10 things I hate about you

1. I like your sense of humor. It’s crass and inappropriate, but I cherish it.
2. You’re not afraid. You’re not afraid to be hateful and scary. You’re not afraid to be alone. Maybe it’s part of your defense mechanism or maybe you’re just not afraid to express how you truly feel.
3. You have a big heart.
4. You’re honest.
5. “All memories to tell you the truth aren’t good.” But they provide you with a perspective that is unique and I hope you value it.
6. Because you could be anyone but you choose to be you.
7. You’re so much more than I was at your age, which means I can only imagine who you’ll be in 10 years.
8. You value the words.
9. You try to see through people. I’m sure it’s a work in progress, as it is for all of us, but you at least try.
10. The shape of your name.

Public spaces, safety, and spines

Today, I was sitting at a table in a coffee shop with two other young women. We were laughing and chatting. The kind of talk where you interrupt one another frequently to make a joke or ask a question for clarity or to accidentally, unwittingly change the subject. A man, who we noticed earlier when he asked if the table next to us was free, sidled up to us at a particularly high point in our conversation. My alarm bells went off.

Let me be. Let us be safe in a public place.

He was wearing a yellow fluorescenty reflective vest and he had come in with a bike helmet. He had a brace of some sort on his left leg, and black-framed glasses on a pale expression that was a little off.

He interrupted us with a compliment: You ladies look like you’re having a good day. Bunch of geniuses sitting over here having great conversation.

He said something about how when men get together and talk it’s trivial and unworthy but not so with women.
I could tell from his speech and his mannerisms that something was amiss.
He then made some joke about men building cars and driving, again referencing the stupidity of men, and the superiority of the female sex. My comrades were doing that thing women do when they are confronted with a seemingly non-threatening man in a public space. Laughing politely, smiling, graciously accepting his compliments with a bit of self-deprecation, as all women are taught to accept the attention of strangers. I sat by quietly, letting my discomfort leak through my uncomfortable grimace of a smile. Give me my space back. What strange men fail to notice every time, probably because of the forced laughter and smiles of the women they’re accosting, is that they’ve created a vacuum and that all the geniality and comfort which was present the moment before they stepped into our personal space has been sucked out and replaced with apprehension and waiting. Waiting for you to leave so we can recover our time. Recover our lives.

Because men are taught they are entitled to interrupt the lives of women, in every aspect.

He then dramatically and abruptly changed the subject.
“Cherish the good times. Cherish your friends and family. Cherish every breath.” And proceeded to try and evoke our sympathy with his tale of woe. He was all champion all state something class A best of the best, hottest of the hottest wrestler in high school. Top of his game. But then he bought a crotch rocket, against his parents’ advice, and wrecked it at 220 mph. The only thing that resulted in his being present and standing there in front of us at the coffee shop was the helmet he was thankfully wearing at the time. And now what. Now he is ugly and out of shape and physically deformed with the cast on his leg and the unseeable but obviously present damage to the rest of his body. Gone are the days when he could enter the room and draw the attention of strangers with his physique and his good looks. Thank god for his friends and family who have stuck by him.

“Hey ladies, I told you all how smart you are, but maybe I should have started out by saying how pretty you are.”

He avoided eye contact with me, even as he passed his iPhone with pictures around the table. He knew I wasn’t having it.

Yes, man. I’m sorry you fucked up. I’m sorry you drew the short straw. I’m sorry you crashed your bike and lost your perceived awesomeness and now feel trapped by the disability of your body, the body you once cherished. I’m sorry you took everything for granted. I’m sorry you have a hard time picking up chicks and getting laid and now feel the need to go around and pour your pity story out on unsuspecting ladies who you hope have an affinity for broken men like they do for homeless cats. Society has a pretty fucked up view of disability and difference and I’m sure you are treated now like you are less than human. Welcome to the world of anyone who is not a straight, thin, young able-bodied white male. I’m sorry, but you are uninvited and you’re not welcome and as I said before, fuck off.

