Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Non-Mom? Ex-mom? Mom-graduate? Post-mom?

Isobel Crawley, in the first episode of this season's Downton Abbey, says something about how when your only child dies, you're not really a mother anymore.  It is heartbreaking and, on a very minor level, I related somewhat, only in the way that my child is no longer around me and lives 957 miles away.  (this was a very satisfactory season after last season's two gut-punch deaths, no?)

How will the people who meet me from this point forward know that I am a mother?  And how that role has helped to refine my goals, pushed me to succeed, and introduced me to an incredible community of like-minded women?  It is a sad reality that when a woman becomes a mother that her friends are forever delineated into "mom friends" and "non-mom friends."  I am in a very odd position now where the majority of my "mom friends" still have younger children at home.  I need more "non-mom friends" now.  I spend a lot of time alone and so far that  has been a good thing.

A few weeks ago I listened to Terry Gross' interview with a Jennifer Senior who has written possibly the all-time best-titled book on parenting, All Joy, No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood.  I perked during the interview when Senior talked about studies that prove how differently men and women react to empty nests.  She said that women, who people expect to feel sad and lonely, are usually much happier when the children move out and men tend to be sadder.  Perhaps this is due to relief that women feel, no longer having to be the taskmaster, schedule-organizer, or chore-reminder.   For women the hardest part is over!  The men just notice the emptiness in the house.  This is certainly true in my case.  I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has looked at me with genuine concern in her eyes and asked if I'm "doing okay since Stella moved out?"  I AM DOING GREAT!  I feel like I have nothing but free time.  FREE TIME, y'all.  What is that?  I binge watch television shows and movies.  I spend hours making paper flowers and weird art projects that will never go anywhere.  I decide at 9pm that I want to make black bean soup from scratch.  Long walks in the sunshine with podcasts and music.  Falling asleep on the couch covered in cats.  Drinks with friends on weeknights.  Weekends completely free.  It's overwhelming.  I can't get over how much TIME I have to myself.  It is glorious.  While I hate my body, don't even want to think about dating anyone, and am disgusted with my lack of organizational skills and unfinished house, I have probably never felt so happy and fulfilled.  The biggest pressure I now feel is doing something productive with all this time.  For the past almost-19 years I've had the best excuse for never having time - I was a single mother.

So now what??

I guess just keep coming back here?  I'll keep you posted?  It's like my brain is overloaded with ideas and plans, all jostling at the gate for attention, each one wanting to tumble out first, and I have to sort them out and decide which ones take precedence.

In the meantime - enjoy these things to look at!

Following up on last week's post about Kroll Show - this clip kills me.  Seth Morris (the first guy you see) is so perfect it's painful:






And some photos from the past month or so, since I uploaded from my big camera at least:

I went to the Kings River Overlook exactly a year ago on MLK weekend, remember?

Childhood friend Zippy who is very good about organizing and following through on hiking trips.  Those are good friends to have - the ones who follow through instead of just always saying "Oh yeah...I love to go hiking; we should go sometime"

Shadows and light

Ozark rock formations covered in moss are my favorites.  I might have taken some moss to try to grow at my house.  Looks like there's plenty to spare, though.

See this guy on the left?  I was trying to sneakily take his picture because he was wearing an amazing BEAR HAT. 

The zooming-in, trying to be stealthy act wasn't working so well - as you can see.  SO....

We just drove up next to him, I rolled down my window and asked if I could take his picture.  That made him really proud.  And resulted in a much better photo.  Way to go, bear-hat biker dude.  That might not actually be a bear.  In that case - way to go, furry animal hat dude. 

My friend Pearl sang at the first Ozark Mountain Music Fest, which was really just a ploy to get a bunch of people to stay at the Basin Park Hotel.  It was the only location for the performers.  Still fun, though.

Neon green house against Jacob's Ladder, the most treacherous stairs in all of Eureka Springs.  I guess this color is approved by the Historic District Commission

My favorite country church.  Winona Church and School

While usually locked, I do know someone who had her wedding here.  I think they open it only a few times a year.

Pressed my camera against the dirty window so you can see the wooden benches and original wood stove in the center of the aisle.

