when you least expect it

Recently, things have been a bit of an uphill climb for me. And since nobody likes a whiner, I have tried to avoid smearing the Internets with my lamentations. I know things will turn around, eventually. That part doesn’t worry me. But there is something I wanted to share with the class.

Have you ever been going through something difficult-a disappointment, a frustration, a dental visit, or being told that you have a ‘great personality’-only to hear from some well-meaning person:”Well, when you least expect it, something great will happen”?

I want so badly, if only for the sake of poetic irony, to punch these people in the face sometimes.

As usual, I can count on the Harry Potter franchise to teach me a valuable life lesson that aligns perfectly with my preexisting bias.

Contrary to popular belief, this is what really happens when  you least expect it:

That’s right. When you least expect it, Lord Voldemort hugs you. After he blows up your school and ruins your life. My point being, I think the flaw in the “when you least expect it” logic is that no one can go around “not expecting” things or”not looking for” things. That just makes you a weird combination of jittery and mopey [which is what I imagine that those alcoholic energy drinks probably do to you].

If understood in a bad light [which I have just taught you all how to do], the “When you least expect it” ideology has the same destructive potential as my other nemesis: “Don’t get your hopes up”.

So, I elect to change the mass-circulated phrase of polite consolation to “It will get better.” Because it’s something I believe, it’s something I know, and it’s something that requires little to no emotional gymnastics.

The Little Engine That Could didn’t Least-Expect to climb the hill. He just kept moving Pirates don’t go Not-Looking for buried treasure. They leave no stone unturned until they find it And I can’t split hairs over what to think about and what to concentrate all my mental energies on not-thinking about. So, I choose to keep going. To hang in there. And to wait for it to get better.

I expect it will.

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shark fins

Holding hands

Is what people in dreams do

Dancing stars

Fall between me before you

And we lose ourselves

Shopping malls

Look better in outer space

Waterfalls

Wash the freckles from your face

And we lose ourselves

Will I find you

Will I find you

When I wake up
Roller skates

Are more fun on the sidewalk

Rainbows scraped

On the driveway in orange chalk

And we close our eyes

Lemonade

Fills a glass in a diner

Running late

Life has never looked finer

And we close our eyes
Will I find you

Will I find you

When I wake up
Children play

In the dirt on the playground

Dinner bells

Make obtrusive alert sounds

And you see my face

Picture frames

Made of pasta and sequins

Swimming pools

Full of hands making shark fins

And you see my face
You have found me

You have found me

And I wake up

– Beth Hopkins

(Please ask permission before copying and sharing with others. Many thanks!)

measurementality

I have recently been struggling with feeling that I have not had a successful year. (Since I am still living at home; still without a permanent, full-time, or paying job; still unattached) Not at all saying that I haven’t done anything this year, or that I am full of woe and misery. Nothing like that. I’m just being honest: I’m not where I thought I would be. I’m not where I wanted to be by now.

I posted a note on Facebook the other day, updating everyone across the board on how things were going- or not going- and expressed the same feeling of discontent. (It was long, so I will spare you. But you can probably guess the gist of it.)

At any rate, as usual, my remarkable friends responded with gentleness and love. You guys are a supportive lot. In a particular conversation, Michelle and I were talking about the disconnect between the social ideas of success and our personal idea of success. In other words- when I say I don’t feel successful, whose standards am I using? The standards of society: get a job, get a house, make money, get a fella? Or other, more personal goals and means of understanding success: personal growth, spiritual stability, the building of strong friendships, volunteering, etc?

There is no clear answer for this. Of course, social standards of success are not always bad. I genuinely would like a job and an income and a place of my own, and there’s not anything shallow about that. But if that’s all I’m going on to gauge my success, it’s not going to be pretty.

It’s not like I’m going to go all Thoreau on you guys: living in the woods, tax evasion, and being a social pariah may work well for some writers, but not for this one. I’m just saying that my conversation with my friend was a great reminder that there is more than one way to define success. For example, giving to others of your time and yourself is definitely a mark of a successful life- but it is a lot more difficult to do this if you are not in a stable, secure place yourself (and this requires some degree of traditional, material success).

Success seems to be a combination of accomplishing your goals and learning something when you don’t.

What do you think? What is the best unit for the measurement of success? And how are things stacking up for you these days?

6th time’s a charm?

“Would you want me

When I’m not myself?

