Tuesday, February 6, 2018

An open letter to my high school

 
Dear Alma Mater,
 
High school wasn't my favorite time or place.
 
I felt the force of a creative, funny, confident girl somewhere in the tissue of my body, but in the halls you walk today the true version of me made only a rare appearance. Mostly she felt somehow invisible and glaringly out of place, all at once. So she tried to lay low, hoping that someone would notice the best parts of her and respond to them.
 
***
 
I called my mom this weekend, and after I finished bragging about my 85 degree weather out here in California, she told me about you guys.
 
Needless to say, the conversation dimmed in tone, as we sunk into the quiet of tragic truths.
 
Let me say first, to the parents, siblings, and friends of those who were recently lost, you have my love, my prayers, and my firm belief that every future holds hope.
 
To the teachers who take their tireless stance in front of dry erase boards each morning: you will always be among my favorite group of people in the world, and your investment in me has enhanced my life in ways that will hold me forever grateful. You are invaluable light.
 
But this letter is mostly to you, the students of my high school, present and future.

When I attended your/our school, the Twin Towers came down. We were reading "In Cold Blood" at the time for English class, and this piece of literature didn't exactly restore my faith in humanity. FYI: there are a lot of gruesome books out there, but I promise there are about a billion others that will put a smile on your face. I know this because I spent a lot of my time in high school visiting the library. My social calendar was pretty sparse, so I often turned to words for warmth.

I vividly remember turning the pages of a novel after school during my senior year, ultimately needing to set it down because my tears were blurring the paragraphs before me. The book was happy, but I was not.

I didn't recognize depression by its name, this being our first encounter, but I certainly felt her unforgiving grip.

Later that semester I became extremely ill, and I am convinced to this day it was my emotions' way of saying, "Something's gotta give."

I was out of school for a week, and I watched my mom cry in response to a very frightening (mis)diagnosis from the doctor. Each hour as I slept a palm would pause on my forehead, checking for fever.

When I returned to classes, my self-conscious figure sidled into calculus, where something happened that I never saw coming. Fifteen years later, my memory has yet to scrap it.

Morgan, a very well-liked girl with friends to spare, shouted, "Bailey!" and slid out of her desk to stand up and wrap me in a real, unrushed hug.

It was in that moment I realized I had been present during my absence. In a time in my life when I thought none of my peers noticed me, I was proven wrong.

And oh how beautiful it can be to be wrong.

***

When I was released from Morgan's hug, I was held in a new attitude. I thought to myself, "College will be here in nine months, so let's try and make the best of this opening act."

And suddenly I could see.

I could see Nate, sneaking ice cream into English class, bribing our teacher out of a tardy slip.

I could see Corie, who looked out for me and could quote "Friends" as readily as I.

I could see Katie, giggling on her living room floor as we gobbled trail mix and our pencils scratched out derivatives and limitations.
 
I could see that one teacher (maybe he's still there) who would yell, with empty hands, "Hot coffee!" and clear himself a path through a gaggle of teens.
 
I could see all the people who were doing their best. I could see that I wasn't necessarily being ignored by my classmates, but perhaps I was too timid to raise my gaze and meet their eyes.
 
***
 
I know how busy you all are, and right now your daily agenda probably holds to-dos such as "Grieve," "Wonder why this happened," and "Just move forward."
 
I certainly don't want to add to your plate, but I do have one tiny assignment for you, and I give it to you because I care about you, though we may never meet.
 
So here it is, are you ready?
 
Find your Jell-O.
 
I know, I know. You were hoping I was going to say "Let loose and take a break." Well in a way I am saying that.
 
When I was in your shoes, in your locker room, in your stairwells, thumbing your textbooks and numbing my bum on those ice-cold football bleachers, there was one thing that was constant in my Monday to Friday.
 
No matter what the menu in the cafeteria, I always ordered a side of Jell-O. Red when I was interested in flavor, green when I was chasing after levity.
 
The Jell-O was cut into cubes, piled in sticky stacks in plastic bowls, and (now this is very important, so pay attention:) topped with a little flower of whipped cream.
 
Ever interested in fairness, I divvied up that floret with the tip of my spoon and made sure each cube received a smear of dairy before popping each block into my mouth.
 
High school wasn't all bad, of course. I laughed at teachers' antics and read some great books and enjoyed the occasional day off thanks to a Kansas ice storm. And of course there was Jell-O. I could count on that gelatin at every lunch hour, often saved it for last. Because it was something to savor.
 
There are plenty of things to savor during this time in your life, sometimes you just have to search for them.
 
