How Not to Ask a Question

I went to my parents’ for the weekend, mostly because this afternoon, a friend from high school was having a baby shower. Keri is exactly 4 days younger than me, has been married for three or four years, and is expecting her first child in four and a half weeks. I’m very excited for her and her husband, and it was so good to see her. I also saw a lot of people that I haven’t seen in months or even years. On trips home, I mostly just see my family or a few family friends, so when I walked into the church building this afternoon, I was pretty thrilled to see so many ladies who were very important to me before I moved away: my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Rast; elderly ladies whom I visited with Mama Kat when I was young;Β  even high school classmates whom I haven’t kept in touch with very well.

Of course, I got lots of hugs and kisses on the cheek. Many of them haven’t seen me since I was diagnosed with diabetes and subsequently lost 70 pounds, so a few claimed to not even been able to recognize me. People asked where I lived, if I’m still working at the library, what I’m doing for grad school. Just your generic, small-town small-talk. I enjoyed it, and to be honest, my pride always gets a little inflated when I return to my small town and get to talk about my plans to get a Ph.D. and teach college English. Ph.Ds are rare in a town filled with blue-collar workers.

I’m almost 24, though, and the question that people really want to ask is Are you dating anybody? While I was only technically asked the question three or four times today, other ladies seemed to hint in that direction but never asked when I didn’t take the bait. That’s to be expected: of the numerous friends my age who were there today, only one hasn’t been married for several years…and she’s getting married in July.

It’s a pattern in a small town: graduate high school, go to a tech school or (if you’re ambitious) get a bachelor’s degree, find a job, move back home, get married. Obviously, I started on that course, but quickly veered off.

Twice, when I was asked that question, I merely smiled and shook my head. Once, the conversation changed course, and another time, the elderly lady merely hugged me and told me that in time, I would find the right one. Her grandson (who also graduated with me) did, after all, so why wouldn’t I? πŸ™‚

The first time I got that question, though, it went a little differently. I was talking to a girl named Morgan, a girl whom I once considered my best friend before I knew what that term could actually imply. Although we did everything together–yearbook co-editors, president and VP of the senior class, prom planners, etc.–our friendship was always shaky and bordering on mere acquaintanceship. I haven’t bothered to keep up with her since we graduated high school, and this is only the third or fourth time I’ve seen her in those six years. She was always one of those girls who peaks in high school–whose life seems to be completely fulfilled at 18. She commuted to school, married a man she met there, and now teaches high school English, but doesn’t really like it.

She stood there, asking me about living in Greenville, working in a library, why I decided to pursue a master’s in teaching instead of library science, when suddenly she slipped in a question that still has me angry:

So, still no boyfriend?

For the record, that is not the same questions as Are you dating anyone? I hated her in that moment. But more so, I hated my response:

No, I’m still single. But, you know, I have lots of friends.

LAME! Now, she is sure to infer from that answer the truth: that all these years later, I still haven’t dated anyone, or even been on a date for that matter. And what is up with my answer? Do I really need to validate to her my vacant love life by telling her how many friends I have?

I wish I were a quick thinker and could have made up some awesome boyfriend on the spot. But I’m a terrible liar, so that never would have worked. More than that, though, I wish that her question hadn’t hurt so much. I wish I didn’t want so badly to prove to people who don’t even matter that I’m better than they think I am–that I’ve changed significantly since those terrible high school years, that I don’t need a boyfriend to make me complete. [There’s the raging feminist in me. πŸ™‚ ] But I still find myself trying to fit into that small-town mold. I feel that these people–Morgan specifically, but maybe others–are asking themselves what’s so wrong about me that, at 24, having seemingly shed that overweight-nerdy-girl reputation, I still can’t get a boyfriend.

I had a two-and-a-half-hour drive back up here this afternoon, and I spent most of that trip stewing over this question, wondering why it affected me so much. Probably because that question seemed to irritate all those insecurities that lie dormant much of the time. I was born in a small-town, and graduated from a small, Christian college, so for the first 22 years of my life, I lived in environments where I was expected to marry young and live happily ever after. Now, I’m adjusting to the mindset that it’s fine to be single at this point in my life. Granted, I’d like to be in a relationship, but I love my life. I love my friends (and you’re not lame, I promise), and I like being independent. I’m in no hurry to get married.

But, of course, there’s always the scared girl inside me who’s trying so hard to be better than just a small-town girl. And she doesn’t want anyone to think she’s not doing a great job. She doesn’t want to let anyone down or make them think that she’s inferior. She wants to feel like she’s not missing out on life–even when she knows there’s so much more than that.

