Monday, December 30, 2013

Part 1: This Is Who I Used to Be (and other stories under the bed and in the back of the cutlery drawer)

In 1987, I was failing first grade. My older brother once told me this in my twenties. He was failing, too, he told me. We all were. How does anyone fail first grade? It coincided with the fact that nearly every weekend we went to abortion rallies and protests and watched as anti-abortion picketers would chain themselves to clinic doors, pad lock cars to those doors, scream at women entering those clinics, grab those women entering those clinics, walk in circles praying the rosary, while holding posters of bloody dead babies. It was the '80's. People were gearing up for a battle. When rallies were held, the police had to put up barriers on both sides of the streets to try and keep everyone away from each other, things could get that ugly, that fast. Everyone was shouting, shouting, shouting. Screaming chants ("CHOICE-CHOICE-CHOICE!") and ("CHOOSE LIFE-CHOOSE LIFE-CHOOSE LIFE!"). The streets were shut down, no one could get through, not those uninvolved, not even those participating.
I was 7.
You start failing first grade when you're wondering when and if your mother is coming home from jail. Because jail, when you're 7, sounds like a black hole.

She started pulling us out of school here and there. And then she practiced homeschooling on my brother whom, after many years of thought and research, I've realized exhibited tell-tale signs on the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome spectrum and had development disabilities that were never, ever faced or addressed. We started to spend hours with her at a local organization she was President of, whose mission was to "to speak for and act in defense of all innocent human life threatened by abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to educate on the dangers of artificial contraception."  This organization is alive and well in Pittsburgh and in recent years, my adoptive mother has returned as its President.
She started a religion study group. It was held on Mondays after school. We already attended Catholic school, but apparently their religious education did not suffice. A group she created of other like-minded parents had us study the catechism and treated those who best memorized it. Every year on Halloween, we dressed up as saints. I was always a nun: St.Therese, St. Bernadette, St. Katherine. Then she started taking us to an old woman in a far away neighborhood who taught us on a different day. We had spent the entire day at school and could not eat until that hour with her was over. I remember it finally clicking that the lesson took less time if I didn't fuss, so my brothers and I would try our hardest to listen in order to be rewarded the cookies my mother always brought in a brown paper sack in the car. If we were good. But only if you are good. Oh, I was good alright. I ended up a good girl, always waiting patiently for the cookies.
As a result of our weekending and after-school activities with her, we were constantly exposed to the vitriol lingo of fanatical christians, anti-abortion protesters, graphic images centered on misguided and out-right false information, even videos proudly made with hoots and hollers when watched of people getting arrested, handcuffed, and thrown into paddy wagons. But, we were told to Always respect the police. We were doing God's Work. Even if we didn't know where mom was half the time and even when she was with us, she was somewhere else.
We helped make signs and flyers and gather copies from the copier at the office, we'd sit and listen to stories from people visiting and those who worked there. We were children. We loved stories. Any that you had to share. Most of these were about Jesus and being saved and guided and forgiven and saving women and babies. But mostly about saving women from themselves. And how pure and perfect Mother Mary was. Out of all four of her children, my adoptive mother can safely say to this day that I swallowed the message hook, line, and sinker. I was on fire. I was entranced. But, deep down, I was mostly happy seeing my mother happy. And she was just so happy when she was at her office. In a strangely hyper-happy sort of way.
I was 8.
As more and more of her 'colleagues' were arrested, we began also attending court-hearings to show our support. We sat quietly for hours at a time, surrounded by increasingly agitated and worried adults. No snacks. No toys. No bathroom breaks. Just be quiet. And listen. Please do listen. (A strange aside: when I joined the military straight after highschool, a lot of people had a hard time standing around doing nothing, standing at-ease for long periods of time, waiting for instructions. I didn't. It was old hat for me. I rarely talked to authority figures and it wasn't until my 3rd year of service did people start to notice I wasn't actually an introvert. This is not something I'm proud of, but certainly something I'm proud I not only grew out of, but blew out of.)
We learned, as all children do, what made our mother proud. And so we made her proud. We never asked anything of her. We laughed and smiled when prompted. We learned the jargon and once, my little brother even told off a pro-choice protester as my mother stood by. The man had asked him, Wouldn't you rather be home watching Saturday morning cartoons? I'd rather be home watching cartoons." To which my quick-witted brother quipped, " Then why don't you go home and watch cartoons?" My mother beamed. 

