Taking Ownership

“I don’t believe you have epilepsy.”

I was afraid to look too excited at what the neurologist said, afraid to want something so much that I’d make it happen. I pushed the heels of my hands down into the vinyl seat of the chair. I looked at the oatmealy floor. “I don’t?”

“You don’t.”

A year ago, I took ownership of epilepsy. That word. My diagnosis didn’t change my reality, but it sure as hell changed my feelings. It changed my routine. More sleep, no booze, less stress. It changed my future. This was my new life.

Two months ago, I stepped out of a Sprouts market and into the sun. I’d only been inside for five minutes to use the restroom. I stalled on the sidewalk, blank. I had no earthly idea where I’d parked my car. It didn’t take long for fear to settle into the spot where a simple memory of my parking spot should have been. Did I park on the right? The left? How far back? Was I even parked in the lot? I was scared. How could I not hold a thought for five minutes? If I stood there, would it come to me? It did not.

Three months ago, I sat down at a table under the redwood in our yard to review a novel for Kirkus. I’d read the book. I’d made notes. I had opinions. I’ve written countless reviews. Pull quotes from the text. Fight through frustration. Explore. But that day, language failed me. Every tenth or so word felt like it was behind a cloud, inaccessible. I just couldn’t remember them. Not complicated words. Words like ordinary. Words like compare. Words like implication. Being unable to conjure your own language is terrifying.

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Fall 2017: Struggling so hard. Headed for a seizure.

A year ago, I woke up from a nap with my face covered in blood. My tongue was split on the side where I’d mashed it between my molars. I felt misery, head to toe. Stiffness, a cold dread. I submitted myself for prodding and scanning: EEG. MRI. Neurology. Referral. After that seizure and a series of subsequent episodes where I bit my tongue in my sleep, my doctor prescribed Topamax to address my dual brain issues: epilepsy and chronic migraines. Topamax is no joke. It requires gentle ramping up; it makes the patient lose weight, and it affects cognition more than a little. Soon after beginning the drug, I was plodding around, dazed. I was tired all the time. My thoughts were unclear. My doctor assured me that the fogginess would settle.

It didn’t settle.

First to go were names. I would be telling a story, and I’d forget the name of a coworker I’ve worked with for over ten years, someone I talked to daily. Was I good at covering and laughing it off? I didn’t want to think about that for too long. I developed tricks to mask my blank memory. “Tell me your last name?” I would say as a student of six months came up to ask me about her grade. I relied too heavily on the class seating chart. Thankfully, none of my students called me out. My friends kindly ignored my pauses. After names, I lost chunks of text. Stories I knew and had taught for years disappeared from my mind. When my students would ask about something they read in the chapter the night before, I’d say “show me where in the chapter that is?” and hope (again) the moment would pass. I struggled to pull my thoughts together about a book. My ability to connect anything was gone.

Topamax affects speech and memory in the brain. Aphasia–difficulty with speech and language–is just one of its side effects. So are memory loss and confusion. After months of Topamax, I was “losing farther, losing faster…” like some fucked up “One Art.” I tried to write that review for two hours in our backyard, then I went to find my husband. “I can’t write,” I said, feeling the prick of tears in the corners of my eyes. “Not like I don’t want to, or I don’t know what I want to say. I can’t find my words. I can’t get to them.”

I was sad and confused. I tried to continue with both of my jobs: teaching English to reluctant high schoolers all day, reviewing books in the wee hours of every morning. But I couldn’t concentrate–not on my own narrative or any story. I define myself entirely in terms of comfort with language. Everything I do involves words. The phrases we own and the stories we remember become our personalities. I’m wary, when I write, of my syntactical habits; I’m suspicious of what writes easy. But I know I have to write to survive. Both of my jobs require fluency, ownership, and memory. I love to find patterns, to connect disparate ideas. What does a novel mean? How can I capture the diction of a passage? Does this book do what it sets out to do? How do we access the world it describes? What questions does it ask? Topamax blurred those thoughts. Every page I read was separate. Each sentence, its own thing. Teaching was exhausting. Reading and writing were near to impossible because the Topamax moved into my head.

People in epilepsy forums call it “Dopamax.”

Two months ago, after losing my car, I told my neurologist I wanted to wean off of the drug. I wasn’t living if I couldn’t write or speak. “I’m done. I can’t take this anymore,” I told him. He gave me instructions to stop taking the drug. But to my horror and surprise, he also told me flatly that if I stopped, I was at risk of dying suddenly in my sleep. People with nocturnal seizures are at risk for SUDEP: sudden unexplained death in epilepsy, he said. Off the drugs, the risk increases. At no point in the last year did he bring up SUDEP; it only came up now as a threat to make me take the medication. My feelings about sleep became complicated, which isn’t good for someone trying to avoid nocturnal seizures. I did a lot of crying. I took Topamax for two more weeks, but I didn’t feel like myself. I talked to my husband and finally decided that fear of dying was keeping me from living. I weaned myself.

Off the Topamax, things brightened. I found words. Clarity returned to my brain like blood through a sleeping limb. It was time for a second opinion.

This Thursday, I sat in an office at a local epilepsy center. I recounted my story to a different neurologist who specializes in epilepsy and seizures. He’d already reviewed my record. He listened patiently for a half hour as I gave him dates and symptoms, my story of observations and lists. He asked specific questions about each episode where I’d bitten my tongue. He agreed that my initial episode was a seizure, caused by sleep deprivation and stress. But he had a different opinion than my original neurologist about my subsequent episodes of tongue-biting.

“I don’t believe you have epilepsy,” this new neurologist said.

A year of Topamax. A year of fog, and panic, disordered memory. A year of teetotaling. A year of consternation. Laconic speech. Panic about death in my sleep.

“I don’t?”

“You don’t. I believe you had one seizure, but the rest of these ‘episodes’ aren’t actually seizures. I think you damaged your tongue during your seizure, and now it’s sensitive. I think the biting is caused by your tongue resting between your teeth. We know your seizure’s cause–sleep deprivation–and if you haven’t had another one, you don’t have epilepsy.”

I don’t have it. That word. Now I’m hoping to take the rest of them back.

Redirection

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It took me 16 years to stop being afraid of my students on the first day of school. 17, if you count my year of student teaching when I showed up to observe other teachers and got tossed into a classroom to sub. Not that I knew what I was doing that first year–that year it seems fair that I quivered in my bad JC Penney pantsuit and stumbled through another teacher’s activities with five classes of kids who were only a few years younger than me.

