Cat Call or Compliment: A Dilemma

Dear Readership,

This is a subject that I have been mulling over for some time and have finally decided to try to put down in words (today of all days because of an uncanny encounter earlier that I’ll get to in a minute). But before I get into the thick of it, I want to clarify a few things: all of the stories I’m going to tell in this post were encounters with black men, but that is not a reflection of some deeper belief I hold. I do not think that black men are more inherent womanizers, more likely to cat call a woman, or more of a threat to me than any other race of men (It’s in my nature to fear them all equally — something I touched on in a previous blog post that you can read here:  Men Are People Too).

The fact that all of the following examples were encounters with men of color, I believe, has everything to do with my sample base. I live in an apartment complex and an area of town that has a strong international presence and is very racially integrated (even in my own apartment I have a roommate from Jamaica, a roommate from Morocco, and a Jewish Egyptian roommate from New York… and then there’s little ol’ me. Sometimes I feel like a bag of wonder bread in a world market bakery — white, soft, and lacking in distinguishable flavor by comparison). As it happens, and is unfortunately often true of neighborhoods that are culturally diverse — there’s a pretty low count of white people here. I only know of maybe two or three others besides myself who live in my complex and one of them is the old, presumably homeless man who smells like pee and hangs out in the parking lot. So most of my encounters with men as of late have been with men of color.

That all was a very long introduction to the subject that I actually wanted to talk about: cat calling. It’s something that pretty much every woman experiences (I used to get it the most when walking to and from choir practice in high school, but it happens everywhere).

And in the name of fairness, it does happen to some men too. Not as often, but it does (for example, I whistled at my fiance’s butt in Walmart a few weeks ago as he wandered off to find the bathroom. He didn’t hear me… but the old woman two aisles over did and her wrath was palpable as I blushed and scuttled away).

Some cat calling is overtly aggressive and obviously being used as a weapon to intimidate the woman it is directed at (honking, screaming, lewd sex noises, comments about a woman’s body — these are unnerving and not hard to identify as a deliberate threat).

What I’ve encountered a lot more of recently, however, is a gray area of cat calling that I have struggled to classify. Was it all harmless and well meaning? Was I reading too far into it? Not far enough? What was different each time that made me react differently?  I’ll break down the occurrences as they happened for you and from there maybe you can help me decide. The one thing that each occurrence consistently had in common was me being dressed like a literal homeless person (we’re talking 3XL sweat pants, slippers, sweat shirt, unwashed hair, no bra).

The first time was back earlier this semester. I was leaving my apartment (WAAAYY overdressed for the 90 degree day, but I was sick and found comfort in my layers so I didn’t take them off and was therefore already sweating 10 steps from my front door). In contrast to my weather-inappropriate attire, there was a young man coming back from the pool, barefoot and shirtless. We passed each other on the walkway.

“Hello, beautiful. How are you?” he said, smiling.

Immediately I felt threatened by the intimate greeting from a total stranger– especially because I was anything but beautiful in that moment — but I didn’t want to appear intimidated, “Good, thanks. You?” I asked, not meeting his eye.

“Good!” he said, then called back over his shoulder, “Have a blessed day!”

That last remark took the barb of fear out of my heart. It was a statement of kindness not menace. I thought perhaps the difference was cultural. White people (as a rule of thumb) are an uptight bunch. We purse our lips and nod at strangers, we don’t compliment them. I’ve never been called beautiful by a white man who I didn’t know who didn’t also stare at me like a piece of meat when he said it. But maybe that wasn’t true for this man and how he had been raised to greet people. I wished that I had looked into his eyes to see if I could see his intention within them.

The next time it happened I was in the grocery store and an employee approached me while I was looking at frozen pizzas**

**(actually the very next time I was complimented by a black man who didn’t know me, he had mistaken me for man from behind and said, “Hey man, sick hair.” And I said, “Aw, thanks” and he said, “Oh, um, I mean, ma’am” and quite frankly, that hurt my feelings. But I also think there is a lot there that we could unpack about the difference in how men compliment other men — or rather, women they mistake for men — vs. how they knowingly compliment women.  For now though, let’s focus on the next time a man knew that I was a woman and complimented me).

“Hey beautiful, you finding everything you’re looking for?” he asked.

“Yes, thanks” I said, closing the freezer door without grabbing the pizza I wanted and quickly walking away. I could feel my heart pounding in my ears as I walked in a winding, randomized path through the store, trying to put distance between me and him and refraining from checking over my shoulder. I left without finishing my shopping. His tone was friendly and his words not inherently threatening. In fact, I could easily make the same cultural difference argument that I had made before, but this time I had looked into his eyes and I had seen clearly that I was not safe.

Fast forward a bit and the next time it happened was a few nights ago. I had gone into the store for a bottle of wine, and since it was the only thing I needed, I grabbed my receipt to verify my purchase and didn’t put it in a bag (save the planet and all). As I was walking to my car a man yelled after me,

“That’s right, baby! All you need is a bottle of wine. You do you, beautiful.” I fist pumped the bottle of wine over my head in response, but didn’t look back. He hooted a long, loud, laugh and walked to his car. I hadn’t felt threatened by him and his teasing at all and I smiled to myself as I got in my own car and drove away.

