Guatemala: The first post

September 24th, 2012

So I have a list of literally 47 things to write about—topics abound when pretty much everything about one’s life is completely new and unfamiliar (and will be to most of one’s audience). Methinks I’ll start with the basics.

My house (the green one):

It has a two-story tree growing in the living room. Because the living room is outside. The rooms surround an outdoor central area—to get to the bathroom, or the kitchen, or anywhere else, one goes outdoors. (You’re looking at the door to the kitchen.)

I’m fine with this now; not sure how I’ll feel in December, because…

Homes aren’t heated. (Schools aren’t either.) Installing and using heat is expensive; ’tis much cheaper to don another pair of socks or just wear a coat. Which one has to do upon awakening, because…

Mornings are cold! But the weather is kind of schizophrenic. After two weeks I’ve figured out that it’s cold in the morning, and warm-bordering-on-(and sometimes achieving)-hot from 11:00 AM until 3:00 PM. Then the clouds roll in and everything cools way down again. Dressing in layers is essential, as I’ve found out the hard way more than once.

Other things that are essential: Throwing TP into the trash can instead of the toilet. We’re told that Bad Things Will Happen should we forget this basic instruction, and I believe it—especially if the pipes are as tiny as the streets. I live in Zona 1, the old part of the city, and streets are accordingly almost undriveably narrow, and also made of stone.

Sometimes the stone is even; usually it’s not. I dare you to try running on this:

Which is hard enough given the material. (Really, this picture doesn’t show the depth of the crevasses between each stone.) When one considers that the sidewalks are wide enough for one skinny person (usually) and the streets are wide enough for one skinny car, AND the drivers have no qualms about mowing one down, one realizes that one should probably go running somewhere else next time.

But running is pretty important (despite the whistles, comments, and gestures [from others, not me]), because it warms one up, and in the shower, one must choose between water that occasionally makes it to more-or-less-lukewarm (heroic effort, this) and water pressure. One cannot have both.

As far as the language goes (remember? My whole purpose for being here?): Ay me. Seventeen whole days and I’m not fluent. I’m understanding more, and in church I get about 90% of talks and lessons (dependingonhowrapidlythespeakeristalking)… but when I talk I sound like a drunken three-year-old. “I having much good time. I go to be here three month and half. I studying the Spanish. Also I working like editor. He send me the things and I corrects and to send back.” Sigh. At least I’m told my accent is very good. What’s entertaining is that another student lives here too—a Sami girl from Norway (she and her family are traditional reindeer herders [!!!!])—and she just started learning Spanish last week, and the family doesn’t speak English, so I do a lot of translating. Which makes me feel smart—until people start talking about things that aren’t completely basic, and I’m reminded that my patriarchal blessing says, concerning other languages, that they’ll be difficult to learn initially “but with that difficulty will come humility.” Huzzah (she says unconvincingly).

More in my next. Now must I do the homeworks. Every night I write a story incorporating the day’s vocabulary and grammar. It ain’t literature; one story in particular is as subtle as Ayn Rand. But at least I’m starting to switch between indicative and subjunctive correctly, which thing I once thought was going to kill me.

Bermuda: Things that rocked

September 5th, 2012

About six weeks ago my roommates and I, on a whim, bought tickets to Bermuda for Labor Day weekend. (They had visited a beach with un-swimmably cold [read: typical New England] water the day before and were determined to find someplace warm to swim.) So, last weekend, we went.

(This island getaway-style vacation was a first for me; the one thing my travels usually aren’t is relaxing [had some fun with verbs there], and I’m not entirely convinced that relaxation is actually possible for one so high-strung as myself. However:)

Bermuda is gorgeous. And riding scooters is fun.

