Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sindisiwe... and far too much laughter.

So remember when my friend Mandie took pictures of me in Lincoln Park and I wrote about it - about beauty, its experience, living into it, allowing it to radiate out of you like sunlight? Here is a taste of what (I hope) that looks like. Her art, my smile... Mandie, it is art. It is beauty. Thank you.

Some more of the photos can be found on Mandie's blog, Sindisiwe Photography. And not just the ones from our afternoon - just look at them all, because they are exquisitely made. She has quite a way of capturing people, details... her vision of the world is wonderful.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

I Have How Many Weeks Left? (Or, Why I Found Myself Wanting to Cry as I Walked Home from Eastern Market)

I was walking back from the hubbub of Eastern Market this morning with my friend Mandie, reveling in the fall colors and the 50 degree sunshine my New England body has been craving for the whole month of October, and it hit me suddenly: my time in DC is almost over. I arrived here in August with a midge on the airplane, and my fears tucked safely in my pockets. I arrived thinking that 14 weeks would be unimaginably long. I arrived without ever having lived in a city, full of excitement and trepidation...

And here I am, 8 weeks in, realizing that I love living in this city. Eastern Market was bustling today, people in their fuzzy scarves and hats, clutching cups of warm cider from Port City Java or tea from Peregrine Espresso, taste testing Asian pears and honeycrisp apples. When I turned around, there were little booths of handmade rose gold earrings, hand-roasted coffee, scarves and headbands, lining the street like the marché in Aix-en-Provençe. I sat in the corner of Port City Java, highlighter in hand, my skinny grey jeans and converse sneakers tucked under my chair, watching as a 40 year old woman in a pink leotard and bunny ears ordered a double tall skim cappuccino, as a random group of people dressed as pirates wandered through the food stalls, and as a group of girls shared scones and muffins.

I love walking on the cobbled brick of 8th St and feeling the wind on my face. And as I walked back, I felt like crying, because I am not at all sure how I will deal with the lack of Washington, DC in my life when December 11 arrives. Will I be lost in the suburbs of the North Shore? Will I feel at home anymore in my old red colonial house, or will I have come home only to be a stranger in two places instead of one?

Why do we travel? It complicates everything. I keep discovering places that feel like home: the wild moors of Devon, England, the bright lavenders and poppies of southern France, the Musée d'Orsay and the café near Notre Dame where Tatiana and I first discovered our love of café au lait, the sweet tea and po' boys of New Orleans, the Jubliee Center in downtown Montgomery... there are too many places to name, but my journey here has exacerbated this tendency to find "home" in the least expected cities.

I have always thought of myself as a rooted person. You know the old debates about roots versus wings? Are you a grounded person or a free spirit? Do you want to fly free or be anchored to earth? And to those questions I've always answered "Roots; grounded; being anchored." And I thought that it meant I knew that home was home, and away was away, and when I went away I would always be glad to come home.

But being here has changed my definition of home. I no longer think of it as my red colonial house on Wethersfield St; I no longer think of it as my small college or my beloved high school or even the North Shore of Massachusetts. Home is now also 8th St, the D6 bus, Union Station, Port City Java, the Starbucks on 16th and K, the Busboys & Poets on 14th and V, the Anthropologie I can't afford in Georgetown, the view of the Lincoln, the National Gallery of Art... home is in all these things, is all these things. I don't know when it happened, or how, but I know that I will be homesick for Washington when I leave.

Maybe we travel to know what we love in the place we left behind us. Maybe we travel because God has made a big wide world and wants us to enjoy it. Maybe we travel because it helps us find echoes of ourselves in unexpected places. I hope that I continue to travel for all these reasons, but most importantly I hope I continue to travel to change the meaning of home. I hope that I keep my roots, but that they begin to grow out beneath me to encompass the many places I have felt at home. I want to be at home in many places. Maybe lamenting at the prospect of leaving DC in a scant six weeks is the place to begin.

Thank you for traveling with me, readers. It has been wonderful to share this journey with you.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Fight with my Umbrella: Some Musings on Stress and the Art of Winking

You might have read this blog title and thought, "I know Hilary likes to combine unlikely things together and draw artsy conclusions, but what in the world do stress and umbrellas have to do with winking? And why in the world was Hilary fighting with her umbrella? It's an inanimate object!

You'd be perfectly within the logical limits of the human mind to ask such questions. I even ask these questions of myself as I write these blog posts (which I am doing at my kitchen table right now in lieu of working on some homework that probably needs to be done...). However, I'll do my best to make these musings interesting, perhaps even thought provoking.

This morning I woke up to the sound of rain. Not the gentle "pitter patter" that calls for warm cups of hot chocolate, sweatpants and a good book (try The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America by Bill Bryson). Not the angry "ka-BOOM" of thunderstorms that make you huddle in your fleece and wish that you lived somewhere it never stormed, like... St. Barts (maybe it storms there, but if it does, you never see on the calendar pictures of white sandy beaches and calm blue-green seas). No, this rain was the dull thudding of big droplets of water hitting the roof, soaking everything with a sort of boredom; it was as if the sky was saying, "Don't mind me, I'm just making puddles to inconvenience your outfit options." I donned rainboots and took my umbrella, and was ready to venture into the slimy wetness. I got out the front door and pushed up the part of the umbrella that is supposed to open above your head. Thinking I heard a "click" I then held it above my head, ready to take flight à la Mary Poppins.

Well, I hadn't actually clicked the umbrella part into place, so when I put it above my head, it collapsed back into itself, cascading water onto my head and down the collar of my jacket. If the sudden shower wasn't bad enough, I pushed the umbrella open again, heard a click, and the cycle repeated. Finally I was half-way down my block, my overweight bag holding high heels, a sandwich, and two notebooks slung over my shoulder, battling for my life with the umbrella.

I eventually triumphed, only to walk another 300 ft and stand under the bus shelter that meant I could put my umbrella away. Sometimes I think the inanimate objects in life are out to mock me. When I got off the bus at 16th St., I pushed the umbrella open again, only to walk a few blocks and realize it had stopped raining. The umbrella was no longer necessary, and neither were my hefty rain boots.

I was vindicated, however, when at 12:30pm I exited my office building (in the same hefty boots, troublesome umbrella in tow) and it was bucketing rain. I walked along 17th St. to M St. and I caught a glimpse of the beautiful Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. It's really breathtaking - this huge cathedral tucked away on M St., NW - a piece of a different world in the heart of the chaotic city. And it was then that I remembered that I have no reason to be stressed.

I don't know where the stress of this week has come from - I don't have a lot more work than usual, I have a routine and a schedule, and it's already November, which means the fall is flying by. I don't know if it is the beginning of a new policy project, or the feeling that this semester is going to slip through my fingers without even realizing it, or this weather (overcast but 75 degrees... raining but incredibly humid...). But whatever it is, school or rain or umbrellas that won't open and shower you with water on your way to work, I have felt stressed. I have felt like I can't quite touch down, can't quite feel my feet under me. And it's a disconcerting feeling, one that is all too familiar from my high school days.

But the counterpoint to my rain story is also the counterpoint to my stress. I was walking back to my building this afternoon after our policy briefing, passing a cool place called Bagels & Baguettes which is on Massachusetts Ave, NE. I was clomping forward in my boots (no rain, but my socks were soaking wet), sweating from the humidity, and generally wearing my stress all over my face. It was not the prettiest sight. As I trudged, a good looking, 20-something guy wearing khakis, a camel colored vest over a dark red tie, and dark brown loafers was crossing the street headed in the opposite direction. As we drew level he looked at me, and, I kid you not, he winked. He WINKED! I was so taken aback that I had been winked at by Mr. Vest that I smiled, and the smile turned to a laugh, and the laugh turned into a reminder that there is always a counterpoint to stress. There is always a counterpoint to umbrellas fights, to homework, to feeling like your life is perpetually running 45 miles ahead of you and you are being dragged by your hair to keep up. There is always a moment, however small or seemingly insignificant, that tells a different story. Today it was the wink. He did it artfully, just a quick smile and a one-eye blink and a slight wiggle of his left eyebrow. Other days it might be the woman who says "Have a great day!" in the elevator, or the quiet Bon Iver song that your iTunes decides to play for you. It might be a "good job on that policy brief!" from your professor or a hilarious and embarrassing run-in with a squirrel.

