Of Bikes and Boys

Remember several months ago when I wrote about having a crush? Oh, those bygone days of yore. Five months, several not-dates, and a whole self-help section of advice from my friends, and I’m still in love with him and he still either has no idea or no interest. But what I’m holding out for is that he is just as scared to say something as I am. There’s a word for that in some dead language from, like, the very tip of South America that means the exact same thing. I haven’t done the math, but I think that means that maybe, just maybe, I’m right, he feels the same, and I just haven’t pulled enough petals off of daisies.

My friends, on the other hand, don’t see the correlation. They reference He’s Just Not That Into You, promise that there are plenty of fish in the sea, and point out I’ve moved 2,641 miles away from him.

I’d like to remind the home audience that that isn’t the point. The point is, for some ridiculous reason, I am head over heels for this guy and no matter how many other fish there are in the sea, I’m kinda over fishing. Besides, I’m clearly not all that good at it.

Let me explain it this way: Recently I was on the hunt for a bike to get me around my new haunts, and a bike is a perfect metaphor for this guy, let’s call him Todd, because he loves bikes. When I started my search, I made a list of what I wanted in a bike: used to the point that is had some character but not to the point that I’d need to do a lot of work on it, a hybrid: something with a light frame like a road bike but with a heavier tire and upright handle bars, in my budget, and, of course, I had to be attracted to it. After a few weeks of craigslisting, falling for the next best bike, maybe pining for one I missed out on, I saw it. A dopey bike from the 70′s that just needed a little love and some down hills to get it going again. It fit the criteria and was within reach. I was in love.

Even before I got the bike, some part of my brain (and my mom), had their doubts. Is this the best bike for me? Is it going to give me everything I need from it? Is it going to require more than I want to put into it? How, you dolt, can you be in love with something that isn’t even yours yet?

See how this is a perfect metaphor? For the one I also have a list of requirements: someone with character and history but not baggage, someone who can communicate with my friends and family thoughtfully but who I can talk to for hours about the latest from the Mars Rover (or other nerdy pursuits), someone in my age group, and, of course, I have to be attracted to him.

My friends (and mom) remind me to add “someone who loves me” to the list. And, unfortunately, probably take Todd out of the running.

“Um. No, thank you,” my dear, sweet, delusional heart says. “My list is fine. My list needs no editing. My list has been fulfilled, why in the world would I change that?”

“Yes, why indeed?” My brain, who is doing it’s best to stay out of the mess altogether, muses distractedly. “Wouldn’t want to change the status quo. Because, let me guess, ‘This way we can’t get hurt, at least.’ “

Which just leaves me, alone, anthropomorphizing my vital organs to argue, “Hey, I did get that bike.”

Scaredy Cat? Present and Accounted For.

I’m not afraid of mice. So when a pair of them magically appeared in my house one Halloween, I wasn’t terribly alarmed. (I think there is some irony in there somewhere- Halloween, not being scared…) Granted, they were pets. That I purchased. More or less on an impulse. Here’s what happened: my roommate at the time and I had gone searching for the final pieces of our costumes at a Party City. Next door was a Petco. We decided to go in and look at cats we couldn’t have. Not finding any cats, we stopped at the rodents. In the male mouse container, amidst a few dozen other scurrying pests, were two running, fairly unsuccessfully, in opposite directions on the same wheel. One was white with orange patches and the other was brown with a white stripe on his head. I pointed them out, “If those were my mice,” I said, “I’d name them Harry and Ron.”

Ron Weasley and Harry Potter, mice

And so we did. And they were great. Harry, tragically, died young. But Ron hung around for a while and was one of the best pets I ever owned. And while that may be the case, this is not a blog about pet mice. And it isn’t about being superior to my fellow writer – besides, I have more than my fair share of things that scare the daylights out of me.

Point in case: the cracked doorbell button. I will not push it, although probably I won’t get electrocuted. The “probably” is the issue. And I don’t want to hear about the current that runs through such a device. It’s lit up and rings. That sounds pretty potentially deadly to me.

Oh, and I’m not keen on loud noises. As you can imagine, rock concerts and the 4th of July aren’t really my thing.

And since we’re on the topic, I don’t really like cockroaches,  riding my bike next to buses or train tracks, riding my bike across train tracks, gutters in pools, gutters in streets, cattle guards, cattle, stopping and mooing at cattle, or the dark. And that is the tip of the iceberg.  My fears can get even sillier: like the paranoia that I will use the wrong “your/you’re” in a tweet. Just a few nights ago, I had a nightmare that a murderer was going to target one of the units in my building. With only six doors to choose from, my odds weren’t good. Legitimately scary, sure, but just a dream. Except that when I woke up I was worried my subconscious had picked up on something and was trying to alert me to my impending doom. The only way to be sure the killer wasn’t waiting in the living room was to check. Except that was too scary (see above: afraid of the dark). I compromised and locked my bedroom door, under the assumption that the tiny push lock would slow the deranged serial killer down long enough for me to wake up and find some means of protection. Luckily, it never came to that. But it illustrates just how much of my day to day (or night to night) is influenced by irrational fears.

