An Open Letter to Billy Boyd

(read aloud to the autographed picture on my dresser)

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Dear Billy Boyd,

Thank you for coming to Cleveland, Ohio. Ours is a scrappy city, but we have the heart and soul of good Midwestern hospitality. I hope you have enjoyed your short visit. I am sorry that it is so cold here, but if you look at what it was like last weekend, you will see that we did our best to warm things up for you. I hope you found the persistent, fluffy snowflakes more magical than menacing. Long winters are just a part of the charm up north.

I am sorry that I did not come to see you at the convention this weekend, although you probably didn’t notice. It is very hard to be 24, you see, and finally come within reach of a teenage dream. Ten years ago, this all would have been different. My best friend–my Merry–would have only lived a few miles away from me. One of our parents probably would have driven us, despite the weather, and funds for the adventure would have been covered in full, because they love us so. We would have faced the snow with the childish abandon, and the zit starting on my forehead would have been the last thing on my mind. We probably would have squealed and walked around with fake accents all day. You would have either found us charmingly adorable or painfully adoring.

Ten years makes a difference.

Mr. Boyd, I want you to know that, if my hours at work hadn’t been unexpectedly cut due to weather-related cancellations–if I wasn’t already so sick of driving in the snow–if I wasn’t plagued by insecurities about my haircut, my face, and the way my pants fit–if I thought I would have had anything intelligent to say–if I had a printer to print the tickets–if there wasn’t an 8% tax on admissions–if I didn’t have to eat or stay warm or pay for the Internet—-if being an adult wasn’t so gosh-darned hard, I would be at your side in a second.

I hope you can take heart knowing that you were the only person in the entire convention I would have cared to visit. I hope you will forgive my absence when you hear that I have had a total of three consecutive stress dreams about this decision. You smelled very good in all of them, and you solved a murder in one of them. I want you to know that I almost jumped off the bus yesterday and sprinted to the Convention Center. Even now, I am being slain by pangs of guilt knowing that you are sitting but three miles from my apartment.

When I imagine your night in my city, I imagine you going to my favorite downtown pub for a drink with your other famous friends. Because I know the place pretty well, it’s not hard to imagine myself there, too. I walk up to the wooden bar and lean against it, a twenty dollar bill crumpled between my hands. As I wait for the bartender, I fold and unfold the bill, staring intently at it to avoid making eye contact with strange men. With all the wood tables and stools, the light around the place seems almost golden as a familiar Scottish voice cuts through the noise.

“It comes in imperial pints?!”

Just kidding.

This isn’t just a letter for you, Mr. Boyd. It’s also written, with love, to my younger self. Ten years ago, I had a best friend I called Merry. (She called me Pip.) We played Tig and called our separate high schools Gondor and Rohan. I was never a Frodo or Sam, with a great mission and purpose laid before me. I was never wise like Gandalf or graceful like Legolas. I was always just naive and goofy, thrust too soon into something I didn’t fully understand and trying to make the best of it despite my many errors. I was always just a Pippin.

In another universe, I had the courage and money to meet you at the convention. I shook your hand and made a weird face when I tried not to smile too big. In another universe, I ran into you at a bar and stuttered my adoration for you over loud music and strangers’ conversations. In this universe, however, my dreams came true when my friend–my Merry–met you a few months ago and thought enough of me to send me a picture you had signed. When I opened the envelope and saw your face, I cried because there you were. I cried because I felt like a kid again. I cried because, despite everything I’ve done and all the mistakes I’ve made, I knew that one of the people I care about most in this world loves me back.

So, Mr. Boyd, I hope you met a lot of interesting people this weekend. I’m sorry I couldn’t be one of them, but you know how that is. Teenagers just don’t realize how hard it’s going to be later on. I don’t know where I’m going in life, and I don’t know where I’m going with this letter, so I’ll just close with a note of thanks. Thank you for the magic. Thank you for the music. And thank you for the memories.

Regretfully Not Yours,
Jen

I’ll Stay Single

A few months ago, my parents gave me a beautiful, leather-bound journal to record my thoughts. If you’ve noticed an increase in coherence and theme in my more recent posts, you can thank that journal. Four of the last five entries have originated and worked out their kinks in those hand-written pages where order and legibility can take a back seat to setting down thoughts and feelings as they come.

This entry began in that journal as an appreciative list of the various romantic moments I’ve experienced in my life. Despite my constant whinging about love and romance, I have had countless opportunities to feel cute. One time, I curled up in front of a fireplace with a boy, a scratchy plaid blanket, and a mug full of wine and pretended we were in a Folgers commercial. Another time a boy bought flowers from a market to impress me but forgot to water them so they were adorably droopy by the time I came over. There are a lot of sweet stories, and I smile when I remember them, but when it comes to translating those thoughts and memories from a private journal to a public blog entry, my confidence always falters.

