keeping up.

I'm not on Facebook. I have a MySpace account, which I signed up for so that I could look at someone else's pictures. I don't have any quotes or pictures, and my only friend is Tom, who is such a nice guy, he's friends with everyone.

My avoidance of these sites was at first unintentional. It seems like they got really popular while I was in college, but I never saw any need to have one. At some point, I realized that I was in the minority. Most people I know have one or both of these accounts, and they are active. I've seen Josh mess with his MySpace before, and while he occasionally updates the background or something like that, mostly he just reads through his messages and manually filters out the spam. He does receive messages from actual people, but from what I can tell, they are people who know either his phone number, email address, or both.

When I was having dinner with a friend recently, he was playing with his Blackberry and then muttered something about me not being on Facebook. I remarked how I didn't really have a use for it. He responded, "Oh, I just need it to keep up with people."

This remark struck me as completely asinine. Because he doesn't "keep up" with people. It's not that he talks to people through Facebook. He just has a page that he can go to whenever he wonders what such and such is up to. He can then find out where the person is living, their marital status, how many pets they have, and that yes, their favorite color is still red. There's no actual communication going on between them. It's a way to simulate having a relationship with someone without actually doing anything.

I know I sound like a fuddy-duddy. I'm willing to be convinced here, if someone can explain to me how social networks can give me something I don't already have. I understand that they are valuable marketing tools, particularly for musicians. And I will grudgingly admit that if some long-lost friend wants to find you again, it'll be easier if you are on one of these networks. But once you're found, will you actually be friends again, or just someone on a list of friends?


she don't have no tact.

"...and she didn't have no money," my brother concludes the story, which I remember as being amusing, though I don't recall what it was about.

"She didn't have any money," corrects my niece. Her dad doesn't hear her, which is probably just as well, because I could imagine his expression.

"Don't correct your dad," I said with my "silly scolding face," that is, an expression which mixes disapproval with a smile, so I don't come off as too severe.

"It makes you seem stupid when you use bad grammar," she replied.

I sigh and feel as if I'm talking to my former self. At her age, twelve, I definitely would have corrected my own father for using a double negative. I can picture his expression, too. It says, "you're missing the point." People would tell me that it was rude to correct another person's speech. I didn't care and considered it a public service to help people understand how to speak correctly, because I was an arrogant little snot. I know that I used the exact excuse that using bad grammar made you look stupid.

And that is completely true. People, and not just jerks like me, judge your intelligence by the way that you speak. But when you use that excuse to justify correcting someone in a casual social settings, what you are really saying is, "I am judging your intelligence by the way that you speak, and honey, it doesn't look good."

At some point, I was finally convinced that it was rude to correct the grammar of others in any setting where you don't have authority (which for me, is pretty much everywhere). And so I stopped correcting people. Out loud, anyway. In my head, I could hear a stifled voice sigh, "She didn't have any money." Sometimes that little voice got out if I was in a bad mood or just didn't feel like exerting the will power to be polite.

My ex-boyfriend tried for years to break me of this habit, telling me it was terribly disrespectful. He was right, of course. It hurts the other person's feelings, makes them feel stupid, and indicates that you're not really listening to what they're saying because you're so hung up on how they're saying it.

But of course, I didn't listen to him. I struggled to stifle myself because I understood that people didn't like me because of it, but I didn't really understand why I shouldn't do it. But somehow over the past few years, I finally got it. I don't know how or when it happened, just that when I heard my niece correct my brother, I realized that I didn't do that anymore. What happened is that I met a bunch of smart people who didn't speak the way their hassled english teachers taught them to. I knew these people were intelligent enough to know the rules, and so they must be ignoring the rules on purpose. As free-thinking individuals, they have the right to do so.

I still notice when a subject and verb don't agree. But it's more like noticing that someone has a foreign accent. They don't speak the way that I'm used to hearing, but I understand them, so there is no problem.

