I was ready to row. I had set my April goal – sign up for classes, get on Town Lake (Lady Bird Lake? the Colorado river? that watery spot south of the Capitol?), and row my little heart out. I had looked at the class times – twice a week, two hours each class, and for three weeks. In my mind, I had already joined my new crew where we bonded over our individual learning hurdles, and then in that last hour we finally got “it,” and really came together as a team. We would probably meet-up afterwards to celebrate – likely somewhere mid-town, where we’d a little too loud over a breakfast taco or two. Beer might be involved. We’d exchange numbers. Then we’d plan to meet-up the following week. We’d joke about competitions – old ladies like us, and then Amanda (my imaginary mascot of our gang) would start to make us actually believe we could. We’d find each other on Facebook, and start sharing our lives.
I love this imaginary gang of people – so supportive. Amanda is really the best.
On the rowing website it said, “watch the safety video before signing-up,” and like any good lazy soul, I immediately saw the 45 minute run time and scoffed. I mean 45 minutes of safety? Couldn’t they just nutshell that into: “Don’t hit each other with oars,” “Watch where you step,” “Try not to drown”?? I’ve blown that video off for weeks, but the day I was about to sign up, I finally forced myself to comply.
Ten minutes in, and something became clear, I was a hazard to my future crew besties, and myself because I can’t swim.
Let me clarify that a bit. I can air-quote “swim.” I can get from point A to point B if we’re talking the standard width of a kiddie pool. I can swim underwater, dog paddle, and even float on my back a bit for short distances. What I cannot do is be dropped into the middle of the ocean, or let’s say a lake (be it Town, Lady Bird or otherwise), and expect to survive more than seven minutes. Add to that the stress surrounding how I’d likely end up in said water: the boat tipped, me upside down, my feet locked in place, have to release my feet, get out from under the boat, tread, right the craft, then hopefully pull myself into it while remaining relatively calm. In other words, I can’t swim.
The video promised a swim test, and that I would likely need to tread water for about 15 minutes. Treading water is something I’ve never mastered. In fact, I’m pretty sure I was the only kid at my elementary school who never passed the Red Cross Level 1 class. I’ve also nearly drowned three times. When I say that, I mean it literally. I had to be fished out of the water once by an adult who happened to see me go under, a friend grabbed me as I was being swept away by a current, and well, there was the other time where I’d slipped out of a float, couldn’t get my face above the water to get air, did a 3-2-1 countdown (universal sign of drowning, or so I thought) as I’d seen on Bugs Bunny, thankfully found the pool ladder, and then sat on the edge of the pool coughing water out of my lungs. Granted all of this happened before I even turned 10, and truthfully most it happened before I had turned 6, but where some would see this as a rallying cry of, “I need to learn to swim!” I saw it more as a, “I should always avoid deep water! Maybe I’m a hot-tub girl!”
Anyway, those two thoughts were clearly at odds. I want to row! I can’t swim. Something had to give.
So, today I went to my first beginning adult swim class. It was FANTASTIC! (And a bit exhausting – and Jenn, I janked my shoulder a bit, but I’m watching foam-rolling videos right now, so go me?? It’s like actual rolling, but with my eyes. Like you’re probably doing now.)
The teacher was absolutely wonderful and exceptionally patient. Mid-class she stopped another coach and introduced us, “Beth, this is Sam. At some point, I’ll be sending you with her to work on what to do if you ever find yourself in the middle of a lake. You’ll learn to tread as well as other survival techniques.” I’d clearly made my “I’ll die in open water” and “I’m currently a danger to myself and others” points quite well. Go me!
So, my new thing in April? Swimming, and I’m pretty excited about it. Good thing since it’s probably my May, June, July, and every month thereafter thing. BUT, glass half-full, the weather might be cool again by the time I actually get to start rowing, and maybe my future crew will have some fun stories from their summer to share. I just hope they don’t mind me holding the team back like this. Save a taco and a story for me, ladies. I’m doing my part to keep us safe.
