Coffee and Questions

When I began participating in the weekend coffee share blog prompt, the reason I found the exercise so appealing was the fact that it’s structured to challenge writers to visualize an audience, and who better to serve as your composite listener than your best coffee buddy—the confidant to whom you can tell your deepest, darkest secrets without fear of judgement? Yes, even the one about how you spent three days eating Oreos in bed after your boyfriend dumped you. Not that I did that. Whatever you heard, that wasn’t me. Moving on.

If writing is a dialogue, it follows that audiences must have questions—a fact that the lovely Lorna over at Gin and Lemonade recently reminded me. In case you haven’t noticed, she’s generally responsible for all of the brilliantly sparkling fairy dust with which I regularly sprinkle my readers. She recently posed a series of questions on her blog, and I’m going to attempt to answer them with the Oscar Wilde-inspired wit to which you have all become accustomed, or something.

What are you reading right now?

This is a dangerous question to ask an English teacher. The short answer: everything. The long answer: I generally have at least 3 books in progress, sometimes more, which explains why I never get through more than 30 books a year. This number makes me feel disgustingly lazy, but I always start what I finish, so, there’s that. Right now I’m working my way through the Jane Austen mystery series by Stephanie Barron and whatever guilty pleasure internet fanfiction I have bookmarked, including this gem—a crossover between Sherlock Holmes and Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey that cannot but send me to my happy place.

How did you meet your best friends?

At school, or through work, because apparently my life lacks imagination. I like to add spice to this answer by telling people I met one of my best friends in an attic, because not only does it sound amusingly arbitrary, it’s literally true. When I was a graduate student, the office space for first-years was relegated to an attic even Bertha Mason would have admitted needed an interior decorator…or a demolition crew. It’s also the birthplace of a friendship that has enriched my life with more hilarity than I thought humanly possible.

What makes you laugh?

Snoopy dancing on top of a piano in the Charley Brown Christmas special. The word squirrel. Every word Helen Fielding has ever written. This scene from “The Big Bang Theory”:

What’s your favorite city?

My default answer would be London, but the London of my dreams probably doesn’t count. With a few exceptions, I’m embarrassingly untraveled, so I’m going to stick to my Florida roots here. I adore St. Augustine for its rich history. I fell in love with Key West during a cruise in which we docked there for a day; it has Hemingway House. And cats. Many, many cats. One of the cats granted me permission to approach for a 30-second cuddle. Also margaritas. You can get those anywhere, but they taste better in Key West. On a related note, if you’re willing and able to aid the restoration efforts following Hurricane Irma, especially in the Keys, where 25 % of homes have been destroyed, you can find more information about local organizations in South Florida here, among other places.

Who do you miss right now?

My long-distance besty—yes, the same one I met in an attic. The wine just doesn’t taste as sweet without her.

What’s your coffee order?

Grande Caramel Macchiato. I used to order it skinny until one day when I really focused while tasting it and decided that a skinny latte pretty much defeats the purpose of living. The same rule applies to the skinny midnight mocha Frappuccino, which was such an underwhelming experience that after the first few sips, I had a small meltdown because I was convinced I’d somehow damaged my taste buds.

What’s your favorite alcohol/cocktail?

The kind you drink, but I wouldn’t turn down a Brandy Alexander.

Do you think social media is still social?

I think you have to make an effort, as with any social interaction. Humans seek validation, and in the internet culture of “likes” and “reactions” and emojis of everything from clapping hands to eggplants, communication has become pretty low-maintenance. I mean, when you “like” my status update about the time my dog vomited all over the bedroom at 3 AM, an hour before I had to wake up for work, are you praising my ability to find the moment of comedic timing in my tragedy, or are you just passive-aggressively wishing me nothing but misery? Comment features exist so that we don’t feel like we’re shouting into the void; I’d like to see more people using them.

What do you do on the weekend?

Grade papers, drink wine, and question my life choices. Usually simultaneously, because multitasking is just how we roll in the Shire.

What’s your favorite quote?

A few times in my life, I’ve had moments of absolute clarity.
When for a few brief seconds the silence drowns out the noise and I can think rather than feel…
And things seem so sharp and the world seems so fresh. I can never make these moments last. I cling to them, but like everything, they fade. I have lived my life on these moments.
They pull me back to the present and I realize that everything is exactly the way it was meant to be.

– “A Single Man” (2009 film)

In similar news, I probably need to re-watch that movie, since I’ve been quoting it exhaustively of late, but during the academic year, a movie about a guy who teaches English, drinks a lot of gin, and questions his life choices hits a little too close to home for comfort (see above).

