Tag Archives: Houston

An open letter to some random women

Dear random women I have encountered recently at the grocery store, and the doctor’s office,

We have to talk.

I didn’t talk to you in the moment, because I tend to have an extremely long hang time when startled, and particularly when people behave badly. Especially when I’m upset. And I was really pretty upset. Let me explain.

I’ll address you based on the order in which these things happened.

First, ladies in the grocery store. I feel like twin babies are not.. uncommon. And when I go to the grocery store with them I have become used to the nonstop comments. I’ve even developed strategies to avoid having endless conversations about their age, gender, means of conception, or identical vs. fraternal status. Or whether twins run in my family. And the twins you’ve met before now.

I honestly don’t mind these interactions (except when I’m trying to be efficient in the store), and I thought that’s where our encounter was going when you approached me and the boys. You said something, but I didn’t get to respond before you were in the stroller taking photographs of the babies.

I was so shocked I knocked over a glass bottle of kombucha (shaddup) and made both a glorious mess and commotion. You were not deterred. Why did you want pictures of my babies? What were you doing? What will you use the photos for?

I will never know, because by the time I had collected myself enough to speak words, you were scurrying off, with photos of my babies on your phone. I was rattled for the rest of the night.

***

This brings me to you, woman-trying-to-help, and mean woman.

I didn’t want to bring my twins to the doctor’s office on Monday. Not even a little bit. But I’m not working (for $) right now, and I can’t afford a baby sitter. And I feel very guilty bullying my in-laws into doing it all the time. But I digress. I was with the babies, and they were not happy.

In their defense, they’re 23 weeks old, and the appointment was smack in the middle of a feeding time.

By the time I was done with the doctor– an hour long event that basically entailed her rocking one of the babies and trying to talk over their wailing– the babies were really fed up with… not being fed. I had only one bottle with me, because I am a sleep deprived mess, so I proceeded to feed half to each baby. This satisfied neither, and they both kept wailing.

In desperation, I ran to the bathroom and began filling up the bottle with warm tap water. You came out of one of the stalls. “Tap water?” you (stranger #1) asked, horrified. “Oh no no. You can’t use that. Let me get you some bottled water.”

I looked down at my already-ready bottle, and my screaming babies, and I sighed. You were trying to be nice. So I waited while they hollered, trying in vain to soothe them with pacifiers. After what seemed like a year, you returned with two small bottles of icy cold water.

I know the babies won’t take water that cold. But you hovered, and I sighed, and gave it a shot. And of course, the babies would not drink. As I futilely tried to persuade them, that cold would be “refreshing” you fussed and interfered. And then you, stranger #2, exited a bathroom stall.

You saw the canister of formula on the counter- the result of countless hours of ingredients research and obsessing and self flagellation. And you made a sound of disgust: “Formula, really?”

I just looked at you.

“Don’t you know ‘breast is best’?” You tsked.

Oh good, that old chestnut. Said by someone who has no idea what my baby feeding journey has been like, no regard for the challenges multiples introduce. Said when I was already a hair’s breadth away from crying in public. I was too shocked to speak. So were you, stranger #1, so you fled that shit show. Said something about “leaving me to it”, and bolted.

This is probably the part of the story where I’m supposed to digress and give my readers a sob story about why formula has entered my life. I’m supposed to try to shut down criticism anyone might have. I’m not going to do that, because it’s nobody’s damn business.

After having a good cry about it all in my car on the way home, and later that night, I’m just … disappointed in all three of you.

Like asking someone who isn’t pregnant when she’s due, I was shocked to be confronted by people out in the “wild” who really behave this way. Shocked as I am about people asking me if the twins are “natural”. I do think these people are outliers- I don’t subscribe to any “decline of civilization” narrative.

But I read every week about women being abused for breast feeding in public, and being abused if they don’t. So clearly, there are plenty of people out there who need to get the message that some things are just none of their business.

That is all. Carry on… differently.

(And if you see photos of my twins anywhere… let me know, okay?)

