Sunday, 10:44 am

Blogging, wow.

It's the end of Thanksgiving weekend. I'd originally planned to put up the tree today, but I think it'll wait. Not feeling super festive. 

Eve is sitting beside me watching some creepy educational YouTube video featuring Bob the Train. Her toes keep getting caught in the computer cord and every few seconds she reaches over to type on the keyboard, hoping I've already forgotten her previous attempt. I think she needs a laptop for Christmas; she's a little obsessed with typing.

I used to blog so much more. I hate that word. I journaled for the first time in literally months a few nights ago. Why did I stop? Having so little time to do the thing I love most means that when I do actually sit down to write, I feel an unbelievable pressure to attempt to make every single word profitable. Otherwise, what's the point? It's just another time-wasting activity. How dare I try to exclusively commodify something that once brought me such joy? Now it feels like a chore, a job. An obligation that doesn't yield much besides frustration and inadequacy and dissatisfaction.

I enrolled in a writing class in the hopes that it would jumpstart my creativity and remind me to love the thing I love for the sake of it, not for the money. I mean, capitalism is a part of all of our lives, as much as I hate it, so if I have to package and sell traumas to feel financially stable, so be it. But I don't want that to be all there is. 

And it's like, the only thing you have to do in order to be a writer is write. You don't have to have a stellar byline or a book deal or appear on a 30 Under 30 list or win a Man Booker. You just have to open your notebook, iPhone notes app, laptop, or tablet and fucking write. 

So, I'm writing. This is a revelation I have every few months or so and then I forget. There are lots of things I forget to do. I can be terrible with details. I'm a dreamer. Left to my own devices, I'll float through life and let someone else pick up the slack, make the phone calls, sweep up the detritus I should have noticed. It's the way I'm hardwired and any deviation from my norm requires fairly intense forethought. I try and fail and try and fail and try and try and try. And forget. 

It's never too late to change, right? And it's never too late to accept that you're going to have to keep restarting, going to have to keep reminding yourself, going to have to keep waking up, going to have to keep forgiving yourself. It's all fits and starts, at this point, and understanding these shortcomings and committing yourself to starting fresh when necessary is the only way to stay sane. Try to be better, be better, err, start again. 

A fresh page. A new morning. A blinking cursor, a poised pen. Another attempt at self-forgiveness. Start again.

New

Well, here I am, the prodigal blogger, returned home with significantly less money, but much richer in general happiness and mental clarity.

I'm no longer teaching and am now working for a major publisher, slowly learning my way around the world of publicity, of author events, of quiet offices and cubicle decor. It's strange: one thinks of teaching and imagines the omnipresent, ever-watchful government eye like something looming and Big Brother-adjacent, while corporate life appears much more independent; the employee a free-ish agent, one of many worker bees within an air-conditioned hive. But I'm finding the transition from isolated classroom to densely populated office not...difficult, really, but jarring. All of that classroom space felt sometimes overwhelmingly vast, an apt metaphor for the chasm I often felt between the kids and myself. At my new job, I'm smartly contained, stationary, useful. The faint simmer of a headache after hours of computer glare, dulling the edges of my newfound contentment. It's a price I'll pay for belonging. For surety. 

I miss my kids sometimes, all-too-aware I no longer hold any claim. I'm on board the train long after they've shoved and laughed and sang their way home. I snap my book open and read furiously, until the lines blur and straighten and curve again, my eyes drooping shut. I have so many books to read, a endless stair of pages to climb, but I still fall asleep on the train. 

Eve is a golden burst at the end of my day, every day. Wild laughter punches out when she sees me, as if she is both shocked, yet wryly expectant. I thought I'd be seeing you again, her eyes sparkle, teeth gleaming - all six of them - as I pepper her tiny face with grateful kisses, swallowing sour guilt when she is last baby at the sitter's. I curse the May chill as I leave, annoyed that I have to cover her up on our walk home. I want the sun to shine on her head, unfettered. I want to take her to the park so she can clutch handfuls of dewy grass and get the knees of her pants matted brown with good dirt, but she needs dinner and her Elmo toothbrush and bedtime is in an hour. An hour.

