Como Poesia a Vino

Rough translation: like poetry to wine. It’s from a Rachael Yamagata song called “I Want You,” one of the lyrics of which is “When I dream of London I can only see your face.” I like the idea, but it’s never been true for me. London is so much more than a one-faced dream.

I’ve made tons of mistakes when it comes to my educational choices. I should’ve taken IB Spanish instead of going the easy route. I’d be able to enjoy some of my favorite literature without the aide of translators instead of slowly bumbling through conversational Spanish. Oh well. I still read Neruda’s love sonnets side by side.

I first got my hands on Neruda when I was 16. I can’t remember if it was in English class, Spanish class, or at the induction to the Spanish Honor Society… It all happened junior year though. He’s been on my bookshelf or nightstand ever since. I wrote about one of his sonnets before because I used it for teaching how to analyze poetry. “Sonnet XLIV” is one of the 100 Love Sonnets from the afternoon mediodia section, and it’s beautiful with romantic love in mind. “You must know that I do not love and that I love you because everything alive has its two sides… I love you in order to begin to love you, to start infinity again and never to stop loving you: that’s why I do not love you yet.” One of the reasons I’ve always liked reading it, and particularly liked using it to teach poetry strategies, is because it’s so fucking confusing, not unlike romantic love. However, I’ve been thinking about only three lines of it the last few days, and not with love in mind at all. “…as if I held keys in my hand to a future of joy- a wretched, muddled fate-…”

I have a decision to make. On one level, it’s a simple yes or no. On a bigger level, I’m at something much more complex than a crossroads or a fork in the road. Two roads do not diverge in a wood, Mr. Frost. There are at least 10 roads to choose from. (Frost came to me in my senior year of high school, but I don’t love him any less for arriving in my life a year later than Neruda.) It’s more complicated than even Neruda implies with his two choices, though “muddled” seems to be the operative word of the moment. I like the image Neruda conjures though – I’m holding the keys, but I do not know what’s on the other side of the door. I have the means to find out, but do I want to know?

Earlier this year I had a similar decision. It wasn’t so much “this or that,” nor is it now. It was one thing at a time, one yes or no at a time. I gambled. I said no because I was holding out for what I wanted with most of my heart (yeah, not all of it. There’s very little I do with my whole heart because the thing gets bruised too easily.) I took the risk and lost. The words of Kipling’s “If” have stayed close to the surface of my brain because of it (and because of Paullina Simons’ The Bronze Horseman trilogy book two Tatiana and Alexander… Alexander and his dad in prison – I can’t read it without crying). Not to repeat history, and not to breathe a word of my loss, I was ready to say yes this time around.

But then my heart came calling again. Quietly at first. I heard it and wrestled it and calmed it and told it that “Wait” doesn’t mean “never.” Then it got louder, and I had to stop my “yes” before it led me in a direction I wasn’t ready to go. Now I’m waiting, gambling again. There might be less risk this time because I have a better idea of one thing that might be on the other side of the door, what lies down one path. The “use your head” crowd is battling the “follow your heart” crowd – and I’m blessed to have loved ones in both camps.

And because I haven’t referenced enough literature, I’m just this minute reminded of the payoff in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch “What if one happens to be possessed of a heart that can’t be trusted?”

It’s no wonder poetry – and literature in a broader sense – goes hand in hand with wine. I need the alcohol to kill the brain cells that stir all this mess.  Tonight, without wine, I’m still holding the keys, not using them yet. There’s a special agony to waiting outside with the keys in your hand.

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Reading the River

I went to summer camp when I was a kid. It’s how I’ve fired a rifle; shot an arrow; blacksmithed; repelled; tacked, ridden, and groomed horses; made countless lanyard key chains; learned rudimentary survival skills; cooked on an open fire; creek walked; fished; canoed; camped in a cow pasture; and built life-long friendships among other things.