In 1988, she asked us, Do you think you'd like to be homeschooled?" Yes! Spend time at home with mom? No longer deal with teachers who purposefully call me to the board to make an example of my poorly learned math skills, kids who say I look like a boy, everyone laughing that I only like to write and write and write? Get to play outside in the woods any time I want? I'll take it, I thought.
I'll take it.






Thursday, December 26, 2013

Introduction: This Is Who I Used To Be (and other stories under the bed and in the back of the cutlery drawer)~

I've come to the decision to try and find the words to explain the way I was homeschooled. Many people in my life have been asking me to relay my "story", but I've discovered it is the most complicated topic for me to try and explain---to recreate, really---for someone else to wrap their head around. Oh, it makes sense in bits and pieces. In tiny tales. In a Big Picture Perspective. But for some reason, when I try to sit down and conjure up the images to then lay them back down again in writing, words fail me. They've been failing me for years now. I've realized it's because the scar is so freshly healed over. I still scratch at it. It itches. It often tears open. It's there for others to see and discuss and gawk at. I try to hide it, I really do. But I can't. Just as I often wear my heart on my sleeve, this scar is there for all to see. It is what has made me feel eternally awkward and out of the loop my entire life.

If you research the history of the homeschooling movement, it started out with some wonderful ideas based on valid concerns. However, it was basically co-opted by the Christian Right and ever since then, while there are certainly well-balanced, healthy, joyful families homeschooling their children, 75% of homeschooling is done for and by fundamentalist Christian belief systems. These systems are truly based on structural violence. They inhibit the natural process by which children can grow into independent adults. They are, by specific design, meant to brainwash, coerce, shame, and control a person's behavior far beyond their upbringing in order to affect and conform their future adult life into the very model by which they were raised.
My personal homeschooling experience was centered around my adoptive mother's unnatural obsession with abortion. She herself was never able to have a child---but nature was cruel enough to allow her to get pregnant, miscarry every time, and then keep trying. And, as a conservative Catholic with a staunch belief that all things birth control and family planning are "mortal sins", she continued to do just that. Over and over and over again, she allowed herself to go through the disappointing process of attempting to carry fetuses that were never viable past the 12th week, no matter how many physicians compassionately told her that she was merely harming her own mental well-being by doing so. She was still getting pregnant well into her 40's when I was a teenager. But these two people had adopted 4 children, all under the age of 5, within a couple of years, myself included. It was their duty in their mind, no doubt, to fulfill The Church's teaching to "be fruitful and multiply" and certainly for my adoptive mother, to fulfill her "womanly duty" of raising children in God's Holiest of Churches---the Roman Catholic one. The real issue arises here in that it wasn't so much that she chose adoption to create a family, or that she wasn't able to carry a fetus to term. It was the dangerous cocktail of her own shame-induced religious beliefs about women's roles and god's plans and the legalization of abortion in 1973 and her complete and utterly misinformed worldview. This shaped her into an angry, volatile, depressive who was unable to focus on the family she'd created and the needs of those children (particularly my 3 adoptive brothers), but rather upon her own "unmet" needs and desires. She became a religious fanatic of the most indisputable kind and focused our childhood upon attending anti-abortion protests (being arrested herself countless times), homing pro-life cult leaders and their mentally unstable followers in our house, and trucking us to and from Mass and Confession and long Holy Hours spent in lonely churches repenting of god-knows-what. I grew up scrupulous, a neurotic. I don't put that lightly. I still carry with me some of the strange tendencies similar to OCD, but am thankful to have somehow overcome most of it by way of moving away, traveling, making many different kinds of friends, doing things that challenge me, reading the great philosophers, and of course, staying as far away from Fundamentalist Christianity in all its branches as possible.

