The First Rule of Fight Club…

… you don’t talk about fight club.

As if I needed a gag order about something I know NOTHING about thanks to the fucked up system I want to leave.

Let’s rewind a bit. Last Wednesday was Valentine’s Day, a notoriously shitty day for those of us who are single because the whole world throws our lack of a romantic relationship in our faces and judges us as “less than” for reasons unknown. I usually opt to spend my day slutting it up with two gentlemen who always satisfy: Ben and Jerry.

This Valentine’s Day, however, I woke up feeling really good about everything. It was an active recovery day in My Peak Challenge, the fitness regime I’ve been sticking to, meaning there was no specific work out, just stretching and about 60 minutes of light activity to keep the blood flowing to the muscles I’d worked the last two days. I went for a four mile walk and stopped for a mocha about half-way through. I checked my email while getting my drink and found that I was accepted to a month-long program in Galway, Ireland that will teach me about the Irish education system.  AWESOME! I took a different route home to hit the grocery store for the ingredients to a recipe I was going to try. Please note that I do NOT cook, so the mere fact that I was planning to is a coup. The recipe was Thai peanut chicken zoodles (zucchini noodles), and my friend made it when I was playing house in Texas. It’s delicious and probably easy for someone who cooks all the time, but I don’t. I was revved up from my four miles and getting into the Irish program, and then the grocery store had everything I was looking for, which doesn’t usually happen. I skipped past my Valentines Ben & Jerry, checked out, and headed home excited to get cooking.

And I should have started cooking right away because the day turned to complete shit when, instead, I checked my work email. Remember that I’m on a leave of absence…. have been since the end of last school year. Okay, so on the books, the leave officially started on September 5th, but we all know the summer was part of it. I’ve been off payroll since mid-October. I have seen several of my colleagues because we’re friends outside of school. I’ve talked to my supervisor a few times about being a reference for the various jobs I’m applying to. I have had no contact with any student who is currently enrolled in school except via email to help with a college essay and to answer questions about the fundraising event I advised for the last three years. So I haven’t been checking my work email very often, maybe every four or five days. It was a fluke that I happened to check it that day to find what I did.

I am living in some absurdist play though because the email was there in earnest. But I don’t know anything except what very little the email said, and that much I am not supposed to talk about.

Two things happened.

First, my brain broke.

Second, every shred of body and soul screamed BURN. IT. DOWN.

BURN.

IT.

DOWN.

All of it. Burn it down. Torch it. You should have torched it in June, but you wanted to be prudent. Fuck prudence. Burn it all down.

With my broken brain, I somehow managed to stop my body and soul from acting on their instincts. Instead, I called my mom and a friend. They agreed with the assessment that I’m living in an absurdist play. They also helped me remember that I have no control over it, so I should just forget about it until I know more, and even then, I should laugh at its absurdity.

I wanted to be anesthetized. More than anything, I wanted to be completely unconscious so everything would go away. But I also had all these wonderful ingredients and no power to change anything about the email. So I cooked. I shook with rage the entire time, spilling ingredients when I tried to measure them… the peanut sauce was sweeter than it was supposed to be because of my shaking hands. And I was a little impatient, so the final dish didn’t turn out very pretty, but it tasted good. Except I didn’t want to eat it. I wanted to be anesthetized.

Luckily Wednesday is my regular therapy appointment. And I’m blessed to have really good friends who have good things to say. I was a mess on the way to therapy despite a calming phone call from a friend who was full of perspective and reassurance. I didn’t end up banging my head against a hard surface until I passed out. I didn’t literally or figuratively burn it down. I didn’t even get shitfaced. My therapist and I agreed that of the destructive things I wanted to do, getting a bunch of mini cupcakes was the LEAST destructive thing to do, so she gave me permission to do that even though I was pissed that it sort of defeats the point of my fitness regime. And the pesky fact that the cupcakes won’t actually change anything or make me feel better for more than about half an hour. I did take the maximum amount of my anti-anxiety meds before bed.

And on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, I successfully convinced myself to get out of bed, to be productive, to do my workouts, to be social, to work on applications, to keep perspective, to not get totally drunk, to not burn it down literally or figuratively. What I didn’t do so well with was my sugar intake, but again, of the things I wanted to do, eating too much sugar is the least harmful to myself and others. I also continued to not literally or figuratively burn it to the ground. GO ME. Honestly, I cannot put into words how proud of myself I am for getting through the rest of Wednesday and the next four days so beautifully, so healthily!

Now you’re (maybe) going to learn something about what depression is really like, how it’s not “just pull yourself up by your bootstraps!” or “mind over matter!” On the sixth day, Monday, I couldn’t COULD NOT do it. I couldn’t get myself to put on workout clothes and do the day’s exercises. I couldn’t take off my PJs and put on sweats to go for a walk down the block. I couldn’t laugh at the stand up comedians I watched on Netflix. It was even hard for me to text a few people and say that I’d hit a wall, but at least I did that. And God bless them for understanding depression enough to not push the “just get up and blah blah blah” on me, for agreeing that I was dealing with some serious bullshit. Monday was what depression truly looks like. I knew what to do – get out of bed or get off the couch, go outside for even a short walk, put clothes on, brush my teeth and hair, do at least ONE of the chores on my list, don’t overeat – I KNOW all those things, but I was unable to do them because I had done them for four and half days already. I could not bring myself to do them again yesterday. It had nothing to do with what I wanted to do, what would make me feel better, making a good choice… no. It wasn’t about just shaking it off and getting to the day. I would have if I could have. But what people don’t understand about depression is that you honestly cannot function more than the bare minimum some days no matter what you want, what you know. You are low, down, dark… whatever word you want to use… and you cannot get high, up, light no matter what. If it’s really bad – luckily for me it’s not anymore (or wasn’t this time) – you can’t even see or feel a way back to being high, up, light again… the low, down, dark is all, and it is infinite. Like I said, I’m at a place in my lifelong depression that I don’t get so low, down, dark that I can’t see and feel that there is a way out. I’m grateful that I have meds, doctors, friends, and family who have helped me get to this place. But people NEED to understand that depression is more than feeling sad or sorry for yourself. And some types of depression are not temporary.

