Advice: To Enroll, Or Not To Enroll

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

When I first graduated high school, I spent a little over a year in college and then–can you guess?–I met a boy, fell in love, dropped out of college, got married, and started having babies. I always sort of imagined going back to school, but I put it pretty firmly on the back burner and never really pursued it when I was younger.

Now, I am 54. The babies are grown and living their own lives, and the thoughts of school are tugging at me more and more. It would be a bit of a tight struggle financially since we don’t really have any savings, and my husband is recovering from quadruple-bypass surgery so I have other serious demands that I can’t neglect. Should I put the pipe dream of getting a college degree to bed? Or is there hope for me that I can get there some day?


Not a Co-Ed

Dear Co-Ed

P: I think it’s time, since you’ve gotten your babies raised and your life organized to stop defining yourself by what you’re not. I would argue that it’s time for everyone to stop defining by what they’re not, but we’re talking to you.

I’m sorry your husband has had quadruple bypass surgery. That’s serious. But you heal from it. Pretty soon, he’s going to have a full time job on his hands getting himself back in shape. And that job, with a lot of loving encouragement, is his job. Because if he doesn’t embrace it, he’s not going to thrive.

And Terri and I are encouragers, but we’re not a Magic 8-Ball. You tell me. Do you want to get this done? If so, there’s hope. If not, there’s probably not a lot.

B: Ahhh, the dilemma of the non-traditionally-aged student.

One of the many allures of college is that it is always there. It is always a possibility. Schools don’t go away, they don’t discriminate according to age. All you need to do is get in, right?

Provided your life evens out, the doors on your time are thrown wide open, and it’s easily affordable, right? Because that’s how it is with every major life event, especially things like home ownership, or babies. You can only embark on these new adventures when everything is perfect, and easy, and not messy. Right?

P: You’ve done what women do. You’ve put your family at the center of your life. My guess is you don’t really resent that; there’s nothing you say that sounds that way.

But you are aware that you’ve deferred your dream.  You’re only 54. You’ve got time to get your degree and do something you’ve always wanted to do. Something else you’ve always wanted to do, because I get it, you wanted your family.

B: The thing is, there’s never going to be one perfect time to hie yourself back to college and hit the books. You saw that; even when it was theoretically the “perfect” time for you to be in college (right after high school), it wasn’t the perfect time for you, as your personal priorities at the time ended up falling elsewhere. And that’s OK. For my own reasons, I didn’t set foot inside a college classroom until I was 26, so right after high school wasn’t right for me, either. It is what it is.

P: School is an investment, both in your future employment and in your self esteem. Both of those are worth a lot. And it is not a great thing to defer your dreams forever. You don’t want to resent these people you love, to whom you have given important time in your life, because “they’re” holding you back. So far, I don’t know that they are. But your children aren’t any more important that you are. They don’t need a college degree at your expense. And you’ve raised children, so you don’t need to sit home and wait for more to raise.

 And then there’s a final sobering truth. Your husband had serious heart surgery. Hopefully he’ll step up to the responsibility of caring for himself and live a lot more years.

You’re 54. What if something happens to him today? What are you prepared to do. Isn’t it better if you have that degree in hand and get some work experience under your belt for all involved?

Hopefully, you’ll work because you like your field. But if you have to work, whether for finances or for sanity, you’re going to be a lot happier to have a job you worked for and an education you’re proud of.

I’ve got to hope that a man you’ve loved enough to defer your dreams loves you enough to now make them happen…

So you tell us. Are you a co-ed, or not? I confess, I hope you are. Terri?

B: Ann has covered the feel-good end, so I am going to talk about practical concerns here.

Ann is right; we are encouragers. Should you go back to school? Thirty-plus years is a long time to harbor a wish. It’s never left you. You should, absolutely, go. Ann has covered all the (excellent) reasons you should go, including the positive effect it will have on your self-esteem and that it can help you safeguard your future, particularly if your husband doesn’t have an easy recovery from his surgery. But I will offer up a few caveats.

Start slow. Can you take a class or two, part time? That way you can ease into the budgeting of your time, and get used to having to make time to study, or read, or write, instead of having a full class load and a household to manage. Why make yourself drown if you’ve got a part-time lifeline?

Look into financial assistance. You’ll surely be able to get federal loans. Look into scholarship eligibility. There’s a lot of college assistance money floating around out there that goes unclaimed. You can start by looking at the Federal Student Loan website, which also has a page about scholarship searches. Go here for that information. State universities are generally less expensive for their in-state residents, so look into your state system. And, some schools do offer need-blind admission, so if you can get in and can’t afford it, the school will pick up some, perhaps even all, of the bill, depending on the policy in place at the individual college. Those schools tend to be highly competitive (think Stanford/Wellesley/Princeton), so you’d better be ready to run hard if you go that route.

