Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Nice Gums

Somebody told me today that I have great gums. Yup, that's right, great gums. He may have even said they were beautiful, although I don't remember exactly. The whole scene's a little fuzzy. I turned red and then laughed. Because that's what I do when I don't know what to say. And honestly, what do you do when somebody compliments your gums? I guess thank you is always a good option, but didn't think fast enough. Or maybe I could have invited him to take a closer look. I'll remember that next time.

Okay, now admittedly, complimenting somebody's gums is a bit odd. Very odd, actually. But I was flattered. I'm pretty relaxed about most things, but when it comes to my teeth and gums, I obsess. My dentist told me that I brush too vigorously. Seriously? Who knew that was possible? I floss at least twice a day, sometimes more if I have the chance, have bleached my teeth at least 3 times, use a fluoride rinse to keep my teeth strong, and rinse with Listerine every morning and night. For exactly one minute each time, plus 5 extra seconds, just to be safe. Because if you only rinse for 59 seconds, it just doesn't quite do the job. Words like Gingivitis and gum disease creep me out. Seriously, your mouth is the worst possible place to allow germs to fester and develop diseases. Yick. So I buy every mouth-cleansing product available, and use them obsessively. And somebody finally noticed! It's an obscure fixation, yes, but still. I made an effort, and somebody noticed.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Sunsets and Explosions

Over a century ago, a volcano just east of Java in the Sundra strait exploded, generating a tsunami that would kill almost 40,000 people and leave millions more homeless. On the other side of the world, North America was presented with the most brilliant sunsets in recorded history. Thinking the blazing sky was actually a blazing fire, firemen were dispatched to quench the flames. But after the panic settled, nations emerged to view the strokes of reds, oranges and purples billowing across the dusk sky, and thought the earth was blessed. The delay in communication prevented Americans from learning of the destruction taking place on the earth that they shared with so many others, so they enjoyed nature's display, the sunset resulting from the same explosion that killed thousands.

When I wake up in the morning, I enjoy a split second of blissful ignorance, the delay between my body's waking up and my brain's registering the events of my life. For a brief moment, evil and sadness don't exist. And then I wake up, and see the world as it is, the complete mixture of beauty and good, and wickedness and hurt. And I'm happier, because I'm aware. Because I see it all, and am still moving on.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Lost in Flight

I've never liked flying. For a long time I tried to convince myself that I loved it, that the thrill being suspended over an ocean and spanning entire continents excited me. The allusion worked for a while. Visiting new sights and cities and absorbing new cultures compels me to fly fairly frequently, so the hunger for travel easily transferred to an avidity for flight. However, the facade eventually wore off, and I gave up on that idea when I noticed that I cried almost every time I stepped onto an airplane. It's not that flights are boring. I always bring a good book, which can hold my attention for hours and days at a time, so being bored is clearly not the problem. It's the fact that I'm blinded on flights. I can see nothing of what's in front of me besides a beige chairback and the little plastic cup of ginger ale that the flight attendant offers me to drink. While my destination is known, I have no concept of how I get there, of the path I'm travling, or where I am at any given moment, and for a brief interval, I am nowhere.

The last time I flew, the plane was delayed and when we finally pushed back from the gate, we inched slowly toward the runway, moving forward in small spurts, like a teenager learning to drive a standard transmission. There were several planes ahead of us for takeoff. That's what I assume, anyway; I strained to see through the window what was ahead of us, but my gaze was returned by no more than the darkness outside. Nothing but blackness and emptiness loomed in my vision. So I cried, my only memorial for the loss of my sense of belonging and being, of temporarily losing my place and being nowhere. Because in order to really exist, you have to see and understand that you are someplace, and that you belong there.

I frequently take walks or hikes, with no particular destination in mind. Where I end up matters less to me than how I get there. So I wander, simply because I can. Because I have two legs and a good pair of walking shoes, and because there is room enough for me to roam.

