What Nationality Is She?

In case anyone reading doesn’t know me in person or somehow forgot what I look like from not seeing me in so long, I have Albinism. One of my first entries was about my relationship with the sun. The short version is that I am pale. I have pale skin. I have platinum blonde hair. My eye brows, eye lashes, chin hair … okay you get it … are all white. Daenerys Targaryan with the silver hair ain’t got nothing on me.

My appearance has led people to a “what nationality is she?” guessing game my whole life. I have been disappointing them since birth. My mom was a dirty blonde blue eyed California girl when I was a kid (that’s not to say she’s not blue eyed anymore, but the hair has changed color. Cancer and aging will do that.) When I was out and about with her, people would ask, “oh, is your husband Swedish?” Nope. “Norwegian?” No. Sometimes mom would explain; more often she was in a rush because that is a constant condition of being a single mom.

My dad has gotten darker over the course of his life. As an adolescent, he was kind of redheaded, at least he looks that way in a picture I have. By the time I came around, which wasn’t all that long after his adolescence, he had dark brown hair and greenish/hazel eyes. I can’t be sure. I don’t really look at my dad in the face, certainly not closely enough to discern his eye color. He also worked outside on landscaping crews so he was always tan. When I was out and about with him, everyone asked, “Is your wife Swedish?” No. “Norwegian?” No.

No. I don’t have Swedish or Norwegian lineage as far as I know.

One time when mom had taken me into DC to the Smithsonian to see King Tut when he was on tour, some people in line were gawking. Mom has never liked people gawking at her children. One funny thing about Albinism is I’m often too blind to notice the gawkers… it has to be REALLY bad, and it has been sometimes (those German guys in Paris? WOW friends, lean back, personal space and all). Mom got annoyed with the people in line and decided to educate them. “She has Albinism.” That didn’t shut them up or stop their staring. In fact, they then conducted a conversation in a whisper that was not quiet enough to miss my mom and me, “I thought people from Albania were dark.” We didn’t spare them our ridicule and still laugh about the stupidity over two decades later.

So, not Albanian either.

Unrelated to my coloring, but also in the game of “What Ethnicity Is She?” on a late night subway ride home a crazy lady talked to me for at least ten minutes about the fact that I AM JEWISH. She was adamant. I was sorry to disappoint her, but she did not believe me. She said that my nose gave me away (thanks for pointing out I have a big nose… I like to think of it as REGAL!). I laughed with good nature and assured her that I was German Lutheran, Irish Catholic, and Dutch Protestant. No, she continued, I must have had ancestors who converted to protect themselves, maybe even as far back as the Crusades. I only know my family history back to the nineteenth century – and that we were definitely out of Germany by the 1890s – so I had no way to prove her wrong. I retreated into my headphones when I realized she wasn’t going to give it up.

So, not Jewish.

Even my own grandma has chimed in regarding the family’s heritage, though her information is suspect and lends nothing to an explanation about how pale I am. She said we have Cherokee blood somewhere. Yeah. Okay, grandma. You’re also an astrologist, numerologist, alcoholic, and compulsive gambler who has said some of the most hurtful things in my entire life.

In fact, I forgot to include her in what went wrong in 2014 because I try very hard not to think about it. I’m thinking about it now, so are you ready for some of the bullshit she laid down in August 2014 at the family reunion in Colorado? At one dinner, she casually mentioned that my mom wanted to abort me when she found out she was pregnant because things weren’t going well with my dad and she was already overwhelmed with one child with Albinism. Um. Wow. Thanks for that, grandma. I tried to steer clear of her the rest of the time I was there because what do you even say to someone after that? Mind you, she is NOT my mom’s mom, and my mom was never close enough to her to confide anything so important, so I assume grandma was divining this information from the stars.

After avoiding her most of the trip, she grabbed me one night after dinner and maybe in her mind tried to make “your mom wanted to abort you” okay. Except she dug herself a deeper hole by telling me that my soul was not sure it wanted to be born into my life, that I was sick as a baby and had to go back to the hospital for several days because my soul was unsure about its participation in the life I would have. Well, science says it was a Staph infection and jaundice, but who am I to argue with grandma? She kept going. She said my soul’s uncertainty was also the cause of my suicide attempt when I was a week shy of 16. I try very hard to avoid my grandma at all costs after this encounter. I don’t need any of what she’s got in my life.

So, not Cherokee or whatever other weird painful shit my grandma thinks.

Today, though, today was a SCENE. My ankle is still weak, so I had it wrapped and was wearing capri pants and loafers when I went out to the drugstore. I had my very white hair up in a ponytail and quietly made my way through the aisles gathering what I needed before I approached the pharmacy line to pick up my diabetic fur face’s insulin like the good pet mom I am. (Happy mother’s day to me!) There was a woman leaning on the counter having a full conversation with the pharmacist. I guessed they were speaking either Russian or Polish based on the demographics of my neighborhood and what I know of how the two languages sound. I stood patiently in line, not making any faces or checking the time, just letting them do their thing, shoot the shit. I wasn’t in a rush.

The customer saw me and immediately started speaking to me in the same language. She then turned to the pharmacist and pointed at me, continuing to speak in the language. She stepped away from the counter, closer to me, talking rapid fire and LOUDLY in a language I do not speak. She pointed to my ankle, noticing for the first time that it is wrapped, and said a single recognizable word, “pain.” I nodded and said, “yeah, it hurts, but it’s okay.” She then advised me that my hair is very pale. (Prior to her saying so, I didn’t know, right?) She pointed to me and continued speaking to the pharmacist about me. She then asked me a question that I should have been able to answer because she believed that I speak her language. She gave up at some point, maybe because my polite smile started to slip because I wasn’t in the mood (am never in the mood) to be a spectacle. She finally asked in English if I’m Polish. Again, I had to crush someone’s guess in “What Nationality Is She?” I told her no, just American. She wanted to know my heritage, so I said some Irish and German. At “German” she spat at my feet. She told me I should dye my hair. The pharmacist indicated that this woman didn’t have any real business and that I could step forward and get my cat’s insulin. The insistent customer kept trying to speak to me in Polish, CONVINCED that because my hair is so white, I MUST be Polish. She offered a few other nationality possibilities, like Italian (what?). She continued to speak in Polish throughout much of my transaction, indicating with hand gestures that I should speak Polish, I must speak Polish. Finally she went away, and the pharmacist offered apologies on the woman’s behalf. “Barbara is okay. She just, she thinks you have to be Polish because of your hair. Sometimes she’s a little… ” and a gesture to indicate off kilter. “I’m sorry she offended you.” I wondered briefly what my face looked like because I wasn’t offended so much as confused at how emphatic she was. I assured the pharmacist that it was fine and left.