We were all so uncomfortable and no one wanted to tell him to leave us alone. The women with me eventually followed my cue and stopped laughing, stopped smiling, and began to answer him in one-words. Faced with our silence, and the profiles of my companions, he moved away. But we felt so invaded that our conversation, our time, was irreparable. We gathered our dishes and moved stoically to the front of the cafe, where we spoke in hushed voices about what we had just encountered as the man strapped on his bike helmet and moved out to the sidewalk of the restaurant to make another table of ladies uncomfortable.

It’s not okay. I’m sorry you’re broken and sad and lost and obviously very lonely. But guess what, lots of people are. Everyone has their own story, so stop presuming yours is the most important. Stop presuming yours is the saddest. Stop presuming that we haven’t learned our own lessons from our own tragedies. Life is what you make it.

And now for my second point.

Women are taught to mitigate. Women are taught to ease conflict and tension. Women are taught to accept attention from strangers. Don’t upset strangers who have done nothing to you. Especially if those strangers are men. We must be polite and accept the attention of men, because they don’t know any better. Placate them, darling, until they get bored and wander away. Boys will be boys, after all.

Why? Why do I have to be nice to strange men?

Oh, because if you’re not careful, they will potentially do as they wish. Men get what they want, and if they don’t, they take it. Men are allowed that, to take what they want. They’re rarely called names or shamed for their actions. [especially white men] Because. Just be nice until they go away and then you can go on with your life. No harm done.
Being a bitch only draws attention to your character flaws, not theirs, so I’m supposed to be nice and sweet and gentle. And smile at your story and coo coo with sympathy and put my hand on your arm and lean forward and ask for more. As a male, you’re supposed to impress me and impart your wisdom and your knowledge and shape the world for me. Fill in the blankness with color and purpose. You shouldn’t have.

I refuse. I’m not going to play nice because of my gender, and please, for the love of god, stop being the conqueror because of yours. Contrary to popular belief, women don’t wait around for men to notice them, to give them life and purpose and value. I don’t need your attention. Your presence causes no activation within me. You’re not the one I’ve been waiting for. I wait for no one. Society teaches us that women have no time of their own. It’s their children’s; it’s their spouses’; it’s their parents’, their grandparents’, their siblings’. Read a news article, follow politics: a woman’s life is only valuable if it’s attached to the purpose of a man’s or a child’s. What worth does a woman have individually, on her own? [“She’s someone’s mother, sister, daughter, friend.”]

I get it. For a long time, women were taught to sit down and twiddle their thumbs and bide their time until the right man came along. Women are still taught a version of that. It’s obvious from the magazine covers and the pop songs and the tv sitcoms. What is a woman without a man? What does a woman have to consider, have to do, without a man to focus her energy on?

To conclude: I have a brain and a story of my own. I am not your one-way ticket to feeling powerful.

Publish

Books. I took a class once some time during my grad school career that was all about reading, and our relationship with reading and our brains’ reaction to reading and the importance of reading and how we learn to read. I’d never seriously considered the benefits of reading or my relationship with reading before that class. But ugh I hated that class.

When I’m at a library I feel giddy and safe. It’s a strange combination of adrenaline and comfort. The smell, the hush, the public space where it’s socially acceptable to ignore people. All that knowledge. All that potential in one space. All those lives for me to test and consume.

I didn’t start frequenting libraries until college.

My favorite summer is the summer I lived in San Antonio with my pops (summer of ’95). We were dirt poor that summer and so my dad is always surprised that it’s my most memorable summer. (“Not the summer we went to California? Not the summer we went to Diamondbacks’ games? Not the summer we spent at Justin’s water world?”) For him, it wasn’t his best dad summer. We were so poor we couldn’t afford furniture. Our mattresses were on the floor. I pushed my twin up against the wall below the window and my brothers shared the double a couple feet away. As a treat, my dad would take me to the public library and let me check out as many books as I wanted. AS MANY AS I WANTED. I would carry home a stack of books and pile them next to my bed. I can still see that twin bed on that ugly sea foam green carpet with the foot tall pile of books next to the head. When I wasn’t watching Gullah Gullah island or spying on my older brother (who had his first kiss that summer. Or did he lose his virginity? I forget. Very scandalous), or running around the complex with Ashley, Deborah, Phillip, and David (the one that got away), I would lie in my bed and drill my way down the pile. One book at a time. I frequented the elementary school library in Southern Illinois but I was only allowed one book at a time, and the librarian didn’t approve of my Alvin Schwartz scary story selection or my switch to Fear Street. But at the public library I was anonymous and free.

