For the Gorgeous Girls in a Less Than Beautiful World

I was recently looking over Amandla Sternberg’s tumblr page, because I wanted to learn a little more about her after her name keeps popping up in my facebook newsfeed thingy. For those of you who don’t know, she played Rue in the Hunger Games a couple years ago. For those of you who don’t know what the Hunger Games is, feel free to Google that. For those of you who don’t know what Google is, you need more help than I can possibly give and also how did you even get here.

Anyway, Amandla Sternberg is all about empowering people of color, and especially women. She wants black women, especially, to be perceived as beautiful in the media without being fetishized. Her blog is wonderful and eloquent and full of beautiful pictures of beautiful people.

Race is a touchy subject no matter where you go, because humans are sometimes, and sadly, very stupid and we cling to our vestigial need for the in-group. Western media has mainstreamed the idea of “white beauty,” where Caucasian women are the epitome of ideal beauty. This hurts women of all races.

First, and most importantly, women of color are damaged because they must grow up in a society that views them as less-than.

Not even touching the more deeply significant and pervasive plight of institutionalized racism that treats huge portions of the population as inferior based on a phenotypic difference. Not even looking at the society that strives to keep people in cycles of poverty, segregation, and poor education. Not talking about the media that criminalizes innocent people – or at least criminalizes people that would have been given the benefit of the doubt had they been white.

Not only are little girls growing up dealing with all of that (up there) mess, even their very faces aren’t good enough. It’s bad enough that women in general are treated as sex objects; worse for women of color who are implicitly (sometimes explicitly) told that they aren’t beautiful unless they’re being sexualized, who are so rarely depicted as scientists, princesses, politicians, doctors, superheroes, horticulturalists, engineers, ballerinas, whatever.

Keep in mind that Amandla Sternberg was a little girl when she played a twelve-year-old black (African-American, if that’s your preference) girl who is murdered brutally – and yes, the character is explicitly described in the book as having dark skin. And when people “found out” that Rue was black, the racist idiots stormed Twitter to complain that the character’s death “wasn’t as sad because Rue was black.”

Imagine being a child and having people go on and on about how “your” death isn’t as sad as it would be if you were white. Saying you’re less-than because of the color of your skin. That’s fucked up.

Everyone is hurt by the misconception that beauty is found in only a narrow range of the human race. As a white woman who doesn’t really fit in with what the media tells us is beautiful, my self-esteem has also been hurt by these standards. The women of all colors who starve themselves, who poison their bodies, who undergo dangerous and unnecessary medical procedures, to fit in with what we are raised to believe is the only definition of beauty, are hurt. I won’t try to argue that my minor damage is anything equivocal to pervasive racism, but I make the point because some people are selfish enough to only care about things that directly affect them.

Women are indoctrinated with the belief that being beautiful outside is the ultimate goal. This is wrong. But it’s also wrong to inundate the media with images of one type of beauty only. Everyone would benefit from depictions of beauty as varied as humanity. Everyone benefits from treating people as people and not as objects.

All of that aside, Amandla Sternberg is a stunning girl. She’s beautiful, with dark skin and curly hair, but more importantly, she’s truly beautiful inside. She isn’t hateful to anyone, she only wants to show the world that people of color are beautiful in so many ways, and strong, and smart, and talented. This girl is all of those things, and cares about much more substantial things than I did at that age (good for her!!). Her tumblr, here, is very interesting to read.

Girls, remember that you are gorgeous and that beauty comes from within. Be someone who cares about others! Be someone who takes pride in her actions, her words, her work and accomplishments. Be someone who fights for what’s right. Be someone who isn’t afraid to get dirty to get work done. Be someone who laughs until she cries, or cries until she laughs, who gets angry at injustice and loves freely. Be someone who apologizes when she is wrong, and who forgives when she is right. Be proud of who you are, of your face, because if you are healthy then your body is wonderful as it is. If you want to change something, do so because it enhances who you are, not because you think it will make anyone else like you more. Take no shit, hold no prisoners, bear no grudges.

Gorgeous girls, remember that the world is going to try to tear you down. Stand strong and tall, like so many people have done before you, so that those who come after you will take heart from your courage. If you can do that, or try to do that, then your beauty will shine from the inside out. The world will someday begin to see us for the gorgeous girls that we are rather than what they tell us we should be.