I guess somehow I’ve become a link in the chain of random questions, so here are mine:
1. What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
2. If you had to be stuck in an elevator with anyone, living or dead, real or fictional, who would you choose, and why?
3. Have you ever seriously wondered what dogs dream about?
4. Penguins: for or against?
5. What is your opinion of Pumpkin? (There is only one correct answer, so don’t bother unless your opinion includes the words pumpkin and tastegasm in the same sentence).

If you feel inclined, share your answers in the comments, or blog them and link me in your answers so I can read them, because inquiring minds want to know.

Of Dogs and Disasters and Death-Defying Actors

Happy Labor Day! I’ve spent my day creating PowerPoint presentations on comma splices and misplaced modifiers, which was labor-intensive and not at all happy. I’d like a refund, please.

School is back in session, so if we’re having coffee this week, I should tell you that I’ve swapped my usual two cups a day for a caffeine IV drip…I wish.

Last weekend everyone on the internet was celebrating National dog day. Somehow, that never registered on my radar, which probably makes me a terrible person. When you have a service animal though, every day is dog day. My dog is probably the reason why my blood pressure is still hovering somewhere in the range that we can medically call normal. Petting a dog for just a few minutes can apparently send calming signals to the brain, which is why I’ve made an executive decision to remove my dog’s harness when I’m in my office between classes. Students come to repair the cracks and comma splices in their essays, they get a five-minute shot of brain therapy, and my dog gets a free massage. 3 for the price of one.

Unfortunately, there are exceptions to the rule. Some people just don’t like dogs, and some take being afraid of them to a disturbing level. I was reminded of this on my morning commute a few days ago when I attempted to board the paratransit van that arrived to take me to work only to have another passenger scream in my face because he was afraid of dogs. I sympathize, but when I’m late for work, this really isn’t my problem. Get over it or go home. The driver insisted that I couldn’t board the vehicle because he needed to accommodate the other client. Last time I checked, fear of dogs is not a legal disability, so I got to stand in the rain and explain why my rights were being violated. Did I mention I was undercaffeinated? My service animal was documented; the other client’s fear of animals wasn’t, so, again, not my problem.

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you how screaming in my face before I’ve had at least two cups of coffee won’t end well for you, but if you were the sort of person who’d scream in my face before I’ve had coffee, I’d be having coffee with someone else. Did I also mention that my apparently ferocious, I-will-eat-your-face guide dog was, throughout this entire confrontation, cowering behind me with his tail between his legs, doing a pretty accurate impression of not eating someone’s face?

In other news that falls in the category of happy-making things, if we were having coffee—or vodka—you’d get to listen to me squeal about the fact that we’re less than a month away from the release of Kingsman: the Golden Circle. At some point in the conversation, you’d wonder why and how this will work when we all saw Samuel L Jackson shoot Colin Firth in the head at point-blank range in the first film. My only response is that Hollywood knows when it’s made a mistake, and clearly a Firthless franchise would leave a gaping hole in the universe too large to contemplate. Now, however, we all get to sleep soundly at night because Colin Firth is decidedly not dead and is single-handedly going to save the world while sporting a cowboy hat and an eyepatch.

I don’t think Colin Firth is actually ever going to die. If he does, the world will just unite and synchronously chant his name until he resurrects like the 10th Doctor in “The Last of the time Lords.” I know, I know, but a girl can dream, right?

Coffee, Ableism, and Randomness

If we were having coffee, lucky you, because we’re talking about ableism yet again, and how this word pervades every aspect of my life.

This time, it involved a well-meaning but obviously ignorant technician at the eyebrow threading kiosk in my local mall. I only wanted to pop in because I was starting to look like an unfortunate Hogwarts student who’d been hit between the eyes with a hair-thickening charm. If you’re at all familiar with facial hair threading, you know that part of the process involves holding your skin tightly while the technician threads so that your skin isn’t pulled or pinched as the hair is removed. It’s a simple enough task, but apparently if you’re blind, you don’t know where your own face is, so this simple task now becomes monumentally challenging.

“I need you to hold,” the technician explained, beginning to guide my hands toward my forehead. “Can you do?” And then, turning to my mother, who happened to be with me, “Can she hold?” I wanted to roll my eyes, but they were closed, which would, I think, have diminished the effect.
“It’s fine,” I assured her. “I’ve got it. I’ve done this before.”
“Oh, you do this before? That’s very good.” (It’s also very condescending, but whatever).

If I were telling you this story over coffee, you might be inclined to point out that maybe she was just making polite conversation, and I might have agreed with you if not for what followed. . I placed one hand on my forehead and the other on my eyelid, at which the technician exclaimed, “She very smart!” Really? I was touching my face. You could probably train a monkey to do that. On balance, I chose not to reply, because it’s best not to be snarky to someone who’s about to yank hair from your face. “How about I rip you so you bleed? You like?” No, not particularly, thanks.

