Cold water and gentle cycle, lay flat to dry.

I think I’ve learned more life lessons since graduating college in May than I did throughout the past four years in school. Maybe not more lessons, but harder ones. For example, how do you deal with being alone when everyone around you seems to be pairing off? How do you move home and form new friendships, a new job, a new life? How do you reform into family living after being on your own for so long?

All these things and more have been pounding on my chest and trying to make me feel them more deeply and to, finally, deal with them. I’ve been trying to learn from a distance. To stand quietly in the corner and slowly slip in gracefully to this new space I’ve acquired. However the realization that is coming over me says that this is just about as possible as getting used to the cold, cold water by standing beside, in your winter coat, with just a pinky toe in the pool. The most frightening life lesson that I’m finding I must one day jump into, is this:

People cannot always love you the way you need to be loved. 

Even now as I try to write this blog post, I am struggling for words to explain this lesson that I still cannot fully understand.

I’ve said before that I believe one of man’s main desires and vital needs is to be understood. Why was language created? Yes, to communicate in order to complete tasks more easily, but also to express oneself. Why poetry? Why theatre? Why lyrics and song? Why music itself for that matter, but to convey a specific emotion. We yearn to express ourselves and to be understood. The next part of that desire is to then, of course, be accepted as we are.

As we go through seasons in life, we will need different things from those closest to us. Sympathy, gentleness, a helping hand, encouragement, tough love, criticism, etc. Different seasons call for different forms of love from those around us. But sometimes, even those closest to you will be unable to love you the way you need.

I’m learning that there are many reasons that people cannot always love us how we long to be loved. Whether that be misunderstanding, disagreeing, ignoring, or simply being ignorant to the fact that we indeed do need to be loved, people fail. And it’s painful. I find that familiar heaviness on my chest when I think of the people I might have been unable to love the way they needed me to.

The truth is, I don’t understand why someone like a mother, a father, a friend or brother cannot look at you and see through your bones to understand at those depths what you really need. I can’t understand why, even when you speak plain English (or whatever you speak) and tell them exactly what you need, they can’t deliver. Why they misunderstand you, or ignore you, or are deaf to the fact that you’re calling out to them.

Truth be told, most of the time these days I feel like this gray, wool sweater I own. One that needs to be washed with cold water, on the gentle cycle, and then be laid flat to dry. One that is almost not worth the work to keep it.

It’s something that my heavy boots are trudging through, and I long to make it to the other side.

I’ll hold a picnic when I find the answers. I’ll bring the crackers and you bring the watermelon?

Not taking the shame.

As a female in today’s society, I will not even begin to list the outrageous standards (often in the form of double) we are held to. The list is too long and too complex to discuss in one blog post. And those who think otherwise are simply choosing to be ignorant to much of the reality around them. 

In my life, I like to think that I challenge these standards. I do not agree with gender norms or stereotypes. I seek to bring attention to injustices based upon gender (and race, and economic standing, etc). The goal in living this way and voicing my objections, is to ultimately create change in a culture that so desperately needs it. Lately, however, I have found myself adhering to one of the practices I pride myself in speaking out against. 

The situation is a common one today, and it includes two aspects that I dislike greatly. Cell phones and gender stereotypes. In the following paragraphs I will be speaking from a female perspective because, well, I am a female, and this is an account of my experiences. However please do not count me as ignorant to the fact that some (possibly many) males have been through many circumstances just like this. 

1) The use of cellphones and implications of text messaging. 

It is common knowledge today that cell phones are to be at your side, on the ready, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I, like many others, even sleep with my phone on in case of emergency. This has lead to the belief that people should be available and at your disposal any minute or hour of the day. Texting specifically has enforced this newly found theory. Even when at work, in a meeting, in class, and let’s be honest, in the movie theater even after all of those annoying commercials, people expect you to get back to them within the hour if not within minutes! 

My friends will readily tell you that I am the worst “texter” in the world. I do not always reply to messages within the hour, day, or even week. Sometimes I do not reply to texts at all. Usually when faced with the accusation of being a bad “texter”, I quickly apologize, and sometimes even promise to do better next time. 

Through some reflection on recent experiences, I have found that I however, am not sorry in the least. In fact, I am angry. I am angry that people expect me to heed their every beck and call. I am angry that I am expected to stop whatever I am doing at any moment to respond to someone’s purposeless “what’s up” or even more unoriginal “hey”. I am angry that my life is considered so unimportant, that it does not matter what I have been going through or doing. What is important is that I spend my day glued to a screen, conversing through wavelengths, and apologizing if I do not do so timely or at all. I am angry that I am shamed and have let myself feel ashamed for a norm that I disagree with and even loath. This standard which many hold so dear, is one that I refuse to hold myself to any longer. Can I get an ‘Amen’? (And no, I do not expect you to get back to me on that today, or tomorrow, or ever. Do yo thang, honey!)

2) The gender stereotype that men are the pursuers and women are to agreeably be pursued. 