Better view of the wood stove (and window dirt).

When I was a kid & teenager this building was always unlocked.  We would come here and just poke around.

Sweet little Winona Church.

I drive past it every time I go out to the Kings River and always mean to stop and take pictures.  I'll have to do it again when the trees have leaves and flowers are blooming. 

I got a new camera lens and have to practice on SOMEthing, like Vega here.  And my messy couch, thankfully blurred in the background. 

My beautiful sister, Jessy.

I looked out my kitchen window two weeks ago and Benjamin was just sitting there.  Just sitting and looking around.  He's so weird. 

Last weekend I finally got to visit my favorite other family, the Carrs!  Here is Liam, almost three and handsome as can be.

With his  Auntie C (and a boo boo on his lip)

Blue eyes from his mama

There ya have it.  Until I'm ready to unveil my plans for world domination, that is. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Craving the Outdoors

My daughter and I watched Into The Wild together when she was around 12 years old.  The experience stuck with me for a few reasons - because she actually wanted to watch an entire movie with me (and other adults), because she allowed herself to be taken in by the quiet beauty of the film and became choked up from emotion, and because I think that may have been the beginning of the realization that nature is Stella's best therapist.  And mine too.  We both connected to Chris McCandless' decision to escape the trappings of modern, materialistic society and head deep into the wilderness.  I am forever grateful that both my daughter and I were able to grow up in a rural area, where we could safely disappear for hours and hours on Summer days and were only limited by our imaginations.

When I made the decision to move back to "the city" - in quotes because it's just a large town with a population of 75,000 with Stella in 2004, I knew it meant losing that connection.  So I still got both of us out into the country as often as possible.  I mean...we still lived basically in a rural area; Fayetteville is hardly "the city."  Escaping to the woods just took slightly more effort.  Proximity to wilderness is one of the biggest reasons I've never moved to a bigger city.  I also think that Stella's decision to attend college in a small town, surrounded by huge mountains and ancient canyons, was informed in many ways by her experiences in nature.  It heals us, grounds us, and reminds us that we are tiny drops in an ocean of human (and non-human) experience. 

The West Fork of the White River.  Summer 2013
One time an international student asked me what my religion was and all I could think to answer was "Nature."
My beloved Ozarks, taken two autumns ago.



Friday, February 21, 2014

Things I Can't Get Enough Of

I feel like I write so much about things with which I'm obsessed (I know that's proper grammar but it feels/sounds awkward.  Prepositions schmrepostions) but there's no way I'm stopping now.  I spend a lot of time alone now and can easily become consumed with things.  Then I want others to love what I love, or at least have someone I can talk to about my obsessions.  Christina is usually the recipient of my "YOU HAVE TO watch/see/listen to/smell/read/become enraged about/understand THIS" emails and text messages.

Such as The Good Wife.  Do you watch this show?  YOU MUST.  If you're like me, you ignored it for years because the title is misleading.  I thought it was one of those shows that caters to female viewers, like Grey's Anatomy but it's definitely not.  It's smartly written, sharp, funny, zeitgeist-y, sexy, and nearly all the characters are super fun to watch.  Julianna Margulies' character Alicia Florrick has become my role model.  She is in-control at all times, never losing her cool or her composure.  She takes risks and trusts her gut.  She knows she is smart and capable.  I thought of her constantly when I made the decision to leave my job and during the interview process for my new one. 

And I just discovered Kroll Show.  I knew it existed but hadn't sat down to watch it ever until today and HOLEE SHIT is it the funniest thing ever.  Last night I watched it alone in my living room, laughing hysterically like a lunatic.  As a semi comedy nerd I had known of Nick Kroll and his seemingly endless cast of characters but hadn't watched the show.  Pitch perfect satire of reality tv and horrible people.

