Selfies

Scrolling through grainy iPhone photos, he stops on one of me. Head tilted sideways, the corners of my mouth pulled up as if caught on invisible fishhooks, a dimpled camera smile at its best. Fake blonde and ducking stereotypes – foundation smoothed over the suitcases packed heavily beneath lash fanned eyes.

He says it doesn’t look like me.
Because I look pretty, or exhausted? Either will do because 9 am iPhone photos are a reminder that the camera can’t see what’s outside the frame. That the fishhooks lingering at each corner of my lips are unseen and nervously gnawed nails remain tucked into crescent imprinted palms.

Head tilted sideways, eyes angled up – a dimpled camera smile at it’s best?
Fished in.

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On Living Out of the Moment

I understand the allure of the phrase “live in the moment.” I really do. It’s supposed to be this big challenge – to rise above all the struggles of life and just focus on exactly what is happening in that second. But I think that’s easy. It’s easy to ignore your real problems and keep enjoying the small things, to refrain from making big decisions. It’s a deferral of reality.

I appreciate the idea pressed upon young people that “you are only young once,” “you only live once,” etc. Obviously it’s true. There are things you can do when you’re young that you may never have the opportunity to pursue again. Your life is flexible. You have fewer real commitments. Your paycheck isn’t immediately partitioned into house payments and baby food. Living a little hard, making some poorly-informed choices, and pushing boundaries are all things you are supposed to do – but you also have to recognize that this idea of living in the moment won’t work forever.

I love having a plan. And maybe this makes me biased in this department, but spontaneity won’t get you everywhere you want to go in life, most likely. Stepping outside of the moment to consider the long term affects of potential choices is going to bring you to a much happier place. There are going to be rough patches – if you were truly living in the moment, you’d make decisions based on what made you happiest right then. I thank god that the people I love in my life are capable of looking beyond each experience and realizing that it is not each individual second that makes me who I am, it’s the addition of all my moments. My dumb, embarrassing, inspired, angry, kind, self-centered, generous, scatter-brained moments – all of them.

Don’t view each moment as a still frame – your life is not an image.

On Being Alone

Our culture makes us hate spending time alone. We’re pushed to be constantly surrounded by a horde of friends – frequently people we aren’t even all that close to, but that we’ve sucked in to our lives to fill free evenings that we don’t want to spend by ourselves. People run errands with other people, they go to meals, study, exercise – every experience is somehow improved through a warm body next to us.

Human beings are pack animals, yes. We are made to function in families, friendships, groups. We need social interaction to be successful. But we don’t need it all the time. Many people experience depressed feelings or intense loneliness whenever they aren’t surrounded by others – a feeling that potentially stems from the fact that they make themselves uncomfortable. They don’t understand how to exist inside their own heads, because they are constantly talking and listening without every actually thinking. As much as you think going to the mall with friends or chatting over lunch gives you time to reflect and be comfortable with yourself, it doesn’t. Even if you’re an extrovert, which is great (props to you), you still need time to become comfortable in your own skin, in the silence, with your own thoughts. Don’t wait until you’re alone one day for the first time in months and you realize that you’re brain is filled with the chattering of your friends, family, coworkers – and there’s no room left for your independent thoughts.

Being alone shouldn’t make you feel inherently awkward. There was a girl I absolutely detested in high school (she was very pretty, very popular, a little empty headed, and definitely not my type) but I had a lot of respect for her because I once heard her saying that she liked to be alone sometimes and didn’t feel weird going to the movies or out to dinner by herself. The girl she was talking to made fun of her – but likely only because the thought made her uncomfortable. Being alone in public isn’t sad, it isn’t pathetic, and it doesn’t mean that no one wants to hang out with you. It means you know and accept yourself.

