The Ways we Learn


In the midst of a heartbreaking dehumanization in public schools, I’ve discovered policymakers’ expectations that students become uniformly rather than uniquely skilled. They mandate reform that requires robotic students whose skills are assessed in a stony arrogance that neglects the human element inherent in the classroom. This quote reminded me of the weight tiny shoulders carry when they aren’t allowed to take the world in and grow organically in knowledge, wisdom, character, critical thinking – when they aren’t allowed to be human learners rather than android ones.

“Some things may be learned by words on a page, but some skills are first learned by a man’s hands and heart, and later by his head,” (Hobb’s Royal Assassin, p. 172)

The Friends who I Never Quite Satisfy


Text Progression:

Me: I’m a jackass who is staying home tonight.

Friend: What?! Why??

Friend: We can come pick you up if you don’t want to drive.

Me: I just am anti-social. And depressed. So I invited the hilsts over.

Friend: I see.

Friend: Well, have a good night with them.

Me: I promise it’s not a conspiracy. I really 100% am depressed and needed not to go. And I knew they couldn’t go either. And i thought i could get drunk off my ass alone, or i could see if they would come over.

No response from friend.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but it seems like people often get pissed at me when I make good choices. And then I want to put my head through a wall.

My depression is fairly well-documented here on the blog, and although it’s been significantly improved this semester, I had a rough day Saturday.The Christmas party was actually the third event that day that I decided not to attend, because I’m messed up in my brain.

The friend’s response was disappointing because I was honest with her about why I wasn’t going, and it seemed like she either thought I was lying or didn’t approve of my reason as good enough.

Sometimes I think the problem is that I don’t act the same way our other friend acted when she was struggling with depression… like there’s some standard of behavior that’s expected of a depressed woman. She ought to cry publicly. She ought to ask people to come over and drag her out of bed. She ought to take some pills. She ought to… be other than what I am.

I don’t talk. I don’t want anyone to come over and drag me out into the world. In all honesty, I think that would probably make it worse. I don’t see a doctor, because I don’t believe it’s something I should be medicating. I did get myself a Stephen Minister for awhile, but it didn’t help much. In fact, the only thing I do is lay on the couch watching Star Trek, drinking too much wine, or, occasionally, I’ll call Ashly or Lori. Sometimes I work out a lot when I’m depressed.

So, l if I could tell friend anything, here’s what it would be:

Dear Friend,

When I don’t attend events, it isn’t commentary on you or the other people who attend; I’m just making the best choices I know how to make, and your snark is just about the most unhelpful thing you could throw my way on a night like that one.

After Matt and Ashly left, I checked my phone to see if you’d responded to my promise that it wasn’t a conspiracy… but you hadn’t. That made me stay up late, worrying about what to do to fix things with you. Should I call you? Should I try to explain myself?

In my depressed state, I decided it was best to write a blog post about it, forgive you, and move on.

Also:

Dear Friends (who are never quite satisfied with me),

I have the dark, inaccessible, brooding personality of a writer. I sometimes stay home when there is a perfectly good party I could attend. You don’t have to understand why I do that in order to be friend, although it couldn’t hurt the friendship.

I hardly ever trust anyone enough to satisfy their desire to be trusted… while I can appreciate your friendship on a casual level, the manner and the timing of your displays of dissatisfaction reinforce my decision not to hang out with you when I’m depressed.

And one more:

Dear Ashly, Lori, and a few others,

Thanks for letting me be, and for showing up when I need you.

Katie

The Precious Conversations


After a long time away from his dear friend, our main character is reunited with his mentor for an evening to which I can relate.

“For a brief time, we conversed of things that were of no import to any save us, and all the more precious for that.” (Robin Hobb’s Royal Assassin, p. 82).

Sometimes, I get a little too caught up in things that matter to the world. That’s why I like this quote. :-)

The Great Peruvian Escape


The fire line was visible from the hot springs. It was slowly making its way down a ridge across the river from us, and when I asked Amy if we should be worried, she told me it was really unlikely to jump the river.

So we went about our business.

We got out of the hot springs, muscle aches much diminished. We’d already hiked something like 34 ish miles in 3 days, and we lacked only a few miles more… maybe 6 ish.

I was glad to be nearing the end of the adventure.

I’d experienced a gorgeous glacier as intimately as I could ever want to, and my knee was pretty jacked up. It was filled with fluid, which isn’t particularly surprising, because I’d experienced that exact injury in the same knee just a few years before. Additionally, I’d done altitude sickness, jungle, sheer cliff faces with loose gravel, and I’d done it with exactly ZERO training hikes under my belt.

