Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Rotten Vegetables of Hope

Last night I cleaned out our fridge, a task I've been dreading and avoiding for some time, which made it particularly daunting.

I moved swiftly, trying not to think, shoving shriveled red and orange peppers into a garbage bag. I I shoved a package of pale ground turkey and a clamshell of already-cut and now softening butternut squash in the bag, too.

It felt late at night, though it was only eight. Henrietta was winding down, and I was sweaty from cleaning my kitchen while dancing and listening to Taylor Swift. The energy I had begun with had gone, and the mean voice in my head began to turn on me. What a shameful waste of money, the voice said. Look at this nearly full garbage bag full of rotten food! What a failure you are, what a loser. Who do you think you're kidding?

I stood up and shook my head.


Just after the end of classes, about a month ago, I entered the deepest bout of depression I've ever experienced. I don't know how much I'll end up saying on here, but I will say it was terrifying. I will say that I narrowly avoided spending Christmas in the psych ward, though now I think I really should have spent time there. I will say that I'm lucky to be alive. I never tried to hurt myself, but I thought about it constantly, and I needed a lot of help.


I'm lucky to be alive, I said to myself, standing in front of my refrigerator, bag of rotten vegetables at my feet. I thought of the shriveled peppers, the bright colors, the way I felt when I bought them at Costco just before I got sick: hopeful. There's a certain hope involved in buying large quantities of vegetables, is there not? I had felt hopeful then, and I decided to feel hopeful last night. I was there, and I almost wasn't. I was there to clear out my fridge, there to see the colors of the peppers and to consider a dubious head of lettuce. I was there to take what was old and let it go, exposing clear shelves and bright lights, hopeful for more, lucky.

I took out the bag to the trash. The night was cool and Southern. A car approached from the street opposite, shining headlights on me, and I wondered how I looked to someone who didn't know me. Like a mother, like I'm tired, like I'm not entirely better yet, but I'm getting more so, like I had a bag of trash, and I knew where to go.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

I Died for Beauty, and It Was the Beauty of My Dreams

Emily Dickinson, who may have been amused, but probably not.
Eleanor Roosevelt, who I do not think would have been amused.

Yesterday I was teaching Emily Dickinson's poetry. I was so excited to be teaching Emily Dickinson's poetry that I felt like dancing right up at the front of the class. I had inadvertently assigned five creepy poems about death (which is easy to do when you're assigning Dickinson), but it didn't even matter because she's so awesome and I love her and I want to be her when I grow up and I think she had one of the most bizarre and most brilliant minds that has ever graced this planet. 

We were talking about this poem, which begins "I died for beauty, but was scarce / Adjusted in the tomb, / When one who died for truth was lain / In the adjoining room." But when I went to read to it to the class, I accidentally said, "I died for booty." And then I couldn't stop laughing. I leaned over the podium, gripping the sides of it, and could hardly catch my breath; I was laughing so hard. 

And so I had to tell them about another time when I made such a mistake.

Here's the scene: I was graduating from middle school. I was valedictorian, or maybe I was salutatorian--I can never remember. I was asked to give a speech, and I had so carefully prepared it. It was full of inspiring quotes and nostalgia and hope and smarm. The ceremony was out on the field, and I stood at the podium on a platform, all of my classmates and their families in front of me, and pronounced into the microphone, in my clearest voice: "Eleanor Roosevelt once said, 'The future belongs to those who believe in the booty of their dreams.'"

I mean, what I said is also more or less true. But boy, was I embarrassed. 

Yesterday, my students loved this story. And then I kept teaching Dickinson. I kept right on teaching Dickinson until it was really very much time to go. On their way out, some of them said she was creepy, and some of them said she was cool, and I think some of them knew what I know: that she is so obviously both.