“Sons and Daughters” by Allman Brown and Liz Lawrence

I slept most of the day today, and it was amazing. I’m about ready to resume sleeping, but I decided that I’d post today’s song (once I figured out which song I was going to do).

This is “Sons and Daughters” by Allman Brown and Liz Lawrence. Again, I know nothing about them. I heard the track on Reign I think. I only watched a few episodes and was annoyed by the stylized take on historical fashion. God knows I love my BBC period dramas, and somehow the CW doesn’t match that authenticity.

The song, and its video which doesn’t ruin it, is here.

And I will hold you tight like the moon in the arms of the sky (Beautiful image for this simile that conveys so much gentleness and comfort. I took a photograph once with this line in mind.) 
And I will keep you warm; I will build a fire in this house (more comfort and warmth, homemaking, quite literally. This seems like a song of wedding vows.)

CHORUS

And I’ll build a fire, you fetch the water and I’ll lay the table (the work of the home will be done by both the man and woman singing. He sang his vows first, the chorus is about what they’ll do together. It’s an equal partnership they have in mind. That’s what a relationship should be.) 
And in our hearts, we still pray for sons and daughters (They hope for a family. This is where I feel some bittersweetness because “still” implies that they’ve been wanting children for a long time and it’s not happening. Maybe they can’t have kids? But they share the hope.)
And all those evenings out in the garden, red, red wine (this gives me a picture of the couple enjoying each other’s time under the stars, drinking wine, making plans for their life together. It’s sweet and low key and they are easy together.) 
These quiet hours turning to years (This is where I pick up some bittersweetness too – time is passing, which isn’t a bad thing, but I go back to the idea that maybe they thought they’d have a bigger family by now. At the same time, it’s comfortable because they can be quiet together and time can just pass like nothing because they are good together.) 

And I, I’ll wrap myself around your heart (This is the woman’s part. She’ll surround him completely, maybe even protect him.)
I’ll be the walls of his heart (yeah, definitely protect him, them really because she’s inside him.) 
And I, I’ll keep a light on to call you back home (She’ll be there guiding him home if he ever has to go or if he ever gets lost. She’ll hold the fort.) 

CHORUS

And it’s all to come for now we’re still young (It might be my age that makes this bittersweet for me. They’re saying there’s still time. It doesn’t have to happen the way they imagine it right this minute. But, being past my twenties, I hear it almost as “we’re running out of time” instead of the opposite.)
Just building our kingdom but it’s all to come (We’re working on it now and there’s not much to see yet, but it’s all going to happen for us. We’ve planned it, so it’ll happen. It’s a very optimistic view. It also feels like if they pray for it and keep working together like they have been, that even if they don’t get what the want, it’ll be good. Good things will come; good things have come.) 

CHORUS

It’s all to come. For now we’re still young (This makes me think it’s just the beginning of the relationship and everything they’ve sung was what they imagine. Maybe it was only in one of their heads, like maybe the other person didn’t see it that way. Or maybe they are very old looking back at when they thought this was how everything was going to be, but they still feel young at heart.)

It’s a beautiful song. In prepping to write this entry, I discovered that an earlier version of the song was called “Our Kingdom,” which makes me feel even more that it’s a little fantasy, maybe one they share, maybe one-sided.

“The Silence” by Bastille

I had a lot of trouble deciding what song to do today. I wanted to continue the wide variety I demonstrated from Day 1 to Day 2. I also wanted to do a song that didn’t necessarily deal with the same things as Day 1 and Day 2. Also, I’m trying to get to at least five in a row without stopping or switching focus. This blog is about self-discipline if nothing else, and even though I’m overflowing with emotions about a lot of stuff right now, I want to follow through on my idea to analyze a week’s worth of songs.

I’m going with “The Silence” by Bastille. I know absolutely nothing about the band. I heard one of their songs in the background of The Vampire Diaries and liked it enough to check out the rest. I ended up liking about half the album Bad Blood, so Mr. Credit Card got hit with some charges from iTunes.

As I was listening to the song again to write this entry, I decided there are three different ways to think of it. If the audience you’re singing to is a family member, the song takes on a different feeling altogether. If it’s to a lover, I think it’s kind of the moment before a break up. Listen here and enjoy my interpretations.

Tell me a piece of your history that you’re proud to call your own (talk to me about something you are proud of. That’s easy – could be to a parent or sibling, but could also be to a lover you’re on the outs with. When I first heard the song, I was thinking of it as a friend who wants more than friendship… I think it works that way too.) 
Speak in words you picked up as you walked through life alone (you’ve done a lot on your own, but you’ve learned from it along the way. I think that’s a beautiful idea but also a very lonely thought if the loneliness was sustained over a long period of time. Again, this works for family – could be asking a parent or older sibling to tell you something about his/her life experience. It also works for a lover you’re on the outs with because you’re trying to get him/her to open up. And, of course, for more than friends because you want to get to know the person). 
We used to swim in your stories and be pulled down by their tide (You tell good stories that are engrossing. Everyone gets lost in your stories sometimes. “We” could be the children of the parent. “We” could mean the lovers together. “We” could be the two friends.)
Choking on the water, drowning, with no air in sight (This is the line that made me think it might be parents – sometimes kids get stuck in their parents’ histories. Sometimes lovers get tired of hearing about life before the current relationship. This is one of the more negative lines in the song and it throws me off a bit.) 

PRE-CHORUS:

Now you’ve hit a wall and it’s not your fault
My dear, my dear, my dear (x2) (I think the wall could be that the audience of the song, family member or otherwise, feels like he/she can’t be heard anymore or isn’t being heard, so he/she has stopped talking. Or that the audience has reached his/her limit and can’t say anymore. Or the person has put up a wall for protection and can’t get past it.

