Words to Live and Write by

I am willing to fall Because I have learned how to rise.

I craft Love from heartbreak, Compassion from shame, Grace from disappointment, Courage from failure.

I am among the brave and brokenhearted, and I am rising strong.

(credit to Brene Brown)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"To This Day" Poem

Oh my! This is AMAZING!! Powerful. Beautiful.
"They were WRONG!"

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Stage Fright

Here is an old writing piece; something I was forced to put together for a college writing class. After several drafts that the teacher rejected, I finally sat down and just wrote what was going through my head. She loved it. Go figure. Anyway, here it is. (Oh, the boyfriend mentioned is Anthony, in case you are wondering.)

Stage Fright 6-30-05

I think to myself when I walk. I've been told I think strangely, too, because I don't think about events in my life or people; I think about conversations. They're not even real conversations most of the time—I imagine sensitive topics that might come up or what I would say to defend myself in various situations. I make up scenarios and then try to imagine how someone—I usually have someone specific in mind—would act or what they would say. Of course, this is ridiculous because I can't know exactly what someone else thinks or how they will respond. In truth, I'm really just talking with myself, but I tell myself it's a sort of preparation. I want to know in advance what I'm going to say and do—as if there's a script I can write for every situation. Sometimes, I even go back and revise "scripts" I've created previously, so my responses can be just perfect. I'm not really sure why I do this. Perhaps this need for scripted dialogue comes from experience with acting.
I started theater when I was in middle school. I think I only got involved because my friends were, and I wanted to be "cool" like them. The first time I auditioned, I had simply tagged along with them after school. I thought the drama teacher was beautiful, and I idolized her. She sat in front of the stage, scribbling in her notebook as she assessed the auditioning performers. As I waited in line, I watched her eyes occasionally glaze over before she would sigh and add something more to her notes; I hoped I would not evoke that response. Then someone handed me a script and told me to get up on stage. My legs trembled, but as I started reading, I found it really wasn't much different than reading from a book, except that I was adding visual movement to the words. It was easy! They said I was a natural and gave me the lead role.
There is something liberating about acting. Something absolutely wonderful about pretending to be someone I am not. If only for an instant, I become someone who knows where they're going—or at least I know where they're going because I've seen the end of the script. I get to pretend I am someone whose life is interesting: people pay money to see what happens to the character of a play. For a while, I don't have to worry about saying the wrong thing because it's all been written out for me. I already know what everyone else is going to say and how I will respond. There are no surprises. I love having that certain knowledge of where life is going, even if it isn't really my life at all. If the audience is truly involved in the scene, they may forget entirely that I am only an actor pretending to be what they see. In a way, when I become a character other than myself, I disappear. The person I am, the real me, ceases to exist.
When I moved up into the new and seemingly limitless world of high school, I continued in my theater hobbies. I took a few theater classes, played improvisation games and hung out with the thespians. I even tried out for the major high school production, but, being and underclassman, I was assigned a very minor role. How dare they? Didn't they know how talented I was? They had the next big star to work with, and they wanted me to play a character than said only one or two lines! I was insulted, to put it mildly. I sulked around practice for a few nights, developed some bitter attitudes about the upperclassmen and official thespians, and eventually dropped out. I didn't just drop out of the play, I dropped out of the dramatic world altogether.
From that point on, I became more and more reserved. No more "gorilla theater." No more going to the grocery store with a friend and acting out some absurd scenario about refusing to buy mayonnaise because of "what you did with the last jar," and watching the reactions of eavesdropping shoppers. No, I told myself I was growing up, and that meant growing out of theater. Thespians are much too extreme, or so I was convinced, and as "mature" as I was becoming, I certainly didn't need to mingle with those weird people.
In truth, I missed the theater. I guess I still do. I miss the attention I had on stage. Most of all, I miss spending time as someone else. I still draw upon my dramatic tendencies at times, but in smaller ways than theater. I often pretend I am someone else in situations that make me uncomfortable or nervous. Interviewing for a job, giving a speech, going on a date—these are things that require a person with more confidence, more poise, or more social tact than what I think I have myself. When I anticipate something I know will make me uneasy, I take a deep breath and try to slip into a character larger than me. I let the real me—the little girl who feels insecure and unsure, painfully aware of her embarrassing flaws—disappear.