Please be kind and compassionate as you read my following weeks' work. It is a very emotionally draining process to write about. I do not need your judgment. I do not need your advice. I am quite a happy, healthy, well-balanced and articulate person. I am writing this to eliminate the shame in those of us who were the pioneers of the religious homeschooling movement that erupted in the 1980's and to rewrite the story that so many of our parents try to tell. I'm also being a resource to Homeschoolers Anonymous, a support organization that reaches out to those recovering from mentally, physically, and emotionally abusive homeschooling experiences.




Tuesday, December 3, 2013

her absence filled the world~



Maybe love is a verb, but I've tasted her. I tasted Her in all her saltiness when she left me and never came back. I tasted her sour, her bitter, her vinegar burning her from the inside out; entering my own lungs in a fiery rage. She was Love; my loss, my love equals loss, my Loss equals Love. 
But then he came. 
He quenched me and quieted me; a long cool drink for both the desert and the ocean in me that knew no end. 
And he is sweet. 




Tuesday, July 30, 2013

moving home~

The last time I lived in Pittsburgh, I was leaving her. I spent three straight years of my life planning my escape. I saved three grand from working at a bookstore and odd jobs here and there, homeschooled myself because my mother was too detached to care, and when I was in my last year of high school, I realized I was never going to get into college. Oh, I could've gone to the local community college, but I couldn't stay living with my parents, who had completely lost their minds in the control freak, paranoia department. I realized after all that work that three thousand dollars wasn't going to be enough to do much of anything. And I had big plans.
One day, my brother, a mere year younger than I, came to me and told me that he'd just joined the Marines. He told me I should, too. I told him he was nuts and that there was no way in hell I was joining the Marines. He told me I could join a different branch. So I did.
We both left after graduation, knowing but never discussing how we had to leave as soon as possible to escape the insanity, the cruelty, the suspicion, the religious fanaticism, the purposeful misunderstanding, the lack of love.
I had my friend Alisha cut off all of my long, dark hair in the weeks before shipping off to boot camp. When the recruiter came to pick me up at my house, my father began to cry and his exact words to me were, "I"m so sorry you have to do this."
In the months before leaving, I did push-ups and sit-ups every day and ran three miles. Little did I know that I wasn't really training, I was merely starting to burn off the rage. I was so prepared by the time I got to boot camp, I beat out everybody when doing PT: running, push-ups, you name it. I was angry. Oh, I had a big smile on my face, but I was fucking mad. It felt good to beat the shit out of that hot Texas pavement. I got the highest scores on all the tests on paper, blew past everyone running, blew so many holes in the center targets at the shooting range, the sergeant asked me if I'd done it before. Nope. I was just angry. I was the only female marksman in two flights of women and the only other person who earned it in the squad was a guy. A rancher's son from Montana, he saw the ribbon on my blues at boot camp graduation and laughed saying, "Who pissed you off, little lady?" 
Years flew by. Five years in the military. Five years of college. Third world countries. Falling in and out of love. Getting a chronic disease. Finding my birthparents. Waking up...to Everything and Everyone I'd been told to ignore. The rage left; I was tired. And the most awake I'd ever been in my life. 

But I missed Home. I craved her like salt. I could taste her lush green, her three wet rivers, hear her stark laughter and bad accent. I remembered her culture sitting on blue-collar roots. The houses and steps built high into hillsides, the endless numbers of bridges and colleges and churches stacked upon each other. Her gray skies turned thunder then soft wet grass. Each neighborhood a distinct flavor, a city all its own with room for anyone to be themselves. 
I didn't dare go back, though. Where would I fit in? I never belonged before; I felt a part of her and apart from her, the girl who left because she was the one standing outside of everything she wanted, perpetually Looking In. 
But everywhere I went, I wanted Home. I had a son and wanted Home. I had old friends and new friends there; a support network built up, like those houses on the hillsides. I just needed to get the guts to walk up and knock. I realized over the years what it was I was escaping; at the time I thought it was the city I was born in, but no, it was the house. And a house is not a home. You can leave the house, burn down the house, throw away the key if you have to. Some people say "home is where you put your hat" and I used to be one of them. But now I know that Home is also where you actually want to put your hat.

Pittsburgh, I love you, and don't you ever fucking forget it. 


