Monday, December 15, 2014

Seven nights to go

But considering that my last three shifts involved two RRTs and a fifteen hour night, I'm not cracking open the (pointless non-alcoholic) champagne just yet.

I don't know how I'd feel about nursing if I was less tired. I do know that right now I only feel broken. Completely broken. Dangerously, hormonally, on-the-edge-of-mood-disordered broken. I would advise individuals with a family history of severe, unrelenting depression, bipolar disorder, addiction, and bulimia to avoid night shift when possible. Particularly when a chunk of that history was written by said individuals and the professionals paid to manage them.

If you're interested, my fetus supposedly is five inches long now. I can feel her move. I alternate between being distressed about the havoc this has wrought -- wreaked? -- on my previously somewhat-flat abdomen and feeling like the possibility of the kid effing off at this point is manageable because I haven't yet crossed a hundred twenty pounds.

Because, discouragingly, it still seems to bear pointing out: what I described right there is pathological. That set of feelings about one's pregnant body is not "real talk" so much as it is progress notes for a professional helper of some kind. Please do not take from this that the expectation of maintaining a flat abdomen or one's ninth-grade weight into one's second trimester is appropriate.

When I read "news" features and links about baby bumps and baby weight, I feel like an alien, because no matter how thin I were to become, I wouldn't ever consider my body "bikini ready".  Not because I dislike how it looks but because I value the person living in it too much to evaluate her based on what some stranger thinks her body parts look like.

But I do feel like if I can just keep my body un-soft, I can keep myself from being broken by loss if the pregnancy doesn't work out. It's there, a worry as I drag my exhausted self to work and back, how my default is to confuse lack of affect with invulnerability and invulnerability with strength, and to beeline for the lowest common denominator at all times. It reminds me of girlfriends and boyfriends who I identified as such only after the fact, when I realized that you can become pretty cruel without expressing a single emotion.

I feel like this is a more interesting experience of the pregnant body, as grim as it sounds and feels, than the distress calls about boobs that fail to regain their elasticity -- which, I don't know. I don't feel capable of strong feelings about my breasts, prepartum or post. I.... don't really spend much time looking at my boobs, because I have yet to learn Russian or finish Game of Thrones or pay off my student loan debt, and because life is finite.

I don't know if my kind of fears are also what other moms and women are actually talking about when they fret about their bodies, or if there exist women for whom the expectation that they bodies look a specific way segueways into straight-up shame and doubt and not cynicism and dark humor.  I'm not afraid of my body not being sexy,  first, because if you feel entitled to have an opinion on my physical appearance and you are not financing its maintenance, you and I have radically different views on women and what they owe you; second, because my ability to live comfortably in it is predicated on my belief that my body isn't sexy, and isn't required to be or supposed to be. But I am very afraid of my body being out of my control. Of the fact that my body is out of my control. And of the reality that at some point I may come to count on it to do things -- make it through another night shift; carry this child; keep it alive -- and it won't.

My body's not a good body. It's just bad for a set of reasons entirely distinct from those Facebook persistently opines that I "might like" to read about.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Micah 6:8 fails

Well, now I just don't know what to think.

We -- meaning me, and all the people producing Newsweek covers and clever Facebook memes on my behalf -- have come to excel at marketable, apolitical, existential kinds of tragedies. Remember how much we all loved each other after 9-11? Remember two Decembers ago, how the silver lining for those of us without actual dead children was the general sense that everyone we loved was so real and our differences and pettiness receded to make room for all our love for Sandy Hook and its families?

I'm only feeling a little ugly as I write that. Really, it does matter, in a good way, how certain kinds of tragedies bring helpers and  hope-ers out of the woodwork.

But I am just lost here. Because when other people's husbands and dads and sons are being slaughtered like they are not real - less like animals or "unborn children", each of whom we launch crazed campaigns to defend, than like abstractions, Goombas to stomp on our way to the real enemy -- my impulse to to grab at my husband, my son, my dad. I want to take my kid home and watch The Nightmare Before Christmas on a loop and ignore any coming moment in which I cannot encase his entire body in my own. I want to remember that life is short and precarious and to be grateful for what I have.

But that response seems wrong when the disaster that inspires it impacts me so much differently than it does other people. By "differently", I mean less; by "other people", I mean black people.

The reality is that while we all are at risk of losing those we love, what's actually going on in our country puts me in a much less vulnerably position than lots of other moms/daughters/wives, because the people I love most in the world are white people. Because my father's body just got done occupying the attention of a team of neurosurgeons and anesthesiologists and lasers and robots, bent on keeping him alive, and Eric Garner's body -- similar to my dad's in a lot of ways, different in one apparently game-changing one -- got crushed into the street by a kid I cannot think of in any term more generous than "punk". Because when my dad, never one for histrionics, allowed that he was in pain, my mom and I badgered his nurse for better drugs and the nurse pushed them into his vein and I hovered like a Snoopy vulture over the monitor tracking his breathing as it dipped and then rose. Because my dad never had to say "I can't breathe", much less gasp the words out while one public servant choked him to death and three more held him down.

So we're not all together in this. And I don't really know how to be a bad guy, but I can't stop feeling complicit because what's happened in Missouri and Ohio and now New York makes me feel shitty and stressed out on the one hand, and actively threatens to destroy and/or end people's lives, on the other.

I guess this is what white people are getting at when they #crimingwhilewhite . It's hard for me to get into that, partly because I did grow up afraid of cops; because white privilege looks radically different for different people and doesn't actually make cops your friends, especially not if your particular shade of "white" is most commonly a modifier for the word "trash".

I don't have any stories about breaking laws and getting away with it. I was twenty-five before I stopped crossing the street to avoid police. But that's the thing about individual good fortune versus institutionalized privilege: my experience doesn't have to be a stereotype of getting away with shit and free rides home for our criminal justice system to be unfair. The challenges that individual white people face does not speak to the reality or unreality of racism and injustice, and arguing over how hard or easy specific white lives are is most useful is you are trying to avoid the issue of how to un-fuck our system and its unchecked assault on black ones.

What actually matters is not how privilege functions in my life but how my privilege functions in the lives of the Garners and the Browns and the Rice's -- how things not being so bad for me (where by "so bad", I mean, my husband is on his way home and my dad's saturating well on room air and watching Fox News) perpetuates a system where this is the result we get.

That's what I have to remember -- not because "white guilt" is useful to anyone, but because maintaining the belief that this is affecting us all the same way turns an actual problem demanding correction into an emotional journey or existential crisis.

I am very sad and afraid and confused. And also, if I really want to love mercy or do justice, I have to be able to go past that to finding a way to resist this. Even though doing so is uncomfortable, and even though I don't really know how, and even though insofar as I benefit from this ugly paradigm in which the bodies of the people I love are ascribed a greater value than those of other people's loved ones, I am implicated in the system we are each called to take apart.

I'm don't know how, and I feel like it's presumptuous even to assume I can figure it out. But I do think it's encouraging that people -- including those of us whom racism may distort, but isn't actively in the business of killing -- are trying to think this through. It's irritating to me that my first step seems to be working out my own screwed upness and complicity in order to find a way to usefully move forward. Dragons are more fun to slay than darlings. But then, times are hard all over these days.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

white mom thoughts

I want to preface this by saying that if you haven't already read at least a fat portion of the blogs, op-eds, and essays black writers have produced since the shootings in Ferguson and in Ohio and since the grand jury declined to indict Darren Wilson, please go do that now. Because there is no way I'm the voice anyone needs to be hearing about this shitshow; I just happen to need to process it for myself so I can get some sleep.

I am a mom, though. And while I don't like the kind of "women are magic" essentialism inherent in the idea that moms have some sort of special knowledge other human beings lack, I do know that now I am vulnerable in a way I wasn't for the first three decades of my life. I can imagine a world in which I sustain the loss of my parents, my brother, my best friend, my husband. But the day my child is gone, I'm essentially just biding my time until I can extract myself from this world without causing similar ruin for my own parents. 

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Pretty much, Auden. 