While more and more people find the gender stereotype that males should be the one to pursue women archaic and outdated, there are many who still cling tightly to this belief. Whether you agree with the former or the latter, there is an even greater issue in the method of pursual of a relationship. 

As a female (again, because I am one), I have experienced attention from a boy or two. (Please note the use of ‘boy’ instead of ‘man’. Also please note the box marked as ‘single’ on my tax forms. Actually no, don’t notice that one. Put down those papers and get out of my house, crazy!) While I have never received flowers, I have received ice cream (which is better), or the request for a date, etc. I have also received… text messages, which is another blog post in itself. In short, boys, call her! Get off your keister and visit her! Have a real life conversation! *Steps off soap box*. 

The attention from men and their pursual of women is not at all where the issue lies. The issue is in the expectation that women owe you something in return for your hard work in pursuing her. I hate to break it to ya, boys, but just because you took her on a nice, fun date, does not mean she has to schedule a second. Just because you planned a romantic, or even expensive, evening for the two of you, does not mean that she has to like you. (Nor does it mean that you should expect ANYTHING from her at the end of the night. *folds piece of red hot paper and puts in her pocket for another post*) Just because you sent her flowers, does not mean she has to return your interest. And finally, just because you took a whole 10 seconds out of your day to text her, does not in any way mean she has to reply. 

One of the many standards placed on women that I do not think men or women themselves realize, is that we are expected to give attention back to anyone that pays any mind to us. Think about how difficult and heart wrenching it is to turn anyone down. It physically hurts! And yes, some of that is human sympathy and the knowledge and experience that it rejection hurts. However, the other part of the dificulty in that process is engrained in us from our culture. 

A few months ago, a friend who I thought was just a friend told me he was interested in me. My reply was a bit shaky, as I had not expected this from him at all. However, after a few times of hanging out in groups, I felt it became increasingly clear that we would never work as a couple. Then, to confirm that, I traveled outside of the country and then to other places away from home, and did not see him for two months. A mutual friend recently contacted me and asked if I had spoken to him. I replied that I hadn’t. And with that, I was instantly shamed for not replying to this man. I was accused of being “rude”, “inconsiderate”, and even “leading him on”. I was accused of being all these things when really all I was, was uninterested

These hasty words, however, made me feel as if I had been doing something wrong. As if I was a bad person for not contacting him. As if I should feel guilty for not returning the attention of my pursuer… Sound familiar, ladies? (And gentlemen, apologies.)

Excuse my language, but there are some things worth getting passionate about, and I’m calling bull shit on the whole thing. There is not any instance in which a woman (or man) should feel compelled to give someone attention, just because they first showed you attention. There is no scenario where others should ridicule females for not getting giddy at the favors displayed from a man. There is no circumstance when a female should feel ashamed that she did not give a man the time he “deserved” for pursuing her. 

People, women, are not at men’s disposal. Women are not, and should not be posted, at the ready by their cell phones just in case they receive a hint of attention from a man. Women are not readily available 24/7, and even if they somehow, impossibly are, they are in no way shape or form obligated to respond in a favorable way, or at all. 

I have decided to stop accepting shame for not having my thumbs superglued to my iPhone in order to get back to someone within the culturally appropriate timeframe. I have decided to stop accepting and shaming myself for not being the objectionless pursuee of men’s affection. The shame game stops here. 

 

 

Incantations

The beauty of writing is that it can take raw feelings and emotions and put them into words. Readers can then plop the words into their mouths and swish them around a bit to get just a taste of what the author intended. There are times, however, when an author and a reader connect on some unknown wavelength through space and time. The words transcend the paper or screen, and become a reality to its audience. The reader can taste the saltiness of tears in his mouth accompanying a tragic loss, the metallic bitterness of blood after a thrown punch, or even, the warm, soft, taste of a kiss left lingering on their lips. There is magic in writing an incantation that will clutch the rib cage of another and rearrange its insides and fill it with emotion it did not know was there. 

This beauty does, however, leave the author with quite a responsibility. How will we describe the world around us, what will we bring to light or keep hidden, what, if anything, is too spiritual or too dark to bare? What taste of the world will we place in our reader’s mouth? One of despair, loss, a world gone astray? Or, in spite of all those things, one of hope, and faith, and love?

Fern Fiction.

The fern was in a pot about the size of a bowling ball, but its leaves reached out into every direction as if trying to escape. I was carrying it down Carnaby Street from my flat. Now it’s just Stacia’s flat.

            Maria’s was my favorite coffee shop at the time, and as I passed by it I tried to peek in the windows to see if there were any open seats. An empty table caught my eye, and that, combined with the increasing weight of the fern in my arms, forced me in the door.  

            It took a second for my eyes to adjust to the dim lighting of the café. As I was blinking in my hazy surroundings, I realized I had been crying. But my arms were heavy and my head even more, so I drug my feet over to the only open seat. I dropped the fern on top of the high table and then dug the heels of my palms into my eyes. The low murmur of the café engulfed me with the sound of quiet chatter and the clinking of cups on saucers.

