…and at once I knew I was not magnificent

On the last full day I was camping, I went for a hike. I’m pretty sure this was the day after  the loon incident because it was cool enough for me to wear a sweatshirt that morning and not want to put on my swimsuit and hang out by the beach. Hiking seemed like something worthwhile and therapeutic. As a kid, I remember hiking with my parents and then later with my cousins. We always seemed to spend hours and hours on the trails, and when we decided to return for pizza pudgie pies, it seemed to take hours. So I prepared by double knotting my tennis shoes, filling my nalgene with water, stashing two granola bars, a two-way radio (walkie talkie doesn’t seem like a legitmate device), my ipod, camera, and finally hooking Jack on a leash. I was pretty sure I would be gone for three or four hours, and I figured I was prepared with 32 ounces of water and two granola bars.

The hike was beautiful. I let Jack off the leash and he walked ahead, sniffing and pausing every now and then for me to catch up. I don’t spend much time in nature. You might think this would make me savor every experience in which I’m surrounded by foliage and chirping birds, but I don’t. It’s not that I was bored by the hike, I just kept wondering if other people walked the same trail in awe of the trees and creatures that inhabited them.

I was hoping that the trail would lead me far away from the campground, where I would actually be in danger of being lost. I’m not sure what part of that I was craving – the isolation, the powerlessness, or the twisted sort of lack of responsibility that comes with either of those. Part of me was thinking this would be a way to escape, if only for a few hours. But I’m not sure what I was escaping from. My phone hadn’t been on for days, I wasn’t arguing with anyone in my family, I certainly wasn’t stressed by life at camp. Maybe I was thinking that if I escaped (got lost in the woods), I wouldn’t have to return to my normal life. My normal life that consists of monotonous office work, a wavering desire to be active and healthy, a useless Netflix queue, a virtually nonexistent love life, and a sort of sick gut feeling of needing to do more with my life.

But I didn’t want to really do that. I didn’t want to live alone in the woods with my dog. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m comfortable on my own. I’ve started to appreciate the fine art of being alone. I like having the freedom of creating my own adventures. Right now they might not be the most exciting adventures, but they’re more than what I had over the last year or so. The long distance thing with Bill sort of clipped my wings (sorry for the cliche). It’s not that I was unhappy with it – I was comfortable. I liked my routine of work, read/write, text and videochat with Bill. But I didn’t see my friends much because I was often waiting for him to be done with class or rehearsal so we could talk or hangout via videochat. When I did hang out with my friends, I was alert to the vibration of my phone when he would text. I missed him terribly when I was out. I missed the coupledom even though I was part of one. Of course that’s something you sign up for when you’re in a long distance relationship, but I didn’t realize the repercussions. What I’m really getting to is that what I saw as my being loyal to my boyfriend was really just me being complacent with my life. I didn’t really challenge myself to meet new people. I didn’t push myself to write more. I didn’t explore my own creativity. I didn’t  enjoy my immediate life.

But I’m starting to do those things. I’ve met several new people in the last few weeks. I’ve gone places without the security blanket of a friend to force myself to meet new people. I’ve rediscovered my itunes library and made Pandora stations that inspire me to create things (Santigold & St. Vincent are particularly good). I’m truly enjoying my friendships again. I hesitate to say that I sacrificed those things while I was in the relationship because Bill enriched my life in many ways. Also, admitting you sacrificed things while in a relationship is essentially admitting that you’re a dependent romantic who can’t even feign independence. And I don’t really like how that sounds. “I was just a really dedicated girlfriend” sounds a lot better than “I used my relationship as an excuse to become complacent and dependent on one person for my happiness.”

I think that’s what I was hoping to escape from. It was something I had learned over the previous few weeks but had been reluctant to articulate. I considered just leaving this revelation to myself, but I’m a bit of an exhibitionist (And Other Reasons to Have a Blog, a book by Ashley Otto) because there’s always been a part of me that doesn’t truly admit the truth of a statement until I write it down. When I was in elementary school, I didn’t officially have a crush on someone until I wrote it in my journal. What does that say about me? Whatever it is, it’s probably something pathetic. Maybe that’s why I’ve waited over a week since returning from my vacation to write this post: I’m not exactly eager to admit I’ve made mistakes and have weaknesses.

