Growing Up, Learning, Things I Can

98. Things I Can Follow: His Opening Play

ice bridge card
Three triangles adorn his shirt, each framing a fairy wizard holding a sword of light. He passes behind the man carrying in a cardboard box of 20 chicken nuggets and a tub of soda. Bellies and waifs, long necks and hoodies, scruff and Adams apples. One wears a cowboy hat, several slouch under baseball caps, one comes banging in through the glass door in a full-length black trench coat.

At first the chatter deafens as it ricochets off linoleum and drywall. Cards are shuffling and chairs are scraping and players peer over shoulders at plastic-sheathed pages in stacks of three-ring binders.

“You don’t want your Shambling to run into a Foul-Tongue.”

“I got a foil ruler. I hope someone finds a way for that card to be good.”

The one with tight curls and meaty limbs is in charge. He strides through the pack, surprisingly nimble for a man so large. His orders boom out and the chatter quiets. “Modern and Standard, you’re at tables 1-12. Your pairings are posted by the thermostat.” A stir, a rush. The rest jostle for space by the door. Backpacks droop from shoulders. Darting eyes, laughing eyes, eyes that focus entirely in the fan of cards in hand. Playing mats unfurl — rubber-backed masterpieces painted with purple volcanoes or lush forests or distant flashing battles.

“Draft, you are at tables 13 up to 25. You have 50 minutes to build a 40-card deck.” Groans, chuckles. They rip open the mylar sleeves, they peer in and assess options. The room is now murmur and hush.

My boy with his surfer hair is focused with an intensity I only see when he’s facing a screen. This child can barely sit still for homework without slumping into an Oscar-worthy posture of exhaustion. Now he is perched on the lip of his chair, silent and poised for action.

When something is hard, he whines and pouts. “It’s so boring.” Then he gives up. When a new skill is just beyond his reach, he says, “I don’t like it.” Then gives up. The suggestion of a new project — “Hey, let’s go to Michael’s and get that cool glass etching kit we saw at the party!” — leads him first to take measure of the gap between what he knows and the work required. The shortest span is a bridge too far.

He gives up.

Then we are here, and everything I thought I knew about my kid’s relationship with motivation turns inside-out.

An hour passes. Then another 30 minutes. And another.

Bug only just learned about Magic the Gathering from other 8-year-old boys at camp this summer. I bought him his first cards a few weeks ago. He plays a bit with kids at school, but they make up their own game. To do otherwise is daunting. The beginner rule book for simple play contains passages like this:
 

An enchantment represents a stable magical manifestation. This means two things: you can cast one only at the time you could cast a sorcery, and after you cast one, you’ll put it on the table in front of you, near your lands. . . Some enchantments are Auras. An Aura enters the battlefield attached to a permanent and affects that permanent while it’s on the battlefield. If the enchanted permanent leaves the battlefield, the Aura is put into its owner’s graveyard.

These “basic” rules cover 36 pages. The more comprehensive guide runs to 207.

I mill around in the shop next door to the gaming annex. So many people have turned out that they’ve set up yet another long table in the middle of the store. Through their turns, the players mutter and evaluate.

“Demon’s grasp, killed the first three preachers.”

“Amaria? You’re running something new in Modern? I didn’t realize.”

“I ran Squadron Hawk for a while.”

The volume begins to rise. People razz each other, knock back Mountain Dew, stomp in out of the rainy night.

“I have too many spells in my deck!”

“And I’m all like, ‘fuck that guy.'”

“Hey, language!”

“Yeah, language, dude.”

“Sorry. Hey I’m zombie-ing my way out the door.”

It’s nearing 11pm. We’ve been here since 7:20. I walk back into the annex with the firm intention of gathering Bug up and hustling him out. It’s hours past his bedtime, and tomorrow is going to be a battle. He is seated across from a guy that looks like half the engineering undergrads at my university. “I don’t know,” the young man says, spreading his hands wide with a smirk and a shrug. “What are you gonna play?”