Is that why it's so easy to talk about whether or not Mike Brown was charging or stumbling towards Darren Wilson, how likely he was to have taken away his gun, and so apparently hard to acknowledge that a woman's life might be over now? Her child is dead. Exactly which choice are you claiming was so egregious that his death is made any less insane, any less obscene? Why did we work so hard to call for help for Adam Lanzas and Dylan Klebolds and Eric Harrises and shrug at Leslie McSpadden? 

Again, this is a painfully obvious question, I think, if you're not white, which is why a lot of us seem to be talking about two entirely different stories with two entirely different sets of characters. I'm asking this now because my son is not in the same kind of danger as his classmates and neighbors, so I could take my time figuring it out. There's one definition of privilege. 

It seems now that the forensic and ballistic evidence don't support the initial image of a kid with his hands up, begging Wilson not to shoot. But it's a pretty vast fucking leap from that discovery to the conclusion that what "we" need to do is for black parents and their black kids to act differently so they don't get gunned down in the street. 

And I feel like the people I hear talking now, the people white people are kind of lining up to listen to now, are the ones who want to talk about that, rather than about what seems to be the more immediately relevant issue of how we need cops to stop shooting black kids. 

Wilson may have acted out of fear for his life; he may have been doing what he was trained to do. He doesn't have to be a demon, himself, for this loss to be unbearable and unacceptable. 

But it is. It is unbearable and it is unacceptable. 

Mike Brown may have been reckless or aggressive in the minutes leading up to his death; I don't know. It is unacceptable that he died. 

Darren Wilson might have believed -- because of this behavior, or because of his attitudes about young black men, or both -- that he needed to shoot him to protect his own life. 

And it is still unacceptable that Mike Brown died. 

It may have been the case that Mike Brown was attempting to take Wilson's gun, and Wilson's actions were necessary to protect his life -- and it is still unacceptable that Mike Brown died. 

Whoever is training and supporting and regulating police officers in the  United States has to do so in a way in which cops are not shooting teenagers, whether out of personal racism or lack of resources or both. Because even if we assume that Wilson exercised the only option available to him -- a proposition I'm hardly convinced of, but which I'm also not in a position to refute, since I wasn't there and since so much of the testimony is contradictory  -- he should have had other options. 

If Mike Brown's life mattered enough to the people staffing, training, and regulating the police force, Wilson would have had other options. As scared as I am for my own child, I can't think of one red headed white boy who has been gunned down by a cop, under any circumstances. Not even the ones who kill other children. The school shooters whose deaths generated conversations not about their parents' behavior but about mental health resources died at their own hands. 

If we -- our society, which claims to value everyone equally but which seems unable to come up with anything less outrageous than parenting advice for the parents of the black children we shoot -- if we want to be better, I believe we can. We can make it unacceptable for police to kill black teenagers, even ones playing with toy guns or "charging at" cops. I know this because currently it is unacceptable to kill white teenagers. 

But I don't see how it will happen as long as we keep focusing on -- in the case of kids like Tamir Rice, shamefully digging up -- perceived differences between our white kids, who we want so badly to believe are safe, and other people's black kids, whose vulnerability we want so badly to distance ourselves from. 

To the degree my son is safe from this particular danger, he is safe because he is white. Not because he, or I, or his dad, have done anything different or better than other children and and their families. 

Either this is acceptable to me or it isn't. 

If it's not --  and evidently, it has been acceptable to me up to this point, because here we are -- it needs to change. 

But there's no way to change it while imagining the issue is something other than what it is -- something to do with Mike Brown's behavior, or kids playing with guns, or black on black violence. The issue is the relative value afforded to kids like Mike Brown and Tamir Rice versus kids like mine. And while I have no idea how to recalibrate, it's apparent to me that we have to do this. The alternative is to hold my son's skin color like a talisman, banking on its magic ability to keep him safe while his brown-skinned friends die and we keep talking about how they should have known better. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

this all happened

So, the last few weeks have been absorbed in my ongoing efforts to live, and nurse, while my body does its own thing -- which currently involved growing a fetus.

I have like a billion feelings about this, almost none of which involve what the kids call "my unborn child".

I don't like to say I'm pregnant. I'm certainly not "expecting"; I only just stopped expecting to miscarry. Now, I'm just trying to survive the near constant nausea and exhaustion and discomfort that growing a fetus -- viable or not -- entails. I am trying not to think about the surgery that miscarrying this pregnancy will involve. I am studiously not thinking about babies.

I did tell my son, because he doesn't know enough to be scared now, and won't know enough to be sad, later, if the monster, or possibly baby, in my belly, stops being there.

I missed a lot of days of work because I was bleeding. I spend a lot of time afraid I'm going to lose my job because of these missed days, and the fact that they required me to disclose my pregnancy much sooner than I'd hoped, and also, the fact that I've not yet even reached the stage at which I historically start to bleed heavily and require bed rest, and I've got no sick days left.

I forgot, and remembered again over this most recent weekend, that I love nursing. I started a grad school application, could not get ahold of my professors for a recommendation -- this, with a single B, certainly not in any of their classes; sometimes I wonder if I should have splurged on a private school -- and gave that up as October rolled in and every single day narrowed to a shift, a meal, an hour I just needed to get through.

Also this fall: I'm not the kind of person who counts milestones -- I don't have a clear sense of what "kind" of person does that, but probably one with a slightly less peripatetic capacity to be honest with herself. However, I was recently reminded, as a matter of course, that I am HIV negative, which also reminded of how, ten years ago, I spent the entire month of November panicked over my HIV status and the likelihood that one can contract HIV from getting semen in one's eyes. 2004 wasn't my year.

Anyway, obviously the total lack of control I've been feeling over my body in fall 2014 is radically different and preferable to that I experienced in fall 2004, but overall, the whole season has lent me this kind of fatalism: thing happen to your body, your sole option for housing as far as I know, and you really get no say at all. Or the moment in which you have a say passes and you're left trying to figure out what just happened and how to move forward; ultimately, the bulk of your time gets spent the same way. What are we going to do now?

Right now, if you're me, you reassure yourself: given two unappealing options, you selected the one least likely to lead to face punching, violent assault, or death -- and whatever doubts you incurred in the process, what is certain now is that it is ten years later and you are alive. You put every Goddamn sonogram on the fridge and you go ahead and think about baby names, because this may be as much baby as you get, and if it is, it will have to be enough. You go to work and you reassure your coworkers that it's just hormones, not ebola, when you have to interrupt your charting to go dry-heave in the too-public bathroom. You try not to miss the trash can when you can't quite make it off the street, and you pray you don't see anyone you know.

This is the body, the life, you get. There's not an option for a more sanitized one, as far as I know. But honestly, at the risk of sounding macabre, I'm not sure I'd opt for one if there were. I can't remember the last time I was bored with my life -- I suspect it was well more than ten years ago.

Friday, September 12, 2014

survival, and also kites

Shift one of three: completed, including my three back-to-back admissions, each of whom was lovely and as low-maintainence as a hospitalized person can be. 

I celebrated, not with my eating disorder, but with bagels and conversation with the incomparable Lena, who made me homemade ginger ale because her response to existential agitas is to just pour the care onto everyone around her. 

I walked home and remember that New York in September is amazing and beautiful and ridiculously alive, like teenagers and puppies. 

I am going back tonight, trying to love my patients and mainlining lousy coffee and Eckhart Tolle and breathing and breathing and breathing because this is what survival looks like. 

And then tomorrow I do this

And Sunday, this:

Because why. not. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Amazing and Beautiful, Loved and Chosen

Apropos of the million reassurances the world seems eager to give me that I, too, am beautiful (so buy This Thing!), I recognized at some point in the forty eight hours, probably while running, that I feel very tense around the whole world beautiful. That beautiful, actually, may not be something I want to be at all.

Is that okay?

It is, so it must be.

I'm okay with it, anyway. I've decided it's more interesting and cool to be a perceiver of beauty, to walk in it and seek it out and see it, than to be it, myself.

Again, if you, like me, have spent years or a lifetime fighting yourself over this -- believing you should be beautiful, but that you aren't, or that you need to be beautiful, when Beauty always fit more like someone else's shoes --

You don't have to be beautiful. You can just not be beautiful, and do other things, and it's exactly the amount of loss you count it as. 

