Tag Archives: women

Wonder Women

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I promise this won’t be a soap box moment—I try to avoid those, since this is the internet and there’s nothing but soap boxes out here—but I’d like to take a moment to say that women are amazing beings.

Yes. I’m biased. I’m a woman. I am well aware of this fact. I’m not saying women are amazing to the exclusion of men also being amazing. Men are likewise amazing. There is a long list of amazing things that only men can do. But a few events that have been brought to my attention over the past year have given me a deeper appreciation for the superpowers of women.

I’m thinking specifically about our tolerance for pain. Pain is old hat for women. We become acquainted with the reality of persistent physical pain somewhere around the age of twelve. This deep, sometimes debilitating pain recurs with regularly and cyclically until we’re about 45, when different kinds of age-related pain set in. And if we don’t experience this cyclical pain, it’s probably a symptom of some kind of ailment that will give us even greater pain.

Then there’s childbearing. Admittedly, I know nothing about this other than what other women have told me. One of my dearest childhood friends had a baby yesterday. I’ve watched her growing rounder and rounder over the last nine months. From what they tell me, pregnant women endure nausea on top of the growing list of physical discomforts, including the shifting moods caused by uncontrollably wonky hormones.

Then, after nine months of all of that, women muster the strength and endurance to give birth. Research reports that the pain of childbirth is the equivalent of breaking half of your bones all at the same time. Other reports say that labor pain shatters the scale of human pain tolerance and should be sufficient to kill someone. I include a link to this video as a case in point.  But women have endured this incredible pain—and survived it—for centuries.

I visited my friend in the hospital to see her and her adorable son. My friend had endured over 12 hours of labor. She received an epidural in the middle of a contraction (I hear the mothers of the world cringing as they read this). She underwent a C-section. She tasted every kind of pain this process could have produced, and yet I found her sitting up in the bed, calmly relating her adventures while only complaining of “a little soreness.”

And for reasons unexplained by human reasoning, women hold their precious ones in their arms and think, “My little one is so lovely. I’d do this all again.” They forget about the pain because all that matters, really, is the baby.

I’m astounded. I can’t fathom it. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never been there. But the female ability to take all that pain and willingly endure it over and over again will never cease to amaze me.

That said, I’m adopting.

 

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Flight of Fiction (22)

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“What will you do when I’m gone?”

The question startled Ameryn. It wasn’t as though she hadn’t thought of the likelihood before—in fact, she thought of it increasingly—but hearing it aloud from the princess’s own mouth was more painful than she’d imagined.

“Gone?” she repeated. The emptiness of the word made a hollow space in her heart that quickly filled with apprehension. She distracted herself by running the brush slowly though Aileen’s thick curtain of hair as they both sat on the princess’s bed, staring out at the stars through the massive picture window.

“You know,” Aileen explained, “married.”

“Married…” Ameryn swallowed. “It doesn’t mean you’ll be gone, you know. Whoever you marry will be king.”

“Yes,” Aileen said. Her expression was vague. It seemed to Ameryn that her expression grew vaguer with every passing day.

“Do you suppose Nayr will want to rule Kharador remotely once he’s married you?” She was only half joking.

Aileen smiled a dazed sort of smile, but made no reply. A silence followed. Ameryn played with a strand of Aileen’s hair, focusing intently on it, trying to ignore the warning bells in her head.

“Do you think you’ll ever marry, Ameryn?”

The Guardian laughed. She wasn’t sure where the laugh came from. It was not a funny question, nor did it have a funny answer. The laugh felt dry and forced in her mouth.

“Dearest, really?” She put her hands on Aileen’s face and turned it toward the vanity mirror, so Aileen could see both of them clearly. “Look at me. There is your answer.”

“But you are lovely, Ameryn,” said the princess. For a moment, her old voice returned—the voice of the Aileen who was fully aware of herself, not the dazed and distracted girl of the last few weeks. “You are lovely to me. I’ve known you for as long as I can remember, and I have never thought you ugly.”

Ameryn stared at her face in the mirror. “Thank you, dearest. But your opinion comes from years of close acquaintance. No man who has ever seen this face has…has stayed for very long.”

Aileen turned to look Ameryn in the eye. “Was there someone once?”

“What do you mean?”

“Did you have someone once, Ameryn? Did you ever love someone?”

Ameryn sniffed. “Love is a heavy word. I won’t deny I’ve found a few of the Wolfguards rather handsome—”

“Ammy!”

“—but I wouldn’t call that love. Why bother giving your heart to someone who’ll never want to keep it? Waste of time and energy.”

“What about that boy you’ve told me about?”

“Boy?”

“The elf boy. Zon.”

Ameryn looked out the window at the autumn stars. She was ashamed of the grief in her heart. Grief for a lost dream—for a lost soul. After all these years, she had hoped she could have trained herself to forget.

“We were children,” she said. “I wouldn’t have called that love, either.” She smiled ruefully. “Besides, you have no idea what a little terror I was. We played together, but I was more annoying than anything else.”

“He was taken by slavers?”

“Yes,” Ameryn said. “The same that took me.”

“Perhaps he’s out there looking for you,” Aileen said dreamily.

Ameryn’s eyes were still fixed on the stars. “How often I’ve looked up at the heavens, watching the stars and the moon in their nightly dance, and wondered if he was out there, looking up and seeing the same stars, the same moon. And maybe, just maybe, he likewise is searching for me in the stars as I search for him.”