Speaking of comedy nerd stuff, I can't recommend The JV Club podcast highly enough.  Janet Varney, the host, is THE BEST.  Her open heart, hilarious personality, and creative spirit just blast through the airwaves (internet?  Tubes and wires?) and through your speakers or earbuds.  I love her voice, both literally and figuratively.  Maybe it's because we're about the same age and have had similar growing-up experiences (smart girls, troubled adolescents, experimented with too much too young) but I think it has more to do with the way that she can make anything and anyone relate-able.  Stella and I listened to that podcast all the way to and from Colorado last year.  It helped heal us.  We heard so many women's stories about adolescence and how they became the women they are today.  How rare is THAT?  Women talking to women about women's experiences?  And so hugely valuable.  I implore you to listen.  Download the episodes with the women you recognize first, but please don't discount the interviews with women you haven't heard of yet!  Put it on when you're cooking dinner, doing dishes, driving around.  I promise that you will laugh, you will cry, and it's better than Cats (remember that ol' gem?)

I've got lots more but perhaps should parcel them out.

It's taken me 2 days to write this and it's Friday afternoon....I'm dying to head out and drive to Little Rock to see my beloved Carr Sisters!

Perchance would you like to see my latest phone pictures?  Well you're gonna anyway:

Belated date night with longtime friend Amanda.  Bartender Rob just had to get in on this picture.  Check out that delicious cheese spread!

Next read.  Can't wait.

I bought this orchid plant on clearance last summer.  It was a stick in a pot.  I coaxed it back to life and this was its first bloom!

Benjamin, my love. 

Picture of a real photograph.  Stella and me at nap time.  1997


More experiments in gluten-free baking.  These were AMAZING.  I called them "kitchen sink cookies" because I just kept adding things - bittersweet and white choc chips, dried cherries and cranberries, coconut, oatmeal (whoops - gluten).

The best kale salad ever!  With quinoa, red peppers, toasted pine nuts, grated parmesan.  Lots of lemon & good olive oil for a dressing.

I probably shouldn't have taken this while I was driving.  But oh, isn't it beautiful?  This was one terrifying drive, though....by the time I got home there were cars all over the roads.

Gluten-free snickerdoodles.  Almond flour.  YUM!

This is just around the corner from my house. 

Dogsitting cute little Vega.


Looking down 7th Street.  Feb. 2

The beautiful sunset the first day it snowed.


Looking up Mt. Sequoyah from the formerJefferson School playground


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The First Step...

Perhaps today I might start thinking about preparing a plan to initiate the discussions necessary for getting my shit together.

Whaddya think? 

It's the perennial question/problem/challenge/struggle isn't it?  HOW DOTH ONE GET ONE'S SHIT TOGETHER? 

So far here's how I'm working toward that goal:
  • Texting a LOT with Christina about how much we hate our bodies and have put on weight and hate Winter when we can't easily get outside to exercise
  • Cooking healthy foods at least once a week.  The rest of the time I'm eating leftovers or takeout Thai (cha-ching! That's a mark in the "does not have one's shit together" column, in my opinion.  Having one's shit together means being financially prudent and eating out only as a special treat, not driving 2 min. away to my favorite Thai place for Thai Basil Stir Fry)
  • S L O W L Y    rearranging my house so that it looks cute, uncluttered (HAHAHAHAHAHA), and like me.  It's slow going, but it IS moving in that direction.  God, I love my house.  I will post pictures once I attain that magical minute where there isn't cat hair everywhere and my art supplies strewn about
  • Using the justification that "It's the Golden Age of Television" to binge-watch everything from True Detective (don't get me started.  The showrunner is an MFA graduate from UA and originally intended for it to be set in the Arkansas Ozarks...of course the tax incentives offered by Louisiana won out.   I'm so mad.  How great would it have been to see the backwoods creepiness of my home region explored on national television?  I almost wrote a pissed-off email to the Arkansas Film Commissioner about it.  I'm almost That Woman.  You know the one.  The one who blows cat hair off her keyboard in order to fire off pissed-off emails and letters to the editor) to House of Cards to Downton Abbey to Nashville (I could dedicate an entire post to my love for Connie Britton and her enviable head of hair).  One could argue that its definitely NOT helping me get my shit together, but watching good movies or television get my neurons firing and I want to write about things so that's productive, right?
  • Finally we have been blessed (#blessed) with mild sunny weather this week.  I have fast walked/intermittently jogged every day for the past three days.  Today I am going to hot yoga.  Progress
  • Creating this here list
What are YOU doing to get your shit together?  Any tips?  Support?  Commiseration?  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Maggie Estep 1963-2014

