Friday, July 23, 2010

...Not a Relationship

Ask not for whom the helicopter blades whoosh.  They whoosh for me. 

There's been some discussion of late about the helicopter phenomenon, starting with this post over at Inside Higher Ed.  A few other bloggers picked up on it, and I read many posts in my lecturer self.  I, too, have had enough of the students who can't make decisions and so on.

And then I tried to cut a nectarine in half.  Nectarines are one of the benefits of living in this beautiful, dying state.  My corner of this state is known for the abundance of roadside stands selling fresh-picked fruit and vegetables.  So, yes, we have the governator.  We have to choose between Whitman and Brown.  That big earthquake that was supposed to push half of us into the sea decades ago might just be the only thing that could put us out of our misery.  But we have summer fruit!  HA!

And summer fruit means mom.  Now, this saint's mother was the real saint, and she's been gone for some time.  She shows up in the occasional dream and passing thought, but I'm at that point where that's okay.  But once in a while I have a moment that catches me by surprise.  Something makes me think of her and for a little while all the grief comes back and whacks me upside the head.  And tonight I had a nectarine-induced moment.  Mom had this skill that I've never mastered.  She could split a nectarine (or an avocado, but I hate avocados) in half, twist the halves around, pop out the pit, and bob's your uncle my brother and I each had a perfect nectarine half. 

Me?  I try this and I get nectarine mush.

Doesn't mean I stop trying.  One of these days I'm going to master the technique and have my perfect nectarine halves.  It's a goal.  Not one of my more important goals, but a goal.

As I ate tonight's nectarine mush (truly yummy, by the way.  Can't do much to hurt a fresh, ripe nectarine if you eat it soon enough), I reflected on the skills I never mastered.  Mom died when I was twenty-three.  So, there were many things for which I did not need her anymore.  I didn't call her everyday.  I had a job, paid rent and bills, managed my meager finances.  But there were somethings for which I still needed her.  I see that so clearly in my graduate career.

As an undergraduate, I was not the student who needed a parent to make every decision.  I talked over problems with my mom, but I made my own choices.  When is struggled, I went to her for advice.  This happened often when I couldn't figure out how to write a paper.  I'd call her, and she'd ask me to explain what I was thinking.  By talking it out, I usually found out how I wanted to approach the paper.  Mom was paper-writing, nectarine-slicing magic.

When I started grad school, mom had been gone for a few years.  I'd forgotten how much I relied on her when I wrote.  I've struggled with writing all throughout grad school.  There are a number of reasons why the dissertation's not done yet, some of them not of my creation, but writer's block is the biggest.  It's been bad. Depression-inducing, suicidal-thoughts-when-opening-Word-making, happy-pill-taking bad.  I love my research, I love what I'm arguing, I even kinda like the chapters I finished (actually, they're pretty damn good).  And I wonder if, were mom still alive, the story of my career might have gone another way.  Maybe there's a little bit of dependency that never quite healed.  Not a helicopter parenting thing, really, but maybe I need a little bit of empathy for my students and their parents.  And maybe I'm a little jealous, too.  (But seriously, parents, don't call me when your precious offspring fails my class.)

I didn't intend to start my blog with mom, but oops!  It's fitting.  The blog is an attempt to air some thoughts about the process of finishing the #$%#$%@$ dissertation and getting a real job.  The therapist thinks that if I get these things out of my head, writing might be easier. 

We'll see.