My dream vacation includes no itinerary and no planned points of interest, but simply getting in a car and driving, enjoying the scenery and my companion, taking in everything along the way, stopping to visit whatever looks interesting, and possibly some things that don't. I still haven't taken this trip. My more practical (ie boring) side and the lack of a willing cohort have prevented me. But I will, someday.

I've been criticized for these views. What about goals, about having working towards something great? But it's not a lack of goals, but rather a change of emphasis from the result to the effort put forth to get there. If a doctor were to lose a patient, he would never regret trying to save him, so long as he had done everything in his power to help the patient. End results are often not what we anticipate or even what we thought we were working toward in the first place, but it's the journey, the path we took to get wherever we end up that matters. But it's taking that journey, because we can, because we have a good pair of walking shoes and a path available to us.

Christianity, and religion in general, have been criticized for being selfish. These claims are based on the idea that the purpose of Christianity is gaining exaltation and salvation for oneself, and therefore fosters self-centered attitudes in all of its followers. Clearly, the only reason a Christian would help another person or give of themselves in any way is so that they can gain something greater, for themselves and nobody else. If this really is the message of Christianity, then our accusors are right in their claims. But this isn't what Christianity is all about. It isn't until one forgets the end result, forgets what's in it for them, that true Christianty and selflessness are born. Until the real focus is on the journey, on where we are, on loving the people and the experiences that we encounter along the way, and recognizing true love from the substitutes that are so readily offered up, handed out like candy on Halloween. That's when purpose enters in, and amazingly, it's the best way to end up where we want to go.

"Millions long for immortality who don't know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon." -Susan Ertz

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

how to make the world stop turning

As a kid, I used to read constantly. I would stay up until after my college-aged, party-going neighbors were long since asleep, curled up on my twin bed with a novel to read and a Granny Smith apple to snack on. I turned myself over to the worlds of the Babysitters Club, Maniac Magee, Ramona Quimby, and others. I read about how to handle sibling rivalry and what to do if I should lose my shoe, or worse, my pants on my way to school. (It didn't matter that I lived one block from school, I was prepared to fabricate a skirt and a spare shoe out of paper towels and staples, should the need arise.) I discovered, somewhat unconsciously, how to handle the fears and misfortunes of a nine-year-old's life. But of all the books I read then, and those that I have since read, only one has ever brought me to tears. It's a book whose title and author I have long ago forgotten, but whose character I still remember clearly. He was a ten-year-old boy, the same age that I was at the time, and he lost his mother to cancer. I had always known that losing my mom would upset me, even make me cry, but now I was nothing more than bony knees and lanky arms, piled onto my bathroom floor, sobbing. Losing composure to the reality of the emptiness that would replace the one thing that had been a constant in my life since birth, and whose principal purpose in life was the betterment of mine, of the sting felt when an unknowing teacher requested to speak with my mother, the mother I no longer had. I had read about death before, about the death of pets, friends, loved ones, and yes, even parents, but no account had ever effected me in this way, had ever caused me to feel the pain of a fictional boy as if it were my own. But this one did, simply because it built a foundation upon emotions that I knew, and then extended those same emotions into the unknown, into the unknown battle of returning to school after such a loss, and of moving on while not forgetting.

It may sound trite, but it was this same principle that first drew me into my engineering textbooks as a young college student. The fundamental concepts were old adn well-known, based on the idea that something cannot be created from nothing, and that every action requires a reaction. If you push on a wall, it will push back on you. But these principles were extended into new applications, from engines to water pipes to springs systems. And it fascinated me, but as more than just knowledge needed to land a secure job. I remember learning about equal and opposite forces, and later about torque, and I wondered what it would take to stop the earth from spinning on its axis, or at least to slow it down. I performed a rough calculation and determined that if our world's population united together, (strategically placed, of course), and all walked in the same direction, we could, in fact, slow the earth's rotation. We may have to enlist our pets in the cause, just to be on the safe side, but we could do it.

