Scenes From a Friendship Revisited

I wrote this about three years ago I think, about my friendship with one of my Earlham College professors, Gordon.  Sadly, he and his wife were out of town this past weekend, but I spent a week with them a year ago on a writing retreat, and I will try to get back for another visit soon.

I was thinking about this post, though, because it was really at our 20th reunion that I started writing again.  At first it was just the reviews I used to write for Gordon’s book group.  I’ve stopped reviewing what I read nearly as consistently as I did for several years, I think largely because I spend so much time writing other things now.  But it was that book group that I so impetuously invited myself into (see below) that really started me on this path.

Scenes From a Friendship

September 1983

Against his better judgment, Gordon allowed us to talk him into having our Humanities I tutorial outside, rather than in one of the small conference rooms of Lilly Library, where it was usually held.

“No good work will happen if we take the tutorial outside,” he insisted to the five of us: Jennie, Bart, Tanya, Hector and me.

We assured him that nothing could be further from the truth. “It’s so beautiful today, Gordon!” And it was, one of those idyllic September afternoons, clear blue skies, crisp dry air, a hint of red and gold in the trees that surrounded the red-brick library. “We will be entirely focused, we promise. We will not be the least bit distracted by the beauty of the day! Pleeeaaasssee?” we pleaded, like children.

“What is the point then?” Gordon deadpanned. “Nothing good ever comes of taking class outside.”  Nonetheless, we prevailed. As it turns out, Gordon was probably right, because I only recall two things after we went outside, and neither of them has anything to do with the Humanities papers we were supposed to be discussing.

The first thing I recall is what I was wearing: a blue and white striped Oxford button-down shirt with a white knit vest over it and jeans. I remember this very distinctly because just that day I had decided, for the first time since I was about thirteen, not to wear a bra, and I felt very daring, but also just a little bit self-conscious about whether it was too obvious that I did not have on a bra (hence the vest over the shirt). This memory is quite amusing to me, as very quickly – like probably the next day – I stopped caring entirely what anyone thought about whether or not I wore a bra, and I have only on very special occasions worn one since. I hate bras, and that was the momentous day that I realized that I could be liberated from such torture. Right there on the lawn outside of Lilly Library, in Gordon’s Humanities I tutorial.

The other distinct memory from that afternoon was that I asked Gordon how long he had been teaching at Earlham. “Seventeen years,” he responded, to which I not at all diplomatically noted that I was seventeen years old. Gordon looked startled, which I now understand perfectly, as I am now forty-four years old, the same age Gordon was that day.

May 1987

I was startled and honored and maybe just a little confused that Gordon invited me, along with Jennie and Anne and Ansley and … what was her name? I don’t even remember her name, but I’m pretty sure she was Jewish. Or an English major. Because everyone Gordon took out for lunch just before we graduated was either Jewish, like Gordon, or had majored in English, Gordon’s field. Everyone except me.

I had managed to take Humanities I with Gordon, because I was put in his class by some angel in the registrar’s office; and I apparently had a tiny bit of good sense myself, because I took Intro to Lit with him my sophomore year, and read Adam Bede by George Eliot, which in one fell swoop managed to change my life for the better by about a thousand percent, and which caused me in fairly rapid succession to read every other book George Eliot ever wrote. I continue to savor her books to this day. But that was the last of Gordon’s classes for me: despite some lobbying on the part of several professors, I ended up majoring in Peace and Global Studies, a decision I do not regret, although I wish I had combined it with a double major in English, since I was so close, and since I most likely would have taken more classes with Gordon if I had. I seem to recall that Gordon might even have made such a suggestion, but if he did, it was not with nearly enough force as it turns out. As I recall, in fact, Gordon was actually lobbying me on behalf of a colleague in the Political Science department, who may have thought “peace” was a nice extra-curricular activity, but not something serious students actually majored in.

“Bob Johnstone wants me to tell you that you should not major in Peace and Global Studies. He thinks you are being overly influenced by George Lopez’s charisma, and that you should major in Political Science instead. I promised him I would tell you that, and now I have. But I think you should major in whatever you want to major in, though of course, it would be best if you also majored in English.” And of course, he was right, but I didn’t. I didn’t even take Gordon’s Judaism class, which in retrospect is inexplicable and inexcusable, especially given that I pretty much only hung out with Jews back then, and went regularly to Shabbat at Jew House, or, in a pinch, said Sabbath prayers with Jennie over pizza and beer of a Friday night. I even courted Julie, the pastor’s daughter, with a picnic of matzo and cheese because I was keeping kosher for Passover with Jennie and Cassie.