So, things that rocked:

1. The water. Pure turquoise. AMAZING:

2. The sand. On the more coral-heavy beaches, it looked like candy canes blown to smithereens:

3. Rock formations that create natural jacuzzis:

KME enjoying the impromptu hot tub:

4. Flowers, flowers everywhere (at least until the tropical storm hits this weekend):

The camera didn’t really capture the haunting dusky purple of this plant:

5. The Horseshoe Bay sand sculpture contest:

6. A conversation with a native Bermudian, part of which went as follows:

Native Bermudian to me, with concern: Have you put on sunblock? Because you’re really white.

(Thanks, Danish/English progenitors!)

(My roommate may have used the PicMonkey “spray tan” effect on this picture–I think I look darker than I really was.) (This was the first day; I do now have some respectable color.)

6.  The Swizzle Inn, where portion sizes are extravagant, to say the least. Here’s KJS’s veritable vat of pasta:

And KME’s giant plate of nachos (this was the JUNIOR size; the poor girl needed help eating them [sigh]):

7. The sunset over Elbow Bay (the colors in this picture have not been modified [as far as I know]):

8. Playing in the rough surf until the lifeguards made everyone get out (the one I talked to said they’d already done a dozen rescues that day). (The video of this is too big to upload; as I’m technologically declined I’ll have to get KME to fix it.) It was fantastic. I had to really dig in several times to avoid being sucked out into the ocean (don’t worry, Mom and Grandma; there wasn’t any real danger), and every time a wave came in it would push me forward several steps, despite sincere efforts on my part to stay planted. At times I was standing in delicious waist-deep swirling turbulence; the water felt like a living force. SO. FREAKING. COOL.

(I told KME and KJS how much I loved this part; their answer: “You would.”)

9. Riding scooters up and down the island:

10. The random swing we found hanging from a tree (and we all tried out):

There were a few things that didn’t go so well; look for stories about those, most likely with (only semi-)disguised swear words (you’ve been warned), very soon. But altogether it was a lovely vacation, and I did manage to relax a little bit, and if you ever have the chance, and you can talk yourself out of thinking it frivolous (I’m such a freaking ISFJ sometimes), and you have some good sunblock, you should TOTALLY go.

 

Guatemala, parte dos

August 24th, 2012

So I wrote recently that I’m going to Guatemala for a few months, but I don’t like that post, so I’m pretending it doesn’t exist and will give more specifics here. (Lots more specifics, it turns out. But I cut it from 900+ words to exactly 600. You’re welcome.)

Right after girls’ camp in July, I got a very strong impression—not that I needed to do something, but that I would do something. You are going to Guatemala for the fall to improve your Spanish. I think I stopped, head tilted, considered it for a few seconds, and then thought, “Oh! OK then.”

Why Spanish? Well, I’ve spoken sort-of-decent Spanish since college, but I’ve never made the relatively small effort required to become fluent. The truth is I never really wanted to learn Spanish. I took it in college because I could start in Spanish 102 instead of 101. However, I felt some hesitation; I’ve long been a Europhile, and Spanish wasn’t going to lead me to Europe. (Yes, Spain is in Europe. For some reason that didn’t count. It turns out that by “Europe” I meant “Sweden” or “Germany.”) So after Spanish 202 I let the language fade, even though it would have useful countless times.

So why now, and why Guatemala? Mostly because the impression came and I’m going with it. I’m excited to finally (finally!) learn another language fluently, something I’ve craved for decades (though apparently not enough to actually, like, do anything about it), and it will be useful—my stake has three Spanish branches. Timing-wise, it’s easy to find a subletter in the fall, and I’m only working part-time at the moment. As for Guatemala, not all of it is hot and humid (read: intolerable): Quetzaltenango (or Xela [Shay-la], which is less fun to say), in the western highlands, is temperate. Additionally, several friends have strong ties to Quetzaltenango, which is known for its Spanish schools. I’ll be studying 1:1 with a tutor for 4-5 hours a day, going on afternoon and weekend activities/excursions, and staying with a Guatemalan family, all for less than Cambridge rent.

