Oral Hygiene Queen

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I floss daily, brush after every meal, and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

My Feelings Relating to the Word "Relatable"

One of my favorite classes to teach at the high school where I spend my work days is a non-fiction writing class in which my students, all juniors and seniors, spend the semester learning how to write eloquent, concise, engaging personal essays, developing a compelling writing voice of their own. In addition to writing their own essays, they read personal essays by pros and write about their response to those essays.

The last time I taught this class was the first time I came across the word "relatable" in my students' writing. A student or two described the voice or tone or topic of an essay we'd read as "relatable." My reaction to this word was negative, but it didn't seem like a big deal, since it didn't come up more than a couple times. I may have mentioned the word to my students, and if I did, I may have told them that it's not a real word. I may not have. I don't remember. I certainly remember thinking "That is not actually a word, and if it were... feh."

That was a couple years ago, and now I'm teaching the class again. And in the first response paper I collected, where students responded to several essays of their own choosing, I came across the word "relatable" at least a dozen times. One student, normally a clear, precise, and confident writer, used the word a total of four times in a two-page paper.

I've been an English teacher long enough to know that before I make some pronouncement before my class, along the lines of "That's not a real word" or "The correct pronunciation is...," I need to check my sources. The English language is vast, complex, and ever-changing. We are fortunate to have a gigantic vocabulary at our disposal, and our words come from every corner of the globe, with new ones being added and old ones morphing into new ones all the time.

So I looked up "relatable" and found that it is indeed in the dictionary. Of course it's in the dictionary, because it is in fact a word. It means "able to be related." Like a story. But that's not how my students are using it. They mean "able to be related to." And according to my beloved ginormo desk dictionary, the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th edition), that's not the definition. "Relatable" is just there at the end of the entry for "relate," meaning that the AHDEL defines it my way, not my students' way.

Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, however, backs up the young'uns:

re·lat·a·ble/riˈlātəbəl/ Adjective: 1. Able to be related to something else. 2. Enabling a person to feel that they can relate to someone or something: "Kate's problems make her more relatable."

Why do I hate this word? It's not the very fact of turning a verb into a noun. "Debatable" is fine, as is "dependable" and "deniable." Partly it's the preposition thing. To relate something is very different than to relate to something, and part of me thinks that therein lies my issue.

But no. I'm not normally picky in that way. It is a little ugly to cram "to relate to" into an "able" ajective. But it's more than that.

I think my problem is an assumption that underlies the word: that if this character, this person, this being has something very obvious in common with me, I can "relate to" him, her, it, and thus I can validate him, her, or it. And if we have nothing in common that I can see from a cursory glance, then I might just feel that this voice isn't speaking to me. And I find that a bit solipsistic and shallow.

In fact, there's a better word that we English teachers have been promoting for years that fits the "relatable" bill but is less vapid and dependent on the reader's (or viewer's or listener's) experience and worldview being replicated by the art in question. It's "sympathetic." The question of whether we can sympathize with a character, with a writer, with a voice is a much larger one, and (I would argue) enables a more sophisticated and a more outward-looking conversation.

Perhaps need to promote sympathy as a better lens through which to evaluate writing than "relatability." And perhaps we need to have a conversation about other, more specific, less flabby words that fit into the big baggy mess that is "relatable." But I begin by rejecting the word.

I do not relate.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Advice for Beginners, Raw to Slightly Advanced

I love this advice from This American Life creator and host Ira Glass. Anyone who is starting out in any creative endeavor should hear this. And those of us who teach people stuff should absorb it and pass it on.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

My Feelings Around the Abuse of "Around"

Have you noticed how people abuse the word "around" lately? It's a preposition that despite its roundness and even (in some contexts) roundaboutness is actually quite straightforward. "Around" – it can mean "surrounding," "in the vicinity of," or "approximately." But certain people, especially liberally educated middle-class people with a touchy-feely bent, use it in a way that sets my teeth on edge. For example "I have issues around male authority" or "I'm trying to respect her feelings around competition." Blargh! You mean "issues with male authority"? You mean "feelings about competition"? Why replace these perfectly good prepositions with "around," making everything sort of mealy-mouthed and approximate? It drives me nuts.

