Keeping Impossibility

A desk by a window. A view of snow. Birds perched along telephone wire, no longer in use. Squirrels terrorize the yard, skunk paw prints scurry, an opossum skulks.

For more than two years I have lived in this apartment, the longest I have ever lived anywhere in my adult life. Renewing a third year lease became a milestone, a shift, a promise to foundation, to stay. I can’t pretend it wasn’t terrifying, that something out of old habit didn’t creep up into my psyche and emotional sphere to say, “Eject! Abort! Mission failure! Go! Don’t stay! Move.”

I didn’t move, though. I stayed. I put Roxy on the lease. I held my hearth, my home, and learned harder to call it mine.

What I look back at when I see 2017 is a year full of gratitude, challenge, and growth. So much so I am almost baffled and humbled by it. The year led to graces I can only now see on the other end of it. Long, strange, significant (not unlike figures).

It began with a 16-week Chemistry course, January-May, a requirement for my grad program. I showed up, the only elementary education candidate in a classroom full of nursing students, English Literature degree in tow, published poet acclaim. What was this tiny poet doing in a chemistry lab for 16 weeks?

Learning to love chemistry, it appears. On our first exam I scored a 73, much higher than the class average, and much higher than I expected. By midterm I averaged a B.  At the end of the 16 weeks, I created and conducted my own lab experiment (d=m/v) and passed an American Chemistry Society exit exam.

More so than learning about chemistry, though, this class taught me how to take tests, something I have been afraid of for the last 7 years.

Chemistry also taught me how to love, hate, and solve mathematical formulas, which transferred to the next 10-weeks of Physics I took online over the summer, yet another grad school science requirement. I got a B in that class, too, and realized I could solve the math problems posed about the earth and the stars with ease because of the preceding 16 weeks of chemistry. I was learning how to apply numbers to the scientific world around me. I was beginning to see the scientific world around me. I was beginning to see the world in a new way. In a bigger, and smaller, and more complex, and more beautiful way.

In August, I took four content exams. Literacy. Mathematics. Science/Social Studies. Art/Phys Ed. I passed the latter two on the first try, without studying. I scored 88% on the content area of Science. I was proud of that.

In October, I passed the Literacy exam.

I continued to fail Math.

What gnaws at me is the expectation of failure, of loss, of the inability to change one’s outlook or position in the world because so much of my life over the past 7 years has been rooted in loss, of varying forms. I planned to scurry, like the skunks in my yard. I planned to have numerous backup plans, labyrinths of retreat, backpedaling, change of course, rapid quick decisions, all in the name of survival, getting through, holding course, presenting stability.

I planned to fail the math content exam on December 28th. But I didn’t, and didn’t really. I aimed, I hoped, I studied, I told people I studied but spent afternoons watching Christmas movies instead, paralyzed by the weight of what I needed to do. I solved math problems in a booklet on occasion, till the problems got harder and harder. The best I could do was spend two days after Christmas taking multiple practice exams online in an apartment full of joy and good cheer leftover from the holiday, with the sun beaming in through my southern facing windows.

I like the formula for surface area of a triangular prism a lot (SA=bh+2ls+lb). I like unwrapping a cylinder. I like thinking about what changes the ratio of area vs. perimeter of irregular shapes, and why, sometimes, if the numbers are plugged in wrong, there are an infinite number of possibilities.

My friend Joseph said the Democrats should stop saying science is real. He is right. Science is unreal. It is magnificent. It is the possibility of impossibility.

I did not think it would be possible for me to pass this math exam and move forward in my elementary education teaching career. But we cannot lose faith in ourselves. We cannot lose faith in our possibility—in our beautiful, gorgeous impossibilities.

This blog is called Snails Are Good for the Environment, Too because there are so many people in this world who expect our lives to be impossible, sometimes even ourselves.

When I told people I passed the math exam, they told me they knew that I would.

I didn’t.

That is the great betrayal of the self. We doubt our own possibility.

