Essay: Piano

I wrote this in response to Carrie Mesrobian’s Tiny Letter about her piano experiences. Which I cannot find online.  It came to my mailbox, it doesn’t seem to be in her archive.

I played piano starting in second grade, and quit by fourth. I also hated to practice.  That hatred of practice followed me to other instruments: flute, oboe, saxophone, guitar.

My mother sold our piano when I was in seventh grade.  I hadn’t touched it in years.  My grandmother objected.  “Every house should have a piano,” she said “just in case someone might want to play it.” I was relieved it was gone, then wanted that piano back a few years later, even while avoiding practicing my concert band music.
I started playing again two years ago.  I play about five minutes a day and have made minuscule progress. I play on a keyboard my friend bought for her daughter, before her daughter aged up to a real piano.  It doesn’t have all 88 keys, and the keys it has aren’t weighted.  I want a decent electronic piano (my boyfriend doesn’t think our house is big enough for a real piano) but haven’t saved the money, and am partially worried once I invested any sum of cash I would lose all interest and there the piano would sit, with the guilt rolling off of me when I dusted it.
When I play, I feel connected to that theoretical musician I once was.  I think of an ex-boyfriend, who makes his living as a musician.  I imagine futures when I will find people to blues jam with, or have people over to play and sing.  The piano seems to transport me to the past or the future, with very little progress made in the present.

The peaceful transfer of power

I’d hoped for a different kind of day. One with historic implications. One where I set aside my daily doings to watch the ceremony, so I could say, “I watched her inauguration.” I was looking forward to the day when, after 241 years of US history, we finally had a president who looked like me.

This morning, reading my friends’ final “Obama: Yay!” posts, I broke down. It’s hard to see a woman I voted for lose, but it’s even harder to see a highly qualified, nose-to-the-grindstone, over-prepared woman who really, really wants the job lose. It’s even worse that the man who won is not highly qualified, woefully unprepared and I suspect him of wanting to win the election more than wanting to govern the country.

The clip from Facebook that tripped me over to sorrow was Barak Obama at his second inaugural. After giving his inaugural address, he left the podium, then turned back saying something to the effect of: “I want to take a second look at this. I won’t see this again.” That appreciation—of how lucky one is to be the US President—will be missing for the next four-to-eight years. We’re setting aside a leader who understood gratitude, and struggle, and going high when others go low and we’re swearing in a leader who thinks his success was inevitable, who never misses an opportunity to promote himself, and who responds to the smallest slight with a full-bore attack.

Maybe something good will come out of this chaotic and often hate-filled leadership style. It’s possible. In the time between the election and the inauguration I’ve looked for signs that the man we will call President takes seriously the gravity of his duties. I’ve found little evidence.

In four years, I’m guessing my life won’t be very different than it is now. Sure, we could get sucked into some sort of war that’s entirely unnecessary, but we’ve been doing that since 2003. My hopes for the next four years include the wish that people aren’t hurt by policies I disagree with (ban on Muslim immigrants, repeal of the health care law, bathroom “safety” laws) and that maybe things take a turn for the better.

Joining the government is public service. I’ll be watching to see who is being served, who is being left behind and who is being left out.

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Essay: On Popularity

I’ve been thinking about popularity lately.  Specifically of the high school kind.  I see the popularity class structure depicted over and over again in movies and books and I think they get it wrong.  Books have more nuance than movies, but still don’t hit the mark.

Popularity in movies and books is a straight line, with the least popular person or group at one end and a very clear person/group at the top.  Every character talks about how popular they are, where they stand on the line of popularity and what they need to do/not do to move up or down in line.  People say things like “she’s the most popular girl in school” or “he wasn’t very popular, but he started working out and moved up and now he’s prom king.

In a recent YA book I read, social order is a big theme of the book.  The protagonist is part of a quartet that includes the most popular girl, the girl that everyone is talking about.  At one point in the book one of the protagonist’s friends leaves the quartet, saying something to the effect of, “I’m leaving this, I’m going to fall so far that no one will know who I am, I’m out.”  And then she convinces the protagonist to come with her.  In the pages of the book the two of them do fall off the social radar of the school, so much so that when fortunes turn and the protagonist becomes popular again a year later, some people don’t even recognize her, even though she hasn’t undergone the classic movie technique of the transformative makeover.  I find this construct to be complete crap.

My school experience was very steady. I went to an elementary school that fed into the junior high school that fed into the high school.  There were no major boundary changes at any time and a large percentage of the people I went to elementary school with were sitting in the same group of nearly five hundred graduates in my high school class.  Here are my memories of how popularity worked.

