The Emerald Isle, Pt. 3

After inadequate sleep, an awkward breakfast (the Gremlins and their parents joined my table), and a few helpful tips from a lovely Australian couple, I departed for County Clare.  There was a distinct difference in driving conditions in County Clare, and “two-lane roads” became a mere 7-8 feet wide, and were often flanked by seemingly harmless bushes.  I came to discover through second-hand experience that those bushes are really just unkempt decoration for the SOLID STONE WALLS that line the country roads.  Suddenly the zip ties on Seamus’ passenger-side hubcaps made more sense.

I did my best to stay on my side of the road, not that there seemed to be “sides,” really, and eventually came across a small sign that read, “Burren Perfumery.”  It sounded interesting, and considering my nerves and the numbness of my ass from sitting for a few hours already, I made a snap decision and followed the arrow.  It turned out that the roads in County Clare could get even smaller, who knew?  Toss in some blind corners and hairpin turns, and you’ve got one hell of a ride.  I spent at least 20 minutes following sign after sign, hunting through the Burren for some dinky perfumery, just waiting for the moment in which some Irish farmer would come tearing around a corner at 80km/hour and headbutt me into Heaven.  Half lost, I constantly wondered, “what do you do if you meet another car on the road?”  Part of me was optimistic enough to believe that I might get through the Burren and back to the highway without having to answer that question, but it was wrong.  The moment of truth came when I whipped around a half-circle turn and slammed on my brakes as a car appeared out of thin air.  My tires ground into the gravel and my adrenal glands prepared me for impact, but I opened my eyes and saw that the other car had seen me and stopped.  There was a moment where I thought, “oh god, what if this is just the longest one-way road ever, and I’m the asshole American who missed a sign.”  But in true Irish fashion, the other driver was very kind, and he gave an emphatic “go ahead” gesture.  He then proceeded to stuff 1/4 of his car into the bushes, which scratched and squealed against the metal and windows.  Not wanting to seem rude (or stupid), I slammed the car into gear and smashed Seamus into the bushes on the opposite side of the road, barely slipping past as my Farmer Friend waved goodbye with a huge smile.

He disappeared in my rearview mirror, and I was left to ponder what the hell had just happened.  The more I thought about it, the more the answers became clear to me: What happens when there are two cars passing on a teensy road?  You drive through the damn bushes, duh.  But what if there’s a stone wall underneath the bushes?  Zip ties, duh.  In that moment, I realized how much of an uptight American I was being, and proceeded through the Burren with a newfound love of Irish simplicity.

I found the perfumery, watched a video about flowers that I would not see in bloom, poked at some old-looking bottles, and toured a garden the size of my living room at home.  Huzzah, perfumery.  The woman who owns the Burren Perfumery was wonderful and very informative, but it was clear that I was not a member of the usual demographic she served.  I encountered a few more cars on my way back to the main highway, and had perhaps a little too much fun driving through the bushes (sorry, Seamus).  It really is liberating, you should try it.

burrenperf2

The Burren Perfumery

The Burren Perfumery

Seamus really took a beating that day.  Not only was he whipped with branches on several occasions, but he was forced to chug up mountain switchbacks for a better part of the day.  I drove a significant part of the way to the Cliffs of Moher in 1st gear, solely because that was the only gear that kept us moving forward and up.  There’s a great little restaurant at the Cliffs of Moher, with stunning views and really decent food, and also a few little crap-trap tourist shops of no consequence.  But the Cliffs themselves are stunning, and 100% worth the arduous drive.  I’m not going to bother posting my pictures of the Cliffs of Moher because they’re completely worthless.  Every picture I’ve ever seen, including mine, make them look like they’re a part of a Polly Pocket scene compared to their actual scale.  “Majestic” is a word I heard often from people who had seen them before me, and that’s precisely what they are.  I have included below, however, a picture of O’Brien’s Tower, shot from on top of the Cliffs themselves.  There’s also a picture of another buddy of mine who thought my coat was delectable.

mohercow

County Clare

County Clare

I left the Cliffs of Moher and took the car ferry from Killimer to Tarbert, and continued on until I reached my next destination, Killarney.  Upon arriving, I checked into the Muckross Farm B&B, a working farm with a wonderful family who were excellent hosts.  I was shown to my room and then told that I was welcome to go see the horses in the barn.  Horses?!  Hell yeah!  Turns out there were not only horses, but also bunnies, goats, sheep, chickens, and THESE GUYS:

puppies puppies2

After satiating my intense need for puppy snuggles, I set off in search of dinner and landed at Molly Darcy’s restaurant/pub.  Having consumed half of the most amazing meat pie I’ve ever had, I became aware that there was apparently a very important sports event occurring, and many of the patrons in the bar were engrossed.  There was a group of gentlemen to my left, who were kind enough to say hello and briefly explain the Irish national sport of hurling to me.  I also learned from them that I should root for County Clare to win the game, solely because County Cork people suck.  Having dated a Cork man in the past, I was inclined to agree with them, and we had a great time watching County Clare become champions.  Once the game ended, the gents informed me that they were actually at the hotel next door for a wedding, and would need to return now that the game was over.  They also invited me to join them, so I did.  I was introduced to many people as, “Kaylynn, the American,” and promptly had a Guinness shoved into my hand.  I had a fantastic time meeting the guests of the wedding, including the lovely girlfriends of my newfound pub friends, and left the event in the wee hours of the morning feeling very privileged to have been included in the celebration.  I also learned that the traditional wedding cake for the Irish is fruit cake, which, as an American, I thought was highly entertaining.

Stay tuned for Part 4, in which I’m nearly run off the road by sheep, and have an unsettling encounter with someone’s baby in a pub.

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The Emerald Isle, Pt. 2

Right, so…Northern Ireland.

Crossing the border into Northern Ireland, I was regrettably and immediately underwhelmed by Belfast.  I get the feeling Belfast is one of those cities that one must live in for a year or so to understand its true potential.  As for me, it seems I agree with Oscar Wilde, who is said to have held the opinion that Belfast contains only one aesthetically pleasing building (which is now apparently a Marks and Spencer).  It’s a moderately confusing city, with awkward signage and nuances to the roadways that guarantee a few extra circles for any newcomer, but I eventually found my way to the main reason for my visit.