The thing is…I have had nice moments with young men, but I’ve never been in a relationship. That stark failure still casts its shadow over even the happiest moments. I’ve wanted to write about my love life for a long time, because I think it’s funny, sweet, sad, and empowering in all the right ways. I tell the stories out loud all the time, but it feels somehow different to write them down. Today I learned that I’m not quite ready to reflect seriously on all those aborted attempts to create something meaningful between two humans. No matter how nice the memories, they still leave me wondering in a way that is both unproductive and self-loathing. Turns out, it’s easier to laugh at your love life than appreciate it. Today is not the day I share.

“Then why make this post at all?” you ask. The answer is simple: as I approach spinsterhood, more and more of my friends are buying cats, meeting their soul mates, and getting married. The older I get, the more my newsfeed bleeds red hearts and roses. I’m not ignoring Valentine’s Day this year because Valentine’s Day has become impossible to ignore. Since there is nothing more comforting than feeling included, I have decided to join the pink madness. Instead of letting myself rot with bitterness, I took time in the shower to [massage my feet and] create a beautifully self-affirming list.

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10 Reasons Why I’ll Stay Single This Year

1. I am more jealous of my friends with cats than I am of those with actual human partners. It’s true. If you’ve posted a picture of you with a feline friend, I have burned with envy. If you’ve posted a picture with your boyfriend….meh.

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2. I sleep best when I can fart and drool freely. When I was in middle school, I used to pretend to sleep on the bus to sporting events, hoping my male teammates would see me napping serenely and be overcome with desire. I expertly relaxed my face and fluttered my eyelashes every few seconds. I kept my neck stiff so that my skull wouldn’t crash against the window unattractively on bumpy roads. Happily, I have (almost) given up on my dreams of falling in love on a bus.

3. I hate both talking dirty and talking baby…and talking in general. Among the list of words I dislike: sexy, babe, honey, sweetheart, snuggle, whore, and nipple.

4. I take better pictures with self-timer than actual humans do when they offer to take them for me. No, you cannot take my picture, well-meaning person. Please remove yourself from this area so that I might proceed as planned.

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5. I get frustrated by novels with too many relationships and not enough plot. It is far more interesting and meaningful to me how characters engage with their world than how they engage with each other in bed.

6. I want to travel the world alone. I’ve had the best adventures of my life travelling by myself in Europe. As such, I prefer my imagination and quiet people-watching to constant companionship and hand-holding abroad.

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7. I just ran out of my favorite lipstick, and I’m too cheap and lazy to buy another. Sorry, boys, these luscious lips are going bare for a while. I bought it for my senior prom in 2008. I doubt they even make it anymore.

8. I won’t call you, and I won’t answer when you call me. Unless you’re my mom, my boss, or my best friend the best way to reach me is not at all.

9. I hate sharing the shower with anything with eyes. This includes: spiders, ants, squirrels, wasps, birds, and boys.

10. I’m pretty darn awesome as is. I’m literally a strong, independent woman who doesn’t need a man. If it ain’t broke, after all, don’t fix it.

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Valentine’s Day is great for couples. My friends are having a blast with their partners (and cats), and it makes me happy to see them smile, but there’s nothing in the rules that says I can’t celebrate my love for myself. I may be single, but I’ve got a bottle of wine, a box of mac and cheese, a video of a fireplace to add to the mood, and a new show on Netflix. Sorry, but you don’t have to worry. I think I’m all set.

400 Calories

It’s no secret. I love Parks & Rec. At different moments in my life the show has played the role of conversation starter, pick-me-up, inspiration, and life coach (often simultaneously). The moment a co-worker compared me to Leslie Knope was the moment I first began to enjoy my job. When a friend told me I might try being Ann and dating myself for a while, I clapped my hands and told him he was a genius. Even my mom uses Parks references to dole out sage advice these days. When my brain is overtired or stricken with insomnia, I can count on Parks to provide exactly the right dose of funny, sweet, and familiar. I love it and I like it, okay?

One of the show’s greatest strengths is its multitude of characters. Most people can find a reason to like it because the characters are, like us, so incredibly various. Older, younger, emotional, stoic, nerdy, misanthropic, genial, single, married, divorced, pessimistic, optimistic… What is so amazing to me is that, despite being such a motley crew, the cast is not repeatedly set against each other to generate laughs. The humor comes from within the characters themselves and what each of them brings to the conference table. There’s also no creepy laugh-track punctuating every sentence. (I’m looking at you, Chuck Lorre.)

The point is, Parks & Rec means different things to different people, and most people can see themselves reflected in the story in some way or another. This has led to a plethora of online articles about how Parks is good for nerds and millennials and women and men and gay people and bipartisanship and puppies and…okay, you get it. One article that I have yet to unearth, though, is an article about how Parks provides a unique take on eating disorders. I’m talking, of course, about Chris Traeger.

