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side notes August 30, 2011

Filed under: adult fun,family fun,kids — courtsbrogno @ 11:40 am

I talk in circles. This is part of me being an ENFP, my communication style, or so I’ve been told. But this must be frustrating for many of my friends and family, and it’s been like this since I was a kid.  My stories almost never follow a linear path; I often make digressions and if I come full circle then it’s after a long stretch of intermittent stories, and even I am surprised when I make my way back to my main point. This is also how I teach. Somehow, though,  it must not be too bad because I still have friends and I have yet to be fired from my job.

The real hindrance is not when I’m telling a story to a friend or teaching a class; it’s when I’m trying to fit all the pieces of my life into a longer story, even–and especially–if that story is in my head, being told to myself as I turn and mull over some new development, trying to make a connection or see the bigger picture. Or trying to sum up a week or two in a blog post. Sometimes, I wonder: where do I start, what should go in the middle, and how to end???

Because everything in life has a beginning, middle, and end, but putting all the pieces together coherently can be difficult for me.  Which is why I often make side notes. I almost always have a notebook with me and when I have a thought–whatever it may be about: a song I liked on the radio, a teaching idea, a moment of self-discovery–I jot it down in my notebook, and consider it a side-note of my life. This has proved helpful in so many ways, but I’m still surprised at how often I look at my side notes and think, “well, why’d I write that down?”

A loopy circle my brain makes.

Because these past few weeks have been so disorderly, or maybe not disorderly so much as disjointed, I’m going to share my side notes of life from the past few weeks and hopefully they’ll make some sense (but probably not).

Starting with getting back into a regular schedule and going back to school. Maddie had her first day at school as a 7th grader. It’s so hard to believe that she’s already in junior high. Well, technically, she’s at the same school and campus she’s attended since she was 3 1/2, but this year the big change is that she doesn’t have to wear a uniform. She was so excited to finally wear “cute clothes” to school. Me? I’m not so happy. I spent quite a bit of money increasing her wardrobe, the dress code is pretty limited (no jeans, no leggings, no tee-shirts, no cargo pants) so finding appropriate outfits has been a struggle, and the worst, the absolute worst is having to deal with Maddie in the morning, waking up at 6:15 to try on at least three-four outfits before she picks one.

  • Side note: Luke and I can easily sleep until 9a.m. if given the opportunity. Maddie going back to school means we have to wake up at 7:30, so I can make her lunch and drive her. But what’s worse is that she’s waking both Luke and I up even earlier to ask how her outfits look. It’s driving me crazy and even Luke is getting a little cranky about it. I bet he even wishes for uniforms again.

Along with new clothes, Maddie has been begging–begging–for a pair of TOMS shoes. I promised her I’d get her a pair after summer, when school started, and then I just splurged and bought a pair for the entire family.

  • Side note: I’m not gonna lie: TOMS are probably the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn and it’s taking all my will power not to buy a pair in every color.

To celebrate Maddie going back to school, I took her out for a late breakfast, just the two of us, hanging out in our beautiful downtown, people watching.

With Maddie gone, I’ve been walking Luke downtown to a small coffee shop. I have coffee; he has hot chocolate.

I think the best part of this week was a gift from my Aunt Linda: a new mattress! I have never, ever had a new mattress.

  • Side note: The mattress I have been sleeping on was my parents’ old mattress, around 8 years old. The mattress before? I’m not even kidding when I say it was the bed my great-grandpa died in. Long story.

Aunt Linda just kindly offered to buy me a new mattress, well, just because. She said the last time she was in town and she slept on my bed, she was incredibly uncomfortable.

  • Side note: I think she’s lying. I think she just bought me the mattress to be nice.

This new mattress is incredible.  No longer to I roll over to one side because the mattress is indented. No longer is my back in a kink. No longer…well, anything really. I just fall into this luxurious bed and feel like I’m being held by a cloud. I. am.not.even.exaggerating.

  • Side note: O.K. Maybe I’m exaggerating a little. I mean, being held by a cloud is a little hyperbolic. Maybe being held by an angel from heaven, floating above all the world’s problems fits better. Still too much?

Luke loves sleeping next to me and I love that he’s not falling right into me because of the uneven bed from before. Even Maddie has been sneaking into bed with Luke and I.

  • Side note: Which is so annoying to me since we’re all crowded together; Maybe I should have bought a cal-king.

The three of us have also been doing some hiking. I feel like we took a little hiatus from hiking because we were traveling so much, but two days in a row we went with friends. The first time we went with Megan and three of her sons:

(Luke walked the entire way all by himself. It’s only the second time he’s done it. I am so proud!)

(Always a cow. The boys climbed up on the rock to watch the cow and little Luke stayed a bit behind, curious but also fearful).

  • Side note: He gets that from me, I think. Maddie too. Curious and scared. Always a combination.

The following day we went on the same hike with my friend Allison and her two kids, Seth and Olivia.

This time Luke barely walked any of the hike and spent most of his time on my back. Lucky kid.

  • Side note: Unlucky back. He’s getting too big for this.

And we saw another cow, but this time it was a bull, quietly munching on poison oak.

  • Side note: Lucky cow. I cringe whenever I see poison oak, my only arch-nemesis.