But I was not a Jew; in fact, I was a Quaker. I had become a Quaker in my Junior year because I loved agitating about peace; and because I actually believed in the Inner Light (still do) and that Truth could be discerned through consensus (which I also still believe, though damn it’s hard, and I’m pretty sure that the best you get is still little “t” truth); and because I just gloried in silence — gorgeous, lovely, deep, gathered silence. But truth be told, I was really a Quaker — and a Peace Studies major, for that matter — because I was being overly influenced, not by George Lopez’s charisma (though he WAS charismatic, it’s true), but rather by the sad eyes and quiet wisdom and wry wit of another professor, who shall remain unnamed. This other professor, I loved him so much. He meant the whole world to me.

Which meant, among other things, that I didn’t take any more classes with Gordon after Intro to Lit first term of my sophomore year. But he still invited me out to lunch with Anne and Jennie and Ansley…. and what WAS her name? Curly hair, maybe just the tiniest hint of a lisp? She wore flowy scarves draped artfully yet casually … It’s going to drive me crazy. Anyway, I was most certainly the lone Quaker PAGS major at that graduation lunch with Gordon, and the honor of that was not lost on me (especially because by then, that other professor had dumped me, being first quite annoyed when I offered a feminist critique of his syllabus, and then totally freaking out when I came out to him as a lesbian).

(Toby, that was her name.)

May 1997

At our tenth reunion, Cassie and I unexpectedly bumped into that other professor off campus after our class’s reunion dinner. Cassie and I had been roommates in college for three years. We were also both PAGS majors, and we were affectionately known by that other professor as “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum,” or, alternately, “The Gruesome Twosome.” We were pretty inseparable a lot of the time, especially in PAGS circles. Ten years after our graduation, Cassie had just finished a Ph.D. in sociology and was working as a research assistant for Jonathan Kozol, the renowned writer and education activist. I was about to graduate from law school, and Julie and I had just had a baby. As we stood on the sidewalk in downtown Richmond, that other professor turned his back to me – literally — and gushed to Cassie: “Everyone in the department is just SO PROUD of you!” On and on. A doctorate from Boston College! Jonathan Kozol! What an honor! Cassie was mortified as he proceeded to ignore me, and failed to ask anything about my life.

The next day Jennie and I went to visit Gordon, and when he turned his attention to me, he pretty much only wanted to talk about Trixie, who was all of six weeks old. He was also very glad to hear that I had loved law school, but it was clear that Gordon thought being a parent was just the best thing in the whole world, and he was genuinely thrilled for us. His delight would have been touching under any circumstance, but given the context – entirely unknown to Gordon – his kindness moved me almost to tears.

October 2007

Jennie made a date for me and Julie and Ansley and Melissa to accompany her on a visit with Gordon, now retired, on the Saturday afternoon of our twentieth reunion. I needed a safety pin and Micah needed to work out some energy, so I offered to take him on his scooter up to the bookstore on campus, and meet them a little later at Gordon’s house. It was another perfect autumn day, and I was happy to have a few moments alone – or as alone as one can be with an energetic four year old – in the midst of so much talking and catching up. I was looking forward to seeing Gordon, but other than a few letters we had exchanged almost a decade ago, I hadn’t really stayed in touch.

When we arrived, Micah joined his cousin Gillie in the grandchild-friendly basement, and I jumped right into the conversation about, not surprisingly, books. Gordon loves books more than anyone I know. I recently saw a long-lost friend from college days, who never had a class with Gordon, but who still remembers a lecture he gave to the college in which he confessed his despair that he will never have enough time to read everything he wants to read. And everyone who went to Earlham College in the forty years that Gordon taught there remembers him as the guy who always had his nose in a book as he walked across campus.

“Do you ever miss teaching Gordon?” asked Ansley.

“You know, I had an almost perfect career, a career most professors can only dream of. I loved teaching very much,” said Gordon. “But I love reading even more.”

I wasn’t surprised that Gordon was talking with a bunch of now-middle-aged former students about books, but I was surprised that he hadn’t changed at all. He looked exactly the same as he does in my mind’s eye on that September morning outside Lilly Library in 1983. He had on jeans, and a polo shirt, and tennis shoes, just as he always does, and he was very fit, and prone to the same bouts of understated, wry laughter that interrupt his otherwise typical deadpan. It was very comforting.

