Tag Archives | anxiety

an anniversary

A year and a day ago, Husband and I knelt in front of the departure counter at JFK, enroute to our new home in Abu Dhabi, and played “rearrange the suitcases” because two of our suitcases were over the weight allotment for international travel. Liam slunk behind a pillar so he could pretend he didn’t know us, while Caleb laughed at the sight of stuffed animals, Trader Joe’s multi-grain pancake mix, and pairs of shoes being tossed from one suitcase to another. Husband and I tried to pretend that we had everything under control as  we shuffled around our belongings, but as our whispered cursing revealed, we were nervous wrecks trembling on the brink of disintegration.

Instead of shipping things to Abu Dhabi, we’d decided to max out our luggage allowance and bring everything with us in suitcases. Twelve suitcases, to be exact, each stuffed beyond capacity. Oh, and five or six carry-ons, plus entire satchels of anxiety. If the Joads from Grapes of Wrath had traveled by plane, we were what they would’ve looked like.  At least we weren’t carrying livestock.

A year and a day later, I’m writing this post in the screen porch of a house we rented in Long Beach Island, “down the shore” in New Jersey (a completely Snooki-free zone, thank god), and right now that sweaty anxious moment in the airport seems like a dream. In fact, our entire life in Abu Dhabi seems like a dream. It’s easy to imagine that we’ll pack up from here, drive back into Manhattan to our cramped apartment and resume life as we knew it.

But no. For one thing, we don’t have an apartment in the city anymore; for another, I seem to have lost my New York callouses. When we were in the city last week, it seemed extraordinarily loud, crowded, dirty, and expensive–the things that out-of-towners always say about Manhattan. There were some perfect moments–a gathering of old friends for an evening picnic, a night at the Delacorte in Central Park with Husband, watching “Into the Woods,” lingering in the Met with my dear friend S. from San Francisco and then wending our way to a ladies lunch, complete with quartinos of crisp summer wine. Bliss.

But also? Sirens, and slow-moving tourists, and traffic jams along 14th street that seemed to last for days.  I found myself thinking “at least in Abu Dhabi there’s a dedicated left turn lane, for god’s sake.” Yes. It’s true. I miss Abu Dhabi traffic patterns, despite the death-defying drivers slinging themselves into those turn lanes.

Trying to cram all my visiting into a week (and yes, I know, I missed many of you, apologies apologies apologies) meant moving fast: coffee downtown, lunch uptown, drinks in Queens. I felt winded all week; I don’t move that fast any more. My friends in New York move at a pace that I recognize but no longer practice.  Some part of me feels like I’ve lost my macho mojo–I mean, I regularly used to win the “who is busiest of them all” competitions–but part of me is happy to have slowed down.

I spent this past year feeling as if I were floating, as if I were playing pretend in someone else’s life. It reminded me of those early days of parenthood, when I would wait for the “real mommy” to show up and take over, because I sure as hell didn’t know what I was doing. Remember those days? When you’d just drift through the day, sleepless and bemused, and just getting the laundry folded (okay, just getting the laundry washed) felt like an epic accomplishment? Yeah. Much of the first year of expat life felt like that.

Now, however, to continue my metaphor, it’s as if that damn baby has finally started kindergarten and I can get some of my life back. My brain is waking up: there’s a non-fiction book percolating, and a novel or two. I am discovering what expat writers have been discovering for generations: sometimes being on the outside is the best way to get at what’s inside.

So. A year. I’m looking forward to going back and–because ambivalence is my true homeland–I am also bereft at the thought of once again saying good-bye to my family and friends. This whole expat thing would be great if you could just bring all the people you love along with you, don’t you think?  That’s what we were trying to do last year with our over-packed suitcases: cram “home” into our luggage so we wouldn’t be lonely.

But maybe loneliness is a fact of expat life, maybe it’s something you adjust to, like breathing in the Abu Dhabi heat or hearing the call to prayer and knowing what time it is.

I don’t know what will happen in this next year of expat life and I don’t know if these ideas stretching around in my head will amount to much.  I know only one thing for sure: I am bloody well weighing all my damn suitcases before I get to the airport.

See how much I’ve learned in a year?

sunset from my apartment window in Abu Dhabi






Continue Reading · on August 14, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, expat, moving, NYC, Parenting, UAE

in which i am anxious about the prom. i mean blogher12

I’ve been to a lot of conferences and have the pile of name-tags somewhere to prove it.  The conferences blur together: large industrial-strength hotel, lots of people swirling through elevators and escalators, people talking to other people in small rooms and in big rooms. Mostly it’s people talking.