The world is less than beautiful, but you are not.

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Life in Boxes

Now that I have officially unofficially given sufficient notice to my current employers, I feel slightly less guilty for admitting that I am leaving my current life – yes, the one I just raved about loving – for a scary new shore.

So, to set the mood, here’s a soundtrack you can enjoy that more or less sums up my feelings:

I love the unknown, but I also love to be comfortable. Right now, I’m very comfortable where I am: I love what I do, I love (most) of the people I work with, and while I don’t make much, I make enough to put a little off to the side each month. Also, I love my cat and my bedroom.

Where I’m going, I’ll make barely enough to scrape by (darn student loans). I don’t know any of my new coworkers. My cat and bedroom will have to stay here, because it’s a dorm-type situation. The only thing I know is that I’ll love what I do, because it’s education, even if the setting is entirely different.

What’s more to the point, though, is that I know exactly where I fit in with the world right now, even if it’s not exactly where I want to be. In fact, a large portion of my identity is an aquarium educator. When that time is up, will the last three and a half years have really meant anything?

Even though I only have a month left, the future seems so unreal! It feels like I’m just going on a vacation, and I’ll be coming back to be an educator at the end of it. But in all likelihood, this is a chapter of my life that’s closing. The things I’ve accomplished there will be left behind to be passed on to the next person, integrated into the fabric of daily operations, remembered fondly, or completely forgotten. That’s the way it goes, right?

But it sort of breaks my heart all that I haven’t accomplished. Yes, there are a few things I have accomplished and, though very few of them have my name on them, I will have to be satisfied with my legacy. There were so many ideas that I had, so many more things that I wanted to get done. Now, it looks like that won’t happen there.

However, I have to believe that they didn’t happen for a reason. That reason is, the company that runs the aquarium stifles creativity and passion. It demands so much energy in the here and now that future growth is almost impossible to actively work towards. It demands immediate profits, so the idea of spending money (even to make money) is shot down. Anything remotely controversial, like evolution or climate change, is taboo.

Living like that was killing my soul. When I started, I was such a happy and positive person! I smiled at everyone, wanted to solve problems, and just thought everyone was the bee’s knees. Now, I feel like I hardly ever smile, I resent some of the duties that I should love, and I complain about things without bothering to think of a solution. Worse, I’ve become unfriendly and unkind towards perfectly nice people. That really isn’t me.

There’s a reason I’m moving on. I need to regain what I’ve lost, nurture what few good facets remain to my personality, and find my optimism again. I need to live somewhere new, and in a place where I won’t have to worry about awkwardly running into my ex. Living right by the shore has been my dream since college and, though it won’t be the coast I wanted, it will be good for my soul.

Plus there’s something exciting about the new and wonderful unknown. I don’t know what the future holds. True, nobody ever knows what the future holds but there’s something to be said for having a pretty good guess. “If I don’t figure something else out, I guess I’ll be here,” I said to myself for years.

My new job is seasonal, so I’m not sure what I’ll be doing next summer or the fall after. It’s terrifying to have enough faith in myself to take this step into uncertainty. Maybe it was less faith and more desperation, or maybe it was just my noncommittal spirit. I don’t know anything! It’s scary, but it’s even more liberating. New starts shake things up. Facing the unknown fills me with a wild kind of hope.

I’m already sure that, whatever lies ahead, I will make it good. And if I can’t, well, I’ve always said that adversity is good for a person.

Despite my eagerness to get the next four weeks over with, there’s a lot of dread, too. First of all, I have many fantastic friends here. I moved far away from college and made a few fantastic friends there, too. It was hard to leave them, really hard, but coming home, I got to reconnect with people I had missed out on. I made some great new friends here, too.

Where I’m going, I have one friend that will live about 5 hours away from me. My grandmother lives that far away, too, but I haven’t seen her since high school, and I’m afraid I’ve fallen out of favor with her. Even an introvert like me loves her friends and misses them. Luckily, I’ve moved away to a new town before and survived, so I can do it again.

Furthermore, I will miss my coworkers. The ones I see every day feel like family, and I’m willingly giving up my place in the family. We have a pretty great dynamic. I’ll miss them like crazy. But I’m already feeling nostalgic even for the people I barely see and rarely talk to! Just because I’m actually really shy doesn’t mean I don’t respect the heck out of them and like them as people!

