Poetry Wednesdays

I am instituting a new tradition. Poetry Wednesdays. Because the English major in me just misses poetry. Terribly. Oh, how I loved writing about poetry! I even loved writing poetry, so perhaps one day I’ll share something of my own. But today, because it is 4:00 am (anxiety attacks really mess with my sleep–I slept from 8:00 pm to 3:00 am tonight), I will stick with something simple.

I had this poem memorized by the sixth grade because my father used to teach it, in his Crazy English Teacher days. I saw it misquoted on Pinterest. And it has become rather cliche because people never see the double meaning or the twinge of uncertainty in the sigh at the end. So here it is, and I’ll give you a short something about what I think it means at the end of this post.

The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;         5
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,         10
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.         15
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.         20

Ok, so first, the coolest thing about this poem from a poetry, English major-y perspective is that each line makes you pause, just like the guy in the poem. Try reading a line out loud: there’s an extra syllable.

“Two roads di-verged in a yel-low wood” — Not quite duh dum duh dum, is it? That “in a” sticks out. Same in every line.

The thing I think people miss about this poem too often is its ambivalence about having taken the “road less traveled.” In line 11, he says “And both that morning equally lay” — I emphasize “equally” because one is not actually better than the other. He has to choose, and then he says that later in life, he’ll wonder, what if? What if I’d taken an easier path? Would things have turned out differently? That much is clear, right? But he says “I shall be telling this with a sigh” and then does not tell us what kind of sigh. Simple contentment? Regret? Longing? All of the above?

It’s not simple, because really, it’s his choice that makes the road more appealing. The fact that he chose that path is what makes it attractive! How often do we do that? He says that it has, perhaps, “the better claim, / Because it was grassy and wanted wear” but then takes it back! “Though as for that the passing there / Had worn them really about the same.” He says in the end that “that has made all the difference” but never tells us what the difference is. He doesn’t know yet–he’s just choosing now. In the future, he’ll be “telling this with a sigh / Somewhere ages and ages hence” but for now, he’s just got to pick on because he can’t walk both.

My wiser and older sister once told me the smartest thing I’ve ever heard anyone say about parenting: you make a choice and you do your best to make the right one, and you never get to find out if it was really the right choice or not. Some things are simple, I suppose. Marrying Nathan? Right choice. No question. Would have been much less happy if I hadn’t done that. In fact, it didn’t even feel like a decision, just an inevitability. Like the family I was born with. We just made it official that we were family. Most things are not simple. Should we have a baby? How should we parent that child? I know what I want, most of the time, but I don’t know how things will turn out, so I can’t really say that I’ve done the right thing. I can only hope.

Just like in this poem, hindsight makes the paths we choose a little more attractive, although, if we’re being honest, they were probably about the same. We will probably end up, ages from now, sighing as we tell the tale. “And then, we had a baby.” And if there’s a teensy bit of ambivalence in that sigh about the timing of that choice, or about the consequences of that choice, then that will be pretty normal. I do not expect to regret having a child. I do expect to wonder if the plan we have made and the choices we are making could have been done differently. And if we had done this differently, then what?

The Worst Day… and a Half? It’s OVER.

At 4:00 am this morning, I had been awake for a couple of hours. I was watching TV, waiting for my brain to slow down. I decided to give bed a try. I curled up next to my Nathan. And promptly burst into tears.

I cried and hyperventilated and cried and the hyperventilated some more for a really long time. I lost track. Nathan had no idea what to do. I had no idea what to do. We contemplated the emergency room. Eventually, daylight happened and therapist and psychiatrist called me back. (Very speedily, I might add.) Here’s what we all think is at the bottom of the 36 Hours of Gut-Wrenching Anxiety Attacks:

I made up a special goal all by myself, for myself, regarding this bridge from Klonopin to Ativan. I decided, somewhere along the line, that when I switched to Ativan, I would be taking the lowest possible dose. That would make me a better person, because I would be saving the fetus that doesn’t exist yet from exposure to more chemicals. Nathan says that I did, in fact, talk often about my hope that because I had never tried Ativan, it would be more potent, allowing it to be a more effective medication at a lower dose.