In early elementary school we were all just there.  There were some smart kids and some not-so-smart kids and there were friend groups, but they weren’t drawn with firm lines and a lot of people played (this was before play dates, we just played) with other people.  Around third grade and definitely by fourth grade, some people started to become more cool than others.  In my mind, this happened when two girls moved to town and suddenly some of my friends were changing, doing things that were perceived as cooler.  These things usually happened at slumber parties I wasn’t invited to, which I was okay with, because I didn’t like the sound of what they were doing.  I can only remember the uncomfortable feeling and not the actions that made these girls cooler, though I suspect they were along the lines of prank phone calls.

From fourth through sixth grades, our elementary grade of 50 students in two classes had divided into cool and uncool kids.  I knew where I was (uncool) and I could tell you where everyone else was if you asked me, but—and this is the key to how popularity really worked—no one did ask me.  We didn’t talk about any of this, not with parents, not among ourselves, not with teachers.  Friendship groups had subtly shifted and no one said a thing.  In the movies, this would be depicted blatantly by two friends conversing: “Delilah has gotten much cooler than us.”  In books it would be depicted more subtly, perhaps a paragraph about the changes in Delilah ending with an observation that Delilah was cooler.  But in real life?  Certain people were spending more time with other people and certain people were being invited to parties while other people were not, but there was never a time to sit down and chat about it.  There was never a time when someone told me I wasn’t cool.  Instead there were a lot of regular reminders of how I wasn’t in the cool group.

Again, I don’t remember anything specific, it was just a feeling I had, perhaps brought on by days and months and years of asides and glances.  One too many comments about how many books I read or how I knew the right answers or what I was wearing.  The theme seemed to be “you are not like us” or “you don’t belong with us” but never was it, “we’re cooler than you.”

This was disconcerting.  I didn’t want to be part of the cool group—they made me uncomfortable—but I worried that all my friends would change over to the cool group and I would be alone.  With only about 25 girls to choose from, I had a friend group of probably five people, and losing too many of them would leave me with nothing.  I was also worried because my closest and oldest friend was very good friends with the cool group and I spent a lot of time worrying when she would stop being friends with me and choose them instead.  She turned out to be one of those kids who can float between all groups and we remained good friends through almost all of high school.  But I had no way of knowing that in fifth grade.

Also—and this is a key of my memories of popularity—I was doing the same thing.  There were people who were not cool people that I didn’t want to be part of my friend group and I made sure that didn’t happen, either by making the same kind of comments the cool kids were making to me, or I ignored them entirely.  I went to elementary school with a girl who would become a very close friend in junior high and high school and I don’t remember anything about her during elementary school, except thinking she was weird.  And I didn’t even think about her very often.  Keeping with the lack of conversation about popularity, the two of us have never discussed this.

People could join the cool group.  I remember a very nice girl seemed to make a decision to be cool and started hanging around with the group.  I watched as they weren’t very nice to her and it reinforced my belief that that group was not for me.  She stuck around though, and remained cool through junior high.  I don’t remember her at all in high school, though she graduated with me.

In junior high we flooded together with five other elementary schools who had presumably been going through the same changes we had. There was a brief period in seventh grade when elementary friendships fizzled and new friendships were formed and everyone found their group again. It was more of a free-for-all than the changeover from high school would be because for the first time we had an officially popular group.  No one told me who they were, I just knew. I still know, could pull out my seventh grade yearbook and tell you who was popular.

I also knew I was not part of that group.  Mostly I remember the popular boy who lived down the street and his attitude toward me at the bus stop.  There were only five of us waiting at my stop and it was awkward every morning. Make conversation?  Don’t make conversation? It seemed weird to not talk, but every time I joined in he would look at me and I would know he was thinking what a dork I was.  Interestingly, he still had this look at both the tenth and twentieth reunions.  My adult self thinks perhaps he was just squinty, but years of experience tells me that he still thinks he’s cooler than I am.

Again in junior high, I didn’t want to be popular.  I heard tales of things they did at parties and I didn’t want to do those things and so I had no reason to be popular.  And I had friends of my own.  It was touch-and-go in seventh grade.  I can recall hanging out with people I was not friends with during the rest of school.  But I had my oldest friend around and people rotated in and out until mid-eighth grade when I found the core of people I would spend the rest of junior high and high school with.

