Random Observations As Re: Going Back To School In One’s 30s

So now that I’m expert at being in graduate school (read: I am exactly one week into my second term, taking two classes after having taken one class in the previous term—only 15 more weeks and then 11 more courses til I get my degree!), I’m beginning to realize some things about the unique challenges, rewards and like-such-as of this undertaking.

For example, I’m totally supposed to be reading some shit right now.

What? I read a chapter. I’m taking a break. I worked 11.5 hours today.

Observation #2 (because the thing about writing a blog post when I’m supposed to be reading an assignment was #1): Where am I supposed to do this homework, anyway?
In undergrad, we all sat on our beds. Because… where else? Now I can’t sit on my bed because my back will go out or I will lie down and go to sleep. It’s either the couch or the kitchen table, and neither of those seem to be particularly diligence-inducing locations. The kitchen table worked when I was eight. Not since.

Observation #3: I have forgotten how to outline. 
See the whole #1/#2 fiasco above as evidence. Be glad I can’t draw arrows on my blog post. That’s apparently what I do now when I want to elaborate on a point I’ve written down seven lines ago.

Observation #4: The best part about this whole graduate-school-in-my-30s thing? Drinking wine while reading the textbook.
Obviously.

Although I have been warned not to drink too much, or I’ll end up highlighting entire chapters. Since tonight’s reading was uploaded to an online educational server, I had to keep the marker tightly capped to avoid drawing on my computer screen.

Observation #5: It is much easier to get distracted now.
This seems like it shouldn’t be the case. I mean, there was a lot more streaking going on in undergrad, for one thing, and I lived across the street from the park for my upperclassman years. But now, instead of “I forgot to call mom,” “Why do I have to do this stupid paper?” “Instant mashed potatoes or mac & cheese for dinner?” “The fire alarm? Again?!” and “I’m so broke I can’t pay for the copies I have to make,” the distractions have multiplied to include: “What is that noise in the wall?” “Has that clock always ticked so loudly?” “Did I pay the mortgage?” “My hand hurts. Wait, do people still take notes?” “Reading while taking notes takes so much longer than I remember,” “I need gas,” “What time is my morning meeting?” “Did the boss say it’s not due tomorrow, or it is due tomorrow?” “I forgot to take out the trash,” “I forgot to call mom,” “I’m so broke I can’t even afford the copies I have to make,” “I can’t sit like this anymore; my back is going to kill me tomorrow,” and “I’m out of wine.”

Observation #6: No all-nighters. Ever. I have a job.
To be honest, I never pulled all-nighters in undergrad, either, but at least then I had the luxury of falling drooling-on-the-couch asleep in the middle of the day if I needed to.

Observation #7: Published academics need to get over themselves.
Here’s the thing about writing and editing for a living: it’s really, really hard to read academic works without wanting to ruthlessly slash their lengthy, innumerable paragraphs. I just read an entire paragraph of word salad that essentially boiled down to: No one understands exactly what this profession is. We’re going to talk about that for the next 600 pages. By the end, we will have affected exactly no change at all. We will have merely explained at length our thesis statement above. And this criticism is coming from someone who can write a damned lengthy blog post. But at least those make you shoot coffee out of your nose sometimes, amirite?

Observation #8: Can I even still write a 25-page research paper?
Alright, that’s more of a question. But you take my point. Sure, they’re double-spaced and include citations for reference, but still… writing papers now is very different from writing them as an undergrad. Aside from the fact that I was well-versed in it then, I also had little problem bullshitting my way through them and making them sound pretty great. Now? Bullshit capacity exceeded. Everything has to matter. 

Stupid paycheck-enforced accountability standards.

Out of curiosity, I pulled a 952-word blog post up, copied and pasted it into a Word doc and made it double-spaced. 

Not quite two pages.

Yep. I’m screwed.

Observation #9: I find research materials where?
Apparently I don’t have to go to the library anymore. The limitless expanse of the internet as a source of academic information is somehow terrifying. Oh look! Justin Bieber!

Observation #10: To Do has me done in.
I have a habit at work of spending the last minutes at my desk in the evening making a to-do list for the following day on a Post-It note and sticking it on the next day’s block of my desk calendar (yes, I have one of those). This is a habit that started—minus the desk calendar—in undergrad. Back then, I stuck the notes up on my shelf next to my bed. There were never fewer than two at a time, but it’s how I kept everything straight. Back then, the to-do list was always limited only to school. Now? Work to-do, house to-do, interpersonal human to-do and school to-do. Fuck.

(That one should be on a to-do list.)

Observation #11: I thought college kids were lazy. Turns out, I was way more motivated then. 
In undergrad, I don’t really remember feeling like I didn’t want to do something I had to do. I’m sure I felt like that. I just don’t remember it. Mostly it was really my only purpose in life, so I’d better get my ass to the library and find the microfiche I need for the research paper. Now, aside from apparently not even having to go to the library, I am overcome by what I can only imagine is Senioritis after 14 years dormant in my body. Back then I got up when I needed to (though I have been a snooze-slapper since God invented Snooze), traipsed around in all kinds of weather, did my full-time student thing, worked a part-time job and handled internships that often had me there for at least 25 hours a week. When I was a senior, between the job I got in my industry and the internship credit I was still able to earn, it was damn near 40 hours. How the hell did I do that?

This is the part of the post where I should go on, flesh out the theme, find a way to wrap it up… but I’m tired. Failing that, I should save it and finish it later, but I know I’m not going to be able to maintain the voice and the thought pattern. So you get this. 

Doesn’t bode well for those 25-page papers.

The Reach

I’m finally back in the chorus I hated to leave when I took my previous job, and the first challenge (aside from figuring out how to be a second soprano instead of a first) is a gut-wrenching piece called On the Transmigration of Souls. 