Whatever it is, cherish it. It is the counterpoint to stress, to the sensation of being overwhelmed, of being invisible, of being... off. It is the reminder that the world is a funny place, a wonderful place, a glorious place, just as it is broken and troubled and dark.

So, if you are in a week or a day when it feels like it's always raining, or you are working on a paper you can't seem to finish, or you're just feeling "blah," go practice winking in the mirror. It is guaranteed to make you laugh. And remember that we are given moments to be joyful as a reminder that life is good, however difficult it is to open our umbrella.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies, Lincoln Park, and Feeling Beautiful

Yesterday I had a taste of what life might look like if I actually live into the idea that I am beautiful.

Now, this is not a blog post about beauty or inner girl drama. This is not a blog post about a crisis of conscience or mirror-phobia. This is not a blog post where I lament my lack of shiny golden locks and Taylor-Swift-y style, or where I talk about overcoming our physical insecurities so that we can see ourselves as the world sees us.

Nope. I want to talk instead about the beauty of yesterday: it was 75 and sunny, the light streaming through the yellowing leaves like sun hitting the pages of an old book. The wind was playful today, kicking up the maple leaves on the ground in front of my pink shoes and my friends' cute boots or little black heels as we walked back to eat grilled cheese and tomato soup after church. The air felt crisper, cooler and yet friendly, as if being outside was what we were meant to do. Washington, DC is beautiful in this weather. It breathes easier, hums at a less frantic pace, and people wear expressions of surprised joy that fall has arrived. As my friends and I baked up a storm on A St. SE, our hands sneaking into the cookie dough every once in a while, and Norah Jones on the stereo, the smells of fall wafted around me: cinnamon, cloves, ginger, pumpkin, chocolate...

We need to soak in the fall. In New England we pride ourselves on our changing maple leaves, our apple picking and cider doughnuts, our steaming cups of hot cider and haystack rides and the brisk air and the whistling wind over Gull Pond. And I never thought that I would love the fall in DC because for so long it hasn't felt like fall. But here the fall is gentler. It sneaks up on you but it ends gradually, each morning a little colder than the last. There are occasional rainstorms or bursts of sunshine, and today was a day for soaking in the fall, especially the fall in this city.

I baked pumpkin chocolate chip cookies with some friends from church and as they were turning a perfect light golden brown in the oven, I looked around me and realized: I am making a life here. I am making a life with friends and cookies and being settled, and somewhere between 15th and East Capitol St., I have come to call DC home. I don't know how long it will be this way, but it surprises me how doable it is. I came here expecting to miss my family (and I do miss you guys!) and miss Boston (I still love that dirty water) and miss my school. I expected the missing to be obvious and apparent, and for DC to feel different, foreign and not-home. And to my surprise, and joy, it has become home.

I love to walk to Eastern Market and people watch in Port City Java. I love eating chili cheese fries at Ben's Chili Bowl (so delicious). I love going to my church that I can walk to in 10 minutes. I love hopping on the Circulator at Union Station and going to Georgetown to buy crepes or cupcakes or even just to walk around and enjoy the exploration. I love calling this city home.

And then I got to go do a photo shoot with my friend and phenomenal photographer Mandie. We went to Lincoln Park and she took pictures of me, telling jokes about grapes, ducks and roosters and making me feel beautiful. There was something so freeing about it - being told to look serious, then laugh instantaneously, then smile quietly, and then throw leaves in the air. We poked around Eastern Market and I saw everything with new eyes: the colors seemed richer and the iced apricot tea tasted sweeter. I saw people with their dogs and their children, or people wandering through tasting the freshly made hummus, or people in a hurry to get home and cook their dinners. And I realized, as Mandie snapped picture after picture and I learned to laugh on cue, that being beautiful and feeling beautiful is not about how you look. It is about how you respond to the beauty around you. It is about how you invite it into yourself and how you reflect it back out. It is about having the heart to see the smile dancing in the barista's eye as she hands you your grande mocha at Starbucks, the stunning blue of the cloudless October sky, the pattern of chrysanthemums in a neighbor's garden.

So for those of us who cannot go to Lincoln Park on a Sunday afternoon, who cannot soak in the richness of Eastern Market or the view of the WWII Memorial at night, or eat crepes in Georgetown or even sneak a peek at the Capitol Building tonight... look instead at the places where you are, and hear the sounds, and smell the smells. And live the beauty.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Destination Marriage?! Some Reflections on a Lecture on Singleness (Which is NOT Mono)

Yesterday my program hosted a guest speaker to talk about marriage, singleness and the 21st century. A pretty hefty meat-and-potatoes speech, and definitely one I was going to carefully consider. About 10 to 15 minutes in, my pen was out and I was thinking about how to respond on this blog, because if there has been anything consistently on my mind this semester in DC, it has been the amoeba-like idea of "singleness."

Our guest speaker at one point said that the talk was going to address what happened if "singleness" was prolonged; if, that is, by the time you are 30 or 35, you are not married. My initial reaction is pretty strong. I wanted to stand up in the middle of the room in my DC power suit and shout, "IT IS NOT LIKE MONO! ME NOT DATING DOES NOT EQUAL ME BEING A CONVALESCENT RECOVERING FROM THE 14th CENTURY PLAGUE!"

When people talk about what to do if you are single longer than expected, I want to ask them what they think singleness is. It isn't a piece of lint stuck to your sweater that you can't shake off. It isn't the annoying song that won't leave your head for two months. It isn't something you "catch" from your ambitious, career-oriented single friends. And it DEFINITELY isn't something that you can take vitamins, read books, or do yoga exercises to avoid.

Our guest then went on to talk about this idea of living in autopilot, thinking that marriage and children and career and suburban home (or city apartment, or even a farm out in Arkansas) is the next stop to be called out by the conductor on the train of our life. And our guest was right - living in autopilot starts in college and doesn't end there. And it can often make us blind: blind to what God has in front of us, blind to the unexpected doors that fly open or the switching of tracks in the nighttime (this train metaphor is harder to continue than I thought).

So our guest (who I will now refer to as "Dr. X" for anonymity) cautioned us against living in autopilot. Dr. X is right. Autopilot makes us think that if we just sit quietly and bide our time, if we just walk forward, if we just follow a daily routine of Bible reading, praying, exercising, being environmentally conscious, being coy, not calling a guy back for 3 days or reading What Southern Women Know About Flirting, watch SATC and mimic Carrie or Charlotte, eating only almonds for breakfast... THEN we will get a significant other!

Woah. Wait... that phrase. "Significant other." I have a hunch that there is an inherent assumption in your mind (and in mine) that "significant other" means boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife. But does it have to? I just wrote about Meredith and Cristina and our people. Aren't THEY also significant others? Aren't our good friends, family members, mentors - significant others in our lives?! We would never say that you need to do all that crazy reading/exercising/eating almonds/TV watching to be worthy of the love of friends, relatives or mentors. We would never suggest that you are not ready to have friends, relatives or mentors if some "Checklist" had not been fulfilled. So why do we think that about dating relationships?

It isn't about worthiness. We are not at recess in elementary school being picked last for the dodgeball/kickball/soccer team. We are not in high school standing on the edge of the dance floor as the "Wonderwall" song plays and couples awkwardly put their hands on sweaty waists and shoulders. We are not sitting in the cafeteria at college alone (and you know what? Sometimes that is the most wonderful feeling in the world. Seriously). Singleness is not something we are supposed to escape out of, waiting for Superman/Batman/Spiderman/Iron Man to rescue us. It is something we live into. It is something we enjoy, enjoy the difficulties and the questions and the hardships, as well as the freedoms, joys and laughs. And trust me, when you're single, there are plenty of hilarious stories.

Dr. X said one other thing that I want to respond to. When asked by a student if people were called to be single, Dr. X replied, "Yes, but I don't think you'll know that until you are on your deathbed." First of all, I fundamentally disagree. Part of the difficulty of talking about Marriage and Dating and Relationships as a single person is that I unconsciously begin to expect those things for my life. I hear people saying, "God could bless you with other things besides marriage and children," but I then also hear, "It's never too soon to be thinking about what kind of wife and mom you want to be." My brain can't take all that paradox. Do I live into the meaning of being single as a 20 year old in the city of Washington, DC? Do I prepare my heart to be a wife and mother? If I prepare for that, and God intends to give me something else, then what was all the preparation for, if not to make me think God had withheld a promise to me? If I am on a train bound for a life of being single, what good does it do to be checking the map for "Destination Marriage"?

