Monday, November 19, 2007

Thanks a lot

I really love Thanksgiving, not only because it involves copious use of decorative earth tones, but also because of what it compels us to do: to take inventory, to reflect, to be grateful. It's a beautiful holiday, and I've always loved it, way back when we would gather at my grandmother's house for dry turkey and two kinds of pie, me with my crystal goblet of milk and a ready exit before dessert (I've always hated pie); those wild years when we took part in throwing together our church's annual dinner, the most memorable of which being the year our refrigerator konked out on Wednesday night and we had to thaw 15 turkeys in our bathtub; the years I'd come home from college and my mother cooked, these elaborate, gourmet feasts, with wild mushroom stuffing and pumpkin pie with graham crucker crusts, which I ate, despite my life-long loathing of pie; the Thanksgiving we spent in Sarasota, in my tiny apartment with the incongrously beautiful French doors, when my mother and father tolerated each other's company for the first time in years, for long enough to enjoy the very first turkey my younger sister ever cooked, and we all played Trivial Pursuit; the first Thanksgiving I spent in New Orleans, when my entire family, including one very tiny nephew, made the 12-hour drive from Orlando to feast and to tour the house on Trianon that Cade and I had purchased the afternoon before; and of course the Thanksgiving two years ago when, having just returned to New Orleans after the storm with our two-month-old daughter and whole lot to complain about, we stood in the pre-feast prayer circle in Ama and I watched Cade's mother cry, like she always does when she tries to say grace, and I suddenly got it, I knew, I understood why she could never manage to get through the silly thing.

I started writing this post yesterday, before I heard the terrible news that the husband of a beloved Abeona teacher was killed in an accident yesterday morning. My plan was to put down a list of the shit I'm grateful for, and I intend to do so momentarily, but my mind keeps returning to this utterly kind woman, always with a smile and kind word for or about your child, who is no doubt experiencing unutterable grief, even as I write this. She will probably never read this post, but I have to say it anyhow: I'm so sorry, Kynisha.

So on to the grateful shit. Where to begin?

* I'm grateful for my husband, who is not above braiding the hair of his daughter's My Little Pony, who never asks me to be anyone or anything other than the person I am, but who ardently believes that I can become anyone and anything I choose to become.

* I'm grateful for my beautiful buttercream baby, my precious girl, who just the other night heard me complain to her father over dinner at Popeye's that I wished I had ordered a side with my chicken, who broke her much-desired biscuit in half and held it across the table, saying "For you, Mommy." No, no, my baby, you've got it mixed up: it's for you, munchkin--everything we do is for you.

*
I'm grateful for Abeona House, where last Friday I stood in the backyard and kept Sydney from raiding the potluck table and watched her teachers dance their hearts out to Sunpie and the Louisiana Sunspots, who played on the back porch of the school for 2 full hours. Does it get any better than that?

* I'm grateful for my family and for Cade's family, and for the fact that both parties seem to, in turn, be grateful for the other. How often does that happen?

* I'm grateful for my job, for the opportunity to do clinical work, and for the fact that I stuck it out, despite my initial reservations.

* And I'm so goddamn happy to be home, to be here, to dance in the backyard of a nursery school on Oak Street on Friday, then turn around and feast on ridiculously delicious poboys at a street festival on Oak two days later. I'm grateful to live in a town where celebrating life and community and good food are an everyday occurrence.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Hey, Syd


Sydney loves my candy-apple red i-Pod, the one I use for jogging, the one she's not allowed to play with. Last night she discovered that the device plays music when you hold the ear buds up against the side of your head and stand very, very still. She gazed at me, wide-eyed, listening to Ben Folds' 'Zak and Sara.' After a minute or so she handed the headphones to me and made a sour face.

"I no like this song, Mommy."

"You don't like Ben Folds?" Ack.

"No." The tiny blond head went side to side, emphatically. "I. No. Like. This. Song."

"Wanna listen to another one?"

"Yeah!"

And so I scrolled through my playlists, sort of discouraged by the fact of my flesh-and-blood's questionable taste in music, until I hit on something I thought she could not possibly resist. Perhaps it was a test, I don't know, and god knows to what depths I would have sunk if she had declared this, too, unacceptable, but thankfully she took to it almost immediately. The volume was turned up high enough for me to hear what she was hearing, and as the opening bars of 'Hey Jude' filled her ears I witnessed a moment of pure astonishment, of joy, and when I asked her if she liked this song--say yes, please say yes--she grinned at me and nodded her tiny head and said, emphatically, "YES." And so we listened to the entire song, all seven minutes and seven seconds of it, all through the naa-na-na-na-na-na-naas, to the bitter end, the two of us sprawled on the living room rug, with the iPod.


So there you have it. My child is a Beatles fan. Now I can die happy.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Too Cute, Had to Share

True Love

Deep Thoughts

Jeffrey Cade and Sydney Cade outside a fire station in Cade, Louisiana




Thursday, October 25, 2007

Please remind me why I work outside the home

On the way to Abeona House yesterday:

"Mommy?"

"Yes baby."

"Bye-bye coming."

"What's that?"

"Bye-bye comin'. Mommy go to work."

"Ooh, you mean we're about to say bye-bye, 'cause Mommy's going to drop you off at school?"

"Yee-ah."

(Silence)

"Mommy?"

"Yes baby."

"I love you."

(Mommy's heart breaks into a million peices)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Traumatized

Our office closed early yesterday, as client after client called to cancel their afternoon appointments and the director of the agency--my boss--threw her arms wide and declared herself a new person. "Before the storm, I would never have done this," she confided, breathlessly, as we gathered up our bags and raincoats. "I never would have closed the office." I thanked her for letting us go home and she advised me, before hurrying off down the hall, to make sure to use the bathroom, "in case you get stuck." And I had a moment of clear, sharp panic, followed by a wave of nausea so intense I had to stop and contemplate whether I was really able to drive myself home.

It was just before 2 p.m. and word on the street was that there was water on the street--and lots of it. I got in my little car and headed down Causeway, shaking, gulping down wave after wave of panic. I waited for the water and tried to calm down. I called Cade on my cell phone and was not a very nice person. "Tell me which way I should go," I demanded, then snapped and sighed as he thought about it. I drove through water at Jefferson Highway and had to focus very intently on my breathing, on not passing out or throwing up. I drove through more water at the foot of Oak Street and realized that what I was having, what I had been having, was nothing short of an acute stress reaction. I mean, shit. It was textbook.

The funny thing is, it has nothing to do with The Storm; this has everything to do with the afternoon, just about 5 years ago, when I went to pick up my friend Jen at the airport and got stuck on I-10 headed back into the city. Silly me: I assumed an accident, or rubber-necking, or construction or something. Sure, we'd had two tropical storms worth of rain in a little over a week, but the deluge seemed to have successfully resolved into a trickle, no harm done. And I'd just moved to town the year before, so I had no idea that the particular section of the interstate on which I was sitting was just west of that horrible little dip, the part that always floods, the part that on that afternoon had flooded so horribly, and so rapidly, that several cars had been consumed by the floodwaters, the rescue helicopters had been dispatched to the scene, and I was stuck, oh my god, on this road, with no way out except to drive over the sodden grass and onto the service road, where more and more cars were stranded, stalled out, stuck, and I turned up and down each road, through ridiculous waters that should have flooded my tiny little car, until I realized that there was no way home. We made it out to Cade's parents place in Ama and I knew, in some deep, sacred place, that I had landed a phenomenal in-law situation when, after I rejected her offer of hot tea and asked for something cold and alcoholic, Jara laughed and brought me an Abita.

In the end we were just fine, of course, and returned home the next day to a randomnly puddled but otherwise recuperated city. But apparently I was affected by all of this; apparently I can no longer drive through thunderstorms without losing my shit. But next time, I guess, I can use my deep breathing, guided imagery, positive self-talk, and one other, brand-spanking new technique I learned yesterday, in the kitchen at Abeona House, as I took one last moment to steady myself before fetching Sydney from her classroom: alternate nostril breathing.

