My Kingdom for a Bathtub and Epsom Salts!

I love being a student in class again, which is good given that I’m going to be a full time student come September. Student living is another story. I don’t share a room, which is nice, but I do have a single bed, part of which is encroached upon by shelves. There aren’t full blackout curtains, which is slightly annoying with how late the sun sets and how early it rises. But the biggest problem is that there is no bathtub. I take a bath pretty much every day, whether or not I’m dirty. It’s just part of my night routine. It’s self care. It’s a cheap luxury. Soaking in a tub with Epsom salts has been a necessity with my exercise regime. It’s just one of those things I NEED.

Well, I haven’t had a bath in over two weeks, and I’m going a little insane about it.

If I don’t lose my mind completely, the bright side is that I have a “must have” on my list for flat shopping in London. That’s a big if. I am so desperate for a soothing soak that I’m looking at hotels that have spas or high-end rooms that have a separate tub and walk in shower. I’m about to call up some of the local B&Bs and ask if I can pay just to spend an afternoon in their tub, if they have one. I joked with group mates that I could get one of those little kiddie pools and fill it in my dorm room.

This afternoon I got a stupidly expensive pedicure because at least it meant I could soak me feet for a while. But that’s the hesitation of going to a hotel, B&B, or spa… I’ve already paid for the place where I’m staying, so my student-to-be budget keeps nagging me to be more conservative with my spending. My sanity might be worth it in the end.

After my pedicure, I took a walk northward and found a spot along the River Corrib to do some writing. I also sang, which is usually something I do during my nightly baths. There are a few threads to what I wrote today that aren’t connected and are largely unfinished, but I like where some of the ideas are going. Maybe you do too.


“Eyre Square”
~LJD July 9, 2018

Heart in throat,
Echoes of you that I don’t want
Because they aren’t enough;
They’re too much.
No one at fault –
The world turns,
          We collide.
The world continues,
          We separate.
Nothing more, nothing less…
Though I feel like there was
          Something
                    Unexpressed.


As yet untitled… maybe “Foreign Language”???
~LJD July 9, 2018

Abstract and concrete
it’s all in how you think.
The theoretical and the practical
have to work together.

Speak in terms I can understand.
Academia is a foreign language.
No one’s mother tongue,
though some become fluent
and forget their roots.
We were all simple once.
Might we transcend to simplicity again?

Secrets of the way I work,
the labyrinth of my mind.
You can’t know,
but you must trust.

Collaboration demands first
that people can communicate.
Assumption never helps,
no matter how innocent and logical.
But we get through,
we achieve or fail,
and either way
we learn.

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Past Lives

I’m not a nun, but I play one on TV. Okay, okay… I’m not a nun, but I’ve played one on stage. Twice. Sister Bertha in The Sound of Music and the Mother Superior in Agnes of God. Both were uppity bitches afraid of young novices and change.

When I had to take an “pre-Shakespeare” English credit, I avoided reading Chaucer in favor of a course called Medieval Literature and Spirituality. We read some morality plays, but a lot of the course was spent reading Julian of Norwich (“and all will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well”) and The Book of Margery Kempe.  Some of their writing resonated so deeply with me that I fancied I was an anchoress* in a former life.

I’ve also thought I was a Civil War Union Soldier and Wyatt Earp. And that Robert E. Lee was my guardian angel (a story for another time).

I’m not committed to the idea of reincarnation or past lives, but I don’t rule it out either. Who’s to say? My use of the expression “past life” means I feel an intense connection to something or someone from a particular period in history. I’m also a total nerd who geeks out on history – the fact it happened, how we record it, the faith we put in science when we try to put events or artifacts on a timeline.

Today we took a field trip to North West Connemara. An archaeologist lead us around Omey Island, a tidal island off the west coast of Ireland that can be accessed on foot only during low tide. He was a comedian too, reminding us, “Keep up! The tide is coming in!” I could’ve literally gone down the rabbit hole there on a burial hill where rabbits are unearthing the skeletons of priests’ mothers. I also could’ve broken or re-sprained my ankle, but I didn’t. The figurative rabbit hole I could go down is linguistic patterns and how I’m picking up random bits of Gaelic. Kil = church, bally = town, si = faery… “s-i” makes the “sh” sound, “a-g-h” makes the “ah” sound etc. It’s an excellent use of my brain power because we all know that Gaelic is a widely spoken and highly marketable language to know.

Then we went to the Kylemore Abbey. The landscape there is something that was embedded in my sub-conscience. It was like something straight out of my imagination. There was mist on the mountain tops when we arrived, rolling hills surrounding a lake, a manicured Victorian garden with colors galore… and even some foxglove in the foreground of a narrow valley between two mountains. I think my heart burst open. I have next to no skill when it comes to visual art, but one of the things I’ve drawn for as long as I can remember is a scene of rolling hills around a body of water. I repeated this image using many different media, but it was something I kept drawing. The landscape surrounding Kylemore is what I meant to create with my attempts. I don’t know if I was a Benedictine sister in a past life, but I would seriously consider becoming one in my current life if it meant I could live in that idyllic setting.