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Maybe I should start a think tank

(Tangentially, I wrote a Scary Mommy article recently: 10 Things That Surprised me About Having a C-section. Let me know what you think. More on that front to come.)

***

After a lengthy, meandering series of patio discussions recently with M, it was actually two conversations with friends (you know who you are!), a job posting, and a scheduled job interview that pushed me from aggressive hedging (it’s not just an oxymoron, it’s a lifestyle!) into the realm of needing to act.

This is about the job thing again.

The morning unfolded like this:

  1. I received an email telling me I have a 3 hour job interview lined up for tomorrow. For the job that I was just telling M last night I think I may neither be qualified for, nor want.
  2. I told a friend that I couldn’t meet her for lunch tomorrow, because of it. She asked about the job and then kindly said that it sounded “intellectually beneath me”. That gave me pause.[1]
  3. I told a long distance friend about the job interview and she said “Great but… that’s not really what you want to do, right?”
  4. Money, I told them both. We still haven’t paid off the twins’ medical bills (etc.)
  5. I saw a posting by data & society looking for a research manager. My heart started beating faster. I’ve wanted to get involved with them for a while. I read through the entire posting, and when I made it to the bottom I saw the dreaded words: “This is not a remote position. You must be able to work full time from Data & Society’s offices in the Flatiron District.”  I must be in good company trying to find remote work…

I paced around my house, feeling depressed. Dropped a quick email to danah, who I went to college with and who sits on the advisory board for d&s – and who by no means has the time to reply to an email from me.

Then the twins started screaming, and I had to disconnect and try to juggle tandem feeding of two fussy babies. I may have sworn a few times.

IMG_7739

The twins were kind enough to do this while I wrote the blog entry.

Ok. So I’m in Houston. I have a PhD in anthropology with a focus on media/technology. I’ve spent the majority of my career in the academic world. There are no positions here for me, and only money buys me the time to work on my publications (need to not be doing other jobs full-time, including watching the babies).

Maybe I should start a research group. Or a think tank. Or freelance research until I can find enough work to start the group. I know so many underemployed or unemployed PhDs. Adjuncting is unsustainable, financially. Not everyone can move, so we could all work from where we need to be- providing on-site researchers around the world for our clients.

Please share this with anyone who might be able to help with this mission. Anyone I can connect with on this would be a valuable ally.

 

  1. I don’t like thinking anything is intellectually beneath me- but I know what she means. Not challenging enough, not aligned with my professional trajectory, whatever that is.

The Road Back to Houston

I hung up the phone with my mother (I was using a headset) and stretched. Glanced at the gas gauge. And then I did a double-take: the low fuel light was on. On my 2005 Pontiac Vibe’s gas gauge the low fuel light goes on with an arrow indicating the percentage of gas left. This time it was at the very bottom. And I could feel the lightness of the car; it was handling strangely, and accelerating hesitantly. Shit. I was stuck in traffic between Austin and Houston, on I-10 E. That stretch of the road where there’s just nothing but ranches.

I picked up my iPhone, and asked Siri for directions to the closest gas station. Siri said behind me 5 miles. The second closest one was more than 20 minutes away. So, reluctantly, I eased out of traffic and onto the Frontage road and crossed over I-10 to head back West. As I lurched down the highway, I fixated on that light and mumbled a few prayers. Just brush and cows, and me, and the landscape that I’d been admiring almost moments before. 4 miles. 3.8. I imagined walking those miles, there and back, with no shade in the 95 degree Texas summer heat.

As I gratefully approached that exit, I did a double-take at the GPS. Glanced up, and down. I pulled around to one side of the highway and then the other, but saw nothing apart from a chipped and rusted abandon building. Panic rising in my throat, I continued to drive, before pulling into the lot of a farming supplies shop right behind two impatient pickup trucks. I shut the car down and sat for a moment, smiling.

Sigh.

