Friday, February 11, 2011

Books that Have Saved My Life

I have never had a ton of friends, other than that time in middle school when I was popular for a tiny spell. Oh, and there was that time in fourth grade when the mean girls demanded everyone vote for class president and I won. I was one of the only authentically nice kids. I get bored and lonely in my isolation at times. Sometimes I think that if I hated reading I may not be alive.

Here is another list.

1. Lullabies for Little Criminals, Heather O’Neil

This is a book about “Baby” and her junky (junkie) father, Jules. Reading this book was like reading Seventeen magazine and instead of seeing cheesy girls buying lame prom dresses, you see these smart, street girls learning how to score heroin, become prostitutes and then, transcend this bad scene and escape into an almost fairy tale ending. This book created my obsession with the idea of an alphabet book for street kids. And it gave me a literary father.

2. Flowers in the Attic, VC Andrews

This is not a joke. If it weren’t for Catherine, Christopher, and the creepy savior of a doctor who wants to “have his way” w/ Catherine while she’s still in high school, I’m not sure I would have developed a reading addiction. These books, and others of their ilk, were all I read during middle school.

2. The Color Purple, Alice Walker

This was the first book I ever read (at age seventeen) that made/helped me believe in a God of my own understanding. Later, I realized that "believing in a God of my own undrstanding" was a term created by the 12 step cult, AA. I will say now that this is the first book that truly modeled for me how one can beleive in God, but that it does not have to be the creepy Jesus type God that never appealed to me.

3. Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman

I read this while I was doped out on painkillers after having my son. I still gain great comfort from the notion of a sisterhood/coven of mothers giving babies bottles filled with Dr. Pepper.

4. Squandering the Blue, Kate Braverman

These short stories taught me that the best fiction writers are also poets. One story about a single mother struggling with alcoholism gave me these lines (about her addiction) which I have remembered for almost twenty years: “It is the blue that knows you. It knows where you live. And it is never going to forget.” Interestingly, though I still love these lines, I know now that this characer was stuck in the AA cult and did not know it, nor did the author who created her. Later, the auther described in anther book, Small Craft Warnings, the inauthenticity of people the AA.

5. The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton

“Stay gold, Ponyboy.” I think I used to say this in middle school. I should start saying it again.

6. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger

I believe that this world is divided into two parts: those who have read and loved this book with their whole hearts, and then the other people. The idea of that poem-covered baseball glove still astounds me.

7. Let Evening Come, Jane Kenyon

This book made me realize that poetry is often the same thing as prayer.

8. The Beans of Egypt, Maine, Carolyn Chute

This was the first book I remembering my parents talking about in an in depth way. I snuck parts of it. Reading it later inspired a summer long research project funded by UNH on rural poverty and its depictions in literature. I heart Ruben Bean.

9. Bastard out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison

A book that helped me understand that not all mothers are willing to take a bullet for their daughter; Allison helped me out of this scary emotional isolation.

10. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L’Engle

This whole story—and the very notion of “tesseracting”--is astronomically cool. However, here is why I love this book: whenever I feel grouchy about having small boobs, or being kinda mousy, blah blah blah, I remember that Meg Murphy was not popular or pretty. Yet, she totally rocked and she rocked hard.

11. A-Z Picture Book, Gyo Fujikawa

There are so many alphabet books; this is the best one. And I am almost certain that this was the book that ushered me into the world of reading.

12. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

…Because every time I reread why it is a sin to kill a mocking bird, I still cry.

13. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer

I love that all Oskar wanted to do was take a sad song and make it better, even though he just did not know how.

14. The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner

This book blew my mind. “Caddy held me…she smelled like trees.”

15. Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk

This book made me think that my freak-showish-ness was somehow cool which is always a super great feeling.

16. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Judy Blume

As a young girl, I escaped from an afternoon filled with mean girls, went home, sat on my bed, and read this book cover to cover. I still feel like Margaret is my literary twin, as her birthday, like mine, is March 8th.

