Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Kloster

And then suddenly, I am in Dresden, Germany, standing in a sun-drenched cobblestone courtyard, looking dazedly at the flowers while my boss stands in the office inside, ordering my meals.

By which I mean to say this: awhile ago now, maybe back when it was still cold, one of my two bosses at the the retail baby store where I work as a sales clerk and also teaching classes decided that it would be a good idea for her to go to Dresden to complete her babywearing certification training. (Yes, such a thing exists, and it is treated with deathly seriousness here in Germany, here at Die Trageschule. My boss's husband refers to the trainer as "your Jedi master," and this captures the situation pretty accurately.) Needless to say, as soon I heard that such a trip might be in the offing, I could not rest until I was included. I pestered my bosses pretty much day and night for a couple of weeks, and finally, worn down I mean convinced, my bosses declared that I would be going to Dresden, too, and the store would pay.

The funny thing is that because the store was paying for and organizing the trip, I did not do much travel preparation. Of course I made sure that my husband and son would be taken care of (they are packed off to Abuela and Tia in Arizona), and of course I made lists and packed, but I did not look at a map, I did not purchase a phrase book, and I did not bother to even think about things like itinerary or activities or how I might be getting from one place to another.

So it almost seemed as though it was by magic that I ended up, after ten hours of overnight travel, standing in a Catholic kloster in Dresden, Germany, on the hill that rises above the river Elbe, too dazed to even try to help my boss talk to the non-English-dominant staff about how many meals we wanted and when we wanted them.

There are two main buildings here, one containing dormitory rooms and one containing seminar and meditation rooms. There are flowers the color of a fluorescent orange crayon that is in my son's crayon jar, with deep, dark, velvety centers. There is a small meditation chapel with an altar and a few stools of unfinished wood. There are enormous tangles of jasmine spilling an inconceivably sweet, wild scent onto the walking paths that wind around the property. There are stations of the cross. There are dark, quiet woods uphill, above the buildings and the gardens. There are masses of lavender and a few trellised grape vines. There are glossy jetblack squirrels and small bobbing poppies with paper-thin petals. There is clover everywhere. There are sheep. The birds sing. There are wildflowers on the table with our home-made lunch, and there is coffee and tea and cakes at 4. I have stumbled, it seems, into paradise.

There are a few minor problems. Like: I wish I had brought my Buddha Machine and my green jacket. Or: I blew my breast pump out, and simultaneously shorted the circuits in my little room with white muslin curtains, because I am too stupid to figure out how to use a currency converter plug. Or: our babywearing Obi Wan is taking us out to lunch today and I am worried that there will be nothing on the menu but meat, specifically some terrifying German meat like wiener or wurst or whatever, and I will have to eat it in order to be polite. But these are only small blips, and I am mostly in a dreamlike stupor, allowing myself to simply be carried by the current. I sit in a puddle of sunlight amidst piles of baby carriers in the room where we are having our training. I gently finger the nodding flowers as I walk past them on the paths. I collect pine cones on my morning walk, shivering against the early chill. I eat crumb cake dusted with powdered sugar and filled with vanilla custard that is nearly identical to the stuff inside the Boston cream donuts at Dunkin Donuts, except better. I am away from my son, away from my husband, away from my home, away from my friends. I am reading, though not much. I am listening to music, though not much. I am not really even thinking. When I do think, my thought is that when I get back to New York, it is time to have another baby.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What Are My Feelings?*

Sometimes, the hardest thing to know is what I am actually feeling. Is it true that I would feel better if I worked less? Is it true that I feel better when I spend more time with my son? Is it true that not spending time with my son makes me feel rootless, shiftless, rudderless? (I almost wrote "udderless" - a Freudian slip? A Jungian one? Signs of an impending psychotic break? Nonsense?) Or is that simply the way one feels when one's life seems to be slipping out of the reigns a bit too much? Does one's life always seem to be slipping out of the reigns a bit too much? In any case, I know nothing of reigns or horses, and I suspect that that is not a properly constructed appropriate metaphor.