Yesterday I couldn’t do anything. I told myself I would sleep and reset for today, that my feelings of doom and gloom were being compounded by PMS. I’m happy that today I got up before the alarm, waking from a dream wherein Jason Momoa (Khal Drogo, Aquaman) was a construction worker on a project I had something to do with – he needed help opening his hips… I helped him open his hips reeeeealllllll well thankssomuch – and I did my quick morning yoga before another four mile walk, with a mocha stop halfway in. I decided that writing about the gag order wouldn’t “get me in trouble” if I say as little about it as I actually know (which is next to nothing).

Aside: “Getting in trouble” reminds me of a coworker from my first job out of college. We had a boss who delighted in watching people cry after saying something horrible to them. Some of us were greener than others, more susceptible to not knowing how to handle the deliberate cruelty. This coworker told us something her husband said when she’d come home from work complaining about getting in trouble. He told her, “honey, you’re a grown ass woman. You don’t get in trouble” or something to that effect. She told us the next day, and it was quite a revelation. 

I have an ambitious plan for the rest of the day, and week for that matter, so I hope I can stave off another day like yesterday. But I also know that even if I do have another day like yesterday, it’s okay because I haven’t burned it down literally or figuratively. And I won’t.

Not literally at least.

And not figuratively just yet.

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All In

Alternative titles for this entry are: “Mama Knows Best” or “WISE”

Recently a lot of people have been asking me what my plan is. It’s a fair question, seeing as my year off is half gone and I had an excellent job offer in a place I couldn’t see myself living. The timing is also apropos because there was an international teaching recruitment fair here in NYC this past week.

But I didn’t go. Because no WISE schools were there.

A few days after I got back from London, mom emailed me with some unsolicited advice. I do not like unsolicited advice, even from mom. Her “thoughts” (email subject line she chose) were that I won’t go anywhere in the world to teach; I’ll only go to London. Case in point, I was offered an awesome compensation package at a school in a place others might consider paradise. And I didn’t take it. Her thoughts continued: if I am only interested in London, I need to make a focused effort and exhaust all possible avenues (I’m almost directly quoting now) to make that happen, even if it means accepting a less-than-awesome job.

Well, my first reaction was uncharitable. I mentioned I don’t like unsolicited advice? I don’t. At all. Something along the lines of “no one asked you” crossed my mind. That was followed shortly by denial – it’s not true that I won’t take a job anywhere besides London. Of course, the list of where I would take a job is much shorter than the list of where jobs exist, and it does include London. Moreover, the list of places where I’d take a job does not line up with the list of places where a school has asked to interview me. Okay, so there is some truth in mom’s thoughts.

Then there was the (what turned out to be private because mom didn’t even hear what I said) admission that there are two things I want more than I want to move to London for a teaching job. Both of them are within the realm of possibility – stop thinking that I’m a total space cadet who truly believes I have a shot at dating Jon Hamm (though I wouldn’t turn him down!) – I’m talking about things that are grounded in some kind of reality, but they would both require a depth of risk I don’t know I am willing to take. (Could I be more vague? Probably!)

Pause to ask why I have trouble admitting that I want anything. It’s a simple protective instinct… if you want something, you can be let down. If you want something a whole lot, you can be let down a whole lot. If you remain tepid rather than passionate, your disappointments are far easier to overcome. I’m not saying it’s a good thing, but it’s a way to manage when things don’t go my way. So enthusiastically saying “YES I REALLY DO WANT TO MOVE TO LONDON” sets me up for, “fuck everything, there are no jobs to be had, so I can’t move to London.” It may be defeatist, but it’s a technique.

Back to it. I was slowly coming around to my mom’s “thoughts,” though London isn’t where the scope of desire ends. I’d be just as happy in many other public transit providing towns around Wales, Ireland, Scotland, or England. It just so happens I’m most familiar with London, but Dublin, Belfast, and Edinburgh are similarly lovely. I don’t know much about Glasgow, Manchester, Cork, or Cardiff, but I’m willing to bet I could find my niche. Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and England…. WISE.

So, mama knows best and I’m ALL IN on WISE teaching. I’ve already applied to three schools, all of which happen to be in London. I have contacted two American friends who’ve taught in England, and two English friends who are teachers at different types of schools (mainly government funded verses independently funded). I’ve looked up the British terms and acronyms that equate (or relate) to my credentials this side of the pond so I know how to explain my qualifications. I’ve emailed a few schools that have openings to ask if they are able to hire international teachers based on experience and certifications outside the UK. I’ve begun to research teaching requirements in Ireland, as they are different from England and Scotland. (Wales comes first in my acronym but last on my list of priorities.) I’ve also looked up (and been confused by) visa information for the UK. (It seems to be a chicken-egg situation, visa-job offer wise.)

Meanwhile, I’m still registered with the all international website, so if something unWISE but of interest pops up, I will know about it. And there’s always the possibility that I go back to my old job as a new me, able to handle it in a healthier way that won’t run me ragged as quickly. That’s not ideal, but it certainly makes me less anxious about the possibility that going all in on this big dream ends up going bust.

New short answer to “What are your plans?”: I’m looking for a teaching job in England, Scotland, Ireland, or Wales (reverse WISE ha), so if you know anything, tell me. I’ll be gutted if nothing happens.

In the meantime, the in between time, I’m one week in to My Peak Challenge… and I haven’t given up yet! Oh, and I’m looking for someone to teach me rugby rules so I can watch Six Nations and feel like I’m not an idiot.

The Illusion of Control

The concept of control was circling my brain last night, so I got up and wrote a draft of a cover letter. I revised it today, tailoring it to the first school I plan(ned?) to send it to. Now I’m trying to tread water in a sea of bullshit that I have no control of.

