Nobody Listens

The last months have cast me into many varieties of stress and time-crunchedness, and whenever I do have free time near a keyboard, there is always non-blog writing that needs to be tackled. I miss blog writing. Lately, I’ve put seven minutes per week towards a long-suffering blog post, which basically means I get half a sentence written before the dinner bell rings.

What I have made time for, as a kind of joyful decompression, is doing quick recordings for Instagram Stories. In this era when Facebook is roiling with politics, judgment, disagreement, and adding spackle to the walls of users’ ideological bubbles, Instagram Stories feel like a safe place to just. have. fun.

Soooo, as a tide-you-over while I continue to hack away at that other blog post seven minutes at a time, please enjoy these IG Stories videos that I recorded the other day, recounting a quick interaction in the classroom. Because I am reliably a dipwad, I’m very proud of myself for remembering to download the videos before they disappeared into the ether, which is what happens to IG Stories after a day.

RIGHT NOW I HAVE EXCELLENT POSTURE HERE IN FRONT OF MY MONITOR BECAUSE I AM VERY PROUD OF BEING A BIG, COMPETENT, REMEMBERING GIRL.


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Survey Responses by Meredith, Julie (and Sons), and Linda

From Meredith:

1. Feeling stressed. It’s a useless response to having to meet obligations.

2. Edinburgh. Fringe festival, Pan, Scotch, the Royal Mile, men in kilts. 

3. Too many hard ones to name just one. All of them right as there is no wrong answer in life.

4. Peace. It’s fleeting but once found, worth it.

5. Lurray Caverns, if you consider caverns a museum. Stalactites and stalagmites are super cool.

6. Perfect day would entail: coffee at sunrise – no bugs and an ocean view. A proper bagel with a perfect 1/4 inch of cream cheese and whitefish salad on top with no reactions. (I’m celiac and dairy intolerant so this would be HUGE) 
An evening bonfire on the beach with my whole family, my love, a comfy blanket, and a bottle of prosecco. 

7. To keep my mouth shut 8. Blueberry (pronounced bloo-bur-ee)

9. Off the coast of grand cayman – water is super clear as far as you can see and perfect temp.

10. I’ve been to several colleges, still working on a degree. I work at a college and have two kids in college. My best advice: Don’t take it so seriously, enjoy yourself, get good grades, but most importantly, Be curious – go to learn for the sake of learning.

___________________________________________________________________________
 From Jesse, age 15
  1. Summer reading. Don’t like summer homework.
  2. Going to the Galapagos with my Aunt. Enjoyed the vacation in a warm area with lots of cool animals.
  3. I haven’t really had any hard decisions yet in life.
  4. Yep, love the game.
  5. Boston’s Children’s Museum. It was fun as a little kid.
  6. No school. Play baseball during the day and then go out to dinner.
  7. Don’t really know.
  8. Maybe
  9. Down in the Gallepagos I went snorkeling with Hammerheads, turtles, and sea lions.
  10. Haven’t been to college yet.

From Alex, age 15

  1. Have had a good life, wouldn’t remove anything.
  2. The Galapagos. Because it’s the Galapagos.
  3. Haven’t made any hard decisions yet in life.
  4. Working towards Eagle Scout. Haven’t made it yet, still working towards it but think it’s a good path.
  5. Smithsonian Air and Space museum. Because I like space.
  6. A day to relax, no responsibilities, no work, no school. Reading all day. No worries.
  7. I procrastinate a bit. Would like to learn better not to procrastinate
  8. Don’t have a favorite word. I like bacon. (wearing a bacon shirt today)
  9. Swimming in the Galapagos. Got to see some sharks.
  10. Haven’t been to college yet.

From Julie (mother to Jesse and Alex), age 49

  1. Cooking dinner on a daily basis. Although I love cooking and baking, thinking about meals and meal planning is something that I don’t really enjoy. I’m not able to get out of cooking by going out to eat with the family and I’ve tried hard to get my boys to cook dinner for the family but the burden still falls on my shoulders most nights and I would love to get rid of that burden.
  2. This is a tough question to answer as I’ve had many fun trips. I lived abroad as a senior in high school and as a junior in college and took lots of trips through Europe during those times. However, the trip that stands out is my first bicycle trip across county in 1993 with a boyfriend. We met so many interesting people as we asked strangers each night to set up a tent in their yard.
  3. I feel fortunate that I haven’t had to make many hard decisions in my life as when faced with obstacles typically, with thought, the “correct” decision is fairly obvious. I recall feeling particularly conflicted when I applied for and got into Boston University School of Social work but then a few months later my relationship with my long-term boyfriend ended (He was in school in Boston) and I decided to accept my place at BU and move on in life without that relationship. I do think I made the right decision but looking back, I wish I had the guts to have applied somewhere else to school.
  4. I have worked my hardest at being a great mother and partner to my husband. Yes, it has been worth it as I have three amazing boys and seventeen years of marriage that have overall been quite pleasant.
  5. It has been over twenty years since I went to this museum but I recall being impressed by the Holocaust museum in D.C. I recall having read things about the Holocaust as a child and young adult but I think visiting the museum was the first time I was impacted by the scope of the loss of so many people.
  6. A trail run with friends in the morning followed by a tasty brunch and then maybe playing some golf or watching my boys play baseball in the afternoon. A home cooked meal shared with friends (I don’t mind bringing a potluck dish to a meal) would round out the evening.
  7. I wish I would have learned a language such as Spanish at a young age and maintained fluency in the language throughout the rest of my life.
  8. I am not a word person and I can’t say I am one to focus on or pay attention to specific words. I am amazed at people who use words well and I know words can have great impact on people. I also can get frustrated when so many people don’t use words well. However, to give an answer to this question I will say the word “Thanks” is an important word to me.
  9. Hanauma Bay in Oahu, Hawaii stands out for me. I went swimming there when my family lived in Hawaii in 8th grade and then returned as an adult in 2015 and although much of the coral had lost its color, the scenery was still pretty spectacular and love snorkeling with lots of colorful fish.
  10. Carleton College. Had a great experience socially, athletically, and academically. I’d have to say that although I recall the academics being thought provoking and challenging, it didn’t help shape what I became professionally. And, although I made great friends while attending Carleton, they are not my closest friends today. I did meet my husband, who attended Carleton a year behind me, long after I graduated and the Carleton connection was significant in our attraction to one another. I love that I can meet someone today who attended Carleton and feel as though we shared a similar life experience and I don’t think most folks can say that about the college they attended. I also have yet to meet a Carleton graduate who has not been a respectful, insightful, smart, and all around good person. Advice for attending college: I do think atmosphere and finding your “people” plays an important role in having a good experience to grow, learn, and find one ’s self.


From Linda:

  1. The one thing I would remove from my life: my built-in hankering for carbs, sugars, and foods that don’t necessarily do my body good. Why? The amount of time and energy I put into thinking about, avoiding, imbibing, regretting….
  2. The best trip of my life: backpacking through western Europe in 1985 with my Finnish friend, Lena. Why?  We were 18 years old, and spent 4 weeks travelling by train through Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, France, and Spain, culminating in a 2-week stay in a 14th-floor  apartment on Costa del Sol, Spain, looking out over the Mediterranean Sea. My favorite parst of the trip were sitting on an open-air train car, watching the countryside and castles go by, and free-lancing our way through each day.
  3. The hardest decision of my life: whether or not to start college at Gustavus Adolphus in the Fall of 1985 or to embark on the European backpacking trip instead. Right decision? I’m who and where I am today because of that decision to forego Gustavus at that time.  I sometimes regret not having the standard “going away to college” experience, and sometimes have envy for those who are experiencing it now.
  4. What I’ve worked hardest for in my life: overcoming active alcoholism and drug addiction.  Worth it?  HELL YES!  On Sept 2nd, I will celebrate 14 years clean and sober.
  5. The best museum I’ve been to: Seris Museo in Bahia de Kino, Mexico (January of this year).  What made it so great?  The director sat on the floor and taught my wife and I ancient Mexican children’s games (we were the only guests in the small history museum).
  6. My perfect day: homemade waffles with vanilla yogurt for breakfast, hike high above the shore of Lake Superior with dogs (on leashes, of course!), playing and swimming in rivers and creeks, ending with a campfire and s’mores in the backyard firepit.
  7. Something I wish I would have learned when I was younger:  How to say “NO” and how to speak my truth without fear.
  8.  Favorite word: Benign
  9. Favorite place I’ve ever gone swimming: Finnish friend’s cabin on the Baltic Sea.  Sauna. Moonlight. Sea. Friends. Perfection.
  10. I’ve had a fragmented college experience spanning 20 years. I did some time at UMD, then North Dakota State University back in the late 80s. I  finally returned to UMD to finish my undergraduate degree (2005) and earned my Masters degree in 2007.  My advice: Be grateful for your freedom and your opportunity to explore, experiment, and immerse yourself in the college experience.   My advice is to follow my mottos: “Don’t let fear hold you back” and “Something new can always happen.”


