Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Basketball Diaries

If I had to boil my personality down to a single word, I think I'd have to go with stubborn, a trait that I both love and hate. Stubbornness is fantastic for getting things done, for hanging in there, for picking yourself up and going back out into the mean, scary world. But the dark side of stubborn means never being able to let go. Stubbornness makes you dig your fox hole deep and settle in for the long fight, which is not the easiest way to live sometimes. The worst thing about stubbornness is that it makes you too stupid to walk away from a lost cause.

I always try to be rather circumspect about what I put up on my blog, since I understand that A.) things live forever on the Internet and B.) anyone could read it at any time. So I'm not going into details about the current issues that have me musing on stubbornness and lost causes, and really, the details aren't all that interesting anyway. (And rest assured, this has nothing to do with the important aspects of my life, like Peter or my family.) Instead, a story from the high school files...

I went to a mid-sized (240 in my graduating class) private, Catholic high school. It was a bit of an odd place because it had been all boys up until the early 80s. Some of the male teachers were a little bitter about the change and it seemed like bias toward boys was built into the system. By the time I started school in the mid-80s, it was fully 'integrated' but a lingering sexism prevailed.

I've never met a brick wall that I didn't want to bang my head against, so I found all sorts of inequalities to rail against in this environment. My sophomore year, I decided to make a point about intramural sports, which though theoretically open to all were, as a practical matter, limited to boys. (I'm not talking about the basic school teams that go play against other school's teams, I'm talking about within-the-school, just-for-fun leagues.) No girls ever signed up for intramurals because of an unspoken understanding that it was just for boys.

So I signed up for intramural basketball. I'm five feet tall and basketball's never been my best sport, but that's what was available. Predictably, I was the only girl to sign up and my friends thought I was crazy. But there was a point to be made and I was just the girl to do it. Enough sophomores signed up to field several teams, maybe 5 or 6, I don't remember the specifics. I just remember that it was 5 to a team and we played half-court games, sideways across the gym, with two games going at a time. And one unlucky team was lumped with the stupid girl.

The day came for the first game and I was nervous but determined, getting dressed in the girls' locker room all by myself. The biology teacher was the referee and he gathered my team and our opponents around him and had a coin toss to see which team would get to call shirts or skins and pick the direction to start play. My team won the toss and the captain, smiling gleefully because he would have his revenge for getting stuck with the girl, said we'd play skins.

Much sophomoric snorting and guffawing commenced as I stood there dumbfounded and truly appreciating the situation I'd created for myself. The biology teacher silenced the boys with a few flaps of his arms. "You don't have to take your shirt off, everyone can remember which team you're with." And so began my inglorious intramural basketball career.

I was okay at defense and sometimes even managed to wrestle the ball away. I could move the ball with some fluidity, but would pass as soon as practical, because I knew shooting was my weakness. I was credited with one basket during the 'season.' That was only because an opponent messed up after half-time and dunked in the wrong basket, which the biology teacher credited to me out of pity. My teammates rarely passed to me and pretty much never spoke to me.

This wasn't an after-school special in which the boys come to the realisation that the girl is a person too and deserves to play. It was pretty much an hour of misery after school every Friday for several weeks. It even created some residual grief and misery that spilled out over the rest of the week, like the way a certain table of boys bellowed 'Larry' (as in Larry Bird) at me when I had the misfortune of passing them in the cafeteria. But I did not quit and, in fact, I don't think quitting was ever in my mind as an option. When the season was done, my point was made and I did not sign up for intramural basketball again.

When I told Peter this story and tried to think out loud about why I didn't just quit (since it only occurred to me 20 years later that it would have been the smart thing to do), he said 'It's because you love to be miserable.' I've thought about that a lot recently and I've come to the conclusion that I do not actually love to be miserable. But I cannot figure out a way not to be stubborn (and I honestly don't know if I'd want to change that about myself even if I could) and sometimes, stubbornness begets misery.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Blog Share Feb 2009

Ed. note: Today is Blog Share, that magical day when participants give and are given the gift of anonymity. Special thanks to -R- at And You Know What Else who organized all of this.

