Is My Nerd Showing?

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A common lesson of mothers everywhere is “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” This is bunk.  You ALWAYS judge a book by its cover and really should only NOT use this method in regards to people.  Failed metaphor, in my opinion.  Where was I going with this… Oh, yes – judging people.  I don’t know when it started for me, but at some point I developed a weird reaction to people’s covers.  I have a friend who admits she feels uncomfortable around rich people, and I think I’m this way with pretty people.  It’s not that I feel inferior or anything – I’m secure enough with my cover and am reminded I should be just often enough.  It’s not that I’m bitter and assume you’ve been gifted with blessings we mere mortals cannot hope to attain.  My real reason for not being crazy about pretty people is this:  I assume they will be boring.

I should clarify straight off that by “pretty people” I mean people who obviously care a great deal about their physical appearance, their projected persona, their level of cool.  Having worked with models, I’ve trained myself to look at people and figure out how much time they spend on the way they look. Tip: Shoes are always a good indicator.

Anyway, there are fortunately exceptions to this “rule.”  Some pretty people manage to be both cool and interesting.  One 6’5” model guy and I were once really good friends for about 10 minutes as we talked about his philosophy degree.  This is not, however, what I have come to expect, and I don’t find it true the majority of the time.  Take the girl I met a few summers ago who, while wearing an oversized scarf…in June, told me that she was a nerd because she had seen Star Wars.  Not liked Star Wars.  Not loved Star Wars.  Not memorized Star Wars.  Seen Star Wars.  Umm, thanks for playing; move along.

There are probably all kinds of studies on how class, schooling, genetics, success, attractiveness, etc. are all related to what a person is interested in, but “pretty people” are generally not interested in the things that interest me.  I don’t care what car you drive.  I don’t care how much your apartment costs.  I don’t care how many touchdowns you threw in college.  My eyes roll up into my head a little bit whenever I’m with a group of people who can’t talk about anything deeper than the last party they went to.  And, more often than not, when I find myself in these situations, I’m surrounded by pretty people.  So, I blanket judge the lot of them.

Hypothetically speaking (translation: not hypothetically speaking), I have no interest in that pretty guy at a party who only wants to talk about how much money he makes while eating Twizzlers and accidentally flicking spit at me as he gestures with said Twizzler. However, I am VERY interested in the conversation going on across the table about the Avengers vs. the Justice League.

These are my people.

This is my language.

I was summing up this story with a friend last weekend, and he laughed at me, “So being smart and interesting means being a nerd?”  I blinked and realized that, yes, this is exactly what I mean.  So, I guess I judge in the opposite way that most people view pretty people vs. nerds.

To be clear, I’m not saying that being ugly or socially awkward is a prerequisite for being interesting or vice versa.  And I’m not limiting being interesting to only a quality of the nerdy.  What I’m saying is that nerdy people tend not to care about exteriors.  They’re much more all-inclusive.  With pretty people, appearance is everything.  With nerdy people, interests are everything.

I think this whole dynamic is much better as adults than as teenagers, obviously.  Bridging the gap is attempted more often.  At that party, for example, the dude-bro was welcome to sit and talk about comic books – even if he did eat his Twizzlers in boredom and play on his phone.  And he did invite me to the basement where the pretty people were playing beer pong. I went as a kind of experiment, and I was at least pleased to find that they were nice. They seemed confused why I was there – sheep in wolf’s clothing that I was – but they were nice.  (Sidenote:  The dude-bro made an honest mistake in assuming I was one of them.  On the rare occasion that I go out in public, I do take the opportunity to wear the better part of my closet – i.e. nothing from the sweatpants section.  I can care, but the majority of the time I forgo makeup and end up walking around the Knapp Meijer being judged by the natives.)  Anyway, nice as the pretty people in the basement were, I just didn’t fit down there.  I wanted to get away from the discussion about their last party and back to the convo upstairs about making homemade movies.

As an author bud told me recently, “You’re unique.  You don’t have to be pretty.” …I’m really not sure how to take that, but I think I thanked him.  I guess I like not worrying about being a pretty person and instead letting my nerd show.  That is what I want people to see of me.  That’s the interesting part of me that loves connecting with other people’s interesting, nerdy bits.  I guess it feels more real to me to get to know what a person loves.  Can you be a nerd about football? Sure.  Can you be a nerd about iPhones and the GAP and breweries? Certainly.  I’m not limiting my interest in what people love – just have interests that matter to you more than how you present yourself.

So.  Maybe I do judge people by their covers.  I’m delighted when I’m wrong.  But I think maybe it’s healthier for me to focus on being unique rather than pretty, and that attitude is certainly something I gravitate towards in others.

Apologies to Twizzlers Dude.

“Summer of Heartbreak”

My brother and I labeled this summer “The Summer of Heartbreak” because so many people we know broke up, got divorced, or just had their hearts pummeled in general.  It’s to the point that I’m so jaded about romantic relationships that even if He-Against-Whom-All-Others-Are-Compared showed up and confessed his undying love, I would probably run in the other direction.

But, on the uncharacteristically optimistic flipside of all this, I also realized, this cooling side of summer, that I have many great relationships in my life which are incredible blessings to me.

I often learn via the compare/contrast method.

I have not always had great friends.  Quite frankly, many of those from school days left me with issues which I’m realizing will probably never go away no matter how many different ways I try to stomp them down. I also seem to have a sign over my head proclaiming, “Tell me your problems.” A depressing pattern has emerged in my friendships were I try to help and end up having the emotional energy sucked out of me without getting much in return.  As my brother put it earlier this summer, “I honestly feel like a lot of it comes down to your not having a whole lot of experience bringing the ‘right’ people into your life ~shrug~  I think most of your training in relationship-building has resulted in… not entirely constructive, long-term-healthy relationships.” One close friend echoed, “How do you keep getting yourself into these friendships?” It’s at least reassuring that it’s not all in my head.

Anyway, all of these awful friendships have been a blessing, in a way.  By comparison, my good friends seem absolutely amazing.  Often when sitting/drinking/laughing/talking with my main group of friends, I find myself thinking, “Huh, I love everyone here.” Or, I’m constantly surprised when my friends do things for me. Or show concern. Or care enough to give me wise counsel.  It’s kind of pathetic but also refreshing to constantly re-remember that I have people who love me.

