I teach, therefore I am employed in education. Again.

You almost had a job in tech…

Just over a year ago, I took a pretty big chance and walked away from the stability and reliability that a permanent teaching position offers. The pay was/is crap, but the benefits and calendar are reliable, although the day-to-day is always unpredictable (most of us who go into teaching and stay there are a bit addicted to that if you ask me.) Like a growing number of people in San Francisco and the surrounding area, I was getting tired of being poor (relatively) and with two decades of professional experience I realistically thought I was armed with a skill set that would make me valuable in a host of different jobs/careers/opportunities (what are people calling them now?) I looked (accurately, I thought) at the emerging professional pathways (that sounds like something people around here would call them) and considered how my skills matched up:

  • Excellent oral and written communication skills
  • Cultural literacy
  • Leadership experience
  • Creative thinker
  • Organized
  • Detail oriented and goal oriented
  • Excellent time management skills
  • Commitment to excellence
  • Well read
  • Trivia master
  • Some other skills that are hard to explain if you are not down with Bloom’s Taxonomy, but let’s just say I reside at steps 5 and 6 
  • I can recall a movie reference for nearly every life experience that arises
  • Ridiculous memory for sports data (and for most things in general)
  • What-the-fuck-I-have-worked-with-kids-and-their-families-and-public-sector-bureacracy-for-decades-don’t-try-to-tell-me-what-it-means-to-have-a-growth-mindset-and-an-ability-to-pivot-and-assume-positive-intent-the-fact-that-I-am-still-standing-and-working-underscores-those-abilities-to-a-degree-you-cannot-possibly-understand

Seriously, when I read job descriptions I was interested in, I feel like I would be a quality candidate for the majority of them. Apparently this does not always translate. And, it turns out, people don’t really like other people to change – they really like to keep everyone in the compartment that makes sense to them.

“But you’re a teacher…”
“You don’t really have the specific experience we are looking for…”
“Don’t you teach?”
“I’m curious why someone at your point in their career is looking to pivot…”
“This is not really the same as teaching, I mean I know it has the same name, instructional designer, designing instruction, but it is not really designing instruction per say…”
“Is there a reason you do not want to teach anymore?”

The fact is, as my neighbor succinctly expressed, I was looking for a job in tech – but I was not being honest about why. So, why was I? Well, philosophically I am pretty convinced that the problems we are seeing across the “tech industry” have a lot to do with the diminishing role of humanities education, or at least the innate interest and ability to think abstractly. This is not surprising to  people who enjoy thinking, and the general consensus is that “while software developers are skilled engineering solutions, their focus is not asking what problems need to be solved, or asking what the consequences are of solving a problem in a particular way,” and this is having logical consequences that suck [too many examples to note, but Uber, Facebook, Cambridge Analytics, and the general disgustingness of the scene make the point effectively.]

I also firmly believe that we are in a position to do amazing things by merging our technological capabilities with our humanity. In education, agriculture, economic growth and sustainability, the potential is really amazing. Not withstanding, people are beginning to realize that to effectively tackle today’s biggest social and technological challenges, we need to think critically about their human context—something humanities graduates happen to be well-trained to do. Call it the revenge of the film, history, and philosophy nerds. I felt hopeful about all of this. And empowered (as somewhat of a film, history, and philosophy nerd.)

Also, I liked the idea of what outsiders hear about working in tech: lots of money, unlimited vacation if you get your work done, lots of money, free gym membership, free gourmet meals, beer bashes, perks, lots of money… Just think for a moment how those kinds of benefits look to a teacher who works 70-hour weeks during the school year, pays for everything they need in their personal and professional lives, and is generally too tired to bother making a single meal all day long. I got emotional considering it. It all seemed so lively, dynamic, and inspiring to be working with people who were super into the work they were doing and brought their best everyday.