People like to pretend that we have so much power to shape our lives. I’m not so sure. It’s a question of who is in the driver’s seat. Well, we know I certainly am not because of my bad vision. So am I a passenger in my life? When people say “go with the flow” that’s kind of what they mean… we’re all just along for the ride. Most religions tell us there is a higher power behind the wheel, some entity that knows better than we do, so it’s all okay. I believe that to a certain extent, but it’s hard to admit that I am not personally in control.

I went to the grocery store today because what I put into my body should be something I do have control over. Except they didn’t have some of the things that I was looking for. Foiled! I’m not actually in control of what I eat because I couldn’t find the food I wanted. Illusion of control shattered.

I can’t make other people do things, so there’s no control there. As a teacher, that was always a conundrum. I wanted the students to do things, but in the back of my mind, I always had the nagging sense that I couldn’t really make them do things unless they wanted to or I somehow sold them on the idea. There’s a tension to the social contract of school – students are really the ones in control because their behavior makes or breaks the lesson. I seem to be in control, but it’s a carefully constructed illusion. If I push them too hard, ask for too much, get mean, stop doing my work, etc they take over and do whatever they want. And really, when I gave reasonable assignments, some of them did whatever they wanted anyway. Illusion of control shattered.

People always talk about being in control of their emotions, but I think that’s horse shit too. You might be in control of how you express your emotions, but those suckers have minds of their own and run me ragged sometimes. On the outside, though, I appear calm and rational. A few years ago I walked up to my favorite coffee shop for my morning caffeine. There was a small sign on the door that said they were permanently closed. To an observer, I was totally in control of myself. On the inside, I was screaming that they didn’t give me any warning, crying because I didn’t even have to speak when I went in there… all the servers knew what I wanted. How long would it take to develop that comfort in a new place? I was panicking because I didn’t know if I had time that morning to go somewhere else for coffee. I was a mess inside, completely out of control of my rifling emotions. I faked control really well, as an adult should. (Now you think I’m strange for “getting emotional” about a coffee shop… but it was my place. I loved that I didn’t have to talk if I didn’t want to. I loved that I’d run into all kinds of people there. I loved their soup at lunch time. And I loved my morning caffeine as soon as I stepped off the subway.)

What does this have to do with writing cover letters? Everything. I can pretend that getting a job in another country is within my control, but it’s absolutely not. I have done some soul searching and figured out some important stuff, but that doesn’t mean I can grab at what (or who) I want and get it under my thumb. I can exercise a little control by saying “no” to a job offer that is outside of my comfort zone, but I can’t control whether or not I’ll get another offer anywhere else, desirable or not. I can sell myself in a cover letter and polish my resume until it sparkles (without lying or exaggerating. I have some pretty awesome stuff on there), but I can’t turn that into an email request for an interview. I am not in control. Illusion shattered.

At this point, the idea of a higher power lends a great deal of comfort, even if the belief is hard to reconcile on an intellectual level. It’s scary to think of all these life changes I want to make – that I’m ready to make – and realize I can’t actually make them without someone else getting involved… I can work really hard on some things, but ultimately, I can’t make a job offer, a good deal on rent, a visa, a fulfilling relationship appear. I’m not in control of all the moving pieces required for all of it to fall into place. As I’ve demonstrated at the grocery store and outside the coffee shop, I’m not even totally in control of myself. So yeah, let’s hope like hell there’s a higher power who has it all figured out.

It’s also a relief to think I don’t have that much power. I’d probably mess it up. I try not to think of times I said or did the wrong thing when a student was looking to me as an authority. I know parents can’t think about how much control they have too often because they’ll drive themselves crazy thinking they are fucking up their kids. Again, faith in a higher power helps… maybe that higher power isn’t even an entity, maybe it’s just grace.

But I think about this “does life happen to me or do I happen to life” clusterfuck and wonder what other people think. I mean what they honestly think in their moments of vulnerability. I think we all cling to the illusion of control because it’s seductive… dominion over ourselves, the ability to shape our lives into what we want them to be. But then someone gets hit by a bus. Or someone sees someone they are more attracted to and cheat. Or a hurricane washes your home away. And on a smaller scale, you get stuck in traffic even though you left the house early. Or some coworker mistakenly grabs your brown bag lunch and now you have something you can’t eat. Or you trip and break your ankle – or you had enough control to catch yourself and break your wrist instead.

Is it defeatist to think this way? Or is it realistic? Are the people who mold the world to their vision of it just bullies who don’t accept objective reality? I want(ed?) to change public education in the US. I am aware that is an ambitious and complicated goal. It may not be achievable. It may be the kind of thing that has to be done from the inside, so I’d have to climb the ladder that I want to light on fire. I’m not in control of it. I think I may be in control of what I do when (or before) I reach a breaking point though – that’s why I took time off when I did. Which wasn’t entirely in my control either because the DOE could have rejected my application. (I probably would have quit outright in that case, but it wouldn’t have been what I wanted to do.)

I’m rambling now, I know. You see how I end up losing sleep though. I mentioned I’ve been watching Da Vinci’s Demons… well, one of the lines in the series finale is about the idea of life happening to us or us happening to life. If I remember right, people who achieve greatness happen to life. How do I go about happening to life? Are the things I want for myself “great” or average, maybe above average?

Obviously some illusions are designed to keep us sane.

Crooked

I’m sure I’ve mentioned my flat feet somewhere in this blog. I may have even referred to my feet as deformed. I’m almost positive I’ve explained how I live with a constant low level of pain in my feet that I have learned to ignore.

As part of gearing up for My Peak Challenge, I challenged myself to walk over 10,000 steps for five days in a row… it’s week 5 of “Peak Streak,” which I guess is the warm up period of mini challenges before the daily workouts and menus come out. I don’t know; I’m new to this. Anyway, I challenged myself to walk a lot every day for five consecutive days. It turned into over five miles on four of the five days, but I’m saying it was five days of over 5Ks because it rhymes, and that’s fun. I’ve also been doing either or both morning and evening yoga – it isn’t as ambitious as it sounds because they’re really just ten minute stretches to wake up and chill out respectively. (I’m also on my fourth day in a row without cheese, but that doesn’t have anything to do with my feet. Ew.)

