The Lost Art of Waiting

Like any patriotic American, I went to see fireworks last night. Burdened by blankets and not much else, we set out at dusk to watch the pyrotechnic display. We were a bit worried that we would not be able to find a parking spot or a seat on the lawn, but our fears were quelled when we scored both. Positioned comfortably in the grass, we watched the clouds roll in to cover the setting sun.

And, in a phrase, we waited. And waited. And yes, even waited. Until one of us had the good sense to check our smartphone and be reconnected to the civilized world. The clock read about 7:45 or so. When were the fireworks supposed to go off, you ask? Around 9:30, or so the website said that no one had bothered to check until we were sitting at the designated launch arena. So, we had about an hour and a half.

Now, I was in a bit of a state. As a self-identified bookworm, I am rarely ever without a book. Actually, I am known to keep spare books in my car for just such an occasion. Heck, I’ve read during a bridge opening, with my car set in park. (You have three guesses about who forgot to bring a book to this particular shindig, and the first two don’t count.)

Yes, in surprising fashion, I did not have a book. And even more surprisingly, my father did. So, he made out the best in this situation because I did not even have a pair of headphones or enough battery life on my phone to surf the web and still take pictures of the main event.

Of course, you have probably figured out that we made out just fine during this harrowing ordeal. We saw the fireworks, and it was a great show. But how did we survive the waiting?

Truly, I forgot how torturous it was to have nothing to entertain yourself with during the dull moments of life before you could pick up at the good parts. My attention span was flitting and fleeting, and I was squirming in my skin.

But I also forgot that it was as pleasurable to feel the grass tickle your chin and watch children tumble and fall for the fun of it as it was to read a book or listen to music. I forgot how satisfying it was to observe your surroundings instead of avoiding them. Just being has its perks instead of doing all of the time.

Not to be a begrudging member of our society, because I like the advances we have made in modern entertainment, but I wonder at the cost of having constant stimulation. Truly, I think there is an art to waiting in that you can find entertainment in your own head and not on a screen. And yes, for us shy people, the fact that you can look down at a screen while passing a person you may know without having to make small talk is a godsend. But when is it time to look up again? When will we put down the phone recording the fireworks instead of seeing them ourselves?

All in all, I hope to regain the lost art of waiting. Of making a game out of thin air. Of entertaining myself with thoughts alone. Of seeing fireworks behind my eyes long after they have disappeared into the night instead of saving them on a small disk for a shorter amount of time. Because this is all I will have in the end.

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Held Back

I’m not sure if anyone gets held back in school anymore. I feel like nowadays students can go to summer school or do some extra credit to boost their scores and keep themselves from becoming little Ferris Buellers. But once upon a time, if you failed a couple classes in a grade, then you would have to stay back until you were taught a thing or two.

Sometimes, I think life is holding me back a grade.

Why? Because I can’t seem to move forward. And I’m sure at one point, everyone has felt this way. But if you haven’t, it sort of feels like you should have accomplished so much more at this time in your life. It’s a crippling sense of your own personal failure, and it is coupled with the aromatic scent of ramen noodles and spilled beer.

I mean, I am constantly hearing how one decision someone made in their twenties completely changed everything for them. Yes, the moment I decided to live in the wilderness of Alaska is when I realized that I was meant to be a tuba player. 

So, I ask myself: Shouldn’t I be doing something…I don’t know…important? Before I get too numb to the world and start having sleep-deprivating children?

And the troubling part is every other 20-something I know (EXCEPT ME) seems like they’re moving right along in the current called life. They’ve already figured it out. They land a job, move out, and find their soulmate in about a month. And a month later, they’re pregnant. Not that I’m totally envious of all that. (I like sleep way more than I’d like a child right now. But you can eat whatever you want…)

But really, what gives?

And sure, everyone tells you that you shouldn’t rush it. You’ll get there. You’re a late bloomer. You’ll figure it all out. But I can’t help but think that I’ve been waiting my whole life to grow up. And at the same time, I’m still waiting for it to hit me that I already am.

Which is why I’ve come to the very sound hypothesis that I’m being held back a grade in life. For some reason, the universe is confident that I am not ready. And if I think about it, I think whoever is making that decision is right. I’m not ready. I need time to puzzle things out about the rest of my life, even though the calendar says that it’s time that I had everything together.

