Thursday, December 29, 2011

What do you want from me?

The older I get, the more I am beginning to recognize the pain caused by expectations.


I was in a church service, not too long ago. The message was about wise financial practices. At one point in the sermon, the pastor said "Men, it's okay if your wife makes more money than you, but you're ultimately responsible for making sure that your family is being provided for, financially."

This was upsetting to me. It seems to me that it is difficult enough to love and care for one another unconditionally without having to worry about fitting your relationship into some kind of mold.

I can (and will) compare it to raising a child to be a doctor. Sure, it might work out. The child might grow up with the correct set of gifts and interests to be a doctor, but the child might not. And if the child does not, then they are left with a life of failure or unfulfillment. It is frowned upon for parents to predetermine their children's lives, but why is it acceptable to predetermine what a couple's marriage will look like, apart from generally wise and godly principals? Does this not set them up for failure and stop them from developing their relationship organically and uniquely, based on who the people in the relationship are - their gifts and interests, strengths and weaknesses?

I don't like the idea of being told that what I have to offer a relationship has more to do with my gender than who I actually am. I'm not married, so I am lacking perspective, but it seems to me that the added pressure of having to be something other than simply loving, committed, and graceful might make the difference between an exciting adventure and a wild goose chase.

To test my theory, I asked a married couple about this. The wife said that at one point in their marriage, she realized that it made more sense for her to manage the finances. She is more detail-oriented, better with numbers, and, as a stay-at-home mom, had more time to do it. The problem was, because of how the couple had been conditioned, it was difficult for her to take on this role without them both feeling like he had failed her in some way. They've moved past it now, but I thought this was a fascinating example of how the church, though well-intentioned, can really make life more difficult for it's members with unnecessary expectations.


As long as we're talking about things of which I know very little, let's move on to parenting. This is something I'm very much looking forward to, while at the same time, am very much terrified by. I have three nieces, and watching them grow up has been one of the great joys in my life, but the idea of parenting scares me. And one of the biggest reasons for this is the pressure that I see on moms in the culture that surrounds me. This is by no means a church-problem, but a culture-problem. I could write more about this, but someone else has done a better job here. The bottom line is that I hope I can find a way to enjoy my children, even if parenting magazines or some neighbor lady tells me I'm doing it wrong.


So, what about me? I'm not a spouse or a parent. What undue expectations am I struggling with?

I'm an adult; I'm single; I'm a Christian; I'm a woman; I'm unemployed. My culture tells me to pursue my career. My body tells me to date and have fun. Churches tell me that I should get married and have children. My brain tells me that I should make wise choices. My heart tells me that I should love those around me. (I will add that God is in all of these things and that these divisions are not as clean as I make them sound, and some don't exist at all, but for the sake of the conversation, allow me to create them.)

When all is said and done, I feel tension in most places. My heart and my brain influence me in ways that stop me from fully participating in the fun, the dating, the pursuit of a career, and the marriage. And so, I am, in ways, at odds with parts of my culture, church, and even my own body. The silver lining is that this tension keeps me on my toes, it keeps me thinking, like a tightrope-walker. Every step is cautious, but needs to be made in confidence, or I'll never get anywhere. Admittedly, I slip sometimes. I lean too far in one direction, but that's where the safety net of grace comes in. (Have I taken the analogy too far?) I ask for grace from my God, my community, and my toughest critic: myself.


I conclude that expectations can, I suppose, be helpful, but only for the person who knows herself well enough to know which are appropriate and which are toxic, and who is honest enough to live accordingly. May we be that person in this world full of expectations.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

It really is a wonderful life.

Sometimes I go through this unfortunate writing season during which I believe that I can't write anything unless I have some sort of epic truth to communicate to the world. Understandably, I don't write during these times, as new epic truths are often difficult to come by. Usually, I free myself by forcing myself to sit down and write about something somewhat inconsequential, like what's going on in my life.

Today, I'll do just that. 

The last time I wrote about what was going on in my life was over two months ago, and I had just been laid off. I can only imagine that all of my readers are sick with curiosity as to how I've been spending my time, and how I will avoid living in a box.

I still have no jnb, though I have a had a few interviews that went very well. I've also been working on some entrepreneurial (spelled that without spell-check, by the way) projects, one of which has some promise.

To be honest, I have no idea what I'll be doing in six months. I could own my own business, be back in school, be working in another office, or be waiting tables. Likely, it will be more than one of those things, plus or minus some other unforeseen life-change. I've stopped trying to guess.

I was reflecting on my life the other day (I do this most days, now) and couldn't really name one tangible, life-altering "success" that I have achieved since I bought my house over two years ago. I suppose I was promoted last fall, but in retrospect, I'm not sure I care to add that to this list.

Why, then, am I still happy - with no job and no job offers in an unkind job market? Sure, I go through times of despair and hopelessness, crippling self-doubt and complete lack of motivation, but for the most part, my world is still rosy.

I have some theories.

One is that I don't have to do things I don't care about anymore. That's a biggie.

Another is that, through applying and interviewing for jobs, as well as making professional connections for the sake of my would-be business, I have begun to build a type of professional confidence that previous workplaces have more or less stopped me from developing. I've started to think "I can do this," and actually believe it, even if it's something I've never even thought about doing before.

These two things have been really great for me, and have made this unique time one of growth and learning.

However, there is one other thing, to which I can't help but accredit most of my joy: my community.

Because I was never 100% enthusiastic about my job over the past few years, I found purpose and fulfillment in something else: building a home (meaning the people, not the building, though I am fond of my building) and community. I see now that I made the right choice. I don't believe my home or my community will be laying me off anytime soon. :)

In all seriousness, though, I completely believe that, even if I had my dream job (and knew what that was), but had no real home or community to speak of, my life would not have nearly as much as joy in it as it does now. I have people I can rely on and who need me. I am affirmed often. I busy myself by recognizing what it is that I have to offer, and trying my best to have open hands.