Uh, yeah. It is awful…

At a dinner party recently when the Warriors decided to turn it around and actually win the Houston series, I was telling two of my friends (who work in tech) as we stood in their stunningly remodeled home, “God, you know, it was really bad – the whole start-up vibe, it was just… bad. I had no idea.” They both looked at me, only surprised by my surprise. I was unsure who would respond – one definitely does not work at a start up but the other has been bouncing around more than he would like amidst the culture. He spoke, “Uh, yeah. It is awful.” My confusion prompted a more elaborate explanation. “Yeah, they don’t care. About anything. They don’t have to. He didn’t even get paid by his last company – it was ridiculous.” I still don’t understand how this fly-by-night charlatan-esque behavior is okay, but I hold on to my naïveté where I can.

This truth was something I guess I had to arrive at in my own damn time, but it is the truth, no matter how you look at it. The ethos (and ethics) of the start-up culture are a concentrated milieu of the extremes of our American entrepreneurial spirit: ingenuous, aspirational, fantastic – for sure. But cutthroat, greed centered, myopic, and socially Darwinist to Lord of the Flies levels.

It was certainly a departure from public education.

At what cost greatness?

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For me, the cost of my decision was relatively lightweight: the unpredicted outcome that can come with taking a risk, a temporary float in the River of Failure (which is better than some of the other destinations imagined above… but the ego says: ouch.) I left a sure thing that I was unsure I could sustain for the promise of shiny new things. But I did not pay attention to how close the Gate of Ideals is to the Tower of Weak Morals and the sewage pipe of Fakery. One only hopes I climbed out of the River of Failure headed to True Knowledge and not the Hotel Know It All, the Right System Railway station, or other parts unknown in Oblivion or The System.

This past year I saw first hand what it looks like when good intentions are superseded by gross profits and – more importantly – I realized that what I do for a living is not something anyone can just do (contrary to popular belief!) Professional licensure (in any field I would suggest) is important and does make a difference… I would no sooner want a child to work with an unlicensed teacher as I would want to visit an unlicensed doctor or lawyer. I also saw what it looks like when promises made are not kept and the subsequent impact on morale among those to whom the promises were made. I saw how the resilience of these innovators had less to do with resilience and much more to do with insulation from consequence. I saw that fancy semantics (oh-the-grammar-is-so-bad-when-y’all-are-trying-to-be-clever-by-renaming-the-wheel) and slick slide decks do not lead to quality professional products – those outcomes are achieved by professional quality people.

I work in education.

Someone once said that the way we answer the question, “What do you do?” says more about us than most inquiries. An obviously open-ended question, I think most of us would assume (in the US version of Western Culture anyhow) that it is trying to get at how you make money.

“What do you do?”
“I enjoy – ”
“No, but what do you do?”
“Oh, for work…”
“Yes, obviously, what do you do?”

What do you do means, simultaneously, how do you make money, how much money do you make, and how respectable are you. That is one loaded question.

The answers, when you are done being cheeky, generally have a limited range.

“I…”
“I am a…”
“I work in…”

Try those out with a variety of jobs. See how the semantics change and the meaning is altered.

“I teach.” Okay, that works. But “I tech?” “I doctor?” “I engineer?”

“I am a teacher.” More latitude here (although the implications of identity through profession underscore much of the weirdness I am trying to get at here), “I am a doctor,” “I am an engineer,” I am tech?” Scary.

I like, “I work in education,” because I do a whole lot more than just teach (which is a whole lot more than most people do in a lifetime but that is a polemic for another place) and it eliminates the very annoying and widely accepted idea in my field that what I do to earn income is me in my entirety. It is worth noting that most of the jobs in which people who perform them are typically described as being them are the jobs that elicit the most extreme positive and negative reactions – police, firefighters, teachers, doctors, lawyers, politicians).

I wanted a chance to attach myself to a professional descriptor that suggested power, savvy, ingenuity, wealth, and social currency. I thought working in the start-up culture would bring that, and in some ways it may have. But it also brought with it a sense of being disposable, disingenuous, and necessarily superficial – don’t get attached to ideas they say, always be ready to let go and move on to the next thing. I lost the good parts that come with being a teacher: being respected by people (even if it is only out of habit and not actual), and having a job that did not take two paragraphs to explain. For the record, an EdTech company and an Education + Technology are the same thing no matter how much you want the extra letters to carry extra weight and in both – as in society – the teachers (even if you insist on calling them educators), remain second class personnel: under paid, under appreciated, and under valued. In spite of the fact that in many ways teachers are the most prepared for the dynamic, think on your feet, constantly pivot, nature of the start-up world, their skills are still mistaken as useless, archaic – even quaint – by the private sector.