The stars kept on with their dull sparkling. They made no reply.

“But he is not,” Ameryn concluded. “He cannot. He is dead. He died a long time ago.” She smiled down at Aileen, who was looking up at her guardian with a worried expression on her face. Ameryn tried to alleviate her concern with a gentle smile.

“So you see, my dear, I will never marry. The only one who’d known me as long as you have—long enough, it seems, to think I am lovely—is long gone.”

On Footwear

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What genius decided that footwear was necessary?

I’m sure that originally shoes were designed for the sole (ha) purpose of protecting our feet from the elements: gravel, rock roads, hot sand, wild animals, etc. Take a look at Greek, art, and you’ll find this is so—they all wear simple sandals that provide an extra layer of protection on the bottoms of their feet.

But is that even necessary? Our skin is designed to create its own protection through callouses. Shure, they don’t look very pretty, but they serve their purpose. Walk barefoot long enough, and you’ll acquire soles as hard as hobbits’ feet. So why shoes?

Especially since they’ve clearly evolved far afield of their original purpose. Walk into a shoe store, and you’ll see what I mean. High heels are self-explanatory. They contort your foot into a position it was never designed to hold. Walking on tiptoe is great for ballerinas, but they went through years of training to teach their muscles how to walk on tiptoe properly. The rest of us just find our spines jarred out of place. High heels: providing Christmas bonuses to chiropractors since 1600.

Even flat shoes are a problem. They chafe. Even well-designed shoes chafe. Maybe this is only a problem in the women’s shoe department, where everything is designed for aesthetics and not comfort and practicality. I’ll admit the fault is with us—we like pretty shoes. Buying shoes is a vicious cycle: see great shoes, buy them, they hurt your feet (at least until they’re broken in), they wear out in a year, you buy more. Guys can wear a pair of shoes for years, since as a general rule they’re built more sturdily.

The thing is, no matter what you do, whether you wear socks or preventative Band-Aids or some other way of protecting your feet or not, if you are wearing new shoes, blisters will happen.

All summer long, I’ve been in sandals. The Greeks had something figured out with those things. They’re comfortable, and during the summer I really don’t have the need to keep my feet warm or to look professional. They keep the sidewalk from burning my feet.

Fall comes, and the chill starts to chill my toes. I put on a pair of flats, wear them for a day, and, predictably, my poor feet are covered in blisters. In the fall, UU girls (at least those with new shoes) walk around campus with Band-Aids until it gets cold enough to wear tights. And even then, the blisters will come.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

I look forward to the day when I can establish my own little dress code where shoes will not be required. I will walk out where the wild things are, let my wide, unshoeable feet get torn by the elements and come out thick with callouses. With this armor, I will pad through the rest of my days as the happiest of hobbits.

Let’s start a trend, guys. 

Flight of Fiction (15c)

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Aileen’s chambers were indeed fit for a princess. The room was a large semicircle, a wide window filling the great curved wall, a fireplace on one end and the Aileen’s four-posted bed on the other. The plaster ceiling was painted with a blue sky with fluffy, pink-edged clouds and little soaring birds. The rug over the smooth stone floors was thick and green like spring grass; the same green that tinted the gauzy curtains around Aileen’s bed. The walls were decorated with bright hangings depicting embroidered foxes and fairies gallivanting in a woven forest. Between the hangings were bronze sconces shaped like winged foxes holding little torches, like guardian angels keeping a vigilant watch over the princess while her Guardian of flesh and blood went out for her morning run.

Ameryn crossed to the bed and pulled back the curtain. All that could be seen of the princess was a thick wave of auburn hair splashing out from under the covers.

“Aileen?”

Ameryn reached over and pulled the covers back, revealing the princess’ porcelain face, her eyes roving under her closed lids, still chasing the fleeting images of her dream.

“Come on, Aileen. Rise and shine.”

She got a mumble in response. With a huff and half a smile, Ameryn went to the window and pulled back the heavy velvet curtain that thus far had been blocking out the morning light. Suddenly the room was flooded with light, which glimmered off the metallic threads in the tapestries and bed linens and bronze sconces, making the room look like a fairy land.

Aileen’s black eyebrows furrowed, but her eyes stayed closed. With a protesting grunt, she yanked the covers back over her face.

“Really, Aileen?”

“Five more minutes.”

“I’m late as it is. Come on, you’re due in court in an hour. The guests start arriving today.”

Aileen’s eyes snapped open, as clear blue as the autumn sky that now filled the room’s massive, faceted window. “Today? Oh! It is today!” She bolted upright, rubbing her eyes.

“Thought that would get you,” Ameryn said, smiling triumphantly. “I’ll ring for brekkers.” She stepped over to the fireplace a pulled a long cord that hung by the door that led to Aileen’s sitting room.

“I’m not late? No one’s showed up yet, have they?” Aileen had lunged from her bed to her dressing table, and was now frantically running a brush through her thick auburn hair.

“Not that I could see. Slow down, or you’ll get all frizzy. Relax—you’ve got an hour.”

“Might not be long enough,” Aileen said, looking at her reflection with a worried expression, poking her face experimentally.

“Take care you don’t make yourself look too lovely,” Ameryn jested. “We don’t want to overwhelm the poor boys, now, do we?”

“All those people coming in, just to look at me—ugh! I’m too nervous to think straight.”

