Adventures in a Mall: A Tale of Security and Cameras.

Dora and Diego have adventures when they’re not even trying to have adventures.

My friend Margaret and I picked Mike up this afternoon, geared up for a day of shopping at the ever-wonderful Viewmont Mall. I needed to finish (read: start) my Christmas shopping, so what better way to shop than with two of my favorite people?

At first, we did exactly what we had intended. I bought my mom an electric frying pan from Sears, and I was so delighted that the cashier insisted on texting instead of getting through my transaction. She should get a great Christmas bonus. What a saleswoman! We also went to Spencer’s, where I got a nifty pair of sunglasses (complete with mustache), and Mike got a book with the best Spanish phrases I’ve ever seen.

By then we needed to go to the car to drop off the frying pan. The stellar cashier had put my purchase in too small of a bag, and my fingers were turning festive colors while I tried to carry it.

We got to the car, and as I put the package in the backseat I happened to glance at my camera sitting so angelically in its bag. It was time to play paparazzi.

Mike and Margaret took on the air of two hassled Hollywood stars, and I took on the persona of a very odd celebrity stalker and photographer. I followed from a reasonable distance, snapping happily as I went. I followed them into American Eagle and Aeropostale, and all the while Mike was muttering about not being able to have a normal outing. We were having loads of fun, and then I heard it. “Miss. Miss. MISS!”

I was too intent on getting my shot to consider that the “miss” this man was referring to could actually be me. More because it was an annoyance than anything, I turned toward the noise. Maybe I had dropped my lens cap? I came face-to-face with a man in a white uniform. “You can’t take pictures in the mall.”

Really? No, really? You stalked me and accosted me because I was taking pictures? “Okay.”

“You can’t take pictures unless you have approval from mall management.”

“Okay.”

I power-walked in the direction of Mike and Margaret, who had ducked into Hallmark. They were climbing over displays in order to escape me, but I finally yelled, “GUYS! I need to talk to you. We have a problem.”

I explained the incident with the mall cop, and as I turned to look out the door, I saw the very same “officer” pacing the length of the storefront. “Um, why don’t we look at some cards?” I said, still looking out the door.

We retreated into the back of the store. I was the first to speak. “What are we going to do?”

Mike said, “Well, I can put it around my neck, zip up my jacket, and we’ll all leave.”

I stole another glance of the door. There were now two mall cops swarming the waters like sharks waiting for a school of minnows.

Margaret brought me back. “Why don’t we go get your purse and hide it in there?”

I took my camera off of my neck and opened the memory card slot. I took the primary memory card out–the one with the pictures–and replaced it with the secondary card, which was empty. I stuck the primary card in my pocket and handed the camera to Mike. “We’ll be back.”

We left Mike to guard the camera while Margaret and I swam past the sharks, who seemed to have temporarily disappeared, likely distracted by someone who was chewing gum too loudly or otherwise enjoying their civil liberties.

When we got to the car, I tucked my memory card into my camera bag. I grabbed my purse. Margaret and I seriously discussed the possibility of “mall jail” and how much we’d have to pay for bail. Where do you think it is? Will they accept credit cards? Do you think these guys need to get hobbies?

At the very least, we’d still have pictures of the event. They couldn’t confiscate anything because there wasn’t anything to confiscate. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, sir. I didn’t take any pictures. Look. Empty memory card.”

We were discussing who we’d call for our “one call” in mall jail when I thought to check my phone. I already had one missed call from Mike, and we’d only been gone for five minutes. “MARGARET. THEY TOOK HIM. HE’S IN MALL JAIL.”

We couldn’t call back. What if the officer interrogated us? Instead we stealthily weaved in and out of kiosks on our way back to Hallmark, hoping that the mall cops had miraculously discovered their hobby while we were absent. Not the case.

Two security guards (still the same mall cops… I needed a synonym for “mall cop,” and I thought “neanderthal” might have been offensive) were deep in conversation, and one was holding up a walkie-talkie. I stopped walking and ducked behind the calendar booth. “I can’t do this, Margaret. I can’t. Here, take it. Take my purse.”

I chanced calling Mike. “Admiral Mo is en route with the parcel. I’ll be browsing calendars when the transaction occurs. Over and out.”

The Indian man running the calendar stand shot me a suspicious look, so I opted for the bench outside of Aerie that had a full view of the Hallmark storefront without being too noticeable.

Meanwhile, in Hallmark, a mall cop entered the store, spoke to the employees, looked and Mike, and said, “A2 to A5…” as he walked out and took up his regular post. The employees looked at Mike and Margaret and talked amongst themselves.

Mike, being Mike, struck up a conversation with said employees, who disclosed to him that security had, in fact, warned them about us. “They told us that there was a situation, and that’s why they’re stationed outside.”

I was watching from my bench. One of the two security guards left to pursue other stalking missions (children with candy, people with bright clothing, etc.), so I took this as my cue to enter the store. I strode confidently with my green Santa hat and mustachioed sunglasses, thinking that if I was going to go down, it was going to be in a blaze of f*cking glory.

