Monday, February 25, 2013

Relax (Take It Easy)

When I finally take a moment to relax, take even just 60 seconds for myself, I'm able to immediately recognize those telltale signs of stress: My back is killing me because I've been hunched over my laptop for the last three hours. My eyes are dry because I'm too focused to blink, & I probably haven't taken a deep breath in, oh, days. My muscles are tense & my mind is racing, & even 60 seconds feel like too indulgent to be allowed. I have work to do!

My first instinct is to let myself fall victim to the anger that accompanies stress. I never have time for myself! How can I possibly do any more work? I need 20 extra hours in the day! I feel too pressed for time to check my Twitter feed or read a friend's blog post or answer that midday phone call from my mother because ain't nobody got time for that. Ain't nobody got time for anything, am I right?! It's like I can never catch up or do enough or do it all well enough. It's almost 6pm & I haven't even thought about leaving the "office" (which is, in this case, a Starbucks) to go to the gym or make dinner. Oh, is it already dark out? When did that happen?

And then I remember.

Then I remember that even at its very worst, I'm doing a job I love for an organization I believe in with people I like. I don't save lives; if I have an off day, no one will die or even be irreparably impacted. I remember that my outside-of-work life, lacking though I sometimes feel it is, is pretty great: the best boyfriend in the world, the best friends in the world, the best mom in the world, & all that genuine-but-cliched jazz. I remember that I am smart & funny & driven & that I hold myself to higher standards, sometimes, than anyone else holds me to, so it's OK to scale it back every once in awhile. I remember that my life is really, really, really good, & I have no business wigging the eff out like I so often do.

And I'm OK again.

I'm always OK again.


______

This month, I'm participating in a writing group that Kristen of Aw, Shucks invited me to. Each day, we receive a writing prompt to follow, or not. I'm not doing all of the daily prompts, but I'm doing the ones that appeal to me. This prompt was "Where or when have you felt the most relaxed and at peace?"

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Time I Was Almost Abducted Until I Remembered Benson & Stabler


My Tuesday afternoon flight from Los Angeles to Newark included a quick layover in Denver, where I learned that my connecting flight was delayed an hour. Originally scheduled to arrive at Newark at 11pm, I instead arrived a few minutes after midnight. When my fellow passengers & I deplaned & entered the terminal, this was happening. In case you don't feel like clicking through (because warning: It's way annoying), that's a video of a fire alarm going off for a full minute, all over the airport. And it did that for 14 full minutes, with no one looking panicked whatsoever. When it finally turned off, the silence felt deafening, like our brains had just gotten used to the idea of living a loud life & didn't know how to return to the low din of normalcy.

I knew I wouldn't make the 12:18am train, so my only option was the 1:22am - & if I missed it, I couldn't get home until daybreak, when the trains started running again. As I gathered my luggage & squinted around trying to find my way toward the train station, a hunched, oldish man in a Newsies-style cap stopped me & asked, "Taxi?" When I told him where I was headed, he looked pleased & said he lived two towns away. He said he'd take me for $75, & I agreed.

As I started to follow him, I asked to see his credentials, & he pulled out of his jacket a folded, crumpled piece of blue paper that said AURA. "The person I was supposed to pick up didn't show," he said, as though that was a credential, but I followed him anyway. He had an Italian accent & a slight limp, but something seemed off about both of them, like maybe either or both were fake. And he said, "Bravo!" at one point, which struck me as something someone would say when attempting to sound Italian.

As I followed him out of the airport, I started to tweet something to the effect of, "I'm about to catch a ride with a possibly illegitimate cabbie. If I don't return, I was abducted by an Italian grandfather in a suit." What a story it'll be later!, I thought to myself. I'm so Hannah Horvath. Plus, I'll get home a full hour early!


Still, I couldn't shake feeling that this was something I shouldn't be doing.

"Does your car have a meter?" I asked.

"No, flat rate of $75! I take credit cards. A cab will charge you $95."

