grad school, parenthood, identity crisis. welcome to the rabbit hole.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016


Lena has never been more than a room away.

When she was born she slept in a basket on my bed in my parents house. Then I found a partner and I started to move Lena into a crib in my old room, while I stayed in the guest room.

Sleep training was hard. It was hard because all comfort had always been an arm reach away but all of the sudden I needed my bed back, for me, and Lena needed to sleep on her own, for her, and I got in these stupid arguments with my parents that were all along the lines of, ‘why do you need to change what is working, you’re just being selfish, why are you letting her cry.” And I had to say “Because it’s clearly not working, and I’m not being selfish, and she needs to learn to sleep on her own."

The thing I hadn’t realized then, and maybe am just even learning now was that I was being selfish, but most importantly I was allowed to be selfish, it was in fact important for me to be selfish. 21 year old me was not able to articulate all of this. I hadn’t figured out how to be a parent, I hadn’t figured out how to advocate for Lena, or myself. But we made it through, all of us. I can’t dwell on it too much without it still hurting—how hard it is to be both a parent and a child in the same house and the same time.

And then we moved out. And we shared an apartment with a roommate; a three-bedroom ground floor apartment where my roommate had the master bedroom, and Lena and I had the two bedrooms at the other end. Still at the end of the hall, still right next to each other. I heard her fall asleep, when it thundered at night I listened for her movements, waited for her to come to me.

And then we moved again, to A House of Our Own, a teeny house, where our bedrooms touch, where the light from her nightlight spills into the hallway and into my room. And when she’s sick I hear her cough and when she’s sad I hear her cry and when I’m sad she hears me cry and when I am happy she hears me joyful and we are right next to each other, as we have always been. As we have always been.

But we are both growing and changing. I want to go running in the evening and I ask Lena if she would be comfortable staying at home by herself for a little bit, no more than an episode of Pokemon, and she says, “I don’t know, I think I would get a little scared.” So I don’t leave her yet, I don’t go running when she is home, even though I want to so badly, even though we can go hours without talking in our little house, even when we are right next to each other.

I ask her if she likes it just the two of us and she says yes. And I say would she like it if there was another person around and she knows the answer I want to hear so she says “I don’t care.” She pauses, then, “But I like that it’s just us.” And I try to explain and I say, “You know how your other friends have a mom and a dad, and it’s nice because they have each other and I know we have each other but sometimes adults need other adults.” And Lena says, “Are you getting married?"

It’s daunting. To imagine adding someone into our lives. To change the life that we’ve put together. But we need it. I need it. I need my bed back again. It’s time for me to be selfish.

I feel like I did seven years ago and I’m justifying my decisions as an adult, as a parent. And I am saying in vain that other people’s kids sleep in cribs and other people let their kids cry it out, and other people have lives and relationships and do things for themselves and I can only hear my parents wondering why I need to change things when “everything is working out so well, you’re doing so great."

and I want to say no, I’m not.

I’m not.

I’m not.

I’m not.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

the folded down corner

I am not sleeping, so something must be wrong. (I am nothing if not a champion sleeper. Planes, cars, libraries, couches, the ground. I love sleeping and am very protective of at least 8 hours every night.)

It is maybe, about a boy. (You can call him a man, a voice says. Calling him a boy does nothing to diminish the man-sized hurt that you are feeling.) I have maybe cried over this boy. But maybe not. His name is not the one that falls out of my mouth when I least expect it. This other name, I exhale it when I am by myself. Is my body shedding itself of him? Or is it trying to remind me of him. and Why is this name, and not that one.

There is power, maybe. That this boy does not occupy my silences. That I do not feel the need to address him directly. There is only one you, and he is not that.

You. You have left a bookmark in my heart. You are the folded page of a library book. When I come across you I smooth you out and wonder how you came to be and then I turn the page and you are gone.

But your name slips out of my mouth, still. A phenomenon that I have never experienced and I have loved and lost and loved again. (To break the reverie, it happens in the car, when I am driving. It happens at my desk while I am working. It happens while I am doing the dishes. Sometimes there are people around and I look up after it happens, and I wait for someone to ask, what did you say? and I will have to answer, nothing. In these moments my breath has a life of its own and forms itself as your name in my exhalations.) I have been heartbroken and I have broken hearts and this is the only time a name has appeared again and again and again.

It must be that:

You are trapped in my chest and are trying to get out.

Or, you have made a home in my body and I am trying to be rid of you.

Or, you are gone, and I want to remember you.

Or, I am alone and I am thankful, it is still only you. You are the only one to have left me, no one else.

