When “I’m Sorry” Fails (Because It’s Stupid)

“Now say you’re sorry…” is a common direction given to young children as they learn to navigate the world and how to interact with others. However, as an adult woman, I find myself saying “I’m sorry” more often and for things I am actually not sorry for in the slightest. The world doesn’t see it this way, and The New York Times published a wonderful article by Sloane Crosley on this subject last summer. There is a science to female “sorry” and the word’s persistent presence in our vocabulary. I have become tired of saying “I’m sorry.”

The world wants me to be sorry. So, here you are world. I have written you a letter, because I am exceedingly polite, for which I am not sorry.

Dear World:

I am not sorry. I know you think I should be, and I know I say I am quite often. But the truth is, I am not sorry. “They” say that I often take things too personally, but I don’t. And if I do, it’s because I am a person. I am not a robot.

I was not designed by Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. I wasn’t engineered by Boeing. My body wasn’t molded as though I were a Gibson. I am not a Fender. I don’t have a serial number, and I wasn’t given a warranty.  Computer chips don’t run me, and I am not the woman of steel.

So world, here are a few things for which I am not sorry:

I am not sorry for feeling, having feelings, and expressing feelings. I am not sorry for taking offense to comments I find rude, insulting, snotty, hateful, or generally condescending.  I am not sorry for failing to see ridicule or belittlement of me as humorous. I am not sorry for not getting the joke. I am not sorry for not laughing.

I am not sorry for coping an attitude when I am pissed off. I am not sorry for fighting, screaming, pouting, or any other variant. I am not sorry for expressing negative emotions. I am not sorry for not being the woman that sits with her mouth shut and doesn’t defend herself. I am not sorry for not being built (pun intended) that way. I am not sorry for not bottling up my feelings. I am not sorry for not crying myself to sleep.

I am not sorry for wanting quiet recognition. I am not sorry for being smart and talented, and I am not sorry for needing to matter.

I am also not sorry for having a dissenting opinion amongst family, writing off bad friends, cutting off people that hurt me, being self-aware, having insecurities, failing to adult, bad parking, stinking at math, being short, knowing my shit, losing my shit, overdressing, ordering salad, overthinking, changing my mind, reading fluffy books in the summer, not understanding Derrida, and running like a duck.

Frankly, I am not sorry. Unless I have wronged you, and I acknowledged it, in some way. For that, I am truly sorry and I humbly ask for your forgiveness as well.

Thank you world, for your attention.

I find myself saying “sorry” and will be making a conscious effort to actually mean it. Apologizing means something. It is an act of remorse. And I am not sorry for the things that make me who I am.

If we begin apologizing for the very things that make us who we are, does that not suggest that we’re sorry for being a person? For existing?

I am definitely not sorry for that.

I want my words to mean something, and more than anything, I know that words carry meaning beyond simply what is on the surface.

“I’m sorry” are two of those words. They do imply an act of reflection. How does one realize remorse until after looking back on the event?

My life is about words and using them to create meaning. “I’m sorry” need to mean more than the simplistic value that they have taken.

I will need to take conscious effort to stop saying “I’m sorry” as frequently. I don’t even realize I’m doing it sometimes.

“I’m sorry.” But am I? And for what?

If I can’t answer that, I am not sorry. I am living, and I’m doing intentionally, out loud.  I think a better response would be “I meant that” or “on purpose.” I will have to ponder that because “I’m sorry” just won’t work for me anymore.

Retro Chic Before It Was a Thing

William Carlos Willians said that so much depended upon a red wheelbarrow, and he was (of course) correct. But it wasn’t simply the wheelbarrow. So much depended upon a red kitchen table. A red, 1960’s style, kitchen table.

I think it had a leaf that could fold up or down, and that side of the table faced the interior of the room. The table was the color of a sliced tomato’s guts. It had slightly lighter shades of red in patterns that weren’t actually swirls but were what swirls hoped to be.

The table sounds ugly. But it wasn’t! It was red! Today, hipsters would likely pay $70.00 or more and congratulate themselves for pulling off retro chic kitchen decor.

My parents’ kitchen was remodeled when I was a “tween”, and I have no idea what happened to that table.

And I should probably ask.

The table currently residing in their kitchen was designed and built by my dad in their garage. It’s wooden and it’s heavy. It was made with the kind of care and focus that only artisans have. 

My dad has it.

I don’t remember much about the kitchen before my dad remodeled. But I do remember the red table.

I remember it. And Kool-Aid cups! And bouquets of freshly plucked dandelions!

I remember being little and getting ready for school, dance class, and heading out of the door with my mom.

And it makes me think of the stuff, the things, that we have, that we worry over, lose, sell, and give away.

I remember the table as a catalyst for adventure. Because it was in our kitchen. 

The kitchen is really the heart of a home. As much as I hate to say that because of how much I detest cooking and doing dishes. 

But I love eating and I love family stories. 

