Saturday, November 28, 2009

Realization


After our first Thanksgiving holiday away from family, Chris and I have decided to prioritize. We moved to San Antonio for a job--Chris's job--and although both of us always wanted to escape the limitations of our Midwestern hometown (the lack of things to do in the evenings, the irritating familiarity of the flat landscapes) we realized this year just how thankful we are to have both found our way back to family.

It's funny how distance can do this. Even with the easy access of communication through cellular phones and Internet, the physical space between us and our family truly emphasized the importance of our relationships. Just as I spent much of my youth trying to run away from my family, Chris, too, remembers his own rebellion as a child. And now, our distance from them seers. It made us truly thankful this holiday.

We spent our Thanksgiving morning working with the San Antonio Food Bank, to put turkeys on tables for many of Texans who are in need this year. Our dinner was hosted by two friends, whose family we spent the night with, playing games and over-eating in the way only Americans know how. We had a great day, in all, and yet we missed, to no small extent, the very thing our youthful selves had run away from.

Americans are unique this way, putting individualistic and self-revelatory needs in front of familial relationships. This is especially the case for those who pursue higher education. It is almost as though to be valuable to society in this country (unless there is a family business or unlimited money) one must break away in order to fully reach potential. Whereas, in many other countries generations live together under one roof, working toward a collective goal and supporting each other even at the expense of individualistic dreams.

I think that there are benefits and costs to each way of life, but I will say that being away from family is tough now. This means a few things. It means that we're growing up, realizing the value of strong family ties. It means that our sacrifice puts in perspective our goals, and that in order to accommodate both our relationships and our careers, we will have to be somewhat successful. The fact that we couldn't afford to visit our family this year is not uncommon, and yet it is understandable.

I write this post with little focus today, more as a simple list of the things I am grateful for, albeit a few days late: I'm grateful to have a family to miss this holiday season. I'm grateful for our opportunity to pursue our dreams. Finally, I'm grateful for the hope that one day both our individualistic aspirations and our ability to connect with family on these all-important occasions will one day be possible--if only we work hard enough. If only we keep at it. I'm grateful for this change of perspective because new perspective is often necessary to feel such a level of thankfulness.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Not The Mama


A few years ago, I was discussing worldly philosophical things with my neighbor. I was enjoying our conversation on perception and how reality shifts with experience. Our conversation seemed objective and safe; we were considering the world at large when, out of nowhere, he said, "You know, Jen, you'll never feel complete unless you have children."

He said it casually; we were playing chess. Odds are, we were drinking, too. It was at a time in my life when drinking and chess made me quite happy, so I shrugged it off in that moment, saying he had no idea what he was talking about.  I was thoroughly fulfilled!  Right?  Our conversation was soon steered back to the general population.

My neighbor was a recovering addict who beat me, always beat me, when we played chess. I respected this and usually listened carefully to most of the advice he gave me, so when I returned home that night I was discontented and genuinely confused because I felt no desire to have kids, and yet here was a theory that I would never be a whole person until I reproduced. Could there be some truth here? After all, my neighbor was not coming from a place of anger or contempt; he delivered his message with what I believe to be genuine interest in my well being.

I'm thirty years old today, and I am childless. Many people accuse me of living as a younger person might: pursuing a writing career; living hand-to-mouth in a small apartment; making three trips each week to the grocery store, where I purchase frozen meals; having no equity and little in the way of savings. Nonetheless, I'm doing the best I can with the resources as my disposal. Further, I'm beginning to feel my age. And I have to say, I still have no desire to have a child. This is not because I'm successful in my career. Far from it. I'm always perplexed by women who say they want to put their career first. Life is always messy, so why does there have to be a pecking order to such things? I hold my family (husband, parents, sister, two grandmothers, dog and my cat) dear to my heart and would not sacrifice my relationships with them for anything. Yet, I don't have any inkling to expand that family, nor do I have any excuse as to why. I just don't want kids.

This might change, but right now it's how I feel and no tears have been shed since. I am thoroughly happy and fulfilled. And I wanted to make this statement publicly, just in case there is another woman out there who feels alone in her lack of maternal inclination. Feeling the way I do now in fact, I'll bet that if I ever meet this man again, he'd have a far tougher time putting me in check.

[The above illustration is from an early 90s TV show called "The Dinosaurs" The baby used to say "Not da Mama" repeatedly and bash his father over the head with a frying pan. It was quite the show!]

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Climate of Creativity


I grew up in Ohio, where the weather is as unpredictable as the number of cows you might see driving to work each day. One thing is guranteed, however: each winter it will snow. Down parkas will be worn and driving conditions will be challenging.

