Wendell Berry and a Day of Honey

I had an unsettling experience last week.  On Monday night I found myself in the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., listening to the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Jefferson Lecture delivered by Wendell Berry. Berry is a poet, essayist, farmer, conservationist and activist from Kentucky.  The lecture, “It All Turns on Affection”, was a wake-up call to America to desist from damaging the earth and to return to life with a greater emphasis on ecological conservation, community and love of place.   The broader themes of the talk were book-ended by personal tales of Berry’s own family, small tobacco farmers in Henry County, and their struggles to both make a living from their crop and to hang on to their “home place”, the family farm.

The experience was unsettling because, while I agree with his environmental stance, his concerns about the price we pay for industrialization, mechanization and technology, and his message about the importance of community in an increasingly global world I felt myself and my family’s experiences starkly absent from the perspective from which he spoke.  He framed his lecture around the differences between “boomers” and “stickers”, terms borrowed from Wallace Stegner, into which two groups he said that Americans have always tended to fall.  In Berry’s words, “The boomer is motivated by greed, the desire for money, property and therefore power. Stickers on the contrary are motivated by affection, by such love for a place and its life that they want to preserve it and remain in it.”

He revisited the juxtaposition between “boomers” and “stickers” several times during the course of the talk, the difference between them illustrated by the experience of his small-holding grandfather and James B. Duke, the industrialist and “big tobacco” monopolist whose price gauging nearly cost Berry’s grandparents their farm.  His is the third generation of his family to farm in Henry County and it is clear that he, his grandparents and parents, and his children feel a close attachment and deep love for their “home place”.   It is understandable, and laudable, that he should feel called upon to take the American industrial complex to task, and he was courageous to do so.  Nonetheless, as the people around me rose in a standing ovation at the end of the lecture, I found myself curiously unmoved.  This was not a sudden finding.  I had felt myself personally untouched by the lecture almost from the beginning and part of my mind was occupied for much of the talk trying to tease out why I felt so absent emotionally from a message with which, on the surface, I fervently agree.  The simplest form of this answer to myself was that Berry is not “my guy”, and that I was not really the intended audience of his lecture.  The ideological audience, perhaps, but not the “bred in the bone” one, and that is important because, for the personal anecdote to succeed it must touch an answering emotional chord in its hearers and draw them into the tale.  I felt no answering echo to the personal stories, in fact I felt the jarring disconnect of complete absence of recognition.

At a point quite early in the lecture, Berry sought to highlight the many differences between his grandfather and Duke, the industrialist.  One such difference lay in the kinds of things in which each took pleasure.  While speculating that James B. Duke only took pleasure in the prospect of acquisition which, Berry says, “excludes affection as a motive”, Berry said that his grandfather:

[…] despite his life’s persistent theme of hardship, took a great and present delight in the modest good that was at hand: in his place and his affection for it, in its pastures, animals, and crops, in favorable weather.
He did not participate in the least in what we call “mobility.” He died, after eighty-two years, in the same spot he was born in. He was probably in his sixties when he made the one longish trip of his life. He went with my father southward across Kentucky and into Tennessee. On their return, my father asked him what he thought of their journey. He replied: “Well, sir, I’ve looked with all the eyes I’ve got, and I wouldn’t trade the field behind my barn for every inch I’ve seen.”
In such modest joy in a modest holding is the promise of a stable, democratic society, a promise not to be found in “mobility”: our forlorn modern progress toward something indefinitely, and often unrealizably, better. A principled dissatisfaction with whatever one has promises nothing or worse.

