I never know what to do when a person is staring at me, so obviously waiting for me to leave, whether it’s my vacating the register as soon as I receive my change or turning over to her the restroom sink in a punctual manner.
I try to be quick. Considerate. But my desire to consider others, and to avoid eye contact, is continually conflicted with my mental urgings to slow down and let them wait.
People are rarely concerned with the time they take to put away their change at the checkout counter, I repeat to myself, becoming increasingly hostile. My fists balling up as I grasp for my purse.
I have spent countless minutes awkwardly staring and then looking away, staring, looking away, at the girl occupying the only mirror in the bathroom. While she is more than content to blot and dab her lipstick as I fidget with fire in my eyes.
Maybe my awareness of myself and others is just more heightened than other people’s, I say to myself.
I feel the eyes boring into my neck. I imagine the long line forming behind me as I move faster and faster, hurtling change into my wallet.
Or maybe it’s not concern for others at all. Quite possibly it’s my fear of being looked at.
This desire to go unnoticed spans all the way back to birth. I swear I came out of my mother’s stomach with a trenchcoat over my head and squinty eyes, quiet as a mouse, praying no one notices me.
I have never wanted attention. I despise it. I always pushed it away like most children push away books and vegetables.
If I were crying and someone noticed me, my mom would push me into her leg as I only sobbed harder. The only thing worse than crying is having some adult in your face asking if you’re okay. I was 15.
This quality continues to haunt me today.
Instead of going to parties, I read. Instead of making human friends, I walk dogs. Instead of speaking, I write.
A couple of years ago I learned sign language in preparation of the day I would give up talking all together. But once I realized that signing was basically acting, I tossed it away in contempt.
I’m currently planning to take up braille.

Advertisements

It never ceases to amaze me to observe the number of things that we as adults find ourselves doing that in kindergarten we were told to NEVER do.

A girl walked out of the bathroom today and never washed her hands. Not even a little water. She came out of the stall, walked up to the bathroom mirror, ran her hands through her hair, touched up her makeup and adjusted her shirt but never once made a move for the sink.

My mind screamed, wash your hands. I imagined the creeping, crawling germs leaping off her hands onto the mirror, onto her hair, onto the countertops and scurrying in all directions as far away from the water as they could get so as to make sure they couldn’t get washed away by the inevitable germ-eliminating soap that in this instance never came but usually follows a trip to the toilet.

No, those germs got pretty lucky. And I was very happy to be standing on the opposite end of the locker room from her.

I felt largely contented to stand at my mirror and stare at her and judge her. Yes, judge. And why shouldn’t I?

There is such an enormous stigma against judgment today.

Turn on Jersey Shore or The Real Housewives of Orange County and you’ll get an earful of expletives and shrill demands to not judge them. How dare you judge them!

But what’s so wrong with judgment? Sure, you might be ignorant. And in that case you may deserve the dirty looks and catty remarks that come your way.

Now, in the case of the bathroom girl, she should have washed her hands. And that’s that.

I saw her go into a stall. I heard a toilet flush. So she needs to wash her hands.

Even if she did nothing more than pull off a piece of toilet paper and blot her sweaty face, she must realize that every single girl in that locker room would judge her for not washing her hands.

If for no other reason, do it for the embarrassment it will cause you. Even if you don’t care about hygiene or about anyone else’s well-being. Do it for the ick factor. Do it so you’re not looked at like the kid in first grade who disected a frog and then immediately ate her lunch.

And then there’s staring.

We were all taught at an early age to not stare at others. Eye contact, sure, great!

Eye contact is important in conversation. But shooting eye lasers at people to the point of causing them to feel as if they are being seared through at a tremendous speed goes beyond acceptable societal norms.

Long-term staring generates a sort of creepy, I like your eyes, facebook stalking kind of vibe. It does nothing for your social life, or dating life, and if you are lucky to have any friends at all, they are most likely the wrong kind.

So, as kindergartners do every day, let’s endeavor just for one day to keep our eyes looking straight ahead with hands at our side or under water, washing the germs away, and eagerly anticipating nap time.