I've never really identified the character that I become; I've never given her a name or a face other than my own. Maybe this make-believe me is really just who I want to be. And yet, I think that as much as I try to become that person, she will always elude me and be just beyond my reach, just beyond my potential to become. Or perhaps this little mental exercise of mine lets me pretend that things aren't really happening to me. Maybe I'm just too insecure with myself and prefer someone else to take over while I watch from a safe hiding place. What is it about me that I'm so afraid will be discovered? Maybe I'm more afraid of someone discovering what I am not.
It's not like I'm unhappy with who I am. In fact, I'm usually pretty confident; at least I think I am. Maybe I just try to come across that way. In high school, we were asked to describe ourselves for an assignment. I can never think of ways to describe myself. To me, I'm a pretty boring person. There is nothing extraordinary about me, and nothing exciting ever happens to me. When asked to tell about myself to a group of people, all I can usually come up with is, "Well, I'm short… I have blue eyes…" and other such terribly unimpressive characteristics. So when I got this assignment, I decided to ask my friends for help. They each wrote a few sentences about what they thought of me. One friend wrote, "She holds the world in the palm of her hand and laughs about it." But I don't always feel that way. Sometimes my confidence is just an outer display while inside I feel very insecure—especially when I'm trying to make a good impression.
If ever I wanted to make a good impression, it was the weekend that I met my boyfriend's family. His mom and sister were staying in Salt Lake for General Conference; they invited us to watch the first session from their hotel. I was terribly nervous about meeting them because I rather liked this guy, and if his family didn't like me, he might just rethink how he felt about me himself. Putting up my hair on Saturday morning, trying for what must have been the seventh time to make it look just right, I heard my roommate chuckling at me. "Meeting the future in-laws today?" I laughed, not because she was necessarily funny, but because she had voiced what I didn't want to admit: not even to myself.
When we arrived at their hotel, I was so nervous that I clung to my boyfriend's hand and hid as best I could behind his shoulder as the door opened. I must have resembled a toddler clinging to my mommy's leg, burying my face in the folds of her skirt and reasoning that if I couldn't see those intimidating strangers, they must have gone away. His mom gave him a warm hug and ushered us inside where I waved a clumsy hello. I must have rehearsed a hundred ways to greet her, but nothing came out of my mouth. The room was littered with his sister's college roommates, sprawled out on the couches and floor, limbs draped over each other. Their apparent comfort made me feel even more out of place. I tiptoed around the girls and tried to look small as I took a corner of one couch. My boyfriend seemed much more at ease as he made room for himself next to me. His mom sat in a chair behind us, and for the next two hours I couldn't help wondering if her eyes were on me or the TV. After the session, we stayed to talk. Well, my boyfriend talked—I just sat and smiled a lot. It was like I had a bad case of stage fright. I kept wishing someone could feed me my lines from off-stage. There had to be something more interesting I could talk about than the weather or my Latin class. Why couldn't I remember something—anything—that I had rehearsed? Why couldn't I become the clever, amazing girl that everyone would fall in love with? I was not making the impression I had planned. I kept waiting for relief to come, but it never did. My boyfriend told me later that his family like me, but I couldn't understand why. I left the hotel feeling like I couldn't have given a more pathetic performance.
Yet, as much as I try to hide that shy little girl in me, maybe she's what keeps me real. She reminds me that I'm not perfect and my insecurities place me on the same playing field as everyone else. Perhaps it is good to be aware of my flaws because it allows me to keep my confidence in perspective and relate to others. The  hardest part may be realizing that others have insecurities of their own. I might not be the only person who feels nervous introducing myself to a group. Maybe my date feels just as awkward as I do. I'm probably not the only one who wishes someone could feed me the right lines. The character other people put up in uncomfortable situations may be more charming, witty, or outgoing than mine—but it may still just be a character.
Perhaps everyone else around me is pretending to be something they're not as well. Although, when we pretend for very long, these characters might really become a part of us. That may be what is so fascinating about getting to know someone—to really know them—getting past the best side that they put forward and understanding or even loving those things that make them insecure. Sometimes it may be good to be surprised by situations and be forced to give responses that are genuine, rather than some rehearsed dialogue or scripted conversation. I think my best friends are the ones with whom I don't feel the need to hide my insecurities, those for whom I don't need to write scripts as I walk, and those that feel comfortable showing their real selves to me.

