The Very Worst Mary Kay Lady

Background #1

Some of you may be familiar with Jamie the Very Worst Missionary. If not, the short story is she and her husband were missionaries in Costa Rica (they’re now in California), and she’s awesome. She is only about 3% what you’d expect a Christian missionary to be, and that 3% is just that she’s a Christian. The tagline on her blog says, “inappropriate remarks, embarrassing antics, and generally lame observations from a Christian missionary,” and her latest post is a picture of her cat in a neglige. Not what you’d typically expect from a missionary.

Background #2

Some of you may know that right out of college, I was a Mary Kay consultant. If not, the short story is that I was a Mary Kay consultant. Also, if you look at pictures of me from that time, my skin looked AWESOME.

I never considered myself to be a very good Mary Kay lady, partly because my mom was my only real customer, partly because I felt duped into spending a whole bunch of money on a whole bunch of products that I never sold, and partly because I just didn’t feel comfortable with myself in the role. I had to wear a suit and pumps and pantyhose, and I had to chat people up – complete strangers – and give them eye shadow samples. It just wasn’t me at all.

I don’t blame anyone for any of this. The friend who got me to sign up wasn’t manipulative or pushy at all. She was a very sweet friend who simply believed in the product and the business opportunity, and she wanted to offer me that opportunity. I still appreciate her for that.

I was never successful as a Mary Kay lady, though, and when I moved to New York for grad school, I sold all of my product back to the company and got out of the business.

Background #3

I consider my time in New York to be the time when I really started discovering myself and becoming who I wanted to be, who I truly am. Back when I had an eHarmony account, one of the profile questions asked me to tell about a person who had influenced me the most (besides my parents). I said that rather than a person, I would have to say the whole of New York City had influenced me the most because it’s a safe place to experiment with who you are and make decisions about who you are becoming. If you want to wear a Spiderman costume every day, NOBODY CARES. The tourists will look at you in wonder, and the locals will look at you with amusement if they notice you at all, but no one will judge your fashion choice. New York was where I started slashing up my t-shirts and wearing hats. It was where I started cuffing my jeans. It was where I started experimenting with more unusual/daring hairstyles. It was where I got my nose pierced. These were all pretty tame experiments as fashion/lifestyle experiments go, but for a girl from Wilkesboro, NC, they felt risky.

I am eternally grateful for my time in NYC because it helped me to discover who I am, and to be comfortable with myself. If I could go back and do it again, I would, and I would push myself even further out of my comfort zone because I loved who I became there (in spite of my sour subway face).

Foreground?

I say all of that to lead up to this. Back in May, a friend who was also engaged won a free Mary Kay mini-facial and was allowed to bring friends. She invited me, and I went. It was the first time I’d used Mary Kay in about ten years, and I loved it all over again. The product, that is. The sales pitch, the business opportunity, the scripted feeling of it all, I could do without, but the product, I absolutely love.

And since I’m cheap, and as a consultant, you get 50% off, I signed up again to sell.

Well, not really to sell. Just to get the discount.

But I keep feeling like there’s something more to this thing. Like now that I know myself better and am more comfortable in my own skin, and now that I know my limits and am REALLY good at saying “No,” now I might be the Mary Kay lady that people who normally hate Mary Kay ladies like. Now I might be able to set my discomfort and ego and the pressure of “should” aside and let people make their own decisions about a product without it affecting my own personal approval rating. And now, I might be able to have some fun with it.

Beth, the Very Worst Mary Kay Lady

Here’s what I propose and promise. If you’ve ever been curious about Mary Kay, or if you think it’s grandma makeup that you would never in a million years use, or if you had a traumatic experience in a Target fitting room with a pushy MK lady trying to give you her business card, an eye shadow sample and a Tootsie Roll, or if you just love pretty things and feeling good about yourself, hit me up.

And I promise I will:

  1. NEVER use the word “pamper” (beyond this sentence).
  2. NEVER call you all cheerleader-excited and tell you about a great opportunity I have for you (unless that opportunity involves squirrels on water skis, concert tickets, auditions for So You Think You Can Dance, booze, a scavenger hunt, murder mystery dinner theater, or meeting a famous person).
  3. NEVER push you to purchase anything. If you like it, and you want it, you can buy it. Just like at Target. If you don’t want it, don’t buy it. Simple as that.
  4. ALWAYS answer all your questions about starting/running a MK business honestly. Completely honestly.
  5. NEVER coerce you into giving me your friends’ names and phone numbers and then harass them to host a party.
  6. ALWAYS work with you to have a party if you want to.
  7. ALWAYS wear something I’m comfortable in to your party, which probably means jeans. Shoes optional.
  8. NEVER be upset if nobody comes to your party, or if you host one and nobody buys anything.
  9. NEVER speak to you from a script.
  10. NEVER attempt manipulate you in any way.
  11. ALWAYS work with you to make you look however you want. If you want something classic, done. If you want something punk, I would LOVE to make that happen.
  12. ALWAYS be completely myself.
  13. ALWAYS encourage you to be completely yourself.
  14. ALWAYS respect you and think you are beautiful no matter what.
  15. NEVER put my business or money ahead of authentic connections with people.

These promises may make me the very worst Mary Kay lady, but they may also make me the most content.