Walking home, I tried to think of the people of Polish decent that I know. Not a one of them has hair nearly as blonde as mine, though many of them are very tall like me. I was also amused by the notion that I should either dye my hair or learn to speak Polish to satisfy that woman’s view of where I fit in her world.

So, not Polish either.

Just a person with Albinism and mixed western European heritage. And disappointment for those who persist in guessing. And waning patience for vociferous guessers.

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Take Two

I re-read books. Sometimes because they are assigned to me a second time. More often, it is to make sure I know everything my students might ask about. A few I’ve re-read because they were just S.O. G.O.O.D! (The Bronze Horseman Trilogy by Paullina Simons!) I know there are tons of books out there that I could be reading for the first time, but I know I’ll never get to all of them, and I know some books need to be re-read. Like Catcher in the Rye… you have to read that as an adolescent and then again as an adult. It completely changes how you relate to Holden, whether you want to be his best friend or murder his whiny ass.

I forced myself to re-read The Awakening by Kate Chopin. I don’t intend to teach it. I hated it the first time around. But it’s short, and I felt like I should try it again as an adult to see if it made any more sense to me.

It was assigned to me as summer reading in 1997 when I was 15. We also had to read Wuthering Heights and Fahrenheit 451 that summer.  I can’t be totally sure, but I think I read Chopin first. I do know that I was in SoCal on my reward trip to Hollywood for doing well in my freshman year because mom wrote a note in the margins about a restaurant reservation. I think I read it before Bronte just because I’m not sure I would’ve finished it if I picked it up after meeting Heathcliff. My 15-year-old self (and my 36-year-old self) are forever taken by his Bryonic brooding.

Sidebar: I could write thousands of pages of how reading Wuthering Heights at 15 was one of the worst things I’ve ever done in terms of my relationships. I completely blame literature. That said, it is a masterclass in literary technique, and I have daydreams about adapting it to the screen because not one of the dozen film/TV makers who have tackled it have gotten it right. 

It was before southern accents and green eyes got all my defenses up, so my hatred for Chopin’s work wasn’t due to its setting. Besides, I don’t really have a problem with Louisiana; it’s Alabama that’s cursed (except for that Waffle House bathroom where I conceived a child with John Ma… oh wait, don’t believe everything you read on the internet in 2002 and 2003… any time after that, sure. Internet = totally true). It was also before my own suicide attempt, so my contempt for Edna just giving up in the end came from a place without empathy.

Another sidebar: Southern accents and green eyes from Alabama are subjects for another time, but they’re connected in a way because of Robert’s “I love you, but I can’t be with you” nonsense and ruining myself with Heathcliff that same summer before letting other non-fiction people get a chance to do even more damage a few years later. 

But re-reading The Awakening now, I feel remarkably similar about the whole novel. I’ve been in love and had that love returned in an incomplete way that left me feeling empty, like Edna and Robert. That’s not even what made me want to end my life, so I can’t stir much empathy for her there. I have a better understanding of feminism now, so I can appreciate her struggle to be a complete human unto herself, a concept which in the late 1800s would’ve been earth-shattering. In fact, I love A Doll’s House by Ibsen, which is set in the same time period and deals with that exact idea. I still don’t like Chopin’s take. I still think Edna swimming off into death is a stupid idea and a stupid ending. What point does that make? Is Edna so fragile that Robert loving her but telling her he won’t be with her is enough to end her life? Yeah, the prospect of divorce wouldn’t have suited either, but I picture her husband as a Torvald type who would keep up appearances outside of their home. He’d already made plans to do that to account for Edna moving house while he was away. And if it’s a true awakening to learn that she IS a complete human in her own right, then what a fucking WASTE to immediately end her new existence! FURY!

Okay, so I still hate The Awakening. I’ll never teach it because “Story of an Hour,” “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and A Doll’s House do a better job making what I assume its point is supposed to be. That said, as I’m in the middle of my own kind of awakening, I did find several passages that resonated because of their truth or beauty or both. I want to share them because they’re worth your time while the full novel is absolutely not worth it.

“A certain light was beginning to dawn dimly within her,– the light which, showing the way, forbade it. At that early period it served but to bewilder her. It moved her to dreams, to thoughtfulness, to shadowy anguish which had overcome her the midnight when she had abandoned herself to tears. In short, Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and around her. This may seem like a ponderous weight of wisdom to descend upon the soul of a young woman of twenty-eight–perhaps more wisdom than the Holy Ghost is usually pleased to vouchsafe to any woman. But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. How few of us ever emerge from such beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult!” (17).

“[Mr. Pontellier] could see plainly that [Edna] was not herself. That is, he could not see that she was becoming herself and daily casting aside the fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world” (75).

“There were days when she was very happy without knowing why. She was happy to be alive and breathing, when her whole being seemed to be one with the sunlight, the color, the odors, the luxuriant warmth of some perfect Southern day. She liked then to wander alone in to strange and unfamiliar places. She discovered many a sunny, sleepy corner, fashioned to dream in. And she found it good to dream and to be alone and unmolested. There were days when she was unhappy, she did not know why,–when it did not seem worth while to be glad or sorry, to be alive or dead, when life appeared to her like a grotesque pandemonium and humanity like worms struggling blindly toward inevitable annihilation. She could not work on such a day, nor weave fancies to stir her pulses and warm her blood” (76).

“On rainy or melancholy days Edna went out and sought the society of friends she had made at Grand Isle. Or else she stayed indoors and nursed a mood with which she was becoming too familiar for her own comfort and peace of mind. It was not despair, but it seemed to her as if life were passing by, leaving its promise broken and unfulfilled. Yet there were days when she listened, was led on and deceived by fresh promises which her youth held out to her” (97).

This one is an exchange between Edna and Robert when he has come back from Mexico. “‘You are the embodiment of selfishness,’ [Edna] said. ‘You save yourself something–I don’t know what–but there is some selfish motive, and in sparing yourself you never consider for a moment what I think, or how I feel your neglect and indifference. I suppose this is what you would call unwomanly, but I have got into a habit of expressing myself. It doesn’t matter to me, and you may think me unwomanly if you like.’

