Interruptions

Interruptions

By Rebecca D. Martin

You arrive on a Sunday. The house is white with a purple porch swing; the lane is unpaved, historic, and one-way. Once the ferry docks, you debark the boat and follow the road to the right. Soon, you turn left onto the small, sandy lane. When you get to the purple porch swing, you have arrived at your vacation. You are on Okracoke Island, in North Carolina. It is a vacation spot so remote that only a ferry will deliver you, and that is what you came for. You did not come for construction noise.

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Head Down, Blinders On

Although it doesn’t feel like it here in the Midwest, the calendar insists summer is winding down.  I am skeptical.  Each day my inbox is flooded with shopping offers and pictures of scarves and sweaters, as I stare at the thermostat and contemplate turning it down one more degree. Despite the humidity and soaring temperatures, I find myself taking a deep breath and settling in.  The summer for me has been a whirlwind full of longer than average work weeks dotted sporadically with weekend trips to see friends and soccer matches.  I remember a girl’s weekend in June, viewed through a telescope as if it were distantly in the past, perhaps a year ago instead of a mere two months.  My 30th birthday the same month seems a fuzzy memory, clouded through a haze of disproportionate time.  The July weekend spent in Chicago visiting friends and family and watching soccer stars while sipping overpriced beers is a little closer to the surface, but only sporadic moments of it. This summer for me was all about work.  Regular jobs, new freelance opportunities, and expanding projects crowded together to fill my waking moments.  I read a quote in a business magazine once about a start-up and the phrase they used to motivate and drill the importance of the task at hand: Head Down, Blinders On.  By May I knew I was in for longer hours, later nights, and consequently bigger paychecks.  I alerted my family that I would be doing little else. Side projects and hobbies fell to the wayside.  I stopped reading and writing, stopped watching television, stopped sewing.  Head Down, Blinders On.

That’s not my normal method.  I enjoy working from home for the diversity and casualness it allows my day, I can bounce from one thing to another, take a break from a project to sit outside with a notebook or rip out a crooked seam in a sewing project. Blinders are as foreign to me as Celsius temperatures and the British Pound.  I neither use nor understand how to use them.  But without planning or consciously trying, I found myself with near tunnel vision.  Another person might say they had bitten off more than they could chew, but for me, the full days, the near constant switching between three major projects, the Head Down-Blinders On mindset was invigorating.  A sign of success in my chosen path, I was being paid to do things that I was good at from whatever place I chose to be.  I was not tied to a cubicle or a business casual dress code.  I could do what I wanted, and this summer, what I wanted to do was work.

For months work was almost all I did.  Until August hit and I decided I’d had enough.  I released responsibilities I no longer cared to hold.  The fact that I made the choice, and it was followed through, was just as empowering as the extra paychecks I’d been receiving.  Just as I began to lift my head, and remove the blinders, as soon as I began to miss the evenings spent in bed with a book, or a Saturday with nothing to do, the pressure lifted and the work flow lightened. And I breathed deeply the end of the summer air.  I sat and did nothing. And soon I began to fall back into the loves I left behind in May, the click of keys as I typed, the sound of a record as I read, the simple joy of going to sleep at the same time as my husband.  I don’t believe absence makes the heart grow fonder, but returning to my favorite things has reminded me to be grateful of the many ways they nurture my soul.

Second Life

me without you

At the dentist the other day, I took note of one of the two receptionists. She looked about Mom's age. Like Mom, she was bubbly and laughed often, sometimes out of nervousness, sometimes because humor was simply her most accessible emotion. She had a well-established rapport with her colleagues, referencing inside jokes and moving between Professional Service Mode and playful banter with ease. I watched her take instruction from the other, much younger receptionist; she seemed a bit sheepish about not fully grasping some aspect of their scheduling software, poking fun at her age and separateness from today's all-digital world. She was liked by her coworkers, quickly recognized by most of the patients that came through the door. This could have been my mom if her brain were still functioning, if she'd left my stepdad long ago, if she'd fulfilled her destiny of following me wherever I ventured, living in an ornately furnished mother-in-law cottage/loft space/attic/basement and being full-time daycare to my son. That's what we always envisioned for ourselves, before I had work or a husband or a kid. Part of the fantasy was that she'd hold some low-stakes part-time job where it didn't much matter what she did as long as she was interacting with people, probably her greatest talent and skill. She almost got to do this — the part-time job part, anyway — in 2004, the year I got engaged. Mom hadn't worked or had her own car in 17 years. Independence was the casualty of her dysfunctional marriage. She'd fought this reality off and on over the years, never really resigning herself to it. My stepdad wanted her home — even outings to the mall and evenings at friends' houses (well, her one friend's house) were highly negotiated propositions. Sometimes my stepdad would wait until the last minute, while she was finishing her makeup or blow drying her hair, to tell her she couldn't go. It was his car she'd have to borrow for these infrequent jaunts, after all. He did not share enough of his income to even afford her cab fare.

But my engagement lit a fire under Mom's ass. She was going to contribute financially to her daughter's wedding, goddammit. She wouldn't hear my protests. For her, being so financially hobbled as to be unable to help pay for her daughter's wedding was a concession too big, definitive proof that her situation really was as bad as it looked. Because my stepfather was the sole breadwinner, she told him that either he allow her to work and earn some money of her own or he'd have to pony up for the wedding, a ballsy move for a wife who had become pathologically averse to rocking the boat. She pulled it off — my stepfather relented. Mom and I spent the next year planning and pricing, brainstorming inexpensive tricks and workarounds to craft a low budget but classy affair. She loved it. She found part-time work at a Restoration Hardware, racking up a respectable sales record. Most of her coworkers were young 20-somethings, and the upper-class clientele preferred to buy their expensive pieces of furniture from a mature adult who seemed to know a thing or two about furniture. She was enjoying a degree of independence she hadn't had in years, and I thought, with the naïveté and magnanimity of a new bride, that this could be her turning point. Maybe my wedding would give Mom her groove back, remind her that she could rely on herself, could survive and even thrive without a possessive, psychologically abusive spouse weighing her down.

It wasn't until after the wedding that Mom's bouts of forgetfulness became worrisome. The burst of confidence she felt at the start of her second working life waned under the pressure to understand the company's computer-based checkout system. She couldn't keep up with her younger, computer-savvy colleagues, who had cameras on their phones and did something called "texting." We had one computer at home, and my stepfather made clear that no one but he could use it. He even kept a protective plastic cover on it. Mom was a ball of nerves around the work computer. My husband, Adam, and I created tutorials for her, tried convincing her that she wouldn't break it, that it wasn't made of glass. But our reassurances didn't sink in. Work became a dreaded exercise in which all of her insecurities — all of the bullshit my stepdad had shoveled at her for years — were validated. Her once-friendly coworkers who had enjoyed chatting with her and hearing her maternal advice became irritated by her ineptitude, her seeming unwillingness to master one of her basic job requirements. So began Mom's slow slide backward. Her second life kicked her back into her first one, where she felt more dependent than ever on my stepdad, the man who'd stooped so low as to be with her.

I like to imagine my Second Life Mom flashing her wide, warm smile from behind the reception desk at the dentist's office, offering advice on grades of leather at the furniture boutique, or perhaps making small talk in the checkout line at the grocery store. I sometimes linger in front of the For Rent signs outside one-bedroom apartments in our neighborhood, envisioning her inside the blueprint layouts, getting crafty with furniture arrangement to determine the best flow for each room. I imagine her spoiling Henry, driving Adam and I nuts by not reinforcing our parenting rules, and Henry adoring her for it. It wouldn't be the life she imagined for herself or hoped for when she took her second marriage vows. Leaving my stepdad wouldn't have cured the deep-seated insecurities that drove her into a toxic relationship. And being a single middle-aged woman would surely present its own set of fears, including financial hardship and loneliness. But I'd have taken it, if only to witness her experiencing her own strength, the spark of her own possibility.

Assateague

Assateague Island

I awoke suddenly, to find my vision held by a girl with a choppy, asymmetrical haircut, one I'd given her the previous week before our band's first show.  Her eyes were wild as she told me, "We're driving to see the ponies. Get up!"