Maggie Estep, a writer whose work I love and connected to deeply died today.  So what.  Big deal, Alannah.  Everyone dies.  People whom I admire die all the time (recent example - Phillip Seymour Hoffman), right?  Well dammit, this one hit me harder.  Harder than PSH, who we all know had YEARS of tremendous skill and expertise to share with us yet.  I guess perhaps because I connected with her writing so deeply.  She wrote this fantastic trilogy about Ruby Murphy, a woman who kept getting dragged into solving mysteries.  Ruby lived alone at the far end of Coney Island and although she was vegetarian insisted on feeding her beloved cats organic fresh meat.  She loved horses and horse racing.  I read those books over 10 years ago and details keep coming back to me.  That's saying something because I couldn't tell you the first thing about half of the books I've read in my life. 

Maggie was friends with friends of mine.  Or acquaintances, colleagues.  I don't really know.  I know I had heard her name tossed about casually the way friends do so I checked her books out of the library.  She had made a name for herself in the spoken word, Def Poetry Jam heyday of the early 90s.  Those were my formative years too.  Maybe that's also why I connected with her.  Both she and her characters were yogis and approached life in a wonderful, no nonsense way.  A love for animals was a huge guiding force in her life.  She wrote a fantastic book called Diary of an Emotional Idiot - could there be a better name for a semi-autobiographical book about a woman trying to find her way through the first third of her life???

I think maybe it hit me so hard because she was so YOUNG (only 11 years older than me) and a hell of a lot healthier than I am.  A heart attack.  Jesus.  So sudden. 

I heard the news today and was compelled to google her.  Dammit.  Too late I discovered her wonderful blog (linked above).  I was even more heartbroken to read all the tributes she has written over the past year to friends she had lost....and now here I am basically doing the same thing. 

All I can say is - thank you, Maggie.  Thank you for writing words that resonated with me and gave me comfort, as we navigated the confusing sea of womanhood.  Your writing was important to me, and I like to think that's what writers hope for more than anything. 

Thursday, February 06, 2014

"Vacation"

That word is in quotes because, in the seven years I worked at my previous job, I was only able to take a few weeks of vacation.  I had over 30 days of unused vacation and personal time amassed.  Probably even more than that but no one ever kept track and of course I had COUNTLESS comp days from all the nights and weekends I worked. 

I had been waiting on this check.  The company had to "buy back" my unused vacation time.  This check was to be the bridge from my unemployment to first paycheck at my new job. 

And now that I'm temporarily somewhat flush with cash, all I can do is think of ways to spend it.  I want to visit Angie in Napa.  I want to visit my sister Kate in Portland.  I want to visit Ben in Key West.  I want to finally travel to Mexico to visit my former students and see Tulum.  I dream of Tulum and the Yucatán and being able to visit indigenous villages as the guest of my former students.  I got a taste of that in Brazil and I know that incredible trips and adventures await me just as soon as I can get down there. 

I won't be able to do any of these things, however, if I don't tape down my itchy Your Shopping Cart finger.  All these post-holidays clearance sales and having too much free time in front of a computer is dangerous! 

I bought these boots this week, as well as lots of other fun outdoor adventure gear.  I can't wait to break them in and spend as much time as possible getting deep into these Ozark Mountains I love so much.  Or the San Juans on trips to visit Stella.  I love that she is living there, in one of the most special and majestic regions of the U.S.  When I tell people my daughter is going to college in Colorado of course they immediately think of Boulder, or Colorado Springs, maybe Denver.  And then the litmus test begins.  If, when I tell them she's actually in Durango, they respond with "Where's that?" or "There's a college there?" I know that they're not necessarily in-the-know.  But if they say, "Oh!  I know someone who went to Fort Lewis" or, even better, "Man.  That area is incredible. It's my favorite part of Colorado" I know that person gets it because it's true - it's the best part of Colorado.  There is something mystical and unabashedly hippy-dippy about that region: the hot springs, the ruins at Mesa Verde, the pueblo.  I respond to it deeply and metaphysically.  I feel the same way about the Ozarks...of course I do.  It's where I grew up.  But it's more than that.  When I need to reconnect with the essential parts of me I head outside, into the woods, into the hills.  I inhale the smells of decomposing leaves, moss, wood, smoke....and I think "Yes.  Now I remember.  This is who I am and this makes me happy."

