Wednesday, November 30, 2011

classy as shit 2

Today, i was eating a LeanPocket for lunch. Yeah, i know. Back to LeanPockets. Anyway, i was standing outside and talking to a friend, and when i took a bite, a huge glob of cheesy chicken goodness fell out on my sweater.

I looked at my friend, looked at my sweater, and proceeded to eat the LeanPocket filling off of my cardigan.

classy as shit 1

Last night, i got home at 10:30 after a late class and a trip to CVS for a binder and hot chocolate mix. I knew i'd be up late with homework, and i was also starving, because i'd only eaten a small sandwich and a bowl of soup at 12:30 and had had nothing but M'N'Ms since.

The meal was lovely: steak, mashed potatoes, and sauteed asparagus. I had a California white wine to go with it.

But since i was already so tired, and would already have to wash so many dishes, i wanted to reduce my workload as much as possible.

So midnight saw me sitting at the kitchen table, writing lesson plans, and swigging wine straight from the bottle.

Monday, November 28, 2011

My Brother Was My Pimp

In my junior year of college, i was struggling. Tuition had been increased, and due to my parents' recent divorce, it was difficult to get help from them for loans. Lately, they had been arguing over who should be responsible for my school bills and who should be responsible for my brother's. Meanwhile, he and i were caught in the middle with threats from our schools of not being allowed to return in the spring. Not only was i scared of the humiliation of getting kicked out because i couldn't pay bills, i was also reluctant to put my education on hold. And i really, really, really, really, really, really, really didn't want to have to move back in with my mom.

Adam and i were complaining to one another over text one night. I was getting pretty worked up.
I said, "I don't care. I'm not going back to that house. I'll live in the train station and sell my body for sandwiches."
Adam replied, "Sandwiches? Come on. You're not quite steak material, but you can do better than sandwiches."

There's nothing like family to boost your self-esteem and remind you of your true value.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Other, Not Less

Settling does not necessarily mean settling for less. Sometimes it means settling for something else.

Let's say that you had spaghetti for lunch. Now you are at dinner with some friends, and you are trying to decide between chicken Parmesan with ziti and chicken fettuccine alfredo. Assuming that both dishes cost the same and have the same calorie counts and nutritional value, which one do you pick? You really want the chicken parm, but you talk yourself into the alfredo simply because you had spaghetti for lunch and you feel like you should have something other than marinara sauce.

This is settling. Not because the chicken parm is objectively, inherently better than the alfredo, but because the parm is what you want.

I have a friend, "Morgan", who is really interested in this guy, "Cal". They dated in college, and after breaking up became best friends. For years, Cal has been in love with Morgan, and in the last few months she has started to fall for him as well. But the last time that they broke up, Morgan's mother attempted to comfort her by saying, "Well, at least now you won't have to worry about having ugly kids." Now Morgan worries about what people might say when they see them together. She worries about the judgement and derision of their friends. She thinks he's attractive, but she worries that others won't. And she worries that her mother will worry about having ugly grandchildren.

Morgan loves Cal, but she is trying to talk herself out of the relationship because she thinks it will be settling. The truth? Choosing anyone but Cal would be settling. Cal is a great guy, and she wants to be with him.

Sometimes we talk ourselves out of our choices because we think that they look like they could be better. We think that we should have a different job because the one we have now doesn't pay very well. Never mind that we are living our dreams. We think that we should be dating a different person because the one we are with is not very glamorous. Never mind that they are the love of our lives. We think that we should choose a different option on the menu because we've had marinara sauce three times this week already. Never mind that marinara is our favorite.

We settle all the time, but not always for less. More often than not, what we are settling for is simply something other than what we really want.

Monday, November 21, 2011

the road not taken

In high school, i took an ethics and philosophy course called "Understanding Our Times" or something like that. We learned about a lot of different perspectives and approached major world issues from those perspectives. All through a massive conservative-Christian homeschooler lens, of course.

One of the topics we discussed was feminism/gender roles. A lot of it was . . . less than empowering. Things like how to use your gifts and passions and skills to serve your husband and your Lord (in that order?), and how deeply fulfilling it is to be a stay-at-home mom.

Let me be clear: I am NOT knocking traditional gender roles or stay-at-home moms. Those things CAN be enormously fulfilling and wonderful. Women should be able to do anything they want to do, including staying at home and raising kids, without anyone trying to vilify their choices. But what i can't stand is when the more conservative sides attack the more progressive sides by glorifying the wonder and joy of child-rearing. It is wonderful and joyous. But it's also a whole lot of work. And not everyone is cut out for it. And that is okay.