‘No, I only think you cruel, as I said the other day. Maybe not intentionally cruel, but you seem to be forcing me into disclosures which can result in nothing, as if you would have me bare a wound for the pleasure of looking at it, without the intention or power of healing it’ [Robert replied]” (140).

There! Better than Cliff’s Notes (oh, I’ve aged myself! Spark Notes then!) Five quick Laura approved passages that are way better than the sum of the novel. And aren’t some of them a kick in the gut? :::vigorous nodding:::

It’s Been A While

I started this blog to discipline myself into writing every day. I haven’t posted anything in weeks. That’s not to say I haven’t been writing, but it certainly hasn’t been every day. For the last ten days, what I did every day was hate that I sprained my ankle and try to rest my sprained ankle. I’m on the mend, no happier about having injured myself to the point that I couldn’t tolerate my previous level of daily activity. But I got some cool bruise colors out of it, so what can you do?

Anyway, Instead of bringing a book to bed last night, I forced myself to just lay down. I was tired after putting five miles on my ankle for the first time since spraining it, and I was pretty sure I’d sleep well. I was right, but I didn’t sleep until I got a poem out. I also didn’t have the dreams I expected based on what I fell asleep thinking about after writing. That threw me for a loop when I finally regained consciousness… I think I might have been clinically dead at some points – that’s how deeply I slept. Zero complaints! I wish I could have stayed in bed, but I’ve done that too much lately, and plans F, G, and H (or whatever I’m on) aren’t going to come find me while I dream away the day.


“Night Stand”
~LJD, May 8, 2018

Some things stay for convenience
     ear plugs
     the box of tissues
     pens and paper

Some things stay for protection
     the Rosary from the Vatican
     a handmade dream catcher
     condoms

Some things stay for sentiment
     a faded picture of your younger self
     grandma’s Blanche Devereaux-style sleep mask
     the ragged copy of The Little Prince

Some things… some things should go
     stale cough drops
     the broken travel alarm clock
     ancient notes passed in class from someone you don’t talk to any more

But then there are hidden treasures
     strings people tied around your heart with the words they gave you
     words that bind you to them even now.
     Maybe they should be thrown away,
     though you know that getting rid of the paper won’t get rid of the tie
           And you wouldn’t want to because the words
                and who gave them
          mean more to you than you’ve ever let on.

Scrounging, there are other gems
    scratches of nonsense about the way his cologne lingered subtly in a room he’d just left
    incomplete ideas of the flush he brought your skin
          the smile he elicited that somehow
          glowed from your very heart all the way through your eyes.
    Like his words, you could toss these ramblings
    but the memories of them take up space in your mind
    no matter how many pieces of paper you trash.

It’s never organized, it all gets fumbled and re-ordered
     as every piece goes back in the drawer so it will close
          and you can sleep.

I Feel Pretty – It Has Layers (like an onion)

First, as a person who struggles with mental illness, I want to say that I understand body dysmorphia is a real disorder and is not in and of itself a topic to joke about. I know all too well the body image issues we develop as a result of media influence, the beauty and clothing industries, and the people who most closely surround us. If you or someone very close to you suffers from body dysmorphic disorder, I Feel Pretty is NOT for you.

I knew very little about the movie going in. It was my bestie’s choice for her birthday. I like Amy Schumer, but I’m no die hard fan (I haven’t seen Trainwreck). I’ve seen a few review headlines without paying much attention. My bestie said it got some bad reviews. The theater was packed though, which is how I like to see comedies (and the 50 Shades franchise)- lots of people who aren’t worried about reacting, not just with laughter, but with commentary.

From the top – I’ve never been to a spin class, and Schumer is not selling it! Between her embarrassments at Soul Cycle and the Kimmy Schmidt portrayal, I’m not sure I’ll ever attempt it. It’s hilarious though. The setup of the skinny girl in short shorts (Mallory) was done well, ie you couldn’t miss it, and if you did, you don’t deserve all the layers of the movie.

The friend who is getting makeup put on her… that is ME! Okay, I never say I look like a prostitute, but I very much don’t look like myself when I have makeup. I got all gussied up for NYE, but a dear friend did my makeup and talked me through everything. I liked the dynamic of the three friends, and later when there was tension, I disagree with the commentary of the people behind me who said Renee’s friends were being bad friends. I think they kept it real, and that’s what a good friend does.

Throwing in the BIG clip should have been a clue to people not to take things too seriously – as if the opening scene and casting Amy Schumer didn’t give that away.

Schumer played the transition well – assessing her body and then looking in the mirror. Here’s where it might lose some people because it’s too silly or she seems too crazy, certainly her friends try to roll with it but don’t get it. The thing is that the perception, the judgement of what we see in the mirror CAN make us crazy. It’s clever because we see the same Schumer the whole time, but she does well to drive home the point that Renee clearly does not see the same thing. And yeah, that’s a little insane, but I know I feel differently about what I see in the mirror day to day. I notice different things or I feel better (or worse) about myself some days. The resulting confidence or insecurity obviously doesn’t reach to the extremes of the movie, but there is truth in the humor.

Ethan. Ethan. Ethan. I am all about Ethan. The dry cleaning line pick-up after the earlier drug store Mallory Greece/Italy fantasy of “that actually happens” was perfect. Also that he went on the first date because he was “a little afraid not to.” And that he is the guy who sat next to you in high school for four years and never had the courage to ask you out. He is no alpha male macho man and it works. It also plays to another layer of the movie. There was some feminism on the down low, some traditional gender role reversals. At the chef’s table dinner, watching Grant, and in the restaurant switching accents to keep up with the insanity without understanding it. I have no idea if he is realistic because I lack the confidence Renee found when her wish came true, but I loved every minute of their interactions.

Speaking of Grant – and maybe speaking more about MY issues – I didn’t trust that he was genuine. I kept thinking he was trying to steal business ideas. But he did impregnate some people with his biceps (inside joke).

