“I love wearing sunglasses,” my mother would say, flipping a large brown pair of shades on. “I feel so invisible!”

When I was little, I didn’t know what she meant. How did covering her eyes make her feel invisible? But even more importantly, why was that a good thing?

__       __       __


I’m sitting in the middle of a seminar on using ancient writings in our own work. My friend, Kate, and I are intrigued by the premise, but neither of us is so sure it applies to what we write. Regardless, the dark-haired, dark-skinned man with the beautiful British accent has us listening attentively to his quiet words. He uses terms I don’t understand, he tries to get us to respond creatively to an upsetting image of a man sitting atop a wreckage that was presumably once his home, and suddenly I am feeling a little anxious. The words I’m choosing to describe the image are not strong. I don’t know Sanskrit or Middle English, or apparently English, as I have to cross-out and write again.

I have so many questions for this man, like how do we use beautiful, interesting words but not sound like intellectual pricks? or, how has this practice informed your own work?, but I am silenced by a young woman in the back. She is perhaps a few years younger than me (or older — at this point, I have no concept of age), and her hand is popping up every few minutes. She is clearly well-educated and articulate (two things we should value), but I bristle against her neediness. I have compassion for her neediness, but I do not want to be associated with it. Her neediness represents my own deep desire to be acknowledged by this writer-thinker man, and now it will never happen.

At the end of the seminar, he leans back in his chair and says he welcomes any questions. Kate and I get up to leave. The young woman from the back hurries forward, eager with even more thoughtful questions, comments. I hear her proclaim herself a Classicist, and I realize why I feel so uncomfortable: this jostling for teacher approval reminds me too much of college, of the constant push and shove of attention-needers and attention-givers. I had chosen not to participate then, and as I leave the tiny room with the loud fan and the thoughtful seminar-goers, my questions and ideas still locked up inside me, I wonder if I missed out, both then and now.

__       __       __

Saturday, I drove to our day-long choir rehearsal with the top down, a green Red Sox baseball cap on, and a pair of sunglasses. Suddenly, I knew what my mother was talking about. Invisibility, when undesired, can cause pain. Feeling unseen or unknown can pop up eight years later at a writers’ conference in an embarrassing and surprising way.

And yet, invisibility sought is power.

The ability to see but not be seen, to observe unobserved. After all, isn’t that what being a writer is all about? How could one observe the world from a stage? Or the same with artists: the artist observes the subject, not the other way around. As I drove in my unintended disguise along the highway, down the winding streets to rehearsal, I felt as though I saw everything but no one knew what I looked like. I was invisible, it was chosen, and it felt good.

It is strange to me that this same feeling can be so debilitating if not desired. In some ways, I think I imagined myself unnoticed in college, and from there, it became the case. Like I tell my students when they sigh, “No one likes me!”, there is no better way to make sure that is true than to think it. I see them separate themselves at lunch, hide away in their phones or their books, and the self-fulfilling prophecy unfolds before my eyes.

If you behave like no one likes you, no one will.

If you leave a seminar with your questions still bubbling up inside you, no one will be able to engage them.

Maybe your invisibility, then, is always a choice — sometimes desired, sometimes not, but always chosen.

10 Things I Feared in College


Okay, so some of these are legitimate (see numbers 7, 9, and 10). Most of them, however, belong in the slightly neurotic category. Read on and see if you can relate.

1. I only have four years and they’re supposed to be the best years of my life. I better get crackin’.
This one stressed me out beyond belief. I heard it from so many sides: “Oh my gosh, Catherine, college is amazing! Live it up! Go sky-diving and cliff-jumping, do a thousand missions trips and make 10,000 friends and REMEMBER EVERY MINUTE!” I heard all this, and then I got there…and it took work. I wasn’t cut out for college at first. I was curmudgeonly and set in my ways and annoying. I had to have my world rocked, and once I did, I was so much more open to the experience. It stressed me out, all the pressure I felt to make these four years phenomenal. But when I let go and just lived? They became pretty great.