I leave in 14 days (!!). It’s a little stressful (understatement)—previously when I’ve skipped country for a few months I’ve had more lead time, and England and Germany required less preparation. I’ve bought plane tickets, researched 25 schools, registered with one, studied ways to overcome digestive maladies (ugh), ordered massive quantities of prescriptions, procured a slightly battered-looking suitcase (dilapidated = unappealing to bandits), and finally vanquished that damn stack o’papers on my desk. I’m studying verbs while I run and occasionally translating my thoughts into Spanish (which, given my limited vocabulary, is a multi-lingual game of Taboo). I’m eating my remaining food—even the who-knows-how-old Brussels sprouts—and sorting clothes by utility (the rabid minimalist in me is TOTALLY psyched about living on almost nuthin’ for four months). I’ve found a subletter, the search for which led to a Truly Fantastic Experience (stay tuned), and I’m researching further trips—Tikal, Lake Atitlán, Honduras-El Salvador-Belize-Mexico. I made sure my insurance company covers life-flights (note: I am not expecting to require one) and called a consulate to ensure Immigration won’t deport me if I can’t prove I plan to leave within 90 days.

One drawback is that sleeping has become a bit difficult; even Victor Hugo deconstructing convents in excruciating, narrative-suffocating detail for 44 pages (SRSLY!) isn’t entirely effective. But at this time two weeks from now, after 15+ hours in transit (four on a bus), I’ll be at home with my Guatemalan host family.

Sometimes life freaking rocks.

On the Value of Teachers (or, Fishies Loses Her S**t)

August 8th, 2012

I do not usually get into fights on Facebook. For one thing, I don’t feel strongly enough, or feel I know enough, about most issues to make it worth the emotional investment it will undoubtedly require (I’m a sensitive type). Plus, I think that public Facebook brawls are the epitome of unclassy. However, today I made an exception.

A friend of mine posted the following on her wall:

True, right? I think pretty much all civilized people agree that teachers are ludicrously underpaid and undervalued in our society.

But “pretty much” =/= “all.” Note the following exchange between my friend and a friend of hers:

Now, I know that this was between my friend and a friend of hers–technically none of my business. Even if it were my business, as a friend of mine reminds me, I don’t have to go to every fight I’m invited to. Also, again, I think Facebook fights are tacky, and in my real life I strongly dislike conflict.

On the other hand, I didn’t think it was right to let someone get away with saying that (yeah, I know, look at me, administering Universal Justice According to Fishies). Also, I know, and am related to, too many teachers. Thus the following.

(Note: I should not have attacked this individual personally. That was way unclassy of me.)

By the time I wrote my last above, I was so angry I was shaking. If everyone valued education as little as this gun-toting mouth breather does, for one thing, the technology to invent the weapons (or cell phones, or pickup trucks) he loves would never have been invented. Also, I’m assuming (perhaps erroneously, but I’m still pretty mad) that this guy is one of those right-wing chest beaters who say “America is the greatest nation in the world!” without thinking about whether that statement is actually valid (and, if so, in which contexts)–and who don’t realize that one reason the U.S. has done so well is that the people are, like, educated. People like this individual take advantage of the benefits this country has to offer without contributing anything that will even help maintain the status quo, let alone make anything better for anyone who isn’t him (or her). He also doesn’t realize that if education in the U.S. doesn’t get better fast, America won’t be the “greatest nation in the world” by any standard–or that if more people were like him, it already wouldn’t be.

Emotions =/= bad

July 23rd, 2012

So I don’t much like my writing lately; the last few posts have felt clumsy and stilted and the normal ease has been missing both during the actual writing and in the finished product. I know why, at least partially—I’ve been feeling really self-conscious about it, which, of course, makes things that are normally routine and easy feel awkward. I’ve also been worried about who might be reading, which makes me even more self-conscious. Thus I kind of want to hit a massive Delete button and get rid of a huge chunk of posts. But I won’t, because that would be silly, and anyway perhaps the stilted posts will make others look better by comparison. Perhaps.