I was ready to go, man. Ready. To. Go.

I turned to enter the golden gates of Hallmark, and the gargoyle of a mall cop sprang to life, rounding on me with hands on hips and muttering something menacingly into his walkie-talkie. I ran to Margaret and Mike, who were calmly paying for their purchases. We walked out together, deviants united. Mike spoke loudly about his clever greeting card, and I chanced a look over my shoulder.

Well, lookie here, folks. We got ourselves a mall cop stalker.

I whispered urgently to my comrades that we were being followed. In unison we looked back just in time to see the “cop” craftily cut behind a kiosk about twenty feet back. Smooth. Margaret said, “Let’s just get this to the car.”

“Oh, no. We’re gonna have some fun now. If he wants to follow us, let’s give him a trail to sniff,” I said.

Mike added, “You know what? I feel like trying on heels at Macy’s.”

Macy’s is at the other end of the mall. Challenge accepted.

We passed several other security guards, all of whom gave us The Eye. We slipped into Macy’s, took a little-known exit, and walked, laughing, to my car. We put my camera in its bag and went back into the line of fire. The first security guard showed up randomly in a lot of the places we were, and the final time we encountered him, he made a show of checking his watch as we passed him.

…can I just be like him? He’s the coolest.

As we got pretzels on our way out, we saw four men in suits and a legitimate police officer enter the mall. “Guys. Some suits and a legit officer came in. We screwed up. We gotta go,” I said with urgency.

And on that note, we walked to the parking lot, watched the car next to me get towed, and sauntered past two police cruisers. Bazinga.

Some of images they wanted, here for your viewing pleasure:

I'm your biggest fan, I'll follow you until you love me.

Celebrity Diego pictured with his new flame. This is hittin' the tabloids tomorrow, baby.

Irony: they're walking toward Mall Management AND Mall Security.

What scandalous item was Diego buying? Turn to page 17 to get the dish!

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God Bless the Broken Road.

My life, when it comes to college education, has been a roller coaster. If you had asked me at the beginning of my senior year of high school where I planned to attend college, I would have immediately launched into my love-driven soliloquy about Carnegie Mellon. It was a last-minute choice not to apply early decision. Instead, I submitted applications to both Susquehanna University and Carnegie Mellon University, both for Creative Writing. When I got into both, I was faced with a decision that plagued me for quite some time.

It was a lot less difficult to pick when I found out that Carnegie Mellon requires C.W. majors to complete their core studies before even thinking about writing courses. I thought that was a waste of time for the amount of tuition I’d be paying (thanks for all of the invisible financial aid, CMU). I sent my deposit check off to SU, and I believed I had made the greatest decision possible.

I loved SU. I was blissfully happy for maybe three weeks, and then the homesickness hit. And then my cat died a week before the anniversary of my father’s death, and I found myself in the same state of mind I was four years prior to that moment. I lost direction, and I started developing horrible panic attacks in the middle of the night. I’d even have them at home. The worst happened at 3:00 in the morning at SU. It lasted two excruciating hours, and at one point I had completely lost feeling in my fingers. I couldn’t finish out the semester without mentally straining myself to breaking and getting horrible grades, so I took a medical leave of absence with the intention of returning for the spring semester.

The real me was gone for a while when I had come home from SU. I struggled with crushing feelings of failure and regret, and I was constantly afraid of the judgement of others. And, while I can talk about it openly, I still feel some of those emotions about the whole ordeal. I was, however, determined to go back… until I felt the registration deadline bearing down on me. I couldn’t face it, and the deadline passed without anyone saying a word.

I registered instead for an intersession course and several spring semester courses at Lackawanna College. They had a satellite center ten miles from me, so it all seemed very doable. Temporary, but doable. Pride-injuring, but doable.

I remember sitting down with my degree audit and planning what courses I’d take at Lackawanna and what ones I’d take at SU. I had everything planned down to the very last credit. I felt like the plan was going to work. I’m not sure when things started to change, but I know that by mid-January I had decided I’d never go back to SU. This decision was dual-faceted: I didn’t want to be far from home, and I didn’t want to be a Creative Writing major. Teaching! I wanted to be a teacher, and I knew a friend in Marywood’s education program. Marywood… yes, Marywood would be a good fit.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Now, why did I have to go through that journey? I am a firm believer in the mantra “everything happens for a reason,” so I have to believe that each step in this process was necessary.

Why Susquehanna?: I met Stacey, Hope, and Shannon, three people who are absolutely incredible. I found out that, yes, I can live on my own, but I have to sort out some of my demons first. I learned that Creative Writing is something I don’t need to be taught, and that writing critique letters was not a good use of my time. I had to learn there. SU will always be a part of me, and sometimes I miss it, but I now realize why I wasn’t meant to be there.

Why Lackawanna?: Well, first off it was a lesson in patience and learning how to be a student without being social. Mostly, I think I was destined to go to Lackawanna because I was meant to meet Nina, and that’s a good enough reason for me. I needed to be a student, because without working toward something bigger than myself, I fall into feeling useless. Lackawanna saved me from this.