Other things on my mind this week: Why is it that the average person will spend approximately 43 days on hold with customer service in their entire lifetime? That’s, like, almost the entirety of my summer vacation. Do you have any idea how much productivity I could fit into 43 days? I could grade roughly 5,160 papers in 43 days…I think. I could also learn to be better at math. Frankly, if hold time doesn’t show any sign of improving, I think call centers should just replace hold music with recordings of Hugh Grant reading John Keats poetry. I think that would bring my blood pressure down from “I’m almost dead” to “Oh my god get off my Island this is my happy place.”

I should probably just implant a chip in my brain that plays British male celebrities reading Romantic and Victorian poetry on loop. Then maybe I wouldn’t regularly wind myself into such a tight ball of anxiety that I break out in hives. My doctor said I should avoid stress, because stress is bad for you. Who knew? I laughed. Hard. Then I started to stress out over that in case she thought I was being rude, so, yeah, maybe she has a point.

You know what, never mind the coffee. Can we have alcohol instead?

Girl reading in bathtub with candles and wine.
Not me, but this is what my happy place looks like.

A Teacher’s Breakup Letter to Summer

Dear Summer,
It pains me to tell you this, but we’re through. Finished, like the bottle of sunscreen I just tossed into the trash.
“but why?” you’ll ask. “We always have so much fun together.” You’re right; we do, but I can’t take this anymore—can’t take your fair-weather flirtations, here today, gone tomorrow. You do this to me every year, and every year I swear I’m not going to fall for your warmth and charm, but your warmth and charm are like Hugh Grant’s smiles; they get me into trouble every time.

You stroll into my life with your flip-flops and your trendy sunglasses, smelling of sea-spray and sand, and I hear the ocean lapping against the shore when you whisper promises of endless devotion; the world is ours. Time is ours. No one and nothing can come between us—just you and me, together.

Picture of cocktails and ice drinks (image credit Stokpic)
Wasting away in Margaritaville

Remember? Remember the heat? The passion? Remember when you said it would never end? I thought you meant it; I believed you when you said it. I thought I was the only girl you said that too, forgetting that when you pick up and head off around the world, you probably feed the same lies to the Southern Hemisphere. Don’t believe it, Southern Hemisphere! It’s all a lie! Summer is the relationship commitment-phobe of seasons! It’s all fun for a while, but just when it’s getting serious, just when you start to say that you could get used to this, you’re alone, with nothing left of your time together but sand in your socks and an unfinished Netflix queue that you’ll never watch, because you just can’t face it alone.

I trusted you, Summer. I let you into my life and into my heart; I tried on swimsuits for you! Think about that! The horror of communal changing rooms, molding, massaging, and mashing myself into a slip of fabric that displays everything except my dignity (because I no longer have any) just to look good for you.

First, there was the bliss of having you near and knowing that I could have my way with you, because the best part of being with you was that I made the rules; whatever I wanted to do, wherever I wanted to go, you just smiled and said, “I’m yours, baby.” So we slept in and cuddled up in bed in the mornings with a cup of coffee and a favorite book, because we had nowhere to be—no appointments, no classes to teach, no papers to grade, just an endless canvass of time to fill with our dreams. We visited friends, talked late into the night, drank wine, and ate more ice-cream than my mild lactose intolerance permitted, but that’s the other thing about you; you convince me to live dangerously.

Sometimes we’d look at the clock after an evening of binge-watching Netflix, realize it was 3:00 in the morning, and I’d suggest calling it a night, but you’d pull me down onto the sofa and whisper seductively in my ear, “Just one more episode. Don’t you want to find out if Kimmy’s boyfriend will be deported? I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. Live in the moment.”

Remember when I’d wake up at 4:00 in the morning to the sound of rain pounding against my window? Remember how you’d let me snuggle back down beneath the covers and murmur as I drifted back to sleep that it was okay, because I didn’t have to get up in an hour to commute to work in that wet mess? Remember that, Summer? Remember those mornings when you’d wake me with a smile made of sunshine, pull back the covers, and ask me how I wanted to spend the day? I always loved that about you, how you were totally cool with me taking control of the relationship…at least in the beginning.

But now you’ve started to pull away. When I wanted to stay up late the other night to finish reading my book, you reminded me that I need to start easing my body clock back onto “school time.” When I wanted to spend a rainy weekend watching TV and playing word games on my iPhone, you said I should probably start using my time more productively to work on my syllabus. When I wanted to sleep in, you dragged me out of bed so that I could run errands on campus.

