Perfect Timing

I don’t want to be dramatic, but the other night I was standing in my boyfriend’s kitchen when he asked me, “If you were to write a blog post about the past two months and send it back in time to yourself, would you have believed it?”

So, you know, he started it.

“But, Katie,” you begin, “What are you talking about? Who’s this boyfriend?”

Well, his name is Tyler. And even though I’ve known him for 9.5 years and counting, I don’t know that a detailed blog post from myself to myself could have prepared me for how much of my life has changed in such a relatively short amount of time. We’ve often said to each other, “Two weeks ago/A month ago/Two months ago, I could never have imagined I’d be here with you.” We say this while watching a movie or taking cinnamon rolls out of the oven, while holding hands at the park or spearing roast duck from the other one’s plate.

Here’s the short of it: I went to work, went home, co-lead a Bible study, hung out with my roommate, went on walks or to dinner with friends, wrote a bit, read a lot, and watched a lot of movies. Now I go to work, go home, co-lead a Bible study, set aside time to hang out with my roommate, pick one or two friends to see this week, write a little bit, read when I can, and almost everything I watch is with Tyler. Almost all my dinners are with Tyler, too. I see him almost every day, but we definitely text every day. I seem to spend more time at his apartment than my home, except for when I’m sleeping. And I’m incredibly happy. And as much time as I spend with him, I want to see him more.

I’m still working on the balance: not neglecting my roommate and friends; writing more, reading more, sleeping more (I don’t know what I’d do less). I’m more regularly having a quiet time, but the content is more Bible-reading and less praying than it used to be. The dust bunnies are forming an army and I haven’t seen the bottom of the laundry hamper since New Year’s.

So what if I’d known? Six months back, two years back, five years back, what if I’d gotten a letter from myself? As starry-eyed as I might be right now (although I don’t think I am, I know it’s probably true), I’m not pining at all the time we “wasted” not being together. That wasn’t wasted time. Not at all. I needed these years to become this person, right now, who’s finally ready to devote myself in a relationship. This person who can trust, who isn’t so racked with fear and insecurity that she can’t stand to be special to a man. He needed that time to grow, too. And if I’d gotten that letter, I wouldn’t have waited.

If I’d told myself who, even if I’d told myself the exact day we began and how it happened and everything since then, I would have been too nervous to look at him for ages and then too wound up and impatient to wait for the natural course. It would have been Sarah and Hagar and Abraham all over again (but without the slavery and stuff). I would have wanted to fast-track all my present happiness and shove it in the midst of all the life I was busy living four years ago, three years ago, eight months ago. And I would have been astounded, devastated when it didn’t work.

I’m not like David. If I’d been anointed the future monarch as a child or young teen, I would not have waited those 20-40 years God spent preparing Israel and David for the throne. At the very least, tempted by so many opportunities to kill Saul, I would have had some serious “Really, God?” prayer sessions. (Which is not to say that David didn’t; the psalms are full of his honest laments, complaints, confessions, and praises.) But I also would have thrown in my towel and quietly plotted to take the capitol, take the throne, take the kingdom. I’d been anointed, after all. King Saul was no longer good for the country, after all. Surely Saul wandering into this cave is a divine opportunity.

I would have been a terrible David, a terrible king, a terrible follower of God. No, I am far more like Sarah, prone to frustration and calculation and impatience and second guessing. What if God’s promise isn’t going to come the way we thought? Did we really hear all that right? Are we remembering it right? This is so hard; I don’t think God meant this. How can I nudge things along? God does help those who help themselves!

A week after a friend became a Christian, we were leaving the church building and chatting and generally being pokey about it all. From the circle of a conversation in the parking lot, I watched my friend walk up to the pair of glass doors at the entrance and deliberately pushed the right handle. Locked. Then he pulled it. Again, locked. He pulled the left handle. Locked. With a nod to himself, he stepped in front of the left door and pushed it open.

A few minutes later, he explained to us that he had visited the church two years before. He’d gotten there a little late. The doors were closed, the greeters had taken their seats, and no one else was coming in. He’d pushed and pulled the doors three different ways. Then, believing the church completely locked to him, turned and went away. He remembered it so well that he knew exactly what he’d done to each door, in what order, and he knew that all he’d missed was pushing on the left handle. If he’d exhausted that fourth and final option—if he’d noticed that he hadn’t—he would have come into that church two years earlier. Disheartened, we fumbled over our regrets and apologies, but he shook his head, smiling: “God’s timing is perfect.”

These past two months with Tyler, I have often thought of that friend, of his confession of faith on the sidewalk that afternoon: God’s timing is perfect.

Praise be to God!

The Land Basketball Forgot

I suppose no one made a big deal of March Madness in college because Georgia Southern didn’t have a standout men’s or women’s basketball team. It must have felt disloyal for students and faculty who carefully follow March Madness every year to tout their Duke-dominated brackets.