Another online date out of the way, and more time spent with people who haven’t seen me in awhile brings me to my least favorite line of questions: “So, Beth… tell me about yourself. What do you do?” If there is one question that is like hitting the clear button on my brain, that’s it. You ask it, and not only have I forgotten what I recently had for lunch, I’m not entirely certain where I actually live. It’s a house, I think? Likely in Texas? We’re in Texas, right? (Hrmm… seems I didn’t travel far or, y’know, Texas far.) I have a cat! (Wait, I do have a cat, right? Maybe a dog? Maybe not… Tricksy questions.) Err… how about you? (Whew. Solid ground again. They probably didn’t notice the floundering.)
I’m about 97% certain I bored the recent date so much with my lack of ability to point to anything I did that he basically faked a reason to escape. (This worked out quite well, because I “really” had to go to powder my nose, and he’d told the staff it was ok to go ahead and lock up. We’d be good sitting on the patio drinking tea with no access to facilities. Also, what kind of mad coffee house closes at 5pm???? That’s not a thing!)
Ok, the fact that I may have been bent on boring him on purpose after he popped his index finger into his nose for the THIRD time is not important to the story. I just wanted to share that bit, because OMG a grown man, a pastor, put his finger in his nose multiple times. Just kept it there, too. Like you do when you’re meeting someone for the first time.
Anyway… I digress from the point, which is discussing the question I hate. “What do you do?” Here’s how that conversation typically goes, with very little variation:
Person:What do you do for fun? (Keep up, I can’t believe I had to type that again.)
Person (eyes light up as their thought bubble excitedly explodes with, “Ooo! A novelist! Definitely a novelist – probably in a writing group… literary… smart… look at the glasses, the brown hair, she sits tall… all signs of great intelligence): What do you write?
Me: I have a blog.
Person (barely contained disappointment – not a real writer) …what kind of blog?
Me:Mostly anecdotes about my life. (Seeing the disappointment, I offer…) It’s sometimes funny???
Person: Well… isn’t that something. Oh hey, I think I just saw Alice and Mario walk in. Let me just go say hi. (They flee never to be heard from again.)
Honestly, I would get a much better reaction if I said matter-of-factly, “I lick paint,’ or if I started to peel and eat crayons in front of the person.
Y’know, it reminds me of a schoolmate’s husband. “What does Tim do?” “Oh, he’s a magician… at a strip club.” I mean, who doesn’t go to those places just for the magic show and the cheap steak?
As I type these words, I realize that analogy is spot on – to call what I do “writing” is a bit like saying I’m a magician at a strip club. Or I guess it’s more truly akin to claiming I paint, and producing a Paint by Numbers kit. “It’s Christina’s World! They give you like three different kinds of beige. Isn’t it awesome? I plan on framing it when I’m finished.”
Or, you know, like going to a “Painting with a Twist” class and showing off my lopsided Eiffel Tower, and calling it art.
I really should take up drinking one day.
Anyway… all of that to say I’ve been asked about my hobbies a lot lately (the online date guy, Dad’s birthday), and each time, I drew a gigantic blank, no memory of anything I did in the past or do currently, then blurted out, “I write a blog!!” with a goofy smile because I’d remembered something. It was like I’d just announced, “I LIKE PONIES!!!” (In all fairness, who doesn’t like ponies?? I mean in theory, actual ponies are kind of assholes.)
Dad’s friends exchanged sad looks as they realized that the poor man only has the one child. “Bless her little heart. She tries. At least she’s able to feed herself on her own. Or… maybe not. I can’t even look right now.”
This reminds me that I’m still trying new things this year (that I’ll forget to mention when asked what I do).
This is the “and other stories” promised in the title. As you know, I tried painting (February). In March, Anna and I live-streamed our attempt at yoga, and I discovered a new gallery Ao5 (Art on 5th) c/o my nephew, which was fantastic. In April my plan is to sign-up for beginning rowing. And as always, I’ll write about it, or write about it (in italics, since this isn’t real writing from what I gather based on everyone’s reaction).