I wonder if I will be able to convince my niece to stop correcting people. She knows it's rude, and that hasn't stopped her. I know she believes in her dad's intelligence, and I could explain that he is choosing to speak that way because it's more natural to him. Maybe that would work. If not, I'll just tell her that it will make boys not like her, and that should get her through puberty. Hopefully by then, she'll have figured it out on her own.


long drive.

I was pretty overdue for a visit to my folks. Aside from my mother regularly nagging me about coming home, promising bribes of fresh honey and vegetables, she'd even casually mentioned that I visited less often than my sister did. I figured if I was going to keep my position as favorite child, I'd need to get down there.

From Raleigh to Lenoir is a long drive if you have nothing to think about, and so I thought about some old family slides that my uncle had recently uploaded to the web. These were all taken from my late grandfather's collection, documenting life in one extended Kansas family from the 50s to the early 80s. There are lots of pictures of people who I can't identify at all, though I recognize their noses or chins. Then there are others that show people that I do recognize, but they're not as I know them.

Seeing pictures of people when they are young adults always makes me a little sad. They seem so young and vibrant and open for any possibility. They knew they could do anything, and they felt immortal. They have no idea what is in store for them, and they might even think they have their lives all planned out already. Even if they end up leading happy lives, it couldn't have been what they expected. It makes me realize how uncertain my future is.

There were pictures of my parents while they were courting in California in 1960. My mother is the picture of innocence, all shy and fresh-faced. She doesn't know that she will have six children. She doesn't know that she will leave the Worldwide Church of God and become a card-carrying United Methodist. She has no idea that she will eventually learn to like squash. In 1960, she wouldn't have thought to imagine those things happening to her. But they did. Does that mean that I will someday like cantaloupe? I cannot imagine such a future world, no matter how long of a drive I have to think about it.

The long drive came to and end, and as I pulled up the long and winding driveway that leads to my parents' house, my headlights illuminated four pairs of eyes looking at me. The goats were out of their pen and sitting calmly on the makeshift concrete basketball court next to the house. I parked and got out, and they looked at me, ready to bolt if I came any closer, but content to stay put if I left them alone. The wind shifted. Goats smell bad.

I walked up the steps to the back door to let myself in, hoping that the door wasn't locked. As I reached the top step, the automatic porch light came on and I found another set of misplaced animals. Lying down in the back yard were two donkeys. Maybe some of you think that Raleigh is just a small town, but I promise that I never run into livestock where I live.

I let myself in the house and didn't try that hard to be quiet. Mama woke up and came to give me a hug, and I told her the animals were out. She sighed and went to wake up Daddy. A few minutes later we were all out in the yard: me with no shoes, Daddy completely dressed, and Mama in her nightgown and a pair of garden clogs with socks. I sat on the back porch with the dog and watched them chase the donkeys and goats back into their pen.

Finally, Mama came back to the house, and I got up and put my arm around here. "So when you were eighteen years old, posing for pictures with your fiance in Pasadena, did you ever think you'd be chasing donkeys in the middle of the night in North Carolina?" I ask her.

She laughs. "Well, there are worse things."


i'm just a soul whose intentions are good.

"Do you think of yourself as misunderstood?"

I had to sit back and think about it. I'm not sure why sitting back was necessary, as if thinking hard about something required you to use as few muscles as possible. But I'd never considered the question before, despite having sung "Oh, Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood!" at the top of my lungs.

I have felt misunderstood on an individual basis. Sometimes I feel that way on this blog, where I write a post and someone takes one line and runs with it, leaving me scratching my head and wondering if I'd been unclear about my point. And sometimes I make a joke, which people don't understand is a joke. Then there's the completely opposite situation where I'm being genuine and someone thinks I'm being a smart-aleck, having been burned by the previous situation before.

But no, I don't feel misunderstood. There are people who get me, and there are people who don't. The second group seems to have more members, and so when I find someone in the first group, I get very excited. Here is a kindred spirit. At last, I can be myself and say things that are too dorky or too silly or two obscure or too whatever for other people. And when I'm around the other kind of people, I definitely feel toned down. I'm Sandra Lite. By figuring out which group a person belongs to, I cut down on feeling misunderstood.