“Hopefully you won’t be too nervous to eat. I’d rather you not faint again. Not very ladylike, and rarely makes a good impression.”

“Ammy, I was twelve when that happened.”

“Still,” Ameryn said, crossing to the wardrobe and rifling through the princess’s gowns, “can’t be too careful. How about this one?” She pulled out a long gown of gold cloth, edged in embroidered doves and frosted with lace.

Aileen eyed it, biting her lip. “Don’t you think it’s a bit—fussy?”

“Court is fussy. So is courting, come to think of it.”

“Stop it, I’m nervous enough. How about the blue one?”

“Isn’t it rather every-day?”

“Well—”

Ameryn did her best to give a reassuring smile. “Whatever you feel comfortable about, dearie. It doesn’t matter.”

Aileen slumped in her seat. “I should wear the pink one. I look awful enough in it that maybe they’ll all take one look at me and run back to wherever they came from.”

“No such luck. You’d look lovely if all you wore was a potato sack.”

“Do I have one of those?”

“Not the last time I checked.”

“Phooey.”

Ameryn leaned against the wardrobe, examining her charge’s face. “I thought you loved your birthday celebration, Aileen. You were so excited about it last year.”

“Last year wasn’t the year. Back then I could keep it all at a safe distance—the choosing and all.” She sighed. “Besides, the preliminary formalities are—ugh!”

“Two ‘ughs’ in one morning. This does not bode well.”

“I know I’m the princess. I know that I have to marry someone to maintain the royal line. And I am excited to find out who that person is—the man I marry. But Ameryn,” she said, casting her clear blue eyes up at her Guardian’s, almost wearily, “I should so much like to fall in love for love’s sake, and not for politics.”

Ameryn looked down at Aileen, her only friend, and the closest thing to family she would ever have. She was a beautiful girl, full of life and spirit and creativity—and gentleness. She would be a perfect queen, and deserved the perfect king. In Ameryn’s mind, no man would ever be good enough for her princess—but for Aileen’s sake, she said, “You will, dearie. I know you will. And he’ll be wonderful, whoever he is.”

“Hmm,” Aileen murmured, and turned to the mirror again. She ran a finger through her hair, lost in her own thoughts for a moment or two.

“The green one,” she said at last.

“Right,” Ameryn replied, pulling a shimmering green gown from the wardrobe and giving it a brisk brushing down, making its golden embroidery spark in the morning light.  

Austenites

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that anyone with sense and sensibility is probably a Jane Austen fan.

I just had to say that.

Perhaps “fan” is too strong a word. It is short for “fanatic,” after all. Perhaps “appreciator” is a slightly more inclusive word. Still, the fact remains: appreciate the works of Jane Austen, and you elevate yourself to the plateau of The Well-Cultured Soul.

A lot of people write off Jane Austen’s novels (or the films based off of the novels) as “boring.” The plot moves too slowly, they cry, or the novels deal too heavily with the trivial ins and outs and seemingly meaningless subtleties of the characters’ lives. These tend to be the same people who spend untold hours dilly-dallying around on Facebook. I have no further comment.

The Austenites are the quiet fandom. These are the kids who didn’t say much in class, but always got killer grades in English, particularly British English. These are the kids who know the value of spending hours up a tree with an apple and a book. Okay, it’s a little hard to stereotype the readers of Austen, because those who are tend to be interested in a lot of different things. Because they’re awesome that way.

The braver ones of us walk around with t-shirts that say things like “Team Darcy” or “Team Col. Brandon” “I must have my share in the conversation.” I may or may not be in the possession of one such t-shirt.

Jane Austen wrote the original nerdy love story. Think about it. I mean, you’ll hear the Austenites talking about what a heartthrob Darcy is (and, well, he is), but what is Darcy, really? He is an extremely shy and introverted man who is uncomfortable around strangers and has difficulty communicating his true feelings, or even unveiling his less-than-stiff-and-actually-incredibly-clever personality. Yes, he’s a bit of a jerk at the beginning of the story because he has a far too elevated opinion of himself (and many geeks do, let’s admit), but even at the end, he’s still as shy and adorably awkward at communicating as he was in the beginning. Just read the second proposal scene. Honestly. But we still love him. We love him because in his way, he’s a backward, nerdy underdog who has a massive crush on another introverted and quick-witted bookworm. Regency style nerdy lurve right there, folks.  

Austen also teaches us a few valuable lessons. I could park on this topic for weeks, but I won’t. For today, let’s stick with the tried-and-true “appearances can be deceiving” moral to the story. Case study: Wickham. I know I seem to be pulling all of my examples from one book, but she tends to use the same archetypes in different books to prove a point. Substitute “Willoughby” or “Frank Churchill” every time I type “Wickham,” and what I am writing will remain true.

When we first meet Wickham, he appears to be the all-caps Perfect Man. He’s handsome, charming, funny, has a good job, is nice to everyone (at least to their faces), and is very good at that whole smolder-stare thing that is apparently some kind of timeless tool for attracting women. Darcy (or Col. Brandon, or Mr. Knightly) isn’t nearly as appealing at first sight—he’s too stuck up, too old, too quiet, too whatever. However, as time and the plot progresses, we discover that Wickham is in fact a total scumbag bent on destroying the hearts and futures of the young women he victimizes. He’s a wolf in lion’s clothing. A snake in the grass. A charlatan. A philanderer. A Gaston compared to the Beastly Darcy. There aren’t words nasty enough to describe such men, so I’m going to stop there.  

