“Language is not the lowborn, gawky servant of thought and feeling; it is need, thought, feeling, and perception itself. The shape of sentences, the song in its syllables, the rhythm of its movement, is the movement of the imagination.”—William H. Gass
I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band call out Rosalita on August 24, 2008 — the date stands out because it was the Sunday of the Beijing Olympics. I had flown home that day from China. I felt that deep exhaustion that comes from flying halfway around the world, but I went to the show anyway, and it’s a lucky thing because it was the best Springsteen show I ever saw. It was the last night of the tour, and Bruce was hyped, and the band was into it, and everything felt charged.
And before the night ended, they played Rosalita. Throughout the song, I watched Clarence Clemons. He was, by then, 66 years old, and he was an old 66. The Big Man lived uphill. He partied hard. He married five times. He hopelessly chased his own youth. He pushed against the wind. They had put a chair for him on stage, and he needed it most of the night. He could barely stand. He could hardly move.
In any case, they played Rosalita and I watched the Big Man, and I would love to tell you that he grew young before my eyes. I would love to tell you that because it would make for a wonderful tribute. But it isn’t so. The music was young. Even the music he played was young. The man behind the saxophone was old. He tried to dance, and in some vague way he did. When he finished, he was breathing heavy. Here’s the thing: It wasn’t sad. Well, maybe it was a little sad because the years go by too fast. But seeing him step out of his chair, walk slowly toward Bruce, play the familiar riffs for Rosalita, seeing him and the band sing that line, “Your papa says he knows he knows that I don’t (have any money),” it was beautiful. Because he loved it. He still loved it. He couldn’t be young again. But he could remember being young. And that was the something beyond.
“We need the books that affect us like disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.”—Franz Kafka
“Even if you don’t want to become a scientist, the minimum you should ask of yourself—demand of yourself—is that you should become scientifically literate. Better yet, scientifically literate and mathematically literate, because therein are the engines of problem solving in the world.”—Neil deGrasse Tyson. “Innovation ‘vital’ for future economy,” CNN.com. (via holdenmacphillips)
“I always tell girls who say they want to start a band but don’t have any talent, well, neither do I. I mean, I can carry a tune, but anyone who picks up a bass can figure it out. You don’t have to have magic unicorn powers. You work at it, and you get better. It’s like anything: You sit there and do it every day, and eventually you get good at it.”—Kathleen Hanna
At the beginning of this year, I was unceremoniously dumped by the man I thought I would marry. It sucked. A lot.
A lot of bad things happened. I learned when you’re almost thirty and a busy single mother, heartbreak is quite a bit harder to figure out how to deal with. Stress-related stomach problems caused me to lose a dangerous amount of weight. I spent an unpleasant amount of time in and out of doctors’ offices. I had to explain to my daughter why he wasn’t there anymore, when I didn’t even understand it myself, and watch her not understand either. I had a horrible time focusing and, in general, a horrible time deciding where (and how) I was going to go next.
The thing is, right before this happened, I had already started considering, as one does at various points, the next direction I wanted to take my career and life. For the first time in many long years of struggling with finances, work and child, I was finally stable enough to think about things like what I wanted instead of what I just had to do. I was ready finally to shift a lot of stuff in my life forward. I thought it was a comically unfortunate coincidence that I had such a setback right at that time. But, a few months down the road, I can see I moved forward anyway.
The things I’ve done this year:
I exorcised the old demon of my unfinished computer science degree, begun around eight years ago, by re-learning programming. Well, I’ve started re-learning, at least. I had long felt as if I had begun something I never finished. I’m back working on it now.
Related to that, I fulfilled a long-term goal I had formulated in those compsci days of creating a program for women to learn programming in an open, supportive community. Girl Develop It Columbus is off and running. There is much work to be done, but I’m proud it’s started and growing and seems to have already brought hope and confidence to other learners.
GDI Columbus has made some amazing inroads and connections for me, and I’ve begun speaking about women in technology in a number of different venues. The feedback has been wonderfully positive and encouraging. Fulfillment of a long-term goal indeed.
In addition to programming, I’ve reapplied myself to other web design and development topics I’ve neglected the past couple of years. It’s nice to feel challenged again and feel that my work is getting just a bit better.
I learned how to swing dance. Still need more practice, but it’s something this awkward, completely non-musical girl never expected to be able to do. But I’m doing it.
I don’t care much for empty holidays, but I decided there was no way in hell I was going to sit alone in February in Ohio for Valentine’s Day a month after being run out on. So I flew to San Diego for a weekend to see friends but mostly attend the ceremony that interred Raymond Chandler’s wife’s ashes in his grave. It was kind of a weird thing to do. It was also the first time in my entire life I took a vacation just for me, because I wanted to. It was pretty great.
I put together a book of my favorite blog posts from the past couple of years. It made me happy to not only revisit the writing work I’ve done but discover I could create a not entirely bad print book cover and layout. It was fun.
I got an IUD that cut down on hormone-related stress altogether and put me in better physical shape.
I recently gained weight again.
I began going to therapy. I had thought of doing this at various low points in my life, but never followed through. I realized at last that it was a sign of accumulated strength to be able to face and work on myself. And that I needed more help to deal with what had happened to me. It’s a good thing.
I ran my first official 5k. I did much better at it than I anticipated. I’ve already picked out more races for the coming months.
Where am I now? On the emotional level, I’m still struggling a lot. A lot. I don’t quite understand what happened to me or why. It’s a hard thing to do, come to terms to the fact that so much love and trust can be given completely in vain, or the fact such a commitment to a future can just be thrown away by someone who asked you for it in the first place.
