Category Archives: ponderings on womanhood

Adventure

Adventure is a loaded word. I hear it tossed around by high school students who long for an absence of parents and a presence of new. I hear it dreamed about by people my age, seeking change, purpose. I hear it whispering in my own mind: Find an adventure before you get stuck.

The adjectival form of adventure is adventurous, and there are two definitions:

1. inclined or willing to engage in adventures.

2. full of risk; requiring courage; hazardous.

Of course, we’d prefer the former rather than the latter; to be considered one who were “hazardous” would hardly lend itself to warm feelings of comfort or trust.

But to be thought of as “willing to engage in adventures”? This may be the tallest idol of modern humanity.

~     ~     ~

I spent hours writing the script to “Little House in the Big Woods,” the first play I ever wrote. I learned to type on my family’s first computer — a huge Gateway that arrived in multiple boxes with black and white splotches like a Holstein cow that were so large my little brother used them to build forts  — and I agonized over every detail. What would Laura have actually said? What was that thing called they used to make butter again?

I agonized because I was obsessed. I dreamed of the prairie with its sea of gold and the endless sky, the idea of which both scared me and filled me with a deep tingle of excitement. Because I was only seven and too young to embark on a journey cross country on my own, I collected books. Every birthday, every Christmas, I would ask for the next book in the “Little House” series, hoping somehow to absorb Laura’s gumption, Mary’s kindness, and Pa’s fearlessness.

Instead of traipsing across Kansas, I learned to knit socks and sew dresses.

Instead of going to school in a one-room schoolhouse, I canned tomatoes and made a terrible ginger/brown sugar/vinegar drink.

Instead of breaking through the ice of the water bucket every morning to wash my face, I raised a flock of chickens and planted an herb garden outside our kitchen window.

I never did see the prairie, but I can make a mean cabled sweater.

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Sometimes, when people try to describe you, they find a word that, on the surface, might be benign, but when applied with just the right pressure makes you feel worthless.

You’re just not adventurous enough.

No one had ever said that to me before, and I shot back with all the reasons I was, indeed, adventurous:

  1. I studied abroad!
  2. I took a job I never expected to take, I put my heart and soul into it, and I’m good at it!
  3. I got my master’s while I worked, juggling both with slightly less agility than a hippopotamus!
  4. I routinely took a risk to trust others and love them, to fight back my fear of being open!

And as I said these things, the biggest one was this:

5. I stayed home. (This one did not seem to have the exclamation point.)

Because here was the crux of the issue: while so many had moved to Italy or California or D.C., I had moved home.

My risk was trusting that this new and un-sought-for path was the right one.

My risk was trusting that the work that needed to be done in me could be done from the comfort (and challenge) of living with my own parents.

My risk was hoping someone would love me and see me for the adventurous young woman I am.

~     ~     ~

As I enjoy the days of summer with all the planning for fall they bring, I have already become more contemplative. I’m awaiting (or moving toward? or eagerly looking forward to? or unbelievably scared of and excited for?) marriage to a man whose very calmness is shocking to me. He does not worry about being adventurousinstead, he sees all of life as something to challenge and grow and shape him.

I’m entering into a family that embraces forms of newness and oldness and all that’s in-between. I have a lot to learn about what it means to be one of them, and they have things to learn about me. So far, we’ve done so over a shared love of Mary Oliver, the ocean, God, and music.

Marriage is no more an adventure than singleness.

Working through life with your blood family is no less of an adventure than gaining a new family, and crossing the prairie in a covered wagon is no more of an adventure than staying home and breaking your back to make this life work.

You can cross the world with a trembling soul.

You can climb a mountain just to prove someone wrong.

You can drop everything and start over, but instead of running towards something, find that you’re just running away.

But you can also stay with the familiar out of fear, and that’s no better.

It isn’t what you do that makes you adventurous, it’s the spirit with which you live every moment.

[Photo #2 credit: Gabriel Knell]

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Change is Good

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Diana walks slowly across the grass, her hand brushing the porch post as she passes. She settles herself into the Adirondack chair and places the bowl of yogurt and granola in her lap. My friend looks six months pregnant, but no, she assures me, she’s due in January. I look at her belly again. Really? Five more months? The thought crosses my mind — twins — but I don’t say anything. What do I know about pregnancy?