So for me, junior high and high school was all about the friend groups.  There were tons of different friend groups, one of which was the popular group, but many more groupings of three or more kids who hung out regularly.  The popular kids did their popular kid things and the rest of us did our things.  And people were friends and friendly to people who weren’t part of their groups.  I didn’t know everyone, but I had classes with people of all different groups, we talked, sometimes we did things.  There wasn’t a firm line drawn around my group of friends, and I didn’t forget the names of people I had in classes.  There were popular people I enjoyed spending time with in class, even though we would never talk outside of class.

Our junior high and another one fed into my high school and there was another rearranging of groups, less dramatic than the junior high one, but with 500 people in a class it’s reasonable that people spun away.  I talked to people at my reunions who I spent a lot of time with in junior high and have no high school memories of.  But I didn’t forget them.  I still knew who they were.  In high school there would also be small shifts at the beginning of every school year when the new class of people arrived and people from different grades made their way into friendship group.

So popularity wasn’t some straight line from uncoolest person to coolest person.  There was a group who was popular and everyone knew it, and then there was a web of other groups who were not popular and probably—like me—didn’t care that they weren’t popular as long as they had friends.

I can recall one friend blowing my mind with the observation about a popular girl.  “What makes her popular?” she asked.  “No one likes her except her friends.”  This was a true statement.  No one could stand this girl.  Unlike some popular people who were nice, this girl was not nice and not friendly.  My friend continued, “I have friends who like me, so does that make me popular?”  It did not and we both knew it, but I was left with a different view of the popular people.

It would be interesting to have people from high school sort people into the groups that they remember. I want to see what kind of groups the people in the popular group would make.  Do they see themselves as popular?  Would they pretend not to be, because popular people are mostly depicted as assholes in popular culture?  One of the most popular people in our class recently directed a movie in which a character very much like herself was portrayed as being very uncool, not popular.  Does she really not see herself as popular when the rest of us do?

Popularity in my school experience was much like my experience of the American class system.  We don’t talk about money in the U. S. of A. and how much we make.  But most of us have sorted ourselves into friend groups of similar income amounts and educational levels and I can make some guesses as to how much money people make every year.  People who make a lot of money are often depicted as popular/successful, even though—like a certain person in my class—no one really likes them.  Some people might be aspiring to a different income level/popularity and paying for more things with credit cards than cash, because they want into that higher group.  Just like school, they might not be saying that overtly, but we can all see it.  Not that we’d ever say anything about it.

An aside that I couldn’t jam into this essay. I recommend Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen which examines a current-day eighth grader’s quest to become more popular using a book from the 1950s.  Aside from being a great marker of contemporary adolescence, Van Wagenen really digs into what makes someone popular.  Her conclusions are interesting.

Essay: Advice Column

Note:  I’ve been wanting to write more essays, but haven’t really had anything burbling to the surface to write about.  But now Poets & Writers will send me a weekly creative nonfiction prompt every Thursday and so I’m angling to use that as a weekly springboard for a short essay.  It might not be every week, especially as school gears up, but I’ll do my best.

Think of a situation from your past when you were unsure of what to do and wished for someone’s advice or opinion. Describe the scenario and ask specific questions about your next course of action, as if you were posing the issue to an advice columnist. Then, write an essay in the form of an advice column response to yourself. Analyze the situation objectively–cite relevant anecdotes, examples, or hypothetical outcomes–and share words of guidance, insight, and encouragement with your past self.

Dear Advice Columnist,

I’m 23.  I’m a week into a graduate school program in something I think I might like to do for work.  I graduated college a year ago—finished school in three and a half years—and have been working while waiting for the next stage of my life to begin.

The thing is, I like the job I have now.  I like the people, I like the work.  I’m good at school, but the thought of more hours in the library turns my stomach.  I can make myself do it, but should I?  If I go full time, I’ll be done in two years, have a dual degree and can get on with my life.  But something in me wants to chuck the grad school thing and just keep going to work every day.  Advice?

One Path Seems Much More Attractive.


Your signature says it all.  I suspect your hesitancy has to do with the fact that the more attractive path isn’t the one you are supposed to be walking on.  Or the one you think you aren’t supposed to be walking on.  So let’s go through things objectively.  On one hand, we have the graduate school path, which will possibly lead you to work that you might like to do.  I’m betting that work pays more than the job you have now and I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that your theoretical work will pay more than you make now.

On the other hand, we have the job you have now that you really like. I can tell it’s something that you are qualified for based on your undergraduate degree, or possibly your high school diploma.  You wouldn’t be the first person to finish school and pick up work that looks a lot like the stuff you did to get through school.  I don’t know if it is something you will always like, if it’s something that you can add new challenges to, if it’s the kind of work that will always be available to you.

