“A Douche Named Gary” is a piece I wrote for my fiction class at Portland Community College. Feel free to send me any critiques or suggestions. I really had fun writing this piece; I hope you enjoy!*
Perhaps there’s a disembodied soul twin up there in the great unknown, designing my next plot twist—an effort to create an arc from the cause and effect that flows through my narrative like salmon hurling themselves up the fish ladder to reach something they can’t see but know is their destiny. I feel like I’ve been hurling myself towards something for years, but I’ve never been able to precisely pinpoint the end game. I was dragged around in the same whirlpool for ages with the same fish, and then the universe abdicated that program quite abruptly. No effort on my part; no disassembly required; no cessation guide.
Sometimes I wish She really was up there doing the heavy lifting, writing my destiny for me, but that would take away the roller coaster of fun that is free will, now wouldn’t it? I imagine the author’s swiftly scribbled notes of my narrative arc, metaphysical coffee at Her side. Maybe a spiritual parrot or something as Her muse. And so, Her Cliffs Notes.
Cause: In a most formal manner, I was fired from the job I had held for over a decade. The act itself was the very definition of ceremonious and dignified: robotic, clean, unemotional, and professional, down to the silent perp-walk-style escort to the elevator and the fact that I was not allowed to clear out my desk. The desk I had earned—the one by the window I had fought for. Fourteen fucking years at that company and they wouldn’t even give me the courtesy of closure. Add to that the random IT heavy sitting outside the Conference Room of Doom like one of those Easter Island statues, waiting for each of the seven Disposables to depart. Why? Because he had big muscles and could man-handle me, should I attempt to run away from this scenario? Little old me, with my backpack and sensible walking shoes fleeing down the hallway towards what? Where would I go? Were they afraid I’d race around shrieking and weaving my way between cubicles and offices, yelling at the top of my lungs the corporate world version of “The British are coming! The British are coming! Protect yourselves and back up your personal files now!” Was it because they figured they needed to take extra precautions with the woman who is known for smiling through conflict, for her excellent communication skills, and for her continuous positive interactions with colleagues, vendors, and upper management?
Effect: Tears. Not just roll-down-your-cheek driblets. Ones that are akin to the water feature at the park, with salty, chlorinated bursts firing in all directions from my blue-green eyes (they look more green than blue when they are wet) adding gasps for air that feel as though the shock itself is clutching my chest, my neck, my esophagus. That day there was a ripping apart of a work-family built on over a decade of lessons, laughs, and learning, a displacement of the love and respect and journeying. Yes, anger and drama and tumult as well. All of those came out in a forceful spillway of emotion.
Cause: I decided I would take on this life change like a boss. I was going to be positive and productive and create the life of my dreams! My counselor told me I should take this opportunity to create a new and improved structure for my days. At first, I optimistically told myself I would leap out of bed every morning, perky and full of gumption, making my coffee, and setting about my day, which would include extensive job searching, pensive writing, a hearty workout, and healthy cooking. I would field phone calls from rabid recruiters and have my pick of top corporate positions by the end of the month. My LinkedIn feed would scream YOU ARE AMONG WINNERS!
Effect: They call the corporate version of organizational metamorphosis Change Management. There are books, Ted Talks, thought leaders, all which spew out how best to move forward and in what order, but I didn’t have an infographic or manual to explain what I was supposed to do with all of my recent instability. Rather than the independent, bouncy woman I expected to be, I soon discovered that I struggled to get motivated and had no use for this newfangled routine-in-a-box method my counselor proposed. I wanted to sleep in every day. I wanted to eschew all things corporate. I wanted to make time for cooking and dancing and singing and tv marathons. I rediscovered a whole set of friends that didn’t work the 9-5. Everyone seemed to understand that I needed some time to get myself back together. I’d been working since I was 17! But in no time at all, feelings of guilt about being slothful poked up out of the weeds. Why didn’t I have a plan worked out by now? Maybe I needed to pray. Speak with a career consultant. Use essential oils. Get a whiteboard. I started with applying for unemployment, but I screwed even that up at first. This, of course, was followed by a flurry of letters from the unemployment office stating that I was a dumbass and to restart my claim next week, thereby leaving me without income for several weeks in a row.
Cause: I had experienced a trauma. My grief was ambidextrous. During the most inopportune of times, my grief showed up to say hello. It blazed a path towards anguish, then took a sharp turn in the direction of the briny depths of sorrow, a true buzzkill at a party, which is, of course, where it manifested itself one breezy evening around the campfire. How can you be sad around a campfire? Take one part hard cider, one part homespun guitar trio playing songs of love and loss, and one part grief stage four: depression, and you get tears of the traumatized. But it’s all about the process, right?
Effect: At first it didn’t seem like healing at all. It was horrifying. Fuck the five stages. Soon I began socially drinking much more often, because how else do you stay connected with your old coworkers when you can’t just walk down the hall? What better way to connected than over a vodka soda? So I found myself a little more than tipsy at a group happy hour with a bunch of old work buddies on a Thursday. How many times can you earnestly say, “Yeah I’m great! Taking some time to figure out what I really want to do!” Sipping drinks took time away from having to speak.