My roommate grumbled at me as I stumbled around in the dark, throwing my favorite thrift store sweater and used CDs into my denim shoulder bag, “Shut UP!  I have a test in the morning.”  She rolled violently over to face the wall.

My friends were always breaking in to do things like this---grabbing me at 11:30pm to drive to Philly to get soft pretzels from the factory the second they came off the oven rack, whole gaggles of boys (which was against the rules at our university) in the middle of the night, picking me up in my pajamas and throwing me down the wet hill, as I screamed and laughed and rolled.  She requested a single room for our second year.

I shuffled into my shoes and ran to catch up with my friends in the parking lot, who were already hopping into their huge old cars, sturdy Cadillacs and Buicks that once belonged to their grandmothers, all with names like "Marge" or "The Porkchop Express", based on our favorite movie vehicles of the 80's.

I angled to be in a car with Sam, because I knew he would be quiet most of the way and that is what I craved: hours of this dark night to be spent staring out at towns going by that I'd never seen before, drawing designs on the window whenever they got foggy enough.  Alas, Chatty Cindy climbed in beside me, sodden down with snacks and jokes.  She proceeded to build a nest in the hatchback of Sam's car, which we took turns wiggling back into, to take little snoozes on the three hour ride.

I kept trying to get Patti Smith's Horses in the CD player, but mostly we listened to Modest Mouse and Cat Power, which got no complaints from me.

Sam looked over at me and smiled.  "Have you ever camped on the beach before?"

"I haven't done much camping at all.  I was always more of a take-the-train-to-NYC kind of girl."

"Well, we'll hook you up.  It's going to be so magical."

Sam was one of those neo-hippies who was always saying things like this, when he talked at all.  His hair was floppy and his clothes were simple, fitting his soccer body in an effortlessly attractive way, without attention to what was hip to wear.  He was also never seen without his guitar, on which he played sparse songs leaning more toward experimental music than hippie rock.  An enigma for sure, he was my first friend at college.  I was considering ditching the high school boyfriend I'd hung on to to make out with Sam, but sometimes I wondered if he was quiet because he really didn't have that much going on up there.

Cindy was babbling away in the backseat, creating little songs about her round tummy, and making Erin, the botched-banged girl who had woken me up, laugh beside her.  Erin had a great laugh, one of those honking ones that made everyone in the cafeteria stare.  It was also a bit rare, as she was a severe gal, more prone to tell you to get the fuck out of her face then laugh at your jokes.  But Cindy was so absurd and relentless that eventually everyone joined in.

When we finally got to the beach, it was still dark out, and I helped carry equipment that made no sense to me, eventually dropping it with a clamor on the sand.  "Where's the campsite?"  My voice sounded louder than it had in the cramped car.

Len, whose afro was listing to the side from the door he'd slept against in the Suburban on the way there, replied, "There isn't one.  We're technically not allowed to camp here.  But it's such a huge beach that they probably won't catch us."

Probably.  We were a sober bunch, so with a lack of alcohol or drugs to give us thrills, we were often taking these kinds of risks, to get the feeling that we weren't wasting our youth.  I was plagued with a constant fear that I wasn't living big enough, that I was going to look back with regret, wishing I'd jumped from higher peaks.

With that fear riding on my back like a dark-cloaked demon, I stripped down to my underwear and ran, legs akimbo, into the sea.  Allison, always eager to be in some version of nudity, splashed in after me, Sam at her heels.

I floated out on my back, astounded at the amount of stars that clotted the sky.  Sam started pointing out constellations, a skill I'd never quite mastered.

"Wait, where's Orion's Belt?"

"Right there, don't you see it?"  He pointed one spindly figure up, outlining the curve of the famous symbol.

"Ohhhh, yeah. . ."  I hoped no one could tell I was lying.

Len and Erin were building a fire when we came dripping out, and we warmed up and ate the snacks Cindy had brought, and some we'd scored at Wawa on our way out of Pennsylvania into Maryland.

"So, what do we do now?"  I asked.

"We wait. . . for sunrise.  And hopefully, for the ponies." Sam answered.

"What, are they just going to come running through here or something?"  I looked around me, picturing a herd of animals tearing down our precarious tents with their hooves.  The sky was changing, from pitch black to midnight blue.

"Maybe.  They're wild."  I snuggled down closer to him in our sleeping bag.  Even if I wasn't going to cheat on my chicken-haired boyfriend with Sam, I was at least going to feel his body alongside mine, like when I was on family vacation with my boy cousin, and we shared a bunk, my body alive with his otherness and what could not be.

Eventually Cindy finally ran out of things to say, or perhaps she went on a walk to look for the ponies, a huge woven blanket draped around her shoulders, her steps small and plunking.  Either way, she quieted and I dozed off.

I woke up to find the light around me hazy orange, the sun a fiery beach ball floating up over the sea.  I sat up and pulled my knees to my chin, careful not to disturb Sam, looking impossibly young in slumber beside me.

Erin was awake, standing just at the edge of the campsite.  The light made a halo around her skinny rockstar body, ringing it and burning it into my memory.  She turned to me and pressed her finger to her lips.  "Look.  The ponies!"  she stage-whispered.

I scrambled out of the bag and hurried over to her, my glee unconfined.  On a dune, amid some grass, were several beasts, horses so unlike the groomed ones I'd seen on farms and in Central Park, they could have been a different species.  They didn't look my way, lost in their own world of breakfast grazing and spraying each other with sea air as they whinnied.

I looked back at my own pack, all laying on top of one another in a semicircle around the fire.  I went over and nudged Sam with my nose, mouth clamped shut to stave off a whiff of my stale breath.  I pulled him up with my hand and stood him beside Erin, who slung a gangly arm over his shoulders.

Our smiles were like we'd figured out some precious secret.  My hands felt tingly and numb, with the knowledge that for at least this one moment, I was doing it.  I was living flat out all the way up the stars.

My Mom and My Son, the Style Icons

me without you

When the much beloved and mourned magazine Domino folded, its publisher tried to make up for my unfulfilled subscription by sending me Lucky magazine. I hate this magazine. Besides being a poor Domino replacement, it's basically a SkyMall for beauty products masquerading as a fashion glossy. Of course, there are pretty people in it and products! clothes! and stickers! But beyond its unmitigated advertising blitz, there wasn’t much for me to latch onto, except for one feature: the last page of the magazine was dedicated to the column "My Mom, the Style Icon" (based on a blog, which became a book for Chronicle). The one-page feature included an old photograph of a mom, dressed fabulously ahead of or very much of her time, plus a brief write-up from her admiring daughter.

I also grew up admiring my mom’s sense of style. Whether rock-show casual, girls’-night glitzed, or gussied up in her Sunday best, Mom could put an outfit together with flair. When it came to clothes, Mom operated with an instinct that I did not inherit. I loved clothes as much as she did, but my fashion sensibility was (is) more sweaterista than fashionista. Mom loved big costume jewelry, brooches, even (gasp) shoulder pads, but managed to craft those otherwise gaudy elements into something sophisticated and luxe.

Mom tried to impart her style on me to disastrous effect. I recall the epic fights we would have getting me dressed before school. She always wanted me in skirts and shirts with ruffles or — horror of horrors — to pop my collar. (Clearly, she always envisioned me this way.) I wanted to blend into the scenery, and she wanted me to burst out of it like the Kool-Aid Man. This struggle continued throughout my adolescence. In high school, after lamenting that none of the boys noticed me, she declared, “Sweetie, we just need to sex you up a bit, is all.”

She was basically the fabulous queer eye to my conformist straight guy.

While I never had the gumption to wear my fashion fantasies on my sleeve, it appears Mom’s sense of style has skipped a generation. My four-year-old Henry loves dressing himself. He regularly incorporates pieces of flair and elements of drama into his preschool outfits. Sometimes it’s a turban; often it’s a cape. He tucks muscle shirts into pink and purple tights, requests pigtails (like the girls at school) and buns (like Mulan) atop his head, and morphs his sleeveless shirts into tube tops. At the heart of this sartorial inventiveness is a pair of Hello Kitty rain boots worn so thin that they may disintegrate off his feet before he grows out of them. And lest you pigeonhole him as a rigid aesthete who is all form and no function, these outfits always leave room for a weapon. The tube top doubles as a holster for a foam sword, and the elastic waistband of his hot pink tights provides a secure spot for a plush baseball bat, should a villain present him/herself.