Oh, and by the way, this is about the same reaction I receive when I announce I “go to the gym,” but that’s another post for another day.
The calendar, a gift – each page a celebration of intellect and talent – from dream to design. Ideas turned into form. Genius I vaguely grasp. My mind moves to simpler things.
I flip through and find everyone acknowledged, birthdays dancing through the pages, but not his.
There’s no cause to celebrate. Only memories to forget – moments from which we move. I’m stunned. Weeks pass. The gift forgotten.
I had a good day today. I started out behind in a room filled with experts (at least by comparison). By day’s end, I’d outperformed the majority. My confidence exploded. A silent prayer made to continue to ride that wave.
Half the day gone by the time I walked out.
I looked at the calendar. A primal sound resolved into a moan. I lost track of the day.
As a follow-up to the whole Unmoored post. (I’d put link to the post, but it’s right below this one, so if you wouldn’t mind just scrolling down to save me the keystrokes, that would be fantastic! Thank you! Yes, typing all of those words took longer than inserting a link. What can I say? I’m a human conundrum.) Right… back to following-up. I was thinking we could work together.
Here’s my idea: you make a suggestion, and each month I will attempt to take on/try one of those suggestions, then write a post about it. Of course, there will be rules, because I know you guys, and I don’t want to land in some Tijuana jail trying to explain that the balloons are really just filled with glitter. Which brings me to…
Your suggestion must…
Be legal in the 48 contiguous states, Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, Puerto Rico the Virgin and Northern Mariana Islands.
Be safe. Remember, I’m old and I have a bad knee.
Be under $50. That is the max. Cheap or free is even better.
Be something I can accomplish in less than 3 hours (unless it’s a craft, and I’m so wrapped up in having rediscovered finger paints that I’m suddenly inspired to finally art my body all over my bland walls)
Be PG-13 at the highest rating.
Be respectful of other people, other cultures, and other people’s beliefs. This isn’t truth or dare. This is about exploring, and having new adventures.
Not embarrass me or anyone else.
Be around the greater Austin area (unless you’re driving/flying/sailing/providing lodging).
Notes: 1) These do not have to be solo activities. If you want to come along – share something you enjoy/a piece of you – I’d love that. 2) I do have the right to turn a suggestion down, but please don’t take it personally if I do; I know my limits. 3) I may have one trip in me – feel free to make a suggestion – maybe I can meet you in your town at your favorite pub/restaurant, listen to live music, and sleep on your couch (you’re quite the host!).
What do you think? Hit me with your ideas. I’m excited to try something new! And I’m ready to write about it.
“What do you write about?” a friend recently asked. “Mostly anecdotes from my life. I usually wait until something interesting or odd happens, and then I try to give it a humorous spin. I’ve had my blog for about 14 years, but only have a handful of followers – mostly friends and family who I’ve successfully bullied. I really just haven’t put in the work to write consistently or build a following.”
As I reflected more on the conversation, I realized this recent lull in writing was brought to you all (or not so much) by not having anything to say.
Normally, I have a plan. I’m involved. I’ve got an adventure in mind, but I don’t – not today. I don’t have a plan at all – not for tomorrow, or next month or even the year. In fact, I began the year by resigning from the board I served on for the past two years – an amicable parting – we all agreed we’d miss each other and keep in touch. They’re nice, hard-working, committed professionals, and I’m the reliable director you could count on to do any task presented to me. I just wasn’t passionate about their mission. And because of that, there won’t be tales of our big conference in the Spring, nor a future trip to Philadelphia. No “stranded by another Lyft driver” stories or thoughtful reviews of what a true Philly Cheesesteak tastes like to look forward to.
To build on that, at the end of May I plan to step-down as a mentor. This little girl is amazing, good, thoughtful, and kind, and I know she will go even further with her new mentor.
