Friday, September 28, 2007


On temporary hiatus due to the death of my monitor. I'll be back very soon. Happy Johnny Appleseed Day!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The one in which I have absolutely nothing witty to say

My second cousin Aimee was on Nightline last night in a feature about her life with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), and how she's preparing her kids for her death. I never spent that much time with Aimee; she is twelve years older than I, and she was off doing important things like a studying abroad in Paris and living with her husband, Jim, in a suburb of Chicago. She had this gorgeous wavy red hair, and a ready smile, and my most striking childhood memory of her is when she offered to help me with one of those puzzles where the two circles link together and you have to figure out how to slide one out from the other, and as I sat on the floor and looked up at her joking with her siblings as she played with the puzzle, I thought I would probably never again be in the presence of someone so unassailably exotic and fabuous.

Aimee and I, of course, grew older and as I transitioned into Nerdy Teenager with Unfortunate Hair and Glasses, she turned into A Bona Fide Cool Mom. She and her husband and her kids would drop in on my grandmother every few years, and we'd engage in the ritual of the extended family; the Chamerniks would crowd together on my grandma's divan, and we'd assume our customary places in the armchairs and against the walls and we'd pass around pictures and admire Nick and Emily as they played on the floor and eat some sort of fried poultry and cream pie and then we'd all agree to see one another again in a year, or two years, or whenever.

The last time I saw Aimee, though, was about four years ago when she was pregnant with her third child, Alex. No one said anything, but we all knew something was wrong. Her speech wasn't clear, and her magnificent smile seemed somehow dulled and off balance. The family gossip mill started churning, and eventually the word was out that Aimee had been diagnosed with ALS. We shook our heads and were saddened in the way that semi-casual observers tend to be, and then I lost track of her and Jim and the kids for four years.

But Aimee's been busy since then! It's been nearly 66 years since Lou Gehrig died, and ALS unfortunately hasn't reached cause celebre status like AIDS or cancer, because it doesn't currently have a Magic Johnson or a Katie Couric to put a powerful and resonant face on the disease. As with other auto-immune diseases of its kind, scientists are perpetually close but no cigar in finding treatment or a cure for it, and no one seems very motivated to give it enough attention or money to advance the progress. So Aimee decided she would be the face of ALS, and she's been writing to newspapers and magazines and appearing on television to appeal for support. I found her blog semi-accidentally a few months ago, and I visit it regularly now. Her writing is simultaneously so hilarious and so exquisitely painful to read that I inevitably end up in tears one way or the other by the time I'm done. I also found out that she's a rabid Cards fan, so of course that reinforced my estimation of her uber-coolness (even if she did marry Jim, who has equal passion for the Cubs).

Anyway, I know I haven't written very much about weight loss in the last few weeks, and I apologize if you're coming here and getting disappointed at not getting to read about how big my ass is, or whether garlic or cheddar croutons have more calories. I promise we'll be back to regularly scheduled programming next week. I just wanted to share the Nightline clip and Aimee's page with you, to show you how beautiful and articulate and strong she is, and how much ALS sucks for not letting her stay in this world for very much longer.

Nightline video clip from ABC

Aimee's website

The ALS Association

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Now with only one foot in the grave!

Hey Internets, I'm obese!

I was having dinner with a friend who reads this blog and also keeps up with a lot of people in my blogroll, and he mentioned that a few of those bloggers only use their BMI as a weight loss indicator. And because I still am kind of All Things Weight Loss on the inside, even though I've ostensibly shunned formal dieting and I sit in my work's food lounge smiling beatifically like some sort of oracle of self-acceptance and emotional peace while Gen miserably wraps her hunks of meat in bacon and dips them into nacho cheese and then sacrifices the liver of a wild boar to Dr. Atkins, as soon as he said "BMI" my mind immediately snapped into "Hmm, I wonder what I weigh now?" mode. And even though I was like 99% invested in the rest of our conversation that evening, a tiny little part of me was pining to reunite with my scale and see whether my slightly looser pants this week were actually loose or just stretched out to the point of giving up.