Eric is new at his job, too. We exchange breathless details about our coworkers, our bosses, our work, like teenagers sharing a desperate crush. We're glorious in our exhaustion, our clothes are everywhere, we defrost chicken in a weak show of responsibility and frugality and end up ordering from Oaxaca, again. It's 9:48 and how did it get so late? Bare feet slide together beneath the throw my mom knitted, the cool black night waiting silently for us to retire, find the sheets and set our alarm. And always, the realization of this new reality, this new journey I take every morning, like sliding off a heavy coat I'd forgotten I no longer needed. That lightness. I touch my mouth to Eric's smooth head, a smile-made-kiss, and sleep.

1: ...ever After

In the beginning--  

once upon a time--

in a land--

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive--

I wanted to write a poem

about endings ending with beginnings that begin at the end

 because it's all - cyclical? - yes, that's the word

I'm looking for

Words

Even when I plumb the scaly depths of emotion

and scale the harrowing heights

It's words that are my oxygen, my cantine, my foothold,

Spelling into raw skin and tear ducts the sum total of my fear, my love, pain.

I offer them to you, all of it. What I can. 

Everything ends and begins and the markers of time, those signifiers, are blurred

so much more often than childhood would have  

me believe.  

Cycles.  

Forth, and back, and back again. Forward. 

All was well, in the beginning. 

In  

The end. 

 

2: Other Other People's Children

I spend a lot of time with other people's children.

I've spilled much metaphorical ink about the excruciating sweetness of being a teacher - specifically, a middle and high school teacher. It's a largely thankless job, grueling and often heartbreaking, if you make the mistake of caring too much. Strangers at parties will thank me, sometimes, for what I do, but it's usually followed up by a self-disparaging comment like "lord knows I don't have the patience for that" which leaves me feeling less thanked and more...gawked at. I can't fault them for this, though. No one knows what I do better than I, and I don't think many people that I meet could do it. Most days, I'm unconvinced that I'm doing it with any real degree of success.

Yes, it takes patience, and compassion, and love. More than I often think is possible to offer at 8:05 in the morning, day after day. Every child who passes me in the hallway contains multitudes; they have families and pressures and dreams and worries that they conceal with widely varying levels of mastery. They are in the most physically awkward stage of their lives, toeing the edge between child and adolescent, adolescent and adult, a constant push and pull between craving coddling and desiring freedom, a dichotomy played out in their gawky limbs, pimpled chins, flailing mannerisms. Their emotions ping pong off of each other, unable to find an even keel, a flowing stream; I have to be the flowing stream, offering them the stability they cannot grasp themselves. Sometimes I fail, because they piss me the hell off. That's when I remember I'm human too.

"Bye, Ms. Bruce!" they caterwaul down the hallway, and I wave and smile at their beaming cheeks, grey plaid skirts. "See you tomorrow!" And I leave, and walk to the train - "Au revoir, Ms. Bruce!" an eighth grader shouts - and I descend to the L train. The doors open and I step in and there they are.

Other other people's children.

Sometimes it doesn't even take that long. Sometimes I'll see some of my girls with a group of boys their age, doing that terrible dance of fear and attraction and repulsion that is standard in young teenagers plagued with brand new hormones. The boys are typically raucous, braying, while one or two of the girls are giving as good as they're getting and seek to outpace them in unruliness. There is always at least one girl who is visibly holding back, unsure of how or when to join the revelry, laughing at the antics playing out in front of her because there is nothing else to do (I remember you, I think, as I pass her). They are rarely doing anything wrong, and even if they were, I am not so far removed from that stage to forget how unconscionable it would be for a teacher to berate me, outside of school, past school hours, for being too loud in a public place. They don't acknowledge me, usually. Sometimes they will and the boys will stare at me curiously, and start to say something that I probably won't want to respond to or hear, so I say hi and keep walking. Don't believe them, whatever they tell you! I want to shout to the girls. They won't be decent human beings until about ten years from now! My way of thinking is problematic, and offensive, but so are most teenage boys.

