The Past

“Whisky, by the way, circulates more freely in Westport than is altogether safe in a place where every man carries a loaded pistol in his pocket.”

-Francis Parkman, Jr., 1846

Westport is where I have done a great deal of my drinking.  At the end of our education program, a classmate and I had whiskey on a Westport patio.  He ordered the second-most-expensive one on the menu.  I had a sip.  We generally vacated Westport before midnight, preferably before 10, because in the later hours, people tend to shoot at one another.  Still.  (The difference now is, Westport is now part of a city, and a lot more people are killed when guns are on the loose.  My least favorite part of being in the midwest instead of New York City.)

The past isn’t over.  In case you hadn’t heard, it’s not even past. After five months of living with my parents, I flew into a fury and was angry about everything I had been angry about twenty-five years ago.

Being angry at your parents is one of the “wrestling the tofu” moves.  You won’t get anywhere, and you’ll probably punch yourself in the gut or pull a muscle in the process.

We had a divorce and a remarriage, and everyone had reason to be scared, angry, betrayed.  Over the years, I learned that all the other (then) kids (there are six of us) felt scared, angry, betrayed, overlooked.  In between these feelings, we developed relationships that are tender.

As someone who does not have a spouse, that is especially important to me.

This time it took me about 72 hours to feel my old anger was out of my body.  That we all have been hurt, that I have hurt other people, and that’s a normal state of affairs.

No matter what I do, I will periodically revisit these items:

  • no one cares what I think
  • no one values what I do
  • I will never get it together
  • evil men will triumph
  • so fuck it

And all these things are, to some extent, true.  What I think isn’t that important, in the scheme of eternity.  Capitalism doesn’t value art or education, and it never will.  I will always be the kind of person who will not hang up her clothes or do her dishes after eating, and who is late, while swearing mightily that she will stop doing these things because come on, Liz.

Evil men will triumph, and I keep thinking to myself that I should spend some time with Ecclesiastes, two ancient pieces of literature which harp on these themes at length.  (I didn’t get around to this until today, though.)

So.  Fuck it?

So, let people take care of you when you are upset.  So buy a giant unicorn and go to a unicorn party for a 7-year-old.  So write the daily messages to your Congressmen, and no matter how you feel about it, that’s the right thing to do.

Sartre would be like, thumbs up.  Were Sartre the sort of guy who gave people a thumbs-up, I am sure he was not.

Among [the emigrants] are some of the vilest outcasts in the country.  I have often perplexed myself to divine the various motives that that give impulse to this strange migration; but whatever they may be, whether whether an insane hope of a better condition of life, or a desire of shaking off restraints of law and society, or mere restlessness, certain it is, that multitudes bitterly repent the journey, and after they have reached the land of promise are, happy enough to escape from it.

I grew up with the statue of the pioneer family frozen on the front lawn of our Pizza Hut.  They were going somewhere.  We were not.  They were scrubbed and pale and virtuous and adventurous.  They were going west, which made no sense to me, as I had always wanted to be east.  People then found them vile and restless?  History written by the victors, the people who who were happy with their move west?

I hadn’t thought about it, but the Ingalls family, who taught many of us everything we know about Going West, ran out of money and moved again and again, and never really got their shit together.  Somehow it all seemed cleaner and nicer than that when you read the books as a kid.

The adult version, the mature version: messes, spiral repeats of the same hurt, staunchly walking away and then returning to what and who one loves.

No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.  – Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes ends with a clearly a tacked-on explanation, one which has no relationship to the honesty it has previously displayed.  You should follow the rules because they are important.  Right.

It’s interesting to try to comprehend what goes on under the sun, though.  It is interesting.  And sometimes our attempts to comprehend it, or even merely represent it, are lovely.

Image: Westport Road and Pennsylvania, 1885, Kansas City Public Library/Missouri Valley Special Collection, via Midtown KC Post

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Yes and No

IMG_3253.jpgAnd then I worked in a room where the lesson was “expressing yes and no.”

Conventional, boring kids express yes and no some time between prenatal somersaults and the minute they can turn their heads.  These kids I was with, they were unconventional.

Some had Down’s, some had autism, one had a traumatic brain injury.

