• allisontgruber

I wanna rock n' roll all night . . . and also write

One of the unexpected blessings of this difficult period in my life is a return to time for reading. Not reading student papers. Not reading or re-reading or re-re-re-reading a text to teach. Reading, as a teacher of English Language Arts began, after a time, to feel burdensome to me. Sometimes I worried I had lost my love of the act, and as all Writers know, once your love of reading fails, so does your Writing fail.

So I’ve had Times during these last three months (Four months? Three? A week? Who the fuck knows.), to sit with myself in solitude. Absolute solitude except for pitbull attacks, and the Parrot Guy, and the meth head down the hall. Ma doesn’t like when I talk so frankly about where I live, but it’s just how I do. And I love my unit. I love my unit for so many reasons, but above all because it is my space to capital-H-Heal from what the last three years have dealt me, what my American Life has dealt me. I have decorated the apartment without a care in the world what anyone else thinks. This is MY nest. And if I want to fill it with plants and Buddhas and string lights, then so fuckin’ be it. This is my nest.

So I’ve had time in My Nest, which I shall call my Hermitage now, surrounded by Buddhas and music and string lights, to read again. Read for My Own Purposes – not Read For Pay. Read what I wanna, because I wanna. One of many Great Joys of growing older (post forty, at least) is that you really do stop giving an absolute fuck what anyone thinks about You as You Are. I’m going to be 46 in a few days. I will grow, I will change, but my Self is set, has always been Set, and I don’t hate that Self anymore. In fact, as it happens, I’m learning to really like her sometimes. And she’s really fucking unusual (in the Cyndi Lauper sense, not the creepy sense – at least I do not find my Self to be creepy), and I really, really, really do wish she might consider developing a better system of organization for herself, though I don’t beat her up about it anymore. She’s got her challenges. She’s got her limitations that just Are. She works on it. And I’m proud of how she has worked on it. I’m trying to extend the same Compassion to my Self, in my nest, my Hermitage, in my Life, as I have extended to others, reader.

I’ve dealt out Forgiveness, and I’ve overlooked the Past, and offered countless Olive Branches, and now I’m extending a few of those Graces to myself.

Part of that Compassion Unto my Self is reading. Luxurious reading: headphones on, you find some dreamy, slow music, not too much sparkle, or shine, no punk, no metal, perhaps jazz or folk, and you sit in the rocking chair you remember being rocked in as a baby, or you curl under the weighted blanket on the couch, or you slink into the new bed, onto the soft mattress mom & dad generously purchased for you when you, their eldest daughter, returned to your homeland battered and sick and stunned, and you uncap, with your teeth, one of those pens that are probably from a Child Labor factory in Rural China, but you try not to think about this because damn is the ink smooth, and with your hands you cut open a book, any book you like. That’s the kind of Reading I’ve been able to return to in this Changing Time, this Healing Time, this Grieving Time.

And always, these days, at night, I wanna write. So I write. I write pages and pages and pages in to a Google doc. An automatic writing that is coming from something bigger than me, something deep inside of me, and is the story of my whole fucking life. And then I pick out pieces from my prolific Night Writing – hey! Why wasn’t THAT a show in the 1980s? Instead of Knight Rider, a title that was a cringey pun, even by 80s standards, it could have been Night Writer, about a middle-aged lesbian with health issues physical and mental, who can’t stop writing at Night because she’s so fucking anxious? -, and when I pick out pieces from my Night Writing, sometimes, I give some small elaborations to you.

I want to Write and I want to Read and I want to Make. Same shit I’ve wanted to do since I was a child. The Essential Self never really changes. We like what we like. That’s why I’ve also always been leery of labels: Alcoholic, Lesbian, Divorced, Breast Cancer . . . Though I’ve used them because these simple words, which do not do justice to the deep and profound nuance of each experience, are the only words My Fellow Americans seem to understand when I am talking about my American Life. Words have often frustrated me in this way, or rather the realization that Americans use words/language like anvils or swords or cracker crumbs. And it’s been hard for me, all my life, to really grasp that other Americans (for they are all I’ve known with a few European and East Asian exceptions) do not use language as I do. Do not treat it the way I do or see in words what I see in words. I struggle to grasp that maybe even you, Reader, don’t see what I see. I struggle because it makes me feel lonely. It makes me feel afraid. I want to be understood and I want others to see This Life as I see it, too. You want this, too, and so do you, and you, and you. Maybe not you, serial-killer reader, but definitely you, reader.

Everyone wants to be understood. That’s all most humans really want: for someone to see it their way and say, “Yeah, man. I totally get it. And you’re Correct sometimes. And your thoughts are Good. And your thoughts are Beautiful. And I See them,” but usually Human Life does not work this way. This has historically been, and remains a capital C-Challenge of my Life.

