Tuesday, May 28, 2013


I do not tell people about my feelings against having children or getting married - ever - for the shock value.  I don't do it to be different or difficult.  I don't do it to anger my parents.  I say it because it's how I feel.  And I (most of the time) respect and honor others' choices in the opposite direction.  I hold no resentment towards those blushing brides or giggling infants or sweaty and eager young men clutching engagement rings in their pockets.  It is an exciting thing.  It is a beautiful thing.  It is an old and time-honored tradition, this business of starting a life and family with someone.  It is just not for me.

I've been thinking a lot about relationships and my path that I am so firmly setting my feet upon.  And while there is an entire other essay explaining just how I feel about things to come, I want to first reflect upon where I have been.  You see, I do not fear or reject or fight against commitment.  I enjoy it.  I want someone there and I want to be there for someone.  And I had that.  We had that.  We had exactly what I wanted and what I hope to again have someday.

I valued my previous relationship because it didn't take any work.  We never fought.  Really, we never had any problems.  There was no jealousy, there was no competition, there was no need that was not met.  Comfort had been gained, security was earned, and we were able to relax knowing the other was going to be there, always.  I enjoyed that relationship simply because I didn't have to worry about it.  We were companions. We were good, we were happy, and we were content.  And because "that" was figured out, I could exert more energy into writing, moving, working, and starting something new.  When all of my writing for the day was done, I had squeezed in a run, paid all my bills, and spent a few minutes day dreaming about the next great place to move, we would go out to dinner.  There wasn't any question or guesswork about whether or not he would be free or up for it or otherwise unavailable.  He was my date, he was there for me, he was my fail-safe.  I knew how to communicate with my previous boyfriend.  We had learned each other over the course of seven years – three of them in a committed relationship.  We were safe, we were secure, there weren’t any games.  And there wasn’t any question about where the other was – physically, and emotionally.  My favorite part of “us” was calling him after class and figuring out what we were going to do for dinner.  And knowing if a movie I wanted to see was coming out, I’d have someone to go with me.  Our partnership was assumed.  I had a person.  And don’t get me wrong, I am fully capable and almost prefer to do things solo – going to restaurants, seeing movies, shopping, sleeping, etc.  But having that other, that conversation, that person who knows I don’t like hard rock or video games or cold weather and get cranky when I don’t eat breakfast, who always takes the trash out because it bothers me when it’s too full, the person I can cook dinner for, thanks me after the first bite, sometimes mid-bite by leaning over and kissing me and patting me on the knee – that is something that takes years to build.  

And perhaps that is what I resent the most about starting all over again in this terrible, frustrating, stupid and any other negative word that I can think of to define the world of DATING.  It's a horrible place, full of unanswered questions, someone else's baggage, someone else's damage, someone else's bullshit that you have to exert so much time and energy to sort and sift through to even hope you may someday reach the top of the iceberg of the known and familiar.  It is a wonder that any make it there at all.  It is also a wonder that I don't believe in marriage because of these opinions of mine about dating.  Wouldn't I be more satisfied locking someone into a contract so that I can take my time, work on the relationship when I want knowing they have to stick around?  Oh, but what a greater tragedy it would be to waste years only to find out that person is not at all who you thought they were or the person who you wanted.

Because this battle to figure someone out takes so long, I find it difficult not to yearn for and look toward (or rather, look back to) what I once had - or simply nothing at all.  I write less.  I spend more.  I lay awake longer.   I feel insecure more often.  I am distracted.

I do not want to be alone.  And when I am, when there isn't the drama of dating or relationships, I am lonely.  I wonder what is wrong with me that I am unable to find my match, my mate, my other.  But then again, I get so much more work done.   I am able to afford to do things like vacations and pay down my debt.  I get more sleep.

And I realize that I am beginning to sound like the exact kind of person who will eventually own lots of cats and only one sweater.  But in truth, I sometimes fantasize about being that woman (with dogs though, screw cats).  How simple her life must be, how happy she must be to decide what she will do, and where she will be, and when she will go.  She doesn't have to take anyone else or anyone else's agenda into consideration.  There is no sacrifice.  There is no work.  She is responsible only for her own happiness.  She is free.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


It is a gray, thick day.  Early October storms cause the shoreline to be fuzzy with mist and salty spray from the sea.  It isn't raining but the air is heavy with the mist and splash of the waves on the rocks.  The two of us, my sister and I, are clawing and tripping our way from rock to rock with tidal pools whirling around their bases.  Her long blonde bangs are clinging to her forehead, damp with the sea and the sweat of her exertion.  The ocean is everywhere but hesitant to swallow up the protruding cliffs and speckled black breakers of its force.  Once we reach the top, we fling our arms wide as a wave crashes up against the cliff we’re standing on.  We welcome its power.  We dare it to swallow us up.   We are not afraid.  We are stronger.

