Archive | October, 2010

Remember That Time You Got Braces? Yeah, So Do I…

27 Oct

OUCH, my teeth hurt. They feel restrained by my new metal prison. At least the rubber bands are purple, keeping me from being a total laughing-stock of the 7th grade. Braces with colored rubber bands mean you have a personality. Some kids get clear ones. But after lunch those just got caked with food and gunk and who wants that? Gross. Purple says “I’m confident.” Purple is the color of royalty. Purple has stuck with me this far, so why not now? A good safe color to start with on my first go around.

I get down out of one of Dr. Katsis’s chairs and walk toward the sanitized lobby which has Highlights magazines, a 60 gallon fish tank, and pastel blue wallpaper which is popular now in the early 90s. This is the most popular orthodontist’s office in my suburban town. It feels more like a factory in that it has an entire row of reclining chairs on its interior, full of middle schoolers which means you never know who you might see during your appointment.

My daymare (the opposite of a daydream except that it was terrible): my mouth is agape while a cheery Dr. Katsis is finishing up tightening my braces. Speaking in an overly boisterous voice, he reminds me to wear my headgear (yeah, right) and explains to me that Listerine, which he’s so graciously prepared a sample of, tastes “unsightly” but actually helps get rid of germs which means I should start acquiring a taste for it.  Just then, Peter Bailey, the boy I’ve decided should be my first kiss, comes up and starts talking to Dr. Katsis about Michael Jordan’s awesome game. Peter then notices me, giving me a look like I’m an alien even though he surely has had the same procedure done every month. I shift, uncomfortably. This causes me to spill the Listerine all over the Dr., which in turn makes Dr. Katsis flinch. My rubber band (not purple, but clear), shoots towards Peter’s perfect face, nailing him straight in the eye. He’s blinded. He blames me and tells the whole school I’m that “spastic orthodontic girl”.  The next time I see him, he has a permanent patch over his eye and he looks like a pirate. I’ve ruined his looks and my reputation. A little extreme? Of course. I’m 13. Daymare completed.

I am starting to get a headache. These braces have a death grip on my teeth. And I thought those rubber placers they put in a couple of weeks ago hurt! I wonder what it will be like when these are off someday. My teeth will glisten and every time I go to play laser tag or to a roller skating rink, my brilliant white teeth will glow purple under the black lights. And finally, they will be straight! It is going to be awesome.

Back to reality. It’s time to go to school. My mom had taken me out this morning to get my braces put on. I am nervous again. My palms are sweating. What will the other kids think? I’m not exactly President of the Student Council or picked first in daily four square games but I am also not a total social pariah. Will this make me stand out? Most of the other kids already have their braces. Some are getting theirs off! I am late to the game. I suddenly realize I won’t be getting them off until I am a freshman. Wow. Oh well. I have to prepare myself for the here and now.

By the time I talk myself through all of this, I am back at school. Just in time for Gym. I know Ms. Carlson and Mr. Willis, your standard Midwestern P.E. instructors, are bored already and it is only the second day of our badminton unit. I suppose having 7th graders laugh themselves silly over the word “birdie” probably gets old quick. As I enter, my mouth pursed shut, I am relieved to find that more than one kid is getting a referral for flipping the “birdie” and using “shuttlecock” seriously out of context. This means less attention on me. Mr. Willis lets Ms. Carlson handle the referrals and pairs me up with Jamie Cote. Jamie is short and she is twirling her racquet as if it is a baton. I can see the appeal and I want to try it. I have always wanted to throw the baton like those girls at the beginning of the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day. When Mr. Willis turns his back, Jamie tosses me a racquet. I hesitate as it twirls in the air once, twice, and wham! Right in the mouth. Ouch! My tooth starts throbbing with pain. I wince, reaching up to feel my new bracket which is now…falling out.

