2012-11-09 13.45.17
The Senior Bench upon which I may now sit with impunity by virtue of completing 3/4 of my undergraduate education.

I had this weird thought as I walked past the Senior Bench the other day that I am now a senior and therefore may sit on the Senior Bench without fear of breaking some Long-Dead-But-Potentially-Resurrectable Tradition about not graduating on time or incurring the wrath of Actual Seniors.

It’s not like I was ever afraid to sit on the Senior Bench before – actually, Bird and I have a tradition of getting a picture together on the bench every time she visits me at school, and she doesn’t even go to college yet, much less this college.  There were never any passing Actual Seniors who snarled at me or threatened to drum me out of the student body.  I’m pretty sure half the people sitting on that bench at any given time are freshmen and sophomores, just because upperclassmen are too busy.

But it’s odd to think that that’s who I am now.  An Actual Senior myself.  I find myself with a case of nostalgia for the experience I am still in the middle of.  Mourning the coffee shops I still have months to visit.  Hugging my friends just a little too tight.  Grasping at the familiar walkways with curled toes inside my shoes as though I’m trying to make them stand still when I’m the one moving.

College is coming to a close.  Slowly, yes, and not unexpectedly, but still.

Sister Car Dancing Level: Pro

19a4839788909bdabb46838c9630e130One of my favorite things to do in traffic is defuse the tension by being that weirdo jamming out in her car, and I blame my sister for that.

My family has always been vehicularly musical; our road trips to visit relatives always involved rotating through tried and true soundtracks.  I knew the words to CamelotGodspellYou’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, etc. before I started first grade.  We still bust out Hairspray and The Best of Andrew Lloyd Webber.  So I sang in the car a lot growing up.

But car dancing didn’t really start until I taught Bird the moves to a dance associated with a particular retreat at my high school.  Although The Dance is and always will be connected to that retreat, the more I chauffeured my sister around, the more it became our thing.  If either of us was having a bad day, we’d put on The Song.  If we were bored driving home, we’d put on The Song.

Now, initially we only tended to do this while moving, so we felt like no one could see us (side note: I always toned down the moves enough to maintain full control of the vehicle at all times).  But one day, when the other drivers at a lengthy stoplight looked particularly irritable, Bird turned to me and said with that little-sister grin, “These people need Jesus.”  Before I realized what she meant, she had cranked up The Song to full volume and rolled down her window.  We were attracting glances from our neighboring cars, but the moves hadn’t started yet.  They thought we were just another couple of teenagers with really loud music.

I sighed and rolled down my window too.

When the lyrics began, we bounced in rhythm to the song and performed the moves in perfect synchronization.  The drivers across the intersection started to stare.  By the time the chorus came around, pretty much everyone was watching us.  The light turned green, and we drove on, still dancing and singing, but I definitely noticed some smiles.  Maybe they just thought we were ridiculous.  We probably looked ridiculous.

But who doesn’t love telling stories about ridiculous stuff?

Our car dance performances are not necessarily restricted to The Song or religious music.  We make up moves to Ariana Grande and Hunter Hayes.  The point is that it’s fun to get weird looks from total strangers and to make their day a bit more interesting.  (We also love to do this when we’re stopped by construction workers.)

car dance gif

And yet, for all our unbridled enthusiasm for car dancing, there has been only one spectator who dared to, as they say, get on our level.

Remember how Bird and I volunteered at VBS?  Well, one year we were given our own class to teach, a group of rambunctious 2nd and 3rd graders.  Like every other class group, our students had to learn a song.  At the concert at the end of the week, each class would perform their song, with the corresponding dance moves, for an audience of parents.

And as the teachers prompting them at the foot of the stage, Bird and I had to learn the moves too.

We were in the car on the way to St. C’s, practicing the moves and lyrics, music at full blast, when we stopped at a red light.  Since the choreography was designed for little kids, the chorus was mostly just waving your arms back and forth.  So that’s what we were doing – when we noticed the guy behind us staring.  And so was the lady next to us.

We bounced all the harder in our seats (restrained by our seatbelts, of course – safety first!) and exaggerated the ridiculous dance moves even more for our audience.  We figured we might as well.

