Reflection

On Your Birthday

This time of year still feels haunted. Autumn feels like a gift that belongs to you, is overwhelmed with you, but absent of you. If you were alive, I like to think I would call you today. I like to think I would have apologized by now, that it wouldn’t take you leaving forever for me to realize how wonderful you are. I imagine I would call you and I’d wish you happy birthday, but I’d linger a little and stay on the line a little too long, even though you would have other calls to take and dinners to get ready for, because the whole world would be waiting to tell you how glad they are that you’re alive. I would ask you about work or some warmup question, one that doesn’t matter but feels essential. I’d ask about how your sister is, how home is, and you would say that everything is OK, and you’d tell me the most hilarious thing Victoria said the other day, and I would laugh with you because we both love her so much, and I would have figured that out by now. And I would tell you how I wish I was home to celebrate with you, to buy you a beer and give you a hug because I love you so much, and I would have told you that dozens of times by now. I would tell you about the boy, about the charm and the frustrations, and you would spout some brilliant advice, to be patient, to be sure to always be my brilliant beautiful self, and you’d say something perfect like, “I’m so happy that you’re happy, My Alien,” but a million times more eloquently because words were always on your side. And I would have teared up a little, even then, with you still alive and thriving and stringing words together perfectly on the other end of the line just hearing you call me by my favorite nickname, one no one has called me since you left.

Sometimes, I can still hear it, faint and far away and fleeting and full.

IMG_9969

Advertisements
Standard
Reflection

Wanting

I want a rooftop garden, or a porch with potted petunias, or even a dusty windowsill with tiny succulents to remind me I can keep something alive, to remind me to be thankful for the sun.
I want to make music every day.
I want to feel comfortable with my clumsiness, with my shaky voice.
I want to ask you what you’re thinking instead of guessing.
I want to stop writing about you.
I want to feel like someone worth Saturday mornings, worth sharing secrets, worth sharing silent spaces.
I want to stop pretending.
I want to live with fierce authenticity.
I want to toss away the irony, the apathy, the pretense, the bullshit.
I want to cry every time I hear that Death Cab song and always be terrified of my parents dying.
I want to stay up all night writing terrible poems.
I want to write about you until I understand.
I want to always remember what I love about writing.
I want to never compromise that for a career.
I want to care more but be a little less careful.
I want the questioning and certainty.
I want to settle in the unsettling contradictions.

I love abstractions, I love
to give them a nouny place to live,
a firm seat in the balcony
of ideas, while music plays.
I love them more than hard evidence
and shapely stones, more than money,
which can buy time, but not enough.

Stephen Dunn

Standard
Reflection, Relevant, Remembering

To My Favorites

While I was the second of two daughters in my family, most of my closest friends growing up had younger siblings, and because of them I lucked into a number of little sisters. I shared hallways with them for a year of high school, my last and their first, and did what I could to make everything a little lighter. I got to watch them grow in a similar way I imagine my own sister did me: with the desire to protect them, to teach them everything I knew, to keep them young, and provide them with a space to grow up that was even just a little more compassionate than my own.

Of course, they grew up on me and became the most stunning, intelligent, creative, and caring young women I know. Next week they begin college, and with that will come many changes, I’ve learned, just a few years ahead of them in age. In many other ways though, they’re lightyears ahead of me. And now I’m certain that I didn’t just gain a gaggle of little girls to play Mother Hen to, but a number of dear friends.

There are a lot of Guides to Surviving Freshman Year of College written and published this time of year, which contain a number of insightful things like how to get involved with student organizations, the reality of the Freshman 15, how not to fail every class, how to party like a real frat star, and many similar bits of wisdom I don’t care to share with you. Instead, I write this one to my favorite little sisters, with the acknowledgement that I’m not full of wisdom or answers, just a great deal of love.

I still want to protect you, teach you everything I know, keep you young, and create a compassionate world for you to continuing growing.

For my favorite babes as they begin college:

Know this list is full of contradictions and exceptions.
Know that life is full of contradictions and exceptions.

Feel everything, except guilty for feeling. I don’t know a more graceful way to write that succinctly, but I think it’s important. There will be times when someone will dismiss your feelings, will minimize, will trivialize, and—if you’re anything like me—will make you feel embarrassed for caring too much. Or maybe it will be the reverse. Be honest about it. Let yourself feel what you feel, the extremes, the in-betweens, the numbness that may be worst of all. Let yourself miss home, let yourself be confused, let yourself be heartbroken. Feel organically. Sort through it when you can. Write from it, create from it, run with it, be motivated by it, make it valuable in some way if you can. And when it’s too much for you to handle, know how to ask for help. That’s important.