I don't think I'm beautiful, but I do love myself. I do think I'm worth your time, whoever "you" are.

And here's some things that legit are beautiful:

  • The smile on Elsa's* face when I rub her head and sing to her. Elsa is some variant of profoundly retarded; she doesn't move, speak, or focus her eyes. I can't tell if anything else I do -- talk or read or sing -- matters to her. But her face when I rub her head is exactly what yours or mine or my son's would be, only better. 

  • And also Jasmin's*, when she and I are talking math a few doors down from Elsa, or when she's telling me that the social worker is getting her back into actual high school rather than the wildly inappropriate "high school" on the unit, in which no other child is over eight years old or can understand language. 

  • My amazing and ordinary and perfect son, making a bridge out of my arm as we wait for his vaccination and then kissing that bridge, right to the left of my wrist; brave in the face of his last IM injection until age four; zooming all the cars all over the doctor's office/bookstore/apartment like he personally invented joy. 

And running in the mornings, and walking in the mornings, and the park in the mornings, and walking home with my family at night; and kids coming home from school in primary-colored uniforms, and the painstaking butterfly my sponsored child from India added to his mandatory thank-you letter, and, I've heard, U2's new album, the New Yorker's requisite snobbery aside. (You lose me entirely when you complain that someone "wants the world to be a better place" too much.) 

It occurs to me that my problem was to look for beauty in my own face and body rather than in everything around me all the time, where it is literally dripping onto the ground at all times. 

It occurs to me that this sort of misdirection is how one might miss huge chunks of my life. And that the lesson that I Don't Have to Care if I'm Beautiful is actually one of the biggest gifts the universe has handed me, like, ever. 

If your own beauty or lack thereof has been on your mind, or bringing you down -- for, you, my friend, a hearty mug of Don't Give a Flying Fuck. To me, you probably are beautiful, anyway; who knows, if I had world enough and time, but that you'd be on my list. 

But you actually don't have to be. I'm pointedly not bringing sexy back, replacing it instead with "loved" and "chosen" and "valuable". All of which you are, and so am I. 


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

This post also has an epilogue! Are you curious about the epilogue?

So, as it happens, of the two IVs I failed to obtain -- the nursing fail that launched a thousand words of self-recrimation, though, by the grace of God, no episodes of self-injury or kitchen-floor meltdowns -- the oncoming nurse and her protégée failed to get one and forgot to even try to get the other. 

In an effort to externalize some of my broodery and forestall another bout of inside drama, I said, "See, that's why I was so offended when you gave me a hard time for not getting it!"

Reader, she did not even recall the conversation in question. 

Appropriately enough, I've been simultaneously reading Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose and the latest in my Christian-mommy-blogger reading list, Jennie Allen's Anything: the Prayer that Unlocked My God and My Soul, which, if you know me, may do much to explain why I am blogging less lately, because honestly, I'd be less embarrassed to advertise that I'd been spending hours of my finite existence reading the Twilight series. 

But there it is: the challenge of my life right now is getting over my eating disorder, and all the subsidiary craziness that I've managed to keep with me as I've gained weight and "made progress" -- what we like to say when you're still kind of crazy, but not so much as to demand immediate intervention. 

If you know addicts, and if you really know me, you will understand and believe me when I tell you that, at least in my life, anorexia and bulimia function much more like cocaine addiction than like your average diet. 

This is the thing about the eating-disordered, and it's why the cultural expectations and narratives we impose upon women are so high-stakes for me: to everyone else, the problem is that I don't see that I'm thin enough, or I don't feel I deserve to eat -- forgivable little foibles that, insofar as they align with our general love of the insecure waif who doesn't "see her own beauty" and the self sacrificing mom who puts her needs last, actually make me seem more likable rather than less. My eating disorder has always seemed to me to be the most "feminine" thing about me -- my last best hope at being something other than the intense, focused, outspoken, demanding, ambitious child I was, a child, it was clear to me by about age eight, who was unacceptable in her natural state (see above, and ask yourself what a girl would need to do to have those traits and not be vilified for them. Lead the free world, maybe? Cure cancer?)

In point of fact, though, my eating disorder makes me a self-centered, irrational, miserly, withholding, petty, immature, angry person, one for whom everything -- relationships, values, goals, the need for the kid to get to school and the laundry to get picked up and life to happen -- comes second to whether one can see my abs more easily or less easily than they did yesterday and whether or not three pieces of toast is "too much". 

Was I "hungry enough" to eat them? Well, that's a hard question to answer because it does not mean anything. But feel free to ruin everyone's morning over it. 

In my efforts to be both less altogether and specifically less of all the masculine, ugly things I am (loud, certain, the kind of person who had to fight long and hard to insert those ubiquitous question marks at the end of each sentence), I actually overshot and just became, well, like an addict. So much like one that, even when I am in recovery, rather than in active crisis all the time, I act like your average character on some sort of biopic regarding the dissolution of some sort of eighties band. Some mornings, all I need is some sound equipment and a roadie to hurl it at. 

All of which is to say, insofar as I have any kind of story worth telling right now, I believe it is this one: a story about how, disastrous as I am, I am also saved. Saved in the epicly embarrassing vocabulary of the church in which I grew up, the stuff of camp songs and oil-on-the-head anointings. Saved in the sense that I believe in and talk to this Jesus like he's a guy, though I remain unwilling to commit to any specific set of beliefs about when and how he rolled as a physical guy in the first century. 

And it makes it easier, and better, and possible. My life, I mean. Whatever it is I experience when I experience God is the same thing that allows me to write blogs and take my kid to school and keep going back to the unit when, from another perspective, every experience I have there is just a story about my total failure at life and the sadistic nature of the world, to put such a worthless person as me on it. In my head, see, all roads lead to starving or vomiting or killing myself, except this one. 

I've been trying to write about my faith without writing about my faith, because it isn't cool, and I believe I don't have the right to believe uncool things, and that I won't be liked if I do. I think of people who know me and don't believe in God, and I feel like I have to sidestep or joke about this part of me, because no one wants to be friends with That Girl. Like the loudness and the insistence and the ambition and the drive to Always Be Doing Something, Christianity isn't a part of the person I want to be seen as. And when I started to lose weight, back in high school, it became apparent to me that I actually have a chance of being a cool and well-liked person if I just tone down these things about myself. 

But as great as it feels to see myself as something other than a loser or a pariah, to be located at the right lunch table -- or, at least, in the cafeteria rather than waiting out lunch hour in the school media center -- that story is lame when I tell it. The Phi Beta Kappa mom with words for Lena Dunham and words for Taylor Swift and words for everything that takes the risk of being obvious, cliche, or twee -- her story is awesome, but it's not really my story.  I bet that was cool. I ride a bicycle. 

You guys, I write in a prayer journal. I have written more than one entry about whether or not it's okay for me to have second breakfast. I not only need Jesus, but I need him for a host of super-lame failings regarding the amount of peanut butter I am allowed to eat in a given day. 

The only actual story I can tell is this one, in which there's this God, and not the cool postmodern God, but, like, Jesus God. And I pray to him about my meal plan and give money to Donors Choose because I really believe this is what he wants, what his kingdom looks like. And that's who I actually am, "even though I'm so smart" and even though I love science so much. I am a person who, crises of faith aside, feels that God is real, and attributes the good things in my life -- my recovery, such as it is, included -- to that God. 

So, fair warning: I'm going to keep writing, because it's one of the ways in which God is saving my life. And because, if you, too, can fuck with the Jesus, or if you can avoid being off put by the basic premise that God is  at least there enough to be healing me, I do think it's worth reading, this story about how my addiction set up camp in my brain and keeps trying to kill me with its bullshit, and instead, I live and become a nurse and a mom and a person who -- intrinsic loud-mouthed-ness and certainty and perfectionism and declarative statements aside -- starts to see and love the world and the people it contains as something other than a stage for my personal version of Intense Inner Drama All the Time: the Oft-told Story. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Shitty Nurse, or, On Being a (Minor) Disappointment

September 8

It’s my father’s birthday. My dad is wonderful, basically the best person in the world, and I spend considerable amounts of my time trying to just find a way to deal with the fact of him. You’ve probably read the dismal accounts of how our generation is the first to accomplish less, socioeconomically speaking, than their parents; in my case, I’ve also accomplished less in the arena of Being a Human. 

