Being Human.

After I told my husband that I wanted to divorce, I did a whole host of things I am not proud of, because I was losing my damn mind. I wonder sometimes if that’s excuse enough, if it’s alright for me to brush it all away under the pretext that I was blind and paralyzed with fear and mad with panic. I have people tell me that it’s not, that I was terrible and cruel and not myself. And there are times when I believe that too, when I cry about it and get nauseous and flush red with humiliation. During those times, it helps me to think about why things ended like they did, because while hindsight can make me feel like a sociopath, it can also help me see more clearly.

While I was in Ireland, I grew up. I shook off years of depression and fog and listlessness. I took stock of all the things I has been content to accept about my life at home and decided that 26 was too young to give up on myself. I gathered all the strength I thought I had and I told my husband we couldn’t be married anymore, because, and I truly believe this, it was the best for both of us. Neither of us was happy or fulfilled, but we were tethered together by love and marriage and, at least in my case, a sense of responsibility to the commitments we’d made. I think I’ve told this part before.

What I haven’t said, for nearly a year, is the hardest part, because it’s taken nearly this long for me to come to terms with it.

When I told my husband I couldn’t be married anymore, he was in Ireland with me, having come to collect me at the end of the field school, having traveled to the other side of the world with my parents and The Middle Child. I had vaguely threatened him at the beginning of the summer, because he hadn’t wanted to make the trip. “This is so important to me,” I said, believing it was going to be the last trip I’d take for most of my life. “You are coming.”

Sitting on the park bench, sobbing in broad daylight in public, telling him I was done, I wished I’d spared us both and just let him stay at home. 

Instead, the two of us were sewn together for seven days, traveling the country with my family, who were all so shell-shocked and crazy with worry that they wouldn’t let us leave. At the time, I flashed hot with rage and sadness and deep, deep abandonment, because while I had just done the most terrifying thing imaginable, when I needed them the most, my family, reeling with the enormity of what I’d done, couldn’t reach me. They couldn’t be what I wanted them to be. I was broken and exhausted, never needing support more in my entire life, and my family turned on me. Something must have happened to me on that island, something sinister and seedy. I felt I had burst free from years of letting myself down, and everyone around me thought I was on drugs. I had just done something that felt like the most adult, sane decision I had made in years, I had finally told the people closest to me how I actually felt, I had done this massive, life-changing, serious thing, and no one took me seriously. They wrapped me up in shame and resentment, treating me like a caged animal, and plunked me down in the backseat of a Peugeot sedan for a family road trip from hell.

Now, I know that everyone was devastated. This story is not just about my life imploding. But then, I was the instigator, I was the one who started it, and I didn’t feel empathy or kindness or even pity. My family thought I was a monster, a loose cannon of insanity that could disappear at any moment into the wilds of Europe, never to be seen again. 

My dad stayed up full nights in the lobbies of bed and breakfasts, just to stop me making a break for it. And for six nights, I stayed in the same room as the man I had just destroyed, crying myself to sleep and trying not to be swallowed up by the ruin and darkness.

For this week, I shut down. I became completely blank. I didn’t talk to anyone, least of all the man I’d loved for years, even though we sat jammed together in a car for hours every day. I listened to the same twenty songs on a loop on an iPod, I texted friends I’d made in Ireland, I cried quietly to myself when the horror of what was happening crept in through the cracks of the walls I’d been building. I did anything I could not be where I was, because that place was disgusting. I had never before lived through an experience that was so horrible it felt surreal, and I never want to again.

I hated everyone. My plan hadn’t been to run away into Europe and never be seen again, but had I been able to, I would have. 

During this time, I was not kind. I was not nice or respectful or tuned into what anyone needed. Now I know that everyone felt numb, everyone wanted self-preservation, we all felt abandoned and angry. I couldn’t see it then, though. I was the one who had done this to everyone, and all I could feel was their collective confusion and disbelief. I was a pariah in my own family, and it hurt so much that I stopped feeling. For that week, eventually they were right –  I was not myself.

