on spring

she wears the kind of scarf that binds her temples like a sheath,

touching and straight.

her dress is long–

to her ankles, but that doesn’t keep the draft out.

 

she feels the bind of her position

but only speaks to a softer place, under the skin,

tucked away like a coin purse–

only hers is one that can not open

 

until she can find shelter, but

not in a market, a tire dealer, or a laundromat.

she knows what is forbidden.  we all do.

she’ll have to find another place to wait.

 

 

 

 

on me, and the antidepressants

For the past two months I have been weaning myself off of Paxil, a SSRI (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor) that I take for anxiety. I started taking it four years ago when we first moved to Utah.  That’s another blog post, but I was in a b-a-d place when we arrived in Salt Lake City. So bad that one day when I was teaching a writing class down in Orem, I stopped mid-sentence and said to my students, “I have to go.”  And I walked out the door, drove to a walk in clinic, and said I need to see a doctor now, or I may die.  The Paxil matched with Wellbutrin was a remedy cocktail for me, and I gradually recovered.

Recently, I started coming across articles about people having long-term problems with Paxil.  Besides the fact that we don’t know a lot about the effects of these drugs, there are also the short-term consequences related to their safety and efficacy.  I unintentionally tested my own safety about a year ago when I accidentally forgot to refill my prescription for Paxil, and, literally, went crazy.  I’m not exaggerating.  The half-life of Paxil is very short, which I didn’t know, and the dramatic plummeting of the drug in my system left me hysterical.  I started to feel a little funny about two days after I stopped taking it.  Within five days I started to feel shortness of breath, insomnia, and agitation.  By day six I was sobbing, hallucinating, and hastening my own death.  It was terrifying. I went back on my medication, but only because Mark wrote an emergency prescription for me.  I couldn’t get in to see my primary care provider because I was fifteen minutes late to the appointment–because I’d gone crazy.  There is something deeply problematic about the fact that I was denied admittance to my appointment because of my tardiness due to insanity, but I digress.  Within hours of taking my medication, I started to return to normal.

This time, I’m coming off of it intentionally and slowly.  We just got health insurance (as in six months after arriving), so I was preparing myself to come off of Paxil, just in case I couldn’t refill it in time. We have insurance now, so I could go back, but I figured I’d see how I feel.  I’m honestly not feeling so great.  And I don’t know if, like Utah, this is environmental and situational or if I’m generally in need of anti-anxiety medication ALL the time–as in for the rest of my life.

My brain is reminding me of all the mistakes I’ve made over the past thirty-eight years, but mostly the past three.  I’m reliving “stupid” things I’ve said and done; I’m wallowing in my loneliness here in Toronto.  But, is it situational?  I don’t have a job; I don’t have a lot of time left to make new friends.  I mean, we practically just got here, and we’re about to leave again.  I’m avoiding other parents I know on the street.  Is it the loss of Paxil or is it me?  I asked this EXACT same question when I started taking it four years ago.  I felt such relief at the undercurrent of hope Paxil gave me:  all would be well.  I asked Mark, is THIS who I really am? Or am I the helpless, pathetic, depressed person?  He likes heart analogies, and he said he likes his patients to take their medications so they don’t die. Touché.

I was with my dearest friend, Ashley, last weekend, which made the re-entry into Toronto especially difficult.  I realized how much I need my people.  What else is the point, really? Ashely said to me in one of my lamentings, “Babe, no matter what you do or what you say, I’ll always love you and I’ll always be here for you.”  And I know that this woman-sister-soulmate of mine means every word that she utters. She is the one who sees me and loves me and cheers for me even when she knows all the mistakes, and stupid things I’ve said, and foot-in-mouth diseases I’ve contracted, and darkest parts of my past.  She just goes on loving me.  Because she sees the honest, earnest, real me, and I suppose I’m enough?

If I were given the keys to unlock door left and I could teach across the hall from Ashley, and my other friends from Utah or Oregon lived nearby, and we could have Thursday dinners together, and see outdoor summer concerts with linen blankets strewn across the dewy grass, and drink something sparkly at the farm table while the dogs sleep like lions under our feet, and we talk excitedly about the camping trip we are all planning, I might not need the Paxil.  But in this life, right now, I open door right, and here I am, typing inside an oversized closet, as our bank account approaches zero, and I’m supposed to pay the kids’ school lunches tomorrow, buy groceries for the weekend and snacks for Henry’s karate grading, and clean the goddamn floor.  And I’m a failure, because I should have made all kinds of better choices.  Paxil is a tempting bedfellow.

