Thoughts on the Recursive. And Thank You.

© 2010 David Parker

Apparently, with no focal point (like a sun or a star or a you or a me), and with every intention to walk in a straight line, people walk around in circles. But, whether we’re blindfolded or just stumbling through the thick pitch of night, while we’re doing all of that wandering, we think we’re walking in a straight line. Without that external corrective, something inside of us, something about the way our atoms fit together, something about our biology, will not stay straight. I think part of what Souman’s study might reveal is that the human journey is not the shortest distance between two points. Rather, it seems to be the circle that connects one point back to itself.

This resonates with me. Maybe even validates my very existence. Because I do things, the same things, over and over, expecting different results. Someone once told me that this is the mark of insanity, but now I’m thinking maybe it’s the mark of humanity. Because don’t we all fall into patterns of behavior, patterns of thinking, rhythms of the everyday that are impossible to break? At least, they seem impossible to break. Especially without some kind of focal point like a person or a plan.

There are certain places in the geography of my life that I have been circling for the past five years–one of those places is the beginning of my teaching career. Another might be the day I met Ruthie. Another might be my divorce. Another might be the death of my grandfather. Another might be who I am in my family and who I am for real. And we all have these events, these anchors. Like the novelist Darin Strauss , who ran over a teenager when he was a just a teenager and wrote about it in fiction without knowing he was writing about it. (Now he’s finally written about it on purpose in a memoir called Half a Life.) And the only way that I’ve found to move past these events (or move through them the way one might move through a forest with trees thick as thieves and no light of day) is to write about them. With intention. The story of the event becomes my focal point, the external corrective to my inner recursive nature. And the sifting through those events reveals more and more of who I am. And that reveal is such a relief. Because for too long I’ve wandered around with these stories, these fragile stories, that I had to guard and protect and wear wrapped around my face. And now, here they are. Public and unapologetic: my stories.

And STORY is what carries us back to ourselves. Odysseus receives his ship home in return for a story. He tells a story in exchange for a ship that will (finally) take him back to where he came from, where his identity began. And I think it’s important that he tells his story. He doesn’t get the ship home in exchange for thinking of his story, but in exchange for sharing his story. And in telling my stories, I feel like I’m kind of giving myself back to myself. Owning not only the parts that are uncomfortable and awkward, but especially the parts that I’m proud of, the parts that were hard, the parts where I became. That ownership comes from sharing, and with each sharing, I’m peeling away pieces of my blindfold that hide me from my home.

All this is to say thank you. Thank you for reading and for watching me walk blindly in circles. I’d have no hope of home or a ship to carry me there were it not for your listening, allowing me to share. Just. Thank you.

Not Me

© 2010 David Parker

I woke up this morning to an orange-pink sky:
Made coffee, made lunch, made the bed.
Skipped breakfast.

I’m too sensitive. I want
to leave the house not for work.
I want to leave
for a place where I am a stranger.

Where people don’t know me so well
that they can call me a bitch
and be sure of it.
Where someone else
makes the coffee, makes lunch, makes the bed.
Where I can get by on
wit and good looks.
A place where there is no history
unraveling itself at my feet.

Instead, I sip back tears
with room-temperature coffee: nothing worse
than a pack of fifteen-year-olds
watching you cry.
I send an honest email and immediately
regret sending it: I care too much.
My raw little soul tapped into
the keyboard, onto the screen.

I see myself too clearly,
know myself too well.

On Being Brave and Wearing Jeans

© 2010 David Parker

I have this pair of jeans. We’ve been through a lot together–nine patches, two fly-zippers, one busted belt-loop, most of my twenties. And they still make my ass look great. Confidence, comfort, and a nice ass all wrapped up in the perfect-shade-of-blue dreamy denim. They don’t cut off the circulation in my thighs and the waist doesn’t make my stomach pooch over when I sit down to a big plate of pasta. They forgive, but they don’t forget, and the not-forgetting is what makes them the best because they love me anyways. I’m my best self in these jeans and the more I wear them, the more myself I feel.

These and a ring I bought myself just after I got divorced. These are my everyday talismans. I wore both when I went on my Very Bravest Adventure to boldly spend 17 hours doing something I’ve never done before with people who initially intimidated the hell out of me (and meant to). And all of us–ring, jeans, self–came out living, breathing, wishing only for this life.

Still Looking

© 2010 David Parker

All day today, I feel like I’ve just been swallowing stress. And I really tried to focus on happier things, but it just wouldn’t stick. Like this morning, after I dropped Ruthie off five minutes late, I did have a chance to appreciate the middle-school boy and his father both walking towards the school with back-packs on or the cross guard who high-fived every little kid who passed him crossing the street to the elementary school. The kids at school today were neat-o as usual for this bunch. They laugh easily and often, but not at each other. They willingly engage in discussions of symbolism and figurative language (two of my favorite things). But every little happy seemed to be accompanied by a burp of stress: the classwork already piled on the edges of my desk, the forgotten lunch, the parent conference that ran until I had to sprint to my car to pick up Ruthie on time. Even right now, Ruthie is singing in her bed, which is so sweet, but I’m a little panicky because it’s 9:00 and she really should be asleep if I’m going to wake her up with any amount of success in the morning. It feels whiney, but I can’t get away from wondering if this is really it. I’m beginning to think it is. And then I start thinking about Julia Child. For some reason, it always comes back to her and the fact that she was in her late forties before she got the acceptance letter for the publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a project that was borne of her own boredom in France. And I think, when does the part begin where I really, really love what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, and who I am? When I’m not working for what I’ll have tomorrow, because what I have right now is what I want? The troubling piece of all of this for me is that I’m pretty sure that part begins with me.