Take nursing. Right now, as a career-changing nurse, I am here, exactly here: it appears that, while I believed I was a remarkable person capable of doing challenging things well, in point of fact, I was just doing easy things for the first fifteen years of my working life. It didn’t feel that way at the time. But as other new nurses progress, I am getting (what appear to me to be) pointed comments about how 

“[X younger, smarter] nurse is so hard working that [y borderline abusive tech] would never [publicly humiliate] him”


“You are crap at IVs; so was I! Now, [z better nurse than you, still wrapping up orientation], she’s great at IVs!”

I don’t like this. And I also don’t like it about me that my response is to obsess and want someone to reassure me that I’m a good nurse, which seems unlikely given that 1. this is far from a stipulated fact among my co-workers and 2. I am, after all, fully thirty-one years old. 

I want to believe that these other elements of nursing matter: the call bells I answered knowing full well that the caller wanted something he or she could easily get for himself; the way I made a point of checking my demented patient for wetness while she slept, rather than waiting for the tech, and right in the middle of med pass; the time I took to explain each medicine and procedure to her even though she believed she was at Mary’s house and her chief concern bore no resemblance to the medical condition for which she was admitted and seemed to involve a plot line from the Lifetime movie she was watching when I came in. I want points for how before I failed to get this lady’s blood, I’d both successfully drawn her 12 am labs and then called the doctor to request a blood order she’d forgotten, knowing it’d come stat at the end of my shift, that I’d have to try to get it, fail, and get berated for incompetence by the woman I’d spent the night caring for — and then get smugly reassured that the oncoming nurse, too, once “sucked at IVs”, unlike her twenty-five-year old protegee. 

More than wanting to believe that these things make me a good nurse, I want to be the kind of person who just sucks it up and deals; the kind of nurse for whom my job is not about my hurt feelings or self-doubt or need to excel, but the painful tubes going into and coming out of my patient’s penis. 

IV struggles aside, I was that nurse last night. In almost every instance, I did my best to be kind, to be reassuring; to listen. 

It’s, like, really embarrassing to not do IVs well — though at least I have the cold comfort that the senior nurse I paged could’t get it in, either. I end up basically wanting all my lucid patients discharged, so I can start over, and also, feeling petty that I’m upset not because my patient got stuck four times before someone got her blood out, but because she called me on my lousy phlebotomy skills and I want to be the nurse everyone’s impressed with. 

My dad would be better. But then, easy for him, since in my mind, my dad does everything expertly the first time he tries it. In all honesty, I should have called him to try to start my IV. And he has nerve damage.  

This is one of a small cluster of intense needs that push me back towards God, that make the Gospel so intensely appealing to me (though it occurs to me that this theme is not so entirely unique to Christ’s story as Christians claim): the need to believe that my worth lies in something other than my skill set and competence. I am (relatively) good at resisting efforts to reduce my worth, and that of others, to their appearance or socioeconomic status or professional success. But I’m incredibly vulnerable to the concept of meritocracy.

“People who do things well are special,” my physics professor and dean told us honors students on my first day of college. I believed it enough that I started an entire career based on how much I loved doing things well and being special. It’s been very hard to give up. I want to see myself as a good nurse, to look at the strengths I have and the work I do. But every day, I leave well aware of at least one solid fuck-up I’ve managed to work into my “workflow”, as the kids call it. And while my actual boss isn’t the one giving me negative feedback, and I’ve yet to be written up or called at home — unpleasant experiences from which, I gather, the nurses belittling/“mentoring” me speak — it’s corrosive to be giving report and get a sequence of: “Girl, you know…” and “You need to….” and “Why would you….” 

I want to feel good about myself, and I want to feel good about what I do. But the terms under which I allow myself to do either may be unrealistic for someone just learning the ropes. And my preoccupation with my image of myself, makes that image appear increasingly graven. 

For a person who oscillates between the legitimately damaging messages I received about my worth, courtesy of someone else’s God (thanks, bitter elementary school teachers!) and the current cult of I Must Feel Great About Myself Always, seeing myself accurately feels impossible and pointless. It gets to the point at which I’ll believe in anything — Jesus, Buddha, the Spirit Within — that will deliver me from myself.

What matters is this: my patients needed care, and I gave it. Imperfectly. At times, inelegently. But I don’t have control over how skillfully I perform my particular small acts, only the love with which I perform them. I have to try every day to do better because nursing is hard, and important, and my patients do deserve the very best care I can provided, and by definition, doing one’s best never feels easy. 

All the other things I believe I’ve done well involved their own moments of struggling and doubting and being called to task, often in even more demeaning ways than I’m experiencing now (hi, sixth graders!) 

Am I a good nurse? Maybe I’m not the best, but I’m also not the one in charge, here. What I can do, all I can do, is show up and do my best and strive to get better, like I do. Certainly there are enough people already on the task of tearing me down. 

I believe that the more I focus on the love at the heart of why I’m nursing and not writing, the more a non-issue my Nursing Ability will become. Because if I became a nurse to get my self-esteem built up, I made a fatal error. If I became a nurse to help people through shitty times, well, I don’t need to be Ms. Nursing Diva McLovedbyall to do that. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

thank you letter

Thank you.

First, thank you, Robin Williams. Because the things you made, made my life better.

Since I don't know what your life was like to live, and can't offer you assurance that your specific life could have been made tolerable for you, I can only say that I hope so much that you're at peace. With God, or just -- if God isn't a Thing one goes to be with, after all -- at peace. I do feel reasonably sure that what you're experiencing-or-not right now is better than what you were experiencing in the moments leading up to your death.

And also thank you, Mike, who I sat across the room from in freshman social studies and eventually came to harbor a truly mind-blowing crush on. You made me lists of things I liked, to cheer me up, when I stopped compulsively braiding my hair in social studies and instead just sat, wracked with anxiety and despair and a growing sense that I should just die already. I still don't understand in more than a clinical sense why I felt so certain that I was terrible and things were hopeless then, when I mostly don't wake up feeling that way now. But I do remember how I would look forward to seeing you, how it became easier to breathe when I'd read a note from you or we'd do whatever it is high school freshman do with their after-school time. I remember you being a light spot when things got pointlessly, inexplicably dark.

And thank you to the incomparable Hilary, who flat out did as much as one person can do to rescue another -- short of literally drive that person and her collection of empty Tylenol bottles to the emergency room (thanks, mom!) -- and who continues to be one of the inevitable first things on my grown-up lists of Reasons To.

I started out thanking God for the fact that once I was super depressed and wanted to die, and now I can mostly see my life worth living and can find less permanent ways of resolving the Big Problem of my being a worthless drain on the world (which does not, as far as I can see, ever entirely go away; I spend a lot of time explaining that I can't even imagine a world in which I truly believe I am good, that I am worthwhile and deserving, so I just try not to think about it.) I used to believe it was God who made me better.

But it was mostly those two people, Mike and Hilary. And also my parents, seeking out help for me, suspending the irritation one must feel when one's child, whose happiness and well-being has been the object of All This Everyday Shit for the past decade(s), seems so intractably bent on being unhappy -- or on not being at all. And it was several clever therapists, and a number of life-altering teachers and professors -- my husband often wonders why I view teaching as the best thing one could do with one's life; I have no way of communicating to him how entirely literally I mean it when I say that Ms. Bryant and Dean Stewart and Dr. West saved my fucking life -- and, once, a random college freshman down the hall from me who overheard me crying and brought me a sheet of smily stickers.

I still talk about God healing me from the depression I had (have? will, in all likelihood, have again?) It's just that God looks mostly like the several dozen people who have kept me here, with therapy and meals I couldn't have obtained for myself and distractions and interruptions and resets.

I don't understand why this happened for me and not for Robin Williams, and I can no longer understand it as, there is this guy, God, who thought it'd be cool for me to live with my disease and Robin Williams to die from his.

