Honesty and Grace

25 Jan

Last week I found Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist blog. And last week she blogged about our multiple personalities — how we carry this idea that we must be different people in different situations. We must be professional but approachable at work, relaxed and grounded at home, quirky and witty with friends and intriguing and engaging with boys. Ms. Trunk basically calls bulls— on this notion.

Sure, there are some situations where you should limit the use of some of these adjectives, she argues, but the truth is we are all of these things all the time, and there is no reason we shouldn’t be honest and accepting about that.

So, I think it’s time for me to be more honest. I think a big reason I’ve neglected this space is the worry that I don’t have appropriate material — personal but not vulnerable — and I can’t risk something too corporate or too close to home.

Well, screw it. I want to write. And I need to be honest. So here we go.

It takes a special kind of grace to feel genuine happiness for others when you aren’t happy. I wish I had more of it.

I snapped at my best friend last weekend after our third drink at The Patterson House in Nashville. We were with her boyfriend and our mutual bestie, Sarah. We had to wait forever on a table, and we all got a little tired and a little irritable. Jessica and Jonathan leaned on each other, which is fine and normal and to be expected. Once we sat and (re)started drinking, their touches got longer, and soon, they were draped over one another, privately whispering and sharing periodic pecks that turned into lingering kisses, all while Sarah and I were left sitting across the table, staring idly at each other or the wallpaper.

So when they leaned into one another to kiss and whisper for the Nth time, I lost my cool and said, “I really want y’all to have one more private conversation while we’re sitting here. Just one more. Maybe you could kiss too. Go ahead. We’ll just stare at you awkwardly, and it’ll be great.”

In my defense, I hate PDA. I mean, hate PDA. And I think I have good reason. It makes everyone else uncomfortable, it’s rarely appropriate, it’s usually off-putting, and really, when was the last time you watched people make out and thought, “Aww, how sweet and sexy?” You haven’t? Oh, that’s right, because it’s neither. (Obviously, there are exceptions. I know a boy who thinks he is always the exception. That’s debatable. What’s not is that real exceptions are few and far between.) Also, I’ve known Jessica since I was 12. She knows how I feel about PDA. And when we talked about it privately later, she agreed that she should have been more conscientious.

But honestly — and there’s our key word for the moment — my aversion to PDA is only part of the reason I snapped at her. The other contributing factor is that it’s hard to watch someone else be in love when you’re not, even if you aren’t unhappy with your life or that person is your best friend.

I don’t walk around seeking out a serious boyfriend, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to fall in love again. I’ve gone a pretty long while without it, and I know how much I’ve grown since then and how much better I could be at loving someone, so sometimes loneliness and maybe even a little sadness creep in when I see someone else getting the chance to prove it, while I once again assure myself that being independent and self-sufficient will continue to reap benefits in the long run.

However, I should make it clear that I am happy for Jess. This wasn’t exactly an easy place for her to get to, and I’m so glad she made it. But it still would have been an easier evening if I (really, both Sarah and I) had had our own +1s at the table.

So I’m working on the grace thing. The be happy, your time will come thing. And I win that battle most of the time, which I’m proud of. Because it’s like I told Jacklyn today: We all feel loneliness. We all feel sadness. We all feel lost sometimes. Those feelings don’t make us different. What separates us is how we react to them. What we do with them. Whether we spend all of our time wallowing, or we take that emotional energy and drive it toward something else.

And I can’t think of anything better to drive mine toward than honesty. And grace.

It doesn’t matter who you are /
We all have our scars.
– Allison Iraheta, “Scars”

A Little Bit of Truth

12 Jul

A few months ago, Leanne and I went to see the Benjy Davis Project, one of those awesome, perpetually underground-ish bands that always feels like your personal discovery. Unexpectedly, the band that opened for them was great too. Southern, a mix of rock and folksy, with a touch of country, the songs struck me, so I immediately went home and iTunes-ed the hell out of them.