One year, I went on an overnight canoe trip. I had been in a canoe on the lake before, but this was going to be on the river. I knew how to paddle and a little bit about steering. Because I was a stronger paddler than steerer, my counselor decided to put me in the front of the canoe. I have good hearing, so the person steering at the back would have no trouble with me. When she yelled directions, I could hear and knew which side and how to paddle. What I didn’t know was how to navigate a river.

The counselor kept telling me to look for the Vs, the signs. At eleven or twelve, I thought she meant road signs, like there would be a pole in the middle of the river with a sign posted on it – arrows and Vs because those were more informative on a river than miles per hour or yield signs. I spent an entire morning frustrated because I had no idea where these signs were and me and my steerer kept getting stuck on shallow rocks.

I may or may not ended up screaming at lunch. I may or may not have used profanity. I may or may not have made an ass of myself. Such are the things you do when you’re frustrated!

After lunch, I finally bridged this communication gap with some generous soul – I don’t remember who. This person explained that I had to read the flow of the water. It would make Vs or upside down Vs (arrows) depending on what the unseen rocks beneath the water were doing to the river’s current. I had been looking above the water’s surface for the signs I’d been told were so obvious. Turns out, the signs were almost below the surface. A V meant the rocks were positioned in such a way that our canoe would get caught and we’d have to jump out (I’d done that far too many times for my river sandal’s liking during the morning). An upside down V, or an arrow, meant that the water was flowing past the rocks in a way that would allow our canoe to get by unscathed.

Once I knew where to look, we didn’t get stuck for the rest of the day. I was able to navigate with ease and communicate to my steerer which direction was best. It was a fantastic afternoon. And camping in a cow field introduced me to a special kind of alarm clock – cows do not, in fact, say “moo.” It’s more like a prehistoric sound that will scare you awake in a flash. The next morning of canoeing was awesome too.

I had so much fun once I knew what to do that I signed up for a week-long canoe trip the following summer. Unfortunately after our first day and night on the river, floods devastated the area and we were pulled off the river for our safety.

I’ve kept the lesson with me though. I’ve been rafting since, and the same rules apply with an inflatable vessel. V in the water, you’ll get stuck. Arrow in the water, go for it…  at your own risk, depending on how fast the water is moving. I also kept my steering lessons in mind, so I was the only one capable of punting in Oxford during a grad school study abroad. (Punting is more like being a gondolier than paddling in a canoe. I’m not a fan of operating a small water craft from a standing position with only a long thin pole to steer!)

I’ve sometimes even applied the idea to life. I’m a believer in signs. In a 10,000 Maniacs song called “These Are Days,” Natalie Merchant sings, “These days you might feel a shaft of light make its way across your face. And when you do, you’ll know how it was meant to be; see the signs and know their meaning. It’s true. You’ll know how it was meant to be, read the signs and know they’re speaking to you.” (It’s a brilliant beautiful song top to bottom really.) When I hear the lyrics, I think of the river… and how I didn’t see the signs at first, so I didn’t know how to read them. Once I knew, I saw them and understood them, followed them, and succeeded where I had previously failed.

The signs aren’t always where you’re looking for them. They don’t always look like what you’d expect. I spent the morning of that canoe trip ignoring them and hating everything. I thought there’d be something big and obvious to show me where to go.  The river is far more subtle, but once I knew what to look for, it was clear. It wasn’t easy because I still had to make sure we moved in accordance with the signs and, more so with rafting, it wasn’t always a smooth ride down the rapids even if the rocks pointed an arrow to the path through, but it was better, less frustrating, more fun.

Dreamscape

In the brief time I fell back asleep before the alarm and after the sun woke me, I found myself running on the Washington and Old Dominion Bike Path in Northern Virginia where I grew up. RUNNING! I don’t run. I have never run in my life. The particularly displeasing shape of my feet prevents it. If I’m ever in a situation where I have to get away from someone or something, I’ll have to outwit it rather than outrun it. So it was weird to be dreaming about running.

