Top Ten Things I Learned in 2013

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In no particular order…

1.  No matter how old you are, when both of your parents are gone from this earth, you feel like an orphan.

2.  Things may get better or worse, but mostly they just get different.

3.  Where you come from and who you come from matters a whole lot more than you realize.

4.  Having a porch to sit on, even if it’s not your own,  is a key ingredient to well-being.

5.  Sometimes it’s best to let things lie for awhile and not try to resolve it.  Sometimes it gets resolved for you.

AND

6.  Sometimes you need to get off your ass and get yourself OUT of the crappy life situation you have somehow gotten yourself into.

7.  Withholding judgement is the greatest gift you can give to others and to yourself.

8.  I have abandonment issues which have become self-fulfilling prophesies.  I’m not so sure about this one, but it’s a theory I’m working on.

9.  Living with a miniature version of yourself can be HELL, but also somewhat endearing!

10.  Watch and listen carefully to what people do to themselves to create their own suffering and try not to do that to yourself.

Contents of Upended Junk Drawer

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7 Metrocards which may or may not have any rides left on them

10 Gift Cards which each have less than $2 left on them

12 pencils in need of sharpening

1 pencil sharpener

1 Halloween pencil

2 felt tip markers

10 Sharpie markers of various colors and sizes

1 green marker

1 highligher

2 mini Swiss Army knives

3 reward member cards

3 post-it note packs of various sizes

1 set of math playing cards from Sal’s homework

2 unopened packs of Dentyne gum

blue painters tape

clear Scotch tape

1 plastic Army guy

1 large glue stick

1 tube and 1 tub of carmex

2 eyeglass screw drivers and 1 screw driver for mini Deck Tech skateboards

1 postage stamp

1 pair of “decent” scissors

1 pair of cat claw cipplers

2 rechargeable batteries (the charger is no where to be found)

1 subway map of manhattan

2 garment tags

1 empty tictac container

1 screw

3 safety pins

3 paperclips

21 ballpoint pens and 1 pen shaped like an electric guitar

3 color pencils

 

From Someone Else’s Porch

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Recently my niece, a gifted writer, wrote about traveling.  As an Army brat, she grew up all over the world and, as an adult, continues to travel throughout the world every time she has saved enough money for a plane ticket.  She writes that it’s important to experience the world and get out of your own small space in it.  I agree.  But I have done most of my traveling through books.

At the end of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout walks Boo home and then looks at her neighborhood from Boo’s porch.  Suddenly, she sees the world and the life she has lived through Boo’s eyes, from his porch.  It is a transforming moment.  It is what her father, Atticus, has been trying to teach her to do.  This is what travel can do for you and this is what reading has done for me.

I read so many posts and articles about how unhappy we are as Americans.  We are unhappy that children are obsessed with video games.  We are unhappy that our President wants healthcare for everyone, but the system is full of glitches.  We are unhappy that we are involved in wars that are “none of our business.”  We are unhappy that our country has a welfare system.  We are unhappy that we send aid to foreign countries.  We are unhappy that most of the wealth in our country lies with only 1% of the people.  We are unhappy that people risk their lives to enter our country to work for 95 cents a day because it is better than what they can make in their own country.

And, I am unhappy too.  I am unhappy that I need to pay $100 per hour for a tutor for my learning disabled son and $6000 for a neuropsychological exam to figure out all the various ways that his brain and personality are making school so impossible for him and life so hard.  I am unhappy that people who make less money than me can get all of this for free for their children.  But I don’t make enough money to pay for it myself.  I am unhappy that I can’t get divorced from my husband because he wants half my pension and refuses to pay child support.  I am unhappy that, as a teacher, I make so little money and that I’m being pressured to teach completely inappropriate curriculum.  I am unhappy.

And then I read a book like A Long Way Gone:  Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah.  Beah writes of his young life in Sierra Leone.  How at the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he’d been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts.  I read about how this is how wars are fought now: by orphaned children, hopped-up on drugs and wielding AK-47s. Children have become soldiers of choice. In the more than fifty conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers.