Whatever works.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Man, On the Street

Life has seemed to slip past me lately--not the nuts and bolts, doing-the-laundry-mopping-the-floor sort of life (although that too, regrettably) but the inner life, the reflecting, the observing self of which I have grown particularly fond. I'm not sure why, although I do know that I have difficulty with minutiae, those small but very important details that allow one to, oh, I dunno, survive, and my tendency in situations wherein I feel flooded with details is to split--to silence my introspection. I imagine my observing self and my physical body almost like a bitter couple on a doomed vacation. It's raining outside and while Body is busy unpacking the bags and ordering room service, Self is slumped in the corner, neglected and petulant, ready to hop the next flight to anywhere but here.

But anyway.

This morning I had an early session at the Uptown office, and on my way to Metairie afterwards I decided to stop at Audubon park for a walk. This is a rare treat these days--an impromptu, mid-morning walk, sans stroller--and I relished every second of it. It made me aware of how little I've relished lately, how acutely deprived my senses and sensations have become, how desperately I needed to see and hear the man I've come to think of as the 'violin guy.'

Do you know the one I'm talking about?

I first encountered the violin guy several years ago on an early evening jog, as I rounded a curve near the front of the park and, pausing for a moment to fiddle with my i-Pod, heard a few bars of 'Amazing Grace.' It didn't take me long to locate the source: a paunchy, bearded, middle-aged guy, in shorts and a t-shirt, standing at the edge of the pond with violin in hand, playing a technically imperfect but surprisingly beautiful rendition of a not-surprisingly beautiful hymn. Since that day I've come across the violin guy on several occasions. Sometimes the music is moving, startling in its simplicity; other times, like today, it's a more mundane, man-on-the-street-with-a-guitar sort of experience. But I always take notice, like I do so often in this city, whether it be an impromptu brass band on a corner of Frenchmen, or a wild-haired octagenarian riding sideways on a Vespa down the middle of Magazine. And it never fails to pull my observing Self out of that silent corner and out into the street where, rain or shine, she is called to action.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Wait a Minute. What?

Nola.com on the fire at Ms. Mae's: "Fire officials say they had some resistance from bar patrons who were reluctant to evacuate because they were watching the Saints game."

Only in New Orleans.

Monday, September 24, 2007

2 Years Old

Sydney turns two today. I've written about her so much that to do so now seems almost redundant. She is miraculous, the chubbiest little spitfire you'll ever share a snack with. She has her father's brains and her mother's temperament, which will serve her well in life if her parents take care not to screw it all up. She loves Popeye's and any music with a funky beat. She loves baby dolls--and all those nature vs. nurture people can suck it, for the record, because nurture clearly has nothing to do with anything--and running really fast around the block. She talks, she counts, she sings, and she sleeps all through the night, every night. She is the most amazing thing I've ever searched for the words to describe.

The story of Sydney's birth is amazing in its own way, although she will undoubtedly grow to loathe the telling. And there has been much telling, and re-telling, in the last couple of years. I like to watch the expression on peoples' faces when they ask how old she is, as they do they the math, arriving at a date not long after the storm, when they finally ask where...um...she ended up being born...and I tell the story about Houston, and Rita, and our ridiculous journey across 5 states to my mom's place in Orlando, where Sydney was finally born, a mere 24 hours after our arrival. I tend to omit one of the best parts of the story, which my friend Shayna loves to recall, the part where Cade and his company are forced to evacuate Ft. Lauderdale for Hurricane Wilma, when Sydney was--what?--barely a month old.

Still, in the middle of it all, there was indescribable beauty. Childbirth, for me, was the single most exhilarating experience of my life. The pain, the confusion, the exhaustion and the fear--all of this obscured by the emergence of this new life, this very vocal little person. They laid her on my chest and it was over, it was all over.


(I came across this charming piece of correspondence as I was cleaning out my inbox. Note the artificially cheerful tone.)


Sent: Thu, 22 Sep 2005 20:08:41 -0500
Subject: I Evacuated to Houston and All I Got Was This Lousy Hurricane

Hey everyone,

I'm in the lobby of a Holiday Inn in Alabama, mooching off their wireless access and trying not to go into labor. Cade and I left Houston yesterday, drove north to Marshall, TX (just west of Shreveport), then woke up early today and made it to just outside Montgomery. We've tried to take major roads and stay close to hospitals. I managed to get my medical records from the doc in Houston before evacuating, so we're set. We'll head to Orlando in the morning. We had to get there eventually anyway--just weren't planning on dong it this soon...

But we're okay. I'm just hoping this storm doesn't wreak as much havoc as Katrina did--hopefully folks will have learned some lessons, and perhaps the storm will weaken some before landfall. I don't wish any of this craziness on anyone else.

Hopefully the next mass email I send will include pictures of the new Roux!

Chrissie

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

K-Ville

I've been slacking a bit on the blogging end, which I could easily attribute to a busy schedule but should probably admit has at least something to do with a growing ambivalence about the whole endeavor. It occurred to me recently--after a debate on another blog with a person who later turned out to be someone I know, in real life--that any one of my clients could Google my name and track down not only this blog, but comments I've made on other blogs, thereby blowing my cover (that of a completely sane, exceedingly rational person, possessing profound wisdom and, as one client recently told me, "a quiet spirit"). This realization has given me pause, as it well should, and made me wonder once again if its truly possible to be a therapist and a real person. But that's for another day.

Truth be told, I have been busy. In the seven days since I last posted, I have seen 26 clients, consulted a podiatrist and scheduled a foot surgery, planned a birthday party, freaked out about my child turning 2, attended a baby shower, bit my nails through Rob Zombie's re-make of 'Halloween,' coordinated culinary provisions for the Open House at Abeona, helped Cade prepare for his going-away party and mourn the end of an 11-year stint with his company, cooked dinners, did laundry, fed the cat, yelled at the cat (he bites), and coached Sydney on the proper pronunciation of the word 'chalk' (She tends to drop the h and the l. Go ahead, say it. Now imagine a two-year-old walking around saying things like "Mommy pay wit cauk. Daddy like-a pay wit cauk.")

And last night Cade and I watched the series premiere of K-ville, the new cop drama set in present-day New Orleans. I thought it was pretty interesting. Over the top, yes, definitely melodramatic and narratively unrealistic (Drive-by shootings staged by real estate wannabes intent on sabotaging rebuilding efforts? An OPP escapee turned dedicated cop?), but interesting in the sense that it presented some true-to-life material. They certainly had the lingo down, and the accents weren't half-bad, unlike a certain other cop drama set in New Orleans. Bottom line: no Emmy nominations, but maybe something worth watching every now and then.

In my spare time.



Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Remembering

6 years ago today, my sister had her tonsils out. They'd been a real problem for years, like two gumballs lodged on either side of her throat, and on that morning she went under the knife to correct the issue. My parents called from the waiting room of the hospital in Florida, early that morning, to let me know that Kate was resting comfortably and would be going into surgery shortly.

6 years ago this morning, I drove to Sav-a-Center for the very first time. I was stressed about a job interview I had that morning. On the way home, as I made a wrong turn onto Claiborne Ave from Napoleon, the DJ on WWOZ interrupted--yes, interrupted--the set to announce that a plan had just flown into the World Trade Center. "I don't normally do news stuff," he said, "but this is something really serious."

6 years ago today, I went on that job interview, terrified, horrified, and visibly shaking, and demonstrated uncharacteristic restraint when the woman conducting the interview--who would later become my boss--looked at me and asked "Is something wrong?" and I said something like, "Um, yeah, those buildings in New York just collapsed and all these people have died and are dying" and she looked at me kinda funny and said "Oh. Yeah. That."

6 years ago tonight, my roommate and I ate dinner at Mona's on Calhoun. We ate silently. The place was deserted.

Back at home I talked to my mother, who told me that my sister's surgery had gone off without a hitch, she was doing well. I clutched the phone and again, invoking that utterly uncharacteristic composure, just barely refrained from begging her to come (back) to New Orleans, to bring me home. The weekend before she had driven with me from Orlando to New Orleans, my old Toyota crammed with a lifetime of crap, across a few state lines to the city I had decided to love as my very own. We caught the remains of Decadence, ate a fine dinner at Venezia's, and when I dropped her off at the airport I remember feeling very strongly that this was it, this was where my childhood ended and my real adult life began. Maybe that sounds silly. But I was 25, and that's not that old these days, and when I saw my mother off at the airport that day I suddenly felt very afraid.