Adventure Time All the Time

There’s been a lot of talk in my life lately about adventure. Basically I want one. All the time, always. And I’m willing to go to great lengths to get one, which often means I leave the country. It’s almost like a drug, and my addiction to it started in high school with small things. I grew up in a small town that did not offer much in the way of wholesome entertainment for adolescents, so we had to make our own fun. They were silly things really – go to K-Mart and take pictures of each other inside big trash cans (clean ones they were selling, not dirty ones they were using), put weird things in friends’ mailboxes, sidewalk chalk friends’ driveways in the middle of the night, throw a frisbee onto the roof of the church, compile elaborate and precisely designed medleys and choreograph lip-sync routines for them. And this may come as a surprise to some of you, but we did all of these things totally sober.

The silliness continued into college, but as I got old enough and started making enough money to go on grander adventures, that is what I wanted to do. Ringing and running people’s dorm rooms just wasn’t as fun once we realized we could be at the beach at dawn and still get back in time for our 11:15 classes. Then it was driving through the night to catch a concert in Virginia Beach, a wedding in New Jersey and another concert in Raleigh all in about a 36-hour period. And before I knew it, I was on a plane to Honduras, then I was living in New York, backpacking through Europe, sleeping in airports with strangers, working at a community college in Raleigh…

Wait. Did anyone else just hear that record scratch?

The thing I love about adventure is that you come away with the best stories. I’m learning, though, that you can go on a big trip and not come away with a single awesome story, or you can stay right where you are and make your own adventure. When we were in high school, we didn’t even need to leave the neighborhood to do something we’d still be talking about fifteen years later. Shoot, when I worked at Caswell, we didn’t even have to leave the camp.

The secret is to find or make the fun wherever you are, and it can be as simple as doing something totally out of the ordinary. G.Lover and I were just on our way home from Durham, and we started talking about The Hunger Games. She hasn’t read the books yet, and I told her she could borrow my copy of the first one, but I thought it was at work. I work in a church building, and if you can believe it, those suckers gave me a key, so I suggested we go over there and get the book out of my cabinet. It was 10:30 on a Saturday night, so of course there was no one there, but we were both sort of nervous that there would be an alarm or a security person or something. And even though I’m at this place every day of the week, it felt completely wrong to be there on a weekend night. The red light coming from the exit signs was alarmingly bright, all the shadows were different, it was eerily quiet, and I was sure that the police would show up at any moment. On top of that, the book wasn’t there.

Another way to make your own fun is to develop your sense of curiosity and amusement. When I lived in New York, I was always fascinated by the people – who they were, how they became that, what they wanted, where they were going, why they were doing what they were doing. It was a never-ending source of entertainment. I miss that about NYC. I feel like people here are blander than there (friendly for sure, but nothing like this guy), but I’m starting to wonder if I came with that preconceived notion and therefore set Raleigh up to be boring before I ever arrived.

What if I spent more time out amongst the masses? What if I did more people watching and made up more stories about them? What if I made riskier mischief? What if I chose to be amused rather than annoyed? What if I spent less time watching Netflix and more time watching cloud formations or kids at the park or couch-to-5k-joggers at the lake? What if I were less concerned with my to-do list and more psyched about my karaoke song list, less worried about losing 20 pounds and more excited about salsa dance parties in my living room, less afraid of what people might think of my writing and more curious about what my characters might do? What if I had more fun on purpose? This sounds pretty awesome.

So here’s what I propose: For the month of April, I will do something creative, out of the ordinary, borderline crazy or just totally different every day in the name of fun and adventure. If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments. I’m not promising I’ll do all the suggestions, and I will not sacrifice my morals or my sleep for any of them, but other than that, I am open to taking risks. And if you want to join me for any of them, I’d love that. Love it. Please join me.

Suggestions can be little things I can do it five minutes or big things that’ll take me a whole weekend. Whatever you’ve got, shoot.

2012, Why You Be So Fast?

Um, I’d just like to point out that we are already through almost 1/12 of 2012. What? Where has this month gone?! Oh right, lesson planning, old episodes of Wings on Netflix, and Words with Friends. And about 50 cups of hot chocolate. I’m having one now as a matter of fact, but I made it with water instead of almond milk because it has less sugar that way, and I want to be asleep by 10 tonight because tomorrow’s a hair washing day. And that, friends, is my life.

I know I said I wasn’t going to make any New Year’s resolutions, but I do want to do a few slightly more exciting things with the next eleven twelfths of the year. But we’ll just call these whatever the annual equivalent of a bucket list would be. Is there a word for that? “Goals” doesn’t seem exciting enough. It’s too corporate, too type A, too…predictable for me.

The Awesomeness Conspiracy

In the pursuit of awesomeness in 2012, I will:

  • make videos for the interwebs
  • surprise people
  • surprise myself
  • not be afraid to fail
  • go swimming
  • flee the country
  • make crafty things
  • salsa dance
  • send real mail
  • party like it’s 1999
  • stay up past midnight (but not on school nights)
  • make rockin’ playlists
  • not beat myself up over not finishing the crafty things I started
  • frolic in parks
  • sing karaoke like nobody’s business
  • be grateful
  • be sneaky
  • tell people how great they are
  • go to New York

Word.

Mrs. Hogan Goes to Raleigh

I know it’s not quite as Capra-esque as a visit to Washington, but having Mrs. Emily Furr Hogan herself here in my very townhouse was definitely a highlight this week. Mrs. Hogan, it seems, booked a trip to NC, was very excited to have nearly two whole weeks with her family, then got to WILKESBORO!!!!! and realized there’s only about a week’s worth of visiting that can be comfortably done there. After that, without some buddies with whom to get into some mischief, it’s just boring. Plus, I think the snow covered up all the sidewalks and driveways she might have wanted to sidewalk chalk, so she had to get out. And I am just honored that she chose to come visit me!