Michelle Williams did a perfectly annoying job with that voice to drive home the point that insecurities come from everywhere and strike anyone, a point also made later with Mallory.  I liked Avery making the point better because it was more realistic to me that a woman of her business acumen with a voice and family like that would be insecure and beat herself up. I guess I’m a judgmental bitch and don’t believe the Mallorys of the world struggle, but that’s not fair… And speaks to the moment of realization (which felt rushed, which of course is NOT realistic) that there was never a difference in how Renee looked, just in how she thought of herself. And I suppose you can feel bad about yourself no matter how hot your body and pouty your mouth.

Overall, I really liked the movie. It struck a balance for me of holding a mirror up to my own body image issues and how they impact my interactions with friends, coworkers, men while staying light-hearted enough to make me laugh. It’s not going to solve the ills of low self-esteem for a whole generation of women, but it was well done and might make some people feel a little better about how they see themselves. I recommend it to others, and I’d see it again myself.

I might not ever go to a spin class though.

The Seven Year Itch (aka When It Went Wrong)

Last week Tuesday I had too much whiskey. I know, I know. There’s no such thing. Except there is because I was ssssuuuupppppeeeerrr sssssllllloooowwww on Wednesday and the frittata I was excited about making didn’t happen until Thursday. And on Tuesday night when I got home, I was running circles in my head and took an old journal off the shelf to retrace how I got off course and ended up taking a year off and still not knowing what I’m doing. (Instead of going deeper into that rabbit hole, I listened to this song.)

In June 2014 I drunkenly wrote something on my phone at a co-worker’s retirement party… something about being exactly where I was supposed to be. I didn’t mean geographically, although the wine cellar of a basement the party took place in was pretty cool. I think I was speaking less literally that I was all good… even if I felt like I was fumbling around in the dark.

It ended up being a curse. Things fell apart shortly thereafter.

Not immediately because Germany had that epic World Cup, as I had predicted for two years. SOMEONE had to unseat Spain and their no real striker bullshit. (And this song from a commercial that played a thousand times will always remind me of mom’s crush on Neymar.)

The morning after Germany took the trophy, I met a man I could travel the world with… except he was already traveling the world with his base of operations on another continent. He was ahead of me, but he proved to me that I have a type… I distilled it as follows “Brown hair and eyes, wickedly intelligent, a little arrogant, a little ignorant, honest, upper middle class, unapologetic, thinks I’m a genius.” (Not that I -always- go for that.)

I was also staying in an awesome Brooklyn Heights apartment, dog-sitting an adorable labradoodle that week. So things hadn’t fallen apart yet.

I think it happened in August and continued into September.

Having asked to teach AP Lit for three years, I finally got the green light and spent a week of my summer in a training with the College Board and additional time planning the course. In August, I found out that it wasn’t going to happen yet again because it would interfere with too many other teachers’ schedules to let me have a chance at ONE class.

Then I left my phone unlocked on a drunken karaoke night and a friend put words in my mouth. Whether those words were ever mine (could have ever been mine) is irrelevant. Whether that’s why this song sometimes gets to me is probably also irrelevant.

Next a story broke in the news casting me (and most other teachers at my school) as an extra in a horrible afterschool special. (OMG I don’t think I’ve ever seen that video hahahaha.) It was the stuff of nightmares for many reasons. It threw a shadow over the whole school and had resounding effects.

And on the first day of school, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut when I saw someone needed help, so I ended up with a shit-tastic schedule on top of my existing disappointment..

What’s with the “seven year itch” though? Ah, let me tell you. February 2014 marked my seventh year in the DOE. I was hopeful that the seven year itch wouldn’t get me because I was continuing to develop in my practice as a teacher – National Board Certification, a student teacher, finally getting the challenge of an AP class – but like I said, that’s not what happened. Instead I felt very much like Ari Hest knew my life when he wrote “Dead End Driving.”

Even though I ended up loving my sophomore class that took the place of the AP class, and I’m grateful to have had the amazing personalities in the 9th and 10th period Gothic Lit classes, it felt like it was time to go. It was October 2014 when mom generously presented me with a way out. I couldn’t process what she was offering me, and it took me a few months to decide if I could accept her kindness. Except that I would never leave in the middle of the school year, so it meant sticking it out until June 2015. But in June of 2015 I was eight and a half years in, meaning I only had three more semesters to hit the magical ten year mark. When you hit ten years in the DOE, good things happen a million years later when you retire... if you don’t die first, if the system hasn’t sucked your soul from you. Friends said I HAD to stick it out.

2015-16 and 2016-17 were labors to get to a benefit I could die before I see, but they happened. And 2016-17 was not nearly as bad as the prior year. But I was long past my seven year itch. I was stick-a-fork-in-me DONE.

Now I wonder if I was supposed to make the change FOUR years ago, am I already that far into my next seven years? Or have I delayed the next set so that whatever I start (when/where I start?) I’ll have a good seven years before I look around for something new? Maybe we don’t have to have seven year itches at all when we find the right thing. Cue me wondering if not cutting and running in 2014 also means I missed the window for the right thing… whatever and wherever that might be. (Heeeeey it’s another John Mayer song!)

Had I set out anywhere in the summer of 2014, I would have missed being here in February 2015 for my best friend’s cancer journey… much like if I had gotten the job in the Netherlands in 2012, I wouldn’t have been able to help mom through hers. There’s that… I had to be where I was for both of those struggles for my own sanity in some ways, but more to be a supportive daughter and friend. God knows that I hope to have someone who would be that support to me if I find myself in a similar situation.

Added to all that is the fact that when I moved into my current apartment in summer 2012, I had lived four other places in NYC, so I proclaimed (maybe just to myself) that when I moved again it would either be to a place I own or a foreign country or both.. I want to honor that proclamation, so that might be another reason I didn’t get up and go when I felt the seven year itch and things broke down. It’s also why I’m looking outside of NYC now – I don’t want to own property here.

I guess I do know how I got to April of a year off, but I don’t like that I don’t have a clear path forward yet. I guess I have to be patient and have some faith.

Etymology Isn’t the Study of Bugs

Etymology is word origin. Entomology is the study of insects. People get those confused. They’re very different. One of them interests me; the other bores me to tears. I’ll let you guess which is which.

Yesterday I was feeling down, unable to shut off the negative thoughts like “you fucked up,” “that’s never going to work,” “they still laugh at you for that,” “you’ll never be x, y, or z,” and “you’re always going to be a, b, and c.” Y’know, the voices in your heat that you want to tell to SHUT THE FUCK UP, but sometimes they don’t listen. I knew what I needed to do (shut up and sweat), but I wasn’t into it. I decided I’d let myself have a bad day, recognizing that eating Ben & Jerry’s milk & cookies was only a palliative. It would not solve anything.

