Monday, October 31, 2011


"Then leaf subsides to leaf." - Robert Frost

   I said goodbye to an old friend tonight. I've only known her for four and a half years. But "old friend" still feels like the right way to put it. A lot passed in that short period of time. Her life saw a lot of changes. Mine did too.

   Right from the beginning, we shared things with each other. We opened up the good, the bad, and the ugly. And we seemed to accept, and even embrace, all of those aspects of each other with little effort.

   She's moving across the country. She may be back here one day. She may not. But it still felt like goodbye. I'll keep in touch. I'll see her again, whether here or there. But it's goodbye in the sense that we won't be meeting for drinks or coffee. We won't go bowling or see a concert or take her dog for a walk. No more Monday morning matinee movies in January. We'll just catch up every now and then.

   I've done this before. I've moved away from friends. And friends have moved away from me. And I'm mostly okay with it. It's a little sad, to be sure. But this is what happens in life. People come in and out of it. You tie a string to the most important ones, and every now and then you tug it, just to make sure that they're there. But they're barely there. Over time their voices grow faint and their images become blurry.

   We met briefly for coffee. I saw that her car was filled to the brim with the few possessions that she hadn't abandoned. We were both tired, and her night wasn't quite done. We stumbled through some small talk. And then it was time for her to go.

   She dropped me off at my apartment and I felt a sadness that I never gave voice to. I already regret that.

   An hour later, I picked up the phone and sent her a text. Trying to do justice to the goodbye that I felt. We traded a few inside jokes and I smiled. The jokes were small acknowledgments of the history that we'd shared. Something that was ours and ours alone. That would have to do.

   She should already be in another state by now.

There Isn't

   It's the middle of the night. I'm in my bed. There is no sound other than the low hum of the refrigerator.

   There is a sense of neglect to my apartment. My sheets and blanket need to be washed. Magazines and books and stacks of CDs need to be reorganized. I should vacuum and mop too. The place feels like an old car with rust on the body and an empty pop can that has been on the floorboard too long. I feel a little dirty by extension. And I also have the somewhat contradictory feeling of having just woken up here.

   I've been reading. The book is Stop-Time by Frank Conroy. The line that keeps coming back to me is this: " if there were all the time in the world."

   I keep putting the book down and looking around at my apartment. And I feel those words crawling all over everything.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Crushing Weight of Doubt

   Some days I sit in front of this keyboard and I feel good. I find a thread to follow. I find a way to express something that I'm thinking or feeling. And if I can sit back and look at the product of that day, and believe that I've created something honest, then I'll probably feel pretty good about it.

   Other days nothing comes out. On those days, I usually feel like I have something to say, but I just can't find it. I can bounce around from one angle to the next. I can poke and prod. I can shake all the bushes, but the thing that I'm searching for remains hidden, and I'm eventually forced to abandon my search for the day.

   And then there are days like today. And those are by far the worse. Those are the days when the heavy voice of doubt is booming down from the mountaintops. "Who the fuck do you think you are? What the hell makes you think that you have anything meaningful to say? Why would anybody give a shit about your thoughts on anything? You're nothing special. You're a joke. You have nothing to offer anybody. So just shut up and go away. Find a corner to crawl into. Finish out your pathetic little life in your pathetic little corner, and be done with it."

   Days like today are tough. But writing this made it a little less so.

Friday, October 14, 2011


"I just have to make sure that in my mind, I'm ready for being able to play with the pain." - Kim Clijsters

   Seven weeks from tomorrow, I am going to run the Memphis Marathon. I'm not ready. I'm far from ready. I sprained my ankle last month, and every time I think it's on the mend, I have another setback. So now, I'm giving it all the rest I can.

   I've run once in the last ten days, and that hurt. So I sit. I elevate. I ice. It's not good for me to sit this much. Running is much more than just exercise. It is my grip on sanity. It keeps my head clear. It brings me peace. Without it, my thoughts swirl and crash into one another. I get anxious. I become irritable.

   And I look at my shoes. I look out of the window. And that just compounds the frustration. I just want to run.

