Sunday, April 17, 2016

At the End of the Limb

 While this illustration might more often relate to starting an adventure without thinking about where it takes you, or how it ends -- something akin to painting yourself into a corner -- it also relates to aging.  Getting old, being old.  For who thinks of arthrities when we are nine years old and eating cotton candy at the church fair? Lately I'm glimpsing the place where the cartoon character Lio finds himself: near the end with someone else holding the end of the pen, with that invisible hand writing where I'll go from here.

I have felt for some time like I just can't get my sea legs in my life and I'm missing that feeling of being on top of things, in control of the fates -- although the way everything is hyper-analyzed to death these days, the argument could be made that I never have been in control of anything that happened.  But I felt in control.  Or maybe that's the older me looking back at the younger me.  Surely couldn't have been the nights I was up with a child who had an earache and I desperately wanted sleep but couldn't lay them down, even after dosing them up with pain meds.  Or it couldn't have been when I was in the Divorce Tilt-A-Whirl, as I let go of the center and careened around the track in nauseating spirals.  The rational, older me knows that the feeling like I was in control was an illusion, but the side of me that wants to feel better about things just knows at some point I was master of my ship.

I mentioned to my 87-year-old mother that I was old and almost before I finished the statement, she retorted that "You're not old!" But the problem is, if I'm not old, what am I?  I don't feel 40.  Or 17.  Or even 55. And the government would give me money if I asked them for it, proving that I must be old enough.   Her genial insistence that I wasn't old left me frustrated with nowhere to be, unable to find my place, to figure out my tasks and why aches are a part of my day, and forgetting a part of the mental landscape. I can't figure it out, can't seem to get a rhythm going.

My father is ninety and when I think about feeling this disoriented for another three decades, I feel worse than ever.  Some time ago the fiction I tell myself was that I was sailing on through life, feeling pretty good about things, then it was cancer, then surgeries, the body failing me in too many ways, but nothing so serious that would warrant sympathies on Facebook or a headline in the news.  Just garden-variety, life-and-energy-sapping, getting old sorts of ways.  The fact that I am surrounded by friends and loved ones enduring sad news, deaths, cancer, divorce, infidelity and illness doesn't help much.

For now I see the endings sometimes almost before the beginnings, and internalize the struggles before the fight has even been defined.  At my age, every step onto that sawed off trunk now carries with it the ink pen of the ending.  It could be the beginning of another delightful experience, or an abstruse journey of near falls, scrapes and injury along with a requisite sprinkling of good cheer.


Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Birthday Cheer

There was an earthquake of 4.5 a few miles from us, shaking us awake.

Google wished me Happy Birthday.

Dave found me a great dance scene mash-up to one of my favorite songs. We had fun trying to identify the people, and are probably the only ones who got the bit from the movie Rabbi Jacob.  We were also happy to see Napoleon Dynamite represented not once, but twice.

I was this old when my grandmother (my father's mother) was my age and I thought she was ancient.
(I'm the shortest girl.)

Happy to have made it another year!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

General Lost Freshness

(Picture taken in 1979)
Years of 1978
Youth is an army ... on a considerably reluctant march into the
enemy's country, the country of the general lost freshness.

                                                                —HENRY JAMES

In that mysterious country, time ran backward—
or we ran forward and everything lay in our slipstream.
The only swamps were rice paddies far south.
The year heavy-footed it across fallow fields
toward peacocks that screamed all night.
Your great-grandfather had gone to the plains
from some hellhole in Europe, life savings
stitched to his pocket when he boarded the cars west.
Falling asleep east of Chicago, he woke penniless.
What we lost, we lost by increments—
not beauty, perhaps, just being young.
What might almost have been innocence.

William Logan
Tin House, Volume 17, Number 1 Fall 2015
from Poetry Daily

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Lost Summer

 The morning after this summer's surgery to rearrange my clockworks, a tray was brought for breakfast with an enormous domed lid, which when lifted, revealed a solitary 2" pancake and a container of syrup.  It was actually perfect, even though it looks rather pitiful on the plate.

Contrast that with this sandwich two days later on cranberry walnut bread, topped with a ripe tomato from our garden, two lean slices of ham.  This was perfect, and I had it every day for lunch for a week.

The stay in the hospital was confusing, painful after the spinal block wore off, and incredibly noisy, thanks to the woman in the next bed who always had 17 of her closet relatives visiting her at any one time.  Okay, maybe it was only five, but in a room really built to hold one bed comfortably, it was a squeeze.  I was in Surgery Limbo/Bonzo Brain Land, a haze that persisted for weeks even after arriving home. 

For the first week home, I coughed (pain pain pain) when I talked for more than five minutes.  I couldn't pull up the blanket in the middle of the night.  I ate applesauce at 3 a.m. in the bathroom so I could take my meds in the middle of the night.  I slept more than I was awake, or at least it felt that way.  I watched more TV than I normally do.  I missed my quilting.  I felt isolated, amazed/surprised at "friends" who never sent notes, or even called, to see how I was doing.  I was intensely grateful for those who called nearly every day for quick conversations,  just to gauge by my voice how I was doing.  My husband kept everything going, including too many doctor appointments when I developed some complications.

This week is the fifth week post-op, and I have reclaimed much of my life.  I can get in and out of bed, clothes, the car, and most chairs although I still avoid our squishy sofa.  I can put a meal on the table, but am infinitely glad when my saintly husband does the dishes.  I can do most of the laundry after the basket is brought down to the laundry toom, but when the bending over gets to be too much, he takes over.  I can now read a book, a concentrated task unimaginable even two weeks ago.  I have driven the car -- twice -- and am down to one short nap a day.  My husband takes me out once a day just so the storms of tears and boredom don't overwhelm our calm existence.

