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My Notebook May 24, 2011

Filed under: Friendship,Migraines,Notebook,Sex & Relationships — mandolyn10 @ 12:06 am
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Sunday, May 15, 2011

A close friend commented on an old photo of me on facebook tonight. In it, I’m with a guy I dated a couple years ago. In some ways, we’d gone public as a couple the night the photo was taken, and we were having a lot of fun. At one point, after all of us had drank a few too many beers, the woman who had introduced us, approached us and looked him straight in the eye. She said something along the lines of, “You need to understand that Mandie is an amazing woman, and if you can’t make this work, you will loose the best woman you’ve ever met.” I laughed it off, but if I could have said it and not felt like an idiot, I would have.

After the party, before we fell into an intoxicated sleep, we made love for the last time. We didn’t know it would be our last opportunity to have sex. If we had, we might have lingered with one another’s bodies more tenderly, less drunkenly careless and giggly. We might have stayed in bed longer the next morning, talking and touching and relishing. But we hadn’t sensed the end creeping up on us, so he got up to go to yoga and I went back to sleep.

We cared for one another a great deal. We’ve managed to salvage a warmth and respect for each other that I feel grateful for. Perhaps, given that I long ago forgave him for not being able to make his heart work right, it’s not fair that all I can think when I see that picture is, “That was taken the night we made love for the last time,” which fills me with a sweet feeling twisted up in sadness.

But memories are funny like that, they come cloaked in the emotion of the time and impervious to reason or forgiveness and even though I am in a great relationship now. Snippets of the past like this, they pull up a chair in my heart and lay out melancholy, regret, happiness or bliss, like cards on a table, forcing my hand. The trick is to just not play too long.

Monday, May 16, 2011

I woke up with the migraine I’d gone to bed with. I hate these days. I took Advil and Tylenol 5 at a time, which didn’t help at all. As the day progressed, the pain intensified until I felt frantic. This is the third one I’ve had in four weeks and the worst. I’ve eliminated chocolate and alcohol for seven weeks, I’ve been sleeping more, I took $400 worth of tests to eliminate possible causes, and I’m taking all kinds of herbs and supplements to try to tamp down rampant inflammation in my body which not only makes me prone to migraines, but heart attacks and strokes, too, apparently.

But still, I get migraines. I feel like a failure, like it’s my fault somehow. The worst part is how disruptive it is to my life: I am less present at work when I can power through and show up, of no use at all when I can’t go in, because then the contrast of black letters and a white background on the computer makes my eyes hurt and provokes aura — little dancing lights in my field of vision — so I can’t even work from home. Since my partner lives in SF, we talk on the phone every night, but last night and tonight, I had to cut our conversation short because talking makes the pressure and pain more intense. I have missed out on family events, parties with friends, and other obligations like choir. And the fact that over the last two years they’ve gotten significantly more frequent and they last longer worries me. Right now, I have surrounded my head with pillows so I don’t have to use my neck to hold it up, and the pain is significantly less intense, but the aura is starting to come. Will I ever be able to reduce the frequency of my migraines? It’s a question that haunts me most of the time. I think now of the word hope, and I can see myself just barely hanging on to the lip of the letter “e.”

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I woke up this morning, staring at the bottom edge of the letters that make up the word hope. In the night, my brain must have come and flipped my desperate fingers off that ending letter, because the pain in my head was so explosive the only thing I could do was press the left side of my head (where all the pain was radiating) into my pillow as hard as I could and cry.

I called in sick and then called my friend who’s an acupuncturist. Several people have recommended I try acupuncture, but I’ve been hesitant because I don’t get how it works. But I don’t care anymore how it works, I would have paid her $500 to make this pain go away. She couldn’t see me until 4pm, so I faced the day with no small amount of fear and loathing.

I got through it, bored and in pain, alternately in bed or propped up in my pillow cradle on the couch reading about brain surgery for migraines and the effectiveness of various treatments (turns out what I already knew from experience has been pretty well validated by research: medication is not that effective, when you factor in the icky side effects of the prescription drugs). Finally 3:30 arrived, and I drove to her office.