I like practically all of Sequoyah Prep School’s music, but one of my favorite songs — one that I cannot ever resist when it pops up on shuffle and have put on virtually every playlist created since April — is “Old #4.”

The chorus contains one of those slices of lyrical wisdom I crave and adore in my music — strikingly simple, yet somehow profound — and I have quoted it multiple times:

“Life gets hard, and life gets tough /
Sometimes you gotta find /
A little bit of truth amongst all the lies /
And know everything will be alright /
I know everything will be alright.”

While preparing for my annual Fourth of July family reunion trip, I made a supportive playlist I knew I would lean on while trying not to scream and curse at my dad, almost-stepmom or any other member of my extended family. “Old #4” made the cut. And then the trip made the chorus jump out at me even more than it already had.

My parents have officially been divorced for 10 years. The split holidays, money fighting, every-other-weekend plans have been a large and cumbersome part of my life since then. (Before then, really). They aren’t fun, but you get used to them. What I never expected was to discover, on a very regular basis, how severely that divorce has shaped me. It may not be the sole reason for most of my neurosis, but it is definitely a contributing factor.

It’s why I’m skeptical of marriage. It’s why I’m terrified of boyfriends’ mothers. It’s why I am as fiercely independent as I am and perpetually distrusting that a boy will be there when he says he will.

None of this is to say my dad is bad guy. He’s nowhere close. He’s an exceptional, wonderful father to be sure. But he’s not good with emotions. Or standing up to his parents for his significant other. Or, at least, he wasn’t with my mom.

Dad has grown in the last 10 years though. The bad part? In my mind, the only beneficiary of this changed man who is protective and affectionate and loving is his girlfriend of the last 6 years. (And maybe her daughters, too.) And going to the beach every Fouth inevitably brings back memories and feelings of how my mom used to be treated, the vastly different way his girlfriend is treated and the way I still feel like the motherless, alone girl, despite the fact that I graduated from college, got a job and am a full-grown legitimate adult. (What an awful, shivering sentence.)

Naturally, my dad is oblivious to how I feel. And I’ve never had the courage to call him out on it before. This year, though, in addition to pre-trip drama, lies and off-color remarks and even more off-color actions finally forced me into a tearful, final-night walk on the beach with my dad.

I can’t express how good it felt to get years worth of angst off of my chest. But that’s to be expected. Here’s the surprising little bit of truth I found:

I didn’t want or need anything else to come of that conversation (or trip, for that matter) other than for my dad to really hear me. The whole time I was stewing, I held some anxiety that the solution to my issues would be the dissolution of my dad’s romantic relationship. Or that I would never be 100% comfortable with any girlfriend he had. Or that I would never *really* be over my parents divorce. And while, I will no doubt continue to find ways my parents’ (failure at) marriage (and subsequent relationships) affected me, I know that they are happier apart and in other relationships. These relationships.

I realized, underneath all the other unresolved issues and pent-up emotions, all I really want is for my parents to be happy, and all I need from them is their love and respect. None of the other crap matters.

In other words, I found A little bit of truth amongst all the lies, and y’know what? I know everything will be alright.

11 Months and Searching for Subtle

30 Jun

For a writer, I sure have done a pathetic job of writing this thing for the last 11 months. As in, I haven’t done it at all. But as far as excuses go, I will say that the last 11 months have been probably the most challenging of my life. Associated words include: cancer, ultrasounds, showers, surgery, wedding, baby, bills, bosses, one really awful boss, friends, distance, super long distance, faith, depression, puppy, family, step-family, moving, stealing, healing and dealing.

I do know, though, that I didn’t help myself by neglecting this blog. Writing is how I make sense of and cope with my (albeit limited) world, and considering it’s also my job, I need to do it more. So, updating regularly is officially going on the goal/to-do list. Ideally, I would update every day, but that’s pushing it, so we’ll go with twice a week.