It was at this point in the lecture that my feeling of alienation began.  Where, in this description of “modest holdings” – and, by extension, a “stable, democratic society” – is the experience of rootlessness (or uprootedness) and dispossession of a refugee or migrant?  Where is the experience of those who are forced to leave their “home place” by war or genocide? Where is the experience of the nomad? Although this was not Berry’s stated argument I have too often heard that those who feel unconnected to place should just try harder, try to belong – but what happens when that attempt is rejected by people already there, or the act of “belonging” requires too great a sacrifice of self or cultural identity?  I can illustrate this with a personal anecdote of my own.  My family, in the early 1970’s, wanted to leave the city.  My parents, after much thought, bought a piece of land in a rural part of New England to which my mother had had ties for nearly 30 years.  Our plan was to move there, support the local school system, bring my parents’ professional expertise (doctor and teacher) to the local community and, yes, form an attachment to the land by planting a large garden to feed ourselves.  What this plan did not factor in was the community’s latent (or not so) anti-Semitism.  We “stuck” for five years, and through numerous examples of harassment, before arson claimed our house and we moved back to the city. In the city my family focused on what they called raising “global citizens”: multi-lingual, culturally aware, curious about and unafraid of difference – none of them things that are contained in Berry’s description of a “modest holding” undisturbed by “mobility”.

As the evening progressed I found my thoughts returning to Day of Honey by Annia Ciezadlo, a book I read several months ago and with which I felt such resonance that her words and ideas have haunted me ever since.  Ms. Ciezadlo is a free-lance journalist who followed her Lebanese-born journalist husband to the Middle East in 2003 to report on the situations in Iraq and, later, Lebanon.  The product of a peripatetic American childhood, Ms. Ciezadlo’s sense of place is closely tied to food, as is her sense of home: wherever they were, however they were living throughout her childhood, her mother always made sure to prepare and serve a proper dinner.  As an explanation of why her book about her experiences as a foreign correspondent has the subtitle “A Memoir of Food, Love, and War”, she writes:

We all carry maps of the world in our heads.  Mine, if you could see it, would resemble a gigantic dinner table, full of dishes from every place I’ve been.  Spanish Harlem is a cubano. Tucson is avocado chicken. Chicago is yaprakis; Beirut is makdous; and Baghdad – well, Baghdad is another story. (p. 7)

The book which follows is part travelogue, part cookery book and part political commentary – but more than all of these it is a story of people who live in war-torn places that appear all too often on the nightly news in scenes of unutterable devastation, often with a voice-over detailing the numbers of casualties, the vastness of the destruction.  Berry commented on that, too, noting that the industrialized West has become a nation driven by statistics, and that these statistics, posing as “objective knowledge”, are overwhelming:

The fact is that we humans are not much to be trusted with what I am calling statistical knowledge, and the larger the statistical quantities the less we are to be trusted. We don’t learn much from big numbers. We don’t understand them very well, and we aren’t much affected by them. The reality that is responsibly manageable by human intelligence is much nearer in scale to a small rural community or urban neighborhood than to the “globe.”

Again, I do not disagree with Berry’s point that an endless list of statistics deadens the reality of a situation, but the way he ties the range of compassion to geographic boundaries of a certain size does not reflect my personal experience, nor that of others I know.  The notion of a wider Jewish community with connections throughout the world, the Muslim concept of ummah, the solidarity of people in diaspora or of expats, these create communities and bonds – of duty or affection – partially or completely removed from geography.  There is a folktale that says that when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed a shard of it entered the heart of every Jew and the pain and anguish this caused will only be assuaged when the Temple is rebuilt.  Regardless of my personal antipathy for the modern political uses to which this folktale has been put, there is no denying that as a young child I learned to carry my sense of home and my love of place with me.  Maybe what we need, rather than a limiting of our scope, is a face to put on the people who live in the “globe”, maybe more people need to read Day of Honey and books like it; maybe more people could find beauty and value in difference.

A section of the Epilogue to Day of Honey struck me with such lasting force that I have reproduced most of it here:

My return to the homeland did not go well. It was late 2009, winter was coming, and everyone I knew was getting laid off. Mohamad [her husband] and millions of other people were sick with swine flu. Our government was still spending hundreds of billions of dollars and uncountable lives on two wars, both of which had been grinding on for years, yet all anyone seemed to talk about was movie stars or sports.  If they did talk about the war in Iraq, it was in neatly packaged, microwavable soundbites that bore no relation to Roaa, Abu Rifaat, Dr. Salama, Abdullah, or any of the other Iraqis I knew.  New Yorkers were so busy fondling their smartphones they seemed to have forgotten basic skills like how to walk.  Friends required me to schedule appointments weeks in advance, claiming they were “booked,” as if they were hotel rooms. People seemed afraid to express strong opinions in person, yet the Internet was crawling with them. Bedbugs were back too.
I called my friend Cara. She and Mohamad had lured me back here, and I was miserable, and it was her fault.
She laughed. “Did I ever tell you what happened when I moved back here with Amiram? We were back from Israel for about a week. And then one day he came to me, and he said: ‘I don’t understand. Why don’t the neighbors come over and drink coffee with us in the morning?’”
They do that in Lebanon too. It is called a subhieh, from subuh, morning. […] Not so much a time and place as a communion, a moment when people conspire to put the world back in its place. We don’t have that here, I reflected bitterly. We have Starbucks.
“Listen, Annia,” she said. “People like us are never going to feel at home anywhere. Ever. We’re never going to have that comfortable feeling of belonging.” (p. 316-7)

What I find interesting about this, apart from the fact that I felt as though I could have written it, so well did it capture the feeling of alienation I often feel when “at home”, is how closely it mirrors some of Wendell Berry’s opinions (on the importance of people, the detrimental nature of technology to human existence and interaction, the role of affection) while broadening the scope from a rural community or urban neighborhood to a series of connections on a global scale.  I do not think it is realistic to expect us all to become world travelers, forming personal connections with the people who make up the statistics we read in the paper or hear on the news.  But neither do I think it is realistic to strive for an agrarian utopia of small farms – for one thing, we would not all make good farmers and for another there is not enough land. I think Wendell Berry is right, we need to foster affection in our society: for the land, for people, for our neighbors, for those different from us. And it is in this last point that I differ most strongly from Mr. Berry, or at least from my understanding of the contents of his lecture.  For if we are to reject “mobility” how are we to meet, perceive and understand difference?  And if we have no experience with difference, how stable a democracy can we truly have?


The full text of Berry’s lecture is available here.
Day of Honey: a memoir of food, love, and war
was written by Annia Ciezadlo and published by Free Press of Simon & Schuster (2011).

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Posted in Academia, Emotion, Family, Food, History, Memory, Myth & Magic, New York City, Personal, Place, Windrock | 2 Comments

Why I Am a Feminist

I am in a quandary.  For some time I have wanted to write a post about Internet etiquette (or, more pointedly, the lack thereof).  The impetus for this came from many sources: a friend was cautioned against writing a personal (and completely anonymous) blog by her colleagues and an acquaintance was the subject of a verbal attack on a Facebook post in which a reader who took issue with his politics engaged in flippant and cutting personal remarks rather than sticking to an exchange of ideas. I have read posts by people in which they – occasionally in so many words – say that readers who are offended by their views “can go f*ck themselves”.  Well, gosh – THAT certainly makes me want to engage in a debate/dialogue/conversation with someone (and I would imagine that that is the point).

I am one of those people who laments the demise of the art of conversation.  People who disagree can converse on the subject of their disagreement and, at the end of the process, they may still disagree and disagree strongly.  One or both of them may have changed their minds a little or a lot. Both may be exhausted beyond belief. But it is unlikely, in a true conversation, that they will have resorted to calling each other names or attacking each other on a personal level. Several years ago I stayed up most of the night debating abortion with a friend.  He is a devout Catholic raised in East Germany, I am a secular Jew raised in New York City.  There is no point in revisiting that conversation now – suffice it to say that there were some points on which we agreed and rather more on which we did not. But at no point did we call each other names, imply that the other was stupid, misogynistic, a murderer, or any other derogatory epithet.  After many hours of debate we hugged, agreed that we did not agree but felt we understood and respected each others’ opinions, and went off to sleep in a state of exhaustion but not anger.

Does this level of discourse take energy? Does it take time and consideration and thought and care? You bet it does.  It takes more of all those things than the pithy smack down or derogatory Twitter post.  But what are we doing here?  Do we actually want public debate on important topics in this country to return to the sandbox where the person who smacks first and hardest wins?