We reached his car, an unmarked tan minivan, & he opened the trunk to put my luggage in. I peered into the  vehicle & saw nothing to indicate that he was in the business of driving people, like, legitimately. Where was his credit card machine? "Hop up in the front, princess," he said to me, & as he began to shut the trunk, my many years of watching Law & Order: SVU flashed before my eyes. If this man murdered me because I willing got into a car with a stranger, what would my mother think? What would my friends say? "Kate watched a lot of crime shows & had a lot of anxiety problems. I can't believe she would've done something reckless like that." With that, the flickering light bulb in my brain finally came all the way on: Hannah Horvath be damned, no potentially quirky story is worth that kind of risk.

My arm shot out to keep the trunk from closing. "I can't do this," I said, without really looking at the driver. "I'm sorry, I can't do this. I have to go."

With that, I yanked my (very heavy) luggage out of his car & bolted. I wouldn't say I literally ran away, but... well, it was as close as I could come while juggling a 50-lb. suitcase & two substantial carry-ons. The so-called cabbie shouted after me, insisting he was legitimate & that I was safe - but when I didn't turn around or give any indication that I was listening, he started to sound angry. "I couldn've picked up somebody else!" he yelled. "You're wasting me money!"

And maybe I was. Maybe I was wasting myself money, too. But I could've sworn that right there at the end, his accent faltered a little. So I ran - from him, toward the train, into the night.

I arrived in Red Bank at 2:30am, where my wonderful boyfriend even picked me up, despite having to wake up for work in less than three hours. We fell asleep bone-tired, were miserably sleepy all day, & both got up for a full day of work yesterday morning, me going on my ninth day of work in a row. And yet, I couldn't bring myself to feel that upset about my exhaustion - because being tired is way better than being dead.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

People on Craigslist Are the Least Reliable People

We're looking for a bed for my office so that it can double as a guest bedroom slash place for me to sleep when Nathan snores. It never occurred to me to look into sofa beds, but I found a few advertised on Craigslist, so I put out some feelers by email.

The pullout I liked best was fluffy & off-white & just $150, being sold by a woman only 20 minutes away from here, & one of Nathan's coworkers agreed to lend us his time & his pickup truck to transport it. I exchanged a number of pleasant, civilized, normal emails with the seller, who had a stupid email address but seemed otherwise like an OK person to do business with, & we made plans for the sofa to become mine.

This morning, I confirmed we were interested & could pick it up today after 4pm. She responded to say she was feeling under the weather but good to go:
"If you want to do today please call me  about an hour before you plan on coming.  Please RING MY PHONE OFF THE HOOK IF I DON'T ANSWER. There is a possibility I will have drifted off considering the Nyquil I am on. But don't worry about waking me, I know you've been through a lot trying to get your friends truck so I don't mind doing it today."
I told her we'd be there tonight & would be in & out quickly (TWSS) so as not to bother her too much. At 5:15pm, I called her four times, & when she finally answered, all hopped up on Nyquil or on just being an apparent weirdo, I told her we were ready to come pick up the sofa bed in the next hour.

"Oh, the problem..." she began, & my heart sank a little. Because of course there's a problem. This was a Craigslist transaction, after all. "The problem is that I'm not where the couch is. See, I already moved, so... I mean, could you come tomorrow? I just don't want to go back over to the house right now."

No, lady, I can't come tomorrow because I set it all up for today & you agreed to that & I called an hour ahead of time just like you told me to. She gave me a story about her boyfriend's job & how she never knows when he'll get out of work, but he might be able to go to the old house to wait for us until we can come get the couch, blah, blah. Obviously, I tuned out.

"Like, are you really planning to come get it?" she asked, testing me. "Because people from Craigslist never really follow through."

I politely reminded her that I'd sent her approximately half a dozen emails to signify my commitment to coming to get the couch. I politely reminded her that I'd made significant effort to coordinate timing of pickup, both with her & with our truck-owning friend. I politely reminded her that she asked me to call her one hour before I planned to come get the couch tonight.

I reminded her of all this politely, of course, though I'm sure I sounded confused & a little bit pissed off because who does that? And while I know that, as crappy/crazy Craigslist encounters go, this one doesn't even rank, I can't help but wonder why you'd bother listing something & going through the motions of making plans for someone to come pick it up from you if you can't be bothered to be there for them to pick it up from.

