Sifting Through

Tidy as I have always believed myself to be, sorting through my belongings at my parents’ houses as I prepare to move to my Small College Town full-time has resembled an archaeological dig.  Each layer of stuff reveals a piece of someone I used to be.

There are the comics, only four panels long, because I didn’t realize how much longer drawing took than writing and it turns out I can’t really draw anyway and the jokes really weren’t that funny.  Bird laughs at one Cast of Characters list, where I have drawn passable cats and labeled them with their names: Ringo, Fluffy, Sophistikitty…and Tracey.  Which she thinks is hilarious.

There is the blue dolphin lamp on its springy stand.  It probably came from Limited Too, where all the cool kids shopped among the clashing neon colors and dyed fake fur.  In middle school, dolphins were cool.  I remember the texture of its almost sparkly, rubber skin under my fingers and I can picture the room I wished I could build around this one piece of décor, one that would have bead curtains and one of those bowl chairs.  It would have been the epitome of coolness.

There are the meticulously labeled sketches and stories in fits and starts that never got fleshed out because I lost them until this moment.  One is about elk with bizarre sounding names.  According to the date, I was 11 years old when I wrote this double-spaced paragraph.  My keysmash phase for coming up with names, where my strategy was to pick something cool-sounding out of gibberish.

There is the pass to the front section of the football game where the Engineer saved me a seat freshman year, before we were dating.  I forgot I had saved it, but I remember now, how I tucked it away before he ever asked me out, just to savor the giddy feeling of having a cute guy sit next to me at a football game.  (Bird says I have to keep this forever and starts making a pile of Engineer-related memorabilia.)

There is an absurd amount of fuzzy slipper-socks stuffed in a drawer, ones I’m not certain I ever wore.  I set these aside to keep my feet warm in the Small College Town winters, which are unforgiving on that side of the state.  And there are the t-shirts from my Jesuit high school homecomings and special events.  Bird holds up the one from our Candyland-themed dance, the one with “Welcome to the Candyshop” across the chest.  “I still can’t believe they let you guys make this,” she says.

There are the letters I wrote, filled with too much angst to fit in my normal journal, speckled with capital letters and places where I wrote so heavily the pen made holes in the paper.  Skimming some of these, I want to go back in time and give my past self a hug.  She had no idea how things were going to turn out.

I don’t keep all of it.  I remember, looking through all of it, how big everything felt.  Yet, “You don’t necessarily need to feel those emotions again,” Bird points out.  I won’t try to gloss over the unpleasant stages of becoming who I am now – but I won’t get bogged down in them either.

I’ve quoted William Morris before: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”  At this point, as I start to build my own life beyond school, I get to choose to keep only the things that are useful in reminding me how far I’ve come, and beautiful in showing me that some part of myself has always been good.

Don’t Steal My Spot

They say you don’t have assigned seats in college, but everyone knows that’s a lie.  After the second or third class of the semester, no one wants to move.  The class has shifted around briefly and is now settled into a comfortable arrangement of friend groups and varying degrees of attentiveness.  Why mess with it?

But she did.  One day, midway through the semester, I walked into my global lit class to discover that some girl was in my seat.

I didn’t even know she was in the class, meaning she’d been in the back up until that day.  She glanced up to meet my glare, then quickly looked back down at her phone.  My friends had all moved down one seat in the row so there was still space for me, but as I slid into place, J. leaned over and hissed, “I don’t like this.”

“This angle is throwing me off,” A. agreed, nodding at the whiteboard.  Even the subtle shift of a few inches to the right had thrown off our entire groove for the class.

Sadly, not an option.

Now, I realize this sounds somewhat petty.  We are, after all, voting adults.  Can we not just take Elsa’s advice and let it go?  It’s just a chair.

Well, I got to the next class ridiculously early to reclaim my rightful place, so I sat in my normal spot.  When Miss Seat Stealer waltzed in, she did a double take, glared at me, then slid into the seat next to mine with a stage whispered, “I guess I’ll just have to take Charlotte’s seat,” to her friend, who shrugged and sat down without complaint.