So I’ve walked over twenty five miles since Tuesday morning. And my feet are NOT into it. On the second day, I had three blisters, two of which burst and bled into my socks. One was on the back of my right ankle. This one could have been prevented if my shoes were new, but they aren’t and my crooked feet have worn down the padding at the very back of a shoe. Yes, there are holes in the ankle openings of my shoes because my feet are crooked and rub where they aren’t supposed to. For day three, I put a bandaid on my body and one in the shoe – MacGyvered that shit!

The other two blisters were on my bunions. Oh yeah, you’re reading about bunions now. What’s a bunion? It’s a deformity of the foot, kind of like a hammer toe. It’s a big (in my case bigger on my right foot than my left foot) lump at the joint of your big toe and foot. It’s actually your toe growing crooked instead of straight. I think anyone can get them, but mine are due in large part to my completely flat feet. Odd, though, that my left foot is flatter than my right foot. Even so, the bunion on my right foot is the larger of the two. The big toe then crowds the other toes, giving them callouses. The bunions hurt on top. They hurt on the side. And they hurt on the bottom. My blisters happened to span both the side and bottom, and the left one popped while I was walking. (Don’t worry, the right bunion blister caught up today.)

After day two, I pulled the inserts out of my shoes to discover that my bunions, callouses, and blisters had worn holes all the way through the pads. I buy shoes with inserts because A) they supposedly provide more arch support (a moot point because I have no arches to speak of and my feet always wear down any additional support or I give up in pain before my feet wear down the additional support) and B) shoes with inserts can accommodate the orthotics I should wear (another moot point because I haven’t had podiatrist-fitted orthotics in twenty five years and refuse to get some now even if a doctor promised in blood that they would help… who wants to wear medical shoes all the time?) Be not afraid though. I keep a supply of Dr. Scholls around for ballet flats, fake Uggs, and other shoes without any support. I cut a pair down to size and was back in business. Gellin’ like Magellan, I believe the commercial told me.

You might be thinking, “Why wouldn’t you get orthotics if a doctor says they’ll help?” or “aren’t there surgeries to correct bunions?” You aren’t wrong, but my feet, as my foundation, aren’t where the problems start. It’s not like the basement of the house is the only thing that was build without a level and we can just prop it up and fix that. (My dad oh-so-helpfully suggested that we “just break all the bones in your feet and start over” when I was younger!) If it was only my feet, I might be inclined to try more than half measures even though my weight would probably mean I’d just re-do the damage over time. But the problem isn’t just my feet. I’m duck footed, which probably pushed my arches into further collapse and caused the formation of bunions. (Duck footed = heels point in and toes point out when I walk). Well, I walk like that to correct the fact that my knees are slightly turned toward each other. My stupid body (okay, not fair, it’s very smart from an evolutionary standpoint) compensated for my knees facing inward by forcing my feet outward to balance me. Why do my knees face slightly inward? Because my hips do. My legs are not attached to my body straight, they are slightly angled in. (I bet my thigh and shine bones are also slightly twisted). To add to the fun, my right leg is a tiny bit longer than my left leg, which causes occasional pain on my right side, including my lower back. Hooray! Besides losing another hundred pounds and breaking everything from my pelvis down, I don’t know how to permanently fix the problems.

Why walk then? It clears my mind. It’s free. It doesn’t require any extra equipment. It engages lots of my muscles. I have to do it even when I’m not using it for exercise. It’s got a lot going for it, but DAMN, MY FEET ARE WEEPING.

I’ve taken a few Epsom soaks/baths this week… two just for my poor deformed feet. And I’m not exaggerating when I say deformed – the things only resemble human feet in that they are attached to the bottom of my legs and have five toes. Looking at the wet foot prints I leave on the bath mat after a shower, you would not be able to tell what species I am. When I say my feet are ugly and I hate them, it’s not a product of my low self-esteem; it’s an honest assessment of these horribly painful yet completely necessary growths that convey me around the world.

Inertia

Because I’m kind of afraid of math that involves letters in addition to numbers, I decided to take regular physics in high school. This meant taking advanced chemistry, which was a horrible idea. Physics was much more my speed, like geometry, because I could see the concepts in action – why the hell should I care about something that’s happening on the molecular level? It’s one of the many mistakes I made in my educational choices, but it’s important because I find myself frequently revisiting Newton’s Laws of Motion.

In fact, when I was trying to figure out how to transition from the arts school to the STEM school, I decided to use Newtons Laws of Motion to explain literary concepts… I called them the Laws of Emotion, relying heavily on the idea that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. It helped students see a bigger picture in Wuthering Heights as we muddled through the generational revenge. (I also tried to use the definition of parallel lines to teach about parallel characters/events and the idea that solving for x used the same skill set as making sure sentences have subject-verb agreement.)

The Law of Inertia states that an object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon by an external force (F=ma… did I remember that right?). Similarly, an object in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an external force.

I was thinking about this last night/early this morning when I couldn’t sleep. The force that changes an object’s rest or activity has to be EXTERNAL. I equated this to changing something in life, for example the fact that I am often at rest rather than in motion. If the Law of Inertia applies to more than just physics, as I postulated to help my STEM students understand literature through the lens of something they (presumably) knew more about, then I have to have an external force to make me move. I can’t rely on an internal force…. maybe in this case “force” could be motivation. If I’m at rest, it’s going to take something beyond myself to motivate me to get into motion.

So there has to be something outside myself that gets me to move. Maybe that’s why I signed up for Sam Heughan’s charity fitness program My Peak Challenge. (Maybe it’s because Sam Heughan is unbelievably attractive). It’s a nutrition and fitness program that challenges participants to enact positive change in their lives, and it’s backed by an online community of other people doing the same thing. It also embraces self-acceptance, so there’s no competition except with yourself, the goals you set. It hasn’t officially started for the year, but I did walk four miles this morning. And I hope there are now over than 10,000 external forces (all the other members) that can help get me to move.