The moment after I signed up, for sure, for this new position, I had a brief moment of panic. What am I doing?! Am I CRAZY?! It passed, sort of.

I just have to remember that everyone moves on, or everyone gets too comfortable. I was comfortable, but more comfortably numb and less make yourself at home. Even with miles of land or oceans and years between us, the people that I love will still love me – and I can love them better if I’m happy. Time and space aren’t enough to cut the ties that bind if I work hard enough to keep that connection.

So now my life is in boxes. I have a separate box of work pants, jeans, shirts and dresses, bras, underwear, socks, shoes, jackets, towels, bedding, toiletries, and canned food.

I have my anticipation in one box, my breaking heart in another. My hope is totally separate from my relief, but a little bit tangled up with my fear. Guilt is in its own box, right next to the one full of all the people, places, and pets that I’ll miss here. I have yet to sort the bitter from the sweet.

But the good news is, I get to take my gerbil with me! He’s all settled in his box, too.

To all the people that have supported and nurtured me over the years, thank you for that. To everyone who has listened to my endless anxiety, thank you. To those who have told me exactly what I needed to hear, even if it wasn’t what I wanted to hear, thank you because that must have been hard. To all who love me and whom I love, I wouldn’t have had the courage to change without you. And to those that have given me hell, it might not have been your intention but it made me stronger so thank you.

Now, “Here we go, going in alone into the dark and wonderful unknown, let us go.” Let’s find out What Adventures Await us.

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Adventures as an Educator

A few days ago, I reblogged a post from MotherOcean entitled Why Being an Aquarist is the Most Awesome Job You Have Never Heard Of. It eloquently explains what an aquarist is (someone who takes care of fish, basically), and what that career entails. Aquariums would not function without the highly dedicated, trained, and skilled aquarists, without a doubt. Also, aquarists are some of the coolest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to call my colleagues.

Coworkers who leave a bunch of magnets in your drawer when you go on vacation.

Coworkers who leave a bunch of magnets in your drawer when you go on vacation.

It may or may not be well known that I am an educator at an aquarium, and I would like to take a moment of your time to explain what it’s like being an informal, professional educator in an aquarium setting.

First of all: mad props to all the people I’ve worked with over the years, both in education and not. A lot of zookeepers and aquarists tend to prefer to work with animals rather than people – that’s why they do what they do. So, kids really just aren’t their thing, and every time they see my kids their eyebrows go up as if their faces are saying “Nooo thank you to that.” I get the impression that most of my coworkers respect my patience with children.

Without meaning to be, some parents are a bit condescending when they (constantly) ask me what I’m studying in school. As if being an informal educator is on par with babysitting in an aquarium setting. Sorry, parents, but I went to college and have a bachelor of science in Environmental Science – so, yeah, I know about a lot of different topics. And thank you for noticing that I am good at teaching; I have about 7 years of experience with it.

I do miss having regular students. They bought me lovely cards and presents.

I do miss having regular students. They bought me lovely cards and presents.

The other people who sometimes patronize me are classroom teachers, again without intending to. As if I couldn’t handle being a classroom teacher. Sorry, teachers. I love you, but I intentionally did not become a classroom teacher specifically because I don’t want to be pressured to teach to standardized tests, deal with disciplinary issues, or grade homework. There are a lot of things that I would love about being a classroom teacher, but I also really love being a fun part of the kids’ special experience.

That aside, I am a full-time (read: 40 hours per week) educator at an AZA-accredited aquarium and a part-time outreach educator at an AZA-accredited invertebrate zoo. I’ll explain what I do at my full-time job.

So what do I do? Well, that depends on what time of year it is.

I love the fall. School is back in session, and most teachers don’t know their students well enough to trust them with a big ordeal like a field trip yet, so this is the perfect time of year to do projects. In August, my department always spends about a week just putting labels on mailers with information about school programs and then sending them off to teachers. We do about 1000 a year, I believe. We watch movies, chit-chat, take it easy. You’ll see why this is well deserved after we get through summer.

This was at the end of a big painting project a couple years ago. We got a little silly.

This was at the end of a big painting project a couple years ago. We got a little silly.

But we do actually complete real work!

But we do actually complete real work!

