Is This Really the Story We Want to Keep Telling?

When I first saw the trailer for Split, I knew I wouldn’t be going to see it.  For one thing, the scene shown in the teaser where three girls are abducted in a parking lot marked it clearly as Horror, and I hate scary movies.  (Not to mention that I already check under, behind, and around my car before I get in, lock my doors, and immediately drive away from any given location, so thank you Hollywood for reinforcing my paranoid safety check.)  Then there was James McAvoy’s character, who apparently is yet another example of Hollywood’s fascination with (and frequent mistaken representation of) dissociative identity disorder (DID).  It seemed unlikely to me that situating a person with mental illness as a kidnapper and probable villain could involve tasteful representation of mental health problems, so that gave me another reason not to bother.

Last week, two of my coworkers began discussing the movie.  They expressed their admiration for the apparent “twist” ending, praised James McAvoy’s acting, then turned to me and asked if I’d seen it.

“No, and I don’t plan to.”

“Why not?” one coworker exclaimed. “It’s awesome!”

“I don’t like thrillers,” I started, “and even more importantly,” louder over their protests that it wasn’t that scary, “I think it’s contributing to social stigma surrounding mental illness by continuing to portray people with those illnesses as automatically dangerous or monstrous.”

They looked at me.  “It’s actually sooooo good!” one of them said, but her voice was quieter.

“I’m sure it’s an interesting story,” I said, “and I’m sure that as far as movies go it has all the drama and suspense that it needs to.  But I don’t agree with perpetuating damaging stereotypes to do that.”

There was a slightly awkward pause.

“His acting was, like, insane, though,” the other coworker finally said, and they were off again.

I have no doubt that McAvoy’s acting in this movie was impressive; just watching the trailer, I was amazed by his ability to differentiate and fully inhabit even the few personalities shown there.  I have no doubt that the writers constructed a compelling enough storyline to accomplish all the goals of the genre.

My problem is with the priorities that this movie represents, the priorities that keep allowing movies like this to be made instead of giving us popular culture filled with realistic and non-shameful pictures of mental illness.  My problem is that even this article in The Guardian outlining cinematic misrepresentation of DID through the years ends with praise for McAvoy’s acting.  We keep putting “It’s a good story!” and “It’s a chance for the actor to show off their talent!” above the damage done by shoving mental illness into the same old categories.  And mental health deserves better from our popular culture.

Individuals with illnesses other than DID suffer from this idea of the “mentally ill monster” too.  Schizophrenia is the most directly affected, since it is often mistakenly conflated with DID and therefore seen as farther along on the “crazy” spectrum.  Depressed people are often assumed to be suicidal, even though the reality is that symptoms vary widely in intensity and depending on the individual.  As for anxiety, our society already mistrusts people who cannot conform to the Extrovert Ideal, so sufferers of anxiety are often watched as though they might “snap” at any moment.

This isn’t just me over thinking things, either.  The American Psychological Association has done studies interpreting the link between media and the perception of mental illness as dangerousness.  While conclusions vary, the researchers agree that this link does exist and that it is actively contributing to continuing stigma against mental illness.

Given all these perceptions and pictures of mental illness surrounding us, no wonder few people seek help when they need it.  Who would want to seek out a diagnosis or admit to having one of these problems?  Who would voluntarily categorize themselves as a monster?

I congratulate James McAvoy on his talent in his chosen profession.  But I refuse to pretend that admiration for a complete stranger is more important than the work we need to do to alter the perception of mental illness in our popular media.  Now, a movie about a man with DID figuring out how to live everyday life despite the society he lives in constantly viewing him with fear?  That’s a movie I’d go see.

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Gallivanting Between Grad Schools

The Engineer and I are trying our hand at the travel side of adulting: namely, booking our own flights and transportation to all the grad schools he plans to visit before making the final decision about where he (and I) will live for the next five-ish years.  So for most of the month of March, we’ve been traipsing around the country.  For the week before spring break, we visited two schools in five days:

Purdue

At my boss’s urging, I scheduled a visit to the Purdue Writing Lab, from whence came the amazing resource that is the Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) that we use for virtually every tutorial involving MLA, APA, or Chicago style citations.  Needless to say, I nerded out a bit.  Although I plan to find a job off-campus after this year, it was interesting to see how another writing lab operates.