As I was thinking about inertia and the way I applied Newton’s Laws to literature, I found myself in the middle of a sentence I then had to repeat a few times (I was writing in my journal because I was pretending to have followed the rules about screen time when trying to fall asleep…). Lightening bolts often hit late at night when I’m in bed, but this one had me spinning. I went on to write about Leonardo Da Vinci because I’ve been watching Da Vinci’s Demons (I have to get my money’s worth for this STARZ Amazon channel, Plus I’m crushing hard on Tom Riley). Our initials are LD, with a second capital letter in our last names. We bridge a gap between science and art – though his art was sketches/paintings and I have less than zero talent in that area. We both seem a little crazy. It made me laugh because the comparison itself was the perfect example of the sentence I had stumbled upon and had to repeat.

Is it a stretch – like everything else? Contorting my thoughts, brain acrobatics to squeeze out a connection that isn’t really there? A connection that isn’t really there. A connection that isn’t… really… there… I am forever making connections that aren’t really there. 

Perhaps my insights on inertia are nothing more than a connection that isn’t really there, as are many (all?) of my other “insights.”

That NYC Life (Swag)

This entry is perfectly timed because I crashed a Netflix Originals set at lunch today. 

The first time I visited NYC was a day trip on a bus from Maryland to see Miss Saigon. I have little recollection of the show, but I do remember going to Rockefeller Center with mom, her then boyfriend, and his daughter. The City seemed like a huge hive of activity, but it intrigued me.

Later, mom and I came up to visit NYU because I wanted to go to Tisch for musical theater – Broadway, here I come! NOT. We say Beauty and the Beast that time. I didn’t end up applying to NYU for undergrad because, sitting in the admissions office after the tour, my jaw detached when I heard the price tag. Looking back on that decision, I’ve felt good about it. The City would have eaten me alive if I’d moved up here at 18. I’d be a markedly different person now, likely a person I would hate.

I liked NYC though. I was jealous in 2002 when, after graduating UVA, my big brother moved up here to live in the East Village and pursue his writing career. Okay, so I was embarking on my semester in London, so I wasn’t THAT jealous… and I fell in love with London. My feelings about NYC paled in comparison. But 2002 being the magical year it was – the time when I said crazy things and then made them happen – I said I would get a 2003 summer job in NYC that provided housing.

Easter of 2003 mom and I came up to see my brother and for my interview for that job. I nailed it, partially (only?) because the guy who interviewed me was Russian and I’d been to Russia in October 2002. Six weeks at Columbia University to work with high school kids – check! Housing and meals included, plus a stipend. Not too shabby. My feelings for NYC grew that summer, but London still had my heart.

Upon finishing undergrad in the middle of nowhere Virginia, NYC and London seemed too big to tackle right away. I moved home to NoVA and worked in a DC non-profit for a year, saving money and deciding what to do next. I visited NYC a few times though, and that’s when the City started working its potent magic on me.

I came up in May 2004 on a whim for an “industry only” John Mayer show that I had no way to get into. Except that standing on the sidewalk outside the Bowery Ballroom before the show, John’s SUV pulled up behind me. A few minutes after he walked into soundcheck, one of his techs came out to deliver me VIP passes. SOLD! Magic of the City.

I decided quickly I could live with NYC even if London had my heart and applied to NYU Steinhardt for my Masters in English Education. I didn’t apply to Columbia Teachers’ College because I didn’t want to take the GRE. I got in to NYU and learned that one of the department heads was named John Mayher. Coincidence? Well, he didn’t think so when I asked permission to leave his class early to go to the John Mayer Trio album release show and signing in fall 2005.

When I first moved up here, I thought I had to live in Manhattan, below 116th. After a year of living in an 8 by 12 foot room, I got over that notion and moved to my first Brooklyn apartment (East Williamsburg). I haven’t lived in Manhattan – above or below 116th – since.

I’ve been here twelve and a half years now, lived in five different apartments in three of the five boroughs. Most of my life here has been work – going to work, doing work, staying late at work, bringing work home, cooking something easy (or microwaving something or ordering delivery) because I was too tired from work. It’s not glamorous. People who haven’t visited me seem to think I live it up, go out every night, eat at hip restaurants and go to cool clubs, see all the theater I want, and spend my time at live music venues. Maybe they watch too much Sex and the City. It’s not that. At all.

But there are moments, like the one outside Bowery Ballroom in 2004, in which the City sparkles as it does in TV and movies, when the magic is strong. And, admittedly, this month has been fuller of those moments than most are.

So, as I’m actively looking to leave NYC, I thought it would be a good time to recap some of the magical moments.

Bowery Ballroom “industry only” VIP passes to John Mayer – 2004

John Mayer Trio album release show and signing – 2005

Student teaching phase 2 placement at the FAME school, turning into a full time job – 2006

MIKA album release show set list, then invite to after party hosted by Perez Hilton where I got MIKA’s autograph on the set list – 2007

Got an awesome Astoria apartment sight unseen – 2007

Chaperoned a student journalist press conference at City Hall with then school’s chancellor Joel Klein – 2008

Chaperoned and advised the ABC NEWS student journalism program – 2008

Saw “PRAY” graffiti on the subway when I was looking for a new job and the subsequent offer from the STEM school – 2009

First one bedroom apartment and closest to the subway I’ve ever lived – 2010

Ari Hest intimate studio show in SoHo – 2011

Spotted Maulik Pancholy (Weeds and 30 Rock) at the gym – 2011

Got early viewing tickets to a movie and Topher Grace (That ’70s Show) is there to intro movie – 2011

Once on Broadway for my 30th birthday… transcendent theater experience! – 2012

Things thinned out for a while… maybe the magic wore off…

Bouncer hooked us up with front row at Webster Hall for MIKA – 2015

“Is she like us?” ran into two other ladies with Albinism in Union Square – 2016

Teacher Appreciation day at Penguin Random House with YA ghost writer guest speaker – 2016

Sat next to Damian Lewis (Homeland, Billions, The Forsyte Saga, Band of Brothers) on flight from London – 2018

Early viewing with director and executive producer talkback for “The Number on Great Grandpa’s Arm” at HBO headquarters – 2018

Book release, signing, and storytelling for Modern Loss – 2018

Then there are the magic moments I can’t put years on because I either don’t remember or they are recurring – like running into a former student and getting into something for free or getting to jump the line because they know me or running into a current or former student who calls my name on the street like I’m some kind of celebrity in my own right or the early screenings of Get Him to the Greek and Paul where I laughed my ass off or all the times I’ve crashed a movie/TV set without meaning because I wasn’t paying attention to where I was walking to or the many Broadway shows that were great but didn’t quite match the experience of Once or working with a teaching artist and getting special access to actors and scripts while introducing STEM students to theater.