But not as afraid as I felt 6 years ago today.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Sinn Fein

Here is the time for the sayable.
Here is its home.
Speak and attest.
More than ever
the things we can live with
are falling away,
and ousting them, filling their place:
a will with no image.
(Rilke, from the Ninth Elegy)

Read this. Something has to give.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

8/29

We had a staff meeting this morning to commemorate the second anniversary of the storm. The director of the agency asked each of us to bring in a reading, or a symbol of hope, or a story--something of personal import. Since my primary symbol of hope is probably at this very moment taking a nap on the floor of her day care classroom, I settled on a song. It's been a personal favorite for many years; I'm a sucker for a slow, haunting piano accompaniment.

I loved this song before The Storm, but hearing it now, it takes on a completely different meaning. I tracked down an interview with Peter Gabriel wherein he explains the meaning behind the song's lyrics; apparently he had a dream in which the psychic barriers seperating people had disintegrated, allowing everyone full access to everyone else's thoughts and feelings--a sort of mental/emotional flood. In the dream, those people who "were used to having their innermost thoughts exposed" survived, while "those inclined to concealment" suffered terribly.

And isn't that what happened after The Storm? Didn't we all feel so connected, so open, like we were mainlining each other's pain? In my field we talk a lot about resilience--why some people survive intact while others fall apart. To me the whole resilience dialogue is a bit off; it assumes that some people just "do better" with tragedy. I tend to think of it in terms of softening and hardening: after a terrible event, some people soften, others harden. My job, as I see it, is about encouraging the softening, and acknowledging the hardening.

This song, this beautiful song, is about softening. Opening to another's pain. It will be those who gave their islands to survive.

Drink up, dreamers, you're running dry.

Monday, August 27, 2007

My Girl

Saturday, while Cade attended the Rising Tide 2 conference, Sydney and I did something we hardly ever do: nothing. We hung out at home for the duration of the morning, save a quick jaunt to the playground at City Park. We read books, did laundry, played with the cat, and moved a bookshelf from the landing at the top of the stairs. After her nap we went for a romp in the sprinkler, then took Baby NuNu (a frilly pink doll Cade's grandmother picked up at the thrift store where she volunteers one morning per week, named--by Sydney herself--after the plastic pacifier that hangs on a string around her neck) for an afternoon promenade, during which we finally met our new neighbors across the street. They have a 17 month-old son, and a pool, and a dog, and cookies which Jaun Pablo's mommy doled out generously. So, all in all, a very good, very relaxed, very abnormal day.

It's so different when Cade's not around; not different good, or different bad, but just plain different. There is an intensity, a certain focused attention, that is necessarily diluted when the three of us are present. For example: at several points in the day on Saturday, Sydney would climb into my lap, stare at me in this close-up, searching sort of manner, and take my face in her hands, where she would hold it for several seconds, just staring, sometimes biting her bottom lip intently, as if struggling for words. What was she trying to communicate to me? It felt like love, the unadulterated kind, but maybe that's just wishful thinking.

I wanted to go to RT with Cade this weekend, but made the final decision against going precisely because I knew what I would be missing: this opportunity, these small, private moments, this inexplicable happiness. And it is moments like these that make me think about having another child--not simply because its fun, and fulfilling, and just so incredibly beautiful, but because I sometimes worry that the depth of my love, the intensity of my feeling, will prove to be too much. Its too much for one person, is how it feels.

Is that totally insane?

N.B. It's nice to discover that we're not the only family that had a worth-mentioning sort of weekend.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Note to Self

Sydney has fallen in love with my keys--specifically the key to my car, which comes equipped with a variety of buttons and lights and which has consequently provided loads of accumulated entertainment since it was added to the play repertoire last week. Car rides have become rather hysterical, as she does not yet understand that the key has to be in the ignition in order for the car to run, which is why I found myself in a state of frustration and general stupidity yesterday afternoon as we pulled up to our house.

"Mom-eee!" she'd screamed, the entire way home. "Keys! Please keys!"

"Not now, baby," I'd said, soothingly, calmly, over and over and over. "When we get home."

So, when we got home, and I pulled the keys from the ignition, I reached around and handed them to her. (It pains me just to write this.) I had promised her the keys when we got home, and here we were at home, and damn it, I was tired of explaining to a 2-year-old the finer points of car mechanics and patience and overall decorum. So I handed her the keys, got out of the car, and was walking around the back to get her out, when...

Click.

You probably saw it coming a mile away, right? I didn't. For some reason, it never occurred to me that she might lock herself in. With the keys that I handed to her. Like a total freakin' idiot.

Before you could say "worst nightmare" I was on the phone with Cade, begging him not to be mad at me, commanding him to leave work immediately with the spare key, trying to keep the hysterical voice at bay, the one that was screaming about the heat, and the dangers of dehydration, and the woman I knew at Tulane whose 3 year-old son died in a locked car in the middle of a parking lot in the middle of the summer in New Orleans, several years ago.

"Calm down," Cade said, not mad at all but--gasp!--laughing. "Nothing's going to happen. You're standing right there."

And it was true, I was standing right there, with my head pressed against the window, begging my child to push the button, no not that button, the other one, yes, yes--no, the other one, yes, now press it again, one more time, keep pressing, that's a good girl, mommy loves you, keep pressing...

And so on. She, of course, thought the whole thing was hilarious. "Hi, mommy!" she said, laughing and tapping on the window separating the two of us. "Push a button!" "Mommy outside!" "Sydney inna car!"

After a few minutes and way too many worried glances from passers-by, she finally pushed the correct button and unlocked the door. I called Cade and told him the news, then hustled her inside for some air-conditioning and fluids. She settled down to play, completely unfazed, while I huffed and shuddered and cursed myself for such a--what's the word?--thoughtless mistake.

Lesson learned, I guess. Why do I always seem to have to learn the hard way?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Our House

Sydney's new class (commonly referred to as "The Twos") is working on a project focused on the home. Each child was asked to bring in photos of their home and families, and the teachers have helped them create pieces showcasing their photos and describing the child's home life. After fishing around for pictures that did not include 1) a binky , 2) a Katrina 'X' or 3) a basket of unfolded laundry, I finally settled on a couple of mediocre pictures of the three of us and one shot of the banner Cade put up when we finally came back to New Orleans in mid-November 2005. The banner--which nearly pushed me over the crumbling cliff of emotional equilibirum I had been trying desperately to maintain--read:


SYDNEY ROUX

WELCOME HOME


He hung it in the space between the living and dining rooms, where it stayed for months. It hurt to take it down--maybe it felt like an omen, like bad karma or something--and when we finally did take it down I packed it carefully in a box and stored it in the back room, where it has remained and will remain until she comes of age and I force her to assume responsibility for her own mementos. The banner is, to me, a reminder of that homecoming, which was horrible and sad and confusing but felt so good, it was so good to be home with our two-month-old daughter, who we were sure would come to love the city with the very same fervor. The banner was about struggling, and hoping, and coming back.

I included this photo out of desperation, mostly; I was already way behind in getting the pictures to her teacher. And it was so interesting to see it up on the wall that afternoon when I came to pick Sydney up, alongside a paragraph that read something like: My parents hung this banner when they brought me home from the hospital. Everyone was so excited to meet me!
Well yes--that was how it should have been. In reality the situation turned out quite differently.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Life in an Elevator

It's funny how people react when they find out what I do. A couple of weeks ago the very nice young man from Enterprise came to pick me up at the office, to take me to pick up my rental car. It was a pleasant ride down Veterans, with minimal traffic, and he seemed eager to fill the potentially awkward spaces with chatter about his life--the long hours demanded by his employer, his dream of becoming a manager, how he hoped the forecasted thunderstorms wouldn't ruin his weekly touch football game. And then:

"So that was your office, huh?"

"Yep." I tried not to sound depressed.

"What do you do there?"

"I work for Jewish Family Service."

"Uh huh." He nodded enthusiastically, which I took to mean he had no idea to what entity I was referring. "I'm a clinical social worker," I added.

"Oh! That's great." He seemed relieved. "So you help people get jobs, or what? You help people with the Road Home program?"

"Actually," I said, "I'm a therapist."

"Oh," he said, looking confused again, "you mean like a physical therapist?"

"A counselor," I said. "A psychotherapist."

"Ahhh," he said. "Oh. Okay."

