Monday, January 16, 2017

January is the hardest month

This month, arguably full of promise for the new year, is the hardest for me. This year - 2017 - that is particularly true because Inauguration Day is coming up - January 20th - and I am not yet over the day the music died, November 8th, 2016. DJ Trump will be in the White House come Friday and I am grieving the loss of so many things, least of all perhaps is my patriotism.

But this isn't a post about politics. I haven't decided yet if I'm going to watch Friday's spectacle (and it will be one) or put my head down and teach through the day as if it were a normal day of learning.

There are other things on my mind. Things like raising teenagers - boys, specifically - in all its stomach-lurching moments. I had one such moment last Friday night that started with a call from a (thankfully) off-duty police officer who had one of our boys. I met him in the pitch-black night, early still - the dinner hour not yet passed, but black all the same. I collected my child and have been dealing with the fallout all weekend.

Dark as night has been on my mind as well. This winter has been gray and cold and then sunny and warm, maddening in the alteration between the two. During the gray days I wonder how it is that I'm contemplating moving back to Alaska full-time. Then I realize that the effect of the gray on me here in Texas is the same as it was in the Far North: I become desperate and introspective and cranky and read a lot and am resentful that I can't just read and drink coffee all day. And then I'm mad that it's cold and drizzly and I can't get outside and walk our dog - we both need to walk. And, despite myself, I miss the snow and the quiet and the community we had in Alaska. People need each other there. It doesn't quite feel the same anywhere else.

So I log off social media for 2017 - I've been weaning myself since the dark days after the election when I realized I can't be Facebook friends with some relatives and still love them when we get together in real life. I chose to love them and remove myself from the web. Instead, I read my Sunday New York Times, delivered to my sidewalk by 8:30 a.m. every Sunday, a gift from a former student. I read Scientific American. I'm making my way through Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri - winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2000. I'm still on Pinterest because people are nice on Pinterest. I subscribe to a few literary journals - The Paris Review and Creative Nonfiction. And I took to heart the advice from Yale history professor Timothy Snyder on what to do in dark times.

I'm occupying myself with improving my intellect and exposing myself to pleasing images from places like:

Apartment Therapy
I've taken on "The January Cure 2017" - playing catch-up this weekend. I went through the whole house and made a project list for the year, just like they said to do. It felt good. I do love lists.

Nest and Launch
I have much love for this website of a friend of mine from 5th grade and her friend who spent years in Australia - this site/blog is how they kept in touch. I find encouragement here in kindred spirits who have gone before me launching kids out into the world. I am preparing to do the same and feel utterly incompetent. They post sporadically now - getting kids through the end of high school and sending them off to college takes time - and this comforts me as well. I used to tell myself I'd have "so much time to write" when the boys were teenagers and didn't need me quite so much. That's just not the case. They need you. But on their terms -- like Lisa Damour wrote about last month in The New York Times. Aquaman found this one and sent it to me while I was teaching one day and I had to hold back tears while I read it in my classroom.

I'm not always successful in holding back the tears. But I probably shouldn't be. This post from another mama of teenage boys, Cathy Zielske, made me cry. She describes the need for human touch and the agony of realizing your boy does not want yours.

And then my brother linked me to this article by Steven Pinker that gave me a boost. About the Second Law of Thermodynamics and pressing on, as it were. As a refresher, the First Law of Thermodynamics is that energy is conserved. The Second, that in an isolated system not taking in energy, entropy never decreases. The Third, that a temperature of absolute zero is unreachable. How does the Second Law relate to mental health? Like this:

"The Second Law defines the ultimate purpose of life, mind, and human striving: to deploy energy and information to fight back the tide of entropy and carve out refuges of beneficial order."

I am trying to fight back the tide of entropy and carve out refuges of beneficial order here.

But then I landed on this one from Letters of Note, one of my favorite websites. Why have I not ordered both of these books by now? I was swallowing hard to put off tears again, and paralyzed by that fear that finds you when you realize that you have no control over when someone leaves you. This would be a great letter to read at a funeral.

See how that happened? That's January, folks.