And it’s not a matter of me wanting to quit all the things, I definitely want to do something – something creative, something to help improve myself and grow. I just can’t figure out what that is – what that looks like.
It leaves me feeling unmoored.
A friend recently asked, “if you won the lottery, what would you do?” I didn’t have to think, I said, “I’d volunteer.” “Where would you volunteer?” “I don’t know.” Then I spit balled a few ideas, which led to greater/different ideas. It was truly a good conversation; however, I still feel stuck. And the truth is: I just want to make out with a Scotsman in a bar in Edinburgh, which probably isn’t the best goal I could set for myself since it involves a single man who is likely blind and a bit loose. But since punching Jay in his ethereal throat is off the table for the foreseeable future, I figured daydreaming about this mythical Scot wouldn’t hurt.
So, I guess the real purpose of this meandering blog post is to ask questions: What do you do when you’re stuck in a creative rut? How do you go about exploring new ideas? Have you ever re-discovered yourself, and if so, how did you embark on that journey?
A few years ago, a good friend of mine announced that she had purchased a prom dress, some petticoats, and planned to throw on some cowgirl boots then head to a friend’s 51st birthday for a Reverse Quinceañera (see, it’s like “15,” but it’s “51,” thus the whole “reverse” thing). With my 51st a couple of years away, I immediately had two thoughts: 1) That’s a thing? Quickly followed by: 2) YEAH, BABY! That’s a thing!!!! Then I had to patiently bide my time – wait for 50 to come around, then turn the corner for 51 in order for my plan to get underway. With 51 in sight, I gathered a group of friends – people whose brains I could pick, those lucky enough to be endowed with party planning skills, and aren’t party “challenged” like moi. (You see, my idea of “party” usually involves an invitation (aka email) that reads, “Hey! Want to play board games? Come over Sunday and bring chips. Does anyone have an extra table? You “may” want to bring a chair if you want to sit, too. Yeah, you’ll definitely need to bring a chair.”) We held our mid Summer brainstorming session over chips and margaritas, because Texas y’all, and hammered out the details. The question at hand: What did we need to do in order to throw my very own Reverse Quinceañera? From that meeting, a party timeline was born complete with action items and milestones. One of the side effects (benefits?) of being around Project Managers and serving on a project management board – your world becomes about schedules/timelines, and where I may not be able to plan an event, I can drive a schedule. My birthday party began to take shape
As we planned, there were a few things we had to consider before pressing on since I had decided I wanted to add a Bollywood element. The big one was: Was this cultural appropriation? Many of us had read about the girl who faced a huge media backlash over wearing a traditional Chinese dress to prom, and we didn’t want to offend anyone. Even if we, as Americans, are supposed to be this gigantic melting pot of cultures and ideas, we’re also still very protective of our cultures, and we as party planners were sensitive to the fact that someone might take offense to the party’s theme. You see, I’m not Asian nor am I Mexican, and while I can tell you that I asked to be bused to a school where I was a minority (all of my friends were there), and I can explain that I grew up in a Hispanic community with Hispanic friends. At the end of the day I’m still a very white woman. Look at my DNA results, and you find I’m Scandinavian, I’m German, I’m English, I’m Irish, I’m French, with only the tiniest bit of African from someone who lived in the 1700’s – so far back, that I have no connection to that person nor that culture. Snow White really has nothing on me. So, I checked in with my Hispanic and Indian friends and asked for their input, explaining my goal was cultural “appreciation” not “appropriation.” They came back with their thoughts – things to avoid, so it wouldn’t appear that we were mocking any culture in any way, and from there a party was born. Saris, and prom dresses, and countless decorations were bought or crafted. Then on December 15th, we had ourselves a party.
I have to say that I was a bit anxious and nervous, and when April asked why, I said, “I’ve never done this before – never thrown a real party. What if no one shows up?” “Beth, do you really think no one will show up?” “What if it’s only 10 people?” “Then, we’re going to have a great party with just the 10 of us.” On the day of the party, we had a “little” over 10, and I had an absolutely fantastic time.
