From Kansas City, With Love

That last semester of my undergrad the only class that I took that really required any effort was a grad level Early British Literature class. It didn’t exactly sound like my cup of coffee, but I liked the teacher and my friends were taking it- it would be one last hurrah for the 3 of us, except when we were 2. We even resolved that we were going to actually read every book for this class… I may not have made it through the first assigned book, but I really can only read so much of the Mabinogion before I’m falling asleep. (sorry Wayne!). But my friends would get together and study together and laugh together and it made reading Le Morte d’Arthur worth it. Those nights in the last weeks of our senior year are some of my favorite college memories, laughing until we cried with pillow pets and Emily Dickinson references all were set with a backdrop of  Royals games playing on tv. We forced the third member of our group into watching those games because that Royals team had talent, we had moxie. I just knew 2012 was really and truly going to be “Our Year”.  Man, we were going to be so good.

We weren’t good. We lost every one of our first 10 home games; we had played less than 20 games when we already had a 12 game losing streak. We didn’t even finish at the .500 that I kept telling people all year long we were going to do. But I went home that summer and spent so many wonderful nights at the ballpark. This team was supposed to be great, they were meant for it. While we didn’t get a winning season, we did get an entire stadium chanting “Billy Butler”. We did get the origin story for booing Robinson Cano. Heck, we even got to see Jose Bautista lose in the homerun derby, even if we didn’t fully appreciate it then. I mean honestly, what more can you ask for from that season? It was the first real taste I had ever had of my entire city coming together for our boys in blue. The papers in Kansas City called us a Baseball town that just needed something to get excited about. I believed them. I believed in this team.

Time is funny and it goes by so quickly. I had a lot going on in the summer of 2013. The year was flying away, and by the end of that year I was graduating grad school. I had so much anxiety about the process just in general, but it was compounded by odd situations. I learned a lot about myself that year, both good and bad. Through that whole summer of oddities, the Royals were there for me to hope in. In April we were crushing it. Absolutely crushing it. This year was the “Come to Play” year, and honestly, it felt like we had… Until May. May was rough, things got off track. But baseball is a grind, and 2013 was a winning season- the first winning season that I could remember in a long time. And it was there almost every night to be watched and to be cheered when I needed something to slow all of life down for me for just a few moments. When I needed to forget everything else and just focus on one thing.

I know I’ve written before about what the 2014-2015 run meant to me. I know I don’t have words to really describe what it meant to see this town come together. That much excitement literally made the city hum. 2014 was an incredible thing to be a part of; it was a beautiful thing to experience. It was like magic. I cannot think about it, about game 7, without getting goosebumps. I’ve never felt anything like that before, but I knew we were going to win that game. When Gordo got his hit I was in section 411, jumping up and down and screaming so loudly I’m surprised I ever got my voice back. It was destiny, I could feel it. It was absolutely destiny… except it wasn’t – not yet. After that final out I don’t think I could have moved if you asked me to. But slowly, throughout the stadium, the crowd started to cheer “Let’s Go Royals”. As soon as it started it picked up steam and then like we all collectively decided together what to do, it changed. We clapped in rhythm and steadily cheered “thank you Royals”. It was heart wrenching and cathartic and it makes me cry every time I think about it. We didn’t win, but man they had given us such a ride.

I slowly made my way out of the stadium that night, walking through the parking lot to meet my dad at the Taco Bell across the street. A guys walking to his car kicked an empty beer bottle before loudly cursing at the sky because all he had left now was a reliance on the Chiefs for his happiness (the Chiefs would go on to be 11-5 that season with their own devastatingly heartbreaking loss in the playoffs). I think we all collectively dusted ourselves off after that one. So many articles on if Jirsh should have sent Alex, so many conversations about that final 90 feet that stood between us and the trophy. But in 2015 this team didn’t let anything stand between them and victory. They literally came out of the gate kicking. The 2015 Kansas City Royals had unfinished business to attend to, and they were going to do it whether or not everyone in the league saw them as flukes. They were going to win without PECOTA’s approval, and they were going to win no matter how many balls they got hit with.

I won’t even try to elaborate on that season because I won’t do it justice. It just was. It was like the Royals were the very heart of this city, and these hometown boys were going to do everything in their power to keep that heart alive. That season created so many happy memories for me. I remember the games I listened to on the radio at work, giving up all pretense of working and instead pumping my fist as the ball went off Correa and into center field. Sitting in my cousin’s living room with my niece and nephews and watching the rain fall and worrying about the Cyborg having such a long delay in his pitching. Standing in my parent’s living room literally shaking as Hosmer took home. Waiting in the Zoo parking lot for a bus to take me downtown to try to meet up with my siblings, to see a parade, to listen to Jonny Gomes. Sometimes it still doesn’t feel real. I still feel like a kid sitting at the ballpark waiting for the Limbo in the 7th inning, hoping they will play Minnie the Moocher because I like to sing along. I’m still watching the in-between inning games where they challenge the fans to spell Kila Ka’aihue or Mark Grudzielanek’s name, I’m still anxiously awaiting that 12th hit (regardless of the score) and cheering because dang it- we DO want donuts. I’m still sitting at home crying because my brothers said they were going to use Bob Hamelin’s card as a fire starter.

