Away We Go: Where Life Puts You Down

There’s this Ben Okri quote in The Famished Road, a really great book that I read from the optional reading list when I took Art of West Africa as an undergraduate student at Rutgers. It say, “This is what you must be like. Grow wherever life puts you down.” As a clueless 20-something at the time, I appreciated the sentiment, but it has only been recently that I have really gotten it.

For most of my life, I had a plan for myself and though it changed and diverted in places I am reaching the end stages of that early adult life plan: become a teacher who writes books and travel, get married to someone you love with your whole heart, and finish your PhD. Of course, at the time I thought it would be a PhD in art history and that I would be an art history professor, but the way it has turned out has made me happier than I would have been had I followed the original path. Life had other plans and I grew into them because it’s where I was put down.

 

Again the tides are starting to change and with them, I am beginning to feel the feelings that signal change and uncertainty. In 2015, I took a huge leap of faith and commitment. I left my apartment in Bordentown and bought a house at the Jersey shore where I would move to with my boyfriend. I have never lived with a boyfriend and really never thought I would, but that’s the path life was taking me and instead of second guessing everything like I always do, I went with it and in doing so, I made one of the best decisions of my life: I began my own family with the man of my dreams and in 5 months, we’re going to be husband and wife.

Which has led us to a whole new set of adventures and life questions. After this year, we’ll be married and God willing, my PhD will be completed which means I will begin to look for administration positions as well as full-time university positions. We’ve begun to discuss many things, but the biggest one is: How committed are we to a life in New Jersey? And, where do we want to live?

We’ve outgrown our tiny seaside house with just us and the tiny zoo. Both of our dogs are full grown now and they would be so much happier with a lot of space to run around in. With the concern over honeymooning in Ireland, which, I think is also fed into by when we were in France/England in 2014 and were existing via Calais to Dover to Heathrow and they put the terror alert to red as we walked through lines of migrants, riot police and a crazy airport, it was all very unnerving. The world has only gotten crazier. With all the talk of what to do for a honeymoon and what our plan is for the next steps in our lives, I started to suggest maybe a road trip? What if we just drove around to all the states we always wanted to see and experienced them for a little bit? We could be like John Krasinki and Maya Rudolph in Away We Go, and maybe figure out the next place that we want to venture to or at least try to, before life puts us down again.

Let’s Skip the Honeymoon

Is a honeymoon mandatory? I would think not, but as I began to plan my wedding, I realized how quickly people were willing to give you both solicited, but really mainly their unsolicited advice and opinions on what you should do on your day.

We had been dating for 2 1/2 years when Phil had asked me to marry him. We had talked about marriage often and about starting a family as well as all of the other things we wanted in life. We had done so probably since the third or fourth month of dating. My mom always told me that when you meet the right person, it was all going to happen quick and effortless. Looking back, I would have to say my mom was pretty right about that.

Within a few days we already knew what date we wanted to be married on and where. Planning started quickly and by spring of this year, our wedding was pretty much together. We just had to pay for everything. We wanted to honeymoon in Ireland.

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I have always wanted to go there and Phil, being the gigantic fantasy nerd that he is was all for the castles and the history. It’s really the perfect spot. However 2017 is turning out to not be a very kind year politically and I really feel like the world is spiraling out of control. I am almost scared to bring kids into this world, because I do not think that it’s going to get better any time soon and for it to get better, it’s definitely going to get much worse.

Suffice it to say, we will not be going to Ireland on our honeymoon. After this latest attack in Manchester, I believe that Europe and us will be separated for some time which is a hard realization to reach since I love Europe and could spend so much time there happily.

We kicked around cruises, Hawaii and even weekend trips like Maine. However, as cool as Hawaii and Maine sounds, it wasn’t Ireland. And cruises? I never understood them. You spend days just hanging on this boat spending money and only a few days in the place that you’re sailing to. It’s been a big discussion.

Until today when Phil texted me and said, “Wanna just spend the days together after getting married and not do anything but relax and be married?”

I couldn’t type yes fast enough. This year has been one of big changes and working really hard to pay this wedding in full and in cash.

After this marathon we’ve been on since Christmas, there’s nothing I’d like more than to just be home, and be married with my husband and our tiny zoo.

Dallas & the Seasons of My Life

I’ve spent the last week decompressing from being in Dallas, Texas for much of last week. I was there for my final doctoral residency. Once I got out of the Dallas Fort Worth airport, I was immediately reminded of what I hated about Texas the most: the heat and humidity.