My son: the fashion warrior.

And the best part? The kid pops his own collar. I never taught him this or did it for him. Though he won’t know the stylish and fabulous woman she once was, Henry is definitely taking after his grandmother. (Though Mom always said she would never be called “Grandma”; it made her feel too old, and she was too vain. “What are you going to have my kids call you, then?” I asked long ago. “Can't they just call me Lee?”)

Whether this love of dress up is a phase or some strain of inherited fabulousness, Henry and my mom would have had a blast together. I imagine Henry picking through Lee's stash of costume jewelry and her dutifully rummaging through old clothes and fabrics to help him realize his Little Edie-cum-superhero visions. They'd have made a great (and well-dressed) team.

A Taco and Something to Drink

A Taco and Something to Drink

By Catherine Close

Last night, I got together with a friend for dinner. I ate a greasy taco and washed it down with a beer. Tacos — in fact, almost any kind of Mexican food — are my happy food when I need a little culinary comfort. While crunching on my taco, my thoughts ran to my grandmother Frannie, as they so often do. Frannie introduced me to Mexico, and at the end of her life, I supplied her with tacos.

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Cherish is the Word I Use to Describe

Asking For It with Sibyl

Sybil,

You've actually answered a question for me before. I'm back again because your advice was excellent. I feel guilty coming back for round two; I want to give someone else a shot. But here I am because I need ya.

I am in love. Absolutely, without bounds, in a way I didn't know I could be. I know because I am full of goodness and forgiveness and understanding (I guess you'll have to take my word for it). But the man I love? He doesn't cherish me. He doesn't treasure me. He says he loves me. He doesn't act like it. I've carefully and calmly and sweetly explained what I need, what I want. I'm not a princess. I'm not a nag. I'm demanding the kind of treatment I deserve.

My question is, Sybil, does someone cherish you? If they do, how'd you get them to do that? Did you have to ask? Did they just do it naturally? What do I have to do to be cherished? I love myself; I know that comes first. I am loving, and I'm pretty sure that comes second. What am I missing? What am I doing wrong?

Sincerely,

Not a Princess

 

Dear Not a Princess,

Your question has been this little voice in the back of my head, the past week.  As I'm doing the dishes, crossing the street, lighting candles or checking the mail, I hear, "Sibyl, does someone cherish you?"  And then, when I answer internally, "I believe so," a further question arises, "How do you know?"

What satisfies the human heart?

I am beginning to believe that only gratitude does.  And that gratitude is not some little addendum to one’s spirituality, something you make lists about at Thanksgiving or consider when prompted in a yoga class, but the secret to living a sustainable life of joy.

So, am I cherished?  Well, my spouse loves me, in the cracked-yet-beautiful way that humans love one another.  I do not always feel the fierceness of his love in a way that I connect with, no.  Sometimes it is too tentative, and I lose myself in the complicated folds of where desire turns in on itself and into contempt.

I want it to burn.

But some years, it just smolders.  I know it is there, right under the surface, keeping me vaguely warm by its glow.  It doesn’t feel like enough and I am cold.  I shimmy under a blanket of self-love, treating myself like the most precious, fragile object I can find, trying not to starve out my desire until it can come in the form of the perfectly balanced fire I so crave.

Here’s what keeps me going on those nights when my toes feel like they are going to fall off: I do believe my beloved is capable of loving me how I need and want to be loved.  And he is trying, as I am trying, as we are all really fucking trying.

It does not always come natural.  Love, like gratitude, is a life-changing practice that starts within but emanates out into action.  And I am so, so grateful to have someone who is trying, with his whole heart, to love me as I am asking to be loved.  When he falls short, there is grace for that, just as when I do I meet his grace.  We share the values of committing to one another while also letting each other change, and sticking with it even when it isn’t perfect.  And trying.  Sometimes I think it’s all in the trying, in the arching, and that the satisfaction of the actual connection is just a fleeting by-product.

So the main question for you and your partner is, is he built to love you how you need to be loved?  For instance, are you asking for monogamy and commitment from someone who is not oriented towards that kind of relationship?  Are you asking for a quiet, steady kind of love with someone who loves in these huge bursts?  Are you simply asking for kindness, which everyone can learn how to do? Can you be grateful for his form of love, or does it really not even register as love to you?

If what he can offer is not what you need, and if you do not share the same values around love, then you’ve got to let him go and find another heart to attach to.  But if you see a glimmer in there of the love you want, and he has the willingness, then keep trying.  Keep arching.  Keep coming back to love.  Even if it all ends, you won’t regret the striving towards love.  You may even find you are grateful for it.

Love,

Sibyl

My James Dean

calendar1-7

  By Kimberly LaCroix

A year ago I took a graduate class about Augusto Boal’s “Theatre of the Oppressed” technique. One evening we began with a simple acting exercise. We all walked about the classroom, filling the space, listening for further instructions from our professor. After a few in-between steps, she asked us to think of an ancestor and to picture them as clearly as we could. Then, we began moving as that person. Dropping our hips or lifting our heads as they would have, even saying ‘hello’ to those we passed. When it was all over, we circled up for a debrief.

The reflections were warm, and sad: disappointment at incomplete memories; aching for reconnection with family members past; joy at an opportunity for recollection. My reaction was joy. Enjoyment, truly, because when asked to picture an ancestor, I immediately thought of my grandfather. Well, I first thought of Meema, my maternal grandmother, but was overwhelmed by the task of stepping into her shoes. They're too iconic for me to inhabit, her spirit too dear and immense. But Grandpa? I have such memories of Grandpa! His characteristic irreverence makes him somehow more accessible than his wife.

Grandpa was my James Dean. I remember him short, strong and handsome, with a picturesque swoop of white hair. He was perpetually quotable, perpetually moving, and perpetually gruff. He carried a white, canvas sack that always contained Juicy Fruit gum, several decks of cards, York Peppermint Paddies, and, until his final years, cigarettes and matches. [Juicy Fruit Gum and Yorks will forever be my nostalgic treats.] He bragged about his family to anyone who would listen---we were his greatest accomplishments. He loved his wife more dearly than I think he ever knew how to communicate, even to her.

What joy to have an excuse to reflect on an ancestor. A family member who I see in my mom's energy and enthusiasm, in her pride for her family and her kids. I see Grandpa in his youngest son, when he uses his hands to build and create, and who can do a mean impression of the man himself. I see him in my brother's determination and stubbornness and in my own value of hard work and good humor.

The people who go before us shape us. They shape our time and our perspectives, who we are.

This piece was republished with permission from Kimberly's personal blog Just Enough Foolishness.

D is for Drums

lifetime

By Maria Mora My home office is supposed to be a master bedroom, so it has the best closet in the house. When [we] were moving in, I threw all the miscellaneous stuff in there. When he moved out, it ended up mostly empty. A printer. Some boxes. My scarves. The filing cabinet.

Moving him out was---

I filled boxes and put them in the garage, working like an automaton, doing surgery on my life but I had to do it, had to use my own hands and sore, skinny arms and bruised heart and gasping lungs. I had to do that myself, I had to---

I have so much space now. Space to breathe, unfettered, and plant rainbows in my front yard.

Every so often I need something in the office closet, so I poke around, sifting through photos or thumbing through the files I cleaned out last summer, in a fit of trying to make something right when so much was wrong. They’re organized now, no longer brimming with the clutter of two lives braided together. [A lover’s knot that became a frayed friendship bracelet and then a bow for remembrance and then nothing at all.] When I’m looking for a photo or a birth certificate or some insurance paperwork, my fingers stumble onto old Polaroids.

The one he took in his top bunk the day I lost my virginity. The one on the corner in the floor in his dorm room. I’m laughing, a blush hidden behind my hair. I know I’m supposed to feel something, that I do feel something, but it’s a nameless feeling, hollow and numb and sharp and tired.

I can’t bring myself to part with the box full of wedding favors and photos and my veil, so it gathers dust on the top shelf in the walk-in closet.

Looking for something, an activity I find myself doing often, I began cleaning, an activity I also find myself doing often. I found the workbooks from the Catholic pre-marriage retreat the church required for a big wedding on a big altar. I opened them, read a few lines, and decided to indulge in some old-fashioned, vindictive, jilted-lady behavior.

