Thursday, April 26, 2007


*Disclaimer--I've had one too many glasses of wine...

Tonight I got to have dinner with a very old friend. The nostalgia of sitting around the table with everyone, drinking, catching up, laughing was almost too much. Some things never change. Some friends will always remember when. Some hazel eyes will always make your heart beat funny. Some times life changes but the relationships stay the same. It was the happiest two hours of the week so far. Let's do it again and not wait 3 years.


Remember last September/October when I wrote about the horses whose trailer crashed on their way to a slaughter house in Illinois? The Humane Society took possession of the ones who lived. I saw this story today, and it made me smile.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

No Wonder Woman

I'm a busy girl. I work two jobs. I spend time with my friends. I work out. I take care of all those little tasks that go into living an orderly, hygienic, well-fed existence. Sometimes there's not a lot of free time left over. Although I've never been one to begrudge myself some lazy alone time (America's Next Top Model, hello!), I usually feel like I'm not doing as much as I should be or that I'm letting someone down.

Last night I left job 2 a little early to attend the Leukemia Society's Team in Training meeting. What an amazing organization! My bleeding heart for a good cause was leaking in full force. One of the speakers was a 2-time leukemia survivor who has now run both a half and full marathon with the program. I mean, if someone can endure chemo and make it that far, surely I could motivate a little more. But as the specifics of the program unfolded, I realized, it's a huge time commitment. And, I don't like making commitments that I can already see myself slacking on or breaking. There were mandatory weekend practice runs with the team, team activities, and endless fundraising responsibilities. I stared at the application, at the check box for the Dublin team and tried to imagine how I could fit a new activity in and what I would have to cut out to make it happen.

I haven't gotten where I am today by living within limits. I am who I am because I've pushed myself beyond what seemed easiest. But sometimes maybe the limits are there for a reason. There has to be a compromise between knowing one's limits and pushing the envelope. If I never test the limits of my abilities, I'll never know what I can do. At the same time, if I push until I'm physically and emotionally exhausted, what good is that?

Priorities. I need to figure out what they are. Those are the areas I'm going to push, and the rest will just have to wait, no matter how amazing the opportunity. I can't make the most of absolutely everything that comes my way or nothing is going to get my best effort.

My first priority right now is my career. When I switched from academics, I made the commitment to make this transition successful. So, I'm applying for a management position in my company. Even though I've only been here a year. Even though I have no idea what the odds of achieving this goal are. The outcome couldn't be more up in the air, and honestly, I'm terrified. Whether it's fear of failure or fear of success, I'm not sure. But I'm doing it and working my ass off to make sure they realize I can totally do the job.

My second commitment is (per yesterday's blog) my friends and family. I'm committed to taking time to sustain the relationships that sustain me.

My third priority is my own health. I've said it before, but I want back the body I once had. Sadly, that body cannot be achieved by lying on the couch like it once was. Curves are fine, but I want them as tight as possible. Cardio, hard, heart-pounding cardio is the only answer (or lipo, haha). I do want to be a better runner and plan on finding a 10K to run in the near future. Basically, I want to be proud of the body I see in the mirror instead of tolerant or outright disgusted. I need my groove back.

All of the other things can fall in line after those. I'd like to expand my social activities, find more creative outlets, get envolved with one of the causes I feel passionately about. And, those can have the pieces of time left over. Priorities are made to be reshuffled from time to time, so perhaps in a few months I'll feel ready to move something else to the front of the line.

But the guilt remains. Can we ever do enough to make the world a better place? Can we ever spend enough time with the people we love?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Something I Couldn't Live Without

I'm addicted to NPR. I love all the in-depth interviews and quirky stories. But, my favorite show is Monday's This I Believe. There's something about listening to others articulate what they believe this life is all about that disquiets and intrigues me. Probably because at this point in my life, I don't think I could answer that question with just one concise answer. There are so many ideas that shape how I choose to live. Maybe "Giving". But who knows. That might be another blog...

Yesterday's piece by David Greenberger especially stayed with me (read it). He was writing about the value of his friendships with the elderly, but this phrase from the middle of his essay seemed universal:

"That's part of the wonder of relationships: Anything that happened before we knew each other is slightly mysterious. It's only the present we can know. And a conversation in the present is given shape by the lifetime of events and ideas that preceded it. There's no need to go fishing for the past; it will make itself known."

That mystery is always before us. I've teasingly asked "new" friends, "So, do you think we would have been friends if we'd met in high school?" It's almost impossible to imagine the shadowy me from the past mixing in an unknown world with this other person's past self. It, too, surfaces in the climax of romantic yearning that wishes we'd known each other always, that there was no life before us. We search for the stories that will illuminate the person in front of us, when all the while the essence of those stories will emerge simply through knowing the other person in this moment. It's a nice idea, to accept someone just as they are now, not who they might have been before or who you'd like them to be.