I can only say to the people who helped save me -- to the people currently playing a role in saving others, in healing others with this kind of problem, whether you know it or not -- thank you. You are doing what I believe we are here to do, and when I use sketch phrases like God or His Kingdom or His Work, I am talking about you. Understand that this, and not an intervention or a well-meaning blog post or a ostensibly-well-meaning-but-actually-kind-of-questionable truism, like, Suicide is selfish! You can't do that! or You have so much to be grateful for, how can you not see that! or You have everything going for you -- this is what saves people, when they are saved. This, coupled with effective treatment for the psychological illness they are experiencing. You need both, in my experience.

I don't know that it gets better for everyone. I know it got better for me. And that the God I'm thanking, when I thank God for that, looks mostly like the kids I taught and the man I married and the  various awesome ladies who've analyzed urban life with me this week over too much vodka. Like Ram Dass says, and my girl Anne Lamott obsessively reminds me, we're all just walking each other home.

So, you know, thanks for doing that, people. If we can't do anything to "make" anyone "see" that "they have so much to live for", we can do that. And in the face of this devastating instance of all of that not working how any of us would have wanted, all I've really got to offer, to tell myself, is: sometimes it does. So keep doing it.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

and also, all of this

It’s been so long since I’ve blogged because I was trying to write fiction, trying to acclimate to the night shift and to nursing, and trying to regain some of the ground I’ve lost with respect to my ongoing inability to function like an adult and not an addict.

Every time I run I think how incredibly lucky I am to have a body that mostly works. I can’t have kids very well, and my teeth are a mess, but I can do a lot of things other people can’t do with theirs.

The only thing is — and a lot of my recent non-writing has to do with the fact that, witty insights about the shortcomings of others aside, this is the dominant theme of my life for at least a chunk of most days — my brain doesn’t work correctly.

Even in this instance of shit luck, though, I’m actually still pretty lucky. Or blessed, if you can reconcile yourself to using that word, which, you know, I can’t in this case. (I struggle with the idea that there exists a God that would bless me and not, say, the schizoaffective individual muttering at me in the street. And by struggle, I mean I pretty much wholeheartedly reject that idea out of hand.)

There are much more debilitating psychological problems to have than bulimia, as debilitated as I might feel when asked to put on a pair of shorts or stop tearing my bread items into pieces prior to eating them. For example, I can perceive reality, in the sense of, are voices speaking right now or not. Many people cannot do this, and it wreaks havoc on their lives and makes things I take for granted a struggle on the scale of your average hero in any number of Greek myths.

I do have an extremely difficult time with the more nuanced and subjective bits of reality, particularly those which our collective discourse has found it financially profitable to fuck with: Can a bagel be a meal? So why not every meal? And, if it can, how many meals to I have to skip to accommodate, say, a bagel with eggs-no-cheese on it, which necessarily becomes more than a meal if just a bagel was, in itself, a meal?

It is not the end of the world that that conundrum directed my day yesterday — I was still able to:

  • gossip with my oldest girlfriend via text during an excellent, leisurely walk home from work, 
  • visit a newer friend in her nursing home, 
  • walk the additional two and a half miles home that hospital, 
  • take my son to the park, 
  • read an entire book about international surrogacy, 
  • browse both Barnes and Noble and the public library, and
  • sleep (okay, for two hours. We do the best we can.) 

All of this after a thirteen hour overnight shift.

There are worse things than the fact that, for me, the only solution to eating egg whites on my bagel, short of bulimia, was to eat grapes for lunch.

And while eating disorders are misunderstood with an enthusiasm second only to, I don’t know, that involved in date rape or bisexuality, after twenty years of living with one, I’m comfortable acknowledging that, for me, grape lunch was the best we could manage yesterday, and that my experience with lunching after consuming multiple food groups at breakfast is not that of your average non-eating-disordered person.

I’m not failing some test everyone passed yesterday; I am experiencing a condition that makes eating different, and harder, for me than it is for many other people. Lots of people just eat three meals a day, and include carbs, protein, and fat at each one. Lots of people drink juice; lots of people don't worry that they tore off too large a piece of the Eucharist at communion. They do these things, not because they possess an ability to triumph over adversity superior to my own, but because juice drinking does not constitute adversity for them.

So last night, I waited, hangry, while my husband chatted up a visitor and my son ate his dinner. Thinking: why am I the only one who can’t keep her fat stupid body in check here, who just wants to be rude and eat dinner already? Forgetting completely that my husband had actually eaten dinner prior to the guests arrival, about twenty minutes before.

He was not hungry because he had been hungry and had made sandwiches and ate them. I watched him do this.

Those people to whom food matters less than it does to you, my eating disordered friend, are often people who are eating food in adequate amounts, multiple times a day. 

If that was what occupied your headspace, you’d probably doubt you had much worth saying, too. So I haven't really been writing much lately.

What I try to bear in mind is how every single person I encounter has something like this occupying them. Not an eating disorder, but something. And we are all just doing what we can, imperfectly and over and over, because there is literally no other option that is valid. Once you decide that Ending It All is just something stupid and adolescent to scribble about in your diary, you are faced with day after day of trying to make it work, whatever situation you’ve found or made for yourself. 

And so you decide to be a nurse rather than an academic, and you become unable to do much more than like other people’s posts on Facebook, because everything you say sounds besides the point.

But then, sometimes, even knowing what you have to say is unlikely to change anyone's life, even knowing it's of interest mostly only to yourself, you still want to say it. Because while you're afraid that the space you occupy, the noise you make, is just always too much and too loud, you also never outgrow that bit of hope, that maybe you have a right to that space and that noise anyway. That in addition to 1. being the person you're asked to be or 2. making the unwanted person you are as unobtrusive as possible, there is also the option of 3. being the person you are, and creating for yourself a space in which -- the rest of the world notwithstanding -- that person is valued. 

You actually don't have to stop talking just because other people don't like what you've got to say. Add this to Things Other People Learn Well Before Thirty, right before bagels are not dinner and you deserve socks