The student union building is basically a castle.  There are stone arches and stained glass windows and double staircases and a hall where people nap on couches that look like they belong in a museum.

Also, we found the not-at-all-sketchily-labeled “Tunnel to Phys. Bldg.” on a door that looked like it should lead to a bomb shelter.  Sure enough, despite some pipes sticking out of the ceiling and a few random sets of stairs that led straight into walls, we found ourselves in the physics basement!

Though I spent most of the days in the hotel or at the Panera next door, the Engineer brought me along to the final dinner with a few professors from the physics department.  One of the profs asked each of us at the table about our area of study.  “Astrophysics.”  “Nuclear.”  “Creative writing…”  He was a tad confused.

The Ohio State University

The day after the Purdue visit ended, we rented a car and road tripped to Ohio (which was weird, since we’re used to much longer trips just to cross our single state, and also when did we get old enough to rent a car unsupervised?).  I was looking forward to this visit even more than the Purdue OWL tour, because I got to hang out with Bird!  The Engineer was whisked away on physics department activities, so I met up with my beloved sister for the evening.  She bought me chocolate covered coffee beans and we talked for hours, as we tend to do.

On our second day, after a slow start thanks to our travel-related exhaustion, Bird and I got breakfast while the Engineer saw the physics research building.  When we went back to her dorm, Bird was shivering and yawning, so I sent her to take a nap while I got some work done at her desk (leading 2 of her roommates to greet me with Bird’s name when they came in the door…for some reason people think we look alike).  Turns out she had a fever, so the Engineer and I told her to go straight to sleep and just got dinner ourselves.

The Engineer and I explored while Bird was in class the next day (she had slept for 16 hours and her fever was gone, so that was good), and then he flew home.  Bird wanted me to go with her to Bible study and a praise and worship thing at church that night, so I stayed an extra night.  It was great to meet everyone at her Newman Center – one of her friends actually ended up giving me a ride to the airport at 4:30 a.m. the next morning, having extended the offer after 5 minutes of conversation!  Sleeping on a dorm room floor for about 4 hours isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world, but it was well worth it to spend time with my sister.


The next week was spring break, so I actually saw Bird a few days later after a brief return to our own college town.  The Engineer had gone to North Carolina right after Ohio to tour another school without me, so his spring break was a bit abbreviated.  Our vacation was lovely (more on that in another post), but at the end of the week we flew straight out for another round of visits:

Santa Barbara

We’ve agreed that the next time we go to Santa Barbara, we’ll just fly straight in to their airport rather than taking the cheaper-but-much-longer-and-more-headache-inducing route that involves LAX and a 2-hour shuttle ride.  California was pretty, but I was under the weather during our one full day there, so I didn’t get to do much exploring.  On most of these visits, the Engineer and I have sort of tag-teamed it: he goes on the academic, scheduled tours, and I try to get out and get a feel for the surrounding area, since I hope to live and work off-campus for the majority of the time he’s in grad school.  Then we compare notes on our general impressions.  Santa Barbara was fine, I guess, but I am not a warm-weather person.  (As Bird once put it, “We are of strong Norwegian stock.  We were built for 6-month winters and icy fjords.”)  Since the visit was only one day, it was most whirlwind of our visits.

And then we had another 2-hour shuttle ride to get back to LAX.

Boulder

After one full day at home (well, my home, the Engineer’s being 3 hours away), my dad dropped us off at the airport yet again for our final trip: University of Colorado, Boulder.  I got a tour guide of my own on this trip, too, since the Commodore lives in Colorado!  She was kind enough to shuttle us around, bringing us from the airport to our hotel and meeting up with me while the Engineer was busy even though she lives an hour away.

The Commodore and I being bookworms, we spent our first two days wandering around the downtown area of Pearl Street and perusing multiple bookstores.  I limited myself to only two books this time, despite the Commodore being a blatant enabler when it comes to spending money on literary pursuits.  (To be fair, I was equally encouraging of her desire to get yet another book about Tolkien.  But it was one she hadn’t read before!)  We also just hung out in our hotel room and talked, which I’ve missed doing with her since she moved.

Our departure from Boulder was weirdly scheduled, thanks to the Engineer realizing that he had to be back at school on Monday for an unavoidable commitment after we had already booked separate tickets.  My flight was Saturday night, so the Commodore came to pick me up and took me to see her new apartment, where I finally got to meet her guinea pig, before taking me to the airport.  The Engineer stayed in Boulder one more night before I picked him up Sunday morning and we both drove back to school.

