Monday, November 30, 2009

the force behind you

A parent of a student I work with the most wrote to me recently, and commented that it seemed that my method of getting students to respect me and get work done and do what I ask can be most closely related to "talk softly but carry a big stick."

I stopped to pause on that, and my first reaction was really, "But I have no stick!"

I don't have anything that I can use to discipline the teenagers I work with, no major consequences for them to hold up behind me as I speak gently to them face to face. I also don't have some sort of quiet rage or passive aggressiveness that might guilt others or put fear into people so that they act.

So if that impression has been made, that my approach is to talk softly and carry a big stick, I must have some sort of proverbial stick. I don't like the forceful and potentially physical connotations of that, and I know the parent meant it in a positive way. So what is my stick, the force behind whatever authority and respect and productivity that comes from the students I work with?

It's something I've been thinking about. I think it has to do with confidence, instilled by my parents and the fact that they commanded respect and taught me that I deserve it. It has to do with conviction, my belief in what is right and what is necessary and what is true. It is not true to tell a student it is okay that they have not kept their word, to just sit by while they offer meaningless excuses. And it has to do with my pride, in both good ways and bad, in ways that I will keep thinking about.

I wonder if you feel like you have a "stick", and if it has any effects on others, either positive or negative, and what forces created the stick and keep it in line behind you, whether you speak loudly or softly...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

but i do.

Starbucks holiday decor this season...

But I remember. Don't you?

Not just vague memories, but actually what it was like...

Four years old, riding my tricycle around the court I lived in, yelling at the top of my lungs, "I have a new baby brother! There is a new person in this world!" Elated and mystified.

Seven years old, in second grade, going into the kindergarten class at lunch to help the teacher with the "little kids". I remember that I recognized the sound of my mom's keychain clinking when she arrived at the playground to drop off my younger sister, and ran out to give her a hug.

Nine years old, the first signs of a girl who would for years into her adulthood get crazy private and embarrassed about boys... I sat across the table from a cute sweet boy named Jacob in Mrs. Schafer's class, and one day he held up a composition notebook in front of his face towards me, open to a page where he had written "It is true. I like you." I turned away, a deep shade of red, and didn't speak to him for weeks.

Eleven years old, straddling the brink between childhood and adolescence, playing pretend games in a treehouse in my backyard with my best friend but at school discussing how many boyfriends Katrina had and having my first boyfriend for three days, dumping him after he told everyone in P.E. that we were going out. I do remember being aware of the tension between the two different sides of my growing up self.

Thirteen years old, so much happened that year...I remember most of it...being tremendously upset that in the final semester of eighth grade I was to get my first B+ in a class, Algebra, my perfect A streak for all of middle school, ruined...the hours after school divided between marching band practice, soccer games, and babysitting... the moment I sat with my family in the living room, face stone cold, as my parents said they were separating and we were going to move out of my childhood home.

And then, when would you say being a kid ends? When you stop playing Marco Polo and lay out by the pool instead? After your last pretend game? When you get your license? When you move away from home?

I don't think, for me, it will ever truly end. You can't say you aren't at least still part kid, when you are twenty seven and on a Saturday night you skip along the streets as you head downtown, singing Disney songs in a round with your friends... high heels, nylons, and laughing bystanders be damned.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

grey sweatpants

It was a lazy Sunday in November. My friends in my dorm suite and I were lounging on bunk beds, chirping away about the details of our group date the night before, where we'd each been set up with a guy our roommates picked. There were so many things to discuss, but we were tired, a few of us had been up until 5 am. Casey was playing her new favorite singer in the background, whom she'd been declaring her love for all week. I thought his name was so boring, I didn't pay attention. But that mellow Sunday, where we were unable to be productive and could only just be, I could hear the lyrics and absorb the melody of the song she loved so much...

"I loved you
grey sweat pants, no makeup, so perfect

Our love was, comfortable and
so broken in
she's perfect, so flawless
I'm not impressed, I want you back."

That day, eight years ago, is when I fell in love with John Mayer. We didn't want to leave him in the room when we went out that night to watch the meteor shower, so we brought a cd player as we lay on blankets on some Montecito hill under the stars.

Since then, each time a new album of his comes out, it goes like this... I have been awaiting it, had some clues about the content, and then when I finally have it, I listen to it over and over again... and over again... on long drives, as I go to sleep, as I clean my house. I have to get to know it, get past my first and second impressions, and the songs become like friends and a part of my life's soundtrack. I don't always love every song, but I always have a relationship with each album, particular to its scope and the feel that the sequence of tracks gives me.