And for heaven’s sake, buy used textbooks whenever possible. You’ll save yourself thousands of dollars if you don’t think you need to be the first to crack the binding.

Particularly when you’re in your first few classes, expect everything to take longer than you think it will. You may be perfectly smart and capable to handle the class work, but you need to re-learn how to study. How to take relevant notes. Your learning style may have shifted, too. I used to be a much more visual learner; if you told me something, it often went in one ear and out the other but if I read it, it stuck. Now, I am much more adept at auditory learning. Things may have shifted for you. Be open to that.

And I bet it’s been decades since you’ve had to write a persuasive paper, complete with documentation. Give yourself the room to have to re-learn how to write. Every college has a writing center/tutoring system of some sort. Take advantage of it.

Non-traditional learners are an increasing presence on campuses across the country, and many schools have put support programs in place for older students, like yourself. These are students who have outside demands and external responsibilities…like a husband who’s recovering from bypass surgery. Older students, quite simply, have different needs. You may want to look at schools that embrace their non-traditionals. Not that going to a party school wouldn’t be a hoot, but you may find that you’d fare better in a place with more age-consistent peers.

Dive in deep into the classes you don’t love. You’re not a math person? That’s fine, as long as you take down your walls before you enter the class. You may take lessons away from those classes that you could never have anticipated (I’ll tell you about my astronomy class, one day). And if you’re going to go to college and get a degree, you’ll have to take classes you won’t love. So choose to get the most out of them that you can. You’re paying for it, so why not?

Study what you love. You’ve waited more than thirty years for this. Don’t stifle your interests now. Be the co-ed you’ve always wanted to be.

Happy studying!

Happy studying!

The Graduate

½ ounce Amaretto di Saronno
1.5 ounces Southern Comfort Bourbon
1.5 ounces pineapple juice

Combine the ingredients with ice and mix well. Garnish with a pineapple wedge or cherry.

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Want to know more about The Bartender and The Priestess? Go here!

Thank you for reading. Now go tell all your friends about us. {{{heart hug}}}

Travel Theme: International Women’s Day

Ailsa’s travel theme this week at Where’s My Backpack? focuses on International Women’s Day.  Awesome.

When I finally decided to get my butt back into school, I had the very good fortune to go to Wellesley College.  Yes, it’s a women’s college.  Wellesley is academically top-notch, I got to study a subject that I loved, it opened up whole new fields of interests for me that I didn’t know I had until I got there, and I was surrounded by amazingly intelligent, funny, interesting women of all ages and backgrounds and orientations and histories, who never seem to want to stop learning and growing.

The school is still a source of mental strength for me.  I go back and visit when I can; it’s an astonishingly beautiful campus.  And the lessons I learned while I was there are with me to this day.  Going there wasn’t “easy” in the traditional sense of the word–I lost a ton of sleep to late-night cram sessions and smoked five times as many cigarettes as I should have–but it was one of the best things I have ever done for myself.

The Carillon.

The Carillon.

The academic quad.

The academic quad.

The library seen through the rhododendrons.

The library seen through the rhododendrons.

Down we go!

Down we go!

My old dorm! That porch was the setting for most of my late-night smoking.

My old dorm! That porch was the setting for most of my late-night smoking.

Me, rowing crew on Lake Waban.  (OK, so I didn't take this picture.)

Me, rowing crew on Lake Waban. (OK, so I didn’t take this picture.)

Reunion weekend!  So glad to be back around fierce women of all ages.

Reunion weekend! So glad to be back around fierce women of all ages.

WTFery: Where The Girls Are (1965)

While trolling the stacks at a local flea market/treasure trove, I found a book called Where the Girls Are, published in 1965 by Peter M. Sandman and the editorial staff of Princeton University‘s student newspaper, The Daily Princetonian.

Feast your eyes...

Feast your eyes…

Truth: I don’t think I even opened this book at the flea market; I saw it sitting on a shelf marked “All Books 25 cents” and, entertained by the nymphs frolicking at the bottom of the cover, declared it mine.  I don’t even think I read the back cover.  I had no idea what I had in my hot little hands.

Apparently, Where the Girls Are is very difficult to come by.  A (not overly-extensive, but still several Google pages deep) search on the internet turned up listings in used book stores (with a first edition going for as much as $45!), but gave me no real excerpts.  Fine, I say.  I’ll make them myself.