Two trips to Dr. Katsis in the same day.  This time he uses better glue and gives me a new purple rubber band for the bracket casualty.  I lick my new bracket again. I smile. I have already done this part today and now I get to do it over again with a bit more confidence. It can’t get any worse than getting hit with a badminton racquet less than 30 minutes after getting my braces. I look around at the other patients with nurses hands in their mouths. I jump out of the chair confidently.  I can do this whole braces thing. Suddenly I remember and my head darts from side to side. Thankfully, to my relief, Peter Bailey is nowhere to be seen.

NOTE: Here’s my mouth today, 18  years later. As much as I dreaded getting braces, I’m so thankful I had them. I still try to wear my retainer at night. Thanks, Dr. Katsis.

She Chose The Road Less Travelled…But It Killed Her

22 Oct

She had good reason to leave. The chemo was making her tired and she felt listless. Hair was falling out in  patches. Her eyebrows were starting to thin, making her look a bit like someone from another species. Feeling  that alien in one’s own body eventually takes it’s toll.

It was strange that the process to be cured from cancer was the thing that was zapping away any sense of herself that had just been brought into  perspective.

She assumed, wrongly of course, that she could just skip the last few months of treatment and take a break. Everyone needs a break. Especially from cancer. The only problem is that if you avoid getting into the ring to actually fight, you’ll never know what is on the other side of that fight.

She chose. For worse, but she chose. Instead of toxic chemicals surging through her body, the wind was in her hair and she was out on the open road swallowing bugs as the RV coursed through the desert. Rather than smell the familiar aroma of freshly peeled band-aids and recently used IV bags, she was breathing in blue spruce pines and dewy meadows. It was almost winter now so the crisp, cold air blew upon her face as she hung her head out the window, lapping up the wind. She felt alive. It was the first time since the word “cancer” was spoken that she really felt that. It seemed okay to take this trip. Granted, the chemo was not complete. Her treatment was not quite finished. She would go back to it, she thought.

She would just take a breath and feel the world around her first.

If I were the woman and I chose to leave, I'd go here.

Once she realized that she might miss out on certain things like seeing a bear in Yellowstone Park or never making it to Disney World even once, she realized she had to go.

Time was not a promise any more. It left her cold. To think of all that was undone. She had never ridden a city bus. Or gone to Times Square. She hadn’t caught a fish. Or played Bridge with someone in an old folks home. So much to see and do. Why waste time healing when she could heal later? Why not heal in a different way first?

Was she avoiding? Yes. Out of fear? She didn’t think so. It was out of wanting to live that she risked dying. But eventually she did die. After returning from her trip–the greatest trip of her life–she came back to realize that the cancer had spread. While she was swimming with dolphins and skiing a double black diamond trail, her body betrayed her. Her heart was feeling free but her cells were breaking down. They deceived her in the end.

The end was quick. It came two weeks after her adventure. Her friends shook their heads in disbelief. They did not understand. Did she honestly think she could run away from cancer? Did she think it had a “pause” button? Maybe she did. She could have been living in a total state of denial. But she would say, “At least I was living.”

Or I'd go back here again. Sequoia National Park.

I heard about her story at a memorial service for someone else. Her scenario is real, I just colored in the details. I go back and forth when I think of her. Part of me thinks she should have stayed and gotten the treatment. Part of me doesn’t get why she would leave when she was so close to finishing well. She could have lived a long and hopefully happy life. She could have died anyways, even with the treatment. Maybe she didn’t want to risk death when she hadn’t really lived. I think I’m okay with her decision. I don’t know that I would have made it but I understand why.

Had she stayed and fought, she might have soon forgotten the gift of life that she had received from her disease. She had an urgency that we undiagnosed take for granted. We live our humdrum lives thinking we have all the time in the world. She packed into a few months what it might have taken us years to get around to if we weren’t too busy “living our lives.” I feel a sense of urgency now and I don’t even have cancer. I don’t want a disease or a diagnosis to be what propels me to actually live my life. She didn’t have that choice. Cancer was her catalyst. It doesn’t have to be mine.