I fully, wholeheartedly believe that people are called to be single, and that it is a call that can be known and lived before you gasp your last dying breath. Singleness can't kill you; but the expectation that it is a passing phase, a part of life to be gotten through, a bad cold or case of mono that you need to cure... that can stop you from living fully. And so, with all due respect, I disagree with Dr. X. You can know that you are called to be single, and far from waiting to find out if you are called or not (all the while hoping you are not), I think we should be sticking our heads out the window of the train we are on, breathing the air and looking at the landscape, and being surprised and excited by the unexpected stations we pull into over the course of the journey.

I'll end with a funny story, because, after all, I am 20 years old and life is here to be lived and enjoyed in its fullness. And I love sharing it with you all... and if you have heard the story before, well, enjoy it again.

About 2 years ago I was home for the weekend and decided it would be a nice thing to go to Dunkin' Donuts and buy the family Munchkins or a dozen donuts as a "I'm home and culling favor with everyone because I really want something AWESOME for Christmas" gesture. And it is raining, pretty heavily. Sidenote: all my truest adventures happen in the Dunkin' Donuts parking lot. Once I found a $100 bill there. Not kidding. Just landed at my feet. Awesome.

So it is raining and I am crossing the road in front of the drive-through window. And there is a crack in the pavement and I see it. As I'm walking, in my converse sneakers, my sort-of waterproof jacket and my nice pair of jeans, I think, "PHEW! Glad I saw that dangerous crack in the pavement with the big puddle of water collecting right next to it. That could have been bad!" And as I triumphantly think this, and step over it with my right foot, my left foot catches in that very same crack. I faceplant into the pavement, into the puddle, in front of a Chevy Suburban getting her coffee and the entire drive-through line, Dunkin' Donuts staff included. I stand up. I am covered from my forehead to my feet in muddy water. I stand paralyzed for a few seconds and then decide that my small French vanilla coffee is worth it. I walk into the Dunkin' Donuts with my head held as high as can be expected. I order my drink and then say, in an attempt to play off the incident, "Man it's raining. I just tripped into a puddle." The guy taking my order just looked at me and said, "Yeah. I saw you."

The only happy ending to this story is that I got a free coffee - Mr. Didn't Smile But Probably Laughs to this Day and Tells This Story on His First Dates decided to pity my mud-soaked self and gave me a free coffee. This story never fails to make me laugh and I hope you laugh, too. Wherever God may be taking me, I am glad to be going, single or married, with or without children, in whatever city or whatever country - with all the opportunities for tripping and embarrassing myself that new places afford.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Meredith & Cristina... Finding our "person" in the big wide world

In the turbulent second season of the hit TV show "Grey's Anatomy," Meredith Grey and Cristina Yang are sitting in a bar. They've had an argument about a pregnancy, and boys, and some other drama. And Cristina comes into the bar and says these (now well beloved) lines:

"The clinic has a policy. They wouldn't let me confirm my appointment unless I designated an emergency contact person, someone to be there just in case and to help me home, you know, after. Anyway, I put your name down. That's why I told you I'm pregnant. You're my person." Meredith asks, "I am?" Cristina says, "Yeah, you are. Whatever."

Ever since I saw (and bought) this episode, the concept of "my person" or "my people" has given me food for thought. Are we designated a certain number of these people? The ones who makes us laugh, who know us better than we usually know ourselves, who can ask the right question or challenge us with the right reminder, not because they are the wisest people in the world, but just because they know us best? Our people are safe havens and the motivators that push us into the world. They make us do scary things like go to Washington, DC for four months when we've never spent that much time apart from our family. They push us to think about the major we really love, the school we dream of going to, the job that sounds too perfect to exist. And through the challenging and the pushing forward, they love us consistently.

I have been blessed with several of these people in my life. My friendships with my people range from high school to this semester, from my age to much older, and they all look different. It wasn't until I came to this city, and met the roar and bustle of the 599,657 people who live in the District that I realized how important it is to have your people. It is easy to be anonymous here, easy to fade into the crowd, easy to feel that you are just one Starbucks-holding, black suit-wearing, Blackberry-checking person in a sea of similar people. My last few posts have been all about what we can learn from the strangers we pass on the streets. And I believe with my whole heart that we can learn a million different things from these strangers. But as a coworker at my internship so rightly pointed out to me today, your circle of people should be smaller than every person you walk by in a day. He is right; you cannot physically pour yourself out to everyone in the landscape of your life.

I have a hard time admitting this, especially in a city where I am so excited to meet new people. I want to get coffee with girls at church, I want to hang out with everyone in my program, I want to reach out to my coworkers and to the nice people I meet in the Metro. I want everyone to feel like they can have a person, that they have someone in their life to listen to them and love them, and I want to be that to everyone. And it was this almost unconscious desire to be everyone's "person" that was challenged by my coworker as he leaned in the doorway of my office this afternoon.

So readers, here are my two musings for the night (well, three if you count the musing that there is probably more to the Grey's Anatomy quote than I originally thought):

1. We cannot be all things to all people. We cannot meet a Meredith or a Cristina at every turn, and we should not expect that our friends of two weeks will know us like our friends of ten years. We should not push others or ourselves to become more than what we can become in our friendships.

2. But we cannot live anonymously. We cannot ask every person between Foggy Bottom and Eastern Market (a fairly decent Metro ride, for those of you who do not frequently take the Orange/Blue lines) to be our people; but we can (and should) seek out people that we trust, and seek to be trustworthy. We should open our hearts to the lives and stories of others and we should put our lives and stories into others' hearts.

So take five seconds (maybe 35) and make a list of the people who could sit in a bar and say, "You're my person" to you. Then make a list of the people YOU could sit in a bar with and say, "You're my person." And give thanks for them, for they give life its color and power and joy.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

2 Poems for the Soul

Dear Readers,

Before I let another moment go by, I want to share these two poems with you. One is from the Writer's Almanac for Saturday, October 16, 2010. The other I found while searching for a perfect poem to send one of my good friends. Enjoy. Let the words and the spaces between the words sink in. Read them out loud. Go outside and read them sitting in the harsh October sun under a tree that is setting its leaves free. Let the poems sit with you, for a while. Let the poems challenge you and what you believe words can do; repeat your favorite phrases, words, sounds...

And then, if you feel especially inclined, write one of your own, either just for you or for someone you love.


The Thing Is

by Ellen Bass

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you've held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

Bach Transcribing Vivaldi
By Lisel Mueller
One remembered the sunrise, how clearly it gave
Substance and praise to the mountains of the world;
The other imagined twilight, the setting in blood,
And a valley of fallen leaves where a stranger might rest.
One avoided the forest and made his way through fields
Where the sky was constant and clouds rang in his ears;
The other cut through the thicket, the thorns and vines
And was not touched, except by the dying of men.
One asked the road to the land of the golden lion
Whose eyes never weep, whose lifted hand scepters
The seasons of stars and the grafting of generations;
The other searched for the kingdom of the lamb
With the trembling fleece, whose live unreasoning heart
Consumes the mortal treasures of his loves.
Still, at one point of the journey one must have seen
The afternoon dip and drop away into shade
And the other come to a place where the forest cleared
Into white and violet patches of stars.

"Okay, I have a question... why'd they even invent caller ID?"

... "I mean like who is this service helping? For centuries, okay maybe not centuries, but for like, a lot and lot of years, people have been answering the phone, and not knowing who it is, and uh, as far as I can tell no one's died from that... All I'm saying is, if a guy doesn't call me, I would like to reserve the right to call him at fifteen minute intervals until he picks up. But if he looks down and sees my number he's going to think I'm some kind of psycho or something. Which I'm not. Obviously." - He's Just Not That Into You (the movie)

When I committed this 30 second speech to memory, it was mostly because of the girl's hilarious accent. I also thought it was funny because she sat there with her big hoop earrings and her cup of gelato and summed up all of our frustrations with not being called back. We look at the phone, willing it to ring. We look in the mirror, willing ourselves to just pluck up the nerve to call ourselves, because, gosh darn it it is the 21st century and we should be able to call a guy if we want to! And I also thought it might be a good reminder sometimes when I'm wondering how or why I am single.