I watched It's A Wonderful Life recently and cried a lot. I had never identified with it so much. In the end, when George Bailey, in the face of financial ruin on top of a heap of abandoned dreams, finds redemption and salvation in the community he has taken in place of the life he wanted, I nearly lost it.

This post was written as part of a synchroblogging game that The Creative Collective likes to play. Click here to read what the other players have to say about "Community."

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Deep Thoughts

Water is kind of like tofu. Whether or not it's a good thing depends entirely on what is done with it.

I find that most things are that way.

This post is part of The Creative Collective's synchroblogging game. To read the others' posts on Water, click here.

Monday, October 31, 2011

I'm stepping in love with you.

I like analogies. If you've read a bit of what I write here, you may already know that. The world is so vast and beautiful and interconnected, that I can't help but think of a thousand existing things while trying to describe one new thought. They help me understand things I've never experienced. Experience is the best teacher, yes, but an apt analogy is like a good study partner.

Despite my frequent use (and perhaps overuse) of analogies, there's one thing that I just can't seem to match: marriage.

I understand that the church is the bride of Christ, and so we can model marriages that way - trying to incorporate the love and sacrifice shown by Christ into our own relationships, but even that is not something I can say I completely understand. Analogies are supposed to be simple and familiar: throwing a party, closing a door, stubbing your toe.

There's no earthly thing that I can compare to committing myself to another person forever. I suppose if I chopped off my leg, that would be permanent and difficult to ignore, like a marriage, but I'd rather not draw that parallel. I have some hope that being married is very different from being an amputee.

And so, because I cannot understand marriage by thinking about something else I already understand, I live with a healthy fear and respect for it. Part of this healthy fear and respect is an increasing befuddlement with common ideas surrounding the whole thing. Falling in love, for instance. Yikes. I have no doubt that there is some kind of romantic thing that happens and which feels beyond the control of the person affected - something like infatuation and excitement - but I doubt more and more that that has very much to do, really, with marriage. The marriages I admire appear to be participated in very much on purpose. 

When someone says to me "you can't help who you love," I have begun to assume that our definitions of love are quite different. Similarly, anxiety wells within me when I hear people talk about engaging in a less-than-wonderful relationship as "taking risks for the sake of love." What I really hear is "taking risks for the sake of not being alone." That scares me because I'm learning that people don't realize how much they have to lose. I've, somewhat accidentally, learned what they have to lose. I have an extraordinary amount of singleness experience, and I shudder to think that I could have lost all of that - the fun, the learning, the independence, the empowerment, had I decided that not being alone was more important than waiting for something that fit.

I am only 25, yes. I have not yet lost the will to encourage people around me to relish their singleness and, if marriage or some kind of committed relationship is what they desire, wait. Wait and be intentional. Your are of more value to the world as an energetic, joyful, single person than you will ever be as a person in a relationship that does not give you joy or energy.

This post, though tardy, is a part of The Creative Collective's synchroblogging game. Click here to read what the others have to say about Falling.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

yet again

The Prequel:

I ended up a server at a gourmet breakfast place and renting a studio on my parents' property. I told the restaurant when I was hired that I would be looking for an additional full-time job.

When I accepted a full-time position at a salon/day spa, I drove straight to the restaurant to let the owner know. He told me that I was no good to him and fired me. I cried all the way home.

A few months later, I was leaving the salon with the two owners in the middle of the day to attend a fashion show. I set the alarm, but as I was talking to the owners, I was distracted and forgot to lock the door. After we were gone, a customer walked into the space and set off the alarm. Nothing was damaged or stolen, but I was fired anyway. (My experience there up until that point had been so life-draining that I actually received a congratulations card.)

About a month later, I started a job for a publishing company - finally something that seemed to have anything to do with what I went to school for, or could see myself doing long-term. After about six months, I realized that it was not the type of company that I wanted to work for: not invested in the local community in any way and not even interested in building relationships within the company, not to mention that they managed through fear, pressure, and negative reinforcement.

I began to look into other options/coping mechanisms.

I was going to move to South America to teach English, but I couldn't find a program that inspired me and for which I was qualified.

I decided to go to graduate school for. I took the GRE and started a couple of applications. That looked promising until I was told by several people that I shouldn't go to graduate school unless I absolutely needed to in order to get where I was going. The problem was that I didn't know where I was going, I only knew where I didn't want to be. I didn't finish the applications.

After the earthquake in Haiti, I had an opportunity to go there for a week as a volunteer. My company told me I could not, as I would not yet have earned enough vacation days to take the entire week off. I cried at my desk and my desire to leave the place grew stronger than it had ever been. (Right around that time, they began greatly increasing my responsibilities. I asked for a raise. They said "No. You haven't been promoted.")

Even though I couldn't go on the trip to Haiti, a connection formed and I planned to move there to use my skills to teach children in an orphanage and publish a newsletter that would help them gain support in the States. Finally, an escape into something that would do someone some good.

The connection fell through and the trip was canceled. I felt chained to my desk.

I decided that the thing to do, since I had now been with the company for two years, was to look for another job. Surely, with such experience, I would be able to find something interesting.


I applied for several jobs over the past couple of years. Each of them, I was qualified for and excited about. For each of them, I submitted a carefully crafted resume and cover letter. None of those applications even lead to an interview.

Not even an interview.

And here we are, almost three years after I started at the publishing company.

This past Thursday, my manager calls me into her office.

"Your position is no longer available."

"Okay. Are there any other positions available?"

"No. Please check in with me before you leave today to turn in your keys and credit card."

"Okay. Thank you."

And now I have no job.

I am not sad.

(Though, my feelings are hurt because my employer of three years laid me off as though they were notifying a temp that their assignment had ended.)

