Sunday, January 26, 2014

Meditation on a Mantra

It's been a while since I posted anything.  Here's what I've been up to:

About a year ago, I adopted a new mantra.  I'd never had a mantra before and I'm not sure where it came from, but it's helped me to be a relatively happy me for that length of time.  The mantra--I will cultivate a life I love.  There's something about the word cultivate that really gets my juices flowing.  It brings to mind images of planting seeds with the hopes of reaping a good harvest, pulling weeds from time to time, and getting my hands dirty but having a feeling of contentment.  Cultivating isn't something that will be easy, but it is something that will be rewarding.  

And it has been rewarding.  In the last year, I've played volleyball on several teams, played pub trivia with new people, bought myself a Fillaseat membership to attend cultural events around Austin, set up monthly quirky activities with a group of friends, attended book club meetings, and maintained meaningful relationships with good-hearted people.  I reorganized my entire apartment over the summer so that I know exactly what I own, which means that I no longer feel the need to shop.  I created a new budget for myself with the idea that I will purchase a house in the near future.  I made a new career plan and took active steps to meet the goals I set for myself.  All good things.

But there is one important parenthetical that always went along with my new mantra: (and if I meet a man who wants to be a part of it, then great!).  Initially, this parenthetical was probably the main reason that I formulated the mantra.  I wasn't having any luck with the internet dating and I really wasn't meeting any men out in the world and it was starting to get me down.  I kind of had a "come to Jesus" talk with myself--"Lisa, it is possible that you will be on your own forever.  Or at least for a long, long time."  So instead of doing what I'd done for the last decade--putting all big life decisions on hold because of the possibility that I might meet someone--I decided to create the life I wanted to have, even if it meant I would be on my own.

I think the problem with parentheticals is that they really are always in the back of your mind.  So even as I was meeting up with friends and pursuing the things that I thought would make my life better, I was always hoping a guy would come along and we’d hit it off.  Honestly, in this one year, I’ve met more single men than I probably have in a decade.  There are single guys in my volleyball leagues.  There were single men at parties and outings with friends.  There are single guys at trivia.  Cute ones.  Smart ones.  Funny ones.  Kind ones.  All good qualities.  But it’s so hard to find someone with the right mixture of qualities who also likes your mixture of qualities and then for there to be enough of a spark to get the ball rolling.

So here I am.  I really am enjoying life so much more these days, but there’s still something missing.  I guess without completely deleting that parenthetical from my manta, I’m never going to be rid of that sensation.  But do I really want to delete it?  Do I really want to believe that I can be completely fulfilled on my own?  I think that’s the sort of thing we all tell our single loved ones to put a patch over the holes they have. 

The thing I dread the most is the idea that it might be time to give internet dating another go.  I guess that's part of getting my hands dirty...

Monday, August 12, 2013

At Least My Mom Thinks I'm Hot

I am an only child of divorced parents.  I was raised by my mom, and she believed the sun rose and fell at my feet.  She told me I was smart and special and could do anything I wanted.  One of the most difficult parts of life after college was realizing that a lot of what she’d told me only contained a sliver of the truth—I would not get any job I applied for, I wasn’t necessarily meant for great things.  Like most people, I am destined to live a mostly average life. 

The mom-lie she told me that is only really sinking in lately is the lie about my appearance.  If the rest of the world saw me the way my mom does, I would not be single at 31.  My mom believes I am beautiful.  When I’m having a conversation with her about cleaning my apartment, she’ll interrupt me to tell me how pretty my hair is even though it’s frizzy and up in a ponytail.  When we go out to restaurants, she believes that every man is turning his head to look at me.  And when I have talked with her about men I’ve been interested in who wanted nothing to do with me romantically, she never believes it has anything to do with my extra fat cells or big nose or squinty eyes.