We didn’t win this season. I really wanted us to. I wanted us to have one more storied season with the boys who grew up with this team and grew up together. I wanted an ending that fit just how incredible this era has been, how much this team has meant to this city. But, I’m pretty sure Posnanski already wrote an article about sports endings never being the fantastic things that you want them to be. But an ending there will be. Next season will be different. I am not prepared to handle it. I know that this is the name of the game, but I don’t want other fan bases to get to enjoy these players that I feel such a kinship with. Moustakas and Hosmer and Esky and Cain are all as much a part of Kansas City as bbq and the power and light district. No matter where they go – even if pinstripes are involved- Kansas City will always feel a sense of ownership over them. We are their family, we are their home. I think they know that as much as I know the first time these future Royals Hall of Famers play in Kauffman while wearing another team’s colors, the place will explode with applause. Because this team taught a city that despite the curse of the shuttlecock, that despite years of awfulness, despite a general disinterest and overall inferiority complex, we could be great again. This team taught a city that we are winners, and that we have something beautiful to offer. So, while the mantis and the sledgeiattos and playing with heart couldn’t fabricate enough magic to add another trophy to our collection, I still get that goosebump feeling I got on an October night in 2014 as I along with 40,535 of my best friends croaked out a thank you to the team that lost and then quietly walked off the field- We may not have won this one, but man, what a ride.

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Stables Are For Horses

For one glorious summer I collected rocks. Perhaps “collected” is too strong of a word. It implies effort, deliberation, maintenance, and just ultimately too much. No, I found rocks that I liked and I would bring them inside and keep them on the floor of my closet. I would not clean them, they would be accepted into the group as they were – clods of dirt hanging off of them and any other surprises they brought to the party. The houses across the street had been removed, and they were in the early stages of building the baseball fields that would replace them. What this meant was yards and yards of rock-filled dirt piles for me to explore.

Rocks were not the only thing that I collected over the years. I went through phases with almost everything you can think of: coins, stamps, TY beanie babies, elephants, etc, etc,. I had a lot of unrelated junk that I would organize together and declare the assortment to be a set. Unfortunately, a bit of this mentality remains stuck to me as I cannot seem to stop collecting. Baseball figures, books,  my odd collection of pretty things – a ceramic elephant, a glass telephone insulator, a perfume bottle. I have a kernel of corn for every year that I have been to the pumpkin patch with my friend and her boys. If you go through my books, you will find pressed flowers in at least 10 of them, but I have forgotten which 10 and I’m unsure what to do with the flowers if I ever were to remove them. I have approximately 284 empty notebooks ready to be used. My collections don’t necessarily have a rhyme or reason, but they are mine.

My short-lived rock collection came to a screeching halt when my older brother happened upon them. I remember him telling me that mom would be so mad if she knew I had these all inside (one of them, as I recall, was very big and very heavy and very dirty), and I also remember him telling me that they probably had bugs in them (which is probably the real reason I conceded). I took them all back outside and left them in the bushes outside my window. All except for one of them. There was one rock that was long and slender and looked like it was the perfect prop for a rather young story I had dreamed up. I kept that rock, I cleaned it, and I colored it a crayola purple.

My constant indecision and half started collections seem to stand in contrast with my distaste of anything that is temporary. I hate being flakey- it is my least favorite of my characters flaws, and I desperately want to feel that I am stable. I tend to avoid ephemeral situations if I can help it. I don’t like putting down roots unless I am positive that I will not have to dig these roots back up in the near future, or really in any future that I can see. This is a problem that I have been working on. More and more I am finding the value of things that do not last, I am seeing the beauty that I am missing by side-stepping impermanent opportunities. Just because something does not last does not make it a failure. It just makes it an event, doesn’t it?

The problem with seeking out enduring things, is that nothing is truly lasting. Buildings and roads and possessions all crumble. While I do not have any cataloged memories of the situation surrounding it breaking, the one rock that I kept did break. I can say with all of the certainty I possess that it was probably either due to my lack of grace or due to my brother. I had to super glue it back together more than once, and I always had to take more caution with it after that. Even stones aren’t completely stable. Eventually they will be broken and ground into the same dust I am made of. I suppose all there is left to do is to collect the things that mean something, whether they be stalwart or fleeting.

Tonight I am collecting the sound of the cicadas and the way the wind pushes the clouds in front of the moon for just a few moments. I’m collecting the goosebumps on my arms and the comforting noise of the traffic on the highway. I’m collecting the train whistle and the slight chill in the air. It will not last, tomorrow will be a different day and I will be different in it, but I’m doing my best to collect tonight.

Do you guys take Visa?

We decorated the Writing Center with as much fervor and creativity as a group of poets and readers can conjure up. While I have about as much creativity in my entire body as the rest of them had in the exhaled breath, I still got to enjoy the personalized touches. A large piece on the wall was made out of opened books; there were snowflakes and table tops made out of book pages. The space was transformed into something homey and comfortable. My contribution was the constant smell of coffee from the pot in a backroom that was labeled the Ravenclaw common room. As a final touch, our creative mastermind was making a sign that needed a writing-related quote. We had a poll in regards to which quote we wanted. Shockingly, we all had a lot of opinions on the subject.

What was chosen was a quote that is associated with Benjamin Franklin:

“Write something worth reading, or do something worth writing about”

I have an overarching problem with relating everything back to subjectivity, so I try really hard to not cry “wolf” on things of little to no importance. That being said, it should come as no surprise to you that I often find myself in the middle of inconsequential “discussions” on commercials. Geico had a really obnoxious ad campaign a few years ago. I’m sure you remember it, it’s the one where someone would say “everybody knows that”, and someone else would respond with some rendition of “well, did you know that [insert whatever the highly-creative, insurance-marketing moguls could come up with]”. The particular one that got me into a day long and semi-heated conversation with a co-worker featured Pinocchio giving a motivational speech. Every time old Pinocchio would point at someone and tell them they had potential, his nose would grow.

