Tuesday, July 26, 2005

on sleep, or rather, the lack thereof...

I spend most of my time feeling pretty tired. Fatigue is my constant companion. Even at those times when I think that I'm not fatigued, I have only to close my eyes for a second and then I realize that I'm mistaken. It has become a way of seeing life, I think. There are just degrees of tiredness. One day I'm extremely tired; the next, not so much so; the next only slightly fatigued; and the next, exhausted. What's funny is that much of the time I'm unaware of this.

Certainly, my own choices have something to do with the problem. I don't go to bed early. Even when I have the chance. It's especially tough because once the kids are down (more or less) for the night, I feel like it is now my chance to be free, to read, to talk with Ash, anything. So perpetuates the endless fatigue. This, of course, is in addition to all of the times that I'm obligated to lose sleep for professional reasons.

I've read and heard things that seem to suggest that I'm merely part of our culture in this respect. Chronic sleep deficit is a pretty American problem to have, n'est-ce pas? I keep resolving to change things, but it doesn't come easy. Am I self-indulgent, or is it a mechanism for dealing with stress? Do I need the extra time to release the pent-up stress or frustrations of living in a world of bureaucracy, endless paperwork, malingerers, and the genuinely-needy? I really do feel that my psyche is strained at times.

On the other hand, am I just fooling myself? Would everything just be better/easier if I would simply go to bed? Well, I'm going to bed now.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Family Folklore

Tonight with our children we watched The Secret of Roan Inish, which is a hauntingly beautiful tale. The telling of family stories--their personal folklore--plays a central role in the film; the main character, Fiona, comes to know who she is through her family's stories.

Coincidentally, I read Holes this last week, a story with an entirely different tone and setting, and yet one that rests just as completely on family folklore. Again, the main character knows his family's stories, reaching back several generations, and these tales not only serve to inform his growing sense of identity; they ultimately save his life.

It makes me wonder: how much of my identity do I derive from a sense of family history/place? I simply don't know many family stories, but I would really like to. I doubt there are journals stashed away, and I imagine that most of the stories of my recent ancestors have passed away along with them.

Is a sense of one's history as mystical and larger-than-life extremely uncommon? Would it give someone a sense of destiny, of the past propelling the future? There's something weighty about decisions a great-grandmother made, as distant as they are, compared to the lifepath of one's parents, say. So how far back does one have to go before family stories take on the character and stature of mythology?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

An Evening Out

The invitation came as a postcard in the mail, from a woman, L__, who I knew from church. Because she lives right down the street and because I like her, I RSVP'd that I'd come. My desire to be social and get to know other women here overcame my aversion to these parties that's made me avoid all other similar invitations in the past. But on Friday evening, the night of the party, I began to feel apprehensive about going. I wanted to call and plead sick; I knew it wouldn't matter if I didn't show; I wanted to stay at home with Blain and the children something fierce. I pulled my keys out of my purse and shuddered: I had a premonition of how awful it was going to be.

The party started at 7 pm, and I pulled up across the street and walked in about 10 minutes after 7. The first thing that hit me was the overpowering scent of highly-perfumed candles. And background music that was up too loud--Christmas music of the annoying sort. L___ offered me some fresh-pressed apple juice, which was very good and made me like her even more. There were three other women there besides L___and the woman selling the stuff, C___, and I was introduced briefly.

As soon as I sat down and turned my attention to the display C___ had set up in the living room--cast iron plant stands with silk greenery and flowers mixed with candles ("you could go with just the ivy for a sparse look, or nestle in some rose sprays for a real lush look--it's just so versatile!"), company-artist produced framed artwork of cowboys riding into the twilight or angels with wings, and decorated stoneware that managed to be frilly and gaudy, I knew it would be a disaster. I was surrounded by the worst kind of materialism-inducing, taste-killing junk available. I couldn't believe how the women around me were fawning over this stuff, to the exclusion of conversation. I listened, thinking of how to ask them about themselves, and couldn't find a segue amidst the discussion of candle scents and christmas mugs. Admittedly, I am quiet in groups as a rule, but this setting completely cowed me.

And I felt slightly embarrassed for C___, who I knew from church. She was fully immersed in her sales persona and launched into her spiel a couple of minutes after I sat down. She took out a key and scratched furiously at a pine-branch decal on the side of a bowl, showing us that this stuff was real quality, that we wouldn't scratch the surface if we wanted to use knives on it. It reminded me of the show the Nogales shopkeepers put on with their lighters and lamb-skin coats. C__'s main tactic was telling us how much she hadn't liked the catalog picture of various items, but once she had actually seen them and used them in her home, she had completely relented and been converted.

As I looked through the catalog (at first disdainfully, trying to hide my lack of enthusiasm, then with desperation, trying to find any samll thing I could order so I could just get out of there), I saw the testimonials of various saleswomen. Several of them referred to the company in religious terms, saying the Lord had led them to it and it was a blessing from God to be a sales rep for the company, etc. I felt like this was another layer of manipulation in this whole set-up night of manipulation. First, I felt some obligation to come because I was a friend to L___. Second, C___said she was trying to make this business work so she wouldn't have to work outside her home during the day (allowing her to be with her kids). Third, the company orchestrates its offerings so that most of the merchandise is discontinued after 6 months--so partygoers will feel pressured to buy now. I really dislike that tactic. It goes against the sensibility of good craftsmanship and pride in product.

