A “Me, Too” Story

This week on Facebook, I’ve seen a lot of posts saying “Me, too.” The movement started ten years ago but has gained momentum lately in the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s long-awaited public shaming for being a sexual predator, protected and enabled by many for decades.

The language we use to talk about sexual harassment and sexual abuse is generally passive (ie, “she was harassed” instead of “a stranger harassed her”). However, sexual harassment and abuse are not things that happened to women because they’re women, like menstruation. They happen because men do them to women. Men, not exclusively but most widely, are the actors in this. They harass and abuse, and other men don’t do anything to stop it. Instead, they laugh or dismiss or ignore or excuse or look embarrassed and turn away. (Don’t say, “Not me.” You’ve done it. You may or may not have noticed when you enabled another man’s harassment or abuse. You know so many women saying, “Me, too.” We aren’t all getting harassed or abused by the same five of men in the world. You know harassers and abusers. You may or may not have noticed.)

As a woman, you learn very early that every man can be a threat. And there are plenty of women who abuse and harass, and victims are not only women. I don’t want to belittle that violence, and I don’t want to erase the victims. But masculinity is toxic and a constant possible threat to my happiness, my contentment, my safety. I could talk about a lot of harassment experiences but I only want to tell one story.

So I’m not going to tell you stories about the rocks and gum and vulgar words that have been thrown at me while I’ve been driving my car. I’m not going to talk about the man who rubbed his erect penis against me in a crowd at a parade. I’m not going to talk about the man who pushed against me and tried to kiss me at a circus. I’m not going to talk about the guy who stood in my driveway and screaming my full name for five minutes when I wouldn’t go outside to see him. I’m not going to talk about the high schooler in the stairwell who touched my breast as he ran past me, or the professor who put his hand high on my thigh during a class field trip. I’m not going to talk about the men who shouted and whistled and whooped at me as I walked to class, into the grocery store, on my way to church, in my own front yard. I’m not going to talk about the kissy faces and shouts about my body that have been cast at me for more years than I can count. I have no idea when it started. Men were looking at me, and leering at me, and saying things I didn’t understand when I was so young. All I knew was that I was uncomfortable and sometimes afraid. I didn’t know what they were doing or thinking. I didn’t know, yet, that I was being harassed.

The story I will tell happened six years ago, still affects my actions, and can still deeply upset me. I was driving from my best friend’s house to my parents’ house, where I was currently living. I was on a familiar stretch of interstate about three hours into the five hour trip when a man in a green truck, with a landscaping company name and number on the back blew the horn at me. I thought something might be wrong with my car, so I slowed down a little and looked over the driver. He was grinning, leering, and started making kissing faces at me, licking his lips and running his hands along the wheel as if it were my body.

My automatic reaction was disgust, and I know it my face distorted with it. I hit the gas and zoomed away, my heart hammering fast, shaking and angry and feeling vulnerable. He was pulling an ill-attached trailer with a picnic table strapped in upside down. I knew a trailer should not be driven at high speeds, so I thought my burst of speed would leave him far behind, but he sped up, too. And up, and up.

For 20 minutes, he chased me, pulling alongside me, cutting me off then slowing down, and every time he thought I could see him, whether he was in front or beside me, he made those same licking, kissing faces at me through his window.

He was in a landscaping truck. The number was on the back. I was going too fast—more than 90 miles an hour—trying to get away from him and I was too afraid to take a hand off the wheel to pick up my phone in the cupholder. Not to take a picture, not to call the number on the back of his truck that he was harassing me in, not to call 911 or anyone else. It went on so long, him driving so recklessly through all the other cars to chase me down the interstate, that I realized he might cause me to wreck. I could die, or I could be injured and trapped, and what if he was the only person who stopped? What if he made someone else wreck? We were going too fast and he was driving too recklessly. He didn’t care about my life. He didn’t even see me as a human or he wouldn’t be going to these lengths to harass me. He wouldn’t be harassing me at all if he thought of me as anything more than an object for his lewd appetites, someone to have power over.

Finally, I decided I couldn’t keep running from him, that it was too dangerous, so I scanned the other drivers as I buzzed past them. When I got to a black Suburban driven by a couple who looked to be about my parents’ ages, I slowed down and wedged myself in between them and a car driven by two men. I tailgated the couple for two miles so that when the harasser pulled alongside me again, I would have witnesses, including male witnesses. Or, maybe he would leave me alone. Maybe he wouldn’t cut me off and actively threaten my life again, if he thought might hurt these other people—other men—too. Any woman alone in public (and maybe not even alone) could have been the one he targeted, so I didn’t expect him to have more respect for the women in the cars around me, so I had picked cars with men and a woman in them to wedge my car between.

The harasser did pull alongside me. He rode in my blind spot so he could see me but I couldn’t see him unless I turned my head. When I didn’t, he pulled forward, our windows side by side, so he could see my expression when he blew his horn at me.

I didn’t look at him. I stayed exactly on that black SUV’s bumper and I looked at the heads of the couple, the woman’s swiveling toward the man in the green truck.

And then my harasser pulled onto an exit ramp.

Relief drenched me, but I didn’t trust it. He might get back on. He might still come after me. And maybe this time there wouldn’t be any other cars around. Maybe this time he’d run me off the road. Or maybe this time I wouldn’t see him and he’d follow me off my exit, and I wouldn’t let myself think about what might happen then.

I backed off a little but stayed exactly behind that SUV for another mile or two, checking my rearview and side mirrors constantly, looking for the harasser’s truck and trailer to come back at me. When it didn’t, I got in the other lane and slowed down just enough that the other two cars could get ahead. I felt embarrassed that I’d been targeted, that I’d driven so seemingly erratically, that I’d risked their safety too by trying to shield myself with them. But I also felt vulnerable without them. I was terrified that the same harasser, or even someone knew, was going to come up behind me and this would all start all over again.

Another ten or fifteen minutes passed before I forced myself to let those two cars out of my sight.

I called my best friend, told her what happened, and asked her to write down the name of the landscaping company so I wouldn’t forget it. But I was so adrenaline high that my brain had already garbled it. When I got home, after telling my parents what had happened, I couldn’t find an exact match to the company name. I wanted to call and complain to the owner of the company. Although it might have been the owner of the company who had been harassing me. I considered calling the police, but I’d crossed state lines. I never did report it.

If it were to happen now, I would have done some things differently, but if your inclination on reading this is to criticize my actions, you are part of the problem. You are why harassment and abuse happens. Because it is not my fault I was harassed. That man is the only one at fault. He should never have harassed me. He should never have endangered me and every other driver on that stretch of road for those twenty minutes. He harassed me because I am a woman who exists in public. Criticizing my actions blames me for his harassment, recklessness, and utter lack of respect for the autonomy of another human being. And please don’t wonder whether he has a wife or daughters or a sister. Men shouldn’t have to have close relationships with women to see women as people.

This incident hasn’t stopped me from driving or taking long trips, but it has forever changed how I drive. For instance, after six years, I still don’t meet other drivers’ eyes. Friends say that they see me in my car all the time, but I don’t ever see them because I never, if I can at all help it, meet another driver’s eyes. That’s not why I was harassed, but it was the first action I took in that incident. He blew the horn, and I looked. He blew the horn so that I would look.

The number one rule for dealing with street harassment, which women learn at a young age, is do not engage. Do not engage with the man or men harassing you, shouting at you, cat-calling you, trying to provoke you. They want a reaction. They want to feel powerful. And not engaging won’t stop the harassment, but sometimes they’ll get bored, and sometimes they won’t take the harassment any further than shouting. Maybe they won’t throw anything. Maybe they won’t follow you.

I’ve taken lots of long trips since then. Some alone, others with friends. I learn detours and alternate routes everywhere I go. I’ve learned to use my cell phone while under pressure, especially when driving. I have the ability to call hands-free if I need to. I’ve even trained myself not to look around at a blown horn at a stoplight. I’ve developed plans for what happens if someone starts following me in my neighborhood, in a place I’m familiar with, or in a place I don’t know.

Sometimes, like earlier this week on my way home from work, I can still feel terrified by what happened and what could have happened that day, and mostly by what could happen to me now, at any moment. Even if the drivers around me have done nothing wrong, or seem to have made no notice of me at all, I don’t look at them. They could men or women or tigers, but I don’t look, and I can still feel afraid of them. After all, at any moment, some bored or power-desperate man may pick me out, simply for being nearby and for being a woman.

I shouldn’t have to revisit such painful, frightening memories because painful, frightening instances should never have happened, to me or anyone else. I shouldn’t have to change my behavior in hopes that a future harasser will pick some other woman instead of me.

That’s what the “What was she wearing?” question means, by the way. It means, “You should have dressed differently so the harasser/abuser would have picked some other person to harass or abuse.” And I hate that question. I should be safe to get into my car in my front yard or drive to the grocery store or walk out of a movie theater without being shouted at, gestured at, touched, or followed. It doesn’t matter what I wore while I other people harassed me. I shouldn’t hear laughter from enablers while some man is harassing me. Most women know this inherently, and will do what they can to help another woman while also trying to avoid being targeted. I’m so sorry to those women I was too afraid to try to help.

I shouldn’t have to say “Me, too” for men, and many women, to understand how widespread and serious the problems of sexual harassment and abuse are. But people don’t realize. And women need to know they aren’t alone. And some need to say it for the first time.

Me, too.

Me, too.

Me, too.

Me, too.

Winter is Coming (and I Don’t Want to be Depressed Again)

Last year around this time, I posted about my favorite fall and winter activities. A few months later, I posted about why my autumn hadn’t shaped up to be the favorite season it usually is. Nestled in there was an admission that I’ve spent much of the past year processing in theoretical and practical ways: I was depressed. I was also anxious, though it took longer to figure that out.

This year, I’m giving a lot of thought to the coming season, but without the excitement level of last year. My favorite things about fall and winter have always centered on light in darkness, but last year there was a lot of darkness in my mind (and, I would argue, in the world). As 2017’s days get shorter, I’m preparing in specific ways to give myself the best chance of making to spring without becoming suffering another depressive episode. (I think all 5 strategies are pretty solid ways to enter into the rest of this year.)

1. Simplify. I love knick knacks. Little things that spark a smile and look cool and remind me of fun times or people or characters or concepts. I’m just like my grandmother this way, who lined all her shelves with porcelain and glass figures, and kept them forever. But too much stuff, and things not being neat, stress me out. Not badly, but my mind needs room to consider, to breathe, to be creative. So I’m making space in my life and my schedule. At work, I’m putting resources I rarely need out of sight and rotating out my knick knacks so they aren’t all visible at once. If I feel anything but peace about something I’m asked to do, personally or professionally, I take a step back and reevaluate it. Why am I anxious or worried? Is this something I can say No to and feel at peace? Are their benefits that would outweigh these feelings? If I can’t say no, what’s most bothering me and how can I manage it to minimize my stress?

2. Clean out. A little over a week ago, I cleaned out my drawers and closet, filling two huge bags of clothes to donate to a local domestic violence shelter. Some items I’ve “outgrown” and others I just don’t wear often enough to keep. I’m keeping clothes I wear, not the ones I wish I did. That includes a beloved but too-worn pair of boots, a pleather jacket coming apart at the seams, and an incredibly comfortable pair of linen pants I never want to iron. I’ve been careful to buy fewer clothes than I’m giving away, and only very soft, very practical items. (Other than that one dress, but it’s practically got a cape!) Last year, I only wanted to wear soft, easy, warm clothes, and if that’s helpful to my brain when it’s struggling, it’ll be a better for mild seasonal blues, too.

3. Build good habits. I bought a light therapy box. I know I get a little down in the winter because my element is sunlight (it’s the most relatable thing about Superman, who I generally dislike). And, with shorter, darker days, I’ll need some extra help making sure my body is getting the sunshine it needs. Happy light to the rescue! … I hope! I need to build the habit of using it every day and in the right way. Only then can it do the good, darkness-dispelling work it was made to do. I also need to incorporate a better prayer and Bible reading regimen, which dispels darkness in a different, but equally real, way. Eating bigger breakfasts but fewer snacks are also on my habits-to-form list. And none of this will mean much if I don’t get enough regular, quality sleep. It truly is amazing how much I starve my body, little by little, of these two basic needs: nutrients and rest.

4. Take social media hiatuses. Presumably, an ideologically catastrophic event will not occur this Nov. 8 like it did last year, and so the most serious bout of depression I’ve ever experienced will probably not be triggered. However, accessing social media definitely contributed to my anxiety and depression last November and December, and I’ve noticed that I’ve struggled under its effects since then, too. I’m much better able to absorb terrible news at 11am or 2pm than right before bed or right after I get up. Also, some days are just worse than others, in terms of the type of news or what’s happening in my brain. A stormy mental health day needs a social media hiatus, especially from Twitter. Very terrible news might necessitate a break, too.

5. Choose manageable goals. I want to finish NaNo. I want to do it in order to recapture the joy participating in NaNo has brought me in years past and to help jumpstart my fiction writing life again. I managed to complete the 50,000 word goal last November while depressed, so I’m reasonably confident that I can do it again this year. However, I’m doing this for the experience, not the product, so I’m going to be looser with the rules than in the past: I’ll count blog writing in my word counts and won’t restrict myself to one project. I might rewrite my NaNo project from two years ago (cozy murder mystery with ghosts) or I might try a new idea I’ve been kicking around since the summer (also a cozy mystery). If one project fails on me, I’m planning to just pick up the next one and keep writing. Finishing NaNo requires prep work, like making and freezing meals ahead of time and making lists of scenes and characters and basic plot structures. For me, it also means planning well for the days I’ll need to be traveling and scheduling specific rest times throughout the month.

I don’t want to end with something cheesy like “Stay positive!” but if there is a 6th strategy, that’s it. I’m looking forward to Hallmark Christmas movies, chili, snuggling under blankets, candles, a fire in the fireplace, Christmas trees, crisp air, apple pie with ice cream, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

If you also tend to have more mental health struggles in fall and winter, I’d love to hear how you’re preparing for the next few months!

Oh God, I am sorry

My childhood nemesis was murdered.

I don’t mean that exactly how it sounds. For one, I had several childhood nemeses, our relationships growing progressively hostile as we grew older. But this was an early one, my second. And for another, he wasn’t murdered when we were children. It was many years later, when we were adults and living in different cities—from our hometown and from one another—and hadn’t seen or spoken to each another in over 8 years.

So why did I care so much when he died?

Maybe because I always had, or try to have, compassion. Even for my enemies. Not that we were really enemies.

Maybe it’s because he was alive, and now he’s dead.

Maybe it’s because murder is terrible.

We had a lot of fun times together, actually. But only when it was just the two of us, waiting for our moms to pick us up or working on a project together or sitting at the same art table.

I remember once asking my mom why he and I couldn’t get along except when we were alone. She told me that when we were older, maybe in high school, things would be different and maybe we could be friends. I moved to a different school a couple years later and we never got that chance, but the optimism of what our future relationship could have been colored my memories until I saw him through the lens of that never-realized friendship. I don’t know if I still harbored any bitterness toward him when I left that school at age twelve, but I know I’d long-since lost it when I got the email from my mother, his name as the subject line.

It might have been something innocuous. Mom had bumped into old friends and even other nemeses of mine at the grocery store, and spoken with their parents in the store where she works. I expected a fun update from him or his mom about how he was doing, all the more welcome because it’d been so long.

I had to read the article’s opening paragraph four or five times before I began to understand.

It was October. I’d been for a walk at some trails and was catching up on emails in my car before driving to Bible study. I felt closed up, insulated and alone but exposed, realizing how terrible a thing had been done to him.

And my next thought was of his mother. His kind, loving, hardworking mother. His mother who had already lost her husband in another act of violence.

If you think about famous nemeses, you might think about Joker to Batman or Moriarty to Sherlock. You’ll think about dastardly villains on the wrong side, foils in specific ways to the protagonist, but also compliments in vital ways. The Joker and Batman live their lives by similar but polar principles. Joker believes that anyone could become what he is—the worst of villains—if their circumstances were bad enough. And Batman believes that no matter how bad your circumstances, you too can become a hero. (Or, at least choose not to be a villain.) They work so well as nemeses because they are determined to prove themselves right to the other, but neither can destroy the other without abandoning their defining principles.

Moriarty and Sherlock are fantastic nemeses because they are so well-matched in intelligence and skill, and have similar enough vices that you can see how they very easily could be the same person or even best friends. But their moralities are just different enough that they have chosen to use their intelligence and vices and needs in entirely opposing ways.

Where Joker and Batman cannot destroy each other because of the nature of their ideological battle, Sherlock and Moriarty fear how they will cope if one should kill the other. We admire Sherlock not for the murder he commits, or believes he commits, but for his willingness to finally end this dangerous feud. He does so for everyone else’s sake, since doing so poses a real risk to his happiness and well-being.

Alex and I were good nemeses in part because we were so similar. We were both smart, analytical, logical, sassy. We enjoyed arguing and bantering. And we were both proud. When no one else was around, the pride wasn’t much of an issue so we very rarely fought. Our similarities aligned and we had a great time. But allow even one other person into our proximity and we begin to compete, to spar, and to wound. I don’t think we really meant to hurt each other, just to avoid being on the receiving end. But I remember feeling hurt, so I know I hurt him. And that, I regret almost the most.

I probably should regret inflicting pain the most, and yet children are cruel. That was the duel and the deal until I bowed out and went to another school.

I didn’t reach out to him after his father died. I regret that the most.

He didn’t need me, but I wish I hadn’t withheld my offer of support and comfort. We were similar, had history, and had been connected. I told myself I didn’t know how to reach him but I did. I just didn’t try. I repeated, “He doesn’t need you” and didn’t dwell on “But what if it could help him?”

And, oh God, I am sorry. I am sorry for inflicting pain. I am sorry for withhold support. I am sorry for his fear and his death. I am sorry for his mother, his friends.

After Bible study the night I learned of his murder and the finding of his body, I stayed up for hours in the dark writing every memory I had of him. Most I hadn’t revisited in years, but they were still there, once I let my brain sift through its back rooms. My personal pain from those years of the bullying was gone in the echo of his taken life. Late, late, late, sifting and writing and sitting and grieving. The next night, I wrote more, wrote them all out, and now I have them. And I will keep those memories on paper, a back-up for my mind.

A year and a half later, the week my aunt passed suddenly of a heart attack, I wrote to the judge so he would know the man who’d been taken before passing sentence on the murderers. I sat in the dark of a Dallas hotel, my coworker/roommate asleep behind me, too far to comfort my family or be comforted by them. But I could speak for my childhood nemesis. I could advocate for his memory. And I could pray, for the thousandth time, for his mother.

His name was Alex. He was aware, so he must have been afraid when he died. I hate fear.

I tried and tried to find a way to reach his mother, to tell her how sorry I am and to share my memories of her son and husband, but she retreated and I respect her boundaries. I’m sharing about this now because, with one gunshot, October was smeared with gunpowder. Even though Alex’s birthday was in summer and I first met him in January, I think of him in October. I remember him in October.

Not only in October. Also in sunlit pools and when I see a figure through the rain and when I feel spattered paint under my fingers and when I see a pale blue polo over broad shoulders and when I hear a football being caught.

Oh God, I am sorry. I am sorry for Alex. Please comfort his mother.

Three Red Dresses

In the business and legal worlds, so taught my high school debate teacher, red is a power color. My dance teacher taught that less is more when trying to stand out. But red dresses are designed to attract attention and are worn to make statements, to distract, or as a disguise.

Think of the (often ill-fitting) red dresses you see characters wear in movies. In “Music & Lyrics,” Drew Barrymore’s character borrows a red dress to help her feel confident enough to confront a former lover. Rhett forces Scarlett O’Hara to wear a red dress so she’ll look the part of the homewrecker she tried to be. Julia Roberts’s “Pretty Woman” character wears a red dress to go to the opera with her John, as if they’re a normal couple who do this often. Peggy Carter wears red to let Steve Rogers in “Captain America” know she’s interested in him. “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Downton Abbey,” “She’s All That,” “The Princess Bride,” “Titanic,” “Outlander,” “Clueless,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “Arrow,” “The Princess Diaries 2,” countless Bond films, the Harry Potter franchise, and countless other movies and TV shows feature women wearing red dresses for one of these purposes.

I love the color red, but I’ve only worn a few red dresses over the years. Here are the stories of three of them.

The first is a dress of my mother’s. She wore it in high school, but in middle school I was playing Queen Isabella de Castille in a school play and needed something floor-length and regal. The dress my mom remembered, and which my grandmother mailed me, is a somewhat muted crimson with a deep V-neck. It’s not inappropriate, but lower than anything I’d worn thus far. The skirt billowed as I moved and the draping at the shoulder skimmed my upper arms. It was the first time I felt mature and beautiful at school. I was playing a queen. I made a headdress and veil and wore my mother’s red dress. I’d been in at least half a dozen plays or musicals to that point, but I had never before played someone whose voice carried such weight, who was always listened to. I certainly didn’t feel that way at school. I was awkward, anxious, and had been bullied. I had forged together some good friends and had good relationships with most everyone in my class. Still, that dress. Sitting on a throne, surveying my classmates in my mother’s red dress, I projected a confidence I’d never been able to display before. And if I could do it once, I could do it again.

I wore a floor-length, mermaid-style neon green dress absolutely covered in sequins to my junior prom. If I ever had a teen movie-style standout moment, it was in that green prom dress. Every single day of school, I wore a personal uniform of jeans, sneakers, t-shirt, and hoodie, but in my neon green gown, glittering as I moved, I felt light and relished the looks of surprise I received. Near the end of the following summer, my mom and I found a backless, wine-colored prom dress left over from the previous season. This dress was more mature, more romantic, than anything I’d ever put it. In the green dress, I had been vivid, effervescent, but in the red dress I would be daring, mature, desirable. My classmates would remember me differently. This was senior prom, after all. I think we paid $30 for it and I wore it, strappy and gauzy and slinky, in my room, trying to take pictures in the mirror that would capture what I felt while wearing this dress. But it didn’t fit perfectly, and by the time we got to March, I’d decided not to wear it. I was ready to leave high school. I loved my small circle of friends and planned to stay in contact with them forever, but everyone and everything else I was ready to leave. I didn’t care as much how they remembered me, or if they remembered me at all. So I chose to buy a new dress, one that made me feel my best and that befit the new era of my life I would soon be entering: a huge white princess dress, strapless, and overlaid with blue beaded flowers. I donated the hardly worn red dress, along with my green one, to a children’s hospital for their patients’ prom. I like to imagine the girl who got my red gown, and hope it helped her step forward boldly, and helped her say all she wished to that night.

Several years ago, one of my friends from college and his girlfriend broke up. A few months later, she had a new boyfriend but he’d chosen not to date anyone else until he graduated law school and moved back home, where he’d join a small local practice. But first was “lawyer prom”, and my friend’s ex had a new boyfriend, so he asked me to be his plus one. To be fair, I didn’t have a lot of notice for this event, but I happened to have a bright red, strapless dress with deep pockets tucked in the very back of my closet. I’d bought it several years earlier on sale, but had never worn it. His friends hadn’t met me before, as it’d always just been the two of us when we went to the movies or out for lunch. I got the sense that he wanted to escape the constant drumbeat of law school for a while and we’d been friends and classmates all four years of college. So the night of lawyer prom, the red dress to dinner with his friends said, “I am a force you know nothing about.” In the ballroom, where we bumped into my friend’s ex and new beau, my dress said, “Look at me; he’s doing fine without you.” I kept thinking about my senior prom, how ready I’d been to leave and what I had wanted to say, and felt honored that I got to help my friend say it. Plus, going alone to couple-y things sucks (I’d been to enough weddings to be absolutely sure of that).

There’s visual power to a red dress, or they wouldn’t be onscreen, let alone in our lives. There’s also the Jessica Rabbit factor, the woman in the red dress as a seductress or just arm candy. To that point, I’ll leave you with the words of the Honorable Miss Phryne Fisher, an on-screen fashion icon whose mysteries I’ve been rewatching lately: “A woman should dress first and foremost for her own pleasure. If these things happen to appeal to men, well, that really is a side issue.”

Rainy Brain Lies

I give a weather report for my brain when I have a bout of depression or anxiety (often both). It usually sounds like “scattered showers” or “pop-up thunderstorms” or “overcast” or just “rainy.” This past weekend, it was scattered showers. I could feel fine, not notice a problem, but twenty minutes later be sobbing in the bathroom. Between rain showers, Tyler asked me what it feels like. One of the first things I thought of was, “Rainy brain lies.”

Depression lies. Depression tells me I’ve failed, I’m worthless, I’m unwanted and unloved. There’s no convincing my brain to stop lying, or stop raining. It’s weather, you can’t control it. The best you can do is dress for it. Depression lies like a bully. After a while of saying “No” and “Not true” you realize that your arguments aren’t making a difference to him and they aren’t going to. But it’s important to keep telling the truth and to not let yourself believe the lies. That’s hardest to do, of course, when they are based on an element of truth.

I told Tyler that rainy brain lies because mine had just told me that I’ve wasted the whole summer. All the warm weather and hot dogs and baseball games and swimsuits and light dresses I’d had the opportunity to enjoy, I’d wasted. True because I didn’t meet all my goals for the summer; false because using my time differently than I had planned isn’t wasting it. False because I did thoroughly enjoy aspects of the summer, even if, truthfully, I never did buy a new swimsuit.

So I know what my brain is telling me is, ultimately, a lie. One meant to hurt me because rainy brain is a jerk and a bully. I catch the lie, then tell myself the truth.

Except, my emotions are brown water barely contained behind a levee. The surging rainwater fills it to the brim, leaking down the earth and cracking the stone. My emotions react to the lie instantly, causing water to burst out as if a huge bar of soap had been dropped into an utterly full basin of water. I tug back against the lie, and there’s no getting back the water that’s spilled over, but the rush lessens. The water goes back to it’s overfull, dangerous, roiling place, lapping at the edge of the levee. But it’s back.

And then my brain lies again.

If I lean into one lie, even for a moment, the water gains strength and my mental levee is that much harder to shore up. That much more water escapes.

Of course, this is when I have access to a range of emotions. In longer, deeper episodes of depression, I don’t. I have the lies. I have fear. I have self-condemnation. I have exhaustion. And I have the rain. Emotions like joy and silliness and contentment and anger and irritation are the chimneys on houses, occasionally peeking over the waves. And the lies are worse. This weekend, the lies were “You failed” and “You can’t do anything worthwhile” and “You’ll never accomplish your goals.” But in longer periods, the lies are, “You’re useless” and “You’re worthless” and “You don’t deserve any of the good things or people in your life” and “No one really loves you and no one ever will.”

One of the weirder things about depression in my estimation—and I’m by no means an expert on depression or anxiety or surviving either—is that because the rain is in your mind, things in your mind can help you. It’s not like breaking your leg and putting an ice pack on it. The ice helps with the pain, and that’s important, but your leg is still just as broken once the ice pack is off. With depression, the ice pack itself helps you heal.

Or, as Andrew Solomon says in one of my favorite TED talks, if you have brain cancer and feel better if you stand on your head for 20 minutes each day, “it may make you feel better but you still have brain cancer and you’re still probably going to die from it.” But if a depressed person does the same thing, and it makes that person feel better, “it’s worked because depression is an illness of how you feel, and if you feel better, you are affectively not depressed anymore.”

Watching a gif of a fox on trampoline can help. Sitting on the porch with your roommate’s dog can help. Listening to your mother’s favorite song can help. A single song isn’t going to suddenly end your depression, but if it helps, you do it over and over. If it doesn’t, what’s the point?

Sometimes the point is that you really, really should brush your teeth if you at all can manage it. Sometimes the point is that you know you’ll feel worse if you don’t eat, even though you aren’t hungry and even though getting up sounds like the most unpalatable thing that you could possibly do. Some things just need doing, and there are people who suffer such extreme mental illness that they are completely incapable of doing them. But for me, during my longest bout of depression, I cut out everything possible so that I could make sure I ate at least twice a day and brushed by teeth twice a day and showered once a day.

Late Sunday night, I watched three back-to-back episodes of Modern Family because it was raining in my brain. Immersing myself in the show, which was familiar and made me laugh without requiring a lot of brain power, helped. So did the end of Look Who’s Talking?, which I hadn’t seen in years. When I got into bed, I played music for a while so I wouldn’t feel so alone and so I could focus on something other than the lies my brain was trying to tell me. And those things helped the rain to stop. But if inclement weather is troubling your brain, when you can’t find a way to make the rain stop, I hope you can find the umbrella and boots you need to keep sloshing through.

The Burden of “Happy Clothes”

The other day I was reading a book, and I’m not going to tell you which one. But, after an anecdote about the author’s mother, she wrote that adults “have the opportunity or maybe even an obligation to convey an upbeat spirit.” She followed that statement by saying adults must “show we can rise above winter’s chills by wearing happy clothes.”

I wanted to curse at her. I wanted to throw the entire book. The author’s a Christian, a long-time Bible study leader, and I wanted to shout “Is this what you teach?!?! Those poor people!”

The world isn’t entitled to a good mood from me. I don’t expect that from others. And I don’t demand that the world look “pretty” or put together or wear “happy clothes”. I’m not just talking about self-expression, which is important. I’m talking about the idea that women are pressured to present themselves, to have it all together, to show no emotion but gratitude, to never make a mistake or need a break. Men face it too.

According to the CDC, white men in this country are three times more likely to commit suicide than white women. Black and Hispanic men are only twice as likely as white women to commit suicide, but they are four times as likely as black and Hispanic women. Black women and Hispanic women are the least likely: half as likely as white women and twelve times less likely as white men. Society is built for white men. They have the most privilege. So why are they so much more likely to commit suicide? A big reason is that we don’t teach boys and men to deal with their emotions and we don’t allow men to appear weak. And it’s killing people. The burden to “convey an upbeat spirit” is killing people.

I’m sure the author, who I really don’t want to rake through the coals, wasn’t thinking in these terms. She was thinking about neuro-typical Christians exuding confidence in their faith to the outside world. Which I also have serious problems with. But I want to talk about the heavy burdens “an obligation to convey an upbeat spirit” and wear “happy clothes” place on a person’s well-being.

Let’s talk about spoon theory. It’s a concept generally used to help people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, and mental illnesses to describe what their day is like. I’ll link you to the whole explanation here, but below is the short version.

Think of the spoons in your kitchen. You have a certain number, and that’s all you have. You cannot wash and reuse them. You can’t use a fork instead. You start every day with a specific number of spoons, and everything you do costs a spoon. Getting out of bed costs a spoon, brushing your teeth costs a spoon, flossing costs a spoon, cooking lunch costs a spoon but skipping lunch might cost two or three spoons.

When you’re well, you have a nearly unlimited number of spoons. But when you’re disabled or ill in one way or another, you have far fewer spoons. You might can borrow a spoon or two from the next day to help you get through your friend’s birthday party or a blown tire on the interstate, but you will go from 15 spoons tomorrow to 13.

Last year when I struggled with depression for two months, the four-minute task of putting on moisturizer, foundation, and eyeliner (what I consider to be my minimum makeup regimen) hardly ever happened. I didn’t have enough spoons. It wasn’t worth it to me to use a spoon to put on makeup for work. I knew it wouldn’t take long, but for once I cared more about the effort involved than I cared about the time it took. I might need that spoon to go to the grocery store later, or to take my car by the mechanic to have a light checked, or to wash my hair (another spoon for conditioner, a third to blow dry). Every spoon counts. Everything costs a spoon. Every email I read, every paragraph I wrote, getting out of bed, arranging a meal cost a spoon. My life whittled down to the bare minimum. I wore the same outfits—incredibly soft, comfortable outfits—over and over. I went to work, went home, laid on the sofa, ate at least twice a day, showered, went to bed.

I literally thank God that my coworkers didn’t bring up my lack of makeup, fifth day with a pony tail, or the third consecutive week wearing that outfit. The conversation would have cost an unexpected spoon and would have increased my anxiety and guilt for weeks about my limited number of spoons.

It’s not an act of service, and it’s definitely not an obligation, to smile and look pretty for the world. Those things cost spoons, and whether I’m struggling with depression or not that day, I may well decide that I don’t have the time or energy to bother with it. Everyone should be free of the same burden.

When I started dating Tyler, I had the energy but chose not to spend the time. Instead, I stayed up later than usual so I could spend those hours with him, and shaved off makeup time in the morning to help me recover some of my sleep. My choice was not an assault on the world. I don’t owe the world a painted face or a fake smile or a yellow blouse. (I’d also like to point out that men aren’t expected to wear makeup because we haven’t been trained to think that men need makeup to look “presentable”. Same with shaved legs.)

I don’t owe the world “presentable” anything. You don’t owe the world makeup or a smile. Other people are not entitled to the facade it expects. Do I care about people and want to be a good representation of my faith and my God? Yes. But inauthenticity drives away the hungry and gathers the shallow. I’m not going to knowingly hurt myself to make a few other people feel more at ease. And I want hurting people to know it’s okay to be hurting. That’s the kind of Christian I try to be.

***

I thought I was done with this post. I just needed a photo of a spoon, which I planned to take at my boyfriend’s, before we went to dinner and a worship service in which I was reading the opening Scripture (Psalm 145:1-3, 10-13). Even before I got to his apartment, though, my plan flew out of my head. After a busy day with little sleep, I was listening to an audiobook, reminding myself to read the Scripture passage a few more times aloud before worship, and carefully planning my nutrition intake so I’d have enough energy to stay alert through the late-starting service without sugar or caffeine crashing. I’d originally planned to go home and nap after work, then to get ready and leave from there, but I was too wired. So Tyler suggested dinner instead.

During the song immediately after I read, I realized that I hadn’t put on eyeliner. Or lipstick. Or even foundation. I’d been in too much of a rush that morning and I hadn’t gone home after work like I’d planned to, so I hadn’t remembered. And I was wearing my comfy work pants—a little high-waisted, a little baggy in the hips—instead of the skinny jeans I’d planned to be in. My loose floral top is exactly something my grandmother would wear if it only had sleeves.

So is presentation more important than the words I’d read? I hadn’t been worried about my appearance when I’d walked to the microphone. I hadn’t noticed my lack of makeup in the bathroom a few minutes earlier. During the song, though, I’d noticed someone else’s eye makeup and all the comparisons rushed to me, all my intentions I’d forgotten just like the spoon photo. I felt God nudging me, Do you owe the world “presentable” or don’t you?

I thanked God for not letting me realize until after I’d read. That’s very God and I. God teaches me something, but not when it might mess with other people’s worship. God often waits until the perfect moment, like when I’m singing the words of a praise song, to let me wrap myself up in my own self-consciousness. Then God reminds me of truth, and in this case of the words I’d written a few hours before. I asked for forgiveness, for my pride most of all.

Circles

Writing feels useless. And stupid. And lonely. 

But I hate disappointing people, or even feeling like I might have disappointed someone. And I hate to quit. Well, I hate being a quitter. At least I’m stubborn. At least I have that going for me.

So in the hopes that this will end up being something sort of meaningful to somebody, maybe somebody I don’t even know (which feels even more lonely than anything I’ve said so far), I’m going to talk about circles.

Last weekend I spent a long weekend at my brother’s, with his girlfriend and my boyfriend, so we could see the total eclipse. Macon was experiencing a 95% eclipse, but for just 4 hours of driving, I could see my brother and introduce our respective significant others, and see a bright circle in the sky. The circle I’m referring to is the corona, the white circle of the sun’s atmosphere visible around the moon in the three minutes of a total solar eclipse. There is no corona at 95%, in Macon. I had only ever seen photos, and the Heroes TV show logo, and I wanted to see the sun’s corona for myself. I’ve talked before about how much I love space, and after three terrible weeks at work on top of three incredibly busy weeks in my personal life, and after a week of being sick, I wanted my boyfriend and my brother and interesting space things to all be in the same place at the same time. 

However, much as the moon and the sun only seemed to occupy the same space at the same time during the eclipse, my weekend didn’t go to plan. Not just because I was exhausted and recovering from a bad cold, but because of unmet expectations and my inability, especially while so drained, to recognize how my supine personality was working against me. When this happens, I find myself struggling with the same things I’ve struggled with in the past. You’d think what I learned would have stuck better than that. I look through past journals and prayers and blog posts and constantly tick off a box in my head for lessons I must now relearn. 

I thought of this phenomenon first on the drive to my brother’s as I told Tyler about the movie “Letters to Juliet.” It used to be one of my favorites, but I noticed a pattern. I would watch it, enjoy it thoroughly, and hate my life afterwards. It’s a movie about traveling, and writing, and love, and each time I watched it (the last of which was two years ago), I was pining for all three. I wanted to be traveling but wasn’t. I wanted to be writing but was struggling to finish anything. And I wanted to be in love but had never been. As I told Tyler this, I had to force back tears. I wish it was because I was so thankful for him, and that after so many years of learning to be lonely but happy I felt the gravity of the blessing of being in love and happy. No, I fought tears because once again I am not traveling and not writing.

I don’t need to see the movie again to see the circles I’ve drawn in my life. Just as I knew two years ago when I last watched two people fall in love on a road trip to a Tuscan Winery with Vanessa Redgrave, I know that this is a wholly unrealistic situation. I also know it prompts me to make an equally fictitious summation of my life. There are so many things I love about my life, including the fact that I have traveled. A lot. And written a lot. And loved many, many people. I knew this two years ago, and the year before that, and every second I have let myself lie about my life. I know these thoughts are based in fear, including my old nemesis the fear of missing out, and not in fact. I struggled, even as Tyler sat beside me and held my hand, to relearn the lesson and view my life more frankly.

You know it’s bad when a more frank perspective of yourself would be more compassionate of you.

Since the three minutes I saw the corona, I’ve wanted to write about the eclipse. I enjoyed telling my co-workers what I saw, how the air felt, and inadvertently convinced my boss that he should travel to experience the total solar eclipse in 2024. Yet to write it down, when we are inundated with images and accounts from countless other people, what can I say? What use could it be? And how can I encompass my experience of those three minutes? Three minutes which I regretted being gone the moment the diamond of light appeared at the cusp of the moon’s top right quadrant. Three minutes which I now want desperately to experience again in 2024.

What can I write that hasn’t been written before? What can I say that will mean anything to anyone anywhere? Ageless questions, ones I used to spurn as being from those who had not committed, or fully committed if I was being charitable, to the life of writing. And now I’m asking these very questions. I’ve circled back.

Here’s to breaking a circle. Even if it’s stupid and useless and lonely.

The corona was “a ring of pure and endless light.” More pure than anything I’ve ever seen. It was easy to forget that there’s the moon between the sun and me, easy to forget that this isn’t science fiction. With the sunset in every direction, a loop of gold around our dimness, and with the purple and blue and pink thunderheads on our periphery, it was easy to feel both chosen and insignificant. In the dim, identifying planets and noting planes, we looked at the white-silver atmosphere of the star that keeps us alive. How little light was needed for the world to seem normal. And now normal was gone, replaced in the sky with this unearthly beauty. And silence. I felt like angels should be singing arias around us and over us and through us. But there was nothing.

Well, not nothing. There were the crickets, and the birds swooping to their nests, and all the summer sounds of twilight that were out of place in this dim not-night. People we couldn’t see shouted, and I think we did too, at the moment of totality. People on a sandbar in the river behind us, people in the apartment complex’s pool, people on their balconies, people with lawn chairs in the parking lot. If it weren’t for those shouts, it would have been easy to believe it was only happening to us. And in those shouts I felt the tremble of alarm and surprise echoing backwards and forwards throughout human existence. We knew it was coming. We’d seen photos of past eclipses and live videos of this same eclipse experienced in Oregon and Kentucky, and still we shouted when the lid closed on the jar and we were in darkness.

The moment of totality should have been as gradual as the rest of the eclipse, but it wasn’t. The streetlamp came on beside us, a disorienting LED surge at the moment of dark.

Though, it wasn’t dark exactly. It wasn’t like night. It wasn’t like twilight. It was like the pantyhose filter used to film “The Fiddler on the Roof” had been dropped over the world. Or, I suppose, it was like an Instagram filter. Everything we could see was dingier, a kind of brown, except for the sky.

Three solar flares were stretching our yellow sun’s atmosphere in pure white shoots. Nothing appeared yellow about our sun in that moment. Nothing appeared familiar. No feature of our moon was visible. It’s dark side was absolute and temporary. I wanted to watch the corona for hours. I wanted to see the solar flares change the corona’s shape. I wanted to look into the vivid sky, wave at Jupiter and Venus, and peer 360 degrees around me at the strong sunset.

I took four photos quickly, immediately, including one selfie. I used my Sky Map app to identify the star and planets we saw. We noted a drone and some planes. The frenzy of all that newness began to subside. I said I wanted to look at the corona for hours. I glanced at the tree below the streetlight where we’d looked at tiny sun crescents earlier.

“It’s ending!” my brother’s girlfriend cried and my soul shouted “No!” Frenzy took me. I looked up, and the diamond on the ring of light was growing. I couldn’t see the flare shapes in the corona anymore and my eyes stung. One percent of the sun reemerged and we fumbled for our eclipse glasses. Even one percent was too much to try to look at without protection. The frenzy was chased by disbelief, regret, and finally resignation.

I would have liked to have stayed there, watching the crescent sun grow back into the disc I’ve always known, but my life’s cares had rushed back with it’s single percent of light. We wanted to get ahead of as much traffic as we could. We stood up, walked back inside. Tyler and I shouldered our last bags and tucked our eclipse glasses inside my writing notebook. I drove the four hours back to Macon thinking about circles and regret and how my next chance to see the corona will be in 2024, I considered how much farther away than a four-hour drive the totality path will be, and how I’ll need to take more than one day off work so I can spend more time with the eclipsing moon and inconstant sun.

I hope I can. It’d be a good circle.

(Photo courtesy of NASA)

Be Still and Know

Recently, a favorite song has been The Fray’s “Be Still.”

It begins, “Be still and know that I’m with you. Be still and know that I am here,” seemingly referencing Psalm 46:10: Be still, and know that I am God. I’ve listened to this song dozens of times in the past month, often dozens of times a day, and find it playing in my head in quiet moments.

Mellow and emotive, the song carries the listener through a variety of situations, following these descriptions with the simple assurance of the speaker’s presence. In the second stanza, he also promises to “say your name”. Then, in the third, encourages the listening to “Remember all the words I said.”

The situations are moderated by either “when” or “if”. The two “when” instances are:
-“When darkness comes upon you and covers you with fear and shame”
-“And when you go through the valley and shadow comes down from the hill”.

These things will happen. “Darkness” and “the valley”—presumably of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4)—will enter our lives. We will feel “fear and shame” and “shadow.” We will be threatened by them. We will have to face them. And when we do, we should “Be still and know that I’m with you.” That exact phrasing is repeated four times, “Be still and know I am” twice, “Be still and know” twice, “Be still and know I’m here” once, “Be still” once. The effect is lullaby-like, as a parent soothing a crying child. The lyrics don’t make it clear whether the speaker is a parent, a friend, a lover, or God, but the words effuse safety, reassurance, and love.

Wisdom is also obvious in the inclusion of four “if” statements:
-“If terror falls upon your bed and sleep no longer comes”
-“If morning never comes to be”
-“If you forget the way to go and lose where you came from”
-“If no one is standing beside you.”

Extreme fear, despair, losing oneself, and feeling utterly alone may not ever happen to the listener, but if they do, the promise is the same: I’m with you. So are the instructions: be still and know.

Don’t lose faith, the lyrics seem to say. Don’t let the world or your feelings lie to you, telling you that you have no one. You will always have me. I will always be with you. Even if nightmares or fear of the future keep you awake at night, you will have these instructions to sustain you: “be still” and “know”.

The singer infuses his voice with simple, straightforward sincerity. His voice edges in pain when he sings of fear, death, and abandonment the listener may and will face. He does not want this person to suffer. He loves this person. He is devoted. And he has no qualms about how difficult and painful and mean and bitter the world can be. It will be painful; when. It may be horrible; if.

Depending on my mood and what else has happened in the day, I imagine a parent singing these words, a spouse, a sibling. I imagine myself as the singer or recipient of these promises. But most often, I listen like I do a psalm addressed from God to God’s creation (to me): be still and know that I am God. Be still and know that I’m with you. Be still and know I am.

There is one more assurance I want to point out. After noting that darkness will come and fear and shame will be felt, after giving the “be still and know” instructions, the speaker sings, “And I will say your name.”

In the Bible, names describe a person’s essence, who they are in a real and important way. Every time a person experiences a name change—by choice or divine decree—they are saying their character is no longer the same. Jacob (thief) became Israel (wrestles with God). Naomi (pleasant) becomes Mara (bitter). Simon (he has heard) becomes Peter (rock). Saul (prayed for) becomes Paul (humble). That last one has the additional layer of a person known by a Hebrew name becoming known by a Latin one as his ministry transitions from focusing on reaching Jewish people to Gentile people.

Asking for things in prayer by “Jesus’ name” is doing as Jesus instructed: If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it (John 14:14). But with this understanding of the use of “name” in the Bible, we can see that praying in Jesus’ name can mean praying in accordance with Jesus’ character. For example, if you ask for healing, you are appealing to Christ as healer, knowing Christ did heal many and loves people, so it is in his character to heal.

When we look at the phrases around the one I just quoted, we see shades of this: “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it” (John 14:13-14). For God’s glory, not our preferred baseball team or convenience in the carpool line, will God grant prayers. And neither did Jesus act or speak except to bring glory to God. That is very much in Christ’s character.

As is restraint. Jesus did not save himself. He may not save you or your loved one like you hope. Even calling on Christ to save a life or to protect from harm—though fulfilling these requests would be consistent with his character—does not guarantee that Jesus will actually intervene as you’ve asked. Scores of books and sermons have analyzed the meaning and ramifications of “that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). I am by no means equal to them, but can attest that it feels awfully selfish of God—or at least feels like cold abandonment—to not receive the healing or help in my situation that I know another person received in their situation.

The singer promising to speak the listener’s name is an intimate and powerful action. Through this biblical lens, “I will say your name” becomes “I will remind you who you are.” And that, at least for me, is powerful encouragement.

On Mary Magdelene at the Tomb

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). —John 20:11-16

Mary had been at the cross. She was there until the very end, most likely. (As was John.) She may well have been one of the people who saw Jesus’ body go into the tomb. She may have had an hour or more with her dead friend and teacher as Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus arranged for the body to be given to them and dress for the tomb. They had to transport his body.