Then I started to think about how the hell I know the word palliative. Yeah, my vocabulary is pretty impressive (if I do say so myself), but palliative is a weird word to pull out of nowhere when thinking about eating ice cream.

Pause to say that the speed at which my brain moves is something akin to Attention Deficit Disorder. The difference is I can concentrate because no matter how fast my thoughts are scattering in innumerable directions, I can turn that noise down enough to get something done, or if I do get off track momentarily, I can easily come back to the topic at hand. 

The Ben & Jerry’s was merely a palliative. I knew it. I was okay with that. I reset this morning, and it’s been a decent day. But where did I pull palliative from? I retraced the steps in my life that developed my vocabulary.

When I was little, three women read aloud to me. Mom read anything and everything, but some of the most memorable are Maeve Binchy books. (In fact, I have only “read” one myself. All the others were read to me by mama.) She also read Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye… extremely memorable, probably not age appropriate, but it gives you an idea of how important reading was in our house. My aunt (who is also my god mother) read The Narnia series to me and my older brother. My dad’s girlfriend (who I always thought would be my stepmom and who mothered two of my half siblings) read drugstore romance mysteries. I loved being read to; however, I hated books on tape. I couldn’t stop a book on tape and ask it what something meant. And I did A LOT of that.

Mom was always the most insistent on consulting a dictionary, though she did her fair share of explaining without that resource. Sometimes it wasn’t just a word I didn’t understand; it was a situation. All three women explained when I had a question – I can’t remember now if their explanations were sugar-coated for my age (knowing me and knowing them, there was no sugar-coating. Perhaps some euphemizing and saying you’ll understand later in life…) Similarly, I can’t remember instances where their explanations were inaccurate or flat-out wrong, though I’m sure there were a few of those times too.

The habit of stopping to ask questions of a text (hey, I think we call that “close reading” or “annotating” in the teaching world) was established early. Along with this interrupted reading, I was accustomed to bringing in the dictionary to assist. I did these things while listening, so it was natural to do them when I started to read more on my own. I’ll admit that I begged all three women to read to me long after I was able to read on my own. Even when I stopped asking them to read to me, mom still read what I was reading so that she could talk to me about it (PRO TIP FOR PARENTING: read what your kids are reading so you can talk to them about it! Be involved in their education!)

I read with a pen or pencil when I read on my own. When the vocabulary was easy, my margin notes were sometimes reactions or summaries. As the books got more difficult, I started to underline the words I didn’t know. Instead of stopping to look up every word, I would finish a chapter and then go back with the dictionary to look up the words I had underlined. Mom even got me an electronic dictionary because not only could I look up words, I could also play word and spelling games. And I had outgrown our large print beginners’ Merriam-Webster.

I don’t know when I dropped the habit of underlining the words I didn’t know. Of course, as I read more, there were fewer words I didn’t know, even as the books got more and more difficult. But because I was marking my books, I also bought my books. What I have now is a record of what I didn’t know when I was in a particular grade.

This proved useful when I became a teacher and wanted to incorporate grade-appropriate vocabulary work for my students. I just took down a book I read in tenth grade for my own tenth graders. Boom! Weekly vocab list created! Many times, I had to be selective because there were A LOT of words I didn’t know. I also learned that context is everything when it comes to vocabulary. My NYC students didn’t know what a corral is… because they live in a CITY and have no reason to know what one is.

Pause to say that I know a lot of books that are in the canon have pre-fab units to follow with vocabulary lists included. I’ve never been a fan of pre-fab units because creating my own assignments and lessons is part of what I love about teaching. I also teach a lot of texts that aren’t in the canon, so there are no pre-fab units. I should get paid to write some, right? Right. 

I have solid evidence to show students that I was once a student like them, that I indeed annotated my texts to learn how to be a better reader, that I wasn’t always the genius I am today (ha ha ha), that anything I ask them to do has been asked of me at some point in my academic history. It’s a great resource that I didn’t know I was creating when I was frustrated and underlining every other word in a text. It also gave me an idea of what words my students might stumble over even if I didn’t read a particular book at their age.

One such vocabulary word was palliative. I gave it to students as an adjective meaning “easing the symptoms (of something) without curing the cause” or “reducing the intensity” with the example of palliative care when someone has a terminal illness – you can’t make the illness go away, but you might be able to manage the pain.

You’ll notice that I used it as a noun when I thought of it. This also goes against the shortcut I sometimes teach kids that words ending in -ive are adjectives. Except not always, like so many other quirks of the English language! In looking up the word now, I see that it originated as a verb, yet I myself have never seen or heard it used that way. I think when the medical field commandeered it, the verb form became less popular.

Thanks for nerding out with me! This is all to say that I’m looking at graduate programs in applied linguistics, English language, and language education because the whole getting a work visa thing seems like it isn’t going so well. Shifting sands, moving target, and all that.

The Pope’s Tweet (and other stuff that may or may not be important)

My laptop is totally busted. The keyboard panel popped off, and I could see all the insides. The only good thing about this is that it was under warranty, so I don’t have to pay for the repairs. I am “typing” this entry by speaking slowly into my iPhone instead of trying to make my fat thumbs find the right letters. Of course, my laptop being broken ruins any plans I have to apply to more jobs, so everything is frozen on that front until I get it back from the geek squad… presumably that will happen before I die?

Related: Some of the schools I have applied to are classy enough to mail me a letter from England to tell me I didn’t get the job. Two such letters arrived today. Yippee!

It’s the first day of spring, and I can hear sleet against my window AC unit. It’s supposed to snow anywhere from 4 to 12 inches between now and this time tomorrow. Another yippee!

Cynthia Nixon, the actress who played Miranda Hobbes on Sex and the City, has announced that she is going to run for governor of New York as a Democrat. I don’t know what I think about Miranda as a governor. Yeah, she was a successful lawyer and she was the smartest of all those women (maybe?), but I don’t know that we have a great track record of former actors making good politicians. I guess it doesn’t really matter because I can’t vote in a primary in New York as I am not registered with any political party. (Which Marx brother said I won’t belong to any group that will have me? I don’t know the direct quote…) I suppose if Arnold and Reagan and Al Franken can do it, so can Miranda. Please let’s never speak of Kid Rock though.