What, might you ask, does this have to do with Feminism?  Well, what finally got me to sit down and write this post was a series of comments I saw on Facebook this morning that made me so angry that I couldn’t get them out of my mind. All through two long walks on the beach (I’m currently on holiday), a navigation of some family squabbles and preparations for lunch and dinner I was turning this over and over in my mind. The topic was Hilary Rosen’s now-infamous comment about Ann Romney, and most of the comments that infuriated me were in response to a post that I did, mostly, agree with. What got me was the extreme fury, the venom, the absolute hatred directed at the National Organization of Women (NOW) by a few posters.  Now, I have not been following this closely. I am, as I said, on holiday, and am not watching television or listening to much radio. It is entirely possible that I have missed something along the way. However, according to my none-too-thorough research, Hilary Rosen wrote something which contained the phrase “Ann Romney has never worked a day in her life”, shortly followed by the sentence “She’s never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing in terms of how do we feed our kids, how do we send them to school and why do we worry about their future”.  I agree that her initial choice of words – equating “work” with “paid work outside the home” was a mistake.  However, I think that any family of seven that can exist on a single income is NOT representative of the majority of American families today.  [As an aside: the vast majority of the “political class” in this country does not represent the experience of everyday Americans – if it did, we would all be running for office. But let’s set that aside for another time.]

I am still not sure how NOW came in for such attack in the comments I read. Hilary Rosen does not work for NOW, she does not speak for NOW and she wasn’t writing in a NOW publication when she made these comments.  Terry O’Neill (NOW president) has supported Rosen, reiterating that the Romneys’ life experience does not really match that of the average American family and, once again, I would have to say that I agree (please see aside, above).  And even if I didn’t agree, I would not be so shortsighted as to think that an officer of an organization, while speaking in an interview, is necessarily setting policy for that organization, let alone speaking for any person anywhere who might define him- or herself as a feminist.

Regardless of how the National Organization of Women came to bear the brunt of the blame for Rosen’s statements, to my mind all of this is just the back-story. For me, the real story is in the comments I read, the ones that poured out hatred against “so-called feminists” who only support women who make “approved” feminist choices, who use their work positions as a surrogate for family and their degrees to compensate for failings in other areas. I read the concept of “work” being turned on its head, with stay-at-home moms challenging “feminists” to a “smack down” – implying that non-maternal work is play, it takes a “real woman” to raise a child.  I heard insecurity there, masquerading as righteous indignation. On the one hand, feminists were being attacked for devaluing the work of the stay-at-home mom – and in the same breath those stay-at-home moms were attacking feminists in exactly the same way. And I just have to say – Enough. Have you had your cathartic moment?  Are you done?  Are you ready to actually engage in a conversation now?

I’ll start.  I am one of those liberal, over-educated women you were attacking.  I went to a women’s college.  I’ve worked in male-dominated fields.  I’ve won scholarships and I’ve worked hard to earn my education.  I have a Ph.D. and right now I am a stay-at-home step-mom, helping my partner raise two kids.  I am looking for work because I need – yes, need – to work outside the home, not just for financial reasons but because the work involved in keeping a home and caring for children is not enough for me.  I am a liberal because I believe that all people should have access to good, affordable health care (another thing, I might add, that sets the Romneys’ apart from much of the American electorate is their access to medical treatment). I think that, as a society, we owe security and care to the old, the young and the vulnerable, and I think that on the whole we fail at that, hoping or expecting that smaller local communities will pick up the slack.