You also don’t seem very excited about graduate school.  And I believe you when you say that you can power through and do the work because someone who shaves off a semester of college knows how to get work done.

But you don’t want to do the work.  Not right now.  Maybe you’re still worn out from undergrad, maybe you are having fun in your paid work, maybe you never really wanted to do whatever this graduate school program is training you to do.

Here’s what I know.  Graduate school will always be there.  Sure, it’s convenient to go now, when your options are probably pretty wide open, you’re used to the school stuff and you have all of the getting-into-the-program stuff behind you.  As you get older all of those things get harder.  But right now you’ve got a job you like to go to where both the people and the work are stimulating.

You can try for a middle path, maybe see if you can shift your work around to accommodate a half-schedule and a class or two per semester for your program.  You can see if you can reduce your work schedule to minuscule, just to keep a toe in the fun, while you power through your graduate program.

But if you are more of a singularly focused person, go with the job for now.  Maybe try to keep some options open in the grad school direction, volunteering, what have you.  Or maybe decide that your job now is what you want now and do that job.

Whatever your choice, make your decision and be happy with it.  Maybe skipping graduate school isn’t the path you planned, but it might be the path you choose.  So go with that path and be thankful for all the things it will bring to you.  If it ever starts looking less attractive, do what you have to do to find a new path, by either doing that graduate school thing, or something else that looks interesting.

English philosopher John Lennon once told us that life is what happens when you are making other plans.  I think your life is happening right now.  Make your decision and go for it.

Good luck,
Random Advice Columnist.

Essay: Informational phoning rules reset.

Rules reset, phone manners.
Here’s an actual transcription of a phone call I received at work last week.
Me:  [Name of School], this is Patricia
Caller:  Uh, is this the school located at [gave address of school]?
Me: Yes it is.
Caller:  Are you gonna move any time soon?
Me:  We have our lease for another few years, but we have no plans to move in the future.
Caller:  Oh.
Me: Why do you ask?
Caller:  Oh.  Uh.  I’m opening a Medical Marijuana store and you guys are getting in the way of my plans.
Me:  Ah.  Well, you should plan on us being here for the foreseeable future.
Caller:  Okay. [Hangs up]
I chuckled, because I don’t get calls from medical marijuana dealers every day, but I also think this random interchange provides a great framework for shoring up our phone manners.  I’ve noticed they have diminished over the last decade or so, so let’s do a reboot.
1.  Figure out what you are calling for.
This seems rather obvious, but most people don’t do it.  I get a lot of random opening questions that aren’t quite heading us in the right direction to get the information the callers are looking for.  Then I have to play a hit-and-miss game of questions to pinpoint the information the caller is looking for.  In this case, Mr. Medical Marijuana wanted to know if he could hold off opening his business and still be in the location he had chosen because maybe the school had plans to move.  But yet, he starts by asking me to identify the school and location.
2. Begin with your name (first AND last) and perhaps title.
I know that many phone-type devices have ways to display who is calling, but this is not yet a universal thing.  I don’t have this for my phone at work.  When you begin your call with your name and title, it helps the person you are calling slot you into the correct part of her brain so she can help you.  In this gentleman’s case, I wasn’t sure if I was talking to a parent who needed the address, a visitor to the school or some other random thing.  If he had begun with something along the lines of, “Hello, my name is Steve Ganja of Ganja’s Buds and I have a question about your school,” then I would have been able to slot him into “outsider with random question” category and proceeded accordingly.
It’s also much friendlier to begin with your name.  I have quite a few calls from grandparents that begin with, “When’s Spring Break?” and when I tell them, they say thank you and then disconnect.  It feels rather abrupt and leaves me feeling slightly used.  And I’ve said it before, but please use both names.  All you Allisons and Jennifers and Dinas and Hilarys, there are multiples of you and I never know which one I am talking to.  I have to guess.  Throw on a last name and I’m golden.
3. State your question quickly and concisely.
In Steve Ganja’s case, he maybe could have said something along the lines of, “I’m opening a Medical Marijuana business and have just learned that your school is within 1000 feet of my preferred location, which means I can’t sell there.  But I’m wondering if you have any plans to move in the near future.”  See how clean and complete that is?
4.  When you have what you need, be sure to end the call politely.
A “hey, thanks” is always welcome.  Kind wishes for the day are good too.