***
 
You, my friends, are the Cougars. By nature you are solitary creatures. But please don't let isolation be your way.
 
There are so many of you and you're each so. incredibly. special. So get to know each other while you can; don't wait 'til graduation. Talk to each other.
 
If you're hurting, tell someone, anyone.
 
If you're feeling fine, reach out to just one person who maybe seems too afraid to speak first.
 
And ALL Y'ALL:
 
Find your Jell-O!
 
Join the choir. Volunteer. Help build a set for the play. Or spend Saturday night working on extra credit, if that's your jam. I highly recommend Mrs. Koenigsdorf's creative writing class -- what a great space to find your voice.
 
High school will not be forever. Nothing will, including how you're feeling right this moment. These four years don't have to be your celebrity season in the sun, but you deserve a ray of joy regardless.
 
So find something that makes you happy, revel in it, and revel again. Try your absolute hardest to forget about what others think of your preferred hobby and instead just get into that mode where you can't see or hear or feel anyone else's judgment because you're too lost in what makes you tick. (But look up every now and then; there may be a new friend nearby).

I know firsthand how scary it can be to be yourself. But take it from someone who tried navigating life without herself -- advertising the truth is a lot less work and the only way that flirts with freedom.
 
Raise those banners to the fore. I can't wait to see how you're going to better this world.
 
All my love,
Bailey

Friday, February 2, 2018

Things that do and don't stir up my stress

 
Things that stress me out
 
Being out late -- in general, but particularly on a school night
 
Beads on clothing
 
Caption contests -- I feel like as a writer I should be good at this, but I don't think I am
 
Fighting/feisty disagreement/confrontation
 
Events that happen infrequently (like when I host my annual birthday celebration), in which I put too much pressure on myself to have the best time. Then I try to balance it by not having expectations, and the whole thing just becomes a messy back-and-forth battle of my own wills.
 
When people in an audience speak loud enough to overpower a performer/speaker
 
Contemplating how airplanes work, and flying
 
Riding the subway in Los Angeles
 
Grocery shopping. Ack. Hate it.
 
When someone wants to, like, legit ballroom/swing/salsa dance with me. I stick to freestyle, buddy, and my feet only move so fast.
 
Dogs' inability to sit still/not interact
 
Being on cruise ships
 
Related: the movie Titanic
 
Hiking
 
When my many different friends, all of whom I love dearly, don't mesh with each other (see: birthday parties)
 
The sheer amount of books in the world
 
Things in the universe (including the universe itself) that are really big or really small
 
Feeling like I have to watch a movie or play a game when I'd rather just mix and mingle. What? I really love to mix and mingle.
 
When someone I love is really upset and I can't help him or her feel better
 
Not having something in my car or bag to read
 
Being cold
 
Slow-moving lines
 
Things that don't stress me out
 
Dishes in the sink
 
Toilet paper not placed on the dispenser (as long as it's within reach of the commode, I'm good, people)
 
Getting up early
 
Going basically anywhere in public by myself -- restaurants, bars, movie theaters, etc.
 
When people leave a used K-cup in the machine
 
Dancing, singing, or speaking in public (OK speaking is sometimes stressful, but I still love it)
 
Chatting with strangers, up to and including if the discussion goes deep
 
Cats' attitudes/sudden decisions that they need space
 
In some regards: writing. While of course this vocation has its share of true stress, I feel like in general I enjoy writing way more than the average person, and I'm not always overwhelmed by a blank screen and a blinking cursor.
 
Society's expectation that people be fashionable when in the presence of others -- meh.
 
When friendships fizzle out simply because of distance and time. As someone who moved a bunch growing up, and as an extrovert who's bound to meet more people than I can keep up with anyway, I just see this as a part of life. Sure, I look back and think fondly of people in my past, but I don't worry that I did something wrong or, furthermore, whether I'll ever see them again. I believe that God has a way of circling people back into my life when I need them.
 
Standing room only concerts -- I actually prefer them
 
When people cry
 
Doing laundry (not being caught up on piles of laundry is another story)
 
Talking openly about intense emotions
 
Silence in between bits of conversation/Quiet people
 
Being an impromptu social director
 
Hot weather
 
Long lines (that move at a reasonable pace)
 
***
 
Your turn: what does (or doesn't) stress you out?

