Friday, August 22, 2014

19/40 in 40: Know Where You Come From

19th in a series of 40 things I've learned in 40 years

Recently I read a brief article summarizing a scientific study on fear. It seems that we can inherit fear from our elders. Not that we are trained to fear those things by our elders, but that we actually come with them pre-programmed. I don't know if this is so, but it rings true.

It is important to know where you're from. I can trace my genealogy back a long way on several sides of my family, fewer generations on others. And I know my stories aren't unique, I know that life is rough and hard and short all over the world and refugees and immigrants come burdened with sadness, loss, and fear. And so I look at all of us, some days, and wonder how much of that we carry with us, generations later. The Vietnamese I worked with at St. Pius. The Bosnians who came into the store where I worked before that. First and second generation folks from all over who sit in the pews with me at mass. Here are some pieces of my story, though, that I'm glad I have, because they inform me about my own situation. As a friend told me one time, they tell me about the milieu I've found myself caught in.

My grandmother(my mother's side of the family) grew up on a hardscrabble Ozark farm until her brother Harold was found drowned in a shallow creek. Her older brothers found him. Her father failed to revive him on the kitchen table. They moved away soon after. I'm still hypervigilant about water.

My grandfather (my father's side of the family) lived in a house a few blocks from me, which at one time was owned by a fellow parishioner. I played scrabble at her table. I drank in her living room while sorting girl scout cookies. I taught her children. I had no idea Rich had lived there as a teenager, but the house had a good lived-in feel (like my own).

The family story about that grandfather's grandmother echo the constructs of European folktales. She was a witch, Jenny was (actually probably the daughter of an English gypsy), and there are three instances that prove it, each occurring over the course of three days. Power of three. She had three rings, and after she died, her daughter-in-law buried them in the backyard to try to rid herself of Jenny's ghost. Three days later they were on the kitchen table. Then she threw them away. Three days later, there they were again. She put them in some sort of acid or lye, and three days later the metal was untouched (probably because it was gold and relatively inert). Power of three. Billy Goats Gruff. Huff and Puff three little pigs. She wouldn't have two rings. There wouldn't be four stories of trying to destroy them. Three. Makes me wonder what runs through our veins as northern English, Irish, and northern Germans. The Brothers Grimm didn't write in a vacuum. Three is important.

Jenny also had 11 children and watched all but two of them die. One died in childbirth but the other 8 died before the age of 15, of tuberculosis or premature birth. Francis made it the longest, dying at 15 on the north side of St. Louis. My grandfather's father was one of the survivors, obviously. She was pregnant with the other survivor when she got married at 16 to a drunk, a liquor distributor.

Her father, like I said, was most likely an English gypsy; his last name fits the rolls of those families, his first occupation listed was horse trader, and he was a liar, like one who mistrusted government officials would be. Later he and his sons would run the bricklayers union out of Granite City. Jenny's older brother was the union leader when he was shot and killed by his stepson for beating the boy's mother into submission.

Jenny's husband's family, her inlaws, were the Irish immigrants on that side. They fled famine, met and married in Kansas City, and mysteriously moved eastward to St. Louis, where he opened a bar on the East Side. He killed a man in his bar and when it appeared that he would probably be charged with the murder, he killed himself with rat poison standing up at his bar with a friend, toasting to each other's health. He died two days later. His wife, Bridget Blake, was a renowned liar, I think they all were, the power of the spoken word being so strong to illiterate people. She was the daughter of at least 3 different women in three different documents, and the mother to 4 different people, only two of whom I think were actually her children.

I can trace Daisy's low seizure threshold back 5 generations on that side as well. I feel like the Blakes, Kidneys, and Dawes families give me such a rich background, but also a layer of tragedy.

My dad's mother came by my house back a few years back and gave me a Mary statue that she'd been given as a young girl by her grandmother, who had received it as a gift from the nuns where she had lived in an orphanage after the Civil War when her father, a widower, placed her and her siblings there to keep them safe in Cape Girardeau while he went to stake a claim in Texas. Maria never joined him, marrying a St. Louisan and leaving her family behind. Aloysius, her father, had been disowned by his German draft-dodging family for joining up with the army. He left his family behind as well. These stories, and Bridget and Edward abandoning their sons and starting a bar? A lot of moving. A lot. It's 6 generations later, at the very most, and I'm still a nomad at heart.