“Oh yeah,” laughs Bug. “It’s my turn.”

Next to him, the pink-haired player — one of only three women out of the 70 attendees — glances over and grins at my boy. She is looking up a rule, tracing her chrome-tipped finger across the face of her phone.

Bug slaps a card face-up on the table. He and his opponent lean in to study it. The man rolls a many-sided die and it tumbles across the padded mat.

I take a seat nearby and start sketching in my journal.

Beyond the rudimentary components of the cards and their procedures, the game’s Multiverse involves a level of intricacy that would make Tolkein proud.
 

The Blind Eternities are a chaotic, logic-defying place of quasi-existence filled with raw potential called Æther. Only Planeswalkers can survive there, and only for a limited time. Mortal beings without the Planeswalker spark are soon destroyed by raw entropy and uncontained mana that suffuses the Blind Eternities.

It’s some heady stuff. The minimum recommended age is 13.

Yet here is my boy, just days before his 9th birthday, stepping over the border into this labyrinthine world. He peers out across that canyon between what he knows and the skills required.

He takes its measure.

He decides.

One knot, one board, one play at a time, he begins building his bridge. 

Determination, Fitness, Mindfulness, Things I Can

95. Things I Can Trust: A Room of Want and Plenty

Door Out

I was putting groceries away in the tiny kitchen when I opened a cabinet down below the silverware drawer. Empty. Large, deep, and completely bare. This was six months after I bought my home. For half a year, I had stood in front of this cabinet and chopped vegetables, rolled out pizza dough, stacked plates. I never noticed it.

For a condo dweller, this was gold. Free real estate had edged open new possibilities in my tightly packed world. My joy clanged through the house. I remember laughing as a whooshing sense of openness coursed through me. All that time I was fighting for room, this open place was right here!
Continue reading “95. Things I Can Trust: A Room of Want and Plenty”

Brain, Things I Can, Writing

87. Things I Can Exchange: Not for Is

Volunteers in the study were asked to hold a grip sensor as they heard a variety of verbs related to manual actions, like ‘throw’ or ‘scratch’, in different sentence structures. The researchers observed a significant increase in the strength of participants’ grip when words were presented in an affirmative sentence, but no such reaction when the same action words were presented in a negative context, such as ‘don’t throw’.

Writing advice from an unknown source: Replace any negative statement with an affirmative one.

“He does not go” becomes “he stays.”
“The delivery hasn’t shown up” becomes “the package has yet to arrive.”
“I haven’t showered” becomes “I need to shower” or “Let me clean up” or “I’m a fragrant mess.”

It seems simple enough. A game, really. It starts as play then becomes imperative. Then mission. Continue reading “87. Things I Can Exchange: Not for Is”

Choices, Things I Can

73. Things I Can Outlast: The Muzak

I do indeed want to receive the same high quality service you are currently providing other customers. Yes, I will continue to hold, thank you for asking so nicely. A wait time of greater than seven minutes is completely manageable.

Please don’t worry. I’ll stay right here on the line.

As you experience high call volume, I am enjoying the pleasant anticipation of severing any need for future attention from your eager representatives.

I do appreciate the musical distraction you’ve generously supplied. A goat hamstrung in the soundboard of a baby grand is fine accompaniment this evening.

I have 26 days remaining on my car registration. Please, take your time. Continue reading “73. Things I Can Outlast: The Muzak”

Adventure, Things I Can

56. Things I Can Read: The Travel Section

We pinned a world map to the living room wall. It guides our fingers and our eyes when we trace our neighbor’s travels or the origins of our takeout spring rolls. The radius of our life spans less than an inch on one pink edge, missing the rainbow sprawl of continents, canals, deserts, and seas.

The tax on growing older is an unsettling measure of frugality and caution.

It also demands a revised dictionary.

Continue reading “56. Things I Can Read: The Travel Section”

Choices, Things I Can

38. Things I Can Entwine: Tendril, Light

This time in 2014, our faculty voted to merge with another university department. So began the Year of Pain. We forced ourselves together, cracking open cultures, grafting extremities onto an unformed core.