Transmigration is, for all intents and purposes, a 25-minute meditation on 9/11 in New York City. The New York Philharmonic asked John Adams (not that John Adams) to compose the piece. It involves a large orchestra, a mixed chorus, a children’s chorus, and a taped soundtrack of city noises and sirens and footsteps, and the voices of a young boy and a couple of adults saying things like “Missing” and reading snippets of the descriptions and names written on the fliers people put up all over New York City after 9/11. It’s dissonant and discordant, the time signature changes all over the place, it’s got doublets and triplets in weird spots. It’s oddly syncopated and counting the rhythm seems impossible. It’s full of chaos and disorientation and raw reactivity. It’s not hard to see why.

“People ask me what it is,” Adams told a radio host in 2008. “‘Is it a requiem?’ No. ‘Is it an oratorio?’ No. ‘Is it a choral symphony?’ No.

“I came up with the word ‘memory space,’” he went on. “Occasionally, when I’m in Europe, I’ll go into those great gothic cathedrals like Notre Dame or Chartres in France. And you go into this vast religious space, and people are very quiet. And you realize you’re in the presence of not only the living people that are there, but the ghosts, the souls of all the people that have been there in the past—this kind of spiritual memory space. And I wanted to create a musical analogy of that.”

He describes a particular passage of the piece where I think the most chaos and upheaval happens. He calls it

“a massive surge, a kind of tsunami of brass and strings that peaks with the chorus just literally shouting over and over again, ‘Light! Light! Light! Light!’ It’s not joyous. It’s almost a panic.

“I’m not exactly sure what I’m saying. I just know that when the event happened it was so shocking that we don’t know what our emotions were. But there’s always this desire to transcend horror and look for something comforting, and I think that’s the sense that you get at this enormous orchestral and choral climax of the piece.”

Until I found this interview, I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to be trying to evoke at that point in the piece. It seemed frantic to me, not at all comforting or calming like we’d like to believe is the case when a departed soul finds light. I wondered: did Adams see the passing of souls as something less than peaceful? That made sense, particularly coming out of the event that caused it—like the souls of 9/11′s victims were clamoring to find somewhere else to go, fast, because where they were was no place for a soul. Maybe moving on to another energy is kind of frenzied. 

But with this explanation from Adams in his own voice, I started to understand what the piece really seems to say in those measures. Maybe what we’re hearing there isn’t the souls of the lost. Maybe it’s the souls of the living, struggling to find something—anything—to give themselves some kind of solace. Like the bad-in-emergencies parent when a child seems seriously hurt, madly saying over and over, “It’s okay! It’s okay! It’s okay!” not because it is, but because they want it to be.

“Light! Light! Light! Light! Day! Sky! Light! Day! Sky! Light!”

Please please please let this hellish anguish end! Please let him find light! Please let me find light! Please let it make some kind of sense! Please, if you can’t save him, save me… or let me go.

  I’m reaching with the last strength I have – please let there be something to reach for! 

It’s telling, to me, that this part comes after that tsunami of brass and strings Adams describes, which comes right after what I find to be the most emotionally difficult passage: a place where the lyrics quote a widow telling someone, “I wanted to dig him out… I wanted to dig him out… I know just where he is… I know just where he is… I KNOW JUST WHERE HE IS.” We’re yelling it, all 120 voices, yelling those words on dissonant pitches between awkward breaks like choked sobs. It makes me cry every time, but now it also makes me feel something else: desperation. It makes me imagine the feeling that widow must have had for however long it took to find her husband’s remains in that pile, or however long it took her to accept that they never would… that breaking-point howl when she teetered on the edge of grief-stricken insanity, just reaching for whatever she could find that once was him. I know just where he is! Let me get him! You won’t find him, you’re taking too long, let me find him, I need to know he’s found, I know just where he is… I need to find him! I’m the only one who knows where he is!

It’s after that howl that the cacophony erupts, clashing and banging and fighting for every breath and shrieking for light and sky and day.

And then it’s strangely quiet again.

The names of the missing are only barely heard.

But now, it’s in memoriam.

___________________
Now on my bookshelf: The Fault In Our Stars – John Green

What Kind of Year Has It Been?

Oh heeeyyyy 2014! We had quite a welcoming party for you last night. I, for one, spent the first four hours of your existence awake and talking and listening and wearing heels, trying not to think about the dishes that were piled in the sink. We said goodbye to your ancestor, 2013, with quite the yummy meal and lots of laughs and hugs and smiles. The old Irish toasted wish that my house be too small to hold all my friends came true.

So now as I sit next to my increasingly brittle Christmas tree (it has volunteered in tribute—this thing has a death wish which apparently involves taking in no water at all despite the fresh cut in its trunk and in absolute defiance of the special stuff I put in the water to help it live longer), knowing full well that I haven’t posted a blog entry in many, many days (despite taking my laptop with me to my parents’ house for the Christmas visit), it occurs to me that I made a list one year ago today of things I wanted to learn in 2013. (I posted it a year ago tomorrow, probably because I worked late on the 1st.) Let’s see how I did.

1. How to make a really, truly good lasagna
I did not learn how to make a really, truly good lasagna. In fact, I only made lasagna once in 2013, and it was the Tyler Florence recipe that bubbled over in the oven. I did, however, eat some really, truly good lasagna. So maybe I’ll just get the recipe from the neighbor who made it. 1/3 credit.

2. More arias by Puccini.
I did not sing more arias by Puccini. But I listened to them. This counts as learning. Half credit.

3. How to get paint out of carpet.
I heard a few suggestions for how to get paint out of carpet. They did not work. Item voided.

