Write Fright

I should probably clarify after my last post—I don’t hate my job. Not even close. I get along well with my colleagues, I enjoy getting to know my students, and watching them improve in English holds a special satisfaction as all teachers know. However, the time factor simply isn’t sustainable for me. Teaching isn’t a job that can be done more quickly or efficiently to make time for other pursuits; when students pay for twenty hours, those twenty hours belong to them. Also, the job requires almost as many unpaid hours in lesson preparation, paperwork, travel, and office minutia as it does in paid ones. Throw in students’ schedule openings—usually only during evenings when my girls most need their mama and their mama most needs to unwind—and the stress of coordinating childcare when my husband’s traveling for work, and you have one headache of a lifestyle.

Possibly even more compelling is my realization that I’m only working for work’s sake, i.e. to earn something, keep my résumé current, pretend to be a bona fide adult, all the standard reasons responsible people sign over eight hours a day. I’m good at my job, but it drains rather than inspires, and I find myself increasingly resentful of the time it takes away from my real life, everything and everyone of big-picture significance to me. I can’t continue giving away the best of myself to what matters the least.

So Dan and I have a project in the works, a tangible form to one of the grand ideas I hinted at in my last post. I am equal parts terror and excitement. I am so tired from this year that I can hardly imagine summoning up the extra energy and enthusiasm this project will require, and I dread taking a risk that would dangle a very poignant kind of failure above my head. On the other hand, oh goodness am I looking forward to it. I’m desperate to dislodge my soul from my current routine, and this is an opportunity to dive back into my one wild and precious life rather than continue banishing it to the eternal waiting room of Someday. Even with my inner ‘fraidy cat protesting, it feels like the plunge into peace.

If it’s okay with you all, I’d like to take this opportunity to scream with fright, dance a little jig, and pour myself an extra coffee. It’s going to be a good winter.

Make mine a double

(Details are forthcoming; stay tuned!)


Escape Hatch

Apologies for all the sturm und drang around here lately. This has been one helluva year, and I’m experiencing every blip of turbulence with my usual intensity. I find myself craving simplicity—plotting my escape from the piles of things around the house that need organizing (or ironing, or mending, or de-spidering ::shudder::), disconnecting from the debates and demands of social media, and daydreaming of secret forest log cabins that come with their own cleaning ladies. There are so many things right now that we need, or at least think we do, but I’m weary of needing. I’m ready for the feng shui now, please.

We’re getting to a point in our transition time where I can actually choose what I want to do in the new year (i.e. – we won’t be relying as much on my income, fingers crossed), and goodness. What do I do with that kind of opportunity? Can I possibly inspire this angsty brain of mine to make something of it? I have grand ideas, but this year has sapped my energy to make them happen. Besides, my muse and intuition are off somewhere hanging out with the cool kids; the decision is all mine to make. And I feel as capable of making it as I am of jumping off the couch and running a marathon.

So I’ll let you friends do it for me. If you were wrapping up a long, turbulent year and needed to decide within a week what to pour yourself into come 2012, would you decide to:

A) Write a book, maybe even two, knowing that this decision is probably doomed to failure thanks to your chronic inability to self-inspire,
B) Keep your current job as it is a dependable source of spending money and you don’t want to let anyone down even though it keeps you too busy and stressed to be your true self,
C) Take the next flight to Canada and find yourself the nearest available secret log cabin?

Not quite sure where we are anymore

(Photo from two summers ago in Scotland… which, come to think of it, would work pretty well too.)



Our house is an infusion of morning sun, all the shutters I closed as tightly as my own rib cage last night wide open and relieved. They hadn’t really reassured me anyway.

We got some more horrible news over the weekend, and then there was a break-in in our neighborhood (“A house just like yours!” blurted a friend caught up in the momentum of her story), and my dreams have leeched blackness from the night. In them, there is malicious stealth and violation, and the fear is thick enough to suffocate my lungs into waking. I lie awake at 2, at 3, at 4, straining for sounds I don’t want to hear. I am afraid all the bright day of night’s return.

I have never been afraid in this house before, and I had hung hopes on the theory that my nightmares were connected to place—the apartment building where the prostitute was murdered while we slept, the house harboring tales of demon possession, the bedroom with lace curtains which never stopped flickering after a neighboring house burned down. When I was a child, night was terror, my imagination weaving torture and shame into my already overburdened subconscious.

I am no longer a child though. I am years and continents removed from that darkness, and I had temporarily forgotten this way of breathing sharp through the wee hours. I had forgotten that closing the shutters only serves to trap me in with my fear. My fear… and hers.

My little daughter, my bouncing Sophie with the sunbeam hair and the bedroom still covered in 4th birthday balloons, is having nightmares too. She tells us the details, and I comfort and soothe and then wage midnight wars against her monsters as I lie sleepless and shaking from mine. If you want the raw truth, I lie there daring God to treat her differently than he does me. I rage through the stifling dark that if he fails to protect her precious mind too, she will turn out like me, and for all of the threat I want it to convey, it always ends as pleading. Please, please, please, leave me to brave my fear alone, just come through for her. Just let her have peace.

Sweet girl

I have never been a fighter; my soul shrinks away from violence, and you would not believe the amount of Pepto-Bismol necessary to get me through any kind of confrontation. But this is something different. When it comes to protecting my daughters from harm, I would dash into battle brandishing the nearest available cooking utensil. I would face legions alone, no hesitation. I don’t know how to stand between the night and our minds though. I don’t know how to protect my little girl from the darkness of this imagination we share. I just wish I could lock the expansive light and serenity of this morning in with us when I close the shutters tonight.