You see, as a woman, and as one who went to college, I was of course attracted to something that promised to be a cornucopia of the craptastic and focused on the wimmens.    What I didn’t realize was just how malignant this book is.

It is, of course, a product of its time, and the perspective re: the battle of the sexes was markedly different in 1965 than it is today.  Even with that being said, Where the Girls Are is a nightmare of epic sexism, though at least the introduction written for the female college student reader admits that.  And I quote:

S.T.E.R.E.O.T.Y.P.E.  Stereotype.  We know it, we admit it, we proclaim it.  Where the Girls Are is loaded with stereotypes.  So what else is new?


Where the Girls Are (WTGA) is ostensibly a guide to which colleges have the most datable co-eds and having dated in the course of my life I get that dating can be one giant visual feast and con game.  However, the sneering tone with which the authors discuss things like female intellectualism, social class, attractiveness (or attractiveness in relation to their social class), the ways to engineer an invasion of dating turf and each college’s permissible levels of winking-at-the-indiscretions-drunkenness only leads me to believe the author(s) wrote this with the intention of inciting as many boners and/or date rapes as possible.  Consider their descriptions of two different California schools.  The 8,000 attractive, middle class co-eds at UCLA, they say, “…face almost no intellectual pressure and spend most of their time–weeknights, weekends, any time–dating.  They go out as much as they can with anyone who’ll ask them; they’ll go anywhere and do anything; they just don’t care.”  At Stanford, however, a different story unfolds.

“Nine out of ten California girls are beautiful and the tenth goes to Stanford.” So they say along the Pacific coast.  Leland Stanford Jr. University has 1,718 female undergraduates, which makes is undoubtedly the largest collection of Plain Janes in the country.  And what’s worse–O Infamy–most of them are serious book-weenies.  They study a great deal, which on the West Coast just isn’t done, and they earn better grades than their male counterparts, which just isn’t done anywhere.

Though there is some benefit to dating the Stanford female.  Again, I quote, “As one knowledgeable senior male put it: Well, they may be ugly, but they sure are rich.”

Damn.  I suppose I should be grateful for the honesty, since these are the things people think but do not say.  But damn.  At least there are no illustrations.  I mean, could you imagine the snark that would flow from the fingertips of the author(s) if there were illustrations that could be drawn to highlight whatever unflattering stereotype you wanted to highlight?  I mean, THAT would be like calling open season on….

Huh?  There ARE illustrations?  *checking*

Indeed there are.  The 1965-flavor staff at The Daily Princetonian did, it seems, deem it amusing to include drawings that represented various school stereotypes, and what the inquiring dater could expect on his search for the perfect co-ed.

Say, for example, you’re going to be somewhere near the University of Delaware and thought you might check out some local action.  According to WTGA, in 1965 the UofD campus was where “nineteenth-century ideals and mores [were] applied to twentieth-century technology”.  This was at the cusp of the sexual revolution, after all, so the UofD took its “no members of the opposite sex in dorm rooms/chaperoned parties/alcohol free campus/surrogate parenting” duties seriously.  Should the randy traveler find himself at the UofD in search of a date, he could expect…

Grim tidings from Delaware.

Grim tidings from Delaware.

…a scrawny drudge who goes to class with curlers in her hair.  The illustrated co-ed is one of “…all except the third who flunk out [that will] manage to serve their full term (translation: graduate from college), quiet and obedient.”  Of course, the next line reminds the reader, “Quiet and obedient girls can have their advantages.”

*swoon*  Take me away, Prince Charmant!

Or suppose our randy traveler (I need to write a story with a character named Randy Traveler) ends up on the outskirts of Philly, looking for something to do.  Bryn Mawr is close, and it’s a college full of young ladies.  Chances are good that they’re not all claimed by the men on campus, right, ha ha?  Only…

Don't make me philosophize all over you.

Don’t make me philosophize all over you.

Apparently, the women of Bryn Mawr can’t even be bothered to wear non-gnarly socks.  They are “…that dread word–intellectuals.  Not all of them resemble the owl on the school’s seal, but nearly every one of the 750 of them got higher college board scores than you did…”.  Oh, God, no!  Not another school full of smart women!  It’s a place where, “Foreign food is in.  Ivy League “preppies” are outnumbered among dates by the soulful beard-and-jeans set; at Bryn Mawr the description of “Ivy” is likely to be intended as an insult.”

Oh, really, Princetonian, Ivy League guy?  Should they forget the “owl intellectual” comment and throw themselves at your feet?  I mean, not every girl can be like those at the University of Texas.

Yee. Ha.

Yee. Ha.