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Survey Responses from Deanna and Jessica


Deanna showed up as a student in one of my online classes five years ago. After that, she became a mentor embedded into my courses; she drafted me to be the faculty advisor of our campus chapter of Phi Theta Kappa; and recently she achieved her Bachelor’s degree at the age of 52. ENJOY HER:

  1. If I could remove one thing from my life is not a thing, but rather a person. Although there is nothing that I can do to affect this, there is a person in my son’s life who is cruel and abusive to him. I see the changes her influence has had on him, their son, and the rest of the family and it breaks my heart.
  2. The best trip of my life was our trip to South East Asia, particularly to Thailand. It was romantic, relaxing and I loved the people as well as the landscape.
  3. The hardest decision of my life was a recent one where I had to ask my son and his girlfriend to move out of my house. It was the right decision as it will force him to finally stand on his own two feet.
  4. My college degree is what I’ve worked for the hardest. I fought for years for the right/permission to go and at 45 made my dream come true. Working full time while going to college full time was particularly difficult, but well worth it.
  5. The best museum I have ever been to was The Louvre because it is willed with not only works of art that I had only seen in books, but there is a sense of palpable history. I believe one could have repeated visits and continue to be surprised each time.
  6. My idea of a perfect day is sleeping in just a little, having breakfast with Shawn (my fiancé’) and then spending the rest of the day hiking or kayaking – something outside.
  7. When I was a young girl, I was given two piano lessons for free. I wish that I had been able to continue those lessons so that I could read and play from sheet music today.
  8. My favorite word – that’s a tough one. I would have to say love for what it means when it is true and deep.
  9. My favorite place to swim is the swimming hole that I swam in as a child in the Ozarks of Arkansas. We spent summers there, as a child visiting grandparents and my grandpa would take us in his old red truck.
  10. I just completed my undergraduate in English at the College of St. Scholastica. The best part was my professors and how they made the curriculum and books come alive. My advice for those going to college is to fully submerse yourself in everything that is signed. Get to know your professors and join groups!


Jessica is one of my favorite people I’ve never met. Her writing is a DREAM, so I’m particularly glad that she started teaching it last year at the college level. Lucky, lucky students. 

  1. I would remove my chronic migraines. I thought about saying I’d remove fear or anxiety, but sometimes my fear and anxiety are a product of the migraines. So much of my life revolves around avoiding pain and treating pain. I want to know what it’s like to wake up each day and feel healthy, to not take bushels of pills that make me feel half-present, to be able to play full-throttle with my 4-year-old son. That kind of thing.
  2. The best trip of my life was my honeymoon to Costa Rica. The country is endlessly beautiful, the people were welcoming and kind and impossibly happy, and we ate like kings. But a big part of my enjoyment was spending time with my husband while NOT planning a wedding. He was a self-described “groomzilla,” and I threatened him with a “pre-divorce” several times during the lead up to the wedding. Being on the honeymoon put us back into sync. 
  3. The hardest decision of my life was to not have another child. Every day I question whether it was the right decision. 
  4. I’ve worked hardest to have confidence in myself. It’s taken me four decades to believe that I have talent and value. Hell yes, it was worth all of the work.
  5. The best museum I’ve ever been to was the chocolate museum in Brussels, Belgium. It was full of stupid mannequins and grainy videos about cocoa bean production. Utterly boring. BUT, when you exit the museum, the folk that work there hand you a plain tea biscuit. You take that tea biscuit and hold it under an open faucet of warm, creamy Belgian chocolate. I visited that museum with my sisters, who don’t give a damn about art. All three of us felt that we had reached a kind of common ground, and that ground was made of chocolate. Very bonding. We paid for two tours in a row.
  6. My perfect day goes something like this: Wake by 7:30. It’s autumn. Drink coffee alone. Read a good book. Eat breakfast. Write for two hours. Take a walk. Magically be transported back to my hometown of Baltimore (about 90 minutes away from where I am in Alexandria) and have lunch at Mastelone’s Italian deli. Eat all the meats and cheeses and bread. Magically remember that I have a 4-year-old child who has magically been staying with family or something, I guess. Magically remember that I also have a husband, who has been at work, I guess. Magically be transported home. The three of us go on a family constitutional. My son fights off imaginary neighborhood polar bears and wolves with a stick, shouting, “Don’t eat us. That’s rude! Go order a pizza!” (I really love his absurd heroism.) Have dinner with good friends. Drink wine. Read my son a bedtime story and tuck him in. Sit outside with my husband and just talk and make each other laugh. Drink some wine. Smooch some. Go to bed in a cool room. Sleep deeply.
  7. This is a toss-up: I wish I’d learned to speak another language. But I also wish I’d learned to be more comfortable with failure. They are related. I didn’t kill it in the language learning department, so I just quit. Sad trombone noise. 
  8. Oh, this is tough. The first word that comes to mind is “sussurus.” It’s beautiful and ridiculous and a bit onomatopoeic.  But I also like “hematopoietic,” because it sounds like “blood poetry.” (I worked for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Lots of good lingo.)
  9. The best place I’ve ever gone swimming is in the Cayman Islands, specifically Grand Cayman. I saw fish and coral and a moray eel and a shark. Thanks to the shark, I got to hear what I sound like screaming underwater!
  10. I attended the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. It is an all-women’s Catholic school. Yes, its acronym was C.O.N.D.O.M., which may be why it’s now Notre Dame of Maryland University. I LOVED that school. It was (and still is) very small, but because of that, I never felt lonely or like a faceless member of the student body. I couldn’t afford to live on campus, so I had to commute an hour each way. That said, I participated in a lot of organizations. I was on campus so often that several faculty and staff members were surprised to find that I didn’t live at school. My advice is to go with your gut. Notre Dame wasn’t a big or prestigious school, but when I toured, I knew right away that I felt at home. Because I felt at home, I was able to really throw myself into what I loved (literature and writing). I became president of clubs and assistants to my favorite professors and all that nerdy crap. It was fantastic. Being a big fish in a small pond is pretty rad, actually. Those years were critical to my sense of myself and my priorities. I made lifelong friends at that school. I still talk to the English Department faculty. Thanks to that school, I got into a great MFA program, and now I get to be the one teaching literature and writing. So, again, follow your gut — find a school that makes you feel like you not only belong, but that, at that school, you will be at your best. 

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Survey Responses from Susanna and Angie

My friend Susanna, in England, writes:

1  If you could remove one thing from your life, what would it be? Greed.  Why?  Because I truly believe it underlies all the other atrocities in life such as cruelty, lust for power, lack of compassion, injustice etc etc.

2  What has been the best trip of your life? Cannot choose. Why? Because each trip has introduced me to wonderful places, cultures, people and wildlife, all different, all equally special.

3  What has been the hardest decision of your life? To refuse to help my mother to end her life.  Do you think it was the right one? Yes, I could not have survived doing that, and shortly afterwards her family doctor intervened and helped resolve the situation.

