All The Stuff I’m Not Writing About…

…really isn’t very exciting.

It’s spring break so I thought I’d take a moment and reflect. But there’s not much to say. Kids. School. Rinse and repeat.

This grad school thing sucks up nearly all my time. A few times a week I have enough spare time to write 280ish characters on Twitter.

And it’s good. I thrive in the semi-structured environment of academia. But I’m also a little lost still. This semester is much better than the last one. There’s a lot of pressure and a lot of having no idea what I’m supposed to do or what I am doing. There’s never enough time for everyone and everything. Most days are a cross between a sprint and a slog trying to put out the fire in front of me. But I’ve also, bit by bit, started to find glimpses of a workable pace and scraps of confidence.

And I miss writing just to write, writing that doesn’t have to have a point, that doesn’t follow the rules. But there’s little time for this. Another semester is half over and all I have to show for it is a mountain of books and some unhealthy coping strategies. I don’t even have the energy to type up and post my reading logs here anymore. Too busy reading.

I guess that’s what makes Project Pursue a PhD interesting and challenging. If it was easy everyone would do it.

And then there’s the other stuff I don’t write about, the personal side of life I’m increasingly silent about, the slow processes of paperwork and visa applications, the kids who are old enough to want to keep their awkward adolescences private, the bitter political climate with it’s deeply personal injustices.

Sometimes I think about creating another space to write about these things, somewhere no one knows me, somewhere safe to tell all the truth. But then I don’t have time or energy left to do it.

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Pieces of Home

I’m back in New Mexico. Today is day 5 of trying to reset my clock and live in my own timezone. My ambitious goal for the day is to keep my eyes open for the entire time the sun is in the sky. I even managed to stay in bed until my alarm went off at 6am. This is quite the accomplishment. I’ve been waking up at 3 or 4am, wide awake, only to crash at 10am and sleep half the day. My head and my heart are 8,000 miles away.

I was warned to expect culture shock along with the jetlag but so far see no signs of it. Maybe because I found myself on the other side of the world seeing pictures of Southwest saguaro cactus in the Middle East and hearing stories about New Mexico healers and talking about having a Breaking Bad set adjoining my backyard. Maybe because I grew up making regular and rapid cultural transitions. Maybe because I look more for similarities than for differences.

Mostly I feel sort of numb. My life here is exactly as I left it. I send my kids off to school, wash laundry, prep for another semester, clean the catboxes. Today I’m sitting in Flying Star on Menaul, tummy full of eggs and green chile, gulping coffee as part of Project Stay Awake. My life is exactly as I left it. But my heart is still 8,000 miles away. And the details of that are raw and personal. I don’t even know how to process that part, how to integrate it into my regular real life.

So I sleep. And read to my kids. And order my school books. And somehow I feel numb and a little lost and empty. I rediscover just how harsh and dry the New Mexico air is. I scratch until I bleed, my hair is no longer curly and thick, my sinuses over-compensate and my nose runs. But I missed the sun here, somehow in all my adventures I never really noticed how much stronger the high dessert sun is, even in winter.

I’m back home. And nothing has changed. And everything is changed. And I am at a loss for how to explain it. I hold all these pieces, these places, these people in my heart. And I don’t even try to fit them together, to find a coherent whole. I just sit with this fractured reality, this life in which my children, my family, my cats, my grad school contract, my houseplants, my books are in New Mexico and my favorite human, my heart, my partner, my love are in Qatar.

Today I drink too much coffee, enjoy the lonely company of a table for one in the bustle of a busy lunch rush, me and my books and my reading glasses and my laptop. I wait for a text from my sister. I listen to the chatter around me. I watch the traffic. But I don’t know what to say, what I feel, where I am. It’s all so… ordinary, so normal, so much exactly like it all was just one month ago, sitting in this same booth, combing through my final papers, trying to focus my head on the task at hand while my heart counted the seconds untill take off.

Here I am, home again. And in the midst of all these pieces is also peace. There’s a feeling that something in my world has been made whole and right. There is so much I cannot say, parts I’m choosing to keep private, moments I simply have no words for, things better held as secrets for the moment. And this leaves me confused and conflicted. But there’s also this feeling of calm, connection, contentment.

Home is where the heart is. And so my home is split in pieces for now. At the moment there is no way to bring all the pieces together in one place. And I have no choice but to live in this split, to accept reality as it is. I have pieces of  home. I came home simultaneously in more pieces and more healthy and whole than I’ve ever been. It’s a strange paradox. I feel like I fumble my words trying to describe this. It’s my impulse to try to make sense and make meanings. But I don’t really want to right now. Paradox has its own beauty and logic.

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Christmas in Qatar

I don’t really know how to start this post, only that I want to take a minute and check in here.

I suppose the obvious place to start writing is that I’m 10 timezones and approximately 8,000 miles from home and you might be wondering how I got here and what I’m doing. Short answer: I came to see someone and he sent me tickets. It’s the Ex’s year to have the kids for Christmas. A friend is cat-sitting. So here I am. In Doha on Christmas night.

And it’s been the most relaxing Christmas of my life. It’s almost 8pm now and I have a little time alone. I’ve called all my closest family members.

I went to Christmas Eve church yesterday. Like any large church in the United States the police were there directing traffic and every seat was taken. Maybe that’s the same everywhere, the Christmas-Easter Effect where suddenly every church is way over capacity because so many people only go once or twice a year.

But for the most part Christmas is just another day here. None of the crazy pressure and stress and materialistic madness. And I feel good.

Some of you already to know that this isn’t exactly my favorite time of the year. Usually there’s some kind of ugly emotional breakdown right about now. So this is a wonderful change from the usual pattern. The weather and the company are both pleasant. I’m a little disoriented by the jetlag and geographical displacement. It’s kind of reassuring to know which direction my host prays, from this I can oriented myself to know which way is home and if it weren’t for that I’d be completely lost. But if my clock and my compass are still spinning my head and my heart are content.

I should probably apologize for having called my mother after church to rub it in just a little that even going to the midnight service my Christmas still started 10 hours before her Christmas. But I don’t really feel at all guilty. It’s the first time I’ve been to the late service on Christmas Eve, always at home I’m in a hurry to go early and be home and get the kids in bed and stay up half the night Santa-ing. My first Christmas with no hurry, no rush, no crush. Just me wandering into church alone, packed in a crowed of total strangers, ducking under tall people to find a place I can see.

I could understand if some people are a bit worried or confused about my adventure here. You’ve probably seen and heard all kinds of horrible things on TV that make the entire Middle East seem scary and dangerous and anti-Christian. And it is true that no place is perfect, that every place has it’s assholes and idiots and problems. But truly I’ve had nothing weird or scary happen.

Except public bathrooms. Those are weird here. They actually have real privacy for every toilet, none of those stupid stalls with cracks around the door. It’s…weird. Oh, and people are way friendly and kind and no one ever gets murdered here. There’s practically no crime and that’s really weird too. And families are weird. Like, men carry babies and hold purses for women with no embarrassment. That’s like superweird. And people are really tolerant of kids acting like kids in public. I don’t know what to do with that. Imagine seeing a toddler do a toddler-thing in a crowded shopping place and no one giving her parents mean looks or unwanted words about it? I’m telling you, this place is really scary and I’m constantly afraid a 2y’o on a trike is going to cut me off on the sidewalk. It’s that dangerous.

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