Why Marywood is my fit: I hated Marywood at the beginning. There are still some things about Marywood I dislike, but I’ve really come to realize that I was meant to go here. It rekindled my love for a language that should have always been a part of my life, and if I hadn’t gone to Marywood, I would have been done with language. I love the Spanish component of my major, and it makes me sad to think that I could have missed out on something I love so much.

I love that the departments at Marywood are small and close-knit. Of course, it helps that I’m part of the two best departments in the school (and the most fun, omg). Walking into the English department after a long day feels like home, and wandering around Immaculata is what keeps me going. (I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that my room is right above the Foreign Language department.)

As always, though, it’s about the people. I’m so glad to have met Mike and Kasey; they’ve made this semester so great for me. Mike and I really are the same person, and I do think I was meant to meet him. Our Dora and Diego adventures have been some of the best moments of my life, and I wouldn’t trade that for prestigious, stuffy Carnegie Mellon if I could. I’m grateful to have met two women who serve as real inspirations both academically and personally. These four people have made the journey totally and completely worth it, and if I hadn’t had the long journey, I don’t think I’d appreciate just how wonderful things have been at Marywood. (Oh, yes, there have been dark moments at MU, but they made me stronger and appreciate the good that much more.)

I was meant to take this path, and I was definitely meant to end up at Marywood. Sometimes the path is winding, but we all get to where we’re meant to go in the end.

Of Chocolate and Potato Landslides: What I Learned on My Journey to Insanity

“I firmly attest that all recounted in this blog is absolutely true. Dora has captured the events of this project with such grace and dignity. This blog is a genuine representation of everything that happened. May it also be noted that there are still remnants of glitter in LAC 124.” -Diego

It happened somewhere around the middle of the semester. We were discussing Machu Picchu in my intermediate Spanish class, and it was decided that my friends and I would explore the land of Machu Picchu. “You could be like Dora the Explorer!” my professor exclaimed.

Mike, Kasey, and I became known as Diego, Boots, and Dora, respectively, in the weeks to come. The ordeal started innocently enough when Dr. Costanzi, our professor, announced that there would be oral presentations instead of oral interviews at the end of the semester. Immediately we turned to each other and said, “We’re going to Machu Picchu.”

We didn’t realize at the time that asking for permission to bring in a fog machine would set off some warning bells, but that it did. While our plans spiraled more and more out of control in the realm of the ridiculous, word was spreading that a presentation of epic proportions was going to happen in the near future. The head of the English department, Dr. Bittel, approached Boots and me one day after our Literary Criticism class, and she inquired about the fog machine. We were surprised, to say the least–I was more surprised if only because I had just one interaction with Dr. Bittel before. We assured her that the presentation would be memorable and walked away hoping we could deliver on that promise.

To begin, we made a Facebook group page so that we could discuss script revisions, staging, etc. It felt like a step in the right direction, but at least in my mind, I felt like delivering a solid performance was somewhat impossible. How were we going to pull this off? We knew two things: we were going to have a fog machine, and we were going to Machu Picchu, dammit.

Time passed, and we got wrapped up in other projects and papers. When it came time for Thanksgiving, we realized that we had more of a dream than a project. Something had to happen, and it had to happen fast. Diego and I put the project first as much as we could, and by the end of the break, we had half of a solid draft, the concept of disco stick transportation, and a vision of a chocolate offering for The Empress. Things were looking up.

We ran into Dr. Bittel more frequently, and after a while we didn’t run into her so much as run to her with more and more details and secrets. The biggest secret we had to keep from Dr. Costanzi, A.K.A. The Empress, was the chocolate, which at first was only going to be a bar of her favorite confection. Diego was charged with the task of the first reconnaissance mission: find out what Dr. Costanzi’s favorite chocolate is. When he reported back that it was Hershey’s, he didn’t miss a beat by following up with, “The Weis in Carbondale has a five pound bar.”

We knew it would happen as soon as he said it, and this sparked a Dora and Diego adventure in itself. We went to Wegman’s, Sam’s Club, and The Candy Kitchen in Dunmore before accepting the fact that we would indeed have to travel to the very sketchy Weis in Carbondale. (But then, what isn’t sketchy in Carbondale?) The cashier was both confused and delighted that we were so jubilant to find five pounds of chocolate, and she only twitched a little when we requested that she take our picture with the enormous bar.

The Empress's Offering: the equivalent of 51.6 normal chocolate bars.

There came the problem of storage. Diego and I both realized that our households would not be trusted with the prize, so they were out. There was my room on campus, but I’m housed in the same building as the foreign language department. The likelihood of a normal set of people running into a single person at a single moment is slim, sure, but when the set of people is a pair of cartoon characters with a huge candy bar, the likelihood gets pumped up on steroids. We didn’t trust Fate, but we did trust Dr. Bittel.