The fertilization plucked a thread in me. A quickening pulse, a sudden expansion (which, from another angle, is simply an unraveling).

Into that opening bloomed one opportunity after another. Phototropic absent intention, each one reached towards fervor and fed on indiscriminate impulse.

I invited them all in.

When someone needed to design and lead a graduate policy writing seminar, I drafted a syllabus.

When someone needed to mentor two doctoral TAs in teaching practice, I took them on.

When someone needed to contribute an academic affairs article for the October issue, I  sharpened my pencil.

When someone needed to present at the conference, I submitted the proposal.

When someone needed to teach a semester-long course in pedagogy to visiting Chinese professors, I rearranged my fall schedule.

When someone needed to administer a dean search, I opened the hood.

When someone needed to support all the students from two additional PhD programs because mergers mean more, I signed the job description.

Twelve months. All of this in one cycle around the sun.

This week, my supervisor handed me a piece of paper. A note. A pay increase. She also copied me on the discussion of which office I’ll be using when I work half of each week from the campus that is 12 minutes from my house rather than 45.

With all of this dizzying good news, you’d think when they let us out at 2:00pm on the Friday of a holiday weekend, I’d skip off to happy hour with friends.

Instead, I sag against my kitchen counter and burst into tears.

So weary. My everything — spinning head and sleep-starved body and stretched-thin days with my boy — all of it worn out. Yes, shorter commute, larger paycheck. Also yes, more learning, more pivoting, more work, more life.

More life indeed.

My only life.

I push off from the counter and throw back a glass of cold water. All that need is still gunning for me on the other side of the door. Its knock is insistent. No, it will not come in. I walk from the kitchen and turn Blues BBQ up loud enough to drown out the drumbeat of 40 years of mistakes.

And one year of overcorrecting. One Year of Pain.

I fit the battery into the drill and open holes in the bottoms of half a dozen plastic containers.

Then I step onto the balcony and plunge my hands into the soil.

The sage seedlings have started to unfurl, as have tiny pops of mint. The dill fans its lace as the sky moves. I lift them all into larger pots, deadhead the geraniums, pull feathery spiderwebs from cilantro already gone to seed.

Everything leans in one direction. The sun, such a piper. I rotate buckets and wedge the smaller ones in up front. The spinach is almost too leafy now and will need to go either into a larger pot or into my breakfast. As I water the hanging boxes, the clean scent of lemon verbena wraps itself around the Thai basil’s purple spines.

The lavender is the only seed that hasn’t taken. A mold furs black soil in two tiny pudding cups.That flower decided against trying in a climate too alien.

Maybe it lacked the strength to emerge from a wish for its remembered home.

The snow peas and sugar snaps are lush now, their tresses spilling over the concrete lip of the balcony. I bend and tear the creepers from one another as gently as I can. I wind them around the railing and hope the wind leaves them be.

What must they make of this strange place, up so far from the earth? Do they know this is it?

Do they understand that from here, they grow?

From here, and nowhere else?

Fitness, Things I Can

34. Things I Can Cross: The Finish Line

Keep running.

Keep a walking pace if you have to. Just keep running.

I’ve never signed up for a 5K before. My Mister hasn’t either. We pay the money, pin on our numbers, and show up early enough to beat the port-a-potty line. The fundraiser is for my kiddo’s school, so all that really matters is making an appearance.

For us, though, what really matters is finishing.

We’ve been battling head colds and threats of ear infections. We sleep deeply (for once) the night before and wake up rested (more or less) well past sunrise.

At the end of the 1-miler preceding our race, we watch as one kid after another powers around the corner and surges past the clock. Little machines, every one. We stretch and psych ourselves up. We make snide comments under our breath. Of course it’s easy for them. They aren’t lugging around 40 years of bad choices.

All we need to do is this:

Finish.