My psychiatrist very politely pointed out that this is not the goal that the medical professionals have in mind. The only goal of the people who actually have degrees in stuff like how medication seems to help deal with anxiety is to get me switched, as comfortably as possible, from Klonopin to Ativan. That other goal? The one where I am awesome because I don’t need more than a tiny dose of the new meds? That’s the one I made up. And when I realized that it wasn’t going to happen, a very strong voice screamed in my head, over and over, “You have failed.” Of course, if I can’t manage to do this, this tiny, simple thing (that is really not small or simple at all), then I obviously cannot be a mother. That’s obvious to you, too, right?

Well, if not, then it’s not four in the morning and you are not tired or crazy enough. So there are two issues, it turns out. First, I was indeed under medicated. But that should have been resolved the minute I took my afternoon dose of Klonopin (well, the minute that dose kicked in, about an hour after I take it). Because the last two doses of Klonopin did not “fix it,” then underlying anxiety caused by my feelings about switching medications must be causing these attacks.

I felt better as soon as I got off the phone. I get it. It makes sense. And I’m exhausted. But not scared, anymore. I let it go, the stupid “take only a tiny amount of the medication” idea, and am working on accepting that taking these meds does not automatically make me a terrible (future) mother.

The Worst Day

Despite the fact that I spent most of today asleep and plan on going back to sleep quite soon, I can say without a doubt that today was the worst day I have had in a long time. Over the long holiday weekend, we began the process of “bridging” my medication from Klonopin to Ativan. Since I take Klonopin three times a day, and Ativan is usually prescribed three times a day because it enters and leaves the body pretty quickly, the procedure is fairly straightforward. Replace one Klonopin dose with one Ativan dose. Wait. See how I feel. Adjust if necessary. Repeat.

Good psychiatrists always start a patient on a new drug at the lowest therapeutic dose. This is good for many reasons. If the patient experiences unbearable side effects, a low dose will leave her system more quickly and the side effects will stop more quickly. If it works and the side effects are just the run-of-the-mill, I can handle this until they go away type of side effects, then you get lots of room to increase your dose if necessary.

Right now, I hate this rule. Give me a high dose and give it to me now.

I hate mornings if I am not properly medicated. I don’t want to move. I don’t want to shower. I don’t want to get dressed. I hate any alarm clock or human attempt to wake me. So after the holiday weekend, I was stuck in a rut of what my therapist and I call “Pajama Days.” I wore pajamas every day for almost a week. No, I have not left my house since last week. Why? At first, I was sick. Then, I just didn’t feel like it. Then, I really felt like I would die trying.

This morning, I woke up just before noon with only a few hours of sleep because I was up all night worrying about whether or not I would be able to get up and go to work today. I took one look at the clock and a rush of thoughts about why I was not going to be able to do this–namely, get up, shower, get dressed, go to work–triggered a full-blown anxiety attack. I called Nathan, just to hear his voice, took my medicine with him coaching on the phone and waited.

Nothing happened.

We tried the lowest therapeutic dose, ok! Ativan at 1 mg isn’t working for me! I hyperventilated and cried for over an hour. I made Nathan call in sick to work for me. I passed out and slept until 5:00 pm! I woke up and took my Klonopin “afternoon” dose and cried some more. I cried even more during a phone session with my therapist, because I still couldn’t make it out of the house.

This person who is afraid that danger lies in wait just outside her front door–a danger she won’t be able to predict, anticipate or control for and should just avoid by staying inside–this person is NOT ME. Anxiety is part of my life, and I am learning all kinds of things as I learn to deal with it. Good lessons, like patience and forgiveness (mostly trying to forgive myself) and, a big one, don’t judge because you never know what’s really going on. But I can’t learn any of those things if I am curled up into a tight little ball refusing to breath. Give me the drugs.

Tomorrow has to be better. Because I’ll be taking a little bit more Ativan. And today had nothing to do with anything except the glitch in my brain that fills me with a primal fear I can’t reason away. The only way I know to push that back down is to take medicine. So more medicine will mean less fear. And less terror has got to be a good thing. So no matter what tomorrow is like, it will be better than today.

Gratitude, My Antidote to Commercialism

That's me and my friend Lily at the parade in 2004. Confetti! Happiness! Yay! I will definitely take my kids to see the parade in person, if given the chance.

