Looking back and thinking forward

Month: August, 2012

Please choose the right stuff!

President Bartlett is about to address a gathering of radio talk show hosts in the White House. As he enters the hall, they all stand and applaud. All, except one: a blond woman, wearing a green suit. At first, her presence seems to rattle the President. He loses his train of thought several times before he finally speaks directly to the sitting talk show host. “Excuse me, Doctor,” he says. “It’s good to have you here. Are you an M.D.?” “A Ph.D.,” she replies. “In psychology?” he asks. “No, sir,” she says. “Theology?” “No.” “Social work?” “I have a Ph.D. in English literature,” she says."I’m asking,” continues Bartlett, “Because on your show people call in for advice and you go by the title Doctor, and I didn’t know if maybe your listeners were confused by that and assumed you had advanced training in psychology, theology, or health care.”

“I don’t believe they are confused. No, sir,” she responds.

I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had you here. I’m interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. She’s a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, always cleared the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be?”�

This old post – this old episode of West Wing – still relevant today!

Reaching for greatness

Quotes of the day:

I worshipped dead men for their strength, forgetting I was strong. Vita Sackville-West

The places, events and people in this book are all real … The names are real also. In writing this book I could not endure the thought of inventing anything, and therefore I could not alter the actual names, which I felt were an inseparable part of actual persons. Some may possibly not be pleased to find themselves described under their own names. To them I have nothing to say. Natalia Ginzburg from Author's Preface in Family Sayings.

One thing I learned growing up was that great people are great. They are admired, worthy, and important. If I wanted any attention, I thought, I had better strive towards greatness. "Oh my God … so and so … or … such and such … is/was … The most marvelous …" was an expression I heard daily – about everything: books, movies, shows, gardens, plants, animals, clothes, cars, artworks, music, plays, and, of course … people. I must admit it wasn't a conscious decision, but somewhere along the way growing up, in order to be noticed, I felt the need to be "the most marvelous," in some way. 

So, first I tried to be the most marvelous child. But, that didn't work out very well. Because, as a child I had needs and feelings like any typical child. And if I expressed those … oh dear! all hell broke loose. And so, I quickly learned (because if there is something I am most marvelous at – it is fast learning …) that having feelings or needs were very dangerous indeed. In fact, I learned to doubt the validity of anything that happened to me. Recently, in therapy, I realized that it's not that I have been told I am mistaken because I write what I write about my life experiences – in point of fact, I have been called a liar since I was a very young child when I expressed my feelings. For, when I was angry, lonely or afraid I was told that I was wrong to feel those things, because, in fact, my life was marvelous, and I was just making all those emotions up. And so I learned not to trust any feelings I had. Worse still, somehow when I was very young, I learned that I "invented" those feelings on purpose in order to destroy the adults who cared for me! What awesome powers were ascribed to such a small child!

Well, even after I failed so abysmally at being the most marvelous child, and still always hoping that someone might notice me, I continued to strive to be the most marvelous everything else: daughter, dancer, singer, tennis player, yoga instructor, sister, friend, student, mother, wife, scholar, gardener, teacher, lover, and, of course … person. And, oh dear … I failed at all those too!

For, honestly? What are the criteria for being the most marvelous?

There's the rub

There is no one truth in being the most marvelous anything. For it is in the eye of the beholder. And I think that perhaps – just maybe – the person, or people, who are so caught up with the marvelosity of things, probably, unconsciously, really struggle with their own fear of being ordinary. That, somehow, in being ordinary therein lies their worthiness, because perhaps their own parents had not found them very worthy when they were children?

And so, I have decided to stop striving for greatness, or in being the most marvelous anything. Instead, I want to become content at being an ordinary, complex, human being with all kinds of emotions. 

I marvel at an early morning walk on a beautiful beach, or swimming in a glorious, calm ocean. I wonder at friends who love and support each other, and am amazed with gratitude when my son remembers me on Mother's day. I feel joy in discovering a newly opened flower in my garden, or when little Ada calls me downstairs to the basement when she has completed her motions in her litter box!

I especially love it when I look across the room when I am teaching or presenting, and see bright eyes shining toward me from one or two people who really appreciate and learn something from what I am saying … something that might be helpful to their personal or professional growth … something that might change the life of one of the children in their care in the future. 

For, in the end, I want all young children to feel worthy because they are who they are: complex human creatures with all kinds of feelings, and ever so needy of our loving and undivided attention. And when they cry in rage or fear I want people to sit close by with tenderness and compassion, and allow them to feel safe and accepted for all those, oh so very uncomfortable and scary emotions. 

Seven years ago at Tamarika: Blog longing

And we shall rise …

Quote of the day:

It's time to get angry again … Germaine Greer

No – Todd Aken.

You can not take back those words you uttered, nor the policies you ushered.

Indeed, your "apology" is not enough.

Your ignorance, misogyny and bigotry knows no bounds.

You will not drag me back into the dark ages.

I have taken your statements personally, because I stand by all people who are marginalized and degraded.

You have spurred me onwards and upwards.

You have helped me rise – as a woman and as a fellow human being.

You have brought the policies and platform of the mean spirited and ignorant right wing right out in the open.

And it is rage, I feel, and pain at the enormity of your collective ignorance.

As a teacher educator, I realize that there is so much more to be done in my field. I must work to ensure that at least the students who come through my classes will be taught to think critically, deeply and analytically.

Sir, you have given purpose – nay, urgency to the work I do.