CHORUS:

It is not enough to be dumbstruck. Can you fill this silence? (Now the singer is saying it’s okay to keep going into the things that are behind the wall. It’s almost an invitation, but it’s also almost a demand to keep talking. No matter who the audience, the singer is saying you can’t be silent now, you have to go on. The silence seems almost unbearably heavy after all the talking that happened in the past.)
You must have the words in that head of yours. Can you feel the silence? (This is the singer’s acknowledgement that the audience, lover or otherwise, has talked before and has the words for so much but isn’t using them now. It also emphasizes that the silence is a palpable thing, not just a lack of sound.) 
I can’t take it anymore (I need you to talk! Either I miss the stories or you can’t shut me out or we have to make sure we have some closer, depending on who the audience is.)
Cause it is not enough to be dumbstruck. Can you fill the silence? (same as before)

Tell me a piece of your history that you’ve never said out loud (As opposed to something you’re proud of from verse 1, tell me something you’re ashamed of or have never told anyone. Trust me. It’s good for all the possible audiences – lover breaking up/more than friends: I want to know all of you, even the parts you want to hide. Family member: tell me something I don’t know about you.) 
Pull the rug beneath my feet and shake me to the ground (Surprise me! Shatter my vision of who you are. Works for all possible audiences. The lover on the verge of breakup especially because it might be an effort to rediscover this person before it’s totally over. Family it works better for parents because children so often don’t know who their parents were before the children were born.)
Wrap me around your fingers, break the silence open wide (Wrapped around your finger sometimes means being at someone’s beck and call, but here I think it can also be a simpler connection. Like let’s get closer. Tell the stories we used to both get lost in. TALK AGAIN!) 
Before it seeps into my ears and fills me up from the inside (This also makes the silence seem heavy and maybe even painful. If you’re filled with silence, you might feel empty too. Don’t let me become empty because you stopped communicating with me! Works especially for lovers on the verge of a breakup.) 

PRE-CHORUS

CHORUS

If you give it a name then it’s already won (This expresses the idea that if you only have a thought, it’s not dangerous, but when you say it out loud, it becomes real. In the case of a family situation, maybe the thing that stopped the person talking was an illness, so if you name the illness, it becomes real and now everyone is upset. If you take it as the couple about the break up, then the name would be “split” or “dump” and once you say that word in the relationship, it casts doubt even if you don’t break up right then. If it’s a friend wanting more, the name could be calling each other something more than friends and we’re all scared of labels or whatever.)
What you good for? What you good for? (x4) (This also seems very negative, but I think it might mean “you” as “name” from the previous line – like what good is a name? But if it’s talking to the audience, maybe it means you’re not good for anything if you remain silent. Not sure.) 

CHORUS

Now that I’m done, I like this song even more because it can be taken in so many ways. It’s cool when lyricists and other wordsmiths can do that.

“The Humpty Dance” by Digital Underground

Today’s song choice is much different from yesterday’s. I like a wide variety of music. I was talking about this song with one of my sisters last week, and she didn’t know some of the words. I also think it has a really important message about self-awareness, self-acceptance, diversity, and equality. Plus, it’s an awesome nostalgic groove. I couldn’t even tell you when I first heard it, probably on the radio in mom’s car.

Without further ado, I present “The Humpty Dance” and my thoughts on it.  Listen here if you’ve never had the pleasure of hearing the song.

All right! (PAY ATTENTION!) 
Stop whatcha doin’ (He might mean he’s more important than what you are currently doing, but I like to think of it as stop whatever foolishness you’re engaging in)
‘Cause I’m about to ruin
The image and the style that ya used to. (He’s blowing up your perceptions of rap, hip hop, societal expectations of beauty. Good for him!)
I look funny (see? Self-awareness. He knows he isn’t what you’d expect, and he doesn’t give a shit…)
But yo I’m makin’ money, see (…because he’s still earning his dough.)
So yo world I hope you’re ready for me (He is unapologetically HERE, y’all. Like it or not, here is this guy that doesn’t fit into your mold.)
Now gather round
I’m the new fool in town
And my sound’s laid down by the Underground
I drink up all the Hennessey ya got on ya shelf
So just let me introduce myself
My name is Humpty, pronounced with a Umpty (All these lines show self-awareness and acceptance.  Who is he? Who’s his crew? He’s gonna drink too much and he has a weird name. He’s cool with it; we should be too.)
Yo ladies, oh how I like to hump thee (He’s very direct. I appreciate that.)
And all the rappers in the top ten–please allow me to bump thee (It wouldn’t be rap if there wasn’t a little competitive edge. He said PLEASE though, so move along. He’s coming into his own.) 
I’m steppin’ tall, y’all (That’s confidence. Or he is tall. I don’t know for sure.)
And just like Humpty Dumpty
You’re gonna fall when the stereos pump me (YO! He’s bringing the beats that gonna get us HYPE! “Fall” maybe in love but also fall down when we try to do the dance he later describes) 
I like to rhyme
I like my beats funky
I’m spunky. I like my oatmeal lumpy
I’m sick with dis, straight gangsta mack
But sometimes I get ridiculous
I’ll eat up all your crackers and your licorice (More self-awareness and self- acceptance. Humpty knows who he is, warts and all. He doesn’t seem to be full of the self-loathing I’m so used to feeling. Also, he clearly knows himself, which is refreshing and sadly rare.)
Hey yo fat girl, come here–are ya ticklish?
Yeah, I called ya fat
Look at me, I’m skinny
It never stopped me from gettin’ busy (So, I can see what this might be offensive, but as a fat girl, I kind of like it A LOT because I don’t like all the euphemisms for “fat” like “full figured” or “plus size” or whatever. It’s fat. Call a spade a spade. More than that though he goes on to say that his own appearance doesn’t stop him from getting ass, which to me implies that he’s telling the fat ladies we shouldn’t let our weight stop us from getting ass either.)
I’m a freak (Very straight forward. You aren’t going to be surprised by his red room of pain. Humpty doesn’t need you to sign an NDA. He’s proud of his freak status. Take that, Christian Grey!)
I like the girls with the boom (I’m guessing this is the cushion in the pushin’?)
I once got busy in a Burger King bathroom (this is one of my favorite lyrics of all-time because it is so random and so funny. But also, the internet accused me of getting busy in a Waffle House bathroom circa 2002. I conceived John Mayer’s baby if you believe the rumors.) 
I’m crazy (crazy awesome! crazy honest!)
Allow me to amaze thee
They say I’m ugly but it just don’t faze me (I link these ideas because I think some people are blown away when someone accepts himself the way he is without pretense that he’s something he is not. Humpty isn’t much to look at, but he still digs himself. I wish I felt that way more often.)
I’m still gettin’ in the girls’ pants
And I even got my own dance (He may not be much to look at, but he’s gets the ladies and he gets the dance moves.)

