Category Archives: a little angst?

thoughts on being an emerging adult

Too Personal

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“Why haven’t you been writing as much?”

“Oh, you know, don’t have much to say these days.”

Which is true. Lots of thoughts, not a lot of formation.

But the real truth?

“I read your blog – not all the time. Sometimes I feel like it’s too personal.”

So, there you go.

That’s what’s been keeping me away – this quick sentence from a friend that has made me reevaluate and second-guess almost every post I’ve thought of.

I don’t think of this blog as too personal.

“Really? You do?” I asked. “Because I was thinking how I leave so much out, how there are always these glaring holes of what’s really going on.”

~     ~     ~

This weekend, I posted pictures on Facebook of my trip to Brooklyn to visit my recently-relocated friend. We were smiling in the sun and looked absolutely ridiculous with ring pops.

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What I left out was that we both tired of those ring pops before they were gone. That
I got lost on the subway a grand total of three times. That I had blisters like you read about. That I wandered the Metropolitan Museum of Art alone with a backpack weighing thirty pounds slung across my belly “to protect the art.”

That I couldn’t sleep on the train ride there or home because my mind was racing to the blur of the landscape.

Even today, I posted a picture of the girl I babysit. The caption?

A woman after my own heart – how do you not love kids who beg you to take them fishing?

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The sun was beautiful on the water, it was still and quiet. The lily pads were in bloom and blue and red dragonflies swooped together among the flowers.

What I didn’t write?

That five minutes later, I had two whiney kids who couldn’t cast for the life of them (and apparently aren’t able to put a worm on a hook). There was pushing and accusations when a brother knotted the line, whining because it was so hot and the water bottles I’d painstakingly packed were “warm.”

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It was only about half an hour later that I decided:

You know what? Let’s just sit with our feet in the water, ’cause this is exhausting and I can’t take it.

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So what am I trying to say? Something about social media? How it’s a manicured version of ourselves? How we present only the good and beautiful and leave the ugly at home?

A little.

Don’t get me wrong, I know there are somethings that need to be ugly. It’s the unique parts that make someone worth reading, that make writing resonate with you.

Sometimes armpits are hilarious. Sometimes they’re just gross.

More than that, though, it’s an echo of what I’ve written about earlier.

There’s always more going on under the surface. Perhaps I do get too personal here, but it’s usually because it feels comfortable. It feels like the space to write things I care about. It feels like the space to figure out what it means to be me – both as a writer and as a human.

I’m sorry if that’s too personal.

Makeup and Growing Up

They came down with their faces covered in makeup.

Pink blush smeared across their cheeks, gray eyeshadow swiped along their eyelids, and even through their pride, I could see that the gooey pink lipgloss was already annoying them.

They’d never admit it.

The thing about babysitting is that you learn a lot about parenting. You learn a lot about loving the right way – and the wrong way. You learn the art of blocking your ears to whining because if you didn’t, you’d probably flip your lid.

You also learn when – and how – to live out the theories you worked so painstakingly to create for the past however-many-years-you’ve-lived.

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[Now that’s some little-girl makeup I can get behind. Photo: Jean-Paul Gaillard]

I knew a boy in college whose earnestness was unsurpassed. He chose his words carefully, he chose his theories with the heart of someone who cared almost too deeply to survive this world. He had all these ideas.

But he didn’t know how to live with them, really.

His desire for equality was constantly bumping up against reality, against young women on campus who didn’t understand. Why doesn’t he hold the door for me? I’d hold it for him!

Once we talked about high heels. He told me I should never wear them, that they were used to make women vulnerable, that it was all about “The Man.” I laughed and said, “Well, I like the way I look in heels. I don’t care what men think!”

“But you should!” he said, sounding concerned. “That’s the problem: everything is defined by what men think.”

And while his theories were right and his heart was right, I did look pretty good in a pair of heels and I continue to throw on a pair when I so feel like it.

Theory vs. Reality.

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And here these girls stood before me with faces shining (although perhaps less-so due to the powder they’d covered them with). My mind raced to all the implications:

UGH MAKEUP

I hate it. Even though I use it. I hate it.

She’s only seven.

What is WITH this culture that makes young girls so obsessed with how they look?

