Weekend visit

I visited my grandmother this weekend.

Every time I head out into the Blue Ridge Mountains I wonder why I do it so seldom. In many ways, visiting her house is more like going home than visiting my parents’ house–Grandma’s been in that little blue house since I was born, but my parents didn’t move to their current home until my sophomore year of college.

It’s always nice to get in some time with Grandma on my own, without siblings vying for her attention. I love to hear her stories about growing up in upstate New York, going to finishing school (yes, she actually went to finishing school and earned a degree in secretarial work. Ah, a different age), meeting and marrying my grandfather, etc., etc. Stories of a normal life happily lived. It also puts things in perspective. At twenty-five, I’ve got a lot of blank pages left to fill. But Grandma’s looking back from eighty, reading what’s already been set down. In short, yet another of life’s stockpile of over-washed cliches came into focus for me this weekend: it all goes by so fast.

And take your relationships seriously. Grandma shared that wisdom with me this weekend. “Don’t hold grudges,” she says. “You just never know when you’ll never see that person again.” It’s an easy thing to forget at twenty-five: the permanence of loss.

And it can be so easy to take relationships, especially the closest ones, for granted. Mom and dad, siblings, even those “oldest and dearest” friends–they’ll “always” be there, at least when I really need them. But what about when they aren’t anymore? Grandma speaks of so many of her closest relationships (from her generation, at least) in the past tense. It all goes by so fast.

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Just call me. Better yet, drop by.

I think I may have missed my generation by quite a lot on our modes of communication. More and more, people in our demographic (under 30, in particular) are reverting to IM and text messaging for just about all communication. I admit this really surprises me…and it’s put me in more than one rather awkward situation.

Sure, I use IM to chat with people about this and that, or even to send a quick hello or some time-sensitive message that can’t wait until I have a free minute to call (or even email) someone. It’s fun, it’s fine, but if I have to get up and leave the room in the middle of a “conversation,” I don’t consider it a big deal. (Imagine if I just got up and left mid-conversation in person, or even on the phone! But somehow IM is different. We’re separate enough that it’s more like really fast email.) And texting is even more casual, at least in my book. I text a quick message when I don’t have time for a full phone conversation, or when I need someone’s address (it’s easier to see it in writing). I’ll even use a text message to let a bunch of people know that I’m attending such-and-such an event this evening, and anyone is welcome to join. It’s a lot easier than making 15 phone calls.

But recently I’ve found myself involved in all sorts of “serious” conversations via both IM and text, and this surprises me. Have we moved so far from the old-fashioned face-to-face mode of communication? Take this for example: I think I got asked out to coffee by instant messenger a while back. Honestly, I didn’t realize it was happening till I reflected later (hours after the “conversation”), “Gosh, I think that guy asked me out.” To this day I’m not really sure; the fellow in question hasn’t talked to me in ages, though, so I probably blew him off without even realizing it. This saddens me. Because he’s a nice guy, and if he’d had the guts to call…or even approach me in person, I probably would have gone out with him, at least once.

A little better (but not much) are the date requests via text. At least they’re more direct; but there’s still that distance, and it puts a girl in the awkward position of not knowing what method to use to respond. Especially if she’s got to say “no.” Do I text “No” and try to explain myself in 25 words or fewer? Do I make a mountain out of a molehill and call him back…to say, “Thanks, but no thanks”? Do I ignore the question altogether and wait for him to bring it up again, hopefully in a more direct way?

I genuinely, I would say even deeply, appreciate the guys who are willing to put themselves on the line a little bit and pick up the phone and say, “Hey, how about a date this week?” There’s something really manly in that, and even though the conversation’s bound to be a little awkward, any guy who will do that has my automatic respect. Even if I have to refuse. Besides, it allows me (the girl) the dignity of a direct, polite refusal, within which I can explain my own intentions.  

Aside from dates, there are the other “serious” conversations I’ve found myself suddenly caught up in, especially on IM, ranging from philosophical debates to discussions of literature, theology, or politics. There’s so much to say, it becomes impossible to read everything the other person taps into his screen, and  you know they’re not reading everything you write, either. Add in the difficulties of typos, poor grammar, what have you, and a “serious” conversation becomes faintly ridiculous if not out-right annoying. Want to talk about C. S. Lewis? Step into my office, pull up a chair. Write me a letter, send me an email, give me a call, but don’t IM me about it. And please, whatever else you may do, don’t text me. I’ll develop carpal tunnel trying to express myself using nothing but my thumbs.

But what are your two cents, dear reader(s)? Do you prefer IM and text to other, more direct, modes of communication, or have you run into frustrating situations with them also? I’m interested to hear your take(s) on the pros and cons.

Normal

Nothing like a little earthquake to put you right up close and personal with the things that matter most to you. The pictures on the wall are shaking and the woman at the front desk starts yelling, “You can’t take the elevators! Everybody out, take the stairs.” The women from the West Coast laugh and say, “Just stand under a door frame.” But we’re on the sixth floor. What good will a door frame do if the floor gives way? So I kick off my heels and slip into my comfortable shoes, grab my phone and my purse, and go.

