A Few of My Favorite Things: Part 1

As part of this blog, I’ve decided to do periodic “Favorite Things” posts. No, I don’t secretly think I’m Oprah and this is my annual favorite things episode (“You get a car… YOU get a car!”). I just really enjoy reviewing things and I think these sorts of posts are fun. Because I consider myself a writer, at least in some sense, what better way to start than by presenting by 5 of my favorite books?

Without further ado, and in no particular order, here we go…

Running Out of Time, by Margaret Peterson Haddix – This is the story of a young girl literally living in two different worlds, and having to come to terms with the fact that things aren’t always what they seem, and that sometimes we have to rise above our own personal limitations to be a beacon for others. This was probably the first book I read that actually kept me engaged, and in effect harvested my love for reading. I read it when I was in the fourth grade; I had a lot of friends who really enjoyed reading books and always talked about how much fun reading was, but I had never quite experienced that feeling. But then I started reading this book. I don’t even remember why I chose it – I imagine it was just a random library selection to fulfill the quarterly requirement set forth by my teacher. I started the book, not really expecting a whole lot, and before I knew it I was hooked. It was so well written – very complex for youth fiction – and I just couldn’t put it down. I could see it all playing out in my head like a movie. I was so proud of myself when I finished it, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on my next read.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling – This book is representative of an entire series which consumed most of my free time during my adolescent years. I was a little late to the HP bandwagon (I didn’t start the series until well after the first four installments had been released), but as soon as I jumped on, I was on for good. There are so many things I can say about this series…it was well-written, it was complex, it was intriguing, it was inspiring, it was morally guiding, the characters were so developed I felt like I knew each of them personally, each book left me thirsty for more of the story and I couldn’t wait to get a hold of the next one and begin tearing through the pages…but I think the best, most complimentary adjective I can give is that it was defining. All seven installments of the jigsaw puzzle that is Harry Potter are definitive of an entire generation of kids who begged their parents to take them to Barnes and Noble at unreasonable hours of the night, just so they could get an advanced copy of the next piece. The books will be timeless, sure, but I feel especially lucky to have been one of the original Gryffindors who had the chance to enjoy the books at their finest.

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury – I know, we have all had to read this book. And yes, I know, we all have the same things to say about the symbolism, the imagery, the foreshadowing into another generation not unlike our own presented by Bradbury. But that is precisely why it has made my list. What a genius Bradbury is! At the risk of sounding cliche, he was so ahead of his time (yes, I said it), and I appreciate this book so much for forcing me to think outside of the box and examine some of my own tendencies, beliefs, and practices. That’s just a model recipe for a great book – years, no decades later, this novel is still relevant, and it has withstood the test of time. In a world where technology advances literally everyday, this dated work is still being used to teach us lessons, and it really makes us think about ourselves and our decisions and the impact that our actions have not only on ourselves, but on our society.

Burned Alive, by Souad – As of the date of this posting, I have read this book twice. The first was out of curiosity, and the second was for academic purposes. Each time, I received the book from a different perspective and took away something new. This non-fiction, autobiographical work by the author (who writes under a pseudo-name) gives the reader a first-hand look into the life of a young girl living in a male-dominated, middle eastern culture. If nothing else, the book has overall made me appreciate the freedoms and liberties I take for granted everyday. It is an eye-opener to what it really means to be “discriminated” against, or treated differently based on sex. After just the first few pages I became lost in Souad’s story, and it was so intricate and thoughtful that I found myself second guessing its placement in the non-fiction genre. It is mind boggling that one person can go through everything recounted by Souad, and maintain a positive outlook on life and family.

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Yes, another great American classic (insert eye-roll here), but really, this story has everything: love, friendship, money, scandal, murder, fashion, and extravagant parties. I love this book, not because of its complexities or character development or plot lines (in all of which it is surprisingly lacking, in comparison with its counterparts in the same category), but because of the sheer glamour and elegance and poise that is Gatsby’s world. This story epitomizes the American Dream in such a way that, when we read it, we long to be apart of it. We cast aside the moral flaws and closed-mindedness of the central characters (save the narrator) and invite ourselves into their world, just to have a small taste of it. I love this book because the author succeeded in harnessing the deepest, most primal human desires – love, riches, popularity, lust, acceptance – and breaking them down and assigning them characters which we can all identify with, even decades later. Because of this, The Great Gatsby is timeless and will always be one of my top fives.