The visits were definitely beneficial and will help us make our final decision, but for now both the Engineer and I are just excited to stop hopping time zones and stay in the same place for more than 3 nights in a row!

NerdCon Stories Part 1: Getting There is Half the Battle

This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending NerdCon: Stories in Minneapolis.  I’ll post about the various instances of awesomeness in later posts, but first: the adventure of getting there.

I raced home from work on Thursday to frantically finish packing and dash to the airport, only to receive a notification from my handy dandy airline app informing me that my flight had been delayed. On the plus side, I had time between flights, so I wouldn’t miss my connection. And now I had time to eat some lunch without getting too stressed. Still, I’ve never been good at sitting around and waiting for things to happen or planes to take off. I don’t always like the journeying part of travel.

So I got to the airport in the pouring rain with about an hour to spare, taking the steadily increasing delay into account. And I waited. I made it through our tiny little convenience-store-sized security system. And I waited some more.

When they began boarding, I realized that I had yet to be assigned a seat according to the app (I was flying standby thanks to my dad’s Pilot Privileges). So there was some slight panic as I approached the gate agent and asked, “Is there room for me?” That’s always the danger when you’re non-revving – will someone else, someone who can pay, dash up at the last minute and get you kicked off? Will you find yourself stranded?

I did not. I was quickly assigned a seat in a half-empty plane and made it to Seattle with no issues. My dad and his wife met me there for a brief dinner and hugs before I was the last person let onto my flight to Minneapolis. We landed around midnight local time, but my body clock thought it was only 10:00, so I felt okay. I made my way through the airport to the shuttle kiosk, and I reached for my phone to look up my confirmation code.

It wasn’t there.

I pawed through my bag, upending it in front of the kiosk, sitting cross-legged on the floor and swearing for a good five minutes. It wasn’t there. How could I have been so stupid as to lose my phone in an airport?  Well, if I was lucky, I had left it somewhere outside of security.

I was not lucky.

If I was lucky, someone would find it and turn it in. And someone did, but not until I had called the airport assistance line and left a message describing the phone and telling them to call my dad if anyone found it, and by the time the nice people directed me to the employee who had collected my phone, she had already locked it up nice and safe and inaccessible until regular business hours the next morning. I would have to come back, she said, or they could ship it to me.

Now, I had been without a working phone whilst traveling before, in Nottingham, and I vaguely recalled this initial feeling of immediately wanting to call and text anyone and everyone who might ever want to communicate with me for any reason. The very fact that I couldn’t get through to Mom or Dad or the Engineer made me want nothing more than to hear their voices.

So I fretted all the way to the hotel, resolving to take the light rail to the airport first thing in the morning and retrieve my communicatory abilities.

At the hotel, I met a bow-tied, bespectacled concierge who very nicely informed me that the hotel was sold out, so they were putting me up in the Executive Suite for the night.

“It’s usually used for meetings,” he said, showing me a brochure picture, “but it also has a queen-sized pullout couch!”

I could have cried. It was nearly 1 in the morning by this point, the hour that even my time-zone-differentiated body wanted nothing more than a comfortable place to sleep. Of course, it wasn’t the concierge’s fault, and he gave me Executive Level Privileges and free coffee vouchers for the entirety of my stay, assuring me as he did so that I would of course be allowed to move rooms the next day. Still, upon my arrival at the 23rd floor (really the 22nd since they skip 13, but we’ll ignore that), I was dismayed, not impressed, by the size of the room. There was indeed a faux marble conference table with high-backed chairs around it, a kitchen, a fancy bathroom, a little foyer, and a huge TV. But all I could focus on was the sad little lumpy pillow in the middle of the pullout couch. At least I didn’t have to set it up myself, I supposed. Even so, the room had too many corners, too many things in it to make me feel secure.

Thinking of security, I went to call my parents and the Engineer on the landline to assure them that I had reached the hotel and was not kidnapped or otherwise incapacitated on my way. But none of the long-distance calls would go through. It might have been for the best, since that would have been more expensive than I could afford, but it just made me more upset (we were now approaching 2 in the morning). So I decided to email them all.