But today, while I was walking to work, I was not thinking of the trials and travails of the single life. I was observing that almost everyone I passed was glued to their phone. It was like little elves snuck in at night and put Superglue on every Blackberry in the city - wherever I turned, a man or woman would walk by with the exact same posture and expression. It said:

"Get out of my way I am on the phone can't you see that I need my personal bubble and please do not brush by my messenger bag while I talk furiously into the tiny piece of metal and silicon that is now permanently affixed to my earlobe."

I don't know about you, but I have two questions. Number 1 - doesn't your ear get awfully hot from holding the phone there for so long? I mean, if I talk to one person for an hour or so, I have to keep switching the phone from one side of my face to the other, or I will hang up looking like I just ran a marathon. Number 2 - who is so gosh darn important that you cannot walk from one side of the street to the other before picking up the phone? Is it your boss' boss' boss? Your wedding planner? Your second cousin twice removed on your mother's side Angela, who has bunions and may need to have surgery on her right pinky toe next year?

I am sure that there are phone calls that need to be answered, clients who are in different time zones, feathers of important business people that need smoothing over. But I also get the distinct feeling that our cell phones have become grown-up security blankets. We can't appear to be alone in the wide streets of the city; if we are on the phone, it means we matter, that someone wanted to talk to us, that we are part of a network of people and we don't need to bother about our sidewalk neighbors. I pick up the phone sometimes if I am waiting for the bus on my way home from work so I don't feel like I have nothing to do but stare at my companions. Sometimes I even pretend to text people (when really I'm just checking my calendar or my "notepad" feature in my phone) - just so that I can feel a little more important, a little less like another blank face amongst millions of other blank faces.

But the ironic thing is, by doing that, we actually create the blank faces! I can't tell you what the girl next to me in the Starbucks line this morning looked like - I can tell you that she typed into her silver Blackberry Tour faster than I've seen anyone type. I can't tell you how the well-heeled man who sat next to me on the Red Line metro smiled, or laughed, or even said hello - but I can tell you that he could hold onto the handrail with one hand and type an email with the other on his red LG EnV3. I can't tell you the hopes or fears or even favorite subjects of the teenager who rides the D6 to Dupont Circle every morning - but she does own a new iPhone and she has mastered its apps. The people that could have been people are instead identified by their technical devices. Kindle over there, iPhone here, Blackberry Storm across from me, plain little flip cell phone two doors down, iPad tester on the Metro...

So why'd they even invent caller ID? Why does the life of this city seem to be lived along transmission lines far above our heads, while the lines of talking, smiling, drinking coffee together, laughing at the woman dragging her disgruntled pug down the street go almost completely unused? I mean, like who is this service helping? We can tell the town and state someone is calling from. We can tell you who they are to us (friend, colleague, business partner, family member), and what they might be calling about (we're expecting a baby, get me the Murdoch file stat, I need a list of where to send our Christmas cards this year). But in our rush to identify and communicate with these people via cellular device, I think we might have lost an appreciation for the ways that the strangers we meet in our coffee shops, CVS runs, Metro stations and 7-Elevens can change our lives. I think we might have gotten so attached, so Superglued to our phones and our technology that we feel naked without those lines of communication right in our hand.

We like control. We like not feeling alone. We like looking important. We like putting up an invisible, impenetrable wall of "I'm busy on the phone" around us and moving through the world untouched by the strangers who walk next to us. Our bubble might brush up against theirs, but for the most part we talk at our people and they talk at theirs. But what if we didn't? What if we turned off our phone, our iPad, our laptop... and just sat in a window and looked out at the world? What if I put down my pen in Starbucks tomorrow morning and just watched the people? What if, instead of scrolling through my contacts looking for someone to call so I don't look like I'm the lonely girl who goes home to make macaroni and cheese and cry to Kurt's performance of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" in Glee two weeks ago, I just put the phone away and smiled at the person waiting for the bus?

Okay, I have a question... why'd they invent caller ID?


Monday, October 18, 2010

All Suited Up and No Heritage To Go

Sometimes I hate calendars. I wish I could live in an endless wave of beautiful, 75 degree Octobers, the days meshing beautifully into nights and no cares or concerns for Sunday vs. Wednesday vs. Friday afternoon (when you're putting your head in your hands and wishing with all your might that the clock would magically SPRING to 5 and you could fly out of your office like a bird released from captivity). If I did not have a calendar, I could go freely from one task to the next and never worry, and think only about the "big picture" and the "process."


Who am I kidding? As an ENTJ (nicknamed "The Executive") on the Myers-Briggs, and as a 3 on the Enneagram test (known as "The Achiever") it is very unlikely that I would enjoy the big picture free flowing hipster coffee shop life is a bowl of trail mix attitude. It is far more likely that I would write a new calendar (like Caesar or Napoleon), make myself a daily regimen of boxes to check off, tasks to accomplish, draw up executive summaries. I am a Type A, task-oriented, get in my suit and go rock the presentation girl.

So, knowing all this, let me tell you a story about last Wednesday.

It was presentation day - my program was divided into groups of four or five and sent out to various stakeholders around the city to brief them on our research into energy policy. My topic was whether the EPA had the authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act (I know, so general). I was ready to break it down by stakeholder, issue, underlying concept of liberty and property, policy history... my group had met, arranged an order for our presentations, and had even thought about how to introduce our class project and what we knew about the general landscape of energy policy.

AND I was all suited up - my charcoal gray suit with the tags newly ripped off, gold heels with only one unfortunate black scuff mark on the left toe, my hair trapped in a low ponytail and fake diamond studs in my ears. When you get dressed for a presentation in Washington, DC, it's always tricky - you want to be memorable but not flashy. You want to be reserved but not stuffy and off-putting. You want to make them remember your content but also your professional attire, but not remember that the clothes all come from JCrew but just that you know how to dress yourself for the task at hand. It can be an ordeal choosing an outfit here.

So I was ready. And my group headed out to our briefing at the Heritage Foundation (which is conveniently located about 10 minutes away from the ASP building). We arrived and checked in, and then sat tentatively on the ornate but tasteful couches and stared at the fake orchid arrangement on the smooth wooden table. I always find that I perch on the very edges of couches as if I am afraid they will collapse under the full weight of me in my suit. But then I am trapped because I have to tense my calf muscles to keep myself from falling off (and how could I live it down if I fell off a couch at the Heritage Foundation?) - and then when I stand up, I'm sore. From sitting on a couch!

So I perched on the couch, trying not to fall over, sweating slightly at the thought that I was about to give my first presentation to an actual stakeholder in Washington, DC. And after five minutes another student in my group walked over to me... "Hilary! He isn't here!" I started. "What do you mean?"

"The front desk says he is out of town until tomorrow with a family emergency!"

My feet still wobbling from their previous tensed position, I walked over to the other corner of the front part of Heritage. What to do, what to do... I could reinvent the calendar and make tomorrow Wednesday, so that we could come back and he would be here. We could run away. We could present to the expensively papered walls of a conference room at Heritage?

I ended up calling our program director, and after a few more phone calls back and forth, my group trudged towards home. Talk about anticlimactic! After all the hype, all the preparation, after I had wedged my feet into those heels and shrugged the cute two button jacket over my shoulders... no Heritage presentation. No glasses of water to place on a table and watch the beads of condensation drip slowly onto the clean surface and form rings on the perfectly groomed furniture. No awkward pauses before questions get asked and no awkward pauses when NO questions get asked.

As we trudged back to ASP after our failed attempt at briefing, I couldn't help but think about how much stock we put in our calendars and schedules. I had planned on being at Heritage at 3pm that day for a briefing that would conclude at 4pm, and then I would go home to prepare for a mentorship meeting at 5:30pm and that would end by 7pm... on and on and on. I put stock in the calendar, in the written out agenda, in the false certainty of words and appointment books. My Type 3, ENTJ, personality-typing system loving self discovered that sometimes the unforeseeable happens, and your plan changes, and your schedule is thrown off balance.

And where maybe a year ago I would have worried to pieces about when we would manage to reschedule, or when we could fit in another planning session, or how in the world I would rearrange my daily planner to reflect this unfortunate (but comical) turn of events - last Wednesday I just laughed, groaned, laughed again, and put my gold heels in my bag, my old but trusty blue flip flops on my feet, and headed back to ASP. I laughed because calendars, much as I love them, cannot be my compass in this city or in my life generally. I groaned because I still have such a long way to go in learning this. I laughed again because the day was beautiful, the sun was shining on the uneven brick sidewalk and there was a black crazed squirrel scuttling up a tree. I laughed because Heritage or no Heritage, suit or no suit, unfortunate tripping down the escalator when running back from work to get to class on time in front of a crowd of good looking Hill interns or no unfortunate tripping, the unexpected will always prove more memorable than the expected. The surprises, in whatever form, will always prove worth forsaking the to-do list.