I was thinking about all of this while I drove to the Food Lion around the corner from my house this morning to buy something for breakfast. I hadn’t even brushed my teeth yet and looked like I could star in a post on the People of Walmart page. For a reason that I can’t remember now, I had started thinking about this “gray-area cat calling” thing and how to define it. I thought about the comments, the delivery, the locations. I was thinking about what I had been wearing and the way that I had responded each time, trying to find the common denominator. I parked my car. It’s not like I had been dressed to impress. Heck, I had barely been dressed to not actively repel. Why had they called me beautiful? Was it just a friendly term like when little old ladies call you sugar? Was the difference in eye contact? If I had looked at the men who I hadn’t felt threatened by, would I have seen ulterior motives in their eyes that should have frightened me? What was the secret to knowing when a compliment was just a compliment (even a poorly worded one) and when it was a threat?

I stopped for a car to pass me before walking into the store. A man leaned out the passenger window as they drove by, “Hey, baby doll. How you doing, beautiful?” he said, waving and smiling.

I think my jaw actually dropped. Not because what he said was particularly shocking, but because of the issue running through my mind when he said it. I looked him in the eye and, on a whim, smiled a big, toothy grin back at him. In that moment I decided to not be afraid. I don’t know what his motives were or what he thought of my response– the car kept going and I didn’t see his face. What I do know is that in that moment it occurred to me that a genuine smile might, perhaps, be the only response that achieves my goal regardless of his motives. If it was his intention to compliment me, then I could smile my thanks, because you know what, I am beautiful, thank you for noticing. And if it was his intention to intimidate me, then I could smile my defiance; radiant and unafraid.

I realized then that I might not ever be able to truly tell what a man’s intentions are when he calls me baby or honey or doll or beautiful. You could argue that the answer is for men to stop doing it altogether to avoid the confusion (I don’t disagree), but I can’t control that, only how I respond.

And I realize now that I don’t think there is a formula for distinguishing a gray area cat call/compliment. Things like cultural norms, personality, and background have to be taken into consideration because every man and his motives are different. You can’t always know. However, I think that sometimes you can see a person’s spirit shine clearly through their eyes and that you should trust your gut on that (even if I could go back, I would not smile at the man who scared me so badly I couldn’t finish shopping.)

But for me, for now, I am choosing to win my fight against misogyny (ironically enough) by smiling**

**(unless, of course, you tell me to. In which case I’ll tell you to go soak your head because you don’t get to tell me how to feel or react to the world around me, especially not for the sake of making myself more pleasing for you to look at).

Until next time,

Adieu

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Airhead turned Assailant

Dear Readership,

Ever have those days where you seem to only be firing at half your usual mental capacity and you become convinced that maybe you’ve secretly been an idiot all along and no one told you?

Welcome to last Wednesday for me. For whatever reason, it felt like I had all of two brain cells bouncing around in an empty expanse all day — occasionally they would bump into each other and I would produce a semi-intelligent thought, but most of the time it was a misfire.

Mostly this problem expressed itself in my inability to get through a whole sentence without forgetting where in it I was and having to ask someone to remind me what the last words out of my mouth were so I could pick up where I had left off. But there were a couple larger expressions of my idiocy that really drove the problem home.

One of my very dearest college chums and I decided to drive and meet up halfway between where she lives in Boone and where I am in Raleigh. The halfway point just happened to be Winston (where my beloved sister and brother-in-law live). How perfect! Merritt and I met in a Barnes and Noble (and talked, and perused the books, and drank ungodly amounts of coffee, and talked some more. it was perfect). About 3 hours and a VERY large coffee in, I needed to use the bathroom. She had just gone a little while before, so I asked her to direct me to where it was.

I made my way back to the restrooms, pulled the handle, and found it locked. So I stepped back to look at some books and wait for the person to finish. I waited and waited and waited and finally decided that I didn’t really have to pee that badly and that I’d just circle back around later.

I went back to where Merritt was sitting at a table.

“Whoever is in the bathroom must be pooping because they’re taking forever and I got tired of waiting. I’ll try again later.”

“What?” she asked.

I repeated myself.

“Sierra, there are like eight stalls in that bathroom” she said.

It was my turn to be confused.

“Okay, listen,” she said, “Back on that wall there’s the men’s room, then there’s a closet, and then there’s the women’s room. Are you sure you were standing at the right door?”

Yes! …No.

I smiled sheepishly and slunk back to the bathrooms. Sure enough, I had been standing all that time waiting for someone to finish using the CLOSET. That could have been a long wait. Just to the left of it was a door with LARGE letters clearly marked “WOMEN” that I had not previously noticed. I peed, and then returned once more to be heckled for my dumbness. It was all in good fun.