Family. It’s the one subject I hardly talk about on my blog. I mean, I’ll speak of them, always good things, but that’s about it. Family is sometimes the reason you wish you weren’t such a shameless self-promoter when you first started your blog and gave the address out to EVERYONE.

I have this aunt. She’s my mom’s sister. And, well, she’s a bitch. Sometimes it is a wonder how we are related and how my mom and her are cut from the very same cloth.

I lived away from home for 10 years before moving back about four years ago. Those 10 years are the years I grew into the person I am today. So for a lot of those years, I missed out on family holidays and get togethers. I missed all the drama. I wouldn’t trade those 10 years for anything. It is a nice thing to be removed sometime. Especially when it comes to the drama.

My aunt is a racist. Here is a woman in her early 50s, who still uses very hateful and derogatory terms to refer to people who aren’t like her. And the worst part is that she is passing this on to her children. My cousins, who are intelligent people, people in their early 20s, are just as prejudiced as their mother. It embarrasses me to no end when she uses racial slurs. It is even worse when she looks at me like I understand and think she’s funny. I don’t. I was raised better than that.

One Christmas when I was home years ago, I sat down at the table with some of my family, and we were all chatting and snacking on a bowl of mixed nuts. There was a Brazilian nut in the mix and I didn’t know what kind of nut it was. And when I asked my aunt, all she told me is that they were called N-word Toes. I asked again. Because since she’s an educated person, a nurse, I knew that N-word Toes was not the official name of that nut and that she must KNOW THAT. And she just kept using that word over and over. I got so upset, I started crying and stormed out of the room. I didn’t celebrate Christmas with my family for five years after that.

There are many times I wonder how my mother and her can be so different. How they could have been raised the same way and my mom turned out to be loving of everyone, without a hateful bone in her body. I’m glad the storks gave me to my mom instead of my aunt when they were handing out babies.

My aunt is very proud of her children. And they haven’t had the easiest life, losing their father, my uncle, at a young age. But when it comes to accomplishments, her kids can do no wrong. Nothing in the world that my brother, my sister or I accomplish can come CLOSE to anything that her kids do. Her kids that are both over 22 and both still live at home. Who are in no hurry to leave because mom is still footing the bill. Don’t get me started on her complaints about her kids milking all her money when all she has to do is force them to act like the adults that they are and make them get jobs and move out.

My accomplishments in life can never stack up, so I don’t even share anything about myself at family gatherings. My mom reads my blog, as well as my other aunt whom I love, so if I have something big to share, they already know about it and I can save face and not get belittled in front of my family when I share exciting news.

I know this so something trivial to share in a blog share. I mean, she isn’t a horrible person. She works hard and takes care of her family and has done it all on her own since my uncle died, which is no easy feat. But my mom also raised three kids on her own as a single parent and she doesn’t play the victim and remind people of this fact every chance she gets. You do what you have to do and you move on. That’s life. It isn’t always puppies and unicorns.

I’m lucky in that I have many family members that I am close with and who celebrate my highs and comfort me during my lows. It’s just frustrating to have a woman like my aunt, who is loud and obnoxious and who rules every conversation, who is there to constantly remind you that you’re not as good. It is hard to really be yourself and enjoy your time with your family. Which should be the one place where you can totally be yourself without some bitch of a family member telling you that being mentioned in a best-selling memoir is nothing like getting a PhD.

Do you have family members like these? Please tell me I’m not alone.

Please check out the other participants:
And You Know What Else
Andrea Unplugged
Blue Soup
Bright Yellow World
Caity of the Keps
Daily Tannenbaum
Did I Say That Outloud?
Dispatches From The Failed Mommy Club
Face Down
For The Long Run
Full Of Snark
In Java, Literally
Just Below 63
A New Duck
NonSoccer Mom
The North Is My Snowcone
Not The Daddy
Operation Pink Herring
Pants, Pants, Pants
Red Red Whine
Sassy Buster
Sauntering Soul
Shushing Action
Snow-Covered Hills
Swimming With Sharks
Thinking Some More
Trueish Story
Way Way Up
Whiskey Marie


Monday, February 09, 2009

Forgiving and Forgetting

When Peter's dad died, it was after a long, drawn-out illness. We'd been expecting it for several years and actively preparing for it for at least six months. The post that I wrote about Tom pretty much wrote itself, since my mind had been turning it over for so long.