CHORUS:

The Humpty Dance is your chance to do the hump
Do the Humpty Hump, come on and do the Humpty Hump (wait for his description of the dance. It’s great.)

People say “Yo, Humpty, you’re really funny lookin'” (what a bunch of dicks people are!)
That’s all right ’cause I get things cookin’ (It’s cool with Humpty though. He knows he looks weird, but he can still have a good time.) 
Ya stare, ya glare, ya constantly try to compare me
But ya can’t get near me (He’s an original, even if you don’t get it.)
I give ’em more, see, and on the floor be
All the girls they adore me (He could be talking so much bull shit, but I happen to think he does as well with the ladies as he says because he is so honest about who he is.)
Oh yes, ladies, I’m really bein’ sincere
‘Cause in a 69 my humpty nose will tickle ya rear (This may be the first time I had any idea what 69 was. Also a great, funny, out of nowhere line that makes the song a gem.) 
My nose is big, uh-uh I’m not ashamed
Big like a pickle, I’m still gettin’ paid
I get laid by the ladies, ya know I’m in charge
Both how I’m livin’ and my nose is large (Again, he said he was going to shatter all our notions of what we’re used to – beauty, rap, whatever. He’s got a schnaz (sp?) on him and he doesn’t give a shit. He makes his money, he gets his women, he calls the shots.)
I get stupid, I shoot an arrow like Cupid
I use a word that don’t mean nothin’, like looptid (He so cray! But he’s having fun.)
I sang on Doowhutchalike, and if ya missed it
I’m the one who said just grab ’em in the biscuits (Can’t have a rap song that doesn’t shout out his other accomplishments. Where he was featured, what his other jams are.)
Also told ya that I like to bite (Again, no NDA needed, Mr. Grey. Humpty will straight tell you what freaky stuff he’s into and then release the song to everyone everywhere)
Well, yeah, I guess it’s obvious, I also like to write (Of course you do. And you’re great at it!)
All ya had to do was give Humpty a chance (Right? ALL YOU HAD TO DO WAS GIVE HIM A CHANCE. DON’T JUDGE HIM UNTIL YOU KNOW HIM! Equality. Diversity!) 
And now I’m gonna do my dance (Yo, the dance though!)

CHORUS

Oh, yeah, that’s the break, y’all
Let ’em hear a little bit of that bass groove right here
Oh, yeah!
Now that I told ya a little bit about myself
Let me tell ya a little bit about this dance
It’s real easy to do–check it out (He’s so good with transitions, talking us through where he’s going next!)

First I limp to the side like my legs was broken (Okay, so this dance isn’t about sex. It’s about movement.)
Shakin’ and twitchin’ kinda like I was smokin’ (And rhythm doesn’t really matter either I guess)
Crazy wack funky (all good adjectives to describe what this dance is like.)
People say ya look like M.C. Hammer on crack, Humpty
That’s all right ’cause my body’s in motion (Don’t judge on appearances! So what if it’s not choreographed to death. He’s moving. That’s all that matters. Dancing is supposed to be fun!)
It’s supposed to look like a fit or a convulsion (even if you have zero coordination, it’s all good. You might look like you’re epileptic, but Humpty don’t mind.)
Anyone can play this game (ANYONE! See that equality?!)
This is my dance, y’all, Humpty Hump’s my name (He made the rules and his rules say anyone can be a part of his dance. Total acceptance of everyone and anyone!)
No two people will do it the same (I love this line because it is all about diversity. Nobody has to be the same, but everyone is welcome to the party.)
Ya got it down when ya appear to be in pain (This always makes me laugh.)
Humpin’, funkin’, jumpin’
Gig around, shakin’ ya rump
And when the dude or chump pump points a finger like a stump
Tell him step off, I’m doin’ the Hump (NO JUDGMENT HERE! It’s a beautiful thing, just moving your body.)

CHORUS

Black people, do the Humpty Hump, do the Humpty Hump
White people, do the Humpty Hump, do the Humpty Hump
Puerto Ricans, do the Humpty Hump, just keep on doin’ the hump
Samoans, do the Humpty Hump, do the Humpty Hump (He is inviting everyone to do this non-judgmental dance with him. It’s beautiful unity. We can all do the Humpty Dance together.)

CHORUS

If you got through the song and my thoughts without laughing, congratulations – you have no funny bone! But if you don’t see the clear message of equality, diversity, non-judgement, and peace – you have no heart.

“Moments” by Tove Lo

A while ago I floated the idea of analyzing lyrics or at least explaining what they mean to me. I’m starting that today because I’ve felt crazy, which this song speaks to.

I first heard Tove Lo’s “Talking Body” on the radio in North Carolina while I was visiting friends from college and their two beautiful girls. I liked the track enough to check out the whole album. I dug how Tove Lo broke it into parts of a relationship.

Listen to “Moments” here. Lyrics and my thoughts on them are below. I’ve intentionally linked to a version that is just the song and not its video because the video kind of ruined the song for me when I watched it in preparation for writing this entry. You know how that happens sometimes?