There have been songs written about love that lasts until the earth stops spinning, and one now familiar song that named September 11, 2001 as the day the world stopped turning. I prefer the love songs, and not only because I'm a sucker for anything corny, but because they seem to understand how to actually make the world halt. Only by unifying our planet's entire population, from the oldest to the youngest, richest to poorest, can we conquer a feat that great. I only hope that they then change the lyrics to allow love to last longer than the earth's rotation. And while September 11 may have temporarily united our nation, it created a larger rift in the world's unity. That rift admittedly had been there for years, decades, maybe even centuries, but it did nothing to repair it, only to deepen it. Individual lives were lost, and each American's world was effected, thousands directly through the loss of a friend, brother, sister, parent, or worst of all, a child. And as I relive the grief I felt for those lives, and the panic at realizing that a friend of mine may have been very near the buildings at the time of the crash, I take comfort in knowing that suicide bombers, terrorism, and hate, however devastating, cannot bring the world at large to a halt.

Monday, November 15, 2004

the truth about cats

I've never been much of a cat person. They shed, they're needy, their claws inevitably get caught in my hair, and they try to jump in the shower with me. (Now, some people may think this is cute, but I am not a fan. Not. At all. Ever.) So overall, felines are not my favorite animals. But I've had cats before. My sister bought them, actually, but since I lived in the same house as the cats, I'll claim partial ownership. And I lived through it, even came out unscathed. I still don't like them, but I could live with them.

Last year, I somehow inherited two cats. Recognizing me as the pushover that I am (it usually takes people about 30 seconds to pick up on this), an acquaintance of mine asked me if I wouldn't mind taking her cats until she moved into her new apartment.

"Ooh, be a doll. It'll be no more than three months," I was assured. "And they are too adorable and lovable and cute and cuddly and wonderful and... blahblahblah. And I will be SO-ooo grateful and pleasepleasepleaseplease..."

"Sure, I'll take the cats."

"You are too sweet. Really. You really are."

Okay, so maybe I should have taken her blatant begging as a warnint sign. Or the fact that she had resorted to asking me, a non-cat-loving-very-much-a-dog-person whom she had known for a total of thirty minutes. Maybe I'm a bit naive.

So I had two cats. Two cats in my clean, freshly-painted, white-walled apartment. With brand-new furniture. Two cats (of opposite gender, I might add) that had yet to be de-clawed or "fixed". Or entirely litter-box trained, as I soon found out. But still, in my wide-eyed, optimistic, I-can-handle-anything-for-three-months way, I was excited.

Their first night at home, I let them sleep in my room.

Oscar. The "friendly, cuddly, very social" cat (as described by his well-meaning, if not overly enthusiastic owner Heather) was clawing my hair. And my neck, and arms and anything else he could reach. Okay, now I'll admit that maybe my social skills are a bit lacking, but I've never mauled a person in hopes of building a solid friendship. I guess Heather and I have different ideas on the definition of "social". So I moved the cats into the hallway, heard them whining, felt sorry for them, let them back into my room. Repeat. Again. And again. And again. Every time I let them back in, it would end in a loud hiss. Not from the cats, from me. (I'm not very good at yelling, so a hiss was the best I could come up with.)

After a month, I asked Heather (in an email - I was afraid I might hiss if I tried calling) to please, come get her adorable, loveable cats. And she did, while making no effort to hide her disgust with me for backing out of our agreement.

I have a soft spot for animals. All animals. I really do. I didn't want the kitties to be sad. (Which is why I let them into my room over and over and over again.) I just didn't want to sacrifice my bed and my sanity to keep them happy. Apparently I'm not that soft.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Happiness Comes in a Box

We all want to be happy. And we're lucky. Our country recognizes that the pursuit of happiness is an inalienable right. So why aren't we happy? Why is suicide the tenth leading cause of death for Americans, and depression cases higher than ever? Advertisers sell their products by convincing us that happiness comes in a box. Look young, have great hair, and own fun toys, and you'll be satisfied. And we buy into it. I recently started using anti-wrinkle cream. I'm twenty-three years old, and already using anti-wrinkle cream. Does that disturb anyone else? But I still use it, in hopes that just maybe, when I'm fifty, I'll still look thirty. Is there something inherently wrong about being fifty? Or about actually looking your age? I don't know, but I've certainly joined the battle against it.