The water beats our perch, angry it cannot take us down with it.  I turn and start running back to the beach.  I tumble towards my mother many hundreds of feet away, she is lying on her stomach with her bright pink  jacket under her.  She is searching for shells, slippery pebbles and sea glass.  I almost reach her and remember that I left my sister on the rock.  I stop running and turn around.  She's gone.  My throat drops to my stomach. Oh God.  I turn back around to call to my mother.  But she has disappeared, too.  Not even her jacket remains.  

I turn back around and remember that I am alone.  I came here alone.  I will leave here alone.  That day on the beach was twenty years ago.  I am no longer strong.  The ocean won.  It crashed up against me with the memory of what was lost.  I am humbled by its permanence and quieted by my insignificance. 

I close my eyes.

She lifts up a milky green piece the size of my fist and smoother than polished alabaster.  The ocean did this.  I took it from her and turned it over and over in my small gritty hands.  This started out crystal clear and sharp as a knife but after days in the sand and sea, the glass has been changed.  It isn't dangerous anymore.  

It's beautiful, isn't it?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Welcoming the New - A Brief Story About My Brown Shoes

I have a pair of shoes that I will not get rid of.  They are brown, low heeled with a cut-out pattern and pointed toe.  They are not particularly beautiful.  They are certainly not comfortable.  I own very little that I can wear them with, most of my wardrobe has transitioned to black pieces and distressed jeans that I wear to work.  I don't think I've worn them in close to five years. But I have kept them.  I have brought them with me here to Texas.  And I cried tonight when I found that my new dog has turned one of them into her chew toy.  The damage was minimal, wouldn't even be noticed when worn, but I still cried.  Even the smallest damage to a piece connected to a happy period of time shook me.  Those things we carry, those pieces we keep, they too will be lost, they will be forgotten, just like the memory of the time when they came to us.

Those shoes were the first things I bought when I lived in England.  I remember showing up to the first bar we could find, my roommate and I, on our first night in our new city.  It was raining, typical English weather, and we had worn sweatshirts, tennis shoes and jeans.  Our hair was pulled back in pony tails.  I don't think either of us were wearing any make up.  We stuck out instantly, and not in a good way.  The girls there were all like painted birds, fanning around in velvet heels, impossibly high skirts and immaculately curled and smooth hair impenetrable to the humidity outside.  We drank our beers quickly and left, hunkered down in the rain, feeling every bit like the ugly Americans we hoped we weren't.

The next day I went shopping.  I had to find something or some things that would allow me entrance into the world of not only culture and sophistication and history, but the world of bars and men and flirting.  I needed to gain access to the other side.  I needed shoes.  And there they were.  They were perfect, fit, and cost much less than I expected them to.  I was wearing those shoes when I met the first man I would ever fall in love with.  I was wearing them when I went to Thanksgiving dinner that the university threw for us Americans away from the extravagant spreads at home.  I wore those shoes everywhere.  And they hurt, they pinched my toes after an hour or two walking around Covent Garden looking at all the fairy lights in the window displays and Christmas decorations strung up from the ceilings.  But I learned to ignore the pinching, balance on one foot and then the other.  Drink until the pain was nothing more than a dull ache and the least of my worries.

The man I loved in England, I tried to bring here, to the states.  He stayed for a long weekend.  But he wasn't the same person I fell in love with there, I wasn't the same person I fell in love with there.  Because, you see, it wasn't just him that I was happy with.  I did not meet him in a vacuum devoid of other factors or people or experiences.  The allure of him, the appeal to him, was so much more.  It was the feel of the cobbled street underneath those brown heels outside of his door as I kissed him goodnight.  It was the incredible maturity that I felt as I ordered drinks and shared stories about where we grew up sitting on bar stools late on a school night.  It was the feeling that came along with him telling me that no one has ever looked more adorable studying - when really, I was simply lit up with the knowledge, the opening windows and doors of the books and essays that I was reading.  There are so many factors and people in play when it comes to the construction of a moment.  I do not love him anymore.  But I kept the shoes.  I kept a token and a reminder of a time when I was happy.  They serve as a talisman that good things can happen every day.  Pure bliss can be found in the magical alignment of time and space and energy and interactions.

I have for a long time come to the realization that it is much more likely that human beings are only capable of being truly happy, in love, content, etc. etc. for moments, for brief pockets of time.  No one can be truly happy all of the time, every minute a waking dream.  And I know that most people would agree with me on that assumption.  However, the danger and the disappointing trap is trying to cling to those moments, squeeze them so hard and try with all of one's might to reawaken whatever it was at that moment that worked.  The disappointment comes when you realize those moments will not last.  They cannot be repeated or revisited in real time.