Sidebar: it’s weird how talking into your phone produces no punctuation whatsoever even when you say it out loud.

I’m not Catholic. I was Baptized, given my First Communion, and Confirmed in the Lutheran church, which is at its very foundation NOT Catholic. However, my mom’s dad was an Irish Catholic boy whose family disowned him when he married a German Protestant girl. it didn’t matter that she was rich; they didn’t want any of that nonsense.

When I was 12 to 14 years old, I learned the Small Catechism, the basics of Lutheran theology, in order to cement my place as an adult in the congregation. This process was in addition to Sunday school classes and occurred on Tuesday nights before or after the youth choir met, so you know I was there. It was a lot of reading and discussion, and it was usually fascinating to hear what other people my age who were raised at my church had to say. One of the pastors who led the classes talked about Baptism being your parents writing a check and Confirmation being you endorsing the check. I can’t remember now if the check was made out to me, to God, or the world or who else, but you get the picture: one of the things was someone else’s decision and now its your turn to decide.

I took the decision seriously, and my mom encouraged me to be open-minded and curious in my exploration of other religions. I had a few Mormon friends, a few Catholic friends, one Buddhist friend I think, several Protestant friends including Presbyterians and Episcopalians. My dad sometimes took me to a Baptist church. I was looking around to see if I really did want to be a Lutheran. There was always something appealing about Catholicism’s traditions and ceremonies. Theres something about a private confession followed by an immediate measurable consequence. Confession in the Catholic Church is also specific whereas in the Lutheran church group public confession is very general – forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us – as the Lord’s Prayer teaches us. It doesn’t say much for personal accountability and consequences, so I was intrigued by the Rosary, Hail Marys, and the like. Acts of contrition aside, there were other intriguing things about the Catholic church despite my indoctrination in Lutheran values. There were a lot of media portrayals that made Catholicism look cool in a weird masochistic way.

The end result was yeah I DID want to be Lutheran. In fact, I wanted to be Lutheran all throughout high school and then I applied to a private college associated with the Lutheran Church. I didn’t know that this would get me a whole lot of money towards tuition, but it did and I’m glad. So are my parents. Also interesting to note that I contemplated (for a brief moment) being a Lutheran pastor, but decided I am too fond of cursing. I did study the historical sources of the New Testament, World Religions, Lutheran theology, and the political and social ramifications of the Reformation during college (and several of my friends are pastors or work in other capacities at churches).

I don’t go to church on a regular basis these days, but I still consider myself Lutheran. Lutherans are some of the coolest people you’ll ever meet. If someone is cool, you should probably check if they’re Lutheran because I bet you’ll learn some surprising anecdotal information to support my claim. We can compile all the data and have statistical proof that Lutherans are awesome.

So I’m not Catholic, but that doesn’t mean I don’t follow the Pope on Twitter! Pope Francis seems great. I mean, he chose not to live in the Papal Apartments because they were too gaudy for him and he didn’t need all that. He only needs the minimum that he required to live comfortably, not to live extravagantly. He also seems to have the right idea about a lot of social issues that have kept the Catholic Church in the dark ages for a long time.

But mostly he tweets amazing shade at the orange moron who you might better know as Donald Trump.

Anyway, the tweet I’m thinking of has nothing to do with the orange moron or the Catholic church. It’s just some wisdom that I thought was worth closer contemplation as it speaks to my current life changes and a question I had about whether or not I could trust my heart.

Il Papa tweeted, “Let us learn to recognize that which leaves a good and lasting mark on our hearts, knowing that it comes from God” on March 6th. It seems that Pope Francis disagrees with Ms. Donna Tartt.

The Pope’s tweet has stayed with me all this time but was particularly on my mind yesterday when a long time friend asked me, “what’s in the UK?” when I told him that I was trying to move there pending a job. As the universe would have it, he is a friend originally from church as early as preschool. We ended up going to the same high school, but our friendship existed primarily because of our history of seeing each other in church and Sunday School every week month in month out, year in your out. We also had some pretty good times on youth group mission trips where we built houses because y’know that’s something to do with a week and a half of your summer vacation. My short answer to “why the UK?” couldn’t be the Pope’s tweet because I’m pretty sure this friend doesn’t follow the Pope on Twitter and also that he doesn’t even “do” Twitter because he’s better than that. Instead of saying, “THE POPE’S TWEET” I said “well, what’s in the UK? My temperament.” Somehow I think he knows me well enough to make sense of that even though he doesn’t know a whole lot about the UK (which is weird because he has a lot of Scottish heritage and should know something about that beautiful country).

Ooooooo new mission: drag him to Scotland to bag some Munros! Maybe that’s all the Pope’s tweet meant.

Rest assured that I also follow God, Jesus, and the Dalai Lama on Twitter.

Macbeth

“Ms. D, why are all the characters Mac-something? It’s confusing!”

That was one I could explain: M-A-C is Scottish for “son of;” M-C is Irish for “son of.” It’s like Johnson, son of John. So Macbeth is the son of Beth, and Macduff is the son of Duff.

I taught Macbeth at least seven times. It was the one shared text of the Brit/World lit curriculum. I think I ambitiously started two junior classes with it before I learned in my third year to switch it up and start with Ibsen’s A Doll’s House instead… ending the course with Macbeth after some warm ups with John Donne to practice the Thees and Thous and Ists. Oh, and a solid seven months of close reading practice on more accessible texts. It always worked to bookend the class with the two plays because I decided gender identity was going to be the “glue” that held all my text choices together – mainly because nothing else did. I picked what I like because I know I can be more enthusiastic about it, and that goes a long way in the classroom. I hope students appreciated it. They seemed to.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Macbeth though. Maybe because if I were teaching this year, I’d likely have it on tap to start right after spring break. I might even be trying to re-work a student-led project I experimented with two years ago to get them to do more of the interpretive work around eight motifs. Or maybe because I’ve been reading and watching Outlander, so my head is in Scotland. Or maybe it’s because Macbeth has a lot to say about shaping the world to fit his will, fate be damned. He also didn’t bother to think about his actions after a while. Sure, that didn’t work out so well for him, but I think I could do with a little less thought.