The Thank You’s!
The planning committee: Erika, Sharon, Roanna, Jennifer, Kate, Kimberly, Heather, April, Nancy, Liz, and Swati. Thank you for your ideas, and for helping me get this ball rolling.
Kate and Riley – We wouldn’t have had a location had Riley not joined the American Legion specifically for this event, which got us a decent discount on the location. I cannot thank you enough, and on top of that, you helped set-up, climbed ladders, covered lights, decorate tables, and clean-up. You guys are amazing.
Darrell and Rebecca – Thank you for what was described as “the best bar in Central Texas.” Wow! I cannot possibly thank you enough for offering to bartend, providing the alcohol, the special drink menu, the music, which also received a lot of compliments, the lights, and the speakers so we could all dance. You helped make the party a party!
April – Holy hell, girl! Thank you for one of the best gifts – a professional photographer, and while I still feel like I was a bad prop in everyone’s formal photos, or that I was straight-up photo bombing everyone’s nice photos, I’m so glad he was there. The photos are fantastic. Also, what a brilliant idea to have a photo booth as well!
Swati – Thank you for the beautiful sari, and for pinning, pleating, and making me look beautiful (given who you had to work with). You helped me feel like a true princess. You always say I have such amazing friends, and you are one of them!
Erika – Thank you for those amazing cupcakes! They were so delicious, and I love how you tied in my dress colors – from my sari to my prom dress. I’m so sorry you got hurt in the dance.
Kimberly – My amazing cousin who helped from beginning to end in so many ways that it’s difficult to list everything she did. Thank you for the cookies, for decorations, for taking the day off to help make food for the party – for so much more than that, and for everything you did. Also, thank you for doing your best to help me avoid a wardrobe malfunction.
Heather (HB) – Thank you for running into Houston to elbow our way through Arne’s, for creating a gorgeous/perfect center piece, and for just being you, friend. Also, thank you for making the final adjustment to my dress that ultimately did prevent the impending wardrobe malfunction. Such a close call! I had resigned myself that it was going to happen, and that I’d just try to roll with it while wearing a big smile, then you came along. Because of you, the party remained PG, and I was able to dance.
Set-up/Clean-up Thank you to everyone who helped with setting up, and cleaning up; that was no small feat. Also, a huge thanks to my piñata makers – Nancy, Kate and Kimberly. I’m pretty sure people will be hiring us out the next time they find themselves in need of their own donkey/Scottish terrier mix party piñatas. My Mom would have approved – Go Scotties!
Spear Children (Who are now Young Adults) – Just look at the candid photos, and you’ll see how much I love you guys. You’re each my favorite! You’re my soul nieces and nephew. From the first, who gave me someone to focus on when I got incredibly embarrassed by a roomful of people applauding my wardrobe change (honestly, the last time someone clapped when I changed clothes was the day my mother taught me to dress myself), to the middle who coolly lead us in the Cupid Shuffle, to the youngest, whose formal wear outshone mine. Kids these days! (Someone came up and suggested I should have worn heels like yours, and I kept thinking “I would DIE if I wore heels like those.” I would put them on, and literally the fall from that height would have done me in, but you wore them with style! I guess we all suffer in the name of fashion!) You guys keep me laughing. You are all the best! I support you in everything you do, and I adore you! You amaze me!
That person I forgot – Thank you! In my haste to create this blog post, I likely forgot to call you out by name and specifically list what you did to help this party be such a success. Please know I appreciated it tremendously, and couldn’t have done it without you! Also, know this is a reflection on my advanced years, and not your contribution. Seriously… I just turned 51 (the whole reason for the Reverse Quinceañera Party you helped create). I’m just thankful I remember to come home most days. Please take some comfort in the fact that in a couple of days I’ll groan and regret not having credited you for all your work. I will likely send you a note while praying you never really read my blog. Hey, I only have the ten readers. The odds are in my favor!