We rode the rest of the way in silence. I had succeeded in scaring the living crap out of this poor guy.

Contrast that with the conversation I had with the very nice young man who drove me back to the office the following week, after I had returned the rental car.

"So, where we going?" He thumped the steering wheel to an imaginary beat. I gave him directions. "And what do you do there, if I may ask?"

Recalling my experience with his co-worker, I decided to cut to the chase.

"I'm a therapist," I said. "You know, like a counselor."

He turned in his seat to face me. "You're kidding." I raised my eyebrows. "I think that is so awesome. I've been needing to talk to one of you guys."

You can imagine the rest, I guess.

There is a man who works on my floor, a tall man in his fifties, with a pock-marked face and a Chalmette accent. He is so nice, one of those cheerful people who make me feel like an alien, make me wonder what exactly is wrong with me that I cannot seem to muster the same enthusiasm under the terrible lights of our common hallway. I'm not sure what company he works for, but he always seems jolly, more than happy to be there. We often share the elevator on our way into or out of the building, and yesterday afternoon we got to talking.

"You work for the Jewish Community Center, dontcha?" This is a common mistake, and I let it go, like I always do. "I've never been in there, myself."

I smiled. What could I say?

"And what do you do there?"

"I'm a clinical social worker."

"A-ha." He grinned at the woman standing next to him. "I have no idea what that is."

"I'm a counselor." (My spiel is getting shorter by the day.)

His face changed then, quite suddenly: the ever-present grin dropped away, his brows furrowed, he became...what?...grim. And he told me his story, which was not over by the time we reached the bottom, but the kind woman riding with us held the door open and waited, quietly.

He lives in a FEMA trailer in Arabi--he comes from Arabi, all his life. He's still in the trailer, he's the only one for as far as he can see, but he's not moving, he's going to stay in the trailer until his house is finished, neighbors be damned. "I guess I should talk to someone about it," he said, "but I guess I don't know what I would talk about." I didn't know how to respond to that. How do you respond to that?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

22 Months




This morning Sydney's teacher, Ms. Gwen, pointed us to the classroom across the hall--the two-year-olds' room. As of the end of next week, this will be Syd's new classroom. The munchkin seemed happy: she prefers the big kids, and when we walked in they all had their shoes off, which scored major points. She didn't even throw a passing glance my way as I left, being completely enthralled by the plastic cash register she'd spotted on a low shelf on the opposite side of the room.




This is going to be piece of cake. For one of us.

Monday, July 23, 2007

This is the part where you tell me to get over it...

I mean, it's just a book, right?

Cade took Sydney on Saturday morning, while I was teaching a piano lesson, to Maple Street Children's Bookshop to pick up our reserved copy. We'd made a deal: he could read it first if he promised, swore on the graves of every person who'd ever loved him, that he would not give an iota of precious information away. No gasping, no muttered reactions, no eyebrows raised meaningfully on the way to the bathroom--nothing. And so far, so good: he finished the book on Saturday night and has yet to say a word about the fate of Harry and his friends and enemies. As of this morning, I'm about halfway through.

You know, I'd be a lot less anxious if the title were a little different. Oh, I dunno, maybe something like 'Harry Potter and the Really, Really Happy Ending.' Or 'Harry Potter is Totally Going to Kick Voldemort's Ass.' Or even 'Harry Potter is Not Going to Die, I Swear,' or something like that. Anything but the 'Deathly Hallows.' I mean, is she trying to induce a full-blown panic attack, or what?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Pain


"Life can be painful if you do it right. Anyone brave enough to love another person, anyone who loves enough to take onto herself another person's pain and fear, anyone compassionate enough to feel the pain of all that is wrong with our world, learns how challenging life can be. Sometimes the heart that opens itself to love becomes so overwhelmed with the feelings to which it has made itself vulnerable that it breaks."


--Rabbi Harold S. Kushner

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Too Fine a Point


I found this article a few months ago, after Google-ing (and what is the verb usage here? drop the e, or not?) something like "feminism motherhood." I didn't make it all the way through on my first pass, as anger and disgust repelled me from my desk. I remember tossing wet baby clothes into the dryer with unnecessary force, stewing over Hirshman's assertion that "elite" women's (oh, yuck, yuck, yuck) decisions to stay home with their children instead of pursuing high-powered (read: high-paying) careers amounts to a "loss of hope for the future," and her re-iteration of the old feminist assertion that housework and toilet training are tasks fit only for animals. I mean, shit--I would hate to be her housekeeper! I stewed and stomped around the house and only later contemplated the irony inherent in the fact that I had been engaged in housework for the duration of my private rant. Hmmm.

So I read the article again, and this time I finished it. Still, it didn't sit well, particularly the part where the author advises young women to "marry down." I get her point, I think--fight fire with fire, do what men have done for centuries, hook up with someone you know will support your lifestyle--but I find the prospect repulsive. But then, I find most decisions made pragmatically to be, at best, a tad mystifying, and at worst, more than a tad repulsive, so maybe its just me. Which brings me to my next point.

So this is the real deal: I sometimes wonder if I am, on a fundamental level, a fighter. I have always been billed as such--as someone who pushes herself harder than she should, who expects a lot from herself and from others, who doesn't take the easy way out of difficult situations. I'm not sure now that I've really earned this reputation--a point which is easy to illustrate in light of my current struggle. Comments made after my last post really made me stop and consider what I bring to this current dilemma. It would be easy, and it is surely tempting, to blame society for my misery, to pin my anger and frustration on the legacy left by the feminist movement, to blame my husband (and his parents and their parents and so on) for leaving me to do the bulk of the housework, but none of that seems to hit the bulls-eye. While these struggles are real, and important, and totally pertinent to my current situation, the larger, looming truth is more personal, and far more painful. I can fairly easily give the proverbial finger to a boss who punishes me for having a family, but admitting my own insecurities, what I perceive to be my own frailties, is far more difficult.

Hirshman reports that

a common thread among the women I interviewed was a self-important idealism about the kinds of intellectual, prestigious, socially meaningful, politics-free jobs worth their
incalculably valuable presence. So the second rule is that women must treat the first few years after college as an opportunity to lose their capitalism virginity and prepare for good work, which they will then treat seriously.

Okay, I find this too repulsive, and I guess that just puts me in a category with the rest of the women she describes: a self-important idealist. But maybe she's right; I've always felt ill-equipped for the corporate work world. The silly hours, the busywork, the terrible lighting--they call this evolution, civilization? It has never made sense to me. I just can't figure out whether this is a perfectly acceptable and essentially intractable facet of my personality or something that is fundamentally wrong with me. I know what a therapist would say about that, but therapists are sometimes full of shit.

I find this quote so painful--so painfully true--that I take it out and read it only occasionally. It is just so incredibly sad.

A man should have the fine point of his soul taken off to become fit for this world.
-John Keats


Friday, July 6, 2007

A Daring Adventure

Last night, on my way out of the parking lot after a 10-hour day in a sucky office, I smashed my car door against a concrete pole. Neither my current state of mind nor the bleary-eyed stupor induced by a day of flouresent lighting and emotional tirades can excuse this sort of stupidity. I mean, I simply forgot the pole was there, and instead of backing straight out I turned the wheel and caused myself a nice little cruncher.

I got home to a feverish baby, who awoke this morning with an even higher fever and some stomach issues. Poor baby. Cade's at home with her today, as I'm pretty sure I would be frowned upon for taking the day off at this point, and here I sit, waiting on my next client, cloaked in misery and self-recrimination.

Right now I'm pissed at the Women's Lib-bers. Right now it would be nice to to know exactly what my role in life should be, where my time and energy should be focused. I think I know the answer, but the part of me that values my independence rails against this knowledge. I have always worked. I cannot imagine not working.

But is it really possible to be a mother and an employee? Especially in the line of work I currently love?

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Lying In It

I've never understood that old saying, the one that starts with You made your bed...but that's the phrase that keeps running through my head these days, over and over, like a soundtrack in a foreign language: You made your bed--now lie in it.

What I have made, truly, is a big old mess. I have somehow landed myself smack in the middle of an episode of The Office, except that my new boss is both competent and productive. So what's the problem?

Where shall I begin?

