends up feeling like she gets taken advantage of. I want to give her the tools she needs to express how she's feeling. I don't want her to always feel like she has to assume the role of caretaker because she's good at it.

Henry is great at putting things together, but often doesn't get enough hands-on time. There are so many digital distractions in our house, and so many ways for him to put that skill to use in a virtual world. But really, he enjoys sitting down with a tub of Legos, too. I want to encourage tactile expression of that strength. He has such a math mind, and he is such a builder like his dad. I want to give him opportunities to make things and to figure out how they go.

4. What are your children’s weaknesses? How will you help them overcome these?

Addie holds on to things that are difficult until she ends up in tears. Obviously, getting her to talk to me before things are in crisis mode is the way to go. Henry has an incredibly guilty conscience. He confesses things to me all the time--which is, I think a strength because of how it enables us to work through whatever it is that's eating away at him. But I want to give him more assurance that he doesn't have to feel bad about himself, even when he makes mistakes. We all do.

V. Money Matters

1. What is one specific area of progress you’d like to see this year in your financial health?

I'm very happy with the saving that we started to do as a couple last year. We were finally able to make some decisions to make us feel a little bit more secure, and I'd like to be able to continue them. Not rocket science. Just saving for things we want to do in the future, and paying down debt.

2. How is your current income? In what ways can you make this increase?

Current income is good. Just got better, thanks to the units from my MFA. But besides that, I can pursue my freelance work. It's not really about the money that brings in, though. It just makes me happy.

3. How much debt do you have? In what ways can you eliminate a sizable portion of it (or all of it) this year?

A lot of debt. Like, a mountain of debt. All of it for education. We can keep payin' it down, man. Just keep payin' it down.

4. How is your savings account? In what ways can you save more money this year?

We have one now. I feel like this is the most grown up thing about me. And last year instead of spending all of my "spending" money each month, I started dumping that in a savings account, too. Funny how it starts to add up. Guess Dad was right.

5. What are some of your long-term financial goals? In what ways can you make progress on them this year?

Now that we're both out of school after six years, we just need to pay for what we borrowed. Plain and simple.

6. Are you giving regularly? If not, in what way can you give financially this year?

Not regularly, unless you count the hundreds of dollars I spend on my classroom each year. And after a particularly difficult year trying to teach within the confines of some strict supply laws in California (we can't require kids to bring pencil and paper anymore), I've given a few times to other teachers' projects on donorschoose.org. It feels more important than ever to give to education.

7. What is your plan this month for starting progress towards better financial health?

Keep on keepin' on.

VI. Relationships Outside the Home

1. In what specific way would you like to grow in relating to your friends this year?

I'm in transition with friends, right now. Not with any of the actual friends, but a bit with the geography. I know that change tends to sort things out, and that change makes me feel a little uneasy. Things coming to an end with my MFA program means that I won't be making the trek down to Palm Springs quite as often. And yet I'm left with this group of amazing friends, some who I've become closer to than I ever thought I would, but many who live far away. This year is certainly going to be different. Not bad, just different. And my goal is to be deliberate in strengthening relationships--both those with people far away and those who are close to me--that strengthen me.

2. What are some ways you can be of service to your immediate community?

My goal is to look for ways to be a part of the literary community in Sacramento. There has to be one. I need to find it. Join it.

3. Who are some specific people in your life that can use some encouragement? What will you do to encourage them this year?

I felt the most guilty in the last quarter of my MFA program when I couldn't see the people in my family who were hospitalized or sick. At least, not as often as I felt like I should have. I know I'm still going to be busy, but I want to try as hard as I can to be there for them in 2014.

4. Who are some people in your life that you admire? What are some practical ways you can positively use their influence in your life?

The people I'm admiring right now are the writers who are writing: getting the words down on the page every day. I want to bring dedication and excitement about words to my life. To make space for it. To play and be creative, to sit and be quiet. To read great things that other people write. All of it.

5. Are there any damaging relationships in your life? What will you do this year to make these relationships better?

Hmm. Yes. As ever, I hate ending with this question. So negative! I think the relationships that drained me the most in 2013 were the ones that were so predictably predictable. Like, there is a reason that some people always act the same way. We all do, right? We do what works for us, and what gets us the attention we crave. I know I'm guilty of it too. But sometimes playing in to someone else's need means you're (read: I am) giving up too much self. That's not okay. In 2014 I hope I'm better at setting boundaries, at not being that person myself who complains all the time without taking steps to improve the situation.

...

And in light of this "one little word" idea for resolutions, I present you with my one-word resolution for 2014 (2011 was peace, 2012 was imagine2013 was love), my one word resolution for 2014 is:

go

First, I want a word that reflects the fact that I just had a commencement, a start of something. I want to actively pursue the writing opportunities that are before me, and to create new opportunities for myself that are outside of my comfort zone. I also want to go out into the world and see more of it. 2014 will be a year of action.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Goal Setting for 2014: Part I

Happy New Year! Goal-setting time.