Did we get looks when we carried it across campus? Not as many as one would think. We were stopped more than once in the English department itself, and that is partially why we had an audience including three members of the English faculty during the actual performance.

Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Dr. Bittel was more than happy to store The Chocolate under her desk, assuring us that Dr. Costanzi hardly made her way up there anyway. We knew then that our secret would be kept safe, and it was time to direct our full attention to finishing the script. Right… we hadn’t done that yet.

Because I was an education major at the start of the semester, I had to attend a mandatory weekly observation at a local high school. In one of the classes I observe, there was a silent reading day. Instead of staring at the back of 20 teenaged heads for 45 minutes, I whipped out my notebook and decided to slay the dragon. (Not a drug reference, I swear.) I tapped my pencil on the paper for a few moments, thinking, “Why would a group of cartoon characters leave a magnificent place? Why?”

And then it hit me like a sack of potatoes: an avalanche of Machu Picchu’s most important crop. (Which, as the pun would have it, are potatoes.)

The horrible first draft/first page of the script ending, complete with my 8:00 AM spelling of "mountain" and my new Spanish word "sinmigo."

The end of the saga poured out of me like delightful lava. How we were going to simulate it was beyond me, but that was a very small challenge compared to what we had already accomplished. Diego and I spent lunch that afternoon going over the final portion of the script, making revisions, and starting to figure out how in the world we were going to stage this.

A series of phone calls and Facebook message threads occurred. We figured out our epic soundtrack, set up our PowerPoint visual aid, and went over the blocking of the skit before we even set foot into the practice space. We wanted no room for error, because the more that time trickled by, the more that interest was piqued all throughout our two departments. Expectations were at an all-time high, and we wanted so desperately to meet those expectations. It was do or die, and we weren’t lying down.

Who needs math when you can discuss serious things like what song to play during a fake potato landslide?

The day before the presentation was dubbed–and rightfully so–Rehearsal Day. Diego and I walked with at least twenty pounds of equipment each: pillow cases, glitter, cameras, tripods, a makeshift disco stick, stereo speakers…

We set up camp in my room before trying to secure our rehearsal space, but then the unthinkable and unacceptable happened: there was a class in our rehearsal space. Obviously they didn’t get the memo that a very important and life-changing production needed this very special classroom. The nerve! We wandered around for a half an hour or so before we saw the trickle of students filing out of LAC 124. We peeked our heads in to see Dr. Reyes of the Spanish department heading toward us. He informed us that there would be a class coming in within half an hour.

Thirty minutes to rehearse the project of the decade? We were, understandably, concerned.

We didn’t have long to fear, though; Dr. Reyes offered to move his class to the room next door, and it took all I had not to drop to my knees and kiss his feet. (I get really worked up about little things, okay?) We split up and ran off in different directions. Diego went to retrieve the chocolate while I got the rest of our equipment from my room. We met back at home base in less than fifteen minutes, and we began the set-up.

We used a closet for storage. The closet in question, as Diego likes to say, smells like the 80s, so it’s needless to say that it’s been out of commission for quite some time. We moved the instructor’s desk, set up cameras and projectors, and pumped up the Lady Gaga. We ran through the script once or twice sans Boots, and then we had to face our first sacrificial decision: class or no class?

Diego and Boots had Modern Belief, and I had Math in the Liberal Arts. Seeing as how I’d already skipped math about seven times that semester, I couldn’t afford to show up again, so I stayed planted in the LAC. Boots, however, could not afford to skip out on Modern Belief, so she took the fifteen minutes her professor allowed her and ran through the show with us twice.

We had seven different script drafts/files, and there were even more than that printed. Not excessive.

Brooke, our “AV Slave,” as Diego so affectionately deemed her, stayed with us while I directed all of Dr. Reyes’s class to the room next door. We began to set up our props, and it came to our attention that stuffing pillows with Diego’s performance clothes in order to simulate sacks of potatoes was a terrible idea. We needed another material with which to stuff, but what?

I had a choral concert that night, so I was wearing knee-highs and heels. I kicked off the heels and went sliding down the hall toward the English department. Jill. Wonderful, omniscient Jill, the secretary of the English department, would surely be able to solve our problem! On the journey, my big toe decided to make a surprise appearance straight through my knee-highs, but it was worth getting to run around Marywood sans shoes.

We ran up to Jill’s desk breathlessly, and she didn’t even bat an eyelash when we said we needed newspaper in order to make fake potato sacks. She told us with a frown that she did not have newspaper, but if we were up to it, we could check the basement of Immaculata for paper shredding.

We entered the forgotten lands of the Immac dungeon, and the man we encountered was very confused with our request. He regretted to inform us that they had just gotten rid of their shredding, but a janitor was kind enough to disappear down a long hallway in order to check for more. I like to think that he went into Narnia, ’cause he was gone for a really long time. So long, in fact, that Diego left in order to fill out a course evaluation sheet for Modern Belief.

Because of this, I had to carry a giant, bright green sack of paper shreds up a flight of stairs and through a main academic building. Did I fit through doorways? Not exactly. Did I get a lot of looks? Sadly, yes. Was it worth it? You bet your papas-loving ass it was.