4. My own worth.
It didn’t occur to me a year ago that I wouldn’t have a yardstick by which to measure that. But I know I’ve learned more about my worth than I knew in 2012. And I’m very grateful for that. Credit.

5. More about history.
I learned much more about history even though I still can’t quite get past page 100 in “Lincoln: Team of Rivals”. Credit.

6. How to better identify and let go of lost causes.
I’m trying to think of what the lost causes were in 2013. I know the biggest one, and I certainly finally recognized it. I’m definitely working on letting it go, and I’m getting there. That’s pretty huge. There’s another one I haven’t quite admitted yet, but I’m pretty close. Maybe I don’t see things in the frame of the phrase “lost cause.” I kind of like that I don’t see things that way—it seems so dire and blah. Oh, but I accepted that my car will look like a piece of crap until it no longer belongs to me, because it will cost too much to fix it. And the tree is probably a lost cause at this point. Credit.

7. How to be a more effective and prolific advocate for crime victims.
After waiting for about a year for a response from the state senator with whom I worked on our first legislative effort for crime victims, I gave up (lost cause recognized) and approached another lawmaker. He and I are due for a follow-up conversation in the next few days to find out whether there’s something we can do to change home detention eligibility requirements so that persons who have been served with a protective order while on home detention forfeit their eligibility. And the state’s system for issuing protective orders now provides information to complainants so that they know exactly when those orders have been delivered to the respondent (it takes longer than you might think, and this is typically the most dangerous time in a volatile situation). Credit.

PS: As soon as I started working with the other lawmaker, the state senator emailed me and asked me if we could talk about my ideas. I told him who I was talking with and the senator immediately contacted him. Rick finds this hilarious.

8. How to paint the nails on my right hand as well as I paint the nails on my left hand.
This is almost a reality. Sometimes. Half credit.

9. How to let other people see me vulnerable (in non-blog form). 
I’m still working on this. Old habits. But I’ve gotten better. I’m just not where I should be yet. Half credit.

10. What it means to be truly loved.
I have friends and family who truly love me, and I have more of them than I deserve, and I am more grateful for that than I used to be. But I know that, when I put this item on the list, I meant romantic love, and there was very little of that in 2013. The only person I dated was Rick. But I’m okay with that, because I’ve needed the time, and I’ve needed to work on #4. So… maybe I’m set up better for 2014. Half credit awarded, half suspended indefinitely.

11. How to get red wine splatter of a white ceiling without repainting the whole damned thing.
Whatever. Item revoked.

12. What yet another country looks like, in person.
Didn’t happen. No credit.

13. Where I left my step stool.
I found that thing a week after I wrote the post. It was behind my bedroom door, which I never close. Credit for finding it negated by credit subtracted for being a jackass.

14. More about my community and who lives in it.
Definitely accomplished this. Particularly last week when I heard a terrible car accident. By the time I got to the corner of my block, where it happened, there must have been 50 people milling around. I have no idea where they all came from.

15. What it would take to fix Congress… because just voting everyone out is both unrealistic and probably a really, really bad idea.
Well, I have my thoughts. We know this. But I think they might have come to a bit of an understanding up there on Capitol Hill recently. Everybody lost in 2013. Credit awarded for being smarter than most of those people.

16. To be more open to new things.
Well, I think I am more open to new things… I just can’t think of any new things I did. Oh, wait—new career, new chapter as a graduate student, first full year as a homeowner, just accepted my first freelance writing gig, new friends, hosted a holiday dinner for the first time… and I’ve let spiders live in my basement. That never happened before. Credit.

17. A new, really good soup recipe.
Just made it two days ago for the second time. It’s just chicken noodle, but damn, it’s good chicken noodle. It’s also the only thing I’ve eaten today. Credit.

18. How to clean my house the way Mary Poppins cleaned Jane and Michael Banks’ room.
Nope. But I did see “Saving Mr. Banks,” and apparently, Mary Poppins was never meant to be a housekeeper, so I had the wrong premise. Item voided.

19. A magic trick that makes laundry fold itself.
Negative. But I did leave it unfolded for a long time, piled in heaps. No credit.

20. To be more productive and feel more purposed.
This might be the most unexpected gift of my new career. Or maybe it’s just because, in that new career, I am constantly making To Do lists and then crossing things off. Sure, I don’t even get started on them until 4pm on any given day, but that’s even better, in a way, because the reason I don’t get started until 4pm is that I’ve spent the previous hours doing other stuff that was more pressing and had come up in the course of the day. I almost never get everything on the list done, but let’s face it: a bunch of the stuff is just there so I don’t forget it needs to be done at some point, not necessarily that day. Crossing items off those lists is truly one of the most satisfying little things in life. And to be appreciated for my work makes me feel more purposed. Credit. 

21. Better ways to get and keep my back healthier.
It was better in 2013, and I was more mindful of how to keep it from freaking out. I stopped seeing the chiropractor in January. That seems to have helped. Credit… and a knock on wood.

22. More grace.
Thank God, this is an ongoing effort. But when I feel grace, or I feel myself using grace in response to a less-than-gracious situation, I feel great peace. And since I didn’t quantify this as anything other than “more,” even just a tiny bit counts. Credit.

23. When to keep my mouth shut.
I’m actually doing pretty well with this. Especially because it’s limited to keeping my mouth shut and not keeping my typing fingers still. You’re welcome, blog. Credit.

24. More about where I came from.
This was accomplished unexpectedly. My friend loves to get lost in ancestry records. I now know my mother’s great-grandparents’ names and what they looked like. I know there was a third child in a photo taken in 1895, but no one knows who it is. I know and have seen photos of the ships my great-grandparents immigrated on, and I know that my great-grandfather held at least two patents for textile design, which was one of his goals in immigrating (his company in Germany took all his ideas and claimed them as theirs). I know my grandfather’s father was in a soldiers’ orphans’ home by the time he was 15, but I’m still working on finding out why. If we can find who his parents were, we will have unlocked a very long family mystery. Credit.

