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Happily Ever After: Fate vs. Fight

SoulmatesFlower2With Valentine’s Day upon us again, I can’t help thinking (as many others have, I’m sure) about the concept of a soulmate. I stumbled across a fascinating little story, one I’d heard before but admittedly forgot, and I was reminded that this whole idea of a soulmate, someone who was meant to be our other half, has been around for a really long time. We perpetuate the idea. We struggle with it, grapple with it, confirm it, and deny it. For better or for worse, the concept seems to be inescapable. But is there any substance? Is there anything that indicates truth in the idea that there is one absolutely perfect match for everyone on this planet and that only that one match can fulfill the ideal? Being the bibliophile that I am, I decided to turn to some of Literature’s greatest loves to ferret out the answer.

What I found is that great loves of literature can be divided into two camps: those who are destined for each other and those who are compatible and find love through commitment and endurance. Within those camps, particularly within the camp of the destined, lovers can be divided into two further camps: tragic and comic. Take a look:

Comic Soulmates: 

Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. While they inarguably get off to a rough start, their derision for each other in the beginning serves as the perfect “meet cute” in retrospect. By the end of the book, both characters are equally guilty of being both proud and prejudiced, and readers seem to find the two inextricably linked. Further, we are often confounded to think of a better match for either character, suggesting that, despite some turbulence in its making, their relationship is one in which each component improves the other.

Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. What it lacks in age, Ron’s and Hermione’s relationship demonstrates, once again, that opposites can and do attract. Ron and Hermione struggle with the idea that they are meant to be together. Still, readers can see that one is meant for the other in the same way that toast is meant for jam, if you’ll pardon the cliché. They are as two sides of the same coin, intellect united with passion and loyalty. Destiny could do far worse.

That’s it. Those are the ones I could most readily describe as being in any way both divinely ordained and destined for happiness.

Tragic Soulmates:

Heathcliff and Cathy. If ever a relationship was doomed to ultimate disaster, it is theirs. Neither person is very likable. Neither garners much in the way of sympathy. Neither seems an appropriate match for anyone with even a shred of empathy. In fact, both seek to raise hell for anyone willing to give them a chance. But, as Cathy suggests, they are two people cut from the same cloth. “He’s more myself than I am,” she says. “Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” Apparently that cloth was found in the remnants bin. In any case, they end up together only in a geographical sense and only because Heathcliff has the gall to insinuate his own grave in between Cathy’s and Edgar’s.

Daisy Buchanan and Jay Gatsby. Proof positive that in this world, even love has a glass ceiling. Gatsby becomes the man he thinks Daisy wants him to be, the man who, for all intents and purposes, she has married. But the ugly truth does eventually rear its well-barbered, immaculately groomed, heir-apparent head, and shatters the illusion that love really can conquer all. The only thing love conquers in The Great Gatsby is a life of physical poverty, which proves not to be so very different from emotional poverty. The results can still be the same.

Romeo and Juliet. The ultimate paradigm of soulmates destined to fail, Romeo and Juliet are often given more credit than they are due. Their behaviors are largely the result of adolescent impatience and parental negligence, yet we are always quick to turn to them as a great example of two people fated to find each other. What we can really stand to learn from Romeo and Juliet is that sometimes we become our own stumbling blocks because of good intentions. Love does, after all, cover a multitude of sins. Even our own.

Conclusion: In Literature, it seems, happy soulmates are few and far between. We have some solid examples to rely on when we’re feeling hopeful. But the proportion of happy lovers to ill-fated ones seems unquestionably unbalanced.

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The Rest

To discredit the other relationships, the ones built on a foundation of commitment and loyalty and, of course, love, would be to accept that there is only one perfect scenario out there for everyone. Literature constantly proves that this isn’t the case. For example:

Amy and Laurie. In Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Amy is not Laurie’s first choice. In fact, she is only a child while he’s experiencing his burgeoning adolescence, allowing his feelings for Jo to amplify. When he is rejected by Jo, Laurie does the requisite self-pity wallow, travels to Europe, and finds Amy, who has blossomed into a beautiful young woman. Were they destined to be together? Who knows? The important thing is that Laurie worked hard to improve himself for Amy. There was no aligning of the stars. Amy did not “just know” Laurie was the one. But they found each other. And they were happy together, so that’s something.