The last time I had been in Texas was when I went to La Porte, Texas to visit one of my little sisters from my sorority. I loved the openness and the relaxation that it brought. It was so different from NJ.

This time though, the residency was at the airport hotel and I didn’t get to see much of Dallas which was disappointing because I had never been and they have a pretty cool art scene. The point of this final residency was to, by Sunday night, have an approved DRP plan to submit for SMR and IRB approvals. Mine got approved the first day of “classes” which was Friday and it happened early in the morning. I then had to sit there for the next three days and work on my presentation and a paper for another class. I was so bored, but since these are considered to be “seat hours” I literally had to stay, in my seat….for hours.

Sitting around not doing a whole lot, to me, is more exhausting then even my most trying days as a teacher. By the end, I was extremely happy to go home to NJ to Phil and our tiny zoo. I am officially set to enter comps (doctoral comprehensive exam) in January. I probably could do it this next term, but with the wedding I just don’t think it would be a good idea. Better to let us settle into married life before I go crazy with another exam.

This spring was all about taking the School Leadership Series exam. ETS charges…are you ready for this? $425 PER TRY! How crazy is that??? I was so thankful when on the day, I got in the day before the 16th anniversary of losing my very cherished and much loved grandfather and was put on computer 16. I definitely felt like he was there with me that day and I finished with an hour to spare. It was a long 16 BUSINESS days of waiting, but when it came back that I passed I ran around our bedroom dancing.

In my personal diary, I talk a lot about seasons of my life. I firmly believe that women age in seasons, each one not like the one that came before it. A couple years ago, my more carefree season of my 20’s ended when I made a larger commit to my boyfriend at the time and we bought our first house. I remember how sad and excited I was to be leaving my life in Bordentown with my small apartment and my three cats. Even looking back professionally I was just a middle school teacher then with some publishing credits to my name.

Then I moved and I had finally made it to my life at the Jersey Shore, only 10 minutes outside of Point Pleasant where I had always dreamed of living. Then I started my PhD program and worked really hard to become a college professor. Then we got engaged and now, we’re going to be married in 5 months. I just don’t know where that time has gone, and lately, I have begun to have that feeling again…the one you get at the end of seasons as the new one starts intermingling. 2017/2018 is going to be a year of a lot of change: I will have tenure, I will be completing my doctorate and we might even be starting a family. All of those things, will push me into a new season of my life one where I will be settled, grounded and making huge leaps in my career.

And that’s just the stuff I know about, there’s still all the surprises that have yet to come and the very real idea that we could very well be leaving our little house at the shore to start a family life in my hometown. When I was just out of college and moved home to figure out my next move, my friends and I who were all in similar circumstance at the time, would joke…”All roads lead back to East Brunswick. Every last one, eventually we all come back.”

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It’s Gonna Be May

Anyone else think the Justin Timberlake meme from his N’Sync days with “It’s Gonna Be May” sprawled across the bottom was hysterical? It’s probably the best one that I have seen in awhile.

And here it is, MAY! I don’t know where this year has gone, I feel like it has been on fast-forward ever since I came home from Chicago last summer. I blinked and we were engaged and since then, it’s just been fast-forwarding to November and our wedding. We have almost everything done, and now it’s just working to save and pay for everything. We’re having a relatively small wedding, under 100 people. I am floored at what it costs! I can’t imagine financing one of those HUGE weddings where you invite 500 of your closest friends and wear a Kleinfeld’s gown. Crazy town!!

What I am looking forward to most, is giving the final in my college class tonight because as of next week, this means that my 12 hour days are done for the year and summer will be here before I know it.

I registered for my LAST class for my doctorate, come September I will be considered a doctoral candidate and not a student anymore. I don’t know where that time has gone either. I leave for Dallas in a couple of weeks for my final residency. I have already gained topic approval, and now I am hoping to come home with a mentor-approved research plan, committee-approved research plan AND scientific merit approval which will set me up for IRB approval and thus, the real writing of my dissertation will begin.

Then this summer is clinicals and I am teaching one college class. I’m extremely excited for clinicals.

I also start my certification to become an arts integration specialist. I think this will really help me in being better prepared to set up my case study for my dissertation. Our first class begins in just a few weeks. I am hoping I can juggle it all.

Then, before I know it, it will be November and I’ll be married.

I also added Stephen King’s IT to my 100 Book Challenge.

So far, my 30’s are going a lot better than my 20’s!