And I was doing it for fun! What the actual fuck? A friend I grew up with was there and we were running in leggings and sports bras FOR FUN! What? As we rounded a corner to backtrack down a particularly brutal hill, she disappeared, and I was running alone in a sports bra and leggings by myself FOR FUN! And I didn’t even have headphones because, as is common in dreams, the transition from my friend being there to her not being there was instantaneous and inexplicable. I continued to run though.

I was rather fast, to my conscious mind’s surprise. In my subconscious, it was a given (ha!). I was so fast that I was passing people. WHAT? Most people followed the rules of passing – on the W&OD you’re supposed to call out, “Passing on the left” and the slower party is supposed to move to the right to make that possible. My dreams are often vivid, and this one was no exception. I passed a few people as I neared a bridge. On the bridge, there was a man in front of me with headphones, but he wasn’t using the headphones… he was playing his awful music choices loud enough for passersby to hear. Except he wasn’t letting ME pass. He was being a jackass in the extreme, making it a competition. Well, I’m fucking competitive! But I also didn’t know him at all and wasn’t interested in him interrupting my running (what?! Under awake circumstances, anything ANYTHING could interrupt me trying to run because I. Don’t. Run.)

He continued to play crappy music for me to hear without letting me pass on the bridge and as we neared the street crossing closest to the house I grew up in. I debated whether or not to cut my run short and just turn off, depending on where he headed, just to get rid of him. I also pushed harder to try to pass him, with little success. Oh, did I mention he was also attempting to sing along to his bad taste in music. It sounded awful? At one point in the stretch from the bridge to Sandburg street, I actually smacked his sweaty sleeveless arm away, possibly trying to knock him down so I could pass. Other people didn’t seem to mind his music or his rudeness in forcing us all to hear it.

I got to the street and there was some kind of block party happening in the parking spots for people who don’t live close to the trail. It was the place to be. In another dream transition that made no sense, it was the dark of night when it had been broad daylight. The party continued despite abominable lighting – the trail is not designed for night use, nor are the parking spots. I began a conversation with someone I presumably knew from somewhere (not uncommon to run into people I know when using the path in real life. It was practically in my backyard growing up, so neighbors etc).

I sat in the grass on the side of the road, sweating from my hard run, still annoyed at the guy who wouldn’t let me pass and forced me to listen to shitty music. I was disgusted and wasn’t quiet about telling my acquaintance about it. I was also attending to sore muscles, giving myself a rub down and conducting stretches that may or may not have been provocative. The guy was standing near a car, not leaving because it was some kind of impromptu party and why would he? At least he wasn’t blasting craptastic music anymore, though I’m sure his car would have provided an excellent source of amplification. I could feel his eyes on me the entire time I bitched about him to my friend. I don’t recall letting her get a word in edgewise.

The evening seemed to be calming down, people were leaving slowly. I stayed seated on the grass even though my house was less than a block away – I’d probably be able to see it if I had better vision and the road didn’t bend the way it does. A random guy wearing a red shirt came up to me, asking me to go with him, though he didn’t say as much. He was standing and I was still sitting on the grass. I acted like he hadn’t even spoken because apparently I’m a monster in my dreams (instead of the everyday bitch I am when awake). He kept standing there as another guy in a red shirt approached with a similar offer. I bothered to look up at him, but my response was still a hard no. They stood there like guards to my seated form, legs crossed in front of me.

A third red shirted guy stood directly in front of me and put his hands out to help me up – except it wasn’t so much help as pulling. He dismissed the other two easily, saying, “She’s coming with me” as he lifted me, now not fighting, off the ground. Yes. He was the bad-music-playing-blocking-my-progress asshole from earlier. He was also a Cory Monteith look alike, height included, a fact that eluded me until that moment. I know he wasn’t Cory Monteith himself for two reasons: 1) the bad singing. Cory was a good singer. and 2) Cory is dead because of drugs. (Also this guy didn’t look as lost/stupid as Cory always looked on Glee).

Upon realizing I was willingly leaving a street party with a Cory Monteith look alike who earlier I had wanted to murder, my alarm went off.  I hit snooze, but I didn’t return to the same dream. In the new one I was watching a weird movie and worried about accidentally moving furniture around in a living room that wasn’t mine.