And then there's the Don't Worry, Be Happy attitude. Disney so kindly made Hakuna Matata a household phrase. Responsibility is boring, work is boring. Have fun, play, do what you want, and happiness will walk right up to your doorstep and invite itself in. Simple, right? But fun costs money, and since work is boring and sucks all of the joy right out of you, maybe happiness is harder to come by than we thought. But that's where credit cards come in. Oh, the beauty of a credit card. Buy now, pay later, no worries. Has anyone ever wondered why the average American has over eight thousand dollars in credit card debt? That's up five thousand dollars in the past ten years, and steadily increasing.

Overall, I consider myself a happy person. But certain moments have still been more contented than others. Such as the present, for instance. I don't have a lot of money, I'm apart from my family and many of my friends, but I'm happy. Happier than any other time I can remember. But why? What makes the present so different from the past? It's my heart. Scraping away external influences, breaking down my barriers I've built out of fear, figuring out where I want it to be, and getting it there. Working to get it there. And then following my heart, and knowing that it won't lead me astray. Knowing that, although I may not be exactly where I want to be, my heart is where it should be, so I'm headed in the right direction. And because of that, I can finally trust myself. I can trust that my decisions are the right ones. Yes, I use anti-wrinkle cream, but I'm happy with where I'm going, even if it involves a few wrinkles. They're called laugh lines for a reason.

Small Town Talk

I was driving home from my Very Good Friend Mike's house yesterday, and stopped to get some gas for my very hungry car. As soon as I stepped outside, I heard a long, slow whistle. Coming from a very creepy man standing nearby.

Don't look, don't look, don't look. Keep pumping your gas.

Hey, lady, nice car!

Uh, thanks? (Well, maybe he was whistling at my car and not at me.)

Now, it must be mentioned that I am currently in Booney, PA. My Very Good Friend Mike is from Booney, PA, so I hold no partiular grudge against the town. But the truth is, when you get that far away from civilization, you're going to find a few nut jobs. Like Creepy Mullet Man, with whom I am currently engaged in a very riveting conversation.

So, Texas, huh? You're a long way from home.

Yup, sure am. (Maybe if I'm incredibly boring and can't come up with more than two words in response to any question, he'll give up.)

So, you wanna hang around here a while? (Nope, I guess my conversational abilities are of little concern. And thank you, thank you, thank you Very Kind-looking Man hovering nearby.)

No, I really need to get back to Pennsylvania tonight. (Duh. You're IN Pennsylvania. You're got to come up with something better than THAT.) Uh, well, um, gotta go. Bye. (Yeah, much better. Way to go.)

Okay, so I'm not going to pretend that attention from the opposite sex doesn't flatter me on occasion. Or that I'm too oh-so-cool-and-sly to try flirting back every once in a while. (Of course, my flirtation skills are severely lacking, but I do my best.) Take, for example, Very Nice Boy Jeff. Jeff worked in the machine shop and was, in fact, a Very Nice Boy. And cute. And best of all, he showed me, very patiently, how to build my parts. And he did a very good job of hiding his laughter when I couldn't even use the saw without his help. That's right, the saw.

I became quite fond of Very Nice Boy Jeff. I tried (mostly unsuccessfully, but I tried) to figure out his work schedule so that I could very conveniently show up when he was working. Oh, wow, Jeff, YOU'RE working again? Gosh, it seems like I'm always running into you these days. Haha. And I certainly wasn't shy about the compliments. Oh, Jeff, thanks you SO much. This looks really great. You are SOOOOO smart.

Now, maybe Very Nice Boy Jeff was only helping me because, well, he's a Very Nice Boy. Or because, quite frankly, it was his job to help me, and I was looking very lost and confused, and quite possibly on the verge of tears. But he was cute, and I was a girl, which automatically set me apart from, well, everybody else in the shop. So I used that to my advantage. Well, the best I knew how, anyway.