The flourescent lights, for one. They make my head hurt. The eerie, buzzing quiet. The recycled air on the 6th floor of a Metairie high-rise. The parking garage. The quota. The fact that, despite the fairly frank conditions I set forth in the interview, I am expected to stay until 5 p.m. or later every single day. This last one alone is enough evidence of my dilemma.

And so I find myself in an awkward position. I love the work, I love my clients (appropriately), I really love being a clinical social worker. But this is bad, so bad, and I don't know how to extricate myself. I have spent the last 3 weeks in a state of near-perpetual agony, wondering what in the hell I was thinking, why did I do it, how can I get it back, why am I crying again, am I really going to do this in front of the gas station attendant? Again?

It's funny: when a big crisis hits, I'm cool as a cucumber (see Hurricane Katrina, 2005). But when faced with a crisis of personal meaning, I'm all over the place. I'm a total mess.

I've found that in times like these I start to notice everything--I become hyper-alert, my senses primed for incoming stimuli. Maybe it's that survival instinct kicking in, searching for new information to counteract the old. Whatever the reason, I happened to be sitting in an office the other day, trying not to cry, when I noticed a small scrap of paper in a frame on the wall. The paper contained a quote attributed to Helen Keller:

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.

Leave it to someone with real problems to make mine seem pretty inconsequential.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Landslide

I've had a bad time lately. I think I made a bad decision. I heard this song on the radio today and I nearly had to pull over:

I took my love, I took it down
Climbed a mountain and I turned around
I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills
till the landslide brought me down

Oh, mirror in the sky
What is love
Can the child within my heart rise above
Can I sail thru the changing ocean tides
Can I handle the seasons of my life

Well, Ive been afraid of changing
cause Ive built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Children get older
Im getting older too

Oh, take my love, take it down
Climb a mountain and turn around
If you see my reflection in the snow covered hills
Well the landslide will bring it down

If you see my reflection in the snow covered hills
Well maybe the landslide will bring it down

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Paging Dr. Freud

Last night I had a dream wherein I pursued a trench-coated villain who was allegedly doing nasty things to innocent people. The villain's name? Surgery, M.D. I'm not making this up.

I chased Surgery, M.D. through dark alleys, across bustling intersections, into a restaurant bathroom where she inexplicably disappeared. Surgery, M.D. wore a dark blue, rather stylish fitted trench coat, and smiled at me knowingly whenever we made eye contact. Towards the end of the dream I realized that we were, in fact, on the set of a crime drama called--you guessed it--Surgery, M.D. Everyone was laughing at me.

I guess that's what I get for watching the Law & Order: SVU marathon on USA last night.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

I don't want to get my hopes up...

...but this made me want to high-five someone. I know those of the more cynical persuasion will see this as just another example of political pandering, but I like this guy. He's smart, he's well-spoken, he's not afraid to talk about real stuff, and--most important of all--he's right.

I'm not running out to buy a "Obama 2008" bumper sticker, but it's nice to feel a little more hopeful. Maybe.

What I Did on My Vacation

I'm off this week, just taking a deep breath between gigs. Yesterday I did some errands, then chores around the house when the apocalyptic thunderstorms hit. It's nice to have some time off, and although I feel slightly bad about taking Syd to daycare when I could be keeping her home with me, I don't feel bad enough to change my mind. Mommy needs some time alone.

This morning's itinerary consisted of a stop at the brake tag place and a visit to the Uptown Farmer's Market. My old brake tag place, on Carrollton, apparently no longer does vehicle inspections, so I headed over to State and Magazine. Either this sort of work attracts people of a certain disposition, or they train them to be on the mean end of the stern continuum, because this woman made her disdain for me quite clear.

"Sern till," she muttered, against the clank and clatter of machinery in the adjacent garage.

I leaned out my open window. "I'm sorry?"

"TURN. ON. YOUR. RIGHT. TURN. SIGNAL," she cried. I obeyed. She muttered something else, the content of which I deduced to include instructions about the left turn signal, and I obeyed again.

"Rites."

"I'm...I couldn't hear you."

"I. SAID. TURN. ON. YOUR. HEADLIGHTS."

We went on like this for the rest of the inspection--some muttering, a polite request for a repeat command, an over-enunciated and rather grating reply. The only point at which I could clearly understand what she said on the first attempt was when she passed me on the way to the back of the car; she said "Put your car in reverse, but keep your foot on the brake." Was she trying to tempt me? Seriously. It would have been so easy...

At the end of the inspection, she asked to see my insurance and car registration, at which point she discovered that I have had the car for over a year, with no brake tag. "You've had this car for over a year, and you haven't had a vehicle inspection?" I nodded, shamefully. "That's going to be ten extra dollars," she said, and scribbled something on her tablet. Ten dollars seems to me a small price to pay for civil irresponsibility, and I gladly forked it over and drove away with the echoes of her disdain ringing in my ears.

A stop at the Farmer's Market proved equally dismal, for entirely different reasons. Three people--not related in any way I could discern--butted in line ahead of me: one woman at the token stand, another in the strawberry line, and a third at the stand where I stood (dutifully) waiting to purchase alligator sausage. This last woman literally stepped in front of me to inquire about the price of soft-shelled crabs (which was, incidentally, written in large print on the sign in front of her). The vendor gave her the price, and she started to order, at which point I had no choice but to assert myself. "I was waiting in line," I told her, and for a moment she just stared at me, as though I was speaking a different language. I briefly wondered whether she did, in fact, speak another language--which would not have excused her rudeness--but then she muttered something that sounded like an apology and moved behind me (in front of another customer who was actually waiting in line).

What is the matter with these people? Is there some sort of Farmer's Market etiquette that allows for such behavior? On the way to my car, I spotted the soft-shelled crab lady approaching her own vehicle, a massive SUV with a "Mitt Romney 2008" sticker on the bumper. Several of what appeared to be miniature poodles scurried around inside and she yelled at them as she opened the door and heaved herself into the driver's seat. I felt inexplicably sad as I sat down in my own driver's seat: sad for those dogs, sad for the woman, sad for the state of our society in general.

I should probably avoid going out to Metairie today.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Emotional Intelligence

Last night we went to a meeting of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Cade has been a member of IEEE--referred to by insiders as "I Triple E," but always makes me think of the redneck call to arms frequently heard around one of my father's Friday night bonfires--for many years, but this is the first local meeting we've attended. Normally, domestic demands and a general lack of interest in the subject matter prevent us from attending, but the subject matter of last night's meeting was too tempting, so we got Cade's dad to babysit and headed over to Cannon's for supper and education.

The speaker last night was a woman from MIT who heads a research program focused on designing software that recognizes affective (emotional) states. They've begun testing the software with people with autism (or "autistics," as Ms. Picard referred to them), with the idea that these empathic machines might help them interact more normally. Ms. Picard did a brief demonstration, fielded some questions, took pains to emphasize the many strengths that people with autism--I just cannot refer to them as "autistics"--exhibit.

It was truly fascinating, and the research is exciting, but I can't help questioning the basic tenets of the research she described. Is it possible to train a machine to be empathic? Isn't empathy something that's fundamentally mysterious, and subjective, and full of everything that resists scientific inquiry? For example: assuming that cultural/social norms impact the way a person displays and interprets emotion, is it really possible to train a machine to recognize all of the various and sometimes subtle differences in affective communication? This would require some mass generalizations (i.e., Japanese people have flat affects), which makes everyone uncomfortable--as evidenced by Ms. Picard's response to my question regarding this very subject, wherein she made some vague and slightly defensive comments about avoiding cultural stereotypes and didn't really answer my question at all.

The question being: can a machine really tell us how we're feeling? Do we really want it to?

Or maybe I'm the one feeling defensive, because that's supposed to be my job?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Oops

Yesterday, at Whole Foods, I managed to bring down an entire shelf of glass jars containing a variety of caramel and chocolate sauces. Granted, the shelf was front-heavy, resting precariously on two metal brackets, neither well-balanced nor anchored. But still. Why couldn't I have knocked over a shelf of cereal boxes, or toilet tissue, or canned peas or something? Why do I insist upon making such a spectacular ass of myself?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Family Tree

We stopped in Defuniak Springs on Sunday morning, on our way back to NOLA. It's another small, pseudo-agrarian town nestled deep in the Florida Panhandle, the sort of place folks like us stop to use the restroom, grab a soda and hop back onto the highway without a passing thought of the local residents, their lives and livelihoods, their histories. We'd stopped in Defuniak a couple of years before, to find a geocache Cade had his eye on, but several miles down a pitted dirt road I got spooked and we turned around, defeated and cross. But my husband is a stubborn fellow (I mean, what else would you expect from a Taurus?) and on our way back last weekend we pulled off for the second time, one of us hopeful, GPS at the ready, the other slightly surly, tending to the squirming toddler in the backseat, longing for the Louisiana state line. Little did I know, steeped in doubt and impatience, that a real treasure awaited our discovery at the end of the winding dirt road.

