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The Words

July 31, 2010

Sometimes the words come spilling out, streaming faster than fingers can type or faster than the wrist can turn.  I pull over into a southbound rest stop because the words can’t wait for the exit, for the long drive home.  I spend the afternoon in a coffee shop because the words lose their way in Saturday afternoon errands, in the chitter-chatter of crowded stores, in the florescent lighting of the soap aisle.  Rushing, flowing, carving out new streams or faithfully following river beds already made, the words don’t stop, so I stop for them.

Sometimes I wait, to say all the things I want to say, I need to say.  I wait until I have that invitation, that assurance that whatever I say, it’s ready to be heard.  By then the words are already sorted, lined up, ready to be rolled out.  Practiced, rehearsed, seasoned.  They hit every step, every note, every beat.  Not effortlessly, but with ease, only because these words were birthed for this emergence.  They march forth, nod in my direction, hit their mark, and settle in.  Assured that they will accomplish what they must, I stand aside and watch with certainty and confidence.

Sometimes the words are heavy, stubborn, dead-weight.  I can’t pick them up and move them.  So I drag them.  Out.  Into.  The.  Open.  Where they sit.  And pout.  I shove and kick and throw all of my body weight against them.  And they refuse to move.  So I rub them down, try to smooth their rugged sides, praise their weight, their stature, their strength. Slowly, calmly, sincerely, I try to relax each word, coax it to its place, show it how to trust its surroundings.  These words still don’t budge.  The sit.  And look at me sideways.  So I throw myself to the ground in a grand gesture of defeat and exhaustion, let out a single shrill screech, and then let them be.  When they are the important ones, I let them be.  Unpolished, rough, and grainy, they sit there out in the open, untouched and important.

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Tumblr Tuesday: “Never Date a Writer”

July 27, 2010

Oh, Tuesdays… I think you need some extra attention.  You get squished between the newness of (disgust for?) Mondays and the anticipation for the close of Wednesdays (weekend is almost officially here!).  Thursdays rolls into Fridays, and we all know everyone loves the weekends (even if your weekend falls midweek, it still counts for weekend-love, right?).  Tuesdays, you don’t really get your time to shine.  So, Tuesdays, here is an extra little pat on the back for you, a little squeeze on the shoulder, even a hug, if you’d like. It’s Tumblr Tuesday! (Kinda like my own personal take on the official Tumblr Tuesday.)

My tumblr kind of looks like the bottom of my closet when I was in high school, or maybe even last year… (No comment, Nicole!)  It’s all of my favorite things, my pretty things, my edgy things, things I want to save, things I want someone else to say “oooo, love that!” all collected into one place with not a lot of order.  But I love it to the bottom of my heels (that means a I love it a lot), and I thought I would take some time each Tuesday to share with you my favorite post from the past week.

This Tuesday, I want to share this post:

It is a link to a piece entitled “Never Date a Writer” on RedBubble, written by Alex, and first posted to tumblr by 52 Hearts.  Whoa, lots of links, I know, but isn’t it cool how Quality content can spread over the internet?  And this is Quality.  It’s about relationships.  And writing.  More specifically about the end of a relationship and about the way writing says more than verbal conversations. But that description doesn’t even do this piece justice – it’s a hundred times better written than my description.  Which is why it is my first Tumblr Tuesday.

Check it out, I’d love to hear what you think!

This City

July 25, 2010
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I’m faceless here.  I can try to walk into the coffee shop through the wrong door; and forget to cross the street because I’m too busy trying to fix my broken umbrella; and drop a tear or two huddled under the scaffolding during the downpour; and flash nearly half the city because I’m not used to dresses over subway vents; but I don’t have to explain it, choke it back, hold it down, laugh it off.  I can release and reset alone, standing in a crowd – an off day in an off time period.  This too shall pass.  And they let me pass, faceless.  I am grateful for anonymity that brings peace and order to my thoughts.