But more than that, I also feel that I have more to learn. I honestly think that life has been trying to show me, trying to help me understand, what I need to do to pass this grade level, and I’ve been ignoring it. It’s like I have a blindfold on, and I’m lifting my foot up to step over an obstacle, but when my foot hits brick, I realize that I can’t step over the obstacle because it is an entire wall that I need to scale. So, I reach out and feel along the wall and realize that I don’t have the tools for climbing the wall, either. I’m not equipped yet, and I think life knows it. But I’m also not sure when that will happen for me. So, I grow impatient, and I bloody my knuckles from hitting the wall out of frustration.

The point is, I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing or even when I’ll get there. That’s for life to decide. But I also need to trust in the process. Because I’ve always been exactly where I’ve needed to be before. And I will get there again, someday. And so, assuredly, will you.

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Two-Faced is Too Much

Is it considered mature to be nice to someone you don’t like or is it two-faced and disingenuous?

I would really like my readers to weigh in on this issue in the comments, but of course, you’re going to hear my perspective first. And maybe it will surprise you.

If you grew up female, you absolutely, positively knew one person in your school who “acted nice” in front of someone but tore them to pieces behind their back. And not to discriminate, because if you are a guy, you probably experienced this too. The difference is that you punched that guy in the face and got over it. Us girls, well. I like to say that we’re a bit more creative about our revenge.

Anyway, the person who would raise you up to your face and raze you to the ground in front of other people was generally not considered to be a trustworthy or kindly individual by others’ evaluations. And, undoubtedly, if you were this person, you were on a fast track to not having any friends very quickly if anyone found out about your, shall we say, double dipping. To put it simply, you were two-faced. And to put it in even simpler terms, that’s not cool.

But in adulthood, I think being two-faced is a way of life and a survival technique. And actually, I think it is a sign of maturity. Okay, being open and friendly to someone and then catty and jealous behind their back is not very mature. But I think being nice to someone that you don’t really care for is.

I mean, it happens all the time. The barista at Starbucks could be rude, a co-worker may rub you the wrong way, a family member that you don’t like could be coming over for dinner. Does it really make you less of a person for not flat-out telling them what a horrible person you think they are? Why does no one get points for courtesy anymore? Did “keeping the peace” die out with the Vietnam War?

And okay. I can see the other side, too. Life is too short to be fake to someone. You should be able to be yourself without having to conform to other people’s expectations. And who knows? Maybe your honesty will motivate someone to change their ways.

I mean, it sort of comes down to what you want people to say at your funeral. Oh, she was really, really nice. Like, that’s it? You were nice? No! You want them to say, Well, she could be a total b*tch sometimes, but she said what was on her mind, and she accomplished things. She owned the space that she had been given on this earth.

So, I don’t have an answer to my initial question, and I don’t know what the best policy is. All I know is that we’re faced with the decision to hide our feelings or be honest all of the time. I just feel that we should be able to express ourselves without having to be downright mean and without wearing a mask.

But what are your thoughts?

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The Phone Tree

Maybe I’m dating myself a bit by referencing a “phone tree” because I’m sure we can all just text each other now, but if you grew up with me, you knew what a phone tree did. You knew that if there was inclement weather, one mom would call another mom who would call another mom until finally you heard from your mom that there was no school today (no offense. I’m sure dads participated too. I was just on a roll…) It was truly a family lifeline.

Actually, there’s this great scene in my favorite movie Practical Magic where Sally Owens is wishing that she’ll be at the top of the phone tree because that spot is given to the most responsible parent. Of course, Sally Owens (played by Sandra Bullock) was not, and so her sister, Gilly Owens (Nicole Kidman) had to do a bit of magic on her part to give her the coveted role in the phone tree. But it all worked out for the best. (They later use the phone tree to assemble a coven of witches to banish a creepy ex-boyfriend. Ah, the little things.)

So, even though the phone tree has gone the way of snail mail and small towns, I still feel as though there is a sense that it is important. It shows that there’s someone there who is willing to keep you in the loop about something. In many ways, it certainly does carry with it some responsibility.

Now, imagine my surprise when I got involved in my own little 21st century phone tree this evening.

There was a wicked storm brewing while I was driving home. No thunder, but lightning crashing in bright, forked streaks. The sky was a healthy shade of bruise, with purple and yellow tinges. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, stuck behind car after car of rush hour traffic, I felt my own car resist the wind, as it picked up.

Knowing I had nowhere to go but forward, (as soon as the person in front of me let off the breaks, that is), I waited patiently (sort of).