4  What have you worked hardest for in your life? Health and strength.  Was it worth it?  I have not achieved it yet but have learned so much along the way, been able to help so many others, and by constantly struggling and braving difficulties have been able to do and see  so much.  It has made me a strong, brave person who loves every minute of every day and is forever grateful for everything I am able to do.

5  What is the best museum you have ever been to? Metropolitan in New York.  What made it so good?  I had a whistle stop tour by a guide who knew the place inside out and made the trip the most thrilling and inspiring I have ever had in any museum in the world.  She linked everything she showed us together in an awesome way and took us round literally running between exhibits.  Her level of knowledge and enthusiasm was out of this world.

6  What would your idea of a perfect day entail? Feeling well, being with friends and family yet apart in my own space, and being on a hillside in the country surrounded by fresh air, wind, a huge blue sky, and wildlife.

7  What’s something you wish you would’ve learned when you were younger? (not answered)

8  What is your favorite word?  Discombobulate. 

9  What is your favorite place that you’ve ever gone swimming?  The sea off Beachy Head in the UK.

10 If you have been to college, where did you go and did you have a good experience? I went to Sheffield University in the North of England.  What was the best part? The quality of the tutors who made absolutely anything and everything thrilling and expanded my consciousness.  Any advice?  Never pre-judge what is interesting.  Everything is fascinating if we only examine it with an open mind and are prepared to dig into it.


And the most lovely college friend, Angie, writes:

1. If you could remove one thing from your life, what would it be?
I want to say disease – Alzheimer’s, cancer – those beasts that ravage the people I love most.
That seems like an easy one, and yet something about it doesn’t sit right. All of the cliches
about what we learn from adversity may be cliches because they hold some seed of truth. So
maybe what I would remove is my desire to remove things from my life. I’m working on learning
how to live with a sense of peace in the middle of all of those things I truly cannot change.

2. What has been the best trip of your life? Why?
When my son Nelson was 17, the summer before his final year of high school, we spent a week
in Spain walking the final 113k of the Camino de Santiago. It was the perfect combination of
place, time, person, and plan. We’d wake up and walk through oak forests and rolling hills,
stone walls and bougainvillia, side by side, listening to the rhythm of our hiking boots and each
other as we meandered through our own and each other’s thoughts. We ate perfect bread and
salty ham and the most tender Pulpo a la Gallega on the planet. We sat under canopies of
green and played cards and drank wine (in moderation. it’s Europe – it’s ok that he was only 17).
We carried our belongings and didn’t take photos or check our phones or read the news, and
we fell in love with a country and walking and each other at the cusp of his launching into the
world. It was a good trip.

3. What has been the hardest decision in your life? Do you think it was the right one?
Leaving my marriage was absolutely the hardest and most important (best) decision in my life.
It was hard because I knew that it would be the hardest thing for my kids and their dad, and I
hate hurting people. We were all giving up all of the dreams and ideas about what our life and
my family was going to be. The other hard part was that now I had to create a new life with
intention – instead of just letting things happen and assuming that was how it was “supposed” to
be. That’s work, and it’s hard, and it’s the rightest thing I’ve ever done. Turns out it was right
for my kids and their dad, too, in a million ways. Whew.

4. What have you worked for hardest in your life? Was it worth it?
I think the common thread that sews together my professional life and my personal life into
something that feels coherent and authentic is my work to help people realize what they’re
capable of in this world. It can be really hard. It breaks my heart – shatters it, sometimes. But I
look at 28 years of students, two children, and countless deep friendships and know that it’s the
only worthwhile thing I want to do.

5. What is the best museum you’ve ever been to? What made it so good?
I’ve been lucky enough to spend time in some of the world’s great museums, and there is
beautiful art and architecture in all of them that I love. But one that really struck me is the St.
Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art in Glasgow. It’s a museum that tries to bring together
the parts of each major religion that shape how people live, and to celebrate the beauty that
religion brings to the world – it’s a physical manifestation of the city of Glasgow’s commitment to
build a community that brings people of all backgrounds, cultures, beliefs and traditions together
into one thriving community. I was moved by it, I learned a lot, and it inspired me. I wish there
was a museum like it in every city.

6. What would your idea of a perfect day entail?
Coffee, pancakes and bacon around the wobbly oak dining room table with the people I love
most in the world. Time by the water with a good book. Time on the water in my kayak. A long
hike with Honeycrisp apples and enough cold water. A big meal assembled in companionable
laughter while Frank Sinatra croons in the background. Twinkly lights after a long pink sunset.
Wine, chocolate, cards or Balderdash and a lot more laughing. A rumbly thunderstorm as I fall
asleep. Perfect.

7. What is something you wish you’d learned when you were younger?
I wish I’d been explicitly taught to trust my gut. I always felt like I needed to wait until I had an
airtight logical reason for any decision I made – especially one that wasn’t popular with the
people around me. Dating relationships, of course, but also jobs, moving decisions…the whole
lot of it. I got stuck on who am I to refuse/break up/turn down this thing being offered. It took far
too long to realize that no decision I ever entered because I wondered who am I to turn this
down turned out well for me. My gut knew. My gut also knew when I found the right thing, the
right person, the right place. I have been luckier in that I trusted that instinct more. I try to be
one of the voices in my kids’ heads saying “you don’t need an excuse or a reason. If it feels
wrong, trust it.” I needed that voice long before I found it in me.

8. What is your favorite word?
Serenity. It’s deceptively simple (even cliched), but for me, it captures all of it. All the hardest,
stickiest, most destructive stuff life can throw at me can be answered with this.

9. What is your favorite place you’ve ever gone swimming?
I’ve done some amazing swimming off of different islands in the Caribbean – all blue and colorful
fish and white sand and sky – and I loved that. But there are two places that stand out, maybe
because I wasn’t expecting to be so enchanted by them. One is Cave Point County Park in
Door County, Wisconsin – limestone cliffs and underwater caves and blue-green water. In a
county park. In Wisconsin. I couldn’t tear myself away, and the memory of floating in that water
still brings me a deep sense of peace. The other was Zuma Beach in Malibu, California. I know
– I grew up with Malibu Barbie and I should have expected it to be lovely, but maybe because I
grew up with Malibu Barbie, I expected to hate it. But I stood in the surf and felt the water drop
two feet as it got sucked into the coming breaker, and I watched the wave rise over my head
and peered through the bluegreen glass of the breaking wave, and then I would leap into the
energy of that wave and ride it into shore, and it felt like I had stepped through some barrier into
a different kind of world. Unforgettable.

10. If you have been to college where did you go and did you have a good experience? What
was the best part? Any advice?
Like your mother, I went to Carleton. It was perfect for me, in that I grew up in a very nice, very
small world. Carleton opened up my brain and taught me how to think and learn. I had
marvelous professors who worked in tiny Northfield, Minnesota because they loved to teach.
Period. Every single term, I had at least one class meet in a professor’s home. I could join the
dance ensemble, the diving team, play ultimate frisbee, sing in the chorus of the student
musical, watch Hitchcock movies in the chemistry lecture hall, eat far too much chocolate
peanut butter ice cream, join in social justice movements, and discover the people who still feel
like home to me. I didn’t have to be the best at any of those things – I just had to be willing to
say I wanted to try.

My own children chose different college paths – my daughter is at a large private university
studying film production – something she couldn’t have done at a school like Carleton. There
are things she’s missing that make my heart ache – the intense(ly interesting) academics, the
ability to join sports teams (without being an elite athlete), being in a community made up of the
kind of people who choose a school like Carleton. But she has been able to spend more than a
year in Los Angeles working on independent films, two of which made it into the Sundance Film
Festival. She’s got real experience as a producer, and she’s already making it in an industry that
has been her dream and her goal since she was twelve. She’s more than ok with the trade off.
My son almost chose Carleton, but in the end, decided to head to Glasgow, Scotland for his four
years. He had to select his degree program when he applied (a joint degree in Religion and
Public Policy), but he felt ready to do that, and he chose well. He loves his professors and his
courses, he’s fascinated by what he’s learning, and he truly loves living in Scotland’s largest city
with other students from all over the world. He joined the ultimate frisbee team and has been
able to travel all over the UK, he’s hopped many trains, spent a week in Prague, and has plans
for much more travel over the next three years. A bonus is the university was founded in the
15th Century and his classrooms look like Hogwarts.