Sometimes I just need to slip outside in the deep breath between day and night.

Dusk is scuttling across a fickle moon, and the wind is a blue-gray cat; I feel her prowling in my bones. The arched conifer that always makes me think of “Starry Night” dances in silhouette while windowpanes flicker and flame across the valley.

This time of day has always held witchery for me. It loosens my grip on reality, tilts wildly under my feet, and turns my eyes giddy and galaxy-bound. It once sent me sprawling in a forest during Capture the Flag, and my clearest memory of that evening is not being able to find my way back up in the whispering half-light. I hated the dusk then (as a freshly face-planted teenager well might), but tonight, it thrills.

I’ve been needing an escape route from the drudgery I’ve wallowed into lately, and a cosmic tilt-a-whirl seems to be just the thing. My bones have needed to prowl. My silhouette has ached to dance. My eyes are long-overdue for a spin up and up, past street lamps and clouds and thought and  into the starry ether beyond.



The morning smothers. The sun, already high above our traditional November fog bank, filters down as a sickly and distorted parody of itself while familiar landmarks waver like shadows. My head feels no more stable than the ground shapeshifting below.

I finally cut back a bit on working hours. Dan had to convince me that it wasn’t worth losing myself to make a few extra euros, and he’s right, but now I find myself in a sort of No Man’s Land of perceived failure. I’m not available enough at work or present enough at home, and my contributions to our family’s wellbeing seem paltry at best. I don’t know how to find my niche through all this fog, my mind continually swirling in and out of focus. I hardly even know how to find my keys these days.

Even with a full morning off and strict instructions to myself to spend it tapping into the live feed from my heart to the keyboard, all I seem to be dredging up are flecks of rust. This time last year, I was working on a book I haven’t had time to touch since, and the comparison presses in more heavily than all the murky skies this week combined. I wince when I think of this dearly neglected little blog and the stories I would love to tell. Despite my neuroses over the word, I have to give time and importance to the writer in me or else… well, the previous two paragraphs give a pretty good idea of what happens.

And while I can keep my laptop closed and ignore away the blank-page aching, I can’t forget that I am still mother, wife, and friend. No space on the margins equals me treating loved ones like half-slots in my calendar, rushing through each thin patch of minutes because I can’t afford any other pace, and honestly, it leeches the color from all of our lives. This is the shadow-world of stress and overcommitment and lost perspective, of self-smothering and fog that stretches much, much farther than the eye can see.

If I had to pick my ideal life right now, it wouldn’t look so very different than the view from this comfy pomegranate sofa that coaches (couches? heh) most of my blog entries into existence. I would still choose this house with its tall windows and delicious ski lodge vibes. I would still choose this city-town with the tree-lined parks and chatty friends within walking distance. I would still choose these two exuberant little girls and this dream-chasing husband. Really, the only thing worth changing would be myself… from a harried shadow wraith to a human [learning] [creating] [enjoying] [loving] being.

I just have trouble believing that cutting back a bit on working hours is sufficient to blaze away this gloom.



The world is too quiet when I’m the one locking up. Some sense of maternal duty I never asked for moves my hands to check thermostats, unplug coffee machines, and tuck an entire building of offices in for the night. The parking lot is isolated except for my car huddled like an island in the fog, but even in this vacuum of sound and light is the ever-present rush—to pick up the girls from the babysitter’s and carry them sleeping to their own pillows, to redistribute the mounting mess of our house, to hang the laundry already gone stiff, to herd myself into bed far too late and sleep poised on the edge of the next overfull day.

Recharge time is a luxury out of my price range these days, and so I stop counting coffees. Health is not a priority. Relationships are not priorities. Art isn’t, peace isn’t. There is no room for these things in 10-hour work days, no space for them in the file folders crammed with lesson plans. The only portrait of the future visible from here is a whiteboard, but I don’t have time to quantify the stark sense of loss that brings.

This is no way to live, but it feels like the only way for now… so I put the office building to bed, do the same with my family, and conjure back that fog-enveloped quiet to bring sleep if not rest.


Color and Light

 My first day back at work after our drive across Europe this summer, a student leaned forward in his seat with the telltale flush of the travel-bitten and asked, “Which city was the most beautiful?” The grin he tacked onto the end showed that he already knew the answer:

All of them.

When experience weaves itself into memory, places become a sort of beautiful you can’t quantify, and here on an October morning packed with damp cotton, I only remember the color. Porto beamed with it, rippled with it, sang from its rooftops in bold chromatics, and if that’s not beauty, I don’t know what is.

Sophie wandering the Ribeira

The River Douro flows into the sea there, carrying barrels of port wine down from mountain vineyards to hibernate in cool cellars. On one side of the river, wine glimmers secretly in labyrinths of dark wood; on the other side, blue-tiled balconies greet the sun face first. In the rippling in-between, teenagers dive off an arched bridge and swim laughing in the wake of flat-bottomed river boats. There are no guard rails, no prohibitions. It is utterly refreshing.

Boats on the Douro - 2

That’s really what our time in Porto was to me—refreshing. Just soaking up the vibrancy of the riverfront, noticing how a glass of ruby Port caught the same hue of sunlight reflecting off of glazed brick buildings, wandering and tasting and appreciating, let me breathe deep. Even four months later, my windows pressed in with gray, the memories bring color and light. Quantifiable? No. Beautiful? You betcha.

Collage - Port Wine


More from our summer campingstravaganza:

Who’s Ready for Summer Vacation?

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