Saturday, November 27, 2010

Dear Life...

I found this"letter to life" in the process of going through my old computer and copying all the near-forgotten files (nostalgia running amok amok amok!) and realized it was written nine years ago to the day (yesterday).  And...I liked it.  It was sort of interesting to see how closely some of the thoughts fit in with the thoughts I've been thinking recently (does that mean I'm always thinking the same things, or does it mean that my introspection spirals round in predictable cycles?) 

Anyway, this photo was another lost-n-found treasure--that's me on New Year's Eve, 2001, at the Eugene First Night Celebration.  I thought it fit with the retro blog post...reflecting on the past, thinking about the future.

Dear Life,

I'm sorry it's taken me so long to write.  You've been busy.  I know I've taken you for granted a lot, but I want you to know I don't mean to forget you.

I've hiked a lot of trails carrying a heavy backpack, and the way was sometimes very rocky.  I remember a trail in the Grand Tetons where the switchbacks climbed endlessly, carved out of the mountain in thick, stony steps, uneven--each step forcing me to heave all of my weighty self onto one raised knee.  I cursed that trail, and I hated that heavy load upon my back, even though I knew it was there to help me stay well--to sleep comfortably and eat and drink fresh water.  And I remember another trail in Glacier, stepping through shoulder-high foliage on a slippery, uphill path covered with bear tracks, fear pounding in my heart. 

Sometimes, Life, you're that dreaded, cursed trail, difficult to follow.  And sometimes a piece of me folds her arms and sits down by the side and refuses to carry her backpack one step farther.  And even then, Life, what do you do but send a swarm of mosquitoes to drive me from my perch.  Bitch.

Still, as I climbed, and as I sang loudly to the bears to mask my fear, I became more whole.  My vision grew.  I became brave.  I carried the things I needed and left the rest in the car.  Without that path, where would my journey lead?

What more can I say to you, Life, in these muddy, clumsy words...these words that stomp impatiently in pastures, yearning for the grasses of other places?  Your beauty can only be captured in the sideways glance, stuttered in the soul, perhaps in a line of poetry.  Only the guttural sounds of the most primal language could come close--the gasp, the sigh, the shiver that runs like lightning up the back of my neck and slides down my arms in a shower of gooseflesh.

Thanks for helping me learn to be patient.  I know I get whiny sometimes.  I'm sorry I've hated you.  Cheated on you.  Cried and wailed, begged you to change.  We don't need to get into the details, Life.  I know I'm the one who changes.

It's okay that I'm not famous yet, Life.  I like the present better when I have dreams about the future.

It's okay that I'm poor, too.  I hope I'll always remember to keep it simple.

I wanted to thank you also for music, poetry, and light.  For the colors of the autumn leaves, the smell of sunny raspberries, the joy of an icy snowball packed with raw, cold hands in spring, the sound of children laughing.

Thanks for forgiveness,
for enthusiasm,
for trial and for error,
for the madness and the serenity.

Thanks for not giving up on me when I give up on you.

Anyway, Life, there was a reason I wrote to you, actually.  I was thinking about all the things about you I'd like to enjoy, and I mean, I can imagine so much to do (thanks, Life, by the way, for imagination), I mean besides being a writer and a backpacker and a poet and a teacher and a photographer and a wife and a graphic designer and an artist and a dreamer in this life, I also would really love to be a painter and a dancer and a tree and mother and a carpenter and a crazy woman and a geologist and a singer and a film director.  And Life, these are only the things I want to do right this second.

So I guess what I'm saying, Life, is please, slow down! Help me remember to play, to learn, to question, to get involved.  Don't let my time get so parceled off to various places that I never have a moment to be alone, to stare into the sky or to whisper a prayer, to paint in the afternoon or to dance with my husband in the kitchen. 

And I promise to write more often.

Love, (thanks most of all for love)

Elissa Janine

Monday, November 22, 2010

What do you wanna be when you grow up?

