Monthly Archives: September 2014

Flashback Friday: Bridget Jones in Middle Earth


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

[I’m finding this installment from yesteryear absent a lot of details re: the hows and whys of love. Keep in mind, 2006 Beth had no idea how this story would play out and feared she’d jinx it by oversharing.]

On the way home from Seattle, I started channeling Bridget Jones. It was the only way I could process what had taken place in the previous 24 hours. My Bridget Jones voice went something like this:
Hooray! Am walking through airport, talking on cell phone to actual boyfriend in manner of normal person. Have become person typically despised by solo, singleton travelers—standing still on moveable sidewalk thingy blocking passage to others because so busy talking to boyfriend about important boyfriend things like where his pictures have been hung and what he had for lunch and how my flight was. Hooray. Am part of couple. No longer destined to be spinster, eaten by own dogs. Joy!

Boyfriend? you ask. Yes. It sounds strange to me as well.

In light of my previous post, I don’t really expect you to believe me when I say I wasn’t looking for love. It’s true, but if I were you, I wouldn’t believe me. I’d given up on this man. When I met Z five years ago I drove straight to my oldest friend’s house and said, “I just met the man I’m going to marry.” I meant it, sincerely, though it was a statement I knew I could revoke later when I found out he was gay, had a secret wife in Zimbabwe, or was an axe murderer. But for the record, those words did come out of my mouth the night I met him at a faculty party and thus began a five year journey of love and heartache, 99% of which took place only in my own head and in late night phone calls to friends who care about me and didn’t want to see me miserable. If I’d taken the advice in that awful He’s Just Not That Into You book, I wouldn’t have been walking thru the airport, talking on the cell. To my boyfriend.

It is true I shaved my legs and moisturized before I went to visit him. I bought new underwear. So an argument could be made that I knew, but I did not know anything. I told people at home I was going to Seattle to seduce him, but there was no chance of it happening and my friends knew it. I have the seduction skills of an otter, and I have been making the same claims for the five years I’ve known him with no headway. He was a fortress; my love crashed against his foundations without making so much as a chink. He would remain on his egg crate mattress in the living room. The end.

Only, maybe not. It turns out my ridiculous, ill-advised love and devotion to a man who showed no signs of any interest beyond friendship was wearing away his resolve. It turns out I’m now in a relationship. It turns out I have everything I’ve wanted.

I am happy. I couldn’t be happier. I had, however, forgotten about how approximately three minutes after a man confesses his feelings for you, girl brain kicks in. Girl brain has made it impossible for me to really enjoy my happiness. I can’t concentrate on teaching or grading or committee work. My mother tells me stories and I hear the capital letter at the beginning of the opening sentence and the period at the end of the final one, and that’s it. Meanwhile, Z is in his office, plugging away at work, functioning like a grown-up person, and I have become Sibyl, with at least five distinct personalities, two of whom are normal, functioning adult women and three of whom are different variations on the most anxiety-ridden girlies in all of Christendom.

One minute I am Realistic Feminist Woman (“This is good. Let’s see what happens!”). The next minute I am High School Chick who, in lieu of planning her prom, has turned to thinking about what dishes she and the object of her desire might eat off of one day in some shared living space. [FYI, brightly colored Fiestaware.] Three minutes in I am Anxious Lady (“Why hasn’t he called? Has he been hit by a car or mugged? He’s all alone in Seattle! How will the medical authorities know to call me and tell me his fate?”), and then from there it is an easy slide into Catastrophe Girl (“That’s it! He’s changed his mind! He’s decided he made a horrible mistake,”), and with a little luck, I waft into my Faithful self, who sings two or three choruses of “It is Well with My Soul” and who, for fifteen minute increments, can actually think about other things like the war and whether she should worry about the trans fat in crackers because she believes so completely in this new thing.

But it is hard. There are grooves of disappointment etched so deeply in my brain from previous experience that I am waiting to hear the thud of the other shoe dropping. The long distance nature of this relationship contributes to this. Is he coming here for Thanksgiving? Is he annoyed that I left two personal item thingies in his very orderly, minimalist apartment? Did he wake up Monday and see all the other, hotter women who might have been available to him if only he weren’t tied to me, the Old Ball and Chain? When I suggested a January visit was he just being polite when he said it sounded like a good idea?