I first noticed this creeping misuse of "around" when a couple of my friends and family members began taking seminars with the Landmark Forum. I don't know much about the Forum, as insiders call it, but it struck me as a scientology-lite sort of self-empowerment program. It helped my loved ones feel more in control of their lives, but also seemed to me like some creepy New-Age pyramid scheme. All three of the people I knew who got involved in the forum began using the phrase "issues around" to a distressing degree, along with other linguistic debasements that I found it hard to keep a straight face for (such as "If you don't like your teacher, why don't you create liking your teacher?" "I found X, Y, or Z situation very confronting," and "I feel complete with X, Y, or Z situation.")

In the past few years, however, the use of "around" in place of a more straightforward and natural-sounding preposition has crept beyond Forum-speak and into the vocabularies of more and more people who feel it's important to – how shall I say? – "confront issues." I myself like to confront issues from time to time, but I prefer to do it in plain language, which is both aesthetically more satisfying than mealy-mouthed New-Age speak and ideally helps keep the bullshit level at a minimum.

Today I opened the most recent issue of The New York Times Magazine to find an interview with Sandra Fluke, the woman whose testimony before Congress regarding Georgetown University's refusal to cover contraception in its student insurance plans inspired Rush Limbaugh to call her a "slut," etc. Ms. Fluke, usually an articulate and direct person, describes in this interview her reasons for deciding to attend Georgetown Law: "They offered me a scholarship, they have the best public-interest law program that I saw, and they have some really fabulous faculty around feminist jurisprudence."

This is perhaps the most egregious example of the sloppy misuse of "around" that I'm kvetching about here. (Or am I kvetching around its misuse? Hm.) What does this mean? I envision law professors sidling up to feminist jurisprudence and sort of standing near it in a politely approving way. Certainly they're not specializing in feminist jurisprudence, or doing anything as straightforward as teaching it. While this sort of "around"-ing usually just makes me wince, this one made me writhe.

In general I'm not a big crusader for preserving traditional usage rules that are morphing through popular use, believing that the way the majority of English users use English makes a given usage correct (or at least one correct option among several). But in this case, preserving the basic decency of the word "around" will become a cause for me as a teacher, joining the serial comma and the integrity of the word "literally" as meaning "the opposite of figuratively" as matters I'm willing to go into battle for, chalk held high.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

A Silver Lining to the Looming Kardashian Cloud

Remember when I complained about how painful it is to witness the outsized and vapid fame of my former student Kim Kardashian? And how I wished ardently that she would just go away, somewhere out of the public eye? Well, she has only gotten more famous. There was that little wedding thing. Of course, she and her sisters are constantly on the covers of magazines from tabloid to popular-but-not-quite-trashy magazines. But I don't actually pick those up. What's really awful is that she's penetrated the world of media I actually consume. I've read more than one reference to her in the New Yorker and heard her discussed on The Daily Show, among other (many many other) references in the print and visual media locations I frequent in my relatively small media world. The other day my Old Man and I went to see Young Adult and scenes from one of the Kardashian reality shows were used prominently to establish the patheticness of the main character's daily life.

The more famous she gets, the more I seem to feel the need to admit that she was once my student, a fact that I almost never mentioned in the relatively modest days of her early "fame."

This morning in my new Poetry class, as I was passing out notecards for students to fill with relevant bits of personal information, I joked that I would read them carefully and cherish them always. "Or sell them on ebay, in the event that you become famous," I added. But then I had to admit that it was an unlikely scenario, given that I still hadn't figured out how to cash in on the seventh-grade photograph of Kim Kardashian I have in my possession.

"So if anyone knows someone who might want to pay big bucks for a picture of Kim Kardashian when she was in seventh grade, give me their contact information," I announced, mostly but not entirely joking.