   I still go to the gym. I lift. I get on the elliptical. I should be swimming more.

   I have seven weeks. I'm not in bad shape now. I'm just not in marathon shape. If I can get back on the road next week, then there is still hope. Hope of getting myself in a position to enjoy the race. I've already thrown the clock out of the window. This won't be my fastest marathon. But that doesn't mean that it can't be a good one. I can put in a lot of work in six weeks. If I'm healthy.

   In the meantime, I sit. I elevate. I ice. I simmer. I try not to boil over.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Room With A View

   I was at a high school yesterday afternoon. I was there to help some students with their English papers. There were a lot of students in the Learning Resource Center, which is available for one hour after classes are over.  Many were working on their own. Perhaps just taking advantage of an atmosphere that is conducive to studying. Others were using the computers. And others were there in search of academic assistance. The latter group is the smallest, though not for lack of need.

   It can be difficult to ask for help. Difficult to admit uncertainty or reveal any sense of vulnerability. This is true for most of us, but it's an insecurity that can be especially acute among adolescents. Though some of the students did seem to be more comfortable asking for help with some subjects than with others.

   I sat at the table designated for English tutors and waited for students. There were students at the math table, and several at the science table. One student asked me if I knew anything about quantum mechanics. I told her that I didn't, but that I'd try to read through the work with her and help in any way that I could until a more qualified tutor became available. Thankfully the cavalry arrived sooner, rather than later.

   I also talked with a teacher for a moment. We discussed the low levels of writing proficiency among many of the students. That was something that I'd seen firsthand through tutoring, but that she was more intimately familiar with. She nodded at the empty seats at the English table and said, "that's a tough one for them to admit they need help with."

   I thought about that statement for a while. For better or for worse, math and science are subjects that many people in our society struggle with. Perhaps that lessens the feelings of inadequacy for the students that need help in those areas.

   But English is different. Our relationship with words is personal. We use language to communicate with each other. We use it categorize and organize everything that we encounter in the complex world around us. And, perhaps most importantly, we use language to sort through and define our own internal thoughts and feelings. And in that sense, our words are intricately and inseparably tied to our sense of self.

   In that light, it makes sense that students would be hesitant to ask for help. The insecurities, anxieties, and self-doubt that seem part and parcel of being a teenager, would make the already difficult task of opening oneself to personal criticism seem absolutely unbearable.

   However, being sympathetic to that doesn't really help me as I sit at the table waiting for a student. I can create a recipe that spices up constructive criticism with sincere praise, but I still have to get some food in the kitchen in order to cook.

   I'd like to say that I had some sort of epiphany while waiting for students. That I discovered a method for miraculously breaking down the defensive barriers built by pride and fear. It feels good to wrap a nice little bow around the solution to a problem. But that didn't happen.

   I did eventually get a student to work with though. He was writing a paper on Macbeth. He knew what he wanted to say, but he wanted my help with the structural aspects of the paper. He knew that there were improvements to be made, and that those improvements were escaping him. He listened to my feedback openly and thoughtfully, and seemed eager take what he could from our exchange.

   His willingness to acknowledge his linguistic shortcomings was both refreshing and endearing. And I found myself searching for the source of that courage while we talked. He apparently excelled in other areas, such as the hard sciences. Maybe that success helped give him the confidence to address the things that he struggled with. Though I'm sure that there is much more to it than that. My interaction with him was brief. And any conclusions that I might come to about what makes him who he is, would be hopelessly incomplete.

   We finished up, and I looked at the clock. The hour was almost over. I looked around the room. I looked at the students. Watched them interact with each other. Saw a few knowing glances exchanged among friends. Noticed the top of the high school hierarchy of strong boys and pretty girls. And I saw a few fevered pencils quickening as the time to leave approached.

   There was something comforting about the familiarity of it all. There were plenty of outward differences between this environment and my own adolescence. But underneath, there was something timeless and reassuring. Something that said that all of life's dilemmas were here long before I was, and that they'll all be here long after I'm gone. There is a peace that comes with the moments that I can see this, and yesterday I got that peace for a little while.