The world’s largest dry-dock, where the Titanic was constructed, is tucked away on a lonely little edge of the marina.  It took me a few minutes to find it behind the museums and corporations of the area, and when I did I was surprised to be the only visitor.  The Titanic Pumphouse houses a simple restaurant, ticket desk and souvenir shop, and offers tours, as well as a Choose Your Own Adventure option, which is what I opted for.  There’s a lot more historical information to be had via the tour, but since I was the only one there…you know, that’s just awkward.

The Thompson Graving Dock is one of the more fascinating and confusing places I’ve experienced.  The placards and informational signs around the dock are well-done and, I’m sure, accurate.  But it’s difficult to force your inadequate human brain to comprehend the facts presented.  It’s as though your mind tries to force everything to be smaller, less significant.  Pictures of the Titanic can’t possibly begin to allow your mind the evidence it needs to grasp the reality.  The fusing of facts and imagination really only begin to reveal the past while you’re standing there at the origin of it all.

For example, this is a keel block, which supported the actual weight of the Titanic.  It’s a little difficult to remember now, but I recall it being a bit taller than I was at 5’1″.

keelblock

Looks heavy, right?  I thought so too, but I would never have guessed that it weighs as much as three compact cars.  THREE.  But here’s where the perspective gets weird: in the next picture, you’ll see some of the length of the dock itself, and the line of things running down the center of it are all keel blocks.

thompsondock

I’m loath to post more pictures of this place because I’d rather you go there yourself and experience it.  It’s a fascinating mental exercise, as well as one of the most badass history lessons you’ll get anywhere.  I had lunch in the Pumphouse restaurant,  which was far better than I was expecting, and took advantage of their WiFi to call my Mom.  I love getting to say stuff like: “Hey Mom, I’m eating chicken soup where the Titanic was built.”

I left Belfast that afternoon and headed NW towards Bushmills (yes, like the whiskey) and made my way to Giant’s Causeway.  Giant’s Causeway is a natural phenomenon that has caused “fields” of hexagonal stone columns to rise up from some past volcanic event.  I got lucky with a warmer afternoon, although not so lucky with the horde of school children who joined me at the Causeway.  There are multiple walking paths of varying degrees of difficulty, and in addition to the wonder of the structures, the folklore stories of Finn McCool really make Giant’s Causeway an excellent tourist stop.

causeway   gc

I stayed the night in Bushmills at the Valley View B&B, and Valerie and her family were absolutely lovely.  If you ever travel Ireland, I highly recommend staying in B&B’s.  It’s definitely a hit-or-miss experience, but it’s worth it for the chance to meet so many wonderful people.  I felt welcomed and cared for even though I was only staying one night, and had a wonderful chat with my hostess over tea and shortbread.  The next morning I departed after a perfect Irish breakfast cooked by Valerie herself, and was sad to leave that little nook in the country.

IMG_2361 vvbird

Before I departed from Northern Ireland, I had to make one last stop at the single location that had spurred me to visit Éire in the first place: The Dark Hedges.

There is a small stretch of relatively unknown road in Northern Ireland, near Ballymoney, where there are some beech trees.  These trees were planted in the 18th century and have grown to create a twisted, fantastical gateway to…well, a golf club.  But it is a place that encourages the imagination to not only run wild, but to run amok, kick open hidden doors of consciousness, and perhaps briefly believe that there’s such a thing as magic.  It’s said to be haunted by the Grey Lady, a ghost with many possible stories regarding how she got there.  She reportedly slithers between the trees, but has never been seen off the paved dirt of Bregagh Road.  The Dark Hedges is also said to be a place of literary inspiration for several famous authors and poets.  It is a wondrous place, so full of intrigue I can hardly stand it – it is, so far, my favorite place in the entire world.

darkhedges

I got there early on a perfectly sunny, crisp day and was able to revel in its graceful oddity for about a half hour before several other sight-seers appeared.  Its mystery was shattered once it crossed over from “thin place” to “tourist kerfuffle.”  You can experience my angst and woe in the video below.  I apologize for the extremely poor quality which doesn’t really allow for a proper view of what I was trying to describe.

And so ended the most magical hour of my life, and I proceeded to poke my way through the Irish countryside in search of a highway.  Upon finding one, Seamus and I began our longest-ever stretch to County Galway, a mere 6 hours away!  County Antrim to Derry to Donegal to Sligo to Mayo to Galway, and the whole day was sunny and bright.  I stopped for gas and picked up a Twix bar after a friend recommended that I try one.  The moment I took my first bite, I swore to never taste a Twix bar again unless it was from Europe.  I don’t know why (although I suspect a lack of preservative chemicals), but it’s fresher – the cookie was softer, the chocolate was sweeter, and damnit if the caramel wasn’t smoother.  Twix bars, who knew?

I meandered my way through the Irish countryside and was surprised that I never once tired of the rolling hills or the color green.  It really is a breathtaking country on all sides.  I snapped this photo with my iPhone while zooming down the road:

ireland

No filter!

Despite the challenging driving conditions and the unfamiliar roads, it really was one of the most relaxing road trips I’ve ever taken.  I was completely content for 5 hours in the car.  No radio, no cell phone – just the road, the highway signs, and the glorious scenery.  I sang to myself for probably an hour, stopped to pet some cows, stuffed my face full of Jaffa Cakes, and generally did whatever I damn well pleased for the entire day.  It was lovely.  But then I arrived in Galway. *music transitions to minor key*

Every story has to have a conflict, right?  Some low point, or valley of despair?  Sorry, Galway, but you were it.  It began with the traffic:

I finally reached my B&B in Spiddal, and it appeared as though no one was there.  I rang the door bell, knocked, walked around to the back of the house, looked in the window for a “closed” sign, but there seemed to be no sign of life anywhere.  After about 20 minutes, I decided I would go try to find dinner and come back later…only to have someone swing open the door and ask, “well, why didn’t you ring the bell?!”  I reminded myself that it takes all sorts to make the world turn, and introduced myself.  The hostess was very kind and showed me to my room, and gave me these instructions to get to town:

“You’ll go out, just out, right here, and 1 kilometer down the road, to the right,  find the sign with the squiggles on it, and then go right, and the road looks like a road, but it’s not really a road, and then there’s the water.  Oh, and the water is lovely right now, didja plan to come this late in the season? It’s a good time, a good time.  But right, so you go down to the water, and there’s a thing like a road, but not a road.  Not the one you were just on, but another sort-of-road, and you’ll go by the beach, and there’s some bridges, and then you can eat!  Got it?  I can draw you a map if you need it, but you seem smart enough, and it’s just down the road, there, to the right, to the sign with the squiggles…”

I lied and said I definitely had gotten it, and started off by turning right out the the drive way.  I eventually found the squiggles:

tra

I eventually found the beach, too, and took my time strolling towards town:

After an incredible dinner of seafood chowder and Guinness, I decided to take the route through town to get back to the B&B, where I met my new bestest buddy:

friend

Upon arriving back at the B&B, I fell ungracefully into the Most Uncomfortable Bed Ever, and fell asleep…for about 30 minutes.  I awoke to the sound of children screaming.  I thought the building was on fire or someone was being murdered, surely.  I got up and ran to the door, and just as my hand wrapped around the door knob, I heard counting.  Counting?  Who the $*#% is counting?!

“I found you!”

“You’re not the one finding, you’re the hiding one.  Let me finish!”

And so, at 10:30pm, the little English brats in the hallway began their game.  They continued to scream at each other from opposite corners and floors of the house, sprint down the hallways, fight, cry, etc. for the next 3 hours.

“Where are you?!”

“I’m upstairs!”

“WHERE?!”

“UP THE STAIRS!”

Someone was about to take an unexpected and painful trip DOWN the apples and pears when their father finally stepped up to handle the situation, which he did in the most British way possible.

“Ok, guys, time for beddies.”

Another hour of them crying and calling for him and wanting water and “I DON’T WANT TO SLEEP YET,” and finally he either took a brick to them or they fell asleep.  4 hours later, I woke up for breakfast and departed.

Stay tuned for Part 3, in which I almost die, and then later crash a wedding.

The Emerald Isle, Pt. 1

Ok ok, I know.  I was in Ireland in September, and it’s now March, and “where’s the blog about your trip?!”  Here it is, so you gibbons can quit your whooping.  I took some (poor quality) videos on my phone throughout my trip, mostly as proof to my Mother that I was still alive and the messages I sent her weren’t actually from my captors/murderers/pimps.  I hope you enjoy  my falderal.

Ireland was everything I expected it to be and more.  It’s a fascinating place, largely because it’s one where individual perceptions rarely vary too far.  With most locations in the world, everyone is eager to give their opinions and stories, perceptions and favorites; but all of those experiences differ between people.  When I went to France, many told me that going up into the Eiffel Tower wasn’t worth the wait or the money, and that the real splendor was seeing it from the ground all around the city.  I decided against their judgement and clamored up the metal staircase behind a group of 20 raucous French 3rd-graders and didn’t regret a moment of it.  If you were to ask me if the diving is good in Belize, I would advise against it: a few rays, a few fish, a few rocks, but nothing you haven’t seen before.  However, I met a couple on the dive boat who said they travel to Belize to dive every year because it’s their favorite location.  In Ireland, however, everyone seems to have remarkably similar experiences.  I’ve heard tales of people who were rained on for a solid two weeks in the middle of summer and still had the time of their lives.  I met a couple in a B&B who said it was their 22nd trip back to the Emerald Isle, and they had never once been disappointed.  While I’m sure there are people who have had less than stellar experiences in Ireland, I can’t seem to find them.  Perhaps it’s just the novelty of being away from regular life or the thrill of a new place, but I was able to think more clearly, breathe more freely, and really absorb my experience, rather than just traveling from landmark to landmark and checking them off the list.

My adventures in Ireland began when I touched down in Dublin and couldn’t see a damn thing.  Fog.  There was so much fog it felt as though it was raining.  I hopped in a shuttle van to the rental car lot with 6 other strange travelers, most of them American.  Within 2 minutes of our 12 minute ride, the driver had somehow conducted introductions of everyone in the car, given a few basic tips on driving on the left-hand side of the road, explained the difference between black and white pudding, passed out maps of Dublin, and was deeply into a hilarious Q&A with the backseat when we arrived.  There was a collective, “aw,” but we all exited the van and said our goodbyes and well-wishes to each other.  If you allow it to, Ireland will turn you into a nicer person than you were before.

My brain kicked into problem-solving mode as I hunted out my rental car in the lot.  I have driven a manual transmission car for years, but never with my left hand on the gear shift and never on the other side of the road.  My travel method can be generally described as: buy a language book, be aware of major threats, figure out the rest when you get there.  I located my tiny red Fiat, with its wimpy engine and many zip ties that fastened the passenger’s side hub cabs to the wheels.  Wimpy as it was, I developed an anthropomorphic fondness for it, and I named it Seamus.


So I survived the rental car parking lot and successfully navigated the Irish highway system into Dublin proper.  The driving itself is not at all scary or difficult.  The new spacial awareness, however, is downright terrifying.  Coming from the US, I was unaccustomed to allowing my car to come so close to other cars, walls, cliffs, etc., and there were many times I was shocked not to hear the screeching of metal against a pole or other obstacle.  I could have sworn I just hit that pole, but nope – I had just never experienced maneuvering a vehicle with only a 2-inch margin of error.  I was forced to find my courage in a parking garage.