I’ve never believed I am hot.  I’ve always been humbled by the beauty of my friends and the attention they received from the opposite sex.  Growing up, it let me know, at the very least, that I was not destined to be a model or to date the hot guys.  And this was good.  Because I didn’t garner male attention, I focused on my studies, learned how to be a great friend, and cultivated my mind, a rich inner life, a fierce independence and sense of humor.  I think I’ve turned into a pretty awesome person to know, if I may say so myself. 

Even though I never believed I was hot, I never thought I was ugly.  At least not until recently.  After many years of not really hanging out with single women at all, or at least not with single women in a larger group of people, I made a single lady friend.  This friend is tall and skinny and tan and blonde—very pretty.  People are always telling her how pretty she is, too.  They talk about fixing her up with their single friends.  They wonder aloud how it is possible that she is still single.  Men clearly are giving her the eye.  As for me?  No one makes mention of their single male friends to me or comments on my appearance at all.  I might as well be invisible except for a few silly comments I throw into a conversation here and there. 

It’s started to make me wonder just how unattractive I actually am.  I think because of my level of security with my personality and intelligence I have body dysmorphia, only instead of believing I’m much fatter than I am, I think I’m thinner.  Maybe my hair is scragglier than I imagine.  Maybe I have more than just the 2nd chin I see in the mirror.  Perhaps people can barely see my eyeballs at all for how narrow they are.  Is it possible that my lips are actually so thin that I just look like some old lady without her teeth in every time I talk? 

I’ve always wanted to find a man who appreciates me for who I am inside, but is that even possible without a pretty package to lure him in?  I don’t have any answers, only dateless nights.  All I can do is tell myself my own lies and hold out hope that I can find a man who sees me through the eyes of my mom.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Summar Slump

Today is my first official day of summar.  No, that's not a spelling error; only pronouncing it "summar" gives summer the proper amount of simultaneous excitement and dread that a single teacher like me experiences at the start of this season each year.

One of the reasons you become a teacher, apart from wanting to help kids and stuff, is the guaranteed vacation time: three days at Thanksgiving, two weeks at Christmas, a week for spring break, and a little more than two months off every summer.  What they don't tell you is that you won't be able to survive in the teaching profession without all that time away all the demands of the job.  And they definitely won't tell you about the summer slump.

In my first several years of summer vacation as a teacher, I didn't have this sense of dread.  I went into summer like a kid, excited about spending time at the pool, sleeping in, and hanging out with my friends.  I spent those first few summers as a seasonal alcoholic with friends who were still in undergrad, grad school or who were just loafing about until they figured out life.  That kind of stuff is still socially acceptable when you're 24. Not so much when you're 31.

The further you get away from college, the fewer friends you have who are able to hang out with you in the middle of the day.  It can become a lonely, lonely time filled with conversations with your cat, not-showering and sleeping like a factory worker on the night shift.  You can really lose your sense of time, place and self.  Sure, there are other teachers you could hang out with, but the truth is that as much as you need a break from students, you also kind of need a break from coworkers by the time June rolls around.  There's also the high probability that most of those coworkers have children, which greatly affects either the activities available or their available time.

And the older you get, the more you realize that you really should be spending some of that down time taking care of adult responsibilities like getting your oil changed in your car because it probably resembles hot fudge by this point.  I'm not sure if this habit comes from my Midwestern mother who has probably the craziest work ethic on the planet, but summer has become a time of goals for me.  Goals I rarely accomplish, but goals nonetheless.  Here are this summer's goals to meet some adult responsibilities and stay busy enough to avoid the summer slump:

Lose the weight I gained over the course of the school year
This school year I made the decision to sponsor the student council at our high school.  It was an effort to find a new challenge, and, boy, did I find one.  The magnitude of what I'd taken on hit me sometime in September, which is when I started stress eating and avoiding the gym because of sheer exhaustion by the time I left work.  By the end of the year, it was a rewarding experience; however, I carry around a pound to help me remember each of my StuCo officers.  As much as I want to remember those kids, I don't need to carry around the extra baggage.

