Friday, November 30, 2007

Stepping Away from the Spinning

Much of the content of this blog has to do with my struggle to keep balance--making time to take care of myself physically and emotionally, making enough time to enjoy and raise my girls, committing enough at work (but not too much), making sure I nurture my marriage, and so on.  My line of thinking lately has been that there is no such thing as "balance" when you're a working mom, where all of the balls are actually in the air at once.  It's more like plate spinning, where you're running around between the poles, spinning plates as they are just about to drop, ignoring some when they get going on their own, dropping others when you don't reach them in time.

I'm wondering if this is the right metaphor, though.  It does, after all, keep you running, and the focus is on plates falling, which is acting from a place of fear.  It puts one on the defensive.

I'm wondering instead about Wayne Dyer's idea in Being in Balance. He argues there that it is not about changing daily practices that will bring us in balance, but rather "about realigning yourself in all of your thoughts so as to create a balance between what you desire and how you conduct your life on a daily basis."

This focus on thoughts (you are what you think) is one of the central tenets of New Thought (unchurch), so I'm familiar with the idea.  But I'm exhilarated and terrified by the notion that I have so much power in my own life.  What if I were to set an intention that is totally out of step with the safe routines (plate spinnings) I've established so far?  What if I welcomed changes into my life, spaces that allowed me to fulfill those intentions?  How destabilizing.  A new paradigm, maybe.

My friend Marshall is doing this now.  She has left behind her safe routines for a while, setting her intention toward living a full, authentic life, whatever that ends up meaning for her.  I think she's exhilarated and terrified, too, if her writing about that experience is any indication.

Could I do that?  Not up and leave everything behind, of course, but set a grand intention for living the life I actually want and desire?

Yes.  I think I can.  The hard part will be to figure out what that intention is.  So, my interim-intention (Smile) will be to welcome some clarity about what kind of life I want to be living.  I intend to find out what my intentions are.  I make space for those messages. 

Hooo.  Scary. 

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Eating Her Curts and Ways

A few days before I left for England, a senior colleague pulled me into his office, sat me down, and said, "You know, Jen, there are people in this department who find you, well....curt.  I just thought you should know."

I've been thinking a lot about this episode, and I have multiple levels of reaction to it.  On the one hand, it was humiliating--I felt chastised, a little, like a kid who has mouthed off again.  My colleague's wife was sitting at the desk, nodding, which also made the whole thing feel a little like being pulled into a principal's office.

There's also a part of me that's angry about it.  I'm guessing there is a strong gender dimension to this talking-to, and I have my doubts that any of my male colleagues have ever received "advice" in this way.  Women aren't supposed to speak up, and most don't, in my division.  The fact that I do, rather than "keeping my head down" while trying to get tenure, marks me as a target.  And, this colleague told me that there is one person in particular who finds me abrupt, and that this person doesn't know me well (he's new), but my colleague wanted me to know how "other people" in the division see me, which is probably code for how he sees me.  Add to this the fact that he has also consistently asked about where my kids are when I'm at work (his wife is a stay-at-home mom to their three kids), and whether or not I'm having more kids, and--well--I'm feeling a little sensitive around this colleague.

But he's also a nice man, with good intentions, and I think he genuinely thought he was helping me.  It's no newsflash that I'm curt or abrupt, either.  It's certainly part of my personality.  And particularly this semester, when I've bitten off more than I can chew, I tend to be pretty focused when I'm at work, not too chit-chatty.  So, I'm guessing that part of my strong reaction to the comment is because it's at least partially true.  At the risk of sounding defensive, though, I will say that I work with many of my dearest friends, and I feel like I have deep, fulfilling relationships with most of my colleagues.  I was a little taken aback, then, by the sting in his comments.

Still, putting aside the galling context of this conversation, I like to use moments like this for some self-reflection.  I really have been off-kilter this semester, and was starting to feel crabby and small before the trip.  I don't have a good sense of how this translated to the outside world, but I do know that I wasn't feeling quite right, either.  I was having the racing mind, a pessimistic vision of the world, and a general sense of despair (just scroll down to some old posts for evidence).

