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Some spinsters have cats; I have books in cute nooks.

“What a great thing, to be loved. What a greater thing still, to love! The heart becomes heroic through passion…if no one loved, the sun would go out.” – Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

THE WHOLE DAMN SUN WOULD GO OUT. So dramatic, and yet feels so accurate.

Disclaimer: This post may get wallowy. If inspiration is what you need right now, consider passing it by. Take care of you.

I know the world is a rabid hyena frolicking in a trash heap right now. I feel selfish for even noticing the comparably small things going on with me. But not dealing with them doesn’t make them go away; it just makes them mad at being ignored and keeps me from focusing or getting anything else done. So fine, here’s your attention, you nagging asshats (feelings).

The loneliness is so strong this month. It’s like a whole other person by itself. And it’s hard to talk about because, while people who know me and what might help can just express sympathy, there’s occasionally a well-meaning person who is only trying to be helpful who comes across with “You’ll find someone,” or “I know there’s someone for you” or “of course it’s going to happen someday” or “I’ll be praying for you” or some other drivel meant to be encouraging that’s just not. So I try to bottle it up and that makes it worse so I need to talk about it and I’m between therapists so here we are.

Hi.

There is no evidence that everyone gets to find love. I know this. I know it’s an unreasonable expectation. A lot of amazing people who deserve to be loved and chosen never get to be. And I think that if I can just accept that I’m probably one of those people – that this is just how life is going to be always – I could maybe get unstuck a little.

I just…really hate the idea that that’s probably true. Like…physically, violently, hopelessly hate. it.

And this is also not me fishing for compliments. My social issues are anxiety-based, not esteem-based. I experience self-doubt just like everyone else, but overall? I have self-esteem to spare. Like, for three other people, at least. I sometimes have to pause after someone gives me a compliment not because I don’t believe it but because it takes me a moment to remember that the appropriate response is “Thank you” and not “I know.”

Of course, I have a long list of things I’m working on – I love learning and growing – but I also think I’m pretty amazing already. And if my friendships and past relationships are any indication, I’d be an amazing partner. I get a good dose of the benefit of living with me every single day. And I’m always alone, so I’ve had PLENTY of time to truly bask in my amazingness.

The vital characteristic I seem to be missing, though, is that one where you fall in love with someone and they fall in love with you, too. Don’t know how that works, really. Everyone I’ve loved, even if they considered it for a little while and gave it a shot, soon found someone else they’d rather be with. My most successful achievement thus far in a romantic relationship has been placeholder. That’s another thing I’m amazing at. Apparently.

An obvious solution is just to add “loves me madly” to my list of things I’m drawn to in a partner. I mean, it’s now on my list of things I require to agree to actually be in an exclusive relationship with someone, because it’s only fun if it’s mutual. Which is why there’s currently no relationship to speak of. But drawn-to doesn’t always wait around on choose-to. Those are different animals.

I don’t know – can other people control who they fall in love with? I don’t know how to do that. The list of adjectives I’m drawn to – kind, thoughtful, loyal, smart, funny, passionate, creative, interesting, etc. – is a result of observing the common characteristics of people I’ve loved. It’s not like I sit down with a checklist and make sure they match up to it and THEN allow myself to feel things. Feelings have a mind of their own, and once mine show up, they move in and bring their grandma’s furniture with them because they know they’re gonna sit for a spell. They are hard to get rid of. They’re the rude party guest who doesn’t get the hint that it’s time to go even after I’ve turned out all the lights and opened the door to make it super easy for them to walk out.

I suspect other people cannot control this either. How else do you explain the motley collection of humans who have expressed having feelings for me? They don’t fit my list at all. They’re drawn to the things in me that I am actively trying to correct or change for the better. They’re either dull, or complacent, or mean, or aggressively conservative (this is the most baffling. Have we even met? How in the world could a person with their priorities even be drawn to, much less want to partner with, the person I am or the person I am becoming?).

I’m not asking for answers or a solution or sympathy. Just needed to get it out of my head a little. Let’s see if I can find a tidy ending. Um…I guess if you’re feeling the same way…you’re not alone?

Except…you are. We both are. Maybe forever. Sorry, friend. I know. It really sucks. *hugs*

Welp. So much for tidy.

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My first small, imperfect peaches of the season. 