However, this program did say one thing i appreciated. It was talking about women trying to choose between post-secondary degrees or work, and staying home with their kids. And it said that the choice is not permanent, that you can always choose something else down the line if you find that you are not being totally fulfilled.

You can have it all. You just can't have it all at once.

You can get a master's degree and work for a few years. Then you can take time off to have some kids. Then, once the kids are in school full-time, you can go back to work and/or school. Then when retirement comes around, you can hang out with the grand-kids. You can switch careers, you can collect degrees like rare coins, you can take time off to homeschool your kids or pursue your dream of being a musician.

You can have it all.

I was a psych major in my freshman year of college. I had always loved English and wanted to be a writer, but somehow it had never occurred to me to actually study writing. Besides, God wanted me to study psychology and work with teenagers.

But in my sophomore year, i added an English minor. And in my junior year, i added an English major. I went into my senior year with a double major and every intention of being a psychologist.

And then i "decided" to be a teacher.

But i still struggled with my choices. From a purely practical standpoint, had i really wasted four years of time and energy to get a psych degree that i would never use? From a spiritual standpoint, had i misinterpreted God's instructions for me or had He changed His mind? I still believed that God wanted me to have that degree, but why?

In February of my senior year, i was putting together a presentation for some prospective honors students. I was organizing a slideshow of accomplishments of current honors students. I needed a photo of each student, so i was perusing Facebook profiles. I was scanning through photos of "Caroline", who was also a psych major and who had come in with me as a freshman. I had had lots of classes with her and we were friendly, but i didn't know her very well. I did know that she had dropped out of high school and worked to get her GED, meaning that she was highly self-motivated. I also knew that she had been on track to graduate a year early, but that she had instead taken some time off of college and simply graduated on time. I suddenly felt led to talk to her about these choices.

I sent her a quick Facebook message telling her that i admired her courage and self-awareness. That lots of people needed to take time off but were afraid that people would judge them. That there were probably lots of people who judged her, who called her a quitter, who said that she was lazy and unmotivated. That the truth was that she was extremely motivated, and brave, and strong, and that i had an enormous amount of respect for her.

Her reply was humbling, inspiring, and illuminating.

"You have no idea how much this means to me. Your uncanny ability to see into a situation you don't know much about, and somehow still know a lot about it just blew me away.

Your encouragement made my day, but in all likelihood, my week and month as well. I have been through a lot these past four or five years, and need a reminder every now and again that I'm braver than I give myself credit for.

And I just wanted to let you know that I believe you made the right choice in switching to Psychology. If nothing else, this message proved it to me. I've heard fantastic things about your writing, and am sure that you would have made a great English teacher or whatever you had planned -- but I am supremely confident that you will make an even better therapist or whatever it is you wish to do with your insight and talent.

Who knows, maybe you could become a professional therapeutic note writer, and help other people make it through this crazy life as you just did for me. :)

Thank you."

In a rush of insight and understanding, i realized that there are a lot of people out there who need someone to notice them. Statistically speaking, the people who need therapy the most are the ones who have least access to it. Sometimes, all a kid has is a teacher who asks them to hang back after class so they can say, "Are you okay?"

I realized that i could always go on to get more psych degrees and "use" them, but that i would already be using my BA every day, in every area of my life. I might be the only person who bothers to ask a kid what is going on in their lives, or who shows an interest at all. I might be the safe haven, the refuge, the advocate, the role model. I might be the only thing standing between my students and utter despair.

I can have it all. I just can't have it all at once.

I can always double back later on and take an alternate route. I can only take one road at a time, but that doesn't mean i can't take them all eventually.

I can have it all.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Overheard in the Office 5

E: You're on top, so I'm blaming you.
N: I wasn't on top. Darrell was on top. I was under him.

Aunt Sis

When i was nine, my great-Aunt Sis moved into our house. She is mentally disabled. I can't be any more clear than that; she was diagnosed as "mentally retarded" in the early 1940s, and has not ever been evaluated since. I have my own theories, but that's a post for another day. Or maybe a doctoral dissertation. Something.

Anyway, she is an amazing person in so many ways, and she has been a blessing in my life. Although at times she is frustrating, and although there are moments when her disability makes her nearly impossible to be around, i love her dearly.

Below is a song that my dad wrote about her (to the tune of). I will provide annotations after each verse.