Finally, hungry and in the mood for Japanese, we set off to meet up with my sister and her husband to go to dinner. We were having a lively conversation about the outcomes of last Tuesday’s election on the way and I fiddled with my keys in my lap while we talked, like I often do. Ben and Merritt were mid voter ID law discussion when I loudly and uncomfortably cleared my already burning throat,

“I do hate to interrupt your conversation” I said meekly, clearing my throat again a little harder, “but I think I just sprayed my mace.”

“WHAT?” everyone said loudly and in unison just seconds before gagging. All four windows shot down and we were blasted by the cold night air as everyone blinked their stinging eyes and coughed.

“Way to mace a pregnant lady” Savannah said, squinting at me through her rear view mirror.

“I only maced you a tiny bit” I shot back still feeling sheepish. I hadn’t realized that it had been unlocked and I had sprayed just the smallest little puff into the air. We all recovered fairly quickly, just a burning tickle remaining in the back of our throats (or at least mine anyway. I think I got the brunt of it).

If I’m being honest, I have suspected for some time that this would eventually happen. Me being armed in any capacity is a recipe for disaster. Although I had hoped I would be alone when it did.

Just like I would have preferred to be alone later that evening during dinner when I absentmindedly rubbed my eye and had to be let out of the booth to run to the bathroom to flush out my eyeball because it turns out some of the mace lingered on my finger (like, duh, of course it did).

Despite being thoroughly humbled (and very apologetic) by the end of my visit, I also was absolutely fed by the conversation and companionship of all of the lovely people I got to see that night. I may be an idiot, but I’m an idiot that they love and that’s a very special feeling.

Until next time,

Adieu

A Nightmare in the Air

Dear Readership,

This is a throwback post. I started writing it a few weeks after the initial trauma occurred this summer, but it has taken me until now to be ready to actually talk about it (not really. I’m being dramatic. I totally forgot about it).

But let me tell you, it was a heinous experience that will probably trigger all kinds of anxiety next time I have to fly. It was our last morning in Spain; everyone had said their goodbyes and we were making our way to the airport for our various flights home. I was on the same flight as three of my other classmates and we were greeted first thing that morning with the news that our first flight had been delayed by 30 minutes. This immediately made me nervous, because we only had a two hour layover as it was (now an hour and a half).

By the time we got to the airport our flight had been delayed an hour. By the time the plane actually took off, we were going to only have 35 minutes in the Newark airport to go through customs, pick up our luggage, go through security, recheck our luggage, and catch our flight home to Charlotte (why in the world they didn’t send our luggage directly to Charlotte I will never know).

But lets backup to the Madrid airport – as we were boarding, a flight attendant stopped me and told me I would have to check my carry-on because there wasn’t room on the flight for it. Quickly I took everything I wanted on the plane (book, tablet, phone charger, and snacks) out of my purse to make room to still take the fragile things I was bringing home. Annoyed and a little flustered, I made my way on to the plane sans all of my personal belongings only to find that the entire luggage bin above my seat was empty. As was the one across the aisle. They both remained empty for the entire duration of the flight.

What’s more, this airline didn’t have any in-flight TVs (the only international flight I have ever been on without TVs) and I was looking at upwards of 8 hours of twiddling my thumbs because my book had just been stored below the plane. Brilliant.

But also no one has ever died of boredom before, so I was going to be fine. Annoyed, but fine.

Fast forward through some of the emptiest hours of my life to when our flight was finally landing. I wish I could describe the anxiety I felt for the upcoming layover as I watched the New York City skyline come into view in my window (and then sink back out of view as we landed in the New Jersey rip-off — Newark). If I had only known what the next 30 minutes were going to hold for me I don’t know that I would have been able to get off the plane.

As we were standing in line for customs my friends and I all agreed that it was going to have to be every man for himself getting to our next flight. We didn’t all need to get trapped in Newark if one person got held up. I should have known right then that that was bad news for me.

But we made it through customs easily enough and then went to the baggage claim. My bag actually came first! But I had to wait for my carry-on still (you know, the one that shouldn’t have been stowed in the first place). One by one everyone else’s bags came. They gave me sorrowful looks, “Sorry about your bag, Sierra. But we agreed every man for himself.” Two of them left to catch the flight, but one girl stayed behind because she hated to leave me standing there alone looking so pitiful. We waited 10 agonizing minutes for my bag to finally come through. One third of our precious time was already gone.

We took off at a trot and immediately got stuck in a congested line for a security check (one of two that we would have to stand and wait for in the next 20 minutes). My friend called her mom and cried. By the time we made it through we only had 11 minutes left. We took off at a dead run, caught a train to our terminal, and started running again.

5 minutes left.

There was a man making his way through the crowd taking luggage to be rechecked. He scanned the tag of the bag of the woman in front of us.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” he said, “There’s no way you’re going to make your flight. You’re going to have to catch the next one.”

She turned back. My friend and I gave each other a nervous look and then we handed him our bags. He scanned them and before he could tell us we didn’t have enough time to make it we interjected,

“Please! We’re willing to run.”

“Alright,” he said, looking dubious, “You might make it if you run. I’ll put your bags on board.”

He took our luggage and we took off. Almost immediately we got stuck in another security line. We jostled our way forward in the line.