When I consider all of it like this, I can forgive myself. That doesn’t make it go away, or even make it better, but it makes it digestible. 

I am not a bad person.

I am human.

Apalapucia.

whinybaby:

I’m stealing this beautiful, devastating post from a friend from home, who has put into words all the things I feel. And have felt. And will continue to feel.

Change is brutal. It is relentless. It is gorgeous. It is freedom.

Originally posted on ..and still not ginger:

This is where something touching is supposed to go.

This is where I’m supposed to spill my heart and explain to my very small world how the most recent events in my life came to pass…What I have learned. It should be insightful… moving.

But as I sit here, staring at a blinking cursor and a blank page, I have quickly accepted that nothing I say will be satisfying… or rather, satisfying enough for each and every person who ventures upon these words. Moreover, the words that I myself write won’t even be what I would consider satisfying or remotely eloquent. Maybe this solves nothing and answers no one – but it helps.

And since we are talking about words, here are a few that have been thrown at me recently:

Selfish.
Careless.
Cold.

Being called selfish is a bizarre experience for me. It’s certainly something I am not used…

View original 1,048 more words

Things I Learned In Newcastle.

Yesterday morning at 7 am, I flew up to Newcastle for a workshop. Last night at 8 pm, I flew back to Southampton. (Initially, I wrote “at 8 pm, I flew home,” and then I immediately panicked. Is England home now? Eeeps.)

When Newcastle University offered to fund my flights up there for one day, I was super impressed with myself. I’d sent out a query about attending a workshop exactly six days before the event was set to take place, and instead of the form rejection email I deserved, I received a supremely enthusiastic reply, complete with details on a flight that could get me there and back in one day. Mind = blown. As much as I loved teaching children, it was always a terrible struggle to wring $20 for new colored pencils out of the administration of the private school where I worked. So, the thought of someone I didn’t know throwing £200 at me so that I could share my infinite wisdom with a group of people who were hugely more educated and accomplished than me was nothing short of unreal.

I was so excited for my business trip.

Sadly, now, sitting on the other end of a 17-hour work day that included two planes, two taxis, two trains, and one bus, I can say that flying to a meeting in another city without also booking a hotel room is really pretty dumb.

However, the workshop was fantastic and Newcastle is gorgeous and I’m very happy I was able to go.

It was also a learning experience:

1) Newcastle Airport is staffed entirely by teenage girls. This is no exaggeration. Check-in desk: girls. Security staff: girls. Gate police: girls. I could not believe it. My air travel safety was in the hands of 18-year-olds with box-dyed pony tails and loud stories about boys. I don’t doubt the intelligence or abilities of young women, as I was one of those once, but there was something mildly unsettling about having the people scanning our carry-ons be people who were having a heated discussion about the best music festivals in England.

2) I am a demon when hungry/tired/traveling. I saw a baby struggling to get its face out of some bright sunshine at the airport and my first thought was, “God, just close your eyes, dummy.” I thought that. About a baby.

3) This is not specific to Newcastle, but it synthesized for me when I tripped over the cord of a running vacuum cleaner at the Newcastle Airport at 5:30 in the afternoon: retail England does not hide its maintenance from the public. In the United States, supermarket shelves are restocked late at night and in the early mornings. In fact, the only time I have ever seen someone wheeling a cart full of boxes around a Ralph’s was when I’d pop into one at 6:30 am for the cheap coffee and bagel I’d sometimes eat in shame in my car before I started work. Here, in the UK, supermarkets are restocked approximately 100% of the time I am inside them. I would say that one in four supermarket aisles have massive carts blocking them at any given moment in England. Also, there is always, always some sort of cleaning happening throughout the day, like in the airport W H Smith bookstore I was in yesterday, where there was a teenage girl (surprise!) wheeling a vacuum around the store in the middle of the day. WHAT.