Or maybe I just didn’t notice. Spring was always so full: azaleas, breezy dresses, carpenter bees, voluntary walks, reopened pools, spring break, spring classes, and The Great Duckling Count. I usually went with friends to one or two basketball games a season, but that was long over by March.

No, the first time March Madness settled itself on my radar was the first year I started at the publishing company where I presently work. A coworker came around with finger guns, asking everyone if they wanted to compare brackets.

“Brackets?” I asked him.

The beat which followed told me I really ought to know this. But I’m still in my first 6 months! I thought, I don’t know this tradition yet.

Except it wasn’t a company tradition, it is a national one. I returned home one day a few weeks later to find my roommate, who I could hardly convince to watch a single college football game with me, in rapt study of a Tennessee women’s game.

Eventually, I figured it out. March Madness is a national phenomenon. And I’m from the land basketball forgot.

Not intentionally, of course. But we don’t have professional teams in SC. We live and breathe the Clemson-Carolina rivalry because that’s basically all we have. If we must choose loyalty in baseball, the Braves are the closest. If we must choose in the NFL, the closest team is either the Falcons or the Panthers. (I know, the Carolina Panthers. But they play in NC and all the revenue goes to NC. Plus, when I was growing up, the Panthers sucked.)

I suppose I should specify that other areas of SC may well feel kinship for a team based on proximity to a border shared with GA or NC, but not so on my island. The state sort of looks like a piece of pie, the crust partially broken off to the north, and I’m from the gooey tip. I would have to travel to and through the crust to reach the Panthers. Atlanta, too, is about 6 hours away. So we residents of this land basketball forgot lean back with our water sports and our Clemson or Carolina coozies, never knowing that basketball carries raucously on without us each spring.

But, the internet. Travel. ESPN! Yes, you’d think a late 80s child who grew up in the 90s wouldn’t have been so insulated to the ways of that pimpled orange ball thwacking polished wooden floors all over the country. We certainly learned to play basketball in gym class—my brother even played basketball in high school—but we didn’t learn that basketball matters any more in March than at any other time.

Imagine my shock a year after I discovered March Madness when Macon’s own Mercer University not only made it to the playoffs, but beat Duke. The city shut down for the afternoon games. We took long lunch breaks to watch, coworkers clustered around computers to watch together.

Imagine my further shock a few days ago when, asking a group of coworkers what I should know about March Madness this year, I was told that South Carolina’s men’s team is doing really well. And it’s not a Mercer-esque underdog shot, either. Still, I was assured they wouldn’t beat Duke.

Except they did.

So maybe the land basketball forgot is just the county where I grew up. Or maybe it’s just the little spot where I’m standing.

Update: South Carolina is now in the final four! And that’s a big deal, apparently! A friend texted when they won to (a) inform me, and (b) ask if I’d caught the March Madness yet. But at this point, I think my lack of engagement is a winning strategy.

Complaining to Eve

I recently spoke to a woman who asked me if, when I went through a mild bout of depression last fall, I ever felt angry at God. I considered the question seriously, analyzing that time in my memory, what I wrote, how I prayer, how I spoke, and how I viewed God then versus now. I remembered that sense I often get of leaning against a sturdy tower with arms. [God is the tower, and sometimes I feel the arms reach around me in comfort. But the tower will never turn me away. (John 6:37; Psalm 32:7)] I didn’t think of that image much which I was depressed, but my fundamental understanding of God still matches it.

“No,” I told her. “I don’t think I was.”

We talked about ways we do place blame, and she mentioned that several people she knows want to have it out with Eve in heaven, and that she expects there will be a line.

Now, I personally hope that the heaven-bound will have let go of their complaints, no longer seeking restitution for the wrongs committed against them. However, I’ve been imagining that scene a lot.

Eve and Adam are standing beneath trees in the “New Eden” neighborhood of heaven, a line of people stretching out past the horizon, all waiting to air their complaints with the first people about their sufferings on Earth. By far, the longer line is Eve’s. People want to vent at her, blame her, and Eve takes it with gentle patience. Eve, who had no understanding of the depth and breadth of the consequences of her sin, explains again and again, apologizes again and again. We, at least, know what sin and death are. We rarely accurately predict the consequences of our own sins, but we have a much better idea than Eve did. And Eve didn’t act alone. Adam was with her, in charge of communicating God’s single rule to his wife, and is not recorded as saying anything to her as she sinned. And, when she handed him some of the fruit, he sinned it, too. And I’ll bet most people in his line just want to shake his hand.

One could argue that no sinner ever suffered as much as Eve. First, she experienced perfection without care or worry, then was driven from her home to a life marked (though not dominated by) pain, danger, and regret. Furthermore, she is the one blamed for everything from murders to lust to idolatry to menstrual cramps to natural disasters to cancer. And yes, she did introduce sin to the world, but her husband is not innocent.