However, this horrible man is crucial to the unveiling of the hero’s true character. If it were not for the misdeeds of the villain, the hero wouldn’t have a chance to step up and make everything right again. Darcy flexed his fiscal muscles to repair the reputation of Lizzie’s family. Col. Brandon coaxed the broken-spirited Marianne back into the sunlight using the power of his words and the words of William Shakespeare (at least he does in the film—and I don’t think it’s a far cry from what Jane Austen imagined). Mr. Knightly proved himself the true friend, who knew that flattery wouldn’t help Emma at all, and chose to tell her the truth about herself. I’m oversimplifying, but Austen’s point is this: ladies, just because the Wickham in your life seems to be exactly what you’ve hoped for doesn’t mean he’s what you need. You may, in fact, need someone who has all the goodness, instead of all the appearance of it.

Boom. You just got Austened. Truth universally acknowledged, right there.

Normally I would use my last paragraph or two to tie together my strands of thought and bring the post to its point. Trouble with this post is that there is no real point, other than to call the blogosphere’s attention to the awesomeness of Jane Austen and the existence of the Austenites. There’s a reason that classic literature is classic—with or without fancy clothes and elaborate language, people are the same kind of people that they are today. There are a lot of Lizzies and Emmas, Janes, Mariannes and Elenors, and Darcys, Bingleys, Brandons and Knightlys out there—and they all have their noses between the pages of a good book.

 

 

A Few Comments Rising from a Debacle at a Consignment Store

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The fashion industry is dumb. I have made my opinion clear on this issue a few times, so I won’t elaborate much further other than to say:

1. Most pairs of women’s jeans are manufactured under the erroneous assumption that

A. women are all built the same way,

B. don’t eat,

C. and have no bones.

2. All the brand-name chieftains need to organize a powwow where they

A. figure out a standard for sizing so that

B. a woman can always pull a pair of “her size” jeans off the rack and know they will fit, or at least zip, no matter what brand they are,

C. because as it stands, she could fit into her size in one brand and have to go ten sizes up in another—besides, if

D. a guy can walk into a department store, tell the salesclerk his measurements, and walk out with a pair of pants without even trying them on, why can’t women?

3. Some of us are waiting for

A. the pendulum of popular opinion to swing in such a way that

B. wearing skirts and dresses can be the accepted norm for casual attire again, just so we don’t have to shop for stupid jeans anymore.

And don’t even get me started on swimsuits.

 

Beauty at Its Best

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Half of the world’s dilemma is that so few of us know the difference between what makes a beautiful person and what doesn’t.

There’s a teacher at our school who rarely goes a lecture hour without mentioning his wife. To hear him talk, she’s the most beautiful creature that ever walked the earth. Whenever he says her name, he says it with a kind of awed reverence. He never describes her outright, but always notes her kindness, her gentleness, her strength, and her wisdom. He tells us what a wonderful mother she is, and about her bravery in the face of multiple miscarriages. All of us eager listeners automatically conjure up an image of what we think she must be like. We assimilate an image based on the beauty we find in the women of advertisements and movies, filled in with scraps of his description. The result is a picture of a woman that is beautiful, but might look like any number of other beautiful women on the planet.

When we see her on one of the occasions she comes to the university campus, a few of us might be surprised that this paragon of a woman doesn’t look quite the way we had imagined her. She is a lovely woman, but is by no means the mixture of Galadriel and Mary Jane Watson we had in our heads. It is clear she’s had children; her eyes are tired-looking; her honey-blonde hair is disheveled; her clothes have the faded look of someone who has forgone shopping for clothes in favor of shopping for diapers. By the world’s (perverted) standards, she is not an exceptional beauty. Regardless, every student on this campus regards her with the same kind of awed reverence as her husband, our teacher. Because he adores his wife, we do, too. We cannot help but see her as being incredibly beautiful.

By contrast, there are thousands of women in the music, modeling, and acting industries who are lauded for their beauty, their sex appeal, their hair, nails, or choice of designer clothing—but can be lauded for nothing more than that. There is little virtue there, precious little depth of character, and, more often than not, negligible skill.  They are often unkind, indulgent, bound to damaging addictions, and obsessed with themselves. Yet these are the women we see on magazine covers, billboards, widescreens, and runways. These are the women the world applauds.

If the world had on the right set of glasses, this would not be the case. Women like my professor’s wife would be the ones on the magazine covers. Not just because they are outwardly lovely, but because their inner loveliness shines out of every word they say, making the world around them beautiful. Their love for others makes them lovely, and that is the greatest beauty of all.

Once Upon a Nightmare

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There are a lot of things I don’t understand. I don’t understand the appeal of caviar. I don’t understand why we drive on parkways and park on driveways. I don’t understand why every brand of clothing sizes things differently. I just don’t, and I never will.

But one thing that puzzles me more with each passing year is why girls are attracted to bad men.