I have too many shoes to count,
My hair is flaming red.
There's money in my bank account,
No matter what I said.
My skin is cold,
And I'm so old,
You'll wonder if I'm dead;
But don't call me "Sis"!
She has hundreds of pairs of shoes. No one knows where they all come from.  
One of my uncles used to say that she had red hair. It's actually silver-white, but the joke stuck.
She has a small fortune, but can't grasp the concept of a bank account. Since she rarely has more than a few bucks on her in cash, she always says that she is poor. 
Her hands are always ice cold.She is pretty elderly, and we often tease her about her age. 
She usually insists on a title, like "Aunt" or "Mrs."
Gamma gamma, mannerosis,
Everything I own is dusty roses.
On Thursdays, I'm a nurse
And when I flip my lip,
The green grass grows!
"Gamma" and "mannerosis" are both nonsense words that she sometimes says. 
Dusty rose was her favorite color when she first moved in, and many of her apartment furnishings were in that shade. 
She likes to pretend that she is a nurse. 
"Flip my lip off" and "green grass grow" are two of her nonsense phrases.
My uncle smells like boiled eggs,
My aunt did this to me!
I want to use the same bag for
My second cup of tea.
My sugar's made of chemicals,
My food is all fat-free,
But don't call me "Sis"!
She has a nephew (who she calls her uncle) who she always insists smells like boiled eggs. 
"Look what my aunt did to me!" is what she says when she has done something wrong and wants to avert blame to a different (imaginary) person. 
"Same bag" is another phrase. This one has a backstory, but it's too long for this post. 
She only uses artificial sweeteners and insists on fat-free or reduced-fat foods.

Gamma gamma, mannerosis,
Everything I own is dusty roses.
On Thursdays, I'm a nurse
And when I flip my lip,
The green grass grows!

Bagels, cuppachina, yogit, 
Coffee cake, and tea:
These are the only kinds of food
I need inside of me.
Whenever I get near a store,
I go upon a spree.
But don't call me "Sis".
She loves bagels, cappuccino, and yogurt. Sometimes she can't pronounce words correctly. 
She also loves coffee cake and hot or iced tea. 
And shopping. She LOVES shopping.
Gamma gamma, mannerosis,
Everything I own is dusty roses.
On Thursdays, I'm a nurse
And when I flip my lip,
The green grass grows!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Why I Don't Have Birthday Parties Anymore

When i reached my tenth birthday, my parents insisted on throwing me a huge, impromptu party. They made a big deal over me reaching double digits. I was excited, too, but got the distinct impression that they were more excited. I didn't understand why until several years later, when my mom was telling stories about what a weird child i had been.

Apparently, when i was very young (maybe two), i told my parents that i would not live past five. I don't remember this, nor do i have any idea where that notion might have come from.

You hear stories from time to time of a child with an "old soul", wise beyond their years, and not long for this world. The child is generally aware of their limited time on earth, and often drops hints or gives warnings to their family about this. The child's predictions generally turn out to be tragically spot-on.

So, understandably, my parents were nervous. They awaited my fifth birthday with fear and trepidation, and my sixth with inexpressible hope. By the time my tenth birthday rolled around, they were beside themselves. I guess they figured they were out of the woods.

Well, joke's on them. I'm still going to die one of these days. Probably.

Damn. No wonder they didn't want to homeschool me.

After that my parents pretty much gave up throwing me birthday parties. I guess they figured that the mere fact of my continued existence had been celebrated enough.

I would get together with the same group of friends for pizza and junk food every year, but it was never anything more elaborate than a sleepover with presents. I had one "real" party when i was fifteen. We ate flan and i got my first cell phone. I worked on my sixteenth birthday and then i went to New York for the weekend (with my mom, Agelseb, and Agelseb's mom). My seventeenth birthday came right before my big Europe trip, so i don't think i did anything. For my eighteenth birthday, i pierced my bellybutton. For my nineteenth, nothing. And for twenty, i got my first tattoo.

I had one more birthday party, when i turned twenty-one. I got together with Agelseb and our old friend "Fay", and we bought lots of alcohol and watched a movie and then took our drinks out to the hot tub. And then Fay got very drunk and began complaining, in a very bad fake British accent, about how much her life sucks. When Agelseb and i tried to comfort her, she told us she was tired of us treating her like she was dumb (we weren't) and that she knew more about the Real World and Life After College than we did (she doesn't), and that there was nothing she could do to fix her sucky life (bullshit). And then she went to bed, leaving the next morning before either of us woke up. And then she didn't speak to either of us for the next several months, until her boyfriend broke up with her and she needed someone to hang out with again.

