Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Fairy tale in the third person

When she was in love, she wrote poems.

Love poems.

Erotic love poems.

She was not a poet.

When her heart was broken, she wrote roman a clef’s. Only they were short stories.

Short stories a clef.



In your face.

Disturbing in a funny way. Funny in a disturbing way. Take your pick.


They made her feel better.

Well, they kept her from throwing herself under a train.

When she was in school, she wrote essays. Bland, perfunctory, occasionally engaging, sufficient.

When she was at work, she wrote policies. And lesson plans. And PowerPoint presentations. And quizzes. And more policies. And performance self-appraisals. Only she hasn’t written those yet.

Even though they are due tomorrow.

Bad girl.

When she has bountiful free time…

Who are we kidding?

She never has bountiful free time.

When she can steal a moment from when she should be doing something else for someone else, she writes postings to her blog.

Like now.

Since she was raised Catholic and guilt is her middle name, her blog postings are few and far between.

Or at least they are not as regular as they would be, should be, could be.

When she is alone with her thoughts, she writes poems and short stories and novels and short stories and plays and songs and short stories and stand-up comedy routines and dialogues and monologues and short stories and essays and letters to the editor and reviews and memoirs and screenplays and “Secret Life of Walter Mitty”-esque scenarios and musings and prayers and political speeches and emotional diatribes and short stories and short stories.

And short stories.

The end.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Magical Monday

One of the beautiful things about a blog is that there are no restrictions. No deadlines. No word lengths. No subject limits. No grammar or punctuation police. It is like open season for the writer.

One of the scariest things about blogs is that there are no restrictions.

From my perspective, that is a “good” scary. I don’t like people telling me what to do, how to do it, what I should write, how I should write, how long my piece should be, or how short. I don’t like people telling me something is a sentence fragment, or that I have used bad grammar. I KNOW what a sentence is and what good grammar is. If I choose to break the rules, so be it!

I like my blog pieces to be somewhat structured, or at least to have a theme. I am not really into stream of consciousness writing, which blogs seem to invite. But, at times, I find that if I just “let go” and write whatever, I go in interesting directions, to places I hadn’t planned, and talk about things I didn’t know I even wanted to talk about.

I heard on NPR last night that yesterday was the “Most Depressed” day of the year. Someone has figured out – scientifically (but I am not sure what that means in this case, and probably don’t want to know!) – that more people are “depressed” on the last Monday in January than on any other day of the year. According to the report, “Blue Monday” was selected as the pivotal point where you have Christmas bills all coming due; you realize that all of those grandiose New Year’s resolutions are never going to come to fruition; the weather is cold, dark, and snowy (although I would think that depends on where you live); and it is a Monday (statistically the most depressing day of the week).

Personally, I was not feeling all that depressed yesterday. In fact, I was feeling rather fine.

I do find this time of the year to be heavy and sad and depressing. That whole dark, cold “Gloom Period” thing going on. But I find it better not to dwell on the negatives (for too long!) and to focus instead on the positives. On what IS going right. And on what I can do to make things better.

One thing that can make things better (besides hugging your kids more often!) is to do something totally for yourself. I know, I know, alarm bells go off in my mind, too. Doing something for oneself is synonymous with being selfish. This truism only holds true if you are a woman, however. I cannot tell you how many times men in my life have told me that whenever I want to do something for myself I am being “selfish,” while they, meanwhile, spend their entire lives doing whatever the hell they want to do, whenever the hell they want to do it. And somehow that is not selfish. That is normal.

OK, maybe I have been surrounded my whole entire life by men who do not represent true mendom and that “real men” are not this way. I am sure that there are great and wonderful men out there, and it is not my intent to bash men. I have NEVER known a woman, though, who thought I was being selfish because I wanted to do something for myself. In fact, it is usually the women in my life who are encouraging me to do more things for myself. But I stubbornly resist. Because it would be… selfish of me to do these things.