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When Chris first enters the scene, his energy is overwhelming. He is a wide-eyed lunatic with an in-your-face optimism that is, frankly, more bewildering than funny. Even as he starts to break down in later seasons, his emotions are still extreme, and I would often find myself cringing during his scenes. It’s just as awkward seeing a grown man cry as it is to see one uncontrollably happy. Blame the patriarchy and the cult of masculinity, but it was hard for me to swallow at first. It just didn’t seem to fit into an otherwise seamless show.

The episode that really changed my opinion on Chris was “Ron & Diane,” and it might be one of my overall favorites. Every character has a chance to shine. Ron is unbelievably giddy at a woodworking convention; Leslie performs her duties as emotional guardian valiantly; Ben and Chris hang out again; we meet Jerry’s gorgeous family; Ann is awkward; Donna takes charge of a situation…really, it’s Parks & Rec gold.

At this point in the series, Chris has already been established as a health and fitness nut. He meditates, prefers kale, takes supplements, and is rarely seen sitting still. At this point in the series, Chris has also been rather unlucky in love, felt isolated from his friends, and started seeing a therapist. In this episode, Chris and Ben are hanging out for the first time in a while, and they decide to go to Jerry’s Christmas party together. Hilarious hijinks ensue, but the party also happens to be full of triggers for Chris. His ex-girlfriend(s) are there; holiday food is fattening; Jerry’s wife makes a remark about a grey hair she finds on his shirt. When Ben (who has his own emotional guardian role to play) notices that Chris is drinking the regular eggnog rather than the non-fat eggnog, he cautiously informs his friend and reassures him that one glass won’t kill him.

“No,” Chris responds, “but it will add exactly 400 calories.”

That line gets me every time. The manicness with which Chris approaches situations is meant to be a humorous exaggeration. The way he so completely throws himself into events and emotions is sweet and silly, but, under it all, a very real problem starts to develop. His relationship to his body, food, and exercise becomes unhealthy. It begins in a light-hearted way. He has funny goals (to live to be 150 years old, to run to the moon), and it seems like it’s all just a part of his crazy, finger-pointing, full-name optimism. As the series progresses, his passion turns into a compulsion. It begins to negatively affect his interactions with other people and his presence during important moments. He obsessively controls his body and mind with supplements, and he literally runs from tough situations. This isn’t just absurd comedy. To some extent, this is real life.

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Back to the Christmas party. Chris shrugs off the full-fat nog and the grey hair pretty honorably, but when his ex-girlfriend Millicent enters the scene with her young, handsome fiancee, you can see him starting to fall into his old habits. Despite being okay with the 400 calories, it’s clear that he’s been at least thinking about them for most of the night. As he leaves the happy couple, he informs them with a tense air of forced camaraderie: “There’s fat in the egg nog.”

I love this for a lot of reasons. I love this because it simultaneously shows the progress Chris has made and his continuing struggle. Going to therapy a thousand times a day hasn’t been an insta-cure, but it has provided him with the toolkit to proactively deal with situations like this. There is a difference between eating kale because you like it and knowing exactly how many calories are in the food you’re eating. There is a difference between running because it makes you feel good and knowing the exact pace and mileage you need to burn off those calories. There is a difference, and, for some people, that difference takes practice.

I love this because it represents a different side to the eating disorder trope on television, which is maybe why no one has written about it. Maybe no one has noticed. (Which, by the way, is how many peoples’ eating disorders become so serious. No one notices because they show different signs than what we are trained by the media to identify.) Chris Traeger is not a young, female professional athlete. His life is not a soap opera or sports drama. He’s just a middle-aged government guy who smiles a lot, does races for charity, and likes local produce. He doesn’t have anorexia or bulimia. He’s not overly thin and weak. He’s actually quite strong, so he isn’t what our minds conjure when we think of a person with an eating disorder, and that is precisely why I think this story arc matters.

I love that he seeks help, and that even something as serious as depression is easily incorporated into the show’s comedy. I love that he is not ashamed, and that his friends stick by him. I love that the viewer is allowed to see beyond the disorder, and I love that, in the end, Chris gets to grow into the caring, passionate, happy person he was always meant to be.

“You know, the old Chris would have loved this super-fit health goddess you guys are talking about, but our great adventure reminded me that, now, I just want someone who values the important things in life. Friendships, passion, happiness, and…dimples are a plus.”

This is a really important subject for me because I’ve been there. My positive passion for exercise and eating healthy, combined with various outside factors, once became a negative thing very quickly and very quietly. It affected my emotions, academics, friendships, and even, ironically, my passion for exercise and eating healthy. I’m making this post, in part, to add to the noise and praise yet another aspect of Parks & Rec, but I’m also making this post because National Eating Disorder Awareness Week begins at the end of February. The theme for 2015 is “I Had No Idea.” Every year, millions of people will struggle with disordered eating, unbeknownst to their friends, family, colleagues–even themselves–because their story does not match what we’ve been programmed to recognize. It’s nice to see (intentional or not) a different take on such a widely popular show. Great job, Parks. Great job, Chris. Great job.