So I’m not the only childish one in this tale.

I’m a creature of habit.  The uncertain hovering on the edge of a classroom, wondering which row to sit in and which friends will be within reach for in-class discussion, should be reserved for the first, maybe the second, week of classes.  We’re all outsiders for those first couple of days, until the class gels.  After that, it’s a domino effect: if one person moves, the person whose seat was stolen must now occupy someone else’s seat, displacing yet another person to someone else’s chosen spot, and so on until the whole class feels as awkward and uncomfortable as the first day they walked in.  Each person temporarily becomes an outsider again as they wonder where on earth to sit.  And we are too far into the semester to justify that feeling!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get to class a little early.  That seat is mine.

my spot



Full Circle, or The Ins and Outs of Bus Routes

I’m sure the bus driver thought we were crazy.

The Commodore and I, mere freshmen at the time, had grown tired of dining hall fare and decided to take advantage of the communal kitchen in our dorm.  We weren’t too ambitious – something as simple as pasta and Parmesan would have made us happy.  But neither of us had any ingredients, and the small convenience-store-like market downstairs didn’t stock much beyond dental floss, Snapple, and crackers.  So we needed to go grocery shopping.

We didn’t have a car, either.

So we decided to take the bus.

We boarded the bus early in the evening, joining a handful of grad students who lived off campus and the few fellow dorm-dwellers who were venturing outside university-owned territory.  We wanted to be back for youth group at 8:00, so we figured we had allowed plenty of time.  The Commodore, better versed in the bus routes than I, showed me the loop we would be taking on the map.  Our chosen bus ran through the part of town affectionately known as Apartment Land (where we now live), then through campus to the downtown area where Safeway awaited.  It would be a while, but it was better than walking.

Eventually, as another batch of upperclassmen got off to trudge toward their respective apartment complexes, I asked which bus we would take to get back.  The Commodore flipped through the bus schedule while I mused aloud about the weirdness of boarding public transportation with bags of groceries at our feet.

“I’m sure we’re not the only students to do it,” the Commodore said, scanning the page.  “This is a college town.  Plenty of people probably don’t have cars.”  She pointed to a colored route on the map.  “This is the one we’ll take back.”

“OK.  How often does it come?  Is this going to be a super speedy shopping trip, or do we have time for Starbucks?”

“Ummm…” She ran a finger down the column of ETAs for each stop.  “Uh oh.”


As it turned out, we were on a daytime bus that was making its last loop of the day.  The night schedule wouldn’t start until 9:00 pm – an hour after youth group – and it wouldn’t get to Safeway until almost 10:00 – an hour after the store closed.

So we sat and we rode the bus all the way through its loop back to our dorm.  The driver gave us a puzzled look when we stayed on all the way through town, even when he had to stop at the transit center for almost 20 minutes.  By the time we got back to our dorm, we were the last people on the bus.  Stepping off, we smiled and thanked the driver, who just sort of squinted at us before driving away.  We ended up with no groceries, no dinner, and not going to youth group either!

I was thinking about this adventure while riding the bus home last week.  I truly hate the crowded nature of bus travel, so I’ve learned to time my rides home, waiting until about 20 minutes after classes let out and the swirling mass of people leaving campus has ebbed.  I have the bus tracker that allows me to get to the stop right on time, and I know exactly which routes to take depending on which building I’m coming from.

This is a far cry from our unexpected full-circle ride freshman year.

College, of course, is about much more than learning to navigate public transit and plan your grocery shopping trips better.  But it’s those unexpected parts of my college education that have arguably helped me grow the most.

PS – this is my 100th post on this blog!  Which is strange to think of.  When I started, I figured it would be a once-a-week thing that might trail off into oblivion once I got bored, but instead it’s been a way for me to chronicle and process my thoughts, as well as keep up my (admittedly sporadic) writing habit.

Thank you to everyone who finds reading about my life to be entertaining – I hope you enjoy what you find here.