This is the kind of thing you don’t admit out loud, the being nervous. Or, I guess I don’t hear teachers say it, which is why I’m writing it. Last year I finally came to grips with both the fact that I’ve always been nervous on the first day, and the fact that I was finally not. I know plenty of teachers who say they’ve never been nervous, that they don’t care. These are normal people with human emotions (read: not psychopaths), so I’ve been thinking about why that’s the accepted posture. I definitely don’t think it helps new teachers.

Teaching is weird. It’s you, but it’s also not you. I’ve always understood my teaching self as a character and my class as an act. I have referred to my job for years as The Mrs. Partington Show, and that’s not as much of a joke as it seems. The Mrs. Partington in my classroom is me, but she’s me if I carefully selected all the parts of me that were appropriate for teenage interaction and parent scrutiny; she’s the nice me, the patient me. She’s the me that wants to hear about your freshman football game and will joke with you about Fortnite. The me who wants to spend a lot of time talking about data or how someone is not a great test-taker. That is not me, friends. She is not the me who gets down with an episode of Dr. Quinn on a Thursday night or the me who hides in a hammock for the whole summer with Tristram Shandy. The part of that that’s hardest to reconcile is the human self that stands in front of those kids and that views the emails from the parents–she gets hurt when real conflict happens. The character doesn’t shield the real me.

That’s what I used to be so nervous about on the first day. The whole will they like me? thing. I care. Again, there are so many teachers in my life who deny any attachment to likeability, but I feel like there was at least a kernel of that at one time that inspired them to go into the profession. To say it another way–maybe they respected a teacher so much that they really learned well, and they wanted to have the same relationship with kids. And what’s wrong with being likable? I like students. I don’t think it makes me a strange person to admit that likeability plays a role in education.

I wish there was a magic phrase that helped me stop being nervous last year. I heard so many pieces of advice from veteran teachers that I tried to implement for my first decade and a half. Most consistently, the one about not being able to get meaner as the year goes on. While true, the problem with that for me was that I’m not a harsh disciplinarian, either. Frankly, a lot of things just don’t bother me. I tried starting my year off as a drill sergeant, and it didn’t last–it was as inauthentic as any other time I tried to do someone else’s shtick. The surest way to fail as a teacher is to try to recreate someone else’s thing. I had to figure out how to do this as me.

What finally clicked in year 16–which is late for such realizations, but here we are–was that if I paid less attention to myself, and I focused more on recognizable student behaviors, my job became more about gently correcting course a thousand times a day rather than putting on a show that was so fabulous it would hold everyone’s attention for 5 hours. What I know now is that students act the exact same way every single year at every point in the year. There is nothing new under the sun. I can nail it down almost to the day–when a kid will blurt out a joke to make the class laugh as I’m trying to teach. When someone will draw a penis on one of the desks. When a girl will burst through the door crying because her crush broke her heart. When they will leave a mountain of trash under their desks or destroy one of my books. And in the midst of all of this comes waves of different feelings toward their teachers–anxiety, then suspicion, then rebellion (this one lasts a while), and then a long stretch of comfortable learning, joking and testing the waters of adult conversation. Somewhere in there, we read and write.

This year, year 17, I overslept on the first day of school. I could blame it on the medication I’m taking or the fact that we had three days of soul-crushing meetings just before, but I’m sure it’s because I wasn’t nervous. The first day brought plenty of other challenges–large class sizes and enrollment issues, especially, but I spent most of the day being amused by my students. I enjoyed getting to know them, and I enjoyed the pressure being off. Everything was new, and everything was exactly as it has been for the last 16 years.

I read something about meditation long ago–that you’re not supposed to punish yourself for letting your thoughts drift. That it’s better just to note your thoughts and gently direct them back toward your breath. To just breathe. My role in the classroom is the same. Redirection.

 

In Return

Someone told me once that the best thing you can tell your spouse is often “that sucks”–as in, don’t try to fix things when they’re upset. Don’t try to tell them what to do. Just listen and say, “that sucks.” Because what most people want is to be heard, the feeling that someone else cares about the hard things that happen to you. More often than not it’s what I want: just acknowledgement. Saying “I know exactly how you feel” is untrue. Telling me what to do is awful. And you can forget about “just relax” or “it’s fine.” Well. I am lying about one thing. It wasn’t a person, it was an episode of NBC’s Parks and Recreation, but it still changed our marriage. “That sucks” is often just right.

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Three months ago, I went back to church. Do you see how I buried that in the second paragraph? It’s hard to write about. A little embarrassing. Church sure has a lot of different connotations, doesn’t it? I feel you forming an opinion. I have an opinion, too, because it’s been almost 20 years. Church is a loaded word, conjuring either a closed mind, or too much liberty with the word of God, depending on which peanut butter you buy in 2018. And my tendency is usually to hem in whatever bits of myself might be most interesting or bold so I don’t offend. But that’s exhausting. At almost 40 I just want to be. Like RuPaul says, “what other people think about me is none of my damn business.” In the last year our cruel president’s policies and my health issues have clarified my sense of self. Remaining silent or immobile is a privilege I don’t want. But I don’t want to do good alone, either. I want to work within in a body that does good for others in the community and the world. I finally realized that the place I’d grown up, a small congregation of the United Methodist Church with its policy of inclusion and a history of serving vulnerable populations–was it.

As a kid, I liked any part of the church service that was said in unison. Sometimes I’d close my eyes and speak along with the prayers that hummed around my head, while the light warmed my ear from the stained glass windows. Often, though, I’d snuggle into my grandma’s side, bow my head and run my finger along the sewn-in seam on the knee of her polyester pants while we prayed. I loved the sounds of the Lord’s prayer. Especially: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. All those good S-es that the debt/debtor people miss. I struggled, then, to think of any trespasses against me. I always had a list of my own.

My church wasn’t cool, but it was earnest. I stopped attending around my late teens–not because I gave up on religion, but because I looked down my nose on my church’s simple and steady routines; they didn’t seem like enough. Please stand for the reading of the Gospel. You may be seated. Let us pray. The creaky pews, the casseroles, the basement fellowship time. Puppets. Choir robes. Powdered lemonade. I wore my Methodism–which comes to me by both sides of my family tree–like a scratchy hand-me-down sweater. I shed it the first chance I got: I was attracted to my friends’ sparkling mega-churches—where people raised their hands in worship and sang the refrains of songs over and over with their eyes closed. These churches had rock bands and LCD screens, dark lights, and altar calls. We were married by a dear pastor in one of those big churches when I was 20. I felt happy there, but when I look back I wonder at the spectacle. It seems like some churches are designed to draw people in to entertain them with the show rather than to inspire service to the community at large. (What rock concert would Jesus attend?) Where I settled, there was so much emphasis on judgment–never from the pastor, mind you. But I can’t avoid the memory of so many prayers for friends in our circle who had “fallen away,” so many whispers about other people’s sin. And so much daily, constant anxiety about my own. It was easy for me to get lost. That wasn’t the case where I grew up, and yet it was the world I found myself absorbed into by my late teens. In 2000, around the time I was married, a group came to a church service to speak about Prop 22, a precursor to California’s Prop 8 Marriage Initiative. I was hardly woke, then, by any standard, and it still felt wrong. Really wrong. I didn’t feel like my heterosexual relationship was in danger if my gay friends could get married. I was disgusted by how people acted in the name of God. Soon I gave up and stopped attending.

