Thursday, May 28, 2009

The 1,000 mile stare

Hit the wall this week. Have the 1,000 mile stare. Got up at six Tuesday morning to get my grades done. Sat in my office and for the life of me couldn't remember the formula I've been using to calculate grades for the past 15 semesters. I tried for a half hour and gave up. Decided to wrangle with Time Warner over the cable bill, and so it went. 9:15 and it was time to read 30 pages of material for a symposium that started at 9:45. On my lunch break I typed a letter that needed to go into my grade file at the other college where I teach. Knew I needed to get there by 4:00 p.m. at the latest, deadline for those grades was 5:00 p.m.

I dashed out the second I could leave, at 2:30--- sitting on the subway platform, trying to calm myself down, trying to get a grip. Couldn't even savor the pleasures of caffeine b/c my stomach was fucked up. A colleague joined me, a PhD candidate in anthropology. We had been in a discussion group right before we broke for the day. So we starting to conversate as the 4 train roared south towards Yankee Stadium. Dude was suddenly sitting very close to me. I thought, I wonder if he's attracted to me?

The train sped past the stadium, the tracks heading down into the darkness. He made it clear he was attracted to me. I could tell by his body language. I found myself attracted to him as well. There were two conversations at this point; one vocal, the other subliminal. It was sexy. This went on from 161st Street to Times Square. When he got off the train, I was smiling. My 5:00 deadline wasn't the only thing on my mind anymore--- I stopped stressing so much. Took deep breaths, knew everything was going to be alright. And it was.

We'll see what Mr. PhD Candidate in Anthropology has to say tomorrow. Maybe he'll be one of these guys who gets all sheepish, and pretends the context and the subtext of our conversation never took place. Or maybe we'll keep on talking. Either way, it's all good. Either way, I got a little bit of pleasure in a bad week of bad stress.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Get up and join the land of the living

There were a couple of letters in the New York Sunday Times Magazine about Daphne Merkin's piece on depression last week. I'd written about this in an earlier post. Several of the responses agreed with my point of view. If she wasn't a rich girl, and couldn't afford the luxury of a break down, if she had started exercising, taking yoga, got acupuncture, changed her diet, whatever AND if the rent HAD to paid, maybe, maybe, maybe--- it wouldn't have gotten so bad for her.

My last suicide attempt was in October 2006. I came home from class, had three vodka tonics, passed out on the couch, and when I woke up, I took a razor blade to my wrist. But at the same time, a part of my brain saying, this is not acceptable behavior, so I called a hotline (1-800-LIFENET). One guy was an asshole and I hung up on him, but I called again and found someone I could talk to. After a while, I hung up the phone, disinfected the cuts and wrapped gauze around them and went to bed.

The next morning I had to face the awful truth about myself, and do something immediately. Because I had to go back to work. I had to go back to my classes at NYU. This was much worse than a hang-over. I knew I had to go to the emergency room--- maybe I needed stitches, and I absolutely needed to see a shrink. It was a surreal experience; I knew I was going to be there a long time, so I brought a book with me. There I sat on the hospital gurney, my right wrist bandaged up, reading Critical Terms for Literary Study, while a man with a gun stood watch over me.

The next week I joined a gym and started meditating again. Quit drinking. I couldn't afford the luxury of descending further into that abyss. I was pro-active; worked on mind and body. Starting seeing a shrink in my neighborhood--- who by the way I really disliked, but that's not the point. My mother--- when she saw me sunk down in despair and depression, said, get up and join the land of the living. I hear that voice till this day. Its a hard line. But every person I know who ended up catatonic with depression, couldn't get out of bed, wanted to die, couldn't wash their hair, and so on and so forth--- had money.

I'm on my own baby. I got to be my own mother, father, wife, husband and friend. I have to be all those things rolled up in one--- and I've learned coping skills. It's what 27 years of therapy has taught me. It doesn't take away the pain, it only teaches you how to live with it when things get bad. That's all therapy can do, but most of the time, its enough. Things get bad, then they get good again. How do you weather that storm when you're going down?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Willowtown Street Fair, or Home Sweet Home

This lovely young lass stretches before the big race down Willow Place. A cloudy afternoon, low key and quiet. I ambled up and down the street, talking to my neighbors, enjoying a glass of ice tea, then later a vodka. I can't believe how much I initially disliked this place. So quiet! Nothing but kids! Where was all the action? Now, I'm at home in my home. This is my community. There will never be a "cool" bar, but it doesn't matter so much anymore. Then again I am a very different woman from the one who moved here ten years ago. I really enjoyed watching the kids run races, ride ponies, and chalk up the streets with flowers and trees. Last week, I watched the local pre-school entertain the kids with an Arthurian pageant. A story-teller with a guitar walked them down the street regaling them with tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Trip to the Psych Ward

Follow the link below to an absolutely harrowing account of depression by Daphne Merkin in The New York Times. This essay had me chained to my desk--- I couldn't stop reading. The clock was ticking. I was due in class in seconds, but it didn't matter. This is far better than William Styron's Darkness Visible. This is no gentle poetry of madness; the dull gray film that descends upon your life like falling snow. No. This is brutal. The cocktail of psycho-pharmeceuticals. The shrinks who push shock therapy--- yes, they still do this. Apparently, it isn't as extreme, but once hospitalized, she reported a man obsessively walking up and down the hall saying, my brain is gone. She had voluntarily checked herself into a nuthouse.