And yes, I was instinctively reaching for the gear shift with my right hand.  It was my first day, alright?!  I finally checked in at the Croke Park Hotel*, and took a 45 minute nap, and then a shower to try and shake off the jetlag.  I spent the rest of the day walking through Dublin.  I somehow joined a small group of retirees and explored with them for a short while.  By explored, I mean we compared maps and tried to orient ourselves for a solid 20 minutes.  They were lovely, good-natured people and together we found our way into the heart of Dublin.  I branched off and headed straight for the one thing I was determined to see in Dublin: Trinity College Library.  Oh, friends.  I can’t express how glorious and reverent this place is.  If you’re a book lover or history/anthropology buff, I highly recommend it.  To get to the library, you’ll pass through the The Book of Kells exhibit, which is well-done and very informative, although be prepared to spend quite a bit of time there.  It’s very possible to flit through to the library, but the historical and culturally significant information there is worth taking the time.  Below are a few images I took while in the library when I wasn’t standing still, slack-jawed and drooling.

trinity trinitystairs

I spent the rest of the day wandering Dublin, eating fish and chips, and generally being a tourist.  Dublin is a very interesting city, and I enjoyed my time there, although it was no highlight of the trip.  Out of the European cities I’ve been too, Dublin is the dirtiest, hands down.  The smell of urine meanders boldly down most streets, and the buildings and walls are covered with a special kind of seemingly permanent grime.  While listening to the radio in my car the next day, there was an entire segment of listeners calling in to discuss the issue of public urination in Dublin, and many contributors were of the opinion that it’s just a fact of life.  So while Dublin is teeming with culture and history and good times to be had by all…wash your hands.

I left Dublin the next morning and headed to Belfast with little-to-no idea of where I was going except “north.”  Throughout the entire trip, I was very surprised at how easy it is to navigate the roundabout-laden highway systems in Ireland.  I found myself many times without a map or a functioning GPS, and still never got lost once.   If you have to, you can get around Ireland just fine with a brain, a functioning pair of eyes, and a few tidbits of local advice.

Adventures in Belfast and the remainder of my time in Northern Ireland will be continued soon.

*Hotel and B&B reviews will be written soon. Eventually. I’ll get to it, I swear.

Earwigs and You: Personal Discovery through Metaphorical Dermaptera

Earwigs.  Pinchies.  Forficula auricularia.  Grey Matter Manglers.  We all hate them, right?  Those nasty, skittery insects with mammoth butt-pincers who seem intent on chasing you, and burrowing through to their new home in your corpus callosum by way of your ear canal.  They are nasty, terrifying, and will now likely haunt your peripheral vision for a few days.

OMG, what’s that on your neck?!  Just kidding.

What if I told you that you might be keeping these guys as pets?  Not only that, but you may be dropping them into your ear yourself.  Ok, so not literally, but you may be metaphorically allowing your head-pudding to be violated by subconscious earwig-like mental items.  Not only will you freak people out and eventually lose all your friends, but your mind will become more and more infested with pinchy mofo’s who control your actions and your words.  What in Hell’s blazes am I talking about, you ask?  I’m talking about “just.”

Such a seemingly simple word, but along with his older brother, “only,” they are capable of destroying your relationships and your self-esteem.  When used in a certain context, “just” and “only” create a castle, indomitable and fierce, from which you will launch volleys of flaming arrows at the people around you, and where you will sit comfortably “safe” on your Throne of Passive Aggression, with the glittering Crown of Self-Victimization digging deep grooves into your forehead.

“I was just trying to help.”

“I’m only trying to be honest.”

These words are far more complex than most realize, and are simultaneously offensive and defensive, which puts your conversation partner in an uncomfortable position.  These words automatically assume and suggest that you are under attack, and that you must defend your position.  They also wrongfully assume and suggest that whoever is speaking to you is the attacker, and is therefore the, “bad guy.”   So both you and your conversation partner are forced into a position of trying to protect yourselves from insult and hurt (you by assuming the other person intends to hurt you, and he by trying to defend against the intangible label of, “assailant”), and making sure that your point is understood…without hurting the other person…while still communicating effectively…but not insultingly…

How does this destroy relationships?  In reality, you (the Earwig Charmer) have positioned yourself to be mostly in control of the situation in a couple of ways:

1. You have attempted, and likely succeeded at making the other person feel guilty.  For what, exactly?  Nothing.  You have made that person feel guilty for disagreeing, or giving you constructive criticism, or having an idea that differs from yours.  By manipulating their emotions, you have created an environment in which you have restricted the actions and words they are comfortable using.  Example:

Boss: “Hey, Team Member.  I see you stacked the boxes of things over to the NNW.  I think they would be more out of the way if we stacked them farther to the SSE.”

Team Member: “Oh, well I was just trying to unpack them as quickly as possible.”

You see, rather than just accepting direction from The Boss, our Team Member friend has already taken offense to the alternate suggestion, and assumes that The Boss is belittling him for his choice of location for the boxes of things.  It’s oh-so-freaking-subtle, but that’s what makes this mindset so dangerous; people who make impersonal requests or comments manifest as nightmare marionettes within the passive-aggressor’s mind.  Over time, if you use this tactic with the same person many times, they will eventually become frightened to speak to you, because every time they do they will feel horrible and wrongfully accused and under attack, and there’s nothing they can do to defend themselves.

2. Why can’t they defend themselves?  Because you’ve already made yourself the victim.  It sounds a little bass-ackwards, but self-victimization is a defense mechanism.  Someone can’t hurt you if you’re already hurt.  They can’t power-play over you because you’re already the victim.  By degrading yourself and lowering your own self-esteem (putting imaginary earwigs in your own ear), you have tried to avoid more emotional damage by emotionally damaging yourself first.  You have made yourself seem weak in an effort to control how much someone is capable of hurting you.  The most difficult part about this entire situation is that we develop these passive aggressive defense mechanisms because we have been hurt before – so we hurt other people in order to avoid being hurt.  By other people.

3.  Although the underlying fodder is still emotional defense, “just” and “only” can also be used in a more malicious method.  It can be used to degrade and invalidate another’s opinion or feeling with swift and crushing force.

Person: “I feel very angry that you got hammered at my birthday party and threw up on my bed.”

Other Person: “I was just trying to have fun.”