I guess my advice is not to limit yourself in how you think about college/university. I know I
didn’t realize when I was 17 how many different options there were, and both how big and how
small the world really is. Wherever you go, don’t be afraid to try a little bit of everything. Keep
asking a lot of questions.

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Survey Responses from John, Elly, and Elaine

A college pal, John, responded to Allegra’s survey questions thusly:

  1. I would remove my wife’s student loan debt. It is a lot, and it hangs over us.
  2. I went to New York City with the woman who later became my wife. It was great because it was the first time I ever traveled with someone with whom I was in love. Plus, it was New York, so we had great food and went to fun places.
  3. Eh, I suppose the decision to go to graduate school in philosophy was the hardest. It should have been, since that takes many years to complete and the job market in philosophy was poor and I didn’t know if I was good enough to succeed. But it turned out to be correct because I am now a philosophy professor and I love my job.
  4. Maybe I worked the hardest to publish some papers in the last couple years before I went up for tenure at my professor job. It worked, as I was more productive than usual and I got tenure (hired for life, instead of fired).
  5. It is hard to top the Metropolitan Museum in NY, but for a single visit it has too much, and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam might be better. It has the best collection of the old Dutch masters.
  6. I’d be on vacation with my wife in an exotic location with historical significance, like Rome or a Greek isle. The weather would be nice, and we’d be staying in a hotel within walking distance of cool stuff. We’d walk to a place we can eat outdoors, for each meal, take a ride in some kind of boat (the sea, a canal, a river – doesn’t matter), and tour a museum. Fancy whiskey in the evening.
  7. I wish I’d known in high school and college how to study better.
  8. My favorite word is apocalocyntosis, which means “pumpkinification”, like what happened to Cinderella’s carriage. When Emperor Claudius suggested he deserved apotheosis (to be made into a God), the playwright and philosopher Seneca said that apocalocyntosis was more apt. Emperor Nero, who he advised, later forced him to commit suicide.
  9. I’m sure there are many better places to swim, such as in the Mediterranean, but my favorite of the places I have swum is Leo Carrillo Beach, near Los Angeles. Big waves knocked me over in my first time at the ocean.
  10. I went to Carleton College, then the University of California at Santa Barbara for grad school. Both were great experiences. The best part, for both, might be the lifelong friends I made. But the subtle and gradual effect the professors (and fellow students) had on my intellect was extremely important too. I’ve made commencement remarks to small groups of philosophy graduates and I have never been able to think of good advice to give them, so I just try to make the speeches short and funny. So my advice to you is that if you have to give such a speech, make it short and funny.

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Here are the responses of my beloved friend, Elly (check her out at her blog Buggin’ Word):

1 – The word “should.” It’s a dangerous word. When I think of everything I “should” do, I feel overwhelmed. What a subjective word, too. I’m trying to think more about what I “could” do instead.
 
2 – My brothers, their partners, and my parents travelled to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico when I was in my early 20s. There was some horrible mistake on the part of the resort so they bumped us up to the luxury side of the resort – everything was gorgeous and clean. )I was living in a horrible apartment in Hell’s Kitchen at the time and often found used crack vials on my fire escape.) No one was responsible for cooking. No one was responsible for planning. No one was responsible for exploding plumbing. Everyone – even my parents – were still young and healthy. We climbed ruins and shot tequila and rode giant inflatable bananas and chased lizards…together. I don’t think I’ve ever felt closer to my family.
 
3 – Deciding to become a mother. Was it the right one? Maybe. Probably. I mean, if given the option I wouldn’t go back and undo it. But I also know I would have had an interesting and fulfilling life had I not become one, too. 
 
4 – Recovering from the treatment for cancer. Not the treatment itself. Though that sucked, too. Learning how to live again despite the fear. And letting go of what might have been.
 
5 – There was a tiny historical museum in the town where I grew up – Greensboro, NC. It smelled right. And you could walk from building to building – small farm type buildings. But yet there was an art museum attached, too. 
 
6 – Waking rested. A cup of coffee on a screened-in porch with my ukulele and an open agenda. A walk. Somewhere beautiful – woods, a beach, a park. A warm meal. A cold drink. Laughing so hard and suddenly that it makes my throat raw. The sound of cicadas. A breeze cool enough to sleep with the windows open.
 
7 – My own resilience.
 
8 – Texture.
 
9 – Smith Mountain Lake, VA.
 
10 – Guilford College, NC. Yes. Amazing. And horrible. At least initially. I didn’t adjust well. But eventually I found my way. It’s where I found my love of the music industry, my activism legs, and my writing ability.
 

 
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 And our “second-mama”-level friend, Elaine/Ileyn, she who made our year in Turkey so much easier and who now lives in Istanbul with her husband and two amazing kids, told Allegra:
 

1) If I could remove one thing from my life, it would be the feeling of never having enough time in a day.  That feeling in and of itself causes me unnecessary stress.

2) The best trip of my life was the one that I took when I was in college with my then boyfriend at the time (Selin’s Dad).  We went to the Bahamas and it was magical and fun.

3) The hardest decision of my life was deciding to remain in Turkey after I got divorced when I was 26 years old.  I think it was the right one as Selin was able to see her dad and his family.  I also enjoy living and working in Turkey.

4) I have worked hardest in life to keep positive and logical even when everything else was chaos around me. 

5) The best museum that I have ever been to is the Children’s Museum in Pittsburgh.  They have wonderful and very creative exhibits for all ages. 

6) My perfect day would entail waking up at 9:00am and having a ready made picnic basket of all my favorite foods waiting for me in the kitchen.  All of my family and friends would go to the beach and have a wonderful day swimming and having fun.

7)  I wish that I would have learned how to speak fluent Italian when I was younger.

8) My favorite word is booty as in baby booty.  I like the way is feels as it passes over my lips.

9) My favorite place that I have ever gone swimming is the Bahamas.

10) I went to Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and got my B.S. in Elementary Education. I had a great experience and my favorite part was the friends that I made there.  My advice is to pick a school that suits your needs and concentrates on the major that you want to be in.  I think paying in-state tuition is a great idea for undergraduate education.  Out-of-state is not only usually more expensive, but the logistics of going home and bringing things back are harder.

 

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Survey Responses from Byron and Virginia

In the next week or so, I’ll be posting the survey responses of those who have given me permission. Let’s start that roll with the responses of Allegra’s pappy and our family best friend, Virginia. 

Quick aside: the first sentence of Virginia’s #6 (her ideal day) made me teary. Twenty years going back and forth with cancer; currently on her I’ve-lost-count round with chemo; pain with a lot of types of movement due to loss of cartilage in her joints from radiation and chemo; crazy messed up bowel and urinary systems as a result of the cancer treatments; a nephrostomy tube attached to one kidney; unable to sit comfortably without an inflatable donut pillow under her bum; a palliative pain pump the size of a hockey puck under her skin at her waistline…and in the midst of all that, she remains hilarious, uncomplaining, and insightful. You want some life perspective? Take in her first sentence to question #6. 

Anyhow, now that I’ve tantalized you, let’s start with Byron’s answers.


Name: Byron Johnson

If you could remove one thing from your life, what would it be? Why?

The feeling that there is never enough time in the day to do all the things that I want to do. Every day I want to create, cook good food, be physically active and/or be outside for hours, make a difference at my job, and spend time with people I enjoy. Every day consists of tradeoffs, choosing one thing to focus on or trimming down the time spent on each activity. Making those decisions is hard. Sometimes the flow of the day dictates what happens and what does not. I would love to be able to control my days so I did not have to make these choices.