By the second mile, I’m not sure I’ll be able to. Head is swimming, belly is churning. I am a regular runner, but in all honestly my regular run is a plod. This is what happens when you jog several times a week for over two decades without ever checking a timer. My pace is a stroll. It works to keep my heart strong. What more do I need?

What I need now is one thing only.

Keep running.

As the ground under my feet roils, I calmly repeat the mantra. Keep running. Slow and steady. Keep running.

I ease down to a manageable pace. Two dudes I passed at the last hill are now passing me. It doesn’t matter. I’m running.

So I keep running.

The rattling noisemakers and whooping cheers are just ahead. Maybe I can make it. I sort of want to be sick. I really want to go sit on that bench.

The noisemaking, cheering ladies hold up a sign that says, “Almost there! Half mile to go!” They whoop and holler. The one who offers me water is a friend. Our boys are buddies. Right now I could punch her face.

I thought her clanging rattler was the end.

Half mile is 5/6th of the race done, I tell myself.

Half mile is a whole 1/6th of the race to go, I argue back.

Half empty. Keep running.

Half full. Keep running.

I halve the half and hear the next round of clangs and claps from ahead.

Then it is the corner.

Then it is the last pounding surge of thigh and calf and breath that shouldn’t be able to sprint, but does anyway.

Then it is finish line.

I plow into a crowd whose eyes are already done with me. I wobble to the sidewalk. Keep my head above my heart. Try not to throw up.

My legs return to me. Gravity becomes an ally again. The voice I almost forgot I had hollers out at my Mister as he pounds through the arch.

Then I am standing tall on a stump in the grass with an apple and water, and the principal is calling out names. I half listen. The sun presses into my neck and shoulders. My hands are sore from clapping. The lithe and grinning runners — real runners — collect ribbons and hugs, then pose and snap photos with their cameras.

The principal comes to my age category. Third place, second place, names I don’t recognize of women I don’t know. Then first place.

A name I recognize.

A woman I am meeting for the first time.

I wobble a bit then step up for my ribbon, my hug.

My mister lets me pose and snaps a photo with my camera. Blue ribbon on the damp, pink field of my tank top.

Sun bright.

Smile bright.

For the simple effort of maintaining a single aim, this small award.

This big reward.

Career, Things I Can

29. Things I Can Fix: A Technical Glitch

Because I trudged out of the office late on Friday with at least 7 hours of work stuffed into my backpack
Because my son and I were both so wrecked at the start of our weekend, all we could do was pick and gripe at each other until 20 feet at least separated us during our evening walk
Because on Saturday morning, I was crying before I’d even gotten out of bed
Because the relentless pressure from work hadn’t abated during the night
Because my kiddo and I have outings already on the schedule for this sunny spring weekend
Because the week ahead at work is a vise grip on my mood
Because a roomful of PhDs can’t screw in a lightbulb
Because Sunday afternoon is not only my last shot at getting all the work done for Monday, it’s also my only shot at sharing this one weekend with my only boy
Because even though my 9-year-old laptop finally decided to glitch out on the VPN program that allows me to work from home

there is no way
no way on this green and fragrant earth
I am taking my son with me to the office
to hack through the ever-thickening tangle of tasks.

Because life is too
other than this,
too mine.

Because this computer is still a machine after all
an engine
a cotton gin
with codes and circuits that may be labyrinthine but they are also decipherable
fixable.

Because I demand my weekend back.
My sleep.
My body.
Because despite the persistent phantom grip of performance on the back of my neck

these ribs this brain this family

these two days
belong to me.

So I run
outside under thawing sun and whipping wind.

I don safety goggles and drill holes in plastic buckets and turn black soil and drop in tiny rosemary seeds.

And then
after my son falls asleep, I come here
to this ancient, groaning, overheating machine and look and look and look
through security settings, Norton and Spybot
without a map
or a Rosetta stone for these codes, no
I read Cervantes at bedtime and dance to The Knife by candlelight.
But lyrics are no use now.
The only thing is to dig deep
and say
I can solve this
I will solve this
control panel, google, cut here to paste there, reboot, download,
adjust settings, override

Until
Your remote session has been established. For security purposes, please close this browser window.

