Well, tonight was really, really awkward. 

Really, really, really awkward. 

The usual teacher wasn't there for reasons, so we had a substitute. And the substitute was getting ready to give one of the unit tests to the group who were in the "senior" group. She mistakenly thought everyone was part of that, and was reviewing the material to the test.

So she basically kicked right in asking the review questions for that test, one at a time, to each of us in turn, waiting with very, very long and awkward pauses until there was an answer from someone.

I was asked to give a chemical term's definition. I knew it, even though I hadn't read the book at all, and she nodded. She then asked for the next definition, and there was a long, long and awkward pause while the student looked for it in the text.

For me, this was basic. I struggled to keep up with the Asian kids in my school back in the day (sorry about the stereotypes, he says, wincing). I had to balance equations, do redox stuff, and figure out molarity and so forth. Simply asking me to define basic chemical terms is in my vocabulary.

It wasn't in theirs. By "theirs" here, I mean inner city Atlantans. Don't get me wrong or get it twisted.

I'll stress: these folks aren't stupid. They're bright, entrepreneurial. One of them showed me a prototype of a new tool he had manufactured overseas and was going to sell. I want one of the first of them, and I want him to sign the inside. He's going places.

I don't blame them one bit for not having that at the tips of their fingers, like I do. And I say this as sounding pretentious, condescending, or even racist.

The Atlanta school system scandal recently wrapped up. The ringleader escaped punishment only by dying of breast cancer before the trial was over. She was absent during the final weeks, and was dead before the verdict was read. Other teachers involved got decade-plus jail terms for falsifying test results, speeding kids through the system and making them and everyone else feel like they were educated. They collected tons in No Child Left Behind and merit based bonuses. The reason the judge gave for the harshness of the sentences was that the kids that went through the system were cheated and robbed blind of the chance to prove themselves and/or to learn something. More importantly, to learn how to learn. I knew intellectually that their schools were shit, their teachers incompetent and unconcerned, but this brought the divide between the two groups in the room into real razor sharp focus. 

It's pure conjecture, and if any of you are reading this, I could be wrong, and I mean no offense.

But when I took the time to explain, in a few words, what the big words and lists of shit actually meant, they got it. Again, they're not stupid people, I have nothing but mad respect and they're fast becoming good friends. But as time wore on, they got really quiet and suddenly it was my job to answer things, or we just sat there in very very long silence. Someone knews this, someone say it so we can move on.

As time wore on I was sotto voce apologizing for showing them up, and they were like, no, it's good, I'm learning this way. And they meant it. So I answered. And we went on and we completed it all.

I'd like to apologize to my childhood classmate Kenichi, and Tony, both of whom we tended to shove to the front of any questioning, quietly mumbling behind them. Our parents blamed them for fucking up the curve. And with hindsight, I apologize for putting them in the harsh spotlight.

On my way home, blasting The Star Spangled Banner by Boston out the windows of my car, I happened upon a young man standing in the middle of the street. I'd seen him selling something before, and I motioned him over with a "come here" gesture. He walked up, and as he got closer I recognized the beaded cap and bowtie of a member of the Nation of Islam. He had a copy of Salaam in his hand, the script across the front in black all-caps Gothic calligraphic lettering like a backpiece tattoo. Their monthly newsletter.

"How much?" I asked him, him not sure how to respond to a "come here" gesture from me. I was polite and smiling.

"It's by donation" he said simply, "whatever you can give."

I gave him $2, saying genuinely, "I know it's going to good use" -and thanked him with the NON-Muslim greating. "Salaam", I said, simply.

"Wa Alaikumu Salam", he answered back, giving a more formal greeting usually reserved for other Muslims. I smiled at him, and he wasn't quite sure what the game was, but he smiled back, man to man, and resumed his post. 

For those unclear on the Nation of Islam, what you need to know to understand how weird this was is that a primary tenet of the Nation is that white people are blue eyed devils, a failed genetic experiment by the scientist Yakub, who corresponds roughly to the Bible's Jacob. That we are (the author is white) generally evil towards people of color and were designed to rule them by tricks and lies, but only for six thousand years and that this is far from a good thing. Though they believe in black superiority, they are generally open to the idea of sympathetic, even Islamic white people. And given in the South they take a certain kind of glee in some circles at people in the crowd having gotten away with shooting the ever living fuck out of them for minding their own business, I can see how that can take root hard.