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This has been a pop-culture appreciation post, but to make up for the lack of citations and statistics to back my thesis, here are a few articles I’ve read recently:

What is Orthorexia?
Get in the Know: NEDA
Letting Go of Food Guilt

Conversation with a Boy

I was having a great Friday night. I was wearing a pair of wild, patterned leggings, a tight black dress that made me feel powerful, and my favorite pair of boots. Before I got to the show, I met a dear friend for a drink, and then I walked across a city at night by myself. The muscles in my legs burned under my brisk “city pace,” and the winter chill bit a nice, pink blush into my cheeks. I had already seen about three dudes peeing in the snow, and I felt on top of the world.

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The show started out great. I met some new people, learned a new board game, heard some music. But, as my friend’s band got up on stage, and as I moved closer to get a better view, I could tell my good vibes were about to be interrupted by a particularly onerous situation.

I could feel him staring at me from the bar. Every time I glanced over to see if he’d left, he was there, fingering the cold, wet girth of his beer bottle. I knew what was going to happen, and I braced myself for it. I am not exactly quick to warm up to strangers. Most conversations in bars involve me being incredibly rude to any man who approaches me in an attempt to nip it all in the bud. I’m either glaring at the floor while a stranger chats up my friends, or I’m lying, apologizing, and explaining that I’m madly in love with my [fake] boyfriend. I saw this guy looking at me, and I thought, “Here we go, Jen. Let’s play nice for a change. Maybe he’ll be interesting.”

Below is an illustrated account of the conversation that transpired as I recorded it later that night. All names have been changed to protect the drunk and awkward.

“Hi, I’m Gary,” he said, extending his hand as I fought every urge to glare and ignore. He just wants to know your name, I told myself. Be nice. I took his hand and shook it awkwardly. It was soft, damp, and cold.

“I’m Jen,” I replied, trying to look pleasant but hoping he would just go away. “Nice to meet you.”

“Are you a student?” he asked, leaning in close to shout in my ear. His breath smelled like my college apartment after a big party.

“No,” I said curtly. Then, remembering that I was trying to be nice, I added: “I graduated a few years back.”

“Oh, from where?”

“Oberlin College,” I answered, keeping my eyes on the band. I was hoping my friend on stage would notice how close he was to me and send a knowing glance of solidarity.

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“Oberlin!” he cried, all too joyfully. I had given him something to talk about. “I almost went to Oberlin!”

“Awesome,” was all I could say, and it came out as bland as mayonnaise. I really didn’t care, but I reminded myself that I always tell people I almost went to OSU, and that those people probably didn’t care either. Be nice. Be nice. Be nice.

“Do you play an instrument?” he forged ahead. “Did you go for music?”

“No,” I responded. He hadn’t used the words sexy or hot yet, so I decided to reward him with a few extra words. “I play a little, but I didn’t go to school for it.”

“I’m really into music,” he confessed, still leaning in, still shouting. “I do records for bands and stuff. That’s what I do, helping them out with records and stuff.”

“Cool.”

“Yeah, I am pretty cool.”

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What.

“Did you see me dancing out there?”

I had seen him dancing. He’d had his arms out like he was going to do a cartwheel across the floor, and he was bobbing his head like a giant bird as he moved back and forth doing what looked like deep lunges.

“I was looking for a partner,” he suggested, holding out his hands.

Oh, my God, no, I thought. What is a nice way to say ‘Oh, my God, no?’

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“I’m sorry,” I said out loud. “I don’t really dance.” It was the first lie I told that night, but it wasn’t the last.

“Do you know anyone in the band?” he rebounded quickly.

“I know the fiddle player,” I answered, gesturing towards the stage.

“I don’t know anyone in the band. I just really like music and stuff because of what I do.”

“The record stuff,” I said, throwing him a bone, letting him know I had been listening earlier. “Cool.”

There was a pause, and I got excited. Had I actually diffused a situation with a drunk man without being overly rude? Could this be a turning point in my young life? Did I really just—

“Hey,” he said, cutting my triumphant moment short. “I think you’re really cute and sexy.”

“Ohhhh,” I breathed, pretending to be flattered beyond words while my brain worked overtime. Be nice. Don’t lie. Be nice. Don’t lie. “Hey, thanks, but I’m not really here for that sort of thing.”

“Me either,” he mused, and I thought for a moment it was over. “I’m really into music, you know.”

“Me too, and I really want to hear my friend play, so…”

“Well, I really think you’re sexy,” he repeated. “We should hang out afterwards.”