Use all of the Groupons and gift certificates I've accumulated 
Here's more of a glimpse into my neuroses--I have five Google calendars, people.  Five. One for student council--coded green.  One for work appointments--coded blue.  One to schedule in grading time because it's impossible to get all the grading of an English teacher completed during school hours--coded red.  One for training (clearly I didn't stick to that one very well this year)--coded orange.  And, finally, one for my own social calendar--coded purple.  While I am able to be social during the school year, it takes a lot of planning to make it happen and it's difficult to squeeze in unexpected events sometimes.  And my eyes are bigger than the free space in my calendar.  This year I've purchased Groupons for Dolce Vita (eek!  It expires tomorrow!), The Melting Pot, and a pottery class for two.  I've also been gifted a generous gift certificate for cooking classes at The Silver Whisk and a gift card for an Aveda salon.  Time to mark those things on my calendar!

Write more
When I started this blog, I set some goals for myself, none of which I've met.  It's time to finally write the saga of Hotel San Jose, for cryinoutloud.

Read more
Through the accountability of my book club and a long-distance friend, I've managed to read a few books over the course of the school year.  But now it's time to devour them.  Some of my favorite summers have consisted of me and a series of books keeping each other company until the wee hours of the morning.  It's time to curl up with David Sedaris, Margaret Atwood, and many others to have a giant literary orgy again.

Ensure that I no longer have summers off
I'm sure there are people reading this who hate me a little for complaining about summer.  All I can tell you is that I hope to no longer have summer vacation by the end of this summer break.  My plan is to spend at least part of each day working to find a new job (today I bookmarked a bunch of jobs for which I'll be applying in the coming week--check!).  As much as I've loved the creative aspects of teaching, enjoyed the relationships I've formed, honed my craft, and developed a love/hate relationship with summers, it's time for me to try something new.  At least until I long for summers again.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Perks of Being a Fat Girl

Mama's big boned-ed, y'all.

(Mama is me, in case you didn't know)

I've been overweight since I was about 11.  There are countless complaints I could attempt to innumerate like: listening to skinny bitches complain about how fat they are, listening to skinny bitches talk about their eating habits, listening to skinny bitches comment about how fat other skinny bitches are, and other things about skinny bitches.

However, instead of focusing on the more annoying, sometimes downright maddening, issues related to being a larger lady, I've decided to begin my blog commentary about life as a fat girl by discussing some of the brighter points of this life I've led.

Now, in case you're thinking, Lisa, you skinny bitch, you aren't fat! here's my statement of truth about my size:  I've hovered between the heavy side of normal and the lower side of obese on the BMI chart for my height and fluctuated between the larger sizes in the women's section and the lower sizes in the WOMEN's section since high school.  So, no, I'm not as large as some ladies, but I'm definitely not skinny.

Now, here are the perks I've experienced as a lady of size:

Two weeks ago, I was trying to not let a cat out of a friend's house, missed a concrete step while walking backwards and went crashing down on my derriere.  Now, if I was a twig, I'm convinced I would have snapped in half.  Instead, I landed with a buoyancy that let the rest of my body sort of float to the ground.  I came away with only a sore rear end and not the concussion I surely would have had without my layer of fat.  Cats and children also seem to enjoy the extra layer of love I carry around.  It's good for napping, apparently.

Feeling Secure
Speaking of others who love the layers, don't forget men.  Now, not every man likes a little cushion for the pushin', but the ones who do...really do.  I don't think I'm really large enough to attract men who like the Big Beautiful Women, but, wow, those men really dig some bigger ladies.  They seem to worship them with a fervor that you don't see in men who like your average size 6 woman.

Also, I've never worried that a man was only after me for my looks in the way that my blonde, size 2, model-like friend may have worried.  I generally feel pretty confident that the men who are interested in me may find me attractive, but mostly they like my intelligence, humor or some other aspect of my personality.  And I usually feel pretty confident that they are secure enough in their own manhood to date a woman who does not necessarily fit society's version of beauty.