I'm working on this one, readers. Enjoy the sunshine (or the rain, or the gray clouds, or the thunder) tomorrow.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cloudy with a Chance of Anxiety: A few Perfectionistic Reflections

When I forget to do something, or make a mistake, or feel for .25 seconds that I have come up short (incidentally, .25 seconds is the time it takes Google to retrieve 22,500 hits on "air pollution" when I searched for my research project), I freak out. Physically. My palms sweat. My heart starts to race. My mind begins to spin like a top unleashed from the grubby hands of a six year old at the park. My muscles tense up as if they are preparing to run the 100 meter dash in the Olympics. And most importantly, my thoughts begin their daily calisthenics of self-reproach.

"You are so stupid!" I tell myself. "Why didn't you double check the spelling of that email address? Why didn't you make sure it was to the right person before you sent that email? Why didn't you think to CC persons X and Y and Z and confirm that they had received it?"

And then the story gets subtler. "Come on, Hilary, everyone is counting on you not to make a mistake. Everyone expects you to be perfect, to be the one who doesn't mess up, to be the one who is always right, always together, always successful, always responsible, always logical and always there. How could you let them all down like that? How could you make this huge, huge mistake and potentially create a problem for others? It's all riding on you now to fix it and make it better and they are all going to be so disappointed in you."

Sound familiar?

I have a firm belief that while only some of you who faithfully read this blog may struggle with psychologically-diagnosed anxiety, everyone feels the weight of these expectations. Everyone tells themselves, I have to be the best. Everyone feels anxious thoughts and anxious feelings. What follows is my (hopefully comical, definitely true) rendition of what I hear people say about failure, anxiety and being perfect, and my translation...

Actual Words: "Mistakes are what help me learn. I love to fail because I love to see myself grow!"

Hilary's Version: "Yeah, I like mistakes - I can forgive other people's mistakes. I don't hold it against them! I love to fail if I'm in a fool-proof, no consequences, padded room where the failure is just designed to humble me but it won't change my reputation among my peers and my community."

Actual Words: "Being perfect, and the desire to be perfect, is very short-sighted and very sinful."

Hilary's Version: "Hilary stop being such an overachiever! How could you ever have been duped into thinking your achievements are what it's about?"

Actual Words: "I used to feel anxiety, but now I just turn it over to God and choose to trust that all things are working together for His will."

Hilary's Version: "Um, sometimes if I have done everything I can imagine and at least 10 things I didn't imagine and run around the every office on campus and cried and yelled and cried again and done yoga and then solved the problem 6 different ways, then yeah, I turn it over to God... wait a second..."

Actual Words: "Don't Worry (doo doo doo dooo) Be Happy! (doo dooo doooo dooo)

Hilary's Version: "FAT CHANCE!"

You get the idea. I want to be carefree. I want to put dandelions in my hair and run around barefoot and not worry that my email is 35 minutes late, or that I annoyed a coworker by talking too much about my blog, or that I'm appearing overly eager to register for my classes this spring. Yet for several years now I have struggled to remove life from my tight fists and let it unfold before me.

I heard a wonderful sermon on Sunday, though, that has gotten me thinking about this "perfectionism" thing. It was about Psalm 134:

1 A Song of Ascents. Come, bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD,
who stand by night in the house of the LORD!
2 Lift up your hands to the holy place, and bless the LORD!
3 May the LORD bless you from Zion, he who made heaven and earth!

The sermon talked about the need to bless the Lord, not in the sense of benefiting Him or bestowing on Him something He does not already have, but rather acknowledging who He is and what He has done. For the Israelites, blessing the Lord meant giving thanks for the Exodus and deliverance from Egypt. For you, it might be God's provision of a home, a job, that one missing library book or your missing debit card. For me, this semester, it has been the wonderful people I have met, the girls I live with, and the wonderful chaos of Washington, DC. I want to bless the Lord for bringing me to a city where "pedestrian" could be equated with "reckless risk-taker" (YOU try to cross the streets where the cars look like they'd like nothing better than to run you over as you innocently make your way to Cosi!). A city where there are more suits than the entire Brooks Brothers warehouse. A city where you look out the window of your bus and discover that the Capitol building is sitting serenely in front of you, and where you can get espresso doppio from a little hole in the wall across from your office, and you can buy a newspaper called "Street Sense" that is a voice for homeless people.

I bless the Lord for all these things, and the list goes on and on and on... and so it occurred to me that perhaps the best solution to perfectionism is not practice but praise. Maybe we should spend less time trying to "learn how to fail" - because that's really an excuse to be perfect; just perfect at failing - and more time being thankful for the blessings we have been given. Think about it: to trade perfectionism for praise, we have to risk not only the security of our anxiety but also its dramatic thrill. We won't get to make a big hulabaloo when something happens, because we won't be at the center. We won't get hoop-la. If we praise, we risk need. We risk asking for things we do not have and being unable to get them ourselves. We risk being shown up as human, as falling short. I once infamously said to my mother, "But I'M NOT SUPPOSED TO EVER FAIL! I'M NOT SUPPOSED TO BE A PERSON WHO MAKES MISTAKES!" (yeah, it was about something lame, I promise). And I want to hold on to that idea of who I am. But if I praise, if I turn my words and my thoughts to blessing the Lord, as Psalm 134 commands, then maybe I will no longer need to be a person who never makes mistakes. Maybe I will be able to be Hilary, who sings praise. I like the sound of that.

Goodnight, goodnight.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Pink Elephant Shoes in the City: My Romp as an updated, Urban Outfitters-trendy Dorothy

You know what I want to know about Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz? Why did no one question why the shoes were red? I mean, presumably in Oz they didn't care about color so much seeing as it was basically one giant rainbow/lollipop and people regularly had green skin... but wouldn't DOROTHY have wondered why the shoes were red?

I mean, red is not a typical shoe color. Sparkly red shoes aren't sold on every street corner like day-old baguettes; they aren't even catching on like fads like Toms or Sperry's or even, you know, Reef flip flops (anyone remember the Reef/Teva flip flop phase? I DO!). So why wouldn't Dorothy freak out when she saw Glinda take those fire engine red shoes off the Wicked Witch's feet and hand them over?!?!

If you can believe it, this is what I was thinking about this morning on my way to work. You see, a few weeks ago I made a fairly significant purchase: my annual "trendy" flats. I usually buy them during this March break sale at a boutique on Newbury St. called LF, but I am unfortunately in DC in October, and Newbury St and my beloved pumpkin doughnuts from Dunks are far, far away. So I went to Urban Outfitters in Georgetown with my roommates after stuffing ourselves with great Mexican food at a little place on M St. And lo and behold, when I arrived, my eyes were immediately drawn to a beautiful pair of hot pink canvas flats, with perfect, slightly pointed toes and sides that scooped down a little bit so that the cute arch of your foot can be seen.

I was madly in love, and I bought them. It was only when I put them on my feet in the harsh light of my bedroom back on 8th St that I realized, "Woah. I just bought blindingly pink shoes. Where am I going to wear these?" It was a moment of sadness, even bordering on my usual dramatic devastation. These beautiful, beautiful shoes and nowhere to take them. I bet Dorothy worried about that too when she first saw those ruby slippers (which weren't even slippers. They were high heels and she wore them with silly little blue socks).

But today, readers, I put on the neon pink shoes. I walked confidently through my apartment, making my lunch (which was really just leftover asparagus, Italian seasoning and shredded cheese... I know, sounds bad, but it was actually quite tasty), gathering my pens and keys and cell phone and walked out the door. I walked to the bus stop and that's when I realized it. Everyone I passed looked down, looked up in shock, and then tried to pretend nothing had happened by quickening their pace in the opposite direction. As I waited for the bus, everyone at the bus stop kept looking at me with mild concern to downright nervousness. I could almost hear them saying, "Does she... does she know that her shoes are on fire? Does she see that she is blinding the elderly woman sitting on the bench? Should we... tell her? Take the offensive shoes by force? Make her wear black for the rest of her days in penance for her bright colors? Are those... clown shoes??"