The way Gordon loves books is infectious. Of course, I love books too, and upon joining the conversation, my desire to talk about books with Gordon suddenly felt insatiable. I regretted having delayed my arrival for a safety pin, of all things, and I jumped right in, quizzing Gordon about what he was reading, what would he recommend on this topic and that. Finally Gordon confessed that he writes a short review of everything he reads, and if I would like he could print out a copy of, say, the past year’s reviews.

“Yes please!” I said, and we all followed him into his study, a large, sunny room with built-in bookshelves on every wall except the one with large windows, under which is Gordon’s desk, covered with photos of his four children and eight grandchildren.

“So, you just write a review of everything you read?” I asked. “Just for the hell of it?”

“Well actually, I am part of a small group of readers who write such reviews. We email them to each other,” Gordon explained as he printed out pages and pages for me, over one hundred reviews already from 2007 alone.

“Can I join that group?” I blurted out.

In retrospect, I am a little mortified that I so impulsively invited myself into his book group. As it turns out, this group consists almost entirely of Gordon’s family, and for the most part only he and his wife write reviews. It was entirely possible – likely even – that such an impertinent request would not have been welcomed from a former student with whom Gordon had been out of touch for a decade. But Gordon is nothing if not gracious, and the next day, after reading all of Gordon’s reviews straight through, in one sitting, I sent off three reviews of my own.

October 2009

If I neglected Gordon for ten years between reunions, I have more than made up for it with my relentless pestering in the past two years. I review everything I read without fail, becoming the second most prolific reviewer in the group, right after Gordon. But even more satisfyingly, Gordon and I have struck up a correspondence via email – always starting with books, but continuing in free-ranging conversations about politics, family, religion, you name it. I sometimes find myself worried that I’m gushing, but I just can’t help it, I enjoy our conversations so much.

And now I am sitting on Gordon’s living room sofa, legs curled under me, a pile of knitting in my lap. Jennie and I are staying with Gordon and his wife for the weekend, to visit with them and one another, Richmond being almost halfway between Iowa and Philadelphia. We’ve made a dinner of quiche and roasted sweet potatoes, and have settled down with glasses of good beer and several hours of conversation ahead of us.

I have no idea where Bart, Tanya or Hector are, but Gordon, Jennie and I? Twenty-six years later, we’re still sitting around, talking about books.

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Reunion

A reunion is a tricky thing for an introvert.  I went to my 25th Earlham College reunion this past weekend with some trepidation:  I’ve been feeling tired lately, and autumn is generally a time I like to hunker down in as much solitude as possible.  It’s a fertile time for me creatively, but not always socially.  As well, I’ve been back to Earlham quite a bit in the past few years, to visit an old professor-friend and spend time writing and talking and talking about books on his couch.  So being back on campus itself wasn’t so much of a draw.

Still, Julie — who is, if not a full-blown extrovert, much more of one than I am — really wanted to go (we met and started dating at Earlham).  A bunch of her outdoorsy pals were going to be there, she was taking her bike, they were going to have a blast.   I somewhat reluctantly decided to go too, and figured if it got to be too much, I would just escape to the library or one of my other old study haunts, and write.  Or sleep.

And it was a lot.  I feel introvert-overload as an inability to focus and a pressure — not pain, but pressure — pressing from the inside of my head out.  As though all the muscles in my face are tensed, stretched taut.  And that happened quite a bit Saturday, when there wasn’t much structured going on, and not a lot to think about to take my mind off it, and a sea of people with whom I might at any moment need to make small talk.

Then I saw that one of my classmates had published a book and was giving a talk at 2:00.   A lecture seemed like a perfect escape, and it was.  My classmate is now a professor of sociology, and was talking on a topic I am interested in, and he’s very smart (as are most of my Earlham Classmates; we were a smart bunch).  It was a perfect break, and even better, I spent some time chatting with him after his talk.  I hadn’t really known him when we were classmates, but now I have a new friend.

And it wasn’t just him.  This is one of the things that I always forget when I’m dreading going to a reunion:  I think it’s going to be awful having to make lots of small talk with people I happened to go to school with but don’t really know, and instead what happens is I make a few new friends with people I happened to go to school with but don’t really know.  The same phenomenon happened when I first joined Facebook.  I thought I would never be one of those people who had friends they didn’t really know in real life, but as it turns out, I have a small handful of college friends with whom I’m now closer (in real life, as well as on Facebook) than we were when we were in college.  Note to self: don’t forget that next reunion!  (I’ve already learned the lesson with Facebook, and now accept all friend requests except clear creeps.)