And then, just as the light was about to turn, I glanced in the rearview mirror to see the guy behind us grinning and waving his arms back and forth in time with ours.

Well danced, sir.  Well danced.

Teaching Moments with Skits and Donuts

Summer always meant Vacation Bible School when I was growing up.  My mother complains says that she can still remember all six or seven verses of “the Moses Song” from my first year in VBS (“Mooooooses, floating in a basket, drifting down the river Nile.  Whoooooooo will, who will save him?  God will save this lit-tull child!”  There were hand motions and a lot of six-year-olds screaming the words.  I’m sure it was memorable indeed).  I loved this five-day opportunity to make summer as much like school as possible.  My mom probably loved the opportunity to have someone else entertain Bird and I while she ran errands.

You could only attend VBS as a student through 5th grade, so then, naturally, because I hadn’t had enough of the mind-numbingly repetitive songs and the cutesy themes (OK, I actually love the decorations in the Social Hall every year), I decided to be a volunteer for several years – until I graduated high school, actually.

One year, the Social Hall was set up to look like a Roman marketplace.  I forget the theme, but it was something about the book of Acts and the apostles trying to avoid persecution in the early Church.  There was even a cave (made of gray butcher paper and stacks of chairs) set up in the hallway for students to duck into whenever the “guards” walked by.  I worked in the abacus stall, helping kids string beads in cardboard frames (which usually took so long we didn’t have time to show them how it worked…which was fortunate, since we didn’t actually know).

I was also in a skit.

Every morning, volunteers would act out a short scene teaching one of the values related to that day’s Bible story.  I was supposed to be the kindly baker who buys a thief’s freedom from the surly guard, even though he steals bread right off my tray.  It was supposed to demonstrate forgiveness or something.

However, there were several problems with this plan.

  1. This skit took place at snack time, with a tray of actual pieces of bread/donuts to entice the kids, instead of during the morning assembly when they were all sitting quietly already. Obviously, the kids found the food more interesting than the stilted dialogue.
  2. The boy chosen to play the thief and the boy chosen to play the guard were brothers.  Identical twins, actually.  Who spoke very fast.  And got a little too into the whole “arrest” part of the skit.  Which led to…
  3. …an adult volunteer mistaking the spectacle for a real fight, coming over, physically separating the brothers, interrupting the skit to lecture them on acting their age in front of the kids.  At which point I noticed the students turning toward us with wide eyes.  Oh, sure, now they paid attention.
  4. None of us knew how seriously to take this, so we weren’t sure at what point we were supposed to break character.  I tried to explain to the adult that we were acting, but he didn’t seem to get it.
  5. The second time we performed the skit (there were 2 snack time shifts), no one had reset the gold I was supposed to use to pay off the guard, so I had to run around to the stalls looking for the plastic “gold” coins the kids used to gain entrance to their activities.  So essentially it looked like I was stealing in order to save a thief.  Oy.
  6. We were supposed to use a microphone so the kids could hear us, but passing the mic from person to person doesn’t make for a particularly realistic argument, nor does it make a lot of sense for a baker handing out trays of donuts to be holding a microphone in the other hand.

Hopefully our failure of a skit did not make or break anyone’s VBS experience.  But the important thing is, the kids learned their theme songs by the end-of-week show.