“Easy, lady!” Some woman snapped at me as I pushed past her, “We’re all headed for the same flight.”

Too winded to actually respond, I thought snottily if we’re all headed for the same flight you’re not moving nearly fast enough. 

The line was positively crawling. We kept passing empty security lines for first class passengers. We begged the employees to please let us through. We had 3 minutes to catch our flight! Please! They remained unmoved. “First class only!” They barked.

My friend and I both started to cry this time. Two grown women. Standing in a security line in the airport. Sobbing. We weren’t going to make it.

The women in line in front of us tried to comfort us, “Don’t worry” they said, “the airline will put you up in a hotel if you miss your flight. It’s not your fault your first flight was delayed.”

“B-b-but we don’t want to stay in Newwwarrrk!” we sobbed, “We wanna go h-h-hooome!”

After 5 weeks abroad, one more minute away from our families seemed like a burden that was too great to be borne.

Finally we made it through the line. “LET’S GO!” My friend shouted, breaking into a run. “I’ll tell them you’re behind me” she yelled back over one shoulder as the gap between us widened. In a matter of seconds, she was gone.

She, a literal triathlon runner, left pudgy, pasty, asthmatic me (in a maxi dress and sandals no less) in the dust. I was waddling at full speed, my carry-on banging into my ankle, determined not to be the only one left behind. I was red faced and wheezing as I made my way up to the gate. Several concerned bystanders asked if I was okay as my wheezing got louder and louder. I nodded breathlessly, and soldiered on.

Finally, 4 minutes after boarding had officially ended, I made it to my gate. “Are you Sierra Patterson?” an airport employee asked.

“I am!” I sobbed, so shaky I could barely stand.

“Your friend said you were coming! You need to get on board.”

“Thank you so much!” I said, walking forward.

“Ma’am,” she said, reaching out to block my way. “We still need your boarding pass.”

“Oh, right” I huffed, feeling around in my bag for it. “Here” I said, handing her the first piece of paper my fingers touched.

“Ma’am, that’s a receipt” she said.

“Oh” I felt around in my bag and produced another piece of paper, “Try this one.”

“Yes, this is it. Go ahead and get on” she said. As I made my way down the tunnel a flight attendant stopped me.

“Ma’am, we’re going to have to check your carry-on” he said.

“Of course you are” I sighed, handing it over.

But it didn’t matter. I had made it! As I stepped on the plane I made eye contact with my three beaming classmates.

“You made it!” They cheered.

Still out of breath, sweaty, and red faced, I pumped a single fist in the air in triumph (end of The Breakfast Club style) and fell into my seat.

I didn’t even care that I was bored for the whole next flight. I was going home.

When we landed in Charlotte my phone was on 4% and I was frantically trying to get in touch with Bryce (who had come to pick me up) before it died, because they wouldn’t let us off the plane. They said there was lightning in the area and the safest place for us to be was on the plane until it had passed. I wasn’t convinced that that was true, but they kept us sitting there for another 30 minutes nonetheless. When I did finally get inside (after a very triumphant reunion with my darling boyfriend) I collected my carry-on from the baggage claim and waited for my other bag. I said goodbye to my friends once again as each of their bags came through one by one and they headed home.

Guess whose checked bag never showed up? I stood there watching the empty belt go round and round — it wasn’t there.

I was crushed.

Over the course of the next four hours (that’s right, four hours) Bryce and I tracked down the person we needed to talk to resolve the problem. He scanned my little bar code sticker, “Ma’am, your bag never left Newark. It’ll be here on the next flight in about five hours.”

I called my mom, defeated. She said, “No, baby, don’t wait for it. Come home. We’ll go back and get it tomorrow.”

“Okay,” I whimpered.

“Is there anything I can get you for dinner?” Bryce asked as we left.

“You know, some Chic-fil-A sounds pretty good” I said, starting to perk up after my 21 hour day of traveling at the thought of some good ol’ American nugs.

We plugged it in to the GPS and started driving. After about 30 minutes we started seeing signs for the airport again…

Y’all, if you would believe it, the Chic-fil-A Google had decided to take us to was the one in the terminal we had just left. Maps had taken us in a giant loop around the airport and brought us right back to where we started…. I screamed.

And that, dear readership, is the story of how I was traumatized this summer by Delta Airlines.

Until next time,

Adieu

First Day as a Writer — Oof

Dear Readership,

Yesterday was my first full day as a self-identified writer and let me tell you, it was rough. After battling my way out of my own mental prison and choosing to wholeheartedly pursue my passion for writing, I immediately hit a wall.

I received AMAZING support from you all for my decision to drop out of grad school and I cannot begin to express how much it meant to me. But for every 10 or 15 comments of overwhelming praise and encouragement, I received one of skepticism or critique. It was always veiled as concern, but it was barbed nonetheless. For some reason those criticisms echoed so much louder in my spirit and resolve than the praise did and I was faced with the reality that from here on out I’ll have to defend my career choices to the world (and, maybe a little more terrifying, to myself). It’s not an easy, clear, obvious, or even necessarily lucrative path. But it’s my path now and the full weight of what that was going to mean was starting to sink in.