On at least six separate occasions I have nearly called him and told him I need more feedback, more reassurance, more love. Despite the fact that a week and a half ago I was a semi-confident creature who was not dependent on anyone else for happiness or sense of self, I now feel like Gollum in Lord of the Rings. I feel greedy and like a bottomless pit of need. I have no doubt that Z can sense me, standing in the dark, rubbing my slimy hands together, and saying, “Precious….”

How sexy is that? I suppose if Z were one of those Lord of the Rings nuts, it might be kind of a turn on, and if the other shoe does drop (please God, no), then perhaps I can find a Middle Earth dating service and search for a man who finds Gollum dead sexy.

This is a sad state of affairs when you begin your blog with Bridget Jones and end it with Gollum . I need to re-channel Bridget. She’s surely not too far out of reach.

Am happy in manner of happy, confident person. Have found perfect love with handsome, international man of mystery. Will be ravished by him soon.

Yes, that’s better.



Flashback Friday: Secret World


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

[FYI, this entry covers my inaugural trip to Seattle to help my friend Z celebrate his birthday. Keep in mind, at this point, I’d resigned myself to the notion that he wasn’t interested in me as anything other than “good buddy.” I’d been in love with him for four years and the boy just would not budge.]

There’s a reason why Meredith Grey’s hair is so flat and lifeless on Grey’s Anatomy. It turns out, everyone’s hair, especially mine, is flat and lifeless here. I assume it is the weather (rainy with a chance of rain), yet it seems like that would lend itself more to frizz.

I’m here visiting my Zimbabwean. I like saying that. It makes me feel like Meryl Streep in Out of Africa when she refers to the people she makes work on her farm as my Kikuyu. He’s teaching here, and I am in his bed. Before you get notions of me, spent from a night of international passion, you should know that while I was in his bed, he was on the an egg-crate mattress on the floor of his living room.

I ruin all the best romantic scenarios I create for you by telling the truth.

My college friend Jane emailed that her eleven-year-old son came home from school yesterday and said, “I’m just starting to realize that girls have their own secret world, and it’s FREAKY!” The Zimbabwean and I laughed and laughed over that last night when I read it aloud, but I could tell he has no idea. No idea despite advanced academic degrees that we women have secret communication-interpretation skills no Navajo code-breaker could ever crack. So when you open his refrigerator and see he has two Cokes and a package of Dubliner cheese, just for you, you swoon a little even though you’ve sworn off swooning over this particular man. When you lament how awful and Meredith Grey-y your hair looks and he says, “I don’t think so” it is, after several mental contortions, the equivalent of his saying, “Your hair is as the sun shining on the Zambezi, and I wish to spend my days basking in both the glow and beauty of it.” When he refers to his apartment as “our apartment” it is as if he has said, “I want to share my living space for the rest of my days with no one but you.” When he says, “I took off the roll of scratchy toilet paper and bought you the kind that those bears use” it’s as if he said, “I love you so profoundly that I want only the very best—softness, absorbency, and four-ply bathroom experiences—for you.” In this sick, sad world, even his choosing to sleep on egg crates instead of in his own bed with you seems like a declaration of love.

Poor eleven-year-old boy. How can he ever learn to cope in a world where half the population is this indirect, this given to fancy. . . this freaky?

So, Seattle. We walked over half the city last night and so I’m reserving judgment until we rent a car tomorrow and investigate it when my feet don’t hurt. It’s nice. Lots of coffee. The people are friendly. Somehow I had in my head that it would look and feel like Vancouver, but it turns out it’s a whole different place. Yesterday, my Zimbabwean took me to Pike Place Market. While I don’t like fish and do not like to smell them, eat them, watch them, or see them manhandled by the stall vendors, it was a unique experience. Also, there is a lot there that is not fish. Like huge bundles of fresh flowers for $4, and hippies selling art, and little dogs in plaid raincoats, and jam sampling, and fudge sampling, and street musicians singing protest songs (just protesting in general, with an undertone of “This war is unconscionable” and “George Bush sucks” thrown in for good measure), and all sorts of useless crap you don’t need like Oscar Wilde action figures, “Aunt Flo’s Tampon Case,” and cardboard cutouts of William Shatner. From there, we went to Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe, where you can buy other useless things and see oddities like mummified human remains and a stuffed two-headed calf. We took a bus to the Space Needle but opted not to go up because it cost $14 and was cloudy. My cousin G suggested I go up not because the views are spectacular or because it is a piece of post-Populuxe history, but because she didn’t go up when she visited in the spring and apparently the only thing people ask youwhen they hear you visited Seattle is, Did you go up in the Space Needle? I will wait for a sunny day. Or at least a day when there is a chance of sun.