Communicate what matters. When you hurt someone, apologize. When you have big questions, ask them. When you love someone, please tell them, and don’t wait too long. I’ve spent too much of my life rehearsing phone calls before I made them, imagining conversations before they happened, and writing letters too late, letting my over-thinking get in the way of saying things that actually matter. Relationships do dissolve, friends do move away, and people die, which isn’t meant to be a that-escalated-quickly moment, but a serious one. I’m not one of those people who claims to not have any regrets because you can’t change the past or whatever. I regret many things, but most of those moments surround failing to say ‘I love you’ or ‘I’m sorry,’ for fear of shaking pride, or for fear of the response.

Take an Intro to Philosophy class your first year.

Be alone, and even lonely, at least a little. Let it teach you.

Don’t be afraid you’re not doing college correctly. I’m sure you’ve already heard/read/seen more than you would ever want to about The College Experience, so you’ll naturally go in with a number of expectations. For the record, my college idol was Rory Gilmore, who went to Yale, while I went to a giant state school in Texas, if that tells you anything about my misguided ideas about college. Gilmore Girls talk aside, my point is that you can’t possibly get rid of your expectations, but I think you can foster a kind of attitude towards those expectations which allows something meaningful to come from the disappointment when it isn’t everything you’ve ever hoped.

College may be the best four years of your life. It also may not even come close to the best years of your life. Let it be what it is and don’t worry you’re doing it wrong because it doesn’t fit the college mold. Don’t feel guilty if you actually like studying. Join a sorority even if your friends back home think it’s lame. Don’t be afraid of fitting a college kid stereotype, of being a hipster, of dating a guy or gal who writes poetry, of getting a 4.0, or being in student government. Don’t be afraid of being outside every stereotype. Do you, plain and simple.

Talk to people who challenge you and what you think you know. Let them teach you about yourself.

Read for pleasure (alright, over winter break).

Call your folks and your siblings often.

Know that if you choose a liberal arts/humanities major, people will criticize you for it, and there’s not much you can do to stop them. Know why you’re studying dance or studio art or creative writing or philosophy or theatre. Have a good reason, one you believe wholeheartedly. If you know what you’re spending your time studying is valuable, the criticism won’t get to you. Expect people to call it the “easy major” and throw around words like useless, frivolous, and would you like fries with that. It will be hurtful sometimes, and crummy people will base their judgements of you on what you’re studying. Don’t feel like you have to defend your major to the death. You won’t change their minds. Brush it off, and don’t ever read Yahoo! News. Just, don’t. English-major-hater central.

Know what is within your control and what isn’t. You can’t change the time of your 8 a.m. class when you come to your senses and realize 8 a.m. classes are the very worst. You can’t change your bank account balance when it tells you you’ve spent your last seven dollars this month and don’t get a pay check for three days. You can’t change the fact that you lost your phone on a Saturday night you can’t remember. You can’t change the fact that he doesn’t love you.

Know that everything and everyone can teach you something if you let them.

It’s OK to share cigarettes with boys on front porch steps, but always know how many packs you’ve bought in your lifetime. It’ll keep you in check, and keep your lungs from quitting on you when you’re 45.

Stand up for yourself. Identify what makes you valuable. Know those things like the back of your hand, so you never have to question it and never let anyone else.

Love with conviction.

Let yourself change. Recognize the changing as it happens, how it happens, who it happens with. Document along the way if you’re into that kind of thing. Write Future You a letter telling her all about you now. She’ll want to meet you, I promise.

Make balance a constant goal.

Resist apathy. This last one is important. You’ll meet a lot of people who care about very little. Don’t be like that. Care about something. Care about everything. Care too much if you have to, but be alive.

comment

20130821-142311.jpg

Standard
Reflection

Imaginary

I’ll probably always be one to love a little too much a little too soon. Someone whose feelings don’t subscribe to the time tables set for them.

And I’m not among those who knows she’ll have either peonies or ranunculus at her wedding. I’ve never pictured it. I have heard myself on many occasions saying to close friends, “I hope you get married in the next few years so I can plan your wedding,” demanding complete creative control, of course, despite my intense skepticism for the whole practice. Marriage or even a long-term romantic relationship is not a guarantee for me, or at least I don’t feel that it is.

I bet on my friendships most days, even though they allow for a certain level of unspoken commitment and platonic love and bring their own kind of sadness as they end. I plan for friendships as though they’re guaranteed, but romantic relationships seem to be in the Great Unknown category, something I’m content with most days.

And despite all of this, I still find myself planning an elaborate future, without any certainty of a future with that person at all.

I’m not a fiction writer, but I can’t help but imagine a lifetime with anyone who will let me, a romanticized vision of every possibility.