Good things that graced my January

 
Zero library fines accrued (if you're a Brewer, you understand that this is an achievement)
 
Lunchtime library visits to pick up books on hold and peruse the YA section for additional treats
 
Didn't have to pack a suitcase or board an airplane
 
Spent lots of time cross stitching an adorable Winnie the Pooh pattern
 
Got reacquainted with my excessively large collection of rom com DVDs
 
Two very long walks -- just me, Pandora, and suburban sidewalks
 
My nephew did not grow out of his fat phase, and for this I am thankful
 
Communed with several talented artists at an open mic at one of my favorite bars
 
Happy hour date with Cat
 
Dinner date with Debbie
 
Writing date with Steph
 
Read "Milo" and "The Manny Files," two beautiful, hilarious books that together deserve 10 stars
 
Bought tickets to an Echosmith show, and validated my purchase as their songs made me smile
 
Reached my 1,000 minute meditation milestone with Headspace
 
Topanga shared this picture with the world
 
Did occasional yoga with a coworker during lunch, and giggled and breathed
 
Had some "shred" sessions at the gym, where pop music pushed me along the treadmill
 
Went to an outdoor baby shower where the weather was A+ perfect -- only in L.A.
 
My honey's Bills went to the playoffs
 
Sat with Chels during church
 
Wore a party hat at Alex's birthday and received warm greetings from strangers
 
Great conversation about writing, during which I was encouraged as an author
 
Lots of silly, sometimes ranty phone conversations with Nick
 
Got invited to a book club, to be hosted by a girl I adore
 
Listened to "Fight Song" approximately 13 times (at least)
 
Took myself out for chicken korma, and considered crashing the wedding next door in my jean jacket
 
Ate three PB&J's in one day
 
Bought the new Glen Hansard album
 
Gushed over the writing of a fantastic columnist
 
Found a robot tote bag, LEGO paper plates, and dry scalp shampoo for $1 a pop
 
Attended a bowling birthday fete and a bingo birthday celebration in the same weekend
 
Fuller House announced a fourth season
 
(Though I am yet to view), One Day at a Time dropped a new season of episodes
 
Got to be a first-time-pet-owner coach to a friend who was approved to adopt a fluffy rescue cat
 
Some friends went on vacation to Florida, and I felt like an honorary traveler thanks to text updates
 
Got to be a reader, writer, friend, daughter, sister, partner, feline lover, and a person in this life

Monday, January 22, 2018

The birds who have flocked around my heart


I’ve had some troubling experiences in my life. Particularly with the avian community.
 
Sometime near the age of 12, a blue heron-looking bird with beady red eyes chased me in circles around an indoor rainforest exhibit. I hustle-walked round and round, losing my mind with fear of being pecked to death, until my brothers finally figured out how to chase it, at which point I ran for the exit to recover from what is still a traumatic memory.
 
During early childhood, a peacock scared the pee out of me in simply being its ostentatious, sexually forward self. To this day, I don’t understand why they let those things roam free. Anything whose body can suddenly burst open should be kept at a considerable distance from nervous blondes. Preferably behind plate glass. And hidden behind a curtain. 
 
There were also some disagreeable geese outside a library in Colorado that used their necks as lunging devices and no I did not find this charming and no I’m not over it.
 
So me and birds, I wouldn’t exactly say we’re of a feather.
 
But our relationship has taken some flight in recent years, and I’m proud of us for the connection we’ve been able to foster. (Mostly I’ve done the difficult emotional work in this area, but I try not to hold that against them, as they probably can’t afford insurance for their own therapy).
 
Maybe they are working on their treatment of me, because this past summer I saw some peacocks and they seemed to reserve their shows of mating for the peahens instead of me. Also I frequently see some crows or wrens gathering on a wire that overlooks the Pollo Loco (where I presume they hold vigil for their chicken cousins who have gone before), so there is a chance that between bits of gossip they have decided to ease up on my jumpy self.
 
Because, if I’m being honest, birds have actually served me in incredible ways.
 
There was Martin and Katerina, the pair of mallards who wandered the Lutheran seminary where my family lived during my high school years. They decided to nest their family of eggs outside our front door, where Dad set out water for Katie and affectionately greeted her with his standard “Duckduckduckduckduck” speak. He’s a very intelligent man; he just, like me, melts into a state of incoherency when adorable, vulnerable creatures are present.
 
Those birds’ selection of lodging made me feel special, like I came from a hospitable tribe worth choosing.
 
There were the chickens at the Noah’s Ark petting zoo station at Vacation Bible School. They were placed in my palms and I held them close to my belly, where they sat calmly, like contented cats. Those fluffy babies kept their talons tucked and restored confidence in me after encountering some less-sociable animals that morning.
 