I didn’t watch the parade every year, when I was a child. We lived so far north that only cable or satellite could get even the basic networks, and my family had enough money trouble without worrying about a cable bill. At some point, though, maybe after enough begging from me, we did “get TV” and that was the first year I remember watching the parade. It was exciting, a bit like Christmas morning, because I got up early to see the beginning at 8:00 am, CST. (You know how ads always say that a TV show is on at “Nine, Eight Central”? We were the “Eight Central.”) So, I got up early and snuggled with my quilt and some knitting. I don’t remember much about the parade itself. I just remember feeling so warm and cozy. And, as you can see, loving the time with friends.

Fast forward to 2004. I was a sophomore at Barnard College which is located not too far from where the parade begins. (If you were watching yesterday, Lauren Graham mentioned going to watch the balloons inflate when she was in school–she was talking about Barnard!) I was lucky enough to know someone whose family actually went to watch the parade every year. They have a Spot, and some super-intense family members arrive at dawn to grab that spot every year. We got to show up around eight and push through the crowd right to spots at the front, reserved just for us. The cousin I always spent holidays playing with, the closest to me in age; he’s only about nine months older than I am, but won’t let me forget it! We were both in school “Out East” and couldn’t afford to fly home that year. We had each other, though, so there was family. And a dear family friend was going to host us at her Thanksgiving dinner later that day, so there would be turkey. I remember that parade a lot better. We were bundled up, it was sunny and not too cold (just like yesterday) and we had the best view! The floats and balloons were oh so impressive. It was warm, cozy and happy.

This year, I was so excited to watch the parade again. I haven’t been willing to pay for cable since I started paying my own bills. (See here for why we now have DirecTV…) I was so disappointed. I just felt like I couldn’t escape the marketing, not even long enough to get a good view of the gorgeous new Tim Burton balloon. If it wasn’t promoting a product (Build-A-Bear gets a float? Really, Macy’s? Really?), it was a TV show (they cut away to an interview with an actor before I get a good look at the balloon, every time) or an album. I grant an exception for the Broadway shows who self-promoted because the parade is in New York and those were some awesome performances–Harry Potter tap dancing! Sparkly nuns! Drag queens! Rockettes! But I really wish they would have more balloons for the kids and less talking for the parents. The other exception? Any character kids believe to be real, including the entire puppet cast of Sesame Street. Public television can have as much prime-time marketing as it wants, it’s a public service. Grover is definitely a public service.

TV really does not do these balloons justice. I dare you to get more than 1/20th of any of them in a picture taken at sidewalk level!

So what did I want? I figured that out yesterday, when I re-watched A Miracle on 34th Street for the ten hundredth time. For those of you unfamiliar with this excellent film, here’s the premise: Mom directs the Macy’s parade, and when her hired Santa gets himself passed-out drunk, she hires a man who just happens to believe that he is, in fact, Santa. (Her parade, by the way, has a Pirate float. Not a Pirates of the Caribbean float. The point of the whole thing is to allow actual everyday people into Herald Square, an area now reserved for VIPs only, to welcome Santa from the North Pole. And to get to them to buy toys from Macy’s, yes. But it’s for families, kids included. How many kids do you think enjoyed hearing about how 30 Rock is going to come back in January during this year’s parade?) Anyway, this Santa actually writes “Kris Kringle” on his employment card. Meanwhile, the cute lawyer across the hall has made friends with Suzie, played by the completely adorable sevenish-years-old Natalie Wood in an attempt to meet her mother, who gave up on men when Suzie’s dad walked out on them. Blaming the “Prince Charming” complex on myths and fairy tales of all kinds, Suzie’s mother treats her like a tiny adult–no pretending, no stories, nothing that isn’t strictly true. Needless to say, Kris brings magic back to all of them, even the greedy Mr. Macy. There’s a line that gets repeated twice that kills me every time: “Faith is believing in something even when common sense tells you not to.”

That pretty much sums up what I am grateful for–that my loved ones believed in me through all the times common sense might have dictated otherwise and for all the leaps of faith I have taken. Getting married, to take the film’s example. Common sense says not to believe in marriage, especially now! But I believe in mine. I have to. Common sense told me to give up on my relationship with first my mother, then my father, after a nightmare of a childhood and divorce. I’m so grateful to have them in my life. My mother and I persevered, in therapy on and off, for over ten years before we finally felt that we understood each other. Nathan and I have faith that we will be able to provide a happy home full of hope and imagination, even as we learn more and more about how marketing sucks the magic out of things we loved as kids. Kids believe in Grover and Big Bird and, yes, Elmo, even though they can see the strings. We have faith that our kids will bring magic to whatever they touch. We also have faith that, like us, our kids will be grateful for what we have.

