Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Drama is Appropriate Only in the Theatre, Sugar

There are people who stew in their own drama. They think a big entrance and an even more explosive exit are the way to go. As a supervisor, here are a few observations on why this is a Bad Thing:

A) Your ingratitude is duly noted,
B) undesirable behavior that was overlooked for a long time is now writ large for the world to see,
C) this will come back to haunt you.

When you're leaving a job, even if you hated it, it's best to be circumspect on the way out the door. Making a scene or exiting in such a way that deliberately maximizes the inconvenience to your  employer (when leaving by choice) emphasizes all of your very worst qualities. It doesn't reflect upon them, it reflects upon you.

My mother always said, "Dignity in all things." This isn't an enjoinder to be aloof, arrogant, or just plain old stuck-up; what it really means is that you should conduct yourself with grace even in situations where you'd like to tear somebody's head off or read them the Riot Act. One doesn't break down, blow up, or "show out" until the doors are safely closed behind us and no one can witness the aftermath.

In all, don't burn the bridge. Don't bite the hand that once fed you. Don't plow the fields with salt. One never knows when one might be served with the consequences of not keeping one's head.

Monday, March 24, 2014

You Can't Outrun your DNA

My sister had the brilliant idea to follow up our mother's decades of exhaustive genealogical research by presenting each of our parents with a National Geographic Geno 2.0 kit for Christmas. We were pretty sure about her side, but not so much about Dad's. As an historian, I had long suspected that my father's family might be Jews...up to and including the fact that his father's line becomes somewhat fuzzy in the era just prior to the American Civil War. It's not that uncommon in the South for a Jewish family to have assimilated and hidden their ethnicity and religion in that era.

When we received Dad's DNA results, I started reading the maps for both his mother's haplogroup and his father's. My grandmother's genes led us a merry chase, including her Native American ancestry, and there were some surprises: what we believed were Welsh Celtic genes are actually Irish. She had quite a bit of Eastern European ancestry, specifically Romanian, which Dad loved because he's a big Dracula fan- we were making a lot of jokes about Trahnthyvahnee-ya. Then we read his father's genetic history and its migratory pattern.

My sister and I were viewing it simultaneously and texting when it leaped out at me: my grandfather's DNA traced the Diaspora- exactly. As I read the accompanying report, my suspicions were borne out: we're not just Jews, based on the migration pattern, we're Sephardi...the Jews whose culture was almost totally devastated by the Inquisition (much less that little event in Europe during the mid-Twentieth Century known as The Shoah).

What's sort of interesting to me about that, anyway, is that one of my graduate history professors, a Sephardic Jew, told me that I would never be able to understand anyone's history other than the WASP upper-middle class from which she assumed I hailed- at the time, I angrily cited my father's maternal Cherokee ancestry in refuting her. This new information adds oh-so-much extra irony to it- not white, not a WASP, and we share a non-WASP ethnohistorical background. (insert mic drop here)

Your DNA doesn't lie, folks. I come from two different ethnic groups who survived multiple attempts at genocide- as enacted by most of the rest of my gene pool. Weird, not that uncommon, and kind of interesting. As my friend Shane says about race and ethnicity, "You don't know who's looking back across the table at me on Thanksgiving!"

Friday, March 21, 2014

Little Altars Everywhere

Yesterday, the tone of the day was strained. Everyone I met seemed to be stressed out and at the limits of their patience. Disagreements erupted left and right, I found out that I can't volunteer for a camp designed for grieving children because it's too soon after my loss, and on top of everything else, the grief counselor called to find out why I hadn't rescheduled the last appointment that I missed due to one of our wonderful ice storms earlier in the month.

Three things happened in rapid succession after I left work for the day: at the grocery, I bumped into a colleague who broke her hip at the beginning of the semester, turned around in the floral department to see the hybrid tulips my sister carried in her wedding displayed next to the spray orchids I chose for Mom's casket, and encountered a chemo patient talking to her friends in the produce department. It was the trifecta of triggers.

While I was conversing with my colleague, I blurted out, "It's good to see you getting around so well. Mom wouldn't do what the physical therapists told her and she never walked again." The unspoken part of that was, "I was terrified that you might not, either." Her husband works for the college and what I said to him the first time we ran into one another after she had surgery was, "You tell her she must do everything that the physical therapists and occupational therapists tell her to do. It's vital." Not that I didn't think she would, but I felt compelled to say it. Irrational though it is, I will probably link broken hips with death for the rest of my life.

The floral display, merely that particular juxtaposition of both flowers in white (they both come in a variety of colors) was upsetting. I took a picture with my phone which I posted to social media, largely because it seemed emblematic of the day I was having.

Looking beyond the flowers and seeing a woman younger than myself, probably in her thirties, bald from chemo and wearing a turban, was the icing on the cake. I took a deep breath, smiled the "I hope you're doing okay" smile universal to cancer patients' families everywhere, and quickly walked away through the bakery.

The name of the game these days is "exasperation". I feel like I'm being peeled with a vegetable peeler, a little at a time. Controlling my gut reaction to things, and moreover, stopping the words from falling out of my mouth, has become a herculean effort. Weird things trigger moments of extreme grief- and, like my father, I found myself with the urge to flee after my first cousin's funeral a couple of weeks ago, rather than face another round of grieving with our extended family. As much as I love them, too, I wanted to hide from them when Mom died. I have professional responsibilities that don't allow me to build my blanket fort and not come out for hours on end...but I'm not able to cope with minor dust-ups right now. My office door's been closed more since Mom died than at any other time in my career, my need for quiet and calm overwhelming my claustrophobia.

If my management of things is not as soft-handed as normal, it's a side-effect of my current frame of mind. I am not who I'm accustomed to being; I don't want this to be my 'new normal', but for now, I don't have much choice. I may not succeed, but I'm trying.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Here's to the Socially Awkward Among Us

A few years ago, I stumbled across the webcomic Girls With Slingshots, drawn and written by Danielle Corsetto...who incidentally lives over in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Danielle's work is funny and so gut-wrenchingly honest that sometimes it can smart a little. One of the things I totally dig about it is that her protagonist's mom is a librarian, as is one of the other characters, Clarice. She went so far as to confirm- somewhat because the librarian readership bugged her to death about it- that Clarice, who originally clerked in an X-rated shop, got her MLS a little at a time to become the librarian she'd always wanted to be. (Ed. note: GWS is sometimes mature in its content, ergo it may not be everyone's cup of tea.)

I love the characters, but Clarice resonates with me. She's a strong woman in many respects, but in others, particularly intimate emotional relationships, she's painfully awkward and confused. A while back, Danielle wrote in a love interest who started out as a 'creeper patron' in Clarice's library- and then Joshua turned out to be a shy but really decent guy. Clarice's reluctance to tell him how she felt, and moreover, the way Danielle characterized it in the strip, felt like someone had dropped a hod of bricks on my skull.

At least Joshua finally got the hint, and when Clarice finally let the cat out of the bag, he didn't freak out and reject her. I'm raising the point because I know all too well how it could've gone the other way- been there, done that, created this blog to try to work through it. I don't often embrace what I consider silly romanticism, but the two characters's close to home. It's what I wanted and what never happened for me. So, I cheer for my favorite fictional librarian and her new paramour, while at the same time it's deeply painful to read.

This arc is playing out while I'm at a crossroads in my life. I've made the decision to proceed with a more radical weight loss surgery, and it cuts to my very identity. Who will I be, when I'm not fat anymore? Will people still be my friends? Will I still be loved, when my role has changed? The loss of my mother is a powerful catalyst. Can I take control of my life? Can I have the life I want? I don't know.