It would be remiss if I didn’t mention one bright spot that squelched a hiccup of stress: public poetry. So when I’m not whining about how boring it is to be an adult, I’ll be working toward doing a bit of THIS with myself and my students. Another yawp-errrific idea brought to you by one Emma Bolden, the presiding Queen of the Power of Whatever and Poetry whom I miss terribly and often.

Also, I’ll be writing earlier tomorrow because I think there’s not enough of me left over this late at night to piece together a post. See you in the morning.

What Work Is

© 2010 David Parker

Two weeks in and writing still feels like work. In facts, it feels worse than work because it’s like wrestling with yourself in words that will haunt you tomorrow with how terribly boring you are. The easy way out is to write about what you did that day or how the weather is, but to write honestly about what you think and feel and see and do is damned hard work. To write requires that you be utterly, terribly, transparently honest with yourself first (a horrifying prospect), and then that you share that truth with other people–sometimes even people you’ve never met. I was talking on the phone with a dear, dear friend about how hard it is to just be honest all the time. I feel like our culture kind of grooms us for dishonesty. Like, if I don’t want to go to a party, I tend to make up some reason why I can’t go rather than just saying that I won’t be able to make it. Blogging has been like that for me in the past as well–I would wait until I had something interesting enough or clever enough or funny enough to write about before i would write anything. The depressing thing is how few and far between my posts became. The strange thing is that I should be sort of “freed” by this newfound honesty. Instead, I’m finding it difficult to find things to write honestly (and interestingly) about. Take, for instance, this post that you’re reading right now. “Well there’s not much there,” you’re thinking to yourself. But what if I told you that this post was finally written in 30 minutes in the fetal position in front of my computer? After three false-starts (about completely different topics), I decided to just focus on the experience of trying to write and what’s at stake. So of course every word feels like agony… I’m writing myself. Here. Right now. And that’s damned hard writing.

Coming Home

© 2010 David Parker

The past two days, I’ve been thinking a lot about home or nostos: where we come from, the place where our identity, our self begins. And tonight I was locked out of my house.

My mom’s in town and I decide it’d be nice to take Ruthie for a walk before bedtime. As soon as I hear the door’s heavy click behind me, I know I’ve left the keys four feet away on the table where I keep my keys. Damn it!

We try my landlord’s house down the street. No luck. We’re sweating. We try the window in the back. No luck. I pick up some garden shears and try to pry the window open. No luck. Finally, after 30 minutes of jimmy-ing the window on the front porch with the garden shears, we get in. My jeans and t-shirt are soaked all the way through. I’ve got blisters on the tips of my fingers from all of the jiggling and prying and pushing. Sound dirty? It was.

The most frustrating thing about being locked out of your house is you’re right there! RIGHT THERE! I could touch the fog from the air conditioner inside. I could see the damn keys through the front door. A pane of glass (how thick could that be?!) separated me from air-conditioning, a glass of water, our bedtime rituals. For some reason, the fact of such narrow proximity to the thing you want (especially when it’s something you are so familiar with and have such access to as your home) makes it maddeningly worse. And it’ll make you do crazy things like jiggle your window with garden shears until you work the latch through (it’s hard to explain).

The moment the window pops open, sweet relief pours through the dusty blinds and into my face: bought air. I climb through and let Ruthie and my mom in the front door. Simplest thing in the world: opening up my door for people to walk through. But it feels like a privilege, like a glorious, unique opportunity to walk into my own home. It feels so good because to open that door took so much work, so much sweat, with the possibility of not making it inside breathing hot on the back of my neck.

This past week has been pretty wretched for me personally speaking. It was one of those growing weeks. You know, where you become more of who you are? And it hurt like hell. Ask my bestie-best-best (A.) or ask David or ask anyone I worked with last week. I was ruh-dic-U-lussssss: anxious, weepy, depressed, sleepless, eatless, productive-less. I was on the threshold of myself. Jimmying the window, sweating, panting, gasping, cussing in front of my kid. Who-I-am taunted me through the window: all of my flaws glaring, glinting in the light. And then, all of a sudden, I’m inside. Just like that. And all of my flaws are still here, but I don’t mind. Because the thing that separated me from myself was insecurity and the work makes me forget what I hate and focus on what I love (or else, why would I be working so hard? And for what?). And after all that work, it’s so nice to be home. I hope I don’t lock myself out again.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time. [T.S. Eliot]