Monday, February 11, 2013

A girl and her dog

Lana's chosen a comfort object: something she snuggles with in her crib and refuses to let you take away from her when she gets up. (She does put it down eventually).
Recognize it? You're right! It's a beagle: just like our dog Ajax!!
But the back story is even better. I spent the last month of my pregnancy, between the opharectomy and c-section delivery, in a hospital room. I was not allowed to leave the maternity wing. Which meant our dog, Ajax, was not with me, like he had always been since we got him 4 years earlier. So, my parents found this stuffed beagle for me to keep with me in his place. It is what I snuggled with in my hospital bed while Lana squirmed her way around inside my belly. Her bond to this toy started before she was even born!
Plus, she just loves Ajax himself.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

What Football and Bread Have in Common

Super Bowl Sunday always makes me realize how little I know about football. I grew up in a family that didn't follow sports, I married a guy who doesn't follow sports. I went to the occasional high school game solely to talk to friends, and I attended only one game at college by coercion of a date. This year, I find myself remembering that college football date and the circumstances surrounding it. I offer the following as proof that I was once "hot stuff."

During my freshman year of college I got engaged. This was arguably the worst decision of my life. The relationship was one that included the infamous line, "I would never cheat on you, Heather." (I've named the villainess of my novel, Heather. Sweet revenge!) When my fiancĂ© broke up with me, he quite literally told me I was unworthy and undesirable. I believed him. 

My rebound relationship was with a good friend I'd known for a while. That relationship ended when, while filling the car with gas, my boyfriend called the person he was staying with to say, "If Roxanne calls, don't tell her I'm out with Hannah." Apparently, he didn't realize it's possible to hear through car windows.

And so, beginning my sophomore year of college, I was discouraged and truthfully a bit desperate. So desperate I even pinned a note to the front door of my apartment declaring, "Here lives a cute, single girl. Knock and ask for a date." No one ever did.

One day, while visiting my grandparents, my grandpa asked, as he always did, whether I was dating anyone. Upon my answer, he stated matter-of-factly, "That's because you aren't baking enough bread." I lifted an eyebrow at his advice. It made no sense. Nevertheless, that weekend, I laboriously made three loaves of bread--by hand. It took hours. It smelled heavenly. Surely, now, I was finally going to get dates.

I started classes and a new job. The first day of work, a cute guy named Anthony came to visit my coworker Allison. When he left, she went on and on about how wonderful he was and I believed they were dating. I didn't give him a second thought. Later, he'd tell the story of how we met by saying, "I went to visit my friend, but when I saw Hannah, I stopped visiting my friend and started visiting Hannah."

As Allison showed me around my new workplace, we visiting the NOC (Network Operations Center) where all the computer nerds, my brother included, were hard at work. My brother had a challenge with something technical following our visit, and one of his coworkers agreed to help him only if he set him up on a date with me. We spent the next couple weeks together. The best night was when we went to some old mine shaft south of Provo. Standing tentatively and terrifyingly on some old boards set across the infinitely dark pit, we sent milk jugs full of gasoline burning down the shaft. They would explode before they hit the bottom and send waves of  hot air shooting back up into our faces. Some weeks later, several students were arrested for doing the same thing. Oops.

