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A professional stance

I don’t always have to be accommodating. I don’t ever have to make an exception. I know it’s that time of year. “You get tired. That is the nature of things.” I am tired.

Because of work, I am tired of the people. I feel defeated. I feel I have bent to breaking. Bent over backwards so often to smile, to help, to do anything other than scare someone off, and now I am worn. Weathered. Ready to detach and unplug and step away.

I am still learning how to find that delicate balance between giving and maintaining. Between trying and expending. Expiring.

I once had a supervisor review me with, “[she] has a gracious way of being an advisor who holds the student’s hand and holds each of them responsible at the same time.”

She meant it as a dig. She hated the way I worked with my advisees. She hated the way I tried to shelter them from what I could. How I held out my wing to them. I allow my empathy too much room in my work.

Students take advantage. The students I work with now seem to have plenty of empathy in their lives. They need someone to challenge them. They need tough love. Old habits die hard. I keep holding out a hand, just in case I get that student for whom the structures aren’t built. The student who rarely encounters empathy. That is where my mind goes. What if

But then I flip, unsure if I am teaching them anything. Unsure if I am modeling anything. Unsure if I am going anywhere. Unsure if anything, anything matters anymore. If anything is resonating. If anything is sticking.

Don’t fuck with me: you will learn something. Can that be an advising philosophy? A teaching statement?

 

 

Winter lights

I get cozy on the couch. Commit to write. Football has been on the tv all day. The sounds of winter.

The sky is a different color this time of year. At night I steal glances out the balcony door. A pinkish orange. An orangish yellow. A strange glow from the competing streetlights of the neighborhood. Pink in the dead of night. Gray in the morning.

It feels good to have winter again. The cold seeping into the edges of the room the fireplace cannot reach. The piercing blue of the sky without canopies of leaves to block the view. Heavy, hot food. Gloves and coffee. I never thought I would be a cold weather person. I realize now it was never the weather that made me feel bad. It was the shitty places I usually found myself when the cold hit.

My place now is so much better. We sit on the couch together on days like this–feet to hip. We ran 3 miles earlier. Bundled up against the cold without talking, each invested in our own podcast. You even granted my route request–to run to the library so I could pick up my books on hold. You even volunteered to carry the heavier book after I had already handed you the skinny book. We ran, each with a hardback in hand. How funny we would have looked, if we could have been seen. The streets were deserted. The air was sharp. My throat closed in and my lungs constricted. My body tried to resist, but I kept going. We crossed streets without a signal, against the traffic lights, cars nonexistent because of the home football game. What a place to live, where something as basic as sport clears the spaces.

I fell asleep on the floor, stretched out in front of the fireplace with the New Yorker on my lap. I feel a sense of gratitude unknown to me. I feel a strange sense of delight when I wake up in the morning and when I come home at night. A lot of my things will never go away. But they become less of a habit, they fade to the periphery. I feel like the depression is under control. I feel like my restlessness is understood. I know I could wander away at any time, but for once that is not what I’m planning. For once it doesn’t feel so necessary to have a plan.

Shhhh

Life is holding impossible, competing truths in your mind. Forever living with the idea of reconcile.

Does it feel impossible to be a quiet person in a loud world? To shrug off the eyes of others in a time when you are supposed to court being looked at, being seen?

Some days. I am grateful that I was rarely made to feel bad about my introversion. My parents forced quiet time and solitude upon me, when they desperately needed it themselves. I appreciate now that I’m out in the world, so often seeking quiet, that I did not learn to feel guilty about it. That I feel entitled to empty rooms and dark corners and still mornings in bed.

How at peace I am with peace.

A scary story

I’ve been reading IT for the first time in my life. I read in the evenings mostly, after work, or throughout the day on the weekend. Forcing myself to rearrange between chapters as I feel my neck and shoulders stiffen. The age of reading. I bought the book at Target, 20% off. How hilariously the book fits in my hands. It is short and squat. Fat. Over 1,000 pages in length. I finally feel I have made progress with only 300 pages or so to go. There still feels like so much story waiting for me.

I went to the theater alone and watched the movie. I told no one I was going. Asked no one along. Randomly picked a theater and a time on a day with heat that was too oppressive to do anything other than sit in a dark, cool room. I sat near the front because my visit was so impromptu I didn’t have my glasses. I put my feet up on the rail and suffered through the previews. Waiting. Waiting. I raised my eyebrows at a lady, older than me, who hustled up to the top of the seats with 4 children in tow. One of them a boy, probably no older than 12. I wasn’t convinced he would enjoy what was coming.

I don’t remember a time before IT existed. Imdb dates the miniseries at 1990, which makes sense. I would’ve been 3. I don’t remember a time before clowns scared me, before I was anxious around drains and grated holes in the ground. Seemed like every summer the miniseries would air on TV or on one of my dad’s many movie channels. And I would curl up on the air-conditioned soaked couch in the afternoon. Eager and nervous to pass the time with Pennywise the clown. I don’t remember the first time I saw it. Surely I watched it with a parent or an older cousin. Maybe at my Uncle John’s, where we watched all the horror movies for the first time. All of us feeling safe in a group with our aunts and uncles hovering at the periphery. Their rambunctious laughter reminding us of the safe world we lived in. A world without murderous clowns.