Do not focus too closely on the moments when nothing good is happening.  And more importantly, do not try to grip and cleave to the fleeting moment of happiness hoping it will not slip away too soon.  Because the important thing to remember is that new moments, new opportunities for joy cannot take place while you are still yearning for another.  Be open to what may come and have the grace to let go of what has passed.  Keep the small tokens and reminders of the happy times, but remember also to embrace change.  Always welcome the new.

Thursday, May 9, 2013


I left a small town.  Not a town that is small, but certainly a town with small-town-minded people and circles of friends and lovers and enemies that bleed into each other with the destruction of a coastal oil spill, each person covered in the complications of and connections to a dozen or more others. My sister sent me a screen shot of the boy she's interested in, asked me to look him up, and let her know what I thought.  What I thought was I knew him.  Of course I knew him.  He would come into the pub where I worked.  I had seen him out with his friends when I was out with my friends.  He was super nice.  All the servers thought he was dreamy.  I knew his friends.  I knew his drink (stout).  And now I know another person who he will date.

While serving in the Irish pub, what would be my last job in South Bend, I was teetering between where to go after graduation and what I should do.  Should I move to the familiar Grand Rapids and begin my MFA at Grand Valley State University where I received my BA? Or should I try to enroll in one of the seemingly too good to be true teaching contracts in Saudi Arabia or South Korea where all the eager children spoke English, your living expenses were covered and your profit was tax-free?  Or should I move to either Austin or Seattle - my two choices for where I would replant after uprooting my life?

On one of those last nights, it was late, about fifteen minutes past last call, we still had a good hour or two of cleanup and side work after a particularly raucous open-mic night.  There was a group of ten not willing to leave, they were standing at least, but still around their table, blocking our attempts to clean up the empty pint glasses and crumpled napkins.  Finally, they began to file out after we turned up the lights and turned off the music.  I was not-too-discreetly sweeping around their feet when a pair of worn Chuck Taylors and some gaudy metallic and scuffed strappy sandals blocked my path.  I looked up to see my ex-boyfriend.  He was standing with his arm around a girl that I worked with at my first restaurant job years ago - I used to call her my arch enemy.  She wore hoops that were much too large and by talking sweetly to the manager she would always get the best section.  She was lazy and every time I heard her breathy voice it made my skin crawl.  I hadn't seen her in six years.  I hadn't seen him in three.  He was the executive chef for a brief time at the fourth (or fifth?) restaurant I worked at, and after quitting because of "creative differences" I asked him out.  I never like to shit where I ate, and certainly do not date where I work.  Bad news bears.  I told him I loved him, but don't think I meant it.  Five months in, his bad temper characteristic of chefs and emperor-child-syndrome surfaced and our story ended.

But somehow, the two of these interesting characters in my own personal history found each other, and they were dating.  We exchanged the awkward, hello-how-are-you's and the oh-my-god-I-can't-believe-you-two-are-dating's and the yes-I'm-still-serving-but-about-to-finish-my-MA-next-month's.  I tried to end the conversation as fast as I could.  And for the rest of the night and weekend I was completely blown away by the smallness of the town and the lives that I would have never put together, connected without my slightest help or interference.

At that moment, I knew I needed to leave, anywhere, it didn't matter.  My ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend was someone that I knew.  And I know this is not a new story, or even remotely shocking to most people.  Some even hope for a life like that, chanting the interminable Cheers theme - where everybody knows your name.  Groups of people and townies are constantly swapping and cycling through each other romantically, but because of the way I was raised, moving from state to state, house to house, country to country, I simply couldn't fathom someday dating someone that once dated someone else I knew, or work for a person that owned the same restaurant I had worked at a few years back or teach a class made up of students that I used to babysit when I was younger.  I couldn't do it.  I needed to be able to go the bank and not know every person in line.  I needed to be able to go to write at a coffee shop, without any makeup, hair unwashed and eat a bagel at 1pm because I had woken up at 12:30.  I needed anonymity.  I needed to not know everyone's story before we meet.  I needed a fresh start.

Austin is where I ended up.  And I have a friend here, from South Bend, who is trying to make those same connections, and asks me every time we hang out, "Hey, you know Carissa, right?"  or "You remember Zach, Ellen's boyfriend?" and gratefully, I can say that I don't.  People like him, people like the ones satisfied in South Bend and other similar cities and towns, are happy to know everyone and everyone's business.  But I am not one of them.  I prefer to sit back, wait, and learn about new acquaintances on my own.  People are so much more exciting when you haven't already heard about their father's drinking problem, their trip to Cabo, or their third attempt at college before shaking their hand for the first time.  There are far, far too many people still left to meet on this earth before signing off and giving in to those that you already know.  Their knowledge and their experiences are there for the sharing.  I can only hope Austin is big enough, diverse enough, and full of newness long enough for me to remain.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


Today is one of those great days.  A day that feels long, time not mattering because there really isn't any place you need to be.  It is a day that you consider making your own pasta, paying way more than you normally would on a meal eaten out for a meal cooked at home.  The air is warm but the breeze is cool.  The sun dances through the clouds.  The dog is happily chewing her beef bone in the bedroom.

