life

It’s Not Easy Being Child-Sized

Posted on Nov 1, 2011 in life | 2 comments

When I was newly married at the unripe age of 21, Ryan and I went with my family to Hawaii. We were at a restaurant one evening, and the waiter asked if we wanted kids menus. It was a feasible question–my three siblings were not even teenagers at the time–but then I noticed where his gaze rested. On me. Nice. (Cue the “if looks could kill” look.)

Looking at my frame and my face, nearly everyone I meet for the first time thinks I’m still in high school. (I’m 26, so they’re way off, but I guess my 5’4″, size 0 frame fools them.)

Case in point: on our first night in Saint-Jean, Cat, Jan’s sister-in-law, was floored by the revelation of my age. “I thought for sure you were 19!” she said, her eyes wide. Nope, but I might as well be.

Don’t get me wrong; I like being small. I like that Ryan can pick me up easily. I like that I don’t take up much space at any given time. I like that my clothes roll up small, so I can cram a large(r) variety into my travel backpack. And maybe it’s easier for me to go through life this way–I don’t have as much ME to carry around on a daily basis.

The trouble is, it’s hard to take myself seriously when no one else, at first glance, does. I look like a young and ignorant soul–and maybe I am, but I don’t want to appear that way to people before I even open my mouth.

That first impression is actually the primary reason I’m nervous about going out to crowded places on my own (as silly as it may be). I can’t shake this fear that someone will pinpoint me as a good person to steal, and then I’ll never find my way home again. I’m strong for my size, but I’m still very light and would be overpowered pretty easily. The last thing I want is for my face to appear on a poster that reads “Have you seen this missing girl woman?”

Well, and then there’s the clothes situation. Ever since I started running regularly, clothes seem to expand at an alarming rate. (Hmm, maybe not anymore… Europe has evened out the playing field a bit.)

I’ve come to anticipate my conversations with Ryan when I try things on at the mall. “You are drowning! Do you want me to get you a smaller size?”

“Well…there is no smaller size at this store.”

“Oh. Really? Um, maybe we should look in the kids section?”

I’ve actually done that before. I was in Sports Authority buying a fleece jacket for our Europe trip, but they didn’t have the size I needed. I talked to the person at the counter, who called another store to see if they had the size in stock.

“What size do you need?” she asked, straining her eyes toward me while smashing the phone awkwardly between her cheekbone and shoulder.

“A large,” I told her. “But not an adult large. I need a child large.”

“A child large…?”

“Yes. The jacket you are holding is a boy’s medium. The sleeves are a bit too short, so I need the large.”

The whole time I was thinking, “Look at me, lady. Do you honestly think an adult large would fit me?” Needless to say, I didn’t get the jacket.

If you are thinking, “Well, you’ll be so grateful when you’re older,” just can it, okay? I’m sure I’ll be grateful. My mom seems to be; she looks really young, too, and people always ask her if she is my sister. But how long do I have to wait until the tide turns–until I can feel normal? My 30s? My 40s?

I’m not too stiff of a person to have a good laugh about it–and my family thinks it is just hilarious, so I can laugh about it often–but it does tweak my nerves just a bit.

I feel like my facial expressions and body language make me an open book anyway. It seems like as hard as I try, I can’t keep most of me–my thoughts, my emotions–to myself without unconsciously revealing all. Is there any part of me that can just be mine, without inviting the rest of the world in as well?

There is one thing I can do about my (albeit minimal) size issues. When we’re settled somewhere, I want to take self-defense classes, so I can at least do away with any fears of assault. Then I can kick the bad guys’ butts when they come to take me away, even if the only thought going through their minds while I round-house-kick them in the neck is “Damn, this girl has skills!”

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Giving Back

Posted on Oct 31, 2011 in life, stories | 0 comments

Being at Jan’s has been a great opportunity to step in and try to make life easier for another person, at least in the only way we know how: cleaning and simplifying her living spaces.