Like I said, my heart nearly burst, so of course some writing had to follow once I could bring my racing blood and firing synapses under some kind of control. I had started a new journal this morning (after a dream that felt all too real and left me reeling). My sister gave it to me a while ago (a journal is always a good present because I’ll definitely use it at some point). She got it because it says, “Know your own happiness” on the cover. The quote is attributed to Jane Austen, but I ignore that part. Some of what I got down laments not having the words to communicate the awesomeness of today despite my desire to share it. Sharing it is not altogether unrelated to my dream, so I guess the day has come full circle.

*Anchoress – a woman in Medieval times who inhabited a small chamber built into the wall of a church. She lived there with only a small window through which to communicate and receive necessities. She contemplated the Passion of Christ and often wore hair shirts or practiced other self-flagellation to emulate the pain of the Crucifixion. Basically the “Bad Ass Bitch” of all nuns.

Pinch Me, I’m Dreaming

I’ve written about my dreams before, and I recently dreamt that I ran into a guy from high school on the Q train headed to Manhattan. We chatted a bit and then Jon Hamm got on the train wearing only running shorts and doing pull ups on the overhead bars. He knew the guy from high school too, and I said something very suggestive that I wanted touch him to see if he was real. He was very Don Draper about it, responding with something equally suggestive that he’d be into it if I did touch him. The whole thing felt very real, but I was surprised by the cast – the guy from high school wasn’t a friend of mine and I haven’t watched anything with Jon Hamm recently.

But that’s neither here nor there because it’s not the only dream I need to be pinched awake from. Other dreams are that I’m going to move to the Aran Islands and live a simple life in the corner of someone’s farm field, earning my keep by writing and reminding the owner every day how outrageously beautiful the place is. I’ll keep an internet connection, but I won’t have a cell phone. I’ll walk around with pens and a notebook. I’d do more listening than talking with most people. And I’d talk to the animals as much as I want even when they give me stink eye. This dream does not coincide with the urban living of my last 13 years or the urban living I’m going to encounter when I move to London. It’s also probably not feasible to earn a living on the Aran Islands with my particular skill set. MAYBE it could be reality if I wrote a book that was a global best seller. I don’t think I have that mass appeal though.

Another dream I need to be pinched awake from was the primary school principal who spoke to my summer program group this morning. He has a clear vision for his school, and he supports that vision with the latest scientific research about what conditions in the brain are most conducive to learning. He understands that education is not just about academics. He speaks passionately and knowledgeably about the history of the type of school he helms and the benefits to approaching education from a student centered whole child standpoint. I loved everything he said. I asked him if he could lead the US in educational reform, if he would zap into the brains of every administrator in the US his understanding of the purpose of schools. Philosophically, we were very much on the same page. He said, “education is not something that you do to someone; it’s something you facilitate. That’s why I call it a learning community instead of a school.” Brilliant.  I told him that my principal usually put up a PowerPoint of statistics regarding test results and then said goodbye. He talked about how difficult it is to juggle the various stakeholders’ opinions and political waves associated with educational leadership, but he very clearly has not let such things jade him over a long career. It was energizing on one hand and bittersweet on the other.

Bittersweet because I share his ideas and am glad to know some educational leaders SOMEWHERE do. Bittersweet because I have lost some of my hope that such grand visions can be achieved in a system that is more than a century behind. Bittersweet because I am not coming to work at his primary school here in Galway come September. And believe me when I say that I would. I’d leave secondary education and figure out how to speak Irish and teach math if it meant I could work in a school where the principal is so enlightened.

Energizing because it renews some of the hope I’ve lost over the last several years. There’s no simple and quick fix to how broken most school systems are, but at least there are pockets of people who are using scientific evidence of how children learn best to inform their practice… not just in one classroom but in an entire school from the moment the students come in. We all know that if it’s only one teacher, the change won’t last. But if we create an ethos of growth and development, mistakes as opportunities, mutual respect, continuous learning for the teachers… then there’s a chance students will leave as critical thinkers who are resilient, curious, self-aware, and tolerant of differences.

And finally, pinch me awake from the dreams literature, TV, movies, and music give us about love.

Oh, and while you’re pinching me, also remind me not to eat my feelings… whether those feelings are about World Cup losses or how differently anything might have gone if I had done something I didn’t or not done something I did.

A Brilliant Combination of Words

Somewhere in between sleep and consciousness this morning, I caught a brilliant combination of words, but like so many things in the fuzzy space of waking up, I lost it. That’s okay because I lighted on another later in the day.

This afternoon was St. Stephen’s Green Joyce bust writing take two. The first take was a drizzly Sunday morning in late August 2016. I was looking at Joyce head on that go round. What I wrote that day still haunts me in its truth, artistry, and inspiration. It’s wholly me and somehow beyond me. I’m extremely proud of it and protective of it at the same time.