I was promised too much when I took the chance to jump into what I thought was the tech world. I see that now, and I should have been aware of this. Had I talked to my peers immersed in the start-up industry they would have alerted me to this. I also, as I am prone to do when I have my sights set on something, did not acknowledge the myriad red flags: the immediate reversal of promises; the professional practices I knew were questionable after two decades of experience; a place that normalized inappropriate behavior; the allowances given for having a “fail forward” attitude that really just allows bad practice to perpetuate and grow. I still fully believe in the benefits of technology, and beyond that, the potential for merging it with education. Beyond believing in it, I am committed to it in a variety of ways. But one thing I can say with confidence now is that the successful merger of the two will need to be led by true visionary educators who have willing technologists in tow. It will not be the other way around.

I work in education.

And you need me along with my professional peers, to affect positive change in our field… and probably yours.

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Basketball, Officiating, Sports Analysis, and the Journo Block on Twitter 👊

Let’s get a few things out of the way:

I hail from a basketball family. My grandfather was an all-state player in Minnesota who would have played college ball had he not enlisted to serve in WWII (imagine a 6’4″ guy assigned to a sub – but that is a story for another time.) My dad grew up playing hockey (logically: Minnesota) but when he moved to LA his sophomore year, he picked up basketball. He was an all-city player in LA and led his Granada Hills High School team to a really impressive section title over Roosevelt HS, 71-68. He was just that good of an athlete – able to switch sports without missing a beat. He got a full ride to Whitman College where I imagine he would have had a pretty solid career had the late 60s, Vietnam, and other extra-curricular interests not led to the University suggesting he might be better suited elsewhere. Pretty much all of my early memories of alone time with my dad involve watching basketball – either watching him play in his men’s league, or watching the NCAA or the NBA on a crap little television. It was one of the languages we spoke early on – and how I was able to watch the Warriors win their championship way back when – and be conscious of the magnitude of the moment – then and now.

So, of course, growing up, I decided I wanted to be a gymnast.

I should have done a little more observational research because it was clearly not in my tall family future. But I was committed – until the bars could no longer be adjusted enough to accommodate my quickly growing frame. (Starting 7th grade at 5’2″ things seemed plausible. Started 9th grade at 5’9″ so something had to give.)

Basketball it would be.

It was a good choice and basketball would be something that would inform much of my life for the next three decades.

I learned a lot from playing basketball, and while not the most natural talent, I was one of the hardest workers you could find. My coach would still attest to this (shout out to Petaluma High’s Doug Johnson who knew I was the perfect size to be a college guard, but I was convinced at 5’10” I would always be a forward, because teenagers know everything right?) and along with my work ethic was a seriousness with which I approached the game. Everyday I wanted to learn everything there was to learn in order to be better the next day. I was a work horse, there is no other way to describe it. I was (am) still pretty strong for my size and I rebounded like crazy – bumping uglies as Coach Izzo would say, and clearly fouled. A lot. I’ll just say I got very familiar with all of the officials in our league. But they too taught me a ton.

One of my high school English teachers was a Pac-10 ref at the time. We thought this was pretty cool (not as cool as he did, btw, but still.) Mr. R would talk about his side gig all the time and throughout my high school career he was definitely moving up the ranks in big time college officiating. This was when I started learning about how the ref game worked, there was a lot of give and take in order to move up the food chain and this guy was playing it perfectly. We will return to Mr. R presently.

I opted to run track in college – in hindsight not the right choice – but whatever. I stayed connected to basketball in a variety of ways: playing in rec leagues, coaching youth leagues, NCAA pools (I still recall the first time I picked the Final Four – 1990, UNLV, Duke, Arkansas, Georgia Tech – it impressed the heck out of my neighbors, too bad I didn’t get in on a pool that year.)