My assistant isn’t in her office. There isn’t time to scour the place for her; I hope she knows to run for the stairs. And we file down, the intern making jokes behind me the whole way down, perhaps to lighten his own mood, or maybe because he finds the situation funny. I laugh, but my hands aren’t steady on the stair rails.

Outside the sun shines and the sky gleams very blue, and I think how funny it is to be confronted with our mortality on a normal Tuesday afternoon just after lunch. Everything is so normal. Businesspeople flood the city sidewalks, some laughing, others busy at their phones tweeting and texting, everyone saying, “I didn’t think D.C. had earthquakes.”

Fifteen minutes pass. Someone sounds an all clear, and we return to work, filing into elevators, laughing, moving forward, forgetting.

You just never know.

Kickin’ it

I know we’re all trying not to face it, but here’s the reality: summer is almost over.

And with the new school year staring us all in the face–yes, even those of us no longer tied quite so tight to the ins and outs of school and school vacations–it’s also time to straighten up and get back into those good habits we let slide (just a little) during vacation time.

I’m always amazed at the number of bad habits I manage to pick up between Memorial Day and Labor Day. For instance, my official wake-up time is 6:00 a.m. on weekday mornings. Want to know the last time I actually got up at 6:00 a.m.? Short answer: I can’t remember. (This problem is of course exacerbated by my seeming inability to get to bed before midnight.) Other bad habits? Well, this past Friday was the first day I’ve spent literally all by myself in months. I forget how crucial those alone days are to my overall wellbeing. I really need to make the time to hang out with myself a bit more often than I do. I get nervous about the idea of being all alone and so fill up my time with people, events, more people, more events, until I can’t settle down. (An overcrowded imagination is a very noisy thing.) Then of course there’s the problem of watching far too many movies (most of them a huge waste of time) and reading far too few books. I’ve started at least a dozen books, but I’ve only finished…maybe two over the course of the summer. Outside work, that is.

All that said, with the slow drop in temperatures and the shortening days, I find myself reinvigorated. Time to take on the school year with energy. Time to kick some bad habits.

Here goes nothing.

Milwaukee (for once: pictures!)

I went on a road trip this past weekend to the Midwest. For a Navy brat, this was quite the adventure–I’ve never been so landlocked in my life. The sky out there is so big! I marveled at the beauty and majesty, of course, but I also struggled with feeling rather exposed.

A few of us girls drove out to Wisconsin for a wedding. This is, officially, the farthest I have ever traveled for a wedding (as a rule I don’t go anywhere I can’t make it to and from in one day), and it was totally worth it. Congratulations to the happy couple! And many prayers.

To protect the innocent, I won’ t be posting pictures of people. However, I got some fun shots of various spots in Milwaukee (the end point of our travels), which I thought I’d share. I have no idea what any of these buildings are. Ever the shallow little girl, I took pictures of them merely because “I thought they were pretty.”

Gotta have a picture of a city bus, or it just doesn’t count. And remember what I said about the sky? Even downtown!

This was outside an Italian deli where we stopped for lunch after the wedding. They gave us a long afternoon for sight-seeing before the reception.

Clearly, I’m going in no particular order. This was taken the night before the wedding, on the way to the rehearsal dinner.

A particular favorite of mine. The bride gave us wrist corsages, and some of us were better than others about keeping them on. I won’t name any names, of course. (I think this one’s mine, actually.)

Lady bugs! Need I say more?

 

This one washed out a bit at the top, but I just loved the colors. Hurrah for industrialism.

And…that’s all for now. I almost never take pictures, thus the typical lack of visuals on this blog. So enjoy.

Drycleaning

The girl stood just in front of a sign that read, “Same-day service,” tapping out my number on the register’s screen with flourescent green nails. She asked, “When do you need these by?”

I said, “Tomorrow evening at the latest, please.”

She scrunched her eyes and pushed a stray piece of hair back behind her ear. “Oooh,” she intoned, and half shook her head. “What about Friday?”

I shifted my glance from the sign behind her, back to her face, hoping she would catch the significance in my facial expression. Nothing. So I scrunched my eyes and half shook my head and replied, “Oooh, no, it has to be tomorrow. I’m going out of town Friday.”

She gave me a black look and tapped something else into her computer, then ordered me to show her the items I needed drycleaned. Which I did. And I left the store feeling a little bit triumphant (my items should be ready after 5:30 p.m. tomorrow) and a little bit terrified. The sign did say “same-day service,” but it didn’t say how much that service (or next-day service) would cost, and the girl’s face boded me no good.

 

It boils down to wants

I’m going to draw a stark comparison. While I–and many of my Catholic young adult peers in the D.C. area–spent the last several nights dancing (Saturday night), praying and attending mass with the bishop (Sunday night), and hanging out at Theology on Tap, listening to a local priest talk about the new liturgy (Monday night), our peers in London have spent the past three nights tearing their city apart.