We can put a little aside each month to prepare for the baby. This fact amazes me. We can talk about money without fighting. I am so grateful. Most of all, I am grateful that whenever I see something I want for sale or on sale, I can think to myself “But we already have so much!” My gratitude for what we already have cheers me right up. Not even a three-hour-commercial masquerading as a parade for families can stop me. After all, I should not have been able to find my dream job in this economy. And I did. Keep your common sense. I’ll take my faith and my gratitude.

Weirdest Pre-Conception Product Award Goes To…

Conception Flower Essence for Positive Energy

Yours, for only $34.95!

Really? Who actually believes in this? I mean, I am willing to give homeopathy the benefit of the doubt, because its got some sort of theory to it. I’ve never heard of this and it just seems ridiculous. They don’t even make any claims, as far as I can tell, except for the title!

“Conception Essence combines selected gem and crystal essences with the traditional flower essences. In this respect, we are one of very few companies in the world who use these two modalities together in our remedies. [Gee, could that be because it’s kind of crazy?]

Conception Essence is a unique combination of pure, undiluted, stock strength flower and gem essences in concentrated drop form. Conception Essence is formulated to the highest therapeutic standards in consultation with our clinical psychologist and experts in the field of natural healing, using ingredients specially chosen for their safety and effectiveness.”
Effective at WHAT? Creating positive energy? Last I heard, only me and opiates could give me positive energy. Also, I don’t really have any desire to ingest the “essence” of gems… They’re not kidding. Look at the ingredients:

“Pomegranate essence, Citrine gem essence, Aquamarine gem essence, Flowering Cherry essence, Pink Camellia essence, Tourmaline gem essence, Wilid Iris essence”

Now, I’ve got a bottle of homeopathic tables for migraines that I think sort of work that any doctor would probably say are just sugar pills. They weren’t $35, and, because migraines threaten my sanity and stability, I’m willing to try anything. I won’t buy them again, because they don’t really work. I didn’t really expect them to. Those homeopathic teething tablets really seem to help kids, though! The point is that I feel that these drops are similar but in a sinister, more manipulative way.

Women who are trying to conceive and desperate enough to try ingesting the essences of flowers and gems are easily manipulated. Women who are having trouble getting pregnant are notorious for trying some weird stuff. I just plain object to putting a bunch of random, harmless stuff in a bottle and selling it for lots of money under the claim that it will help you conceive. Yes, if you are willing to purchase something that claims to create positive energy if you just drink some of it, maybe you’re getting what’s coming to you. But this just seems mean when it comes to women who are trying to conceive.”TTC” as we say on the internet, is a tricky phase. I’m not there yet, and I hope it doesn’t last long. But it’s not something you can talk about as easily as women are now able to talk to each other about trouble during pregnancy or pain from breastfeeding. Because really, do you want to bring up with even your close friends a topic that can only lead to questions like “Are you sure you’re having sex when you’re ovulating?” I’m a very open person, and I still don’t feel like sharing any details related to conceiving a baby. My point is that women and couples who “are TTC” can feel pretty alone. I don’t know about you, but I make my dumbest spending choices when I’m feeling insecure, lonely and don’t talk to anyone about the purchase beforehand. At least the drops and pills for pregnancy-induced nausea actually have ginger and other things that do, in fact, help with nausea in them.

Children’s Rights–Celebrating Universal Children’s day 2011

Thanks to the University of Southern California for creating this inforgraphic. They’d like you to know:

“In the US, we celebrate Universal Children’s Day November 20, the day the Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Children and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Considering the obligations of the United Nations and in accordance to a resolution, the General Assembly recommended that all countries establish a Universal Children’s Day where activities were to be devoted to promoting the ideals and objectives of the Charter and the welfare of the children of the world!

In an effort to support Universal Children’s Day, UNICEF, and the Millennium Development Goals, we have created an infographic, ‘Children’s Rights’ with statistics sharing worldwide labor, safety and health-related facts relating to children. Please share this infographic as part of your educational outreach and campaigns focused on children’s rights. We encourage you to help us spread this important message!” – 

Universal Children's Rights Day 2011
Become a Teacher through the MAT@USC

I Blame Jet Lag; Plus, a Rant on Happy Endings

A gold standard.