The Movie List, or, Nick Nolte's Bad Tooth

Here is the list of the best movies ever, or, the best movies ever made according to Violet:

1. Affliction (Nick Nolte and his bad tooth...)

2. Drugstore Cowboy (This movie is actually so uncool it is almost funny when you're not using. And remember: Don't leave a hat on the bed.)

3. The Outsiders ("Stay Gold, Pony Boy.")

4. The Breakfast Club ("What about you, Dad?!" "Fuck You...")

5. St. Elmo's Fire ("Do you believe in premarital sax?" "You break my heart, BIlly. But then again, you break everybody's heart.)

6. The Color Purple (Shug Avery pee in the lemonade. Sister!)

7. Pete's Dragon (I heart Helen Reddy. It's a Brazzle Dazzle Day.)

8. Firestarter ("I am gonna give you a five hundred dollar bill...")

9. Beaches ("That's my robe.")

10. Big Fish (The image of the mistress's house being fixed by the touch of a hand is amazingness.)

11. Tarnation ( This movie reminded me of this part of Desiderata: "With its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.")

12. The Sound of Music ("To Sing through the Night, Like a Lark Who is Learning to Pray.")

13. The Shining ("HHEEEEEEre's Johnny!")

14. Radio Days (This monet: when he realizes his father is a cab driverand says, "You?!!!")

15. The World According to Garp (The you know what in the car, so crazy, right?)

She Thinks She's the Passionate One

Some people know that I am in a relationship/friends with benefits/ best friend situation with my son’s father, my ex husband. The Baby Daddy Mommy Drama here in rural New Hampshire is never dull. I am rarely lonely these days. However, this was certainly not always the case. When I lived with my son in a farmhouse with friends (another story, another day), some days were pretty horrific. Loneliness seemed insurmountable at times back then. This loneliness propelled me into the mostly sad, but sometimes-hopeful world of Internet dating.

Here was my story back then:

“She Thinks She’s the Passionate One”

She has known people who could speak, at length, to their horrific encounters while using this site. Other friends swear by it, saying, straight-faced, “How else would you meet somebody?” She knows people who have met their current, live-in significant or spouse on this site. She thinks online dating success is a combination of: luck, attitude, timing, social skills, looks, chemistry, and how badly one wants to “find somebody.”

Within the “Profile” there is “The Dating Headline” which for her is: “She thinks she’s the passionate one…” This is not an indicator that she is indeed the passionate one, but is actually an illustration of her immature taste in music. The girl is a hardcore Beastie Boys fan because, really, she has the mentality of an eleven-year-old boy. This, right here, could be why she is on an Internet dating site in the first place. Other women, she considers of a more mature, sophisticated ilk, might meet men at a ballet, opera, or at Whole Foods.

Then, there is the body of her “Profile.” Some of the site’s members write a mere sentence or two. More often, members write several paragraphs. Often, the writing is overly general. “I love to watch movies,” some people will write. Well, who doesn’t? She has met only one person in her thirty-five years of life who truly does not enjoy watching movies. This is her housemate who has adult ADHD, and claims, “There is no way I could sit for that long in one chair in one room.” Another thing she reads is, “I like dining out, but it is nice to stay in and get a pizza.” Huh. Interesting. So, this means the writer is human and that he can drive a car and/or knows how to dial and speak into a telephone. She guesses it could also mean that, thankfully, one does not have aggravated agoraphobia because at least sometimes this writer does not want to stay at home.

The girl’s profile is unlike these aforementioned profiles. It is not general. In fact, it seems overly specific, too long, and is honestly a bit rude. However, in real life, the girl tends to be slightly high maintenance, verbose, and like many girls in their thirties, a bit bitchy. Thus, the profile is a true depiction. However, she admits, reluctantly, some of the bitchiness could be a wall to protect her from this sad fact: it is hard to find love.

Recently, she added a “PS” to her profile, noting what is entirely unacceptable. She has encountered some of her very own horror stories due to dating through this site. However, she does remain positive, hopeful, and in good humor. At times, she considers adding a parenthetic (“also looking for a friend with benefits—if you’re hot”) note to the profile, but this is just a fleeting consideration. And really, it is just a joke.