Okay, okay, so I know that it's what's on the inside that counts, that looks don't matter. So, just because Creepy Mullet Man looked creepy and had a mullet, doesn't mean he's not a Very Nice Man. But I certainly wasn't about to stick around to find out.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Darwinian Genius

Okay, okay, now before you panic, let me explain something. I'm not here to try to convince you that our many-great grandparents were chimpanzees, or that our children's children will have three arms and a tail. Because I don't believe that. But I do believe in taking the good for what it's worth, with open arms and an invitation to stay, and filtering out the rest. And Darwin made some amazing discoveries. Well, one in particular, and that's diversity. From years of waiting, watching, observing patterns, actually paying attention to the world around him, (which, it might be noted, is a pretty ingenius concept in itself), he discovered that every form of life on the beautiful planet we call Earth, whether it be human, plant, animal, even fungus, is diverse, that each species carries among its population thousands, millions, even billions of unique genetic codes. And I commend him for this discovery. Yes, that's right, call me un-Christian, call me sacreligious, call me what you will, but I believe that this is a discovery to be embraced, to be celebrated. And not in spite of the fact that it was Darwin's, but because it was Darwin's. We've just all been too busy shaking a fist at what we don't believe (do NOT talk to me about Darwin - I have religion to tell me where my ancestors came from) to leave our arms open for something beneficial that just might saunter in and surprise us. Because, yes, we do have religion, and I in no way mean to undermine that gift. And that is what it is - a gift to enable us the discernment of good and evil. But guess what, folks, convincing us that we evolved from monkeys was not Darwin's only aim.

It's this very diversity that has kept us, and our fellow Earth-dwellers, alive for so many years. We are pre-programmed for survival. We, along with every species of tree, insect, etc, have made it from the birth of our planet to the present, have made it through draught, earthquake, tornado, even worldwide flooding, and are still going strong. Because, while individuals die and new are born every day, the population is still alive, and despite these deaths and births, we still are what we were yesterday, whether that's a field of wheat, a grove of trees, a flock of birds, or a country of human citizens. There have been times when nothing has remained but a few seedlings, whether cast into the wind or carried away on the belly of a bumblebee or hummingbird. But those seedlings were all that was needed for the survival of that species. Science and religion should never have to be at odds. Acknowledging diversity and celebrating our survival does not diminish God's power, because He is behind it all, no matter what particular God you choose to believe in, He's there. His house is a house of order, and He has set everything in the proper order for survival and growth. Yes, He is omnipotent, and therefore can step in to create miracles, phenomena that cannot be explained by Darwin or anyone else for that matter, but that doesn't mean that He doesn't often work in patterns, in orders. And there's nothing wrong with discovering and reverencing those patterns.

I took a grand total of one Biology class in college. My brother and I enrolled one summer because, well, we had heard it would be easy. And it was. But somehow, in between my naps and his hitting on the cute girl next to him, we picked up a few tidbits of information. We learned about the importance of fiber in your diet, which sparked what I will refer to as the High Fiber War, which is basically a quest to find the food highest in fiber. (Ryan's currently winning - whole wheat couscous has 8 grams of fiber in 1/4 cup. Wow.) But my favorite Biology discovery is this: ice floats. Okay, so maybe I knew that before I ever took Biology 100, but short of acknowledging that it's fun to poke at with my straw, I hadn't thought much of it. But it's this simple fact that allows us to skate on a pond that's not fully frozen through, and what keeps our oceans from becoming nothing more than blocks of ice. Think about it. If ice sank, whenever a body of water froze, the ice would recede to the bottom, where the sun's warmth doesn't reach. And then it would accumulate, until there was nothing left but a thin layer of water atop our otherwise frozen world. Armageddon would have occurred long ago, maybe even before our first parents were mourning the death of one son and the spiritual demise of another. I've been told by some that I'm smart, while others prefer to remain mute on the matter. I tend to not think about it much, as it would result in one of two outcomes, either disappointment or pride, both of which I already have too much of. But I do know this much. It would take an intelligence far more comprehending than my own simple mind to recognize that something as basic as making ice float could save our world from destruction. And there's nothing irreligious about that.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Wooden Shoes