Cause: This is where I met Gary. The man was a strange combination of archetypes—nerd and jock in one. He had a very straight-laced look, complete with computer backpack and scooter at his side. But then, muscles growing out of muscles. Generally, I prefer an intellectually strong man over one who can pick me up and throw me onto the bed, but I could not tear my eyes away from those muscles. When I looked up into his bespeckled face, dark eyes, and his teeny tiny black mohawk, I felt a surge of liquid courage fight its way from my gut to my lips. I put on what I thought was a sexy smirk and asked him if I could take a ride on his scooter. He responded by ordering two shots of whiskey and telling me, “Only nice girls are allowed to ride my scooter.”
I grabbed both shots and tipped them down my throat, double fisted. “That’s too bad.”
Staying true to his word, he did not let me ride the scooter that night, but I ended up riding him all night.
Effect: At first I didn’t even know he worked with my old employer. I had thought he was just a random guy at the bar that night. No one that I knew was talking to him, and he wasn’t socializing with my previous floor-mates. I figured out later it was because everyone was furious that he (and six others) had hopped into our old seats so easily, without acknowledgment (or really, knowledge) of the culling that had occurred the week before he started. A former colleague told me that a douche named Gary was sitting at my old desk by the window, but it didn’t even occur to me that he could be the new me. Two weeks—fourteen days—after our one night stand, I found out he was my replacement. He was performing my job. He was perched at my desk, kicking his feet up on my storage ottoman. Maybe watering my succulent that had never been returned. The new me had been inside me. And, just like my job of fourteen years, there was no further contact.
*While this piece is based on actual events, it is a work of fiction.
After an incredible round of edits from my class at PCC, I’ve rewritten Tinderbeard into an even more dramatic, harrowing, and hilarious tale. Happy reading!
Boots and bags. The flotsam and jetsam of bus life during rush hour clogged the narrow aisle leading to the back of the aging city bus where a seat between a hipster in a skintight hoodie over tightly rolled jeans and a student somewhere in middle school range waited for me, the latter’s shaggy blonde Bieber hair blowing in the wind. The student chewed on a straw and looked out the window, dreaming perhaps of one day daring to kiss a boy or girl and having no opinion of me whatsoever. Hunched perilously over his phone, to the point I was afraid he might tip over and hit his head if we stopped too quickly, the hipster fixed an annoyed look on his face with a frown and furrowed brow. I understood that this was aimed at my presence, and while also I greatly appreciate the gift of personal space on the bus, it just wasn’t happening today.
Doing my best to remain within the confines of my seat, I looked straight ahead, taking note of the distinct differences in hats, jackets, and backpacks spread out in front of me. In relative terms, I was yet an unpolished public transit commuter, always searching for the best brands and hacks to make the commuter life easier. Do you do that? Fixate on something and feel the need to take a mental straw poll to see which people around you are doing it best? It turns out I need a backpack that functions the way Mary Poppins’ does–I’m still doing my research on that one.
Often, I find myself getting lost in the faces of all these strangers, wondering how many connections are made (and lost) on public transit each day, thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to people-watch. This activity has played a large part in my dating life. Instead of sitting awkwardly across the table from a cup of coffee and a dull, glazed look in date #113’s eyes, I challenge them to call out a person and weave their life story. I can talk about myself for hours and never get tired, but I’ve learned that talking about oneself can be incredibly draining to the other party. Also, no matter how much your date is smiling and nodding, he is cringing on the inside and calling you names like Narcissistic Nina behind those eyes. Routing the conversation to a subject that is not listed on your resume is always a welcome change. Trust me, I’ve been online dating for over 10 years.
My eyes rested on an impeccably dressed African-American man who had an utterly fantastic beard. He was also wearing those giant headphones that seem to block out not only outside sound, but sights, smells, and anything else that might interrupt a podcast. Perhaps an accountant? Attorney? Hmmm…talent scout with some sort of side hustle? A few stops later, I heard the familiar beeping of the wheelchair ramp. One by one, riders in the front stood up and made room for the white-haired, wheelchair-bound woman with bags sticking out at every angle. Riders bumped into each other to step out of the way, simultaneously looking around for other seats. Several of them, including the bearded man, began heading to the far back, where there were a few seats left—where I was sitting. Grasping the opportunity to study the man closer, I put my phone in front of my face and pretended to read something very important.
It was longer than the average beard. Two silver streaks ran parallel down each side–very distinguished. Could be early forties but some people go grey in their thirties. The silver streaks seemed to flash in the sunlight, quite literally illuminating him as he stepped into the back half of the bus and took the seat on the other side of the hipster, which is when I realized who he was.
Adrenaline rushed through me as I reached out to tap him on the shoulder, further ruffling the hipster’s free-range organic feathers. HA! I hadn’t planned where I was going to go after the salutation, but my arm was already in motion. It was it too late to turn back now.