I came back to find Brooke hiding in the closet lest her professor come to check for her. Diego and Boots soon came in, and rehearsal could finally begin in earnest. Diego made the sacrifice of skipping Psychology, but it was the only way.

Your kingdom is everything the light touches, Simba.

Diego and Brooke went to get food. It was a bad idea to leave Boots and me alone with a container of glitter. Obviously, we won the hearts of the entire janitorial staff by grinding little flecks of glitter deep into the carpet.

Edward Cullen was here. Pictured: sparkles, Boots, borrowed ears and tail from Dr. Bittel, a papas sack, the sack of shredding, speakers, tripod, camera bag, command station, everything epic.

We really did rehearse when Diego and Brooke came back. When I had tired of dramatically throwing myself to the ground during the landslide scene, we decided to call it a night. We stashed our props in the closet (most of which are still in said closet) and walked away feeling like this was the most insane thing we could ever dream to accomplish.

The Morning of Machu Picchu dawned like a ray of awesome. I missed my alarm and ran out of my house in my pajamas, thinking that if a late start was the only snag in our production, I’d be more than happy. I had to pick up Justyn, my “son,” and then Diego before arriving at Marywood.

Campus was dead. Anyone I saw was frozen in time. You know how the animals become still right before a stampede? Exactly.

I changed into my costume in my room while Diego went to retrieve the chocolate. We stored it in Dr. Bittel’s office overnight just in case someone conveniently rediscovered the Lost Closet. He returned with the chocolate bar and a tiara. I didn’t ask questions. Everything was set, and the most excruciating thing we had to do was wait.

No big deal, just three Nikons.

I don’t think I ever became nervous. We carried three Nikon cameras and a giant bar of chocolate down to our classroom with calmness and dignity (lies). We attempted to get the fog machine to work, but not without nearly suffocating/poisoning everyone in the right wing of the first floor of the LAC. Whoops. In the grand scheme of things, the fog machine didn’t matter much, but it was necessary in our planning stage to set the tone for the presentation and to get people interested in what we were going to do.

I had to literally sprint to my room twice to get things we forgot. Have you ever seen a nineteen-year-old Dora the Explorer run around a Christmas tree in the middle of an academic building? Neither had the people sitting around the LAC Rotunda that morning, but luckily I made their dreams come true. You’re welcome, unsuspecting Marywood students. You’re welcome.

My heart almost dropped straight out of my body when a girl from the group scheduled to present before us was late. “We might have to have you present first if she’s still running late,” Dr. Costanzi said.

No. No, no, no. Everything revolved around our being last. We had three professors from the English department coming to witness the all-Spanish spectacle. Gracias a dios for Dr. Costanzi, who was gracious enough to do some final exam review while we waited for Melissa to arrive. Luckily, she didn’t take more than five minutes, and everything was back on track.

Our trusty cinematographer with The Children.

Everything went according to plan, and I couldn’t have asked for a better performance. We did the unthinkable–we went to Machu Picchu on a disco stick and escaped a potato landslide. I felt invincible, just as if I were high in the Andes Mountains.

Epilogue

It was a few days after our epic adventure, and Diego and I were watching the annual Christmas tree lighting. Dr. Bittel had brought her lovely daughter to see the festivities. Her daughter was a fan of the cinematic rendition of the Machu Picchu adventure, and we were told that her favorite part was the potato landslide. We gifted her a genuine papas bag from the skit, a decision that, despite the savage beatings that followed, we do not regret one bit.

The landslide comes alive.

Diego relives the trauma in a PTSD moment.

And so I will end this reminiscence with a humble “thank you” to all involved, and the ominous reminder that Dora, Diego, and Boots are not through with their adventures just yet.

Monsters.

“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.”
-Stephen King

How very true it is that each of us deals with monsters on a daily basis.  Often the monsters lurk outside of our skin, and they show themselves in events like spilled morning coffee or being late to work because of random road construction.  We have our own set of experiences when we come together in a place like college, for example, and we work with each other without knowing the monsters the others had to battle before even showing up to a nine o’clock class.  We don’t even know what monsters might be lurking in the classroom itself.

The external monsters are the easiest to deal with.  While yes, they make us feel extremely uncomfortable, we can put a legitimate, tangible cause to our discomfort, making it seem justified and “normal.”  It’s not unreasonable to be frustrated after getting a bad grade on a quiz for which you studied intently.  It’s so much simpler to be able to point to something and say, “That.  That is why I’m feeling this way.”  More often than not, you can deal with the “That Monsters” and work at them until they limp away.

It’s when the monster is inside of you–that’s when things become difficult.

It’s very hard to comprehend feeling a certain way without being able to point to a concrete cause.  Some of us, and maybe not all of us (I can’t speak for the entire population), have monsters that dwell in our very souls.  A day could be going extremely smoothly, and then all of a sudden you’re hit with a feeling, and unfortunately, it’s usually sadness.  (Sometimes anxiety, anger, etc.)  There’s not a single thing you can point to and say, “See that?  That made me sad.”  There’s no event to cite.  Suddenly your thoughts turn direction, and it leaves you wondering what the hell just happened in your own head.