Honorable Mention:

Bossypants, by Tina Fey – It is my firm belief that all women ages 22 – 29 should be issued a copy of this book and required to keep it on her person at all times. I’ve both read the novel and listened to the audio version of this book (which is an experience I *highly* recommend, as it is narrated by Ms. Fey herself) multiple times and, each time, I take away something new. There’s something very relatable and refreshing about the way Tina relays things, it makes me feel like maybe I’m not such an awkward, average-looking failure after all. I can’t say too much without giving away the fun, so just go read (or listen to) the book!

Advertisements

BIG LOVE

Almost two years into my marriage (with a man I’ve shared virtually all of my adult life with), I realize that I got it all wrong. It’s a relief, really. Not worrying anymore about the questions and the answers and the what-might-be’s. Like them or not I have my answers, and I am finally coming to terms with them.

Let me back up.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with love. I blame Disney, really, and their classic portrayal of a damsel in distress, being rescued by a Prince she’s never seen but somehow already loves. They kiss and get married and ride off into the sunset to begin their perfect life together, worry (and presumptively debt) free. I’m not the only one who feels this way. There is an actual theory out there of how exposure to this dynamic at such a young, formidable age affects us and shapes our idea of what the future will be. Chick flicks don’t really help either… nor do romantic novels (not the dirty ones, I mean legit, respectable(ish) literature with very strong romantic elements)… nor do television dramas with beautiful but flawed female leads… really nothing in pop culture helps this. Sorry, ladies, it seems we are doomed from the start and there ain’t much we can do about it.

As I got older I would watch these movies (or shows, or read these books, or listen to these songs… you get the idea) and I became so obsessed with the idea of this crazy, head-over-heels, all-consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other, know-it-at-first-sight LOVE. I just knew that my “person” was out there, and that that feeling awaited me. I was so anxious for it. I would look around and see people in committed relationships, engagements, marriages, and be in awe of how wonderful they must feel every morning when they woke up because they had found that BIG LOVE.

Eventually, my turn came. I was 19, and I met him at a friend’s house. It sounds dramatic, but I’m pretty sure I fell in love with him before I even knew his name or spoke a single word to him. I flirted, I charmed, I gave him my number (but I didn’t call him first… I was a lady!). Everything moved so fast from that point. When I fell, I fell HARD. It was like nothing else in the world mattered or even existed. I suppose, early on, there were some warning signs that things weren’t quite as rosy as I made them up to be in my head. But, I ignored them, because in my version of events there was no way our story didn’t end (or begin?) with us kissing, getting married, and riding off into the sunset to begin our perfect lives together, worry (and God-willingly debt) free. I mean, how could it not? We were so in love – even though we hadn’t said it yet, but the feelings were impossible to ignore, at least that’s what I let myself think – we had THE kind of love, and no one just walks away from that. Even if they do, they realize two days later what a mistake they made and then race through traffic to obnoxiously pound on your door, tell you they never should have let you go and beg your forgiveness, and you’re right back on track (bonus points if all of this happens in the rain).

The sad truth is, our lives are not a Hollywood story, some people DO walk away from that love, they DON’T realize they made a mistake, and you NEVER get back on track. So ends the story of me and my “big love.” I was broken, of course, and I didn’t think I would ever be quite the same after that (and for the record, I wasn’t, but in a good way). Obviously I healed, in time, and finally was ready to let someone love me again.

Enter my husband.

We had been friends for a long time. I was comfortable around him. He already knew most of my bad qualities (and 19-year-old me considered this a plus), and the jump from friendship to relationship was very easy, drama-free, and comfortable. Yes, I’m aware that that’s the second time I’ve used that word in as many sentences. If someone asked me on the spot to describe my marriage in one word I would say, comfortable. Not exactly a synonym for crazy, head-over-heels, all-consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other, know-it-at-first-sight LOVE (which, at the point I began seeing my husband, I no longer believed in and determined that the feelings I’d had in my previous relationship were misidentified and really stemmed from the idea of love rather than love itself. I was also lying to myself, but that’s neither here nor there.)

I should interject here by saying that I am extremely independent. Yes, yes, I know… the average millennial female is a single, hard-working professional who takes pride in her self-reliance and is quick to tell anyone who will listen that she is a strong, independent woman who don’t need no man (insert sassy snapping of fingers here). Let’s just say, I identified with these characteristics before they were cool. Actually, independent is an understatement; I am fiercely independent, to the point it is almost a fault, and I don’t like the idea of needing anyone to help me do anything. In the early stages of our relationship, I didn’t even like it when my husband (then-boyfriend) would offer to carry my groceries in from the car, or change my oil. It wasn’t a feminist thing, or a sense of needing to prove anything. It didn’t even make my angry when he would offer those things. It was just, simply, that I was so self-reliant that I literally did not NEED him to do any of those and it never crossed my mind that he should. I’ll carry in my own groceries, thank you. Nope, don’t need that oil change, I’ll just go to the garage this Saturday and have it taken care of.