The profile:

I believe whole-heartedly and entirely in the pleasures of reading. I am able to stay awake and half sane while I go to school, work, string together some sort of social life, and have adventures with my ten-year-old boy.

I am in love with: my dirty finger nailed son, anything library related; butterflies; the unexpected when it is a treat and sometimes when it is not; storms of all kinds; everything in the forest; taking pictures; walking forever and all day long; figuring out who I am; understanding what God is--for me; the culture of addiction in nonfiction and fiction; the notion of nostalgia; and sometimes crocheting.

Favorite Things: MUSIC: "Avenging Annie"--the Andy Pratt version--is actually my theme song. Also: MGMT, Hellen Reddy (no joke), The Beastie Boys, Ani DiFranco, Aerosmith, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Michelle Shocked, P.J. Harvey, Shawn Colvin, and the Edgar Broughton Band.

TELEVISION: Lost, The Office, Welcome Back Kotter (I am still attracted to Gabe, really),Six Feet Under, Big Love, Seinfeld, and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

MOVIES: Big Fish, The Sound of Music, The Color Purple, Drugstore Cowboy, Jesus Son, Requiem for a Dream, Almost Famous, Annie Hall, Radio Days, Thirteen, Mean Girls, and Me, You and Everyone We Know.

BOOKS/AUTHORS: Lullabies for Little Criminals, Heather O'Neill; Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safron Foer; The Beans of Egypt, Maine, Chute; In Case We're Separated, Alice Mattison; The Book Borrower, Alice Mattison; Squandering the Blue, Kate Braverman; The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton; Anything by: Lorrie Moore, Mary Gaitskill, Amy Hempel, Annie Proulx, JD Salinger, and Alice Hoffman.

About moi: I am living my life without losing faith, killing someone, injuring myself, shooting my mouth off at the wrong time, robbing a pharmacy, running away with a bearded criminal, or staying in bed with the covers drawn tightly around me...So far, so good.

I have a BA in Honors English from years ago. Now I am in a Post Bac program to get a dual certification in Special and Elementary Education. I work as a Special Education Assistant and love it on most days. In my former life, I was a Librarian. Though I loved this, it made reading less interesting for me, which was heartbreaking.

On good day, it feels a bit like I am a favorite character in a most beloved novel of all times. And I would love to meet somebody who could be this particular protagonist's “man.” He would need to keep up. He would have good goals and if not a great education, then a deep respect for education. I would describe myself as "almost pretty," but hopefully this man character will be deluded into thinking I am of super model quality. And mostly, he will be a person who finally feels like home.

P.S. Be well, do good work, but do not keep in touch if you: watch Fox News in a serious way; mention ex girl friends who look like lingerie models on a date (am I supposed to be impressed?); have large snots in your mustache upon meeting somebody for the first time; mention your daughter's rack; have an obsession with an ex that is so intense your voice gets cracked up upon mentioning her existence (therapy, not, just a thought); joblessness/unemployment; asking, "are you a friend of Bill W.?"; you broke up with your significant like, last week, holy yikes!; and finally, have an inability to understand that if I have ignored eight of your consecutive emails, then chances are, I am not interested...

The girl truly understands that she has high standards, is overly discerning, and also notes she lives in a rough area of the state to meet single men who are even remotely educated (“Educated, no. Stupid, yep. And when I say stupid, I mean stupid fresh” –The Beastie Boys), under sixty, and have teeth. She also understands that it is not her writing, rewriting, and then rewriting yet again--obsessively to avoid her American Nation in Education homework--that will eventually beckon Mr. Right into her life. But she has not figured out yet what this could be. Until this time, “she’s walking high and mighty like she’s number one because she thinks she’s the passionate one.”

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Optimistic Voices

"Hold onto your breath/ hold onto your heart/ hold onto your hope./March up to the gate and bid it open." -The Wizard of Oz, Optimistic Voices

Teaching is exhausting. Often, I forget the reason I am there, thinking, in that moment, my ultimate concern is only to stay awake.