For almost the same time that I’ve been avoiding church, I’ve been teaching public high school. In some ways, that was easier. There are strict restrictions about what I can say and what I am allowed to teach. I could never–and would never–espouse a particular political or religious view as the only view in a lesson, and yet my entire job is interpretation. When my job as a critic is quite literally to have opinions, it’s a strange dichotomy. So in the interim, it has worked to believe, quietly, in God. I am positive that I believe in God in such a different way from most people, anyway, and for a time, I felt like that might be wrong. In 2014, I reviewed Sara Miles’ City of God for The Los Angeles Review of Books. Miles, a Director of Ministry at a congregation in San Francisco’s Mission District, writes in her memoir about taking ashes out into the Mission on Ash Wednesday. “God so seldom means just one thing to any individual, much less the same one thing at a time to a whole group,” she writes, “and so worship spills out every place God meets people.” This idea and Miles’ account of faith interacting with the vibrant city spoke to me, so much that on a solo trip to San Francisco, I visited St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church. I just wanted to see it.

I’m not sure why that detail should be important to you. I’m not sure about Mr. Rogers, either, except I want to tell you that I saw Won’t You Be My Neighbor the other day, and I sat alone in a theater, crying a little bit as I watched him tell college kids that they were valuable just because they are, thinking about what a bold idea it is to be loving. Thinking about how many of my students need warmth. “Love is at the root at everything,” he said, “all learning, all relationships, love or the lack of it.” It’s the same feeling I had when I watched Nanette, the groundbreaking Hannah Gadsby comedy special on Netflix, last week. It doesn’t matter why we choose a different kind of story. It’s risky, right? To be open to all people? To believe them when they tell you who they are? Our patterns of storytelling are built around heroes and victories. Power. Mistrust. On a national level, we’ve decided right now that we are going to be in this moment where winning matters. Where having matters. Where everyone is a liar. Going to church right now, being a part of a community, listening, serving others, speaking out, choosing love–these feel like acts of defiance–especially with a group that dedicates itself to serving vulnerable populations.

I’m not even sure if I’m conveying this properly.

I walked into church again on April 15th of this year because I’d just finished a book about recovery by an author who felt like she was too smart for AA’s scripts and clichés. In reviewing the book, I had to examine my own biases–I found that the author’s disdain for the rituals of AA grated against a part of me that felt comfort in repetition, in belief, and in gathering together with others who will listen, or in being someone who says yes, I will be here for you. But also, I read an echo of the pride that made me leave my home church almost 20 years ago. I decided to finally push past my embarrassment about not having gone for two decades and just go. Last Sunday, I sat next to a woman about my age. During the sermon, the pastor asked each of us to think of a time when we had felt most alone in the world. Then he asked us to turn to the person next to us and share. (Church comes with more interaction, now, I guess.) I won’t tell you what the woman shared, but it was painful. I thought about that advice from Parks and Rec as I listened to this stranger who was incredibly vulnerable. As she spoke through her tears, I tried to offer a more eloquent version of “that sucks.” I shared something in return. We stumbled through a conversation, but it had value. 2018 often makes me feel like I need being human classes. Church feels like my way to reach out rather than to reject, right now. A way to acknowledge the humanity of the people around me. Earnest connection, which is something.

What’s in a name?

I have Epilepsy, and I feel a little weird about it.

You will remember that I had a rough autumn of bad health: headaches and insomnia and tongue-biting in my sleep. I felt like I couldn’t control my stress, and I was on the verge of tears all the time. My doctor thought I might be having nocturnal seizures, but he didn’t know for sure. My EEG was inconclusive, even though I bit my tongue in the middle of it. He gave me a long list of things to do to improve my health, and that was overwhelming and hard. Many of those things were for the migraines, and a few were for the seizures: cut out all caffeine, make sleep your new religion, cut the stress. Plus the old medical standard: wait and see.

I started taking Topamax to treat both problems: the chronic migraines I’ve had since my twenties, and the [maybe] seizures. If I stopped biting my tongue, that would tell us something. Well, I stopped biting my tongue. I started feeling way better. It’s amazing how groovy you can feel when you’re not biting your tongue all the time. About three months into the meds, I had another appointment with my neurologist, and he said that we could assume it was seizures, and I should stay with the meds.

Then as is always the case in the spring, I started having discussions at work about next year’s teaching schedule. Immediately, my stress level was through the roof. My health was better, but barely. Worrying about it getting bad again was going to make it bad. I tried to be honest about my health issues and take things off my own plate, but I struggled to say no because I’m a wimp. I felt like I should have a doctor’s note on file so it would be clear that I wasn’t making this stress/seizure stuff up. It’s hard to explain something that you can’t see. It felt like dumb excuses. I asked my neurologist for a letter that explained my condition. I didn’t know how to convey what it was, anyway. Did it have a name? Was there something more specific than nocturnal seizures? Could he put it down on paper in a way that would make sense so people wouldn’t have to Google what was wrong with me?

He did. It took about a month, but he finally sent me a letter, which said, “Heather has nocturnal seizures caused by Epilepsy.”

What.

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The funny thing is that I wanted the letter so nobody else would have to Google anything about me. But the letter sent me Googling. What the Google Machine told me is that Epilepsy is what they call repeated seizures without a known cause. So: me. I think my neurologist didn’t use the word at first because we didn’t know, and then he was just being more specific, referring to the specific type of seizures.

This is what I tell myself, anyway. Because he just hadn’t used that word at any time before.