I speak of these things in the past tense, as though things have changed, when really they have not. Sure, we work together to make our household run smoothly by splitting up the chores, sharing the errands, taking our respective turns at paying the bills and balancing the bank account, and all of those other fun things that make up a marriage. But my self-reliance, that fierce independence, my do-it-myself-attitude… all of those things are so ingrained in me they are just part of who I am. Maybe I was born with those traits, maybe I developed them, I’m not entirely sure. Either way, they’re here to stay. And for the most part, I am okay with that (or at least, I’ve learned to accept and appreciate it).

A few weeks ago I started to feel this…. I’m not sure I can find the right word for it… lull, maybe? Let’s go with lull. A lull in my comfortable marriage. Honestly, though, it seemed kind of natural. We’ve been together for almost seven years. Before we know it, we’ll be coming up on our second wedding anniversary and no longer in that “newlywed” stage (although I would argue that we never really were, but that’s a story for another time). This just must be what happens, right? We’re figuring out this whole marriage thing. We’re letting the dust settle. We’re reorganizing our priorities. We’re staying comfortable.

After a few days of thoughts like this, old friends started to visit me in the form of voices in my head saying, But what about the BIG LOVE? Are you just going to be comfortable the rest of your life? Where’s the crazy, head-over-heels, all-consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other BIG LOVE? And after a few days of thoughts like this, I started to worry a little. I didn’t worry that my marriage was in trouble, or that I didn’t love him, or that we wouldn’t last, or anything even remotely along those lines. Sometimes I feel as though my heart literally beats for my husband, maybe just not in the same way that I once imagined it would. I just started to worry that, maybe, I had fallen too far into this “comfortable” love and I had completely missed out on my BIG LOVE. Granted, years ago I had tried to convince myself that the BIG LOVE didn’t exist, at least in the way I’d pictured it, but did I really believe that? I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t like thinking about it. So, like any mature, well-adjusted adult would do, I buried it way down deep and decided not to dissect it any further.

Ever heard the phrase, When it rains, it pours? Lately, this seems to be a recurring theme in my life. If adulthood has taught me anything so far it’s that everything moves in cycles. If things are going great, enjoy it, but just wait; you never know what is coming right around the corner.

Within a span of about 10 days, I’ve been double-whammied. There’ve been a couple instances where I had to make some tough decisions and face some hard truths and, overall, find a way to react to these things in a way that left my dignity intact. The one thing no one really tells you during adolescence is that sometimes, being an adult flat-out sucks. Sorry, but there are no two ways about it. You’re going to have some really amazing days, and you’re going to have some shitstorms.

During this most-recent round of shitstorms, as I sat on the couch crying because I had so many thoughts swimming around in my head that crying was the only way I could express or process them, my sweet husband took my hand and said, “I’m here. And I support you, no matter what. It’s you and me.” Now, I am sure that during our seven year history together he has said those words – or at least something similar – at least once, but I honestly don’t remember any of them. But this, I will remember forever, because it was in that moment that I realized, I had never fully allowed myself to need him. Never before had that fierce independence allowed me to legitimately need someone to help get me through something. I used to (and by used to, I mean as recently as a few days ago…) say things like, “I like to do things myself,” or, “I don’t need help,” or, “I get myself through things.” I know it sounds crazy, but it’s absolutely true and equally painful and embarrassing to admit: As much as I relied on him to help me with the laundry or run trivial errands, I never actually let myself need my husband on an emotional level.

Maybe I’m having what they call a psychological breakthrough. Now that I’ve realized this wall exists (and that I am in fact capable of taking it down), I’ve seen my husband in a whole new light. All those feelings I had a few weeks ago of falling too far into a “comfortable love” and never having the connection I had so dearly longed for have gone away as quickly as they came. The vulnerability of allowing yourself to need someone is scary and wonderful and crazy and liberating all at the same time. After seven years I didn’t think there were many more new emotions for us to explore (aside from having children), but I was wrong. It’s a whole new connection that has allowed me to fall in love with him all over again and realize that my BIG LOVE was here all along. I was just too busy standing in my own way to see it.