It’s not a star-studded glamorous life. I don’t go to the trendiest restaurants and check out live music every night. But there are those magic moments that other places can’t create or replicate.

The Waiting Room

It was early evening in December 2012, and I was waiting in line at a post office. Mom called, shaken up after a biopsy.  Something had developed over on her mammogram results over the last year, and the doctor wanted a closer look. Knowing we would be home in a few weeks for Christmas, my brother and I offered what support we could on the phone. We waited anxiously to find out what the biopsy would tell us.

So much waiting. Waiting for results. And for Christmas 2012, we got invasive lobular carcinoma and a second biopsy ordered to determine more information before deciding on a course of treatment. We waited again, this time with the certainty that cancer was growing in mom’s breast tissue. We were waiting to find out just how bad it was, but waiting all the same.

Waiting is the worst. I went with mom for the second biopsy – only a few days after Christmas… because getting cancer wasn’t the end of the world handing us turds. A punch biopsy in two places left my mom looking like pulverized raw meat. And we waited, again, for results. More bad news because there were two sizable masses that were both cancerous. Definite mastectomy and lymph node dissection during surgery to determine if more needed to be removed. Oh good, more waiting…. waiting to schedule surgery, waiting to see what fate her lymph nodes held. Lymph node involvement determines further treatment.

After saying goodbye after all the prep I was allowed to be a part of, I waited outside the OR on February, 7 2013. In some ways, I would’ve traded places with mom for it because she was under anesthesia, oblivious to the anxiety of waiting for news. Because mom opted to aim for reconstruction at the time, she had two surgeons. Both gave me estimates of how long their piece would take, when I could expect them to come out in scrubs and tell me everything was okay. The first check-in time came and went. Patients get numbers and then statuses are displayed on a board so you don’t have to bother the receptionists.. Except it had been at least an hour longer than the surgeon told me it could take on the long side, so I bothered them. They couldn’t tell me anything. More waiting.

When the first surgeon finally did come out, it was bad news. Mom’s first lymph node had cancer, so they all had to go for testing… so we could wait to see how many had cancer to determine just how bad it was and figure out a treatment plan. Waiting again.

But that was only half of mom’s first surgery. The second part was to prepare her for reconstruction after whatever treatment was required. Waiting. Again longer than I expected. And when this surgeon finally appeared, she told me mom had stopped breathing on the table. They thought they were going to lose her. Immediately after telling me they had been worried my mom might be dying in their hands, they asked if anything like that had ever happened before. How did I process any of that? Remember when I wrote about “how” being the hardest question? I don’t fucking know, but I did because there wasn’t any other option. Except waiting.

Post surgery was more waiting to find out what the pathology of the lymph nodes meant for further treatment. And a longer stay in the hospital because mom was running a fever. Waiting for the report meant a full week in the dark. Then we found out that mom would need chemo. So now we had to wait for the appointment with the oncologist.

No.

Because less than two weeks after leaving the hospital – and before she had even met with the oncologist to find out how much chemo she would need – I had to take mom back to the ER because her incisions were fully necrotic in addition to being inflamed. Oh, and she had a fever. It was obvious to everyone that she would have to have a second surgery to remove the necrosis, which was like a mermaid’s shell bra on her skin. What was wrong beyond that eluded everyone, so surgery was delayed in favor of giving mom antibiotics to see how the infection would respond.

You guessed it. More waiting. This waiting was perhaps more agonizing than the OR waiting because mom was semi-lucid for portions of it and couldn’t get comfortable no matter what. There were times during that week when I wasn’t sure we would get to chemo because they could not figure out what was wrong with mom… I feared whatever it was would kill her before we could even fight the cancer.

Even after surgery to remove the necrosis, which also ruined mom’s chances of reconstruction, we had to wait for a diagnosis of whatever was wreaking havoc on mom’s system. Waiting for the cultures to grow, and then waiting for the lab to figure out what rare diseases had grown, and then waiting for the pharmacy to get whatever medicine MIGHT kill that rare disease… wait wait wait. Meanwhile, mom’s systems seemed to be revolting one at a time… we saw pretty much every kind of doctor that week because with all the waiting came new symptoms. And with the heavy duty antibiotics came less-than-fun side effects.

While in the hospital we had to wait for MRIs, deep tissue biopsy results, technicians to put a PICC line in mom because IVs were no longer working and she hadn’t had her chemo port installed yet. Somewhere in there, we found out that mom would need chemo and radiation, but the most important thing was to get rid of this rare and extremely resistant infection.

I’d like to say the waiting ended once we got mom healthy and home, but she had a lot of side effects to chemo, prompting more testing, more waiting, and more hospitalization. After one visit to the oncologist, when her chemo torture was nearly at its end and she’d already had some of the more severe side effects, a brain scan was ordered to “r/o mets to brain” – in layman’s terms “Please check if the cancer has spread to her brain.” When I saw that on the radiology order, I almost lost my mind. After all the waiting before chemo began and the waiting to find out if the day’s symptom was a dangerous side effect and waiting to figure out how to treat it, now NOW that we’re almost DONE with the chemo – the poison – NOW you want to check that the cancer hasn’t spread to mom’s brain?