Except the WiFi wouldn’t work.

At this point, I’m sure someone of sounder mind than I would have called or marched downstairs and demanded that these things be fixed. All I wanted to do, though, was go to sleep.

And sleep (fitfully) I did, until the phone rang with what I assumed to be my wakeup call.  Instead, it was my loving, long-suffering father, who had gotten a call from the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport at 5 am his time, letting him know that my phone had been turned in.


Read about my first day of the convention in NerdCon: Stories Part 2!

Adulting: Why Not Celebrate Small Victories?

Two friends of mine are getting married next weekend.  Though I’m not in the wedding, they asked me to lector, so I’m driving 3 hours to the rehearsal dinner the day prior to the actual ceremony.  Since I didn’t want to drive another 6 hours round-trip between the rehearsal and the actual wedding, I booked a hotel room.  As soon as I received the confirmation email, I took to Facebook:

Just made my own hotel reservation for the wedding of two friends.  Am I adulting?

Normally I cringe at words like “adulting.”  Innocent nouns should not be pressed into service as verbs unless absolutely necessary.  But the verb form of “adult” is one I will allow for the simple reason that it is the most expressive word for the situation at hand.  “To adult,” according to Urban Dictionary, means “to do grown up things and hold responsibilities such as a 9-5 job, a mortgage/rent, a car payment, or anything else that makes one think of grown ups.”  Frequently appearing as a hashtag on social media, it can be used ironically (“Goldfish crackers and prosecco count as dinner, right? #adulting”) or seriously (“Checkbook balanced, apartment cleaned, laundry done, and dinner in the oven. I’m adulting well today!”).

The term has come under fire for its celebration of everyday chores.  Some who are already proficient at adulting (or like to pretend they are) say that everyone has to do these things.  You’re not special for cooking a real meal or running a vacuum.  A recent Cosmopolitan article argued that emphasizing the basics of grown-up life undermines real accomplishments like career growth, adding that this probably stems from Millennials’ “extended adolescence” because “growing up may feel optional” nowadays.

While many young people do benefit from still living at home and the perks of having their parents do most of the grocery shopping, this actually makes adulthood more scary, not less.

I was fortunate enough to have parents who insisted I learn to cook some basic meals and keep a bathroom sanitary before I went off to college.  They gave me a larger allowance in high school with the understanding that I would use it to purchase my own clothing, coffee, etc. so I could learn to manage income and savings on a small scale.  Though I’m sure I rolled my eyes at these lessons (sorry, Mom and Dad), I’m grateful for them now.  But no parent can teach their kids everything, at least not specifically (“Today I’m going to show you how to call the insurance company for a quote and where to find your policy number on that stupid little card”).

Many of us also grew up hearing that we could do anything, be anything we wanted, follow our dreams, etc.  And those are wonderful things to hear when you’re a kid.  They are also very broad, sweeping encouragements, with little to say concerning the nitty gritty of how to support yourself while chasing those be-anything dreams.  Again, I was lucky; both my parents were happy to help me pursue my love of writing, and at the same time they made sure I would be qualified and capable of holding a day job until that passion could become a sustainable career.

But guess what?  Adulthood is still really freaking scary.  Yes, the big career moves are nerve-wracking, but it’s also the little things that no one tells you about, like having to put towels down when it’s too late in the evening to call maintenance.  Even when you have a potential safety net at home, couldn’t you feel a certain amount of pride when you stop being complacent with letting your parents do everything?  If I lived at home, I would be proud when I made dinner for the family.  And now that I don’t live at home, I still like to send my mom pictures of the flowers I potted or the art I finally hung up on the walls.  These are small accomplishments, yes, but they’re still symbols of independence I am still learning to claim.

Perhaps this is nothing new.  Perhaps every generation up to this point has felt the same way as they’re thrown into the deep end of Grown Up Life.  But we have social media now, and ways to connect internationally with other people who are experiencing the same thing.  The only difference between us and the young adults of the past is that we can be much more public with our anxiety, and we can cheer each other on through the victories, big and small.

So I will keep on adulting, thank you very much.