Friday, June 20, 2014

you sing the body, unwelcome

       I pretty much ignored #yesallwomen. In retrospect, that was a mistake. I’m often guilty of a logical and, you know, human, failing of overreacting to efforts to draw parallels between struggles that I — arbiter of truth that I am — see as too disparate to compare meaningfully. I don’t enjoy being harassed on the street, intimidated in bars (or church basements, and btdubbs, thanks, church body, for collectively looking the other way as that went down), or, engaged sexually while I am unconscious. But I prefer it to, and find it qualitatively different  from, being shot to death. Both things are shitty; each probably requires a different approach from our community, since clearly, however our society failed the various harassers and accouters screwing with #allwomen, it managed to instill upon #thosemen that shooting people to death is not okay. 
It’s not just that it’s #notallmen who do that; it’s that it’s almost no men. Whereas, well, a lot of freaking men are engaging with some regularity in these other forms of crap behavior. 
I don’t want to rant about this phenomenon (again) — though, were you under the impression that I felt anything positive or neutral about unwanted body-centric attention, let me clear that up right now with a hearty eff that noise. Your penis notwithstanding, I do not want you to tell me anything, good or bad, about my body; what's more, I remain genuinely puzzled as to why you believe I would. I do not want you to ask me to date you on the street. I do not want to hear about it if my shirt rides up as I am walking and the sight of my bare skin upsets you or titilates you or triggers some resentment you have about women. This skin on my body in which I live is not about you, and it’s not about me thinking I’m God’s gift to Franklin Avenue. This is about my shirt being a poly blend and me having other things on my mind. LIKE I DO. 
Having cleared that up, what I want to say is this: 
To #yesallwomen. I can only know how this noise goes down for me: the specific ways it sucks and the things I want (in addition to, of course, a cessation of hostilities between my body and the strangers on the street who seem so invested in patrolling it). So, here’s what I wish we could say to each other, what I wish the #notallmen in my life would say to me. 
Your body is not exceptional. Your body is not somehow marked, or unique, or at fault — either for being too sexy or transgressing some ideal of female sexuality. Your body is important, but mostly only to you, and never as important as you. Again, -- because often I feel that I am the only person in my life who believes this --Your body is of infinitely less significance than the human being it houses. 
        Moreover, to the degree that your body signifies anything, that meaning is within your control. Whatever bullshit is running though the mind of that stranger or lover or cousin or boss when he or she comments on/gropes at/playfully slaps your body, that is going on solidly and entirely between his or her own damn ears. And it would be going on with any female body, real or imagined. No, it's not that you're so hot and they can't resist. It's that they are not exercising control, and blaming it on you is convenient and distracting. 
I thought, when I was a child, that my body had messed up by virtue of not being sexually developed — that it somehow solicited the particular kind of “playful” (demeaning and humiliating) attention older boys afforded it, by virtue of being ridiculous: flatchested, asexual, all wrong. I believe that when I had a small waist and big breasts I would have some kind of credibility, that people would take me seriously. In retrospect, I have no idea what cognitive sleight of hand allowed me to make that error -- I guess, being seven, I confused being a commodity with holding capital. I learned pretty fast.
Later, I starved myself and fed myself, worked out and threw up and dressed, not in an effort to make myself sexually desirable, but to remove whatever it was about me that kept demanding a response from these men. Often this response was positive or neutral — at least, until I failed to respond in the way the commenter had imagined — but the fact that I’d somehow done it again, that I was trying to go to work or go for a run or go grocery shopping but just couldn’t keep by body quiet while I did so, had the same effect every time: I fucked up again. What is it about me? How small and generic do I have to make my body for people to see that there is a human being inside it?
Listen, #yesallwomen: it isn’t you. Your body is both completely fine, exactly as it is, and absolutely unworthy of comment. It is your vehicle to live in, and should you choose to make it a means of some sort of expression, that's your call. But if someone else is  appropriating it when you’re trying to tell them about your day at work or trying to walk your kid home from school — however complimentary they think they are being, however G-rated the comment may be — that is their damage, and it has nothing to do with you. Carry on. 
To #notallmen: here is the thing. Those people who made you feel like you weren’t acceptable, like no one wanted you and you’d never have a girlfriend, because you listened to the wrong music or because you were too short or too skinny or ran too slow or talked to loud, were all equally stupid and wrong. Those people who marginalized you for your skin color or your weight or your poverty or whatever were equally wrong. 
         You are enough, and you are wanted, and you are valuable, even if your acne never went away or you never really mastered the kind of conversation that got girls to give you their number. Given the curious directions in which my own attractions veer, I probably had a huge crush on you in high school, or would have. You shouldn’t have had to feel shitty about yourself, because you are actually awesome and valuable. 
But here’s the other thing. My body may be some kind of symbol to you —- you may, especially if you don’t know me, see me and think “woman”, and that meaning may generate feelings about worth and acceptance and virility and value. But that body is also where I live, and my I'm over here having my own story: one no more important than yours, but no less important, either. My body’s housing the protagonist of a narrative that has shit to do with you, and when you mistake me for a character in your story, guy on the street who I do not know, you’re basically changing the channel from my story, in which I am awesome and valuable, to your story, where you call the shots and I’m — what? A nice belly? An exposed bra slip? Someone you’d like to take home? 
I think what you want, more than sex, is to feel accepted: to be able to put yourself out there and get away with it, and not get shot down. The problem is that I’m letting you get away with this, not because you’re so awesome or clever or sexy, not because your advances are finally welcome, but because you are making me feel ashamed and embarrassed and threatened
       Or may that is your intention in the first place — but I don’t think it is. I think it’s just convenient for you to ignore the fact that that is the outcome of what you are doing. That clever quip is not just furthering your narrative about you and Females. It is also making another human being, one who has interfered with your wellbeing not at all, feel like shit. 
So, I can’t stop you from behaving badly -- freedom of speech and all that. But know, guy on the street, that when you are belittling me — and reducing a human being either to a part of her body or to that body and its potential value to you is belittling, even if what you are saying is a "complement" — you are responding to a rejection or wrongdoing that has nothing to do with me. You may know other women, and they may have done things that you don’t like, and you may see my body and think about those things, because my body is also female. But I never did anything to you. In fact, if you gave me a chance, I’d probably be on your side. 
But we’ve got to stop meeting this way. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

ode to boy

So, a little over five years ago, I married.  My husband is at least among the only people in the world I could commit myself to, entirely and without reservations, for my entire life; at the risk of sounding overly earnest, he may literally be the only such person.  (As evidenced by: 1. he is the only person I still want to talk to after a fight with my parents, who matter more to me than pretty much anyone I've met since being born and 2. many days, he is the only person I'd rather talk to than read.)

Also: he is the kind of person to whom I would never have spoken in high school. To be diplomatic, my predilection for wearing my father's XXL lumberjack shirts, buzz-cutting my hair, and dragging around petitions demanding justice for Srebrenica would have struck him as exhausting and unsettling, as they ultimately struck me. My about-face from angry and defiant, to still-more-angry and engaged in a bizarre inside joke regarding my sexuality, while met with considerably more "likes" from my peers, would have been equally disconcerting to him. Not to put too fine a point on it, I married him in part because he is the first person I have dated who didn't think it was awesome and liberated, all the sex I'd had.

I like that about him, tremendously, because that was angry, lonely, bitter sex I was having, because I had it to prove that no one could hurt me with sex, because my body meant even less to me than it did to them. No one could hurt me at all, because I hated myself enough to spend considerable time and energy from age eleven on hurting myself in any number of ways about which -- if you lived through the 1990s -- you have already heard more than enough.

As unpleasant as it initially is to hear someone say that what you are doing is not okay, as threatening as it feels to hear that sentiment vis-a-vis a set of maladaptations that have kept you alive for twenty years, it feels much better than having those lousy choices praised as "liberating" or "sexy". To someone who routinely debates whether she "really needs" to replace her shampoo or eat more than a dry bagel for dinner, my husband's total commitment to a particular way of life -- to hair-washing and laundry-doing and the four food groups -- has been lifesaving.

Marriage, for me, has been transformative exactly because of the restraints it imposes. I don't want the option of pursuing every new impulse that crosses the shoddily-upkept threshold of my imagination. However I'm doing now (grateful, blessed), I am so fundamentally an addict that it's hard not to laugh sometimes at my own transparency, like one might at a kid's first attempts at subterfuge. I really will do absolutely anything to avoid feeling bad about myself, to avoid the momentary discomfort that, in a healthy person, is what makes growth possible. The idea that I screwed up feels like such a apocalypse to me that, left to my own devices, I will follow anyone down any rabbit hole for any promise, however shady-sounding, of absolution.

I am not a person who needs more flexibility in life. Every single day, I face down the choice of doing that stupid thing I said I'd do but don't want to (reporting to work, fighting over tooth brushery, doing dishes, working out, eating lunch, and all the things oh my God) or doing what sounds better to me at the moment and losing the things that matter to me most because I have shitty judgment.

Maybe this is a big difference between me and the rest of the world; maybe your average person can do exactly what they feel like at all times and not leave a trail of loss and regret in their wake. But recently, I have spent much of my time interacting with the objects of that loss and regret -- the kids who weren't as compelling as the new boyfriend or pot or job, the parents who did their best but found their mistakes too myriad and convenient once they need someone to change them more than once a shift, the girlfriend who didn't make it clear enough that she was taking one for the team and learned too late that  it doesn't cut both ways, and she should have known better.

It's way more cathartic to delineate all the reasons why the shit you feel like doing is within your rights than it is to look straight at the hurt you are causing and do the inconvenient and un-destructive thing. I have to do a tortured little daily routine involving God and lots of running and volunteer work and more God, just to be a person who I can look at and not want to kill, with my hands, on the daily. This is not because of my low self esteem; this is because my impulses are so entirely out of line with my intentions. You may be a good person -- as I'm getting to, such people exist -- but if you believe nothing else I say ever, believe me when I say that only the most omnipotent of Gods would find something worth salvaging in my character.