Anyway, I kept getting annoyed when I would pass a campsite or see that I was near a road. It was further proof that I couldn’t just escape reality – physical or psychological. Finally, I resigned to the fact that as long as I stayed on the trail, I would be close to camp and wouldn’t be left to die of starvation or dehydration. It was around then that I put on my headphones and listened to Bon Iver while I traipsed back to the campsite. For a while, I had pretended to be enchanted by the natural state of my surroundings. And it had kind of worked. It was beautiful and  picturesque in the way that a camera is never able to capture (though not for lack of trying), but what I really wanted was a soundtrack to help me imprint the afternoon in my memory.

And anyway, what could be more Wisconsin than hiking up north with Justin Vernon crooning in your ears?


On Hope

A few weeks ago, Bill and I made the decision to finally bring this whole long distance thing to a close. We’re both getting tired of it and I’d been planning on doing this anyway. I was going to move in with him in his two-bedroom apartment in Oklahoma. It was exciting. Finally, I was going to see the man I love every day instead of a few days at a time with weeks or months in between. It was exciting. It seemed inevitable that we would do this. I’ve been told by acquaintances that we look like a couple who has been together forever and who will be together forever. When we were both living in Oshkosh, if I went somewhere alone, I had a half dozen people ask me where Bill was. It was the kind of relationship I’ve been longing for since I was fifteen – one where you’re inexplicably tethered to the other. My past relationships were nothing really like that. I often felt like an optional accessory, one my boyfriends felt they could wear when they wanted and throw in the back of the closet when they were bored.

Basically, I felt unimportant. And my romantic experience hadn’t afforded me opportunities in which I felt allowed to feel important. That fact is an issue entirely its own. Berate me for low self-confidence and I’ll tell you every girl struggles with that. Berate me for dating assholes and I’ll tell you if a girl hasn’t, she’s at least been tempted. Berate me for realizing the signs, allowing this to happen and I’ll tell you I have no idea what I was thinking. I have no explanation.

But then in walked Bill and all was changed. He constantly made me feel beautiful and important. Other boyfriends told me they valued my intelligence, but Bill was actually interested in what I had to say. Bill challenged me and loved when I could challenge him. It was invigorating. I always felt free to share things with him. Early on, I was able to tell him the things I was most ashamed of. Scary yes, but I was not afraid of him judging me as other boyfriends had. I felt as if I had found a partner and an equal with whom I could spend years with.

Of course everybody feels like that early on in relationships. The beginnings are always blooming with possibilities and anticipation. You’re eager to learn whatever you can about the person. You kiss them so many times you become numb to what a kiss actually is since you never have to worry if another will follow. You take for granted those silly moments – naps on rainy afternoons, white zinfandel-soaked Scrabble games, Arrested Development marathons, and the times you unenthusiastically  watched Star Wars movies with him. Those moments become lost in your mind because every day is full of them.

When things changed and I was 900 miles away from him, those moments took on a fresh sweetness and importance. Each interaction we shared on visits was something to be cherished since they were so few and far between. So the prospect of the distance closing and being able to create new moments and memories was exciting to me. It was that same invigoration I felt at the beginning of our relationship.

Relocating from the home I’ve known for 24 years was an intimidating prospect. But the fact that I had someone there to help me figure things out and to support me when I became overwhelmed, lonely, or scared made it easier. The fact that I was going to be with the man I love made it okay. So I got excited about it all. I decided to take this move as an opportunity to sort of reinvent myself. I began to work out and eat better. I started getting rid of things I hadn’t used in months. I started looking at all the possibilities. Instead of limiting myself to searching for clerical and administrative jobs, I began applying for writing and editorial positions. I began writing more. I read more, studying the way great essayists craft their pieces, seeing how the at first apparently unrelated threads of an essay braid together to create the meaning.

I was excited about the future and I couldn’t wait to do this with Bill at my side again.

But yesterday I woke up to something that put all of this on hold. Without going into detail, I’ll just say that the plan to move to Oklahoma has been put on hold. I’ve been a mess ever since. Having to re-evaluate my plans has caused all sorts of crying spells. I go through moments when I mourn what might be lost, then I think of the newness of my situation and I’m a little hopeful at the prospect of figuring this all out for myself without that tether to Bill. But it inevitably relapses to the mourning bit. It’s been incredible to see the amount of support of family, friends, and acquaintances that has come pouring forth.

