Friday, January 28, 2011

A Stranger Insight

People are always telling me things I don’t want to hear.

“It doesn’t get easier.”
“You never make time for me.”
“As a grad student, school should be your only priority.”
“You’re spreading yourself too thin.”
“If it’s meant to be, it’ll be.”

..just to name a few.

So my life is chaotic, who’s isn’t? It’s been a crazy couple of weeks, and it is going to be even wilder in the next few. I am: an intern, a babysitter, a bookkeeper, a server, a runner in training (again), and a full time grad student.

I am: crazy.

Hey it happens. My schedule stays in overhaul mode most days, and although I love that, who doesn’t have days when everything goes to hell? Some days you just want to crawl back in bed and sleep it off. Maybe wake and start over? Truth is, despite my every attempt, life can’t be planned or scheduled. It just happens, and you roll with it; but this morning I encountered the voice of reason at last. It occurred mid-sprint to my office, late for work. Who or what was this voice?

It came in the form of a middle-aged woman I’ve only seen in passing. I have noted that she’s a very charismatic and boisterous woman who works one floor below me. We aren’t very familiar with one another, aside from what small things I’ve perceived. For example she’s very outspoken but friendly, erratic yet diligent. Once we had a slight exchange by the vending machines, and upon walking by her desk I once noticed photographs of her family. However, this is as far as we go as co-worker acquaintances. I couldn’t even tell you her name.

We have a running joke at work regarding the elevators; most trips riding up require a three to five minute waiting period. I would like to note that while this is a very serious issue, it is not quite serious enough that any of us are giving in and climbing the stairs either. When I got to the ground level and pushed the up button on the elevator I had time to dig my phone out of my purse, respond to a text message and re-fill my water bottle before the double doors opened up.

I heard her bounding down the hallway, long before she was in sight, and with one arm out I held the elevator door open for my fellow belated co-worker. On stepped this woman practically sucking for air post run. After she caught her breath, she thanked me for holding the elevator, to which I replied “yeah, anytime.”

The awkwardness of a small elevator plus two people equals small talk. So naturally we launched into complaining employees over the slow and loud elevators we ride each day. When her floor was reached she thanked me again for letting her catch my ride up this morning, otherwise she would have most likely waited another five minutes making her even later than we already were, and I wished her a good day, but just as she stepped off she said:

“You’ve got to acknowledge when things go right, or else you’d never make it through the day.”

The doors closed, and I rode one more floor up considering the thought. Once at my desk with my computer booted up I opened Microsoft Word and typed the words of this unknown woman onto the blank screen. Then I sat there reading them again and again, contemplating the profound idea they conveyed. I caught myself drumming my fingers on my desk to the beat of the flashing cursor at the end of the sentence. I’ve always been a fan of the flashing cursor; it seems to say “keep going.”

So I did. I felt compelled to do so; I started typing the things that had gone right already this morning. I had woken up incredibly late and rushed to work, this much was true. Yet, traffic this morning was nonexistent and I managed to score a key parking spot. Not to mention, fresh off the elevator and my boss had just brewed a new pot of coffee—hazelnut (my favorite).

Then I went beyond just today, thinking about what small things have gone right that I’m clearly overlooking. As it turns out, I’m blind. How quick I am to dismiss the things that work out in life. In fact, more things turn out beautifully right than the other way around. I spend my days on a rampage over the many things I have to do, complaining constantly that there truly isn’t enough time in the day. Meanwhile, this woman I know nothing about catches a quick ride on an elevator sans waiting period and she embraces it for what it really is: a break.

So as it happens, life does give you a break every once in a while. You just have to acknowledge it. Instead of listening to the negative, it is time I heard the good. Life is busy, you get the picture, but it is those pessimistic thoughts and comments I truly have no time for. My undivided attention seems to go in the direction of the more disparaging remarks, its time they took a back seat to more elevating expressions. Goodbye cynicism, hello enthusiasm!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

One of the Guys

On Sunday the best friend and I ventured to the gym. While he’s more into the weightlifting and the “meathead” stuff I give him a lot of hell for, I’m more into running and cardio. The cool thing about us though, when I’m finished running and he’s finished lifting we meet in the middle and he helps me work out my abs (weakest part of my body). Afterwards we launched ourselves into “Trader Joes Mode” since we both have quite the addiction to organic food. Lots of well-spent money later, we were watching football games; cheering, of course, for opposing teams over a beer or two: a favorite pastime for us both.