Although in run-down gas stations where they discuss drive-by shootings, or on corners where people sit all day in former office chairs and drink, I can find joy, I found this classroom a little sad.  These kids aren’t my audience.  Maybe because it takes a long time to get to know them?  I wasn’t going to get a funny story from a kid that day.

This morning I went down to the basement, through the spare room, and opened the closet to get out my summer clothes.

Now, it is unclear whether leaving New York City, where I necessarily walked three miles a day and hauled groceries and laundry up and down stairs, or my advanced age has caused me to expand in the waistular region.

An event I view through several different lenses:

-smartie, who spends her time on improving her mind and life experiences, and does not have time for vanity

-feminist who will be however she likes, thank you

-flat-chested girl, who at least was svelte

-French-influenced woman, who dresses to fit her figure, and not the other way round, and eats small amounts of delicious rich food

-person who prefers to be perfect

-single girl who may be single, but is hot, so, eh?

-person who has an immense collection of beautiful, lovingly selected secondhand and vintage clothes, at least half of which no longer fit

I pulled out the dresses and skirts and tried them on.  I set the ones that were tight from the get-go in the goodbye pile.  I thought about making a pillow or something with the fabrics of a yellow dress I love intensely, and a blue dress I wore to my sister’s graduation and a boring wedding that resulted in divorce.

I found a few of the things a friend in Brooklyn gave me, they are all relaxedly in fit, and they all are new to me, bless her.

One of the little boys was terribly unpredictable, he would speak with us in a rather conventional way, and then suddenly smack a teacher in the face, or grab another kid’s hair, or fling his water cup across the room.  He got me with a white board marker, on the hand, and on my skirt.  (As I suspected, white board ink comes right out of fabric.  I recalled the time a student told me I had sat in ink, ruining the only khaki skirt I ever loved, so neutral, and so un-bourgeouis somehow, RIP.)

The teachers were chagrined that the kids were doing the hitting and kicking and throwing they sometimes do.  Very sweet.  They have to deal with this every single day, and I had to deal with it for one day.  Getting smacked, kicked.  That physical part of a job like this, I could not handle.

Truly, compared to my days at The Worst High School in New York (whatever, but sort of), when kids threw things at me and refused to even sit down, the bad news is I’m still scarred, the good news is, a little bit of throwing toys or one impersonal smack in the face is not a big deal to me.

All the don’t-fit clothes, I play the games: new me!  (Inconvenient as I’m still quite broke.) Growing out of things!  Like, spiritually!  Things I never liked much anyway, but felt I should keep around, like the dress I wore to the wedding when I cried in the bathroom, or the gauzy thing that works so well with a brown sweater.

Or maybe it’s all about becoming irrelevant, or unfuckable, as Tina Fey would say, or perhaps it’s about death.  Certainly about death of something.  Everything’s about death.

Also I think I slept funny on my ribs, and some muscle in my armpit hurts.

“What kind of animal is this?” the therapist asked.

Mostly the kids were non-verbal, so they looked and did not answer.

One kid said, “Cow!”

“Is this his mother?”

“No!” he said.  It was not.

Up

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I did not know my philosophy of rock climbing, but it turns out it is: this can’t happen.  We can’t fall, not just because we don’t want to get hurt, but because we don’t have any health insurance.  Grin.

Yes, I agreed to go, and yes, I assumed my companions would shame me into performing certain tasks.

I took a wall and its color-coded holds, up, down.  I took another.  I took one that you climb up and over the top, and scurry or roll down the other side.  The last bit, when you must crest the wall, and then negotiate how you will fall over onto the land of the dead, or wherever that padded pad is, that is a little tense, but then you’re there.

I was able to successfully die only a little on the higher walls.

The walls which are two or three stories high, you are clipped into a rope, and it will only engage to catch you if you fall back into its grasp.  I was not doing this.  I was going halfway, climbing back down.  Climbing 3/4 of the way up.  Then, all the way up, touching the victory circle of metal that held my rope, and then, doggedly, carefully, climbing all the way down, step, step.

Fall back! my friends (if you could still call them that) were saying from below.  It will catch you.

Like hell it will, I said, or maybe thought.  I’ve got this.

I wouldn’t say “letting go” is amongst my strengths.