At mom’s I was given free rein to peruse her many bookcases, but again, my selections were subject to my mother’s eye. She would let me read anything, but if she deemed it inappropriate, I couldn’t return to it. I would never be able to find it on the bookshelf again. She would relocate it to a higher shelf or to the back bookcase in her room. Censored.

I don’t really know if I aspire to see my name on a shelf in a library, to see my words preserved for unsuspecting passersby, but it is a nice dream. To give back to what has sustained me.

words

Dear you: [this isn’t the letter I intended. some day]

I love words. I love the shape of words. [“I love seashell things.”] Some names I love the shape of. First and last names combined, printed, I just like to look at them in my phone, or typed on a page. That connection from me to you, the shape and sound of your name. I love to read the words of others, to see in their mind and feel their perspective and how the shape of their words creates and supports their world, their reality. I read lots of things, from all things feminist to letters to food blogs. Anything to satisfy my craving for the string of words I want to see. I collect them like bits of treasure. Precious sentences I can never hope to build myself, although I keep trying. 

I think a letter is the most personal form of words. I like texts, but they are often short and ambiguous and wrapped up as a wieldy tool in the game of power we’ve turned communicating with other humans into. Also, people don’t feel obligated to try with their grammar in texts, which is okay, but a detriment for sure. Soon we will stop trying altogether, and that will be the actualized zombie apocalypse. I respect your fear of words, although I think it’s a true waste of your time. 

I write you this letter in hopes that you will write me, but don’t feel obligated, as I don’t always respond to the words, and as I’ve written many letters that were never responded to, or responded to at a later date when I could no longer remember the significance of my original words. That happens too. The words rarely fade, even after I change my mind. Even after I redefine the feeling of them, but that is why I value them so. I can see myself grow through monitoring my words. I can see how I’ve changed and how I’ve landed here in this space. They are the most reliable chronicle of myself, of my mind, of what I make of the world. Words and their epoch form in letters. I am not under pressure to say the right thing. I can work it out in print, in writing, but verbally, my brain is too flexible, too busy swimming in the words, like Alice falling down the rabbit hole–there are so many things to look at, so many objects to catch my attention that may or may not belong in my mind at that time. I lose the words often when I’m talking. I don’t know what people want me to say, but when I write I can focus, and the calmness of the blank page in front of me soothes me as I make my way to you. 

I’ve been told, quite frequently in the past 6 months, of my greatness. I wasn’t told this growing up by my peers, and I’m sure my father or mother verbalized it in their best least awkward way at one point or another in my youth, but to hear it now so much is very difficult to take. (Johnny Cash: “I will let you down.”) I have to continue to meet that standard, don’t I? I can’t mess up. I can’t falter. I realize that’s not why people compliment you…that’s not why people love you. But something in my make-up has a hard time with being loved. 

“LET ME LOVE YOU,” I’ve been told. 

I don’t remember the context, but I remember the sentence. I was sitting in my old Grad Advisor office in the English building of the University of Illinois. The one with the big window. Val was sitting next me, squeezed into the cubicle where we had met and reviewed her life once a week for 16 weeks (before that we had spent 16 weeks in the shitty office at the other end of the hall). Val was one of my freshmen babies. Spunky, sassy, with her nose ring and her glasses and her cat t-shirts. I liked Val. We were saying our goodbyes, during our last meeting, and she told me, “the guy you end up with will be so awesome. He will be so great because you’re so great. I’m excited for you. I’m excited to meet him some day.” I was taken aback. Who is this 19 year old pouring her wisdom on me? Why is this 19 year old concerning herself with predicting my [lack of] love life. Why is she so sure when I am never sure? How does she know when I am clueless. It wasn’t her prediction of the character of my life partner, but her confidence and her conviction in who I was and the kind of person I would draw. I don’t see the person you see, but I’m trying. 