Today I sat under a tree, viewing Joyce in profile. Dubliners come out in droves at lunchtime when the sun is out the way it has been the last several days, so there was nary a bench in sight. I found a spot of grass under a tree and got to work with the prompt, “WWJJD” or What Would James Joyce Do? (Instead of WWJD, what would Jesus Do? or for the question averse Walk With Jesus Daily.)

Joyce would probably do some stream of consciousness action and avoid traditional English grammar rules, so the snippet I have for you today is just that.


Photographers seek the light I always find even the smallest ray catches and reflects people have said it’s within me shining out so like attracts like and I am found even in shadow even in the deep of night If I glow and others search for warmth and clarity, they gravitate to me asking me to give what they lack. What do I get in return? 

If everyone is special then really no one is special. Some of us have to accept that we are ordinary even if we sometimes end up in extraordinary circumstances. My ego, and perhaps listening to others, makes me think I am special, but in that I am just like everyone else… achingly ordinary.


In case you wondered, I got side-tracked thinking WWJJD and noted that Yeats might worship the days of sunshine. And the combination of words I like as much as whatever was lost to the ether this morning is “achingly ordinary.”

Wilde YES, Liffey NO

I like to think I have a good sense of direction, but about three of the ten miles I walked today tell me I’m wrong. To be fair, I’m not nearly as familiar with Dublin as I am with NYC and London… that still doesn’t excuse the many times today I went the opposite direction of my intended goal.

I’m staying relatively close to where I stayed the last time I was here, which is south of the River Liffey. I’m a little closer to the city center now than I was two summers ago, but both times I’ve had myself all turned around. Today, I wanted to get to the Liffey if not across it. Simple, right? It’s almost like all I had to do was walk due north on a street that runs north-south. Except it’s not a grid like NYC and I don’t know all the twists and turns like I do in central London. Every time I had a choice, I made the one that took me further from my goal. Maybe I can blame Samuel Beckett for this, as it was initially his bridge I wanted to cross. I hate Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. I understand it; I just hate it. I also had to do set and costume designs for it in IB Theatre. I thought I was pretty inventive doing an all white set, including the one tree, but I guess my teacher didn’t like my artistic choices.

Anyway, what I was able to find like a homing signal was the Oscar Wilde statue. No thought or decisions required to have me standing in front of my dead, gay, Irish, giant lover (and a tour group of German teenagers). Bolstered by my innate sense of where literary landmarks are, I consulted a map to reorient myself. Like my last visit, I was a bit upside down, thinking I was north when I was south, thereby messing up east and west. I *think* I have a handle on it now. At least I did this afternoon. when I made it to the banks of the Liffey for a stroll and some writing before continuing north of the river (and walking by the James Joyce statue, don’t worry).

Writing? I said writing. I wrote quite a bit today, starting in the Insomnia Coffee shop (great name, greater logo). Here are a few snippets that probably don’t make sense… mainly because very little of any of it is cohesive. (and because I’m still waiting for the hot water heater to do its thing so I can shower)


Yesterday doesn’t count. Tomorrow doesn’t matter. Only now.

(Remember when Helen chastised me for misspelling tomorrow? “Yesterday” is more straight forward.)


Life stripped down – maybe it’s what I need.


Old bruises fade, new ones appear; am I ever without them?


It’s not true, so I’m not writing it. Crossing the street or crossing the ocean, you would see me coming long before I’d recognize you. (I’m not shaking; it’s the bridge!)

Bumps and Bruises

(For those playing “Where In the World Is Carmen San Diego” with me: I’m posting from my mom’s guest room in NoVA, which will be “home” for all intents and purposes until early September.)

I moved to New York City in August 2005 to do a Masters program at NYU Steinhardt. Thirteen years, the foundation years of adulthood really, is both a long and short time, depending on how you look at it. For the final six years, I lived in a one bedroom in Kensington Brooklyn. It was the second apartment I had by myself, no roomie to split costs or share the kitchen and bathroom. Besides my childhood home, it’s the place I lived the longest. In college, it was in and out of the dorms every year. For my first three years in NYC, I lived in three places. A friend told me I wasn’t allowed to move so often because she was wearing the paper thin in her address book by erasing and re-writing my address! (Yes, I am truly an Oregon Trail baby because my friends and I use(d) paper address books and wrote actual letters to each other.) When I moved in to the apartment in Kensington in August 2012, I was tired of moving. I told myself that the next place I moved to would either be a place I own or a place in another country, otherwise I was staying put.

I guess I held true to my word! Walking out of the emptied space on Wednesday was a big deal… and while I’m stopping by my mom’s for a little while, my final destination is London. It’s overwhelming in all ways – mostly good, but there were some anxiety tsunamis in the last ten days, so severe that I thought I was going under.

