Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Solitary Sunday

During the college's spring break, I was able to attend MfW twice. It had been months since I was able to spend time with Friends in worship. I even had the truly wonderful treat of having a f/Friend visit me in my home where we talked and laughed and cried together. She told me that I in a necessary Dark Night of the Soul and encouraged me to continue forward with Friends' guidance. I long for that although I am yet too shy to ask for help. Sadly, I'm back in my regular academic schedule in which I teach every Sunday and am unable to attend worship. It will take some greater effort on my part to push myself toward Friendly assistance.

My current schedule has a three hour morning class followed by a three hour break followed by a three hour evening class. Typically, my parents have taken me out to eat during the break but since the entire family schedule has changed to accommodate my husband's new work schedule, I was on my own for the day. So this is what I did:

After my first class was over I walked down into the basement of the building where I share an office with my father (another history prof) and our office mate, a criminal justice professor. Of course on a Sunday neither of them are there and the office is all mine. And when I say "all mine" I mean that their stuff dominates the room, but I can sit at my little desk in the corner with the computer that doesn't work on it. Sometimes I use Dad's computer to watch Britcoms or Star Trek online. There's a fridge, t.v./VCR and a microwave in the office so it is quite comfortable. Dad keeps oatmeal in the bottom drawer of his desk so I made myself a bowl and went to the vending machine down the hall and bought some chips and peanuts (which I mixed with a little box of raisins I've been carrying in my pocketbook) and had my breakfast/lunch/dinner for the day. While I ate I read Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Estes. Then I read Paul Tillich's Courage to Be. I read the Bible I carry in my pocketbook with my raisins. I also sat in silent waiting worship for several minutes but found that it is just not the same without other Friends nearby. I lay my head on my desk and tried to think of nothing for a few more minutes in the hopes that seeking nothing would lead me somewhere. I think I may have dozed off for a little while. I stood up and did some Qi Gong and then did some yoga. I read some more. Then I walked back upstairs to teach my next class.

And that was all except that it felt significant. I'm not sure what it accomplished but it felt like an important afternoon for me wedged as it was between The Great Depression in the morning and The Battle for Suffrage in the afternoon. It felt lovely to be so quiet and lonesome for so long. But what did it mean? I don't think I know yet although I sense that something is changing in me very slowly and much against my will. Part of it is the slowly evolving decision to not have any more children. (The rational part of that decision was really made years ago but my emotions have been very slow to acceptance). Part of it is a diminishing sense of my own youthfulness as my students seem to get younger and younger. Part of it is the sense that many doors are closed to me and that I am losing my curiosity about what is beyond them. Part of it is a sense that there is still a gateway ahead of me that I have feared to approach. Even so, and against my conscious will, my feet carry me in that direction although I am grumbling and crying in fear with every step. Soon, perhaps, I will see who beckons me beyond that gate and I will run forward eagerly. I think I may have caught a glimpse this solitary Sunday but I cannot recognize the face yet. I'm still scared and not ready to give up my fear. Not yet. But soon. Yes. I think it will be soon.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Guilt-Ridden and Unreasonable Rant About Earth Day

Apparently, it has been a month since my last post. For some reason, I've not had much to say here. But Kevin has made me feel guilty so I'll think of something to say. ;-) And speaking of guilt, perhaps I should comment on Earth Day.

I don't like Earth Day. Yesterday, as I was washing my second hand dishes under a trickle of water, I was thinking how much I dislike Earth Day. I dislike Earth Day for the same reason I disliked school. I dislike Earth Day and school because I have always been a "good girl."

I was the child who always followed the rules (unless they were unjust and I was making a statement). I ate my vegetables, stayed away from drugs and alcohol, and kept a chaste distance from boys. I did about five hours of homework a night and had a personal policy of reading all my textbooks about 5 to 10 times depending on length. I studied three hours for every quiz and six hours for every test. I helped with housework, was polite to my elders, was scrupulously honest, went to church every Sunday, and raised my hand to answer all the questions my teachers asked. In fact, the teachers used to ask questions like this, "Does anyone besides M. know the answer?" The other kids hated me.

I was teacher's pet (which basically meant the privilege of being assigned extra work at an advanced level and being held to a standard of having to earn above a 96% on everything I handed in), but it did not protect me from feeling tremendously guilty when the teachers stood in front of the class and chastised us collectively for failing to perform. I understood intellectually that I was not included in these lectures, but emotionally, I was torn apart. In fact, in fourth grade, I cried every single day after school. At times my parents pulled me out for a day just to give me an emotional rest. I'd get so worked up about making sure my teachers were happy that I would become exhausted and hysterical. My perfectionism consumed me to the point at which my father insisted that I intentionally try to get only a C on my work. (I did not obey that request.)

The problem was not just that I was a perfectionist who felt totally condemned by my every tiny error, but that I was also an empath who identified with all the other children as the teacher yelled at them. Unfortunately, I was not yet sophisticated enough to differentiate between my sense of them as emotional people and my sense of myself. When another child was chastised, I felt chastised. When someone teased another kid, I went home sick with emotion.

