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Posts Tagged ‘i don’t belong here’

The Swan Dive

One of the great aspects of my neighborhood is that it is full of little hole-in-the-wall establishments. There are actually two bar/restaurants within one block of my house. But because they’re just little neighborhood hangout spots, I never have any trouble with noise or hooligans or anything like that.

I went to one such neighborhood institution the night after I closed on my house. The owner saw me looking at the menu and told me that I better not be looking for anything healthy, because I wasn’t going to find anything that wasn’t fried! Seriously, they have fried broccoli on the menu.

It’s fun to have so many fun little places to eat (and I suppose they would be even more fun if I actually drank alcohol), but I almost never visit these places because they certainly don’t have a lot of healthy food options, and they don’t fit in too well with my attempts to lead a mostly-vegetarian lifestyle. I still do eat meat sometimes, but increasingly I prefer to do what I can to keep it out of my diet. It’s hard when I go to restaurants, though, because I am such an annoyingly picky eater that often the few vegetarian options restaurants will consist largely of ingredients I don’t enjoy. (For example, I am repulsed by mushrooms and tomatoes.)

So, I was very surprised to learn that in my general neighborhood (not extremely close to me, but close enough) there is one such hole in the wall establishment called The Swan Dive, which serves all-vegetarian food, with many vegan options. I’ve been wanting to try it out for a while now, but I am cheap as hell and almost never go out to eat, so that has prevented me from doing so.

Tonight I went with two of my friends, and I thought it was great. The menu isn’t huge, but it is interesting! They have some typical bar foods that use fake meat products when appropriate (I had a very good Reuben sandwich), but then they also have waffles with a variety of toppings. And the food was good. I got french fries with my sandwich and I am guessing, based on their great texture and taste, that those french fries had been living as a potato up until very, very recently.

When I walked in, I immediately felt like I probably wasn’t cool enough to be there, but that’s a problem I have with a lot of places I theoretically would like to go, like many restaurants, record stores, clothing stores, and book stores. I can’t help but feel like the words, “OUTSIDER. DOES NOT BELONG.” are tattooed on my forehead. However, restaurant service was completely friendly, and did not say anything that indicated that they were on to my secret of being much too uncool to be there.

I don’t go out to eat a lot at all, but with places like The Swan Dive (another example: Nord’s Bakery), it is so nice to know that they exist, that I feel like I should probably suck it up and fork over a little extra money to eat out, just in appreciation that it’s there. I also learned that apparently they offer a bicycle delivery service for the neighborhood, which is so convenient that I might just take advantage of it some day.

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So, speaking of my obsession with musicals:

When people talk about their fantasy careers, the fantasy job I have had since the age of 10 was to be on Broadway.

When I was a silly, naive child, I thought that this might actually something I could pursue–hence the motivation behind going to a performing arts high school.

More recently, the other night, I had a dream that the Duggar family joined up with another wealthy person to support me in my dream of becoming a star on Broadway. They decided that they would pay for me to spend a year in New York, taking lessons and auditioning. The Duggars were apparently very committed to my dreams, because they were willing to give very generously to the cause.

But instead of being excited, my dream self was panicked. How was I to go about telling them that I would never be a successful Broadway star, because I pretty much sucked at what I wanted to do?

In high school and middle school, I was never cast in a role beyond the chorus. Any small amount of talent I may possess, I was too shy to ever actually demonstrate it.

Toward the end of high school, I came to the apparently far-from-obvious realization that if I was afraid to sing in front of people by myself, it’s possible I should not pursue a career in the performing arts.

During college, when my self-esteem quotient started to go up a little, I started finding other ways to satisfy my need to perform. I was able to coerce my friends a few times into participating in the lip sync competition. We killed the competition when we performed to Cell Block Tango from Chicago, and, though our performance of Shiver My Timbers from Muppet Treasure Island was a little more awkward, you know, given that we were dancing inappropriately to a song sung by Muppets, it was still halfway decent, as far as college lip sync competitions go. I mean, there was certainly no one else in the competition who was doing the splits.

Now, I have dance class, which allows me to get on stage twice a year and perform.

Sometimes I feel a little ridiculous about the fact that I’m going to be turning 27 in a few months, but I’m in a dance class with girls as young as 14. Sometimes I feel a little ridiculous when I think about the fact that I’m almost the age my mom was when she gave birth to me, but I am spending my free time squeezing into sequined costumes in order to do jazz hands on stage.

But all things considered, I feel like this is working out a whole lot better than my career on Broadway ever would have.

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I won’t grow up

My earliest memory of what I wanted to be when I grew up was that I wanted to be a lady-person. A lady-person is someone who is an adult and who wears wide-brimmed hats and long dresses and pearls.