I enjoyed my co-workers, but very rarely the job, itself. Plus, now I can get work on getting back to the future I had always dreamed about in college, the one that's been on hold for three years, the one in which I work for something I am proud of and believe in. See you there.

This post was written as a part of The Creative Collecthve's synchroblogging game. Click here to read what the others have to say about Back to the Future.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


I understand that growing up involves the pruning of dreams. I understand that the older I get, the more things will need to be given up, in order to pursue other things - the ones I have decided are important and worth the sacrifice. What I don't always understand is how to decide which is which.

Which dreams, loves, passions, likes, enjoyments, amusements, and whatevers need to be given up, to make way for others to grow?

I sometimes feel like I'm standing in front of a large garden bed, brimming with life and then I'm told that the weeds must be pulled, in order for the desirables to be saved. The problem is, they all look desirable to me.

I know that part of this is a personality issue. For instance, I was a humanities major because I didn't like the idea of not being able to take a particular class I wanted to take, simply because it was "out of my major." The humanities program at Milligan, thankfully, included so many areas of study, that I was never presented with a problem like that. My biggest problem was that I needed special approval to register for more than eighteen credit-hours in one semester.

As an adult, things have become more complicated.

I need a path. I need a calling. I need something that fits the needs of my community as well as the strengths and desires of my person.

But what?


This is like being asked to pick a major all over again. Can I find the humanities department of life?

I don't think so.

Here are a couple of songs with which I identify. Maybe they'll validate a part of you like they do for me.

This post was created as a part of a synchroblog. Visit The Creative Collective to see more posts on "Giving Up for the Long Haul."

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Our feet are pulled to the earth because it's the biggest thing around.

Toward what are our other parts pulled?

This post was created as part of a synchroblog. Click here to read more posts on The Earth around the Sun, or the Sun around the Earth: Centers of Gravity

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Charleston, in two parts

Part 1 - The Audition

This past Friday, I auditioned for American Idol.

It's silly, I know. The show is questionable and the artists it produces are questionable, I know. Nevertheless, I enjoy watching it. I don't really feel the need to defend myself, but I will say that there's something heart-warming about watching "normal" people with extraordinary talents be recognized for them. That's all.

I sing because it's fun and I like to entertain people, be it on a stage or in my home. I have no delusions of grandeur, but decided to audition anyway for the following reasons:

1. I wouldn't be very disappointed if I was rejected - I'm secure in my limited ability. Also, I would have an answer the next time someone said "Oh my gosh, you should totally try out for American Idol!" Not much to lose.
2. If I made it through even one round of auditions, I'd be thrilled.
3. If I were able to actually be on the show, I'd get to hone my craft, wear fun clothes, and entertain many people. Plus, Steven Tyler might say something creepy to me, and that'd be a story to tell.

Well, the audition came and went and I did not make it through to the next round. A man who had been listening to singers for 10 hours (and who looked like Bono) mustered the minimum requirement of earnestness to explain to me that I had a nice voice, but that I wasn't what they were looking for. (The whole process took 12 hours, but that's a story for another time.)

What did I learn from the American Idol audition? Absolutely nothing.

Part 2 - The Hosts

Rewind a bit. When I knew I was going to the aforementioned audition in Charleston, SC, I also knew that I did not want to get a hotel room for my sister and me. I realize that I'm 25, but the idea of paying $100ish to sleep somewhere hasn't become any easier to deal with. Therefore, I took advantage of my social media connectedness and posted on Facebook, asking if anyone knew of anyone in Charleston who might be willing to host some American Idol hopefuls. My friend, Scotland, with whom I had lived long ago in a faraway land, responded that he had some friends in Charleston and set up a line of communicated between them and me.

The result of that Facebook post was a long weekend staying in the living room of, I feel confident staying, the most hospitable home in Charleston - the home of Kevin, Janice, Tyler and Zack, all young professional twentysomethings. Beyond their home, they shared with us conversation, watermelon, card games, friends, music, french toast, and an ocean river float. Sure, we drove to Charleston for the audition, but that was, though a unique and entertaining experience, one of the least enjoyable activities of the weekend.

What did I learn from staying with Kevin, Janice, Tyler, and Zack? 1) I have friends in Charleston. 2) Hospitality for strangers is not something that mostly exists in records of ancient cultures. 3) Friendship and openness are more valuable to the human spirit than the approval of a Hollywood producer who looks like Bono. Okay, I already knew that last one, but thought it was worth mentioning anyway.

This post is a part of a synchroblog. Click here to peruse other posts on "What we might become if..."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

fear itself

It was chilly and raining some, the bleak type of fall weather. I was only about 30 minutes into a four or five-hour road trip. I was alone.

Between the swishes of my windshield-wipers, I noticed a dark blob on the right side of the road ahead of me. As I approached the blob, I saw that it was actually three, smaller blobs. It wasn't until I sped past them that I realized they were people, walking beside the highway.

"How miserable." I thought.

Their clothes must have been wet and their bodies must have been freezing.

From what I could tell during the instant that I was able to recognize them as human, they were about my age, two men and a woman, dressed in dark clothing and carrying a cardboard sign I could not read.

I pulled off of the next exit so that I could turn around and pick them up. I don't remember deciding that it was a good idea, I just knew that it was what was going to happen.  Kind of like if you see a five dollar-bill on the sidewalk - there is no deliberation, you just pick it up.

During the few minutes that it took me to get off the exit, re-enter the highway in the opposite direction and then repeat that process, I called Jackie.

"Hi. I'm about to pick up some hitchhikers and I thought I should tell someone."

I don't know why I thought that calling a friend who lived 14 hours away would be helpful. Perhaps it was a subconscious effort to involve someone else enough to sooth my anxiety, but not enough to surrender any control.

She urged me to be careful.

I ended the call just as I began to brake and pull off of the road. I stopped the car a bit behind them, but they had noticed me and were facing me now.  I got out of the car.