I have a favorite pair of shoes. They're adorable. Wooden soles, a tall heel, and a leather strap knotted across my foot. Perfect for skirts. Which I also love wearing. What more could a girl ask for? Seriously, if you haven't seen these shoes, you really need to. You'd love them. Love love love. I wore these shoes on a walk once, and came home with six blisters on each foot. Why, you might ask, would I wear wooden strappy shoes on a walk? Wouldn't tennis shoes be so much more practical? Well, because it was Sunday. Obviously. So I had worn the shoes to church. Obviously. Did I mention that they look great with skirts? I could have changed into something more comfortable, I admit, but skirts, especially when paired with the strappy shoes, are just so darned cute. So any excuse I have to wear them, I'm all over.

Sometimes I worry that I am those strappy wooden shoes. Or, if not the shoes themselves, the self-proclaimed Wooden Shoe Salesperson, striving to show the world the beauty that is the Wooden Shoes.

Hey, why don't you try these ones on? They're great. I mean, just look at them! Who wouldn't want to wear these?

Oh, you wouldn't? Really? Really??
I guess not everybody wants wooden shoes. Shoot.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Context of Mind

Last summer, I visited the San Diego Zoo with some friends. We paid our $20 and joined the throngs to view each exhibit. Of course, we insisted on seeing the biggest displays. The birds, elephants, seals. And the giraffes. Of course, don't forget the giraffes. While we were standing at this particular display, we were informed that, earlier that summer, there had been an attempted escape by one of the younger animals. Getting a good running start, he tried clear to moat surrounding his allotted patch of grass and trees. The story was meant to be funny. And it was. I laughed. And later recounted the story to other friends. But I couldn't help but feel slightly disturbed. I could spend hours, days, weeks observing these animals and still gain little to no understanding of their characters and habits. Sure, I could get an idea of their routine, notice patterns in their behavior, maybe even come to know these particular giraffes intimately. But they've been taken completely out of context, out of their natural environment, the ecosystem of coexisting plants, animals, and pests that all simultaneously alter each others daily existence. My sister once spent two months in the bush of Namibia, Africa, and witnessed giraffes in their homeland, where she was an intruder on their territory. She said that they were magnificent and almost terrifying in the speed and grace with which they moved, ran and played. She only caught a brief glimpse of the giraffes, maybe a five minute display of one herd's hurried excursion across the wilderness. But in those five minutes, she saw them as they were intended to live, roaming, free, and independent, in their intended context. Not the full context of their existence, but the right context.

Light is often used as a metaphor for knowledge and understanding. Light probably feels pretty good about this, even a little smug. But the truth is, all light is certainly not created equal. Some of it is downright annoying, to be honest. Fluorescent light, in particular, gets a pretty bad rap. And rightfully so. I leave my house in the morning, feeling pretty content with how I look, only to go stand under fluorescent lights all day, resulting in my skin looking orange or red or whatever color it absolutely does NOT want to look. Ever. I've tried campaigning to have fluorescent lights banned from all public institutions. Honestly, they're really bad for sociatal morale. If there's a flaw anywhere, the fluorescent light will find it. It can't be healthy to be exposed to this. Down with fluorescent lighting! The sun, on the other hand, is my personal favorite light form. It manages to shine just the right light to display true beauty. In everything. And that's what we need. The right light.

But how much do we really see in its full context, anyway, in the right light? Not much, if anything. We catch narrow glimpses of events, of lives that entertwine with ours for a time. But each of these experiences are diminished by our own biases, opinions, and limited exposure. I used to love to people-watch. I still do, actually. I would sit in the lobby of the Engineering building on my college campus, watching people walk by, some whom I knew well, others I had never seen before, and some whom I crossed paths with frequently but rarely spoke to. I would try, usually unsuccessfully, to read their thoughts, their emotions. I wondered what was perturbing their lives on each particular day, whether it be illness, lost friendships, new love, births or deaths, or simply the monotony of classes and everyday college living. I wanted to know where they were coming from, to see the context of their emotions and minds. But our minds are shaped by not only events currently surrounding us, but every episode, from birth to present.