And not all of these relationships are the same, which is another Autumn-realized blessing.  I tend to want to know everyone as well as possible and be as close as possible to everyone in my life.  But sometimes this can be exhausting and I end up draining myself.  Sometimes I work too hard to make a friendship work – as my brother pointed out, from bad training.  I have to remember that not all relationships are created equal.  I can’t be intimately close with some, because those friendships will not work that way.  I also can’t be anything but intimate with others, because those friendships won’t work if I’m not.  I need to get different things from different people, and I need to give different things to different people.

Fortunately, a great mix of peeps have been thrown into my life:

  • I have a friend I can rely on to talk about Halloween costumes one minute and our deepest personal aches the next.
  • I have a friend who this summer was going through similar “WTF?” friend crap, and we oddly reconnected by getting outside our own situations while simultaneously empathizing with each other.
  • I have a friend who will stay up way past her bedtime and FB Chat me through my crying, knowing me well enough to end on a goofy note:

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  • I have a brother who is also a best friend who knows he can stop by at 12:30 a.m. to talk about his crap because he knows I love him.
  • I have a circle of friends who actually enjoy sports.
  • I have a friend who will text me absolutely incoherent nonsense because it’s common knowledge that I find this amusing.
  • I have a friend who, after 20+ years, will still offer to tell off someone (a stranger to her) who has hurt me.
  • I have friends who are like siblings to me even if we don’t know what’s going on in each other’s lives and we don’t see each other as often as we would like.
  • I have friends who could talk seriously but mostly enjoy comparing notes on TV, movies, and books.
  • I have somewhat-lost friends who still reach out and remind me that I have people in my life who care about me.

 SO.  In all of this, I see the hand of God gently and not so gently turning me to see – through the pain and heartache – the blessings in my life.  I will inevitably get annoyed with my friends and nitpick, but I really did, through this summer, greatly appreciate those who prove that I have relationships that save me.

Bring on Autumn.

30 and Florida

11/16/2011

I turn 30 in exactly one week.  Am I freaking out about this?  Yes.  Do I know why?  No.  I know that perfectly normal reasons for freaking out would center around the fact that I’m single and I have no particular career ambitions and no real goals for my life.  That all may be part of it.  I know that I should want to find a guy, get married, have kids, start a family, and have that be the rest of my life.  I think a part of me really does want to want that.  But I’m also not sure I do.  I mean, if I wanted that, wouldn’t I have done SOMETHING about it by now, before I turn 30 and my looks continue to fade?  (I say “continue to fade” because I already have 8 gray hairs…I’m not joking about this as much as I once would have been.)  I also am aware that my life goals of #1 dying alone and #2 finding a briefcase full of money as a retirement plan are not all that funny.  Nor is my backup retirement plan – to try to make money from our plagiarized movies and end up in white-collar jail. 

So, what I’m really freaking out about I think is this – I don’t have any life plan, and I’m passed the point where it is cute and youthful not to have one.  Somewhere along the road (pun sort of intended, and ooh, look, I just found direction for this post), I became a firm believer in “life is a journey, not a destination.”  I like going with the flow, being open to whatever may arise, seizing the little moments.  But, at some point, don’t you have to have some direction?  I’m not even really journeying anymore towards anything – graduating, getting a job, living in my own place.  I’ve met all those life markers.  My car is even paid off.  I’m finally living on my own in a place I love with friends I love nearby but who I don’t have to go home with.  What do I want to DO? Oh, sure, I want to do silly things like swim with sharks and travel to Dubai, but those are little adventures.  What do I want to aim for as bigger pictures?

The intensity of the looming 30 increased when, as I explained to work when I requested time off, “I have to be a bridesmaid in Florida 2 weeks before turning 30.”  How could anyone not pity that request?  At the time, I said it jokingly because turning 30 wasn’t really bothering me.  Then it came time, Miranda and I loaded up the car, and we began the 1,010 mile journey from Michigan to Florida. 

That’s where this whole “life is a journey, not a destination” thing really sunk in.  I have always preferred travelling by car rather than by plane.  I like seeing the gradual change in topography, the change in fauna and flora.  I like feeling the temperature change.  I like getting out along the way and hearing people’s accents differ from place to place.  It’s something akin to tasting your food while you eat it, or something.  I’ve always felt cheated by plane travel because you miss all the flavor of places between takeoff and touchdown.  I don’t care that it takes 10 times longer to drive than fly.  I want the experience of travelling to a place; I don’t like just hopping on a plane and stepping suddenly off into a place.  And I suppose that’s how I feel about life, too.  I want to savor things along the way, notice every moment, see my life changing as I go.  It’s been a good ride, overall.  A lot of – forgive the metaphor – potholes and storms and construction, sure, but I’ve been blessed too.  The journey is what holds interest for me, and that may be why I’ve never settled on a particular destination, a certain goal, an end game.  I like leaving my options open for the best things that come along.  Death, I guess, is all I think of as a final destination.  …But what until then?

Of course, the one big life marker that I have not reached is marriage and family.  Again I say, I know this is something that should matter by the time I’m 30.  And having just returned from being a bridesmaid in Florida, I can safely say that I’ve contemplated this marker more seriously of late.  But, as my love life has been in a coma for some time (again, a long-running joke that I know shouldn’t be funny but I also can’t force myself to take seriously), instead I chose to view my time in Florida as a detour from my journey and the ability to hitchhike in someone else’s for a while.  (Let’s face it, I needed a timeout from freaking out about turning 30.)  It IS great to witness when other people are reaching milestones and making life-altering decisions, and I am not that kind of bridesmaid who pouts because it isn’t happening to her.  Since I hadn’t seen my dear friend Gloria in a while, it was amazing to see how happy she has become and how she’s changed into this little (5’ 2”) adoring person who is completely in love and excited about life to come.  It really was a blessing, and it made me feel very warm and optimistic about life – hers, if not mine.

Here’s how it went.

