A generation expresses itself: emotigrams

When did we become so reliant on emotigrams?

After fifteen odd years spent communicating so often through email, then instant messenger, Facebook, and now text messaging, I have to admit it: I’ve been ruined, I and my entire generation (and most likely all subsequent generations). We’re incapable of expressing thoughts without visuals. Letter-writers of ye olden times didn’t have to draw smiley faces next to their happier thoughts, or winking faces after ironic statements. But we do. I know I do! I simply can’t write without them. (Except this blog. I never use emotigrams here. Ever.)

My absolute favorite emotigram, hands down, is the winking face.  😉

What does it mean, exactly? No one knows. Which allows for an incredible range of nuance in your text messaging/g-chatting/Facebook messaging social life.

Some sample conversations:

The casual convo:
Someone else: What did you have for lunch today?

Me: A chicken sandwich. 😉

The heart-to-heart:

Someone else: So how are you? Did you have a good weekend?

Me: I’m good! My weekend was great. 😉 How was yours?

The confrontation:

Someone else: I’m so sorry, I won’t be able to make it to your ______ [insert: party/volunteer event/hiking trip/whatever] tonight. I know this is super last minute. I’m sooooo sorryyyyy.  : (

Me: No worries! 😉 [winking face could mean a whole range of things: I’m super upset but don’t want to show it; I get it, you never intended to come and we both know it, heh heh; or Life is just that way, I guess! Hope you have fun with whatever else you’re doing that’s suddenly more important.]

The proposed hangout:

(A personal favorite of mine)

Me: Hey! If you’re not busy tonight, I was thinking of grabbing dinner in Old Town. Please come if you can! But no pressure. 😉

If nothing else, emotigrams present a fascinating new way to look at all those boring grammatical symbols that have cluttered our correspondence for centuries. Who knew a semicolon or a closed parenthesis or that weird little symbol above the 6 on a standard keyboard could be such fun?

😉         🙂         =)         =(          :>)              😡        :^)          8)       8^)       =D       =T        =I          =P        : O )           = O     =…(



Today was my first last Monday.

I received and accepted a job offer at a newspaper, and I will be leaving my current position at the end of this week. I’ve been with the same company since I graduated from college, so this whole transition thing is very new to me. Mostly I’ve been hoping that if I close my eyes and hold my breath, it’ll all be over when I come back up for air. But the HR woman this morning made it very clear that I still have quite a bit of wrapping up to do. There are letters to write, papers to file, benefits questions to answer, exit interviews to schedule. Who knew leaving a job could involve so much…work?

And then there’s the hardest part: I’ve been making the rounds of the office, pausing in doorways and trying out different segues into the same conversation, but there’s no point in pretending it’s not awkward. Saying goodbye always is, especially when the other person doesn’t know it’s coming.

I have had some terrific colleagues these past four years. Every one of them has been professional, pleasant, and serious about what they do. I’ve learned a lot from them, and I’ve enjoyed it. Leaving that all behind is proving to be a more emotional business than I expected it to be. I’m practicing my stoic face in the mirror, as my hope is not to make a complete fool of myself come closing on Friday. That may just be asking too much.

Still, change and growth are good things. Very good things (in moderation at least). I’m always amazed at the natural element in even the most seemingly clear-cut, professional, business transactions. Uprooting involves a fair amount of discomfort, even in the most professional setting. And I’m sure my new job will fit for the first few weeks like a pair of stiff new shoes–there are bound to be some blisters and interesting noises before we’ve fully broken one another in. But it’s so good to be removed from comfort. I like to feel safe, to feel like I know exactly what I’m doing, to be surrounded by people I know and enjoy. I’ve had all those things for years now. It’s time to be challenged again.

I’m so grateful for the opportunity, just as I’m grateful for everything I have had, everything I’m leaving behind. God is good!


Suggestions for Official Design

So folks, I’m at my wits’ end. I need to figure out a real design for this blog, and–while I think I have decently artistic tastes–I keep coming up empty. The picture of birds was really just supposed to be a goofy placeholder, and it’s becoming permanent. I’m growing resentful.

The plan since Day 1 of this blog was to create a clear, professional look for the blog. I’d like to come up with a simple, attractive, non-girly design that’s easily recognizable. Something pertinent to the overall theme would, of course, be ideal. I’m reaching out to my readership now for suggestions. Does anything strike you in particular? Any ideas pop into your head, be they ever so crazy? I know many of you keep blogs yourself, and most of you have much better artistic/marketing ideas than I do. Please share. ‘Twould be much appreciated.


The Uninspired


Stepping past disheartened

“I’ve given up on men.”