He turned towards me and, clearly surprised, replied, “Oh hey you! How’s it going?”
The bus had paused at a stoplight right before the Broadway Bridge that would take us to the other side of the city. Taking advantage, Free Range stiffly stood up and stalked off, leaving a gaping hole between the bearded man and me. Making sure my curly sand-hued hair was posed perfectly on my shoulder before responding, I crossed my legs towards him and answered with slight heat in my cheeks, “Great, thanks. How’s it going with you?” Nailed it, I thought sarcastically. I noticed his eyes dipped to my chest before he responded. The barely perceptible move may have bothered me in the past. Unfortunately these days, my illusions of grandeur about finding the perfect man who didn’t objectify women were the size of a pea.
Apparently, that was all he needed to open up a conversation. He remembered quite a bit about me: my passion for good grammar, my favorite neighborhood brunch place (we’d gone together on our first date), and that I enjoyed salsa dancing every once in a while. I was shocked at the number of details he was ticking off so casually. I remembered that he worked in IT or computers, something dough-handed like that at a company downtown-–though that second detail could be construed as a given, considering the bus’s trajectory. I guess I had made an impression on him. It made my heart corners curl up into a coy grin.
While we spoke, I sat back and observed him. He had grown out his hair and styled it differently. Small twists dotted the top of his head. I liked it. Beards have always been an attraction for me, but today his seemed especially well-coiffed. His eyes were kind and he had a welcoming smile that was slightly bucktoothed–like mine. I called mine rabbit teeth and had absolutely hated them when I was younger. I even created a character based around my teeth: Chipper the Chipmunk. Chipper could sing and dance and entertain like nobody’s business. I think I gave Chipper 101 talents so that people would overlook the teeth. Later I realized they weren’t as terrible as I had made them out to be. People tell me these days that it’s part of my charm, and I’m finally understanding what they meant.
Lightning fast, it seemed, the bus arrived at my stop. My eyes traveled up and down the aisle, at him and then away, as I gathered my things, wondering if he was interested in continuing the conversation. I had tried to make it obvious that I was disembarking by shuffling my backpack around conspicuously to see if he’d take the bait, but I didn’t hint strongly enough.
“Well.” I paused in case he wanted to interject. “Great to see you!” No dice. My bag slung over my shoulder, I lifted my body off the sticky plastic seat and waved my goodbye, immediately kicking myself for not being bold enough to say anything as soon as my Adidas hit the pavement. I wondered if he was watching as I sashayed out of sight.
When I turned the corner, I whipped out my phone and typed “Tinder” in the search bar to see if anything came up. I labeled all of my Tinder dates “Tinder so-and-so.” Tinder Adam (smoker), TInder Ben (too clingy), Tinder Christian (not clingy enough), TInder Daniel (dumb as a Chia pet, with the same hair). How else did a serial-Tinderer keep track? None of the names seemed like they fit him.
Shame me all you want, but I’d probably been on 10-13 more first dates since last summer–it shouldn’t completely come as a shock that I had no idea what his name was. And since stumbling upon him, I hadn’t stopped to ask myself if I was actually interested in this man, or if he was just going to end up being another write-up in my dating blog, just another number. Though the convenience of online dating seemed to create favorable odds, it had started to feel like shoe shopping. Five years ago I would have been horrified that I couldn’t remember his name. Now, sadly, it was practically expected.
I supposed it wasn’t meant to be, then. Neither of us had had the guts to speak up and ask the other out. Of course, I was assuming he was interested after all the things he remembered about me. Wouldn’t you? Who knows if I’d ever see him again. I had been running extremely late that day, and sometimes I took the other bus that came to my stop, and other times I went to work at 7:00 rather than 7:30…clearly this wasn’t going to turn into a thing. So I stopped trying to analyze and forgot about it.
A month later, I had missed my first two busses and was incredibly cranky on a Monday morning. I was carrying not only my backpack, but a cowboy hat and yoga mat, and I was beginning to sweat, knowing the bus was less than a minute away. My jacket half on and half off, I had run to the corner unabashedly and made it just in time for the 17 to pull up. I stormed on, breathing heavily and striding with fraudulent purpose, and headed toward the back as usual, but a silver glimmer caught my eye. It was TinderBeard! I stopped dead and did a military swivel in order to take the seat beside him. He looked at my cowboy hat pointedly and gave me The Look.
“It’s for a work event…” I trailed off, realizing that no amount of explaining would make this cowboy hat any cooler. I said it with a sheepish smile, enough to let him know he couldn’t faze me. We slipped into conversation easily once more, and I thought this HAS to be fate! We had both been running late that day, and sometimes I rode the other bus, and there had been a seat open next to him. This was totally a thing. Why are you so excited? You don’t even like him that much. Do you? What would you say if he asked you on a date? I needed to know if fate was trying to tell me something. I wanted to be wide open to the message, even if it turned out to be another flop.