They also want segregation - to be left alone to pursue their own future unfettered by our presence.

Their core argument is, the system we have going really fucking isn't working for them.

Salaam, my brother. Salaam. And Ameen.

 

 

Ask anyone who has been through it what they recommend and you'll get a host of answers about whether or not to get an attorney when you get divorced. We were legally separated back in 2009 and I made a mistake by not retaining an attorney. In Wisconsin you can sign a sheet of paper that will convert your separation to a divorce. Our paperwork was submitted on May 28, stamped on June 1, and I received it on Friday. My brother-in-law was astounded by the ease and efficiency of a government agency as were many of my friends. A close friend of mine told me it was unheard of for a divorce to go so smoothly and so quickly. When I received my first check I put half of it into savings right away. That was a great move and I'm glad my sister suggested it. I have a little more than half of that left in my checking account, but the good news is I'm learning as I go. I can't expect the first month to be surprise free and we needed groceries which is not to say that I have been as frugal as I could have been. Today my middle sister suggested finding a place of my own. When I spoke with an attorney thinking that the divorce was going to require one he said that child support was modifiable so I'm going to find out what I would need to do that. It may not go anywhere, but it might and that would be good for me.

To get an attorney or to represent yourself is up to you. Having been through it I wish I would have had the attorney. It's such an emotional time that I had trouble making good decisions. They know the law and they're there to look out for your best interests which is something I've never had before. It's on me that I didn't hire one and rather than get into a debate about it I'm going to write about what I'm going to do from here on out if I would like a romantic relationship with someone. First of all I'm going to keep going to my therapist. I'll tell her about the financial situaion and she'll probably be very disappointed in me, but not as disappointed as I am in myself. There is nothing noble about screwing yourself and participating in your own manipulation. I told a friend that it's hard to explain how you can get so low you don't even realize how shitty people are treating you. Superficially it's great that he's letting me stay at the house. And I am grateful for that, however, that means that he has someone who is keeping things going while he's at work, going out, and doing whatever else he wants to do at the condo. He would have an insanely hard time finding anyone who cares about this place as much as I do because I view it as a home for my children rather than a rental property.

Being in a psychologically and emotionally bad place means that I didn't stick up for myself the way that I should have. Yesterday I opened my book on triathlon training. It made me almost cry a couple of times because over and over the author says that the book is for every day people and not phenomenally gifted athletes. I'm heavier than I've ever been in my life and it affects me in ways I don't realize on a daily basis. Poor self esteem, diminished lung capacity, having to buy new clothes, lack of energy, the list goes on, but this book is giving me hope. I think I'm on chapter four, I talked to my oldest about it last night, the author suggests turning the training into a family event so kids see mom or dad or both getting up off the couch and pulling themselves away from the computer. I have a short bike ride planned, the book says you need to put whatever you're doing that day on the calendar and treat it like the priority that it is. Phrasing is important, rather than write 'Run', choose words like 'destress for one hour'. According to the author you can follow his plan and be ready for race day in six weeks. He recommends investing four or five hours a week and tells people how to free up time if they think they are too busy which is a common excuse.

He has people write down why they think they won't do this and says that these are excuses people use in other areas of their lives. I almost never take the tests or quizzes I find in books, I'd rather keep reading, but this intrigued me so I asked one of the girls to get me a pen and paper. I wrote down that I was scared, I was afraid of getting hurt, I was afraid I was going to quit, I'm afraid that others will tell me I can't or give me reasons why I shouldn't be doing this, and then I wrote money. What was interesting to me is how most of the answers were fear based. I can just hear people telling me things that they may not even say. It shouldn't matter what other people think or say, I can do this and I can get the girls involved as well. The book says to give yourself rewards for meeting training goals. His example was his wife buying a new dress after two weeks of meeting her goals every day. They don't have to be big or fancy, but there should be incentives along the way to help keep you motivated. I would recommend this book to anyone as the way he writes is very simple, yet profoundly encouraging. For example, one person told him that they had given up after twenty-one days of training. He told this person that he was glad they had those twenty-one days that they probably wouldn't have had otherwise.