As a child who spent countless hours alone, I found IT to be especially terrifying, as a creature who preyed on not just single children, but independent children. Children who were not afraid to go play in a rainstorm or take a bath by themselves. Children who rode bikes around the neighborhood while their parents were at work. Those children were me, as I passed the Arizona July afternoons on the couch sitting by myself in front of the television.

My father owned the book IT. The book cover had been lost in some countless move. The book stared out at me from the bottom corner of the bookshelf. Gray and hard with the title loud and red on its spine: STEPHEN KING IT written in glossy red font, pretending to bleed down the edge. I picked it up once. The beginning seemed ordinary enough to me. But it was the length of the book with the sections and the chapters outlined so meticulously that convinced me there were too many horrors lying in wait. I had a vision of myself, my 11 year old self, unwilling or unable to finish the book because of all the gruesome details the story would entail. The miniseries alone had made it difficult for me to take showers in the empty apartment, to lock the door when I went to the bathroom, convinced that something was waiting for me, would start calling to me, from the drains. If I read the book, if I let that world inside of my head…then how would I escape? Would I ever? What would come for me then?

I didn’t like being alone as much as I was. I was often bored. I often tired of the silence of myself. But in my summers, the Arizona heat compelled me to stay inside. The thought of going to the pool alone seemed just as boring, if not more lonely, than staying on the couch. I would channel surf, time out my day, count the hours until my dad would come home and end the monotony. I would stay awake as late as I could to ensure a late sleep the next day, which meant fewer hours alone until dad came home. These memories of being alone are vivid to me, although the logical part of my brain reminds me that my brother was around somewhere. Always around. And there were other people, other siblings and cousins, who would often come around. And we would go to the mall or eat lunch or watch tv together. But my memory of that empty, cool, quiet apartment is not wrong.

Ultimately, that was the draw of IT every summer. Not the bloodthirsty shapeshifting clown. Not the feeling of dread and terror that welled up in my chest throughout and after watching it, alone in the shower or in the apartment. I like to scare myself, but not that much. No, what kept me coming back to that semi-melodramatic film every summer was the bond between the kids, first as monster fighters and later as sad adults obligated to face their pasts. I was drawn to a world where kids were not alone, not always. Where they had like-minded peers to spend part of their day with, every day. Where their fears were realized and affirmed. Where they found a place to hatch a plan to use their togetherness. Where friendship meant something. Where it meant adventures and jokes and stories that spanned time.

I sat in the theater as an adult and was reunited with those characters. I knew their backstories and knew what horrors (in some form) awaited them. I laughed with them. It was an odd sense of familiarity, of recognition. More than I was comfortable fully acknowledging. To have grown up with a horror story and to have identified so strongly with the make-believe and with the minds of the children. What did that mean?

So I read the book now. And that old, creepy dread has found me again. Alone in the house, I look up at every creak. I shower when the house is full and loud and bright. I have many vivid nightmares. I am reunited with a me I felt often on those summer afternoons. On edge. Alone. Imagining. But when I’m not reading I want to be. It consumes me. This desire to reconnect with another me. Another self with feelings that informed the infrastructure of the current self. To be an adult is everything King said it would be.

To fall away

I’ve been hiking every weekend. I haven’t taken a single picture of the river, the yellow leaves, evidence of early fall in the great north. I haven’t sat at any of the benches to remember the sun, only to let my feet rest.

I woke up this morning totally empty. Feeling completely erased. It happens like that sometimes: I sleep real deeply and I wake up feeling like no one. No memory of who I’m supposed to be or how I’m supposed to feel. It’s the closest to bliss I’ve ever experienced. But the feeling quickly fades, the second I’m awake enough to realize the blankness of my mind. It is only another second before I lose the sensation. Because it is the nature of the mind to create thoughts.

I have grown into the habit of moving forward, heading into whatever is next. Like today, my only concern at the park was to walk onto the new trail, to seek out the new sights I had yet to encounter. But I forget, as each new turn yields some new sight, that I will eventually have to turn round and head back. I forget to ration my energy and motivation to have what is necessary for the return. I have to map out the trail behind me as I walk forward, in order to keep looming in my mind how much of me I will need to double-back.

You can leave. You can go wherever your heart desires. But remember you will probably want to–need to–return. Do you have what you need to make it back? What does that require?

Meditation is this: Your mind can wander, as is its nature, but can you bring it back, back to the line you’re walking, the awareness of just being…of your self in the world: breathing and sitting and surrounded. Separate from your thoughts. Separate from everything. The trick for me is to return to everything. To reunite my mind with my thoughts. To come off the trail and retain the sense I gained there as I return to the rest of my life. To return myself to what I’ve been.