The Unforgettable Yoko Ogawa

My experience with Yoko Ogawa’s The Memory Police was filled with moments of disorientation that matched at a much smaller level the events of the novel, set on an unnamed island where the inhabitants suffer through a series of disappearances under the surveillance of the Memory Police.

First, I was drawn to the stunning cover and a description promising a stark work of science fiction.

Since I received a hardback copy and the inside flap claims the novel is a “stunning new work,” I began reading the work as exactly that—a newly published novel by a young writer.

Yet, as I read, the genre wasn’t so neatly clearcut, and I soon learned the novel is from 1994, the English translation being new, but Ogawa, now in her late 50s, has a celebrated career in Japan.

“I sometimes wonder,” the narrator begins, “what was disappeared first—among all the things that have vanished from the island” (p. 3). And from there, the novel proceeds ominously but softly, or subtly, in a voice and a story that do prove to be stark but defy a simple label of science fiction; at turns it reads as fantasy, and then as fable or allegory.

For a book centered on the provocative act of disappearing, I was drawn as well to how much is not there to begin with. Character names and place names are missing or sparse. But I also felt off balance, disoriented, by the mismatch between the patient and soft narration against the foreboding doom of the disappearances, some of which seem minor although the loss and the ever-present threat of the Memory Police render all of the disappearances life-altering.

Reading Ogawa for the first time reminded me of Haruki Murakami, Albert Camus’s The Stranger, and Philip K. Dick—although I quickly warmed to seeing the novel as purely a work by Ogawa. In some ways there is a sense of detachment and very slow development I find often Murakami, and may be shared qualities of Japanese narrative.

Broadly, Ogawa’s fable is a powerful reflection of Camus’s existential message from The Stranger: “after a while you could get used to anything” (p. 77). However, in Ogawa’s allegorical nightmare, that concept is both proven and stretched almost beyond comprehension by the end of the novel.

It is the similarity with Philip K. Dick that sits strongest with me, though. Like Dick, Ogawa creates a pervasive sense of foreboding and fatalism in the lives of the characters. The totalitarian reality of The Memory Police is similar to many of Dick’s works as well as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments, but Ogawa keeps the reader detached from and uninformed about the facts of that oppressive society.

Also similar to Dick, Ogawa investigates human nature, including what makes anyone human—or in this case, what can a human lose and still remain human (similar to a motif in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go).

Another sparse aspect of the novel is plot, but as a reader, I was fully engaged with the characters; Ogawa’s careful and delicate portrayal of friendship and intimacy suggests that at least one key component of being fully human is our community with others.

The Memory Police begins calmly and persistently, but it never really reaches a boil or fever pitch, ultimately fading to the end more so than disappearing suddenly as is the case within the narrative. The novel, in fact. ends with the word “disappear,” and I was left filled and emptied simultaneously.

While reading this novel, I ordered four more of Ogawa’s works, and immediately began The Housekeeper and the Professor, where I found a rhythm that feels distinctly Ogawa’s.

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While this slim novel reads as literacy fiction with a touch of allegory, absent many of the conventions of genre fiction, Ogawa once again deals with memory. In The Memory Police, characters not only have material disappearances, but over time, most of the characters no longer remember what has been lost—except for the rare few who become targets of the Memory Police.

Recall becomes dangerous, and suggests those with their memories intact have power that the omnipresent Memory Police are charged with erasing.

The premise of The Housekeeper and the Professor is not fantastical, but it is exceptional; the Professor of the title is an aging mathematical genius who, after an accident, has only 80 minutes at a time of memory along with his memory of his life prior to 1975.

Since his short-term memory constantly resets, his sister-in-law, alone as his caretaker, is challenged to keep a housekeeper employed to manage his life.

Ogawa builds on this unusual circumstance a really sweet and beautiful narrative about the housekeeper, her young son (dubbed Root by the Professor), and the Professor. The characters are often gentle and kind souls, often delicate, in spite of the odd nature of the Professor’s life and their tenuous relationships.