I would say I left New York with my claws still in it, the way my cat Tybalt gets his claws stuck in stuff and tries to shake them out.  He’s an adorable beautiful dummy.

A friend was saying the other day he felt “stupid,” and “stupid” is a little loaded for me.  It’s not just the name of my parents’ cat, from back when my parents were married, and before my dad realized the extent of his cat allergy, and during a time when I guess sometimes my parents did a jerk thing like name a cat “Stupid.”  It’s a very uncharacteristic story for both of them.  I guess it’s a story about not taking yourself too seriously, something we all certainly struggle with in my family.

Once someone called me “earnest,” and I had to be like, you got me there.

I have warm feelings about the word “dumb,” as it was used a lot by a favorite Buddhist writer of mine.  Be dumb enough to not know what’s going on.  Beginner’s mind and all that.

One very odd thing, my last year or so in New York, was that I had so little interest in seeing visual art.  Words are my primary thing, but visual art ranks a close second, as far as what gets me excited, what gives me ideas, what makes me chuckle.  There were shows at the Met, at the New Museum, and I just felt, “Meh.”  It seemed like a lot of trouble.

After many years of devotedly (some might say earnestly) following art in Kansas City, I was excited to follow art in New York.  Occasional galleries (openings in NYC being as unbearably overcrowded as Kansas City’s have become), and regular museum-going.  My first years there it was important to me.  It’s also something I enjoy doing alone.

I saw some great stuff, especially on a few trips to Chelsea galleries, when I worked in Chelsea.

I also saw a lot of work I had no interest in at all.

Today I went by the Nerman, a gallery very close to where I am currently encamped.  I haven’t seen any visual art in quite a while.  It felt good.  Color feels good.

Oddly, many of the pieces looked like references to me.  That is: repeated images were about Warhol, one-color canvases grimacing about anxiety were about the un-Rothko, the skeleton piece is about James Ensor (he who has to have a first name, poor lad).

They currently have an exhibit on anxiety, which is, you might know, right up my alley.  Lots of orange (is that the color of anxiety? perhaps, but I was wearing my orange shoes, and every pair of orange shoes I’ve owned made me happy).  Canvases hung in a circle, like Rothko does, surrounding you.  Fishing lures, the sharpness and grabbiness of which I could easily imagine, as I watched a friend have a splinter pulled from her foot yesterday, just like the lion and the mouse.

Things get their hooks in you.

Some canvases looking at each other instead of you, the way they were set up, easel-like.

Maybe I didn’t care to see art much in New York, at the end, because I was depressed.

At any rate, it was one of my primary indicators (apart from being unable to pay my bills, haha) that the jig was up.  That although my claws were in, I needed to work them out of there.

On the wall at the climbing gym, the easy holds, the only ones I worked with, were called “jugs,” not boobs, but easy-to-grab things.  You grab, and you climb, more like a ladder when you’re a beginner like me.  I took all the yellow ones, or all the purple ones, whatever.  Harder grabs are a pinch, which you must hold between your fingers and thumb, more powerfully, and, a grasp I will probably never love, a crimp, where you would hold on with your fingers and wrap your thumb so that somehow you don’t fall, even though you are holding on by your metacarpals. (And I suppose their accompanying muscles and flesh and skin, but, still, damn.)

Just keep going, I thought, when I had a moment of wondering exactly how high up in the air I was, or if I could keep going.  Just go.  Up one more.  Two more.  I didn’t even know I was climbing.

Together

I planned to work on my piece for the reading the next day, eat a nice dinner, but instead I lay down and I did not get up.

I took two advil ever two hours, and still my jaw beat and streamed with pain.  I found some old mouthwash and swished with it.  Over and over.

That night I woke up every two hours and took more advil, and I wasn’t sure it was helping.  I had been so energized to march, but suddenly I was stilled.  I started googling and calling dentists’ offices on the phone (a true sign I am in trouble, as I’d rather do almost anything than call anyone).  I found a dentist open on Saturdays.

I lost my debit card last week, so I was going to have to go to the bank, then go to set up signs at the March for our Lives, then go to the dentist, then go back to the March.

This sounded reasonable as I sat on the couch between my sisters, eating the overboiled macaroni one of them had made for me.

In the morning, this was no longer reasonable.

