Tag Archives: life

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 Isn’t Only a Diary: How Bridget Jones Helped Me Find Myself

Dear Bridget,
I’ve wanted to write this for some time now, but whenever I sit down to draft a letter, the words get stuck between my brain and the page. It seems odd, really, to suffer an attack of writer’s block when addressing a woman who was once famously accused of verbal incontinence. You, with your candor and ready wit and your lack of (or perhaps refusal to activate) your brain-to-mouth filter, have often inspired me to practice greater honesty in my life, with others and, more importantly with myself. I have also discovered, as have you, that alcohol, while a seemingly effective tongue lubricant for confessing honesty, occasionally does more harm than good. Over the years, I’ve tried to express to others how much your story means to me, but nothing I’ve ever said has felt like an adequate tribute, so in honor of the 20th anniversary of your story’s publication this year as well as your return to the silver screen this month, now seems a fitting moment to thank you.

I first met you as an overwhelmed, twentysomething, budding feminist graduate student in English Lit, between crying over my inability to grasp Michel Foucault and eating entire cartons of ice-cream. When not slaving over novels that I seemed destined never to finish reading and feeling intellectually inadequate because I couldn’t use the word epistemological in a sentence, I gradually discovered that my social life had slunk off into the darkness, crawled beneath a pile of dirty laundry, and died. As I slumped on the sofa with a bottle of wine and a bag of pretzels, I convinced myself, in a fit of despair reminiscent of my elementary school days, that no one wanted to befriend the strange, bookish blind girl; never mind that I was pursuing a graduate degree in English and was entirely surrounded by strange, bookish people. I imagined everyone was attending swanky wine and cheese parties on Saturday nights and couldn’t be bothered inviting me because no one wanted to give me a ride. The fellow graduate student on whom I’d been crushing turned out to be a Mormon divorcee with three kids who flirted blatantly with me while being engaged to another woman and then tried to set me up with one of his friends. Had I known the textbook definition of a fuckwit at that time, I might never have landed in that particular mess, but I digress. To add insult to injury, my roommate (an undergraduate who was also blind) told me one night that “you dress like a woman twice your age, and it’s really off-putting. People think you’re older than you are.” So now I was not only unpopular; I was so criminally unfashionable that even other blind people shunned me.

Thus I found myself, during winter break after that first semester, de-fogging my brain with your diary. As you poured your heart into my lap, counting calories and alcohol units, self-consciously scrutinizing yourself in dressing-room mirrors, and worrying about dying alone and being eaten by an Alsatian, I realized something. Your struggles, your insecurities, your doubts, your fears were mine too. When I agonized over whether or not the size of my butt was the reason I couldn’t get a date or sulked about not being invited to any fabulous parties, you were doing the same. For one of the few times in my adult life, I experienced the thrill of bonding with another woman over the struggles of, well, simply being a woman.

I had spent most of my life struggling to fit comfortably in my own body, let alone fitting in everywhere else. Rationally, I knew that I couldn’t bow to the stigmas of disability; I couldn’t conform to the image that many people associated with a blind person who groped every day for one of three identical pairs of jeans to avoid a citation from the fashion police. How though, I wondered, could I construct a body image that reflected my personality without having my physical appearance and fashion trends filtered through the eyes of others? Trips to the mall were my personal purgatory, spending hours in front of a mirror that reflected nothing to me, relying on others to tell me honestly whether or not horizontal stripes made me look like a circus tent. This reliance on the judgement of others’ opinions of my body, believing that I couldn’t construct a self-image without the ability to see my own reflection, instilled me with a deep sense of self-loathing. I believed that if someone else told me that I was too tall, or too fat, or my hair looked like a bird’s nest, then it must be true, because they could see what I couldn’t. My body was disabled, abnormal, and therefore unattractive, and this, I gradually learned to believe, explained why I seemed to be a social pariah.

Then, Bridget, I met you, and I felt, for the first time, that someone understood me. My struggles, my self-scrutiny, my feelings of inadequacy had nothing to do with my disability and everything to do with the realities of being a young woman trying desperately to keep up with, as you put it, “Cosmopolitan culture.” You, Bridget, helped me to recognize that what I see in the mirror every day is as much a projection of what I believe my self-image to be as what is actually reflected there. On the one hand, you critically yet comically revealed a sadly enduring pressure on women to maintain unrealistic body image standards; on the other, you revealed to me that I wasn’t alone in my insecurity. My seeming inability to maintain a steady, healthy relationship with a mature adult male had nothing to do with my so-called disabled, abnormal body or the circumference of my thighs and everything to do with the fact that I simply hadn’t met the person who was ready and willing to love me just as I am; moreover, it didn’t (and still doesn’t) matter if I ever do, because being a woman of substance means loving myself with all of my flaws, not defining myself in terms of how others, especially others of the opposite sex, choose to see me. You gave me the courage to believe that if I choose to pursue love, I should settle for nothing less than someone who celebrates my strength and values me as a strong, independent woman; if I choose to remain single, my life and my work make no less valuable contributions to society because of that choice.