I know this city offers harsh realities.  It rubs abrasively.  The concrete can skin the hands and knees when you fall, and it is hard not to trip here at one time or another.  I know it is impossible to avoid that sting.  I know that sometimes this city leaves you wishing somebody would offer an open hand. But I’ve found that hand, too.  The warm smile holding a door; the chuckle when I’ve let the shutter close too many times on the same scene – “you should read your manual!” – he doesn’t realize that it’s not the camera that isn’t quite right, it’s that my eye isn’t quite right; the wave-on-through because “your bags look heavy!”; the gratitude when I bend down to pick up her son’s hat that he tossed aside from the stroller.  I’ve found that here, too.

I know there are things I still need to learn about this city.  Like how hot and damp the air is at 5am in late July.  That the heat and night sky cling to the early morning and lay themselves out down the streets.  That the streets are almost silent even though taxi cabs still rush by and delivery trucks unload from the sidewalks.  Coffee shops and breakfast places display dark windows or a soft yellow glow from somewhere deep inside, where a single employee puts on the first pot of coffee.  It is hard to find a bottle of water at 5am.  I’m listening for the sound of early morning birds.  It’s an instinct I can’t suppress, but I’m not expecting to hear a bird chirp.  Instead, I’m listening to the rush of a taxi cab engine and the clank of a delivery truck suspension.  The traffic doesn’t drone at 5am the way it does at 5pm.  At 5am each vehicle has its own solo.

I crave the faceless days and prepare for skinned knees.  I appreciate the kind hands and warm gestures, theirs and mine, that take on special meaning when cloaked with anonymity.  I’m walking these concrete sidewalks, next to the droning traffic and the 5am solos.  I’m where I want to be.

Text Messages and Summer Strawberries

July 19, 2010
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She texts me when she gets up in the morning.  Then the text messages roll in haphazardly as the hours of the day move along, but the morning texts have become a regular occurrence.  Not automatic enough to call a habit, or with enough history to call a ritual, but it’s the intent and the newness, the freshness, after all this time, that honestly remind me of summer fruit – sweet and refreshing.  In the past, I’ve gone months without hearing from her, worrying about her, wondering where she is, and who she is with.  Trusting her with her life decisions, because there isn’t anyone else.

She turned 18 last week.  A few days ago, really.  And her birthday card is late, but she must know by now that everything I send her in the mail arrives late.  Last birthday, I didn’t even have an address for her.  That summer I worried ceaselessly.  I’ve watched her grow over the past five years, and along the way I’ve tried to teach her “life things”.  She teaches me, also.  Love and strength and perseverance and forgiveness and protection and faith in people, even when there are too many reasons to the contrary. We keep our roles, mentor – mentee, but oh, do I learn from her.

Five years ago, I vehemently believed that she would be a part of my life on her 18th birthday.  But don’t we always believe that about the people we care about?  And yet, sometimes they slip away with the passage of time.  Or step away.  Or turn away.  And at times, with her, I thought, “Maybe this is it.  Maybe I lost her this time.  Or maybe she lost me.”  It’s hard to tell who does the losing when two people both cared at one time.  I’d tell her “Never.”  And I would believe it with every bone in my body.  Because she needed me to believe it, to say it.  And I needed to believe it, to say it.  I’d drive the doubt away, but it was there.  It existed.  It has to exist or there would not be certainty.  And I told her I was certain.  In some ways, I always was.

These morning texts come regularly now, from this girl young woman now across the country.  They give me hope.  For another five years of learning, and perspective, and love.  For both of us.  And they give me hope for other relationships in my life that need my conviction right now.  Hope that intent and newness will come after all this time and remind me of fresh summer strawberries.

In Which I Write Myself The Perfect Job Listing

July 17, 2010

I spend a lot of time looking and applying for jobs.  Some positions make me feel like all of my hard work will result in a career I love; others feel like a long stretch – a mismatch, but what do I have to lose?  I know I’m not going to find exactly what I am looking for, but a girl can hope, right?  THIS [below] is EXACTLY what I want:

Position Available: Research and Policy Associate (As in, responsible for substantive work with real responsibility.  You will not be asked to babysit the fax machine or to brew coffee for the entire office.  In fact, we don’t even have a fax machine.  Who faxes when you can email?)