Writing things down actually makes me more successful at doing them. I know. Wow, Captain Obvious. So, once again I'm using these questions to focus my goal setting. Since I started taking the time to respond to them, I've been pretty amazed at how much they have led to more intention in each year. You can read my previous years' posts here: 2011, 2012, & 2013.



I. Personal Growth

1. What healthy character traits would you like to see developed in your life this year? What are some specific steps you can take to develop these?

Last year I wanted to be more focused when I sat down to write or to do a task, and to be more assertive about asking people for what I want. I think I accomplished the first one, and I got better at the second. This year I want especially to build on that second trait. Instead of just asserting myself, I want to work on being bold enough to assert myself even if I know I'm going to face opposition. I got better last year at asking for what I wanted, but only so far as I knew I wouldn't get too much flak for it. I talk a big game about doing what I want, but I'm a former good girl at heart who still likes to think people are pleased with me. I want to try to let some of that go. Sometimes in negotiations I will ask for what I want, get shut down, and then give up. I don't want to do that anymore. I think it's keeping me from moving forward a bit. I'm not saying I need to change my personality, but I think that trusting myself and accepting my own perspective a little more could be a good thing. I want to continue to work on my assertiveness, and on making decisions that are right for me even when they're not going to be popular with others.

Another trait I'd like to develop--or continue to develop--is to continue to work on scheduling writing into my post-MFA life in a way that will help me to be successful doing it. Yes, scheduling. I can't do anything unless I plan for it. If I leave it to chance I'll just pick the couch and I'll never write again. And I know from training for (running) races and such that the only way I'm successful at maintaining any kind of regular schedule for something is if I find a way to integrate it into my life and routine so it feels natural. If it feels arbitrary or it doesn't work with my natural rhythms and what my mind and body want to do, I'll give it up immediately. I want more than anything to be a writer, to actually write. But that only happens if I make space for it in my daily routine. That takes planning and sitting down to do it every day. I want to be consistent in preparing so I can be consistent at doing it.

2. What is your plan for maintaining accountability for progressing in personal growth?

The first one is something I'll always be working on. Accountability is hard with that one, because there's no test. No check-in. But I know that the act of writing it down here will make me think of it; I will probably end up talking to E about it, too. Fortunately the second goal is much easier to track. I have my handy Google Calendar tab running in the background of every browser window I ever have open. It's also going on my phone. And I've got my lists and charts and my whole system of paper to-dos. I'm happiest when there's a plan, when I know I only have to think five minutes into the future, because the calendar (or list) will remember for me. My accountability is my stability: that record.

3. What are some of your learning goals for this year?

This question makes me sad. No MFA program to give me automatic learning and a safe nest, anymore. My learning goal for the year is to seek out new opportunities for myself to learn. I'm not 100% sure what those are, yet. I think they might be some kind of writers' program or workshop, or maybe even just a focused time of writing and workshopping with my friends. I don't yet know. But finding out is a good goal. I do know enough to know that I need to continue to grow as a writer, and that the idea of doing so is exciting.



4. What books would you like to read this year?

ALL THE BOOKS.

I kid.

Well, almost. I want to read 52. Last year I read 50, so I don't think another 2 will kill me. A book a week seems like a decent thing to accomplish in one's life.

As for a few titles:

Life After Life, Kate Atkinson
The Last Animal, Abby Geni
Percival Everett, Virgil Russell
A Guide to Being Born, Ramona Ausbel
Whitey Bulger, Kevin Cullen
Night Film, Marisha Pessl
More Than Conquerors, Megan Hustad
City of God, Sara Miles

And my big fat classic (goal) for 2014, probably summer: Middlemarch.

5. Do you enjoy your job or jobs (include being a stay-at-home mother, if this pertains to you)? If so, what are your favorite things about your work? If not, what are some ways you can change this?

Yes. I enjoy teaching. I love being a teacher. Many things about teaching are fabulous. Many things about teaching in California in 2014 are difficult to deal with on a personal level after only 12 years in the profession. I am not going to go into those here because I like having a job, but I will say that I love the kids. Love. And I love teaching writing and I love when a kid really gets it about a book or how to write an essay and to me that is magic. I will also say that I am happy that my new degree affords me some additional options (not instead of, in addition to teaching high school) and that I can start to look for other things to do that will feel (perhaps) a little more nourishing for my soul so that I can continue to be good to the kids in the classroom.