(Look at those horns!)

Both my kids can be such complainers when it comes to getting ready to leave for a hike, but once we’re there, walking together, we all seem to have a good time, and going with friends and their kids makes it even better.

What my kids do love, however, is a good party.

  • Side note: SO DO I!

And a good party we had at Melanie’s son, Charlie’s, 4th birthday party.

(Happy birthday Charlie Roy!)

(Pinata time!)

(Opening presents!)

(The whole gang)

I’ve said it before, but I love Melanie and her husband Derek’s parenting style. They’re so low-key and fun and this party was a perfect reflection of them. Kids ran around, having fun; adults mingled and drank wine. And everything was casual and easy (OK, easy to me. Mel might tell a different story). I think the testament of a good part is how comfortable your guests feel, and I could’ve stayed all night. But I did have a moment of wanting to strangle Derek when he brought out this great big suitcase of musical instruments for Luke to play with.

  • Side note: I don’t even care of this makes me a bad parent, but my ears, my ears!!! Luke can only make so much noise before I feel my body tense up and my resilience eroding.

On my own time, I’ve had some pretty fun nights, starting with the best book club ever. We met to discuss the book, House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton.

I remember reading Age of Innocence when I was in college and loving it, and though I’m usually a quick reader, I lugged through this book, and I could not get into any of the characters.

  • That’s a lie. I loved Selden.

I especially hated Lily Bart. Spoiler Alert: When she dies at the end, I was relieved.

  • Side note: My book club seemed to think I was a terrible person for saying this, but I don’t even care. She drove me up the wall.

But our discussion was so lively and spirited and we were all talking at once during a few moments and it was just so much fun. Maybe it was the wine, or how we clashed on our feelings about the book, or even our new member Joe, but I felt electric and really alive during the meeting.

  • Side note: What probably made this book club even more fun was that after we discussed House of Mirth, we discovered, as people looked through their smart phones, that Edith Wharton wrote smut–SMUT!–late in life.  Well, really what she wrote is erotica. Here’s an excerpt:  “One by one they gained her bosom, and she felt her two breasts pointing up to them, the nipples hard as coral, but sensitive as lips to his approaching touch. And now his warm palms were holding each breast as if in a cup, clasping it, modeling it, softly kneading it, as he whispered to her, ‘Like the bread of the angels.'”
      • Side note to side note: Are you just dying? The “bread of angels”!!! If some man said this to me, I’d burst out laughing and have to leave the room. And this, from the first Pulitzer prize female writer! I mean, look at her portrait:

With the idea of erotica in his mind, my friend Andy is on his way to Burning Man and decided to dye his hair white for the occasion. Actually, he asked me to dye his hair, and since I’ve never bleached anyone’s hair before, I eagerly accepted the challenge.

  • Side Note: Like putting a bottle of hair dye is really challenging?!?

Then Andy, Marnie, and I all went out for drinks and had a great time.

  • Side note: Marnie has the best cheekbones ever! I’m so jealous of them.

I also saw my friend Reese play at a coffee shop and she did a great version of “Fever,” but only after I harassed her to sing it. But she does it so.damn.well.

  • Side note: Yes, she is reading the lyrics off her phone, but I kind of think that makes the song even more endearing.

And then I saw Niko Vega play, and it was one of the best shows I’ve seen in such a long time.

  • Side note: I came across this show rather randomly. I had seen it advertised and made a mental note to go, but then I forgot, and then I was on a date…

More on that later….

  • And it ended rather early, and I was wandering around downtown by myself, when I remembered the show, and decided to go by myself, and had no problem what-so-ever doing that but ran into Derek (Melanie’s husband!) and he was going to the show alone as well and so we went together and had the best time ever rocking out to Nico Vega.

Whom I have a girl crush on now.

Such stage presence! Such command of the audience! I wish I had taken a video, and actually I did but the lighting was horrible, but check out her video, Gravity (this songs for the ladies. For all the feminists I know):

She’s good, isn’t she?

Finally, onto my date. The thing is, I have been dating, or at least, on dates. And I’ve mostly written about it in the abstract for this blog because it’s rather personal.

  • Side note: And really, with modern technology as it is, I don’t want someone I’ve been on a date with to google my name and have my blog come up and our date explained as public knowledge. Though, I’m pretty sure if you google my name, this blog won’t come up, but still.

However, I’m going to break my rule and talk about this one date because I think it forces a pretty important question about dating and who we (I) am attracted to.

So the date: It was a blind date. But I knew a few things about him: he’s a bit older than me, a single dad, a teacher, a surfer, and I had been told, a really cool, chill guy. So we met for drinks, and he was all of the above and more. And he was handsome and smart to boot. What I really liked about him was how honest and unassuming he was and how he spoke with such love for his daughter. And we had a really, really good time. And I even met him for breakfast the next day.

  • Side note: That is not a euphemism for us spending the night together. We didn’t. I swear.