Doodling Gives Me a Sense of Power

I’m facilitating four 1-credit English classes this semester.  These are meant to be workshop times, a space for students to bring their writing in and get peer feedback, with a slightly more trained supervisory peer (me) keeping track of attendance and offering clarification along with the general class discussion.

Which means that when students are determined to remain taciturn, I struggle a little for something to fill our 50 minute sessions.

It doesn’t seem that hard to me to talk about writing for 50 minutes, but I recognize that not everyone is quite as obsessed enthusiastic with words as I am.

So I usually end up doodling on the board.

At the beginning of the summer, I bought a pack of Expo markers specifically for these classes.  I keep them separate from my workplace’s other, dried-up, capless, mismatched markers.  I encourage my students to write on the board, to color code, to use more visual representations of their ideas if words aren’t working for them.

“I don’t know about you guys,” I say, “but writing on whiteboards always gives me a feeling of power.”  They nod, smile a little, and sometimes it works.  Sometimes they write one word and then sit back down, but sometimes it works.

And sometimes I end up just writing on the board so they’ll see the fruits of their discussion, the growth of the list, the effects of the edits we recommend to each other.

Or I just doodle while they read.  (I’m a speed reader.)  And I end up with things like this:

2015-10-16 11.59.17

If I’m lucky, this leads to even more discussion, with everyone swapping organizational ideas and sharing how they get from prompt to polished paper.

Or, “Can we play Hangman?”

But even when I think class hasn’t been terribly productive, one of the students will toss out an absolute gem of a sentence, or just a quiet, “Thank you,” as they walk out the door.  That, even more than the chance to write on a whiteboard, makes it worth it.

Hell on Heels (Apparently)

My dad got married this weekend!  It was lovely; he cried adorably, my sister and I cried rather less adorably, and the whole thing was just wonderful.

But lovely and adorable and wonderful do not make for good stories.

What does make a good story?  A passive-aggressive bed and breakfast hostess cornering girls to make them take off their high heels.

I first caught her attention by walking a little loudly down the hall.  Swiftly taking in my peep toe heels, she stepped uncomfortably close to my face and asked, “Didn’t anyone tell you?”  Before I even had a chance to answer, she went on, “I had requested that there be no spiky or tall heels.”  I began to explain that no one had told me of any such request, and I was pretty sure my heels didn’t qualify as “spiky,” being only about 3 inches tall, but she barreled onward.  “So if you could just take them off after all the pictures are done,” she said, smiling sweetly, “that would be wonderful.  Everyone will just think you’re getting comfortable!  But they really do leave bullet holes in my floor.”

I was unaware that I had shotguns in my shoes.  Whoops.

Now, I was raised to respect both adults and old houses, and this mansion-turned-B&B was nearly 100 years old.  Of course I didn’t want to damage the floors, but I figured if I stuck to the rugs and refrained from flamenco or tap dancing, it would be fine. Besides, more than half the women there were wearing heels too, and I didn’t see the hostess whispering warnings of bullet holes to any of them.

What I did see was Bird and her friend coming back from the buffet with plates in one hand and shoes in the other.

“She cornered us!” Bird said.  Apparently the hostess hadn’t bothered with the sweet smile this time.  She just stood there and made them take their shoes off after asking if anyone “remembered” her original request at all.  While, like me, Bird and her friend certainly didn’t want to cause any damage to the floors, they felt somewhat attacked.

“I don’t see her going up to anyone else,” I mused, glancing at the still-shod feet around us.  Some of those could definitely be classified as spiky, and yet the hostess chose to continue targeting the three youngest women wearing high heeled shoes.

The last straw came when we made our way into the living room to watch our dad and his new bride cut the cake.  I noticed that the hostess had literally cornered my poor sister and was hovering, watching her remove her shoes again.  Bird told me later that she demanded, “Do you have a problem with removing your shoes?  Other people don’t mind taking off their shoes!” – and pointed to a pile of flipflops that did not belong to anyone in our party.

