Saturday, November 25, 2006

I'm UP!

Spoiler alert: the reader will not find a recipe at the end of this post.

Last Monday, CD sat at my dinner table, and I began to remember something about myself that I had forgotten.

I first met CD when I was ten years old. Technically, that means that he has known me for longer than anyone outside my immediate family, and I am sure that he can remember my hair parted down the middle, barely held in place by brightly colored barrettes that matched my corduroys. I remember him unable to hold still, sporting stonewashed Z Cavariccis that hung on his bony frame, and spouting crazily brilliant ideas. He was a slob: his Banana Republic t-shirt always had a bit of shmuts somewhere on it. Although he nearly drove our teachers out of their minds, he kept me constantly entertained with his fierce wit and unorthodox perspective. In junior high, we encountered the terrors of pubescence together, and in high school, loyally fought each other's battles. We were the best of friends for a long time, for a solid five years, until I moved halfway across the country to the frozen tundra of Minnesota. We tried to keep in touch. He even visited me one summer for a week or so, but distance is awfully hard for teenagers to overcome. So, after a few years of thousands of miles and infrequent phone calls, we lost track of each other.

We didn't know each other for a long time.

About three years ago, my mother was working in the kitchen of her New Mexico home. She had the TV on for background noise and she heard something she hadn't heard for years--CD's voice. She rushed out of the kitchen to the living room to check, and there he was, all grown up, on TV. When she called to tell me, her voice shook with excitement. "You wouldn't believe who I saw on TV," she said. And when she told me, I hardly did. I looked him up on the channel's website, happily finding his work email address there, and I emailed him. He replied within an hour, and since then, it's like our friendship never had a vacation. I've stayed at his home, he at mine, we've met each other's friends and lovers, and this year, we even shared a holiday together.

But back to this Monday. We sat at my kitchen table, under the ceiling mural he inspired, and ate Moroccan chicken I had made because I knew he'd love it. We caught up over the few months it had been since we'd last seen each other, laughed at his jokes (he's much funnier than I am), and enjoyed the comforts of knowing each other. When I sat with him on Monday, I saw the ten year old CD inside the thirty-one year old. He still rolls his eyes exactly the same way he used to, and most of his couscous ended up in his lap, rather than in his mouth. But he's different than he used to be as well; experience has centered him, and time has given him exceptional compassion, much more than he had as a child. He isn't exactly the person that I expected him to become when we were ten--in fact, he is much more than what I expected. Always an impressive person, he is now remarkable, and I am so proud of how well he overcame the many obstacles life presented him.

My growing understanding of CD has been underscored by watching the Seven UP! series. On Friday, suffering the nigglings of a cold and a food hangover, all I could do was lie on the couch and watch TV. I never just lie on the couch and watch TV. I can't sit still very long, and when I watch something for longer than a half-an-hour, I inevitably end up multitasking. But, on Friday, I couldn't do anything more, and therefore decided to at least make watching TV worthwhile. My friend SM had recently given me the series, so I put the first DVD in the player and became so engaged I had to watch every installment. Midnight yesterday found me still on the couch, watching people grow old in very different ways.

For those who aren't familiar with it, I'll give a little bit of background. The Seven UP series documents the lives of 14 very different British children, beginning in 1963 when the children are seven, and it tests the Jesuit premise, "Give me the child until he is seven, and I will give you the man." Every seven years, a film crew and interviewer return to each of the documentary's subjects, and try to get at the heart of who each is and where each is going at that point in time. It is like time-lapse photography of the personality. The series begins with the clear intention of proving that environment and early opportunity shape what a person becomes. What the series proves, however, at least up to age forty-two--the last episode which I have seen--is that life is not nearly as predictable as that.

What fascinates me about the show is this: where one comes from isn't necessarily where one will end up. Granted, a child's early upbringing certainly does affect where that child goes in life, but of the fourteen children the series follows, only one pursues without straying his early trajectory. Every other subject holds at least one major surprise; one subject has a life that holds surprises within surprises.

The second point that the show proves, without seeming to intend to, is the effect a spouse has on the success and contentment of an individual. When I say success, I mean it in the whole definition: health, wealth, happiness, security, confidence, and just about any other quality of success one could identify. Unhealthy marital relationships seem to hold the subjects back, while healthy ones appear to have the power to completely revolutionize lives. I know that idea is old-fashioned and unpopular to many, but in the context of the series, it is true.

I am purposefully unclear on the specifics of the series. I do not want to give away what happens for the documentary is too important to summarize here. However, I do want to present a theory that I've developed as a result of seeing the show. Because they are the subjects of a recurring documentary, some of those subjects are more able to break out of the pattern in which they begin life. I don't mean that they receive extra money or confidence or anything like that due to this series. I mean something much more personal. Because they are interviewed every seven years, because they watch themselves as children, teenagers, and adults on a regular basis, the subjects can't avoid self-reflection. They are periodically forced into a metacognitive state. The subjects can see where they've been, what they don't like about who they were or are, and have a reason to change, for they'll be public to the world again in a few years.

This is an extreme example of what I try to teach my students. The only way one can take control of one's own learning--about any subject, one's life included--is to look back on successes and failures, realize the lessons in both, and set specific goals for continued growth. The subjects of the show have a structure that forces them to do just this, but most of us don't live on television and must do it ourselves.

I thought about all of this and more on my evening walk today. I walked under the same camphor trees under which I've walked hundreds of times, and as I did so, I completely remembered that thing which I had forgotten.

And now, I'm going to leave you wondering what it was that I remembered. I know. It sucks not knowing what is going to come next. It's just like life.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A Comma, Not a Period

These pictures are proof that I haven't fallen completely out of touch with myself and stopped cooking.

But mostly, I have been stewing.

I've been stewing in frustration with my inability to be the complete person I want to be. I don't know how to simultaneously be a friend, a homekeeper, a responsible citizen, a daughter, a girlfriend, and a teacher. Of all those roles, the teacher is the most all-consuming. No, contrary to public opinion, I do not show up at school at 8am and leave promptly at 3pm. Nor does the myth that all after-school time is mine hold true.

I could spend hours complaining here, but I am not going to. Instead, I'm going to disappear for a week or so from A Thinking Stomach, perhaps a smidgin' more, and get my head back on straight. I'm going to go camping and spend hours climbing around tidal pools and soaking up woodfire smoke.

I need to get my happy self back, and I'm going to do my best to find it. Wish me luck.