Friday, October 28, 2011

On Courage.

I sat on the wrought iron bench at the corner of Westport Road and Broadway, and I opened my book to read. I hadn’t made it through the first paragraph of the new chapter before I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a man approaching me. I glanced up and gave him the closed-mouthed smile reserved only for strangers whose eye contact you can’t avoid.

He was of Middle Eastern descent, I would guess, and squat, with his black hair combed straight back. He was dressed all in black, not in the goth way, but in the trying-and-failing-to-be-mysterious kind of way. He sported transition lenses, but the cloudy sky couldn’t convince them to transition one way or the other. And it’s worth mentioning that he was at least 30 years old.

He stopped in front of me. “Do you like poetry?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, hoping the open book on my lap communicated that he was currently interrupting my literary pursuit.
“Would you like to hear a poem?”
He began reciting in the style of slam poetry; it ended with “Touch. This. Word. [pause] Freedom.” He was now sitting on the bench next to mine, and he reclined, taking a sip from his coffee and looking pleased with himself.
“Did you write that?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “What’d you think? Am I right to be cocky about that one?”
It wasn’t a good poem, and I don’t particularly care for slam poetry, but I didn’t say so.
“I’m Josh,” he said, proffering his hand.
I shook it. “Melody.”
“Melody,” he repeated. “That’s a pretty name.”
“I didn’t pick it out,” I told him.
He asked what I did, and I told him and returned the question. “I’m a web developer,” he told me. “I’m also a DJ. But I haven’t DJ’d in, like, two months, so I think I’m really trying to fill that creative void.” I nodded sympathetically and he began rooting around in the inside pocket of his coat. “Here,” he said, handing me a CD labeled AMAZE in Sharpie. “This is my demo. You can have it.” I thanked him, slipped it in my bag, and started to wonder where the cameras were hidden.
“So do you have big Halloween plans?” he asked.
“No. It’s been a long couple of weeks,” I said. “I’m looking forward to a quiet weekend.”
There was a pause, and I could see the wheels behind his indecisive transition lenses start turning.
“I’m going to a poetry reading on Sunday,” he said.
“Do you like poetry readings?”
“I’ve never been to one,” I replied. Where was all this inconvenient honesty coming from?
Another contemplative pause. Then he gestured with his coffee cup and asked, “Would you be willing to take a chance on a random stranger?”
“I have a boyfriend,” I said, in a tone I hoped was confident and unapologetic. I mentally noted that this was the first time in my life I could use that sentence to say “no” and I wouldn’t be lying.
“You have a boyfriend?” he said, and I nodded. “Of course you do,” he said, sighing dejectedly. “That’s probably why I sat down to talk to you in the first place.”
“Thanks for the poem, though,” I said. He smiled sadly and bid me good day.

Oh, no, I haven’t listened to the CD yet.

[edit: I've listened to all of 1:12 of the 59:23 of the CD. Even that was a stretch.]

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Frosty 500

In high school, my friends and I coined the term panicky-hot, which can most accurately be defined by the sensation one feels in those moments between entering a car that has been baking in the summer sun and rolling down the windows. A secondary definition is the sensation one feels when one is wearing a hoodie that’s a little too snug, and one realizes one’s body temperature is rising rapidly, and one frantically tries to remove the garment causing the aforementioned temperature rise, and one gets an elbow stuck in the armpit and one’s head in the neck of the hood, thereby delaying the removal of the garment and relief from the uncomfortable rise in bodily temperature.

You may notice that a salient feature of both definitions is the anticipation of imminent relief from the uncomfortable temperature. The panic arises from not being able to attain that relief fast enough.

I’ve never used the term panicky-cold because for me, there is no anticipation of relief. When I get cold, I experience a long-term form of panic, more commonly known as despair, and it lasts from about this time of year until, oh, the middle of March. This week was mostly cloudy, with temperatures in the 50s, and until Thursday afternoon, our office didn’t have heat. The thermostat read 57 degrees. On Wednesday I layered a tank top, a t-shirt, a wool sweater, and a hoodie, but I was still huddled into a ball in the chair at my desk, trying to keep my body heat centralized. What if the heat never gets fixed? I found myself thinking. It’s only going to get worse from here and I can’t work under these conditions and I’ll have to quit but what if I can’t find another job and then I won’t be able to pay my rent and Jessica will evict me and I’ll have to spend the whole winter under a bridge or move back to Colorado  and either way I’ll never ever ever be warm ever again.

To cope, I started thinking about other times in my life that I’ve been so desperately cold, like every lacrosse game I ever played, the time in Oxford in January when our flat’s heat was out for two days, and every minute I spent touring Edinburgh.