So this morning, after sort of ignoring all this weight loss business in the wake of being Officially Insane in the Membrane, I woke up and performed my little weighing in ritual of peeing, stripping down, and blowing all the air of out my stomach (because air weighs SO MANY OUNCES). I sort of half squinted through my dirty contacts, and then I had to bend over close to the numbers because I really couldn't believe what I saw.

217.5 lbs. Hm.

This is pretty good, considering I was climbing back up near 227 about three weeks ago, right before I had my little mad scene and decided to go for help. And really, the most gratifying part of it is that I've done this completely without dieting. I'll admit that the Wellbutrin seems to be playing its part in toning down my appetite, and that's fine, but I've also somehow decided that fruit is better than ice cream, and water is better than pop, and having a bowl of brown rice and vegetables is a definite improvement upon three frozen Totino's pizza and a bag of honey mustard pretzels.

As my brother's summer job boss would say, "Too cool. Too cool."

So, back to the BMI. When I first started this blog, I dutifully weighed myself and took all my measurements and went to the little government health website that calculates your BMI for you. When I clicked "submit" and a big red block of text showed up next to my BMI of 42.9, I was really sort of taken aback when it said I was in the "morbidly obese" category. I sort of furtively looked around my room for a gaunt hooded figure with a scythe, and then looked down at my body for signs of impending disease or death. I couldn't really find any.

Being morbidly obese to me means having to use the motorized shopping carts at the grocery store because walking to the bread section and back is impossible. Morbid obesity means clothes don't carry your size anymore, and your body starts betraying you in ways that it shouldn't for your age. You limp, you huff and puff on a single flight of stairs, you move slowly and ungainly and simple chores and household tasks are a monumental undertaking. In my mind, morbid obesity means diabetes and heart attacks and maybe the necessity of surgery to help get your body back into fighting shape. I am NOT morbidly obese.

I'm not claiming that I am in any way in truly acceptable physical condition either, though. I'm not good at running, and I can't even do one real pushup, and my body doesn't bend and flex and move as efficiently as it used to, but my blood pressure is low, and my body is healthy, and when I walk I do so quickly and smoothly, and I can work for hours and hours without needing a break. My body, if not aesthetically pleasing or athletic, is at least functional. And yet, I might as well have printed out that big red DANGER sign on that website and taped it to my chest like a big scarlet F, because science and mathematics have decided that my weight was inching me closer to my deathbed with every ounce I gained.

And so this morning after being surprised by the 217.5 on my scale, I remembered last night's dinner conversation and decided to check my BMI just for fun, and since I managed to lower it three points this year, I'm now squeaking just under the morbid obesity line at 39.7. Obviously not so good, but at least I didn't earn the scorn of the NIH this time.

I made a little bar graph of my progress since January, because I don't really think the numbers on the side of my blog give an accurate picture of my gains and losses over the last nine months. There were sometimes I'd weigh in on my calorie counter website, but not here because I wasn't blogging or it wasn't "official" or for whatever reason, and so I stuck those things in on this bar graph to see if I could notice any trends. So, here it is:

I think this tells so much more of a story than those numbers, because it just proves to me how much of getting healthy just has to become ingrained in your mind as a matter of fact lifestyle, and not as an undertaking with an absolute beginning and absolute end. Looking at it like this also lets me be so much more forgiving of the progress (or lack of progress) I've made since January. Analyzing the numbers and realizing I've only lost 17 pounds since January kinda made me cringe, because what have I been DOING this whole time? When I look at the graph, though, I can tell you exactly why the weight spiked. I see February and I can say, "Right, my grandma died in February and I really took it badly." I look at that last little spike and I know that that's where the depression started going out of control and I was eating so much I couldn't breathe and of course there'd be a weight gain when something like that happens. And now there's my new measurement of 217.5, which tells me on paper I'm doing as well as I thought I was in my head.

