Omnipresence

I was chatting with my dad a while ago about this blog when he mentioned that I hadn’t said anything about him or my mom in a while.  It makes sense, he said, because they aren’t really in my life anymore.  He said he understood, that it was logical for a person of my age and place in life.  It was just an observation.

And I thought about it.  It’s true, I don’t write explicitly about my parents very often.  And it’s true that as I’ve grown, particularly over the past few years since beginning college and leaving home, our relationships have changed as they need to parent me less and I cross that threshold into Seeing Parents As Actual Humans.

But I don’t think it’s true that they aren’t in my life anymore.

I don’t write about my parents precisely because their presence in my life is so ubiquitous that it would be like writing about air.  I don’t write about them because their influence, their values and ways of thinking and ways of challenging myself are so deeply ingrained that it seems obvious to me that those influences are there, unnecessary to state.  Anyone who meets me quickly learns how much I admire my parents, how both of them showed me how to be kind and work hard and stand up for myself and hold onto integrity.  Anyone who then watches me interact with either my mom or my dad then usually says to me afterwards, “Wow, you really are that close.”

I don’t call as much as I should.  I don’t always answer text messages.  (I’m trying to work on those things.)  I have even moved time zones, all the way to the other side of the country.  So, no, they aren’t as personally and directly involved in my life as they were when they were pulling me in a wagon around the state fair or picking me up from rehearsal in high school.  But, as much as I would love for them to still be nearby every single day, I do have the way they raised me, and so much of my vocabulary, my humor, my decision making comes from them that I forget that it needs to be stated.

So, Dad, I love you, but you were wrong.  I don’t write about you and Mom because you are still so deeply a part of my life that it seems obvious to me that you are there between the lines of everything I write.

But I’ll try to say it more.

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Before I Typed “Me Too”

I’m sitting on our brand new couch, staring at Facebook on my phone, thumb hovering over the text box to type my own post.  Thinking.

Of course.  Me too.

Except it might sound like a bigger deal than it is.  I mean, I’ve never actually been assaulted, thank God.

I mean, there was that one guy on my first day at my new summer job who drove past me when I was walking to lunch and turned around so he could pull up next to me, call me beautiful, and ask if I wanted a ride, and when I said no thank you he said, “Come on, honey, it’s me,” and I thought if he decided he knew me then I couldn’t convince him otherwise, so I did what my mom always said to do in that situation and I did a 180 and zipped back the way I came because it takes a car longer to turn around than a person, and by the time he did turn around again (because of course he turned around again, he didn’t let it go) I was across the street and almost back inside.  I didn’t eat lunch that day.  But it’s not like he actually touched me.

I never went out for lunch again after that.  Except in my car.  Except even in my car I’m not completely safe, because there were those guys in the pickup (way to match stereotypes, boys) at the stoplight who honked at me while I was driving  and tried to get me to roll down my window and then when I wouldn’t look at them they started screaming at me without caring who stared.  No one really stared, though.  I guess we were all used to it.  But it’s not like they followed me.

Except that’s happened before, too, where I’ve noticed a car behind me making the same turns, time after time, and I’ve counted in my head and debated whether or not to actually go home, and told myself that if they make this next turn too I’m going to drive straight past the house because no way am I leading them to my sister.  In those cases, you go to a police station, or a bank, somewhere well-lit with lots of cameras, and go inside where there are witnesses.

I told the Engineer all that, rattled off the safety tips I carry like the pocket knife he gave me and the mace my dad gave me, the things I hope I never have to use, the things I hope I don’t freeze up too much to use if I ever do need them.  I told him all this because when we left the movie theatre the other night he asked, a little jokingly, if I really always check under the car before getting in when I’m in a dark parking lot.  I told him I do it less when he’s around.  Then I told him it’s not just under the car, it’s the back seat and the trunk area too, and if there ever is an intruder you’re supposed to drive straight into the next light pole because you’ll be wearing a seatbelt and odds are they won’t so you can cause a scene and maybe hurt them and people might not respond to yelling and screaming but they’ll whip out their phones for a car crash.

