Saturday, January 31, 2009

breaking away

By the time we've reached middle age, we usually have a pretty good idea of who it is that we "ARE." I don't mean to imply that I think we should have ourselves completely figured out. Half the fun in life, after all, is constantly discovering new things about ourselves. But we should certainly have a good idea of what our "core definition" is (I just made that term up).

For instance, in my case, I know that I'm defined by being a "good girl." I always have been. I'm not totally happy about that, by the way. I imagine that if I were not such a good girl, I would have had a lot more fun. The number of times I have acted outside of the box can be counted on one hand and I wouldn't even use all my fingers. I did skinny-dip once, but it was with my best friend, with no members of the opposite sex nearby, and under cover of darkness. I believe we also had our swimsuits firmly in hand underwater, ready to quickly slip them back on if we heard voices. Back home in Texas, I was too scared to go into the Meacham Ranch house that was purportedly haunted, despite the rest of my friends having a grand old time exploring it and the ghosts that they met there. The one time the police tried to pick me and my band-geek cohorts up (for toilet-papering a house), we convinced them to let us go because our parents knew where we were anyway. I did get drunk enough in grad school once to end up at the house of a guy friend. When he started to get a little affectionate (which would have been a huge mistake since we were slated to become housemates in a few weeks), I threw up on him. So even in a drunken stupor, I am somehow able to keep my actions in line with expected behavior.

Once middle aged, I think the wise thing to do is to simply accept our core-definition. While it might be momentarily exciting to try to crack out of that mold, to do so holds the potential to release a torrential outcome that we're really not prepared to accept.

(By the way - this post is completely opposite of what I normally believe. By next week, I will think these pompous pronouncements are complete crap and will once again ADAMANTLY disagree with the premise that who we "are" is set in stone by middle-age. I have no doubt I will be back to urging us all to throw caution to the wind and be unfettered by anything in, of, or slightly resembling the past. But for the purposes of this little story, bear with me.)

When Mare was visiting me last week, we drove out to Tuckahoe Plantation, on the west side of Richmond. This old house is where Thomas Jefferson spent most of his young childhood. It is also the plantation that was the site for a TV series (Legacy) that Mare was a big fan of years ago.

It was a very cold day, and when we arrived, the place was deserted. Mare had tried to arrange a tour, but was told that there were no guides available that day. We were told to feel free to wander the gardens and grounds, however.

I love old houses. I also love Thomas Jefferson. I was excited to be there, and Mare was over the top. The only negative was that we were disappointed we couldn't see inside of the house. I wandered around the windows and tried to peek in. I turned every doorknob to see if perhaps one had been inadvertently left unlocked. Around back, we found an entrance where the wooden interior door was open, but a thin glass storm door was locked. We could peer inside, and doing so we saw beautiful wood floors, a carved wood staircase, a gorgeous grandfather clock, and other antique furnishings.

Here is a picture of me at that door.

Mare wandered off to see more of the gardens. I pulled gently at the storm door. It was quite flimsy. Seriously flimsy. I could tell that with one sharp pull, I could have it open. I looked around at the empty gardens and empty parking lot. I jiggled the door again. I stood there in a deep quandary and let the argument inside me play out. I have always been a good girl. I've never really ever been "brave" enough to jump across that line. I tried hard to convince myself to do it.
"I am nearly 45. Just when am I going to let loose and be free? When am I going to live life? Seize the moment? Experience the thrill? Why do I continue to let myself be constrained by the edicts of society? Just what is it that is telling me not to break into this house? My own morals, or those of a society that I have forced myself to conform to?"
The other voice said things like,
"Oh for god's sake woman. You have children! What? Do you want tomorrow's headlines to read "NASA scientist and mother arrested for trespassing on federal property?"
I pulled the door a little harder.
"If not now then when? You are free. You are an independent spirit!"
"It's against the rules."
I couldn't do it.

I walked away, pissed at and disappointed in myself, and mentally berated myself for ultimately being a coward.

At that VERY instant, someone walked up to me. She was a tour guide for the house, and had a meeting set up with a couple she was looking for. As I chatted with her, she waved at a young man who walked out of the house. Turns out he was the son of the couple that owned the house and who lived there.
"People live here?" I questioned the guide. She nodded, as a young woman came out of the house. "Oh yes, and they have both of their children visiting this weekend. It's a full house!"
Huh. In the meantime, my inner critic had slunk off, no longer berating me for being such a rule-following coward. Can you imagine if I'd walked in on this family? It'd be hard to convince them I hadn't broken in, what with the storm door lock being freshly broken and all. At that moment, I was quite happy with my core-definition. Good girls rule. In fact, the tour guide was as nice as she could be and ended up giving Mare and me a personal tour of the inside of the house as soon as her meeting was over. She discounted the price for us because she thought we were so nice.

I am still on the lookout for a moment to break away from my good girl persona. I think I trust myself a little bit more now, though. If it happens, I will know the time and the place. More importantly, if it happens, it will be because the good girl is willing to go along with it. Because as much as I sometimes want to move away from her, she's kind of nice to have around.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

crowded streets

You may recall that in my last post, I wrote that I am, at the core, a solitary person and I enjoy quiet and being alone. So you can maybe imagine my discomfort on Monday given the following:

There were more people there than I have ever been around in my life. At one point, we couldn't move very well for about 30 minutes, as we were in the middle of a large sardine crush. I was wondering how soon I would know if I were, in fact, being crushed to death. Would it happen quickly, or would I be aware during the whole thing?