In fall, we teach a few sporadic classroom programs, as well as teacher workshops, day programs where we introduce kids to the aquarium field, homeschool days, and special events for teachers. In between all that, I spend a good portion of my time completing long-term projects. One of my projects that I’ve decided I’ll never really finish is inventorying our storage room and putting that into an Excel document so that anyone can find anything, if we have it. But more likely, I’m working on developing some sort of curriculum.

I really like writing programs, but it’s trickier than just writing what I am interested in. I have to decide on an age-range, and take into consideration the developmental needs of those students. Preschoolers, for example, need to wiggle around, kindergartners love to repeat phrases and do silly hand motions, high schoolers like to roll their eyes. I also have to write the curriculum to state/national standards. Teachers need to justify their field trips, so our classes need to meet some of the educational standards (or benchmarks) for their grade. Once that has been sorted out, I have to think of what would be feasible given our various resources, and relevant.

Another thing to consider when teaching and developing curriculum, whether it’s worksheets, classroom programs, or interpretive programs, are best practices. There’s a surprising amount of research into what makes interpretation (translating natural resources into terms of the guests’ experiences) effective. There are also, of course, trends to contend with – right now, informal education is moving away from traditional classroom lecture style to hands-on, and especially inquiry-based learning (which might be the best thing to happen to my life; I love it).

So, when I’m writing curriculum, I have to tie all of those things into conservation messages promoted by our facility, the AZA, and the kids’ background knowledge. It can be a lot to keep track of, but I really do enjoy it. Writing continuing education programs (called enrichments) for our volunteers is really similar – consider your audience, their interests, best practices, trends, and engagement – but I don’t have to worry about state standards. Ka-ching!

I have inadvertently gotten pretty good at whiteboard art

I have inadvertently gotten pretty good at whiteboard art

Then winter rolls around, and classroom programs start to pick up. We teach in the morning, give lunch breaks to our interpreters (those nice people who talk to you about the animals on exhibit/in the touch pool and tell you how to be safe. Fun fact: they are also college educated, or in college, so you can, in fact, take their word for it), then get supplies ready for various programs.

Winter is probably my least favorite season because it involves a lot of silly programs that I personally believe are a waste of my department’s time and talents. Yeah, we “get” kids and truly like them, but I don’t enjoy sitting at a table that’s empty for 30 minutes at a time, then overrun by kids who are half interested in the resource-intensive (read: wasteful) craft they can do/take home/whatever I don’t even want to talk about it anymore. The best part of winter is when we do teacher workshops and have lots of day programs.

my true feelings about menial crafts

my true feelings about menial crafts

Then, after the new year, we ramp up for spring. Spring. Is. CRAZY. Around February, we start getting inundated with field trip reservations (be nice to the girl on the phone; she works really hard to accommodate everyone fairly; it’s not her fault you’re disorganized/can’t read the paperwork or turn things in on time). January and February are generally pretty quiet, so this year when I took my two-and-a-half week vacation to Europe, I was really surprised to see how much I missed.

But around mid-march, we get in at 8 AM, set up for programs, and then teach straight through from 9:30 AM to 1:30 PM (sometimes 2:30). That might not seem like much, but we have to carry the same high-energy, happy vibe like each class is the first we saw. We also have to quickly set up the room in between different programs, answer questions, and help wrangle school groups. Then I will give the interpreter a break, take my own, do whatever else happens to be on my docket (menial tasks like paperwork, cleaning, sorting t-shirts, etc.) before I run home.

Although we have overnight programs every week, springtime sees them increase. It’s actually nice, because I get the day before/after off and get to sleep on the clock – for all of the 4 or 5 hours it usually ends up being, IF nobody gets sick/has to go home/has a problem with the exhibits. If I’m not the one leading the overnight, I still get to come in an hour early to help prepare for/clean up after breakfast.

Luckily I'm really good at overnights.

Luckily I’m really good at overnights.

Yes I am awesome.

Yes I am awesome.

Springtime flies by, but summer is no break. As soon as classroom stuff finishes up, I have to put together all the supplies for summer camp, organize paperwork, look out for allergies, etc. Then, because of my work schedule, I get to work a full 40 hour week…then work another full week right after before getting 2 days off and starting all over again.

