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BY thill

09/01 Direct Link

On-time and off-time.

This is an interesting concept: that we adjust to and value events differently depending on when we do them. Each culture has specifics (or at least vagaries) about when things happen if they are on-time (at the socially acceptable age).

Maybe that's part of the pressure I feel to buy a house before we have a child, though I know that my parents weren't able to do things in that order.

Maybe that's why I felt the need to go back to graduate school before 30, why I feel so strongly about my husband going back soon.
09/02 Direct Link

i find myself thinking of the juvenile justice discussion that we started together in class this week. for the past two years, i've corresponded by mail with a man on death row in texas. (before you get freaky, i use a p.o. box.) he was convicted at 17, of rape and being present at a murder to which no one confessed.

he was scheduled to be executed at the end of june, but has received a stay of execution until the supreme court decision on the death penalty for juveniles is handed down at the end of the summer… sometime.
09/03 Direct Link

tonight: watching the science channel with s., i learned that the amygdala (derived from the latin for almond-shaped, which it is) is the part of the brain that indicates both when to be frightened & when to distrust someone.

to prove this (in a prime-time way), producers put a man in a cage underwater and recorded his brain patterns as a great white shark swam by. then, they tested the same guy as he met a bunch of strangers, some of whom were lying to him, and some of whom weren't.

as it turned out, similar brain patterns were evident.
09/04 Direct Link

Maybe it was boredom with the suburban environment, no friends for miles. Maybe it was extraordinary pubescent rage, what my grandmother would call "hormones out of whack".

When I was 14 there were nights when (standing at the kitchen window, drying dishes as my stepmother washed them) I tried to decide which steak-knife was the sharpest, which one I could most easily drive between her shoulder blades.

It was a fleeting thought, never lasting longer than it took to cross behind her and file the knives away in their proper place. It embarrassed and shamed me. What would Freud say?
09/05 Direct Link

At 5 ½, he's starting to learn the power of secrets.

I whispered, "Tonight, while Mommy's at work, we're going to make a cake. But don't tell her." He grinned from ear-to-ear, his eyes wide. He covered his mouth with both hands, afraid the secret would escape without his consent.

He is starting to be sneaky about breaking rules, but is still too proud of himself to keep secrets for longer than an hour. "I stole a cookie while you were in the bathroom!" he'll exclaim while you're still in there, washing your hands. Or "I let the cat outside!"
09/06 Direct Link

My e-mail difficulties at work continue, an unintended consequence of my computer switch two weeks ago. The frustration reminds me of other computer problems I've had, of the dearth of formal technological education I've received. It leaves me weary and tense and longing for the phone and letters written longhand.

I think about my parents, who have had to learn to use computers completely independently. My father, alone in his basement office, softly cussing at the screen and feeling this same nostalgia for simpler days.

My students are more proficient. At 15, they install hardware & software. They write code.
09/07 Direct Link
I listened to an archived This American Life this afternoon. It told the story of Colin, an 8th grader with fantastic grades who calculated that he could still pass if he stopped attending school for the last month of the year. So that's what he did.

The story chronicled Colin's decision-making process, which was void of malice, and was based mostly on one premise: he didn't like school.

It also chronicled the story of his father, who described the experience as similar to "belching in a crowd". It was embarrassing. It was unexpected. And yet kind of natural, as well.
09/08 Direct Link
it seems to me impossible to separate political activism from counseling, and i'm sure i'm not alone in this belief. when i hear of WIC programs being underfunded, schools making drastic budget cuts, families going uninsured, it pushes me to action… even if that action is only a conversation with co-workers, a letter to a senator.

one thing we've avoided discussing much in class so far is the influence that counselors have on public policy and what's considered "common sense". i think of changes we've already made, and how far we have to go before our society seems – well -- healthy.
09/09 Direct Link
war

heard a report on NPR today about the dismal services available to address the mental health of US soldiers in Iraq. A psychologist talked of his caseload of 1,000 patients and released a long, mournful sigh… what could he do but recommend that they take anti-depressants, at least until they returned to the US.

It reminds me of something Glasser said at the ACA – Paxil's slogan is "Get Your Life Back!" – maybe we should just start distributing the stuff to Iraqi freedom fighters! Bush could probably get a great deal, considering all the money he's made for pharmaceutical companies.
09/10 Direct Link

I've been reading dooce.com almost every day for about two months. It's the weblog (Online diary, if you prefer) of Heather, a young mother who is publicly battling postpartum depression, hospitalization, and more.

She remains positively hilarious, and I'm grateful to her for sharing her experiences with us, voyeurs who show an interest.

In terms of on-time events, childrearing is next on my list. I'm scared of it, and neither my husband nor I feel ready. Still so much traveling to do! Still too many projects left unfinished (or unstarted) to be pregnant and probably miserable. Oh, and glowing, right?
09/11 Direct Link


Writing everyday is difficult, even if you've had practice. It seems that some days are all connections and revelations and synapses duking it out for attention. Others: not so much.