He and I were to ride bicycles across the Golden Gate Bridge. She and I would share a closet-sized apartment in the city. He and I would have a cafe con leche (his with a little too much sugar) every afternoon in our favorite plaza and he would tell me how he loves music but finds comfort in sharing silence with someone and she would ask to share a cigarette on a back porch when sleep wouldn’t come and she would always forgive me when I get bossy about playing music.

We all would have reconvened for New Year’s Eve or ditched our families to have Friendsgiving in November and he would have read books in the grass and I would take too many pictures of him and we would have opened a flower/letterpress stationary shop, she and I, with soft-colored walls and hand-painted flowers and hand-drawn letters on the windows and he would have traveled the world, but come back for me, or asked me to come along and kiss him on every bridge we would have walked across.

You would have realized you were way too young to get married and I would have learned to write sweet songs on ukulele to sing our kids to sleep or maybe just a sweet pupster that would have found a comfy spot each night at the foot of our bed and I would have written you a hundred more letters and left them on the kitchen counter for you to wake up to and nothing would have felt truer than Whitman’s words when he said: “We were together. I forget the rest.”

And today, I suppose I’m content to indulge in these lovely stories. But really, I hope to spend a lifetime being continually mesmerized and fascinated by how much more wonderful reality is than anything I could scribble into imaginary notebooks in my head.

IMG_0378_2

comment

Standard
Reflection

More Than Bitter, More Than Sweet

I miss this place even though I am still here, even though the boxes aren’t completely packed and I still have a pile of clothes in the dryer. I miss it more and more as the reality of leaving becomes tangible, as my little sanctuary looks less and less like my own. I pulled the artwork and photography off the walls of my apartment and carefully wrapped the frames with paper and the purple bubble wrap that Makes Packing Fun so they would make it safely to a new, albeit temporary, home with new walls to tell stories to. Stacked one on top of the other, they fit snuggly in two medium-sized moving boxes, and I was amazed at how small that seemed, and how empty my walls look without them.

I couldn’t bring myself to unscrew the wooden block with the sturdy rubber arms that holds my ukulele on the wall. I imagine that will be one of the last items to be packed. I have dreams that my last few weeks in my hometown will be spent under trees late at night with the breeze that is still warm from the day, with old friends home for summer, playing ukulele covers of old favorites which are not-so-old when you’re twenty one and have only really cared about music for less than half of your lifespan, but manage to feel comfortable and nostalgic anyway. And if I had it my way, there would be minimal tears and minimal sadness because it seems like such a waste, but I’m not foolish enough to truly hope for such luck.

I constantly try to sort how I’m feeling about moving away. I spent many days saying I would begin packing, but found myself sitting on the floor of my bedroom instead, crying over old drafts of stories from my first creative nonfiction workshop two years ago or feeling too overwhelmed by everything to do anything at all.

Everyone I love and care for is excited for me and they tell me how proud they are and I smile and thank them and tell them I’m excited too, but that leaving will be tough and they remind me I’ll have a great time and I usually say I know but I’m not very convincing. I feel like a talking cardboard cutout with a few recorded sound responses could replace me most days, because I have the same conversations about grad school and moving to New York three times a day.

I am excited.

I’m also terrified, nervous, sad, uncertain, and numb about the whole thing. And in these stock conversations I hear the same word over and over again: bittersweet.

Bittersweet just might be my least favorite word, because anyone who has ever felt conflicting emotions, who has simultaneously waved goodbye and hello, anyone who has left home to find home, knows that bitter and sweet don’t even come close. Bitter and sweet and sad and excited and nervous and all of the words I have can’t touch what it’s like to move away from people you love in a place you love with bedrooms you’ve cried in and trees you’ve played music under and streets you kissed boys on and beds you were tucked into and a group of barefooted ladies that you danced with to polka music and a sweet dog that felt like your own, and a town that for the only life you can remember called you one of its own to live in a new town with all the promise and possibility that comes with discovery.

And through all the fear and uncertainty, the only thing I know is that I’m incredibly lucky to be so sad to leave such a wonderful place.

Gratitudecomment

Standard
Reflection

On Transitions

The last time I touched this post was April 30th, but I never posted it. And I didn’t finish it. I’m not entirely sure why. I’ve sat down a number of times and thrown away so many beginnings of posts that I’ve hated in the past couple of months. And I can’t seem to find my way back to this space, so I’m going to let myself be vulnerable, at least for now, and place this unfinished thing here as a way of beginning again. It’s not an explanation, but a start.

I haven’t been writing at all. Not just in this space, but in general. And each time I go through periods without putting my words anywhere, it gets easier and easier to do so, an ease which is completely terrifying. So today I welcomed the discomfort, the not feeling quite like myself because I was missing something that (I think) I know with certainty is an essential part of who I am at my very best, which is a writer who writes because she can’t not write. And I’ll take that crappy sentence, double-negatives included, because I think those of you who write or create or make or do anything because not doing so is so far from who you are that it’s not even an option will understand. Today feels that way, far from myself. And tonight, I want to write, with acceptance of the disjointedness. I began parts of this weeks ago, and they fell away into a folder of drafts that rarely see the light of internet day. But I’m dusting them off, and piecing them together with the present in hopes of finding someone familiar in old drafts.