Or I read a fiction book by T.C.Boyle titled Tortilla Curtain and I am seeing the world alternately between Mexican illegal immigrants and priviledged, but unhappy Americans.  Boyle’s characters are written as real people, neither all good nor all bad.  The reader can experience both sympathy and anger toward each one as you see the world through their eyes.  An even more disturbing immigration story is found in The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman.  It is a story of a Hmong family’s experience immigrating from Laos and the disastrous clash of cultures around their young child’s epilepsy.  I learned that during the Vietnam war, the U.S. government needed the help of the Hmong, a mountain people, so we promised them protection and U.S. citizenship if they would fight against the Vietnamese.  When we pulled out of Vietnam, we left them behind and all promises were broken.  Those that did manage to make it to the U.S. were not given citizenship.

I am uncomfortable as I read these stories.  I see the world from someone else’s porch.   I see my life from someone else’s porch.  I realize that I have so much more to be happy about than the things that make me unhappy.  I turn to my problems and tackle them as best I can.  I take a deep breath and I carry the boy soldier, the Mexican immigrant, the Hmong girl with epilepsy, and Boo Radley with me as I go.   

Puzzle Pieces (for Ed, Memphis, 1997)

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Puzzle Pieces
all spread on a table
can’t seem to make them altogether fit
broken promises, broken people
we want to make sense
so at the table, we continue to sit

Puzzle Pieces
all spread on a table
color’s the same,
but shapes don’t match
a curve, a point, a two-headed piece
we want to leave,
but sometimes it’s fun, and that’s the catch

Puzzle Pieces
all spread on a table
cut from one picture, then scattered wherever
why do we try so hard to finish
when the point of the puzzle
is the putting together?

Puzzle Pieces
all spread on a table
wrong pieces forced together are later wrenched apart
that’s okay, no harm done
just spread them out again
and we’ll begin from the start

The Boxes (September 2013)

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A few weekends ago, I rented a UHaul Van. I drove 90 miles with my 7-year old son down to his father’s house to get my boxes. Instead of telling people that I come with my own baggage, I’m going to start saying that I come with The Boxes. Over the course of my adult life, I have moved a lot of boxes of stuff. Some of The Boxes have gone everywhere with me, some get left and some new ones get added each time.

The boxes are filled with bits of my life that I can’t part with yet. Every time I move The Boxes I want to divorce myself. It’s usually a huge pain. It usually costs money, is physically exhausting, and I end up fighting with whoever it is that is with me. My son helped me this time. At one point, he said, “Can’t we just return this van, go home, and get on with our lives!” Little does he know that he will be moving his mother’s Boxes for the rest of his life.

When I move The Boxes it’s also emotionally exhausting. There are always moments when I think “What the hell have I done with my life? Where am I going?” But I also have to admit that every time I sit in the seat of the moving truck or van I get excited. I like new beginnings. Unfortunately new beginnings mean you also have endings and those are not nearly as pleasant.

The Boxes have followed me and landed in the following places: my childhood home in Austin to a living room in Abilene to a spare bedroom in a Dallas apartment to an attic in a Dallas house to another attic in a Memphis condo to a basement in St. Louis and back to an apartment in Memphis to a friend’s spare bedroom in Memphis, to an apartment closet in San Antonio to a storage unit in San Antonio to a storage unit in the bowels of Newark, NJ to an attic in Toms River, NJ to my current living room in New York City.

If you’ve read this far, you are probably wondering what the hell is in The Boxes. One very heavy box has all the notes for my doctoral dissertation. Every post-it note, every diagram and rejected idea…it’s all there. I wanted to get rid of it, but a friend once said, “Your children will love to find that one day.” Another box has my dad’s Stetson and a few other keepsakes from his office. Another has one of my baby dresses and booties and childhood keepsakes. There are lots of photos and cards and letters. There is my mom’s crystal. There are small wooden boxes that I collected as a child into adulthood.

Boxes.

It’s the stuff that absolutely no one cares about, but you. It’s the stuff that you are willing to move and store no matter what. It’s the stuff that you could live without, but cannot throw away. It’s the stuff that will reveal to your friends and family many sides of you they never knew and some that they did.

And while I may leave religions, cities, careers, and husbands….I will always have The Boxes.

EPILOGUE: I just rented a storage unit in Bloomfield, NJ…..