the original text of an author’s work, handwritten or now usually typed,that is submitted to a publisher
writing, as distinguished from print
I attended my first writers’ conference a few weeks ago.  For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by people who talked and thought about writing and books and reading and storytelling as much as I do – and they didn’t look at me like I’d grown a second head when I described my writing process or gushed about the diction in my favorite novels.
Being surrounded by likeminded individuals, I’m learning, is very affirming.
While there, I had the opportunity to pitch my idea for a novel to editors and agents from publishers of all shapes and sizes all over the country.  It was a rather terrifying process, but I connected with an editor and an agent who both seemed genuinely interested in reading my story and asked to see it.  Suddenly, it all felt real – this idea that I would be a writer, that I was always writing anyway, was suddenly made more corporeal by the idea that someone (outside friends and family who kind of have to like whatever I do anyway) actually wants to read my story.
So now I’m frantically working to get my story into presentable shape so I can send it off.  Except they don’t call it a story, like I’ve been calling all my bits and pieces and fragments all these years.  It’s a manuscript (or at least, it will be).
Originating from medieval Latin for “written by hand,” manuscript to me suggests a sheaf of slightly crinkled papers covered in looping cursive and a few artistically placed ink blots, gently puffing out dust motes from the garret in which their creator scribbled down her ideas in a feverish haze.  It seems the kind of thing Jo March brought to her publishers, tied up with a ribbon.  My typed, double-spaced, Times New Roman pages seem too clean, too modern to merit such a literary term.
And yet, the painstaking work that goes into uncovering the precise language a story demands, the hours spent getting to know the characters, the effort taken to give a scene just the right effect, the feeling of giving up part of myself when I let someone else act as a beta reader (usually Bird, who is supportive but not blindly so)…yes, this is writing of my own hand, transcribed from imagination by my rapidly tapping fingers on the keyboard.  It’s the original text of my own work.
Now I just have to find a garret to hole up in until I finish.

Cringe-Worthy Jewelry Choices

Moving back into my mom’s house yesterday, I went on a cleaning spree as I attempted to cram all my belongings into the room that I only inhabit on vacations.  And boy, did I dig deep.

I found Every Single Homecoming T-shirt from high school.  I found pajamas I haven’t worn since 8th grade.  I found my Nintendo DS (and promptly sat down to conquer the world in Civilization Revolution, which was still in the game slot).  I found the hardcover notebook in which I wrote my very first spy novel, a twenty-page, painstakingly handwritten epic about a neighborhood society of dogs, who uphold the age-old feud between felines and canines, and a turncoat kitten.  I found the watch I borrowed from my mom for an AP test four years ago.

And I found a box full of jewelry I used to love.

These included such gems as a tattered peace sign bracelet; a necklace with fake silver, gold, and bronze links; another necklace with one of those homemade pendants from a repurposed Scrabble tile; another necklace with some kind of giant fake amethyst that frankly probably made me look like I thought I belonged in a fantasy novel (which, to be fair, would have made high school a hell of a lot more fun); and a truly hideous flower pendant choker.

I could remember loving every one of these pieces, planning entire outfits very carefully around the grayish white peace sign bracelet or the weird flower pendant.  I could remember the heady feeling of no longer having to wear a uniform (#CatholicSchoolKid), the awkwardness of trying to figure out my own style, and the terror of having my Then-Best-Friend, who I idolized, look me up and down and say, “Really?”

My style, of course, has evolved over the years.  I stopped looking to others for the final say.  I got addicted to Pinterest and all its inspirations.  I figured out what actually looked good and what didn’t.

But I remember what it felt like to be that awkward, shy, please-God-don’t-anybody-look-at-me-too-closely girl who hoped that the jewelry would help me pretend I knew what I was doing.  It was one of those moments I think a lot of people have where we want to give our past selves some reassurance that they’re going to turn out okay.

The nostalgia was not quite strong enough, though, to save these beauties from the Donate Pile.

Why Yes, You Can Sit With Us

A follow up to yesterday’s post.

As my more reasonable readers could have probably predicted, my visits to the gym and the writing group did not, in fact, result in me getting chased out of the building.  Despite my apprehensions, it actually went rather well.

There was one employee at the gym who looked at me askance, but I just chalked that up to the fact that I sidled in wearing street clothes and not carrying anything that looked remotely like gym equipment.  The girl who ended up helping me was perfectly nice and answered all my awkward questions.

Similarly, the writing group greeted me warmly (I’d even met one of them before, even though my boss wasn’t there) – the proprietor of the coffee shop where they hold it noticed my laptop and asked if I was here to write.  When I said yes, the others looked up, asked what I was working on, and scooted over to make room for me.  The atmosphere was great, and I managed to get a decent amount of work done on my own stories for two whole hours!  There wasn’t much talking, but it didn’t feel oppressive – rather, we were all there to accomplish a similar goal, and that tacit support helped me make progress.  (My story is actually starting to look like a novel!)