The good writing news is that yesterday I retired a journal started in the spring of 2007. I looked through it and found a quote I had copied sometime during the fall of my senior year in college. The quote was from required reading of a poetry class, and thus, is actually about poetry (New York School poetry, to be specific). But as I told Caroline, it seems like a pretty excellent and applicable metaphor for life, if you ask me:

“The music is in the heart of noise, the poetry something subtle in the midst of all that seems wildly anti-poetic.”
– David Lehman, The Last Avant-Garde, on O’Hara’s “Personal Poem”

Sundresses on Gameday

30 Jul

Two of my best friends, Lauren and Maggie, and I.
Georgia at LSU, October 25, 2008

*For the record, I had no intention of dropping off the face of the blogosphere after graduation. However,

1. This 9-5 life is exhausting (Conversation with the Director of Marketing last week:
Me: Life is exhausting.
Andrew: You think life is exhausting. You should try having kids. Wait, you don’t have kids to you?
Me: God, no!)
2. I moved. And as far as I’m concerned, moving is pretty much the most awful thing ever. Thus, it allows you at least a two week lazy period.
3. My college computer finally gave out last week. Bad — no new blog posts. Good — new Mac.

So alas, here I am. Finally ready to write again.*

SEC Media Days were last week. In previous years, I kept up with headlines only, as Mark Richt is reliably and comfortingly boring. So, unless I could scoff at Urban Meyer referring to himself in the third person, my interest has always been limited. But this year, I had Twitter. And 8 hours of work to get through on both days. So I paid very close attention.

Turns out, Tim Tebow is a virgin. Aside from thinking he’s an idiot for addressing his virginity publicly (Didn’t we learn anything from Britney Spears??), I really don’t care. I just wish he had cried again while admitting it. (But then again, if he cries at a later press conference while admitting he fell victim to the *charms* of one of those *classy* Florida girls, it’ll be even better.)

This did interest me, though: As a result of the hoopla surround Tebow’s announcement, as well as “Tebowgate” and Saban’s movie wardrobe, Andy Staples wrote a column on college football in the South. I have my edits, mostly due to my Dawg bias, but otherwise, he is spot on.

My two favorite snippets:
:: “College football is just more important to people in the South than it is to people in the rest of the country. There is a good reason for this. Pro sports ignored the South for a long time. For southerners in my parents’ generation, college football dominated the news because it usually was the only game in town. Those people passed their sports consumption habits down to the next generation, and my generation will pass it along to the one that follows ours.”
:: “People who live up north always say they could never live down here because they would miss the change of seasons. We have seasons in the South. Football season, recruiting and spring football.”
(Read the rest here.)

Don’t misunderstand, the South has faults. Lots and lots of them. And when I was 12 and hellbent on leaving the hypocrisy and conservatism, I could have spent hours naming them. People gossip everywhere, obviously. (I mean, Gossip Girl is set New York…) But in the South, they do it relentlessly, and then smile broadly and ask how you are at church on Sunday morning. And if you’re not at church, well, good luck. Southern women are often still expected to deflect to their men. And if they don’t have men, something must be wrong with them. And the persistent race issues are evident. Admittedly, all of this can be infuriating.

But in the South people smile at you. They really smile. In the drive-through window and at the cash register. At the office and in the park. People wave too. To neighbors on the sidewalk and strangers at the intersection. And as Southern women, we get to buy pretty dresses and wear them to football games. (Those *classy* Florida girls who wear bikini tops to games don’t count. For me, that may be the biggest reason Florida absolutely cannot be considered a true part of the South.) And as I apparently told Jessica a couple weeks ago at Kramer’s, as a girl in the South, “If you ever get in trouble, just bat your eyes and smile.” As Southerners, we have the most distinguishable and, if used correctly, irresistible accents in the world. Boys who do not open doors and pull out chairs are not deemed datable by girls or their daddies. Mac ‘n’ Cheese is considered a vegetable. The tea is always sweet. And as the T-shirt says, football is not a sport. It’s a religion.