The truth is: I hated school. Well, I mostly hate school. I did like college. And then there was the amazing alternative boarding school that I went to instead of a foster homw. The foster home was my suggestion to my parent. That is another story for another day. College, and alt. school aside, I loathed the idiodic, competitive public school I went to in the douchey college town where I had the decided misfortune of growing up. I worry that I have made a grave mistake in choosing the career of teaching. But then I think again.

I am a pessimist by nature. I am often annoyed by the stupidity of many optimists. I hated the stupid pseudo optimism of AA, the dbag organization I was trapped in for years. I am an embracer of cycnicism and skepticism nd feel thay are importnat for human survival and for our ability to know ourselves.

I wonder if the truth, no matter how shitty it seems, can actually all be a form of optimism. The truth, and the pusuit of this truth, assumes something that a glossy simonizing of reality never can. I think the truth assumes that will be OK no matter what, that we are strong and have power. Looking for the truth demonstrates that we have courage to deal with anything.

I love kids. I love to read. I am a wannabe writer who is cool enough to admit it. For me, literature is prayer. The connections I can make: text to self, text to text, and then text to the world is a way of being alive, living the truth, that was never possible when I was living in addiction. Or, when I was living in a cult existence that was life in AA. I do not fit into the public school groove. I hate controlling these amazingly brilliant, funny, wonderous kids. In this festering irritation, I need to note there is something more important than the problem. The most important truth is this: I love the kids. I love their a-ha moments. I love their connections even more than I love my own.

I love, most particulalry, kids who struggle. I love working with students who face learning challenges and/or disabilities. I have faced many people in and out of the educational system who have little tolerance and who lack even mild empathy for these students. I LOATHE these ignorant pieces of shit. Their stupidity is what makes this world the dark place it is. Really, darkness at least has some romance to it, right? So, these people make the world dull. These people are robbers or both the dark, jagged edges and the brilliant, sparkling possibilities of what these kids are now and what they can be in the future.

Here is a writing I found when I was living with two *stoopids* who believed smugly that special education is WASTE OF MONEY. I almost killed them, really. This sort of ideology makes me feel crazy, like it makes me want to throw a brick at your head type crazy.

It is important for me to remian optimistic when dealing with people of this ilk. Not stupid optimistic, where the truth remains lost. But brave optimistic. The sort of optimistic badass mindset where you throw out the gratitude list which was pushed out for your illiterate AA sponsor, and then you get the FUCK outta the roomz. I found these awesome words by Jack Pearpont and love them. These words, and others like them, are my optimistic voices:

"We are not all equal in capacity or value.
It is not feasible to give equal opportunity.
We must choose and thus train an elite who will take care of the rest.
They will benefit through the trickle-down theory.
Inclusion is the opposite and works from opposite assumptions:
We are unique in value; however, each has unique capacity."
Inclusion which reads to me like an astounding poem:
"All people can learn.
All people have contributions to make.
We have a responsibility and an opportunity to give every person the chance to make a contribution.
The criterion for inclusion is breathing, not IQ, income, colour, race, sex or language.
It's too expensive.
They can't learn.
They don't know what's best for them.
(Megan is saying FUCKYOUFUCKYOUFUCK YOU oh so loudly)
It can't be done.
As a critic of exclusion, I say:
It's too expensive.
But they can learn.
They - people - know a tremendous amount if asked.
It can be done.”

My Best Thinking Has Got Me *HERE*

Part One (This is Not Why I Left, but How I Got There):