"You guys need a ride?"

"Yeah! Thank you so much."

I popped my trunk and they unloaded their backpacks.

They rode with me for two hours. Apart from the slight smell of hours of highway walking and my own anxiety about which questions were not polite to ask, it was a pleasant ride. They were on their way to New Orleans for Halloween. They were intentionally homeless and traveled the country by hitchhiking and sneaking onto trains.

The whole idea seemed so romantic; in many ways, they were free. I, with my recently earned BA, student loans, and a career to begin, was feeling the ever-mounting pressure of the quarter-life crisis while they were happy to not know where they would sleep that night. What was more fascinating was learning that there is an entire community of people with this same lifestyle for whom Halloween in New Orleans is an a annual reunion, similar to the college homecoming at the end of my road trip.

Part of me would like to say that I sold my car in the next city, bought a black hoodie and joined them, but I did not. I dropped them off at a friend of a friend's house where they could stay the night. They were very grateful for the ride and I was grateful for the experience.

Immediately, as a 22 year-old, what I took from the experience was that I wanted to be a street kid, not have  a career or pay rent.

Since then, I've learned the value of staying in one place - how the longer you stay in a place or even in a good relationship, the more clearly you can see your own reflection in it. How can I identify and improve myself if I only ever see my vague likeness through the eyes of people and places who barely know me?

Now, I look back on the experience as a small liberation from fear. It is upsetting how capable I am of letting my life be dictated by fear. Those people needed something: a ride and a place that was not cold or rainy. I had what they needed and it cost me very little to give it to them. I try not to tell this story too much because it is met with much criticism. Sure, they could have pulled out an ax and beheaded me right there in my Altima, but they didn't. I don't want my goal in life to be to live the longest with the least amount of pain. I want to fully engage the world around me without fear. If that means being beheaded, then so be it.

This post was written as part of a synchroblog. Topic: Independence.  Here are links to my fellow synchroblogger's posts:
nightsbrightdays: hypothetically speaking 
karma's fool: truly local 
the rebel i: independence 
plow and rain: a thing is itself
art, et cetera by megan e b jones: interbeing
wordshepherd: Escape Velocity, Part III 
passionately pensive: Bodily Interruptions
muddleddreamer: Co-dependence

Thursday, May 26, 2011

they didn't

"So, what is it that you do?" 

As a server, and particularly as a server dressed like a firefighter, I would get this question a lot.  "Surely," they were really saying, "that red shirt and black suspenders couldn't represent every one of your current ambitions."

"I'm in school," I would respond, with my bright server-smile and nod.

"Oh, wonderful," they would reply, with an even bigger smile.

(I never understood why people were so enthusiastic about my being in school.  As far as I knew, it was just what people did when they were my age.)

"What are you going to school for?"

"I'm a Humanities major."

"Oh." And then came that face they all made every time: the smile was still there, but I could always see right through it to the confusion or even skepticism.  The slight squint of the eyes is what usually gave them away.

"What will you do with that?"  I think they asked this for their own sake more than for mine.  They wouldn't be able to sleep that night if they knew there was a young person out there paying money (borrowing, even) for a degree in Humanities and no brilliant idea as to how they would earn that money back.

"I guess I'll teach.  Either that or be a very educated homeless person," and we would both laugh as I ran off to get them their sweet tea.

How is someone who has majored in Humanities (yes, in general) supposed to get a job?

This was a funny thing we martyrs of the universities laughed about with each other and I even used as a boilerplate server joke (I apologize to anyone holding onto the idea that their server makes up those jokes just for them).  

To be honest, I was never really worried about finding a job while I was in college. That could have something to do with being surrounded by so many others in the same boat.  We were like lemmings:  surely this wasn't any kind of suicide - there were so many in front of me and behind me.

In the fall of my senior year, I heard of this wonderful program called Teach for America.  Program.  What a lovely word, especially for a college student who, despite all of the quests for independence, would really like nothing more than for someone to tell them what to do.

As soon as I heard about it, I was sold.  I submitted my application in January and by February I had passed my phone interview and was preparing for my day-long interview in Knoxville - writing a lesson for high school students about the social commentary in Oliver Twist.

I chose this topic because I had written an essay on it during my semester in Oxford.  That's right, Oxford.  These interviewers had no idea what they were in for.  I had this. I knew I had this. This was clearly where my life was going. I needed the program and the program needed me. I would teach underprivileged children for two years all while earning a graduate degree, loan forgiveness and, gasp, a salary!  

The day on which I was to receive the email containing my school-assignment (where I would teach for two years), I was spring breaking on a large boat in the middle of the ocean, with no internet access that I cared to pay for.  I spent the whole week enjoying myself and wondering at the new life I would begin in only a couple of short months. 

As soon as the boat docked in Florida, I turned my phone on and called my mom.  I had given her my email account login information so that she could check the assignment for me.

"Hi Mom, we're back in Florida.  Where are they sending me?"  I had no time for small talk about islands and sunburns.  I could barely speak through my smile!  She didn't answer right away and my mind went wild with thoughts of the possibilities: Boston, San Diego, or even North Carolina.  Sure, it was less exciting, but at least I'd be near my family.

She still didn't answer me. It had only been a few seconds, but I was impatient.

"Mom?  Where did they offer me a position?"  I put my finger in my other ear, in case I just wasn't hearing her.

"They didn't."

Fast forward two months.

Location: A restaurant near my (parents') house, North Carolina

"Would you like toast or an English muffin with your omelet?"

"Oh, toast is fine.  So, are you in school?"

"Well, I just graduated a couple of weeks ago."



"What did you study?"

"Humanities, actually."

"Oh.  That's nice.  What will you do with that?"

"You're looking at it." 

We both laugh.  

"I'll be right back with your toast."