Flaky Couch Lady had the balls to call me at 7pm (twice!) to say she was ready for pickup, but I was (am) in my pajamas anticipating the Teen Jeopardy final (go Leonard!), so ain't nobody got time for that. I just hope Nathan doesn't snore tonight. Or any night, really, until someone on Craigslist proves better at keeping their word!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Reminds You That the Memories Will Fade...

I was at brunch with Nathan this afternoon when "Your Body Is a Wonderland" came on over the restaurant radio. As I always do when this particular (&, I suppose, particularly cheesy) John Mayer tune comes on, I thought of Dave, of discovering Room for Squares for $1 at a second-hand music store in 2001, before anyone else had ever heard of it - & then, with a start, I realized today's date, & I teared up right there in the middle of an aluminum diner while trying to decide which breakfast sandwich to order. At 3:31pm, as I write this, I recognize that it's about the time of day, I think, that it happened, that he did it, or at least around the time he would've been discovered.

Eight years ago.

It's been eight years today - and for the first time, maybe ever, it feels like it's been a really long time. Maybe it feels like such a long time ago because I can, finally, hardly remember the girl I was then, with him, before he died. Maybe it feels like such a long time ago because I am no longer in contact with any of his friends or family, finally cut ties with his best friend Kevin this year, so there's no one to hurt with or remember with. Maybe it feels like such a long time ago ago because so much has happened since then, a life & a girl almost literally unrecognizable.

Or maybe it just feels like such a long time ago because it was such a long time ago.

I forgot his birthday this year, didn't even realize it had happened. I was visiting D.C. that day, staffing a conference run by my old office before spending a week in the city. I was busy working all day, busy meeting an old friend for Thai dinner, busy spending that evening with some of my favorite people in the world, catching up on years & stories past. It never occurred to me to go back a few years further, to recognize the date, to mourn for even a moment the anniversary of the day my first love turned 20 & decided he didn't want to be present for adulthood. It was nearly a full week later, after I'd left D.C. & returned home & thought to myself "That day is coming up soon" that I realized I'd actually missed the day entirely.

I've always been afraid people would forget all the good things about him & remember only how he was at the end, that his death would overshadow his life. I promised myself that even if no one else remembered all the good things about him, I would, that I would always remember who he was & how he made me feel, that his death would always have some sort of meaning. Now, it seems, I can't guarantee that anymore, to myself or to anyone else. I can't guarantee anymore that I'll always remember today, that it will always feel like it always has, that I'll be the last one standing with this torch I promised to keep carrying. And that's scary, you know? It's scary to have such a bad memory & to concede this piece of it along with all the other pieces I've been less terrified to forget.

I knew today was coming because I always know it's coming, but its impending arrival didn't loom over me this time like it has in years past. Still, given the birthday boondoggle, I was struggling to fall asleep two nights ago when I suddenly jolted to full awakeness: Did I miss this one, too? I was relieved to assure myself I hadn't, but just in case my memory betrayed me over the next 48 hours, I fell asleep remembering him. I fell asleep remembering hot chocolate on the Riverfront & a first kiss to Dave Matthews & fireworks at Lake Anna & his performance at the high school talent show & the time I made us terrible spaghetti for dinner. I fell asleep remembering brown sideburns & tattered Chuck Taylors & thrift store T-shirts & the star tattoo & those soft lips & that beautiful mind, nights spent listening to Dashboard Confessional & Gloria Record & Brandtson, talking about love & luck & lives in NYC. I fell asleep remembering a boy who loved a girl who couldn't love him back the way he wanted her to, the way she so desperately wanted to. I fell asleep mourning the death of a fragile, radiant soul who lost his way & got stuck in the darkness of his own mind, and mourning the death of my innocence & so, so much more.

Yes, it was such a long time ago, & so much has changed.

This is incredible, starving, insatiable, 
Yes, this is love for the first time.
Well, you'd like to think that you were invincible,
Yeah, well, weren't we all once, before we felt loss for the first time?
Well, this is the last time.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

I Like This & Think You Will, Too (A Fun Giveaway)

When I like things, I like them a lot. Similarly, when I dislike things, I, you know, dislike them a lot, which, um, you might've noticed if you follow me on Twitter. While I'm often quick to complain when I think something sucks, I also try to be one of those people who regularly sings the praises of the things I love, & that's what I'm doing today.