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The true test had come. Could I get out of this situation feeling okay about myself, without lying or glaring? I inhaled deeply and took the plunge.

“I’m not from around here,” I said honestly. “I have a long drive home, so I don’t think so.”

“Oh, where are you from?” he said, too far gone to take a hint. His breath turned my stomach. This would not be easy.

I paused for a second and considered my answer carefully. I needed a place that was so far away there could be no denying I would have to go home early. I needed a lie.

“Oberlin,” I answered, deciding that lying about where I lived wasn’t the same as using a fake man to justify why I didn’t want to go home with him. “It’s like an hour and a half away.”

“Well, then you can stay with me tonight,” he shouted in my ear.

“No, man,” I said, more firmly this time. “I really just want to listen to my friend’s band and then go home.”

“Why?”

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“I have work in the morning super early.” Another lie to spare his feelings. “I have to go soon, anyway, so I’m just going to listen to the band now.”

“How early?”

“Early.”

He had been shouting at me their entire set. I was frustrated now, and my voice was getting that shrill, helpless, childish tone that always reminds me of arguing with my parents and fills me with self-loathing. I’d had enough. I just wanted to hear my friend play. I had tried to be nice. I really had.

“Hey,” he said, doing the exact opposite of what I wanted. “You know, when a cute guy says he thinks you’re sexy and wants to hang out with you after a show, you really should say yes.”

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“Okay,” I replied despondently, realizing that I actually hadn’t looked at him since he told me about his job. All I knew was that he wore glasses, was an awkward dancer, and that I didn’t care for him at all. I felt guilty and almost took a second look before I reminded myself that I didn’t have to be sorry about not liking him. With more resolve, I repeated: “I don’t want to do that right now. I just want to listen to my friend play. That’s what I’m here for.”

“Alright,” he finally conceded, “but I’m going to tell you a story.”

Oh, my God.

“I used to play football.”

Oh. My. God.

“I said I used to play football,” he repeated, even closer to my face this time.

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“Okay.”

“I used to play football,” he continued, apparently satisfied with my response, “and we had a game at Oberlin.”

Of course you had a game at Oberlin. Because I told you I live in Oberlin.

I suppressed an eye roll and nodded instead.

“Oh, man,” he laughed, apparently caught up in the memories. “I partied so hard there. It was around Halloween, and I had a raging night before the game. I remember I was in this white jump suit dressed like Wonder Bread, and I fell asleep on some stranger’s couch. I woke up 30 minutes before the game and had to run through the streets in this jump suit. I got there just in time, and my coach was so pissed that he…”

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Ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod.

“…the whole team thought it was hilarious and called me Wonder Bread. That’s how I got my nickname. Wonder Bread.”

He finally quit talking, and there was a brief moment of silence before I realized he was waiting for me to respond.

“Cool.”

“Yeah, well, what I’m saying is, you need to learn to have fun. You need to learn to live your life. When a cute guy asks you to have some fun, you should say yes.”

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“Listen,” I tried one last time, “I’m going to focus on the band now, okay? It was nice to meet you.”

“Fine.” I felt relief rushing over me and suppressed an outburst of laughter. “But if you change your mind, I’m going to be over there, watching you.”

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He left, and true to his word, he kept his eyes on me the rest of the night. When he turned away to order another drink, I was ready. I sprung into action, bolted for the door, and eagerly pushed my way out into the night.

“Have a good night,” an actual cute guy said to me as I power-walked to my car past a group of smoking friends.

“Yeah, sure, whatever.”

Mean Jen was back, and Mean Jen was going to bed.

Just a note: I didn’t share this experience because I wanted to shame any of my male friends or acquaintances. I shared it because I think it is a hilarious and relatively harmless example of what it’s like to talk to a drunk person when you’re sober and of what young women often endure when they have the guts to go outside alone looking fabulous.

Ladies, I’m not saying you are obligated to be nice to everyone if you don’t want to be.

Gentlemen, I’m not saying you should never try to talk to cute girls. I’m just saying that you should probably not be hammered when you do. You should probably interpret her disinterest as disinterest. You should probably not shout in her ear. You should probably not assume that she is unhappy just because she is alone or try to instruct her how to live her life more fully. Oh, and you should definitely not tell her you’ll be watching her.

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from the mouths of babes

Preface: Today is Martin Luther King Day in the United States. It’s a designated 24 hours where kids get off school, museums are free, and rarely is anything learned about the man being honored. My entire public school education reduced Martin Luther King, Jr., to four words: “I have a dream.” When I entered college, I could recognize those words. I could conjure the cadence of his voice out of complete silence, and I even teared up a little when I heard him speak. But when I entered college, I seriously thought that dream had been fulfilled. That’s what I had been taught. We were living Martin Luther King’s dream. How nice.

(I was also taught that men and women earned equal wages. Hah.)