Take what you will from this. Get a Freudian on it if you want. Just don’t ask me to go running or force me to listen to bad music. (God knows I’ve analyzed it and cringed at myself for dreaming it.)

Misheard Lyrics

My mom is probably the queen of misheard song lyrics – to her shame and to my entertainment. One of my favorites of all time is from my youth when my brother listened to a lot of Nirvana. The song is called “Dumb,” and Cobain ends it repeating, “I think I’m dumb.” My mom heard it as “African doll” and asked what it meant. She was met by laughter from my brother and me. We don’t mean it derisively, but it bruises her ego I know.  It’s all in good fun though because one of my mom’s many amazing qualities is her ability to laugh at herself.

There’s another classic from TLC’s “Waterfalls.” The ladies sing “Don’t go chasing waterfalls, please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to.” What many people (a dear friend included) hear is “Don’t go Jason Waterfalls,” begging the question “Who IS Jason Waterfalls?” So many people misheard this one that a t-shirt company made money off it – my friend and I have t-shirts with a male bust in outline with a giant question mark above the smaller print “Who is Jason Waterfalls?”

Once when in the car with my middle brother and sister, I heard Metrostation’s “Shake It” and damn near had a heart attack that my teenaged siblings were listening to what I heard as weird stalker lyrics. I don’t even remember what exactly I think I heard, nor do I remember which part of the song it was, but now every time I hear “Shake shake shake shake a shake it” I think of that moment, that car ride. Not that the actual lyrics are all that appropriate for teenagers… whatever.

These are just a few examples I can think of. I’m sure everyone has their misheard lyric of choice and a fun story to go along with it – like maybe how and when they were corrected or how embarrassed they were to learn their error. Today I was thinking about another one I misheard for a long time. The song isn’t very well known, nor is the story funny, but I always liked my version better.

It was during the height of my internet discovery of music – caught between my late ’90s love of *NSync and my blooming appreciation of acoustic guitar singer/songwriters. I found a very rough recording of something that was labeled (maybe wrongly) as JC of *NSync singing a piece of a song called “The Look.” I heard JC distinctly sing “your soul a pillow for me” during the bridge, and the idea planted itself firmly in my brain and heart. Using your lover’s soul as a pillow – rest, comfort, peace, relaxation, trust…. how romantic?! Taken literally or figuratively, the thought was beautiful. I loved it.

Well, turns out the song is by Ryan Tedder (who?). It is called “The Look,” and all the lyrics are stunningly romantic. Just not as awesome as I thought. What Tedder really sings is, “Just open up for me,” and I can’t for the life of me explain why I heard something different. I guess I’ll blame it on the shitty mislabeled recording. I must’ve heard the song fifteen years ago now, but I still sing that one lyric my way because it’s more evocative and better. Yes, my version is better!

Here’s the song  if you want to listen for yourself. It’s a great song, even if it doesn’t present the metaphysical prospect that a lover’s soul could provide ultimate comfort.

Playing With a Poem

I’ve been shuffling some of these ideas around for a week or so. I finally committed them to paper tonight. Because I haven’t been very good about writing every day, I decided to drag myself up from my prostrate position diagonally across my bed in order to type it.

Late November into early December has been a rough time for me since I was nine. That year there were two life-altering events within two weeks of each other. Not to be outdone by 1991, life has thrown a lot of shit at me in the same weeks many years, so memories kind of pile on. It’s sometimes hard to be in the here and now during this period. This year seems a bit different though.


“Muddled November Thoughts”
~LJD November 27, 2017

the intangible autumn quality
of afternoon sunlight
a peaceful end is near
nothing to be afraid of
embrace it with calm

the riotously joyful colors
of the leaves
they too know the coming
sleep is nothing to fear
a matter of course
unavoidable
therefore unlamentable

a warm sweater in soft blue
cable knit
sleeves long enough to cover my wrists
relief that this November
has offered a reprieve of some kind
not a promise, per se, but
a cease fire in the war
we annually wage

will December be as diplomatic?

