Joe


I hate writer’s block.  Especially when it seems to be selective writer’s block, only specifically blocking the one thing I really, really, really need to be working on right now.  And I was on such a roll this morning before I had to stop to go to my first class.  Why can’t I get back there now?  Arrrgh!

So I’m blogging.  Because that helps with writer’s block, right?  Right?  Well, at least it’s an attempt.  It’s better than reading Veronica Mars recaps on Television Without Pity.  Not that I’m, you know, doing that at the moment or anything.  Though it would be research for when Justin trades me his DVDs of the first two Veronica Mars seasons for the Heroes Season One DVDs I just finished.  (I still like Sylar the best, except for perhaps Mr. Muggles.  Is this wrong?)

Ok, moving on… I had a good Easter break.  I dug the vegetable garden and planted sweet peas and lilies of the valley.  Hopefully the seeds haven’t frozen in the ground by now, what with all the random snowflakes flying around, but they’re cold-weather plants, so I think they can take it.  I think.  It was one of the happiest times of the last couple months digging out in the garden under the wide, open sky.  I forget, during those months when I don’t have access to the ground, how much being outside helping things grow fills me up inside.  I don’t know how people could live in urban concrete jungles with no access to growing things.  I couldn’t do it.  I think part of me would die inside.

The Easter Vigil was fun.  I wore my new peep-toe shoes (Liv: “Peep!  Peep!”), and got to sit next to Eric, who is one of my favorite relatives ever.  (No, really, ever.)  We can’t sit next to each other in church too often.  We find the same offbeat things utterly hilarious, and can’t help pointing them out to one another.  It makes for a very distracting sort of Mass.  The Easter Vigil always starts with the lighting of the new fire, followed by the candlelight procession into the church.  After the Easter proclamation, everyone blows out their candles and sits down to listen to the Bible readings.  There are a lot of them since this is the Easter Vigil.  Eric was fidgeting with his candle during the readings, peeling layers of wax off of it, then breaking it into segments and folding it into a figure 8 which then got reinserted into the paper cuff that’s supposed to catch the wax.  This meant that when the time came to relight the candles later in the Vigil, his candle had two ends we could light.  So we did, giggling silently as we watched them burn down extra quickly.  Then I had to recite him the oh, so apropos Edna St. Vincent Millay poem (“My candle burns at both ends,/ It will not last the night./ But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends,/ It gives a lovely light.”)  That was pretty funny too.

The other fun thing was that I took Liv home with me for Easter dinner.  I love watching her hang out with my family, especially the guys in my family.  The thing is that she’s really, really beautiful.  However, she doesn’t see her own beauty, particularly since she pays little to no attention to her looks whatsoever.  In her book, her blond sister is the beautiful one in the family, and Liv is the tomboy that nobody looks at twice.  Plus, she grew up rough-housing with two little brothers, so she doesn’t quite understand how the same behavior that’s really annoying in an older sister could be, well, really encouraging in a cute young woman sortof your own age.  It’s a kind of innocence.  Mikey is still young enough that they can play together without worries (plus he’s the one she trusts enough to carry her from my car into the house), but it was interesting watching Larry, my oldest brother.  He had just gotten his hair buzzed really short, so she had to rub it (she rubs her little brothers heads when they’ve just gotten a buzz cut).  It was awesome watching his brain melt and dribble out of his skull right there in my aunt’s living room.

And the other good part about Easter?  I got to talk to Joe.  When I was getting ready to leave my aunt’s house I saw that I’d missed a couple of calls, one from Ella, and one from a number I didn’t recognize.  I didn’t really think it was him, but part of me hoped (I’ve been missing him a lot, and it had been over a month since I got his last letter).  So I listened to my messages right then and there.  One of them was from him, telling me that he’s in New Orleans and giving me a number where I’ll be able to contact him from now until May.  Do you know how long it’s been since I had a phone number I could dial and connect with Joe any old time I wanted?  Years.  I mean, first he was in Afghanistan, then world traveling, then sharing a phone with the whole Jesuit novitiate.  It’s been a long time.  I got myself and Liv home as quickly as I could, went directly up to my room and called 14.  We talked a long time, the first time I think we’ve been able to talk ourselves out since he left town a year ago.  Then last night I called him again, just because I could. 

Now I’m trying to finish up school projects, clean the house to make a good impression of the potential roommate who might come visiting this weekend while I’m gone, and getting ready to leave for Boston.  Yup, friends, it’s time for the Boston Tea Party!  I’ve been waiting for this since I came home from my first Tea Party last year.  I’m so excited and nervous and stressed thinking of all the things that have to happen between now and when I fly out of Columbus on Thursday.  Thank goodness this year I have a room in the actual hotel, and if all goes well I’ll actually make it out for Thursday night instead of missing my flight like last year.  I’m also registered to compete in the West Coast Newcomers Jack & Jill.  Also, John Lindo owes me two dances.