Last night we walked up a San Francisco style hill to see his university. He wanted decorating suggestions for his office as some big wigs are coming to campus today, but it is a hopeless cause. I suggested he buy a plant and an Edgar Allen Poe action figure from Pike Market, but other than adding some doo-dads like that, it is a hopeless sea of glass and giant industrial office furniture in the space of a broom closet. While there, I met the man who hired Z, and he tried to entice me to their wine and cheese reception this afternoon. I will, instead, be buying a birthday card and maybe a cake or some gift-ish thing for Z’s birthday. Extroverts never seem to get that the invitation to spend three hours with total strangers whom you will never see again is like a prison sentence.

After that, we walked up Broadway in search of food and so I could see, as Z put it, “the freak show.” It’s a street that apparently delights in the counter-culture, so in the space of a single block you can see goths, hipsters, drag queens, the heavily made-up, heavily tattooed, significantly pierced and spiked, as well as people randomly dressed like super heroes.

Sadly, the freaks were not out, either because it was too early in the evening or two middle-of-the-week. I will have to save those human oddities for another day, though clearly I’ve got my own little freakshow happening right inside my head and don’t have to walk up any hills to get a front row seat.


Flashback Friday: The Rules of Engagement


Monday, October 16, 2006

[It’s worth noting that when this entry was written my life was about to change in a big, surprising Zimbabwean way in less than ten days. Tune in next Friday for more in the saga of Z and Beth’s Love: The Early Years.]

I’ve been thinking about the rules of attracting a mate lately. You know the ones. Some are probably holdovers from the days of courtly love. I’m talking about the ones no one really teaches us, but we can quote them more quickly and accurately than we can the First Amendment or the Ten Commandments. (Pick your politics.) They are:

1) Love comes when you least expect it.
2) Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
3) You must love yourself before love will find you.
4) Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

There are variations of the above but all fit comfortably in one of the four above groups. For instance, if you’ve read enough self-help books or watched movies like Runaway Bride, you’ll recognize a combination of one and three. That is, you might love someone, but until you quit being devoted to your idea of love of them and learn to make hideous lampshade art on your own like Julia Roberts almost always does in whatever movie she is in, you will not find true love. A variation of four that I prefer because I am mildly lactose intolerant is that you must withhold your love if you expect the object of your affection to return your warm feelings.

I’ve followed most of these rules, off and on, with some regularity, and I can’t say that any of them work. For me. That’s fine. Single is okay, so don’t think this is a blog of self-pity. It is not. For instance, I had a flash last night of all the horrible décor I’d be forced to live with if some of my former loves had come to a point of cohabitation: dogs playing poker, posters of Johnny Cash, farm implements as art, eagle blankets as window treatments….

It annoys me when people explain their newly found love by relying on these platitudes, usually because they are not true. You cannot believe anyone who says they weren’t looking for or expecting love. They were. Okay. They were. We all are. If you are between the ages of 12 and dead and you spend more than 15 minutes a day watching television or listening to non-talk radio, then you are expecting at some time to be “surprised” by love. If you weren’t expecting to be surprised by love, you wouldn’t have the good underwear and you would never shave your legs. Don’t kid yourself and don’t try to kid me. You might not have been expecting it today between 12:00 and 12:15, but you were expecting it eventually.

What annoys me even more than this, though, is when someone willingly breaks one of these rules and finds true love in spite of the rule breakage. For instance, I know a woman who loved a man who did not love her back, even though they had a steamy sex life. By all accounting with Price Waterhouse, this relationship was doomed, she was being used, he would never respect her, and thus she would never win his love, no matter what acrobatics were involved. It’s the cautionary tale every young girl hears from her mother or Sunday school teacher. Yet after a year of this FREE and FLAGRANT milk giving, the guy realized he loved her and couldn’t live without her. They are now married and have matching tattoos celebrating their love.