Now, the following are not resolutions, but they’re things I’d like to do in 2014. Here goes:

Read more books.

Help my division work more effectively.

Make more friends.

Fall in love, be fallen in love with… and keep him for a while!

Go to the movies more. (I think I went twice in 2013, and one of those was the day after Christmas.)

Figure out what the hell my two-year-old neighbor did to my remote last night that rendered it useless for controlling the TV’s power and volume. (This might be the hardest one to accomplish. Several people tried already.)

Enjoy more moments.

Take six graduate classes. (Two lined up for next term.)

Be of service.

Show love.

Buy a Christmas tree that accepts water as sustenance.
********
A happy, healthy 2014 full of the best words to all of you!

 

 

 

Tough and Tender

My new coworkers are lovely people. Truly. So lovely that they plan baby showers for grandmothers-to-be and second-time fathers-to-be. Isn’t that nice?

No. That is ridiculous.

Here’s the thing. I’m kind of old school about showers. You get one baby shower. One. It is when you have your first baby, and you get it when you’re the mother-to-be. (The father-to-be gets the gifts too, so he’s not being slighted.) You do not get a “sprinkle” when you have each additional kid. You do not get a grandparent-to-be shower (what the HELL?)  And I do not come to your shower, nor do I contribute to a gift, unless you are the mother-to-be and it’s your first kid.

Or not even then. As it turns out.

Because today, there was a surprise shower for my coworker and I had completely forgotten about it, which means I neither contributed to the group gift nor got her a separate gift. So while she opened everything and then read aloud the names of all the people who contributed to the group gift, I was essentially outed.

Who has two thumbs, hates baby showers and is an asshole? This girl!

Top of that, I had already eaten and was full, therefore keeping me from being able to graciously indulge in the sinful goodies my other coworker had prepared for the occasion.

Also, I really didn’t want to be there. Everyone else was taking pictures of our friend while she opened all the cute gifts, and you know what I took a picture of? The guys who felt obligated to come, who were sitting in the farthest back corner of the room possible. I wanted to sit back there too. On the way back to my officle, I stopped in one of theirs and mouthed, “I hate baby showers.”

Sometimes I’m not at all convinced that I’m a normal woman. Then I consult with another one and find out I totally am, because it’s possible that we all hate baby showers.

******

But then it turns out I’m something altogether different.

Tonight I had a meeting with my local state delegate (also a prosecutor)  and the executive director of an anti-sexual assault organization, who is also a lawyer and experienced lobbyist, about our new potential efforts at gaining more ground for crime victims. I learned very early in the meeting that the first part of my hopes had already been secured; someone else I’d spoken with had already accomplished the goal of getting information printed on peace and protective orders that will let complainants know when their respondent has been served with the order—commonly the most dangerous time in the process for the complainant. My push had actually been for something similar: giving them access to the information I fortunately had with my stalker, so that they will know when an incarcerated perpetrator is released, transferred or up for a probation/parole status change. Happily, I’m told they think they can get that done.

The other effort is to strengthen the home detention criteria so that people who are served with peace/protective orders are subject to reincarceration and/or no longer eligible for the home detention option. This is a trickier hope for a lot of reasons particular to both my state and general laws, and it might not happen. I understand that, but I want us to make the right argument. And though this is the trickier hope, my delegate and his colleague puzzled out several scenarios, hypothesized about how it might work, talked about ways they could answer legal challenges and ways they might have to regroup to work around them, and did it all while both educating me more about how the system works and treating me as an equal, even though I never went to law school.

Those of you who have read about my stalker and the effort Rick and I — along with several other committed victims’ rights advocates — made real will know how much this means to me. I found myself a bit choked up as I thanked them for their time tonight. During our meeting, they had told me how rare a stalking conviction is. Between them, they’ve only seen a handful. It’s a difficult statute to prove; the fact that the police caught my stalker in the act made a  huge difference. Hearing that made me feel two very different things: gratified about the severity of my case after wondering whether I was “worthy” of a stalker, and terrified for all the people who don’t get the justice they need. Every time I think through my experience, I remember how exhausting and necessary it all was. The fact that so many people deal with the unending fear of the circumstance without ever having the benefit I got from the bone-wearying process after the arrest is a crime in itself, and an inexcusable one.  When I got home from the meeting, I felt so grateful for the work others have done on my behalf that I cried.

******

Then I read a Facebook posting about a former coworker who adopted a seven-year-old girl from Ethiopia. He and his wife have been raising her for a couple of years now, dealing with all the triumphs, challenges, laughs and fears that come with suddenly having a desperately wanted daughter who has to catch up to educational requirements in a language she has to learn all at once, while also dealing with some physical disabilities. One of his new coworkers just heard the story of how my friend and his wife brought their daughter home and was moved enough to ask if he could feature the story on his website. My friend said yes. But then as he dropped his head and shuffled his feet, he asked if there might be a way to help raise the funds he and his wife need, because they know a boy in Ethiopia who needs them now, but they don’t have the money yet.

I hadn’t known my friend was ready to adopt again, but the second I read the words, I burst into tears. I checked the fundraising site and found that they’d already far exceeded the goal. I thought about it for two seconds and then said, “Fuck it, I’m posting this anyway,” and put it on my FB page.

This afternoon I felt like a callous, dysfunctional jerk. Tonight I feel like an exposed underbelly. The generosity of others has laid me bare. There’s a strange mix of emotions I can’t pinpoint.  It’s like the expansion of the universe – inexplicable and beautiful and terrifying and out of my control, full of darkness and light and an energy I want to protect and evade.