            I opened my eyes to a small pile of potting soil on the table. A fern? That’s what I took? Three years of shared memories, shared expenses, and shared living quarters and all I took was a fern? I pounded the table with my fist. The plant shook with the force and I noticed some of the its disorderly branches had spilled over onto the table next to mine. I followed their reach to see a young woman with soft brown eyes that were washing over me apologetically. Quickly I swept the ferns off of her table, hoping she hadn’t noticed my lack of consideration, knowing she had.

“I’m so sorry,” I said as I brushed off the fallen leaves that now littered her table.

“It’s quite alright,” she said, meeting my eyes.

“No, it’s not,” I replied, “How could I be so careless?” My eyes fell back onto the table in front of me.

“It’s fine, really. It’s just a plant,” she said, her hand reaching over to touch the tabletop.

“I mustn’t be so indiscreet, “ I interrupted her.

“Just a few fallen leaves.”

“It’s falling apart.”

“Now look,” she said, her hand left the table and motioned toward the window to the right of us. “It’s just reaching for the sunshine.”

And with that, I raised my head from its stupor and looked toward where she pointed at the window. It was true; the sun was shining in on us quite radiantly.

Realist

I can’t lie. I am a realist. Which in certain situations may come off as pessimist. I don’t believe in fairy tales, I don’t believe in “happily ever after”. Because the truth is, life gives the bad along with the good. I’ve seen too many poisoning relationships to be blissfully ignorant. I’ve watched too many heartbreaks to leap blindly. I’ve heard too many lies entangled in compliments to openly believe. I don’t want a prince, I don’t want a chick-flick romance, I don’t want the love story that everyone else is after.

I want a best friend. I want something so easy to fall into that I couldn’t ignore it if I tried. I want to finally feel at home. I want to believe someone cares what I have to say, cares what I’m feeling. I want to finally, truly believe and let it resonate in my soul, that someone actually thinks every piece of me is okay. And that most of me, most of me is beautiful. I want a real relationship, one with more good than bad.

Thoughts from 30,000.

“I wanna go home,” I said to my brother as we continued shakily through the air. As I turned away a tear, unkempt, traced the frame of my freckled nose.

We were halfway through our flight from Shanghai to inland China, and for the third time an elderly Chinese man had let himself into the cramped airplane lavatory to smoke a cigarette, causing all of us to indulge in his cancer stick with him.

Uncharacteristically I let the tear fall from my chin. I decided I didn’t care if my little brother saw me cry. But one tear later I stopped myself. No use crying over something that can’t be.

I realized then that I wasn’t sad because I missed home, or even because I was uncomfortable and frankly concerned for our safety on this flying matchbox. No, I was homesick for a childhood passed. One filled with innocence, or at least selected ignorance, fresh cut grass and watermelon, a four-pawed protector and friend, unguarded smiles, and just enough time to live in the moment. I was aching for a time and place that could never be for me again.

I think that’s why women want children. In abandoned moments, before thinking better of it, that is why I want children. To give them a childhood like mine– even better– and longer too. A time where laughter is constantly ringing through your body, buzzing just below the surface, always eager to present itself. When nothing is shameful or forbidden and singing and dancing follow close like shadows behind us, and often catch up just in time for a few ballads of ecstasy. And eventually, a time when young love comes to life in an unexpected occasion and hollows out your insides. 

No, even at 22 one can only look back fondly, and often somberly, at such beautiful, magnificent, outrageously golden moments that still singsongingly call to us uselessly to come back to them. 

Your Chapter.

There’s a story in the Bible of a girl named Esther. Through a line of somewhat random events, Esther ends up becoming the Queen of her country. Esther was married to King Ahasuerus for only a short times before trouble came. The King’s most trusted official deceived him into passing a law to kill all the Jews in the land. Little did the King or his official know, Esther was a Jew. She knew she must do something, but going before the King uncalled for often resulted in death, even for his Queen. Esther was speaking to her cousin one night and he said some very frightening, but encouraging words. 

 

“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” 
Esther 4:14

Examine your life. What were some of the times when you felt hunted, like the Jews? The times where you felt like everything was out to get you. What were the times where your life seemed hopeless?

Name ém. 

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 I don’t think that life is a rolled dice. I don’t think this all happened by chance. I believe in a strategic God. The God who placed us intentionally in the time, place, and with the people in our lives not because he “eeny-meeny-miny-moed” it, but because we have a purpose there. 

I’m sure many of our stories are aching, tender, and raw, or infuriating and exasperating, or even confusing and desperate. These may be tough chapters of our lives to open up. It’s infinitely easier to keep these pages closed and collecting dust. But I would like to suggest that God placed you in that book, chapter, and line “for such a time as this.” 

Telling your story isn’t easy. You have to be useful, scrappy, and original. But I believe the most useful and original device you will ever have is your story. So, take the easy way out. Leave the book on the shelf. Or.. pick it up. Share it. Your story and your character could create some amazing things and affect so many other peoples’ stories. 

p.s. Esther single-handedly stopped a genocide by telling her story.