Being a Ringer
Nobody expects the fat girl to be good at sports.  So when you run a 10K, people give you a ton of support.  And when you play volleyball, the other team doesn't usually expect you to be able to break serves or spike the ball.  I've used this misconception about chunkiness to my advantage since I used to kick ass on the soccer field.  Plus, I could knock the other girls down with a quick jab of my powerful hips if i wanted.

Singing (and Dancing) Along to "Bootylicious" 
There are songs that skinny bitches will never fully understand.  Destiny's Child's "Bootylicious" is my favorite of them all.  In college, my best friend and I changed the lyrics to cause my body's too flab-ilicious for ya babe.

I shake my jelly at every chance
When I whip with my hips, you slip into a trance
I'm hoping you can handle all this jelly that I have[...]
I don't think you're ready for this jelly

Being Friends with Skinny Bitches
There's a lot of competition in the world of women.  I don't think we always know what we're competing for, but we're doin' it.  And doing it with all the passive aggressiveness we can muster, dammit.   But the nice part of being flabby is that a lot of women do not view you as a threat when it comes to men.  Perhaps I'm wrong, but I think I've moved in and out of circles of female friends with much more ease than if I'd been a size 4 and hot.  Everyone trusts the chubby girl!

Sure, plenty of people judge you when you're chubby and you order dessert at dinner even though everyone else in your party is doing the same.  But at the same time, you got chubby for a reason: you allow yourself to actually eat (and maybe you go overboard sometimes).  I watch some of my thinner friends count calories, workout tirelessly, and pull out their hair to remain thin.  I've been there during times when I've tried to lose weight, and it can become all consuming and, frankly, can take some of the joy out of life.  Not being as stringent with my food means that I can say yes to a request to meet someone for brunch or I can have a few beers.  And, best of all, I'm not that whiny girl who clearly wants to eat a piece of cheesecake but just picks at it or stares at it longingly whilst drinking her ice water with cucumber for flavor.

The Boobs
This is probably my favorite part of being a chubby girl.  When I lose weight, my boobs feel droopy and sad like all their friends the fat cells moved away and they can't seem to perk up from the loss.  But when I'm a little chunkier, my breasts feel like two torpedoes ready to fire jiggly hotness in any second at the next man who glances at my decolletage.

And, finally...

You get to say big boned-ed.

Hey fellow chunky gals, what are some of the perks I left out?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Internet Dating Chronicles: Eh. Just OkCupid

Before I dive into more dating stories, I want to pause and talk about OkCupid.

OkCupid embodies the phrase: you get what you pay for.  (It's a free site.)  

I've had an OkCupid account for about 4 years now, though I've activated and deactivated it so often that it's probably only been available to the mens a total of one year.  I find the site appalling but feel compelled to look at it often when my account is active for reasons that I do not understand.  

I'm a fan of lists.  Here are the benefits and detriments of OkCupid:


  • It’s free!  When you inevitably do not find the love of your life through the site, you don't feel bitter and dead on the inside because of how undesirable the opposite sex seems to find you.
  • More creative freedom.  The questions asked when creating your profile are much more open and allow for a greater word count in the response section than eHarmony.  This means it’s possible to get more of a sense of someone’s personality from looking at his profile.  Check out the bulleted list (my favorite kind of list!) I made on my profile.  Plus, you know that if he really didn’t fill in anything at all, he really doesn’t give a shit.
Bulleted list within a bulleted list.  I'm so meta.