Big Little Lies

This is one of the few times where I watched the show/movie before I read the book. I was about half way through the HBO limited series namely because of my celebrity doppelganger, Reese, was starring in it when I picked up the novel at Target.

I read it within two days. That is, after long hours at both jobs while preparing to present my research for my dissertation next month. Oh, and, take that crazy $400 praxis exam. Life has been a little crazy lately especially when you add in our wedding and selling our townhouse– we’ll recover next year..right?

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Anyway, despite the insanity, I found myself reading Big Little Lies on my lunch break, in my car waiting for my next class to start and even in bed after these crazy long days. Last night, I read until I literally fell asleep. It’s been awhile since I was just so into a book.

I liked how you knew someone was going to die, but you didn’t know how or why. You learn fairly early on that is it going to be Perry or Celeste because this is the story of domestic violence, wrapped up rather nicely in its white-bread vanilla topping. I was just shocked by the ending, of which one was to die and more importantly, who the killer was and why.

It’s a shock, but in so many ways, it is that shock that up-heaves the vanilla topping and underneath it, you find yourself exposed to the raw chunky violence that as Celeste herself says, “This can happen to anyone.”

It’s a powerful book. I think any young woman needs to read it and then watch the limited series on HBO. It made me think of my own time within an abusive relationship.

I can’t even really say it was a relationship, it was a fleeting moment in my life, thankfully. It was after that big love that I shut down after. He was the first guy I really attempted to date. In many ways, he was the first person I attempted to care about, to actually try with. In the end it lasted only a couple of months. I ended it, I totally cut him out. It took me a few tries to get to that point though, because much like Celeste, it was like I was dating two different people: there was the over indulging side who appeared protective and kind, going out of his way to me and my friends, but then there was that time alone where like a switch that person went away and in his place was someone who enjoyed hurting other people, especially when he felt wronged or embarrassed or betrayed. All of which seemed to happen more in his head than in reality.

There had been hints leading up to his eventual full-turn, but he was good in that he was so manipulative that he would have you second guessing. Was that real? Did he just say or do that? No, he had to be joking because look how sweet he is now, every relationship has its bumps, but maybe this is worth that bump? [it’s not] Abusers are great like that, they are excellent liars because I think to a point, they believe what they are saying and feel entitled to whatever they can steal from someone– materially, physically and emotionally.  It’s almost like they know that they are doing these awful things, but in their minds, they make up for it because they are so amazing for the next week or two before the next bout of abuse. One thing he was always good at, was how quick to tell you what a wonderful, giving person he was even to those that wronged him which largely were women from his past.

When Celeste visits a counselor, she tells her that is takes someone six or seven times before they leave an abusive situation. I believe that. While my experience was relatively short, within that time it took me about three times before I finally did. When I did it, I didn’t even tell him. We had parted ways earlier that day, I knew it was important that he think he still “had” me. He kissed me on my check and asked me if everything was alright, I knew he knew that it wasn’t and that he had taken it to an entirely new level that morning. This was the calm following the storm.

I assured him how wonderful he was, and how wonderful we were, trying not to gag the entire time I did so. He has already revealed himself and I had already found out his other secrets, he was done but he didn’t know how far I knew or how much strength I really had. My next stop was to AT&T where I blocked him from all contact. Then I went straight home and followed suit on social media. I hadn’t even thought about e-mail, because who in 2011 e-mailed anymore? Apparently him. It began so nicely as always, then when I never responded they got nastier and nastier until he dumped me. That was the one piece of humor I got out of the entire ordeal. I had cut all contact, ghosted him for lack of a better word and here he was, after calling me all kinds of names, after threatening me and the like, all he had left was to tell me how it was over and it felt so good to be single. I burst out laughing at that point, because dude, you’d been single for awhile by then.

The next stop was to the printer to print off all of his harassment and then to the police station to finalize my report that I had started several days before.

This really can happen to anyone.

Love is, actually all around.

I make no grand illusions towards my 20’s and dating. Point blank: they sucked. I was often lost, broke and dating some wannabe. That was the majority of my 20’s until I wised up and held true to my standards.

I read a lot during that period in my life. In college, I was obsessed with Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife because I largely envisioned Colin Firth and all of the hot things that occur throughout that insanely long novel. More importantly though, it was the sort of relationship I envisioned for myself when I found the right man to have it with. It was passionate, loyal and brave with such a dedication to the other person that throughout the pages, many dramatic and daring things occurred to keep Lizzy and Darcy together. Though, Phil and I aren’t having dagger fights with scummy period men and riding horses bareback…or really riding horses at all, the sentiment is still there within our relationship.