When I eventually decided to go into education I knew I would coach. I was the Varsity Assistant my first year at Balboa HS in SF where we won the section along with the boys, under their famous Jet Offense (yeah, it was cherry picking: Winters Patterson to Marquette Alexander for the title) Twice is Nice for Balboa was the headline. And it was here that I began to get a better understanding of the nuances of the game, and in particular officiating.

As I progressed through the ranks working up to what would be a 15 year varsity coaching career – girls in the season and boys in the summer (the boy’s coaches that I worked with would coach my girls and I would take their boys in the off-season leagues so that we did not break player contact rules, and I always appreciated that those coaches trusted me enough to do that – not many women get a chance to coach men (HUGE shout out to Becky Hammon and my perennial favorite Coach Pop.) With my growing experience, knowledge and love for the game, my biggest learning curve came when I began officiating. To be fair I was only officiating fall and summer ball, but my goodness – it changed everything. I have always been a pretty savvy conversationalist with officials and definitely was not above trying to charm them from the sidelines. It mostly worked, though I certainly earned some choice techs along the way. However, the summer I started working as an offical was a watershed moment.

My biggest takeaway was that perfection was not achievable, so consistency had to be the goal. I also became painfully aware of how officials can absolutely change a game – not necessarily through “bad” or “unfair” calls, but by inserting themselves too much into the game, by changing the pace of the game to something akin to pain for all involved, or simply by making the game about them.

I say all of this as a very long-winded way to say when a local sports journalist, who I am not sure has ever played or coached or officiated a game (if that matters), blocks me on Twitter (oh! The Horror!) because I make a snarky comment about the officiating assignment for a Warriors game (IT WAS SCOTT FOSTER FOR GOODNESS SAKES!) and suggests that I am some tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy theorist, I take serious issue with this.

Scott Foster and Tony Brothers are not good officials and I am defintiely not alone in this opinion. The two of them put far too much of their own ‘flavor’ (for lack of a better term) on a game. To be fair, they are consistent in their inconsistency, but they regularly make games unwatchable for me. And to be clear, I am not talking only about games that my favorite teams play in. I watch all the NBA games that are on tv. I watched all the NCAA games too – and any women’s games that the networks bothered to televise. I would never rarely say a ref cost a team (especially at the pro level) a game. Mr. R did not perform well on the largest stage I ever watched him officiate. Did he cost the Terrapins the game? Unlikely, although as they lost to Duke and I love Garry Williams and the Terps to the moon and back while simultaneously loathing the Blue Devils and their Grayson Allen culture, I would like to say this. But I do not say it because I know the game and I know better. However, I can still say Mr. R sucked that night.

And I can still say Scott Foster sucks on the regular. On Sunday Scott Foster was trending (why Brothers was not after the #TunnelTech is a mystery). Here is a quick peek at fans from across the country commenting on Mr. Foster.

 

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When I did a Twitter search I came across Tim Kawakami’s morning announcement of who would officiate game 4 of the Warriors-Spurs series. I retweeted his post with a comment: “Oh, this explains it. Had I had seen this I would not have rushed home to watch this game and stayed out to enjoy the weather” or something equally inane, and admittedly, not my most clever. (I later deleted it because I am not in the habit of trying offend, even the most sensitive on Twitter, although in hindsight that was dumb of me.) His response was swift.

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Now, I cannot say if Kawakami blocks people for breathing. But I can say I am well aware that these officials did not cost the Warriors the game (#AfternoonKlay). And I am still glad that I subscribe to The Athletic (Kawakami’s new gig) because I have been dying to see Ethan Sherwood Strauss‘ name back in the bylines and I rely on Marcus Thompson for good reporting. I am enjoying Anthony Slater quite a bit too.

What I can say is this: block whoever you want on Twitter – lord knows there’s enough heinous behavior out there to warrant it, And hey! Block me if it pleases you. But do not get it twisted and try to suggest that I am block worthy because I don’t know what I am talking about, or I am some conspiracy theorist. I love talking about basketball with my friends, my colleagues, my former teammates, and my former players – hell, with anyone, really,  who likes to talk about it. And we are allowed to be silly, sad, serious, contentious, outrageous, or whatever we want. I’d expect a journalist to know this.