There are probably happy people back there too--some on my mother's side had a little more money, far fewer child deaths. Mostly rural farm owners instead of illiterate manual laborers in the dirty city. Their stories are my stories too, but you know that it's either a good time or a good story, and it seems like perhaps theirs was a good time.

I don't know if we inherit fear. Or the tendency to fudge the truth or wanderlust. But their stories resonate with mine, inform mine. Make me see the world as something full of connections between people, even people whom I've never met but whose DNA I carry within me. I am imprinted by Maria, Bridget, Josephine, Jenny, all those Edwards, Harold, Mazie, and so many others. They are my milieu

Thursday, August 21, 2014

18/40 in 40: The Bohr Model of the Atom

I've known Jake for 21 years this week. He was the freshman adviser on my dorm floor when I showed up as the only freshman who picked that floor (others were assigned, but I was the only one initially happy about it). We became friends quickly, although we were each dating other people.

We started dating 20 years ago next month. Easy friendship turned relationship, well matched, lots of friends seeing it coming from a mile off. We had great first dates--our specialty was a take out thin crust pizza from Pantera's for $4.99 and 52 ounce QuikTrip mug of Dr. Pepper, consumed in the front seat of his Dodge Colt or my Chevy Cavalier.

We got married 18 years ago last month, in sort of an inevitable conclusion to our dating. His mom was standing in the kitchen my junior year, when we'd been together 18 months, and asked if, after I graduated, we planned to get married.

We shrugged at each other and said, "well, probably."

That's how we got engaged.

It's all been like that. Easy. So easy. Sometimes we (meaning I) make it harder than it has to be, but it's never hard. It was never hard. The closest it got to hard was when Fiona was a year old and her lead level spiked and the city was coming to investigate our house and I was so ashamed that I'd put this tiny creature in harm's way out of, what? Laziness? I didn't even know how to name it. All these reassurances that things would be fine, but in the meantime that summer we frantically painted and cleaned until her lead level got high enough (classic catch-22) that the city investigated and found the lead, on the outside of our windows, and we'd been blowing lead dust across us with a box fan all night long, all summer long, and that? THAT WAS THE HARDEST.

But even then, it was just hard, together. I never thought, hmm, I should leave (I did leave the HOUSE, with Fiona, and stay at my inlaws for several weeks that summer while they worked on abating the lead, but I didn't leave).

I have fallen in love, once. Fallen like into a hole. Fallen in love with the wrong person from the wrong side of the tracks, someone I was going to need to drag into adulthood and probably fix a lot of the broken parts of in order to be in a relationship with, and you know that doesn't work. You can't fix what you can't see, and you can't see what isn't revealed and even though you love someone so much, you can't do it.

I didn't fall in love with Jake. Ever, really. I grew in love with him. We learned to love. We practiced love. We sometimes relied on the easy friendship because love grows slowly. But I didn't fall. Ever. I never lost myself in him, in his personality, friends, hobbies, life. I never changed who I was for him. Or vice versa. Yes, he knows a lot about quilt patterns because he's married to me, and I learned to eat deer and be ok with hunting because I'm married to him. But those were growing times. Those were easy. We're just easy.

We've been doing some light arguing about the unrest in St. Louis the past week. My opinions change back and forth constantly, and his are pretty firmly set in one place. I'm kind of orbiting. Sometimes he orbits me, of course, but lately I've been vacillating and changing my mind and showing up here and there and everywhere in between. But we're stable. We're easy. And eventually I'll come around. Or I won't. Like how electrons really work, as opposed to the more static original Bohr model of the atom, actually. But that's not what I'm talking about when I say that one of the things I've learned in 40 years is the Bohr Model.

In the van, the old Chevy Venture we drove into the ground over 10 years, on our way to my inlaws for a weekend about 12 or 14 years ago, I was staring out the window at the limestone cliffs formed by the highway, and I laughed to myself. Jake asked, "What are you laughing about?" I realized I'd done that out loud, and I sighed.

"Oh, I was just thinking about the Bohr Model of the Atom," I told him.

"I can dig it," he replied.