But I feel better than I’ve felt in a long time. For at least the last 15-20 years, I had a terrible daily headache, and I woke up every night in the middle of the night with anxiety and insomnia. That’s not happening, anymore. I still get headaches, but they’re rare, and they usually have a specific cause. I’m still sad I’ve had to cut so many things out of my life–don’t get me wrong. I’m pretty much off caffeine, soda is gone, and I haven’t had a drink since October. I don’t take OTC pain meds more than twice a week. But I’m at a point where decaf tastes like real coffee, and the amount of uninterrupted sleep I get has made a notable difference in my energy, anxiety and migraines. The meds help, but I think that all the lifestyle changes were huge. Damn it.

And I’m not having seizures. To my knowledge, I’ve only had two since October. One, about a week after I started on the meds, and another a few weeks ago. Both times, I was up way too late, and I was unusually stressed. That tells me that what I’ve been doing is working. Sure, it stinks to leave our friends’ houses early, or to go upstairs when my whole family is still hanging out, but I’m better.

Not having seizures all the time is great. I can recommend it.

What we call things doesn’t give them any more power than they have on their own. I know this. As Eric says, nothing is different in my body now that I have that letter. And yet: feelings.

My 60 Day Caffeine and OTC Pain-Med “Wash-Out”

I hate my neurologist.

Of course, this isn’t a static emotion. What was first a panicky hate for his long list of changes has grown into an affectionate grumpiness for the smart man I wish hadn’t been right. Damn him.

In September and October of last year, I kept waking up to bite marks in my tongue. Bad ones, ever-worsening. Besides being confusing, they made teaching difficult. One day I woke up from a nap with my face covered in blood from a deep wound in the right side of my tongue. I didn’t wake up when I bit it. I felt like shit: heavy, weird, and confused. Every muscle ached. Fearing I’d had a seizure, I made some doctor’s appointments.

I was worried because there is something in my head. This isn’t a figure of speech. Midway through getting my MFA a few years ago, when my migraines increased, I had what seemed like a cursory MRI before I could be put on Topamax, a daily migraine medicine. During that MRI, the technician slid me out of the tube and asked me a bunch of questions that were too pointed to seem normal. Have you ever had an MRI before? No. Have you ever had any head trauma? No. Are you sure? Yes. Has anyone ever told you that you had any abnormalities in the left side of your head? No. And at that point, the technician told me she needed to push me back in and do the MRI all over again because she couldn’t be sure of what she saw. My Ativan had worn off. I couldn’t reach my ears through the head cage to get the earplugs back in. I lay there and I cried through the booms and clangs, in full panic attack. What was in my head? An arachnoid cyst, just behind my left ear. My general practitioner wasn’t great about helping me understand it. She sent me an email. She said they’d keep an eye out, wait to see if I had any neurological symptoms. And that was that, for a few years. So when I bit my tongue, when I suspected this might be a seizure, I was terrified.

I promise you, this is about coffee, too. I’m getting there.

My tongue-biting episode led me to the neurologist, which is where I should have gone after that first MRI. He asked me if I wanted to see the last few MRIs of my head. He showed me the surrounding, healthy, brain tissue. He told me I was probably born with the cyst because my brain had grown around it. He said that it couldn’t be causing either my migraines, or the episodes I was having now because of both where it’s located and how it hasn’t changed in several years.

See? I told you he’s smart. He’s kind and comforting, too. That made it hard to ignore him when he told me that I needed to give up caffeine and all OTC pain meds for two to three months if I wanted to make my headaches better.

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“How often do you take over-the-counter pain medication?” he asked.

“Oh, I don’t know. Probably four days a week?”

“How much?”

That answer was too high.

“And how many cups of coffee a day?” he gestured to the cup in my hand.

“Oh, this? This is green tea.”

“Green tea has caffeine in it, too.”

“I know. But, uh. Just one cup of coffee a day.” His fingers fluttered across his keyboard.

Diagnosis: rebound headaches. People like me who have chronic migraines can get them from being too used to caffeine and over the counter pain meds.

Prescription: cut out all over the counter pain meds, any use of Imitrex (a migraine medicine I take when I get one), and all caffeine for two to three months. A “wash-out.” After the “wash-out,” I could return to these things, but in an irregular pattern. Caffeine was okay, as long as it wasn’t every day, and I had to do one week a month with zero caffeine. Pain meds no more than twice a week. The hope was that it would lessen my headache frequency.

“It’s going to be hard,” he said. “Your headaches are going to get worse before they get better.” No Tylenol, or Motrin, or Excedrin. Nothing. No coffee, or green tea, or black tea.

Cool.

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He wasn’t wrong. The two weeks I cut caffeine were awful. I weaned myself with decaf (first three quarters caffeinated, then half, then one quarter, etc), then decaf for a few days, then nothing. Water and herbal tea only. It sucked. When I say “it sucked,” I mean that I had headaches and I was tired and I hated everyone and my body ached. And I wanted to murder my neurologist a little bit.

He also cautioned me that in order to stop the seizures, I needed to get at least eight hours of sleep, and I needed to “reduce my stress.”

Sure, Buddy.

This is my sixteenth year of teaching high school, but it feels like my first. We have all new curriculum–entirely new anthologies–as well as new novels at each grade. I teach two grade levels, which means I am teaching something new to me four times a day, every day. Not to mention learning one hundred and fifty personalities and trying to accommodate each soul as it needs to be taught. We also have an entirely new, entirely confounding computer database this year (and in the fall, I was a trainer for our staff), and the combination of new computer system and 180 days of new literature–times two grades–proved to be more than I could fit into my brain. By the second month of school, I wasn’t sleeping. I would wake up at 3:00 AM, worrying, and I’d think, well, that’s an extra hour of work I can get done. I’ll just get up and create a user guide for the computer system. I was borrowing sleep from both ends of the day, falling asleep late and getting up early. Usually I would wake sometime in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and I’d lay awake trying to make lists of all the things I needed to do.

Sometime last fall, my friend Lizi sent me this podcast from NPR, with scientist Matthew Walker. It inspired me to start harassing my children by telling them that “sleep is the Swiss Army Knife of health.” I believe it, though. The podcast is wonderful, and I can also recommend his book. Cliff Notes version: if you ain’t sleeping, you gonna die, friend. I was putting myself at risk every day. The real science behind how much we need a real chunk of sleep is pretty scary, and my recent brush with nocturnal seizures is proof that I need to stop messing around.

Robbing my sleep was the worst thing I could do. I just didn’t know. I’m a morning person because I like the peace of a quiet house. I like the sunrise and the sound of the coffeemaker. But that means I need to be an early-to-bed person. I like knowing that I’ve given time to the most important task on my list so I won’t have to worry about it for the rest of the day. But I was taking so much time from sleep that my body was shutting down. My neurologist diagnosed me with nocturnal seizures. (Biggest contributing factors: sleep deprivation and stress). Since I left his office in November, I’ve been religious about sleep. I’ve set an alarm to get in bed (not to sleep, but getting in bed about an hour before I want to be asleep makes a huge difference). I try for eight hours, but I usually get about seven and a half. You know what’s happened since I started getting all that sleep? I haven’t been sick once.