Pinocchio

This co-worker would come up to me throughout the day with different professions that he deemed as “potential-less”. Ice cream truck driver, ditch digger, garbage man, ticket taker, etc, etc, etc. For me the problem was not the class of profession, it was the idea that people anywhere could decide the potential of another human being. He kept arguing that people with these jobs had no potential to “be somebody”. But, they already were somebody. And “success” has different definitions depending on your end-goal.

The co-worker didn’t care. My impassioned speech went in one ear and out the other while he chuckled at how easy it was to get me riled up. I’m sure if I asked him about this conversation now he wouldn’t even remember it occurring. But I think about it too much. Worth is wildly distorted. Worth relies on the assumption of things in relation to ourselves. What is a conversation worth to me? What is that task worth to me? Is it worth my time? It is worthy of my esteem? It is worth my energy? What is our context for that calculation? Someone tried to clarify this to me by saying, “no, it’s about what it costs. What does it cost to do that”? But if you’re paying with dollar bills and my pocket just has car wash coins, we are not using the same scale.

Who judges what is worth doing or worth writing about? I’m sorry Ben or whoever actually said this quote, but I do not write for people to read it. And my life is worth living even if it would make a pretty boring book. My choices have worth to me because they are my choices. As a society we try to generalize it, we hold some things up in higher esteem, we create a shared definition of worth, a touchstone for all others. But that’s not always accessible, and it is weighty. It is a heavy and constricting limitation.

So, this rambling about worth and insurance commercials really is just a tedious way for me to say that the stories that are important are not always the big ones, they aren’t always the ones where worlds change. We don’t always get a chance to change worlds.

I think we’ve all had problems with trying to prove our worth to others and to ourselves. I have spent too much of my time looking for things that I can point to that would support the argument of my worth, like citations in a paper. I’m not sure if there is a way to fully distance ourselves from this worth-search. It seems to be never ending. But there is a possibility to adjust the definition of worth for yourself. Being intentional in how you judge yourself and for goodness sake being aware of how you incorrectly judge others. Worth does not look the same for everybody.

For me, something worth writing about is how my niece sat on her bed expectantly looking out the window for my car lights to come down her driveway because she was excited to see me. For me it is worth writing about how she makes me want to make better choices in my life because she looks up to me and believes in me more than I have ever believed in myself. For me it is worth writing about how freaking good rainbow sherbet is and how much I love the Royals. For me it is worth writing about how I can close my eyes and picture my grandmother’s kitchen. It may not be worth it for you to read these things. These may not have any bearing for you, and you may keep your hard-earned currency of dollars or time tucked away safely in your wallet. And that’s fine. It’s worth it to me.

For you it looks differently. I just hope that you take a second to think about whose standards you are trying to measure your potential with. It’s really only worth reading if you want to read it. And it’s worth writing if you want to write it.

Inconclusive

Have you ever heard a song that you immediately loved? From the first time you heard the first few chords you just knew that this song was meant for you to sing it. And I mean belt-it-out-windows-down-even-if-you-are-at-a-stoplight sing it. Every time you turn the radio on you want it to be playing, and if it isn’t you play it on your phone instead? Create a playlist for it in Youtube so you can repeat the playlist and listen to the song with no end in sight?

No? Well, I tend to get a bit obsessed with things. I jump into things with both feet. I try to push back any fear, I count to three, and I leap. It’s all I can talk about, all I can think about, all I can create.

I used to have a storyline I would play out any time I was having a hard time falling asleep. It was a short scene or two of an unfinished daydream, and I would roll it whenever it was needed. Again and Again and Again.

I could never really add to the story. The scene had come to me so completely pure, it had manifested and no matter my attempts to broaden it or change it or flesh it out it remained an only partially sketched in idea. Eventually I knew all of the nuances of it, I understood every spoken or unspoken moment. I had searched my way into the corners and seen all of the shadows. And the next night when I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep I began to play the scene. Only this time, it was stale. It didn’t resonate with me. It was flat.

The problem with my slightly obsessive personality is that there is never an in-between. I’m not a Laodicean. I leap all the way in or I don’t ever leave the house. As soon as I’ve had my fill of the water, I get out and I don’t even really feel like looking in the vague direction of the water. Like Jay-Z I am on to the next one, on to the next thing, another obsession. I play the song until I hate it, and then I cold turkey it. I find a new song, I come across a new scene.

I’m sitting out on my deck while I write these words, watching the birds go under my car and vaguely worrying that they will find their way into the muffler. I’ve never worried about that before. I keep getting distracted. Distracted from writing this, distracted from the 400 other things that I really should be doing . I’m distracted by the way the flag is flying across the street. I’m distracted by the sound of the wind moving through the trees, by the stark contrast of all of this green against all this sky,  by the spider webs and the people who keep going in and out of the apartment. I’m distracted by a different blog post that says something else entirely. It talks about things that are stable and unchanging. I’m distracted by yet another blog post that instead talks about the subjectivity of worth and the weight of that obligation. I’m so distracted by my brain trying to make plans and then continuously changing these plans and rewriting them and rewriting them, trying to write out a map when it hasn’t even seen the road or the way of transportation yet.

I went to the art museum today. I didn’t have much reason other then I just wanted to be around it. I wanted to walk through a hushed stone building and look at the amazing things people created hundreds of years ago. I wanted to think about beauty and pain and bowls of fruit and continuously try to hash out motivations and reasons. I did not go to navigate my way through large groups who congregated around my favorite pieces and laughed loudly in rooms that echoed. I did not go to discover that Snapchat filters can work with 18th century portraits. I did not go to sit on the steps outside and watch people taking photographs. But our plans rarely work out perfectly, and even while sacrilegiously using the puppy dog feature on Herod’s daughter I still got what I came for. I still was able to run my hand along the marble and stone, I still got distracted by the sculptures, I still wondered about motivations and reasons.