I found this piece so touching because the idea of appreciating a person for who he/she is has been on my mind a lot lately. Everyone has a self-constructed mental picture of who you are. Or who you should be. I don't like shoulds. The surest way to make me do the opposite is tell me I should do something. There was a time when I was less sure of myself, more pliable. You don't like my hair? I'll change it. You think I'm too reserved? I can fix that. But not anymore. I'm not good at being anything other than myself, flaws and all. Maybe I swear too frequently, maybe I have too many tattoos, maybe I'm too opinionated, maybe I'm too stubborn. But, if I'm okay with it, you have to be, too. Love it or leave it.

The best friendships, though, are the ones who see you even more clearly than you see yourself. My friend Melissa is one of those people. Saturday evening, we were talking about a relationship that will never happen because the other person wants me to be everything but who I am. The fierceness of her response was breathtaking. "I hate that!" she said, "You have worked too hard to be the person you are. You've evolved into this really beautiful amazing person, and it makes me angry to think someone doesn't appreciate that." I was taken aback. We've known each other for seven years now, and I suppose in that time, I have spent significant amounts of time coming to terms with who I am and who I want to be. What was amazing is that we've shared that journey together and recognize its value. This girl has come miles since I first met her, too. Obstacles have presented themselves for her more than the average person, but she's surpassed every one of them and come back for more. She's learned that if she's made it this far there's nothing she can't do. I get fired up the same way when I feel like she's not getting her due. I equate that fire with true friendship.

I'm a (semi-)social person; I have lots and lots of acquaintances and sorta friends. Some friends whose mettle has never been tried. I've had "best" friends who have screwed me over or fallen off the face of the earth into their own lives. Whatever. It happens. Looking back at friendships that have faded or ceased to exist, it was hard to tell at the time which ones would survive and which ones would fail. Sometimes you can't tell when you are in the middle of something that it's a convenience thing, not a meaningful friendship.

But what counts is this: I've also got a handful of friends who I know will be there when the shit hits the fan. No matter what. The people who would get out of bed to come pick me up if my car breaks down. The people who have listened to me cry over a broken heart. The people who wouldn't leave my side if I were really really sick. These are friends who have stood by each other when members of the group have come out, gotten pregnant unexpectedly, or experienced profound loss. No judgement, no I-told-you-so's, no unsolicited advice, just unconditional friendship.

It's easy to get wrapped up in myself and the little world I've created for myself. But something I want to work on this year is acknowledging how much those core people mean to me. So little else in life matters. Hmmm...maybe that's another "this I believe" for me.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

My own version of candle-lighting

My heart breaks for the students at Virginia Tech. I got the CNN breaking news email mid-morning yesterday. 21 people dead. Why? No one knew. All day and night at work, between tasks, I listened online to interviews and incoming news of their tragedy. NBCs Brian Williams interviewed two stoic sophomores, one whose arm was in a sling from the gunshot wound he'd received that morning. Their eyes were hallow and shell shocked, and I wondered if they would be able to sleep that night, or if they would lie awake and wonder why, or if they would cry and wish they could be at home with their families.

This morning, getting ready for another day of work, I listened to the latest from NPR. Now there were 33 gone. I stopped dressing and sat on the bed to listen to an interview with a female student who had been taking a test in the building when the shooting began. "We thought it might be construction, like hammers, but then we heard horrible screaming and this terrible laughing." She told how another student herded them into a broom closet to hide, how they listened to the shots coming nearer, how she called her parents on her cell phone and then hung up to pray. Her story ended happily. The man with a gun drawn who burst through the closet door was a police officer. But by the end of the interview, tears were rolling down my cheeks.

In some small way, I recall what it's like when tragedy finds you in a place you thought was invincible. College was an idyllic world for me. The campus was safe, people were friendly. Nothing really bad happened there. Then one night it did. Someone's cigarette fell into the cushions of a common area couch and ignited a fire in one of the dorms. Must have slept through all the sirens because I didn't find out what had happened until my mom called me early the next morning to find out exactly where the fire had been and make sure I was safe. In the end, hundreds of students were "homeless," many had lost all their possessions, laptops with papers due the next day. And one student was gone forever.

My only interaction with Joel had been in the Media center of the library where he'd showed me how to use the Scantron grading machine for my works tudy job. Still, when I heard the news, I burst into tears. He was getting married to another student during the upcoming winter break. I didn't know her either, but I felt a tiny piece of her loss. The whole campus felt it. I remember lying in bed instead of going to class, feeling guilty that I couldn't do something more to help than donate clothes and toiletries. I remember hugging those who were safe when I hadn't even liked some of them much before. I remember standing in the candle lit chapel, holding hands with my roommate on one side and someone I didn't know on the other. Our campus came together in a way that it never had before or since. I know Virginia Tech will too.

People are resillient. We pull together, pull it together, and move on. Eventually we even put the tragedy to the back of our minds. I hadn't thought about the dorm fire in years probably. But for those who lost friends and loved ones, the road will be tougher, the path to let go of the pain will be longer. For them and for those who died, I send my thoughts.

Monday, April 16, 2007

On Envy

One of the things I've been thinking about lately, almost incessantly, is art. I've been considering the concept of craft, what I do, what others do, why some other artists (specifically other writers) make me want to punch them in the face while others are complete kindred spirits.