And by football, I mean college football. SEC football. (My Internet Marketing Manager went to Clemson. At least once a week he lets out a frustrated sigh at one of my ACC jabs, usually something along the lines of, “Awww, 15,000 people went the ACC Championship Game? Y’all should probably stick to basketball.” Which is not to say I don’t love college basketball too — I do — just not as much.) Football in the South is spine-tingling, chill-inducing, squeeze-your-best-friend-and-kiss-the-boy-next-to-you, I’m-going-to-remember-this-moment-and-this-night-and-the-people-I’m-sharing-this-with-for-the-rest-of-my-life glorious. I have a life goal of writing about it — sharing the true experience of it — but I have doubts about whether it’s possible to accurately convey the feeling through words. But I can promise you this, IF (very, very, very big “IF”) I get married, the day will have a hard time beating a touchdown on the last play of the third quarter, watching 92,746 fans move their arms in rhythm through the air during Krypton and dancing with friends, football players and CBS sportscasters to Soulja Boy as my best day ever. (I thought Alabama 2007 was the best game. Then Florida 2007. I was wrong both times. Auburn 2007 was A.MAZ.ING.) Football in the South is truly magical. More than that, football makes the South magical.

The South still has its issues, no doubt. And I’ll entertain an (inevitably deficient) argument about the Big XII offenses, the West Coast bias and the Big Ten power. But, in the end, Staples is right: Who needs a blustery fall and a white Christmas when you have warm Saturdays on North Campus and New Years in New Orleans?

38 days till kickoff. Go Dawgs!

Auburn at Georgia, November 10, 2007

“You got your sundress on for Gameday /
Just to drink beer on an old tailgate /
You were born and raised to be a Southern Belle /
But in a place like this you like to raise a little hell /
You got your year-round tan /
You’re on the five-year plan /
You shake your little pom pom up in the stands… /
You’ve got that high school boyfriend you still think about /
And you know how to make him jealous when he comes into town /
You drive your little love bug when you’re skipping class /
And your sisters get you home when you’re drunk off your ass /
You know how to be a lady /
Yeah, you’re still daddy’s baby /
You drive the band and the boys and bartenders crazy…”

– Luke Bryan, “Sorority Girl”

Stay in This Moment

18 May

“What we call a beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” — T.S. Eliot

Tomorrow, I start the rest of life.

As of 9:30 tomorrow morning, I am a big girl, complete with a big girl job and big girl bills and big girl taxes.

I’m scared. And somehow missing college a little more since I’m starting my real world life while still living in my college apartment (though that changes at the end of the month).

T.S. Eliot said this was how it was supposed to feel — that endings and beginnings were supposed to swirl together so that you never could tell where the bitterness of something so good ending finally gives way to the sweetness of such a promising beginning. I know he’s probably right. I mean, he is T.S. Eliot. But I guess I always thought it’d be a little easier to let go. To move on. To grow up.

I think The Wonder Years explains it best:

“We think the stars are fixed in the sky, but they are not. I think sometimes we have to learn to give in to change, to the new things.”

“Growing up is never easy. You hold on to things that were. You wonder what’s to come. But that night I think we knew it was time to let go of what had been and look ahead to what would be. Other days. New days. Days to come. The thing is, we didn’t have to hate each other for getting older. We just had to forgive ourselves…for growing up.”

So, ready or not…this is me…taking a deep breath…and jumping…into that swirl of the real world.

“Do you remember when we were just kids /
And cardboard boxes took us miles from what we would miss /
Schoolyard conversations taken to heart /
And laughter took the place of everything we knew we were not /
I want to break every clock /
The hands of time could never move again /
We could stay in this moment for the rest of our lives /
Is it over now?”

