For Toney

This morning I told my class the story of how I met Toney. I told them about the day he took a chance on me and hired me for my first job in education. I told them about how he motivated me, pushed me, cared for me, mentored me, befriended me and loved me.

And then I told them that he died this week.

For the first time – and hopefully the last – I cried in front of my students. I asked them to tell me what a mentor was. What perseverance meant. What it means to push themselves to learn. We came up with a word cloud and it made us happy.

Toney was the first person to ever tell me that he recognized something in me I didn’t know I had. He was tough, stubborn as shit and was harder on me – personally and professionally – than anyone I’ve ever known.

TBHe was born in 1960 in rural North Carolina to a very poor, uneducated family. He was the baby and knew he would have to fight harder than his siblings if he wanted a better life for himself. He could fail out of high school (and almost did) or he could graduate and go into the Air Force where he knew he’d be taken care of. He graduated from the Community College of the Air Force, then got a bachelor’s degree and retired at 40.

Education found him nearly the same way it found me. He was retired military but had administrative experience which put him at an advantage for jobs his peers wouldn’t qualify for. Like me, Toney needed a job and found one that just happened to be in adult education. He had a wife, a stepdaughter and a son on the way, so he went back to school on the weekends and earned a master’s degree. He moved further and further up the ladder until he was in higher education administration.

That’s when he met me.

I came to his office prepared to just introduce myself but instead he had an interview committee lined up, and there I was in casual clothes with my car keys in my hand. He asked me a dozen or so questions and then wanted to know why I was interested in working for him. I told him I wanted the job – which, truthfully, I knew nothing about and wasn’t remotely qualified for. Toney knew it and hired me anyway.

We worked together for 8 years. I got engaged, got married, bought a house and started a graduate degree. He got divorced, raised his son alone and kept moving up the administrative ladder. We had long talks over cigarettes, or in our offices, or over lunch. We listened to the O’Jays in his car on the way to conferences. We made jokes about how we must look at the lunch table: he, the short black man in a suit, and me, the young white girl with wide eyes.

In 2008 he was hired as vice president at a nearby college. We emailed and phoned each other, and saw one another every couple of months. He loved Brian – who loved him back – and was always so keenly interested in Brian’s career. Did he like his job? Were they nice to him? How was his MBA coming? What advice could he give Brian? Fourteen years apart in age, Toney and Brian grew up in the same corner of the state just miles away from each other. They knew the same people, the same chicken joints, the same terrain.

He called in December to tell me that he had cancer. He’d been through chemo and radiation, and the prognosis, he said, was good.

Over the past few days I have come to discover that he wasn’t telling the truth. His cancer was terminal and he spent most of December calling his friends to catch up, and making us promise not tell anyone he was sick.

When I heard the news of his death I collapsed in my office chair and sobbed. I left work early and crawled into my bed, where I cried myself to a fitful sleep.

Saturday morning we’ll travel to his hometown for the funeral. A local minister we’ve all known for years will preach the eulogy. While we’re there we’ll visit Brian’s father’s grave and those of his grandparents. And on Saturday, when it’s forecasted to be cloudy and cold, I will remember my friend, who gave so much light and warmth to my life.

The dog ate my homework

Over the past 6 months or so I’ve been wrestling with a few issues, not the least of which is what to do with my blog. Since I started writing this almost 6 (!) years ago, I have changed. The blogosphere has changed. My world has moved and shifted and this blog has been along for the entirety.

But now? Now I don’t know what to do. You, my dear faithful – and, it must be said, few – readers have helped me through so much over these years. You’ve guided me and comforted me during the first steps of my treatment for panic disorder. You read along and sent me messages of encouragement. You laughed when I was funny, you raised your eyebrows when I was snarky and you approved when I did something positive for my mental health.

Since last I wrote, I’ve experienced lots of disappointment – I wish so much I could write about it here but I can’t – and some joy as well. I’ve grieved for friends and celebrated love. I have also experienced new rounds of panic and anxiety. I know from where it stems, but I have yet to get a handle on it, despite a strict adherence to medication. My attempts at therapy have been unsuccessful.

In times such as these, I now turn to prayer. I have a somewhat shaky faith that I try to work on daily, but I struggle to remain focused. My mind still tumbles and spins, particularly at night when I’m alone with it.