Hang around while

I am someone else?…”

*

It was summer. I was seventeen. Still reveling in the newfound freedom of the Younger-Than-Average College Freshman, I was convinced: this would be the night of my life. My friend Chrissy and I stood expectantly in a capacity crowd at Starwood Amphitheater (may it rest in peace). We had already rocked our way through Maroon5, who was riding high on the success of their latest record, Songs About Jane. They had just left the stage, and we were having difficulty remaining still during the set change, twittering and twitching like birds on a wire. Suddenly the lights went down, all of us were dropped  into darkness. And out of the dark rose thousands of shrill, distinctly female voices. And as one of two of the ecstatic throng, we screamed; the hysterical, aching scream of mania.

A single chord clanged forth from a Fender Stratocaster that was being held like a lover by its owner; an unassuming kid with big brown eyes, wearing jeans and a polo shirt. His hair was unkempt, and his face twisted into funny little contortions as he played, clearly mimicking the sounds made by the guitar with his mouth. It was like  watching a teenager singing along with his favorite records into a hairbrush, gazing into his bedroom mirror, and practicing his best, most aloof smile. John finished the first song, and the crowd erupted once more. We were the euphoric onlookers for his nostalgic little pantomime, paying eavesdroppers there to break his silence.

SO ready for my close up, Mister Mayer!

Already a fan of John Mayer by the time I made it to my first show, that performance had me hooked for life. I had started listening to John a couple years before to impress one of the Cool Girls in my high school. Needless to say, it didn’t work. But by the time I realized that kind of thing didn’t matter, I found myself a fan in my own right. Funny how that works. Who knows how many of you are out there listening to John Mayer  right this minute in an effort to impress me?  The Shadow, maybe.

Tomorrow night will be my 6th show; that’s more than anyone else that’s not local. Of course the polo shirts are long gone, and he’s got an armful of tattoos now. His reputation has morphed from sweet, square Boy Next Door to gritty, unapologetic Bad Boy.

Through his reinventions, I keep listening, though. Because a couple of important things remains unchanged. For one, he can still play that guitar just like a’ringin a bell, to paraphrase Mister Chuck Berry. And beyond that,  his songwriting remains honest, transparent, and eerily reflective of my own struggles; for contentment in the face glaring loneliness, for meaning, and for a romance that matches my dogged, if somewhat cheeky, idealism.

I know some of you might look on me with a critical eye for appearing to ignore his rougher edges. But there’s something to that. Of course,  I reserve my opinion of him for after meeting him, which I am totally convinced I will do someday. And I believe that the best parts of us are hidden. Sometimes this is voluntary, sometimes this isn’t. But I think the most genuine parts of a songwriter come out in his or her creative expressions. So when I listen to songs like “Love Song for No One”, “Gravity”, or “Perfectly Lonely”, I can’t help but retain the ideal. Because that’s the John I never fail to feel connected to. And I know he’s still there. Someday, I will thank him in person for the ways his music has helped me to feel less alone over the years. And until then, I can hold out the same idealistic, silly hopes I’ve always had about him, much like I do for the rest of my life pursuits and the rest of my heroes, however human they may, in fact, be.

Since that first show, I have lived in two other cities. I have finished school twice over. I have embarked on a new path in my spiritual journey. I have experienced both titanic losses and innumerable blessings. And his is among the music I return to the most to remember how it used to be; to keep me pacified while I wait for what will be.

So, John, thank you for your writing, your musicianship, and for waging the Battle to find and be yourself. Thank you for all the many hours of comfort your own struggles and uncertainties have provided in the midst of my own. You ask in one of your songs “Who do you love: me or the thought of me? Me or the thought of me?” And I admit, for now, I hold up to the light the thought of you. But it makes for something pretty, like a comforting memory, like a youthful dream.

I’ll be there  tomorrow; lost in the sea of others all too like me. I’ll be hoping for some tiny moment I can claim as uniquely my own. And whether or not it comes, I will sing right along with you, till I’m all out of blues.

put a ring on it?

Weddings.

Proposals.

All those shows on TLC that revolve around getting married or the minutia thereof.

Weepy indie pop.

Chick flicks- or RoCos, as one of my guy friends affectionately calls them.

Chance meetings.

Smiles from a kind stranger.

(Not-so) secret admiration.

You’re about to be bombarded with all this and more for the next two weeks- so I thought I would help you be prepared.

The World is gearing up for one of Hallmark’s favorite “holidays”. And it seems like every year, I write something about the epic Struggle between Singlehood and Contentment with who I am- and then three-hundred-sixty-something days roll by and I find myself staring expectantly at my computer screen, waiting for it to ask me if I come here often.

Don’t get me wrong: I still have the same inner turmoil- so strong at times it feels like it might rend me in two. But I won’t leave you dancing to the same old song. This time, I will force myself to write from a unique perspective within this topic. There is one lesson that Professional Singlehood has definitely taught me over and over and over and— well, you get the idea . . .