4) Los Angeles has ruined me for public transportation – in that, there is no public transportation to speak of in LA, and I have now aged to a point at which there is no teaching this old dog new Metro tricks. (Not in a prostitute way, pervs.) I rode the Metro thirty minutes in the wrong direction yesterday and ended up in Sunderland, which is, according to the taxi driver who drove me back into Newcastle, the patchy, sad stepbrother of Newcastle Upon Tyne. (I didn’t say that, guys. It was all the cab driver. Sunderland looked great.)

5) The power of good Mexican food knows no borders. Strangely, of the twelve people at the workshop yesterday, six of us were American ex-pats. Three (including me) were from California. Two were from Los Angeles. I ended up talking to a dude from La Habra about the glory of El Cholo, my favorite Mexican restaurant of all time, for about ten minutes. All about the sauces and the chips and the burritos and oh my God I have to stop thinking about this because it is physically painful.

All in all, despite my near-death experience in the bookstore and my very real (and also very fleeting) baby judgment, yesterday was a pretty good day.

I just never want to do something like that again.

Hobby Lobby, Religious Freedom, and Women’s Rights: One Billion-Dollar Corporation’s Brave Struggle for Equality

Last night, I did something stupid. Something I haven’t done for six years, during the 2008 elections, when I used this technique to successfully weed out all the people on my Facebook friends list who harbored gross, homophobic, and racist ideals. However, last night was worse, because as I no longer have friends who make me crazy, instead:

I participated in a Facebook comment battle with two strangers I have never met.

I am 100% sure that even the other people able to read this in real time on Facebook didn’t care about it, so I fully understand that you, dear readers, will probably care even less. However, I am particularly fired up about this issue (read: yesterday’s near-hysterical summary of The Handmaid’s Tale), and therefore, I am okay with subjecting you all to this.

Also: it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.

I decided to cannonball right into this hot mess when I came across a friend’s posting of all the different reasons women use birth control (none of which are “to abort unborn babies,” by the way). It was the responses of her friends that inspired me to dive in headfirst, because they amounted to, effectively, “Well, only two of the sixteen options were at issue,” and “Thank God someone is finally speaking up for the business owners in the United States,” both of which are arguments that are completely, willfully illogical and borderline scary, in my opinion.

So, I couldn’t just NOT say anything. Obviously.

I’ve left out the approximately one zillion comments I exchanged with a dude who was arguing for the rights of businesses to run fully unencumbered by the long arm of the law. Because, as a white Christian male, it was easy for him to blind himself to what this really was about, which is not that poor Hobby Lobby finally made it to the top.

He eventually said that he “doesn’t want the government in his business,” after celebrating a SCOTUS decision that sets the scene for the legislation of religious beliefs and the refusal of health care specifically to women. You have to be a mental contortionist to make that logic stick, so good for you, sir. Your powers of denial are impressive.

Now onto the better stuff (names and photos skillfully erased in MS Paint, but you should know this is a woman):
Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 9.28.36 PM
Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 10.27.47 PMScreen Shot 2014-07-01 at 10.27.58 PMThere is a ton to unpack here, but suffice to say that the extent to which people cannot see the forest for the trees astounds me. In her responses, this woman fully ignores the fact that people live in different circumstances than she does (i.e. that $20 for birth control every month might not be financially possible for some women), calls birth control “elective abortion” (and then denies it, which I don’t buy, considering the ONLY REASON the morning-after pill is on trial here is that people believe it has abortive powers), all while reveling in the fact that now her birth control is free (BECAUSE OF THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT – you know, the terrible, socialist health care reform that is causing Big Business so many sleepless nights). Oh, and then she says that birth control is not a basic medical necessity that saves lives, which is just the best, considering this.

She went on to say, in a portion of this thread I had already bowed out of, that she was happy to see a corporation standing up for something moral, in a world when all businesses seem to care about is money and politics.