And I am a Feminist because I believe that women are people.  Some are nurturing, some are caring, some are brilliant, some are average, some are articulate and some misspeak. Some are compassionate, some are giving at the expense of their own health and some are mean-spirited. Some are good at math and science, some excel at solitary research, some are shy, some are gregarious and some just want to be left alone.  But women are people and they deserve respect, even when we don’t agree with them. So why, when Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” and requested that she post videos of herself having sex online as “payment” to taxpayers for subsidizing her sexual activity – why was he allowed to continue to broadcast those attacks for three days?  Three days during which his attacks succeeded in distracting attention from a very real women’s health issue that Fluke’s testimony attempted to highlight. Why was he allowed to get away with an apology in which he claimed that the fault lay in his poor choice of words?  As my friend Elleanor Chin said on Facebook: “lemme get this straight: a demeaning, gratuitous personal attack on a woman engaged in public civic activism gets a “meh, maybe that wasn’t polite” response. Inartfully suggesting Ann Romney’s life experience is not typical of many American women merits a flame war and demands for abject apology?”  Let’s be very clear – one of these was an instance of poor word choice, and it wasn’t Mr. Limbaugh. Conversely, let’s not make Hilary Rosen’s poor word choice out to be more than it was, and let’s concentrate on the meat of her point, which was to suggest that Ann Romney’s life experience does not really reflect that of the majority of women in this country, not even the majority of stay-at-home moms in this country.

And while we’re at it, can we all agree that, while flame wars might create the kind of controversial television and radio that raises ratings, maybe our country’s future should not be decided by soundbyte, tweet or derogatory personal dig.  Why don’t we actually go out there and talk to each other. Politely.

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Sunshine and Crossed Fingers

When I think about it, I honestly cannot think what I have been doing that has prevented me from writing for the past nearly two months.  Some of it could be busy-ness: a trip to NYC, another quick return engagement, some frantic job applications and a whole lot of the family stuff that takes up time and keeps a household moving forward but doesn’t really bear writing about.  I have also been reading a lot. Not deathless prose by a long shot, but anything that gets me away from a computer and the oppression of a screen.  Evenings, T and I have been watching a lot of Foyle’s War, and I’ve been trying to keep abreast of the international news and the domestic election coverage (the latter is something that I can only manage in small doses before I start shouting at the radio and have to be removed from the kitchen).

I also haven’t really been sleeping.  Two weeks ago I interviewed for a job that I really want.  Since then (the decision won’t be announced for another 2 weeks, at the earliest) I haven’t been able to relax my jaw and my sleep has been correspondingly disturbed.  I have had a series of stress dreams (or what I interpret as stress dreams) starring, in succession, a variety of friends from my undergraduate days.  In one a friend had dyed the ends of her sleek black bob an electric green and was wandering around a very muddy summer music festival in a bathing suit and sarong.  Two of her children were busy dismantling a drum kit (they were both toddlers) and in the process of carrying them around to return them to their mother we all got very damp and covered with grass stains.  In another a friend kept throwing chocolate ice cream at me and laughed merrily when I asked her to stop. In last night’s offering a friend of mine and I were moving into an apartment complex that was a converted stadium in post-Olympics London.  We arrived at our flat to discover that the majority of the space had been taken over by a gentleman and his massive wooden desks (he had about 6 of them).  When we pointed out that there was no place to put our things he exhibited no concern … and suggested that we arrange our space so we could sleep under our furniture.  All of these dreams, when viewed in the sunny light of day, are pretty funny. And yet, I woke up from all of them in a full-fledged panic, heart pounding and shoulders hunched.

I think, having written this, that “panic” is a good summary of what I’ve been doing with my time.  None of my usual tricks seem to be helping: I have tried setting myself a project, giving myself escapist days off, cooking up a storm and reading like mad.  Yoga stretches, deep breathing exercises and the attempt to jolt my system with very loud music have had no success.  I think I must be in a rut.

Thankfully, April will be an excellent month for breaking out: two weeks away (one at Windrock, one in DC), a couple of minor sewing projects, a flying trip to NYC this weekend for Passover and another at the end of the month for a production of Utopia … a change of scene is A Good Thing.  Also, spring flowers are up, trees are budding (and, in some cases, in flower), the sun has come back (although not the unseasonably warm temperatures of a few weeks ago) and the sky is a brilliant blue.
Dammit, I will look on the bright side!  (But good thoughts and crossed fingers can’t hurt my chances, right?)



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Sympathetic Magic

The February that I was seven my dad was in the hospital.  He was in the hospital a lot in those days, but I know that it was February because the hospital gift shop was full of red-heart mylar balloons, heart-decorated flower arrangements and stuffed toys clutching red satin hearts.  I was not generally allowed in the gift shop, but some adult must have decided that the ICU waiting room was not the best place for a seven-year-old to sit for hours on end, not even for one who was capable of sitting very still and reading all day, if necessary. I was given a dollar bill and sent down to buy myself a treat.

