Last night after our traditional family Christmas drama, daddy referred to something I had mentioned in passing–that I see a therapist. The second he asked about it, I regretted it. Actually, I thought he knew; my mom has known for months, so I assumed they had talked. No. So, he asked me about it. He asked me why I’m going to a therapist. “What are you going for?” he asked. Two things here: If I knew why I was going to therapy, I wouldn’t need to go. And also, it’s none of his business why. I thought everybody in the world knew to have enough tact not to aske this question. It is right up there with age and weight. But my daddy does not mind asking questions.
So, despite spending the previous hour processing Xmas drama by using tools from the past year’s work, I knew I might as well give him some sort of reasonable sounding answer. He asked me specifically if it was for anger, which gives me pause because I don’t put that reason high on the list despite being asked about it by 3 other people including the therapist. Maybe I’ll bump it up. Anyway, I talked about needing confidence and tools to trust my decision making ability. I said I wanted to be more productive and explore why I avoided writing, when it is something I really want to do. And, I said–which is the highest actual reason on the list–that I wanted to explore what it was about me that had made me succeptible to losing myself as a young woman in a marriage that I just barely escaped. I still have dreams that I haven’t yet, and it terrifies me. Whatever I said, daddy nodded, but I could see the situation was just beginning to gel in his mind. This was not going to be the end of the matter. He asked me whether it was loneliness. “Would living closer to family help?” I had to restrain myself not to say “GOD no!” He kept looking for the “Big Issue.” There isn’t always a “big issue.” When my voice started to quiver because I was breaking up in spite of myself, we turned our attention to anything else.
Tonight, while reading Bill O’Reilly’s book on Lincoln, he said, “Hey, talkin’ about your therapy, is your therapist, a Christian or a athiest, or do you know? I’m just reading here, you know Lincoln got down during the war and he said the Bible was his best solace and counsel. Of course, I don’t understand.” I know what it is. Daddy is afraid I’m searching for something. Happiness. The Meaning of the Universe. What’s It All About, Alfie. So I told him; I’m not. And, I don’t exactly need a moral compass or spiritual strength. I am really truly a Bible believer. Already. So I told him my therapist suggested prayer and the Psalms, which seemed to be enough for tonight.
A year ago when I told Mother I was seeing my therapist, she thought about it and then over coffee one day said, “If you’d just get back in church you wouldn’t need a therapist.” I didn’t have a good reply to that either. But then, 6 months ago, she had reconsidered. We were talking, like we do, about nothing in particular and everything all at once. I said that I always felt like they didn’t know quite what to do with me. And she said something I will never forget; it cut right to it. “No, we never did know what to do for you.” That kind of changed everything. Then she ended with, “I want you to keep on going to that therapy.” I’m thinking back on this, now that I am coming out to my daddy as a therapy patient.
I know Lincoln fought his demons, which is how I consider depression and meloncholy. Lincoln was a quipper, and he had a public persona and a private self and he was expert at keeping them separate, most likely even from Mary. Or maybe especially from her. Yet, he spoke–and I think really believed in–the better angels of our nature. I like this very much. Faith and hope that came from somewhere very deep. When Bill Clinton was physically moving into the White House, he said he was going to set about doing what every new president must: “get in touch with his Lincoln.” I’ve been doing that a little too. But all of this I cannot express to Daddy.
More on this later.
Littleville, Alabama, doesn’t have a Starbucks. In fact, from the time I leave my apartment, conveniently located behind my local Starbucks, until I arrive at my parents’ house, I don’t even pass one. That’s 250 miles with no Starbucks. That must be the longest stretch in the country without one.
That got me thinking. It’s a long way from Starbucks in more ways than one. My daddy told me once–and I agreed with him–that it took me a few days of being home to get back to my old self. I started thinking about what my old self vs. my new self must look like. He meant it takes me that long to relax, to let go of “city life” and the stresses it brings. I think it is something different.
I think it takes me a few days to become accustomed to people again. I don’t often appear that way to causual observers and acquaintances, but I am a solitary person. I myself didn’t even know I am an introvert for a long time. I was grown when I found out. It’s quite a shock to go around for 30 years thinking you are an extrovert only to take some inventory and find out otherwise.