It also gives you the opportunity to experience things fully. If you’re at a restaurant, eat slowly. You’re not just going out to eat as an excuse to meet with ten of your best friends, you are there to experience some seriously good food. So let yourself. If you’re on a walk, look around you. You don’t have to glance at some else’s face every five seconds to gage their reactions, you can take in all the details you never noticed. At a concert – dance. Dance really hard because you aren’t going to be worrying about embarrassing your friend or boyfriend or sister. You are going to be having a damn good time

Spend some time alone, whether it’s laying on your bedroom floor or having dinner at the restaurant you secretly love but all your friends don’t care for. Don’t feel like you need to strike up a conversation with someone else – but it may lead you to meet some interesting people. Just relax. You know you’re cool – and that’s what counts right now. Being alone doesn’t mean you have to be lonely.

Flowin’

Ah, colors. In the winter, it’s super easy to just end up wearing black all the time, because it’s cold and often my singular goal is to just be warm. I’ve had this cardigan for a while, but couldn’t figure out what to wear it with since it’s pretty busy. Even though the black is a little harsh on this floaty white dress, I like the contrast.

Tye-Dye and a lot of jewelry is always a safe bet.

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On Being a Stress Addict

I love to be stressed. Feeling my blood pressure rise and my face flush with the heat of all the things marked into my agenda. Carrying my coffee thermos forever tucked under one arm and making emails and phone calls that, for one reason or another, feel important. Being constantly out and about – seeing the most friends I’ve seen in weeks – but only for the ten seconds it takes for me to smile and wave as I hurry past them on the side walk.

I’m not sure when it started. My junior year of high school was the first year that I was forced to balance intense academics with extra curricular activities. It was definitely the hardest year- but also undeniably the most fun. I worked hard and I played hard. When it started feeling like too much, I found ways of coping, some healthier than others. As one of the healthier options, I started drinking coffee. I didn’t even really like the taste. But I liked (and like) the way it feels like there’s a buzzing behind my eyes and I don’t even notice if I’m talking a lot. Junior year was the first time I learned what it felt like to feel relaxed. Until I experienced real stress, I didn’t appreciate the downtime.

After taking my second semester of senior year off and having an entire semester to experience what un-stressed feels like, I seem to have developed two personas. One wants to wear pencil skirts and button downs, take her coffee black, talk too quickly on the phone and have her people call your people. The other wants quilted maxi skirts, ridiculously flavored lattes, poetry notebooks and a few extra minutes to stop at that unexplored antique store. Either way I’ll be drinking coffee, so there’s one thing I am certain about.

I think I want to be that second girl. Reading poetry, making art and dancing make me feel alive in the purest, happiest way. But when tied down to a daily routine that keeps me solidly wrapped in academics, I start looking for any way to feel more connected with myself, to feel fully awake. And while it may not be pleasant, three cups of coffee and a mounting to-do list sure as hell wakes me up.

I need to strike a deal between the two personas. Somewhere between pencil skirts and tye dye is not the personas, but the person. Mixing the unparalleled excitement of organizational and academic challenge with the opportunity for lazy Saturday’s and incense-lit afternoons will create not only a more pleasant life, but also a most interesting one. After all, who says tye dye doesn’t go with pencil skirts?

#6

Bus #6, from Mineral Point Road to East Towne Mall.

On February 9, I rode it end to end. It began heavy with book-learning. Surrounded by University students and encompassed by the warm glow of unencumbered intelligence, my eyelids were weighted. Lined together in rows like volumes on cheap shelves, I was packaged with the rest of them. Expensive shoes, rounded backpacks and a disproportionate number of four-eyed people pondering the qualities of academia and dining hall food.

At the edge of campus, the throngs unloaded themselves from the sides of the bus, spilling into the snow drifts like spilled coffee, blackening the white ground. Hoisting backpacks high, they brushed shoulders and knocked knees with their headphones plugged firmly into their ears – a necessary precaution when surrounded by deep thinking. To protect from the imminent threat of knowledge spilling from their ears, they plug them with beats and trite lyrics – made to keep old knowledge in, or to keep new knowledge out?