We became friends studying music in college, she a mezzo-soprano and I a soprano. I remember meeting her in Music Theory I and how her bubble bangs curled over her wire-rimmed glasses. Neither of us was quite ready for college, but we entered the practice rooms with conviction: we would learn how to sing if it killed us. It’s only since graduation that we’ve become close, writing letters back and forth. I enjoy the way letters force me to slow down, take note. It was one of these letters on pale green paper that told me Diana was expecting and asked me to visit before fall came.

It’s my first visit to Deer Isle in the summer, and it isn’t hard to see why Diana came home. Eating breakfast in front of the ocean, I see two small islands covered in pine trees across the way, a working lobster pound to my left. In the field is an American flag flapping, and beneath it, we sit in two yellow Adirondack chairs. Kiska, their American Eskimo puppy, dashes across the grass flashing her long white fur. She gets too excited, barking and jumping despite Diana’s admonitions.

It’s my last hurrah of the summer. I go back to teaching in a week, and I drove the nearly five hours to Deer Isle with the hopes of rest and sunshine. I didn’t know till I got there that they actually live on Sunshine, a small section of Deer Isle proper.

“Like a borough,” I say. “So you’re Manhattan.”

She laughs.

“Yeah, we’re Manhattan.”

It’s a Manhattan complete with one coffee shop, one year-round restaurant, and two or three seasonal eateries that may or may not be open when they say they’ll be. The coffee is delicious, and I think as I sip: Maybe I could actually live here if there’s good coffee.

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I’ve come for rest and sunshine and Diana’s voice recital. Four years ago we gave our respective senior recitals, and now, on a Sunday afternoon in August, Diana stands in front of a small group of people with her four-month-belly and a black floor-length dress. She’s shed the wire-rimmed glasses and grown out the bubble-bangs. I know the work it takes to learn this music and the nervousness Diana must have felt this morning. I know that a tiny part of her just wants this all to be over. She takes a deep breath. Her belly moves out as she inhales and then, as she begins the first notes of Ned Rorem’s “Absalom,” her belly tightens beneath her skirt.

I am aware of every movement, of the muscle strength it takes to breathe and support. Her voice fills the white room, and immediately I see how much she has grown. Not just her voice, not just her musicality. Her face. Her body. Her ease. Diana wasn’t the only stiff performer in college; we all moved with inhibition and a fear of risk. We struggled with too much pride and easily wounded egos. I remember how hard it was to change my focal point, just to lift my eyes from the exit sign at the back of the room up to the right where the sunshine was supposed to be. But here she is, this beautifully strong musician who moves with grace. The piece isn’t happy: her mezzo-soprano voice bemoans Absalom’s betrayal of his father, King David. For a moment, I am David weeping in the high chamber: my child and my betrayer.

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Diana ends the final note with an emphatic sadness. She is David for a second longer. Then she is Diana again, snapped back to the small hot room with her belly that may or may not contain twins. She sings through the program, taking on each character and making me forget I’m just an audience member sitting in a hard pew. We clap her back onstage and her encore — “Summertime”  — is a show-stopper. Later, the audience lines up to greet her. Too many people comment on the size of her belly, the possibility of twins. She laughs and says something like, “Yes, I’m getting a little scared,” but she doesn’t seem scared, with her dark hair perfectly smoothed back and her diamond necklace and earrings.

She doesn’t seem scared of this baby or spending her entire life on an island of three thousand people. She looks at her lobsterman husband with a gentle kindness. There’s a power in her, a new ease. Maybe a good word for this new Diana is calm; she moves slowly but with thoughtfulness I envy. I read once that “rushing is the sign of an amateur,” and I know this is me, always frantic to do that next thing, accomplish that goal, fill that hole in me or my life. I feel this no more strongly than right now, in this place of steadiness and home-grown families. I wonder what it takes to grow from rushing to rest, and why it takes some longer than others to settle into rhythms.

~     ~     ~

On my drive home to Massachusetts, I think about my next visit to the island. There will probably be a baby — maybe two — and our conversations will not be about pregnancy but sleeping habits and resemblance and how to teach voice lessons with an infant. I will probably knit a tiny sweater that will only fit Diana’s child for a few months, and she’ll marvel because she can never believe I find time to do things like that. She doesn’t understand that picking out blue and white yarn for a sweater with whales on it is how I participate in the changes. I might not be in the same place she finds herself, but I can sit on my couch in the fall and knit something that will keep her baby warm. I like to think I’ll be learning the habit of contentment as I slip stitches from one needle to the next.