I first learned of edwardstickerhands through my new friend Rachel's Instagram account just a few weeks ago. I met Rachel & her brother on my recent trip to Israel; their other sib is the designer behind edwardstickerhands, & though I didn't have the pleasure of meeting her, I do really like her Etsy shop, which is full of custom-designed keyboard stickers for Mac products.

I first ordered these chevron-print stickers for my iPad keyboard:
I loved them a lot & told everyone on Instagram:

I loved them so much, in fact, that I went back & bought these cheetah-print ones for my actual laptop:
...and these Calvin & Hobbes ones for my Calvin & Hobbes-obsessed boyfriend's laptop:
And because she's nice and/or because I'd purchased three sets of stickers from her in under a week, the lovely lady behind edwardstickerhands sent me another set of stickers gratis! And because I've run out of keyboards to adorn with these awesome graphics, I want to give this set away to one of you, my fab readers, in the hopes that you'll enjoy them as much as I do.

Here's the deal: These Alice in Wonderland Flowers stickers are even prettier in person, & I predict you'll be obsessed with them. They have a glossy finish, & the letters/symbols are printed on the stickers themselves, so they're visible but not transparent (meaning they will not utilize any back-lighting). They go on easily & have a strong adhesive, so they won't come off during everyday use, but you can remove them pretty easily, too (though I don't know why you'd want to).
I don't normally do giveaways because I worry that they'll ruin the integrity of my blog, or something, but when I really like a company & have the opportunity to tell you about it, I think that's pretty... integral. Nope, that's not the right word. Damn, English language, you crazy. Anyway, you know what I mean, right? I think there's integrity in raising up small businesses & things I really like. Like edwardstickerhands.

Want to enter? Have at it:
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Of course, if flowers aren't your jam or you just can't wait to win, you can order your own keyboard stickers straight from edwardstickerhands. I promise you'll love them!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Life Is Like a Box of Chocolates, Or Something: The Story of My First Kiss

Sort of like this except not at all...
(Love you forever, JVDB.)
Technically, my first kiss came during a game of Truth or Dare after a friend's bat mitzvah. I don't remember the details because I got into an argument with my mother almost immediately afterward (such is the life of a 12-year-old girl)
& yelled something like, "If you'd just been nice to me, I would've told you that I had my first kiss tonight!" Alas, I was so angry about however the night ended that I seem to have forgotten everything else about it. So it doesn't count.

My real first kiss was with that same boy, who I had a crush on all through my time in religious school. All of the kids in my Sunday school & Hebrew school class were from different schools because each of us was from an area mostly devoid of Jews. Two of the boys, Jeff & Harrison, went to "real" school together, as did two of the girls, Jen & Amanda. Initially, there was another Jewish boy from my middle school in our class, too, but he dropped out somewhere along the way, & so I repped my hometown alone on Sundays & Thursdays when we all got together for pre-b'nai mitzvah training. There were other kids, too, but those four were my closest friends; our moms were friends, too, because that's how we Jews roll. Our time together, though often stressful & dramatic in its own way, was a welcome respite from the everyday stress & drama of being in seventh grade.

I won't embarrass any of the aforementioned individuals by using their names in the rest of this story, but suffice it to say that I had a fairly unrelenting crush on one of the boys in my class, the kind you have when you're 13 & have a diary & a lot of colored pens perfect for doodling your future married name on notebooks. I also had terrible self-esteem, convinced he was too cool for me & that no one of his caliber would ever think twice about me, much less want to kiss me, so there was much moping involved on my part. Somehow, though, because middle school is a wacky, miraculous place, we eventually started "going out," whatever that means. ("Where are you going?" my mom would ask. "You never go anywhere together!" Goshhhh, parents, they just don't get it, amirite?!)