Which is. Just. No.

To say something like that is to totally ignore the fact that attempts to deny women contraception have been politicized since before the advent of hormonal birth control. To say something like that is to forget that Hobby Lobby is now immune to any fines they would have incurred by refusing to cover medical care specific to women.

This is not a moral issue , unless you are morally opposed to legislating away the rights of fifty percent of the population in the country in which you live. Then, yeah, sure. It’s morally reprehensible.

There is no way to see this decision as anything but a victory of people who hope to refuse rights to women. Full stop.

The Handmaid’s Tale.

When I was 15 years old, I discovered Margaret Atwood as I devoured my way through the local branch of the public library. I read Alias Grace and The Blind Assassin and The Handmaid’s Tale and several others and I loved everything about them. Margaret Atwood is the queen of the metaphor and her lush, almost tangible writing thrilled me as a teenager. I was so inspired by what she did with words – it made me consider literature differently than all the other hundreds of books I’d read.

Although I was struck by how gorgeous her books were, nearly fifteen years ago I was too young (and stupid) to see below the surface. As beautifully written as these books are, their themes are even more magnificently crafted. Recently, having fully chilled out and settled into a calm routine here in England (no more overwhelming homesickness or volcanic acne!), I decided it was high time to start reading fiction in earnest again. And my first purchases were Alias Grace and The Handmaid’s Tale.

I adore Alias Grace and recommend it to everyone. You should read it. It is excellent.

However, what I’m really doing here is singing the praises of The Handmaid’s Tale, which is, I believe, the most important work of fiction I have ever read.

Really.

Set in the not-so-distant future, The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of a young woman who has been witness to and been victimized by a patriarchal, totalitarian, Puritan regime that has overthrown the government of the United States of America. In this new world order, a woman’s fertility is prized above all else, and she cannot own property or make her own choices. The Handmaid protagonist is an educated, employed, married mother who, when the ax falls, is separated from her husband and daughter and forced to become a surrogate bound to a wealthy, infertile couple.

This book was fascinating to me as a teenager, in that the description of this dystopian future is masterful. It is terrifying to me as an adult, because now it reads less like a fantasy in science fiction and more like an outpost from the future. In her novel, Atwood details the slow burn to total oppression in a way that will be horrifyingly familiar if you’ve happened to read the news lately. The idea of female agency as anti-religion, godless, and the definition of evil is the crux of the power play at work in The Handmaid’s Tale. The construction of women as necessarily pure, as chattel, as pieces to be moved around whenever convenient, as lesser than, as chalices, as empty vessels waiting to be filled or held or disposed of as necessary seeps through the book like it does in various political groups currently active in the actual world right now.

Re-reading this novel the very week of the Supreme Court’s ruling that a corporation’s religious beliefs are paramount to the medical needs of women is chilling, most especially because this religious protest centers solely on the coverage of medication that allows women to make their own choices concerning their fertility. Leaving aside the enormous logical leap one must take to attempt to protect the religious freedom of a corporation, which is not a person, at the expense of thousands of diverse actual people, this SCOTUS decision makes it plain that the most powerful lawmakers in the country believe that the health and reproductive decisions of women should not be the purview of the women themselves.

The Handmaid’s Tale, everyone.

Budapest!

I’m currently in Budapest for work, because that’s the kind of thing that happens in my life now. Did you know that this city is split into two sections by the Danube river, with one side referred to as Buda and the other as Pest? I didn’t either! We have so much in common! (Disclaimer: the most fascinating thing to me about reading about Otzi in college was discovering that Italy and Switzerland share a border, so maybe it’s not super shocking that European geography frightens and confuses me.)

I’m here for a conference, so this trip will be more about actual focus and less about trolling the city looking for the tastiest pastries, but I managed to sneak in some sightseeing this morning. Like most places in Europe, the architecture and history just astounds me. In Los Angeles, preserving Art Deco buildings from the 1930s seems like too much effort. I cannot believe the centuries that are on display in Europe. It is incredible.