I did stumble upon one piece in the hallway outside one of the galleries. It was a portrait of someone. I remember neither the artist nor the subject, but I stood before it for a good while. Its framing was ornate to match the expectation of the art. The top half of it was beautifully done, detailed and rich. The rest of it was an outline. It was hastily drawn in with a line or two and never completed. There was a dollop of color on the left shoulder that was probably the intended color of the jacket. The info card talked about getting to see the process of the artist, being able to see how the work was formed.

half baked

I didn’t appreciate it for the process, I appreciated it for how hilariously the hands were sketched in. I appreciated it for how close to home it struck me. I’m not the only one who gets distracted and does not finish things. I’m not the only one who puts in so much work and detail and struggle into something to only get bored with it and wander away.

I think this probably fits into the narrative I’ve been trying to articulate for the past 4 months about worth, but that attempt remains half-finished and I’m not at the point of just throwing a frame on it and calling it good quite yet. I’ll get there soon. But I do think what I can formulate from all of this rambling, from all of the scribbled paragraphs of stand-alone dialogue, from the spectrum of uninterested to obsessed, from the hard time I have in finishing things, from the constant hop-scotching nature of my thoughts is that I’m not the only person in this boat. The clear skies quickly cloud over, the dead trees spout leaves, the flowers bloom and die and bloom and fall. It’s all a quest towards something. And sometimes if the only thing you find are questions about beauty and humanity and art or observations of how the wind still rustles the leaves on the trees that have been disfigured for their proximity to power lines, that’s an okay place to be.

I may need to go a few weeks without even looking at the water, but I always come back to it. I always end up leaping in, feet first, with my nose pinched shut. I always play that song again and dance in the car. I always wind up with my head in some day-dream, my notebooks full of moments, my mind full of unanswered thoughts. But, after all, the cookie dough is often the best part of baking.

Descriptors

We have established in prior blogs that I am a shameless sucker for reality tv dating shows such as The Bachelor/Bachelorette. I actually got into a rather long discussion with my brother on the topic of the humanity inherent within these tv shows. Even as I type this, I can hear the snores begin, so I promise I won’t spend extra time discussing the joys of Ashley S. or of poking the Chadbear. Just know, if you ever need someone to tell you their opinions on The Bachelor, I could totally jump in. I’m briefed and always prepared for that situation.

ashley-s

Being that it is Valentines Day, I found this topic somewhat… topical. (Landsakesalive, I know. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to, it just happened).

On these shows, the girls/guys have to give a little intro. A 20 second blip of their personalities. These are mostly boring and if they are interesting they are always arbitrary. These tv shows aren’t the only places where people are asked to do this. Ice breakers are built around these very same principals. Job interviews ask these questions. First dates use this as a talking point. Why?

Somewhere in the response to a purely random question on “what kind of ice cream would you be” (chocolate chip cookie dough), there is embedded actual information on who you are. Your choices in how you answer/respond to these kinds of things may speak to your personality (because it’s not too complicated, but it’s delicious. Also bonus, most people like it). Other times, it reveals nothing. What pizza would I be? Meat. Because that’s the best kind of pizza. Done. Nothing more here.

When things are more wide open, it’s interesting to see what people choose to offer. The broad question of “If you wanted someone to know something about you that encapsulated who you are, what would that be?”

What part of you would be important enough that it would be the part you magnified and used to describe the whole? Who are you trying to portray? We are such varied, multifaceted creatures that what we want to portray depends heavily on the identity of the audience. We play to those listening, judging what things would be considered valuable to them and letting that narrow the broad question into something more manageable.

For some audiences:

  • I have 4 bookshelves in my bedroom

For other audiences:

  • I have 4 bookshelves in my bedroom, only 3 of them are used for books and even those are covered with sports memorabilia, figurines, Christmas lights, and Harry Potter Wands.

For even other audiences:

  • My idea of interior decorating is overfilled bookshelves and my grandmother’s artwork.

Another way I answer this question is in the form of “When I write my autobiography it will be called”:

  • I Know This is Important, but I Have to Work Tomorrow and I’m Tired
  • Poor Decisions Are Still Decisions: Celebrating Victories of All Sizes
  • My Social Awkwardness Might Make More Sense If I Told You About It, But Instead I’ll Just Overcompensate By Being Too Loud

What would you say? If someone asked you to describe yourself. If your audience was only yourself? If you just wanted to get down to some miniscule part of who you were, how would you describe yourself? What is important about who you are to you.

Would it be something serious:

  • I used to want to be something more than nice, and now I just wish I could be something more- like nice.

Or something silly:

  • I am way too attached to an elephant pillow pet than any 27 year old should be, and I talk about my hermit crabs too much–but Alexis on The Bachelor showed up in a shark suit and insisted she was a dolphin, so I could be crazier.

Both are sincere. Both are me, just depending on the hour.

What about you?

 

 

Tripping Over My Own Feet

It may be a slight understatement to say that grace has never been my strongest attribute. It may, in fact, be slightly more accurate to say that my lack-of-grace defines me. Endless prayers that God would transform me into something elegant were largely ignored, and in response I think He just gave me the ability to find my clumsiness overly hilarious.