New York strung together some beautiful early June days for my morning walks in Prospect Park, tempting me to question why I wanted to leave. But gorgeous early June days are found the world over, so those weren’t enough to freak me out. Making decisions about what to keep and what to toss was more problematic. The fact that stuff got soaked in the truck on the way to Virginia only added to the decision fatigue. I was fairly aggressive (by my own standards) with recycling papers that I know I will never use again, so what I did keep has more meaning, is more valuable. As my mom described, I winced at every single rain drop that fell after the tarp came undone.

I’m getting ahead of myself in storytelling though.

I was also aggressive with getting rid of furniture that I knew I wouldn’t want if/when I move back to the US, not to even consider shipping it over the Atlantic. So I gave a lot away. Several pieces to former students, visiting with whom was a trip. It was a reminder that I really did make a difference in a system that very nearly bled me dry. It also solidified that prior to things kind of going off the rails in 2014, I was excellent at my job. One of my sisters and a friend took some stuff, and some stuff went to charity. I thought I’d done enough to whittle it down to “essentials” (I use quotes because clearly I’m coming at the idea from a privileged capitalist angle… I have so much beyond what’s essential that it might make a person sick.) Yet when mom arrived with the Ford F-150 dad lent us for the move, I had too much. A passerby got some of the overflow. The trash pile outside my apartment building got some. I hope someone came by and picked up the useful items… I feel extremely wasteful about a lot of things.

I said anxiety tsunami though. I have to look at how materialistic I am because STUFF caused a lot of the anxiety. Where is the stuff going? Can I keep the stuff? Why do I WANT to keep the stuff? Where will the stuff be put to the best use if I give it up? And of course the feeling of wanting to just give up on the whole moving thing because I’m trapped by the stuff and it’s all too much to handle. Let’s just stay here with all the stuff and be here until I did or it all burns down.

But I know it wasn’t just the stuff that caused the tsunami, so I can lay off myself on the materialism. Some of it was feeling my way through the transition. My mom, brother, and I used to joke that I was terrible with change. I hated it and I didn’t handle it well. I’m not sure how true our jokes were. I know it’s not all that true anymore because the changes I’m making now are ones I sought out, worked for, bent heaven and earth to make happen. And this change is huge in a lot of ways. NYC and London are comparable as big cities, but moving my life from one to the other is more than getting myself on a plane with a suitcase. Oh, and the small detail that instead of teaching there, I’ll be a student again, which means instead of making money, I’ll be spending it. Plus I’m not bringing all my people with me.

That’s another few gallons of the anxiety tsunami… making sure I got to see everyone I wanted to see before I left – from doctors to former colleagues to friends. To make sure I didn’t overlook anyone and that I took special time with the people I’d miss most. I’d been going to my therapist weekly for twelve years, which is the longest, most consistent counseling relationship I’ve had, plus the whole adult years thing. The brief time we took to reflect on how I’ve progressed in those years was emotional… that it happened to be on the day the anxiety tsunami crested was probably best because it helped me cry.  Though saying goodbye has been tough, it’s also been wonderful because people are so excited for me. I’ve been trying to take things one thing at a time – move out of NYC first, then the month in Ireland, THEN I can get everything together for London – so I’ve kept the excitement at a low simmer just to get shit done. But the people in my life a boiling with it, and it makes me feel so loved. I always know that I am loved, but I don’t always feel it. In the last several weeks, I have felt it around me like a bear hug. That has been such a gift, and to everyone who expressed their happiness for me, through whatever medium, I can’t begin to tell you how much your support means to me. I’m getting choked up typing about it.

But this entry isn’t called anxiety tsunami or saying goodbye to NYC; it’s called BUMPS AND BRUISES… because I made the poor decision to move myself out instead of higher professionals. You already know that I ran out of room when packing up the truck so stuff ended up in the trash instead of my mom’s storage space. What I haven’t said is that not only did I pack and label all the boxes myself, I carried a lot of them to the truck and I organized ALL of them in the truck. I also did my best to secure them under a tarp, bungee cords, and heavy duty tie downs. It’s a good thing I’ve been working out with weights, not just doing cardio. However, I can’t make my bones smaller even if I make my muscles bigger and burn the fat away. Trying to slide my arm between boxes and the side of the truck bed to hook the tie down in once the tarp was over everything… not cute. Both my forearms are pretty much big bruises. I would try to count them, but it’s more like one bruise blossoms into another. Let’s talk about my legs for a second. The source of bruising there is less clear, but I have tons of bruises from my mid-thigh to my mid-shin and my knees are especially colorful.