  • You can look at anyone’s profile.  With eHarmony, I can only look at the people the program has matched me with at the rate at which they decide to deliver them to me, but OkCupid lets you look at anyone in the world regardless of age, match status, gender, or location.
  • You go straight to the messaging.  There’s no multiple choice question section.  Once you start communicating with someone, it’s often within a week that you meet up at some bar around town.
  • Fun quizzes and questions!  The part of me that is still a 15-year-old girl loves that there are all sorts of personality quizzes on the site.  When am I going to die?  When I'm 78.  What is my dating persona? The sonnet (whatever that means).  What type of man turns me on?  The mystery man.  Quality stuff for procrastination.  Once I answered a series of sex-related questions in a row and forgot to answer privately; my activity was posted on OkCupid and I was extremely popular for about an hour...oops.
But does the way this person answers about kids correlate to how much privacy they'll give a partner?  Tricky.


  • It's time consuming.  There’s a lot of sorting that has to happen if you’re taking a proactive approach. Since it’s free, it seems that everyone and his brother has signed up for the service.  Some of these guys are super active and others create a page and then rarely come back to it.  It’s also just a larger pool of users and you can access them at any time. 
  • It makes you feel unworthy. OkCupid classifies its users into leagues according to how many people have rated your looks or personality highly.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t search and find people in a higher league than your own, but it does take more work.  And it’s kind of depressing to look at the matches on your list and realize they’re a reflection of how the opposite gender views you.  From what I can tell, I’m about a 4 on a scale of 1-10 in the world of OkCupid.  
  • Less monitoring.  OkCupid isn’t always great at monitoring uploaded pictures the way eHamony is.  I’ve seen a few penises in my time on the site…
  • Kockamamy matching and labeling.  The algorithms used for creating match percentages is flawed, in my opinion.  OkCupid uses multiple choice questions created by users to who is a good match.  Users are presented with a question like “How willing are you to try something new in bed?” or “Would you ever get an abortion?” that they answer.  Then, you decide which answer selections would be acceptable from a possible match and select how important that question is to you.  Are these really good indicators for a love connection?  The tricky part is that anything you rate as being really important or mandatory, often shows up in a tab called “personality” on your profile.  Something I answered led to me having a “more kinky” label on my personality tab, which led to a bunch of weird dudes sending me messages.
Here's my personality, according to OkCupid.

  • Serial daters and dudes just looking for hookups.  OkCupid is not necessarily the place where people looking for serious relationships should flock.  Yes, it does give you the option of stating if you are looking for new friends, activity partners, casual sex, short term dating or long term dating, but people lie.  I went out with a guy who was supposedly looking for new friends who only wanted to get in my pants, and I went out with a guy who was supposedly looking for long term dating who only wanted to get in my patns.  There are also, clearly, guys spamming the inboxes of the women in their match list.  Why in the world would I reply to someone who cut and paste the same message into several messages and then maybe added one little P.S. that related to me as a human being?  Gross.  
Through OkCupid, I've met some of the worst, most disrespectful or awkward men and also some of the most interesting.  I don't think this is where I'll meet my ultimate match, but it's absolutely a good place to find a date.    For anyone looking to get back in the saddle of dating after a divorce, break-up or long ass dry spell, I highly recommend the site.  It allows you to wade in slowly by browsing profiles and ignoring messages or to jump into the freezing water all at once by meeting the first person who contacts you.  

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Internet Dating Chronicles: Fish Lips

So I lied in my post about eHarmony when I said that I only went out with one teacher.  I forgot all about the guy that started it all.

Fish Lips and I met on OkCupid back in 2009.  At the time, I was probably the heaviest I've ever been, but I was experiencing a surge of interest in fashion and jewelry that boosted my confidence enough to finally giving internet dating a go.

I was also completely immersed in my job as an English teacher and thought that my ideal mate would share my choice of profession.  I imagined us sitting to grade together on weekends, bitching about "our kids" at dinner and chaperoning prom together.  So when Fish Lips showed up as a high match according to OkCupid's cocamamy algorithms, and he was a math teacher, and he was a heavier-set gentleman, I thought--perfect!  At the very least, we'd have something to talk about; we're both fat teachers!

