On the Verge of a Wild Irrational Gallop

Time, when it is left to itself and no definite demands are made on it, cannot be trusted to move at any recognized pace. Usually it loiters; but just when one has come to count upon its slowness, it may suddenly break into a wild irrational gallop. – Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth (1905)

canstockphoto19572150We’d made the trip to a mall, because my daughter, who wants to upgrade her wardrobe for high school, wanted to visit Old Navy. This is a store I’ve never shopped at, nor had any particular desire to visit, but then, I’m not 14, nor likely to be accused of having fashion sense. It was, however, located next to a Barnes and Noble and as indicated by my last post, Bibliophile Safari, it served as compensation for being among the shopping marauders of what is, essentially, an Indonesian clothing bizarre.

I believe I have raised my daughter well, but we are a tiresome pair. We hate clothes shopping and swap snarky comments about Old Navy’s connection to child laborers and factory fires abroad. Which leads to a whole discussion about the moral ambiguities of modern living and how it is nearly impossible to live one’s life on a high horse and how we are forced to constantly make choices between our desires and the immoral forces that define them. Still, we leave with three new shirts for her wardrobe.

The bookstore is a surprisingly short trip. She wants something by Schopenhauer, a German philosopher, and we both want a copy of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. I am alarmed by the numerous signs and large sections marked Christian literature. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in a Barnes and Noble and that seems new. The section next to it is a paltry collection of all other religions and philosophy. Tribalism is leaving nothing untouched in this country.

canstockphoto4516249Nearby is a Michael’s craft store. It’s been a good five years since I’ve been in one, so we took a stroll through. The smell was familiar. My daughter said she remembered being here. Craft projects for her at home and for my volunteer activities once led us down aisles of paper and glue and sequins at least once a week. The days of watching her fingerpaint everything but the paper, tasting each color crayon to see if they had different flavors, and messy science experiments have been swapped for Assassins’ Creed video games, nihilist philosophy,  and a viola.

This last week was my official end of summer. The languid hot, buggy days that slowed everything down, until one day was very much like the next, are over. The next couple of weeks are riddled with appointments and meetings and preparation – for the school year, the election season, getting some writing projects off the ground. I filed my candidacy application for a vacated city council seat, and am now filled with the usual anxiety and internal trepidation that precedes doing anything out of my comfort zone.

canstockphoto15957680I know that it’s a matter of days, and I will be looking back on this time with a little sadness. Did I make the most of it? Did I spend enough time with my family? Did I embrace my teenage changeling enough? Family life has patterns. You move in the same space, know each other’s preferences and irritants, but there are days when it just seems like bodies in the same house, unconnected. I see how temporary it all is. In only a few years, it will just be he and I, having to learn to renegotiate our life.

Ofttimes when people talk about mindfulness, they talk about being in the moment and being present. This, to me, is a difficult state to remain in for very long. Sometimes instead of connecting with a single moment, our imagination allows us to connect with all the moments. We see the inexplicable blip in time that our lives are, the pinpoint dot on a radar. There and then gone.

canstockphoto251308It would be easy to see this as cause for depression, but in my mind, it serves the same purpose as the ocean to our physical beings – a reminder that we are part of something vast and amorphous. This recognition of time, of seeing what has passed and imagining what is before us, is exactly what leads us to the moment. We recognize how unimportant our moments are in the scheme of things, but how very important they are to us. A perspective and defense against ego and wastefulness.

Following my application for city council, I began to experience minor panic attacks. Time is speeding up and I don’t know if I’m doing what I should be doing with my life. I miss my daughter, even as she sleeps just down the hallway. I worry that I won’t be able to make the commitments I’ve made to writing projects, that I will let people down. That the imposter syndrome will become a yappy dog constantly nipping at my heels, never allowing myself to feel a sense of accomplishment, no matter what I do. Faster and faster my thoughts come, downhill, without any brakes.

Breathe. Sit still and silent. Watch the second hand on the clock. Tick, tick, tick. Things come back into focus. Do one thing – one task with a beginning and end. Then do the next thing, beginning and end. Make a list, write some notes, make the amorphous blob of canstockphoto44605531tasks and timing concrete. The knot in my stomach is still tight, but the pounding in my ears has receded. I am here. Right now. It’s okay. Whatever happens, happens. Anxiety wastes energy. The cliches, memes, and self-comforting phrases are now beginning to irritate me. Situation normal. I’ve synced up again.



My Trip to Twitter Land

canstockphoto19233296After deleting my Facebook account, I decided to evaluate Twitter. I’ve tried to look at it over the years, but it never hooked me. A pulled hamstring and twisted knee have made me more stationary these last couple of weeks, so it was a good time to review it again. I followed some people and organizations, read through trending Tweets, and have come to the conclusion that Twitter is not healthy for me. I deactivated my account.