Even though I slept through yoga this morning, and even though I probably won’t remember all the other writers’ names next week, it was reassuring to be accepted.

Now I just have to stop being so nervous about the writers’ conference coming up in July.  Sighhh…

Walk Into the Club Like Wait, I Can’t Dance

I didn’t get invited to parties in high school. I don’t say this for sympathy, or to complain; honestly, I didn’t even know there was a party scene at my school because my circle of friends all hung out at the coffee shop at the bottom of the hill and didn’t care much for loud music and mind-altering substances. So it’s not like I ever really felt left out. I had my crowd, and the partiers had theirs. You do you.

Rather, I bring this up because that’s the only social situation I can really think of that might have helped me suppress my introversion to the point that I wouldn’t feel so supremely uncomfortable walking into a room where I don’t know anyone and where I am not completely certain that I’m welcome.

Cartoon from the fabulous Hyperbole and a Half
Cartoon from the fabulous Hyperbole and a Half which you should check out because it’s perfection.

For instance, I signed up for a gym membership on the island where I’ll be living this summer, so as not to negate all the progress the Southern Belle and I had made in Zumba during the school year.  But joining the classes means walking into the gym.  By myself.  Where people, stronger and fitter and taller people, are also working out.  And judging me.  Probably.  I feel like that would happen, anyway.  The employees will probably be perfectly happy to have me there – I did give them my money, after all – but the social situation of trying to improve myself while also being acutely aware that I’m in a group of complete strangers doesn’t exactly put me at ease.

And then tomorrow, my boss invited me to a writing group at the coffee shop on the end of the pier.  Now, I’ve never been part of a writing group before.  And I will know someone there (my boss) and I have been explicitly invited (again, by my boss).  But I can just picture myself walking in, laptop in hand, pulling up a chair to the corner of the table because of course there won’t actually be room for me, so right away I’ll be inconveniencing the people who have probably been coming there forever, and then I’ll have such bad writer’s block that I’l end up just rereading that horrible, horrible mystery story I tried to write in 5th grade and slink out at the end of the meeting, aware of my own utter lack of talent and convinced that everyone else could tell I didn’t deserve to be there.

Yeah, even as I write that it sounds ridiculous and a little paranoid.

The fact is, everyone at the gym will probably be in their own little world, just like me, and some of them might even be encouraging.  And the people at the writing group will probably be perfectly welcoming and eager to hear what I’m writing about and want to motivate everyone in the group to just get writing, no matter how terrible the first draft might be.

But this is how I feel anytime I walk into an unfamiliar place, like a gym or a writing group, on my own.  I can’t seem to shake the idea that I am somehow lacking, that I will be intruding if I ask for guidance or friendship, that I am annoying the one person I do know by sticking so close to them but also will commit some kind of social sin if I try to branch out on my own.  I feel like I stick out like Elle Woods in her bunny costume at her first Harvard party.

I may be faking it pretty well.  I may even be socializing even better than I think I am.

But all I really want to do is go home and read with a cup of coffee.  It’s so much easier to introduce my awkward self to the world through the written word, like this blog.  Socializing is hard, guys.


to experience with joy; to take pleasure in

For someone whose brain rarely shuts up, I have a tough time with mindfulness.  The concept of being present, of taking in each thing as it comes instead of constantly planning and worrying, makes plenty of sense when I look at it objectively.  Executing the practice, on the other hand…

Sometimes it seems as though there’s too much space in my mind devoted to doubts, worries, rants, complaints, and failures.  My memories love to dredge up classic reruns of my most embarrassing moments, so much so that I’ll be squirming in my seat at the thought of something that happened years ago.  I may not be the best at this “adult” thing, but I feel like blurting out something awkward in 5th grade shouldn’t still bother me so much.  (Then again, if any of you have found a way to truly get over your middle school embarrassments, for the love of all that is good in this world, TELL ME YOUR WAYS.)

Some people call this “negative self-talk.”  These same people tell me of something called “self-compassion,” which is, again, a concept that sounds grand but is tricky to implement.  My thoughts have worn ruts of worry in my synapses.  I don’t have the time, it seems, to stop and breathe.