I clearly remember the fall afternoon in 2006 when I asked my best friend to drive me into Manhattan so I could check myself into a nuthouse. St. Vincent's Hospital on 14th street. I walked in and faced the same kind of bland institutional culture that Merkin describes so well in her essay; the green walls, the battered couches, the same insouciance of the staff. Their generic indifference to your insanity. I told the receptionist I needed to see a doctor ASAP. I said, I'm falling apart. The receptionist was like--- whatever. I remember that her nails were tomato red, she was cracking gum, the radio was playing. The staff was in a great mood!

It was a bad day. It had been a bad week, a bad month. However, I've never descended into the hell Merkin writes about. Not that I couldn't. I could. Very easily. But I got to get my ass out of bed every morning. I have bills to pay. And I often have the same voices screaming inside my head--- lacerating, eviscerating. But I run two miles on the treadmill, do crunches, lift weights, fifteen minutes of yoga stretches, ten minutes in the steam room, followed by a hot, stinging shower. I've read studies that depression responds best to exercise, not medication. I think medication makes it worse. I do. Leave my brain chemistry alone.

She survives of course as I did, and wrote this beautifully articulate essay. Above all I applaud her honesty. I know there are many vociferous critcs of her work, but still--- it takes cojones to write like this.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Real Educators of New York

Another semester at CUNY coming to a close. Tomorrow I collect 40 essays that will each be at least 20 pages. The entire semester revolved around mastering MLA style for in text citations, formatting, works cited and of course the writing and research. My students never believe they can write a 20 page paper. They tell me as much, in the beginning of the semester. They say, "Miss, no way." And yet they do. A few drop out along the way, but for the most part, I take them through the entire process, step by step--- they are always surprised and pleased. And usually I feel a great sense of accomplishment as well.

But not so much this year. I may be burnt out. This is hard work and while my hourly is very high, almost $100.00, CUNY places all kinds of restrictions on the amount of hours I am allowed each semester. If another section of composition is needed, and thus another instructor, instead of being able to hire someone like myself, they hire someone new. Because I can't have more than nine hours a week. Because God forbid I should be able to make a living. I've kept at it, quite frankly, b/c my rent used to be so low, but also for the more intangible yet significant reward of changing a student's life. This is what they tell me, all the time, "Miss, I did it. Thank you. You totally changed my life."

I set the bar high for them. And they reach it. This is what good teachers do, they teach the content of the class, but if they care, they empower the students as well. But if I can't make a living wage, and thus far, this is true, and in the midst of this downturn--- my creditors don't care that I am engaged in a philanthropic as well as altruistic career. My VISA card doesn't care. The IRS doesn't care. My student loans don't care. So what does this leave me with? Quite frankly, a very strong desire, to get the hell out of there. Which is a shame. Because I am good at what I do. I change people's lives. So when I collect these essays tomorrow, after a year of struggling financially, and still doing my job, I just want to go home and watch The Real Housewives of New York. Then, I will continue my pursuit of a job--- not in education.

And if they're any philanthropically inclined people out there, reading this---

I need a vacation. Desperately.

Any contributions to this teacher's vacation fund would be greatly appreciated.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Brooklyn Blogfest

I attended the Brooklyn Blogfest 2009 last Thursday night. Down in Dumbo, down by the river, at the Powerhouse Arena Bookstore. I blogged about it for Dumbo NYC. I was a blogfest virgin, and I had a great time. One thing I've learned is that to be successful, a writer needs to discover his/her niche. Pick a topic and stick with it. I'm all over the place with this blog; I write about feminist issues, but also my personal life, education, the arts, music, books, family and friends. In many ways, it has replaced my journal.

Blogs, however, are not journals or diaries. They are meant to be shared with a larger audience. The buzziest topics, according to the blogfest, are Alex from The Real Housewives of New York City (because she lives in Cobble Hill), and Trader's Joes. Who knew? After a panel discussion with real pros--- meaning they make $$$$$$$$$$, like Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, and Gothamist--- we all broke up into groups. Blogs about parenting, about the arts, about politics, green blogs, neighborhood blogs.

Then we all went to Galapagos Arts Space for free food, and cash bar. I had a couple of glasses of white wine, two slices of pizza. I signed up for the raffle, had my heart set on the digital camera. Didn't win it, but met the folks at The Brooklyn Heights Blog, F2F!