Throughout the session, I talked to my brain: Ok, honey, do you feel that? Those pricks are telling you to return to normal blood flow. No need for constriction or flooding yourself with blood. And: Do you notice how I’m breathing evenly and slowly, that’s what you can do with the blood coming in — let it come in evenly and regularly, no need to throw the flood gates open, just nice and easy. And when the pain seemed unchanged halfway through I pleaded a bit: Please stop making me hurt so bad, brain, please.  Then, when she told me to sit up, I lifted my head and it felt less heavy, and the dull ache was less dug in. I drove away hardly believing that my migraine had loosened it’s grip on the blood vessels in my brain. Two hours later, it’s real. I still have a low level of pain but it’s so much less than before acupuncture.

Praise fucking God.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I’ve heard it said that we are defined by how we react to our obstacles. If a higher administrative person ordering me, at short notice, to be at an after hours meeting at the same time I wanted to be at bootcamp can be considered an obstacle, then I’m not defining myself particularly well.

After I found out I had to be there, I had decided I’d leave work early, go for a run and show up at the meeting smelly and sweaty, I’d apologize that since I had to miss my workout at 5:30, I squeezed it in before. But I couldn’t leave work early and now I can’t think of any passive agressive way to irritate this person.

What, let her know the impact of her demand on me? Not a chance. I’m on duty this week, and though being at after hours meetings is not a duty requirement, I’m sure there’s a “duties as assigned” clause in there somewhere. So, really, passive-agressive actions are really the only way.

Accept my fate with equanimity and grace? Well, shit, that’s so unsatisfying.

Thursday, May 19 , 2011

Another fucking migraine. Not as terrible as the one that ended Tuesday evening, but really? How does one maintain a fighting spirit when the spirit doesn’t know when the next assault will come?

I went back to my acupuncturist. She made it go away again.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Today, I was reminded of a hike my friend Thomas and I took back in early spring 2008. Back then, I was still learning that he was a safe man to trust. He seemed to attract women to him like bees to honey, and that to me had always been a huge red flag. But he was going through some rough times, and needed a friend. This hike was one of the first times he opened up to me about himself.

We were hiking in Nisene Marks between huge redwoods that sifted the fog until, at ground level, the forest was dreamy and cool. We walked up and up and up, as long as it took for us to come to some new understandings.

As we talked, I felt myself loosening into some sense of clarity about him. He wasn’t only the kind of person I thought he was — of dubious motivations, generous with his time, help, and compliments, gregarious and talkative, sweet on sweet women. He also had a lot of shit to figure out. He wanted more out of life than he was getting. He had made mistakes, said the wrong things, been rejected, just like the rest of us.

By the time we made it back to his house, my doubts about him had vanished and I knew he’d be a forever friend. We’ve been through a lot in the last three years — not the least of which was falling in love a few weeks before he and his son moved into my house, breaking up a few months later, and still living together for another ten months after that. If a friendship survives all that, it’s pretty iron-clad.

Tonight, we took another long hike, talking and laughing and feeling at home in our bond. A few weeks ago he called and said, “You know, I’ve been thinking about you and the possibility of you leaving for grad school in the next year or so, and I want you to know that you don’t get to. You have to stay here because I’d miss you too much. So I just thought you should know.”

I didn’t say then that along with my nieces and Inner Light Ministries, he and his son Indigo would round out the top three things I’d miss most about Santa Cruz.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Bliss looks like a lot of things, but for me, it’s doing exactly what I want for a whole day. I am certainly unconvinced that I was worthy of such a blissful day as I had today: I worked out, went to the farmer’s market under the first sunny skies we’ve had in weeks, went to a great yoga class, and got an amazing two and a half hour massage. I went home, made a tasty salad, and watched movies for the rest of the evening.