What has been the best trip of your life? Why?

Spending a year in Turkey with my family. Why:

  • It was long enough to be immersed in the culture and to begin to understand some aspects of it. I left wanting to learn and experience more of Turkey.
  • It had extremely high spots and extremely low spots, mentally. Experiencing a high spot after being low really heightens the experience and gives it more meaning. I think of our trip to the Mediterranean in the spring of that year and how we really did not realize how much we needed that experience until we were experiencing it. That trip within our year abroad was magical.
  • The experience has rippled out into our lives far beyond the year we were abroad. We all came back changed and with a different outlook on the world and life. It was transformative, as all good travel should be.

What has been the hardest decision of your life? Do you think it was the right one?

Making the decision to leave my first full-time, permanent, job because I was miserable. I had worked for 3+ years in my field and finally had the opportunity to not work seasonally and live and work in communal situations. I was making a salary, had benefits, and a possibility for stability for the first time since I graduated from college. But I hated what I was doing and I wasn’t very good at it. I was lonely. I was sick a lot during that year, mostly from the stress of the job and not being very happy. I agonized for months about what to do, consulting with my parents and going on long runs just to think. I spent hours watching “The Simpsons”, doing sit-ups, and waiting to go to bed because then the day would be done. I worried about what would happen after I quit my job. Would I get another? Was I done in my field? How would I make money? I felt like I would let my employer down and in a tough spot if I left. But, eventually, I knew I had to leave or things would just get worse for me.

It was the right decision. While it was hard to make, I realized that things work out. Three months later I was employed in my field and in a position that suited me perfectly. I realized that people and organizations move on and personal happiness is more important than an organization.  If I hadn’t made that decision I might not have met your mother and I would not be answering this survey right now.

What have you worked hardest for in your life? Was it worth it?

For me, what I have worked hardest for is somewhat sideways and not a stated goal I set and achieved in my life. The hardest thing I have worked for is the knowledge I have NOW of the things that make me satisfied, challenged, and fulfilled in my life. I have gone through a lot of trial and error, time and energy, money and sweat to discover the few things I need in my life to be happy. I’ve tried rock climbing, subsistence gardening, canning, hunting, pottery, journaling, ultramarathons, and many other things. From these experiences I learned a lot and gained perspective on the world, but the biggest take away has been that these things do not fulfill me. By ruling out what does not satisfy me I have discovered the few things that deeply and truly make me happy—cooking and eating good food (with people I love), stitching, physical activity (with people I love), crossword puzzles, and the access to the world my library card gives me.

It was totally worth it. I have experiences that tie me to lots of people and can connect with them because I have experienced something that may be their passion. I also have a lot of years ahead of me and I now have a succinct idea of how to fill that time.

What is the best museum you have ever been to? What made it so good?

The Smithsonian’s Museum of American History.

It was so good because it brought together so much of what makes us Americans in a way that really touched me. I cried at least three times during my visit. I feel like I could visit the museum weekly and still be in love with it like I was after my first visit.

What would your idea of a perfect day entail?

  • Coffee
  • Physical activity—it could be running, hiking, biking, or swimming.
  • Good food, shared with people I love
  • A surprise experience. Having something unexpected, yet wonderful, makes a day super special. It would not have to be big. It could be finding an unexpected patch of wild blueberries on a hike and gorging until we were full.

What’s something you wish you would’ve learned when you were younger?

To dance.

What is your favorite word?

Inshallah—Arabic for “if God wills”. I love the way this word rolls off the tongue and the sentiment of hope, yet uncertainty, with which it is used.

What is your favorite place that you’ve ever gone swimming?

Lake Superior, which I swam in earlier today.

If you have been to college, where did you go and did you have a good experience? What was the best part? Any advice?

Grinnell College. It was a tremendous experience. The best part was expanding my worldview beyond what I was exposed to growing up. I met people I would not have known otherwise. I heard new music. I realized people approached life and living differently than I did. College allowed me to realize that the world is a giant place to explore and something to always learn from.

My advice—GO TO COLLEGE AND IMMERSE YOURSELF IN EVERYTHING THAT CATCHES YOUR FANCY.


And now Virginia’s answers:

  1. If you could remove one thing from your life, what would it be? Why?  My habit of speaking before thinking about the possible short-term and long-term effect of my words.  I have often wished I could “unsay” something.  “Be impeccable with your words” is the best advice I continually try to follow.
  2. What has been the best trip of your life? Why?   To Peru with Kirsten.  It was well planned and well executed between Kirsten and this tour company.  I was not in charge.  My reactions went from skeptical to reluctant to neutral to surprised to delighted to very grateful.  The bonus was that I caught a pirhana fish, walked beside a tapir, had my shoes pecked by a wing-disabled red, white and blue parrot, allowed feathery-footed millipedes to crawl up and down my forearm after a rain, and got to hold a young three-toed tree sloth in Inca village along the Amazon River.  It peed on my tshirt and I vowed never to wash it.  It somehow got into the laundry, but I have a photo, which is actually better.  Easier to share.
  3. What has been the hardest decision of your life? Do you think it was the right one?   To marry a man, because I wanted to do “the right thing” and that’s what seemed like the right thing.  It was in June of 1964.  I left this wonderful man in the summer of 1966 and went to Germany to study for a year.  Was divorced “long distance” in January of 1967.  Very amicable divorce and we were both better off.  Douglas eventually married the right woman.  They are still married, so I don’t feel bad on his account. And I am definitely in the right relationship now!
  4. What have you worked hardest for in your life? Was it worth it?  I worked hardest to acquire a good command of the grammar and an authentic-sounding pronunciation in several languages, but mainly in German and French.  It was definitely worth the effort!  
  5. What is the best museum you have ever been to? What made it so good?  Le Quai d’Orsay museum of impressionist art on the Seine’s left bank in Paris.  It’s an old train station, huge, with great natural lighting from above and a huge clock with gold hands and numbers.  It has an excellent restaurant and the WCs are very clean. But most of all, I love to stand in front of the works of artists like Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Seurat, DegasCezanne, Gauguin, Mary Cassatt, Pissarro, Bethe Morrisot, Renoir, and others and let it sink in that these are the very paintings which they created with paint and brush strokes and their particular way of seeing life.I am so touched that sometimes tears well up and then even I see things differently!
  6. What would your idea of a perfect day entail?  It would include waking up feeling grateful that I live in safety and have choices.  I would accomplish what I intended to accomplish on that day so that by bedtime I would have no regrets for misspending my time and I would be satisfied that I had caused several people,including strangers, to smile and perhaps laugh. 
  7. What’s something you wish you would’ve learned when you were younger?  How to navigate in Facebook and how to speak and write Japanese.
  8. What is your favorite word?   cherish
  9. What is your favorite place that you’ve ever gone swimming?   The Indian Ocean off the SE coast of Madagascar, among coral reefs
  10. If you have been to college, where did you go and did you have a good experience? What was the best part? Any advice?  I graduated from St. Olaf College.  It was a wonderful, life-affirming experience.  The best part was exposure to new ideas, to poetry and literature, to interesting, deep-thinking people (both professors and students, and one German war-bride living a challenging life in Northfield and who hired me to tutor her in English).  Advice?  If you need advice about ANYTHING, ask your mother or your dad, or both, because they know you better than anyone and they are not judgmental.  I predict that you will love being a college student and you will make good use of your new and stimulating environment.

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Tell Me Something: What I Told Her

Thank you to everyone who responded to my last post and completed a survey for our rising senior in high school, Miss Allegra. She’s at the point where she has around 60 surveys from folks, with new ones still trickling in. Eventually, when it feels like “time,” she and a good friend of ours who has a Ph.D. in public health and teaches at the U here in town will sit down together so that Allegra can get a primer in qualitative data analysis — how to make sense out of and find meaning in the variety of responses she has received. If you haven’t yet completed a survey but would like to be part of our burgeoning social scientist’s learning experience, please feel free to write up your responses and email them to allegrapihlaja@gmail.com!