I mostly feel like staying in bed in my own filth, crying and drinking obscene amounts of whiskey, but I realized that in order to feel better I needed to ask for help. It’s only been a day, but my friends have been there with open ears, sushi meals, and chocolate vodka to get me through this. My family has been there, not minding when their shoulders get wet. It’s great to know that though this is incredibly difficult for me to do, I don’t have to go through it alone.

I realize that if this relationship is really over, it is not the equivalent of my life being over. But that doesn’t change the fact that it hurts like hell. I feel like I’ve lost a great deal of hope – hope and possibility and all those things we talked about. Losing hope has got to be the hardest thing to lose. Having to rebuild it takes time and determination. I have none of the latter at the moment though I feel compelled to do something. I can’t be sure what that something is, but I’m pretty sure it’s buying a puppy. However, I realize when I’m feeling vulnerable, I have the tendency to make irresponsible and rash decisions, so I’m staying away from animal shelters and instead comforting myself with Taylor Swift songs and Sloane Crosley essays.

My life as I know it will be over.

I had a strange realization the other day, one that shouldn’t exactly be a realization. As of December 16, I’m no longer going to be a college student.

It’s all I’ve done for the last five years. I’m having an existential crisis. Am I entitled to that?

I’m preparing to go visit Bill in a few days. In fact, I will be seeing him in just over 48 hours. I haven’t seen him since September. It’s been over two months since I’ve kissed him, hugged him, touched him, or woke up to him talking in his sleep. I’m flying into Oklahoma City around 10pm on Tuesday night. I’ve never gotten off an airplane to be greeted by a boyfriend. I’ve been trying to imagine the scene. I’m sure I’ll be tired since I’m working in the morning, and traveling by plane is oddly exhausting. However, if I don’t have a five year old kicking the back of my seat like my last flight, I’ll consider this one a success. I’ll exit the terminal and search for Bill, hauling my carry on bag and rolling suitcase and then I’ll see him and cry. Big gooey tears that are embarrassing but I won’t care because I’ll finally actually be seeing Bill in the flesh rather than on my computer screen and for the first time in months my tears will be on his shirt and not on my sleeve.

But maybe I won’t cry. Maybe I’ll just smile till my cheeks hurt and then we’ll kiss and I’ll blush for the rest of the night. 

Because I’m not there yet, I’m wanting the next two days to pass by as quickly as possible. I’m becoming acutely aware of how swiftly time moves. I’ll be in Oklahoma for about a week, then after that, I’ll have just three weeks left as a college student. That means I will be cramming an enormous amount of work into three weeks. I have several books I need to read. While I’m doing this, I need to read critically so I can write a comparative paper for my African American Women Writers class – I’m thinking of comparing a Lorrie Moore story with one of Danielle Evans’s stories. Which two stories, I’m not sure. I read Moore’s Self Help a few months ago, and I’m not through Evans’s collection. I’m anticipating that by rereading Moore’s book and completing Evan’s collection, I’ll have a sudden epiphany and I’ll write a brilliant paper. I also need to write a paper about Pat Barker’s Regeneration, which as far as I can tell, 2/3 of the way through, has no plot. So far I’ve picked up a few things about a stuttering psychiatrist who has some homosexual tendencies and a few WWI soldiers getting day passes. It’s really a pretty boring book and because it’s near impossible to finish reading, I’m going to have a very difficult time writing about it. I also have to finish a draft of my seminar project – a piece of creative nonfiction that’s turning into a pretty personal endeavor – and then revise it until it’s wonderful.

While I have all of these books to read and also biology and anthropology to study, I decided to read another book. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. An editorial review on Amazon reads:

Even among authors, Jeffrey Eugenides possesses a rare talent for being able to inhabit his characters. In The Marriage Plot, his third novel and first in ten years (following the Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex), Eugenides describes a year or so in the lives of three college seniors at Brown in the early 80s. There is Madeleine, a self-described “incurable romantic” who is slightly embarrassed at being so normal. There is Leonard, a brilliant, temperamental student from the Pacific Northwest. And completing the triangle is Mitchell, a Religious Studies major from Eugenides’ own Detroit. What follows is a book delivered in sincere and genuine prose, tracing the end of the students’ college days and continuing into those first, tentative steps toward true adulthood. This is a thoughtful and at times disarming novel about life, love, and discovery, set during a time when so much of life seems filled with deep portent.