The story is often quirky, and Ogawa manages several moments of real tension on much smaller levels than in The Memory Police, but palpable tension none the less.

Although not essential knowledge for the reader, this novel’s use of mathematical principles is the motif that holds the story together, more weighty than the low profile of the plot and the slow development of the themes and characterizations. For the Professor and eventually the housekeeper and her son, math is beautiful and fascinating.

In Ogawa’s work, memory as that blends with all human relationships seems to be an essential element of being fully human, but in The Housekeeper and the Professor, readers also witness something about our basic humanity, for example in how the Professor interacts with and teaches Root:

Among the many things that made the Professor an excellent teachers was the fact that he wasn’t afraid to say “we don’t know.” For the Professor, there was no shame in admitting you didn’t have the answer, it was a necessary step toward the truth. It was as important to teach us about the unknown or the unknowable as it was to teach us what had already been safely proven. (p. 63)

That last sentence, I think, is a wonderful description of my experience reading Ogawa, which now continues with her collected three novellas, The Diving Pool.

Recommended Works in English Translation

Haruki Murakami

After the Winter, Guadalupe Nettel

The Plotters, Un-su Kim

The Transmigration of Bodies, Yuri Herrera

Signs Preceding the End of the World, Yuri Herrera

Kingdom Cons, Yuri Herrera

The Vegetarian, Han Kang

The White Book, Han Kang

The Polyglot Lovers, Lina Wolff

A Picture’s Worth

I found this photograph
Underneath broken picture glass
Tender face of black and white
Beautiful, a haunting sight

“Photograph,” R.E.M. with Natalie Merchant

but if you look long enough,
eventually
you will be able to see me.

“This Is a Photograph of Me,” Margaret Atwood

I’m afraid of everyone

“Afraid of Everyone,” The National

There’s a joke I repeat quite often: When I was in high school, I had scoliosis, owned 7000 comic books—and no girlfriend.

People usually laugh, and then I add: That isn’t funny; it’s true.

This is me circa mid- to late 1970s, silk shirt and barely visible brace for scoliosis:

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The hair, glasses, and 70s fashion weren’t exactly working for me then. But many years before the four years in a full-body brace, I had already begun practicing all the survival skills needed for my anxiety, introversion, and crippling low self-esteem (terrified I was not and never would be the sort of masculine man that my father had imprinted on me).

It has been a couple years now since my parents died. My nephews, who my parents raised, and I cleaned out my parents’ house, and my oldest nephew, Stephen (who we call Tommy) gathered all the photographs, himself a photographer, to have them scanned. He sent the first almost-900 files yesterday.

Stephen (Tommy) and I also share a namesake, my grandfather, Paul Lee Thomas (I am the second) who everyone called Tommy.

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A young Stephen (Tommy) with Paul (Tommy).

As I looked through the collection, I was texting Stephen, and we agreed that this experience is bittersweet, deeply sad but quite wonderful. The pictures are jumbled in time, and most have no information or date, forcing anyone looking into memory.

Here I am in Enoree and Woodruff (childhood homes) on a tricycle and bicycle.

These are my parents, and I assume they are holding me, but the baby certainly could be my sister—although I think the collection reflects how parents over-photograph a first child (me) and then under-photograph the others.

These are certainly my parents, each with me.

The mandatory family photographs of the 60s are both wonderful and eerie (I looked drugged in one, and the outfits and colors, well, one must wonder). The one on the right brings to mind Buddy Holly and Mary Tyler Moore.

While I have no recollection, or would be guessing, with many of the photographs, some of the pictures have very vivid stories (which may be jumbled, I realize). I know once my mom sent a picture to her mother (Deed, who we called Granny); Granny told my mom she cried because we were so skinny. This is from the summer of 1968, and very well could be that photograph.

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For three or four years, we rented a house in Woodruff, moving there from Enoree before moving to Three Pines in 1971. The rented house felt like my childhood home, and here is Mom lying in the sun in that backyard.