And this will lead to more makeup and tight clothes and endless dieting and weird walks and hilarious but awkward flirting and…and…and…

I took a deep breath.

I looked at their smiling rouged-up faces, and I said,

“Looks like someone’s been playing with Mom’s makeup.”

And they giggled and ran up the stairs.

Maybe someday I’ll talk to her about looks and culture and men and living fully.

Maybe someday I’ll teach her how to put on blush so she doesn’t look like a clown.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to show her that she is as beautiful when she is telling me a story as she is when she’s wearing that fluffy floral dress.

But today she is seven and she has a friend over. Today she is playing at adulthood and laughing.

Today is not the day.

Prayer and Desire

photo 2 [“I don’t understand – what’s the point of praying? It’s not like we can change God’s mind.”]

When I pray – when I ask God for what I want – I am opening myself up for blessing.

I am trusting that God is capable of meeting my needs, my desires. Beyond capable, even. I am trusting that He wants to.

But, just as possibly, I am opening myself up for disappointment. For “no.” For dissatisfaction.

I am reminding myself that I am vulnerable. That I can be hurt and confused by circumstances. That I am at the mercy of my God.

[“So you’re telling me that prayer is all about our attitudes? It has nothing to do with God’s actions?”]

If I do not pray – if I choose instead not to commune with the Creator, not to bare my wants before the Lord – then I cannot say I am hurt. I cannot say that God withheld from me what I am convinced would be good for me. I cannot say that he told me “no” or directed my life down a path I never would have chosen.

If I do not pray, I can convince myself of my own strength.

I didn’t want it anyway.

Like the fox and the grapes, I will slink away in sadness cloaked in falsehoods.

I didn’t want to sing.

I didn’t want a home, a farm.

I didn’t want him.

I didn’t want little blonde babies.

I didn’t want to be a writer.

If I never want, I will never be disappointed. It has very similar outcomes to not loving, really: If I never love, I will never be hurt.

[“Don’t we choose? Don’t we get to decide what our lives look like?”]

I’ve gotten good at prayers of gratitude; ever since my blood clot, I look to the sky, see the peachy-pink shades of a sunset, and words of thankfulness tumble from my lips. It isn’t hard for me to remember the Lord’s goodness in what He has already done.

I haven’t yet mastered the trust that God remains good regardless of what happens. photo 2 And so, I come to the place I often find myself. The place where I must choose to live fuller – and probably be disappointed – or live safer – and walk the earth with shells of avoided disappointments.

Their very emptiness is enough to make me cry.

~     ~     ~

I prayed for the first time in weeks.

Yes, I’ve had random thoughts to the Lord, thanking Him, asking Him, talking to Him.

But I have been avoiding my desires. I’ve been avoiding admitting there are things I want. And I’ve been avoiding telling Him that I know He is in control.

Because if I don’t think He’s in control, He can’t allow (or not allow) things that will disappoint.

[“I just feel like He’s been removing all my reasons for going. All the reasons I thought I was doing this don’t exist anymore. I don’t understand.”]

I prayed for the first time today.

The first time in weeks.

And I asked Him for what I want. I do not know yet what the outcome will be. This could go the way of the beach house. This could go the way of so many of my life’s sister ships.

I do not know.

But I have prayed, and opened myself up to both the possibility of blessing and the possibility of disappointment.

Good Things #46: “Miss Representation”

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As you know by now, I am anything but with the times. Consistently, I find myself really into whatever was really cool six months ago. 

So, again, I am late to the party.

I finally watched the documentary Miss Representation after hearing about it since my senior year of college (it came out in 2011…come on, Cath!). I figured out the playstation, put the dvd in, and settled in to watch something that I was pretty sure wouldn’t shock me with any of its information, but that I hoped would shed some light on this topic that’s been really hitting me lately.

If you haven’t seen it, Miss Represenation is about how women are represented in media, whether it be movies, television, advertisements, magazines, the whole gambit. Image after image flashed in front of my eyes, and there was even a moment where I looked away – it seems that I’ve done a decent job of sheltering myself from the objectifying images used to sell products and make money. (Music videos are particularly horrifying.)

