We’d hardly been traveling for more than a couple of days when I settled into the feeling that I’ve come to know and love so well. We were on the hunt for food—a perpetual one when you’re on the move—and I thought to myself… Ah, yes. This is what I love about travel. The way the world expands and contracts simultaneously.
Somehow, precisely as the world gets physically bigger—as you see new things and discover new places—the world also shrinks down into a microcosm of itself. The simplest things become your entire focus. The preoccupation with getting (or fixing!) a cup of coffee can become an entire obsession.
When we arrived in the Albayzin in Granada, we went almost immediately on the search for a grocery store (see the note above about the perpetual hunt for food—I must’ve been a major part of a hunter/gather society in a previous life). The first couple of times we went, we found everywhere to be closed. In fact, our first day here, a Sunday, we walked for hours only to discover that everything under the sun was closed for a day of rest. After spending years in South Carolina, I thought I knew a thing or two about the way places worked on Sundays, but that was nothing compared to here.
The next day, the hunt began again. This time, we discovered the quirky, unpredictable hours of the stores in the Albayzin (the oldest part of town, where TINY streets and grandiose walls reign). When we finally (post-siesta, at almost six in the evening) came across a store that was open, we discovered that you had to stand at the counter and actually ORDER what you wanted from the grocer. It was a truly bizarre experience that reminded me of novels I’ve read written in the 1800s. Still, despite the strangeness, we at least walked away with food that we could cook. We made our first meal at home that night. Success.
And so, the simplest daily chores become our total focus.
Simultaneously, the most breathtaking sights (the Alahambra is quite magnificent, and the Albayzin where we live is a UNESCO world heritage site) fill our days and expand our lives. It’s such an interesting, thrilling experience, made all the richer this time by getting to share our experiences with our precious daughter (who just turned one year old—how did that happen?!?). Though my heart is full, and I look forward to the joy of returning home (another great benefit of travel), I know it will be no time at all before I have the itch again to venture off in search of my next paradoxical adventure.
It's been over two weeks since I looked at a computer screen.
There was a time in my life when that would've been inconsequential, as well as a time when that was a simple fact (oh, those days of dial-up and busy phone lines and debating whether it was more important to access the mysterious Internet or talk to a friend), but these days, it seems that it's almost impossible to take a break from technology.
I didn't even take a REAL break. Even traveling, there's WiFi everywhere these days. It's easy to get a phone and a cheap phone card with texts, calling, and internet access. Google Voice has made talking to people everywhere easier than ever before. Despite weeks of traveling, I'm still remarkably connected to the rest of the world and my "normal" life. And yet, two weeks without my computer felt like a cooling breeze on a far-too-hot summer's day. It's with reluctance that I find myself with the screen before me. I'm not sure I was quite ready to return (says the girl who just signed a contract for a full-time tech job).
And yet the words tumble and fumble and bumble around in my head, clattering against crumbling walls, making it harder and harder to focus on the voices around me or the places I see. And so I find myself here, finally in front of a screen, pouring out a few of them, trying to clean up some of the clutter.
In my slight technology break, I've read a lot (on a Nook--I do understand the irony here, but man, does that save suitcase space and weight. Another phenomenal change that makes travel today so different from the way that it was before).
The more I read, the more words wash their way onto the cluttered shore of my mind. The author's words, the world's words, my brain's words. Every now and again, the world of the story becomes so prominent that I find my own inner world temporarily quieted (how I love those days!), but most of the time, those other worlds simply revitalize my own. This is equally good and bad. It's awesome to have ideas, to have the all important feeling of having something to say, and yet when that is not the focus of my life (which I find it never really is), it's mostly just a hassle.
But I love to read. And I love to get lost in books. And so I tolerate the inner turmoil that it sometimes creates when my mind gets so wound up.
My fingers can't keep up, and yet I haven't even said anything of substance thus far.
So I'll say simply that I'm happy to be reading. And I guess I'm ready to do some more writing. The summer sprawls before me with its promise of time (albeit a small amount--little fractions of days--considering the way that each day divides into portions). I find myself eager to make the most of it.
I'll write more when I figure out what it is I want to say. Something about travel. Something about life. Something about where to go from here...