My new husband looked at me and said he hated that I had to know all that.

But it’s not like I’ve ever been physically attacked.

I shouldn’t make the post.  I log out.  Then log back in.

Except isn’t it an assault on my autonomy, on my personhood, when those frat boys honked at me when I walked to class and made me jump out of my skin?  Or when that guy stroked my hair on the bus because it was crowded and he could get away with it?  Or when a guy friend (who was dating my friend and who knew I was dating the Engineer) tried to get me to send him pictures, yes, those kinds of pictures, by saying it was only fair since I had the unsolicited one he’d sent?

Isn’t it an assault on my personhood to convince me that all of these things are normal, or close enough to normal that it shouldn’t count?  Isn’t that the problem, that we’re supposed to hesitate, supposed to belittle our own experiences because at least it’s not x degrees worse?  That’s why women are posting, because they’re sick of it.

So, yes.

Me too.

What I Learned From My August Self-Challenge

It was Tuesday, August 1st, and I was sitting at the kitchen table with Bird, staring at my computer.  I’d meant to post something on Monday, but I forgot, and now the private goal I’d had of posting something every day that week was gone.  But another calendar segment had just begun.

I looked up at Bird.  “I’m going to try to post something every weekday in August.”

“Okay then.  Let me know how that goes.”

I didn’t make it the whole month without interruption.  Moving across the country and then being housebound once I got there (we don’t have my car there and I can’t drive stick, so the Engineer’s truck is out) made for less-than-exciting anecdotes.  But for a good 3 1/2 weeks, I managed to post something Monday through Friday.  So if anyone noticed that for the first half of August I was writing something every weekday, I thank you for your attention.

Here’s what I learned about myself (and blogging) in this little challenge I told no one about:

  • I can’t not be a perfectionist, but I can reassign the Perfection Value to something else.  Rather than trying to write amazingly polished pieces or having a word count goal, consistency was the “perfect” thing I strove for.  Focusing on one aspect of the blogging process helped me give myself more leeway with the other parts.
  • I need to use the good ideas I have.  I’ve had topics sit in my drafts for months before I finally wrote them, simply because I thought I had to save it for the right occasion or it needed more tweaking.  In August I took the time to actually pursue those topic ideas and publish them because I needed to write something that day.  And it felt good to use those ideas.
  • Because not all the ideas I have are good ones.  I didn’t like all of the posts I made this month, but they were part of the Write Something/Anything process.  There’s a part in Gail Carson Levine’s Writing Magic where she talks about respecting every idea that comes forward, even the really stupid ones.  She says that once your creativity sees how you treat those mediocre ideas, it will start sending out the really good ones.  Other writing teachers have stressed something similar over the years, but that’s the image that stuck with me: the Not So Great Ideas are the brazen ones that come forward immediately, while the Great Ideas are shy and need encouragement from seeing how I receive the others.  And once I started using those mediocre posts (again, because I just needed to write something that day), better writing came through in the following days.
  • Life gets in the way, but that doesn’t bother me unless I really wanted to write that post.  Even after getting to North Carolina, when we had just set up the internet, I managed to keep posting for a week and a half, even though we had no furniture and there were boxes everywhere and if I had forgotten to post it would have been from busyness and exhaustion, not laziness.  I really wanted to keep writing, so I did.  And when I didn’t have any ideas that gave me that energy, and I finally stopped posting every weekday, I wasn’t kicking myself for it, because I wasn’t missing an opportunity to say something amazing.  Life just happened.
  • People do actually read my blog.  I keep forgetting that when I show people something I posted, they might start reading regularly.  And I actually gained some followers (welcome, new friends!) during this month of posting consistently, and my reader traffic increased as well.  While that truly wasn’t a goal of my little challenge, I like knowing that people enjoy my writing!
  • There are topics I stay away from.  I feel like they might not match whatever theme my blog seems to have, or I feel like other people could say it better because they’re more experienced/informed/well-known/etc.  Going forward, I probably won’t post them here, but I do want to write out those thoughts and explore them more.
  • I like writing every day.  I forget that sometimes.