He still wasn’t receiving my ESP message! Green light after green light sprinted past my eyes. Where are all the red lights when you need them?? I was definitely curious to know if he wanted to hang out again, and I was trying not to lose my nerve to do the asking before I had to get off the bus.
Our three-date Tinder saga the summer before had ended amicably enough. At the time we met, we had simply been looking for different things; I refused to pursue something that may or may not pan out. I’m very cut and dried. Tinder is for finding a relationship–stop laughing–not friends. If I don’t see it going the way of romance, I don’t seek out a further connection. I am an old fashioned girl in a digital world.
He preferred to look at it a little differently. His wish was to begin with something casual, sexually speaking, and if it turned into something else, great. If not, a bed buddy was just as good. I had declined his polite offer. But all had ended in what felt like friendship, though we never saw each other again.
And yet…it seemed like I should do something about this situation. It had been dropped in my lap so…casually, so…obviously, so…intentionally?
It was do or die time. We were three blocks from departure.
“Well.” I paused. “Let me know if you ever want to hang out!” I offered. I couldn’t bear to put it in the form of a question. This way he had an easy out, and didn’t have to respond yes or no to my face.
To my surprise, he quickly replied, “Sure, but I don’t have your number anymore.” I whipped out my phone and typed his number in.
Several hours later I texted him. I wasn’t sure what to say, exactly, about his name having left my head many months before. Smiling to myself and realizing I had absolutely nothing to lose, I wrote, “This is Becky from the bus this morning. I have to admit…I have forgotten your name.” Blushing smile emoji.
Two words in response: “Thank God.” I released a sigh from deep within and continued to read, “Me too, and I was going to play it off until you texted me.” Laughter emoji.
The best relationships are built on honesty. Maybe this could be the beginning of something. Did it have to be a dating thing? What if it just floated out there, unknown but still having form? Maybe I could afford to be a little less cut and dried this time.
This short piece was written in the jungles of Costa Rica, about two and a half hours’ drive from San Jose, weather / traffic / landslide permitting. This was my second trip to my family’s permaculture property in Lanas, VerdEnergia Pacifica, where the nearest neighbor is several kilometers away and we sleep in open air structures, listening to the sounds of the night. A full telling of my experience will follow in the next few days after I get my bearings back.
In the meantime…
I walk my eyes from front to back, methodically. Over creek, through canopy of wide-heavy planks, colors of the jungle peek through fronds–the fuchsia, the amarillo, a population of green vast as the ocean’s blues.
I find the twist in my stomach questions many flavors of life; tongue stumbles on unknown textures, prickle here, tickle there, sour-sweet thing with no known ceiling. Sun blinds the limits of the jungle, and the moon illuminates mischievous beings.
Hello! It’s been a while since I’ve written anything for This Curious Universe. For those who have read my work consistently over the years and have reached out, I am so appreciative of your support and encouragement. I am still Curious! Life just happens at a speed faster than I can run some days, and sadly, extracurricular creativity can be shoved to the side because it fits easily under the laundry…the dishes…grocery store…you understand.
These days, outside of my day job as an events and communications associate, my writing energy has been moving in the direction of fiction. Though I consider myself more of a nonfiction writer, I find incredible value in taking courses across the board at Portland Community College. For the last two terms, I’ve been taking Elements of Fiction. That’s right—same course, same teacher, two terms in a row. The instructor, Wes Griffith, is funny, empathetic, highly motivational, well-read, and downright magnificent. I presented this latest piece last week in class. I recieved creative, useful feedback and can’t wait to sit down and dive into the changes.
And so I present my latest, as yet unedited, based on true events, short fiction: TinderBeard
Boots, bags, the flotsam and jetsam of bus life clogged the narrow aisle leading to the back of the city bus where a seat between a hipster in a skintight hoodie and a student somewhere in middle school range waited for me. The student chewed on a straw and looked out the window, dreaming perhaps of one day kissing a girl and having no opinion of me whatsoever. Hunched perilously over his phone, to the point I was afraid he might tip over if the bus stopped too quickly, the hipster fixed an annoyed look on his face with a frown and furrowed brow. While I understood greatly that personal space was the most prized possession on the bus, it wasn’t happening today.
Doing my best to remain within the confines of my seat, I looked straight ahead, taking note of the distinct differences in hats, jackets, and backpacks. In relative terms, I was yet an unpolished commuter, always searching for the best brands and life hacks to make the commuter life easier. Do you do that? Get fixated on something and feel the need to take a mental straw poll to see which people around you are doing it best? Often, I find myself getting lost in the faces of all these strangers, wondering how many missed connections are made on public transit each day.
My eyes rested on an African-American man who had an utterly fantastic beard. He was also wearing those giant headphones that seemed to block out not only outside sound, but sights, smells, and anything else that might interrupt a podcast.