The “tracing the end of the students’ college days and continuing into those first, tentative steps toward true adulthood” bit was the thing that really sold me. I’ve been sort of obsessed with books like this lately. I want how-to texts to tell me how to be an adult, because I don’t really know what it’s like to not be a student. I’m no longer looking to books for escapism – I’m looking to them for comradery, even if the heroines of these fictions don’t figure it out. Lorrie Moore’s characters are usually women just on the verge of a breakdown, and the Madison-area college student in A Gate at the Stairs felt like a best friend on the pages. About thirty pages into The Marriage Plot, I’m beginning to wonder when Eugenides was able to notate my thoughts while I sat through my English classes. Consider such gems like:

She’d become an English major for the purest and dullest of reasons: because she loved to read. (pg 20, from the Kindle edition)

That left a large contingent of people majoring in English by default. Because they weren’t left-brained enough for science, because history was too dry, philosophy too difficult, geology too petroleum-oriented, and math too mathematical—because they weren’t musical, artistic, financially motivated, or really all that smart, these people were pursuing university degrees doing something no different from what they’d done in first grade: reading stories. English was what people who didn’t know what to major in majored in. (pg 21, from the Kindle edition)

But after three solid years of taking literature courses, Madeleine had nothing like a firm critical methodology to apply to what she read. Instead she had a fuzzy, unsystematic way of talking about books. It embarrassed her to hear the things people said in class. And the things she said. I felt that. It was interesting the way Proust. I liked the way Faulkner. (pg 24, from the Kindle edition)

I’m really hoping that Madeleine ends up figuring her life out so I can follow suit. However, since it’s a Eugenides novel, she’ll probably have a much deeper existential meltdown, then commit suicide or her whole family will die. Don’t worry though, it will be done in the most brilliant of fashions.

If I were really smart, I would save this and any other leisure reading material for December 17.

Dear Wonderful Boyfriend

As a rule, I hate Facebook ads. Facebook is a huge timesuck and I wish I could delete it. For NaNoWriMo, I think I might. Since I have an Android phone, that’s how my contacts are all synced up, but I’m sure I can find a way to get around that and to completely delete Facebook off my phone as well.

Anyway, to throw off the people at Facebook, I go through phases where I will mark all the ads as “offensive” or “sexually explicit”. I could see the ads getting more and more desperate – grasping at anything that I might be interested in. This included things like Modcloth, vintage engagement rings, shoe subscription services (Surprisingly, I don’t want to get a new pair of Kim Kardashian shoes every few weeks), and classes to be an ultrasound tech. Nowhere on my profile do I claim to like dresses, jewelry, or shoes, so I think they just said, “Well, she’s a girl, so let’s throw this crap at her.”

I do, however, have my favorite authors and tv shows listed, so that’s about all they have to go off of until I write on a friend’s wall, mentioning champagne and all the ads on the side change to things about cocktails and drunk driving attorneys (yes, that happened). Last week, they gave me an ad about David Sedaris performing at the Overture Center in Madison. I did not mark this ad sexually explicit or offensive. I clicked on it.

Because I’m broke, I couldn’t justify the cost. However, I told Bill about it, and he said he’d be more than happy to buy a ticket for me if I could get down there. So, I will be borrowing a parent’s car and getting to Madison on October 28 to see my favorite author do a reading.

After Bill bought the ticket, he told me this was conditional. He probably should have said that before purchasing the ticket, but whatever. He said that he got me the ticket under the condition that I find some way to interact with him while I was there. This didn’t mean clapping after he finished reading an essay, I’m assuming. Of course I agreed to it, because that’s a perfectly reasonable and fantastic condition. If there is a book signing or meet and greet, I will stay in line for as long as security will allow.

I feel like I need a game plan. What do I talk to him about? He’s a pretty successful author, and I’m sure there are plenty of people who talk to him saying, “I LOVED that essay and then I copied it, but not before decorating my living room in a conspiracy-hunting psychotic style with your and Hugh’s pictures.” And that is not something I will say. I’m not psychotic and I have no idea what Hugh looks like. I think my best bet is to mention the “Old Faithful” essay (see my previous post), or ask him about “Repeat After Me” and how his writing has affected his family.

Let’s hope that I develop a plan and actually stick to it instead of bumbling like an idiot, “Your books good. I read lots and laugh loud.”
That’s what I imagine myself doing, but perhaps I can fight my instincts for once.