I will use fandoms as a microcosm of this female phenomena. The musical The Phantom of the Opera is a favorite among women, probably because its exaggerated portrayal of romance matches most women’s delusional fantasies of the way they think love works. The hero of the story is Good Guy Raoul, a viscount who is in love with his childhood friend and singer Christine Daae. The only person that stands between them is a guy who lives in the basement of the opera house and writes music for fun, killing the odd stagehand as a side job. He is grossly deformed, which inspires pity in the hearts of the audience. Pity enough, it seems, for them to forget that he’s a murderous, controlling, abusive charlatan who is more obsessed with owning Christine than he is interested in her inner being, her soul. For some inexplicable reason, some women are upset that Christine chooses Good Guy Raoul over the twisted evil guy. In their eyes, it would be better for Christine to live out her days in a dank basement with a creepy stalker than to travel the world with the man of her dreams who loves her enough to be willing to die for her.

What?

Then there’s Loki. You know, antlered Mr. Meany from The Avengers. He’s got a whole flock of women who are obsessed with him. Something to do with the expression in his eyes, apparently. These spellbound women overlook the fact that this person was perfectly comfortable with killing innocent people to show his older brother that he’s just as cool as he is, no matter what Daddy says. Sure, girls say they feel sorry for him because his father never loved him, and if only he had, maybe Loki would’ve turned out okay. Look, girls, if you want the same kind of sob story, the same thing happened to Faramir, and he knew how to be a gentleman about it.

What makes evil so attractive? In the real world, girls fall for bad boys all the time. They pass up the solid, mentally stable and very sweet men for the rebels who turn into controllers, abusers, or philanderers. What normally happens is that a girl will fall for a boy solely for his good looks, and find out too late that the pretty apple has a rotten core. I have a hard enough time understanding the appeal of romance as it is. Why do women go out of their way to fall in love with difficult men?

Normally I can supply theories by way of an answer. Tonight I cannot. This is an open question brought about by scrolling around in the “Geek” category on Pinterest. All I can say is, Girls, be careful. These visions are seldom what they seem.

Psychosis

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Is there a term for getting too emotionally involved in works of fiction?

Twice this week I’ve found myself in tears while under the influence of some play or epic poem. First Hector died and left poor sweet Andromache a widow, which had me sniffling for the last chapter or so of The Iliad.

Then I read Our Town, the notoriously normal play by Thornton Wilder, which chronicles the above average love of an average couple who lived simplistically beautiful lives. The girl, Emily, dies in childbirth only a few years after being married to her high school sweetheart. I saw this play performed on campus last year and barely sniffed once, but now, reading Emily’s plaintive posthumous lines:

“Mama, just for a moment we’re happy. Let’s look at one another….I can’t. I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed.”.

I confess to having to stop and wring my eyelids out.

The last time I wept freely over a piece of prose was when I read Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo. The tiger in question comes to an unfortunate end, and my eleven-year-old self couldn’t handle the emotional strain. But now, as a twenty-year-old, I find myself strangely moved by every blessed thing, whether I read it, hear it, see it, or even taste it.

This may be a symptom that I am finally coming unwound. Or I need more sleep. Or both.

The Contents of the Closet

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While focusing on externals is hardly a commendable mindset, it’s valid to argue that clothes communicate. In the same manner that first impressions are rarely forgotten, one’s appearance gives clues about a person’s upbringing, taste, background, or political preferences.

There’s the externals. But what about the internal effects of clothing?

Clothes help or hurt our self-image. Clothes can be therapeutic. Clothes can make us feel beautiful or powerful—whether or not we are.

For example: the classic cozy sweatshirt. There is little to no aesthetic value in a sweatshirt. It is essentially a fleece sack with openings in all the right places for your head and arms and torso. But nothing feels better than a grungy sweatshirt on a cold day when you don’t feel well or you don’t have to go anywhere.

Another example is formal attire. Perhaps girls feel a little more strongly about this than guys, although I have the great pleasure of knowing several men who enjoy dressing to the nines on a regular basis. Pretty dresses make the girls who are wearing them feel pretty. This probably arises from watching too many Disney princess movies growing up or indulging in stories by L.M. Montgomery or Jane Austen (a habit no one in their right minds could condemn.) Any little girl can describe for you the magical feeling that they have suddenly become a princess the moment they put on a pretty dress.

Another item I’ve noticed is mismatched socks, normally in bright neon colors. I see this deliberate mismatching as a sign of quiet, good-humored defiance. There is no law that dictates that we must wear white, matching socks. But several people I know make a point of wearing one yellow sock and one orange sock, even if they cannot be seen, because the thought of not having matching socks makes them happy.

Why? Why do the shells we don like hermit crabs contribute so much to our moods? Maybe this is a uniquely female thing, but I’m sure there are males and females alike who have pondered the same question. It makes no sense. Clothing is clothing—its purposes are warmth and concealment. And yet throughout the long history of mankind, there has always been a theme of “the clothes make the man.”

I have no answers for you. No clever metaphors; no artistic explanations. All I can say is that I’m thankful for God’s gift of creativity to mankind that allows for  the creation of an infinite variety of clothing so that, thank goodness, we can all choose to dress so that we can present ourselves in the best possible way. From hoodies to formals and everything in between. 

Timeless, Thank You

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One of my roommates is the champion of out-of-the-blue questions. Five seconds ago, she asked me:

“Rizzy? How old are you?”

I get this question a lot. In fact, I have been asked this question since I was about fourteen. It is never asked in the condescending tone of an adult asking a child her age out of habit (“And just how old are you, little girl?”), even though any guess the adult makes will probably be accurate. No, people ask me this question because they are genuinely confused: “Just how old are you anyway?”

