I have been struggling with anxiety for a long time.

I reject the idea that this is a wrong thing in itself, that there is something wrong with me. Yes, there is something wrong, and like with anything you can blame the tribe/environment or you can blame the person... or, and we never seem to talk about this, you can blame the lack of fit in a neutral sense. We love to blame the person in this culture, always, about everything. I have blamed the tribe/environment (and still do to be honest.) But some people seem to thrive in it, and I don't have the power to change it to suit me anyway. More logical, then, is to focus on the lack of fit, and to make choices I have the power to make that are in line with what I need to feel less anxiety. It would be best if everyone else could let go of the blame game at the same time. Then there would be no stigma or obstacles in the way of me (and all the other people who don't fit) getting what we need.

They say it's "just" chemical. Well, yes of course. Everything's chemical. A person smiling at you causes a chemical reaction. And a more direct chemical interaction (for instance, in the case of food allergies or mold in the air) can cause mental illness where there would be none otherwise. But what they mean is that it is a purely mechanical issue -- like a cog in a machine that's broken after an initial misalignment in manufacture -- which can be fixed only by directly manipulating the chemicals (which is unfortunately very much not as simple as fixing a broken cog, and is still hugely experimental.)

I'm not discounting that, but I am fascinated by the strange absence of awareness that not everything is meant to go together, that the fact that the square doesn't fit into the round hole isn't actually evidence that the square is malformed.

It is a relief to understand that, and it makes it much easier to get on with the work of feeling well.


This morning on the way to the bus stop R told me, "Kids shouldn't have to go to school when it's nice out." I agree, of course, as I'm of the opinion that learning is not a job that needs to be done on a schedule and according to others' dictates. She likes her school (which feels almost Waldorfian without the Anthroposophy,) but resents not having control over her own life. She talks about leaving, but keeps putting it off because she likes her teacher and friends. I think she feels like she would be abandoning them. I am encouraging her to keep going because I want her to be as sick of it as possible before she quits so that she doesn't want to go right back. I'm guessing the school would frown on that.

W and I went to the library. She had to return some books and renew her card, and I had to renew my Friends of the Library membership so I can get in early to the annual book sale. The library also sells books year-round for 50 cents apiece. Today I found:

Fun With Lines and Curves, Elsie Ellison 
A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
Calendar: Humanity's Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year, David Ewing Duncan
Walking Zero: Discovering Cosmic Space and Time Along the Prime Meridian, Chet Raymo

Also an arithmetic book for R, Spot the Difference Picture Puzzles for W, and Perplexing Puzzles and Tantalizing Teasers for N.

I love that the kids are old enough now that I don't have to keep track of them constantly. While I was in the sale room W went searching for books to check out, and when she showed up with a big stack she said (as if apologetic for the size of the stack) "I read a lot." This warmed my heart, because the state nearly ruined her self-confidence and natural love of learning with its insistence on early reading. It's been four years lost to that, but thankfully not more. Up until just recently she would say that she doesn't like to read and is not good at reading. 

In the car on the radio they were talking about the new governor being sworn in and W said, "What's a governor?" And I said, "It's a person who blah blah and he does blah blah," and she said, "Mama. It doesn't have to be a guy." (And in fact, it isn't.) I am so glad that even though certain patriarchal habits are annoyingly still ingrained in me, all of my ranting and raving about it hasn't been in vain. 


This, from Portraits of America:

    “I hope you listen to me because I’m so freaking happy. And I ain’t got shit! I got nothing but two grandchildren that make my world a living wonderland. Now I can’t wait for the snow to come, so my fat body can lie there and they can jump on me. They’re so happy, and they’re like, ‘Grandma, you’re the only one who lets us do this!’ My two-year-old grandson wants to jump in puddles, so I say, ‘You got it, boy.’ He does, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen. You don’t have to smack them around. You don’t have to say ‘You’re stupid.’ Nooo! Enjoy their innocence, and then you can live!
     “But when I was raising my children, I wanted to get it ‘right.’ I put them in matching clothes, made sure they said the right things: ‘Don’t jump on my mother’s furniture!’ And I was wrooong! I should’ve let them be people! But everybody says, ‘Children should be seen, and not heard.’ Bullshit! Children teach us who we should be. We can live, if we just listen to them. If we don’t see that, we’re stupid. My grandson takes a bath for an hour and a half. You know why? In the tub, he’s driving a car. He’s swimming. He’s fishing. He’s washing his hair. He’s doing tons of things and everybody says, ‘Why isn’t he out of the bath?’ I say, ‘He’s busy—leave him alone. We’re eating. It’s all good.’ He’s happy, and that’s how life should be. The only thing you should care about is making their world happy, and yours will be happier. And when they come back to see you again, they never forget—they want more. And everybody says, ‘No, no, you don’t have time for this.’ But I’m like, ‘Honestly, that’s all I’ve got time for. That’s all I’ve got time for!’”
New London, CT