Job Category: Public Policy, Children and Youth, Juvenile Justice, Advocacy, Writing and Editing

Sector: Nonprofit

Type: Full time (As in, M-F 9-5:30 with only an occasional 60 hour week for which you will be compensated with gratitude, appreciation, and coffee as needed.)

Salary: Commensurate With Education And Experience – Excellent Benefits. (As in, enough salary to pay food, rent, utilities, school loans, that cute dress from Anthropologie, a small emergency fund, and to toy with the idea of having an actual savings account.  In that order. — As in, a large enough benefits package to include dental insurance AND a 401K.  Yes, we will wait while you squeal with excitement.  Just not too high-pitched, please.)

Location: New York, New York, Occasional Travel to Washington, D.C. (As in, two blocks from Grand Central Station, so if you have to live at home and commute for the first few months to save money, you don’t have to spend an extra hour commuting within the city.  Or, when you decide you do want to live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, your total commute time will be only a half hour.)

Job Description: Research national trends in juvenile justice, positive youth development, youth leadership programs, substance abuse prevention programs, and community-based organizations serving youth.  Write reports, policy briefs, and educational materials on the above topics. Track federal and state legislation related to the above topics.  Advocate for changes and improvements in federal and state legislation.

Required Skills and Abilities:

  • J.D.
  • Master’s in Public Policy and Management
  • Experience with Juvenile Justice policy at the state and national levels
  • Some direct experience with youth and youth programs
  • Strong writing and analytical skills
  • Proven interest in improving youth policies
  • (Comes in with a smile in the morning because even though the day may promise to be long s/he loves the works s/he does and is invested in every moment of the day.  This includes the mid-afternoon moments when nothing tastes better than a fresh cup of coffee.  Must love coffee.)

How To Apply: Please send cover letter and resume via email. (We will reply with an automated email to acknowledge the time and energy it took to apply for this position.   We will notify you of first round interviews within one week.  Two of the five persons interviewed on the phone will be asked to come in for an in-person interview the following week.  The selected candidate will be notified two days later.  The start date is September 1.  This should give you enough time to de-stress from the fear of perpetual unemployment and allow you to enjoy at least two weeks of summer worry-free.  Enjoy!)

A Letter to My Twenty-Year-Old Self

July 13, 2010

[I first saw the “20-Something Self Letters” Project when my favorite Google Reader Sharer (confusing, I know, are you still with me?) posted the project on her blog.  I loved the idea, read a ton of fabulous letters, and then dismissed the possibility of writing a letter to my twenty-something self because I am still a twenty-something.  Apparently it was a glitch I could not work out.  Until my friend, who is also a twenty-something, posted a letter to her twenty-year-old self. (Whoa!  That’s allowed?!) I decided she was sheer genius for working out the glitch that tripped me up and then decided to write my own also (finally).]

Hi Em,

It’s me… yourself about six, almost seven, years from now.  Hi?  Don’t freak out.  (Do you still use that phrase?)  I’m just here to give you some friendly advice.  I know you’ll listen and then make up your own mind.  Right?  See?  It’s just me.  I could tell you stories (get the reference?  Yeah, I still love it), but I know you don’t have all day – you’re busy with school and life – so I’ll just jot down the important stuff.

Most importantly, I love you. And he loves you.  And they all love you – those people in your life that you cherish so much.  I know you feel childish for wanting to climb to the top of the nearest mountain (I know you don’t have a car on campus yet, so it’s probably gonna have to be the hill next to the lake) and scream to the world that you have found your friends for life.  The people who get you. The people who you don’t think twice about being yourself around, in fact you don’t think about it at all, you just are.  You feel lucky.  You are lucky.  So give these friends an extra hug today, and joke with them about being little old ladies and men in wheelchairs together, and then run to the bank of Seneca Lake and SHOUT to the world how much you love these people.  They are worth it.  And they will probably join you on that bank and shout as loud as you and then you’ll laugh about it until the tears fall years from now.  They love you. They love you, and they’re all going to be around for a very long time.