I did some things right in loading the truck. In hindsight, I see several things I could’ve done better. Mostly I learned that I’ll just pay movers for any future jobs. Like I said to my dad, “I CAN do it, which is a confidence boost, but I know for the next time that I don’t want to do it. So the truck was bursting full and the tarp was strapped down. Except it wasn’t secure. The driver’s side came undone pretty quickly, so we made our first of many stops on the New Jersey Turnpike to re-do things. Apparently we didn’t do a good job because as soon as we got back on, someone was honking at us. We discovered later it was because some bungees were flying away. Then mom saw and I heard something fall off, so we had to pull over – not enter a rest area, just pull over to the shoulder of the NJ Turnpike – to assess the damage. What went wasn’t that important or damaging to other cars, just interlocking floor tiles for exercising. Scary, but okay. As we were working to secure everything else (and maybe leave a bulletin board on the side of the highway) a transit truck came up to us. I was standing on the back bumper pulling straps, clearly doing my level best to make sure everything was going to stay in the truck… my mom was trying to tighten another strap. The guy could have been a real jerk because human beings often are. He wasn’t though. I don’t know if he changed his mind of how he was going to approach us, but when he got to me, he wore a big smile and asked how we were doing. I don’t know if he saw the stuff that fell off or if he only came up to see why we’d stopped, so I explained that we were trying to make sure nothing fell off. Instead of trying to mansplain what I was doing wrong or to otherwise correct my action, he made a joke that anything that fell off and didn’t break, he got to keep. It was the perfect levity for what was a stressful situation. I think he was an undercover angel for being so nice when I know very well he could have been a total dick about it.

Not entirely happy with our side of the road job, I asked mom to go even slower as we got back on our way. It didn’t help. We didn’t lose anything else, but we were very close to when we pulled over on the side of the highway for the second time (or third adjustment since leaving Brooklyn). This time we took some stuff out of the back and shoved it into the cab with us so that I made the rest of the trip with a deflated air mattress and my cat in his carrier on my lap. (Did I not mention my cat was making this exodus with me? He smelled like fear the whole time.) We gave up on trying to keep the tarp over everything and said a prayer that nothing else fell out. We should have included a lot more in that prayer given what happened next.

Loaded up with my lap completely occupied, mom accelerated to get back in to traffic. The truck isn’t hers. It’s my dad’s. Mom isn’t familiar with all its bells and whistles. Through some fancy setting or glitch, the truck kept accelerating even when mom took her foot off the pedal. It kept accelerating even when mom pushed down on the brakes. I don’t drive and from the passenger seat with my arms and lap full of air mattress and cat, I don’t know how to help or what to do. Mom didn’t scream or anything, but she told me what was happening in a panicked voice. She told me she had no control. As is my super power, I stayed stupidly calm as I watched the highway breeze by. I asked if she could steer. She was panicked because she could not brake at all, but she could steer it seemed, so we steered to an exit going too fast on the curve, me holding everything in my lap as I watched the guard rail looking too close and mom saying she couldn’t stop and she had no control at all. Neither of us know what happened or how, but as we took the exit further, she was able to brake. In the moment we were shaken up, but the real processing of the situation has come in waves in the last two days, kind of on a delayed release. It’s been more pronounced for mom because as the driver it was scarier for her (and with her daughter in the car on her way to a new adventure that looked like it may end in death before I even got across the ocean….) Anyway, we survived. We aren’t dead. And yeah, nothing else fell out of the truck, but maybe our prayer should have included “please make sure the truck doesn’t get possessed and try to kill us.”

I mentioned that we gave up on the tarp covering things… yeah. Our prayer should have also included please let it not rain on us. But it did. Mattress took a full 24 hours to dry out. A box of memories and keepsakes was soaked through the cardboard, but I have yet to assess the damage to paper inside. A box of decorative knicknacks was drenched, but most everything in there was wrapped in bubble wrap. Then there’s the box that had A TON of my writing… it looks like just the box is ruined, not its contents, but my heart broke a little with every rain drop.

It was a harrowing journey. Then I discovered that things don’t fit in the room the way I thought they would, so the purge continues. I can only get so much done before I leave for Ireland though. So purge and organize phase 2 will have to wait… Lord knows I need a break.

ON TOP OF EVERYTHING it’s World Cup time, and I’m trying to watch as much as I can because I love World Cup (and Euro Cup…. I may love Euro Cup even more). It’s hard work to have so many exciting things going on, hence my lack of posting anything during the whirlwind.

(I didn’t proof read this because I’m eager to get to sleep. I think I’ve earned it with all the bumps and bruises of the last days.)

Titles

If ever there was a doubt that I was a born teacher, the papers I amassed throughout my own education prove otherwise. I took careful notes and saved most of them until well after grad school. At that point, I got rid of anything that wasn’t humanities related, which wasn’t much considering the boxes full of stuff I still have. I’m going through everything now to determine what can be trashed and what I might keep, and it’s a trip to see how much I read and wrote in elementary, middle, and high school, and then in college and grad school.