The bus is emptier. At the first stop off of capitol square, two men in baseball caps climb on. The bus sways beneath the weight of their entrance, the heaviness of unemployment stretched across their backs. Mutters between their cracked, graying lips, its the first conversation I’ve heard. They talk about the snow. It’s been a warm winter. They are bound in disheveled layers of dirty cloth, hoods draped sadly across the brims of their caps, settling into exhaustion around the lines circling their eyes. With their windbreakers parting at the seams and thrift store boots beaten in by a long line of ownership, I am thankful for heated buses and “warm” winters.

Along Washington Avenue, people are expelled onto our bus from the safety of tattoo parlors and used car dealerships, pierced and inked, squinting and wiggling their eyebrows at motor-less trucks they can’t afford. Heavily lidded women carrying metallic purses, straps wrapped in the posh silver of fraying duct tape fall with their thick, bare ankles into the rough cloth of skinny metro seats. Too-close houses painted in neon colors turned ragged skim by my peripheral vision, children sitting with frozen toes too close to speeding cars. The omnipresent buzz of human existence: the whine of the newest hybrid-electric buses accompanied by the displeased grumble of pistons misfiring in 1994 fords, held to the earth by planes scraping their bellies on the shingle-less roofs.

At the last stop, the two men in their baseball caps finally climb onto stiff knees. One man bends at the waist, curving his shoulders to half their broken-in size as he coughs from the bottom of his lungs. Shoving air from his mouth with drops of spittle as if trying to cough out too many years of being poor. Outside the bus, they huddle beneath a droopy overhang, pulling their caps down over their eyes and putting mouths to ears to exchange widely grinning words. Two buildings down, they hug through layers of bulky jackets and unwashed skin. Start to finish, it began heavy with book learning, it ended heavy with an unnamed learning and stories the untainted intellectuals might want to unplug their ears to hear.

Cookies in the Oven

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
“I want to be my grandfather.”
We all want to be our grandparents. When we knew them, they were old, wrinkled, and smelled of sharp tobacco – whether it was forced snugly into their bottom lip or packed into a gentlemanly cigar. Their clothes were soft when we were young, and their collarbones made perfect chinrests to watch the early stages of life dwindle past us. Their eyes, hidden by sagging eyelids, searched out lies with unforgiving depth, and we’re all glad their lids were closed at the funeral. No one wants to hear the secrets that have surfaced in their absence.

You get weaker when your grandparents are gone. Parents are harsh, unfair, self-centered and demanding. They smell like leather belts and never understanding, even when we only want a nod and a smile. The rocking chairs are empty. The porch misses its inhabitants. The rooms echo. The whole damn house is for sale, and parents don’t listen when I tell them, you can’t sell Grandma’s home. This is her oven. She was going to make me cookies next weekend.

We all think we want to be young. We can run faster, jump higher, live.
And so we frolic.

We waste our sanctified seconds thinking we’re too young and too immature. But we’re only as young as our immaturity allows us to wish we were older…that is, until our reasoning starts to fray, and we decide we’ve become antique in our impatience. So when were we supposed to do all the living that we saved “until we were old enough?”

There’s too little joy to ask the bartender for another drink, or to hide in the backroom of a party that was bad to begin with.
What would Grandfather think?

You’re too big to sit on his knee, and he’s far too deep in the ground.

While we’re waiting for Grandma to finish the checkered hat she was knitting, and Grandpa to fix the fishing rod, our children have children.
And the checkered hat is yours to finish.
“Grandma, Grandma, will you make me cookies next weekend?” Down the kitchen sink with a rusted class ring and a few undelivered love letters that never would have made a difference, because the only people that could have loved each other forever are buried in separate coffins with their eyes closed – everyone can cry when nobody is watching. Your house has a For Sale sign on the curb.

He’s too tired to fix the fishing rod, and you’re far too deep in the ground.