Compromise to Survive

I felt the overwhelming need to write for myself because, after making the decision to go back to school to pursue a postgraduate certification, I have been doing nothing else but academic writing and I am so done with it. I undertook this with two intentions, the first to advance my career opportunities at work (obviously); the second reason is because I am at a point in my life where I feel that I really have to keep my mind as occupied as possible to avoid the mental assaults that tend to come with existential thoughts and idle time. I therefore took on a French and Latin American culture club with twenty second graders; school; English Spelling Bee; Spanish Spelling Bee; Saturday school for at-risk students; two third-grade girls I tutor after school three times a week. All this on top of raising two boys every other week when they are with me and not their dad, a full-time job, plus the leisure activities I have so desperately been trying to hold on to so that I can sporadically remember who I truly am, deep down inside. Writing should not have to take so much effort, but in my desperate need to keep busy, I am trading off the things that make me the most happy. And I keep telling myself there will be an opportunity for all those things later on: the reading for pleasure, the writing, the drawing, the learning a new language, but the future is fickle. I am also working at maintaining an active social life, because surrounding yourself with people is great nourishment for the soul. My spirit needs the solace and comfort that come with the company of loyal friends. My introverted side sometimes feels exhausted and just wants to go under the covers and sleep the time away, but again, there is always a bargain to make with oneself when  seeking to take pleasure in the good things.

My oldest wants to be an actor. He told me this one day when he was very small, after watching a movie. He said he wanted to be in movies, too. We tried sports, music, and other things as after-school activities. I want him to be whatever he wants to be,  but I also want him to have a Plan B, so I keep telling him an education is very important. There was a casting call at the local community theater and I told him about it. He got the part. Rehearsals were very time-consuming. After dropping him off at 7, I would wait for him at the closest Starbucks or McDonald’s with my youngest. We would do homework together, then he would entertain himself on my IPad while I worked the hours away doing my own school assignments on my laptop. Some nights my oldest wasn’t done with rehearsals until after ten at night. On a particularly hectic evening, I remember feeling so tired I suddenly stared blankly at the monitor and thought to myself: “I’m not going to make it.” But at least my mind was occupied, and not wandering off into the abyss. Compromise.

One night I got to the theater at around 10:15. My youngest fell asleep in the backseat and I just sat in the car thinking my thespian son would be coming out soon. He did not emerge until eleven at night. I called the director and left a firm voicemail, telling her that my son is only eleven years old, he had school at 7:40 the next morning, and that was his priority. After I got done leaving the message, I turned to him, and saw a look of embarrassment on his face. He told me that I had been too harsh in my tone. I tried to reason with him, telling him he is still a child and school is more important than community theater. I then asked him why they couldn’t rehearse at an earlier time, and he responded that the director had to work. I told him that it made no sense to me that he was working around adult people’s schedules, and not the other way around. He was still upset by the time we got home.

My mind was in turmoil. How would I be able to support my son’s aspirations while at the same time setting my foot down as a parent? And then it dawned on me: compromise. I went to my son, and told him that I would never make an issue of the late nights again. I explained that this would be a learning opportunity for him. He would still be expected to get up early and get to school on time and do well in his classes, “because when you really want something, you will see that those things that are worthwhile take hard work and compromise, no matter how much you enjoy them.” After listening to my message, the play’s director sent me a text message and basically told me that my son was expected to adhere to the longer hours because they were only a few nights away from opening night, and then asked if this would be a problem. I responded with an apology for coming across as negative, and told her that there was no problem. “I know this experience will teach my son about resilience”.

And so I sit here and write just as I have finished the first course of my new education program, and as my son’s play is nearing the end of its run. Everytime I pick him up from the theater he comes out looking happy.  He walked out with a small daffodil in his hand, a gift from the actor playing the main role. He has forged meaningful relationships with his castmates, all adults, and as he said goodbye to one of them just as we drove off, I noticed a look of nostalgia on his face. He told me he is looking forward to auditioning for future plays; I promised him we would make something to give to the cast and crew on the last night of the show. We will make it work, both he and I, it’s just all about making concessions and letting things fall into place.

Pairs well with:

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Smoking: A Look Back…

Cigarettes and I have a volatile relationship. I have gone for long periods of time, years, without even thinking about smoking, and have also had cranky days when I can’t wait to crack open a pack, pull one out, light up, and take a long, deep drag to blow all my negative thoughts away.