Pretentious People (Memphis, 1997)

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Pretentious People (Memphis, 1997) also called “I’m not bitter!”
Song Lyrics (think Green Day)

i want to pop
all those pretentious people
right in their pretty little heads
with their pompous personalities
and their perfect perceptions

i want to pop those people
those pretentious people
i want to pop those people
those perfect people

i want to stomp
all those stupid stereotypes
right out of there silly little heads
with their superficial show
and their saccharine smiles

i want to pop those people
those pretentious people
i want to pop those people
those perfect people

i want to cut
all those crappy comments
right out of their cute conversations
with their careless candor
and their conceited concern

i want to pop those people
those pretentious people
i want to pop those people
those perfect people

The Nose Job

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So I got a nose job. It was many years in the making. The first time I got teased about my nose (specifically the bigness of it) was in junior high (middle school). I had a cute nose when I was a kid and then something happened. Puberty happened. Ah, puberty. It was not kind to me. It was vicious. Long silky hair became curly and frizzy. Acne. Glasses. Nose explosion. Menstration. Ugh…what a horrible, horrible way to enter adulthood.

For most of my life, I thought I inherited my nose from my mom and dad. They both had large noses and I felt that I got a double dose. I got the biggest nose in my family. Like it was saved for the baby, the best for last. My nose had several aspects of bigness which was confirmed by my plastic surgeon upon first consultation.

By the way, I never stopped getting teased about it. Really. My most recent ex-husband teased me about it (yes, he’s gone) all the time. At 44, walking in NYC a teenager called me a “big-nosed bitch.” One of my first graders once said that I didn’t need a Halloween costume because I already had a witch nose.

I wanted a nose job for a long time. First, it just wasn’t conceivable. Plastic surgery is not common in my family or in Texas (as compared to LA or NYC). Second, it just didn’t feel right. I looked like my mom and dad. Did I really want to look different from my family? Then there was the money issue. In the past 10 years or so I started saying that if I got any inheritance, I would get a nose job. Then…I got inheritance. So then I really did have to decide if I wanted this or not.

So I did it like I do most major things in my life. I just did it. I didn’t shop around for a doctor. I looked up the top 100 doctors in NYC and called the first plastic surgeon on the list. His office is in the highest rent district of Manhattan so that was recommendation enough for me. I went for a consultation. I put a deposit and set the date. For two months, every time I looked in the mirror my nose looked bigger than before. My only hesitation was how to explain it to my son. Turns out that was no big deal. Kids are very self-centered!

Am I happy? It’s a few weeks now and I’m still swollen and a bit bruised and every time I look in the mirror it looks a little different and the pain was WAY more than anyone suggested. And it does continue to feel like an alien mass has landed on my face. But I AM THRILLED!! I admit that it might be more psychological than physical, but I don’t care. I feel so much more confident. The only thing I regret is not getting it sooner.

It’s really hard for me to keep a secret, but I did a really good job before I had it done. Other than my family, only 2 people knew. Right before, I did start getting panicky and needed to tell more people. I didn’t think I’d tell because I felt ashamed, but the only way I know to live my life is to be open and out there. Being mysterious is not my strength.
Besides, feeling ashamed just sucks! Viva la nose!

Hopeless (San Antonio, 11/24/97)

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Present Day
I wrote this passage in a deep, dark place. I post it now to remind myself how far I’ve come. I post it now to share what clinical depression sounds like fueled by alcohol and self-centeredness. I post it for that someone who might be in this deep, dark place. You are not alone. And you can come out of it.

November 1997
I’m going to kill myself xmas day in Carmel. There is no other option. I will NEVER find happiness in this world. Everyone can survive and survive well without me. There is no point to my continuing living. I am unhappy no matter what happens. I see no point to my life. What I give to people is just passing. They get it from somewhere else, if they don’t get it from me. I am expendable, disposable and ultimately replaceable. That is the final word. Everyone is lying or they are stupid to say otherwise. I must devise a plan of how to kill myself. I will buy lots of liquor and sleeping pills. I hope that does it. I have to do it. I can’t go on any longer. It is pointless. I will tie up everything. I will give everyone their xmas presents and write letters. I will explain it all and they will all understand. I will make them understand how we feel. Why can no one understand, but us? We see the truth and want to die. Why can’t everyone see how painful it is for us to continue living. I’m so frustrated that I see it and no one else around me does. Only those who end up killing themselves see it as I do. I have to do it. I am one of them and only they understand me. I have been fooling myself to think I could really be a part of the living population. They don’t get me and I don’t get them.