 

a small piece of a story

Five days after Jorge Luis Borges was born he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature.  It was said that the Scandinavians had a tradition of honoring those born brilliant, thus Jorge was immediately whisked from his mother’s bedside in Palermo, Argentina to a transatlantic freight headed to Stockholm.  Jorge’s mother was allowed, naturally, to accompany him on the journey, although the committee members made it very clear that no one, other than security, could be on the same transport.  They explained that it would be just too dangerous.  When Petra objected that her husband and daughter should be allowed to join them, she was contested by the chairman of the Nobel organization, Erik Ekström.

Madam,  

We wish to inform you that the current list of diseases identified by the Swedish government on a preceding freight included:  cholera, dysentery, influenza, and yellow fever.  Please advise. -E.E.

The rest of the family moved to Geneva after the ceremony.  Jorge’s father, Jorge Guilhermo, had a degenerative eye condition, and he needed to live near the Swiss ophthalmologist, Dr. Hans Landholt.  Dr. Landholt’s recent paper on Bietti’s Crystalline Dystrophy had rocketed him into Guilhermo’s speeding orbit of medical literature.  His wife, Petra, read the articles to him, and when she reached Dr. Landholt’s final paragraph on the degenerative prognosis, Guilhermo shrieked, “Mi hijo, my dio!” because if it weren’t for Jorges, they never would have been in Europe in the first place.

Norah and Jorges, el caudillo y el tortuga, their parents called them, played among the mazes and corridors in the old city while their father went in weekly for his treatments.  Temporarily halted by a monument or a courtyard-cum-cul-du-sac, the brother and sister played their winding, sometimes re-winding, street games like monkeys in a tree–stopping only to recalibrate distance, speed or approach.  They would be wet with perspiration when they returned to their father on the steps of Hôpitaux universitaires de Genève.  He said nothing to them for the oil-soaked cloth that greased his eyelids spoke the necessity of obedience into their slowing hearts.  By this time of day the street lamps glowed like orbuculum, and they all felt the urgency of their twenty-four kilometre journey home.  The brother and sister guided their father to the brown-leather, front seat of the green Turicum.  As they found their positions, Guilhermo started the car and placed his large shoes squarely on each pedal.  Jorges leaned over to adjust the gears, while Norah, standing over her father,  reached to hold the wheel with both hands.  It was an uneventful drive, despite the rugged terrain and the gaping stares of other drivers, though Guilhermo often sat in the car for minutes after they’d parked at the house,  blotting his slick brow and wiping the spittle from the corners of his mouth.

By evening the children were eating puchero and laughing as they watched a goosander swim with her chicks on her back across a small pond.  The house was in Geneva proper, but shared commonalities with the Swiss countryside.  Their land swept to the north from the edge of the pebbled driveway where the children played, and from their supper spot they could view not only the pond, but also the rush of larch and pine that ran down the glacial valleys to the meadows of Alpine Asters.

 

. . . . . . . . (to be continued)

on rhetoric

My head is spinning. Mary Oliver died. I finally watched the Gillette ad and its bizarre controversy.  I read more about the kidnapping of orphaned Jayme Closs.

I felt exhausted after my day spent catching up.  The stories and briefings were shocking, and sad, and strange, and I realized it wasn’t just the content that had me so upset.  It was the writing, too.  Among the many articles I read I was nonplussed by the ease with which authors made clumsy assumptions–about facts, audience, background, even truth.  It seems that there is a burgeoning, perhaps ongoing, mal au regard that many authors have for rhetoric.

Aristotle believed Rhetoric was among the highest virtues.  Through intense study and practice, Aristotle argued, one could come closer to attaining enlightenment or knowing God.  Though my beliefs don’t directly align with Aristotle’s, I do believe that one purpose of this life thing is to seek Truth.

I teach my students that rhetoric is the art of persuasion.  We often think about legal documents or position papers as more classically persuasive, but truly everything with which we engage (as an audience) is rhetorical.  Aristotle defined Rhetoric according to three parts:  logos (wisdom), ethos (credibility), and pathos (emotions or psychology of audience).  In Aristotle’s time, if a persuasive document or speech lacked the critical components of Rhetoric it was relegated to sophistry or manipulation.  One might imagine an article written in the New York Post as lacking logos and ethos, but nailing pathos (hey, who doesn’t love a good horoscope?).  And, what is our general opinion of the NY Post?  It’s great, in a splashy and untrustworthy sort of way. Catch my drift? Likewise, a published writer who makes grammatical errors loses the ethos piece.  A scholarly article that does not have peer-reviewed sources lacks logos.  Most of the time these missteps are unintentional, but nevertheless they cause the audience to question the writer’s credibility.  We are therefore not persuaded.  The writer must dig deeper, investigate further, and edit more carefully to persuade successfully; wherein, we reach truth.