Smoking has been around me pretty much all my life. My father was a smoker, and so was my grandmother, with whom I spent a lot of weekends and summer vacations during my childhood; many other relatives on my father’s side smoke. On the other hand, my mother never smoked, and very few family members on her side do. Two, if memory serves me well.  The only time I ever saw a cigarette in my mom’s mouth was when my dad would ask her to light one up for him while he was watching TV and she was in the kitchen, cooking. Out of my three brothers, only one smokes, another recently quit, and the other one has never smoked in his life. I am the ambivalent smoker, so I guess that makes the odds break even in terms of the genetic susceptibility to pick up the habit.

As a child, it seemed like such a normal thing to do. The first thing my grandmother would do after waking up was sit up, turn on the lamp, and take out a Benson and smoke it in silence. I often wonder what she thought about as she sat there with me looking at her from the other side of the bed. She would buy cartons of Benson and Hedges and keep the long boxes in her refrigerator, in the bottom shelf on the door; she probably smoked close to a pack a day. She didn’t drink, had fairly healthy eating habits (especially after being diagnosed with diabetes), and walked every day around her neighborhood. But she loved to smoke. My dad smoked Raleigh’s. I would see the packs laying around the house, and would pick them up and smell them. I enjoyed that pungent, fresh smell coming out of the soft, crinkly pack.

My first direct encounter with a cigarette was not a pleasant one. My dad was standing in our dining room talking with a visitor, when a five-year-old me abruptly went up to him to hold his hand. Immediately something bit me between my ring and middle fingers. I let out a scream, pulled back my hand, and saw the falling ashes from the cigarette in my dad’s hand and stood there crying while he consoled me and told me to be careful. I was incredibly angry at the burning thing he was holding for viciously interrupting what was meant to be a loving gesture.

Years later, curiosity got the best of me and I lit one up. I didn’t know you were supposed to inhale. Lit cigarettes did not smell anything like the ones in the pack, but of course I already knew this. What a pointless thing to do.

That was the end of my investigation, and never touched one again, until a couple of years later. I was thirteen and visiting my dad’s sister who lived in Cancun. She wanted me to hang out with one of her friends’ daughter, who was sixteen and very sophisticated. People in Mexico are very laid back when it comes to smoking, much like Europeans. Back then, you could smoke pretty much anywhere. When this girl came to pick me up with a couple of friends her age, I realized I was not going to fit in if I did not act older. You could tell that after they saw me, they probably thought they were going to have to babysit me instead of have fun with me.

We arrived at a country club and went straight to the pool. We sat there talking, and one of them pulled out a pack and started offering to the rest of the group, including me. I immediately took one, and lit up. I now realize looking back what a fool I made of myself, a thirteen year old trying to get these sixteen year old girls from very wealthy families to like her, and I didn’t even know that you had to inhale the smoke. I was just sitting there, blowing out puffs all over the air in huge bunches, instead of a steady and elegant white ribbon.

I finally learned how to smoke properly when I was fifteen years old. My best friend growing up had learned with her friends from school, and her mother was a smoker, so she decided to teach me. I would have walked through fire for my friend back then, and she was a huge influence on me, so of course I jumped at the chance of learning from her.

We were standing in her kitchen with a pack of her mom’s Marlboro’s, and the first thing she told me to do was to drag, pull the smoke in all the way, and slowly let it out. Sounded easy enough, until I did just that and had the longest coughing fit of my life. I seriously thought I was never going to recover: “How can anyone ever master this? It is hard and dangerous!”. I finally pulled myself together, but felt so lightheaded and nauseous that I decided I had had enough for that day. She told me I would get the hang of it, that it was just a matter of practice.

A few days later, I was back at her house and decided to give it another go. Magically, I was able to hold the smoke in without coughing it all out. I had finally learned how to smoke. It still made me nauseous, so I never really developed a habit, which I am thankful for. During my teens, whenever I went out with others who smoked, I would buy a pack of these ridiculous cigarettes called Capri, which were designed just for women. They were very slim, and the packs where white with these little birds or flowers, I still can’t tell, on the front of them.

capri

My male friends would make fun of me relentlessly for even bothering with these absurd cigarettes.