As I’ve posted pleas for survey responses on social media, a few people have mentioned that they’d be interested to see responses other than their own. I get that. Whenever a survey has come to me rather than Allegra, you better bet I click on it and read the thing. FASCINATING STUFF.

Anyhow, I’m happy to start the sharing of answers with my own. If any of you reading this have written answers and wouldn’t mind me sharing them on this blog, give me a shout, and I’ll put them in a future post.

So. Here:

  1. If you could remove one thing from your life, what would it be? Why?

After first reading this question, I started thinking of things in the world I’d like to get rid of — violence, famine, ham-fisted toddlerian blusterers — but then I reread the question and saw that you are asking very specifically about what I would remove from my own life, not how I’d change the world. So, after way too much mulling, I’ve come up with this: I’d get rid of complicated relationships. The best relationships for me run clean and clear and are free of grey layers and unspoken tensions that simmer without acknowledgment. In fact, few things are more destructive to my day-to-day, hour-to-hour functioning than having had interactions with people where the dynamic isn’t clean and clear. That’s why I prefer you and Paco and dad over all others; it’s so easy with you guys: I like you, I love you, I respect you, I enjoy your company, and I feel safe with all of you. Similarly, this is the way I feel about my best friends in life, like Colleen. It’s clean. It’s clear. It ain’t complicated.

  1. What has been the best trip of your life? Why?

The whole year in Turkey can’t count as a trip, I presume. More specifically, our family trip down to the southern coast when we stayed in Çirali was my favorite vacation EVER. In a year full of constant negotiations and trying to find our way, we all just relaxed on that trip. The scenery was stunning; the swimming was perfect; the lazy, laid-back single street village was all we needed. I loved eating lemon/sugar gozleme, riding bikes into town, swimming two or three times a day, doing the day-trip boat tour where we jumped off the deck and into the water, and walking out of the Mediterranean and right into the ruins of Olympus. We had no idea it would be perfect, and that lack of expectation is exactly why it could be perfect.

  1. What has been the hardest decision of your life? Do you think it was the right one?

Breaking up with a man I still loved was probably the hardest decision I’ve made, emotionally. And, to be honest, it wasn’t really a clear-cut decision at the time; it was more me trying to finagle ways for us to step back from each other — while still assuring him we were a couple, to avoid straight-on heartbreak — because my gut was thrumming with an unformed thought: “This needs to be over.” It was only once we were done that I realized I had been wanting the relationship to end. My brain was slow to catch up to my intuition. And, yes, it was the right decision. Absolutely. My relief was immediate and palpable. I didn’t want to hurt him, but I needed liberty — so I could regroup and get on with the rest of my life.

  1. What have you worked hardest for in your life? Was it worth it?

There are seventeen ways I could answer this; I could flick the spinner and just write down whatever it lands on, so…flick. I am still engaged in the work of overcoming childhood conditioning that taught me to be judgmental. Part of why this is hard work is that I enjoy being judgmental — it feels like part of my nature, so deeply ingrained is it. But in recent years I am consciously working at acceptance and empathy and an attitude of “What the hell do I know about any single person on Earth except myself?” Currently, the reality is that I judge, but I’m quicker to spot that tendency in myself and to consider if it’s fair, if it’s necessary, and if there is anything constructive that can come out of it. Usually, I’m being judgmental for my own amusement, so it’s best to keep it inside and let it roll around in my own head. Or, well, y’know, to express it to a limited few. This ongoing process is definitely worth it, as it’s teaching me, as Kendrick Lamar would advise, “Bitch, be humble.”

  1. What is the best museum you have ever been to? What made it so good?

First answer: The Peggy Guggenheim in Venice — the setting of it right there on a canal, the fact that it was her house, the unbelievable collection of art on the premises…I didn’t even care that it was packed as hell when we visited.

Second answer: The Hatay Mosaic Museum in Antakya, Turkey. Mosaics thrill me to the core, as does the feeling of standing in front of something made so many thousands of years ago. There is texture, and there is amazement, like, “People actually walked on these things. This stuff hung on people’s walls.” Plus, I bought earrings in the gift shop that have a “meander” around the border, and that’s always a plus.

  1. What would your idea of a perfect day entail?

I would wake up in a foreign country, and I would have no classes I was teaching online (so no need to check in and fight for workable internet and spend hours of my “vacation” grading stuff). A tray of food and good coffee would be awaiting my readiness, so I could stay in bed while I got up to speed. You and Dad and Paco would be there, and once we were all ready, we would head out to explore some new city. There would be pastries, cold drinks when we got hot, and excellent people watching. Later in the day, I would go for a run in a shady park. We’d all eat dinner out at a restaurant with crazy good food. There would be drinks. There would be buskers on the streets. There would be a bag of sweet treats bought on the way back to the hotel, ready for eating at midnight.

  1. What’s something you wish you would’ve learned when you were younger?

It’s taken me fifty years (so far) to get to a point where I don’t need everyone to like me. People-pleasing is full-time work, and it requires a person to sacrifice a whole lot of “self” so that others don’t feel uncomfortable. The first decades of my life were spent working at making those around me feel easy, at the expense of what I, myself, often wanted. But as I’ve aged, life experiences have burned away the noise so that I have reached a point where I’m better at valuing the way I feel and making choices based on my own feelings, rather than on what others want and expect. Still, of course, I do capitulate on some occasions, as life is also made of compromises, but I’m getting there, closer and closer, to the clarity of “I know how I feel, and I’m going to go ahead and act that way.” And people who find that difficult? Can make their own choices about how to respond. In current common parlance, all of this is known as “giving no fucks.” I wish I’d learned at a younger age how to release all the fucks to the sky, so they could flap off into the clouds, squawking as they ascend.

  1. What is your favorite word?

You know me — that I’d like to respond “all of them!” But, to narrow down: there are words that I like because they are the symbolic representation of things I enjoy, like “beer,” “sleep,” “backrub.” I suspect, however, that most people will answer this question with a word that they like the sound of (or the sound + the meaning), so to follow that, I’ll say that I have always liked the rhythm and slither of “verisimilitude.”

  1. What is your favorite place that you’ve ever gone swimming?

Okay, since my brain is a warehouse of nonsense, the swim I’ve done the most in my life is simply a replay of a scene I saw at an impressionable age when I watched a movie called The Poseidon Adventure. In it, a ship is hit by a tidal wave, most everyone is killed, and a scrappy band of survivors tries to stay alive long enough to be rescued. Anyhow, at one point, an actress named Shelly Winters — playing an old, past-her-prime matron — does this amazing swim through flooded corridors to save a guy who’s stuck, and I’ve never gotten over it. So I’ve done that swim with her, mentally, about a thousand times. Except the Shelley Winters character, at the end of her swim, has a heart attack and dies. I don’t.

Please, you will watch it now:

 

Now for a real one: A good swimming memory is from when I flew into Mexico to meet Auntie Kirsten when she was doing the Peace Corps in Belize; we spent some time in Mexico before bussing into Belize, including a jaunt down to Cozumel. I remember really liking the swimming there, in particular because it was the first time I ever snorkeled, and there was a statue of Jesus down in the water, amongst the coral and fish. Now that I’ve had Lasik, I’d like to snorkel again, as I’d actually be able to SEE the stuff now. So maybe let’s take a trip?

  1. If you have been to college, where did you go and did you have a good experience? What was the best part? Any advice?

DID I FORGET TO MENTION I WENT TO COLLEGE? I SHOULD HAVE TOLD YOU.

Allegra, I went to a small private liberal arts college called Carleton. It’s located in a town of, hmm, 23,000 people called Northfield, Minnesota. I definitely had a good experience there, although I cried a lot during my four years and even considered taking time off after freshman year. But college was such a feeling of release after high school (which I had enjoyed a great deal, btw) — I was so glad to be free from the clique hierarchies of “popular people” and “geeks” and “freaks,” so happy to be just myself and not someone who was trying to be someone. And college is where I found my tribe of lifelong friends; they taught me so much and made me feel perfectly enveloped.

