Tonight at dinner.

There are many things I did not say at dinner tonight while interacting with a man I had never met before. He was obnoxious, impressed with himself, rude, sexist, and more interested in making sweeping, incorrect generalizations than in conversation. He changed his argument and the direction of the conversation every time he was challenged on any of those many sweeping generalizations. It was faux intellectualism taken to truly astounding heights. Also, he managed to insinuate at every opportunity that I, the only woman in the conversation, didn’t know what I was talking about. Following is an incomplete list of the things I did not say.

“If ‘society’ were reset,’ in your words, and we were all ‘dumped naked in a field with no tools,’ I’m pretty sure our first response would not be to kill each each other. Your first response, based on your behavior so far, would be to look at my breasts.”

“You are not an expert about something because you have the most baseline cynical opinion possible about it. Everything you have claimed the intellectual high ground on so far is something that I know for a fact someone at this table knows more about and is more thoughtful about than you.”

“I did not start paying attention to your conversation with [friend] again because you ‘were done nerding out.’ I am a nerd. I am not interested in combative pedantry, which is what you were doing.”

“I have, in fact, read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I just told you that I have. I have read many things, actually. My breasts do not interfere with my vision or my ability to decode language. So when I finish quoting the scene you are laboriously trying to explain to me, it’s not like I’ve done some amazing trick.”

I know this might all seem petty. I know. But I felt, for the first time in a long time, that I was being shut down, over and over, for nothing so heinous as challenging a man who seemed to think that he deserved to be talking by virtue of his maleness, where maleness correlated to rightness. I, as woman, was supposed to sit there basking in the attention, gratified that he would be choosing to share his thoughts with me. Gratified, and appropriately impressed by his intellect.

In closing, I leave you with one of the most powerful set-downs in the history of modern cinema, delivered by a woman in a bright pink muppet sweater, the subversive epitome of femininity.

Thank you, and good night.

It’s about time.

The holidays ate my brain. I’m back now. All I have left to go is New Year’s, and that’s my favorite one. It doesn’t feel like a “holiday.” New Year’s feels like a celebration of time itself, respect for its power. We don’t do that often enough in this culture. We’re always talking about how we don’t have time for this, or that, or the other thing. We have all these gadgets and gizmos designed to help us get stuff done faster, we focus on teaching kids good “time management” skills, (always have the image of someone trying to herd a gaggle of old-fashioned alarm clocks) we obsess over how we’re spending our time as if someday we’re all going to be asked to give an accounting of our days, and we better have made good choices.

“What will you do with your one wild and precious life?”  – Mary Oliver

The truth is, the only person who’s going to care what you do today is you. Well, you and Mary Oliver, maybe. A lot of writing books talk about the importance of walks, the importance of boredom, the importance of letting ideas come to you, of sitting and really puzzling over an idea or three until they come together. I bombard myself so thoroughly with outside noise (present company included although, blog, I love you) that those pieces of perfectly useful advice are usually laughable. There’s e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Ravelry, online journals of friends, blogs of strangers, so many opportunities to fill my brain with other things! Even worse, the things I should be doing

I Should Be: (A short list*)
– writing a story
– keeping a paper journal
– writing a blog post
– working on the novel
– researching for the novel
– controlling myself from starting new stories just now
– revising something
– reading a “good book”
– reading a “fun book”
– reading the paper
– watching a movie
– catching up on that TV show I like
– knitting
– cross-stitching
– quilting
– tidying this mess of a place
– doing the laundry
– figuring out dinner
– running errands
– making lists
– keeping up with all the little Shoulds that crop up in a day
– seeing a friend I haven’t seen in a while
– boxing some stuff up to give away
– losing weight
– doing research
– volunteering for a cause I believe in
– looking for ways to make money with my art
– looking for ways to make money
– searching for a job
– deciding what I want to do with my life
– thinking deep thoughts
– being brilliant

And somehow, I should do all of this today, or I am an utter failure. A frowny-face on the Good Behavior Chart stuck up on the front of the Refrigerator of Life, looking vainly at the gold and silver stars all the other kids got. (Because of course I think everyone else is better at this than I am, oh how I make myself laugh.)

Nothing on the list above is insurmountable. Shoulds aren’t necessarily bad. Like jealousy and lists on the internet, Shoulds just mirror what we want, so that we can see it clearly. But Shoulds are insidious. Even if I’m doing one thing on my list of Shoulds, I’m not doing any of the others at that moment. I struggle with this all the time, (there’s that time-word again!) the physical inability to be in two places at once. Some of these activities are easily combined. I can write in my head while I do the laundry, and then go run and transcribe some thoughts when I finish. But mostly, I need mental space to do a lot of these things, and many of them don’t combine so easy.

We all have our own Shoulds. I, for one, would like to release myself from their tyranny. To stop making the things I love into mere boxes to check as I try to justify what I’m doing with my life. Join me, and together we will rule the galaxy! (At least, we should…)

So in celebration of time this coming year, I will do my best to enjoy engaging in its passing, no matter what I’m doing. I only get this time once. I am determined to make the best of it, even (or perhaps especially) when I’m sitting, doing nothing, staring up at the sky.

“Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”  – Shel Silverstein

In the end, no one really cares what I do but me. I’ll live my life, as well as I can, within the constraints and possibilities offered by each day. So, off I go into the wild blue yonder. First, though, I think I should eat something and put a book in my bag. In case there are queues in the wild blue yonder.

*I edited this post half a dozen times so far to add items to the list.

The-ra-py.

At the end of March, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

At the end of April, she had a radical mastectomy with reconstruction.

At the beginning of June, she had the first of four chemotherapy treatments.

Today, I went with her to the third treatment. My father went to the first two. It was a good experience for me to go, and see how it worked. To watch the nurses talk to her, to see it all happen.

Coming through this with my mother has been an invaluable experience. I have learned so much about her, my father, and myself. My parents are brave. My parents love each other. My father is an excellent, complicated man. My mother will let herself be distracted from the pain, and the indignity, and the depression of this experience by a trip to the movies, by painting her toenails, by knitting. By talking with her daughter.

I have learned an awful lot about her daughter. I can finish college even though my mother has breast cancer. I can complete all the work in all my courses. I can keep an apartment clean to my mother’s standards. I am becoming a good cook. I am learning how to shop, how to work with what we have in the house, and how to not call for takeout every night, or even one night a week. I am learning to ask for help. I am learning how to cry without letting it ruin my day. (Because there is crying.)

I am learning, above all, that I remain myself through all of this. I grow up. I graduate from college, I apply for jobs. I also discover I love reading thrillers, don’t mind sitting through a Twilight movie, and enjoy cooking complicated meals. The same person with so little patience for stupidity is coming to the conclusion that there is too much judgment in the world.

Life is not indefinite. That notion fills me with dread. Life is filled with choices. That, too, causes me no end of palpitation and worry. Anxious that I will make the wrong choice about what to do with my day, it’s hard to get the most out of the things I decide to do. But in the end, time I enjoyed wasting was not wasted. Everything we do feeds us, for good or for bad, whether we like it or not. The important part is to make what we do count towards what we love about ourselves, and what we want within ourselves to shine brighter.

I would not trade all this new knowledge for anything, except my mother not having to go through this. Some of the lessons you should learn as soon as possible in your life are lessons you should never have to learn at all.