IMG_5044

These went well, as per usual.

IMG_5041

Uggggh.

1535668_10103469127707086_976195333485011513_n

The Danube River, the Parliament building, and the Chain Bridge.

10471163_10103469125571366_4511214701914867644_n

The Chain Bridge, complete with Anxiety Lion. He looks like he just remembered he has a midterm. Poor guy.

10422166_10103469126554396_6226145727659605501_n

A turret in Fisherman’s Bastion, which sits on an enormous hill overlooking the Danube and offers gorgeous views of the city.

10406851_10103469126150206_6971081290072976193_n

Matthias Church, the one thing I was desperate to see. It’s so colorful and whimsical. For a big secular jerkface, I am really, really, particularly in love with churches and cathedrals. They are just so obviously revered and are always so lovingly constructed and maintained.

10474735_10103469125526456_2570280696655804881_n

The inside of Matthias Church.

10464014_10103469125476556_7215894874102885363_n

Again.

10494828_10103469125646216_6568203639297732047_n

And again.

10481419_10103469126050406_4756998382146835873_n 10480616_10103469127063376_5263630442433917286_n 10491209_10103469125401706_6736851579869175410_n10491217_10103469127262976_4312085358635529031_n10474762_10103469127472556_6899359015706653086_n10500347_10103469126783936_8124354506493774417_n10486781_10103469125905696_3660943249359537603_n

Two things I discovered in the three hours I wandered:

1) An unexpected and completely awesome perk to touring by myself with just a purse and no visible camera is that people trying to sell tours or trinkets leave me alone. I’ve got no backpack, paparazzi lens, or large group of chattering Americans to clue them into the fact that I am precisely the demographic their bosses would love them to force flyers upon. It’s a marvelous loophole. Such a discovery.

2) I (/maybe all women?) am (/are?) a hot commodity here. I can sometimes be a pretty big downer about cat calls and obnoxious unwanted attention from strange men, but being so fresh from my Norway experience, where I was literally a bridge troll in comparison to most of the population and where approximately zero percent of the Ken dolls parading the streets were interested, it’s nice to have a bit of an ego boost. It’s Compliment City over here. Love it.

For the Record.

I have had a lifelong aversion to cameras. I’d love to have more pictures of myself with the people I love in places I visit, but I also love not being confronted with what my face looks like in photographs, and usually the latter love wins out.

Here’s a small collection of the photos taunting me from my Facebook Timeline Review (where I keep them hidden from view):

1466147_10151827427909150_1905517853_n

No. And look at how I’m standing. What exactly is happening there?

1457564_10202148571306099_1230972104_n

Angry Resting Face in full force.

WHAT IS THIS? WHO IS THIS?

Oh No

Nope.

1604379_10202912783448705_1072969665_n

A study in apathy.

I think I’m an okay looking person, but turn a camera on me and suddenly it is all giant chins and crazy smiles and Oh my God, what do I do with my body?

So, still photographs and I aren’t buds.

I’ve recently learned that this tense relationship extends to voice recording and video cameras. I’ve spent the last week recording my voice teaching people how to use computer programs, and I can officially say that speaking naturally when I know I’m being recorded is not my forte. I sound like idiot robot who doesn’t know how to pronounce English words or regulate inflection. For example, I shared one of the tutorial videos with a friend from a different US state and he said, “Oh, I can finally hear your Californian accent.”

No, no, good sir. That’s just my inability to speak into a microphone like a normal human being.

Just today, because every terrible cake needs its humiliating icing, I was asked to be interviewed on camera about a project I worked on at the university where I’m employed. And it was the worst. The interview was outside, in the wind and sun, so I gave all my poorly worded, totally scrambled answers with my ridiculous new bangs were all over the place and my eyes watering. I’d even gotten the questions ahead of time and had prepped, but with a camera in my face and audience watching, I just could not.