I do not know how I settled on it, but I bought myself a chocolate-covered, strawberry marshmallow heart.  It was about the size of my (seven-year-old) palm, wrapped in red foil and resolutely not the sort of sweet I ever ate as a child.  I did not like what I called “fake chocolate”, preferring the tiny squares of milk chocolate sent to us by our friends in Switzerland — the kind that come in flat, clear plastic boxes and have pictures of different Alpine mountains on their wrappers.  Those chocolates presented a rich aroma, and I can still remember the feel of them melting on my tongue, patterned side down so I could run my tongue over the design. Those were chocolate, so-called “chocolate coating” was not, so my choice of a coated strawberry marshmallow heart was either based on the novelty or because it was the only thing in the over-priced gift shop that my treat dollar would stretch to.

I never ate it.  I carried it back to the waiting room and somewhere on that walk, following the colored lines along the sterile corridors, I made a bargain with the Universe that I wouldn’t eat it until my father got out of the hospital.  It went home at the end of the day and took up a place of honor on my dresser, and when my father came home – a day or a week later – I decided that my bargain had worked, that this was a special sweet, and I put it away for “next time”.  For the next four years that marshmallow heart lived in my dresser drawer.  Of course, it didn’t work — my father died in the end and I never ate the candy — but I still remember how certain I was that I could effect events.

Why do I think of this now?  Because last weekend I came upon a box of those hearts in the local grocery store.  I bought two, one for each child, and they will be presented with them (and homemade cards from their father and me) when they get home from school.  I hope they eat them.


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Catching Up

I wrote in my last post that I cannot rest, that I am always pushing ahead to what’s next, wondering how to get there.  It is true that that has been my pattern, and that that is naturally where my head wants to go — forward, don’t waste time, go-go-go.  My head, but recently not my body.  This past week or so I have felt myself slipping further and further behind, have found myself less and less able to prioritize effectively.  Emails remain unanswered in my in-box, referrals remain un-followed-up-on, suggested contacts remain un-contacted.  I think I have too much on my plate, and too much in my head.

When I list them, it doesn’t look like too much — maybe because the act of listing distills the components to a concise wording and disregards the work that goes into meeting the goal.  “Job search” are two words that look innocuous, and even breaking it down into its component parts (research contacts, follow up, send networking emails, follow up, search job listings, follow up) – even those components don’t, on paper, really reflect that time and energy it takes to realize them.  A few weeks ago a friend of mine commented that the conventional wisdom is that unemployed people don’t work – whereas in actuality no-one works harder than an unemployed person looking for a job.  The job search becomes all-consuming, and the guilt that surrounds any moment not spent actively searching becomes debilitating: I can’t relax because I should be doing something about finding a job (overlooking the fact that exhausted, stressed-out people cannot do anything effectively – most certainly not something as grueling as looking for the “right” job).  This same friend suggested I consider working for myself and I am following up on that, too.  It’s a fun and terrifying prospect which will be the subject of its own post sometime in the coming days.

In addition, there is the stress of my mother’s situation which is not quite as fully under control as I would like.  She has, thankfully, an attorney who has taken charge of the legal aspects of the case, and the next court-date is February 14, in the morning.  Again thankfully, I don’t have to attend.  The goal of this hearing is to determine how much money my mother actually owes and to figure out exactly what is going on with the management company.  They keep returning my mother’s cheques, and it isn’t really clear why.  I am going to go down to NYC later this month and set up a direct monthly payment so, hopefully, this won’t happen again.  This will also involve setting up electronic banking which I will have to monitor – attempts to teach my mother how to use a computer have failed spectacularly. I have talked to both the lawyer and the case manager about a possible Plan B – what do we do if all attempts to keep my mother in her apartment fail?  The answer to that is another major stressor – they cannot suggest a Plan B, there appear to be no resources available.  Of course, this links back to the job search stress – I have no income, so I cannot help.