When I started all this, I really thought that getting to a 35" waist or an under-40 BMI or dropping below 200 lbs. was the absolute most important priority I had for the immediate future. Somehow though, even back then, I knew it wasn't going to roll that way. The bar graph wasn't going to look like the side of a mountain so much as a big, craggy, drama-filled mountain range that just wound on and on and on. If you had told me that in, say, January or even May of this year, I would've been profoundly disheartened to hear it. Now, I'm just kind of "Eh." about it. If I look at the scale next week and it's on 215 or something, then awesome...I'm on the right track. If I spike back up, then I know I need to stop pulling into Taco Bells and start spending more time at the places with the salad bars and the veggie wraps. That's cool with me, because hopefully the aggregate successes will mitigate the times when I can't always keep it together.

But at least now that I know that the government has helpfully provided an arbitrary number to endorse my opinion that my weight (never mind the fact that I commute hundreds of miles each week on heavily trafficked highways and I fly in airplanes and I often fall asleep at night with my back door unlocked and my baseball bat nowhere near enough to protect me and sometimes I try to plug in my hairdryer with wet fingers) isn't suddenly going to cause me to unceremoniously drop dead while playing "Skip to my Lou" with a bunch of first graders, I can stop being so obsessive about alway wearing clean underwear. I just figured that if I did keel over because of my ABHORRENT AND COMPLETELY LIKELY TO KILL ME CASE OF MORBID OBESITY, I at least ought to try make my mother proud.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

On Becoming My Own Best Friend

I gotta tell you, this medicine either really works fast or else I'm experiencing the most spectacular bout of placebo effect anyone has ever felt in the history of the world. Therapist John and the family practice doctor who prescribed the medicine both cautioned me to be patient, that the antidepressants take about three weeks to kick in, and not to expect any significant change for at least a little while. I assume they stressed this either because they didn't want me potentially to head back to my house and break open my boxes of razor blades and cyanide tablets and the noose collection that I have lying around JUST IN CASE, or because they didn't want to see me back in their office the following week begging them for a higher dosage or a frontal lobotomy.

On the other hand, I am that girl who goes to a party and has like one glass of wine and still manages to get completely drunk and ends up making out with your roommate's brother's lab partner in your bed with your special quilt your grandma made for you in 1996, so maybe my nervous system is just nervous enough to respond quickly to the drugs. I don't know what it is, but I'm definitely not complaining. As trite as it sounds, it's like the fog in my brain has lifted a little bit, and I can just deal with things better. I was so terrified that this medicine would make me a walking zombie like I was during my brief time with Prozac, but it hasn't so far. I can still be sad and happy and cry, but it's like once it's's over. My little problems stay little, and they don't turn into giant disasters that threaten to ruin my life. I feel tired sometimes, but only at the times when normal people feel that way. I completely astounded myself by lying down for a nap and then waking up 15 minutes later and ready to go. Prior to this week a 15 minute nap would've turned into a 12 hour sleeping jag, so this is incredible.

Another thing Therapist John and I discussed is how to make life easier; how not to expect perfection, how not to stress, and how not to let my inevitable inability to meet my own standards completely get me down. We specifically tackled my eating issues, namely the fact that I'm basically eating myself into poverty. I never realized this until recently, but even though I budget about $400 a month for food, and I spend every single dime of it at the grocery store, I still spend about another $300-$400 in eating out expenses. And the eating out isn't just like grabbing a salad from McDonald's...when I'm really mired down into a deep depression, I can easily waste $40 on a single binge.

I probably had an inkling that this was happening, but it wasn't until I rationalized it out loud with John that I really got what I was doing: My family has always been a family of enthusiastic and prolific (if not necessarily good) cooks. We keep our pantries full, we serve a big country meal at every dinner, and we clean our plates. My ex-husband came from a family who was even more obsessive about having a bounty of food all around; his dad regularly spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars a week to feed the family. So when we were together, we cooked often, and we cooked a shitload of food for every meal.