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The Winter Sounds

church of the haunted southIt’s no secret my deep obsession love for my favorite bands, specifically Civil Twilight and Switchfoot. πŸ™‚ Well, my friend Michele happens to appreciate my obsession, as she is a total fangirl herself. Her band of choice? The Winter Sounds. After realizing her obsession for this band, I had a listen and liked what I heard.

But it wasn’t until I bought their new album Church of the Haunted South that I became a real fan. (Check out this excellent album review here.) First, I was thrilled by the title–at the end of the spring semester, I wrote a paper on William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor and the concept of the Christ-haunted landscape. Ironically, this album came out just before the paper was due, so The Winter Sounds serenaded me through the arduous paper-writing process.

The band played a show in Greenville about two weeks ago (to which I gladly accompanied Michele) and when she introduced me to Patrick, the lead singer, I eagerly asked him about the title of the album. The idea of a religion-haunted South is a theme of the album, and all the band members have religious backgrounds, but he’s not necessarily referencing O’Connor. Perhaps just proof of how pervasive this idea is?

Anyway, the album isn’t going to be officially released until July 7 (the same day Civil Twilight is supposed to release theirs!), but it’s available for download already. Note: the band funded this project on their own, so by paying the $10 it cost to download the album, you’re supported struggling, independent, amazing musicians. πŸ™‚

The album starts off strong with my favorite songs, “Swallowed by a Lonely Sea.” Sing a song about the ocean, and I’m hooked, and this song does not disappoint. Patrick’s vocals are astonishing–ethereal and lonely, they lend a perfectly stark tone to the beginning of the album.

The second track, “Trophy Wife,” has the potential to be one of the album’s biggest hits, I think. It’s energetic and addictive–a good summer song.

The third track, “O’Fear” had me convinced Patrick has lepruchan blood in his veins, although he’s actually just from Easley, SC. It has some of my favorite lyrics from the entire album: “Fear, o’fear, I love it when you come a-haunting me with terrible nightmares. Fear, o’fear, you ‘ve been in every shadow, counting down the hours of my long life.” The imagery! Such a great song!

Track four, “Candlelight,” is another catchy, addictive song. It gets stuck in my head, but I never mind at all. The song continues the theme from “O’Fear”: what happens when we die? We grow older, and it could happen naturally, or we could be “struck by a car on the streets of Atlanta” (much like Margaret Mitchell, if you know anything about her). No one knows for sure when or how death will come.

Speaking of Margaret Mitchell, the band pays ode to her famous character in “The Heart of Scarlett.” This song uses the most famous personification of the antebellum South to continue that haunted theme. Plus, this song might have been my favorite to hear live.

These are just some of my favorite tracks, but the entire album is just as solid–only great songs the whole way through. Totally worth the money to download it. And if you happen to hear of them playing a show near you, you should definitely be there! I don’t know why they’re not HUGE yet. How has the world not discovered how amazing this band is?

And, of course, check out their MySpace for tour dates and to hear some of their music. I’ll bet you’ll be just as eager to buy the album as I was!

A Summer To-Do List

summer-2006Summer is here (okay, not officially, but I’m a student–summer starts when spring semester ends!). That means that (theoretically) I have more free time to do stuff that I can’t do during the school year. So I’ve made a to-do list. I’ll post when school starts back in late August, and we’ll see how I did.

1. Survive summer school. It’s the first week, and HEL (or History of the English Language) is already proving to be a beast of a class. An intense amount of work to begin with, all the work is now crammed into a five-week period in which I am taking it as an independent study without the advantage of attending class. So far, each day this week has consisted of working all day, then going home and putting in many more hours of homework until falling into bed exhausted with a headache. But that sounds like complaining, so I’ll stop. I’m really enjoying the challenge, of course, and I’ve learned a ton already. Let’s just hope it all sinks in–I have my first test tomorrow!

2. Get my face rocked off. Dude–music! Shows that I definitely plan to attend:

Saturday night–Civil Twilight in Asheville!
June 11Fiction Family at the Grey Eagle Tavern in Asheville
June 13–The Fray in Charlotte (happy birthday to me and my roommate!)
July 8–Civil Twilight (again) at the Handlebar! (And, hopefully, they’ll add other shows, too.)

