As Christopher Robin says:

GON OUT.

BACKSON.

BISY BACKSON.

 

 

(give or take this Monday)

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The Thing About Waiting

The problem with waiting is that it doesn’t usually feel like waiting.

It feels like failure.

I’m not sure why we think that everything that is not yet success is automatically failure. But we do. I’ve more or less written two books in the last two years, but they still need more revision, and most of the time I feel like a failure simply because I haven’t sold them yet. My brother and a good friend have both moved paperwork mountains to take exams and apply for grad school this year… and daily struggle with doubt and insecurity as they wait to hear back.

Whatever your thing is, you’ve probably sorted through your fair share of rejection and waiting.

I don’t even think rejection is necessarily that bad for us. Water that spreads without boundaries is called a flood. Nobody wants a flood seeping through their back yard, but plenty of people pay good money to live on a river. Rejection is never fun, but it does shape us, give definition and purpose to our course. Rivers don’t usually run efficiently from Point A to Point B. I’m not sure why we think we have to. Nothing else in nature stresses over its wasted potential.

Of course, it’s easy to give ourselves pep talks. It’s easy to try to cajole or argue or reason ourselves into feeling better. I’m not sure that works either.

Mostly waiting is hard.

Really, really hard.

And waiting is one of those things we don’t think to glamorize or schedule or allow for. We focus on deadlines—like when this draft will be done or when those applications are due. We forget to pencil in that indefinite period of waiting that is inevitable when you’re trying to do anything large (or anything that requires the cooperation of another person, for sure).

I think we get so hyper about effort, we tend to forget about everything else.

But I’m at the point now where all the things I want most in life aren’t things I can get or do for myself. I can influence the outcome (on a good day), but I can’t make them happen. I can’t.

It’s not a totally foreign concept to me. This is after all what dating and marriage are all about, no matter how much we like to think that finding a partner is easy if you follow the right formula of engaging in the right social events, putting yourself out there, being friendly, working on your flaws.

In the end, our powers are always limited to yes and no. We have the choice to say yes or no, and so does everyone else. Someone has to say yes back. That’s how it works.

We don’t like it. We pretend it isn’t true. We want so desperately to believe we can control something—anything—because most of us (if you live long enough anyway) will experienced the pain of being unable to control something that nearly destroys us. Or does destroy us. That’s an option too.

But the truth is still the same. No matter what is is, we don’t get to control it. Even if we do our part all perfectly and efficiently, there’s still a lot of waiting involved in life. It can be productive, happy waiting. But it’s still waiting.

And the problem is still the same: Waiting doesn’t usually feel like waiting. It feels like being trapped.

It feels like being out of options.

Especially if you’re waiting for your belief to come back. I think when it comes to writer’s block or career woes, loss of belief is the real culprit, not individual rejections. If rejection is just the twists of a riverbed, loss of belief is a Saharan-scale drought. There might be a correlation between the two, but they’re not the same thing. One does not automatically lead to the other, and there is no formula of say 50 rejections to every episode of writer’s block.

Naturally, we wish there were.

I’m pretty sure most of our efforts for formulas and theories and facts are motivated by a fundamental desire for control. If we know the rules of gravity, we feel in control of gravity. Gravity can never surprise us again.

Anyway.

I’ve been mulling on all this for a few months now, and I wish I could offer some great insights into the problem or a list of ways to be awesome despite.

But I can’t.

All I can say is that sometimes what feels like failure or being trapped or hopelessness is only waiting. And waiting is painful. One of the most painful things in life—especially when we blame ourselves and try to control the things we were never meant or able to control. But if waiting is painful it’s also companionable. If waiting is a boat, I’m pretty sure we’re in the same one. And I have a hunch that it’s a really, really big one—not the flimsy life raft we might be tempted to picture. We’re talking Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas size if it has to fit everyone who doubts, everyone who scrambles for control, everyone who  hurts.

That, as Gandalf says, is an encouraging thought.

Unless you have social anxieties like mine, in which case you can totally feel free to picture a really small boat with only your besties and maybe a picnic basket.

That’s cool too.

 

The Joys of Packing

Although it’s kind of ridiculous to be thinking about packing today, I really can’t help it. We went shopping earlier in the week for the few things we needed (water proof flip flops, athletic shoes that weren’t falling apart) and the things we maybe didn’t (but are so cute), and I’d say we’re pretty well set for Florida.

I just like clothes. Not expensive ones, because I hate wasting money, and I know clothes never last long with me. I am a magnet for food-related disasters. But seasonal, nice, serviceable clothes for around $30. I like those.

And I’ve been looking for a pair of black flats for a year now.

I keep trying to imagine a scenario in which shiny black shoes make sense on a camping trip—even a Florida camping trip—but so fair I got nothing. To and from the airport? Really? No, I admit. Probably not.