Well, you know what? If we do not do things for ourselves, no one else will. No one else will make time in OUR lives for us to do small, meaningful things. Like take a bubble bath and read a good book. Or go for a long walk or a run. Or go to a movie or a play that WE really want to see.

Last night I went to see Alice Hoffman speak. She spoke about writing, about life, about her life, and about her books. She used the phrase “I think…” a lot. Her talk was energizing, entertaining, interesting, thought-provoking, and moving. It was, in a word (a word I think she would like!)… magical.

Go do something for yourself today.

Go do something magical!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Amazons II

The Amazons Reunion 2007 (or 2007, Part I – we had so much fun, we may have another!) was a tour de force.

We did… pretty much what I said we would do.

The main activity was: talking.

And I was so totally cool with that! (As everyone else seemed to be as well.)

Don’t get me wrong, we did a lot of eating. And drinking.

But if I had to sum up the weekend in ONE word, it would be: “talking.”

And we were all fine with that. I think.

The only way the weekend could have been better is if our seventh member could have made it. She was unable to come, but we talked to her twice over the course of the weekend, both times on speaker phone. The first time we were just sitting around the dining room table… talking; the second time we were playing Trivial Pursuit: The Book Lovers’ Edition. And, yep, you guessed it: talking!

I need to clarify.

I am NOT a talker. I probably talk more during ONE Amazons Reunion Weekend than I do over the course of an entire year! (And I teach a chatty class to college freshmen.)

I am NOT a talker.

I am a listener. I am not averse to talking. I mean, I CAN talk. But I am not, by nature, chatty.

When I talk so much over the course of a short period of time, there must be equal and opposite reaction time where I simply… do not talk.

The other women in the group: they seem to thrive on talking, much like humans needing to breathe oxygen. But maybe that is just me.

Or not.

I mean, these women seem to genuinely enjoy talking.

And talking. And talking.

I am OK with that, because what they are talking about is usually interesting.

But it is alien to me, to talk so much.

I have to really put forth effort, to talk so much.

But the breadth and depth of topics covered this past weekend were, quite simply, amazing!

Thought-provoking, emotional, sincere, surprising, not surprising, out of the blue, expected, unexpected, original, repeated, funny, sad, maddening, calming, true.

When the Amazons get together, no telling what will happen or what topics will come up or what direction conversations will take.

And that is part of what makes these weekends so incredible.

The other part is the very women themselves. THEY are totally amazing, incredible, fantastic, thoughtful, funny, wonderful women.

And I am so glad, so proud to know them all.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


I belong to this totally amazing group!

It has changed a little bit over the years, but right now it comprises several amazing women classmates of mine from West Point.

We started out as an online – or email, rather – book discussion group. I think we started in the mid to late 90s. When my family was stationed in Germany.

We would read one book a month and then discuss it via email. No big deal, not much different from other book groups.

I think, actually, I may have begun the group. I was really interested in being part of a book group with women I knew who really liked to read. But I was always moving. And, let’s face it: I am not the most outgoing person on the block. But I know some pretty amazing, incredible women!

I think I probably contacted several of my women friends with the idea of doing a book group via email, which was a relatively new medium at the time. Some of the women were West Point classmates, some were women friends of mine from the Army, and over the years some neighbors and other friends – and even one imaginary woman! – wandered in and out of our group.

The name of our group is the Amazons. I think, officially, it is “Amazons.com.” A play on words. Between military women. And books. We are all women, we are all strong. We kinda liked the term… Amazons.

None of us has chopped off our right breast. Don’t fret! We are not literal, physical women warriors. But we are strong. We are invincible.

(Helen Reddy, you can start singing now….) Before I do!

At the moment our group has seven members. In recent years, we have gotten together in person. With reunions. We have met up in Florida, on several occasions. We all went to our 20th West Point reunion up at… West Point. And now we are meeting in North Carolina, where two of the Amazons are currently “headquartered.”

