Love Advice for Your Mom

And no, I'm not making a "your mom" joke, as hilarious as those can be. I'm talking about mi madre and our phone conversation today, which took quite the unexpected turn.

"I have to tell you my news. My high school boyfriend emailed me today," she said, with more than a little nervous excitement in her voice.

Not to get into my family history too much, but my parents had a horrible relationship and a long, drawn out divorce that left some nasty scars on all of us. My mom pretty much shut the door to any future relationships, and I can't say I blame her. She has every right to see the potential negatives outweighing the potential positives of dating in mid-life. But, I've always wondered if deep down she'd really like to have a significant other in her life in some way. I know she's been asked out several times, but never has she agreed. For the most part she's accepted her aloneness as ok, and even enjoyable most of the time.

But this old school flame definitely still has a piece of her heart. I know for a fact that she's googled him over the years and kept up with him from a distance, but she never worked up the nerve to contact him. So when she woke up to find an email from him in her inbox, she was excited. Even though she was trying to disguise it as shock to me, I knew better.

"I haven't written him back yet. What do you say in a situation like this?" she asked.

(Wait a second, is my mom asking me for love advice? I don't know how to handle this!)

"Well, what did he write to you?" I asked.

It sounded to me like a normal, "I'd like to get back in touch and see how life's treated you" kind of exchange. But then again, I can't imagine what it would be like to hear from someone I hadn't talked to in nearly 35 years. After high school my mom moved from Alabama to Virginia, and she completely lost touch with this guy.

"But he's single!" she said.

I didn't want to state the obvious: that this was a good thing. I think even the thought of someone being remotely interested in her freaks her out. I wish she'd get over herself and see how awesome she is and that any man would be thrilled to have someone like her in his life. Then again, when you live with someone for most of your adult life who makes you feel like garbage, it's probably hard to believe anyone would want you.

She's going to write him back. And there's part of me that secretly wishes a little romance for my mom. She's certainly earned it after busting her butt for my brothers and me, dealing with a lot of shit along the way. If nothing else, I hope it makes her feel good and reconnects her with a past that was happy.

They Say It's Your Birthday

Oh, the birthday of an ex. It's a weird day, right? It's difficult, if not impossible, not to think of them. Even without the reminder of Facebook, I would still remember them because for years they were important dates, days I spent planning dinners out, baking (ok, more likely ordering) cakes, and wrapping presents. And it's weird not to wish them a happy birthday. The other 364 days of the year, it seems perfectly acceptable to act as if the person doesn't exist in your world, but on a birthday, it's hard to ignore them. Or, I guess what I mean is on any other day, it really isn't ignoring them, but birthdays are different. 

So, when SCL's birthday was on the horizon, naturally I began to think about him and last January 21, 2010. He and I spent the evening at a nice Indian restaurant in Old Town, and later cuddled up on the couch with full glasses of wine and indulgent slices of chocolate cake. I had put together an album of our pictures from St. Lucia,  and we looked through them, recalling the the feeling of closeness, of intimacy, of the fun we'd shared there. Even though things between us had probably already begun to deteriorate, it was a good day, which is a dangerous thing when you're looking for a sign of hope that things will finally be fine again. 

When I look back at who I was to SCL, I see myself as the one who nurtured him, who looked out for him, who made sure he got out and did fun things because it hardly ever occurred to him that doing so was important. And even now it's hard for me to break out of that mindset. I worried, would he have a lonely day? Who would buy him a cake? Would he go out to dinner? Would anyone besides his mom wish him a happy birthday? Sure, it isn't my responsibility to make sure these things happen, but there's part of me that still cares.

I didn't buy him a gift or even a card. I didn't send his friends a message to remind them of his birthday. I didn't plan a happy hour or a group dinner or make him a Duncan Hines cake. But when he called to see if  I wanted to come over for a bit, I said sure. We ordered some pizza (I paid), some beer and ice cream (he paid) and watched Big Love together. It was nothing like last year--there were no kisses or fancy wine or getting dressed up. But, it was good to spend time together, as exes attempting to be friends.