Tomorrow, I will sit here next to snow pea tendrils crawling toward the light,
the dog splayed out and baring her pearly pink belly to the southern sun,
my kiddo secreted away in his Blanket Palace reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid
and I’ll work.
I’ll work on my Sunday
which may be a sin or it may simply be
what’s needed.
But because I fixed what was broken,
it’s my Sunday
to work as I see fit.

Career, Learning, Things I Can

9. Things I Can Forgo: Lunch

Lunch is an hour. And it’s a break.

Sacred cows no more.

Lunch hour goes.

(Not the food part. I’m too fond of my fuel.)

Today the forecast was 47 degrees and wet. I trotted off to work in a thin sheath of a raincoat. At 5:30, I stepped out into wind that cut like knives. My neck shrieked. The puddles had turned to ice. Each dark step to the metro scoured my skin.

During the intervening 8-1/2 hours walled in by steel and focus, temperatures plummeted and dragged the sky down with them. I had no idea. Despite a window that can carry my gaze to where the National Cathedral rises on the hill, I didn’t see the dimming light. Despite a city outside my door where I can walk for miles through parks and neighborhoods, I didn’t feel the creeping frost.

This ignorance is the price of determination.

I shouldn’t be proud of giving up my lunch hour. An earlier me would have tsk-tsked today’s me for misplacing priorities and neglecting health. For the four years I’ve held this job, lunch hour meant walking, no matter the weather. My credenza drawer hides an iPod, running clothes, both sunhat and umbrella, both towel and soap (you never know). These feet memorized miles of concrete. Co-workers praised my dedication to fitness.

Truth is, lunch hour walks were my secret recipe for sanity.

All that walking was a way of holding on to my center while the world rushed and tilted around me. It’s easier to sprint across the wire, especially if you don’t look down. First was our imploding family and livelihood, then moving here, then divorce, then working and all that comes with doing that as a single mom trying to establish a home and a way forward. A leaden fear of financial and familial ruin saturated every moment. So I kept moving, walking, and peering anywhere but right here.

Meanwhile, something changed. Like that weather rolling in when I was facing the other way, the very world shifted into a new alignment.

The daily work — the professional this-and-that of making ends meet — began to propagate. Seeds I didn’t know had been germinating started to push through the surface.

Lunch hour used to be for air and breath and body. It was a standing date with my very own self.

Now lunch hour is for asking the next question.

(Which question, you ask? That one. The one dancing just out of reach. The one that barely has a shape yet.)

An opportunity emerged during a team meeting. My department needed someone to teach. I resisted until my Mister reminded me that I do, in fact, have most of what it takes and the resourcefulness to go find the stuff I don’t. So I agreed to it, and it ate up all my time, and I was exhausted, and the extra pay didn’t even begin to cover the hours committed.

I loved it, loved the exchange of ideas, loved making it up as we went.

Before the final class, an opportunity popped up on my voicemail. This one was even more impossible than the last. In a windowless classroom with a sputtering overhead projector — the kind that uses actual transparencies — someone had to guide the learning of 27 visiting faculty who could barely speak English.

With guidance from the dear ones, I agreed to it, and it ate up all my time, and I was exhausted, and the extra pay didn’t even begin to cover the hours committed.

I loved it, loved the students, loved the tangled and unmapped journey.

Before the final class, another opportunity strolled into my office. This was a role supporting our school’s search for a new dean. It would be a politically delicate, thankless, administrative nightmare on an accelerated timeline. I considered it, negotiating right up front with the school leadership while doing so.

I took it, or rather, it took me: It eats up all my time, and I’m exhausted, and the extra pay doesn’t even begin to cover the hours committed.

And I love it, insanity and all.

Something is growing here.