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

diving off the pier~


Dear M, 
I was walking on the pier near my house the other day, trying to think of why I can never seem to get back to anybody anymore---emails, phonecalls, letters, postcards---you name it. 
Well, besides the obvious reason (a toddler) I also have been feeling a bit down (we're not moving yet; the current job offer turned out to be a terrible idea) and quite bored (I constantly need to be learning things and currently feel like I'm in the royal rut of my life) and lonely (I'm a social butterfly, or so I've been told) and finally.... that whole issue of not getting to meet my birthdad (we were like two ships passing in the night---so close but so far away.) Strangely enough, I'm simultaneously overwhelmed and bored with my life right now.  
So there you have it. That's me in a nutshell currently. I hate talking like this. It makes me sound so negative. Maybe because I am feeling a bit negative about how things are going right now. I don't want a solution or advice; I know that it's simply a matter of time. But I still hate the feeling of life being in such a state of limbo right now. Ugh.
Diane sent me the photos of all of you in Pittsburgh; I'm so glad you all got to reunite in your own way. I don't even really know what to say, this whole story is quite amazing, if you think about it. It just is what it is. MW still has a lot of suffering inside of her  (although she'd never admit it.) Sometimes I feel drained by this whole adoption-reunite-with-everyone thing now. The only way I can explain that latter sentence is that, if you expand your brain to try and understand how much I truly am in the middle of all of it---you can see how much I feel like it's necessary to put on a happy face and act like everything's fine---when in reality, I just feel overwhelmed at times. You see, I have MW on the one hand who's trying so damn hard to ameliorate the past---a past that is said and done and isn't going to change and I don't really hold it against her. But that's the funny thing about birthmothers. They never quite recover from the past. They keep regretting and hurting and blaming themselves for...what? A choice they made when they were 19 and homeless and unguided? So I constantly feel this anxious pressure coming from her as she over-compensates and I end up feeling like one of those highschool students being overly wooed and cooed by a first relationship and wanting to back-off just to get some air. In this case, that would only make things worse. 
In the middle I have Diane and Bashar. An oddity in most stories of adoption---an adoptee so rarely gets to meet *mutual friends of their birth parents!* But I do. And they have been gracious and excited and overwhelmed in their own way and excited and overjoyed---and excited (did I mention excited?!) In which case they seem to think that we're all just these "reunited" family members and feeling absolutely awesome about everything. Especially each other. Which of course, is not exactly true. Sigh. More reason for me to feel like I have to keep putting on that damn happy face. Am I smiling enough for everyone yet?
On the other hand, I have M; a very complicated man to me, to say the least. And yet so simple, really. I feel like I know you. Such an odd thing to say, of course. But I've never met you, so I can't say much and so, therefore perhaps I don't actually know you and shouldn't have said that. I will say this: I do like your penchant for what appears to be taking notes (the leather notebook in the photos) and your scarf-wearing habit (we've discussed our mutual love of scarves already) and while the Omni William Penn Hotel is a bit over-the-top to me for a first meeting (I prefer al fresco snacks 'en plein air', while commenting on things like the birds and elderly and the good olives in our midst), I'd have met you anywhere, really. It was just the logistics this time around. My life, right now, makes most things unfortunately and ridiculously logistically impossible.  
Soon. Sooner than soon, I hope. 
Lovelove, 
Reem

Monday, April 8, 2013

this is the new normal~

Many people who suffer from physical or emotional pain, or both, spend much of their lives wishing to return to "normal", as if it were this magical place they could get back to with a click of the heels...When understood this way, normalcy is almost always destructive. Not only does it delegitimize experiences and people who live outside the norm, and label much of what we don't understand as deviant; it sets up a standard profile that no one fits. The only concept of normal is an individual one. If you can find your normal and live within it, that's recovery. 
It's hard to remember or even imagine (and isn't all memory really an act of imagination?) what it was like not to be the way I am.
-Swimming, Joel Peckham. 

I admit that I have often used my desire to find some semblance of that ever ephemeral and tenuous hold on "normalcy" as a point of reference in my life for what I can only describe as Feeling Safe. As if I were on some long journey without water and come upon a spring and it should quench me, only to discover that it is a mirage. I thought I was trying to get somewhere, and that's where I went wrong in the first place. There's no going back. Because there's no place to go back to. 