If there is a literal Eve and a literal Adam who I might could visit and speak with in heaven, I would join the line. But once I arrived at the front, I think I would just hug her. And if Adam’s line wasn’t too long, I’d get into it for the sake of fairness. Hopefully I won’t be tempted to tell him off—but if people are telling Eve off then Adam should get his fair share, too. But I hope I’d just hug him. He suffered, too. They lost their relationship with God, their home, their innocence, their child Able, and ultimately their lives. And they are my family. In so many ways, even if the first humans look more like Lucy than me, I am just like them. I am a sinner. I do the wrong things. Knowingly, intentionally, I hurt others, hurt myself, try to hurt God. And, like the first humans, I will one day die.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, which is the 40-day period leading to Easter. During Lent, we consider Jesus’ journey to the the cross, the instrument of his torture and death even though he had literally never done a single thing wrong. (Mary, his mother, would likely have disagreed. Especially that time Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem and didn’t tell anyone.) We also consider our own mortality and sinfulness. The ashes themselves symbolize both death and repentance.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Dust and ash (sin and death) are the final equalizers. The only difference that will remain is what we did with our sin. Did we look at the wrongs of our lives—the systematic ignoring of our Creator, the pretending we are in control, our imagined versions of fairness—and ask God for forgiveness? Did we ask for changed hearts that beat a new rhythm that brings peace and healing to all the world? Did we sit down and say, “I don’t know it all and I’m not in control and I’m okay with God being in control instead”?

Remember: we are dust. And to dust we will return.

A History in Scarves

In the back and forth of this winter’s weather, from 34 degree mornings to 78 degree afternoons, I’ve been using a lot of scarves. My scarf repertoire is pretty extensive, but also relatively new.

The first scarf I ever owned was blue, downy, fluffy, and given to me by a middle and high school friend named Chelsey. I still have it and used to wear it to cold Georgia Southern football games. I also wore it skiing, along with my bright blue snow bib and pale blue ski jacket and Tarheel blue gloves, which is when I discovered that my scarf was quite ineffective against actual cold.

The first scarf I bought for myself was on the street in Barcelona. Okay, actually we were in Parc Guell by the bus parking lot. I wouldn’t have stopped but several of the others in my group had, so I felt safe doing so. I fell in love with the lightest, shiniest pink polyester scarf. Plyed with a “buy two, get one free” deal, I also bought a rich sky blue and a red and orange ombre. The pink and the blue I let an acquaintance borrow four or five years later, along with several dresses, because she was going to the same area of West Africa that I’d visited the year before. The scarves would cover her head as local custom demanded and and the dresses, which I’d bought there, would ingratiated her more quickly. She never returned them. I keep my orange and red scarf hanging in my closet, wearing it only once or twice a year.

I bought my next scarf—black, and currently hanging from the coat hook at my desk—from a vendor outside Primark on Oxford Street in London. I also bought a white one, possibly because of some sort of sale. I draped them over my shoulders in chilly classrooms and crisp evening streets. I draped and swirled and knotted and loved them. Where I wore hoodies in high school for warmth and armor, here was an elegant alternative suitable to a wider temperature range. I wore my scarves to the theatre and stuffed them into my bags.

That same summer, I bought a light, wide lavender scarf I had to fold many times to avoid blanket dimensions and to provide a touch of warmth. I wore it with a white blouse and grey skirt to Les Mis. At Javert’s suicide, I clutched it to me like Fantine and stumbled down the stairs from the Upper Circle, coughing so roughly that an attendant from the bar on the top floor and the coat checker from the lobby took to the staircase to search for me, one descending and the other ascending until they met each other, and me, in the middle.

My mother bought me an airy pale pink scarf from The Gap, so soft that I ran my fingers through and through it, still wanting it even thought we found a hole near one end. And because I wanted few things so much, she bought it for me. I liked to wear it to poetry readings and student panels in college, along with jeans, a white long-sleeve shirt, and my black pleather motorcycle jacket.

A very dear college friend returned from a year in China and gifted me a bamboo compact and a short silk scarf depicting the letters of an ancient poem. I keep the compact on my vanity and hardly ever wear the scarf. It is the most precious of all.

When I returned to England after I graduated college, I bought scarves quickly, cheap or expensive, to match outfits and coats, to warm and shield me, twice just to make me feel better, and once because my flatmate told me a lilac scarf gathered into puffs and waves didn’t look like me. When moving home again, I gave a few away. The rest, including the often-worn lilac-colored one, I stuffed into the corners of my suitcases until each seam held its breath.

The first scarf I completed was too irregular and short for an adult, so I gave it to a hot-blooded boy I babysat. Other than the moment I passed it to his mother and she tied it around his neck, I don’t believe he ever wore it.