When Peter got a middle of the night phone call on Thursday morning, I wasn't prepared for the news that his mother was dying. Nóirín had suffered from dementia for several years, but she seemed physically healthy enough to live for years. No one thought she'd go from healthy to dead in less than 36 hours, but it was the kindest, most merciful end one could hope for. Enough time to talk to her daughters on the phone and have her sons by her side, but not enough time to fret or suffer.

My relationship with Nóirín could have been a disaster. I arrived from the States, an interloper with the potential to steal her son away from her. Peter had been a surprise, a late-in-life baby whom Nóirín believed was sent from heaven by her own mother. She wanted the best for him and didn't think that dropping out of college and shacking up with some stranger qualified. She could have done a thousand things to try to split us up.

Instead, Nóirín invited us over for lunch. Tom was on a business trip and Nóirín decided she wanted to get to know me. Nóirín was charming, welcoming and managed to put me at ease, even though I knew that she was concerned about my relationship with her son. The first lunch opened the door for weekly dinners at their house with Tom and her. By putting Peter first, we were all able to muddle through.

What could have been a disaster grew, in time, to a warm familial relationship. Like all families, we had our disagreements and less than admirable moments, but we were always able to move on. Nóirín was able to forgive me for the disruption I had caused and, in time, she forgot her objections and realised I might be the right one for her son. Loving your own children is easy. Truly loving and accepting your children's spouses must be tough but Tom and Nóirín set an example that I can only hope to live up to if we ever have children.

When the time came to have our big church wedding, Nóirín and Tom arranged an evening party in their home, so their family could meet my family. While I'm sure Nóirín worried about the party going perfectly and everyone having a good time, she didn't show it on the night.

She had a special talent for interacting with people, for lighting up and making you feel like you were the most interesting and special person in the world. As a reclusive socialphobe, I could only watch in awe as Nóirín charmed my brothers and bonded with my parents. My family still talks about that evening and how much fun they had, all because of Nóirín.

Dementia is a cruel condition that robs you of your mind and self. Nóirín biggest problem was with language, particularly speaking. Sometimes she would just pour out great jumbles of words that seemed almost meaningless. Other times, her meaning was more clear, but the words were mixed up. It was heart-breaking to witness. But dementia is also strange, in that it's almost like a curtain and every once in a while, a random gust of wind will blow the curtain aside and give you a glimpse of the person inside.

In the middle of the night on the eve of Tom's funeral, Nóirín came into my room. I think she was looking for Peter's sister Ciara and was not expecting to find me. "Who are you?" she asked me as she sat down the edge of the bed. "I'm Ann, Peter's wife," I told her.

"Oh yes, he's a lovely boy. I just... I just don't know what to do. Can you tell me what to do?" Nóirín knew that Tom was dead, she knew that the funeral was in the morning, and she was anxious. I took her downstairs and made her tea and toast, then sat with her while she ate. When she was finished, she announced that she was ready to go back to sleep.

Upstairs, in the hallway outside her door, she gave me a big hug. Her smile lit her whole face as she told me "Thank you so much. You're a darling girl. I'll never forgive you."

Goodbye, Nóirín. I'll never forget you either.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

January Reads

All my great intentions to increase my reading productivity came to naught in January. I only managed to read two books.

I blame the first book - One Mississippi by Mark Childress. My dad highly recommended this book, so I was looking forward to it. I ended up hating it and it took me forever to trudge through it. The book was set in the early 70s and the narrator was a high school student. But the language was jarringly out of place. A lot of the vernacular used was more 2008 than 1972. I might have been able to forgive the language if the characters had had any redemptive value, but sadly, they did not. I found most of them quite loathsome.

I know, I know - if is short, why continue to read bad books? In this case, it's because I kept thinking it would get better. By the time I realised it wasn't going to, I was nearly halfway through it and felt obligated to complete it.