And so I assume that if I falter in my belief, then you do too. If I am unsure, then you are too. Our natural reaction is to turn and walk away, without even a glance over our shoulder…or maybe it’s to wallow in our uncertainty and sink in it like a pool on a hot summer night. But you will get there too. As so many have been saying to me these past few months, I say to you, “you’re great.” Because you’re smart and you’re capable and you won’t let anyone else put the words in your mouth. I can say with conviction that you will sort through the words and land on your own preferred version of truth. It’s hard, in the meantime, when you have to keep looking up definitions and then synonyms, and then edit for clarity and tone, but eventually it will all settle down. It will turn out like you want if you just keep trying. If you just keep collecting the words. (but bon iver says: “I told you to be patient, and I told you to be fine, and I told you to be balanced, and I told you to be kind…and then who the hell was I?”)

Too often, we don’t appreciate the process. We’re so concerned with the finished story, but then what?

Ever since I learned how to curse.
I’ve been using those sorry old words.
But I’m talking to these children and I’m keeping it clean.
I don’t need those words to say what I mean.
No, I don’t need those words to say what I mean -Avett Bros

irked

It’s Friday: “It’s raining; it’s pouring. The old man is snoring. He went to bed and bumped his head, And he wouldn’t get up in the morning.” Nursery rhymes are kinda fucked, right?

Doughnut is a magical word on Friday.

You know what’s hard? Food. This morning I had to choose between a chocolate doughnut and a bagel smeared with cream cheese. Last night I had to choose between grilled cheese, a hot dog with mustard only, or a hamburger with cold cheese. 

Food is hard. I like food. I have a hard time figuring out which food tastes good together, which food should not go together, which food I should really not eat regularly. Like french fries. 

People keep asking me if I can handle this beginning of semester craziness. So far, the beginning of the semester, for me, is only noticeable from the parking lot that’s full by 7:55 and the few extra bodies I see during my walk up to my office. It means I have a few additional emails throughout the day, and of course, it means I have to share my office space with a student who has no idea what questions they should be asking. How do you know if you don’t know?

I don’t know what my colleagues think I’ve been doing the past two years in grad school. I suspect they think I loitered around campus with my untrendy backpack and eagerly responded to my professors’ queries with big, round eyes and got drunk off cheap liquor with my friends on Fridays. 

How far that delusion is from my 7a-12a days–grabbing breakfast, packing my lunch, packing in on the MTD bus [like sardines], listening to the grievances of 8 students in a 4 hour time period only to push through the masses of students to rush to the neighboring quad (which was a 10 minute walk. here, I can leave my office 4 minutes before a meeting and still be on time to my meeting. it blows my mind. this campus is dime-sized. although according to the american wisconsin students i spoke with last night, being on time is actually late. wha?) where I would advise another 8 students about international studying in a 2 hour time period, to a 3 hour class where I ate my lunch and checked my email and tried not to argue with my classmates who sometimes knew a lot but most of the time maybe didn’t express it very well. Then I would shuffle along for another 10 or 15 minutes back to the gym where I would sweat it out and then traverse another 10 minutes to the bus stop where I would review the day during the 25 minute ride– to home, to a bad dinner, to the library or to the couch where I would read or write for the next class and try not to fall asleep. (I did a lot of walking, didn’t I.)

Yes, compared to past semesters, this beginning is bliss. And I don’t want to express that to my colleagues who may genuinely be busier or have a different schedule or just not handle stress well. In the morning, I get to sit idly in my office and slurp my tea. Grad school is mostly a test of your endurance, will power, and sanity. Working in study abroad is a test of my compassion, tact, empathy, and common sense. 