Monkey Claws

March 10, 2011

Every community has its subcultures. Small groups within the larger local community or even within the larger world as a whole, if you want to go that big.
Portland, Ore., for instance, basks in a substantial microculture of rock climbers. As I hail from a town where, unless you are in the presence of an elite group of fitness enthusiasts, rock climbing is considered only a blithe diversion that simply involves jumping on a wall and reaching for the nearest rock. It can be done in jeans and tennis shoes with seemingly no athleticism required.
However, try that at a gym in Portland and I think the climbing gang would turn from friendly to taking you outside before you could ask what a harness was for.
My friend, Jill, aka the beginner climber, signed up for a climbing class one afternoon. I accompanied her, figuring I would skulk around the gym, looking tough, somehow entertaining myself for about 45 minutes I guesstimated. How long does it take to show someone how to put on a harness and hold a rope?
Apparently, very long.
The class was blocked out for 2 ½ hours.
On top of that, to find this open class in the first place, Jill had to call all of the gyms in Portland. Needless to say, they take their rock climbing very seriously.
And I didn’t see anyone in jeans.

We walked in to a room filled with not average people but stealth, monkey-like, chalk rubbing, forearm-ed, “live to climb” climbers.
Suddenly, my pride in owning a personal pair of climbing shoes no longer seemed any sort of bragging right, considering that everyone in the gym looked as if they’d battled numerous mountains and won; whereas, I won’t even consider stepping onto a real rock unless I see railings.
The climbing experiences I had up to this point added up to approximately four times and spread generously over a five year period, which warranted me about as much street cred as a cigarette to the fitness world.
The gym was complete with gymnastics rings and weight machines. These people weren’t here for the fun of it.
I forced myself to observe, putting aside the obvious creep vibe I felt sure I was giving off, and stood in the corner, watching the humans around me turn from regular, vertical forms into clinging, horizontal, crouching creatures. Hanging from ceilings, grappling with gravity.
I wondered if they were hiding secret monkey claws under their sleeves or gecko-like adhesive pads on their fingertips.
If this talent is for real, it won’t be long before these same people are scaling apartment walls, Spider-Man-esque. Working for good or for evil. The beginnings of a mutant community.
And I’m plannin’ to get on board.

snow resiliency

February 17, 2011

The recent snowstorms forced many of us on vacation.

Not exactly what I had in mind when planning for some time off. I would rather spend my vacation time lying by the ocean. Others might prefer to traverse down a mountain in zero degree temperatures.

But trapped in our homes probably doesn’t top anyone’s list of preferences.

There’s exceptions to everything, and everyone, of course.

The majority of us, however, were clawing at the walls, knocking down doors and frantically shoveling our driveways before the sky could dump its second helping upon us.

A day after the second storm, cars were pushing through the powder; plows were erasing the evidence; life was finding a way. We were ready for that snow; it wasn’t going to keep us down.

There’s nothing like a week of home imprisonment to bring out the best in humankind. We are more forgiving, more patient, even helpful–just happy to be outside, to be mobile. I don’t think I’ve ever bounded so eagerly into the gym before.

But don’t worry, it, as all things, will pass.

after the wedding cake

January 27, 2011

A wedding signifies the beginning of a new life. Something very deserving of celebration. Very similar to the birth of a child–a day filled with excitement and expectation of the future life of this new human.

A wedding is a symbol and celebration of another new life—the coming together of two people to create one, united existence. The result can be beautiful. Or not so much.

But whichever result the union brings, one ingredient that has arguably zero say in the final outcome is the wedding day.

The wedding day is supposed to be a never-to-be-repeated, joyous day, but I repeat, the wedding does not a life make.

How many times I have heard a woman say that she just can’t wait for her wedding, or, even more so, for the moment when the doors open and everyone turns and gazes upon her beauty thanks to her breathtaking gown that caused her parents to take out a third mortgage on their home.

Possibly, for many women, this feels like the only day where all eyes will be on them. People will think only of her. And the wedding is all about the bride. Grooms can attest to that.

But, frankly, the only person to really and truly enforce this rule is the couple–and maybe just the bride, depending on the groom’s constitution.

I overheard a woman discussing a current reality show in which soon-to-be brides compete to win a dream wedding. Each episode has a challenge and a subsequent challenge winner who, as her prize, receives a cosmetic surgery of her choice so she can look just like Barbie on her wedding day. Did Heidi Montag design this perverted horror story masquerading as a light-hearted contest?

It sounds like the love child of Extreme Makeover and A Wedding Story with a sizeable implant from The Real Housewives of Orange County.

There are just no words.

Except for the comment from my chatty tablemate. She described this embarrassing and degrading parade as “neat.”

Sounds like a phrase from her era–something the Beave would say. But I don’t think Mrs. Cleaver would agree with Bridalplasty nor with the moral code of the a-moral execs who decided over strippers and beer to air this pathetic excuse for entertainment.