[I’ve been so good, you see.]

I burned the notebooks on my barbecue in the back yard, proud of my ability to light a small fire, and a little annoyed that the barbecue hasn’t been used in [six months, measured first in days I survived and then days when I could eat and then days I made it through without crying and then, little by little, just days, normal and beautiful and stressful and happy and mine, tears and all].

The edges of the paper curled inward, became a flower, glowed. It was lovely. Then I coughed and watched the embers swirl and thought oh my fuck, I’m going to burn the neighbor’s house down in the process of pettily setting fire to the earnest vows two 24-year-olds made eight years ago, and I got a pitcher of water and poured it over the remains.

The novelty had worn off.

The next day, I took some pictures of the mess, and tossed the rest of the papers in the trash. Sentimentality is overrated. It drags me down like mud around my ankles and if I’m not careful, I’ll trip, and it’ll grab me by the wrists and smother me. And the thing is, I don’t have time for that. Not when I’m alive.

This piece was republished with permission from Maria's personal blog Maria Melee.

"I Don't Want a Bigoted Friend"

Asking For It with Sibyl

Dear Sibyl,

A college friend of mine has an attitude problem when it comes to race. We met 12 years ago and lost touch a year into our studies when our programs diverged. At that point she had already made 2 racist comments, one which I pointed out was unfair and biased, and she conceded. But when the second comment occurred, I cut my losses and went on my way.

Five years ago she moved to my city and sought out my friendship again. I was happy to hear from her, because she does have a lot of good qualities and has turned out to be a fairly loyal, if somewhat self-centered friend.

She had done some traveling after college and I was hoping her mind had opened and she'd matured with regard to her unconscious views on race. Not totally. There were a few less-overt comments that I let slide, due to my passive nature and just general cowardice (ugh). I never thought that she would remain my friend for this long, or that she'd figure it out eventually by interacting with more folks from different backgrounds (our city is fairly diverse and she's since entered a multicultural graduate program).

Alas, that's not really how privilege works, as we both know, Sibyl! The recent release of the film Fruitvale Station, and its confluence with the Trayvon Martin verdict have produced some ugly & awkward moments with her—which unfortunately I've heard of second-hand. Her comments were to the effect of, people are just saying nice things about this movie because of the trial, subtext being that ... black people are getting away with "it"??  It makes no sense. It's getting to the point where I have to run interference with other friends because I'm (perhaps selfishly) afraid this reflects badly on me. I don't want a bigoted friend, but at this point she has become so important to me that I can't just cut & run either.

I think I know the right thing to do, which is to gently bring it up and act like I just don't understand why an otherwise nice person seems to hold these views, and to sort of cushion it by saying I think she's much smarter than that. But I'm afraid that instead I'll start shaking with rage and go off about white privilege (I'm white too, so it doesn't take a rocket scientist to recognize what's right in front of our eyes). Any tips? Thanks so much!

Losing the Race

 

Dear Losing the Race,

In the past month, people all over the country have had some unfortunate surprises, seeing how folks close to them reacted to the Trayvon Martin murder case, and the film Fruitvale Station, which depicted the murder of Oscar Grant III.  It’s been awkward, depressing, and downright enraging to see that people you thought were allies are actually indifferent, ignorant, and/or even full-out racist.  How is it 2013 and so many white people just don’t “get” the effects of institutional racism?  Well, privilege is a sneaky thing, and no one wants to give up power they don’t want to believe they have in the first place.

The message I heard, over and over, from the black folks in my life was, “White people who are conscious, please handle your people. We are tired of explaining racism to them.  It’s time for you to step up.”  So, although I recognize that my efforts are far from complete, I’ve been using every platform afforded to me to discuss race in America, and I thank you for another opportunity to do so.

What I am finding is that since most people avoid talking about race like the plague, they are clunky with it.  Their opinions are not fully formed, untested by debate and expression.  They are a bit like teenagers in Health class on Sex Ed day - there’s all kinds of jokes where there should be depth, and the level of tension in the room is palpable.

I like that you are willing to examine what having a bigoted friend says about you.  What it says about you is you are a human with human friends, that are complicated and imperfect and not totally aware of themselves.  Everyone has their equivalent of your bigoted friend in their lives.  It’s like the embarrassing uncle who you used to love as a child for all the reasons you now hope he doesn’t show up at the family functions—his loudness and silliness was fun for kids, but less funny as an adult.

You probably enjoy the bluntness of your friend, in other contexts.  You like that she tells it how she sees it, doesn’t hold back, and isn’t always perfectly PC.  However, you were hoping she would evolve over time.  Ignorant views in college students are to be expected—I’m so lucky I still have any friends who knew me in my early 20’s, a time of bizarre absolutes all over the political spectrum.  However, in adult life, friendships are really difficult to hold on to, and for all the effort one puts in, you don’t want to feel like you’re giving your time to someone who is on the wrong side of history.  It feels like collusion.

This friend has been placed in your lap so you can do your part in making change, starting right where you are.  Relationships are the only thing that change people.  The person with homophobic beliefs has to reconsider when they find out their beloved piano teacher is gay.  And someone with unconscious racist beliefs won’t change them unless people they care about start to stay, “Listen, this is not cool.”

So what you need to do is practice.  Talk about this issue with people you know agree with you, first.  Practice with people you don’t care as much about, too.  I remember when I first started confronting racism in conversations, and the visceral physical reaction you described happened to me.  I shook, I cried, I had to leave the room and hyperventilate.  But, over time, I was able to get those somatic responses under control and speak more freely.  I actually think it’s fine if you shake and cry—it could be compelling for your friend to see how much this means to you.  However, it would be best for your health if you didn’t go into anaphylactic shock every time you talk about this, so practice and breathe.

I actually don’t think you should pretend not to understand why an otherwise nice person holds these beliefs.  Because you do know.  You should be forward, direct, and use examples.  You can do this compassionately, in a way that helps put your friend’s statements into context, showing her that it’s not her fault that institutional racism exists, but it is her business and duty to recognize it and stop propagating it.

I suggest following up your conversation with some reading material for her to peruse.  An article your friend may connect with is Peggy McIntosh’s Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, which includes a list of day-to-day examples of how white privilege works itself out in real life.  She may not want to believe that all of the examples on the list are true, but there are at least a few that she will be unable to refute.  I do understand that this article is problematic, but it seems that your friend really needs to start slowly, although she should be encouraged quickly to move on to bell hooks.  This could be the beginning of a really important personal growth journey for her.

People do not want to acknowledge their own ignorance and privilege.  In order to get them to do so, you have to provide both positive and negative reasons.  For instance, you’ll be saying, “It makes me really uncomfortable and upset when you say these things.  It is why I didn’t call you for years.”  So, the message is, “your racism hurts your friends and makes them not want to hang out with you.”  But also you can tell her your journey, from unconsciously enjoying white privilege to being aware of it and trying to call it out when you can.  What have you gained from this process?  What personal growth can you offer her by becoming awake to how the world really works?

I think it is great that you don’t just want to cut this friend out of your life—that would be a missed opportunity for you both.  Just being aware of white privilege is not enough.  We have to have the courage to speak out about it when we see it, calling it out and encouraging the people in our lives to do the same.  And, what have you got to lose?  You said yourself you don’t want to have a bigoted friend, so give her the chance to evolve, and see what happens!  I really believe this is the only way things are ever going to change—one-on-one conversations with people we love.  The personal affection makes it matter in a way that a movie and a court case never can.