It’s becoming a key phrase among my single lady acquaintances. We’re single and we’re tired of being single, but scanning the horizon turns up a pretty bleak picture of…well, a lot more singleness. It’s the same whether you live in a metropolitan area hopping with apparently eligible bachelors (I’ve heard D.C. listed as such a place by wide-eyed out-of-towners. Oh, ladies: give me a call before you start planning your move to this area to find Mr. Right), or in a suburban wasteland. Here and there around us people meet, date, fall in love, get married, and all our elders tell us this is the “normal” state of affairs and ask us when we’re going to settle down. Now I believe this used to be the normal state of affairs. Granted, I’m no history expert, but every woman I know over the age of 45 tells me the same story about life for the 20-something woman back in her day. A twenty-six-year-old living on her own and working, while not unheard of twenty years ago, was certainly not the established norm like she is today. If movies like Crossing Delancey are any indication, they were in fact still something of an anomaly.

Anyway, this post was not meant to be a commentary on cultural norms, but on the disturbing trend toward bitterness I’m seeing resulting from those norms. Of course, I see only the ladies’ side of this discussion, where hapless single females between the ages of 25 and 35 begin to throw up their hands and cry, “It’s hopeless!” But though we haven’t talked much about it, I sense a similar feeling of discontent in my male friends and acquaintances. Of course their frustrations are different from ours, but they’re every bit as real. Whether we’re going on frequent dates, dating online, or hardly dating at all, many of us are becoming increasingly disheartened.

Disheartened. I’ve been mulling this post over for the past couple days, and that word keeps playing around in my mind. Like a good editor, I looked it up, because even though I know basically what it means, sometimes it’s nice to see the exact definition. To dishearten is “to cause someone to lose determination or confidence.” It fits even better than I realized. We are losing our determination to hope, and we are certainly losing our confidence in one another.

Of course, we all have our own ideas of the perfect solution to the problem. The girls say, “If only the men would take some initiative!” (But let’s be fair. Ladies, do we really want every man we know to “take initiative” and ask us out? Or are we thinking of those few men we could potentially be interested in who have never made a move?) The men say, “The girls just have to be more approachable!” (Frankly, I’ve never understood what the heck this means. I may not be Mrs. Potts, but I’m not exactly an icicle…)

At the end of the day, though, there is no perfect solution. The human race has ever been and remains a broken people. I think we pin a whole lot of expectation on our hope for love. We want to be discovered, rejoiced in, cherished, committed to, perhaps healed, and we seek all of those things in a romantic relationship that just never seems to materialize.

Let’s start with the obvious problem: those are things we should be seeking from God first. If we’re blessed to discover them also in a romantic relationship, praise God. But don’t pin all of that responsibility on another human being. (I remember being surprised when a dear friend of mine in a committed long-term dating relationship once told me, “Even when you’re dating, you still have some days where you just feel sad and lonely.” It made sense, but it still took me aback. Subconsciously I guess I’d always imagined I would want for nothing once I ended up with a great guy.)

More to the immediate point, we have to lose the bitterness. Christ and his mother are often referred to as “all sweetness.” If we’re to imitate them, we also must be sweet. “I’ve given up on [the opposite sex]” is the cry of a bitter, very often wounded person. My heart goes out to all my single friends, as I know the real pain behind those words. But spreading the bitterness around only tears everyone down.

I propose what may seem a trite solution, but I firmly believe it’s the only one: prayer. And lots of it. How often do you ladies pray for men–not just your brothers/fathers/friends/future spouses, but Christian men everywhere, and especially the men in your own community? When you’re dating online, how often do you pray for the men whose profiles you click through? Ladies, I challenge you: let’s pray for our men. Pray that they may become holy, grow in virtue, and become the men God wants them to be.

And guys, I offer you the same challenge: please pray for us!

We are all of us broken. We’ve all been hurt in some way, some far more than others. But we can be healed if we want to be. Cynicism and bitterness are selfish responses–people have not given us what we wanted or expected, and we respond by putting up walls. I challenge all of us to try something new, something different. Let’s counteract the bitterness with sweetness. Remember that Christ still heals. Why not ask him to heal us, and to heal those who have hurt us?

Back to busy

Time to face facts: summer is almost over.

I can’t believe how fast it’s gone by. Kids will be back in school in a couple of weeks, the weather has been slightly more bearable, and the days are already starting to get shorter. Oh yeah, and my inbox has been piling up with emails about all those groups, volunteer organizations, and other commitments that took a break back in June and are gearing up for another year. Checking my email has started to feel like wading into a war zone. I’m purposely NOT checking my email as I write this blog post, even though I know there are at least 25 messages awaiting my attention and response.

It’s going to be yet another busy year. Another busy year following a whole lifetime of busy years. I often wonder what I’m doing wrong. No matter what I do to clear my schedule, it always seems to fill back up…and at the end of a hectic week I look back and I can’t even remember everything that went into making it hectic.