Giving up coffee was emotional, in a surprising way. I didn’t realize how it was linked to writing and reading, entirely a part of my routine. I got past the caffeine withdrawal after a few weeks, but I never made it to a point where I didn’t miss the emotional pull. I gave up soda, too, but I couldn’t care less. But at 8.5 half weeks, when a bad day finally sent me over the edge and I gave up on this “wash-out,” it was because I needed a cup of coffee. For my feelings. This process has taught me both that I have a serious lack of vices, and that I am tied more to a daily cup of Joe that I thought. More than once as I tried to muscle through, I thought, maybe it’s just worth it to have headaches, because I really, really love coffee so much.

But of course my doctor was right. After the initial miserable pain, my headaches lessened. I still have them, but more more infrequently. Not being able to take even a Tylenol made me pay attention to headaches before I got them. Before, I’ll admit that I’d just get a headache, and then worry about it later. Now, I’m more likely to try to prevent one before it starts. I’ve found that a lot of my headaches are from bad posture: specifically, sitting badly in bad chairs. I sit to read or type for long periods of time. I need better neck pillows and desk chairs. My tension headaches often turn into migraines (I had three migraines during my “wash-out,” and I couldn’t take anything for them. That was fun.) An added side effect of cutting caffeine was that I slept better.

I found that without coffee, I ate more. I had less of a reason to get out of bed. (Who gets up for tea? Not me.) I realized I drink coffee when I’m bored, rather than eating. I also found that I had to be more honest with myself about how much caffeine I’d been consuming before. Sure, I only drank one cup of coffee when I was home, but if I was out, one “cup” meant a Venti black coffee, and usually a large iced tea somewhere else in the afternoon. Oh, and when I was stressed last fall? I’m sure I was also pounding down the Coke Zeroes. So if I really think about that answer I gave the doc? It wasn’t honest because I wasn’t telling myself the truth. No wonder I had headaches, and no wonder I couldn’t sleep. The other thing this taught me is that most people are completely stupid when it comes to how much caffeine they’re consuming. Decaf is not caffeine-free, dummies. Now I know that herbal tea is just gross water (I never really got on the herbal tea train, although I will say mint tea and chamomile are the least offensive of the herbal teas), and it’s not good, but most people are just downright ignorant about what they consume.

I made it 60 days without coffee or pain meds. I couldn’t do the full three months, but I’m still glad I did it, and I do feel like it had a positive effect on the number of headaches I’m having. For now I’m sticking to decaf for as long as I can, and I’m still not drinking coffee every single day. More importantly, I’m still trying to sleep close to eight hours, and I’m practicing saying no to the constant demands on my time. That’s the hardest part of all of this. It feels like my health is under control, but barely. I need practice.

 

One.

or: My failure to attain complete enlightenment after reading one book on Buddhism and embarking on a half-hearted three day social media fast.

I’m lonely.

Gosh, I’m lonely. That’s a hard thing to own.  It’s so hard to admit because it seems like you’re begging people to give you something. That’s not it, though. “Mrs. P, do you want a hug?” a kid asked me today. I really didn’t. Not from her. But did I? Yes, from the right person. This is the way it’s all wrong.

I’ll back up.

I’m lonely because I took myself off of social media. I’m on time out because I can’t handle it lately and you can think what you want about liberal crybabies, but I can’t handle reading what conservatives are writing right now, and I can’t handle reading what liberals are writing right now, and I certainly can’t handle what any fake clickbaity news sites are writing right now. I can’t handle what people are writing right now about what went wrong, or what they’re writing right now about what might happen in the future (what is all that, anyway, except noise?), and this, coupled with my unhealthy pattern of website checking and the infinite scroll means my habits are in need of a break. Time. Out. I was filling hours of my life with a twitchy greed for headlines and statistics. Statistics!–Math for liars. No good can come of hoping for the one statistic that will make everything right, because statistics are manipulation. Like writing, but without the secrets that make us feel human.

So I’m off social media, except Instagram, because I figured it’d be safe to look at pictures of brunch and calligraphy and ballet dancers and Yosemite. It has been, mostly.

And I read a book. You’re not shocked. Before I logged off Twitter, I saw Aimee Bender recommend When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön. It helped. It really did. In my 20s, when my nervous system went haywire, and Christianity’s steadfast answer to my anxiety disorder was basically, hey, God said don’t worry, so just tell your mind to knock it off because not trusting Him is a sin, I gave myself permission to seek other help. To get alternate cell phone coverage for the same calls, as it were. Mindfulness and meditation work well for me when I practice them, and Chödrön’s book, a primer on Buddhist philosophy about pain and suffering was particularly right for me this week.

I’m saying I’m anxious. I’m saying I feel bad for a million reasons.

Chödrön writes a lot about leaning into the sharp points: about how our nature is to try to turn away from pain, or to run from it, or hide. I’ve always found this to be true of my anxiety. The more I try to hide it, the worse it gets. The more I try to pretend it away–this happens when I play the nice girl or don’t let myself get mad–the more my body will tense and rebel with an inconvenient flush of adrenaline. Chödrön’s philosophy is the Buddhist philosophy that suffering is unavoidable, but that it is resistance to it that brings us trouble. (Duh, right? But also, yes.) Chödrön says it better than I am, and this is not a book review, so I’m not going to quote it. If you want to read it and read about how to get pointy with your pain, it’s easy to find. There are some nice bits about hope and how expectation sets you up for more suffering, and those parts gave me a big oof.

Anyway, back to social media. It is driving me mad to stay off, but I’m trying to pay attention to that feeling. To ask what I feel when I want to get online, rather than filling that bad craving immediately with a constant scroll of words that feel important. Or validate me or my views. More than anything, I know I go online because I want to have company. I go to my phone so often because I’m lonely. When I sit in my office by myself in the morning, just after I finish writing, I’ll check my feed. When I take a break and walk to the bathroom between classes at work, I’ll check my feed. When I sit in the car and wait for Henry after school, I’ll check my feed. And this one hurts: when I lay in my bed and I’m lonely because the other people in my house aren’t hanging out with me, I check my feed. I am married, I have two children and a bunch of friends, and I’m lonely. A lot. There are not a glut of people walking around who want to talk books, writers, and publishing. So I go online obsessively. It’s easy. Is it too easy? I genuinely don’t know. Is it replacing something better that I could have, or is it filling the emptiness of something I do not have? This is what I am wondering.

