Wednesday, October 27, 2010


In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth...
and then he sat back and said, "This is good."

Then he did something really remarkable by modern standards...he rested.

How many modern people, especially those grouchy, judgmental ones, gather that the very first model of godliness in the bible is appreciation and rest?

I need this lesson desperately right now. I feel so tired and overwhelmed by work, a mortgage, even sometimes disappointment and fear, and I never really give myself a break. Not a real break. A break from not only working but also from speaking, thinking, acting. A true rest from every thing.

Sunday, I was so blech. That's the only word for it. I had a headache and a stomachache just thinking about work. I felt like bursting into tears when I looked at the state of my house, which could pass for a FEMA trailer right after a tornado. Fain, always the guardian angel, wanted to go to our neighbor's house, but I knew I needed to clean. However, I was too tired to even argue, so away we went.

I flopped down on their hammock and just lay there in the cool breeze of late morning. I couldn't help feeling gratitude for the smell of fall, fallen pine needles and damp maple leaves, the shade provided by the overgrown wax myrtle and the late blooming zinnias and dahlias. For a few moments, I allowed myself to push those thoughts of lesson plans and essays and unswept floors off of a cliff in the back of my mind.

But they keep crawling back over, which I suppose is a sign that I need to sweep, but is it a sign of something else also? Am I so caught up in the swaggering power of busyness that I can't even relax anymore?

Fain assigned an adjective to each of his immediate family members. My mom was happy. I was tired. My dad was also tired, but not as tired as me, according to Fain. That's just sad. I don't want to be the tired one.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Time and progress.

I spent the night with my grandma a few weeks ago, and we spent some time talking about time and progress. She wasn't foisting her ideas on me. I was actually making the leap from my own era to hers without aid.

When my mom was growing up, several generations lived in one house here in the rural south. As in many more "primitive" places throughout the world still today, families eased the burden of care through sharing it.

Over the years, progress has meant not only moving forward but moving away from that model. Success means having room to divide more and more thoroughly from our bonds. Success means being able to say haughtily with each new addition to the task list, "No, no. I can do it by myself," like toddlers.

During my pregnancy I read Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy. I really couldn't get into What to Expect While You're Expecting, so I decided I might take the anthropologist's approach to child-rearing.

In the book, Hrdy compares those cultures that promote parent-child togetherness with those that separate the child. In traditional Japanese culture, mother and child would stay in bed together for a month or more bonding while everything was taken care of for them. Then, perhaps for economic reasons, there are those areas where whole families share one room, even one bed.

And then, there's America, where an infant could be expected to have his own wing of the house, parents eavesdropping remotely to his breathing through a one-way walkie talkie. Once, in Audubon Park in New Orleans, I observed two white mamas strolling leisurely through the park some distance behind their strollers, which were being pushed by two black nannies. If the mothers were walking anyway, why didn't they push the strollers themselves?

I was convicted when I read the book of the anxiety that an infant must feel being abandoned in a wide, silent nursery room so soon after being expelled from mom's warm, cozy, noisy womb. And what did it say to the child that mom expelled and abandoned him, and then went and snuggled up cozily with pop in their warm little bed, while baby squirmed alone? It truly disturbed me, which should be no surprise to anyone who knows me and knows what a hippie I am anyway.

I'm circumnavigating my earlier point. I was at Ma's house, where I'd spent the night to keep her company and watch some old black and white monster flick, and we were eating breakfast -buttermilk biscuits stuffed with hoop cheese, old fashioned spicy sausage from the Red and White grocery store, and fried apples - and talking about the economy and the state of the world. I myself, besides feeling early on that the economic crisis would not affect me, have begun to feel the pinch of a salary frozen for three years at the rate of a third year teacher while paying a mortgage that continues to rise with the taxes, have begun to feel remorse at my earlier proclamations that I can do it all on my own. I consider Ma, living alone in a house with three bedrooms after the death of my granddad. And I can't help wondering if this is all madness.

Are we better off because we're farther off? Or are our current problems a result of this continual spread into separate rooms, separate houses, separate worlds?

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Is a man who makes $250K per year rich? That was the question being posed on an NPR episode yesterday afternoon. The interviewer was asking people on the street and elicited a wide array of responses.

I didn't have to think about it. Of course he's rich.

Naturally, as the story developed, the reality of location and psychology were brought into the debate. If you live in Manhattan, $250K is not much money. If your neighbors make $500K, $250K is not much money. Etc.

Still, I don't care how you slice that cake, it's a lot of money. I'd have a really hard time sympathizing with someone who felt like she was cash poor because her neighbor could afford a stove that cost $15K and she could only afford the $10K model.

I listened, and I considered a different question. What is the best definition of wealth? By best, I mean, most valuable. (There's value inherent in things other than money, after all.)

Ben Franklin said that you're wealthy if you're content.