"I'll give you fifty cents," one of my students offered.

"Hey, I'm also in the picture," I added.

"Okay, eight-five cents," he said.

And then one of my new students, who has clearly not heard my ambivalent claim to near-fame, asked, a bit confused, "Ms. Queen, did you go to junior high with Kim Kardashian?"

Aww. So sweet that my student thinks I might be anywhere near the same age as Kim Kardashian. Granted, I was a young teacher when I had her in class, but not that young.

So, a tiny silver lining. Ever so tiny. Hardly worth it at all.

But if I could sell that school picture, on the other hand....

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Generic Halloween Sexiness

Checking out PostSecret a couple days late, I saw this Halloween secret, which really resonated with me this year. I am beyond tired of generic "sexy" Halloween costumes for women.

Those "sexy girl" Halloween costumes have been around for awhile. Long enough that they played a role in the 2004 movie Mean Girls, where the likable Cady becomes more likable when she wears a freaky and very unsexy monster bride costume to a party where every other girl there is dressed as a sexy leprechaun, a sexy vampire, a sexy kitty cat, etc.

They've been around for awhile, but this year, for some reason, I have reached my limit with them. Living in a college town, it seems like about three quarters of undergrad women feel the need to wear a "sexy" Halloween costume. And I put "sexy" in scare quotes, because they're so formulaic that they're not actually sexy. This year we even had a couple at the high school where I teach. A sexy sailor and a sexy musketeer. Really? A sexy musketeer?

This is the formula: take a costume, any costume, and make its accessories small, cute, and preferably glittery. Then turn the core clothing that makes up the costume into a tight dress with a very short skirt and cleavage. And presto! You have a "sexy" Halloween costume.

I have nothing against people looking sexy on Halloween. I myself have rocked a few pretty hot costumes over the years. But this prefabricated, totally predictable, sexiness-as-defined-by-short-skirts-and-cleavage version of sexiness is so un-Halloween. Halloween is about the strange, the surprising, the scary, the unheimlich. It's not about getting to be a barbie doll for a day. Or getting to be more of a barbie doll than usual for a day.

Is there anything redeeming about these costumes? I just find them boring, and I think they take the fun out of Halloween, turning it into some kind of generic male fantasy. What do you think?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Wear What You Like

For the last few months, I've been chewing on the question of whether there's an "appropriate" way to dress once you hit your 40s, your 50s, etc. Or more accurately, if there's an appropriate way for women to dress, since the "what to wear now that I'm X age" question seems much more live for women for a variety of reasons (women being under more scrutiny, women having a lot more sartorial options in general, women having to deal with all manner of aging-related cultural bullshit that men seem much more free from).

Thus far, I've pretty much felt like everyone should wear what they want to wear and fuck the rest of the world if they don't like it. The tarted-up rebel gang who went by the name Sluts Against Rape was one of my favorite aspects of the annual Take Back the Night March back in grad school, and I've always been annoyed when people tsk tsk at hem length or cleavage depth. When bare midriffs became status quo among teenage girls back in the aughts, I was rather pleased to see girls with round bellies letting their round bellies hang out of their shirts. And I don't recall ever looking at a middle-aged woman when I was in my twenties or thirties and thinking Hm. That's a bit young for her.

But in the last few months, partly as a result of conversations I've had with various friends, thought-provoking questions brought up over at DoctorMama, and random overheard comments, and partly because I'm now in my 40s and finding my self questioning whether I can still pull off spaghetti straps, I've begun contemplating whether there are sartorial lines that can't in good taste be crossed by women of a certain age.

And I've pretty much decided that no, there are not. Women of whatever age should wear whatever the hell they want, and if anyone doesn't like it they can piss up a rope.