Having lived in Texas for a while now, I have shed my winter skin, so to speak. My blood has thinned to the point that I find myself shivering in 50 degree weather. And yet, there is a part of me that has begun to miss the cold, ice and snow. I've found myself less productive at home, more liable to run out into the sunshine and throw a frisbee that my dog will watch soar away before staring up at me as if to ask, "Why the hell did you just do that?" I'm far more willing to go out with friends on a warm evening, not to mention the fact that there are far more festivals and outdoor activities that tempt me (never been much on skiing or sledding, though I do miss the Toboggan Run near Cleveland).


So, is there a negative correlation here between my ability to put out pages of writing and the warmer climate? I wonder this as I sit today, at my computer, blocked on a project that I had planned to finish by the end of the year. Curiously, on a cold day here (again, 50 degrees) I wrote more words than I had the preceding week.

I haven't found much in the way of research about this subject. Climate & Creativity, but I did find an article about Innovation (business speak for creativity) and climate from which I found a passage that alluded to the fact that yes, climate does impact creative output. Unfortunately, said article won't be cited here because it was incredibly vague.

The number of creative writers living on the East Coast is fuel for my argument. But then, California is a counter-argument. I'm going to investigate this further as Chris and I discuss where to move... Then again, it really all boils down to where we can find jobs and cheap housing. Art can't be created without food, after all. And student loans loom like the fattest, most ominous winter storm clouds, even here in San Antonio.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Meditation On Marriage | Part Two |

[AFTER SIX MONTHS OF MARRIAGE]

It's been less than a year since I wrote the essay below [See Part One].

I have been married since 4/20/09

So... were my fears warranted or merely a reflection of my neurosis?

I think there's a strong argument for the later, but I am not one to impose thoughts on a reader. So, you be the judge. Here's an excerpt from a previous post:

Posted Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Usually, I do the dishes, take out the trash, clean the bathroom, and generally straighten up the apartment. In exchange, Chris does the laundry. Lately, however, my husband has been sleeping late, which means if we want our turn in the laundry rooms during the weekends, a competitive time for apartment laundry-doers, we have to get in early. In other words, I have to start the loads.

Yesterday, I hauled four loads down to the laundry room at 5AM, and as I threw clothes into the washer, haphazardly, the edge of a paper brushed my fingertip. It was a cluster of receipt paper in a pair of Chris's jeans; I pulled it out without thinking about it much (outside of some mild disappointment that it wasn't money).

When I got back to the apartment, I went to place the paper by Chris's keys, but then I noticed the writing. I got flashbacks, to men I've dated, whose pockets would likely contain a girl's phone number. Maybe two. It wasn't that I suspected Chris, but the scene itself had that bitter nostalgic taste.

As I looked at the papers closely, I felt wholly jealous. Immediately, Chris's first love mocked me in her foreign language. Yes, friends, Chris had furiously scrawled all over these papers--math problems. He was practicing Entropy on the backs of found receipts. At one time, I would have laughed, but now, after six years with Chris, I simply smiled. My husband is a workaholic.

My father, protective and understandably wary of my judgment had warned me before my marriage that, although he loved Chris, he saw definite signs of workaholism, and that it might cause problems down the line. Yet, at least right now, I find it endearing. I will never understand Chris's passion for Entropy, but I do appreciate it as he appreciates me, typing away with no regard for human life or existence around me, hours at a time. Right now, I think we're perfect for each other.


And, the current state of things, two months later?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Chris is currently on a business trip, the second this week, and I miss him. This could be considered evidence of his workoholism, or merely evidence of his company's trust in him as a representative. Either way, it's difficult for both of us when he travels so often: it means my schedule must adjust accordingly, to take proper care of the animals and ensure travel arrangements are in order. It means he is worn out and constantly making preparations. So, does this feel like a burden to me? Well...

Again, I miss him. But not too much. You see, I don't think love should be contingent on 24/7, in-your-face contact, but rather on a consistent amount of support and UNCONDITIONAL love. Sure, the husband has a few habits I'd like broken (fantasy football, cigarettes, TruTV...). And sure, there are a few things he wishes I would change (The amount of time I spend on the computer, the fact I don't cook, the fact that I forget to put on my wedding ring because I'm not used to wearing jewelry...) Moreover, I still find mathematical equations scribbled on loose sheets of paper; but hey, that's love in this house (apartment).

So far so good, right? Yeah, I think we're good. We're good.




Verdict: ___________

I'll post on this again at the one year mark.