Talking is one key component.  The other? Anxiety.

Conferences and anxiety go together. Are you job hunting, job hiring, presenting a paper, introducing a paper, meeting new colleagues, “networking,” dodging the person with whom perhaps you had a wee indiscretion at the last conference?  Whatever your situation, there’s anxiety about it.

This year, I’m going to BlogHer, which started a while back as a small, intimate gathering of women who did this new-fangled thing called online web logs…and now it’s a gathering of about 4000 online writers (not all of whom are women), gathering to talk tech, writing, politics, sex, laundry, unicorns, pretty much everything. The conference is in New York (might want to avoid midtown that first weekend in August, lest you be mowed down by iphone-wielding folk instagramming everything in their paths), I’m going to be in New York, I figured, hell, I’m a conference veteran, I’ll just sign up and go.

Easypeasy, right?

But now? Less than three weeks out? Oh good lord the nerves. Who will talk to me? Who will I talk to? Will I end up making chitchat with some sad crudite platter at the cash bar?

I’m looking forward to meeting all the wonderful writers who have become friendly voices in the loneliness of my first expat year…but I’m worried, too: the great thing about online friendships is that no one can, you know, see you.  Right, I know, that’s the entire principle behind match.com, but still. On the page I can be witty (or try to), or political (or try to), and I have a profile picture that doesn’t show all my chins. What if my in-person multiply chinned fabulousness falls short of my online fabulousness?

There must be scientific research out there demonstrating the link between confidence and new shoes, so maybe when I get to New York I should go shoe shopping?  What about a new outfit? And oh my god I don’t even own a purse. I’m a canvas satchel kind of gal…but maybe a new purse?

Yeah. If I have new shoes, I would definitely have the courage to introduce myself to The Bloggess.


Even writing that sentence makes me all sweaty-palmed.  I think I’ll just talk to the crudites, instead. I’m sure the carrot sticks have a really interesting story to tell.



Continue Reading · on July 21, 2012 in NYC, pop culture, tech life, writing

Monday Listicles: Anxious, anxious, anxious

Today is the beginning of the new semester, which means it’s time to crank up the teaching machine, dust off the notes, realize that these notes are too dusty to use yet again, re-write the syllabus, and generally panic about what the hell I’m going to say for fourteen weeks.  Because it’s the beginning of term, I’m not going to write a “bucket list” of ten things I hope to see happen before I die, which was one Listicle option we were given by Ally, one of two normal moms.

In any case, my list of what I’d like to see happen before I die would be your basic lefty media-elite wish for clean politics, clean air, clean food, clean water–and for there to be a veritable blizzard of invitations swamping the post office as gay couples all over the world decide to get (legally) married.  Oh, and I’d like teachers to get annual salaries that are even a fraction of what Newt and Mitt declared on their taxes (eighty gazillion and 3.1 million, respectively).

Yeah. That’s what I thought you’d say. Dream on.  So the other option for the listicle today was things that make you anxious.

Did I say it was the beginning of the term? At this time of year, me and anxious are like besties. We’re tight. We’re IM’ing each other and DM’ing each other and generally just inseparable.

1. The opening day of the term. I’ve been teaching for years and years but still that first day, walking into the classroom…Anxious. I’m always sure I’ve forgotten my notes, forgotten where the classroom is, forgotten how to work the computer for powerpoint.

2. Anxiety #1 links to the fear that it will be this term when I am unmasked as a fraud. That someone will storm into my office or stand up in class and say “Lady, you’re just nuts and this stuff doesn’t make any sense and where you’d get your graduate degree anyway, back-of-the-matchbook university?” (Confession: Husband and I were married by my uncle, who was licensed as a minister by…yep, the church of the back of the matchbook.)

3. Anxiety #1 and #2 combine to create the recurring nightmare that all teachers have, in some version or another: you suddenly realize that you were supposed to be teaching an entire other course in addition to the one you’re teaching and you’ve never set foot in the classroom; or you’re being observed by your supervising teacher or your tenure committee and realize that you’re naked; or you’re standing in front of the podium and the wrong notes are in your hand, you have no idea where you are, and no idea what you’re supposed to do.

