I Had a Dream, Molly's Miscellany

Faster and Farther

This past weekend I ran my 500th mile of the year. In honor of this occasion, I’d like to share with you a dream I had recently.

In this dream, I was housesitting for my sister, who was out of town. I had just walked into her apartment when I realized with horror that the apartment had been broken into. Even scarier, I soon figured out that the burglars were still there. Instead of getting the hobnob out of there, I did what any respectable dream-self would do: I walked right up to the burglars.

“What are you doing in here?” I boldly queried them. They turned towards me, contemplating my mean mug, and then silently but deliberately approached me. Since these bad guys seemed unwilling to engage in an honest conversation about why in Beelzebub’s name they were in the apartment, and since I had nothing else to say at this point, I decided it was an excellent time to get on out of there. So I started running.

Here is the part of the traditional chase dream narrative where the protagonist feels stuck in mud, like time has slowed down, or as if her sluggish muscles are no longer willing to cooperate with her desperate brain. I’ve had several dreams over the years that are exactly like that: something is chasing me, but I cannot for the life of me move faster than a frog stuck in an especially slimy bog.

This dream was nothing like that. I spun away from those bad guys and headed for the hills, running as fast as I like to imagine I would run if I were competing in a middle-distance Olympic race. Outside the dream-apartment was a winding corridor, and I high-tailed it through that hallway.

I ran and ran, then looked over my shoulder to see how the chase was coming along. The bad guys were running after me, but they weren’t gaining any ground.

At that point, my dream-brain thought to itself, “I can run faster and farther than these bad guys.” And that’s exactly what I did. I ran until the bad guys got tired and stopped chasing me.

I have no idea what happened to my sister’s dream-belongings. While I ran my dream-heart out, the bad guys almost certainly went straight back to her apartment and finished their ransacking. Sorry about that, Meredith. My dream-self is a great runner, but a terrible housesitter.

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Walking Down the Street Naked

Walking Down the Street Naked: Vol. 1 – Natalie

The last of the first round of interviews is with Natalie, my dear friend who was a teaching assistant with me in grad school. Natalie now teaches English literature at a local high school and is a lifelong Anglophile who single-handedly got me interested in Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and who shares my obsession with WWI. She has an uncanny ability to find name-brand valuables at thrift shops and antique stores, and she occasionally sends me timely Buzzfeed articles, especially when they are about first dates gone terribly wrong.