Here I was, day one — a writer, and (by the delightful odds of God’s timing) just in time to start NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month). I set myself a goal of 2,000 words a day and (as this confession is about to detail) IMMEDIATELY failed to meet it.

Yesterday morning, for the first time, I was faced with the total liberty to spend my time writing and I was suddenly overwhelmed by my freedom.  I pursued other projects (I worked on some drawing techniques — technically still productive, but not what I was supposed to be doing), I called my mom, I looked for jobs, I cleaned my room (kind of.. we all know my room has never been/will never be clean. I just rearrange the mess until I get bored or it looks more presentable. It is one of my greatest flaws).

Finally, I opened my novel file and read through a little of what I had written so far. It wasn’t terrible. Now it was time to add to it. I couldn’t.

So I dug a book off my bookshelf that my sister had lent me AGES ago and that I had neglected to read. It’s one of her absolute favorites (Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty for anyone who is interested). I decided to run myself a bath a read for a bit to try to find inspiration. The tub filled about 4 inches before my teaspoon-sized water heater ran out of hot water. I turned the tap off and sat there, my butt crack barely covered by the tepid bath water, and read.

The book is about a little girl who secretly lives in the basement of the Biltmore during its heyday who encounters a force of great evil (the man in the black cloak), a ghoulish figure who preys on children staying at the Estate. Through a series of plot twists and unlikely friendships, Serafina sets out to stop him (at least, that is my assessment so far. I’m only about 150 pages deep). It’s honestly a very engaging read, but unexpectedly terrifying. It’s full of vivid descriptions and very action driven. I was so engrossed I nearly jumped out of my skin (you know, since it was the only thing I was wearing) when my phone buzzed on my bathroom counter. I sent my little sister a strongly worded text about recommending scary books without warning.

At that point I was so high strung that I couldn’t read anymore (I’m an absolute baby when it comes to scary things), so I climbed out of the tub and told myself that’s it, Sierra. Now you HAVE to write. 2,000 words aren’t just going to appear out of thin air. 

I then proceeded to find other things to do for the next three or four hours. At that point, it was 11:30pm. November first was almost over and I hadn’t even started writing. What was wrong with me? My room was hot. I couldn’t focus. I was thirsty. I felt daunted by the realization of my decision.

But I was determined to not fail the very first day!

That’s when it finally occurred to me that I was not properly dressed for the task. I remembered back to a few weeks ago when Bryce had been helping me go through my clothes (yes, I only unpacked most of my clothes a few weeks ago. Bite me) and we had been trying to pare down some of the excess. He held up a brightly colored, floral, tank top housecoat between two fingers

Him: Sierra, what is this? Can we please get rid of it?
Me: NO! *snatches it out of his hands* that’s my inspiration smock. I wear it when I write.
Him: *sighs* okay, I’ll put it in the keep pile.

Where had we put it! I dug through a few piles and found it! Ah-ha! Now I was ready to write. I donned my smock, grabbed my laptop, and crawled into my (now drained) bathtub to write. I’m not exactly sure why I felt like I could be my most productive sitting fully clothed in an empty tub, but my instincts weren’t wrong. The writing was slow going, I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going with it, but I was writing. At 1:58am I became so tired I was falling asleep as I typed. I actually wrote the following sentence (I found it this morning):

“But if he means to make his business here a production one, well, he’d be a good not to except.”

Um, what? I was done. There was no point in writing anything else. It was nonsense.

I checked my word count: 1,774.

I hadn’t made it. I hadn’t written 2,000 words. I was so disappointed in myself as I crawled into bed and fell asleep. Day one as a writer had not gone to plan.

But you know what? Life goes on. This morning I woke up — Day two of officially being a writer and in much better spirits. I had received more praise, and also more push back, but today the critique felt a little smaller. My resolve felt a little stronger.

Word count goal of the day: 2,226. I’m ready.

Until next time,

Adieu

P.S. in case you’d like to see it, I’ve included a picture of me wearing my inspiration smock. I expect it will become a regular staple of my wardrobe again.

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Radical Life Changes and Other Such Nonsense

Dear Readership,

So I’ve done something extreme and a bit more permanent than dyeing my hair — As of this morning, I have dropped out of grad school and I’ve honestly never felt more liberated.

NC State has an incredible history grad program, wonderful faculty, a fantastic graduate student body, and yet, I have been wholly and entirely miserable for the last three months while enrolled here. At first I thought it was because I was in a new environment and processing it poorly (as I do), but soon enough Raleigh became my home. Then I thought it was because I was overwhelmed by the workload. But I recently learned what I had to do to make the grades I wanted. It was totally manageable and still I was unhappy.

Nothing was wrong, and yet, I hated every minute I invested into a field that had once delighted and invigorated me. Somewhere along my journey all the joy had been drained out of academia for me.

After a very thorough examination of my deepest, most intimate aspirations (both personally and vocationally) and a lot of prayer,  I realized what two things matter to me the most: my desire to have a family, and my writing.  It soon became clear that those two criteria were reshaping my vision for my future.