Since we arrived, we’ve cleaned out and reorganized her kitchen area; we’ve done lots of dishes; we’ve helped to clean out and organize her fridge; we’ve cleaned up and more effectively organized our own room, so future pet-sitters (there will be others) can stay here comfortably. And Ryan has gone around fixing things left and right: our bathroom door (ha ha), the internet, the printer, our bedroom lights.

Helping in this way feels natural to me now. Maybe it’s easy because Jan is generally easy to serve, or maybe it’s because I’m becoming more comfortable with getting my hands dirty and understanding how to help other people feel more comfortable.

For all those situations in the past where I’ve stood around wondering how in the world to help out without getting in the way, now I’m learning how to recognize what to do and then do it. If something needs to be done, why think about it? Action is better, particularly when it comes to helping someone else.

I used to worry about making a mistake, disrupting someone else’s way of doing things, or coming across looking inexperienced when I helped, but in a lot of ways, who cares about those things? (I’m trying not to care.) Overwhelmed people, in particular, will be glad for the kind gesture, an extra hand, and a little less to worry about.

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Why We Blog

Posted on Oct 28, 2011 in life, writing | 0 comments

In the past hour, I’ve attempted to start three different blog posts. I finally stopped–I could feel the frustration building–and decided to write about that frustration instead. I find it amusing (in an “I hate you” kind of way).

When I write a blog post, I cannot control my mind. I start out on a topic–often a very abstract one, like “What’s the relationship between people, personal space, and possessions?” Then, suddenly, I find that the thoughts I’ve typed out have bred like two rabbits in a hutch, scattering little baby ideas all over the page without any hope of control.

I am a writer on so many levels–I need writing to think–so my behavior shouldn’t surprise me. When I sit down to write, suddenly my mind connects to my fingers, which connect to the computer keys, which make magic happen in the words that scrawl across the virtual page. Then I’m reading my genuine ideas, emotions, and perspectives on life–when two seconds ago, I didn’t know that’s how I felt.

Writing can do that to you. It’s a window to the soul.

On the other hand, that kind of mind-to-page connection means a lot of writing (a.k.a. exploring) before I settle on a final post that is organized and still feels true.

 

Business vs. Art

In my frustration a moment ago, I sat here whining at myself: “Rachel, what’s your problem? Your ideas don’t scatter in all directions when you write for your corporate clients.” And then I realized the silliness of that question and had to laugh, almost in an “I pity you for being so thick-headed” kind of way.

Of course I don’t write this way for my clients! Corporate writing, although it takes a lot of creativity, is essentially just finding a million ways to piece together similar information. It is designed to capture the weakness in humans–to make arguments against your better judgment so you feel inclined to buy that thing that you don’t need.

Blog writing, on the other hand, is capable of capturing the intricacies and paradoxes of a human mind, a human life, and uplifting people to a new understanding of themselves. To utilize a blog is to capture those intricacies and paradoxes in yourself and others, then simplify them before you send them out into the void (where other people are waiting to connect).

Even though blogging is virtual, which creates distance between people, it is still a type of art, in a way. Like fiction writing, design, painting, or photography, it is unique and emotional and real, because it is based in human story.

 

Practice Makes Perfect

People are complex and so are their lives. If blogging is a way to capture all of that ambiguity, it’s no wonder I struggle to write a blog post on occasion!

Coming to this realization doesn’t make blogging any easier for me. I can be impatient sometimes, and I tend to edit things nearly to death, so my uncontrollable writing habits often lead to feelings of dread when I think about writing another blog post.

I don’t think blog writing has to be frustrating, though. I’m guessing that like everything, the more I do it, the easier it will get. Likewise, the more I pour my mind out onto pages and explore the depths within, the fewer tangled messes I’ll have to deal with when I sit down to write.

 

Write the Way You Speak

Verbal communication seems to demand more preemptive organization of the ideas behind our mental floodgates, so why not write my posts as though I were talking to someone I know?