I can bite my tongue.  I can be civil with people being unfair toward me.  I can even brush it off, if it only affects me.  But if you make my little sister uncomfortable?  Watch out.

“Excuse me,” I cut her off, putting on my best Southern Belle smile, “with all due respect, if this is going to be a problem, you should probably make a general announcement or put a sign up, since I can’t help but notice you’ve only been talking to the three of us.”

“Well, yes, there should have been a sign up,” she said, “but the smaller heels don’t make as much of an impact, so really…I mean, it’s just that I had requested…”

Honestly, I was not going to miss my dad cutting the cake to listen to that woman repeat her line about bullet holes.  So I smiled just as sweetly as she had earlier and turned away.

Once the cake cutting and toasts were over, I turned to the Engineer.  “I have a physics question for you,” I said.  “Does the height of the heel on my shoe increase the force I am exerting on the floor?”

“No,” he said, “force has more to do with the surface area.”  (I’m paraphrasing because I don’t remember exactly what he said, but the explanation was very helpful, particularly since it proved me right.)

Our conversation had caught the attention of a family friend nearby.  Once we filled her in on the situation, she asked, “Is that her?” and sauntered straight over to the hostess.

We found out later that she had quite politely asked why the groom’s daughters, whom she knew to be two classy ladies, were not wearing shoes.  The hostess repeated her line about bullet holes and heels, to which our friend asked, “Oh, do I need to remove my shoes?”

“Oh, I didn’t even notice those!  No, no, you’re fine.”

Our heels were exactly the same height.

The family friend then politely pointed out that we were paying for the use of the venue and would be posting a review later on about the experience, so she was going to go ahead and tell Bird and me to put our shoes back on.

The hostess, in my opinion, had quickly crossed the line into unprofessional behavior.  She consistently made discriminatory judgment calls in her attempts to protect the floors, insisting that our heels were more damaging than anyone else’s.  It was pretty obvious that she was unwilling to treat the “adult” guests this way, as evidenced when our family friend asked if she needed to take her shoes off.  Even if Bird and I were not the daughters of the groom, we were still guests in a venue that was being used by paying customers.  Yet the hostess became hostile every time she approached us, particularly Bird and her friend.  Addressing us respectfully, regardless of our apparent age or connection to the bride and groom, would probably have yielded far more favorable results than attacking and scolding us for not immediately complying to her demands.

Still, this by no means ruined the evening, and I finally did kick off my shoes (when damn well felt like it!) to swing dance a little with the Engineer.

The next morning, as we were saying goodbye, the hostess bustled up to shake hands and say how nice it was to meet us, and, turning to me, added, “And weren’t you so much more comfortable after you took off your shoes?”

I blinked, withdrew my hand, and went to hug my dad goodbye.  There were just too many comebacks to choose from.

Don’t Scare Me Like That, or Why I Hate Halloween

I hate Halloween.  I hate the stress of trying to figure out a suitably clever (and appropriate – why is it impossible to find a female costume consisting of more than a square yard of fabric?) costume for the church party, and I hate the creepy hunchbacked butlers with shriveled green skin that spring up at the ends of Safeway aisles, and I hate the sheer number of decorations with motion sensors cackling every time someone walks past, and I hate people trying to get me to go to haunted houses, and I hate that there’s an entire holiday centered around scaring other people because it’s “fun.” It is not fun.  Not to me.

Okay, I don’t really hate Halloween that much.  But living on a college campus means my general indifference gradually hardens into spite over the course of October as I come up against invitations to haunted houses and scary movie marathons, not to mention the fact that everything I buy suddenly has to be black and orange in honor of All Hallows’ Eve.  (How many of the scare enthusiasts and costume shoppers even know that’s where Halloween came from?)  It’s just such an aggressive holiday, from the costumes to the ABC Family marathons to the people who think it’s okay to practice their scares on random passersby.