I remember when my senior AP English Lit. teacher--a seriously awe-inspiring English teacher and probably the whole reason I thought maybe teaching might actually be an enjoyable endeavor--stood up in front of us all and started talking about what she had wanted to be when she grew up, back when she was a little girl.  Of course she wanted to be an English teacher, I thought.  She was so gifted as an educator; I couldn't quite place her anywhere else, outside of that familiar classroom.

So I was a little shocked when she confessed her dream of being an astronomer.  An astronomer, really?

Periodically, my husband and I discuss what we want to be when we grow up.  He's still deciding, torn between several important but not all that lucrative passions.  I have a lot of careers I dreamed of pursuing when I was, fine artist, graphic artist (did that, sort of, was stressful!), heavy metal guitarist (shut up), geologist, a professional book reader (except I was scared of New York City), a Spanish translator, and the ever-present dream of being a writer (except I'm pretty sure I always thought I would primarily write poetry). 

I still can't quite pinpoint the moment I decided to be an English teacher, to be honest.  Like...I know I went into college a declared major, so it was before that.  And I can remember conversations with my mother about "back-up plans" know.  Loan repayment.  So I think it was sort of a practical girl's English major--the practical girl who paid for her own schooling and knew she needed to have a real job like five seconds after graduating.  I think my plan at the time was to keep on going to school until I would be able to be a professor.  Academia seemed like the place for me. 

Reading books, facilitating enlightening discussions, researching my passions, writing and publishing...things (this was about where my imagination failed me), and...

Wait.  Why didn't I get my doctorate?  Oh yeah.  School.  That I was paying for.  With borrowed money.  That I needed a real job to pay back.

So I started teaching high school, and every so often, it was actually like that.  I mean, not the writing and publishing things part, but the reading books and sometimes even having enlightening discussions.  But it was so difficult, all the time.  And I was only twenty-three.  And I was teaching in the same little town I grew up in.  And my boyfriend wanted to take off and explore the country.  And I saw--with not a little fear--my life stretching out in front of me in one small town, alone in front of a never-ending pile of ungraded papers (which were a lot less brilliant than the ones from my imagination).

So I took off with him, and after several months of hiking and camping and wandering around enjoying the view, I found what I hoped would be a shit job at a printing company.  Basically my job was to develop large sheets of film, place a mylar strip on them (part of my job title was "stripper"--so fun to tell my mom on the phone from across the country!), put the film on top of a plate, burn the plate, process the plate, and run it down to the printing press.  Mostly brainless, which was the way I wanted it.  I could read my book or write in my journal in ten second bursts as I moved the plates and labeled them and taped them together neatly. 

In the meantime, I referred to myself as a "Recovering English Teacher" and purchased my first computer so I could write and get published, which I had decided should be my "real" job.

And it's funny, because after about a year of this, someone realized that I was not utilizing all the brain power I could be, and they started having me do other prepress work--typesetting and page layout and simple design and then more complicated design until...TA-DA! My brainless shit job was now a stressful and complicated job.  And I admit, there were occasionally some pretty cool intellectual discussions, but more often then not, there was simply a lot of cursing at computers and a pretty serious case of font-resentment.

Where is this post going?  Ah, yes.  So.  I ended up back in teaching...I'm a little ashamed to admit it was not because I couldn't stay away but because there wasn't enough prepress work to keep me busy in the cruddy economy, and I wasn't really qualified to do anything else anyway.  I interviewed for my current job over the phone WHILE CLEANING OUT MY FRIDGE because I was so nervous I had to do something with my hands, and by some miracle I was hired, sight unseen.

And then I found out that--although we're more likely to have lengthy discussions about the merits of keeping one's rude and disrespectful opinions inside one's head than about the literary merits of several challenging poems--for me, middle school is where it's at. 

At felt right today.  (Which is saying a lot since it was Monday.)

Unless.  I still really wanna be a geologist...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

three weeks in three photos?