If everyone would take these steps, phone conversation would be vaulted into pleasant interchanges during the day, rather than bemusing ones.

Essay: What I need to be creative.

It’s spring break and I have finally started sewing the two dresses I originally planned to have finished for the first day of school.  The first day of school plan didn’t happen, and I assumed that after the big exhaustion that is September, I would have them finished by the end of October, at the latest.  As you can see, that didn’t come to pass. In the months since I completed my last sewing project—the uniform aprons—I’ve had no energy to put in the direction of sewing.  My creative spark has been drained.  That got me thinking about what I need to be creative.
There are a few areas in my life that I see as my creative realms:  sewing, writing and gardening.  I think that this last fall/winter/spring, writing has really sucked up all of my creative allotment, leaving no room for sewing or gardening.  I’d like to achieve more of a balance among the three, but not at the expense of the amount of writing I’ve been doing.  It sounds like a tall order.  But here’s what I need to be creative at all.
A regular routine.  I first learned the power of a routine from Flylady ( and her lessons have been reinforced by HabitRPG.  (*  Both of those philosophies encourage me to do things regularly, before they become overwhelming.  When I was writing the first draft of the novel I’m working on, I felt like writing 500 words per day was a pace I could keep up and so my routine was that every day I had to write at least 500 words.  If I wrote more, that was fine, but if I missed a day, there was no writing 1000 words the next day to make up for it.  Each day gave me one chance to do my daily writing, so I had to make the most of it.  Most days I enjoyed the writing, so I didn’t need to have a hard and fast time to write, but I did try to do it “first,” either first thing in the morning—writing usurped exercise when I realized that I wasn’t motivated to go out in the cold and exercise—or first thing when I sat down at my computer for the evening.
The details of my life need to be under control.  This was also learned from Flylady and is supported by HabitRPG.  The dishes must be dealt with, the house must meet a minimal clean state, my finances have to be in order and I have to have adequate food and regular exercise.  If those things have spiraled out of control that energy tends to take over and kill any creative energy.  When things have gone undone for too long, I procrastinate more, avoiding both the undone task and the fun creative thing I would rather be doing.  I can get very stuck this way, and HabitRPG’s daily tasks really do a good job keeping me from falling into that black hole.
I can’t be obsessed with anything.  A short list of things I’ve been obsessed with in the past year:  The TV show Veronica Mars, Just One Day/Just One Year by Gayle Forman.  Every book by Gayle Forman.  The TV show Friday Night Lights.  Channing Tatum.  This is an area I don’t really feel like I have much control over, which disturbs me.  We don’t have cable, because it’s expensive and I would rather not be swept up in TV.  But I do get entire seasons of TV series from the library and am not very good at putting the brakes on them when I’m enjoying the narrative.  The same goes for books.  Sometimes I’m successful in setting limits, but not as often as I would like.  When I put a lot of energy into whatever I’m obsessed with, not only do I reduce the time I can be creative, I also tend to skip those all-important details which leads me down a very bad path.  I’ve got the first season of the New Girl arriving soon, and I hope I can keep things under control.
Easy accessibility.  I don’t like to spend a lot of time getting ready to be creative, I just want to jump in and do it.  With writing, it’s pretty easy, because I just turn on the computer and go.  With gardening, it can be more difficult because the three minutes it would take me to get out the tools for the day can be enough of a block that I can’t make myself start.  Sewing is even more formidable because six different things must be retrieved before beginning, then put away when I’m done.  For gardening, I’ve taken to leaving out the three most essential things I need.  With sewing, I try to make a ritual of the setup and break down.  Last spring I fell into a pattern of getting materials out on Friday after school and putting them back Sunday afternoon and that was helpful.  It wasn’t something I could do after summer, so I guess I need to refigure how I approach that.
Time.  If it’s something I’ve not done before I need a lot of time.  And it’s not even time to do the thing, what I need is vast amounts of time to roll the thing around in my head before I even begin.  I see this a lot with sewing.  If I have a complicated pattern, I need to give myself the space to read the directions and then walk away for a few hours or even a day or two.  This can be a problem when weekends are packed full of activities that aren’t sewing.  Thus, I tend to start big creative projects (sewing, home repairs, gardening) on my vacations.  When I need to do something and don’t have a ton of time, I try to focus on the smallest part of the next step and not think too far ahead.
So that’s what I need to be creative.  Knowing all this doesn’t mean I’m super successful in all my creative endeavors, but knowing these things about myself does keep me more productive, rather than flailing.  And you?