Eeek!  Just thinking about it makes me nervous.  Breathe, Bernadette, breathe.  Ok.  I’m going to take another stab at that paper writing, and if that doesn’t work, I’m doing laundry.

Jenn just messaged me that K-Mart is selling roses for cheap!   Maybe I’ll have my rose garden after all!

So I was thinking about putting together a few New Year’s Resolutions for myself, which caused me to realize a few things. First, I realized that absolutely nothing that I hoped for last year came true for me. Then I realized that this was because pretty much all my hopes were bound up in Carlos making good on all the promises his flirtatious behavior had seemed to make. I had kindof a half-formed goal of becoming a better dancer, but I hadn’t thought much about what that actually meant. My dancing has improved immensely, but if I were to judge the year’s success by my current relationship status, things would look pretty bleak. Sure, there was the Actual Date with Basil, but at year’s end I’m pretty much where I started. So this year I decided that not a single one of my goals should involve romantic relationships in any shape or form. For a while I toyed with the goal of having gone on another Real Date, but in the end I decided even that was too much. Instead, this year I want to focus on other things, like:

  1. My dancing. I have some basic things I know I want to work on (my balance, spinning, not drifting when I spin, relaxing into the lead, etc.), but those are things I’ll be working on probably my whole dancing career. This year I want to work on my solo Charleston. Specifically, I want to be comfortable enough with it, comfortable enough with my own body, that I can dance a whole song by myself without needing anyone else dancing along side me. One of the very few sad things about PittStop was that no matter how infectiously Charleston-y the song was, I couldn’t get anyone to form a Charleston circle with me for love or money, and I wasn’t confident enough to go it alone. Lucy has traditionally been my steady Charleston-circle partner in crime, but there’s a good chance that she might be leaving town later this year. So I need to work up the chops to go it alone. We’ll see how that goes.
  2. My friends. There are too many people I really care about whom I hardly ever see. This is partly because for the last two years I’ve been consistently choosing to spend my available free time dancing, and too many of my friends don’t dance. Still, I care about them and I don’t want to let them slip through my fingers for lack of a little effort. I’m a person who needs structure, so I’ve been trying to think of ways to structure friend time into my life. So far what I’ve come up with is having friends come over to watch TV with me, now that I actually have a TV night again. I know there’s got to be other ways to work this in. I’d be happy to hear other people’s ideas on this.
  3. My finances. I’m not gonna lie – I’m pretty much a spaz when it comes to money. I do stupid things. I buy stuff I don’t need. I either don’t plan ahead or I don’t follow the plan I have. I’ve bought the financial software, but I don’t use it. I never turn necessary paperwork in on time. I’m just awful at this stuff, and I know it. The accumulated impact of failure after failure becomes so overwhelming sometimes that I become emotionally paralyzed and can’t do anything at all until something snaps me out of it. However, little by little I’ve been improving, planning ahead, taking necessary steps to make sure every thing’s covered. I’m still far from perfect, but I have hopes that finally, this year I’ll get my stuff together.
  4. My writing. I took first prize in a poetry contest in 2007. Now I have two publishing creds under my belt. I’d like to have more. I don’t want to set a goal for acceptances or prizes, but I would like to send out at least two submissions every month. It’s not a lot, but I think it’s an important step for me. In his latest letter Joe sent me information on a poetry competition for a magazine he reads. I think I’ll start there.

And that’s what I have. I think they’re pretty good goals, challenging but achievable. The best part? None of them involve romance!

Lately, in the odd moments between writing feminist research papers and studying for Aquinas exams (or, rather, avoiding those things through mad procrastination and science-fiction reading, mostly a lot of Mercedes Lackey and Neal Stephenson), I’ve been musing about why it is that I enjoy ballet so much. It’s not that I’m particularly good at it, my “nice, straight back” aside. I have yet to execute anything like a passable pirouette in class. And there’s no real social interaction as an excuse. After all, you have to admit that half the charm of any social dance is that you get to do it with real, live members of the opposite sex. While in ballet you may dance alongside and, perhaps ideally, in unison with other people, you’re not really dancing with them but next to them. You don’t get to dance with someone else until you’ve gotten higher than I’ll ever go, assuming an obliging member of the opposite sex can be found. Actual men tend to be rather scarce in ballet. So… what is it about ballet that sends me hunting online bargains of cute dance warmups instead slavering over the expensive-but-exquisite goods on the tango shoe websites (ever so nice for Balboa)? What makes me willing to shell out extra money for an adult ballet class, and actually miss part of my university swing club night so I can attend?