So we had a little reunion last night at dinner – Emily, Julie, Jessica and myself representing Wilkes County – and Amaris and W-Josh rounded out the group nicely. Knowing as much as they do about my childhood and adolescence, they fit right in. We could flow easily in and out of conversations about our current life situations, Matt Hagaman, travel, the Wilkes Skippers, manties (man + panties), and the Wilkes Central Madrigal Singers without anyone missing a beat. Well, Emily and Jessica had never heard of manties, but we caught them right up. Besides, I think I made up the word manties back in my days at American Eagle SoHo (flagship store 81), so clearly it just needs some time to sweep the nation properly.

By the way, regarding Mr. Hagaman, Emily Furr Hogan tells me he was recently sighted wearing a sweater vest. I never thought I’d see the day.

Anyhoe, after dinner, Emily had a little surprise for me. Right there in downtown Raleigh, she pulled out of her trunk…

Tippy the 2-D Dog!

Now, if you are unfamiliar with Tippy, let me just explain (and this will give you a good idea of what all of high school was like for us even though it happened in grad school). When we were both living in NYC (Emily at Columbia and I at NYU), I had…a vision. At the time, I called it a 1-D dog until someone pointed out to me that that would just be a line. But I wanted a flat dog. I don’t know why. Don’t ask. It doesn’t make any sense, I know. Maybe I felt left out seeing all the people walking dogs around the city. Maybe I wanted a pet I didn’t have to take care of. Maybe I’m just super weird. But Emily was on board with the idea and set to work straight away.

What resulted was an image of a dog, printed once, then reversed and printed again. The prints were then mounted on cardboard and foam core and glued together with a yard stick in the middle. The yard stick comes out at such an angle that when you hold the end of it, it looks like Tippy is walking in front of you on an unusually thick leash.

We walked Tippy all over the Big Apple. We even took him to a dog park, where Tippy “played” with other dogs, which basically meant that we poked strangers’ dogs with our pieces of cardboard and foam core. I still can’t believe we got away with that. But good memories. Good memories indeed.

So Tippy now lives in Raleigh, and he is currently perched in the window by our front door, “keeping watch.” He’s a good pup.

Emily also brought me a Puerto Rican woman’s driver’s license, but that’s another story.

“I am,” I said.

I live in a musical, if only in my own mind. There’s always a song playing in my head, always a lyric to fit the occasion, and if I had my way, we’d all burst into spontaneous, choreographed dance in the streets daily. The weather (natural lighting) would also fit our moods, and our outfits would always range from just a little over the top to holy sequins, Batman! This is my ideal world.

Unfortunately, the rats on the street don’t all dance around my feet encouragingly (Hairspray), getting mugged in New York is almost never a golden opportunity to throw caution to the wind and start from scratch (Thoroughly Modern Millie), and I fear most child laborers don’t psych themselves up for a long day’s work with a robust song and dance around the city square (Newsies).

The real world isn’t an ideal world, but I can create one by writing a musical.

This is something I’ve been talking about for a while. It’s an idea my sister and I had on our way to Mom and Dad’s house for Christmas one year. We were listening to Neil Diamond, and when “America” came on, we both heard it – really heard it in a new way – as an opening number.


Click play, then read on as you listen.

The strings start out low and ominous as we see the city, quiet and dimly lit in the early morning. Then as one, hopeful, sustained note plays, the sun begins to rise as the city comes to life. Husbands kiss wives good-bye as they head off to work in their suits and hats, women shake out rugs from their balconies, florists open their shops and sweep off their stoops, restaurateurs haggle with fishermen over the price of their daily catch, and as the bell chimes, we see a boat coming into the harbor, its passengers on deck, groggy and shivering, but hopeful as they catch their first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty.

The music picks up as dock workers and the ship’s crew begin preparations for the boat’s arrival, throwing ropes, sacks and crates in time with the music and readying the gangway.

A male passenger on the deck of the ship sings: Far. We’ve been traveling far, without a home, but not without a star.

Another passenger, surrounded by his wife and several children sings: Free. Only want to be free. We huddle close, and hang on to a dream.

Someone on shore sings: On the boats and on the planes, they’re coming to America. Never looking back again, they’re coming to America.

You get the picture. Characters continue singing lines of the song until everyone aboard and ashore is singing, “Today!”

The captain of the ship descends the gangway slowly singing, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Of thee I sing today!” Then everyone joins back in with the “todays,” and as they leave the boat and enter the immigration building, they stop singing until all that’s left onstage is one boy, looking at the statue, almost whispering, “Today.”

Just thinking about it is making me want to watch it. There’s just one problem: In order to watch it, I have to write it, and I don’t know ANYTHING about writing a play. I honestly don’t know anything about writing fiction. Listening to several Neil Diamond songs, I see scenes playing so vividly in my mind, but I have no idea how they are related to each other or how they’ll string together to make a story.

And that’s part of the reason I want to go to the Living a Better Story Seminar in Portland. Living a story means knowing what a story is all about, and living a better story requires the ability to envision it. That’s basically what you need to write fiction too, am I right?

