Saturday, January 28, 2017

Return of the Timeline: 2009-2013, When I Lived in Georgia, The Beginning

In the spring of 2009, after the exciting election of Barack Obama as President of the United States, my boyfriend decided he want to move to Georgia to manage a restaurant and winery for some of his family members. I have always been desperate for adventure, and he promised me a garden, told me he liked the way he thought when I was around, and that he would be able to add me to his health insurance plan. He also bought me an iPhone. I moved to Georgia for a garden, an iPhone, and health insurance.

I must have been quite a mess before I left everyone I knew and loved to live in a small town with a guy that had never really been the nicest person to me. Oh, he tried, but he wasn't ready for something like this, and neither was I. Looking back on things, I feel like I should have been able to see my inevitable major depressive breakdown coming from a mile away, but I didn't. And suddenly I was alone in a cabin in the woods with very little natural light, a new Netflix account, no friends that really knew me, and a workaholic boyfriend. I was teetering on the edge of a terrible realization.

I went to Dahlonega, GA on my own for the first time to scout a place for us to live. I stayed in a charming bed and breakfast with lovely host and enjoyed drinks and dinner at a local bar while I mulled over my housing choices. Dahlonega is possibly one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Even today, when I drive through the hills, I am overflowing with words and thoughts and feelings....all of which require a full symphony to express.

However, the other side of that coin is crowded with all sorts of different discomforts, and my least favorite has got to be the tick. I became obsessively terrified of ticks. I had been terrified of them before, found a tick in my head on the last day of camp when I was about ten years old and will never forget the sound of someone repeating, "it's digging into your head" in terror as I sat, helpless to do anything about it. Years later, I remember finding a tick on my hiking boot the summer I lived and worked in Shenandoah National Park, plucking it off with my thumb and forefinger, laying it gently on the asphalt of Skyline Drive in beautiful Virginia, and violently crushing its horrific shell with a rock from the side of the road. Ticks and Black Widow spiders. That's when I let out the rage.

That summer, we could see ticks floating down from the trees and alighting on patio decks. I could feel them gently gripping the hairs on my legs before attempting to clamp down into my flesh. I huddled in my room in the bed, bingeing 30 Rock and imagining I was hearing my phone receive multiple text messages. No one was texting, though. And if they were, I couldn't trust them. They didn't know what I was going through.

I left for Pilsen, Czech Republic to teach English in late July, eager to get back to Europe, to some form of activism, but I found myself feeling overly nostalgic for my time living overseas. I knew this would be my last visit to a different continent for a while, and I was in the middle of a major depressive break. I sat up all night on the weekends, crying and writing letters as little girl Caroline to my parents. Seriously. I think because of a chapter in the book Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus, or maybe Getting the Love You Want. Also, Seriously.

During my stay in Pilsen as a teacher of English that summer, I had the rare opportunity to watch the Health Care debate in the U.S. from the outside, and let me tell you, it was not pretty. It didn't help that I was also watching the state decide my fate as a citizen from the outside, that people with whom I went to church and sat beside on Sunday mornings were addressing me personally to say things like:

"I'm sorry, Caroline, but a health care system that allows patients with pre-existing conditions just can't exist here."

Take a minute with that.

We sat together in church and heard the same sermons and stories about self sacrifice, piety, love that passes all understanding, and this is where they took it. But politics don't belong in church anyway....right?

I cried myself to sleep every night, and when I opened my eyes in the morning and realized I still had to get up and teach classes, I cried some more. The ONLY way I made it out of my door every day was with the help of the Wellbutrin a friend was sharing with me because of my debilitating depression and rejection from buying healthcare and, consequently, medication. It was not really the drug for me, but it got me to class, and it previously helped me finish my Master's thesis.

This is the life to which my fellow "Christians," my extended family, condemned me. I certainly made the best of it, didn't I?

Drinking and speaking English, pic credit Mayinka Maya
I taught an advanced all ages class and a beginner adult class. I was originally told I would be teaching intermediate adults, but when my first session "meet and greet" activities garnered horrified stone faces (I love the Czechs), I suspected that was not the case.

I cried a lot. Not because of the students...they were incredible, striving to communicate with me on the same level through shared language...that level at which adults begin to understand each other...usually over wine and beer...delicious, fresh, czech pilsner. We played guitars and sang music at pubs into the wee hours. We talked about poetry and politics, family and the future. They were so excited about Obama as was I, despite the very public battle for the fate of my well-being going on across the pond.