And then there was the time over Christmas break in middle school that my mom asked me to check the mail after a significant ice storm. Our yard in Tennessee had a drainage ditch along the street, and the mailbox was on the other side of it. Happy to serve my mother in this small way, I immediately went outside wearing only pajama pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and tennis shoes without socks. I walked down into the ditch… and I couldn’t walk out the other side. The ice and snow allowed me no traction, and my hands went completely numb after the first twenty seconds of trying to climb out on all fours. I was stuck. And no one in my family noticed for twenty minutes. Entering the throes of hypothermia, I tried every way I could think of to get out of the icy valley, but to no avail. Tears froze on my cheeks as I awaited my end. Snippets of To Build a Fire and stanzas of The Cremation of Sam McGee bounced around in my head. Just as I was preparing to succumb to the Grim Reaper’s frigid grip, my father appeared and pulled me out of the abyss.

Back in the house, I received warm blankets, hot chocolate, and tepid apologies. No one got the mail.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

I was running.

There are a lot of things I don’t like about running. But the thing I do like about running is that it’s a Choose Your Own Adventure story. You can run around the block, jog a few miles, sprint a hundred yards. You can train for a race or log miles in the name of maintaining fitness.

My adventure with running started about a year and a half ago, and I wrote briefly about it here. I started training for a 5K while also rowing 3-4 times a week, and I got into shape fast. In the summer of 2010 I ran a four-mile race and two 5Ks was content with my times.

Then school started, and I was faced with the choice of running or sleeping. The latter won out. The spring of my senior year was tough, and I was relying on calories for both comfort and energy. Coming down with mono in the last weeks of school meant that my first month after graduation was spent sleeping, eating, watching Say Yes to the Dress marathons, and crying when these three things exhausted me. Starting an office job zapped any tenacious remnants of fitness that had been doggedly clinging to my body.

One night I poured out my frustration to Clark, saying I wanted to be at a fitness level that would allow us to be active and adventurous together. At his suggestion, we signed up for events at the Kansas City marathon—the half for him and the 5K for me. Knowing I had the potential of disappointing someone else by not following through with training got my butt out of bed and my feet on the pavement nine times out of ten. Around the same time, my coworker got me a deal on a membership at the gym around the corner from our office. Since the beginning of August, I’ve been at the gym almost every single weekday before 7am. I’m seeing results with my appearance, but the real test came yesterday.

Race Day.

Even though I’d been running three miles for a couple weeks and even though I’d participated in races before, I was a bundle of nerves. “I just don’t want to disappoint myself,” I texted my mom. Because unless you’re a professional or intentionally competitive runner, once you cross the starting line it’s just you and your timing chip.

Once I started the race, my head cleared.With my special playlist blasting, I tried to focus on the run itself—not the thousands of people around me or the clock ticking at the finish line. I tried to push the pace, because I didn’t want to cross the line and feel like I’d held back. Earlier in the week I’d run three miles in thirty minutes, and I was convinced that the adrenaline, massive downhill, and flat finish would culminate in a time of thirty minutes or less.

But then the official results came in, clocking me at five minutes slower than I was hoping. Maybe I should have warmed up more. Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten pizza for lunch on Friday. Maybe I should have gone for a run on Thursday rather than treat it as a rest day. Or maybe I should have gone to the gym less and hit the road more.

The best and worst part of being mad at myself is that I’m the only one who can fix it. I can quit trying and void the possibility of disappointment altogether, or I use my current disappointment to fuel the next challenge. And that’s what I like about running.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Stay tuned...

This week's post will be up tomorrow, because things are happening tomorrow that I'm going to write about.

And that's all you get to know for now.

To tide yourself over, why don't you click on the dates over there on the right and read some oldies but goodies?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Awkward is as awkward does.

Some people are born awkward, some become awkward, and others have awkwardness thrust upon them.

I like to think that I fall in that third category. There are few things in my life that I relish more than the elaborate re-telling of an awkward situation in which I was involved. But since the number of people with whom I interact on a daily basis has decreased dramatically since May, I've been rifling through the Awkward Files in my memory, trying to pinpoint the moment in time that I was the most uncomfortable.
This week, it’s a long one, but well worth it, so be sure to click on the “Read More” link to continue on this awkward journey with me.

We're jumping in the Time Machine and racing back to the year 2008.

It's July in Kauai, Hawaii. When my dad hit the five-year mark at church, the elders and congregation were loving enough to not only grant him a lengthy sabbatical, but also to raise money to fund it. Through their efforts and some others' connections, we found ourselves on the beautiful island for a full month. You would think such a lush set-up would be immune to the vexations brought on by other people's social ineptitude. Wrong.

We had attended the same church for the Sundays we'd been in Kauai, and toward the end of the trip I noticed a blurb in the bulletin that the college group would be having a movie night the next Tuesday. A night off from playing card games with the fam sounded nice, so I decided to go. It wasn't until I walked in the doors to the church that night that I realized I wouldn't know anyone there. I froze, frantically scanning the room, silently pleading someone would make eye contact with me and be nice to me. That person was a boy named Colin. He invited me to sit next to him and his friends.

Now, most conversations are like a game of catch. One person throws a ball (asks a question), and the other person catches (answers) it, and throws it back (asks another question). Not so with Colin and his cronies. I spent the fifteen minutes before the movie started trying to come up with every small-talk question ever uttered in an elevator, public restroom, or Starbucks.