Some of the hardest posts for me to write are stories about our travels–but these are just the kinds of things I tell my family on a (semi-)regular basis. Maybe if I write these stories as though I were on the phone with a family member, my mind will work out the organization of the post beforehand–so instead of flopping gloopily onto the page, it flows out smoothly.

That’s an idea, at least. Maybe it will prove too controlling for those elusive thoughts in my brain, or maybe it will save me time and frustration in the long run.

It’s worth a try.

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Slug Pet

Posted on Oct 6, 2011 in life | 5 comments

I’ve discovered the presence of a fat slug in the weird hallway between the front door and the kitchen.

This slug is a creature of habit. The first night I noticed it, I picked it up (squeamishly) and set it on a flowerpot outside the door, thinking I should probably move it before the dogs get to it. But it came back around the same time the next night, and the next. I didn’t know slugs could be so punctual, but alas, I’ve watched the little squisher come and go at the same hour for 9 nights and have since changed my tune.

It comes in at twilight, as the sun casts its goodbye shadows on Dunoon. It squishes its way along the linoleum, the door, the walls of the hallway. It is gone by morning.

I’ve stopped rescuing it–the dogs don’t seem to care about it. It has become a part of their nightly routine, another living being in a menagerie of animals.

I decided at some point that I’m not appalled by the slug because the hallway is really an extension of the outdoors, just as the kitchen is an extension of the hallway. They are all dirty. No one really knows where they’ve been. I just prefer the outdoor spaces to the indoor ones here. They’re a fresher, more natural sort of dirtiness, even if they are drowning in rain.

In truth, I have become quite fond of the slug. I think it is fascinating that it turns up in the same hour and then leaves after its wanderings. What is it searching for?

It is kind of cute, in a leathery, mucus-y kind of way, with its beady little eyes taking in the room on their tall stalks.

It’s an animal that has voluntarily made itself available to us humans, like any other pet, and yet it takes care of itself. Besides washing away its tracks on occasion, I don’t have to feed it goopey pet food, change its urine-soaked bedding, or pretend to like it. It does its thing; I do mine. We don’t get in each other’s way; we just acknowledge the other’s presence. We have a healthy relationship, the slug and I.

Late last night, I was headed to the laundry room directly off the hallway to switch out another load of clothes. I was distracted, full of trepidation for my task, because the laundry room makes my skin crawl. I stepped on the poo-brown rug, preparing to weasel my way in through another clutter portal, when I felt a squish then a rush, as with a release of pressure.

And I knew.

I stepped on the slug.

I felt the sadness even before I looked down and saw the dull yellow mess oozing from the slug’s head. (At least I think that was its head.)

I was hoping maybe slugs were resilient, like worms. You know, when you cut worms into pieces, they still live, and the pieces become other worms. (At least, that was the rumor going around growing up. I guess I never confirmed the accuracy of it.) But the slug looked very damaged, and I couldn’t take the sight of it anymore. I escaped to the one place I’d never imagine I’d escape to. But I had a job to do, and the claustophiliac washer was mocking me.

I bundled damp clothes into my arms, prepared to sacrifice body parts to keep the dangling sleeves and pant legs from touching the floor. And I thought over the moments before the fatal step. The slug blended into the wet, mud-soaked rug so well. How could I have known it was there? Who knows how long it has frequented the hallway off the kitchen. The slug’s story had ended, and I felt the weight of it heavy in my chest.

It was such a meaningless creature, a pest, but it had slimed its way into my life, my routine, in such an unobtrusive way. There is still a hope that it has indeed survived–that it sucked its brains back into its tissue skull and made its journey out the door like every other night. But I’m guessing I shouldn’t have a hope, because I’m facing the real possibility that I’ll have to clean it up this morning, if the dogs haven’t already eaten it.

Ryan and I leave the house at 3pm, never to return. If the slug has disappeared and makes an appearance tonight, I shall never know.

photo by ecstaticist, under a creative commons license

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Embracing Otherness, Embracing Myself

Posted on Aug 27, 2011 in life | 3 comments

Every few weeks or so, I like to visit Ted.com* and listen to the most recent talks there. I find inspiration and encouragement from them–often no matter the subject.