A little conversation with myself (out loud) later, and I called up Google this time to check for a nearby gas station (seriously, Siri, this is the second time you’ve screwed me on the gas thing…) 25 minutes away. No… I hadn’t thought I’d make it 5 miles. I hadn’t thought I’d make it into this farm shop’s driveway. And I-10 was barely moving. After an “are you fucking kidding me?” directed skyward, I shrugged and banged a U-turn out of that gravel driveway and headed back to I-10. My new plan was to get as far as I could before I had to pull to the shoulder and call someone.

Stopped behind a Kia on that blasted I-10 E, I narrowed my eyes. Then I swerved and took my little car over the grassy divider back onto the Frontage road. If I was going to run out of gas, I wasn’t going to do it passively.

“Siri?” I asked “If you’re about to run out of gas, is it better to drive fast or slow?”

Siri answered: “I wish you wouldn’t.”

Thanks. Fast it was. I turned on some music and began to sing along. No point in dwelling on it. 24 miles. I played through my current favorite song twice (it captures some of… what catches up with me when I’m still these days). 20 miles. I pulled around a turn and up a hill, and I could feel that the car didn’t want to move. Would barely accelerate. I prayed some more.

I could see the exit. And as I pulled into that Exxon station, the car ran out of fuel, and coasted gently to a stop right in front of the pump. I climbed out, and the man in the pink cowboy hat with the muttonchop sideburns stared as I laughed until tears came to my eyes.

Image

I was still smiling even while using that bathroom, in a part of Texas where the graffiti said that Obama is the anti-christ, and a woman with a pronounced Texas twang told her kids “don’t you touch nothin’. this place is nasty” in the other stall. As often as I want to get out of my car and scream until I fall to my knees these days, I am lucky. I am so often so very lucky.Image

I Know What the Problem Is

I promise someday I’ll go back to telling funny anecdotes about people and talk about my misadventures as I’ve tried to “save my sanity” this year. But I have to get something boring out of the way first, as a series of notes to myself.

I know the root of 95% of my recent problems is.  I’ve got monophobia- I’m afraid of being alone. I honestly had no idea until 2014, although I started to suspect around 2012. “I’m an introvert,” I thought. “A total homebody! I have a social anxiety disorder. How can this be possible?”

But I can see now how it has driven most of the decisions I’ve made in my life.

This is very true, from zenhabits:

“Does learning to be OK with being alone mean you can’t be in a relationship? Not at all — but if you aren’t OK with being alone, then being in a relationship is going to be fundamentally flawed.

Why? Because you become dependent. You need the other person, not only to pay bills and help you manage, not only to protect you and provide for you, but for emotional needs. You need the other person to pay attention to you, to give you validation and comfort and love. Now, all of those things are nice, but needing someone else for them means you become needy, desperate, and those aren’t attractive qualities. Who wants to be in a relationship with a needy, desperate person?”

Or, as RuPaul says: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?

—-
In my heart I know about people almost instantly. I know whether they’re real or fake, good for me or not. I feel them acting upon my nervous system immediately. When I try to force a relationship (friendship or otherwise) with someone who, for whatever reason, isn’t relating to me genuinely and openly, it causes me so much pain (angst!). In particular, I respond very negatively to people who are deeply afraid, but in denial about it, because something in me picks up on the torment.

I now know what I have to do, but whether I am able to do all of it or not is questionable.
1. I need to not date (how many times have I had this realization? BUT I am adding a caveat)… unless I encounter someone who really feels right on a deeply instinctive level. And that hasn’t happened in Houston.

2. I need to figure out what I can change about this house to make it more me and less us. I don’t know if this can and will happen, because in a lot of ways it’d be easier to just discharge almost everything when I make the permanent move in a year or less, then redecorate when I get where I’m going.

3. I need to see if I can find a house-sitting gig somewhere outside of Houston that will allow me to bring an incontinent elderly dog (London) and one who is now confused about where potty goes (Mei) because of his illness. It’d have to be free lodgings or I’m still stuck here. But house-sitting… yeah. The odds are about as high as that makes it sound.