I have learned how to be a friend. Friendship is very difficult. Anyone who tells me they want to be “just friends” “just” doesn’t understand what a friend is. There isn’t anything simple or diminutive about it. [A more accurate way of putting it might be “just acquaintences”, “just strangers”, or “just two equally dissatisfied, yet equally intimidated people”- but none of these rolls off the tongue quite so easily.]

My point is- unless it would find me in an unhealthy place emotionally, I take almost everyone who tells me he “just” wants to be friends at his word. And boy- is it “just” about one of the hardest commitments to make! Because friends stick around whether they’re being attended to or not. Friends learn to be honest. Friends share joys and sorrows. Friends fight the constant, uphill battle of communication.

I’m not saying that being single gets easier the longer it lasts- but I am so thankful for each of these guys who, in his own way, has taught me how to listen, not listen, laugh at myself, or laugh at him- at just the right moment. For every one of them who has made me angry, I am thankful. Because in those moments, I know that I am strong, that I have feelings, and that they are real. For every one of them who has made me sad, I am thankful for the opportunity to consider the source, and to reach out and find hope Elsewhere.

As much as I hate to admit it, there can be no girlfriendship without friendship.

But at the same time that I have had to fight to see the forest for the trees, I have also been blessed to look around and see so many people I have had unique connections with still remain as friends. Some have gone, but many of you are steadfast. And it means the world to me. Even though you all still smell funny and have cooties.

Of course, those cooties can be counter-acted by two very important things: solitude and Girl Time. Two more things that Singlehood has allowed me to relish, along with so many unique expressions of friendship. As wonderful as Prince Charming is, nothing can replace the feeling I get when laughing with one of my girlfriends till my stomach hurts. Or when finishing a poem or a story and realizing that I, and I alone, am the first one to see it and appreciate it, complete.

The truth is, as much as I know by experience that it isn’t good for (wo)man to be alone [all the time], I also revel in the things that my time alone teaches me about who I am: whether I’m learning how I have grown or how I need to. And I know there will come a time when my alone time and my time to be silly and go out dancing or sharing the karaoke stage with my girlfriends will be next to none.

But until some fella puts a ring on it, I am free to be me. Even if I sometimes have to do it through clenched teeth. Most of the time, I end up laughing.

carry moonbeams home in a jar?

“Would you like to swing on a star,
Carry moonbeams home in a jar,
And be better off than you are?
Or would you rather be a fish?”-

from “Swingin’ on a Star” (written by Burke/VanHuesen, made popular by Frank Sinatra)

I am very much a night owl. I find it easier to work at night, easier to focus – and I am generally more open to creative thinking as it gets later. It takes my insides much longer to wake up than my outsides.

One of the things I love best about night time is the stars. They have been a muse for us people-beings as long as they’ve been perched in the heavens. G*d numbers them and knows their names. They shine like a lover’s eyes. They mark the passage of centuries and the birth of kings. And they’re dang good for wishin’.

Wishing on stars is very romantic. Well, any kind of wishing is romantic. The idea that you can send a thought straight up to the cosmos just by thinking it- the ability to be freed from the constraints of rationalism when the clock strikes 11:11- there is something beautiful and bewitching about that.

I was talking to someone once about wishing, and she said the wishes we make are kind of like little prayers. Well, what if they weren’t kind of like that, but exactly like that? What if- when you wished for the phone to ring and it be someone special, or for the sky to rain jellybeans- you were actually petitioning the Divine?

I understand that many people find wishing superstitious- and not everyone who will read this is the praying kind. And that’s okay!  But everyone has wished. Every single person has hoped against hope for something that seems impossible to happen at some exact moment of his or her choosing.

Wishing connects us.

I love thinking about that- connectedness – how somewhere out there is another person thinking the same thing, wondering the same wonders, asking the same questions that I am. And I love being reminded that the world is bigger than just me and life is bigger than just this moment.

Wishing came up in conversation again last night- and I realized when I made my wish that wishes allow us to consider the impossible- to hope for the unimaginable- and with great enthusiasm. . . “Please. please, please!” we whisper. For one moment, in one tick of the clock, we have unreasonable, exuberant faith.

Children are very good at wishing- because they have that sort of faith all the time. When you are a child, nothing is impossible, whatever you are wishing for just hasn’t happened yet. Children don’t feel the need to explain, justify, or rationalize anything.

Last night, I got to thinking- there is no reason why I shouldn’t allow myself to think like that: on a clear night, when I see identical numbers on the clock face, or anytime. And that’s good news for a girl with a head full of aspirations and a hankering to own a tiny Hawaiian stringed instrument.

So clear your head, blow out some candles, synchronize your watches- and  take a moment to consider the impossible.

Think like a child. Close your eyes.  Make a wish.

Or would you rather be a fish?