 

Drive

energy, ambition, or initiative

a trip or journey in a driven vehicle

I have trouble slowing down sometimes.  I am an avid multitasker, despite numerous studies that tell me it’s a lie and I would be better off focusing on just one thing at a time.  It makes me feel busier, which is something society approves of.  I reach for words like ambitioushardworkingdriven – they look good on resumes.  I’ve never been one to enjoy drifting aimlessly for more than a week or two.  I start getting restless during summer vacations.  And I always thought this was a good thing.

The Engineer and I went north the past two weekends to visit his family.  It’s only an hour and a half journey, nothing too taxing, through rolling hills and around gentle curves.  We passed windmills, which some people say ruin the view but which remind me of three-armed swimmers practicing their strokes.  I used to be able to read in the car when I was younger, but now it makes me carsick to read more than a quick text, so we talk and sing along to the radio or just sit in comfortable silence, remarking occasionally on a pretty farmhouse or a couple of deer in a field.

I never used to see a point in leisurely drives (nor did I enjoy driving in general – my learner’s permit expired twice and I put off getting my actual license until I was 17), but the Engineer takes us on a back road that winds through picturesque, tiny towns and the fields between them.  I want to stop and explore them, tease out the stories hidden here out of sight of the main highway.

This drive is so different from the definition I usually value.  My drive requires action and decisiveness.  A journey, however, requires only that you eventually reach a destination.  It doesn’t matter whether we take the usual route or explore a new one and get hopelessly lost.  Even the past participles take on different meanings: to be driven as seen on a resume is to be catapulted forward through life by one’s own energy.  It’s grammatically passive, but since the push comes from oneself, driven-ness retains agency.

To be driven in a car, however, is truly passive.  It means trusting the driver and relinquishing a certain amount of control over the journey.

Sitting in the passenger seat, good music on the radio, the sun setting outside, and the Engineer next to me, it occurs to me that perhaps I could stand to make a little more room for that second definition of drive in my life.

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.”

“What?”

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.

 

Sexism and Smoothies

“Do I want a smoothie?” I mused aloud.  One of my coworkers looked up from the couches in our hangout area.

“Is that even a question?  Smoothies are always a good idea,” he said.

I laughed.  “You’re right.  I do want a smoothie.  The real question,” I said, waving my wallet at him, “is whether I want to spend the money.  Because that would make my wallet very sad.”

He shrugged.  “Why would you pay for the smoothie?”

For a moment I thought he was suggesting I somehow blend and steal my own fruit drink, but after a moment he added, “Just ask people for the money.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“No, seriously,” he said, leaning forward, “just tell people you forgot your wallet or you don’t have any money and you’re thirsty and can they spare you any change for a drink.  Now, if I tried to do that it would take me all day.  But you – you could probably find someone offering to buy you a coffee within – ” he thought for a moment ” – fifteen minutes.  Tops.”

Incredulous, I just stared at him.

“Oh yes,” he said, seeing my expression, “sexism is alive and well, and you can exploit it!”

I laughed.  We didn’t know each other well yet, this coworker and I, but I knew enough to realize that he was merely commenting on the sorry state of our collegiate society, not being sexist himself.

As I walked to the student union, I half-wanted to try out the experiment, just to see what would happen.  My coworker, however joking his tone, had a point.  I’ve joked with the Engineer before about using such tactics; whenever he worries that I won’t know how to put chains on my tires going over the pass for winter break, I just bat my eyes and say sweetly, “I’m cute and helpless.  Someone will stop.”  In reality, of course, the thought of playing Damsel in Distress makes my eyes want to roll out of my head.

But here, on the same campus where I’ve had male classmates say they don’t hold the door open for girls anymore because “they might get mad,” I could probably have flirted my way to a smoothie.

We females are still thought of as Damsels, just with varying degrees of receptiveness to Manly Heroics swooping in to save the day.  Many boys don’t let girls do things for themselves because they see us as equals, but because they’re afraid of us snapping at them.

Can’t we all just hold doors and lend money for smoothies regardless of gender, because we’re all humans trying to navigate the madness that is college life?

Things I’m Trying to Be Better About

Praying.

Calling home.

Making healthy dinners.

Awareness of how much I’m spending on coffee.

Awareness of how much I’m drinking coffee.

Posting on this blog.

Posting on Changeling Scribbles (actually no don’t go read it because I haven’t posted anything in weeks).

Reading for pleasure.

Working on my own writing.

Doing laundry before the basket overflows.

Not overscheduling myself.

Eating a real breakfast, not just a protein bar on the way out the door.