On the last night and at the farewell party for all teachers and students at the Summer Language Academy, after multiple shots of local clove liqueur, girlie shots of a minty beverage referred to simply as "green," and more beer than I can ever remember, a student lifted me off the ground in celebration, then, unaware of his own strength, dropped me hard on the dance floor. I landed on my feet, but one of them was twisted around backwards, and I heard a pop.

Needless to say I definitely hurt something, but the alcohol numbed the initial shock of everything, and I limped out of the hotel with a gooey smile on my face and attempted to walk back to my dorm alone. Luckily, someone was behind me that could see my struggle to walk, announced himself, and swooped in to pick me up as I apologized profusely for my own body weight.

He, another teacher, get me back to my room and offered me a few different methods of pain relief. I accepted a couple, but I had to draw the line when, after telling me how remarkably beautiful and mysterious he found me, he offered to bring me to fewer words and with a loving nod to his wife. I respectfully declined.

Then, I sent an email to my boyfriend and called him on the phone to ask him to take the train into Atlanta to help me with my luggage the next day as I would be having a difficult time walking and carrying things. He said he would, but when I finally arrived after a miserably painful trip back overseas, he hadn't come to the airport to help me. When I called him to find out where he was, he got mad at me because now he was going to be late getting back to work. He had taken time off to come and pick me up and how could I not consider his job when thinking about my injury. He convinced me that I was ungrateful, and I went back to the corner of my bed, to 30 Rock, a silent phone, and no one.

That's when I had my break. My depressive breakdown. That's when I started on the long road to finding the best anti-depressant. And that was really the beginning, when I actually became a resident of Georgia.

The links throughout are blogs from my early days in Dahlonega and from the Summer Language School in Pilsen that year. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Voices of Reason

The New York Times
I fell in love with the standup of David Cross during the last four years of George W. Bush's presidency. I was an angry girl, in recovery from the first time my heart was truly broken. He was recommended to me by multiple friends, and I laughed, but more importantly, I let go of the rage I was harboring deep in my belly.

David Cross was mad, and the title of one of my favorites of his is a good indication of that anger: Shut Up You Fucking Baby. It was glorious. He railed against Rumsfeld, the whole lot of goons surrounding the biggest goon in the White House; the tension in my neck relaxed. It was science, catharsis.

He took on 9/11 and the pure insanity that gripped the nation long enough to re-elect the man that got us there in the first place. Well, the man that opened the door for the men. I can't blame Bush for the shit that ensued in the years following my undergraduate study. I blame corporations. For everything. And David cross took it on with the kind of joy a child who has just received a Star Wars Lego set would exhibit.

And that was his job. The joker. Counsel to the king, to remind him that he is still human. I've been so confused these past months, feeling out of sorts, pulled apart, a bit undone, I feel less human and more experiment to see what happens to a woman in low boiling water.

During the Bush administration we had Jon Stewart for our unveiling of the irony within the political world, then we got Stephen Colbert, and even Larry Wilmore. Then, we lost them all. And for a moment, no one realized what was happening.

But now it's happened, and I honestly have no idea what tomorrow will feel like, or the day after tomorrow. I learned my lesson. I'm still awash with emotion, but I noticed Jon Stewart's name the other day in the closing credits for Stephen Colbert's new project: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, in which Colbert Executive Produces, writes, and stars.

I've been watching the opening monologues of a lot of late night hosts, including the lovely Samantha Bee whose show Full Frontal is on Wednesday nights on TBS, as well as the charming and intelligent Seth Meyers. They are all taking up arms, in a sense, aware of their jobs as the tellers of jokes, the tellers of truth. It's the worst of what we need to hear as a species, and that is why it must come to us in words that are gentle on our ears. Our laughter softens the blow without making the blow any less effective.

Stephen Colbert has been especially hard on the newly elected president, not as his previous character from Comedy Central, but as himself, as we've come to know him through his many projects and interviews.

Stephen Colbert is mad. And he is not backing down. He is coming at what has happened with a collected fury, using as soft a voice as possible to shout that we must not normalize what is happening in our government right now. It must never be normalized.

Do you miss Jon Stewart? Don't worry. He is also an executive producer for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. He knows what his job is, and he is ready to work.