*I wrote an essay about the basics of HabitRPG which you can read here.  The site is even better now than when I wrote the essay.  Or you can read about it by just going to the site.

Essay: On Body Size and Actresses.

Back when the Kickstarter madness happened with the Veronica Mars movie project, I mused to the boyfriend, “Kristen Bell just had a baby six weeks ago.  What’s she going to look like when they film that movie?”
Having now seen the finished product, I can say that she looked good. And she looked like she’d just had a baby.  This, of course, means she looked odd, because women who look like they’ve just had babies aren’t regulars in our movie world.
Here’s my take on where we are with female body types and media:  incredibly thin.  Look at Rose Byrne, look at Anna Kendrick, look at Emma Stone, look at Mila Kunis.  They are tiny, just one teetering step above near-emaciated, in my opinion.  Contrast that to a mid-80s Cyball Shepard or Kathleen Turner or Alley Sheedy, who lived on the thin side normal weight where they still have breasts and hips.  Those actresses looked great, but are larger than our current female standard.  It’s to the point that I’m wondering how many accidental pregnancies have been avoided in Hollywood because I’m not sure the female stars weigh enough to be ovulating.
Obviously there are all types of bodies. Some are naturally thin and lean, like Kira Knightly.* A lot of women, though, come with the type of body that has curves.  What I would like is for it to be okay to be an actress and have those curves instead of denying the hand that nature dealt.  I’m guessing that, during filming, Kristen Bell was in the normal weight range, maybe even mid-normal, but because the standard is set to incredibly thin, she looked huge.
This drives me crazy because I long for a diversity of body types in media as much as I do other types of diversity.  Hollywood has two set points for women:  incredibly thin and very large. It’s rare to see an actress I would consider normal weight.  Amy Adams was my go-to example for a long time, but she lost weight for American Hustle and it remains to be seen if it will come back to her.  The movie Pitch Perfect gives us examples of both of our standard women bodies:  the hefty Rebel Wilson, playing her fat for laughs** and all the other characters being of the uber-thin type.  It was noticeable enough for my friend to comment about the film, “I enjoyed it too. Although I had a hard time getting beyond the fact that almost everyone (except for the wonderfully uncategorizable Australian character) was so very skinny – made me wince to look at most of them. I don’t even mean that ideologically, I just mean viscerally.”  I agreed with her (Ah, that’s what they do now, those actresses. Starve, poor things.) and was disturbed that it had gotten to the point that I hadn’t even noticed.
(Veronica Mars movie spoiler in this paragraph)
I wanted to not care that the Veronica Mars on screen for the movie looked different than the Veronica Mars in the TV series, I really did. After all, in the series she was playing a teenager, and in the movie a woman of 28.  Women of 28 tend to weigh more than teenage girls.  But throughout the movie, I was distracted by her normal-sized shape, then annoyed at my distraction.  This distraction/annoyance ran in a constant loop for the length of the film.  The whole thing even launched into comedy for me at the pivotal scene when Logan and Veronica finally come together.  The actor who plays Logan is smaller than he was in the series and with Kristen Bell being larger, everything felt off in an amusing way.  After the movie was over, Matt and I discussed the body differences and he commented about that scene, “it was kind of like real life.”  I had to laugh, because it is what happens to (regular non-acting) couples as they age.  If the men don’t gain weight they tend to get scrawny, while the women pad up.  For a moment on screen we had reflected before us our reality, not our ideal.  The fact that the reality distracted me from the story is disturbing.
I should probably throw in a paragraph so obvious it’s worth commenting on just because it’s not worth commenting on.  Male actors don’t have this same pressure.  Though men do have pressures to meet an idealized masculine state (Chris Hemsworth, Channing Tatum and, even at times, Matt Damon are much larger than most men can ever hope to be) diversity in size of males is much more accepted.  Men who are fat (or of normal weight) tend to be comedians and in comedies, but not always.  Vince Vaughn is notorious for teetering of the edge of the body type more likely to be cast as a wise-cracking character actor, but he still gets leading man roles.  In fact, the horrendous movie The Dilemma (which I don’t recommend, except for the small Channing Tatum role) nicely summarizes the split in gender body type.  We have Vince Vaughn (incredibly airbrushed for the poster–it looks like they took off 30 pounds) and Kevin James holding down the guys-of-normal/overweight roles.  Jennifer Connelly and Winona Ryder round out (or not as they have few curves) the too-thin girlfriend roles. ***
So, Hollywood, put hiring women of different body types on your to-do list.  I want to see curves, I want to see hips, I want to see that good-looking is all different kinds of things.  I’m happy to report that upon a second viewing of the Veronica Marsmovie, Kristen Bell just looked good, not heavy.  So it didn’t take me long to adjust.  If you start peppering your films with good actresses of every type, we probably will adjust, and will be better for it.
*Although looking at a few photos, I think she could put on a few pounds.
**And the fact that fat actresses are few and far between and only used for comedy and making fun of their body shapes is fodder for a completely different essay.
***More fodder for another essay:  the women are much better actors than the men in this film.  Yet no starring roles for them.