And then the phone calls started. My mother and my boyfriend were first. They told me to pull over on the side of the road and wait it out. Didn’t I know that there was a tornado warning? (Well, I hadn’t heard it from any meteorologist, but I could certainly tell from Mother Nature.) I tsked at their fear and decided to move on. And what good would it do me if I died from crashing into the person next to me after talking on the phone during a tornado?

About 2 hours later (when the trip was supposed to take me 45 minutes), I rolled up into my driveway. And the phone rang again. My sister. Was I home yet? Walking through the door,  I heard another phone call in progress, “Yes, she’s home.” After all the stress I had endured, I almost hulked out. I thought, Why don’t we just jump on the local cable program and tell everyone in my hometown that I’m home? Now the party can really start…

But then I had a moment of clarity, as I am prone to do. This phone tree of sorts wasn’t a nuisance (even though I was the trunk of it, relaying information to all of my branches. Not very efficient.) It was just a way for my entire family to express their love for me.

Most of the time, “I love yous” don’t come in the form of a dozen red roses. I have come to realize that many of these moments,”Did you get home safe?” or “Be careful,” are true testaments of love. For a brief moment in an otherwise long day, my family’s thoughts were turned to me and my well being. That was a truly unusual feeling when I had just spent hours being another statistic in a traffic equation. I felt acknowledged. I felt wanted. And of course, loved.

So, I stopped being grinchy, and let the phone tree from my family tree happen. Like old phone cord lines, it’s hard to disentangle yourself from your loved ones. I’m glad I don’t have to.

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Bagels Give Me a Stomachache

You should know that I have an addictive personality when it comes to breakfast food.

I ate Eggo waffles for two years straight. Weekend, weekday. It didn’t matter. I was pouring syrup every morning, while my mother was trying to get me to eat something else.

And then, one day … I didn’t eat waffles. And the day after that? No waffles. And any day after that? You guessed it. I never really ate Eggo waffles again. I burnt myself out by being so addicted to them that I began to loathe them. It was the epitome of “too much of a good thing.”

Now that I have a food allergy, I can’t eat Eggo waffles, even if I wanted to. I have to buy the gluten free, soy free, dairy free, black magic pancake mix if I want a waffle that won’t try to reenact a scene out of Alien and crawl out of my stomach.

But like anyone who has to tell themselves that they can’t eat something, I inevitably eat that said thing. Just a few nibbles here and there. It’s almost like when someone slaps your hand away and tells you NOT to touch the big, red button. It doesn’t take a psychologist to know that your first instinct is to do the opposite of what that bossy person said. It’s alluring in ways that nothing else is.

Of course, I’m not crazy enough to start eating waffles again. My stomach isn’t ready for that and neither am I.

No, I settled for something a little bit more benign: a bagel. No cream cheese. (What are you crazy!? It’s already bad enough the bagel has soy in it. I would be DOA if I tried to eat dairy. Baby steps, as I try to destroy my body one breakfast food at a time.)

So, I ask myself something really tempting of the universe like, “What could possibly go wrong?” and down the hatch.

Probably an hour later I had the worst stomachache of my life. I know, I know. You’re thinking, my god. This woman is like the princess and the pea. But instead of the mattress, it’s her stomach. And instead of the pea, it’s a bagel. And in fact, you are right. (Actually, the pea would have been so much less of an impact on my poor insides.)

Now, this isn’t the first time I have ever eaten a bagel. They were a close second to waffles at one point in my eating career. But alas, no more.

So, what can I take away from this? After doubling over my stomach and sobbing over the fact that it’s so picky about its contents, I realized that there is still something to be gained from this situation.

If you ever worry that you are going to be stuck in a rut or simply stuck for the rest of your life, you won’t. Things will always, always, always change. And though it may sound scary, it’s good.

When I was in the throes of my waffle love, did I ever think I would stop eating them? Even worse, never be able to eat them again? Of course not. But here we are. My body changed that forever for me.

And so it will be for you. If you’re afraid you’ll never find love, you’ll never move out, you’ll never land a job, I can’t tell you what you what will happen. (I’m not a psychic. I just have a food allergy.) But I can tell you that whatever situation you are in now, you probably won’t be in it in a few years. And that’s wonderful and horrifying at the same time. The very fabric of your body is always dying, being reborn (even your stomach). You are never immune to change.

So, if you are going through hell, keep going. And stay away from bagels if you’re allergic. I learned that lesson the hard way for you. You’re welcome.