When I was twenty-one I was suicidal. Almost always functioning in that sick, sleepless state that is so common with people who experience regular night terrors, I was a decided mess. I was living alone in a cute, but overwhelmingly sad, basement apartment in the middle class, college town I grew up in. I had dropped out of college not because I was failing (I was just below a 4.0 GPA, not that anyone decided to be proud of this...), but I was miserable. I had few friends and it was almost physically painful to go to class or to lunch in the dining room. I look back at pictures of that time and it is horrifyingly weird, as I was adorable. I wrongly thought I was grotesque.
I was 5' 2" and about 100 pounds, which is thin for an average girl, however, my father had met an emaciated jewy, trust fund, dbag bitch with boobs and my sister, at age fourteen was the leggiest person I knew. I felt huge. My parents never visited me at school. Roommates' parents sent me care packages. I was, in a word, unloved. I dropped out, thinking magically--and very wrongly--that this decidedly and glaringly poor decision would get me some parental attention. Needless to say, it did not.
So, instead of a dorm room, where I had slept near a roommate who was beloved by her own family, I sat in a state of almost constant freak out in a basement apartment. I was paralyzed by utter self consciousness, naïveté, being unloved, and feeling like I could not keep up with a conversation, almost like I had aphasia.
I was taking two classes, un-matriculated. I did enjoy my women's studies class, and wrote a great essay about my creepy father who bought me a playboy bunny tee shirt when I was four. Here is a little aside; I do digress (and I do so because I believe digression is good). My mother, in explaining to me what playboy bunnies were (I was four, just in case you missed that) told me that they were the kind of girls who got their butts pinched by men and enjoyed it. Later, I went over to my friend's house and was terrified the father would home. I was convinced that from that day forward men would relentlessly pinch my four-year-old butt. My mother is a woman who also believed that it was smart to tell her third grade daughter about the day she lost her virginity. She realized, she told me with the candor of a stoopid gossipy chick, she had really "done it," as her high school bf’s semen spooled out of her vadge and into the crotch of her 1960s panties while she cheered for an upper middle class, Massachussetts school's basketball game.
As a 21-year-old skinny with decided suicidal ideation, I decided to call this same, above mentioned mom.
You should know about my mom. And to know about me, and then my mom, means you might need to know about my family, and that is again, another digression. Only digress.
Mom, the former cheerleader. See her in her black and white, lamented by her picture used as a bookmark for years, almost a decade. Mom, who was disdainful, at least in part, of the playboy bunny icon because she wanted to be in with the feminists, as she wanted to be an intellectual, to fit into our college town. Mom who never wanted me to visit her on the weekends, as she needed space. Mom, who thought nothing of leaving me at college and boarding school to brave Easters alone, once sending me a rice krispy shaped heart which was as hard as a rock. This hardened krispy punctuated a long season of nothing There were no phone calls, no letters, never were there cards. There was an uncanny silence, a frozen message. Nothing but an inedible, hard as hell heart.
My mother had attended Al-anon since my parents' marriage had begun to, and then eventually did, wither away like like a perfectly pretty borderline anorexic who once wrote for the school newspaper. nan upon starving, quietly, ends up dead in her teenager princess-y bedroom, shocking everyone, especially those closet to her. My parents, the ones who never fought, separated for years. Their separation become a part of our family culture, much like pets had personalities we pressed on them, vivid and audible in their made up by us accents from New York. Finally, very much like a beloved television series losing a star to to the movies, there were finished. Our family, its tiny, adorable culture, its wannabe preppiness--pink and green birthday parties, Irish setters pooping in our yard, LL Bean mud boots lined up haphazardly in the hallway, my father's sort of pretend job lecturing at the school of business when he was also consulting for downtown revitalization, all of it, disappeared to relic polaroids in a basket under a sink. It was spoken about only for the token jokes, little lessons learned, and interesting outfits remembered. But mostly it was not discussed, remembered, or adored as are the things in the present. It was off the air, cancelled. It no longer existed. Like the litany of ideas about historical events in outdated textbooks or sad reader-less blogs, it was a part of the unimportant past.