Over the weekend I made the decision to write my final post and close shop on Half Baked for good. But today – right this minute – I am re-thinking that decision. In this new frontier of Pinterest and $1,000 cameras with lenses that take rocket surgeons to decipher, I rely on my only waning skill: writing.

I have no idea what 2013 will be. I hate resolutions and didn’t make any. I tried over the holiday break to start a massive organization effort in our house – with the assistance of Pinterest and 72,000 different DIY/style/design blogs – and so far it’s a really good feeling to purge our house of old shit. It’s like a big glass of ice water with mint and lemon and lime: super refreshing and head-clearing. 

There are goals I need to make for myself but I’m still too frightened – scratch that – PETRIFIED to face those fears. More about that at another time because the thought y’all, THE THOUGHT, makes me want a Xanax.

So there’s all that. In a nutshell, I’m writing this post as an update, a sort of “I’m alive and kicking but forgot to tell you that” kind of post. I don’t plan – at this particularly moment – to make it my last. I want to be funny again! I want to work out my anxiety right here again because it’s been so cathartic and energizing in the past. But I will wrestle with this decision until the next post.

The pressure to be a blogger comes from the nagging feeling that you haven’t done your homework. The due date was a week ago and you’ve got nothing and frankly, you’re not sure you’re gonna have anything at all – much less BETTER! – when the next due date passes, because inevitably it will. And then the weeks and months pass by but the nagging feeling remains. Do you devote your time to writing something you don’t feel good about? Or that is productive? Or do you give up the whole damn thing and call it what it is: a washed-up effort to work out personal demons in a public forum for all to witness.

Oh how I wish I had an answer to this. I wish YOU had an answer to this. I wish my skin hadn’t fused with the couch cushions such that I am more concerned with how many episodes of Episodes I missed. (I’m lying. That show is marginally terrible. I just watch to see how gray Matt LeBlanc is getting and then I switch back to dumb shit like Million Dollar Decorators. Or Wheel of Fortune. I’d be so fucking good at that show.)

Have a nice day, Internet. Drink your afternoon pick-me-up, enjoy your cucumber sandwich and your spinning class. When you fall asleep tonight, all satisfied with achieving your goals yet unsatisfied with your cucumber sandwich, think of ways I can breathe new life into blogging. Or how I can bow out gracefully and yet WITTY AS HELL.

That’s the kind of girl I am.

To be adored

I hear the buzz of the dryer in the other room, impatiently reminding me that THE CLOTHES ARE CLEAN, LAZY WOMAN for the 35th time. I reach around for the magazine postcard that inevitably lands somewhere around my pillow and save my place, for it won’t be long until I come back to finish reading the piece on John Faircloth. Vanity Fair’s style issue is overflowing with good articles this month. I read about Peter and Harry Brant, “dandy” sons of Stephanie Seymour – who liken themselves to the cast of Gossip Girl except far more glamorous – and stare at pictures of Kate Middleton or, as the über-fabulous Tom & Lorenzo call her, Cathy Cambridge.

All weekend long I was lost in Facebook messages and updates about a friend’s child, who died of a rare form of cancer, who “saw angels” and reached for them. That news has put me in a fog while I’ve folded laundry and made cookies and turned up my nose at dinner suggestions. I’ve kicked off and put on my J.Crew flip flops 40 times and absently tugged at my tank top. I haven’t showered. I don’t mind.

On Saturday I wore a summer skirt and went to the movies. I admired the fabric on my mother-in-law’s recovered sofa and gushed over her mercury glass lamps, which I am secretly hoping to get for my birthday. I’m doing all of these things just like a normal girl. Granted, my life will never fill the middle pages of Vanity Fair or Town & Country (but oh, can’t a girl dream?) and that’s all fine and well. Like normal girls, I share shoes with my mom, try 50 kinds of tinted moisturizer and share book lists with my friends.

Unlike normal girls though – God, I hope this isn’t normal – I am dying a little on the inside. Kristen says people have “residual issues,” and I’m one of those. Recently three people in my professional life questioned my abilities and belittled my entire career. Or that’s how I took it, at least. In my mind it was one solid hour of insults, though in reality I’m probably being too sensitive. It happened three weeks ago. I am still – dramatically – haunted by it. I ask everyone who knows me: do you think I am a leader? Do you think that I have no potential? The memory of that encounter is clouding everything I do.