My word for the year is “alive.” The universe is hilarious.

I had a few thoughts about how this would go. There were a lot of lofty quotes that came to mind and many goals I made that I thought would contribute to a more vibrant existence. I had no idea how often I would have to fight to actively choose living over becoming stagnant or something else.

Today I read Joy the Baker’s post on turning 39, and so much of it resonated with me. I can list the accomplishments I’m proud of and many things I do well, but most days I can’t help but feel that I, too, have been left behind – that I missed a turn somewhere that would have taken me down the path toward those Big Life Goals™ that I just assumed would come along as soon I was ready for them. I also love her curiosity and her intention to set aside the small life story in exchange for embracing the things that sparkle – to “do them badly, then less badly, then maybe almost well.”

When our church decided to start meeting remotely, we didn’t hesitate or put it off a few weeks to figure it out. Our pastor told council, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” He didn’t mean, of course, that doing a bad job at online services should be the goal. Only that it needn’t wait until we had all the information to do it expertly.

As you can imagine, this is not my modus operandi. I am all for jumping off the cliff (metaphorically); I just want to be armed with a gigantic parachute of relevant knowledge before I do.

But I started the year with a commitment to come alive, so whether I know what I’m doing or not, here I am, doing it badly but consistently. This looks like a lot of different things:

To bake and eat the cake that I’ve been craving for a month rather than just think about making it.

To dance, enjoying the way my body – this body, the one I have right now – feels when it moves.

To choose to spend money in a way that actually makes a difference in my life and the lives of others rather than contributing to the greed of entities that exist to homogenize us.

To play Chopin. And also Joplin. And also brand new things that no one but me has ever heard.

To sing, even when there’s no one to carry the harmony.

To eat my veggies and stay hydrated.

To seek out the people who love me well and stop worrying about those who don’t.

To discover how much time I have when I cut out all the things that don’t really matter.

To discover exactly which things do matter so, so much.

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It’s the International Day of Happiness. This week has been w.e.i.r.d., to say the least. I’ve had a few panic attacks, and I’m still at work as we try to accommodate students who have nowhere else to go and figure out what in the world we’re going to do next (I would welcome faster decisions here…I’m just sayin’.). But there’s also been so many opportunities for joy. Just in my little corner of humanity, there is so much goodness. There are also so many fun things online. Here’s a list for times when you’re feeling more anxious than happy or just want something hopeful.

  1. Italians singing from their balconies.
  2. Lots of love happening on the ‘gram. Nikki Mayeaux is posting a daily creative prompt called Poem Passwords. The pictures on #seeninquarantine are spectacular. Between her early start for April Love and purrs from her sweet cat, Susannah Conway is soothing my soul. Julia Turshen is posting daily foodie prompts. I love this list from worn_ware of people offering yoga, meditations, etc.
  3. Tessera Arts Collective in Philadelphia closed the gallery for now, but they are still on for installing a street art campaign throughout the city this Sunday.
  4. Local businesses that can’t afford to shut down completely are making the best of it with delivery and curbside pickup. The Dentonite is keeping a running list. I love watching local business owners figure out how to take care of their employees by offering alternate earning opportunities and giving devoted patrons the ability to still tip their baristas/servers (*cough* support Golden Boy *cough*). Also…Golden Boy has key lime and coconut pie right now, which are in my top three favorite pies (blueberry is the third, if you’re wondering).
  5. Aid Network Denton and the city of Lake Dallas are keeping up a list of ways to get help or get involved if you can give help.
  6. Nature is delightful. The canals are clear and the swans are back in Venice. And penguins at the Shedd Aquarium enjoy a tour of the zoo.
  7. Since you can’t go in person, many field trip locations and entertainment venues are coming to you. You may also be able to watch the stage production of your favorite musical online. The Metropolitan Opera is streaming. Andrew Lloyd Webber tweeted himself playing “All I Ask of You”, and Lin Manuel Miranda responded with his performance of “Everything’s Alright”. Yale is offering their course on The Science of Well-Being for free (audit only).
  8. For artists whose income is impacted by all the cancellations, here’s a list of places that may be able to offer support.
  9. Books resources! I didn’t know how much I needed Betty White reading Harry the Dirty Dog in my life until this week. In fact, many children’s authors are reading their books online this week. And one that made me salivate – download from a selection of over 300,000 books for free from the New York Public Library through their reader app!!!
  10. Debbie Allen is teaching online dance classes! So is Chloe Arnold!
  11. Joy the Baker is just a delight. As usual.
  12. People are putting their Christmas lights back up to spread joy.
  13. All the Julia Child is streaming!!
  14. What am I doing this weekend? I’m so glad you asked! 24in48’s Social Distancing Readathon!