I was obsessed with Daredevil when I was a kid. The cartoon episodes of Spiderman where Daredevil would show up were the absolute best. Daredevil could see things without really seeing. He could navigate his way through a city with confidence in every stride. I was so fascinated by this. I thought if I tried hard enough, perhaps I could fine-tune my other senses into comparable hyperaware super powers. I would be able to leap off of buildings and somersault through small spaces. It was parkour before I even knew parkour was a thing, AND he did it while blind. I wasn’t quite ready to jump off of my rooftop while blindfolded, but I would sit in my room with my eyes closed and listen to the footsteps of my family members, trying to identify each person by the sound.

This harmless exercise began to morph into the fractionally more involved practice of walking around my house with my eyes closed. My other senses remained dull and unenhanced, and unfortunately the walls remained in their positions- stoic, unchanging, and unapologetic.

I got a bit of a stuttering start to this year. If you want to get down to it, I may have stumbled my way through the last year entirely. Yet here we are: 2017. Still mostly new. Still mostly fresh. Stumbling or not, I made it here. We made it here.

Of all of my elective classes in college, Social Psychology was one of my favorites. It was fascinating and fun, my teacher was amazing, and the class was the rare combination of easy and informative where I felt like I learned and retained things with a minimum of stress. I finished quickly during a particular exam, the rest of the room softly filled with the sounds of pencils scribbling. Gathering my backpack and making my way out of the row, my flip flops caught the end of a chair’s legs. Unable to stop my momentum, I landed hard and found myself stuck halfway in and out of the aisle. Everyone in the small classroom stopping writing, looking at me. From my spot sprawled on the ground I let out 2 boisterous laughs that filled the room and were met with utter silence. My teacher quietly asked if I was okay as I handed her the test, her eyes expressing pity over a situation I was used to taking in stride. I nodded and left the classroom, wanting to laugh until it hurt.

My clumsy navigation of life is as if I am wearing banana peels for shoes. I’m fine until I’m not. I’m steady until suddenly I’m slipping and flailing and knocking over anything in my arms reach.

I read The Lord of the Rings when I was 13. This was the height of the awkwardness that comes with limbs no longer being the same size that you were used to them being. I had been called an elf once as a younger girl because the pointiness of one of my ears, and I had abhorred this comparison. Until I read about Lothlorian. I was completely sucked in by the magic of this elven forest, and the perfect elves that lived there. Galadriel was one of the most mesmerizing characters I had ever read. She was strong, influential, beautiful, terrifying, and absolutely graceful. She walked with silent steps, she floated as if she barely needed to even touch the earth in order to move. She was steady, she was confident. She never fell down stairs while holding coffee in one hand and a cast on the other– drenching herself and all around her in the aforementioned coffee. She never dropped glass bottles of medicine at work, or caused an entire shelf of wine to take a swan dive to the ground. She was in control. She controlled others.

I wanted to be like her. I walked around the house (eyes open this time) trying to memorize the places in the floor where it creaked so I could map out a silent path. I tried to make my footsteps light and soft. I didn’t run into any walls, but my feet would land heavily on the hardwood no matter how many times I tried.

Once a year, my youth group would go ice skating. One such night, everything was winding down and there were only a few people left on the rink. A sponsor stood in the middle of the rink videotaping the last few of us skating. I lived for the cold weather. I love the cold of the ice, the brisk air, the fleeting feeling of smooth while I’m on the ice. I turned and saw that the video was trained on me. I smiled, feeling free and beautiful with my hair whipping in the wind, waving at the video camera. She smiled back and me, and the camera stayed on me as I skated around the rink skillfully until my brother unexpectedly ran into me and pushed me towards the edge of the rink. I fell, catching myself on the wall before crashing to the ice. His glee doused my temper. I could picture what that video looked like in my head, me smiling and waving and skating with red cheeks and bright eyes and the impending doom skating up fast behind me.

I sometimes swear I’m walking through life with my eyes closed, hoping to avoid the constant black eyes from turning corners too closely. Destruction seems imminent, but humor always finds me first- always covers the humiliation. Perhaps that’s the best I can hope for; I don’t think I’ll ever be surefooted or steady. I trip into and out of things- either alleviating or creating awkwardness in my wake- and while it sometimes bangs me up and bruises me, it always leaves a laugh in my mouth. That kind of feels like success.

How Far You Think It Reaches

I started working in a photo department of a drug store when I was 17 years old. Even though only 10 years have passed since that time, the entire landscape of picture printing is different now. When I started, we still processed several rolls of film every day. Some people would bring 2-4 rolls at a time once a week. We would receive the film, process the negatives, and print the pictures. The machine for that would have you go through a screen of 6 photos at a time. Here you could make subtle changes in the coloring of the photo, adjust the size of the printed picture, and skip the photos that did not turn out at all. By the time I left that job, we no longer received many rolls of film. Perhaps a couple a week, if that. Instead ,all of our printing came from the digital kiosk or online ordering. These photos did not require you to go through each one. As a result, the pictures were not reviewed before being printed. Red eyes that could have been removed were not noticed, pictures were printed with heads missing. But the system was quicker, and people weren’t as picky.

The first month that I had been working there, my dad asked if I had seen the Robin Williams’ movie “1 hr photo”. I had never heard of the movie, but upon discovering that Agent Michael Vaughn (whom I had dedicated a late-night-red-bull-induced-dance to) was in the movie I rented it from Blockbuster as soon as I could. The movie is…. odd. And not what I was expecting. And AMV (Agent Michael Vaughn (Although I still don’t understand the acronym “OTP”, I’m pretty sure that he and Sydney are my OTP (Abi, did I use that correctly?). ). ) is not very AMV-like. But it was very interesting, and it stuck with me over the years because it has some truth in it. In the movie, Robin Williams develops film, and he becomes attached to a certain family. They bring him rolls of film from their wedding, birthday parties, their new babies, etc, etc, etc. He literally sees the highlights of their life, he knows the important things that happen, the big moments, he becomes a part of those moments in his own way.