This power-grab insinuates that Person’s feelings of anger are less important than Other Person’s desire for and goal of having fun.  It’s a sneaky, hurtful way to avoid responsibility for one’s actions, and will likely cause Person’s self-esteem to take a nose dive.  Because language is so volatile and creative, Other Person could even change his response to displace even stronger blame, perhaps with something like, “I was just trying to celebrate with you.”  This implies that not only is Other Person innocent, but Person is an ungrateful hack who does not appreciate the effort put into an event that was all for him.  This is obviously an extreme example, and it should be mentioned that the most hurtful method of employing this evasive tactic comes in small, gradual doses over a long period of time.  Almost imperceptible to most people, insinuation is the ninja of defense mechanisms.  It slithers in through the attic of your soul and quietly peppers your confidence and self-worth with shuriken.  The consistent invalidation of someone’s feelings, particularly in extremely small doses that are difficult to detect, can wreck souls.

Passive aggressive behavior is meant to punish and hurt the other people who may have hurt you in the past, or who may hurt you in the future (read: EVERYONE).  That is its purpose and function, and yes, that is what you are doing.  You are hurting people.  They may be authority figures, they may be your parents, they may be people that you love and adore, or they may be total strangers, but by “just trying to protect yourself,” you are causing similar emotional damage to what someone once caused you.

I most often see instances of “just” and “only” in situations where no one is making jabs at anyone.  They are innocuous circumstances that quickly become hostile via one party’s insecurity and inability to deal with pre-existing emotional baggage.  Whether or not you have actually been insulted does not matter, there is never an excuse or an appropriate time for passive aggressive behavior.  If you feel hurt, betrayed, disrespected, condescended, made fun of, wrongfully criticized, whatever, it is your responsibility to acknowledge those feelings and deal with them in a respectful, clear manner.

Now that I have a nosebleed from trying to explain this very important topic, here’s the bottom line: Getting hurt or offended sucks.  But hurting yourself because you’re afraid of other people hurting and offending you, which hurts and offends other people is just as creepy and disgusting as earwigs.

Coffeehouse People – Sarah

She sits in the corner chair, with her ankles crossed and her hands carefully folded in her lap.  She wants to drink the cup of tea in front of her, but she doesn’t remember how long it’s been brewing, and she’ll just drip the teabag everywhere.  Her scarf perfectly matches the shoes that she’s been staring at for the past 10 minutes.  The others at the table have gathered to talk about her, and she chides herself for bothering them.

“How about that, Mom?  Do you remember that?”  She’s heard the question 12 times so far; she knows because she counted.  And no, she doesn’t remember.  She knows she doesn’t listen well.  She can hear just fine, but she doesn’t listen.  Perhaps she would remember more if she had listened better throughout her life.  But it’s too late now, and the burden is theirs.

A gentle woman in purple scrubs joins the group, and introduces herself as Lisa.  She won’t remember that name.  She explains to Lisa that she doesn’t remember things, things that she should, she knows.  She left the coffeepot on for a whole two days this week, she confesses.  Lisa assures her that she’s done the same thing once or twice.  That’s nice of her to lie.

They talk about where she lives, and what she likes to eat.  It’s small, and she knows she eats too much sugar.  They talk about her cat, and what the other people at the table think about these things.  She probably shouldn’t have a pet, and they say they worry.

“Well, Sarah, you’re very smart ,” says Lisa.  Smart?

“Oh, I was a lot smarter when I could remember a few things,” she says.

“You’re very smart!  Brilliant, in fact, for raising such wonderful children,” says Lisa.  She smiles a smile that looks different than the ones she normally receives.

“Oh, they fuss.  I don’t really deserve anything.” she says.

“That is nonsense,” says Lisa.  “You absolutely deserve to be happy and safe.”

She grows quiet, and ponders while the others discuss arrangements.

“Sarah, do you have any questions,” asks Lisa.

“No no, no questions. Thank you,” she says.

One of the boys reaches across the table, “don’t you worry, Mom.  Nothing will change much.”

She smiles at her oldest, and notices the grey in his beard.  With a deep breath, she moves the tea bag to her plate and takes a sip.  It’s perfect.

Don’t Want Yo’ Shit

Stop buying me stuff.  I don’t want your concert tickets, or some “stylish” piece of knitted cloth, or some piece of shiny metal with shinier rocks attached to it, or the latest tech gadgets that will be irrelevant in 6 months, or any other material object that does nothing for my SOUL.  Each time you offer me something or ask me what I want for Christmas, my heart breaks.  There is no value in these shallow offerings of tangible crap, and if you think I’ve been ignorant to your game, you are gravely mistaken.  The sad likelihood is that you don’t even notice or understand your own game, and will continue hunting for love and acceptance through something that lives in a bank account or was made in Taiwan.

You ask me what I want–the answer will always be, again and again, your time.  Don’t you dare get me something that fits in a box of specific dimension; I want your attention.  Your conversation, your eye contact, your engagement, and temporary, exclusive access to your Wernicke’s.

I realize that your “gifts” make it easy and painless to connect with another human being.  With a gift, the cognitive stress of listening and responding is eliminated.  With a gift, your most-important life remains basically unaltered, with the exception of the 9 minutes you wasted shopping online.  Gifts are a perfect, socially acceptable response to nearly every situation, so you can never be blamed for being inattentive.  They’re an ideal replacement for any messy apology, as well–you can mop up any indiscretion with the lick of an envelope or a click of the “Place Order” button on FTD.com.  If you’re feeling inadequate, a gift can easily express your message when words are too difficult to find.  Need a good distraction? A gift can easily divert from those silly little secrets in life that are best left unnoticed.

When it comes down to it, gifts are a lovely way to degrade and ignore someone.  When someone isn’t worth your time, effort, love or honesty: send a gift.  Send a teddy bear, or a card, or a check.  They come in all forms: everything from Tiffany’s boxes to “favors.”

But there’s another perk to gift-giving, isn’t there?  That heady element of control and obligation, the scot-free condescension, the unbridled power over those who are less wealthy.

I paid for dinner (you owe me).

Here, let me help you out of a bind (you owe me).

Surprise! I bought you that {item} you had your eye on (you owe me).

I support you financially (you owe me).

You somehow believe that gifts don’t always have to be free for the recipient, although you’ll never state the terms.  Maybe you’ll expect a direct payback, or perhaps you’ll just hold onto your emotional collateral for the future.  This method not only allows you an investment with high expected ROI whenever you wish it, but also allows for the immediate dismissal of the previously mentioned ignorance and degradation.  “How ungrateful! After everything I’ve done for you.”