To recap: I've just written that I don't feel misunderstood, yet I think that the majority of people that I meet don't get me. I don't want to say that I feel misunderstood, because it strikes me as sort of a cliched excuse for having no friends or getting fired or not being able to get your book published. It's downright teenagery. In fact, I used to wonder whether that song about being misunderstood was ironic. I've looked up the lyrics, and I don't think it is, though there is potential for a great cover version.

But as far as feeling like most people don't get the real me, I assume that everyone feels this way. Maybe I'm wrong, and that feeling is just a part of being introverted or liking math or having big feet. In any case, it's just something else to deal with. Some people get me and some people don't. So it goes.



I go to every show of my boyfriend's band. I'm not one of those hugely enthusiastic girlfriends, but more of the quiet and supportive type. I sort of remind myself of my mother at my high school basketball games, not wearing school colors and not screaming out at every play, but there nonetheless and clapping the few times that my team did something good.

Going to every show means seeing the same band play at least once a week, sometimes more. And I like the band, really I do, because I'm not the kind of person that can fake enthusiasm very well. But I do spend a fair amount of time at shows just people-watching. Sometimes the people being watched are in the band, particularly the bassist, and sometimes they are the various other concert-goers.

I know a lot of the concert-goers usually, because they are regulars like me. The band has a local following, and I can recognize most of their faces even if I don't know their names.

But I know Brad, and I was watching him. There was nothing particularly interesting about him, really, it was the girl he was with. Actually, it was her existence at all that was the most interesting. I'd never seen Brad with a girl. I'd seen him get shot down a few times after asking one to dance, but this one appeared to have responded to his advances much more positively. Who was she? Where did she come from? Would she stick around?

I like Brad, and so I was happy for him. I'd assumed that his girllessness was something he had wanted to change, but I always assume that. Everyone always seems to be looking for someone. I'm willing to hear other viewpoints on this, though, since I haven't spent much alone-time.

Having analyzed the situation as much as possible as I can from twenty feet away, I scan the crowd for other interesting people. I check out the bassist, frown on the underage girls in tight pants, admire another girl's jacket, check out the bassist, see if any of the other girls are checking out the bassist. I frequently check back on Brad's situation, noting how close the girl is standing, if they look happy, whether she is prettier than he is handsome.

The music is interrupted mid-song. Another regular, Big Mike, has come up to the stage and is trying to get the Trevor's, the guitarist, attention. Trevor stops playing his guitar momentarily to see what the trouble is. I start going through the possibilities. Big Mike would know better than to interrupt a song for something trivial. Had someone's car been stolen? Was someone messing with the equipment? After a few seconds, Trevor gives Big Mike a disapproving look and goes back to his song. Assuming the situation is under control, I turn my attention to an older man sitting by himself and start imagining his life story.

After the show, we're breaking down the equipment and talking about the hot news item: Brad's new girl. Neither of them are to be seen, so I assume they've gone off to be alone (together). I question Josh for more information.

"Did you see her?"

"Nah, I couldn't from the stage."

"Oh. Do you know who she is?"


Like many girls, I find my boyfriend to be a crappy gossiper.

"Oh. Oh, hey, what did Big Mike want? Why did he stop the show?"

"To tell Trevor that Brad had a girlfriend."

I giggle. Maybe I should start gossiping with Big Mike.


retail health care.

I don't know if you've ever had a urinary tract infection, but I have. If not, I'll describe it for you. Think of a time when you had to pee so bad you thought your bladder was just going to burst. Not like hyperbolic burst, but actually explode inside your body and leak urine all over the place. You were actually concerned for your health. It's like that, but what's worse, it takes all the fun out of peeing. The fun of peeing is the wonderful relief you feel afterwards, at least that's the way it is for girls. My jealous heart says that boys have other kinds of fun associated with urination associated with portability. Anyway, with a UTI, there is no relief. When you finally make it to the toilet, bursting with pain and doing the got-to-pee dance, you have only a few droplets to give. Seriously, not enough for a mouse's urine specimen. And then, two to five minutes later, you have to pee again. And you know that you don't really have to go, it's just a measly few more drops, but you've been toilet-trained. It's really a terribly inconvenient condition.