So the very best part was and still is the people. But in addition to that, there were the classes and the chance to learn about so many new disciplines and the freedom to monkey around with different ideas and areas of knowledge. My junior and senior years are when I was able to focus on English classes and, even more importantly, to take a bunch of film and media studies classes. Those film classes brought me a kind of intellectual joy that I had never experienced in high school. I still remember visiting professor Dana Benelli giving an overview of “the conventions of cinema” — one of which I still remember writing down in my notebook: “transparency” — and there was a dizzying sensation inside my skull that went something like, “THERE ARE CONVENTIONS OF CINEMA? AND THE BEST FILMS MANAGE TO BE TRANSPARENT? WHUUUUUUUUUUT?” Sure, learning to look at the ways that we, the audience, don’t “see” the work of making the movie — so that the medium of conveyance doesn’t interfere with the storytelling — was a hyper-specific skill set. However, the beauty of the liberal arts, of learning to think about things, is that I have applied the lessons of “learning to note transparency,” along with seventy-eleven others from those college classes, throughout my life.

My advice to you, beloved daughter, for college is this:

  1. Avail yourself of every opportunity you can. Go to the free movies; go to concerts and plays; do those semesters abroad; actually attend class regularly (unlike your mother); try new languages, new sports, friendships with people who seem bizarre.
  2. Don’t get freaked out when it’s hard. I was so lonely the first few weeks of freshman year; after the long-standing friendships that populated my first 18 years, it was so much work to make myself get out of the dorm room and go to painful-sounding things like “mixers.” So force yourself to go to the painful-sounding things. There will be others there who are lonely and feeling at odds, too. Eventually, you’ll knock elbows with one of them, and one of you will say, “Sorry. I’m so awkward at stuff like this. I kind of hate it but feel like I need to try.” And then your fellow elbow-knocker will confide, excitedly, “Oh my God, me, too! I’m go glad it’s not just me.” Thirty years later, that person just might be on your “Will Donate Kidney To:” list.
  3. Be aware of the dangers. There is rape on college campuses. There is assault. There is drinking. There are drugs. There is sexual exploration. So even though we’ve talked about this stuff some, I want you to know more about how to be aware and how to live defensively while living openly. I want you to figure out if you like to drink (and/or take drugs) without dying from it. I want you to enjoy an entire life of sexual satisfaction — but know how to protect yourself against STDs. I want you to say “yes” to invitations without ending up hurt and broken. So I would recommend you do some of your famous internet research about how to live smart on a college campus. And I want you to know you can ask your mother anything and know that I will mail you condoms and check in on you at 4 a.m., if you just want someone to be sure you got home safely.
  4. Finally, take notes by hand, on paper. I mean, typing notes is okay, too, but there truly is no better way to get information to stick in your brain than to funnel it through the physical act of writing it down. If you have never used the Cornell Note-taking System, I would recommend it.

Now that you’ve seen my answers, gentle reader, don’t you want to write your own? YOU KNOW YOU DO

Also, now that you’ve seen my answers, I imagine you are left thinking two things:

1) Can “noise” be “burned away”? (See my answer to #7. I think it might be terrible writing, but I also had no desire to change it after I wrote it because, somehow, it conveys what I meant, so if it’s bothering you, go have a shot of Jagermeister and chill the hell out, Peachie);

2) Would Jocelyn send me condoms if I asked her? (YES, I WILL ALWAYS SEND YOU CONDOMS, PEACHIE; I AM YOUR ‘RIDE OR DIE’ WHEN IT COMES TO SEXUAL HEALTH, SO JUST LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU NEED A BOX OF TROJANS DON’T BE SHY).


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Tell Me Something

When Allegra was seven, she — for the first but not the last time — created a survey. She had questions, and she wanted to know how a bunch of people would respond. And they did. After a few weeks, she had collected survey responses from folks around the globe, and her entire second grade class had been roped into participating. Then, surveys in hand, she spent hours reading them, talking about what people had written for their answers, ultimately alphabetizing them and storing them in a three-ring binder.

A few months later, she had more questions. Another survey. And after that? Another. Each time, the responses from friends, family, and strangers have been treasured (and three-hole punched).

Now, ten years after her first survey, our girl has come up with another, this time one she created while sitting in a car in a Swedish grocery store parking lot, waiting for someone who was taking FOR.EVER. Her aim, now that she’s seventeen, is to ask “better” questions than in previous surveys; to practice posing queries that yield more complex responses.

AND THAT’S WHY I COME TO YOU HERE TODAY, BROTHERS AND SISTERS. She is looking for as many responses as possible to these latest questions. Should you choose to put some time into filling out the attached survey, not only will you benefit from some moments of reflection, your words will be absorbed, read aloud, mulled upon, appreciated for years, and FILED INTO A THREE-RING BINDER.

Thank you in advance for your participation in this important project. All ages and interested parties are welcome. Responses may be sent directly to the author at: allegrapihlaja@gmail.com. And thank you for supporting the development of a budding social scientist!

  1. If you could remove one thing from your life, what would it be? Why?
  2. What has been the best trip of your life? Why?
  3. What has been the hardest decision of your life? Do you think it was the right one?
  4. What have you worked hardest for in your life? Was it worth it?
  5. What is the best museum you have ever been to? What made it so good?
  6. What would your idea of a perfect day entail?
  7. What’s something you wish you would’ve learned when you were younger?
  8. What is your favorite word?
  9. What is your favorite place that you’ve ever gone swimming?
  10. If you have been to college, where did you go and did you have a good experience? What was the best part? Any advice?

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The Gap

I parked in the lot by the grocery store so I could buy a few things after my run. I had an hour and a half before the afternoon’s storms were to hit, giving me plenty of time to get some exercise, buy scallions, and be home before the skies unleashed.

It was a good plan.

But then. The thing happened that sometimes happens: just as I reached the far point of my run — when I was high up on the trails, miles from the parking lot and the grocery store — the sky turned black, the darkness interrupted only by bursts of lightning, and what the folksy weatherman calls “thunderboomers” started making it hard for me to hear my podcast WHICH WAS SUPER FRUSTRATING BECAUSE MAURA MURRAY HAS BEEN MISSING SINCE 2004, the night when she cleaned out her bank account, bought a bunch of booze, and crashed her car; thunderboomers needed to shut the hell up so that I could hear about the eye witness who saw someone smoking in the front seat of her car just after the crash. Or maybe not. Because eye witnesses…BOOOOOM!

Running is supposed to elevate the heart rate, but running in the woods during massive thunderstorms does the job even more effectively. For half an hour, hustling my way to safety, I slipped down mud slides and leapt over puddles. Every few minutes, passingly, I considered the concept of “God.” Even more frequently, I prayed to Thor for the continued health of my iPod, my phone, and my corporeal being.

Thor’s my bitch.

Dude totally ran interference between the storm and the skin sack of shuddering meat called The Jocey. I MADE IT TO THE PARKING LOT ALIVE, thank the great hammer-thrower in the sky!

Although I considered going home to change clothes, what with the ten pounds of water weight that were pulling the shorts off my hips, it seemed silly not to dash into the grocery store and grab them scallions. Sugar snaps. Asparagus. Bananas, like Maura Murray probably enjoyed for breakfast at West Point before she was expelled on the grounds of questionable moral conduct. A cucumber. Maybe some feta.

Squelch, squelch, squelch went my shoes, with every step. A waterfall cascaded from my body as I grabbed a basket and headed in. Such a sight as I merited comment. I was no further than the cheese display when a friendly worker ran his eyes over my ridiculousness and noted, “Looks like it’s pretty wet out there.”

Perhaps in his job at the grocery store, this fella was, as we say, “working to maximum potential.” Yes, it was very wet out there. And that’s why you’re meeting my nipples here by the gruyere, New Gap-Toothed Friend in an Apron.