The second scarf I made was more even, every stitch tight, especially when my flatmate (who’d taught me) was speaking. I never could regulate modest tension with her there, complaining and criticizing (even if it wasn’t about me). I’d pull my stitches so tight with unvoiced frustration, then she’d exclaim “watch your tension” and I’d want to hurl the entire thing, skein and metal needles and all, at her face. So I tried not to knit when she was in the room. Rather, I knitted while watching Merlin after she went to bed, in Edinburgh while she napped, on the bus to see the friend she didn’t like, in the kitchen while she Skyped with her boyfriend in her bedroom. I even took my needles on the plane home, getting the most done during the layover in Newark. I had five hours to eat Frosty’s and knit and reacquaint myself to the accents of so many Americans. But I never did finish that scarf.

I can’t regulate tension well wherever I am, so I asked a student at a later employment to teach me to crochet. I graduated from hats to scarves and taught others. In the four years since I first learned, I have gifted and been gifted scarves. Red knit, pink linen, gold crochet hang in my closet or lay rolled in a drawer. Two-toned reds with gold thread and ribbons of coral and cream appear in photos taken in cities I’ve never visited. My friends have frequently asked me whether or not I made the scarf I’m wearing. I learn new patterns, working and working the material between my fingers, working and working to keep its softness from the dog’s mouth, playing with colors and volume, keeping the skeins off the floor and away from the dog hair (so much dog hair).

I don’t crochet much anymore. There’s too much dog hair. I most often miss it when I’m at work, wishing I could spend my lunch break in the armchair by the window, intricately knotting yarn, my fingers worked as I listen to something soothing. But my work is always at home, with boxes and bags of skeins I haven’t touched in months. And at least one scarf is rarely far from me, at work, at home, in my car, if not around my neck.

A Single Woman’s Valentine’s Day

If you’re a single woman, Valentine’s Day probably goes something like this.

Wake up, wear red or pink. It usually doesn’t matter what you wear, but you want to be festive. Plus, you don’t want people to think you’re bitter or lonely or pining (especially if you are). I remember the Vtines day in high school when I accidentally wore black. I wear black all the time, but that day my outfit got looks and questions. Thankfully, I’m an adult now, but it’s still the sort of thing people notice and read in to.

Go to work. It’s a normal day, after all. When someone asks your married and dating coworkers what their plans are for the day, the married usually shrug and mention going out to dinner. They might talk about the Daddy-Daughter dance at church. The dating are more likely to have elaborate plans. They may or may not ask you about your plans, because you are single, and everyone around you seems to feel a little uncomfortable with that today.

The thing is, you do have plans. You are a single woman on Single Awareness Day. You are cooking your favorite chicken marsala or marathoning Jane Austen movies or getting together with your cohort of single female friends for excessive amounts of ice cream. One year, my roommate and I watched Fried Green Tomatoes with the biggest sundaes Baskin Robbins offered. The next day, we took a day trip to Juliette, where the movie had been filmed, for antiquing and lunch at the Whistle Stop Cafe. Another year, I babysat friends’ small children so they could go out. But you, like I, definitely have plans.

On your lunch break, you may buy yourself flowers or a new candle and stock up on cheesecake and cookie dough. You’ll come in for the half-priced candy tomorrow, but you need a plan for your break, too. So you go shopping. Or meet a friend at Panera. Or start a new book, something sweet and swoony or maybe a murder mystery. You do not scroll through your ex’s timeline. Not even once.

When work is over, you refuse to look at Facebook or Insta or Snapchat. You might even turn off notifications before your feeds are taken over by people live-tweeting their fancy dinners and snapping kissing selfies. A swath of big-rocked rings will appear before midnight. You’ll have to say something nice about those—and you are happy for those couples—but you can do that tomorrow. Tonight, it’s you and your plan of choice, which you embrace with gusto.

It’s not a sad day, but it is kind of an eggshell day. And the hardest part is bedtime. You laughed so hard during your marathon of The Good Place, or your chest broke open during A Walk to Remember, and all those emotions have exhausted you. Maybe you were comforted by the kids (or girl friends) who cuddled with you on the couch. And now it’s quiet. Your friends aren’t here. And no matter how worn out you are, no matter how much fun you had, it’s still Valentine’s Day. And you still didn’t have the kind of day you’re supposed to have, whether or not you even want that kind of day.

It’s hard. It’s not the hardest thing, but don’t beat yourself up for feeling lonely or annoyed or angry. Try to be generous, with yourself and others. Try to have fun. But remember: you aren’t “sad” for not having a romantic partner today and you aren’t “pathetic” for not having a gaggle of friends to spend it with, either. You’re having the best day you can, and you are awesome.

On Mongols and Walls

One day last week, I spent my lunch break in a tree-lined parking lot, eating a salad in my car and listening to the audiobook of The Secret History of the Mongol Queens. That day’s chapter was about the political, military, and environmental factors that went into the building of the Great Wall of China. That Mandukhai Khatun (Queen Mandukhai the Wise to us English-speaking peons) was a credit to her ancestor Ghengis Khan, as almost none of his other descendants were. Also, Commander Wang Yue of the Ming Dynasty was quite the poet in his military reports.