Essay: Advice for those in college, or planning on going.

Some random advice to you, because these things are on my mind. 
Some things are much easier than you think they are.  Internships, for one.  If you are like I was, the name is rather intimidating.  But it’s kind of the same thing as volunteering (if you are a humanities major) or a job (if you are in one of those fields where they actually pay their interns.)  So if you have ever volunteered, or held a job, it’s pretty much the same thing, but with a spiffier title.  You apply, which can be a formal process or something like stopping by the local historical society and talking to the director, then you get the internship and you follow the directions and do as you are told.
Do what you like
Speaking of volunteering/interning/working while you are in college.  If at all possible, find things to do that interest you.  If you get work-study, try and find a work-study position that interests you, even if it doesn’t directly pertain to your major.  If you decide to volunteer, do something that is fun to you, not what you think would look good on your resume.  Same for internships.  The reason is that you might not do what you thought you were going to do after college and if you are applying for jobs that are outside of your area of study, it’s great to have some experience somewhere in your past.  It may be that you have to work food service to get you through school, but if you love to spend time with children, try and volunteer with them.  Maybe you will end up working in a school or a daycare and you will be happy you have that experience with children.
Really think about it before you get a tattoo.  Think about the placement and design for a very long time before you commit. This is because–like everything–styles of tattoos come and go.  Maybe you picked out an awesome tribal tattoo for your very first, because tribal tattoos are the coolest thing ever.  How will you feel ten years later when someone points out how clichéd and lame tribal tattoos are?  (Could this be an example from my actual experience?  I’ll let you decide.)  In general, I would also caution you to put those tattoos where they can be hidden, especially when you are just starting down the tattoo path.  You’ve got your whole life to splash them across your body.  Put the first ones where they can’t be seen until you know that you want to be the kind of person who has visible tattoos.  It’s possible that in 10 years, you won’t be that kind of person.
Drinking and Drugging
Think carefully about drinking and using drugs.  If you are going away to a new school, meeting really cool people and ready for new experiences, it’s tempting to dive right into everything.  But you don’t really know these new friends and who knows if they will be the kind of friends you had back home who watched out for you while you were not 100% sober.  John Green said once that there are those in college who say never to drink and those in collage to drink all the time. He advises that you probably don’t want to pick either of those factions.  If you are going to drink, do it lightly and with care.  You’ve got stuff to learn and assignments to complete.  It’s best to minimize the fallout from your social time (read: hangovers).  Also, that stuff’s expensive, and you’re probably underage which makes it illegal.
Take fun classes!  You’ve got requirements to meet, sure, but find the most interesting classes you can to fulfill those requirements.  As someone who wasn’t the biggest fan of science and math, I was pretty happy to take Botany and Anthropology to fulfill science requirements and Logic to settle the last of my Mathematics requirements.  And I turned out to be awesome at Logic, which was not an experience I had in any other math class of my education.  Maybe you love science and math but are dreading your humanities requirements.  Find the crossover classes that sound interesting.  Or just scan through the schedule and take what appeals to you.  Maybe a class in memoir writing will be just what your physics-loving self desires.
Protein and PE
Eat protein every day and take a PE class every semester.  I’m not kidding about the protein.  There’s a good chance you will become a vegetarian/be faced with an entire dining hall devoted to pasta/have to cook for yourself for the first time in your life.  Take it from me and HAVE PROTEIN WITH EVERY MEAL.  And PE in college is awesome, plus it makes you exercise, which is good for your stress levels and health.  Most colleges have really great choices in all areas of PE.  I took everything from Ballroom Dancing to Advanced Swimming and Diving to Mountain Biking.  I would have loved to squeeze in a hiking PE class, or learning how to kayak or scuba dive, but I had to graduate.  If you take the class with friends, you have built in social time during the week too.
That’s all the random advice for today, collegiate friends.  Good luck to you.

Essay: Portrait of a teacher who hated me.