I very quickly realized this semester that the workload of an MA program is largely incompatible with my relationship with Bryce and with our goals as a couple. From the beginning we wrestled with knowing exactly what our dynamic should look like since he had finished school and I was digging in deeper to the next level of education. I needed to devote every waking moment to school and he just wanted to be able to spend time with me (to be clear, I am in no way blaming Bryce for my decision. He did not pressure me in any way to give up — in fact — he really encouraged me to stick with it and has always tried to facilitate productive study time for me. But as he continues to matter to me more and more, the strain that I felt school putting on our relationship made sticking with the masters matter to me less and less). 

You see, he and I have done a TON of fun things together this semester, especially in the last month (festivals and parties and visiting friends) and it 100% put me behind in every conceivable way. I was getting the regular workload done (sometimes barely), but I wasn’t making any headway on end of the year projects — not to mention thesis research — and it was because my darling fiance/adventure buddy wanted to spend time with me.

One night last week he asked if we could go out with a couple of friends for a drink and before I had the chance to answer, he said, “Never mind, I know you have reading to do and I don’t want you to be stressed. Let’s not go.” He clearly wanted to go, but he also was trying so hard to not be a distraction for me. That’s when it really hit home: I don’t want to spend the next seven years of my life putting him off or making excuses for why we can’t do things together while I’m buried deep in some archive doing research that I will likely eventually give up to raise my kids anyway (and I know that abandoning my career to have a family is not the only choice, but I am beginning to realize that this particular career path is fairly incompatible with the way that I want to raise my children).

Which leads to another reason I have decided to give up school — I want to start a family  someday (not right away, but sooner rather than later). Watching Ben and Savannah anticipate the arrival of sweet little Edmund Charles over the past few months has awakened in me the realization that I don’t want “someday” to be in my mid 30s after I’ve finished a masters, a PhD, and have situated myself in a career at a university (that may require me to move across the country away from my family). Bryce and I certainly aren’t ready for children yet, but I have been becoming less and less sure that I want to spend our pre-kid years slaving towards a career that I may ultimately choose to give up when we do start a family. It occurred to me that maybe it made more sense to close the door on this chapter of my life before I dedicate the entirety of my 20s to it, and to begin pursuing something that aligns better with my vision of the future. I haven’t always wanted to be a professor — that was a goal that arose my junior year of college — but I have always wanted to be a mom. 

Then I started thinking, “Okay, if I drop out, what do I do? What’s next for me?”

It then occurred to me that I have spent every free minute since starting school (and even quite a few minutes that were not technically free) working on my various writing projects. I’ve written FB posts and blog posts, I’ve worked on my novel, my graphic novel, another comic project, the memoir I’m writing for Dusty, heck, I even wrote some fanfiction for a web comic I really like. TO BE CLEAR, I HAVE NEVER WRITTEN FANFIC BEFORE IN MY LIFE but suddenly it was the most important thing to me when I was faced with needing to do research.

As I thought back on it, I became acutely aware of the fact that all of those stolen afternoons when I was working on my own writing projects were the only real pockets of joy I have found in the work that I was doing this semester.

I have always had an interest in history, but what I am passionate about is writing. At some point early on I convinced myself that that writing wasn’t a viable career for me and I gave it up before I ever even started. I think it took a semester of grad school to remind me what I’ve really loved all along.

So I dropped out. I’m going to get a job so I can keep paying my bills and I am going to write like I’ve never written before. For the first time in my life (since becoming literate) I won’t have other homework, tests, or papers vying for my attention. I am going to bury myself in books for inspiration and I am going to write my ever-loving butt off.  I’ll keep you all updated on how it goes.

Grad school has been a revelatory period of transition — it has stretched me, challenged me, overwhelmed me, enlightened me, and clarified for me the things that really matter to me.

I know that the choice that I am making is ridiculous. I am walking out on a competitive program and giving up a fellowship that I won’t be able to get back. Heck, I’m not even finishing out the semester to ensure that I keep the credits for what I’ve already done if I ever decide to go back.

When I told one of my professors this morning that I was leaving, he was shocked.

“Are you struggling in your other classes?” He asked.

I said, “Actually, no. I’m not struggling in any of them. I think I’m making all A’s. But I’m done.”

Because while all of the factors I have listed so far are legitimate reasons for me to consider leaving school, the thing that ultimately made up my mind was encountering direction from God through prayer. He very clearly led me to NC State and now He is very clearly leading me away. As crazy as my decision sounds, even to me, I am ready to be blown in whatever direction life’s wild winds (and the holy spirit) take me.

I don’t regret starting grad school because it was an important season for me. But I also don’t regret walking away. It turns out that what I thought was my end goal was just God’s stepping stone to the next thing He has in store for me. So here’s to taking the next step!