:::pause while I grab my “well-loved” copy of Macbeth off the shelf to check that I’m accurately quoting:::

:::continued pause while I congratulate myself for remembering it right:::

“…for mine own good, / All causes shall give way…” (3.4.167-8)

This one has been bouncing around in my head since I wrote about shaping the world to fit our vision of how it *should be.* As ever, a certain singer/songwriter/guitarist was piggy backing on my brain waves and addressed that exact subject in an insta story last night/this morning. (That’s neither here nor there because I’m used to him inhabiting my skull.) Here, Macbeth means that everything is going to bend to his will or for his benefit. He’s going to get his, no matter what.

Sidebar: I always tell students that I don’t like No Fear Shakespeare because it locks you in to that one editor’s interpretation. On the real, half the fun of Shakespeare is seeing his double, triple, quadruple possible meanings and then explaining how you came to each one. Call me a nerd; I’m cool with that. 

Macbeth takes the idea to its extreme – not only will everyone do what is best for him, but if they don’t, they’re going to die. Again, I don’t think Shakespeare intended audiences to pattern their lives after Macbeth, but it speaks to ambition and what one is willing to do to achieve his/her goals. I’ve thought about what it means in a less murderous sense – in what ways is it applicable to the lofty goal I’ve set myself of getting a job at a WISE school? Macbeth was already in a position of power to influence events, and he had no qualms about using immoral means to keep that position, so there’s already that major difference between us.

But I can’t help but think his balls-to-the-wall attitude is in some ways admirable. He had an idea of the way things should be, and he put in hard work to make it so. Isn’t that essentially what ambition boils down to?

I wouldn’t do 99.99% of the things Macbeth does to get and keep power. I’m not willing to step on other people – literally or figuratively – to get what I want. Maybe that’s my problem. I will work hard (my beautifully colored application spreadsheet can prove just how hard I’ve been working), but I won’t even go so far as to make a pest of myself to people who could help. Shit, I am even worried that my short inquiry email might be taking someone’s valuable time; forget about a consistent email back and forth with someone who said he’d help! “All causes shall give way” …unless I’m bothering you!

Okay, so I could never be Macbeth. But maybe I could think a -little- less about things, like he says in a couplet to conclude the same monologue (yeah, I know he’s talking about murder, but “strange things” could mean other stuff too!)

“Strange things I have in head, that will to hand, / which must be acted ere they may be scanned” (3.4.171-2).

NB: Can you tell I miss teaching? I guess THAT part of my existential crisis has been resolved.

Cognitive Dissonance, A Prayer for Peace

I’ve had headaches every day for about three weeks in a row. It’s because my sanity was put into a meat grinder, and when I went to collect what was left, my brain went to the paper shredder.

I’m used to mind benders. If you’ve read any other entry, you know I think too much – and not always about things that warrant so much thought. I am a person of faith and intelligence, so I am in constant reconciliation with the parts of myself that are seemingly incompatible.

But the cognitive dissonance I’ve been experiencing is physically eating at the grey matter in my skull. My mom asked me the other day if I had distractions. I have plenty of distractions. I’m exceedingly proud of myself for keeping my shit together so well, employing ALL the coping mechanisms in the book. Still, every day there’s a moment (or hours) when the distractions don’t work, when I can’t laugh about it because it’s so absurd, when I am in deep existential and corporal pain because of the timing alone.

I’m in one of those hours now. Unfortunately, I’m used to not being able to sleep. Tonight, I tried singing to myself while the cat nestled on my tummy.  I chose church/camp songs, but I went with the Spanish version of the first one. I had a moment of visceral memory, standing in the orphanage in the Dominican Republic, tucking the children in to bed. The intermittent electricity was out again, and I was noting all the differences between the orphans’ accommodations and the volunteers’ accommodations. We had mosquito netting on our beds and breathable walls. The orphans didn’t get mosquito nets and their walls were thick, holding in the heat of the summer day.  Laying in my Brooklyn bed with a headache, I was transported there through a simple repetitive song.

I kept singing to myself, other church/camp songs, conjuring more visceral memories. At a youth retreat one fall, someone led us through a meditation. We were supposed to envision a place where we felt safe and a person we felt we could rely on. The place was easy… Chapel on the Hill at the camp I went to for most of my summers. The person was a little less predictable. I didn’t pick my mom. I picked a classic Jesus image. I don’t remember how old I was on the retreat, but I’m pretty sure it was after Confirmation, during which I discussed the gender of God and explained why I have always been okay with God being a Father. It’s not that I think God has a gender; it’s that the idea of a heavenly Father who was superior to any earthly father comforted me more than a heavenly Mother. My earthly mother is already superior, so I don’t have to imagine. It was also prescient because my earthly father likes to say now that me and my older brother are less like his kids and more like his siblings – take a minute to contemplate THAT cognitive dissonance.

The meditation continued, in the safe place with the reliable person, and we were supposed to let everything out to the person. I pictured this as me sobbing and shaking while the Jesus figure held me. So tonight I tried to get back to that meditative place. It reminded me of times I couldn’t sleep when I was much younger. I would go to my mom’s room, burdened with the billions of racing thoughts that kept me awake. On several occasions, she would hold me and tell me to let it go, just for the night, to lay it at God’s feet and trust that it would all be there for me to pick up in the morning. I imagined this as heavy bricks or cinder blocks that I carried to the foot of a mountain, hunched from their weight and the repeated trips back to wherever I kept the bricks. I pictured that tonight too.

Yesterday, I wrote that “I am held in grace by a God I don’t understand and don’t always trust the way I should.” And since my uncle’s death, my gall bladder infection and removal, my aunt’s suicide all immediately followed by mom’s cancer nightmare, my faith has suffered. It’s been a rare thing for me to pray in earnest, even when I could still feel God’s presence (even as I felt that presence fade). My faith has been such a huge part of my life, though, that it cannot be completely extinguished. It’s not something I have, it’s something I’ve been given, and I can’t give it back. It can grow dim. It can become extremely fragile. I can feel disconnected, out in the darkness where there is crying and gnashing of teeth, but I am called back to myself, sometimes just for a moment.

I prayed out loud tonight. I prayed for peace of mind, peace in my soul. I prayed that the cognitive dissonance resolve itself or for the ability to let it go. I prayed for the peace that passes understanding to wash over me so my head would stop pounding. I prayed for other things too, but mostly I prayed for peace.