Several of my high school papers have a note at the top from the teacher that reads “title?” I suppose Mrs. Arsi (sp?) prioritized that format. As a teacher, I never ask students to put a title on their essays or other pieces… I’m happy if they get their name on it sometimes. (The exception to that rule was the research paper. THAT had to have a title and a cover page). I learned my lesson early: give everything a title! And I guess I saw it as a challenge to be creative. Instead of “Character analysis of Smith” or “The Theme of Story X,” I went with quotes, colons, puns etc. Looking at them now, I crack myself up.

Here are a few of the ones from high school, after being urged by my freshman year English teacher to put a title on everything.

“The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”

“Daddy Dearest”

“The Way It Could Have Been” (For an alternative ending to Kafka’s Metamorphoses when I was 15)

“Calling All Future Teen Queens”

“Pip’s Snobbish Expectations”

In senior year of high school, I took a philosophy course and gave my first paper the title “I’ll Believe It When I See It.” Philosophical writing, with a counterargument, was new to me. Most of my literary analysis had to anticipate a counterargument in the planning stages so I brought all the evidence to my thesis, but taking up space in the paper with acknowledging it was foreign. I was, uncharacteristically, unsure of what I turned in. When the teacher handed back the graded essays, he also chose one to read aloud to the class as an example of what we should be doing. It was MINE! He didn’t divulge that to the class, but I’m pretty sure I turned hot pink with simultaneous pride and embarrassment that people knew. I took it home and bragged to my mom about it. Of course she asked me to read it for her. I began, but three sentences in, she said, “Who did you steal this paper from? You didn’t write that!” I was so mad that she was accusing me of plagiarism that I refused to read the rest to her. Her point was that she was impressed with the sophistication of what I wrote. The ONLY feedback I remember from the paper was that according to IB rules, I needed to use the essay prompt as the title instead of creating my own. By that rule, I think the paper should have been titled “Believing Conditions What We See; Seeing Conditions What We Believe.”

I got more experimental in college, and some experiments fail.

“What’s Your Problem, Holden?”

“Christ In Rossetti” (a play on Christine Rossetti… womp womp, but I was SO proud of it)

“True Love or Poppycock?”

“Goneril: First Is the Worst”

“We Know the Risks, So Don’t Blame Our Music”

“You Down with OPP?” (admittedly one of my all-time favorites)

My section titles for presentations in senior seminar as an English major were also amazing…(see “A Crazy Little Thing Called Magical Realism,” “Different Strokes for Different Folks”) I was so tired of reading, quiz to prove I read, writing, discussion by that point, and THE BEAST awaited at the end of each semester. THE BEAST? Oh, let me tell you. A final exam over two days and ten hours worth a thousand points. It included the old English teacher favorite of unattributed quotes that I then had to identify with work and author. Then a few short answer. Then SIX (yes I said SIX) essays of reasonable length for analysis of specific topic (most of mine turned out to be 5 or 6 paragraphs). That was ONE day of the exam. The second part was an extended essay using at least EIGHT of the millions of works we’d read to “explore” a topic, like gender roles or god and spirituality. No big… just sit in the computer lab for five hours and bang it out. And I did it again in the second semester, same format. ERMAHGAWD!

And all of this is just stuff from English classes… it doesn’t include history, humanities, religion… I read A LOT and wrote a good amount too. Going through it all amazes me. I can’t say that I remember all of what I read; sadly, I can’t even say I remember all that I wrote! Not to mention the non-academic writing I’ve done. It’s staggering.

As Jason Mraz sings in “You and I Both”… “I’m all about them words over numbers, undercover, numbered words. Hundreds and pages, pages, pages forwards. More words than I have ever heard.”

Conversations with my Cat

I’ve lived with my current fur face for the better part of twelve years. We moved in together when I ventured out to Brooklyn for the first time and he was a kitten. I remember the first morning I woke up with his nose practically in my mouth. He wasn’t really mine, but we migrated together to Astoria. When my roommate and I decided we were adult enough to try living alone, she took him for a few months. He was hers to begin with, so it made sense. But I ended up with him because his original mama traveled a lot. Plus, I had gotten used to waking up with his face in mine.

I’ve adopted three other cats at various times along the way. Two of them were dead within four months of moving in with me, so I think of myself as a cat killer or the grim reaper for felines. Yeah, they were both old, but it doesn’t change how guilty I felt when I told their original mamas that they were dying (or already dead in the one case). The third cat was younger and made of stronger stuff. My bestie and I call her cancer cat because she changes homes when someone gets a cancer diagnosis (my mom, then my bestie).

But Rocky has been a constant in my NYC life. He has refused to help grade papers, choosing instead to sit on them or my pens or my hands when I needed to do work. He tried to escape once… by jumping (or falling?) out of my third storey window and costing me a month’s rent in vet bills to find out if he had done any permanent damage. He even came with me to NoVA to nurse mom through chemo. He returned to her house when I was in Texas last fall.