I failed at posting every day this month; on Monday, I flew home from my weekend in Los Angeles with my sister and her beautiful family. Even accounting for the time difference, it took me twelve hours to get home, and I had a migraine for most of those hours. I went to sleep without even thinking about the blog. I then slept for lots of Tuesday and almost all of Wednesday, and only now do I finally feel like myself again. I don’t even know how long I slept last night. So, for those of you who have so sweetly expressed worry, and those of you who have not actually expressed worry but have wondered: I am fine.

In fact, I am blissfully happy. And here’s why:

I got my dream job. I am officially a part-time Support Infant/Toddler Teacher at a childcare center with a values-based, child-centered curriculum and two itty bitty new friends coming to join them in December. With two new infants coming, they needed some more hands, and that’s me! I’ve been training there, when I haven’t been working at my babysitting job (which, by the way, is also a great job with awesome kids and which I did not have to quit to take this one!) or sleeping.

Or finish the Twilight series. About which I could add very little to this brilliant article that my Nathan found for me called Our Bella, Ourselves. Before you click that link, though: spoiler alert. You’ve been warned. If you haven’t read the last book, save yourself one of the few possible surprises by not reading the article until you have. And you can have my copy, by the way. Of any of the books. Send your address and the entire series is yours for the cost of postage. Which brings me to one thing that I will add about why I will not be reading these books a second time and to one thing that I was actually surprised the professor of English lit who wrote that ingenious article didn’t mention: the ending does. not. work. And here is my response to a disturbing literary trend.

Dear Writers of Fiction, Particularly the “Supernatural” or “Fantasy” “Young Adult” variety,

For a long time, the best writers of fiction and, at times, popular music, have respected a simple rule: You can’t always get what you want. Someone has to give up something. The higher the stakes, the bigger the sacrifice. And no, mortality doesn’t count. And no, one year spent in misery doesn’t count. Not when you blithely offer us an eternity of perfect happiness with almost no threat on the horizon at the end of your “saga.” Stephenie Meyer, I am talking to you, obviously. I don’t know if this is some sort of allegory for a religious life-style in which eternity with one’s perfect family intact is indeed the prize, but if so, here’s some more news: allegories make for crappy fiction. Ever tried to read Pilgrim’s Progress? Yawn. J.K. Rowling, I am talking to you, too: I know that Harry lost a lot over the years, but you cannot just give him a perfect family standing on a train platform reliving and perfecting his childhood and call it The End. Everything tied up with a nice, neat bow. It makes for a less than memorable experience. In other words, while you may have succeeded with a few of your books, your series will fail to make my list of all-time favorites, because the endings, honestly, make me feel like I just ate way too much candy.

For any skeptics out there, I offer you two several prime examples: Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and the more modern Katherine Patterson’s Bridge to Terabithia. First things first, Little Women (if these are spoilers, then you live under a rock and I offer no apologies–even Friends, yes, the sitcom, covered this): Beth dies, and Jo does not end up with her teenage companion Laurie. In other words, the perfect little family is shattered, and nothing can ever put it back together again. If your can read Little Women without crying during Beth’s last scenes, you have no heart. The tears I shed over the sweet (and yes, sometimes annoyingly perfect) littlest sister, Beth, remain one of my fondest childhood literary memories. I still cry when I watch one of the movie versions at Christmas; on a separate note, my very first crush *ever* was the young Christian Bale playing Laurie because he is perfect and perfectly beautiful. Here’s the point: I love the way the family repairs itself around Beth’s absence without ever forgetting her. It is real and raw. It is unexpected, even. If anyone, the father off fighting in the Civil War should die, right? And Beth survives one life-threatening illness. Shouldn’t she be safe? It’s a literary choice with a purpose. She doesn’t use Fate as an excuse. Rowling–you do a good job with this re: the death of Sirius Black. Meyer–you fail. Everyone? Really? Everyone gets to be happy? You could have at least killed off her dad! Give us something to show that this world is actually a dangerous place! Just saying it over and over does not quite do the trick. But here’s where Little Women crushes every competitor: Jo chooses a safer, simpler life when her heart takes her away from the boy fate seems to have provided for her. She grows up. She stops writing Gothic thrillers (perhaps another lesson for Ms. Meyer?) and starts writing about her family. Her marriage is not the big event. Her choice to stay, take over her Aunt’s giant mansion and turn it into a school? That is the event that solidifies Jo’s coming of age.