The documentary opens with Oprah Winfrey (of course, I thought, because she exhausts me, but I wanted to keep an open mind). Oprah talks about the objectification and sexualization of women, and how this documentary was an attempt at illuminating us to this fact and perhaps make the first steps to rectify it.

Some of the most moving parts of the film were the interviews with high school students. I don’t know how much was scripted and how much was thought of on-the-spot, but that doesn’t really matter to me. There was honesty in the words, regardless, and one young woman stood out. As her tears started to fall, she spoke about her little sister, how her sister hates herself, how she cuts herself, how kids at school make fun of her because she doesn’t fit our society’s standards for beauty.

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Over and over throughout the film, we hear that beauty should not be the measuring stick we use to determine our worth.

I heard it, and I thought Yes.

What should we use, then? What is an adequate measure of worth?

According to the documentary, it’s achievements.

Don’t comment on my body, look at all I’ve accomplished.

Don’t talk about my hair, see the list I’ve been able to check off.

Don’t tell me to lose weight; don’t you know I’ve won a dozen awards?

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At first, I didn’t realize what I was hearing. It sounded pretty good to me, actually, because I’d much rather be remembered for my intelligence or wit or ability to engage with people than a pretty (or not pretty…) physical attribute.

But then I saw the inherent problem with this answer to the imbalance of external vs. internal selves:

Just as not everyone is beautiful, not everyone is accomplished.

Not everyone wins awards.

Not everyone stands above the rest, because then who would the rest be?

This is an incomplete response to the problem. This leaves just as many women (and men) confused and frustrated as the lie of beauty-as-worth. I will just as quickly become dissatisfied and angry with myself when I don’t take first place or don’t win the campaign or don’t get the job as I do when I know I am not the most beautiful woman in the room.

So what is the answer?

How do we measure worth in a way that is not exclusive?

It is the answer I’ve been hearing my whole life but have never fully been able to comprehend.

It is the answer I rolled my eyes at in high school and college, but that now (and especially since watching this film) I am most convinced is true.

Our worth comes from the Lord.

You either nod your head in agreement, roll your eyes at my Christianese, or want to believe me but aren’t able to understand what that looks like.

What does it mean, I get my worth from God?

How can my worth not be tied up in what I do? In what I look like?

I do not understand.

And I still don’t, fully.

I know that I have a peace in me that I have never had before. I know that realizing I am loved by the Creator of the Universe is the most freeing knowledge I have ever (and will ever) come to. I know that the fact that I can’t earn His love, but that He gives it regardless of anything I am or do, is horrifying in its very bigness.

And I know that this is the only thing that will not fail me.

I will not always be young.

I will not be the best at what I do.

I will not always do the right thing.

But what is always true?

I am valued – and you are valued – more than we can imagine. This will never change.

And yes, I completely agree that the way media portrays women is detrimental to our whole society, men and women alike. Yes, we should work to view each and every one of us as a whole person, three-dimensional, flawed, and beautiful. Yes, it is important to both expression and art that all viewpoints be heard. I think Miss Representation is the beginning of half the answer to the problem.

But when we start to question our worth, when clothes don’t fit or that poem we’re trying to write doesn’t come out exactly as we’d hoped, when our days seemed filled with questions instead of answers, let’s remember the measuring stick we are to use.

Imagine what we could do with all the time we waste worrying about our looks, our honors, our accolades.

Infinite love gives infinite worth.

Ten Percent?

I’m sprawled out on a cozy bed, the May sun streaming through the blinds. I’ve got nothing more pressing to do on a Saturday afternoon than read a book.

I crack it open (or softly bend it open, ’cause it’s a paperback), and begin to read the book that’s been sitting by my chair for months.

I begin to read Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, and I know that change is afoot.

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Sure, all the stats are off (it was published in 2005), but the heart and soul of the book remains the same. Because it’s the heart and soul of the gospel, really, only in numbers and facts and practice.

Due to overconsumption, small numbers of affluent people strain the earth’s limited resources far more than much larger numbers of poor people (30).

[My junior year of college and I’m watching Justin McRoberts play his music and plead the case for thousands of hungry children. I raise my hand for a packet because I know myself: I will feel bad, maybe cry, have every intention of doing something, then get up and leave. I take a packet and I’ve been supporting a boy in India ever since. One. Only one.]