This post is part of a synchroblog.  Topic: surprise.
Fellow synchrobloggers' posts:
Years That Ask Questions
Surprise Ending
a whale

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

pince caspeen

"Caelia, I've already kept you up too late, I don't think we should read."  

Trying to reason with a six year-old works about 15% of the time, which is a good enough success rate to justify an attempt.

"But dad lets me and Rose stay up to read!" she protests. 

This would not be among the 15%.

"Okay," I say, but draw out the word with a sigh, so it is very clear that I am making a sacrifice here, "but just for a little while."

I scoot sideways into the bottom bunk next to her while she settles in with a flashlight and her chosen reading material.

"This is Prince Caspian, one of the Chronicles of Narnia."

As soon as she says it, my mind hurls a memory to it's forefront and I smile.

She was only about three at the time, and sitting on my lap in a movie theater.  It's one of my fondest memories of her at that age.

The lights dim and the previews start, but Caelia is not participating in the settle-when-it's-dark agreement between movie-goers. Not one bit.

"I'm fursty! I'm so fursty!" she "whispers."  For any of you who have heard a three year-old "whisper," you understand how the quieter they try to be, the louder they actually are.  (This phenomenon, unfortunately, does not leave us as we grow, but only manifests itself differently.)

Down the row comes the closest community drink cup (Yes, even now, no one gets their own drink cup when my family goes to the movies.) to quench her painful "furst," and, more importantly, to quiet her so as not to disturb our movie-neighbors.

Once the paper cup is in both of her hands, there is quiet, apart from the loud breathing and humming sounds, which escape between large, satisfying, three year-old gulps. I move in my seat, getting comfortable and squeezing her a bit, thinking, "How nice it is to have a three year-old on my lap.  She's so sweet." 

Silence interrupts my thoughts - the breathing, humming, and gulping has subsided.

"I'm hungy! I'm so hungy!" she, again, "whispers."

Down the row comes one of the two oversized popcorn buckets.

"Om, om, om, om, om, om," she says (yes, says) as she crunches away.  At this point, I'm even more concerned about the movie-neighbors - the movie has just begun.

"Caelia, you need to be quieter. People are trying to watch the movie," I whisper, considerately.

"I'm dust eating!  Dis is how you eat!" she retorts, apparently offended that I would accuse her of doing anything purposefully disruptive.

I can't really help but laugh.

About ten minutes later, she exclaims, "Who's Pince Caspeen?!", frustrated because the plot is not introducing/developing this character quickly enough for her liking.

Then there are the many lap-changes, demanded as she decides she is bored with her current seat.

"I want to sit with Unkew Mahco!" (Uncle Marco) she says, and we do as she demands - a movie theater is not really a place to start an argument.

Perhaps my favorite is when Susan (the character) tells one of her brothers to "shut up."  Caelia, shocked at the explicit nature of the dialogue, announces "Oh, she said a bad word!"  It takes me a while to figure out which word, exactly, is "bad."  Leave it to a three year-old to expose desensitization.

All of this played in my head until Caelia had finished reading a couple of pages to me.  Her eyes were tired because I really had kept her up too late.  She put the book away and pulled the covers up to her neck.  Then, just as she was starting to doze, and I was looking at her all sentimental-like, she wiped her runny nose with her hand and then, with the same hand, hugged my head.

What a shame it is that we, as adults, retain so little of that natural candor.  The older we get, the better actors we become.  We learn to eat and drink quietly; question, demand, and judge only in our heads; and use tissues, all so that the world can be protected from both our noises and from our runny noses.

My fellow synchrobloggers' posts:

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I don't feel too old

I came down hard and heard a pop.

Then there was a sharp pain in my right ankle.  My right foot had slyly and selfishly turned in to escape the impact of the landing, failing it's close neighbor, the ankle, which was left to absorb the shock.  While feet excel at this, ankles do not.  This explains the pain.

I was on a trampoline, which is good because it had more give than any ground I've ever met, though had I been on the ground, I would not have been falling through the air and therefore would not have needed the give.

In any case, the ankle was sprained.

The next day at my office, my supervisor, upon seeing the crutch leaning against the wall near my desk, pointed to it and furrowed her brow.

"I sprained my ankle yesterday," I said.  She continued to look at me and her brow continued to be furrowed.

"I was on a trampoline," I went on, expecting this to be enough, expecting her eyebrows to raise, her head to nod, and her feet to take her away from my desk.  Perhaps she would even say "ahhh," as she did it, to confirm that she now understood completely.

Instead, her brow was as furrowed as ever, her eyes squinted, her head turned, and her mouth broke into a small smile.  It was as if I had just told the punchline of a joke.  It was not, however, a joke.  My ankle hurt.

I was confused at her reaction.  I expected some combination of amusement and compassion at the telling of my tale, but this was more like amusement and skepticism, or even judgement.

"Am I too old for that story?" I asked, joking, of course, but not knowing why else should would be looking at me that way.

"Yes.  You're in a new age bracket now, Katie," was her response.

She laughed and walked away.

I was shocked.  I'm still shocked.

I've never been too old to do something before, or at least something that I've actually wanted to do.  I had come to believe that the changing list of activities that occupies one's time is not related to an external set of rules, but the dynamic interests, desires, and priorities of a growing person.  I thought that jumping on a trampoline was an acceptable behavior until my desire to jump on a trampoline had faded, which was not now.  But, here I was, being chuckled at.  Was my theory incorrect?  Is it fantasy to believe that I can do whatever I'd like to do, as long as I'm able?

I certainly hope that she is wrong and not me. If I am wrong, and I am every day losing the ability to participate in youthful activities, I hope there is a guide somewhere - a book that can tell me everyday which activities I should avoid, if I wish to also avoid the chuckles.

fellow synchrobloggers' posts:
The Next Long Haul
outer door

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

my baby, the earth

It seems to me that we all take ourselves far too seriously.