But the best part of the reunion was dancing, which is possibly the very best way for an introvert to spend a lot of time with a large group of people.  We were a dancing bunch when we were in college, and that is one thing that has not changed at all in 25 years.  And how fabulous is it that we could instantly download all our old favorites and play them as they occurred to us?  Free Nelson Mandela, Pull Up to the Bumper, What I Like About You, Word Up, R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Tainted Love, Burning Down the House, Vogue, Nasty Add It Up, Gett Off, Kiss, Should I Stay or Should I Go, Rock Lobster….. I have such clear memories of dancing to exactly these songs, with exactly those people, a group for whom I feel such fondness, collectively.  Dancing the night away was the perfect way to celebrate that fondness, to reenact it.  And there was nothing sentimental or overly nostalgic about it — I would go dancing every weekend with this crew!

What a great bunch of people I am so honored to be a part of.  It really was a re-union; we meant something to one another 25 years ago, and turns out we still do.  I’m so so glad I went.

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A Trifecta of Goodness

A year ago a really smart shrink brought me back from the brink of what was revving up to be one of the worst seasons of my life with a diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and a prescription for Lexapro. Tiny bit of talk therapy, but Dr. H is not a cheap date and he doesn’t take my insurance. And besides I’ve become a talk-therapy skeptic, at least for me. I’ve done it on and off for ten years, but these meds are like a miracle. This has been a terrific year.

Still, last summer I was applying to graduate school and oh my goodness, my anxiety flared up again — for lots of reasons that are not all that interesting, though I’m sure many other writers can relate (Who are you kidding? You’re just a housewife playing around at being a writer. You’re not even published! You can’t really write; any good feedback you’ve ever gotten was just a fluke, and now the truth will come out…. etc. etc.).

But I revised the story anyway (with insightful suggestions from a brilliant teacher, writer and good friend, who will no doubt talk me down from the ledge many more times in my career), and wrote the application essays, and sent the packages off to the top three low-residency* MFA programs. And then I figured, OK, in a couple of months I will hear, and I steeled myself for the inevitable rejections.

And because I’m a glutton for punishment, I also decided to send my application story, “Trespasses,” to five literary magazines – my first real effort at getting published. The inevitability of these rejections seemed even clearer, but it seemed time to put myself out there.

I also increased my dose of Lexapro, with Dr. H’s blessing, and doubled my visits to the gym.

And in the space of a month, my anxiety went away again, I was accepted at all three of the MFA programs, and my story was accepted for publication at The Colorado Review. Obviously, I am stunned, and shocked, and also floating on air. In January, I begin my first residency at the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, and in the meantime I am feeling calm, and content, enjoying the autumn, and feeling incredibly grateful.

I have a good life.

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Notes to Self: Garden

This afternoon Julie and started putting the garden to bed, and I thought I should really do what I always say I’m going to do, which is take some notes in the fall about that I want to remember in February and March as we’re planning and planting next year’s garden.

So here they are:

  • It’s possible we don’t need quite as many tomatoes. In any event, we need some new tomato cages, we need to space the plants a little further apart, and we need to tie them up to sturdy, deeply sunk stakes early and often.
  • We don’t need as much basil. Maybe more varieties this year.
  • You can never have too many greens (especially if you are married to Julie).
  • At least as much, if not more, lettuce, but for goodness sakes stagger it better!!
  • When we go to Vermont in the winter, talk to Dad* specifically about peas and brassicas. His are always so much nicer and more abundant than ours. Talk about what types, and also when to plant and how to deal with the beetles that devoured our entire fall crop…..
  • MULCH MULCH MULCH MULCH MULCH. Must. Spend. Less. Time. Weeding. Next. Summer.
  • Build slowly on the perennial flower garden; think specifically about August-blooming plants that can stand the heat and fall-blooming plants that will still be pretty into cool weather.**
  • Flowers make you happy; plant lots of them.
  • Potatoes, onions, garlic, beets, fennel, more eggplant, more squash, more beans.

*My dad is a master organic gardener. All my life he was a back yard gardener, and in the 90’s and early 2000’s he was a pioneer in the Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, movement. He had one the first and largest organic CSA’s in Indiana, and if you participate now in a CSA, you can thank my dad for being a movement builder. He is now retired and lives with his partner Anne in Vermont, where they still grow most of their own food.