My favorite things about my work are the independence to teach the literature I want the way that I think is best as long as I'm teaching to the standards, and, obviously, the human interaction of my job. I also love the daily challenge of trying to meet the needs of all the souls that walk through my door with very little except my brain and some books. I like feeling like I can do some good with these kids before I send them out into the world, that I can teach them a little about kindness and that it's okay to grow up and be kind of awkward. As far as what I'd want to change--I'm at a point where I realize that the things that make me unhappy at work are about me, not work. It isn't fair to ask the institution to change or expect it to be something that it is not. That only results in me feeling hopeless. But what I can do is look for ways to nourish my soul outside of my work environment. I'm doing that, I think. And I will continue to do it.

II. Physical Health

1. What is one area of progress you’d like to see this year for maintaining or improving your physical health?

I'm less concerned with setting a physical goal, actually. I feel like I've been on-again, off-again with running and health. I hate having to start back to it all the time and feel guilty when I can't keep it up. I hope to have a lot of years left, and I don't want to be doing that until I die. And I say this even though I have it in my head that I'm going to start back at running next week. I'd like to do that because I feel good when I run. But I'm not setting a specific "I am going to do X" goal because I don't want to be in that cycle. I just want to eat things that are healthy that I like to eat and do things like walk and run and swim and bike and stretch that make me move around so I feel better. No specific goal, just spending time being a person in the world who feels good.

2. What are some tangible, daily choices you can add to your life that will improve your health?

Go to bed at a decent hour. Wake up early enough that I'm not rushed in the morning. Eat breakfast. Take a lunch to work. Be active and/or get outside. Cook dinner and eat at home.

These are not mysteries. I love my life when I do these things, too. If I can remember the pleasure I take in those simple routines and in things like sleeping and eating (probably two of my top five activities), I feel like I'd be feeling pretty great.

3. In what way would you like to be physically healthier by December of this year?

I'd like to be getting more sleep. That would be awesome. If people could look at me and go damn, she looks like she gets plenty of sleep, that one, 2014 would be the best year ever.

4. What is your plan this month for starting this progress towards a healthier you?

Early bedtimes!

Well, also I think I'm going to start walking on my breaks at school next week again. When I was doing that (pre-thesis, pre-2013 school year) it made me happy.



III. Marriage & Family Life

1. What are some goals you have as a couple to strengthen your marriage?

Hmm. Maybe a few I won't post here, but the one I will say here is to try to resolve some of the petty bickering that happens over who takes responsibility for what around the house. We seem to get stuck on small things like that, but small things can still make big problems. Hopefully we can get past some of that this year and just do things for each other to be nice, instead of trying to be so fixated on who does what. I'm hoping it will help that I'm out of school, too.

2. In what ways can you grow in intimacy with your spouse this year?

Geesh, I hate that word, intimacy. This question is awko taco. Passing on this one, as usual.

3. What are your plans for having regular date nights? How will you handle childcare?

Getting a sitter isn't really ever a problem. We have generous people in our lives who are more than willing. But with my thesis and finishing school we kind of let this go. I didn't really want to go out, either. I was too tired. I'm hopeful we can resume some time for just the two of us. It helps to get out of the house.

4. What plans will you make to have “family meetings” together? What books would you like to read together this year?

I'd like to be better at checking in with both kids daily. We talk to our kids a ton, but it's always on the fly. I used to have more of a routine of checking to see how they were doing on the way home from school. Since our routine has changed, there's less of a "trigger" to ask how they're doing. I'd like to build in time with each of them to connect after school. They are great at coming to us about anything--happy or sad--but I want to make sure we keep that connection strong as they get older.

5. What will deliberate, regular family time look like this year?

Eating healthy, homemade dinners together, watching movies together, traveling together, and reading together.

6. Do you have specific planned vacation time in mind for this year? What needs to happen to make this vacation a reality?

I do, but at this moment: only for me, not for the family. Yet. I'm hoping to finally get to do some travel in Europe this summer. I'm so excited, and I need to keep saving.

7. How is your current physical living space working for your family? Do you need to make changes to this? If so, what are they?

This is the third year in a row I'm going to complain about this: I don't have anywhere to write without distraction. All of the other things I didn't like about our house: the neighborhood--the unshaded western-facing back bedrooms--those have gotten resolved. The neighborhood has improved markedly in the past few years, and we have great neighbors with great kids. E built me a wonderful shade cover on the back patio, and we have a bunch more usable space than we did, in addition to a much cooler bedroom in the summer because of the shade. But I still don't have anywhere to write in my own house. We have three bedrooms, all full of people. When I want to write, like, really write and not be distracted or interrupted, I have to leave. I've done a few weekends away at the cabin and written for long stretches, but that's not a model I can maintain. I want to be able to write daily. My goal this year is to try harder to think of a solution. And by "solution," I don't mean earbuds and a card table in the bedroom.


...

These questions are long. I split this post into two, as usual. I'll be back tomorrow with the rest.

(And tomorrow makes five years of writing, here. What?)