Until next time,

Adieu

 

 

 

 

Chunky and a lil Traumatized

Dear Readership,
It’s been unforgivably long. I know. I have a whole list of unposted blogs that I wrote and then decided I hated. What can you do?
The following (horror) story is meant for my fellow chunky ladies, but even if you find yourself not in that category, feel free to read on…
Today I went up a jean size (translation: today I ACKNOWLEDGED that I went up a jean size. I have deliberately been wearing dresses and leggings since I got back from my five week binge diet of daily wine and bread in Spain this summer because I didn’t want to recognize the truth that I had totally packed on some pounds). But today it was chilly. Today I wanted to wear jeans. Today I chub-rubbed through the inner thigh of the only pants that fit me, so today I faced the music and sized up.
Because let’s be honest, the only thing worse than grabbing the next biggest size up is trying to stuff your flab into a pair of pants that USED to fit, breaking a sweat while your wrestle your fat ass into them, having to hold your breath so you can button them, and then watching the rolls spill over the top while the waist band cuts off blood flow to your lower extremities.
After I had grabbed a few pairs of jeans to try on, I made my way toward the dressing room. By coincidence, I just happened to pass by the shapewear section on the way. I paused to look at the choices and decided to give it a go. Now, I already have a pretty solid variety of spanx at home (the kind that squeezes your legs, the kind that squeezes your abdomen SO severely you feel like a 18th century courtier who is prone to fainting spells and hysteria because she can’t effing breathe, the kind that looks kinda like a wet suit, and of course the kind that’s basically glorified granny panties). For whatever reason though, something about buying a larger jean size made me feel the need to try a new set of shapewear on (as if somehow NEW shapewear could eradicate fat better than what I already have? Idk). The pair I picked up looked pretty intense and it boasted having “anti slip technology.”
I didn’t really think of it at the time, but you’re more clever than me. You know what anti-slip means, right? IT MEANS THE INSIDE IS FULL OF RUBBER.
Now, for those of you who chose to read this despite not personally identifying as a chunky lady, allow me to explain to you really quickly what exactly it’s like to wear shapewear.
Imagine you have a daughter. Your daughter has a lot of Barbies. The Barbies wear a lot of nylon/spandex. One day you’re chilling at home and you come across one of these Barbie outfits and you think to yourself “I could probably fit in that.” So you decide to take your giant, naked, jiggly adult body and CRAM it into literal doll clothes. Imagine how hard that would be. THAT is what it’s like to put on shapewear.
So I go into the changing room and strip down to my undies in front of a full length mirror (ew) and then decided to try the shapewear first to get it over with. Now, again, for those of you who are spanx virgins (that sounds dirtier than it is), allow me to share with you the cardinal rule of shapewear: NEVER, EVER, EVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES PUT IT ON OR REMOVE IT WHILE STANDING IN FRONT OF A MIRROR. You know how a can of biscuits looks when you bust it open? How the white, doughy rolls ooze and spill out of the cracks? Now imagine that times roughly 1,000 — that’s removing shapewear. Now imagine that in slow motion and reverse — that’s putting on shapewear.
All round I give it a 10/10 for shattering the self esteem of literally anyone (and I say this as someone who believes that she is chubby and gorgeous. Being fat doesn’t really rattle my opinion of myself, but putting on shapewear definitely does).
So hear I am, standing in a room full of mirrors, staring at my own pasty, smushy body, and I decided to stuff myself into that tiny, rubber-coated, Barbie-sized spandex wet suit while making eye contact with my own reflection (AKA, I decided today would be a good day to learn to hate myself). Because you know what feels worse than the feeling of insecurity (and let’s face it, getting winded) while wrestling yourself into shapewear?
Um, how about the sensation of every single hair getting methodically plucked out as you try to yank some rubber-lined micro shorts over your flabby unshaved body!
I’m not sure what the fitting room attendant thought I was doing (based on my grunts, screams, and expletives), but I know that when I looked at myself I was staring into the eyes of a slightly unhinged madwoman.
There were literal tears streaming down my face.
When I  was finally done (and I had managed to stop sobbing) let me tell you, I looked gooood and I knew it. But I also knew that I would rather eat glass shards than try to take the contraption back off, much less ever put it on again. Rest assured, it did not find a new home with me this day. After I peeled it off  I was happy to grab my new jean size and get the hell out of the store before I had any more bright ideas.
Is there a lesson in this? I mean, I guess you could make an argument for “love your body the way it is” (which, for the record, I do. Extra chub and all, I am usually pretty happy in my own skin). That’s all well and good, but I think the real lesson is “No matter what you do, no matter where you go, what you think, or who you become, never try to put rubber spanx on over unshaved legs. Ever.”
Nobody deserves that kind of suffering.
Until next time,
Adieu

If This Is Karma, Who Did I Kill?

Dear Readership,

Ya know how some days start bad and get worse and you’re left standing there as your life burns down around you wondering what exactly you did to deserve this?

That was yesterday for me.

I woke up late and rushed to get all dolled up for an award ceremony I had right after class. I had been up later than I meant to be the night before (full disclosure — I was watching The Office so I totally brought the exhaustion on myself) and I was in need of coffee in a bad kind of way. I brewed an extra large pot and filled my biggest to-go mug. Suddenly I realized I was about to miss my bus and ran out the door in a panic — sans coffee.

