Thursday, October 18, 2012
Grit and Rambling
I've been composing a post in my head for several days now in response to the stories I hear on the radio. That's pretty normal for me. I fill up the sink, add the soap, fire up the radio, open a beer and seethe/laugh/weep while I wash the dishes. There's no curtain on the window above the sink. I'm surprised that the neighbors haven't sent the authorities to come and collect me yet.
The radio stories are unrelated. Except that they're about life and, you know, everything is sort of related when you consider the (say it with me now) interconnected nature of our existence and the unlimited possibilities presented by our vast and ever-expanding universe.
I'll endeavor to get a grip someday. Or maybe I'll just take up smoking and buy some black turtlenecks.
The thing on my mind is the future. Maybe you could call it the "unknown" or the "getting through" or the "going on". It's the thing that "can't be imagined" when you share your historic tragedy(ies) with someone and he or she says in response, "I just can't imagine."
I'm going to veer off on a tangent here because this is a common topic among the grief-stricken. When the recipient of bad news says it--"I can't imagine"-- my first reaction is always to think, "Sure you can. In fact, you're imagining your loved one's cold, dead body right now." But, now that more time has passed, I see that all of those people are right. I don't think anyone can comprehend what forever feels like until you've been at it for a few years.
So, I heard several stories last week that made a dent in my brain but two stand out--and, no, I'm not going to bombard you with more politics. First was the amazing episode of "This American Life" about near-death experiences (but not in a Shirley Maclaine sort of way) and second was a radio documentary on a charter school's attempts to get kids in low-income families into college and through to graduation. There was no overlap in these stories except that they all spent some time zeroing-in on the isolation factor of surviving something that either isn't familiar to your peers or isn't part of the mainstream narrative.
The first part of that TAL episode was just incredible. I actually heard it on my way to the grocery store the first time and re-listened at the sink (so that I could simultaneously laugh and weep in front of a window in view of as many people as possible).
And the story on the charter schools with all of the teachers and administrators puzzling over the role that 'grit' plays in future success. Why do some of these kids have 'what it takes' while some of them don't? How can these kids get through hunger and poverty and abuse and then throw their hands up when confronted with something as awesome as college? I was actually making tortilla soup but, if the neighbors were watching, they probably assumed that I was threatening someone with a slow, painful death at the point of that knife I kept waving around.
I know that I'm running afoul of my own beliefs co-opting other peoples' experiences when I say this but I felt like I have been in this place where there is just so much bizarre, bad news to share that there is neither a good way to speak to other humans about it nor a good way to avoid talking about it and there is no way to put it behind you while you assume your place in society and proceed along a conventional, approved path.
Because you can't imagine...
I'm well into the future/unknown/getting through/going on phase of things. My coping mechanisms are in place. Can't be totally sure but, to the folks I interact with daily, I believe that I appear to have shrugged it off or buckled down or mustered my strength/faith/hope.
It's exhausting to force my mind to care about conventional things. I can actually feel it on me like a hand pushing against my chest, slowing me down, cutting off the oxygen when I walk into the office each morning knowing that I will have to treat my work as if I believe it's important enough to take me away from my surviving daughter for the next 8 hours.
The 'grit' that those researchers were looking for in those college hopefuls...what is it? Why do some people have more? What do I do after I've used it all up, emptied my tank? Can I get more? Where does it come from?
I get up and go to work and coach the soccer team and cook dinner and laugh at stupid jokes and carry on conversations about home repair and traffic. Apparently, I have the 'it' at the center of 'what it takes' but, truthfully, even here, in the midst of what seems to be healthy coping, I can't imagine how I will get up and do it all over again tomorrow. I can't imagine.
I think we're all born with the ability to develop and use grit. Some people are just forced to dig too deep, too often or too deep, too early. I can't believe that this wasn't part of the radio story I heard. After you've struggled with something real...really real...it's hard to re-calibrate.