So far what I’ve come up with is that ballet is one of the few dance forms where it’s ok for women to look serious. Most dances don’t go well with serious looks. Weekend before last I took a Westie workshop that challenged me in a number of ways, so I was concentrating hard. Towards the end the instructor reproached me a couple of times with, “You’re so serious! Smile!” See, in most dance forms you’re supposed to be happy all the time. “Big smiles, girls!” After all, a bright smile covers a multitude of dancing sins. And if you don’t look like you’re having fun, then, well, you must be doing something wrong. Lindy is very like this. I think of it being a little like Tigger in Winnie-the-Pooh: “Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun!”

If you’re not being happy, then you’re being sexy. Think Blues. Or Tango. Tango is a very serious dance, but it’s in a we’re-barely-restraining-ourselves-from- ripping-each-other’s-clothes-off sort of way. You can be angry with Hip Hop, but otherwise it’s all looking languidly bored or playing up the sex. There’s very few dances where you get to be just plain serious. Or sad. It’s like sadness is the unacceptable emotion. Women can be happy, sexy, or (rarely) angry, but they can’t be serious or sad.

Not in ballet. This is a dance form in which one of the definitive performances is Anna Pavlova performing The Dying Swan. Death, sorrow, revenge – it’s all there along with the lighter, more acceptable emotions. You don’t have to be happy or sexy all the time, although ballet can definitely be both. When I dance ballet I can be myself, concentrating hard on the muscles I’m using, the line I’m reaching for, not worrying whether I’m looking happy or cute. When it comes time to let the emotions through I can mourn my friend’s rapidly approaching death from liver cancer. I can express how much I miss Joe. I can be myself, my whole self, not just the fun parts of me. And that, I think, is why I love ballet.

One of my friends recently blogged about what she was doing this time a year ago, and it got me thinking. A year ago this October Joe was still in Afghanistan. I was writing letters to him in class while trying hard not to flirt with Carlos, and just barely starting to notice Trey’s attention. (I didn’t even begin to take him seriously until one night he blew me a kiss to say good-bye, and I thought, “Oh, maybe there’s something going on there…”) I was still living with my former roommate, and though I wasn’t all that happy, the thought of moving out hadn’t entered my head. Liv and I had just started to hang out on a regular basis, and though we got along like a house on fire, we still had no inkling of the best friends symbiosis that would soon assert itself. Anna had put the word out that she was looking for more teachers just the month before, and I had started to learn how to lead (to teach you need to be able to do/explain both lead and follow).

Last October I took my first ever West Coast lesson.

This October Joe is in novitiate in Louisiana, Carlos has established himself as Not My Type, and Trey is the kind of friend you call “dear” and wouldn’t date on a dare. My former roommate is dieing of liver cancer (she’s been in Hospice Care for about a month now), Liv and I would be joined at the hip if her wheelchair wouldn’t get in the way (did I mention we live together now?), this month I’m teaching Swing I, and last weekend I drove two hours each way to attend a four hour West Coast dance.

I’d like to say I’ve learned Deep Life Lessons in the intervening year, that I’ve Grown and Changed as a person. Mostly, though, it’s felt much more like riding a roller coaster with no safety restraint system, holding on for dear life trying not to get thrown off into the bottomless void beneath. Ironically, I learned how to let go of my need for drama just as life was handing me some major Drama to deal with. Every month has had its challenges, none of them little: the liver cancer diagnosis right before Christmas Eve, guy drama, family issues, chemotherapy, moving, planning a wedding (regrettably, not my own), major money problems after my financial aid got screwed up, trying to settle into a new home, more guy drama, sprained ankles, school challenges, road trips… oh, and dancing. A lot of dancing.

I’d like to say it’s been a good year, but I’m not sure if it’s been good or bad. I suppose it’s been good for me. At least I’ve survived so far. That’s something in itself. I’ll count my blessings.

Today in my Anthropology 150 class, the Professor was talking about various marriage customs around the world.  There’s your good old monogamy (the ostensible custom of choice for most of the Western world, also my personal favorite), and various forms of polygamy, from polygyny (one man married to more than one woman ala harems) to polyandry (one woman married to more than one man).  There can be different benefits to the different kinds of marriage, like having more workers to carry on subsistence farming in the case of polygyny.  In fact, this kind of polygamy is so popular that when we say the word “polygamy,” everyone assumes that we’re talking polygyny.  But there are benefits to polyandry too, and it is the norm in some parts of the world.  In Tibet, where land is incredibly scarce and birth rates must be kept down to ensure survival, often one woman will marry all of the brothers from a family, ensuring that the family land will be inherited intact instead of split up between the brothers.  While to us the idea of one woman being married to more than one man seems sorta perverted, the kind of thing guys write letters to Playboy about, for these Tibetans, it’s a simple matter of sensible economics.