Roses for the less-hurried

January 22, 2011

Time is a funny thing. I caught a glimpse of my high school graduation keyring from oh-so long ago–an item I cared so much about at the time–which catapulted me back momentarily to my awkward days of ill-fitting clothes, acne and general teenage insecurities that are only grown out of with time and experience. (For me, the baggage seeming to hang on for a painfully long time.)

I remember days that I would gaze in a sea of despair at my calendar, confirming the 85 dreadful days I had to travel before summer vacation. My growing anticipation and sure belief in the greatness of life after high school felt like a boiling pot inside of me waiting to overflow unless I pushed for the premature exit. Fortunately, I knew better.

And then, as it happens for most of us, life pushed me forward, and as slowly as it seemed at the time, I soon saw myself take my first final in college, finish my senior project and then grasp my diploma proudly, all in what seemed like a week’s time.

Life has a way of gripping us so tightly sometimes that we almost can’t grasp where are until we are on to our next challenge. Events swirl around and keep us occupied with tasks that are so important in the moment, making it a struggle to appreciate, or even acknowledge, what we are experiencing the moment we are experiencing it.

Roses really do have a wonderful scent. I, for one, plan to continue to stop and smell them.

Reasons for Resolution

January 4, 2011

As Kelly Clarkson’s poppy girl-power sass echoes through my bedroom, I curiously ponder what everyone is hoping for in 2011.

It might be hard to admit that life is really a continual cycle of repeated moments, but the truth remains. This fact becomes brashly apparent to me at the beginning of each year, more so than any other time.

The media continues to tout the secrets to reaching new weight loss goals, a new you for the new year, unforgettable celebrity faux-pas of the past, and, of course, the stand-by: trends to toss and forthcoming fads.

We are all forced, or maybe subconsciously persuaded, to evaluate our lives and look to the future. For everyone, this means something slightly different. Finances, no doubt, for many; a career change for others; health improvements; home improvements; world travel.

These are all admirable goals. I, for one, plan to become more organized, grow my writing career, eat better and improve my Spanish.

Goals keep us striving to advance, to improve ourselves. There is something very beautiful and unifying about that.

And, when we finally reach the top of that hill we are climbing, we find that the view is not only breathtaking but also inspiring, and then quickly set our sights on a new challenge. Because that sense of pride and personal achievement is not something that can be bought and shipped to our door. Maybe that’s why it feels so good.

And, admittedly, that’s anything but cookie cutter.

my learning mountain

December 23, 2010

The whir of the ski lift. The chants of enraptured children. Skiers swishing effortlessly in a haze of white. Icicles clinging to my eyelashes.

I had never seen a place like this before. A place where “catching air” was more than a catchphrase. Where the brisk cold in your face is a welcome reward as you sweep down the hill.

I had never seen snow in these quantities. Growing up southern, snow days were a rare, but coveted, occurrence. While it only took a light layer of ice to bring everyone to a halt, even that did not happen often.

It’s a different life—up north.

In the north, anything under five inches of snow and ice is simply pushed to the side with nothing more than a resigned grunt and a zipped-up jacket. They live differently up there.

Here, in Oklahoma, we live with chilly, 20-degree days, and we still pray for spring.

Far from where I am right now.

My visibility went maybe five feet out, my toes feeling like frozen stubs, doing nothing for my balance, and my arms and chest ready to implode under three layers of long underwear.

After a three hour snowboarding lesson, I felt sufficiently confident in heading down the hill. However, latching on my board and exiting the ski lift were quite a different story.

It’s amazing more people don’t careen off these death traps, I thought as I eyed my dreaded exit, feeling my palms start to sweat. A friend tried to comfort me with the story of his old skiing buddy who would refuse to ski off the lift, forcing the attendant to stop all operations to allow her to vacate. I chuckled on the outside but pondered that option on the inside. If my fear of causing a scene were not so strong, I would have seriously considered that option.

However, being me, I opted for a slightly less humiliating dismount but far more comical, I’m sure, for the fortunate onlookers.

As I tumbled out and onto my knees, I thanked the winter gods for my hat and goggle cloaking devices. At least I was somewhat shielded from my embarrassment.

I stopped to buckle my other foot into place on my board, all the while wondering how others got over their harsh but supposedly liberating learning curve—liberating as I’ve been told by veteran riders; although, I find their encouragement sorely lacking, knowing that their days of snow-filled mouths and sore backsides were but a distant memory.