That’s why I’ve been thinking about the word “enjoy” lately.  It caught me while I was rereading Madeleine L’Engle’s excellent memoir A Circle of Quiet, where she spends several early chapters discussing the concept of joy.  She talks about existing, about resting, in that joy she feels in a simple moment – and she talks, too, about how rare it is for her to quiet herself enough to do that.  It comforts me that I am not the only one who has difficulty simply being.

The word “enjoy” originally came from Middle English for “to make joyful,” or Old French for “to give joy to.”  Joy, it seems to me, is a much more serious business than mere contentment or happiness.  “Happy” has something of a giddiness to it.  “Joy” has weight.  It leaves an imprint.  But that mark, that gentle, comforting weight like a hand on our shoulder, only comes when we let ourselves “enjoy,” when we let ourselves exist in the moment.  In joy.

So I’ve been trying to pay attention to the joyful moments, to the little things that allow me to exist “in joy” for a second or two, and to rest, rather than squirm, in the unusual quiet of my brain.

I started off easy – it’s all too natural for me to enjoy the first sip of coffee in the morning, or a well-written sentence that makes me close the book and stare off into space for a moment to absorb the craft of the words, or a monarch butterfly flashing across my path, or a fuzzy puppy rolling over and begging to be petted.

But it’s other things too.  It’s realizing that it doesn’t bother me to eat lunch alone in a strange town because I know I’m here for an internship that provides me with work I truly love doing.  It’s one-word texts from the Engineer.  It’s establishing witty rapport almost immediately with my new coworkers.  And it’s stepping outside the trailer in the evening and letting comfort seep down from a starry dome, even though it’s cold, even though I should go to sleep, because it feels good just to be – just to exist in joy.

Now I’m curious – what do you enjoy?

That Time I Almost Punched a Sexist

As a freshman in high school, I was the type of girl who enjoyed stepping menacingly toward my male friends when they said something that offended me, even though we all knew I would never actually lay a finger on them. Besides, I was too short to be scary. (I’m still short, but I sometimes pride myself on the ability to be menacing when necessary.)  Violence was not, in fact, my go-to problem solving strategy.

Still, I knew I would have a hard time not slapping the smirk off P.B.’s face the minute I met him.

calvin and susie bug

We were in English, one of the few classes in which I was not on the honors track because my high school did not have an honors English class for freshmen.  While by junior year I could happily spend 75% of the day away from those students to whom I was merely a nerd who took school too seriously, freshman English required me to rub shoulders with people who still stopped at the end of every line, whether or not there was a period, when reading aloud.  (The teacher also frequently asked my help spelling things on the board, which didn’t exactly inspire confidence in his pedantic abilities, but I digress.)

I don’t remember how it started – the teacher must have asked us to have a conversation about something in the lesson with a partner nearby – but somehow I found myself talking to P.B., who was twisted around from his seat in front of me and was draping one lanky arm across my open copy of Lord of the Flies.  Glaring, I slid it out from under him so he wouldn’t wrinkle the page.  Whatever we were originally supposed to be discussing, the conversation turned to grades and schedules.  He bragged that he had a B+ in the class, to which I nodded approval.

I was less approving of his shock at the fact that I had a high A.  He began quizzing me on my grades and how many honors classes I was in.  At first I didn’t care, but it quickly grew satisfying to see him attempting to process the idea that I was probably beating him in the GPA department.

“Well, I must have a higher grade than you in math,” he said finally, leaning back against the metal bar connecting his chair to his desk.  (His arm was still across my desk.)

I rolled my eyes.  “I’m in Geometry Honors and you’re in Algebra,” I said, trying to point out that he couldn’t really compare our grades there because we were studying entirely different things.

He smirked patronizingly.  “I’m still probably better than you.”

“Why would you assume that?”

“Because guys are better at it than girls.  You just aren’t smart enough to think that way.”  The most remarkable thing, now that I look back on it, is his tone – there was no malice.  He was simply stating something of which he was utterly convinced.

“That…is..the most sexist thing I’ve ever heard,” I said, trying to control my tone.