We will meet to talk, to laugh, to cry, to eat, to drink, to talk, to read, to walk, to talk, to eat, to drink, to laugh, to cry, to relax, to reconnect, to knit (not me!), do crosswords, play Trivial Pursuit, watch movies, etc. We will talk and talk and talk. And laugh and laugh. And cry. And laugh. We will discuss some books we have read. Or want to read. Or intend to read. Or might read someday.

We will reconnect. Reunite. Rejuvenate. Rejoice. Reminisce. Read.

We will be.


Sunday, January 07, 2007

Returning to West Point after Christmas

This has been one helluva week.

For such a short week.

It was the first time in my life I felt like I did when I had to go back to West Point after Christmas Leave. Which I think was one of the most heavy, awful, depressing feelings I have ever had. I experienced it four times at West Point.

I promised myself: Never again!

I am not sure why I experienced it this year. I LOVE my job. I was NOT dreading returning to work, to my job

Yet, still, on Tuesday morning as I scooted my tired, reluctant children off to school again, I found myself equally – if not more – tired and reluctant. I felt that horrible, palpable heaviness that I always felt when I had to return to the bitter, cold gray of West Point in winter.

West Point in winter is depressing. Cadets call it the “Gloom Period.” EVERYTHING is gray. The buildings, the river, the ground, the sky, the uniforms. Everything. I have never felt that same feeling of dread that I used to feel upon returning to West Point after Christmas until this week. It was worst as a Plebe. I mean, being a Plebe period sucks. But having a small, holiday respite at Christmas made returning to being a Plebe all that much worse. And we hadn’t beaten Navy. We had tied, granted, thanks to a field goal by an upperclassman in my very own company. But we had not WON. Being a Plebe sucked. And being a Plebe for even longer, during the cold, gray, depressing months of winter was even worse. It’s dark, it’s cold, you’re still getting hazed. Not a lot of fun.

I think the reason it was so hard to return to West Point after Christmas, why it filled your entire body, heart, mind, and soul with DREAD was because West Point was such an isolated and insular place. While you were there, going through all of the bull shit on a day-to-day basis, it started to feel “normal.” Even as a Plebe, even though you knew being a Plebe sucked, all of your other classmates, your friends, were going through the same things you were. That was a real bonding tool, believe me! Why? Because we were going through something really hard, really challenging, but we were going through it together. We were helping each other through it.

“Cooperate and graduate!” That was a mantra the upperclassmen were always hurling our way. It was true, too. If we worked together and if we helped each other out whenever someone needed it, we all did better as a group. We were like a team. And Plebe year was one giant, seemingly endless Confidence Obstacle Course.

West Point is its own little world. West Point, although its purpose, ostensibly, is to train you to become an officer and a leader in the Army, is NOT the Army. West Point is a parallel – or unparallel! -- universe. With its own language, its own rules and regulations, its own geography, its own traditions, its own uniforms, its own operational tempo, its own code, its own traditions, its own aura. Its own just about everything.

When you are there as a cadet, you get sucked into the whole vortex that is West Point. And as weird as life there might be, it seems somehow “normal” to you while you are in it. But if you LEAVE West Point – to go on Christmas break or Christmas leave or whatever – that is a whole different story.

(In the military, you don’t ever have vacation or a break; you have “leave.” And you acquire days of leave and have only so many days of leave a year and you use up your leave. Or not. In which case, you just “lose” it. Numbers of days of leave are based on rank and seniority. At West Point, the ability to “leave” West Point was also based on seniority. As a Plebe, you hardly ever get to leave West Point. When I was there, we had Christmas Leave, and that was about it. We didn’t have Spring Break. We weren’t even allowed to take weekends or long weekends or go off post even, except for the Army/Navy game, which was down in Philadelphia. Nowadays, cadets have a lot more freedom to “leave.” I am pretty sure Plebes get Spring Break. They may even get a certain number of weekends. And cadets have “walking privileges.” Where they can go off post into the town of Highland Falls and go to a restaurant or whatever. I think upperclassmen may even be allowed to leave post during the week, after classes or even in the evenings, but don’t quote me on that.)