One of the songs I sang says, “ask, and it shall be given unto you,” so instead of laying in bed unable to sleep, I got up and wrote this. I’ll try again, armed with a delicate faith that comfort I felt in my youth can still be found.

Wasted

I don’t even like the song all that much, especially compared to a few of his others, but I have Joseph Arthur’s “You Are Free” in my head, so now you can have it in yours.

Wasted – not like drunk, lit, turnt.

Although the word came to me while I was upstate visiting a friend from grad school and her newborn baby. She’s one of the first people I met at NYU, and she was a semester ahead of me, so I hung on her every word to survive what seemed like hard work. It wasn’t hard work. It was a lot of theory that is pretty much useless once you enter a New York City public high school classroom. But we bonded because we’re smart and you CANNOT out-crazy our families. I went to see her not only because I wanted to meet her wee bairn, but also because she’s taught in the UK (and bagged herself a braw Scot too. They got married in Edinburgh, and it was a bonny celebration… have I been reading Outlander Book 4 The Drums of Autumn as I follow the cast’s banter on twitter?)

Like in 2005, I hung on every word she had to say about getting a foot in the door over there. She had some good ideas and a lot of insight, but of course we also reminisced about the stupid shit we got up to when we weren’t in class or student teaching.

We got up to a lot of stupid shit. One night at her place in the East Village, there were four of us English teachers in the making: three woman and one… I won’t say man… I will say boy. There may or may not have been pot brownies, I honestly can’t remember because there were a few nights at her place, some included Black Adder and one was right before we had to take one of the three state required teacher tests (I showed up in a grey hoodie, worried the whole time that everyone knew I was high, thought I failed part of it and aced the other… let’s just say, I got my teaching license, so everything is FINE, okay? IT’S FINE!)

Anyway, the night in question absolutely included alcohol, and this boy led us in a drinking game that he called “up the river, down the river.” As far as I can tell, the rules were that every time he so much as touched a card, the females had to drink. Supposedly there was some rhyme or reason to this, but I thought then and think now it was his attempt to see who he could get the drunkest so he could get some (Spoiler alert: he didn’t get into anyone’s pants that night). Suffice to say, we were all wasted, but I can only speak for the level of my own wastedness. I was fucking wasted. At one point, the boy and the crazy person I don’t talk to anymore left to walk to the subway (maybe he did get some after all!). I don’t remember where my friend whose apartment it was went, but I was alone at her place. I was wasted. I was either sitting or laying on her couch trying to retrace how I got to be so very wasted (knowing my grad school self it probably had something to do with vodka cranberry or Captain & Coke). I vaguely remember trying to figure out the rules of the damn drinking game – it wasn’t one I’d played before, and clearly it yielded results. I also realized how wasted I was in a home that was not my own and decided I wanted to be in my own home.

There’s the rub. I was wasted and wanted to be home, but I was not home. I was alone in someone else’s home. Staying wasn’t an option, but if I left, I had no way to lock up behind myself. I was horrified at the thought of leaving her home unlocked. I mean, an apartment in the East Village unlocked? Why not just put a sign out for burglars or other ne’er do wells? Mind, this was before unlimited texting, and I’m not even sure if I could’ve navigated my non-qwerty phone to compose a message anyway. But I wanted very much to go home. So my solution was to write a note of apology and leave anyway. Where and how I managed to find paper and pen, I know not. What, exactly, I wrote, I know not. I was very apologetic about leaving her apartment unlocked and unattended while emphatic that I had to go to my own home. I think I left this missive on her couch and got myself home, presumably on the subway (thank God that nothing ever happened to me trying to get home drunk on the subway).

My friend came home to the note and was panicked because my grammar was atrocious. Missing commas, handwriting askew. Her thought was “Oh LORD, Laura can’t make it home safe. She must be really drunk because her grammar’s gone!” Laughing about this night has brought me joy for over a decade now, but it was only during lunch last week that I decided I’m going to start saying “my grammar’s gone” instead of saying any of the myriad words and phrases other people use to communicate intoxication.

My grammar isn’t currently gone, nor am I wasted.

What I got to thinking about after my friend’s advice and warnings about obtaining a visa was a different kind of wasted. The time, the energy, the years I’ve wasted. I’ve wanted to live in London since I studied there in 2002. It wasn’t feasible to drop out of college to do so, but when I applied to grad school, I didn’t even consider the possibility of doing my full program in England, Scotland, or Ireland. I visited London and passed “flats to let” signs and wrote about how tempting they were. I did a summer study trip in York and Oxford. But I never thought to strike out there at the beginning of my adult life.

When I was being laid off from the arts school and desperately looking for another job, I sent out two inquiries – one to a family friend’s friend who was the principal of an all girls’ school in Surrey and another an unsolicited application to teach at a school in Aberdeen. Neither got a response. I went to the STEM school and worked my butt off.

All last week, I felt very much like I had wasted a lot of time and energy. NYC was second place to London, despite the magic of my early years here. I fell in love with London before I fell in love with NYC. I am far more passionate and knowledgeable about English and Irish literature than I am about American lit (don’t quiz me on Scottish lit, please!) I was weighted by this feeling that I had been wasted too many times and wasted too much time thinking I could make my life and career here when I’ve been drawn THERE by Yeats and Joyce and Byron and Bronte and Shakespeare since I was fifteen. It was sort of crushing. It didn’t help that I got more information about my gag order, which only made me feel like I’ve wasted even more time holding out for ten year benefits when I should have cut and run in 2014. By the end of the week, I was wasted on cookies and feeling like I’ve wasted my whole life.

But I’m held in grace by a God I don’t understand and don’t always trust the way I should. I haven’t wasted time; I’ve been learning. I haven’t wasted energy; I’ve been making a difference in my students’ lives, even if the system actively tries to make that impossible. I may have wandered, but a good wander is never a waste because I always discover something that is worthwhile.

Today I finally didn’t feel wasted, and I managed not to waste the day in feeling like I’ve been on the wrong track. Instead, I got up, got caffeinated, joined a gym so I can track my cardio with machines instead of my poor estimation, sweat like a pig,  got excellent financial news in the mail, put down my deposit for the Irish Education program in Galway this summer, went grocery shopping ahead of the big winter storm, and emailed more WISE schools about visa sponsorship so that I don’t waste my time applying to schools that can’t sponsor visas.

And let’s be honest, getting wasted isn’t as much fun after 25 because the recovery time gets longer and longer.