Not to mention new Civil Twilight and Switchfoot albums that I know off. Plus, I have until October to become a U2 fan. Summer + music = πŸ™‚

3. Read voraciously. Without the responsibility of going to class (at least, after June 19, when summer school will be over), I hope to read so many books. Books that I intend on reading this summer:

Underworld, Don DeLillo. I enjoyed The Body Artist so much that I wanted to see what else the man can do. This one is about baseball, and it’s over 800 pages. A challenge that I hope I’m up for.

The rest of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 8 comic books that are in print. That’s 10 more issues right now. I’m not pleased with the direction the story has taken, but I need to know how it ends. πŸ™‚

V for Vendetta. I’ve had this graphic novel for months now, and I’m just waiting for a time when I have no other books that must be read. Summer is the perfect time, I feel.

The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne. Can you believe I made it through 4 years of undergrad and one of grad school, and this book was never required reading for any of my classes? I’m ashamed to say I’ve never actually read it. But since I’m going to Boston in August, I plan to spend a great part of the summer reading more New England literature that I haven’t yet.

I also have stacks of young adult novels and recommendations from friends, but I welcome any more. Comment if you have any suggestions!

4. Watch TV. My roommate and I are almost finished with season 2 of Angel. We have three more seasons to go after that, so we’ll probably finish relatively soon. I also have every intention of watching the first five seasons of Lost before season 6 premieres.

5. Play outside. Hanging out at Falls Park on Friday nights with the Leisters and others from their church. Swinging at playgrounds. Laying in the grass. Maybe swimming at the pool at my apartment? Whatever. It’s summer, and I love it!

6. Have a great birthday. Harvin and I will officially celebrate together by going to see The Fray in Charlotte on the weekend between our birthdays. But hopefully, my brother and Chris and maybe some other people will come visit on or around my birthday (which is June 10, in case you were unaware), and we’ll have tons of fun. Plus, I’ll be 24, which I’ve been waiting on for years just so I can play the Switchfoot song and feel like it’s actually relevent to my life. πŸ™‚

7. Be consistently on time to work. You wouldn’t think this would be an issue with me, but sadly, it is. My boss gets irritated if any of us arrives even one minute late to work. By his standards, I’ve been late the past 2 days. I need to do better, and I don’t like him angry.

8. See the ocean again. I’m planning on going to Myrtle Beach with my family for a weekend in July, but it’s also been well over a year since I’ve seen a lighthouse. I want to go on another adventure, so I’m hoping that I’ll get a chance to day-trip down to Brunswick to climb St. Simon’s or at least head back to Savannah and actually climb the Tybee Island lighthouse this time.

9. Write letters. Raquel is in Ecuador, and I have other friends who don’t live near me anymore that I don’t always keep up with very well. I think this is a good idea.

10. TRAVEL! The aforementioned beach trip, of course. But even better? We’re finally going to BOSTON in August! (Not to mention the stop in Baltimore on the way up to visit Poe’s grave and the stop in Hartford, CT, on the way back to see Mark Twain’s house!) This trip’s been in the works for over a year, and I’ve dreamed and planned, and now my two best friends and I are going on a whirlwind literary adventure to a place that I’m sure I’m going to fall in love with! I’m already working on some great road trip mixes that will make the trip even more epic. I’m so stoked!

So that’s it. Summer 2009, you and I are gonna have a great time!

On Art and Time

bc_delillo“Time seems to pass. The world happens, unrolling into moments, and you stop to glance at a spider pressed to its web. There is a quickness of light and a sense of things outlined precisely and streaks of running luster on the bay. You know more surely who you are on a strong bright day after a storm when the smallest falling leaf is stabbed with self-awareness. The wind makes a sound in the pines and the world comes into being, irreversibly, and the spider rides the wind-swayed web.”

* * *

So begins The Body Artist by Don DeLillo, the last novel I had to read for my 20th Century American Fiction course this semester. After reading The Bell Jar and The Day of the Locust, I’ve been pretty discouraged, as far as my reading goes. I really cared nothing about either of those books; I read them and had no real opinion, even after sitting through several class discussions. Before that, I read good books–The Sun Also Rises, The Sound and the Fury, and Their Eyes Were Watching God–but I’d read all those before. It’s been awhile since I’ve discovered a new and exciting book–one that really made me think, one I enjoyed so much I could barely stand to put it down.

So when I read this first passage from DeLillo’s novel this morning, I thought I’d found it. The passage is beautiful, and it’s destined to go into the little notebook I keep for all my favorite quotations.