And let me just add here:

I am very, very proud to call myself a Feminist. The bell hooks kind: "Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression."

The Eve Ensler kind: "I am asking you and the GOP to get out of my body, out of my vagina, my womb, to get out of all of our bodies. These are not your decisions to make. These are not your words to define. Why don't you spend your time ending rape rather than redefining it? Spend your energy going after those perpetrators who so easily destroy women rather than parsing out manipulative language that minimizes their destruction. And by the way you've just given millions of women a very good reason to make sure you never get elected again, and an insanely good reason to rise."

Oh – and re: yesterday's blog post? I am hoarse right now – yes indeed, almost to a whisper …

… and yet … hear me ROAR!

Itching to write

Quote of the day:

I learned it was exhausting to write seriously. It's a bad sign if you're not exhausted. You cannot expect to produce something serious in any casual way, with one hand tied behind you, as it were, flitting around as the spirit moves you. You can't get off so easily. When you write something serious you sink into it, and drown up to your eyes, and if you happen to be assailed by strong emotions if you're very happy or very unhappy for some reason – call it terrestrial – which has nothing to do with what you're writing, then to the extent that the writing is valid and worthy of life, every other feeling will become dormant. You cannot expect to preserve your precious happiness fresh and intact nor your precious unhappiness; everything recedes, disappears and you're alone with the page; no happiness or unhappiness can survive that isn't intimately linked to that page; you possess nothing, you belong to no one, and if you don't feel this way, that is a sign that your page is worthless. Natalia Ginzburg: My Craft

Some mornings I wake up with an itch to write. Am not always sure what I want to write about. But the itch is there. In the tips of my fingers and with a buzz in my chest and lower abdomen. Not the coffee buzz type of feeling, although sometimes I do become confused between the buzzes. This morning is particularly strong. The itch. I sit at my desk and face the screen, hands poised over the keys, and then I decide – "the itch": write for ten minutes – go! Come to think of it I sense a burning in my eyes as well and a kind of excitement, as if I am going to give birth to something grand. I suspect that this has something to do with self expression in general, because I feel similar sensations just before I play the piano and sing along. Sitting on the beach in Cape May last week, I was reading an essay by Natalia Ginzburg and she described that feeling exhausted after writing something serious was a good sign. I wonder what she would say about becoming hoarse, which is what usually happens to me after I write a serious piece. 

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Revelation

Seven years ago at Tamarika: Let the show begin … am I ready?

Out of the shadows


This has been the summer of reconnection. It sounds strange to write that when in fact I have spent most of it quite alone. Reading, walking, writing, and working in the garden. And yet as I have spent many long hours alone I feel as if I have been accompanied by drifting shadows. For I have allowed my past to rise up in my memory as never before. Mainly feelings from the past. Atmospheres. Sounds, smells, colors. I have tried to conjure up how it felt to be me as a little girl – a small child – growing up in Southern Rhodesia, with the various members of my large, complex family. 

What a necessary indulgence – reconnecting to that little girl from long ago – getting to know her again after she was pushed down deep into the recesses of my brain. She has been coaxed out – gently – with the help of my very skilled therapist. He has invited her out of the shadows and into the open, and this summer I obliged. At a cognitive level it has been fascinating because, after all, my work has to do with child development and the importance of positive, loving teacher and parent relationships with the young children in their care. At an emotional level, it has been painful. Deeply painful. For, in order to reconnect with that child from yesteryear, I mean really reconnect, I have had to allow myself to re-feel what she felt, or re-experience what she experienced back then.

Chocolate or alcohol … go …

Quote of the day:

Tell  me different times you needed chocolate or alcohol. Ten minutes. Go. Natalie Goldberg (Page 224)

Just one bite of chocolate can give me the strength I need to stand before my students of an evening lecture or two. After a long, tiring work day, sometimes fear rises out of nowhere about whether I am skilled or competent enough to interest, excite, stimulate or inspire the students in my class. I reach into the bottom drawer and take out a piece of chocolate. As I swirl it around in my mouth, the sweetness softens the anxiety and melts away my fear just long enough for me to gather up my books, dolls, and papers and charge into the classroom with the energy I need to share what I would like young women and men waiting for me there to know.

And, oh the times I have enjoyed a glass of champagne! Like after defending my dissertation. What a glorious day that was. So many colleagues and friends present as I defended my thoughts, ideas, method of research, and, it seemed, like my entire professional life. As my three advisors discussed in-depth about type of research I had conducted, inviting audience participation, I thrilled to feel that I had caused this celebration of ideas. Me. It was me, who had done this! I stood up there by the podium frightened but exhilarated. And at the end I waited breathlessly outside the room as the advisors decided my fate. One of them came out to me and said, "You are a great student. This was terrific work. Be proud. Really proud." As he walked away I felt slightly dizzy. The tips of my fingers were tingling and I almost wanted to shout out with joy. Instead, I stood really quietly, closed my eyes, and savored the moment. 

Social networking is grand. I adore playing on Facebook and keeping in touch with all sorts of people. Family, friends, colleagues, topics of interest, surveys … whatever. And then, one day a really old friend makes a connection. Let's say – from forty years ago or so. An important friend. One, who changed the course of my life. A person who influenced the way I thought about myself … and so on. One day the friend pops into my email box: "Found you on Facebook. Is that the you I knew?"

That night, I need a gin and tonic – but not alone – with friends who can laugh along with me as I unpack the past and relish in the present, even as regrets brush me silently with their shadows. 

Seven years ago at Mining Nuggets: How am I … really?