And summer camp. Oh, summer camp! It’s like day programs, but you have more kids, and you have them all week so they have enough time to lose respect for you and each other! If you’ve never been alone in a play room of 20 running, jumping, screaming, pushing, shoving, crying, tattling, bullying 7 year olds, then consider yourself lucky.

Summer campers drew this picture of my coworker

Summer campers drew this picture of my coworker

my coworker and I drew this one

my coworker and I drew this one

In between summer camps, we have day programs, teacher workshops, and the occasional vacation coverage. Every week of the year, we set up for overnights, mop, vacuum, and scrub the classroom, take care of our animals (including water changes), renew supplies, do pathway interpretation, provide crowd control for events, and handle between 200 (fall) to 3000 (spring) school/daycare groups.

So, hopefully you can see why we like August when everybody goes back to school and we breathe a couple sighs of relief.

No, we aren’t running around caring for animals all day. That’s its own animal, pun intended but I’m not sorry for it. It’s hard, when an animal doesn’t want to participate in a training session, doesn’t feel well, isn’t getting along. And it’s hard to spend so much of your day cleaning up.

A lot of keepers get their start as educators, but I never will. As much as I love the animals, I really hate to do dishes and cook, and keepers spend a significant portion of their day preparing food, cleaning exhibits, and washing stinky dishes. Educators have to care for a few animals, which is fine, but I get to enjoy all the animals without having to do the unfun stuff.

though I did have a friend who would let me play aquarist sometimes.

though I did have a friend who would let me play aquarist sometimes.

As an educator, I’ve been puked on, spit on, punched right in the boobs, scratched, and poked. Every time I teach a program, some shark-obsessed kid will tell me why megalodons still exist (they do not), or hear the same stories. Every time that I do exhibit interpretation, I get to hear someone say about how they swam with stingrays or ask what about the Crocodile Hunter. I have to discipline kids who pick on other kids, and console ones who miss their parents. I have to try to make picky eaters happy, and make sure that not a single french fry touches the lips of a kid who is allergic to shellfish. I get to hear every complaint that parents have, no matter how unreasonable it is, and enjoy the wonderful adults who talk through me, who disrupt my classes by coming and going or yelling at me, who text and make phone calls while I’m trying to teach.

Despite all that up there (all 1700 words of it), I love what I do. I really do. I love inspiring children to look deeper into natural systems, to look at animals in a new light. I love when a class goes quiet with thought as I describe a world without tigers, as they ponder the gravity of extinction…and then empowering them to protect endangered species with simple steps, and bigger actions. I love breaking down exactly how much fresh water is available for all 7.1 billion humans to use, and making kids hold water jugs to feel what it’s like for the people who must carry their water miles from the well. I love speaking to a few guests, or a crowd of 100 or more.

Inspired by a tiger

Inspired by a tiger

And I love giving teachers new tools to educate their children. I love giving teachers a break from teaching, to enjoy learning along with their kids. I love changing misconceptions. I love encouraging all students, but especially girls and people of color, to be scientists. I love seeing stuck-up high schoolers light up with legitimate excitement as they dissect a squid; or, failing that, I love seeing them get squid guts on their clothes.

Even when my campers are upset, I love seeing the compassion that their peers have – sometimes, the other kids are much better at consoling their classmates than I ever could be. They’re also better at punishing the bad ones, it’s great. I love the hilarious and sweet things that kids say. I love hearing a parent gush about how great a program was, or how much their kid enjoyed it. I love seeing the same faces for day programs and summer camp over and over again.

When they're being cute

When they’re being cute

I love having the chance to be creative. I love knowing that ideas I had are being used in other classrooms across the country (cough OCEARCH cough). I love exchanging ideas and techniques, and hearing about others’ experiences. I love learning to be a better educator and constantly improving myself. I love teachers in general, because who has a better sense of humor about kids than them?

I love my coworkers. The other educators are hilarious, talented, exasperating people, and they feel like my family. The trainers and aquarists operate on varying levels of hilarity and familiarity, but they’re all eager to help out. They’re all interested in connecting with the public to various extents; they have so much knowledge and passion. It’s my job to relate that knowledge and passion to the guests, and I love that too. Of course I love the animals; what’s not to love?

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She's basically a big pokey guinea pig?

She’s basically a big pokey guinea pig?