When you have been a rule follower your whole life, this is one of the jaggedest little pills to have to swallow: rule breakers win; rule breakers do not necessarily go straight to hell. (Though this is a young marriage, and so the verdict is still out on that one. Hell has many manifestations.)
What is the MOST annoying, however, is when someone willfully breaks the rules but presents her story of love as if she were adhering to the above. Recently, my mother befriended the wife of the first boy I loved, grades K thru 3. He was cute, smart, skilled at kickball, and was regularly awarded the title of “Good Citizen.” His wife (an excellent and good person by all accounts) tells the story of how she was not interested in dating anyone and told the friends who set her up with him that she wasn’t. She told him she wasn’t interested in him repeatedly on that first non-date, and three days later she moved in with him and they’ve been blissfully happy ever since. She followed those rules of courtly love and rejected him multiple times, but still, she went on the non-date. Still, she answered the phone after the non-date when he was calling to tell her he wanted to see her again. And when, later that same night, he drove through the country looking for her house so he could kiss her soundly and show her that there was something between them, she told him where to find her driveway.

So, at cocktail parties, she can tell people that she wasn’t looking for love and in fact discouraged love, but even so, she gave it directions.

My luck with absence making the heart grow fonder has been no better. It can make the heart grow fonder, but only in people who weren’t into you enough in the first place to realize they should stay put. Them joining the military and then realizing they really miss you is not really a testament to how lovable you are so much as it is a testament to how miserable it is in a desert. Or Duluth. People have had good, long marriages based on this absent, fond heart mythology, so perhaps I should not judge it so harshly. But I do, primarily because I am the kind of person who feels that the separation by just a two- mile stretch of road is too great. I do not need to go to Duluth to realize I am in love.

Also, statistically speaking, what absence does is make people unfaithful. They’re lonely, Van Morrison gets played on the jukebox, and they bump up against another lonely some body.

Am I too cynical? Bitter? Frustrated? A case could be built for any of these. But I don’t think so. I’m just wondering, that’s all. How is it that other people know when to follow the rules, when to break them, when to break them but pretend they didn’t? How is that whatever I do seems like exactly the wrong thing to do, but then if I switch to the exact opposite tactic, it immediately seems like the inferior one?

These are rhetorical questions, you understand. I’m beginning to suspect the truth is that no one knows anything, and the platitudes we rely on and untruths we tell are simply needed because it is an unbearable thought that our lives and loves are a crapshoot, that it is, at it’s very basest level, just an issue of timing: who was available at 12:15 on a Monday afternoon.

No, this version is even less satisfying than the lies. I find myself once again in the precarious position of needing to quote Fleetwood Mac: Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies.



Grab the Badges and Run



I didn’t enjoy much about Girl Scouts. I liked the idea of the organization, the wholesome history of it, the biography of founder Juliette Gordon Lowe, the goodness implicit with being a Girl Scout, the uniform, the abstract idea of community. But in truth, I was too independent to function happily in a group. I found the other scouts and scout leaders to be “not my kind of people,” I looked bad in that shade of green and always felt as if parts of me were going to come bursting out of the buttons. I might have still been a girl when I was in Girl Scouts, but my body was a few years ahead of itself, so I looked like someone dressing up for Halloween more than a legitimate ten year old.


I never felt legitimate.


Frankly, I hated the outdoors, which might make one question why I had chosen this extracurricular activity for myself. Let me tell you: I was a badge whore. I loved the badge guidebook. I loved ticking items off the badge to-do list and earning yet another badge for my sash. My troop leader, an odd bird with old-timey glasses (now trendy again), told us once about a girl who had earned all of the badges. My troop leader felt it was ridiculous because it didn’t really demonstrate dedication to a single particular area and she felt the time it would take to earn those badges could be better spent living a life, but I thought the notion of earning all the badges was the equivalent of becoming Miss Teen USA. I wanted them all myself even though there were ones I never could have earned because they involved sports or extended camping or being gregarious.


Even then I was desperate to be a well-rounded person, though in my mind, well-rounded meant “knowledge about X” and not “experience doing X”, a problem I’ve continued to have into adulthood.


Oh, how I coveted those green, quarter-sized badges with activities embroidered on them that symbolized some possible accomplishment. In my thirties, I found my sash and badge book and was bitter that I couldn’t keep adding to the list as an adult. (I could easily earn a photography badge now for instance—I own multiple cameras and have an Instagram account.) Just by looking at the badges I had acquired in the late 1970s, I could see that I was preparing myself for a certain kind of life that hasn’t yet panned out. For instance, I have two different cooking-type badges even though I spend every night waiting for Z to serve me my supper like I’m some sort of princess. (The one time I tried to make him pancakes, they rolled right off of our new griddle and onto the floor. He’s the cook in the house.) Despite having a sewing badge, it was my mother who always sewed the badges onto my sash. She just did it so much better than I could, and I wanted it to look good.