It turned out to be a cemetery--a small one, no more than 10 or so tombstones, all members of the same family, some dating back to the early nineteenth century. As Cade hunted for the cache and Sydney romped joyfully among the dead, I took stock: one woman, the family matriarch, had lived to be nearly a hundred years old. An inscription on the tombstone of a 22-year-old man who'd likely died in WWI read What hopes have perished with you, my son. A woman named Julia and a man named Henry, born 1872 and 1865, respectively, lost 3 children in a breathtakingly brief period of time--an almost two-year-old boy in 1913, an infant (probably stillborn) in 1916, and an older son in 1918. Imagine losing three children in the span of five years! Cade talked about influenza, war casualties, all very reasonable explanations and undoubtedly true, but my thoughts were consumed by the enormity of this couple's loss. How did they survive it? I double-checked the couple's tombstones, searching for evidence of grief-induced early demise, but both lived decades past their children, well into their sixties and seventies. I pondered this newest discovery in silence, almost in reverance. How in the hell did they manage it?

Meanwhile, utterly oblivious to my reverie, Sydney had busied herself with climbing over the low wooden railing to snag flowers from the tombstones. It was time to refocus, to hug and kiss and just completely smother my precious, living, breathing child, to put her back in the car with an extra tug on the seatbelt, a longer-than-usual kiss on the forehead. We drove back along the dusty dirt road towards the highway, one of us pleased with his find, his success, the other lingering in a long-ago world, the history of a place she had never really noticed. Stunned by losses she hoped never to have to comprehend.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Middle of Nowhere


I'm writing from a hotel in Marianna, Florida, where we've stopped for the evening on our way back from a weeklong vacation. This is not the first time we've stopped here--in this town, at this hotel. We prefer to split the 11-hour drive from NOLA to Orlando in half, and Marianna is just west of Tallahassee, easy to access, quiet, and cheap; we've stayed here a handful of times over the last few years. There's not much to Marianna: a Wal-Mart, a couple of vaguely depressing places normally referred to as "family-style" restaurants, a gas station, a smattering of churches and gun shops. To my spoiled eye it looks like not much more than a glorified rest stop, although I imagine the locals would disagree (vehemently).

Our stays are usually blissfully unremarkable, except for the last time, when we stopped on our way back to New Orleans after a 3-month evacuation. It was mid-November, and Sydney was about 7 weeks old, still only sleeping in one-to-two-hour fits; I was like the walking dead, really just going through the motions, both desperate to get home and completely terrified of what I would see, how I would manage to care for an infant in the middle of a ruined city. We stopped for the night in Marianna, had dinner at Sonny's (where a preternaturally large toddler became obsessed with Sydney, either because she seemed a tiny version of himself or a potentially tantalizing appetizer), slumped back to the freezing cold hotel room and settled down for sleep--or what passed for sleep in those days--with the baby in the bed between us. It was so cold: I had all of my clothes on, including my jacket, and Sydney nestled tight against me in the dark. I was creeping towards the edge of oblivion when suddenly, from the second floor, the boom-boom-kaboom of a bass drum jolted me awake, followed in short order by a cacaphony of sounds emanating from the sorts of instruments one might find on a high school football field during halftime. We weren't sure at first what was happening--in those hazy days (after The Storm, after The Baby) the line(s) between reality and fantasy blurred just a little--but a few more minutes of raucous entertainment confirmed our suspicion.

A high school marching band had checked in. And they were awake.

I remember shedding a few tears of exhaustion/frustration/rage/helplessness over the course of that wretched evening, but now it just seems funny. And this time, I am happy to report, our stay has been satisfactorily mundane, marked only by Sydney's occasional squeals of joy as she spies a pile of rocks in the corner of the parking lot, or takes to counting the plastic bath toys at her feet ("Two, two, two! Yee-ayy!"). I'm looking forward to a good night's sleep, the free continental breakfast, and a no-rush ride back to our city, the best city in the world. It was nice to get away, but really: there is no place like home.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

A Decision is Made.

I took the job.

So many factors...um...factored in to my final decision--hours, flexibility, money, location, environment--but then I started thinking about regret and the choice was relatively simple. As Cade's aunt Manina said to me: "No decision is a wrong decision." So I pushed past my fears and doubts and ambivalence and made one. For better or worse, there you have it. As of June I will be the newest therapist at Jewish Family Services of Greater New Orleans.

Life has felt so chaotic lately that I've had a hard time focusing enough to formulate a coherent narrative. Even now, as I write this, a million thoughts are swirling. Will my next client show up? How will I break the news of my departure? Will my clients follow me to the new setting? Do I dare assume that level of attachment?

I'm also coming down from Jazz Fest, which was a blast, as always, but not nearly as soul-inflating as in some previous years. I got to stand right up by the stage for Counting Crows (close enough to see very clearly the love handles that have formed around Adam Duritz's waist) which was cool. They always mix it up, which I appreciate: it doesn't leave me feeling like I could have simply stayed home and listened to the CD, you know? For this show, they broke into a super-slow version of "Thunder Road," my favorite Springsteen song, and later offered a version of "Pale Blue Eyes" that brought tears to mine. It was a Jazz Fest moment, to be sure. If only those fuckers behind and in front of me would have had enough sense to stop talking and pay attention to the beauty unfolding all around them.

So that was cool. I saw some other great performances, among them the women drummers from Guinea (amazing), the New Orleans Klezmer Allstars (stupendous), Irma Thomas, Washboard Chaz Blues Trio, etc, etc, but nothing that really caught me in that perfect state of being, the state I find myself in when in the presence of the truly sublime. Maybe it was my state of mind--the first weekend I felt guilty about leaving Sydney all day, the second weekend I felt guilty for subjecting her to the sweltering heat and decidedly non-nap-inducing environment--or maybe the vibe was off. I don't know. But I did have a good time.

And more than once I fought off the urge to corner the out-of-towners and make sure they understood what they were witnessing: the importance of this city, the importance of this culture, this phenomenon, this precious jewel that so many people seem to think is expendable. Do our visitors get it? Do they really think these things are reproducible, that Mardi Gras at Universal Studios is the same as Mardi Gras on St. Charles Ave., or that Jazz Fest is the same as any of the other outdoor music festivals in other places? I hope not. I didn't get the chance to ask any of them, but I watched them line up at the gates of our cultural heritage and eat their hearts out and dance to our music--OUR music!--and walk away sunburned and smiling and, well, I just really hope that they get it.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Ambivalence

I have a really difficult decision to make, and I have to make it soon. This is an unusual position for me, as my personal struggles generally tend to involve errors resulting from impulsivity rather than ambivalence. I don't normally have trouble making decisions, but this one has me awake at night, weighing my options, making lists of positives and negatives, spacing out on the job and at home and consulting nearly everyone who crosses my path, including the incredibly sweet and surprisingly insightful young woman who cleaned my teeth this morning.

It's about a job. Last Friday I interviewed for a great position at a highly respected agency, where I would spend the bulk of my working days seeing clients. My salary would double, I could devote all of my time to doing therapy and would not have to bother with all of the administrative stuff that I generally despise. Sure, I'd have to work in Metairie, but that seems a small price to pay for the afore-mentioned benefits and oh, that's right, the four weeks paid vacation that I could look forward to every year.

It is, in many respects, a dream job--or at the very least, an extremely attractive opportunity. It should be a no-brainer, but it somehow doesn't feel right, and I have spent an inordinate amount of time over the last fews days trying to pinpoint the source of this distressing ambivalence. Is this my lifelong fear of change asserting itself? Am I afraid I won't be up to the challenge? Do I really hate Metairie that much? Am I reluctant to lose the connection to the academic community that Trinity provides? Does this feel too much like a grown-up job? Is this ambivalence actually a form of rebellion?