The women of UT are, apparently, rope-’em sexy, and “part of  a pleasure-seeking herd” who “keep all signs of sophistication well-hidden.”  Apparently, all you need is a way in the front door (find a friendly bro and have him introduce you around; you’ll meet a herd girl), a working knowledge of football and mastery of the terms “Yes, ma’am” and “Y’all come on, y’hear” and you’re ready to take the ladies of Texas by storm!  No substance necessary.

My favorite description in WTGA is, of course, the one about my very own alma mater, Wellesley College.  He starts by talking about Hoop Rolling, the admittedly tepid springtime event celebrated even to this day where graduating seniors dressed in graduation gowns roll their hoops down Tupelo Lane.  It’s a throwback to a much earlier time when the hoop-rolling winner would be the “one to marry first”.  Sigh.  Now the winning hoopster is traditionally the first one to find happiness and success however the winner defines it, but it’s still a charmingly antiquated tradition.  And I digress.

Considering the derogatory evaluation given the skinny girls at Delaware or the “owls” at Bryn Mawr (see pictures to freshen up the old memory), you’d think Sandman & Co. would be glad to see women who have a reputation for athleticism.  Instead…

Hulk smash!

Hulk smash!

Code name: Lesbian.

This is only highlighted by the statement that “The Wellesley girl’s athleticism, by the way, is mainly confined to athletics.  The occasional juxtaposition of energy and romance is most likely on the shores of Lake Waban: If you walk around the lake three times with a Wellesley girl without proposing, she can throw you in.  She probably will.”

Translation: Don’t expect to get laid.  EVARRRRRRR.

Sandman noticeably leaves the Ivy League schools alone; there is no mention of Harvard, Yale, Princeton.  In 1965, most of the Ivies still weren’t admitting women as undergraduates, though there were a few that did allow students in as graduates.  There are two notable exceptions included in this book.  He talks about the “surprising number of uglies” at the University of Pennsylvania, trapped in the flaccid city of Philadelphia (elsewhere touted as a great place to go).  He also talks about the over-hyped intellectual rigor at Cornell, and that it’s easy to get around the admissions requirements.  Part of me thinks this could simply be sour grapes, and he’s swinging away at schools that have the wimmens close by, since his school doesn’t have any.  Smart money says Sandman’s UPenn girlfriend dumped him for a Cornell man and there is no small amount of vengeful backlash in these two entries.

Ultimately,  I don’t care that he thinks Wellesley women are wink-wink “athletic” or whether or not Stanford women meet his measure of attractiveness.  What I do care about is his anti-intellectual bias and the way he switches evaluative measures; women in this one school aren’t smart enough, in another they’re too smart.  They’re too skinny, too middle-class, too tied to their homes, so pretty they’re not available, not pretty enough, too free-spirited, too constricted, too outdoorsy.  It’s dizzying, and ultimately highlights the fluid nature of the “standards” women have been asked to live up to.  Menfolk: I get that there are a host of conflicting standards by which you are expected to live your lives, too (do you make enough money?  Do you use that money to control people?  Are you athletic?  Are you too much of a jock?  And so on, and so on) but I don’t have a book in front of me spelling it all out.  WTGA reinforces blatantly sexist stereotypes, and WTFery like this is still alarmingly relevant.  Don’t believe me?

Read any press ever written about Hillary Clinton over the past thirty years, and see how she’s been represented and misrepresented…smart enough, too smart, not mommy enough, overly emotional, not tough enough.  Nobody ever gave John Boehner a hard time because he didn’t bake cookies.

These women are too pretty to date.

This article addresses the recent controversy over the monitoring and protection of the femininity of female Olympic athletes.

This 2012 article says women have finally stopped playing dumb in order to find a man who will marry them.

This 2012 article discusses the anatomy of the “perfect woman” and includes the statement that “men report less marital satisfaction when the female was the breadwinner of the family. So success is hot—just not too much success.”

This article asks if Jennifer Hudson, overweight when she first achieved fame, is now too skinny.

In this article, Jessica Simpson says that when she saw her weight right after having her first baby, she “thought her life was completely over.”

And on, and on, and on.  Where do you find the balance in all of this?