My earliest memories don’t involve things

I had a happy childhood full of silly songs snd making up the words. I remember siting with my mom and helping her with any task I could. 

It was in the kitchen where some of my most vivid childhood memories live. 

Williams had the wheelbarrow. Dorothy had the slippers. I had the table. All were red. And all had so much depending on them. 

And all of it before E-bay. Before retro chic was a thing.

So much depends on a red table.

Including happy children. 

And Kool-Aid cups. 

Good Moods Get You Questioned

Today started out just fine. I got up, took care of the tiny ones, ate breakfast, and got ready for work. My second Wednesday at my summer job. I didn’t expect anything eventful, although I am keeping a list of “isms.” You know, the kinds of things that only happen while working in retail in the summer. So far, I have “guy demands big discount, can’t prove why”, “music teacher retires and ends up making really cool stuff”, “woman that looks like Liza Minelli frequently wears leopard unitard”, “older folks will always call you ‘honey’”, and, “shrinkage” (yes, I had some guy making that lewd comment to me already and it’s only been a week). However, I think my personal favorite just might be, “of course I will take my shoes off, throw them in a shopping cart, and then I will walk around the dirty warehouse floor barefoot.” Throw in ass money (money pulled from sweaty ass pockets) and the occasional “I’m in too big a hurry for you to be accurate while you are charging me my not so hard earned money, just hurry this up” person, and you have a typical summer day.

About two hours into today, this happened:

“How are you today?” I asked.

“I’m doing good.” He replied.

“Fantastic. Did you find everything you needed?”

“Yes, I did. Thanks! How are you today?” He asked.

“I am doing well.”

“Why are you in such a good mood today? Such a nice smile.”

I replied telling my customer that life was too short to be upset and that the sun was shining. What else did I need?

Then, he said something that I didn’t expect. And working the summers in retail, but particularly at a home improvement store, I have expected a lot. I hear about men’s health problems, toilet backups, discounts that people “deserve”, and you name it.

I thought that maybe, just maybe, he was going to preach to me about his particular religion. This has happened to me more than once. Maybe I have a face that just looks like it needs saving.

I thought that maybe, just maybe, he was going to be like the seven other creepers that can see my wedding ring and yet, they still ask me for dinner. “Only if my husband is invited” is a response that shuts that shit down.

I looked over my shoulder at the customer, and he, with his four sons, were waiting for my reply. I guess I looked like I was thinking about it.

“More to the story?” I asked.

“You’re married, I can see that. Got kids?” Got kids is a question that I “suppose” is “normal” for married women, but it still makes my blood curdle a little. Why else do people get married? No other reason but to have and adore their children? Hmmm… must have missed that. But, I answered him.

“Yes, I have five.”

“FIVE! You have five kids.”

I chucked. “Yeah, I have five kids, twenty feet, and they range in age from seven to forty.”

He got it. Lightbulb engaged. “You must have pets.”

“No, I have kids. They are our babies. And I have three cats and two dogs.”

He said, “Sure. But you’re still in an unusually good mood given the people that we encounter here some days.”

I laughed. I couldn’t help it. I knew where he was coming from. No one said that working in retail was fun. There have been many days that I leave thanking everything, including my shoelaces, that I only work retail seasonally and that I am thank heavens actually doing my life’s work. I have often told myself that it is research for writing such as this. I am grateful for my job and it gets me out of the house and interacting with people, but when it comes to an end, I am just as grateful to go back to doing the work that actually calls to my heart.

“Well, honestly, I have nothing to complain about. I have a roof over my head, I’m not hungry, my family is in good health, and my friends are doing okay. I really am just fine. And I meant it when I said that I was okay just because the sun was out. I suppose if it went into hiding today, I’d still be in a good mood. I genuinely have nothing wrong.”

“That is the best answer.” He, and his four sons, looked pleased. And I was still waiting for the religious pitch.

“Thanks.” I said.

“I wish more people would have that attitude. You know, you walk around and all you see are people in foul moods or they’re not willing to take three seconds to say hello to each other.”

Again, I had to agree with him.

“I think that everyone has a story.” I said.

The man’s face lit up like I’d stuck a lightbulb between his teeth.

“You’re right!”

“I am an observer and a listener. You learn a lot that way.”

“You do. I’ve been trying to tell my kids that.” He said.

I looked at his sons, “your dad’s right.”  His sons looked as if they ranged in age from seven to twelve. They’re too young to understand. But maybe they’ll learn by example.

“Well, I hope to see you more often.” The man said.

“I’m here during the week for the summer, so I am sure you will.”

“Only for the summer?”

“Yep. I only work here May through mid-August.”

“Why’s that?”

“I teach. I am here as my summer gig.”

Then, the floodgates opened. And I was glad I didn’t have a line waiting to checkout. Because this guy was interested.

He asked me what I taught and where. What did I like about the job? What advice would I give his sons?

I answered that last one with “try. And be responsible for yourself. But, I would say, just try. That’s all anyone can ask of you. And don’t expect anything. Earn it. Do the work.”