I suppose I can understand the confusion. I’m tall and I have a deeper voice than most people expect from a teen or a twenty-year-old. In school plays I was passed over for the romantic heroine and given the role of mother, evil queen, or irritable spinster on account of just how low my voice was. I have never dressed my age, since the styles designed for teens and early 20-somethings have never really appealed to me. Since I was a little child, I was brought up in an environment of mostly adults, having neither siblings nor much interaction with children my age outside of school, where interaction was kept in close check. As a result, I have always acted older than I am. This isn’t really a point of pride, it’s just the way things are.

In junior high, people assumed I was in high school. Once in high school, I was mistaken for a college senior or a graduate student. I was asked to the junior-senior banquet as a sophomore because the poor boy thought I was a junior. Random people in stores mistook me for a salesclerk or the manager, often with hilarious results. Boys as much as five years older than me would innocently ask for my number, only to discover to their horror that I was no more than fifteen.

Now that I’m in college, the assumption that I’m older has become less flattering. At a rehearsal last semester I noticed a fellow cast member looking at me with a puzzled expression on her face.

“How old are you?” she asked.

“Twenty,” I replied. I knew what was coming next.

“Oh,” she said, still looking puzzled. “I thought you were older.”

So did other members of the cast, it seems. I was almost immediately adopted by all of the graduate students on the cast because they thought I was one of them. The people on the cast who are my age ignore me for the most part, and I can only assume that it’s for the same reason: they think I’m older, and therefore unapproachable. I’m a junior, people. I twenty-year-old junior in college.

The most distressing misunderstanding I’ve encountered was while I was in Croatia. One of the student’s mothers asked (through her son, who was translating) how old I was. When I told her, she and the group of mothers she was with laughed loudly and chattered something in Croatian. I looked to the son for an explanation, he looked me in the eye and said:

“She thought you were thirty.”

I looked at myself long and hard in the mirror that night. I try very hard to fight the female tendency to be vain, but that night I confess to being genuinely worried. Worried, and confused. I have no wrinkles. No crow’s feet. No laugh lines. No grey hair. Sure, I’m not as skinny as most girls my age, but how does size determine how old one looks? Is it the low voice, I wondered? The bags under my eyes that I inherited from my father? The hair cut? Should I do more sit-ups?

Just what does twenty look like, anyway? Is there a standard? Judging by what I know of popular culture, the “standard” for being twenty isn’t anything I want to emulate. And I won’t. I can only be myself and become what God wants me to be.

But I am genuinely curious as to why people think I’m so much older than I am.

I can see myself in twenty years, still wearing tiered skirts in bright colors, walking into a restaurant and taking a seat, browsing through the menu until the twenty-something waitress bounces over to the table to take my order. When I ask her for the Greek salad, she’ll politely inform me that she can only get me a senior discount on the day’s special, and would I rather have that instead? I will tell her no thank you, I’m only forty, you whippersnapper, and I want the Greek salad, thank you very much. She’ll apologize profusely. I will go home and cuddle my cats for an hour and feel much better.

I don’t understand why I’m mistaken for a thirty-year-old. But I can choose to laugh at the situation and not despair over it. At least not yet.

Hard as Nails

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There is an unspoken understanding among women that we all know, or can at least figure out, how other women work. We can fly at each other like angry cats sometimes, but yes, we all have a basis understanding of woman nature. To my curious male friends: yes, there is a Manual, and we all have to read it. If most female habits seem eerily similar, that’s why. Habits like perpetual lateness and always imagining ourselves to look ten pounds heavier than we actually are.

A handful of us choose to disregard most of the handbook completely. I skipped the chapters on hair, nails, and makeup and skimmed the chapter on deportment, deeming the latter more important than the former. As a result, I fail to understand the female tendency of obsessing over one’s fingernails.

Fingernails are rather grotesque little things. They’re cast off skin cells. If you’re healthy, they’re a pearly pink with little ridges down the length. Aside from being rather excellent letter-openers, they don’t have much practical purpose at all. Perhaps this is why, somewhere during the great long course of history, women decided to start painting them.

I try not to bring this up in conversation with other readers of The Manual. They’ll start talking about nail-polish, a topic as foreign to me as nuclear physics, and someone will make a very sweet comment about how lovely my nails would look in a dark magenta or whatever else. I calmly reply that I prefer not to paint my nails. They usually look at me like I’m either two fries short of a Happy Meal or like I’m the kind of girl who lived under a rock during puberty. They think I’m strange because I don’t paint my nails. Perhaps they’re right. I think they’re strange because they do.

There are girls out there with lovely hands. They have long, white fingers that seem made for playing piano or doing embroidery. Crimson nails, or nails of any color, are the perfect aesthetic capstone for hands like those. If you have the time and energy to take care of your hands, that is.

I spend the better part of my time typing. When I’m not typing, I’m writing with a pen or pencil. On Sundays, I play the violin. Long nails are a hindrance, not a help, to what I do on a regular basis. Keeping them long is impractical and annoying. Even though longer nails make my stubby fingers look longer (which, I gather, is more attractive—go figure), having my nails uncut drives me crazy. I fiddle with them. I tap them. They get caught on my clothes. They tear.  

“Trim them and file them,” people tell me. “You have pretty nails.”

Regardless of how attractive the collections of dead skin cells on the tips of my fingers may be, my loyal readers know that I barely have time to eat, much less sit around and take an emery board to my nails. I cut them to the quick and forget about them until they’re long enough to be bothersome again.  