Here’s the gist. The Mongols were in the habit of raiding the fertile pastureland of the Yellow River (also called the Black, Green, or Red River, depending on which people group you ask). The Mongols had once held this territory and wanted it back, in part to provide good grassland for their horses. But it wasn’t grassland at the time; it was farmland, because the Chinese were using that area to feed their empire. The Chinese had to trade with the Mongols for horses because they were farming the pastureland and prices rose. The Chinese military leaders were incapable of defending the border towns and spent most of their time either waiting for news of an attack or futilely chasing after the Mongols, always one town behind.

So, once a favorable cost-benefit analysis was presented to the Ming court, a Chinese courtesan basically said, “Yeah, this is definitely the best option. It’s much more civilized than posting more soldiers up there…or feeding them adequately, or paying them adequately, or training them at all.” This statement was followed with a chorus of, “We’re incredibly civilized! We’re so super civilized, you guys.” (The Ming built entire tribute system on encouraging others to become what the Ming considered to be “civilized,” which just meant being as much like the Ming as possible.)

“A wall is far more humane than killing the poor barbarians who we can never seem to catch, let alone defend against,” reasoned some courtesan. “The wall will keep our farmer-soldiers from deserting us and the Mongols from raiding us. It’s brilliant! So simple.”

And that kind of double-speak to justify a wall sounds rather familiar, in tone if not in words. And walls are such good ideas! Walls solve everything. There’s no problem a big, strong wall can’t fix. Just ask the Chinese, whose wall may or may not have directly contributed to the Ming dynasty’s fall. (No, really! Historians and economists disagree about how much the wall had to do with the empire’s fall. This wasn’t my area of emphasis in my history degree, either, so I’m not going to weigh in. However, most historians agree that the wall served as a symbol of the dynasty’s downfall, and still does today.)

That’s basically what I remember about the Great Wall from my school days. I learned that the wall was built in parts first, then connected, and lots of people died in the process. I learned the great wall isn’t straight because the Chinese believed that evil spirits follow straight lines, and I learned that the wall didn’t really work.

Now, to be fair, the region did stabilize economically after the completion of the wall and a failed Mongol raid in 1482, but the stability likely had as much to do with the legacy of Mandukhai Khatun’s rule (remember, she’s the really cool Mongol queen directly descended from Ghengis Khan) as it did the wall. In terms of repelling invasions, though, the wall did precious little in the 130 years between completion and the dynasty’s fall.

So, to anyone wanting a new wall, literally or figuratively, let me point out a few things that the Ming didn’t know when they built theirs.

1. Racism hurts everyone. That includes you, no matter what ethnicity you are. You may not feel the effects in the short-term (though Chinese and Mongol people died because of that wall), but you better believe that future generations are going to shake their heads in frustrated disgust at you. And no one loves to tear things down more than the young, jaded idealists who grew up in a big wall’s shadow. (Berlin, anyone?)

2. There’s no such thing as a simple solution. Not in border disputes, not in economics, not in policy, not in life. The complex problems that people build walls to try to solve will not be solved once a wall is complete. Rather, the problems will morph, affecting new aspects of society and causing entirely new problems, or they will swell until the wall can no longer hold back the flood.

3. Avoid building symbols of power. They are too fragile to maintain and protect, but become too important psychologically to let fall. If the symbol goes, so does the illusion of your strength. You’ll invest immeasurable amounts of time, energy, money, and other resources defending your symbol, and you’ll have to continue long after it’s outlasted its original usefulness. Or long after you realize it never fulfilled its original purpose. You won’t be able to defend it from others or get rid of it yourself (ie, US sanctions against Cuba, maintained until after Fidel Castro’s death).

Clearly, I’m not outlining my own complex solutions to the world’s ills. But I am cautioning us to really think through the literal and figurative walls being built in US foreign policy.

Thank you, Carrie Fisher.

Every freshman at my alma mater had to attend a certain number of enrichment presentations—skits or lectures or plays—for our ‘intro to college’ class. Of those I attended that first semester, I only remember two. One was about consent (yay!), the other was about…well, courage, I guess. It was called Major in Success and attempted to get us to buy the speaker’s book (I did) and to think about what really makes us happy. He told stories about other college students he’d met and helped, about gloriously successful people in their respective fields who’d once been doing other things. He encouraged us to find a way to make that really happy, fulfilling thing in our lives our major, and promised success would come.

It’s a little hokey, but the part I most remember was when he asked the question, “If you could do whatever you wanted and you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you do?” Talking it over with my roommates that night, I said I wanted to be a novelist. The rightness of that moment solidified in me and has defined by long-term goals in the decade since. Judgeship was out. Law school was out. History teacher was out. I realigned my life and goals and on I’ve marched since then.

Until November 9, 2016.

I’ve had no desire to publish since that date. None. It evaporated. Or exploded. Or was sucked out of me in that single, pain-blurred moment I can barely remember when I opened the BBC news election page and realized Donald Trump had won. My desire to publish had been a constant of my identity and inner world for nine years, and it’d been whispering in my head far longer than that. I felt robbed, horrified, and guilty that people were at risk of losing their rights if not their lives, but I merely felt bereft of my dream.