I don’t know, my inner voice is still telling me I need to go, but I’ve had to be strong and patient in the past. This may be no exception. I do have things keeping me in the HTX, but I’ve learned this year that even what seem like inflexible barriers can be worked through if a thing is important enough.

Hmmmm thoughts thoughts thoughts.

My Fear is a Liar

pennsylvania

Flying into PA. Flying back to Houston

I’m in the Charlotte airport, by myself. I seem to end up in the Charlotte airport once every few months, in the same terminal by the Starbucks. The flight next to mine is going to Munich, not Houston, and I’m considering going AWOL, jumping aboard.

In a departure from the beautiful crisp summer morning I left behind in Newark, it’s pouring here. It’s raining hard enough that it’s temporarily become the primary topic of conversation in the B terminal. Our flight has been delayed 2 hours. (*Later it was cancelled altogether.)

I didn’t think I’d be going back to Houston today.

Yesterday my anxiety disorder was winning, the trauma of the past few years had caught up with me again. I was so afraid I could only lie around and cry, and hug pillows. In those moments I admitted my darkest fears to myself and insofar as I can, to my sister and mother.

Fear looks like forever. It colors my work grey and meaningless (at a time when I have doubts about the value of most academic work). It tells me that I can never break up with anyone because I will never find another person to date. Logic says otherwise, but my life has thus far been governed and sabotaged by fear. Because I have listened to the fear above all other voices.

My sister asked me what my instincts were telling me. I think that’s the same as what my friend (and dog-sitting buddy) Sera refers to as the soul, and listening to the soul’s voice. My soul was telling me that E wasn’t really right for me, but my fear was telling me that I didn’t have the time to keep looking for someone who might fit better. I never did lose my feelings of high anxiety around E, because he was too close-lipped about himself, too concerned with his facade, too concerned with managing himself and the people in his life according to some corp-speak philosophy intended to deliver him maximum return on his investment. Perhaps needless to say, he was a salesman for a living– viewing people in utilitarian terms was his job.

When I hit my social limit, which doesn’t take long, or (that one time) objected to being abandoned (meaning he announced he “had to go”) at a party where I knew only him, he urged me to “network”, because “you never know who you’ll need, when.”

We weren’t a match.
But he was incredibly kind, and chivalrous, and called me “sweetie” and “babe”, which were firsts for me. He was ex-military, he was ripped (fit), and these were firsts for me too. I was fascinated by him.

I didn’t sleep again last night, but somewhere around 3AM, the fear ran out of materials to burn. Soul says I need to change therapists. Check! Soul says to find a good acupuncturist. Check! Soul says to focus on my work, and really examine whether I truly don’t enjoy it, or I’m currently just suffering from the malaise that comes with being in the middle of a massive project. Soul says to not actively look for a new partner. The latter is the hardest for me.

I told my sister something I deeply believe: I am happiest in a relationship. I want to feel taken care of, and like I have someone watching out for me. I pick one person at a time in the world to trust, and throw my trust into them almost entirely … and immediately. I feel like I’m drowning without that person because I don’t know how to take care of my own emotional needs. I would do anything to preserve a relationship with my chosen person, even when it proves to be a poor fit. This is why I was married for so long. Does this sound like any of you?

The fear is chemical. It is illogical. And it is wrong. It whispers to me that I’ll have regrets, that I’m doing everything wrong, that I have to hurry, that I’m not safe by myself. My fear is a liar.

I have read that distracting oneself from fear is misguided, that it means one isn’t dealing with one’s feelings. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. When the terror grips me I will continue to spiral illogically downward if i don’t intervene with aggressive distraction. Or talk it out.

I have to trust more than one person. This has been a big theme of the blog lately. I mean enough trust to text them when I am freaking out, and believe that they will tell me when it’s a bad time, and they can’t talk, trust that I will not “bother” them.

This is what I’m trying / have tried:
-Meditation
-A house purifying ritual from Mrs. B’s Guide to Household Witchery
-Acupuncture
-Group Therapy
-Individual Therapy
-Reading some good books- I think when going through a crisis, books for pure pleasure are as important, if not more important, than “constructive” books
-Yoga (of course); also volunteering at the yoga studio to meet new people.
-Getting a housemate – this makes such a difference to my sanity.