So I still have these habits ingrained from when I was married, even though I'm spending four nights out of the week on the road, and on the other days I'm usually too tired to cook. There was also the profound guilt of letting a hundred dollars of food rot in my refrigerator every week, and then the tediousness of having to sort through the produce to salvage what was fresh, and figure out each week what I needed and what I didn't, and wasting 20 minutes each morning preparing these elaborate lunches so everyone would think I was super healthy and conscientious when really I went home every day after work and inhaled fast food like I was training for a professional eating career, and then of course the awful feeling of not measuring up to my own standards because I couldn't get it together enough to fix a solid meal every single night of the week. I really felt like a huge fuckup.

So John asked, "Um...why can't you just plan to eat out on those nights?"


So I've given myself permission to eat out whenever I need to, even on days when I'm at home because I know I don't like to cook for myself, so I probably won't. I gave my pantries and my fridge one final cleaning, and I have to say that looking only cereal and bread and some fruit and other staples is really kind of refreshing. It's like the simplicity of not seeing piles and piles of food going to waste makes it so much easier to focus on eating healthfully, rather than eating abundantly. And two really fortuitous things about this plan is that my school's nutrition program has started offering a salad bar three days a week, and a baked potato bar one day, so for $2.50 a day, I'm set for lunch. The other thing is that my commute between my first job in my little town and my second job in KC is a veritable orgy of really healthy veg-friendly places to eat. Have you tried the Jason's Deli chain? Oh my, if you haven't, you really, really must. So financial problems hopefully solved, because I figured out I could give myself permission to do something not explicity included in my Agenda for World Domination, as long as it makes me healthier and happier.

And the other thing (and this is one of those moments where it's like I'm admitting I finally learned how to tie my shoes or wipe my own ass and everyone who reads this is probably saying "Jesus, Erin, you're a moron.") is that I've de-stressed myself over reading blogs, or not reading them. I have this awful, awful guilt about writing blogs and having all you wonderful people reading them faithfully and commenting and contributing and making me think when I go for months without looking at a single blog by another person. And it's not because I don't want's because once I start, I feel compelled to visit and comment on every single blog I like every single day of the week. And when visiting blogs starts to feel like my third job, I get a little antsy, and my ass gets numb sitting in this crappy office chair. So, since I'm all about organizing things into little piles and buckets and containers, I have bookmarked every blog I love and have divided the group equally into the seven days of the week, and now I only have to visit four or five a day. And as stupid and basic as that was to come up with, you have no idea how relieved I feel.

I like being nice to myself. Hopefully I can parlay this into other being nice activities, like a house cleaning routine or establishing a non-stressful exercise habit in the near future, because I really haaaaaaaate to exercise and clean my house. Hate them. Hate, hate, hate them.

Maybe with all this money I'll save from not buying out every Taco Bell between here and Nebraska each week, I can hire Merry Maids and have a shiny, be-muscled fellow named Knut come give me herbal body wraps and cellulite reducing massages instead.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

It gets a little grimy.

The only negative thing I have to say about New York is that it's a little bit bad for your skin.

My plane touched back down in KC at around 11:30 on Sunday evening and I hit the ground running and haven't stopped since, which is why I haven't written, but I'm afraid if I wait too much longer I'll lose the onomotopaeia that was running on a continuous loop in my brain during my entire vacation.

When I got off the train and into my taxi, I was determined to be blase about the whole affair. My friend had been joking earlier about Midwesterners in the double decker tour busses, with their unfortunate clothing and omnipresent dopey grins on their faces and even though they're my peeps, I didn't want to be that way. I was surprised, too, that as we were heading from Queens into Manhattan that New York wasn't this big, huge THING I imagined it was. When I was a little kid, I used to read atlases and maps like they were picture books, and I memorized the geography of the places I most wanted to visit. I used to be able to name eight streets in any direction from the Eiffel Tower, and I know London like I'd lived there all my life. But New York...New York City was the one that consumed me the most. I followed Broadway with my finger as it sliced through the pink map blob of Manhattan...memorized the location of every park, whispered the names of the neighborhoods to myself like they were a private, sacred liturgy. When I grew older New York became the setting of the books and movies in which I'd lose myself on a Sunday afternoon, where life passed by in a Woody Allen montage of sitting on park benches and window shopping on 5th Avenue, where I watched four rather ridiculous women date, break up, get married, and have preposterous sex all while conducting their own true love affairs with the city where it all happened. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Gershwin, The Met and the Guggenheim and Central Park...everything in New York had reached this enormous, overpowering mythical status in my heart and mind, and when my friend and I worked out the details of my visit there, I thought my entire body was going to explode with the sheer exuberance of finally getting to see what I had built up over the past twenty years. So I have no idea why I decided I wanted to play too cool for the Big Apple, other than my fear of being lumped in with the gaggles of gawking tourists from Des Moines and Broken Arrow, but I hailed my cab and barked out my destination with as jaded a voice as possible in the hopes that I could blend in with the city and its millions of harried, irritable citizens.