Before I started working at the drugstore, my mom would bring her rolls of film there. Often the photo lady would be outside having a cigarette when mom would be walking into the store. She was so familiar with my mom, that she would stop her outside, take the film and say “doubles?” without having to even verify a name.  When I started working there, I got to know the regulars. They would bring in the film from their grandkids’ birthday parties and dance recitals and school programs. And more than that, they would want to talk to you about them. They would look through the prints to see if there were any they did not want, and they would tell me stories of each photo. They would laugh, cry, and share. People like to talk to strangers. It’s refreshing to tell someone who doesn’t know you, someone who hasn’t heard the same stories for years,  the happenings of your life. Some times their kids or grandkids would come in to pick up the photos and if I asked after their mom/grandma’s health or how her new car was or if she was acclimating to her recent move they would stare at me with so much distrust you would think they just finished watching “1 hr photo” themselves.

I no longer work in a photo department. For the most part I don’t miss it. I don’t miss the unexpected nude photos you would see, I don’t miss the people who would be upset that their photos were blurry (I’m not a miracle worker, the photos are blurry because you don’t know how to hold the camera steady!). I don’t miss the paper jams or the hassle it was to change to photo paper. But I do miss some of the customers. I couldn’t tell you their names now, but there was a time I could tell you the names of their grandkids.

I now work in a different industry, however it is strange how similar it is. People come in and people call during big moments: New jobs, retirements, new cars, new homes, kids going away to college, kids getting marriage, having babies, selling houses, moving to nursing homes, people dying. I see the big moments. I begin to know certain customers not just by name or face, but by phone number and car. I know about medical problems and I know if they are about to propose to their girlfriends. It’s creepy in a way. Creepier if I see these people outside of the confines of my work. But it’s also nice. I enjoy visiting with certain customers; I genuinely care about their lives. (other customers I don’t quite enjoy talking to so much, but that’s another blog post)

I had a lady come in the other day. She and I had about the sweetest conversation you could have imagined. She was the nicest lady and had seen so much life. She was so kind and we talked about elephants and her house and her son. We talked about when she was in high school decades before and classic cars. Near the end of the conversation we got to talking about babies. After bragging on my nieces and nephews I asked her if she had any grandbabies and she indicated that she did not. She said her son is very conscientious and he cannot justify bringing a child into this broken and ugly world. He cannot rationalize bringing life into these hateful times. I thought about this for a moment, and I respectfully responded that I could see where he was coming from, but if we didn’t bring people into the world and raise them to take care of each other and to take care of the world, how would things change? She took my hand, looked and me in the eye and said “Oh Honey, do you honestly think that 2017 will be any better?”. With that, my heart broke.

She gave me a kind- albeit patronizing- smile as I responded that I will hold out hope for that very thing. That I would do my best to try to improve things for my circle of influence. Backed with her 75 years’ experience, her look was soft and skeptical as she said: “you’re a good girl. Not everyone is good”.

I feel as if almost every job is similar to my experience in that you see people at very specifics times of their life. You see them at highs or at lows or at the middle plane. You learn things about people around you in episodic encounters. You see people at their best or at their worst or at their normal Tuesday being. But you see people. I understand the lady I spoke to, and she does have some excellent arguments on her side. But, as I continue to interact with people on a daily basis, I cannot fully accept her reality. I cannot accept that people are bad and life is evil, and things are only going to get worse. There is still beauty here. There is still love here. And if you cannot see beauty and you cannot see love, that is when you work to create beauty. That is when you work to show love. Hoping for better does not mean ignorance to bad, it does not mean inactivity. It just means digging for some diamonds.

Diamonds can be found, and then shared. Our area of influence, our range, is often larger than we think. Because we started with AMV, it seems appropriate that we talk about his first meeting with Sydney. She comes in to the CIA, turning in her place of work when she discovers what they really do. Agent Michael Vaughn has her draw a map of her department and how big of an operation it is “how far you think it reaches”. She takes a few moments and sketches out a small map before handing it to him. About to start lecturing him on what she believes should be the next steps, he stands and retrieves a much larger map. This map is in great detail and makes her sketch look like a block of a street while the big map shows an entire country. We may have a small bubble, but even the people we see for a moment to talk about their address change or their new piece of jewelry or even the mail person who stops in and exclaims how cold it is outside. These are still people that we impact and are impacted by. These are still places where we can plant some gold.

I was speaking with another customer the other day. He had found himself stranded on the side of the road for 3 hours out in California. While waiting for help to arrive, a highway patrol man stopped to see if he needed assistance. The highway patrolman walked towards him and asked what the problem was. My customer was upset, tired, sick of the side of the road, and mad that the tow truck was who knows where; but he said he has a rule. Anytime something like this happens, anytime he is in a bad situation that just makes him want to scream and cuss, he has to find someone and smile at them. He said he sighed, looked at the police officer, and then smiled. “Well, that’s a story, but first of all, how are you doing today?”. This interaction completely changed how he was feeling. It turned things around for him.

I’m not naïve. I know things in life are often far worse than waiting on tow trucks. But I also know that there is light to be found. Sometimes that light just looks like a matchbook; sometimes it requires some assembly. But I truly do believe that if we strive to make things better, if we strive to improve the things in our reach, it makes a world of a difference. Everything is contagious. Despondency is contagious. Evil is contagious. Encouragement is contagious. Bravery is contagious. Love is contagious.