I received some rather disappointing news this morning that’s had me feeling, well, rather disappointed. It wasn’t a surprise; I’ve had my suspicions for a while and I think I’ve been reacting to this eventuality (even the Guatemala plans could be seen as a bit of a pre-emptive strike, though not entirely, and I do think I’m acting more under a prompting than an emotional response). In short, I’m grieving. I just want to crawl under the covers and shut my eyes for a while.

I’m quite acquainted with sadness; there’s something even comforting about it (as the song* goes). But I was really fighting it up until a few days ago. I’ve always been someone with strong emotions—people who feel things this strongly but aren’t as afraid of behaving badly as I am tend to break things when they’re angry (HULK SMASH!) and stop eating for weeks at a time** when they’re sad and go totally manic when they’re happy. I’ve never felt that I had the right to inconvenience other people by doing any of these things and I’ve frequently lamented my lack of an even-tempered disposition. I even went so far as to wish I hadn’t any emotions at all; I felt the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous described me perfectly when it says “We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn’t control our emotional natures, we were a prey to misery and depression, we couldn’t make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn’t seem to be of real help to other people.” This is me, I thought; emotions = bad. Strong emotions = very bad.

Thus it was surprising and comforting a few days ago when I was discussing this with a close friend and mentor and she told me I’d misunderstood the Big Book. “It’s not about not having emotions,” she said; “it’s about not being destructive.” It’s OK to be so elated when Peter Sagal says he loves me that I go a little berserk in my kitchen or so upset when I injure myself by slamming into the side mirror of a parked car that I burst into hysterical tears (something I desperately wanted to do but felt it would be stupid, or at best out of proportion). It’s OK to feel angry and hurl pillows at the couch as hard as I can when a horrible and abusive person hurts someone I love (actually, I didn’t do this—but I did drop a few F-bombs that day, two of which were in front of nice Mormons). It’s not OK to go completely crazy and slash someone’s paintings after a breakup (which thing I have even come close to doing; I’ve never even sent a nasty [though entirely justified] e-mail). There’s a difference between controlling an emotional nature and repressing emotions entirely.

Which is good, because emotions can’t be repressed entirely. “Bad blood will out,” says the idiom, and so will feelings. I’ve read about people who wake up with fingernail marks embedded into palms from clenching hands into fists during times of extreme stress; I’ve experienced white-hot rage completely out of all proportion to the event when my headphone wire gets caught on a drawer handle, yanking the headphones out of my phone during the most important part of the podcast (as if I can’t just plug back in and rewind, for pity’s sake). (Yes, I know that threading the wire down one’s shirt largely removes this problem, but I don’t always do it, obviously.) When I react that strongly to a minor irritation, I need to figure out what’s really going on.

Which thing I already knew, of course. I’m self-aware enough for that. But I didn’t know it was OK to first feel and then express feelings, even negative ones—that in fact that’s the only healthy way to deal with whatever underlying issue is plaguing me. I don’t have to sit and feel frustration mounting to anger with myself that I’m sad or angry or even happy because I think I should be “mature” enough to handle every situation with calm serenity, and try in vain not to feel what I’m feeling. This is really a new idea for me and not feeling guilty for having emotions is going to take some practice.*** For now, I can be glad that I have the time and latitude to think about this—something I’m well aware that far too few people can enjoy.

 

 

 

*I’ve actually never heard this song; a friend quoted the “I miss the comfort in being sad” line to me many years ago and I felt an instant connection to it, but I’ve never bothered to look up or listen to the song itself. I kind of don’t want to in case I don’t like it.

**OK, so maybe I have done this, and a few years ago lost 22 pounds in three months. I owe my current small-ish size to this particular ordeal. Thanks, Personal Trauma Weight Loss Program!