The problem I find today is that so much of our information comes from sophists.  I watched a clip from Facebook that briefly discussed the responses to the Gillette ad.  It struck me as a particularly powerful example of how we, the audience, are perpetually exposed to lazy rhetoric.  One of the hosts said that women nowadays lack an effective leader to move them away from “constantly identifying as victims.” I could draw with a marker on my whiteboard all the enormous holes, assumptions, and generalizations in this argument–not to mention the fact that an issue this big is always exponentially more nuanced.

Another key part of Rhetoric involves defining one’s terms.  This is critical if your audience is not only going to listen, but also get on board.  In the clip there were so many hugely loaded terms like “feminism.”  There has to be a spoken or unspoken agreement between speaker and audience that we’re all talking about the same thing.  I know this example is a little touchy, but imagine how Donald Trump and Gloria Steinem might define feminism differently.

A female host remarked how the media perpetuates concepts like “micro-aggressions” or “male privilege,” which she believes further victimize women and ultimately immobilize them.  She continued, “These words show women as weak when they’re trying to be on an even playing field.  Men are constantly worried they’re going to offend someone, or worse, be accused of unintentional, sexual harassment.”  Sigh.

While I love the sentiment behind the Gillette ad, the men in it did ALL of the talking.  Women are still silent, except for the one, female anchor who reports on the #metoo movement.  The ad really was meant to support women, but the micro-aggressive part is that the men in it are still not listening.

The thing is it’s difficult to discern truth.  It takes uprooting a lot of personal, cultural, and sub- or unconscious baggage.  You not only have to do the unpacking, but also the rebuilding once all the pieces are disassembled.  I truly believe this is where Rhetoric can help us.  We can reclaim the importance of investigation, peer-review, etc., but most importantly, listening.

We hear or watch ONE advertisement on social media, and suddenly it becomes the axis on which our rhetoric spins.  Fast information is a relatively new phenomenon, and one that I hope someday leads to a reexamination of what we mean by truth.  For now, we need to slow down, as best we can.

Tomorrow I will venture far from the internet.  I will head to the library.

 

on Canada

I have no long-term status in Canada.  I have a visitor’s visa, which means I’m supposed to leave before the visa expires at the end of June.  I should have started a permanent residency visa, but it’s a lot of paperwork.  There are so many other things I’d rather do, but we may be staying here longer than I expected, so I should probably get started.

When Mark and I started dreaming about his first, “real” job, there often wasn’t a specific location in mind.  I’d say to people, preferably west of the Mississippi, but as the years went by (and the more specialized Mark became), I realized how few jobs would be available.  Right now, there are FOUR openings in the entire United States; there is one in Canada; and one in Sydney, Australia.  So, we may be staying in Canada, and I’m now thinking a lot about what it would be like to become a Canadian.  There are a lot of similarities between our two countries, but also some massive differences.  Namely, there are no Targets in Canada.  Ha.

The most impactful part of living in Toronto has been the hugely diverse population.  Over fifty perfect of the residents were born in other countries.  My kids’ school has students from all over the world.  My son’s three closest friends are from Iraq via Dubai, Northern India via Singapore, and Kenya.  They all speak multiple languages (except my kid), celebrate a vast range of holidays and customs, and bring incredible experiences and knowledge to their classroom.  Concomitant with their rich cultural backgrounds is the fact these kids are totally Canadian.  And this is what makes this place so remarkable.  In the United States there has become an increasing  prejudicial divide between birthright citizens and immigrants.  It makes me sick to think about Trump’s wall, the Syrians who are/were banned from the US, the children and families in detentions, the worsening racism and bigotry.  Here, everyone is an immigrant and celebrated as such–other than the First Nation peoples who are respected and acknowledged at every public event.*  I’ve never lived anywhere in which all residents truly belong.

Canadians pay roughly what Americans do in taxes, but with the high tax rate and a low defense budget in Canada, most of the money goes right back to the people, which means excellent public schools (including colleges), well-maintained infrastructure, universal health care, subsidized housing, etc.  My takeaway in this arena is that Canadian tax money goes in a different direction than most American taxes.  In Canada there is an emphasis on birth rights, or human rights.  In other words, there is a specific language that defines our access to rights in the United States. For example, the hyphen between one’s culture or heritage and America often separates individuals from access to healthcare, education, or housing.  This is problematic as the hyphen is meant to connect two disparate terms, but seems to only emphasize a divide.  Conversely, there is no such thing as Syrian-Canadian, African-Canadian, or Mexican-Canadian.  The hyphen is replaced with dignity.