My life got so much better when I found a literary community. But since I live in northern California, these people exist, primarily, in my pocket-sized computer. So while it’s keeping my election-anxiety at bay to avoid the news and stay off social media, it’s aggravating a different anxiety to separate myself from these real friends. What I wonder right now is if I only feel like I have people.

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Treading

I’m as cranky as ever about our life on a sport schedule. Yes, I do think my kids swimming competitively is wonderful and yes, I know it makes me a jerk to complain about it. My crankiness has changed a little over the last few years. Does this matter? I am 100% less resentful of having to sit at the pool for an hour or two while the kids swim laps; I am 100% more excited about watching them compete. But practice? Pfft. I find the pool calming and I generally find it to be a good place to work (in my car at the pool, that is). Eric and I share driving duties. But I’m still cranky about the usual things: having to talk to other parents, having to eat dinner at weird times, having to not see my husband most nights, having to cajole the kids into putting on suits when they feel tired/angry/hesitant.

This is parenting. This is parenting. This is parenting.

Eric just left to pick up Addie from the pool, after driving cross-town twice to get them both there and then bring Henry home after he was done so he could avoid the wind. I just stayed home to stare at the wall. Tonight, everything is difficult. I thought that not having Henry play baseball this year was going to mean more ease. Ha.

AWP and LATFOB blinded me–as all writing/book gatherings do–with a flash of too-bright inspiration, followed by a heady sadness. Sadness for what? Nothing real. I’ve visited nerd land enough times to know it is a magical fairy illusion–one where I wear my best clothes and my best hair and most eager smile–and one that in no way corresponds to the life where I go to Costco to buy TP, or tell my freshmen every day to sit down and do school. I have zero desire to try to live in that imaginary space, and in fact I leave these nerd conventions feeling exhausted. But I also usually feel sad, a reasonless sad that seems to always manifest in a frustration with my schedule, lack of time, lack of energy for doing everything I want to do, etc. So today I’m pissed at swimming. I’m pissed at my job. I’m pissed at the hours it takes every day to transport two kids up from schools just miles from our house. I’m pissed that tonight when I went to cook rice, we were out of rice. So dumb. It’s the chafe of wants against have-tos, the old feeling like I have to be too many things to too many people, when I want to be alone, in my red sweat pants, writing for me (or, let’s be real, for someone who wants to pay me in US currency). I want to ditch the Mrs. Partington persona and shut down the HSP show. I want write and be impolite and and have energy for it and walk out of my office occasionally for hugs from my three people. Swimming gets the brunt of my frustration only because it’s the new thing in our schedule and if you’re going to parent someone who does a thing, you really can’t suck at making them go.

I am treading water in my critical career. I am pushing and pushing. I want to quit every night. I’m afraid to rest. This is writing.

We’re fighting about money. Getting married on tax day seemed funny 16 years ago.

What is this post? I’m trying to keep moving. I am staying up because I don’t know how to do the ten minutes where I lay in bed before I fall asleep. I am dreading that tonight. If I stop, I have to feel it pull me down. I have to wake up and do it again tomorrow. Nothing in my life is bad. But today I’m over my head.

 

 

 

 

Intention

Mom, don’t make me. And don’t make me say I don’t want to anymore. She didn’t have to speak the words. I read it on her face and drooping shoulders. She rubbed her upper arms and pressed her mouth tight: Mom, I don’t want to feel like this.

Parenting a thirteen year old is no horror the way people try to convince you it will be. It’s so fulfilling and fun. But if you’re paying attention–if you’re really listening to her words and silences, if you’re trying to equip your daughter to fight her way into a harsh world, it can hurt.

We were at a family wedding. She was surrounded by love and loud music and Christmas lights. But even in safe spaces, biology makes the thirteen year old mind a liar: telling girls that whatever feelings they have must be wrong or awkward, that having opinions is anathema to the crowd. People kept asking her to dance. She didn’t want to. This was the crisis.

I tried my best to break it down in love: Have your opinions, Ad. We don’t control our feelings. They just happen, and nobody can say they’re wrong. You have the right to not want to do anything that you don’t want to do. Mom, she said finally, out loud, (those pleading, wet eyes!) I know it’s okay for me not to want to do things. (I exhale.) But I feel bad when I have to tell people that I don’t want to dance.

This is being a girl. At our table, I resist the urge to tell her this, to make it about me or about women and opinions and consent and being listened to and taken seriously and about not pleasing other people, but that’s what it is. Even though being a woman is different now. She is already growing up in a world that never didn’t have lady astronauts and world leaders and CEOs and computer programmers, where she can vote and make legal decisions for herself and expect to be treated and paid for what she does. But scrub that away, and there’s still fraction of society that’s not going to take her seriously because she is female. Even if nobody has told her that yet, she has internalized it, mixed with her own shyness and good girl tendencies and teenage hormones. This is where I do bring myself up–the irony of those three words–where I acknowledge that genes and my own fears have gently nudged her toward this conflict she’s having, even though we’re in the safest of spaces.

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It wasn’t a moment that ended in a scene. My pep talk landed as much as it was going to land, and then we just looked at each other. Nothing happened until her loving father (the girl whisperer, we call him) scooped her up for a twenty minute walk outside, artfully using his skills of comfort and distraction to help her feel better. I was inadequate to the task, and by the time they walked back into the ballroom, all was well.

It’s naive to think that all is well permanently, or that the reason I’m still thinking about this almost three weeks later is that it’s just about parenting. There are several truths operating here:

  1. This isn’t about me. This is about my daughter being 13 and having hormones.
  2. My own struggles with having opinions are kind of relevant.

Because yes, she is changing faster than she can see, and yes that means discomfort. And discomfort for growth is good, the kind I want her to have. But also, this: she has a mom who spends much of her day afraid to speak her mind, and always has. I remember shopping with my mom and grandma when I was about her age, and they would hold up items of clothing for me to consider. How about this, they’d ask. Yeah, that’s cute. I like it. Mmm, hmm, I said, even to things that looked awful. I couldn’t say so, even to things I wasn’t trying on, because I was worried I’d hurt their feelings. Nobody told me this was the case–in fact, I am positive I was told the opposite–but other messages about gratitude, about being considerate, and about being good were louder. And high school was a training course in learning to please: I sublimated my actual opinions time and again because it made things easier. Ballet. Church. English class. If I could figure out what someone else wanted me to say or do, I’d make them happy. Being a part of a big family didn’t make me this way, but it was fertile breeding ground for my thinking. In a big family someone else is always happy to tell you how things should be. Want to double down on that? Marry young into another big family. Try not to rock any boats. Understand nothing about how to have opinions, assert them. Speak up for yourself only once every few decades, with disastrous results. Resolve not to try again for years. Repeat.