***I know that I frequently express strong emotions here on my weblog and in Facebook posts, personal interactions, et cetera. But I also tend to feel afterward that I really could have been a bit more reserved and I worry about overreacting. Thus my internal and external selves aren’t necessarily aligned completely, which is uncomfortable, to say the least.

Opposition in all things

July 20th, 2012

Some days are just awesome, and then the Law of Averages takes over.

On Tuesday, I was exchanging e-mails with a delightful young woman who turned out to be the intern from Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! (!!!), which many readers will remember is my all-time favorite radio show—a show whose new episodes I await impatiently every week, that never fails to make me laugh out loud, that I turn to in times of acute distress or just vague crumminess. This e-mail exchange had me completely starstruck in a way that (my therapist tells me) is actually quite normal and not immature or weird or borderline stalkerish. But the rabid fangirl in me was in for an even bigger treat when the intern said, “I even told Peter about our conversation, and told him that you love him, and he says he loves you back.”

PETER SAGAL LOVES ME.

ZOMG DOUBLEPLUSSQUEE!!!11!!!!1!11!!!!!

I cannot adequately express in words what this means to me. The only way to convey the feelings of absolute elation involved spastic dancing, complete with squealing and flailing. (In my kitchen. There is no video.)

(!!!!!!!)

But euphoria can only be allowed to last so long, apparently. The next day I was riding my bike through Cambridge when yet another &$%# cab driver came way too close for comfort. Uncharacteristically, I turned to yell at him. “Hey, watch i—”

Ka-BAM.

I slammed into the driver’s side mirror of a parked Honda. (Irony of hitting something while telling someone else to watch out: noted, thanks.) It hurt. A lot. My arm started to bleed. I came to a stop and started to go into shock, which was weird, because the accident wasn’t that bad. (Isn’t shock for real problems?) Fortunately a good friend of mine happened to be riding by on his Vespa, and he sat me down (the thought hadn’t occurred to me, although I was getting dizzy). A friendly woman gave me a ride home, since I could only walk about 15 feet before the world started spinning, and my roommates set me up on the couch with some ice packs and food and The Bachelorette: Men Tell All (so actually I wasn’t completely enthusiastic about the choice of television; to prevent my IQ from dropping too precipitously I read posts on the Mormon American weblog [which you should do, too]). Self-pity commenced. (What kind of idiot runs into a parked car, especially while telling someone else to be careful?)

Then later—much later, since weather had delayed her flight from 8:30 PM until 1:00 AM—I went to fetch a friend from the airport. No problem, right? I live 10 minutes from Logan and her house is only about 20 minutes away from mine.

Except that summertime is constructiontime* in New England, so all the roads I needed were closed, which meant I got to take badly signed detours through indifferently marked roads (seriously, how hard is it to paint straight lines on pavement?!) in downtown Boston to the airport—where the police weren’t letting anyone stop to look for their passengers, and my friend’s cell phone battery was almost dead, so the first three times I called I got her voice mail. She finally walked up just as a vehicle with flashing blue lights was pulling up behind me; the ticket-bearing vehicle went away (thank goodness). On the way home even more of the roads I needed were closed, so I got to drive around through downtown Boston again. Add to this the trauma of the earlier accident and it leads to a thoroughly discouraged Fishies crawling tiredly into bed at 2:36 AM, then staring at the ceiling, feeling both wired and wretched, until after 4:00.

So I heard from the intern yesterday that she can get me tickets to the Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! show in Maine in three weeks. (!!!!! Peter AND Carl Kasell IN PERSON AND IN THE SAME ROOM!!!! More spastic dances are needed to express the excitement.)

I stayed inside today.
 

 
*Somehow this never makes the roads any better. Boston is a horrible place to drive if one cares about one’s car.

¡Guatebuena!