Everyone goes around, trying only to give as much as they've gotten.  God forbid someone take too much from us, without making up for it later.  It's amazing that our heads don't explode from keeping track of who owes what to whom in every relationship we have.

I'm not really talking about money, either, though that can be part of it, but favors, affection, kind words, unsolicited help, and general regard are all parts of it.

I'm not discluding myself. If someone asks me for something, and my internal tabulator cannot make it fit into the economics of our relationship, I am irked. Similarly, if someone offers to help me with something, and I can't find a way in which they somehow owe it to me, I am uncomfortable and, usually, refuse. Unusual debts are more difficult to keep track of and to reconcile. And we all must always be reconciled.

We can't really figure out which is worse - to feel that someone has taken too much from us, or to feel that we have taken too much from someone else.  It's all arrogance. We think of ourselves as strong people, no one's doormat, people who draw the line where the line needs to be drawn.  We are also offended by the idea of owing something to someone else.  We are far too independent for that.

I want to let go.  I want all that I have to be fluid, to come and go as the world around me calls for it, like the ocean throwing waves on the shore and then taking them back.  I don't want to fight the ocean.  I don't want to keep track, either.  It gives me anxiety.

It seems that the only human relationship that seems to, on occasion, escape this system is the relationship between parents and children.  (Please let me make this romantic generalization.  Thanks.)  The best parents will give and give and give everything they have to give, including the most earnest and pain-staking decision-making as to what it is, exactly, that their precious little ones need.  Do they run dry?  Do they ever decide that they've been used up, or that they've somehow lost their worth?  Not usually.  Not in a fatal way, anyway.  They are fueled by love.

Why do we, then, fear so much?  If I lend someone money and they don't pay me back, am I somehow less of a person?  Have they taken any of my humanness away?  No. No. No.

Love. Confidence. Gratitude. Holding on to these things, maybe I can let go of everything else.

fellow synchrobloggers' posts:
Debt, n
What Do I Owe You?
debt we debtors
Debt of Lament

Friday, April 1, 2011

I play music at bars sometimes.

I play music at bars sometimes. It's good fun. My friends come out. I meet new people - bar patrons, other musicians, adventurous friends of friends. All of this, I enjoy.

This story is about one of these times.

I had been looking forward to this show. I liked the venue and it was close to my house. Also, we hadn't played in a while, so the resilient novelty was back.

The sound check was over and so I approached the bar for a free PBR, my favorite of the minimal perks awarded small-time musicians. As I waited, a man entered from the street. His appearance wasn't remarkable, but the way he interacted with his surroundings was slightly alarming. He greeted everyone with great physical and vocal enthusiasm, like he had just arrived at a family reunion. The responses were minimal or nonexistent, which made his behavior seem even that much more out of place.

He approached me and asked a few questions. I, entertained, engaged him for a short period of time.

"Who's in your band?" he asked.

"Those guys over there. " I answered, pointing to a small circle of men across the room.

"Oh, I know those guys." he said as he swung his arms in an "aw shucks" kind of way and began to walk toward the other members of my band.  I knew he did not, in fact, know them and so I did not follow him, but instead went on drinking my free PBR.

He didn't approach me again until I was walking from the bar to the stage.  I hadn't been playing attention and the out-of-synch strumming and drumming, characteristic of any band's first moment on stage, alerted me to the fact that I was supposed to be there too.

Once we made eye contact before I reached the stage, I knew I had been intercepted.  He began to speak, set on another conversation, but I interrupted.

"I have to get on stage now," I said with a smile.  (One is always kind to people in bars when they're about to listen to one's music.)

"Okay, but I have one more thing for you after," he replied.

"Okay," I said, with another smile that he may or may not have seen before I turned my head away from him.

Hopping on stage, I wondered what this "one more thing" would be.  And had there been other "things" that would make this new "thing" an addition?

I didn't have too much time to wonder.  When I turned around to face the audience, there he was, standing inches from the stage, right in front of me.  He was holding his right hand out, palm down, with his fingertips all touching - the way you would carry a dirty diaper.  But there was no diaper, or anything else, hanging from his gathered fingers.  He looked at me, expectantly, and continued to hold his hand toward me.  I decided that there must be something very small in his hand that he was trying to give me.

Not wanting to be rude, I flattened my hand, palm up, and held it under his.  He released his fingers and something fell onto my hand.  I closed the gap between my face and hand to get a better look.

It was an eyebrow ring.  At least, I assumed it was an eyebrow ring because he had a similar silver hoop through his eyebrow.

I was at once confused and disgusted to be holding something that was meant to be pushed through the face of an unsavory stranger.  I smiled an anxious smile and said "thank you" as the chords of the first song began to play.

Sustaining the anxious smile, I tilted my still flat hand over the set list on the ground until the questionable object slid off and rested right in the middle of the sheet of paper.

We started to play, and I forgot for a minute what had just happened, but between the first two songs, and every song thereafter, I looked down to check the set list there it was, shiny and upsetting.

The man's behavior during the show was, considering the story until this point, not surprising.  Erratic movements and exclamations as well as, I believe, at least some mild disrobing.  (He wasn't drinking, but I heard afterward that he was seen taking some pills.  That helps a little.)

When we were finished, he approached the stage, but this time, I decided to take a bit more control of the situation.  I picked up the load-bearing set list and offered it to him.

"Do you want this back?" I asked, very seriously, looking at the ring.

"No, that's for you because your nose ring is so beautiful." he replied.

(I had switched my nose ring from a stud to a hoop right before the show, to be a little bit cooler.  This was not cool.)

"It's okay, I have plenty." I said, bringing the piece of paper closer to him, and tilting it toward him.  The ring began to slide and he caught it.

"Thanks, though." I said, my usual smile returning.

fellow synchrobloggers' posts:
Music Ascending
Hail, Music
sing on, michael bolton

Thursday, March 10, 2011

the bad bag of cuties

Satisfied with my selections, I approached the register.