Hypothetically Speaking

While I hand write in a journal that has “What if” scrawled in neat cursive across the cover, I also feel a lot like Kenneth Ellen Parcell because “I don’t like hypothetical situations, Mr. Donaghy. That’s like lying to your brain.”

Last week I was presented with a hypothetical question about the past, which frustrated me more than any hypothetical ever presented. “What if” is wonderful for dreaming about the future, perhaps for even shaping the future, but it’s totally useless for the past. I was in therapy though, so I gave it a shot. What if what if what if.

Well, what if we were all completely different people to begin with so that none of my life happened the way it did? What then? How might that look? And what if I could breathe underwater? It seemed preposterous. Nobody can change the past, which is not to say the past doesn’t matter.  Of course the past matters. Owning up to it matters even more. You can’t dismiss it out of hand just because you can’t change it.

Topic closed, my therapist asked about moving forward. What if what if what if. It’s a what if I’ve asked myself for probably twenty years now, all while repeating, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.” The answer has remained the same at its core, but this time I also thought about what kind of person I want to be, what kind of person I am.  Can I pretend I’m the kind of person who has lost hope? I’ve felt hopeless – a lot in the last year with our current circus leadership – but I try not to feel hopeless about more personal things.

In fact, the first tattoo I got is the Chinese symbol that means hope. I had a plaque on my dorm wall that read, “Never deprive someone of hope. It may be all they have.” I got shivers watching The Prince of Egypt and hearing the song that Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey recorded for it because of the lyric, “though hope is frail, it’s hard to kill.” Sitting at dinner with my middle brother and sister this summer, my brother verbalized something I always feel, “We all hope it’ll be different some day.”

But the disappointment that can come after hope is painful. I’d go so far as to say it’s crushing, particularly when it’s hope for something more personal than better governmental leadership.

No. I am not, and do not want to be, a person who lets hope flicker out. That’s not me. But I also have to be a person who doesn’t let my disappointed hopes continue to cloud other aspects of my life. Hypothetically speaking, what if a day comes when someone else wants to answer differently because we’re sharing a life and he doesn’t share my hope that things can be better?

Writing this, I’ve stopped wondering why I’ve had Norah Jones lyrics in my head for a while. “Nightingale, sing us a song of a love that once belonged… Does it seem like I’m looking for an answer to a question I can’t ask? I don’t know which way the feather falls; if I should blow it to the left.”

“This is my lullaby for the neurotic.”

I find myself staring down another Sunday night. But I don’t have to go to work tomorrow, so what’s the big deal? Well, I haven’t slept properly since I got home from Texas. One night I was up spinning the proverbial wheels until 5:30 in the morning. Another night I had familiar dreams about old scars that sometimes re-open.

Sunday nights tend to be the worst though… Hence John Mayer’s song “Quiet” including the line “It feels like the end of the world this Sunday night” and the evergreen My So-Called Life quote “There’s something about Sunday nights that just makes you want to kill yourself.”

“Quiet” is all about insomnia though, not just the Sunday night blues. It’s my longest running favorite of John’s. And when I shouted my request for it at my first show so many years ago, he honored the request and introduced the song by saying, “This is my lullaby for the neurotic.” Later that night when I got to meet him, I thanked him for singing it and writing it. I added, “and if that makes me neurotic, so be it.” He had no problem with that and remembered it was my song for a long while after.

Tonight I’m using whiskey and hot apple cider to help since my usual techniques have failed this week. I am thinking about lullabies though, and something I wrote while in Texas that applies to many nights of being a big sister, an aunt, a baby sitter, a house guest.


Journal Entry: Friday, November 3, 2017

A child’s eyes as she is deciding to go to sleep. More often I’ve watched blue, but brown tonight. The fight to stay awake, alert, a part of the world around her. But sleep tugging on the delicate lashes as the lids grow heavy.

I sing songs that sooth me – some speak of safety, others just have a calming melody, still more repeat as the child drifts to sleep.