Today I am completely human.

Guapo? Grappa? No se.

In what is apparently a twice-a-week tradition these days, there was another neighborhood association fundraiser Thursday night. My neighborhood association isn’t the type that forces you to decorate your house solely in white lights at Christmas or enforces some sort of weird lawn-watering rule—indeed, we mostly don’t have lawns—but we have these awesome events a few times a year and we have to fund them somehow, so… wine.

Javier had asked if I would be there, and since the day at work had been kind of ridiculous and I needed a drink, of course I would be there. On an empty stomach, and not planning to eat.

You see where this is going.

I walk in grumpy and rushed, 30 minutes before the designated end of the fundraiser, perturbed at having had to drive all the way to my house and then walk here instead of finding a spot nearby. I head straight back to descend the stairs to the bathroom in an urgent but understated way, sucking in whatever I can suck in to maximize the flattery of the dress I’m wearing while I debate whether I should have left the spanx on underneath or not. (Leave them on and a hand on the back reveals something that feels like granny panties… take them off and you have trunk-junk jiggle. The only opportunity to change, since I was running late, was the brief moment when I opened my back door to fling my purse and shoulder bag into the kitchen. I had left the spanx on.) I check out the room as I make my way through it, scanning the place that can seat maybe 65 people between the bar, the house floor and the loft space. No Javi. In fact, no one I recognize. I’m not often awkward if I’m alone in a bar, but when I expect to find people I know, I get a little oodgy when they’re absent. I feel conspicuously let down.

But, downstairs, the phone buzzes in my hand, and up pops a message from Javi telling me he’s doing a wine tasting. (Alright, the message says “Doing a testing,” prompting me to reply “?” before I realize it’s a misspelling. This contributes to my likely patronizing belief that his inability to write English precisely is adorable.) When I once again ascend, I catch sight of him on the loft level holding a tiny wine glass. He sees me, raises a hand in greeting and smiles.

Ay, querido. There is nothing quite like the sight of an attractive man in a suit with his jacket slung over his shoulder. I’ve always liked this about Javi, this tendency to be dressed up more often than not. I think the reason I like it is because it doesn’t come off as arrogance or extravagance. He just likes to look nice. But now I like it more, because it carries an electric anticipation.

No bueno para me. ¿Por qué espero?

I play things cool. He’s talking to another neighbor and I say hi to her first. Our casual hug hello appears an afterthought. I head for the wine tasting table at his urging and am quickly but gently accosted by the vintner’s rep, an earnest, salt-and-pepper haired, black corduroy- jacketed Italian who shows me images and descriptions of the wines on his iPad while I drink them.

I drink them quickly, but ask questions.

Javi disappears.

After ten or twelve generous mouth-feels, which sounds dirty but is not, I’m finished with my tasting and I’m buying a bottle of a velvety sangiovese from the Italian and his distribution partner, who seems to be from somewhere innocuous like Northern Virginia. Armed with this bottle of red, I turn to chat with Gil, who lives across the street from me. A few minutes later, Ward, who owns the restaurant, brusquely inquires who owns the sunglasses and phone sitting on the table because he must clear it for “paying customers.” I look down at the door. There is no line.

I claim my belongings because he’s practically throwing them at me without looking at me, while bristling a bit at the impertinence, considering how often I’m here. I know Ward is personally acquainted with a lot of his clientele. He hasn’t yet met me, but I’ve been supporting his establishment for nearly a year.

Still slightly grumpy from work, not yet buzzed enough but waiting for it, and now anxious about Javier’s disappearance, and trying to hide all of it, I exchange eyerolls with Gil over Ward’s bent back and Gil introduces me to two more folks from the neighborhood. We chat pleasantly for what I hope is an acceptable period of time. It’s during this exchange that I look down from the loft and see Javi craning his neck at me. He grins. Here I am.

There you are!” I mouth.

I try to finish my conversation with the couple unhurriedly and take their high sign to the server as my cue to rejoin Javi. He’s got a full glass of pinot grigio, which I take from his hand and sip. I signal the bartender that I’d like what he’s having as I tell him the story about how Ward had cleared me out.

Several minutes later, Javi quietly introduces me to Ward.

“Are you a friend of Javier’s?” Ward asks me now.

“Yes, and a lot of others,” I reply with a smile. “I live in the neighborhood.”

I had forgotten until this moment that Javier is part-owner of the building. Majority part-owner. Now that Ward knows I’m connected to his landlord, he might not clear me away from a table for the “paying customers” not yet lined up to take it. I know this is the reason Javier has made the introduction. I am charmed.

“Sorry if I was grumpy when you called earlier,” I say to him when Ward leaves and he takes up a spot standing next to my high-seated chair at the bar. His brow creases a bit before he assures me I didn’t sound that way. “Okay, good. Work got kind of crazy in the afternoon and I was kind of in a bad mood.”

“Me too,” he says, holding out his stemware. “Cheers.”

“To the end of the day!” I clink his glass, take a sip, and ask what happened at the office. He rolls his eyes with a humble smile and tells me, then asks me about my day. He notices the bottle of wine I’d bought, which I’d put on the bar.

“Yeah,” I say. “I didn’t think about how weird it’s going to be, walking home with a bottle of wine in my hand.” I mimic the anticipated sight.

“I tink ih sounds nice,” he smiles at me. “A pretty woman walking down de street with a bottle of wine.”

I mentally chide myself for swooning and suddenly become aware that we’re in public and might be too focused on each other. Turning, I see that Gil is seated to my right.  He laughs when I look surprised and claims to have been sitting there for ten minutes before assuring me he’s just sat down. Javi changes sides, coming around to stand between Gil and myself as we all talk.