The truth is: after Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington, the F.B.I. felt he was such a threat that they initiated one of the largest surveillance operations in history to spy on him. He refused to compromise what he believed in to make himself more palatable to white moderates. He was anti-war, anti-poverty, and anti-capitalist. He knew the system was broken. After years of trying to integrate his dream into American life, he began to wonder whether he was “integrating into a burning house.” When King was assassinated in 1968, much of the United States was still racially divided, and supporters of the status quo sighed in relief. They seized his legacy, sanitized all the radicalism, and professed an end to racism. They erected statues, named streets in his honor, and even established a federal holiday. They went to work, and we forgot.

If Martin Luther King were alive today, he would be turning 86. If Martin Luther King were alive today, most of us probably wouldn’t be quoting him. There is no better way of forgetting something than by commemorating it.

I won’t pretend that I am an expert on the American civil rights movement. I’m not. But here is some good reading if you’re looking to learn something about Martin Luther King today:
excerpts from The Radical King
Letter from a Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr.
Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution by Martin Luther King Jr.

When I woke up this morning, I was honestly disappointed that I was going to be at work all day. I knew there were protests that I wanted to join in Cleveland. I didn’t want to listen to people telling me we live in a post-racial society and that we’re living Martin Luther King’s dream and not be able to engage. I wanted to be free to write and talk about what I believed in, not confined to a customer service role where I had to make nice.

On top of it all, I had created an exhibit on the civil rights movement that I was afraid of. I was afraid that no one would look at it, that I would watch thousands of people breeze past replica 1960s protest signs and text about the intersectionality of the civil rights movement for the allure of an old carousel and historic cars. Incidentally, I was also afraid that people would look at it. I am not an expert on the subject, and I am terrible at debate. I cry too easily when confronted. I was afraid people might roll their eyes and say “Oberlin,” with that particular tone that seems to simultaneously explain and diminish my passion. I was afraid parents and kids would reject the craft, which asked them to make their own protest signs about issues they cared about. I was afraid visitors would complain about the text around the exhibit. I was afraid. I was afraid. I was afraid…

Here’s what happened instead: I went to work and saw my signs around the museum, and my heart swelled with pride. My boss credited me with the work, and I tried to hide behind my co-workers, but the anticipated resentment never came. As I walked through the museum to get a drink, I heard two adults discussing a sign about black feminism, about how they hadn’t learned of any of that information before. I heard a child reading aloud about the 1963 Birmingham church bombing and say how sad they were that those four young girls were killed. I even saw people taking pictures of my work. I started to relax.

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At the craft table, things were busy. Some kids, when I asked if they knew what day it was, responded with “Monday,” but most of them knew it was Martin Luther King Day and not just a random day off school. I asked one little girl if she knew who Martin Luther King was, and she told me everything she knew about him as she colored. “He loved his grandma,” she said. “They liked to sit on the porch and talk. He was born on January 15th. His dream was that his daughters would live in a world where they would be judged by their character rather than their color. My best friend is white, so I think Martin Luther King would be happy.”

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Most kids, as it turns out, have a lot of things they care about and were happy to sit down and think hard on their day off. Talking to them, as it turns out, was just what I was looking for in lieu of protesting outside. I watched toddlers proclaim that all weapons should be broken and advocate for all animals (not just the cute ones). I listened as one teenager told me she picked the colors black and brown for her sign against modern slavery because “black is beautiful.” She beamed with pride when I told her I could tell she was a deep thinker and could make a difference in the world. Another girl told me about how she collects soap and shampoo to donate to homeless shelters, and how she thinks working together is important to enact change. Kids told me about their favorite books while they made signs to support Little Free Libraries and reading. They told me why they recycle, why they think bullying is wrong, why boys should be able to play with dolls and like the color pink, why there should be more parks, why everyone deserves a loving family. I’m telling you…if you’re ever losing faith in humanity, talk to a kid about what they care about and how they think the world could be a better place. Because. Damn.

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I have to mention that this one was made by a girl who came to the museum on a field trip a week ago, and she was so excited to see me and my mouse shoes again. She kept telling me all the stuff she remembered that I taught her about Native Americans, European traders, and the pioneers. And then she donated her sign as an example of "how all people should live."

I have to mention that this one was made by a girl who came to the museum on a field trip a week ago, and she was so excited to see me and my mouse shoes again. She kept telling me all the stuff she remembered that I taught her about Native Americans, European traders, and the pioneers. And then she donated her sign as an example of “how all people should live.”  I have to mention this, because my phone didn’t save ANY of the pictures I took with her.

While trying to teach people how to more meaningfully engage with the past, I learned a lot about the future. Sometimes we can get so caught up in our own adult selves with our own adult problems that we forget there’s a whole generation after us. We think they’re just kids, so we talk down to them. We worry because they play with iPads and dress like adults, but they’ll be the ones dealing with the world we’ve properly broken for them. If they’re half as smart and thoughtful as they were today when they grow up, I can only hope they have the chance to fix what we bashed to bits.