But! My husband, with comparatively little fanfare, just... calls people back. Remembers their birthdays. Picks up the check. Remains faithful. There is no drama; there is no wrenching from his balled up fists of every small kindness and act of generosity. I learned well after it would have been useful that if people have to explain to you why their behavior "isn't" or "shouldn't be" hurtful, the odds of their not being worth your time are formidable. This has never been a problem for him -- or, more to point, for me, being married to him.

I feel like this is relevant outside the context of my specific marriage because the pressure is so great to Not Put Up with That Thing, that thing that one's partner does -- or, often in the absence of any real flaw or wrongdoing, to Follow One's Heart.  There's this idea that the feeling that something isn't right -- a la Piper Chapman or Elizabeth Gilbert or whoever -- necessarily bears acting upon, and that changing the situation is necessarily the best solution. There is very little interest in the merits of Toughing It Out, and then it is surprising that we are hitting the middle of our lives and still feel like adolescents.

In my experience, I am frequently malcontent because I am screwing up -- and doing shitty things often makes one miserable. Badgering those around me into affirming my choice -- or seeking out someone who new, who will -- may look sexy and fun when Laura Prepon is involved (I KNOW), but as someone who has managed to ignore any number of idiotic and destructive impulses, I've found that the result is not only the non-dissolution of the best things in my life, but the added bonus of this: I am ever-so-perceptibly less wretched by nature than I was seven years ago.

BOOM. Grace. Often, apparently, the soundtrack gets edited in later.

Friday, June 13, 2014

these so-called liberals on this damn island

I have so many feels about liberals lately!

On the one hand, if by liberal, you mean, "This girl doesn't care about your penis," then we're all on the same damn side. The having or not-having of a penis never figured into my selection of sexual partners (my "ex-gay" status is more a happy coincidence for my parents than a reflection of a preference on my part -- there are several billion men in the world, but only one whose face I am able see on the daily without demanding, mid sentence, that said face be SHUT RIGHT NOW), so why would I consider it  a worthwhile investment of my finite time on Earth to patrol the anatomy of your life partner/priest/president?

Moreover, when I'm not checking myself in an effort to be diplomatic, I think we all could handle a big fat dose of WWJD when it comes to water for others versus craft beers for me (me, above all), and I think our prison, military, health care, and education systems probably are basically money making schemes that line the pockets of a veritable army of sycophants and cronies at the expense of the young, poor, sick, or ill-fortuned.

And yet.

I also think that it is a ridiculous cop-out to act like fighting with other privileged people about their political believes constitutes a response to the troubling apparatus of racial and economic privilege. Or, to be more blatantly antagonistic: there's no opinion you can have that makes you less white or less middle class -- and this includes conflating those two types of privilege, or collapsing the latter into some sort of subsidiary of the first.

There are white people whose privilege includes the assumption that they can count on having clean clothes, consistent access to food and housing, a college education; that if they work hard, they will succeed and can have a mortgage and go to the doctor when they are sick and retire before they turn eighty. And there are people who, white privilege notwithstanding, don't make those assumptions.

I'd submit that those people experience white privilege in fundamentally different ways, and that the latter group might be reasonably offended by assumption that they belong to the former. There's working hard at your internship, and there's working hard picking strawberries in the 110 degree heat, or turning an positioning the elderly and incontinent for thirty years, or cleaning the toilets of others (Did you think rich people gave more thought to aiming than your average Bonnaroo attendee? Friend, you were mistaken!) I think you can respect the hard work involved in each of these endeavors while acknowledging that they aren't the same experience. And, more to the point, having the choice between shit-cleaning and coffee-fetching is a fundamentally different experience than not having that choice.

And what I'm saying is that often, though not always, the white people who fail to "get" the enlightened economic views espoused by, like, John Stewart or Barak Obama, are speaking, not out of racism or ignorance, but out of the frustration you might feel if you spent fifty hours a week doing manual labor, with things like college and fair-trade coffee outside your realm of experience, and then were told to check your privilege by someone half your age who gets paid to blog, or to provide administrative support for the blogging efforts of others, or, yes, to teach kids or wrench tenure from the fists of a parasitic academic establishment.

I am solidly upper middle class, and have been, certainly, for my adult life. I am privileged to the point that I turned down the opportunity to pursue an academic career because I felt like it wasn't "useful". That is privilege. Having a choice about the kind of work you do is a function of privilege; for the majority of the world, including some Americans, the choice is work or starve.

I saw that experience: I ate the beans and Raman noodles and donated cheese; I learned to ignore the pointed comments about how much I must like that shirt, since I wear it, like, every Monday. None of this negates either the current economic privilege I experience or the privilege my skin afforded me even when my family was broke and scared. But it does mean that your white privilege, Huffpo blogger, may not be the same as mine.

And it does mean that the anti-gun-control, anti-government-spending, Fox-News watching segment of the population aren't chumps, at least, not to me. They are people whose experience is informed by a different set of frustrations than my own, and they are people who, from what I've seen of that experience, have legitimate reasons to prefer less government control. You might be more adamant about the second amendment, too, if you believed that the government was as likely to arrest and jail you unfairly as it is to assist you. You might want to keep your money if you'd applied for assistance yourself and been told no, or if you'd been raised not to accept help, only to wait in line with a basket full of Krasdale products while the mom in front of you rang up Breyers and Diet Coke with EBT. It's one thing to begrudge other people those things when you can have them. It's another thing to hear "We can't afford that" on trip after trip, to say that to your kids, and to see someone else buy those things with tax-funded entitlements when you can't afford them with your post-tax paycheck.

I also think it's one thing to feel angry and outraged about someone else's kids getting shot in their home or their school, and another to feel like you, personally, are not safe in your home, in your community, in your school, and then to hear that your gun -- which you see as a way of protecting yourself, something you do not trust the government or the police force to do -- is the problem.

My family kept guns because we, for a time, we lived in places where you'd get robbed and nothing would happen, where the cops mostly arrested you and beat you up rather than helping you. I think a person who doesn't trust the government might reasonably ask why the response to people breaking the law with guns should be to limit gun access to people who are willing to disregard gun control laws.

I'm not saying that person is "correct" or that the problem is that simple. But I'm saying that that person is not stupid, or blind, or indifferent to losses they see on TV. Often, I think they react that way because they see violence as an immediate threat to them, rather than a tragedy or a talking point.

I have a son, so each day, I send him into a dangerous world and assume the risk of my life simply ending according to the whim of someone else's kid. I would love to believe that a political movement, lobbying, or legislation could insulate me, because there are days where I feel like the possibility of my life being over in that particular way is lodged in my chest and I can't swallow or breath around it.

But I don't think you argue the world into a better place, and I don't think political or rhetorical solutions work for what is, at its heart, an existential problem. We cannot protect the people who comprise our lives. We never could. Changing gun laws won't change that. That problem is between you and the universe as you understand it.

But we can: feed people who are hungry. Acknowledge the crazy and dirty and intrusive people on our commutes. Help people with their homework, with their resumes. Listen to their baggage and bullshit and fight to see their humanity rather than just deconstructing their talking points. And while people can do what they want, I think people who want a less violent and incoherent world might do well to start there, rather than on Twitter.

I don't know why carrying bags of potatoes around or teaching a former inmate Microsoft Word or switching a patient from nasal cannula to venti mask for the seventh time in an hour makes it possible to continue living when a lost person could walk into a preschool or a classroom or a recording studio or a subway station and rip apart my life. But it does, whereas even the most measured political debates just feel like avoidance to me.

Similarly, I don't know what it means to check my privilege. But I do understand Luke 12:48, and I do feel like Christ was pretty clear that really what matters is how you respond when someone needs something. Not so many directives about holding the correct political views, or demanding that someone else hand over their money to even things out. Mostly: feed them, visit them, love them. Unreservedly, unconditionally, and with no illusion that those actions will protect you from pain or loss.

Monday, April 7, 2014


Existence of God: You know what? Sure. Let's just say yes.

I believed for awhile that this -- figuring out the objective reality of a higher power -- was the project preoccupying me. But I've come to think that it's actually kind of a distraction. I think the more important related issue is, how much does my specific life matter to me -- the details of it, the things I want to have and do.