The cynicism lasted until I made it to my friend's apartment and he grabbed my hand and made a beeline for the windows of his living room and bedroom. The God, the views in this building! The Empire State Building to the left and off in the distance, the Woolworth Building close enough to see across into its hundreds of windows; from the elevator lobby on his floor the Statue of Liberty looked like a tiny, blue-grey Army man across the harbor. I would've coveted the apartment anyway because of the hardwood floors and the gas range and the superdeep bathtub, but the views had me at hello and I think I would've been perfectly happy perched on my host's window ledge and staring out over the mindboggling expanse of buildings reaching all the way to the mountains of New Jersey.
For the rest of the trip, my vocabulary failed me and I had to resort to the most trite exclamations over and over and over again with each landmark we saw. I think I used up my lifetime quota of "awesome" and "amazing" before we even made it north of Canal St. We went to Chinatown and Little Italy and on the subway and to Rockefeller Center and Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall and Columbus Circle and I've forgotten the rest but we went nearly everywhere. The two things that got me, though...really took my breath away were Times Square and Central Park. I initially didn't want to go to Times Square; we had walked a lot and we were sweaty and tired and it just seemed like such a silly thing to go look at giant billboards and the Naked Cowboy. We ended up going anyway, and I couldn't hide the huge grin on my face as I felt the energy and excitement of all the lights and the people and...just...everything. If I could've hired an orchestra to stand behind me and play Rhapsody in Blue, I would've, because that was the only thing that could've possibly defined a good New York Moment for me.

And Central Oh wow. Wow. That's all I could say, was "Wow." And it wasn't even anything specifically impressive about the park itself (although the giant boulevard with those incredible trees that framed everything so perfectly that I felt like I was in a Seurat painting absolutely made me stop dead in my tracks), but the more I thought about how much planning and foresight it took for those guys back during the Industrial Revolution to preserve 16 square miles of nature and to make it beautiful and special and fill it with exquisite things so everywhere you walked you felt like you were in a story book, the more I started to realize that it was the little things that makes New York what it is. The way every old building seems to hold secrets inside the ornate trimmings on their facades. How the streets of Manhattan were each made a monument to the history that transpired there. How you could walk down the streets and hardly ever see the same type of person in a row. And what struck me the most was just how intricately connected everyone and everything in the city was; 8 million people who manage to live and work and pretty much stay out of one another's way in a city that exists to serve every need they might have. That feeling of being connected, of experiencing the energy and vitality of all those people, of being a part of something bigger than myself...those emotions finally, mercifully made me feel so alive, and it's a high I haven't quite come down from yet.

On the plane ride back to Missouri my usual neuroses about flying were replaced with something a little more zen. I curled up under my blanket and stared out the window as the city gave way to perfectly arranged suburbs, which blended into the huge patchwork quilt of farmland that stretched from Ohio all the way back home. I realized that a huge part of my problem right now is that I don't feel connected to anything here. Missouri is my home, and I respect the people I know and I'm proud of my state and the towns where I've lived, but I don't really feel like I belong here. I never have, and as long as I continue to exist in this culture of country music and cow tipping, I probably won't be able to shake the feeling of being a puzzle piece that got mixed into the wrong box. I don't know if moving to a big, giant city like New York would solve the problem, but I liked what I felt there, and I'd like to feel it again.