1. Awkward situations: When a random dude feels compelled to sit directly in front of your line of view at a coffee shop. You know exactly what I'm talking about (you the reader, and you, the dude). I'm sitting here, minding my own business, trying to get through the PILES of grading (though the piles here are metaphorical since most of it is digital--which has interestingly made those "piles" bigger since I no longer feel quite as frantic and short of breath when I think of them), when up strolls random dude with his phone and goofy smile. This particular random dude is covered in tattoos, from his knuckles to his arms and neck, which certainly make it harder not to stare or at least glance in his direction (which is, in fact, directly above my tiny MacBook Air computer screen). And yet, I've got things to do, Buddy, and I'm not looking for a new friend. Oh, that's right, you're not looking for a friend either. So can't you just move along?
2. The impending doom of a dying battery: It's that moment when you think your battery will die before you can complete the task at hand. And this time, I actually brought a charger (rare as that remembrance is), but, ALAS, the only two plugs are currently occupied by college students charging every device possible, and I'd have to majorly violate the personal space rule in order to get a little access (see #1). And so here I sit, letting my precious battery slip down to nothing, growing ever closer to the dangerous red zone, while I rant instead of completing the task at hand.
3. The allure of procrastination. See this blog post as an example.
4. The anxiety of the end of each nine weeks. Particularly when that end is over spring "break."
5. The return of random strangers infringing on the personal space rule. At least Random Dude is facing the other direction this time. Guess I better get back to business before my battery dies. Good luck to all of you fellow procrastinators!
There I was, bundled up against the cold with a blanket, sitting close to the fire, thoroughly enjoying my latest YA read--it was gritty and curt and compelling. The girl had grown up in a world completely stripped of basic human interactions, and it echoed of The Road's haunting depiction of life in an aftermath of apocalyptic destruction.
Then, around about page 87 (it was 300ish pages total), there came a boy. And I felt bitter disappointment upon his arrival.
I loved the novel, despite the arrival of THE love interest. It continued to be compelling and gritty, and the events kept me on my toes. However, the arrival of THE boy--and the afterthought that there is ALWAYS an arrival of the love interest--caused me to consider what it means for teens that their novels MUST include love. And not just love--they include the fated, soul mated, cannot live without you, all-consuming love that fills every ounce of one's being. (Part of why I continued liking my most recent read was that it did not, in fact, evolve into that kind of love.) Most of the time, I thoroughly enjoy the love interest aspect itself within YA lit, though I often simultaneously hate that in myself. I read the Twilight series when it came back with an obsession bordering on the unhealthy, and I hated myself for it. I hated the books with a relatively intense passion. (As an aside, I go out of my way not to rip on authors on my blog, but I don't think Ms. Meyers would mind a little commentary about the self-loathing that results from the appearance of aspects within us that cause us to support and uphold what I'll call the "Ophelia syndrome," where we love characters who are weak and helpless and let their love lives consume them wholly.) My own weak attempt at a young adult novel has a love interest, and it encapsulates many (all?) of the flaws that I see within the other novels that I've read from the genre.
Even though I hate this phenomenon, the trilogies I love the most include some phenomenal (fated, destined, star-crossed) love stories. For instance, I LOVE Cassandra Clare's Infernal Devices series, but there is a strong element of the inevitability of a passionate, lasting love in it. Similarly, Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone series has a BEAUTIFUL love story that demonstrates the way that love can truly deconstruct and rebuild the world.
I believe those sentiments, and I believe that there is a way to convey them so that they make us stronger, better, more hopeful people--that's part of why I love those series. Taylor and Clare both do a captivating job of making those love stories as believable as they are beautiful.
And yet, don't we need to acknowledge other kinds of love as well? Shouldn't we show teenagers what successful, long-lasting relationships look like? Don't we need to demystify what lasting love is like; shouldn't we remove the glamor of star-crossed love and show what REAL love is like instead?
So I got to page 87 in my book, and this is what I thought:
Teens need to learn that REAL love is a choice. It's a choice that we make over and over and over again. We choose to love. We choose our lovers, and we continue to choose them day in and day out. We choose them when things are great and passionate and beautiful, and when we've decided that we're committed to each other, we choose them on all of the bad days as well. We choose them on the boring days and the easy days and the grumpy days and the despairing days.
Real love is HARD work. It requires much more effort than walking away. It involves heartache and despair. It is not easy, and it is not something that is done for you, as those fateful relationships suggest.
Real love requires dedication (especially in romantic relationships--I'm coming to understand that the love of parents for children seems to come more easily/ endlessly than romantic love).