So, yeah. This year i will be working on my birthday again. My boyfriend is supposed to cook me dinner or something. Whatever. As long as i can avoid either Jersey Shore-style drama, premature death, or awkward social interactions, i'm happy.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Prostitots

You know what i'm talking about. Those little tween girls (though i've seen them as young as four years old) who wear skin-tight camisoles with flouncy mini-skirts. The girls who walk around in groups of 3-6, wearing booty shorts with words on their asses.

Prostitots: little whores in training.

When did little girls stop wearing awkward overall/dress things (jumpers? is that what they were called?) with t-shirts underneath? When did it become okay for a fourteen-year-old to sport multiple piercings and highlights? When did children become hyper-sexualized?

I read somewhere once that teenagers are a fairly recent phenomenon created by cultural shifts. It used to be that you were either a child or an adult. Then, suddenly, there was this whole new category: young people who wore their own fashions and listened to their own music and used their own slang. Teenagers, who still needed to ask Mom and Dad's permission to borrow the car or go out with friends or buy things, but disdained the company of "kids". They were their own sub-category of humanity, and they were here to stay.

But lately, it seems to me that we are moving back into two categories. Childhood seems to be disappearing. Even baby shoes, absurdly cute in their tininess, are no longer available only in simple primary colors. Now you can get baby Converse sneakers, skull-emblazoned slip-ons, and even shiny silver baby Uggs. I know adults who shop in the kid's department, not because they have childish taste in clothing, but because children's clothes look like what adults are wearing.

I remember wearing some truly hideous clothes as a child and LOVING them. I remember long-sleeved shirts with ruffled hems, stirrup-pants, and a hot pink nightgown decorated with rainbow colored envelopes. I remember a bowl cut, disastrous bangs, and hair that reached all the way to my (decently covered by loose-fitting, high-waisted jeans) behind.

I also remember being thirteen, having my first job, and being able for the first time to buy my own clothes. I remember my first-ever pair of hip-hugger jeans and how proud i was that i had picked them out and paid for them all on my own. I remember plucking my own eyebrows for the first time, picking out my own haircut, and learning to put on makeup.

These were all important developmental moments for me. These days, moments like that happen almost as soon as a child is able to walk. Sometimes before, when a parent thinks that her daughter is cute in a mini-skirt.

She's not cute. She's horrifying.

Let your kids be kids. Because when you don't, we end up with twenty-two year old women who want to wear Disney princess wedding gowns and can't leave the house unless something they are wearing sparkles. And that is almost as embarrassing to see as a fourteen-year-old with a "My Boyfriend Thinks I'm Studying" t-shirt.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How to Tell I Need a Life #8

This morning, i was trying to play solitaire, but my cat's tail kept getting in the way of the screen and blocking my view.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

moments

*NB: This post is about my brother, and it is real. Though i may occasionally make light of the situation, this is my coping mechanism for my own personal grief. My tone is in no way meant to mock the reality of my brother's injury or future prospects, or the suffering of others in similar situations.

When someone has suffered a traumatic brain injury and has been heavily medicated for several weeks following, you don't talk about their cognitive function in terms of days. They don't have good days or bad days. They have moments.

This weekend, John and i went to Maryland to see Adam in the hospital. Physically, Adam's recovery continues at miraculous rates. Mentally and emotionally, it goes in fits and starts. It's hard to say with any confidence whether he is improving or not.

There were moments when he knew exactly who we all were and what was happening. There were moments when he was able to calmly discuss his medications, his pain, and his future plans. There were moments when he would do his PT exercises, or practice swallowing, or work on his breathing tests. There were moments when he would simply sleep.

There was also a moment when he began to speak Chinese into an imaginary telephone. He interrupted the conversation from time to time to ask my dad questions in Chinese; he would then say, "Wait. Let me ask them." Eventually, he ended the conversation and told us, "They're on their way in the car. They'll be here in a few minutes." And then he fell asleep. None of us speaks Chinese, but my dad knows a few words and was able to confirm that Adam was indeed drawing on the memories of the Chinese he'd studied in college.

There was a moment when he announced that the TV had told him that he would be giving birth soon. It also gave him a list of names. He became distressed about his pains and medications, afraid that the baby might be injured. He was soothed only when we told him that we'd consult with the doctor about it. He never made reference to the baby again.