So we've established that I know exactly what a urinary tract infection feels like. So Saturday afternoon, when I had to pee, and then I had to pee again immediately, I knew what was up. I went to the grocery store and bought a nice big jug of cranberry juice to start chugging. You can tell someone is having bladder troubles when they start buying cranberry juice like it's going out of style. No one knows why it works, only that everyone says it works and it sorta kinda seemed to work that one time and you'll try anything to not have to go to the bathroom every other minute.

Actually, I do know why cranberry juice works. It changes the acidity in your bladder, and the bacteria don't like it, so they bail. At least, that's the dumbed-down version that a nurse told me. She looked trustworthy.

I don't really have a doctor here, so I didn't want to worry about finding one just to go pee in a cup for them. So when I seemed cured on Sunday after having drunk about four times my daily allotment of vitamin C in the form of cranberry juice, I let the matter go. I forgot all about it until this morning, when I was reminded. Then I was reminded again, a couple minutes later. Then again, etc., etc., and so forth.

I drank the rest of my cranberry juice this morning, but decided that I should probably seek professional advice. So I decided to give the Minute Clinic a try. These are mini doctor's offices found in pharmacies. Their website calls it "retail health care," a phrase that scares the NPR listener in me. But I just wanted some drugs to fix my problems, and in an overdrugged society like ours, retail health care sounds exactly like the kind of place where I might find that.

The Minute Clinic is a tiny jail cell of a doctor's office in the corner of a CVS Pharmacy. I walked in, was told to go out again and sign in on the interactive kiosk, then invited immediately back inside the office because no one else was waiting. I told the nurse that I had a urinary tract infection. She gave me a small paper bag and told me where the bathrooms were.

I don't know if you've ever walked across a drug store with an empty urine specimen cup in a bag in your hand, but I have. I wondered the whole way who knew what was in the bag, who was smirking at me and the secret of what I was about to go do.

In the handicapped stall of a CVS Pharmacy bathroom, I peed in a cup. I don't feel like I need to go into any more detail than that. I will say that I once more thought about how easy boys have it when it comes to peeing.

I don't know if you've ever walked across a drug store with a bag containing a cup of your own urine, but I have. It was far worse than the walk to the bathroom. I imagined terrible scenarios where I might run into someone I knew, or even that I might physically run into anyone at all. I've never had cause to walk around in public with a cup of my (or anybody's) urine, and really, I see why people don't do it very often.

The nice nurse stuck a test strip in my cup, looked at the colors and gave me the prescription that I'd wanted all along. She also told me about cranberries in pill form and told me that I could fill my prescription at the pharmacy of my choice (ten bucks says she's required to say that). I crossed the drug store for the third time, this time carrying no urine (well, not externally) and got my antibiotics. I was out the door in forty-five minutes. I was only a little poorer, as the visit qualified as a basic visit on my insurance and the drug was a generic.

Retail health care still creeps me out. But when I know what is wrong with me and I just want to go in there and get something to fix it, it's hard to beat. It's even worth walking around in public carrying a fresh urine specimen.


skiing on purpose.

Skiing to me is a lot like scuba diving. You pay a lot of money to buy or rent a lot of equipment. Then you drive to somewhere far, far away where you might have to pay more money for the privilege of using stuff like nature and weather. You spend a lot of time putting on funny special clothes and uncomfortable gear that makes you look stupid and causes much difficulty in basic movement. After hours of this, you spend fifteen minutes or so doing the actual activity. And while the actual activities are fun to do, I guess I never felt strongly about them to put forth the effort for the other stuff.

Josh's dad likes to ski. And he likes to dangle lift tickets like expensive paper carrots in front of his sons to get them to hang out with him. Every Christmas or birthday he gives them related gifts, be it jackets or snowboard boots or really thick socks. Maybe this is like moms offering to take their daughters shopping. Men just offer sporting outings. My parents offer me free produce to get me to come home.