Thank you all for reading!

 

 

Reminders of Robin Hood

I’ve been thinking a lot about Nottingham, randomly remembering the curve of our street between the park and the cemetery, picturing myself suddenly there at random moments throughout the day.  I miss it.  I miss the Left Lion at the courthouse, my nondescript little room in our flat, the tea places tucked into every spare shopfront, the wide sidewalks around the university, the way the castle was just suddenly there when you turned certain corners.

This could be partly because the neighborhoods around here are full of streets named after various British Things – Robinhood Road, and Guinevere Lane, and Sherwood Forest Elementary School.  Then there are the fairytale names, like Fernhaven and Friendship Circle (not joking), which somehow don’t seem too saccharine because of the stately mansions lining both sides of these streets.  With every turn onto another Yorkshire or Greenbrier Farm, you think Yes, that makes sense here.

In Notts, I never knew where I was going to spot another beautiful, astoundingly ancient building.  Our flat was in a boring block of similar brick buildings, but it only took a short walk to reach the historic part of town.  The castle, of course, was the most obvious, stumbling into the old moat where the Robin Hood statue stands, which made me feel like a villager living in the shadow of Castle Rock way back when.  But there were also the pretty neighborhoods where our architecture tutors took us walking, the twists and turns (our new town isn’t laid out like a grid either, and I can’t quite make sense of it yet).

Here, in North Carolina, our house is in an early-aughts subdivision sandwiched between two parkways.  It’s pretty enough, especially compared to our old apartments, but a few minutes’ drive from us is a castle-like hotel with sweeping grounds, a mews, a stable, and guesthouses that look like mansions in their own right.  When we were house-hunting, when we got tired of the depressing reality of homes within our budget, we would get lost in the Robinhood Road neighborhoods, oohing and aahing over the columns and wraparound porches.

So once again, I’m living on the edges of grandeur.

I’m happy that this new place in which I know no one reminds me of another place in which I knew no one that turned out to be one of the most wonderful places I’ve been.

(No matter how long I live in the South, however, I will never be able to pronounce it Notting-HAM.)

Where the Hell is Our Mailbox?

When the Engineer and I were house-hunting, we had a wish list.  We wanted a garage for his motorcycle, an in-unit washer and dryer that were not coin operated, a cat (not included with the house, but we wanted the option to get a feline friend), and a mailbox in which we could not only receive our own mail but have outgoing mail picked up (our old apartment complex didn’t have an outgoing mail slot, so we had to go to the on-campus post office).

We got some of the most important things on our list.  The Engineer’s motorcycle is safely tucked in our garage, and we’ve already run several loads of laundry in our Very Own Laundry Room.  Unfortunately, though, the cat is not allowed.

And at first it seemed like we didn’t have a mailbox.

We noticed a bank of locked mail slots at the end of our street in our little townhouse/apartment community.  The keys we received from the realtor included a mail key, so this seemed a likely spot for our mailbox to be.  On our way out on an errand one day, we pulled over to see if we could find our mailbox.  There were four sets of boxes, numbered from 1 to 14 over and over.

Our house number is above 1200.  We have no other unit number for it.

We texted the realtor, but she just told us the mailbox was at the end of our street, which we already knew.  She didn’t know what number it was.

We resolved to flag down a neighbor the next time we saw them, ask which mailbox was theirs, and extrapolate from there.  But we kept missing them in our comings and goings.

Finally, we stood together in front of the bank of boxes, trying the mail key in as many boxes as we could before someone drove by.  None of them worked.  One of them even tried to eat my key.

Then, at last, on his way to a meeting today, the Engineer spotted the mailman himself at the mailboxes.  Pulling over briefly, he explained that we had just moved in and didn’t know which mailbox was ours.  He came home triumphant.