Here's what I am getting at, though, so listen. Was one ever happy? And is one actually unhappy right now? I mean, I think I was happy. I remember being happy. My husband would come home, and he would say, This is the happiest I have ever seen you. Maybe the baby would be asleep and I would be reading a book. Or maybe he would be awake looking at the toys dangling from the baby gym. And I would be happy, so much so that my husband would say that thing about me being happy, and I would agree. But I wasn't always happy, not even then. Not that I think that a person should be always happy; I'm just acknowledging that even that time that I am looking back upon as the happiest time of my life wasn't always really happy. And the unhappy was pretty badly unhappy, because I am me, and one of the things about being me is that being unhappy usually means being really, really, really unhappy. It's a good thing that I am not a drinker, because otherwise I would be a drunk. If drinking could make me forget about my feelings, or at least make me not care about them, I would do it a lot, all the time. ALL. THE. TIME.

But that is beside the point. The point is, Was I happy? And why? Could it be just because I wasn't working? Could it possibly be that simple? I had a new baby, yes, and my body and mind were reeling from the effect, yes, but I was not working - like, at a job, I mean. Could it be that the simple cessation of work was responsible for, say, 30-80% of my feelings of contentment? (With the continuing caveat that, yes, I know, I was not always content. But we can agree, can't we, that I was really noticeably happy? I mean, my husband noticed. Right?) And if that is the case, what does it mean for the old saw that you need to find yourself in your work or whatever? And what does it mean for the fervently-held (by me, maybe?) conviction that a woman must do something "outside of the home" if she is to keep herself truly fulfilled and happy? And what does it mean for me and my own continuous buying-in to the idea that I am really better off working?

Because look at me! Here I am: I have switched careers with gusto, with at least 50% of the motivation being the desire to work less and be home more. And am I home more? Am I working less? NO. I AM NOT. I AM BUSY AS FUCK. And I am not sure that I see any more of my son than I would if I had a normal fucking job with a normal fucking salary and some goddamn benefits. Please, sister. Please. Tell me what it means.

Listen, work gets you, and I don't just mean the money. There you are, meandering along, and you try doing a little something, because it seems convenient or wise or fun or something. And you are smart and you like to learn and to be successful, so you do learn, you learn quickly, and you are successful, and then, suddenly, you are enmeshed. So, just a hot moment ago, you were just a person dabbling in something, and now that something is forming the parameters of your life. You are committed, and you feel like you owe things to people, and like there is so much more success right around the corner, and it would really be a shame to drop things right now. And this happens really fast, and it happens with everything that you happen to stick your nose into, and then there are a million things, and you are juggling them all.

Is this what I wanted? Is this where I meant to be? Am I happy now? Was I ever happy before? Should I work less? Should I work more? Would anything change my feelings? Has anything ever changed my feelings? What are my feelings? Does it even matter? There is no clarity here except the clarity of the confusion, and it is perhaps a bad sign that I actually feel halfway content with just that.

*I can't quite remember why, but this phrase was, at one time, very funny indeed. It was a long time ago, like my second or third year of teaching, I think, and one of my colleagues had found this stupid article, like in Cosmo or Glamour or similar, that said something to the effect that men often don't know what they are feeling. Of course, this is standard Cosmo/Glamour fare, but there was SOMETHING that made this particular statement in this particular article REALLY FUNNY, although I cannot for the life of me remember what - a drawing? an infelicitous turn of phrase? - and we were just ROARING over it. And I went home and told my husband about it, and he was roaring too, and since then, he sometimes turns to me and says, "What are my feelings?" in a particularly sensitive, whiny, helpless voice, and this was funny to us for a long, long, time, although it is now just something we say out of habit, something that has lodged itself in our mutual discourse, despite having entirely shed its original meaning and impact.