(As Always, Gotta Peddle My Memoir... It has nothing to do with marraige, everything to do with a teenage runaway who makes a lot of bad decisions. If You Want a Copy, Buy It Here: MUSICAL CHAIRS (RATED R))

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Meditation On Marriage |Part I|

[POSTED ON OUR SIX MONTH ANNIVERSARY]
A Meditation on Marriage

The repetition and awkwardness of the question evoked irritation, something like the metal scrape of a dentist's pick as it moves along the gum line.

When’s the wedding?

I know it’s a fair question, a somewhat fair assumption. When two people are in a long-term relationship, the discussion of marriage seems inevitable. After all, when Chris was offered a better job out of town, I didn't think twice before stuffing my wardrobe into a few bags, giving away furniture—one television, two lamps, a bamboo rug, and an underutilized hall tree—and asking for a work transfer.

Chris and I were partners, but marriage wasn’t part of our formula. We didn’t want to ruin our relationship with a set of shiny rings and stamped approval from the state. We marveled at those who did. I say "we" but really, these were my thoughts, my impositions on our relationship. What I didn't know then was that Chris had other ideas.

I was eleven. It was 1990 and my mother was alone, sneaking a cigarette at the kitchen window before my father got home. I walked in. She exhaled out the window, the same way I would when I would turn fourteen and begin sneaking her cigarettes up to my room. Mom had combined the last of our ketchup, some bread crumbs, half an onion, a huge chunk of ground beef and a few eggs in a big bowl. She threw the oven mitt at me. “You can finish the meatloaf,” she said as she lit another cigarette.

When my father arrived home the meatloaf was in the oven, filling the house with the smell of onions and comfort. He said hello and walked upstairs to change. I helped Mom set the table. She sat, picking at her own plate as she watched my father eat his meal. He patted his stomach and burped.

“You're welcome,” Mom said. She meant it. I laughed. Meanwhile, Mom continued to watch my father closely as he ate. He never returned her gaze. He wouldn’t speak to her again during the meal.

I used to stare at the wall of our living room, which was adorned with my father's art. When they were still dating, Dad drew Mom’s body in sections, charcoal outlines of her thigh or the side of her arm, her waist, framed grayscale pictures. Those portraits were a series of framed mysteries. I didn't understand their symbolism, and I remember searching for familiar lines in the shading.

#

I was thrilled to see my father again, six months after the move. He has remarried since divorcing my mother almost fifteen years ago, but lately—only lately—he has begun telling me stories about his love affair with Mom. This day, he told me about the time the two took an entire summer to make things from scratch; they made cheese, bread, and three kinds of wine in their small apartment in Toledo, Ohio.

“That raisin wine was a chore,” he said. A dark piece of straight, limp hair fell low on his forehead and he pushed it back. “We drove all the way around the city, just looking for raisins. I think there was a grape shortage—the one summer I can remember in history that there has been a grape shortage! And we picked that summer to make our wine.”

Dad went on to say that for some reason, their goal was to fill a large plastic tub so as not to alter the recipe they had acquired—one that made a few gallons. As they slowly amassed the stock at various markets and grocers around the city, they only got more determined. They listened to loud music and laughed, kissed, sang.

“Man, that wine was nasty,” he said. “But we did it.” Dad laughed, looking toward reminiscence; that spot another’s eyes can’t quite trace.

When I asked Mom about the wine a few days later, she laughed without pause. “You're father and I drove around all day. We were on a mission and we weren't going to give up for anything.”

I told Chris about the wine. He suggested we try it. We purchased 1 lb of sugar, 2lbs of raisins, and a lemon.

“Why are we doing this?” I asked.

“It’s fun,” he said, reaching for the instructions by my computer screen. “We add 6 quarts of boiling water to these ingredients then we just have to stir it every day. In a month, we’ll have wine.” Chris kissed me on the cheek, and reminded me that they probably just did it wrong.

We stood in the kitchen, hovering over a large glass bowl. I instructed Chris to stir as I poured. I noticed that his beard is growing back in, shading his jaw. I've always found this stage of a beard attractive on him, masculine, natural and fleeting. He has to keep a clean-shave for his job, so this look is a rarity, reserved for long weekends and holidays.

“I can’t guarantee this will be good,” I said, handing him a wooden spoon.

Chris bent his knees until his eyes were in-line with my own. He rested his arm on my shoulder and I could feel the length of the spoon down my back. “Then again, maybe it’s worth a shot.”

Copyright © Jennifer Lynn Knox

To Read My Memoir, Click MUSICAL CHAIRS

Friday, November 6, 2009

Happy News


San Antonio news is rather different than Columbus news. For instance, rather than wearing suits and immovable coiffed hair (both men and women) as the new anchors do in Ohio, in Texas, news anchors often look as though they have yet to change clothes after getting home from the club at 3AM. I've also noticed, since living in Texas, that there are an inordinate number of UFO and ghost stories reported. Honestly, I find this fantastic.