The peace when she gives up the fight, and I feel her relax in my arms, the drool starting on my shoulder or the ache creeping into my elbow.

Whether walking around or rocking, I keep going long after her breathing evens out and deepens. Sometimes I continue to sing. Other times I try to sync my breath with hers. I whisper words of love, comfort, support, courage.

I finally put down the warm bundle of profound peace. I don’t know how to hold myself, offer myself the same security. I don’t find the same calm and surrender – whether surrender to sleep or to the comfort being gently provided.

But those times are some of the most serene.


One year – when mom was starting chemo after spending most of February in the hospital and it felt like the world was crumbling beneath my feet – my only birthday wish was for someone to play with my hair as I fell asleep. Of course, this wish was made to an indifferent universe, so it didn’t happen. But I think if I have that, even without the lullaby, I might be able to find the solace I’m able to give when singing a tiny human to sleep.

Short To Do List

The only thing left on my to do list today is to look up movie choices a friend suggested for post-brunch on Sunday. The list was short and easy, but for some reason this task is the one I keep putting off and I don’t know why.

Actually I do. It’s because I’m busy thinking about second dessert and staring at pictures of hot people I will never meet and cool places I will definitely go.

I had an early dinner at one of my favorite spots in the city, Tea and Sympathy, with a good friend who is a teacher. She had a huge bag of grading with her, and she shared stories about annoying teenagers. I know exactly what she’s talking about. It was hard not to rub in the fact that I’m free of such burdens. I don’t miss that stuff. She also had lovely stories about how much progress her sophomores are making with using evidence to support an argument. That I do miss.

But I think about the job juxtaposed with my time with my friend in Texas who is a housewife. Both are more than full time jobs with very specific stigmas wrongfully attached to them. Neither is easy, but they aren’t comparable in terms of the kind of energy they take. It’s not a matter of judging which is harder because they are both impossible – being responsible for other human beings is a stressful power that can go wrong in as many ways as it can go right.

There were times in Texas when I thought I was in my friend’s way, but I also know that I sometimes was better than Siri when it came to helping her remember things she had to do. I was her “day count map” (calendar as named by her five year old – how cute is that?) and personal assistant. I think if she came to stay with me for the same amount of time and went to work with me, she’d fall into a similar role.

She’d also share as many laughs at things people say when they don’t think anyone is paying close attention. By the end of my stay, my friend had warned her husband and friends that they might get quoted in my blog because I was taking notes. (“Day count map” was one I HAD to share, as is the next one). I thought it was fair warning, but I also let her know that nothing I write is meant to be negatively judgmental because she and her family are awesome.

Sidebar: I also thought about blogging if/when I have a family of my own. One of my favorite former teachers who was a mentor and is now a friend blogs about her family. She started out using fake names, but her family was thrust into the spotlight by unthinkable tragedy, so she didn’t use the names anymore. She also published a memoir about losing her oldest son to flood waters, so anonymity isn’t really on the table anymore. 

When both her kids and her husband got some kind of flu, I offered her a vitamin/energy supplement I picked up in the UK. It’s an effervescent tab similar to Airborne (Barocca for those familiar with UK pharmaceuticals). As we both drank ours down, I didn’t think to tell her about what it does to your pee. A little later, I remembered and said, “By the way, that stuff will turn your pee neon.” The day went on. She escaped her children long enough to go to the bathroom. When she returned, she said, “Neon pee achieved!” I gave her a high five to her husband’s confused look. We explained and without missing a beat, her husband said, “That must’ve been what John Mayer was singing about!” (Hilarious because of John Mayer’s song “Neon.” Not funny if you aren’t a fan, but we are).  I had to write that one down and share it because it was too good. I ended up getting a little sick, but her mom immune system protected her.

I still haven’t looked up those movies, but I also haven’t had second dessert and I’m getting back into posting something every day. You win some, you lose some, right?

Say, Could That Lass Be I?

