Monday, November 30, 2015

Things I Should Be Scared Of

You know, there are so many things to be afraid of nowadays, I'm starting to lose count. We hear about scary stuff all the time, and with each report, I've got something new to freak out about. Something new is added to my list every day. (And please, my I-don't-get-sarcasm friends, realize I say these things tongue-in-cheek.)
  • Terrorists: They want to kill me to make a statement. 
  • Black men: They want to rob me or kill me.
  • White men: They want to kill me while they're shooting up a movie theater or a school. 
  • Hispanic men: They're all talking bad about me in Spanish, although they probably don't want to kill me.  
  • Syrian refugees: They all want to kill me. 
  • Travel outside the U.S.: I'm going to get killed. 
  • Travel inside the U.S.: I'm going to get killed. 
  • Rest Areas on the Interstate: I'm going to get robbed or killed. 
  • Bacon/Deli Meat: They're going to give me cancer. 
  • GMOs/Artificial sweeteners/Additives in my food: They're all going to give me cancer, too. 
As you can see, I've got a lot to worry about in the back of my mind. I'm sure there are even more things out there to be concerned about (if you think of any more, let me know), but I'll stop there for now. The good news is, there's one bullet point I can now take off of my list:
  • Having Thanksgiving dinner with my boyfriend's family 
Talk about nerve-wracking. Ever since Kyle invited me to come up and have Thanksgiving dinner with his family in Michigan, I'd been a little nervous. It's not like I hadn't met them all before -- I had my 32nd birthday party with his mom, stepdad, and sister while they were visiting him in Raleigh, for goodness' sake -- but that was when we were just friends. I didn't feel any pressure. But now, spending five days at his parents' house over a major U.S. holiday . . . that was something else.

Lucky for me, though, all of my worrying was in vain. Kyle's family lives in a small city between Flint and Detroit: his mom, stepdad, and sister in one normal house with two normal dogs and a normal catt; his dad and stepmom in a different normal house with a different normal dog (and no cat).

We left Raleigh on Tuesday afternoon and were in Athens, OH by midnight. After spending an uneventful night at a cheap hotel with a poorly-working heater and freezing cold bathroom tiles, we were on the road again, finally pulling into Kyle's mom's driveway around 4:00 in the afternoon. I was feeling kind of nervous but hoped no one could tell. That evening, his stepdad took us all -- Kyle,    his brother, sister, mom, and me -- to a restaurant called Mr. B's that I'd never heard of but enjoyed. (I was also bowled over by the fact that every single person in the restaurant was white; it was like being back at Milligan College.) I was also impressed that no one started any controversial political  conversation while at dinner, as is wont to happen at dinner with my family. After eating, we went to visit Kyle's dad's for an hour or two, getting back to his mom's house just in time to eat popcorn and watch "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" in preparation for Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving itself was super relaxing and really comfortable. More family came over: grandpa, stepbrother, and stepsister with their spouses and kids, as well as Kyle's brother's fiancée, so there ended up being 14 of us in total. It felt like Thanksgiving when I was a kid: rowdy, lots of conversation, kids running all over the place, and of course dishes and dishes of delicious deliciousness! My Southern sensibilities told me I should help cook or clean up, but I hardly lifted a finger. (I'm sorry, family.) And although there was no Monopoly marathon afterwards, we did play a good game of Apples to Apples over Rice Krispie Treats and chocolate pie. I also hit it off with Kyle's 7-year old niece; we played kitchen and read some Dr. Seuss.

Friday was a lazy day at Kyle's dad's: we arrived around 11:00 a.m. and stayed until almost 9:30 that night, listening to the cold rain fall outside and watching football and HGTV inside. Kyle's stepmom had decorated for Christmas, and with the fire going, the mantel decorated, and a candle burning, it felt just like it. It also helped that after dinner I wrapped up in a blanket and enjoyed some coffee and Bailey's with a slice of pumpkin cheesecake. There is so much to be grateful for!

Our last full day was Saturday. Kyle's niece and I spent the morning playing in the freezing cold Michigan weather (which I could only stand so much of) before Kyle and I took off to visit his dad one more time. Later, at my request, Kyle took me on a tour of the city he grew up in (Lapeer, MI,
population 8,884), complete with visits to his previous houses, schools, and hangouts. Around 5:00 we drove down to Novi (no-VYE, not no-VEE) to meet his friend G for dinner. Then it was back to Clarkston and time to get ready to go back to Raleigh.

I'm not sure what I expected from Thanksgving with someone else's family 800 miles from home, but it all turned out great. I guess now that I don't have to worry about visiting Michiagn anymore, I can start focusing my worries on something else . . . like what we'll be doing for Christmas!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Year Later

Remember November 10, 2014?