But I love this stage of trip planning, when you get to assemble outfits and try on those shorts you haven’t worn in six months and rummage through the closet, daydreaming about warm weather and tennis.

I hate to say I need a vacation, because of course there are lots of people working much harder than I am who don’t get to take vacations. But when I think about the gloominess of March in Michigan, the howling misery of rejection, and the lack of contented loveliness, then yes. We need a vacation.

We also need to pack and unpack and repack for DAYS if that’s what makes us happy. Squeezing every drop of enjoyment out of the process of selecting clothes and (my personal favorite) books for pool side reading.

I love choosing books for trips.

First the brainy, artsy book to make you feel smart. Maybe a collection of poems or a nonfiction zinger. Diary of someone thrilling and dead. A biography. Something like that.

Then the complementary fiction—a semi-frothy thriller or murder mystery or historical drama fest. Something fast-paced and easy, when your brain is slowly shutting off in the sunshine.

And, finally, the back up plan. The special interest book or how-to piece, or maybe sudoku or crossword puzzle book. Maybe a second fiction book, if you’re not 100% sure the first one is a keeper. Or if you’re sure it IS and you’re going to whip through it too fast.

I try not to pack more than 3 books. Sometimes I even succeed.

So far I’ve decided on the 2010 Best American Essays collection for my brainy book (a present from Carl for Valentine’s Day, which I’ve been carefully saving for Florida), and I’m not settled on my fiction yet. I was thinking Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, since I keep hearing good things, but then somebody said it was really disturbing (I believe Silence of the Lambs was mentioned), and I’m not really big on disturbing these days.

So I’m back to flipping through book lists.

I kind of want to read EVERYTHING on this book list from NPR. Juicy, delicious, bite-sized thanks to the letter format. And I’ve been seeing the books on this list (also from NPR) everywhere lately, so those might be good options. I don’t know.

I just know I love this part.

Houdini, Lasagna, Kurt Cobain…

Today is Harry Houdini’s birthday—his 137th, to be exact—but even though I went to his wiki page and got semi caught up in the section about his second career as a ghostbuster (well, seance-discreditor I guess), I don’t really have anything much to say about Harry Houdini.

Except that he was already suffering from appendicitis, so he probably would have died with or without the 3 swift blows to the gut.

Also he performed his last show (and died) in Detroit, so woot woot my home town, which really isn’t my home town unless I’m talking to people who live more than 100 miles from Michigan. In which case I generally say I’m “from the Detroit area.”

Other than that I’m coming up short.

Last week was all about working at coffee shops and starting the rough draft of my article. I’m still trying to figure out what this week is about, besides avoiding the bacterial remains of Carl’s cold and attempting to drown my own achiness in consuming every carb known to man. I never really understood people whose emotional eating revolved around ice cream. I’m more of a full pan of lasagna, please, type of person.

But the article still exists and is beginning to look slightly less disheveled. Slightly.

And I’m thinking about my book. Which doesn’t really count for anything, but is probably a better sign than playing Plants vs. Zombies or watching Kurt Cobain interviews.

Not that I would EVER do either. I’m just saying.

Reluctant Spring

So far our intrepid geranium is the only evidence of spring, and she’s on this side of the glass, so I’m not sure it really counts. Skies have been gray all week. Grass is visible at last, but dull. Trees aren’t budding yet.

We finally packed away our winter decorations last week.

The glass bowl of pine-scented cones, juniper sprigs, and cinnamon sticks is gone from the table. The “cranberry woods” candle is down to the dregs.

We stopped at Pier One for a few odds and ends. Some twisted raffia carrots for the door. A bunch of painted wood Easter eggs. At Kroger yesterday the friendly cashier asked if we’d stocked up on candy yet. I said no, we didn’t dare. The candy already flows pretty freely at my family’s Easter hunt.

And I did give up Facebook for Lent. I wasn’t sure if it was going to stick or not, so I took the first week or so as a trial run. But I think it’s going to be a great success. I’ve been on slow wean job from Facebook for probably the last year or so, since it stopped being about actual groups of friends and became a publicity platform for Everyone You Have Ever Met (and many you have not).

I liked Facebook when it was about keeping up with friends and vacation pictures and flirting with Carl.

But I don’t want to hear political rants anymore, and unless I’m having a cup of coffee with you I don’t care about your theology, and passive aggressive status updates stress me out, and I’m pretty sure I could live my whole life without knowing what Random Friend’s naked belly looked like on week 23 of her pregnancy.

Basically,  social media has become too much like regular social.

And you know how I feel about that.

If you want more peace in your life, not gawking at the social tranwrecks on Facebook is probably a fair step in the right direction. I remain hopeful.

Happy spring, everybody.