Being the farthest thing from a “girly-girl,” the majority of my friends are male. While I have a select few close girl friends, all of which a far cry from dainty themselves, I’ve found in my lifetime there is a very good reason why guys stay friends for so long. Ever notice guys never have scheduling issues when making plans? They make friendship seem so effortless, just pick up the phone and pitch the idea of grabbing a beer or getting in a work-out session at the gym. Why do guys have such long lasting friendships, as opposed to their counter gender?

Simple, guys form friendships minus the drama-minus the bullshit. I’ve found guys have straight-forward conversations with one another. They say what’s on their mind with no concern for the reaction or the result. Guys, like life, are messy; but while they may not always be totally honest with their female counterpart, with each other they simply are …themselves. When was the last time you saw a guy pull some vindictive crap with one of their guy friends? Exactly, doesn’t happen. Guys aren’t down with the vicious name-calling or the taking of sides. So naturally over the years I’ve found it much easier to be friends with a group of guys, and my best friend is no exception.

You see, in my old age, I’m becoming “one of the guys” more and more, but I kind of dig it. He’s my best friend and we like the same foods, movies, music, activities, etc. etc. Like all friends we have several differences, for instance his love for non-fiction baffles the fiction guru inside me; but while we have a hard time sharing books, we are both avid readers. And at some point in the midst of our lazy Sunday hang out session, I had an epiphany.

While we are constantly in search of the key to strong and lasting relationships, it is the guys of the world who are on to something. In the midst of their more vulgar and less than avant-garde conversations, it is the men who have found the key to being part of a healthy and enduring couple. What is this “key” men have discovered?

Togetherness, hang-outs, mutual interests and hobbies…need I say more? What seems like such an outdated and obvious concept turns out to ring true. Consider this, my best guy friend and I have a number of things we like to do together. We like the same grocery stores, we are hopelessly addicted to all the shows on Showtime and HBO, and we are health-conscious. We share a love for all things baseball and we are full on-full out nerds. Bottom line: we do things we enjoy, together; and all of this in mind, it occurred to me the very reason my relationships have failed in the past. I have boyfriends, but have I ever had boy-friends?

Considering my former relationships, each guy was my boyfriend, and of him I expected your standard “boyfriend” responsibilities. Dates fully equipped with movies and dinners, and something miraculous every February 14. From these guys I expected love letters/notes/flowers/candy etc. etc. Meanwhile from my guy friends I expected pressure-less dialogue, sporting events, a quick beer after work, and the list continues…

At the age of twenty-three I have realized that I treat the term “boyfriend,” like a job title. Like most girls, there are qualifications and standards I have set for a boyfriend, but when it comes to my friends I simply choose to hang with the people I like hanging out with, the people with which I have the most fun. Maybe instead of perusing through my own version of a guy’s resume before forgoing a possible relationship with him, I should consider the obvious. Guy’s friendships work because they hang out with who they want to hang out with, guys do not worry themselves about the company they keep. They are comfortable in their own skin when hanging with friends. So what are we doing girls?

Maybe it’s time I erased the concept of “boyfriend,” from my mind and concentrated on the very apparent thing I’ve been missing. Maybe it’s time I stop treating my “relationships” like a career, and just embrace the friend?

A good guy friend of mine once reported back to me after a date he had, with a very compelling girl, a thought she had. This twenty something girl told my good friend that at the end of the day all she really wanted was someone to watch her shows with; and inside this simple and yet profound thought, lies a truth I’ve been missing. This girl really has something here! Maybe it’s not just the guys who have this thing figured out.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Sweet Escape

Six years ago Frank Warren, founder of the PostSecret web project, launched a concept that opened the eyes of humanity. The project invites people from all over to write their own private secrets in the form of a homemade post card. The cards are anonymous, making them each unique and incredibly captivating; but these confidential comments can be found in other places besides the worldwide web.