Then things got worse.

About a week after the election, I was fighting depression and didn’t know it. I lacked vitality, energy, motivation. I could not get enough sleep. I didn’t know why I couldn’t write letters and call representatives like I had the week after the election. I didn’t know why it was so hard to craft a tweet, though I kept retweeting. I had trouble praying. I kept writing—completing NaNo—but took none of my usual joy in it.

As my depression worsened, I would sit at my computer feeling wretchedly guilty for being so inefficient, so distracted, so unproductive, but every email I read cost me something, as did every paragraph of my answer. I couldn’t drive across the street to the store for food and Christmas shopping made me want to lie down and never get back up. In the evenings, I lay on the couch and watched a Hallmark Christmas movie. Or two. Then I went to bed.

I had almost no appetite so I let myself eat whatever I felt like or whatever I easily had on hand. The one time I tried to bully myself into eating an actual breakfast with actual nutrition, I made a dozen breakfast casseroles in a muffin tin and forced myself to eat one standing in the kitchen. I threw the rest away a week later, feeling like a ridiculous failure that even reheating had been beyond me.

Caught off guard by a coworker asking about NaNo, I confessed that I felt like I was dying. He assumed it was because NaNo was hard or I was behind on my word counts. I wasn’t.

I don’t know if the election result was a trigger or just bad timing. The situation was never far from my mind, though. I felt despondent, pessimistic, fearful, hopeless, and unable to face the next year, let alone the next four. I didn’t want to die or be dead, but I wanted to be unaware. Not hiding in a hole somewhere, more like unconscious. I wanted to sleep away the next four years. That’s all I felt capable of doing. And I felt incredibly guilty that I wasn’t joining those who I knew were already fighting for people’s rights.

After about a month of this, I emailed my best friend, telling her I wasn’t okay and asking her to pray for me. Explaining my symptoms was the first time I thought I might be depressed. In her reply, she gently suggested the same thing.

Just having a name to it helped. I read up and talked to more people about it. I ordered books and sweatshirts. I found a graphic novel that made me laugh aloud and read it over and over. One weekend when I had a cold, I left work at noon, went through the drive-thru for a dozen Krystals, got in bed with a book, and read it. I ate Krystals, read, fell asleep, woke up, finished the book. I ate more Krystals and started another book. I didn’t get up more than necessary the entire weekend and refused to feel guilty about it because I had a cold. Nevermind that I was also depressed.

I’m not really sure when I came out of the depression. I got up the Monday after Christmas knowing a friend was coming for the day, but until then the house was empty and still. I organized books, cleaned, started laundry, then met my friend for lunch and had a great day with her. She’d suffered depression the year before, and I could tell she understood what I’d been going through by the way she nodded and leaned in as I spoke, even before she shared some of her struggles. We looped arms and walked and walked, swapping book recommendations and snarking at bad Christmas novels on the second-hand bookstore’s clearance racks. It was the first really good day I’d had since the first week of November.

But I didn’t know if I’d be okay the next day. (I didn’t know that about depression until my first good day, how every new day is laced with uncertainty: Will today be the day it comes back?)

The next day was another good day, except that was the day Carrie Fisher passed away.

So many others have written about what she means and meant to them. I won’t add to it, except to say that I’d been following news of her closely since she first fell ill, and I’d been revisiting some of my favorites of her work. That day, once she was gone, I finally started listening to The Princess Diarist on audiobook. I wanted to sink into her insight and humor and honesty. I wanted to hear her voice again.

Perhaps an hour into the book, my desire to publish surged back. I could feel it returning, slower than it left me, beating in me until it was solid. I don’t exactly know how Carrie Fisher inspired that, but I believe she did. My depression didn’t magically go away—I still had some bad days, but none of them were anywhere close to the bad days of December. I also had more good days than bad, then a whole week of good, then I stopped counting how long since the last bad day. My energy is still a little low and my progress is slow, but I’m working again. And I want to publish one day.

Thank you, Carrie Fisher. If Donald Trump stole my dream, you pulled me back to it.

“No imagination, I guess.”

For the sake of privacy, I am going to be scant on certain details.

I went on vacation to a warm place on the coast. I was visiting a friend, we fell in with a local artist, and this artist took us to romp around a local, undeveloped island. There we met some of the people who live there, essentially off the grid, who have solar panels and cell phones but sleep in tents on land none of them own. They drag cast-off furniture up from the beach and cook over a campfire surrounded by rocks. This particular morning, when we appeared on the path and the artist called out her greetings, their leader invited the three of us into their camp.