Despite all the cool things that happened at the museum, my favorite interaction actually happened after hours. When it was all said and done, my co-workers headed home. I headed to Chipotle.

What happened was this: There was one girl who made two signs. The first was serious, something about the environment, but the other really spoke to me. Jokingly, she made a silly sign about how you don’t mess with your sister’s Chipotle. We all laughed, but something inside me snapped. The rest of the day, all I could think about was how great Chipotle would taste after a long, hard day at work. Kids were telling me about their passions, but all I could think about was Chipotle, so I decided to go to the one around the corner from the museum after work.

As I walked though the door, the Chipotle girl was there with her family. It was destiny. I ordered my burrito bowl and gathered the courage to approach them. I paid for my food, took a breath, and walked over to their booth. “I’m sorry,” I said, holding up my to-go bag, “but your protest sign really inspired me.”

We all laughed again, and then I told them I had to go because I seriously needed to shove all my food in my mouth ASAP. We laughed some more, but I was already turning towards the door. Although it was beyond frustrating at the time, I’m so grateful for the extra few seconds it took me to realize the door was a push not a pull, because I heard the most amazing thing from where the girl was sitting with her mom.

“See, mom! Protesting does work!”

There you have it, folks. From the mouths of babes…

love is immortality

Last year, I said I was done posting about my friend Jenn and how she died in a car accident on January 17, 2009. I’d rehashed the story so many times it had lost its meaning. I felt guilty. She died while I was asleep. I cried. I bought flowers. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is immortality. I was so afraid of forgetting that I had forgotten the best parts of knowing Jenn. Mourning became an obligation that I had reduced to a formula for the easiest processing.

Last year, I said I was too old for that. It had been five years. I was older. I’d kissed boys. I had a full time job. I wasn’t eighteen anymore. I was an adult, and it was time I grew up.

Well, last year I was wrong. Like it or not, I can’t just erase what rocked my world six years ago. I can’t go back and smile more. I don’t get re-do my first year of college and make sure I’m a more open, friendly person. I won’t pretend that Catholicism hasn’t helped me feel better. I can’t go back and meet all the friends I should have had. I can say I won’t post about it, won’t talk about it, won’t even think about it, but that isn’t going to change the fact that I spent six years doing just that.

I want to keep posting about Jenn because I don’t want to ever look at a picture of my friends in high school and struggle to remember her name. I don’t want to see her face and wonder where I met her or how or why. But, instead of rehashing the same old details about guilt and grief, I’m going to do something different. I can’t help wanting to write about her, so I’m going to write down a memory. It will probably be stupid. We were in high school, and everything back then was chalkboards, assigned seats, and crazy spirit week outfits. Who cares?

This one time, we were in biology class together, and we were supposed to be doing a science project. It was advanced biology, which meant there had to be something that set us apart from the plebeian masses. We had to do a science project that employed the scientific method, and then we had to write up our results with graphs and science like we knew what we were doing. It was terrible. I didn’t have any burning questions about the universe. I figured most of what I needed to know could be read in a book. But, I did care about grades, and it was kind of mandatory. Jenn and I did what any sixteen-year-old slackers would do: we picked the easiest project we could think of. We decided to let vegetables rot in my basement, and we pretended like our results would actually impact the world.

I remember, the vegetables were really molding something fierce one night she came over after school. We were poking the crusty layers of mold with a fork, trying to think of a way we could quantify our results. She suggested we measure what was left of the vegetables…only, we couldn’t seem to see them (see: crusty layers of mold). Enter my bare hand. The mold actually made a sound when my fingers pierced its mottled visage. My fingers curled around and emerged with a fat pile of stinky mush, and Jenn ran away screaming with our clipboard. It was pretty gross, but, on a different level, I definitely enjoyed making her squeal with disgust. That was when I learned that I would pretty much stick my hand in anything for the story. Since then, my hands have been in moldy compost and a bowl of maggots.

I don’t know what my hands added or detracted from the scientific-ness of our experiment. I don’t even remember the grade we got. I do remember it was one of the first times we signed a group project with our nickname: Jen(n)2. I do remember feeling like she was my friend for the first time, and not just because we knew the same people or were in the same class. I also remember her telling me she had a relative who was a truck driver, but I’m not sure why that matters…

I know. I broke the promise I made last year. I still made a post about Jenn, but here’s what I didn’t do. I didn’t stay up all night last night worrying. I didn’t spend all day trying to write this post, rereading old essays on the same subject. I didn’t request off work. I didn’t change my profile picture or look at her Facebook page. I didn’t even wear all black. In fact, I actually referred to my black dress as “my party dress” today, instead of thinking of it as “my funeral dress.” (That’s right. I’m going to a party tonight. Take that, guilt!)