Easy. He just accepted, understood, that something about Niels' Bohr's model struck me as amusing. There as no scorn, no derision. There never is. We're both geeks, too, so that helps. He didn't ask me to explain.

I'm not a chemist, although I did make it through Chem I and II in college before I realized I didn't have to prove how smart I was anymore. The Bohr Model, for me, a non-chemist, is just one of those things you learn about and then store in the back of your brain or put down on a shelf one day and never pick back up. What strikes me about it is that it is wrong. There are things about it that are right, but a lot of it is wrong. We have a better understanding of how atoms really work now, with better tools and microscopes (and lots of math, I'm relatively sure).

But like many things in science, we get to learn how layers of knowledge build up to our current understanding. As opposed to folk beliefs about sympathetic magic, which aren't taught in medical school because they are patently false, we still look to the Bohr Model because it has truth in it, even though the view was partially obscured. It works for Hydrogen, after all. It was a good start.

I thought love was a feeling, for instance, but now I know it's a decision. It is a decision to feel, however, and therefore it is still partially correct to see it as an emotion.

As opposed to, say, the flat earth theory being taught in a plate tectonics course or spontaneous generation being given its due time in a biology course, the Bohr model is still taught even though it is flawed and simplistic. I'm glad it is, because sometimes our own understanding of things is flawed and simplistic, and as we grow, it changes. But that original idea is still worthy of mention because it brought us where we are now.

I thought I had life sewn up for myself as a 17 1/2 year old engaged to a boy I'd fallen in love with. I was wrong. Deeply wrong. But it is still part of my story of how I came to be where I am, with Jake, in St. Louis, with these three kids and this wonderful life.

In comparison to eugenics or medical experiments on prisoners or the poor, Niels Bohr came up with his theory (at least I assume, based on his brief biography) without doing anything immoral. What we learn from the Bohr Model is not tainted by politics or hatred or fervent religious misinterpretation of righteousness. Niels Bohr himself knew it was flawed, and worked tirelessly to improve understanding instead of clinging to an idea that didn't work, simply because it was HIS idea.

That's what made me laugh in the car that day. How confident we can be that we have a good thing going, a good theory, a good start, and how we can be wrong, but still be intrinsically right. We all muddle through our lives and hope we have the right path. We set up constructs to explain our lives, the behaviors of others, and to further our dreams. Sometimes these things don't work out. But that doesn't mean we are lessened by our fumbling. It means we are human.

There are so many things I know now that I didn't know when I was 17 1/2. And there are things I fumble with now that will hopefully become less obscured as I get older. I don't know what my Bohr Model of the Atom is right now, what I have wrong, what I need to tweak and change and improve upon. But I know I have a Bohr Model. We all do.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

17/40 in 40: It's Either a Good Time or a Good Story

17th in a series of 40 things I've learned in 40 years

My sister Colleen was moving to St. Louis. She's been in Columbia, Missouri, since she left for college in August 2003. She is old to keep living in a college town; she broke up with the boyfriend a little over a year ago, she felt stuck in a rut, and frankly, she was getting the point that she was pretty damned poor as well. It was time to move home with my parents and start something new. This wasn't a shameful thing, it was just time.

My sister Colleen does not drive. There is no reason she doesn't drive. She just never got her license. She gets her permit renewed every year and doesn't learn. I'm not sure if she plans to ever learn. But it's fine because she doesn't complain, she bike commutes everywhere and keeps her life kind of small--she lived and worked in downtown Columbia and spent time with friends.

My sister Colleen needed help moving. My dad went up there on a Thursday with his truck and a U-Haul trailer to bring home the majority of her stuff. We helped them unload when they got into town around lunchtime, which meant they made great time, since Columbia is 2 hours west of us. The plan was for Colleen to go to a bike polo tournament (she plays bike polo, which is just what it sounds like, and just as rough as it sounds as well) with friends over the weekend, and then be dropped off in Columbia Sunday night. I was driving up on Tuesday to throw the rest of her stuff in my truck, give her cats tranquilizers, and come on home. I was bringing my bike, too, because the plan was to head out on the MKT to the Katy Trail to do a long bike ride in the afternoon before we headed home.

I got to Columbia at noon and walked into her house, which is one of those chopped up older homes that people rent out to students at Mizzou. I knew almost immediately we were doomed.