He shrugged.  “It’s true.”

Almost unconsciously, as though independent from my body, my left hand curled into a fist and my elbow drew back as though I was about to fire an arrow from a bow.  I had never punched anyone before, but P.B. was about to be the lucky first.

Until my teacher materialized at my side and asked, “How’s the conversation going here?” a little too brightly, having seen it all unfold from across the room.  I honestly don’t remember the rest of that class, although I do remember that when we next came to English the teacher announced we had new seats and P.B. was diagonally opposite me, literally as far away as the teacher could physically place us.  This was probably a wise move.

This incident, one of my earliest face-to-face encounters with the concept of sexism, sticks with me for several reasons.

One, I had never realized that people could be so certain of something that I found so obviously wrong.  P.B. was jeering at me, but he was just as convinced that females were inferior as I was convinced that the earth is round.  We had discussed discrimination and assumptions about women’s abilities in my family before (see: weirdest dinner conversations ever), but it hadn’t really dawned on me that there were people – people in my day-to-day world, no less – who actually thought of me that way. It was suddenly and newly personal.

Two, because it was one of the first times I had ever come right up against sexism, I had no idea how to react.  I was angry, but I didn’t have the vocabulary to correct him or explain to him why his certainty had no actual support.  (Sometimes I wonder, though, if one good punch would have convinced him much faster that girls are just as good as boys…kidding, kidding!  Mostly.)  And I realized how much I – and all the girls around me – needed to develop that vocabulary.

When Furniture Moves in the Night

My dad used to come home in the middle of the night sometimes from work trips.  Trying to be considerate of his sleeping wife and daughters, he would tiptoe through the house – only to bang his shin and nearly take off a toe on the furniture that had moved since the last time he walked through the living room.

When we got older and Mom took it into her head to rearrange the house while Dad was on a trip, Bird and I had to help.

“Why,” we asked, wedging our shoulders under the arm of the couch while she lifted the other end like Wonder Woman, “can’t this wait until Dad is home to help?”

Mom shook her head at us, the upended couch swaying slightly in her grip.  “Girls, if we can do it ourselves – and we can – why wait?  Now, lift with your legs.”  We sighed.

To be fair, two generations of women in my family before her had repositioned furniture while their husbands were away – it was an inherited habit, one that sneakily followed me to college.  Last year, when the Commodore and I were sharing a room, we grew tired of the bunk bed arrangement and decided to unstack the beds.  I texted the Engineer to ask him to come help us move furniture while the Commodore paced out the new arrangement of our room.  The novelty of a fresh room arrangement (and the idea of no longer hitting our heads every time we got in or out of bed) was exciting.

Except the Engineer couldn’t make it.  Maybe this weekend he might be free.

The Commodore and I looked at each other.  And then we started shoving smaller furniture aside to make room for us to lift the upper bunk down from its perch.

Our third roommate’s boyfriend insisted on helping us, because he heard the scraping and sliding from the living room and, as he told his girlfriend, “I want to make sure these two don’t kill themselves.”  But the point was that, regardless of whether or not a Male Personage miraculously appeared to assist us, we felt like moving the furniture, so dammit, we were going to move the furniture.

When we settled down in our newly un-bunked (debunked?) beds that night, I told the Commodore about my parents and my grandparents and rearranging the house in the absence of one’s spouse.  She laughed.

“Of course your mom would do that,” she said.  “Still, it was nice to have help.”  She sat up straighter in her bed and declared, “We are Strong, Independent, 21st Century Women…who are quite happy to let guys do the heavy lifting if they feel so inclined.”

And that’s just what I love.  The lesson that I learned from my mother was not to reject a friend’s help, be they male or female, but rather to not put my life on hold until someone bigger or stronger can come and help me take the next step.  When Dad was home, of course he was roped into helping.  But if the mood struck while he was away, she made my sister and I feel that we didn’t necessarily need a man’s physical strength to get things done.  She showed us how to put towels under the feet of the couch to slide it across hardwood floors, how to come up with innovative ways to take a burst of inspiration and run with it despite potential obstacles.

And, of course, always lift with your legs.