But I’ve been through worse, and it has, my dislike for cliche notwithstanding, in fact made me stronger. When people ask me how I manage to do everything I do now, it’s pretty much just because I’ve been kicked around for a long time and I’ve built up fighting muscles and when it’s time to use them, I’m ready to go. I now respond to difficulty as a challenge. And I’m not very good at walking away from challenges.
This is perhaps the hardest challenge I’ve ever had. But I’m fighting. I made this score card to remind myself that however much it still hurts, maybe, in some ways, just a little bit, I’m winning.
During production of a film we were doing, over the phone with the client, we were discussing a scene where the actors begin fighting each other with lightsabers. We explained how we’d create the effects, work it out in post-production. Then the client speaks up and says, “Why don’t we just use real lightsabers?” …And it took us 30 minutes to explain to her why we couldn’t.
Someone told me a story the other day, about a woman a friend of his had known. This friend was a teacher, at an university, and had somehow turned up this woman in an area of rural Appalachia where her opportunities were slim. Recognizing an intelligence that deserved better, the teacher worked to bring the woman to the university in the city. They found her scholarship money, enrolled her, and helped to prepare her for a new kind of life. Part of the preparation was attempting to comprehend and assuage the woman’s fear and distrust of the larger world. The person who told me the story attempted the most. But he never could get her to so much as articulate what she couldn’t face.
Four weeks before completing her course, she disappeared. She went back home. No education. No new life.
The story was told to me as an allegory for the fear of the unknown, and of freedom from traps. Traps are a known quantity. It’s frightening to face stepping out of them. Even when there’s someone there with a hand out ready to help you step out.
He also made the point that traps are rarely as straightforward as location. Sometimes people can walk around as if they’re as free as could be and be trapped all the time. Sometimes, the trap is not being able to sit still with themselves. That’s something I work on myself.
He said he thinks about that woman often. Sitting on the doorstep in a house back in Appalachia. Maybe she’s married to the man who runs the gas station down the road. Maybe he treats her well. Maybe she thinks about what other life she could have had and is now gone.
“I don’t think man was meant to attain happiness so easily. Happiness is like those palaces in fairy tales whose gates are guarded by dragons: we must fight in order to conquer it.”—Edmond Dantes, The Count of Monte Cristo (via velascojelly)
The very first night I moved into an apartment of my own, I went into labor. I was young, single and almost completely on my own, and hadn’t even decided completely whether or not I was going to be able to keep my baby. It was rather terrifying.
I was awake at about 1 AM and, since my mother had to come get me from another town, I didn’t get to the hospital until about 3 AM. I hadn’t gained much weight, so the nurse was shocked when I told her I was over eight and a half months pregnant. I had had a confused and difficult pregnancy. At that point, not only was I having contractions, I was spotting blood.
Another nurse, quiet and kind, sat with me while they prepared a room for me. He told me that he and his wife had just adopted a child and it was the best thing they had ever done.
I was in labor for sixteen hours. Mid-way through it a social worker visited me at my bedside and asked if I were sure I was going to keep my baby. I wasn’t. I said yes. She told me to call her later if I needed to.
My fractured family was mostly all there, angry at each other for letting me get into this situation and afraid for what was going to happen to me. No one was sure how healthy either I or the baby really was. I was too overwhelmed to be much of anything. I was just waiting for something to happen, one way or the other.
See, I hadn’t made the decision yet, and the decision to make wasn’t just whether to raise a child or not. It was to finally face my life. It was to stop the years of running away from reality and to begin to change reality, from the inside out. And the one fundamental thing that I didn’t understand about that decision was that making it is just the beginning of the work it takes.
The actual birth started around 6 PM. In case you haven’t gone through that before, it pretty much sucks. It hurts more and unlike anything else you’ve gone through in your entire life. At some point, however, I remember I wanted it over with not to be over with, but because I wanted to meet my baby. I wanted to know who that person was.
That’s when I made the decision. My daughter Elizabeth Anne was born almost exactly at 7 PM on August 5, 2005.
That evening, I was predictably exhausted. I was in a hospital room with my baby in her hospital crib next to me, and I remember a little confusion when the nurse explained to me how often I needed to feed the baby during the night. Couldn’t they take her to the nursery for the first night? Didn’t they know I was completely, physically and mentally worn out and I needed sleep?
That’s when I realized the work that comes after the decision is what the decision is really about. You can’t separate them. I think there’s an idea that pervades our optimistic culture that you can come to a revelation and the clouds part and the sun streams down, and there’s the path, straight and clear in front of you, and all you have to do is walk forward. It doesn’t work like that. It shouldn’t work like that. If you try to make the decision to meet life without being willing to face the work life requires, other people will suffer for it. But not nearly as much as you will, in the end.
Of course I had moments in the five years following when I wondered if I had made a mistake. There were many times when I was out of money, when I didn’t have a job, when everything seemed like it was far too much for me to handle. I wondered if my daughter would have been better off without me.
Last night, I was out at a class, a class I helped to create to tell women and other people who believed they couldn’t do something that they in fact could, and when I got home, the sitter had already put Elizabeth to bed. I laid down for a moment with her and watched her sleep. The two of us have been through a lot. But she is healthy and happy and truly one of the most interesting and joyful people I’ve ever met in my life. I haven’t done everything perfectly, but I’ve still done a good job. I made the right decision. Even though I had to do years of work after making that decision to get us where we are. Because that was the point.
I hope it’s not as difficult for her to learn that as it was for me.