I like living alone, just me and Duncan. And he’s a quiet little guy. I don’t prefer to be alone, but I am mostly really content when I’m by myself. Starbucks living suits me fine. There I can be with people and still be alone. In fact, that may very well be the secret of Starbucks: bustling solitude. It’s comforting and makes me happy. There’s a verse in the Bible that begins: “be still and know…” I like that, being still. So, even though I live in the Metro Atlanta area and am a professor and travel all over giving presentations or seeing this or that attraction, I can get in balance in my daily life. But, there aren’t any family members in it.
That is what it takes me a few days to remember in Littleville. People are sometimes messy and noisy. People require tact and patience and compromise. People will ask you questions. And note, when you are by yourself a great deal of the time, it’s amazing how you get used to not answering questions. It’s a little thing, but think about it. I also have to get used to being in another place, to sleeping in another bed. This is an odd adjustment because for so many years, this house in Littleville was home to me. It was home when my heart needed a home.
To end, what I am not saying is that I become aware that I need people and to reconnect and feel love. “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” I know already that I do and that I will and that I feel it. It is the awareness, the adjusting of my self. The sharing of my self with other people, with family, that I learn to do again after a day or two in Littleville. That, and accepting the sharing of others. I can note that now without nostalgia or homesickness. I’ll try to nudge the process along a little. There’s nothing to lose.
As happy as I was puttering around my new place, it’s two days before Christmas, so I had to pack up the car and go to Alabama. Being directionally impaired to the point of anxiety and not being a fan of interstate highways, I set the TomTom to find me a new backroads shortcut. Took me 6 years to learn the shortcut from my old place–that’s how bad I am. But TomTom–for whom my motto is TomTom: We Get You Close–kept planning routes that involved I-75, one of Georgia’s busiest and most crowded interstates. Barely out of my apartment complex’s entrance, I pulled over and searched Google Maps on my phone. The shortest route, as I knew in my heart, was a path through the lakes and mountains of my home state.
So, I proceed through unchartered (for me) territory, manually scrolling through directions on my phone and leaving TomTom on to catch up. This he did after two hours of replanning the route every half mile. “Turn around when possible. Turn around when possible.” Why do I put up with this from TomTom? Because, once adjusted, he is a rather pleasant and comforting travel buddy. Somewhere past Rome, Georgia, he gave up trying to route me along the interstate through Chattanooga (yes, Tennessee to get to Alabama from Georgia) and accepted that I was taking the backroads. With him on board, I breathed a little and sat back to enjoy the ride.
I started trying to remember a Christmas visit home when the sky was not dreary. It was today. A dreary sky over brown fields makes everything have a gray cast to it. It makes industrial stretches hewn into sides of mountains look more isolated and lonely looking. I passed historic marker signs pointing me to “historic downtown” Cartersville, then Rome, then Centre (“Crappie Capital of the World”), and I worried a little less about the grayness when I realized that the pretty little quaint signs of life were just off my backroads. Past Centre, near Weiss Lake, I noticed the flat farmland give way to huge bluffs around the lake and couldn’t help thinking this place with its water source and ready-dwelling places had been inhabited by the Cherokee people. The first people to fish from these waters had been collected and led along this very road on what we now know as the Trail of Tears. Another historical marker informs me. There is more to my Alabama than meets the eye.
Whenever I go home, I make a point to chat up (gab, we call it in Alabama) a chashier at a local gas station. No station in particular, no town in particular; in fact, I like to vary it up some. I do this because I like to hear what we sound like. When I talk to the woman who has just sold me gas and a Diet Mt. Dew, I catch the drawl again and keep going. Sometimes, I look around the store pretending to shop for sardines and crackers so that I can hear her gab with local men on their lunch break buying lunches so greasy that the white bags are spotted with the oil seeping through. Today she told one young fellow, “I know y’all ready to be gettin’ home. You have a merry Christmas.” Of course I can’t capture the resonant lilt of her voice. Can’t capture how it sounded like a smokey bell ringing out.