I used to treat life like a linear diagram. I really did. As soon as I graduated high school and signed my life away on that 30-page contract with the U.S military, over and over, repeating my initials on it until I wasn't even reading what I was initialing anymore, I went on my linear journey. Or so I thought. I had it all planned out. This then that about summed me up. Oh, and do not deviate from The Plan. Ever.
Then I started noticing in my twenties how I kept circling back around to things I'd thought I'd dealt with and was done with. Why did they keep showing back up in my emotional inbox? Better yet, why did that pile just seem to be getting higher and higher? 
So it hit me that life was not linear but circular. We keep revisiting our pain---even our joy---throughout our lives. The stories will mold and reshape themselves, providing new meaning along the way, at every new phase of life, much like the cycles of moon: no end goal. Just gently waxing and waning, moving on and on. Each time a little different than the last, but comfortingly familiar. Most of the time.
Later, I started reading about things like quantum physics and neuroscience and it hit me that there are dimensions we will never see or comprehend---that life indeed is neither linear or circular, but both. And there are no measurements for that. You remember graphing polynomials in math class? No one ever emphasizes the fact that those little shapes you're graphing---those linears, quadratics, the constants, the godforsaken Zero---they all keep moving down the graph; you're only seeing a frame of it in a millisecond of action. They peak and then ultimately plateau, only to climb and dip again. Numbers. Never ending. And yet we think of numbers as answers, as final. Our lives are moving forward and backward, around and around, and ultimately finite yet infinite because we are privileged to be alive and then die and our cells break down and become food and circle back around again. It's all so complex and mysterious and mind-blowing and simple. And yet not one of us will ever be able to wrap our brains around it. Is that the space where the magic sits? 

I remember the first time I ever tasted cilantro. I was twenty. I honestly had never, ever tasted it. It was an explosion on my tongue. My mind began searching for a point of reference; it was so new, so strange, so delicious. I couldn't even describe it in order to ask what it was that I was tasting. I didn't even know where to look in the food to find it. To this day, it is my own personal example of what it's like to realize there are things outside of our comprehension---things we will never see or taste or touch or understand. That there is more. So much more than this---all this that we worry about and wonder over. There is no normal---this is the new normal
Can you imagine it? Colors you have never seen, shapes that don't exist in our dimension, tastes that you have no buds for, sounds our ears did not evolve to hear. I'm talking about how there is no beach without trillions of grains of sand, and each of us is but one grain of sand---and this fact should be comforting but also put our ego in check. It's overwhelming. The uniqueness of all of life--- how a lack of normalcy is precisely what ultimately creates. Even ourselves; especially ourselves. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

any other name~

This may seem unbelievable, but my name has always bothered me. Here, on my profile, you see it as my birthname, Reem. But I'm talking about my adopted name, Emily. My "real" name. The name on my social security card, my license, my [new] birth certificate, and someday: my death certificate.
But it's more that my name never felt comfortable. On the outside, to be sure, it seems a trivial issue---one that many of us deal with, saying, Oh, ya. I don't like my name much either. But it's more than that because I never actually told anyone this fact.
I didn't hate it. I still don't. I actually find it quite lovely. I enjoyed often being one of only a handful of girls with my name. Nowadays, every other little girl I meet has my name.
But I used to lie about my name a lot. I would make new ones up. A story within the story:
I had a very distant cousin on my adoptive father's side I had just met and was playing with at a wedding once, when I was about ten years old. I told her my name was Keza (I have no idea where I came up with it) and she and I ran around and danced all night at that wedding in our excitingly frivolous dresses to things like Paula Abdul. She called me Keza the entire time, a bit confused by it. She would call my name from across the dance floor and run to grab my hand so we could shimmy across it, sharing more cake and those little balls of cantaloupe from the fancy fruit salad. I answered to this name every time. Was I lying to her? Or had I found a way to be more myself? Who are we when we're ten that we need to be more or less of?
The exact opposite of a xenophobe, I was obsessed with All The Other People In the World as a child. No one had yet told me I was half Saudi, though I knew I was adopted. Where did my obsession come from? Looking in the mirror, I knew I was darker than the other girls. But a lot of people just thought I was Italian. A catch:
The only boys who ever had crushes on me growing up were the sons of immigrants or black. An east-Indian I carpooled with from school, a gorgeous black kid named Allan, an Asian named JimLon. They saw something. When I became a teenager, it didn't matter as much, but when you're a little kid, as far as crushes go, I think most go with what they know, which is by default, similar to oneself.
When I couldn't give fake names anymore because I was getting older, I proposed using fake names with my penpals. One became my best friend, who, to this day, has all the dirt anyone will ever need on me. She understood how the game worked; the only person to ever one-up me in the Create the Most Ridiculously Intriguing Name You Can Think Of and then address each other this way on the envelopes moving swiftly between homes. We spent a lot on postage back then.