She had 8 large kitchen trash bags filled with clothes and blankets. Another bag of hangers. Several grocery bag-sized containers of kitchen stuff. Two cat carriers, two cat boxes with lids, garden implements, two bikes, several plants from her porch, and two large fiberglass hanging lamps. It was too much. My truck could have taken about half of that.

So I sat on the dirty futon that I was not responsible for hauling, and considered our options. I called U-Haul. I have a trailer hitch. But I drive a Ford Explorer Sport-Trac truck and they don't rent trailers to Ford Explorers, even when I explained that I'd taken a pop-up trailer through the danged Rocky Mountains.

We considered calling my dad and having him bring up his truck, because between the two of us we'd be fine. But first I called Jake to see if HE could bring up my dad's truck. I danced around the topic on the phone. I explained the SNAFU. And he didn't take the monkey. Not even close. It's like he's met me and my family before.

"GET OFF THE PHONE!" Colleen yelled from the kitchen. "He's not giving you any viable options!"

So I got off the phone and called my mom to see if she, or my dad, could bring up the truck. No can do. The truck had a screw in a back tire from the alley debris (we have the worst luck with screws and nails from our alleys, everybody always rehabbing everything) and my dad was at the mechanic to patch it right then--no way could they get to Columbia before dinner time.

What about a storage unit? What about a friend's basement? What about? Nothing.

So I called U-Haul back and rented a truck, the smallest they had. Colleen's roommate drove me to the place and I told Colleen to have everything ready to throw into this truck when I pulled up. I got back at 1:15. We were pulling onto I-70 with the U-Haul at 2:05. I left my truck in her parking lot. Because we were coming back this afternoon.

I drove to St. Louis, getting to my mom's house at 3:50. We had prepared my mom for this, and she'd cleared the back porch. We unloaded everything from the truck, tossing boxes and bags and everything onto the porch and then into the house--my parents' first floor looks like a rummage sale in progress right now. At one point, I'm pushing things towards the back of the truck for Colleen to grab more easily, and she takes a deep breath.

"That dirty hippie smell, is that my stuff?" she laughed.

"Yes, I do believe it is," I broke the facts to her.

Oh I forgot to mention the 6 hat boxes, complete with vintage hats, that could not have been crushed. They weren't crushed. But there was no way we could have brought them and, really, anything else, home in my truck.

We left my mom's house at 4:10. I kid you not. Drove BACK to Columbia in the beginnings of rush hour traffic. Got to U-Haul at 6:40. "You went far today!" the kid checking us in told me.

"Yep. Big sister little sister miscommunication," I summed up.

We went to her apartment. I hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast. So we went to a pub, a local brewhouse, and I had a burger and fries and an Irish red ale. And then it was all right. We went back to her former home, gathered up the bits and pieces like her CATS and their litter boxes and the plants and the weird lamps, stashed that stuff in my truck.

And drove home to St. Louis again. As we packed up she said, "Can we take a rain check on the bike ride?" and all I could do was laugh. Because it's either a good time or a good story.

I kept texting my brother the whole time, like, how is she a Blake and she doesn't know how to estimate what she needs to move? We decided she was too young when the moves happened. Never got the hang of it.

We drove home, getting to my mom's house around 11:30. Only the essentials went in this time, and in fact Jake is still driving his truck around with Colleen's bits and pieces under the locked tonneau.

I crawled into bed next to my sleeping husband and he said something about my family, which I could only agree with after all, and fell asleep.

This is what life is: it's either a good time, which is great, life is good, or it's a good story, which is also great because there's nothing better than spilling my purse on the table and entertaining you with some cockamamie tale of what Bridgett did this time...

Sunday, August 17, 2014

16/40 in 40 Life is Essentially ER Work

16th in a series of 40 things I've learned in 40 years

My father was an ER (ED for some of you) nurse for most of my childhood. He worked at tertiary care hospitals for the most part (places where you go if you have a gunshot wound, not places you go with a broken arm because you will die waiting to be seen because everyone else coming in has a gunshot wound). After he left emergency care, he worked cardiac ICU and general ICU floors, but what I remember from childhood is the ER.