The Commencement Address I Didn’t Give

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Today as I sat at my students’ high school graduation, I thought: I hope I never have to give a commencement address.

It doesn’t matter how engaging the speaker, how moving his or her message. Really, what we want to see is that student’s name called, watch her walk across the stage, get the diploma, move her tassel to the left, and throw her cap in the air.

We want to witness that smile that can’t be stopped because the work is done. Finally.

Only so much wisdom can be digested in moments of anticipation.

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This was the fifth graduation I’ve been a part of – whether as a student or as a faculty member – and I remembered my own high school graduation. Eight years ago.

I remember singing a song that was entirely inappropriate for a graduation because I’d been asked to sing and I didn’t have a lot of repertoire.

No one wants to hear “Pur di cesti, o bocca bella” when their children receive their diplomas.

And I have yet to see a flattering mid-singing photograph.

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I remember the strangest things about that day. I remember being so happy, driving my bug with the top down. I remember crunching a row of baby turtles on my way to school and crying because I couldn’t believe I’d been so careless.

I remember hardly believing high school was over and I remember being terrified of what September would bring.

I remember eating a celebratory lunch at Striper’s restaurant and overlooking the river.

But mostly, I remember feeling very grown up.

~     ~     ~

I don’t think I will ever be asked to give a commencement address. I’m more of the pep-talk teacher, the one who encourages in one-on-one conversations.

But if I did give one?

If I did try in ten minutes to bestow some sort of wisdom on young minds which couldn’t bear to handle one more ounce of wisdom?

I’d probably say the following:

Chill out. Please.

I know you think you are grown up. And you are, sort of. But not really. And by the way, I haven’t met many people who feel it and are.

I know you feel sexy in those five-inch heels, but trust me, you look far more elegant in flats and confidence.

People tell you “don’t have any regrets.” I tried that – I tried living in a place of denial, in a place that said, “I did everything right and I wouldn’t change a moment.” This place does not really exist. You will have regrets. It’s about what you do with that regret that matters.

You are full of ideas and dreams and expectations. (I still am – I hope I always am.) But wait. You might study music and never sing at the MET. You might get your dream job and loathe your existence. It might end up that college isn’t the road you should take. Don’t be embarrassed that you were wrong. Embrace the second chance.

Do not be surprised when you learn the same lesson twice. Or three times. Do not think you are dumb or naive. Sometimes it takes more than one experience to hammer in a new idea, a fresh lesson in growth. Let yourself be imperfect, but don’t let yourself stay exactly the same imperfect.

And this one might be the most important:

Choose without knowing the future. Take action without waiting for lightning. Make the best possible decision with the knowledge you have, and when you look back, give yourself grace. Do not chastise your past self for making the best possible choice with limited sight. This will paralyze you.

~     ~     ~

In May of 2016, I will walk across the stage and receive my Master’s diploma. There will be a commencement address. I will try to listen. I will strain forward or sit back with the ease of taking it in.

But my mind will be filled with life – my past, my future – and most likely, I will be feeling exactly the way my seniors did today: excited, a little afraid, but mostly hopeful.

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2015 Revelations Thus Far

DSC_0104 2I was sitting in a coffee shop (the one I frequented every Thursday last winter). I held a baby that was not mine; her eyes were wide and she was rocking her all-encompassing winter zip-up with hoody.

I just kept looking at her and I couldn’t figure out what to do first. I wanted to talk to her mother because I hadn’t seen her in months. It was one of those surprise encounters in public when you embrace too tightly and everyone rolls their eyes. You just have to swallow your pride in moments like that.

I wanted to talk to her mother, but I also wanted to take it all in – this six-month-old person who had changed in innumerable ways since I’d last seen her three-day-old self. It still shocks me how change slows to such tortoise-like steps as we get older.

So there were two things I wanted to do and not really enough time to do either of them.

I left sadly because my grad class was calling and even the allure of beautiful babies doesn’t count as an excuse for skipping.