In Solidarity,

Sibyl

Swimming Lessons

me without you

We are Starfish, Henry and I. I pick him up early from daycare, and we worry through the traffic until we make it to his 4:15 class at the community pool. We are one of seven, maybe ten, parent-and-child pairs in the class. A teenage swim instructor has us circle up, parents holding toddlers. We sing "Motorboat" and "The Grand Old Duke of York" and "Ring around the Lily Pad," substituting swimming terms for the original nouns ("pocketful of posies" becomes "pocketful of frogies;" "ashes" become "splashes"). The kids instinctually do a sort of standing run in the water, legs kicking frantically and arms pushing the water down, as if to gain an imagined traction. Their little bodies are revved up on the new sensory experience, desperate to set out, not understanding that the pool isn't filled with invisible hands to support them. We parents hold them with one hand under their armpit, using our other arm to help us tread water in the deeper parts of the pool. We are treading for two. Our songs and supporting holds are an elaborate show, disguising the water's indifference to the kids' effort. I was holding Henry in this way, one hand palming the curve of his ribs where they wrap under the crook of his arm, as I made my way to the wall for a Humpty Dumpty (kids sit on the wall, parents sing "Humpty Dumpty," and kids jump into parents' arms). Most of the parents had already staked out spots on the wall, so I ventured into deeper water. I was on tiptoe — literally balanced on the tip of my big toe as I hopped my way toward the wall, my leg like a pogo stick. The arm holding Henry moved down through the water, involuntarily. I looked right and noticed that I had dunked him, pulled him right down, head under water. I jerked my arm up, and his head surfaced, wriggling and spastic, his suspended running legs supercharged and sprinting with fear. He let out a cry, then a high-pitched shriek signaling the turn from fear to anger. The other parents turned away from their kids to see. Henry's "Mom-eeee!" was outraged, accusatory, the kind I hear a lot lately.

"I'm so sorry, buddy, oh no. You're okay, you're okay . . ."

In these moments of injury and near misses and almost unlucky breaks, something in me shuts off, not down. It's not operated by a dimmer but a switch. My typically nervous, easy-to-panic nature flatlines. I am nonreactive, a passive cipher through which experience is happening, a situation unfolding where the only actor is inertia. I get self-conscious that other parents see this in me, that children stop to notice the adult whose instinct cannot be trusted. I am a milky-eyed inert mother who merely watches as her child acts out, behaves badly, drowns.

Is there anything more dismissive, more enraging, than being told you are okay when you're not?

I was four, Henry's age, when I learned how to swim. Before that, when I was a baby, Mom regularly took me to the pool in our apartment complex. She would get me comfortable in the water, swish me around with her hands cupping my armpits. There is a picture of us in the pool, Mom walking through the shallow end toward the steps, brow furrowed. She's carrying me under her arm like a football. I'm horizontal, head arched up and crying. The swimming lesson is over.

By the time I was four, I was playing in my godmother's pool. I was afraid to put my head under the water, so Mom urged me to practice by putting my face in little by little, starting with my mouth, then my nose, then my eyes. I was reluctant, terrified of the world under the surface, blurred and fuzzy with eerie, alien sounds. Mom suggested I jump in and that she would catch me. She stood a few feet from the wall, arms outstretched to receive me. I jumped, and she wasn't there. Water plumed up my nose, and in that first experience of flooded nostrils and burning sinuses, I was certain that something had gone horribly wrong and I was drowning. My hands paddled furiously in front of me to get my head out of the water. I coughed and sputtered. Mom held me and hoorayed, trying to drum up enthusiasm for the big achievement of getting my head underwater for the first time.

"Sometimes you can't think about things; you just have to jump in, feet first."

I was mad in that way that devolves into tears, which only makes you angrier because the tears betray the fury you want to communicate, and this frustration mixed with the inciting anger makes you cry more. I sulked, and my mom and godmother chastised me for not appreciating the lesson imparted. When they became lost in conversation, I sat quietly on the pool steps and practiced putting my face under the surface. Lips first, then nose, then eyes. I've been swimming underwater ever since.

Homemakers

By Nora Hill

When I was eight years old, my mama went to Atlanta for four days. I gave her my journal to take with her and write in every night, so that when she got back I'd know what she'd been doing and thinking. That's the first time I remember being at home when she wasn't. When we were little, she was the one who took my brother and I camping in Maine, brought us to visit relatives in Pennsylvania, drove us twelve hours to Toronto to see our cousins. Dad got two weeks of vacation a year; as a teacher, she got the whole summer. And so when Mom went away, we were with her.

When my mother goes away for the weekend, the rhythms change. There's coffee left in the press at the end of the day, since I'm the only one drinking it. At dinner, there's a hesitation before I remember that it's up to me to say grace. Small things, to be sure - but they cause a slight disturbance in the force, a difference in the way home feels.

With a weekend trip, the difference is negligible; my mom comes back after three days, and we slide back into the rhythms of home. But my family has reached an age of change, when 'home' is being redefined for all of us. Three years ago, my brother went off to college. For the first weeks after he moved out, the house felt empty - until my parents and I adjusted our habits around his absence. When he comes home each summer, we must adjust again, imperceptibly shifting to make room for him in our daily lives.

A year from now, I'll be preparing to head off to college myself. Chief among the myriad worries about that huge step is the fear of leaving home. I have lived in this house since I was four; I know the precise creak made by every step of the staircase and the every crack in my bedroom ceiling. But I'm realising it's not the house I'll miss, it's the way I live in it. What makes it home isn't the kitchen table — it's knowing where to sit. It's not the food — it's making and eating meals with my family. Home is as much about the people I share it with as it is about the place. The habits we share, our rhythms of interaction, are what makes the place we live become our home.

What About Your Friends?

Asking For It with Sibyl

Dear Sybil,

A little over a year ago my husband and I moved to a new city. We both value community and relationships and digging into a place in an attempt to give it all we've got. Unfortunately, especially as a couple, we have not been able to find "our people". The few friends we have made fit into these categories:

1. We have connected as a foursome but one is moving away this week.

2. We have reached out (they are really interesting and like-minded) but they are so busy that they never seem to be free.

3. I have connected with one, but he hasn't connected with them.

and lastly (the question is coming, I promise)...

4. We were connected by mutual friends- I can find ways of tolerating and enjoying them, and he is (rightly) at the end of his rope.

So, I want to talk about the last couple. They are not bad people, just one of those couples who are difficult. She, as an individual and one on one is kind and sweet- as well as negative, critical, and needs to be right. They, as a couple, are extra hard. They are much more spendy than we are, constantly needing to be at the best or most popular restaurants. She talks down to him and regularly brings up her ex in weird ways which is super awkward. Recently they offered to sell me tickets to a festival, and when I couldn't afford it at the price they offered- he proceeded to offer them on facebook for half the price without telling me he was willing to do that.

This last thing sent my husband over the edge. He is over it. He feels they are rude, difficult, and obnoxious. I sometimes feel the same, but also have had some sweet interactions- and I want to be careful because we really love the mutual friends who connected us, and whom go really far back with this couple.

This couple is trying to get pregnant and the way that is unfolding is also annoying to me. That sounds weird, but too much to bother going into. She is a lot of work.

I am aware that if we end up having a kid here, that others with children will be valuable and especially other women will be important to me. I am also aware that sometimes I am too tolerant. I would like to keep a connection but even if I do, I will at some point have to confront that my partner pretty much never wants to hang out with them again and if he had to he'd probably stick it to them. I have this sneaking suspicion that the more forward and clear I am the better she will take it, and that she can actually take it. It's possible things could grow with her.

Is it worth the slow (possibly unfruitful) effort? Should I accept being lonely over tolerating an exhausting friendship? I sense it's not time to let go completely.

HELP!

Yours,

Exhausted but hopeful

Dear EBH,

Moving to a new city is a chance to reinvent yourself, but isn’t it interesting that people are difficult, everywhere you go?  People are difficult, and worth it, but at what cost?

My father always told me, “Be careful who you hang out with.”  He was worried that my friends would get me into trouble, but also was trying to impart to me that human nature is that you are influenced by the people you spend time with.  It has taken me a long time to listen to my dad’s advice, and, to be honest, sometimes I still ignore it and dive into friendships with people who are very dodgy and could get me into some situations I’ll later regret.  But I’m starting to be more and more careful to only hang out with people who I actually admire, not just enjoy.  I’m spending time and effort on those folks who really enrich my life in some way, who have things in their life I want to grow in myself, and that simply make me feel more alive when I’m with them.

Friends are not charity cases.  Someone who is “a lot of work” is work, not friendship.  That’s a client.  Friendships should never be “tolerated”, and leave you at the point of exhaustion.  This relationship is the equivalent of you wearing a terrible dress that feels itchy and looks awful, even though you have other ones in your closet, because you like the person that gave you the dress.  Take that ugly dress off, and give it away - it could be someone else’s favorite garment!  But honey, it’s not doing you any favors.