I was raised knowing that unless it's an emergency, it's not an emergency. Things need to be handled, but unless they're emergencies, they're not emergencies. He tied my brother's scalp shut with his own hair when Ian was 5. We never had bandaids--just white tape from the ER and cotton balls. Ian once dropped a weight (like barbell weights) on his leg, ripping the skin open and exposing down to the bone, and my father put neosporin on it and taped a maxipad to his leg. It's not an emergency.

So when my sister got bit by a dog, on the mouth, and we ran traffic lights in the car to drive her to the ER, I knew it was bad.

When I woke up in the hospital with a compromised airway and penicillin-resistant strep, and he was sitting in the chair next to me, I thought I was dead. Terry Blake is here. It's an emergency.

Dad would talk about down time--80% of the time in an ER you are waiting for something to happen. You process the sore throats and flu cases and wait. 15% of the time you do things that need to happen, things that are emergencies but not really--broken legs need setting, appendicitis needs a CT scan. And the other 5% of the time you work on the real emergencies. The gunshots and amputations and open chests and all that stuff.

That's what life is. A lot of time processing stuff. Checking in, standing in line, waiting, eating breakfast, teaching algebra, going to church, driving home, sleeping, cleaning your room, just all that stuff. All that routine stuff. Some of it is more interesting--good vacations, buying a house, finishing an important project, realizing that you're friends, Christmas dinner, girl scout trips, good conversations you savor. And there's that 5% that really gives life its texture. The emergency appendectomy, of course, but also the car wreck on the first day of work; the day you get married, or the birth of your first child, or second, or third.  The death of your grandfather on the same day as the death of your husband's grandmother. The fight that your relationship never recovers from. The day you go into therapy. The day you figure out you need to dump that guy, the same day your cat dies and your brother's leg gets broken while your parents are on vacation. Big days, big weeks, big seasons--summer 2006 saw our first really good vacation, but also an assault on our block and a power outage that lasted 3 days. This summer will be one of those ER summers. No one (but me) went to the ER, but it was triage work--in one week alone one of my best friends moved away, new neighbors moved in, I had emergency surgery, my cat died, and my city blew up in riots and protests due to simmering racial tensions that we all sort of ignored until it became an emergency. So many things happening at once.

My school year starts tomorrow, and I'm going for the half day meet and greet and get the textbook day. I am taking Tuesday and Wednesday as sick days to finish recuperating from this damned surgery. And I'm sincerely hoping in that time that life slows down. I pray that Ferguson calms down. I pray that I feel better, that I see some friends, sit on the porch, chat the heck out of an evening or two. And then go drive to work and teach some algebra and eat lunch with colleagues and plan some classes and drive to soccer practice and listen to music in the car and eat dinner out of the crock pot and pick tomatoes and just be still.

Because new emergencies will come. Now it's time to move to that boring rest period and just live for a minute.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Lap appi with an extra shot

I woke up feeling woozy, like drunk woozy, but I hadn't been drinking, at 4:15 Monday morning. I was getting up in a few hours to go to the religious institute at SLU for the day, since I teach in a Catholic school and it's sort of our first warm up for the school year. I was a little jittery about new year and new principal and all that. But not so bad, not enough to feel dizzy and sick at 4:15 in the morning. I managed to go back to sleep and woke up again at 6, this time with stomach pain.

My belly is where all my nerves go. I thought to myself, wow, Bridge, you're really worked up this time. I tossed and turned a while. I watched the clock. I stretched. I did deep breathing. I took a wonderful hot shower.

I sent Jake to work because I was going to power through this. If it was something, some bug, I'd go to mass at SLU, go to the first presentation, and then beg off if I was still feeling bad. But as I lie back down on the bed before I figure out what I'm going to wear for the day, I realize this isn't going to work. I need to see a doctor.

I call my doctor, and while I wait for them to call me back, I have a text conversation with Gretchen in which she gently persuades me to go to urgent care, one of those storefront clinics with an x-ray machine and so forth. Basics, not life-saving. I talk to my dad, too, who says it doesn't sound like that big of a deal, but I should talk to a doctor.

So I drive myself to urgent care. It's hard to bend in the car. I take a phone call from Troy. I text Jake at a stop light to meet me there. Because I'm starting to feel kind of bad.