Sometimes I study them in isolation, when I cannot compare them to any students of mine in the immediate vicinity. At Bedford Ave, at Union Square, depending on the time of day, and most notably, Broadway Junction. Every movement screams their own invincibility, their fierce pride in whatever it is they can take pride in: their expensive sneakers, their expensive coat, their imposing frame. In large numbers, they are nigh unbearable: loping up and down the train car, hollering incomprehensible obscenities and taunts, displaying a grossly exaggerated swagger: all of the machismo and bravado they can muster, growing exponentially in such close proximity to each other. I watch them shove and run and giggle, I watch the quieter ones roll their eyes and smirk, I watch the loudest ones yell their fearlessness into the empty spaces between their fear and want to pat their hand, their head, and tell them it's alright, it's fine. You don't have to try quite so hard. You'll get there eventually, wherever it is you're so desperate to go, so you can be who you think you're supposed to be.

And then I look at them, their dusky skin, their bright eyes, their sardonic smiles, and remember that no, they might not. They might not get there. They carry that primal knowledge in their swagger, their machismo, their bravado. I may very well not ever get there. They smile, but their jaws are tight, eyes hard. For some, "there" is simply the next day. The next month. The next year. They feel the statistics we spout academically in the marrow of their bones, in the terror that chokes their tears into hot blood and sarcastic anger.

And I look at them and remember that yes, this is how they are: today is everything, all at once, right now. Tomorrow is so insignificant when you're young and beautiful and unbreakable. I feel all of the impossible duality of their tiny, gigantic lives: so briefly on that train, so loudly on that train. Reckless innocence and pure corruption. They toe invisible lines with an agility they can't begin to recognize. I see them, though. I see them, and sometimes, it makes me smile, and then want to cry.

And sometimes, I don't want to cry at all. (I want to tell them that they serve as cautionary tales before we take our girls on field trips that rely on the train for transport: Don't be the annoying teenagers on the train, we supplicate. You know what we mean.) I want to tell them to quiet down, they're in a public space, for the love of God. These children who don't belong to me at all. Children loitering at the top of the subway steps, arguing, and children staring glossy-eyed at smart phones with cracked screens. Children navigating bodies that they don't yet fit into, but not for lack of trying. Children whose smiles falter when their friend glances away. Children who frantically finish their homework beside me. Children who close their eyes in weariness, backpacks heavy and ripped. Children necking in dark corners on the platform, under stairs. So impossibly young and growing too damn old, too fast. 

5: Yuletide Gay: Baby Edition

There were seven babies in my apartment today. Not including the one that's normally here. 

I started a group for new moms of color in Brooklyn when I was pregnant because I was frustrated that I felt so crazy all the time and all of my friends were excited or commiserated with me but couldn't relate, at all. I was skeptical that making this group would even work because I am rarely outgoing and all I wanted to do all the time was sleep. But when I was awake, I was lonely. I moved the group to Facebook because everyone uses Facebook and meetup.com wanted to start changing me a monthly fee once I hit fifty members. 

I really slacked on planning meetups for the past few months, because I was hugely pregnant and then I was the mom of a newborn. But I knew we needed to do something for the holidays. I offered to host a get together.  

I always drive myself a bit crazy with these things. 

I crave perfection a bit too much. I wanted the apartment to be dazzling, for Eve to be as precocious as possible, to have good snacks and drinks. I wanted to be an impeccable hostess and make it all appear effortless. That desire can really kill all the joy in a gathering. I've thrown parties where I spent the majority of the time running back and forth trying to make sure everyone had everything they needed and wondered, at the end, why I didn't have any fun. Today I forced myself to chill out at multiple points. It made a difference. 