The nature of friendship should be a mutual affection, and desire to get to know one another, rather than any kind of duty, especially to a third party, like the friends who introduced you.  You have a duty to your family (and even that is negotiable), but friendships have to be free of “shoulds” to thrive.  So, to answer your most pressing question, yes, you must stop hanging out with people who consistently make you and your husband uncomfortable.

The unpleasantness of slowly having less contact, declining invites and not adding them to your evening plans will be undercut by the space this will leave for you to make a different friendship.  Believe me, it will come, but you have to create time for it.

This couple might be perfect friends for someone else, but for you and your husband, they are crazymakers.  Stop trying to be someone you’re not by continuing to invest in these relationships.  Listen to your husband’s judgment here, and just stop calling those people.

If your mutual friends ask about it, be honest.  Say, “We didn’t click with them.”  I have a suspicion that your friends will know why.

The main message I want you to hear is TRUST.  You have to trust yourself, your gut, your desires.  So, the people you really do like but your husband doesn’t?  Hang out with them when he’s busy, and enjoy them thoroughly.  The people who never have time for you?  Let them go, pursue someone whose energy flows back to you.  And believe me, when it is time to have kids, your friendships will go through another overhaul, so there’s no use stockpiling people who could be parent-friends in the future.  Your people will come to you at that time, in weird and wonderful ways.

Friendships go through ups and downs, and what holds them together is love.  And love cannot be forced.  Love can bloom in loneliness but not in resentment.  Create space in your life for the relationships you really want, and trust yourself to know who to dig deeper with. If you keep digging with your current options, you’re just going to keep hitting stone.

Love,

Sibyl

On Gardens

Screen-shot-2013-06-27-at-8.57.22-PM

By Allison Valiquette Today the air is of the perfect quality; it’s cool with a hint of summer behind it, showing potential for warmth once the sun settles in the sky. I always think of my grandma on days like today. When her neighbors across the street left for vacation, they invited us to come by their garden to pick all of the green beans we wanted. Not wanting them to go to waste during their long trips, and knowing my grandma would put them to good use in a summer stew, they sought it fit for us to be invited in. Those summer days were always just like today. There was a sweetness in the air that I could swear was just a natural side effect of a perfect day, but was probably just my head spinning with a belly full of too many eaten beans.

With our gloves in pocket and wicker baskets in hand, we made our way to the neighbor’s backyard, and it always felt like we were breaking in. We both delighted in thinking that this was the case, and we giggled as we entered through the wooden gate. We piled our baskets high with beans and marched home, proud of our collection. I would always ask if we could stay in the garden forever, instead of going back home. She would laugh and tell me no, that our time in the garden was over, and that’s just how it goes.

And when the wind is blowing in nice and steady and the grass smells in that perfectly dewy way that summer grass smells, I miss her. When I try to cook and fail miserably, I miss her. When I find a random piece of jewelry in my vanity that was hers, or a photo of her holding me close to our perfectly matched faces, I miss her.

I would never again watch her curl her hair, or cook in that big yellow kitchen. When missing her becomes unbearable, I want to run to that green bean garden and live amongst the tall plants forever, where no one would find me. And if Grandma needed me, she would know that’s where she could go to see me again. But in my dreams of escaping to that garden, she never came looking for me.

But since she died, life has moved on, too quickly, as it seems. I lived to be sixteen to my grandma. She left this world with that as her memory of me forever. But I’ve lived a whole other life since then. I graduated high school, went to college, got a job, and became an adult. I’ve had boyfriends, travelled across the country, wrote stories, and lived as a whole other, grown-up self, one that she will never get to meet. I regret not soaking up every possible moment that I could with a woman who taught me that life is beautiful. That everything has a beginning and everything an end, and that is just how it goes.

I’ve been back to her old neighborhood just once since she died. The neighbors across the street put up a large fence and I couldn’t tell if the garden was still there. I like to think that it is, growing tall and feeding someone else’s family. It will continue to grow, and die when the ground gets cold, and grow again when the soil is ready. My grandma never saw me grow up all the way, and I will never see her through any more of her years. But there is still growth here, and there always will be. We all see pieces of the growth that we each have to give. Some see all of it, others a little less. But Grandma taught me to love and enjoy things while we have them, just as I loved and lived happily to have her while she was with us. And even if that green bean plant we loved so much is long dead and gone, at least I was there to see a part of its very special life.

Glass Pebbles and Life Changes

word traveler

I am greedy. Not greedy for money or clothes or pasta or jewelry. I am greedy for an exciting life. I expect it to be exciting all the time, yet I find excitement in the small things, too. When I was a kid, I remember I used to go to the beach with my dad to look for glass pebbles from long ago discarded bottles, and I literally was the happiest kid when I found a smooth and well-worn piece of glass. It was the size and the color of an apricot, light orange. Where did that come from? From a faraway shore? It was so big compared to the others. Was it the remaining of a bottle or some other object? Whatever its story was, I kept it to this day on the bookshelf of my old bedroom, to remind myself how little things can make you happy for a long time. But in time I have grown, and my needs and wishes have obviously grown with me. The dictionary states that excitement is a state of exhilaration, enthusiasm, stimulation or emotional arousal. Life doesn’t always gift us with strong emotions, there are days when happiness consists of the simplest things–a cappuccino on a Sunday morning, a good book in your hands, a walk in your neighborhood to try out the new ice cream parlor’s flavors, the cake that you always fail but that finally comes out of the oven with the perfect shape and taste. Or a simple photograph shot in a moment that doesn’t look so special, but that will be your only handhold on an instant that will never come back. Life isn’t always an exciting ride on a roller coaster, or something that leaves you breathless. This is why, at this point of my life, I feel guilty. Because months of roller coasters are ahead of me, and I’m not sure I will match up with the challenge of such a wild ride, or if I’ll need an oxygen mask to breathe.

I am about to leave with my better half for the most undreamed-of destinations, a one-month trip that will take us along paths we never walked, in Asia. We’ll meet the snow monkeys in Japan, see the Mount Fuji I remember from some cartoon I used to watch in my childhood, we’ll be in Hiroshima on August 6th, cross the Sea of Japan on a boat to reach Seoul, and then fly to Vietnam for an on the road journey all the way to Thailand. Feeling lucky. This is the best way I can describe myself at the moment.

But this isn’t it. The real life twist happens in September, when my family of two will move to Washington, D.C., a place that was home and shelter to us for two years in the past. So this is not a new feeling, or a new place to visit that carries secrets and unexpected discoveries. It’s a deepest perception, a sense, somehow, of going back home, and starting a new life in a place that we have always found welcoming and warm. Why do I feel guilty, then? And worried? Why do I spend some nights staring at the ceiling and wondering hey, what’s wrong with me?? Partially because I know I’m lucky, too lucky—we will have a second chance to live in a city we loved back in time, but with new prospective and hopes. And second chances are made of gold! But part of me feels bad, because this time I see the down side of a dream that is coming true. My parents and grandparents lives in Italy, and damn I will miss the daily life with them. I feel like I’m robbing them of the time we have left together, of Sunday meals to be shared, of coffees with grandma and shopping sessions with mom. A tennis match has been playing in my head for a few months now. The ball that is being batted to and fro has “Is this the right thing to do?” written all over it. It falls in the yes court, and then bounces in the no court. Back and forth, giving me headaches. And then I think I’m not the type who wastes second chances. I feel guilty, and greedy for wanting more every day, yes, but I also want to play my opportunity as good as I can, making sure that my beloved ones see the positive side of my life choices as well.

At the moment, I am suspended above the unknown and the many issues that present themselves as we are making this important decision, but after all this is who I am and I can’t deny it. I love feeling that I’m walking along an invisible thread staggering over a canyon---I want to see what’s below, and get goose bumps, and fear, and enjoy, and scream from happiness when I get to the other side! Me and my glass pebble, all safe in my hands.