Final thanks: Thank you to everyone who was able to come out to celebrate! I appreciate it more than you know. I hope you had a great time. I love you guys! Thank you for dancing! Thank you for being silly! Thank you for letting me know I’d unknowingly captured a chair and someone’s sweater under my hoop skirt and was about to do the rounds with those in tow. Thank you for asking questions like, “Who did her hair? Who did her make-up? Who are the couple who made these drinks? Who put the music together?” When those questions floated my way, I felt like we’d really put together something special – something I couldn’t have done alone – a party we all created – thanks to all of you! You were incredible!!!
A request – For my younger friends – Please have your own Reverse Quinceañas. I need excuses to buy prom dresses, dance, and celebrate you! At least until I have my Reverse Sweet 16.
I leave you with the song from the Bollywood dance portion of the party.
Some of you may remember that the last time I flew back home from LA, my world turned upside down, and because of that, a small portion of this recent trip back to LA was devoted to stressing out over whether I was stressed out. It makes sense if you’re my brain. Throughout the trip, I’d check-in, determine where I was at, then move on to the next keynote speaker, breakout session, networking social, getting kicked out of a Lyft by a complete douche, what have you; there was a lot to keep me occupied. You see, if I’m 100% truthful, I closely associate LA with death, as if the city itself had a hand in what unfolded a few years ago. The city of Angels… sure.
I knew the problem wouldn’t be in getting there, or being there, but would likely swell up on the way home. And once again, no one would be at the airport to scoop me up. So, I decided to get on the plane, pop in my earbuds, continue with my audio book, accept my Belvita biscuits with a smile, and ride the wave of emotions I’d doubtlessly feel. I’d reward myself with gum on the descent as I pretended like swallowing repeatedly would somehow keep my eardrums from feeling like they were about to explode.
Nearly a year ago, a co-worker of mine got me started on a particular series of books that I’ve been working my way through for months. They’re my guilty pleasure on my ride home from work, and keep me from noticing when I’m stuck in traffic or, you know, when that guy on the phone just cut me off. Are they great works of fiction? No. Can the author send me into fits of giggles? Absolutely. Among the nine books are several short stories that give the reader deeper insight into the major characters, and in a couple of those, the story is told from the perspective of the main character’s Irish Wolfhound, Oberon. On the flight home, I happened to be listening to one of those called The Purloined Poodle as read by Luke Daniels. Quick aside: I love the way Luke Daniels reads, and wish he’d agree to read all of my books including the phone book. I’m fairly certain he could make it delightful beginning with the intro, “The Dallas, Texas White Pages, by Southwestern Bell, as read to you by Luke Daniels.” Let’s hear some “A” names, Luke! I’ll grab some popcorn, my favorite throw, and tuck in to listen to each riveting detail. (I realize SWB isn’t a thing anymore, but that Luke knows you can’t go wrong with a classic.)
I know with Oberon, the story will be filled with sausage, gravy, and Wolfhound philosophy, and I know I’ll laugh or at the very least sit there with a goofy grin on my face.
The plane landed, and somewhere in long-term parking, having picked up my luggage and said goodbye to the Board members who were on my flight, I started my book back up. Then it hit me. I had completely forgotten to be sad. While on the flight I hadn’t indulged in my usual ritual of counting down the time until landing: “At this time, he was alive… at this time he sent a text…” I had simply gathered my things, headed to baggage claim, grabbed the long-term shuttle, and was headed home. It felt normal, and “normal” isn’t something I feel a lot.
The next day, I found the author’s email address, and I sent him a thank you. I wanted him to know that his words, given life by his talented narrator, had helped me take a hard trip home.
Later that day, I received a note from the author. (Excerpt below.)
“I hope you continue to enjoy all kinds of stories and find (or be found by) harmony, unexpectedly.”
And with that, he became my new favorite author. I’m sorry Faulkner, you never did get around to writing me.
Having found momentary peace thanks to an author, a narrator, and a fictional Irish Wolfhound, my California adventure ended.