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When Was the Last Time I Was on Fire?

Sitting in English class, I always thought that inspiration came from the outside.

For example, Poe had a dark life, experienced plenty of death, and drank a lot. So, he produced material that reflected that. And Hawthorne. He was so ashamed of his family’s legacy in the Salem Witch Trials that he changed the spelling of his name and wrote about the shunning of a young female by the Puritan community. Or my man, Joyce. His home country of Ireland was a constant point of contention and inspiration, even if he had to slip his rage in between the lines.

And for most of my life, this conclusion has proved true. Inspiration really can come from anywhere, so it is important to keep an open mind while walking along the street or taking a road trip.

But enter me into adulthood. It’s Groundhog’s day everyday. I go to work, I come home, I eat, I go to bed, and I do that five times a week. And I don’t have to tell you that it’s really hard to create something when you are just trying to get through a work week. Sort of like singing into a black hole.

For a while, I just didn’t get it. How did people express themselves artistically when they were being numbed by a daily routine? Where did people find the time to search for inspiration in the mundane? When would I climb out of my own apathy?

And most importantly, could I remember the last time I felt like I was on fire? Because inspiration is like that. You’re burning up with a fever, and you’re working up a sweat, but you’re warm all over. You’re suddenly not just alive, you are thriving.

And then it hit me. If you can’t be set on fire from the outside, it’s going to have to come within.

You see, inspiration really is on the inside already. What you experience while living life may help you to trigger something, but that’s only because the potential was there before. You’ve got the tinder and the spark.

So, the next time that you are worried that inspiration hasn’t struck, writer’s block has been lodged, and you’re out of ideas, set yourself on fire (SO METAPHORICALLY). Light the wick inside and shine brightly. You’re only one match away from a masterpiece.

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10 Things I Learned from Being in a 10 Year Relationship

This is starting to become an annual tradition. (If you didn’t see last year’s post, click here.)

Let me catch you up. My boyfriend and I started dating 10 years ago. Today, we celebrate a decade of being together. And now that our relationship is the same age as a child, I am going to impart some gems of wisdom (which are probably just like fool’s gold).

Of course, I am going to give you fair warning before you move forward. By no means should you adhere to my relationship advice. Everyone is different, and what is true for me may not be true for you. But I think we’ll have fun talking about what is my truth, and hopefully, you can relate on some level to the zaniness that we all call love.

#10 

Find someone who will eat your pickles. 

Listen, it’s great to have someone who shares your passions and who will have an adventure with you. Of course you always know that one couple that’s like, We run, bike, garden, and cook together. We’re inseparable, and we haven’t slept for weeks. But it’s also wonderful to have someone who has completely different interests than you. This way, you get to share your likes and help them to discover something new. For example, my boyfriend and I have this perfect arrangement where he absolutely despises pickles, and they are my favorite food. So, he just plops them down on my plate, and I gobble them up. He could buy my love for pickles, and yet he gives them to me for free.

#9

Communicate creatively.

At the beginning of our ten years, we talked on my sister’s phone (there were only two landlines in my house) and on AOL instant messaging. (I bet the words “away message” just flashed before your eyes.) Since then, we have skyped, texted, DMed on Twitter, telegrammed, snail mailed, passed notes, etc. I’m sure we would have talked through a can on a string if we felt that it would have given us better reception than our pay-as-you-go phones. (It probably would have.) Our relationship has truly experienced plenty of technological advances, but our own communication has not. Sure, there are days that we don’t get to talk to each other nearly as much as we want. But the point is that the other one knows that he or she has someone in his or her corner, no matter what. I may not have texted back in the last hour, but I’m always a phone call away. (Well, maybe a voicemail message away…)

#8

Difficult doesn’t even cover it.

I think sometimes The Notebook comes the closest to reality when it comes to relationships, which is why it is such a favorite among chick flickers. The reason I think it is so accurate is because Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling fight. They don’t just bicker about whose turn it is to take out the trash or whether Zooey Deschanel is the cutest thing on Earth or what, they actually have knock down, drag out arguments. And yes, that’s accurate for us, too. I don’t think there is anyone on Earth that has faced the full brunt of my anger, the screaming and the insults, like my boyfriend. I’m surprised he still has eyebrows because my fury could burn them off if he got too close. Which is why it’s always important to take a step back and start over because it is absolutely never easy to be with someone you love. They know how to push you, and that’s good, but then again, they know how to push you. So, tread carefully, and practice the phrase, “I’m sorry.”