I am not sure if being able to leave more would make life at West Point easier. Or harder. It certainly would make life more “realistic.” But that could be a bad thing. If you are living, breathing, eating, sleeping West Point 24 hours a day, that might actually be easier. It is the transitioning, I think, back and forth, that makes things more difficult to handle. Not only is Christmas Break a period of leave and vacation, it is also a very festive, important, charged holiday time of year. You are returning home for Christmas! You are going to do all of the Christmassy things you always did as a family. You are going to see family and friends. You are going to run into friends from high school, back home from their respective colleges, which are likely FAR, FAR different from West Point. You are going to celebrate your freedom by going wild. You are going to sleep in. You are going to stay up late. You are going to eat tons of food. You are going to go out and party and do things with your friends. And try to fit in as much wild, crazy college kid crap as you can. In a very short period of time.

And then before you know it, you have to… go back.

It is the going back that is so hard. The dreading going back. The fear, the anxiety. The reluctance.

Once you are back in the groove, though, back in the routine, back in the shit – even if it is as a Plebe, where life REALLY sucks – it is not really so bad. It is the transitioning that is so hard. The back and forth. The to and fro.

Cadets call the winter months at West Point the “Gloom Period.” It is hard to transition back into West Point after the Christmas holiday. The fact that the weather is so cold and dreary does not help matters any. Sure, it snows at West Point. I had a roommate as a Plebe who had never seen snow before. We took her outside. We threw snowballs, we made snow angels. Hell, we even encouraged her to eat snow, as disgusting as that may sound. She loved it!

I have cross-country skied across the Plain at West Point. I used to take the shuttle bus out to the golf course, which was near the Victor Constant Ski Slopes and cross country ski there. West Point gets snow.

But it is not the snow I remember from winters there.

It is the cold.

And the harsh wind that blows off the Hudson and makes everything ten times colder.

And the gray.

It is the gray, bitter cold of winter at West Point that so closely parallels one’s feelings and engenders the term: Gloom Period.

So, WHY did I feel that same feeling of dread this past Tuesday when I had to return to work?

I did not dread returning to work. I love my job. I was looking forward to returning to my job and the new semester and teaching a new course.

I think it was the sudden, rapid transition from a week off, total vacation, to suddenly being back at work again. No responsibilities, no kids to: Having to get up at 6:15 again. When it is dark. And cold. Having to rouse sleepy children (a.k.a. - recalcitrant teenagers) from their beds and become the Drill Sergeant personified, which is NOT a natural role for me, in order to get them all off to school on time. The commute. Morning rush hour. Traffic. Rush, rush, rush. Ugh.

My kids were at their dad’s for the entire break. Which was fine. Great for them. We celebrated Christmas here a week early, so I genuinely “felt” Christmas was over when it had not even come. I drove them halfway to their dad’s the day after they got out of school for Christmas break, and then I had a whole week of no work, no kids. Which was nice. I missed my sons terribly, but we have to make the most of what we have. On New Year’s Day I had to drive halfway to pick them up and then back. It is a ten hour drive. First thing the next morning, they had to get up for school and I had to get up for work.

That was a hard, hard, hard transition.

No wonder I felt that same horrible, awful feeling I felt when returning to West Point! Only this time it wasn’t about returning to West Point. It was just about the sudden, rapid transition back to reality.

I don’t feel so bad any more. The week, albeit a short one, felt like a very, very long one. I was dog-tired at the end of each day and exhausted by the end of the week. I needed a weekend to recuperate before the Spring Term starts on Monday.

I did not like West Point. I did not “enjoy” West Point. But it is so ingrained in my being I cannot imagine my life without it. My experience there shades just about everything I do. It is a – if not, the -- major reference point for everything else I do in life. Whether I want it to be or not. I do not think I am unusual in this respect. I think this is so for most West Pointers. It is why any two West Pointers, regardless of what year they graduated, what gender they are, and what they ended up doing with their lives, can meet and have a common bond, a common language, a common reference point. The West Point.