4. Unrelated to teaching: bugs. Cookie’s Chronicles gave us a lovely upclose picture of an earwig and I’d like to return the favor: Giant water bugs. Or as I like to call them chichihuahua bugs (with apologies to small dogs everywhere). They’re huge. They move way the fuck too fast; they crunch when you get someone else to step on them. I can’t actually post the picture here because then I’d scream and knock the computer on the floor and that would be bad.  I will say that as I write about these horror beetles, my toes are all curled up and I’m scanning the floor, wondering if something is about to come waving its antennae out of the drain.

5. That my children’s fears about me ruining their lives by moving us all the way to hell and gone are right. Well, okay, I don’t think that’s going to happen, or at least, not because I moved them here. They’re not teen-agers yet. I’m saving the big guns of life-ruining for a few years down the road. The life-ruining hasn’t even started, kids.

6. That my parents’ comment (repeated over and over again when I was in grade school and middle school…and hell, in high school too): that I’m not living up to my potential, is going to come true. Of course, given how close I am to fifty, I wonder how long a person has to have “potential.” Is there a statute of limitations on that concept?  I mean, can I still be searching for the fulfillment of “potential” at fifty-five? At sixty?

7. What if I’m attacked by giant water bugs and never finish my novel? What if I’m not attacked by giant water bugs and then I don’t have an excuse for not finishing my novel?

8. What if I can’t finish my novel?And in the meantime, what if writing blog posts and fiction have so thoroughly insinuated themselves into my brain that I can’t go back and write professorial prose when I need to (see earlier on FRAUD).

9. What if these yoga pants (purchased on sale at Marshalls in NJ with my beloved sister during the winter holiday. God I loves me a big-box store. Not enough of them out here in Petro-dollar land, unless you count the mammoth Chanel emporia scattered throughout the various malls)–what if the fact that I’ve worn these pants so constantly for the past ten days means they’re never going to come off?

10. What if I don’t wring every drop out of this opportunity to live in another world for a while? What if I get back to the States and think “why didn’t I….?”

So there you have it folks.  I’m riddled with anxiety and the only thing preventing me from dissolving into a puddle are my Marshalls’ yoga pants. Omigod. Why didn’t I buy a second pair? What am I going to do when these fall apart?

Continue Reading · on January 24, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, expat, Monday Listicle

Maid Anxiety

I’m anxious today.

Well, actually, I’m anxious a lot of the time, in a kind of anticipatory free-floating sort of way–I like to have a sort of stockpile of anxiety on hand, ready to whip out at the slightest provocation, but this morning, my anxiety is pegged to a specific event.

The housekeeper is coming. And actually, even that word makes me anxious. Should I call her the housekeeper? Or the maid? Or the cleaner? Or should I go seriously third-world and call her “the girl,” despite the fact that she’s probably about 30.

I’ve never had a cleaning person before (there, that’s decided: she’s the “cleaning person”). Never in my adult life. My mom never had “help,” although she grew up with live-in help. My grandmother’s idea of “housekeeping” was calling the butcher in the morning to set aside veal cutlets for her, which may explain why when my mom first started living on her own, things like cooking an egg or boiling noodles were slightly unclear.  When we were growing up, we lived in a house with a laundry chute, and mom developed her own strategy for teaching us to pick up after ourselves.  Anything of ours that hadn’t been put away where it belonged she simply tossed into the chute. That meant that to find your algebra book, or tennis racquet, or wallet, or whatever it was, you had to go into the basement and pick through the dirty clothes pile to find your stuff.  Genius, right?

Out here in Arabia, though, labor is cheap. Really cheap. So cheap you practically can’t afford not to have help. Labor has been devalued to the point that sometimes the position of laborers borders on indentured servitude.  Many day laborers, mostly men, live in an enclave (we won’t call it a labor camp) outside the city–rows of dusty apartments inhabited by the South Asian and Pakistani immigrants who come here to work.  The women who come here to work–Filipinas, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis–often get positions as live-in housekeepers or nannies, and the apartments in our buildings are all designed, in fact, with maid’s rooms.

Here’s the room:

These spacious accommodations come with an “en suite” bathroom, which is so small that you could probably rinse your feet in the shower, brush your teeth, and take a pee all at the same time. We have friends in this building with live-in help, and while they wish they could offer more spacious accommodations, they all report that their “help” claims to be happy to have a private air-conditioned room with a private bathroom. Like I said. Labor is cheap here and accommodations in other places aren’t even as “nice” as these.

