MWD46 - On Holding On

Which is not the same thing as "just barely hanging on," which is a thing many of us are feeling these days, I know, and which I probably cannot help with though I wish I could.

Welcome to Midweek DinnerThere’s a whole story behind that name, something about the way Wednesday creeps up on you, and you have to cobble together a meal out of whatever you can scrounge from the fridge. And yes, sometimes there is talk of food in this place. But mostly it’s about what I’ve been reading, in print and online; or what I’ve been thinking, in clarity and confusion; or what I am hoping, in fear and in joy. And you are always invited to join in.

—— The best conversations take place around the dinner table. — —

It’s Thursday at 2 pm, and I have done none of the work I need to do. I need to start a paper for a graduate class I’m taking. For my volunteer (full-time) job with YALSA, I have an interview to transcribe and another to format for publication and another to prepare for the author. I have reading to do in preparation for tomorrow’s Barnraisers Project meeting and reading to do for graduate school and reading to do for my own writing and reviewing. And of course, this newsletter, which was supposed to go out yesterday evening, is making me decide if it’s going to get done or pushed off.

All day, instead of doing these things, I have paid attention to myself, practiced some self-care in ways that may not resonate with very many. I woke early to make blueberry muffins for my son before school. I repotted a houseplant that had gotten terribly potbound and tenderly washed the large leaves of my most mature houseplant/tree. Cleaned the smudges from the sunroom windows. Filled the hummingbird feeder for the first time this year. Took a shower. Took a walk.

We’ve had stunning, beautiful weather here this week. Sunshine and light breezes in abundance. And still, I feel paused. Not unhappy. Not depressed. Just unable to move forward.

I suppose it is because we are this week trying to make big decisions regarding school for my daughter next year. She has been in New England for school, long, thick hours from home, where these sunlit afternoons cannot reach. It has been hard. It has been good. It has been right.

But just because a thing has been right doesn’t mean it remains the right next step. And when it comes to my children, I want so badly to make the right next steps. In this case, we feel paralyzed because our school system is so badly broken. We have an enormous public/private divide in our city, with a huge number of the most affluent and connected families choosing private schools. We have a magnet school program that has a few really good schools that are almost impossible to get into, especially if you move to town after the official entry points (K, 6, and 9th grades). We have lots of families who choose to homeschool, most for religious reasons. And then we have all the neglected and complicated neighborhood schools.

Though we’ve lived in this area for my kids’ whole life, we’ve lived in a neighboring state for about half that time. Along the way, we’ve experienced most of the above options, none of which have been a good fit. And because we moved back to the city when my daughter was a rising 10th grader, the excellent magnet schools are full. She is 118th on the waiting list for the magnet school I graduated from, a school that usually has about 100 kids in each grade. So, unless the entire sophomore class drops out, our options are keeping her at boarding school where the long winter has been much harder than she expected and the classes are not what we were hoping for OR homeschooling.

Homeschooling is complicated. There are lots of homeschool options in town, but almost all of them are religious in orientation, and that does not suit our needs. I am a teacher, a skilled one, I think, but I worry about being able to create a varied and rich learning experience for her. And then there’s the impact to my own work. If I am teaching full-time, I cannot work full-time.

But then I think of all the things homeschooling could offer us. I think of the brief window into those possibilities we were offered last year before COVID shut everything down and made us reconsider how best to move forward. I think of the creative energy we could build together, shaping and cultivating her curiosity.

These are the plates spinning above my head. These thoughts, the decisions we must make in the next few weeks, these are weights keeping me from engaging fully in my reading. I’m still reading, but nothing is making me marvel. Nothing is rising to the level I usually demand before writing about a title. Nothing is pushing me forward.

Rather than despair, I do my best to hold on. To remember that the moments of stasis are necessary and good. I may not publish much in the coming weeks. I may lose audience and traffic and all the things I’m supposed to be increasing. But my plants will grow better, and the sunlight through my clean windows will fill me up. And we will choose a path, and it will be a good one. I just need to hold on.

Friends, where are you these days? Feeling the coming-to-life of spring? The hope of vaccines? The quiet calm of a moment? Or are you holding on, too?

Here’s a few things I’ve been thinking about this week:

— I haven’t watched the Framing Britney Spears documentary, but I appreciate this reflective assessment from Tavi Gevinson via The Cut. “Britney Spears Was Never in Control” tracks the author’s experience of being convinced but unsettled by the NYTimes documentary on the pop star before being unsettled and deeply concerned by the narrative it *almost* convinced her to buy.

But it is absurd to discuss her image from that time as though there was not an apparatus behind it, as though she existed in a vacuum where she was figuring out her sexuality on her own terms, rather than in an economy where young women’s sexuality is rapidly commodified until they are old enough to be discarded.

— Ooh boy, this essay from Nina Solis, an oncology nurse and writer, about Mary Oliver and dying and acceptance and poetry and love.

— For obvious reasons: here’s this on escaping from School by Denis Johnson: “School is out.”

— I deeply admire George Saunders, and this interview with him (via The Believer) has lots of good, earthy, practical talk in it, especially this about the joy of revision:

The real reward, in my experience, is that, over time, the story starts getting smarter than you are — there’s a kind of accretion of wisdom that happens.

This Week in the Unexpected Joy Department:

During the day, I prefer a silent house. Just me, the sunlight through the windows, and the varied and incessant birdsong outside those same windows. I don’t want classical music on my hipster record player; I don’t want white noise; I definitely do not want the leaf blowers that thankfully are still on hiatus because winter.

But if I need to work at night? Having to turn on electric light is bad but not as bad as the light from the computer screen being the only glow in an otherwise dark room. Plus, no birds. And the emptiness does not sit well.

Fear not, friends, for I have found a solution! Ambient noise “scenes” on YouTube! There are library sounds and street noise sounds and crowded restaurant sounds, but I’m partial to this rainy coffeeshop:

Hide the video behind another window, and get to work!

And now, more proof that I am simply not getting it all done — AKA what I published this week:

Sunday Poetry this week was a whopping collection from Adrienne Rich. I only dipped a toe in, but the introduction from Claudia Rankine was almost as valuable as the poems themselves.

Sunday Poetry - Adrienne Rich

And in a major feat of making myself just do the work, here’s the Lexicon post for this week. This word was found in a text required for a graduate course in Information Sciences, and if you gather from this post that I might not be loving my program, well, you’d be right.

The Lexicon - Fissiparous

Thanks as always for reading and thinking with me. Have comments, suggestions, or questions? Reply to this email, and I promise a response.