So, if you’re anything like me, you still try to find an external solution.  When I encounter an actual event that provokes an undesired emotion, I physically do something in order to “fix” the situation.  I try to implement the same strategy when the problem is internal, and it hardly ever works.  So you (or I, the pronouns really don’t matter because my hope is that this is somewhat universal) wander through your life trying to find the one thing that will make you go back to the happiness you felt even an hour before.  Some people use alcohol or the like, which doesn’t really do anything to fix the problem, but it’s a self-medication thing, I suppose.  Some people, like me, use people.  (I want it to be clear that I don’t mean “use” people as in take advantage of them; rather, I mean that I find a place where there are people I like and try to take comfort in their presence.)  People have the power to make us feel more human again, for a lack of a better way to explain it, and so we surround ourselves with the laughter and conversation of others.  A lot of the time it works, but there are definitely times when it doesn’t feel like enough just to BE around people.  Sometimes you want to TALK, but when you don’t know what the hell is wrong with you in the first place, you don’t know what to talk ABOUT, and then you just feel like you’re wasting the other person’s time.

Also, you feel like the person you’re talking to has the magical ability to make you feel better if they’d just say or do a certain thing, but you can’t even identify what it is because you don’t know why you’re upset, so you sit there waiting for something that might not even exist in the first place.  It is a sort of desperate, frustrating thing for all persons involved, and then you end up feeling worse than you did before you tried to talk about it.  Then what?  Well, you try to listen to music, or watch TV, or do anything else to distract you from the annoyingly persistent emotion you’re irrationally feeling.  Sometimes that works, and when you’re on the other, monster-less side, you can’t understand why you allowed yourself to be captive of that emotion for so long.

Other times, the fog doesn’t lift for quite some time, and eventually whatever monster it was just nods off into hibernation, leaving you to wonder when he’ll decide to surface again.  It makes you feel crazy and/or abnormal, and you wonder whether or not everyone goes through this or if it’s only you.  When it happens again (it always happens again), you have an internal fight.  Your first instinct is to talk to a friend again, but A. you know that it will frustrate them, B. you’re afraid they’ll think that there’s something wrong with you, and C. you still can’t articulate what is happening.

And what THEN?  It either gets more difficult to deal with or you learn to ignore the monster by locking it in some dark room in your mind, feeling its presence but not letting it run amok.  I vacillate between the two, and I can say that I’m exhausted by the effort it takes to keep a monster tied up.  There comes a time when you collapse into your own effort and wait for someone to drag you back up to your feet again.

Or maybe it’s just me, in which case, shit.

The Fuzzy Future.

“Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life.  The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives.  The most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.”

–Mary Schmich

From the time I was in seventh grade up until a year or so ago, my career aspirations were quite simple: become a writer.  I had some wonderful fantasy in my head that I could go to college for Creative Writing, and the post-graduation plan was either a big, black abyss or a whirlwind of being published and signing copies of my debut novel.  It wasn’t until I actually got to college that I realized I wanted a backup plan.  It didn’t take me very long to understand that I’ve always had some connection with the idea of being a teacher, so I transferred schools and took on an education major.

Even before I started at Marywood, I had way too many possible career ideas in my head.  In high school I never questioned my major, per se, but I was constantly trying to figure out what my minor would be.  In my sophomore year, it was Spanish.  My Spanish teacher at the time was a brilliant educator, and he made me fall in love with the language.  When he left to be an administrator my junior year, I still held on to at least some of the passion I had for the language, but I was drifting into other subject areas.  In my senior year, I had a truly awful Spanish teacher, and I promised myself that I would never, ever do anything else with the language.  I was determined to place out of my language requirements at Susquehanna so I wouldn’t have to take even another semester of language.  Instead, I started contemplating doing something with Chemistry.  Science was (and always will be) a love of mine, so I thought about having a job in the field of science.  Creative Writing and Chemistry double major!  Sure, it was unorthodox, but I was never normal with anything I did.

The idea of Chemistry slowly faded into the background.  When I was taking classes at Lackawanna, I toyed with the idea of a Philosophy minor, or maybe even a minor in Psychology, both of which had the potential to enhance my writing.  Photography, yet another passion of mine, bobbed around in the background as another choice, along with music and theatre.  I had five possible choices for a minor when I entered Marywood as an English and Secondary Education major.

I did, at one point, inquire about a minor in music, but that fell to the wayside when I decided to pursue a dual major.  I’ve explained once before my rekindled love for Spanish, so I won’t bore you in a rehashing.

And so I decided to major in both English and Spanish, and the thought until now has been that I will go to graduate school to get my certification and MAT in secondary education.  Right now, I’m hitting a brick wall.  I know that I shouldn’t be worrying about this so early in the game, since it’s likely that I’ll be at Marywood for three more years as an undergraduate, but my future is something that plagues me daily.