These speakers are a great success in their chosen profession. They have a passion and a vision for life and their craft, and they’ve moved outside the box to make wonderful discoveries and serve the people of the world with unbelievable courage.

And at TED, they come together to share their vision of the world in 6 to 20 minutes–a simplified summary of all their years of hard work, commitment, mistakes,  and progress.

If you had 6 to 20 minutes to share your vision, what would you say?

I’m guessing most us would share different things depending upon the particular stage we are at in our life. My perception of the world and my place in it when I was 8 was far different than when I was 16, and it is far different now, in my 26th year.

Our ideas about the world evolve as we continue to brush up on new things, make mistakes, encounter new situations and lifestyles, and settle upon those places that sit most comfortably in our hearts.

The process of coming to know and understand ourselves–particularly as we strive for equal footing within our communities–is intriguing and difficult and ambiguous to understand.

I have thought at length over the years about how to find my own unique voice in a sea of very loud, very stubborn companions. My community is a tight-knit group with a set of stringent rules, and it is hard to find any wiggle room within that environment to figure out whether you are acting because (1) you want to, (2) it is easier to do what you’re told, or (3) you are afraid of the consequences if you pave your own way.

I’ve come to the point where I must define myself, even within the parameters laid before me by my community. My self is restless and achy and sometimes almost violent in its desire to break free and find truth for itself.

This doesn’t mean that I want to abandon my community. It only means that I have to be willing to abandon my community for the sake of my own knowledge about what is true and right. If truth leads me back to where I began, I will be more capable to take the road and find success. If it leads me elsewhere, I must face that new road with courage, knowing in my heart that it is the right thing.

These are all very general comments on a very deep and complicated human subject, but alas, I will leave it at that for now.

I found Thandie Newton’s ideas in the following TED talk to be comforting and relatable. She gives the audience a sense of her own struggle with oneness vs. otherness. At the very least, it helped me see that I am not alone in this journey to define myself –both as an individual and as a member of a community of other selves.

 

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*If you are unfamiliar with TED talks, by all means check out the website and see for yourself. The website is basically a compilation of videos from TED conferences around the world, and the purpose of each conference is to inspire and bring new ideas to the public. Speakers are typically widely successful individuals from around the world, come to share their little slice of life with the rest of us. And the videos are free.

 

 

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Gratitude for My Partner and Best Friend

Posted on Aug 4, 2011 in life | 0 comments

I am grateful to Ryan. Because for some reason, he has a gift of seeing things a different way and making use of that unique perspective. Would I have embraced this huge adventure on my own? I ask myself that on occasion, and I’m honestly not sure. Probably not, though. I am much more inclined to follow the crowd. It is easier and less stressful that way–although not as fulfilling and rewarding.

Ryan and I in front of Big Ben

Ryan has opened my eyes–I know it sounds sappy, but it is true, and it’s been that way since our first date. The world is so much bigger, freer, and fuller to me when I’m with him. And I think for my part, I help to ground him a bit in the practical and smart (read: more secure) way of doing things.

Fortunately, I am living proof that people can change. The more time that passes, the more comfortable I get with the unknown, the more free I feel, the more I want to think and do things regardless of the opinions of others. I like to get advice from those I am closest to, but I feel it is healthier to get advice and then ultimately decide what is best for you. Only you can know that, after all.

These are the ideals that Ryan has taught me these 5+ years of marriage. (And I hope I’ve imparted some of myself to him as well. I’m pretty confident I have.)

It hasn’t always been easy to have these kinds of differences with your spouse. I can look back on very painful moments that seemed unbearable at the time but that ultimately helped me to grow and change for the better (or so I hope). My true wish is to be able to explore and become better acquainted with myself and Ryan on this journey. I’d say I’m already on the right track.

And to those single ladies looking for a man: it may be hard at times, but in the long run, I think it’s more exciting and fulfilling to find someone who will challenge your view and push you to explore scary parts of yourself. You’ll be better because of it.

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