I do find it ironic that Peter M. Sandman, author, went on to a career as a communications professor and that one of his areas of specialization was outrage management.  I’m fairly sure he’d tell me to get over it, as tongues were firmly planted in cheeks and boys will be boys, har-de-har.  I’m almost certain I’d tell him to go fuck himself, and he can bury his har-de-hars deep in his over-smug self-promoted stereotype, because after all, what are Princeton boys except for conceited tools with a false sense of entitlement?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Green

A few years ago, my friend’s little girl asked me what was my favorite color.  It’s green, I told her, and then she squealed like only a four-year-old girl can and said, “HeeEEEeeEeeeeyyy!  That’s MY favorite color too!”  I asked her if we could share and she sized me up, mouth puckered to one side, head cocked, brow furrowed in thought and then–thankfully!–she nodded happily and said, “OK!”  From that point on we were favorite-color-is-green sisters.  She is now six and I’m pretty sure her favorite colors have shifted to pink and purple because she is a six year old girl, after all.  But I love that story, and it’s never far from the topic of “green” for me.  So this photo challenge is coming to you from me and my little friend Violet, even if her favorite color is purple now.

Public Gardens, Boston.

The Public Gardens are directly across the street from Boston Common.  On a map it sort of looks like it’s one big park, but the Common is clearly a city park while the Gardens always remind me of Fairyland.  There’s a swan boat floating nearby and willows twisting in the breeze.  I love this little structure. I have no idea what kind of birds those are; I’m totally willing to learn.

The Jewett Steps, Wellesley College.

One day during a summer trip to Boston I took a side trip to my alma mater.  Sensibly, the college does a lot of renovation work over the summer, when students are not present.  The Jewett Steps were always one of my favorite spots on campus so I was initially mildly disappointed to see the scaffolding but then I realized…it looked pretty cool.  I love how the trees are flourishing in the middle of all this straight, spare, pretty severe architecture, and that you can just see more trees through the arch in the distance and peeking over the sides.  It reminds me that nature will have her way with this, eventually, despite our best efforts.  I don’t want that to be for a fantastically long time, but it’s always there.  And!  That’s how it should be.

Where I live.  Beautiful Central PA.

Well.  It’s not exactly my backyard, but it’s really really close.

Chateau Renaissance, Finger Lakes, NY

Chateau Renaissance is this fun, interesting, quirky little winery on Keuka Lake.  The owners are pleasant and talkative and happy to see people.  The tastings are free and the tasting room is cozy.  They make a killer champagne rouge that I need more of, so if anyone’s going up that-a-way, please let me know.  And I have no idea why their back room has green lighting, but there you have it.  I felt like I was looking at some kind of movie set or something.

Venice, Italy.

Like there was any way I could not take a picture of the greenest boat in the world?  For some reason it pleases me to no end that it’s been dubbed the “Veritas”.

Murrisk, Ireland.

I had to finish with the Emerald Isle, land of my people.  The peak in the background is Croagh Patrick, St. Patrick’s holy mountain.  There are all sorts of legends that surround Croagh Patrick; this is where St. Patrick defeated the druids, banished the snakes, won the right to judge the Irish on Judgement Day.  The mountain is also surrounded by green, but as this is Ireland that’s like saying it’s surrounded by oxygen.  It’s true what they say: the Irish are wonderful hosts, and it is called the Emerald Isle for a reason.

Go here for more of this week’s photo challenge.  Thanks for reading!

X! Challenge: The Old Barn Door

I was in Spokane, WA for a residency at Gonzaga University, working on my Master’s degree.  One of our assignments involved simply walking around campus and taking pictures of things we might not necessarily have noticed as we went around our daily business.  The Gonzaga campus was beautiful, but I liked the pictures of the un-lovely things.  I distinctly remember a friend’s picture that she shot through a knot in a fence, showing construction.  Anyway.  This door was to a storage barn, and what you see of the building gives you a pretty good idea of the rest of the building–corrugated metal, function without beauty.  But the doors were weathered and interesting, a strangely charming feature on a perfunctory structure.  I took this picture on the way back to the classroom; it was the final picture I took for the assignment and it was snapped almost as an afterthought.  When I put this picture up on the screen to share with my class, it was greeted by a chorus of, “Ooh!” and “Cool!” and, more importantly, “Wait, where is THAT on campus?”  It was the door to the storage shed right behind this building, I told them.  We’d all walked past it on the way back.  I’d nearly missed it too.  Let that be a lesson to me.

This post is for the “X Challenge by Frizztext”

Because I love a good alphabet challenge

Antiquated Etiquette: The Unexpected Guest

I love…loveLOVE etiquette books.  I suppose it’s some mutation in my soul that occurred thanks to my time at Wellesley, since it’s the alma mater of Miss Manners herself, Judith Martin.  (An aside to my Wellesley sisters: on the “Notable Alumnae” link I just posted, there is one “Notable” from 2003, one “Notable” from 1991, and everyone else graduated well before that.  We’ve got to shake the dust off, ladies, and yes, by “we” I mean me, too.)  But she is still a present-day voice, and I particularly love older etiquette books.  The older, the better.  They provide an interesting window to the mores of their time, and are often charmingly, haltingly written by a bona-fide lady who manages to maintain demure tones, even in her writing voice.  They exist in this imaginary social zone, one wherein the person who needs an etiquette book could conceivably move into the social class the author writes about, even if the reader is not to the manner born.