But the thing is, we had no chemistry what-so-ever. Which brings me to the point of chemistry and the brain. Basically, the heart vs. the mind. In my past, I’ve had it both ways:

  1. I’ve dated a man who I had incredible physical chemistry with but I knew in my mind that we weren’t meant to be together, but that physical chemistry kept us together, even when we knew the relationship was falling apart.
  2. I’ve dated (and, married!!!!) a man that I had NO physical chemistry with because my mind said, “He’s so good. Look at him on paper. You need this man in your life. He will be good for you.” And well, that all just fell apart too. because when the physical chemistry isn’t there, then there really isn’t anything to hold the relationship together. there’s no glue for the paper.
  • Side note: Is it surprising that I dated these men after each other? So after the relationship that had incredible physical chemistry, I had the relationship without chemistry. I told myself, after the passionate relationship, that physicality wasn’t important, so I went with my brain. Which wasn’t smart either.

The whole point is that somehow the heart and the mind must meet in the middle. I need to have both. And I knew, especially after our breakfast date, that I couldn’t date this man again because there wasn’t any physical chemistry.

  • Side note: This was to the great upset of several of my friends who had high hopes for this date (I did too, actually), and I heard many comments about giving it more time, that the physical isn’t as important as the practical, but I’m sorry, I just beg to differ. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that I won’t compromise for what looks good on paper. The glue–the glue–is so important as well.

And I kind of mourned this realization because something inside of me kind of thought, “Well, you’ll probably be alone forever then. Because how in the world are you going to find someone this good (on paper. Oh, and actually, in person as well) who will accept you for all your quirks and the whole single mom thing and the two different dad things, etc.”

  • Side note: Que small, tiny violin. For this moment was a narcissistic pity party for myself.

But then I also thought, “Hot damn. I will find someone. I’m kick ass. And if I don’t, then I’d rather be alone than sacrifice something that I know I need.”

  • Side note: Que Rocky theme music. For this was a narcissistic ego-boosting moment for myself.

Either way, it’s a hard balance, and I’m not quite sure how to maintain it, especially since I haven’t found the right balance yet.

  • Side note: Which does kind of worry me, I have to admit. It makes me wonder if my standards are too high? But no, that can’t be it, can it?

But I guess I’ll keep trying and hoping and believing that there is someone who will be a fit for me.

  • Side note: And please notice that i didn’t say “perfect” fit because I’m not so naive to think that there’s anyone perfect out there.

We’ll see what happens.

So the side notes of my life are what keep me realizing that even if my mind meanders an odd path to knowledge–of the world, of my kids, of my friends, of myself–I still have the ability to pull all this life information together, to form something out of chaos, and to make meaning when sometimes everything seems so meaningless.

The side notes to life, perhaps–for me, at least–keep my head out of the clouds, keep me focused, and I guess, really make me who I am.

  • Side note: Which is messy I guess.

oh, inverted world August 18, 2011

Filed under: adult fun,family fun,self-discovery,work — courtsbrogno @ 10:48 am

The title of this blog post is outright and unabashedly  plagiarized from The Shins 2001 album. Did I like the album? Yes. Did I love the album? No, love is too strong of a word. Did I love the title? One of the best I’ve ever seen. Does it sum up these past few weeks?

Without a doubt.

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of life, in all its forms–good and bad–tumbling and crashing and exploding in great bursts of energy and insight and awareness and quite frankly, pure terror. It’s like everything I know to be true about my life has somehow been turned upside down. Oh, it’s an inverted world I’m inhabiting. A different world. But I think, I hope, I’ll be just fine.

It all started with almost four entire days of no kids. Luke went with his dad to Seattle and my parents and Aunt Judy took Maddie. From Saturday around noon to Tuesday, 3p.m. I had no one to be responsible for but myself. I had been looking forward to this little break for a month, and I dreamed of how absolutely wonderful it would be to have time to myself, time to write, time to play with friends. I had a lot planned and I took advantage of every minute during this time period. What I didn’t expect to happen, however, was a full blown self-awareness attack of who I am. The long days of freedom gave me time to think, to let the past few months of introspection and therapy come blasting through me with full force. Which kind of beat me up and knocked me down for a while. But, like any true fighter, I got up again, dusted myself off, and realized how thankful I am for the change, this new inverted world.

But first, the freedom without kids began with a night out with my friend Jenny. She left her kids and husband and joined me for some dinner and drinks and conversation. The coffee shop I love (LOVE!!) was having a grand opening of their new, bigger location and it was invite only, but since I’m a regular (and habitually buy their $3 coffees), I got a ticket to the party and took Jenny. It was such a cool party. We felt very VIP.

Besides meeting some new people and seeing some friends, I also got to hang out with Reese, one of my favorite people.

Reese played a set for the grand opening and even though Jenny and I missed seeing her perform, we still had a blast talking. Plus, since I got there after her set, Reese promised she’d play for me at my house. And Reese, I’m holding you to that promise. I see a party at my house in the near future with you as the headlining band.

But the greatest part of the night was hanging with Jenny, my love of a friend if ever there was.

(How is it possible that this woman has 3 kids?)

The following day, I went up to Big Sur to relax and write. Initially I had planned on just camping ,but my dad and sister annoyed me so much with their fears of me being raped or eaten by a bear while camping alone in Big Sur (silly, since in the middle of summer you’re really never alone in Big Sur. There are always a million people camping right next to you) that I started looking for a possible cabin to rent but there were none available, so I went back to my decision to just camp. But then I decided that I really wanted to spend my time away writing rather than hiking and reading and with that came the realization that I’d need electricity, so I called again and again until I lucked out and found a cabin the someone had just canceled on. Their loss. My good luck.