And now that I’m setting off across the Atlantic, I don’t know what’s going to happen to him. Last summer he was reduced to less than five pounds of fur and bones, and I found out he was diabetic. He’s gained most of his weight back thanks to twice daily insulin shots and special canned food. I’ve been prepping him for a change even before I knew what it would be.

I’ve asked him how he feels about getting a new family, one that maybe has other cats. His answer? He’s not really into it.

I’ve asked him how he feels about getting a new family that has a dog or two but no other cats…. not his thing.

I’ve asked how he feels about children. Hard pass.

I’ve asked how he feels about living with me somewhere else in the USA. He was okay with that but more interested in staying put.

I’ve asked how he feels about getting a pet passport and immigrating with me. He’s not so keen because it means a microchip implantation and a flight across the ocean.

But shelters don’t take twelve year old diabetic cats. And the friends who WOULD take him (out of love for me) can’t for various totally legit reasons. So what’s going to become of my fur face?

Would YOU donate to a gofundme for paying the cost of pet immigration? That’s insane, right? But I don’t have kids! And if I ever do get married, I’m not having a big wedding because I don’t give a shit about that if I ever find someone who accepts all my crazy, whose crazy I can accept. I don’t need a party where we invite all our crazy family to stress us out. So don’t people owe me wedding presents and baby shower gifts and money? Y’know, like when Carrie married herself and only registered for expensive shoes (Yeah, that was a rare Sex and The City reference from me.)

Is immigrating my diabetic cat worth over $3,000 if I only know I’ll be in the UK for a year and don’t know where I’ll be living yet? And anticipate living in a pre-furnished place that probably wouldn’t allow pets anyway? Would someone “foster” him for a year even though he is neurotic like me?

You see my problem, right? Don’t answer that if you don’t get it. But if you have any ideas, or would contribute to a cat immigration gofundme, hit me up.

Until then, I’ll keep chatting with him to get his thoughts and feelings on the dilemma.

Meow.

Ducks! Or A Wing and a Prayer

Back in February, I made a decision to go all in on finding a teaching job in the UK or Ireland. I got advice from friends who have done it and sent out dozens of inquiry emails to schools that had openings for English teachers. Some schools even let me apply, but most couldn’t consider me as a candidate due to strict visa laws that require an employer to prove that no one else in the country (or in some cases the entire EU) can do the job.  A friend suggested that I look at Masters programs because a student visa would let me work part time and position me in country for 2019-2020 school year openings when I finish whatever program I do. I wasn’t opposed to this idea, as I’ve revised the dream before, and I’ve been through plans A, B, C, D etc etc during my time off.

I did my research and decided there were a few programs in London, Edinburgh, and Dublin that interested me. I started applications for all of them, but I was having trouble deciding what to write in the essays for most of them. Why do I want to spend the money to study this particular subject at that specific school? What are my career goals in doing so? It’s difficult because I have had a career and achieved many of my goals in the last twelve years. I had no intention of changing my trajectory or starting over in my mid thirties. I thought that I would continue on the same road – doing good work in the classroom. Of course, that has become all but impossible, especially with the bureaucratic bullshit I dealt with for two and half months during my leave of absence. I can’t tell a university that I really don’t want to change my career all that much, that I just need the benefit of a student visa to get in the door and I’m fascinated by all things related to words and communication. I only wrote one essay in the end because the program seemed like it could present the most opportunities to continue in education, whether in the classroom or the specialist level, but NOT administration (I do NOT want to be an administrator!)

I submitted the application, but the school said they don’t look at applications until both references are completed, so I had to wait for two very busy people I’ve worked with to upload letters they wrote last year. One of them did it lickety split. But then it was all about waiting, being patient. Meanwhile, another school in Turkey had a job they wanted me to interview for. Oh, and I had to tell the DOE what my plans are for next year. And the usual turn around time for applications to the MA programs is four to six weeks, running right into my trip to Ireland for a month to learn about their education system. Plus, I had to make a backup (backup backup backup) plan if none of this international stuff worked out because I decided without doubt that I didn’t want to go back to the DOE.

I was scared of all the chaos. I like having a plan. I like knowing ahead of time what’s going to happen so I can be prepared, have my ducks in a row. Of course, I know this isn’t how life works. It also felt like I was divorcing my old ball and chain – my teaching career in the DOE – so there was a part of me that was sad. When the Turkey thing came up again, I was totally lost, so I turned to mom, the Bible, and prayer. I needed guidance. The final verse I randomly turned to was Ecclesiastes 7:8, “Patience is better than pride.” I had said in December that maybe God was giving me the opportunity to learn patience.

I turned it over completely to God. I took a total leap of faith, exercising patience, living in uncertainty. I let myself get used to the idea that whatever was going to come next was going to be a last minute whirlwind of logistics. And that it would be okay. Whatever happened would be okay. It might not be the best, or the right thing, but I know well enough that it’ll be fine; I’ll be fine. So I gave it up to God, like my meditation when I was younger. I wasn’t really comfortable with it, but I did it in faith.