Tell me, what helps you keep the fear at bay?

Desperate Times

It’s 1:35 PM on a Sunday and I am lying sideways on my sofa with my eyes held closed as tightly as I can. My limbs feel like lead, and I am shaking a bit. I can feel my heart beating irregularly, in violent bursts. I can’t recall what my doctor told me this is called, but it can happen when one consumes an excess of caffeine, and also as symptom of a chronic overload of cortisol (stress hormone) in the system.

I think I’m about to be broken up with today. Again.

We’ll see in an hour or so.

In the meantime, my stress has reached peak levels. I can feel the noise in my brain, the pressure in my skull. Having an acute anxiety disorder + shit that would stress anyone out + PTSD = kind of untenable physical state.

I was broken up with in the past, in part because I’m “too old” (35). He wants kids, and my being 35 means we’d have to rush it. He’s 35 too. It’s not fair.

And I think I’m going to have to take my coping strategies to another level as a result. I’m looking at tickets to Philly (my parents’ house) for tomorrow. And I’m thinking of trying to go to San Francisco in July. I’ll keep up my dissertating pace, as the only thing that will get me out of this current stalemate is graduating (or perhaps spontaneously making great strides with my enlightenment).

I am sitting up now, and turning my head every time I hear a car drive by. I am afraid of him arriving. I had initially planned to let him message me first, but I woke up crying and shaking, and knew I couldn’t spend the entire day in a state of tension. I need(ed) to know, and so I wrote: “Can you come over? ”
He replied: “Yeah – let me run first and then I’ll head over!” And me: “Awesome, thanks”

Last night, when I didn’t understand why he’d walked away from me and gotten in his truck to go to his own place for the second night in a row, I texted him: “I wish I knew what is going on. My heart hurts.”

He thought I was referring to my house, at which my new housemate told me there had been an attempted break-in that night. Or perhaps he was avoiding my question. He replied with a query about the house. My heart hurt more. In the dark I held a pillow close to my chest and breathed.

While I was driving home, at 2AM… later than I’d wanted to stay, (but I’d stayed because he was there and I was afraid that leaving would mean I’d be the one walking away prematurely),  I saw something amazing. A shooting star, vivid and bright in front of me on the road. I was surprised at how clear it was against Houston’s light-polluted skies. I wished with the full force of my heart, trembling a bit as I did.

Sometimes I wish I could trade a little of my social anxiety, my awkwardness, my difficulty opening up for some of the cheery natural extroversion I see around me. I envy people from whom love seems to pour freely (and not so much the ones who are just loud and effortlessly social). But I’d have to give up some of my sensitivity in the bargain, I think.

I wish I could freeze my age, and not continue aging until the current chaos in my life had sorted itself out. It doesn’t seem fair to waste life on pain. (I know, I know.)

I am about to be broken up with. By someone with whom I am in love.

My Spooky, Scary Halloween Misadventure.

the silver part of the grill coming off.

Roadside portrait, with foot.

First, I want to note that I am writing this within line of site of a couple of witches, monsters, a zombie or two, and a group of graduate students from India. I’m downing chamomile tea by the bucketload at one of Austin’s most comforting vegetarian restaurants, as I try to recover from the day I’ve had. Let me say first that last night I did something stupid and drunken, and this morning I was busily/traumatically updating my sense of self to include “person who does stupid shit”.

***
On the way to Austin, my car started acting up; the route between Houston and Austin has these odd places where you pass from completely rural (ranches) to tiny communities and suddenly encounter a stop light.

At the first of these, my car began to shake and vibrate dramatically. The “low oil” light flicked on and off. The “external light system failure” light flicked on. And off. And I started swearing under my breath, because I’d just taken the car to the shop on Monday to make absolutely sure I wouldn’t have problems while driving this route. They replaced the car battery, and deemed the rest of my complaints “a symptom of the dying battery”.