So, maybe I can’t forget I loved her that easily. Maybe I can’t forget I cried that easily. Maybe there are too many Irish ballads about dying well and comfortable. I don’t know. But what I do know is that I am happy today. I am happy because I am growing up, and that can mean whatever I want it to.

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I Did Survive

Remember how I said I wasn’t going to die when I got my wisdom teeth pulled? I was right. In fact, I have not died with surprising ease. Now, there’s still about 72 hours for a little demon called “dry socket” to set in, but I’m going to knock fervently on some wood and send up a few prayers to St. Apollonia and pretend I’m in the clear.

(Speaking of St. Apollonia, she had all her teeth punched out before she was burned at the stake. I just learned this. Holy ouch.)

Since most of what I read online while researching the wisdom tooth procedure were horror stories, I thought I’d add a bit to the noise and share my relative success with the world wide web, as well as Jen-Tested Survival Tips.

Day One: I’m Paranoid, Therefore I Am

The last thing I saw before I fell asleep was the crucifix above the door, a nice memento that if I die I guess I’ll get to meet Jesus. It was not reassuring, and the laughing gas did not make me feel more calm or less paranoid. Yes, the needle hurt. I was still afraid of nausea. I whimpered like a little baby.

The last thing I felt was a gloved hand on my upper arm. It was a gentle, loving touch, and I pretended it was my mother.

I woke up and asked for my teeth. They came in a little envelope that I didn’t want to open in public. Wisdom teeth grow in the darkest, farthest reaches of your mouth. If you go to the dentist as infrequently as I do, they are like your own little secret. Mine, it turns out, are adorable and came out in once piece.

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I was disappointingly lucid after I woke up. I had no David After Dentist moment or dizziness or nausea. I don’t remember getting wheeled out to meet my ride because I later was dropped off, unlocked my gate, and walked up 2 flights of stairs on my own, which was a lot more memorable because of the three inches of snow that had fallen that morning. I also used Snapchat and continued to be paranoid. (This is a running theme with me, you will see. I just took a break from typing to look up symptoms of dry socket because my teeth are slightly achy.)

The doctor said the anesthesia would last up to seven hours, but it only seemed to last the duration of the surgery for me. On the car ride home, my teeth began to throb gently, and every time I tried to talk, the gauze made me gag. I hated the gauze. It reminded me of when I knocked my teeth out in first grade trying to jump into a trash can and then refused to swallow. The teacher called on me to read aloud and all the saliva I’d been storing just spilled out onto my desk. But I was worried because my impatience with the gauze caused me to remove it earlier than my instruction sheet said.

The pieces were bright red, but when I looked with a flashlight to see if there was a clot, I couldn’t find it. I spent hours Googling how to tell if the bleeding had stopped and looked at numerous grotesque pictures of healing tooth extractions. It did not make me feel better.

I was hoping the hardcore drugs I was prescribed would help me not be me for a little while, but I was afraid to take them. I kept researching how to not throw up on oxy, but nothing made me feel better about it. The pain wasn’t that bad, so I have only been taking the hyperdose of ibuprofen every five or six hours. I am paranoid, therefore I am.

I only had one set of ice packs, so I had to improvise while they re-chilled in the fridge. I used burritos, frozen fruit, and a bra wrapped around my head to ice my face. I want to flaunt this picture of me as a symbol of my brilliance. I may not be able to use a spoon, I haven’t gone to grad school, but look at me now. A whole new use for burritos and lingerie.

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All in all, I’m pretty happy I did this. I needed them out, and it was a pretty fast procedure. So far, there has been very little pain and absolutely no nausea. Just a hell of a lot of possibility that the worst is yet to come…

Day 2: I Think I Need a Bib

Thank you, mom, for buying me a hard copy of Amy Poehler’s Yes Please for Christmas. Cutting my hours of mindless television streaming with bits of storytime with this goddess have been a life saver. Playing her audio book as I read along is exactly what I imagined it would be, and now I have the time to really enjoy it.

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Today, I have already watched 6 episodes of Friends and 4 episodes of Parks and Rec. I don’t know what I watched yesterday. Community, probably. Maybe a little Brooklyn-99. 22 minutes upon 22 minutes of bright, cheery comedy.

My smoothies remain delicious and full of good nutrients, but as they run out, I become more aware of the fact that soon I will have to eat with a spoon. All previous attempts have ended in failure and weirdly colored drool. Mmmm, chocolate…

(I should mention that since writing the above statement, I successfully ate a bowl of tomato soup and a cup of pudding. Progress!)

Before I end this delightfully disgusting post about my body, I would like to give a warm and beyond appreciative shout out to my lovely ride, without whom I would probably have actually died. She braved the elements, bought me drugs, and has checked in on me a few times since dropping me off at my building. Thank you. You are a goddess, too.