The wine finally kicks in, spreading warmly through my veins.

Peligro. He is too close, and I find myself “accidentally” touching him once or five times. I scratch my back with my thumb, fingers extended to brush his arm as he stands behind me. Listening to Gil, I look up at Javi and wink. Minutes later, he does the same to me. That kind of thing.

“Well, you guys,” he says at a lull in the conversation, looking a bit chagrined, “I haff to go. I am sahppose to be meeting some oddur friends.”

I debate… should I stay or go? I don’t really want to stay. I’m not going to eat or drink anything more. But leaving now, mid-conversation with Gil and an older gentleman I’ve never met but whom everyone seems to know, would be obvious. I make no move. Javi shakes hands with Gil and the other man, then leans between them to give me a hug and dry peck on the cheek. I don’t watch him leave.

Electric anticipation.

Can Someone Just Write This Thing For Me?

Probably I should be writing a 1,000-word-or-less statement for my graduate school application right now, but I’m not. Because I can write anything you ask me to… seriously, pretty much anything, I got this… but a 1,000-word-or-less statement about my academic and professional experience with researching, planning, executing and evaluating communications campaigns? Despite being, you know, what I do for a living? 

Totally incapacitating.

Can my 1,000-word-or-less statement be, “I work here. I’m actually your office’s PR and marketing person. If you’d like samples of my work, see every publication you’ve sent out to a prospective student in the last four months. Also the institution’s website. Admit me. Thanks.”  Forty words. Short, sweet, to the point. Here’s my application fee. 

Yeah, one of those sentences isn’t really a complete sentence. Points off for that.

Because don’t make me think about what I do for a living. I’m quite familiar with what I do, but if I have to deconstruct it into all those subcategories and figure out how to apply them directly, I’m going to have writer’s block for days. Which I can’t really afford, because classes start in… soon.

It’s weird, thinking about going back to school. I say “thinking about” because obviously I’ve been lax in getting my application finished. The statement is all that stands in my way right now, but I’m really not in an all-fired hurry. If I don’t get to start in the fall, that’s fine, I’ll save my money for books and fees and start when they let me. Apparently I’m going to be forced to take a statistics course before I can start the M.S., so that’s going to suck, but maybe I could get that out of the way if I don’t get in right this minute.

Or whatever minute I finish the statement.

Which has not yet been started.

That first sentence is so clutch, right? I pick up books and judge them by their first sentence. I really do. And although the first sentence of my blog posts has never been a huge priority for me, I realize this is a different thing. I can’t think of how to start this statement. 

Generally, if I don’t know what the first sentence of something I write should be, I just start writing from whatever point is already worked out in my head and go backward if I have to. But I got nothin’ for this.

I graduated with my B.A. 14 years ago. And I didn’t want to do another minute of school. I didn’t hate it or anything… I just knew I’d had enough of being a ridiculously good student for a while. My father had told me that, if I went for my master’s right then, he and my mother would pay for it. But as much as I appreciated the offer, I couldn’t bring myself to look at one more textbook.

Now I’m not sure they even use textbooks. Does anybody still know how to take notes with their fingers and a pen?

But now, boo-yah Dad: I get to do the degree for free. On account of I work there.

Wooot! Saved you a bunch of cash! You’re welcome.

If it weren’t for the free schooling, I wouldn’t be doing it at all. I love learning new things – hell, there’s so much cool stuff going on at the school, I could audit classes for years just for the sake of learning new stuff. But I wouldn’t pay for a master’s degree because, while I do believe in the value of education, I don’t believe I have any idea whether it would really be helpful to my professional life. I mean… it seems like everybody’s got a master’s degree these days. It just ups the ante, doesn’t it? 

But then I remember that still not everybody has a college education at all. Sure, in a professional capacity, pretty much everyone in my world does. But maybe the master’s does help somehow.

Here’s hoping.

I debated getting my MBA, actually. And then I stopped debating because it would take me another year as a part-time student (three instead of two, year-round) and would involve me being completely bored to terrible, bitter crocodile tears by every single class in the curriculum.

But occasionally I think, “Well… maybe that is what I should do. Because it’s supposedly a universal master’s degree that can work in any professional forum, and if it’s free as long as I work here, maybe it’s better to get the degree I’ll hate getting for free instead of waiting until they realize I clearly have no idea what I’m doing and fire me, and then I have to pay to get a degree it turns out I really do need.

“But wait, maybe not, because if it’s universal then doesn’t that put everyone who has an MBA into the same pot of relative ability and then somebody has to get a doctorate or something?”

And then I stop the whole thing, because wine.

Which, by the way, is also what allows me to continue procrastinating on writing this statement they require. (I had to stop and think about what word I wanted just then before I came up with “procrastinating.”) 

School is going to be much harder now that I’m A) much older; 2) half-crazy; third) a big fan of vino.

The good news is, my friend Angie, who got her master’s at 25, says you get better at writing papers while buzzed as you go. 

It’s weird we didn’t discover that as undergrads.

Bleach, Water and Hope

If you inhale aerosolized viral particles, and then you inhale aerosolized bleach particles from cleaning up… does the latter kill the former?

Please say yes.

Sister 3 and her boyfriend came to visit this weekend. We had spent about two hours hanging out downtown on Saturday when it became pretty clear that the energy level was low between the three of us. I could have been up for something else, but they seemed kind of meh, so we went home for a refreshing nosh before deciding whether to head out to another local event. Unfortunately, the bf started feeling sick as soon as we got home. He said he’d gotten really tired while we were downtown, and I figured something wasn’t right when he didn’t eat a single bite of the delectables I’d put out when we got back. I’d handed him a bottle of cold water right away when we walked in, but he was already behind the curve.

