Day 130: shake it up

Some mornings, you wake up early, you drink your coffee, you banter with your children, you take your flipping meds, you read the younger child The BF blooming G, which is surely the silliest book you can possibly read, you get out in the sodding sunshine, you listen to Pharrell bloody Williams, which is surely the fizziest pop music you can possibly listen to, and you STILL end up sobbing in the parking lot, to the clear discomfort of the woman unlucky enough to be parked in the car facing yours.

What a spectacle, a great Anatid-leporid like you, crying in such undignified fashion! [1]

Fighting pain with sweetness and light was clearly highly ineffective. By this afternoon, I had a plan B: fighting pain with more pain.

What happened in the interim to inspire this strategy? I went to listen to two undergraduates talk about their theses at our annual honors thesis showcase, in which seniors who have written a thesis present their research to their peers and faculty.

One of these students had visited my undergraduate seminar last week, after I sent out a last-minute plea for former thesis-writers to come share their wisdom and experiences with my students, who are all in the beginning stages of researching their theses.

She walked into the room during our mid-seminar break, quietly introduced herself to me, and slipped into the seat next to me. She was quite strikingly dressed: most noticeable, at first glance, was her pale pink hijab, which was made of a very fine linen, and was elegantly arrayed. She also wore a quite lovely blue wool blazer, which I immediately coveted, black skinny jeans, and leather ankle boots. When she spoke, she immediately commanded the room’s attention. Her thesis was about capitalism, violence, and temporality in a recent and critically acclaimed television series. It became clear to me, and I think, to the room, pretty quickly, that this was not your average thesis. Her argument was complex and profound, and her learning was deep. She talked about the challenges of writing the thesis—both intellectual: struggling to get to grips with Fredric Jameson—and practical: struggling to find the motivation to keep writing when she felt stuck.

“How did you make it through?” one of my students asked her. Love the pain, she answered, laughing but also serious. She got up at 5am to write, she explained. And she wrote while listening to music, the bleaker the better (she recommended Radiohead specifically for this purpose).

When she stopped talking the room was silent for a couple of seconds, still spellbound. Then one student broke the silence: “by any chance are you this year’s commencement speaker?” she asked, in a star struck tone. “Because you could be.”

Seeing this same extraordinarily self-possessed student speak again this morning reminded me of her mantra, love the pain. When I got home, still unable to stop crying, I went out to run. Not for fun. Please! No, I ran for the pain. I ran hard, at a pace I knew full well I could not sustain, until my heart thumped painfully in my chest, until I was going fast enough that I was flying across the cracks in the sidewalk like the BFG leaping across hedgerows, until my breathing was loud and ragged, until I felt nauseous. I stopped and caught my breath. And then I ran again. I was probably only outside for 15 minutes – the elder was coming home from school and I needed to get back. When I unlocked the door, panting, and stretched in my living room, sweat stung my eyes as it poured down my face.

So: did it work? Yes, it did. It feels like I took myself and quite sternly and severely gave myself a good shake. And afterwards, everything, all the cells and feelings and gunk, to use the technical term, had been sort of re-distributed. I didn’t shake anything off; rather, I shook everything up, in the manner of a snow globe, or, I suppose, a well-mixed vesper.

Like a vesper, it’s only a temporary fix; but it’ll do for now.



[1] N.B. Wikipedia tells me that anatids are generally “monogamous breeders” whereas leporids are “typically polygynandrous.” IS THIS THE KEY TO ALL THAT AILS ME???



Day 113: all out of tears

There was a moment, a week or two after my Dad died, when numbness gave way to something like rage; I wanted to hurt, to smash, to scream. I have a strong visual memory of the moment. I am in the conservatory next to a side table on which stands some decorative pottery. My mum is standing a foot or two away from me. I am screaming in pain and frustration. “I want to smash all of this,” I am shouting, “I want to break everything.” I see as I say this that the worry in my Mum’s eyes is mingled with something like fear, and she says my name in an anguished tone. I don’t remember her exact words but she murmurs something like, “what’s happening to you?” and she looks scared. She, I can understand now, was expressing her own fear and sense of helplessness at seeing her child in such pain; but at the time as I registered that dismay in her voice I felt suddenly monstrous, as though my rage was too big for either of us, too ugly to be expressed.

This memory came to mind this morning as I witnessed my own son’s anguish and rage.

“My head hurts, my head hurts,” he wailed, as he dug his fists into his eyes.

“Sweets, please don’t press your eyes like that, it’s going to make your head feel worse,” I say gently.

He screams in pain and frustration. “I want to hurt someone,” he says. He says his sister’s name. “I want to hurt her. I hate her.”

“I know you’re feeling really angry,” I say. “You can’t hurt her.”

“I want to run away,” he says. “I want to run away to Dad’s house and never come back here.”

He starts to sob and sob. “I know you’re feeling really really sad and angry,” I said. “Can you tell me why?”

“I don’t want to tell you,” he repeats over and over.

“Please tell me sweetheart,” I say, “please please tell me. I can’t help unless you tell me. You won’t hurt my feelings, you can tell me anything.”

Finally he splutters out through his sobs, “I want you and Dad to get back together and I know that you never will.”

“Oh sweetheart,” I say, and I hold him tight. “I know, I know,” I say. “I’m so sorry sweetheart. I’m so, so sorry.”

“I don’t ever wanna be here,” he says. “Even if you never come back to live at Dad’s house, I don’t wanna ever be here again, I just wanna be at Dad’s house, that’s the only place I feel comfortable.”

I feel my chest grow tighter and tighter and all I can do is call him sweetheart and tell him in a big tumble of words how much I love him, and how sorry I am that he is in so much pain, and that of course he is, how could he not be, and that I am glad he is telling me, and that it hurts his Dad and me too, and that we are all sad, but that it is hardest for him and his sister, we know, and that it’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not fair.

“I want you to drive me to Dad’s house now,” he says.

“I’m not going to do that,” I say.

“Why are you so mean?” he yells. “You are so mean. You want me to be sad. I feel like I’m going to die.”

He is almost hysterical now. He is still lying in my arms on the floor. “I want to hurt myself,” he says, “I want to punch myself.” He starts to try to punch himself in the face but I catch his hand firmly and he resists and struggles, “stop holding me!” he spits at me.

“No,” I say, trying to keep the fear and panic out of my voice. “No, I’m not going to let you hurt yourself.”

From the other room comes the younger’s voice, plaintive, insistent, “Mom? You said you said I could brush your hair, can you bring the brush and the hairspray?”

I explain that I can’t right now, that her brother is very sad, that he needs me right now. She continues to call me.

“Shut up!” yells the elder at his sister.“Shut up.

“Shhh,” I say. “It’s OK. It’s OK.”

I hold him and keep holding him. I rock him like the baby he once was. Slowly, slowly, the sobbing subsides. He lies in my arms limp and exhausted. He is all out of tears.