I’m sure there’s more. What are your favorite things people are doing right now?

 

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Unraveled

Another year wrapped up. If I had written this post a couple of days ago, it may have been a different, more hopeful post. But I put it off until tonight, so you get me at a discouraged point instead. My Southern upbringing wants me to offer an apology for this, but that doesn’t feel quite right. I am where I am, and that’s okay.

I wish I had a nice, tidy bow to tie everything up with, but the truth is that 2019 kicked my ass. I was going to figure out so many things and be in a better place, and I’m not sure that happened. Sure, I’ve learned some things and worked really hard and made some progress. But I still don’t know what I want to do. Even the things I thought might be interesting at the first of the year have lost some appeal. At this point, I’m just applying for jobs that pay more because if I’m going to do something boring that I have no passion for, at the very least it can be one job that pays all the bills and lets me plan for a good retirement to look forward to. And as for changing my luck in love? Ahahahaha. I’m more convinced than ever that some people just don’t get to be loved, and I’m probably one of them. Loving other people isn’t the hard part. It’s finding someone who loves me back that’s tricky. Do these people even exist? If so, where are they? I’m clearly haven’t thought to look there.

I did meet my original goal of reading 100 books, so I have that going for me.

Actually, that’s not all I have to show for the year. It may have run me over, but I fought back. Relentlessly. I kept going out with people and letting myself feel things despite the 100% failure rate of all my dating/interest efforts. I applied for a better job within my department even though it has demonstrated time and again how little it values what I bring to the table (and continued to demonstrate this by not even extending me an interview). I have embraced the role of the greater fool who keeps showing up and doing all the things, hoping against hope that someday I will be able to say that all this effort has not been in vain.

Someday.

I still have hope. So I’m going to go to sleep (eventually – I had a lot of coffee today) and wake up and start again…again. Maybe I’ll find what I’m hoping for soon.

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Lucky in Love

The only thing better than having a French press to myself is having someone to share it with.

What I am about to say, I say with some trepidation. *deep breath*

I want a plus one (casual applicants acceptable, especially at first). I have things on the calendar that would be more fun with someone else. Ultimately, I want to find someone to love. And I suck at finding someone to love who has the good sense to love me back. Apparently.

So I’m asking for help.

Those of you familiar with me, of course, know that this ask comes with a few asterisks.

Asterisk #1: I’m not fishing for compliments. I don’t need you to tell me how much I deserve to have someone who loves me. I have several faults, but low self-esteem is not one of them. I believe that I am a catch. I would even go so far as to say I’m a delight. But knowing I deserve love and being good at finding that love? Clearly not the same thing. I need help with the second one, not the first.

Asterisk #2: Please make sure the advice you’re giving actually worked for you before you offer it as something useful. A history of people corralling me into seemingly endless conversations like this is the exact cause of the aforementioned trepidation. I am not interested in monologues of useless platitudes that you can’t back up with your own experience. Looking for well-earned wisdom, not generic guesses.

For example, don’t give me this “You just need to get out more” nonsense.

First, I am out plenty. For as much of an introvert as I am, I am especially out plenty. Second, I can almost guarantee that I get out more than you did when you met your significant other. If you met your spouse while doing something you were going to do anyway, like school, work, church, or hanging out with friends, you don’t know how to tell me to meet my SO by going out more often. You just lucked out. All you had to do is open your eyes and say, “Hi,” to get that started.

Don’t tell me to do something I know you didn’t have to do. I can (and do…when I go out…which is plenty) find random experiments on my own, thanks.

Asterisk #3: Everyone has something to bring to the table. If you are in a happy relationship, you know something that can help me. Share, please.

If you did meet your SO by just going about your life, a way you can help is to throw some of that luck my way. Introduce me to your delightful single friends. I’m certain they’d love to meet me, too. For the record, we like being invited over (or out) for dinner. I also like dancing. And if I do start dating a fella I might want to consider making a long-term partner, I’ll be talking to you happy couples and taking notes.