But definitely I felt ready for it to be over. I wouldn’t say I was “done,” because I felt pretty decent, but I was ready to see Machu Picchu and get ready for the long flight home.

Amy was sitting at a picnic table journaling or knitting, so I went and sat with her, as the plan was to play cards as soon as Steve and Lori finished hot-springing.

That’s when I noticed the ash.

It wasn’t raining down on us like sleet, but it was floating down, which didn’t seem ordinary to me even though everyone, hikers and Perufians alike, seemed to think it was.

I pointed the ash out to Amy, who seemed unimpressed by the whole thing, but I really felt at that moment that I was the only sane person around

Ash.

Come on. Shouldn’t we have started packing up the moment the first ash particle floated down into our hair?

Darkness eased toward our camp, and just before dinner time, Steve, Lori, Amy and I decided to take a look around the campsite at the other tents. We were feeling pretty superior about our guide team and camp setup and were wondering how many other folks were camping there that night. We basically wanted to see their campsites so we could feel awesome about our own. Also, We’d been on the trail with some of the same hikers for the past three days and were interested to see what other groups had planned.

We went down by the river, and, there it loomed in the dusk: fire.

On our side of the river.

On a ridge that was hidden from the view of our campsite.

The ash falling on me wasn’t from the visible fire that everyone was thinking about: it was from the hidden fire – the one that was just around the corner from us.

Steve got serious pretty quickly. We talked about the prospect of having to gather all of our gear and stand with it in the river, because, you see, there was fire on both sides of us now: on the other side of the river, leading up the river and riding parallel to the road out, and on our same side of the river, following it in the opposite direction and blocking our escape that way.

Amy left us to go find our guide and talk to him. She still seemed unconcerned, which is probably a perfectly-fine way to be, but I wasn’t raised like that. Most of the lessons I learned from my father involved safety. Don’t expect other people to take care of you. Don’t expect other people to be smart about things. You take care of yourself. Safety first. If shit goes down, go farther than you need to go before you look back.

So I was pretty much get-the-hell-outta-here-NOW in my head.

Amy later accused me of being panicked, but I honestly don’t think I was. I definitely thought we should get out of there, but my panic reached almost exactly the same level it reaches prior to running a half marathon. My digestive system went into overdrive, but I was otherwise thinking things that I think I should have been thinking.

We went back to the campsite, purchased water, and packed things up just in case.

I think some of the hard core response is attributable to all of the gaming. Steve and I both play video games and I’m sure our brains have been impacted – maybe not in all positive ways, but certainly not in a bad way if we’re in a worst-case scenario. We were united in our plan to get away from the fire and both had our game faces on.

I don’t think Amy has played a video game in her entire life.

I don’t think she’s read a disaster book, watched 24, or come up with a survival plan for the zombie apocalypse.

That’s one of the things that put us in conflict.

Also, Amy admitted that she hated feeling like a tourist. She observed our behavior as touristy and panicked.

I assumed the news reports would call all of us tourists when they reported on our fiery deaths, so I didn’t really care what the Peruvians thought of me, as long as we got the hell outta there.

So, argument ensued.

The cooks had finished making dinner, so should we eat before we left?

The Peruvian park ranger hadn’t called for an evacuation yet, so should we wait to find out what he thought?

Lori had to play diplomat, because, even though she was with Steve and me in our plan to evacuate regardless of what others chose to do, you know, there’s a reason she’s an Executive Director, and I think it has something to do with her way of talking people through things.

There was a language barrier, and right about the time our guide called for a car to come get us in ten minutes, and we agreed to eat dinner (a nice compromise), the park ranger called for the evacuation.

In light of that development, I thought we’d get going. I thought we’d give up on dinner.

Nope.

We sat there and ate. Inside our dining tent. In the surreality that only exists in those moments when your life would make a decent hour of reality television.

Just as Nero fiddled while Rome burned up, and the dance band on the Titanic played until the end, we ate in the midst of impending doom.

I shoveled the food in my face, which, in retrospect, may have contributed to later troubles.

Others ate at their normal paces.

The electricity went out. Then it came back on.

We tried to help pack stuff up, but whenever I picked up a tarp to fold it, one of the Peruvian guys came and took it from me.

Our car came, and we got in, only to discover that the fire had traveled up-river quite a bit, so we drove parallel to it for something like 7 ish minutes.

We stopped and picked up a dude with some little kids and drove them out to the closest town, which was about 10 minutes from the hot springs.