I was in a PowerPoint frenzy at Starbucks. Outside, the storm was raging, and not unexpectedly, the store began to fill. Now, if you stay any place long enough, you see many people come and go. I think of that stop-action photography in the movies. For hours there was a quiet lull, then when I had finally gotten into the work, a young child, a girl around 5 years old, asked the man working beside me in the long half-booth if she could have his chair. He said sure, and she dragged it across the floor. Then she came to me and asked me if she could have my chair. I said sure, and off she went. It was then I began looking to see who was going to sit in all these chairs. Two families were gathering to have a mini-Christmas get-together at Starbucks. Three kids were decked out in Christmas outfits–two girls with iridescent dresses and gold shoes and a boy with a christmas vest. The adults were also dressed more for a party than a rainy evening at a coffee shop. I thought it was odd.
As soon as all the adults had their specially brewed beverage, they broke out coloring books for the kids. They were the kind of parents who make a show of making their kids be polite and say “please” to them a lot in the process. They were the kind of parents whose kids don’t bother me nearly as much as they do. The kids spent half an hour tearing all of the paper off all of the crayons and leaving it in a big pile on the floor under the table. Adults still talking, the kids got up and began running back and forth from the table to the pastry case–which amounted to the entire length of the store. Finally, one of the employees yelled–very politely, I thought–PLEASE DON”T RUN! Then, the “can-you-say-thank-you-Sally dad jumped up declaring it was time to go.
I can tell you not one scrap of paper was picked up and not one chair was put back in its place. On the way out, I overheard one of the mom’s say, “Maybe I”ll see you tomorrow if I get tired of being cooped up in the house with kids.” I read today in the Huffington Post about a family getting kicked off an airplane from NC to Chicago for having too many young children. I bet those people on the plane were glad. I know I was, but I was really aggravated at the crayon paper.
Knowing full well how cantankerous (old) I sound here, I wish there were more kid-restricted places. Restaurants. Coffee shops. Why would you bring your kids and have a get together in a coffee shop where, if you look around you will see people reading, studying, writing (one hopes), or chatting quietly. There are no tvs on the wall. No tapes of Dora the Explorer playing in a loop. No toy boxes. No legos.
Perhaps the AARP could take this on as a new project.
More on this later. I had to write it down before I forgot it.
Don’t think I’m romanticizing SBX. Plenty has already been written about why people come here. Most of us have perfectly good living room chairs or desks where we could work. But still we come. We come alone and with people. There is something simple and anonymous and inviting about a coffee shop. If I come here i have something to do: chat, visit, eat a cup of oatmeal, or like today: design a PowerPoint for a course I’m about to teach. If I’m at home, I will spring from the recliner to do anything to keep from working on a task. And that includes cleaning out sock drawers or toilets. Or just looking up and becoming entranced at the television; something profound, like Tabitha’s Salon Takeover. And in the event there is a marathon, I’m done for the day. Of course, creating a blog about the ordinary is definitely not the same as designing a PowerPoint. But, in the world of an academic, nothing is not related…
On Saturday the cable guy came to hook up my digital, hd box (just in time for the Tabitha marathon!). Sometimes I”m in the mood to talk; sometimes I’m not, but that night I was. The cable guy was a talker, so it didn’t take much. I mentioned that after 30 years, I have found my career path: I want to write. So, Paul (the cable guy) started sharing his expertise on blogging and tweeting and getting one’s work out there but more important–getting down to work writing! Now, I am a master at making excuses for not writing: too much school work I’m behind on, too tired, meetings, toilets to clean…My excuse for not blogging–for I had tried it before–was that it seemed such a waste of time when there was so much other writing to do (for which there was also an excuse; notice the cycle). But in this case, Paul the cable guy was right. Blogging isn’t academic. It doesn’t even have to be cutting edge about politics or celebrities or music or anything in particular. It doesn’t even have to be read.
So, this is my small, ordinary start. Whatever else I can say about today, I can say that I have been writing. And that feels doggone good. My posts are not intended to be as profound as Huffington’s. In fact, if they are profound at all, it will be in the ordinariness, daily life-ness of them. I am really, really good with that.
And I have just enough battery left to make a dent in a PowerPoint.