After introductions, the islanders chatted with the artist, with whom they are familiar and friendly, catching up with her and catching her up. The biggest events since they’d last seen her related to an inflated sofa tucked between some trees on the island’s north side and a spat with usurpers who’d come to the island. These men had set up camp beside the tent of a couple who were now sitting beside the fire. The men had set up in the same clearing without asking permission and then had refused to move. They’d stayed up late making noise and moving around beside the couple’s tent, generally being pests until, one day while the couple was off the island, they ripped down their tent and threw their stuff into the trees. The woman wanted to retaliate with glitter bombs, which I thought a rather restrained response considering, but the mother of the island (a steady woman who spoke so rarely that every word had ten times the weight of anyone else’s) had advised against. And so, even the talk of retaliation had stopped. The male leader explained how unreasonable these people were, how the islanders around this fire would have helped them make another camp elsewhere, and been good neighbors to them, if they’d only asked.

He asked several times, clearly still frustrated, “Why move right there? Why take over someone else’s camp?” The others kept reiterating how close they’d set up their tent to the couple’s, how hot that camp is in summer, how each of them—even the mother—had tried to convince them to give the camp back to the couple.

“Why do it?” asked the leader again and again. “Why would someone be that way?” And as I studied the woven armoire adorned by parrot feathers, he answered his own question: “No imagination, I guess.”

It seemed like such a strange conclusion, that I turned back to him.

He said, “I guess they couldn’t look at a place and see its potential. I guess they were afraid of settling somewhere new, where they didn’t know if it’d flood on high moon tides or be covered by birds in winter. Not that we wouldn’t have told them. But maybe they couldn’t picture how it could be. I suppose they thought, ‘Well, these people have been living here for years so it must be an okay camp.’”

Still frustrated but clearly resigned to this new conclusion, he sighed, “Just no imagination, I guess.”

I distrust people with no imagination. No imagination to put themselves in another’s shoes, no imagination to reinvent a space or schedule so it’ll work for them. People who say, “Don’t ever change.” People who believe that society and systems won’t ever change.

Which is not to say that I’m fantastic at this. I try hard to imagine what might have created this fist-clenched woman in front of me or this selfish, vapid man. I try to consider who they might become, who I might become, and speak kindly. I try to look beyond “Well, this works for now/ever” and see what would make me happier. I don’t want to be someone with no imagination. I don’t want to mooch off of other people’s attempts to improve their lives. I don’t want to dismiss someone else’s way of living simply because haven’t lived that way. I don’t want to say I’m a dog person because, actually, I’ve never lived with a cat.

The leader’s words struck me as strange at the time. By way of explanations, it seemed shallow, a mite compared to the usurpers’ behavior. But the more I think on it, the more I do see the leader’s sense.

So, this week, I’m taking Birdie’s advice in You’ve Got Mail (one of my favorite movies). I’m daring to imagine that I can have a different life.

I’m not talking about huge changes necessarily. Getting up earlier, shifting some furniture, volunteering at a hospital, starting to dance again. I won’t do them all, but I’m imagining. And I’m daring to imagine bigger things, too, like living on a boat with a friend, trying online dating, taking singing lessons, pursuing my master’s, traveling abroad again.

I do love so much about my life, but it seems like a really good time to imagine.

A Resolution

I never thought I’d be someone with so many pairs of shoes.

I own 28 pairs of shoes. Five pairs are slippers: three for winter and two for summer. Nine are heels: three wedges and the rest have varying degrees of height and colors and patterns. I own six pairs of flats, four pairs of boots, three pairs of tennis shoes, and one pair of sandals. Of those, I probably ought to give away two pairs and throw away four more. I wear all the others.

You don’t care about my shoes. I think of it now because there are a lot of things that I do now I didn’t expect I’d ever do. I remember watching the movie Marie Antoinette when I was a senior in high school and feeling astounded that shoes were treated as such a decadence. I knew enough about that era of French history to know that this aspect of the movie was flavored to resonate with modern America culture, but I also knew that I didn’t match culture in that way. Even earlier, probably in middle school, I remember professing confusion to my mother that people ever have so many shoes. I had two or three pairs to match my Sunday church dresses, tennis shoes for school, and a pair of brown leather sandals that I wore constantly at home.

How could anyone ever need a dozen or more pairs of shoes? Basic black, alternative brown, and white handled all my dresswear needs, sandals covered comfort, and my sneakers took me from math class to PE to choir rehearsal to the grocery store. Now I have black flats, royal blue flats, sky blue flats, sparkle and non-sparkle varieties of plum flats, nude flats, nude heels, nude wedges (all of which are really varying shades of light tan).

And I don’t actually need them all. So many people would love to have a single pair of shoes, or one nice pair to wear to work, or tennis shoes that don’t have to be duct-taped on. Some people would very gladly go without if only they could buy a decent pair for their child, or parent, or sibling.

I own 28 pairs of shoes and I don’t know how my teenaged self would see me. Would she look at all the shoes and lift a single eyebrow at me over her shoulder? Would she watch me walk into work with my sunglasses on top of my head—so pompous—and my purse dangled from my elbow—so lazy—and be appalled? What would she think of my ballet bun, or my sparkly green tights, or my rainboots by the back door?