Friends who talked like old pros about the unwritten rules of internet dating instructed me to try to ensure that the first date is as low key as possible.  You wanted the first meeting to go one of two ways:

  1. You realize quickly that you don't like each other and end the evening politely after one drink, be it coffee, tea, beer, wine or even a glass of water before a meal comes out, or
  2. You realize you like each other and take the options of extending the evening somehow--add an appetizer, a meal, a dessert, or have the ability to easily, and safely, walk someplace else to keep the night from ending.
I took their words as gospel truth and chose The Gingerman as the location of the date.  It was dark.  I knew it well.  And we decided to meet on a Sunday evening, so it was the least datey date possible, except if we'd gone to Sunday brunch or a funeral or something.

Since this was the first date I'd ever been on with a stranger, I agonized over what to wear.  I didn't want to overdo it, but I didn't want to look like I didn't care.  After trying on who knows how many outfits, I settled on a black dress, black tights, and what I referred to as my kissy boots.  Looking back, this is the kind of outfit one wears to impress girlfriends, not the kind to wow a new potential mate with legs and boobs and booty.  I'm pretty sure I looked like a nun wearing hiking boots--an Alpine nun.  

I could have at least chosen some sexier boots...
Photo Source:
One of the quirks of my personality, which I like to think my friends and family have come to view as endearing, is my punctuality incessant early arrival to any event.  This especially becomes the case when I'm doing something out of my comfort zone--going to a new place where I have to find parking, going to a place I've been to several times but at a different time or day of the week, and meeting new people.  Getting there early, wherever "there" is, calms me.  It gives me time to stop sweating before people arrive because, let's face it, I'll be sweating.  It allows me to be the one to choose where we'll sit, a place where I won't be distracted by TVs or a lot of traffic flow.  And it allows me to do some nerdy self-talk and preparation on a date.  The night with Fish Lips was when that habit started.  The inner dialogue goes something like this:

Stop sweating.  Stop sweating.  Are there napkins around so I can dab the sweat?  Do I need to go to the bathroom?  Better go to the bathroom before he shows.  I can check to see if the sweat is noticeable, too.  Ok, you just look dewy...for now.  Better sit still for a while.  Breathe.  Deep breaths.  Ok, so what can we talk about?  We're both teachers.  There's that.  I just saw insert movie title here.  We can talk about what we've done over the winter break.  That should fill a half hour, right?  Maybe I'll get a beer before he shows... Is that him?  No.  Is that him?  No.  Maybe he's not going to show and I can just go home.  Oh, look, that's him.  Here we go.

By the time Fish Lips showed up, I think I'd actually ordered a beer already and was about a quarter of the way down the pint glass.  I'm sure I appeared cool and collected, but inside my stomach was doing flip flops.

But the flip flops weren't the good kind that also make you tingly all over just a little.  There was no first-meeting-sweatiness with Fish Lips.  Nope, I was not attracted to him.  

Here's the deal, though.  There have been men in my life who I was not attracted to at all when I first met them and then became incredibly attracted to as I got to know them as people.  And I'm a teacher, I'm bred to give people the benefit of the doubt and a bazillion chances before I really give up on them.  

So I spent my half hour with Fish Lips, like my seasoned internet dating friends suggested, and we had some somewhat interesting conversation about teaching.  We discovered we had a mutual acquaintance.  He told me that most people assumed he was a mean guy because his lips were perpetually stuck into kind of a frowny face, and we bonded over that because people always think I'm angry or bitchy when they first see me.  

In my head, this is what his lips were like.
Photo Source:

So I agreed to another beer.  And another.  And after about an hour to an hour and a half, the conversation was coming to a slow and painful halt while my intoxication level was slowly making its way past the point of tipsy.  By now, I knew I was not interested in Fish Lips.  We were not a match, we just had a profession in common.  But then he suggested we get food.  My beer addled brain knew my sloshy stomach needed sustenance.  And so I committed the unthinkable act--I went with him to a second location.