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It is in that backyard (the mulberry tree my sister and I loved to play in out of frame to the left) where my sister, angry, threw a large pot at me, hitting my head and face, leaving a huge scab that was captured in my school picture that year.

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But there are other childhood pictures that genuinely baffle me. Like why did my parents dress me as Inspector Gadget (well before there was Inspector Gadget)?

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But mostly, looking through the photographs leaves me with a great deal of melancholy. My life-long battle with low self-esteem about my manhood seems wonderfully captured in these images—my dad in his Woodruff High basketball uniform and me in my WHS uniform, both number 3.

I was never the athlete my father was (him a four-sport letterman and captain of the first state championship football team), but I was always trying.

And I could not have anticipated that one of the most upsetting images is this one—my father (left), my grandfather (middle), and my uncle (right).

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Looking through almost 900 photographs, a few times now, certainly has been a heavy task confirming a picture’s worth. It is a picture I have no recollection of, and little information about, however, that I think may be the me I recognize the most.

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I did not yet know about the scoliosis, eight years before that would be discovered, but I am sitting as I would come to do, toward the edge of the footstool. My hands clutching my knees, I am fretful, an anxious face that I think no one really recognized as anxious or fretful.

I am scrawny. I seem to have a bruise or abrasion on my thigh. I am not sure I knew someone was taking this picture or I would have put on my show.

I was always trying to be funny, self-deprecating humor was my speciality.

My spine would curve, I would discover comic books and science fiction, and I would navigate high school with my jaw clenched to an adult life where the no-girlfriend joke always draws a laugh.

Politics as Sport: The Naive Democracy of the U.S.

Social media provide one easily accessible version of the marketplace of ideas in the U.S. While still gated by some levels of privilege, social media platforms include a fairly wide range of people participating by both posting who they are and what they believe or viewing those posts.

Claimed political affiliations and support for political parties and candidates are often expressed through social media, but even more revealing are posts that people seem to believe are somehow not political but in fact expose the real politics beneath the rhetoric.

One of the most revealing and disturbing is the pattern of conservatives posting about socialism, communism, and (more rarely) Marxism—proving that they have no real idea what the terms mean but have embraced them as broad and clumsy slurs of an imagined (and oppressive) Left.

As I have explained several times, there is no real Left of consequences in the U.S., even in academia (where I have worked for almost two decades).

After posting The Market Fails Education yesterday, I followed up a discussion on Facebook with this: Republicans in the U.S. are market fundamentalists who are averse to publicly funded institutions, and Democrats are market-first, public tolerant.

A genuine political Left with power in the U.S. would be public-first and market tolerant, but this simply doesn’t exist within any real power structure in the country.

Market fundamentalism or market idealism drives a great deal of political discourse, ideology, and then policy in the U.S. In almost all real ways, the U.S. is a right-center country without a viable Left—even though many people beneath their market fundamentalism probably hold beliefs that would be better served by Left policies.

Although I mentioned it briefly in my discussion of education, I want to emphasize healthcare in the U.S. here.

Few people function in their market fundamentalism with a clear awareness that capitalism is an amoral system; in other words, the morality of capitalism is its internal consistency, fairly expressed as supply and demand.

A market exists and flourishes if it can maintain demand from the supply; if the demand disappears, so does that market. In both cases, capitalism morality is fulfilled as right or good.

Ideologies on the Left, however, are moral systems that reject waiting for the Invisible Hand to work, or not, to address fundamental human needs; for the Left, then, the collective power of government (best created through the will of the people, such as in a democracy) can and should make certain outcomes happen directly—such as provide universal public education, create and maintain a transportation infrastructure (roads and highways in the U.S., but public transportation as well), maintain a judicial system and a military, etc.

For the Left, foundational publicly funded institutions must be created and maintained so that the less urgent and less dependable market can function as well as possible. A robust foundation of public institutions makes the struggle between Playstation and Xbox not only possible but robust as well.

Sick and overworked (or destitute) people are not free to participate in the consumerism of leisure time.