Anyway, something happened to me in England.  I'm not sure if it was the long hours of plane and train travel, during which I read and meditated and just existed, to my heart's content.  Or maybe it was the long hours of aimless walking around London and Lincoln, with no real destinations in mind, just wandering.  Maybe it was the sleeping and eating when I felt like it, rather than according to schedule, or just being out of my routine.  Whatever it was, I feel like someone reset.  The judgments and fears are a lot quieter now, and I'm feeling so much joy.  Joy at my kids screaming MOMMY! when I get home.  Joy at the snow that's finally started to fall.  Joy at glasses of wine and my husband's warm body in bed at night and at the plodding ahead of work.

I was also reminded to reintegrate meditation, prayer, and yoga into my life, to make time for those things, even if it means sacrificing some work hours or sleep.  When those elements fall out, everything else in my life is out of whack, too.

Anyway, so this is where I am:  I am curt, and abrupt.  But I also have a huge capacity for listening, and sharing, and for being a good friend, and colleague.  So, a little correction, but not a huge one.  As Nanny is always reminding me, I am on my right path.

England was also incredibly beautiful, by the way, and that sort of setting always helps to rejuvenate, yes?  I'm sure India will be a completely different experience.  The only things I've been told so far are to buy a costco-sized box of Immodium, and that the "entire country" smells like urine.  Everyone wonders why in the world I want to go.  But no second thoughts for me.  I can't wait.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Off Again

I woke up yesterday morning sick, sick again, my body telling me to knock all this shit off.  Can't get back from a trip to New York and just jump right into everything and just expect no pushback.  So I rested some yesterday, even though I should have been grading papers, finishing my draft for the conference next week, writing an abstract.  I just stopped, crawled into bed last night, let Eric love me some, went to sleep.  Today I'm trying to catch up, get ready to get on the plane for England tomorrow, totally unprepared.  But that's what the all-day flight is for, right?

We have a new kitty, Mei-Mei, who adopted us, sort of.  She's two, and tiny, white with gray spots and a striped tail, and sweet as anything I've ever seen.  Nolie is absolutely obsessed with her.  So, we're a three-cat household now, which I never anticipated, but which is lovely, having these little lovies all around us.  Prudence and Sadie are not so sure, but we think they'll come around.  Maybe I'm extra attached right now because I'm leaving so much.

I'm headed to India in January after all, making for a lot of traveling in a little time.  I'm trying to explain next week's trip to Addie, but it's hard to know how much she understands.  Eric says both girls we're asking for me this weekend, and seemed relieved when I got home.  So a week away will be tough, so soon, and for so long.

There's the missing Eric that happens, too.  In New York one night, a few of us went out to a jazz club where Miles Davis had played, and I knew Eric would have loved it.  And I felt sad that he wasn't there, resolved again that when I got home I'd start to make arrangements for us to go out more together.  Because there's nobody in the world I'd rather be with, out in the world, and we just haven't been making it happen. 

Still, I'm looking forward to walking London, to riding the train through the countryside, to spending a few days just talking about movies at the Spielberg conference.  I'm looking forward to sleeping in and eating and just wandering some.  And I'll be just as glad to come home, and to breathe a little as we head into Christmas.

I've also resolved not to travel in spring, to re-root, re-center, and get some things figured out.  Again.

See you soon...

Friday, November 9, 2007

Happy to Wake Up

My goodness, THAT was a doozy, that wave of depression that, thank God, lifted when I woke this morning.  I won't go on too much about it--I'm guessing most of you reading this know what it feels like--except to say that I could feel my thoughts speeding up the way they used to all the time, before I started to heal a few years back, and I felt sad and heavy, and easily forgot that it would pass, that I wasn't stuck back where I used to be.  Scary.  But I'm okay now.  Thanks to everyone who sent kind words, reminding me I am connected, caught in a web of friendship and love.

I'm thinking about how it must be for Eric and the girls when that happens to me, not in any sort of guilt-inducing way, but just to reflect and be aware.  Addie's been having accidents again the last few weeks, usually one a day, but a couple of times she's had three or four in a row.  Mostly I try to be patient, remembering how my anxiety during potty training only made things worse.