Present Day
So many things have changed since that horrible time in my life. Most importantly I got sober. I found people like me who did understand exactly how I felt. I learned to embrace the suicidal Dianne. I learned that when those thoughts and feelings come, it’s just a thought or feeling and not reality. I learned not to be ashamed of it. I learned to be kind to myself. I learned that I don’t have to overcome those thoughts and feelings. I don’t have to get rid of them. I notice them, I experience them, and then I let them go when they go. And I learned that they do go. When those feelings come, I say, “Oh there you are! I know you!” Finally, after many years I realized that the part of me that can feel suicidal is the passion inside of me. It is the same passion that drives me in my work and my art.

I don’t consider suicide anymore because I have a son. I would never do that to him. But I know that if those feelings do come, it’s okay.

Magic

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I believe in magic. The kind of magic that can happen in life when you are just living it.

Like when you meet someone for the first time and end up talking for 4 hours and still have things you want to say to him and things you want to hear from him.

Or when you are reading aloud to a class of 7-year-olds the part in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where Charlie is opening the very last candy bar that he will ever, ever have. It’s his last chance to get a golden ticket. The last golden ticket. And he slowly, oh so slowly, pulls just one corner open to see if there is a golden ticket and you notice that every child is leaning forward, perfectly still, with those eyes of hope waiting for you to read the next few words…that moment is magic.

Or when you are riding the crowded subway at evening rush hour and everyone is quiet and gloomy, but you have Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal blasting through your ear buds and inside your body you are dancing exactly like Michael and then you see your reflection in the subway car window and smile at yourself.

Or when one of my students sounds out a word and blends the sounds together for the first time all by himself after working on it for 2 months and I raise my arms in the air and shout: YOU’RE READING! and I see that smile s-l-o-w-l-y spread across his face that let’s me know that he knows something big has shifted over in him and then we have a little dance party.

Or when in the middle of the night I hear and feel a slight, steady vibration in my pillow and I realize my cat is lying on the other side of it purring.

Or when my son and I are watching Chimp Eden on Animal Planet at 6:30 on a school morning just like we always do and I start crying because Lily, the baby chimp, helps Zoe, the older just-rescued chimp, feel not as scared by crawling in to her lap and my son notices I’m crying and says “It’s okay, mommy, it’s just love.”

Or when, after pinning-sewing-pressing and ripping out, then pinning-sewing-pressing and ripping out, again pinning-sewing-pressing and ripping out, AGAIN pinning-sewing-pressing, I have made a shirt collar that has points in the right places and will sort of look right if I hide a safety-pin in just the right place and all I have left to do is figure out how to make the rest of the shirt.

Or when I am in a meeting at school about my son with the psychologist, social worker, principal, guidance counselor, speech therapist, special education teacher, general education teacher, and occupational therapist and someone says lovingly that my son has a lot to say and he wants everyone to hear it and everyone at the meeting smiles quietly and one of my dear colleagues says “I wonder where he gets that from?”

Or when I use to look in my mother’s blue eyes and she didn’t know who I was, but I could see that she saw herself in me and I saw myself in her.

Or when I start thinking about something and I start writing it in my head and it grows and percolates in my head for hours or sometimes weeks and even sometimes years before I finally am ready to write it down on paper.

I believe in that kind of magic.

Neapolitan Ice Cream (some October evening)

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i met the funniest little old man at the grocery store tonight. i saw him wandering around in the center aisle asking something and everyone was just ignoring him and so i stopped and he said “ice cream? for my wife?” and so i directed him where to go and he asked me about the pumpkins in my basket and was i going to put them in my windows…then we parted. later i went down the frozen food section…to see if he found his ice cream and he was intensely studying the orange juice so i went over and saw he had two huge boxes of vanilla ice cream. i told him vanilla is boring and he said he wanted neapolitan , but they didn’t have it. i said surely they have it and i’d find it for him, but he wouldn’t let me. he then followed me over to the frozen fish and tells me about his wife who ate burritos last night and is having severe indigestion and i told him he needed to get some maalox. we stood there for awhile, then i told him i don’t like strawberry in neapolitan and someone always has to eat that part for me. he told me that his wife doesn’t need any ice cream, but i do because i’m too little. he told me where to get frozen fish that is really good and how long to cook it. then we said goodbye.