I've hardly felt more content than in the quiet moments spread throughout this past crazy week where I've listened to bits and pieces of Battle Studies, looking up the lyrics and writing my thoughts about them to a friend who loves him equally if not more. The album is officially available today. My love for John... it's so... comfortable. Broken in, really. And wholy unconditional.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

in the middle

It's known that I like to guess people's Myers Briggs letters... I can't help it, it is subconscious really, happening under the surface of my in-the-moment interactions with each new or not-so-new person I meet. It's not with everyone, everytime, but often. But I can be pretty wrong sometimes. Meanwhile, I'm trying a new method of understanding people a little better... much simpler, easier to figure out immediately, and doesn't reveal how much of a psychology nerd I am...

He stood by the entrance to the dressing room, among the headbands and necklaces of the girls section. He was so patient, waiting around for us girls as we shopped and tried things on. Very much a gentleman, this guy, also extremely stylish, but with an ever-so-slight air of being out of his comfort zone, laughing a bit at the girlishness all around him. I paused whatever else we were talking about and asked him, "Do you not have any sisters?"
"No," he laughed. "I don't. I have two brothers, and my mother is not very girly at all."
"So there's three boys then," I confirmed, and he nodded. "So, are you the middle brother?"
He tilted his head in a bit of surprise, and said, "Yeah, I am! How did you guess?"

Then I felt a little hesitant, I haven't really done such a direct and accurate guess before with someone I have known such a short time. I didn't know how to answer without giving away that I am maybe too observant and then too quick to categorize my information. But he had some really precise personal qualities, ones that didn't only speak to being Scandinavian. He was very neat and organized and disciplined and driven but laid-back and somewhat spontaneous. He was a friend of my friend, and had been the best host to four girls he didn't really know...preparing amazing cocktails, buying magazines in case we wanted to read by the pool, and making gourmet sandwiches for everyone at 3 am.

"Well, I don't know, I just kinda like guessing sibling order, it's a thing I do," I tried to shrug off the responsibility of an answer.
"No come on, you must have reasons behind your guesses! Why did you say the middle?" he pushed. I tried one more time to evade him, he wasn't having it.
"Okay, well you are organized and put-together, ambitious I think, and are good at directing a group. The youngest sibling tends to not have all those qualities, but the oldest would have more of a bossy element to them, less people-pleasing, not quite as mellow as you. So that's why I wouldn't have gone for oldest either."
"You are pretty right, I would say," he said with an amused smile. I don't think everyone likes the feeling that someone is looking deeper than the momentary interactions with them. I know not everyone does. And I know I will be wrong as often as I am right. But I love that moment when someone is pleasantly surprised by it. To those who feel unsettled by feeling known, even a little, I'll try to keep my mouth shut.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

November on State

I don't know what to say about this one, really. I don't know what I think. I can tell a bit of the story though...

It was Saturday night. I had a great new dress on. Karen was by my side. I never play poker, I hate it, but we were at a fabulous Casino Night Fundraiser, and three drinks in, having a blast at the blackjack table. I didn't really care if I won or lost. We stayed at the table for a long time, people we knew and didn't know coming and going from the spots around us. I was aware that a man had come to my right, between me and one of my friend's husbands. A few minutes later, my friend's husband motioned to me, saying to the guy, "Talk to her about Sweden, I think she might even speak a little Swedish!"

The man looked at me curiously, asking if it was true. And there was that familiar accent. I nodded with an embarrassed smile and replied:

"Ja, jag pratar lite svenska." (Yes, I speak a little Swedish)

I thought the guy might fall over. "Är du svensk?!" (Are you Swedish?!) he questioned.

"Nej, jag är amerikan," I said, secretly proud that he couldn't hear my accent, for those phrases at least. We started talking, discussing what he was doing here, my connection to Sweden, and whatever else came up. Our chips lay on the table, bets lost and forgotten, at least for the moment. He was older, that was clear, how much older, I couldn't tell. Wisdom lines around his eyes told me at least that I likely wouldn't have been even thinking about college while he was attending it.

By the time we parted ways later, after my friends and his were all mingling and eating and drinking at Joe's after the event, he'd made it clear that he wanted to see me again. He was here for business, and was going to be gone again in a few days, to maybe return in a month or two. I wasn't sure what I thought about him, but I was intrigued, so I knew I probably agree to hang out again. We said goodbye, and I laughed to myself. State Street in November, you've done it to me again, a different Swede, a new year.

And now, on Thursday, after a couple long dates, and he's gone on a plane back across the world, I can see three missed calls from him. From right before his flight took off. And I just keep thinking about what he said shortly before we said goodbye, he was describing me, to me..."This is what amazes me... You are intelligent, in a scary way. You are strong, and very competitive. You're curious and interesting. And, you're fragile."