But then I got pulled into that depressive cycle, and my patience got thin, and I slipped into some ugly self-righteousness ("Why am I the one doing sixteen loads of laundry a week?  This can't go on!").  In short, I started getting a little huffy with Addie, asking her to please listen to her body when she needs to go potty, and insisting that I wanted no more accidents this week, or else.

I hated how I sounded when I said it, and I knew it wasn't the right way to go, but I wasn't in my right mind enough to know how to fix it, either.  Until.

Until I walked in on Addie in the bathroom one day last week, sopping pee up off the floor with a hand towel.  She jumped, literally jumped, when she saw me.  I got it instantly.  She was scared.  Of me.  Scared what I would say, scared I'd be mad at her, scared I'd shame her.  This little tinykins, my baby, was scared of me.

So, no more.  I just released in that moment all of my anger and judgment and righteousness, and hugged her.  I also instituted a new policy wherein every night, before bed, I tell Addie three things I liked about her that day, whether it was the way she laughed first thing in the morning, or helped her sister with a puzzle, or made a beautiful picture.  Two little adjustments--letting go of judgment, and reminding Addie how special she is in three concrete ways every night--have made a huge difference for us.  She hugs me and sometimes cries when I tell her the special things at night, which tells me she really needed to hear them.  And I don't have to hold anybody (not myself, not her) to ridiculous standards about things that don't really matter.  Phew.

It would be nice if I didn't have to keep learning these lessons over and over again, but apparently that's not the way I'm built.  It would seem I need the two-by-four to the head a few times before I get it.  But that's okay.  I'm learning.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

All Gloom and Doom

I've been posting a lot on this blog.  It's just been all in my head, rather than actually on the computer, so you haven't seen it.

For example, I was thinking about a post where I wrote about how strange it is that I'm thirty-two years old, and only just now have discovered how amazingly delicious pomegranates are.  How is it that I only recently had one for the first time?  And how great that little things like that come my way, to remind me that everything is not old, that I have things to experience and see for the first time still?

I also wanted to write about how I'm really hoping I get to go to India for work in January, and how scary and awful it is to leave my family for such lengths of time, and how incredibly exciting it would be for me to get to go!  To India!

Or, I could be writing about how the whole family was sick again the last few days, and how hard this is.  That I curled up and cried on the couch for an hour Monday morning because I was just so sick and tired, but the girls and Eric were home, and were sick and tired, and I couldn't just be sick and tired but also had to be mom and wife.  I just wanted for a little while to disappear.  Really.  I didn't get to, though, and this made me angry.  And then I felt guilty for being such a baby, and for feeling angry.  But that's where I was.

Mostly, I think I've been a little depressed, and have been in a bit of an existential crisis, I guess.  It seems to me that we're really in for it in the next fifty years or so, what with peak oil and global warming, and I'm mostly terrified about the whole thing, and it's coloring everything I do.  I look out of my beautiful house at the leaves wafting down out of the trees, and wonder if they will be alive when my kids are grown.  I worry there won't be enough water to drink, or that my girls will be at war, or will be raped and killed.  I wonder if I should continue teaching and pouring money into a 401k and dealing with trivial shit I don't care about.  Probably not.

Writing this down, I see how crazy it all looks.  And I have been feeling crazy, for sure.  And mad.  And sad.  But in the meanwhile my life is sort of passing me by, and if all this bad stuff does come to pass--which it might not (I mean, the goodness of the world is great, despite what it seems sometimes)--then I'll sure be pissed I didn't enjoy this time more.  My negativity isn't going to help much, especially if it's not focused into action, that's for sure.

I guess I just feel possessed by the weight of it, the badness in the world, and have been sucked under a little.  I probably also have been working too much and have not been meditating enough, and definitely haven't been exercising as much.  So I've been ignoring my best tools in the fight against the gloom.  Best to go back, to tend my own garden for a little while, and then figure out how to re-enter the fight not quite so heavy.