Monday, July 21, 2008

What Really Happens on Sabbatical

Some time ago, I happened to befriend a diplomat. I suppose the story of the moment of our befriending is interesting enough for another posting some day, but what is perhaps more compelling is the exchange of emails we are now sharing. Sometimes, in lieu of a composition, he sends me a song.

Today was one of those days for me. It started out well enough. My first alarm was set for 6:30 am, but my body preferred to lurch between levels of consciousness for another hour. By 8am, however, I was fully on the verge of global domination--- dressed for the gym, sipping upon a steaming cup of yerba mate with milk, and letting my brain tumble back down from dreamland by pouring over my daily dose of world news (in no particular order). It happens that I began the the Israeli news here. Thinking of Israel took my mind to my diplomat friend, who last sent me an email some weeks ago from his electronic Blackberry companion, whilst a hired driver steered him somewhere along the road between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Hmmm...

Thinking of him and his latest diplomatic endeavors, I absently wandered over to my email account and noticed the emails that landed in my small orbit over the last few hours of the weekend. A wonderfully-written email full of ex-pat snark and well-humoured comments on the weather from a friend in Thailand told me that maybe the humidity in Upstate New York this summer isn't so bad after all.

Various other unread emails seemed to speak to me from the corners of what has otherwise become a very distant and contemplative moment in my life. An email from my dissertation adviser with detailed remarks about my latest written submission made me suddenly feel like the room was devoid of oxygen and the sky might really be falling...

Deep, brown-paper bag sized breaths restored me from yet another emotional asthma attack...

Another oddly-expressed email from a childhood friend-turned-bride-to-be, who wrote to inform me that if my hair is long enough to be fastened into a low bun by December, then it is ok....I will not have to buy a hair piece with fake hair as a part of my bridesmaid's duties. I chuckle. I then allow only one rolling of the eyes, and discipline myself not to highlight the utter frivolity of this issue in my gentle and supportive response to her obvious stress. After all, stress is stress, right? I take note of my sourness and tell it to go away.

Ten minutes later, I am at the local "gym", the one where I am the only one getting a proper workout while the cardiac care patients have their run of the treadmills and rowing machines, while a certified nurse with a high pitched laugh comes along every so often to monitor their heart rates. I am on an elliptical machine by 8:20 am, and because the cardiac patients are not allowed to use the elliptical machines, I stay on that sucker for 65 minutes. By the time I make my glorious, sweaty dismount, I have run the course of all of my favorite, trashy hip-hop work-out songs. I have been "G-L-A-M-O-R-O-U-S" with Fergie and done plenty of "Holla Back" at Gwen. And yes, the Pussycat Dolls have reminded me once again why I am out of bed this morning, utterly awesome, and why every gynephile from here to Timbuktu would absolutely want his "girlfriend [to be] hot like me"...

On the way home from the gym, I notice that my trusty Blue Honda (aka "Betty Blue") is making a sound like she has a Honda sore throat. She's raspy and loud, and I find myself wishing for the Knight Rider car that could self-diagnose. While I wait at the light, I reach for my cell phone to call Bro. Bro has recently become an expert in Honda crappiness, so I thought he might be able to help to diagnose the noise. Just as the phone was ringing, I feel something drop beneath me, right beneath my ass. With this, the sound of the engine changed, becoming louder and far more urgent than a distant phone call to the hills of Virginia. I hang up on Bro. It sounded so much like a gear shift that I instantly looked over at my drive shaft, but of course, there was no way that the car could have changed gears will sitting in neutral. Fortunately, I was just a block away from home, so I gently coast to the nearest safe spot and discover that the middle part of my exhaust system is sitting on the pavement.

Yay, Betty Blue! Yay, me!!

Ten minutes later, I am sipping on a post strength/elliptical work-out protein shake and calling the appropriate numbers of my insurance company, etc. While I wait for the tow truck to arrive, I shower, clean the whole of my apartment, and even set about doing laundry.

It was not yet, like, 11am...

At noon, I start working. I simply cannot bear to return to my adviser's email, so I decide to do the busy work of making new bibliographic notes from a book that I read over the weekend. Fair enough. Progress isn't always linear, I remind myself.

When it is time to change over the laundry, my extremely depressed downstairs neighbor hears me and emerges from her apartment to ask about my car, but really, to tell me that, yes, she is still extremely depressed. Since she has been bound to her bed for the better part of the past 6 weeks, I invite her to dinner at my place this evening. I have two salmon fillets, and suggest my best recipe, but she declines. Out of self-interest (due my lack of transportation) and further concern for her well-being, I invite her to attend a yoga class with me in a nearby town tomorrow evening. She says that she can neither eat nor "think that far ahead", but requested that I come back for a drink later this evening. According to her, an evening drink or two mixes very well with the other narcotics she is using at the moment. I smile at her kindly, and tell her that I will see her tonight. I refuse to judge her, knowing that I could be her. After all, she has only recently completed her own doctoral dissertation, and I intimately know how this process can drive the most well-balanced individual to a bit of disequilibrium.