I can't sort it out. But I do know that this job would mean longer hours, more pressure, a longer commute, less flexibility. I'm on the cusp of an important choice, one that's more about self-definition than money or ambition. Can I be a good mother and a good therapist? And what about a good wife? A good daughter? A responsible citizen? This choice, this seemingly impossible choice, unveils the tension that until now I have been able to manage with relative ease. Taking this job might mean greater professional--and subsequently personal--fulfillment but would take away precious time with my daughter. Should she suffer for my professional ambitions? Of course not. But isn't it also possible, or probable, that my own personal (or professional) fulfillment has a tremendous impact on my relationship with her? In other words, if I'm happy, won't we all be happier as a result?

I just don't know, and I've started to understand why so many women choose to stay at home with their children. While I feel truly fortunate to have the opportunity to make choices, I don't want to make the mistake of striking too many Faustian bargains. Twenty years from now, will Sydney sit on her shrink's couch and complain that I was always at work, or will she bemoan the fact that I never took the opportunity to better myself?

The dental hygienist would make a good therapist: she was empathic, and listened, and did not give her opinion. That is so goddamn frustrating! But she did say--and I don't think this was an accident--as we discussed the much-delayed extraction of an ailing tooth, that "Good mothers always make sacrifices for their children." She was talking about the tooth, of course, and the fact that I've had to delay the extraction for lack of time, but I know what she really meant. It's just not clear what that sacrifice looks like.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

33 Funerals and a Birthday

Tomorrow is Cade's birthday. It is also the 8-year anniversary of the shootings at Columbine high school. Earlier this week, at Virginia Tech, a young man--who made numerous references to the Columbine shooters in a recording he sent to the media--killed 32 others before turning the gun on himself in the middle of what everyone describes as a peaceful and blissfully serene campus.

I tried to write about this on Monday afternoon, but couldn't. It's just so awful and I haven't felt up to commenting upon, let alone analyzing what happened in Blacksburg. I know the head of the counseling center at Tech--he is the significant other of my former supervisor at Trinity, the former head of the counseling center at Loyola--and my thoughts have been largely consumed by imagining the scope of the pain and despair he and my friend are witnessing and enduring. While the whys of the tragedy don't plague me--ours is a violent society, always has been, always will, and until we get some better weapons legislation and put some more goddamned money in our mental healthcare system things like this will continue to happen--the whats most certainly do: what next, what else, what more will we have to collectively endure before we can get back to the business of living meaningful lives.

I was feeling pretty down today but on the way home was gifted with an unexpected song. Gladys Knight sang 'Midnight Train to Georgia' over three decades ago, I've never been on a train, and I don't think I know anyone who lives in the Peach State, but the song has always spoken to me on a visceral level. The tumbling chord progression, Knight's thunderous, soulful performance--everything, everything about the song makes me want to weep with appreciation. Today, the lyrics spoke to me:

He's leaving
on that midnight train to Georgia
Said he's going back to find a simpler place and time
I'll be with him on that midnight train to Georgia
I'd rather live in his world than live without him in mine.

I used to think of the sentiment expressed in the song's lyrics as slightly pathetic: I could not come close to imagining a scenario in which I would follow a man across the country in because I could not tolerate the idea of living without him. I mean, here's this dude who moves to L.A. to "make it big," can't hack it, and runs for the nearest train to slump back to his hometown with his tail between his legs and this woman, this glorious woman, would rather "live in his world," instead of the assuredly kick-ass world she has created for herself? Huh? It never made sense. But now, as I consider all the reasons why I am where I am, why I stay in this town despite the sorrows we encounter every single day, why I squelch my impulses to travel, to roam, to explore, I know it is in large part because of Cade's ties to this place. While I have come to feel at home here, it is truly his world that I live in, and I would most assuredly live with Cade in this world than in any other world I might create for myself. And it is this knowledge, this commitment, that gives solace in times when the world feels like utter chaos.

Happy birthday, baby. I'd take a midnight train with you to anywhere.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

RIP Kurt Vonnegut


A sad, sad day: Kurt Vonnegut dies at the age of 84. He has been one of my personal heroes since I became aware of his existence, and now the world feels a lonelier place without him.

At the beginning of Bagombo Snuff Box, a collection of short fiction put out in 1999, Vonnegut wrote that "All persons living and dead are purely coincidental, and should not be construed. No names have been changed in order to protect the innocent. Angels protect the innocent as a matter of Heavenly routine."

I don't know what I believe about angels, but if they're out there somewhere I hope they're extending the comfort and relief that was absent for so much of this great man's life.

I'll miss him.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Risk Management

I generally eschew theoretical approaches to psychotherapy, believing, as Yalom does, that "a different therapy must be constructed for each patient because each has a unique story," and I am highly suspicious of therapists who claim allegiance to any one approach, but if I had to pick one I would most likely tend towards the existential. The existential approach to mental health treatment understands most human problems as stemming from death anxiety, obliteration, and we often see people who've had some sort of experience--what is sometimes referred to as a "boundary experience"--that serves as a reminder of their own vulnerability.

Katrina was, for so many of us, a boundary experience. Time after time I have sat in session and heard people express, in a myriad of ways, their shock and horror at having been so devastated. Clients often ask me how I can stand to listen to such stories, over and over, every day, such misery and suffering and despair; the answer I always give, the only one that makes sense, is that I know people suffer and I'd rather try to help than to pretend it's not happening. We live in a society that is completely enthralled by the idea of invulnerability--the mental health profession itself is wrapped in a protective layer of jargon about the wonders of "risk management"--and so many of us have come to believe that with enough insurance and a strong federal government and good pharmaceuticals and science, science, science we can beat or evade every potential disaster, personal or public or natural or otherwise. This is patently untrue, of course, but we persist in our beliefs, our dreams of perpetual existence. We do not like to admit that sometimes, when bad things happen, there's nothing we can do about it.

I was struck by some of the sentiments expressed in the Commentary section of the recent Gambit (and who writes that column, anyway? Is it a DuBos, or the managing editor, or what? Does anybody know?). The commentary argues in favor of an independent 8/29 commission to investigate the failure of the flood protection system to protect NOLA's more vulnerable neighborhoods. I agree with the folks at Levees.org, and I agree with whoever wrote the piece for the Gambit, but the argument smacks of denial. "There are many reasons in support of such an investigation," it goes, "but the most compelling is the need to prevent similar catastrophes in the future." It's nice to think we can accomplish such an enormous task, but who are we kidding? Do we really believe that if we think hard enough and plan for every possible nightmare scenario, that we might avoid loss, destruction, death?

The Corps was wrong: they fucked up. They should have built better levees. And it's fine to hold them accountable, it's necessary to do so, but it seems that the conversation surrounding accountability has replaced an equally necessary conversation--about vulnerability, risk, the loss of familiar assumptions many of us have held since childhood. We all live here with the knowledge that it could happen again, no matter how hard we work to prevent "similar catastrophes." When we concentrate solely oupon protecting ourselves from every kind of suffering, life becomes nothing more than a never-ending fire drill. And I just don't see the point of that.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Aura

Wednesday, in the middle of writing the previous post, my vision suddenly went funny. I had arrived at work early and was spending a few minutes at my laptop, thinking about passion flowers and how great my life is, when everything started to swim and then went totally fuzzy. It was terribly frightening, and lasted about 25 minutes, during which time I conversed with colleagues and prepared for my first session (I know, I know, how stupid does this sound?). The vision issue eventually resolved but was immediately replaced by a headache and copious vomiting, at which point I promptly and rather foolishly drove myself to the emergency room. (The fact that I choose to put myself behind the wheel while in such a grievous state is a testament to both my state of mind at the time (scared shitless) and my complete inability to ask for help--but I'm working on it. ) I decided upon Oschner, despite the fact that Trinity is mere blocks away from Touro, because I could not bear the thought of scrambling for parking in the middle of the Garden District so close to lunch hour. And then there was just the tiniest voice whispering inside my befuddled head, reminding me that I did not want to be in Orleans parish in the midst of a personal health crisis. And so I evacuated to Jefferson.