A few stops later, I heard the familiar beeping of the wheelchair ramp. One by one, riders in the front stood up and made room for the wheelchair-bound woman who was boarding. Several of them began heading to the far back, where there were a few seats—where I was sitting. Grasping the opportunity to study the beard closer, I put my phone in front of my face and pretended to read something very important. It was longer than the average beard. It had two silver streaks running parallel down each side–very distinguished. The silver beard streaks seemed to flash in the sunlight as he stepped into the back half of the bus and took the seat on the other side of the hipster, which is when I realized who he was.
Adrenaline rushed through me as I reached out to tap him on the shoulder, further ruffling the hipster’s free-range organic feathers. (You like that? I just thought of that one all on my own.)
He turned towards me and, clearly surprised, replied, “Oh hey you! How’s it going?”
The bus had paused at a stoplight right before the bridge that would take us to the other side of the city. Taking advantage, the hipster stiffly stood up and stalked off, leaving a gaping hole between the bearded man and I. Making sure my light brown curly hair was posed perfectly on my shoulder before responding, I crossed my legs towards him and answered with slight color in my cheeks, “Great, thanks. How’s it going with you?” Nailed it, I thought to myself sarcastically. Couldn’t think of anything more creative?
Apparently that was all he needed to open up a conversation. He remembered quite a bit about me: my passion for good grammar, my favorite neighborhood brunch place (we’d gone together the first time we met), and that I enjoyed salsa dancing every once in a while. I was shocked at the amount of details he was ticking off so casually. I remembered that he worked in IT/computers/something dough-handed like that at some company downtown–though that second detail could be construed as a given, considering the bus we were riding on. I guess I had made an impression on him! It made my heart corners curl up into a coy grin as the exchange continued.
His hair was longer than I remembered. Small twists dotted the top of his head. I liked the new style. The beard had always been an attraction for me, but today it seemed especially well-coiffed. His eyes were kind and he had a welcoming smile that was slightly bucktoothed–like mine. I called mine rabbit teeth and absolutely hated them when I was younger. Now people tell me it’s part of my charm. I finally understood what they meant.
Lightning fast, it seemed, the bus arrived at my stop. My eyes travelled up and down the aisle, at him and then away, as I gathered my things, self-consciously wondering if he was interested in continuing the conversation. I had tried to make it obvious that I was disembarking, to see if he’d take the bait and ask me out, but I didn’t hint strongly enough.
“Well, great to see you!” My bag slung over my shoulder, I lifted my body off the plastic seat and waved my goodbye, immediately kicking myself for not being bold enough to say anything as soon as my Adidas hit the pavement.
When the bus had cleared from view, I whipped out my phone and typed in “Tinder” to see if anything came up. I labeled all of my Tinder dates “Tinder John,” Tinder Christian, (In case you’re wondering, yes I most certainly do sing Sister Christian in my head every time I saw that name.) Tinder Richie… How else did a serial-Tinderer keep track? None of the names seemed like they fit him. Shame me all you want, but I’d probably been on 10-13 more first dates since last summer–it shouldn’t completely come as a shock that I had no idea what his name was.
I supposed it wasn’t meant to be, then. Neither of us had had the guts to speak up and ask the other out (Of course, I was assuming he was interested after all the things he remembered about me. Wouldn’t you?), and who knows if I’d ever see him again. I had been running extremely late that day, and sometimes I took the other bus that came to my stop, and sometimes I went to work at 7:00 rather than 7:30…clearly this wasn’t going to turn into a thing.
Until a month later. I had missed my first two busses and was incredibly cranky that Monday morning. I was carrying not only my backpack, but a cowboy hat and yoga mat as well. My jacket half on and half off, I had run to the corner unabashedly and made it just in time for the 17 to pull up. I stormed onto the bus, breathing heavily with purpose and headed toward the back as usual, but a silver glimmer caught my eye. It was TinderBeard! I stopped dead and did a military swivel in order to take the seat beside his. He looked at my cowboy hat pointedly and gave me The Look.
“It’s for a work event…” I trailed off, realizing that no amount of explaining would make this cowboy hat any cooler. I said it with a sheepish smile though, enough to let him know he couldn’t faze me. We slipped into conversation easily once more, and I thought that it HAD to be fate! We had both been running late that day, and sometimes I rode the other bus, and there had been a seat open next to him. This was totally a thing.
He still wasn’t receiving my ESP message! Traffic light after traffic light darted past my eyes. I was dying to know if he wanted to hang out again, and I was trying desperately not to lose my nerve to do the asking before I had to get off the bus. Our three-date love saga last summer had ended amicably enough. At the time we met, we had simply been looking for different things; I refused to pursue something that may or may not pan out. He looked at it a little differently. His wish was to begin with something casual, sexually speaking, and if it turned into something more serious, great. If not, a casual bed buddy was just as good. I was a little more old fashioned, and so had declined his polite offer. But all had ended in what felt like friendship, though we never saw each other again.
It was do or die time. We were three blocks from departure.
“Well…let me know if you ever want to hang out!” I offered.
Immediately he replied, “Sure, but I don’t have your number anymore.” I whipped out a piece of paper and scribbled as he recited his number to me.