William Dobbin and Amelia Sedley. Thackeray’s Vanity Fair encompasses all manner of personality types, each with different relationship needs. Among these personalities we find Amelia, sweet, tender-hearted, all-trusting Amelia, who at the beginning of the book is convinced she will marry Captain Osbourne, whose character is not altogether savory. After his death in battle, Amelia is pursued by Captain Dobbin. Ardently, but respectfully, pursued. He cares for her and she for him, although not in the way he might wish. That kind of care and devotion doesn’t come about until the very end of the novel when Dobbin  marries Amelia, albeit in a less infatuated state.

Hermia/Helena and Demetrius/Lysander. The very definition of complicated, the relationships in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream tangle and untangle themselves in rapid succession. At the beginning of the play, Hermia is hellbent on marrying Lysander, despite her father’s wish that she marry Demetrius. Helena, on the other hand, wants nothing but Demetrius. By the end of the play, each has managed to shake off Puck’s trickery (with the help of Puck himself, no less), and each girl has her guy. The important thing to remember here is that it wasn’t easy. Arriving at the ultimate conclusion took time, frustration, tears, and patience, a realistic portrayal of love in an otherwise fantastic world.

Conclusion: While none of these lists is conclusive (I’m fully aware the Literature offers up many contradictions and confirmations on the subject), certain patterns seem unavoidable. Soulmates, it would seem, fare only marginally well, while those who are persistent seem to ultimately find some version of happiness.

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Maybe there are soulmates out there, people who are suited only for one other person. And maybe those people will be lucky enough to find each other. But for the rest of us, it’s good to know that happiness in love is still attainable. Who knows? Maybe the commitment and the compromise and the learning and the growing make the experience of being in love that much more intense. Maybe this whole love thing is a lot simpler than we thought. And maybe, just maybe, we can all live happily ever after.

 

What I Learned When I Crawled

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Not this past weekend but the weekend before (sorry…I’m a bit behind. Must be the cold weather? Anyway…) Matt and I decided to go to the First Saturday Art Crawl in Nashville. We had no clue what to expect, never having talked to anyone who’d been, but by the end of the night, both of us were so very glad we went. My only regret of the evening was that I didn’t bring my camera. There are some things (lots of things, actually) to which an iPhone camera cannot do justice. For that reason, I apologize for the photos in this post; they are not what they should be, and next time I’ll know better.

The concept for the art crawl is really simple: local art galleries open their doors to folks interested in local art culture. There’s a little bit of everything to see, from photography to oil-on-canvas to abstract to sculpture. You name it. The best part about the whole evening: it’s free.

Yep. We were able to spend time downtown touring some beautiful galleries, and the whole night cost us only ten dollars (typically that’s what you’d spend in parking downtown, but the meter fairies were on our side that night, and we lucked out and didn’t have to pay anything). We started out in the convention center. Neither of us had ever been there, and since that’s where we parked, we figured we’d check out Hatch Show Print first. The museum looks like an authentic production studio (maybe it really is? I should have asked), and some of the wood blocks were cut back in the thirties. There’s something nostalgic about seeing today exactly what someone would have seen back then. Matt and I particularly liked a Purity Dairy cow print for our kitchen. We love anything that comes with its own story. The original design for the print was intended to teach art students about the art of woodblock cutting.

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From there we took the (free) trolley over the to Arcade, which is where most of the action took place. The energy was almost overwhelming, so many people, so many galleries, so much to see. I didn’t know where to look first. So I didn’t. I smelled instead.

Matt and I didn’t spend our money that night on art (although we did see several pieces, like that cow, that we’d like to get pretty soon if they’re still available). No, we spent our ten dollars on the food. The Arcade is full of yummy local places to eat, and there’s a little bit of everything, like Greek food, pizza, doughnuts, and this place.