People enter our lives every day, some as brief passers-by, while others stake claim on our hearts for months, years, and sometimes, forever. And we learn to love them, and to allow ourselves to be loved. Love is an act, the act of intertwining our context with that of another. Of fully sharing with them the framework of our lives, and allowing them to do the same, until, eventually, two separate contexts mesh to become one. But this takes months, years of not only listening and observing, but living in their life, taking part physically and emotionally in each aspect, from the magnificent to the mediocre. And only then do we really and fully understand a person.

"Judge not, that ye be not judged."

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Laugh Away

If you want to win my heart, make me laugh. Really hard. All the time. My heart beats a little faster, I get all twisted up with excitement, and I feel an automatic connection with someone who can make me laugh. There are hundreds of people I've encountered, just passing on the street, sitting in a lecture, waiting in line at the grocery store. Most of them I never see again. We speak five words, maybe a few more on a good day, and that's it. But the ones who made me laugh, I still remember. Even ten, fifteen years later. And I still appreciate them, cherish the friendship, however brief, that I had with them. Maybe I use the word "friendship" loosely. Maybe not. A friend is simply somebody you think of fondly, somebody who you're glad was a part of your life, and whose life you hope to improve by your presence. And that's how I feel about these people.

Don't be afraid of happiness. Don't be afraid to laugh at a joke, even if nobody else thinks it's funny. Don't be afraid to be comforted, to allow yourself to be surrounded by love, to allow those you love to love you in return. Happiness too often is equated with settling, with keeping ourselves from being better, from constantly improving our lives. We've all subscribed to the notion that growth has to be arduous, demanding. That as soon as things get easy, we'll stop progressing. But we forget that simplicity is a challenge in itself, and one of the toughest to overcome. To turn the mundane into something great, to overcome monotony by seeking the good, the best in everything, is the real challenge. And to be happy in the process. Happy with what you've been given, with where you are, and most of all, with where you're going. It's our course we choose that refines us, and how we choose to view that trek. And there's nothing wrong with a little laughter along the way.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004


Sometimes I feel sticky. Like I went swimming in a pool of jell-o and haven't showered yet. Or I got caught in a massive mudfight. That kind of sticky. All-over, cakey, makes your hair stiff and your skin crumble nastiness. Only it's not my skin that's dirty, it's my soul. The places deep inside of me that I worked so hard to shelter, to guard with all of my barriers so that nobody, nothing could tromp through leaving grime in their wake.

It takes a while to wash this kind of stickiness off. Lots of scrubbing, showers, countless bars of soap. And just when you think you're clean, ready to go about your business, you find a little clump of nastiness still clinging on. But you do eventually get clean. And when you do, you're really clean. The scrubbing leaves your skin smooth and fresh, newly exfoliated. Years-old scabs become a little finer, stubborn scars wash away. The mud serves to nourish your hair, making it silky, shiny, and vibrant. The cleansing process leaves you brighter and more invigorated than before.

So I'm still smiling.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Looking for Truth

Does anybody know what happened to America's tact? Anyone? No? Okay, well what about its self-restraint, then? They were close friends, the two of them, so maybe they ran off somewhere together. Maybe they've gone into hiding, removing themselves from our lives because they feel misused, unappreciated, even rejected. They used to be loved, cherished, and praised, but now they're hated, out of style. I tend to think that a demon disguising itself as Truth and Honesty swooped in and stole Tact and Restraint right out of our living rooms. It wouldn't be that hard. That's where I've always kept my box of surplus Tact. I never locked it up or tried to hide it, so anyone really could have taken it without my noticing.

When exactly did Tact and Restraint go missing? Or rather, when were they driven away by the Truth and Honesty impostor and asked to, please, never return. The advent of reality TV may have had something to do with it. We invite, even welcome these shows into our homes for entertainment purposes, or so we say. We watch the participants vociferations with anticipation, with glee. Whoa! She sure told him! So co-OOl!