– Anberlin, “Inevitable”

I Love College

13 May

This weekend I graduated from college. I woke up super early, put on a pretty dress (red and black, of course), met my friends, donned my cap and gown and walked into one of the most sacred places in the world: the home of my beloved Georgia Bulldogs football team, Sanford Stadium.

My four years at the University of Georgia have been everything they were hyped up to be and, if possible, more. I was told it would be the time of my life, the source of lifelong nostalgia. It surely was and, I’m confident, will continue to be.

I met best friends, some during the first few weeks of freshman year and some in my last few months as a senior. I was lucky enough to indulge in life-altering experiences – a semester studying in England and weekend-skipping around Europe, two falls road-tripping across the South, New Years Eve and Mardi Gras in New Orleans, St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin and a couple summers in the ultimate college town to name a few. And I learned so much – about global warming and z-scores, Freud and feminist theory, the Cold War and Spanish verb conjugations, cell division and female Biblical writers, the history of the penny press and how to write leads, PhotoShop and the Dickinson wars; about friendship and loyalty and courage and love.

I realize how cliché all of that sounds, but perhaps that’s the most profound part of the end my college experience – I know now why there are so many clichés about this period of your life.

It’s like Paris. The pundits, historians and tourists tell you it’s gorgeous and quaint and accessible and Oh-My-God romantic. It is all of these things, especially the romantic part. The romance of Paris is, of course, a ridiculously overused cliché – until you see it for yourself, that is. And then, in one second – mine was when we stepped out to the viewing park in front of the Eiffel Tower – you get it. You instinctively understand that the talk of Paris romance may be clichéd…but the feeling of it could never be.

College is the same way. They told me it would be a whirlwind of bars, libraries, parties and all-nighters with people I would never, ever forget. As corny as it is to admit, it was exactly that. The best four years of my life, without a doubt.

Everyone keeps asking how it feels to be a graduate and if the reality of joining the real world has sunk in yet. I don’t know how I feel because it hasn’t sunk in. (In a bar on graduation night, I turned to my friend Thomas and said, “Oh my God, Thomas! The next time we go into that stadium we’ll be alumni!” “We’re alumni right now, Whitney,” he replied. I could only stare at him, wide-eyed, in response.) It feels like just another summer, like I’ll be back in August, dreading buying over-priced text books and pumped about another glorious season of SEC football with my Dawgs.

I won’t be back though, and that scares me. The scholastic life is the only one I’ve known for 17 of my almost 22 years, and I’m really good at it. And a very big part of me has no desire to leave it. But I start my big girl job on Monday and end my glorious 21st year next Wednesday, and I am excited, especially since I’ve spent the last four months petrified that I would be jobless, insurance-less, hopeless and living at home upon graduation. In a crappy economy when print journalism is fading fast, I found a progressive company that is allowing me to develop my skills and have a hand in the progression of journalism and internet marketing, and I am super, super excited about it. As stressful and bittersweet as it is, I’m also excited about moving to Atlanta and decorating a new apartment and going out in a *big* town that isn’t 65 percent girls. As much as I don’t want to leave this beautiful life I’ve led for so long, I think I’m in a good place at a good time, and I know I have everything I could need or want open to me.

But oh my, am I nostalgic about college already. I scanned my old journals today while taking a break from apartment hunting. I read details and drawn-out rambles about bar hopping and frat boy drama and friendship crises, and I know I will have moments of deep sadness that I am not still immersed in that legendary Athens scene. But I also think I’ll be okay with merely reminiscing about those moments instead of desperately wishing I could relive them. College – these years and stories and memories – will always be precious, but every day I become more comfortable with this particular journey reaching its end, and I think when I look back on it in years to come, it might feel something like this…

“Still I go down to that college town when the Bulldogs play at home /
I drink keg beer from a trash can till that whole damn thing is gone /
Then I’ll look at all those college girls, so innocent and young /
And just check ‘em out and say, ‘Damn. I wish I was 21.’”

-– Corey Smith, “Twenty One”