(Or, am I telling myself this, to diminish the pain.)

But even in your absence, you leave me with words, and thank you, thank you, for that.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

a few words

I'm cleaning out my computer, and now everything in my life will be categorized as Before Rachael had a File Naming System and After Rachael had a File Naming System (BRhaFNS & ARhaFNS, respectively.)

I also found a pdf of my livejournal from 2003-2007.

There are a few things of note here:

1) I was SO PROLIFIC. Maybe not the most prolific but this is a 559 page document, and there's not a lot of white space. Did I peak too soon?

2) There are some gems. Almost every entry I have a snippet of an AIM conversation, and there are some wonderful memories from you people. scottishfiction, lunchdetention, cheshirequeen, heelhearted, ogbanje guys AIM NAMES...I couldn't love you any more.

3) Why, why, WHY did no one tell me that I was unreasonably obsessed with Alex Nagy. Because good lord, 16 year old me, you had a real problem.

4) I couldn't go through all 559 pages, because I have actual things to do, but from the brief things I read I was very obsessed with Hitler for a bit. and then POETRY oh my dear lord poetry.

5) I keep closing this pdf and reopening it because I'll get so painfully embarrassed for myself and then want to go back and keep reading.

What's striking is that the last entry is my recounting of a ridiculous day where I had just acquired Sufjan Stevens tickets, had a really dumb, jealousy-fueled encounter with Alex Nagy, and then ran off into the arms of my then boyfriend, who was categorically an asshole. And it ends there. It's strange, fitting, relevant, that I stopped writing when I started going down the path of being in an abusive relationship. It is perhaps the most fitting example of losing your identity completely to another person. And it has taken me years of trying to get that person back. She's here, she's a sporadic blogger, obviously, but she will never be the same as she once was.

I used to attribute that (the lack of 559 more pages) to life as it stands now, I have a kid, I'm in graduate school. But I, really, always managed to fill a journal, before, no matter what was going on. I loved writing. It's how I processed the world.

I fell for someone so hard last year, so hard, and I wrote a poem about it, like a ridiculously happy celebratory read aloud poem about it.

here is someone that doesn't put words in my mouth
he holds me close and when he leaves instead of alone,
words, the alight in the space he has made in my bed
he leaves, he leaves every time, but the words they stay with me and he asks for nothing in return. 
so these words, i smooth them into my sheets.
i let them play across my hands and i twirl them into my hair
i have invited them in and thankfully they have chosen to stay. 
so this, this is a love poem for poems
this is a poem that has been gestating for 8 years
and lemme tell you, that's a long time to go without a poem, right? 
and i don't ____ you
but I, you-gave-me-words-back, you
and thank you for that

the thing is,

i feel them slipping away again. and i know that means i'm not being myself. and i want to find the villains, the assholes, the reasons for this. but when i find them, why do i invite them to stay? they are here on my back porch, taking up the room of these words that I fought so hard to find again.

go away assholes. demons of apathy and emptiness. now that I know your names I have armed myself with poems and love and light and 559 pages of livejournal entries where 10 years ago me, while quite ridiculous in some respects (guh the alex nagy stuff is just EMBARASSING) had a few things right, she loved words, she was unafraid of them, and she never, ever questioned that they would leave her.

words, i won't ever let you go again.

Monday, March 14, 2016

putting them down

There was some inspirational quote going around the other year or so and it was like, a glass of water is really heavy if you carry it around all day, so why do you carry it around? It's that 'let it go' advice.

Well, if you don't mind, I have been carrying a few things around lately, and I want to let them go.

1) This kid at L's bus stop doesn't want Hilary to be president because she wants to be the first woman president. (She's a third grader.) I want to yell at her. I want to say this is why feminism has a PR problem, this is why women don't help each other out. There is room at the top for all of us. Hilary doesn't have to lose for you to win. Why isn't your mother teaching you this? You can be an amazing woman while other women are also amazing. They can be amazing in a completely different way or the exact same way. Your success does not depend on someone else's demise. Why aren't we teaching our children this? Why aren't we teaching our girls this? (She's in third grade. I don't actually say any of this to her.)

2) but her DAD on the other hand. Is a Bernie-bro, who thinks that if Bernie does not win the election he should run as an independent. This I did not keep my mouth shut on. No. that would be THE WORST THING. The last thing we want is to split the democrats and end up with Donald Trump as president.