~     ~     ~

Now it’s last Tuesday and I’m back at the same coffee shop. Picture this: I’ve walked in, ready to order a delicious steamy beverage and perhaps read a good book (most likely catch up on the current state of demise my world finds itself in). I go to order. The barista – the same man who took my order all last year – smiles at me and asks,

“How’ve you been? How’s the baby?”

I look quizzically at first.

“I’m sorry, what?” I say.

And because he has a thick accent, he thinks I have not understood his actual words.

“How. Is. The. Baby?” he asks again.

Suddenly I realize the confusion and begin to stammer.

“Oh, no, no! She wasn’t mine – she was my friend’s! And, I mean, she’s doing very well!”

He smiles again and takes my money and I can’t understand why I feel so uncomfortable.

How could you think I had a baby?!

Oh, wait.

And I realize in that week following my 26th birthday, that it would not be at all outrageous for me to be a mother.

It would not shock the social structures.

Heck, if I were my own mother, I’d be healthily on the way to three children by now.

My friend, the baby’s mother, is indeed younger than I am.

Just another fact that took too long for me to reckon with.

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A friend shared this poem the other day. I read it over and over. Not many poems command my attention like this one did. There is a lot to wrestle in it, a lot to parse out into “agree” and “disagree” (although aren’t there so many better ways to read poetry than that?).

I read this poem and I wanted to embody this being-ness. This okayness with the being I am. My finiteness. Just as God brings people into our lives to sharpen us (in sometimes painful ways), He also seems to bring poetry into mine. I do not think everyone needs to like poetry the way that I do, not at all. But I wonder what is that thing God uses to condense life down for them into the worthwhile.

Let the Joyful Speak
by John Holmes

If you were born calm, then keep on calmly,
Every room you come into, come in slowly with a smile,
Calmly. L i n g e r. Speak of the others who will be there
Next time, or in a little while…

…Be old if you are old, your age your own.
If you are tired in the world, or lost, or cold,
HOWL til you are found and warm and fed
Or dead. A man said,

Live life near the bone.

If you were born full of joy, if you love walking,
If you talk midnight down and bring in the dawn with music,
Branching day by day in the love of good companions,
Then go so.

If you breathe your own house, hear your books,
Wear time like the sun’s brown on the back of your own hand,
If you think alone like the wind across your age,
Or see your country from ten thousand feet up in summer air,
Then go so. Be your joy.

[Only a snippet and formatting is my own.]

~     ~     ~

2015 dawns cold and bright. A new semester, a new age, and all that comes with it. Sometimes I would rather up and run to Salzburg where I felt the freedom of graduation and untetheredness. It’s hard not to romanticize such a romantic time, such a beautiful place.

And then I remember that staying put can bring growth, too. That relationships are worth cultivating. That students are worth supporting. That change doesn’t always mean better. I remember that 26 isn’t too young to be married or have a baby and that I am, indeed, getting older, but that doesn’t mean I’m on the “wrong” trajectory, either.

Be your joy.

Wherever you are.

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Who Am I?

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We play this game in class with the last few minutes on Fridays. I call it “Who Am I?” but really it’s just “20 Questions,” and only sometimes do I make them choose Greek and Roman mythological characters. One student leaves the room while the rest of us decide which person he or she is.

They love making boys goddesses and girls gods.

And so we’ll choose a character and call the exile in. He or she will commence asking yes-or-no questions until eventually it becomes clear who he or she is supposed to embody.

The thing I keep noticing is this response from the rest of the students.

Let’s say it’s a girl, and she only knows that she’s from mythology, she’s male, and she’s not a god. Her next question might be:

“Did I defeat a lion?”

Every time, the rest of the class guffaws in disbelief.

How could you ask that question?

OBVIOUSLY NOT.

Oh my gosh…!

I didn’t quite understand what was happening until this week.

While one student stands ignorant in front of her classmates, the rest of them can only function with their knowledge. They’ve forgotten (in the span of about .65 minutes) that not everyone has the same information they have. This student asks “Did I defeat a lion?” with less knowledge than they have, but with enough to wonder, hmmmm…maybe I’m Hercules…

Student: “Did I get punished by the gods?”

Chorus: “HAHAHAHA!”

Student: “Did I become an animal?”

Chorus: “WHAT?!”

After a few rounds of this teeheeing and finger-pointing, finally I stood up.

“Listen, guys,” I said, “you have to remember that she doesn’t know what you know. Her questions make complete sense because she doesn’t know already that she’s Theseus. The question only sounds crazy to you because you already know.”