I was self-conscious of my shoes all day. I even took them off in the office and changed to more demure, black pointy high heels. But I kept thinking about my pink shoes. I love them. I love that they are a bright light in a city full of blacks, grays and navy blues. I love that they make people a little uncomfortable - I mean, they make you look at them AND then you don't want to admit you were looking at someone's shoes, so you literally begin to run in the opposite direction. When you stop and think about it, it's hilarious!

One of the things that isn't talked about often when traveling is the clothing culture. In Washington, DC, clothes are almost more important than looks. It's a sea of suits, some tailored better than others, some pinstripes, the occasional red sheath dress, lots of patent leather skinny belts or shining cuff links. People here are groomed. I can picture some of them at age 4 wearing a clip on bow tie with green polka dots grinning charmingly into the camera. A man I saw at Farragut Park this afternoon when I went to edit my paper had slicked back hair, aviator sunglasses, a light gray suit, a white collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up and the jacket slung over one shoulder. His shoes were the kind that they scuff for you in the store and then charge you $187 for (and at that price, I vote you buy a pair at Payless and scuff them yourself on the sidewalk). It's funny - I can describe his clothes on this blog but I can't describe his face. I can't tell you his eye color or if he was tall or short, or what his smile looked like.

As you walk down the street in Washington, DC, your eyes can be blinded by the monochromatic, polished, put-togetherness of everyone you see. You begin to miss people's funny expressions, the way someone's left eyebrow is slightly higher than their right, or the way someone's dimples appear when they smile. You miss the unmistakable "you-ness" that we see in other people's faces, and instead you just see business casual, business professional, and occasionally formal wear (once I saw a woman walk out of a Starbucks in a full evening gown!).

So when I wear my Pink Elephant Shoes, as I have lovingly christened them, I hope it makes people look up in shock and see my face. I hope it jolts the eyes of my early morning commuting companions, even if their expressions are not utter adoration for my footwear. And I hope that wearing the shoes reminds me to look at people's faces in this city: to look beyond the suit, beyond the posture, the walk... I hope my trendy Dorothy-esque slippers force me to see that, while there is no place like home (be it Boston or Kansas), Washington, D.C. is full of people waiting to be known, waiting to be loved, waiting to be heard.

And for you, wherever you are, in whatever city, I hope you see a pair of Pink Elephant Shoes soon. I hope they jolt you awake. And I hope you have something that you can put on (a funky hat, a beautiful scarf, a bright red dress or a pair of mustard yellow tights) that makes you feel more awake to the liveliness of the world around you.

Goodnight, readers.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Single and... Annoyed? Browsing the Church Bookshelf

So today after a decently long church service, I made my way through the throngs of people, down mazes of staircases lined with half-eaten cookies in napkins (you know how kids take a bite out of something, lose interest, and put it down RIGHT where you are bound to either smash it with your hand or knock it over, spilling crumbs or grape juice or peanut butter all over your great dress from Anne Taylor Loft?), to the "Bookstore" located in the back corner of the church.

It's really just about 6 or 7 shelves of books on everything from Christian living to Christian theology to Christianity and Culture... and somewhere in there I'm convinced are hidden books on Christian eating, Christian sleep habits, and even, get THIS, Christian dental hygiene (remember that post I did a long time ago about feeling a sense of low self-esteem when I go to the dentist? Check it out if you don't - it's in the August archive). Sometimes I wonder if there is a bubblegum chewing, cigar smoking, sleazy mc-sleazerton publisher who looks at manuscripts and says, "Well sure, if we put a religion in front of this title we'll sell millions to the evangelical community and turn a tidy profit for the company!" How DO we end up with so many books about Christian this or that, as if there was a fundamentally different kind of sleeping/eating/dating/teeth brushing/shopping/dancing/playing soccer if we are Christians! I don't mean to suggest that we don't approach life differently (we do, and we should) but different doesn't mean isolated from the rest of culture. It doesn't mean the pure alternative that looks just like the secular thing but in reality is baptized by the Christian name. Watch out - we may yet have Christian zucchinis and chickens to make Christian chicken casserole!

Anyway, so I go to the book section of the church after the service, and I'm poking around when my friend Gillian grabbed my arm and hissed, "Look at that book!" I swiveled around, scanning the shelves full of books. "Which book?" I asked. "That book!" she answered, and pointed to a slim volume with white letters and orchid purple details. The title was, I kid you not: "Starting Over: How Not to Screw Up Your Next Relationship."

It gets better.

Gillian then pointed to ANOTHER book with a picture of a single goldfish swimming in a bowl, looking forlorn on the same shelf that said, "Single and Lonely: Finding the Intimacy You Desire."

Oh yeah. A book that you can buy from for a whopping $3.99. That's right folks, for a measly $3.99 you can solve your screwy relationship or find untold intimacies in the goldfish bowl of your single life.

I have to laugh when I hear this. Why do we say this stuff? Why do we publish books that analogize (that is not a real word, is it?) our lives to that of a cold-blooded, scaly orange sea creature with a memory of less than 30 seconds, who lives on smelly fish pellets and dies within three months' of living in your dorm room? Why do we promise that in a few short pages your intimacy will be found, your mistakes will be solved, in a word, that you will be the perfect relationship guru? If you're going to make promises, I vote you bring out the big guns. Here are some of the titles of books I'D write if I was in the business of relationship advice.

#1 From Lamezoid to Lucky: How to Manipulate Random Chance to get the Spouse of Your Dreams

#2 If Mother Teresa Was Single, Why Can't You Be?

#3 Single and Lonely? Stop Complaining! (And Other Forms of Tuff Luv)

#4 Dirty Martini, No Olive: What Your Single-Ready-To-Mingle Go-To Bar Order Says About You (and Your Dateability)

#5 Ring By the 15th of April: The REAL Timeline for Christian Dating (And When To Max Out Your Credit Card for the Ring She Doesn't Think You Know She Wants)

#6 Woe Is Me, I Got "Juliet" On A Facebook Quiz and Now I Think I'm Doomed to a Life of Young, Tragic Love (A Memoir about My Twenties, Taylor Swift, and Life in America)

#7 A 2 Page Guide to Finding Your Soulmate (You Thought You Needed to Read a BOOK?)

#8 Church Shopping When You're Single: How to Tell The Cutie from the Desperate from the 'Taken'"

#9 How (Not To) Lose a Guy in 10 Years: What You Can Learn from Sappy Teen Romance Movies About Making A Relationship Work

#10 You're How Old? The Age When You Should Start to Worry About Being Single Could Be Just Around the Corner

I think if I went to the gum chewing, cigar smoking publisher with these snappy titles, I would be a billionaire before you could say "Pat Robinson" or "Jerry Falwell!". In all seriousness, though, I want to know the purpose behind these books that seem designed SOLELY for the purpose to broadcasting to the world that you are, in fact, single. It might be easier to tattoo to your forehead - "Single. Stop Staring." Maybe we write the books because we feel like it's "not so bad" if we are addressing the problem. If we read the book and follow the steps, pray the right cycle of prayers, mingle with the right small groups and social events, make our hair wavy one day and straight the next and buy our clothes at the cute boutiques on M St. that scream, "I'm super trendy but also cute but also very sexy but also eco-friendly and caring towards the environment!" - if we do all that, the magic formula will work and we will no longer be single.

And I won't lie, the church I go to (and love) here in Washington, DC seems to breed Kodak-worthy couples and families. Everyone is perfectly coiffed. The characters: The Wife, showing her expensive-but-tasteful-and-conflict-free diamond rings while hoisting her 9 month old son (The Son) dressed in baby Gap navy blue pants and a cute white T on her slim hips as she holds the hand of the 3 year old girl (The Daughter) dressed in CrewCuts (the JCrew store for little kids) and her long platinum blond hair in a little side ponytail. The Husband walks over and puts his left hand with its simple platinum band possessively but not aggressively around The Wife's waist and they pull closer together. I can almost hear a photographer shouting, "Perfect! A little less teeth! Work it! The camera loves you!"