She was my eleventh grade Accelerated English teacher and the rumor was that if you were in her regular English classes, she wasn’t great, but she loved her accelerated students and it would be just fine.  Ms. P. was tall and well kempt, a no-nonsense woman who got things done.  She had five children, and that, in combination with how early they all got married, probably means she was a Mormon, though of the rare sub-types that used “Ms.” and worked for pay.
The rumors weren’t wrong about her preference for her accelerated classes, she sparkled as the year got going.  We proceeded at a fast clip, blasting through the Scarlet Letter, the Crucible and Huckleberry Finn in no time at all.  The two of us shared the same first name, and I made some rather wise observations at the beginning of the year, so things started out okay, but the ardor faded at least on her part.
I hadn’t always been tracked into the smart English class.  Most of junior high had been spent in regular English with the ambivalent readers and disinterested learners, but my ninth grade teacher had been impressed by my writing and suggested I change things for second semester, so I made the switch.  Accelerated English was more fun because people wanted to be there and we could have actual discussions.  And I read and wrote well enough to keep up with the others.  Things were fine that year and in tenth grade.
But ultimately, I was a lazy student.  I did my homework, but didn’t go out of my way to shine things up.  This worked well for other classes, but not for Ms. P’s Accelerated English.  She wanted blood, sweat and tears and I wasn’t really interested in providing any of those things.  Junior year was also a rough time in my mental health world, and the creeping depression that followed me around that year probably didn’t help endear her to me.
I can’t remember an official moment when I realized she didn’t like me, it was more of a gradual process.  There were comments on my work that struck me as rather harsh, and she didn’t choose me for reading aloud anymore.  I think subconsciously I started slacking off and developed an odd habit of forgetting things were due, which meant scrambling to complete assignments 15 minutes before school started.
When the semester changed over, she started bugging me about assignments not turned in.  I had no idea what she was talking about, but agreed to get them to her.  As far as I knew, I had completed everything, but she was the teacher, so who was I to disagree?  I limped through that quarter, not really sure what to do.  I dreaded going to the class, just as much as she seemed to resent me taking up space, but she was the only Accelerated English teacher, so I was stuck with her.  I can still remember the feeling of freedom that came with the sudden realization that I could transfer to a regular English class.
I did just that, explaining to the counselor that things weren’t working so well in my current class.  The counselor spoke with Ms. P. who agreed to let me switch once I had all my work turned in.  There was a tense day or two when I worried what would happen, because I didn’t know what assignments I had missed. My mother finally called Ms. P. directly and asked what I was missing.  There was a silence while she consulted her gradebook and then a longer silence before she finally said, “She seems to have turned everything in.”  When my mother repeated the conversation, I felt like I’d won, but my mother said we’d both lost.
Regular English was spectacularly easy.  We took an entire quarter to read (re-read, in my case) Huckleberry Finn.  Most people couldn’t finish two short chapters per night and the discussion was anemic, but the teacher was impressed by me and I felt happier there than with the strivers.
Despite my frustration with her, I felt oddly connected to Ms. P.  She was kind of like the bad boyfriend you spend too much time trying to figure out.  Why was she so mean to me?  Did I remind her too much of herself?  Was she taking a strict line to motivate me, and that failed spectacularly?  And why did she think I hadn’t turned in assignments I had completed?
After leaving her class, I avoided her, though I saw her in the spring down on the Greenbelt by the river.  She was riding her bike and I was watching my boyfriend skate, which was an activity I both loved and loathed doing.  I remember feeling embarrassed she saw me taking part in such a traditional girlfriend role.  We both pretended not to see each other.
My senior year she was the editor of the school literary magazine and I remember being very surprised when something I submitted won first prize—I figured she would sink anything from me, she was the kind of teacher who was overly involved in the student activities she supervised.  Was she more hands-off than I thought, or was the writing really that good?  It sent me back to puzzling.  One of my friends told me she had asked where I was going to college and seemed pleased to hear I was heading off to a women’s college.  That she would even ask also confused me.

It’s a teacher’s job to get their students to learn, ideally by connecting them with things to love about the subject.  Even then I understood that it is an impossible task to like all your students, so it seemed reasonable—though embarrassing—that this teacher in particular would dislike me.  As an adult, I still wonder what she was thinking, but I don’t fault her for her actions.  She provided a good lesson in searching for what I needed and that sometimes giving up is the best course of action.  It’s not the American tale of striving that we’re all supposed to believe, but it is something that needs to be learned at some time.