So I wracked my brain, trying to come up with someone that I still needed to get a Christmas gift for. But no! There really wasn't, and the only items that were inexpensive enough to be go-along gifts were the candles. But these candles weren't beautiful--they were jarred candles, meant to make your home highly scented. Why would I give a gift that would give me a headache if they used it?

As the evening wore on, I felt more and more uncomfortable. Another guest arrived, very late, and C__ repeated some of her sales pitch, adding to my sense of embarrassment for her. All of the other women seemed to think that this stuff was the most beautiful, well-made, reasonably-priced stuff they'd ever seen. I couldn't figure out if they were just being nice (and acting very convincingly), or if they were shopping deprived, as C__pointed out in the beginning of her spiel.
The other women seemed to have a great bonding moment as one told how her husband had just bought two new fishing rods, "So I can spend at least $50 tonight and he can't say a word!" "Yeah, I'm entitled to pursue my passion, too!" someone else said.

I began to formulate a plan for leaving. I was really nervous about just standing up and saying, "Thank you. Good bye, I really have to go now," because I'd been largely silent, unable to force enthusiasm or the pretense of liking this stuff. I wondered if C__ knew I hated it all, and I wished she could just drop her sales persona for one minute and say, "This might not be your style. I won't be offended, I'm just glad L__ invited you tonight" etc.
But it wasn't like that at all. In the end, I left in exactly the way that I had been afraid of doing, saying nothing about the company's offerings, simply thanking C___ and L___, and saying I needed to get going. When I got out to the car, I felt relief and bewilderment and disappointment--in these women, and in myself. Folklife is everywhere, and the folklorist who is a prideful snob will be blind to most of what she wants to notice.

How could I be so put off by a simple difference in taste? Why were the women so ga-ga over this stuff? Is this how all these parties are, or does being an hour and a half from any store except Wal-Mart have a profound effect on women who like shopping, who like acquiring things? Over and over, I saw a strong polarization of gender as a way of reinforcing who they were. References to husbands were inevitably negative ("It's nice to get out of the house, away from my husband for a night", "My husband will kill me if I order this, but I'm going to anyway.") It seemed to me that the very frills and flutings on the stoneware serving platters were designed for these women. Perhaps they were simply vocally appreciating the theme, which was a mixture of western and feminine design. Hardy and delicate together. Like a bouquet arranged in an old boot. Like these rural women.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Living Wages

At some point, the idealism of one's youth falls away and the business of living begins. A man supporting his family in the traditional way must ask himself: have I used my intellect and work ethic to be compensated in a way I deserve?

This question is coming up in regard to Blain practicing family medicine, working as hard as any physician, and being compensated at the bottom of the physician pay scale. The reasons why this has seemed unquestionably ok until now were idealogical--Blain wanted to be a doctor in order to influence the whole person, to practice holistic medicine, and family medicine is the only specialty where that can really happen. I took his idealism in stride, supported it even, finding a romanticism in a man who wanted to be an old-fashioned country doctor, making the occasional house call, concerned to the core for his fellowbeings.

Just over a year out of residency, we've already re-thought our ideas of living well--Blain doesn't make house calls, and he's beginning to contemplate ways to specialize within family medicine (the goal being working fewer hours for greater compensation). For my part, the romanticism of a frequently absent husband quickly tarnished, and though I've become an adept lone parent, it is frequently draining and depressing. We've also realized that some things we thought his one income would allow are simply not going to be affordable.

Having identified B.I. as the place where we'd like to live, to buy/build a home, to build our lifestyle that we've imagined, I'm also seeing an ongoing financial stress. It seems to me that we have to re-evaluate our hoped-for lifestyle and figure out how to scale it back without giving up quality of life, or pick a less expensive place to live (a place with lower housing costs, and one closer to family in order to save plane fares), or figure out how to increase our income. The haunting line from D. H. Lawrence's "The Rocking Horse Winner"--"There must be more money!" starts to whisper at me.

And yet, that is ridiculous. A couple who earn a third less than we do would be able to live, with three children, comfortably. I realize that all along, I've been assuming that we would be:
*flying rather than driving to visit family
*taking warm-weather vacations most winters
*doing occasional international travel
*owning a comfortably large house (between 2,500-3,000 sq. ft) on about an acre of land
*paying for private school or living in a district of a top-performing public school, hence B.I.
*donating to charities, philanthropical work, etc.

Perhaps I'm just now realizing that everyone, no matter what their income (within reason) feels like they're squeezing in everything possible into their budget (including savings, hopefully). I feel the easy expansiveness of "living on a doctor's income" quickly ebbing--I realize that it will always take careful budgeting and prioritizing, especially if we're giving any significant amount of that income to others.

Undergirding all the questions about how to use the income is the initial question of whether Blain, as a family practice doctor, has chosen a good way to earn a living. For now, the answer is yes.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Here's to our new collaborative effort!