And there were the flamingos at the Manhattan(, Kansas) zoo this past summer, who truly lifted me out of a depressed funk within moments of crossing my vision. I hoisted my nephew on my back for a better look, and after he scrambled down toward the playground, I lingered and marveled at the ability of these pink balancers to restore balance to my day.
 
***
 
Last night I was rustled in my dark bedroom by the honking of passing geese. I immediately fell to worry, thinking their cacophony was arriving at an unorthodox hour. I wondered if they were OK or if they were sending the humans some warning message about something being off in nature.
 
“There’s fog, and we’re lost! You’re lost! We’re all lost!” I imagined them shouting.
 
My paranoia was soon overtaken by fatigue, and I joined Max in his state of slumber, him atop the mountain of blankets that covered me, his feline body a paperweight for mine.
 
Perhaps the geese were just complaining about the recent chill that snuck up on Los Angeles, inviting other geese to join on their red eye flight to Peru.
 
Maybe their call laced around the cat's dreams, the fowl kind being, I assume, his favorite type.
 
Maybe they were just saying Hello.
 
Anne Lamott says something along the lines of if there were one thing to convince her of the existence of God, birds would be enough.
 
I’ve never fully understood this thought, but I am beginning to better, I think.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

My 2017 in review

 
Happy New Year, you fine people!
 
Some weeks back my friend Courtney sent me Susannah Conway's "Unravel your Year" print-out-journal-workbook thingy. So far I've filled out some of it (fair warning: it is lengthy, so I would work on it in multiple sittings), and I've found it very valuable. It helped me recognize my blessings of last year, realize how much I've learned and how I've grown stronger, and gave me a chance to sit with some tough emotions, hopefully moving me somewhat forward away from them.
 
Then yesterday I came across a shorter version of a similar concept, a little questionnaire thingy that I found via Jolie's blog who found it via another blog. Last night I filled out all of my answers longhand in my journal, and it had a similar cleansing, positive effect on me as Susannah's workbook.
 
Anyway. Below are my answers to the questions from the shorter year-in-review thingy. May your year be filled with grace and love and light and snuggly pets and pasta and some more grace.
 
Xox,
Bailey and Max

1. What did you do in 2017 that you'd never done before?
  • Boarded 16 airplanes in one year
  • Took a vacation with Alex and traveled both to and from our destination together
  • Read poetry at an open mic
  • Saw a 90s boy band (Hanson) in concert
  • Participated as a worship leader for an entire year
  • Was honored as a godmother at a baptism and a best mate in a wedding
  • Threw a bachelor party
  • Lived in a house with four cats
  • Got my eyebrows threaded
  • Had an MRI
  • Cried in front of a medical professional (hadn't done that since childhood, when I assume I cried during vaccinations)
2. Did you keep your New Year's Resolutions, and will you make more for this year?

I'm not sure I made any resolutions for 2017, to be honest. I hoped to lose weight, and I did. Last year was not one for grand goals, however. And looking back, I don't think goals would have really fit in to the year, considering the way it rolled out.

For this upcoming year, I'm not going to use the words "every day" or "quit altogether," but I would like to aim for more and less of certain things:

More:
  • Dancing
  • Finger and toenail painting
  • Making my bed
  • Reading
  • Working on my book
  • Spending time with local friends
  • Fizzy water
  • Lemon in my water
  • Forgiving, hopefully
  • Walking, running, weight lifting, and yoga. So...exercise...
  • Vegetables
  • Indian food
  • Cooking at home
  • Free clothing
  • Time with Alex
  • Flossing
  • Open mics
Less:
  • Irritability
  • Spending
  • Diet Coke
  • Looking at social media profiles of people who make me feel upset or jealous
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Yes, ma'am! I believe three ladies I know brought some new people into this world last year.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Someone close to someone I'm close to died, and it was terrible.

5. What countries did you visit?

Canada, for approximately four hours. We rode bikes in Victoria, which is a gem of a place.

6. What would you like to have in 2018 that you lacked in 2017?
  • More time with LA friends
  • More concentration for reading
  • Less fear surrounding the writing of my book
  • Visits from/with specific friends who live far away
  • More confidence/less hesitation
7. What dates from 2017 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
  • February 27th -- I had a cavity filled that day and then discovered Jens Lekman that night
  • March 29th -- I got a phone call that changed my life
  • April 14 -- Someone in my life died. It was Good Friday.
  • July 31 -- I turned in my key for a house I loved living in
  • October 29 -- Nick's beautiful, emotional wedding
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

I learned to stand solidly on my feet in a way that I've never done before.