Basically, it was all extremely great and surprisingly composed of fun, likeable people.  This is not, pessimistically, what M and I had anticipated.  I don’t do Girl Time very well, for starters.  Being a bridesmaid requires cooing and curling irons, neither of which I’m typically good at.  But in I dove.  Fortunately, none of the bridesmaids were girly either.  And the groomsmen were not the highly conservative Southerners we had anticipated; they were actually kinda hilarious.  All in all, it was a fantastic wedding party where everyone – even pessimistic yours truly – was happy and focused on making Gloria and J’s wedding as wonderful as possible. 

Day 1:  M and I got there Wednesday afternoon in plenty of time to relax and enjoy our awesome view of the Gulf before heading to the restaurant for G’s Bach Party.  We were the first ones there, and the hostess took us up to our private balcony/porch area so we could sit at the table and wait for the others.  The waiter (who in earlier days I would have scouted and who was clearly thrilled to be working a Bachelorette Party) showed us the drink menus and pointed out that the “Perfect Margarita” was the strongest drink they had.  I took this as a challenge.  By the time the other three girls (Becky, Mel, and Victoria) arrived, I was in a pleasant enough state to greet these strangers cheerfully.  When Gloria arrived with J’s sisters (Lana and Christa), I’m pretty sure she was only half-surprised by the party.  But she really seemed glad we were all there for her, and it was quite clear that she was really, really happy with J, so that was great to see.  It was in all a pretty nice night, I ate a great burger along with my 4-liquor drink, and we got to know the other bridesmaids at least well enough to know we weren’t going to hate this.

Day 2:  Thursday, the GPS made us late for the rehearsal.  The pastor ran through the plan, and we were herded around like sheep as per the usual prepping for the ceremony.  That’s when we met the other half of the party – the groomsmen.  This was also when we met Julie, Gloria’s other friend from Wisconsin who was quite pregnant and therefore hadn’t been at the Bach Party.  M, as it turned out, got paired up with a cool dude who was great except that he looked like Ray Romano and that was a bit distracting.  My groomsman was not there, so I rehearsed with his very cool sister (Leah).  She imitated her brother pretty well, I would later discover, and assured me that I’d gotten a “good-looking one” and that he would be smiling the whole time.  I turned to Gloria and asked, “You paired me with a peppy person?” to which she responded without a pause, “I put you with someone who could catch you if you fell.”  Not falling, as it turns out, became our biggest challenge as bridesmaids, for the walk down the aisle was entirely downhill and there was a sand-trap obstacle right when we parted from our groomsmen to walk ourselves to our positions.  Even in rehearsal, a few of us had problems.  But, the rehearsal all went pretty well, and since it was freezing (I think it was like 55 that night – thanks for nothing, Florida), we hurried to the restaurant for the rehearsal dinner, which was also lovely.  And, to cap off the evening, M and I back in our hotel appropriately watched Bridesmaids.  It had to be done.

Day 3:  Friday, we got to the park at 8am (the forecast said a high of 60, but that certainly didn’t happen until AFTER the ceremony).  There was the usual tizzy of girls getting ready, but we had over two hours and so things went pretty smoothly despite the fact that the main hair lady had had gallbladder surgery and had to limp around.  Victoria and I were the only ones responsible for our own hair, and we creatively shared a full-length mirror.  A gecko was in the room and almost crawled up Gloria’s wedding dress.  It was during this time that we got a good view into the family Gloria was marrying into, cuz J’s mom was running around helpfully, stopped to coo and kiss Gloria on the forehead as she told her she looked beautiful, and the two sisters were sweet and really helpful.  We took a few quick pics in the room, and then we headed down to sneak out the back to our places.
IT WAS FREEZING!  We northerners had all decided we would tough it out and not wear shawls during the ceremony, but this was not a brilliant move.  I made certain to check – I was not the only girl who was gooseflesh head to toe.  At least we had our respective groomsmen to shield the wind, and they were decent enough to acknowledge that we had the worst of it…even though they complained about their shoes being uncomfortable.  This is when I met my groomsman, Quinn, who turned out to be quite hilarious and kinda awesome.  M, Angel (the Ray Romano look-alike), Quinn, and I huddled for a while and talked about how brave M and I were to live in Michigan.
Finally the music from Forrest Gump (seriously) started, and it was time to hang onto our groomsmen for dear life and head down[hill] the aisle.  By the time I got into position (I was the second to last bridesmaid to arrive) all the other girls had clearly had their own troubles with the sand-trap and watched anxiously as I approached the threshold.  It was quite reassuring when Quinn whispered, “You got this,” just as we arrived, and fortunately I made it over the sand-trap and stood at my place so I could watch Gloria come down the aisle with her dad.  She nearly broke down and cried but pulled it together just as they arrived.  Then the guests were seated, the pastor prayed, yada, yada, you know the drill.  
After the ceremony came pictures.  Again, FREEZING.  But the photographer had some cute ideas, and everyone was so easy-going that it was a lot of fun.  Then we loaded into cars to go to the beach for pics, and mercifully it warmed up considerably. The beach was wonderful.  While Gloria and J had couple pictures taken, we left the boys holding our bouquets – mostly because we forgot – and headed down to the water to play a bit.  Julie and I found multiple jellyfish, and I enjoyed flipping them over and poking them with sticks.  Good times.  Then we piled back in cars and headed to the reception.

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Reception = maybe 50 people.  As per tradition, this part started by the DJ announcing the bridesmaid/groomsmen pairs as we exited the cabin and went out to the outside tables.  Now, this should not have been an interesting event.  However, every other pair was introduced and walked out, Quinn and I were totally on our game and prepared, and then we heard, “And now, for the first time as husband and wife…”  Gloria yelped, “No, he’s forgetting you!”  The easiest way out of it was to just step back and let Gloria and J out, so we did, the crowd outside applauded, and then Gloria and J went to dance their first dance on the porch.  Quinn and I, meanwhile, were lost sheep back in the cabin.  As I was contemplating what to do with my newfound nonexistence, Quinn muttered, “Eh, screw it,” and pushed open the doors.  We scampered out and down the stairs (as stealthily as was possible with everyone watching) and hurried over to join the other bridesmaids and groomsmen.  All of them were aware we’d been forgotten and were tittering with suppressed laughter.  Quinn and Angel quickly discussed what had happened, and Quinn turned to me and M and said, “I’m naming this guy MC Fail.”  (So that’s going to stick as an inside joke.) 
The rest of the reception was lovely and fun and slightly less cold. Finally, we did the bubbles thing as Gloria and J ran to their car, and then they were off and so were my shoes.  The energy immediately died and clearly everyone just wanted to get the hell out of there, and I mentioned to M that wherever we were going for dinner had better serve alcohol.  Pregnant Julie requested that we have a drink for her (which I later did).  We all changed back into crap clothes, hauled out stuff to the cars, and then were free. 