Minimal effort to maintain relationships, the illusion of authority and a limitless Get Out Of Jail Free card? No wonder you’re so generous!

Call me an ingrate, call me ignorant, call me poor.  Call me benighted, call me ridiculous, call me rude.  Call me whatever you wish but know that without the depth and humanity of a real relationship, you will not continue to own the title of friend, companion, father, mother.  Your gifts do not excuse you from honest interaction.  Your gifts do not garner you automatic respect.  You gifts do not replace your presence in my life, and are unacceptable as such.

Get It Together, Gents

I ran across an image on Pinterest several months ago that has been plaguing my consciousness for quite some time.  I’m not clear of the origin of this image or who its maker is, but this is it:

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“Disney?  She’s upset about Disney?”  Now before anyone goes kung-fu on me assuming that I’m bashing your childhood memories or insulting the Mouse, I’m not.  I grew up watching Disney movies just like everyone, and I still consider many of them to be of the highest caliber of entertainment (and not just for the wee ones).  No, the part that concerns me about this (in my opinion) very accurate cross section of princess evolution is the sociological change in message that has taken place for young girls and women. Now, I realize there’s no way to broach this subject without digging myself into an awesome ditch of controversy, but allow me a small disclaimer:  I am in no way a femiNazi.  I do not wish for the kind of gender equality that involves everyone shaving their heads and wearing androgynous jumpsuits.  I think courtesy and modern chivalry are important.  With the same level of belief, I am not a parasol carrying, nose powdering, demands-a-jacket-over-every-puddle kind of woman.  I believe self-confidence and a willingness to work hard and be comfortable on your own is vital.  Now that I’ve covered my ass, let’s continue.

My Theory: The significant shift in the female mentality is due to men becoming more and more untrustworthy and irresponsible with women. You’ve got to be tougher and way more self-reliant, Ladies.  Why?  Because the boys aren’t going to care for you anymore.  As a 26 year-old woman, I’m stuck in the middle between dating a Man-Child who still has a vendetta against vegetables, and the dudes in their early-mid 30’s who are probably still unmarried for a good reason (tempers, emotional unrest, demeaning sarcasm, control issues, etc.). Men of this generation offer a shocking level of ignorance in the realms of respect, consideration of others, emotional stability and even normal problem solving abilities.  Instances of manipulation, denial, condescension, anger and self-entitlement are rampant in the male population that I have encountered.  Women are forced to become harder, stronger and meaner in an effort to protect themselves and remain afloat in today’s dating society, and any legitimate example of kindness is now seen with extreme skepticism in case it may be a manipulation of our emotions for male selfish gain.  Of course I have no statistical or peer-reviewed evidence for this, solely my own experiences and perceptions.    I allow you a glimpse into the dating life of a 26-year old, well-educated and well-cultured woman, and from this vicarious view, you can decide whether or not my theory holds water.

+ In the past 2 years, I have had 4 men break down into full emotional meltdowns.  2 of these men had multiple episodes; 1 of these men had over 10 crying fits in the span of one month.

+ In the past two years, I have had to break up with 3 men multiple times.  Meaning, they refused to comprehend the fact that I did not want to date them anymore, so they continued on as though nothing had happened.

+ One guy showed up at my house with a suit and roses 3 weeks AFTER we had broken up, AFTER I had explicitly told him that I refused to have any conversation about getting back together.  He had a sobbing fit in the public parking lot of my apartment complex.

+ One guy had a rice cooker in his apartment that was broken.  Each time he used it, it would overflow.  There were layers upon layers of hardened rice starch covering his countertops and floor.  For weeks.

+One guy called me a “prudish snob” for refusing to discuss masturbation with him.

+ In the past 2 years, 3 men have invited themselves over to MY house for a nightcap, and all 3 were completely dismayed when I would not allow it.

+ One guy was 45 minutes late to a first date, and brought me a single rose that he had bought at a gas station (complete with price sticker).  He claimed that he was late because he had stopped to buy that rose.

+ On a blind date set up by a friend, one guy reached across the table and pulled my hair, and then asked me if I liked it.

+ I had a date with a guy who had picked me up from my house.  After a mediocre date and an explicit request to take me home, he drove us both to HIS house, started blaring Tupac in his living room and began a dance party with himself.  I left and called a cab, and I’m fairly sure he never noticed my exit.

+ I had a guy who made a grand speech at dinner about how honesty was one of his foremost priorities…and then proceeded to lie to his mother on the phone less than 15 minutes later.

+ In the past 2 years, 6 men have asked me on a first date which required me to drive over an hour (2 hours, in one case) to meet in their respective cities.

+ One guy drank his way into flunking out of my alma mater.  He was also personally offended that the weed-out classes for the medical program were so difficult.  He was convinced the teachers all hated him and made the classes difficult because of that reason alone.

+ I had one very pleasant date with someone I liked quite a bit.  He dropped me off at home, gave me a kiss, and then told me he was pretty sure he was gay.

+ I briefly dated one guy who contradicted himself with such frequency, that at one point he tried to convince me that he just had a different definition for certain words than everyone else, and I would just have to learn to understand what he meant and “speak his language.”

+ I met a guy at work once, who within 4 hours of knowing me, asked me to marry him so he could get his green card.

+ I once had an 11am coffee date with someone.  He showed up still half-drunk and delirious from the night before, and was unable to hold a conversation.

+ I dated one guy who played Call of Duty for the entirety of the time I came to visit him.  I timed it once, and he played for 7 straight hours while I sat on his couch and we missed our dinner reservation.

Still not convinced?  The above examples are real-life incidents that have happened in my dating experience.  The following are encounters I’ve had in digital dating world, online.

+ In the past year, I’ve had 22 men message me online who were over 40.  I am 26.

+ In the past year, I have received 18 hate messages.

+ In the past year, I have received 114 messages.  Approximately 80% of these contained less than 6 syllables of content.

+ Of that 80%, 20% have contained nothing more than a phone number.

+ Of all 114 messages, only 17 were without a single typo.