Leaving the Engineer’s at a reasonable hour because he gets grumpy when he doesn’t get to bed before 11.

Leaving the Engineer’s at a reasonable hour because I cannot actually replace sleep with coffee.

Pulling myself out of stress spirals about what to do with my life post-graduation.

Going out and doing things occasionally.

Loving myself.

When Your Worst Fears Don’t Come True

Occasionally I have nightmares where Bird or the Engineer or some other loved one is hurt, or even killed, and I can’t get there.  I am on the other side of the country in these dreams, or even in another nation entirely, and all I can do is cling to my phone and rush around demanding that someone, anyone, help me get there.  Even if I can’t actually do anything, even if the person is comatose in this nightmare and probably won’t make it, just being physically near them somehow makes me better able to handle the situation.  But, since this is a nightmare, I never quite reach them.  I just struggle against unreasonable transportation until I wake up.  Then I lie back, heart racing, and remind myself that it’s not real.

Until it happened when I was awake.

About six weeks ago, I got a phone call from an unfamiliar number.  The person on the other end seemed to know a bit about me, introducing himself as a friend of the Engineer, who was down in California for the weekend.  We exchanged brief pleasantries, then:

“He’s okay, but he was in a car accident.”

Only a few words made it through after that.  Everyone’s fine… hospital now… let you know more… he’s talking… asking about you…

“Did you call his mom yet?” I managed to ask.  No, he hadn’t, she was his next call.  (Actually, as it would turn out, he wouldn’t be able to get through and I would have to call her and tell her the news myself – a call I never want to make again!)

I hung up and walked into the living room, where Bird – at least in this nightmare-come-true she was safe – jumped up from the couch at the look on my face.  When I told her what had happened, I think I just kind of dissolved.  “Do we need to get you to LA?” she asked, hugging me.  “I will get you on a plane, I will buy you a ticket myself.  I don’t have any money, but I will get you on a plane.”

I knew, logically, that that wasn’t feasible.  There was no reason for me to go down and sit around with a bunch of strangers waiting to hear more.  It would make much more sense for his mom to go, if anyone needed to.  He might still be home in a few days – hadn’t his friend said he was talking?  Talking was good, I thought.  So I walked around the house and refused to put my phone down for a moment, just in case.

Even after I talked to the Engineer himself later that day, and again that evening, I still felt on edge.  The worst had happened, I thought, and yet it hadn’t.  He was (mostly) fine, no broken bones, no internal bleeding, no measurable concussion – none of the horrors from my nightmares, besides the accident itself, had come true.  So I was left waiting for the Real Worst Thing to descend.  His head injury would take away his feelings for me, I thought, or some overlooked complication would leave him clinging to life a few days later.  Somehow I couldn’t let myself believe that the nightmare had come, had passed, and hadn’t manifested my worst imaginings.  I couldn’t believe life was letting me off so easy.

Now, I don’t mean to downplay this.  The accident did take its toll on the passengers in both cars; the Engineer took a few weeks to recover fully.  But he was home the next day, walking and talking, acting normal, if a bit tired.  And in the days afterward, everyone involved kept saying how fortunate they had been to escape with comparatively minor injuries between them.  A slightly different angle, a few feet farther, a little faster – it all could have been so, so much worse.

As it was, life went on.  Stiffly, perhaps, and with a slight twinge occasionally, and maybe a few more naps, but it went on.

I still fear harm coming to people I love.  I still hate that helpless, hand-wringing feeling I get when all I can do is carry a cell phone from room to room, waiting for news.  I still plan out what I would do in some broadly hypothetical worst-case scenario.  But I’ve come to realize – slowly, painfully – that the worst-case scenario isn’t the only scenario possible.  It’s as if God was saying, “You see?  It happened.  One of your greatest fears happened, and you came through it.  That can happen too – it doesn’t have to turn out for the worst.” I don’t believe God sends bad things our way, but I do believe He uses them to shape us a little more into the person He wants us to be.  In this case, I think He was helping me to be less fearful, more hopeful.  Somewhere down the road, one of my nightmares will probably come true, in partial or full form, again.  And it will be scary and awful and I will wish it hadn’t happened.

But unlike my dreams, unlike wrenching myself desperately into consciousness, that situation will have a resolution – and it might even be, with His help, for the better.

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.