I have, however, come up with a few guidelines, which I've developed mostly for myself as I continue on toward a middle-age I intend to make as funky, fun, and sexy as I can while still meeting my basic responsibilities as a mother, teacher, and citizen, but which I will also share with you:

* Don't worry about what other people think of what you're wearing. If you love it, go for it. If someone says something snarky about your look behind your back, there's probably more going on than their disapproval at your choice of clothes. (I've noticed that the women I'm close to, who are mostly not "what not to wear" types, only really lay into another woman's choice of clothing when they dislike her or have some other issue with her. I have also found that I am quite capable of sneering at another woman's look, despite my generally laissez faire attitude toward other people's clothes, if I think she's an asshole.)

* Wear what you're comfortable in. If you feel good in it, chances are you'll look good in it. If it's physically uncomfortable, forget about it. And if it exposes a feature that you don't really like to have exposed, don't wear it, even if you find it cute or sexy in theory.

* If you end up wearing something you're not actually comfortable in, try to fake it 'til you can change. I always feel sad for actresses who go on talk shows wearing really short skirts or low-cut tops then spend the entire interview pulling at their hems or fiddling with their necklines. If your skirt feels too short, keep your hands off it and attempt to relax and pull it off for today or tonight. Then get rid of that skirt so you don't end up going out again in something you're not actually comfortable in. (Note: the "rock it for tonight" strategy does not work with high heels. Nothing looks less sexy than someone hobbling down the street or wobbling across the room. I personally don't like to wear shoes that I couldn't run in if I suddenly had to, but if you love heels, just make sure you can actually walk in them.)

* Create your own individual style. One thing I've noticed since I've been contemplating this age-and-clothes issue is that women who wear clothes that may seem in some superficial way to be "too young" for them (because they're too form-fitting, too skin-revealing, too flouncy, too cute, whatever) seem to pull it off when it's part of a look that seems distinctive. Whereas women who look like they nabbed their entire outfit off a mannequin at American Eagle Outfitters tend to look like they're trying to look younger than they are, rather than just wearing clothes they like and feel good in. Note: I'm not saying don't shop at American Eagle Outfitters or the Limited or the juniors section at whatever department store you frequent. But when you do, go in there with your own wordly, nuanced sense of style that you've been developing over the years, and pick individual items that can work with your style. One way to say this is that younger women have the luxury of being cookie-cutter cute if they want to. It works for them (if they're willing to settle for pretty boring, or boring pretty), whereas older women don't so much have that luxury. But another way to say it is that those of us who were born before 1976 have more aesthetic experience and a deeper sense of lived fashion history to draw on. Let's not just settle for whatever crap the mall is offering up this year.

That's what I'm thinking right now. What do you think?

Friday, September 02, 2011

Whither August?

Gentle Readers,

Damn. I can't believe I let all of August go by without posting. As I know I've said here before, for every post that makes it up, there are at least two or three substantive and ten potentially amusing but relatively lightweight posts that take form in my head but never make it to my qwerty little fingertips.

I had one going in my brain for awhile there that revolved around facebook statuses, and why there aren't more really interesting ones. I think it's largely because we all have way too many "friends" and thus much too wide an audience, which tends to put a damper on actually saying what's on your mind much of the time. And that makes the truly funny or actually interesting facebook status all the more enjoyable, when people manage it. Everyone, I think, has at least a few friends that are masters at the art of the hilarious, striking, and/or keenly observant facebook status update, and it's worth contemplating what makes a great status update great.

There was another one that would've been entitled "Vasectomies are Sexy." I won't say any more about that one, because I may actually write it one day, and I don't want to blow my wad (so to speak) right now.

The one that's currently on my mind is "Are Adult Boring?" Again, I won't say more because that's one I actually want to write. I'm chewing on it, and it may show up before too long. Tune in tomorrow (in other words, in a week or two) to see what develops.

xo,
e.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

From Real Siblings to Imagined Grandchildren

In the midst of our fifteen-hour drive from New Jersey back to the midwest a couple weeks ago, I heard the following conversation quietly conducted in the back seat between Roo and O.:

Roo: O., you are a nice brother. I love you so, so, so much.
O.: Yeah, Roo. You're a nice sister. I love you so much, too.