You know the feeling of your first post-loss baby shower or meet-up with a friend who has no dead babies or conversation with someone you haven't seen in years. It's fucking torture. How many of these things have you tried to avoid? How worn out did you feel afterwards?
I think this experience is comparable in some ways to the story about the kids in the charter school. Imagine fighting your way out of a hellhole and moving into a dorm where people are bitching about cell phone minutes and grades. How long would you last? Does anyone have that much grit?
I can't imagine how I will continue but I know that I will.
I will wake up tomorrow morning and R will still be dead and the other babies will also be dead and C will still be a mortal who is capable of dying at any moment and so will all of your living children. I will sit at my desk and try to make a difference with my limited influence. I will buy a new bottle of shampoo because my hair just comes a little too limp when I use T's.
I can't decide if this is horrible or heroic or something completely ordinary that doesn't have to be either horrible or heroic.
Remember R. Remember all of them.
Remember that we're out of mustard.
I watched a bird with a broken foot try to land on a wire . At first he was part of a group of 6 or so--starlings, flitting from place to place in that half graceful, half robotic way that birds have. Gradually, through the accumulated fractions of seconds picked up on each landing and take-off, the other birds outdistanced him. A hard-wired, bird activity suddenly requiring careful negotiation, time, energy.
I don't know what happened next. I kept walking to catch the train to the city.
Subscribe to: Post Comments (Atom)
It is so crazy. I was just blogging about that Tig Notaro stand-up routine that was on This American Life. I bought the whole thing from Louis C.K.'s site. And it is amazing. It is five bucks, so totally worth it. I couldn't stop thinking about it after I heard it. And so much of it, I could relate to, even though our details are very different.ReplyDelete
This: I will wake up tomorrow morning and R will still be dead and the other babies will also be dead and C will still be a mortal who is capable of dying at any moment and so will all of your living children. I will sit at my desk and try to make a difference with my limited influence. I will buy a new bottle of shampoo because my hair just comes a little too limp when I use T's.
I can't decide if this is horrible or heroic or something completely ordinary that doesn't have to be either horrible or heroic.
Remember R. Remember all of them. Remember that we're out of mustard.
This is it. This is what I try to say constantly, but never say. It is both horrible and heroic and tragically ordinary.
I have to go back and buy the whole performance. I think I have a new hero. But, I'm so glad that I wasn't trying to make my living in stand-up comedy before all of the death and mayhem started. I know that I don't have what it takes to do what Ms. Notaro did.Delete
I came over from still life with circles. Your post is just wow! I can't copy and paste from my phone what you wrote but the part about all the bizarre bad news there is no good way to speak of it and no way not to talk about it. And also what you wrote about seeing people for the first time after loss and how exhausting it is just to keep going. We just keep going. I think about this a lot with survivors from WWII. So much tragedy and people kept going and having families after such horrific tragedies. I feel like I'm living my own personal WWII. Neither heroic or ordinary. We are not strong, we just have to keep going. I'm not a martyr. I didn't choose my child to die. It happened and I'm still alive. I remember the first time I plucked my eyebrows after Camille died. I couldn't believe I gave a shut about something like that. But mustard and shampoo are still purchased and we miss them while we wash our hair and eat our sandwiches. Life is so bizarre when it has been touched by death.ReplyDelete
Hi, Renel. And welcome.Delete
Your comment about WWII survivors is something that I think about too. Of course, I remember all of the grandfathers and great uncles drinking fairly heavily at times. Even if you are welcomed home with the ticker tape parade and seen as a hero who helped save the world--it doesn't really erase all of the horror.
To me the strangest thing is that every day is bizarre but not at all in the way that I thought it would be. Does that make any sense?