I read a great article in the New York Times Magazine last week about – among other things – the gray area of personal essays. In this day and time, of course, it’s about the blog posts but aren’t we all – those of us that write blogs – personal essayists? We are, aren’t we? Sarah Hepola talks about that blurry line people are afraid to cross, about knowing when to draw back a little so as not to hurt family or endanger jobs or embarrass ourselves. I want so badly to name names and specifics and times and places when I write things, particularly when they are bad things. I want to point fingers at someone who wronged me and say It’s her! She did it and you should grab her so she can be vilified all over the Internet! I won’t, obviously. Because even this little snippet on this tiny blog in this far corner of the Internet could, and very well may, do me in.

The question of whether or not we are good enough is normal. We are all normal girls like that. We are normally supportive of each other in times of tragedy – as with my friend’s child, in times of triumph and in times of self doubt. I don’t think we can ever get enough reassurance though, that we are not inconsequential, no matter what other people say. We need to be validated and praised. What’s so wrong with telling someone that they are good at what they do? Shouldn’t we all be told that we’re appreciated?

Perhaps I’m just dreaming of a different world somewhere far away, where shopkeepers close for siesta and wine stays on the table until 11 p.m. In that world there is no political scorekeeper, no bully to steal both your lunch money AND your dignity. In that world my picture is in Vanity Fair next to Valentino’s and we both j’adore your bag, darling.

This is me avoiding you.

I’ve been avoiding writing this because I don’t know where to start, or what to say that hasn’t been said so many times before. No one reads this blog anymore (neglect is the damnedest thing, am I right?) so the motivation to write here is…just kind of not there. Until now.

I am, I believe, in the vise grips of a bout with depression. It’s hard to say right now whether I’m at the beginning or the middle, but for damn sure I’m not at the end. I started having panic attacks again about 6 weeks ago. At the time I was working a full schedule (as opposed to the summer schedule I’m on now), finishing up the semester and working like a nut. I was the good kind of busy but there was a buzzing in the back of my head, something nagging at my brain, like a gnat stuck back there somewhere looking for an open window. Or a banana. I couldn’t put my finger on it and for a quick second I thought Summer schedule! That’s it! The break I need, the time to myself THE WONDER OF A MINI VACATION! Not so much, it turns out.

With more time on my hands it became easier to practice the behavior I so love: avoidance. I could avoid the laundry, the chores, the showers, the phone calls, the anything-requiring-motivation. So I did. I stayed up all night, took very long naps during the day – sometimes morning and afternoon – and counted the hours until BB came home from work. I didn’t help with dinner (not so unusual), but this time I didn’t really feel guilty. I cried and cried and cried, shook with anxiety and fear and called my blessed friend who understands and always picks up the phone.

I saw my doctor last week and she suggested I get back into therapy, which she suggested last time, which was 6 months ago. You see how well I follow directions. She didn’t change my medication, but she did suggest I go to an osteopath for a long overdue check up. I have the name and phone number. I don’t have an appointment.

Therapy starts again this Thursday and I’m crossing my fingers that it helps, but I’m not holding out much hope. Three years ago in the throes of the worst panic attacks of my life, I felt hyped up and manic. I felt anxious and nervous and like I might burst into tiny pieces at any second. I felt my heart jumping over and over and knew I was dying every few minutes. This time, I feel hopeless and miserable. I feel all the things on the depression commercials and then some. I don’t want my naps to end and I’m only hungry for disgusting junk food, which makes me feel worse. I cry ALL THE TIME and mainly I hate everyone. (I’m 100% not pregnant, so thanks anyway.) Long walks would make me feel better, yes? Ah, but long walks require real clothes and leaving the house.

If you’re anything like me, you’re thinking Get your lazy ass UP OFF THE COUCH, put on some pants and DO SOMETHING ALREADY GODAMMIT. I’m so right there with you.

I wish that, when the phone occasionally rings, I could answer it and say “Yes! I’d love to have lunch/dinner/drinks/movies/conversations with you!” but instead I just don’t answer. I can’t listen to myself make another lame excuse about why I can’t – and don’t care to – leave the house.

The days I’m at work are okay. I can concentrate on the tasks I need to complete, I am forced to interact with other people and I actually shower. It’s the days I’m home alone that my stomach starts to churn and I oscillate between panic and utter desperation. I want to feel better. I take everything my doctor prescribes just as I should. So why does this happen?

Why can’t I be normal?