I grew up with a lot of green, (She means money, proof in the next line. I mean open green space when I sing it.)
Nice things ’round me. (Yeah, we had some nice stuff at mom’s house, so I feel this as long as I think about the first line as suburban space instead of money. I wasn’t really aware of having money or not having money, which means we had enough but not excessive amounts.)
I was safe, I was fine. (That’s not true for me. I wasn’t safe. I wasn’t fine. I was possessed by the devil. That’s part of why the video ruined this for me because the pre-song dialogue kind of makes this line a lie to the song too.)

Grew up with a lot of dreams,
Plans who to be; (SO many dreams. SO many plans. I had big ideas, the first of which was being a teacher.)
None of them know were mine. (She is talking about her parents pressuring her. I never felt like my mom wanted anything for me that I didn’t want for myself. I never thought my dad really cared about what I grew up to do because I was already at a disadvantage because I was a girl and girls aren’t worth much.)

PRE-CHORUS:

I love freaks, I don’t care if you’re a wild one (x2) (I see this as self-identifying as a freak so she doesn’t care if a partner is also a freak. I totally agree. I’m not normal, so I don’t think I can hang with normal.) 

CHORUS:

And me? I’m not the prettiest you’ve ever seen, (Well, obviously she’s pretty enough to be a pop star. I love this line though because I feel it HARD.)
But I have my moments, I have my moments. (Yeah, so we all shine sometimes. We all have our high points. And for me, when I’m good, I’M GOOD! But as the word implies, it’s only brief. BUT it IS plural!) 
Not the flawless one, I’ve never been, (Oh dear God yes. If I say I’m perfect, it is with my tongue stuck firmly in my cheek.) 
But I have my moments, I have my moments. (same.)
I can get a little drunk, I get into all the “don’ts” (So this is a funny thing that I just noticed because I hear her say “don’ts” meaning all the things that someone would put on his “Deal breaker” list, but some internet versions say she sings “drugs.” If it’s drunk and don’ts, then I am 100% on board. If it’s drugs, well, no. I don’t get into many drugs at all. Ultimately, it means I GET MESSY.)
But on good days I am charming as fuck! (x2) (Everything before “but” is bull shit, right Ned Stark? This is the key: when I’m on, I am ON FIRE. At least, that’s what I think she means. It also holds the acknowledgement that “moments” implies – my awesomeness is not a permanent condition. It is, however, worth sticking around for.) 

I can’t be the perfect one, (Nope. Not perfect. If that’s what you’re looking for, it ain’t me babe – HEY that’s another song!)
But I’ll make you come, (Not perfect, but definitely sexy, definitely get the job done.) 
And I’m locked in you’re mind. (You can’t stop thinking about me even though I don’t fit into the idea you had of what someone you are attracted to should be/look like/act like. You like me anywaaaaay!) 

You can say I don’t belong
That I’m so wrong.
I can tell, tell you lie. (Again, I don’t fit what you think you should want or like, but you like me anywaaaaaay! I’m sure that’s what she means; I’m not sure if I’ve ever believed that about myself in a dating/attraction/relationship scenario.) 

Pre-chorus, chorus.

Rough around the edges, memories and baggage. (I. Am. A. Mess. I have a ton of issues. I’m crudely shaped by my past, which is ugly and heavy.)
You know me. (So I’m not sure if she means this as in now you know because of this song or if it’s a statement of fact beyond the existence of the song. Either way, I wrote a story where in “knowing” was equated to “loving” because some dystopian overlord had outlawed the word “love” in any form. So I like this line to mean that the person I’m singing to already knows all of my messiness and, maybe, loves me anyway?)
Never play the safe card, when I go I go hard, (she takes risks. I change this in my head all the time to ALWAYS play the safe card. The latter half, though, is true to both of us. When I plan to do something, I do the ish out of it.) 
And now you know. (This leads me to believe that she meant the song is her audience’s notice of these facts about her, but I also think maybe this could be a way to say “take it or leave it” because she is who she is. I like that. I am who I am. Of course, I’m always aspiring to be a better version of me. Not sure if she is.) 

Okay, okay. I mentioned the video version. Promise you have listened to the song, read the lyrics, and considered my thoughts before watching the video here. Or better yet, trust me. It ruins it.

Empathy

While I was away, I wrote most days.  Not all of it had a direction or purpose. I thought a lot about empathy though, and what happened in Charlottesville makes the topic even more important right now.

Empathy is the action of understanding, awareness of, and sensitivity to another’s feelings, thoughts, and experiences, whether they are past or present.  It is also the ability or capacity to do this action. (I roughly paraphrased that from Merriam Webster). It’s about sharing someone’s feelings, thoughts, or experiences even though you yourself may not have had the feeling, thought, or experience yourself. It’s not the same as sympathy, which knows someone is suffering and feels sorry for him/her. Empathy doesn’t involve pity or sorrow or feeling bad for someone because of what he/she is going through. It is being able to put yourself in another person’s shoes and see through his/her eyes.

Because it is an action, you might think it is easy to teach empathy. Not so. It’s not an observable action, like dribbling or shooting a free throw. It also requires several other actions before you can build to the complex action of empathy. First, you have to be well acquainted with your own feelings, to understand your own thoughts, to remember your own experiences and how they made you feel. If you can’t own your feelings, you can’t begin to understand the emotions of others. That’s why so few people are capable of real empathy: they aren’t experiencing their own emotions for some reason. I know it’s a cliche to ask “How do you feel about that?” and the question is used to make fun of therapy a lot, but the fact is that a lot of people never ask themselves that. If they do, they may not answer honestly. You don’t have to ask the question constantly, but sometimes it’s a necessary examination.