So last night as I was washing my second hand dishes under a trickle of water, I realized why I dislike Earth Day. It is because I am still a good girl. I still eat my vegetables and have been a vegan for years. I changed over all my light bulbs years ago too. I buy locally and/or organic and live by the rule, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." I mow with a non-electric push mower. I don't ride in airplanes. My rugs are made of recycled bottles. I recycle everything, carry reusable bags, and hang my laundry on the line. Hell, I even wash my laundry by hand sometimes and make my own laundry soap. I even make and wash my own reusable menstrual rags. I breastfed each of my children for years and wore them in a sling at my hip. I'm crunchy as hell. And it isn't like I want to be. I do it because it is what is required of me as a child of this planet. And I'm always, always, always looking for new ways to be "good." I drive my family crazy with it. Every time they turn around there's another product, food, or practice that makes it onto my list. No palm oil (depletion of orangutan habitat). No American-grown tomatoes (avoiding the practice of abusing virtually enslaved migrant workers). No items manufactured in China or India (workers' rights violations and environmental irresponsibility). I won't even give money to several charities that fail my ethics requirements for environmental responsibility.

So on Earth Day when the lectures on "what we all need to do to save the planet" start, my guilt reflexes go into full throttle just as they did when my teachers stood in the front of the room and lectured us all on our failure to master fractions or to listen quietly to instructions. I knew I wasn't the direct object of their scorn, just an unhappy participant in the giant failure of society that was my classroom. Every word of condemnation seems to weigh on me. "You! You are the selfish, western imperialist bitch who will be responsible for the failure of our culture! Mother Nature will crush you!"

What if I'm not doing enough? I know I'm not doing enough! (Perhaps we just can't ever do enough if it is already too late.) What more can I do? What more can I give up? This morning I was thinking about how I've been careless about my notebooks. What if the glue and ink in them is inhumane and environmentally toxic? My God! What pain have I caused by my love of the convenience of essay pads? How many hundreds of ways have I unconsciously participated in western society's relentless imperialist degradation of the planet? How have I failed?

And then I get angry. Really angry. Because here's the real deal. Lots and lots of us are busting our asses trying to be good, trying to learn and grow and be more aware, more conscientious, more tender-hearted in our relationship to our planet and all the life that relies on it. Lots of us are good kids who Love our Mother, but it doesn't count for shit when those with power-- industrialists, capitalists, politicians, world leaders-- just keep screwing the planet over. I'm not going to get into what their reasons might be or what might be standing in their way from making real, lasting, effective change. It seems to me that they're all a bunch of selfish, greedy, assholes. And if they aren't assholes, then they are cowards. We're dying here and they keep playing games, the most popular of which is "Let's See How Rich and Powerful I Get Before I Die." Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm judgmental. I'm simplistic. The world is a complicated place and my idealism doesn't really work out in "the real world." Fine.

But here's what I want for the next Earth Day. When it comes time for the teachers' lectures on what we all need to do to save the planet, why not spare us good kids for once? Just give us one day off from our obsession with trying desperately to do the right thing. Trust me, we're working on it. We're thinking about it all the damn time. I get to be a member of the first generation that doesn't believe they will do as well as their parents and who doesn't believe their children will have a better life. Make a point instead of lecturing the factory owners, the corporate bullies, the rich folks who la-de-da their prissy asses in cars and houses that are too damn big, the politicians who sell us out and the world powers that push us under. We can all recycle every damn thing we've ever owned, turn off all our lights, and eat only hemp from now until Doomsday and it won't save us as long as the Big Boys continue to deny that global warming is happening (or else sell us cute stuffed polar bear toys to make us feel better), pump toxins into the air and water, deplete our resources, screw their workers, and then greenwash the entire sordid affair with some cutesy commercial..."now with the cleaning power of baking soda!" (as if baking soda itself doesn't have the cleaning power of baking soda).

So happy Earth Day. I'll be hanging out menstrual rags I made myself out of second hand flannel sheets and organic cotton diapers on a laundry line I purchased from a maker of non-electric goods over a lawn I mowed with a push reel mower. So keep all your Earth Day celebrations and leave me the f--ck alone. I don't want to feel guilty, discouraged, and responsible right now. Direct your lectures and your consciousness raising to the people who sit in board rooms justifying decisions of horrific consequence for the sake of profits and power. Give me the day off. I'm tired and I'm sad and bone-weary from fighting. I don't feel like celebrating Earth Day.

P.S. I write this in honor of all my friends who are also doing their best to save the planet in their own ways (and they don't all have to be the same ways, btw) despite the relentless bad news we keep receiving from scientists and experts who are scary enough as it is and probably keeping some of the information from us so we don't all collectively soil our pants. I'm thankful for you. I thank you for keeping me afloat in all my fear as the end of all things approaches. You're all good kids and good companions on the journey (through hell).