Thursday, March 08, 2007

Philosophical Waxing and Waning

I used to read Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God every spring; right around lent. Like lent, I never decided to particpate in the calm reflective meditative practice that is reading Hurston (or engaging in lent), I would just happen to pick up the book and be in the mood for it. Every March or April for three years I read Hurston, not realizing that it had become a ritual. And I do love rituals- simple ones like having friends over for Sunday dinner or going out for breakfast at Johnny's in Newton on a Saturday. But, when you move as much as we have, rituals get lost. I did crave me some lent this year and did everything I could to find an Ash Wednesday service that I could attend in time to get home before Ed had to teach at Harvard. That, like so many other traditions and rituals, didn't happen. I haven't picked up Hurston since before Jack was born. I'm okay with it (the not having rituals part) - sort of. Rituals can be dangerous (obvious reference to Shirley Jackson's The Lottery here) mostly because they have the tendency to lose the very reflection that made them important in the first place. And yet, without them, my life lacks some distinct meaning. Maybe moving to Boston was in part about discovering new rituals that fit with the life and values which evolve from years of education, career changes, and new family members. Who knows.

Jack's been sick with some form(s) of cold or flu the last few weeks. Last night he threw up so I'm home with him today. I've yet to make it to a full week of school because of his colds and holidays since before February. And, I'm fine with that. Teaching five classes is KICKING MY ASS. It's insance, inhuman, and unethical. It's one of the reasons that Ed & I applied to teaching jobs back in the Northwest. That and the ever steady pulse of homesick heartache. Oh, and the realization that being near family would make childcare SOOOOO much easier. Oh, and the longing for moist air. But, mostly, the dull ache for the rituals we had only started - like the summer festivals at West Seattle Junction.

I really only wanted to post today to type up one of my favorite quotes from Hurston's novel. After years of accepting a less-than-perfect second marriage as a mayor's wife in a thriving town, the main character, Janie, "[watches] a shadow of herself... while all the time she herself sat under a shady tree with the wind blowing through her hair and her clothes." And, then a few lines later the narrator explains that "She got so she received all things with the stolidness of the earth which soaks up urine and perfume with the same indifference."

I can't tell you how many times this line has summed up my mood and reality the last few years. In a way it's down right depressing and a poetic definition of existentialism. But, when I'm about to rip off the five year old tattered sheets and light fire to my worn down five year old Danskos, angry that we haven't had the money, energy, or time to find or express some creativity - I have been able to (at least by the next morning), calm down and realize that everything just is. It's equally good; equally bad.

I think the quote sums up winter, too - winter in mood, you know, the winter of whatever part of life we are in. An acceptance of brightness hidden and warmth beyond reach. We've been in winter for awhile; things have been brewing underneath; goals have slowly become more clear the nearer we reach them (degrees/teaching jobs/doing what we love at work), and paradoxically, the farther we are away from them (being near - daily near-- family and friends). Applying to jobs in the Northwest felt like spring - like rebirth and fertility and lightness. That doesn't mean staying here equals death and darkness. Because, really, both are the same - it just depends on the day and the stack of work and the layer of dust.

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