In the same way that you dramatically imagined that everyone had forgotten to invite you to their Christmas parties, I allowed my acute loneliness to exaggerate the perfection of everyone else’s lives. I imagined that everyone else had a successful job, a fashion magazine-approved BMI, glamorous circles of friends, and wildly sensational sex lives. Their reality, I gradually discovered, was far closer to my own. You gave me what I’d spent most of my life searching for: the validation that my lived experiences as a woman were, in many ways, no different than those of other women despite sometimes being constructed through the lens of disability.

After connecting with your story, my life didn’t magically change overnight, but that reading experience opened a space for me within the communities of women I began to encounter. You helped me to find a voice to participate in the narratives that women told and bonded over every day, from agonizing over the seemingly unattainable quest to find a perfectly-fitting pair of jeans to wondering if the barista at Starbucks who always gave me extra foam was hitting on me. Having reached this realization, I gradually found myself forming deep, enduring female friendships with women who have loved me, laughed with me, cried with me, eaten countless trays of chocolate chip cookies with me, drunk through enough bottles of wine to fill a black hole, and endured hours of agonizing dressing-room scrutiny and relationship analysis as only women can. You, Bridget, with your self-deprecating humor and your willingness to keep buggering on, taught me to embrace the wonderful, tumultuous, imperfect beauty of simply being a woman.

Top 10 Tuesday: Goals for 2016

I didn’t plan to make a resolution list for 2016. I planned to just continue concentrating on my ongoing life goal list, but I have a confession. I love lists. I’ve written about this before. I love the way that lists present a fragmented, free-form, less intimidating way to write down thoughts.

Some people write in a linear fashion; some people, like me, write the way children finger-paint: stand back, throw a big beautiful mess at the canvass, let it sit, and then scrutinize it for the main focal point to draw out. I love the way that lists tell stories in bite-sized nuggets, fragments of narrative that we can then stich together with imagination.

I stole today’s list idea, Top 10 Tuesday, from the Broke and the Bookish via Gin & Lemonade. The blogosphere is an open market of thievery. So, here are my top 10 goals for 2016.

1. Write more for pleasure

I think I’ve forgotten how to do this since I began marketing myself as a writer; not that I don’t enjoy professional writing, but sometimes exercising my writing muscles for pure pleasure has its own rewards. It might be a blog post, or an entry in my private journal, or a fragment in which I wax rhapsodic about how looking at Colin Firth’s eyes is like looking into a river swirling with all the secrets of the world in its depths.

2. Stop feeling guilty about having fun

I work hard. I deserve to play equally hard. Never mind that my definition of playing hard consists of crashing on the couch and binge-watching the Lizzie Bennet Diaries. (Don’t judge).

3. Guard my “me” time ruthlessly

I don’t dislike people (or rather, I don’t dislike a select group of people). In general, the human race baffles me. People who know me tend to classify me as an extrovert. I prefer to think of myself as an outgoing introvert. Yes, we do exist. Sometimes I thrive on human interaction, but sometimes, I need to erect my personal space boundaries, and when I’ve had enough, don’t take it personally if I go Captain Picard on you. The line must be drawn here, if ya know what I mean.

4. Keep better track of the books I read

In 2015, I fell into a rather Emma Woodhouse-like habit of making ambitious lists of all the books I’d read. Unlike Emma, I finished them, but I typically forgot to tick them off when I did finish them. Remembering to do so would have created a more efficient indexing system and also eliminated the problem of purchasing books I already own. And I have to own them; I can’t just borrow them. Unowned books are orphans waiting for a home. I’m doing a good deed.

5. Correct people when they mispronounce my name

My upstairs neighbor likes to call me Frances. I like to pretend I have gone magically deaf when he does. I have a problem with confrontation. (5.1: confront awkward situations head-on instead of scurrying into the corner like a frightened mouse or feigning deafness).

6. Read at least 5 books on Emma Watson’s Our Shared Shelf list

Yes, Hermione Granger has started a feminist book club, and all the cool kids on the internet are joining, apparently. Emma Watson is the kind of feminist in her 20s that I want to be when I grow up. This might be a good place to start.

7. Stop envying people who visit England

So many of my friends and colleagues have visited England during the last few years. I love hearing their stories about trips to the British Museum and the Tower of London, but I also invariably feel a twinge of longing, like homesickness for a home I never knew. Fortunately my friends try to dull the ache by returning with gifts of Cadbury and souvenirs from the Jane Austen Museum.

