Monday, March 12, 2012

Tantrum


When I come against an obstacle I find that there’s a pattern of steps I follow to find resolution. Shamefully, the most important of these seems to be one where I behave badly. I throw a fit. Once that phase is over, however, I accept my fate with aplomb and move forward. It’s necessary, however, for me to resist, like antibodies fighting a virus, in order to emerge stronger and healthier on the other side.

I performed an embarrassing, new mom tantrum a few weeks after Lennon was born. We were struggling with breastfeeding and he wasn’t gaining the recommended amount of weight. I was nursing for what seemed like every second of the day and yet it had little affect. The diagnosis was that my milk supply was low and I would need to start using a breast milk pump if breastfeeding was to continue. To increase my supply, I was meant to pump milk from my breasts several times a day for about ten minutes a session. This would provide extra milk for Lennon and fool my body into producing more milk to meet the increased, albeit manufactured, demand. I was already thoroughly exhausted and the idea of nursing this other, mechanical baby in addition to my newborn brought me to tears. This exhaustion was compounded by the new, overwhelming responsibility of trying to provide my baby with the healthiest and highest quality of everything. I was beholden to go forward with whatever it would take to make breastfeeding work even though every molecule of my sleep deprived self wanted to scream, “This is not what I signed up for! I want a refund!” I nearly said those exact words to my very patient midwife, asking her,

“Do nursing mothers just never leave the house? Do they never leave the couch? Do they live their lives as nursing machines? How in the hell do they do this?”

What I wanted and naively expected to hear from her were cushioned words allowing me to give up, saying that it wasn’t all that important to breast feed, and that no one would ever expect anyone to go through anything approaching such burdensome nonsense. Instead, she calmly answered, “We just do it.”

Right.

The next day, I rented a breast milk pump and began the process of increasing my supply and feeding my baby so he would gain the weight he needed. I really fought against the difficulty of it all, though. I fought until I didn’t recognize what I was fighting against. I fought until I looked foolish—until there was nothing left to do but the hard thing itself and be happy about it.

Last week I wrote about how I had buoyed myself up from having suffered the rejection of not being awarded the DAAD scholarship. Tragically, I failed to take my own advice. The next day I discovered that the wound was deeper than three days time and a pep talk could heal. I sat in the kitchen and explained to Nicholas all the reasons why not getting the DAAD scholarship meant that I should not pursue a PhD:

Firstly, I’m not a real academic. I attended a conference last May with other Performance Studies PhDs and discovered that I was way out of my league. They all seemed so well read in Performance theory where I’m primarily a practitioner, still learning how to slog through academic language. What business have I writing a dissertation? Twice now my project has not been awarded funding. Maybe this is a sign. Also, wouldn’t it just be so much easier, nice-n-tidy, and generally more leisurely to go back to the familiar ground of teaching theatre in a K-8th grade environment? I could leave behind the uncomfortable, knee-deep discussions of Performance theory and elevator-pitch explanations of my dissertation. Teaching grade school would also be a more Lennon-gentle route, being able to maintain clear, daytime hours with a family friendly vacation schedule. But the most penultimate reason to throw in the towel, I explained, was that I had tried to call my advisor that day and her secretary said she was very busy and would not be able to meet with me for a while. She’d be happy to send me some other funding opportunities via email, but a one-on-one would not be possible right now. I knew I was on my own with my research, that’s how PhDs are done in Germany, but at this moment I really needed my advisor—a woman of great importance in the Performance Studies world—to bolster my confidence. She hadn’t the time. Bad timing, woman of great importance. Having presented my case, I asked my husband how I could ever overcome such incredible odds? How could I continue with this PhD scheme and its difficult trajectory? The path of least resistance was surely a more sensible route. Certainly there are many who would agree with me that I just don’t have what it takes to be an academic. Nicholas listened and then said, “You can do it, Schatz.”

Fine.

I opened a book of performance theory, grabbed my highlighter, and began reading. I bought a ticket for a play by a company I’d wanted to investigate. I started to do it. Later that day, I visited the little bowl on my desk filled with fifty curled strips of paper. On each strip is one of Nancy Sathre-Vogel’s ‘50 Lessons I Wish I had Learned Earlier.’ If you’ve read more than one of my posts, you may have noted my passion for lists. About a month ago, I had printed out Ms. Sathre-Vogel’s list, cut each item from the page, and placed them in a bowl on my desk to pull from if I needed guidance. The Tao of My Desk, if you will. I glanced at the snow-white curls on top and decided to sink my hand deep to collect my fortune. The lesson I fished that day said:

47. If it were easy everyone would do it.

4 comments:

  1. Gosh, Amy, that struck a chord with me. While I've evolved to be more of a path-of-least-resistance kinda gal, I have a number of close and very dear friends pursuing their academic ambitions. I'm very much in awe with these individuals and also very proud of them. Since we are close friends, I often found myself wondering and actively looking for an answer to a question: ''Why, why on earth would ANYONE do this to oneself?!'' I've discovered after conversations and following their stories, that each one of them continuously found strength and will to go on out of very different and very specific personal reasons. While everyone seems to start the same: bright-eyed, heart pounding with excitement, somewhere along the ''hike'' you start questioning yourself and the whole enterprise time and time again. All of them started with different personal luggage, provisions, level of preparation, expectations, goals and lack thereof. And for one or two of those reasons their Odyssey became, what I can only call, extremely grueling, unsatisfying and beyond humanly possible. Each one of them considered quitting numerous times, but something always drove (dragged) them on. To summarize, reason number one - there was no going back: either too many sacrifices had been made on their behalf by families or too many people believed in them and the thought of facing either of these people was even more intolerable. This reason was also often accompanied by there-is-truly-nothing-better-I-can-do-with-my-life. And it wasn't for the lack of imagination - it ACTUALLY is the best thing these people can do with their lives/talents. In the end, all of them are truly passionate about their research and all of them are AMAZING teachers (which in the end, at least I think so, it all comes down to). So, let me finish by finally arriving to what this babbling was all about - to give you another inspirational thought for your ''wisdom bowl'' from your peer PhD sufferer (wink-wink) and my oldest and dearest friend: ''It's always easier to find excuses not to do, than a reason to do.'' So, go girl! I bet you can find a couple good ones. XOXO
    P.S. the way I think it works and something to keep in mind when composing your two lists, is that one reason counts for three excuses, or something like that. ;)

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    1. It's always really helpful to hear that other people struggle with the same things you do. I guess I falsely suppose sometimes that I am only one going through this (i.e. everyone else has it all figured out!) Again, that's why I started this blog--in order to find the others like me! Your friend's quote about excuses?: I use that all the time when it comes to whether or not to go for a run or exercise...looks like it could work well in so many other areas. Thank you for sharing your friends' experiences. I also really like the idea of making two lists (of course I would!) xox

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  2. What I gleaned from your story is a new appreciation of tantrums.... one of the components that appear (inadvertently) to establish, clarify and build intention and commitment. Because tantrums (i.e. uncontrolled expressions of fear) often galvanize attention, mentally and physically I think they can be helpful. A useful blinking red light of warning. Not more than that.
    Thanks, once again, for facilitating a deeper understanding of life's perfection

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    1. Thank you for reminding me about the FEAR that is so much about what is being released in those tantrums. Yet another reason to embrace the process of making a change, for it is wise! xox

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