July 17th, 2012

So I can do a lot of random things kind of well—well enough to be better than the average American, perhaps, but not well enough to be actually, like, good. I can make my fingers trip and slur through some Bach and Mendelssohn and sing well enough to solo in Sacrament Meeting, but I’d never be accepted into any kind of music school. I can ride at least 25 miles on my bike without much effort (on flat roads) and run a few nine-minute miles at a time, but I’m no athlete. I’ve visited 22 countries, but I don’t know that much about many of them (though I can sing Finland’s national anthem) and I was in some of them for less than a day. My bachelor’s degree means that I know L is the only English lateral and I could once quote 100 lines of Shakespeare, but literature classes don’t build on each other the way science or math classes do, so it’s easy to forget stuff. And when discussion turns to politics, economics, and religion—all things I feel obligated to know about but don’t—I just let the wicked smaht folks talk.

The same is true for languages. I’ve always found them fascinating, and I can say a lot of random phrases in various tongues (“It’s not about the onions” in Korean; “He says that is my sheep” in Icelandic; “I can’t carry that on my head” in Shona; “Shut up and kiss me” in Spanish, German, Icelandic, and Finnish [would that I had a reason to use this last phrase again, in any language {sigh}]). I used to be able to talk about allergies in German (it helps that the German word for “allergies” is “Allergien”), and I can carry on a conversation in Spanish as long as it’s about the gospel. But despite taking four semesters of Spanish in college and living for three months in Germany five years ago, I’ve never become fluent in either language.

Thus it is high freakin’ time I sat down and got good enough at something to be useful. An idea has been flitting around in the back of my mind for a while now, and it finally broke through to consciousness a couple of weeks ago. Some friends of mine have taken language immersion classes in Guatemala, and they’ve loved them. When the idea first began to crystallize I was somewhat dubious—I hate hot, humid weather! (The past week or so in Boston has been AWFUL.) However: Quetzaltenango (also known as Xela [shay-la]), Guatemala has a temperate climate year-round, and several friends have relatives and/or have served missions there. Quetzaltenango also has several inexpensive homestay language schools that also offer volunteer opportunities. Since I’m not working full-time right now, I’ll be able to study one-on-one with a tutor for several hours every day.

Current plans are to be there from September through December, returning just before Christmas. And things are coming together beautifully.

I CANNOT WAIT.

Presto, allegro, andante, lento, grave… HYMNAL

July 16th, 2012

I can’t take credit for the joke in the title (tempo markings in order of decreasing speed) (shout out to LSD, who first shared this with me in the kitchen of her Heritage Halls apartment in 1995), but I can, most unfortunately, bear solemn witness of its veracity.

Sigh.

So I’ve known many Sacrament Meeting organists who seem to believe that singing hymns slowly helps one feel them more. Our current organist, a very kind and giving sister, is one. I want to say right here that she is a WONDERFUL person. But…

Feel them I do. Excruciatingly.

You try singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at 68 peats per minute (recommended speed in the hymnal: 88-104), or “There Is a Green Hill Far Away” at 50 (recommended: 72-88), or “Carry On” at 81 (recommended: 96-116). (No, really. Download a metronome app and try it. I’ll wait.) The first and third of these should inspire, if not ebullience (which is necessary should one try for the high G at the end of “Carry On”), at least a degree of adventurousness; the second allows ample time for reflection when sung at the recommended speed. Sung too slowly, hymns are interminable.

Thus I was excited yesterday morning when the Relief Society opening hymn was “I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go”—I’m the pianist,* so I can not only play the hymn at the listed speed (48-58 bpm [and it should surprise NOBODY to learn that I skew fast]), but I can also say something about why it needs to be sung at that speed. (Going where the Lord wants one to go should be an occasion for joy, not martyred resignation.) So I did. And we sang the song joyously. I looked around to see if <Organist> appreciated the suggestion I was kind enough to make for her benefit.

And she wasn’t there.

She came in halfway through the lesson, so she missed what in my humble opinion was the most important part of the meeting (for her, anyway). I sat, rankled, elbows on knees and head in hands.