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I have this vision of something big and grand that would open high schooler’s eyes to the great wonderful world. I have this idea that our faith is too small, too cultural, and that to get these kids out where Christianity looks different but transforms just the same is part of my job.

I look at my students, and I want to dump every ounce of experience and wisdom I’ve gained through trial and error into their beings so that they don’t have to do it themselves.

I wonder how parents do it. How do you watch these little half-yous-but-not-at-all-yous walk the earth and not suffocate them? How do you let them function in their ignorance? And it isn’t ignorance in the negative way, so much as it is a stage.

You can’t force experience.

RIght, you can’t, but what is experience if not created?

How do you not expect your children, your students, to be in the same place you are?

I am constantly reminding myself that I function at a different level than these young minds and souls I teach.

They don’t know who they are.

They walk into the room, and they don’t know who they are, so their questions, the way they interact, might seem strange to me, the one who has just a bit more knowledge.

The one who progressed smoothly (and not so smoothly) through the stages of growth to arrive at a non-arrival where things are still being worked-out.

Even people all the same age are not in the same place. Whether it be actually (some are married, some are single, some have children, some travel the world) or just internally (some feel confident, some love their jobs, some long for more, some have faith that pumps life), we are all spinning on different trajectories.

And that’s okay.

I will never have the calmness of my high school friend, who, when I asked her, “What do we have to look forward to?”, said:

“Well, I’m a pretty content person. So I don’t know what to say.”

That will never be me.

We’re spinning different stories, but we’re both playing our own games of “Who Am I?”.

[Random Thoughts on the First Week of School]

I think I would like teaching a whole lot more if I could wear yoga pants.

It would be easier to get up in the morning if:

1. I saw the sun.

2. I smelled coffee.

3. This jumped on my bed:

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Or this:puff

I still don’t like Starbucks pumpkin spice lattes. I keep trying every fall, but I just don’t.

Taking grad school classes reminds me what it’s like to be a student. And reminds me that most of my students probably didn’t do the reading.

Colored pens make grading a little more bearable.

My ivy plant survived the first weekend in the classroom. So far so good.

The last swim of the summer happened Saturday. The water swept me through the mouth of the river and a thunderstorm rolled in. We watched the lightning touch down, and I tried not to be too sad about the end of summer.

I finally got different colored expo markers.

My students keep asking me questions about dating.

[Walking the line between teacher/mentor/friend is TOUGH.]

I tried not to drink caffeinated coffee in the morning. I regretted it. So did my students.

I’m getting to the point where I know ahead of time what my students will struggle with. I say something: “So, this is dative of possession. You just have to switch the nominative subject to dative and the accusative direct object to nominative and habet to est. Got it?” No, they don’t got it, obviously, and a class period and a half later, we’re starting to make a little progress.

I go to sleep thinking about how to have a better class. I dream about answering grammar questions.

I leave small group early because I’m that old.

Year three is off to a good start. Still looking for a used couch so my room can feel more like an English classroom, so keep an eye out.

Here’s to fall and apples and cinnamon and hot tea.

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.

~     ~     ~

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.

Countdown to Today

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[All photos are from the Bachelorette/s. It’s called “Cath didn’t take a single picture at the bridal shower”. Also, the blur effect is all the rage.]

I can honestly say I was scared.

This is the first wedding I’ve ever been in, and the idea of throwing a bridal shower freaked me out.

I’m not organized enough!

I don’t know how to decorate!

I also am not too good at cooking/baking!

I also am not too good at sitting at four-hour-long parties!

LOGISTICS!!!

(Clearly there are a lot of things I’m not good at.)

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[I dared Beth to send a picture to Joel…of her removing her engagement ring before we hit the town. She did, but he didn’t freak out. It’s like he knows her or something.]

Thankfully, I wasn’t alone. The Matron of Honor, while in sunny California, delegated jobs to each of us. I was so grateful because without clear purpose, I’m like a chicken with my head cut off.

Or like me on caffeine.

The girls in charge of the food did a phenomenal job. I grew up with them, and if their family does one thing well, it’s throw rockin’ parties. I’ve never left their house hungry. There was strawberry-rhubarb pie, scones too numerous to count with homemade whipped cream, homemade chocolate fudge, finger sandwiches, cookies, specially-made cake, and tea (because it was, of course, a tea party).