At my spiritual director’s suggestion, I’m reading Joseph Pieper’s Leisure: The Basis of Culture, and I can’t get over the irony of it. Leisure? Sure, I’ve heard of that. I even know some people who enjoy it now and then (at least so they tell me). But I find even when I have leisure time, I don’t use it leisurely. I suddenly remember all the chores that need to be done, the bills that have to get paid, the errands I’ve been putting off. It’s easier to keep busy, I guess.

My trip to Jamaica presented me with some opportunities to view our cultural need for busy through a new lens. On a more personal level, it forced me to acknowledge that I don’t do leisure well. One afternoon in particular really brought this home to me. We’d been picked up from the house where we were staying in Kingston, piled into a very crowded bus, and driven about a mile and a half (with three long stops along the way), heading out of town to go “up the mountain” for a weekend-long retreat. That’s all I knew about where we were going: “to the mountain.” Suddenly the bus driver told us all we had to get off. “The bus is reserved until three o’clock, and I have to go now,” he announced. “Sorry. I be in trouble. You wait here. I come back for you.”

So we clambered off the bus and into another house owned by the brothers we were staying with, where some disgruntled sisters cleared a space for us in a large meeting hall area and then told us to sit tight till the bus driver got back.

Three and a half hours later, he finally returned.

Those were three and a half of the most excruciating hours I have ever endured. I had literally nothing to do. Not even a scrap of paper to scribble pictures on. We just sat around and waited. And waited. And waited. I admired the people I’d come with–they all took the waiting so graciously. Some napped, others played quiet games or enjoyed long conversations. But the helplessness and the inactivity of it all drove me crazy. I wandered around in circles, I glared at people, I muttered things to myself…I did everything except thank God for a few unexpected hours of quiet time, hours which it might have done me some serious good to enter into.

Of course in my “real” life, there’s no such thing as three and a half hours with literally nothing to do. I have things to do in spades, and a to-do list as tall as I am, and then another whole list of things I want to do, places I want to visit, things my friends want to do with me and things I want to do with my friends and family members I want to visit and projects I want to start up and books I need to read and and and…

So faced with yet another busy year, I’m having to step back and ask myself that tough question: “What am I NOT going to do this year?” What will I refuse to take on so I can actually enter in and take some real rest?

How will I fight to maintain balance?


I think I hated Saturday morning chores when I was a kid.

I’m pretty sure when God created the universe, he laid down this mandate: “Thou shalt clean on Saturday mornings.”*
Granted, by this morning (Monday) when I left my house for work the common areas were already starting to look a little frayed around the edges, but nothing sets the tone for the rest of the week like getting your home back in order on a Saturday. I got so into it this weekend, after sweeping and mopping and dusting and tidying inside, I even mowed the lawn. And baked cookies. The only thing that’s left? To wash and vacuum my car.
Life is good, people.
That’s all I’ve got to say.
*I’m not interested in hearing about the actual location of the Jewish Sabbath. This is a rhetorical device.

What are we most afraid of?

Father Rich Dyer spoke at Arlington’s Theology on Tap this week–the topic was “fear.” I almost never attend TOT these days, but being The World’s Biggest Coward, I thought this talk might be worth listening to.

It was.

At the end someone asked the question: “What do you think is the biggest fear among Catholic young adults these days?”

I thought, “If he says ‘commitment’ I’m going to punch the wall.” Granted, there’s some truth to the statement, “Today’s young people are just too afraid to commit,” but I’ve heard it so much that it just rings hollow. Besides which, I think the “fear to commit” is only the surface of some much deeper sociological, psychological, spiritual problems. So it becomes the easy, cop-out answer of an older generation that needs to have something to cluck its tongue at.

But I digress. Father didn’t answer the question right away. He paused and looked at the floor for a long minute. A really long minute. The guy in the booth next to me started to squirm a little and someone coughed. At last Father looked up and said, “I feel a little out of the loop these days, but I guess I’d have to say Catholic young adults are most afraid of being themselves.”

By that, he went on to explain, he meant too many YAs are afraid to be obviously Catholic. He gave the example of saying grace before meals in public. How many people refuse to cross themselves before and after grace, for fear of standing out?

Okay, so maybe many of us are okay with blessing ourselves in public. Some of us go so far as to wander the city streets with our rosaries on the walk home after work.

But how many of us (and I plead guilty) hide behind the old, “Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary use words” excuse for not standing up for what we believe in when we’re faced with tough questions from our peers, maybe in social settings, in the work place, wherever? I fall into this trap all the time: I’ll be a nice person, they’ll know I’m a good Christian girl, and somehow or other they’ll all be won over to Jesus by the juxtaposition of those two things.