Radiation wasn’t a cake walk either. Diagnosing side effects meant waiting for tests to get scheduled and waiting for results to get posted and waiting to find out if there was any kind of treatment for it. Then hormone therapy began, marking mom’s opportunity to “recover.”

But cancer is never over. She’s still discovering ways chemo and radiation ravaged her body. And every so often, we still have to anxiously await test results.

Mom has needed biopsies of her scar tissue. She’s needed various scans of her brain. She needs (and will need until she dies) a bone scan every year to determine if the chemo has left her with osteoporosis or, worse, bone cancer. And it’s the bone scan that got us this time.

Usually it’s no big deal. But this past December’s bone scan identified two trouble spots. And the waiting began – what test does mom need next? When can she schedule an appointment for that test? This round it was x-rays. Okay, X-rays in the new year. But wait for the results. Once you have the results, wait to hear from the oncologist about next steps. Mom needed an MRI this time, without and with contrast dye. And we waited what felt like an eternity for just that piece of information. Wait to schedule the appointment. Wait wait wait.

Wait.

Post-chemo and radiation waiting is a special torture, particularly when it goes beyond the first test. I can keep the anxiety at bay between the first red flag and the test that will clear it. I can tell myself it’s the doctor being her wonderfully cautious self, that we did e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. to kill the cancer. I can handle it. It’s when the first test DOESN’T clear the red flag that I lose sleep many nights in a row and overeat and can’t numb myself enough to make the fear go away. We’ve only had to go this far two or three times, but it tears at me.

This time we didn’t have to wait very long for the MRI results, thank God. Mom is all clear of cancer, though she has evidence of spine degeneration. We’ll take that over cancer every day of the week.

Every time we’ve come through one of these post-treatment waiting hells, I realize how unprepared I am to face it if one of them leads to the worst case scenario. I don’t try to get prepared because, really, there isn’t a way to do that. Instead, I am thankful that I am not being asked to do it again right now. I hope that if we do have to do it again, I’ll be able to figure out how to be there for mom in a way that allows us both to retain a little sanity.

But mostly I’m just glad the waiting is over for now.

I Just Want to be A Sheep (Baaaah)

If you’ve read any of this blog, you know I’m often conflicted. I have a lot of ideas, and they aren’t always in agreement with one another. I think I go well beyond “complicated,” but that’s the term a lot of people would use. I’m messy; I know that about myself. I don’t want to be a hypocrite though. But I am. (Now I want to say the first step to a solution is recognizing there’s a problem. So cliche!)

I’m not blind to my own hypocrisy even though I don’t walk around proclaiming it. I am also willing to change my perspective to be less hypocritical. Case in point, I was disappointed in Claire Danes for speaking disparagingly of My So-Called Life. It seemed she was ungrateful for the role that made her and that was one of the best, most realistic portrayals of teen life in all media. I held no such grudge against Robert Pattinson who is more disdainful of the Twilight franchise that put him on the map. Of course, part of that isn’t hypocritical – MSCL was high quality whereas Twilight was ridiculous. But if I can forgive Pattinson, I must forgive Danes. And I have.

Some of my other hypocritical views are more difficult to reveal because they make me vulnerable, hit much more personal notes. But they are brought into focus by the reports about Aziz Ansari.

I’ve never understood dating, the social ritual of casually conversing with someone you are attracted to over a meal or activity in the effort to… what? That’s the part that baffles. Is the goal sex? Marriage? Companionship? Someone to pay for your food? Oral sex? Bragging rights? A person to complete your whole life because you are somehow incomplete by yourself? A battle buddy? I’ve never been clear on it, and I recognize that not everyone has the same aim. We might not want the same thing. On top of that there are tons of voices telling us what dating and relationships should look like – our parents, aunts and uncles, older siblings and cousins, friends, books, TV, music, movies, our hormones. It’s a minefield of misunderstanding. It relies heavily on unwritten “rules.” It’s called a “game” by a lot of people. I’ve always said that open and honest communication is the best way to avoid all the confusion. I’ve even tried to follow my own advice a few times.

More often, though, I’m a hypocrite. I tend to get nervous around guys I’m attracted to, unable to relax, definitely unsure of what to say or how to act for fear of seeming desperate, weak, pathetic, “thirsty.” There are times when it’s been easier to be physical with guys I’m not all that attracted to even when a guy I AM attracted to is around, not in some play to make him jealous, but simply because there’s less to lose… whether that means self-respect or his respect or the friendship or what little connection we do have. It’s messed up. I know the problem has a lot of roots, not the least of which is how males and females are conditioned, overtly or indirectly, to engage with people they are interested in.

I don’t remember anyone ever telling me to “play hard to get,” but somewhere I absorbed the idea that a woman shouldn’t make it too obvious that she likes a man, that a woman shouldn’t make it “too easy” for a man. I don’t mean that a woman should withhold sex – it wasn’t specifically about sex. It was about not seeming too eager. I think it was something about having the upper hand, realizing the power dynamic of relationships. Who asks whom out? Who makes the plans for the outing? Who contacts whom first after the outing, how soon? On both sides, there’s a conscious effort not to be too excited because it means the power shifts to the other person.

I DO remember being told that when a boy was mean it meant he liked me – that’s some fucked up pathology about how men treat women and how women interpret and accept that treatment. Being mistreated was somehow an indication of interest that was acceptable for some reason. Because the boys were young? Can you imagine saying the same thing to a grown woman? Then why say it to a young girl!!!

These examples of social conditioning aren’t meant to downplay my hypocrisy. I point them out after introducing the Aziz Ansari mess because the situation seems like it could have happened (and has happened) to anyone, regardless of fame or age difference. A man behaved in a way that society demonstrated to him – take control by choosing the restaurant, the food, the drink; ask the woman how she wants sex; push back against the initial slight brush off; give her pleasure before demanding your own… it’s all part of the dance. A woman also behaved in a way society has demonstrated to her – don’t voice contrary opinions to the restaurant, food, drink; put up a little resistance to physical advances; if a man offers oral sex, it’s polite to give in return; if you’re only a little uncomfortable – not afraid – then it’s sort of okay. Both Ansari and the photographer are at fault, but both are also victims of society. If they voiced what they wanted and didn’t want, it’s likely nothing newsworthy would have happened.

