Thursday, November 18, 2004

Cries of a child

Why do I still feel like a child? I am 40 years old. And I don't mean a child in a fun-loving creative way. I don't mean jumping for joy and dancing in the sunlight. I mean sitting in a meeting full of faculty colleagues (but not actually colleagues because they are tenured or tenure-track and I am not) and feeling powerless, small and weak. I mean thinking about my life and how I left home to get a break from a stressful family situation and it seems so petty and childish. I mean thinking about being alone and feeling scared and wanting to call out to someone. But there is no one to call out to. I am an adult. I can't be comforted by a soft teddy bear or my thumb in my mouth any more. I am 40 years old and I am all alone.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004


As a very happy subscriber to the Writer's Almanac (subscribe) I have been wanting to feature it in a blog entry. I have been waiting for just the right issue, just the right time. Well being so philosophical lately has led me to spontaneity, there is no 'right time' so I am doing it today. The Writer's Almanac is a daily email newsletter Minnesota public radio. It is written and read by Garrison Keillor (it comes with a link to the audio if you prefer listening to reading). Each newsletter features a poem and then some pertinent biographical or historical literary information related to the date. Today's issue has a wonderful poem by William Stafford, An Introduction to Some Poems, the first stanza of which was very meaningful to me:

Look: no one ever promised for sure
that we would sing. We have decided
to moan. In a strange dance that
we don't understand till we do it, we
have to carry on.
To give you an extra taste of what flavors and textures were offered for today:

It's the birthday of the novelist Andrea Barrett, (books by this author) born in Boston, Massachusetts (1954). She is known for writing about botanists, oceanographers and geologists in novels such as The Forms of Water (1993) and The Voyage of the Narwhal (1998).

She grew up on Cape Cod, and spent most of her time near the ocean, fascinated by sea life. She decided to study biology in college and went on to study zoology in graduate school.

At some point, she decided she was more interested in history than biology, and started studying medieval religion. It was while she was writing papers about the Spanish Inquisition that she realized she should be a writer. She said, "I'd go to the library and pull out everything, fill my room and become obsessed with the shape and the texture of the paper, and the way the words look, trying to make it all dramatic. At some point I realized: 'Hey, this isn't history, and I'm not a scholar.'"

She worked as a secretary in medical labs, trying to write. After years of struggling to finish her first novel, she showed it to a writer at the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference, and he told her to throw it away. She was so upset that she cried for a day, but then she took his advice and wrote her novel Lucid Stars which was published in 1988. Her collection of short stories Ship Fever (1996) became a best-seller after winning the National Book Award.

Because so many of Barrett's books deal with scientists, she constantly has to do research before she writes. She said, "I love research...I describe a [sailor] character who has to go belowdecks, and I think, 'So what is belowdecks?...Then I have to get books about ship building, ship history, immigration history, so I can write a little more...I love learning that way—lurching from subject area to subject area. When you're lit by your own purposes, it's astonishing how easily you can leap into a new field and get to that center of passion."

In order to finish her book The Voyage of the Narwhal, about a group of British scientists exploring the Arctic, Barrett traveled to Antarctica herself.

Her most recent book is Servants of the Map (2002).

Andrea Barrett said, "I think science and writing are utterly the same thing. They are completely rooted in passion and desire, if they're any good at all. You can fall in love with the natural world in the same way you fall in love with a person. There's that same sense of helplessness, of lacking control over how much of your life you want to devote to it."

She also said, "It's hard to explain how much one can love writing. If people knew how happy it can make you, we would all be writing all the time. It's the greatest secret of the world."

After reading this I thought, "Wow! I want to do that!" I have read Ship Fever and really enjoyed it. To anyone who isn't already a subscriber, I highly recommend it. It has given me a lot of joy over the months I have been reading it.

Support Minnesota Public Radio and NPR through your local public radio station if you can. They do good work!

Monday, November 15, 2004

Lower expectations

I have been working on healing myself. Focusing on healing myself. And all the while I have been piling on expectations. Planning what books to read, what exercises to do, what lists of things to write and then do. All in the guise of self healing. Guess what, I don't feel very healed after 1 month of this. Here is an excerpt of something I wrote on the Childless Stepmoms forum.
I was thinking this morning about what I have done, learned and experienced in these weeks free from the day to day demands. I imagined that without the usual household chores, I would have an enormous amount of free time. I would luxuriate in baths each night, go to the gym, write long entries in my blog, crochet an afghan for my sister, read lots of books, mediate each day. Guess how many of those things I have done? Not too many. I am spending more time at work. My drive is much longer to and from work. I am spending time with my friend but I am not living the life I expected. I also expected to lose weight. Maybe I have a little but it has not dropped off as I expected. I did not transform from an overweight unkempt woman to a svelte sex goddess. I have been to the gym exactly 3 times. I have gone for 1 walk (although I now park in a lot farther from work so I end up walking 20 mins a day to and from the car). I have not started training for a triathlon as I expected. I have not started getting up at 5 AM. I am not zipping around with unbounded energy. Now it seems to me that my impossible expectations of life and myself are my main problems.

Mulling this over for a while and something remarkable came to me. Why not just lower my expectations? Why not write to do lists containing 5 items rather than 25 or 50? Why not schedule the 8 hours of sleep that I need instead of condemning my wimpy biology? Why not plan for the goofing off (or socializing depending on your point of view)? Why not write the couple of candy bars a week into the diet and learn to live with it for now? I am tired of feeling like a failure. According to my view of the universe I have been failing for 40 years. I just can't stand to fail anymore and the only way I can see to start succeeding is to lower my standards, ridiculously. Make goals that are laughable (to my overachiever brain). That's my new plan. So what's slated for tonight. Not much. Therapy from 8-9 and then home to relax, maybe a bubble bath, but if not, then not. Anything is ok. It may be hard to believe someone can feel guilty about not getting a bubble bath but if it's on the list and I haven't checked it off... Drive home, go to bed sometime, preferably wearing pajamas and having brushed my teeth (flossing optional, I am being gentle and relaxed). That is one evening's goals I expect to achieve. :)