My mom took me to the dentist, my sister went to do the duties I so badly wanted to do.

The dentist gently injected my gum, we waited, and when he returned, he had the offending tooth out before I realized it had happened.  Out.  Gone  They don’t show it to you.  They just say, “Doing okay?”

I was doing okay.  It was at least the 6th tooth I’ve had pulled.

My mom took me to get my antibiotics.  I shuffled along with my mouth full of cotton.  She drove us to the March.

I got there.  I got there and was cold, but heard the kids speak.  And had my signs.  And said hi to some friends  And my gum stopped bleeding.  I sat down on our blanket and leaned on my sister and closed my eyes for a bit.  I was so cold, I asked if we could go to Winstead’s, a Kansas City hamburger institution.

I was not up to marching, cold and woozy from the infection, and I decided this was all right.  Instead of marching, we set our signs in the window and the march marched by us.  About 25% of the restaurant cheered when they started by.  The table next to us also set up their signs.  People waved at us, and cheered.  Someone apologized to the waitress, because shit was kind of crazy, and she said, “I’m glad they’re doing it!”

I sipped my milkshake since I couldn’t use a straw.  Dry socket.

I wished I could have done it all myself.  Instead, it took my mom, my sisters, and about 4,999 other people.

These things, thankfully, we can’t do by ourselves, no matter who we are: the president (thank God), a senator, a charismatic teenager with a fire in the belly.

I was driven to a gathering of teachers, afterward, and I got up to read some writing about two of my former students who were shot.  I could have done a much better job.  If I had been able to keep my mind clear, the night before, if I had rehearsed my reading as much as I usually do.  It was okay.  I got to read.  I got to say something about them.  I am so glad I know so many people who wanted to listen, and to talk, about this particular pain that cuts through our country, again and again.

This is what I said:

Our students were rarely silent.  During the PSATs, and on the very rare occasions Coach punished them with “silent lunch.”  They certainly were never quiet in the gym, where we had pep assemblies.  I only attended pep assemblies when the principal directly directed me to.  Pep assemblies featured pounding music, screams, and as a special bonus, microphone feedback.

But that day, our students sat looking like wax figurines.  It was the Madame Tussaud’s of our school, our faces a little too thin, eyes unlit, mouths loose and closed.  Our social butterflies were pinned, static.  Our class clowns were bare-faced.

Darreon was dead and Eric was paralyzed.  The only sounds was Darreon’s girlfriend.  She sobbed softly, then she wailed, and it sounded so private, so primal, I felt guilty for intruding.

Dead people look waxen.  Eric was not silenced by medication, his spine clipped.  He would need medical care for years.

The gym was not quite our gym.  It was an imitation of our gym, a what-if come true.  After years of cousins and siblings and parents being shot, now it was one of us.  After all the anti-violence talks, the coaching in conflict resolution and making choices.

I held a white coffee cup with a black lid, took a sip of coffee and chicory and half and half, and then I thought: I can’t drink this in here.  No food or drink in the gym.  Of course no one cared.

I had taught Romeo and Juliet as a conflict between fatalism and free will.  Shakespeare would not have been pleased.  Romeo and Juliet could have chosen differently.  Could they?  Have not chosen to argue with or antagonize the kid with the gun?  To drive faster?  To not go to that game?  Or did they, literally, take the bullet for someone else?  I’d never know.  Romeo and Juliet, I said, should have waited.  Waited on their parents’ approval, waited for hte friar’s message.  “Wisely and slow, they stumble that run fast,” the friar said.  No one listens to the friar.

I had the students choose parts each day.  Everyone could get a chance to read the part they wanted.  Except for Eric.  Eric was always the Prince.  He wanted that part.  It suited him.

Some adults spoke to the kids, as if we knew what to think, to say.  No one had to tell the kids to be silent.  They had been silenced.

In that moment, the kids were silenced.

They aren’t any more.

Truth

Two people told me the truth this week.

I was at an organizing meeting for the March for Our Lives– that’s March 24 at noon at Theiss Park, kids– and someone said, “You can’t use the same model for a new situation, you always have to build a new model,” and I nodded at the wisdom of this, as we stood in the entryway of the 100-year-old library.

Later I thought, oh, hell, no.  Some things last forever!  Some things are stable, rock, like Shakespeare! (said the English major).