The best years?

Probably not. But definitely wonderful.

Late-Night Swim 1[A little night-swimming does a body good.]

2. Is there a practice room open? Can I count humming as practice time? Listening? Audiating? ANYTHING.
As any music major will tell you, practice rooms are a prized commodity. At least when you want one. My favorite was the last one down the hall on the right, the one with the grand piano and huge window overlooking the quad. I liked it because I could get easily distracted by watching people pass by; I learned a pretty decent amount about my classmates through that window. I spent a lot of time trying to practice but feeling a mental block. I also spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I could count as practice hours (six hours a week per instrument is a lot, but apparently not enough to make me awesome…).

Me and Will

3. Am I gonna have to park in Woodland?!?!
Now this one is a near and dear worry for all my fellow college mates. There was no worse exile than having to park in Woodland. It felt like miles and miles away from campus, when in reality it was a hop-skip-and-a-jump and really, the walk did us good. But I remember circling and circling, just waiting for that prime spot. I especially hated parking there at night, walking alone along the road, wondering if anyone would hear me scream.

4. Do you think anyone noticed I wore yoga pants to Lane? Again?
I am ashamed (or not ashamed?) to say that I was a repeat offender in this area. Lane was our cafeteria, and I’d sneak into the food line, hoping no one realized I had terrible style.  I used to blame it on going to the gym and not having time to change (“I’m just sooooo busyyyyyy!”), but really it all came down to the fact that I hate changing my clothes. Hate it. It’s such a waste of time. Also, I really hate feeling restricted. I’d wear comfy yoga pants every day if I could.

Winter Ball1

[Winter Ball. Who needs a date when you’ve got so many hotties?]

5. Do I have time to run from Jenks to Claymore and back again before my next class?
As a double major (and like most college students, double major or not), I was always trying to squeeze as much into as little time as possible. You’d be shocked how much you could fit into a ten minute passing period, and I did my fair share of coffee-snarfing from Claymore. I always felt triumphant when I swooped into class – cup in hand, cheeks a little flushed – and sank into my chair, ready to have intelligent, academic discourse with the help of caffeine.


[I graduated the same year our president retired. Talk about leaving on a high note.]

6. If I workout for half an hour on the elliptical, does that negate the chicken fingers and fries I ate at late night?
Late night was the bane and blessing of the freshman girl’s existence. I can’t even tell you how many nights we sat around the dorm, looked at each other, and just got up silently to walk to Lane and stuff our faces with whatever fried option we felt like consuming at the time. There’s something about a floor full of girls and 10:30PM that just demands greasy food.

The half hour on the elliptical? Didn’t quite cut it, but it’s all about perception, isn’t it?

229782_10150230247505972_577485971_8459310_1237818_n[Four generations at my senior recital.]

7. What the heck are student loans and how do I avoid paying them back?
UUUUGGGGHHHH. Figured this one out. And no, there is no way to avoid paying them back. Enjoy the next fifteen years.


[I learned how to sacrifice attractiveness for a laugh.]

8. When I graduate, will anyone even remember I existed?
This one really bothered me. Maybe I’m just more self-centered than most. It seemed crazy to me that I was putting so much love and effort and energy into a place that wouldn’t even remember my name in a year. So what if I rocked my senior recital? So what if I had a radio show (that no one listened to) where we talked about art and poetry and faith? So what if I was editor of the lit journal. NO ONE CARES. Someone else will just take my place and change everything and where will I be? Slogging away at some 9-5 trying to make those student loan bills…


senior formal

[There’s something about senior formal. Makes you dance your little heart out.]

9. The business majors always act like they know what they’re doing…maybe I should marry one.
This one? Probably true. I should’ve put a little more effort into this.

IMG_0313[Best day of my life, thus far.]