I no longer obsess over whether every minute aspect of my image to the world projects my intended effect…which was usually shapeless smart girl. My jeans, sneakers, and hoodie were my armor. But in truth, I’ve come to do a lot of things teen-me despised, or just didn’t get, because they were easy.

I started wearing sunglasses a lot more after I had eye surgery, but I want to look people in the eye, so I slide them up and down on my head a lot. I also forget about them when I’m in stores. And my purse is way larger and heavier now than it was, in part to hold the books and notebooks and umbrella I often carry with me. Getting it up on my shoulder for a short walk isn’t a priority, and I’m likely to get annoyed if one or both straps slip off. Also, my hair is longer, and the literal pain of my hair caught under the straps is a familiar foe. As for the tights—I love wearing black but I also love color, so I often wear colorful tights and a black dress. And those cheap green sparkle tights make me happy.

I’m explaining here, so I’m pretty sure I’d try to justify these things to my younger self, too. I remember how I judged people for wearing sunglasses on their heads and for their absurd number of shoes. That, too, was a kind of armor, and a cruel one.

Maybe if my younger self knew how I got here, understood the inconsequential why’s, teen-me would be less critical of other people, especially other women. And, selfishly, maybe she would be able to look past the elbow purse and see how I move through the world, and I hope she’d like the kind of person I am now.

I know I’m happier than teenaged me. I know I’m so much more confident, and that means I hurt less intensely and less frequently. I’m afraid less. This maybe be typical teenager angst, but I was so self-conscious, terrified of both being seen and being ignored.

I wish I could lessen her pain, boost her confidence, all those things. But she was also pretty great already.

She loved things wholeheartedly, and was so disciplined and so funny and so awed by things that I now completely ignore. She was a warrior, too, walking into a school she hated, sitting by peers who had bullied her or who dismissed her, enduring as best she could while smiling and working hard and being kind and trying to be kinder. I admire her so much. I would want her to like me, to be proud of and excited to become me. And maybe, by that comfort, she’d be happier, less afraid, less armor-encased, less judgmental.

I want who I am now to be approachable and relatable to teens who currently are like I was then. I can’t go back and make my younger self hurt less, but I’d really like to do that for some other teen, some other child. And that’s something I want to be mindful of this year.

Reflecting on Autumn

On the Fall Equinox, I shared some of the things I was most looking forward to this season: hot chocolate, bonfires, holidays, NaNo, crisp skies, candles, chili, peace on Earth and goodwill toward one another.

Well, things haven’t really gone that way. This autumn was dominated by:
-the election of Trump;
-the bombardment of Aleppo;
-the stand against the North Dakota Pipeline;
-a bout of mild depression;
-a lack of enthusiasm about my NaNo project, catching up with friends, cleaning, cooking, or almost anything (see “depression”);
-a vicious cold that sequestered me in bed for 3 straight days and a string of migraines; 
-over 70 days without rain, necessitating a burn ban (no bonfires) and shriveling leaves, making them drop sooner;
-wildfires that destroyed thousands of acres and hundreds of homes, killed countless animals and half a dozen people, and clogged the sky with smoke;
-very warm weather marked by cold fronts that dropped the temperature by 20-40 degrees in a single day;
-porch renovations I’m excited about but that make the backyard look and smell like a construction site;
-the dog’s thievery and shedding, which have made me unwilling to crochet.

As a result, I haven’t spent my time in the ways I expected. I can’t fully explained why the election bottomed out my personal motivation or if that mild bout of depression was a coincidence. But my autumn has largely consisted of reading, donating money, writing letters to my congressmen, calling those congressmen, signing petitions, debriefing with friends, and creating talking points in case an argument breaks out at a family gathering. I’ve been inside more than normal, from smoke to construction to illness. I’ve had almost no motivation to publish, even as a long-term goal. I’ve struggled to pray. I traveled every weekend of November and most of them in December, only attending church twice.

For comfort, I started listening to Christmas music two days before the election and started watching Christmas movies one day before (which was also my birthday). I mostly listened to unusual holiday songs so that, when I grew tired of them, I could move to the more traditional songs and carols. With 4 days left, I’m still happily singing along in the car.

I didn’t finish decorating until the 15th because of low energy, but I did almost all my Christmas shopping online for the same reason, so I was done earlier than ever, with ten days left until Christmas. (Though so far I’ve only wrapped the dog’s present.) 

I’ve seen my family much more often than usual, which is a definite bonus. My parents bought me a new laptop I’ve yet to transfer my files to and assembled new bookshelves for me, opening a host of new organization possibilities. I took a fantastic vacation in October with my best friend and read some excellent books.

I am still deeply afraid of what will happen next month, next year, and the years to come. I know that, being pretty neurotypical and very privileged, I have hardly suffered. But on this, the shortest day of 2016, I am hoping this is the turning point for more light and better health. This is my wish and prayer for the world, as well as for myself.