There was a moment when he spoke Chinese to me, insistently repeating the same phrase over and over until i finally repeated it back to him. He told me to remember it (i forgot it almost instantly), and then began to consult with me about some issue.
"Who in your family speaks Chinese?"
"Just you, buddy," i told him.
"Really?"
"Yeah."
"Well, who writes?"
"Who writes . . . Chinese?"
"Yeah."
"None of us do."
"Really. Well, okay."
At this point, my dad interrupted to ask Adam if he knew who he was talking to.
"No, not really."
My heart stopped.
Dad continued, "Okay, can you see her? Turn and look at her. Does she look familiar?"
Adam turned. "Yeah, kind of. I know I've seen her before. Is it . . . Ashley?"
"No, i'm Diana."
"Diana," he repeated. He didn't recognize our youngest sister, Ruth, either, but knew Lizzie, the middle girl. He knew my dad and remembered his name, and our mom's name as well.
"Okay, Soldier," my dad said calmly, "How many sisters do you have?"
"Three."
"Do you know their names?"
"Ruth, Diana, Lizzie," he said obediently.
It was several minutes before i could speak again.

There was a moment when he woke up and tried to leave, and we had to tell him -- again -- where he was and what had happened to him.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

things that won't be exciting to anyone but me

OH MY GOD.

I have written three fan letters in my life. The third one was to The Bloggess, who is basically my idol/the person i want to be when i grow up.

AND SHE RESPONDED.

I'm pretty sure we're going to be best friends forever. Just look at this email exchange:

Jenny,
I discovered your blog a few months ago and became instantly addicted. (Seriously. Have you figured out a way to transmit crack and/or heroin through the internet and directly into peoples' eyeballs? Probably. I know how dedicated you are to scientific pursuits.)
Anyway, I have learned about your squid-fear, and I know that people send you squid-related links all the time. Apparently, there are actually people who voluntarily study that shit. It's a crazy world we live in. So it's inevitable that there would be lots of pictures/articles/videos/facts on the internet about squid. (Is the plural "squids"? I feel like that's the kind of thing I should know, since I have a degree in English creative writing. Balls.)
But while there should reasonably be plenty of academic and speculative information available about squid(s), so that right-thinking people can find out how to avoid and/or kill them, I found something today that seems to be to be totally unnecessary, not to mention mean-spirited. It also seemed like a direct attack on you, so I thought the best thing to do was inform you immediately. I've always been a big fan of Archie McPhee, what with their bacon-flavored chapstick and absinthe bubble gum, but if they've decided to make an enemy out of one of my favorite bloggers, I'll have to take my business elsewhere.
The link below will take you to the squid bag. I'm sorry to do this to you, but I thought you should be warned. 
http://www.mcphee.com/shop/products/Hungry-Squid-Bag.html 
I'm here for you if you need to mount an attack on Archie McPhee. I mean, they're in Seattle and I'm in Boston and you're in Texas, but I'm sure we could coordinate something if necessary. 
All the best,   
Diana Lark
Jenny's response: 
At least it's cheerfully terrifying.  :)
Do you see that smile? Clearly, she realizes that we are kindred spirits. We both have anxiety disorders, so this friendship will probably take some time to blossom fully, but i'm patient. A friendship like this is worth waiting for.

I swear i'm not a stalker.

Shoulds

"Live as if the world were what it should be to show it what it can be."

Okay, so the quote is from Angel. Don't judge.

Also, the wording is a little awkward. But that's because it's tough to jam big concepts into bumper-sticker sized nuggets.

We don't live in the world we should live in. We don't live in a world where people do all the things they should do and never do the things they shouldn't. It would be great if we lived in the world of shoulds, but we don't. Not collectively, anyway.

There are those of us who do live in the world of ideals. There are people (you may have met one or two in your life) who always do the right thing. They are righteous without being self-righteous, understanding without being condescending, superior without being conceited. They seem genuinely confused by the presence of evil in the world. They may understand evil as a concept, and may realize that it is possible for supernatural influences or large groups (nations, corporations, political parties, etc) to commit evil acts, but evil on an individual level is inconceivable. Why would a person do things that they shouldn't?

Here's the thing: we should all be a little bit more like that person. We should all be better than we are, and we should all expect the best from one another.

But one of the most important things i have learned in my life so far is that, while you should always expect the best, you also need to be prepared for the worst. You should expect people to treat you fairly and to behave with honor and respect, but you should prepare to get screwed by everyone you meet.

You don't have to live in reality if you don't want to. You can live in the world of shoulds. But most sane people live in reality, so if you ever want to have anything to do with another person, you need to at least be able to navigate through reality.

There is only one person whose behavior you can control, and that's you. It doesn't matter how other people behave. You should still do the things you should. The best you can hope for is that your behavior will inspire (or shame) others into behaving as they should. Prepare to get screwed, but expect that you won't be. Live as if the world were what it should be to show it what it can be.