They are, again, too young to quite grasp the concepts, but maybe, just maybe…

I thought about his question, about there being more to the story, all day. Then I found myself wanting to ask the same question. “Oh, you’re having a good day. Why? What’s the story?”

Interestingly, he asked me about my story and why I was in such a good mood.

He didn’t sell me religion or ask me on a date. He did what I do. He asked about a story.

It was unexpected but it made my day.

Although I don’t know his man’s name, he gave me something to think about and a new way to look at people around me.

“Oh, you’re doing good. Cool. What’s your story?”

Think of it Like a Boomerang (My Sixty Second Story)

Boomerang

I am kind of like this mushroom that I found growing off of the side of a stump in my backyard. I am, thankfully, not a fungus. But, I am alive, and I do count on other lives to sustain me. Only life can give life, and what one puts out into the world predicts what one will receive from it. Think of it like a boomerang.

I have, for many years, been a “people person.” I like people. I find them interesting, and I wonder about them. I find subjects like history, sociology, and psychology fascinating because they teach me not only what people do but also why. And part of me is a scientist. “Why” is my question, and I quite often formulate a hypothesis. However, the answer that I seek is a person’s story.

And I want my story to be one hell of a boomerang.

Lately I have started thinking about my own story. Like most people, I am an amalgamation of experiences, ideas, beliefs, dreams, and a dash of chance. I tell stories, and I try to make sense out of humanity through that common thread. Everyone has a story.

But when it’s all said and done, I wonder what kind of person I will be remembered as, and who I am in the larger sense. I am not a “lost” twenty-something on some big experimental journey to “find myself.” Instead, my quest is outward. What do I want to project into the world, and even more, what do I want to do with it? I ask myself “what story do you want to leave behind?” Those are the stories that matter.

I had the pleasure of seeing the inspirational Marina Morris speak last October at TEDx at Oakland University. And then, much to my great joy, she spoke again this month at my department’s annual end of year conference. Both times, she spoke about finding her “sixty second story” and how she did it.

Morris uses the acronym s-t-o-r-y to explain it.

S equals what she stands for. T equals what toughens her up. O is what she has overcome. R is what she remembers, and Y is what she yearns for.

Now, as I sit outside, with lazy dogs at my feet, iced tea at the ready, and the sounds of Glenn Miller, wind chimes, and my neighbor’s yard projects all as background noise, I think I will take on my own sixty second story.

What do I stand for?

I feel like I could answer this question 100 ways and they could all be “kind of?” answers. But one thing consistently stands out.

Kindness. I stand for kindness. For doing, acting, speaking, and living in a way that is harmonious all around me. I try, and sometimes I fail, but I do try to be the kind of person that my grandchildren could one day brag about. Even if only to themselves. But I do what I think is right, even if that leaves me standing alone. I’d rather be alone and principled than surrounded and without any depth of character.

What toughens me up?

This is the hardest of Morris’ questions, because I am not entirely sure how to answer it. My immediate answer is a question: “in what way?” But, the answer I could commit to is letdowns and disappointment. Those toughen me up.

When people I count on, even in slight ways, don’t show up, they write themselves out of my story. If proven to be anything less than “all in”, don’t show up for round two. I’ve learned from disappearing family members and friends with agendas. I can’t help that they once hurt me, but I can, and have, rebuilt my definitions of family and friendship.

What have I overcome?

Nothing. That was my gut reaction. My life, up to this point, hasn’t been fraught with difficultly. I had a happy childhood. My parents have always been stable and I had a solid foundation. I wasn’t a lost young adult without direction or guidance. I’ve always been driven and I’ve known exactly what I want. I didn’t bounce from failed relationships looking for something I couldn’t find because I didn’t really know myself. It’s been pretty easy.

And then, I thought some more.

Yes, my family faced my mom’s breast cancer diagnosis. And won. Yes, two years ago, I was misdiagnosed with a serious illness. Luckily for me, the mistake as caught in time. Yes, I’d be a fool to say that I haven’t experienced loss. I have.

However, none of those things are necessarily things I have overcome. I did, but I had help. I didn’t face any of those alone. And I think that the answer to Marina’s question should be something that I’ve done alone.

If asked, many people who knew me before I hit college age would describe me as quiet. Shy even, if they didn’t know me well. But once I got into college, and I studied what I was into, I came out of my shell.

I overcame being quiet and shy. I overcame voicelessness.

I’ll never be the person that actively seeks oodles of attention, but I am not often described as “shy”. If I am quiet, I am thinking, absorbing something that was said to me. Particularly if you are a person that I admire or see true genius in. At parties, if I am quiet, I don’t want to be there. But if you know me, you know that. I am often not quiet to be rude. Sometimes, quietness is just self-preservation at its finest.

In all though, I’ve overcome shyness. I know how to speak and that I can. I’ve always had ideas, and I’ve never had any trouble expressing them, but having ideas and telling my family was great. But what about beyond that secure place? What “good” was the idea if I only told people who bought into my notions and have a preconceived bias?