"Hi, I'm having a lot of nausea and my stomach pain? It's moved from just kind of everywhere, to just the lower right part of my abdomen. It's probably nothing, and my dad's an ER nurse and we never go to the ER and if it's just constipation or something stupid, I'm so sorry, but I just, I can feel my heartbeat in my hip bone and I just--"

"Stop apologizing," the nurse said. Moments later I had an IV started and blood drawn and the doctor came in and pushed on my abdomen like he was playing a precise instrument. And all my answers were correct, or incorrect, whichever way you want to look at it. It was either diverticulitis, which seemed unlikely, or colitis, which seemed unlikely, or an ovarian cyst or appendicitis. Ovarian cyst seemed most likely, since I didn't have a fever. But my white blood cell count was high...he sent me for a CT scan, which was yucky (I hate that contrast dye stuff that makes you warm and sticky on your insides). And then gave me the results. I had an inflamed appendix. I needed to go to a hospital. Which one would I like to go to?

Even when we were pulling up at the ER at Mercy Hospital with my CT scan results in hand, and the CD with the films as well, even then, I thought for sure a doctor would look at them and scoff and send me home with a stool softener or some such. I really still thought that's what would happen.

But I was starting to hurt again (the IV at the urgent care place came with toradol and zofran). And the ER nurse who gave me the gown and told me to "take it all off" asked me how I knew it was appendicitis, and I told her I had a CT scan. "Oh sweetie, then you're having it out tonight. Cat scans don't lie."

No, they don't.

So I had a "lap appi" as my post-op nurses referred to my laparoscopic appendectomy, at 5 in the afternoon on Monday, 12 hours after I'd started having symptoms. It was clean--the appendix didn't burst and the infection hadn't spread--and I went home Tuesday after lunch.

It is now Wednesday night and I am thoroughly exhausted and high on pain medication. I am not sure how I'm going to start my school year in mere days. But it'll be fine. It will. It's not my first year back and you know what, my surgeon seemed pretty conservative about my going-back-to-work plan when I talked to him Tuesday. So I'm going to rest. A lot. And try again when I can.

Oh and my cat died while I waited for CT results. She was scheduled for euthanasia that afternoon. It's like she knew we weren't going to make it home in time, poor thing. Daisy and her friend found her in her bed, dead. Everybody's pretty much ok with this. She was 18 and failing. Obviously. But it's been one of those summers...sigh.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

15/40 in 40: Community Matters

15th in a series of 40 things I've learned in 40 years.

Last night was Zelda and Travis' going away barbecue in the Commune, which is their backyard and Gretchen and Nick's backyard put together--there's no fence between them. But there will be soon enough because Zelda and Travis are moving away. The house is on the market and Travis is already 4 states away.

Gretchen and I collected letters from neighbors, and pictures, and put together a little memory book for their family. We put all the photos on a DVD as well and as that was burning, upstairs in Gretchen's computer room, while the party went on down in the backyard, Gretchen told me I needed to say something when we gave them the book.

I stood in her kitchen a moment and practiced in my head. I am not a spontaneous speech kind of person; I am prone to tears and rambling. I went out and talked to Dawn for a moment. She asked if I would be ok.

"Oh yeah, I'm a middle school teacher and I've also had a lot of rye this evening."

"That's what I'm worried about," she smiled.

Gretchen came down with the goods and we turned off the movie (My Neighbor Totoro, most fitting) and made the kids listen for a moment. And this is what I said:

Over the last month I've had time to think about this place, what it means to us who live in this place, how even after people leave, they remain part of this place. That the gestalt here is far greater than the individual families in their houses put together. A lot of this has to do with you two. I think about the first time I stood in your house at that Christmas party, looking around for clues as to who these people were, and I spied that Noah's Ark playset of Bree's and thought to myself, "Oh no, they're Christians."

But as the next ten years went by, I realized that yes, you were Christians, and I was too, and I was made a better one by simply knowing you.

When you take an apple and an orange and put them together in a bowl, they cease to be an apple and an orange and they become fruits. What we are is friends. And so we made you a book to make you cry.