I’ve never liked being scared.  I don’t think it’s fun, and I don’t understand how, exactly, it is supposed to change my mind on this score to go into scary places and “see that it’s not that bad.” I have been scared before, in fun and in earnest, and I do not enjoy the feeling.  The rest of you can go creep through darkened rooms while employees in creepy masks lurk to jump out at you.  As I keep pointing out to my friends, if I’m not having fun, you won’t have fun.  No one will enjoy having to physically carry me back to the car as I sob because I barely made it two steps into the creepy house before I decided it was too much.

Sidebar: I also dislike rollercoasters.  Once, when my friends and I went to Wild Waves, they got me all the way up to where you get into the seats – and then they let go of my arm and I ran down the wheelchair ramp.

And then there’s the fact, as my mother has points out, that this is the one day of the year when we actually encourage children to take candy from strangers.  Who decided that was a good idea?  I prefer to buy my own candy and consume it at home, on the couch, watching something cute and not at all scary, without having to put on some kind of costume.

But then again, it was after the church Halloween party freshman year, watching drunken bumblebees and sexy nurses and a few vampires stumble by, that the Engineer and I started dating.  And it was a friend’s Halloween party the next night that became our first activity as a couple.  (I, nerd that I am, was Schrodinger’s cat in a sparkly black dress and mask.  We arrived separately and grinned like idiots at each other all evening until he walked me home and put his arm around me.)

So maybe there are a few good things about Halloween.

After all, all the dark chocolate goes on super sale the first day of November!

Really Really Quiet Workouts

I hate having people I know witness me exercising.

Surprisingly, this is not due to my general clumsiness or lack of physical acumen.  I’m not nearly as awkward at exercising as I used to be in high school (I actually had to convince a skeptical PE teacher that no, I wasn’t holding back, yes, I was putting in every effort, and yes, I was really just that terrible at sports – she raised my grade after I nearly passed out trying to run faster).  I can make it through a Zumba class with zeal, and the Southern Belle has gotten me better at strength training too.

But I do all this semi-secretly, waiting until my mom is out of the house in the morning and making sure Bird is either asleep or going to join me.  I just don’t like having bystanders.  (The Southern Belle is an exception.)

I get the same uncomfortable feeling of being under a microscope when people (well, most people) ask how my writing is going.  If I don’t have anything super impressive to tell them, or if in fact it’s kind of at a difficult point and I’ve been stuck on the same scene for 2 weeks, I don’t really want to talk about it.  Even if I just hit an awesome word count milestone, or I finished a scene that I’m proud of, there’s something about sharing that part of my internal process with others that just makes me cringe.

I would often prefer to simply present my finished product (manuscript, weight loss, whatever) to the world and say, “Look at this thing I made.” The process of getting that finished product, however, feels too imperfect and messy, too personal, to willingly share with more than a few people at a time.

Some of this could be from academic pressure spilling over into the rest of my life.  We are well past the point of turning in an outline, then a draft, then a revised draft, then a peer review, then at long last the final draft.  My professors don’t want the process – they want the results.  In so much of academic life, the interest lies in the polished version of whatever you’re supposed to accomplish.  So maybe I want to present the same perfect face in other areas.

Or maybe it’s to do with responsibility.  Goodness knows I have plenty of obligations filling up my color-coded planner already; I neither need nor want to be accountable to anyone but myself in any more parts of my life.

Or maybe it’s like when I was learning to drive and it made me incredibly nervous to even go to the grocery store because every trip of a few blocks felt like a huge test.  I knew my parents were watching everything I was doing, which made me overthink it, which made me wonder if I had gotten something wrong, which is not a good thought to be having when you are directing a two-ton metal object along a road filled with other people in other two-ton metal objects.  The mere fact of observation, even when we got home and I sat shaking behind the wheel in the garage while my mom told me what a good job I’d done, made the whole ordeal ten times worse.

I don’t actually have an answer for this.  That’s okay, though – I’m pretty content to continue working out and writing as quietly and unnoticeably as possible.