Day 4:  On the ride home, M and I took our time, unlike the last visit to Florida when we’d driven pretty much straight back in one day.  At one point, M was driving and pointed to the side of the road. “Ooh, look!  A falcon!”  A few seconds later, she pointed to the other side of the road, “Oh, look!  A man peeing!”  Such is Alabama.    

Having the attention span of a squirrel, during the ride home my mind wandered back to turning 30.  Even in the warm afterglow of the wedding back south, I thought forward to life back north.  It occurred to me that 2011, the year of being 29, had been really one of the greatest years of my life.  And I hadn’t planned any of it.  Didn’t that say something?  I still can’t say I have a clue what will come of life in my 30s.  I don’t know what I want to come, honestly.  Am I okay just taking what comes?  Can I trust God enough that, whatever it is, it’ll be good, fulfilling, and exactly what I never knew I wanted?  Or do I need direction and goals?  Do I need some aim?  Really, I have NEVER known what I want.  I’ve NEVER had goals.  Why should that suddenly change just because I’ve hit 30?  I’m still the same person, just evolved and farther down the road from when I was little and thought I should have everything figured out by now.  I dropped the severe Type A personality a long time ago, so why do I keep trying to find control if I know I’m happier without it?  I like the journey, I’m along for the ride, and maybe that’s all God wants me to do – trust, and let whatever happens happen.

“Single-Serving Friends”

“Sometimes you run into someone, regardless of age or sex, whom you know absolutely to be an independently operating part of the Whole that goes on all the time inside yourself, and the eye-motes go click and you hear the tribal tones of voice resonate, and there it is – you recognize them.”  — Anne Lamott

“So when we meet as strangers, when even friends look like strangers, it is good to remember that we need each other greatly you and I, more than much of the time we dare to imagine, more than more of the time we dare to admit.  Island calls to island across the silence, and once, in trust, the real words come, a bridge is built and love is done –not sentimental, emotional love, but love that is pontifex, bridge-builder. Love that speak the holy and healing word which is: God be with you, stranger who are no stranger. I wish you well. The islands become an archipelago, a continent, become a kingdom whose name is the Kingdom of God.”  — Buechner

For my own sanity and well-being, I try not to base too much of my life philosophy on Fight Club.  However, the idea of single-serving friends is something that I appreciate.

Probably the biggest difference between the Sunny of Mother Superior Era and Sunny Version 2.0 is that now I like people.  Love ‘em, even.  As a writer, people are good sources of quirks that aren’t from my own head.  As a slightly better-adjusted human being, people are just fascinating for their own sake.  I love meeting new people, which is something I learned about myself during the model scouting period.  I’ve always liked opening people up, finding what makes them tick, finding what passions drive them.  Sometime the people that are in our lives every day get comfortingly boring, and we forget to ask new questions, discover new things.  With new people, it’s much easier and natural to ask about who they are.  And it’s great how new people can completely surprise you by being exactly what you need at exactly that moment.  I think the shock value of a complete stranger getting you can do wonders. Sometimes you run into someone who is so much you that it’s wonderful (or awful).  Sometimes you run into someone who teaches you something you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

Here are a few of my favorite single-serving friends:

  • Garage Sale Kindred.  During a family garage sale, my brother and I had an encounter with one of those people who I know God throws in my path just to get my attention.  We were almost ready to close down the garage sale for the day when this blue car slid to a stop just too far of our driveway.  Slamming the unenthused car into reverse, this old lady pulled into our driveway and got out to inspect my brother’s drums.  Immediately, we both got the sense that she didn’t think she was old – you could just tell that about her.  Her hair was white and she wore wide-rimmed glasses, but she carried herself like she was my age.  She wore this beautiful sari that fluttered in the wind like a flag.  The woman – I don’t even think we got her name – had attitude, spunk.  It would be no stretch to say that she was interested in whatever she came across that she didn’t know about, I think.  It was like she knew a secret that only she and life shared.  Christian and I both agreed after she left that she was awesome.  All the time we talked to her about her Sunday school kids, her yellow house down on the corner, my brother’s drums, and our own lives, she talked to us like we were her equals.  That really was a great unspoken compliment.
  • Smiley Asian Guy.  Do you ever notice that simple, seemingly coincidental run-ins can change your outlook on a day? One morning at college, I was stressing over the problematic people in my life.  I was walking down the sidewalk when I crossed paths with a little man who was obviously a visitor to campus. As I walked by him, he greeted me with a serene grin and asked, “Are you enjoying this morning?” It was just funny somehow, and it surprised me because it wasn’t the monotonous, “Hi, how are you?” I perked up immediately.
  • Meijer Lady. During grocery shopping on a busy day, I found myself stuck in a funnel where this silly girl with her boyfriend was clogging the aisle as she tried for 3 minutes to decide which kind of ketchup she wanted. A lady in a scooter and I were the next up for crossing paths if the girl moved, and we made eye contact and exchanged smirks. Finally the exasperated boyfriend shoved his cart to the side enough for the scooter lady to get by. As she went by me she said with an eye roll, “Your word for the day is, OBTUSE.” I started laughing but tried to cover it as the boyfriend also rolled his eyes. Great.

