Saturday, January 30, 2010

Going Home?

I dream often of a mixed-together Madison-Appleton. In the dream I am thinking of going home, to the house I have owned in Madison for 6.5 years now, and accidentally, the house I grew up in pops into mind, still as was last I saw the inside of it over 12 years ago. They become one and I can't tell where I am. Bedrooms swap with each other so the home in my dream is a mix of both, and sometimes that becomes lucid dreaming - so lucid even when I am awake I feel as if I never left the dream.

Often it is very painful for me to go to Appleton. I've managed to go home (see, I said it, though I meant to write "there") almost annually for my nephew's birthday party in August, going the long way around on 441 so I don't have to tread too familiar territory from "back then." But of course he and his mother live perilously close to the complex where the first boy I kissed and a few friends after inhabited, the street name for my nephew's house even the same as a costume the boy was wearing when I met the ex-boyfriend.

The only time I can go into the city proper and not lose my shit is when I am shut down, turned off. I went back for a reading with Erika last August and since we went into just a new cafe - Harmony - I hadn't been in before because it's relatively new, and because Erika kept me busy by chatting with me and having her own reactions to going back (she's from the same area), I managed to get through ok. And I let that convince me that going back this time, while I was in the area teaching my online creative writing class to Junior High kids and meeting with them in person in Oshkosh (at the same tech college my dad finished his career out at before dying; though I never visited him at that building, luckily!), would be ok.

I knew a couple of days before it wasn't going to be ok. My guts got wobbly and my skin began to itch. My neck, which has been well-behaved lately because I have consciously worked on my stress and anxiety levels, ratcheted up into a totally frozen spasm. Even with the treat of meeting Helen Boyd on my schedule - she just happens to be living in Appleton at the moment! - I still knew it wasn't going to be pretty. I booked myself a hotel room in Fond du Lac (mis-estimating how far it is from Appleton - it was so much cheaper than Oshkosh, but not worth the extra drive!) with hot tub on premise and made the first leg of the drive just fine.

On the way to Sheboygan, my partner's hometown, we drive through Fond du Lac, so although Schreiner's Restaurant (intersection of 23/41 - Johnson St) is on my map of Fox Valley's loaded memories, I am used to it. But as soon as I began to head up past Oshkosh (pretty neutral place, which is why I took the gig - I don't see myself ever taking one in Appleton, though one of my students lives there and half of them go to school in Kimberly), the world started to get pretty weird.

It's a well-worn analog, but the best I can say is that it's a little like being on LSD, which I did a fair amount of in high school in that town. I saw the exit I used to take to my best friend's house (two exits, depending on if I were coming from north or south) and began to cry, quite spontaneously and with great misery. Everything that I saw, and often things I had forgotten about - AutoTrust on Oneida were I got my first Saab worked on after my mom died, the Walgreen's where Anne worked in High School, Between the Locks where we often had post-show food and drink - carried a whole world that would open up quickly, flash itself to me, then disappear.

It was an experience like this I had coming over the darkened N. Oneida bridge, catching myself peering high over my steering wheel for the Appleton "skyline" in which the two worlds - Madison, coming over John Nolen going North; Appleton, coming south over the Skyline Bridge crossing the Fox River - merged. The flash was like a living dream, two consciousnesses and a couple of subconsciousnesses, for good measure. I jerked the wheel without trying and then caught myself again and the tears came anew.

Once inside the cafe I was ok - I knew that would be the case and told myself as much as soon as the bridge bit passed. Even after that, going to Pat's Tap, a familiar place, I could handle myself ok. Heid's Music, Avenue Jewelry Shop - lots of the same places remained along that stretch, but I was settled in, returned to my skin, awake and out of the dream of then, thoroughly in the present with Helen.

My apologies to Appletonians whom I would quite like to see - this was an experimental visit and as you can see it was a bit tender, to say the least. Seeing a new face helped a lot; let's hope I can see old faces in the future and have that ground me, too.