**Any suggestions out there dear readers?

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An Investment Led Recovery

This analysis makes so much sense to me; I don’t know how we can square an economic “recovery” with sustainability and stewardship unless it is, as Jeffery Sachs argues, investment led rather than consumption led:

A true recovery should be investment led rather than consumption led. We need long-term investments in human capital (skills) and in key infrastructure such as low-carbon energy systems, smart grids for cities, cutting-edge information and management systems for low-cost integrated healthcare delivery, and inter-city fast rail. These investments are inevitably a mix of private investments and public investments, with the mix differing according to the sector in question.

 

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Recovery Gardens?

I keep thinking about Obama’s speech to the DNC, which I thought was terrific, despite mixed reviews from the pundits. The speech gave me that feeling I think we all love, that feeling that we ought to roll up our sleeves, work hard, make some sacrifices, do our part, we’re all in this together! We can do it! We can move this recovery along! We can get people back to work!

Except, I have no idea what I can actually do. Other than vote for Barack Obama, which I plan to do, for lots and lots of reasons. And sure, I can give him money, which I already do, and I can volunteer in the campaign, which I will no doubt before the election is over…..

But what is the equivalent of a Victory Garden? What could individual folks actually do that might even contribute to economic recovery, but which at the very least would symbolically give us all a sense that we’re part of it? Is the answer really, as Bush suggest, that we just go shopping? Surely there’s something better than that. Some work, some contribution, some shared sacrifice that we could all be part of?

But I can’t think of what it is. Any ideas?

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give a man a fish….

I’m so close to being done with the seemingly endless kids’ room renovations I foolishly thought I could whip out in a few days that have stretched now to a few weeks.  Today I decided I’m either the best mom in the world, or the most crazy, and most crazy seems the likelier option.

Anyway, Trixie decided she wanted a stark black and white and red room, with text stenciled all over the walls — “I want to feel like I’m living inside a book” said my little book worm.  So far we’ve stenciled a quotation from Einstein: Two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the universe; and this from Shakespeare:  Though she be but little, she is fierce.  Still working on a few more.

Micah decided he wanted quotations on his wall too (of course), so I stenciled this for my budding fisherman:  Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.  Trixie then decided she wanted the corollary, which she finds funny:  Build a man a fire, and he stays warm for a day; light a man on fire, and he’s warm for his entire life.

My kids.  Oy.

Stay tuned tomorrow for thoughts on the election, the recovery, and the modern equivalent of Victory Gardens (what would that be, anyway? Hmmmmm?)

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Dishing on Obama’s Speech

This is me, Andrew Sullivan’s Email of the Day, with a few thoughts on Obama’s speech last night.

More thoughts to follow tomorrow.

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The Return of Ordinary Time

One of the many things I love about being a church and an academic family is that we get so many calendars to follow, so many seasons to be in, so many new beginnings, especially in the next few months.  Right now it’s the beginning of a new school year; in a couple of months we’ll begin the liturgical season of Advent, which begins a new church year; and then of course the New Year, the beginning of the new calendar year.  So many chances to get it right with those resolutions!

But what I especially love is when the seasons overlap in ways that let you get to have more than one season at the same time.  The ways they juxtapose themselves can be so interesting.  So for example, right now is back-to-school time — which in our house means three folks going back to three different schools on three different days this week (do I sound a little impatient….?)  All those newly sharpened pencils, all that snowy-white college-ruled paper, those blank academic-year planners.  Everything so fresh and new and full of possibility!  

But at the same time, we’re smack in the middle of the liturgical season of Pentecost, also known as Ordinary Time.  Recently my friend Pat texted to see if I could meet her for a swim after our complicated summer schedules kept us from our usual pool routine, and she wrote, “I can’t wait to return to Ordinary Time!”

Indeed.  It seems like a metaphor to me actually.  Because you know how you always think that a new beginning is going to feel all fresh? And new! The slate wiped clean!  And then it ends up feeling just like …. life?  Like ordinary time?  I’ve usually experienced that as a huge disappointment, as reality inevitably settles back like dust onto all those expanses of time and organization and discipline that were going to be mine as soon as I stepped past that magic threshold of the next “new beginning.”

This year I thought I might try to blog more …. as soon as everyone got back to school, and I finished the painting projects in the kids’ rooms, and got the house put back together, and and and…..  I also thought I would start doing more cooking and menu planning with Micah, since the next new frontier to tackle with him is nutrition, and he is always more willing to eat food he had a hand in preparing.  All of that was going to happen …. sometime….. maybe next week …. or maybe October 1 would be a good time!