So, yeah, I enjoy discovering fresh people.  But what about people who are in my life daily and who have been in my life forever?  Obviously we can always seek to know people better, and we shouldn’t forget to continually try.  This leads to another favorite quote:

“We spend our lives guessing at what’s going on inside everybody else, and when we happen to get lucky and guess right, we think we ‘understand.’ Such nonsense. Even a monkey at a computer will type a word every now and then.” – Orson Scott Card

But the thing about people you know well – in many ways, it’s harder to be surprised by them.  You know each other’s histories.  You know their favorite foods and movies.  You know what makes them angry.  You know so much about them already that you can get lazy about pushing for more.  However, even old, old, old friends can surprise you and be exactly what you need at exactly that moment.  I’ve found that the trick is to fake myself out, to be just as interested while conversing with a friend as I would be with a new, single-serving friend.  You see things more freshly that way, and sometimes your eye-motes go click.  Sometimes you re-meet someone you’ve known for years and they’re a blessing you never saw coming.

 A few times old friends/family/acquaintances have really mattered to me:

  • Shaaaaaaane!  The summer between high school and college, I was a mess, to say the least.  One of my cousin Randy’s friends, Shane, happened to be up for the Fourth of July at my aunt and uncle’s cottage on the lake.  Everyone pretty much acted like normal, asking me the usual questions about my upcoming departure for college, but I remember sitting on the beach with Shane and him asking me similar questions.  For whatever reason (I’ve convinced myself it had nothing to do with the fact that I was at last 18), Shane treated me like he really cared, like this next step in my life mattered.  I’m not sure we’d ever really talked before, but for some reason this was completely refreshing to me and meant a lot, maybe simply because he was a new person and I needed so very badly to be reminded that I needed new.
  • Rachel K.  A great thing about people who know you well is that sometimes they know exactly which of their own experiences you can learn from vicariously, even if you never saw it coming.  When I was having problems with a particular mutual friend, Rachel was a surprising source of comfort as she explained a similar situation with another mutual friend (yes, I’m being vague).  It was one of the first times we connected about things more serious than books and movies, and her response to her situation made me realize I had a better way to handle my whole thing.  Her advice really helped, and I’d never seen it coming. 
  • Second-Favorite Hunter.  I think I’ve told this story before.  Chris H. is really probably my favorite hunter (don’t tell!) because I like a person who will jab at me playfully and know I won’t be offended.  Chris for years would say, “What is that smell?” whenever I would enter a room.  Anyway, during one fateful Haymarsh Sporting Clays Pig Roast, I broke my hand.  Everyone asked what I’d done and looked sorry for me and all that.  My family of course knew I was a klutz and so helped me get a plateful of pig and other assorted potluck food.  BUT, much to my surprise, Chris was the one who brought me a piece of the dessert his wife had made.  I didn’t ask for it, he didn’t ask first, he just brought it over.  It was oddly kind and memorable, and it reaffirmed my love for my weird little hunter family of adopted-uncle-types.

Now here’s the flipside.  What happens when I am that person who has the opportunity to matter in someone else’s life? How can I contribute to the people in my life – whether strangers, single-serving friends, people I’ve known forever, whatever?

For starters, I really do try to smile more (stop laughing, people who know me! I do!).  I learned from that man above that this simple thing can matter to people.  And I can be more cordial and kind in general to random people whenever our paths cross.

Strangers actually are easiest for me to be charitable towards.  It’s the people I know well, the people who I’ve spent perhaps too much time with, the people whose flaws/strengths I know inside and out that I have a hard time with.  (Apologies all ‘round.) But obviously these are the people I’ve invested in, the people who are most part of ME, and I should work to be…better.  I should have the decency to dig deeper and not assume I know everything about them.  I should be more forgiving of faults.  I should seek to help them open up and grow. I should be encouraging.  I should…I should…I should.

Sometimes I even do.  I really do try to give more than I take.  I try to be whatever a person needs from me.  It’s that 1 Corinthians, “I have become all things to all people” idea.  The problem is that I somehow usually end up draining myself – yes, I realize how self-righteous that sounds.  Often I will invest so much in trying to help someone that I lose myself and feel like that person is sucking me dry.  So, yeah, a happy medium would be good.  But, honestly, I always know God is trying to teach me something as I try to help whoever He’s put in front of me.  Patience. Compassion. Abandonment of self.  Etc. Etc. Even in mattering to other people, we end up getting a lesson ourselves, I think.

There are obvious things I need to work on.  I’m not good with criers.  Hypothetically, I will pat a crying person’s head if I don’t know what else to do.  And I’m not good with not poking when I see something is wrong – I want to fix everything and often don’t have the patience to go at someone else’s pace.  I’m not good at letting down my defensive shield if it means I might get hurt, if it means I might have to be so honest that I could lose that friend.  And, again hypothetically, when a person requires more vulnerability from me than I’m prepared for, I’m not good at letting go of all my little mechanisms for controlling the situation, and instead I will segue with something like, “Say, did you hear about that killing spree?” …Hypothetically.

So, yeah.  People sometimes surprise you and can change you.  And you can sometimes surprise people.  I think the key thing – whether with strangers or best friends – is to treat each meeting as an opportunity to know someone better. You just never know who might turn out to really, really matter.

The Knapp House

The Setting

When I moved back from Detroit, three friends and I rented a house on the dodgy end of Knapp Street in northeast Grand Rapids.  We had an alleyway instead of a driveway, a basement that flooded, neighbor dogs that yipped at all hours, and neighbor children that did likewise.  It was heaven.  Since we were in a house instead of apartments or dorms, it felt like a home.  It was a decent house for the rent, too – high ceilings, a big kitchen with a breakfast bar area (emphasis on the “bar,” considering it was next to what I called “the happy cupboard”), woodwork everywhere, and a very lovely porch that was the site of many Porch Nights with friends.

The Players

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Halloween…in case clarification is needed.

Myself – Manic, recovering mess.  We’ve covered.

Miranda – Bless her.  Miranda filled the father role in our house.  M was handyman, chore creator, yard mower, responsible bill payer, etc.  (We never decided who the mother figure was, and Rachel pointed out, “We’re a single parent household.”) Sharing the upstairs loft with Miranda for a while, I quickly was reminded that there are significant differences between the two of us.  We have a lot of common interests and that sort of thing, but our basic approaches to life, I think, are drastically different.  The major difference seems to lie in the left brain vs. right brain issue.  M is stronger than me in so many ways.  She’s incredibly focused.  She has self-control and an internal monitor.  She’s also possibly the most composed person I’ve ever met, and of course I hate her for it.