As I set up my computer for the semester, it decided it had critical issues. I couldn't make heads or tails of it. Fortunately, my roommate had an ex-boyfriend who was handy with computers. He'd visited her at our apartment once before and seen me in passing. He agreed to fix my computer only if she would set him up on a date with me. (You didn't know being crafty with computers could buy you dates, did you?) I hung out with him a lot, mostly because he had an excellent movie collection and a big screen TV. One night, he reached over and held my hand at the end of a movie. As soon as the movie ended, I stretched and meaningfully folded my arms. Things went downhill after that.

A couple days after starting my new job, my boss's son came to visit the office. After he left, my boss called me into his office, sat me down, and told me his son would like to take me out on a date. I have a hunch there might be something technically illegal about this approach; how could I say no? (For the record, there was only one date with this guy: a double date with my boss and his wife. Awkward! My date spent the entire movie texting on his cell phone. Sorry, no chemistry there.)

My religion professor always stood at the door to shake students' hands on their way out of class. After reading a couple of my essays, he stopped me and told me he had a son returning from a mission soon, and he'd really like for him to meet me. What was I supposed to say to that?

And finally we get to the guy who took me to my one and only college football game. I call him "Statistics Guy," since he was in my statistics class. He sat in front of me on the first day. He turned around and said, "You look smart. How would you like to be study partners?" Flattered, I agreed. That night, he called me on the phone and said, "I'm having a little trouble with the homework. Can we get together to work on it?" I'd already done the assignment, so I knew it wasn't difficult. "What part are you having trouble with?" I asked. "Oh… Uh… Well, I haven't actually looked at it yet." I told him to look at it first and then maybe we'd get together. Later that week, he called and asked, "How would you like to get together and have pizza?" I was a poor college student, so of course I'd never turn down free pizza. "Good," he said, "because I already bought it and I'm on my way to your apartment." Whoa! What? 

For better or worse, Statistics Guy was actually very good at statistics, and I needed the study help. So we continued our study group, during which I learned he was an outstanding student, preparing for medical school, and desperate to get married. My sister insisted that his medical ambition alone was good grounds for marriage. I disagreed. He invited me multiple times to join his family on a trip to Moab for Thanksgiving. I had a suspicion I'd be received as prospective family if I went.
He invited me to a football game, which again, meant free entertainment and food, so I agreed. At the before-party (which I'm sure has an actual name), he introduced me gleefully to his friends: all of whom were married; all of whom gave us wide-smiled, knowing looks. That, combined with how little I enjoyed watching football was the final straw for me.

Following that date, I finally called Anthony, who had left his number with me on multiple sticky notes at my work desk. His roommate answered, and politely told me Anthony was out. "I think he's out with a girl," he added. Then quickly backpedaled by saying, "I mean, not like he's on a date. I mean, he does date girls. A lot of them. But not all at once. And not tonight. What did you say your name was again?" I told him, and as he wrote it down he commented, "Hannah--that's a new one." The first time I visited Anthony's apartment, this same roommate gave Anthony a huge grin and a thumbs-up, and mouthed "way to go!" when he thought I wasn't looking. 

Some of the many benefits of dating Anthony were that he mentioned he wasn't looking to get married for at least a couple years, he never texted during our dates, he didn't watch sports all day, and he was not, in fact, dating my coworker (although she was quite upset when she learned we'd started dating). I also made a point of showing up for my statistics study group with Anthony in tow, so I could hold his hand and kiss him good-bye. Eventually, Statistics Guy got the hint.

 I sometimes like to remind Anthony of all this, so he remembers how lucky he is. I was, after all, in high demand. And apparently, I make some really excellent bread.