It feels different in Canada.  Stores are different, but in the same way CVS and Duane Reade differ; the produce is a little older/staler from being transported so far; it’s less self-aggrandizing, but no less patriotic; Toronto is transient, but the suburbs seem rooted; and the people are noticeably happier.  This could just be my perception, but among the bustling subway lines and streetcars are people who look each other in the eye when they pass one another.  I experienced this recently when my daughter was having a temper tantrum after leaving the Royal Ontario Museum (a favorite of ours).  A woman got off the bus alongside us, looked at me and grinned.  She asked if I needed help.  Grace was about twenty yards behind me stomping her feet.  I smiled and said, “No, thank you, but thanks for asking.”  The woman laughed and said, “I’ve been there!”  In Toronto, so many of us were born far away, but we’ve all “been there,” and that common ground is beginning to make Canada feel like home.

 

 

*A public statement addressing First Nations peoples is recited at the beginning of  sporting events, the ballet, theatre, school performances etc. The statements differ depending on the province and region, but the acknowledgement is along the lines of:  “We [I] would like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which we gather is the traditional territory of the Wendat, the Anishnaabeg, Haudenosaunee, Métis, and the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. Each day we greet and honour the original inhabitants of the land.”

 

on role models

I didn’t realize when I became a mother that I would be thrust into a frontier of comparison.  During the first few months of Henry’s life I was totally engrossed in our new and sweet bond.  I nursed him, bathed him, and watched him, all with complete contentment.  We started a baby yoga class, and I continued to follow our daily rituals, but I also started to notice other mothers.  I started to watch how they carried or traveled with their babies, and so often I felt like the last one to practice preferred methods of care.  For example, it took me months to copy other mothers who carried their infants in car seats.  It just didn’t occur to me until I saw it.  Later, I learned that I should bring fifty-seven different snack options when we go to the park.

 

I also started to discern from whom I wanted to learn.  When Henry was a toddler I found myself with tons of patience, but needing vocabulary and language to help him make choices.  Waldorf education was helpful, and so was listening to mothers who had the right words. This is when I felt myself yearning for “mother” mentors.  I use quotations marks because I don’t think you have to be a Mother to be a mother.  I’ve learned from women and men who know how to mother—even if they do not have children.  I also believe that someone inspiring to me is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all model, though Instagram may make us feel otherwise.

 

My best friend has been hugely impactful.  She has three step-children whom she loves with such intention and directness.  She loves this way in general, and as a parent, her three have felt seen and heard from the day they met her.  This is extraordinary to me, especially as her children enter and move through adolescence.  Her parenting is inherited from her own mother, whom I have also witnessed love with simultaneous abandon and complete purpose.  Their parenting includes an awareness and implementation of their own needs, boundaries, and expectations.  In other words, they love whole-heartedly, but also demonstrate self-respect.  And respect for their partners.

 

My own mother continues to be a role model, especially in terms of her work as community service director at a private high school.  She is confronting so many critical challenges for parents and children, especially within a specific sector of society.  Her students are mostly privileged, and her mission is not just to serve impoverished (economically, socially, disenfranchised, etc.) communities, but also to nurture her students to become global leaders who, like my best friend, are able to see and hear.  How do we teach this to our children?  How do we help them grow into mindful citizens?  There is such a huge distinction between the classroom and the real world, and as much as our schools talk about the values of social justice, it is critical that our kids engage in it.  One of the biggest pieces of action I take from my mom is this engagement.  My family goes to the soup kitchen on Thanksgiving and gives presents to families in need on Christmas, but this is as much for us as it is for the recipients.  My mother practices the spirit of these two days, every day.   She demonstrates for me and my children that it is okay to sit down with someone.  To listen.  To see them.  She touches people and stands close to them—unflinchingly respectful regardless of their appearance or state.  She normalizes their pain, and she makes them feel loved.  I watched her do this when I was a child, and it brings tears to my eyes to think about this incredible gift she gave me.

 

Another piece of my parenting comes from a friend in Utah.  We met at our children’s school, and within minutes of talking to her I asked if she is a professor.  Indeed she is, but so much more.  Writer, researcher, visionary, sage, and goddess, my friend M became not only a mentor, but also a mirror.  How do we help our kids see in themselves what we see in them?  M spoke to me carefully, softly, slowly, and directly.  Her words filled me with assurance and belief, and she impressed upon me the importance of being me and a mother.   These are not mutually exclusive.  I once said to her when trying to justify a babysitter so I could write: “Well, I guess it’s important for my kids to see me doing what I love.”  “Yes, sure,” she said. “But it’s more important that you just do you.”  Her words may have once struck me as being selfish, but eventually I learned to hold both my children and myself with gentleness and compassion.

 

I realize that mentorship will grow increasingly important and complicated as my kids get older.  Already my concern about how to carry my baby has been relegated to the past.  I sometimes miss those days, but I also relish in my responsibility to nurture not just my children, but also myself.