Now, if you met your spouse on the internet or in a bar and you’re still happy together years later, you might be able to offer sound advice on how to meet people in casual social settings (i.e., by getting out more) and make it stick. To be clear, I’m not asking how to hook up. That’s not at all difficult, and it’s not what I’m ultimately looking for. If you managed to turn a casual meeting into a real relationship, tell me those stories. Or better yet – invite me out and be my wingman/woman.

[Asterisk #3.1: If you want to know where to start, I mostly prefer men between the ages of 35-45. Dating me may be easier if one believes in God (or maybe not – I often veer too mystical for church folk) and leans toward liberalism. Top candidates’ interests/professions may include coffee, food, wine, books, music, and dancing, but not particularly in that order.]

[Asterisk #3.2: Most of these terms are negotiable. If your adorable friend doesn’t quite fit them, inquire within. Or just invite us over and see what happens. That should be entertaining.]

Asterisk #4: Despite the impression that the existence of these multiple asterisks probably gives, I don’t want you to overthink it. Let’s all relax and have a little bit of fun with this.

[Asterisk #4.1: I recognize that you may have to remind me that this is supposed to be fun and relaxing. These are not my standard modes of operation (see behavior re: multiple asterisks).]

I’m not expecting you to fully vet the people to whom you introduce me. Correction: I fully expect that some of you will do this because you are protective and loyal and lovely friends and thus just can’t help yourselves. But do try to keep that to a minimum (the choosy part, not the friend part). The people you think I should click with and the people I actually click with may be very different people. Let me be the picky one in the scenario.

Yes, I may ultimately want to marry someone. But I’m not going into a coffee date thinking, “I wonder if they’re the one,” and I really hope they’re not thinking that, either. All I’m thinking is “Hey, someone is sitting next to me while I drink coffee! Cool.” and “I wonder if I’ll get the pour-over, the cortado, or the macchiato?” We can all just calm down and not try to rush into forever.

[Asterisk #4.2: While I can promise not to rush into relationship-y things, we all know I will not be able to stop myself from judging them based on their coffee choices. In the interest of being a good friend to them, too, maybe warn them in advance.]

Asterisk #5: The best counsel I’ve ever gotten on this subject was real advice people didn’t try to sugarcoat. I give a lot of disclaimers, but I don’t need them. Relationships get messy. Hell, even coffee can get messy. Talk about that.

[Asterisk #5.1: I recognize I have a lot of angst regarding this subject. OBVIOUSLY. Please don’t let that spook you. Even if I don’t find your advice helpful, I find your desire to help utterly terrific. And hearing me out while I vent is also terrific. So thanks for reading this far. See? You’re helping already.]

So to sum up:

  • Introduce your single friends to each other (specifically, to me). Yes, it will be awkward. But so is going to a music festival/wine walk/party/wedding where I have to impose, attaching myself like a social barnacle to others who brought their social lives with them in the form of a plus one. Unless I enjoy hanging out in the midst of a flock of people with no one to talk to (spoiler: I almost never enjoy that. At all. It’s the worst. If I wanted to be alone, I would save myself the trouble and just stay home. I already know I love the food and music there, and I can enjoy them in my pajamas.).
  • Don’t worry on my behalf about whether it’s going to work out. I already know how to overanalyze. Don’t need any assistance there.
  • Talk is great. Action is better. Do with that what you will.
  • I hear advice better over a margarita or glass of wine. Or a steak. Maybe there are appetizers involving goat cheese…but I digress…

Thanks for reading to the end. You’re good people. I like you.

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The Advent/Christmas tree is up. It has pockets.

Advent started yesterday, and as is my (recent…within the last few years) custom, I put my Christmas tree up on the evening of the first day. All those little knitted pockets are pieces of a deconstructed Advent calendar, and each will hold a small task for each day (which I will distribute among them tonight). I love the practice of daily calendar, whether the surprise inside is a memory, a quote, a fun task, or a chocolate.

But there are other things I’m skipping this year.

I seem to get worked up over how busy this season is. I’m worried that I won’t have enough time to do the things I want to do (i.e., drive around and see Christmas lights, go to parties, etc.) and also still do the things I need to do (i.e., jobs, shower, etc.). My calendar is overloaded from the excess. I can’t look at it too long (which is sad, because you know how much I love my planner), or I get anxious.