“I found out which one is our mailbox!”

So we took a stroll up the street, stood again (less suspiciously this time) in front of the boxes, and ceremoniously turned the key in our box: Number 11 in Row 3.  Sure enough, on the inside of the little metal door was our house number and our last names.

And right below it, etched in a little metal lid over another slot: OUTGOING MAIL.

We had to hunt it down, but we sort of got our wish after all.

Review: In This House of Brede

I finished this book on the flight from Seattle to Raleigh.  To my left was a dad watching a Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson movie.  To my right, across the aisle, was an Unaccompanied Minor who was too cool for school, or for playing peekaboo with the adorable toddler who kept popping over the seat in front of him.  The toddler gave up eventually, turned to me, and waved with that jellyfish finger wiggle of small children.  I smiled and waved back, but he looked quizzically at the tears in my eyes.  I was, yet again, having A Moment, courtesy of a book, in a public place.

Bird had recommended Rumer Godden’s In This House of Brede to me after she read it – part of her reading had, in fact, overlapped with us sharing a room at our nana’s house, and she kept me awake with her exclamations over the Benedictine monastery at Brede.  It’s a novel about nuns (Bird loves nuns) and a high-powered businesswoman, Philippa Talbot, who refuses a career-making promotion in order to go and follow the (unexpected) call to become a nun.  The book follows Philippa on her journey from preparing to enter the monastery to her Solemn Profession and beyond as she finds her place in the community in the years before Vatican II.

“What do you ask?”

“To try my vocation as a Benedictine in this house of Brede.”

At first, I found Godden’s narration a bit difficult to get used to.  It’s not quite like the third person omniscient one usually reads; there’s too much interjection from various characters, as though you’re dropping in on multiple overlapping conversations held in some sort of nondescript space, because it doesn’t matter where they said it, or even when (many of the side characters’ observations about events are followed by, “Dame So-and-so said afterwards“).  But, much like protagonist Philippa Talbot, once I grew accustomed to the rhythms of the story, I felt right at home.

The hop-around narration fit the community of the nuns, the self-effacement they were meant to seek, and the way each in turn affected all the others.  It is a book about relationships and communities of faith, and about relationships with people who understand neither community nor faith.  In one instance, Philippa’s former secretary is near death following complications from an abortion.  Her formerly shallow husband is shocked when Philippa says the sisters will pray for the secretary – “But they don’t even know her!” he says.  Nevertheless, all the sisters, even those with conflict between them, participate in a vigil praying fiercely for the life of this girl they do not know.

Another nun, Sister Cecily, struggles against her mother’s worldly expectations.  At her Clothing (when the postulant receives her novice’s habit to wear), Cecily’s mother calls the ceremony, which resembles a wedding, a mockery because there is no “real” bridegroom.  Cecily’s pain is palpable, for what could be more real to her than faith?  Godden gets vocation absolutely right – how some people are called to secular life, others to missionary work, and still others to contemplative lives, enclosed in a world of prayer that still touches and works for the world outside.

And meanwhile, the nuns are all too human.  Dame Veronica struggles with weakness of will and pride.  Abbess Hester leaves behind an enormous, secret debt from circumventing her advisers to achieve a pet project.  Philippa herself must unlearn all the things that made her so successful in the business world, realign her values, and learn to lean on the community.

Now, I don’t know how non-Catholics or non-Christians might like or dislike this novel, but I do think it could at least provide a genuine look at what religious communities strive to accomplish and how faith motivates everything they do.  Godden’s amazing portrayal of these characters as they navigate their personal relationships and their relationships with God struck me as so emotionally accurate that, yes, I found myself holding back tears on an airplane when I had to close the back cover and leave this house of Brede.

5/5 stars on Goodreads

The Tide of Adventure

“From sea to shining sea,” to me, always meant from East to West.  Moving west was the proper direction, from the Atlantic that first brought European explorers, troops, and colonists, to the Pacific that halted Lewis and Clark at last.  From the first sea, the Old World, to the second, the New (to white people).  I had a certain amount of pride in growing up in the Pacific Northwest, where, it seemed to my elementary school self, everyone must have wanted to settle down.