In that case, wealth is less predictable than I'd even suspected watching Wall Street. Some days, I must be very wealthy. Maybe the wealthiest person on the planet. On some days, not only am I content, but I'm absolutely magnanimous with contentment. I'm a veritable Vanderbilt of satisfaction.

On other days, my personal stocks plummet, and I feel like, despite the fact that my paycheck hasn't changed (in over two years), I've lost my shirt on the market. I feel like I've been chewing on my own shoe sole all day, Charlie Chaplin style.

In reality, most days, I don't think $250K would make a huge difference in my life. I'd travel more, but I still don't think I'd feel compelled to go out and buy $500 shoes. I think there'd just be a giant surplus of money in my bank account. Overall, there's not much that I want that I don't already have. Even the things that I want that I don't have, I could get without much more money, with just a little more ingenuity. If I wanted to travel to Japan this year, I could teach English and get paid to do it, for example. As for physical things, I really just want some comfortable t-shirts, and I don't need $100 for that, although I've heard you can spend that much on t-shirts if you've a mind to do so.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Coffee shop

I'm tucked neatly into a brown and beige, velvety corner of a coffee shop on the Wake Forest campus. I love college campuses. They are so very, very different from high schools.

Jazz is piped in, competing for airspace with a clutch of conversations, espresso machine rumblings and swirling, shouts from the barrista. But the noise is not distracting in a coffee house. It's enriching. It's rich and thick.

In a high school, the noise is overwhelming and distressing for a delicate little flower like myself. I stand in the hallways and listen to the teenagers fly by shouting and muttering. Even when they're wrapped in an embrace, they shout. Is this the effect of immersion in surround sound? Teenagers in hallways en masse are so loud that they become unintelligble, and I experience the same sensation that I had upon arriving in Paris. I strain to hear a word that I recognize, but it's like straining to understand a new language.

Here, too, there is leisure and learning combined, which is not the case in a high school. One girl, seated on a plush semicircular sofa to my right is reading a novel by Elizabeth Bowen. She says that it's for a class and that it's slow, but she sits for a while, and she doesn't seem pained by the act, as many of my students would.

The girl to my left on a matching sofa, is studying Japanese, something that I also did in college. Do you know why? Not for a grade. Not for the credit. (I don't think I got any because my grade was terrible.) Just because I thought it would be something interesting to learn. Because learning is inherently interesting to me. For me. It seems like that's not the case for many of my students. Instead, learning is drudgery.

Now the girl studying Japanese has put away her studies and pulled out a paperback copy of James Joyce's Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. It is also for a class, British Lit, which is not her major. The Japanese is for her major - Business Enterprise Marketing. This diligence though. This lovely, industrious, steady study of things in general - languages and literature, statistics and social patterns. This is what happens in a coffee shop on a college campus, and it's so invigorating to just sit here and observe the students. (I want to say "the young people," but I don't think I'm quite old enough. I'll pretend I'm not quite old enough.)

Sitting among the students, I feel a little better about the state of America. It's easy sometimes to be distressed and fretful as a high school teacher. It's easy to forget that there are young people who have chosen to continue learning, who see value in the process. Some of these kids might have even been lethargic and apathetic in high school. That makes me feel better.

Last week, I was mentally bemoaning American youth for not being as aware and bold as those French kids raising riots in Paris and Lyon. I wondered if American kids even paid enough attention to the news today to notice when they're about to get screwed over by the government, or if they would have the energy to protest. Or the time.

I feel hopeful now that if they can make time for Joyce and macchiatos, they might also make time to raise and raze empires like earlier generations did.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Forward thinking and procrastination.

I am guilty of both. For instance, right now I should be working, but I am writing. That is because, primarily, working is working, and writing is not working. Writing might be working if I worked as a writer, but since I work as a teacher, writing is leisure. Reading, on the other hand, especially when I'm reading essays, is working.

Right now, I am procrastinating in regard to my job. I should be reading essays. However, I am forward thinking in regard to my life because I would rather be working as a writer. I don't think I fully realized that until this year.

In the past - now I'm procrastinating and backward-thinking - writing was always a fantasy in the back of my daydreams, like a ship with red sails bound for unknown ports. Unfortunately, I was never on the ship. I was on an island in the middle of the ocean, worrying about getting my feet wet or being crushed by unforseen storms.

Now - back to the present - I am recognizing that, despite my past disdain of people who claim that if they didn't write they would die, it may be the case that if I don't write, I'm not really living. At least, not in the way that I want to live.

I have this sense that now is the time. I've been waiting for years, trying to do the reasonable thing, and I'm relatively good at the reasonable thing. I've gotten awards for doing the reasonable thing. However, if I'm pretty good at doing reasonable things, when in my heart I am without a doubt an unreasonable person, how much better would I be at doing something unreasonable and slightly preposterous, like trying to make a living as a writer?
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A Mirror, A Summer, A Street by Autumn Crisp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.