That day I taught a morning class at Wake Tech, came home, did some yoga, and was just settling down at my dining room table to work on lesson plans, when the apartment maintenance man came bounding up the stairs, pounding on everyone's door to evacuate, because the place was on fire?

Yeah, that day!

November 10, 2014 ranks up there with those other pivotal, life-changing dates in my existence, right up there with the day I got married (8/6/05) or the day I moved to Japan (8/1/10). It's one of those days deserving of an anniversary of its own, a day that changed the direction of my life in ways both unexpected and seemingly out of my control. Without any kind of forewarning, I suddenly found myself uprooted and relocated, feeling lost, fragile, and directionless.

After the fire, it was a roller coaster of constant displacement: one month with a family in Knightdale (God bless you all for allowing a stranger to live with you!); three months with B; three months waiting for the lease to expire; and finally to my current dwelling with K: all in under seven months! It was too much change in too little time. (Just to keep things interesting, I'll be taking out the suitcases and scrounging around for moving boxes again in May, but where I will lay my head on June 1st is of yet still a mystery. But it'll work out. Things always work out.)

I have neverending thanks for the people and organizations who helped me through that hard time after the fire last year. The donations of furniture, household goods, and money helped me get back on my feet, and the encouragement and donations of physical labor and time were blessings upon blessings. Thank you.

I still don't know if there's a cosmic life lesson to be learned here, but if there is, please let me know. Maybe it's to remind you that you don't need anything more than what you've already got. Maybe it's something else.

In any case, here we are, a year later. A year since I left (was expelled from?) 725-202 Royal Anne Lane. A year since my life felt like it was coming completely unhinged. And now look! Everything has turned out superbly. After a few disorienting months came happiness again.

Part of me wants to know where I'll be on November 10, 2016. Where will I be living? And with whom? Where will I be working? What memories will I be looking back on?

But I stop myself, take a breath. November 10, 2015 -- now, the present -- is a wonderful place to be. Let me just savor it in my hand.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Sunday Afternoons

I lie on my back, the hardness of the concrete slab under me padded by my well-used yoga mat, and stare at the late afternoon sky that spreads above the line of thick evergreen trees separating my backyard from the street. For the first time in weeks, there isn't a cloud up there. My body feels pleasantly floaty with that tired-but-content after-yoga feeling. I've been in shavasana for just a few minutes, eyes open, alternating vistas between the blue sky and the green trees, but already it's almost time to get up. It's Wednesday afternoon, 5:25 p.m.

Right on cue, the timer on my phone goes off. It's a pleasant sound, tinkling like bells, but is still unwelcome. I stretch, reach over, and press the button to make it go silent. As I pull myself back into the world of the living, I wish for just a few more minutes of nothing. . .

But not now. Life now is definitely different than it was this past year, when I was only working 21 hours a week and had vast, immense stretches of free time in front of me every day. Now I'm balancing five different jobs in both hands (two elementary schools, a community college class, professional blog, and state training, though that last one is only once every few months so it's not too bad) as well as taking an online course for my teaching license. Without timers and the constant help of Siri's friendly reminders -- "Remind me to get gas for my car. Remind me to cut my fingernails. Remind me to get my food out of the refrigerator." -- things might topple over.

I know I've got it good in some ways. As a 70% employee of the public school system, I only work from 9:20-3:30 (albeit at two different schools 20 minutes apart, which leaves my only lunch option Maison du Mazda) and only until 12:20 on Fridays. My night classes are only two nights a week, teaching the same class I've taught for the past three years and feel very comfortable in.

It's just the rush that I don't like, coming home at 4:15 just to leave at 5:45 and not return until almost 10:00. Finishing every day with a list of things I wasn't able to get done. I feel sometimes that life is an endless stream of things to do, that as soon as I finish one thing it's time to start something else. Even most of the weekend is filled with preparation for the next week.

Then, enter Sunday afternoon.

Over, Saturday's frenetic household chores and errands. Done, Sunday morning's blog and classwork responsibilities. Here now, a stretch of glorious hours just for me, and me alone. It's a time for nothing, a time to rest. I have to hold these times in my pocket, so precious they are to me.

I know I'm not the only one rushing around like a chicken with its head cut off. I know I'm not the only person who stresses out about things. And I certainly hope that I'm not the only one who finds time to wind down, regroup, and rejuvenate every week. Because without these moments of calm, silence, and solitude, I wouldn't last very long at all.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


In September 2014, I was tutoring a woman from Mexico City who was trying to improve her English. She'd been living in the U.S. for years and years, and already spoke almost perfectly, so our sessions were relatively easy. One morning she was telling me about a job she used to have at an HR firm in Mexico: to analyze potential employees' numerological signs and use that information either to bring them on or refuse employment based on the personality traits their numbers revealed. I think stuff like that is interesting (if not entirely credible), so I asked her to read my numbers, too.