Wanted: a family, or a couple, or a single person willing to be a part of a strong community on the best block in South St. Louis. Your story can be off-beat. Your interests can be uncommon. Come share our lives. Must be willing to at least try to play mah jongg.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

14/40 in 40: Dirty Laundry

14th in a series of 40 things I've learned in 40 years, while I watch a scary large sphinx moth hover around my porch and try not to panic.

Don't hang out your dirty laundry

My last post sounds almost contradicted by this statement. Wait, I'm supposed to spill my purse on the table and let you sort through it, but I'm not supposed to hang out dirty laundry. Well, most of the time the stuff in your purse isn't any big deal. I mean, a wallet, some receipts, car keys, chapstick, and so forth. My purse is a vintage Coach bag my sister scouted out for me, and I'm not going to stick anything in there that will screw it up.

Analogy time is over. I have learned not to go too far in public. That's what I'm saying. I have a few friends I get confessional with, and vice versa, a few very very close friends, but I don't tell all my bad deeds or uncomfortable stories to everyone. It's one thing to talk about how when Jake cooks up leftovers there is always somehow more leftovers left over when we're done? It's like a loaves and fishes things of food you are tired of eating. Tell that story and we're that family, those goofy Irish Catholics who can't find their rear ends with both hands.

It's another thing to talk about the fight that began about the leftovers and then turned grisly (note: this never happened). I can't do that part. I might talk to one friend about such and such, or two friends about this and that, but I can't walk into the faculty lounge and have that conversation. I can't sit at my inlaws table and tell that story. I don't want to make people uncomfortable (unless you get uncomfortable hearing about the time there was a snake in the canoe or that time I drove back and forth to Columbia twice in one day to move my sister who underestimated the volume of stuff she had--wait, that was only Tuesday ad I haven't told you that story yet--if that stuff makes you uncomfortable or like I'm "oversharing" then I can't help you. Go drink your sweet tea).

I work with a woman, let's call her April, another teacher, works in the lower school. I don't run into April often since I'm teaching math in the upper school and my life centers around my classroom, the supply room, and the hallway from my door to the restroom. I just don't encounter April very often, and I'm glad. I'm glad because I'm a social chameleon genetically predisposed to make people want to talk to me. April likes to talk, and at first it seems like she's like me. Here's a story of my cockamamie existence and my crazy family. But after the first 20 seconds of the story it changes. Life happens to April. Her sister is unmedicated and lives with her and makes her life hell on wheels. Her oldest child is mentally ill and her younger child is tormented. Her husband has checked out from the story almost completely. April is always taking a half day or calling in sick to handle the life she's allowing to drown her. She talks about the fight with her husband. Ends the story by mentioning the make-up sex. She runs into me a few weeks later (literally--the school is big) and says, "how are you? My sister stole my car so I don't know how I'm getting home tonight."

If that were my life, well, it wouldn't be my life, but if that were my life, I wouldn't run into the new teacher in the upper school one day in the office and spill all that. Holy crap.

It's a fine line, but it's there. Part of it is a line between "here's more of my crazy that's my fault" and "here's the crazy I'm enabling but pretend isn't my fault and I want you to feel sorry for me." Part of it is the line between "I'm sharing this to expose my humanity" and "I'm sharing this because I want you to do something for me." And part of it is the line between "I love my life even though it's a circus full of monkeys I can't control but still enjoy" and "I hate my monkeys." April hates her monkeys and wants people to fix it.

That's not why I share my life out loud. Even the hard stuff, like when Troy was living with us and it was taking a nose dive (it was a roller coaster, up and down), I shared because goodness it was a good story. Daisy has a seizure and I'm worried and sad and discombobulated and I share it, but not so you can then feel sorry for me (you might, I can't control that). I share it because it's my life. Plain label Kennedy ridiculous behavior I share because it's funny or interesting or revealing or normalizing. The things I don't share here, or don't share with anyone except a tiny fistful of closest friends, well, it's because those stories aren't only mine and would hurt the other people involved if they were known too widely, or can only be understood in the context of having known me for centuries and could lead to deep misunderstandings about who I am, or just aren't things you need to say out loud. Seriously.

Don't tell all. I once, in Russian back in college, started reading a paragraph about construction work in Novosibirsk. I needed to translate it on the fly. It began "Oleg rasskazivaet bce..." Oleg tells all. Don't be like Oleg. Don't tell all.