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Mr. Darcy a la “Lost in Austen.”

When we became engaged, I had no doubt in my mind that yes was the answer and that this is the man I would stay with until death. Having that realization though, made me think back to my past and I became nostalgic for things, people and places that were no longer a part of my life. I also would get sad over some pretty stupid stuff like when my toaster oven from my apartment finally went. It was cheap and we use it a lot, but I was sad that that was another piece of my life before now that was gone. I know, it’s a toaster, get over it, but I did have a couple minutes of mourning over the toaster.

I picked up Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife and thumbed through it. Out fell papers from my first teaching job where I somehow became a french teacher. I laughed, and turned to the front, eager to re-read and picture my new Mr. Darcy courtesy of Lost in Austen. That’s when I saw it. The dedication page. I had never realized it before, because why would I ever have a need to? The author had dedicated it “to Phil.” Years before, I even knew Phil it seems that I was waiting for him.

I made note of it and put the book down, thinking it was just too weird of a coincidence. Fast forward to the weekend where we’re sitting at our church with our priest, formalizing all of the initial paperwork for our marriage. We’re getting married in the Byzantine church so Phil had to have all of this documentation from his Roman catholic church including his confirmation papers. I was half listening because it wasn’t my turn to speak when Phil got to the point of his confirmation name.

“Matthew,” he says to the priest. All of a sudden, I was listening again and laughing to myself.

Of course it would be. I spent so much of my early to mid-20’s subconsciously dating idiots because I had loved someone named Matthew. I told Phil about it later, over lunch. And just like Phil will always do, he took my hand and told me,

“You were just waiting for me like I was waiting for you. See, you knew it would be a Matthew, you were just wrong about which one. ”

Living the life and the love I have now, just makes me realize how much of us was actually already all around me until the universe knew the timing to finally let us meet.

 

 

What are we? The two fat white girls?

I have had a week. It’s been crazy. The kids are crazy. The entire school is just crazy. It’s that time of year though where instruction is winding down and high stakes testing will be our days here for what will feel like forever. Imagine, your classes go from an 80 minute block to 160 minutes while testing is occurring. It’s hard enough keeping these kids engaged for 80 minutes, but when you double it? It’s abysmal. I absolutely hate this time of year.

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One way I combat this is to make sure I am stocked up on rewards. One of which is the passes we give kids towards a prize raffle when we catch them being good. I made sure to hit up the teacher that has them to make sure I had enough for the long days that are quickly approaching. As I stood talking to her, I could hear the change of classes begin in the hallway and in there, I heard my name several times coming from my last block class. I knew they were talking to their music teacher who they often confuse me with.

I thanked my co-worker for the passes and was just about to leave when the music teacher showed up there laughing at how the kids we share always confused us.

“I don’t get why they can’t get it right,” she laughed.

“Me neither, we don’t look alike,” I say, referring to her dark hair and my blond hair.

“Yeah, like what? Do they see two white fat girls and just think we both look alike.” She laughs.

I don’t because for at least a 5 second gap, I’m thinking did she really just say that? We barely know each other and just like, why would you say that? Had this been reversed, I would have hit on the, short and loud factor or even the white female factor, but fat? It wouldn’t had crossed my mind.

When I first started my job here, I was thin. I was the thinnest I had been in a very long time because I had been sick and depressed. Then, as the stress of urban education took hold of me, and as I met and fell in love with my to-be husband, I packed on the pounds. And, now, just about everyone I know at work knows I’m working hard at being thin again for our wedding in the fall.

So, in that moment, I knew I needed to respond so I laughed and shook my head before making my way towards my own room to set up for my last block, still half in shock over what just happened. I laughed to myself because one of the reasons I know I am successful as a teacher is because my kids have always felt comfortable with me. In fact, most people feel comfortable with me rather quickly and so many times, I am told things that I really don’t want to hear. This was just another one of those things.

I often wonder what it is about my nature that opens up this part of people, making them feel safe enough to word vomit all over a conversation. Or at times tell me something so profoundly personal that I leave feeling bad for them and wondering if they have any true friends to begin with? Often, it is something that I, personally, would only share with my two closest girlfriends and not the rest of the world. And even then, sometimes those conversations with them are still hard. It blows my mind when I seem to illicit them so freely from other people.