So away I went to Big Sur Campground and Cabins.

And checked into a cute little cabin:

And before I even started writing, I did take a walk along the river and in the river:

I think Big Sur is my favorite place on earth, and while I haven’t been to that many places on earth, I just know deep down that no other place can compare. There’s something so remote and quiet and tranquil about the area. And when looking up through the trees, surrounded by natural beauty, I just feel awe stuck.

But as the light began to fade, I went back to the cabin, plugged in my lap top and started writing. It was so quiet: no cell phone reception, no distant laughter of a neighbor, no kids calling for me, no cars driving through my neighborhood, no internet to distract me.

And maybe it was this quiet stillness that inverted my world because suddenly I kind of understood the path I’ve been on. Much of this has to do with having a good therapist, writing out a semi-autobiographical novel (I use that word loosely), and even having some pretty emotional, deep, tear-filled talks with Garth about our relationship. It also has to do, I’m sure, with having a significant amount of time without my kids, but in a matter of two minutes, I felt incredibly vulnerable.

Which is so vague. And it’s been something that I’ve been wondering about and have even written about in this blog. I know I’m not vulnerable. I know I put up walls. I know where this stems from. I know this is something I have to change. But it’s like I said in my post here when I asked my friend Melanie, “well how do I be more vulnerable?” and she gave me an amazing answer that I wrote about. Because I really don’t know what being vulnerable means.  And I’ve asked everyone:  my friends and therapist, “what do you mean by being vulnerable?” And for a while I thought it just meant being willing to get hurt or taking a risk. But I still wasn’t quite sure. After all, as a woman, a single, working mom, aren’t I already vulnerable?

But sitting in Big Sur, I realized that none of that is what being vulnerable is about. For me, at least. For me, to be vulnerable is to let someone else take care of me, to be willing to be taken care of. This is the big mystery for me. When I stare at cute married couples and wonder how they do it, what I’m really wondering is how does that woman let that man take care of her and her kids and her problems. How do you give that up? And what this is also all about is letting go of control for me. And I never thought I was a controlling person and I’m definitely not controlling in the “my way or highway” kind of way, but I have taken absolute control of my life. I don’t have to share with anyone, I rarely have to compromise, and in many subtle ways, it is my way or the highway. I have sheltered and structured my life so that no one can come in.

As I sat in the cabin, drinking a cup of tea, I started looking back on my life and I saw that since I was a little kid I was taking care of myself and then at 23 I was taking care of Maddie and now I’m taking care of Luke too. And then it hit me, who’s been taking care of me? And I don’t mean this in a feel-so-sorry-for-me kind of way because I have lots of friends and family who love me and surround me and help me, but that is not the same as letting people really into my life and letting them take care of me, hold me, care for me. I abhor having to reach out and say I can’t do something, and I always thought this was just my pride. My pride at being a kick-ass single mom, a working woman who gets shit done, a can do anything if I set my mind to it person.

But really what this has made me is incredibly lonely and empty inside, and that’s how I felt as I got into my car the next day to drive home: lonely and empty. Like I hadn’t been filled up in so long that I didn’t even know how dry my well had become. How absolutely exhausting it is to care, care, care for my children and my house and my pets and my students and to come home at the end of the night and not have someone to care for me. And the biggest kicker is that I’d done this to myself. Ask Garth, he’ll tell you how hard he tried to be that person, but I would never let him in. In fact, ask almost any past boyfriend, good friend, or even my family. They’ll attest to this truth. The walls I put up may have protected me from a lot of past childhood pain, but they haven’t helped me in becoming a healthy person, a woman really.

So that is what being vulnerable is for me. And when that realization hit me, I just felt so beaten up and deflated and confused and really, really just sad. So I got back from my trip, went out to dinner with my best friend Denise, and did some more writing. But everything felt surreal and hazy and confusing.

And I didn’t know what to do, so I did what I always do when I’m confused, I got the hell out of dodge.

I got my babies back, kissed them both a million times because I really did miss them,  packed up the car, and headed down to southern California to visit some good friends and family.

I stayed with my best friend Jill and her husband and son.

We spent a lot of time talking and catching up because I haven’t seen Jill since my birthday and I don’t think I’ve seen Greg, her husband, since last October. We also went to the beach, the one thing I miss about southern California. Jill decided to take me to Strands, the beach that I spent most of my summer days as a kid. It’s in Dana Point, and to get there, we would park (or take the bus) our cars on a cul-de-sac, walk across an empty field, climb through a hole in a fence, and walk down a windy, steep trail until the sand touched our feet. The great, warm ocean spread out in front of us, and there were few people there. Mostly just surfers and younger kids, like us, who didn’t mind walking back up that steep trail when our beach day was over. The only houses were up the hill, across the street, and they were pretty modest town homes.

But when Jill took me to Strands what I saw was a completely different place. Long gone is the steep cliff and windy trail. Wealth and commercialization have taken over this once sacred spot of my youth. Now, instead of walking down, you can take an inclinator. I’m not even kidding.