Writer’s Block

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“Because one has only learnt to get the better of words/ For the thing one not longer has to say, or the way in which/ One is no longer disposed to say it” – T.S. Eliot

 

I have bookshelves full of books. Some books I’ve read and loved, some I’ve read and tolerated, some I’ve read and hated. However, the largest population of books are ones that I’ve not yet begun. Books upon books that I own, but I’ve never opened. I can give you many reasons for this. Perhaps I just haven’t been in the mood for that specific adventure. I’ve looked at them, thought about reading them, but just haven’t yet felt up to it. Or maybe they are the books that I am saving. Books that I know I will love, that I have been dying to read; but because they are special I want to treat them as such. I don’t want to give them the half-engaged attention I give to some things, I want to be focused and consumed by them, so I am waiting for the right moment.

However, when I have time to myself, when I have time to read and relax, I find myself between the pages of a familiar book- I find myself in the middle of stories I practically know by heart. These well worn covers welcome me like home, and I sink into their comforting predictability.

I’m this way in many aspects, I think we all are, we run to the familiar when we need to feel safe. I’ll break my strict “keep Christmas things special for Christmas time” rule to watch ridiculous Christmas movies during a particularly hard August. I will play the same songs on repeat when I am looking for calm. (See Sigur Ros “Ara Batur” for my writing music.) And every time I feel the need to take to writing to sort out my emotions, I end up with my nose buried in T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets”.

“Home is where one starts from. As we grow older/ The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated/ Of dead and living […] a lifetime burning in every moment”

I never seem to know what I am saying until I have said it. I often don’t understand my feelings until I’ve written them down and attempted to process them. I’m unable to figure things out until my pen hits the paper. But sometimes even the ink doesn’t help. Sometimes I can’t find the words to write my heart. Sometimes all this ends up being is a “raid on the inarticulate with shabby equipment”. I’m trying to push past this, trying too hard to force it. But I feel like I’m in unfamiliar territory.

I’m used to big emotions. Emotions that are loud, emotions that pace around in your gut and roar their presence in a way that keeps you from not being able to notice them. Summer is for big emotions. Sun soaked days, grape soda, baseball games, heat-fueled anger, impatience: summer does nothing small. However, as summer slinks away, falling dormant, autumn glides in on the very principle of subtly.

I struggle with indecisiveness, with not knowing what I want or where I am trying to get to. I have a dozen or so blogs that I began writing in the last month, I have a handful of stories that I began-abandoned-and began again. I start full of inspiration, full of vigor, and then it falls into apathy. It isn’t right, it isn’t going anywhere, it doesn’t make me feel anything except for uprooted and unsettled. I spent hours in Florida this September staring at the waves, searching the salt water for answers or direction or something. But the waves, the dried leaves, the slight chill in the air speak calm and do absolutely nothing to direct me.

I taste autumn as I drink my coffee. It is an added teaspoon of loneliness and malaise that hasn’t yet dissolved. It is not an overpowering dose of itself nor is it the bold absence of it. It is just a trace, an aftertaste that is gone on the next sip- perhaps it disappears into the grey blanketed sky. Perhaps it absorbed into my skin.

As I attempt to write my way out of the block, as I attempt to translate myself and the world around me, I have not concluded anything. However, Bob Wallace sang a song to Betty Haynes that makes me think of Thanksgiving coming up, that reminds me to adjust my focus.

So, if I’m worried and I can’t sleep, I’ll count my blessings instead of sheep. I’ll focus on some of the things that are good. Because there are good things.

  • I am grateful that love will always be more powerful than hate. I’m grateful that the big commandments that Christians are left with all deal with love- loving the Lord and loving others. I’m grateful that Love saved me and that I have an obligation to show that love. Because, “by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”. This gives me hope in every situation.
  • I am grateful for coffee is all of its forms. I am grateful for the coffee I drink on weekdays that is darker than my soul, and I’m grateful for the fancy-spancy Starbucks lattes whose sugar makes the coffee as sweet as I aspire to be.
  • I’m grateful for picture messages so I can see my nieces and nephews even as they are far away, and so that I can send and receive ridiculous memes and gifs that make me laugh on a daily basis.
  • I’m thankful that every day is a new start, a clean slate, a chance to begin again. A chance to move forward.

Take some time, find the things that you are thankful for, find the things that make your heart swell, and share them. Share them, and maybe even writer’s block won’t be so bad.

 

You’re Talking To Yourself In The Mirror Again

Dear 16 Year Old Kearsten,

Hi, it’s me. Well, it’s you. Well, kinda. Don’t act so surprised. You know how much we talk to ourself, written communication from the future was the next logical step. I know you, with your driver’s license and your white Nissan Maxima. I remember who you are. Just last year you watched the trailer for Pride and Prejudice approximately 500 times while you and your friends sighed at Mr. Darcy. You know all of Orlando Bloom’s lines from The Lord of the Rings movies, but you are no longer quite so proud of that fact. Yeah, I know you.

I just thought it may be time I dropped by. I know you’ve a lot going on, so I won’t stay long. I just have some quick knowledge to lay on you.

First of all: At some point your hair will be so long that they best way to keep it out of your face is to use a pen as the stabilizing factor in a bun. While this is baller, it is NOT a good idea to keep the pen in your hair when you go to sleep. Seriously, take the pen out. Your pillows do not need ink on them. It’s very hard to remove. Sleep with your hair down. I’m begging you.

— I know that adolescent, awkward monster in your body remembers too sharply the dreaded years of 10-14. Just a heads up, that fades. The further you get from it, the more 11 year old you will be super entertaining. She’s a part of you, the unsure homeschooler who brushes her hair too much and doesn’t know not to mix patterns; but you learn to like her more. She’s not like everyone else and she isn’t afraid of that. Treat her nicely, you’ll wish you had her confidence.