3) It's hard to find a community. I'm trying to be a part of the Duke Grad Parents, but I went to one event and they're all a) married and b) have babies. I am not married, and I do not have a baby. and some of them have 3+ kids, and that's great, there is nothing wrong with 3+ kids, but while I have very little in common with people that are a) married and b) have babies I have even less things in common with people that c) actually choose to have more than 3 kids.

related, 4) so the Single Grad Parents decided to get together (there are 4 of us). One of them is married, but her husband is deployed so...gray of them wanted to get together for a play date during the day on a weekday, and their custody situation is 'up in the air' so who knows what their deal is, and the other...has a baby.

5) I'm really not as anti baby as I seem. I love babies. Two of my best friends are having babies.

6) Grad school + parenthood + being me is hard. I think each of these things are hard but all of them put together is the worst thing in the world. I wish I could be more articulate and make some gorgeous analogy to flavors and harmonies and things that are unexpected but work really well together and one of those metaphors that make it seem like it's actually a good thing and this is somehow a super power and I am secretly spiderman but nooooo. Grad school is so hard and parenting is so hard (despite having the easiest most perfect kid that does not want to be president if anything that makes it worse because literally the only thing I have to do for her is feed her and clothe her and NOT BE A JERK ALL THE TIME and I can't even do that) and gosh, I am like, the least equipped person for this. I barely made it through college! I am so lazy! I have no motivation! I cry at the drop of a pipet! I am not interested in anything! all of this is the worst combination in the world. Just an example of how these are the worst combination of things in the world: so 1) me, I'm lazy and horrible (character trait), so 2) my boss has decided that micromanaging me will help! (grad school) but 3) that actually makes me more stressed out (character trait) and a great solution would be for me to 4) be able to work on my own time, at say, night, because it would stop boss(grad school) from throwing me off when I'm in the middle of an experiment (which literally just happened which is why I am here writing, character trait) but I 5) can't because PARENTHOOD. and then that means 6) I'm miserable during the day (grad school + me) which means I 7) come home and am HORRIBLE to Lena (parenthood) which then means I am 8) unfocused at work (grad school) which then means my boss is more 9) annoying and literally if one of these things were different I think I could handle the other two, but I can't I have all three of them and I have no idea what to do. Probably stopping crying and writing this blog post and getting back to work would help. After I make a graphic that completely illustrates my life:

and they say that I'm not working on figures..

I just wish...I just wish I could get one part of my life under control. :(

Friday, February 26, 2016

two things from this morning


I burnt Lena's toast this morning--it was new bread; fluffy and flimsy, quicker to harden in our oven.

(Side list, Things I Wish My House Had  (Even Though it's Still a Great House) in order of importance: dishwasher, a toaster oven, indoor laundry.)

There is a one second pause when I wonder whether I should make her new toast, then I shrug and go ahead and smother the flattened brick of bread with nutella. I put the plate with the toast in front of her and Lena looks at it. It even looks hard. I'm stealing myself to remake her toast, or to tell her to shut up and eat what I give her, and she says, in the most upbeat and enthusiastic way, "Oooh, crunchy!"

I smile and watch her first bite, the crunch is loud, magnifying. And she says, "It's delicious, mommy."

If I wasn't so rushed I probably would have cried.


L has been sick basically this whole week, and this is the first morning she wakes up without a fever, though she still has this maddeningly fake cough. (Coughing like Drake in a Future song!) I decide to not rush us to the bus (which comes at 7:10) and instead let her sleep a little longer and drive her to school (which starts at 7:50). It turns out she's ready at like, 7:12, and then from 7:15-7:40 just lists off the time and tells me how much time we have and she doesn't want to be late to school and there are only 30 minutes before school 20 minutes before school mom are you ready yet school starts in 15 minutes.

Anyways so today was the last day that I will ever drive that ungrateful child to school.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

november-december reads

Letters to a Young Artist, Anna Deavere Smith (+++)
Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel, Anya Ulinich (+++)
Gold Fame Citrus, Claire Vaye Watkins (++)
The Invention of Nature, Andrea Wulf* (++)
Pacific, Simon Winchester* (++)

+++ = inspiring, hilarious, thought-provoking
++ = informative, compelling

format stolen respectfully and with much admiration from Aileen.

*listened to on audiobook

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

my wild children

My Wild Children

My wild children: in the morning
they eat my dreams, at evening
they wolf down my memories.
I am their manger.
I feel their rough tongues
on my soul.
I hear their sweet and empty slurping
day and night.

My wild children, my barracudas
sopping up my madness, muting my scream.
I dig into them.

I want to light my eyes
from their eyes,
as on a dark nocturnal street
a man asks for a light
for his last cigarette.

Yehuda Amichai
translated by Robert Alter