I was exhausted come Friday afternoon, driving into the sunset (ugh) after teaching the kids in Oshkosh. But when I turned that last corner - avoiding the John Nolen Bridge, not needing a flashback - around Pug Mahones and into my driveway, I felt a relief and deep belief that the trip did help to settle a couple of things for sure - THIS is my home, even if that WAS, and in a certain sense, always will be; a first lover, the first kiss, those people don't ever stop being your firsts. But this is my home now. The cats and Dylan make sure I know that without a doubt, and I love them for it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Moving Math

The first song I run into in my iTunes this morning as I sit down to write about
coincidence and intuition?

"Synchronicity" by the Police, of course.
All the lyrics are worthwhile, so here they are:

"Synchronicity I" by the Police

With one breath, with one flow You will know Synchronicity A sleep trance, a dream dance A shaped romance Synchronicity A connecting principle Linked to the invisible Almost imperceptible Something inexpressible Science insusceptible Logic so inflexible Causally connectable Yet nothing is invincible If we share this nightmare Then we can dream Spiritus mundi If you act as you think The missing link Synchronicity We know you, they know me Extrasensory Synchronicity A star fall, a phone call It joins all Synchronicity It's so deep, it's so wide You're inside Synchronicity Effect without cause Sub-atomic laws, scientific pause Synchronicity

It's been a week full of it. I began reading Letters to Vanessa by Jeremy Hayward to take a break from Liar's Club by Mary Karr (great book but pretty heavy). In my first class of the week, a student asked about intuition and how it fit into writing practice, which lead to a conversation about coincidence and synchronicity. I continued to read Letters only to go deeper and deeper into these questions (I had read his more "academic" books before, but not this one) and of course began to notice it all over, as is usually the case.

I also noted myself behaving in some old rusty patterns I hadn't done in awhile. Eating in binges, not exercising at all, shutting down and disconnecting. I attributed it to winter, to, well, I don't know what. You know how it can be. You start acting all shitty towards yourself and no explanations are necessary. The part that believes you suck just puts it forward without justification and you stop asking.

Then, last night in the last class of the week, it hit me. Last night was the 20th and there was so much focus on it being a year since Obama's inauguration, on Dylan at the credit union with students returning, that I had missed the warning signs. The 19th is the anniversary of my mother's death. Clearly my body caught the signals and protected my mind from them, or tried to amplify the messages with abusive behaviors.

I wrote about it, so painful to feel the connections between self-hate and grief, how my mother taught me those behaviors and somehow by doing them I feel closer to her. Later, in bed, I told Dylan that the older I get, the less real my parents seem, the less I actually remember, while the more I actually sympathize, understand and am curious about them. Very sad stuff.

In bed, crying after processing, I also realized a moving chunk of math. As of March 15, my father will have been dead 20 years. My mother died when I was almost 20. This is the 13 year after my mother died; my dad died when I was about to turn 13. I had a mother as long as I haven't had a father, and vice-versa. Wow.

Coincidence, synchronicity, we tend to use these for blessings, for good outcomes. Fate gets the bad rap for the "negatives." This is a mixed realization, but I am giving it to synchronicity. As the Police point out, all of it works toward the same ends, and who am I to say which it is?

RIP Tricia Leanna Reilly Hall

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Save Me From What I Want

(With thanks to St. Vincent and her awesome album "Actor")

I vividly remember the second to last class of my fall at Marquette, just over a month ago now. We did a show, as we started doing the class before, of final pictures selected by the students, on slide at the museum on campus. The year before, the very eager students invited family, friends, professors, and the place was packed to the hilt the whole time. This reception was smaller and quieter - very few family members, no other instructors, just a smattering of friends.

In the very beginning of the 1.5 hour reception, I discovered that a friend of mine who is also a Marquette student (who, due to her being a year too old, had been unable to take my class at Marquette, came all the way to Madison to take it with me full price with adult students) was "working" the reception that night, making sure everything was going fine. She and I began to talk and quickly fell deeply into profound discussion - talking about a Psychology of Death class she was loving, how Miksang has affected her life (and that of her mother, who also took the class with her) and all kinds of deep and fascinating issues around Buddhist philosophy.