All those years, having only my non-identifiable information adoption papers, I thought my birthname was Marie. I addressed this in a previous blog post here. There was something simultaneously shocking and relieving in finding out that it wasn't. Marie seemed even more off. But I accepted it for the longest time. When I found my birthmom and she told me in a flatly shocked voice, "Marie's not the name I gave you"; the breath went out of me. Layer upon layer of surprise after surprise. I simultaneously felt like the world's oldest and youngest onion being peeled back, my skin crunching at every new pull; my skin softening, avoiding the resistance, lest I be torn unevenly, too deeply. Too late.
I think I'd already known, all those years, that my name was wrong. That as much as I felt different, looked different, acted different, my name was different, too.
At first it was just another name. But lately, as I come into contact with more and more of my birth family and their friends, people who so comfortably let Reem roll right off their tongues, it's hit me like a crushing wave that that is who I am to them. Just as I am Emily to so many others. It's not even something I can change, even if I wanted to. And what do I want? A new identity? A time in my life that I can't get back? No, I'm not so naive as that. That time is over. We can never have it back. But there's a vestige left, a screaming child inside me who is scraping the walls of my lungs to get out. And that person's name is Reem.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

a history of winking~

When I was growing up, I was definitely not the funny one. This may have had something to do with the fact that I had one of those overbearing uncles who took up all the Humor Space at family gatherings, Christmas dinner, family picnics---you name it. Then, my younger brother took on this uncle's joke antics and it was all over for the rest of us. A combination of mockery, slapstick, and oh-so-painful punchlines, beware: for you too, may end up being the butt of every joke.
So I began to wink.
It was not really that intentional. That is to say, I wasn't sitting there one day and decided to take up competitive comedy by way of winking at the end of every funny story I told. It just became this subtle way for me to let people know that I was, indeed, actually joking around. Poking a little fun. Dryly letting on that I disagreed. Empathizing with their pain. Or masking my own.
But not everyone always gets my humor. (It's most likely a problem with my delivery.) Hey, a girl can still try. (And will, unfortunately.)
Kids love to wink, by the way. Mostly because they have no idea how to do it properly. And by the
time they (we) do, it's too late: we really shouldn't be doing it. It only causes trouble, you see. Ok, ok, it did for me---maybe not you; you might be one of those lucky wankers. I mean winkers.
Because a proper wink is subtle. Too much, and it looks like something just flew into your eye. Or that you're a creep. Or that you just had an eye patch removed and are trying to readjust after your eye transplant. Or maybe you just went to the optometrist's and only wanted to have one pupil dilated to save money and now can't see straight?
Too little of a wink and well, of course, no one bloody notices. Then you just look like you've got a slight twitch. So you'll just feel stupid because nobody (not even you) noticed that you just winked. What a winking waste.