Several hours later I texted him. I wasn’t sure what to say, exactly, about his name having left my head many moons ago. Smiling to myself, I wrote, “This is Brandy from the bus this morning. I hate to admit this, but I have forgotten your name.”
Two words in response: “Thank God.” I released a sigh from deep within and continued to read, “I forgot yours too, and was going to play it off until you texted me.”
Great relationships are built on honesty. This could be the beginning of a beautiful thing, TinderBeard.
Yesterday I woke up and walked into the living room where two adorable but devilish towheaded Venezuelan/Norwegian preteen sleepyheads began shushing me so that they could go back to sleep on my couch.
“It’s so early, Tia,” one of them muttered. I wanted to remind them sooo badly about every time I’d slept over at their place, trying to ignore the inevitable as their curious heads bobbed over me at 5:15 AM, “whispering” about a fingernail’s distance from my ear to see if I was awake yet.
Sweet voices saying, “Mommy said not to wake her up,” “I want some milk,” “Go see if she’s awake yet.” “Tia, are you awake yet?” I’m awake. But now that the tides had turned, they weren’t having any of it.
So instead of shoving them off my couch, I made eggs, put on my running tights and shoes, and gathered the rest of my gear while their angel of a mother finally succeeded in getting them out of bed. This is why I like being the auntie. I get all the fun of sleepovers with the littles, but mom is there to put her foot down while I get the luxury of making my eggs in relative peace.
Shortly after my adopted herd left, I met up with Chrissy at our regular spot.
“You know we’re doing the whole thing today, right? No backing down. We’re doing the loop,” meaning once we crossed over the bridge, we had arrived at the point of no return. On this particular route, if you ran the out and back way, it was approximately 7.5 miles. If you were brave enough to get to the bridge and decide to keep on going, you would cash in at just until 9 miles. Ugh. I knew we had to do it. Chrissy was training for her next half marathon and I…I just needed a running buddy, and I was enough of a glutton for punishment to agree to this weekly torture. Don’t get me wrong, I like running. I even sometimes get that runner’s high. And it’s fantastic to be able to spend two hours catching up with my friend, since we very rarely see each other outside of running. But there is a lot of that two hours where I’d really like to be sleeping or watching TV. Funny how something so miserable on your body and mind as running can dig into your soul and refuse to let go, no matter how much you beg it. Yep. Running is like that.
So we ran. And ran. And ran. The sun came out and I started sweating. I peeled off my layers while Chrissy kept her two long sleeved ones firmly on. We got to the bridge and didn’t even want to give ourselves the chance of forfeit, so we kept on. We chatted about work, my dating life, her kids, group gossip, and when the bridge that would lead us to the end appeared, we gave yelps of hallelujah and ran on.
When I got home, I had a few hours to stretch and get ready for my next event. I was going to a wedding reception. I groaned because I knew this would require heels. Let me tell you something, ladies. No one tells you that when you start running, your feet will never again look as pretty as they once were. I have a bunion that I’ve named Bert, and he was not at all pleased that I had to put on my tight black ankle booties. But it had to be done. Weddings are a great place to meet available men, right? I had to be at least tall enough to see them while I stood in the crowd, wiping my eyes over my friends’ nuptials. Bert expressed his frustration with me the moment I got out of the car, so I didn’t stay as long as I’d have liked to, but at least I got to drop off my gift, hug the happy couple, and scan the crowd for eligible bachelors before hobbling away.
Upon returning home for the second time that day, I set about organizing the rest of my day. I had an application for a summer writing workshop due at midnight that evening. I had started two of the three parts, but they were far from being finished, and demanded several hours’ work. I also had to start making the bone broth, which is quite the process. It was my inaugural voyage on such a process, but I had my faithful first mate, Lisa, with me to help. (…I’ll be honest, she pretty much did the whole thing.) This included taking out the chicken that we’d cooked for the broth, shredding it for our “healthy” nachos, then putting back all the inside parts and using that as the stock base. Dinner was an ungodly level of amazing, but I couldn’t really enjoy it since I had to throw the dishes into the sink the second I was done and get to work on the fourth and final project of the evening: an application to the Tin House Summer Workshop. It was the last night before the application was due, but to be fair I had only just learned about it two weeks prior, and in those two weeks I’d also been researching Master’s Degree programs. Suffice it to say, I had a few things going on.
Sans nap, and too late for any additional caffeine, I was struggling. My body was saying No, no, no! You ran nine miles! You deserve a break! My mind was saying You’ve got this, tiger!! Thank God I allowed the mind to win, though I really didn’t have a choice in the matter. The deadline was midnight and it was well past 8:00 PM. I cracked open my computer and hopped to it.
I finished the application with an hour and 12 minutes to spare. I went to bed and laid there WIDE AWAKE because my adrenaline was so high. Today I’m taking my caffeine intravenously.
I have this voice that talks down to me sometimes. It questions my worth. It questions my life choices, job choices, actions. It questions everything. It mocks me when I’m down. I hate that I even acknowledge it, but I do. I don’t feel like I’m enough.