Also, definitely a legitimate fear. I do not have complete control of my body. I rarely walk around without bumping into things, and the President looked so far away, smiling his toothy smile, holding that bizarrely-empty diploma cover. I tentatively walked by (I had wisely chosen flats on this day-of-all-days), grinned when I finally reached him, shook his hand steadily, and walked off the stage.

Crisis averted, empty diploma case in-hand.

Ten things I no longer need to fear.




Dating in College?!


“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.


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.


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]

A Midwestern Wedding

I am a selfish woman.

I like to have most of what I want, and I like to have it now.

~     ~     ~

The few days after a wedding, there aren’t many things I can think about except that wedding. I tell people all about the dresses and the music and the food, and I wish in a little part of me that I could live it again.

My Good Things was postponed because I was making my way back from Columbus, Ohio. Another friend got married and one day turned into a weekend and a 13-hour-each-way drive and a reunion.

[It was when she raised her eyebrows at me, smiling, that I caught a glimpse of the real her. We were in the second row – a whole line of college friends – but it wasn’t until I saw those upturned eyebrows and grin that I thought, There she is.]

~     ~     ~

I worry that I will be forgotten. I live day to day, doing my thing in this small town, and I wonder how long it will take for these friends to forget. How many earnest conversations on dorm room beds does it take to be remembered? How many secrets whispered (or giggled) does it take to burn me into someone’s memory? How many coffees, rides in the bug, walks on the beach, trips to the city, or tears that both embarrass me and liberate me does it take to leave a print?

That is the selfishness I’m talking about. I watched my beautiful friend in all her honest joy, and I felt a tug of sadness.

I am no longer part of this.

I do not run into her in the hall, running down the hill, rushing to class, singing goofy songs in my too-small apartment.

I know her great worth, but I do not get to have that shine on me like I used to.

It was an honor to be invited, to witness their vows and their love in a way that living across the world doesn’t allow me to.

It was an honor – and a good time to remember that we can love deeply over great distances.

Just because we don’t share our days anymore doesn’t make the ones we did share any less real.

[I wrote a poem about her my senior year. About how she ate almonds while she talked in English class, how her rings flashed when she talked. I wrote about her, I think, because I knew our friendship was going to change, and I had no control and that had to be okay with me.]

~     ~     ~

They broke the bread and drank the cup, he pronounced them husband and wife (to which she yelled, “Yes!”), and they danced and shimmied around in a circle. We sent them off with sky lanterns and laughter and a tinge of sadness because Italy is far away.

It isn’t about whether or not I am part of it. It is about the fact that it is, and it is beautiful.

[On Going Back]

We all say the same thing: It’s a flash

and slug.


You can’t wrap up time in a pink box

and raise it high in definition. You can’t seal

an envelope with a slow, deliberate lick –

explain the work and love, hate and despair

of four years.


What do you say to two shining faces

that’s honest, loving, real?


Sometimes, I would forsake all the settledness

I’ve uncovered in these two stretched years

for one day surrounded by the me and yous

of that place.


Ponds are dark even when they’re shallow.

The paths around them hold every word

whispered, shouted, proclaimed

until you wonder if the very gravel

has ears.


So I tell them: Sometimes, I would forsake

all the settledness I’ve uncovered.


Mostly, though, I look with gentleness

at those long-tough times, and I praise God

for not giving me the choice.


And two years later…

I got up a little early this morning. No reason, just the birds woke me up through the open window.

The water’s on for coffee, and I’m thinking about the weekend. Not for the usual reasons, but for the Big Ones:

My little brother and sister are graduating from college.

I was shocked by my own graduation two Mays ago, but this one. This one’s even more surprising.

I have no problem with me growing and changing and maturing. But my brothers and sister? No, can’t you just stay where you are? Can’t you keep going to school and thinking about classes?

Time doesn’t stop for other people, either.

