Archive for January, 2009

Quotes via Facebook

A few days ago, I was feeling a bit uninspired.  I wrote on my “Wall,” (a kind of bulletin board that all my Friends* can read): “Anyone got any good quotes?”

Within the hour, I had several.  Ah, instant gratification; it’s nice.  And this is quite a variety:


Hasani: “Despite the cost of living it still remains popular.”

Jason: “We belong to history and language; they do not belong to us.” – David Tracy

Rob : “There is nothing outside the text.” — J. Derrida 🙂

Brian : “Midway in the journey of our life I came to myself in a dark wood for the straight way was lost.” – Dante, The Inferno (Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, ché la diritta via era smarrita.)

Chris : “These may not be the worst nachos I’ve ever had, but it may be the worst nacho recipe I’ve ever had.” -Chris Lalos


*For many, a Facebook Friend isn’t always a Friend, it can often be a “friend.”  But I’m pretty ruthless at pruning my list down, and at not accepting new requests. I have a manageable, varied group at the moment, and like it that way.  So they are actually my friends.


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Wrong trousers.


I just had a little blast of anxiety– tingles up and down my body, my heart sped up.  I’m wide awake and working, so I thought, “Hmm.  What can I do to make myself feel better, to keep this from becoming worse?”

I typed, “feel calm” into Google.  The first item that came up was apparently a blog called “ifeelcalm.”  I thought, “Cool, someone is blogging about ways to feel calm.”

Oh, how wrong I was. How nefarious and sneaky is that?!!

I’ve similarly gone down the wrong advertising rabbit hole in the past–  Once, I had a great old ottoman, and was going to get a slipcover for it.  I knew that a popular slipcover company was called “Sure fit,” and had a very basic 1-800 number, like: “1 800 surefit.”

I called, picturing swaths of fabric: velvet, corduroy, damask…chocolate brown, sage green, terra cotta…  When the other end picked up, a voice purred, “What size are you looking for?”

I ignored the strange unprofessionalism of the purr, and answered eagerly, “Um– I think it’s like two feet by three feet maybe?  And I was hoping for velvet?”

Turns out, the “Sure fit” number I had dialed was for a specialty condom company.  

(The correct number was something like, 1 888 surefit. )  The velvety voice actually continued to be helpful after my response, albeit a bit shocking in her suggestions.  Flustered, I rang off.

But seriously, who sets up a PayPal advertisement under the guise of making people feel better? Do any nervous people actually find their fears alleviated by following their advice?

And what about the poor fabric store/seamstress lady manning the phones for the slipcover company?  What sorts of requests did she have to mistakenly field?

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I’m doing okay, but I don’t have much to say.  

This is a church door next to my office building.  I hope they never repaint it.




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My dear friend Eric took me to the 92nd Street Y tonight, to hear Junot Diaz and Jamaica Kincaid.  I had forgotten how good it feels to hear new things.  When I was an undergrad, we went all the time to hear poets and fiction writers; I think I heard more readings than went to the movies those years.

Before I left from work, my very unhelpful financial aid officer e-mailed to let me know that I will not be able to _attend_ classes until my loan comes through.  Um, thanks.  I know I can’t register, but had thought I would just go–I’ve had these professors for three years now, and really don’t think they care.  His e-mail just deflated me.  I can’t attend?  Is he going to make a list and send it around?  But I digress.  I left work feeling pretty weary, and thought, “Oh, I don’t want to go out tonight.”  I thought it might be good for me, so I went.

I don’t think I can begin to unpack what it was like to listen to them; I just got back.  Many of their phrases remain with me.  I saw light around them as they read, like I saw light around preachers and singers at revivals when I was little.  Ms. Kincaid writes, in one of her stories, from the perspective of early childhood and a child-like repetition (but magical, forceful, not simple) strands through her writing.  

This poem by Billy Collins, an old favorite, came to mind.  As aging is but another example of what happens to us all, this poem gives me the same feeling as standing in a long line at the bank.  Or, as it happens, as sitting in a large double-tiered auditorium, all focused on one voice.

On Turning Ten
  The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul. 

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed. 

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Things that help

I’ve struggled with night terrors and panic attacks for so, so long.  This sharp anxiety lately feels like a setback, because I had been sleeping through the night for months, and now am back to my middle of the night ruminating, heart-racing, heavy-breathing dread.  Of course, this tends to worsen the experience of worrying and feeling nervous during the day; I can’t get truly rested.  Friday night, I woke up every hour from midnight on, with steadily increasing fear.  During the daytime, I can think about ways to anticipate or solve (at least I think I can) the things I fear most.  At night, though, the irrational fears always better me.

I’ve been using all the tools I have in these past weeks.  I plan for bedtime and nightfall, and am doing everything I can to stay calm.  Here are some things that work:

1.  Long, nearly painfully hot baths.  So hot that my muscles begin to feel tired, and my body feels heavy.

2. Hot chocolate.  I think it might be the routine more than the beverage. Matt makes it; he stirs it perfectly so there are no lumps, and he brings it to me.  I drink it before bed, telling my body, “Shhh. It’s almost bedtime.”  I try to be kinder to myself as the day wears on.

3.  Matt reading aloud.  Two summers ago, during a particularly anxiety-ridden summer, he began reading aloud _The Hobbit_.  I hadn’t really slept through the night since early Spring of that year, and had just started on a new anti-anxiety medicine.  The combination of the medicine and the routine of hearing _The Hobbit_ every single night was blessed magic.  I finally slept through night after night.  Rested, my days became calmer and less brittle.  I began looking forward to bedtime again, instead of dreading the beginning of another long night.  Now, we’re up to _The Two Towers_.    Even though I’ve been waking up every night for months now, I still am mostly able to fall asleep with this routine.