By the time we walked out of the bar and onto the street, I could tell that he was thinking this was going pretty well.  I must have pretended to be interested in what he had to say pretty well--must be all the practice pretending to care about what my students talk about.  In any case, based on his proximity to my side as we walked through the December cold, he was definitely interested in holding hands.  I kept mine in my pockets.

He didn't have a place in mind (another sign that he was not the one for me; I like a planner), so we ended up at Jo's.  We're probably three hours into the date at this point (All you internet daters are shaking your heads at me right now, I can feel it.  I should have cut it off by now!).  We split a sandwich and chips, another stupid move on my part.  While we're sitting and eating, he starts making veiled comments about sex, which make me uncomfortable.  Not because of the sex, but because I know now that I have definitely led him to think that I'm, like, super interested.  And I'm not.  

But it'd apparently been so long since any man expressed interest in me that by the time he walked me to my car, four hours after our date had begun, I was exhausted and full of beer and pastrami and when he asked if he could kiss me, I thought, why not?

That is no way to begin a lip lock, friends.  Suddenly, I realized how much larger his head was than mine.  And how huge and u-shaped his lips were.  When his lips met mine, they didn't move.  At all.  But they were open, which for some reason, I took as a cue to French a little.  So we stood there on 2nd Street: me, mashing my thin lips against his stoically frowning mouth.  Thinking of it now, four years later, it still makes me shudder in horror.  It was the worst kiss of my life, both because of the technical awfulness of it (the Russian judge gives it a 2.7) and because I felt so uncomfortable but just couldn't stop for some reason.  It was like I was just hoping he would move those lips at some point, but he never did.  It was like kissing this guy:

Photo Source:

The worst part is that he must have enjoyed it.  He contacted me the next day to see if I wanted to meet up with him again.  Finally, after all that, I did the thing I should have done 30 minutes into our date and politely told him that I thought he was a nice guy but that I didn't think he was the guy for me.

And that is how I started my internet dating experience.  Reflecting on it, I think it went so terribly because I was not being myself.  I was being the woman-who-goes-out-on-dates, trying to play that part.  I was doing what I thought I should do, instead of what my guts were telling me.  And, even though I let the date continue on that long out of my own fear of being mean by saying I wasn't interested, ultimately I was meaner by not telling him early into the date that I didn't think we were a match.  I'd like to say that I learned my lesson the next time, but you'll see that that is far from the truth. It took me three years to give it another go.  I made many of the same mistakes, and more!

Next installment: Hotel San Jose

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Less Good than Goodall

News Image
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When you live alone, you have a lot of time to be alone with your thoughts.  And when you get tired of being with your thoughts, then you must find other activities to fill your time.  One of the things I like to do with my time is attend lectures.  It's nerdy, I know, but I like that this type of event gives me more to think about when I'm alone with my thoughts.  See how that works out for me?

Austin, a university town, is a great place for this past time.  Most people just think about UT when they think of Austin, but Southwestern University in Georgetown, my alma mater, also offers some quality events to the community, many of which are free (at least they are to alumni).

One of the events Southwestern holds every year is the Shilling Lecture.  I've only been to it three times.  The first was when I saw Desmond Tutu while I was still a senior.  Last year, I went with friends to see Thomas Friedman speak.  And last night, I saw Dr. Jane Goodall give her speech called A Reason for Hope.  Of the lectures, hers was the one I was most looking forward to, even though all I really knew about her is that she's "the monkey lady" in my head (I actually even confused her with Dian Fossey, the gorilla lady--oops).  I've always loved animals--I used to sing songs to my dog Peaches in the back yard when I came home from kindergarten--and even thought of studying animal behavior when I was at Southwestern.  I went into the evening, expecting to hear stories of monkey socialization patterns, but I came away with so much more.