I work with a bunch of women (does the race or age matter? I don’t know; I’ve never worked with so many of this type before. my grad student brain is still kicking. identity, background, context=cause? correlation?) and they keep apologizing to me if they think we’ve had a rude, brusque, or unpleasant interaction–whether that is in person, verbally, or electronically. Dudes, let’s all be badasses. I’ll be a badass and do my job; and you be a badass and do your job. And guess what? Probably only awesomeness will result. Chill. If we were a bunch of males with bad haircuts and khakis with belts and collared shirts, we wouldn’t waste our time apologizing to one another for perceived or real slights. Let’s keep it that way. (gender stereotypes, gender roles: i shake my fist at you)

rgmeme

I’ve wanted to write ALL DAY. There were just so many other things to do…

Few things: 

a)My entire life I’ve been so restless. I’ve lived here for not quite 3 months, and I find myself perusing job ads and imagining my life in Michigan, Maryland, Georgia. Seriously, Morales? What’s so wrong with stability? Oh, that mystery? No, not for me. Even as I sit and miss the feeling of a backpack on my shoulders, miss the sights of the Illinois quads, miss the smells of Mumford Hall, even then, I remind myself how anxious I was to say goodbye. 

b)I hate when people talk down to younger people. I remember being a kid and hating when adults spoke to me like I was stupid or like I was a “kid.” I always swore that some day, way off in the far distant unimaginable future, when I was finally an adult, I would never speak to anyone younger than me like they were dumb, or incompetent, or ignorant, or a kid. I don’t think I ever have. Unless you piss me off, then I will patronize you. And you’ll know it. I just noticed today that a lot of my colleagues do that to college students. Talk to them like they’re children. I get it…there’s a 10, 15, 40 year age difference, but no. Unacceptable. Their brain works the same as yours. Maybe not at the same level–at the same capacity–but they still deserve your common and decent respect. Maybe. Until they prove otherwise. Then, I couldn’t care less how you talk to the little shits. 

c)I wish someone, anyone, would significantly recognize Richard’s death. This should not matter to me. But there hasn’t been a single piece of print in black and white with those words all together: Richard Fu dead. There hasn’t been an obituary; there hasn’t been a notice; there hasn’t been any kind of third party goodbye I can officially hang my hat on. It wears on me. It’s hard for me. I struggle. His parents recognized his departure, and I want to, too. 

d)The first event I planned in my official capacity as an official full-time advisor was a great success. And my coworkers were so impressed they took me out for a beer. I mean, I paid for my own beer, but it felt awesome. Fucking terrific. Watch out, I am a competent fool. 

3)I don’t want to know a lot about a little. I want to know a little about a lot. That’s why I could never get my PhD. Why maintaining my motivation throughout my Master’s degrees was such a struggle. Why I was so burned out after undergrad. The research. The expected depth of knowledge. The fucking hoops. I’ll be over here, just Google-ing everything.

f)There are few things I like more than sitting in a moderately cool room without pants. Or a cold beer in a tall glass after a long week. Or weekends with an extra day. Or freshly mowed lawns. Or chocolate cake. Or ice cream in a dish. Or pay day. Or my bed. Or sunsets? I have a serious infatuation with my bed. Or freshly shampooed and cut hair. Or lists. I like lists. 

I don’t have a point. I just wanted to get the words out. Louis L’Amour: “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” K, well, mine is broken and just drip-drip-drips on occasion.

When I was younger I used to write songs. Did you know that about me? Somewhere, in my box of used-to-be-me’s, I have notebook papers lined with doodles and lyrics. I was convinced my words would make it into someone’s mouth, on a stage, in front of a crowd. 

a little old/a little new

“We are afraid to care too much, for fear that the other person does not care at all.”
-Eleanor Roosevelt

With the students back, I’m reminded how much I care. I’m brain dead at the end of the work day, not because I really stress my thinking capacity that much, but because I’m so invested in the student sitting across the desk. I spent 20 minutes looking for a Chem 2 class at an Australian university today; I spent another 20 looking for organic chem classes at both Australian and English schools. I calculate their budgets and introduce them to other students and schedule them in back to back because I care. I shake their hands and connect names to faces and majors to goals and struggles to personalities because I care. 