The final straw was reading a Tweet that a woman had posted. Her 4-year-old said she wanted a lady dentist at the dentist’s office. Kids say a lot of strange and funny things. Adults on the other hand, can be complete and utter assholes. Grown humans immediately piled on, railing against feminism, bad parenting, and referring to the 4-year-old in every snide way possible. My child once said she wanted to live in a tree. If I’d said it on Twitter, I’d have been doxxed by arbor lovers and castigated for teaching my child to discriminate against houses – in much creepier and toxic terms.

canstockphoto26171619Part of my experience of Twitter, was the passive-aggressive hobby of muting and blocking people who I found irritating – the MAGAs, the people with full weapon arsenals in their profiles, the religious ranters, the misogynists, the people who had fifteen million emoticons in their user names. Apparently emoticons have evolved to high heel shoes and American flags. And criminy, hashtags render everything into a convoluted mishmash of eye-screwing chaos.

I blocked people who felt the need to advertise that they were patriots or God followers or that they had superior intellect. I find advertisement to be the red flag of self-definition. If you feel the need to advertise your moral high ground, I can only assume you are hiding toxic personality traits and eventually will tell me that I’m a libtard, a feminazi, the grammar police, and a bad parent. Twitter encourages the use of labels and categories and it all seems like the squawking of parrots and derivative categorization. It also encourages judgment.

canstockphoto50409609There is something unhealthy about seeing the worst of humanity’s thoughts on a daily basis and having elaborate, but silent arguments with them. The trick is, I think, to carefully curate who you follow and not to read anything beyond the original comment. I don’t have that kind of self-control or thick skin and if I started to respond to any of the many jerks who populate Twitter, I’d barely manage to feed and clean myself. The grammar corrections alone would render me frozen in front of my computer 24/7.

Perhaps it is my addictive personality. The fact that I have played 3 billion games of Freecell in my lifetime is a tip off. Or that in the six months after I discovered casino poker machines, I never had any money for more than ten minutes. I had to go cold turkey. I’ve spent more time in my life quitting bad things than starting good things. So I know this road and Twitter looks an awful lot like years of my life about to be sucked into the internet.

I assume there are normal people out there, who could take or leave habits, who know when to get offline or put down their phones. I am not one of them. And I can’t really afford to indulge my compulsions. I’m 50 and have a shitload of things I’d still like to do with my life.

canstockphoto52762970I’ve heard that there are positive things about using Twitter. There are writers who seem to handle the whole thing swimmingly – John Scalzi and Chuck Wendig have made it part of their careers. And I admire that particular skill set, but I have to finally admit, I’m not built for it. I move too slowly, think things over until they’re reduced to milquetoast responses. My sense of humor is an acquired taste, I have never been called a “wit” in any social setting, and sometimes I’m fiercely, fiercely angry.

I have to agree with Ta-Nehisi Coates who said something to the effect that having an immediate public platform for his thoughts was not good for him. It’s not good for me, either. I could do it, but at what cost to my organic thought processes? There are other writers I enjoy reading who are also not on Twitter, which seems like a career-damning thing to do, although most of them are established writers with high level platforms in the form of big name publishers or national magazines and papers.

canstockphoto10130744Still, I can’t change who I am in response to what may or may not be an eventual writing success. And it will be a success I never have, if I spend my time doing things that are not productive and that extract hours out of my day. Social media is, in capable hands, a useful tool. In my hands, it becomes an unwieldy addiction. That’s a hard-won admission that surely cements me into the category of codger, but I think I’m #okaywiththat.

No-Regret Living

canstockphoto0381252Her steps alternate between a lost foot fall and a shuffle. We walked and talked and on occasion she would reach out and grab my arm for balance, even as she gripped the handrail on the other side. I was pleased that she ate a whole sandwich with relish. A show of appetite gives one hope.

She asked numerous times “Do you have time?” I cringed inwardly, thinking of the many times I dropped off groceries and medications, or scribbled out quick checks for her bills and dashed out the door onto the next task.

On her table, a little notepad is filled with times that she scrawled while on the phone with me. She asks me again what time I’m picking her up for her appointment and when is Halloween.

Time. All at once it is infinite and finite. She remembers moments as a girl in the small country school. She calls me someone else. Her mind is a slowly lapping wave, leaving a memory or a word or a moment along the shore, returning to the sea with less than what she brought. Moments threaded with anxious repetitive questions. Moments knotted, as she struggles to untangle thoughts and find words.

I get lost in sadness at times and then she comes back, joking and smiling and calling me by my name. I know to become present, because those moments matter. They won’t matter in a day or even moments from now. They won’t be remembered by her. But they matter here and now. She is happy, unafraid and at this very instant, in the company of someone who loves her – the kind of moments we often wish for and sometimes miss in a blink.