Yes, there are steps for people to take down as well, but it’s like California wants to keep people out of shape since most beach goers seemed to be waiting for the free ride. And the beach! The once empty beach now has million dollar homes right on the sand. There’s still public access, of course, but when I look behind me and see monstrous homes, pangs of nostalgia for an empty cliff side purl in my stomach.

Regardless of the homes and the destruction of natural beauty, we still had a wonderful time at the beach, playing in the sand and the warm, warm water and  meeting up with some old friends.

(Luke loving the soft sand)

(Jill. Oh how I love her.)

(Ryan drove down and met us at the beach. Luckily, I’ll see him in a few weeks again. We have a weekend road trip planned!)

(My good, good friend Kurt. I’ve been friends with Kurt since I was 15, and I haven’t seen him in over a year. And he’s getting married in April to a wonderful girl, and while I’m happy for him, I’m also feeling sorry for myself. Kurt’s always been my go-to guy when I need a date for a wedding, a reunion, a party. And now he’ll no longer be my date. He’ll have a better date always–his wife. But I’m feeling a bit elegiac about this. Selfish, I know.)

While we were in the O.C., I dropped Maddie off at her grandparents’ house so she could spend some time with them. They are truly the best grandparents ever, and as my unofficial in-laws (since Maddie’s dad and I never married), I feel so fortunate to have them in our lives. They have been living in Italy for the past year (for business, though they’re also having tons of fun), and we haven’t had a chance to see them since October. Maddie stayed with them for 2 days and they took her to Disneyland and she got to play with her cousin, Leah, now 8 months old.

(Maddie and Leah)

(Maddie at Disneyland with Grandma Amy and Grandpa Cliff)

Luke missed Maddie so much that I spoiled him: I took him to Toys R Us and bought him some new  toys. Toys can’t replace his sister, but they do help distract him.

After a great couple of days with Jill and friends, I packed the car up and took the kids to L.A. to spend some time with my family, and generally just enjoy relaxing.

(All my aunts! Aunt Jo, Aunt Debbie, Aunt Linda! LOVE THESE LADIES!!!)


It was especially important for us to be down in L.A. because my cousin Hana was visiting from Japan and we only get to see her once a year if we’re lucky. I still remember when she was born, but she’s 18 now, and my God, she is just gorgeous.

We had a big family BBQ that was fun.

Big props goes to my Aunt Jo who is, and always has been, the family photographer and takes amazing pictures.

I left L.A. on Monday with a heavy heart, not quite ready to go back home. Mostly this was because I had to teach my first class on Tuesday evening and not only was I not prepared to teach, but I didn’t feel mentally prepared to go back to work. I also wasn’t really feeling like I wanted to face some of the feelings I had wrestled with in Big Sur. Getting out of Dodge was awesome and really helped me clear my mind, or ahem, ignore it, but I had a long drive ahead of my with nothing to do but think. And I really didn’t have the energy to go there.

So I didn’t. Instead, I thought about my class. I made a scary decision toward the middle of summer, but also an incredibly good decision. I dropped a class at the community college. This is scary because community colleges are getting hit hard with budget cuts and while I’ve been safe for the past few years, I really don’t know if there will be classes for me in the Spring, so teaching 2 classes in the fall seems not only like a blessing, but also a good way to save a little money just in case I don’t get classes. On the other hand, though, I was scheduled to teach 2 classes at the community college and 4 classes at the university: that’s 6 composition classes total. I did this last fall and I about had a mental break down. Plus, I had no social life what-so-ever. My entire life revolved around grading. Even my kids were often pushed to the side as I read essay after essay. Furthermore, I got a terrible schedule this fall, and I basically was teaching Monday-Thursday from noon-8p.m That’s just ridiculous with two kids.So I gave up one class at the community college (the terrible 6-8p.m. class), and even though I’m a bit worried about money, my stress level is already down, and I feel like my work load will allow time for my kids and my social life.

But I also made another huge decision. I decided not to use a textbook in my class. I’m so tired of the high prices and they all seem so prescriptive. If I tell my students NOT to repeat their thesis in their conclusion (and you never, ever should…uless of course, your essay is going to be over, say, 30 pages long…and even then I wouldn’t advise this.) inevitable every writing textbook will tell them to repeat their thesis. And that’s just ridiculous.And it pisses me off. At the beginning of summer, when I made this decision, I felt all confident, like, “of course I can do this. I’ve been teaching writing for almost 10 years. I don’t need a textbook!”

But then, on the drive home, I had a serious panic attack. What was I thinking? What was I going to do for 18 weeks with these kids without a textbook? And why, why, why do I always wait until the last minute to plan out my semester???

So I thought and had Maddie jot down some notes about what I was thinking and I just drove. I dropped Luke off at his dad’s and I dropped Maddie off at my sister’s and I took a shower, opened my computer and got to work. I finished my syllabus, my August calendar, and had a pretty good plan of what to do for the first few weeks.

On Tuesday, I set out to campus to teach.

I walked into my class, and I took roll and went over the syllabus, and answered questions and then I did something I’ve never done before. I wrote the word “reading” on one white board and the word “writing” on another white board and told my class to get up, go to the board, and write one thing they hated about each word. This is what I got.