With encouragement, and college to help draw me out, I did. I began to use my voice. And I like it.

What do you remember?

I thought about this all day today. I wandered through my expansive memory bank trying to recall the earliest one. And then, it came to me. In it, I am around three years old. I was with my parents at Middleton’s Berry Farm, when it was on Stoney Creek Road in Oakland Township, Michigan. It was autumn, and we were there to select pumpkins. There was a children’s play area too with a straw bale mountain.

I remember playing on the bales and climbing to the top of the mountain. Once I reached it, I looked down at my mom and dad, who seemed a gazillion feet down, and I grinned. They clapped and snapped my photo. And then…I jumped! I jumped from the top of the straw bale mountain into the ocean of straw that surrounded it.

It was pure child joy. It was a type of joy that only kids can have and relish. My earliest memory is of perfect childhood joy.

What do you yearn for?

Too much.

Personally, I yearn for continued health and happiness of my family. I want to see my parents enjoy their retirements together. I want them to travel and take zany photos in front of the country’s largest ball of ear wax.

I want to enjoy the life that I am building with my husband. I want to continue to get to know him and for us to have adventures together. I want him to think that I am nuts but still look at me with his beautiful brown eyes the light up when he sees me. I want to continue to build a family with him that will one day include children. I want to become a loony old lady, and I want him to be my loony old man.

Socially, I yearn for a world that is clean. I want human beings to learn from our history and stop repeating ugliness. I want my children to never know the words “bigot”, “racist”, and “sexist.” I want to see people of any race, gender, or class treated as equals by humanity and law.

I want women, all women, to have the freedom to make choices for their own wellbeing that aren’t governed by men in ivory towers.

I want all people to be able to love peacefully and discover their identities without scrutiny or shaming.

And I want people to stop damaging the planet with reckless abandon. I want to see the sun shine on the ocean without reflecting oil slicks and dead dolphins.

Apparently, I want a lot.

I was asked once to write an essay an about WWII. The prompt was an open-ended question that was something along the lines of “do ‘we’ deserve the sacrifice that was made during the war?” I yearn for the answer: “yes.”

That is my sixty second story.

I know that without a doubt this story will change. But this is what I am working on projecting into the world. If I project kindness, hope, and positivity, maybe it will boomerang back to me. I hope so. That’s another thing I yearn for I suppose.

As I go on and continue to work on this, my boomerang story, I will keep the word “remembrance” in mind. How do I want to be remembered?

My spirit animal, Amy Poehler, says “I want to be around people that do things. I don’t want to be around people anymore that judge or talk about what people do. I want to be around people that dream and support and do things.”

Moving forward, it will be more effective to be the things I want to be remembered for. After all, it is my story. My life is the book, and every single day is my latest chapter, my fresh page, and most importantly, my words.

Raising Bikers 

A couple days ago, I walked into a parking lot and saw my mom and dad’s motorcycle. I had no idea my dad was in the store. My mom was at work, so I knew he was there by himself. But I’d know their bike anywhere. 

I work part time  during my summers off and I started this week. It’s necessary for me to get out of the house a little every week. So when I saw my parents’ motorcycle, I knew my dad and I must have passed each other. 

I was happy my dad was out and about. His new found retirement looks good on him!

Motorcycling is something my parents have liked to do for as long as I can remember. And beyond. 

I, on the other hand, hate it. 

It’s all a balance issue for me. I’m terrified that I’m going to fall. And my depth perception isn’t that great. 

When I was in elementary school, my mom and dad had a side car put on their motorcycle so I could go with them. It was a blast! I liked it because it felt like my own go cart. 

I also discovered that as long as I stayed low enough, I could read in there! I was protected by the windshield just enough… Until one day, my copy of Hook flew out of my hands. 

If you’re ever in a position to be on I-75 north, shy of exit 202 in Michigan, I lost the book right before the curve. 

Poor Hook

That’s the only book I lost while motorcycle riding. 

My mom and dad are planning motorcycle trips and I can’t wait to see them travel. They’ve worked hard their entire lives and deserve to have some fun!

Another man was admiring their bike in the parking lot.

“Tell ’em another old dude was admiring it.” He told me after I engaged him in conversation. 
M parents were happy to know their bike was a source of afternoon envy. 

But what they all don’t  know is his much I admire them. 

Seeing them take off of their bike is as great for me as it is them. I’m proud of them, and I’m glad they are happy and healthy going into their retirement ages together.

They have a list of places they want to see. All I want is for that to come true. 

It’s hard to raise parents  these days, but I think I’ve done a good job. 

I can’t measure how much I love them and how proud I am. They deserve the best. 

I hope the man in the parking lot remembers that when he sees a couple out for a ride.

I told him as much. 

A Repetitive Loop

“Again!”

“Didn’t you just watch that?”

“Isn’t there anything else on?”