One of my oldest friends, Zippy, is really good about inviting me along when he goes out for hikes.  His name is really Greg but when I met him in 7th grade he went by Zippy, a reference to Zippy the Pinhead.  I've tried calling him Greg and in professional environments I must refer to him by his birth name but he's still and will always be Zippy to me.  A few weeks ago we had a gorgeous weekend, sunny and in the 60s.  Zippy and I went tromping around in the woods, ignoring No Trespassing signs at our own peril, and soaking up the sun.  THAT is what makes me feel connected, makes me feel most myself. 

I've been thinking about this a lot.  This is the first time I've lived alone since I was 18!  Eighteen!  Since then I couchsurfed on friend's couches, met Stella's father and immediately moved in together, got pregnant and then was never alone again because I always had Stella with me.  I get asked ALL THE TIME if I'm handling it okay - living alone again.  And here's the unexpected truth - I love it.  I love moving things around in my house and reworking things to have them exactly the way I want them.  I love eating cheese and crackers and half a bottle of wine for dinner.  I love binge-watching television shows while doing crafts.  How is this different from living with Stella the past two years since D. and I split?  Well...it's not different.  But I am different.  I turn 40 next year and I have the freedom to reinvent myself, which I think I am in the process of doing.  There's not that constant pressure of being the sole support for another human being.  Of course I still send Stella money and help her out as much as possible.  But she's a thousand (971, to be exact) miles away and beginning her own journey toward independence. 

Last weekend my sister and I went out on a date.  We hadn't done that in a while due to many factors (she's got a boyfriend now, we're always busy and broke, etc).  We did one of my favorite Date Night things - sat at the bar at Bordino's and ordered little things, split an entrée and a bottle of wine, and caught up.  I was sort of paying attention to our neighbors on either side of us but mostly this was about us.  Then we went to Maxine's for a drink.  My sister recognized the guy who came in later and sat next to us at Maxine's as the same one who had sat next to me at the restaurant.  We started up a conversation.  He was new in town, worked for a Wal Mart vendor, didn't know anyone, and lived in one of those luxury condos downtown.  We dragged him back to my house and had a little dance party and ate my raw gluten-free coconut snickerdoodle dough (omg) and laughed and laughed.  I am sure he did not know what to make of us.  We got everyone home safely and woke up the next morning to raging hangovers and hilarious memories.  I texted Jessy that "We almost adopted a 35 yr old white boy last night."  THIS is who I am, I remember.  The woman up for anything, who loves meeting new people and sharing the best parts of NW Arkansas, who lives for late night dance parties even I'm the only one dancing.  I'm a mother but not actively parenting every day.  It's bizarre and disconnected and wonderful and strange.  The last time I wasn't actively involved with my child I was EIGHTEEN, a child still myself in most ways.  So am I going through a revisited  or latent adolescence?  Definitely not.  I have already lived a very adolescent adolescence.  That tipsy late-night dance party was an anomaly and perhaps a wonderful guidepost for this new era in my life.  A good time to take risks, talk to new people, say "YES" to things. 

This new job is just so validating for me.  They hired me with zero technical/scientific/government grant experience but recognized that I'm smart, extremely hard-working, organized, and diligent.  They knew that hiring the right person is better than hiring a combination of qualifications.  I am so inspired and motivated to prove that they made the right decision.  I am challenged and excited to learn (SO MUCH. Oy.) about this complex and specific world of SBIR/STTR, NIH and NSF, SAM and eRA.

And these boots?  They are made for hiking. One of these days I'm gonna hike all over you (Colorado, and Ozark Highlands Trail, and the rainforests and ruins of the Yucatán)!