While I took pictures of their comments, I asked them to take 5 minutes and write–anonymously–what they feared most from this class (at least what they feared after hearing me describe the class and read the syllabus). Their responses are pretty typical: fear of failing, losing interest, missing too many classes and getting dropped (I have an attendance policy), etc.

I’ve made a list of the top 6 or 7 writing and reading dislikes as well as what they fear from the class. I think I’m going to structure my class around this. I think I’ll tackle each fear/dislike and show them how to tackle it. Well, I’ll give them tools to help them. It’s a new way for me to teach a class, but I feel like it’s much more student-focused, like I can answer their questions and fears without first imposing what I already know to be wrong with their writing in general (and not that I’m all so knowing or amazing, but after teaching the same class for 7 years, I know the general writing problems they have).

Oh, this inverted classroom, we’ll see if it works. but I guess if I fail, at least I can say I tried something new. I hope.

So my teaching methods have changed and I will stand in a classroom later today with no clear map and I will feel fear and anxiety, but I think this may be good. For me and the students.

And as I sat in therapy, and explained to my therapist all that I had realized while in Big Sur and all that I had ignored while in Southern California, he just looked at me and smiled and nodded.

“I’m on my fucking edge, Tom,” I said. “I’m on my fucking edge.”

And I was crying. And I believe this may be the very first time I cried in therapy with Tom. And he just kept smiling.

And then he said, “Good.”

And I looked at him like he was crazy and I said, “But Tom, I don’t like being on the fucking edge.”

And he said, “O.K. then stop.”

And then I realized that I couldn’t just stop. Nor did I want to. How can I have this great feeling, this great scary feeling of being alone and being unsure and knowing that I can blame no one but myself, and then go back. Go back to being sheltered? And controlling? And closed off? No, I can’t do that. Letting myself open up, allowing myself to be cared for by friends and family, now that’s really difficult. But it’s also better than the alternative.

Even if I feel unsure and fucked up and kind of off balance.

And as Tom sat there smiling, it dawned on me that he knew this about me the whole time, probably since our second meeting and that he had guided me, gently at times, roughly at others, to this point. My edge. And I kind of wanted to hit him because why couldn’t he just have told me this months ago. But then I also realized how many people in my life had been telling me this for years–how hardened and impenetrable I was–and I had ignored them. No not really ignored them. I had listened, but I didn’t understand what it meant.

Now I do. I had to get there on my own. So then I wanted to hug and kiss Tom out of gratefulness, but that would be wildly inappropriate, and I’m also a little peeved because I’m still on this fucking edge and I’m not sure where to go from here. And maybe I won’t go anywhere. Maybe I’ll just reside here for a short while and see how it feels. I won’t, I hope. creep back from the edge.

My world may be inverted, and I may have to finally deal with this overwhelming sense of loneliness, but it’s definitely more interesting and more unfamiliar and ultimately more untouched than anything I’ve ever had in my past.

I think I can deal with that.


blissed out lazy summer days August 5, 2011

Filed under: books and reading,family fun,friends,kids — courtsbrogno @ 1:48 pm

I have finally found my summer stride and all this means is that I’m feeling rather peaceful and really, really lazy. For example,  I usually have a really clean house (as noted on several of my blog posts) and take advantage of every free moment I have to do the house “extras”: cleaning out closets, fixing up the backyard, doing something for work.

But this summer, I’m doing none of that. Don’t get me wrong, I still clean my house, but instead of a good cleaning every other day, I’m waiting until the last possible moment to bust out the broom and mop. But by forgoing my neurotic cleaning, I’m actually enjoying summer a lot more. The kids and I have almost perfected the art of lounging in our PJs, meals come when we decide we’re hungry rather than on any timed or planned schedule, and basically, we’re just playing a whole lot.

I have also perfected the art of procrastination this summer. I had planned so many projects to do this summer–changing an entire class structure in one comp class I teach, working with a couple of learning communities, quilting a few quilts–and I’ve done almost nothing. Even this blog has been put on the back burner of things I need to do. Surprisingly I am feeling no guilt what-so-ever about this. Even when Christine, my adorable roomie for the summer, came up to me the other day with a pouting face and said, “when are you going to write your blog post? I really miss it,” I just smiled and said, “soon.” And so this has become my summer mantra, “I’ll get around to it when I feel like it.”

Feels pretty damn good.


I can’t tell you how many amazing beach days we’ve had. It’s so nice to hop into the car, drive 10 minutes, and be at the beach, relaxing. I must admit, I get a little smug when I meet a stranger who tells me about how much she likes vacationing here. In a moment of schadenfreude, I smile and say, “I know; I’m so fortunate,” but what I really want to say is “Fuck yeah, sucka!”


Maddie asked if she could give me a pen tattoo. I said sure. This is what she tattooed on my thigh:


My dad’s sister, our dear Aunt Judy, just got into town from New Jersey. She’ll be here for 10 days and we’re all so excited and thankful.