#7 

Flowers and battles should be picked carefully.

Which brings me to my next point: try not to take your anger out on each other. #8 makes it sound like most couples are fighting all of the time. That’s probably not true for most healthy relationships, but you will surely feel moments of acute irritation. Like, oh my god, he just double-dipped. That is so disgusting. He literally only thinks about himself and that bowl of guacamole. Now, are you going to go nuclear over such a little transgression? Probably not, but there will be times when you will feel like you should burn the bridge that connects you to your shared apartment. This is also a good time to step back. You have to ask yourself if you are willing to lose this person over something, anything. If you truly love them, the answer will be no, until he double-dips again.

#6 

Be you.

This is just general advice for life, but I cannot stress how important this one is. I met my boyfriend when I was just 14 years old. (I’ll let that sink in for a moment. You can keep reading once it does.) I don’t pretend that this isn’t completely weird. But I owe our success to the fact that I have always been the person that I am, and so has he. We are a bit mature for our age, but we are comfortable with ourselves. Sure, I’ve changed. But not in ways that matter. Not in ways that detract from the person I am at the core. And neither has he. So, to attract your life partner, don’t do anything but be yourself. The right person will find you. (Maybe a little later than 14, but better late than never.)

#5 

Surprise!

It should come as no surprise that I am not generally a fan of surprises. I avoid horror movies and perfume stalls in the mall because I don’t like when people jump out at me. However, my boyfriend is a master at listening to what I’m saying and then surprising me much later with the exact thing that I was describing. Baby stuffed penguin? Found it on Amazon. Trip to your favorite restaurant? Let’s go tonight. Need to unwind? Here’s some chocolate I bought on the way over. Those little unexpected treats are so pleasant for me because even after 10 years, I can’t really predict when they will pop up next. (Especially the chocolate. Just sayin’.)

#4

Trust that the other person knows where he or she is going.

I could probably write an entire book on the importance of trust in a relationship. Truly, it is the only thing that will help you move forward in life. But it’s hard, right? Giving up that control and possibly allowing yourself to get hurt goes against our survival instincts. But even when we know the person is reading the map wrong and has a malfunctioning GPS, both literally and metaphorically, you have to let them figure it out first. Trust can sometimes be the only thing that the both of you are able to fall back on, and so you need to build it up, brick by brick, by not pulling over to ask for directions immediately when your partner has gotten you lost.

#3

Help! 

As a strong, independent woman, I am often faced with the choice of hiding my emotions and figuring it all out on my own or asking for help. It’s actually hard to call it a choice because I almost never end up picking the latter. However, in a relationship, it is critical to admit that you’re not really sure how to proceed when you really don’t know. Again, it can be difficult to give the reins over, but you’re in this together. If you’re going to share your successes, you will also have to share your pains. And most of your food.

#2

You’re dating a village.

When you have been together this long, there are a lot of people involved in your relationship. Whether they simply hang out with the two of you, or were the ones to set you up once upon a time, or have eavesdropped on your arguments, there are a lot of people who have an investment in your love. This is why it’s incredibly important to make an effort with the people that your partner enjoys the most in life. You may be dating a village, so make sure that you surround yourself with support.

#1

Get mad, get over it.

I have a heady heritage of Irish/Scottish/German. I have a short fuse and a long cooling off period. And, don’t forget, I am incredibly stubborn. So, when we are bickering or I am not choosing my battles wisely, things can go downhill very quickly. For example, this past weekend my boyfriend and I were out to dinner. We were arguing about something very trivial when we suddenly got so irritated that we refused to speak. I stared moodily off into space, and he went to the bathroom. When he got back, I tried my best to soften myself, but I was having trouble working up the nerve to apologize. I looked over at him briefly, and even in that moment, I could see that I was forgiven because he reached up to wipe away some of the food on my mouth. He even licked his finger to rub it off. And it was all at once the most mundane and caring response. It said, I may be mad, but I will always love you. Having someone who wants the best for you even when he or she is seeing red is the best gift a person can give. It is the gift of true acceptance.

And so, 10 years has passed. I knew I had someone special all those years ago, but I didn’t know how important you would be, Tim. Thank you for this adventure. I can’t wait to see where life brings us.

And thank you to everyone who has ever stood by us, listened to our arguments over the phone, encouraged us to be with each other, or simply hung out with us. Your importance cannot be overrated.

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