Humogenous Marriages

I think humor is one of the trickiest things to marry. Not to say couples who don’t laugh a lot together aren’t also devoted to each other. Not to say they aren’t loving or sweet or supportive. But I think it’s fairly rare to find a couple whose humor is perfectly matched.

Maybe because a person’s sense of humor is such a product of childhood. Or maybe it’s because marriage tends to be such a serious endeavor. I don’t know.

I don’t think Carl and my humor is naturally all that similar—although we do share a love of verbal ridiculousness,  I tend to be snobby, old-fashioned, and over the top, while Carl is incredibly dry and deadpanned. But we’re getting better.

We were looking for an auto repair shop yesterday, both of us feeling a little cranky from grocery shopping and a long day of sickyness.

Me: (looking for a topic) “I forgot there was a Brann’s here.”

Carl: “That’s where I had dinner with Greg. When we saw Chucklet.” (Chuck Gaidica is a local weatherman, and for whatever reason we call him Chucklet. Probably because it’s fun).

Me: “Did you call him Chucklet?”

Carl: (very dry) “Yes. And then I said: I have one thing to say to you. You’re not God. You can’t control the weather.”

Me: “What did he say?”

Carl: “He said: Well, I have a secret. I am God. And then he disappeared.”

Me: “Before or after he paid?”

Carl: “Before, actually.”

I don’t think we actually aim to make ourselves laugh. The humor is mostly internal, a sort of fleeting, shared, ridiculous amusement. Almost a knee-jerk when life is annoying for one reason or another.

Early in our dating, Carl would text me jokes and try to get me to tell jokes. I never tell jokes. I can’t remember them, and they never sound that funny when I tell them. I’m not a punchliner. I’m not a story teller.

Around my childhood friends and sibs, my voice changes, and we talk in exaggerated accents that signal “amused bonding.” (So much so that when I recently called my brother Joel and he answered in a very normal “hello?” I didn’t know who it was. Turns out there were adults in the room that he didn’t feel like sounding ridiculous in front of).

I feel like my humor isn’t naturally the most translatable. Some parts of it—the verbal aspect, the snarkiness—are, and those merge well with Carl’s dry recitation of faux facts. It’s interesting to watch how we change and adapt to each other over time.

Nothing like marriage to bring out the latent anthropologist in a girl.

Memoirs of a Duchess

Carl is sick. We also had a huge thunderstorm yesterday, and between the two, we’ve been spending lots of time holed up at home. Eating easy fix meals. Not washing dishes. It’s good, but I keep doing the tentative swallow thing this morning to see whether my throat is sore like sick-sore or only I-just-woke-up sore.

Hmm.

On the plus side, I’ve had lots of time for reading.

I bought Deborah Mitford’s memoirs as soon as they came out last fall, figuring if it was a Mitford book I would probably like it. And I do like it. I also put it down and didn’t look at it for a couple of months, but I still like it.

The book reads like a rambling one-sided conversation with a warm, sweet, factual, and slightly proper old lady. Crazy I know. Yes, she was a personal friend of folks like John F. Kennedy, Rita Hayworth, Winston Churchill. Yes, she had tea once with Hitler. And she might tell you some fascinating but ultimately harmless and probably endearing quirks of her famous friends. But she doesn’t go in for all that psychological stuff. She’s not going to give you a detailed pen portrait. And don’t even bother asking about someone’s sexual proclivities, because she’s likely to say very tartly that in her day people didn’t discuss other people’s private lives, and as far as she’s concerned it was a good thing for all concerned.

She’s also not a storyteller. There’s very little arc to the events she retells. Just the facts, laid neatly in a row. What makes the book worth reading, though, is her incredible memory for detail. The juicy little eccentricities that pop up on every page.

For exercise, Eddy tossed a pack of playing cards on the floor and picked them up one by one. I often wondered why he could not do something more useful—dig the garden for instance—but no, he was too special for that. [117]

I only started to notice the books shortcomings when I got to the middle and realized that, while I knew how she met her husband and that they were very much married, I didn’t have any idea what he was like as a person or how their marriage was. And I’m pretty sure I’m going to be just as clueless when the book ends.

Curious, I did a quick internet search. No affairs. No trouble. By all accounts, she and Andrew Cavendish were happily married their whole lives. So why not talk about it?

Apparently, memoirs or not, one’s marriage isn’t something one talks about.

Nor are one’s children, although she does admit in a few short sentences that it was extremely shattering to lose three babies a few hours after childbirth. And while it sounds like loved her children, I also have no idea what they were like as people.

So, maybe it’s just that these aren’t really memoirs of her own life. More like the charming quirks of people and places I have known.

And again, I’m enjoying the book, and if today is anything like yesterday I’ll probably finish it by mid-afternoon… but it’s definitely an odd fish of the memoir world.