It started with the lower GI. Eventually (when we got past the politeness of not acknowledging the problem aloud), I pulled out all the home remedies I could think of: rice, oyster crackers, Pepto Bismol. I suggested miso soup, which he poo-pooed. (Haha. I made a joke.)  He kept trying the water. But it moved quickly and mercilessly to the upper GI. By 9:30pm, he was miserable, my plumbing and sewer lines were being tested, and I was heading to the grocery store for those familiar staples of stomach illness: Gatorade, ginger ale, saltines and toilet paper.

Sister 3 felt bad. Initially when she told me he really wasn’t feeling well (which was around 6:30), she said they might not be able to stay the night. But it was clear he wasn’t going to tolerate a road trip home, so he had to tough it out at my house.

He had a rough night – Sister 3 and I were treated to the sounds all the way on the top floor of the house from the basement. I’m glad I went for the Gatorade, because apparently he wound up with terrible leg cramps from dehydration. (“I had a charley horse and a hamstring cramp in the same leg at the same time,” he said later, “so I just had to scream into my pillow.”) The cramps, he said, eased when he – bravely, I think – forced the juice. Sister 3 cleaned both of my bathrooms. Twice, I believe. But I wasn’t so sure it would be enough. So as soon as they left, out came the bleach and bleach-containing cleansers for the fourth scrub in 48 hours (one was in anticipation of their arrival).

I’ll spare you too many details but give you just enough to say that the red colored Gatorade made it easy to know the basement bathroom floor needed to be washed with bleach and water. Sister 3 had already appropriated all the sheets and blankets for washing, as well as some other bathroom textiles. I just went ahead and grabbed the rest. If I could have put the couch in the washer, I would have. I had begun to suspect that this was norovirus, and when I looked up the length of time it can survive outside the body, I was delighted to learn it lives for up to 12 days on fabric.

So there’s a loveseat I shan’t be using for two weeks.

I scrubbed every non-porous surface that would tolerate the chemicals: faucet handles, doorknobs, places other than the doorknob where I imagined he (or my sister, who I’m sure will get it, too) might have touched. I washed my hands so many times that the skin is stretching to allow me to type. My lungs are a little scratchy from the cleaning solvent. I find myself wishing I’d bought a can of Lysol at the store last night – or this morning after church, when my sister and I went to pick up more Gatorade and some Greek yogurt to put those live active cultures to work in the boy’s gut.

I’m eyeing the remote controls for the TV and Blu-Ray player suspiciously. The boy never touched them, but my sister did. Again I wish I’d bought some Lysol.

The incubation period for norovirus is 24-48 hours from first exposure. Fingers crossed I’m still sitting up and taking nourishment this time Tuesday. Because Tuesday I’m scheduled to finally get back to seeing Ali Velshi (not really Ali Velshi, former CNN newsman turned Al-Jazeera America newsman… my therapist, who reminds me of AV).

Because my head needs to be scrubbed, too.

Stereotypita. Opa!

It’s probably telling that, as I wandered around a Greek festival this weekend, the thought that kept popping into my head was, “So many Greek people!” I don’t know what I was expecting. But in the two hours I spent there, I learned a lot about what an ignorant asshole I am.

First of all, I realized that, if it weren’t for the fact that I knew I was at a Greek festival, I would have thought a lot of the traditional clothing and music was something else. Turkish or Albanian or Egyptian or something like that. As I sat listening to an all-black-clad, accessorized, slick-haired young man sing in Greek (and watching the keyboardist, who looked a lot like Chris Christie, make faces that seemed to say, “Seriously with this guy?”), I realized there was probably an excusable reason for that: it’s all Mediterranean.

Then I looked up a map of the Mediterranean region. It’s big, guys. I’m ashamed that I didn’t realize it was more inclusive than I thought. I had it in my head as southern Italy, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey and Greece. What was I thinking? Had I never seen a map before? Apparently I had forgotten about Spain, southern France, Croatia, Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Not to mention Libya and Tunisia, Cyprus (duh), Albania, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Malta, Montenegro and Slovenia. 

Oh.

Most of the people I saw were undeniably Greek, to my sensibilities. There are real characteristics of Greek facial features, and I find it fascinating. I feel lucky that I can look at people and often pin down their heritage. And then I realize that might not be lucky so much as presumptuous. 

I could, however, immediately identify the three guys who sat down in front of me who most definitely were not Greek. 

I mean, I’m Irish and German, and the friend I was with is, too, so it’s not like we thought everyone who was going to be there had to be Greek as a price of admission. But you know when you’re looking at someone who’s not Greek. Is what I’m saying.

I wrestled with the stereotypes. I mean, sure, the food is freaking awesome. I had to limit myself to chicken souvlaki and a baklava sundae (I know). And I was disappointed in the tzatziki. Well… did that mean all the tzatziki I had ever had (including from the Greek restaurants) was inauthentic? Or had they just forgotten the garlic when they made the batch I ate from? 

Here were the stereotypes I found to match:
The men are hairy.
There are distinct noses.
The complexion and coloring is consistently olive and dark.
Thick, curly hair is dominant.
The dances all look the same to an outsider.

But really, how many of those can be claimed as strictly Greek? Any Mediterranean heritage can be included in that. I watched a young dancer, who looked not at all excited to be there, and joked to my friend that she must be thinking, “I’m not even Greek. I’m Albanian. Eff this.”

Maybe I was right.