Here is the great irony of the naive democracy that is the U.S.; the right-leaning social media postings are by people who equate individual freedom with their conservative ideology, misreading the Left as oppressive (the slur of “communism”) while ignoring their own lack of freedom due to the demands of the workforce that denies workers power and has reduced the worker to a mere interchangeable and disposable cog.

Right-to-work laws have been expanding, with unions decreasing, as the workspace becomes more part-time gigs than careers.

Market fundamentalism has created the necessity that all people work by linking both healthcare and retirement to that employment in reduced and barely sustainable ways to further shackle every worker to their employment, stripping those workers of freedom.

People in the U.S. must work to have healthcare, must pay an insurance premium (deducted from their checks in a sort of invisible way) and then fund deductibles for initial care, and often avoid using their sick days or medical care due to fear of losing those jobs.

And all of this works inside a market system of healthcare that is incredibly inefficient but also amoral. For example, the U.S. system has been compared in terms of administrative cost to single-payer in Canada:

Measurements: Insurance overhead; administrative expenditures of hospitals, physicians, nursing homes, home care agencies, and hospices.

Results: U.S. insurers and providers spent $812 billion on administration, amounting to $2497 per capita (34.2% of national health expenditures) versus $551 per capita (17.0%) in Canada: $844 versus $146 on insurers’ overhead; $933 versus $196 for hospital administration; $255 versus $123 for nursing home, home care, and hospice administration; and $465 versus $87 for physicians’ insurance-related costs. Of the 3.2–percentage point increase in administration’s share of U.S. health expenditures since 1999, 2.4 percentage points was due to growth in private insurers’ overhead, mostly because of high overhead in their Medicare and Medicaid managed-care plans.

Limitations: Estimates exclude dentists, pharmacies, and some other providers; accounting categories for the 2 countries differ somewhat; and methodological changes probably resulted in an underestimate of administrative cost growth since 1999.

Conclusion: The gap in health administrative spending between the United States and Canada is large and widening, and it apparently reflects the inefficiencies of the U.S. private insurance–based, multipayer system [emphasis added]. The prices that U.S. medical providers charge incorporate a hidden surcharge to cover their costly administrative burden.

The healthcare system in the U.S. is not designed to provide healthcare to all U.S. citizens but to maintain control over U.S. workers and to feed the healthcare market.

Ironically, the U.S. market economy and workforce would likely function better and be more robust if all citizens were guaranteed healthcare through a publicly funded single-payer system and if workers were afforded greater autonomy and freedom (not held hostage in their jobs just to have healthcare) that would create a more robust open market in the workforce. In this version, however, owners and managers would be forced to participate in a more open marketplace of jobs where workers have the power of choice, both not to work or to work in better, more humane conditions.

The Left is not the cartoon version of oppression that many in the U.S. maintain. The Left seeks a democracy whereby fundamental needs are fully publicly funded (public schools, healthcare, judicial system, infrastructure, military, etc.) so that the market can function better and more ethically with the help of public support and oversight.

Public-first, market tolerant.

Market fundamentalism and market idealism in the U.S. are mostly rhetorical and dishonest because there is little effort to hold the media, political leaders, or social media posting to some sort of accuracy or internal logic.

As I have argued before, the U.S. electing and being represented by Trump is exactly what the ruling elites and this naive democracy deserve. The incoherent rhetoric and bombast combined with the relentless lies that characterize Trump are not such exaggerations of this country in many respects, a center-right people clutching a garbled ideology that doesn’t serve their own interests.

Recall the Trump voters who supported Trump to dismantle Obamacare and then being upset when the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was pulled out from under them.

These are the victims of not understanding rhetoric; it isn’t a far walk from not understanding that Obamacare and the ACA are the same thing, and not being able to define “socialism” even as you publicly reject it as evil.

This is the U.S. This is our naive democracy.

Today, the U.S. is trapped in politics as sport, a naive democracy lined up to make a false choice between Democrats and Republicans who are nearly holding hands on how they view the market and only slightly at odds over tolerating or rejecting public institutions.