Turns out I was having an ocular migraine--something I had never before experienced and hope to never re-experience. At the time, though, I thought I was having a stroke. The docs at Oschner thought I might have a brain tumor, and they sent me for a CT scan pronto. Afterwards I was sent to an exam room to await the results of the scan, where I passed the time reading a chapter in which the esteemed psychiatrist Irvin Yalom encourages therapists to help their clients explore death anxiety. After almost an hour of exploring every nook and cranny of my existential despair, I looked up as the doctor rapped loudly on the door and stepped inside. The first thing I noticed was that he was not smiling. Ack.

"You know how in a moment everything can change?" he said.

Now, call me crazy, but this did nothing to dispel my anxiety. As I stared at him staring at my chart, I began to think about how I was going to break the news to my family. I thought about my baby, my beautiful, soft, innocent, tow-headed girl, and started to get pissed: I would NOT be denied the privilege of watching her grow up! She needs me! What kind of God would force a child to grow up without her mother? It seemed I had I skipped entirely over the initial stage of Kubler-Ross's grief model, past denial (see, I told you I always expect the worst will happen) right on over to anger. No way was this doctor--wait a minute, his badge said he was a physician's assistant!--going to tell me my life was over. No way.

The P.A. was shaking his head. "Things change around here so fast," he lamented. "You know that family doctor I was telling you about? I guess she's not taking new patients after all."



Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Abundance


Near the top of the long list of Things I Wish I Could Do But Can't (drawing, sewing, typing, tap dancing, surfing, etc, etc) lies gardening, a skill--nay, a talent--that has always seemed to me to be an enigma. Plants are, in my experience, petulant organisms; they'll turn on you for no good reason, simply because you plucked a stem on the wrong day or turned the soil 47 times instead of 50. They require extraordinary patience, and vision, and faith that this barren branch or fistful of seeds will take root, will bloom and flourish according to plan. I have always been enthralled by the sight of neighbors on their hands and knees on a weekend morning, faces and arms smeared with dirt, hauling bags of soil and mulch and wrestling with serpentine water hoses. What compels this behavior? How did they learn to do this? Or, more importantly, how do they know its going to work?

It has never 'worked' for me, that much is certain. Until a couple of years ago, a triad of Crinums constituted the bulk of our domestic "garden," which is apparently nothing to be proud of: I've heard more than one expert state something to the effect that if you can't keep a Crinum alive, you'd better just give up and hire a professional. Crinums are hardy; they are Chrissie-proof. They are beautiful, but they were here before we got here and they bloom spectacularly independent of any amount of attention or maintenance.

But the passion flowers, they are a different story. I discovered the passion flower on a trip to England in the summer of 2004, in the cottage garden of a friend of Cade's just outside of Cambridge. I sat on the patio and ate Cadbury's Milk Chocolate Fingers and spied, among a tangle of dark green vines, the most brilliant and complex flowers I had ever seen. They seemed completely alien, so intricately designed that they made me doubt my doubts about God. Someone had to be responsible for this impossible beauty.

I was extremely skeptical of Sean's claims that the flowers required minimal tending, and even more skeptical of Cade's mother's suggestion that we transfer some clippings from her own garden to the sad, barren flower boxes adorning the front of our house. Who was I to take on such a task? Those flowers, those passion-inspiring flowers, were so far out of my league I felt I should not even be looking at them, let alone assuming responsibility for their survival.

But before I could say passiflora incarnata, Cade's mother had sent us home with several pots of small, frighteningly delicate-looking passion flower tendrils. I watched as Cade planted the wispy vines, next to several thick, thorny bougainvilleas that seemed equally doomed to withering expiration. I did my best to ignore their presence--not wanting to get too attached, too hopeful--even when the tiny tendrils began to creep upwards, to wrap themselves around the sides and bottom of the ugly iron structure, even when Cade had to build copper scaffolding to support the vine's weight and to encourage further, upward growth. Now we were talking details: Should we put in a third piece of copper, to form a sort of arch, thus encouraging the passion flower to take over the entire facade? Should we plant more, on the other side of the house, to maintain balance, a feng shui with foliage? And lastly--this is the real kicker, here--should we prune the thing, or something? We have passion flower everywhere!

This, like so much in my life, is an unexpected abundance. Perhaps--no, not perhaps, for sure--I do this to ward off some anticipated and seemingly inevitable disappointment, but I tend to assume that the worst will happen (to me). I have never understood the people whose husbands or wives or--it pains me just to write this--children die tragically and/or suddenly and who subsequently proclaim that they never thought it would happen to them. I always think it will happen to me. I fully expect that I will die in a plane crash, or my car will plunge into the Mississippi River, or that Cade will die young or our house will burn down or I will be diagnosed with a lethal tumor of some sort. It is macabre, and I am loathe to admit it, but its true.

And its also why good things, particularly an abundance of good things, have always come as a surprise. Cade came out of left field; I was fully prepared and quite content to remain single, as I never for one minute assumed that I might meet my soul's mate. I mean, what are the chances of that? And having children was out of the question, as I never for one minute imagined I would be given such an enormous gift. It just seemed out of the question.

And yet, despite all my skepticism, I am continuously rewarded with unexpected gifts. Our success with the passion flower is but one example, and I am reminded of it every time I walk through the front door. I guess you could say it keeps me humble.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Free Fall

Yesterday, on the way to drop Sydney off, Tom Petty's "Free Falling" came on the radio. The song's opening bars never fail to engage me: the slow, measured thrumming of a guitar, a sonic tease, giving way to Petty's signature whine. She's a gooood girl/loves her mama/loves Jesus/and America too. I love the song for so many reasons, not the least of which because it speaks to that part of me that yearns endlessly for freedom, for escape, from whatever, whomever, whenever. I always, always pull a Jerry Maguire when I hear the song; I crank up the volume and scream to no one in particular that I'm gonna free fall/out into nothing/gonna leave this world for a while with the windows rolled down completely and, before I kicked the habit, a lit cigarette in my non-steering hand.

Although I no longer reach for a cigarette in moments such as these, the urge to give myself over to the experience remains. To free fall, or rock the casbah, or ramble on, or--my personal, absolute favorite--to join Mick Jagger in protesting that I will never, never be your beast of burden. Yet opportunities such as this are hard to come by these days. As was the case yesterday morning, I am often prevented from entering into this most assured bliss by the tiny, impressionable little person seated behind me. Sydney may enjoy a good Mardi Gras Mambo, but I suspect that forcing her to endure the sight of her mother rocking out to tune after sodding tune, at top volume, with the windows rolled completely down (no cigarette though, no cigarette), would qualify as totally bad parenting. And so I refrain.

Tom Petty sings about the exhilaration of personal freedom, and I squelch my own desires in the face of my responsibility to another. The irony is obvious.

A quick caveat: I l-o-v-e being a mother. No regrets, here. But with the decision to have a child came an extraordinary amount of sacrifices--not just the obvious sacrifices, like time and sleep and the ability to read sad books involving children without dissolving into a mass of anxiety and fear, but the more subtle and insidious things like this: like the constant squelching, the muting of desire, the scattering of self, the abdication of personal freedom.

I have always been a mover, a nomad, an explorer, a seeker. My birthday falls smack in the middle of Sagittarius country, and though I would not profess to believe squarely in the stuff, my astrological sign seems to summarize fairly well the more distinct facets of my personality (except, of course, the bit about Sags being opinionated, stubborn, and judgmental; that is patently ridiculous):
"
    LIKES
  • Traveling
  • getting to the heart of the matter
  • Freedom
  • Laws and meanings
  • the general 'feel' of things
    DISLIKES
  • Off the wall theories
  • being tied down domestically
  • Being constrained
  • cooling your heels
  • bothered with details
Do I value traveling, and freedom, and 'getting to the heart of the matter?' Well, sure. Absolutely. That is me in a nutshell. And do I dislike being 'tied down domestically?' Do I strain against the bonds of married life, of motherhood? Do I stifle the urge to flee, to move somewhere, anywhere, else? Do I find myself watching shows like Lost and thinking gee, that looks nice, I'd like to wake up on a remote island far, far away from anything and spend my days foraging for coconuts and investigating the mysterious Others? Do I visit the websites of towns I know I will probably never have the opportunity to visit and dream of an unencumbered life? Do I dislike being constrained?

Absolutely not! I mean, what kind of person would that make me?