My brother also came back into town. He’s been living in Hawaii for the past year and a half, and I haven’t seen him since he moved. We only got to see him for a few days because he’s moving to the Bay area, but I was thrilled to have him back. He’s cool, funny, insightful, and damn, do I just love him so much. We’re pretty close and I can–and do–tell him everything, so having him back stateside and close by makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

To celebrate his return, I invited a bunch of friends over for a big dinner. It was so nice to all be together.

(Jonathan, my sister, and me. Reunited again.)

(Jon and Jon: best brother and best brother-in-law)

(Kids playing during the party.)


Luke’s been needing an unusual amount of love and comfort lately. I’m not sure why he’s feeling this way, but I can’t resist holding him and hugging him and loving him. I mean, really, who can resist this face:

(“I want you mama,” Luke says about 100 times a day.)


In the biggest news of my summer, we all had the chance to witness my Uncle Mike do something incredible: compete and finish in his very first ironman. For the past year, my uncle has been training and running smaller races (he even completed a half-ironman earlier this year) all to be ready for the big one. The ironman triathlon is a monster of a race: a 2.4 mile swim, a 114 mile bike race, and then a marathon. The ironman my uncle competed in was in Sonoma and is called the Vineman. He started the race at 6 in the morning and finished at 10p.m. 15 HOURS!!! I can’t imagine doing anything for 15 hours, let alone competing in a race. Like my brother said, “I can’t even sleep for 15 hours!!!1”

But he completed the race despite having some pretty bad knee and calf cramping by the time he got to the marathon portion. We are so very proud of him!

(Waiting for the race to begin)

(Finishing the swim portion)

(Starting the bike portion)

(About 16 miles into the run. Looking good!)

(The finish line)

(Luke and I waiting at the finish line.)

(Finished! Maddie with Uncle Mike. He’s now an official IRONMAN!!!)

It was a long day and I didn’t do anything but show up for the end. Much props goes out to my Aunt Debbie, her husband David, my sister, and my mom who were there for almost the entire race, cheering and handing out gel packs. I’m so fortunate to have seen such an amazing feat. And even though my uncle said this was the only ironman he’d ever do, he’s already signed up for another 1/2 ironman and a 50K ultra marathon all in the fall. he also just announced yesterday that he’s going to do the Vineman again next year and try to cut off two hours from his time! I think he’s a bit batty, but you can bet we’ll be there to support him!


Because my uncle was doing the Vineman and it was in Sonoma, most of my family decided to make a vacation out of it and rent a house on the Russian River. My mom and dad, my sister and her family, my Aunt Debbie and her husband, my brother-in-law’s sister, and I all enjoyed a beautiful house right on the Russian River, complete with a private beach. It was heaven.

I actually left a few days before everyone else, so I could stop and visit friends and family along the way.

I just love driving over the Golden Gate Bridge. Is there a more beautiful bridge anywhere? I think not.

The first stop I made was to visit my old college roommate, Cory and his son Jake (his beautiful wife, Kara, was working so we didn’t have a chance to see her.).

(Picture taken from facebook. Had to steal it because it’s just the most beautiful photo ever!)

We met at Cory’s house and then took the kids to the park and took a walk in a little creek. We all had the best time.

From Cory’s house, we drove to my cousin Nicole’s house to spend the night. Nicole and her husband are the nicest people and their two sons are not only gorgeous, but so well-behaved!

(Nicole and Chris. Another pic stolen from facebook because I suck at taking good pictures!)

(Beckett, the most adorable two-year old ever! P.S. Pic stolen from facebook)

(Baby Finn, the newest member of Nicole and Chris’s family. And I actually took this photo)

(Nicole and Chris have a little studio under their house, aptly named the Rose Cottage, which is where we had the privilege of staying!)

It’s funny because when we were all little kids, all the cousins would see each other quite often, but then distance and family changes separated us and we didn’t see each other very often at all. Over the past year or so, as adults, we’ve all made a concerted effort to see each other more often, and I’m so glad we’ve done this. It’s not only nice to get together and talk about our kids and lives, but also to catch up on the past. I feel so very blessed that we were able to spend some time together and I look forward to many more nights chatting over wine with the kids playing in the background. This is what life should be about.

After a great visit, we left Nicole’s house and battled some terrible traffic to make it to Sonoma.

We arrived at our destination, a huge 5 bedroom house right on the Russian River. The whole weekend was filled with relaxation and river time (after the big ironman day that is). My best friend Michelle, her husband, and their two kids even joined us. We had such a nice time. I would go back in a heart beat.

(The view from our house. From the trees you can see the beach and river.)

(The river)

(Big family dinners are my favorite!)

(Luke, Cate, and Olivia relaxing in the river)

(Michelle’s daughter Olivia is pretty much the cutest little girl ever!)

(Olivia and Luke watching a movie and resting)

(My dad with Cate and Luke on the hammock.)

(My dad and Cain [Michelle’s husband] took all the kids on a canoe ride.)

(Luke and I lounging and chatting)

(Enjoying inner tubes)

(Naps outside under an umbrella may be Luke’s new favorite thing)

(Michelle holding baby Lila and me.)

The weather was perfect, the company was amazing, and the river was awesome. I could get used to a lifestyle like this.