The Change Chronicles: Part 4

Let me start by saying I have had some very good news from the Zone of Employment Transition recently. It is always a little weird to be re-envisioning one’s gainful future, but all things considered I am not really worried about any of it – which is really uncharacteristic for a Virgo/Dog getting deeper into middle age everyday who chose to be a teacher in a city that values youth only slightly less than it values obscene wealth.

But the thing is I know I can get a job. I am good at what I do and there is always a need for people who do what I do – they even need those of us who will never carry a gun. [This is probably not the time to remind every single human who can read that we do not expect any other service professionals to be armed as they carry out their duties – and also worth noting that their duties pale in comparison to those of teachers… you know the ones who are supposed to do, well, everything apparently.]

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Anyhow, in spite of the positive news coming my way and the solid odds that I will be gainfully employed before my current contract even terminates, I found myself being a little Goldilocks-y yesterday, like nothing quite fit. I was thinking about how I made this really intentional change last year to do something different and in so doing seemingly changed my career trajectory.

Or did I? [Unsure.]

Did I need to? [To be determined.]

I certainly had some clear ideas about the kind of changes I wanted to see in my career. I thought I was being really conscious about it all – but maybe I was just buying into the prevailing narrative that surrounds us about what makes a person successful –> mo’ money(?) I have no idea if making more money is going to make me happier – although I like the possibility of that outcome. Here’s what I know is true, you can only be as conscious of any situation as the circumstances allow. And it is no secret that the job I took was not the job I applied for. So, why the hemming and hawing about returning to a situation that is more similar than different to my former professional incarnation?

“You almost had a job in tech…” Said my very insightful neighbor who is the best roommate I never had.

“Yeah, I think that is it, you know? I thought maybe I would be going that way…”

“Why would you want to do that?” She asked, gently, but sincerely.

And she is so right. What I saw and experienced on the tech side of edtech (which I have a whole lot of opinions about as a concept after this year…) was not anything I thought it might be. In fact, when I think about it, even the things that I had looked forward to in the tech world turned out to be sort of sad, hollow efforts to seem cool. I was often reminded of those kids you know from school who are always trying so hard to be all that, and really they just end up being so painfully extra.

The tech culture felt empty. Soulless, even. And this is not for a lack of amenities or money or confidence. I just could not find the authenticity in it that I had become accustomed to from two decades of working in a profession where authenticity is one of the only things that can’t be scratched from ever-diminishing school budgets. Ironically, the tech sector, especially start ups, cannot afford authenticity – they don’t have the time to be invested in people, committed, loyal. They need to be flexible, they have to pivot, they have to have no reservations about walking out on people they promised to build something with; it is the nature of the beast.

This is not some effort to lambaste the tech industry (not that it would be undeserved) and it is certainly not a critique of my current company – it is just the simple acknowledgment that all the flash in the world cannot replace the realness that I have found in every classroom I’ve ever worked in.

So when I find myself considering a return to a more traditional teaching environment (at least in terms of priorities and workload) maybe I don’t need to worry about turning into Mr. Hand (right away anyhow).

I was worried that I was passing my expiration date, or losing my (required) ability roll with the crazy of working in a high school. But I think, if I am being really honest, I was tired. Really, really tired. And I was feeling like the remedy to my fatigue would be working less and getting paid more. I thought a more tech centered job would offer that. I was not thinking about what would be missing.

I am still regularly disheartened with the salaries I see people earning in tech (and no one is telling them they need to carry guns). Further, I am unconvinced they are making the impact on the world that people may credit them with. But, if you are lucky enough to build a career that you are really good at, even if you are horribly underpaid, maybe staying the course is not such a bad decision. As my sage little buddy next door said to me, “if you don’t want to be a grumpy old teacher, don’t be a grumpy old teacher.” Exactly. Whatever I end up doing next year will be so different than anything I’ve done before even if it looks similar from the outside because I am not the same person.

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Tomorrow I am going to see if my barista can spell Heraclitus.

Stay tuned.