I say fantastic because it becomes more difficult to take the local news seriously after the second or third "Ghosts are overtaking the Alamo" news report. But with a lighter take on the news, the stories are much easier to swallow. After all, it can become overwhelming to watch the local news each day, only to hear about the increasing numbers of homelessness and school closings, murders and the latest tainted beef on our supermarket shelves. Instead, a good UFO over Wal-Mart story can be refreshing (this was an actual story here in SA, a year or so ago...).

I did a little research about the variation of news reportage, styles, stories, crime rates vs. crime reported... and I realized that there are definite cultural divides throughout America. Some towns are downright sheltered from the gritty news whereas other communities get to hear it all. I think it's important to know what is really going on, but since newspapers are ridiculously expensive now, and news is everywhere, I suggest we all get our news online.

That said, I think that too much real news is difficult to take. So, from time to time, I take a break. I found this site: HAPPY NEWS which accomplishes the refreshing break from bad news, while reporting credible stories. Just thought I'd share....

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Jen Knox Discusses her new memoir: Musical Chairs

(I was only a little bit awkward...)

Jen Knox Discusses her new memoir: Musical Chairs

Moving On (Maybe...)

I realized that this blog was beginning to have a rather narrow scope. The publication journey has been at the forefront of my mind. That said, I'm done reading reviews for a while and instead, I have entered this silly Nanowrimo thing. I call it silly because it's ridiculous to sell the idea that a person could write a real book in a month. But, a person can certainly write 60,000 words in a month--and I plan to do just that. Hopefully those 60,000 words will become a novel down the line. And, they will be a pleasant distraction from my lecture, grad reading, and daily work life. If nothing else, this should be interesting...

In the meantime, I turn to one of my new inspirations (I'm about thirty years late arriving at many of the greats) Piri Thomas, who, when asked how he began writing his memoir about growing up in Spanish Harlem, he said:

"I learned that in writing you could get it out of you... I said to the paper, 'Paper I'm going to tell you a story.' That's how Down these Mean Streets. was born."

What better way to write?

[interview excerpt from "In Motion Magazine." The rest can be read here: http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/ptinter1.html]

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Some People Would Be More Comfortable If I Were A Victim


I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. --Audre Lorde

I thought I'd share this quote as it pertains to my current dilemma: misunderstanding. You see, I worked diligently to write, to express a tough story without whining, crying or playing the victim. And yet there are some people who think I am holding back, that there was some sort of sexual abuse in my past that led to the stories that make up my memoir. The fact is, there wasn't. Women are capable of making bad decisions all on our own, without first being victimized. I am the poster child of this fact.

For some, it's far easier to claim we are easy targets, victims, incapable of making our own bad decisions. Many readers have recognized and acknowledged my attempt to own up, to examine my personal quest, but there are a few who think they can read deeper into the meaning of my words, that I'm secretly calling out for help. I have to be honest, this worries me. And, it offends me.

I'm here to say, I do not regret writing my memoir, nor do I regret publishing it. I am somewhat bruised by those who assume I was a victim of this or that, but it won't shut me up. In fact, it gives me fuel to keep writing, to explore more fully the human condition in all it's shaded, difficult to draw contours. Not everything is black and white, clean lines. This makes life both beautiful and difficult, and I will continue to exercise my ability to capture this shading, to try to communicate my personal experience of the world without being so easily pigeonholed.

For those who misunderstand, you keep me going. My goal is to capture that gray shading and communicate it to those who are convinced everything is black. Or white. Good or bad. Predator or prey. Hardly.

This is why I write. It is also why I read. I want to better relate to what I do not yet know, what I have not experienced first-hand or that which I have and do not yet fully understand. So, I'll continue to write, to practice my craft and hope that I can better communicate what it is like to live and watch and empathize as the individual woman I am, without being filtered into a neat, comfy category that says I am X, the direct result of Y. Things aren't always that simple.

***Since posting this, I spoke with the reviewer who theorized about my being molested as a young child. He admitted that he was rash to speculate, and he has since retracted that sentence. He was incredibly professional about it. This illustrates some of the perils of memoir, I'd say... the writer invites assumption and speculation.
Also notable is the fact that my father read the original post, which he was hurt by but also less reactive to than I would have imagined. He was rather stoic, actually, when he told me that this happens when you put yourself out there. And he's right. A memoirist might appeal to some sense of humanity in those who can relate, but to others she can be just another story... The End.

Observations: February 2018

I spent a bit of January in San Francisco, San Jose, and Sunnyvale. The rest of the month was a blur of snow, work, family, and writing. In ...