The only place we really went was to his basement, but because we were 13 & "going out," we were of course not allowed to hang out solo. This means that although my first kiss took place in his basement while he & I were watching Forrest Gump together, it also means that two of our mutual friends were present, as well. After half a movie spent in the dark with his arm awkwardly around my shoulders, he leaned in & just sort of... went for it. Like, full tongue & everything, while our friends sat right in the same room, so enthralled by the talented Tom Hanks that somehow neither of them noticed what was happening. And in case that isn't impressive enough, consider this: I was wearing light khakis & an argyle sweatervest, & somehow, a cute boy still wanted to kiss me

I suppose it was a decent first kiss, as first kisses go, though largely without the magic & fairydust that I imagine is supposed to accompany them; it is perhaps for that reason that our game of tonsil-honkey was a one-time event, never to be repeated, & we broke up shortly thereafter. Though we are currently Facebook friends, we rarely interact, & there is no doubt in my mind that he has no recollection of this monumental occasion in my young life, because I don't think boys remember such things. Do they?!

As a post-script, my second (third?) kiss took place in the dark, twisty hallway of a haunted house with my first high school boyfriend, a Bolivian foreign exchange student who was a senior when I was a freshman. It was the first time I ever really swooned, which may have something to do with my lasting affinity for South American accents & Halloween.

This is the only picture I can find of me in middle school.
Sorry, Mom/self. You're welcome, everyone else.
______

This month, I'm participating in a writing group that Kristen of Aw, Shucks invited me to. Each day, we receive a writing prompt to follow, or not. I'm not doing all of the daily prompts, but I'm doing the ones that appeal to me. This prompt was "Write about your first kiss." 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Cause Worth Fighting For

Angels parted the heavens & sang songs of  "Alleluia!" directly into my ear when a friend posted this to my Facebook wall this morning:


Indeed, the New York Times reports,
It is the peculiar fate of the New Jersey driver, as indelible as a shoreside weekend or a Bruce Springsteen composition, if less easily romanticized.

For when the denizens of Mr. Springsteen’s “Born to Run” take their hemi-powered drones for a scream down the boulevard, one detail is perhaps omitted: If ever those renegade drivers resolved to make a left turn, they probably suffered the indignity of taking a right-hand loop first. 

The loop is called a jughandle, a traffic formation that looks as it sounds: an unintuitive veer to the far right when you want to turn left. 

While other states have been known to use jughandles, none seems to have matched New Jersey in volume or reputation. 

After more than a half-century, though, the jughandle — so intertwined with the Garden State that it is also called a “Jersey left” — faces a threat. On Monday, a proposal to ban future jughandles cleared the State Senate’s transportation committee, allowing for a full vote and prompting a zealous debate over the state’s signature driving quirk.
I've only sort of learned how to drive in New Jersey. If passage of this proposal will help future displaced non-Jerseyans survive on the mean streets of the Garden State, count me in. Are you listening, Governor Christie? NO MORE JUGHANDLES! NO MORE JUGHANDLES!

But Who Cares? No Big Deal. I Want More.

Lately, it feels like all of my friends are better at being adults than I am.

I know, I know: "You can't compare yourself to other people! Everyone's journey is different!" Blah, blah, et cetera. A little comparison is good, though, right? That's what keeps us competitive, inspired, motivated. Or, um, that's what does it for me, at least.

In theory.

My friends, they're in grad school. Or they're done with grad school. Two of my friends are lawyers already, & I have at least one friend graduating law school each year for the next half a decade. Really. My friends have masters degrees, are on their way to PhDs. My friends are in rabbinical school, becoming respected men (& women!) of the cloth. My friends are on their second & third post-collegiate jobs, working their way up the ranks in fields like urban planning & non-profit management & actual journalism. My cousin decided she wanted to live in London, so she asked her company for a transfer, & they complied, so now she lives in London & works for a Fortune 500 company. Did I mention that she's two years younger than me?

And I'm rooting for everyone. Hard. I send them texts during finals & cards when they graduate; I edit their grad school applications & their theses & their résumés; I send them links to jobs I think would be a good fit & introduce them to people I know who can help them move forward. I do it because I believe in these people, & I love them all so much, & I look forward to someday saying, "I knew them when." They inspire me & they encourage me & they blow me away.