 

The Change Chronicles: Part 2

Bill of Goods: as a phrase, has two meanings. The less common is a delivery of goods, a consignment. The more common definition is something that is knowingly presented in a false way, usually with the intent to deceive or gain something by the trickery. The vast majority of the time it is used with the verb sell. Occasionally one will see the phrase with the verb buy.

Change is weird. It shouldn’t be because it is basically the only certainty I have come across in my life. Although, still thinking about last week’s MSDHS massacre – or as I like to call it, Massacre Rubio – incidentally, the 18th school shooting we’ve had this calendar year, it seems somethings never change. Much more on this later….

I am unclear why some people embrace change so easily and some balk at the idea of it. I am also unclear where I actually fall on that spectrum – sometimes I feel like I am cool with all the changes and other times… not so much. The only recognizable pattern I can see is that it comes down to who determines the change is going to occur. I guess it is just like the rest of life – a control issue. I am in the midst of some pretty big changes these days and as I reflect on them and think about whether or not I am finding them thrilling or depressing or terrifying, I keep going back to a turn of phrase that was laid upon me by one of my agents of change on February 9:

You probably feel like you were sold a false bill of goods, huh?

The (unintentional?) mic drop gave me pause then (actually, it rendered me speechless, which was both a benevolent miracle and a total surprise) and now as I am looking at the definition and seeing that false bill of goods is actually a redundancy.

So, that is annoying.

I have been saying (repeatedly) that I intentionally embraced a huge change last year by leaving the public sector and taking a position in a private school, and not even a traditional school but a company that is trying to sell “school”. In some ways that is as bad as it might sound, but in some other ways, it is really inspiring. In this day and age of design thinking the belief is that the way to revolutionize something is take a quasi-nihilist approach and take nothing from the past. To rely on cliches one might say chucking the baby out with the bathwater, but in the interest of avoiding a reliance on two cliches in one post I will go with quasi-nihilist. A focus on solutions rather than problems is something that the public sector is really missing – even if it was not really the fault of those within, it is hard to be expected to do everything for nothing after all – and I was thrilled to think that I was working with people who were focused on facing the problems I have been witnessing for years in American education. We need a fresh take on what we want from education and this seemed like an ideal merger – ideas and experience and energy.

What became clear not long after I began my new adventure (and it has been an adventure in all the best and worst ways) is that I had only pulled a geographical, I wasn’t in some magical place – because magical places are not where shit gets done. The truth is the necessary work to effect change in systems as entrenched as education cannot be treated in the same way we see in other areas. While an extremely dynamic approach to applying solutions will certainly lead to a lot of new strategies, this kind of fluidity has unusual consequences in a classroom – and I am not talking to the kind of classroom most people like to imagine when they think about schools (cue Pink Floyd), I mean in any learning environment. Still, I’m willing to bet the majority of kids in America feel like they have been sold a bill of goods regarding their education: do well in school, get a good job as a result, win at life. Clearly that equation has devolved to disingenuous and beyond.

I am deeply and unrelentingly committed to working towards education reform and creating environments where students are inspired to learn and try and do, rather than recall and release, but I have a much clearer understanding of the kind of strategies that might require. I have my current job to thank for that.

And at the end of the day, it is not about the place, or the computer platform, or the strategic plan. It is about people. And relationships. And really believing that education still can transform lives in meaningful ways. It may happen where I have been recently, or not. And I know change will come to education eventually, regardless of the role I play – but I hope I get to have my say. Although, it will definitely not be where I am right now.

This may or may not be because I was sold a false bill of goods. I am still working out what that means. But it will be because I had to learn that I don’t fit in everywhere even if I think I can, and that sometimes when someone awkwardly turns a phrase like “I bet you feel like you have been sold a false bill of goods, huh?” they see that your ideas and expectations are not what they can support – and possibly (hopefully?) acknowledging their contribution to the ill-fitting circumstances – and all of it is okay. Especially because as a naturally inclined change resistant human, in some ways it is more than okay, it is necessary.