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I don’t know much about Sophie Isabella’s the Royal Wedding Cakes, never having been in need of a wedding cake in Nashville before, and typically they close at four on Saturdays. But they stayed open the night of the art crawl, and I was more than happy to indulge my cupcake habit there. Let me tell you: if you ever have the chance, you should check them out.

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I am a self-confessed lover of cupcakes (read more about that here), and I like to try new places every chance I get. So far Matt and I have developed quite a taste for The Cupcake Collection, but the cupcakes we had from Sophie Isabella’s were top-notch as well. They weren’t as sweet as the cupcakes at The Cupcake Collection, so if subtle is your favorite kind of sweet, these are awesome. Now, no more cupcake talk. I promise that’s not the only thing I think about.

Some people would probably say that I’m easily overwhelmed, that it doesn’t take a lot to Wow! me. Maybe that’s true to a certain extent. But the truth is that I’ve lived in places where culture and expression aren’t valued, at least not as much as they ought to be. I know what it’s like to crave a night of entertainment, interaction, and exploration, and those of us who live in (or near) Nashville have the opportunity, at least once a month, to realize that kind of night.

Being a member of the community means knowing what’s going on, not just politically and economically but culturally as well, and Nashville’s art scene is very much alive and kickin’. When stuff like the Art Crawl is made available to us, we owe it not just to ourselves but to our city as well to get out there and find out what’s happening and to support our neighbors in their attempts to put something beautiful into the world.

Have you ever art crawled? Do you have any tips for our next one (because we will DEFINITELY head back

When Around the Bend Doesn’t Matter

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Middle Tennessee is home. It always has been. Matt and I agreed a long time ago that we wanted to end up here somehow, and after a LOT of rambling around the country chasing Uncle Sam’s dream, we’ve finally managed to get here. While we’ve had the opportunity to live in different kinds of places (El Paso and Richmond, VA are vastly different, let me tell ya) and to visit a lot of places (Washington DC, Carlsbad Caverns, the Grand Canyon, New York City), both of us are glad to finally be home, couched in the foothills of the Smokey Mountains.

Having lived in Memphis for a few years, I know what it’s like to love a city and to want to claim it as your own. I dearly love Memphis and cherish all the time I spent there. Naturally I wanted to replicate the sentiment when we got back to Nashville, so I immediately set about developing a plan of attack. My mission was simple: find the places I could call my own, the places I would love and frequent. It’s taken awhile for us to get the opportunity to really settle into our exploration, but for the last few weekends we’ve finally gotten the chances I’ve been waiting for. And Nashville has yet to disappoint.

We started with an evening at Ugly Mugs.

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I’d read about this place during my search for potential favorite coffee houses, and it turned out to be pretty cool. Located in the East Nashville neighborhood, it is situated down the street from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams and The Wild Cow, a vegetarian restaurant (also super-tasty). Matt and I ordered our coffee (call me boring: I got a pour-over decaf), and Matt chose a drink called The Hoodie, a combination of cinnamon, honey, espresso, and milk. He always orders exactly what I didn’t know I wanted.

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It’s common knowledge that weekends are Live Music nights in Nashville (wait, that’s every night), and Ugly Mugs is part of the party. In the all-too-short time we were there, we heard three really talented acts. If I hadn’t been so excited to be there, I might have paid closer attention to their names, but I was so enthralled by the experience of being exactly where I wanted to be, exactly how I wanted to be there that I completely missed out. Sorry, guys. I’ll catch ya next time.

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For our next excursion, we ventured into yet another neighborhood of note. The Germantown historic district has received a lot of the TLC kind of attention over the last few years, and now it’s a reasonably quiet hamlet nestled in the middle of metro Nashville. I went there, initially, for one reason: The Cupcake Collection. A few months ago I had the chance to sample their strawberry lemonade cupcakes, and man oh man, I couldn’t wait to get my paws on some more.

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This time I tried the plain lemon cupcake, and as I knew it would be, my yearning for spring was fueled by the sour sweetness. Memphis has Muddy’s, a bakery I dearly love, and their cupcakes have been my favorites for years. But The Cupcake Collection gives them a run for their money. Being a cupcake fiend I’m stoked to have something so scrumptious so close.