My heart swelled with almost unbearable joy at hearing this. And though I grabbed my planner to write it down, I didn't say a word, not wanting to kill the moment by letting them know I'd heard them. Nothing makes me so happy as my kids being sweet to each other. When Roo willingly shares a treat she's gotten from a neighbor with her brother. When O. patiently teaches her how to play a game. These ordinary scenes are what I hoped for when we decided to have a second kid. And the rare but intensely adorable moments when they spontaneously express their love for each other with words go far beyond anything I ever imagined.

Lest you think my kids' relationship is all roses and rainbows, however, the very next day Roo accidentally broke the lego front-end loader that O. had recently put together, and he berated her 'til she cried. Then he called her a "crybaby" in a very mean voice, which is the worst thing he can do to her. I held her as she sobbed inconsolably for ten full minutes, my own heart heavy with sadness at her little heart breaking. It seems that no one can hurt her feelings like her brother, and it kills me when he yields that power against her.

I feel very lucky that O. and Roo get along well most of the time. Despite their more than four-year age difference, they play together a lot, and often go for hours busily working on some pretend scenario they've cooked up together. Right now, it's mostly positive, and the squabbling and hurt feelings are only occasional. But I wonder how their sibling relationship will change as they grow older. I've already seen the conflict increase bit by bit as Roo gets older and her will gets stronger, which makes the old pattern of O. as the planner and leader and Roo as the follower less and less the default mode. I have a feeling that they'll always retain that basic connection they've had since she was a baby, though, even if there are also more rough spots and moody moments. I hope I'm right.

Right now, O. and his dad are gone with my stepdad on a five-day river rafting trip in Idaho, while Roo and I hang with my mom. It's been interesting to see Roo's reaction to being the only kid. Last year, when they went on a similar trip, she was a little droopy and complained a lot of missing O. This year, although I can tell she misses having him to play with, she's pretty damned perky. She's really soaking up all the attention from me and my mom, chattering constantly and excitedly making plans for the three of us.

She's also been taking over a role that O. usually plays: bedtime talker and question-asker. Usually, when I say goodnight to O. and Roo, it's O. who takes the opportunity to get in five minutes of eight-year-old philosophizing or hypothetical-question-asking, while Roo just listens. Since O. has been gone, Roo has been asking me some tricky questions in that mellow pre-sleep time together.

Last night she hit me with this one: "Mama, how do women get babies?" I gave her a simplified answer that involved more heteronormativity and less complexity than I'd usually be satisfied with (but she is three, so it's not an easy question to field). Somewhere in there I mentioned finding a man who you would want to be your baby's daddy. After I was done, she told me "I don't want to find a daddy." Okay, I said. There are ways for women to have babies without finding a man. But I noted that it is nice to have someone to help you take care of the baby. Roo thought for a moment, then said "Maybe you could help me take care of my baby."

Whoa. This was getting deep. And, of course, I was hoping she’d be asleep by now.

I have only recently begun even contemplating the reality that some day my children might themselves have children. At this point, I'm not at all invested in the idea of grandchildren. I just want to get the kids raised up without losing too many of my marbles. But I guess if Roo decides somewhere down the line to have a baby on her own, I would be willing to help out.

So we made a deal: I will help her with her baby if she promises to wait to have a baby until she's at least twenty. She balked at this. Twenty seems a long time away for her. But I assured her that she'll want to wait that long, and probably longer. ("Remember, honey, I was thirty-four when I had my first baby," I said. "That's fourteen years older than twenty." After we established that most people live well past thirty-four, this seemed to give her some reassurance that it's not extreme to wait 'til you've got a couple of decades under your belt to begin reproducing.)

When I told my mom about this conversation, she wondered that I didn't establish an older minimum age. I don't know why I said twenty. It was spontaneous, of course. I guess I could have said "'til you finish college." But I'm not sure I regret picking a slightly earlier minimum age than I would truly prefer. Because I want to be realistic, and I also want to remain aware that the way I did things is not the only way or necessarily the best way. It's one way that works. There are other ways. Maybe I picked twenty because my own mom was just shy of twenty when she had me, and I've never regretted that timing.