Is ten percent really enough?

It’s hard enough for me to write that check on Sunday, to drop it in the plate and trust that it will be put to good use. Because that’s what I’m doing: trusting. Trusting God to use the money I give to further His Kingdom. Trusting my deacons and trustees and pastors to look to Him for guidance.

Trusting that I will also pay my bills on time and not overdraw.

I am a fearful person.

Those of us in developed countries make up only one-fifth of the world’s population, yet we consume two-thirds of the planet’s resources (31).

So what am I going to do? Keep putting that ten percent in the offering plate? Keep sending money to India in the hopes that one boy will have a brighter future? Give to my friends who go on missions trips? Support another child in Africa? Egypt? South America?

Today, I didn’t buy a new sweatshirt. I wanted one, a green one that said “Cape Cod” because my old one wore out. I didn’t buy one after all – there wasn’t one exactly like I wanted.

I walked out of the store – sweatshirt-less and annoyed – and thought, Maybe that’s what I have to do.

Buy less stuff.

Eat less food.

Consume less gas.

Be mindful of where the extra goes because there’s more than enough to go around.

Advertisers promise that their products will satisfy our deepest needs and inner longings for love, acceptance, security, and sexual fulfillment (24).

I’m only a quarter of the way through the book, but I’m slowly working towards change. Change in myself is a hard thing to make.

Good Things #43: Being Told “No”

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I got the idea on the airplane to Chicago, reading Dubus’ Townie. He’d lived in a winter rental in a local beach community, and it dawned on me as I sailed through the sky:

Oh my gosh. I should buy a beach house.

If you know me – if you know my job and my life situation – you’re probably smiling and shaking your head, “There she goes again, too enthusiastic and a little bit crazy.” Because I teach at a Christian school. Because I’m only 25. Because FILL IN THE BLANK.

But really, I convinced myself (and my father, and my sister, and whoever else would listen to my rationale) that this was the way to do it. Buy a house that would help pay for itself. Get a roommate or two, rent it out for a month in the summer, and before you know it, you’ll own your home. I envisioned traipsing in the house after a long walk on the beach, me curled up reading in the sunlit evening, my sister (who, of course, would be buying the house with me) baking me delicious brownies, a glass of red wine in my hand.

I had it all planned out.

And when we found a three-bedroom house with a garden and brick walkways, an arbor, a loft (what?! are you kidding me? this is perfection.), and even a laundry chute, I let myself actually think it could happen.

I planned out a budget. I examined my finances and looked at my savings and promised myself “No more Starbucks!!!”.

I got a realtor, we got pre-approved for a mortgage, and then we looked into…flood insurance.

Ever heard of it? It’s this dreaded thing that, when you live in a small island community below sea level, threatens to destroy morale and your wallet.

The total was more than we would pay in taxes and it would only go up, my realtor said. It would be extremely hard to sell, and in one conversation the red wine I imagined sipping was dried up and my sister burned the brownies.

I got off the phone. I was at work when I called the realtor, and I was standing in the hot sun. My hair was on fire. I walked over to my friend who was eating lunch and told her what happened.

“I felt a lot of fear about it,” I said, “but usually my response to fear is ‘Get over it.'”

She laughed and gave me those eyes that mean: You’re psycho.

“Maybe this time it meant it wasn’t for me,” I finished, putting my head on the picnic table.

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I am grateful when I’m told “no.” This has been a long time coming, and it’s not a lesson I want to keep learning. Excitement fills my body so fully I can feel my skin tingling and I’m sure This is it! whether it be buying a house, moving across the country, dating a great guy, or applying for my dream job.

This is it! my body says, but circumstances and Jesus say differently.

I don’t blame God for good and bad in my life, at least not all the time. Sometimes, I do think things “just happen” and God makes good out of those things, too. But there have definitely been times when I’ve felt Him say, “No, Catherine, not this time, not this job, not this person.”

This time, it was “not this house,” and I am grateful in some ways.

I won’t be saddled with a mortgage.

I won’t have to leave my new flock of chickens.

I won’t have a longer commute.

I won’t have to live off oatmeal and yogurt for the next fifteen years.

I can still buy a bottle of wine, and my mom makes more than decent brownies.