But - and yes, maybe this will sound selfish at first, but bear with me - what about me?

Don't misunderstand: I love my job & the people I work with. My position was created with me in mind, because I'd earned it, fought for it, waited patiently until it was my turn. I do something I like, something I'm very good at, & my colleagues both respect me and like me. I wake up (almost) every morning happy to do my job. Who can ask for more than that?

I can, it seems.

There was a time in my life when I believed with all my heart that I'd do big things. I believed I would be a writer, a real one, someone whose words made an impact. I believed that millions of people would read what I had to say, would tell me how good I was at saying it. I believed my writing was my calling, that I would use it to become known. Maybe not famous, but known, you know? Someone whose words were worth reading. I believed I would become a journalist, like I trained for, or maybe a magazine writer, like I hoped for. I even dared to believe that someday, I'd find it within myself to come up with the storyline to an actual book - & that I'd actually write it, & that someone would actually publish it, & that you'd actually buy it. Some day.

Some days, I still believe my time will come, that I'll feel ready to go after something more. Some days, there's hope for dreams long dormant - like last year, when an essay I wrote was published in a book. A real book, & my picture is even on the cover! Recently, a coworker told me she's using it as an educational tool for Jewish professionals; another coworker asked me to sign his copy, & I hugged him so he wouldn't see me tearing up. And there was hope just last month, when I was published in the New York Times. I wrote a short piece about my grandmother & submitted it to the paper's annual "The Lives They Loved" feature, confident I could - I would - be selected for publication. And I was! When I found my name in there, found my grandmother's photo & story, I cried - for her, for me, for passions partly pursued & dreams only half-realized. Because somehow, instead of feeding the fire of motivation, these accomplishments have just reminded me that I'm moving more slowly than I'd like. That I may get lucky sometimes, but I'm not making any real effort to advance myself.

So what's the problem? I have some theories. Theories like maybe I'm too lazy, & maybe that laziness trumps any talent or skill or potential I might have. Maybe I've become complacent, content with a life mostly well-lived, if not lived big. Maybe I've just settled so comfortably into the day to day that I can't figure out how to muster the energy for anything less mundane.

Sometimes, I try. Last week, for example, motivated by my friends' many achievements & disappointed by my lack of them, I was briefly inspired to look into a creative writing certificate program at a crappy local college. I thought maybe I'd go back to school, if only for a few classes, to learn how to be better at something I've always wanted to do. To add something moderately impressive to the resume I'm not even working on building because I already have a job I like. To do something for myself, just so I don't feel like my potential is dead, my future solidly set at just 28. I even emailed the school to get the conversation started! But that certificate program turned out to be more than $900 a credit, with 12 credits needed for completion, & who can afford to spend $3,000 just to keep her ego from atrophying? Not this girl.

Yes, there was a time in my life when I believed with all my heart that I'd do big things, but somewhere in the course of growing up, I forgot to make it happen. How do we lose those parts of ourselves along the way? And more importantly, how do we reclaim them?


______

This month, I'm participating in a writing group that Kristen of Aw, Shucks invited me to. Each day, we receive a writing prompt to follow, or not. I'm not doing all of the daily prompts, but I'm doing the ones that appeal to me. This prompt was "Support: Write about a time you've been on the sidelines cheering for somebody else, literally or figuratively." I guess I got a little bit off-topic with it...

Saturday, February 2, 2013

You Can Call Me Kate. Please.

I was in kindergarten when I asked my mother to call my elementary school & inform them that I did, in fact, go by Katie & not Sara, & no, I wasn’t just playing one of those games that 5-year-olds sometimes play, where they insist their name is something else & try to make everyone call them by it. Yes, Katie is really Katie; it’s just her middle name. A nickname of her middle name, actually, but no, she never goes by Sara.

Throughout my childhood, I was one of three Katies in my class. One of them was a Catie, really, & she soon adopted Catherine instead, so it was just me and the other Katie B –in case it wasn’t bad enough to have the same first name, we also had the same last initial. “Katie B-I” & “Katie B-Y,” they called us, like using our actual last names wasn’t an option.