And that is really what I have been trying to get to this whole time, the term: “irrational fears”. Talk about trivializing. Yes, it may seem silly that I’ve never been stung by a bee and yet I’m afraid of bees while I have been stung by a jelly fish and am not afraid of jelly fish (which, I’m told, feels a lot like a bee sting). But does telling me it isn’t scary make the bee (or the mouse) any less so? It doesn’t. Hello, ladies, we are all afraid of things, from big bugs to never owning a designer purse, and just because it isn’t going to kill us, is no reason to think less of it, and as a result, less of ourselves.

We are only as strong as our weakest link. That link isn’t our fear, legitimate or not. That link is the way we judge ourselves and tear ourselves down. Eff mainstream trivialization. Besides, rivers are on my list of things I’m afraid of.

Oh My God, I’m Moving Across the Country! Oh My God. I’m Moving Across The Country.

You know that scene in Tangled where Rapunzel flip flops back and forth between having the best day ever and feeling awful about being the worst daughter possible? Yeah, that’s me right now. And I haven’t even done anything yet.

Last May I graduated from the University of Arizona with one goal in mind: Move to Boston. Did I have a job lined up? Not really. Did I have a place to live? Not at all. Did I even have the cash for a plane ticket? Not even sort of. Truthfully, I didn’t have much of a plan. I just really wanted it. I don’t care what The Secret says, I crashed and burned. Bad.

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently,” Henry Ford said. So far, this seems to be true. Or maybe after failing so badly I had to prove to my parents — and more importantly, myself  — that I wasn’t a total loser and that I could do this. Fast forward to last Sunday. It is a uncharacteristically wet weekend in my hometown of Tucson, Arizona. I, however, am enjoying an unseasonably warm weekend in Boston, where I just signed a lease.

Take that all you doubters, I’m doing it, I’m going to live in the city I’ve been dreaming of my whole life. I am going to up and move across the country more or less on a whim.

Oh, my God. I’m moving across the country. What am I thinking? I’ve lived in one zip code my whole life. What makes me think I’ll make it out in the big city? Actually, what makes me think I’ll survive winter. With snow?

But I’m moving to Boston. WGBH, my dream job, is just a fifteen minute walk from my new digs. The same sort of opportunities just aren’t in Tucson.

But all my friends and family are in Tucson…

See what I mean about Tangled? I’m a mess. I have complained in the past that your twenties are rough. They refuse to just give you what you need to succeed, and every day can be a bit of a struggle. There was one thing I didn’t mention then: if I can get what I want, just what is that? And what am I willing to trade for it? They don’t really prepare you for that in college. And I haven’t been in a situation where I might trade my chocolate milk for someone’s goldfish in years. Do I still know how to weigh my choices and make a decision that won’t end up sucking?

Obviously, I’ve made my decision. I will be leaving my native Tucson for Boston in August of this year. And honestly, even if this ends up not being the city for me, even if every single day I pine for the heat and the saguaros I know so well, this is the right decision. One other thing I didn’t mention about being in you twenties: this is the time to try new things. I will probably never have as much freedom as I do now, nor will I require so little. Apparently when you reach a certain age you have living standards that exclude awkward bathrooms and blow up mattresses.

As my teaching idol Ms. Frizzle says, “It’s time to take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!”

Alright future failures, let’s do this thing.

After the Crush: “Unexciting and Comfortable” is Pretty Great, Too

We may look nothing like Big and Carrie, but we sure do read in bed like them.

A few of my fellow contributors’ recent posts on crushes have left me feeling a little bit left out. Unlike Leigh, I’m not currently in the throes of a so-good-it-hurts, dizzyingly ecstatic crush; unlike Laura, I’m not exactly craving one, either.

That’s because I am the thing we’re not supposed to be in our early 20s, that state of being that is supposedly anathema to being free and seeing what’s out there and making our own way in the world and generally being Liberated, Independent Women. Hi, I’m Heather, and I’m in a longterm relationship.

I have been with the same darling man for more than two years, and we’ve lived together for a lot of that time. We spend a lot of time together. We go to the grocery store. We cook dinner. We pay bills. We have a lease on which both of our signatures appear. We have couple friends. We double and triple-date. We go home from stuff early, and together. In other words, we are likely everything you hate about couples.

And you know what? It’s amazing.

And okay, I’ll admit it: I do miss crushes, a little bit. I sort of miss being both out-of-my-mind excited and devastated all the time over things that special someone said or didn’t say, texted or didn’t text, showed up to or didn’t. Just like Leigh and Laura, I love the agony and ecstasy of liking someone so much you might die . But I also remember that crushes felt like perpetual emotional calisthenics, my poor heart burning wildly and uncontrollably and constantly in a way that felt amazing and also hurt a LOT. And, to extend the metaphor just a bit further, if crushes are like energizing and brutal wind sprints, a good relationship is a long, satisfying run. Sure, you feel the burn, but it doesn’t consume you. Instead, it feeds and nourishes. Crushes giveth a great deal, sure, but one false move and crushes taketh away. Big time. A good relationship adds more, much more, than it subtracts, and that’s one of the reasons I’m not ashamed – and in fact, am extremely happy — to be in this place.