When it came time for my orange mesh bag of clementines to be carefully waved over the scanner, the cashier paused, turning the bag over in her hand, the oranges tumbling awkwardly over each other as she did.

"This is a bad bag," she said.  "You should go get another one."

In retrospect, and even at the time, it seems I should have just said "okay" and did as she said.

For some reason, indignation for the "cuties" (their brand name) rose within me and so instead of turning toward the produce section, I answered her with a question.

"Where?" I asked, kindly, but firmly.

She hesitated, surprised (a bit like I was), and once again began to turn the bag over in her hand, looking for some support for her bold claim.  (I, for one, would not like to be called a "bad bag" for no good reason.)

After a few awkward seconds, she found an orange whose peel was orange and white, instead of just orange.  She held it up for me to see.

I was not afraid of the white on the peel.  And now I felt kind of sad for this group of oranges - they thought they were cuties, only to find out that they had somehow ended up in a bad bag.

"That's fine.  I'll take them anyway." I said.

I've eaten them all now, and they were tasty.  Not a bad fruit in the bag.

My synchroblogging friends' posts:

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Senior Scramble

When I was a child, I was terrified of the dark.  I'm pretty certain that this wasn't a unique characteristic I had among children.  They even named a scary television show for children Are You Afraid of the Dark? because they knew the answer was ""yes, of course."

When I found myself in the dark, there were various ways of dealing with the situation.  The Blanket Over the Head method had a high success rate.  Sometimes talking or singing out loud was helpful.  The only real cure for this particular type of fear, however, besides turning the lights on, of course, was to hear a familiar voice (that wasn't mine), or better yet, a physical confirmation that I was with a person in whom I had great trust.  For instance, if I were afraid, in the dark, then felt the hands of one of my brothers on my shoulders (assuming they weren't trying to scare me deliberately, which may be a stretch), then the fear would leave as if it had never been.  Even my little sister linking arms with me could melt my fear.

Again, I'm sure this is a childhood story that any one of us could tell.  However, it's not really logical, is it?  I mean, what was I afraid of in the first place?  A monster? An ax murdered? An alien?  Could my little sister really help defend me from any of these things?  No.  She could not.  Why, then, did her presence take my fear away?  Either I really did think that the small girl had some as of yet untapped power, or she distracted my thoughts from what might be lurking in the shadows.

Fast forward several years to college.  Beginning with my freshman year, I watched a thing we called the "senior scramble."  What this meant was, if you were a senior and single, you best scramble to find someone to marry before it was time to flip your tassel.  (After all, there are no decent mates to be found outside of college - in case you didn't know.)  I say I "watched," but what I really mean is that I mocked, judged, laughed, and rolled my eyes at the senior scramble.  I didn't understand what people were so afraid of.  So they would graduate single.  They were only 22.  Get over it.

Fast forward a few more years to my senior year of college.  A veil is lifted and I get it.  The senior scramble was not much different than my clinging to my little sister in the dark as a child, except for the scramblers, their future was the dark, and their spouse would be their little sister.

As adults, we don't fear the dark as much as we did, but a new fear has crept into the mix.  It's not that different, really - a fear of the unknown.  Then, we couldn't stand the thought of facing the beasts in our dark room alone.  Now, we can't stand the thought of facing the beasts in our dark future alone.  No light in the world can tell us what will happen, so we cling to someone to distract us from the fear, to make us feel safe.

I'm not saying this is a bad thing.  In fact, I think it's one of the things that makes us human.

I do it.  I'm still single, but hold fast to those I trust, while tiptoeing into the great unknown.

Fellow synchroblogger posts:
dark city
From Darkness, Light
Into The Darkness
How Are You? I Am Fine
synchroblogging in the dark

Monday, February 28, 2011

righteous frustration

It's difficult to separate things that I love to do from the things that I do well; one of the things that I love is doing things well. I feel pretty swell with every pat on the back, kind of like a dog (what an upsetting analogy), but have I grown accustomed to this satisfaction as the best that there is? Have I forgotten what it's like to feel the thrill of achieving something that's truly important to me?

It's difficult to re-evaluate every day what it is that I want and then compare it to what I have and what I could conceivably have. It's utterly exhausting, but I think it's the only way. Righteous frustration with where I am and where I am not is the fuel that can propel me toward my actual best case scenario.

The question is: What is my actual best case scenario? Am I living it? If not, is it even achievable at this point in my life? And finally, if it is within my grasp, of what do I need to let go in order to reach it?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Guilt is not becoming.

This post is the first post belonging to a synchroblogging project in which a small group of bloggers have agreed to write on the same topic regularly. (We don't really have any rules, so I believe I'm allowed to discuss the synchroblog within the synchroblog. If not, let the synchroblogods strike me now.)

Our first topic is guilt.

For days I sorted through possible post topics related to guilt - mostly stories I could tell, because stories are the best kinds of posts. There was a problem - I couldn't think of a story involving guilt that I really wanted to write about. Writing about something is kind of like agreeing to go on a date with it. Sure, the experience may not last long, but it could be quite uncomfortable.

I wasn't willing to go on a date with guilt.

I consider myself to be a very practical person. I'm not entirely sure whether or not others would agree. I can also be a very silly person, but don't believe these two things to be mutually exclusive. I define practical as being toward an intended end. I am silly toward the end of having joy and then gratitude. Therefore, my silliness is quite practical.

There are certain things that, when I set them next to my particular brand of practicality, I find impossible to embrace. One of these things is guilt. Guilt serves no practical purpose.

Remorse, sure, that's helpful. That's a feeling that can help me make a good decision next time, help me make things right. It works together with empathy and reconciliation, I think, to unite people, even in painful times. Guilt, on the other hand, only alienates people. It stops people from loving themselves and prevents them from building relationships. Unbound guilt could well be a death sentence to joy and any meaningful social interaction.