Anyone acquainted with me personally is most likely aware of how large a “nerd” I truly am; even in shops like the Red Door I’ve been known to make a bee-line to the store’s literature (that’s a true story, my friends can vouch). Truth is, the content isn’t what makes or breaks a book for me. Instead I’m a sucker for an author’s diction or creative layout. So when I first discovered the PostSecret project in book form at the Urban Outfitters in Charlotte, I was sold.

As I perused through the book reading the secrets of people I had never known I found myself shocked, mortified, immensely saddened, elated, and impressed. There is a touch of intimacy involved when reading such private thoughts from even the most unfamiliar. The concept of anonymity is brilliant in a very soothing way, as I reveled in each secret I considered how genius it was for Warren to embrace such a new idea. The notion of people revealing intense parts of their lives under unknown personas is a very creative market for literature. I wondered why no one else had tapped into it, and then once again Urban Outfitters delivered and I found Bill Shapiro.

Similar to Warren, Shapiro captures some of the more passionate moments in the lives of real people. However, unlike Warren, Shapiro focuses on one particular bursting emotion: love.

Shapiro’s web project and book is titled: “Other People’s Love Letters,” and is filled with the private letters of affection only meant for the eyes of one. When I came across this book at the store I knew instantly I had to own it, and from the moment I picked it up I couldn’t put it down. I literally read this book from cover to cover, which is plausible considering even the covers are plastered with love letters. The letters are authentically pieced together in the book in their original form from post-it notes and coffee napkins to e-mails and cards allowing the book to hit even closer to home. It felt almost forbidden to read them, and yet it evoked some rather intuitive emotions.

All these letters from all these people got me thinking, and I found myself breaking out my own former love letters. I sorted through letters from high school and letters from college. I sorted through letters written for me, and letters written by me. With each letter I was bombarded with assorted feelings. I could literally remember how it felt to write them, and in turn, how it felt to read them. I became nostalgic for some of those old feelings, while simultaneously horrified by a few. A couple stirred laughter, some brought tears; but all in all, it was a nice hiatus. I wondered, what do old love letters do for you?

Shapiro’s book is proof that I’m not the only hopeless romantic using letters as a refuge from the real world. Who hasn’t written a love letter or two in their day? They are a window into a very fervent time in one’s life, and reading them can stir a multitude of emotions.

Looking through letters written by former love interests proved to be insightful. Each individual had a very distinct way of speaking, in this case writing, their thoughts and feelings. I became fascinated with the various wording each individual used. Consider our ability to say one thing in many different ways. With each letter I discovered similar themes, whether they were of heartbreak, an expression of love, rejection, or confusion the differences in these letters were the way each message was conveyed. I wondered, do we fully comprehend the magnitude of our words?

For example, some words sting more than others. Some words have the ability to make us melt; others make us want to punch something. The way one chooses to present something in words says a lot about them. Deciding the proper wording in order to describe, explain, or state something can alter the way one perceives that particular message. Maybe it is just the aspiring writer in me who puts such emphasis on words, but it is something to think about.

Once a boy referred to me as “magic,” we were in the beginning stages of something that had the potential to be extraordinary; and to this day all other descriptive words pale in comparison. That’s the funny thing about words, the right ones just sort of stick with us. 

Re-reading my own former love letters and those in Shapiro’s book was a sweet escape into the romance I’ve been missing in my own life, but it was so much more than that. The anonymous concept of the book allowed me the opportunity to take a deeper look into other’s more intricate emotions. I find the people who contributed to the book or Shapiro’s online blog to be very bold, while their identities are never divulged it takes a lot of courage to put that sort of passion out in the open.

I wonder if we refrain from the art of writing love letters because we fear putting ourselves out there for another. We could learn a little something from those who provided their own letters for the world to see. When was the last time you wrote someone a love letter/e-mail/note? In the age of text-messaging and tweets have we forgotten what it felt like to receive a real dose of someone else’s emotions on paper?