And then I have a day like this, where I can honestly say I used every single second to move myself forward towards a better Becky. Every single second. I bet even CEOs can’t say that all the time. So I lift my head up and thank myself for being exactly who I was meant to be.
This is the second short story I wrote at “The Next Season” writing retreat at Hidden Lake Retreat in Eagle Creek, Oregon. It was inspired by the picture below, and got a few laughs when I read it aloud. I hope I’m half as sassy when I’m their age.
In the era we grew up in, it wasn’t expected for us to be giddy in this next step. In our time, we were supposed to be somber grannies, holding our breath every second until the grandchildren burst through the heavy door of the house that Edgar and I designed ourselves.
Happiness was not to be ours once our partners passed. By the time I hit retirement, I was supposed to be a semi-professional in knitting and cross-stitch, staring at the picture of my wedding day that hung over the television while making scarves with soft wool.
Instead I am a competitive synchronized swimmer in the group we named the Gorgeous Grand-Goddesses. You didn’t expect that, did you? Did you know we have two gold medals and a bronze? No, not the Olympics—Regional Championships. After all, we’re in our seventies and our bodies do have their limitations.
Long before Edgar passed, the girls and I decided to bunk together once our husbands all made the long trip south.
It wasn’t the plan to end up here, but we decided that my house worked best. It was plush with the warmth of familial love and welcomed the other two girls with open arms.
We each had our own bedroom to decorate as well as a training room. Jane Fonda videos, resistance bands, and yoga mats float among pictures of the Grand-Goddesses and yes, some cross-stitch. That’s Mary’s area; I fought it briefly before compromising with her: if they were cross-stitches of Pierce Brosnan or any of the Beatles, they could stay.
She refused my suggestions, and so we ended up with posters of the Beatles on one side and framed beach scenes on the other, an echo of the debates I had with my husband. And yet, here we are, giddy.
Recently I attended an all day writing retreat entitled “The Next Season” at Hidden Lake Retreat in beautiful Eagle Creek, Oregon. The grounds were absolutely magical, with several acres to explore.
During the morning session, 12 writers participated in 15 minutes prompts. The first one started with a chuckle. One of the facilitators removed a sheet from the floor, which had been covering a mysterious lumpy pile of…shoes? She asked us to each pick a pair.
We all got up a bit hesitantly. My eyes slid to the pile, and instantly I knew which shoes I would choose. Can you guess why?
Then she said, “I’d like to know what these shoes are saying to each other.”
Well, it turned out to be the most fun prompt of the day! So, here goes. It’s not going to win a Pulitzer, but it sure was fun to write.
“Your edges are curling, Martha,” Marcy sneered.
“You’re no spring chicken yourself, Marcy.”
“At least I’ve managed to pretend I have some class left,” said Marcy.
“Who needs class when you have a story?” Martha retorted.
“Remember Cinderella and the Glass Slipper? The shoe that got left behind ended up in the hands of a prince! No one cared about the shoe that stayed with Cinderella. Sure, it may have looked better, scratch-free, but the other slipper will always be remembered as the one who brought Cinderella to her prince!” Finished Martha.
“God, Martha!” Marcy huffed, “Why are you such a drama queen? That’s just an urban legend. Besides, you’re just a $20 slide from DSW. Get over yourself.”
Martha simply replied, “I know you are, but what am I?”
There are those who believe that a book is meant to be enjoyed once, then set free. What’s that saying? If you love something, let it go. These folks are staunch believers that you can never get that initial frisson of excitement again, so why bother reading anything more than once?
Then there are people like me. I’ve read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides at least five times since it was published in 2002. Every single time, I get that rush. Every single time, I turn the pages in ecstasy, words like fine chocolate. Every. Single. Time.
Last Saturday I braved the rain and ten thousand other book nerds to attend my very first Portland Wordstock. I dressed in layers, but not too many that I would be sweating all over the books I would inevitably buy. I brought a hat for the trips between venues. And I packed my water bottle but sadly, forgot the snacks.
|Tweet| #pdxbookfest tips: Bring major snacks. By the time you find a short enough food truck line, it’ll be time for your next reading.
Hands down, my favorite reading was from the duo of Jeffrey Eugenides and Danzy Senna. Jeffrey admitted that he cracks jokes to keep nervousness at bay, but he certainly didn’t seem nervous while keeping us in stitches. His quotes about character development, Detroit, and his new book of short stories, Fresh Complaint were tinged with guffaw-worthy, self-effacing humor.
|Tweet| #pdxbookfest tips: It is completely a-okay to fangirl out over a middle aged man with hilarious hair and a Mr. Rogers sweater… if it’s Jeffrey Eugenides. #iloveyoujeffrey #youtooDanzy
I’d never heard of the other speaker, Danzy Senna, but that didn’t stop me from buying her book, New People, after hearing her read one paragraph, then speak of the philosophy behind the book.
|Tweet| #pdxbookfest tips: Get to every venue line at least 40 minutes early. I was exactly 30 minutes early to my next reading and it’s at capacity already.