If you’re born to it, you don’t need some fancy book, see?  You’ll ooze etiquette like a bee’s butt oozes honey.  Ease of etiquette indicates the euphemistically repulsive term “breeding“, which is just one string of pearls away from eugenics in its implications about animal husbandry in relation to social acceptability.  The only people who need etiquette books are the nouveau riche, who may have earned a lot of money war-profiteering or rum-running and can buy their way into the right parties and events but certainly don’t know how to behave in capital-S Society.  Or social climbin’ gals, who want to trick rich men into marrying them because they think these ladies are of their class, once they master all the genteel standards a book can provide.  Ha!  Have you ever SEEN some elaborate table settings?  Good luck with that.  (And while I hate to admit it, it looks like the Kennedy fortune did not come from the aforementioned running of the rum and this is simply a wildly successful urban legend; Joe Kennedy‘s father was a savvy businessman in his own right so Papa Joe had money to start with, though that’s not to say he didn’t dabble in liquid investments–sorry, gangster romantics, and I digress.)

And so, while I was in the Street of Shops I came across an old etiquette book in the flea market section in the basement.  The New Book of Etiquette© 1925 by Lillian Eichler (whose story is pretty interesting) and no, I didn’t pay $69.99 for it.  Two bucks–score!  Here’s an example of some of the advice she offers:

“The friend or acquaintance who has an at-home day should be given the courtesy of having that at-home day honoured.  If you know, for instance, that Mrs. Blank receives on Tuesdays, do not be so discourteous as to call on Fridays, unless you just wish to leave your card and pay a “duty” call.”  — p. 138

Indeed, I would never want to call if Mrs. Blank isn’t ready to receive.

“A woman does not share on her cards the title of her husband.  For instance, the wife of our President has her cards engraved, “Mrs. Calvin Coolidge.”  The wife of a secretary, judge, general, or admiral does not use any other title on her personal card than “Mrs.”” — pp. 124-125.

How gauche to even consider otherwise.  Ladies, “Mrs.” is all the title you’ll ever need.

“The first and invariable rule is that the woman always bows first when meeting man acquaintances.” — p. 96.

What the huh?

And so with that in mind, we turn to one of my favorite pages in the book.  Oddly, this page isn’t surrounded by anything that elaborates on the caption, so I can only assume it’s up to the reader to parse out the meaning on his or her own.  Okay, fine, I’ll do it.

“The unexpected guest constitutes a real problem…”

A real problem?  Why?  Will the hostess run the risk of breaking a limb because of the unexpected guest?  Will she starve?  Is this unexpected guest secretly the Pied Piper, and the hostess’s home will soon be overrun with mice?  Is it because the hostess can no longer walk around naked?  Will the guest steal all of her silver?  WHAT IS THE REAL PROBLEM?

“…to the hostess who has no maid…”

Oh.  So having a guest requires extra cleaning.  Unless you’re hosting Pigpen, I don’t see how that’s a legitimate issue.


“…and only the simplest kind of guest room.”

Because I, for one, refuse to stay somewhere unless there’s a chandelier from which my boyfriend can swing.

Finally, some civilization.

If the room has a place to sleep, four walls, a ceiling that lacks holes and a bathroom nearby, what more does the unexpected guest need?

Apparently, they need maid service.

This is the world that I find so fascinating.  How dreadful!  That a lady may have to meet the needs of her guest all on her own, without the assistance of a maid or, apparently, a husband, who as a host is not presented as having any sort of problem with an unexpected guest when he lacks a maid.  Because he’s got a built-in maid in his wife.  (The gender politics make my head spin.)  That she may have to house a guest in a simple room that doesn’t have a single automated toenail clipper or Magic Fingers® or a mature dog she could strap a serving tray to and send in cocktails.  This was 1925; penicillin hadn’t even been discovered yet, the income disparity that triggered the Great Depression was building, and a hostess’s real problem was that someone she theoretically likes stops in for a visit?  And that she had to put them into a guest room that may or may not have fancy soap?  Get over yourself, Ina Garten.  The world has much bigger fish to fry.

Music: Ellis Paul

A few weeks ago I went to Harrisburg for a concert.  The show was held in this really cool venue, the Midtown Scholar Bookstore.  Midtown (duh), right across from the Broad Street Market, and six levels of space jam-packed with used books for your delight and edification.