And ok, so I lied before when I said there was just one thing standing in the way of me watching my musical. There are lots of obstacles:

  1. I have no idea how to write a play. We’ve now covered that. I need writing classes/workshops/groups to help me.
  2. I’ll have to get Neil Diamond’s permission to use his songs.
  3. Once a play is written, I’ll need performers, a place to present it, people to design/make costumes and sets, a marketing team/plan/materials, and money to pay for all of these things.
  4. Not to mention, once the show is written, I’ll need to concentrate all my efforts on getting it ready, which means I’ll need funds to cover my living expenses for a few months.
  5. I want Neil Diamond to appear in the show as Brother Love of “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show.”

I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’m hoping the conference will teach me a little about story-telling, but also about finding the resources I’ll need to do this (or any other big thing I might want to do). I’m hoping it’ll be an encouraging thing and that it’ll get my creative mind thinking about where to get the money to take the classes and pay the people to build the sets and make the costumes, etc. And I guess I’m really hoping it’ll teach me how to invite others into my story in a way that makes them want to participate and/or follow a big dream of their own.

Here’s a video about the conference for anyone else who’s interested. Wasn’t it so sweet of Don to make this for y’all? I’ll be sure to thank him properly if he picks me to attend the conference (I’m thinking cupcakes, but feel free to leave suggestions for how to thank him properly in the comments).

Living a Better Story Seminar from All Things Converge Podcast on Vimeo.

The Story of My Life

It’s a good thing I’m not a people-pleaser, because I feel like I am constantly letting someone down with all my coming and going. I leave Raleigh, and people are sad. I go back to Raleigh, and people in Asheville threaten to lock me in a closet because they don’t want to lose me. I tell my students I won’t be back next semester, and they look at me with such disappointment that I honestly wonder if I’ll ever see them again. What’s the point of continuing a relationship (even a teacher-student one) that’s just going to end in two weeks?

It’s really sweet, and it’s flattering for sure, but it upsets me at the same time to know that my actions are upsetting to others. It’s like I can’t go anywhere without leaving a mark.

True story: I worked at Caswell in the summers of 1999 and 2000. In 2001, I went down for a weekend visit, and when I walked into the staff lounge, a guy I’d never seen before pointed at me all excitedly and said, “You’re Beth Parent! I want a massage later.” Because apparently word of my healing hands had gotten around the staff house.

That’s a silly example, but the dude knew my face, my first AND last name, and my hidden talent before I ever knew he existed, which means there was extensive discussion of me with accompanying photos before I arrived. This happens a lot, and that feels so weird to me because I’m just living my life, you know? I’m not doing anything spectacular except having a crap ton of fun, and yet somehow I am special to a lot of people.

I know it’s starting to sound like I’m complaining about how fabulous and popular I am, but that’s not it. It’s really quite humbling to think that I have this gift I’ve never really noticed or thought about before, and it’s just a part of who I am, but what do I do with it?

What does this ability to impact people require of me? There’s a great and weighty responsibility that comes with it, and I haven’t figured out yet how to carry it.

If I were a character in a story, after such a realization, I’d be at a point of decision. Where do I go from here? Given the experiences I’ve had and the things I’ve learned and become, how do I proceed? Everything up to this point has just been background and character development. And here is where the story actually begins, but what’s it about, what do I want, and why does any of it matter?

I want my life to count for something. I want to love people well and help those who need it, but I also want to really relish life and facilitate the fun and enjoyment of others. I look at some people’s lives, and I think, “My life is pointless. He’s digging wells by hand so villages in Africa can have water, and I’m writing a book called My Husband Ride Me.” But you know what? I love that I’m writing a book called My Husband Ride Me. I laugh out loud as I’m working on it, and I hope that one day dozens of other people will get to enjoy it the same way.

I don’t want to give up those quirky little things that make me the person everybody wants to have around. I just want to figure out how to use them better.

I want to live a life of such freedom and adventure that when my great-great-great-great-great-great granddaughters read about it, they think, “So that’s where I get it,” and feel free to be exactly who they are because they know they’re not abnormal for being adventuresome.

I want to live a life that awakens people’s imaginations as to what their lives can be, and I want to encourage them to follow those dreams even when doing so is hard.

I never want to believe or say that it’s too late for me to do something I’m really excited about. It is never too late to live the rock-n-roll life, and I mean that both figuratively and literally. Have y’all seen Young at Heart yet? Because you really must. I own it. Come on over, and we’ll watch it together just so I can prove my point.

I want to make people laugh. I want to make other people wonder what’s so funny. I get down on myself sometimes because I think I’m not doing anything meaningful. I mean, clean water is clearly more important than jokes, but here’s the thing: Laughter is bonding, and people need connection with each other. Laughter is healing, and there is a lot of pain in the world. Laughter might not be a part of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but it should be. I don’t know if happy people live longer, but they sure do enjoy it more.

I don’t know what the plot of my story is yet, but I hope it involves a husband I can goof off with, travel with, raise children with, and grow with for the rest of my life, demonstrating radical love to everyone around us. I hope it involves at least a short stint in Spain (because I freaking love that country for no apparent reason). I hope it involves all the friends I currently love and all those I haven’t met yet. I hope it involves a lot of writing and a lot of foreigners, a home with an open-door policy and awesome flea market chic decor, delicious food and wine, full passports, surprises, and tons of music and dancing.

If it’s a story I’m writing with my life, it’ll be on Broadway one of these days. Mark my words.

These are the first of my thoughts on life that will hopefully win me a trip to Portland to attend Donald Miller’s conference. These thoughts are too vague, though, so for the rest of the week I’ll be writing more specific stories. Then we’ll pick the best one, and I’ll enter it in the contest.

