Monday, August 22, 2011

Skool Daze

This fall will be the first time in 27 years that I am not returning to school as either a student or a teacher. 27 YEARS, folks!

After graduating from college, I promptly went to work in education, as an aide with emotionally disturbed high school kids and then as a substitute teacher, which led me to realize I wanted a classroom all my own. Then it was on to grad school for two years (during which I got to teach comp classes at SSU), and after that, Nonesuch, where I taught for the past six years before deciding it was time to set sail.

As a kid boating around on Crystal Lake during the summer, I fantasized about new penny loafers and uniform blouses (with puffed sleeves!) But even better than new school clothes was shopping for school supplies: Trapper Keepers, five subject notebooks with pocket folders, glittery pencils... even picking out a new ruler felt like a divine treat. And then there were the added treasures that came with teaching, like accordion file folders and felt-tipped grading pens. Usually at this time of year I'm excitedly scratching out unit plans, salivating over grammar workbooks in catalogs, dusting my classroom, and picking out my new lesson plan book at Skool Daze.

But this year is different. This year I'm rounding the corner into my second trimester of pregnancy, consuming an alarming amount of birthing books and ginger ale, collapsing into late afternoon naps. And, don't get me wrong, it's marvelous. Never have I understood the corporal better than now, as another being invades my body and leaves me chronically queasy, tired, and fighting hard to button my pants. It's funny, because part of my motivation to take a reprieve from teaching was to focus more on my own creative expression, to allow myself to embody the writing life that I've craved for far too long. And yet this summer has felt like the ultimate sacrifice of self. Good-bye bikini pride. So long, vanity.

Still, it's a beautiful, surreal experience to hear the horse-trotting heartbeat of something that is growing inside of me. It's humbling to realize that as challenging as the first trimester has been, it's surely nothing compared to the actual labor, birth, and life-altering event that is to come. And though I'm grieving the back-to-school madness that I am no longer a part of, I'm also celebrating the incredibly fortunate timing of this pregnancy. For the next six months I am free to nurture myself through creative labor. I've already got a couple of journalistic assignments, a 5,000 word manuscript to whittle down for an October writing workshop, scores of shorter works to tinker with, and plenty of pregnancy-related pitches to toss at editors.

And with my waning nausea and waxing energy, I am free, for the first time in 27 years, to devote my creative energy to myself, without the clutter of grades and gold stars. Just me, my laptop, and the budding of new life.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Mountain Nuptials

Last Saturday, on a cool summer mountain in central coastal California, M and I attended our first wedding (other than our own) together. Raina and Paul hosted nearly 100 people for an entire weekend event that was kicked off with an Indian feast and bonfire on Friday night. The next morning people helped string paper lanterns above the outdoor dance floor and concoct mason jar photo-and-lavender displays. Guests slept in cabins or tents (we chose the latter) at this beautiful Buddhist retreat center where we were asked not to swat or kill the mosquitoes :)

M, who knows me well enough to know that this is my tendency, cautioned early on: Now don't you go comparing every little thing to our wedding and making yourself feel bad. Who, me?

What's life without making myself feel bad? I joked, to which he responded by hugging me close. The beauty of getting older, though, is the realization that the world is not one giant competition unless you make it one. Maybe it was the very genuine and friendly guests, maybe it was all those fireside S'mores, but not only did I feel totally serene in my enjoyment, I had no desire to chastise myself for not thinking of stacks of classic books as table centerpieces (seriously, how cute is that?)

For our own ceremony, I'd asked my friend Judith to choose a reading. I decided to wait until the wedding to hear it (we share a love of words; I trusted her judgment). When she read "The Invitation" by Oriah Mountain Dreamer I couldn't help but cry; serious choked-up snort-like sobs came out of me, not polite, elegant tears. So it was with total delight that I listened to the groom's mother recite the same poem for their ceremony, held in a hushed grove of towering redwoods. (The newlyweds told us later that our own ceremony, and especially our vows, had inspired theirs. We were beyond honored.)

The rest of the evening was dreamy: the bride in her retro veil and boots, the groom in his rock-n-roll jacket, dancing to The Pixies' Here Comes Your Man; sparkling cider toasts that were by turns hilarious and weepy, with a perfect joke made by the (single) best man's mother (I'm so glad you two have found each other, she deadpanned. I wish someone else would find somebody); and enough booty-shaking, foot-stomping glory to keep everyone warm as the ocean air rolled in.

Later that night, exhausted and cozy in our tent, M and I listened to the sounds of the die-hard wedding party. We remembered our own wedding celebration, that feeling of being on top of the world. The best part is, we still are.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Day at the Fair

I remember fairs being mostly about the Zipper, candy apples, and corn dogs. But not the Sonoma County Fair! This here is a true down-home, farm fresh event that yielded more adventure than I ever imagined.

We saw Kenyan acrobats, the world's smartest pig (with the cutest old lady trainer), a heifer-judging contest, a toothpick sculpture of San Francisco that took 36 years and nothing more than Elmer's glue to construct. Lots of quilts, decorative cakes, canned goods, Lego sculptures, and incredible flower displays. Ditto elderly couples with giant hats and slow gaits.

We watched a former student gracelessly ride the mechanical bull and cigarette-smoking betters clamor around the horse track. And then it was on to my very favorite part of the event, the animal barns. M cooed and mooned over chickens, rabbits, sheep, goats, and cattle. We watched a giant heifer nurse her eager calf.

And then, after a wonderfully corny sing-along to This Land Is Your Land, after butter-soaked baked potatoes and a half-gallon of lemonade, it was time to follow the setting sun and head on home. We didn't even ride any rides (too expensive), but I can't remember ever having so much fun at a fair.