There’s no denying, though, that there was a little loft in my would-be-bedroom with a brown ladder. That the tiny window let in sunshine, and I would’ve sat there drinking tea and dreaming, tucked away where no one would find me unless they knew where to look.

Dating in College?!

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“What’s dating like in college?”

My senior girls looked earnestly at me over their lunches. There’s no denying that having five guys in your year at school doesn’t play in your favor.

“Not so great,” I said, and regretted it immediately.

I scolded myself because I knew the door I’d just opened wouldn’t be closed easily. They wanted to know why – their eyes crestfallen, their hopes dashed by one sentence.

I prefaced everything with: “Well, you know things didn’t end well for me, so my opinions are skewed – I’m sure if I married someone I dated in college, I would have a very different view.”

But as I think about it now, hours later, I wonder if this is true. Because even if I had married someone I dated in college, that wouldn’t change the fact that the whole thing was quite awkward and oddly polarizing and much more work than I ever thought it should be.

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I told them I went to a small Christian college.

I told them I loved it there, but that there was a strange social construct around dating. That you don’t date, actually, but you have a boyfriend. That going on dates wasn’t really something you did. You either were in a relationship or you were starkly single.

That some girls could have guy friends, but lots couldn’t.

That I was never once asked out on a date, but somehow found myself “dating” two boys over my four years.

That there was pressure from people immediately.

That I didn’t know any better.

That there is such a thing as a good relationship. And a bad relationship. And somewhere in between.

That even though I praise God for sparing me from a terrible choice, it doesn’t change the fact that I had been wooed (or wooed myself) into thinking it was the right choice.

I told them all this over lunch, in the senior lounge, them leaning across the table.

They’ve been waiting four years to date, college beckoning to them, claiming to be full-to-bursting with attractive, single, emotionally mature young men.

And I said, “The thing is, girls, you’ve been waiting four years to date, but when you get to college, you realize they’re all the same boys.”

They’re all the same boys.

And yes, there are winners. There are awesome young men who know what they want and will treat you well.

But they’re just a few months removed from high school. Just like you.

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When I was sure I’d bruised their hopeful hearts forever, I tried to make things look less bleak. I told them about my dating experience since college – how I’ve been on dates and not felt pressured (Is he the one? Who cares?! I’m in my twenties and I’m figuring out who I am and who I want to be with! It’s a first date, darn it!). I told them it’s been a lot better, that I’ve filled my coffer with story after story – some good, some bad, most hilarious – and that even if their dating lives in college aren’t all they thought they would be, there’s hope.

I did not go into detail (trying to keep some boundaries), but I wish I could’ve told them how dating in college seems to be more about who you think you’re supposed to be instead of who you are. At least it was that way for me. I might have told them that I’m happier than ever, and regardless of what my future dating brings, I know I am a better person for giving it a try.

They’re sure to at least have good tales to tell me when they visit in the summer.

I should’ve told them to start a blog about it.

 

[Dating for Dummies photo: ZacVTA]

[Czech Couple photo: Ard Hesselink]

[Seville Couple photo: BMP]

After the Burning [Guest Post]

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I’m honored to share Hannah’s story. I met Hannah when she started dating my childhood friend, David, and I even got to be part of their wedding last summer. I resonate with a lot of what Hannah has to say about expectations. You can read more of her writing at her blog, hannahlynnmell.com.

 

When David and I moved to Kansas last summer, I envisioned countless bright scenarios: making our first home together, establishing ourselves in a new arts community, gathering a circle of warm-hearted midwestern friends. We drove the moving truck cross country just three weeks after our July wedding, headed toward David’s first full-time teaching position and a shockingly inexpensive high rise apartment in downtown Wichita.

The low cost of living meant that I could piece together part-time work instead of looking for a full-time teaching job myself. The set-up offered precisely what I’d hoped for: ample time to write. I’d unleash volleys of cunning, heartfelt essays, utilize the glittering Interweb to network with likeminded creative-types, and watch my freelance career begin to unfold.

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You can smell the punch line, can’t you? We make our plans, and the good Lord chuckles. I love writing and revising essays; I don’t love submitting and resubmitting them. After ten minutes on Facebook or Twitter, I’ve had my fill of social networking for the week. It wasn’t that I spent the year in ardent pursuit of my dream but met with disappointment; my ardor dried up by the end of autumn.