Personal Bubble Encroachment

Lacking a parking pass, I have to navigate my college town’s public transport system this year, unless I feel like walking for 20 minutes in the smoke.  Interestingly, I’m finding that the bus is becoming the perfect metaphor for my experience of the first few days of school.

For one thing, the bus is packed.  All the time.  Being short, I get to either dangle from the overhead bars or lean awkwardly over another person to grab the upright handles (there’s pretty much never a seat).  So my personal space shrinks to nothingness first thing every morning.  The first week of school is also the most crowded.  It’s when everyone shows up to class to find out if attendance is mandatory.  It’s when it’s impossible to find a parking spot or a free mat at the gym because everyone is trying out the free classes and telling themselves that this semester they’ll work out every day.  It’s when people who are pretty much never on campus for the rest of the year explore every nook and cranny of the buildings they never visit and steal the regular seats of students who actually hang out in on-campus coffee shops (I may be slightly bitter about this part).

My introverted side is having trouble adjusting to this.  Unpredictable behavior from hundreds of other bodies milling around the same spaces as me is preventing me from slipping back into my School Routine as quickly and easily as I would like.  Other people are variables; I like limiting the uncontrolled variables in my life, but for the first few days of school, I can’t do that.  I can’t prevent others from invading my personal physical or mental space.

Then there’s the fact that the bus tends to be so packed that it cannot take on any more passengers, thereby precluding itself from serving its purpose… by serving its purpose.  It’s a weird cycle.  My schedule is starting to take on a similar tinge of cyclical futility.  I’m only taking 12 credits (the minimum required to be considered a full-time student), and I’m only working 10 hours a week (so far), and I’m only working out about an hour in the evenings at the rec, and I’m only doing 2 part-time internships, and I’m only starting the research on my thesis (the real work comes next semester, I keep telling myself).  But all those “onlys” add up to a lot of stuff going on in my life at once, all of it ostensibly necessary, most of it something I really do want to do.  This leaves very little room for error; procrastinating on one assignment would be like putting another bus out of commission and increasing the demand on all the others.

All my work on self care in the past year has taught me that I am most likely to drop the things that are personal first.  It’s much harder for me to bow out of obligations to others that I have agreed to fulfill than it is to tell myself that I don’t have time to work on my manuscript because I have so much homework.  But the manuscript makes me happy.  So, to drag this metaphor past the point of reason, like the bus systems, there are many demands on my time.  Now I just need to figure out a screening process to decide which passengers to allow to get on.

Which would be a lot easier to do if there weren’t so many other people throwing elbows in line for coffee.

First Day of School!

This might be my last first day of school.

Well, sort of.  I realize that I’ve got another semester after this, and technically those will be all new classes, but I only get the true Back To School Sensation when, as Fitzgerald says, “life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”  It doesn’t matter if school starts in August or October – on the first day of school, I view everything through a frame of rustling, reddish leaves.  Back To School smells like the spice of crunching foliage underfoot, like the fresh wax of a new box of crayons, like the curlicue wood shavings emptied from a pencil sharpener.  And Back To School has all the potential of a freshly sharpened pencil, smoothing perfectly from school-bus-yellow barrel to graphite spear point.

Never mind that I haven’t actually used crayons for school since 5th grade, or that it’s August and smells more like a campfire than spicy leaves outside (thank you, wildfires).  No matter what year it is, Back To School is a comforting blend of fresh start and familiarity.  Everything is new and clean and open, but I also know already that I’m good at it.

Some of the comfort has departed from this particular First Day of School in that it is no longer one in a reassuringly lengthy series.  For the first time in my life, I don’t know what I’m going to be doing next year.  Even during other transition years in my academic career, I knew, in broad terms, my plan.  High school, whether B or C (I picked B).  College, whether B, P, or W (I went with W).  Essentially, the plan was always More School.

That’s an option here, too.  I could go to grad school.  I took the GRE in the hopes of keeping that avenue open.  I could choose to stay at my undergrad university or go somewhere else.  I rather like the sound of an advanced degree.