If you can figure out how to experience and own your feelings, then you’re ready for the next step. This one seems too obvious, but it’s essential. You have to realize every other human being has thoughts, feelings, and experiences that are DIFFERENT from yours. They may be similar in some ways, but we are all unique creatures, so even if we agree on many things, there might be one sticking point. More often, we find we disagree about more than we would like to. If we can recognize that other people have different thoughts, feelings, experiences, priorities, we then have to take the step to set aside our ego, to accept that there is no more or less value in the way I think, feel etc and there is no more or less value in the way another human thinks, feels etc. It may be different, yes, but it is no better or worse. We have to let go of the urge to exert our feelings, thoughts, experiences on others.

This leaves the door open to the final step of empathy, which is to take off our own glasses and use the other person’s lens to look at the world, to put his/her filter on things. Sometimes we can do this through talking to people. Sometimes we have to do it through hypothetical scenarios, knowing something about the other person’s circumstances and trying to think about what we would do, think, say, feel if ever put in the same situation. This is where literature has been shown to help in building empathy. By using your imagination while reading about others, you can translate the skill to the real world and new people you meet. I don’t think this needs to be limited to reading. I think you can also develop this skill by watching fictional TV and movies.

I thought about how age plays into this. If empathy is in some ways about experience, isn’t it harder for young people to be empathetic? I decided that’s not the case. What you’ve experienced in life is not dependent on your age. There is often a correlation, but it is not true for everyone. Neither is how much a person has read or watched. So the assumption that older people have more empathy is false.

I also thought about how we acquire empathy. I mentioned briefly that reading literature is one way to teach empathy, but I can’t help wondering if there are some natural characteristics that contribute to the ability. I am very empathetic, and yes, I’ve read and watched a ton of fictional material. I’ve had a wide variety of experiences in my life. I’m also in touch with my emotions, whether or not I vocalize that awareness. I have a good memory, which is also helpful because I remember how I felt in various situations. I listen to others, which is key as well because in order to empathize, you have to hear what other people are saying. But I often pick up on what people are thinking or feeling without talking to them extensively. I’m legally blind, so body language and facial expressions aren’t always my clues. I wonder if there are other types of receptors that some people have that pick up on what other people are putting out. In college, my best friend resented my ability to know exactly what was going on with her emotionally without her telling me anything. On her 18th birthday, I told my little sister not to rush to get her tattoo, to think about it a little longer. She was horrified that I knew she planned to get it that day (and got it anyway). My students always say I really understand them, how they feel, what they are thinking.

Being empathetic is exhausting though. There is a step further, being an empath. Sometimes I think that’s what I am because I can’t turn it off. Like a sponge, I absorb all the thoughts and feelings of those around me. All the angst, all the anger, all the pain, all the happiness, all the excitement…. I internalize it and it stays in me until I can unwind from it, which isn’t easy either. I have to sort through which thoughts and feelings are mine, which are coming from people I care about, which I can let go because the person who put them out into the world shouldn’t matter to me. Being empathetic makes me good at teaching, but it’s also part of why I need a break from it. It’s one of the reasons I’m an introvert, getting my energy from alone time because rather than feeding my own energy levels, other people tend to drain them.

And, of course, empathy is a much larger issue than my musings because if more people had it, we could live peacefully side by side instead of letting hatred fester in our hearts until it explodes in insanity like that we saw in Charlottesville this weekend. Those people clearly haven’t begun the first step of understanding their own thoughts and feelings. I have little hope that they’ll ever get to the next point of recognizing that other people are different but no less valuable. And those of us who are empathetic ache for the people who have dealt with this hatred and ignorance for so long that it feels next to impossible to fight against it again. Those with empathy feel the rage that progress is inconsistent at best, Sisyphus rolling his stone at worst. Unfortunately, empathy also lets us see the fear of those who come together with enmity to hold on to ignorance. Yes, we can understand them without excusing them. For me, feeling the fear of the white supremacists is the intersection of empathy and sympathy. I understand their fear of a new world order that seems like it’s taking from them (which it is not), but rather than sharing in their fear, I feel sorry for them, that they aren’t able to be filled with love. They are sad small people. I don’t know that they have even a drop of humanity in them to start on the road to empathy.

Memory Lane at the Airport 

I am habitually early for many reasons. The most influential is that my dad’s side of the family is habitually and unapologetically late to a degree that I find disrespectful. I compensate by being everywhere I need to be well before I need to be there. 

The airport is no exception, even though I then find myself wasting my life looking at my phone or thumbing through magazines I know I’m not going to buy. Sometimes I people watch, but more often people are watching me because the airport, any airport, is always full of folks who’ve never seen a woman who is 5’10” and/or a person with albinism, let alone both. 

Sometimes I walk miles if several terminals are connected. I figure that is a good counterbalance to the time I will spend hunching into a seat that is too small for a child, let alone a large adult. Sometimes, like today, there isn’t anywhere to go. I’m in a terminal with only eight gates in a circle. Yes, I could read a book, but I’m not fully awake, so I’m afraid I’ll fall asleep. 
Instead I checked my Timehop. For those who aren’t familiar, Timehop is an app that links to your social media accounts and pictures in your phone to collate a history of your life as far back as those records go. Some days are more exciting than others, but it’s always kind of fun to see what I was thinking or doing on this day X years ago.

Today’s fantastic!

Last year I dreamt about The Americans actor Costa Ronin (he plays Oleg and I love him).

Two years ago I flew to Chicago to visit my brother where we watched a presidential debate with his girlfriend and turned it into a drinking game.

Three years ago I was in Colorado for a family reunion. We went ziplining in the morning and white water rafting in the afternoon. Me and my cousin were the only two people in our raft that didn’t fall out. I’d never seen my dad afraid of anything until that day, and he may or may not think I tried to drown him. I didn’t. 

Four years ago I was on my way to Austin to visit a friend. 

Five years ago I have nothing on record, but I assume I was doing something as amazing as the rest of this list. 