So, there you have it. Anywhere you go, there will be things that are hard about your job. But if you’re as lucky as I am, there will be a positive side to the same coin and when you flip it, it mostly lands on that side. Working in the zoo/aquarium field is hard: hard to get into, hard to afford, hard work once you’re there, no matter which department you fit in. But it’s so, so worth it.

Even if the animals sometimes do weird shit like point at you when you're trying to feed them.

Even if the animals sometimes do weird shit like point at you when you’re trying to feed them.

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Why Being an Aquarist is the Most Awesome Job You Have Never Heard Of

Great insight into a great career. Some of the greatest people I have had the pleasure to know and work with are/were aquarists. Expect an article on how awesome educators are, sometime, if I feel like it 😉

Tales from the Wetsuit

Hello, everyone, and I hope you all had a festive and explosive July 4th!  Mine was fairly standard as it included quality time with the cousins, grilling burgers and dogs, a cake decorated as an American flag, and culminated in my father throwing firecrackers at the neighbors.  You gotta love them (and I do)!

Since I am in the celebratory mood I want to take this opportunity to hail one my favorite career positions.  It is challenging, it is dirty, it requires extensive critical thinking, and it’s guaranteed to deliver a skin rash to the most durable epidermis.  I’ve clocked in nine years at this post and it has taught me mad multitasking skills along with the joys of hydrocortisone cream.

The one, the only, The Aquarist.

A more valid point was never made.A more valid point was never made.

One of the best things about being an aquarist is the myriad of animals…

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I believed I was broken

Note: this is a long essay about a bad relationship. I don’t blame you if you skip it, and if you make it through, well, then, good for you and thanks for reading!

I generally make no secret of the fact that I was in way-too-long-term of a relationship with someone who I don’t believe to be a bad person – but someone who wasn’t right for me. Our teenage romance lasted much longer than it should have, and I am more than a little resentful of some of the opportunities, milestones, and experiences I missed out on because of my choice to remain in that relationship.

That relationship ended nearly 11 months ago, and I have done more traveling, adventuring, growing, and being selfish in 10 months than in 10 years. It’s been great, and I’m enjoying it. The idea of dating pretty much anyone right now kind of gives me hives. I don’t want to be tied down now that I’m finally free.

One of the most toxic things about that relationship was that my boyfriend blamed me for everything. He never apologized; every time either of us got upset with the other, he somehow twisted it around so that it was all my fault, so that I was begging for his forgiveness. Anger was not an emotion I was allowed to feel (or at least show). I don’t think he did it intentionally; head-space is weird sometimes.

But regardless, he did do it. And at first, I just wanted to keep the peace, so I would apologize. Then, if I ever tried to defend myself, I was torn down so thoroughly that after a few years, I gave up. I eventually started blaming myself for everything. Self-blame became automatic, and self-loathing became a default setting. It isn’t to say that we didn’t have some great times – we really did! – but I have spent the last 10 years believing that I am a genuinely bad person for not being the person that he (or anyone else) wanted me to be.

Even now, I have to fight the urge to make excuses for him, to defend him. The person who emotionally manipulated me for almost a decade. “It’s not like I was faultless; I was distant and a little bit obsessed with work,” the back of my mind tells me. I can’t help it. It’s like a tic.

Now it occurs to me that I was distant because I’m a very independent and introverted person. I just need alone time; it’s how I recharge. Affection is important, but I don’t like being smothered by it. And I was obsessed with work because I am responsible and because I like having a roof over my head and food on my table.

Since I couldn’t be the capricious, overly-affectionate, devoted, subservient partner that he wanted, I was constantly berating myself and feeling bad. In the end, all of those resentful, bitter feelings consumed me. We gravitated in different directions, and I also fell into a pretty dark place. I’d tried my best, then given up trying, and the relationship failed.

(It is a little validating to think that it failed when I stopped trying. I’m not sure why, though.)

My ex and I didn’t speak since the day we broke up. I gave his stuff away a few weeks ago, and was very proud. I didn’t even feel that bad about it, because if he really wanted or needed it, he should have asked for it months ago.

Then, out of the blue, he contacted me and asked to speak face-to-face. I was taken aback, not sure what he wanted, and convinced it was going to be confrontational, him drunk, or someone (the dog?!) sick/dying/dead.

It wasn’t any of that.

He approached me, nervously but trying to seem confident, and told me, “You were the best thing that ever happened to me. I was wondering if we could have another chance.”