I picked four other readings that I wanted to attend. I made it into two. I realized that in order to participate fully and effectively at Wordstock, you need at least one other person: a friend to hold your place at the venue…someone to grab lunch at one of the food carts while you wait in line for the bathroom. A buddy to get autographs while you scope out the next event or the enticing book fair(s). Someone who remembered to bring a large enough backpack for all the books you bought. Tandem attendance is essential! #lifelessons
And did I mention the Wordstock pre-funk on Friday evening? What is Lit Crawl? Two words: Booklover’s Burlesque! Lit Crawl Portland was spread out all over downtown Portland, bringing together readers, writers, and the oh-so-curious. I attended two events at Cassidy’s, but the most memorable was the Booklover’s Burlesque.
I watched the burlesque with a man I met on Tinder last year. Early on in the dating process, we realized we were star-crossed lovers. According to Willy Shakespeare, such pairings are often said to be doomed from the start…and ours absolutely was. However, our adventures always turned into amazing dates, so we continue to see each other every once in a while as friends. If you haven’t tried this, it’s absolutely wonderful to have a plus one with whom there is established chemistry, but absolutely no expectation or goal. //tangent over//
The tiny room was packed before the show even started, so we squeezed in tight behind the beveled glass windows and watched, fascinated. Since we were outside the room, we couldn’t tell what they were reading. I’m still curious whether it was some sort of erotica, whereby the burlesque would make the most sense, or if it was randomly chosen material with the burlesque added for paradoxical flair. Either way, it was scintillating, titillating, and delightful to watch.
Overall impressions of Wordstock weekend?
*Totally overwhelming lines and crowd, totally AWESOME experience.
*It’s an awfully large/loud/crowded event for a bunch of introverts.
*Did I mention I got to see Jeffrey Eugenides?? #IloveyouJeffrey #YoutooDanzy
*Next year, I want to be prepared! Partner in crime, snacks, scheduled break times, the works.
*BE EARLY FOR EVERY DAMN THING.
So! Did you go to Wordstock? If so, was it your first time or are you a seasoned veteran? Do you have any tips for next year?
This weekend, as on many weekends in the summer, I went berry picking with friends. Spencer, my favorite new coworker, picked me up early on a Sunday and we headed west towards the land of plentiful berries and wine. I look forward to Oregon’s U-Pick berries every year, but this was Spencer’s first time. I couldn’t wait to have his review of the experience.
Though we are new friends, we’re getting to know each other by leaps and bounds, partaking in many lunchtime walks together and a lot of giggles. As fast friends, I became comfortable being 100% Becky early on, so at some point in the car ride, I sang a few verses of a song that was on the stereo.
“Hey, you’ve got a voice!” He commented. Indeed I do! There is no possible way I could escape the house of Swank without having formed some sort of singing voice; my parents were both constantly belting out tunes of all kinds in my formative years. I heard folk songs, hymns, jingles of favorite NPR shows, you name it. My sister and I were always encouraged to join in. We sang in church here and there as well. Whether or not I was any good, I hadn’t thought about in years, but I was glad to know my “training” had held up.
We got to the fields at Rowell Bros. and began filling our buckets, and I swiftly tucked the singing into the back of my mind. Though he had forgotten his sunscreen and hadn’t had time to eat, Spencer appeared to be having a great time. I was in my little corner of heaven, moving methodically through the berry bushes, dumping handfuls into my bucket. I had to stop myself before I hit five pounds of blueberries, though I could have easily gone for more. We hopped next door to Smith Berry Barn in hopes to finding some marionberries, but left with a flat of gorgeous blackberries instead. Not such a terrible compromise.
Afterwards, we loaded our berries in the car and drove towards home. Spencer asked me, “Do you know that song from Frozen… “Love is an Open Door?” I answered that I was sure I’d heard it in the movie but didn’t know it by heart. He responded not with words, but by bringing up the lyrics on his phone and turning on his Spotify to the Frozen soundtrack. “It’s a duet.” We both smiled.
And so it began. The first time I stumbled through, not knowing the pauses and speaking parts, of which there are several. But I loved it! As soon as the song ended, I asked him to play it again. He grinned, knowing I was hooked. “You sound really good!” He said excitedly. The second time around we really got in sync. The third time was better yet!
I felt exhilarated. I’ve always been a musical person, whether expressing that through singing in the kitchen, playing piano (9 years of lessons!), trumpet (5 years!), or most recently, by belly dancing and adding flair to my twirls at the salsa club. Music runs in my veins. I hadn’t meant to stifle the singer in me…I had learned new hobbies, focused on other things as I got older. I hadn’t realized how happy it made me until I was reminded so joyously.
How amazing it feels to have stumbled back upon something that makes me so happy! And how about you? You can find a flame, whether it’s something completely new or an old one you’ve let go. Blow gently, feed it some love. If the flame ignites into a fire, take the opportunity to cultivate it and see where it goes. Let me know what you (re)discover this summer.