Say, “Thank You”

There I was, standing in the student union of the University of Wisconsin Madison, in front of someone I won’t mention yet, next to PZ. On the other side of PZ were Richard, Matt, and Brianne. JT should have been there, but he’d already left when someone got the bright (obvious) idea to put all the FtB bloggers together and take a picture. As punishment, JT will have some interesting picture of himself composited into the group.

In front of me, surreally, were half a dozen people with camera phones and a small crowd gathered to watch the proceedings. [Read more...]

What Maternal Instinct?

A repost, so I don’t completely kill myself trying to do all the things this week.

I was over at a friend’s house last night. I held her two-month-old baby for a bit because, you know, it’s polite to express some interest and it had been a while since I’d held a baby. One gets to thinking of them as fragile if one goes too long without touching them. Well, I do.

The baby was well-behaved, past the wrinkly stage, mostly healthy. Everything that is supposed to make babies so adorable was there. Tiny, wee fingernails? Check. Dimpled fingers and wrists and knees? Check. Instant grasp of proferred finger? Check. Deep dent in the upper lip? Check. Overlarge, luminous eyes? Check. Impromptu, trusting nap? Check.

Impulse to talk baby talk? [Read more...]

Taking Off the Act

Today is a travel day. In lieu of fresh writing, have a repost that almost none of you read the first time. The original of this post is here.

Thursday morning, my iPod was speaking to me. In a half hour walk to work, three songs all talking about the same subject–acting.

Is there anybody in there in this self-inflicted tomb?
If you peel away the layers, is there someone in this room?

Of course, they were all talking about it because I was already thinking about it. From an email I sent earlier in the week:

I’ve never met an actor who wasn’t in character backstage as well as on. They’re just different characters. That’s what makes acting as a profession so simultaneously appealing and appalling.

Successful acting requires that you be someone else for a while. It isn’t enough to speak the lines and to make the gestures called for in the script. We’ve all seen the sort of dreadful productions that result. You don’t have to dive into the excesses of some of the method actors, but you must at least put on the mannerisms–physical and vocal–and the body language of the part.

There’s no way to do this without being affected by it. [Read more...]

The Next Thing I Know, I’m Going Down

JT posted his talk on skepticism and mental illness, and he asked us to tell our own stories as well. I’ve been considering doing so as I’ve seen him and Greta Christina talk about this, but this is the first time he’s asked. So here goes.

I’m suicidal. Not just at the moment, mind you, though we’ll see how things go by the end of the post.

[Read more...]

Let’s Thank the Right People

A couple of my friends have been doing the month of thanks meme on Facebook, posting something for which they are grateful each day of November instead of limiting it to today. I’ve been enjoying it far more than I do most memes, which probably has a lot to do with the kinds of thanks they’re giving.

When you’re doing 30 days of thanks, you can only spend so much time thanking God for, well, you know, everything. You have to get more specific about what you’re thankful for. In turn, that has made them be more specific about regarding to whom they owe that thanks. I’ve enjoyed it not just because it’s non-religious, but also because it seems to have inspired them to stop and thank people who wouldn’t normally be thanked–the people closest to them.

In that spirit, I have a few people to thank today.

[Read more...]

Big News Is Too Big

The first time I stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon, my response was, “Yep. That’s big.” Then I promptly slipped on some ice and wrenched my knee. I spent the rest of that brief visit sitting down, slowly doling out peanuts to the ravens. I remember the ravens in a fair amount of detail and have been fascinated with corvidae ever since. The Grand Canyon is still just big.

It isn’t just an animal versus rock thing, either. The Little Colorado River flows through a vertical chasm nearby that gripped me as well. I was impressed by how deep and straight the water has cut through the rock and the narrowness of the channel. It was small, by comparison, but the details captured my imagination.

The Grand Canyon, on the other hand, is simply immense in a way that dwarfs its details. Maybe if I’d had more time and mobility, I could have gotten to know a small piece of it. Maybe then the pressure to have an opinion about the place–and that pressure does exist–could be met with more than a shrug. For now, it simply remains big.

On the morning September 11, 2001, the news changed between the time I got out of the car at work and the time I got to my desk. I listened to the radio long enough to understand that, once again, this was something that was simply big. I could, perhaps, if I listened longer, focus on one small aspect of the whole until it made sense, but the whole was always going to be too large. The details were never going add up to something I would truly understand.

There was a conference room with cable news reception. I didn’t go in. The pictures weren’t going to help, and watching the anchors and guests try to make sense of something that big was only going to make me hate their superficiality.

People drifted out of the room all morning. I don’t know whether they gave up on making it all make sense, or whether they each found their own little details from which to mine meaning. At lunchtime, there were two people left, two I respected for their thoughtfulness. I gently chased them out of there with the suggestion that that much immersion might not be good for them. I suspect they were still trying to find the piece that would make it all make sense.

We haven’t found it yet, nearly ten years later. Those of us who lived through it almost certainly never will. Historians who look back from a distance probably won’t either. Like us, they’ll focus on one detail or another, just as we’ve done with all of these events that are just too big.