Six years ago I was in Vancouver. Apparently I had chocolate on my face and none of the lovely Canadians told me. There were also crazy riots in London that day, and I was thankful that my best English friend was with me in Van instead of at home.

Seven years ago I was in Edinburgh at a wedding. I had quite a bit of champagne but just one haggis ball. I tried some Scottish dancing, which I’m no good at, and generally had an amazing time. 

Eight years ago I was agonizing over making a decision about whether to take the job at the Tech school or stay at the Arts school even though they didn’t know if I would be teaching English or history or playing substitute whenever they needed. My mom, who is my sounding board, was in Mexico with her boyfriend, so I turned to my former boss and mentor. I decided to decline the Tech school even though I had no idea what I’d be teaching at the Arts school. I felt good about my choice, but it was negated a few weeks later in one of life’s surprise twists. 

That’s as far back as Timehop goes. That’s probably a good thing because I’m full up on memories! And today I’m off to Quebec, so add another fun memory for next year. 

Travel Bug

As far back as I can remember, my mom talked about her junior year abroad in Madrid, Spain with fond memories and a near-demand that I study abroad when I got the chance. I was too chicken shit to go to a non-English speaking country, which I deeply regret, but I got myself abroad in college, before, and after.

The passport that served me from June 2001 to June 2011 is a treasure of travel memories. It was my key to the world:

England (x5)
Scotland (x2)
Dominican Republic (x2)
Germany (x2)
Czech Republic (x2)
France (x2)
Austria
Spain
Ireland
Aruba
Russia (visa!)

Yes, many trips to England – what can I say? I fell in love with London at 20. And, of course, Russia was a once in a lifetime adventure given the current state of international relations.

I wish I’d used it more, but I’m not made of money, and neither is my mom, who financed many of those trips. She also paid for the ones before that passport, to Italy (x2), the Bahamas, and Mexico, not to mention domestic trips up and down the eastern seaboard and to Hawaii.

My first trip to Europe was to Italy when I was 18. I learned a ton of history, but I also learned that I love going to places I’ve read about and reading about places I’ve been to. Call it experiential learning, call it hands on, whatever. I love when history, literature, religion, and Hollywood entertainment converge with me standing somewhere, seeing for myself. You can imagine how this feeling intensifies when my favorite novelists and poets are involved. Haworth at the Brontes’ house before a ramble on the Moors? BE STILL MY HEART. Traipsing up to the Vale of Health to get a feel for what Keats’ surrounded himself with? Sitting on an Oxford campus graveyard, channeling Byron’s broodiness? And, of course, Dublin with Dedalus and Sligo with Yeats.

I did a May term in eastern Germany, following the footsteps of Martin Luther. Everything from my childhood in church was real. I got to hold a bible that was nearly 500 years old. I got to explain the theological sides of Luther to a group that was focused on his social and educational reforms apart from his wild departure from the Catholic church. So if you thought it was just about my adoration of literature, you’re wrong. It’s history too. Hence the trip to Russia.

There’s something magical about being in a place where history happened, sitting where someone was inspired to write something that stays with me, comparing the Hollywood version of something to what the facts bear out. All the better if it’s in a different country where I can try new food and talk to people who have another perspective.

Since becoming an adult, ie working full time (despite summer break), I haven’t traveled as much. This fact is painfully clear in my current passport. While the picture shows a slimmed down version of me, the stamps aren’t as happy. In fact, there are three trips to Canada, one trip to England, and one trip to Ireland. And it’s more than five years old!!! Five years in to the one from my 20s, my stamps were hoppin’. Now, wah wah wah.

Yes, there was a cruise to Alaska that included a stop in British Columbia. That trip was spectacular, not just because it was to celebrate mom being done with cancer treatments. Yes, there is my awesome trip to Ireland. Yes, there is the epic BC/Washington road trip of 2011. I’m not minimizing the trips that are on the records, rather lamenting that there aren’t more.

And tomorrow I’ll get yet another Canadian stamp as I head to Quebec City for a longer exploration. I was there for a few hours on a day trip out of Montreal. I like Canada just fine, but I’m hungry for some more adventures.

Now I hear the voice in my head reminding me that I know exactly what I want to do with my “gap year,” “time out,” “walk about.” I need to get booking.

Aromas of Pet Parenting

My current fur-faced baby, Rocky cat, has been thinning out lately. One of the cats I grew up with tipped the scales at 20 pounds, so I like ’em thick. Rocky has never been huge, but recently he’s just fur and bone. He hasn’t changed his eating or pooping habits, so I didn’t think much of it, but I finally took him to the vet today. He hates getting into the carrier. That was our first hurdle.

At the vet, he got good marks for his teeth and his rub down. They took some blood and a urine sample, both of which I should hear about next week. I have to collect a stool sample for him (fun) and bring it in. They said he may need an ultrasound of his tummy if nothing comes up in the various tests just to see what’s going on. We were cleared to go while we “wait and see” if anything is wrong or if he’s just getting old (he’s nearly 12).

On the way home, I walked a different route taking in some Brooklyn scenery. It was more suburban than I’m used to, and I was enjoying the front porches and how the morning sun was burning off the storms that had moved through earlier. I had the carrier on my right shoulder and my right hand stuck through a small unzipped portion so I could pet Rocky to calm him down. He mewed a bit, but I told him we were on our way home.

I don’t know if it was a plant I walked by or the fact that I am a spaz and don’t breathe right, but all of a sudden I was coughing like I had cotton in my throat. I couldn’t get any air. I was just around the corner from my apartment, and I have an inhaler (presumably for allergies, but I’m not totally sure why the doctor prescribed it). I kept walking and coughing. Rocky didn’t protest the odd movements because I kept my hand on him. Once home, I let him out, kept coughing, began sneezing, and started itching all over. I got some water, the inhaler, and some Benadryl. Once I got myself together, I got Rocky a treat.