She asked for the date, time, and location of my birth, and then started adding them up on paper in a triangle format I didn't understand. After a few minutes of calculations, she looked up apologetically and said, "Honey, I'm sorry to tell you this, but you are in for a bad year. See all these numbers? Everyone goes through cycles, some good and some bad, and you are in for a terrible time. Anything you start will fail, anything new will only last at most a year or two and then be gone. Of course, sometimes you can defy the universe and things work out in spite of bad numbers, but this coming year is going to be very bad for you." (See what I mean about not having to correct her English much?)

I laughed it off and told her I wasn't too worried--she'd previously told me that I was a very lucky person and that things had a tendency to work out no matter what with me--and we kept on with the lesson. I also couldn't believe that every day from January 1 through December 31 would really be all bad. And they weren't (or at least, haven't been so far). In retrospect, I actually think the universe messed up the dates a little: things started going bad for me the next month: job, fire, relationship, etc. (you've heard it all before). If numerology believes you have to go through hell and back in order to pay back some kind of karmic debt and learn life lessons, then I must be an enlightened guru by now.

But the point of this post isn't to prove or disprove what she told me. My brother says numerology is a crock because it's based on the assumption that the universe runs on a Western calendar; the bad times I had late last year and into this year are mostly just a run of bad luck, nothing more. Maybe he's right. But either way, I don't care if everything bad that happened was written in the stars or just an unhappy coincidence, because right now, things are definitely on the up and up.

I've got steady employment teaching ESL at two elementary schools and a community college (still no benefits, but that will change one day soon), am making straight A's in my Classroom Management class, and live in a fantastic townhouse with a great roommate. The summer has been full of music and art festivals, downtown escapades, weekend vacations, camping trips, baseball games, beach getaways, and time with family and friends. Sometimes things are so good I'm almost afraid to breathe for fear it will go away, but I believe without a doubt that my Bad Year is coming to a close. I'm sailing high in the knowledge that I am loved, adored, appreciated, and taken care of like never before. And I am thrilled to write that right now, everything is coming up roses . . . like these, from my garden!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Marvelous Things

For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; 
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;
The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. 
Arise, and come away!

(Song of Solomon 2:11-13a)

Friends! It’s spring! The sun is shining! The birds are singing! It's almost too hot some days, isn't it? And isn't it fantastic? After a cold, cold winter, to see the sun again. I bask. 

Things have been looking up since last time I wrote. And I've been thinking of all the marvelous things that exist. For some reason, it's easier to be chipper when it's 80 degrees and sunny than when you're locked inside your house on a chill, cloudy day in the middle of February. More than anything, I feel grateful for steady employment and for supportive friends who never let me down. Without them, life would be poor and cheerless. 

Here is a list of some other things that make me happy. 

#1: Afternoon rain. I work in the morning and at night, so I usually have a few hours between 1:00 and 5:00 p.m. to enjoy the world. There are fewer things more peaceful than watching a steady afternoon rain.

#2: Morning sun. My current apartment faces north, so I only get a few hours of sunlight in the morning, which completely disappears by noon, leaving the place in darkness. But the light is lovely filtering in through the window as I’m getting ready in the morning.

#3: Green leaves (not the Japanese band, but the literal leaves on the trees): I didn’t know how much I had missed them until I saw them popping out again. There’s a tree right outside of the living room with so much foliage on it that it blocks the street. It’s a shame it can’t block the noise from the traffic as well.

#4: Books. I think I’m reading four books at once right now, and have two more waiting in the wings. I love having options for which universe to visit.

#5: Coffee. Specifically afternoon coffee and pie on a lazy weekend, but settling down to morning coffee, breakfast, and the newspaper before work is definitely a close second.

#6: The smell of honeysuckle. Can’t. Be. Beat. 

#7:  Blackberry blossoms. I am going to gather so many blackberries this summer, and make so many pies and cobblers and jams. I feel like I'm seeing so many more blossoms this year than last and am excited about picking them! 

#8: A new place to live. When my lease is up in June, I will be moving to a light and airy 3-bedroom townhouse on the other side of the city, and the next era in my life will begin! 

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Grief Cycle: Healing

"After a a great pain," writes Emily Dickinson, "a formal feeling comes . . . first chill -- then stupor -- then the letting go."


But she fails to mention the rest. That aside from the blankness, you experience a host of other feelings. Despair. Glee. Anger. Relief. Rage. Incomprehension. Regret. Calm. Angst. Nostalgia. The list goes on.