Talking with T, I was reminded, what do these moments matter if I don’t care? What worth does my life have, for me, if I don’t care? I know we all think it’s ideal to care less, to have a distance, to push off, and I agree with every bone in my introverted body that we should not care some times. We do need those moments of solitude and disengagement to maintain our sanity and our perspective, but I still flip the switch when the isolation passes and go right on caring. And I’m not afraid to show it. I’m not afraid to smile at the recipient of my attention. I’m not afraid to bump their arm with mine or compliment them or remember a detail of their life. I’m not afraid to empathize with their failure and tell them I don’t know. Because I care. 

The moments I stockpile are what make it so worthwhile to care. If I don’t care, then I won’t invest in the moment. And if I don’t invest in the moment, then there is no memory. And if there is no memory, there is no story. And if there is no story…then what’s the point? 

the old

I’ve had so many moments. I feel like I haven’t lived that long, but when I count out the years on my fingers, it suddenly seems like too long. Too long and what have I got to show for it? But then I remember some of those moments.

What moments do I want to recount? What kind of story do I want this to be?

I smoked a joint on a friend’s porch in the summertime with that perfect summer air touching my skin and the sky that perfect sunset color of orange and gray blue. I rocked in the rocking chair on the wooden porch and breathed in that sweet smell of grass and dirt and sun and couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else in that moment. Even as the moment passed through my fingertips like the fucking summer breeze.

I’ve run miles without stopping. Without missing a breath.

I carried my cousin up from a dusty forgotten shed to the front yard of the farm after he was stung by the wasps to which he was allergic.

I’ve flown in an airplane, over an ocean, and watched the clouds swallow us up whole like a vitamin. I’ve been spoken to in a language, a dialect, I could not understand. I’ve gotten turned around in towns that I barely knew existed.

I’ve gotten lost in my own head. Distracted by the potentials I make up, that I will into existence, that I allow to block me from the reality happening from my gut to my eyes. From my consciousness to my dreams. There is always this.

I’ve climbed trees with the wind bending the limbs and eaten entire pints of ice cream in one sitting.

I’ve written 30 page research papers, and quoted scholars, and even quoted myself.

I’ve spent an entire day in bed. Lost in the folds of my blankets.

I’ve made friends and lost friends and fallen in love with strangers.

I was in a car wreck in Ireland, and stood out in the rain on the road waiting for the ambulance. I held a dog wrapped in a jacket and stared at the cows. My knees were blue for days.

I’ve been chased by dogs and horses and bees of all sizes.

I’ve cried myself to sleep and laughed myself awake. I’ve had nightmares that have stayed with me all day.

I’ve hidden from tornadoes and run through cemeteries and driven my car until it was out of gas and I had to walk the rest of the way.

One Friday night, in the early spring, I left the library at 10pm, planning to go to the gym, not knowing the gym also closed at 10pm and that I had missed my chance. My only option was to then walk up to the bus stop, several blocks away, but turned around when my friend called and asked me to come to the Stock Pavilion, where he was setting up for the Mom’s Weekend Flower Show for Horticulture Club. I turned around and walked down, right back to where I had come, the South Quad. Everything was beautiful in the dark, I remember. The lights were glowing and the quad was serene, quiet. I walked over to and around the Stock Pavilion, unable to get in because the doors were locked. I turned and stood on the stairs and looked up at the Bell Tower and out onto UGL and Foellinger and tried to capture the moment in my mind, with my iPhone, any way I could. I guess I did, since I’m recounting it here. I just remember being happy with the beauty, and the thought that “I have a life.” I am a life and this is it. These are the people in my life and these are the events I busy myself with.

I just want to be here in the world with myself and the people I come across that I fall so in love with. I want to keep them near me, and I want to be me despite their influence.