I know what it feels like to be that girl, to be confused and angry about everything that is happening around me. It's an exciting time, though, when you find your voice, your voice of reason. We all thought George W. Bush was the worst, but we were probably wrong. I hope we aren't, and I'm going to do my best to remain calm.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Hardest Part

In Mr. Semore's Senior A.P. English class, we practiced writing without stopping. Every week We would get out a notebook, he would set a timer, and we would write until the timer went off. Ball points on paper for thirty minutes straight. It wasn't graded. It was practice. The hardest part of writing. The act of writing.

It feels like it ought to be simple. My brain is constantly full of words. Sometimes shouting. Sometimes singing. Laughing. Crying. My body is an extension of my brain; therefore, it must be simple to carry out the task of transferring what's in my brain onto a page. It must be. Simple mechanics. 

In my first college level acting course, we spent a lot of time focusing on breaking down a character into actions. Acting is, after all, action. Reaction. Experiencing stimuli and having to shift. Seems so simple to define a person's actions. Acting seems so simple. 

What do you want? That was the question that threw me in Acting One. When I started college, I had such a small view of the world. Oh, I made up for it in books and plays and band and choir. I spread myself across the full extent of my...seedling of a world view. But I didn't know what I Not when I was nineteen. 

What will you write about today? That was the forbidden question in Mr. Semore's class. It is the poisoned dart, the words that scroll across my brain when I sit down and the timer starts. Because I can never ask it once, once I ask it, the question just increases in size, like a sea monkey, in my brain, until all I can think about is the damn question itself, and my brain refuses to send any signals to my hands so that my hands can put words on the page. 

Then there's the voices in my head, the ones that tell me I'm ridiculous. I'm wasting time. I'm wasting my time. I've taken workshops, sat through countless therapy sessions, and prayed on my knees to silence them, but they persist.

I know how to do things. I know how to write. I know how to act. I know how to make amazing chocolate chip cookies. I know how to eat an entire batch of amazing chocolate chip cookies. 

If I want more than that, something bigger, broader, more complex, my confidence wavers. Because I want to write about...I fun, and I want to help. I want to help myself (by emptying this overstock of vocabulary and unfinished ideas that swirls around in the centrifuge of my mind non stop), and I want to help you.  

But what do I want to write about? When my heart is broken along with the rest of the country's heart? When I'm angry along with a million other women? When my worldview is stretching beyond what I thought possible? When I still feel I don't know enough and am not qualified in the least?

To be or not to be? We keep asking this question, shouting it up and down hallways, into the vast expanse of the night sky. What are we supposed to do? What are our actions? Why are we here? 

Shakespeare says, in Hamlet, that we're afraid to die because we think too much. Life is hard, and most of us do very little to change anything because we're too busy trying to calm ourselves from the thought of not being able to hear our own thoughts any more. We're afraid to die because we don't know what happens next, if anything, and we can't seem to come to terms with it. 

     And lose the name of action.         (1780)

The thing is, I'm not afraid of death. I don't know what is going to happen, but I'm not afraid of it. I don't WANT to die, but I know I must. I'm sure if someone told me it was going to happen tomorrow, I'd freak out and lose my mind, but I recently did that thing where I finally realized that it's going to happen, that it's inevitable, and suddenly, all the things that were cluttering my brain dissipated, even if only for a moment. 

How does this help me? You ask. I don't think about it. I stopped thinking about what to do to make sure I'm ready when I die. I stopped asking, "what do I want?" I answered the question. 

To be here now. 

Despite everything. Despite the coming years and the dread I feel. Every minute I spend here makes up for a multitude of hours I've spent agonizing over what happens when I'm not here any more. 

It's self preservation. All signs point to "this sucks. die. you will anyway," but I want to stay alive just for now. To see what happens. To see where I go. To see what I can do to help. And I want to do the best with now that I possibly can. 

Just like Anne Frank, in spite of all the hurt and horror, I still believe in goodness. I still believe in hope. I'm saying I'm better than you. Obviously. 

It seems like it should be so simple, doesn't it? To make up my mind to be happy. To do my laundry in spite of the fact that I really don't know what I'm doing. 

The best advice I've ever gotten is seemingly as simple as they come. In the words of former Mayor of Memphis, the illustrious W.W. Herenton, upon one of the last victories in his seventeen year reign, "shake them haters off." 

And that, my friends, has been the hardest part so far. 

More. To. Come.