And so, as what feels like the staid old grandmother of the conversation on crushes, I have to put a couple of relationship myths to rest. For one thing, while I understand the sentiment being expressed, I have to counter that comfortable is not the same thing as unexciting. Passion doesn’t have to be so hot it burns; it can actually feel just plain good, rather than the see-sawing great/terrible/great/terrible of the best and worst early-stages crush. Just because I feel utterly at ease with my boyfriend doesn’t mean our relationship is dull; after all, the best friendships aren’t boring or old-news just because you’ve known someone forever and can finish her sentences, are they? A good relationship is kind of like that — an old, safe, and loving friendship. Only, you know, with sex.

And believe me, I know from whence I speak. I’ve been in that other kind of relationship — the kind where, a year in, you still can’t say his name without your breath catching a little bit, the kind that burns hot forever, that stays stormy and uncertain and exciting long past the crush phase. And guess what? It’s terrible. You’re never happy; you’re just obsessed. Another person has complete control over how you see the world. You pine and pine for someone who is in the same room as you. And when it ends (and believe me, it inevitably ends) it implodes. And that’s when you end up collapsing on the floor of your dorm and wailing as if your whole family just died. That’s when you stop eating and stop sleeping and look less like a person and more like a wraith who hasn’t seen the sun or a sandwich in decades. That’s when you start hating yourself because it hurts too much to hate him. And that is DEFINITELY when you start writing horrible poetry that your friends have to exclaim over and pretend doesn’t make them want to kill themselves.

So, while crushes are awesome, I simply have to stand up for the more settled, if slightly less exciting, side of the coin. Finding someone you care about and being with that person is great, too. The most important thing is, as with any romantic sojourn, to let it nourish you without letting it define you, and to make sure there’s heat, but not so much that you get burned.

Twenty-Something Expectations, Why Are You a Thing?

Listen, ladies. You're stock photo models, your lives are not that together. Stop making the rest of us feel bad.

I, like many young people, spent much my school days thinking about how great it was going to be to get out of school. I pictured the bohemian chic apartment in the city, the satisfying job with a nonprofit, spending my evenings with someone tall, dark, and handsome, and generally relishing young adulthood. Whelp, I’m a few months out of college, living in an apartment where the only perk is the ever changing array of props the neighbors use to hold open their windows, working three jobs to scrape by, sleeping with the same stuffed animal I’ve had since I was a baby, and generally cursing my twenties.

I hadn’t factored in this early period of adulthood. I grew up middle class and sort of expected I’d just stay middle class, with the middle class perks. I did not. I dropped right out the bottom and skidded to a stop somewhere near the DES office downtown. I spent my first summer wholly confused. Actually, I spent that summer hiding under my covers. Pity party aside, it was not what I’d expected.

And that was my problem. I actually never gave much thought to my twenties, and whatever I did consider was influenced by TV and movies, where being broke is endearing and cute rather than exhausting and, frankly, unhygienic.

Slowly, when I couldn’t excuse myself to my friends and family and had to admit to my poverty, I discovered that this is what being in your early twenties is like. I found out that not only my very middle class parents started out on food stamps working as part time cashiers, but so did the very middle class parents of my friends. Even my step mom, who I was certain was born not only with her shit together, but her stocks lined up, had it rough in her twenties.

Um, hello? Why did no one mention this before the fetal position? Ladies (and dudes), this is how it is! By keeping our silence we only perpetuate the myth that if you can’t get your bills together, and something definitely just scurried behind the toilet, and that, no really, you just like pasta this much you’ve done something wrong. I was blaming my crummy situation on my grades in college. As my very wise mother pointed out: That C in “Our Place in the Universe” isn’t why I haven’t gotten my foot in the door at a nonprofit.

Oh. No, yeah. That makes sense. So, blame the economy (like we haven’t heard that one before) or your major (what am I going to do with that history degree?), and definitely blame your twenties (see above), but cut yourself some slack. Reread Harry Potter, watch the new America’s Next Top Model, and buy that interview dress before you even send out your resume.

Most of all, don’t give up on yourself. You rock my socks. Besides, being in the black is for vintage photos anyways.

I’ll leave you with this blog entry I wrote in a fit of American style pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps motivation during a brief reprieve from my summertime blues. I will admit that I didn’t live by this, but I did emerge from the summer and have since embraced my twenties for all that they are. And even for all that they aren’t.

Tabula Rasa Souffle

Ingredients:

1 dozen eggs

Months of plans

All your hopes

Life goals

Childhood dreams

High expectations

Directions: In one basket place: eggs, plans, hopes, goals, dreams, expectations. Scrap. Begin again, minus above ingredients. Do what you can with half a box of pasta, ketchup, and an old banana. Fight the rising nausea, blame the banana. Go grocery shopping. Try new things. Meet new people. Don’t worry so much about following the recipe.

You should also know I got that job with a nonprofit.