He loves you also.  You know that already.  I’m telling you it’s okay to believe it and to stop being scared of it.  You have your hesitations, and those are fine to keep, but don’t doubt that he loves you.  You can handle anything that comes your way.  You know that also, but I’m telling you to have faith in it.  You will be fine.  You will better than fine.  How’s that for something to look forward to? =)

Take that dance class.  Love it.  Don’t worry that it doesn’t fit into either of your majors.  You’ll understand life better afterward.  Trust me.  Take Ghettoscapes, too.  You’ll hate how much isn’t taught in that class, how much more you could be learning (see how well I know you?), but you’ll learn to pass notes in class (finally!), how to daydream by staring out the window, and how to spend more time trying to convince the professor to let you out of the mid-term than actually studying for the mid-term.  It’s about time you learned these things. You’ll always have time later to learn what the professor was trying to teach you.  And don’t worry, your grade won’t suffer at all.  Pretty amazing, right?

Don’t go to Los Angeles for your study “abroad” program.  Sorry, it’s that simple.  You’re not going to like L.A. under these conditions.  You’re going to hate the entertainment industry, and you’re not going to get another chance to travel abroad until 2010.  2010!  Do you know how long that is?!  Double-majoring isn’t really that important.  Go abroad, as in really abroad.  Take the risk – go to India instead.  Oh, that’s right, you already applied; it’s too late to change.  Well then.  Make a bee-line for the young new talent agent at your internship.  He’s down to earth, fun to work with, appreciative, and you’ll learn a bit about a healthy life perspective from him – but sorry, that’s about all you’ll learn that semester.  (Bummer, I know.)  Don’t worry about the relationship you left back home.  Things will work out the way they are supposed to, and it is not reliant on your decision to go to L.A.  You know this, trust it.  Take all the opportunities you can to travel on the west coast, take more pictures in Death Valley, and on your down days (there will be many) hit the pool without feeling guilty and take afternoon naps in the air-conditioning.  Enjoy the downtime while you have it.  The next SIX YEARS are going to be so busy you’re going to forget what sleeping feels like, never mind a nap.

Think hard about going to law school.  Make sure it is for the right reasons – they are going to be what gets you through the socratic method, your oral argument, the late nights, the early mornings, and fear of failure.  When you have those right reasons, know that they’re not the same reasons that direct most people to law school.  Hold them tight and follow your own path.  It’s a long path, but it will bring you happiness, it will bring you joy.  Just stick to your path.  You will know what I mean when you get there.

Think hard about spending a year in AmeriCorps.  I know you have their promotional bookmark taped to your wall.  (See, again, how well I know you?)  Take it down and sit quietly on your bed with it.  Here is what no one else will tell you: for you, it’s the other half of law school. For you, it’s the most important half. In fact, this possibly will  be the most important thing you ever do.  I know, this doesn’t make any sense now, but trust me.  Follow your instinct, you will later define it as intuition, and go where it leads.  You know that quote you have on your AIM profile?  You know the one, “Take the detours in life.”  Take this detour.  When you get there, know that you are stronger than you think.

I’m actually jealous of you young twenty-year old who still gets to eat in dinning halls, walk by the lake, sit in classes she loves (go you for loving your school and your classes), and sleep next to or next door to or across campus from her very-best-friends-ever in the world.  Enjoy it.  Enjoy every single second of it, because you might look back years from now and call it the best year of your life.  A lot of great things will happen after this year, and you still have yet to meet some of the most important people in your life, but this twentieth year will be one of your best.  Avoid the crying in the car in the Ramada parking lot and take the friend-who-deserves-a-prize-for-putting-up-with-you-sometimes out for a 3am stroll around Wegmans.  She’s in it for the long haul, and will save your soul (or so it seems) a thousand times more, so give her a break from the tears and unnecessary drama.  And tell her how much you love her.  She needs to hear it as much as you do.  I’ll say this part again (because you need to hear it again): I love you.  He loves you.  They love you.  You know this, now trust this.