None of that this year. I’m skipping the worry. Yesterday, our pastor preached a sermon on the foreboding apocalyptic text for the first Sunday of Advent, and the point he made was that this is a season not of either/or but both/and. The world is awful and everything is bleak and ending and there is joy and love and hope and peace. I love that. I’m embracing that this month, and that leave no room for worry. I’m going to do what I must and what I want, and at the end of the month, chances are good that I’ll still be standing despite (or possibly even because) all of it.

The trick is this: I’m also skipping anything that doesn’t fall into those two categories. If I neither need nor want to do something, I’m not gonna. I’m skipping obligation. I know – the holidays are a dangerous season for that. But yesterday, I also skipped our congregational meeting. I didn’t mean to. I meant to go – set my alarm and everything. But when I woke up, I was so hungry. I knew there would be donuts at the church, but donuts are only nourishing for the soul, not the body. I knew if I didn’t eat real food, it would affect the rest of the day. So I stayed home a little longer and did just that. Nothing bad happened, and I got to start the day right.

More of that this season, please. The expected busyness with a few cracks where the light can get in.

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Hope

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One day I hope my skin will be less habitually dry.

Sometimes, I talk to students for a long duration of time. And then I see it. The moment that they realize I will not be able to help them do the thing they need to do and how much that is going to disrupt their lives. They end the conversation abruptly before the tears that fill their eyes betray them by spilling.

Inevitably, I spend the evening and significant portions of the week (month…sometimes year…anxiety is hell) that follows rehashing how it could have gone better and trying to figure out if there was anything I could have done, any miracle I could – even now – pull off to help them recover. Anything to erase the reality and thus the memory of their despair.

We have all been where they are in one way or another. We all know those moments. The one when we realized the person we loved most wasn’t going to be our forever person. The one when we discovered that, no matter how tightly we crunched the numbers, there was no saving the business we had poured our soul (and all our savings) into. The one when we knew that truck absolutely was going to hit us, and there was nothing we could do about it.

I believe that these moments are unavoidable, but more than that, I believe they aren’t the last line of the story. I mean, the intermission that follows these moments might get really long. And that’s okay. Things take as long as they take. But eventually, there is more.

I believe in hope. That is, I desperately need hope.

When I made a plan to dissect my core values this year, I figured hope would be in there somewhere. Maybe in the middle, keeping all the others motivated. Maybe at the end, enjoying its grand finish. But the more I looked over the list I have started, the more I realized that it has to be first.

Everything for me starts with hope.

I’m not what most people would call an optimist. I see details and patterns and wayward caveats too easily to ignore all the things that could go wrong. To disregard them would register in my brain as irresponsible. I can’t shake the idea, though, that for every way something could go awry, there’s at least one way it could go really well (eventually. Sometimes the path to well is paved with awry. So much awry), and I’m addicted to the hunt for it. I don’t always find it, but I want to think that it’s out there. Otherwise what’s the point of anything?

Hope is often unreasonable. I like that about hope. There are many posts this time of year about why we should say no to making New Year’s resolutions. They paint a picture of discouragement and disappointment when those resolutions don’t ever come to pass. But disappointment is not usually my experience. I go into the year suspecting that I will probably not meet every extravagant goal I set (as an example, I mused the other day, “Hey – I could combine my goal of reading Don Quixote with my goal of reading a book in Spanish this year!” Isn’t that precious.). And I suppose I could set simpler, more sensible goals that I would have no problem attaining. Part of that would be gratifying, as I do enjoy checking things off lists. But another part of that is just super dull. At my core, I would rather risk failure than stagnation. I may periodically land at mediocre, but I’m certainly not going to aim for it. I see the potential for better, and that is where my hope leads.

Hope is overwhelming. You may be overwhelmed just reading about it. That’s not an uncommon reaction. I know that my hope is showing when I’m part of a group that is tasked with coming up with one thing we could do better, and the more our excitement builds, the bigger everyone’s eyes get as I calmly and rationally explain that all I want is for us to un-break the world. God help the group if there are more than one of us.

My hope is unruly, lively, persistent, often annoying. But it’s mine.

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