It was like the worst job interview in history, which was recorded and will be posted on a university department website.

I can’t wait.

On Passions.

My husband was a collector. He was a great lover of literature, so he collected books. He loved movies and television, and he collected hundreds of DVDs. He loved music, and so he spent hours curating his iTunes library. The evidence of the things he was passionate about painted the walls of our two-bedroom house – the framed movie posters beside the dining room table, the shelves of DVD box sets, the second bedroom, the library, full of bookshelves.

Sometimes, this passionate man would notice that I wasn’t collecting, I wasn’t organizing, I wasn’t on the walls, and he would say, “What are you passionate about, Sarah? I can’t believe you’re not passionate about anything.”

Of all the unfortunate things we ended up saying to each other, this was the thing hurt me the most. In another lifetime, forever ago, every time I was asked, I internalized this question and my lack of passionate loves became a character flaw. Because he was right. I didn’t have favorites. I didn’t collect. I didn’t need anything.

What kind of adult woman doesn’t know what she loves? It seems unreal and ridiculous now, but this question, this insinuation that I was interested in nothing, made me feel empty and useless. If the person who was closest to me in the world didn’t know what I loved, I must be a total waste of space. While I am confident he didn’t intend for this to happen, this repeated question became for me a manifestation of all my failings. The question, asked again and again, meant that I wasn’t interesting, I wasn’t active, I didn’t care. I was dull, I was unmotivated, I wasn’t going anywhere. I used to have real, deep, hard feelings about this question, as I tried to figure out the next steps in my life.

My husband thinks I’m rudderless, and therefore I am.

And then, I went to Ireland. I was so lost and miserable before I left that going to do archaeology in Ireland (a place I had always wanted to visit) wasn’t even that exciting. Ireland, to me, was the last in a long line of expensive, time-consuming things I’d had to do to get my Masters and I just wanted to get it over with.

Ireland, however, could not have been farther from just an opportunity for me to punch my “field school” card and get the hell out of grad school. While I was there, I traveled, I met people from all over the world, I did hard, wonderful things, I was surrounded by anthropologists and archaeologists and we shared our love of history and bones and digging things up. I had experiences I could never have imagined. I discovered I wasn’t an empty husk of a person. I was passionate.

And it occurred to me, slowly at first and then literally in one second one day, that all these loves, all these passions, had always been there. This had always been me. I had always loved people and experiences and learning and travel. My husband, for all his love for me, had just never seen it, because he had bowed out of travels and dinners with friends and countless trips to see the nieces and conversations about my work in anthropology. He had made himself separate from all the things in life that I loved so much, and in turn, had made me separate from them too.

There are a million different ways in which I won’t forgive myself for ending my marriage. It’s still devastating and humiliating and I struggle daily with defining myself as “divorced,” because it reads to people who don’t know me as “failure,” “quitter,” “selfish idiot who can’t commit.”

However, in a million other ways, I am grateful. For everything. For all things difficult, disgusting, and awful. Because in the end, I found myself. I actually, legitimately, found myself. I am full to the brim with passions and interests and loves of my life. I have never been happier or more fulfilled. Not ever.

I intend to live a life in which no one ever has to ask me again, “Sarah, what are you passionate about?” They won’t have to ask, because they will see it beaming out of me every single day.

Dork Life.

You know you’re hanging out with PhD students when:

Me: “Oh, you’re meeting up at 10pm? I can’t go. I’m going to be asleep, because I’m a dork.”

PhD Student: “I don’t really know what you mean by dork. I guess we don’t really assign people personality traits like ‘dork’ here. We just are who we are. I mean, I suppose you could call yourself a dork, but really, you’re just manifesting your desire for sleep.”

COME ON, GUY.

Also, I just saw Maleficent, and it was magnificent. (Do you see what I did there?) It was actually great. I highly recommend it. Also also, this song plays over the credits and it is pretty damn fabulous: