Joy in Self-Isolation

Here is a list of things bringing me joy in these isolated days:

  • Cuddling with my husband as we wait for our alarm to go off
  • Waking up every morning to my cat nuzzling my hand so I’ll pet her ears 
  • Playing Stardew Valley for 3 hours every week with 3 of my best friends
  • A 5-second commute to work
  • Open blinds throughout the day
  • Every single pair of sweatpants I own
  • Finding new, delicious ways to cook
  • Learning new, interesting things about my Instagram friends
  • Grapes
  • Apples
  • Orange Juice
  • Long phone calls with my mom
  • Daily cat videos with my husband
  • My cat walking into my office and flopping onto her back so I’ll get up and pet her
  • Sitting on my front steps after work
  • Sara Bareilles’s “Gonna Get Over You”

Being a Millennial in the Pandemic and the Church

Millennials are defined by our memories of and experiences in 3 major events during our childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood: 9/11, sustained wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Great Recession. And now we’re adults, many of us with kids and mortgages, in a pandemic. 

In a lot of ways, I think millennials are uniquely suited to doing the good and hard work of this time, which so far include sacrificing social pleasures for physical isolation, patroning small local businesses that may not survive the crunch, and educating our parents and grandparents about the seriousness of the threats we’re facing. We’re used to combing through the buzz of overstimulation and over information on the internet for credible sources and realistic outcomes and expectations. We’re also used to begging older generations to listen to us, trying tactic after tactic to try to get them to understand our perspective and value others’ welfare above their own comfort or routine. We habitually use the internet to remain connected with others. And we’ve become accustomed to reality suddenly, dramatically changing for the worse. We grew up on dystopian fantasies and we learned our lessons.

We are also accustomed to being lied to by people in authority, including our parents, our instructors, our bosses, and our highest elected officials. Our parents lied to us, if unintentionally, about how the world works and our place in it, then denied us access to power while blaming us for our trauma. Our instructors insist we’re lying and demand obituaries to prove our absences while also losing assignments, not sticking to the syllabus, and repeating the same demeaning diatribes as the generations before them. Our bosses lie to us about benefits, our value to the company, and even our value as human beings.

Elected officials have lied about who was responsible for 9/11, who are our enemies, what people think, what’s best for us, who we can trust, and certainly about their motivations. Our current president has lied about…everything. And we’re pretty good by now at sniffing those lies out. Most millennials I know skip his portion of the now daily COVID-19 briefings to avoid the racist comments, misinformation, and lies. And now the president saying some of us will have to die so that rich people don’t become a tiny bit less rich. Smells rotten to me. 

So we value stories and art and entertainment, and we do what we can to support the people who give us that. We look for stories of real people before believing what authorities tell us about the virus, its spread, and what we should do about it. We organize to help others. And we have to keep reminding news agencies and the world at large who we are (25-40 year olds) and who we aren’t (college students on spring break).

There are selfish people who think they are invincible in every generation, ours included. But we aren’t the ones on beaches despite warnings (and why aren’t those beaches already closed?).

Our spring break is working from home while trying to keep our kids on task for their e-learning.

Our spring break is developing online learning for the students we won’t see in person for the rest of the school year.

Our spring break is visiting the grocery store for our elderly neighbors on the way home from an underpaying job.

Our spring break is staying at home, hoping our disability or underlying condition won’t be a death sentence as we watch the president tell us we might have to die and as our caregivers dismiss our concerns.

Our spring break is spent delivering dozens of pizzas a day for less than minimal wage.

Our spring break is a day off from the hospital where we’ve volunteered to care for COVID patients because we are young and healthy and childless.

I see many of the same tension for us millennials in churches. We generally see loving their neighbors as a radically different process and value system than the ones we’ve been taught.

Loving queer people, for example, isn’t accomplished by excluding them or by instructing them, with pitying expressions, that they are hell-bound. And we believe this regardless of how we interpret biblical references to homosexuality, which in biblical times referred to predatory pedophilia, not the identity, lifestyle, and loving relationships implied by the word today. We are more likely to know openly queer people, and our love for them makes these issue far from theoretical.

As another example, to millennials, using funds responsibly and in Christ-like ways means handing out money sometimes, not only food, regardless of whether the person has “earned it” or is “worthy” of it. Their being children of God, human beings, makes them worthy of kindness and dignity, makes their suffering intolerable to our understanding of Christianity. We certainly won’t agree to buying yet another set of cushioned chairs for the one hour a week we’re going to be using them. We don’t believe that the only issue worth voting on, the one that *ahem* trumps all others is abortion. If we are responsible to God for the lives of those unborn children who might possibly die as a result of legislation passed or unheld by a person who we voted for, then we are equally responsible to the children kept in cages and denied flu vaccines, to the children killed on a schoolbus in Yemen, to the children starving in refugee camps, and to our own children, who are taught to run in zigzags to avoid active shooters and who the president sees as acceptable losses in his efforts to save the stock market.

These understandings are largely excluded from the wider church. When voiced, they are largely ignored or vilified. We don’t habitually engage in useless endeavors, so few millennials continue pounding on those doors of power and influence that have been shut to them for their “radical misunderstandings of the Bible.” So most Christian millennials are faced with 3 choices: conform, shut up, or leave. I’ve done all three, most recently “leave.” 

We can hardly leave the country, though. And even if we could, what’s to say any other country would want us? We were told that the racists in power would eventually die off, and we should be patient for change. Instead, we see segments of our generation and Gen Z radicalized. And still we can’t protect our children from gun violence and can’t convince our grandparents not to go to church or to lunch afterwards during a pandemic. 

It’s a grim life that’s prepared us so well for the present pandemic.

Amidst my own dizzying anxiety, I’ve learned a lot from watching older generations face this pandemic. In particular, where I’ve rushed to react quickly and decisively, whether in terms of vegetables or workplace demands, my more mature colleagues have taken a more reasoned approach. They are optimistic for their own emotional well-being. They are careful. And most are generous. 

We aren’t prepared to sacrifice as a society for the sake of that society—all our experiences thusfar have discouraged it—and now we’re being asked to. We’re even required to in order to save lives. I deeply hope that every generation, including my beloved and jaded one, manage to do so.

Sports during the Pandemic

Tyler requested that I do a blog post about sports, and the lack thereof, during this pandemic. He and I usually set our spring to the rhythms of first Atlanta United soccer, then the Braves, which carries us into football season in the fall, when Tyler supports Georgia Tech, I support Clemson, and we both try to be a tiny bit hopeful about the Falcons. Neither of us are basketball fans, but in that lull between the Super Bowl and opening day of baseball season, we have been known to stop on a few Hawks or Duke games, just to have something on in the background that doesn’t make us want to bake really elaborate cakes. 

And in our house over the past two weeks, as has likely occurred in yours, we’ve found ourselves a bit unanchored without these staples of our season. Sports is comforting, an escape for so many people either by playing or by watching. Tyler and I bonded over Atlanta United and the Braves games while we were dating and engaged. It’s been strange to know that such personal staples, and national staples as March Madness, have been suspended for an indefinite period. The one major sporting event I know of that’s still ongoing isn’t the sort that usually gets coverage on ESPN or Fox Sports. It’s a race over 1000 miles of the Alaska wilderness, and takes over 14 days to complete: the Iditarod.

I financially support two dog sledding teams, one of which is currently running the Iditarod. (For the record, dogs DO NOT die during the race! If any dogs become tired or injured, they are left in top vet care at the next checkpoint and are flown to the race’s end in Nome where volunteers care for them until their musher arrives with the rest of the team.) 

The mushers are almost entirely removed from the news, though some villages are opting to host the mushers outside of town to try to protect themselves from COVID-19’s spread. So the mushers must know there’s a pandemic. But until they either scratch or arrive with their teams in Nome, they won’t understand the full extent of what that means or how strange the world has become. Their dogs certainly don’t know. Which makes this event particularly interesting to follow during this pandemic, as we’re charting the paths of all these people who don’t know yet, who haven’t seen or experienced what’s now keeping us flush in toilet paper and awake at night. Their isolation is fascinating at any time, but especially so now.

If you are just getting into the Iditarod due to the dirth of other live sporting events, the team I support is led by Quince Mountain, a rookie and the first opening transgender musher. He is number 50, running in the back of the pack, which matches his slow and steady personality. (Fun fact! Q is allergic to dog hair.) His wife Blair Braverman (who I’ve mentioned before) finished the Iditarod last year as a rookie, and is covering the race with other journalists this year. You can find both of them on Twitter, along with their community of we loyal, big-hearted fans, the #UglyDogs. The Ugly Dogs are funding school projects throughout Alaska in #IGiveARod, and are crafting scarves, hats, and other warm water gear for Alaskan children through #IKnitARod. 

There are also quite a few mushers in good standing to win the Iditarod in the next day or two. Of these, I’m rooting for Mitch Seavey, who features in one of Blair’s many excellent Twitter threads about caring for the dogs on Team BraverMountain.

This thread provides a fantastic overview of the race, as does this article, if you’d like to start following along. And the most up-to-date standings are located here.

Happy trails! Stay safe out there, for yourselves and for others.

Keeping Watch

In Jurassic Park, after climbing a tree and being sneezed on by a “veggie-saurs,” Alan Grant and the kids Lex and Tim settle in to sleep. But the kids are nervous about more dinosaurs coming back while they sleep. Alan promises to stay awake, even all night. But it deeply bothered me as a child that, after the kids settle against him, comforted, we see his eyes close too. And in the next scene, we see the three of them waking up. This felt like a betrayal. Why, I asked my parents, did Dr. Grant promise to stay awake if he was just going to fall asleep? They answered me immediately, “Because the kids wouldn’t have gone to sleep otherwise.” I understood the answer, but I felt unsettled by it. I likely didn’t realized that they’d been in Dr. Grant’s position many times, promising to stay awake so that I would feel secure enough to rest. But I did wonder what my parents might have lied about in the past in order to set me at ease.

A friend recently suggested in a blog post that her and her daughter’s tendency to lay awake at night might stem from a subconscious feeling that someone need to stay awake to keep watch. 

I don’t yet have kids, but when I was a kid, I certainly laid awake a lot. I sometimes got up to make the long walk through the dark house to get more water, but otherwise I didn’t turn on a light or read. Only very rarely did I even turn my radio on, so softly I could barely hear it, so no one else would know I was awake. I’m not sure why it felt so important that my wakefulness be a secret. I didn’t want to get in trouble. I didn’t want to be doing something wrong. I’m not sure why I thought listening to the radio or turning on a light would be doing something wrong, or why I felt my inability to sleep would be seen as a personal failing or disobedience.

My whole childhood was like that. I lived within very strict rules, largely of my own making. My family and school (more so the former than the very loud latter) provided structure and rules that felt largely fair, but I regulated myself to even tighter boundaries. I think, now, it had a lot to do with my anxiety. All the things I was afraid of and nervous about, formed an uncontrollable hum in my mind like a swarm of bees. And I was unsure how to deal with it. Reading helped. Playing helped. But laying awake in the middle of the night, not a lot helped. I prayed. I counted. I imagined (though this could swing into more mental anguish at times).

In particular, I remember laying awake, wanting to give in to that feeling that I’d be more comfortable on my other side, but I was afraid someone would climb through the window while my back was turned. So I’d lay facing the window, trembling with anxiety, uncomfortable, trying to take comfort in what logic I could. My windows were high on the front side of the house. It’d be very hard for someone to scale their way in, even if they could get the windows open. I’d only seen them open a handful of times, usually when Mom was cleaning in the spring. I knew they stayed locked. Still, I worried. Sometimes I talked myself into rolling over and staying there. Sometimes I rolled over but couldn’t stand not to see that vulnerable window. I often prayed, talking to God about my fears as well as whatever came into my head. I got better at praying without ceasing, but prayer didn’t make me feel like someone was in the room with me. Prayer didn’t make me feel secure enough to sleep. Prayer was how I felt less alone while remaining away and anxious, and sometimes afraid.

Eventually, I made a cross out of popsicle sticks to put over that window, then over the one my bed was under, and finally my bedroom door, just to be thorough. This reassured me, a spiritual guard made physical. And when my mom saw what I was doing, she encouraged me. She helped me decorate them with broken bracelets and markers. Later, she bought me a nice ceramic one for my birthday. 

If I could tell my past self something, at almost any age of my childhood and adolescence, I’d tell her that she won’t always struggle with what she struggles with now. I get headaches and migraines now. I still have anxiety. Sometimes it affects me sleep. But so many of the big things she struggled with and stressed about are so much easier for me now. And I think she would take hope in the absolute assurance that one day, her brain will be able to let go of those anxieties in the middle of the night. I’ll be able to roll over without thinking about it or debating it, and my world will expand far beyond what I allowed myself at her age. 

When I wake in the middle of the night now, I have no qualms about rolling over. I don’t feel the need to get up and check the locks on the doors. And when I lay awake at night, it’s not because I feel insecure in my home. Though, some nights, I do feel watchful in a broad sense. Watchful and praying, though everything around me is at peace. Watchful and praying for the insecure, alone, afraid, abused, oppressed, marginalized. Watchful and praying for the world, melting and burning and starving and sick. I lay beside my husband, feel the curl of my cat pressed against my legs, and talk to God as I keep watch.

The End of Winter

On a recent Sunday morning, I was struggling. Struggling to get out of bed. Struggling to complete the tasks necessary to get ready for church. Struggling to look at the day ahead of me with anything but dread. Struggling to move. Struggling to talk. I felt profoundly tired, but the day before, I’d had a wonderful, bright day with friends, having lunch and seeing “Hello, Dolly” at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. I wondered if I was dragging so much on this morning because I’d been so active the day before. But, I realized I’d taken naps several days that week. Feeling uncertain, I asked my husband if I seemed more tired than usual.

Tyler agreed that I did seem more tired. Then he said, “But this time of year is always hard on you.” That truth sank into my bones and sparked some vivacity for the first time that morning. I felt like I should have realized on my own that this stage of winter was most likely to blame for my recent struggles and lack of energy, but I hadn’t. And with those words, I understood the why to all my questions. I also understood that things would get better, as they tend to when spring returns. And that made facing the day less bleak. 

Then Tyler asked me if I wanted to go to church. I said yes. He got up, but I didn’t. He reached out a hand. When I took it, he literally helped me to stand.

I didn’t stop being tired. I didn’t stop dreading the two normal events for our Sundays. I’ve had worse bouts of depression—far worse. But that didn’t stop this from being a bad mental health day, as rainy a day inside my brain as outside.

Things were better in an hour or so. Not because I went to church (though I did). Not because I ate a magical breakfast (a banana and a dollop of peanut butter). Not because I prayed or meditated. Those things might have had a somewhat positive affect, but the core truth is that the weather in my brain just happened to get a little better. It might have swung the other way and I would have needed to ask Tyler to take me home after church instead of to lunch with his family. (This happened a couple times while we were dating and engaged.) But I did feel better. I could think more clearly. Standing up wasn’t so much of a struggle. Neither was talking. Nor being in another’s presence. (Tyler is excluded from that last part, presumably because my brain has decided that he and I are made of the same stuff, in a way literally no other person on the planet is.) 

I worry about what my life will be like later. If I’m able to have children, how will I handle a day like Sunday? My history of depression means I’m more likely to struggle with depression postpartum, during grief, and before menopause. And, of course, sometimes there aren’t particular, noticeable triggers for depression or anxiety. Sometimes it’s just weather. 

For now, I’m immensely grateful for my husband, who helps me stand when I’m struggling, and tells me it’s okay if I need to change our plans. 

The past few weeks, despite the amount of rain we’ve had, have been better. Still, I’m looking forward to spring. 

Seeking Rejection

Several months ago, I read an article by Blair Braverman in Outside magazine, in which she encouraged her readers to make rejections valuable to them. In answering a reader’s Dear Abby-style letter, Blair said “Turn applying for big dreams into your hobby.” She encouraged her reader to set a goal for the number of rejections she wants to receive and to pick something indulgent to do or buy for herself when she reached it. In doing so, she’ll make the rejections valuable.

Blair is an Iowa-trained writer and musher (she completed the Iditarod earlier this year), so I trust that she knows a lot about making attempts and failing. 

When I read Blair’s article, I was feeling stuck in a couple of areas of my life and frustrated that some of my big goals don’t seem anywhere closer to being accomplished. Her letter made sense to me in a way similar advice from my writing professors never had. I read the article through several times, picked an arbitrary number (12), and set about getting rejected.

I made my case to my boss for a perk I really wanted. I reached out to an old friend who might not want to talk. I applied to do something cool in my community. 

When I was sailing along, searching out new possibilities, applying, then moving on to the next idea, I felt really good about my rejections. I was dropping baited line after baited line, just to see how many I could do. But the first time someone called me back, the first time I didn’t get a “no” but a “tell me more,” the game changed. I’d had a nibble. So I pulled hard. The reel sung as I worked it. I stopped applying to do other interesting things. Instead, I got excited about this possibility, told a couple of friends my hopes, and kept working the line. I ignored the others and didn’t put any more in the water. Why waste the effort if this one paid off and necessarily took up a big chunk of my attention and energy for a while? 

Then that fish, too, got away. 

And I was disappointed. All my attempts to that point had turned into rejections, and I was steadily building toward 12 of them, but I would much rather have had this exciting opportunity work out than to be one step closer to getting a pedicure. (The planned reward had been a new purse, but Tyler got me a lovely one for my birthday.)

So I told my close friends that it hadn’t worked out after all. I sat with my (and their) disappointment. I considered how important I’d let this one hope become to me. I still wasn’t applying to anything new, telling myself that I needed time to grieve the loss of this “maybe.” (I’ve been reading a memoir about counseling, so this seemed like a very reasonable plan at the time.) 

Finally, I went back and read Blair’s article again. Near the end, this paragraph seemed to have been written with font twice as large,

Instead of being disappointed when things don’t work out, be happily surprised when they do. The best way to do this is to have a lot going on at once. If you’re focusing your hope on a single opportunity—and of course, there will always be opportunities you want more than others—then you’ll naturally be devastated when it doesn’t come to pass. But if you have a dozen things going on, and you’re applying for more every week, then by the time you hear “no,” you’ve already moved on to something else.

I still felt disappointed that this bubble of hope I’d nurtured for so many weeks had come to mark just a single tally on the post-it note by my desk. I also recognize that if I hadn’t focused so much on this one dream, I wouldn’t have felt so hurt when it didn’t work out. But I think Blair would disagree that all I got out of the experience was a tally mark.

Earlier in the article, Blair said,

Treat everything as information. If an editor gives you feedback, implement it before your next round of submissions. If you interview for a job you’re obsessed with, figure out what it is that appeals so much. Maybe that job means prestige, or solitude, or working with friends. Maybe you didn’t realize how badly you wanted to live in Montana until you got rejected from a job in Montana. Great—that’s important information. That’s how you figure out what you really want. 

So why did losing this one opportunity hurt me so much? What about it had appeal to me so much? Without going into too much detail, I decided that its newness alone was very appealing. I have said for years that I’m afraid of getting into ruts and afraid of feeling stuck. This opportunity would have helped me feel fresh and useful, stretching skills I haven’t used in a while to help people in a way I miss. 

Okay, I told myself. That’s really useful information. And after I sat with that comfort for a minute (it’s a very good book about counseling), I named for myself the things I’d learned just by applying to this opportunity, then what I’d learned just by being in conversation with someone about it. I thought of two things I could do differently next time, and a couple things I’d like to get better at regardless. Finally, feeling much better overall, I asked myself, So what kind of opportunities should we apply for next? 

The next old friend I reached out to did want to talk—not a tally, but a yes! But, I didn’t hear back about the next opportunity I applied to, which involved being paid to watch a ton of Christmas movies in a short period of time. I don’t know how many book giveaways I’ve entered (these I’m not counting toward my goal number, but they do count as lines in the water). I’m working on a new pitch for a blog idea. And as the year winds down and I struggle to wind down with it, I’m happy with all of these things. 

“Most things in life don’t work out,” Blair said, “But some do. The secret is to love the possibilities.”

Cat Buglary

Allow me to tell you about our Halloween CAT BURGLARY. Which it so say, the cat broke into our house.

When I got home the eve of Halloween, I opened the door to find Tara sitting nearby, seemingly drawn to the sound of the garage door and waiting on me. It was very overcast, but I could see her clearly. I set down my things and picked her up. 

Tyler wasn’t home yet. Tara has been staying on our screened porch when we aren’t home, full of toys and a 6-foot cat condo and her littler box and food and water. It’s kind of kitty heaven. But she had been getting rather cramped with only that one room to explore and run in, so whenever we’re home Tara has the option of being inside with us. So why was my sweet kitty in the house during the day instead of in her kitty kingdom watching squirrels?

I wondered if maybe Tyler forgot to put her out that morning, so I texted him to ask if he knew why she was inside. I let her out in case she needed to use her litter box. I fed her, as normal, and let her back in when she came to the door. 

The cat door between the living room and the porch is currently set so Tara can go out anytime but it won’t swing inward for her to come in from outside at her leisure. 

We’ve been working with her a lot to try to get it into her adorable noggin that she can go out whenever she wants. We’ve held it open for her, bodily pushed her through it (which worked with my roommate’s puppy), and tried to entice her with treats and toys. 

No dice. She refuses to put her head on the door and push it open. Instead, she stands on her back legs and leans against the glass, pawing at us and pulling at our heartstrings, then sits down and politely waits for us to open the French door as she’s used to. But she absolutely knows that her cat door is a magical portal to the Other Side. 

When Tyler texted that he’d definitely put her on the porch that morning, my best guess was that she’d been messing with the cat door, jimmied it open with her claws, and managed to slink inside. And if she managed it once, I felt sure she’d do so again.

We passed a fairly uninteresting All Hallow’s Eve. We watched both Atlanta United and the Nationals lose. Tara took a nap on the back of the sofa. We spent some more time trying to get her to push against the cat door so it would open as its supposed to. (She still didn’t get it. She pawed at the edges and pawed from a different angle, then sat up primly to wait for us to open the door.)

Eventually, we kissed Tara goodnight and put her on the back porch for her 11pm-1am zippies (like zoomies for a dog) and we went to bed. 

I woke up around 4am and couldn’t go back to sleep. Could not. I was thinking about free tampons in schools and tailoring business clothes and all sorts of odd things. My dear husband was laying so his arm was resting on my back. Not in a cute way. I rolled over, out from under his arm, but he just settled into the middle of the bed. The middle is not his side. Annoyed and uncomfortable, I tried to decide if I should shove him back over, which would wake him up, or if I can manage to sleep on the remaining 2/5ths of the bed. I noticed around this time (4:20 or so), that the door to the bedroom was rattling slightly. It does this when the AC cuts on or off, but this rattle was at an irregular rhythm. I sat up and looked at the door. I could see a shadow underneath, moving side to side.

“There’s a cat at our door,” I said aloud. Tyler didn’t move. He was probably asleep, I realized. When I touched his shoulder, he said, “I heard you.” We both sounded incredibly nonplussed about this situation. I got up, saying, “I guess we know how she got inside earlier.” I went to the door, knelt down, and eased the door open. Tara took her time walking in, and started purring as soon as I picked her up. 

I set her down on the bed so she could greet Tyler and he, her. She wasn’t scared. She hadn’t fled the porch in a panic. She was just awake. She had a cool new trick and she was awake, so she used it to come find us. But it was 4:25 in the morning, on Halloween by the way, so I took her back to her porch kingdom. She didn’t seem upset to be there. It wasn’t thundering or raining. Nothing had gotten in with her. She had food and water, which she sniffed. I shut the door and watched her walk to the cat door and start pulling at its edges with her tiny dagger claws (which we really need to clip). 

I adjusted the settings so the door was closed from both directions, and pushed at it to make sure. Then I stuffed a small towel, which we’d been using to take her on magic carpet rides, into the hole so she couldn’t see the light from inside anymore. This, I hoped, would be her “closed” sign. She tapped at the door, but she couldn’t open it. I said goodnight and went back to bed. 

In the morning, she was still on the porch and ready for breakfast. Cat burglary foiled!

Imaginary Raja

As a shy, awkward, noise-sensitive, anxious child, I often imagined I had someone big and strong with me at school. As a kindergartener, I pretended I was friends with the Power Rangers, even lying to my classmates about knowing them to make myself feel less afraid, less unwanted, less small and powerless. When I got older, I imagined Raja, the tiger from from the movie Aladdin. Even older than that, I imagined Aragorn, who I envisioned as my really awesome uncle (making me a sort-of princess) but let’s talk about Raja.

Jasmine was one of my favorite characters. She was interesting and kind, and she had this big, cuddly, protective tiger who helped her, who was on her side 100%, and who was capable of scaring away all the people who made Jasmine feel unsafe and small. Sometimes as I walked in the hallways of my school, hoping to be ignored but desperate to feel special and seen, I imagined I had an invisible Raja with me. I’d even reach out my fingers with one hand when I particularly needed to feel comfort, pretending I could feel Raja’s fur as we walked. Doing so made me feel less alone and more confident. Raja wouldn’t let anything happen to me. Raja was big and strong and on my side. I knew he was there, I could see him, though no one else could.

My Sunday school teachers told me I should remember Jesus was with me, or God, and picture them when I was scared or lonely. (Not that they knew about Raja. I’d learned from the Power Rangers not to try to pass off the lies I told myself to make myself feel better as truths.) But some of the bullies claimed to have Jesus with them too. I couldn’t pit Jesus against himself. Even though I knew Jesus wouldn’t approve of their teasing, I also knew Jesus doesn’t love me more than anyone else. Prayer and other aspects of my faith were very incredibly important to me growing up, but in this matter I didn’t always feel like my faith was helpful. So I pictured Raja. 

I’d lean against his warmth. I’d brush his fur. He’d walk beside me in the halls and curl around my chair in class. Raja would let me lean against him on my bed at home and cry. Raja would sleep between me and the window, which I was afraid some thief or murderer would come through. Raja would bound along beside me at recess and in gym class. Raja would growl at the teacher I loathed and bare his teeth at the kids who were the meanest to me. I had Raja, even if I was the only one who knew it. 

I’d forgotten all about this until recently, when a friend and I were bemoaning how little Raja was developed in the live-action Aladdin, released earlier this year. Raja had been important to both of us, and we’d both been so disappointed not to see more of him in the movie. The admission of Raja’s role in my childhood slipped out, almost before I consciously remembered it myself. I realized I had never told anyone about Raja before. Nor had I remembered my Raja in a long time. But thinking on the character, introduced perhaps for the first time to a new generation of kids through the new movie, I wish that they’d had the supportive, protective figure in Raja that I knew as a kid, and that had so helped me.

Welcoming Fall

Things have been quiet in the office lately. I’m finally caught up, press date has passed. This is the month of the year when I can take a few days off, even a week, and not have a single email in my inbox when I return. I love this time of year. But this month is especially quiet because two coworkers in my department have left in the past two weeks, three in the past two months. And none of them have been replaced yet. We aren’t sure when they might be. 

I feel myself drawing inward. I lean into the quiet, wrap myself in the soft sunshine and hush as I plod along at my work, struggling to motivate myself. I know that any day we could learn there will be a new coworker joining us, and we will gasp into urgent preparations for their arrival, but for now we have no news and no known timeline. 

In fall and winter, I make fewer plans, spend more time reading and crocheting and writing. I emphasize coziness. I light candles. I’ve talked about this before and I don’t want to harp, but I don’t remember my tendency toward drawing inward starting quite this early before. I assume it’s the silence. Like when an unseasonal cold snap sends the trees into color early, though temperatures rise again. 

I spent a little time going through out holiday decoration boxes last week to pull out our fall decorations. I wanted my parent, who visited last weekend, to see them. I’m also just ready for that change. I’m ready for my favorite season. 

I kneeled in the closet under the stairs, opening boxes, listening to Tara scrabble at the underside of the door to try to get to me. I found and stacked the Halloween-specific decorations for Oct. 1 but went ahead and set up the more general fall decorations: ceramic and crocheted pumpkins, the wreath, the welcome mat, a painting. I’ve also bought a few more decorative pumpkins, including one for my desk at work. I recently painted a somewhat Dali-esque pumpkin scene at a local art studio, which leans against the wall on the breakfast bar. I placed the fall decorations around the house and continued to wonder what I should do with all my candles. 

Yesterday, I took the day off and planned to do nothing but put books on my new shelves, bought and brought by my beloved parents. However, I had a headache most of the day, so lay on the sofa and watched Moana. I didn’t even feel up to pulling up Netflix until well into the afternoon. I played with the cat and let her sleep on me. I ate very, very badly. I didn’t read, didn’t plan, and would maybe put two or three handfuls of books on a shelf before I retreated back to the sofa. 

I’m looking forward to experiencing a new season in our new house. I’m excited to continue to decorate for the season, we’ve now officially entered. But I’m also down this year. Not sad exactly. Not depressed. Maybe my headaches are because of an allergen or the seasons changing. I do feel withdrawn, especially at work. Until things get better, so I’m going to enjoy some sunshine. 