I have heard those lines, and others like them, for as long as I can remember. I am a repeat watcher. If I find something I like, I will watch it over and over, as if it was stuck in the wash cycle of my mind. It just keeps spinning.

This is something that I have done since I was a kid. I adored the movie The Muppets Take Manhattan and would watch it over and over as if it was on a loop in my parents’ living room.  I had quite a few that I watched time and time again as a teenager as well. And as an adult, I find myself watching the same movies continually as well.

Tonight, I am watching The Holiday for the 900th time. There is nothing about this movie that I do not love. I love Kate Winslet’s character. She is my favorite. And to be honest, I adore Jack Black in a romantic role. I wouldn’t have pictured him in the role, but now I can’t imagine anyone else in it.

I should be folding laundry. I should have collected the junk from the dining room and sorted it out. I should be reading the book that I keep saying I want to finish, but when I have time, I am too tired to keep my eyes open. And it is a book that I really want to finish. But, it’s supposed to be spring and edging into summer, and when that happens, I read outdoors. I can’t bring myself to read of the couch when I “should” be outside. However, it is Michigan, and collectively, we Michiganders must have sinned against humanity in some major way because we had snow yesterday.

So, I am instead watching The Holiday for the 900th time. And I’m chuckling because I too rock out to “Mr. Brightside” like Cameron Diaz’s character in the film, and I play a mean air guitar like Kate Winslet does. Only most of the time, I scream the lyrics while running on the treadmill or throw a fist in the air while running outdoors. My neighbors probably think I am insane. As they rightly should.  My other “go-to” movie is Practical Magic, and my mantra for life (paraphrased from the film) is “being normal denotes a lack of courage”.

I have a list of “go-to” books too. There are just some that I can’t imagine living life without. Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar was the first book I read in the semi-autobiographical genre and introduced me to critical thinking and feminist theory. The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I love Joyce. His complications of the English language astound me, and I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand Stephen, but who is every fully understood? He’s the most human character I have ever encountered. There are a hundred books on my “go-to” list depending on the situation.

I am a creature of habit, and I love these “go-to” films and books.  There is something comforting about reading or watching the same story unfold time and again.

This tells me something about how storytelling works for me.

I develop a bond, emotional and psychological, with my favorite characters. There are parts of myself reflected in them and replayed in front of me. While not a perfect mirror, I am reminded of something that matters to me, to who I am fundamentally, as a person.

My mom and dad read to me every night when I was young. And when I was a preteen and when I was a teenager, I fell asleep with my glasses smashed into my face and a book thrown open. I fall asleep with television shows and movies playing.

Because at the heart of it, I must love hearing a bedtime story.

And is anyone really “too old” for that?

I tell stories, but hearing a good story never gets old.

There have been times when I have felt closer to my fictional character friends than the real live people closest to me.

Good stories are cathartic for me. I find something in them that shapes a part of me, no matter how many times it’s the same story.

There is a comfort in “sameness” and a story that I can predict. I have taken it as my own. Even if I know how the book or the film ends, my story hasn’t ended (thank goodness), and repetition for the sake of artistry isn’t lost on me.

For a reason that I might not be able to see, I need those stories, and I need my characters to shape and develop me.

I don’t know what I’m looking for in my favorite stories, but I do know that the friendship and the kinship that I have developed with them is serendipitous.

I love stories, and tonight, while I listen to rain and thunder, I’m spending time with friends. The friends I have met through art and technology. If those don’t seem to clash…

And I wonder, who else is doing the same?

P.D.F.O.s 

Occasionally, I have dreams that have unknown origins. Many times, I think I understand where my unusual sleepy time picture shows have come from, but last night’s had me perplexed. I woke up rattled and immediately thought “that’s not what happened.” I call those: perplexing dreams of freakish origins (PDFO). Sometimes they are actual, but the greater and more important, are metaphoric. 

I rubbed my eyes for a second, pushed my hair off my face, and reached for the hair tie that slipped off in my confused sleep. 

“What was I doing that day?”

My dream had me six different kinds of confused. 

I had a dream last night about my last day of high school. And I have no idea why. 

I may have had the dream because I was thinking about my oldest nephew’s high school graduation. He graduated this past weekend (Go Bulldogs Class of ’16!). Or, maybe it was because I was thinking about The Breakfast Club because it was on tv. Either way, it was strange.

I dreamt that I was cleaning out my band locker. Yeah, I had one. And I was with three people. One of the people I was with was a girl I didn’t particularly like or dislike, and I was with another girl that I was actually friends with at the time but we weren’t close friends. They were accompanied by a boy that graduated either a year, maybe two, ahead of me. I do not remember him very well, save to say  I didn’t like him. Ever. Not even a little. 

I don’t remember the entire dream, but I remember the final scene if you will.

{at band locker–front hallway– end of school day}

{enter friend “S”–not particularly close friend–followed by “A” and male “J”}

“Did you get everything?” Friend “S” asked.