I imagine the ghosts of my former lives looking on me today, thinking, “I hope she knows how many lives and how many good deeds it took to make her worthy of that day…” I do, I do.


My Notebook May 16, 2011

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

“What’s kept you here at UCSC, in the CRE job so long?” the young, earnest candidate interviewing for an open Coordinator for Residential Education position asked me this morning.

If I had drank mimosas for breakfast instead of a green smoothie, I might have said , “I live in a kick-ass apartment with ocean views from every window that I don’t pay rent for. And after teaching middle school in the Oakland, having a job that I can mostly work 40 hours a week at and that I can leave at the office makes it feel like easy job.”

What I actually said: “I get to work with highly motivated, often activist-oriented students who make me proud to know them and as long as they keep me interested and challenged I’ll be here.” That’s only partially true. These students do indeed often blow me away with their creativity, dedication and drive to make change or educate or entertain. I am proud to be a part of their growth and development, even if it’s small. But I won’t be here too much longer because I’m not terribly fascinated or challenged by this work anymore.

Answering this question today, I had this rush of hope that my partner will land a great job in a city I like and that I can run off and move in with him, start my MFA program at Antioch University and work part time as a substitute teacher or in a bookstore. Shit, I thought, after a feminist college education and 11 years of supporting myself, I’m ready to throw it all in and rely, at least in part, on man? A man who, it should be said, knows nothing about his role in this future fantasy.

My longing also was curious to me because it seemed so unambitious. It’s not “I want to leave UCSC for a higher-paying dream job or a graduate school program that will lead to a higher paying dream job.” I’m not traveling the world or joining the peace corps or going back to teaching. Nope, no aiming too high here. I’d be happy to live in my partner’s pad, pick up substitute gigs to help with rent and food and immerse myself in creative writing, with only a vague hope of becoming a successful author or columnist.

Although, as I wrote that, it sounds like a dream life to me, even if it isn’t awesomely impressive. Perhaps the achievable life is more impressive to me than the ambitious one, at least for now.

Thursday, May 5

Sometimes I leave my Thursday writing class euphoric, as though we all just spent a few hours hearing works-in-progress from the some of the finest writers alive, and the fact that I got to read my work at this amazing event, must mean that my writing is as good as all these other gifted writers. Today was not that kind of day.

I wrote almost everyday this past week and the sentences failed to coalesce into pretty little things, like they often do, eventually anyway, with some tending. Perfectly good ideas got buried in convoluted paragraphs. My images leaned on trite metaphors and similes. By today at lunch, when I sat down to see what could be salvaged from my literary casting about over the last seven days, I gave up within five minutes.

I went to class with nothing to share, and though Ellen had really kind words for when we are “stuck,” I came away feeling frustrated and doubtful that I should pursue writing full time.

But here I am, typing away not so ugly sentences, and I feel like the writerly me again. How flaky my inner critic can be. I should really get around to just firing her altogether.

Friday, May 6, 2011

I learned today that sometime this morning, a student found this in a stall in a male bathroom at Cowell College: “Stop the invasion. Kill a Mexican.” This is the umpteenth instance of racist graffiti found around UCSC over the past couple years and the third that threatens or suggested violence this year. How sick and regressed we have let our white men become, I thought (I know, it might not have been a white guy, but chances are it was, so let’s just draw the most likely conclusion here, please).

As providence would have it, I ended up with a ticket to see a talk by the preeminent race scholar Dr. Cornel West tonight. I was thrilled to be in attendance before I heard about the graffiti, as I read his work in college and felt transformed by the power of his ideas and analysis. But now it was timely. He was funny and hard-hitting. He let no one off the hook but held us all in his belief that “love is what justice looks like in public.” At one point he said, “Graduating a bunch of smart people is not enough. If the kind of deep education I am talking about here fails to happen, the world ends up in the hands of very smart people well equipped to end justice.”