I’m not much for Greek or otherwise Mediterranean music. I find it charming for a song or two and then rather relentlessly overly Baroque (and I’m not a fan of Baroque). So that wasn’t going to be my favorite experience of the night. But if I put the food aside, what I liked most about the festival was that there is such a collective pride in this heritage. I watched the non-Greek spouses and wondered what it was like for them to join these families – as if it’s not hard to join anyone’s family culture (my Irish side being legendary). What I liked least was how the cheapest elements of stereotypes got equal representation – the gaudy and low-class trinkets and tchotchkes. (What’s Greek for “tchotchke?” Do I have to switch it if Israel is also Mediterranean?) I lingered over the authentic organic food products for sale at one of the tents because it seemed so lovely in comparison. If I’d had the cash on me, I probably would have bought an item or two because I believed the quality was there, as opposed to mocking the foot-tall metal representations of Greek gods and goddesses that I joked I would put in the front window of my house – except for the one of Icarus and his chariot, which can’t get too close to the sun. (He sat, anecdotally, just down the street from a great restaurant named for him.)

I do wish I’d gotten some tiropita, though.

Things I Don’t Remember

As if I needed it, there was drama over the Memorial Day weekend.

I was at the Jersey Shore (stronger than the storm, bitches!) with my family – well, most of them; Sister 2, BIL 2, Youngest Neph and Shiny New Niece were elsewhere. Anyway, I was at the Jersey Shore, and Sunday night we went out to one of the local establishments – my parents, Sister 1 (BIL 1 was at the house with Twin Nephs), Sister 3, her boyfriend, three of her friends and their boyfriends, and a pair of former neighbors who have been friends of our family for nearly 20 years now. It was a nice night, not hot, not crowded. We were dancing. I had maybe four drinks? In three hours? After dinner. Vodka tonics on ice. Some guy at some point came up and started dancing with me, in which I was not the slightest bit interested, so I humored him for maybe 3/4 of a song.

Somewhere around 10:30, I bought beers for two members of our party and a drink for myself. I delivered the beers. I  took a sip of my drink. And then I rather suddenly realized I needed not to drink it. I felt weird. Sure, inebriated, but not dizzy, not room-spinning, not hot, not nauseous… just weirdly drunk. Instead of sipping my drink, I started sticking my fingers in it, pulling out ice cubes and chomping them. And then I put the drink down on the bar, turned to the bartender and asked him for water. He gave me a cup full, I laid a dollar bill on the bar (because the end of my drinking should not mean the end of a bartender’s tips if he still has to fetch my requests)…

…and that’s the last thing I remember.

Well, the last thing until I came around, sitting with my legs straight out in front of me on the curb outside the bar, with three paramedics in my face and an ambulance behind them, Sister 3 to my right and the rest of our party lined up on the sidewalk behind me.

Apparently, during the few minutes between me laying a dollar bill on the bar and sitting on a curb surrounded by emergency medical personnel, I collapsed.

According to my sisters and the family friends, I went limp and Mr. M had to catch me. He was holding me up with his leg and arms when Sister 1 came over to ask what had happened. She says I never closed my eyes, but I had turned gray and unresponsive. She and Mr. M shared the burden of my body weight while Mrs. M, who is a nurse, grabbed my arm and found me clammy. They tried to get me onto a chair, but I slid off it. The bartender vaulted the bar to try to help. Mr. M and Sister 1 picked me up and carried me out of the bar.

They say I started to come around as soon as they got me outside, but I don’t remember the beginnings of that. They say the medics asked if I had my ID on me and I told them it was in my back pocket. I told them my debit card should be back there, too, but it wasn’t – they found it inside on the bar, which is odd, since the bar only takes cash. (I’ve checked – the card number has not been used by anyone but me.)

What I remember is answering the medics when they asked me my name and how many fingers I was holding up. Then I turned to Sister 3 and said, “What happened?”

She had her hand on the back of my head, stroking my hair, as she answered me. She was very calm. She did a great job for a 23-year-old who had just watched her 36-year-old sister collapse for no real reason.

I was so alert, I could tell the medics exactly how much cash I had in what denominations in my back pocket. When they couldn’t find my pulse in my left arm, I told them to use my right because the veins in my left tend to roll. Given that degree of alertness, they didn’t transport me. BIL 1 had come to get us, and I vaguely remember climbing into the car, though I don’t remember getting out at the house. I stayed awake and talked to my family for about an hour, just to make sure I didn’t have some other weird episode. I felt boozy, but still not dizzy, not nauseous, not room-spinning drunk – none of those awful things you feel when you know you’ve had too much. I drank a ton of water and went to bed. Sister 3, sharing the room with me, woke me up a while later to check on me and have me drink more water. I woke up in the morning with a monster headache, a little dizzy… two cups of coffee and a two-hour nap straightened me out.

Then I was fine. Tired, but fine.

We wondered if I had been drugged. Had the guy who tried to dance with me slipped something into my drink? I never put a drink down – I need something in my hand when I’m out – like a prop, a security blanket, something to do with myself. But I drink slowly. Sister 3′s boyfriend remembers that the guy had tried to “grind” me, and I had told him no and walked away. I don’t remember that at all, though I do remember that I didn’t dance with him long. I think, if I had been drugged, the effects would have lasted longer.

Mrs. M. wonders if it was some sort of freakish medical event that was exacerbated by the drinks. Honestly, I wonder that, too. Someone told me my blood pressure had been 134/60. That’s odd for me; I’m usually around 100/70.  As I went to bed that night, I said a little prayer that if there was something wrong medically, it would be a quick and quiet death in my sleep. Seriously. I said that prayer.

I still haven’t figured it out. I’m waiting for my medical insurance to kick in, and then I’ll go for a physical and let the doctor know about this incident. I’m sure I’ll get a lecture about alcohol, but I’m no more than a moderate drinker on a high-intake day. Who is taking a break for a while.