4.  My prescriptions, frankly.  I feel like a bit of a failure admitting that, but what can I say?  I take a tiny, tiny dose, and I get sleepy and fall asleep, which for many years very rarely happened if I were nervous or worrying about anything at all.  I actually thank God for Seroquel.  It has given me the ability to sleep, to get _appropriately sleepy and sleep_, that nothing else can.  The fact that I have been waking up nights in spite of it is revealing, given how well it generally works.

5.  Talking.  I tend to keep my problems to myself.  I have a deep-seated belief, long forged, that people only want to be friends with happy, whole, successful people.  Why would I share my worries?  Why would I talk about how poor and stupid and failing I feel to not have my student loans in order yet? Why would I share how anxious I have been?  

Many have pointed out to me that _I_ don’t mind hearing the struggles of others, and that in fact, friends often appreciate being able to listen and help.  Over the past year, I’ve been trying hard to share. Each time that I have, I have learned the pleasant lesson that my friends _do_ help me, and I do always feel better.  I feel, at least, less isolated in my worrying, less alone in my irrational fears.  

6.  Doing mundane things.  I really like standing in line at the post office.  It feels really grounding; I stop feeling floaty and unreal in my worries, I start feeling really human and normal.  I see everyone in line, all with our packages, bundled up, and the world seems more ordinary, more do-able, more easily recognized and navigated.  I think things like, “We’re all in this together.”  Things that fall into this category: reading in the magazine room at the library, in line at the bank or post office, or walking in a busy park that has people of all ages.  

Actually, studying history sometimes gives me this sense, too: reading old prayers, letters, backs of photographs, newspaper articles– I realize that the things that frighten me aren’t suddenly unique and terrible, and that I am human in this human place.  I think, “People have struggled, people try with what they have, people help each other…” and feel as though I fit in, too.

7.  Cute animal pictures.  How silly do I feel admitting that?  But it’s true– I could swear I get a serotonin push from my brain when I look at cute photos of baby animals, ponies, or puppies. I get a rush of some kind of physical happiness, or smiling, and it doesn’t go along with anxiety.  If I can catch myself just when the anxiety is only beginning to well up, and look at cute animals, or think about some of my favorite animals (top of the list: Fatty Lumpkin from _The Hobbit_–just saying “Fatty Lumpkin” or “stout pony” to myself is a charm), I can alleviate the anxiety.  

So tonight, like beads on a rosary, or end-words of a sestina, everything I’ve got: hot water, warm cocoa, loved voice, small dose.  A worry shared is a worry halved, the ordinary world, stout pony, stout pony, stout pony.

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Those of you who know me in real life know that I’ve been waiting (and trying, and making calls, and navigating the world of financial aid) for a portion of my student loans to come through for this year.

Long story short: in August, right around the time of the national financial crisis, I discovered that a portion of my (expected) loans for this year of grad school wouldn’t be coming through.  I tried asking various family members, who either wouldn’t or couldn’t act as co-signers for a new loan, and went to my family’s bank in my hometown.  All of this asking, and paperwork, and applications, and many, many calls to the student loan group took months.  My school hasn’t been very forthcoming with advice, and so I’ve been navigating on my own, and anxious throughout.

It looks like an end might finally be in sight–the problem might be solved in a week or so. In the last week, though, my anxiety has really peaked.  I haven’t slept through the night since before Christmas, and throughout the day a generalized sense of worry or dread infuses my work and study.  Therapy helps, and anti-anxiety prescriptions, and prayer.  I e-mailed my nun (my spiritual director, a Dominican sister), and she suggested I e-mail the Motherhouse (the Dominican convent) to share my story and prayer request with all the sisters.  I have, and have received encouraging e-mails back from some of them.

I’ve also shared my predicament with the campus student Senate, of which I’m a part, and have learned that plenty of other students are in the same situation– the banks and loan companies pulled back in the fall, leaving some of us stranded.  Foreign students especially are in the lurch, needing American co-signers, which is impossible for some of them. During the portion of Senate attended by all members, including faculty and staff, I shared my experience, and an older professor stood up and told the group that if he had a student in my position, he personally would act as co-signer to assure that she could remain in her studies.  The liaison from the President’s office, of course, immediately spoke up to assure the group that this could not be an official policy, but the professor went on to say that this is a human problem, and that if they valued the community of students, it would need a human solution.  I appreciated very much feeling supported and empathized with, even in that formal setting.

I have learned a great deal.  I have become adept and confident about talking to banks and learning the ins and outs of student loans.  I am no longer nervous to ask lots of questions, and call back again and again.  I have learned how to ask for help and weigh options.

Until I hear back, until I know that the loan will come through and I can continue my studies this semester, I appreciate all prayers and good thoughts.  Both for the loan itself, and also for the return of a peaceful mind.

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the Free Table

Here in our community, we have a Free Table in the laundry room.  Best thing ever. If you have clothes, household items, books, magazines… anything really, that you don’t want, or would otherwise throw away or take to Goodwill, you just leave it on the Free Table.  And, whatever you see on the Free Table is yours for the taking.

I have found and taken books, a brand new beautiful photo album/scrapbook, a picture frame, an unused canvas, a great new set of sheets… that’s all I can think of at the moment.  A visiting friend found and took a darling pair of striped pants.  We have left on the table a new, unused scarf and hat set (gift from Matt’s students that didn’t fit him and didn’t suit me), books, a plastic laundry basket, plastic storage bins, maps, tea, and clothes.

Yesterday, in the elevator, I saw someone wearing (beautifully) the scarf and hat.  I love when I find something that we don’t need anymore, or have too many of, and can put it on the Free Table and know that someone else will be able to use it.  Equally, I love walking by the laundry room and checking the table for new things.

It’s such a simple idea, but it works so well.

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