As I puttered along … slowly, cautiously…. my eyes were suddenly drawn to a piece of shiny metal poking out from the front of my hood. Alarmed, I glanced at the side of the road. Not really anywhere to pull over. I eased myself half into and half out of a ditch filled with reeds and bog (from the monsoon that had befallen us until about 4pm today), and gingerly slid from the driver’s seat.

I hadn’t noticed it before, because I’d been rushing from building to car in the pouring rain, but someone had clearly hit the front of my car HARD. It must have happened when I was at the yoga studio earlier today. I’d backed into a spot at the edge of the lot, with the car’s right-front side facing the parking lot entrance and a narrow street. There was a huge scrape up the front of my hood, and the grill was hanging on narrowly. As I went to touch it, a piece snapped off. Lovely.

I climbed back into the car, and wound up on the phone with J. We agreed that I’d drive slowly, look for a place to buy duct tape, and call in an insurance claim when I got to Austin. Slower now, I puttered along Route-something-or-other, listening to my audiobook about perfume and grumbling to myself about yogis who don’t leave notes when they hit someone’s car.

I hadn’t gone much further when the piece of grill that was loose snapped free and hurled backwards in the wind, disappearing from my view almost as quickly as I could pull onto an even narrower shoulder. I moved quickly to reverse the car (not another car in sight, only damp brown grasses and the occasional gnarled tree. Flat, Texas ranch land). As I reversed my car, it suddenly turned off. Just… shut down. No sad, whining sound. Nothing.

And then it was eerily silent. I got out of the car to look for my grill, and though I searched frantically in the dimming light, it was seemingly nowhere. I could hear the wind rustling the grass as I trudged back to my car. I sat back down. I tried the car. Nothing. Nothing.

I reached for my phone to tell someone that I was in the middle of rural Texas, and my car wouldn’t start, to call my insurance’s towing company– but the phone was dead. My phone, which had been at 80% battery charge only moments before, simply lay there. A dark, electronic brick.

This is when I started laughing; as my sister would later put it, the “unhinged laugh”, not a .. healthy laugh, not a good laugh. Still no sign of anyone else on the road. I had no particular sense that anyone good or helpful would come along, but that it would of course be someone who would drag me out into the field and kill me there. With my phone dead, my whereabouts would be a mystery. I’d die in my Halloween-themed mummy socks, somewhere between Austin and Houston, on a straight, flat road that seemed to stretch from one end of the world to another. I sat back down.

I don’t know that it was particularly long that I sat there on the seat, with the wind blowing in my face. Eventually, I wrenched my eyes away from the sky and tried the car again. It started with as little fanfare as it had turned off! But the phone was still dead.

No matter. I’d charge it.
That’s when I realized I’d left my suitcase by the back door of my house in Houston. No clothes. No medication. No toiletries. No charger. No directions to Austin if I couldn’t get the phone on.

I looked down at the mummy socks and the t-shirt I’d gotten from the yoga studio with “Go with the Flow!”  printed on it. I imagined how progressively weirder it would get to be wearing that at an academic conference. Day 1: “Okay, she’s a little odd.” Day 2: “And… dirty” Day 3: MENTAL ILLNESS.

I’d dressed for a combination of comfort, and with awareness that I was going to Austin and could parade around half-yoga geared, half Halloweeny with no qualms. Presenting a research paper like that? Not.. the plan.

The laugh came back.

It was the mummy socks that pushed me over the edge. Why had I worn the mummy socks? Because it’s fun to drive in novelty socks on Halloween, that’s why.

Epilogue:
I stopped at the nearest gas station and got an iPhone car charger, so I did make it safely to my hotel in Austin (and it’s lovely). But the clothes problem? Let’s just say I need to figure out when during this conference I can escape to find a Target. To buy passable clothes with money I don’t have.

My hotel is also across the street from a Haunted House. When I pulled up a troupe of zombie girls were doing a choreographed girl-band-esque routine. Two guys regarded me drunkenly from their hotel room balcony. But will they like my mummy socks tomorrow, I wonder?