But it's a lost summer, to me.  The run-up was emotionally draining (worry worry worry).  We're incredibly glad they didn't find any cancer, although I still have another scan for the spots in the lung, the little bits of anomaly which led to this whole experience.  I knew it was to be a major surgery, but was probably unprepared for how large a space this would carve in my life. 

While I'm still not seeing complete popsicles in my way (still a few more weeks of recovery), a lot of the obstacles have been dealt with.  After a lost summer, I'm hoping that fall will bring a re-engagement with my life.

Monday, July 06, 2015

More Summer Visitors

Matthew and his family stopped by, and we loved having them visit.  We were able to squeeze in a visit to Chad and his family, where Chad and Kristen hosted us at a pool party at their home, Peter and Megan came up from their home, and Dave got a nice Father's Day gift from Peter and Chad: a tune-up on his bike.  Here are the photos:

(I tried to get Brooke to give me her mermaid, but she took it home.)
Come again, everyone!!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Visitors from Arizona

We had some visitors this past weekend, from their new home in Arizona.  They stayed overnight en route to a little family vacation in Southern California.
 Maddy enjoyed picking flowers from our yard.
 Just before they hopped in the car, they all paused for a photo.
Have fun in Disneyland!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Last Call for the Wrong Mailbox

On my last day of teaching, I received this email:

I have received mail with your name on it and our record shows you don’t have a mailbox here at CHC. You are able to pick up your mail from me; I’m available Monday through Friday from 8am to 4pm in LADM 167 Facilities Use Office. If you are unable to pick up your mail and would like it mailed to you, please pervert a mail address.

I received this after I'd given my final, met with each student and gave them back their final research paper (worth 25% of their grade and even at that hefty percentage only one student failed completely), when I was sitting in my car trying to decide how to feel about the end of this semester.

Unfortunately, I couldn't "pervert" her a mail address right then because the office was closed, but called this morning and we straightened things out (seems they given my mailbox to another person, ignoring the fact of the original assignment and the label with my name on it, or that an actual person already HAD that mailbox).

 Before that, I stood at the top of what is known at the Aztec Stairs, a long flight of stairs that leads to the Admin Building, where I teach.  The VP of Students, who I have met several times, was coming up the stairs; I waited to say good-bye and we chatted.  Even though I had introduced myself to him yet again as recently as two weeks ago, I realized he had no idea who I was, nor did he ask once.  I decided not to make excuses for him this time.

Before that, when I was addressing my class, I thanked them for their work and in our chit-chatting, asked if there was anything that they could point to as a take-away from this class.  They fell silent.  I know they were trying to think of something, but they were in Finals Week, they were tired, it was the last day, blah blah blah, but still.  Silence.

And before all that,  I'd written to my sister that morning, in response to an article she sent me an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, where an adjunct professor detailed the reasons why he was leaving off teaching in a classroom (he's still doing online teaching).  I'm thinking about not coming back myself, and although this decision feels a bit squishy at this point, I enumerated the reasons to her for leaving, acknowledging first that the incredibly low rate of pay can be a factor:

"But for me, it was also the complete "invisibility" to Admin, to my chair (although he's always very nice when I do see him), and the constant reminder of my non-person status given the number of "staff" luncheons, raffles, potlucks given each year at my institution, for which I have been asked to bring food, contribute to prizes, etc.  A token event was held at the beginning of the year on a Wednesday night at 6:30 for free pizza for the Adjuncts at a local place, a complete turn-off since most adjuncts commute in and leave as soon as they finish on campus.  I think I would have preferred the Chronicle writer's gift of a duffle bag from his chair, instead.

"In addition to the pay and the invisibility, it is the students.  Adjuncts typically teach the lower and lower-than-low division classes as the faculty retain the better classes for themselves (I don't blame them in the least).  And since we get those students right out of high school who typically are working at a 10th grade level, it becomes extremely challenging to maintain morale when the expectations are for "entertainment" like they received in high school.  I joked to my colleague last week that if the pretend percentages are that the students bring 100% and I bring 100%, I felt this semester as if I were bringing 150% to their 50%, yet they probably aren't aware of that ratio.
 "I have had one amazing upper-division English class in my ten years here.  The students were engaged, interesting, generally well-prepared and our class discussions were interesting, thoughtful and fruitful.  I think after teaching that class, I realized what I had been asked to do generally, denigrates my ability and my contribution to the teaching profession.  I've had other bad classes, and that's no reason to throw in the towel, I realize.  But after that great class, something shifted in me and I just didn't want to go through the hoops anymore.  And the fact that only once in ten years have I had a good class is telling. 

"I also firmly believe that until full-time faculty won't put up with the hiring of adjuncts and make their voices heard on this issue, nothing will change.  And I don't foresee that happening.  Ever."
 Since I'm not published (you can call that one of my failures if you want) or in a full-time position (add that to the failure list, although I have tried), I can't expect any more of Higher Ed, right?  It's easy to delegate adjuncts to a position of the great unwashed of the Big U, greedily grabbing those courses thrown to us by kind and well-meaning Admins.  We are not invited to faculty meetings, asked for our opinions.  When they announced the "Part-Timer of the Year," no mention was made of why they were chosen.  Just a name, an invisible person, delivered in a deluge of end-of-year emails.

Perhaps this "perverted" mailbox was a sign, in a weird sort of way.  Perhaps, after too many strange conversations, too many unprepared students, as well as all the other inconsequential stings and cuts, the message from on high was that it is probably time to go invisible for good.