Now, did you know that there are sequels to Little Women? There are. They are nice, if you absolutely love Little Women, the way I do. But do you know why they are not marketed as The Jo March Saga? Well, they are just too darn happy, and there’s very little tension to keep anyone reading. Good Wives, Little Men. They just doesn’t have the same appeal as Jo’s coming-of-age story. Why does this matter? Because each book is its own book. Beginning, middle, END. Rowling and Meyer, do you hear me? Books are supposed to END! They are not supposed to hang off cliffs, preparing us all for the next one in the series! We’re supposed to keep reading because we are in love with your books, not because you have manipulated us into needing to find out what turn your stupid plot takes! (In case I sound harsh, I want to state I love most of Harry Potter, and will read them to my kids.) If you are going to write a novel, please write an ending. You can still have a sequel (or three, or six), it just takes a bit more skill to keep us reading.

I will spend less time on Bridge to Terabithia, because I don’t expect everyone to have read it. It does not have sequels, and I can’t imagine anything following it up. The “supernatural” is breathtaking in this story, and Patterson (a great writer), takes the time to show us how it parallels real life without hitting us over the head with stupid analogies. (I am still mad Meyer explains each of titles and what they mean as if it weren’t glaringly obvious and as if her readers were too stupid to figure it out and as if it didn’t feel totally out of place in the dialogue.) It’s the story of an unlikely friendship (with extra points for the inter-gender friendship), and I love its utter respect for young inner lives. Young adult fiction writers everywhere: read it and take notes. THIS is how you write all the ecstasy and heartbreak of being young. You show us that it changes who we are. Forever. With all the earnest respect I initially liked about Twilight and none of the spoon-fed sickly sweet stuff meant to help us swallow the “medicine” of perfectly ordinary life events. Perfectly ordinary does not necessitate any less emotion. Adults love Bridge to Terabithia, and I will be so excited to share it with my child when he or she is old enough. I could cry over it a hundred times, and I would still want to read it again. Because it is real.


Reader and Informal Literary Critic


PS I am watching you. You can do better. Step up your game.

Twilight? Actually, I Get It

I put off reading the Twilight series for a long time. If it had gone away instead of seeping into American culture, I probably would have skipped it. I’m not above reading uber-popular pop fiction, I just happen to prefer magic and dragons to vampires and werewolves. I read the first Sookie Stackhouse book because I like True Blood, but it turns out I like watching the attractive actors on HBO more than I care about the story. I honestly just don’t care about Sookie on the page. But Anna Paquin? I find Anna Paquin completely fascinating. So, there’s your proof that I do not consider myself above vampires. Books about other kinds of magic just tend to be more complicated–an author usually has to explain how this magic works, how it’s used, who gets to use it, etc. But with vampires, what’s to explain? Not alive but not dead. Drink blood. Mostly bad, a couple good ones. Etc. Not since Buffy has a vampire held my attention, and I have yet to hear anyone claim that Twilight is well-written enough to merit a read for the sake of its prose.

But it won’t go away. Peggy Orenstein analyzes the book and its heroine, Bella Swan, in her book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Planned Parenthood has a safe sex campaign featuring vampires released in time for the release of the next film. And then there’s the fact that Bella is pregnant in the previews for the newest film. That finally piqued my interest enough to read it (yes, I really am that baby crazy). It won’t go away, I thought, so I might as well know what it is. If “Jacob” and “Edward” are going to be shorthand for something or symbols for “types,” I want to know what for. Plus, what is the deal with that weird pregnancy? (Don’t tell me!)

I’m just about half-way through the second book, and I’ll probably finish the series by the end of the week. I won’t be buying any posters or replica’s of Bella’s jewelry, but I understand the roots of the Twilight obsession. Stephenie Meyer is not good at prose (“twilight” was the best metaphor you could come up with? really?) but she can create a heck of a scene. The emotion in these books reaches straight into my gut.

I know that I’m being manipulated–I expected to be manipulated. I knew going in that Bella was going to be an Every Girl, designed to reminds me of my own adolescence. I certainly felt too ordinary in high school and remember feeling invisible all too sharply. I also remember the wildly mixed emotions that came with getting any attention for any reason. It sucked to be ignored, and it sucked to get dirty looks for “hogging attention.” Too pretty was bad and ugly was worse. In writing Bella Swan, Meyer hit that nail squarely on the head. (If she gets to be lazy with her metaphors, then so do I.)