Wish me luck :-)

 

I sat down and tried to rest. I could not; though I had been on foot all day, I could not now repose an instant; I was too much excited. A phase of my life was closing tonight, a new one opening tomorrow: impossible to slumber in the interval; I must watch feverishly while the change was being accomplished.” --- Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

 

 

Meet the Local: Accra, Ghana

mind the gap

Meet the Local is a series designed to uncover the differences (and similarities) in how we think and live in different parts of the world.  Over the upcoming months, I’ll ask locals from places all over the world the same set of getting-to-know-you questions.  This week, we travel to Ghana, where it's typical to have both a Christian name and a local name---so meet Jane, or Nana Ama Nyamekye.  She was born in Kumasi, and now lives in Accra, Ghana's capital, where she works at The Hunger Project, a NGO that focuses on empowering people to end their own hunger.  

Meet the Local, Ghana

What do you like about the place you live?

The people around are quite warm.  They show their communal spirits, and I communicate well with them.

What don’t you like so much?

The roads.  They are untarred, they are dusty.  When it rains, it becomes quite difficult to get anywhere, to even walk, because it’s muddy, and there are a lot of potholes so if someone is driving and someone passes by, you can get quite wet if the driver doesn’t avoid it.

What do you normally eat for breakfast?

I like local porridge, it’s made from millet and ginger and a little chili pepper.  We call it koose---it’s made from black eyed peas.  You can eat bread with it, but I feel like the bread is too heavy, so I mix it with the porridge.  Sometimes I have hot chocolate with it.

What do you do for a living?  How important is your job to your sense of self?

I’m into small scale banking, so to speak---I’m in micro finance.  I work with a NGO whose goals I really admire.  My job makes me feel fulfilled in that I grew up in an environment where people could be very intelligent but because they lacked the financial ability, they couldn’t reach whatever targets or goals they set for themselves.  My job looks at ensuring that people are economically self sufficient.  It aligns with myself, my personal feeling and hope for the world.  I expect people to be okay, I expect people to be looking out for a world that embraces people, that people will be given opportunities to make ends meet.  I believe that everybody has potential, and that, given the opportunity, they can meet the goals they set for themselves.  This job allows people to be uplifted.

What do you do for fun?

I like to be with kids---they’re adorable.  I like to admire their innocence.  But mostly, I unwind my day with a movie, or sometimes I end my day by listening to gospel preaching.

How often do you see your family?  Tell me what you did the last time you saw them.

The last time I saw my family was in the end of May, a little while ago, but I will see them this weekend.  With my cousins, they are a little older than me, but they are all involved in corporate institutions, so first I try to talk about how we can help women, and women in the workplace.  But sometimes we just talk about family.  Last time we met, they asked me to help plan my auntie’s birthday.

What’s your biggest dream for your life?

My dream is to be able to get a PhD, something that will be beneficial to other people. I want to do research, and maybe to lecture as time goes on, so that the experience that I’ve gathered can be combined with the academic world so that I can be efficient and effect change.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?  Why?

I always want to be in Ghana, because the people are warm, and because I have the chance to improve upon the systems.  I want to make it so most people can go to school, and then most people can give back to society, especially in the rural areas.  So yeah, I would want to be in Ghana.

 What are you most proud of?

I’m proud of being a change agent.  In my line of work, I work with people who want to take a step forward in their economic adventures.  I get so happy and proud when people tell me how their lives have changed from nothing to economic self-sufficiency.  I have more than a hundred women who had nothing, no savings, but have saved now amounting to more than 500 Ghana cedis (approximately $250 USD).  They’ve been able to send their children to school, some to the tertiary levels.  I get so happy when I realize that people are not always just sitting down folding their arms but they are always trying to work, to change their lives.

 How happy would you say you are?  Why?

I would say I’m happy, I’m fulfilled, even though I haven’t gotten to my limit yet.  There is always room for improvement.  I know that I’m working in a good team, and my team members are all working together to achieve the same goals.  In my home, there is peace---with my husband, everything is okay.  When I go to the field, I meet my women who embrace me with huge smiles because of the changes they’re seeing in their lives.

Check out previous answers from locals in Lisbon, Sarajevo, Sydney, and London.  Want to participate in Meet the Local or know someone who does?  Email liz@thingsthatmakeus.com for more details.

Annie Oakley: Sharpshooter. Gunslinger.

historical woman

I don’t like guns. I don’t like the sound they make when they go off, and I don’t like what they tend to stand for politically. I also don’t like that a man who killed a teenager with a gun can be found innocent of manslaughter and then walk away with the same gun.

But before I digress. I do like Annie Oakley.

Maybe it’s because she kicked ass with guns, but there’s something empowering about Annie Oakley’s whole image. Poufy ‘80s (1880s, that is!) dark hair crammed under a cowboy hat, silk bandana, Old West petticoat, giant rifle. Spontaneous idea: let’s revive the Old West genre with her biopic! It would definitely be better than The Lone Ranger.

Annie Oakley was born Phoebe Ann Moses in Ohio in 1860, to Quakers from Pennsylvania. Her father died when she was very young, and then her stepfather died not long after, so she learned early on how to hunt, trap, and shoot to support her large family. In no time at all (here’s where I picture our new biopic’s training montage—maybe set to Mumford & Sons?) she was a sharpshooting expert.

When she was fifteen, Annie entered a shooting contest against Francis “Frank” Butler, a 25-year-old Irish immigrant and former dog trainer, and won. A year later, they were married, and then they began performing together as professional markspeople. So romantic!

In 1885, the gun-happy lovebirds joined Buffalo Bill’s famous traveling show, performing for adoring fans across the United States as well as European royalty (Queen Victoria, Kaiser Wilhelm, and the King of Italy, among others).

In 1898, Oakley wrote to President McKinley to suggest that women would make a great addition to the U.S. Army, should hostilities break out with Spain (they did): “a company of fifty female sharpshooters” was ready to be committed to the service, Oakley wrote. McKinley probably never wrote back, the jerk. Side note, women weren’t allowed in combat situations in the U.S. armed forces until this year.

Another interesting anecdote about Oakley (that might make it into our movie, and would definitely ensure that it passes the Bechdel Test): she had a rivalry going with another female sharpshooter in Buffalo Bill’s show named Lillian Smith. Lillian was younger than Oakley and may have attracted more attention because of this. Oakley even left the show for a short period over the tiff. You could write this all off as cattiness, but it was probably equally a function of tokenism; what, audiences couldn’t accept two female sharpshooters in one show?

Speaking of movies, Annie Oakley was in the eleventh movie of all time. Think about that: the eleventh. (After commercial showings began in 1894.) Thomas Edison shot a short film called “The Little Sure Shot of the Wild West,” starring Annie and Frank. In the film, they shoot various objects against a black background for about twenty seconds. Must have been pretty exciting, considering there, you know, weren’t movies yet. You can view it online.

Oakley continued to perform and shoot to the end of her life. She died in 1926 at the age of sixty-six. Her longtime husband and performing partner died just eighteen days later. Frank and Annie were then buried next to each other. So. Romantic.

If anyone wants to volunteer to write a script for Annie Oakley: The Movie (a reboot, if you will; there have definitely been Annie Oakley movies in the past), let me know. Just try not to make it anything the NRA could use.

Always Move Forward

I learned a valuable adult lesson last week: you can’t go back. When I left Chicago for good, I didn’t have any kids, just a dog. And now, four years later, I’m married with two boys (and the dog still too). I used to play the ‘What If?’ game. Basically, ‘What If’ I had never left Chicago, would I be better off? Who would I be? What if I hadn't gotten pregnant, or married?  I have realized that this is a pointless game. You can never go back, and furthermore, you wouldn’t want to. I see that the person I was then and the person I am now are completely different. I can see this even more while staying in my hometown. The last time I was here, ten years ago, I was just a reckless teenager desperate to leave my small town. Now, I’m a mom and that small town doesn’t look so bad, in fact parts of it are downright charming. It sure doesn't feel boring anymore. I read this fascinating article the other week about identity and sense of self. It describes this phenomenon that people can see how much they have changed; we no longer listen to the same music, we changed our major or job, etc, but they just cannot envision how they will change in the future. We still think we will be the same. Even though we can see past change, we are incapable of picturing future change.

When we got our tattoos a year ago (they look like this <<<) they were meant to mean, Matt, Charley and I, the three of us. And then I got pregnant again, unexpectedly. People ask if we will add another symbol. We say no, we will just change the meaning. Now I tell people it means, always move forward. I should add, and don't look back to that, but I think it's implied.