Books. Coffee. Open space.

Yes, that’s right.  I said six.  It’s big.  And it’s roomy and groovy, an old movie theater that burnt down and was converted into a store of some kind that closed down in (I think) the ‘70s.  And stayed closed until the Papenfuses took it over and turned it into a cultural mecca.  Books, art, coffee, and live music.  Local peeps looking to play in the Harrisburg area (or non-local peeps looking to play in the Harrisburg area), check them out.  And bring extra money, because you’re going to want to pick up a book you never expected to see.  Anyway.

So I went to Midtown Scholar not just to feast my eyes upon its loveliness, but to see Ellis Paul.  In the last thirteen or fourteen years I’ve probably seen Ellis (who now, like Beyonce, only requires a first name…at least that’s how it is in my world) somewhere around twenty-ish times.  I’d never heard of him when I first saw him in college; he opened for John Wesley Harding and I thought, OK, I’ll give the newbie a listen.

I’ve gone on mini-Ellis-tour in Texas (and met a bunch of other people doing exactly the same thing).  I’ve traveled through thunderstorms and snow, driven seven hours in a day, and planned trips around when he’ll be in a particular area.  It’s not just that he’s a skilled singer-songwriter who’s also a charming storyteller, it’s that his lyrics capture the motion of our daily lives, and whether you’re in the nerve-wracking insecurity of a new relationship (Maria’s Beautiful Mess) or wondering where to find a cocktail and a friendly welcome during a voyage of self-discovery (Alice’s Champagne Palace) or just need to recognize a pivotal, life-altering moment in your life (The Day After Everything Changed), he figures out a way to do it.  Gracefully.  Poetically.  With open tunings.  For a while I always brought someone new to an Ellis show with me, as though it were my mission.  My sister even got involved in such, bringing my mother to an Ellis show.

Can you even stand how cute she is?

He asked me once if I was secretly on his payroll, as I brought in a stream of new listeners.  Sorry, man.  It’s just for the love of the game.  And GOD AS MY WITNESS, do NOT respond with “Freebird” if he asks for any requests.  It won’t end well for you, as he has the mike and an axe to grind.  I’ve already taken the heat for this for you.  Trust me.  Some day, I’ll ‘splain.

People, just because I like you, I’m embedding “Hurricane Angel”.  Bring tissues, and you’re welcome.

He’s got a big voice, big features, big gestures.  I had no idea how one guy + one guitar could = compelling stage performance, but I’ve seen it done again and again.  And his thoughtful, well-crafted of lyrics have become the background music for—of all things—Farrelly Brothers movies, starting with “Me, Myself and Irene” (his breakthrough song for them, “The World Ain’t Slowing Down”, was the romantic theme in the movie) and going straight through to “Hall Pass”.

If you YouTube “The World Ain’t Slowing Down”, you’ll come across loads and loads of covers.  My personal favorite is by the Greenock Zombie, who doesn’t cover it so much as lip-synchs.  In a zombie mask.  Behold!

Any so.  If you’re looking for things to do, and Ellis is in the area, believe me.  His shows are so worth a $20 cover charge and a couple of hours of your time.  Bring your mother.  Trust me, she’ll love it.

As for why it’s re-running the pictures of the book store and Ellis and my mother…I do not know.  When I understand this better, I will fix.