Quite honestly, it was the perfect setup for a dangerous situation. There were too many people in the city relative to the preparations. There were not enough police, and not enough information dissemination. So many people, frustrated and crushed together, is a toxic combination.

But I was quite amazed and heartened by the fact that it never even almost went the bad direction. People were smiling and laughing at the situation (though obviously pissed off at what was happening in general). There was no taking out frustrations on each other. Rather, there was a feeling of being in a rotten situation together and what more could you do than share in it? We shared horror stories with other folks all day. We helped elderly ladies who were lost as we were strolling down the interstate, and laughed with people as they struggled to crawl over the medians.

I was there in DC to celebrate the end of a presidency that I abhored, the beginning of a presidency that I have much hope for, and the historic moment that it was wrt the inauguration of a black president. I did all of those things and enjoy the fact that I can say I was there. But the most striking thing for me that day was the realization that humans, en masse, might not be as bad as I have always assumed. There was mob patience shown that day, mob kindness, and a general wish to just share the moment with each other. It was a nice thing to learn.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Thoughts on things that give me comfort

Rain. The sound and sense of soft, steady, cold rain while I'm in my bed or cozied up on the couch with a book makes me feel warm and drowsy. The idea that I am cocooned in a safe place, in my personal harbor against the rest of the world, gives me a sense of gentle power over my own destiny. It doesn't matter that in reality, any power I have is an illusion - it's the feeling of the moment that I cherish. I will also sit on the steps to watch the rain as it moves the trees and the grass. I look up at the clouds and marvel at how enormous the sky is. That a single drop of rain finds its way from the majesty of the sky to land on the leaf of the plant beside my foot makes me feel integrated with the world. I'm not a visitor on the earth, but I am of this world.

Nighttime. To watch the sky as twilight fades into darkness is magical. The cover of light that essentially blinds us to all but our local world slowly slips away, and the reality of our small place in the depth and breadth of the stars and galaxies can finally be seen. It as if the door to reality opens as the universe is revealed. I find this enormously comforting. I go to the night sky to remind myself that I am not the focus.

Odors. Baking bread and brewing coffee. Warm cookies. The bite of sauteing onions and garlic. The crispness in the air that comes with a clean and tidy house. The darkness of smell that comes with a wood fire in the fireplace. The smell of laundry fresh from the dryer as I hold its warmth in my arms. I picture these odors as lovely ribbons of dark color that slowly wrap around me.

Solitude. I am naturally a very solitary and quiet person. I enjoy the peace of solitude. I have tried to rewrite my genetic code to be more of a people-person but it never feels honest to me. I am most comfortable in the quietness of my family or one-on-one with a friend. There is too much beautiful simplicity in the air around me that I miss when the focus is on frenetic human activity. I find comfort in quiet.

Creativity. The act of baking. I find comfort in the repetition of kneading bread, of mixing ingredients, the feeling that I am nurturing and providing for my family. Cooking and baking is a creative experience for me. I love the idea of a recipe. In this, a final creation is broken down into its individual components, the combination of which is often surprising and larger than the sum of its parts. I feel much the same about knitting. (This is something I've given up over the last several busy years and would love to rediscover.)

Order. A clean and tidy house. I crave order. I would love to have a month and an unlimited budget to organize and clean my house. I am not very good at either cleanliness or order, so this is a constant struggle in my life. I realize that it sounds quite shallow and artificial, and much at odds with my love of the chaotic natural world. Perhaps I love science because it is a way to understand the workings of nature, and understanding brings a sense of order to the seemingly unstructured.

Connections. My friendships are devastatingly important to me. To find someone that is genuinely interested in me, in what I believe, in what scares me and what gives me comfort - is a treasure. These are friends that don't define me or pigeonhole me. It is a fluid relationship, and we find worth in the act of constantly changing and learning with each other. In real connections, there is no judgment, and differences are cherished as much as similarities. These connections are very rare, but that I have found some lasting ones gives me much comfort and peace.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


I've always been in awe of the natural responses of our bodies - evolution is a beautiful thing. The pumping of adrenaline at times of crisis, vomiting at the ingestion of poison, sneezing...

So why is it that at the times when you most need to be fully aware and filled with boundless energy that my body reacts with insomnia?

It's going to be a long, long next few weeks.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

A quiet start

It's much TOO quiet this New Year's Day morning.

Last night around 11 pm, Q's friend called from his house next door and asked if Q could just stay there and sleep over. Before I could answer I could hear E and her friend asking if E could sleep over too. I asked to speak to their dad, and suggested that the girls come over here and the boys stay there, but he said they wanted their kids to stay at their own house. Hmmm. So I reluctantly agreed - I figured my kids deserved to have some fun their own way, too on NYE. But I made them run home to give me some New Year's Eve hugs. I also made them promise to come home as SOON as they woke up on New Year's Day. Meanwhile, DH and I fell asleep on the couch watching TV.

Now this morning. Ack. DH is still sleeping, I've been up for a few hours, and I keep looking at my kids' empty rooms. (I know it's projecting, but I am not looking forward to the day when they move out.) Hopefully, they'll be back soon. It's much too quiet in a bittersweet way over here. I'd rather start the year off with the pattering and pounding of feet running across the floor and sleepy good morning hugs than even this peaceful quiet. Besides, I've bought a bunch of delicious breakfast foods for the year's first breakfast and I want to share it with them. I can't eat all those sweet rolls and sausage patties and hash browns myself...

Happy New Year to all!!!