That’s when I noticed his entire hind half was wet. The vet said he had two patches on his hind legs that would be damp from the alcohol swabs to draw blood. But his tail and legs were soaking wet. I picked him up and sniffed. Yep. He had peed all over himself in the carrier. Which is fabric, not plastic. I hadn’t noticed because I was too busy having a weird allergy attack. I inspected the carrier and it’s trashed. That’s when the Benadryl started to hit, and I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I put the carrier in the bath tub, tried unsuccessfully to wipe Rocky dry, and passed out on the couch.

I woke up to find that the unmistakable odor of cat piss had permeated the bathroom door and spread throughout the apartment. I decided I’d try to clean Rocky a little more thoroughly, but before I found him, I slipped. On two piles of cat puke. Which also has a less-than-pleasing stench. I prioritized the puke because I didn’t want to slip again and land on my ass. My earlier allergy attack had cleared my nostrils so I got the full bouquet of barf as I cleaned it. Next it was on to the carrier. It’s not salvageable. Somehow, though, it has invaded the entire apartment. Rocky has NEVER peed outside of his litter box. Ever. I don’t have a lot of carpet to soak up the undying smell even if he did, but it’s new for me to be assaulted by the stink of cat piss. Fabreeze-scented garbage bags and “twilight woods” candles to the rescue.

Now I have to trick Rocky into letting me clean his hind half so the dried piss doesn’t cling to his fur. I’m not sure if you know about cats and water – they don’t mix. Needless to say, I’m not having a great day. It’ll be even worse if something IS wrong with him because I hate to put him through the ordeal of going back to the vet or, worse, having to force medicine down his throat.

He Thought, She Thought

I’ve had a productive couple of days, but I’m exhausted. I brought home a ton of stuff that I had amassed in my various classrooms over the last eight years, but I hadn’t really gone through any of it. I shoved books on the shelves, completely out of order. I tossed office supplies on my desk, which is a wreck under the best of circumstances. I left piles of lesson plans and sample student work sitting in open boxes in various corners.

Today I started to tackle some of the clutter. I packed up two rows worth of teaching books, labeled the boxes, and shoved them in a corner. I won’t be needing those for at least a year, right? I then alphabetized my book shelves, adding the titles I’d brought home from my classroom library. Then I went to work on some of the lesson plans and student work. I didn’t get very far before I found the story below.  I didn’t put a date on it, so I can’t remember exactly when I wrote it (though I could guess if you pressed me. And it was obviously after seeing/hearing Hamilton). I haven’t posted much in the way of short fiction, so I thought “why not?”


“Missed Connection” by LJD
“I’m dying inside because there’s nothing that your mind can’t do.” ~ from Hamilton

It’s been five weeks.

He showed her where to go. Twice. So when he arrived and she wasn’t there, he figured the glimmer in her eye didn’t mean anything after all. He’d lowered his voice when he asked about her life. Maybe she thought he was making small talk.

Truth was, she got lost. She couldn’t read the map and was distracted by standing so close to him while he explained. She didn’t understand why he wouldn’t walk with her, so she assumed he wasn’t interested. She tried half-heartedly to find the bar and ended up walking around watching the sun set, sad that she couldn’t just grab him and hold him close.

Another girl had speculated about his dick. While she talked a good game with the oversexed girls, she honestly didn’t care how big – or small – he was. She’d examined his hands and found them to be perfectly fine. She reasoned he could provide a lot of pleasure with them. When he returned, the three of them fell in to casual conversation. The other girl shot her some odd looks, but nothing so obvious that confidence broke through her habitual self-doubt.

He didn’t say anything about it after. Another guy told her that they looked for her when they got there. He wished he had said it himself, but that would mean he’d missed her, that he’d wanted her to be there. He did want her to be there, but he wasn’t sure he wanted her to know that.

She was only vaguely aware that he saw her. She didn’t consider that he’d bother looking. It never occurred to her that anyone, especially he, thought she was beautiful.
She was full of questions, but she wasn’t close enough. She listened. She absorbed everything he said and let other people talk to him. She wanted to touch him, tousle his hair, rub his shoulders, lean against him… anything to silently tell him he was okay, it would be fine. She hoped her will alone could comfort and calm him.

He felt better knowing she was there. He warmed when he saw her. He liked that from the start she’d told him she would never stress him. She’d been true to her word so far. Reliable. It made him want to do more for her. He sensed her independence was a choice, but he felt the loneliness that accompanied it was an unwelcome consequence. She could absolutely take care of herself, he knew, which made him want to treat her like a queen. He wanted to do for her because he could tell she did for everyone else. He looked out for her quietly.

She wasn’t sure he was looking out at all. She didn’t even realize she wanted to be taken care of. She’d finally figured out that he was paying very close attention. Her heart fluttered. She liked that he didn’t ask – he only made sure to keep an eye on her. She loved that he did it without needing a pat on the back. She felt special, precious. She wasn’t used to it, but she knew she could quickly adapt, even come to depend on it. That scared her.
Everything about saying goodbye scared her. She had to keep him in her orbit. Somehow.

He tried to catch her eye, to slow her down so he could get her alone, but she seemed to be vibrating. He wasn’t sure if she was ready to run away from him or if her words were a veiled invitation. He wasn’t going to ask. He had her pinned down in many ways, yet something fundamental about her still eluded him.

Then she crushed her body against his.

He couldn’t believe it. It took him so off guard that he didn’t have time to tighten his grip and keep her there, exactly where he wanted her.

She didn’t know what to do next, so she ran. And kicked herself for running. And thought of ways to go back and stand still. But her blood was humming. Nothing inside her was still.

He was planted as she faded into the distance. He could have gone after her. He should have. It would have taken away any doubts one way or another. She was too good though. He wasn’t what she wanted, what she needed. The magnetism he felt was one-sided desire. She was gone, and his life would never be as bright as the handful of moments he’d traveled in her orbit.