From that, I moved on to career aspirations with slightly more responsibility. I decided I would make a fantastic US president, because I would make laws such as: “No hitting. No kicking. No being mean.” And no one would be able to tell me no, because I would be the president. All the world’s problems = solved!

In elementary school, I wanted to be an “author,” a teacher, and a marine biologist (thank you, Lisa Frank).

In middle school, I decided that I wanted to be on Broadway. I auditioned for the Youth Performing Arts School, and went on to go there for high school. There, my natural shyness combined with typical painful high school insecurity and general personal grossness to form a perfect storm of awkward social isolation. I decided that perhaps life in the performing arts was not for me.

Lacking the confidence to audition for basically anything, I decided with the incredibly enthusiastic encouragement of my mom that I would pursue engineering in college. I applied, was accepted, and got a scholarship to the Speed School. The summer before I was supposed to start, I decided that what I really wanted to do was study history.

So, I changed colleges and studied history. I decided that I wanted to get a Ph.D. in history and join the world of academia. But I didn’t like the instability of academia, and the increasing reliance on incredibly low-paid adjunct professors. I thought maybe being a high school history teacher would be the next best thing.

I spent a year, and a hell of a lot of money that I’ll be paying off until I’m 50, getting Masters in Teaching, specializing in secondary social studies. After graduating, I half-heartedly looked for a teaching job until I finally realized that my experience student teaching was the most miserable I’d ever been, and that was not how I wanted to spend my life.

Desperately in need of a real job, I landed in my current position through a personal connection. I’m grateful to be employed, but I’ve been in this job for two and a half years now, and I grow ever more aware that this is not my dream job come true.

Maybe I want to be a writer? Or pursue a career in communications? Both? A journalist? Also, for years, I’ve had a weird desire to become a mailman. Except that I’m not sure I would actually like it if I were doing it.

Various people who know me have suggested that I become a chef, an accountant, a doctor, a lawyer, and a stand-up comedian (a suggestion I find more hilarious than I would ever be). And then there’s always that suggestion that I could go back and try teaching again.

I envy those who have their dream jobs, or at least have a picture of what their dream job might look like. For me that picture has changed so often it’s hard to imagine I could ever find a career that I could stick with long enough to love.

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My brief time at Wellesley College was literally the happiest extended period of time in my life. It’s easy to attribute such joy to the rosy glow of hindsight, but this isn’t something I only recognize while looking back – I knew at the time that despite the stress of high academic standards – I was profoundly happy. It’s one reason why I took pictures so obsessively while I was in college. I knew how much I would always want to remember even the smallest and goofiest things I did with my friends. Like making peep pie or the lengths my friends went to to get me to stay away from the vending machine.

More than a few times at Wellesley, I would be sitting in a friend’s dorm room, doing nothing more consequential than watching an episode of “Scrubs” and pretending to study, and I would think to myself, “This moment is perfect. I am exactly where I am supposed to be.”

In many ways, Wellesley is an imperfect institution, but in almost every way, it was the perfect place for me. After a lifetime of feeling awkward and out of place, I absolutely belonged at Wellesley. At 5:30pm, waiting in line for dinner at Beebe dining hall, I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Walking with friends to the student center in the cool night air, in search of brownies and bags of chips, I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Walking back from the library with a backpack stuffed full of inter-library loan books for my history paper, I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

I wouldn’t say I’m unhappy now, but I’m not nearly as happy as I was then, and one of my greatest fears is that that was the happiest in my life that I’ll ever be. Though I love Louisville, and though I loving living here, there is nothing in my life that gives me the same sense of belonging as that place.

Two and a half years after moving back from Boston, my memories of Wellesley are growing increasingly fuzzy. My experiences there feel increasingly distant. It’s starting to feel like maybe Wellesley was never even something I had in my life at all, but maybe just a really great TV show I watched. Instead of feeling sad because I’ve left Wellesley, I feel disconnected from the idea that I was ever there and ever that happy.

I talked to a friend from Wellesley tonight, though, for over an hour. Though I still consider her a close friend, I hadn’t talked to her in a while. Talking to her made Wellesley a little more real again, which has made me a little more sad again, too. I can remember building a fort in my residence hall’s living room, and recognize that I own that memory, it is mine, and the lump in my throat is back.

Every year at Baccalaureate, my choir at Wellesley sang a song called “The Road Home.” Every year, the song made me cry, because of the line, “There is no such beauty as where you belong.” I knew then, and I know now, how true that is.