academics and expectations

He kept saying "academics" at the board meeting. As in "academic excellence" or "academic expectations". Because I am new, I don't have any idea what the others thought about this; this was a training so they were mostly silent. I want to hope that since this is a charter school that focuses on nature and the arts that they were discomfited by it too, even if they didn't know why. I hadn't thought of 'why' before this meeting. It's the idea that academics and education are the same thing, just like the idea that school and education are the same thing. But academics isn't just about the transfer of information, it isn't just about learning. It is a specific system of those things, an overlaid framework of management and competition and judgment and control. Academics is about grades and records and jumping through hoops that tell the people in charge that you deserve to keep moving through their system.

I'm not saying that's wholly a bad thing. Some people apparently enjoy being in that system (I know at least one person for whom that seems to be true.) My point is only that academics and learning are two different things, and it would be nice if people would stop making the assumption that the former is universally and inherently the best way for learning to happen. In our schools and in our culture it is all we are supposed to talk about when we talk meaningfully about our children's futures.

But the more we do so, the farther we get away from what learning is actually about, and the more we submerge ourselves unthinkingly in rituals that can churn out graduates without any useful learning having gone on at all.

The other word that kept getting thrown out was "expectations". The case the speaker made for expectation-based education was impressive: expectations tend to be self-fulfilled, so that if we behave as if a child will be successful, the child is likely to become successful. This type of expectation is not so bad. It is hopefulness (albeit insistent) rooted in belief in someone, that they are capable of creating goodness and wellness in their life.

But honestly, I find the use of it in this context disingenuous. We were, after all, being spoken to specifically about academics. An expectation of academic success is different from confidence that a person can be successful by their own definition. I don't doubt that what our speaker said is true, that if we behave as if all children are capable of academic success, that we will see a rise in performance as measured by grades and course completion. What I doubt is the wisdom of it.


Our ongoing acceptance of our free market system and its casualties is based in the myth that hard workers will do well, that wealth is always a result of hard work and poverty always due to laziness. No. Financial status is not intrinsically tied to ability, willingness, and character.

 But let's say that poor people are poor because they are just too lazy to make good decisions and make an effort. Let's say now that all these poor people somehow change so that they all get an education and become trained to do the jobs that "contribute more" to society. Now everybody is ready to be a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer or CEO of a company. What happens to all the other jobs that our type of society needs to function, all the jobs that are currently paid at minimum wage? Who does them?

 It must be nice to live in a fantasy world where you are better than other people. That's what it comes down to; that's what it has to come down to. If you think you are where you are by virtue of your good character, then those other people are where they are because they weren't good people and didn't make the right choices. That's just so incredibly arrogant.


There is a triune of conditioned beliefs that I've had to work through and out of about myself and my place in the world: the first being that my body is bad (and by association I am bad) for not fitting a very exclusive model of prettiness (in my case that means mainly smallness); the second that my life is worth something (and by association I am good) only if I move along an approved course of choices that culminate in money and a career; and the third, this, that I have not earned the right to do the things that make me feel well.

I've done pretty well with the first two. Time to work on the third.


Moments I want to remember:

R waking up and snuggling sweetly into me. The smell of her head.

Driving with N and X in the car down 9th street, about twelve blocks; they were talking about the kinds of businesses on the street, a serious conversation, back and forth, one then the other offering their thoughts.

N and X playing a video game, giggling and laughing the whole time.

W leaving me a note to tell me where she and R are so I won't worry.

J dancing to "Just Dance 4". He's got the most joyous, abandoned dancing, so beautiful to watch.