Meet Cute: Nemesis

I told this story on Twitter recently, and doing so in just 3 tweets reminded me how much fun it is. 

First! Definitions.

Meet Cute. The moment in a film or book (or real life) when love interests meet for the first time, usually in a cute or slightly unrealistic way. The terms can be used more broadly for any two significant characters meeting for the first time.

Examples: 

  • Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are introduced at a ball and he insults her (Pride & Prejudice)
  • Rapunzel hits Flynn Rider over the head with a frying pan, knocking him out (Tangled)
  • Jane Foster hits Thor with her van, then must take him to the hospital (Thor) 

Nemesis. They don’t necessarily hate each other, but they are rivals in all things. 

Examples: 

  • Thor and Loki (Marvel Cinematic Universe)
  • Harry Potter and Cedric Diggory (Goblet of Fire)
  • Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty (Sherlock Holmes)

Now, to the story of the meet cute with my first nemesis.

On my first day of kindergarten, I and the rest of my class were lined up alphabetically by first name. Directly before me was a boy named Jeremy. This line determined our seats and line order for the rest of the year (and, because our teachers were a little unimaginative, the next two years as well). Jeremy and I sat down next to each other and said hi. He seemed quiet and nice. He liked dinosaurs, but not as much as Bran, who really loved dinosaurs. I liked dinosaurs okay, but I wanted some girls to be friends with. I thought Jeremy and I would be friends. 

I soon learned that Jeremy and I made the top grades in the class. In true Ravenclaw fashion, I’d already decided that good grades would be my thing. I could not be outdone. Not long after, Jeremy broke the rules and talked during class to whisper-ask me how to spell giraffe, which to be honest I still struggle with. I hissed back that he should sound it out. And then I caught him looked at my paper, probably because it was a really confusing lesson and we were both on the wrong page.

That was it! Getting good grades, breaking the rules, and trying to cheat? Three strikes. This kid was now my nemesis.

And I kind of liked him. He had dark hair and he was nice and I liked that he was quiet too. I was painfully shy, but I didn’t feel like I was fading away or being eclipsed when I was around him. Plus, dinosaurs are pretty cool. I liked science. His favorite TV show was Kratt’s Creatures, which was my second favorite show after Wishbone. And yes, I remember how cosmically important I found this information when I learned it due to a class project in second grade. 

The one day in first grade when Jeremy and Bran invited me to play with them on the playground, a bee flew up my pants leg on the swings and stung me twice on the underside of my knee. I had to go to the office and get an ice pack while trying not to cry in front of everyone. They didn’t ask me to play with them again, and I didn’t ask. The universe had already decided: we were nemeses. No crossing of the streams.

Jeremy and I competed against each other from seats directly beside or in front of one another for two and a half years, until I transferred to another school. I went on to have many more nemeses, but Jeremy was my first. 

Fast forward to the summer after my freshman year of college when a bunch of my friends and a bunch of their friends all met up at the drive-in (yes, really) to see Toy Story 3. We’d grown up with the first two movies, so this would be great! So fun! Not heartbreaking at all.

We hung out at the concession stand and amidst everyone’s cars, seeing people we hadn’t seen all year and meeting their friends whom we didn’t know. When the movie started, we mostly ended up crowded on sleeping bags in the backs of the 2 pick-up trucks with the tailgates down. I hit it off with this one guy with dark hair. We sat next to each other, chatted, ugly cried at the end of the movie and tried to hide it—it was great. My friend kept giving me a thumbs up when his back was turned, and discretely distracted people who also wanted to talk to us.

That night after we all went home to tend out mosquito bites and cuddle our childhood toys, the guy found me on Facebook and sent me a message. When I saw his last name, my excitement was immediately replaced with stone-cold dread. I knew that name. 

“Uh oh,” he wrote, “I think we were elementary school rivals.”

It was him. Jeremy. Nemesis #1. He’d found me.

Except, there was no reason to be nemeses now.

“It’s YOU,” I messaged back. “You were my first nemesis! I thought you looked familiar.”

“Yup. We were the original Pepsi and Coke. So how have you been?”

He had a girlfriend. 

So close, universe. So close.