Today is a day spent trudging through muck, reading the chapters on conception & infancy more out of obligation than interest. Highlighting inconsistently. Reading the same page twice, or three times. Hoping like hell we don't get into an abortion debate next week.

Reasonable people can disagree. Within the same graduate class, yes, even within the same family. It will take discipline to stay seated if we begin this conversation.
09/12 Direct Link
Happy Birthday, Dad!

56 today. Gifts of toolboxes and turkey cookers and lottery tickets.

And German chocolate cake, a deliberate attempt to buck the stepfamily's rigidity & ritualism surrounding birthdays. Forget "The Recipe", the usual cake that, while tasty, signifies all that is too unbending about the in-laws for my father (and for me).

I don't know when these birthday rituals started; only that they pre-dated our arrival into the stepfamily in 1987.

First, drinks at 3:30. Dinner at 5:00, then "the Recipe". Next: presents. Then 15 minutes of a movie, and a glass of water before everyone goes home.
09/13 Direct Link

It shouldn't make a difference, but it does: knowing someone's age establishes certain parameters.

Over the weekend, sitting around the driftwood fire with some students, I learned that one of the seniors would be 19 next month. It shed new light on his frustration with his mother & his feelings of being boxed-in, of wanting to be trusted more.

Likewise, during food fights, insult-a-thons, and canoe tipping shenanigans, I need to stop and remind myself sometimes, "They're only 14. Only 14."

But I wonder, is this common reliance on age, on days spent walking the earth, smart? Is it fair?
09/14 Direct Link

I'm feeling a little guilty for writing about what Freud might call my Electra complex with regard to my stepmother without also acknowledging that, you know, I'm pretty much over it.

She and I are friends now, able to confide in one another about The Strange Creature I Call Dad, and the many trials and tribulations involved in our early relationship (I don't think I ever actually said you're not my mother but….), we've found a certain kinship, a kind of balance.

And when we wash dishes together now, I just try to remember where to put the clean dishes.
09/15 Direct Link
The other night, my husband stayed up late watching more Discovery Science shows. I was annoyed, because I wanted to watch a Hindi musical, but then realized that the program in which he was so absorbed was one that directly related to this class.

Some British researchers were doing Piaget's tests with 4 and 5 year olds… juice in a tall glass versus juice in a short glass? One piece of candy now or three pieces of candy when I come back in a few minutes? And eventually some interesting experiments involving identical twins and sexual attraction.

Who needs Bollywood?
09/16 Direct Link
Run for your lives! Or, The Attack of the Pharmaceutical Companies!

As the rain came down, we discussed the influence of pharmaceutical companies and their pervasive advertising campaigns. It reminded me of the conference I attended last Spring. All the big Guns were there – Glasser, Carlson, dreamy Keeney (as I've come to call him), among others.

The flavor of the conference was distinctively anti-pharmaceutical company, to the point of alienating some of my fellow conference-goers. I couldn't get enough of Glasser's sharp tongue for the people who advertise Zoloft on prime-time television, between ads for Mc Donalds and new cars.
09/17 Direct Link

i'm interested today in the idea of memory – reiki masters talk about cellular memory, and i'm not sure i buy it.

and then there are all manner of sensory memories – music is one that often takes me back in time to another time & place. smells are also very powerful. i remember reading in a home-buying book that motivated realtors will sometimes go into a house early to bake bread or cookies in the kitchen, to make coffee and tea, if they can. all this to entice buyers into feeling nostalgia for something or somewhere that felt like home.
09/18 Direct Link

earlier today i turned corner in the library and got caught in a conversation about existential progressivism. i'm not even sure i know what that means, but two women who worked for me once were discussing it and it felt rude to just walk away.

they are both just-twenty and eager to become great teachers someday. most of the time i have patience for this, their time to learn and explore and condemn everyone who ‘doesn't get it' -- i know it's right for them to go through this – but today i wanted to slink away and read magazines.
09/19 Direct Link
more on the undergrads from yesterday:

i'm afraid i was impatient with them, and their earnestness of purpose. partly because i envy them for not being cynical yet, and partly because their learning just has so little practical application in the world i inhabit.

for my students, it's a world where mothers die and brothers stay out too late drinking and fathers – if they're around – are still essentially absent because they're too tired from working in hot factories all day.

in that world, educational philosophy has less importance than knowing how to fix a car, how to cook for 12.
09/20 Direct Link

last week, i noticed one of my students reading i know why the caged bird sings by maya angelou. (heard her speak once on campus – a story for later.) it was interesting to talk with this student – a hmong refugee who hadn't exactly had the easiest home situation herself --about the book, and about the author's life.

we discussed trauma and its effects on people, agreed that when you're young can distract us from the process of growing up and learning. she was amazed that angelou had remained mute for so long, wondered if she'd have done the same.
09/21 Direct Link
A Few Words on the Human Genome Project

It's remarkable, really, the effort and resources that have been funneled into such a huge endeavor. Part of me marvels at the bravery and intellectual curiosity that motivates scientists (and the many, many others who work to fund them) to undertake such a task. And the results are already astonishing.