Hours later, yet another summer rainstorm is passing through the day. I am writing, re-writing and honestly wanting to throw dear Mango, my trusty Macintosh laptop, across the room. I become aware that I have been clenching my teeth somewhere in between my thoughts of escapism (my latest muse happens to be the idea of the Croatian coast next summer) and my stress over this latest impasse in my writing/research. I remind myself to be patient.

The phone rings, and the blue-collared male voice belonging to the Honda Doctor tells me that Betty Blue needs a new "intermediate muffler system". He tells me that this cost around $220. I tell him "cool", and to rotate Betty's tires while he is down there. Poor Betty, I lament. Maybe Dr. Honda Doctor won't charge me for the tire rotation when he meets me and I put him under my very special "Namaste Spell for Car Doctor Men". We shall see if he can resist, (I muse...)

And so, the day ends with a whole lot of spinning and very little progress. I check my email at the close of business to find two new pieces of electronic information in my Inbox. The first is a matter of business from my so-called "work" world, concerning an issue which has been ratcheting up my stress to some extent. Because I am not expected to handle these issues myself, I pass the email onto my fabulous, grounded, and ever-supportive immediate superior, who will no doubt do the dirty work on my behalf. With everything that I am thinking about at this moment, it is a relief not to have to think for myself on these matters. Yes, it is moments like this that I am sooooooo relieved to only be an adjunct professor with no power, no voice, no choice and, hence, no responsibility beyond teaching the children well. (Praise the baby Jebus.)

But the second email? The second email lit my soul just a little bit. The second email was from the diplomat who happens to be working in Jerusalem at the moment. And, there was an attachment to the email, the thought of which filled me with a small spark of girlish glee. A picture from the Holy Land, perhaps? Whatever it was, I was certain that it would be something interesting and sent specifically to me with intention and meaning...

The note said, "I hope you are having a good week. I am thinking of you. For now, I am sending you a song instead of an email."

Obviously, that wistful, girlish part of me hoped it to be a song from the older, worldly diplomat that would brighten an otherwise extremely banal day. A song sent from so far away should have that quality, shouldn't it? I mean, if I was the person sending a song to someone I hardly know very well, I would go to tangible lengths to make it an appropriately happy song. Per the usual array of men in my life, the diplomat claims to "love" my "smile", so he would this not compel him to send a song to match how he perceives me in his mind's eye? Right? Heck, look at me--I would even accept a patriotic song that speaks of Israel for what it is worth. A song of passion or substance, right? A song in Hebrew, perhaps? Call me absolutely, batshit crazy, but doesn't this make sense?

So, I download the file and bite my lower lip a little while waiting for it to load to my music. Then, I listen. Without looking at the title or artist, I dig myself out of my mountain of books and papers. I put everything to the side, sit back and close my eyes. I listen...and I hear a chord strike in minor. I listen, and what I hear is this.

Wow...

For the record, my eyes shot open immediately. But also for the record, I listened to the whole song. Out of respect for my friend, I listened with an open heart. And as I listened, the music moved me to tears.

In some ways, I guess it is refreshing to know that I am still open enough to let things in. In other ways, the song was a reminder that I am still wounded enough to allow those dark, liminal spaces that exist within me to cry. It has just been a really challenging year. That said, I don't think that my diplomat friend intended this reaction in me, nor do I have the need to share with him the darker side of the details.

The day is now over. The afternoon rain has cooled everything to a more bearable level of East Coast summer simmer. My downstairs neighbor and her well-stocked bar await a libational celebration of, as she said earlier on the porch today, "The fact that it is Monday". I am going to join her for an hour, but I am only going to have a glass of tonic water tonight. It is certainly tempting to want to momentarily escape from the issues of the day, but I have a preference for escapism on a much larger scale. And, after all, nothing will erase the fact that the sun is going to come up again tomorrow morning, and I already know that I want to be ready and able to tackle the day...

Namaste

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

long.

honest.

brilliant.

sincere.

Alan Ward said...

Yep, one of your best.

This kind of stuff could sell, you know? (cf. making some bucks)

VJ said...

Good stuff N. Hope the day & week got better. Wishing you brighter moments. Then there's the blind guy wandering on & off the stage: Volunteered Slavery. By Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqXYAcVPDD4]
There's also his 'Bright Moments' I can't immediately find on Youtube. Cheers & Good Luck! 'VJ'

Phil said...

Always great, Namaste...but....

Some people pay to have their mufflers removed! You should have kept it off....been the loudest, most obnoxious Hondas in the neighborhood...put one of those whistles on it or something. Too fast, too furious, I say...

Namaste said...

hahah. thanks phil. the other part of the story is that i live in a neighborhood where it is common to have a dragging muffler or no muffler at all. i blended right in! call me crazy, though, but i have a thing for being exceptional. :)