But here’s where my goodwill comes from: Meyer respects the intensity of a girl’s feelings. The first book brought back a lot of the emotions I felt during the time in my life between when I met Nathan and when we decided to get married. The completely euphoric moments when I felt more love than I had ever felt before and the terrifying realization that I could no longer picture my life without him.

The second book is taking me back to my first broken heart; when that man promised me love and then abruptly left me, I cried so hard I vomited. I had to bribe myself with promises of cookies from the Hungarian Pastry Shop just to leave my Barnard dorm room. I got a B in English! And Stephenie Meyer has respect for that. She doesn’t laugh at a girl’s broken heart, even if she got her heart broken by doing everything everyone told her not to do. Like Bella, I ignored warnings. I, too, told myself that I knew him better than they did. I imagined ridiculous scenarios that would allow us to be together forever when the extremely temporary nature of this arrangement was completely obvious to everyone else. It makes me laugh now, but I still wince, too. The pain I felt was real. So was the heady joy. And I felt it again and again. I made the same mistake again and again. I don’t wish I had done anything differently.

Why is this series so popular? Because it is earnest. It may use some pretty terrible metaphors to accomplish its task, but it succeeds in expressing just how epic our prosaic romances feel to us. The first man to break my heart was not the first man I loved. My first love took his time in stringing me along before rejecting me. And you know what feels really good? Reading a book that takes that seriously. This book understands why I still remember his smell and why that memory still puts me right back in mini van he drove when he was home for Christmas from college; I pretended I wasn’t cold even though I was shivering, tried to will the drive to last longer, tried to come up with anything to say to make him sit in my father’s driveway with me for just one more minute. To this day, I have nightmares that involve coming thisclose to that same love and getting rejected all over again. It’s been over ten years since I fell for that boy and more than five since he stopped speaking to me, but I still have the same dreams. We couldn’t be together because who knows why? Too young? Too stupid? Too cruel? All of the above? And I enjoy reliving it all through Twilight because it is just so damn satisfying that his stand-in is a vampire who is literally cold as ice. The series is not self-aware. It’s not clever. It is entirely in earnest, and I find that endearing.

It doesn’t matter to me if books three and four hit me in the same visceral way. It doesn’t matter that I probably won’t think about any of these characters or plots once I’ve finished the books. I almost never leave a book unfinished (and I am starting to think that these really are just one long book). What matters is that it is so easy to project my adolescent self onto Bella that all of the terribly ordinary details of my own first love, first heartbreak, first rebound relationship become, for just a little while, an epic saga.

My Secret Passion: God

Last week, one of the NaBloPoMo prompts at BlogHer was: “What is your secret (or not-so-secret) passion?” This is what I wrote.

This is my Guru, Paramahansa Yogananda. Click here for more info on the church he founded, Self-Realization Fellowship.

I wait for the look: “I am religious,” I say, and pause. For what? Surprise, I suppose. Instead, I see simple acceptance of this as a simple fact. No questions. Nobody says, “But you’re smart” as though this necessarily precludes any belief in God. They just wait for me to get to my point about how my religion and values fit in to the conversation. In my former professional life, I hid my belief in God. It wasn’t necessarily a secret, but it wasn’t something I wanted to talk about. I needed my classmates and colleagues to see me as smart, more than anything. My intelligence comprised my worth, or so I believed.

My world has changed so much in the past eleven months that this particular perk of a non-academic life rises to the surface only after I have processed other, less subtle changes:

  • January, 2011: I leave the PhD Program in English Literature in which I have been enrolled since fall, 2007. This marks the end of a twenty-year career as a full-time student. (I am twenty-six.) I decide to look for a career in child care after briefly playing with the idea of a structured office job. I never even hit send on the application I write for an administrative assistant position at a nonprofit, even though I still think it’s an amazing company.
  • Late January, 2011: I begin to read for fun. I cannot remember the last time I have read a book that is recently published. But now… No one cares what I am reading? Really? At some point, I consume Steig Larsson’s The Millenium Trilogy on audio book, stopping only to sleep.
  • Spring, 2011: I meet two of the most adorable toddlers anyone has ever met, and I’m lucky enough to care for them every week. These two jobs feel light compared to full-time grad-studenthood coupled with a teaching load of two distinct courses with different syllabi. I find great joy in repeating “Look at the birdies!” day after day, instead of repeating “No, I have not graded your paper, yet.” (I really hated grading papers.)
  • Summer, 2011: I begin to work part-time at a professional, well-respected child care center. It is just a summer position, but there is structure. There is “Baa Baa Black Sheep.” There are hugs from tiny, pudgy arms. There are conversations about the progress of the seeds planted by the preschoolers–green sprouts! I am the only witness to a trouble child’s first success at using his words instead of his fists to resolve a conflict. I get to congratulate him. I get to tell his teachers. I get to see the beaming pride on his face at the enormity of this accomplishment. When I go home at the end of each day, I truly believe that I am free to do whatever I please–no homework. I stop feeling guilty for doing “nothing.”
  • Fall, 2011: I go back to babysitting and continue to look for more permanent work in a formal child care center. I revel in watching television, knitting, sewing, spending hours on Twitter, Facebook, reading blogs. I create my own blog, where I write for fun. I have not written anything for fun in years. I cannot remember the last time I wrote anything for fun! My literary heart feels better each time I hit “publish.” My bookish soul is healing.
  • November 10, 2011: I tell two intelligent, well-respected women that I am religious in the course of a job interview; the conversation is about values and early childhood education. Neither professional bats an eye. I think, “Of course! Working with very young children and their parents means interacting with all kinds of people. Discussions about values and beliefs are common, here!” No one asks me to explain myself, because no one cares about the particulars of my religion.

There is no competition in my new professional life. Yes, I do see teachers covet other teachers’ salaries or job titles; I see them archly disapprove of another teacher’s habits or methods. It flickers past. I rarely see this become intense enough for the children to pick up on it. (Very small children pick up on hostility very quickly.) But I do not yet feel the need to compete with anyone.

I do not need to be The Smartest, The Favorite, The One With the Long CV, The One Who Is Published, The One Who Has Read Everything, The One With the Good Fellowship, The One With the Tenure-Track Job Offer. The world I left behind is a world for people who have thicker skin than I. They can rise above the competition, or thrive on it. I simply find myself paranoid and hyper-reactive, seeing competition and judgment everywhere.

As it turns out, my professional wants are very simple. I want to spend my days with small children, playing, soothing, laughing, teaching. I want to leave my job, go home and have that time to give freely to my family. I want to have a baby of my own and a career that welcomes that choice. I want to take my time. I want to feel at home in my professional skin. This is matters in this new professional life: am I kind, compassionate, honest, caring, patient, flexible? Can I work well with the other teachers? Can I accommodate the different needs of the individual infants and toddlers and interact well with them as a group? I want to prove myself by showing that I can do and be these things. My devotion, my prayers, my belief in a kind and compassionate God–these are not secrets. I still do not advertise my beliefs at work; I have no interest in proselytism and God just doesn’t come up that often. But I do not hide them, either.

My point is not that academics must pretend agnosticism. My point is that in my old life, I felt afraid that someone would learn something about me that would prove, once and for all, that I was not smart enough to be a professor of anything. Everyone would know that I didn’t belong. In my new life, I feel that everything I am and everything I believe makes me a better caregiver. I am not afraid that I am a fraud. That is why I have no more secrets. That is the biggest clue that I made the right choice when I changed careers.

This is Bhagavan Krishna, one of the most important (to me) teachers God has sent to us. Click on the photo to learn more about how my church views Krishna.

But, I’m laughing right now, because I feel nervous about posting this. What will all of you think of me, now that I’ve put it in writing?

I believe in God. Passionately. With devotion and with all of my heart. It’s a big part of who I am. My relationship with God has helped me through the very darkest moments of my life, including my time as an inpatient in the psych ward. I am proud to have cultivated such a strong relationship with God. Now you know.

Bedtime Stories

Once Upon A Time…

There was an Aunt. Let’s call her “Tia.” Tia flew across an entire continent in order to visit her sister, her niece and her nephew. She played all day and stayed up two hours past her bedtime in order to see her niece read a book all by herself. (With only a little help.) So they brushed teeth and changed into pajamas and the niece read the story. The child was clearly quite brilliant, reading already at four-and-a-half years old. Tia told her niece a bedtime story, made up from the time she lived in Scotland, almost next door to a real castle and just up the hill from another real castle. After all that, Tia was very, very tired. And so the bedtime story became her blog post.

She went to bed full of love, the fierce kind of love she did not know before her sister’s children were born, the kind of love that has no beginning and no end.