But it’s not a given, like all the other times have been.  The decision is no longer a formality.  And depending on which choice I make, this could be my last first day until my own child dashes off into a kindergarten classroom, backpack full of crayons and safety scissors.

So forgive me, fellow college seniors who are too cool for school, if I ruin our collective jaded image by joining Nemo in excitedly chanting “First day of school!  First day of school!  First day of school!”58303176

Oh, You Don’t Want To

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me, “And what are your plans after graduation?” I could probably pay for another year of college.

But that’s just kindly curiosity.  People are just being inquisitive, or concerned for my welfare, or even just making small talk.  I get that.  It’s what we ask as humans, isn’t it?  What are you going to be when you grow up?  What college are you going to?  What outcome are you aiming for after this Big Socially Recognized Transition?

What gets me is the number of opinions offered based on my answer, no matter what that answer is.  It’s usually, “I don’t know,” to which they reply, “Oh, you don’t want to decide anything now, you’re so young!”  If I elaborate, “Maybe grad school,” then the op-eds really start flying.

“Oh, you don’t want to get an MFA in creative writing – all you can do with that is teach.”  “Oh, you don’t want to study literature – all you can do with that is teach.”  “Oh, you don’t want to stay at the same school for your Master’s.”  “Oh, you don’t want to lose any momentum by taking a year off.”  “Oh, you don’t want to stay in school forever – work for a few years, then come back and get that degree.”

If I mention a job?

“Oh, you don’t want to stay here, publishing is much bigger in New York.”  “Oh, you don’t want to go into editing, there’s no money.”  “Oh, you don’t want to go too far from home.”  “Oh, you don’t want to get stuck in some office job, you’re much too smart for that.”  “Oh, you don’t want to waste any time, you should start networking now.”

And forget even hinting that the Engineer might come into it.

“Oh, you don’t want to make decisions based on a boyfriend.”  “Oh, you don’t want to do a long distance relationship, so few couples can handle that.”

And on and on it goes.

I’ve been calling these bits of speech opinions rather than advice.  That’s because of the four- or five-word formula at the beginning of each snippet: (oh) you don’t want to.

Don’t I, though?

Don’t I want, in some moments, to study more creative writing because it’s what I love?  Don’t I want, at times, to elbow my way into publishing regardless of the paycheck?  Don’t I want to take the person I’ve been dating for years into account?

How kind of these opinions, sensing my confusion, to tell me what I want.

I’m used to some of these.  I’ve heard them before.  “Don’t worry, lots of people change their majors,” acquaintances would say, trying to give me a way out after I told them I was majoring in creative writing.  Sounds an awful lot like, “Oh, you don’t want to do that.”  But I did, in fact, want to.  It was like Warner thinking Elle Woods couldn’t get into Harvard even after she, um, did. 

like it's hardMy chosen area of study, like Elle’s sudden decision to pursue law, has raised a few eyebrows.  It seems implausible that writing would maintain such a strong hold on me, especially in a society that places so much emphasis on money making.  I get it.  And, following up on those undergraduate doubts, it makes sense that people would make similar assumptions about my choices post-grad.

I know most of these people mean well.  They want to see me succeed, or at least not starve to death or bankrupt my parents within a year of graduation.  They probably believe that their opinions are, in fact, good advice, and I appreciate that intention.

That’s where I run into trouble.  I was raised to respect adults, to seek advice from those with more life experience than me.  So I don’t really want to just start arguing with everyone – “Oh, you don’t want to [insert action here]” “OH YES I DO COME AT ME BRO.”  But I don’t know how to politely disengage when the opinions are irrelevant to me (such as when the information is outdated or based on hearsay, or just has to do with their own worldviews that I don’t necessarily share).

And even if the advice underneath the opinion is sound, I can’t help chafing at that formula. You don’t want to.  Words carry weight in my world, and that particular phrase is like an anvil dropped from a Looney Tunes cliff.  If you know what I do and do not want – why did you ask in the first place?