The other (louder) part of me gets all science-fiction-freaky-suspicious about the whole business of mapping out the things that make us unique, mostly due to the enormous potential for such information to be manipulated.

Too much reading on eugenics? A paranoid fantasy?
09/22 Direct Link
I found a thrift store copy of Deborah Tannen's You Just Don't Understand, which examines the vastly different ways in which men and women communicate, often at cross-purposes. Men: more driven to achieve and preserve a place of independence and authority. Women: more motivated to connect with others through language.

Two things strike me about this book: 1) It rings true, at least anecdotally, and I wish that she had done a better job of referencing some of her conclusions; 2) John Gray has made a fucking fortune commercializing and diluting her findings with all that Mars and Venus mumbojumbo.
09/23 Direct Link

A brochure arrived in our office mailbox today, advertising the intramural recreational programs offered by the university this fall. In big, bold, bright red letters it says FEEL YOUNG on the cover.

My boss took one look at it, rolled her eyes and said incredulously, "Feel young? Feel young? Not on your life! It's too much work!"

I fantasize about a time when I'll be able to look back on these conflicted years confidently, knowing that (thank goodness) it's almost over and I don't have to worry so much whether my choices are right or good or worthy or normal.
09/24 Direct Link

I've been thinking of all kinds of good things to write, but this is what caught my eye when I sat down to type this morning: a 2001 issue of The Progressive, with an article titled "Arrest My Kid: He Needs Mental Health Care".

It's a totally heartbreaking article about (mostly) poor (mostly) women who feel that their best (or only) options to treat their children's mental health issues are to get them into the juvenile justice system.

As if that weren't harrowing enough, most of them later admit that this has done more harm than good for their children.
09/25 Direct Link

one of my closest childhood friends went to our 10 year reunion last week; i didn't attend. she talked of seeing childhood friends, folks i haven't thought about in years, girls whose houses i slept at, whose mothers knew me well, whose lives are now a mystery to me.

i heard that one of them had studied in Russia, from the friend of a friend of a friend. another went to college, dropped out, and is now working at a photography studio somewhere. they have children, houses, husbands, regrets.

i can't remember anymore what we thought we'd be back then.
09/26 Direct Link
on breastfeeding

i'm reminded of a former supervisor, who had a baby while we were working together. after she returned to work, she still had to manage breastfeeding her daughter; the complexities of accomplishing this with a job involving travel were enormous, and comical.

i can remember sitting outside dozens of different locations – classrooms, bathrooms without locks, secretaries' lounges, career centers – as a lookout while she used a breast pump on the other side of the door.

driving down the interstate, she would pump away as we listened to public radio, the occasional trucker glancing down into our car, befuddled.
09/27 Direct Link
dear jared

when he was born, i bought a blank book and started what has now become a six-year letter to him. i wish that i wrote more often, but i wish i saw him more often, too. my plan is to give him the book when he's ready – my husband thinks i should set a date (his 18th birthday, January 1st 2015 – something like that) but i worry about giving it to him too soon, before he realizes what an archaeological find it is.

his mother knows about it, but hasn't read it yet – that will be his decision.
09/28 Direct Link
i find myself thinking about children more and more, even daring to begin discussions with my partner about reproducing.

scary things:
• being pregnant and having everyone in my business about the baby's health
• being financially ready
• possibly postponing the masters degree
• stress on our relationship and on us as individuals
• being a bad parent
• it will be so much damn work


comforting things:
• the temptation of doing things "on time"
• more guidance from and time with our aging parents
• being able to influence a child's growth and development so thoroughly


oy!
09/29 Direct Link

i've fallen behind on my journaling and now i'm stuck with images, phrases and ideas that don't quite fit together into a cohesive entry.

• a young mother yelling at her kids (4 and 7 maybe?) in the grocery store, looking more tired than anyone i know.

• a baby in the airport crying loudly as he pulled his own socks off, waited for his beleaguered father to put them on, and pulled them off again.

• an newsletter article about the growing need for prescription drug assistance for the elderly poor

it seems like too much misery to process.
09/30 Direct Link
false identity belief, i think it's called.

the example that springs to mind immediately is of jared, two years ago (almost to the day). he was almost four, and we had decided to walk to the sweet shop down the street for candy apples. as we approached, he saw it in the window: a huge brown block of (could it be?!) chocolate, just sitting in the window, tempting us to walk inside.

he approached it cautiously and leaned in to smell it. he looked back at me puzzled, and then poked it with his finger.

"that's just plastic!" he cried.