Oh Tracy. If we were neighbours it would be like looking in a mirror. So I certainly wouldn't be calling the authorities. I do a lot of my seething / laughing / weeping whilst listening to the radio too. Mainly because it is the only time that I am alone, on the drive to work. And I am keenly aware that a lot of my posts start, 'I was listening to the radio . . . . ' whilst driving down the motorway and looking like I am going to shortly either (a) kill or (b) be killed.ReplyDelete
And we ARE all sort of interconnected. I'll go and get . . . oh no, already did black turtlenecks and cigarettes. Damnit.
If I CAN listen to those radio episodes I most certainly will.
There is that horrible feeling of, 'oh well, she's obviously shrugged off that unfortunate experience' which makes me feel that most people perceive me as a cold, heartless, b*****.
But to pretend as though you are absolutely fine is the only middle road between 'weak and sad' or 'angry and crazy' that is available? Maybe?
And this is the sentence that stands out to me I can't imagine how I will get up and do it all over again tomorrow. I can't imagine.
Because sometimes I go to bed dreading that I will have to do this again tomorrow. But I do it. And I hate myself and I'm tired and I'm used up all my grit. Until tomorrow. When it miraculously reappears. In just sufficient quantities to make it through another 24 hours. Sigh.
And I was born deficient in grit. I don't have what it takes. Never have. Never will. And this leaves me a little bit . . .f***ed. I suppose. I just can't be bothered. This other mother at the school gate was telling me about how her son had been admitted to the emergency department once with coughing, in sympathy with the whole J coughing episode I guess and she was so kind but I just thought to myself that I don't actually want to know. Because I could compare our experiences. But I won't. What happened to you WAS scary and awful but I'm just . . .well, I don't have enough grit to cope with you. Just as some other people probably don't have the grit to cope with me with the lucky, surviving, miracle baby. Sigh.
And your bird with the broken foot. I hope he landed. I'm drawn to slightly broken things now, a bird with a broken foot, a murdered snail (we have a snail-hating psychopath round our way, I came out to a veritable massacre of stamped snail corpses the other morning) and I think that, sometimes I leave because I don't want to know what happens next? Or because I can guess what happens next and I don't care to see it?
So glad you're here Tracy. I think of your R so very often xo
There's so much to say about the notion of grit. The main thing is that I think people who have never really had to employ grit shouldn't be permitted to talk about it--they always get it wrong.Delete
It is so hard to carry around an experience that is completely foreign to just about everyone you meet and I'm only somewhat off the path with my 32-weeker. It's like everyone just wants to focus on the 'happy ending' parts of the story and ignore everything else. So frustrating!
Well, I could sit here and write about this all day but I have to get to work and pretend to be just-fine-thank-you-very-much now. Sigh...
"I think we're all born with the ability to develop and use grit. Some people are just forced to dig too deep, too often or too deep, too early. I can't believe that this wasn't part of the radio story I heard. After you've struggled with something real...really real...it's hard to re-calibrate."ReplyDelete
Totally agree. There are some things I've had to completely walk away from, mundane, stupid things. I don't have enough grit for the Today Show anymore. Which makes me question my overall grit level anyway.
But I tend to compartmentalize. Little boxes, made of ticky-tacky, I guess.
Lots of love to you, Tracy.
Ok so "This American Life' is presented by Ira Glass? Didn't he feature in this blog once previously?! All of these stories are so compelling and strange.ReplyDelete
Are you saying that I might be obsessed with Ira Glass? If so, you are correct.Delete
Were you able to hit the link to listen to the show with Tig Notaro's piece? I think you can also buy it on the Louis CK website. But that doesn't address your lack of access to Ira. I mean, I know we're not all Americans here but, This American Life seems like it would be just as awesome to an international crowd. Maybe I just think that because I'm American. Blerg...so confusing.
I arrived here through a series of clicks. And...where to begin? I have been a longtime NPR lover, but their stories seem more profound since my son died five months ago (NICU, 24-weeker who lived three weeks). Everything you said is so true: life is all about the profound mixed with the mundane. I suppose it always was, but it becomes jarringly obvious (and one always gets in the way of the other) after losing a child. Thank you for your beautiful words.ReplyDelete