An Examination Of Perfectionism

21 Oct

A contemplative moment at 21

I have a problem.

I’m ready to admit it and begin a dialogue because at this point, I know that I’m not alone in this. I’m an overachiever. I’ve been this way probably since I was about eight years old. I can blame my parents (although they aren’t entirely to blame as they did the best they could at the time). I could blame the school system for telling me that I was smart and in effect pitting me against all the other kids in my class so that we became ranks and GPAs instead of 14 year olds. Or I could blame my peers but how would they have known?

However, I tend to blame myself most of the time. Someone once said that sometimes our greatest attributes can be our biggest downfalls. I am a smart woman who knows what it takes to succeed academically but as an effect to this day, I’m afraid of failure.

So how did it start? Somehow in my life I learned to equate achievement and “being productive” with being happy. I learned that by getting good grades and being “the best the I could be,” I would earn approval, accolades, and most importantly– love. On the surface that doesn’t seem that strange. In fact, productivity is encouraged in our culture. After all, isn’t America all about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps? It’s about getting  ahead so that we can provide for our families and grow into productive people who contribute to society.

But what if, in the process, we forget who we are? Or worse, never let ourselves learn?

I told myself when I was 12 that I would do whatever it took to get into Harvard. I remember because I wrote it in red pen (which I only used when I was serious) and I put it in a letter to myself. I set insane expectations for myself. I didn’t even really want to go to Harvard, I just thought it was the best school out there so I thought that would be a real achievement and people would love me for it. For as long as I can remember it was all about my grades and being involved so that I could get into college. When I was told by my high school counselor that I could get into the 5.0 GPA bracket and stand with most of my AP/honors friends at graduation if I passed the semester with only one B plus, I did just that. I returned only to find out that the counselor had screwed up and I needed an A- because I was .02 away. If only I had worked a little harder. I was devastated. Crushed. I ended high school on that sour note, disappointing myself because it seemed that I wasn’t good enough.

I realized at some point that Harvard wasn’t for me so I did the next best thing: I applied to 10 different film schools and decided on USC, the oldest and one of the most prestigious. I was upset that I didn’t first get into the actual film school, but after working diligently, I was accepted. I worked harder in college than I did in high school because that’s all that I knew how to do. I graduated and decided to enter into one of the hardest industries that people who fear failure could possibly get themselves into: entertainment.

Okay so here’s the problem: As an overachiever, I want things to fall into place and in my way. I’m not afraid to work for them but what if I’ve worked my whole life and come to realize that maybe overachieving isn’t what it’s all about? What if it’s about being and not doing? Loving people in amazing ways until it hurts? Giving hope to others? Loving yourself first? Sharing the love and spreading faith?

So how do I change my mindset now? How do I recognize that the black and white thinking I’ve always relied on may actually be hurting me? Yes, I’ve had success. Yes, people may think highly of me. Yes, I’ve achieved a lot. But I always feel like there’s more to do. I always feel like no one will ever be pleased. Worse yet, I believe I have to earn everything I get, including grace and love.

I’m reading an amazing book right now by a friend, Kristin Ritzau. It’s called “A Beautiful Mess” and it’s about self-care for a recovering perfectionist. I’m on a journey to start telling myself the truth about who I am and I refuse to any longer buy into the lie that I have to DO something and EARN something in order to be worthy. Where is the grace? If I have no grace for myself, how can I have grace for others?

It’s the process. Perfectionism. Overachievement. That’s a disease. They don’t tell you, but it is. And one day you wake up and realize that you’re not happy living like that. The things you bought into in high school– the whole “be good at everything, fail at nothing, and no matter what you do STAY IN CONTROL.” It’s not true. Life is unpredictable. It’s scary. It’s hard. It’s full of good and bad surprises.

Sometimes you end up where you never thought you would. I’m in process on the journey.  As part of my job, I hang out with high schoolers and they remind me of me. It feels like yesterday that I was that age. I want to tell my former self to not worry so much. To chill out. To LIVE LIFE! It’s not too late for me to tell myself that now.