During my twenties, I made the discovery of my smoker life. I came across someone at a club, who was smoking these very sweet smelling cigarettes. She offered me one, and I loved it. These black sticks of deliciousness were clove cigarettes; they were hard to find, and definitely not cheap. You could only buy them across the border in El Paso at tobacco or specialty stores. Djarum Black was my favorite brand.

djarum

Whenever my boyfriend and I were in El Paso, we made sure to buy some to smoke at concerts, clubs, and parties. Needless to say, as soon as you lit up they became a magnet for other smokers, both friends and strangers, who would not hesitate to ask if they could bum one off of you.

I was only a social smoker. I never smoked out of habit. I did not feel the urge to smoke outside of the context of a bar or party, and only did it if others in my group smoked as well. As I got older and my social group changed, none of the people within my new friends even smoked. During the years I became pregnant and had my children, smoking was the last thing on my mind.

Of course, my life is completely different from what it was even four years ago. Two kids, deceased family members, a divorce, and a teaching job later, the levels of stress I endure are fairly significant. Somewhere along the way during this time, smoking became more and more familiar. At first because people around me were doing it. The next day I would find a pack of American Spirits laying around in my car, so I would light one up on my drive to and/or from work. Lately, it became lighting one while doing nothing around the house, especially on stress-filled days.

The thing is, I don’t really like to smoke. I only enjoy it when I am with others, engaged in deep conversation. Because in all honesty, I hate the smell of it, it is unhealthy, and the effects are vile. I talk to people I know who are long time smokers, and their voices now sound hoarse. They look much older than I remember them or should look compared to their age, or their skin has a grayish look to it. My uncle, an avid smoker, just died from lung cancer last week. It’s just not worth it. I was out with some acquaintances when one of them asked for a cigarette. Another person in the group pulled one out of a silver cigarette case. I remember thinking: “Now, here is someone who is truly committed. I will never buy a cigarette case.”

I went out with a friend a couple of nights ago, and I felt proud because I did not smoke one single cigarette. I haven’t smoked at all in the last few days, even though I still feel somewhat stressed. I will not say that I will never light up again, but I am definitely enjoying not thinking about or craving a smoke for the time being.

 

 

 

Eno on Trump.

“There was a Guardian interview with me earlier this week which had as its headline “We’ve been in decline for 40 years – Trump is a chance to rethink”. I didn’t use those words in that way (as reading the article would make clear), and they’ve been taken (particularly by some American websites) to suggest that I support Trump. Anybody familiar with my views will know that this is not true.

So: may I make something absolutely clear: I think Donald Trump is a complete disaster. And Brexit is a disaster too. That said, what I think is an even greater disaster is that we in the US and the UK – and increasingly the rest of the world – live inside political systems that can produce absurd results like these.

We now see political careers built upon lies and deceit and encouraged by openly biased media organisations, more concerned about revenue and ratings than giving the public real information. It’s this whole system that has to change: not just who leads the government but something deeper and more fundamental in our political and social processes. Democracy assumes an informed public: it doesn’t work if the media are corrupt. Changing the faces at the top doesn’t alter anything if the whole machinery beneath them stays the same – the rich become the super-rich, the middle class stagnates and the poor get poorer.

My hope – the only hope really – is that Trump in office will reveal himself for what he really is, and that the public will roundly and unequivocally reject him and everything he stands for – his terrible policies, his jingoism, his arrogance, his childishness, his lies, his prejudices and his small-mindedness. In rejecting Trump we’ll also start to take down the whole malignant media-political structure that so lovingly nurtured him.

As I’ve written before, I believe that Trump can turn out to be not the beginning of a long decline, but the end of one – the turning point. For 40 years we’ve been sliding into a deepening pit of inequality, fear-driven nationalism and conservatism, and mostly not noticing. Trump’s presidency could inadvertently change that – not because he’s going to do anything right but because his election is energising people to come to grips with the fact that their political system is fundamentally broken and it’s time to do something about it. The demonstrations that happened last weekend are a reflection of this new mood.

It would have been better if we hadn’t got to this point, but that’s where we are. My feeling is that a Clinton presidency (or even a ‘remain’ vote in Britain), though more comfortable in the short term, wouldn’t have dealt with the fundamental problems that beset both our political systems. Trump has proven beyond doubt that the system is broken, so let’s fix it.”

– Brian