9. What was your biggest failure?

I feel like I wasn't the stellar friend I know myself to be, and I hate that.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Depression, a gnarly cold, and an ear infection. Oh! And my pupils were different sizes! That was an alarming doctor's visit...

11. What was the best thing you bought?

My watermelon suitcase from a thrift store. OK fine, my parents bought it for me. Yes, I'm spoiled. Also a Shutterfly book for Nick and another book I found at the Getty.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

I'm so grateful to say this is a long list:

Alex, Debbie, Sam, Chelsea, Ryan, Caleb, Jill, Mom, Dad, Esther, Courtney, Nathan, Carrie, Steph, Nick, Garrett, (another) Sam, Kaiya, Carter, Austin, Andre, and many more.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Prefer not to answer.

14. Where did most of your money go?

Panera, McDonald's, 7 Eleven, our favorite happy hour nook, and rent

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

I hate to say it, but I didn't get "really really really" excited about much of anything. I was unexpectedly delighted by Jens Lekman's concert.

16. What songs will always remind you of 2017?
17. Did you make any new friendships?

Mostly I just got closer with people I already knew.

18. Did you go on vacation?

Oh boy yes. Alaska, Kansas City, Scottsdale, and New Orleans.

19. What do you wish you had done more and less of?

I wish I had done more:
  • Reading
  • Socializing
  • Exercising
  • Cleaning
I wish I had done less:
  • Crying
  • Phone scrolling
  • Hibernating
  • Fast food eating
20. How did you spend the holidays?

I did yoga, went to church, and watched holiday movies.

21. What new food did you discover?

I discovered that I absolutely love macaroni and cheese with black pepper on top. I also learned that the White Harte Pub has excellent chicken curry, and I ate the best refried beans of my life after meeting Rachael Yamagata.

22. What was your favorite TV program?

Crazy Ex Girlfriend, One Day at a Time, Riverdale, and Girl Meets World

23. What was one of your favorite experiences of the year?
  • Singing along to Martyrs & Thieves at the Jennifer Knapp concert
  • Soaking in a hot tub as the stars appeared above us, somewhere off the Alaskan coast
  • Sitting in a lounge by myself on the cruise, cracking up! at this hilarious singer/entertainer
  • Reading my poem at the open mic
  • Talking on the beach with Jill and then eating nachos together
  • Walking through the Konza Prairie with my family
  • Planning and attending Nick's bachelor party, and seeing him so happy on his wedding day
24. What was the best book you read?

 
Honorable mentions: Stargirl, Orbiting Jupiter, and The Postman

25. What was your greatest musical or artistic discovery?
  • Jens Lekman!
  • Gabrielle Aplin
  • Nathan Pyle
  • Ernie Barnes
26. What did you want and get?
 
Good company and conversation on New Year's Eve

27. What did you want and not get?

To see various friends who I love

28. What was your favorite film of last year?

Almost Adults, Lighthouse of the Orcas, Night Owls, Little Sister

Also, fun fact!: I didn't set foot in a single movie theater during all of 2017.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and what age did you become?

Sigh. It was not one of my best birthdays. I turned 32.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

I know I'm incredibly privileged and blessed, but I would have loved more opportunities to do whatever I wanted last year.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2017?

Ha! If you know me then you know why this makes me laugh. Let's see...

I wore very little jewelry, applied the most makeup I ever have in one year, got new glasses, dressed up a lot for various social gatherings that weren't really that fancy. Hair was pulled back most of the time. I sported sweatpants at home and a lot of secondhand clothes overall. And as always, I mixed all the colors.

32. What kept you sane?

Headspace, CBT thought records, my amazing friends, Alex, Max, sushi dates, and Bethel.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

I didn't realize I was supposed to move on from Denzel...

I also fangirled over Garrison Starr, Sherri Shepherd, and, duh, Rachael Yamagata.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

Relations with Korea and the Vegas shooting

35. Who did you miss?

Several people. My family and friends are so scattered I don't know that I'm ever not missing someone.

36. Who was the best new person you met?

There were various people I met on airplanes during a very difficult period of the year who were extremely kind. One man gave me drink coupons and graciously looked at pictures of my cat. One woman encouraged me in the early morning light to "hold the space" for a grieving family I was visiting. And another watched Big with me, my computer battery holding out long enough for us to make it to the end of the film, to watch Josh's suit overtake his teenage body and feel overtaken ourselves by the power of art to heal and lift.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2017.

No emotion is forever. And reaching out to strangers can offer amazing paybacks.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your 2017.