Maybe it’s just a calcification of the soul-jarring careerism that infects the Washington DC region. Maybe I’m turning into yet another stressed and stretched professional Director of (Insert Abstract Administrative Jargon Here) who’s just wearing the same grooves a little deeper into the city sidewalks.

Or maybe it’s the Powers That Be taking advantage of a semi-competent masochist with something to prove.

Secretly, though, I think it’s something else.

Whatever it is, it’s growing right here, in the place this woman inhabits.

Despite all my foolishness and self-inflicted handicaps, novel ways emerge to apply the skills I’ve been accumulating. Even though the tough spots make my head throb and my heart race, it’s thrilling to come upon a problem I simply cannot solve, yet I must solve it, and I somehow know I will solve it, even if it comes to jury-rigging a fix.

Every time I figure out some new mix of tools and techniques, new places to apply them appear. The marvel of this chapter in my too-much-of-a-life is that I keep bumbling into the outer limit of my talents and capabilities, only to find that it’s a membrane and I can push right through.

For the first time in years, I have more in my sights than just getting through the day upright.

Now I want to know what these hands can really do.

Lunch hour is a standing date with possibility.

Lunch hour is one more wide-open chance to ask the next question.

(What are the Things I Can?)

Where the unknown is unnamed, give it voice.

Where answers are missing, reach.

 

Career, Home

Welcome to Munchkinland

“If we walk far enough,” says Dorothy, “we shall sometime come to someplace.”

-L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

I had not entertained the possibility of defeat. In the six months since making an offer on the one condo we could make our own, I had only allowed Yes and its ilk to join me on this convoluted voyage. At every twist in the yellow road, I simply closed my eyes for the half-second required to tap heels and picture home. Square shoulders, gather senses, and press on.
 
Until the letter arrived.
 
One slim envelope, and not a surprise, turned up in the mail yesterday. “Your application for credit has been denied.” No big deal. I pulled the plug on the quasi-approved loan after it became clear the short sale was going to eat into my finances for another month or three. Two banks on the seller’s end are duking it out over a piddly $3700 discrepancy in the assessed price of the home. Meanwhile, my lender is awaiting word from a county engineer indicating that recent repairs at the complex pass muster. The county engineer, whose name and number I scrounged up in my determination to gain some semblance of control over the situation, takes my call but to no avail. Her hands are tied as she awaits word from the property manager indicating the dispute over rehab costs is resolved. The property manager refuses to say spit because the complex is involved in legal proceedings.
 
To tip the whole endeavor into emerald absurdity, my bank started charging me $450 every two weeks to extend a loan with no fixed end date. I made the harrowing decision to let it all slide for a month and then reapply. The dream condo is still under contract with me, though, so I trust this is merely a waiting game.
 
Perhaps my trust has been a fool’s errand.
 
When I open the letter, an entirely different story tumbles out. My lender has denied my loan not because I failed to extend it but because of a laundry list of credit problems. In the nine months I have been working with this bank – my bank, the one I have used for insurance and checking accounts and credit cards for 15 years – not one of these issues has surfaced. Too many credit inquiries? Too much money in rotating accounts? Insufficient collateral? How is any of this possible, and why has no one mentioned it before?
 
A breeze from the open window lifts the pages from the bed where I have dropped them. I can’t bear to look at those terse, typed lines. The simple goal of buying a home blurs and retreats. Without this, there is, quite literally, nothing.
 
Nothing but here.
 
It’s not as if another place is out there waiting, one that’s just a little less expensive or a tiny bit further from my son. Not a single local condo even at the outer reaches of my price range has been listed in the past three months. The only affordable properties are an hour’s drive away. As the weeks of economic recovery tick by, the asking prices at the low end are ballooning beyond reach.
 
Let’s not get into a discussion of rental costs. I can actually afford (just barely) a mortgage and condo fees. Stick the extra few hundred per month on top that local landlords demand and I cannot even squeeze Bug and me into a one-bedroom, let alone a place where we can grow.
 