Back to the Questions

Well good golly, I had completely forgotten about my formspring page until I was notified earlier today that someone had asked me a question. And let me just tell you, it’s a doozy. We have to get through several more, however, before that one can have its turn. So let’s start where we left off, shall we?

We all know the moon is not made of green cheese, but what if it was made of spare ribs? Would you eat it then? Heck, I know I would – I’d have seconds and then wash it down with a nice, cool Budweiser.

Well, Harry Caray, it appears as though you’ve forgotten at least one thing about me, and that is that I don’t eat spare ribs. I wouldn’t eat green cheese either, and as I’m sure you are well aware, I don’t like beer. If you were not aware of that, now you are. I also don’t like coffee.

Now let me ask you a question. Would you rather be the top scientist in your field or have mad cow disease?

The next “question” isn’t really question at all. In fact, I’m not sure it’s even a complete thought. It just says:

your first

I’ll be honest. I’m not really sure what you’re going for here, and I really don’t remember a lot of my firsts, but I’ll make a list and hope it meets with your approval. Let’s go with alphabetical, yeah?

My first…

  • apartment – Junior year of college in an apartment complex called Pirate’s Cove. Becky, Faith and Nicole were my roommates. Ask me how I damaged the coffee table.
  • boyfriend – Brandon Inscore. We dated for about a year in high school, and we absolutely were NOT making out at the bottom of the stairs after the prom in ’97 when my mom snarled at us.
  • car – A light blue Toyota Corolla named Gloria the Disco Queen. Yes, that was her whole name.
  • date – With Brandon. I’m pretty sure we went to Wendy’s and a high school basketball game. Tres romantique!
  • email address – besufern@aol.com. Don’t try it. It no longer exists.
  • friend – I don’t know. Probably someone at church? There’s a great picture somewhere of me and 3 other kids in our 3-year-old Sunday school class. I went to 2 of their weddings in the past few years, and I go to all of the other one’s concerts when I can.
  • gynecologist visit – Don’t worry, guys, I won’t gross you out. I’ll just say that when she asked me what sort of contraception I was using, I told her abstinence. She asked me how long I thought that would last, and I said, “Until I get married.” She laughed at me and said, “Yeah we’ll see about that.”
  • hair color experience – I started out with the temporary stuff, back when they still made level 1 color that would wash out in a week. I’ve dyed it so many times now, I don’t remember the first one. But it was probably red, and Jeani was probably involved.
  • iPod – I bought it in NYC, in the SoHo Apple Store, just before I ran off to Europe for the first time, in 2004. I just bought my second one last summer.
  • job – If babysitting counts, then that’s what it was. But if we’re talking about work for which I was paid and then later received a W-2, then that would be Caswell.
  • knitting project – My grandmother taught me to knit when I was a kid. I have no idea how to start or finish a knitting project, but I can actually work those needles. In fact, in middle school, I played Beth in a drama class production of Little Women. In one scene, I sat by the fire, knitting. People were amazed by how real it looked. But alas, I don’t think I’ve ever actually finished a knitting project.
  • lemonade stand – I think it was with Rebecca Booi. Her house was in a great spot, right at an intersection.
  • musical – When I was in maybe 4th grade, my sisters and I got the soundtrack of The Phantom of the Opera on double cassette tape. We LOVED it, and the next year, we all went to New York for Thanksgiving and saw it on Broadway. So to all of you who have been (and will be) subjected to my random musical outbursts, you can thank my parents for getting me hooked early.
  • NYC apartment – It was graduate housing, which meant a shared studio with a Taiwanese Canadian named Lily Lu. It was in an unbelievably amazing location that made taxi drivers jealous, but I’m still paying for it.
  • origami – It might not have been my first, but I made literally hundreds of paper cranes in high school. What? I was the president of the Japanese club.
  • pet – I had a fish in high school named Chip. He was more than just decoration to me.
  • quadratic equation mnemonic device – It was to the tune of Frère Jacques and went like this: Minus b, minus b / plus or minus root, plus or minus root / b squared minus 4 ac, b squared minus 4 ac / over 2 a, over 2 a. BAM. Still got it. I have no idea what you use the quadratic equation for any more, but that’s how it goes. Music, check. Math, not so much.
  • rifle – No, I’ve never owned a rifle, but I sho nuff did learn to shoot one at Camp Cheerio when I was 10 years old. That was perhaps the unsung verse of the Cheerio Girl song (get me to sing it for you some time).
  • second language – I have a really vague memory of taking French classes when I was very young. Did I just make that up? Specifically, I remember a “cultural lesson” wherein we were expected to eat escargot, and I almost vomited.
  • trip outside of the U.S. and its territories – Honduras, 2002
  • UFO sighting – I’ve never actually seen one, but one Christmas at my grandparents’ house, we could have sworn Santa was on the roof with aliens, burping.
  • vote – I know several people who will be very upset with me for this, but I had never voted until the most recent presidential election. I plan on voting from now on, though.
  • wedding – Not MY first wedding, of course, but the first one I attended. And I have no idea. Someone in the family? An aunt and uncle, perhaps?
  • xylophone? – It is very late, and these letters are getting harder. I remember having one of those rolling xylophones as a kid with the mallet underneath that see-sawed as you pulled it, striking the same two bars over and over again. I learned to play “Do-Re-Mi” on that thing.
  • YouTube video – Has not yet been made, I told you. Sheesh. Give it a rest already.
  • Zumba class – Also has sadly not yet happened. But it will. Oh…it will.