So, if you do the math, you figure that the fire was something like 3 minutes away.

That wasn’t really good enough for me. I wanted more like an hour or two between me and the fire, especially if I was expected to sleep that night.

So there was more arguing about what to do. Amy and the Peruvians were for staying in that town. Steve and I were for getting out of Dodge. Lori was on our side, but a little less screw-what-you-think than Steve and I were.

Tension ran high.

And the decision was made that we would do the next day’s hiking overnight.

And we’d have to carry all of our stuff with us.

Lori would want me to tell you that I’d brought several books with me, because they gave us a big duffel bag to put our crap in and to be carried by a mule, creating more space than I’d accounted for or could fill with clothes and food. So I brought books.

Sue me. I like books. And reading in a tent by headlamp is oh-so-romantic.

However, when I’m about to flee from wildfire on foot, overnight in the Peruvian wilderness, the books don’t hold the same place in my heart they have when there is no fire.

So Lori’s favorite part of the whole trip was when I had to be like, “Hey, I definitely can’t carry all of my stuff.”

In my defense: I was more than willing to leave the books there and pay the library back for the loss. I mean, come on, fiery death – or books? Fiery death? Books? You leave the books without a second thought.

Back to the main story, though. Everything got worked out so that we each carried our day pack with whatever we thought we’d need for the next 2.5 days, and we went.

Headlamps.

Fluid-filled knee.

Tempers barely-checked.

And I had to take a dump in the darkness just about once an hour, because that’s my body’s reaction to long-distance races and, evidently, wildfire.

Additionally, I was tired of wearing tennis shoes and wanted to wear my running sandals, so I made the bold decision to do that night with my toes exposed… because I’m B.A.

We walked along train tracks most of the time, and there were some scary, Stand by Me moments with river-crossings, but it was an adventure. There was jungle on both sides of the tracks, and there were nighttime spiders that had glowy eyes.

And I wouldn’t take it back if I could.

Who else in the world can really say they hiked 40 miles in 3 days, up to 15,000 ft, down into the jungle, on the edges of cliffs, and fled from a wildfire at night, belongings on her back, on wounded knee? Well, Steve, Lori, and Amy can all say that or all of it minus the knee thing. And David, our guide. But who else? That’s right – nobody you know.

I feel like a badass every time I think about it.

Permitting the Unjustifiable


This morning, I decided I need to be reading a book about writing.

I’m in a wonderful stage of writing the manuscript. This stage is the one in which it’s mostly done, so I print out a hard copy of the years of investment in fake people. I read it and allow others to read it. It cost me about $20 to print the thing, which is a reminder as to why books can sometimes be fairly pricey.

The thing about printing my manuscript is how completely uncertain I was as I walked into the FedEx store to pick it up.

You see, $20 is money. It’s money that I could be spending on things that others would be more likely to understand. I could get a Smart Phone and put that cash towards a data package. I could put it towards my car that’s bound to stop running any day now. People would understand those things. They don’t understand the money going towards the imaginary happenings of my mind.

That’s why I read books about writing.

Sure, sometimes, books about writing teach me things about how to write better, but most of the time, books about writing remind me that I’m not alone and I’m not breaking any rules when I decide to spend money on something other people wouldn’t spend money on. Reading books about writing reminds me that there are other people in this world who spend hours working on one sentence, because it has the potential of greatness. There are people who blow off their friends and family to sit alone in the quiet, frantically typing out the ideas for fear they will too soon vanish. They spend $20 on paper and ink that may never come to anything.

The book I chose to read is Rachel Simon’s The Writer’s Survival Guide.

In all honesty, I went at the book with my trademark sense of superiority. Chapter one is entitled “The Big Questions.” To me, the first chapter in most non-fiction books is a waste of time. The author is trying to build context in that chapter, and she rarely gets to any of the meat in that chapter, so I find it tedious.

Problem: Rachel Simon begins with the meat.

“Why should I – or anyone – write?”

“Do I have talent, and how can I tell?”

“How big a commitment can (or should) I make?”

Those really, truly are the constant questions in my brain. They might not manifest in exactly the same way Simon expressed them, but they are the fears of my heart, because discovering that my writing is actually terrible and unpublishable would be devastating. Such a discovery would, in many ways, reveal a wasted life. Time, money, thought, all invested in something I’m terrible at when they might have been invested in something else.

Simon expresses it this way: “…many people begin writing with a profound lack of faith in themselves. They might even be wrestling with depression. They know they want to write; maybe they even like writing. But deep down, they don’t feel worthy of writing… How could they… grant themselves the permission to go for it?” (8).