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As entertaining and delicious as our adventures have been so far, I have to say that the most impressive part of them has been what they’ve shown me about myself and the life I want to live.

When you can honestly say you love your own life, that you wouldn’t trade it for anyone else’s, then you know you are truly blessed. And I wouldn’t. I have come to realize over the last few weekends that even though my life may not always be ideal, it is mine, and it is the life I love. Sure, there are things I’d like to change, and things could always be better. But they could also be worse, so that’s something. Looking at the places I’ve been and the opportunities I’ve had, the people I’ve met and love, the people who love me, I cannot imagine any other life but this one. Being able to see things from this perspective has given me a greater appreciation for experience and the lessons to be learned from it. It has inspired me to focus not so much on where I’m going and what’s around the bend, but on how I am going to get there and who is going to go with me. Of course, a cupcake every now and then doesn’t hurt.

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I know I’m not the only person who’s had these ah-ha! moments (at least I hope I’m not). So tell me: where are you going? How will you get there? And who will you take along for the ride?

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Ta-Da and Finally!

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I am so happy to introduce the new Just Joywriting! While the last three years have seen quite a few transformations, none has been quite as expansive as this one.

In the beginning, I was a timid writer, scared to put any real work into the world and reluctant to believe anyone would care if I did. I can’t say that I’m any less reluctant to believe now, but I’m not nearly as timid as I was. In fact, with each update I’ve been more confident in my content. If you can’t say it on the Internet, where can you say it, right? But there was still something missing.

I didn’t realize until recently that what I really wanted was a lifestyle blog, a blog that reflected not just my life but its possibilities. That’s when I realized it was time for a major overhaul. And so Just Joywriting has been reborn. Now you’ll see more about reading, more about writing, more about living, and more about doing. There’ll be book reviews and notes about the writing process (maybe even a story or two). There’ll be posts about Nashville and my attempts to “bloom where I’m planted” (thanks for the advice, Mom). There will be DIY posts, including the good, the bad, and the absolutely horrible.

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve looked at quite a few different blogs and bloggers, and I’ve found some awesome inspiration (here, there, and everywhere, a little bit of this and a little bit of that). No two blogs are ever the same, and I’m not attempting to mimic what I’ve seen already. But these blogs have shown me possibilities that I hadn’t explored before, and for that I am immensely grateful.

I think sometimes we are so focused on where we’re going that we forget to notice how we’re getting there. That’s not the sort of story I want my life to tell. More than anything I plan to focus on what makes my life beautiful because these are the things that make the journey worthwhile to begin with.

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So wish me luck as I learn more about life, blogging, and a new city, and join me when you get a minute! I’d love to hear from you.

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Festival Frivolities

A festival is, by definition, one of two things: an organized series of acts and performances or a period of time designated for celebration. Both definitions have their places, appropriate times dictated to us by society for each purpose. But sometimes they overlap; sometimes festivals are series of performances that inspire celebration and frivolity.

This summer has seen the term festival bandied about like no other, mostly as it relates to music. Beginning in June with Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tennessee, we see the emergence of peasant skirts, straw fedoras, Ray Bans, and TOMS in all conditions of distress. The summer abounds with similar melodious celebrations, albeit on smaller scales, and while a large portion of the population scoffs at such things, not having the time (but masking the inclination) to participate, we would all do well to take note of what these festivals can teach us.

AmericanaramA is one such event, a sort of microcosm of what Bonnaroo seems to be. This particular festival seeks to bring together those beacons of uniquely American music in an effort to foster appreciation and celebrate art that belongs specifically to us. This year’s performers included Bob Dylan, Wilco, My Morning Jacket, and Bob Weir, a founding member of The Grateful Dead. While it’s interesting to note that these bands span generations, what is perhaps more important to note is how the audience members, who also span generations, interact with each other during each performance.