We are the people worked into a lather about making the life-altering choice between a Camry or an Accord, a Coke or a Pepsi, but completely ignoring of the choice not to drive or not to consume soft drinks.

Where’s the freedom in that?

 

The Market Fails Education

One of the intended consequences of the federal legislation known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was to force public schools in the U.S. to disclose and then address differences among demographics of students. Two of the key demographics targeted were race and socioeconomic status.

While the outcome of this part of NCLB was not a surprise—exposing significant and persistent “gaps” correlated strongly with poverty and so-called racial minorities—there were unintended consequences, including the creation of the achievement gap market.

NCLB mandated that districts and schools not only report disaggregated data on race, gender, and socioeconomic categories, but also document how those gaps and demographics of students were being addressed in order to close the gap.

Within just a few years, then, Ruby Payne boosted her own career by monetizing how to address the poverty gap in education, as detailed by Ng and Rury in 2009:

Measures of Payne’s influence are remarkable to consider.  Her aforementioned [self-published] book[, A Framework for Understanding Poverty,] has sold over one million copies and been translated into other languages such as Spanish since its publication in 2005.  Payne has also launched a speaking career by conducting professional development workshops in 38 American states and internationally.  She trains approximately 40,000 educators a year and reports having worked with 70 to 80 percent of the nation’s districts over the last decade with the assistance of her staff and consultants (Shapira, 2007).

However, while Payne provided a product that met the demands of the market created by NCLB, scholars of poverty, race, and education eventually exposed significant problems with Payne’s book and workshops:

While Payne’s popularity cannot be disputed, her work has generated great controversy and criticism.  For example, questions have been raised about the methodological validity of her work and subsequent self­-proclaimed “expertise” (Baker, Ng & Rury, 2006).  Others have criticized the deficiency­-oriented nature of her views on poor people that results not only in blaming the victim for being poor in the first place, but also blaming the victim for not exercising the power to alleviate his/her poor condition (Bohn, 2006; Osei­Kofi, 2005; Gorski, 2006a & 2006b).  Reviews of Payne’s published materials also indicate her inaccurate characterization of existing social science research and reliance upon stereotypes that poor people are disproportionately more immoral, lazy, and promiscuous than middle­-class or wealthy individuals (Ng & Rury, 2006).  And lastly, a careful analysis of the 607 “truth claims” she makes in her text reveals that the majority of her assertions actually contradict the findings of empirical work in fields such as education, anthropology, and sociology (Bomer, Dorin, May & Semingson, 2008). (Ng & Rury, 2009)

While scholarship continued to grow debunking Payne as an authority on poverty and education, Adrienne van der Valk reported on the Payne debate, and enduring career funded by K-12 education, in 2016:

Writer and educator Ruby Payne has been offering strategies for teaching students in poverty for almost 20 years. Since 1996, when she founded her business, aha! Process, to train educators on “the critical role schools can play in helping children and teens exit poverty,” Payne and her affiliates have, according to her website, “trained hundreds of thousands of professionals.” Her self-published book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty, has sold more than 1.5 million copies. Chances are, if you’re a K-12 educator who has received professional development on working with students in poverty, the training was associated with Ruby Payne.

It has now been several years more than a decade since a number of scholars warned that Payne has no credible expertise in poverty, and more disturbingly, that Payne’s central claims perpetuate stereotypes, deficit thinking, and victim-blaming, as van der Valk details:

In our conversations with scholars, educators and other stakeholders, five main criticisms of Payne’s K-12 materials emerged:

  1. They focus on individual interventions and ignore the systems that cause, worsen and perpetuate poverty.
  2. They overgeneralize about people living in poverty and rely upon stereotypes.
  3. They focus on perceived weaknesses (or deficits) of children and families living in poverty.
  4. They are theoretically ungrounded and offer little evidence that they work.
  5. aha! Process workshops—and their price tags—capitalize on the needs of children in poverty.

The ability of Payne to grow her business absent credible expertise or even valid products can also be seen in her newest branding, an Emotional Poverty Workshop offered in February 2020.