Real love is complicated. You change and s/he changes, and life changes, and you can never pin down what is happening because everything is always shifting and slipping through your fingers.
Real love is MORE BEAUTIFUL than "fated" relationships that spring into life like the spark of a flame and then disappear into oblivion. Real love is precious and beautiful precisely because it is difficult, and because it requires the essential element of choice.
So as we approach this Valentine's day, we need to teach our teens to CHOOSE love. Over and over and over again. I'll be on the lookout for novels that demonstrate this kind of love--the kind they will likely find in their own lives. As I find those examples, I'll write about them on my teaching page.
Let's talk about breastfeeding. And working. Breastfeeding and working, which equals pumping.
As Dumbledore so wisely tells us, "Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself."
So, let's call it what it is and talk about it for a minute. Why does it make people squirm when I mention it? (By the way, it seems appropriate to note here that I wrote this post QUITE a while ago, but I was too afraid of what others might think to post it. However, this year I've resolved to stop worrying about what other people think, so this post is a step in that direction.)
Guess what, folks. Babies have to eat. It's a vital part of development. In fact, eating is probably the most important part of being a thriving baby. And my precious baby is a good eater. I couldn't be more grateful.
I know why people quit. Goodness knows that I know why women quit.
I know why women give it up. I know why some don't even start. I also know that this is a controversial subject, though I'm not sure why. Like so much of pregnancy and child rearing, I feel like it's the hegemonic aspects of our society that cause us to have to dance around subjects, that push us up against each other, against other women enduring the same struggles and facing the same choices--the ones who should be our allies--until we're left with nothing and feel totally alone. Even as I write this, I feel the need to say that I support ALL mothers, and I respect the choices that they make for their families. I just need to pause for a moment to talk about my choice.
Breastfeeding is my choice, but, like most choices that are those we most fundamentally believe at the core of our beings, it doesn't feel like much of a choice. I have a child, and I can breastfeed; therefore, that's what I will do. What that means is that I will pump three times a day for the rest of this school year. I will wake up at 5:30 every morning (on those lucky mornings when we make it through the night to reach 5:30 before getting up) so that I can feed my daughter and then pump the first round for milk that she'll need the next day while we're apart. I'll use my "free" time during the teaching day to pump again, and then as soon as students leave at 3:00, I will do my best to pump a third time before going to meetings and working with students. I will wash all of the parts every day, along with all of the bottles--so many bottles!--both for milk collection and for her to take at daycare. I will measure and sort all of the milk when I get home so that I can get her bottles ready for the next day. I will freeze what's left in strange little bags with the label "mother's milk" on them.
I will hold my breath, let it out slow, and get ready to do it all again.
It's a struggle. Of course it's one I believe in, but that doesn't make it less real or less intense. I knew it would be hard, but I didn't know just how hard it would be. The worst part is the well-wishers who say things to be supportive and wind up just undermining my choices and my beliefs. People, often moms themselves with the best intentions, say things like, "It was so much easier when I switched to formula" OR "You'll have a lot more time when you quit pumping" OR "Eventually you'll have to supplement, so you could start now." All of them are intended to console, but they often make me feel bitter and isolated and alone.
So, I want to say now: I support ALL moms. We've got to find a way to support each other, and that starts with being able to talk about breastfeeding outside of our moms' groups, our safe spaces where we go to ask secret questions that we're afraid to voice anywhere else. We've got to show our society that it's okay to talk about formula and breastfeeding, and that it's okay for different people to make different decisions for their families. We've got to stop apologizing for the fact that breastfeeding makes people uncomfortable--we've got to work toward creating a culture where it's no longer uncomfortable to talk about or to see.
We've also got to find a way to acknowledge how difficult it is to work full time and breastfeed your baby. We've got to talk about how awful it feels to use up ALL of your leave when your baby is tiny so that every day forward that your wee one is sick, you wind up simultaneously paying for the place s/he can't attend while being docked for the place you cannot go. We've got to talk about how space and concessions must be made for all of the parts of having a child and working.
Talking about it might be a good first step toward reforming some of the (broken, let's say it) systems we have in place concerning maternity in the work force. So let's talk about breastfeeding, and let's find a way to support the women who are doing it.
"that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we're all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we'll ever have..."
© K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All thoughts and ideas are the author's and do not represent any employer.