There’s my hypocrisy. I SAY Ansari and the photographer should have honestly discussed what they wanted and didn’t want, but I can’t bring myself to do the same with some people. Societal norms aren’t wholly to blame for why I’m hypocritical, but regardless of the reasons, the fact remains that I say one thing and do another.

It’s scary to be honest about what you want from (with?) someone, but if we continue to rely on these unclear “rules” of the “game,” we’re going to continue to hear stories about bad dates defined by confusion and discomfort.

But I’m still a hypocrite. Or to euphemize, I am complicated; I think too much; I read too much into everything.

Addendum

Please excuse any typos (even more than usual) because I’m publishing from my phone waiting for the train to NoVA. Aw yeah, gonna get some cat cuddles!

Remember last month when I was trying to make a life-changing decision about my future? No? Me either. Remember how I re-cast the problem, thinking maybe it was an opportunity to learn patience? Nah, never happened. And how I mentioned just yesterday that I’m not good at self-promotion? Okay, now that everyone’s all caught up.

I didn’t want to jinx it by saying so, but one of the teachers I befriended at the fancy party on New Year’s Eve told me that his school has an English teaching position opening up in September. I’m not great at networking, but I’m also no dummy. I got his email address. I waited until I got home (and thawed out) to email him, telling him a little about my background and asking for any helpful info about the position and school. Then I waited. But only a few days. He got back to me today with a potential timeline, an offer to pass along my CV with an added good word, and a promise to stay in touch in the meantime. Oh, and the added detail that he has a louder voice than “just” a teacher because he’s the head of a whole grade. As Liz Lemon says, “high fiving a thousand angels!”

So I am learning how to be patient and how to self-promote. That patience is going to be extra important because the timeline is later than I want it to be. I have to practice slow breathing and calm thinking as I explore all the possibilities.

Unresolved: Value and Worth

I like a lot of British TV. I’m into it all from BBC period dramas and BritComs to the trivia contest that is Pointless and the storytelling fictions of Would I Lie To You? Come Dine With Me is also a favorite because of the snarky narrator. But Four In A Bed frames my thoughts here. The idea is that four B&B owners visit each others’ inns and offer the payment they think the stay was worth. The winner is whoever got the highest percentage of the posted rates for the rooms. It’s all about what a one-night stay is worth to other B&B owners.

I spent a lot of money on my recent trip. The money I spent was mostly in foreign currency, which means putting in extra thought about how much something costs. For some things I set a limit like a month’s rent. If something big costs less than a month’s rent, I’ll splurge. If more, I’ll pass. This applies to airfares, lengths of stays and/or star ratings at hotels, sightseeing tours, and concert tickets. On the plane home, I thought about the trips I still want to take while I have the free time without the hindrance of work. The southern hemisphere seems ripe for the picking. I also wondered if there were any concerts I want to go to. To my surprise (and you stop living when you’re no longer able to surprise yourself, right?) I realized I’d rather spend my money on travel than on concert tickets. Travel is a longer high, which is really saying something given how much I love live music. It’s a matter of what I value more right now, what something is worth for my money. Exploring the world seems more valuable (at the moment) than going to concerts.

Money isn’t the only way to look at value and worth, of course. There’s time, energy, and effort too. I have written about the value and worth of emotional effort before. I’ve had an on-going “is this worth my energy?” debate. How much time, energy, and effort are the relationships in my life worth? How much do I value something that continues to cost more than what seems fair? I’ve also been thinking about value and worth in relationships because I don’t want to be the kind of person who looks at everything in a give/get light. For example, if I know someone isn’t going to give me a Christmas card, why should I bother to give that person a Christmas card? I hope I am not like that, but I know some people are, gauging their actions on what they will get in return, always keeping score. But there is something to be said for walking away from a person who is a bottomless pit of take take take. A quote I read awhile ago and am still mulling over says, “Love ceases to speak if not responded to.” I don’t think this means there has to be full reciprocity because, let’s face it, there’s usually someone who loves “more” (like it’s a competition?!), but I think it means that you can only pour so much into a relationship without getting anything back… then you decide it’s not worth it because the other person doesn’t value you. I’m not talking strictly romantic relationships. It’s true to all relationships.

Today while doing my laundry I was thinking about self-value and self-worth. There’s humility, false humility, and low self-esteem. I was raised in church, so maybe that has influenced me in some ways to consider others’ needs before my own. I have been known to think (and say), “That person is more important than me” when someone is in a hurry and shoves past me or cuts in line or asserts their right to space, time, attention more aggressively than I do. Sometimes I’m joking, but more often there’s a part of me that believes that person must be more valuable than I am. It’s not that I think I’m worthless – not all the time, not in every way – it’s more that I’m not certain of my worth to the rest of the world. I have low self-esteem in many crucial areas, so I tend to undervalue myself. One of the things I struggled with in regard to my decision to take the job offer in Turkey or to hold on for something else was feeling like I might be overvaluing myself. I still wonder if I was being greedy and ungrateful to not just say yes to a good opportunity. Do I think my skill set and experience is worth more than what was being offered? Do I think I am worthy to work in a place that I would like more?

I prefaced the title of this entry with “unresolved” because I haven’t answered all these questions of self-worth. I go back and forth. I understand that it is this undervaluing of ourselves that leads people to awful situations – like settling for a crappy partner because you don’t think you deserve better or you don’t think you can manage better (the idea of “s/he’s out of my league”). It’s why people (like me) don’t self-promote in work or social situations so we miss opportunities. I’d like to think I’m learning to have a clearer picture of what I am worth to other people, but it’s a slow process.

What is a night in a Welsh B&B that is a yurt with shared bathroom facilities worth to you? I’m not sure I’d even go, but if it’s the first step in my career as a TV host, I guess I could suck it up and pay 30 quid (which is less than what they ask for the experience).