My person, however, is only coming once a week, on Sunday afternoons.  She’s from Sri Lanka and lives here with some number of relatives; the money she earns from housekeeping gets sent back home to support her 12 year old son. I know that she needs the work and yet I still have…I think it’s basic “white guilt.” I mean, who am I to hire someone to clean my bathrooms for me? Why the hell can’t I do it myself?

Well…well…because–okay, here it is, my assertion of first-world privilege: I just want someone else to do it, dammit, and for the first time in my life, I can afford that luxury. Plus I hate mopping the floor and our entire apartment is tiled in some kind of dreadful faux-marble surface that requires a great deal of mopping. And vacuuming.  There’s just a lot of general swabbing that needs to happen and I’m tired of it. Okay? Okay?

Yes. I’m a little anxious about it all. I’m worried that my cleaning products aren’t up to snuff. I’m worried about what I can ask her to do or not to do. Is it okay to ask her to wash the dishes in the sink from breakfast (we don’t have a dishwasher yet, or rather, I have been the dishwashwer and today, I guess she will be the dishwasher). What about laundry? Can I ask her to change the sheets on our bed? What if I ask her to do our bed but not the boys’ bunkbeds, does that seem fair? After all, changing the sheets on a bunkbed qualifies as an aerobic activity and I don’t want to inflict such an aggravation on this woman. Will that make up for the fact that our apartment is a mess? Now I understand that whole “cleaning up for the maid” syndrome because I’ve just suffered through it–although our apartment will have some clearly defined “no fly” zones:  Husband’s desk,  the mound of cords and cables in the TV room (yes, an apartment with a TV room that has a door that shuts when the wii gets too loud. Be still my beating heart), the lego projects/piles.

On second thought, I’m going to do the breakfast dishes.  Which means I don’t have any more time to write. She’s going to be here in an hour.

What’s the right outfit to wear for the first time you meet the help?


Continue Reading · on October 2, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, expat, Politics, UAE

First Day Eve…jitters

Tomorrow everything starts. Real Life, Abu Dhabi style: the boys have their first day of school, I have my first day of classes. Husband had a bunch of “firsts” this morning: first time slot, first class of the new semester, first-year students, freshly arrived in this desert town by the sea.

Today was orientation at the boys’ school and while both of them were nervous all the way there, by the end of the day, they both seemed excited about the prospects of a school with an outdoor swimming pool! a climbing wall in the gym! a HUGE computer lab! And also, apparently, there are classes and subjects and things like homework, but right now they are dazzled by the munificence of this school, which resembles their (very good) public schools in Manhattan about as much as I resemble Angelina Jolie.

Lest you be confused here, I would be playing the part of the Manhattan public school. Ms. Jolie the role of fancy international swimming-pool school.

Here’s the thing. The boys are excited and that’s great, and I’m sure it’s all going to be just ducky.  But they’re going to take the bus to school and the bus home.  A small bus, a bus that picks them up at our building and drives them the twenty minutes down the road to the school.  No intermediate stops, safe as houses.

But if they’re on the bus and I’m not dropping them off in the morning, how will I meet the other parents? How will I  scope out other kids so that I see with my own eyes the kid who shoves, the kid who’s funny, the girl with the perfect handwriting? How will I have the little informal chitchat with the teacher that helps me get a sense of who she is and how she runs her class?

Okay. Stop. Really? The thing that’s really, truly getting to me? It’s that they’re going to school on their own. Without me. I want to be with them on that first day, watch them walk into this entirely new experience and be there…just in case.

Remember that movie “Terms of Endearment,” with Shirley Maclaine and Deborah Winger? There was a scene early in that movie when Shirley has just brought her baby home from the hospital and when she comes in to check on the baby at night, she can’t tell if the baby is breathing. She gets closer and closer and closer to the baby until she falls head-first into the crib.

That’s a bit how it feels. I’m wanting to clamber into that bus tomorrow morning and ride to school with them.  Just in case. (In case of what, you might ask? I dunno, in case they start to pound each other, or in case they forget which gate they’re supposed to use, or they can’t find their classrooms, or one of the older kids says something nasty. The translation of “just in case” is “I can’t let go.”)

They would, of course, die a thousand deaths.

But really, they wouldn’t even have to talk to me. I could just sit in the back of the bus and then float into the school-yard.

They wouldn’t even know I was there.

You know, just in case.

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Continue Reading · on September 4, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, Children, Education, growing up, Kids, Parenting

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