8. Regularly clean out my refrigerator

Do you know what zucchini looks like after you’ve abandoned it in the vegetable crisper for three weeks? Unfortunately I do. I thought the Hulk was scary, but rotten vegetables take big green monster who a whole new level. I’d rather not relive that.

9. Drink more tea

A friend gifted me with a sampler of loose-leaf tea for Christmas. Because I’m apparently not as hardcore of an anglophile as I thought, I didn’t own a tea-strainer. I’ve since remedied that, so I might as well make it worth the investment. I also committed myself to listing ten goals, and I’m losing steam.

10. Clean out my inbox

If emails had the same perishable properties as vegetables, I’d have a Hulk zucchini situation on my hands, and the Board of Health would probably have confiscated my inbox five years ago. Most of the time, I avoid confrontational emails (see number 5). Maybe there’s a pattern developing here.

Question

What are your goals for this year?

Making a New Start: or, How I Discovered the Wisdom of Bridget Jones in a Fortune Cookie

Several weeks ago, I met a few friends for dinner at a local Chinese restaurant, and as usual, at the end of the meal, each of us broke open our fortune cookies to read aloud, between crunches, the nuggets of wisdom tucked inside. I generally put about as much faith in fortune cookies as I do in my weekly horoscope; neither have ever contained phrases like “A million dollars,” “You’ve won an all-expenses paid trip to England,” or “full time employment.” They’re slips of paper baked into a hard pastry shell, after all, not the Amazing Kreskin. This time turned out much the same. “Welcome the good change coming into your life soon,” my cookie prophesied.
“How suitably vague,” I mused. “That could involve anything from winning the lottery to ‘The Big Bang Theory’ returning to Thursday nights and thus restoring order in my universe.”

On the drive home, I found myself chatting with my friends teenage daughter about relationships. In a mojito-inspired burst of Bridget Jonseian wisdom, I suddenly heard myself declaring, “Never settle for someone who makes you want to do everything they want to do. Don’t sacrifice your identity for anyone. (unless he’s 6’1 and English. Then maybe you can negotiate, but just a bit). Nobody makes you whole. You’re an individual with or without anyone else. You don’t need anyone to make you a whole person.”

“Why,” I wondered as I got ready for bed, “is it so easy to give advice to others and not follow it ourselves?” Everything I told my friend’s daughter I’ve learned from my own experiences. My bruised, battle-scarred heart tells a story of resilience. I’m proud of those bruises. They remind me that I’m brave enough to fall in love and strong enough to survive and climb out from beneath the rubble of crushed dreams. I thought again of my flimsy fortune and suddenly recalled that this month, I will celebrate what I’ve affectionately termed my “Bridget Birthday.”

Anyone who’s seen the 2001 film adaptation of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary knows that it all began for her in her 32nd year, and by “it,” she means everything. Between losing and gaining a job, losing and gaining a boyfriend, and learning how not to climb a fireman’s pole, Bridget learns that being a woman of substance doesn’t mean getting it right all the time; rather, it means learning how to fall, and how to brush yourself off when you do so you can try again and maybe, or maybe not, land on your feet the next time.

Bridget Jones writing in her diary
“It is a universally acknowledged truth that when one area of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces.”- Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), image credit Miramax

As I thought about Bridget’s story and how much I’ve learned from her about how to be a woman in a world that seems full of wrong turns and roadblocks, I made a resolution to make this year, my 32nd, the year of Bridget. So, to start things off right, I’ve made a list—not exhaustively long because I’m nothing if not practical—of my Bridget year resolutions.

1. Stop obsessing about your job

You have one. Many people don’t. It will lead to bigger and better opportunities in its own time. Life is a marathon, not a 50-yard dash.

2. Stop comparing yourself to others

When you set other peoples’ lives up as the gold standard for your own, you set yourself up for disappointment. Tell your own story. Live your own life.

3. Stop obsessing about being single

Just because you haven’t gotten married, bought a house, or had a baby, you’re no less of an adult than anyone who has. (Re: stop comparing).

4. Stop thinking of your heart as broken

Your heart may be bruised, but it beats, and it feels, and it remembers how to love, if you’ll let it. You’ve been hurt, yes—badly. So have a lot of other people. Your heart is whole, beautiful, and full of love. Your love is a gift; give it where you know it will be treasured.

Before you offer your heart to someone, check to see if he’s holding out his hand, ready to take it. If he’s not, it doesn’t mean you’re unworthy; it just means he’s not ready to hold something that precious and cherish it the way it deserves to be cherished. Don’t stand there thinking one day he’ll decide to hold out his hand and take it. When and if he’s ready, he will come to you and ask you to share it with him. If he never does, someone else will, because you’re worth it. Your heart is a one-of-a-kind, limitted edition jewel. It deserves to be treated as such.