One of the scariest and most freeing moments of my life. Letting go while suspended over a crazy drop with rushing water while canyoning

So I do what I can and I’ll let go. I might try to control things in a few minutes. My counselor says this is going to get easier–telling myself the truth. He said it’s like starting to work out after being sedentary for a long time. It’s going to hurt a lot at first. You might even faint from overdoing it. But the next day you won’t. The day after you’ll have more stamina. And it will continue…and so will I. I don’t expect to “arrive” but someday in the near future and celebrate that I am believing the truth and not succumbing to the be all that you can be (which is really do all that you can do) mentality.

Please leave your thoughts and comments about this. As I mentioned, I want this to be a dialogue.



Why the title?

20 Oct

“Where my heart wants to go” is actually a lyric from a Cat Stevens song called “The Wind”. Why Cat Stevens? I really don’t know. One time I was writing a story that was really personal to me about the position I held in my family

What do you think of when you see this family?

and I was listening to “The Very Best of Cat Stevens” on repeat. A lyric from “Father and Son,” one of Stevens’ songs about a father and a son trying to reconcile their relationship and understand each other, popped out at me.

It was “All the times that I cried/keeping all the things I knew inside. It was hard, but it’s harder to ignore it.” Somehow that line “Keeping All The Things I Knew Inside” became iconic to what my story was trying to say. I felt like it perfectly encapsulated my position as the author of my story and voila, the story had it’s title.

When thinking about my blog, I thought of all of these things that I want to do with it. I thought of how I want to use it to express my inner thoughts, publish stories that have sat in boxes gathering dust. It’s really a yearning I have. And so I went back to Cat Stevens and discovered “Where My Heart Wants To Go” hidden in “The Wind”. For Cat, I think it’s music that takes him where his heart wants to go. For me, it’s this simple act of writing. And thus, my blog is birthed.


In Remembrance Of My College Cafeteria

20 Oct

The kind of grilled cheese Sue used to serve

The line was too long, yet again. It was week two of getting up late and shuffling down the sticky beer and vomit laden stairs which were newly minted with the sickly stench from Saturday night’s usual affairs: overzealous hook ups and wrong place wrong time throw ups. She ignored it, holding her nose, trying ever so carefully to keep her bunny slippers from connecting with the puddles. Upon exiting the stairwell, she sighed at the line, which wound around the mailboxes and through the doors of New College Dorm.   Everyone had the same idea. Trying to make it to the cashier at EVK (AKA the Evil Kitchen) before 2PM on Sundays was a USC freshman tradition. She knew that if she were going to have to endure the plasticky yet strangely comforting food that the Evil Kitchen had to offer, the one time that the place was redeemed was on Sundays, better known as Waffle Sundays. If she were so lucky to make it before all of the waffle batter was consumed by drunk co-eds jonesing to get their food fix and use their daily allotment of money before it ran out, she would consider herself lucky. The week would be off to a good start. But it was 1:50 and she was dubious.

Waffle Sunday was one of the few things that freshmen at USC could control. Not class times, nor work load. Not scary professors or tenuous friendships, not the lack of transportation or what they served at the Evil Kitchen the rest of the week…only on Sundays was EVK predictable and edible. Granted, they never mentioned that waffles had a million calories and she never really thought much about it. It was worth it for the comfort of knowing that she could make her own waffle. A sliver of independence and yet predictability in an otherwise unpredictable environment.

Kind of Like Sue

Sue smiled. She barely had teeth, but the large-boned, sometimes perky but most of the time angry, cafeteria lady embodied all the stereotypes. She always gave you too many mashed potatoes and not enough gravy. She would accidentally forget to fully clean out the Fruity Pebbles cereal container before putting the Quaker Oat Squares in, basically patenting her own new brand of cereal which likely made the Quaker man turn over in his grave. What Sue was most famous for was peddling her overcooked, burnt crust grilled cheese sandwiches. Sometimes they even had mystery meat attached. One could never be sure.   That morning, Sue asked her a question.