I also continued with the backup backup backup, call it Plan Z. I applied to another urban public school system and progressed through the steps of their process, getting invited to an open house and a job fair. It was a big compromise, but that’s what life is sometimes. It was not really a version of what I wanted, but there were pluses to it that made it tolerable, that made it feel less like throwing in the towel on what I want. When I arrived in the city the evening before the open house, Meghan Trainor’s “NO” came on shuffle, and I burst out laughing. I didn’t know if it was a sign or a coincidence, but it sure was something.

That night, I wrote what I wanted. That seems simple, but it’s not something I’ve always been used to. Yes, when I was twenty and then into my early twenties, I was crystal clear on what I wanted, and the world was listening and things happened. It was kind of a magical time, but that magic seemed to fade by my mid twenties… it had all but disappeared by the time I turned thirty. Articulating what I want or need has been a process, so I was proud to put it down in black and white. I wrote, “I want Literacy in London to develop into a job there – in a school or an agency that works with kids – as a teacher or a teacher/coach or a resource person who works with small groups.” Earlier that week, my second reference had uploaded her letter, and I anticipated that I would find out if I was accepted the morning I land in Dublin for my month-long program. I was taking the leap of faith that scrambling to figure out details from there would work itself out. I had to explore Plan Z though. I had to even start thinking about Plan AA if Plan Z was really a “NO” like the song said.

I went to the open house and was feeling okay until the principal answered some of my questions about class sizes and teachers’ workloads… and no one could answer my questions about salary with the credentials I have. (The internet later told me that only one other English teacher in that entire system has the credentials I have.) The career fair was even more disappointing because there were very few English teacher positions period, let alone at schools I am interested in. I felt defeated. I gave myself a day to decide what the next step was going to be because while I had taken the leap of faith, adjusting to the knowledge that whatever comes next would be a whiplash switch when it revealed itself, I still needed to be making a safety plan.

But it was a Friday, and I buried my head in a book and decided to worry about it again on Monday. I switched my iPad from my eBook app to check my email before turning off for the night. Five days after my application was complete, I had an email from University College London telling me that my application status had changed for the MA Literacy and Literacy Difficulties programme. Please log in for updates. It didn’t make sense. It was 3AM in England. And it had only been five days since they got my second reference. I was expecting to wait at least four weeks if not longer to get a response. I got out of bed and logged in on my laptop where my passwords are saved.

I received an unconditional offer!

After 10 on a Friday night, I now know what comes next!

That was May 18th, and it’s been full on freak out (in a good way) since then. I’ve made so many lists, starting with a budget. Can I actually do this? Fuck. It’ll be tough. But what is money for? Plus, I can get a part time job on a student visa. So many questions for my friend who works in London to help shape my budget numbers. Then the logistics of when I move out of NYC. Should I keep my lease while I’m Ireland for a month? Am I still going to Ireland? (Um, YES of course I’m still going to Ireland because I planned that months ago and I love it there and learning about their education system might mean I end up there at some point). So. Many. Lists. To do. To trash. To move. To store. What I need for the visa paperwork. To see before I leave NYC.

I don’t know that any of it has sunk in. If you’ve followed the blog, you know that I’ve been looking for a change, honing what I want and what is realistic and how much control I have over any of it. Now things are happening… and it’s the version of events that I told my therapist I thought would be best for my physical health because it will give me more structured time in my days than I have now, but it will still allow me time to focus on my workouts (which have suffered since I sprained my ankle).

I’m trying to do one thing at a time, but it’s totally overwhelming and scary – in the best way. I remember this feeling of exhilaration from when I was 20-24, but it’s been a long time and I thought that kind of crazy dreaming and turning into reality were unique to youth. (And yeah, I know I’m not all that old now, but when you think about the way other people who are 36 are totally settled into their lives, it feels like I’m an anomaly.)

So I’m putting my ducks in a row, or trying to. I operated on a wing and a prayer, and I feel like I learned patience and have the reward to show for it. I’m still living on a wing and a prayer when it comes to where I’m going to live and what part time work I’ll do and if I’ll even get to stay there when the year-long programme is done and my dissertation is written. It’s still an act of faith, trusting that it’ll be better than okay.

As a framed picture in my hallway says, “The jump is so frightening between where I am and where I want to be… because of all I may become I will close my eyes and leap.” (Mary Anne Radmacher).

And as my sister says, “so many moving pieces and so many pieces to move.”

I still need to figure out what I’m doing with my diabetic fur baby, AKA my cat. I still need to give away some furniture too. If you can help with either of those things, or a flat in London, let me know!

Oh, and dates!

I leave NYC on June 20, so if you want to see me before I say goodbye for now to the Big Apple, let me know.

I’m in Ireland from June 25 to July 24, which will be amazing.

After that, I’ll be NoVA based (thank God for my mom) until I leave in late August or early September. If you want to see me there, let me know.

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.