The Hardest Question

There were A LOT of great quotes from season 7 episode 3 of Game of Thrones. Sam explaining HOW he figured out how to treat grey scale. Sansa trying to understand what the fuck Bran was talking about. And Tyrion pressing Jon Snow, only to hear, “I know it’s a good question. I’m looking for an answer!” (Side note: I want to live on Dragonstone.)

It’s perfect for what I was thinking about after the ophthalmologist today. I’m used to feeling like a freak most places I go, but the technicians today took it to new levels. In a practice of at least 15 eye doctors, I mistakenly assumed the techs and nurses had seem someone with Albinism before. Not so for the many technicians whose minds I blew when they tried to use any of the machines to get a read of my vision. I haven’t had a checkup in over a decade, so I know some technology has changed. There was more computerized stuff than I remember, but therein was the problem. Because my eyes move constantly (nystagmus) the readings probably aren’t accurate. I tried to explain that to two technicians at the first set of machines. They were too busy speaking Spanish to each other about how weird my results were. (NB: I speak enough Spanish to understand everything they said.)  I was then sent to a machine that was intended to take some sort of image of my eyes while I looked at a blue light and a red line. A third technician began the test and got frustrated. A fourth, this one an Asian dude with a rockin’ man bun, helped. He doesn’t even work there regularly I learned later in the appointment, so why is he the only one who didn’t seem to freak the fuck out that these fancy machines aren’t cutting the mustard when it comes to measuring my peepers? Ugh. One of the confused technicians then tried to have me read a vision chart. That was a laugh. Next came a peripheral vision test, which I failed and cheated on by moving my head. Short cuts! I told her before all of that that I’m legally blind, blowing her mind a second time.

“How you get around?”

Well, as I’ve mentioned, ma’am, I’ve been this way since birth and I’ve been adapting that long too. “You’re 35 now.” Yes, that’s what the chart says. “When your vision problems start?” When I was born. It hasn’t gotten any worse. I just need a checkup.

The doctor popped his head in at that point because I assume the other technicians had alerted him to the “alarming” results the machine tests spit out. Thank God he knew what he was doing. Tech One told him I couldn’t do the peripheral vision test and launched into something else. He cut her off, “no, she wouldn’t be able to do that. She has Oculocutaneous Albinism.” (Words the tech had a great deal of difficulty finding in the computer when she was trying to enter my info). So, my ocular muscles suck as does my peripheral vision. I knew that. Can we get on with it?

“Can I give her drops?” Because apparently my eyes are so out of the ordinary to this woman who works in an eye doctors’ office that she wasn’t sure if she could perform the basic exam requirement of dilating my pupils. Y’know what? I wish I had answered for her and escaped without the dreaded drops, but the doctor set her straight.

I got the drops and waited for the doctor. Like I said, thankfully he and his guest doctor (from Chile, so of course I mentioned Neruda) knew their shit. My eyes are great, exactly in the middle of the range of expectations for someone with OCA. The doctor is especially interested in it as a research topic and personally because he has a first cousin with albinism. He wanted to get some residents to look because it would’ve been a great teaching moment. They were all at lunch, which is where I wanted to be.

With a great report, I wanted to find a dark room and lay down until the drops wore off, but I had to get baseline images. A third machine. Three technicians trying to figure out the best way to make the machine work with the freak show, uh, I mean me. Again, Asian man bun was the only one who acted like he had any idea what he was doing. If I didn’t like the doctor so much, I might have had a hissy fit at that point.

With a massive headache and worse vision than usual thanks to the drops of death, I made my way home thinking about the question “how?”

In teaching, we talk about developing thought-provoking, open-ended questions and whatnot. We tend to say WHY questions are the most difficult. I’m not so convinced when it comes to life outside of teaching. Why is often completely inexplicable in life. Why does shit happen? Philosophers have been asking that forever. I get into that sometimes, and it’s fun. But HOW. How is a tricky sucker because people ask all the time and science tries to answer.

There are some HOW questions that I’m sure someone can answer but would be impossible for the layperson to understand, like how does wifi work?

More often people ask me HOW questions that I can’t begin to answer.

“How do you get around?” I don’t know, with my feet. To the best of my ability. The way every other human being “gets around” in that my brain sends a message to a certain part of my body to MOVE and my body does… It’s not like I was given a choice about my vision, so it never occurred to me to do anything differently than the way I perceived other people “get around.”

“How do you teach high school?” Like I was born to do it. I listen to my students. I give a shit about them as human beings. I know that they are probably smarter than I am in tons of ways, so I respect them for that while keeping my place of authority by being an expert in my subject area. How do YOU work in a cubicle? Oh right, you get your ass up and there on time and do what your boss asks because you want/need a paycheck. Next dumb question.

“How did you not have a nervous breakdown?” or “How do you deal with the stress?” or any other HOW questions about depression and anxiety…. It’s so hard to answer. But I think it’s like my vision… It’s not like I have a choice. Yeah, do I feel like it takes everything in me to get out of bed some days? YES YES YES. How do I do it? Because I know staying in bed more than one day isn’t an option. How do I keep it together when something horrible happens, how do I stay calm in crisis situations, how to I put up with this or that? Because it’s not an option to lay face down, pounding my fists into the ground and screaming, so that’s how. I know there’s no choice, so I do what I can.

“How do you know that?” When I know something about a friend’s life that s/he hasn’t told me directly. Intuition. Empathy. I pay attention. I might be a little psychic?

It’s funny because we think HOW can be broken down into steps that are transferable to anyone. But we all know that’s not true. If it were that simple, we could all do things that some people are clearly better at than others. HOW do you hit a home run? Science tells us about speed and force and angles and steroids, which is only part of the answer. Think about it. It’s a process question. That means you have to understand the process and be able to articulate it in a way that makes sense to someone else. That’s a lot harder than the three letters H-O-W lead you to believe.

So, HOW do I do anything? It’s the hardest question.