So many babies. Babies who could walk, who could stand, who could crawl, who could sit, who could hold their head up. Babies who could screech and laugh and babble. Babies who could reach and grab and chew. Babies who could eat solids. Babies who could smile. Babies who didn't understand why mommy was smearing glue on their feet and pressing them onto a shiny globe. Babies who loved to grab the shiny globe. Babies who desperately needed naps.

We drank wine and refused any guilt for doing so. We talked about breastfeeding, and not breastfeeding, and daycare, and the distant goal of additional children, or staying happy with the number we have. We grabbed our babies when they wandered too far or too close to something dangerous. We changed their diapers. We took pictures. We made ornaments - one, two, three, four times until we got it right, or good enough. We exchanged gifts. I opened my chocolate immediately and realized I hadn't really eaten all day. I wondered if my milk was nutritious enough, since I hadn't taken my vitamins, my Fenugreek, drank my mother's milk tea. We do many things for our babies; I could see the exhaustion lurking behind every smile. I promised that we'd eventually have a mom meetup without the babies. Everyone agreed.

Eve's ornament is hanging on the tree. It isn't Pinterest-perfect. I'm exhausted. There is glitter everywhere. Today was a good day.

7: Impermanent Beauty

I wrapped gifts tonight. 

My mother taught me. She was meticulous in many things, but not in an overbearing way. Some things just had to be done right, and that was that. Gift wrapping was one of those things.

We didn't do gift bags.

Don't cut off too much wrapping paper, but don't skimp, either. You need enough to create a neat, generous fold. Pay close attention to the corners: don't allow them to wrinkle or bunch up. Too much tape is tacky. Only ever use clear tape. The edges of the wrapping paper should meet in the center of the back of the gift, and if it's rectangular, longways. The corner folds are always done on the shorter sides. If you have to redo those folds several times to get it right, then take the time to do so. Use the sharp end of the scissors to curl the ribbon - carefully. Obviously, the ribbon and the wrapping paper should complement each other.  

By noon on Christmas Day, we had stuffed all of the torn wrapping paper and trampled ribbons into black garbage bags, never to be seen again. 

9: Hydrated

Tried maneuvering my way into a free space on a bench on the subway. Precarious. Would have been successful if not for dropping my water bottle, a mammoth 1.5 liter full, directly onto the knee of the woman beside my seat-to-be. I apologized profusely and she seemed to harbor no ill will, but when we arrived at her stop she literally limped off the train. I thought hopefully, maybe it's from a prior condition! But then realized I may have exacerbated some old injury, and felt worse.

Hydration is important, though.

12: Nuptials

All of the crinoline and crushed toes in shoes. Cheeks aching from elation on demand. Cake and champagne, abandoned and forgotten. Forks tapping glass: a voyeuristic custom. All of the zippers and schedules and speeches. Shaking hands, microphone amplified. Flowers dying slowly enough to retain their beauty, even after being sliced from the root. Bobby pins and hairspray, mascara and tweezers. Armies of minutiae, armed in precision and organized to the hour, to the minute, marching into celebratory war. Into rapid-fire memory and photo gloss. Lipstick on a napkin, the last guest's kiss. Bags and shoes and bras, trunk slams and hotel keys. And it's over. Months of preparation for a day in time. One precious day. 

13: Crimson

Sometimes the sheer breadth and number of relationships around me is overwhelming. Other people have lives - duh, but also, what an incredible thing. We're all living these tiny parallel lives that feel so huge, so precious. Veined and arteried, blood pulsing slick and oblivious to any sudden trauma. Sometimes an unexpected injury will miss all vital organs and leave us bruised and sore, but alive. And other times we look on in shock and consternation when one of the parallel lives we're privy to experience a crushing blow, a bullet lodged directly in the femoral artery. Sometimes all we can do is wipe away the splash of crimson pain, and look on even as we shudder, unable to avert our gaze.