Aside: watching a TV show on Queen Victoria, a lady-in-waiting says Shakespeare is too vulgar for a noble audience.  So.

Then I was chatting with someone who was a veteran, and I said, “Is there anything you can say about you experience in Iraq and Afghanistan?” And he said, “It was fun.”

We then discussed War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, which basically explains that people continue to have wars because they are “fun,” well, additive, even.  We agreed that its author, Chris Hedges, was great.

The times they are a’ changin’, and war is fun.

I went to meet with my future graduate program (though I shudder as I write this, because I cannot make a new model).  I was relieved that there were so many people of color, this made me feel safer, in my special weird way of the WASP who feels safer among anyone but her own people.  (My people are scary.)  On campus, in meetings, being “wooed,” as I joked, but we were being wooed, everyone was so quiet and polite and apologetic and welcoming, I felt I was on another (professional) planet.

All these years being a high school (and lately elementary) teacher, I am not used to being treated like a person whose feet might hurt (“Sorry for all the walking,”) or who might be tired (“It must have been a long day”) or who might have something valuable to say (“Do you have any questions?” for the tenth time).  A person who might be hungry (“Let’s get you to the cafeteria, you must be starving”).

It wasn’t that I disliked this, it just felt strange, a contrast between “women’s work, ” teaching children, and “men’s work,” teaching adults.  If you work in “women’s work,” you are treated like shit, and then everyone says you are a saint.  (Thanks, I don’t need to be a saint.)  If you work in “men’s work,” you are treated like a person, and everyone says you are a reasonable guy.  (I’d like to make social justice an important part of my life without being called a fool.)

A new model?

College classrooms are white, white, white, in temperament, in color, in blankness.  I sat in on a class, and everyone was so quiet.  Their values and their vibe are intensely white and middle class.  (I don’t really know what upper class rich people vibes are.)  Everyone exercises self-restraint at all times.  Rarely does anyone get upset.  In a high school classroom, someone is always upset.  Because her boyfriend dumped her, because she is going to lose it if so-and-so interrupts her one more time, because last night he was up half the night with his little sister because his mom works nights and the sister was scared.

In a college classroom, there is nothing to touch, nothing is soft, there are no words on the walls, except words to tell how to work the technology installed.  No one knows who wrote those words, and people expect them to be unclear and frustrating.  No one ever touches anyone.  Even in my high school classroom, I was frequently touching someone on the arm, or the shoulder, to get their attention, and people were frequently brushing up against each other because we moved around in a small space.

I like a high school classroom, and elementary classroom, but also, it exhausts me.

I remember now that when you teach adults, it can be hard to get people talking.  My entire career in education thus far has focused on getting people to please shut up.

“I’m going to– ”

“We’re going to–”

“Okay, I’ll wait a minute.”

“Class, class?”

“One two three, eyes on me.”

(Other than the times my high school kids were discussing in small groups, then, of course, they were silent as Quakers.)

I am still enjoying teaching at one school in the northeast part of Kansas City.  There is great poverty and violence there, but also a lot of immigration, which gives energy and hope, and feels, to me, like New York City energy, since that is where I first felt immigrant energy.

I had my most rambunctious class there, and the first hour, I was worried, because I didn’t figure out how to get their attention.  The first hour, most classes, even wild ones,  will be pretty sedate because they are sleepy, and have not used up much of their patience.  This class had a wild first hour.  This school, though, is a place where a little wildness is not dangerous.  It has a looser vibe.  Anyway, this class, I discovered, liked stories.

I’ve had a class that loved to sing, that if I could just come up with enough songs (“Wheels on the Bus”!) we would have sung all day.  This class liked stories.  When I began a book, everyone’s eyes were on it.

I explained I was going to read “Alexander and the Wind-up Mouse,” by Leo Lionni.  I explained I wanted to read it because I had met Lionni when I was a child, and because his books were about ideas that were so deep even grown-ups struggled with them.

It was beautifully silent, as they waited to hear the story.

War is fun, especially when you win.

Lionni poses the question: would you rather be a  wind-up mouse, who is loved, but then discarded, or a real mouse, who is in danger, hungry, and will die?

Everyone had her own opinion.