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Using the belief systems in Payne’s work as well as the belief systems of the education administration and faculty who choose Payne and continue to support her work, it would be easy to blame those school personnel and Payne herself for the Payne phenomenon. But that would be as misguided as Payne’s books and workshops themselves.

The problem here is systemic—reducing a foundational public institution to the whims of the free market. If the system within which Payne is thriving were a different system, we could imagine school personnel and even Payne herself behaving differently.

The systemic problem is distinctly American since it involves the false either/or beliefs in the U.S. concerning socialism (as a reductive and misused term for “publicly funded”) and capitalism. While many in the U.S. claim the country is more devoted to democracy than its economic system, a strong case can be made that the U.S. is capitalism first if not working toward capitalism exclusively.

Public discourse and policy tend to represent anything publicly funded as inefficient, corrupt, and/or failing. Think the narratives around public schools throughout at least the last 170 years.

To understand better how the market necessarily fails education, please consider the road and highway system in the U.S. Roads and highways are primarily publicly funded, and even when roads are funded directly by the users (toll roads), many motorists dislike that version of transportation, and toll roads often fail, then converted into public roads.

Fully publicly funded and well maintained roads and highways are an excellent example of the systemic problem driving the Payne phenomenon. Publicly funded and the market are not antagonistic systems that any public must choose between, but potentially symbiotic forces that allow each system to function better together than in isolation.

Publicly funded roads and highways are essential to the market economy in the U.S., facilitating worker mobility and the near ubiquity of goods and services across the country. As the market thrives, as well, tax dollars are generated at higher and stronger rates, providing even more and better roads and highways.

Symbiotic.

Many in the U.S., notably political leadership, fail to recognize or acknowledge that symbiotic relationship, speaking instead idealistically about the market and demonizing about publicly funded. Public education, then, in some ways like the medical field, is forced into a hybrid system that feeds and depends on the market.

The problem, however, is a bit more complicated than simply blaming the market. In education, the failure of the hybrid nature of education funding (mostly public) and education spending (participating in the market, some of which is created or fueled by public policy) is in part bureaucracy, a failure found in both public institutions and private business.

Payne’s poverty prosperity was made possible by policy in NCLB but also because funds were earmarked and set to a deadline (spend it or lose it) within an accountability system that demanded that districts and schools document that the achievement gap was being addressed. This process occurred far too often (and occurs far too often still) in a purely administrative way.

NCLB also created administrative positions and duties; some people were charged (among dozens of other responsibilities) with complying with NCLB. Those education personnel likely did not have the expertise to evaluate the “who” and “how” of complying with NCLB achievement gap mandates, but was charged with making whatever could fulfill the mandate happen.

While NCLB has been replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act, the legacy of NCLB remains, a hyper-focus on the achievement gap that sustains the race and poverty market in education consulting and materials.

Public education would better serve students and democracy as well as the economy if it were removed from the market (similar to arguments being made about the health care system now) so that bureaucracy is replaced by professionalism and expertise (education decisions made based on research and experience, not policy mandates driven by accountability) and all education materials and professional development are completely funded by public dollars but also created exclusively within the public education system (not purchased from private vendors).

The Payne phenomenon and mistake would never have occurred and would not be lingering if race and poverty experts were employed throughout education and if all necessary materials and professional development were provided by those experts within the education system. The quality of this process would be much higher and the outcomes would likely be far more substantial.

Education, educators, and students are being mis-served by Payne and others who continue to monetize poverty, racism, and inequity, but this problem is likely a symptom of a much larger disease, the hybrid nature of public education funding and depending on a free market that is too often free of credibility or scholarly oversight.

The U.S. needs and deserves a robust and autonomous public education system free of bureaucracy and outside the market that invariably fails education and our students.

More Anxiety Chronicles: 2019 Travel Edition

The last time I acquiesced to boarding a plane to travel was 2007, a series of flying adventures all compressed into November of that year. I had only flown once before, and have avoided flying since 2007, resulting in quite a few long-distance drives as well as passing on several opportunities I genuinely should have taken.