I had the most random fun night out. It all started with Garth coming to town. We went to a poetry reading, then out to dinner, then met up with some friends, and then spent the rest of the night dancing. Well, let’s be honest, Garth sat in the corner talking and I danced. It’s so nice to know that Garth and I can be friends, really good friends, and go out and have a really fun night with really fun people. It always amazes me how far we’ve come from when we dated. But it just goes to show: we were better friends than anything else.

(Garth and I)

(Garth went to school with this woman, Sabina. Turns out she’s one of the top tattoo pin-up girls. Besides being absolutely beautiful [and a mother of three kids!], she was one of the  nicest girls I’ve met in a long time.)

(This guy danced with me all night long, and he’s a practiced swing dancer, which meant that we really, actually danced together. Which I was terrible at. he pointed out that I just don’t know how to let a man lead [big surprise!], so he asked me to trust him, and I did. Then he flipped me over his head and spun me around. Everyone saw my undies. Awesome.)


As someone who’s just getting her toes wet dating again, I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I like and don’t like in a partner, as well as what I need to work on myself. Finding the right balance seems impossible at times, and it’s so easy for me to get caught up in the moment rather than thinking ahead and making wise decisions. But this past week, I saw a few images that help remind me of what I should look for in a man, in myself, and in life.

I also read this great blog post by Donald Miller. Donald Miller is actually a Christian writer, though pretty liberal. And why I don’t consider myself a Christian, or maybe a good Christian, or maybe what I’m trying to say is a practicing Christian, I did think his post was beyond wise, and I basically just ignored all the Biblical connections (though to be honest, there weren’t many). His post is titled, “How to Live a Great Love Story Vol II For the Guys” (as soon as I typed that I realized that there must be a Vol I for the girls, which I haven’t read, but will do so immediately). I seriously urge you to read this. It doesn’t matter if you’re a male or female, dating or married: This guys makes some excellent points.



My writing project is coming along nicely. I’ve written 40,000 words, and I still feel confident in the direction its taking. But that doesn’t mean I’m confident. I have moments of confidence where I think, “Yes. This is good. This is really good. I’m actually going to make an impact on American modern literature.” These moments mostly come to me when I’m drunk, which isn’t really that often. And when I’m drunk I feel pretty confident. And make incredibly stupid comments that I’ll actually change American literature.

Mostly though, I’ll write a thousand words, unsure, and then have a serious panic. I’ll think everything I’m writing is absolute crap, and I’ve wasted almost an entire summer writing terrible prose and an overly-sentimental plot and a character that no one will like. I feel like this about 80% of the day.I know that my dialogue and descriptions and language are terrible, but I also know a lot of revisions will improve that. But I keep getting stuck in the same cycle of self-doubt: what about the plot and the main characters? What if the actual plot sucks and the characters do too and no one wants to read it (not even me!).

So I finally made a decision: I broke my promise to have no one read a draft and sent it to three people. Three.

The first person I sent it to was my friend Jeremi, who actually read the first 15,000 words and liked it. I trust Jeremi’s opinion more than almost anyone I know and I told him to give me good constructive criticism.

The second person I sent it to was my sister. She actually did not want to read it because she feels like she’s not in the right literary caliber. Which is exactly why I picked her. I’m too embarrassed to give this to one of my high-literary colleagues, but my sister is smart, and she reads a lot. All I asked her to do is read what I have so far and tell me if she wants to read more. I don’t want her to worry about critiquing anything else.

The third person I gave it to was my brother and only because he begged and I hadn’t seen him in such a long time. I gave him the same instructions as my sister. Part of what I also told Jeremi, my sister, and my brother is that the 2 page introduction is super lame and I’m taking it out, so to pretty much ignore it. I feel like I made a mistake in giving my writing project to my brother because as soon as he started reading it, he said, “The intro is really terrible. I mean really bad. Whiny. Girl-whiny. God. It’s just bad.”

“I know,” I said, “that’s why I’m taking it out. Ignore it. Just read the whole thing quickly and tell me if you’d want to keep reading. If you’re interested.”

“Well, I hope it’s better than the intro cause that really sucked.”

Ugh. Maybe I’ve made a huge mistake, but I do want the honest truth, and I’d much rather be exercising and getting my ass in shape than just writing a load of crap. No one’s gotten back to me about it yet and so I feel anxious all day long. It’s like the first time you tell a man (or woman) that you love them. There’s always a pause and you wonder:

1. Will he/she say ‘I love you too’ quickly and actually mean it? Which makes you feel VICTORIOUS and totally full of love and happiness and encouragement.

2. Will he/she say ‘I love you too’ slowly and just be saying it to appease you, but in no way does he/she mean it. Which makes you feel depressed, but at least hopeful that the real love will come around.

3. Will he/she say nothing and just look at you in some sad, pathetic way and then you’re screwed and you feel like an idiot. And don’t give me all that self-help shit about how at least you said it and were true to your feelings because that doesn’t change the feeling of being a complete and total sad sack moron.

All three of these things have happened to me in the past and waiting for writing  feedback today is like being stuck in the long pause between saying ‘I love you’ and getting a response: torturous.


All in all, I’ve had a wonderful couple of weeks and we’ve been pretty busy doing almost nothing everyday except enjoying ourselves. I feel these blissed out lazy days are exactly how summer should be.