Why?

According to a couple drunk chicks involved in the trouble (drunk, I should add, on wine they looted from a store they helped ransack), it’s “to show the rich people” (“rich” being, apparently, those who own businesses. I mean, for shame! How dare they live meaningful lives and make money!) and the police “we can do what we want.”

Did the “rich” people ask?

Besides which, is this what our London peers want? I mean, seriously, if I felt the need to show some class of people that I could do what I wanted, I wouldn’t do it by ransacking my hometown. A life of fear and violence definitely isn’t what I want. But apparently it’s what the British are going to get, as their brave young folk set about creating the world they dream of…by destroying the one their ancestors worked to build, and getting drunk off the pickings.

I can think of all sorts of reasonable wants from my generation. What do you want? I want a reasonably peaceful life, time with loved ones, a job that pays a decent amount, a roof over my head, and (most of all) to grow in virtue (or to put it in plain terms: to be a good person). But apparently not everyone wants that. It begs the question … what do they want? 

I can’t really wrap my mind around all this at the moment, so I’m going to let that question hover, and perhaps revisit later. This is sobering, to say the least. So many in our generation don’t seem to have a clue what they want, but they’re not happy, and they assume it’s someone else’s fault. Blame your parents, your government, your neighbors who have more than you, your peers who are more popular than you, the teachers, institutions, or situations that have held you down. Run wild and demolish others’ livelihoods, beat, maim, even kill others, but never-never-never stop, make eye contact with that bloodied face in the mirror, and say, “Dammit, I’m my own problem.”

We’re all one choice away from happiness, really. It’s a yes or no proposition, not an accident dependent on circumstances. Do you want to be happy? Yes? Then be happy. That’s all there is to it. Those British girls aren’t going to be any happier tomorrow morning when they wake up hung over than they were before they started trashing their neighbors’ property. Just a little more wasted and a little more lost.

A Political Rant (so you can’t say you weren’t warned)

As an American  young person, I am going to raise my hand and say: I am outraged. I am outraged first of all by the spending decisions (if they can really be called “decisions”) made in Congress this week, but I’m not stupid enough to believe the problem begins and ends there. Our government has been racking up out-of-control debt for decades, and we’re just now arrived at the point where irresponsible decisions hit that spot on the meter labeled “Boinnnngg.”  I am outraged at the weak-kneed attempts of our leaders to “manage” this “situation” by making it worse now (raising the debt ceiling–but only temporarily, of course) with the promise of improving it in two years. Don’t worry–those spending cuts we’re too cowardly to make now?–we’ll totally be able to make ’em in 2013.

Does anyone actually believe that? This situation won’t get any easier to rectify in 2013 (when we have even more money to pay off, and we’re faced with the same spending cuts that no politician with any sense of self-preservation wants to ask for, be he blue, red, or magenta). How much farther down the road do they think we can kick this can, anyway? Well, I guess we’ll find out.

Either way, those of us in the “under 40” crowd are going to be the ones who feel it. I mean really, really feel it. Here’s an example: take a look at your pay stub. See that money you’re pouring every two weeks into Social Security? Guess how much of that you’re going to see when you hit retirement and need it. Quite simply, there’s no painless way out of this situation. Sooner or later we’re going to have pull our heads out of the sand and take a good look at the cold, hard facts. I don’t know about my fellow young Americans, but I’d rather do this now, while we’ve still got a chance to get this country back on track.

While I believe in respect for my elders and hold the “wisdom of gray hairs” in great esteem, I generally expect those elders to have a certain interest in and even solicitude for my future. Not so in Congress. Our 50- , 60- , and 70-year-old leaders seem to be interested only in maintaining their respective voting blocs–especially by protecting entitlement spending. If that means staving off pain now by shoving it just a little bit farther down the road, so be it. We current 20- and 30-somethings can deal with it when they’re gone, and the problems are exponentially larger, and America as we know it is…

Where?

The Holistic Approach to Being Catholic

I love nuns.

Aside from all the obvious reasons, I love the way they get things done (and get anyone and everyone to help them do it). No nonsense, no questions asked, Just Do It. I went with a couple people to help the Missionaries of Charity in one of their D.C. soup kitchens on Saturday morning. There were eight or nine volunteers working alongside four little sisters in a kitchen cooled only be a large fan. The entire operation was a marvel of efficiency. As soon as you finished one task, a sister would appear at your elbow and guide you to the next, giving instructions in broken English, accompanied by hand gestures (and of course, a huge smile). And don’t worry, if you weren’t slicing the potatoes or the apples quite right, they’d let you know.

I loved it. I loved the simplicity of the whole thing, the practical, get-your-hands-dirty approach to being Catholic and helping those in need. No heavenly choirs or profound silences, no heady scent of incense, just the noise of the fan and people chatting as they peeled cucumbers, and the pungent smell of raw chicken.

It’s good to be reminded–often–that the Faith isn’t something we do only in church (though church is where it has to start).