I say his words in my head, over and over again when I’m feeling overwhelmed: “It’s you and me.” I don’t think it gets much more crazy, head-over-heels, all-consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other, in-LOVE than that.

Why Write?

Some people (my parents) have told me that I make my life too public. I check into places on Facebook. I post reviews of my workouts or the dinner I just ate. I probably share way too many selfies. Although I’ve cut back on these practices slightly as I’ve gotten older, I still tend to follow the same overall patterns. I make it a point not to be political via social media forums (I don’t enjoy inciting riots and breaking up rants among typically misinformed users) unless I feel very, very strongly about a particular issue. For the most part I prefer to keep things light, airy, and chipper. I have never felt exposed or impersonal or like I was sharing too much. I don’t think I need to “dial back” or be more reserved. I think part of this stems from my (overly) extrovert tendencies. Maybe partly from my deep, inexplicable desire to have everyone like me.

I think some of it, though, is part of my generation. I identify as a millennial, both technically (I was born in 1990) and in mindset, views, and overall practices. There are a lot of stigmas associated with the label and in all honesty, I don’t really think it’s fair. We are a generation caught in the middle; born during the days of glowing economy, cheap gas, and affordable mortgages, and we graduated into a society coming out of the worst recession since the Great Depression with some of the highest student loan debt in history. I can’t take credit for the following but, I think this sums it up perfectly:

Ours was the last generation that grew up with all those bright promises of “work hard, go to college, and you’ll have a successful life,” only to find those hopes abruptly dashed when the housing bubble burst. Millennials have grown up expecting that disappointment, because for them, the problem has been there since Day One. So 90’s kids aren’t just nostalgic… we’re BITTER. And we ache for those days when we could still think that the world was boundless and full of the opportunities we were promised since the first day of kindergarten.

I remember playing outside until the streetlights came on; walking around the grocery store unattended, trying to amuse myself while my mom filled our cart; riding in the front seat of the car without a seatbelt when I was barely 5 years old; picking up a relative from the airport and being able to walk right up to the gate. For so many of us, our childhood was brazenly interrupted (thanks, Bin Laden) and we were forced to take on all new kinds of worries, like terrorism threats and anthrax and, eventually, the housing bubble and student loan interest rates. Defined by this history is an entire generation of children who watched two of our proudest landmarks go up in smoke while we sat in our classrooms, not fully understanding what was happening but somehow knowing that things would never be the same after that. An entire generation of children who are forever bound by that experience – the experience of seeing The Greatest Country in the World under attack and forever having the course of our lives changed. And entire generation of children who inherited a wealth of problems and within whose hands our country’s future now lies.

So… why write? Why share? Why do we take pictures? Why do we tell everyone that we bought a new car, or went on vacation, or didn’t go on vacation and instead got ahead on our car payments. Why do we feel the need to spill every detail of our lives? Why are we so wrapped up in technology and Facebook statuses and Tweets and text messages? Why are we so into each other?

I think it has little to do with narcissism or self-indulgence or braggadocio and much more to do with comfort. Groups of people who witnessed such shattering events at formidable ages (Columbine, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina) don’t grow up to just “keep to themselves.” We seek solace in one another’s company, in another person’s acceptance of us, and even in their understanding of our struggles. We need to know that others are feeling our pain. We need to know that our experiences (read: hard times) are not unique. We need to know its not just us.

This is not to say that we take pleasure in others’ trials. Maybe it’s just that the old adage rings true: misery loves company. I write because I need to share my thoughts. I need to know that at least one other person agrees with me (but hopefully more); that someone else has gone through what I am going through; that someone else has made it out.

Now, I am not so self-important as to think that only one generation has been affected by a tragedy as harsh as 9/11 or the threat of terrorism, or a harsh and disappointing economy. I just think it stands to reason that it’s a bit different for us. By the time the Towers fell and the ensued downward spiral began, my parents had finished college and purchased a home and were driving brand new vehicles. They had a hefty savings account. Childhood memories that hadn’t been tainted by some faceless, foreign enemy that threatened everything they knew. Gen-Xer’s had already written a huge portion of their history and had been given the chance to make a start under different circumstances. Millennials, well… it’s been a little different for us.  

So, some stereotype says that I’m narcissistic, lazy, entitled, and over-indulgent. I say that I’m educated, technologically savvy, environmentally conscious, tolerant, and accepting. I also like to write blog posts and share my experiences and take a good selfie now and then… but only if the lighting is right 🙂