The other book I read last month, Intuition by Allegra Goodman, was fantastic. I wasn't quite sure about it at first. I struggled with the first two chapters. Then I took a bath and ended up reading 100 pages. The book is set in a cancer research laboratory and focuses on the issues surrounding one of the research fellow's projects. At first it is failing, then he discovers tremendous results. When his girlfriend, who is also a research fellow in the lab, attempts to recreate his results, she fails.

The book focuses on the fallout of the failed experiment and their failed relationship. It's a real page turner and is written with a beautiful sense of ambiguity. Even when I finished the book, I wasn't sure who was right and who was wrong. The nuance was just incredible. If I ever get to the point of writing half as well as this book, I will be in good shape.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Top Tips for Exercising

My pal, the Rotten Correspondent recently solicited advice on exercise routines. I started typing a comment that was so long, I realised I might as well turn it into my own post.

I've been working hard lately to exercise every day and lift weights three times a week. It's been going well, although a huge disruption right now has thrown a bit of a spanner in the works, but I think I'll only end up missing two to three days at most.

Here's my advice for exercising:
1.) Keep in mind that you don't have to go to the gym to exercise. I've been running up and down the long hallway in our house, for an hour each day. It's warm, dry, comfortable and the activation energy required is pretty low. (i.e. I don't have to go anywhere.)

2.) Whenever possible, do your workout as early as possible. I like to get it out of the way and keep myself from getting bogged down in excuses. Plus, there's a special sense of satisfaction from knowing you've done it, not to mention exercise-induced endorphins.

3.) Whenever possible, put your exercise clothes on as soon as you wake up. I find that this helps set my expectations and get my mind ready to exercise.

4.) Figure out what works for you - exercise should be enjoyable or you're not going to do it. I hate riding my bike, but I love running. Once upon a time, I had a personal trainer who said I had a bad attitude because I would ask for alternate weight lifting exercises when he gave me one I didn't like. That's not a bad attitude - that is a practical attitude. If you can skin a cat several different ways, you sure as hell can find an abs exercise that doesn't make your back and neck feel awful.

5.) Yogi Berra once said that baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical. Exercise is the same way. If you can figure out how to occupy your mind while you exercise, the physical part will take care of itself. Laurie likes to exercise with Mr. Darcy. I like to exercise with Coach Taylor, Matt Saracen, and Tim Riggins. (Yep, that's right - I've loaded up Friday Night Lights on Peter's old IPod and watch it as I trot up and down my corridor.)

Happy exercising!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Groundhog Day

So, yesterday was groundhog day, a strange tradition that I've never understood. I remember having it explained to me when I was a kid and so much about it puzzled me. First, there's the whole shadow business. Seeing a shadow means a later spring, but doesn't a shadow necessitate the sun, which, you know, typically appears on nice days?

But more troubling to me was the 'six more weeks of winter' bit. I couldn't for the life of me understand that. Every calendar I ever saw had the day spring begins very clearly printed on March 20th. So say the results of groundhog day meant that spring was going to start on a different day, would that mean that all the calendars were suddenly wrong or should be reprinted? I cannot tell you how much puzzlement this whole groundhog thing brought me when I was a kid.

Now, it's just a mildly amusing sideshow and quite irrelevant in Ireland, where we don't have groundhogs at all. But it does make me smile, in a way, when I remember one of my all-time favourite films: Groundhog Day. I'm a sucker for existential angst and I love the progression and development of Bill Murray's character.

I was reading Slate yesterday and came across the Happiness Project, an effort by Gretchen Rubin to document her attempts to develop a happiness in her life. In yesterday's post, Gretchen mused about what you would want to do with your day if you were forced to live it over and over again, Groundhog Day style.

I had a good long think about this and here's what I came up with:
  • an early morning wake-up
  • a few hours of productive writing
  • a good, long run
  • a visit to a pet farm with Peter
  • many rides on a Big Swinging Boat
  • a good long walk with the dogs and Peter
  • a quiet evening relaxing at home

  • I guess it's sort of a combination of my favourite parts of a regular day and the best parts of my birthdays.

    How about you? What would be your perfect Groundhog Day?

    Ed. note: My Uncle Greg did the snow sculpture of Punxsutawney Phil. They've gotten a lot of snow in Cleveland recently.