And then, in Sacrament Meeting, the closing hymn was—wait for it—

“I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go.”

At THIRTY-TWO BEATS PER MINUTE.

I’ll go where you’ve forced me to go, dear Lord, but only if under duress / With weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeeeeeeeeth… and cursing, and most sorely vexed.**

Now, I’m fully aware that, had the backhanded Relief Society lesson I so desperately wanted to teach been of vital importance for <Organist>, God could have made sure that she arrived on time. She always does.

That she didn’t this one time, AND that the very song I took such pains about was then the Sacrament Meeting closing hymn, would seem to imply that the lesson to be learned here is not for <Organist> at all, but for someone else.

Damn.

 

 

*I firmly believe this is God’s (or at least a leader’s) way of getting me to church on time. When church begins at 9:00 AM, with Relief Society first, ‘tis tempting for those of us with nocturnal dispositions to skip the first hour or two.

**If “heaven” and “given” can be forced to rhyme, so can “duress” and “vexed,” which (in addition to capturing my feelings perfectly) are awesome words.

Fishies Goes to Camp

July 11th, 2012

So I spent last week with 16 of the awesomest 13-year-old girls EVAH at girls’ camp. One might legitimately wonder whether this was an adventure fraught with risk; after all, my skill set (writing, classical musicianing, remembering random details from bygone decades, reveling in air conditioning, organizing inanimate objects, slaughtering the competition at literature games and Bananagrams), maladroit set (meeting new people, dealing with large groups, getting up early, tolerating heat and humidity or insects, coming across as any kind of authority figure, functioning a-tall during periods of sleep deprivation), and novitiate set (working with teenagers, anything involving the Great Outdoors™) seem remarkably ill-suited to such an endeavor. Thus it was with no small degree of trepidation that I set out last Tuesday for New Hampshire with two teenage girls and all our stuff crammed into Simon Bennett. Fortunately, all the other counselors/staff at the camp either currently have or have had teenagers, either currently work or have worked in middle or high schools, recently attended girls’ camp themselves, and/or are in the same ward as some of the campers; they were immeasurably helpful.

And we had a blast.

The girls were fantastic—our group had none of the drama and intrigue and disciplinary problems that other groups had. They didn’t complain about getting up early or hiking in the heat or scrubbing the bathrooms or having to clean up TP after someone pranked us:

Some of them asked me somewhat incredulously if I’m really older than 22 (most blessèd are they). All the girls—the shy ones and the diametrical-opposite-of-shy ones— actively participated in scripture study discussions and got along swimmingly. Several gave us chocolate, and one made us earrings:

Additionally, the three that I drove to the trail head for our hike fully appreciated the absolute synergistic joy of loud Finnish Christmas polka music* + Simon Bennett (WIN!) (everybody else makes fun of me). I wish I could post pictures of their adorableness; you’ll just have trust me when I say they’re all ZOMG SO CUTE!!!!!!

As for me, I became slightly less of a pop culture reject (I can now sing the chorus of “Call Me Maybe” as well as a few other current songs), and found that I have, to my complete and total astonishment, absolutely MAD hula hoop skillz. (There is a video. You will not see it.) I experienced a prodigious amount of junk food, insects, and screaming (teenage girls’ default emotional expression); I went swimming and canoeing and kayaking in the lake; my canoe was most cruelly SABOTAGED during the counselors’ race (side note: swimming with one arm while dragging a mostly submerged canoe back to shore = tedious). I got insect bites on my face (in the *#&% middle of the *#&% night—I had to *#&% get up and find the *#&% bug spray), the sole of one foot (grrr), and too many other places to count (no pictures). I got my hair did twice:

(’Tis an unwritten rule of adolescent girlhood that where several teenage girls gather for any reason, there is braiding in the midst of them.)

and scored a reasonably impressive bruise:

I even felt non-grimy a couple of times—for approximately 30 blissful post-shower seconds before reapplying insect repellent. And—possibly best of all—I ate good food that I did not have to procure or prepare in any fashion. (In my real life, I mostly survive on glorified hors d’oeuvres and comestibles that require, at most, peeling.)