In the meantime, however, we have a new event to deal with. In itself, it isn’t very large. A dying man is dead, at the hand of one of the nations he harmed. His influence will not have died with him. But he, himself, is dead, and his death is part of an event that is simply too big for us to handle.

There is, once again, immense pressure to decide how we feel about bin Laden’s death, despite the overwhelming size of the events he set in motion. How we react, each of us, will depend on the details we took away with us in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. It was a crime, a tragedy, a political lever, a moment of deep political insecurity, a blow to our national pride, and much more. Our personal reactions now are informed by at least one of those, but I doubt that any of us can be informed by all of them at once.

As it was on September 11, it is time to give ourselves and each other a little break. We’re all behaving appropriately to our understanding of that immense event and those that followed. We’re all behaving inappropriately to someone else’s.

We can’t ever understand the whole of what has happened to us, but maybe, just for a day or two, we can understand that much and let each other be with our personal, emotional, insufficient reactions. Even those of us who have nothing more intelligent to say than, “This is big.”

Catch-Up

Oh. Hi.

Let’s just go through a few of the highlights since my last blog post, shall we? Let’s start with that day.

Sunday

  • Having spent the last three weeks in the middle of fall housecleaning, the past two while our main staircase is being finished, I have about an hour’s more work to do before I start my planned pre-Thanksgiving days of relaxation.
  • My mother calls. My grandfather is in the hospital with pneumonia. The nurse isn’t telling her to go visit him right at that moment, but…well, he is 96.
  • I get in about 20 minutes of work before my mother calls again. My brother, who spent the night at our place on Thursday on his way out of town needs a place to stay again that night. He, of course, didn’t mention this on Thursday so I could have planned.
  • I get in about another 10 minutes of work before my husband comes upstairs. He’s just talked to the roommate, who is supposed to be moving out by the end of November. The roommate has just announced that he’s staying through December. Announced.
  • I discover through non-standard means (i.e., not via the roommate) that his girlfriend is staying all week (through Thanksgiving), not just for the weekend.
  • After finishing my cleaning and giving up on the day, I come out of seclusion to discover that the washing machine has exploded, or at least sounds like it. I, of course, have left the laundry out of my cleaning equation, since I usually manage it in the mornings and evenings around work. I identify one pair of clean, work-friendly pants.
  • I go back into seclusion.

Monday

  • The attempt to get the washer repaired does not go well.
  • I work 10-1/2 hours, with multiple deadlines hanging over my head.
  • Once I’ve made it home, I bake the very large batch of banana bread that will use up all the bananas we pulled out of the freezer before all hell broke loose.
  • While the banana bread is baking, I hand wash a load of work clothes in water approximately the temperature of the snow on the ground outside.

Tuesday

  • While I’m at work, my mother calls to let me know my brother had just been arrested. No, really. Oh, and I should make another dish for Thanksgiving, since he won’t be bringing his contribution.
  • I put in another 10+ hour day of racing against deadlines.
  • I don’t remember much else of the day. I can’t guarantee that’s a good sign. Oh, wait. I got a margarita…on the second try, but it was on the way to shopping for washing machines.

Wednesday

  • My mother calls again. I answer, “Now what?” Just another change of plans. They don’t want to keep my brother over the holidays after all.
  • I give up on work early.
  • While I’m washing cranberries in preparation for making relish, the roommate and girlfriend are eating their lunch, thus slightly decreasing the amount of leftovers they had taking up space in the fridge. Then the roommate asks whether he can get into the sink to rinse out his dish. I point out that he doesn’t need to do that if he’s putting it in the dishwasher. Only after he’s out of the kitchen do I realize he’s put it in with the load of clean dishes.
  • Later, the roommate sends me a text message, from within the house, to ask whether it’s okay to use the oven. When I say it is as long as it happens soon, he tells me that’s okay…since he started preheating it before asking.
  • Once again, I remember very little of the day.

Thursday

  • Ah, Thanksgiving. Prep is to start early. However, the roommate and girlfriend manage to be using both the stove and the shower. I get no bacon with my breakfast, and the turkey starts late.
  • Cooking goes fairly smoothly…except for the borosilicate pan that explodes in the oven.
  • The roommate and girlfriend leave five minutes after the first guests arrive and get back fifteen minutes before the last guests leave, thus ensuring that we are not alone once during the day.
  • Otherwise? Not so bad. Having family over is literally the simplest part of the week.

Friday-Now
Yeah, I’m still working on resting and recuperating. The fact that the washer that was supposed to be delivered today not only didn’t show up but also exists in an order status that no one’s ever heard of doesn’t exactly help, but at least I’m mostly caught up at work. Oy.

Weird

“Did you know that there are people who don’t hold hands when they sleep?”

“Really? Weird.”

“I know. What’s up with that?”

“Or maybe we’re weird.”

“Don’t care.”

“Maybe they’ll think we’re so weird they’ll ostracize us, drive us out of society.”

“Still don’t care. I’d rather hold your hand.”

“Okay, that’s pretty weird. But terribly sweet.”

Going Emo

You were warned.