I really think about it, there was a short time when I didn’t care so much what people thought (or even think that anyone considered me and what I had to say). This short time coincided with early adulthood, becoming a mother, and the fact that I had yet to have any online connections. But it’s different now. For the last several years I am really chafing against the sense that I need to keep my mouth closed.

What changed? I have more opinions, actually. Louder ones that seem to want out. The realization that I don’t have to enjoy things that other people enjoy, and that things about the world that make me mad–like, screaming mad–seem not to bother other folks. At the same time, I’ve developed a weird dichotomy of personal and professional lives. Being a teacher in the social media age is scary. Trying to be a writer at the same time is ludicrous. Take one moment, one word out of context, and I’m through. As a result of my fears, my teaching has become purposefully bland. Sadly numb and devoid of most of my personality–the weird quirks I used to use to shock and joke and provoke teenagers through the books I’m teaching. What other way is there to be, now? I can’t find one, so I push my real self down, hide her from sight. And ironically, at the same time, my real self has flourished. I’ve ventured into the world of writing. Ideas. Conflict. An art entirely shocking and contrary to the kind of work I’ve chosen for myself in a stodgy institution built on the illusion of righteousness and propriety.

It isn’t just my job, though. Social media makes me uneasy. It’s a double edged sword, because so often it makes me unlonely–it gives a sense of connection to an introvert sitting alone in her bedroom. But in the past year I’ve just seen how my relationship with social media is one-sided. I read and read and post pictures I like; I am addicted to the online stories, but I am afraid to be myself. I’m afraid I’ll lose my job or afraid I’ll lose the constant feed of voices, the people who are always there. (The same people who share their own opinions as easily as sticks of gum.) I fear the fight, though, or more so I fear letting people down. So I do what I’ve always done. I let people think I agree. I let myself believe that “no” needs to come with an apology.

This year I don’t have a resolution, so much as I have an intention for myself, a way to try to be. It’s not a resolution because I expect to fail regularly, and I want to allow myself the inevitable, intermittent failure that happens when you try to change. But my intention in 2016 is to speak my mind. To bring some of the authority I can summon in my writing to my real damn life, and to be smart about how I do that, but to do it anyway. Because I don’t know how much longer I can keep looking at my daughter–my beautiful, smart, worthwhile daughter–and tell her that she is not only allowed to share, but worthy of any opinions and feelings and desires she feels–if I can’t look in the mirror and tell myself the same.

All is calm.

I’m drinking whiskey and eating sugar cookies. There’s a full moon over the creek. Eric and I just watched Boyd Crowder get sprayed with nameless bad guy brains on TV. Merry Christmas from us and Raylon Givens.

This has been the most low-key of our sixteen married Christmases, and especially more so than last year’s. Then we thought we had some free time between family gatherings, but it was really just that I’d incorrectly written down the time we were supposed to be at dinner. Last year was peaceful for a few hours, but then there was a lot of (my) phlegmy, embarrassed crying while we scrambled to get across town.

This year we’re just home. We ordered pizza at 2:00. Pizza. I’ve been in my PJs all day–I did take a shower, but I reapplied pajamas. This is an achievement in holiday celebration: to leave one’s house to celebrate with family, but remain in Bumble pants. Because of a little bit of stomach flu in Eric’s side, Big Partington Christmas is postponed for a few days. I have done nothing productive today. I thought about reading, but the closest I got was napping near my book. There are about four hours I sat alone on the couch in the sunbeam by our Christmas tree, and I can’t account for what I did.

It doesn’t feel like Christmas, but it does feel great. We opened presents here this morning and walked our way through what will surely be a Christmas–our first Christmas–we’ll remember, simply because it was new. New is weird in the moment, though. Being together was good, as always, and the fact that we have more space has still yet to wear off. This dummy of a year ended with us settling into a place that’s so full of possibility. And our kids spoil us by being so polite, thankful, and well-behaved. I just can’t communicate effectively how much I enjoy them. I don’t sleep the night before Christmas because I can’t wait to see them open their gifts. This year was no different, and seeing them as big people in our big new house was great.

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I’m forgetting to mention that last night we had traditional Christmas Eve at Grandma’s. No soup, because a gift of a giant ham to Grandma and Grandpa meant a menu change. This is perhaps why I am craving broth today–but that gives me an excuse to get something cooking this week. Last night was good, easy. Just family being together and lots of thoughtful gifts from the most amazing grandparents a person could have.

After our Christmas morning at home today, we drove to my mom’s (in our PJs) to exchange gifts with my parents, sister, and brother in law. Our kids can’t get enough of their cousins right now, and the frenzy of tween/teen energy was enough to fill the house. There were the best kind of creative, personal gifts. I ate my weight in doughy, homemade cinnamon rolls. Last night I had some of my mom’s (also homemade) crescent rolls, so today was just more of the dough diet. I am hoping to round it out tomorrow with something fried, since lately most of my consumables are yeasty and/or covered in buttercream.

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Things I want to remember: Henry, buying cat leggings for his sister and insisting we all get Christmas jammies. Taking selfies with Grandpa Ed. Special gifts from Grandma Lila with handwritten gift tags that say “Love” over the From. Addie, spending all morning testing out the makeup in her new Caboodle from Melissa. The fact that they still make Caboodles. Eric, being so good at Christmas, so acutely aware of what makes his kids and wife happy. Finding TWO Mervyn’s boxes, even though Mervyn’s closed in 2008. The perfect smell of coffee and bacon and cinnamon rolls and cheesy breakfast potatoes at my parents’. Sharing sour watermelons with Roo. Henry snuggles in front of the Xbox, while he explained to me things I don’t understand about games I’ll never play. The 20 minutes Cookie was actually nice to me. Eric’s red flannel.

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I can’t complain. My heart is already full, and Christmas isn’t even finished yet.

Time Management & Literary Criticism

Monday, December 7, 2015

UC Riverside Palm Desert MFA

Winter Residency Lecture

Below are links to the materials from this lecture, plus some handouts. Feel free to print anything you like. If you use anything I’ve created, please attribute correctly.

If you have questions, email me at hspartington@gmail.com.