Now, I know what you’re thinking – what a load of shit, right? He treated her poorly, took her for granted, then gave up on her. Now he’s gone out and seen the world, tasted what else there was, and realized nobody else is going to put up with his crap. What a slimeball!

But I wasn’t thinking that. Remember, up until that exact moment, I believed that the distance between us, his unhappiness and mine, was entirely my fault. I genuinely believed that I am a terrible person and was an awful girlfriend. I told him a couple reasons why I didn’t want to get back together, none that involved him, but, perplexed, I also told him: “I wasn’t even a good girlfriend to you.”

To his credit, he looked genuinely pained and distressed. “Don’t say that,” he said, strain in his voice, “it wasn’t your fault. I wasn’t there for you!”

And that’s when I got really, deeply confused. Like, existential crisis levels. It’s like believing north is north and then you find out it’s really west. And it was scary, and painful. Because if it was his fault, then it wasn’t mine, at least not entirely, and my entire sense of self began to crumble.

At the end of the day, I was able to successfully reject his offers because I don’t want to date anyone – even if he had been Prince Charming incarnate – and, again to his credit, my ex was very gracious. He even told me not to apologize and that he wouldn’t want me to feel uncomfortable.

But I am uncomfortable. It’s been over a week and I am just now beginning to fully realize, accept, understand, and articulate my tangled up feelings. First, I feel bad for not giving him what he wants. Not just because he’s him, but because he’s a person who was hoping for something and is now disappointed. I have empathy for that. But, like I said, I really like being selfish.

Now that I’m doubting all of that self-blaming and self-loathing, I’m questioning everything. It’s like finding yourself again. Or if you go through an old photo album and look at yourself and think, “who was that person? Where did she go?”

The only conclusion that I can draw is that I’m pretty fucked up at relationships. I generally know how to be a good friend, inexplicably. I love my mom, and she loves me, but I’m not exactly the daughter she was hoping for. I have a needless amount of “daddy issues” that I should probably see a therapist for, but who has time or money or energy for that?

What’s scary is, I was in a relationship for ten years and I don’t know how relationships are supposed to work. I don’t even know what I like or want. Someone who isn’t all tangled up inside would probably just date to get it sorted out, but I’m pretty sure I’m emotionally stunted or something, because I just don’t have whatever it is that makes people crave companionship like that.

So, let this be a lesson to all y’all teenagers, young adults, old adults, and anyone else out there. I’d say, “Young ladies, never let a man change who you are or twist your way of thinking about yourself because you’re stronger, better than that,” but it isn’t just girls who are emotionally manipulated by boys.

Some people are just emotionally manipulative, and they might not mean to be. They might just be incredibly selfish. Everyone is entitled to be selfish to a degree, but if someone else’s selfishness is infringing on your sense of self, put on the brakes. Think logically. Defend yourself, without attacking the other person. But stand up for yourself, and if someone wants to change who you are, then they aren’t right for you and you aren’t right for them, and it’s not worth it to waste time pretending it’s all fine.

And, for fuck’s sake, don’t tear down and destroy the person you profess to love until there’s nothing left and they’re a depressive, anxious, antisocial mess.

————————————————————————————————–

P.S. Please don’t think I’m a wreck, because I’m okay in a “I don’t give a fuck! I do what I want!” kind of way (it’s pretty awesome). Here, I was upset and churned out an emo little poem about my feelings. I quit trying halfway, when I realized it is unsalvageable and quite terrible. Enjoy it!

I believed I was broken

You and I were two of a kind
If opposites count as a kind
‘Opposites attract’ and all that, right?
But I think we were more alike
Must be why I find you repellent these days

The good times were okay
The bad times, I wanted to die
Or for you to; either way
But most of the time
It was ‘eh.’

I grew up on the same saccharine stories
Where love conquers all
Where differences don’t matter
And people can change
You loved me
And I thought I loved you

But when it came down to it
I just couldn’t do it
I believed I was broken
And I am
Because of you

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A girl and her dog

When I was thirteen years old, I was in eighth grade and nominated for some “outstanding citizen/student” bullshit award. It involved lots of meetings, for some stupid reason. I still have the plaque; it’s been collecting dust for over a decade at this point. Anyway, lots of meetings meant commitments that neither of my parents wanted to keep, for various reasons, but my mom was responsible enough to go to/take me to the meetings when necessary. Then she’d get stressed out and yell at me a lot.