"Fragile?" I said, confused.

"Yes, fragile. You care about things, people, deeply. You let them in, and that makes you vulnerable. You're delicate in that way, fragile."

Okay, so... fragile. I am trying to reconcile this with what I was told by a best friend this year, that I'm emotionally strong. I proudly agreed with her, that I'd come a long way and considered myself to have a heart of steel, soft inside but protected and direct on the outside. Am I more vulnerable than I ever admit? Fragile but lightning quick at covering it up? And how did this guy pick up on that?

And what do I do about him, especially when I don't want anything from any man right now? And why do I feel I need to decide what to do... can't I

Thursday, November 5, 2009

the most important meal

I was finishing a run in my neighborhood today, and was coming around the last charming rectangular block before the home stretch. A couple houses in front of me I could see a white-haired old man make a turn up a driveway in his motorized wheelchair. He stayed in place as I ambled by. My ipod was playing the song I plan to use as the soundtrack for my year-end slideshow in a couple months, and I had the volume so loud that I couldn't hear a word from him as I passed by and saw him saying something to me. I was hesitant to know what a possibly senile and fragile man could have to say to me while I was trying to mind my own aerobic business. I stopped and pulled one earphone out.

"What?" I said.

"Have you had breakfast yet?" he asked.

I was surprised by the question, and instantly a tiny bit defensive, like, I don't want to be given a lecture by this grandpa. The truth was, I hadn't yet, which was rare, since it was about 11:30 am.

"Uh, not yet, I'm doing that when I get home!" I responded

"Well here!" he motioned over and fished around in a plastic grocery bag he had in his basket. He pulled out a NutriGrain Bar. I came forward, stunned, but trying to only show polite gratefulness. Once I was nearer I could see just how much he looked like my Great Uncle Bill, who passed away a few years ago.

"Thank you, sir!" I said with a smile. He smiled back. And that was all he wanted to do, just give me breakfast. I wondered how long this whitehaired man hadn't been able to just walk to the store, instead needing this motorized chair. "Have a nice day," I added.

I ran the last block home and ate the bar immediately. Mixed Berry... it's always been my favorite.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


I never do Facebook applications. But tonight I did, because the History of my Status Updates was a bit intriguing to me...
And this is one of the things that I learned from it:

Corinne's Most Used Words Are:
#1: night
#2: summer
#3: beach
#4: stars
#5: warm

If that doesn't nail the life I lead and love, I don't know what does. Maybe #6 would be dancing, or friends.

Heaven, I imagine, will be #1-6, all at once.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

ten twelfths

So it's November now.

The days are so much shorter. You can feel the crisp air of autumn when you stand in the shade or in the night air, even if the daytime temperature is still so ridiculously Southern Californian.

Another year is in its final months. Time flies, and just how fast it goes amazes me more every year.

I'm still reeling from those 31 days of October. It was one of the most fun months of my life. The weekends and weekdays were filled with San Francisco, College Reunion, Las Vegas Birthday, Halloween, Kickball, Downtown...I think I spent maybe five nights at home the entire's always a hypersocial month but this year it was absolutely relentless. And even though it's been a crazy fun relentless year, I am now seeing it all and my current experiences with more perspective, a larger grasp on what's going on with me and my relationship to good times, to the place I'm at in life, and to my understanding of myself.

The year of being 26 was truly transformational, and while I love to do yearly reviews at the New Year, and it was hard to not want to do one around my birthday. I'll save a more in-depth and less vague review for two months from now, to keep the pattern.

But there is change going on inside me.
I'm seeing myself in a new light, remembering parts of myself that have lied dormant, coming back as I make plans for the future and do the work to get there.
I've been learning that I need to revise the way I see and describe myself. Some things that I would have said before are becoming more the exception than the rule.
And somewhere along the last 365 days I have let go of the reins, with at least one of my hands. My grip on my desire for a purposeful and amazing life remains tight. But with the other hand I have let go of so many expectations, fears, and mental frameworks for what things I do and do not like, should and shouldn't do, things that are and are not possible... the collection of moments where I've found myself doing things I never imagined or considered doing before has had an indelible impact on me.

To quote a friend, and know I will quote her again at the end of the year, "There are years in our lives that will always stand out as a year of years. A year you came into with one life, and walked out of with another." In a much less dramatic way than my friend, my year as a 26 year old felt quite like that. I keep picturing that scene in Garden State, but instead of Natalie Portman it's Time, saying to me with a winking smile "26? It'll change your life I swear."