(I stole the best idea from a bridal shower in April: the bridesmaids opened all the envelopes before passing them to the bride. I saved So Much Time and everyone thought I was a genius. I took the credit.)

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Best part of the day? Probably asking the bride questions that the groom had already answered…his sister and I (good friends from high school) got the biggest kick out of the answers (“What’s the best meal she’s ever made you?” “Ummm…tacos?!”), and it didn’t hurt that for every wrong answer, a piece of bubble gum was unceremoniously shoved into the bride’s mouth. It’s hard to stay dainty when you’re drooling.

All-in-all, I was very pleased. Even the mother-of-the-bride emailed us, thanking us for a wonderful shower.

I leaned over to S, my partner-in-decorating-crime, and whispered, “Now we know what to do for the next shower we throw together.”

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As the guests left, we bombarded them with homemade tea favors shipped up from dear friends in Arizona and

North Carolina. I slipped in honey sticks and everyone left saying, “See you in a few weeks!”

Realizing I can be a bonafide young woman who throws lady parties.

I don’t want to get too good at it, though, ’cause then y’all will be knocking on my door.

~     ~     ~

After bridal showers come bachelorettes. Not only did we have a fun night dancing (where I broke it down on the dance floor, drove through the city in a SUV taxi, and got everyone safely home by 12:30PM), but we also had a “grown-up bachelorette.” We ate dinner and then walked down to hear live jazz and eat dessert. I had foolishly worn a maxi dress in 90 degrees, and I was regretting it now, huffing and puffing down the sidewalk.

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[See the trumpet player in the background? He posed perfectly.]

I ate this delectable hazelnut gelato with homemade whipped cream.

That was just two days ago. A mani-pedi, panera date, rehearsal, and rehearsal dinner later, here we are on Friday, June 27th, 2014.

My college roomie, my gym buddy, my Starbucks friend, and my loyal recital partner, it’s your big day.

I said I didn’t think I’d cry, that I’d be brimming with smiles.

But the thing is, I’ll probably cry, because the way he looks at her – his eyes soft and his grin unstoppable –  is enough.

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[Just wait for pictures of the wedding. It’s gonna be a partaaay.]

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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Good Things #32: On Seeing Three-Dimensionally

IMG_1301 There aren’t many times when I feel misunderstood.

Let me clarify.

There aren’t many times when I stay feeling misunderstood.

There’s nothing worse than trying to explain how you feel/think/believe and having someone furrow their brow in confusion.

I try very hard to communicate well, and not just because I love words and sharing ideas. A lot of it has to do with sharing myself; what’s the point of communicating if you don’t do it clearly? And how can you convey your actual self if no one understands what the heck you’re saying?

I feel misunderstood, sometimes, when I speak too passionately, too quickly, and find myself overwhelming my listener. My family has mastered the art of discerning when to take me seriously and when to smile, pat my shoulder, and let me cool down a bit.  Come back to me later, Cath, when you’ve simmered down.

[They’re not always quite so kind, but they don’t rise to my bait as much as they used to…]

It’s not that I care less than I seem to when I’m spouting about a wrong-doing, a wrong-thinking, or what I perceive as wrong-whatevers.

It’s that it’s never the full picture.

I probably care as much as I seem to, but deep down there’s a logical side, too. The side that puts things in perspective, that reminds the other part of me that passion is important, but so is rational thinking, decision-making, and action. They don’t amount to much in isolation – they must be combined to mean anything.

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I wrote earlier about reading my old journals, sifting through page after page of angsty emotion, thought, and concern for the future. This made me a little sad about- and a little terrified at – the image I was projecting.

What will my children think if they ever get their little paws on those journals?

They’ll see only a slice of what it meant to be me growing up, wrestling with tough questions, trying to understand what it meant to be a creation of God but also being terribly insecure in that fact.

It’s kind of like first impressions, really, the one-sidedness of them. The way I decide in a moment if I will like someone, and even if that decision is based on entirely decent observations, I am forgetting the depth of that person. I am cheapening them to a cardboard cutout. I am closing the door to giving them the humanity I so very much desire for myself.

There are few things more frustrating than feeling like you’re misunderstood, like you’re only half-seen.

Don’t half-see people. Let’s both try.