Molly in the Sunlight on Mother's Day

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Birthday Boy

This is a picture of Marc Travanti in his studio. He is my oldest friend. He is part of the reason I remained sane and strong when I was young. I was good friends with his father, the amazing Bob, when he was alive, I love his mother and adore his wife. But Marc is also very blessed to be friends with ME for the following reasons:

1. I am certainly the best looking of all his friends.
2. I taught him the meaning of the word "bitch."
3. I taught him the meaning of the word "smart ass."
4. I didn't laugh at him when he was 16 and made a gigantic orange candle from an empty gallon of milk. My brother and I used it when we got high in the closet.
5. As his prom date in 1973, and a member of the cool stoner club, I improved his status immeasurably with his jock-centric friends.
6. I agreed to hide in the trunk of his cousin Larry's car, so he didn't have to pay for my drive-in movie ticket.
7. I introduced him to David Bowie and the Spiders from Mars.
8. I didn't complain when he slept with my best friend (well not much anyway) :)
9. I never called him "Chimp."

And the final reason Marc Travanti is so blessed to be my friend is:

10. Not only am I his best looking friend, I am also the smartest.

This is my birthday tribute to my oldest, dearest compadre, friend and honorary brother.
BFF 4 EVER, Galaxy Lil

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Green streets of Brooklyn

This is my beautiful home. This is my beautiful street. This is my beautiful life.

Love you, ma

me and my mom, 1977

Today is the 13th anniversary of my mother's death. She died in 1996. It didn't hit me until I sat down in my 9:00 a.m. class to take attendance. I wrote in the date before I began calling names, and thought, oh shit, 5th of May. I dismissed it quickly from my head b/c I had a class to teach. Forgot about it. Then later on, when I got home, I didn't feel well, shaky, and on the verge of a panic attack. When I remembered what I had forgotten, I felt better. I wanted to cry, but no tears came.

I must've been aware of this on some level b/c last weekend I tore this apartment apart, limb from limb. I actually dusted off books! Would somebody please alert the media. I found many pictures of my mother; she's at my brother Michael's wedding in Hawaii, and she looks radiant. This is the way I like to remember her. I don't like to remember the day she died because she didn't look like herself anymore.

Her birthday is far more difficult for me. The day of her death, cinquo de mayo, all these years later, is a footnote in the long history of my life after hers. I look back and think of all the things about me she never knew; The Erotica Project, my life in Brooklyn, my tribe of cats, teaching at college, producing for NPR, publishing my first book, a short play on Broadway, my boy friends, my trips to Cannes, London, Edinburgh, New Orleans, finally losing Peter, my apartment on Willow Street, peri-menopause, menopause, my Master's Degree.

I had a dream not too long ago. An archangel appeared and said, your mother is surrounded by children. Suddenly, her life made perfect, poetic sense to me.

Love you, ma.

Monday, May 4, 2009

1966 beehive and happily ever after

For a bit of classical entertainment on Sunday, I watched Georgy Girl (1966), with the incandescent Lynn Redgrave, in the title role. In the film, she's a big girl, homely and quirky. I loved her immediately. She marches to the beat of her own drum, she sings her own song, she zigs when she's supposed to zag. In the title credits, she sees her reflection in a salon window, is that what her hair looks like? Egads. She runs in and when she runs out, she's got this four foot high bee-hive. Seconds later, she's soaking her head. Enough, already.

Charlotte Rampling, her roommate, is a classic sixties beauty, and a bit of a slut as well. The two women play off each other brilliantly. Char gets preggers and Georgy falls in love with the father. They plan to live together, all three of them. Chaos ensues. But throughout the film, I'm always rooting for the fat, plain girl who wants to write her own rules. My hopes are dashed, however, it turns out, that all Georgy wants is a baby. She's a bride by the end, not married to the young guy, but rich, middle-aged James Mason. But the joy on her face is all about the baby.

That's all she really wanted. Boy, I was pissed. I felt duped and betrayed. She not only buries her own irrepressible spirit, she shovels in the dirt as well. Instead of larking about London, teaching music to little kids and kissing boys--- now she's a mother and a wife. Money and a wedding band. Will someone please write another story, another version of happily ever after.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

I'm back in Brooklyn

A thousand apologies for abandoning my post, but life got in the way. A mountain of student essays to grade. Hours and hours. I couldn't even think of language, I was drunk on language. I saw citations and bibliographies in my sleep. Then a visit to the tax man, then swine flu. It was all too much for a girl to take--- would this subway ride prove my undoing? I sanitized my apartment from top to bottom. I wash my hands constantly. At the gym I wipe down the equipment before and after, several times. I now qualify for membership in the OCD Association, silver status.

When the news settled down, so did I. Fear-mongering at its slickest and prettiest. Press conferences and face masks, hot button states, constant stats. Deserted Mexican streets. A pig farm in Veracruz. Epidemiologists, push the panic button. CDC from Atlanta, somber and self important. Shades of the great influenza virus of 1918. PANdemic. Then, suddenly--- nothing. Just a passing reference. Now I'm OK. I'm not high on panic and end-of-days. I'm back in Brooklyn. It's good to be here.