I just did some calculations, and I think I could maybe afford a Manhattan apartment if 8 other people lived with me. I totally think it'd be doable if we kept to a strict bathroom schedule and, like, three of those people weren't super picky about camping out on the fire escape. It'd be fun!

So who's with me on a co-op in TriBeCa?

Monday, September 3, 2007

On a Clear Day...

My weekend was pretty nice, all things considering. As I wrote before, my plans to go to NYC to visit a friend were cancelled, but have been rescheduled for this coming weekend. I primarily spent this weekend doing little things; cleaning out my refrigerator, reading, writing a little, and thinking a lot about what to do next.

On Saturday afternoon I drove into the southern suburbs of KC to return some library books and go shopping at the sprawling, faux-bricked outdoor mall that boasts a large number of stores I can't afford, and a smattering of ones I can. This particular suburb is one of the toniest in Kansas City, and the entire two-block area is a monument to providing merchandise for citizens who have NASCAR-type tastes, but Maserati-type pocketbooks. Driving by the Dean and Deluca store that sits catty-corner to the tastefully remodeled McDonald's always makes me snicker.

I stopped at a Barnes and Noble to pick up a couple books and came back out to my car to watch the mall entrances belch out gaggles of shoppers onto the parking lot. It was early in the afternoon, and the sun warmed the back of my neck through my rearview mirror. I glanced at the clock; it was too early to go home, because home meant another grey afternoon inside 1,200 square feet of beige carpeting and unadorned walls. Home meant inevitable sadness, tears, loneliness.

I ended up driving to a park a friend of mine had pointed out near his condo as we were driving to lunch one day, and it was the absolute perfect place to end up....large, clean, and nearly empty except for a B-school type dad and his three screaming, squawking children fishing by a creek's edge. I found a tree near the creekbank that afforded me privacy and a view of my car in the parking lot, and I laid down to read. Since I started suffering from regular bouts of really serious depression, it seems like my concentration has disintegrated with each passing month. When I was in high school, I decided that since I was probably never going to be a pretty girl or a popular girl, I'd at least make a stab at being The Smartest Girl in the Universe, so I read voraciously and memorized any factoid I could get my hands on. At some point during my sophomore year of college, as the crying jags and the lethargy increased, my cognitive abilities started plateauing and then declining, and I never have really regained what I think is a working sharpness of wit and mind. It's gotten bad enough in recent months that I haven't been able to muster up the concentration to make it through an entire adult book without having to reread the first five pages over and over until the words stop swimming and reconstitute themselves into something I can understand. I'm pretty ashamed of it, especially when friends ask me what I think about politics or current affairs or Greek philosophy and I either have to furiously Google what to think or say, or I have to own up and admit I have no idea, because depression has made me stupid.

So until I can start reading big girl books again, I'm on a Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret kick, with a goal of hitting all the Newbury Award winners in the hopes that making it through eighty or so years of baby fiction will get my brain in shape to tackle real writing soon enough. I'm in the middle of Despereaux now, and it's cute, even if I really wish I were reading The World is Flat or something else smart sounding.

Anyway, as I laid there with Despereaux propped up on my chest and my hippie tote bag cradling my head, I felt my eyes drawn toward the latticed canopy of leaves above my head, and the startlingly blue sky peeking through it. I took a picture of it with my cellphone, but the photo doesn't do justice at all to the way the branches intersected with one another, like a latticed cathedral ceiling just out of reach of my fingertips. The photo couldn't capture the way the wind cut the perfect warmth of the seventy-something degree day, so that no matter whether you laid in the sun or the shade, there was no possible other reaction than to close your eyes and breathe one word: autumn. I couldn't show you how the whole outside smelled of that particularly delicious warm scent that gets in my cats' fur after they go outside and I hold them to my face and breathe in deep until the perfume of the grass and the trees and an earth finally put on the cooling rack after three months of baking fades from their skin. But the two hours I spent outside was nearly perfect, save the tiny ants nibbling away at my calves and my arms, and right after I took that picture I leaned my head back, closed my eyes, and actually smiled a genuine, in only momentary, smile of contentment.