Turns out I thrived on the bustle of teaching full-time. Waking early, putting on pretty clothes, riding my bike to school: my old routine suited me far more than staying in my pajamas and plunking away at a computer keyboard. When I found myself brooding at school, singing joyful songs with children snapped me out of it. In my new life I depended on afternoon voice lessons to buoy my spirit – and teaching students via Skype fell far short of teaching them in person.

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As autumn ended and winter set in, I grieved the loss of my Writing Career as though it had actually existed. I knew that I’d continue to write, but I unhanded the illusion that it would make me famous or even pay the bills. Okay, “unhanded” is a graceful but inaccurate verb. God had to pry the illusion from my sweaty, clutching fingers the way I’ve seen parents wrest dangerous objects from their toddlers.

Meanwhile, David’s teaching job dragged him through a disillusionment of his own. I don’t know which made me weep more: watching my husband struggle or letting go of the person I planned to become.

Fast forward to spring. Autumn and winter make a lot more sense when the world begins to blossom. Letting go of the person I planned to become? I’ve begun to recognize the loss as a gain.

Lines of burning grass create pattern on landscape at dusk

In the tall grass prairies of Kansas, spring is a time of burning. Native Americans started the tradition of setting fire to the old grass in order to instigate the rapid growth of new grass. Viktor Frankl wrote, “What is to give light must endure burning.” In prairie terms, we could slightly revise that: What is to give life must endure burning. As I survey the charred landscape of our time here in Kansas, I see fertile soil and green shoots. New dreams arise from the ashes of my surrender. David and I make plans to return to Massachusetts. I begin to outline a novel.

Catherine asked me to write about living the in-between. As she astutely observes, “We’re all there in one way or another.” David and I have experienced the in-between in full force this year, but I can’t remember a season of my life that didn’t feel like a transition. Like a baffled student, I return to the same lesson again and again. I’ll say it confidently now, with the windows open and the lilacs in blossom: the new life quickening within me will feed next year’s flames. When the grasses fade to yellow and the cold sets in, I’ll weep and question and eventually let go. I can’t tell you next year’s particulars, but I’m learning to love the pattern.

Hannah writes, Skypes voice lessons, and teaches yoga in Wichita, Kansas. She met Catherine through her husband David, one of Catherine’s childhood friends. Her blog lives at hannahlynnmell.com.

[Photo: James Nedresky at Flint Hills Images]

My Life’s Sister Ship

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Do you ever wake up and wonder: How the heck did I get here?

As though it weren’t necessarily a series of steps, a string of choices, but rather a falling-into the life you seem to be living.

As though you have had no agency at all and have merely shown up to the party, hoping to get some free chips and maybe a half-decent conversation.

And it doesn’t seem to matter how many good things are in your life, how many moments are beautiful or poignant or meaningful, because still you wonder what if?

I try so hard not to live in a dream world, but that is exactly what I do. I’ve created so many different plot lines to this one little life that they’re hard to keep track of. As each experience, each door (whether opened or closed) occurs, I watch a plot line drop off like an untethered dory, drifting further and further away but somehow, no less dear.

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Like the time I thought I would be a big-shot editor at a publishing house in Boston.

Or the time I thought I would marry a boy down the street (whom I never met but hoped to, someday) and we would buy a house in my hometown and walk the kids to school every day.

Or the time I thought I would teach English in South America, discovering another culture all on my own and overcoming my fear of living far away.

Or the time I was sure I was supposed to move to Europe, maybe get my Master’s in Christianity and the Arts (this one’s still tantalizing, I have to admit), and get some challenging and amazing job that combined everything I loved into some sort of mythical dream.

Or the time I would get paid to write, and somehow the ideas would flow endlessly from me. It was always effortless, as though I were a pool of creativity, knowledge, and wisdom.

Or the time I would teach voice lessons from the comfort of my home, making music with friends, performing in operas and living the life of an artist.

Or, if we go way back, the time when I thought I’d live on a farm with no electricity (yes, no electricity. or running water.).