It’s funny though, how a moment of awkwardness can be so quickly forgotten when it is so briskly followed by minutes of sheer, dare I say it, liberation. Winter has never been an anticipated time of year for me. But with the rush of crisp air pulling at my eyelids, the sound of soft snow under foot, the embrace of towering evergreens and the smell of winter that only northerners can describe, I felt awakened in a sense previously unknown to me.

I couldn’t wait to do it again.

Books have always offered a way to escape. In more recent times, while they may have had to yield to movies, TV and video games, nothing quite matches the growth in imagination, the building of vocabulary and general peace that comes with a consuming novel.

Just another precious gift that most youngsters today will never receive.

However, as I get older and the world becomes a little scarier, when I run for a bookstore, I find myself gravitating more and more to cookbooks, health magazines and travel guides. Three hobbies I adore. And yet, just once, I wish I could come across a book without teenage vampires, five obscenities on every page, descriptive intimacies and violence.

Books are supposed to be about escape. About fantasy. Who wants to fantasize about sadistic terrorists and unthinkable rape crimes? Unless you are in fact a sadistic terrorist. In which case, you got bigger problems buddy.

Both of the aforementioned books are currently found on the bestsellers lists, might I add.

Truth be told, these types of books have always been on the shelves. Although maybe not as blatantly explicit: Invisible Man, The Great Gatsby, The Fountainhead, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Jane Eyre. All depictions of real life for colored people, privileged debutantes, social outcasts and orphans.

Fact is, humans have always enjoyed learning about life on the “other side of the tracks,” strolling in someone else’s shoes.

I guess things haven’t changed so very much over the decades. What has changed is our idea of reality. We’ve moved from reading about the abuse of the poor and under-priveleged to unflinchingly evaluating a 2-day-old bloodied body and then reliving the murder through the killer’s mind.

The human psyche is continuing to disintegrate into an oblivion of blood, sex and anger. And we have the books to prove it.

Meanderings

December 10, 2010

The fog began to lift as the morning slowly awakened. Though somewhat hindered by the rain, it still managed to greet its residents with a sluggish grin.

Later, I tugged at my hat, feeling my soaking bangs cling to my scalp, not sure how much was sweat and how much was rain. I had been walking for a while. Vancouver is not a place to get lost in—well, I take that back. It is very much the place to lose your way and then discover it again, three hours later after a train ride through magnificent fire-red trees or after a morning winding through the city streets filled with commuters, trendy hipsters and starving art students to find yourself swinging on a swing set over clear ocean water as sail boats weave in and out of the harbor.

But all too easily, this evening, I found myself in a noisy, unfamiliar neighborhood filled with undesirable sights and sounds. My hotel, I felt sure, was just up ahead. But I had said that an hour ago; I glanced at my watch uneasily and prayed for invisibility.

Like any big city, Vancouver has its good, and it has its bad. My hotel overlooked the water, serving as a convenient location to jump the unassuming ferryboat to Granville Island, with its artsy shops, its daily fresh market and its lush beauty.

My feet reminded me of how much ground I traversed today. With an early morning jog to arrive me at the doorstep of a local coffee shop, frequented by in-the-know locals and a few imports such as myself. I gazed at the illusive French sayings scrawled across my paper cup, accompanied by their English counterparts—looking so very drab in comparison. I stopped to sip my foamy latte and listen to the many accents floating around me; that’s when I felt my eagerness for knowledge and adventure grasp hold. All I wanted to do was find an intriguing stranger, sit down for another latte and listen to him.

We all have such stories. I sometimes fool myself into thinking that I have some interesting tales to share around the campfire, but, really, as I pause to listen to others, I find I have so little to contribute. Yes, I feel like I’ve lived, to a certain extent, in my measly 26 years; and yet, my story is only one small story.

What about the student in Bolivia who, although never having been out of her country, speaks two languages fluently, plays and teaches piano and violin, spends 70 hours a month teaching the Bible and lives in a close-knit, supportive family? Or what about the young mother of two who knew how to ride a horse before she could walk and feels more comfortable herding cattle than she ever could in a shopping mall? Or the grandmother who dreamed of travel and college but could never afford them, and, instead, received her most precious desire: to raise a family in a loving, nurturing home.

Everyone has a gripping, inspiring story—no matter how large or small we think our lives to be.

The important thing is to realize it’s there and, then, look for more.

My wandering mind wandered no further as I gratefully crossed the street to my comforting hotel. My day of discovery and reflection ending as my head hit the pillow. With only my journal to share my secrets, tomorrow will bring more learnings, more inspirations, more potential journeys.

The finding will only stop when I cease to look.