Rachel – I think I admire Rachel most because she is such a tumble of quirks.  Studies Klingon.  Conspiracy theorist.  Matchmaker…er…supreme.  She once spent an entire day using PhotoShop to make wedding pictures of herself with Joaquin Phoenix.  I always appreciate people who are “smart but don’t always show it” (ahem, John VanderWeide), and Rachel is very free about being a goofball and yet wielding a philosophy degree at the same time.  One night we had a discussion about predestination; the next day, while watching Hitchcock’s The Birds she came up with a theory that the birds were really angry environmentalists who were upset by the fur coats, second-hand smoke, etc.  Delightful.

Racie – I had never been friends with Racie before, and it was a struggle at first to get to know her because I hardly ever saw her during the first few weeks.  But then came the Winter Olympics 2006.  Now, honestly, I couldn’t care less about Winter Olympics aside from jumping on the momentary bandwagon of patriotism, but Racie liked them.  So, figuring this would be good bonding time, we watched figure skating, snowboarding (I actually do like that one), ice dancing, bobsledding, etc.  I found that it was pretty easy to get to know Racie even when talking about something as unimportant as the scoring system for ice dancing – which, if you can avoid it, do.  As it turned out, my personality is probably closest to Racie’s, so that was an interesting discovery, even if I was closer to M and Rachel initially. I also remember being incredibly grateful that she was willing to go get me Gatorade when I had the flu, so maybe Racie filled the mother role in our house.

amAmber – When Rachel moved out and we needed a fourth roommate, something pretty cool happened.  In one of those beautiful God moments, we realized that Amber, a friend of Racie’s, would fit perfectly because we all liked her and coincidentally she needed desperately to find a new place to live.  She’d even asked her mom’s church ladies to pray that she find a new living arrangement, and the next day we invited her to live with us without knowing this.   Amber was a great filler of the fourth roommate spot.  Since she was in grad school, it was fun to have someone around who had homework again.  She was sensible, calm, and also crazy and fun.  She had the worst music I’d ever heard from an iPod.  She could quote Friends like no one I’ve ever met.  She said “uber” before almost every adjective.  Amber and I also had this running joke about my unhealthy enjoyment of fire, but that was okay because she liked Paul Walker movies.

alAl – When Amber moved out and Racie got married and therefore moved out, Miranda and I tried to live on our own for a while.  But after one winter of paying the heating bill, we wanted another roommate.  Thus entered Al, who is M’s younger brother.  Since Al worked about two miles from our house and often stayed at our place after episodes of Lost, it just made sense for him to move in.  Al was… Think basically a stereotypical 22-year-old boy but one who likes to read a lot too.  Belching.  Toenail clipping.  Leaving the seat up.  BUT, he also cooked, cleaned up after himself, and fixed things.  He was entertaining, funny and witty, and as my friends often pointed out was not bad to look at (though this is creepy when you think of someone as “Other Brother”).  Al introduced us to the joys of Rob & Big and numerous other boyish things that we tomboys greatly appreciated.  After he moved out to live with friends, I pouted for about a week because I no longer had anyone to watch bloody movies with.

Memorable Points –

  • Once, we had to push Rachel’s car out of the muddy driveway only to discover as she screeched down the street that she’d had her parking brake on the entire time.
  • One night, hopped up on watermelon, Miranda and I were playing in the backyard in the dark when I looked over and saw a black, small animal scampering across the alley to our house.
    When it paused in the yard, I called, “Here, kitty, kitty.”
    It turned its head, revealing a white stripe down its back.
    I yelled, “Oh, that’s not a kitty!” and we ran quickly into the house at is started coming our way.
  • We created our own version of the game “Apples to Apples” that turned out to be “Inside-Joke/Dirty Apples to Apples.”
  • Our house became the gathering site of our college pals.  We had several “parties” where we sat around drinking and playing board games – oh, the wild parties of English majors.  (I could have done without pickle juice being spit on our floor, but oh well.) At one party, there was a bit of confusion as Buddy was leaving and I asked if he wanted a Blow Pop.  The question alone wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t made a hand motion in front of my mouth to “clarify” what I meant. Any reference to Blow Pops became a running joke.
  • When Rachel needed help moving, we loaded up a few vehicles for the drive to Ann Arbor.  While trying to squeeze Rachel’s mattress into the back of Amber’s Blazer, we had to fold it, and the best instructions for how to do this were “Taco it!”  It made sense, but the box springs simply would not fit in the Blazer.  This meant we had to tie it down to the top of the vehicle, and Rachel somehow managed to completely tangle herself in the rope.  As the rest of us fell over laughing, Rachel danced around in the rope, only making it worse.
    Amber, trying to get Rachel out of the tangled rope, asked, “How do you exist without killing yourself?”
  • Dan, Racie’s fiancé, would often stay with us for a week at a time.  Really, I only remember him during this time as that guy who stayed on our couch.  And he had good music taste (which really always means someone has your music taste, doesn’t it?)  But whenever he stayed with us, for some reason M and I would pretty much stay upstairs in our room the entire time.  Maybe we were just trying to give Dan and Racie time to themselves, but we certainly could have made more of an effort.  Especially since, it turns out, Dan is one of my favorite spouses to enter the group.  Why? Because pictures like this happen:

    dan
    Again, to clarify, at Halloween.
  • Al more than once came into my room after shaving his head and would spin around with his head down, asking, “Is it even?”
  • For a Super Bowl Party, Al strategically arranged 3 TVs in the living/dining room so we could watch the game from every angle.

Lessons Learned –  To paraphrase Arrested Development, a much beloved TV show in our house, “Sunny was getting life lessons all over the place.”