1. What were you like as a teenager? I was really worried about doing the wrong thing all the time. I had fun with my friends, I was interested in dating, and I had some boyfriends. But mostly I was concerned about the future and what I was going to make of my life more than actually enjoying myself in high school. I don’t think I really had a great time in high school because I was more focused on the future.
2. What have you always wanted? I think I have always wanted love and freedom to do what I want. Those two things drive me. If I feel trapped in a job, or a situation, or a relationship, or anything like that, then I seek ways to try to get away from it. I just want to be able to live my life to experience new places and new things. I think that’s why I like to travel so much, and why I like to learn all the time. And I can’t imagine living without someone that I love. That’s a big part of my life too.
3. When were you most proud of yourself? I think two things: one is when I finished my master’s degree, because I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do it; it was so horrible and took forever. I finally finished it, and I felt a sense of relief and also a sense of pride. The other thing is more personal: it’s being able to make it through difficult emotional situations and know that I can survive those things without dying. And then feeling stronger afterwards: like I know more about how to be a human being and what it means to be an adult. I feel proud of myself that I was able to do those things without being broken.
4. What advice would you give to your ten-years-younger self? I would tell myself to be more open-minded, and that it’s okay to not have everything figured out in life, because the older you get, the less you feel like you know in some respects, and that it’s okay to feel that way. That you don’t have to have everything taken care of in order to be a responsible person. I would probably tell myself to go and spend time developing who I am as an individual before attaching myself to another person. And I would probably say that I should study abroad or live somewhere else for a while.
5. What is your personal motto? If I boil it down, I would say that life is difficult sometimes, and you just have to do the best you can to live a fulfilling life and to be kind to people. That’s it. That’s the only thing, I think, that’s important. We need more people to be kind in the world. My general goal in life is just to learn as much as I can. That’s why I like to travel and why I like to teach, and why I read: because I like to learn about things like history and people. I’m interested in human relationships.
6. Who do you aspire to be like, and why? I aspire to be the type of person who explores opportunities, has a happy life, and tries new things. I admire people who do that with their lives. People who take risks, challenge themselves, and don’t get stuck doing the same thing their entire lives if they’re not happy doing it. I don’t want to be that type of person. The only person I can think of is Elizabeth Gilbert–I don’t even really like her that much as an individual, but I like her writing–there’s a new book she wrote about creativity. She talks about being creative and living a creative life and taking risks. That’s the type of person I aspire to be.
7. What is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you? Whenever my students tell me that they can tell that I care about them, and that they like being in my class because they feel safe there to explore learning. That’s nice, because I really do work hard to foster that type of environment. And that’s something that I take pride in. And I usually have a couple of students every year that tell me that my class made a difference to them in their life. And I like that. I think that’s a reflection of me and what I do in the classroom.
8. What would you do if you knew you could not fail? I would quit my job immediately and start travel writing: travel around and write a book. Or I would like to write for a publication of some sort, where I’m going and eating food and seeing new places. My dream job would be to work for Rick Steves and help him write his guidebooks. He has people that do that! He has certain people he works with that are experts in certain parts of the world. They go around with him and write the different recommendations for the books that he has. That’s what I would want to do. Wouldn’t it be nice to not have to worry about your finances? Because that is the main stumbling block when it comes to trying to live your dreams: the practicality of life. The eating, and having a place to live, and having stability. And if that wasn’t a concern, and I knew that I wouldn’t fail in that respect, I would do whatever the heck I want and it would be amazing.
9. What would you like to be remembered for? The people that I love, that really know me, I would like them to remember me for being wise about things, and for being loyal. And that I made a difference. It’s different with people that I love, my family and friends, and with my students. But I would like my students to remember me for being someone who’s interested in learning and who helps them to be interested in learning. But for family and friends I would like to be remembered for being loyal and loving.

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Walking Down the Street Naked

Walking Down the Street Naked: Vol. 1 – Becca

Becca is one of my good friends from high school. We became friends because of our shared nerdiness: in middle school, we competed in the county spelling bee together (don’t talk to us about the words “apothecary” and “mantilla”), and were both on the quiz bowl team in junior high and high school. We also performed together in the community theatre production of The Hobbit. I played a small role as an elf, but Becca was basically the star of the show, performing an all-star rendition of Dwalin the Dwarf.

These days, Becca is a world-class librarian who can explain anything library-related, from how to curate a library print collection, to the importance of library community outreach programs (she especially appreciated my story of finding yoga at the library), to why libraries are superior to Google and Wikipedia. She will also gladly take you on a trip down to Austin, where she got her master’s degree at the University of Texas and also became an expert on breakfast tacos.