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Lecture Handout (PDF)

Time Management

Google calendar

Rocks, Pebbles and Sand (apocryphal)

Software: Freedom & Antisocial

Time tracker: Toggl

Online resources: managing time/energy:

Zen Habits by Leo Babuta

Elise Blaha

Gretchen Rubin

Unf*ck Your Habitat

Books about creativity/productivity:

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

Writing Criticism

Basic writing strategy (critical papers): AXES Body Paragraph (UCSD)

Tips for Successful Book Reviews by Rebecca Skloot

On Reading/ Criticism

“How Could You Like that Book?” and “How I Read” by Tim Parks, NYRB

“Much Ado about Niceness” by Maria Bustillos, The New Yorker 
(references this interview of Isaac Fitzgerald in Poynter by Andrew Beaujon)

“On Pandering” by Claire Vaye Watkins, Tin House

“If You Enjoyed a Good Book and You’re a Woman, Critics Think You’re Wrong” by Jennifer Weiner, The Guardian

“Book Critics Don’t Exist to Flatter Your Taste” by Claire Fallon, Huffington Post

“Don’t Let Men Attack Pumpkin Spice Literature” by Phoebe Maltz Bovy, New Republic

“When Popular Fiction isn’t Popular” by Lincoln Michel, Electric Literature

Literary Disco: Episode 90 (New York Public Library)

 

Waiting Room

Since my surgery in June, I’ve been waiting. Waiting for every single thing. I thought for sure there would be a day when I’d know I was better, a day when I would be sure that all of the healing was finished and I was ready to resume my normal activities. The “right” day to run again. Or try yoga. Or get back on my bike… or, I don’t know… stand up for more than a few hours without getting a sore stomach.

That hasn’t happened. A day never came where I was like, oh, this is the day I’m so glad I had that surgery, because I feel amazing! Goodbye, uterus! This will not come as a surprise to anyone, but this is just one of the many times I was wrong about a finish line, a perfect moment in life when I would be happy because I’d have made it through something. Life keeps going, and there’s no perfect day–no moment of realization that it’s the right time to do anything, or the right time to be happy, or be “normal” or be anything other than what is happening that day. Still, I was hoping.

I really wanted a day where I was like yes, today, let’s run five miles again. Yes, let’s pick up that box of cat litter at Costco! Yes, let’s stand up and be a teacher all day. I am FINE!

That’s dumb, right?

This week, I’m sick of waiting. It’s time for me to start acting like myself again even if I don’t feel strong enough. (The doctor called Saturday–all clear and all good–it is taking me a long time to heal/scar properly, but there’s nothing bad happening in there. No cause for worry.) And now that I know I’m technically fine, I’m just a late-blooming, delicate friggin’ flower whose body doesn’t want to scar up efficiently, I am done pretending I need to wait.

One of my favorite things I’ve ever seen on the internet is this:

I can’t do this, but I’m doing it anyway.

Let’s embrace that, huh?

I think part of why I don’t feel like myself is that I am not active right now at all.  I was moving much more and much more quickly after both c-sections. So even though my marathon days are done, I was a generally active person, pre-surgery. At least I was outside a lot. I miss moving and exercise and going out into the world. And I think since I’ve been sedentary, my core is weak and that makes me feel even more like I shouldn’t do anything.

Vicious cycle.

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Couch potato pal.

So I did something. Yesterday I took my plan for a test drive and hit the gym before work. I did the world’s slowest old lady mile on the treadmill, and then I lifted the smallest amount of weight possible. But I felt good. I felt like me.

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Taking the world by storm, 17 minutes and 38 seconds at a time.

Currently.

Reading The Story of a New Name (Neapolitan Novel #2) by Elena Ferrante–as an audiobook–while I drive around in my car. I blasted through the first one in the series, My Brilliant Friend, once I started it, and I couldn’t wait a single minute to start the next one. Here’s to reading a series after it’s already published, so I don’t have to wait. Ever.

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I also just unpacked War and Peace, so I can get back to my not-just-for-summer-anymore project reading that big ass book. I was enjoying it quite a bit before we started the move, so I’m looking forward to getting back into it again. My rules for War and Peace Project? Go slow. Feel free to get confused. Underline things. Reference online character guides whenever necessary. Call your best friend/former history teacher when you need help with Russia/France/Napoleon. I’m sure it will take me a long time to get through it, so you’re going to be hearing about W&P for a while, peeps.

Watching Justified every night with Eric. He’s been trying to get me to watch it for years, and I tried once before but a few random moments of violence put me off. Well, I gave it another shot, and I’m hooked. It’s hokey, and like Sons of Anarchy, it’s a total dude show. But it’s fluffy enough that I can play games on my phone and follow along, and it doesn’t give me nightmares or make me want to barf. So far the female characters are not written with a whole lot of complexity, which is not super. But Timothy Olyphant.

Other than that, I am just celebrating the crap out of the fact that we have satellite TV once more. During our month between houses, we gave up regular TV, and I failed the experiment miserably. I was not a nice person. I love TV. I need TV to be there for me. I need to tune in to Chopped when I’m bored or get sucked into a marathon of Naked and Afraid. So as you can imagine, there’s been a lot of Bravo happening since the reinstatement of my satellite privileges.

Eating pretty much all of the Halloween candy that I bought for Halloween. Whoops.

Drinking all the La Croix. Pamplemousse and Lime, specifically. Sugar-free to balance out the candy, duh.

Listening to all of the 90s music that I should have listened to in the 90s but wasn’t cool enough to know about. I love Chris Cornell (lead singer of Soundgarden), and for years I’ve listened to all of his music (solo, with various bands) with and because of Eric. All of the sudden my Chris Cornell Pandora station is introducing me to so many other bands and I’m like oh, this is what everyone knew about in high school when I just I listened to the same Sarah McLachlan and Cranberries CDs on repeat every day. So that’s fun.

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Teaching Beowulf to high school kids for the first time in my career, and geeking out over it. There’s nothing better than sharing this story I love, and it was very cool to show them a picture of the manuscript in the British Library and talk about being there. You know I got a kick out of making them say “hwæt” too.

Wondering If my health is going to get better soon. And trying not to assign any meaning to how long it’s taking me to heal, because it doesn’t have to mean anything. Since I’m me, it’s hard not to overthink it. I’m just trying to accept this as what it is, and keep moving through it and keep doing my best in each day to take it easy.

Dreading Halloween. I just don’t love Halloween. I don’t really know why. It’s not my jam. Maybe because I’ve decided I’m pretty much done being out of my bed/house after it gets dark? That would also explain my ambivalent feelings about July 4th.

Looking forward to Thanksgiving Break. Pie, being home for a whole week, pie, naps, and more pie.