I’ve returned, hardcore, to Reading and Writing and Music. Back to the beginning. The first places I ever sought Solace for my Self: books, writing, music. My mom once bought me a record at a garage sale. I loved “old” music – 50s & 60s Rock. It was the first record on which I heard Tommy Roe’s “Dizzy.” And I dug it from the get. The lyrics are simple: “Dizzy/I’m so dizzy/my head is spinnin’ . . . “ What kid can’t relate to that? And it’s a happy song. Uplifting beat. Even string instruments. Total B-Side Wall of Sound shit. I loved music that used the Wall of Sound technique, and I still do. And so there I was, this little fuckin’ kid in the early 1980s, growing up in a big suburban house on land that used to hold Nike Missiles for the US Government, listening to Bubble Gum Rock from the 1960s, and I was Listening. There was a world in a song. There is a world in a word which is why, I think, I am such a slow reader though my comprehension is excellent when given the proper amount of time.

Last night, I told my sister’s boyfriend that my GRE scores looked like “A freakish genius took the language portion, and then a lab monkey took over from there . . .”

So I read, leisurely, pen in hand, notebooks nearby. “Looks like chaos in here,” my father noted during a visit last week. Books and notebooks and pens everywhere. “I know it looks like chaos to you,” I told him. “But I understand what’s going on here.”

And I do and I don’t. Once, after a meeting for a kid, in my forties, I went home and wept not because I was sad for the kid, on the contrary I was delighted the kid was getting set up with helps, but because when they were describing the kid’s mind, the kid’s way of thinking, I was taking notes because it felt as though they were describing my brain, my habits, my emotionality. I still cry when I remember this. It was the first time, and I was 45 years old (for context, I will be 46 in a few days) when I first heard a doctor give a Name to something that I experience, have always experienced for as far back as I can remember (and I have my dad’s memory – as particular and long as a well sharpened spear), and I had never heard my Mind, by proxy, be described so well. And I had never had a Word for my Mind, my Struggles of Mind, until that day when I heard a Word by proxy, ascribed to a description of my mind. I had heard the Word before, I had just never heard it applied to a way of thinking and perceiving that so strongly mirrored my own way.

My ex* always dismissed me when I talked about this. “You do not have that. You just need . . .” Her prescription was always a list of things I could do for her, or a list of things I could get better at doing for her. Oy. That was a tough marriage for me. I don’t understand why people ever get remarried, but that’s none of my damn business because the entire subject of Marriage is boring to me now, so I’ll save my thoughts on this for when you visit, Reader. Not you, Reader, and I’ll have to think on that for you, but absolutely you, though.

*I always feel this need to want to justify myself. To tell you how much I gave to my ex in our marriage, how precious few secrets I ever kept (got caught every time I tried), how I was romantically and financially faithful, how I gave it everything I had got, and then some. I don’t need to explain: to quote the late great Leonard Cohen, “Everybody Knows.

When I taught my high schoolers, I used to teach them a whole lot about annotating. I was never prescriptive in my way for each student. I simply showed then some ways, my way, the highway, and I showed them how annotating is not just “notetaking,” it’s a talk with the text, and it can even be Artful. And my teens dug it. I could usually get the majority to be Annotating Fools like me by the 1st semester’s end. Also, I let them write in their books. In Ink. I know this is sacrilege in American Schools where we have to save soft-bound history books from the 70s because we don’t have enough new ones to buy one for every student, but goddamnit. Kids who are learning how to Read Well cannot all do this with light pencil underlines and post it notes. Like, if someone were to say to me now is “The only way you can take notes is color coding with Post-Its.” I would say “Well, fuck if I’m gonna read this then because I can’t read that way.”

So I gave my students options for note taking. Some liked to color code, so they’d color code. Some liked to write with pencil in the margins. So they did. Some wanted to use ink and highlighters. So they did. Some wanted to Roman Numeral-ize, so they did. Others wished to keep an extra journal for annotations. So they did. If they could understand their own notes, organize them in a way they could easily retrieve info, I didn’t care how the student took the notes. If the notes were germane to the direction we were going, I didn’t care how the kid took the fuckin’ notes. So burn me on a pyre of books for being a Heretical Public School Teacher: I let my kids write in their classroom books. In ink and highlighter sometimes because I wanted them to learn and the worst thing, I felt, would happen was that the next kid to read the annotated text would see evidence of a prior conversation. So what? That’s fuckin’ cool.

Sunday reading: How to Relax, Thicht Nhat Hanh. Need simple words today. Straight, no chaser words. On the radio, classic rock. 70s. Warren Zevon, “Lawyers, Guns & Money”: how was I to know/she was with the Russians, too?/ . . . send lawyers, guns, and money/the shit has hit the fan . . .

Be good, hooligans.

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