One particular day, we spent the whole car ride home arguing. It involved lots of tears, on my end, because I fail at life and cry a lot. Sue me. Anyway, my mother was less than impressed with whatever fancy card-stock award or instructions or contract or deal with the devil -whatever it was I had; I forget- and stormed inside.

Crying, I went outside with my backpack and flung all of my supplies on the ground. I then proceeded to very dramatically collapse to the ground and martyr myself in a miserable mess of tears. My two dogs, Toby and Takato, both came over to see me.

Toby was a snarky little shit, who just wanted to play fetch/kick the ball with me. I patted his head, and then he ran off to find his toys. Takato, on the other hand, was a sensitive dog and I was his favorite person. So he plopped all 60 pounds of himself right onto my lap and began to furiously lick my tears away. Thankfully, this was before his senior-age coprophagic days, and also before his heyday as a notorious bird and squirrel murderer.

It was comforting, but what I distinctly remember was that fancy/important paper blowing away in the wind. I didn’t bother to get up and grab it. Toby saw the fun new object and ran over to gleefully destroy it. But Takato, despite being the consummate beta dog and a total wuss, jumped off my lap and growled at Toby before Toby could tear up the paper. Once the other dog had backed down, Takato picked the paper up by the teensiest little corner, as if he knew it was important, and brought it back to me.

That was just the kind of dog Takato was – always sensitive, and always sweet, and normally afraid of his own shadow. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body (unless you were a starling or a squirrel). He also chose me. We were looking at puppies in the pet store back before we knew better than to support such awful establishments, and he had been there for a while. I held him, and he immediately warmed up to me. My mom was so charmed that she bought him for me as a birthday present. He was always my dog, and always the best friend you could ask for (well, I would ask for less poop-eating and less odoriferous farts, but that didn’t affect his loyalty or affection).

Sadly, on Friday, Takato abruptly started having massive seizures and coughing up blood, so my mom made the decision to have him put to sleep immediately to spare him the pain. Unfortunately, I was at work, so I didn’t know and didn’t get to say goodbye. But, thank you, Takato, for always being such a good dog and loyal friend. I will miss you.

takato1 takato2 takato3 takato4 takato5 takato6

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I hope this summer goes by as fast as the spring did!

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to do much adventuring, aside from daily life. This time of year is incredibly busy for cultural institutions across the country because basically every school wants to cram all their field trips into the last 2-3 months of the school year. Not only have I been rockin’ my Aquarium career, I have also been filling my days “off” with a second informal education gig.

For nearly a year (nearly 2 years ago), I worked 7 days a week, 56-60 hours per week. Obviously, there are people who work more and harder. But, looking back on it now, it was tough for me. Honestly, I don’t even know how I did it! I had more money, but no time and couldn’t go too many places. Now, I’m working 7 days a week again but only about 48 hours per week. Not so bad. And I love teaching. And I kick ass at it, if I do say so myself.

But the point is, I haven’t had much time to feel like myself. I just feel like a working machine, and when I do have time off, I only want to sleep. My soul still hungers to explore the world around me, but it also just wants to laze around in its pajamas for a while.

Patience has never been my strong suit – I want what I want right now. Delayed gratification is for suckers; I always want to make a plan and plow ahead with it. That’s why waiting for good things is so hard for me. I have some really exciting adventures ahead of me later this year. Waiting the 10 weeks for those adventures to roll around is nerve-wracking.

Doubt trickles in when I have too much time, makes me second-guess those hasty decisions I sometimes make. Trusting yourself to know what you want is hard, and going forward with big changes is scary. At the same time, a life without change is too comfortable, too safe, and not adventurous at all. I don’t think I can live a life without adventure, so I must be brave enough to live one with risks. Deep breath!

So, whatever adventures await you this month, or this summer, or this year, I wish you the courage to face them head-on, the strength to grow from them, and the optimism to enjoy them! Good luck!

From a college adventure in Oregon - at the time, it was a scary risk to take this class, but now I'm so glad I did because it is one of my fondest college memories

From a college adventure in Oregon – at the time, it was a scary risk to take this class, but now I’m so glad I did because it is one of my fondest college memories

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