I don't have the statistics in front of me, but I would guess that guilt is number one killer of Christians, who, by definition, aspire to be godlike. It's like a diet, or anything else we try to stick to for our own good - once you start to stray, the guilt starts to eat you, and sooner or later, most people just fold completely to avoid it.

In an attempt to stay alive, I decided long ago that guilt was not for me. I wasn't made for it and it is not becoming.

And that is why I didn't want to go on a date with guilt. It makes me nervous.

Fellow synchroblogger posts:

Monday, February 7, 2011

I wish I could sing

One of my earliest memories is of singing with my dad. He taught me to sing "I Will" by the Beatles. I stood by him, not quite his height, even as he sat at our keyboard. He pointed out my lyrics with one hand if I lost my way, while the other perpetuated the bass so the song could go on.

The song ends on a note that's both higher than the rest, and not quite intuitive. I had a hard time landing right on it. I was only 9 or so. Not wanting to disappoint my dad, who was so talented and happy to teach me, I recorded myself singing those last notes on my Talk Boy (made popular by Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone 2) and listened to it in bed, in the dark before I fell asleep. I tried to practice quietly, but more than once my late-night rehearsals would received the cease and desist order from one of my parents in the next room.

As I got older, and after many performances for family and church-members, I came to think of myself as quite the little singer. The enthusiasm that follows the performance of a small (er than average) blond girl known and loved by everyone in the room is often more than the performance warrants. I didn't know this.

It wasn't until my early teenage years that things began to change. My oldest brother, home from college, was telling me about how he'd picked up the bass and wanted to start a band. I asked if I could sing in the band. He told me that they would need someone with a more mature voice. I shrugged. I was young then. When I was older, of course, he's change his tune.

Then began a painful tradition. I began to sing with the family band. Every time I sang, though, my very supportive and well-intentioned mother would motion for me to bring the microphone closer to my face. Then, she would gesture to anyone near the PA head to turn my microphone up. After the song was done, she'd approach the stage and explain that no one could hear me. Someone would explain to her that I was turned up as high as could be. The next song would start and she would look at me with her eyes wide and her mouth open - exaggerated facial expressions that meant I should sing louder.

I couldn't sing any louder.

My mother wasn't the only one, either. There were other perplexed faces - furrowed brows of those trying to make out what it was that my mouth was doing behind the microphone. Apparently, as you grow older, as a singer, different things are expected of you, like a louder, stronger voice. I don't know where mine was, but no one seemed to believe that I wasn't hiding it. Why would I hide it? If a louder voice would stop the wide eyes that meant I was doing something wrong, I would have given anything for it.

By the time I went to high school, I had accepted that I really wasn't very good at singing after all. It was difficult to accept because I loved it so much. I may have stopped altogether - I certainly wanted to at times - if music weren't so inescapable in the DeConto household. We had a band. We were called upon at most family gatherings to perform.

This sounds like a sad story, but as I think about it, it was ultimately kind of liberating. To do something that you love to do with the belief that you're not in any way exceptional kind of frees you to enjoy it in a different way.

Like I said, I never really stopped singing. When I went off to college, I began to sing more. I learned to play the guitar. The family band started up again a couple of years later and I entered it with a different, more casual attitude. Funny thing, though, the more I sang and the more I performed, the better I became. Now, I think I love it more than ever, and have reclaimed it as an important part of who I am.

The downside of having experienced those years of resignation is that I may never really believe that I'm in any way exceptional (though it's so much fun for me now, I really don't care if I am or not). The upside, which, believe it or not, I find more valuable than the ability to think I'm awesome, is that I have come to attribute any success I have to confidence and experience, which are things in which anyone can invest. Now, when people say to me "I wish I could sing," I can say back to them, without hesitation, "You probably can."

Monday, January 24, 2011

anxiety doesn't make me a better person

A quick glance to the sidebar here (if you're reading on blogger, that is) will tell you that I haven't written in months. I've been feeling strangely inadequate lately, specifically in the area of writing. I'm not sure why that has stopped me from posting here. We all know that blogging is not something reserved for the writing elite. No one required a writing sample when I logged into blogger for the first time. What, then, is the issue?

Today, the madness needed to stop. I still feel nervous and so have begun by discussing the thing closest to the tips of my fingers - this curious writing block.

At the risk of making connections where there are none, I offer (to myself) a shrugging explanation.

I have lately been reflecting on this small world I set about putting together almost three years ago. (No, I don't mean that I created the world three years ago.) I have pieced together, with jobs and people and churches and homes, a rather full life for my graduated self and it is now beginning to feel something like complete. Without the distraction of certain difficulties that have been overcome, my worry, forced out, spills into new arenas.

And these new arenas are filled with questions relating to the role I have played in the small worlds of others, while building my own. I've spent the past few years decided who I am and trying to discover who some other people are, with some career and home-building filling in the gaps. Now, the questions, which are not not new, begin to rise into a place to be disregarded with more difficulty. What impact have I made? How are these people and places different for having known me? I've spent time writing here about the fingerprints left on me, and lately I've been wondering about my own fingerprints. Where are they? Did I mean to leave them there? Do they appear as I expected? Can anyone see them? This, I believe, is why I have hesitated to write. Perhaps, in looking for my life's consequences, I have put considerable pressure on myself to write regarding things of consequence.

The more I write about this, the more I am deciding that it is fruitless to do so. I can't imagine that Mother Theresa spent much time worrying about what impact she was having. (She certainly didn't blog about it.) No, she just did what she saw in front of her to do without vanity or much self-consideration.

So, there we have it. I can't change my impact by thinking about it and so, there should be less whine-ging (whine-blogging) and more doing of things, or at least the same amount of doing of things. Moving forward with confidence that, truly, all I can do is what I can do, and anxiety doesn't make me a better person.