I've come to benefit from this, though. I think if I didn't enjoy skiing, that would be a major black mark for me in Josh's dad's book. Maybe he'd start scheduling ski trips on weekends specified for singles at the ski lodge, hoping to introduce his son to a more ski-friendly girl.

Over Christmas, Josh's dad rented a condo at Snowshoe Mountain, West Virginia. At that point, I hadn't skied in about ten years, the last time being a middle school field trip. I was incredibly apprehensive about the trip. Sure, I'd been a decent skier at fourteen. But I was convinced that I was going to be an albatross on the whole trip. Have you ever seen an albatross try to ski? All the other members of our party would spend all their time waiting on Josh's dumb girlfriend, and no one would have any fun. They'd be able to swoosh, swoosh, swoosh down the mountain while I tried to get up after falling while getting off the ski lift.

As we geared up and walked out to the slopes, I felt ready to just sit down and create little frozen teardrops. I was terrified of ruining the ski trip for everyone else, while Josh was scared that I wasn't going to enjoy myself. That's just the silly kind of worry circle that people in relationships make.

After one run down the mountain, I was magically fine. I realized that skiing was not that hard. I might even venture to say that it comes fairly naturally to me, despite the fact that walking down the stairs occasionally does not come naturally to me. My excuse for my success is that I don't take very many risks - I am careful to go at reasonable speeds. Josh's dad calls me a "deliberate skier." Watch out, I'm skiing...on purpose.

A couple weekends back, I again got a free lift ticket. I'm starting to think about buying my own skis now that it looks like I'll be skiing more than once every ten years. Sporting equipment is unshockingly common at yard sales and thrift stores, and rental fees are no joke. Josh's dad even bought me a pair of ski goggles. I felt like one of the family.


turn it off.

We were in a giant church, in a small classroom on maybe the sixth floor of the educational building. It was night. There were cardboard boxes and bedsheets everywhere. You told me to start boarding up the door and the walls with the cardboard and to cover the windows with the sheets. You said that they were coming for us.

I was stressed out because the boxes were everywhere. I was overwhelmed with the task of organizing the boxes such that we could walk around, then flattening them and using them to cover the walls. I grabbed a purple jersey sheet and started on the window. First I turned it horizontally, then thought that maybe I would fold it in half and nail it up top-to-bottom. You said it had to be horizontal. We argued about it, as if we had time to argue. Finally you told me to just do whatever. I put the corner of the sheet to the corner of the window frame and used a nail to hold it in place. But I was nervous or stressed or just plain freaking out and as I hit the nail, the sheet dropped somehow, with a couple of lavender threads dangling from my nail.

It was then that I saw the rocks coming at us, and I screamed. Two the size of golf balls, and one more like a cantaloupe coming right at me as I stood on a chair next to the window. Down below in the streetlight-lit courtyard, I saw them, twenty people we knew and liked and trusted, armed with rocks. Kelly, Dave, Big Mike, some dorky kid whose name I'd never caught, and a dozen others, all looking for us. Big Mike looked like he was carrying a ragged corner chunk of a building, like he'd ransacked a demolition site. They started yelling.

It was sort of like a bad movie about street violence, with them making one-liners at your expense one at a time, then the rest of them laughing. You were fake laughing along, and I followed suit, figuring we were supposed to play it off, act like we hadn't just been nailing up wimpy household materials to protect us from them. I knew it was a ritual, but I didn't understand it. I didn't understand how we'd been having a beer with all these people a couple of nights ago, and now they were trying to stone us.

I saw you slip out the window - we'd boarded up the door - and climb down to them. They stopped yelling to watch you. You walked with your head down and your hands in your pockets, to the left of the group. You passed them, walking into the darkness behind. Then they looked at me.

"Turn it off!" The light, they wanted me to turn off the light. I didn't know why. I looked at you, but you just kept walking, not looking back to give me any sort of hint on what I had to do.

"Turn it off!" Why? Would they do something to me? Would they do something to you? Why wouldn't you look back?

"Turn it off!" I was scared to do it, and I was scared not to do it. Soon I wouldn't be able to see you at all.

"Turn it off!"