However, comma, I will admit that occasionally doing arsty things to my fingernails is rather fun. This summer, for instance, when I was on vacation with my friends, I got bored and painted my nails deep purple and did the tips in silver, utterly on a whim. (If I’m going to be normal, I don’t want to do it in a normal way.) Then, for my friend’s wedding, all us bridesmaids went and got professional manicures. I paid for the sort that would last for weeks so I wouldn’t have to think about my fingers after it was done. The polish did, indeed, last for weeks. Thankfully, they are now trimmed back to their normal stumpiness, and typing is much easier now.

I know that a few fellow readers of The Manual will consider my statements heretical. There are others who have seen women who grow out their nails to ridiculous lengths and spend hours doing bizarre things to their nails (including all manner of beads and glitter) and will agree with me, at least in part. Impractical as nail-primping may be, I will admit that doing something artistic for the sake of doing it is rather fun. The creative urge just manifests itself in different ways for different people. For me, it’s writing and drawing anthropomorphic cartoon characters. For others, it’s painting their nails. In my journey as a human being, I will try to understand why my fellow women do what they do.

Considering I threw away The Manual a long, long time ago, I have a feeling it will take me a while.

Preparations

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My friends and I have recently discovered the most bittersweet element of growing up. It is a truth universally acknowledged that boys and girls grow into men and women. A few of those men and women fall in love.

And they get married.

It’s nice enough to watch two people grow together as a couple in a movie. Or if, as they were when we were children, they were people much older than us. They were strangers. Their romance was a distant, untouchable thing that did not really affect you. In movies, we watch 30-second clips of weddings on a screen. In real life, the most we sacrifice is an hour or two of our time as we sit and watch the couple exchange vows.

But then we grow up. Suddenly, the sixth grade class clown is engaged. The captain of the cheerleading squad is married. You’re halfway through college, and people you’ve known for the better part of your life are engaged, married, expecting…

It’s bizarre. It’s bizarre, though none of us could put into word just why it is so bizzare.

What really brings this disconcerting feeling close to home is when one of your closest and dearest friends is about to walk down the aisle herself. And you’re one of her attendants.

(Let’s pause for a moment. Before we go any further, allow me to make something perfectly clear. I am making the following disclaimer because I have had to do so in many conversations on this topic in the past, so it seems apt that I explain myself in print as well.

The feeling of disconcertion that arises from seeing one of my best friends get married is not one of jealousy. It is not a wistful feeling. I do not envy her position as a (rather jittery) bride-to-be. No. A thousand times, no. In short, my inner monologue is saying nothing to the effect of:

“Shucks. I wish that was me. When will my day come? Boo hoo hoo…” [At this point this Anti-Risabella would drag out a box of tissues, a box of Russell Stover, and a copy of Sleepless in Seattle and proceed to host a pity party for the next three hours.]

No. That simply isn’t how I roll.)

Rather, there is a mingled joy and sadness that comes from prepping for a best friend’s wedding. All five of us ladies must reconcile ourselves with the fact that all of us have, at last, grown up. There is no going back. As we all flurry around her like moths about a flame—making her comfortable, settling her nerves, keeping her calm, helping her prepare—occasionally we look at each other and silently acknowledge this poignant truth.

We all remember the first days of our friendship. The hours of laughing at nothing; the annual Christmas get-togethers; the inside jokes; the road trips; the shared joys; the shared tears. We’ve been together through absolutely everything: messy break-ups, exams, illnesses, first and final crushes, high school graduations, first days at college, driver’s license tests, birthdays, and family deaths. And now, in the midst of this long, long journey we’ve been taking together—the oldest of our members is leaving us.

I know that sounds extreme. We will still see her. It’s not as though all fellowship with her will end. The remaining four of us all know that she’s going to be the same person. Nothing about her personality or her soul will change. All that’s really happening is that she’s going from being a “Miss” to being a “Mrs.” Then why does it feel like so much more is changing?

We’ll figure it out when we get there. Meanwhile, there are rehearsals to attend, manicures to be obtained, and a host of other extraneous functions to be dealt with before those two can say “I do.” It seems my biggest task will be not to analyze the affair too deeply.

Number 21: A Story

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The stage is set with three separate locations. Downstage left houses two small office desks sitting side by side, both littered with paper and other typical office items: this represents the publishing house office where the characters work . Downstage right has a high table and stools, representing the coffee shop. Upstage center has a solitary park bench.

 

SCENE 1:

The lights come up on downstage left: a drab office at a publishing house. CAROL and ANGELA enter stage left. Angela sits at her desk. Carol is carrying a black leather portfolio. She addresses the audience.

 

CAROL

There are some wonderful stories that start with the sentence “once upon a time.” Or “there once was a,” or even “our story begins at—” you fill in the blank.

 

JACK enters stage left, moving towards his desk.

 

But anyone who’s ever lived could tell you that the best stories begin with a single word:

 

JACK

(Taking his seat at the desk next to Angela’s and addressing her.)

Hello.

 

ANGELA

Oh, good morning, Jack.

 

JACK

Are you doing alright? You look tired.

 

ANGELA

(Laughs emptily.)

When do I not look tired? We all look tired—especially with those deadlines.

 

JACK

I suppose you’re right. Still, you seem a little—

 

ANGELA

Thanks, but I’m alright, Jack.