“I think so.”

“Good because once we leave, we are never coming back.” Said “J” in a snarky tone that he very well might have taken in real life. Like I said, we weren’t pals. 

“A” looked into my locker and noted that I had everything. 

And we left. “J” leading. “S” in the middle. “A” and I functioning as the caboose of an unlikely  train of people. 

I remember a tiny bit of the dream, but it did get me wondering, what did I do that day?

I can remember much of my senior year: getting my cap and gown, band practice, prom, college tours, and a host of other things, but my last day? I have no idea. I even remember fabulously not going to the all night party that my school hosted. I wanted to go home and be with the family that came to see me. So I did. I never spoke to 90 percent of my classmates again after commencement. 

I suppose this would be a bad time to say that my thought process at the time was bye Felicia

I was ready to move on and I knew that my actual friends would know why I wasn’t there. 

I’m not complicated. It’s not rocket science. I didn’t show because I felt like it was a slap to those that travelled to see me. “Thanks for coming, bye now?” 

This may be why, when I ran into a former classmate several years later, he asked how school in California was. California? How would I know?  The point was, once I was out of high school, I was gone. But I had become a bit of a mystery. Those 90 percent had no idea where I went

I graduated, and I became me

After graduation, I went back to my high school one time and it was to conduct an interview for a college writing class. 

In the past, I have made snarky remarks (sometimes quietly and to myself, sometimes out loud, sometimes even to family members…) about  high school graduations. “Congrats, you passed the easiest part of life” was a favorite. And I was thinking about bills, jobs that actually have to be kept, commitments, and all of the boring, mundane things called “adulting”. And, for many kids, that’s the case. 

But if that was actually true, if those years really  were the “easiest” why are people so often twisty about them? 

So while on some level, they are the “easiest” parts of life, they aren’t the “easiest” either. 

I am not entirely sure any part can be labeled “easy” with any sort of confidence. Only bravado. 

I have no idea what I did on my last day of my high school career. None. And I really don’t care to know with any accuracy.

I think I likely went home, threw my school bag on the bench in my family’s kitchen, grabbed my book, and went outside.

I started college in the fall and I lost contact with many of my former classmates. It’s not their fault and it’s not mine either. We had to grow up and become people beyond our childhood reflections and opinions of and about one another.

So, after I had the bizarre dream, I thought of its purpose.

I’m not one to say that every dream has meaning, because the one I had about the store that only sold left shoes, is just weird

But I think I know this one.

And it comes in the shape of advice:

Dear Graduate:

Congrats! You’ve passed through what many, and maybe myself included, will call “the easiest parts of life.” They aren’t, and I know the experience is different for everyone, but if I don’t razz you, who will? 

At first, being an adult sucks. It does. Bills suck. Jobs can suck. College? Yeah. That can suck too. Being broke sucks. And I know that sounds cherry and rosy, but you know what? It’s supposed to suck. Because epic stories will come out of it. And while “adulting” is never easy, it doesn’t suck forever.

Lots of people are going to try to live your life for you. They’ll tell you where to go to school, what your major should be,  what it shouldn’t be, and what you ought to do as a future occupation. Tell them (nicely, or whatever your degree of nice is) to step off. 

You’re going to have P. D. F. O.s that you need to follow. Do not strike down your dreams for  satisfaction of, or validation from, anyone. 

Lastly, no one cares what you were in high school. No one. Prom queen? So what? Star athlete? No one cares. Geek? Good for you. Still no one cares. Life levels out and becomes much more cruel, yet one thousand times more  forgiving,  once you’re no longer surrounded by people that know the you that you didn’t yet know. 

Start again. Do not let high school become your glory years. 

Make memories. Become a person that thinks beyond twelfth grade. Amaze yourself. Challenge yourself. Be open and accepting. Care about something bigger than yourself. These things will only do you good. They will not hurt you. Ever. 

 Become a person that can’t remember the last day of high school. 

Those four years shape much of who we become. But they aren’t the end all, be all. Thank goodness. 

Be more. 

You can.

And if you do one thing, don’t become an engineer if you’re really a poet. Don’t become a doctor just to make money. Law should be practiced only by the truly passionate. And don’t teach to “get the summers off”. 

Your perplexing dreams of freakish origins know what they’re doing. Those are the metaphoric. And metaphors deserve voice and attention. 

Turn your tassel.

And listen. 

Listen to your P. D. F. O.s. They are the greatest truths you have.

Finding Light

Lighthouse

Like usual, when it’s nice outside, I go for a walk or a jog. Today, I was on a roll. I walked 5.07 miles and I loved every minute of it out in the sun and the fresh air. And as usual, I listened to one of my favorite podcasts, Lore. The episode I found most fascinating today was about folklore surrounding lighthouses.

I found this particularly interesting. I don’t have many memories of family vacations that don’t involve traveling to the Upper Peninsula and checking out the coast. I have always liked the lighthouses the best. That is an interest that my mom and I share. The master bathroom in their house is decorated in lighthouse decor.