Okay, Summer, I can take a hint. You don’t want me anymore. It’s not the first time I’ve heard that in a relationship, but when you say it, it hurts so much more, because you always come crawling back, and every time, you promise me that this time will be different. This time, you won’t leave. This time, we’ll be together forever, and every time, like a fool, I fall for it. Well, I’ve got news for you. I’m done falling for it. I’m telling you to leave now, before you have the chance to quietly pack up your things and slip away suddenly, because it always feels so sudden. I brace myself for it every time; you’ve left me before, and I know you’re going to do it again, but I always allow myself to forget—to just bask in your presence, because if you’ve taught me one valuable lesson, it’s the importance of living in the moment and savoring life’s little pleasures.

So, I thank you for that, Summer, but it’s time for you to go…until you show up next time and remind me how much fun we had last year, and I fall for you all over again.

It’s International Friendship Day, and I needed blog fodder.

The exploding fortune cookie of internet wisdom informs me that today is International Day of Friendship. There seems, increasingly, to be a national or international day of everything—coffee, chocolate, margaritas, hotdogs—why not friendship? Without friends, whom would you share your hotdogs and margaritas with? (Notice I don’t mention coffee or chocolate. I typically don’t share precious commodities, the noted exception being an exchange in which I’m given alcohol to drown my sorrows over parting with my chocolate).

Friends share secrets, rejoice in your successes, commiserate over your failures, and insist you eat the last chocolate chip cookie on the plate (unless, again, you’re me, in which case, you arm-wrestle for it). Literature, film, and television are all inundated with famous fictional friendships: Holmes and Watson, the Doctor and his (or her) companions, the great trifecta that is Harry Potter, Rom Weasley, and Hermione Granger. Here, then, are four of my favorite (and admittedly random) quotes to celebrate International Day of Friendship.

1. “So you’re saying that friendship contains within it an inherent obligation to maintain confidences? Interesting. One more question, and perhaps I should have led with this, when did we become friends?”- Sheldon Cooper, from “The Big Bang Theory”

Yes, Sheldon, that’s how it works, although it’s also wise to confirm that the friend in question in fact has the ability to keep a secret. Once, during high school, I confided to a friend that I had a crush on a certain guy; if this story ended well, I wouldn’t be telling it. Somehow, the guy in question discovered my feelings (probably because I don’t do subtlety very well). The resulting conversation with my friend went something like this:
Friend: so he pulls me aside and says, “I need to ask you something. Does Fran have a crush on me?”
Me (already contemplating changing my name and fleeing the country): And…what did you say?
Friend: I told him of course you didn’t, obviously.
Me: Oh, thank God. You’re the best.
Friend: Yeah, well, there’s something else. I should probably tell you I’m a terrible liar.

I don’t know what ever happened to that girl, but it’s probably safe to say she didn’t pursue a career in espionage.

2. “If we have friends, we should look only for the best in them and give them the best that is in us.”- Anne of Green Gables
Spoken wisely, Anne girl, as always. We can’t expect others to look past our faults and love us anyway if we can’t be willing to do the same. (And, okay, I do agree with Anne; sharing chocolate does give it a sweeter taste, but if it’s chocolate and peanut butter, it’s all mine. Deal?)

3. “We’re with you whatever happens.”- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Simple yet profound, and not at all coincidental that Hermione makes this promise to Harry just after Dumbledore’s funeral. Hard times bring out the best in some and the worst in others, and we can all agree that Ron and Hermione fall into the former category. Battling three-headed dogs, breaking into the Ministry of Magic
, and camping all over England looking for bits of Voldemort’s soul that might or might not have been stashed God knows where aren’t jobs for the fair-weather friend. To paraphrase Sheldon Cooper, friendship—real friendship—involves certain “inherent obligations,” but sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll find a few friends who take these obligations way beyond the call of duty.

It takes a special friend to drive you to the emergency vet at 8:00 on a Sunday morning when your dog is displaying alarming symptoms of what could either be an intestinal infection or the result of accidentally swallowing nuclear weapons. (Not that I’m speaking from my own experience, but the less said about that the better). Sufficed to say, a friend who willingly takes crap from you—in more ways than one—deserves all the love and respect you can give, mixed with vodka. A lot of vodka.

4. “As Tom said, if Miss Havisham had had some jolly flatmates to take the piss out of her, she would never have stayed so long in her wedding dress.”- Bridget Jones: the Edge of reason
In other words, friends don’t let friends wallow in the pain of a broken heart—or, you know, spend 50 years in a wedding dress, wearing one shoe, counting cobwebs and waiting to die. Friends will allow you to shed the tears necessary to cleanse your soul of the emotional toxins that breakups cause. They’ll help you scoop up the shattered remnants of your relationship and let you sob over the pillow that still bears traces of your ex’s aftershave before wrestling it from your hands and tossing it into the trash where it belongs. It’s said that a friend knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you’ve forgotten the words, and this involves knowing when to remind you that life, however challenging, does go on.

So, what are your favorite friendship quotes? Who are your favorite fictional friends?

Writer and Teacher

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