Please enjoy the following real profile excerpts from men that have online dating profiles.  All are American, native speakers of English.  All spelling and punctuation are written verbatim from what is presented online.  I could not make this shit up.

– ” I am tall but like meetioger tall ness.  I enjoy playing pool, tennis and pley golf alot.  I enjoy funny movies and fun times with good memmories.  I enjoy all sports, baseball the most I like to travel and see the world with things i haven’t seen.  I enjoy meeting new people who like to have fun and ejnoy finding new tings that would interest them!!”

– “to date girl have fun with her be good for me i to hang out watch tv play game see her to play game with good what r for me is good ok i have take girl on date i to dinner movie is it good i to hang out her go out come home have good time me you ok be good for me be mr mrs ivey have good fun good time have kid good be for you her have i go me her go deer hunting have good time cold winter”

– “Four mini-vignettes that make me, well, me: Smelling the crisp December air that’s part of the backcountry of Colorado. It’s a mix of fluffy snow mingled with pine needles. I look up the slope at a darkening sky and head down to the lift below. Hearing the soft ripple of the current as I float lazily down the river. Leaves fall in the water as I realize that this is the last run of the season. I dip my paddle beside me and turn towards my dad. His grizzled beard parts in a smile as we head towards a set of gurgling rapids below. Basking in the neon glow of Hachiko crossing. Surrounding me, a mass of humanity. Just barely above the murmur of the crowd, I hear the thrum of blades above me. I look up just in time to see a grey object with a flash of red on the tail. I smile knowingly and turn from the station, now back on my way. Walking down the newly paved street of one of America’s symbols of power in a city far from home. In the distance i hear the muezzin calling out his adhan but i’m not a member of his flock. I close my eyes for a moment, letting his call fill my ears. But its meaning escapes me. Who I’m looking for: A girl who can be my best friend, lover, and partner in crime.”

– “love fun love fun happinest love alot of love trips love swiming love I’m shy at first but once you get to know me you’ll see I’m just a nice person who enjoys the little things in life. I love music and will listen to anything. I like someone who dI’m a nice person who knows how to have a good time. I like staying in and watching a movie every now and again. Fun people who like going on new and exciting adventures are who I’m looking forigs music, I’m a nice person who knows how to have a good time. I like staying in and watching a movie every now and again. Fun people who like going on new and exciting adventures are who I’m looking forI’m friendly with a big heart. I like open-minded people who aren’t quick to judge others. A person who’s laid back, compassionate, and has a great sense of humor is right up my alley”

– “am a fun muscular man, I’m slender and want a woman who has big breasts and is slender like me and who wants to have kids through sex and is the most beautiful woman and that has no peircings.” (I should note, this guy looks about 12 years old in his picture)

AHEM.  I REST MY CASE.

With winners like these running amok, it’s no wonder women have had to learn to be tough, and I find it rather sad that the message of “you’re on your own, kid” is the new motto of our next generation of women.  We’re now getting movies that involve the direct message of, “don’t get married, boys aren’t worth it” from movies like Brave.  If you haven’t seen Brave, a central theme of the plot is that a young princess is vehemently against marriage, and all her suitors are dumbasses in one way or another.  The flip side of this coin, is that the primary male characters in these movies are portrayed as oblivious or ignorant (Eric from The Little Mermaid, and John Smith from Pocahontas), or feckless mongrels who gain the affection of a woman despite their behavior (whatsisface from Mulan, and hellooooo, the Beast?  Stockholm Syndrome, anyone?).  Am I trying to wage a war on Disney movies?  Of course not, I really do think they’re great.  But I do aim to point out the mirrored effects of an expanding acceptance of poor behavior on the part of our menfolk.

Of course, there are exceptions, and I’m well aware that there are great, respectful, wonderful men out there.  But the proportion is way off kilter, and it’s developing a widespread attitude of distrust that is based on very real issues.  These issues include selfishness, manipulation for personal gain, objectification of women, and extreme denial.  The worst kind of asshole is the one who’s convinced he’s a saint.

And yes, before you all ride me out on a rail, I’m aware that there are plenty of women who suck too, and who are moral, emotional hot messes in their own right.  However, I will note that a large percentage of those women did not have proper father figures in their lives…just saying.

How Novel

I have enjoyed writing since my high school days, and can find enjoyment in nearly every genre of literature that exists.  I have written silly poems, published articles, journal entries, product reviews, blogs (of course) and even a thesis.  I realized a few months ago, however, that the one realm of the written art that I have not yet dabbled in is that of the fiction novel.  I have many friends who have suggested I write a book, although most of them beg for a paperback copy of my absurd and risible dating life.  They caw, “it would be such a great comedy book!  You’re so witty about all those loser guys!”  Yes, my inability to find a sentient being who makes me happy is a total scream.  Although if I could become a millionaire from documenting all the tortuous dates I’ve had in my time, perhaps it could pay for grad school…but I digress.

In the true spirit of myself, I decided a few months ago that I was going to write a book, damnit.  And it will be awesome!  And inspiring!  Prize-worthy! Meritorious!

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With all my perfect future predictions in mind, I got a notebook and some coffee and set myself down to start creating my first opus.  About 3 hours into character creation, world building and jotting down scene possibilities, I felt confident and clever, and went to bed excited for the ideas I would concoct the next day.

Then a month went by.  Whoops.

I woke up one morning and said aloud to myself (and my cats), “Well, barf nuggets.  I just frittered away a solid 30 days of writing time.”  Then and there, I decided that such a level of procrastination and a lackadaisical attitude was unacceptable.  I vowed to write/create/scheme/brainstorm/research SOMETHING every day to ensure the forward motion of my project.  That afternoon, I wrote several scene outlines and developed some great character detail; “dedicated” was my middle name!

Then three weeks went by.  $#^@.