And if it’s not actually all about me, a lot of it is, because the person I am has ideas and solutions to offer and although delicacy might not be on the menu, I am going to continue to unrelentingly try to be the change I want to see and be encouraged by the changes that I come up against at the hands of my agents of change.

 

Dodged a(nother) bullet in spite of myself.

I was recently involuntarily disentangled from a curious situation. The situation became curiouser and curiouser for no real reason save for a total black hole of communication. Things went from 24-7 contact to…. *crickets*. Worse than a clear choice to step away and hold his tongue for a bit was the complete (read: obviously intentional) refusal to reply to a simply (although eventually less simple) inquiry: What is going on? I did not (do not) want to be that kind of girl who is all freaky, and neurotic (at least about this kind of shit). Just because I wanted to be treated like the “friend” I was supposed to be does not make me some freaky fatal attraction type of person:

I am not that kind of girl.

Initially, I told no one about any of this, the original entanglement nor the ensuing crazy-making disentanglement. But after 40 days and 40 nights (approximately) I and to tell someone what had happened. I told my girl E about it. And as I told the story, I realized that I was not the asshole here. That in fact, I had been dealing with someone who pretends to be a really nice guy – and may be a nice guy someway somehow – but is so fucked up and broken that he is, actually, quite an asshole. As I went into the details, E was like, ‘Come on! What a jerk…’ and the like, as your friends are supposed to do. But in saying out loud what I had experienced, it became clear, that I was not crazy, or weird, or inappropriate (well, at least in this case) and that in fact, he was someone far too messed up to engage with on any real level and E said:

You don’t want that in your life, your life is too amazing.

I also had kept R in the loop because, well, R knows everything. He pointedly and with a barely veiled (okay, not veiled at all) sense of “are you serious” identified all the red flags I chose to overlook with Mr. Messy. ‘He said he was selling his house, did he? He said he just wanted someone to be nice to him – to love him, did you consider that that may literally be all he wanted from you? He told you all sorts of annoying things about another woman, who he incidentally lives with, didn’t that seem sort of shitty? He is involved in some kind of fucked up triangle with his ex-wife and his girlfriend who is old enough to be his mom in some states, doesn’t that seem weird to you? He told you all these things he was *going* to do, did he do any of them?’ And I had to return to one of R’s best lines of all time:

A lot of these people have complications in their lives I just do not desire.

When I eventually told me mom, she listed, in a hot minute, all the reasons I was so lucky that this was not going to go forward: kids, exes, wacky life priorities, dishonesty, mommy issues, and said:

You got lucky.

In the end, I found out several other very bizarre pieces of information that further complicated the narrative in my mind, but all led to the same conclusion: this person had done wrong by me, and in his self-professed transparency had really been letting me know all along he was doing me wrong, but I was not seeing it. My choice (or inability) to note these red flags has been the chief cause of getting aught up in crazy relationship bullshit for eons. So in this case, when divine intervention stepped in (or a nice older woman – coo coo ka choo) and prevented me from getting hit by the bullet this time, my go-to reaction was to feel like I had I had lost out on some kind of wonderful. But that is bullshit, because although no one can know what I missed out on in the hypothetical, what I missed out on in reality is a-ok.

I recently came across a line from Lena Dunham’s book in which she hopes she might stop someone from “thinking that it was your fault when the person you are dating suddenly backs aways, intimidated by the clarity of your personal mission here on earth,” and I thought, fuck yeah:

I am that kind of girl.

photo-48

brain bleach… a search for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.

Most people who know me know that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of my favorite films of, like, well, ever. The film is awesome in more ways than this post is meant to explore, but the idea that humans might endeavor to “spot clean” our memories in order to eliminate pain and suffering holds a lot of appeal, a lot of the time. Of course there is the more mature (or something) view that it is the precise point of our mental discomfort to force us to deal with it and grow from it and blah, blah, blah…. And the movie as much as admits that it is truly impossible to spot remove something that you have experienced because once experienced, it becomes a part of you, changing you irrespective of the effort to pretend it never happened. Our experiences become us; both integrating as part of us and frankly, suiting us in ways we may or may not be ready to deal with.