Image: detail of “Woman in White,” Picassso, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

Right

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I stood between my dad and stepmom and I said, “I just want to do the right thing.”  This is carryover from elementary school subbing.  In the industry, we say, “If you are [standing up/punching a cardboard box/going to get your backpack], you are doing the wrong thing.”

With my dad and stepmom, we were only discussing if I would drive or fly to my stepsister’s wedding, a situation I realized, once I said it, had actually no moral value.  Well, I mean, I was offering to keep my dad company on the drive, or accept his offer of a plane ticket so I could work more days, but.

The school where I subbed on Friday was different.

At least three times, I opened the door to the classroom and stood in the doorway, because I could not figure out what else to do.  Kids were yelling, wandering.  The teacher had left me a thin packet of worksheets, a thick packet of worksheets, iPads, and directions to “not let them get into verbal arguments,” which was… comical.

Let me tell you, there is no way in hell worksheet packets and iPads are going to keep rambunctious third graders occupied for an entire day.

I opened all the cabinets, closets, and found nothing but games without pieces, markers, and (thank heavens) books.

I cruise near this line of feeling like you have enough of the kids’ attention to keep them safe, and then I drift away from it.  Whoa.  They wouldn’t hear me if I said, “Fire, let’s go,” and at any moment, it seems clear, the calling back and forth about your mom could erupt into (third grade) violence.

A girl comes up to me and hugs me.  “I’m sorry,” she says.  “They’re bad.”

What I can’t figure out is, what is the right thing?

I spent seven months at a place labeled one of the worst schools in New York.  Kids called me every profane name in the book, threw things across the room, out the windows, refused to sit, to get up, to shut up, to leave the room, to stay in the room.  Just the volume of the classroom slowly wore down and then tore at my nervous system.

It was so important to me that the kids not see I was threadbare, and never to think they had “won,” because this would mean they had lost, that adults could not protect them from themselves, and this broke my heart.

Only one day did I kind of storm out of the building, and by storm I mean that with two hours left in the day, I went to the secretary and said I had to go, someone would have to take my class for two hours.

That was so, so expensive for me.  Under the surface of healed layers, of the last couple of years I was tutoring, and everyone was always perfectly nice to me, and these last couple of months of subbing, when there were odd moments I thought, oh, boy, I never really saw myself lose it, like you can see your sane self drifting away, like a ghost out of a body in a cartoon.

On Friday, I had one moment I did see that.  Teachers had come by and offered to take kids I had to kick out, but they drifted back eventually, claiming they had been sent back, and I had no idea, and no way to know, if this was true.

A boy had left the room as I asked.  Then he came back.  I opened the classroom door (which I could not lock, from the inside or the outside, school security gurus, FYI, no one cares about the safety of students at a school in this neighborhood).  He was there, and I leaned down, and I knew I wanted to scream at him for being a little shit.  It takes me a long time to get to that point, but it scared me how much I wanted to.

Instead I said, “No.”  And I shut the door.

He came back.  His buddy came back.  I stood in the doorway, as far as I had opened the door, and each of them tried to push me aside, in turn.

“I have to get my backpack,” he said.

“I have to get my stuff,” the other kid said.

I stood in the doorway while they tried to push me out of the door.

It came to be time for “dismissal,” but I had no explanation for how the kids would be dismissed.  Eventually an administrator showed up and helped.  While we waited for another twenty minutes (apparently dismissal was not exactly dismissal), I thought about having a panic attack, and if I should leave and go get my medicine.

I don’t know what of my anxiety mess is from actual life stress, and what is from chemical imbalance, but for sure, being in a room of screaming kids is clearly not great for one’s nervous system.

The right thing.  To stay, and prove to the kids who were so sweet and patient all day, that I wanted to stay?  To stay, and prove to the kids who sometimes were little shits, and sometimes were very sweet, drawing me a picture, or telling me about a little brother, or going to see “Black Panther”?  To go, and say, “Fuck this,” and not feel my blood pressure rising and rising?  Because I can tolerate it, complete the day, show the kids adults can stick in there for them, because I can, I should?

They were paying me about $12 an hour, after taxes, no health insurance, to be the “guest teacher.”