My mother grew up in a middle to upper middle class home with two sisters and a brother who were treated, according to her, like animals. She discussed their treatment in such vivid, exaggerated detail that my paternal grandmother told my new stepmother (um, step monster) years later that my uncle was beaten daily and with a brutality so physical that he became retarded. She, on the other hand, was revered, never hit. Her siblings, she will tell you, were punching bags. I am trying not to digress too, too badly here, but I will tell you her siblings are still in constant contact with these abusive parents of theirs, my grandparents. And, my grandparents, though aloof, have never laid a hand on me. My aunts' and uncles's contact with their parents is more direct and real with their parents than she has ever have. It is my idea that though revered, she was misunderstood tin such a way that resembles the unloved. She felt it was her mother and father’s drinking that caused the unlove, the abuse and mostly, their inability to be truly classy, the kind of classy that includes talking about literature (but not necessarily really reading and or understanding it). The kind of classy that points to four year liberal arts degrees and sneers at the aptitude of a nurse, an RN mind you, with a two year degree.
My mother's Al-anon commencement coincided with my commencement of pot smoking, reviving with Viveran, and drinking. Though there was little love, there was a landslide of control. My mother attended group therapy, which suggested that she spend the weekends getting to know her true self, despite my pleading that I stay with her. Though life with her was difficult, life with my dad made me feel like I had peeled of my skin and was then forced to pour rubbing alcohol all over my body. I will speak more later about the decided control and lack of love, but my point here is that my mother joined the 12 step cult. To me, her joining and her marked disconnection with me at the same time is no coincidence. There is little trace of the therapist who led the group, but I found her here:
Around this time, she went to the Caron Foundation.
When I called her, years later suffering from the flu of suicidal ideation, I was sent to Caron. In case one may not be familiar with the cult program Caron (which is a cult to promote the 12 step cult), you can read about it here:
Though she made 25 grand a year on top of her teaching job and was dating a man who was like a mint, I went from Boston to Pennsylvania in about five airplanes, commuter flights that made my never more aged than Kate Moss’ rib cage and propelled me into a state of flight sickness so horrific it is hard to even recall its clutches.
At The Caron Foundation, I weighed, at this point, maybe 95 pounds. Eating made me angry, I did not want to do it, but I felt starving every minute of everyday. There was no caffeine at the whole place, so I was in a grey world of pinched irritability. At Caron, we were slowly, and the gradually, and then ALL AT ONCE, shown how our lives were miserable because of the “disease” of alcoholism. We acted out scenarios from our childhoods and were shown that we needed to take care of our inner children. We learned to identify (I shit you not) with Whitney Houston’s song, “The Greatest Love of All.” Then, we were told to attend meetings, five a week for most of us. I was handed a cup during my family reenactment. I remember little more, but know that at 21, it was difficult for me to challenge the ideas of professional women, and several professional women went n a mission to el me that I drank to assuage the pain of my parent. I bought it. I had not been drinking and had not even been tipsy for over two or so years. But I knew if I was an alcoholic, then I could go to AA. If I went to AA, then I could get friends and that I would maybe want to live in this world.
I need to make sure this point does not go unnoticed: I entered AA, at 21, a fictional alcoholic. I told the truth to a few people, that I was almost certain that I was *not* truly an alcoholic. I expressed the true germ of what woke me up at night and what lingered underneath my every thought: The Caron Foundation fucked me, they led me, for some weirdo-inexplicable reason, tricked me really, into believing that I was alcoholic. But I was told that nobody enters AA by mistake. The gravity of their ignorance coupled with my own, sent me on a journey that would last years.
Gradually, and then with all the energy I could pour forth, I set out to become a part of AA. This included becoming the alcoholic they convinced me I was. This led me to feel so different from who I really was, from who they said they were. I identified with addicts who felt displaced I think because there was a shared feeling of unbelonging. Soon, my relapses were centered around using drugs, not the silly pot smoking, real drugs. The ones that one thinks one will never use. It was necessary to do so, as I was “powerless” and I needed to be one of them, as it was the “last stop on the bus.” I needed to become what was expected of me as an AA member. My AA membership was my fist priority, even above my own self-respect, dignity, love, and happiness. I joined the cult headfirst and for a long, long time did not truly look back.
There is more to this story, as you can see. There is more to the unlove I felt, the judgment my parents passed, the almost Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy sort of categorizing my mother did in terms of looking at me, responding to me, and discussing me with her peers. I recognize that this is barely even a rough draft. It is a loose stream of consciousness type story map of where things went wrong, where I lost myself, and eventually, I want to articulate and of course celebrate where I was able to find myself once again.