This is all to say that I am no longer desperate to live back in Chicago. I still love it there, but a part of me can see that you can only go forward. And from now on I am going forward as part of a family of four. And that is tied into every decision we make, making it even more difficult to pick a place.

Waiting

diving girl

By Ariana Pritchett My mom always says she could predict how my sister and I would approach new experiences in life by the way we entered the pool as children. My sister always started out on the stairs, taking them one step at a time, slowly getting used to the water before fully submerging. Me, well, I would take a running leap and dive head first into the deep end.

I am impulsive by nature.

If I get a hankering to do something, I want to do it now. I don’t want to ease into it. I don’t want to wait around and get prepared. I. WANT. IT. NOW.

This is why at 17 I ran off to San Francisco without thinking about needing money for gas or food. Why at 21 I flew to Spain by myself without a place to stay when I landed. This is why at 24 I got married, at 26 I bought a house, and at 27 I got pregnant. And it’s why three years ago I committed to adopting our second child without any information on what that really entailed. I was not going to wait around for anything. If there’s something I want in my life, my motto has always been, ‘Why wait? You’ll figure it out when you get there. No regrets.’

And so of course it’s only fitting that the universe would show up now with a big package of Waiting, my name written all over it.

Adoption for me has been all about the surrender of control . . . and waiting.

If I’d been given the green light I’d have jumped in head first to raising our second child three years ago. But adoption doesn’t work that way. First there was saving for the huge financial investment. Then there was the paperwork, which felt never-ending. Now I am waiting to be matched to a birthmom who chooses us to raise her child. We could get a call today. We could get a call in two years. And there’s still more waiting to come. Once we get matched we have to wait for the birth, and even then the adoption is not final until 6-12 months after the baby is home with us.

My family and friends question how I’m able to handle all this waiting. Tell me how difficult it must be. And it is, especially for me.

But after working my hardest to push through this wall of waiting, I’ve finally given in to it. And it’s amazing what I’ve found here sitting on the steps:

~ I’ve treasured my time with my son and husband all the more, because I know that soon it won’t be just the three of us anymore.

~ I’ve had more time to think and dream about this baby before s/he even comes into being. With each daydream I can feel my heart expanding in anticipation for this new life.

~ I’ve actually begun preparing for our child’s arrival without feeling rushed. This is new for me. We’re thinking through feeding, diapering, figuring out what is actually needed to prepare for a new addition to our family. I’ve spent quiet time mentally creating a nursery that will be a soft space of safety and comfort. Because I can take it slowly this time, activities that in the past would have caused me stress and worry are now relaxing and fun.

~ I’ve noticed all the opportunities that have presented themselves because the baby didn’t arrive in a hurry: work opportunities, travel opportunities, and time for personal growth.

But the learning that is the most tender to me is the build-up that comes from waiting, the love that continues to grow each day that we wait for our child. The knowledge that by the time we meet our son or daughter we will not be able to imagine it being anyone else.

Diving in is fast, furious and exhilarating. It has brought incredible experiences and countless blessings into my life, and I still do love to leap big. But lately I can’t help but wonder what might have been possible if I’d tried wading in slowly instead of jumping into the deep end of these huge life decisions. Because it is in the steady, gradual entry that I can really feel the water rising up over each inch of my body, until I finally immerse myself in the experience and just float. It is through this slow surrender that a deeper love and appreciation of each step of the journey is fostered and the space is created for something miraculous to be birthed.

If you want to know more about the Pritchett families adoption journey you can follow their facebook page (link to https://www.facebook.com/ThePritchettFamilyAdopts) or share their adoption website (www.thepritchettfamily.com) with your community as  50% of birthmother matches come from personal networking through the adoptive family.

[photo source]

Don't You Forget About Me

me without you

Dementia is a prism through which all memory is refracted. As the person my mom was continues to recede, I realize that I too am forgetting her. My memories have morphed into a series of impressions, like a Terrence Malick movie. I know her hands and feet, her long fingers and toes, her knuckles knotted from years of cracking. I know her hair, how one side flips out and the other curves in (like mine). I remember how she regarded herself in the mirror, working up courage to confront her reflection and accepting the disappointment that washed over her before moving on. I can conjure all these impressions, but our past conversations, the rhythm with which we spoke, is blurring. I have the general plot outlines of our stories, but they are Monets; there is no specificity of form, just the interplay of light and movement and feeling. Because I forget as Mom forgets, I figure it’s time to start record keeping. My son will not know the mother I knew, won’t experience the ways in which the two of them are already so similar. As Henry gets older, I’ll share my memories of Mom, fuzzy though they may be. But the prudent Virgo list-maker in me is compelled to document some details of myself that Henry may, one day, find himself straining to recall—the nuances, quirks, and peccadillos that make up and enhance the whole and which, unfortunately, are the first pieces of us to go. So, to the future Henry, here’s my List of Things I Don’t Want You to Forget About Me:

1. I like movie trailers. No, I love movie trailers. I do not miss them when I go to the movies, and I even regularly use my Trailers app to watch several. In one sitting. I guess I enjoy the anticipation of a new movie as much as the event itself. When done well, a good trailer reads like the short story version of the film, which sometimes proves better than the actual film. For reference, you can dismiss any trailer with voiceover, big red comedy font, or lines that begin with “This fall, celebrate the wonder . . . ” said in voiceover while appearing onscreen in big red comedy font.

2. I love a good blooper reel. Isn’t that dumb? It’s an elemental, base form of entertainment to crack up for no other reason than because other people are cracking up. The best outtakes lack any logic or shape; they are just viral, infectious energy. Of course, moments like this can be experienced firsthand, but if you ever need a shot of good, clean entertainment that won’t result in an arrest record or getting intimate with a toilet bowl, watch outtakes of Brian Unger interviewing Zach (Seth) Galifianakis from Live at the Purple Onion. Also of note: any outtake featuring Ricky Gervais.

3. My favorite time to watch a horror film is midday, preferably when it’s moody and stormy outside. I discovered this after years of yo-yoing between loving scary movies and being, well, scared shitless by them. I’m a fraidy cat and a safety enforcer, but I also love the (fake) thrill of a good (fake) scare. At the time of this writing, you are four years old, but when you hit sixteen, I plan to school you in some of my favorites. But only during daylight hours.

4. I take great (and somewhat undeserved) pride in my working as a server during college. I was mediocre at best—I refused to upsell and once spilled a tray of drinks on a family of four—but through it I developed a taste for hard work and hard play, learned how to hustle, and saw the best and worst of what humanity has to offer. You walk through life with new eyes once you’ve had to serve others, returning their perfectly cooked steaks to the grill guy and crawling under booths for their kids’ dirty diapers. But I like to think it makes you a better person and educates you in the art of appreciating others and treating them well. Also, I can carry three drinks in one hand and nearly all the sensation has been singed off my fingertips by hot plates!

5. I instigate tickle fights and turn into a spastic pinwheel of limbs when tickled back. I am not above biting, hair pulling, or eye gouging in a tickle attack. Daddy has learned this the hard way.

6. I sing a lot, subjecting you to weak and quavering renditions of Patsy Cline, Jolie Holland, Fiona Apple, Jenny Lewis, and Emily Haines songs in the car and at bedtime. My voice is lowish and my range limited, but I do not let that stop me. Sometimes in the car, you cover your ears and shriek, “Mommy, stop the singing you’re hurting my ears!” Sometimes when I’m bathing you and singing low, you look at me with doleful eyes and say, “Mommy, that’s lovely.” You’re the only person I do this around, and my mother did it with me. She and I used to harmonize to Simon & Garfunkel and Aretha Franklin and (god help me) The Judds. I don’t know how much longer you’ll allow me to do this without becoming critical (more critical than “you’re hurting my ears,” that is) and mortally humiliated, so I’m doing it while I can. But if by the time you’re older you have no memory of me singing, let this be your reminder.

Now and again, a forgotten aspect of Mom will float past me like a leaf swept up in a breeze, and I catch it by writing it down, committing it to paper. The remembering helps me to grieve in a way that is necessary and productive and deserving of her, rather than the rest of it, which is groping, blind, in a dark space. If I can give Henry some roadmap for remembering his neurotic, singing, laughing, potty-mouthed, loving mother, then maybe losing my mom in this particular way has purpose, has meaning.