No wonder it’s hard for her to picture Jesus as anything but dead.

And Mary has spent her Sabbath thinking about and preparing for her Sunday morning trip to the tomb to anoint his body. When you expect something so hard you don’t even imagine another possibility, of course any deviation is hard to comprehend. Especially your dead friend alive and speaking with you.

His body missing was devastating, but this isn’t a hard assumption to make. Christ was dead. His body isn’t where she last knew it to be. Therefore, someone must have taken it. Someone took it benevolently (the gardener) or someone took it malevolently (a robber or enemy). These are the possibilities in her mind, and they are evidence of her mind in crisis mode.

Mary is practical, maybe even a pragmatist. John wasn’t at the tomb at daybreak to care of Christ’s body as they hadn’t had time to on Friday evening. He’s not even there to support Mary and the others who are going, or to help move the stone for them. No one is there to offer this practical help, save Mary.

She came to care for her dead friend’s body. His body is missing. Someone must have taken it. But where, and why?

The fact that Mary seems to share this plea to the supposed gardener so quickly suggests to me that Mary has been thinking it through. Yes, she is grieving. Yes, she is devastated, gutted anew by Jesus’ missing body. But she is also working on the problem. Where could his body be? Is there any hope of getting it back? To the gardener, Mary offers to carry Jesus’ body away. I think she intended to move him herself, one way or another, despite the smell and loose limbs, both of which she’d prepared herself for on her long, mournful Sabbath. How beautiful, this willingness, this yearning to care for and to restore.

Caring and restoring. That sounds a lot like Christ.

Maybe Mary doesn’t recognize Jesus because he was kind of unearthly looking. Maybe he was still a ways off. Maybe Mary couldn’t look anyone in the eye. Maybe the new day’s sun was in her eyes. Maybe Mary still expecting death so much she simply could not recognize life. Maybe, like the disciples Jesus travels with on the road to Emmaus, Mary senses something is different. Something is good in a fundamental way, but she hasn’t yet figure out what. Maybe she stumbles on in spite of this feeling. Maybe she thinks this feeling, this heart-quickening leap, is hope that Christ’s body is not stolen forever.

The best, best news awaits her. The best revelation. And it comes with her name.

Space and Other Enthusiastic Interests

I love space. I wear space pun t-shirts and constellation earrings and refer to “Oppy” and “Curiosity” and “Juno” in regular conversation as if normal people know all about these rovers and satellites and what they tweet. I am also taking of the day of the full North American solar eclipse off work so I can enjoy it how I choose (i.e., in the direct path, with my boyfriend and brother, preferably drinking a moon pie milkshake). Kennedy Space Center, it’s existence and also the two vacations in which I’ve visited it, gives me a ton of feels. I reread The Martian at least twice a year. “Hidden Figures” makes me so happy that I’ll watch it two or three times, back to back, on a Saturday while crocheting and folding socks. I tweet “Merry Christmas” and “Welcome home” to astronauts on the International Space Station. My desktop image is either a high-res image of Charon, Jupiter’s southern pole, or Star Wars fan art of Rey, Leia, or Jyn. And the in-house blog contributors at work know that the best way to get a gushing reply email to their newest post, and for me to boost the crap out of it on the company’s social media, is to write about the distance between stars or the Apollo missions or something.

It’s important to note that, though I love space and profess that love openly, I am enthusiastically devoted to many things, and so am not Neil deGrasse Tyson or Emily Calandrelli levels of knowledge about the Hubble Telescope, upcoming missions, or the physics of black matter. (Please, no one ask me about light. I know it’s both a particle and a wave, but I don’t understand this at all.) Neither am I equivalent levels of knowledgeable about comics, yarn, young adult literature, ancient Egyptian mythology, hurricanes, Doctor Who (especially in the past 3 seasons), sharks, musicals, or women in the Bible, though I am deeply enthusiastic about all of these things. More than your average human with other interests.

People with less broad but overlapping interests sometimes grow annoyed with me for not having dyed my own alpaca wool or not being able to quote from a middling episode of the most recent season of Who. I try not to be upset by this. If I’m upset, it’s because that person has implied—or stated—that I’m not a “real” fan because I don’t bear knowledge or experience equal to or exceeding their own. There’s also, often, gender and age expectations in here that I’m not getting into because I don’t feel like it and it’ll bring the mood down. But bear in mind that I’m a human without knowing the exact pH of human blood (Kidding. It’s 7.35-7.45 depending on the person.), so I can be a comics fan without having read the first 17 issues of “Cloak & Dagger” (I haven’t read a single one, though I’m excited to try out the TV series adaptation).

I think they get upset because there aren’t too many in-person people they can talk proverbial shop with regarding out mutual interest, and they want to be able to talk in deep detail, as deep as they want, because clearly I exist for their conversational enjoyment. Mitigate expectations, my friends. Let’s gratefully sock-slide through our favorite lines of “The Great Comet” and our favorite characters in The Graceling Series until one of us (okay, probably me) reaches the stairs. Then, instead of getting upset that I haven’t mastered sock-footed stairs yet, let’s turn in a new direction! Also, don’t assume when I show up for a sock-party than I can’t walk at all. Don’t be that jerk. Also, I’m not here for you.

Not that I don’t potentially love you. But friends can also get frustrated when I don’t take up a new thing they’ve tried to introduce me to. For example, my best friend in all the world tried for eons to get me to watch “Parks and Rec”. Did I like what I saw? Definitely. Did I want to watch it? Yup! But I didn’t have the time/brain space then. I have found the brain space/time since her first attempts, but not so much with “Arrested Development”. There’s a degree of pressure to a person you love wanting you to love a thing with them. Loving enthusiastically takes work! It takes time! It takes a headspace open to New, but also that particular flavor of New. And there’s always the possibility that I won’t love it, thereby disappointing my dear, beloved friend.

Also, I believe they get annoyed because they know what brilliance I’m missing out on. (I know I need to read The Sun Is Also a Star! I know.) And yet, I suspect it’s fun to watch me gush over something, and they now don’t get to enjoy my squealing and talking incredibly fast and possibly tearing up over this thing. Being able to watch my newfound joy likely helps them to enjoy it all over again, in a way they haven’t since they were the gushers. Like when I introduced my roommate to “Ninja Warrior”. Or my bestie to “Arrow”. Or when I tell my massage therapist about Greenland sharks. (It’s Shark Week. My evenings are booked. Every night. Sorry, boyfriend.)

(Also, sorry coworkers. It’s possible I might be a bit annoying this week. But learning is FASCINATING.)

Here’s the takeaway. “Jill of all trades, master of none, is oftentimes better than master of one.” Also, don’t be a jerk about it.