Couples, married couples even, have begun attending "therapy" sessions teaching them the art of brutal honesty. They pay money, good, hard-earned money, for someone to teach them that, yes, it's okay to scream, to be brutal, mean, and unsympathetic. It's healthy, even. If your husband, the man you love, the man you committed your life to, upsets you by, say, loading the dishwasher improperly, don't let him get away with it, scream at him! Tell him what a lousy, insensitive husband he is, throw heavy objects, yell until you have no voice left with which to yell, then pull out the megaphone and keep going. Don't stop until he knows without a doubt just how angry you are, until he is sure that he is a good-for-nothing, lousy jerk. He can't get offended. Oh, no, you're only telling him the truth, being honest with him. Letting him know how you feel. That's healthy, right? Necessary for a successful relationship. Right?


Then why are marriages, friendships, associations falling apart all around us? Why is hate so prevalent and patience and tolerance scorned? The problem isn't the lack of Truth and Honesty. It's that we're afraid. Afraid to direct the truth and honesty at ourselves, to face our weaknesses and conquer them. Afraid to admit that maybe we're the one with the problem, that maybe, just maybe, we could change the way we feel, overcome our anger and replace it with something better. That we could keep ourselves from becoming incensed that the dishwasher was loaded improperly, or the fact that the car in front of us was driving a little too slowly. That's what takes true honesety. It takes looking a little deeper, past our initial reactions and emotions, and recognizing what's inside of ourselves. Recognizing that, yes, we're angry, but no, we don't like to feel this way. That the dishwasher isn't worth fretting over, and that we don't have to get upset about it. Look up synonyms for anger and you'll find, among others, the word uncontrolled. Meaning that if we could just gain a little control, get a grip, conquer ourselves, we could drive the anger away. Not by pretending it's not there, but by facing it, honestly, and taking control. By acknowledging that the only reason we're upset is because we're letting ourselves be upset. But now we've recognized it, and are doing something about it. Because we can. We always can. And that's the honest truth.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Dream Big

When I was ten, my mom went back to school. I saw her every morning sitting at our kitchen table, studying, while I got ready for school. She was still there when I came home in the afternoons, and still there when I went to bed at night. Any grade lower than an A was unacceptable, and any unfocused time was time wasted. It took thirteen years, but she fished her undergraduate degree, med school, and a pediatric residency. And during all of this, she still managed to run marathons, raise 6 kids, and look good in the process. She was perfection in knee boots and a lab coat.

If there's one thing I learned from my mothers, it's this: dream big. In fact, if it doesn't take everything you have, doesn't wear you down until you have nothing left, doesn't consume you, it's not big enough. In order for a goal to be truly great, truly admirable, it must require all of the effort, work, brainpower, dedication that you have in you. Plus some. My mom taught me to set lofty goals, and to do what it takes to achieve them.

So I did.

I chose a "difficult" major. I entered a PhD program. I announced my plans to become a university professor. My dreams all sounded impressive, required a lot of work, sleepless nights, and energy.

I recently chose a different dream, not one to impress others, not one that sounds ambitious or requires advanced degrees. But one that still takes all I have, not all of the energy and time, but rather all of the courage. The courage to change plans, to turn my back on the dreams I've always been told I should have, to choose my own path. It requires the courage to acknowledge and face up to the pride that has driven so many of my decisions, the ability to follow my heart and the feeling that this is where I can best use the knowledge I've gained, where I'm most needed. It takes the faith to know that, although my efforts may go unrecognized, unappreciated, and sometimes unaccepted, they will still impact. I may not ever see the influence of my efforts, or the result of my work, but it will be there, somewhere.

Dreams are a part of our subconscious, our deepest and, in my case, most hidden desires. They stem from our innermost wants and needs, the ambitions left after scraping away all exterior influences, abandoning the wants imposed upon us by others. I've finally managed to break down the walls, to delve into my most secret depths, the parts that I keep hidden even from myself, and really dream. And it's bliss.