Audiences at concerts like these are generally composed of a conglomerate of the populace. They scowl and gyrate simultaneously in a way that suggests they want to be both seen and ignored. Wardrobe selection ranges from concert tshirts purchased at actual concerts to tshirts purchased at popular stores in the local shopping malls. The older folks watch the younger folks, comment on their tattoos, deride their life choices, and critique their politics. The younger folks watch the older folks, comment on their politics, joke about the late hour being past their bedtimes, and wonder whether they will eventually become the people they see in front of them. Then the music starts.

It’s important to note here that a music festival is not for the faint of heart. It’s longer than an average concert, and the venues aren’t usually as cushy. But when the music starts, none of that seems to matter. Through six hours of music young and old alike become involved, whether they like it or not, in an art that is transformative and transporting. Through experiencing the music together each generation is allowed temporary access to its antithesis, and for the few brief hours that are designated for the festival, everyone becomes part of the same collective.

By the end of the festival, an entire audience has a fuller understanding of itself and the world outside the festival gates. That’s the goal anyway. Bob Dylan comes back out for his encore and sings “Blowin’ in The Wind,” and the old folks shake their heads at the young ones who have laid down on their dusty quilts and fallen asleep, smiling at the knowledge that they do, in fact, “still got it.”

When Life Gets a Timeout

Most of us respond well to limits. For some of us, limits offer a comfort zone, a soft spot within which to perform the functions of living. Others of us like limits just for the sake of being able to push them. They give us something outside of which to operate. Either way, humankind has established and adapted to a set of boundaries complete with a system of reward and punishment, and with only an occasional rejection, we all tacitly agree to it.

We begin the institution of our system early in life. We learn that good behavior gets a gold star, while bad behavior gets a note home to the parents. But sometimes the system doesn’t make sense. Sometimes the system doesn’t translate well across the process of aging. These are the moments when adulthood becomes questionable, and we find ourselves feeling like the butt of a cosmic joke.

In elementary school, children receive recess or playtime when they’re well-behaved. I can’t help wondering why we reserve the luxury of recess for children. It seems rather cruel, does it not, to introduce our young people to routines like recess and naptime only to yank them away upon initiation to adulthood. Why is it that only children are allowed their playgrounds? As adults, we are forced into the world with no hope for recess and, for most of us, no clue what we would do with one if we had it. As children we are allowed a certain amount of time each day to get “it” out of our systems. We have our favorite equipment, our favorite games, our favorite playmates. We have a safe place to work out our aggression, a soft patch of mulch on which to land when the going gets tough and the tough fall down. But the older we get, the less entitled to this break we become. Why is it that we feel the need, as adults, to strip ourselves of the luxury of recess at a time when it seems the most relevant?

I suppose the argument might be made that the world is an adult’s playground. We are rewarded when we follow the rules, complete the assignments, and we’re punished with pay cuts when we don’t. We have our favorite vacation spots, our favorite hobbies, our favorite people. But if that’s true, and the world really is our playground, then Life becomes the bully who pushes us down the slide or pantses us while we’re swinging from the monkey bars. Suddenly, in that moment, we realize that there is no soft patch of mulch, and the best we can hope for is that the swings don’t have puddles underneath them. Somehow, by accepting the possibility of reward, we create a concept of recess that is more to be feared than relished. Perhaps this is why so many of us are willing to relinquish the privilege altogether.

It’s easy to get caught up in the way Life mistreats us. It’s easy to succumb to our role as Life’s plaything and do everything in our power to avoid it, but sometimes, just when we feel like giving up, like maybe spending recess in the library might be the better alternative, Life gets a timeout.

These timeouts are small, barely recognizable blips on the radar of ways we, the peons of the playground, have been wronged. But we don’t really want Life to start ignoring us altogether, so we take them when we can get them. Keep a count. Tally them up. Think of them as figurative moments of recess. There are more of them than we realize. They come when we’re standing in the checkout with one item and the person in front of us says, “Go ahead.” They come when we see “Just Married” painted on the back of a car driving down the Interstate and break out in a collective, “Aww.” They come when someone allows us to cross the street outside the crosswalk when it’s pouring rain. These tiny timeouts, while they do not constitute the same relief we might get from recess, serve to remind us that we are not in this alone, that Life gets to everyone at some point, that we need each other.