To have achieved something so great—in a year so hellbent, politically, on telling us we are impossible—is progress. It is resistance of the most personal and the most dangerous and the most effective kind.

Keep your impossibility alive.



Wind Chimes in Winter | 2014

Gifts in the New Year

Gifts in the New Year

In the spring time I will plant wind chimes. Dancers in the wind. In the Goblin King’s labyrinth on my back porch. They will swing and sway and bring fantasy and warmth to the sound of the ages. They will be small and large and made of turtles and stained glass. They will be dreams I had in memory, latching on to things that would solve so many pieces of last year’s puzzle: the regrets I left on the lake in the Adirondacks, so much I don’t ask for.

In 2014, January began with a vortex, it swallowed the whole year whole. Those first few dark days reading Fortunes of Feminismafraid to step outside. What great science fiction is this? What bubble of a world in which it would physically hurt to step into air? What force field I found myself in?

On day two, I was lonely. There was no one in the company of my home but the mice my landlord swears do not exist and the imaginary cat he tells me would be lazy, had I one. The guidance of so many others redirecting the guidance of myself.

By February, my mother. The days between then and March, darker and darker as the light grows longer, and I thought: I wish you would stop dying every year.

How I sent a love letter in the mail that month anyway.

By Mother’s Day I hated Hallmark, the sickening warm wishes of every person in the whole world who could buy a badly written holiday card to send to their mother, their grandmother. A pink and rose colored catastrophe in a CVS in downtown Evanston when all I wanted to was to buy my co-worker a birthday card. That storm blew me out onto the street, naked and raw in the May afternoon sun, though spring, still felt like winter. The trees not on the leaves. No one more grateful or blessed in the blinding grief of a daydream.

I worked to kill this daydream. I attended a 6-week grief support group that, by my birthday, brought daring back into my heart. By mid-August I met a new friend whose birthday shares my mother’s. How much hope and weight is placed on mechanics and new news. How much logic and magic and faith where the heart is always seeking. How even this sparkle, this warmth, can have seraded edges. How feminism is what I still fall back to:

“Do not be jealous of your sister. Know that diamonds and roses are as uncomfortable when they tumble from one’s lips as toads and frogs; colder, too, and sharper, and they cut.” —Instructions by Neil Gaiman

How, by October, I killed the need for a person in my life whose actions imposed it better I not be romantically in his. How this relationship broke my heart.

How the ghost of my sister’s kitten protected her dog during the month of hallows. How taking the back seat is something I am blessed and never good at doing.

How, by November, metaphors on first dates at Hungry Brains began to look like favorite childhood animals and favorite colors and dogs that are the same color and how all of this means everything and how delusion is so beautiful and how foxes on soxes brighten brown eyes in the morning and how crazy hearts leap out of bicycle bags and thereright thereis where beauty remains. How this looked a little bit like love.

How by December my friend Medicine Bear was teaching me how to use a sewing machine. How I have been terrified of them all of my life, a spool of purple thread tattooed on my back.

How in 2014 my friend eric said yes across the table at the Pick-Me-Up Diner when I asked a big question and how much weight lifted from my heart.

How sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose.

How, even though, those yeses turned out to be only slivers of what I wanted, I still asked.

So, for 2015, more asking.

On the first snowfall of the year followed by a sad rain and the sound of cars driving through slush on Damen Avenue, I no longer worry that I have left my bicycle outside. I know I have not left my bicycle outside.

To things I will choose to leave outside.

To planting wind chimes I wanted so badly last August and arrived on my doorstep the last days of December, small gifts from old friends who remember us as we are. Trusting that blessings we’d asked for, someone knows we need.

To those in our lives who will force us to remember that we are messengers of hope. Where once our spirit animal, the turtle, carried us along on their backs, now the snail’s swirling body whorl plots along our life in moral fortitude, leaving a trail of slime behind us.

We won’t go back that way.

To remembering the change has been made.

To being objective.

To learning to write in third person, eventually, better, and at all.

Happy 2015.
This Mama.

This Mama.