And that’s when I remembered that between resolving judicial cases, mentoring my NAs, and updating my financial budgets, I have a job in which I support the kind of education that graduates very smart people who are able to summon the courage it takes to combat indifference, passivity, and denial. What can I do to treat the mental illness that is this neo-racism we’ve seen develop since Obama’s election? I can talk whiteness with my white students, I can talk to any white people I know about white privilege and why it matters. Indeed, I must. I will. In part, our ability as a campus to transform the climate here depends on people who look like me being willing to talk about it. And I’m not so hopeless.

Dr. West said we must distinguish between hope and optimism. Evidence always looks overwhelmingly bad, so do not aim to be a cheery optimist. When you’re in the mess, keep your eyes open for movement. Know there will always be movement. That’s hope.

Monday, May 9, 2011

This morning, I read about students responses to the threatening, racist graffiti found at Cowell College last Thursday. Being privy to the administration’s constraints and limitations, I can see how it might be easy to dismiss some of their righteous indignation. One student sent a condescending and disrespectful letter to the Chancellor, which was painful for me to read. It was so clear the deep hurt this student was feeling and so clear that it would, most likely, not be paid the respect such anger and sadness deserves because of the delivery.

I thought about these last couple of years, and how it feels that there’s been a rapid increase of racist graffiti here at UCSC. It’s gotten more violent and more frequent and more disturbing. It’s as though the nation-level unease with having a black president is bubbling up here in bathroom stalls, and were all at the mercy of a country being forced to finally face it’s white male supremacist foundations. Of course it’s an opportunity, but it’s scary to not know what’s coming next, which group will be targeted next or how. It makes for a very unpredictable and inhospitable environment for students of color in particular, and any allies in the fight to deal with racism, more generally.

The image that keeps haunting me is of any of the hundreds of students of color sitting down in one their classes, perhaps next to or across from a fellow white student. “Is this the one who wrote ‘Kill a Mexican’ in the bathroom?” Or, “Are those two white guys laughing in the corner the ones who drew nooses in men’s bathrooms all over campus last year?” Or, “Can I trust this seemingly friendly, open minded white person, or would they dismiss the impact of the kind racism I have seen here?”

If you are white, and have never had such a thought, imagine what it must be like each and every day to have to evaluate whether classmates, co-workers, friends can be counted on to not harm you, physically or emotionally, to wonder if they would stand up in the face of bias, and then, what it must be like to being consistently disappointed by these people as they fail to listen and act. It’s distracting, exhausting, and deeply painful, and though every individual touched by these acts of intimidation reacts differently, from what I’ve heard from students these last few days, the picture I’ve painted here isn’t too far off.

I was reminded today that there’s no way to know if the people who are willing to be racist on bathroom walls are all white men. This is true, but even if none of the perpetrators are white, they are espousing white supremacist ideology on a campus that is ill-equipped to change campus culture, and there is no way to dissociate these acts from whiteness. So, all of us who are white hold responsibility for transforming the culture, and though it’d be nice to be lead from the top, it’s unlikely that our Chancellor will take on a deep, campus wide exploration of whiteness and racism, so it must come from us, whether it should or not.

I felt ready Friday after listening to Dr. Cornel West to find my place in the revolution, and once again, here it is…

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

My Mondays and Tuesdays are exhausting blurs. Meetings, entering IRs, squeezing in workouts, meals, leaving dishes undone, late nights. The one salvation is that the bookend to these long days is choir practice. Tonight we sang eight or nine songs, some of them several times, and I was worked. There’s one song in particular, I Had A Revelation, that without fail, every time we sing it, I am overwhelmed by it’s power.

Right about the time we’re heading into the verse, my fingers start to tingle, then I’m flooded by warmth. I can feel the sound of my voice, accompanied by the blended voice of the choir, like a current running up and down and back just under my skin, and then as we slide into the all-out praise line, I’m gone, I’m there but only barely aware I have bones held in place by muscles, wrapped up in skin that looks like “me.” I am lit from within, as though I could float away into the ethers.

It’s surreal, it makes me feel a bit crazy, but it is the best kind of singing, this being sung.


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