Monday, August 21, 2006

Libraries and the Bottle City of Kandor

Your Own Bottle City of Kandor

I went to work one morning last week and opened up my email to find that Mat and Emily had done the fabulous; they had stepped off the grid, and tossed their conventional career tracks involving jobs and computer-generated paychecks. They had finalized their move to Baltimore and the opening of their own recording studio.

Maybe it was that I grew up with a recording studio in my back yard, or maybe it was because the thought of leaving my conventional career behind was suddenly and unexpectedly appealing, but the effect of reading this was something for which I was completely unprepared. Sitting there at my desk at work, I felt tears in my eyes. I've been under a lot of stress at work lately, and becoming a mom has pushed my personal growth forward a lot this summer. I've had to sit around contemplating exactly what it is I'm doing with my life, and acknowledge that I've left some things I wanted to do (like creative writing) behind in my quest for other things (like a stable home life).

I have known for a while now that I'd sacrificed my creative career on the altar of library science and archival preservation. Of course, I'd do it again in a heartbeat. But realizing what I've done isn't the same as realizing *why* I've done it, and that all came in a rush reading about Mat and Emily. I've been denying my creative self because I've been afraid I'd turn into my father. He had a creative career, and some people have blamed our unstable home life on his lack of a conventional job. But our instability as a household wasn't caused by my father's creative career, it was caused by his addictions. There are just as many scary alcoholic dads with office jobs as there are scary alcoholic dads in other kinds of fields. When Mat and Emily have their kids, they're going to be awesome parents. This will still be true even now that they've dedicated their lives to making art.

So, realizing my hang-up, I no know why I haven't published in nearly four years. Because I was focused on creating a stable and happy home for myself, on some level I thought that producing really good art was out of the question. Obviously, this idea is absurd. I think that a lot of my internal funk lately has been because I'm creatively backed-up; all that art and writing has to come out somehow. Sometimes, I walk around so full of words and images that I wonder why my hands aren't dripping carbon black ink.

I called the husband and told him of my revelation. At first I despaired, because I thought this all meant I should quit my job. I thought the husband was going to cry - he told me that he has always been envious of my career, and how much I really enjoy my work. I love what I do; archives are truly my vocation. I belong in a library; I love the architecture of information, and I've spent a lot of time becoming very good at my job. There's no sense in throwing away a highly refined skill set like the one I've managed to build up in the past eleven and a half years. But, I said, look at the last four years: a job where the supervisor was so completely unlikeable no one could work with them; a job that worked me so hard I used to come home and cry because I hadn't the energy to do anything for myself; a job where the supervisor doesn't think women with small children should work at all. The husband paused at this list, but said if I quit being a librarian and archivist just because my last few jobs had bad management, he'd be crushed. He would love to have a vocation he liked as much as mine, he said, and I shouldn't give up, because all management is transitory anyway. Personality conflicts may come and go, but Mylar is forever. He kissed my forehead that night and told me not to give up on my career or my creative pursuits.

I have been blaming my creative draught these past four years on my last incomplete project, a tarot deck I started when I moved to Little 5. I discussed all this with Dust, the person who put just as much work into that failed project as I. He told me that the tarot deck was like my own personal unenlarged Bottle City of Kandor, that project sitting on Superman's shelf that never gets quite put right. Even Superman fucks projects up sometimes; you can't make everything come out right, and sometimes it's OK to let things sit up on a shelf for a while. They'll be OK.

Since then, I've been seeing metaphorical Bottle Cities of Kandor everywhere. The library at Comfortable U. is like the Bottle City of Kandor: off scale for its true purpose and isolated by a higher technology it can't possibly fight or understand without help. Watching the relationships of your exes is like watching the Bottle City of Kandor: they're so small the people look really far away, and you can't understand what they're doing in there. Breastfeeding while working is like being a citizen of the Bottle City of Kandor: you're participating in a custom that people know is important to keep, but no one really wants to think about it too much.

Right now, my whole life is like the Bottle City of Kandor: self-sustaining only so long as it is self-contained, a micro economy supported by its own limitations. Sometimes when we put things on a shelf, we do so for good reasons. Everyone's got their own Bottle Cities of Kandor, sitting in a dated four-color universe, waiting for Superman to get off his superbottom and fix things. Still, those of us inside the glass go about our daily business finding happiness in our unique existance. As long as we aren't kidnapped by Lex Luthor, we'll all be OK.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The new old routine

This is a record of my current routine. I wanted to record it before everything changes again.

I wake up somewhere between midnight and four in the morning to stumble downstairs and pump about 4 ounces of breastmilk. I have to wake up in the middle of the night to pump because the pressure of milk builds up and hurts; if I ignore this pain, I will leak breastmilk on the bed.

This take about 20 minutes. Then I stumble back upstairs and sleep until the alarm goes off at 6.