And if you get a chance, write a note to your twenty-six (almost twenty-seven year old self) and tell her to trust herself also.  She could probably use that advice right about now.

Love you as ever (you’ll get this in a few months, for now just take note of how much it still means to me/you),
Emily

From the Department of Christmas in July

July 10, 2010
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I made a Christmas Wish List many Christmases ago.  I folded it up, stuck it in an envelope, addressed it to Santa Claus (at the North Pole, of course), stamped it, and pushed it down the slot of a blue mailbox miles away from where I lived.  I was twenty-two.

The list had everything I wanted that December, from that silk shirt in the glossy magazine, to a second chance with a boy who was The Boy at the time and for a long time before and for a long time after that.  I penned down the name of my Dream Law School and other items that weren’t as life-changing.  I scribbled the list in my journal, so I could point to it later and say – “A-Ha!  Christmas miracle!  I KNEW there was hope!”

I didn’t get anything from the list that year.  I didn’t tell anyone (other than Santa) that I wanted a silk shirt.  It was impractical and I felt silly asking for it.  So I wrote it down on my Christmas Wish List with after-Christmas sales in mind, but even discount prices didn’t match my bank account that year.  The Boy turned into a “friend” and eventually a boy.  The Dream Law School sent me a rejection letter; I put it in the pile behind my acceptance letters and moved on.

Maybe I asked for the wrong things – that is what I told myself when none of it came Christmas morning or the mornings after.  I rationalized that the silk shirt was pointless in muddy Vermont, and I didn’t travel anywhere that warranted a luxury shirt.  The Boy perhaps needed to become a boy, and the Dream Law School was all wrong for me because it had no real guarantees I would get into the joint Master’s Program.  (I had PLANS, you know.  I couldn’t have rejection tripping me up.  HA.)  I had asked for all the wrong things.  Who was I to know what I wanted and what was good for me?  I never again even entertained the idea of writing a letter to Santa.  Which somehow translated itself to never again whole-heartedly saying “THIS is EXACTLY what I want.”

Looking back, I could have married The Boy and been blissful for eternity.  The Dream Law School probably was a better choice for me, even if I didn’t get into the joint Master’s program.  The courses better fit my career goals.  Classic silk shirts never go out of fashion, and I wasn’t going to stay in Vermont forever or even another winter season.  Nothing I asked for was wrong.

But how important are those things really?  And is now the best time to judge what I needed/wanted/should have been asking for?

Maybe the right thing to put on that list was strength to endure the trails that awaited in the future that I didn’t even know existed.  That would be if I was asking for things for myself and not for other people.  Because really, if I could have asked for anything that year, it would have been for my landlady’s daughter not to have gotten in that car.  And for the pain to disappear from the world of my precious eighth grader.  And for the word “homeless” to stay out of sentences where the kids I cared so much about were the subject. I just didn’t know all that was coming, so I asked for a small piece of luxury and education and love.

Today I am happy where I am in my life and where I went to school and I even (much to my surprise) received a gorgeous silk shirt from my mom last Christmas.  I thought of my Christmas List Wish to Santa when I opened the box.

I don’t know what challenges the future holds.  Everyday I ask the universe (Santa Claus?) for the strength to face them as they arise.  In addition, I am slowly learning how to say “THIS is EXACTLY what I want” without mixing it with what I want for other people, or wondering if I’m asking for the wrong things.  If they are the wrong things, bring them on, I can handle them, too.  I’m learning how to nurture hope again.  I’m making small lists on napkins and on corners of scrap paper of the things I want.   The life changes and tiny details.  I’m thinking of combining them and sending Santa a Christmas Wish List in July.  Maybe  just as a heads up to the universe that I know what I want – and I’m not afraid to say that anymore.