***

“I’m a little sad about it,” I said, honestly, the way a kid responds to an easy question with the sharing of emotions in a completely unexpected way, which of course was not the reaction my professor expected when he asked me during class if I was excited about graduating and heading off to graduate school.

“Sad? Tell me why it’s sad,” he said, opening the moment for me to be a little more vulnerable than I would like.

“I don’t know.” I paused, thinking about what I wanted to say about it all.
“I’m sad and excited. Equal parts sad and excited. Transitions are kind of sad,” I repeated the same useless words, not wanting to elaborate.

And through my hesitant smile I imagine he understood what I meant. That transitions are terrifying, and that I am equal parts excited and sad, but that I can’t pretend to be excited about the endings and goodbyes. I cried on my bike ride to work this morning, and I cried in my last lit class tonight, and I feel like I’ve spent the entire month crying, because I hate endings, and I avoid goodbyes at all costs, even small, seemingly insignificant ones because they all point to more significant ends and impossible goodbyes.

And sometimes I selfishly wish that crying was as socially acceptable as laughing, and that people did so freely without any issues so I wouldn’t feel as embarrassed on days like today. And I wish we didn’t label emotions “bad” or “undesirable” because then the physical expression of those emotions wouldn’t be bad or undesirable or something to hide at all, but something for others to understand, to want to understand, like an inside joke or an old family tradition. Because comforting someone, to me, is less about putting your arm around him or offering advice, as it is about attempting to understand, to take emotions seriously, to never minimize or dismiss or turn the focus to oneself.

Standard
Reflection, Remembering

We’ll Be OK

The only recurring dream I remember having as a kid was of my house burning down in the middle of the night. In the dream I would wake to flames all around my bedroom window, and firefighters would carry me out of the house with me balancing in the middle of my mattress. I was, quite simply, afraid of large fires, and also of sleeping. I think the idea of sleep causes most children a bit of anxiety, which is why our parents, grandparents, and babysitters read bedtime stories and tuck us in and check for monsters and kiss us goodnight as we clutch our stuffed animals and blankets and do anything to make the ritual easier. Sleep has the potential to bring dreams and sometimes nightmares, neither of which are within our control. I remember sleep causing me a great deal of anxiety as a kid. And with the addition of the typical Texas storms that haunted the otherwise silent nighttime six months out of the year, the whole process was futile.

Luckily, I had an older sister just down the hallway from me who rarely resisted a Sister Sleepover, which almost always included a few rounds of Guess Which Song I’m Humming, a game I remember losing more often than winning. But on nights when I was on my own, I would watch the alarm clock on my bedside table for hours, the neon numbers that glowed onto the lenses of my purple frames. The time passing made me nervous, but I remember taking comfort in the fact that the time seemed to pass slowly late at night as I watched the geometric shapes shift from sixes to sevens and eights and so on until the patterns reset and repeated. And when I think about being a kid, I feel like I was afraid of everything. Sometimes I still feel I am.

I remember my mother recommending various tactics that occasionally helped (I did some serious counting, folks). But at some point, I took matters in my own hands and developed a way of pausing my neurosis just long enough to fall asleep. I would take my pillows, place them where my feet were supposed to be, untuck all of the sheets and covers, and I would sleep backwards on my bed. Maybe someone taught me this and I’m claiming as my own childhood brilliance now. Maybe everyone did this, but I saved if for the most dire of situations, when midnight would turn to 1 AM and my necessary-eight-hours-of-sleep opportunity had long passed. For whatever reason, this usually worked. And when I think about this strange habit now, I imagine it had a lot to do with control; it was something I could alter, something I could change.

The most overwhelming heightened moments of anxiety I’ve experienced in the last couple of years as a young adult align well with the experiences I had as a kid trying to get to sleep at night. And what all of those recent instances had in common was they occurred precisely at a moment in which I completely surrendered control, and the outcome of that moment I irrationally perceived as necessarily dreadful or threatening, when that wasn’t the case at all in the end. As a kid, I would always wake up the next day with no justification for my obsessive anxiety from the night before. But the cycle would often repeat.

As an adult, the fix may not be a simple one, and it may not be a complete fix at all. But I guess all I can do is try to make sense of the mess.

I’ll start small. I’ll place my pillows at the foot of my bed. I’ll rest easily. I’ll be OK. We’ll be OK.

We'll Be OK

comment

Standard