After turning off the alarm, I gather Dot up from her co-sleeper. She's only half-asleep at this time, and sucking her thumb fiercely because she's hungry. I feed her and gradually wake up looking at my daughter as she eats. For this feeding, she keeps her eyes closed, demanding that I be the one to hold her and support her while she eats. She always looks like royalty to me, relaxed, reclined, and dainty. When she's done, she signals so by turning her head away, and I prop her up over my shoulder or against my chest. I pat her back and talk to her a bit until she manages to burp. This might take a few minutes, and it wakes her up a bit.

After Dot's managed to push any air she swallowed out, I lay her down on the bed and talk to her while I change her diaper. She's all smiles by this time, and the husband usually stirs next to us a bit, sometimes reaching out a hand to pet one of us while we go through our morning paces. After I've cleaned Dot up, I might play or cuddle with her for a minute or two, but not longer; she's tired and I need to get ready for work. It's always tough to lay her back down in her bed, especially since after the feeding she's all smiles and coos.

After that I pump again to get out any breastmilk I might have left, shower, eat breakfast, and drive to work. I try not to be late, but that's incrasingly more difficult as I find it hard to leave the baby and husband, whom I am sure to kiss before leaving for the day. I have to be in my car by 7:30 to make it to the library at 8. During this drive I will silently and fluently curse Cobb county residents for their lack of a train at least once every morning.

I work from 8am until 5pm. I miss my husband and daughter, and at the same time have anxiety about my job that is overwhelming enough some days to make me wonder if I need medication. Then I remember that I work in academia, and if you aren't a little paranoid in academia, then you aren't paying attention. Remind self at least once a day that paying attention is not something that really gets rewarded in public eduacation. Then I pay attnetion and work hard anyway, because that's the kind of neurotic overachiever I am.

Five to Five forty-fiveish - drive home through Atlanta traffic. Curse lack of train again. Ritually wonder why my iPod is oddly unsatisfying; perhaps use cell phone to talk to a friend.

I gt home before six, and the husband and baby are happy to see me. I put the breastmilk I've pumped at work into the fridge. We all kiss. I take the baby up in my arms and while talking to the husband about our day, and I make up a little baby cereal with breastmilk. The husband jumps on his online game while I push a little cereal into Dot's mouth. The husband and I talk about dinner and evening plans. If we have to go somewhere, we make a decision to eat before or after our outside-the-house tasks. At some point I make dinner. Too often, this dinner is the only meal the husband eats during the day; he's horrible about getting his own meals, even with microwavable frozen stuff in the freezer. Left to his own devices, he would live on gingerbread cookies and Mountain Dew.

We usually eat together around 7ish, because this is when Dot lays down for an hour-long evening nap. When she wakes from this nap she'll be ravenously hungry, so often we'll start a DVD while eating, and I'll continue to watch it while feeding the baby. We never watched so many movies before Dot; now, thanks to the baby and Netflix, I've been given the opportunity to enjoy every obscure documentary I ever wanted to see. While the husband is feeding the baby during the day, he watches obscure Japanimation and horror or kung-fu classics. We haven't had cable or braodcast TV in years.

I do small housechores as I can while playing with and caring for the baby at night. I try to help with the laundry or dusting or such, but usually I am too busy with dinner and the baby. The husband has been better at housework since he's been home during the day.

Around 10pm I use the breast pump one more time to empty myself out before laying down. I say my bedtime is at 10, but that varies; on Sunday nights it is closer to 10:30, and over the course of the week it inches back to almost 9:30 by Thursday night. As the work week wears on, I get more tired. I try to be consistant with my sleep schedule, but it's difficult. My sleep pattern wants to mimic Dot's, and she doesn't really start the day until 10am.

After I go up to bed around 10pm, The husband will wait for Dot to ask him for her last feeding. Then he'll give her the last bottle of the day, change her again once or twice, and sing to her until she goes to sleep. When she's trying to be grumpy (the I'm-tired-but-don't-want-to-sleep variety of grumpy), he will often sing to her while walking her around the house. She likes the motion. This also has the effect of sometimes wearing the husband out.

When Dot falls asleep around 11pm, the husband may or may not choose to go to bed at that time. Sometimes he puts her down in her crib and returns to playing video games online with friends. Sometimes he comes up and curls next to me. He will be in bed until 10am, when Dot wakes up for a diaper change and a bottle.

This is our weekday routine. We all agree that Sundays are best, when we can all stay up until about 11:30pm and stay in bed until 10am. Of course, I wake up twice in that time even on Sundays, since I'm still breastfeeding. On Sundays when Dot wakes up at 10, I can feed her in the bed and we roll around playing with the happy baby. Sundays are the best.

This week everything will change again; the husband starts law school at night, and I will have to start working one night a week at the library. Soon the husband will leave as I come through the door to get to his classes. He'll be out of the house for three hours, and then back to us for the nightime rituals. On Wednesday nights he will be home, but I'll be closing the library. We will have Friday nights together, and of course our weekends (except when I have a Sunday shift now and then).

I am happy that the husband is starting school, but sad that our routine is ending. I am happy that soon I will get to stop using the breast pump, but sad that this will mean loosing the closeness I feel with Dot in the very early morning. I am happy that my daughter is bright and healthy, but sad that she's growing out of this easy to manage stage in her life.

Nothing matters more than this.