“Rough night?” was all she said.

It seemed strange to think that of all the possible people to ask that question to and at all the possible times, Sue had chosen her, the one without any trace of a hangover.

“Not really,” she answered, surprising herself. Sue looked down, uncomfortably. “But from the looks of it, all of them had one,” she covered, quickly.

Sue looked up, meeting her gaze. She smiled again, toothy and happy.

“Any waffle batter left?” the girl asked, gesturing across the room to the smoky waffle irons, caked with half-dried batter.

“Afraid it’s almost gone. You’d better hurry over there. But here, just in case…” Sue turned, opening one of the metal containers covering a mysterious liquid. She smiled impishly to reveal drizzling red strawberry sauce. Taking a spoon, she ladled it into a bowl and handed it to the girl.

“Thanks, Sue,” the girl smiled, earnestly. “That’s really kind of you.” She took the sauce and glanced around, making sure no other students saw. Otherwise they would flock to Sue like pigeons to bread crumbs. Sue knew it too, so she covered the sauce up quickly, to avoid a scene.

“Enjoy, dearie.” Sue said, grinning.

The was the only conversation she ever had with Sue before and after. She thought the waffle conversation might be setting a new precedent with Sue, but Sunday evening Taco Night came around and Sue was back to her grumpy self. After trying to make contact with Sue, the girl gave up, realizing that behind the thick, ill-fitting glasses, Sue’s eyes were glazed over. Maybe she had found a hidden bottle of booze in the kitchen. Or perhaps she had a fight with her daughter. Or her knee was acting up again. Whatever the reason, Sue didn’t find a need to connect with anyone that evening. She was doing a job and that job was going to get done.

The girl thought about it years later. EVK wasn’t really all that bad. Yes, the food was terrible, the service was even worse, and the letter grade given by the Department of Health was probably given begrudgingly after a persuasive argument made by some dean in some department who didn’t want to lose his job. But EVK was a gathering spot for those who needed to gather. It was a meet up before there were groups created just for that purpose. It smelled most of the time. Sometimes even like the night before. But there were waffles. For the days when everything else seemed off kilter and totally unpredictable, Waffle Sunday existed.

College was about connecting with people, sharing stories, and breaking bread together. So what if the bread was a few days old, glued together with a piece of processed cheese food, and slathered in butter? Or maybe it was overly drippy waffle batter turned into an undercooked waffle with a gloriously secret strawberry sauce made  lovingly by Sue the Lunch Lady. That was all part of the charm, wasn’t it?

Written For Me–A Poem

2 Oct

By: Melissa Mills

September 12, 2010

I forgive you for not having your legs shaved,

I forgive you for your bills being unpaid.

Your bed unmade, for being afraid.

For your future unplanned, your dishes undone, songs unsung, races not won,

For not having fun!

I forgive you for all of that.

You’ve done your best. You’re here right now.

I forgive your unbelief, your messy streak,

Your words too harsh,

For feeling around in the dark.

For distrust.

Choosing busy instead of still,

For being bitter and shrill.

For choosing easy versus scary,

Selfishness instead of selflessness.

For knowing better but doing worse,

For those times of tactless outburst.

For the small things you can’t forget,

That have held you prisoner for far too long.

Listen and choose to let yourself free,

Off the hook, so that you can just be.

You are right here, right now.

Right here, right NOW.

Right here, right now.

Still. Acknowledging brokenness.

Wanting healing. You. Are. Enough.

Right here, right now you are enough.

Free. Do you realize you’re free?

Free to be your messy self.

Free to love and fail and fall.

Free to live and laugh and bawl.

You’re in the moment.

You can forgive and be forgiven.

Be here in freedom. Be here how you are.

It’s okay – you’re fine.

It’s going to work. Jesus is here.

To soothe your anxious thoughts.

Release and give them over.

Choose freedom.

Choose belief.

Choose relief.

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