What is it that I want to do with my life?  I can see myself doing so many different things, and I can’t choose just one.  That would be fine, you know, to have multiple careers over my life, but the bills.  The cost of educating myself for so many different professions would be astronomical after a while, so I feel the pressure now in having to choose one.  Right now, the decision is between teaching secondary ed. and going the higher-education route and trying for professorship.

I’ve been looking at secondary education for a few years now, and its allure comes mostly from my hopefully “making a difference.”  I had so many influential teachers in high school, and they were influential because they were willing to listen.  It’s a yearning to give back, in part, that drives me to become an English/Spanish secondary ed. teacher, but now I’ve seen the other side.  While I enjoy immensely observing at Western Wayne and being in a classroom in that capacity, I also get to see the bureaucratic bullshit that public education teachers deal with on a daily basis.  I understand the need for IEPs, the meetings, the high standards, the accountability, etc.  There are so many regulations, though, that I’d feel close to losing my job at any moment.  (I have to seriously inquire about those regulations, especially the ones regarding conduct with students, because some of them are ridiculous.)  There will always be the problem of behavior control, or the problem of those students who just want to sit in the back and fail.  There are ways to battle all of this, sure, but I don’t know if I would be able to endure those struggles every day for twenty to thirty years.

On the other hand, there is teaching at the college level.  Sure, you really need to know your shit, but your benefits are even greater.  The hours are even MORE flexible than public school.  The students are there, for the most part, because they want to be.  The publishing connections are incredible, and maybe it would be the closest I could ever get to publishing the novel of which I have always dreamed.  The student interaction is of a different caliber, but there is where I have my biggest struggle.  I want to be able to make a difference in someone’s life, and I want to be the kind of confidant that I found in my teachers in high school.  I suppose that could happen at both levels, but it likely means more in a high school setting.  Trust me, it sounds really awesome to have a more mature bond with my students, but would it really help them?

I’m going to agonize over this for ages, and my first step to figuring it out is to see a professor at my school.  She teaches in the English department, and prior to her professorship she was a high school English teacher for 30  years.  If anyone can give me the solid pros and cons of each field, it is certainly her.  Who knows?  I might even bring this entry in so she can fully understand the many thoughts whizzing about my head.  If she can make sense of it and give me some direction, God bless her soul.

Why can’t I ever make things easy for myself?

Authenticity.

The thing about having a blog is that you’re supposed to post in it.  Yeah, I’ve been really good about that.

I encounter a problem in my life, as many do, concerning time and not having enough of it.  The past two or three weeks have been madness personified, and though I have had many writing ideas, I have not even come close to having the time to write.  What better time than 1:05 in the morning, right?

Lately I’ve been contemplating the discrepancy between people and their online personae.  In the age of email and Facebook, it’s usually the case that we see more of people online than we do “in real life.”  Which one is the more accurate representation of the person?  Obviously, you would think that the real, flesh-and-blood person would be the most genuine, but I’ve seen cases where this doesn’t seem to be true.

Because I am a writer (or like to fancy I am one, anyway), I believe that the written word is one of the most powerful tools of expression.  The “voice” in someone’s writing is the true essence of them, or so I’d like to think.  I’ve always thought that emotion was easier expressed when written somewhere, because some things are too painful / embarrassing / sentimental to say out loud.  It seems to be easier, at least sometimes, to say our inner-most thoughts on paper (or, in this case, computer).  At least in my life, I feel like I’m freer to express emotions in this way, which is why I often post quotes on Facebook about life, love, and loss.

However, I don’t think I’m the only one.  It’s interesting when you’ve known someone for a while and then add them on Facebook.  Sometimes you can be surprised about what they choose to post.  Someone who is fun and light can have a very serious and emotional Facebook.  (I know, it seems like I’m reading too much into this, but hear me out.)  The opposite also occurs often; you know someone who is shy and reserved, but on Facebook they’re tagged in every party album holding that notorious red Solo cup.

Then, of course, you have really intelligent people who, on Facebook, fall into txt spk and show little emotion, but for the intents and purposes of this blog, we won’t talk about them.

So, again, which of these is the “real” person, or is it a duality?  Is there a part of us we deem appropriate for general, in-person communication and one that we feel is best for an online forum?  Why is there a difference?  (And you have to admit, there’s definitely a difference.)  My theory–and it’s nothing more–is that we like the feeling of hiding behind a computer screen.  We feel more comfortable admitting personal truths to online representations of people than to their living counterparts.  We want people to know us, and sometimes it’s easier to construct that through pictures and quotes than it is to say the right words in the real world.

I think this might be my reading too much into things, but I’ve always found it much easier to express myself through writing.  I can edit what I say if it doesn’t come out right, and the words come more easily than when I speak.  (I tend to get tongue-tied because my brain works much faster than my mouth.)  What does that say about our society?  We speak our true thoughts through the Internet, but in the tangible world we hide more than we show.  At least the message gets across,  I suppose.