Do you know the theme song to OutlanderHere it is. “Sing me a song of a lass that is gone. Say, could that lass be I? Merry of soul, she sailed on a day over the sea to Skye. Billow and breeze, islands and seas, mountains of rain and sun. All that was good, all that was fair, all that was me is gone.”

I love the song almost as much as I love the show. I knew from a 30 second advertisement for it that it was absolutely my kind of thing – time travel? Faeries, magic, and superstition? The Scottish Highlands? 18th Century costumes? British history? Accents galore to differentiate? I didn’t even register the hotness that is Sam Heughan when I saw the commercial.. and that says a lot for what’s going on around him because he could stop traffic on the busiest highway in the world. But until a few weeks ago, I’d never seen an episode because I wouldn’t pay for Starz. Well, now that I have seen it, I’m addicted. It’s fantasy at its best. Claire is a badass bitch before she goes to Craig Na Dun, so that’s a big selling point. The impossibility of having not one but TWO men accept her crazy faerie time traveling is the dream for us all. That one of them looks like THAT :::fanning myself::: But what I like about the song with the show is the idea of setting out on an adventure, not knowing where it will lead, and possibly becoming a totally new version of yourself. Claire remains a badass bitch, but she also breaks parts of herself down and rebuilds them in a new configuration.

With adventure and self-reconstruction in mind, I went for a walk one of the days I was in Texas (more about my stay in Texas in the days and weeks to come because it was wonderful and my apartment is far too quiet compared to the home where I spent the last four weeks). While I walked, I thought about the first Habitat for Humanity building trip I went on in 1996 when I was 14. The trip was a huge accomplishment for me. I’d seen older church kids come back from trips, and I was so jealous. I could not wait to load into a 15-passenger van with a bunch of other teenagers and hit the road to build a house with the person who was going to live in it. Having finished 8th grade, I was finally old enough to go. Of course, I got hit by a car a week before, so it was unclear if I was going to be physically fit to attend the trip I had been looking forward to.

I ended up going and having the time of my life. An Army doctor, someone’s dad who was chaperoning the trip, told me I was drywalling a house with a broken ankle, but that didn’t matter to me. I still remember the woman we were building for: Pearl. She had some … interesting… dental problems. It was the mid ’90s, so the Troubles between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland were coming to an end, but the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) wanted to help. We invited a Catholic teenager from Ireland and a Protestant teenager from Northern Ireland to join us. They didn’t make the road trip with us, rather they met us at the airport in Michigan. One of our less savvy chaperones chatted them up the first day. He was American born and bred, but his English wasn’t good in that he didn’t have a very wide vocabulary. Add to that the accents on the two girls, and he made an ass of himself many, many times. On that first day, he wanted to know how their flights were. Instead of just asking, he shouted and used hand motions… “Was the plane ride smooth?” he yelled with a flat hand moving in front of him, “Or was it bumpy?” he continued with the same hand moving up and down. I tried to tell him they spoke English, but he was a bit of a lost cause.

On my walk in Texas I was thinking about the smooth and the bumpy. My life has been bumpy. I’m used to it being bumpy. People often tell me I’d be bored if it was smooth. I don’t know if I agree, but I certainly know how to hold on and ride the bumps.

But the email, interview, and job offer from the international school last spring were not very bumpy at all. The salary is great. They set up my furnished housing. They provide meals, laptop, visa assistance. They offered me classes I have always wanted to teach. They wanted me. It seemed too smooth. Too good to be true. I began to wonder as I walked if that was part of what prevented me from jumping at the offer – that it just seemed too smooth in my routinely bumpy life.

And I thought that was sad. It’s sad that a good thing can’t happen without me being cautious of it simply because I’m used to most things in life being difficult. I decided that I would try to be less wary when something is smooth, that I wouldn’t try so hard to look for the bumps or not trust something because it didn’t have any obvious ones.  I tucked the resolution away for the remainder of my time in Texas.

I’m home now, which I’m still adjusting to – a one bedroom walk-up apartment as opposed to a four bedroom single storey house in the suburbs, no kids or pets compared to two kids and anywhere from two to five pets depending on the day, being alone unless I seek out company versus being surrounded by people unless I seek out solitude… But I woke up to an email yesterday from the school that offered me a job.