I spent the rest of the weekend in a slightly less blissful state; I made the mistake of buying some jasmine rice in bulk a few weeks ago and this morning I woke up to a grain weevil infestation of every single bag of flour, rice, pasta, and cereal I had. After I silently fuh-reaked out, threw away every grain product in my house, and spent two hours watching Anthony Bourdain and scratching away imaginary bugs, whom, I was convinced were reenacting Sherman's March to the sea (if Sherman were these lovely mo-effers, and the sea was my ladyparts), I had a really long talk with some friends of mine about we were going to move forward in our respective lives, and for me specifically how I'm going to get happy in the next year or so. I've been realizing during the last few months that I'm really not happy with my current career, and I'm definitely unhappy with where I live. There are only so many weekends of deciding between tractor pulls or beer league softball games for entertainment before the hoity-toity part of my personality rears its well-coiffed head and demands culture. And while I'm always aware that I have landed a completely cushy teaching job in a great district with wonderful people and I should be going to early church with the 80-year old women and working that kneeler and thanking Christ I have the salary I do for what I do, I really dread going to my job. I don't think I'm a great teacher (at least not a disciplined one), I don't use my voice correctly so I'm going to ruin it in five years anyway and I won't be able to sing or teach, and I'm really shy, so picking a profession that involves eight straight hours of standing up in front of kids and doing my dog and pony show is kind of torture for me, even if they are a captive audience. At least I can bribe them with stickers. And heroin.

And then there's the problem of having no other passion for anything else in the world, unless it's writing, so I don't know of any other career that I'd just jump out of bed ready to tackle each day. I keep thinking that maybe I'd like to be a real writer, maybe a freelance pop culture or critic-type writer for magazines or websites or something, but I don't exactly know how to break in with a completely wrong set of degrees and no experience and honestly I don't really know if writing about your issues on a tiny blog can translate into actual journalism. I have a couple of friends who are freelance writers, and one or two in publishing, so I thought about asking for their opinions.

There is, of course, the "Erin's mom" voice inside my head that makes me feel guilty for wanting more out of my life. Both of my parents are extremely intelligent people...brilliant in some areas, but neither finished college and they both have worked in low paying, kind of menial careers their entire lives. When I got my current teaching job, my mother made a big point of telling me that I make twice as much as she does and of course seem to do half the work since I get summers and holidays off. My father isn't as vocal, nor as indignant as my mom when I say that I might like to do something different, but I can see him wince when I discuss more school or a career change, or maybe a move to a big city. And sometimes I can convince myself they're right; that giving up a decent salary and a low-rent house and a 401K and retirement for a shot at a completely risky career and a lifestyle I can't afford is ridiculous, and I shouldn't be thinking about it.

I think, though, of my friend from high school who got married and decided with her husband to bike to all 50 states for two years, and my friends who've gone on to play in symphonies, or the ones who've spent a semester in Europe or joined the Peace Corp or lived on a polyamorous ecovillage, or even the ones who are slaving away in PhD programs so they can say something significant to the world when they get out, and I want to say that I finally figured out what I wanted and went after it, too. Even if it is about five years later than they did.

Do you ever get afraid that if you figured yourself out enough to actually go for the things that would make you happy, that you wouldn't recognize yourself anymore? I felt that briefly while I was lying underneath the tree...during those four seconds that I closed my eyes and smiled, I stopped being She Who Ruminates and Frets and just became some chick in a park instead. It was a disconcerting feeling, because I didn't know what to do with myself without the depression and the self-loathing and the ubiquitous sense of detachment from a normal life and the people who live it. I cannot imagine myself as healthy AND happy AND satisfied with my career and my friends and where I lived at all. I have no idea who I'd be or what I'd feel like because I never, ever have felt satisfied. Maybe we're not supposed to have everything we want, though. I don't know, but I can always hope that's not the case.