The novel is short–a mere 126 pages–and I finished it just a few minutes ago. And it’s so intriguing. A woman’s husband commits suicide, and she returns to the secluded house where they had spent much of their very short marriage together. Lauren moves through her days, sort of numb, reeling from the shock of his death. Then, one day, she hears a sound upstairs and discovers a man who has been living in her house.

Strangely enough, she lets him stay. He seems to be mentally retarded in some way, but he has the incredible skills of mimicking a person’s voice and mannerisms. Frequently, he mimics Lauren’s own voice and that of her dead husband Rey’s, and she knows he’s been living in the house for awhile, eavesdropping on their lives. The relationship that Lauren and this man have is very strange. Then, one day, he leaves, and she never sees him again.

To be honest, I can’t figure a lot of this book out. DeLillo frequently brings up the question of time. How does it exist? Can we somehow move back and forth in time? If Rey is dead, but this strange man mimics his voice, does that mean he’s somehow still there? Still present?

And art. Lauren is classified as “the body artist.” She creates an art show where she transforms her body into so many different personnas. She is both male and female, old and young. She makes her body into art, which many patrons disagree with. So, again, DeLillo presents a situation, letting the reader wonder, “Is this art? How? Why? What purpose?”

I feel like I need to read it again–maybe multiple times. I’m not sure I’ll ever fully grasp the whole story. But I did enjoy it. I like the way it makes me really think about the story. Who was the man? Was he Lauren’s muse? Was he a culmination of the past and present? Should Lauren be sacrificing herself, her body, for her art?

Even more than these questions, though, I really appreciate DeLillo’s style. Many of the chapters begin with beautifully written passages like the one I’ve quoted above. DeLillo also uses descriptions of normal, everyday, mundane occurrences and manages to show the reader so much about the characters. He really is a great writer.

I think I have to understand the book a little more before it makes the list of Books that Changed My Life. But it’s still definitely an intriguing read, and one that I’m really glad to have finished.

April Books

Now that it’s officially May (how did that happen, by the way?), it’s time for my April update on the 50 Book Challenge:

1. Holes, Louis Sachar. A book my (all things English-hating) brother actually read and enjoyed. I’m not sure why it took me so long to actually get around to reading it, but I really loved it. It really is a unique book. Not a whole lot happens in the beginning–Stanley Yelnats has been mistakenly accused of theft and is sent to a camp where delinquent boys dig holes all day. But Sachar blends Stanley’s story with “history” of the lake where the camp is located, and in the end, about three stories end up interwoven. Decades-old wrongs are righted, good triumphs over evil, and Stanley proves that the good kid can emerge victorious.

2. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston. Another assignment for my American Fiction class. This is the fourth time I’ve been assigned this book to read, and I’ve read it each time. It’s amazing–one of my favorites.

3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling. I’ve finished again. I love these books–flawed though they may be. Even the epilogue didn’t diminish my satisfaction at finishing the series again.

4. The Light Princess, George MacDonald, illustrated by Maurice Sendak. This delightful little fairy tale is about a princess who is cursed by her aunt at a young age; the curse actually takes away her gravity, rendering her weightless and with a cool ability to float everywhere she goes. She’s also very light-hearted, always laughing and never taking anything seriously. She spends most of her time swimming in the beautiful lake near the castle, where she feels at home. It’s a fascinating tale, and MacDonald uses puns and has a fantastic sense of humor that he weaves throughout the story. In the end, the light princess must choose between her beloved lake and the prince who is willing to sacrifice his life for her happiness, and it is her tears that lift the curse and restore the dried-out lake. And she and her prince live happily ever after, after he teaches her how to walk under the constraints of gravity. πŸ™‚

5. The Truth About Forever, Sarah Dessen. My favorite book by my favorite young adult author. I’ve read this one so many times, but I still enjoy it each time I re-read it.

6. This Lullaby, Sarah Dessen. I re-read this one while avoiding readingΒ The Bell Jar for school.

7. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath. Finally finished it, a day after finishing the discussion in class. I was just a little behind there. I guess I’m glad I read it. But I’m at the point in the semester where I just don’t care so much anymore. I read it. Class discussion was interesting. But, to be honest, I don’t really have an opinion one way or the other: I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of Plath, but I don’t dislike her.

8. The Day of the Locust, Nathanael West. A book about the downside of Hollywood life. Weird book. I read it, but like with The Bell Jar, I have no real opinion of it.

Not bad for April. My total count’s at 29…only 21 more to go before I reach my goal…and I still have 8 months left in the year… πŸ™‚