I remember a trip to climb a lighthouse as a teenager. I have pictures with my parents along the trail, and I remember thinking that those trendy Adidas sandals with the little plastic “knobby” things inside were the most uncomfortable walking shoes ever.

The episode I listened to today focused on the lighthouses and lore surrounding Maine’s coast, and I was honestly surprised to learn that Maine has more miles of coast than California. While Aaron Mahnke was discussing the legends, my mind wandered. I began thinking about the last time I saw a Michigan lighthouse.

The last time I saw a Michigan lighthouse was in the summer of 2010. I had just completed graduate school, I quit a job that was horrific, and I had been gloriously dumped (via text message). So I was school-less, jobless, and boyfriend-less.  I spent my days as productively as possible. I applied for jobs all over Michigan, and I began thinking about moving out-of-state. I cried when I submitted an application in Virginia. I hated the thought of leaving everything that was familiar.

And when I wasn’t in front of my computer, I was outside walking. I was helping my mom train for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer 3-Day. I wanted to walk with her, but the job situation kept me from registering.

So when I was offered a chance to go on a vacation with my family, I only had one answer. “Of course!”

We went away for a few days up north. In Michigan, “up north” is any place that is north of Saginaw.

I remember walking in Mackinaw City and taking pictures of everything that I saw, as per usual.

I snapped away and took photos of the Old Mackinaw Point Lighthouse.

It is one of the most beautiful buildings that I have ever seen. I have always admired it and what is stands for. I find Great Lakes legends and lore fascinating. The Great Lakes are their own mystery and every inch of those bodies of water have stories to tell.

When I think of lighthouses, I think of that vacation.

As soon as I got home, I swallowed my pride and called on a job that I was offered but had been reluctant to accept. I didn’t want to go back to being a medical secretary. I was supposed to be a teacher. But what I didn’t count on was having a hard time finding a full-time teaching position. “Other” people had problems finding jobs after grad school, but I was going to be just fine.

I was wrong. Very, very wrong.

It looked like I was in the same boat as other fresh graduates that wanted to be teachers. I had some adjuncting to do.

But in the meantime, I needed a full-time job so off to be a medical secretary again. And it was a good decision.

I met one of the best friends that a woman could ever have, and the job gave me the footing that I needed to enable myself to buy my first house.

Good things came my way after my last visit to the lighthouse.

 

According to the National Park Service, the first lighthouse in the United States, Boston Light, was constructed in 1716. I can’t begin to imagine how important this beacon has been to seafarers throughout the centuries.

My lighthouse is 173 years younger than the oldest lighthouse in the country. It is rich in history, but in my own history, it is indicative of a turning point.

Last summer, I wrote a poem called “The Sound of Water” and it was inspired by Hopper’s The Lighthouse at Two Lights. Lighthouses inspire my art as much as they have done their job for me.

And lighthouses are beautiful, mysterious, and they are full of stories. They have purpose.

In short, my life goal is to be a human lighthouse.

I need to go back, and I need to go back soon. I should stand in the same spot and tell my story, if only to my notebook. I’m no longer school-less. In fact, I teach full-time now. I am not jobless. And boyfriend? Ha! I married my perfect match.

I found my light and I followed it. I didn’t run aground.

I didn’t sink.

Lighthouse Two

 

Paging Diana Ross…Paging Ms. Ross…

“Cause baby love, my baby love, I need ya, oh how I need you….”

“Betty, is that Jimmy’s ring you’re wearing?”

“Goin’ to the chapel and we’re gonna get married…”

With the perfect glittery dress, plastic shoes, and toy microphone, I jammed in the bedroom of my childhood home. You see, as a kid, I could sing. As long as it was a 1950s-1960s girl group song. I owned it. I was a Supreme, a Shangri-La, and a Dixie Cup.

I had the girl groups’ greatest hits on cassette and those tapes were the best. And when I was in elementary school, my mom bought me every girl group and Motown sound album she found. 

She also bought me dress up clothes from resale shops. My dress up clothes consisted of old prom dresses and gowns. They were inexpensive and I loved dressing up in “fancy” dresses. 

I also got plastic dress up shoes from the toy aisle in Food Town. I think those were simply because they fit my tiny girl feet. 

I put on concerts for my family and as I got older, I truly believed I could sing. 

And as I grew up, I gravitated toward music that varied. Wildly.

The first cd I ever owned was  TLC’s first album. Not Crazy Sexy Cool. The other one. This is directly from the girl group obsession. 

In the early 90s, I loved Mariah Carey. I watched her concert video (on VHS), and sang along to EVERY song.

But on the other hand, I loved Prince. I know all the words to “When Doves Cry” and have since I was in middle school.

I could sing Springsteen songs. And I knew Led Zeppelin was the greatest rock band ever.  But I thought Ann and Nancy Wilson were the coolest! And Joan Jett?!