Still, there are moments in which I wallow when I simply wish I could stop thinking about something… to the point that I do wish it never happened despite my best efforts at maturity (seriously) or some sort of accepting detachment. I long for my own brand of brain bleach for spot removal. Said something simply awful to someone? Just a touch of my magic product right here and you won’t have to torment yourself with reliving that forever as some medieval form of guilt therapy. Demonstrated some amazingly bad judgment in behavior? In public you say? No problem. Bleach that shit right out, and move along… no one really cares but you anyhow (we hope.) Heart broken by someone’s bullshit and your pitiful expectations? Just like Joel and Clementine? Here you go, douse yourself in brain bleach and move along.

Ah, but the residuals. For Joel and Clem as well as you (me?) Regardless of the method of brain bleaching (hypnosis? booze? indulgence? abstention?) nothing is every quite the same. I mean, as you know, if you have ever bleached your laundry or hair – on purpose or otherwise – It might look like you got that spot, but the fabric is forever changed. And the more you bleach it, the shittier it gets.

I think there are infinite interpretations as to what this might mean: ignorance is bliss, a clean conscience, unfettered and uncluttered acuity, hyper-presence… but they are just variations on a theme. I guess religious folks would call it enlightenment or something, but it is a quiet mind. Calming the chitta vritti – the monkey mind. Like turning off the lights after a really long day… but without the mental exercise of reminding yourself what you did not do and what remains to be done. Just, lights off. But, as in the film, what the less enlightened of us want is to just not think about shit that bums us out anymore.

That is my take away (one of them) from Eternal Sunshine of the spotless Mind. And I think it is important as a life lesson, and fodder for general contemplation. So important in fact I rather prophetically told someone they simply had to watch this film not too long ago, and in an ironic (not so) twist, they have become the abject object of my desire for brain bleach.

Why is this so goddammed hard?

A surgical procedure as in the film sure seems nice compared to the day in and day out work you have to put to it otherwise. And shit, there is so much advice as to how to achieve it: meditate, think more, think less, do yoga, fast, eat, run, be vegan, pray, sleep more, sleep less, talk about it, don’t talk about it, tune in, tune out… Get black out drunk…

I wanted to eradicate some recent experiences from my conscience just for the inner peace I accused the situations of stealing. As I said, I do understand that in truth eliminating experiences would not be ideal but whatever. I still tried a lot of strategies. Many mentioned above. Nothing worked. (In fact some strategies, as suggested simply created more memories to eradicate. Aiyah.) Every fix was temporary.

About the situation I wanted to delete… I kept thinking an apology would make it better. Some sort of explanation would make things right. I cannot say that either of those would have done the job, but really, could they have hurt? [Quien sabe.] I kept wondering, had this someone else managed to find an effective brain bleaching solution? I will never know… Though I think I want to.

Self-helpers say, remember, it’s not you it’s them… Uh, okay. Not so helpful.

Mom says to remember that the path you are not on is just as likely to be complicated with fuck ups as the one you are on, so don’t play some silly head game where you imagine had things gone down a different way they would be ideal. And then she has so many examples I end up feeling like a true success story… This actually is helpful, so thanks mom.

R says it’s my fault. I let things go and grow knowing that I am dealing with someone who cannot deal with me. He is probably right. He is usually right. And as the things I’ve been doing to clear my brain are not helping, I might as well listen to him.

“But, but, but…” I said. “No,” R said. “And remember a lot of these people have complexities we just do not desire.”

“But I was honest,” I said.
“Doesn’t matter,” R said.
“But he said…” I said.
“Doesn’t matter,” R said.
“But he told me to wait for him,” I said.
“He didn’t mean it,” R said. “I don’t know why guys say stuff like that. Maybe they mean it when they say it, but he didn’t make the changes he said he wanted to make for you, so he doesn’t want to make them.”

“But, but, but…” I said.
“No,” R said.

Sigh.

Lately, my mind feels a little clearer…. so since none of my other go-to strategies were working, I guess I have to admit R is right. That is so annoying.

Still, there seems to be a little more sunshine in my spotted mind… And today, in order to not think about things that bum me out, I bought more airline tickets and I’m listening to ELO. So there is that.