I was 11 when I decided I’d be Kati instead of Katie, but that didn’t last long, only long enough for someone to buy me a puffy-painted T-shirt with that spelling of my name on it. It got a solid summer’s worth of wear before I reclaimed my missing E.

I was 12 when I insisted that my rabbi please stop calling me Sara Kathryn when she was being stern with me during bat mitzvah training, because even my mother never calls me that, not ever. When she’s mad at me, she’ll say “Katy B___!” (except where B___ is my actual last name), each name punctuated with a tone of voice that sounds equal parts astonished & furious. My rabbi was so amused by my insistence that she not use my given first name – my Hebrew name! – that she worked that anecdote into her address at my bat mitzvah service, a tribute to my stubbornness.

I think I was 13 when I decided I’d be Katy instead of Katie, “because there’s no I or E in the way I spell Kathryn” – which makes sense, really, but was actually just a convenient excuse for differentiating myself from every other goddamned Katie in middle school in the ‘90s. When high school began, kids from three middle schools would come together to form our freshman class, & I was from the smallest of the three. Two-thirds of my peers never knew me as anything but Katy, with a Y, & that was that.

But still, there was Sara. I was 16 when I fought with the Ohio DMV to include my middle name on my brand new driver’s license. When they said no, I left empty-handed, no license that day, & returned with my grandmother, Annetta Jeanne (who went by Jeanne), & used her septuagenarian’s ID, granted by the same state, as my trump card. The DMV complied, & my Ohio license still bears my full name. It’s the only state to ever grant me the favor of doing so.

I was 18 when I decided I would be Kate, starting college with a clean slate that didn’t include the name I’d fought with my whole life. It felt more mature, I thought, though I didn’t like the way it flowed (or not) with my surname, a hard & uncomfortable stop between the two, a full pause after my first name in order to properly pronounce my last name. In truth, Katy flowed better, but I’d made the decision that Katy was dead to me. “Hi,” I’d say when I met people at frat parties & in class discussion groups, “I’m Kate,” smiling externally out of friendliness & internally out of a bizarre sense of pride at fooling all of these suckers into thinking this was my name. Except now it was.

And it still is.

I miss Katy sometimes. No one calls me Katy anymore – not even my mother, for the most part, or my boyfriend, who met me when I still went by it. When I attended my high school reunion in August, almost everyone called me Kate, like Facebook had taught them to. Katy has been dead to me since I was 18, but now she’s dead to everyone else, too. Now, I’m just Kate.

Except when I’m not.

Just a few months ago, I visited a Manhattan Bagel in town, & when the meek guy behind the counter asked for a name to go with my order, I gave it to him: “Kate,” of course, because that’s my name now, just like it has been for the last decade. When I paid, though, the manager who swiped my debit card took a look at the name printed on raised letters on my Visa & told me cheerily, “We’ll bring that out to you when it’s ready, Sara!” As I took a table around the corner, I heard him yell back to the kid who’d taken the order: “The name with that order isn’t Kate, Brian! Her name is Sara! Why would you put ‘Kate’ down?!” Later, after I’d eaten & was about to walk out the door, the manager shouted at me, “Have a great day, Sara!” & I fought the urge to run back in there & inform him that it’s not at all uncommon for people to go by their middle names (J. Edgar Hoover, anyone?!), so leave poor Brian alone because he got it right & you didn’t, OK?

Yes, I’m forever fighting the battle to make my name exist. I was 26 when I argued with a Chase Bank representative to put “Sara Kathryn” on my debit card instead of just “Sara.” I was 27 when I fought with the New Hampshire DMV to include my middle name on my driver’s license, & I was 28 when I had the same fight with the DMV here in New Jersey. I lost all three battles, fucking bureaucrats. That means that now, I have to do everything official as “Sara K,” as though my middle name – the one that is my actual name ­– doesn’t exist. I book flights as Sara K, I sign my tax documents as Sara K, I make doctor’s appointments as Sara K. I don’t even know who Sara K is, but she’s the one living my official life, the one that exists on paperwork. Katy is long dead, & Kate still isn’t even real.