In any case, now I've made the deal. Roo just better keep her end of it.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Creeping Out with the Kardashians

Please, Kim Kardashian, please go away.

I know I'm not alone in wishing that Kim K. would go back into relative obscurity and take her whole heavily-made-up, blinged out, attention craving family with her. But I have a special reason that intensifies my desire to see Kim Kardashian's star wane.

I was Kim Kardashian's teacher.

It's true. At my very first teaching job at Our Lady of Perpetual Privilege in Los Angeles, I taught Kim seventh grade English. I also taught her now-famous sister Kourtney eighth-grade English. And there's something really unsettling about having my former students become so famous. And for so little.

I think it would help if Kim were talented in some way. I'm not a fan of Christina Aguillera, but if I she were my former student, I think I could stomach her fame. She obviously has an amazing voice and knows how to use it. And she can dance. She has earned the spotlight. I'm still not sure why Kim became famous in the first place. And it's my understanding that Kourtney is famous because she's Kim's sister, so... It's all very confusing to me.

In some ways, Kourtney's fame bums me out even more than Kim's. Kim, as a seventh grader, was snotty, perpetually bored, and not especially bright. Kourtney was actually a sweetheart. She was smart and engaged in school. She was a normal, likable kid. (Kim was a pretty normal kid, too. Just not likable.) I'm not sure what I would have imagined Kim doing as an adult, but I wouldn't have guessed it would be anything especially impressive or important. Kourtney, on the other hand, could have done something meaningful with her life.

Actually, from the little I've seen of Kim on the four minutes or so I've caught of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, she's gotten a lot nicer since she was in seventh grade. So that's good to see. Either she outgrew her snotty, aggressively blasé attitude or she figured out that snottiness is unattractive and learned how to hide it, at least while the cameras are rolling (which, when you're a reality TV star is more or less always, I guess).

It seems to me that Kim Kardashian's moment in the sun has been a long, long, long one. When she first started getting television and magazine attention, I was icked out, but I figured it couldn't last long. But she just keeps getting more and more famous, it seems. I can't go to the gym without seeing her face staring out at me from at least two magazines on the rack near the door. Needless to say, the check-out line at any grocery or drug store is even more Kardashian-rich. Just yesterday, I was enjoying Tina Fey's hilarious and smart new book, Bossypants, and Fey made a reference to KK. That was perhaps the last straw for me. As Dr. Seuss might say, Kim K. Kardashian, will you PLEASE GO NOW?

It's bound to end some time, the media reign of the Kardashian clan. I'm sure at one time some former teacher of Paris Hilton winced daily at the sight of her former pupil's media antics (Paris Hilton must've gone to school at some point, right?) and wished Paris would just go the hell away. And it happened, more or less. I just hope it happens to my former student soon. I wish her the best, really. But I want her career (if you can call it that) to chill out just enough that I don't have to look at her famous ass on a weekly basis.

'Til such time, if you have any idea where one might be able to sell the school portrait of a really famous, not very talented Armenian bombshell, drop me an email at oralhygienequeen@gmail.com. Thx!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

It's (Almost) Always a Good Time to Floss

I support flossing. I advocate flossing. I floss daily, and encourage my loved ones to do the same. Occasionally, I even floss in public. (Oh so discreetly, of course. Or not. But whatever.)

I recently witnessed a public display of flossing, however, that I disapproved of. Strongly. Flossing behind the wheel. DWF - Driving While Flossing. No!

A few days ago, on the first leg of my family's annual trip out to the Jersey Shore to spend three weeks or so with my beloved in-laws, we were sailing down Interstate 70, my Old Man in the driver's seat and me riding shotgun, kids throwing stuffed animals back and forth in the back seat, when I turned to my right and witnessed this atrocity: A dude flossing his teeth while driving. As anyone who cares about oral hygiene and has ever had a really bad paper cut on one index finger can tell you, you need two hands to floss. This guy was flossing, both hands off the wheel and busily engaged in what would otherwise have been a wholesome exercise in healthy teeth and gum care. I was appalled.