We had a lovely time when I told them to draw pictures.  And when I told them to write stories.  And we played one calm, lovely round of BINGO.

To pay back for privileges unearned. To participate in putting the world back together.  To be a force for healing and not more destruction.  To learn from challenge.  To know that one’s life is about something other than making money and buying more crap.  To approach one of the open, bleeding sores of our broken society, which somehow, always finds plenty of money and care for the rich and the lucky and the white and the strong.

How much work, help, kindness, pays back or shows respect to my dad and stepmom for letting me stay with them, lending me a car?  How much do I owe anyone, everyone?  This idea of owing, of debting and paying and exchange, it always seems to lead to more stress and strain.

Three kids were punching a cardboard box of food from Harvester’s.  I figured it was for them.  They were punching it, hard.  I told them they would stand on the wall at recess.  Five minutes, I said.  I did get each of them to stand there, five minutes, though it was one by one, and after going to get them from the playground.  They deserved consequences.  We don’t punch things.  We don’t punch food.  Punching things leads to punching people.  Punching food is disrespect.  Disrespect for things is disrespect for you.    I don’t know.

I stood outside while kids waited for their parents.  Finally.  Finally.  “What are you going to do this weekend?’ I said to a kid who had been quiet and patient all day.

“I’m going to play with my friend.”

“What do you play?”

“House and tag,” she said.

“How do you play house?”

“I’m the auntie,” she said.  “My friend is the mom.”

“I’m an auntie, too,” I said.  “Whaddaya know.”

Image: late 15th century French door, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Down

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A book about archetypes explained something to me: I am Athena.  Athena is all in her head, a rabid fighter for causes she supports, and doesn’t fret about being a woman because she competes with men brain to brain, and does well.  She measures many things on a completely other scale, so what she cares about, what she uses to measure and plan her life, may seem odd to others.

Another gunman goes into another school and kills and forever traumatizes more people.  See, there’s only power in guns, some people said.  That’s not true.

My dad and stepmom and I went to the hospital yesterday.  My stepmom was having surgery.  I wasn’t sure what my job was, except maybe to make jokes.  When I visit my aunt with dementia, I feel the same calling.  To be a straightforward slapstick and pun comedian is valuable in these settings.

My stepmom is the sort of person who packed us a bag of snacks for her surgery.  Fresh from scratch banana bread and sliced apples.

The hospital is boring.  The nurses are super nice.  Each step takes forever.  I wrote a little, read a memoir that was about the fashion industry, about the lightest thing that could engage me.  I explained to my dad how I wrote the story.

We ate lunch with my dad in the cafeteria.  He kept our table while I got my food, and then he got his food.  The food was terrible.

I tried not to talk to him about politics.  I got him some peanut M & Ms from the gift shop.  I flirted with a one-year-old boy who was practicing walking, doing laps in the waiting room.  My dad lay back and put his hat over his face and listened to a podcast.

When it was time, we went back and helped my stepmom dress.  She had three tiny wounds, and she was groggy and dizzy.  She and the nurse talked about their dogs.

We went home, and the dog had not peed on the floor, which was extremely impressive.

The same day, these other things happened to my siblings: a fire at work, a scan to look for brain tumors, and a bomb threat at work.

Seriously.

What was I supposed to do about those things?  I got those peanut M & Ms?

I watched several hours of a show about British people who visit castles and interact with the castle’s upper class owners.  Then I stood up, and I wanted to rip my chest open so the bats could fly out.

Instead I took a shower.

My aunt is bothered by her bra straps and her shoelaces, and her teeth.

There is so much power in nursing homes, in schools in western Kansas, in hospital waiting rooms.  There is so much care and love and patience.

Two Marys made sense to me: the one at the spring in my old neighborhood of Kansas City.  The Catholic school has a grotto with a little waterfall and a Mary.  It was a special place for me.  Mary has her arms out, hands open, the way many cement Marys are.  She was giving, giving, and open, open.

There was a similar one at the mansion, by the driveway, a cement Mary.  She was there to say hi to when you got home.  Occasionally the wind knocked her over, and I set her back up.  Someone stole her, towards the end of my time there, and I wonder where she went.  She was pretty heavy.  She didn’t blow away.

 

Image: detail, Bronze statue of Minerva, Metropolitan Museum of Art.