Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Chill of November

This has been a bear of a month. But what kind of bear? I'm thinking polar bear with a bloody snout. Polar bears make for cute stuffed animals, but they are wild creatures who, if they stumbled upon you on a snowy tundra, would have no qualms about eating you. All the better if you are fishy.

I realize that gratitude is big these days, but I can't jump straight to it. Even when I do embrace gratitude, it is always tinged with guilt and despair. For example: it's been very cold here lately, and the other night in bed I said a silent prayer of gratitude for my warm house. Immediately after that I thought of all the people who do not have a warm house, who do not have a house or a shelter at all, and how I haven't helped them, and then I thought about the gross inequities in our culture, and it was either take two antihistamines or not sleep that night.

I have stopped writing my daily letters. I think I've not written for as many days as I did write, which is somewhere around two-and-a-half months. This week, though, I received two replies, and that gave me heart to take up the letter-writing again. Here is why I had stopped: 1) I began to feel that I was burdening people with my letters; they would tell me that they'd been carrying around my letter for a while, waiting for the chance to reply or else looking for a stamp. The world has gotten away from writing letters--really, it doesn't accommodate the practice; 2) I was getting sick of myself. When you write for days in a row, you either repeat a lot of stuff or else realize that change is so incremental or so inconsequential as to make you kind of depressed; 3) my job swept me up, as it tends to do; when I did have time to write, I couldn't focus or I didn't want to do anything involving words or meaning. Moreover, I stopped keeping track of whom I'd written to and who had written me back because about four weeks into every semester my organization goes to the bears; as a result, I have left several friends hanging, and that makes me feel bad; 4) likewise, it makes for a lonely feeling to send out letter after letter and only get a few responses. I realized that when letter-writing was a thing, people wrote back or else lost touch entirely. Funny, isn't it, how Facebook can make a person feel worse than they already do, yet it's the go-to mode of communication for so many of us.

I'd like to start up the letter-writing again. As I think I've mentioned before, it was meditative for me to go within and to write with a pen(cil) on paper for 15 or 20 minutes each day. It was also such a pleasure to receive and read the responses that people sent--and people did respond--that I want that feeling back. Here's the big thing, though, the reason that I think we all might want to write more letters: people wrote to me differently than they do when they communicate electronically and instantly. They told me things about themselves, their states of mind, their families, that they ordinarily don't. One day while I was still in the hospital with Vivian, I received something like ten letters. At least half of them expressed some question or problem or intention that meant something to the writer, and, of course, when we encounter something that is meaningful to a friend, we reflect upon it, too, and the meaning grows.

So...expect to receive a letter from me soon.

Other things that have weighed on me this month, not ranked according to consequence:

  • The Gottmans. God, what is it with those people and their constant reminders about what makes for a successful marriage? It all comes down to bids. Did Alex and I fail to respond to each other's bids? Do Bill and I? Currently I'm not speaking to Bill, so chances are good that I am unreceptive.
  • A colleague interrupted a meeting to point out a typo I'd made on an agenda. 
  • People laughed at something I said at a faculty meeting, only I didn't intend for it to be funny.
  • A colleague wrote to me in anger because I had required committee members to print a long document, which is wasteful--this when I hadn't intentionally required such a thing at all, and I happen to live with a man who is obsessed with waste and so am well aware of the consequences of mindless consumption.
  • I seem to have been utterly unable to hide from Vivian the anxiety that wreaks havoc on me every day. Will she grow up to despise this trait of mine, primarily because I've taught her how to be anxious, imposed it upon her?
  • Alex seems depressed again.
  • Bill is stretched too thin.
  • I haven't published enough, and I'm up for review in a month.
  • My face is both familiar and unfamiliar to me, as it has always been. How can this be, given that my face used to look quite a bit different? Mainly I don't care about the effects of aging, and I've taken to wearing very little makeup--liberating--but sometimes I realize that I will be an older woman whom people might refer to as "handsome," and that falls a bit short of what I had wanted. You do not have to talk me out of this. 
  • There are six doctor's appointments I have to make--three for Vivian and three for me--and I can't manage to make them.
  • I have two pairs of shoes and one shirt to return, only I keep forgetting to print out the return labels. 
  • Football.
  • At some point I will get a call from the hospital telling me when Vivian's next surgery will be. I worry that she will be very scared. I know I will be.
  • The scars on Vivian's back. Eventually there will be many of them, thin lines running parallel. Will they hurt? What beautiful thing will they look like: the trace of a rake upon soil? tributaries of a meandering river? My hope: one day someone she loves and who loves her will run his or her hand along those lines.
So that's me on this Saturday in mid-November. How are you? I hear that my comments work only for some people, and I have no idea why. Before I post this, I will remove the restrictions from the comments in case that works, because I like to hear from you.

I don't want to end on a blue note, so I will add that I completed a cross-stitch project this week and am close to finishing another. I will post pictures when I'm done with the "finishing" part, which involves sewing and framing. 

Also: it's sunny and cold here in the Pacific Northwest. I will walk Milo later to clear my head, and I will talk to Bill.


  1. I love you, Tiff. Curse this damned anxiety that lives in our genes.

    1. Hey! Your comment made it through. That makes me significantly less anxious.

      I love you, too, Jen.

  2. I wrote a long, supportive comment that was eaten. Boo. Basically, though, I wanted to remind you how much joy you bring into the world, and that that also needs to be part of your accounting. I wish I had answers for the stresses, but I don't. I do understand and sympathize, though. Our daughters can perhaps get a two-for-one deal on future therapy, where they recount "how my mom stressed me out." xo. Also, what did Bill do now? ;-)

    1. How does one comment get eaten and the other escapes with its life? I will never understand. Thank you for the support (and the news that I bring joy into the world). Perhaps Cady and Vivian will become therapists, and they can do tradesies. ;-)

  3. I'm seconding Alison's reminder of the joy you to bring to the world. So much.

    1. Thank you, Beth. Wow. I knew I was going to like having comments.

  4. Your blog posts are always so beautifully written - no matter the subject - happy, sad or in between. I am grateful that we reconnected after all these years. Although I don't have a suggestion for you to deal with all that excess brain activity, I do empathize with you. And I'm sending a virtual warm & fuzzy bear hug your way. - Jennifer

    1. Thank you, Jennifer. I feel the same about our having reconnected. You are one of the people I owe a letter to!

  5. During my undergrad years, I never understood the pressure professors are under to be publishing machines AND to be an "excellent teachers" AND to do service in their respective fields. It seems like an almost impossible life to me. How does this leave time or energy to be excellent spouses and parents? It seems to me that you are doing the most excellent job that you can.

    And screw the Gottmans. I'm sick of them too.


    1. Thanks, Katie. I'm feeling just shy of excellent, and I'll take that.

  6. dammit. my comment is gone b/c I wasn't logged in.

    Well, this was my favorite part: "I will be an older woman whom people might refer to as "handsome," and that falls a bit short of what I had wanted. You do not have to talk me out of this." I laughed - I can hear your humor. :)

    I love you, Tiff!

    1. Thanks, Anne! I love you too--and all the more because you typed out another comment after your first was deleted. :-)