 

Jack and Angela work at their desks, deaf to Carol’s monologue. Angela looks tired and bored with her work. Jack works diligently, but casts darting glances over at Angela every time she sighs—which she does often.

CAROL

(Addressing the audience.)

Meet my coworker Angela Gerolstine. She’s been working at this little publishing firm since she dropped off the apple cart after college. Angie had grand schemes of writing her novel and making it big, but her dreams got put on a back burner when she discovered that there was rent to pay and student loans to satisfy—not to mention her complicated relationships with Jerks numbers 1, 2 and 3. Angela, like so many other brilliant and adorable women experiencing emotional burnout, has given up on love. Or at least that’s what she’d like to think.

 

Carol steps into the scene and addresses Angela in an excessively cheerful tone of voice.

 

Good morning, Angela! How’s things?

 

ANGELA

Hey, Carol. Things are okay.

 

CAROL

Just ‘okay?’ That won’t do, honey—that won’t do at all.

 

ANGELA

I’m fine. I just have a lot to do…and no time to do it in. Same old, same old.

 

CAROL

Understood, understood. G’morning, Jack.

 

JACK

(Looking up from his desk for the first time in a while.)

Carol. How’s that proposal coming?

 

CAROL

Just swell. Give it a few months and it’ll be all set.

 

JACK

Wonderful.

(He checks his watch.)

Oops. Meeting. Gotta run. Later, ladies.

 

Jack leaves.

 

CAROL

Ciao, Jack.

(To Angela.)

How are things with whats-his-name?

 

ANGELA

(Darkly.)

Horace.

 

CAROL

Oooh…not so good?

 

ANGELA

Dumped me last month and ran off with the Ringling Brothers. He blathered something about “getting in touch with his inner child.”

 

CAROL

Bizarre. Any other excuse? Explanation?

 

ANGELA

Nothing I haven’t heard before. You know, the usual ‘It’s not me, it’s you; it’s not you, it’s me’ routine. Blah, blah, blah.

 

CAROL

Good riddance, then?

 

ANGELA

And he said he found my height intimidating. Go figure.

 

CAROL

Honey, I’m so sorry. At least now you know he’s not ‘the one,’ right? After all, you know what they say: ‘You gotta kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince.’

 

ANGELA

(Begins to furiously shuffle papers on her desk, punctuating her sentences with busyness.)

Carol, I’ve had it. I’ve kissed enough frogs by now to know that the princes just aren’t out there. They’re all FROGS. Every last slimy one of them.

 

CAROL

Don’t give up, girlie. You don’t need ‘princes,’ you just have to find one prince. Just one.

 

ANGELA

I don’t want one anymore. No one. Look, Carol, I’ve dated a lot of guys—

 

CAROL

Haven’t we all?

 

ANGELA

—and all I have to show for it is a bunch of painful memories. I’m done Carol. Done.

 

Angela puts her head on her desk, overwhelmed by the exhaustion of the past few weeks. Carol sidles over to the desk and sits on Angela’s desktop, pulling the black portfolio out from under her arm.

 

CAROL

You’re going to hate me for this, Angie, but I’ve got a project for you.

 

ANGELA

What is it? Another manuscript?

 

CAROL

Just read.

 

ANGELA

Carol, this is just a list of names.

 

CAROL

Uh-huh.

 

ANGELA

Guys’ names…Carol, what are you getting at?

 

CAROL

Twenty-one names. A name for every year you’ve been alive. Names of friends, names of colleagues, names of acquaintances—names of one or two of my ex’s—

 

ANGELA

Carol—

 

CAROL

—men that I know. But most importantly, men that you know.

 

ANGELA

(She gets increasingly flustered as she begins to realize what Carol is putting her up to.)

Carol—no, I—I don’t want to be set up—I—I can’t take this anymore—

 

CAROL

Cool your jets, Angie. I’m not asking you to marry these guys. I’m not even asking you to pick one of them. I’m asking you to get to know them. You’ve had scummy experiences with scummy guys. I’m giving you a chance to see that there are plenty of wonderful guys out there that are worth getting acquainted with—even if nothing ever happens.

 

ANGELA

But—wait—all of them at once?

 

CAROL

(Laughs.)

No, silly girl! Of course not all at once! Just two a week.

 

ANGELA

WHAT?!?

 

CAROL

Coffee at Starbucks every Friday and Saturday night for ten weeks. One date per guy. That’s all you’ve got to do.

 

ANGELA

But—Carol—er—WHY?

 

CAROL

Because, my dear sweet little lovelorn munchkin, you have far too low an opinion of your fellow men. Perhaps what’s worse, you have far too low an opinion of yourself. Yes, you’ve been hurt; and, yes, you’ve been disappointed by guys; and, yes, you’ve disappointed yourself. But don’t put your happiness on hold just because you’re afraid of disappointment. Besides, sugar lump, it’s just ten weeks.

 

ANGELA

But—

 

CAROL

No ‘buts.’ Your first appointment is this Friday at 6:30.

 

ANGELA

CAROL!

 

CAROL

They start selling pumpkin spice lattes this week.

(Angela considers.)

He’s buying.

ANGELA

(Hesitates. She scans the list, putting her finger on the first item. Then she says, resignedly:)

John Jacobs. Starbucks. Friday. 6:30. Got it.

 

TO BE CONTINUED….