Maybe we'll make the friend thing work after all. . 

The Fleeting Sting of Rejection

At the beginning of the month, I was contacted by an organization to do some part-time work doing social media strategizing. Flattered and excited, I'd immediately written back that I was definitely interested and got to work putting together a presentation that I was sure would "wow" them. After spending a few late nights at Starbucks, getting to know the organization's website and and perfecting my proposal, I nailed the interview. As far as I could tell, the job was in the bag. Until I got the an email from them. I could tell by the subject line that I didn't get it--it was too generic, neutral, and succinct to be a "Come join our team!" message. Boo.

Now, I'm thankful that I didn't need this job, something I almost feel guilty about. I know there are lots and lots of people desperate for work, and I've already got a job I'm crazy about. I guess part of me was feeling a little greedy (more work= more $$ = new Frye boots!), but it was also about having an opportunity to gain new skills and experience. I had decided 2011 would be the "year of work" and that I was fine with committing myself to a 55+ hour work week.

So, even though it's probably best in the long run that I didn't get this job, the rejection still stung a bit. As soon as I read the email I felt myself getting defensive, telling myself I didn't really want this position anyway. But really what I was feeling was inadequate. What had I done or not done to miss out on this opportunity? I went over my words, my proposal, my resume, trying to think what had been the kicker misstep. Basically, I was trying to find my own screw up.

We can tell ourselves not to take rejection personally--that it has nothing to do with us, but it's the circumstances or the other person or some other thing out of our control. But in the end, we're stuck with our rejection, trying to figure it out. It's perfectly understandable that we might immediately jump into self-criticism because a lot of times we don't get any answers and we're left to our devices to make sense of it all.

At first I wished I hadn't told anyone about the interview. I knew I was going to be asked about it, and I didn't want to admit to anyone that I'd been passed up. I felt embarrassed. So, when I did get asked about it, I pulled the,  "Well, it really wasn't a good fit for me anyway" line. I didn't want to say, "My feelings are hurt that I didn't get it." Rejection is hard on its own, but it's even tougher when there's an audience. I feel like I've got to toughen up, get over it.

And in a few days, I did. But I didn't deny myself that bit of time of just feeling bummed out. It's good to get excited over possible opportunities and put our hearts and head into it. I'm glad I felt invested enough to feel the sting of rejection a bit. And I'm thankful for family and friends who remind me that I'm good at what I do, second job or not.

Put a Little Love in Your Heart

Between the post-holidays blues, the cold weather, and of course, the horrors of the Arizona shootings, I could use a little more love right now. And what better way to achieve that than by getting out of my little cave of a bedroom, putting on some pants, and spending time doing something for someone else.

The coolest volunteer opportunity came along this morning, and I jumped at the chance. In honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, there will be service projects taking place all over DC this weekend. One of the groups I'm involved with got the most awesome project--helping sort and organize the children's section of one of the big DC libraries. I can't think of a more fun way to give back to the community!

And, it's open to anyone who wants to help! So, if you're in DC and are free for a few hours on Saturday morning, let me know if you want to come help out by sending an email at thenonstudent (at) gmail (dot) com, and I'll give you the details. Hope to see some of you there!

What We Do for (Sort of) Friends

I had made the mistake of signing into Facebook chat one evening when a message from my grad school friend S popped up:
"r u coming 2 my ordination?"
Ah, the dilemma of such a simple question, a question I'd been asked by S on what felt like a daily basis. One I had successfully evaded for the last month or so.
"not sure. need to check my schedule. gotta run. bye!"
I quickly logged out of Facebook and into my Google calendar, hoping to find some legitimate excuse--a work event, a professional development training, even a teeth-cleaning--for that day so I could give a firm "No" without a guilty conscience. But nope, nothing--just blank.