Looking at this I want to give myself a mental shake: clearly the key to all this is to get a job, so stop messing around and do it!  Well, quite apart from the fact that that isn’t entirely the easiest thing to do at the best of times (and taking into consideration that I am both conducting a traditional job search and pursuing this as-yet-un-publicized business of working for myself) – quite apart from all of that is a somewhat complicated situation in my psyche.  I moved here (to rural Connecticut) last summer to be with T and to finish my thesis corrections in a concerted manner.  We knew, coming into it, that this would have to be a temporary situation because there really isn’t work in rural Connecticut for someone whose field is international conflict resolution.  We have plenty of conflict here, but the international part of it is somewhat lacking.  So, despite exploring various things I could do remotely (or semi-remotely), the main focus of my job hunt is on NYC.  This is good because it’s a city I know well (my home town!), it’s a city with a large number of universities, foundations, organization, non-profits and NGOs that hire people who do what I do, and it’s a city with a train line that can get me within 30 miles of here with relative ease and a relative low cost.  We’ve introduced the idea to the children that I might move out, and reassured them that this doesn’t mean I’m leaving their dad or them, that I am still part of our family unit of five — and if they don’t fully believe me at least they know that I’ll be leaving Mollie Cat as collateral.  But here’s the catch — I feel like I, in doing what is best for me professionally, will be the catalyst for family change in a family that has had to endure too much change in the past 18 months.  And I waver – some days thinking that my head will explode if I don’t have a “proper”, income producing, intellectually challenging job soon; and others thinking that I can find ways to make the current situation sustainable and not do anything that will have ripple effects on two children and their parents.  I argue this back and forth in my head and I think that this is the root of the reason I cannot move forward, that I am standing in my own way because I am not sure what I want to do.  It’s hard to catch up when you’re not sure where you’re going.


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Breathing Deep

Today is the first day I’ve felt like me in a long, long time.  A little restless, a little anxious, sure – but more than that I feel well-rested and alive and as though the unlikely might be possible, after all.

I went out for a walk this morning, and to run some errands – right down the hill, left on the main road through town to the library and then on past the bank, turn left on Railroad Street and again on Bragg, making the slow climb up and across Camp Brook to Prospect Street and home.  It is mild today, like spring in northern England – or even summer in a bad year – and the air is soft and damp and smells of wet earth. For the first time in ages I left the house with something other than hiking boots on my feet, and my running shoes made my steps light and resilient on the road.  I breathed in deep, and thought of all the things that have happened in my life, all the things that had to fall just so in order to bring me to this place, at this time.

Last Thursday I found out that my PhD was accepted and therefore that a seemingly unending process was finally drawing to a close.  There is something in me that cannot rest, so, while I enjoyed the dinner out that night – and what decadence, a delicious Mexican meal and capirinhas in a warm restaurant while watching a gentle snow fall through the window, and the party the children threw for me on Sunday evening – part of me is already moving, looking ahead, wondering what’s next and how to get there.  I have difficulty being in the moment, I almost never feel that I am just where I should be, poised out of time in a moment that is just right.  And I also have a difficulty walking away from a to do list, saying “this will still be here when I come back” and going off to do what is best for me at any given time.  I was raised with the philosophy that you never put off the tedious tasks because until they are out of the way you cannot actually enjoy yourself, and it has hobbled my ability to relax for decades! It has also, seemingly, hobbled my ability to feel like “me”.

I want to go up a mountain.  I want to stand on a cliff and look out over the ocean.  I want to come out of the trees and stand by a lake.  I want to take a moment and breathe.


Posted in Academia, Emotion, Family, Hiking, Memory, Myth & Magic, Nature, Personal, Place | 2 Comments

Flowers on Thursday

Yesterday was a rough day.  Not for any real reason apart from emotional yo-yo-dom, but that was enough.

This morning a bunch of flowers was delivered to my house (it was too cold for the florist to leave them yesterday).

They are from a friend in England and have filled the house with the smell of lilies. A sweet reminder of summer sunshine on a cold and precipitous day.

Much love.

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Posted in Emotion, Family, Personal | Leave a comment