Well that was fun! And exhausting. I’m going to bed. Join me again tomorrow for more blogging fun!

1000 Ways I’m Better Because of Blogging

Ahem. Do I look any older today? Any wiser, perhaps? You may notice that I have a new banner up at the top there, which is all thanks to my awesome sister, who is much better at that sort of thing than I am. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

This is my ONE THOUSANDTH BLOG POST. I wish I knew how many words that was, but I have no idea. To be sure, it’s enough to fill multiple books, which is very encouraging. I know that I am capable of writing a book. It’s just going to be a matter of time and diligence. And that leads us directly into today’s actual post. I’m not really going to list 1000 ways I’m better because of blogging. You can read back through the past six years to see my journey if you want to. I’m just going to hit five highlights that I think encompass them all.

I’m More Confident in My Writing Ability

I started blogging in 2004 after meeting some girls in NYC who had blogs and couldn’t believe I didn’t have one. I think we’d met just once or twice before they both recognized that I would either love it or be good at it (I’m not sure which – maybe both). And for the first little while there, I really didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t set out to make this website what it is. It just evolved. In the first few months, I blogged about two things: Christianity and community league hockey. And while the hockey was a lot of fun for me, I’m not sure anybody else got it. But my more spiritual writing was what got people’s attention. Those were the posts people read and said, “You know, you’re a really good writer.” I didn’t really believe them (still have trouble with it, actually), but taking the risk of putting my words out into the world began to build a confidence I hadn’t known with anything before.

If you read any books or blogs or articles on writing, one of the things you’ll have read over and over again is that in order to be a better writer, you have to write. Just write and write and write. Every day. And it’s funny – I never really considered what I do here writing. Not “real” writing anyway. Not writing that matters, but it does. It matters to me, to my craft, and hopefully to at least a few people here and there. And I’d like to think I’ve gotten better at it over the years, but even if I haven’t, even if I’ve stayed at the same level or even regressed, it doesn’t really matter because I love it more every day, and the more I fall in love with writing, the more confident I am in my ability to do it. And maybe that’s what improving is.

I’m a Better Problem Solver

I know things about HTML that no Psychology major or ESL teacher should know. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve screwed up this website to the point where I thought I’d lost everything and would have to start all over. And then, miraculously, I fix it. Sometimes this requires the assistance of several people who are clearly much smarter than me, but I think that’s part of problem-solving – humility and the support of people who still love you even though you suck at something.

So first of all, to everyone who has helped me solve a technical issue, I’d like to return the favor. If you ever need anything edited, or if you have a website you want me to advertise, or if you’d like some vegan cupcakes or cookies, you just let me know.

And the other part of problem-solving is just not being afraid to fiddle around. Granted, that’s how I get myself in trouble, too, but it is how I learned to do 100% of the things I now know how to do with my page design, and it spills over into the rest of my life. When I started this thing in 2004, I was not the kind of person who ever would have dreamt of going vegan, writing a book, walking marathons or cutting up/refashioning her clothes. I did what I’d always done, ate what I’d always eaten, wore my clothes the way they were made, and didn’t often push myself into territory that was dramatically different or uncomfortable (sometimes, but not often).

But as I’ve learned to solve problems better, I’ve gotten more comfortable with experimentation and challenge because I’ve realized that (A) it is very hard to screw things up entirely, (B) I am very luck to have an amazing network of people who are always willing to help me out, and (C) that’s how I learn.

I’m No Longer Afraid of Commitment

If you are one of the, like, three people who’ve been reading this since it began, you’ve been with me through two phone companies, eight moves, thirteen roommates, *cough cough* boyfriends/quasiboyfriends, countless crushes you didn’t even know about, three churches (not counting any of the ones involved in Church Search 2010) and at least five jobs. And there have been times when I’ve been more committed to blogging than others. I hope you’ll have noticed that over the past year or two, I’ve become more consistent. This is a phenomenon that is slowly taking over more aspects of my life. I’m living in places for longer, I’ve been with the same phone company for several years now, I try to blog every day, but if I can’t, at least three times a week, and in general, I’m looking for places to be and people to be with for the long haul.

And I’m not scared of it. I am sometimes scared of not having these things ever, of always being this sort of nomad who blows in and out of people’s lives, is never truly known and then easily forgotten. But I know that’ll never happen. I’m too good with a telephone.

I Have a Voice

…which I use on the phone for hundreds of minutes each month. If you haven’t heard it, email me your digits, and I’ll call you. For real. But mostly I’m talking about two things:
1.    My writing voice.
2.    A platform.

I was at my new Thursday morning writing group yesterday, reading a chapter from my book-in-progress to two listeners. One of them has read/heard a lot of me, and the other was a woman I’d just met. And one of the things the new lady had to say was that she loved how my voice on paper was exactly like my speaking voice. I don’t always achieve this, but as my confidence grows, so does my authenticity. And perhaps even more exciting than having a voice is having people recognize it and like it.

I hate to tell y’all this, but only about 7% of what I do here is for you. Mostly what happens is I see something noteworthy in the world or inside myself, and I want to document it. I don’t put it to you for your approval, but for your participation. But when you do approve, well that feels really good. And the more people approve of what you have to say, the more they want to hear, and the greater the opportunity for you to speak on the topics that really matter to you. I don’t do much of that here (mostly it’s just general ridiculousness), but on the days when I do have something important to say, I’m glad y’all are here to listen, and if I’ve said something that resonated with you, feel free to pass it on.