I think granting ourselves permission is one of the core obstacles in American happiness. We believe we need permission to make impractical, risky, divergent choices.

Yesterday, I rode my bicycle around the neighborhood for fun. It was not for exercise. It was not for transportation. It was purely for the joy of feeling the wind in my hair. As I was riding, I confess, I felt a little naughty. It was a stolen moment – unjustifiable by grown-up standards. It was like staying home from work when I’m not actually sick; I need someone to give me permission.

Writing is another matter entirely, because people are far less-willing to support my writing endeavors. They are more interested in how my writing impacts them. It keeps me from attending dinners. It changes my disposition when I am in social places. It seems like it’s an obnoxious character flaw when others start commenting on my writing.

Which is why I need the b0oks. I need Rachel Simon to tell me that writing is valuable regardless of my publication status. Regardless of the money. Regardless of whatever.

The Great Ones


Great novels – ones in which lightning seems to strike on every page – result from their authors’ refusal to settle for being ‘good.’ Great novelists have fine-tuned critical eyes. Perhaps without being aware of it, they are dissatisfied with sentences that are inadequate, scenes that merely do the job. They push themselves to find original turns of phrase, extra levels of feeling, unusual depths of character, plots that veer in unexpected directions,” (Donald Maass in WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL p.7).

The Holidays 2014


This time of year messes with my brain.

Although I’ve had a superb go of the holidays for the last five years or so, I can’t express what it did to me to find that family didn’t want me.

I’m thinking about this because at the Thanksgiving dinner table, I did one of those ungrateful, “Well, I’d totally work on Thanksgiving if I could.”

I didn’t say that as a reflection of the people who so graciously invite me year after year to their table. I said it because I hate Thanksgiving.

I think Thanksgiving may have been my favorite of the holidays when I was younger, because I’m rather fond of food, but nowadays, it’s the first bit of the whole terrible holiday season, so I think it’s the one where, no matter how well Ashly, Matt, and Sarah take care of me, I’m still not sure everything is okay. After an entire year of not thinking about what family is “supposed” to be and not being asked about family, people at work, at church, at yoga, everywhere are suddenly small-talking about what I’ll be doing. For the rest of the year, Thursdays are fine. But this one Thursday usually starts to piss me off long before it comes around, because it causes too many conversations and is the catalyst for too many wonderings about what the hell I did that was so wrong.

…what I should do if this is the year when she invites me back.

…how I have to be prepared to forgive no matter how deeply and carelessly I was wounded.

…how I’ve been forgiven far greater transgressions those committed against me.

…how I can’t go back now, because that would dishonor the family that chooses me year after year after year, regardless of who and what I am.

…how hard it would be to communicate forgiveness while sticking by the people who stuck by me.

I’m not in any way exaggerating the thoughts that occupy my mind during the holidays.

In addition to those what-the-hell-am-I-supposed-to-do worries, I usually spend a fair amount of time remembering.

When the family rift went down, it was partly because of a blog post I wrote, and more significantly because of decades of siblings not caring about each other. It was an inability to forgive, and it was a lack of empathy.

But remembering those things is a waste if I don’t learn from those lapses of relationship – if I use them to screw her because she screwed me.

I start by remembering the email that summed it up in the inexplicable, “You just don’t live up to our standards.”

If I were dealing drugs, that would make sense to me. If my family were rich and fancy, that would make sense to me. If I were a terrorist or they were shockingly attractive.

But, it doesn’t make sense to me. Because they’re ordinary people and I almost never give in to my puppy-kicking and public nudity urges. In fact, I’ve never even given a drunken toast at a wedding.

I’m not saying that I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread; I’m selfish, and I honestly don’t have a clue why Lori is such a good friend to me, because I’m definitely not as great a friend to her as she is to me. I’m needy and struggling most of the time, even though I doubt that’s how she or any of my other friends sees me.

Still, I really don’t get how there could be anyone out there who might say, “Katie doesn’t live up to my standards.”

What the hell kind of standards does a person have to have to find me so lacking?

Suffice it to say that I spend a significant chunk of the holiday season trying to make sense of my perceived deficiencies.

Additionally, most years, there’s some new piece of information that’s been revealed and provides my next element to worry over. Last year, it was an odd visit. I later learned that this visit left her feeling encouraged – like we might be able to work things out. For me, all I felt was a person who found me lacking significantly enough to dispose of me, saying, “Do you think you’ll ever get married?

Which sounds an awful lot like, “Do you think you’ll ever get married?”