Mother’s day just passed. I had started to believe those friends that generously reached out to tell me I am a good mom. I can’t help biting back the response: So the f**k what? What does it matter? Sure, I love my kid and give him a decent-enough life. But what to make of this this very basic metric of providing? What to do with this failing grade? I cannot afford a home for my child.
 
As the breeze scatters pages around my room, every mistake I have ever made pushes up like a twister and tilts the world. That knotted string of poor decisions spills out behind me. At any point, I could have chosen differently, chosen more wisely. Chosen to fight harder for the marriage. Chosen to nourish my own career instead of Tee’s. Chosen to pursue an MBA or a teaching degree instead of my indistinct master’s in nothing remotely marketable. I could have decided to stick with the GIS which came so naturally instead of foregoing it for dance and revolution. I could have studied harder, maintained a professional network, written about something substantial, stopped hiding. Could have stopped pouring energy into worthless shit like gardens, bread, mountains, books, and friends. Cut short the conversations. Culled the flourishing heart.
 
Gotten to work.
 
Then, perhaps, I could have the capacity to reach this one simple goal. I might be able to provide for my son.
 
As it is, I have to live at the front end of this frayed string. I try to braid it into some sort of rope to haul Bug and me up and out of this spinning house and onto a patch of solid ground. It splits in my hands. It shears to nothing.
 
Paper and sisal. Me, suddenly trapped in a tiny bedroom not even my own. Stunned into paralysis. Now how to proceed? The choices I make today, are they similarly foolish? I can’t begin to understand how my credit is rated poor. Aside from a car I paid off in 2006, I have never held one penny of debt. I pay my cards in full each month. I have no college loans, no collections agencies after me. Somehow, I manage to maintain small but steadily growing balances in retirement, 529, and brokerage accounts. Ample funds to cover expenses both planned and otherwise are a click away every month. In fact, my checking now has more cash in it than I’ve ever seen in my life, squirreled away there to cover 20% down on a vanishing dream.
 
My credit is poor, quite simply, because I am.
 
A good-enough job for the Commonwealth of Virginia is barely sufficient for a single woman to survive. It falls short of thriving, and barely enters the ballpark of getting by when a kid is added to the equation.
 
Yet, I had I assumed my choices are the right ones for right now. The daily mile to and from the metro saves me $5. Taking breakfast and lunch saves me $10 or more. My hair looks like a factory-floor mop squeezed a few too many times through the rollers because I refuse to put money where the payoff isn’t evident. I hold onto a low-paying job with good benefits and flexible hours so that I can pick up my child at the end of the day and still have time for a conversation with him over dinner. We spend our weekends wandering the woods or roaming the neighborhood, eschewing outings that require a fee. All the small sacrifices, the little denials of indulgence, the hand-kneading of the pizza crust from sourdough starter and hand-making of Christmas gifts, because I believed that simplicity could lead Bug and me to the place we belong.
 
But what if I’ve been wrong?
 
What if it is cowardice or stupidity keeping me quiet in my room at night writing poetry? What if contra dancing and nighttime walks are just time – precious, would-be productive hours – tossed in the garbage? What if I have only been avoiding the hard work of launching a real career? A girl’s got to pay the bills. This isn’t a game anymore. I don’t get to make decisions based on what feels good or what compels that tenuous aspect called “spirit” (something, as it so happens, I don’t even believe exists) to roam those lush meadows of the imagination.
 
And now I wonder what it would take. Which missing part drives me to Oz to tap the source? I fear I lack in every regard. My loose, anemic heart has not loved self or son enough to get past my idle ways. My brain has languished in a vacuous, quasi-childhood of pleasure instead of erecting bridges with industry and precision. And my courage? Never has it been emptier than when I have tried to draw upon it as I lurch towards the lip of necessary change.
 
Without doggedly pursuing these attributes, why would I expect to find my way anywhere more substantial than Munchkinland? How could I have been so silly as to think I could tap my heels and carry us home?