We would occasionally get patches for something like the Spring Fling that we were supposed to put on the back of our sashes, but I wasn’t interested in patches. Anyone could get handed one of those who spent a Saturday attending some stupid gathering of Girl Scouts. To my mind, they just took up space where earned badges should go.


Aside from the badges, I also loved the system and symbolism in scouting. I loved that there was an actual guide about how to live your life well. And I remember in detail watching a Brownie ceremony when they got twirled around and had to look into a mirror before they “flew up” to junior scouts. I hadn’t been a Brownie, and I was bitter that I was now too old for the full experience. After being a junior scout, I wanted to be a cadet and then a senior scout, but even in my deluded, badge-lust state, I knew I wouldn’t last that long. Five days at Camp Wapi Kamigi nearly killed me. Beyond my dislike of camping, though, was my dislike of socializing with strangers, and even with people who I knew marginally. I loathed it.


One of my great early joys was an overnight (with mothers), and the next morning Mom nor I could face the idea of an entire day spent putting on stupid skits or talking about ways to increase troop revenue. I feigned a stomachache as soon as we woke up, and the two of us zipped down the tree-lined canopy of the camp like bandits, giddy with our own escape. On the way home, we stopped at McDonald’s and got Egg McMuffins and a cinnamon Danish, and if you asked, I could describe, bite for delicious bite. It all tasted like freedom.


And as a side note, this is one of the things I love most about the childhood I got to have: I had a cool mother who knew who I was and what was and wasn’t important. Spending a tedious afternoon with those earnest Girl Scouts and their earnest mothers was not going to make me a better person. It was not going to build character. It was just going to make me (us) really miserable.


I wish I’d known then about personality types. About introverts and extraverts and INFPs and the Enneagram and how kids from single parent homes maybe saw things differently than “normal” kids. I wish I could have realized that this day of declared independence with Mom was the right path for me and the other days—of which there were so many more—when I tried to contort myself into a box someone else had created for me were the anomalies.


I wish I’d known it was okay to hate schilling Girl Scout cookies. That as an adult I’d make a pledge that my children (imaginary) would never sell anything for any organization until they were adults and could make decisions on their own about how they felt about capitalism. (My imaginary children are very gifted in the arts, but they do not have the skill set to understand things like political theories or when they and their band uniforms are being used to make money for larger corporations.) My face still turns red when I remember asking my paternal grandparents to buy a Girl Scout calendar from me. I knew they didn’t want one. They traveled the country in a tiny Airstream trailer that lacked excess wall space, plus even if there were calendar room, why would two retirees want to spend an entire year looking at photos of girls they were not related to doing activities that the Girl Scout they were related to hated doing? Still, I asked. I had to sell some calendars. So I asked them, as well as my maternal grandparents who I had fewer qualms about asking because I knew they would just fork over the $5 and wouldn’t expect me to really demonstrate any marketing prowess. God bless them for that.


I suspect children inherently know what is right and what isn’t right for them, but grown-ups are forever trying to get them to do the thing that is counter to their own sense of rightness: eat the vegetables, talk to certain safe strangers, play the sport, the instrument, the party piece… Some kids try to be good and acquiesce. Some stick to their stubborn guns. I always felt caught in the middle. It was constantly a war inside me, wanting to give the adults what they wanted all the while telling them I had drawn a line in the sand that I wouldn’t cross: no broccoli, no camp-outs, no making friends with a girl who was acting a fool.


I’m still not sure which side won the war. I’m note even sure if the war is over. Maybe to be human is to house these warring factions inside yourself. Or maybe that is just what it is to be Beth.


I need to look at those badges I earned and see if they add up to me. Was I true to myself and the things I was interested in in 1977 or was I grasping at straws, at badges, at showing others I was a Renaissance girl? What I’m curious about now, as I remake my life is this: do I know who I am—as well as I think I knew myself then—and can I shape this second half into what I want? Should I try harder to put that cooking badge to use and give Z a night off?


Is there a badge for this kind of mid-life inquiry? There should be.