I follow a lot of coaches and some sports psychology people on Twitter. What really separates people who do incredible things from others is their mind. There are people who have more to overcome than I do accomplishing things that I don't envision myself doing and his advice is to stop thinking and start doing. I didn't take a walk when I woke up yesterday. I accomplished a lot, but I didn't make time for exercise until I started reading that book. He talks about strengthening the mind while strengthening the body and he reminds people that the Iron Man or Iron Woman triathlon is an extreme race and there are many other shorter and smaller events that are well within reach of the average Jane and Joe. I actually think that if I got on my bike, hopped in the pool, and tied up my running shoes I would surprise myself. But I know that I need to follow his program of small incremental additions because I am so out of shape and overweight. Another thing I love about this book is how he outlines what you need and assigns a dollar amount. You don't have to spend a lot of money to do this, he says heart and lung capacity are more important than the bike you're riding and for the majority of people the bike they have is just fine.

When he goes through things you will need he recommends borrowing what you can from family and friends. This has two purposes. First of all there is the obvious cost savings. Secondly, they can be part of your motivation and a support group. I'll try and remember to go back and find the section where he talks about people being against more fresh air and stress reduction, it's pretty funny to read sections like that, my take away from that was that perspective is malleable and there are counters to obstacles and objections. I am nervous about it, but even if I don't do a great job, anything I do now is going to make me a stronger and healthier person. I have a super nice swimsuit, I just have to see if it fits. I can talk to friends of mine who own pools and see about getting a Y membership at a reduced cost if I qualify which I should. Even if we skip the swim part for now, running (walking for now) and biking are still going to boost our lung capacity and benefit our minds and bodies. We have four hours a week, Jill has a pair of running shoes, but Jane needs a pair. When my brother-in-law took the dog out with Jill he did some running with her and mentioned that she uses her lower body well. I know there is resistance and complaining ahead of me. I can go on my own if I can't sell this to the girls, but I'm hoping that they see the incentive as reason enough to participate.

They tell me I'm fat and I remind them that when I was a kid I was thinner than they are now. I found a bunch of wrappers in their backpacks when I opened them up the other day. Jill had a doughnut wrapper and an empty Arnold Palmer Arizona Iced Tea can. Jane had some weird ice cream dessert. I was going to yell at the girls or talk to them and then I decided to let it go. They have to live with the consequences of their decisions and the sooner they learn that, the better. A lot of times they deny that eating gluten does anything to them so why start a fight I can't win? I will refrain from sharing a treat I buy the next time we go out and I'll explain that I'm very sorry, but the treat is for people who stick to their gluten free diets. Another talk I had with myself was the reading too many books at a time dilemma. I decided that I should limit the books I have going so now there are five of them plus my Bible which I have been better about reading. It really makes a difference when I sit down and do some reading in there. My whole day goes better. I'd like to keep writing, but I have things to do so this is goodbye until we meet again tomorrow. If anyone is interested in the book, it's Triathlon Training In Four Hours A Week, written by Eric Harr. I bought my copy at Goodwill, but it should be on Amazon as well. Let me know if you go ahead with it, I'd like to hear if you enjoy it as much as I am. 

If there is anything I have never excelled at, it is letting go. Of thoughts, of feelings, of people. It's not that I want any of it back, no, I have accepted the loss - these things, these humans that have come and gone. It's simply that they have coloured me in a way that I sometimes don't enjoy, like a terrible tattoo you regret forever. I've perhaps tried to cover them with others or blend them into a new design, but I'm no tattoo artist, I can easily say that much.


You're tired of secrets, you say, and it's strange enough you'd feel that way. They're not mine, anyway, it's not as though I can tell you what to do with them in the end. I've my own. We all do. I am never quite sure why anyone would even try to unwind a web so tangled as the one you created between and around us. Sometimes it is better to abandon and move on, I think, to keep the scars inside of us as memories, to learn from them. I don't know if there is enough room in the world for all the darkness we keep inside ourselves.


If only we were honest with ourselves more of the time. If only we were these open books, all our flaws and scars there for all to see. How much less misery we might inflict upon each other, ourselves. These strange, secret lives we all live.. who we appear to be and who we really are when you peel away the layers.


Sometimes it really feels like I am nothing but these ugly, withered layers, like there is nothing left inside anymore. Nothing worth saving. It gets tiresome, this hanging on, this waiting for the light to shine through the broken bits of this world I have created around myself. Just keep swimming, they say, no matter how tired. It is still more pleasant than drowning.

This is one of those days where I just have to sit in the dark listening to Coldplay's I'll see you soon until I find that piece of myself that steps in and pushes the rest of me out into the light again.

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