And then, when it comes to emails, the down-to-business attitude makes everyone sound exactly the same, but that’s a topic for a different day.

As always, my writing is nothing more than vastly generalized theories that have really no basis or organization, but I wanted to see how these thoughts would play out in writing.  If I manipulate them enough, I think I can make something of them.  If not, at least I can stop wondering about this so much.

Yep.  I think too much.

The Longest Years.

My father died on October 10, 2006.  I was fourteen years old and was only a month and a half into my freshman year of high school.  I haven’t been anything close to a child since.

Monday will be the fifth year anniversary.  Each year “The Day” hits me a little differently, and up until yesterday I thought I would slip by this year unscathed by the searing pain of grief.  However, my best friend, trying desperately to make me feel better, inadvertently pushed me into the deep, dark abyss.  For a moment it seemed as though all comfort in my life had disintegrated, leaving me literally gasping.  I’m still trying to claw my way out of the hole, and I’m not sure how long it will take me to get out this time.

Usually I’m good at concealing sadness, so much so that I often trick myself into being happy.  Today, though, I didn’t have the energy to put up the facade.  Three out of four teachers commented that I looked tired or asked what was wrong.  On most days I’d shrug it off and walk away, but today it was too close to the surface for me to bury it in time.  I had reached my suppression threshold by the end of the day, so my poor Special Ed. professor was the recipient of my word vomit.

During class, I made no effort to look even remotely focused.  I was mentally there enough to get the information I needed, but otherwise my brain was tangled in its own web of thoughts.  My pen died while I was trying to correct my homework.  Because a student was going over the homework with us and my professor wasn’t, she was able to see my predicament and hand me another pen.  Later, she asked the class a simple question and didn’t receive an answer.  She commented that we all seemed exhausted, and she specifically singled me out.  I wasn’t surprised; I was quite aware that I was zombie-like in appearance.

The professor ended up letting us out early because of our complete inattentiveness.  When I handed her the pen she had lent me, she said, “Are you okay?  You look… sad.”

I couldn’t stop it.  All of a sudden I was telling her nearly everything that was pent up, and I came to a very interesting and slightly startling revelation: my life has been completely fucked up.  I don’t ever let myself really think about it as a whole, especially because I don’t like “playing the victim” or what have you, but honestly.  My dad died as a result of medical malpractice.  I watched the heath care system fail.  I saw corruption so disgusting you’d never set foot in a hospital ever again.  I went through the trial process and watched my mother relive the worst day of her life over and over again… and then it was my turn to do the same.  I had to read my personal journals in front of a courtroom of strangers, as if I were some sick sideshow attraction.  “Come see the grieving daughter spill her soul everywhere!  Admission is free!”

I then watched the judicial system fail, at least in part.  (It was ruled a wrongful death against the hospital, but we settled because nurses flat out lied on the stand.)  I had to fill the place of my father in the household, meaning I was told financial things that no fourteen-year-old should ever have to know.  I have never been fourteen… or fifteen, or sixteen, or seventeen… I don’t even feel like I’m nineteen now.  It has been nine months since the trial ended, but I still feel like the healing process hasn’t begun.  Since 2006 I’ve been waiting and waiting for the moment when it will “hit” me, but it has never come.  Is there really just one moment?  Will it come in spurts for the rest of my life, picking the worst times and rendering me debilitated until it finally subsides?

In this conversation with my professor, I was able to see my life for what it’s really been.  I don’t want to give off the impression that I hate my life.  I still believe that everything happens for a reason; if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to survive.  It was a strange feeling to view my life at once subjectively and objectively.  I feel those five years right now, if only by their weight.  I’m tired.  I’m tired of running from the grief that threatens to consume me.  I’m tired of trying to keep up with schoolwork.  I’m tired of being tired all the time.

I know that I’m going to be fine.  That’s never been a question because there’s never been an alternative.  I don’t know how long this spell of grief is going to last.  I feel myself closing off again, but whether that’s indicative of the end is not something I can know for certain.  I know the present, and presently I feel completely exhausted in every possible way.  I have a rough draft to write, a chapter of psychology to read, and my own personal bullshit to attend to before 1:00 tomorrow afternoon.  All I want from my life at the moment is sleep and a hug.

I find it interesting that I can explain my life events to other people as if they haven’t happened to me.  The whole time I talked to my professor, I didn’t even come close to crying until I admitted that it sometimes feels like my father never even existed… like he has only ever been a figment of my very vivid imagination.  Otherwise, I can separate myself from this horrible event completely.  The whole fifty minutes I talked to her (God bless her for listening to me for that long, because I had no idea I had spoken for more than fifteen minutes) I spoke about myself and not as myself.  I analyzed myself and my life from an outside perspective, which was how I could see how completely fucked it’s been without reacting to that realization.

This will not be the last time I visit these thoughts.  Writing is usually my catharsis, but I feel as though this time it’s made me more active instead of more subdued.  As tired as I am, I’m worried about falling asleep tonight.

I miss him.