At the core of all this, better framed as at the marrow, is my anxiety, which is best served by retreat, avoidance, and clinging frantically to the stasis of the known. I find new experiences nearly unbearable.

As friends have come to know, even when I do travel somewhere new, my greatest pleasure is to return over and over to the same bar or restaurant while I am away, creating a temporary stasis for my anxious self.

But there is another anxiety, another newness that is inevitable until it isn’t—aging. Each moment as a human is new; we can never know what it is like to be the next moment older, and then the next year or decade older.

Simply living, the anxious know, is a terror train (or plane) adventure.

As ridiculous as number anxiety is, I am terrified by the approaching reality of 60, just a bit over a year away. Some of that anxiety is driving me to re-evaluate my urge toward stasis so I accepted recently an offer to travel to Vermont. To a ski resort town.

Since others have asked when talking to me about the trip, I do not ski, and as noted above, tend not to fly.

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I can only do so much new; therefore, I accepted the flight, but did not ski. While the rest of the group did ski a couple days, I created for myself a writing retreat instead.

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Dealing with anxiety in a public way, among friends and acquaintances, is its own kind of particular hell. So making my trip somewhat public on social media stirred up the usual exhausting discussions about flying.

I am not “afraid” of flying (I know it is far safer than driving), and I cannot take meds, drink a lot, or somehow sedate myself for the flight to ease the anxiety. The anxiety around flying is about the entire experience from start to finish.

As I have tried to explain, my anxiety starts the moment I know about the entire trip and doesn’t end until the trip does. There is no making it better, there is no reprieve during the trip.

Yet, I must field the same questions over and over from people I like and even love.

It is none the less exhausting itself and part of the formula that drives me wanting simply not to do new things or the things, like flying, that I know make me miserable.

But I discovered an interesting irony to this new, this trying something unenjoyable again. My anxiety around flying is a very specific experience within a much larger set of triggers—sound and claustrophobia.

Trying to talk through flying anxiety again, I spontaneously said that I feel the same way flying that I do in department meetings (or any formal setting), the urge to simply run away, to find that stasis of anywhere else as long as there is space and silence.

Dozens of ways in my day-to-day life include feeling trapped, and thus becoming anxious, that are not much different from flying, although planes are incredibly small spaces that force me into compact social spaces with strangers and suffering loud and abrupt noises in ways that are extreme when compared to my normal life.

People focus on the “flying” and have trouble hearing me about the anxiety. (I am not mad about this, but it is exhausting.)

But the trip also included a whole new experience that seems related to my anxiety as well as my being an introvert and my dislike for coercion (me coercing others and others coercing me).

When I posted images of the ski resort on my social media with a snarky “No thank you” an odd thing happened.

I received a number of repeated demands from friends and acquaintances, chastising me for being at a ski resort and writing instead of skiing.

Of course, I have had this experience before whereby people impose onto others how those others should enjoy the world, but this was another experience with the sorts of stress that come with being anxious. I have no desire for other people to do or enjoy anything because I do, and I take no offense when people do not do or enjoy the things I do.

I truly find it puzzling that most people, it seems, are not only certain others will and should enjoy what they do, but that they must, or it is some sort of judgment passed down on who they are.

I despise the cold and snow so I have every reason to trust that I do not want to ski, even though I have never skied. As I walked around the ski resort, I was further assured of that; the inordinate amount of clothing and gear reminded me of the claustrophobia I endured to get to this damned place.

But there were hundreds of people there, gleefully; and the people I traveled with were also thrilled with the experiences despite the cold and even rain. I seems likely skiing is an enjoyable thing for some people, and I am happy for them.

But not for me.

I do know what I enjoy, and what I do not enjoy. I know myself, in fact, very well, but I do not yet know me of the next moment, the next year, the next decade.

That makes me anxious but I have no urge to flee that reality. I want it quite deeply, and it is there I recognize the seeds of anxiety.

I also care too much. And it is in the caring that we also find our suffering.

Here’s to caring, and to suffering. If that’s not your thing, I am fine with that also.