Recently I've had two very different experiences with the arts that nicely illustrate the difference between the two groups of fellow creators. About two weeks ago, my friend Shelley drug me to a poetry reading at the Bottleworks. Let me qualify before you rip me apart, I have nothing specifically against poetry. I used to write a little poetry, you know, back when the angst levels were far higher than they are today. And there was something about Europe that made me want to wax poetic like few other experiences ever have. The truth is, I'm just a prose person (ie, I'm wordy). What I had a problem with, what drove me to drink several glasses of wine to salvage the experience was the attitude, the atmosphere. The poets, the crowd even, they took themselves SO incredibly seriously.

The first reader, a wannabe hippie from New York, spent more than an hour, reading in a contrived lilting voice, poems about her linen closet (with a "high aroused door", no I'm not kidding) and railing on the word "small" and its over-use in poetry. The latter inspired a fellow audience member to begin a list of creative synonyms for small. My contribution to the list included "my attention span" and "my enjoyment of this event." Fun times. But right around the time the linen closet door became "aroused," I began looking around to see if anyone else's face mirrored my own are-you-fucking-kidding-me expression. No one's was. People were nodding in deep, meaningful agreement. I ordered another drink.

My most recent brush with the arts couldn't have been more different. This past weekend I attended Venus Envy, a showcase to support women in the arts. The festival offered up everything from music and art installations to dancers and roller derby girls and just about everything in between. What struck me most was the difference in atmosphere. The experience felt communal instead of self-promoting. It felt sincere and raw rather than postured. I left feeling euphoric to be part of that community of artists. I wanted to get involved. I wanted to help spread the word.

More than anything, Venus Envy fueled my need to analyze my distaste for the poetry reading. For me it all came down to pretension. I love the arts: theater, music, dance, words, photography, painting. And all of these activities, I suppose, have the potential to be pretentious. Or to be meaningful, mind-altering moments. Blame my feelings about this to all the years spent in academia. Nothing ruins creative fire faster than a bad writing workshop or open-mike night at the local coffeehouse. It's not the work itself. It's not even always the artist. There's nothing wrong with being passionate about your craft. When I write (something other than blogs that is), I pour everything ounce of skill I have onto that page. I want it to be perfect because it's an extension of myself.

The "myself" is where the problem arises. In some atmospheres, the self-righteousness, if you will, of the artist and the audience takes over the beauty of the art itself. When we take ourselves (and the way others perceive us) more seriously than we take the piece of art, pretension gets in the way. My deep concern over whether you think I look and sound the part of writer in my carefully constructed writerly outfit and tone of voice will come across far louder than my (perhaps equally sincere) desire to honestly share what I've written. That pretension also translates to the audience, who starts to feel like it must enjoy the art in the same high-minded way others are or risk being thought shallow.

I mean, god forbid anyone think I didn't fully appreciate what I saw or heard. It's wonderful to analyze art, to wonder what exactly the artist was trying to convey or to consider the implications of the message. But there's equal often dismissed benefit in enjoying the inherent beauty in the voice, the movement, the words, the canvas and leaving it at that. I don't pretend to be super educated in all the art forms I enjoy. Sometimes I don't have the words to describe why I like a particular piece; I like it just because to me it was beautiful.

At Venus Envy, I felt spontaneously moved by the creativity I saw, but if I wasn't, I didn't get the feeling the artist cared much. It wasn't about me or them. It wasn't about fame or praise. It was about the creation. It was about finding joy in the act of creation. If only more experiences in life were like that one.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Dublin Dreamin'

Remember how I was going to live this year in the moment, no expectations, take things as they came?

It's not going so well. I'm an achiever. I'm a planner. I'm a do-er. And I get bored easily. Especially when I feel like I'm not being challenged. When I finish one challenge, I need to find another one.

That's what I need right now. Someone challenge me PLEASE! I'm begging. I'm tired of the same old, same old. Aren't you??? The feeling seeps into every pore. Work, relationships, social life...everything feels stale. And I can't live with a second-rate life. I need some new goals.

So, despite my credo for the year, I'm planning to shake things up. I've spent the last several days trying to come up with some worthy ideas for improving my boring existence. It turned out to be pretty easy. Most of them are intensely personal (even for someone who blabs about her life on the internet), but here's a good one:

Yesterday, a co-worker gave me information about the Team in Training for the Leukemia Society. The idea is you train for and run half or full marathons to raise money for cancer research. AND--wait for it--some of the races are in AMAZING, oh say, DUBLIN!!!

Granted, I will have to raise a boat-load of cash. But if I do, they take care of airfare, hotel, and food. What a goal! I would get to run in the most beautiful country in the world. Can you even imagine? It would combine a travel adventure with motivation to keep my ass in gear physically, and most importantly it would contribute to a great organization's cause.

So in a couple of weeks, I'm attending an information session to find out what it's all about. It'll be over a year before it all goes down, but just knowing I have a plan makes the monotony of today a little bit more tolerable.

Now who wants to come with?

...and can I just say, if I go to Dublin again, I'm never coming home?!