I always told myself that I would wait until my grandmother’s passing to legally change my name, to drop the name of her mother, for whom I am named, so that I wouldn’t hurt her feelings. But my grandmother is dead now – may her name be for a blessing – and here I am, Sara Kathryn still. Suddenly, I worry: What will life be like without the fight over this imaginary Sara person? Who will I be if I am given permission to take my name for granted? Am I ready – will I ever be ready – to give up membership in this club I’ve loathed my whole life, the one that includes Woodrow Wilson & Ashton Kutcher & Rudyard Kipling & Rupert Murdoch & Beatrix Potter & Mitt Romney & Reese Witherspoon & Paul McCartney & even my own grandmother? The truth is that I find myself quite angry about this, about the fact that I’ve spent my whole life ready to shed the name that’s so long plagued me & now, just as the time is right, I seem to have developed an unexpected attachment to it, as though its godforsaken existence has shaped my character.

Except maybe, in some ways, it has.
______

This month, I'm participating in a writing group that Kristen of Aw, Shucks invited me to. Each day, we receive a writing prompt to follow, or not. I'm not doing all of the daily prompts, but I'm doing the ones that appeal to me. Today's prompt was "Write about your name."

Friday, February 1, 2013

Breaking Down Stereotypes (Or Not) In the Garden State

There's one block in downtown Red Bank that gives me an internal chuckle every time I pass it. It's just so stereotypically New Jersey, like a bunch of business owners got together & said to one another, "Oh, you're going in on that corner, too? Well, perfect. Together, we'll really give people something to laugh about!" I have to wonder if they're in on the joke. They can't not be, right?

On this little block are three separate business. In the center is Workout World, a national gym chain with dozens of locations across New Jersey. It uses bold lettering & a bright green color palette & goes by the acronym WOW; in other words, it's impossible to miss. WOW is one of those hyper-efficient gyms, the kind with brand new equipment & snazzy marketing, trainers who looks like they could've been extras on Jersey Shore,& did I mention that at other locations, there are tanning beds? At the gym? When you become a WOW member, you get a few free car magnets & sticker that read, in all caps, "JERSEY STRONG." As a result, the slogan is everywhere - not just on people's bumpers but plastered to stop signs, park benches, & beyond. In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that I am, in fact, a member of this gym, because it's really close to my apartment & well, hyper-efficient, but each time I go, I'm rendered meek & awkward by the abundance of muscled bros & size-0 women working out in full makeup.

To one side of WOW is your one-stop location for post-gym fuel, Muscle Maker Grill. Yeah, really, that's what it's called. A restaurant with "muscle" in the name, & not of the seafood variety. This place, which is actually part of a nationwide chain, serves dishes like Champion Pasta, Lean & Mean Cheeseburger Salad, & the Rocky Balboa Wrap, each topped with condiments like fat-free sour cream, reduced-fat cheese, & "zero-carb signature sauce." Their wide range of sugar-free desserts includes... sugar-free cheesecake. And nothing more. See?! Being healthy is fun! Now go scarf a Guiltless Wrap or a Fit Salad & get to the gym, bro! Snooki & the Situation may be off the air, but the principles of GTL still reign here at the actual Jersey Shore.

And speaking of everyone's favorite Italians, the establishment that rounds out this stereotypical Garden State block party is Fixx, with two X's, a nightclub I've never set foot in. Based on their marketing materials, which are often written in Comic Sans & use words like "sexxiest," also with two X's, I suspect Fixx of catering to the fist-pumping guido crowd - though I would be only too happy to never have occasion to prove myself right. As best I can tell, it's the absolute definition of the Jersey Shore.

In the interest of full disclosure, I've been to WOW a few times & may very well someday grab lunch at the Muscle Maker Grill because their Honey BBQ Nuggets sound, frankly, a little bit delicious, actually. I may even visit Fixx someday, given that the one individual I know in town is friends with the owner. I have nothing against any of these fine establishments or the great State of New Jersey itself (no, really, I don't), but... oh, come on. I've said it once, & I'll say it again: When it comes to upholding cultural stereotypes, this place just makes it so easy.

And you know what? It's even becoming sort of endearing.
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