Some observations from spending far too much time with myself:

  • Competence seems like a pretty cool, objective thing on which to base your self-image…right up to the point where you can’t do what you’ve been doing. Then it all just sort of falls apart. What was the last thing you accomplished? How long ago was it? How good does that next thing need to be to make up for everything undone?
  • Social conventions are basically worthless when things aren’t going well. The answer to “How are you doing?” is “Good. And you?” It isn’t “Just anemic enough to huff and puff every time I walk up a flight of stairs.” It isn’t “Too wiped out to figure out how to get to see you but too proud to ask for help if you won’t think of it on your own.” It isn’t “Bored out of my skull from sitting here alone day after day. How would you be doing in my place?”
  • Breaking the social conventions isn’t worth it. It just makes more work. It requires reassuring all the friends whose lives have just been shaken up. It requires holding your tongue on things like, “No. I don’t need to see a professional to have my attitude adjusted. I need to stop being reasonably anxious and in pain for a while. Barring that, I need a fucking hamburger and someone who can moderate their conversation to the right degree of challenging. Not that you asked how you could help.”
  • There are some social conventions you just don’t break either way. You don’t get sad because someone else’s happiness is a contrast to your situation. You don’t get angry at people who can’t figure out how to say something while you’re doing the work to keep up a good front. You don’t get envious that someone else is moving ahead with their plans while you’re stuck. You don’t get jealous that people flock to the social butterflies while you hold yourself back from bringing storm clouds. Not publicly.
  • Being able to read people really well is not an advantage here. Yes, I can tell that my illness scares you. Yes, I can tell that you’re fooled by the fact that I gather up all my resources for a public appearance and wonder how sick I can be. Yes, I can tell that your respect for me is based largely on what I accomplish and drops off the same way my self-respect does. Yes, I can tell that you resent the dragging anchor that I’ve become and that I’ve stopped taking care of everybody around me. Yes, I can tell you’re bored. Yes, I can tell you think I’m whining.
  • Being used to being able to read people well isn’t an advantage either, particularly when it comes to ambiguous or incautious statements and very low days. It’s hard enough to shake the certainty of depression, harder still when you can’t tell yourself that feeling that certain is abnormal.
  • Introverts really hate talking about themselves. Illness brings on a self-preoccupation that gets really damned tedious even to the ill. Combining the two is roughly equivalent to turning into one of those “See no evil…” figures. Blinded, deafened and muzzled.

And that is as much of that as I can stand. You may now return to your regular, interesting programming.

Vacation Notes

I’m sitting in a hotel room in Portland, Oregon, avoiding the sun and awaiting a wedding. I have one of those underestimating-sun-exposure-due-to-clouds-and-trees sunburns, but life is good otherwise.

  • I’ve made it past the TSA with a minor who isn’t mine and has pins in her arm hidden under a cast. Also with a bottle of narcotics that aren’t prescribed under my name. It’s okay, though. They were in the name of that minor who had just been taken away to have her arm scanned.
  • I’ve been subject to a dramatic reading of the Skymall catalog, which was much funnier than it sounds.
  • I’ve completed two rounds of work on my mystery project and am satisfied it’s ready to go to the next stage. One of those rounds was despite the guy in front of me on the plane deciding his seat didn’t recline far enough, so he had to really lean back into it from time to time.
  • I’ve survived 90F and sunny at the Portland zoo with a teenager operating on one hour of sleep and motion sickness. I have no idea whether she’ll remember the giraffe she was so set on seeing.
  • I’ve managed to get my mother her hotel room key despite the fact that she didn’t turn her cell phone on until she was sitting in my room.
  • I’ve short-circuited a tantrum by said teenager by, instead of arguing about what she needed to do, dripping water on her “napping” self while describing the secret project to my mother and brother. (I never said I was anything like orthodox, just effective.)
  • I’ve aided and abetted saving a very confused fish from asphyxia and seagulls.
  • I’ve survived a muddy, cliffside walk with a teenager who is “too smart to do something dumb enough to get hurt” and who really wanted to show me this cool, off-trail place from which to take a great picture. She survived as well.
  • I’ve aided and abetted saving a banana slug that really wanted to hang out in the middle of the trail.
  • I’ve cleaned enough mud off myself and the teenager to be marginally presentable for an indoor lunch.
  • I’ve avoided asking a server whose great idea it was to serve crab bisque as a do-it-yourself meal: two whole crab legs served in a bowl of cream and tarragon. The task of cracking open crabs is not improved by having them covered in soup.
  • I’ve explained to said teenager which parts of the dead jellyfish she could poke at and which parts could hurt her before she was aware that there were dead jellies on the beach on which she was walking barefoot.
  • I’ve picked up a wedding present and card before the wedding itself. We were snubbed by the person doing gift wrap, probably for being sandy and windswept. I think she was jealous that we’d spent our day at 70F instead of 95F.
  • I’ve been smart enough not to drag my pink skin back out under even cloudy skies.

All in all, pretty good. Now, as long as I can figure out where the wedding is actually being held, we should be all set. Oh, yeah, that and remember the groom’s name…and manage the whole TSA thing again tomorrow…at 6:30….