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The first winter I was out of college, I discovered the Swedish poet, Tomas Transtromer. Winner of the Nobel Prize in 2011, he’s what I would call a winter poet: a little narrative, a touch of melancholy, along the lines of Seamus Heaney. The poem that made me buy the book was “The Blue House”, and some wouldn’t even call it a poem. Prose poem is the term, I suppose, since he doesn’t use line breaks, but it does the work.

It wasn’t until the last paragraph that I began to understand what was happening, what the point was of all this description of some imagined house. On and on he goes about joy and death, painting a house without brushes, a child who “too early abandoned the task of being a child.” It wasn’t until the last paragraph that I realized what Transtromer was really experiencing:

Both joy and sorrow swell in the magnifying glass of the dew. We don’t really know it, but we sense it: there is a sister ship to our life which takes a totally different route. While the sun burns behind the islands.

And there it was, the way I have felt my entire life – all the what-ifs and maybes and if-onlys rolled up into one simple sentence. There is a sister ship to our life which takes a totally different route. You can stand on the deck of your life’s ship and watch as the life you could have led sails away, perhaps less real but all the more provocative.

This path we take (or find ourselves on) is a string of choices. It’s also a matter of opportunities and missed opportunities. It’s luck and blessing and shoot that’s terrible. It’s the real-life route while we still sometimes cling to the ghosts of those other ships.

How many are there?

For me, quite a few, of varying possibility and varying audacity.

The ship I’m on is beautiful and challenging and surprising. But those ghost ships can stay even more magical and enticing for the very fact that they’re unknowable, beckoning to me from the horizon.

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What Breaks Your Heart

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[In honor of National Poetry Month, I’ll be writing about specific poems and the moments they’ve created in my life.]

“This just doesn’t make sense to me,” she said from across the classroom. “I mean, has anyone really ever felt this way?”

It was the worst possible semester to say something like that, and I was probably the worst possible person to say it in front of. It was poetry that prompted it, a poem that – while perhaps heavy-handed – certainly deserved more than just a passing thought.

Funeral Blues

I
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

~ W. H. Auden

Many things had compounded in my life to make me a good reader of mournful poetry. My boyfriend and I had just broken up, and while I wasn’t in this exact state of mourning, I did recognize the echoes of helplessness. It was fall, and despite my love of red leaves and the smell of the fireplace, I was entering my annual melancholy period. It was my senior year of college, and all that lay ahead was frightening and unknown, and I mourned for my soon-to-be-ended college experience.

So I sat across from this girl and my mouth dropped open and words flew out and I leaned over the table in my earnestness.

Have you seriously never felt this way?

You’ve never felt like things were irredeemable?

You’ve never felt darkness more than you felt light?

And I knew the class was staring at me because this was an outburst and I should have been embarrassed. Instead, I felt good. I felt heard. I felt like I had spoken for so many people who’ve lost someone they loved. I’d spoken for people who entered darkness – even for a short period – and for a moment forgot what it meant to have hope.

I don’t remember what she said. I don’t remember how the professor brought the class back together and steered the conversation down a tamer road (because the classroom is not the place to really delve deeply into things). Later that evening, though, I had an email from a fellow student. We had only chatted a few times, but she’d written me a message. She thanked me for speaking up, and she said sometimes people just don’t understand experiences outside their own.

Obviously.

So why is it so painful when I’m not understood? Why do I care if someone has never felt despair? Isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t that something I should rejoice over?

It’s not that I want them to have a broken heart. It’s that I can’t stand my experiences or my feelings being disregarded as “unbelievable.” Because that’s what she was saying, even though she didn’t mean to. Has anyone really ever felt this way? is another way of saying, I don’t believe this.

I reread this poem sometimes when I begin to forget the hurting and scared young woman I was. I’ve sent it to friends who were going through surprising and uncontrollable things.

It doesn’t take just a breakup to break your heart.

And yes, as I read it now, I sense more the dramatic, the delusional self. I can see how it is perhaps a poem for an emotionally-wrought college student than a well-seasoned adult who has realized that no, the world does indeed go on.

I just don’t want to disregard the person who hasn’t yet realized this.

I wonder where that girl is now. I wonder if she’s come across Auden’s poem since that day in college. I wonder if she read it any differently, if maybe the clocks stopped for just a moment.