Had someone close to me said it, things would have been fine. To be fair, part of the problem is that someone close to me would have known me well-enough not to have had to ask. Also, I would have trusted someone close to me to ask the question for the right reasons. I wouldn’t have feared that the question was born of competitive drive, with the intent of measuring me – as if that visit were a tryout for admittance back into the family… which I still think it kind of was.

This year, the revelation is that the disowning isn’t something she even recalls doing.

I think I was told about this with the thought that the disowning obviously wasn’t a big deal to her. She isn’t angry still, because she doesn’t even remember it, and therefore, there is hope that we might work it out.

Mulling over that new revelation this year has brought me to the excruciating place where something that hurt me deeply didn’t even merit memory for her. It was the squishing of an ant… it matters quite a lot to the ant, but very little to the ant squisher.

I remember that first year of not knowing where I’d go for the holidays. I remember how each individual holiday was knots and gnarls in my stomach, because I’d never had to wonder before whether people wanted me around or not. I’d never had to discover who my truest companions are and trust that I wasn’t imposing on them, because they said my presence wasn’t an imposition (although it’s hard to believe anyone could want me around if the people who are obligated to want me around asked me not to come around).

Thanksgiving.

My birthday.

The things in between – decorating the house… Disney Lane Christmas lights… Christmas music… gift buying… movie watching, Polar Express, It’s a Wonderful Life, Charlie Brown… Walking Winterhaven, which is the only time a person can justifiably wear mittens in the desert… the Tucson things that matter during the Christmas season.

Christmas Eve.

Christmas.

New Year’s Eve.

New Year’s Day.

It’s hurtful that she made a choice with such lifelong ramifications, without even considering how it would impact my life. It impacted her very little, but it changed the last six weeks or so of every year for me.

I’ve found a lot of joy in the holidays this year.

I’ve remembered what it is to laugh – really laugh – the way kids do sometimes.

I’ve cooked and decorated. My house looks pretty amazing (if I do say so myself).

I finally bought myself that bike – the impractical one with a cup holder and a basket – the one with the brakes you have to pedal backwards if you want to slow down. The bike with only one gear – slow and easy. I felt the wind in my hair the way a it does when kids get their first bikes as I rode it home from Walmart (because nothing fits in the bug).

So I’m not writing this as a screw you to her. I know she’s going to hate that I wrote this. It doesn’t make any sense to me that she still reads what I write, but she does, and I know it’s going to become another bullet point on the list of why I don’t live up to the standards. It’s another blog post that’s worthy of the disowning – more evidence that I too often refuse to toe the line, following the tail she lays out for the people in her life. I admit I’m a bush-whacker at heart.

But there are others who claim and own me regardless of what I write – or possibly even occasionally because of what I write. They love me without judging my hatred of the well-paved road. They’ve read their Frost and allow that the road less traveled might be a worthy one… because the broadest, straightest roads often take us in exactly the wrong direction. There are people who don’t ignore my apologies or even require the. They often forgive me when I haven’t asked for forgiveness.

They are the people I want to become.

She isn’t the primary, secondary, or even tertiary audience for whom I write, or for whom I live, so, in all honesty, I write this mostly for myself – as a release. Because I will never live up to those standards, nor do I desire to live up to them. I need to put that in writing and out of my head. Because even though I’ve known since the moment I read her email, my heart has still been tirelessly trying to work it out – trying to find that nail in the coffin of who I am that if I just change it a little, she’ll love me, forgive me… for whatever it is that’s so wrong about me.

I write it for my holiday benefactors, as an apology that five amazing years is a greater gift than anyone has ever given me, and yet, my heart is still broken. Though you’ve aided in the mending, time is all that can be expected to heal such wounds. I’m sorry for how my hatred of Thanksgiving must seem like ungratefulness, and that all I offer you is often too-gooey pecan pie. I struggle more than I admit to believe that the walks, board and card games, childlike laughter, and good glasses of wine are more than illusion. I struggle to believe that your kindness towards me is more than illusion. That you are more than illusion.

I also write for Lori and Steve, who are the first to arrive and the last to leave, because real friends are like that. :-) I met you, Lori, more than half my life ago, and you, Steve, soon after. You’ve attended more of my birthday parties than anyone has. You’ve moved me from a house, to an apartment, to another apartment, to another house, to another apartment, and, finally, into another house. For every event I’ve hosted, you’ve arrived first and departed last, as I hope might be true of your presence in my day-to-day life.

The holidays piss me off, but I promise I’m growing and changing, and that in five more years, the standards will be a vanished vapor.

Happy holidays!