So maybe as adults we don’t have the luxury of a full-blown recess. Maybe we do allow Life the Bully too much power over our state of mind, and maybe we don’t have the time, space, or energy to indulge in taking care of ourselves the way we should. Maybe instead we get brief recessive moments, little reminders that we can’t play dodgeball alone.

For M.C.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the places we’ve gotten in the car and driven to: El Paso, the Grand Canyon, Richmond, New York, D.C., Orange Beach, Virginia Beach. I have a great appreciation for road trips, particularly ours. It was at this time last year that we began our weekly trips from Richmond to Nashville, getting the house ready to settle into. The thing about road trips is they force you into such close proximity that animosity cannot sustain itself. We argue, we bicker, we sulk. Then we get over it. Because not getting over it means hours of no noise but road noise, which is stupifying in its consistency. The only available alternative is to move forward both metaphorically and physically.

Captivating road trip conversation is yet another reason to go in the first place. When we run out of things to talk about, the trip will inevitably provide a topic of conversation. For example, halfway through Texas I had no clue what else to say. I felt like I’d told you everything about myself that you’d care about, and my mind frantically mined itself for something clever to say. That’s when we passed the windmills, remember? They are fodder for conversation in and of themselves, especially at night, their insufferable consistency and solemnity offering a bleak support for the harsh solitude that is central Texas. I miss those conversations.

I want us to take road trips again. I want us to go places, just us two. And maybe the dogs. I want to find new places and see new things, even horrible ones, with you. I want to create with you the stories we’ll tell for the rest of our lives. In order to do that, though, you have to keep with me. You cannot abandon me to myself and expect me to create the most positive definition of my life, of our life. You can’t leave me to my own devices because they are faulty and cheaply made, the only tools that can come from a factory of anxiety and depression. I cannot tell a good story by myself. So what I’m asking you, the case I’m pleading, is that you never disappear from me.

Never take yourself away from me because I can’t understand distance. In the same way I have no concept of distance measurement, so, too, emotional distance holds no inherent definition for me. I cannot be distanced from you without anxious fatigue. I need you with me, or I am not myself, and my story becomes tangled in all the things I never was and all the things I’ll never be. You are me as much as I am.

Please don’t disappear from me.

In Praise of Profession

Most of us begin our adult lives with some vague optimism about the future. Even if things aren’t ideal in the beginning, we reason, surely the harder we work the better life will be. Growing up we all harbor some deep-seated hope that our jobs, whatever they may be, will in some way influence the world for good. We are told to dream–dream big, dream often, don’t stop–and we begin to believe in ourselves.

The truth is that most of us, upon being launched into adulthood, become satisfied with jobs that pay the bills. World changing? Perhaps not. Life-altering? Yeah, potentially. We trudge through each day, each week, paying the bills and wondering what all that dreaming was for. But a lucky few are able to carve out more than that for themselves. For some of us, reality and occupation are not combatants. Rather they coexist, and we are able to have one without falling prey to the other.

Arguably, no one ever goes into teaching for the money. Education is seldom, if ever, championed as a lucrative career choice. But I would argue that those of us who have chosen this profession have duped the rest of the world. Ours is a secret so delicious it must be told. 

Every day I go into a classroom where I sit with my books. Some of these books have been with me for awhile, since I was a student myself. They are worn; they are tattered and coffee-stained. They are old friends, keepers of solace. I go into a classroom with my books, and there are students there waiting for me, waiting for me to tell them what’s in the books. But instead of dryly delivering information for them to file away and regurgitate later, we have conversations. We talk about theme and plot and symbolism and all the things that make my books tick. And my students begin to know what they’re doing. When my day is finished, I find myself sitting at a desk trying to figure out when the actual work is going to begin.