The class was a little boring, and my mind started to wander.  I started thinking, if I were to be married to more than one guy, who would I marry?  It was purely theoretical, so I considered all the guys I know, even the ones who are already taken.  Most of the guys from dancing were immediately dismissed.  Joe was definitely on the list, and Justin, a theology grad student who’s been showing up on my radar lately (he told me the most awesomely geeky joke the other day).  I considered Trey , and then crossed him off.  For one thing, I can’t imagine him living in the same house with Joe and Justin, much less sharing a wife with them.  For another, I still don’t want to have to care in any way what Trey does or doesn’t do.  As a friend, he’s fun.  As one of my primary relationships, he would make my life miserable.  Then I thought of Rudy, the smoothest Lindy Hopper I’ve ever danced with.  He parties a little too much, and drinks more than is perhaps healthy, but he’s been happily linked with his girl through some major ups and downs for a couple of years now.  And he likes to think about things.  And he’s got a lot more maturity under his belt than most of the guys I know.  I think I could get along with him just fine.  And he would definitely be fun to dance with!

So, you know, just in case the world is suddenly transformed into the sort of place where polyandry makes sense, and if the Catholic Church would suddenly decide that this was a good idea, and if they were all suddenly available, Joe, Justin and Rudy are mine.  Dibs!

I have this well-documented fatal weakness for theology professors. It’s true. Stick me in the same room with a reasonably young, reasonably attractive, available, male theology professor on a regular basis over an extended period of time (like, say, in a class), and chances are before we’re done I’ll be crushing on him. The problem is that too often, they seem to crush back

Last Fall I took a class from Carlos, a late-30-something Cuban who looked like a young C.S. Lewis, sang songs to illustrate theological points, and paid me enough particular attention that other students were turning to watch my reactions when he was cute in class. This was all highly encouraging, but my previous experience with Rocco had been scarring enough that I refused to go there until the class was really done.

Then the class was over, and I waited with baited breath for him to make good on all the promises his flirtatious behavior had seemed to make. All through Christmas I waited, and then the agonizing week until New Year’s, when I knew he had to be back in town. It was torture. Finally when school started up again I ran into him, and everything looked promising. He thought I looked great. He wanted to catch up with me sometime, and suggested that we should have lunch. I was on cloud nine. Then we tried to actually schedule this lunch, my busy schedule promptly clashed with his busy schedule, and everything ground to a halt.  That’s where it ended. He ran into one little roadblock and finked out on me. It was a little hard to take. But first Joe came home, and then Trey started borrowing books, and I’ve been a little distracted.

Now school has started again, and somehow I’m seeing a lot of this guy. We both go to noon Mass on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I keep running into him on campus, and he draws me into long conversations, all about the things I love, about my family, about everything. These are the conversations I would have killed to be having back in January. The problem is that it’s no good. Before this would have been a dream come true. Now I’m aware of a slight sense of impatience when he asks me yet another leading question. I like talking about myself too much to refuse to allow myself to be led, but I’m starting to think about pretending that I don’t see him when I’m in a hurry.

Dang it, Carlos, why couldn’t you have been like this last winter?

So I think I have a date this summer.  Sometime between June 13 and June 16, Basil and I are going to get together, spend some time, and consume a yet-t0-be-determined beverage (he said something about orange juice, but I’m pretty sure he was teasing).  It took a little while to sink in that I had just scheduled a date with him.  It wasn’t until I wrote the words in a letter to Lucy the next day that I really realized what had happened the night before.  Then I had to stop and breathe a moment.  However, as I was writing, I realized that I really admire the way that Basil has handled the situation.  This is the third time I’ve been in a class with an instructor who is interested in me.  Of all those guys, he is the only one who has proceeded without:

  1. doing anything the slightest bit inappropriate,
  2. pushing my boundaries in any way, or
  3. leaving any doubt whether or when I would see him again.

At the same time, his discretion has given me a lot of freedom.  I don’t need to know precisely how I feel about him.  I don’t need to try to figure out exactly how he feels about me.  I just don’t need to know.  I have a lot of questions (am I really up for a bi-racial relationship?  is he?  we’re very different – can our personalities really mesh?), but knowing that I don’t have enough data to answer them in any meaningful way means that I’m less tempted to try.  It’s very restful.

This absence of pressure is such a huge gift to me.  My whole life is one big pressure cooker right now.  I’m a full time student, and it’s the end of the semester.  I have several other projects going on right now as well.  And (barring a miracle) my roommate is dieing of liver cancer.  On top of this, Joe has been calling every night wanting to talk.  Trey (so far) only wants books, but he isn’t being all that clear about exactly what he wants.  Basil doesn’t want anything from me right now.  In June we’ll meet and go drink something.  At the moment, he doesn’t need anything at all.  It’s so nice.  It may be the only restful thing in my life.  Every time I think about it, I’m pretty sure my blood pressure goes down a notch.

Restful.