It wasn’t a total surprise. I had diplomatically left the door open when I declined the offer in April. I wasn’t sure if the headmaster would remember to follow up. Am I THAT desirable as a candidate? (The confident though often silenced part of me says HELL YES I AM!) But, again with the bumpy, I’m not accustomed to people doing what they say they’ll do. But there the email is, inviting me to re-interview because they have openings for the next school year.

So… “Sing me a song of a lass that is gone. Say, could that lass be I? Merry of soul, she sailed on a day over the sea to…”

A Telling Anecdote

First things first, I’m not exercising my civic duty today. I feel a twinge of guilt about it, but more than anything I feel apathy. In the last year, my understanding of American identity has shifted and broken more than I thought possible, even during the W. So I didn’t even think about not being home to vote or looking into absentee voting. There are a lot of important local and state issues, and in the past I would scold anyone who didn’t exercise their freedom… but now, I don’t trust that the system works the way it’s supposed to. I never thought I’d be that kind of person, but here I am. I hope it doesn’t last.

Now, remember when I wrote about our severe problems with sexual harassment, assault, and rape? It’s here if you missed it. Well, last week my older brother tweeted a picture of the very scene in Say Anything that I asked about. I don’t know if he was joking, but his caption said that such behavior is stalking.  Where do people stand on Lloyd Dobler’s epic boombox declaration of love? Is it okay because it’s John Cusack? Is it creepy because he went to her house without being invited? Does the Peter Gabriel song make it better? (I know my answers.)

So I was already revisiting this idea of how guys know what is acceptable and what is not when out of nowhere during lunch yesterday, the five year old told me he loved me. Sweet, right? Well, my brain went into overdrive as I said I loved him too. He had just looked in the freezer. Where I keep my stash of Ben & Jerry’s, a treat his mom and dad don’t bring home because they have healthier eating habits I do.

I asked him, “Did you tell me you love me because you love me and wanted to say it?”

No response as he wandered out of the kitchen.

I asked, “Did you tell me you love me because you want some of my ice cream?”

No response as he wandered back into the kitchen.

“Did you tell me you love me because you want something else?”

“I told you I love you because I want some of your ice cream,” he said. At least he’s honest! Then he went to ask his mom if he could ask me to have some of my ice cream. He didn’t end up getting any ice cream, but I have a sneaking suspicion he loves me anyway.

This cute anecdote demonstrates a deeper psychosis though. I have some major trust issues about what people’s intentions are. And it’s connected to the question about Lloyd Dobler and how guys are supposed to appropriately express interest in women like me.

I know I’m not average when it comes to my lack of trust, but I also know I’m not alone in my feelings. I know there are some people like me who aren’t accustomed to kindness from men (and who like me are slowly getting more used to it) and immediately jump to the WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME line of thinking.

Do women like me NEED Lloyd Dobler outside our windows with his Peter Gabriel-blasting boombox held above his head to trust a guy is genuinely interested without any agenda? Is that the level of effort we need to feel secure when everything inside us says, “trust no one! Everyone has an ulterior motive!”

Here’s another twisted example from my life – until recently, I haven’t been comfortable letting any guy pay for my drinks or food or anything because I felt there was a “tit for tat” expectation. I judged women who took advantage of offers for free drinks etc because I knew they had no interest in the guys and that the guys would get nothing for their effort. In fact, they might get made fun of later. My fierce need for equality in a relationship also prevents me from letting anyone – date, male friend, female friend, new acquaintance – pay for me without me returning the payment. You buy one round? Okay, next one is on me. You pick up the check this time if we didn’t split it? Next time it’s my turn.

I have no tidy way to end this reflection except to say that I clearly think too much if a five year old’s machinations to get ice cream send me into a well of self-exploration.

NB: Once IN a relationship, the WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME line of thinking is a whole other can of worms. Maybe a topic for later?