So what went wrong?
Well, I was in my early twenties by then and winking (so far) had worked out beautifully for me. It was kind of my 'trademark': people looked forward to my wink in a conversation because I had perfected its subtlety so well. I mean, we're talking subtle. Sometimes they would suddenly say, "Did you just wink at me?" and children would ask for pointers to perfect their winks. (Ok, I made some of this up.)
But my point is this:
I was dating around at the time (you know, your twenties: a mess of mad love) and it became a bit of a um, problem with the male of our species. I seriously think it was all those high-concentration pheromones flying off the walls everywhere because jeez, no one seemed to care before. I had a boyfriend who got jealous of my punchline winks (not my actual winking capabilities; which, as we've established, were phenomenal), I had a boyfriend who got jealous of the target of my winks, I had a boyfriend who was just concerned about the health of my eye muscles, and I even had a non-boyfriend think he was my boyfriend simply because I had no boyfriend and winked at him. Not the boyfriend. At him. I didn't have a boyfriend at the time, remember? Jeez.
So that last debacle caused me to stop winking. Ok, it took a while. There were a few times, at the end of poking a little fun, I'd find myself starting to wink and juuuuust as I was clamping my right eyelid down, it was like my eyelashes even had to get involved in pulling those tiny (but jeez are they powerful!) muscles back up over my eyeball. It was like being on a ship and having a hundred little hairy men screaming Man overboard, man overboard! And everyone trying to pull the sopping wet mess of a scoundrel back up. Only, in my case, my face ended up looking it was trying to say, "Oh, don't mind me, I'm just trying to get The World's Largest Dust Bunny out of my eye." Not good. I pretty much gave up wearing eye pencil for a year to properly get a handle on the situation.

But why do we wink in the first place?
Most people think immediately of flirtation, but not so, not so! I promise you, winking has many other uses. I for one was the expert inside joke winker. Ok, maybe some of my winks were so "inside" even the person I thought was on the inside was on the outside hence causing winktastic confusion for all involved, but still. It was my wink of choice. According to Wikipedia (which is like, correct, all the time, right?): winking is an informal mode of non-verbal communication usually signaling shared knowledge or intent, which may also include, in all contexts, sexual attraction.
Woopsie daisy.

So I eventually weaned myself off the wink. (That totally didn't come out right.)
But the other day, something came over me and I daresay, a wink was absolutely vital to the conversation that ensued. Vital, I tell you.
I was talking with this older couple at a local café my son and I walk to in our neighborhood. I often wear him on my back in a carrier to make my life easier (read: no broken china, sneakily bitten into baguettes, no trolley accidents.) As usual, they wanted to know his name.
Finn, I said.
She looked at me like I was nuts. Like I was some pothead hippie mama (which I suppose I do look like, minus the pot) who was trying too hard going and naming my son after fish parts.
I won't lie. I live for this moment with the elderly.
I like to make them wait a few seconds, soaking in their odd judgments and assumptions.
Ok, this time I went on too long, because the lady actually started in on me (South Jersey is an interesting place to live) telling me what a very odd name to choose, what made me think of that? 
So I said, "Well, I suppose you're right. We do try too hard these days now, don't we? You took all the good names." I winked at her husband following it with, "Actually, his name's Irish."
Ya know, as in two N's. 
Suddenly, I was the coolest person she'd ever met. She went on and on about how special of a name I'd given him, was it a family name? if it was short for something. And all because I said Irish and an extra N in the same sentence. Two seconds before I'd just been some fish anatomy obsessed whippersnapper. I really should've messed with her and said it was spelled Phinn. As in Ph. Like Phat. She might've had an apoplexy when I explained that one, though. Talk about a generational gap.
The best part was how her husband caught on. He winked back at me, in that elderly-endearing way, not that creepy-old-man way. I think he winked back in reference to his omniscient, omnipotent wife.
He was clearly a master of the inside-joke wink, and in his case, a little too on the inside for a little too long.



Wednesday, January 30, 2013

no one will believe you~

When I was about 10, I retrieved a book from the children's nonfiction section entitled Archaeologists and What They Do. It was the same day I also got a book out on Venice, Italy.
For hours, I read and reread those two books. It may sound silly to you, but having those two books in my possession for two straight weeks had a huge impact on me. I decided three things then and there:

-I wanted to become an archaeologist.
-I wanted to travel the world.
-I wanted to meet interesting people.