  • Having had my own apartment in Detroit, I had to learn once again to deal with other people on a regular basis, even when I didn’t feel like it.  It’s no secret that I am very into “me time” and it was good for me to have to spend time with other people, step outside myself, and stop being so self-involved.  I tend to want everything to be my way, and this just doesn’t fly when three other people have plans too.
    Late one night, while a group of guests cavorted downstairs, I lay on my bed moaning as Miranda read on her side of the room, and I finally realized my stupidity and muttered, “I’m crabby.”
    Miranda laughed, “You think?”
  • This is what I appreciate most about living with others:  You learn how to get along even when you don’t want to, because these people know where you sleep.  It’s a favorite saying of mine that you should never let an argument last longer than the milk in your fridge (even when that milk has fermented beyond all recognition as belonging to the dairy family…hypothetically). Patience with others is not a virtue I keep in my back pocket, but I had to learn how to breathe rather than…ferment.  I think, by living together, we all learned to settle our differences in healthy ways.
    Also, this experience helped me learn how to deal with people I didn’t live with too.  Since my roommates and I had the same friend circle, some individuals I didn’t particularly care for were still around from time to time.  Pretending such individuals don’t exist doesn’t exactly work.  But the truth is, you aren’t going to like everyone, no matter how hard you try.  Some personalities are just different and will not jive.  Try as you might, you are simply not going to see eye to eye with some people.  The dance here is finding how to coexist without letting the lack of affection turn into dislike that turns into something darker.
    Then this hit me:  Saying you don’t like someone is pointless, really.  Where has not liking someone ever gotten you except somewhere bad?  So, to stop this before it gets bad, how do you resolve the tension of not particularly liking someone? I am convinced that even Christians (or maybe especially Christians, in my experience) are not always going to like each other.  What to do? Shake hands and part company? Or just be bland acquaintances with surface, casual relationships? Maybe.  (I can’t pretend to be the perfect adviser on the topic of interpersonal relationships.) BUT, we can’t let relationships get to the point of distaste, because, like I said, where does that get us? That chest-tightening dislike thing doesn’t work with that whole Christian love thing.  And it leads to ulcers.  “Fester, fester, fester.  Rot, rot, rot” may be my favorite Meg Ryan movie quote of all time.  No good comes of bottling anger.  But we shouldn’t blow it out, either.  It becomes easy to release tension by venting with others about the person you don’t like.  THIS IS NOT LOVE!  Even if the person you don’t like never hears about it, constantly bitching amongst ourselves is not going to help resolve tension.  It makes it worse.  It will still eat at you.  This resolves nothing.
    So where do you go? I guess the only thing you can do when there is no connection between people is to just let it go.  Ignore the dislike.  Forgive it.  Start over, or at least with a clean slate in your own mind.  Try.  At least be neutral in your opinion of this person.  Then, you might be surprised to find that there is something there after all, underneath the ignored and forgotten dislike.  You might never be best buds, but at least there will be some level of love there if you try.
  • Living with people, you get better at seeing what others need.  Familiarity may breed contempt, but it also brings understanding.  You become more sympathetic.  When one of my roommates might be hurting or struggling, I knew them well enough to know the kind of advice or encouragement they needed.
    It took me a bit of time to figure out how to help in some situations.  I tend to have a laugh-it-off approach to pretty much everything – the Somerville motto is “If we’re going to laugh about it later, we might as well laugh about it now.”  But this doesn’t work when people of other temperaments are crying or angry or hurting.  So, of course, to really help someone you have to know them.  Doing what would help you does not always help others.  So you have to find what works for them.  Living right with someone, you’d better know them well enough to help, or else what are you doing?

Quotes –

  • “I would date the cookie monster; we have similar interests.” – Rachel
  • “I want a sailboat when I grow up.  Not that I know how to sail, but that’s what the servants are for.” – Rachel
  • “23 and single is not the time to have stuffed animals on the bed.” – Racie
  • “True or False. Rolz Gold Pretzels give other pretzels penis envy.” – Racie
  • “Taste like something!” – Miranda, yelling at her taco
  • “Hide it under a bushel. No. Let it shine. That is my advice to you.” – Miranda
  • “If you sing arguments from now on, I will let you win them.” – Miranda
  • “No, you’re more pathetic because you’re self-aware!” – Miranda to Me
  • “You know, you pretend to be the normal one in the house, and then things like this happen.” – Me to Miranda
  • “I don’t want to marry a mongoose!” – Me
  • “Men are gross.  This movie is making me want one less and less.” – Me, of Rocky

Personal Quirks I Stole –

  • Thinking before speaking – Miranda
  • Not thinking before speaking – Rachel
  • Tapping my nose while thinking – Racie
  • Saying “-ity-doo” after every verb – Al
  • Because of Miranda I don’t immediately disregard folk music
  • Because of Rachel I read Steven King
  • Because of Racie I know how figure skating is scored
  • Because of Amber I appreciate that Paul Walker cannot act his way out of a paper bag
  • Because of Al, I developed an appreciation for Rob Dyrdek
0314131148
A few of our “Apples to Apples” cards. All true stories.

I suppose I should have some sort of closing point to all this, but really I just have to say that this whole time period at The Knapp House was a blessing.  It gave me time to chill out and enjoy where I was.  Who can ask for more than a roof over one’s head, friends to laugh with and learn from, and enough ice cream in the freezer to feed a small army?

People Who Get You

Here’s the thing I find most annoying about undergoing personal change:  Getting other people to realize it.  Why do people who knew you during one period in your life always expect you to be the same as they remember? Sure, not everyone has gone through the tumbling wash cycle of emotional/mental/psycho analysis that I did, but why do we hold people from our past in mental time capsules?  Everyone changes.  The hard part is that, even after you know you’ve changed for the better, you have to convince other people, and that is oddly more work.

Upon my return to Western Michigan from my experiment on the Detroit side, I’d mentally made a break from “growing up Sunny” and changed things about myself that I didn’t like, let other things grow out, and stopped letting myself wallow in behavioral ruts.  I felt better, healthier, freer, and more open and loving in general.

Then…  I happened to return to Grand Rapids around the time of an ACS Homecoming, so I immediately ran into people who had high-school-shaped perceptions of me.  I shattered them joyously.