I'm still here, just so you know.  Most of my online presence in the last three weeks has been something along the lines of fkaosdig;aoinb;aoifaldskfj....or maybe a little less eloquent.  But I'm here.  And even though the last time I posted, it was all about writing difficulties, and even though I've had play rehearsals and book report grading and student learning conferences for my own students and for Jabber...I've managed to get my fake-NaNo MG ghost story up to 15k and also made three pages of revision notes for my Cassandra WIP, which needs...a lot of work. 

(Side note--as though any of this is not a side note--we found out tonight at Jabber's conference that he's doing well in all areas, and though I'm not saying I didn't *believe* Ms. S. when she said he only needed reminders to stop acting silly "every once in a while," I do believe I saw a bit of an eye-twitch when she said it.  Probably blocking out the trauma.  I mean, I'm pretty nice in conferences, too--for instance, usually I try not to say things like, "Well, I kind of wanted to scream at your kid fifteen times in fifteen minutes this morning, but then when I saw him in the hall, he waved at me, and I thought he kind of seemed like he might turn into a fully functional human in about eight to ten years," and besides, sitting there nervously next to their parents, they do actually seem like the sweet, interesting people they someday will become.)

(I also found out in a secret, late-night snuggle-conversation last night the name of a girl of whom Jabber says, "I really, REALLY like her, and I might want to marry her," but I would never tell, even if I did make him show me her artwork on the wall this evening at school--she has quite passable handwriting for a first grader, and she doesn't color too carefully within the lines...)

Oh, dear.  This is what happens when I don't post.  I forget how to be coherent.

So.  Picture number one is from Halloween.  I had a ninja (with a glowing light saber and a cowboy pistol) and a Spiderman (with the mask turned into a hat and a toddler who asked, of his padded muscles, "Mama, does my costume have nummies?")

Picture two is from our 9th Anniversary.  I got a new Day of the Dead ornament from D., and it just may be my favorite one yet.  Luckily my husband remains thoughtful (and a good shopper) enough for the both of us--I gave him a Halloween card and permission to buy himself a new knife.  So romantic.  I'm actually not sure how anything in my real world would get accomplished if it weren't for David, so it's probably a good thing he's been around for the last nine years.  I would be constantly doing things like...oh, driving on a flat tire, serving the children cereal for supper, and getting buried underneath a bunch of snow because I have no idea where a shovel might be.  (These are all just things I have done in the past week.)

The last picture is two of my old journals, which I have been reading my way through lately for some reason.  Actually, both of these are from the months leading up to my engagement and wedding, which was kind of fun to read, so close after the anniversary.  I've learned a lot about myself in this trip down memory lane, but I think I'll sum it up into three neat bullet points.  Maybe I can even avoid using parentheses (but I cannot give up dashes) (okay, starting in the next paragraph!)
  • I learned that I've made a lot of progress as a writer, both in terms of craft--I'm a better writer, a more confident writer, especially in fiction--and in terms of business.  A lot of the time that I was writing in these two journals, I was dreaming of being published someday.  Of course, I had hoped at the time it would be soon, but I've been persistent and patient, overall.
  • I learned that probably the biggest point of unhappiness in my life had to do with finding a balance as an introvert and as a person who likes the company of interesting, intelligent people.  I still have to work to find the balance between solitude and loneliness, and I still get overwhelmed when I don't have alone-time to recharge, but do better when I'm forced out of that alone-time to interact with others.  
  • I learned (and in all cases, "learned" is more of a "reaffirmed my thoughts about") (damn, I got SO FAR without parentheses, too!) that the times in my life that I have taken a big risk, stepped completely outside of my comfort zone and tried something that was really difficult for me, it has turned into a hugely valuable experience for me.  
Okay.  So there was the last three weeks of my life, in which I have failed to blog but only because there are not seventy-six hours in each day, and because sometimes, I need to spend my time lying in the dark next to my nearly seven-year-old son, learning the names of the people he believes he might marry.  (That way I won't have to find out on facebook!)