So I set about becoming the nerdiest of nerds. I owned a microscope and a collection kit that I used frequently in the woods by our house (imagine my delight the time my neighbor and I found a shell---a real shell buried in the mud in the middle of our Pennsylvania dwelling!), I read Archaeology magazine and National Geographic cover to cover every month, I kept journals of the odd, the intriguing, the beautiful, and the strange. I even wrote to the head of the Department of Archaeology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in my hometown of Pittsburgh and he actually wrote back. He sent this huge packet that included the most amazing letter to my (by that time) eleven or twelve year old self with copies of his dig records in places like Iceland and Australia and Africa. And pictures! I nearly swooned. Then, my uncle took me on a surprise trip when I was 13 to meet the Curator of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (all the way in Philadelphia!) and I got to interview her. I had so many questions; I had so carefully written them down in a very specific order so as to not forget what else might come up mid-conversation. She laughed and said it felt like the most important interview she'd ever done in her life. She then took me back to the "hidden collections"---the pieces that were not displayed or the pieces that were being worked on to display soon. She pulled out drawers and we step stooled up onto shelves, she let me put gloves on and touch anything I wanted. I touched pottery that was thousands of years old and cradled a mummy's face, while she reverently stood by. Even though I was wearing gloves, I could feel the touch of the hands of all those people who'd lived so long ago. I was in a walking dream state for weeks after.
I was a bit annoying, to be sure. There I was, between the ages of ten and ultimately 15, and all I did---no make that all I did was talk about archaeology. I even obsessed about its spelling. Are American or British archaeologists right, I wonder? Is it Archaeology or Archeology?

But then I stopped.


Because no one believed me. Or should I make that, no one believed in me?

You see, childhood is a funny thing. We don't give children enough credit; they know themselves better than well, we do. They are so sure of what they like and don't like----who's ever met an indecisive toddler? Do you know a kid who doesn't know what their favorite color or food is? Or if they enjoy swimming or not? What their fears are, what their deepest desires and inclinations might be? No, no, children know. They know. 
You don't just "humor" children. You fucking take them seriously, even when you're laughing inside, because you know what? They're not messing around with you; they really do want you to listen as they tug on your pant leg. They really do need you to turn off the TV and help them discover the answers to their questions. They really do need you to shut up and listen sometimes, stop slapping your jaws together like you've got all the answers. Because you're older than the world's been around for all they care; they need to figure it out for themselves and the funny thing is they know that and you forgot it already. 

So what happened to me? I didn't really stop, if that's what you're wondering.

I was kind of gently [strongly] pushed toward more practical careers and reminded constantly how writing and relief medicine and photojournalism and helping the poor weren't really a way to make a living.
Well, we all know that, don't we? But what about a Life's Work, a 'calling', so to speak? Are we really only meant to make...money?

I ended up leaving behind the myopia and joined the military straight out of high school to become a medic. After serving 5 solid years of my life I finally went to college, my dream come true. I took archaeology classes and decided I'd rather study living cultures rather than dead ones, so I majored in anthropology, archaeology's mother. I went to Africa to do a community health internship that shaped my goals in a most precise and clear way. And all along the way, I've been privileged enough to meet, photograph, and document the stories of some of the most interesting people.

What I'm trying to tell you is that no one will believe you. Oh, a few might. But they'll be few and far between. Some will laugh, some will attack, but most will be indifferent---and those are the ones you've got to watch out for the most: because you could all too easily sink into that sandpit and become like them: Bored. Broken. And worse: Boring.


Something small:

I was obsessed with the violin as a child. I drew pictures of it, made one out of cardboard to play on. It didn't sound right. I wanted the real thing. My cousin played, she let me hold it and slide the bow up and down the strings one time; I still remember the feel of it in my hand. Years later, as a preteen, I knew a girl who had started down The Indecisive Road, and so because I was always dying to play she got her mother to not just rent, but buy her a violin. She couldn't make her own dreams so she borrowed mine; hey, that's a start. But it sat in the corner of her bedroom, gathering dust as I eyed it enviously. Her mother sold it back to the music shop months later.

This weekend, I start my first violin lessons. Yes, I'm a 32 year old mother who probably doesn't have the time for this hobby. But that's what I said about a lot of things, like learning Swahili and embroidery.


Don't get too comfortable. We're not meant to be dead until we die. I always tell people how there are some people who don't live, they merely exist. Do you know a lot of people like this? I do. It appears they are sleeping when they could be wide awake.