I Know Who I Am (and So Can You)

I feel the most like myself when I am genuinely laughing – not laughing out of politeness or discomfort or as a way to fill a void, but really cracking up. In those moments, I’m not self-conscious, I’m not worried, I’m not dissatisfied. That’s me being myself fully and completely.

These have been good, good times, friends, and if you weren’t around for some of the earlier ones, I want to invite you to see the hilarity for yourself.

Ode to a Weather Man – My poetry really is one of my favorite things on here.
The Zimmerman Limmermacht dream – You know you’re crazy when this kind of thing goes on without you even thinking about it.
Hey, remember when I was a pole dancer? Good times.
The one in which I shake my head violently.
One of my all-time favorite poems, God is NOT a Temp.
The one where Whitney imitates a porn film.
Goodness gracious how many haikus did I write that day?
That’s Racin’!
The one where I talk to Jane Austen, who, sweet as she is, is really quite thick.
Roy Orbison + Clingfilm = Endless Entertainment
Why I’m becoming a Jehova’s Witness (It took me 3 tries just now to type ‘witness’ instead of ‘Whitney.”)

Here’s to another 1000 posts!! Onward Hoe!!

Census: Day 1

I wish I had a pocketful of hilarious stories about people who came in today to ask me questions about the census, but (a) that is privileged information that I’ve sworn in a signed affidavit to keep to myself, and (b) no one came in. I sat there for three hours, writing, reading up on census history and getting to know the community center. It was great. They have a CLIMBING WALL!! I love my neighborhood.

But seriously, I can’t tell you anything about the information I learn about people while helping them fill out their forms. Not even if a tell-all book would earn me enough money to live comfortably in a brownstone in the West Village for the rest of my life. I signed an affidavit. Come to think of it, that might have been my first affidavit. I might feel more grown up about that than about H&R Block taking all my money away.

Anyhoe, also, as census workers, we all had to be sworn in, taking an “oath of office” as it were, swearing to defend against all enemies both foreign and domestic, so help us God. How very un-PC. I thought it was a little weird, partly because I don’t intend to engage in any national defense over at the community center, but mostly because taking the oath felt very similar to saying the Girl Scout Promise. Aaaaaaaaand now I want some Thin Mints.

Maybe I’m not so grown-up after all.

My 20s. All of them.

And just like that, my 20s are over. Man, what an awesome decade. I’m going to try to do a recap of all my 20s birthdays and hit the highlights of some of the incredible things I’ve had the opportunity to do in the last ten years. I’m old, though, so I might not remember all of it, but I’ll give it my best.

20

My 20th birthday was also known as “Princess Day.” In college, we started calling all of our birthdays Princess Day, and we’d wear tiaras and sashes and be treated like princesses. So I think that year, my friend Rachel made like she was going to take me to dinner at Chili’s, but then when we got there, we were “hijacked” in the parking lot by Becky and Faith and taken somewhere else instead (Applebee’s maybe – Chili’s was just too crowded for our large party). And then after dinner, they took me roller skating. You remember that, right, Laura Jenny?

Other than that, 20 was not a very remarkable year, although I think it was the year I did that deviance project for my sociology class – the one where I dressed up like some kind of cracked out super pirate (of the ECU pirates) and ran around downtown handing out candy and doing body builder muscle poses in the elevator of that apartment building.

It was also the year that I met my friend Andy, with whom I shared the most horrific moving adventure ever. Amazingly, we are still friends.

21

By my 21st birthday, my parents had moved from WILKESBORO!!!!! to New Bern, which was only about an hour’s drive from ECU, so my mom came to town for that one, and she and all my friends and I went out to eat at Red Lobster (then one of my favorite places on earth), where I was COVERED in toilet paper by the semi-psychotic waiter who was responsible for celebrating the birthdays. He dressed up like the Gorton’s Fisherman, covered the birthday girl or boy in an entire roll of toilet paper and sang birthday songs through a megaphone – songs like, “Who’s got a birthday? Who? Who? Who? Who?” which was, of course, an adaptation of the Baha Men’s “Who Let the Dogs Out?”

That year was also the year I decided not to work at Caswell again, regretted it, and was down there every chance I got. That was the year of 9-11, and just a few months after 9-11, I decided to leave the country for the first time and go on a mission trip to Honduras. I don’t think anybody saw that decision coming. I had several friends who’d gone to Kenya (while I was not working at Caswell), and when they came back, they all came to me individually and told me I needed to go overseas, and y’all are not going to believe me, but my response to all of them was, “Nope. I’m fine right here with my indoor plumbing and my familiar foods. I’m not going anywhere. I’ma stay right here in the U.S. of A.”

And then one very normal day, I was sitting in the computer lab in the psyc building at ECU, and plain as day, as though someone were standing right over my shoulder, I heard, “Go to Honduras.” I stopped, my whole body stiffened, and (almost out loud, but not because I didn’t want everyone to think I was crazy, so just in my mind) I replied, “Come again?” And the voice said, “You heard me.” And just like that, my world travels began, but not until…

22

I have no idea what I did on my 22nd birthday. I remember that being sort of a rough time. It was my last semester in college, and there was just a lot going on. I’m sure it was celebrated. I just don’t remember how. But to continue the story started just a moment ago, that was the year I left the country for the first time. It was also the year I decided what I wanted to be when I grew up. It’s sort of a long story that I’ll share with you in person if you want to know, but by the time I got back from Honduras, I knew I wanted to pursue ESL as a career, and by Christmas of that year, I’d been accepted to NYU’s graduate program. And THAT is a day I’ll never forget. I’d gone home for lunch and checked the mail on my way back out to work. When I opened the envelope and saw the word “Congratulations,” I almost drove off the road. I just couldn’t believe it. And then I started calling everyone I knew to tell them about it. It was a good day.