I'd have to literally come up for air and realize where I was, and connect with the students a bit, my "actual" students, only to find they had little to say to me and didn't wish to join in on my banter with this friend/student.

I didn't feel as connected to the students this semester as I have the other two, it's true. I tried hard to find ways to make the personal connection stronger, as I believe very much that this is how one's actual experience of contemplation - as a person-to-person transmission - is really made strong. Of course there's a part of me, and it is not little, that also likes to be liked. But this went further than that - I feel committed to ensure that the actual teachings are transmitted, and if there is no connection - positive or negative or neutral - between me and them, that limits what can pass through me (note: not from me, through me) to them. Doesn't stop it, but limits it.

So I finally, this afternoon, got back to my emails to find my reviews posted from the students. I took a deep breath and opened them. Mostly, a bit to my surprise I have to say, as the students didn't seem very enthusiastic about the class often, I got on average a 5-5.5 out of 6. But when the specifics rose up, students said all kinds of things - mostly helpful feedback ("wrote on chalkboard more than necessary," "spent too much time lecturing and not enough time in discussion.") Some I can do (face them more and my writing less) and some I can't (uh, teach yoga, too?!). Then of course I could tell just by tone those students who, though they weren't in love with the class, really dug it and respected me "Professor (sic) Hall is unconventional, but so is the topic," "She kept us interested an explained everything really well."

Then there was this one, all the way at the bottom. I know who it is, and in his distance the whole class I tried not to read judgment, though I suspected it was there. His ending statement confirmed my suspicions. His completely dismissive tone surprised me, though:

She was kind of crazy. She wrote on the chalkboard far more than was necessary. However, her presence helped the members of the class bond further as none of us could relate to her, but all of us could relate to each other.

Really? Surely that kind of zing is "far more than necessary"? I suppose this tells me more about that student than about me. Still. Was there really some kind of on-going thing against me the whole class? Did everyone see me that way? No, of that I am certain.

But being called "kind of crazy" triggers all kinds of things deep in me - especially as I am writing memoir pieces about my strange socialization during my childhood and teen years. It's good to say that out loud, as it helps me to realize these feelings are old, and beyond the reach even of this student, who enjoyed himself despite himself (and apparently despite me). Despite is not the same as "in spite of." He could care less. At some level, so could I. In fact, it was probably more my trying-too-hard efforts to "fit in" and "be liked" or "connect" that revealed a sense of craziness to this students (and any other of the students). Isn't that ironic.

And yet, when I told Dylan about it, I realized part of what I still want out there is to somehow blend in (that's right, laugh all you want, because I am laughing pretty hard about it now, which is a relief). Uh. Blend in. Airplane conversations with me are awkward to say the least (not because I can't speak clearly but because I never know how to tell someone I teach "Buddhist Art - not art with Buddhas in it, but art based on Buddhism"). I have an unconventional marriage which gets less conventional by the day. I am unabashedly queer and always have been. I proudly wore clashing plaid shirts and Indian print batik skirts to school when I was 12 and still don't bat an eye at wearing all black ("sophisticated pajamas," I call them) in the middle of a summer day.

Oh someone please save me from still, at 32, this wanting to somehow fit in.

When I was 12, I just wanted to be me and didn't care about fitting in. When I was 21 I wanted to just fit in and not be me. Now I am pretty close to being back to just wanting to be me. Adolescence and my twenties rended me from that freedom, and apparently a couple of disrepectfully stated opinions are here to remind me that I am still attached, maybe always will be, on some level, to fitting in, no matter how much I love my life and am pretty happy "with myself".

Definitely worth a laugh. Somewhere out there I like to think that Mary Karr (author of Cherry and The Liar's Club, both of which I am currently reading) - who writes a great deal about the suffering so many of us do go through, from so many of these same issues, is laughing with me.