Going east now seems strange, like we’re pulling against the tide of adventure that swept so many people to the western expanses of the United States.  “Go West, young man!” our so-called Manifest Destiny proclaimed, and the young men obeyed, and women, too.

(I’m currently reading a history of the Harvey Girls, which may be part of why moving back East [does it count as “back” if I’ve never lived this far east before?] feels weird – I just finished the background section on the Santa Fe Railroad.)

Instead, our current is bringing us to the shores of history, the New to Us But Old in General world.  From the west coast – where I grew up surrounded by stories of pioneers for whom the Oregon Territory was the endgame, making it seem like the West must be the final goal for everyone – to the east coast, where the water is actually warm and the first growing pains of our nation started.

From one sea to the other.  Our own new adventure.

 

Life Update: Back and Forth

I had a really thoughtful post all planned out in my head for today about song lyrics that struck me the other day in the car.  But then I barely slept last night and I need to go to bed early because I’m flying out to North Carolina tomorrow to start unpacking our new house.  So instead you get a brief update about the logistics of the remaining month until the wedding:

>First, I fly out to meet the Engineer and his brother at our new house (yay!) in North Carolina.  I’ll be there for the Engineer’s first few days of classes, then…

<I fly back to the Pacific Northwest to finish up wedding details for 2 weeks.

<He flies back to the Pacific Northwest so we can get married.

<We go to Hawaii.

>We fly all the way back to North Carolina and finally stay put for a while.

Oh, and here’s a question I was mulling over with the Commodore: can I put Wedding Coordinator and Moving Director on my resume now?

 

Address Book

Starting our own (empty) home means things keep occurring to me that I’ve never had to think about before.  Silverware, for instance, has always just been there, in the drawer, and so has the plastic organizer sorting it into its neat little categories.

My mom has always had an address book we referenced whenever we needed to send out thank-you notes or invitations, so I always wanted to have my own when I moved out.  I forgot that this involved writing out all those addresses.

I’ve gotten through the Cs.

Security Questions Make Me Examine My Life

Due to, apparently, Wedding Thieves, I had to choose a security question for one of our registries this afternoon.  As I scrolled through the options to find my usual choice, I noticed a new one: what was your first concert?

I haven’t been to one, I thought.  Concerts weren’t something I thought of spending my money on.  For one thing, I was raised largely on Disney and Broadway soundtracks, so the closest thing I had to seeing those songs in person was Beauty and the Beast On Ice or going up to the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle.  For another, I didn’t notice advertisements for bands.  In high school, when two of my friends got Death Cab For Cutie tickets, I was utterly baffled by the idea that a band whose name I barely recognized would be nearby.

Then later this evening I suddenly remembered sophomore year, when I was helping the Engineer unpack his new apartment and dancing around to the Love and Theft album I had just bought.  A few days later, the Engineer said, “So do you want to go to CampusFest?”

“W…why?”  (This was not a normal activity for him to suggest.)

“Love and Theft are playing.”

In that case, sign me up.

It was actually pretty fun, crammed onto our campus mall with a bunch of other students, dancing around to the songs (one of which is still “our song”).

And then there was last year, when the Engineer’s sister came to visit because Chase Bryant was coming for a concert.  The Engineer bought our tickets and entered a raffle for a meet-and-greet.  “There are only five people entered right now, so you’ll probably win,” they told him.

He did.

The meet-and-greet was rapidfire and not that fun, but swing dancing on the edges of the room till we were breathless was great.

And I just now remembered that the Commodore and some friends and I went to a One Republic/Sara Bareilles concert at the beginning of sophomore year for a friend’s birthday.

So my initial response to the security question was wrong.  But considering I can’t seem to remember any of these concerts, it still wouldn’t be a great password protector.