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.

img_2152

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.

Untitled

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.

Untitled

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.

Untitled

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.

Untitled

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.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 6.43.48 PM

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)