"Crap," I thought. "I'm either going to have to go to this thing or come up with an excuse to miss a really important event in my friend's life."

Let me just say, I know I'm not a perfect friend. But I am one who generally shows up when it counts, and I'm happy to do so. Everything from wedding dress shopping to apartment-searching, I like to be there when my friends need me. I even went to another friend's ordination (snotting and sobbing most of the time, but I showed up!)  the day that SCL broke up with me last March. For a good friend, there is nothing more special than being part of the highs and lows of life.

But, then there's friends like S. It's not that I don't like her. I do like her. A lot. But, she isn't what I'd call a good friend. We get along well, and we've been through shit together, but when it comes to her actually showing up when it counts, she just can't manage it. She has made bailing a habit, citing headaches or cramps or being tired or just "not feeling like it" for backing out of plans with friends. In fact, she canceled her own birthday party which she'd invited dozens of friends to at the very last second just a few weeks ago. While she has a lot of lovely attributes, reliabilty isn't one of them.

So, when she asks me (repeatedly) to come to her ordination a few hours away, I really don't want to say yes. Part of it is that I don't want to spend the time going there and back, but it's more than that. I think it's more knowing that if I asked her to do the same for me, she'd probably wouldn't show up. Because she hasn't in the past. Repeatedly. It's a pattern I doubt will change. At the same time, should I allow her behavior to shape what kind of friend I am in return?

When I logged back into Facebook again later that night, my newsfeed was littered with messages my friend S had posted to others' walls, very similar to the one she sent me: "r u coming?" "hope u can make my ordination!" "can u sing at my ceremony?" etc. I realized her hurried invitation to me over Facebook chat wasn't really heartfelt or thoughtful, and I wonder how much it would really mean to her if I showed up. I began to think maybe it's more about her getting a critical mass there instead of my individual presence. And if that's the case, I think I can cut myself a break on this one.

Hurry Girl, It's Waiting There For You

Africa, that is. (Points if you got the somewhat altered Toto reference in the title!) Specifically Zimbabwe. Or Mozambique. Or Malawi. Or Kenya. Or some combination of these.

While my work focuses on international women's health, I haven't had the opportunity to travel outside the US since starting the project last January. I wouldn't consider myself that well-traveled anyway. I spent a semester studying in Italy and hit as many European highlights as I could, taking dirty Italian overnight trains to Paris, staying at sketchy hostels in Madrid and Barcelona, and toting a Jansport backpack all the way. I've been to Costa Rica on a legit mission type trip, and the Bahamas and St. Lucia for vacation. So really, Costa Rica is the only place I got any sense of the Global South, and among developing countries, it's pretty stable and relatively economically sound.

Since starting work on international health, I've felt a growing urgency to see more of the world, not as a tourist (although travel for pleasure is awesome) but to connect with grassroots health advocacy. It's not just a way to build some credibility in the work that I do, but also for me to see with my own eyes what the situation is like for folks on the ground, hear the stories, and work together with them as allies. And now, it's really going to happen!

I have two awesome opportunities, and I need to pick one and soon. Like, by the end of the week. Yikes!

The first is a 3-week trip to Zimbabwe, working on a mission team and doing some construction at a hospital. It's a little on the long side, and while I think it'd be personally enriching, I'm not sure it's the best fit for my work. I really want to talk with people one-on-one, and I think I'd be more in the background. On the flip side, it's in August which is a great time to travel since Congress is out of session.

The second would be a shorter, possibly two-country trip to Malawi and Mozambique. In Malawi, I'd get to visit some AIDS projects and in Mozambique, I'd be attending a multi-country conference on domestic violence. And, it would be right before some big trips I have in the US, which isn't great timing but it would also build my credibility before I go stand in front of groups, telling them why they should support international health efforts.

I've got a lot to think about. But whichever I choose, it's going to be an amazing experience!