I beg you, good people: when you're behind the wheel and feel the need to floss your teeth, pull over. The same goes for texting, downloading ring tones, applying make-up, or eating tacos. All you should be doing while you're driving is concentrating on the road and conducting your one-ton vehicle down the highways and byways that other motorists are also using. Our lives are in your hands, dude.

Let me say it again: our lives are in your hands.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Things I Do that I'd Like to Do More

When I think about my overfull life, I sometimes try to think of things I could cut out of it, to create more breathing space, more time to do the things I really care about. I can never come up with anything to cut. Everything "optional" in my life seems essential in some small but important way to my wholeness (playing guitar, reading and writing poetry, writing in my journal and in this blog, and doing yoga are examples that spring to mind). When I think about giving these little things up, I fear I would stop being me, or at least being me as fully as I need to be in order to be happy. As much as I love my job, I would cut that out (or at least cut it back significantly - teach half as many classes as I currently do, say). But of course, I can't do that. I'm actually the primary breadwinner here at Casa Oral Hygiene (the Old Man teaches half-time, wrangles children and cooks a lot of the time, and fits as much freelance editing as he can in the remaining spaces), and we need my whole salary to pay the bills. I don't want to spend less time with my family. In fact, I'd like to spend more. But I'd also like to spend more time alone.

Actually, time alone is probably the one thing I have really and truly given up in my quest to fit everything in. And that is sad. But as important as it is to me, it's the hardest thing to create and the easiest thing to let slide. In order to be alone, I have to make space and time, space and time with no immediate goal or end product. That means enlisting the help of my Old Man, and luckily he is very supportive whenever I do say I need time alone. But it's very abstract, this business of spending time alone. It didn't used to be. It used to happen all the time, naturally. And then we had O., and it seemed like I rarely got to be alone. But as he got older, it became more and more possible to make that time. And then we started thinking seriously about another baby. And I knew, as I grappled with that huge, difficult decision, that one thing I'd probably be giving up, for all intents and purposes, was time spent alone.

And I was so right. Now I'm the mother of two small children and it seems like I'm never alone. Of course, I'm alone sometimes. I drive places alone. I go to the gym and work out without interacting much with anyone. I grade papers alone in the office or at the kitchen table after the kids are in bed. I walk to or from school by myself. But none of those count. Time in the car is not time for reflection or time to let my mind wander, and lord knows time at the gym isn't. Time out walking by myself could be, but not when I'm trucking as fast as I can to make it to work on time, or trucking home as fast as I can so I can pick Roo up from daycare on time or get O. to soccer practice. The one time I'm really alone anymore on a semi-consistent basis is when I go to the library or shut myself in my office to write poetry. Then, I'm by myself, I can let my mind wander, and reflection is part of the process. But that time is so limited anymore, and I sometimes feel like the need to sit and just think is so great a prerequisite for actually trying to begin a poem that I spend an inordinate chunk of writing time just sitting and staring off into space.

It used to be that I'd get an evening alone sometimes when my Old Man was at band practice. But then I joined his band. And I love that - it's fun, fulfilling, and challenging, and it gives me something I'd really missed not playing music with other people for so long. But it's something added to my life. And it eclipses alone time that I didn't even think that much about 'til it was gone. I could certainly just not hang out with my man some evenings when we're both home, and occasionally I do that in order to work on a poem or submit poems to journals. But I like spending time with him, and I feel like I don't get enough of that either, so I don't always think of that as something I want.