— Take a breath. Life is not a competition. You don’t win by being richer, smarter, or more talented than other people. Stop trying to live like you have to catch up to them. You walk at your own pace, and you don’t have anything to prove. Everyone that you think has it all together? They don’t. Like colossally don’t. So stop stressing. Sure, you are running a race, but you are the only contestant. You are going to win this thing no matter what. Yes, that also means you are going to lose this thing, but that’s okay. All the stuff in the middle balances everything out.

— You have so many adventures in front of you. I mean, this is the year that She’s the Man comes out in theaters. You have literally no idea what is waiting for you! You are going to meet so many people, you are going to go on so many trips. You are going to laugh so hard you cry on like a weekly basis. Sometimes you’ll cry so hard you laugh. Life never will turn out as you envisioned. I would say it won’t turn out like you plan, but you can’t fool me. You aren’t one for plans. Just keep choosing between left or right, keep walking. It’ll be fun. You’ll go places.

— Don’t takes things to heart so much. When people don’t like you, it doesn’t mean you have to feel bad that they don’t like you. It’s not your job to offer apologies to everyone. Let things roll off of you like water. Treat people kindly, as much as it is unto you be at peace with all men, and scotchguard it baby.

— Just because things are temporary doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be fully embraced. Temporary tattoos have a life span of like a day and they still rock awesome. So, let things in more. Sure, jobs, college, places are all temporary; but time is funny and it runs longer than you may think. It’s okay to put down roots. Holding yourself back is stupid. Life is temporary, people are temporary. your favorite TV show is temporary. This does not diminish their value. Try to be more unguarded. It’s worth it.

— Your adventures are your adventures. They don’t have to look like anybody else’s. It’s your story, and it’s pretty good.

Hang in there. Some of your favorite people haven’t even been born yet, you haven’t read your favorite book yet, you don’t know what Netflix is yet, you haven’t watched an episode of River Monsters yet, and you haven’t even seen the Royals in a World Series yet. Seriously, There are so many wonderful things ahead of you- don’t take them for granted.

All my love,

Kearsten

Paper Dolls and People are a Similar Shape

When my fingertips itch with too much energy, I inevitably take off driving. In college I would find a road I didn’t know, roll my windows down, and drive for as far as I could. When I was home I would find my favorite roads, the ones where the trees form a canopy over the pavement, and put on my high-beams and drive. It’s not so much about going fast or about blaring the music. It’s about the sound of the car, the sound of other cars. It’s about the feeling of the wind in my hair and on my face. It’s about the heat on my toes, and the hum of traffic all helping me to reset- to find my calm.

Do you ever have your breath taken away by a sudden awareness of the existence of other people? I am not really sure how to describe it, this revelation that there are so many other people who live and work and play and dream. All of these people, living their lives, are so independent of you. We often only see people in relation to who they are to us. They are not just people, they are our mothers, our sisters, our cousins, our customers, our bosses, our coworkers, our friends. Ours, ours, ours, ours. We are our only point of reference, so they filter in to us as categories.

I remember being at my grandfather’s funeral and seeing a photo of him and my grandmother when they were young, and being shocked by it. The fact that they were once young was something I had never dwelt on. The fact that they had had dreams and a future and a life to look forward to had never been something I gave any thought to. Yet there they were, looking almost unrecognizable with hope and hunger in their eyes. They had not just been my grandparents, they had been people. I don’t know why this fascinates me, but it does.

Do you know that scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” where Clarence is trying to tell George Bailey how much of an impact it makes for him to never have been born? Clarence is sad, resigned, as he tells George: “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole”. We had a customer pass away a few months ago. Someone I only saw once in person, but we had talked on several occasions on the phone. I knew very little about her life or who she was, but I know that she was kind and understanding even when she was hopping mad about something. When I heard that she had passed, I was upset. But nothing prepared me for how crushed I would be when her significant other came in to settle some of her estate. He sat down and I looked him in the eye and told him how sorry I was for his loss, and how much I had enjoyed her, and my heart absolutely crumbled.

I try to block out people. I walk through a crowd as if it were a maze to be won (with elbows to throw if necessary). I grocery shop with headphones on, not to listen to music, but to avoid having to converse with other shoppers. I give my neighbors a friendly smile, but I don’t give off a “ask me for an egg or some sugar” vibe. It’s overwhelming to think of everyone’s story; to walk through a maze of 40,000 and feel their dreams and failures. I treat people in categories because it is much less work and emotional toil to see them as a collective instead of as individuals.

There is a lady who will keep me on the phone all day long if I do not guard against it, but I can never quite force her off the phone quickly. I always just want to extend her some grace because she is kind and lonely and I would want someone to treat me with respect if I were in her position. And then once she came into work and began to tell me about her life. She used to be a teacher, she made all of her clothes from feed sacks, and she sewed for her whole family. She told her husband she would not marry him until she had her own sewing machine; and while he didn’t like that, he waited all the same and once she got her sewing machine they were married. She gave me a glimpse into her life and she glowed with it.

It’s an odd balance to try to establish. The balance of the weight of knowing that other people are, and the weight of ignorance. It’s so easy to choose ignorance. So easy to worry only about things in relation to me. So easy to refuse to extend grace to others. But people break past that Plexiglas barricade. If only to remind me that to be old is only to have been young; and to that to be in pain is part of this human plight; and that while I whip down roads late at night with goose bumps covering my arms, the people I pass all have lives with victories and problems – with love and laughter. Clarence knew what he was talking about, and it’s not all in relation to me.