A few minutes later, as I brushed droplets out of my eyelashes, all the better to differentiate zucchini from cucumber, NGTFiaA came up behind me and cleared his throat. Turning, I saw him extend something: a towel.

“I ran to the back room and found a dry one,” he offered. Quickly, I apologized for dripping all over and making the floors wet. “Oh, not to worry,” he assured me. “You just look uncomfortable and cold, and it was nothing for me to grab a towel.”

Chatting pleasantly while I scrubbed rivulets off my arms and legs, he stacked a few rogue tomatoes and empathized: once, he had been caught in a downpour outside by the Red Box and gotten wildly soaked in the time it took him to cover the fifteen feet to the door of the store. So he totally understood and knew a dry towel could make the difference between despair and okayness.

Significantly less drippy, I handed him the now-damp towel, thanked him again, and promised I’d be out of there quickly, before I made the floors dangerous. He tossed the towel onto his shoulder and smiled, flashing the full, glorious gap, before shrugging. “It’s no big deal, and don’t you worry about the floors. They’ll be fine.”

I picked up my basket. He turned to a box of nectarines that needed unloading. Squelch. I stepped towards the asparagus. Squelch. I grabbed two thick bunches of spears. Squelch. I thought about the continuum between despair and okayness. Squelch. I decided he was wrong.

It’s not a dry towel that can make the difference.

Nope.

The difference is made by an easy shrug, a quick trip to the back room, and the thoughtfulness of a gap-toothed produce worker in an apron.


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Things I’m Liking

  • That Duchess Kate takes her own pictures of her kids for press release rather than having a professional photographer manipulating their little selves into pleasing moments. It’s possible I’m a fan of mothers with cameras stop calling my children “long-suffering” admire this birthday portrait of Princess Charlotte

  • That the nieces of Chimimanda Adichie (the author of Americanah) are running an Instagram account featuring her Nigerian-based fashion, and it is joy

  • That Blondie has a new album out — uneven and fun and full of surprising collaborations. Pitchfork’s review concludes it’s “…an album that shows one of the most crucial American rock bands searching for footing in a chaotic, collapsible pop landscape.” Note to self: all the most dynamic music is searching for footing, all the better when it’s made by a group whose sound tugs at the heartstrings of youth      

  • That I’ve been cranking on some extra work that pays a stipend — earning my way towards shoes with so much personality they distract me from reality; one day soon I shall wear these as I hold hands with my best friend Michelle Obama while we stroll through the herb garden we planted together

  • That Sally Yates has agreed to be my Prom date next year; I’ma make Ted Cruz be our limo chauffeur that night and require him to wear an organ-grinder monkey costume behind the wheel. Lolling in the back seat of our ride, I will hold Sally’s hand when I command “Pancake-Faced Monkey Man, take us to the convention center so we can toss some dice and celebrate this year’s theme of ‘Crapped out in Las Vegas’.” As he replies, I will roll up the divider window, slowly and decisively

https://youtu.be/Owgk1TOYInE

  • That my daughter’s Prom caused me once again to wonder where all the bitches and drama have gone. The 1980s were teeming with rude comments and cruel behaviors dismissed as “funny.” Now, in 2017, I understand a fair amount of Bitches & Drama may be hosted by the volleyball and basketball teams, but not one whit of it exists in my girl and her friends, and that is the most beautiful thing I didn’t even know how to hope for

  • That the 8th grader loves his new tall-kid softie jammies so much he lays them out on the bed like some sort of fleece-conjured Flat Paco. “I don’t want them to get rumpled because then they won’t be as soft.” This from a boy who is hard pressed to find two matching socks within the walls of his personal castle of chaos

  • That I have latched onto a few new podcasts as I seek voices to fill my ears:

Up and Vanished — I’m not necessarily a fan of true crime, except when I am, and right now, I am. The first season of this podcast revives the “cold as Alaska” case of Georgian beauty queen Tara Grinstead, missing since October of 2005. Although the host’s speaking style isn’t my favorite, and although he sometimes has “my friend Rob” do incredibly not-on-purpose-cheesy readings of character profiles and transcripts, I decided early on to give the creator my “Bless your heart; you’re young and figuring out how to make a podcast” seal of patience. I’m glad I did. The case of Grinstead’s disappearance is resuscitated episode by episode as listeners learn about the men in her life, question the presence of a latex glove on the front lawn, wonder about that broken necklace on the floor of her house, and yowl with frustration over unreleased cell phone pings. Basically, if you were into Serial, Season 1, this show will scratch the same itch. CAUTION: don’t google the name Tara Grinstead or do anything beyond downloading the show…because someone was recently arrested with regards to her disappearance, and it’s all over internet!

The Read — Listen, most of you will hate this show, so I’m only mentioning it for two of you. Then again, if you’re itching to expand your understanding of the racial conversation in the U.S., this podcast, hosted by Kid Fury and Chrissle — both gay, both black, both fresh outta fucks except for concern about why the plate of edibles went missing — you might open yourself to these smart, funny voices that, each episode, devote a segment to “Black Excellence,” make well-deserved fun of white people if they give whites any time at all, deconstruct the politics of The Real Housewives of Atlanta (I’ve never watched a half-second of any Housewives show but no matter), weigh who’s winning current rap beefs, and close each episode by “reading” the nonsense of a chosen person, event, or behavior. Three things in particular appeal to me about this podcast: 1) I rarely am able to say what I REALLY think, so hearing Kid Fury and Chrissle be straight-up about all things is vicariously therapeutic; 2) Chrissle’s laugh is as welcome and satisfying as Nutella on warm toast; 3) I am grateful to all forms of social media, including podcasts, for making it possible to hang around the edges of dedicated Black Spaces and learn. some. shit. 

DTR — This is a “branded” podcast from Tinder — “about defining relationships in the digital age” — so I was wary. However, all worries swooned gently to the braided rug on the floor within five minutes of the first episode. The storytelling is good; the inside glimpse into the dating zeitgeist eyebrow-lifting; the flow engaging. YOU’LL NOT WANT TO MISS THE DICK PIC EPISODE, Mavis

  • That the library finally had a copy of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas available for my hands to hold. I’m not necessarily a fan of YA, except when I am, and for this book, I was. Having heard raves about its ability to give life to the story behind news reports, I cracked it open and fell into the charm of 16-year-old protagonist Starr as she lives through the realities of having one of her best friends shot by a police officer — killed for the crime of being black while driving. Fiction does it every time: it puts us inside the stories that our brains might otherwise skim across. For me, during a week when I had to grade a paper that argued the Black Lives Matter movement, the Black Panthers, and Standing Rock protesters all have been in the wrong for putting “blue lives” at risk, this book was particularly welcome. It is reaching people. It should. During the days I was reading Starr’s story, 15-year-old Jordan Edwards was killed by a police officer for hopping in a car and driving away from a party. This book reminds — teaches? — readers that boys like Jordan have family and friends whose lives are defined by senseless violence

  • That Aziz Ansari released Season 2 of Master of None, and it is so good — taking the hackneyed tropes of a half-hour comedy and turning them into something like art. Full disclosure: the acting is uniformly terrible. But I’m willing to argue the acting isn’t the focus of this on-point program that follows a young Indian-American man through his days. More important is its sense of exploration and authenticity. When we watched Episode 6, “New York, I Love You,” I kept saying to Byron, “This is so fun!” At the end, Himself noted that it felt much like our favorite episode of Broad City (Season 3, “The Lockout”), wherein the characters spend most of the show wandering around the streets of the city, engaging in the micro-moments that make up a day. Turns out I’m hardcore for micro-moments, Moby 

  • That my husband is able to dash away from the library at lunch time and attend some classes at the Y with me. When we do moves that really hurt, I sometimes slither over to his mat and whisper, “Can you please make it stop”

  • That you are here right now, reading these typings, because as much as I’m one to drop to all fours in Aisle 8 and skitter behind the #10 cans of tomatoes rather than encounter the guy who lives down the street, 

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