Once the movie was over, I attempted to slip out, but Colin stopped me. He asked for my phone number, saying the college group was always getting together to do fun activities, and he could let me know the next time they had something planned. Smooth, right?

Two days later, he texted me. "Going to the beach. Want to come?"
Cool! I thought. College outing to the beach! I texted back and said that I'd love to, but that I'd need a ride, since my dad had taken our rental car to go exploring that morning.
"We'll be there in 20," he replied.
Over an hour later, he knocked on our door. Another guy was with him, who Colin introduced as Jeff. As I walked out of the house, I expected to see a large church van, packed to the gills with people my age. Instead, I saw a small car plastered with the Progressive Auto Insurance logo. "I brought the chick magnet," Colin chuckled.

Once in the car, I realized that we were the group going to the beach. Me, Colin, and Jeff. Colin asked what year I was in at school, and I told him I was going to be a sophomore. "So, you're, like, twenty?" he asked.
"I just turned nineteen," I said. "Last month."
I paused, not sure I wanted to know the answer to the question that was about to tumble out of my mouth. "How, um, how old are you guys?"
"I'm twenty-four," Jeff muttered.
"I'm twenty-six," Colin added.
Then we were turning into a parking lot, and Jeff got out of the car without saying anything. I got in the front seat and asked where he was going. Colin said, "He wants to get his boogie board. He'll meet us there. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't show up after all."

Yes. Colin, the twenty-six-year-old college group leader was taking me to the beach by myself.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

So far.

It wasn’t your standard boy-meets-girl rom-com. It was more like this:

Girl decides to attend small liberal arts college in the Midwest. Boy decides to attend the same small liberal arts college. Said small liberal arts college randomly places Girl and Boy in the same orientation group for the first weekend. The first evening, Girl writes in her journal, “Boy is pretty cute, but probably thinks I’m weird.” Boy and Girl develop a friendly acquaintanceship based on their classmates’ absurdities. Girl thinks Boy is a run-of-the-mill frat boy. Boy thinks Girl is nice, but otherwise has no opinion.

In the winter of their sophomore year, they go on Outward Bound. Boy is in the same group as Girl’s mentor, and afterwards, Girl’s mentor mentions to Girl that Boy is really cool. Girl is surprised to hear such an evaluation and starts to wonder if she’s misjudged Boy. That spring semester, they have almost every class together. They sit next to each other, passing hilarious notes at inappropriate moments. They talk about deeper issues. They discover an uncanny amount in common. Sometime around Spring Break, Girl realizes that not only has Boy unexpectedly become one of her best friends, but she really likes him. The mental checklist of standards she’s always held is slowly being met, box by picky box. He reads books-- big ones, and fast. He makes her laugh, catching her off-guard with his wit.  He’s undeniably good-looking. They have the same faith and the same taste in music. He is indefatigably kind. He’s taller than her. He likes manly things-- knives and fishing and dressing well.

Then Girl goes overseas for junior year, and Boy goes to Officer Candidate School the following summer. They don’t see each other for eleven months. They talk frequently, and so their reunion the next fall is surreal-- they’ve both had some of the most significant experiences of their young lives, but it feels as though no time has passed. A few days later, they finally discuss the possibility of an Us. Boy says maybe. Girl assures him of her friendship, regardless. A couple months later, Boy says no. That he doesn’t think they’ll ever be more than they are now. Out of his sight, Girl cries. But she reminds him of her promised friendship, and they continue on. During the next semester, Girl’s head moves on, but her heart still regrets a lost chance. She has trouble believing that she’ll meet anyone like him ever again-- someone who also checks all the boxes-- but she tries to trust that God has it under control.

Toward the end of March, Boy and Girl are studying late. Boy gives Girl a ride back to the dorm, parks, and asks if he can talk to her about something. Girl freezes, convinced she’s about to be friend-dumped. Instead, Boy starts telling her about his trouble sleeping, that he can’t stop thinking about their relationship, that something has changed, that they’ll always kick themselves if they don’t give it a chance. Stunned, Girl asks, “So, what do you want to do?” Boy replies matter-of-factly, “Well, I think we need to go on a date.” And as a slushy, late spring snow falls from the sky and piles up on Boy’s windshield, Boy slowly leans over the center console and gently kisses Girl. All she can think is HE’Skissingmehe’sKISSINGmehe’skissingME.

Their first date feels the same as every other time they’ve hung out, except completely different because he kisses her again and she gets to intertwine her fingers with his.

A week later, they realize that the terms “Boyfriend” and “Girlfriend” now apply. They change their statuses on Facebook, and fifty people click the “like” button. After graduation and a long month apart, Girl moves back to her college city, three hours from Boy. They see each other as often as they can, and never seem to get bored of each other. They realize This Is A Big Deal.

Sunday will mark six months together. Girl knows it’s love because she finds herself wanting to employ all the cliches normally applied to these situations. Boy makes her want to be a better woman. She believes in his dreams, and she feels safe in his arms. Together is default; the rest of the time is spent in countdown. Girl still has moments of shock, of astonishment that this boy loves her back. And for that, she loves him all the more.