Something that strikes me about the people who are brought in to speak at the Shilling Lectures is how determined they are and how much conviction they have about what they're doing in their lives.  Dr. Goodall had a scientific curiosity about the world from a young age.  She had an interest in Africa as a child.  She always loved animals.  Through a series of personal connections, her own intelligence, and luck (or divine intervention?) she met Louis Leakey while she was living in Africa with a friend from England.  At the time, she did not have more than a high school education, but he was so struck with her auto-didactic knowledge that he hired her to help with one of his studies.  From there, she proved herself quite the scientist, obviously, and only went on to get her degree once her work started to become famous.

She spoke of attending a conference in the 1980s that changed her focus from living in Tanzania and studying chimps to doing what she's done for almost 30 years: traveling 300 days out of the year to raise awareness about what we are doing to the planet with the Jane Goodall Institute and organizing groups of teens to create change through a program called Roots and Shoots.

First of all, I think it's incredible that a woman who just turned 79 today travels that much.  I'm only 31, and I drag my feet trying to leave the apartment to go to the grocery store.  But it's even more amazing to me that she gave up something she loved so dearly to do good work for us all.  Her gifts led her to success; her success led to fame; fame led to an increased awareness of other issues; and awareness led to her own selflessness; her selflessness, through giving her time and giving up the work she loves, will hopefully make the world a better place.

Listening to people like Jane Goodall, knowing that they exist in the world, evokes a range of emotions for me.  The first are inspiration and awe.  It's incredible that people like her exist.  The next is gratitude.  We are so lucky to have people like her doing work like this.  A little jealousy. How do I find that same level of conviction in my life? And finally, like the good Catholic girl I am/was, guilt.  What the hell am I doing that is remotely close to this?

Looking at the faces of the college students attending the event, they still have that bright, shiny glint in their eyes that says I can change the world, just give me a chance.  I can see them sitting there, thinking about what they will invent to make our lives on this planet more sustainable or what organizations they will found that will solve the problem of poverty in Appalachia. 

I used to be like them.  I thought I could change the world.  That's why I became a teacher.  I saw myself making a difference in the lives of students--through teaching them The Canterbury Tales?  Perhaps I'm too entrenched in the day-to-day frustrations of the job at this point to see the good I do, but I have to say that I feel I've used The Teacher Card for too long when it comes to contributing to the planet.  I let it make me believe that I'm doing enough when I see commercials about starving kids or hear requests for donations to the Red Cross.

Maybe I'm too hard on myself.  I do give money to Radiolab when they ask me to text for a $10 donation.  I give any time I have cash and I see a Salvation Army Santa.  I buy one overpriced box of Girl Scout Cookies every year.  Why, just yesterday, I gave $100 to Pasta for Pennies at work.  Of course, I only did this once I found out that the school was just $100 shy of reaching our $1500 goal that would lead to our principal having to wear a crazy costume to work.  But the money still goes to Leukemia and Lymphoma research, right? \

My questions are these: how much is enough?  Is it enough to give money to different organizations?  And does it matter which organizations?  Is the money I give to NPR or PBS less good because they provide programming I enjoy?  Is donating to the arts less good than donating to the Red Cross or The American Lung Association?  And do our motives matter?  The money I give to attend a charity event still goes to charity, even though I'm having a great time, right?  Is that $100 going to be less effective because part of the reason I donated it was the vision I had in my head of my principal dressed like a clown?  Or should we just forgo the monetary donations altogether and donate our time and talents?

This is what happens when I'm alone with my thoughts.  All questions.  Not even the beginning of an answer.

My hope is that people like Jane Goodall felt as lost as I do even though they appear to have planned it all out from the beginning.  I hope that I will be able to recognize the moments of luck or divine intervention should they ever drop in my lap.  I hope that the things in my life that feel random are somehow leading to something greater, not for my own good, but for the good of those around me.  And I just hope to do a little good here and there in the meantime.