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Before today, I had lived out my twenty-five-and-a-half years as a middle-class American female without ever having had a manicure. I am not an especially girly girl. In my teen years, I was too awkward and shy to be brave enough to try getting the hang of all that stuff, and then I up and went to a women’s college where most days I was lucky if I wore a bra under my t-shirt and hoodie.

These days I am slightly less awkward and a slightly more frequent wearer of undergarments. Now, the main reason I don’t do things like have my eyebrows waxed or get manicures or pedicures is that I am a neurotic miser who obsessively saves money (1) so I can buy a house one day, (2) so I can travel, (3) so I can buy books, and (4) because it just feels so damn good.

I do have fantastic fingernails, though. They’re strong. They grow fast. They in no way look diseased. And since my mom’s wedding is tomorrow, she decided it would be fun and highly appropriate for the two of us to get manicures.

I walked into the spa today knowing that everyone could see the blinking neon sign hanging over my head that read, “SHE DOESN’T BELONG HERE.” And I didn’t. I didn’t know where to go or what I was supposed to do. I somehow missed the little waiting room, and instead sat down to wait in one of the chairs at the drying station. Once I sat down to have my manicure done, I had to stare at the cushion-y thing on the table in front of me for a long moment before realizing that I was supposed to rest my wrists on it.

I nervously told my manicurist that I had never had this done before! I’m totally new to this! I hoped she would take my hint that I had no idea how this worked, and she would maybe give me a sort of play-by-play as the manicure progressed. Like, “Now I’ll be taking your hands and putting random goop on them! This random goop serves the following purpose: _____________. Next, I will scrape your nails with this random tool, which will help this process along by ______________.”

She did no such thing. She was not particularly talkative, and she mostly just grabbed at my fingers and hands and had her way with them. At the most startling point, she reached for my arm and started rubbing lotion all over my hand and arm! I had no idea she was going to be all touchy up on my arm like that! And then she started rubbing my hand! Like some sort of hand massage! How was my hand not warned that it was about to be treated in that way?

My nails actually came out looking very nice, though, and she did tell me that I had perfect nails for a French manicure. It was a vindicating moment for me, as most of my serious attempts at femininity have failed, and sometimes resulted in embarrassing consequences. (Like my senior year of high school when I thought my overalls were really super adorable on me, and I decided to wear them to a meeting of prospective female engineering students at a local university’s engineering school. And oops, why was I dressed like that when everyone else was in sweaters and slacks? And oops, how did I accidentally wind up with the overalls that had a large patch in the ass area?)

While my nails were drying, the fact that my manicurist had hardly said two words to me was more than made up by the talkative woman next to me, who let me know she was a psychotherapist. She told me about her bipolar father, and asked me all about where I went to school, and what was the cold like in Boston, and oh I worked in a library? How was that? And As she was leaving, she gave one last look at my manicured nails and said, “They’re beautiful! Oh, I can just see an engagement ring on that finger!”

I gave her a sidelong glance and said, “Uhhh… you know, thank you! But I don’t see that happening any time soon!”

“You never know,” she responded. “Anything can happen, at any time! You just never know! Now that I’ve put that out there into the universe, anything could happen!”

She left and I continued to sit awkwardly with my hands under the dryer. It seemed like my fingernails were probably mostly dry. Was I supposed to wait for my manicurist to come back and tell me it was okay to get up, like when I go to get my hair highlighted and my hairdresser comes to check on me when I’m sitting under the heater? The psycho (psychic?) therapist just got up and left. Was I supposed to just get up and leave, whenever I was ready? My manicurist was already starting on the next client. I didn’t want to sit there awkwardly under in the chair having my fingernails dried forever.

So, I waited until my manicurist had her back turned, and I sneaked out of the room.

After the manicure, my mom and I went shopping my mom bought me make-up. I use make-up so infrequently that the only make-up I had was, uh, about five years old. Some of it was from when I was in the musical Kismet my senior year of high school. Which was closer to eight years ago.

I stood mesmerized by my bizarrely shiny nails while my mom picked out make-up she thought would work for me. She would turn to me to ask my opinion on something, and I’d look up from my nails for long enough to say, “I have genuinely no idea about anything make-up related. I trust your judgment.”

Living up to a standard of American female beauty is not something at which I think I will ever necessarily excel, and not something at which I necessarily want to excel. And somehow, despite it having been put out into the universe by the kind psychictherapist, I think that engagement ring is going to be a while longer. Which, honestly, is perfectly fine with me. Besides the fact that I’d first have to meet someone from whom I would want an engagement ring and who would not mind the fact that I am not always very successful at being a girl, I would then have to figure out a way to get the ring on my finger without chipping my shiny, glossy nails.

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