My cousin and I were talking about what to wear, and I said, “Well, it better be cute, cause these pictures go down in history.” Our family has scads of graduation photos, all six of us cousins lined up, showing support and 20+ years of camaraderie. It started with me, and a year later my cousin, and now the twins.

It’s even stranger to hear my parents say it feels like yesterday they were in college.

What’s the deal?

I thought if I were slow and really looked at things – the sun in the plum tree, the honeybees gathering yellow pollen on their legs – that time wouldn’t seem so fast.

But even that doesn’t stop it.

Here’s to the beginning of a crazy busy weekend. Here’s to celebrating hard work, the end of an era, and the christening of a new one.

IMG_0313[This was seriously one of the best days of my life. I know it’s weird, but it’s true. My sister says I can post pictures of their graduation, so be on the look-out.]

{Notes from Salzburg}

Barnes and Noble is my hangout. My jam. My Place To Be. While enjoying a dirty chai {yes, I enjoy placing that order}, I remembered an old blog post I wrote when I was studying in Austria. Only my family and maybe two of my friends ever read it – my mom was just glad I wasn’t dead, I think. Anyway, here’s one of my favorites. Susie, this one’s for you.

{Big Bugs}

One of the most interesting parts of this cross-cultural experience has been the realization that, while things are very different, they are also very much the same. People are people. Deep. But seriously, there are families here who live like we do at home.

There are young adults who are full of life and excited about the future. There are lonely old men who sit at Cafe Tomaselli and drink coffee, watching the young people who are full of life.

Things are are a lot like they are at home. Including the fact that huge hornets fly into bedrooms and scare silly girls into screaming.

Last night, Susanna and I stayed up late talking and laughing. It was after midnight, and there’s such a thing as “quiet hours” in Salzburg (that’s right, college students, they exist in the real world apart from finals time…), so we closed all our doors but forgot to close the windows. We were talking about girly things and making each other giggle, when suddenly the largest bug I’ve ever seen buzzed into our room, hitting the ceiling and making Susie jump down from the bunk bed and huddle next to me on the floor. I try not to swear, but I’m telling you, this thing could sting the life right out of me, and we both couldn’t contain ourselves. I’m not even scared of bugs, usually, but what can you do?

Austrian bugs are flippin’ huge.

So I climbed up on to the top bunk and tried to swat it with one of our towels. I hit it, but what’s a swat to a mutant stinging insect? It buzzed right at my face, and I screamed. I was pretty embarrassed that a bug made me scream, but Susie said with determination: “Alright, it’s time to wake the boys.”

Now I am not one for running to a male in a time like this – what can a boy do that I can’t? If it’s gonna sting me, it’s gonna sting him – but I didn’t know what else to do. We weighed our options: Tom wouldn’t wake up, he’s like a log. Jon would wake up, but probably be pretty angry at us and never let us forget it. We decided on Andrew, the outdoorsman, the boy who likes to save people.

Susie knocked on his door, but he wasn’t in there (immediately after our frantic knock, his roommate replied, “Andrew’s not in here. Don’t come in.”). I went back to our room while Susanna went to find Andrew, and I’d had enough. Liz, our friend from the Finland, said, “No one has ever seen a bug that big! I want to make a picture!” And instead of helping me, proceeded to take pictures of the huge deadly bug.

I grabbed the towel again and stealthily tested the hornet’s reaction to my approach. It was preoccupied with preening, so I set in, a fast and furious attack with the towel. I pounded the towel against the wall, trying to squeeze the life out of it, but when I checked the clump, I saw it still moving! So I smooshed the towel into a ball and punched and punched it. By this time, Susie was back with Andrew, David, and Liz, and I looked like a fool punching a towel. I opened it again and IT STILL WASN’T DEAD. This thing was resilient. Andrew took the towel and threw the hornet outside, where it lives on to attack us in our sleep.

So somethings are the same, and somethings are different.

Bugs fly inside and scare girls, but they are a heck of a lot bigger.