When I got to campus I remembered my coffee sitting all warm and tasty on my kitchen counter. I was crushed. I needed it to get through the day. I didn’t have a lot of time, but decided it would be worth being a little late to class if I had coffee in hand because I would be more mentally present. I stood in the remarkably long line in The Wired Scholar (the library coffee shop), got my drip, and left for class at a trot. I made the decision to not get a paper sleeve for my cup because I think it is so incredibly wasteful, but (of course) I was being burned through the thin paper as a I walked.

I tried to switch hands. I squeezed the cup weird. The lid popped off and coffee sloshed. I was being burned for real by the scalding hot drink. I dropped the cup.

I only had four minutes to get to class but I spent two of them standing there staring as my wasted three dollars created an ever-widening puddle on the cobblestones and an even larger hole in my heart. My hands were turning bright pink and stung viciously, my ceremony dress had a stain from waist to hem, I was officially late, and I didn’t have any coffee to show for it. I snatched up the empty cup and stormed to my all-time least favorite class in the entirety of my college career. This wasn’t over.

After class I tried to swing back through the coffee shop to get a $1 refill, but the line was too long and I had a tutoring appointment to get to. I signed into the tutoring center right at 11 and waited for my client. 5 minutes went by, “I could have gotten coffee” I thought.

10 minutes went by, “I could have gotten coffee and cleaned my dress.”

13 minutes — the lab manager told me my client had called and said she was on her way (I’m supposed to leave if they’re 15 minutes late without notice. She called just in time to keep me). Surely she would be there any minute.

20 minutes went by — “I could have gone home, changed my dress, and gotten the coffee that I left there.”

27 minutes went by — she showed up. She said she didn’t really have any material to go over. We left.

Cool.

My time had totally been wasted, but bright side, I was finally able to get coffee and clean my dress before heading to Spanish. The professor began the lesson and immediately I had no idea what was going on (not entirely unusual for me when the prof teaches a new concept in a language I barely speak). I zoned out, irritated and over it.

After class, my mom came to pick me up so we could go to the History department honors reception before the College of Arts and Sciences ceremony. Now, the History department is remarkably bad at communication (something I could go on a very long tangent about) and I didn’t know a lot about what was happening at this reception. But the distinct impression I had been given was that it was a kind of mixer in the history department before the actual ceremony.

I’m not a huge fan of small talk, so when my mom and I struggled to find parking and ended up having to walk the full length of King Street and halfway across campus, I wasn’t terribly concerned about being late. When we walked into the room (slightly winded from our walk over) everyone was standing around chatting. Ew.

Suddenly one of my history professors grabbed me by the arm and said, “Oh, you’re here! Good. Did you get lost or something?”

“Sorry, we couldn’t find parking” I said, confused at her urgency.

“CAN I GET EVERYONE’S ATTENTION PLEASE?” She bellowed.

My heart stopped. Another professor stepped forward, “Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen. I know we said the formal portion of this event had ended, but one of our outstanding seniors has just arrived. Please turn your attention this way while Dr. Phipps says a few words to recognize this student.”

Oh-no. Everyone stopped talking and turned to look at me. Me — sneak in the back and talk to no one, Sierra. This was my worst nightmare. My professor did say some sweet things about me (which was lovely because I literally want to be her some day) but I wasn’t feeling honored nearly as much as I was feeling low-key shamed by the general public for my tardiness.

Flustered and a lil embarrassed, we decided to leave shortly after. Later, in the official award ceremony, I was impersonally introduced by a professor who I had never met. All he knew about me was the fact that I had served as a junior marshal the previous year (I hadn’t, btw), the fact that I was recommended for the award because I was “A good scholar and excellent writer,” and my GPA. It was a recognition that was certainly not worth my entire afternoon, but whatever.

Immediately after it was over, my mom and I drove back down the mountain to attend my baby sister’s first ever ballet recital. She’s a beginner so she and her class were in roughly 45 seconds of the whole show, but I was determined to be there for it. Unfortunately, they put a taller girl in front of her and I saw her maybe twice during her little routine.

When all added up, it was a non-stop frustrating day. Funny enough though, it was still good in the end. To spend the day with my mom, regardless of what we were doing, was lovely (No one is better at laughing off embarrassment with me than she is). To have some of my nearest and dearest friends support and cheer my up as I whined about the day’s events reminded me of what an incredible support network I’ve been blessed with these past four years and how deeply I am going to miss them in the fall. And even though I didn’t really get to see Bea dance, I would have driven twice as far to hear her scream my name and give me a running hug when she saw that I had come.

My college career has been full of overwhelming days like yesterday–days where I stand there and wonder what I did to deserve it– but after four years I am really starting to learn to roll with the punches. In the end, that’s a better gift than an award or recognition that says I write papers good. 😉

Until next time,

Adieu

NOTE: Overused word of the day — Coffee. It appears 13 (now 14) times in this post. Sadly, this is a fairly accurate representation of how often I say the word in normal conversation.