“You did what?!” someone asked when I told them about my model scouting while in Detroit.

“You were always a shy, quiet girl,” another told me in bafflement.

“I can’t see you doing that.” This was said in a tone suggesting that, since she couldn’t see me doing it, that meant I hadn’t.

It may show just how much I grew to say that I smiled with nothing but love for these people. 

But as the months rolled on after my return, the differences between who I’d been as teenager and who I was as a nearly 30-year-old came up time and again.  People expected me to be snotty and cutting, which was really obnoxious because I found myself “obliging” in this regard and therefore reverting a bit. I suppose parents and family will always see you as you were as a child, but if they could accept that I drink on a regular basis, why couldn’t they conceive of the idea that I might now be happy and not sulking all the time? (That’s just my face!)  Even the person I was from college had changed, so people who didn’t even know me as a teenager often still thought of me as they perceived me in college.  My college friend Justin pointed out to me once that he had always assumed I was aloof and thought myself better than everyone else because he’d often seen me smirking during classes.   I explained that I smirk whenever I’m amused by someone or something.  Justin – God bless him – actually corrected his view and has been “in on the secret” behind my rather constant smirking ever since.

I can’t be the only one with this problem.  But, it has always bothered me when people don’t know me but think they do – this is actually my biggest pet peeve.  My roommate, Miranda, and I had a group of friends referred to as “Group Yay” (more later) who tended to lump Miranda and I together as one entity.  While I love M as one of my closest friends, we are NOT the same person and have significant differences.  I’m sure Group Yay thought I was being negative about M one night when I repeatedly pointed out that I was not her – I am not as conservative, I am not quiet, I swear, I like rap music, I have been drunk on more than a handful of occasions.  I also pointed out that M is a better person, so I tried to point out how she is her own person, too – she thinks before she speaks, she’s gentler, she knows more about folk music than I ever will.  Also, the issue went beyond simply being compared to M, because they had a very certain idea about who I was under the label of a “good, Christian girl” too.  I’m not a rebel or a badass or anything, but considering my upbringing and educational experiences, this label and the assumptions that go with it drive me nuts – especially when coming from these boys who should have known me better.

But what are you going to do?

I guess part of this problem is that we constantly realize new things about ourselves.  I am this.  I am this.  Wow, I’m way more that than I thought.  Do people see us better than we see ourselves, as outsiders looking in?  Are we all a little blind, or delusional?  I pride/bludgeon myself on being ridiculously self-aware, but why don’t other people see things about me that I think are essential and obvious?

On the flip side, there are those people that see you at every stage of your life.  No matter the lengths of time that go between your meetings, they know who you are and what you need and love you enough to be accurate, if that makes sense.

Enter the Andrus kids.

When I was 7ish, my mom wanted to earn extra cash by babysitting.  One wet Michigan day, a lady with her baby showed up at our trailer door and came in to interview my mom.  She was there only a short time before there was another knock on the door.  I remember our dog, Kat, barked with a mouthful of dog food and scampered over to greet a second woman who’d come to meet my mom about babysitting.  My mom was confused, but soon enough the first lady realized she was at the wrong address.  Thank goodness, because this second woman was the mother of an adorable little girl with a mullet named Kaly and a robust toddler named Luke.

My fondest childhood memories are of Kaly, Luke, my brother Christian, and me playing outside, drawing inside, and eating macaroni and cheese and baloney lunches.  When we played, “Mrs. Jackson” was for some reason always the name of the bad lady after us.  We played hockey on the frozen swamp behind our house in the winter.  We made the most awesome fort of all time – it had a working sauna, no lie.  They helped me create The Kota Series as we played Kota for hours and hours and hours – I was always dying, Kaly always had telepathic headaches, Luke always crushed things, and Christian was the wild card.  We became like siblings, really.  Kaly’s bloody nose stain on our house’s stairs was still there when we moved.

Fast forward a few decades.

At Kaly Andrus’s wedding, she chose me as her maid of honor.  I hadn’t really seen her in about four years, but when you grow up as the closest thing to someone’s big sister, I guess this is a job that shouldn’t come as a surprise.  The strange thing was, though we’d both changed a good deal since we’d been kids playing Kota, I don’t recall even having a catch-up discussion.  It did immediately strike me as odd that Kaly thought she would still know me as well as she did way back when, and she also didn’t seem to think there was any reason I wouldn’t know her anymore.  I was worried about this at first.  Kaly said things like, “Well, I trust Sunny.  She knows what I like.” When you haven’t known someone since they were of legal age, can it really be said that you know or even can guess their taste in gifts, flowers, or colors of penis straws?

But here’s the thing: We did still know each other.  We could exchange wordless glances and get it.  Kaly knew enough not to attempt to match-make me at her wedding.  I knew when to help as a maid of honor and when she had it under control.  And I’ve never been prouder than the morning of her wedding as she chugged from a bottle of Pepto in one hand and then a bottle of Jack in the other.

And this lack-of-need-to-catch-up goes for Luke, too.  It helps that the kid is so laid back and just plain lovable in general.  When I was leaving Kaly’s wedding, I remember a very drunk Luke picking me up in a huge hug and saying, “I love you.  And that’s not just because I’m drunk.  I really do love you.”  He may not remember that, but it meant a lot to me.  Later, when Christian was in Luke’s wedding, I saw this same connection still existed between them too.  The funny thing here is that they’ve grown to have such different lives and interests – Luke stayed country while Christian had to borrow cowboy boots, for example.  But there’s still just that easy thing that exists between people who grew up together.

And that’s what the four of us have.  We’re almost-siblings.  We can change and grow up and go for lengths of time without seeing each other, but we’re still close enough to know each other at the drop of a hat.  We’ll be in each other’s weddings without hesitation.  We can roll with the changes life brings and accept each other

The FourSo.  There are people in your life – some whom you even love dearly – who will hold you in a time capsule. There are some who will refuse to see changes/growth.  This can be incredibly frustrating as you try to move forward, but it’s good to keep those other people around you, the ones who somehow know you and love you and recognize you.

Maybe that’s the test of any real relationship – no matter how much time and how much change has come along the way, who still knows you without having to ask?

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