The Son and The Daughter never bicker, never shout, and don't even spill anything on themselves. They giggle at the appropriate times and are always listening intently to the adults around them. The Wife looks like she has never been pregnant in her life and could pass for 23, seems to maintain a look of calm as the 1,000 people exit the church, as she feeds her children with one hand and deftly tacks up a bulletin board with kids' drawings and paintings from Sunday School. The Husband converses knowledgeably with the Other Husbands, laughs jovially about the Twins/Yankees game and glances over every so often at the Family, a small smile playing on his lips. He wears Sperry's loafers, khaki shorts and collared shirt, in the "I'm out of the office but still dressed appropriately for a variety of social occasions and I maintain a rugged but polished" look. The Wife places her hand gently on The Husband's forearm, signally that it's time to go back to their economical but expensive midsize SUV.

When such perfection exists (and you should all read about it in my dear friend Lauren's AMAZING blog post about The Evangelical Power Couple:, looking around your single self at church sort of makes you want to reach out and grab that book. It sort of makes you want to grab a box of Kleenex, a bottle of wine or maybe tequila or maybe diet Coke, and weep and read and eat and weep some more.

DON'T. DON'T! You are marvelous. You are sitting here, reading this blog post at 11:59pm or whenever you're reading it, and you're in your PJs or your business suit or maybe you're dressed to go out dancing. And you are thinking about Christian couples, Christian dating, Christianity... and you're laughing. And you're thinking, and you're living. That is marvelous. Too marvelous to waste on 65 pages of ploys to get a boyfriend or a girlfriend. Too wonderful to waste any more time asking "WHY AM I SINGLE?". But definitely wonderful, marvelous and extraordinary enough to start saying: What can I do today? What can I do? What quirky adventures can I have? What fabulous outfits can I try on in a dressing room? What cupcakes can I eat? What fun fro-yo places can I go to?

Ask those questions. Find those answers. And trust me, leave those books on their shelves. Collecting dust is probably what the gum-chewing man really thought they would do anyway.

Love, always. Hilary

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Papa-paparazzi: Traipsing Through the Corridors of Power

Can I just say, if nothing else, Lady Gaga has a pretty exceptional ability to write one-liners? If she wasn't a singer I would suggest that she become one of those stand up comedians, or the person who originally wrote the comeback line, "yeah well your mom is like [fill in insult here]!" She could probably write something pretty spectacular. I mean, let's take a brief look at the rundown of the one-liners in her songs that you will leave this blog post singing?

"Ra, ra ra-ah-ah, roma- rom ma ma, ga ga, ooh la la, want your bad romance"

"Papa- paparazzi!"

"Can't read my, can't read my, no he can't reada my poker face (she's got to love nobody)"

"I'm kinda busy, I'm kinda busy, sorry i cannot hear you I'm kinda busy..."

"I've had a little bit too much, oh oh oo-oh, all of the people start to rush, start to rush boy"

I mean, let's face it - the woman has talent. She took sounds like "roma" and "rom ma ma" and made them irresistibly catchy. I have to hand it to her - if I could make my blog posts sound that exciting, I would have a readership of 500 million or some outrageous number suggesting the viral power of the Internet.

I digress (I seem to need to digress a lot). Yesterday I had my first real glimpse of the "corridors of power." They have been referred to as halls or offices, or even stairways, but the truth is, the power is in the corridors. Your high heels click promisingly on the marble floors, the elevator arrives promptly so you do not have to deign to walk down stairs in your perfectly pressed suit, and around each corner there is a row of doors with plaques saying, "Senator John Barasso, Wyoming" or "Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works." There are flags proudly displayed by each door, and as you peek in you see interns looking intently at computer screens while their feet are sinking into the three inch deep carpet (though this is thoughtfully masked from view by their desk).

When we walked into our briefing in the Dirksen Senate Office, I was immediately enthralled by the white. There is white marble everywhere, literally EVERYWHERE. The bathroom, the hallway, the rooms themselves... Good grief, it sometimes looks like someone robbed a quarry in the middle of the night and dumped the loot on Capitol Hill. We proceeded to make our way to the hearing room on the third floor, where the actual Senators on the Committee for Energy and Natural Resources, chaired by Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, sit. I sank about a foot into the plush green leather chair and tried desperately not to want to press the "Talk" button that would have turned on the microphone hovering near my mouth. I resisted, pulled out my notebook and prepared to take copious notes.

As I was listening to the staff talk about the committee and the energy issues in the Senate, I was struck by how my mind kept wandering to teaching. I was excited to see the movie "Waiting for Superman" with my roommate that night, which is an incredible documentary about education. But even as glamorous as the plush chairs, the "Talk" button, the marble, the Lincoln town car waiting outside for a very important suited someone, the fact that you can walk a block and be at the Supreme Court, or the Capitol Building... I still kept thinking about teaching. I was thinking about what it would be like to walk into a classroom full of faces, to stand up at the front, and to teach a lesson. I was thinking about whether or not I would be able to teach literature or math or history. I was thinking about what a privilege it would be to know those students and their parents.

I came to Washington, DC, ready for those marble buildings, ready for catching glimpses of Secret Service detail or arguing policy analysts coming out of a briefing. I was ready to enter the whirlwind of Washington, to live and breathe the rumble of politics. And what I have found? It's teaching. It's always teaching.

Now, I am reminded often by my very wise mentors that this does not mean I won't be involved in policy or politics at some point. I could be. I could end up on the Hill (GASP!). I could end up working on education reform for some Senator and have a badge that lets me into the buildings of power. But this I know with my whole heart: I want to be a teacher. In whatever way that manifests itself next, I want to teach.

So... why the Paparazzi song? Why did I bring Lady Gaga into this post? Good question. Mostly because Lady Gaga's Paparazzi song was playing in my head yesterday as I walked through Dirksen. Partly because I think of Paparazzi as a song about image of power and the power of image. The song is about being the center of attention, being the axis around which others spin ("baby there's no other superstar you know that I'll be papa-paparazzi," among other lyrics). And it's so easy to get caught up in the paparazzi, the glamour, the whirlwind of powerful places and people. It doesn't have to be a Senate Office Building or the Supreme Court. It can be the job where you feel indispensable to the organization, the college campus that you know like nobody's business, the hometown where you were homecoming queen or king, the group of friends that are influential, fashionable and fun. You feel on top of the world. And it's wonderful, I don't want to deny that.

But cling to your passions, especially the unglamorous, untrendy, un-powerful, un-paparazzi passions. Remember them - your wholehearted love for plays or poetry or solving physics problems. Your passion for India or Taiwan or the city of Lynn. Your love for making soup to feed the homeless, your love for childcare, your love for counseling others, your love for editing the school paper. Don't forget that sometimes the least paparazzi passions are the truest. Sit in the plush green chairs when you get the opportunity (and push that "Talk" button and pretend to be Sen. Murkowski, please). Walk the corridors of power. Sing Lady Gaga's one liners to yourself while wearing those impossibly high Alexander McQueen shoes she wears. But also devote yourself to the things you cannot stop loving, you cannot forget, you cannot escape. It's teaching for me; what is it for you?

Goodnight, readers. Sleep well.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Rain Playlist: Why I Believe We Should Sing to our Computers When Our Song Comes On

Do you have a "song"? You know what I mean. It could an indie acoustic guitar and oddly sweet and raspy voiced duet about saying goodbye to a best friend. It could be a dance party in your basement with your roomies with haribrush microphones dance club song. It could be a bow your head and contemplate song about the power of love to heal and restore faith.

It could be anyone from Ingrid Michaelson to Bon Iver to Trey Songz to Kenny Chesney to Carrie Underwood to Vivaldi to Hillsong. But whatever it is, it is the moment when iTunes answers your silent request for that one song, the one that you've known the words to for years and secretly plan on auditioning with for American Idol Season 33 when no one who knows you now will recognize you.

And if you are like me, you immediately begin to sing to your keyboard, your monitor, your room at large. You forget that you share a small apartment with four other girls who probably don't want to hear your off-key rendition of "I'll Be" by Edwin McCain or your garbled "Everybody" by Ingrid. You forget that you are NOT, in fact, the leader of the next great hip hop dance team and you cannot one-two step like Ciara. You believe for 3 minutes and 51 seconds that everyone is listening to you sing in pure awe and wonder.

And maybe halfway through the song you realize that you are no longer sitting in your desk chair but standing up and belting it out! Maybe you realize you have grabbed the nearest pen/pencil/hairbrush and are crooning into it, and putting the song on repeat so that you can hit that high note again. And, embarrassed at catching yourself in your purple sweatpants and pink tank top and grungy loafers, without makeup or airbrushing, belting out "Defying Gravity" as if Lea Michele was about to be fired and you were the new Rachel on Glee, you return to your seat, shake your hair back into a ponytail and try desperately to pretend you have been doing your homework all along.