Being a teacher is like being on the inside of a joke. The powers-that-be couldn’t possibly know what I do for my paycheck. Of course they don’t; if they knew how much fun I was having they probably wouldn’t let me do it anymore. I don’t mean to suggest that being a teacher is not without its problems. Anyone who has ever done it or tried to do it before will tell you that it’s tough. The grading and the grade-grubbing and the constant reminders that our work will never be done are, at times, maddening. Then payday roles around, and for one brief moment we all feel like the joke’s on us.

But at the end of the day it is my job, it is my occupation, to go into a classroom and discuss “Jabberwocky.” It is my job to watch my students develop confidence in themselves, my job to watch them come to appreciate and love the very same books that have meant so much to me, my job to help them find their own voice and figure out what to say and how to write with it. And while no job is without its problems, it’s not a bad way to earn a living.

Buy Jiminy: Why Would You Want To?

Last night a cricket chirped outside my window. Not the sweet little chirps that compose the symphony of a summer evening. It was a loud, grating chirp, one that (I can only assume) comes from a very large, very moody cricket. Perhaps it couldn’t sleep either. Perhaps it was fulfilling some sort of Jiminy complex. Or perhaps it was just doing its job.

The reason for its relentless chirping is irrelevant. The point is that it was, to say the very least, unbearably annoying. I laid awake, contemplating how to rid myself of my chirpy little friend, laughing out loud at the mental image of me traipsing through the yard trying to frighten something I couldn’t even see. With my luck, he would silence himself long enough for me to think I’d been successful. Then he’d start up again just to be spiteful.

Then I realized: there are people who pay money for this. Stores like Brookstone and Sharper Image have made small fortunes on sound machines that mimic the sounds of the great outdoors in an effort to help consumers fall asleep more quickly and effortlessly. I smiled, thinking how ironic it was to be listening to the live version and praying it would terminate itself. Because when it’s live there is no slow fade-out. There is no automatic shut-off. And you can’t unplug it.

At some point he must have moved on as insects are wont to do. Fickle things. And I’m a happier, better rested person for it. But I can’t help wondering whether it’s luck that I have my own live sound machine outside the window or just bad karma.

What’s New?: V-Day

Love is a timeless, universal sentiment. It defies the parameters within which we seek to define it. To attempt its definition is to find oneself at a loss. Love, true, real, raw love, is not easy, and it is ever elusive. But once it’s been found, once it has allowed itself to be confined within the hearts and souls of two people, it makes life more rich and abundant than we could possibly imagine it to be.

So why is it that we devote only one day a year to something so important, something so consuming?

In elementary school, we hand out little paper hearts attached to lollipops in hopes that they will bring happiness to our classmates. We eat cupcakes (at least we used to) and have parties and leave school sugared out all in the name of love.

In high school, we wait expectantly either to receive flowers or to find out how our flowers will be received. We give cliché greeting cards in the hopes that they will accurately expose our adolescent feelings to our sweethearts. And we think it will last forever.

In adulthood, men are now obligated to scramble around at the last minute to purchase flowers (that will die), candies (that she will say have contributed to her nonexistent weight gain), and jewelry (that she will likely wear for a few weeks before allowing it to slip to the bottom of her jewelry box to lie with the relics of Valentine’s Days past). Women, it has to be said, have a fairly easy job this holiday. They are required only to wait and to receive. The final judgement regarding the success of the holiday lies within their jurisdiction. Sorry, guys.

But why? Why do we do behave in these ways? Why do we stress ourselves out wondering whether or not he will propose this year or whether or not the flowers and necklace will be enough to keep her happy for now?

The history of Valentine’s Day is shrouded in mystery and confusion. No one saint can claim patronage over the day, and early celebrations of the holiday were hardly the greeting-card infused sweetness we know today. But somehow over the years we have adapted this day to our own purposes and allowed it to become the international day of love, for better or for worse.

I’m not suggesting here that Valentine’s Day is a pointless exercise designed only to make us feel worse about ourselves than we already do. I can be just as sappy and sentimental as the next girl (and quite frequently am). But if love is so important, if we’re willing to call it the be-all, end-all, if we’re willing to spend a lifetime searching for it, if we consider ourselves so lucky to know it, to possess it, to bestow it, then isn’t it worth celebrating every day?