23

I’m not sure how we celebrated 23 either. I was living in Winterville with my sister and hanging out with Collice and Hilary a lot, so they might have all been involved in the celebration. I just don’t remember what we did.

Anyhoe, that year, I left the country for the second time, had my wisdom teeth removed, moved to New York City, drank alcohol for the first time and got my nose pierced.

24

In grad school, I got involved with the Navigators, a campus ministry similar to InterVarsity, with which I was involved in undergrad. A week or two before I turned 24, the Navigators went on a weekend retreat/conference in upstate NY, and I just had the best time ever. For my birthday, I asked to go to Winter Conference again, and we sort of did have a little mini version of it, which was really nice. And then we sang karaoke. But my clearest memory from that night was Mike and Sonja dragging me, running, through the streets of NYC yelling, “IT’S HER BIRTHDAY!! HAPPY BIRTHDAY BETH!! BIRTHDAY GIRL COMING THROUGH!!” So fun.

That year, I:

  • started blogging
  • left the country for the third time to backpack Europe and study Spanish in Spain (see any entry from late June-early August 2004)
  • resolved not to move back to NC
  • decided to move back to NC
  • spent New Year’s in San Francisco
  • moved back to NC

25

For my 25th birthday, Laura Jenny (aka Marieke, aka Partner) and Jason Jones took me to Bojangles. Then we went back to Jason’s house, where they had a cake for me, and Jason made very strong margaritas, and we all decided it would be better to watch a few episodes of Knight Rider before driving home.

Starting that year and continuing for the next few, we had a lot of fun making the dirtydish. There’s not much activity there any more, but I was and still am very grateful for what it did for my writing. It gave me an outlet and the confidence I needed to put my stuff out there for a new audience to read. Thanks, ddo.

And we’ll just hurry things along by saying I’ve left the country at least once a year since that first time. When I was 25, H(P)M and I went to Paris. That was also the year Emily Furr Hogan and I spent New Year’s in Times Square, which was SO fun.

26

No idea. I didn’t even blog about it. I probably went to Chili’s. This might have been the year I had bangs, so it’s possible that I blocked it out. However, this was definitely the year I flew to London to stay with Ann and surprise DLF for New Year’s. Oh what fun we had!!

27

My life in Raleigh by this point had reached a level of autopilot where I was almost curled up in the back napping. I knew I needed some sort of adventure, so just before I turned 27, I signed up for my first Avon Walk. It helped. It also got me to the gym, where the Cutie Von Hottenstein encounters began, which culminated in the weirdest party I’ve ever been to in my life. I also went vegan that year, and oh, that was the year of the most awful semester of my life. I won’t force myself to think about that right now, though.

Gasp!! I don’t think I left the country that year. Did I? If I did, I don’t know where I went. I think I was too busy. Oh my gosh. I need to take two trips this year to make up for it.

I think for my birthday that year, I was supposed to go on a luxurious mountain road trip retreat with some friends, but I became deathly ill and was laid up in bed all weekend. I definitely went to Chili’s, though.And wait, was this the year I had that awesome surprise party, or was that mystery 26? Either way, there was one year when my sweet Brookie, even though she was in the middle of working on her national board certification (which she passed on the first try thank you very much), conspired with Whitney and all them hoes to throw me a surprise party that I almost didn’t go to! Whitney, however, being the genius that she is, got me to go, and it was awesome. Whenever it was.

28

By 28, I’d met Lauren (Josh), whose birthday is the day before mine – HAPPY BIRTHDAY YESTERDAY, BUDDY!!!! – and that was the year we had the photo scavenger hunt party and the Teen Girl Squad cupcakes. This was also the year wherein:

  • Brookie moved to Wilmington 🙁 and got married 🙂
  • I moved in with Josh and Josh
  • I didn’t think I would survive the summer
  • I had a boyfriend
  • Whitney and I went to Mexico for H(P)M’s wedding
  • I became an indentured servant of Wake Tech
  • The Rack Pack walked DC

29

We’re almost done!! Last year’s birthday was lots of fun. We went to Bald Head Island for the weekend, played Wii, rode bikes, lounged around and hung out on the beach. It was a much needed get-away for everyone, and nobody wanted to leave and come back home. We powered through, though, and it went on to be a most momentous year. I completed my indentured servitude, moved to Italy for three months, almost moved to Oregon, and moved to Asheville instead.

I’ve traveled well over 13,000 miles in the past year, visited two new countries (Hungary and Austria) and a few old ones, and now, I’m getting ready to head out on what I’m calling my “30 on 40 Roadtrip.” It’s where I turn 30, having three parties in three cities on I-40. And I’m sorry for the rushed ending, but if I don’t get in the shower, pack and leave very soon, I will actually miss my second party – the one in Raleigh tonight.

But one thing before I leave. If my post yesterday made it sound at all like I am disappointed with where my life has gone, that is not the case. I meant to say that high school senior Beth just could not have imagined all of this – all the travel, adventure, friendships, food, passions, love, opportunities and general awesomeness I’ve had the incredible pleasure of experiencing. I can only hope that my 30s out-do my 20s.

HAPPY BETHDAY!!!!!!!!