How often do I end up half apologizing for my weird belief system when people ask me to explain it? Or talking about the harder-to-swallow truths of our faith with just enough of a lilt to my voice that my hearers can pick up, “Don’t worry, I get how crazy this is”? Or falling into the corrosive “Well, this is what I believe, but you can believe what you want” mindset that ends in a relativistic approach to life?

I didn’t realize quite how wishy-washy I could be about this until I participated in a writing workshop this past spring. Not only was I the only conservative Catholic in the group, but we were all participating in a pretty intimate thing together: the writing of short stories. And I found myself embarrassed to let my Catholicism shine through in my writing. Would it turn people off? Wouldn’t they have trouble relating to my writing, unless I made myself out to be yet another angsty, questioning Catholic who isn’t quite on board with the whole deal?

It was easy enough to be Catholic boldly as a Catholic homeschooled kid, as a student at  a Catholic college, and even now as a Catholic young adult surrounded by like-minded peers. But to be Catholic in all settings, and to be so with pride is hard. Even scary.

And the hardest part is being Catholic with pride, and still loving and welcoming everyone we encounter on a daily basis, and letting them know they’re loved and welcomed. We can’t hunker down and shut the world out because “it’s evil.” That’s just another form of living fear.


Real Community

Last night my home parish hosted the annual diocesan young adult Mass with our bishop. Every year I’m touched that the bishop would care enough about the young adults (mostly single young adults, though there are quite a few young married couples) to make the time to say Mass for them, to pray with and for them, to preach to them, and to mingle with and meet them afterwards. A warm thank you to Bishop Paul Loverde for that.

Here he is with a few of the YAs who attended this year’s Mass

But this year something else struck me in a way it never had before: what a gift it is to come together to pray in communion with young adults from all over our diocese.

I guess I’ve always known this in my head, but for the first time last night  it touched my heart. I’ve been in this community for about four years now, and had plenty of time for drama, upset, hurt feelings, aggravations, and all the nastiness that comes with people living, working, or socializing together. I’ve sat around with my single girlfriends and complained about the Catholic men and their lack of initiative in asking girls out. I’ve attended awkward parties and attempted to pump life into more stilted conversations than I can possibly remember. I’ve gossiped and (probably) been the subject of gossip. I’ve hurt feelings, and my own have been hurt. I’ve suffered through unrequited crushes, and perhaps been the subject of one or two myself. I’ve been better friends with X than with Y, and forgotten to invite Q to this or that party, while L never even gives me a nod, and K can’t be bothered to acknowledge my existence.

And yet at the end of the day, these people are my community. Many of them are my friends. And regardless of our various hurts and frustrations, we can come together and be one in the Eucharist–not just at the annual young adult Mass, but every time we attend Mass.

As a dear friend of mine said when we parted ways last week (she’s leaving the area to move home to the Midwest): “We’ll see one another in the Eucharist.” Whether we’re sitting next to one another or on opposite sides of the globe, whether we’re the dearest of friends or veritable strangers, this remains true: We are one body.

And that is worth celebrating and thanking God for every day.


Apparently I got so absorbed in the morning paper today that I lost track of where I was. I glanced up after finishing a riveting article on Romney’s campaign methods to find myself standing on the platform at Archives, Navy Memorial metro station, with my train pulling out on the track behind me. (For those of you not familiar with my morning route, I’m supposed to transfer to the Red Line at Gallery Place. Archives is 1.1 miles–according to Google maps–from my office.)

I figured I could use the extra exercise anyway, so I just walked from there.

Still, who knew Romney could be so interesting?

That’s a joke, by the way. Mostly I realized this morning what might be the Biggest Problem with Mitt Romney as the GOP candidate this election cycle: while Obama is a flesh-and-blood human being with an interesting backstory and loads of personality and charisma (at least so they say), and now four years of experience in the Oval Office, Romney is just “the other option.” Sure, Obama hasn’t fixed unemployment and has arguably made it worse, he’s exploded our national debt, he’s enacted legislation that makes conservatives everywhere howl, he’s pro-pro-pro abortion/gay marriage/sex ed for Kindergarteners/you name it…but at least we know him. All we know about Romney is that he’s the not-Obama.

And quite frankly, I’m not sure how comforting most of us find that.

Clearly I’m so distracted by it I can’t even figure out where I am or where I’m supposed to be going…

Eat Mor Chikin

My roommates and I trekked over to Chick-fil-A last night to show our support. The line was out the door and down the street, but nobody seemed to mind. We were here to prove a point, gosh-darn-it. And to eat chicken and waffle fries and drink peach milkshakes.

Seriously, though…let’s keep this whole issue in our prayers. I think we’re only experiencing the early rumblings of this storm.