Reunion rules

For the record…
Reunion ruled.
I often *think* that things are generally not in my nature—I don’t like forced fun, I don’t like contrived reasons to get together, especially if I feel like it’s something that some authority is making me feel like I “should” do—so my snark comes out and I get weirdly antagonistic. I don’t know if I “feel like” going, I don’t know if I want to justify the cost and the time and the…whatever else. Emotional commitment. Dealing with the gnarly New England pollen.
And because I went to Wellesley, there’s always the sort of “measuring up” that goes on (though to be fair, we were doing that to each other as undergrads). Have you been successful enough to match your classmates? Have you done what you wanted with your life? Chances are good you’ll end up in a room talking with some CEO of something or other. Can you stack up to your companions? Is anything less than their level and determination of success indication that you’re the slacker you always suspected you were all along?
Wellesley women, if the concern that you might not ‘measure up’ is affecting you in any way, let me assure you that you are well within your rights to say, “Meh…whatever.” I’m not a mega-executive, I’m still trying to figure out my place in this world, and I just had the privilege of spending some time with a group of dynamic, interesting women who feed each other with their energy and interests. And it ROOOOOOOOOCKED.
I realized that it wasn’t so much that I was going to Wellesley to learn how to be a business executive (and frankly, if I were, I wouldn’t have been a Russian Studies major…I hope this causes no offense to a certain Hodge) as it was that I would have the fortitude to make the changes I needed to make at the time, and the knowledge to make them again and again as life and I danced around each other. And while it was absolutely satisfying to push my academic potential to its limits, for me it was more important to realize that I have the resolve TO tackle challenges, rather than realizing I was smart and could do well in class.
Don’t get me wrong; that’s not a bad thing to know about yourself, either. But Wellesley gave me a chance to change and accept myself like nothing ever did before. And in going back and connecting with my fellow alums (Latin teachers, I apologize), I found myself lucky enough to be in a room full of interesting and engaging women who celebrate each other and feed one another’s positivity. I certainly had a wonderful time seeing the women I was in school with, but I also connected with people I never went to school with, who were there before me or who came after. I met a woman who had just graduated eight days before and came in for reunion; her excitement was palpable, and I know—no matter what decisions she makes—she will land on her feet. I can’t speak to the traditionally-aged student experience, but for the Davis Scholars, it seems that more often than not progress is measured less in terms of what you do after you graduate and more in terms of how far you break from the factors that held you back from attending college in the first place. And once again being around women who have also moved through that was worth every penny, every moment, every vacation hour from work, every moment of self-nagging doubt about how I’m not a CEO or in charge of an agency that manages energy policy or scaling Everest with only my Tevas and a pickaxe made of birch. For all this, I love you, Davis community. See you in five.

Reunion Weekend!

My college reunion is coming up this weekend. It gives me the opportunity to indulge in a LOT of great memories, like rowing crew and presenting a paper at Harvard like an academic rock star. It also gives me the opportunity to dissect exactly where my marriage came irreparably apart. We didn’t split up for a little more than a year after my graduation, the blood blister that was the end of my marriage fully formed during my time at Wellesley.
I admit…it’s hard to complain—if complaining is what this is—about a husband who tried to control you while talking about attending one of the top colleges in the country. But my attendance at college was not contingent upon his supportive nature. Thankfully. If that were the case, I would have had to plan for a college career that consisted of community college and unrealized dreams. To be fair, we were falling apart long before I ever got to Wellesley, even if neither of us wanted to admit it at the time. And this isn’t a chronicle of the demise of my marriage so much as a consideration and reporting of memories that are a mixture of both intense highs of personal growth and emotionally bankrupt lows.
Yay, I was going to college…but he wouldn’t move from New Jersey to Massachusetts with me. Even though he worked in the computer field, so his skills were pretty easily transportable. Yay, I was in a rigorous academic program that rocked my soul and required a lot of intense studying almost every night…so I had to stay on the phone for two hours every night to assuage a certain ego. I remember breaking down in my advisor’s office, telling him my Russian homework was the only thing that kept me sane. To which he replied, “…uh…I can give you extra-credit work, if you’d like..?” Funny, but no. Yay, I was surrounded by intelligent, interesting, amazing women and had great study buddies…but he would still track me down in friends’ dorm rooms. And so on, and so on. Perhaps my favorite juxtaposition of happiness and WTFness is from the day of the crew race. In my senior year, I joined the Davis Scholar dorm crew team (and realized I should have joined it two years earlier, because crew rules). Much like any dorm crew, we were up every morning before classes for practice, and for months we worked our butts off. Long story short—we won! I called my ex- to tell him the good news and he said, “Well, looks like another thing went in your favor.”
*mental flatline*
“Traditionally,” I said, “this is the part of the conversation where you say, “Congratulations.” But I don’t want you to work up a sweat or anything. Just, you know…when you’re ready.”
He said, “It’s just…you know…everything’s working out really well for you right now. I mean, you presented those papers at conferences, your classes are going really well, and now you won this…”. While he let that statement dangle I said, “Again, these are all things that, traditionally, inspire the response “Congratulations.” I can’t believe you’re mad at me because things are going well.”
And that, in a nutshell, is the fucked-up dynamic that defined my marriage.
As I said, this isn’t intended to be a screed about how bad our relationship was in its final years (sorry, Homies, but I really didn’t realize it at the time) but rather, a look at a complicated set of memories. In intellect and self-confidence, I was growing like a weed, and those memories nourish me. But my marriage was like the lone potato at a blight convention, and it’s hard to separate and reconcile the accompanying conflicting emotions.
Ah, fuck it. Enough already. I’m just gonna go, have a great time, see some old friends and dig the Massachusetts springtime. And here’s the thing: I can choose to let a memory affect me…or not. Time to sort the bad hoodoo into the dust bin.

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