So it was great. Thus the Summer of New (and Not Necessarily Comfortable) Experiences continues. I hope to do more things like this one—the kind that are actually fun while they’re happening, rather than being fodder for good stories after the fact.

 

*Or, if you prefer, the hard rock version. Faster = more fun to sing along.

Tri, tri again

June 19th, 2012

So just over a week ago I completed a sprint triathlon with a few girlfriends:

The girls, pre-triathlon

To answer your (very good) questions:

No, I’m not an athlete. I’m not even athlet-ic. Never have been.

No, I can’t really swim. The extent of my aquatic prowess is that I most likely won’t drown (in calm water). My glorified dog-paddle isn’t even glorified.

No, I don’t like crowds.

No, I don’t like early mornings.

No, I’m not into competitions (unless I know I’ll win [which pretty much excludes every contest except those related to words, literature, and Scandinavian Christmas carols]).

No, I don’t have a fancy road bike. Or even a non-fancy road bike. I own (and love) a 1971 Raleigh Roadster, which has three gears that sometimes shift correctly and is a great cruiser for around-town riding in pancake-flat terrain:

My 1971 Raleigh Roadster

What it lacks in speed, smooth ride, pedaling ease, and lightweight durability it makes up for in… well… um… fenders and a chain guard count for something, right? And, as I found out on Memorial Day, it actually rides pretty well when the back tire isn’t, like, almost completely flat.

So one wouldn’t think that a triathlon would be all that appealing. HOWEVER:

One of my favorite people told me about it (see top picture, right-most person).

A sprint triathlon is blessèdly short (1/4-mile swim, 10-mile bike ride, and 3 1/2-mile run), so I could do it without having to, like, train (heaven forbid I do something that requires preparation/effort beforehand).

Some of my favorite people were doing it (see top picture), and I wanted some girlfriend time. Girlfriend time that includes an adventure in Cape Cod? Even better.

And, most of all: I wanted to do something I normally wouldn’t do.

I’m not sure whence cometh this desire to do something I normally wouldn’t do; heaven knows that the past couple of years have featured character-building opportunities aplenty. (Was it March when I called my mom and cried so hard I could hardly talk for over an hour? Why yes, it was.) But apparently some part of me is concerned that I’m not expanding my horizons enough. Or–maybe I’m sensing that my horizons are much more expansive than I ever thought possible, and I want to see if that’s actually true.

I think the latter may be the more accurate assumption. For a long time after college I would look back at those years and think of all the awesome experiences I could have had then, had I realized those things were possible for me. (I generally thought that good things were for other people–the Winners, if you will–a thought line that still plagues me occasionally.) And for the last couple of decades I’ve felt limited by a lot of vague terrors that I never stopped to define and that, it turns out, are completely invalid.

The lifting of many of these fears means that I’m in a rather fluid state at present. Work is in flux; my main contract ended recently, but I have enough going on to maintain the financial status quo. I was quite busy with various shtuff for a while, but now I’m finding myself with extra time. Time to start learning something new, or improve something I’ve already started. The thing is, with so many options (swing dancing! choirs! swimming! scripture study!), I’m not quite sure where to go next–and I feel a measure of responsibility to Use My Time Wisely.

So apparently I’ve started with a triathlon. It was an enjoyable experience, somewhat to my surprise; the weather was fantastic, the exercise was invigorating, my ultra-slow but character-laden bike received a few backhanded compliments, and the company was delightful. Even getting up early wasn’t too bad. I’m not entirely sure I’ll do one again–not unless I get a LOT better at swimming–but who knows? There can be a second time for almost everything.