If my answer is, a lot, then some days are good and other days are scary, because under everything I can pursue and attain and accomplish is this underlying purposelessness. This can all just go away -- the son, the health, the job, the mind. There are people for whom the inescapable impermanence of everything is itself what makes life beautiful and meaningful. Those people are clearly more evolved than myself. I think, my son is going to die, and I don't feel any quiet awe at the brutal beauty of life. I think, fuck that noise. Whose bullshit idea was this? What I want is my son living, not a thought-provoking Christopher Hitchens essay on impermanence.

If the stuff I have is what comprises my life, than however fortunate I am now, this is all going to end badly. At some point, each of these little loves I have, each thing I love that is specific to me, will go away. And while maybe the answer for me is to be grateful for what I have now, given that having these things forever isn't an option, well, what is the answer for this patient who is unable to move, with feces draining out of her body into a wound bag? What is the answer for those people whose child won't stop seizing and will never respond to their voices again? Why live those lives?

There's no understanding of the world -- secular or spiritual or overtly religious -- in which I get to avoid the reality that I will lose everything I love, either today or tomorrow or someday. God may be good, but God will not keep my kid alive. To claim that God will protect my child specifically in the face of all the mothers who attempted the same claim and then buried their children is not faith, to me. It's cruelty and arrogance. What I get -- whether from God or from luck or completely at random -- is today, my child, alive. And what I get to learn is how to allow that to be enough for me, as far as my expectations of my specific existence, my life, extend.

The bigger distinction I see is whether that can be enough when other people are suffering, their kids not alive right now, their bodies not working, their loss not an abstract reality for another, shittier day, but an overwhelming crisis right now. How do I fill the space in my own, immediate, impermanent life, while also attending to the lives of others?

This is the only aspect of God about which I feel sure -- the imperative to collude with Her as long as there are needs to be met around me -- and yet it is the aspect which I seem to save for last, as though I can coddle myself onto that spiritual plane. Once I've done naval-gazing, then that kid in the hospital; then the hungry/naked/sick/imprisoned.

Is it possible that my faith has been suffering lately because the most immediate path to Christ -- the one where I do what He said I should be doing -- has been reimagined (by me, I mean) as the outgrowth of some more abstract transformation that I'm expecting to happen while I go about doing me? That a healthy connection to a higher power is interrupted by this self-helpy, Eat-Pray-Love paradigm in which I can drink enough lattes, be "kind enough" to myself, and somehow emerge in a position to participate in God's work?

To be fair, I've been preoccupied with my own life lately because I believed that was what I had to do in order to manage it, because the process of actually becoming a nurse -- the night shift and the mistakes and the fear of being fired, all of it -- feels so much harder than anything else I've done. And doing it while being a mom and while being sick -- I just feel like my life's become a huge expanse of Can't With This. And then, of course, there are a lot of voices telling me to slow down and focus on the immediate task of making this work transition and regaining the ground I've lost, health wise, because the reality is that I'm not handling my life well at the moment.

This advice makes sense if I understand my individual self, the temporary and specific Amanda, to be the most important aspect of who I am; patch myself up and then approach other distinct individuals in need, to give them something I have.

But maybe that's wrong from the outset, that preoccupation with an individual self and the specifics of that self's experience. It seems to me that the more myopically I fix my vision on my life and my priorities, the more exhausting and particular they become.

It's possible that there is no scaling down that would make my life feel manageable. There's only the recognition that apart from this self -- over which no amount of weight loss or resume construction seems to give me control -- I also exist, as part of something more important than my current identity and desires and accoutrement. 

I could lose my job. I could lose my son. There is no thing to which I can safely attribute value; though it's romantic to say I couldn't live without [x], it's also meaningless, because to really believe that is to dwell in the reality that at any moment my entire life could fall apart, and to either ignore or "come to terms with" the reality that all around me, lives are crumbling in exactly those ways.

But I can say: thank you today, for this thing and this thing and this thing, and thanks, too, for whatever comes next. Thank you for the evident all-goodness I'm experiencing today and the less familiar all-goodness that I have faith is going on next, and outside of me. And who needs help now, and what can I do? Not because I feel an individual obligation to those people, but because I believe it is by attending to those immediate particulars that I access as taste of what exists beyond what is immediate and specific to me.

Friday, March 28, 2014

in other news:

My kid is TALKING now.

As someone whose first love remains words -- some people retain a soft spot for their high school sweetheart; my husband knows that suspicious absences or vague "mm-hmms" on my part mean I'm either furtivereading or furtivewriting, face covered like a two-year-old convinced that, by not seeing those around me, I have effectively hidden myself from them -- this is a weird thrill.

The new object of my ultimate concern now greats me with a mouthful of my previous object of ultimate concern, and it's a little like what I must imagine your average hipster would feel should -- I don't know, Natalie Portman? -- show up with a case of craft beer, eager to hear your thoughts on how V for Vendetta translated to screen. (Believe me, as someone who has unthinkingly brought up the subject of comic books on dates, I can assure you that those scenarios hold an equal potential for adult content).

A few amazing things about my son, talking:

1. He now sings along to the SuperWhy! TV show, which, I have to say, is a show I would cheerfully watch on my own, possibly with a bottle or two of wine, on a night in. I do not prefer the gender politics of SuperWhy!, but if I am honest, I think I might just be being curmudgeonly. As far as I can see, the princess-gown-clad female characters do not allow their impractical adventure attire to keep them from the show's agenda of using literacy skills to get them out of various scrapes. It's like Macgyver, but with rhymes instead of screwdrivers.

Also, if you're into this sort of thing, half the ensemble cast manages to fix said problems while clad in ball gowns and tiaras. (Mac and I have about the same interest in that detail, but on behalf of budding femmes everywhere, SuperWhy the eff not?)

2. He does not differentiate between "me" and "you", which makes for some unintentionally sophisticated meditations on the nature of self versus other. "Hold you, mommy!" for example, is strangely heart-melting in its ability to sound like an offer of comfort when, in point of fact, like every other thing my son says, it can only ever be an imperative.

3. Repetition: a literary technique I'd written off as sophomoric, used to stunning effect by toddlers everywhere. You know how a somewhat sloppy aside becomes increasingly hilarious upon reiteration? If you experienced either pop culture in the late eighties/early nineties, or attended third grade in any cultural moment ever, you must. This phenomenon is last best hope in Mac's verbal arsenal, and it inevitably comes out when he finds that a vocabulary of 150 words fails:

Hold you, mommy!

In a minute, Mac, Mommy is straining boiling water/handling cat feces/carrying heavy items across Atlantic Avenue.

Hold you, Mommy!

Mac, Mommy will hold you as soon as it is safe. 

HOLD YOU, Mommy!

Mac, in like five seconds I can hold you, and also not get hit by a car --


OKAY, see,  I guess we can just leave these groceries on the sidewalk for the less fortunate NOW I can hold you.

(Indistinct sounds of abandonment, then): 

More milky, mommy!

Clearly, the rest of us have forgotten how to best exploit language in its purest form. I can't simply repeat the same words louder and louder and expect any response short of expulsion from whatever public place I'm occupying.

Something about these words coming out of a three-foot-tall redhead, however, renders them strangely compelling -- like how you initially thought "We run things, things don't run we" MADE NO SENSE and now you must fill your head with sounds at all times to keep it from burrowing back into your subconscious.

I once spent my time arguing over the nuances of enjambment in Walt Whitman's writing. I have read, and reread, Ulysses, allowing that book to absorb hours of my life that could have been spent doing anything. People have paid me for my thoughts on how nineteenth century American authors used language to construct both national identity and a culturally specific understanding of self.

However, I am now unshakable in my conviction that language evolved, not for the personal use of James Joyce or Faulkner or Shakespeare, but so I can hear my son tell me, Mommy NO BRUSH teeth! Mac brush teeth, see teachers! 

This is why I learned English, myself. This is why I have ears.

And if, sixty years from now, these are the only words I can remember from my entire life, just prop me up, turn me Q2hrs, and leave me to it. (If my experiences of long term care are at all representative, I have every confidence you will.)