One hundred and fifty years or so after Ms. Dickinson, we all know about the Grief Cycle. Or the Grief Roller Coaster, as it were. And we all know it's not linear. It's not crisp. Everything can be fine, and then one thing -- a comment, an object, a place -- brings the memories back up to the surface and makes the whole day bad. It's a cycle that certainly isn't circular, a roller coaster you can't just jump off of whenever you'd like to.

How to combat it? I wish I knew. There's the feel-it-now-or-you'll-feel-it-later strategy (good for when there are tissues on hand). There's the distract-distract-distract method, which also works well for a while. But there's also all this damn processing that has to be done: a long, arduous, cognitively-draining affair in which you analyze and re-analyze until you give yourself a headache and need a stiff drink. Then the procrastination strategy is employed.

What's also helpful is the everyone-goes-through-hard-times methodology. There is comfort in reading how the great poets and writers of the past are able to take raw emotions and transform them into something beautiful (poetry is better than all those angry or sad songs, I imagine). I can scarf down 19th century rhyme easier than self-help books.

There might not be any great epiphany that comes as a result of the bad things that happen in life. Maybe there isn't an answer to "Why?" It's like they say, it just is. But after experiencing all the turmoil, etc., there comes the letting go part. And that's going to be a good place to get to.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

In Praise of Solitude

This is where I spent the afternoon one recent Tuesday:

There, on the shore of Jordan Lake, far, far away (well, far enough away) from my life in Raleigh. This will give you a better idea:

We’ve been talking about Solitude at church recently (along with some other virtues like Simplicity and Fasting). Solitude is a good thing: time for quiet, time for reflection, time for stillness. Now that I’m living by myself again, I feel like I’m getting more than enough solitude at home. But at-home solitude isn't quite the same as out-of-the-house solitude. At-home solitude sometimes feels like being crushed by to-do lists: do lesson plans, fold laundry, respond to emails, make important life decisions, etc. etc. And sometimes the quiet can be unnerving. Solitude can border on loneliness. Those are times when I have to escape.

So during spring break when both morning and evening classes were on hiatus, I took advantage of my free, sunny, 73-degree day, packed myself some snacks, a notebook (and of course a stack of textbooks), and went to spend the day at the lake, a 40-minute drive from home. When I first arrived at the recreation area – a stretch of beach with a copse of pine trees on one side and the placid lake on the other – I knew this was exactly what I needed. Sunshine (oh! that glorious Vitamin D!), peace, beauty. I gathered my belongings and made my way to the beach, which was peppered with about a dozen other lucky souls who had the afternoon off. My original plan had been to stay near the recreation area itself, but the strident voice of an overtanned and underdressed woman in an ill-fitting bikini drove me from the public beach into a less crowded area. 

I made my way on the sand past the sunbathers, the cell-phone-screechers, cook-out-ers, and the volleyball players, until I found another stretch of white sand completely undefiled by anyone. All was still except the lap of the water and the gentle whirr of the wind in the pines behind me.

The moment I set down my load and spread my quilt on the sand, I felt physically relaxed in a way I don't remember feeling for months. I couldn't do more for a while than just collapse on my back and look up at the sky in joyful thankfulness. 

For the next three hours, I stayed there, sometimes reading ("Broken Open"), sometimes making lesson plans for the next week's classes, and sometimes just staring at the water with my toes in the sand, thinking how incredibly lucky I am to have access to this kind of beauty. To have time to think -- or not to think -- as the day goes on. 

As I sat there, I thought to myself: Dang it, I take such good care of myself. My routines aren't always perfect, but I do yoga when I need to, meditate when I need to, drink some wine or some straight whiskey when I need to, write in my journal, surround myself with my understanding and compassionate friends, cry when I have to, distract the hell out of myself when I can't do anything else, and give myself time and space to think. And even though sometimes I want to fall into despair and scream out WHY GOD WHY, I know it’s a question that has no answer.

I know, though, that I’m going be OK. I’m always going be OK. Life is picking up the pieces and moving forward, and that’s what I’ll do this time, too. As long as I can have time to collect my thoughts and get them organized. 

Besides, after my glorious afternoon at the lake, I came back to Raleigh and had a date with this guy who told me all about how he used to sell drugs and guns back in his home country, how the police back there bowed down to him and his rich family so he could get away with anything, and how he broke one brother's arm and the other brother's leg over some argument about who knows what. He did sneak a dozen pink roses and a hot pink t-shirt from Wal-Mart into my car after dinner, though, which totally makes up for his lack of moral character. Right?


I need another day at the lake.