 I did actually sing in a talent show when I was in sixth grade. And… I was pretty.darn.good.   For an eleven year old. 

Celine Dion was also one of my favorites as a “tweenager.” See? Wild variations.

Yeah…I thought I could sing like her.

But then nerves set in. And I met a friend that actually could sing and I let her take that from me. Maybe I shouldn’t have, but I did. I let her sing and I let my own singing voice sit on a shelf.

I often tried to sing when I was a teenager, and when I was sixteen, a boy I liked told me my voice was good. I was singing “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac, but I performed the cover of the song, like my then favorite band, Letters to Cleo. 

I think he was humorimg me. I am pretty sure it wasn’t that great.

He didn’t have to. We never dated. And that was probably for the best. Obviously, he couldn’t be trusted. 

I used to love playing music as well. I remember watching the marching band as an eager fifth grader thinking “I can’t WAIT to do that.” Their performance of The Terminator theme caught me and never let go.

I was in marching band and in the symphonic band all four years of high school.

And unknown to many, if not most, of my high school friends, I was in a flute choir and performed with them as well. I took private lessons and I was a very talented jazz player.

But I let my teenage resentment of my marching band director kill it for me. 

I thought he had favorites, and not being one, I gave up on my music. 

That was foolish. I was good but I wasn’t yet smart enough to know I didn’t need his validation.

The teacher I had for private lessons died a few years ago, and I hadn’t seen her since I graduated from high school. 

That was thirteen years ago.

I haven’t played my flute since then. 

I’m afraid she would be saddened to see that I’ve let that part of me atropy so horribly.

 I have always found music a huge source of joy. I often think of picking my flute up and asking a graduate student to tutor me. 

I love to sing and do it often. I have even performed karaoke, badly, on several occasions. And I love it!

  

My car is my favorite spot. I truly think that everyone sounds good in a driver’s seat. And I often drive like I am the star of my own music video. 

When I’m stressed, “dance it out” is often a go to/cure all. I once said that my reaction to One Direction was embarrassing. I try to keep my dignity, but occasionally, modern pop songs are damn addicting.

I have never tried to write a song. Although I’ve written about songs many times. 

I think those are two worlds I need to keep separated for now. I’m functioning quite well as a writer and teacher. Who needs to add “award winning songwriter” to that list? 

See? Inflated sense of self. I’m a rock and roller all ready. 

I thought of all of this tonight because I called our puppy “Baby Love” this evening. I hummed the song’s hook to her. She cocked her head like I was, in fact, the nuttiest person on earth. She might be right.

  
But I love music. I love singing. And even if I really stink, because I really do, I don’t see myself stopping. 

I shouldn’t have given up playing music. And I am serious about finding a would be tutor.

If I make a list of regrets, letting playing music  fall away would be on it. 

When I do this, I’m going to write a letter to Diana Ross. Maybe she’ll let me accompany her? 

If not, I can sing Baby Love to the pup. She’ll think I’m okay, even if I’m not. She might even listen to my jazz flute music.

I can still partially deafen the neighbors and the friends that take pity on me. 

The similarities between music and writing do not surprise me. I don’t think I would be a writer today without the love of music that I had first.

Even with the glittery dresses and plastic shoes.

Maybe the words in the songs did it.

And that is what I need to tell Diana Ross. 

And the next time I think I should pick up my flute and play, I will. Squawk and all. 

Because even “has been” musicians make come backs. 

When I Need To Dream

I do not like birds. I do not trust them. They look like they think mean thoughts. However, I admire them. Yes, I realize that is a contradiction. But they are beautiful. They are mysterious. They can do so many things I can’t. They can sing and fly and see so well

But I love falling asleep in the summer to the sounds of their singing. Tonight, I was thinking about what I wanted to write, and all I could think about were the birds. 

I love throwing the windows open and letting fresh air and the sounds of spring filter through my home. 

I dream best in the spring and summer. I think it has a lot to do with the songs. 

I have always been quite a vivid dreamer. 

I remember having a dream about driving my car off of the earth, directly from Texas, around the moon (which is made of cheese), and back. 

I can remember many of my dreams, and they have been starts for many of my favorite pieces of writing. 

I am a summer girl. I don’t like anything about winter. Nothing. I love Christmas, and I compensate for the cold by decorating. But, it’s not my favorite holiday. It’s glorious and I adore each one spent with loved ones,  but Memorial Day is my favorite. Memories are things I hold, cherish, and share.

When I don’t hear the birds, I hear frogs and other chirps that I cannot indentify. 

I appreciate the harmonies that come in through the open windows. They help me find my creativity and I see nothing wrong with leaving a trail for my muses to find me. 

My world slows considerably in the spring and summer. It’s the downside of my profession. I find a summer job that covers us financially, but intellectually I have felt like I took a step backward. 

And in those instances, I know that’s why I can hear my chirping. I need it. My inspiration. 

Thank you. Winged creatures. You know just when to show.

And when I need to dream.

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