Thankfully, I was able to scoop myself up into a metaphorical dustpan and begin again.  I have been quite diligent with my book over the last few weeks, and am quite happy with the progress with the exception of one small detail: actually writing it.  I have tiny chunks of scenes written, some extensive outlining, a decent plot and complex characters, but every time I sit at my computer to write, I stare at Microsoft Word like a mackerel at Pike’s Place and my thought processes are as dry as the Atacama desert:

…so, right…where to begin?  Once upon a ti…ugh, no.  There once was a man from Nantuc…haha, but no.  Mmm…I really like “Century Schoolbook” for a font, it stretches things out to make it look like I wrote more.  “Cambria” is pleasant too, but NO.  Time to write now.  Hokay…writing…things…that…are…interesting…and… what if I research more writing strategies?  Or maybe I should world build some more?  Pinterest might have some good articl–NO.  No Pinterest for you.  …fuuuuuh.

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Turns out writing a book is not only difficult, but obnoxious, and depressing, and exhausting.  The idea that this would be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy has now been firmly booted out the window, and has been replaced with a mild sense of panic and lots of nonsensical scribbling on paper.  As happens often in my life, I’ve been humbled by a learning curve.  I am enjoying the process, and am still confident that I will achieve my goal of completing a fiction novel, but I’m now realizing the time and work that actually goes into fiction writing.  Neil Gaiman, Michael Crichton, Dan Brown, J.K. Rowling, and all you other creative smartasses out there: I salute you.

I should really go write my book now.

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The End of an Era

At this point, I only have 3 remaining days of college classes. In two weeks, I will wear an oddly shaped hat and an ugly smock in a sea of other people dressed just as ridiculously.  Someone will then butcher my name into a microphone, and awkwardly try to hand me something and shake my hand at the same time.  The past 6 months have been a whirlwind of activity and exhaustion, all culminating in a what will be a few weeks of rest before reality once again strikes and I find myself in a new kind of crucible.  After much hard work, hoop jumping and difficult decisions, I’m proud of myself and my accomplishments, but am not naive enough to believe that this is the Winter of my Discontent.  I refuse to write a blog with a listing of “Things I Learned in College,” because firstly, those things are too numerous to list, and secondly, those things are considerably more complex and personal than I had anticipated them to be.  Instead, I have compiled a list of accomplishments.  While some may be trite, they are things I am proud of myself for and can definitively say were the most salient moments of my time in college.

1) I went back to school.

I consider this to be one of my biggest life accomplishments to date, and credit members of my family for their undying support in my decision.  I will be graduating with my B.A. at the age of 25, and can recall a point in time when I didn’t think college was an option for me.  I chose to uproot my life, quit my steady job, and drive across the country with my Mom and two cats for a chance at something different.  I clearly made the right choice.

2) I found my niche.

I am one of the lucky few who knows precisely where my passion lies.  I explored many options, and can definitively say I would never be happy studying anything other than my beloved linguistics.  It is the one subject I find fascinating 100% of the time, regardless of monotone professors, clicks and pharyngeal phonemes, word structure trees and that damned Russian case system.  With all of the tedium and frustration, I am still enraptured.

Fun with the IPA

Fun with the IPA

3) I traveled to Europe.

For my 25th birthday, I decided I was going to do something special for myself rather than make my own cake and share icing with my cats.  I came to the conclusion that I had been waiting far too long to travel to places I was dying to experience, so I planned a trip to France.  I spent nearly two weeks in France mostly traveling alone, with the exception of the time I spent with some wonderful new friends that I met there.  I encountered some stiff negative opinions regarding finances, time, school, safety, etc., but it was undoubtedly the best risky waste of time and money I could ever have imagined.  I have previously written a blog about traveling solo, which can be found here if you care to hear more of my opinion on that topic.

4) I pushed myself to the limit.

I am not one known for doing things the easy way, just ask my Mother.  I enjoy a good challenge, and sure as hell found some in college.  I am familiar with the physical breaking point after many years of fitness interest, but the mental breaking point was new territory for me.  I took on a workload of 21 credit hours in one semester, 5 of which were attributed to learning the Russian language.  I worked off-campus throughout that semester, and also studied for and took the GRE…in the middle of finals week.  I also decided to write a Senior Thesis before graduation, having done no prior research.  An incredible professor took a chance on me, and allowed me to bypass the mandatory independent study classes for the chance at graduating with honors.  This gave me one semester to pick a topic, put together a study, conduct all participant research, and pound out a finished product.  I will be turning in my final draft this weekend.  All of this, and I’m also graduating 8 months early.

GRE horse&*#%

GRE horse&*#%

5) I was hit by a truck.

Literally.  A few weeks ago, I was hit by a truck while biking home from school.  I am healing well, and more quickly than expected, but it was truly a humbling experience.

6) I got accepted to grad school.

I received my acceptance into the grad school of my dreams approximately 1 hour before I was hit by a Tacoma.  Let’s just say it was a day of “ups and downs.”  After months of solid job hunting and nothing to show for it, I began considering the option of graduate school.  On a complete fluke, I ran into a school representative who informed me of what seemed to be a Master’s program tailored for this chick right here…as long as I had my application submitted within 48 hours.  I put my head down for about 30 of those hours and made it in under the wire.  After waiting impatiently (just ask my friends how many times they heard me whine, “how long does it take?!”) for a few months, I received the good news that I was going to be a graduate student.

7) I received impressive opposition, and continued to move forward.

The first professor I asked about writing a thesis dismissed me as, “too inexperienced in the field.”  The second professor I asked preferred to follow The Almighty Rulebook and did not believe waiving the preparatory courses was wise.  I finally found a professor who was willing to say, “Sure.  You’re a smart girl, let’s see what you can do.”  To that professor, I say thank you so much.  As for graduate school, there are members of my family that do not believe it is the best course of action for me.  It took several weeks for me to weigh out my options, and carefully choose the decision I know will move me in the direction I wish to go.  I know they will still love me regardless of my decision, and I hope they can come to support me in my education although it does not adhere to their beliefs.  Also, I consider a truck to be a pretty good opponent.

Research Material

Research Material

While I never went to a football game (which I believe is a punishable crime at UF), never did a kegstand and continue to harbor an intense dislike for “Greek life,” I have greatly enjoyed my learning experiences in college.  Having completed this milestone, I don’t pretend to have advice for other students or any inspirational revelations.  All I care to say is that I am excited to see where my knowledge and experiences will take me, and am incredibly grateful for the opportunity I was given to work hard, and build my own future.