There will be scallops.  There will be flourless chocolate cake.  Candles will burn.  The apartment is clean.  There will be no rush.  There will be wine.

Today is a day that you imagine all sorts of different lives for yourself. When you don't have to go to work, your mind roams over the other things you could do.  I'm imagining a bakery or a bar.  I can picture myself wearing thick, tortoise shell glasses and organizing dusty, rare books in an even dustier shop.  Then I picture worn, cut-off jean shorts and dirty hands trailing through rows of tomato plants and succulents.  I dream about the bones of a house - a skeleton stripped of the walls, paint, carpet, ceiling and light - a shell of the lives and memories that it once protected.  I imagine what it would be like to slowly restore and renovate what can only be seen with the mind's eye, moving slowly, deliberately and purposefully when choosing the texture and color and mood of the place.  And the very next moment, I have no home, just frequent flier miles and a passport.

Many of my friends back home graduated yesterday.  I saw their pictures, their wide smiles and sweaty hair beneath their maroon caps.  Their eyes gleam hopeful and relieved.  They did it.  They made it.  I didn't attend a ceremony for my MA.  My concluding moment was much more quiet, much more reserved.  It ended with a handshake and encouraging nods from three brilliant professors.  And as I walked not across a stage in a gown, but away from a book-lined room, my heart pounding and breath shaking, I remember feeling that same hope and relief - hope for the future, relief to have survived the past.

I hope you are able to find moments of hope, days of nothing that bring about thoughts of everything and anything.  I hope you allow your mind to wander, your feet to move slowly but in a direction of their own choosing.  Sometimes you just have to follow your feet, and let your head soar in the skies.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Thick as Thieves

Ships passing in the night.

Safe as houses.

Thick as thieves.

They say a picture can say a thousand words.  But sometimes, only a few words can paint a thousand pictures.  These are some of the phrases that I love.  They hold meaning, allude to other things, and stand alone.  They tell stories without saying much at all.

They are like we are to those who know us.  Without words, without body language, without context, we can be known.  What lies beneath and what holds us together and what can break us apart.  Someone can simply look and be aware of it all.  Because they know, when your eyes look up, your fingers still on the keys and you chew your bottom lip, you're on the verge of something.

When I write, when I try to say something that reflects what it is that is inside of me or the world that I see through my eyes, I sometimes fail.  Truthfully, I almost always fail.  I wanted to convey one idea, and it gets taken in an entirely different way.  I used to love that about poetry - reading through my classmates' writing, finding metaphors and allusions and allegories that they themselves weren't even aware they had placed between the lines.  I remember reading a poem from one of the most brilliant writers and fellow student I encountered in grad school.  We were all blown away by her masterful crafting of the images of death and rebirth and the cynicism of life.  It inspired me.  It made me want to throw away nonfiction and devote my life to poetry.

She told us at the end of our praising that it was about baseball.

That's the tricky thing about writing, and the even trickier thing about writing memories.  Our past is a construction.  We write one thing and it can sound and seem like so many other things.  Few of us recorded every breathing moment, we do not have a film or a clip or transcripts to let us know what it was the exactly happened.  Our ghosts slip through the filter of experiencing joy and pain and triumph and failure.  When we look back only to write forward, things will appear opaque.  The lines are going to blur.  Truth does not exist.
When I write backwards, when I look to the past to fill the lines of my present, I am attempting to hold my five, twelve, nineteen and twenty two year old self close and let her know that everything is going to be alright.  I revisit the ghosts of myself only to realize that even though I wasn’t sure how everything would turn out, I would figure it out.  I can take care of it.  I can take care of myself.  When I look back and reexamine the things that happened to me and my experiences, I am reminded that we are resilient.

We carry on.

I carry on.

As Joan Didion said, I want to “keep in touch with the people we used to be” because everyone else is transient and temporary.  I only carry myself with me.

Looking back and reflecting upon what I did and said and experienced is enlightening and humbling.   I wasn’t able to voice how I felt and what I thought when I was five.  I didn't know then that I would eventually be a grownup.  I didn't know I would have responsibilities and freedoms larger than I had ever been prepared for.  I didn't know life was going to be so hard.  I didn't know life was going to be so unexpected.  I didn't know so much.  I didn't know I would be able to look back and be grateful for what came before.  I didn't know I would cherish the struggles.

Now I do.  

I remember so that I will not be forgotten.