But new beginnings are always just around the corner, and Ordinary Time is now.  So I figure, why wait?Here are my new-school-year resolutions, undertaken right now, right smack in the middle of my messy, ordinary life:

~ Blog every day at least until Advent, if nothing else, at least a link to something interesting;

~ Do menu planning with Micah every week, and cook at least once a week with him.

Do you have any back-to-school resolutions|?

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On “Having It All” — With a Side of Anxiety

I generally find that when I feel defensiveness welling up inside me in response to something someone has written or said – defensiveness in particular – it says way more about me and where I am at that moment than anything the writer/speaker actually intended.  I’m sure that is true of an article I just read in the Atlantic entitled, “What My Son’s Disabilities Have Taught Me About ‘Having It All.’”  I know this article is part of a larger discussion at the Atlantic, which I have not read at all, about women “having it all,” or trying to and failing, or whatever.  I haven’t participated in that whole conversation because, really, I so gave up on “having it all” (whatever that means) a long time ago.  I only read this article because I saw it on Facebook.

But it made me feel awful.  And I feel certain that the writer did not intend to make me feel awful.  But somehow this article was like a perfect storm – if someone wanted to push every one of my buttons right at this moment, this would pretty much be the way to do it.

Of course, this writer is totally entitled to pat herself on the back for facing her considerable challenges with such grace and equanimity.  I’m full of admiration, for real.  That I have faced my own challenges with far less calm is about me, not her.

But still, these last lines sort of pushed me over the edge:

“For all the people who are puzzled by my seeming happiness, I’ll be glad to let them know my ‘secret.’ I’m not in denial, I’m not on antidepressants, and I don’t live in a fantasy world. I have a wonderful husband and I am pursuing a career I’ve dreamed of since I was nine years old. I have a beautiful son, friends, and a working stove. I am not paraplegic. I have parents who, through luck and fate, had me here in the United States, and not in North Korea. I live in a time where my awful vision can be corrected with glasses. I am a college graduate. I am never hungry unless I choose to be.

Do I have enough? Resoundingly: yes. And I ask you to take a moment: I suspect you might, too.”

Here’s the thing:  I do have enough, absolutely I do.  And I know it; I revel in it.  My whole life philosophy is about living out of a place of abundance, not scarcity.  Everyone who knows me well knows that.  I live in a small row house that was supposed to be our “starter home,” in a just-barely middle-class neighborhood which we fully intended to leave — until we realized that we love it here, we love our community, and this little house is enough.  In this house we live without debt – without any debt at all – because we’ve made really good choices and because we have very generous families, and our lifestyle of relative simplicity means we can live abundantly:  we have our summers off, I can be home with our kids and write, we can garden and travel.  It is a good life; certainly it is enough. I too am very happy (and I’m sure if I were a paraplegic I would be no less capable of being happy….ahem….).

And yet:  I have struggled so much.  With my own anxiety.  With the challenges of raising a child – a beautiful, brilliant, perfect child – who has ADHD and learning disabilities.  With finding a vocation – not a “have it all” sort of career (I left that behind at the law firm), but just one that fulfills me in some basic ways and still accommodates all those challenges.  It has not been easy.  I have not always been full of grace about it (ask my kids!).

But the problem has not been that I “want it all.”  The problem has been that my somewhat fragile mental health has made all those things – a career, a challenging child, even little stuff like making phone calls and getting basic day-to-day stuff done – just plain hard.

And while I am most certainly not in denial, and I don’t live in a fantasy world, I AM on an SSRI for anxiety, and I am so not ashamed of that.  I tell anyone and everyone, precisely because I wish there were not so much stigma around mental illness and its pharmaceutical treatments.  Lexapro has changed my life for the better, no question.

But in the past few weeks I have found myself slipping a little.  I am about to take a huge step in that whole vocation/career quest and am applying to low-residency MFA programs in creative writing, a process that has triggered the most debilitating self-doubt I have experienced since I decided to take myself seriously as a writer almost three years ago.  I have had a recurrence of anxiety, which I experience as a sort of time warp where I can’t decide what to do next and what’s the point anyway because everything will take too much time and effort and I’m just so tired so I should probably just check Facebook again.

I will be fine, I know I will.  For precisely all the reasons this writer mentioned:  I have a beautiful family, terrific friends, a supportive community, financial resources — even, though it’s hard to see it right now, some talent as a writer. Certainly tons of passion for this crazy writer’s life.

And I’ve heard from lots of folks I respect (on Facebook) who have said this article was helpful and made them feel supported — and I don’t doubt it.  AS I said, I know my response is all about me, not this writer.

But still: ouch!

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