5. At least once a day, tell yourself that you’re a strong, confident, woman of substance, comfortable with who you are, just as you are

Tell yourself this as many times as you need to until you believe it, and even when you do believe it.

Question

Do you make birthday resolutions? What have you resolved to do this year?

Give It Up: One Wayward Catholic’s Journey Across the Desert of Lent

“Attention all hard-core Catholics: note the juxtaposition of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day and reconsider giving up chocolate for Lent.” such ran one of my pre-Lenten Facebook observations after realizing just how many Christians—most of them female—would be bemoaning the beginning of the sacrificial season of Lent the day before the biggest Hallmark/Hershey holiday of the year.

“What are you giving up for Lent?” is the hot question on the playground of piety at the moment—and one that, I confess, I’ve looked forward to with increasing trepidation each year. I have very few recollections of the many treks across the desert of denial I’ve taken in my nearly 30 years as a Catholic; the ones I do recall involved some, shall we say, wayward wandering. First, there was the lent that I decided to give up peanut butter, which started out fairly well—well in the sense that I was completely miserable and probably half way to protein-deficient since I’d basically cut my major source of it out of my diet. Then I discovered Nutella. Hmm: maybe this whole giving up business wasn’t such a drag after all, though with every sinfully sweet spoonful, my conscience nagged: Wait just a moment. Nowhere in the catechism is there written anything to the effect that it’s acceptable during Lent to substitute the sacrificed item of choice with one of equal or greater value. It remains open to question whether or not the five pounds I gained between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday can be attributed to the weight of guilt.

Then there was the time I decided to give up alcohol…during my first year of graduate school. There are about ten different reasons why this was a bad idea, all of which can be compounded in the fact that, well, it was my first year of graduate school. I know what you’re thinking: Wimp. Please. Wimp, shmimp, potato, vodka…call it whatever you like. The only Lenten sacrifice I’ve made in recent memory that was even remotely successful was the year I decided to cut off my hair for Locks of Love. For once in my life, I can honestly say I traded vanity for valor…at least until I stepped outside and a male friend of mine charmingly observed: “Your head. It looks so…small.” Goodbye gesture of self-sacrifice: Hello Louisa May Alcott, Little Women parallel universe.

I recognize the significance of “giving up” during lent—a reminder of the sacrifice that Christ made for us, but if Lent is about sacrifice and repentance, it’s also about reminding ourselves that, for Christians, every step we take on this journey of life should bring us closer to Him. With the possible exception of trading my tresses for 6 months of freaky frizz—because I truly did offer that from the heart—I can’t honestly say that any of my Lenten sacrifices have had the intended spiritual effect. So what, I ask myself as each Ash Wednesday approaches, can I possibly sacrifice that will strengthen my relationship with Jesus? Coffee? Only if I’m guaranteed a fast-pass into the glorious kingdom that cuts through the line in Purgatory, because I’ll probably die somewhere into week one. Chocolate? Well, as my brother likes to put it, “Jesus suffered so we wouldn’t have to.” Amen, bro. Sex? Well, I could, but technically according to the catechism, I’m not even supposed to be engaging in that particular pastime at the moment given my current marital status. Working on the theory that we can’t sacrifice what we don’t have (and we’ll just assume, for the sake of my soul, that I don’t in fact “have” the thing under discussion), I think we can cross this one off the list.

During this past advent season, I decided to start praying the Rosary daily—not just for the four weeks leading up to Christmas, but in the hope of strengthening my prayerful communication with Jesus. During those four weeks, and in the months since, I’ve experienced prayer in the way I think it was meant—not as my way of “talking to God,” but rather as a quiet conversation with Him in my heart. Of late, however, I realized that I haven’t been the best at keeping up my end of the bargain; I’m saying the prayers every day, but something is missing. Then, the other day, while praying about something that was troubling me, I recalled what Jesus tells us in scripture: to pray as if we’ve already received what we’re asking for—not with the assumption that we will “get what we want”; Jesus isn’t Santaclause. Rather, to pray as if we’ve already received what we’ve asked is to pray with the understanding that we will be given an answer. I am slowly coming to find, as I take the time to meditate on this idea, that I have actually received answers; not booming voice, clap-of-thunder, sky-splitting-open answers, but my heart has become a space for a quiet conversation with God—a place I can retreat to at any point in the day when I feel the need, because that door is always open. It always has been, actually, but I don’t think I ever bothered to pass through it until now. I’ve stuck my head in, sure; said Hi at the end of the day, but I don’t think I’ve ever really lingered long enough to have a decent chat. Now that I’ve actually taken that step and walked all the way in, I might find the time to stay.

Question: Where is your Lenten journey taking you this year?