At this very moment I'm stealing a few minutes alone to write this post, and I can hear my Old Man and my beloved kids downstairs. And I need to go. It's nearly time to get the kids ready for bed. Its funny: I began this post intending to talk about sleep as one thing I prioritize in my life, but would still like to prioritize a lot more (something I'm especially aware of now that it's summer break and I'm actually getting eight hours of sleep most nights). But I realize that of all the things I value and cling tightly to in my life, one of the ones that is most crucial to me is the one I've really let slide. And it's the easiest to let slide because when it's gone, it becomes nearly invisible. But I sometimes think I can't let it slide much longer and hold on to the relative degree of sanity I currently enjoy.

Thankfully, summer is here and time is more free, so I guess it's time to start working time alone back into my life. Maybe by the time school starts I'll be able to remember how important it is to make it happen, whatever else is also going on.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

You Can Have It All, Part II

Okay, so I can't have it all, or rather can't do it all. I know. But I try to do as much of it as I can. And, as I mentioned in my first post, that was seeming fairly manageable. And then suddenly it began to seem less manageable.

What happened?

Well, first of all, this guy I'm really into talked me into joining his band.

It's sort of a long story, but my Old Man has been playing in various permutations of nascent rock bands for the past two years or so, having fun playing music again but frustrated that no particular lineup seemed to be gelling. Flakey, drunk drummers and flakey, overcommitted bass players seemed to plague him. But he's been playing with a reliable drummer for awhile, and a couple months ago he began encouraging to come down to the basement and play bass with them. Finally I found a little "extra" time to do it. So now I'm in a band again. A very low-key, low-pressure band, to be sure. But a band takes a certain amount of time, even a low-key one. It also takes energy, and though my main issue is the scarcity of time, I'm still a teacher and mother of two in my early forties: energy is also a precious commodity in my personal economy.

The other thing that happened is that my Old Man and I started cleaning our own house again.

For a bit over three years, we've been having a paid cleaning crew come in and clean our whole house once a month. This was begun at my insistence, inspired by the time issue. We never seemed to have time to clean the house adequately. And having someone else do it once a month was really nice in some ways. I loved the feeling of the whole house being clean all at once, a feat we could never seem to accomplish when we were doing it all ourselves. It was also great to just have it done without having to put in the time. But there were problems. The first cleaning crew we tried kept canceling. We'd spend two harried hours tidying the night before and morning of a house-cleaning day, only to come home to a dirty house that afternoon and an apologetic message on the answering machine. There were always good reasons. Car accidents. Sick children. Surgeries. Asthma and high pollen counts. I don't doubt a single one of the excuses given for any of these missed cleaning days. But the fact was that these cleaners seemed to be coming maybe one in three times they were supposed to come. And straightening up our whole house for no reason again and again was getting old (as was coming home from a tiring day and finding that I had to sweep and mop all the floors like now, before the kids turned them back into a zone of toy chaos).

So we tried another service. They were more expensive, but they came every time. And that was great. For awhile. Then they started missing things. They didn't mop the floor. (Ugh. So now I'm coming home from work and mopping the floor again.) And when I called to tell the owner of the service this, she apologized and took twenty bucks off our bill. But then it happened again. And then we came home to find a damp rag sitting on top of my Old Man's laptop. (WTF?!?, in the parlance of our times.) And then they not only didn't mop the floor, but failed to sweep or vacuum significant areas of the floor (like, behind every single door). I am not a boss lady by nature, and I can only call and bitch about shoddy work so many times. My Old Man, who has never really liked the idea of strangers coming into our house when we're not home, nor of other people cleaning our toilets, suggested maybe we save ourselves the cash and the hassle and go back to doing it ourselves. And so we have.

And, actually, it's great. We clean our house more thoroughly than any service we've used would, and we can tidy and clean when it works for us, not on some preordained day that always seems to be the most hectic time. And I actually like cleaning my house. I'm such a grown-up. It's satisfying and theraputic, and I can blast my ipod and lose myself in the zen of scrubbing. But I don't have time! It's really hard to find a weekend that is not crazy packed with obligations, and/or grading, and/or enticements. And yet, of course, we make the time, just like we make time to have band practice or to record a new song. But it comes at a cost. And I think something else has to give.

I just haven't figured out what yet.