But I was talking to a dear friend this weekend who was visiting DC about life and other such things, and I remember vaguely saying, "Why do we take ourselves so seriously as college students? We are so young! This, this dating world, this relationship search, this crying ourselves to sleep over our new/old/nonexistent boyfriends or girlfriends is NOT the summit of life!"

Wait - what? WHAT!? The summit of life isn't finding a relationship? I'm not supposed to be looking longingly at every diamond/platinum ring that passes by me on the Metro? I'm not supposed to be asking every night that God send me a boyfriend? Are you sure? I was really pretty sure for a second that college was like one of those speed dating nights in a random Holiday Inn in Milwaukee or Boise where you ring a bell and hope that you meet your soulmate in exactly 2 minutes and 29 seconds. I was pretty sure I should be thinking of college as my little window of time to seal this deal and experience the one most important thing in life as a young woman - a relationship!

I know, we all know that when it's put like this we are all going to say, "Of course not! Of course there is more to it than that. Of course we want our lives to be filled with the joy of discovering the diversity of God's will for the many places of our lives. Of COURSE it's not about the guy or girl."

But take a second and think back to this past weekend. Did you have a moment when you saw a cute couple snuggling on a bench by the pond and think, "dang it, why isn't that me!"? Did you listen to a newly engaged friend talk about their fiancé(e) and grimace a little because your mind flashed to the pint of Ben & Jerry's you were going to console your single self with when you were through hanging out with them? Did you perhaps lie in your bed looking at the splotch on your ceiling and pray that God send you someone to love and care for, and who could love you with the same passion and devotion? Did you maybe, just maybe, hold three wedding magazines in CVS and hope that someone thought you were buying them because you were getting married, and not just taking an unhealthy interest in all things wedding related?

To differing degrees, these little moments are all part of our underlying belief that the most important thing to do in life is fall in love and find someone. We give in to the belief for so many reasons I can't name them now, but when I see wedding magazines I have to repeat this mantra to myself to stop the $7.99 from flying out of my wallet: THIS IS NOT THE SUMMIT OF MY LIFE! I AM ONLY 20! I HAVE YEARS AND YEARS TO SING LOUDLY IN FRONT OF MY COMPUTER WITHOUT NEEDING TO BE DATING, YEARS AND YEARS TO DANCE AROUND IN MY LIVING ROOM AND GO EAT CUPCAKES!

So here is my point, after all that rambling. Sing your song loudly. Sing to your mirror, your computer, your TV, your friends. Sing off-key and with a big grin on your face. I promise, this is only the very beginning of life - there is so much to be seized here in this moment, without worrying that the summit of existence is passing us holding hands with a Banana Republic model. There is so much joy to be known without panicking that we are missing the tiny window of our "dateability" and when we wake up in the morning, those three minutes we spent singing our favorite song will have made the difference between a life of wedded bliss and a life of miserable hairbrush-crooning.

And if you need some musical inspiration, sing to these songs (and then add your own!):

Just Dance (Lady Gaga)
I Was Made for Sunny Days (The Weepies)
The Chain (Ingrid Michaelson)
American Honey (Lady Antebellum)
Into the Ocean (Blue October)
Dynamite (Taio Cruz)
Paperweight (Joshua Radin and Schuyler Fiske)
Mine (Taylor Swift)
The Sun Doesn't Like You (Norah Jones)
Awake My Soul (Mumford and Sons)
Angel (Kate Voegele)
Blood Bank (Bon Iver)
Party in the U.S.A. (Miley Cyrus)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

High Heels, Routines, and a Sudden Realization

As some of you probably know, I am a creature of routine. Being "spontaneous" elicits the same fear that "free falling off a cliff" elicits in others. I like to have patterns of living - like following a rhyme scheme in a poem, they allow to be free within a harness.

So my morning routine on Mondays through Fridays goes something like this: set an alarm for 6:30am. Sleep through it. Wake up at 7:20am, throw on my dress clothes (that have, admittedly, been laid out the night before...), throw some eyeshadow and bronzer at my face (sometimes I miss and hit the mirror), throw my cell phone, planner and wallet into my bag, grab a pair of high heels from my closet, stick my feet into flipflops and run helter-skelter down the four flights of stairs, out the door and down to the end of the block where the D6 bus picks me up. Get on the bus (breathing a bit heavily for 7:42am - I mean, I ran down the STAIRS, not the Washington Monument and back), either stand awkwardly in front of someone while holding onto the handrail above my head, or sink into a seat and ride the bus to 16th St. and K St. I then get off the bus, cross the street, go into Starbucks, and get in line.

Now here is where my spontaneity really kicks in. I sometimes order a tall skinny vanilla latte. I sometimes order a tall skim (they don't say non-fat here... they say skim... why do you think that is?) no water chai. I sometimes venture WAY out of my comfort zone and order a tall skim toffee nut mocha or a tall skim pumpkin spice latte (it is fall, after all). And the other day, I heard myself order a tall skinny cinnamon dolce latte and thought, "Oh my stars, I have become adventurous!" (again, a bit exaggerated).

So when I ordered my chai on Friday morning, I was happily in my routine of Starbucks spontaneity, happily ready to sit down and write some postcards and journal before going to my office building for the 9am workday. But there was no squishy leather chair available. There was no non-squishy uncomfortably wooden chair available. There were no seats anywhere in the Starbucks and the seating outside was still dripping with rain from Thursday night. So, I decided to just go to the cafe area in my office building and write there. As I walked out of the Starbucks I saw a homeless man sitting on the concrete edge of a little patch of shrubbery next to Starbucks. He looked vacant - his eyes like empty windows, his mouth a thin, wavering line with a few cuts and scratches around the edges. He looked dusty, his hair was gray. I stood there, my coral pink sweater flapping a little in the breeze. I looked down at my shoes - their perfectly pointed toes, shiny black leather, the little heel that enables me to stand at 5'7" - and at the drink in my hand. The sudden urge to give the drink to him overwhelmed me. It was like an invisible hand was pulling it out of my hand and offering it to him. I clung to it, my routine pounding relentlessly in my head. I had journaling to do! It was 8:33, and I needed my quiet time before work! I didn't just give drinks to strangers!

I crossed the street, my high heels pounding the pavement, my pencil skirt twisting around my waist as my big bag pulled against it. I looked back - he still sat there, in his routine, in his daily pattern. How different ours were. How selfish mine was! I stood on the corner of K St and 16th St and thought, "Did I just walk away from Jesus?" We are told in Scripture that Jesus recognizes us by how we treat the least of these - how we clothe and feed and care for them. And as my legs twitched from the cramp developing in my calf muscles, and the warmth of my chai seeped into my fingers, I realized I had just walked away from the living God.

The next few moments are blurry. I walked around the corner and into a deli market. I bought a large coffee and stuffed some sweetener and creamer into my already overcrowded bag. I bought a Clif bar. I walked back to the same corner, and I walked up to the homeless man. I smiled nervously, and he looked back at me the same blank stare. I offered him the coffee. I offered him the Clif bar. He took the coffee, refused the granola bar, and said a quiet, "Thanks" and took a sip. He didn't look at me, and when I said goodbye he didn't respond.

As I ran towards the Farragut West metro station at 12:45 that afternoon, after a morning of research and meetings and reading the news, my "getting back into shape after many days of not exercising" calf muscles screeching in protest at the blistering pace I had set for myself, I realized that I should not expect the homeless man to say thank you, or to acknowledge my goodbye, or even engage me in conversation. My only expectation should be that I do not walk away next time I have the urge to hand over my drink. I should hand it over, whether or not it is a part of my idolized routine. I should hand it over because that man, in his dusty gray pants and scuffed shoes is the image of God. When I meet him, and look in his eyes, I am meeting Jesus.

Readers, our routines are important. They provide structure, they provide space, they provide comfort. But our routines also blind us to the world. They keep our eyes fixed on ourselves and on the narrow path we've constructed. We get easily irritated when they are interrupted. But my hope for us all, for those who love routine and those who crave spontaneity, is that we allow ourselves to be interrupted by the real, pressing needs of others. That we allow our routines to be radically interrupted, so that we might see the full scope of the world in which we live.

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" (Matthew 25.37 - 40)

Love, Hilary


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