1. What were you like as a teenager? Around the age of 13, I was very into Harry Potter and Anne of Green Gables and reading. I wore little necklaces that said stuff like “Superstar” and “Whatever.” And I had–do you remember those ankle stickers that were made of jewels that you could put on your leg? I had one of those. I basically thought I was fly as hell and hot as hell. Then around age 14 I went through puberty and started breaking out all over my entire face. At that point, I stopping thinking I was hot and fly and started thinking I was an ugly little monster. Then 15 through 17, I pretty much hung out with my mom all the time and watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When I was 18, I became a lot more social and really blossomed. It was during that time that I decided to step outside my comfort zone and go to Hendrix instead of ASU. So basically I went from fly as hell, to hating myself, to thinking I’m alright.
2. What have you always wanted? I have always wanted to be a published writer. I was so obsessed with the Literary Festival in high school. I remember the stories that I wrote were always super dramatic, like Lurlene McDaniel-style stories. They were told from a young girl’s perspective, and her sister always had cancer or something. For whatever reason the people that judged it ate it up. They were like, “This is so good.” And I was like, “I am a frickin’ genius.” One year, I got first place in the whole literary festival for fiction. My story had a twist ending: I was out ice skating with my sister. We were skating, and–oh no, is that a thin patch of ice?! And the way the story is written, you’re convinced my sister is gonna fall through the ice: “Oh, the sister is no good at this ice-skating business. Something bad is going to happen to her.” And then I fall through the ice! That was the big twist at the end. I end up getting rescued, of course.
3. When were you most proud of yourself? When I scored a 34 on the ACT. That was probably the most excited I’ve ever been. It was at the beginning of the time when you could check your score online, and they had finally released the score. I had been trying really hard to get a 32 so that I could get the full scholarship to anywhere in Arkansas. But I just could not break that barrier. I got a 31 twice in a row. And I was like “Oh no.” But then I checked the score and was like, “Holy shit! I got a 34! Mom, come here!” I was screaming I was so happy.
4. What advice would you give to your ten-years-younger self? Don’t take your first relationship so seriously. Because it’s very myopic to think that your first relationship is the end-all, be-all of relationships. You should play the field a little more, Sister Child!
5. What is your personal motto? Well, my mantra right now is “Extend grace and compassion to yourself and others.” I say that whenever I’m being really hard on myself.
6. Who do you aspire to be like, and why? I’ve always aspired to be like Anne from Anne of Green Gables. Anne is amazing. She is temperamental. She doesn’t let people walk all over her. She gets angry. She has flaws. But she’s also really compassionate and imaginative and passionate about the things that she loves and the things that she hates. She really hates her red hair initially, but over the course of the series, she comes to love it and appreciate it. She’s vain. That’s one thing that I really like about Anne is that she has all these things that are messed up about her and that are “bad,” but you still adore her and want to be her.
7. What is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you? My favorite compliments are always ones along the lines of “You’re unlike anyone else.” Things in that vein. So if someone seems to recognize a uniqueness in me, I really appreciate that, a lot more than somebody saying, “You’re pretty” or “You’re smart.”
8. What would you do if you knew you could not fail? I would definitely complete a manuscript and submit it to a publishing house. I feel like as of now, I’m always in the mindset of, “It needs more work, it needs more work before anyone would ever think about publishing this.” But if I knew that they would accept it in its imperfect state, then I would submit it.
9. What would you like to be remembered for? I admire people that are extremely compassionate. I’m not that, but, to me, that would be something to strive toward. I hope that someday I will be recognized and remembered as someone who really cared about other people.

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Walking Down the Street Naked

Walking Down the Street Naked: Vol. 1 – Elizabeth

My first interview for this series is with my dear friend Elizabeth. I first met Elizabeth when we were both working in the English department at the University of Arkansas. These days, she is shining brightly on the executive communications team at the Walmart home office. She will gladly craft a thoughtful response to your handwritten letter to the late Sam Walton anytime.

Here is Elizabeth’s interview, recorded over a year ago on June 3, 2015:

1. What were you like as a teenager? I feel like I can answer that question in two parts: before my mom died and after my mom died. Before my mom died, which was when I was 16, I was super self-absorbed and apathetic about school. And then afterwards I became really driven and responsible. Because my grades had been slipping a little bit. I mean, not bad, but just not–you know, it was like going from As and Bs to As, Bs, and Cs. And my aunt and uncle got on to me about it, and I was like, “I’ll show you. I’ll be incredible.” And then I was basically a straight-A student. I was also deeply religious, which–I sort of wish I had spent a lot of the energy that I spent on that on my schoolwork or something. Or writing, but I’m also sort of glad that I was so into my church, because when my mom died I had that network.
2. What have you always wanted? Attention. Which is embarrassing. And also lots of praise. And my mom was very–and I am like this with George–she was always telling me everything I did was so great. You know, I say to George, “Oh, that is a shoe. You are so smart. You’re the smartest baby!” And my mom was like that too. But the thing is, that’s not really how the world is. Normally nobody really notices when you do something incredible. So then I end up being let down when I think I do something nice for someone and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, that’s nice.” And they’re not like, “Oh my gosh, that’s the greatest thing ever!” I think I probably expect praise more than I give it, which isn’t really fair. But I am really enthusiastic. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, this is so amazing!” And I think that’s why we’re friends, because we’re both like that.
3. When were you most proud of yourself? I was really proud of myself for graduating college early and graduating with pretty great grades. It wasn’t a four-point, but I graduated in three years. I don’t necessarily think that it got me any more ahead of the game. But still, that is something I’m really proud of. I graduated Phi Beta Kappa. I still wish I had not have gone to summer school. I sort of wish that I had internships or had more work experience. But I was very proud of those things.
4. What advice would you give to your ten-years-younger self? Okay, 19-year-old self: break up with your high school boyfriend. He was my first real relationship. I got involved with him like six months after my mom died. And I really latched on to him, and it became a pretty toxic relationship. Sort of co-dependent. And I wish I had just broken up with him and dated. I did travel, but I sort of wish I had dated different types of people and not been like, “Oh!” you know, pining after him. I dated him for three years and broke up with him right before I went to England. Which, thank god.
5. What is your personal motto? Be well-bred, well-fed, well-read, and well-wed.
6. Who do you aspire to be like, and why? There was a professor that I really liked. She was really smart and worldly and in excellent shape and pretty. There’s also a really cool woman at Sam’s Club. She’s a senior vice president. Ebony just profiled her. She was a chemical engineer. She invented clear Ivory soap. And then she went on to work at Sam’s. Now, I don’t really necessarily want to do, or could do, any of those things. But I admire them.
7. What is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you? A boy that I went to high school with said that every time he read the Harry Potter books, he imagined the character Hermione looking and being just like me.
8. What would you do if you knew you could not fail? Write a novel. I mostly write about my mother and guys I used to date, so I’d probably stick with those topics. But I find it really difficult to come up with plot. I can write about a character, but it’s harder to write about stuff happening.
9. What would you like to be remembered for? I obviously want to be remembered as a good mother, and I want to be remembered for generosity and thoughtfulness and wit. And I want to be someone who will always have an interesting story.

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Walking Down the Street Naked

Walking Down the Street Naked: Introduction

“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can. The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you are walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself, that’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.” — Neil Gaiman

I have always been amused by the Proust Questionnaire that Vanity Fair regularly asks of celebrities and that James Lipton adapted for “Inside the Actors Studio,” and a little over a year ago I also discovered Nabokov’s variation, his “questionnaire for the immodest and curious.”

These famous lists of questions, combined with my desire to better know the people in my life, inspired me to create my own personal list of questions (or, occasionally, to borrow directly from the Proust and Nabokov ones) to ask people. I decided to make several sets of question lists, and to ask the same set to a handful of people at a time. I also decided to conduct each interview in person and audio-record the answers, then transcribe them here for your reading pleasure.

I am going to call the posts with these interviews “Walking Down the Street Naked” in honor of the Neil Gaiman quote above, because I hope these questions have drawn out something of the delightful uniqueness and “what exists on the inside” of each of the people they were presented to. Unfortunately there will be no actual walking down the street naked involved. Not in the first set of interviews, anyway. But who knows what the future interview sets may hold?

The following is my first set of questions, which I used to interview three people:

  1. What were you like as a teenager?
  2. What have you always wanted?
  3. When were you most proud of yourself?
  4. What advice would you give to your ten-years-younger self?
  5. What is your personal motto?
  6. Who do you aspire to be like? Why?
  7. What is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you?
  8. What would you do if you knew you could not fail?
  9. What would you like to be remembered for?

Come back tomorrow morning to read the first interview!

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Matisse’s Dance, a painting that has nothing to do with interviews or Proust or Nabokov and everything to do with drawing and dancing naked and being an orange person.

 

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Molly's Miscellany

Pep Talk

When I was in the seventh grade, two of my friends and I decided to sign up for the junior high talent show. It was held in our school’s cafetorium, and we were going to be stars.

After some brainstorming, we decided our best bet was to perform Bobby Darin’s “Splish Splash” as singing chin people. You know, the googly-eyed chin heads that have upside down mouths and performed alongside Stick Stickly on Nickelodeon in the 90s. Chin people. Of course. We would tie bandanas around the tops of our heads (the bottoms of the chin people’s heads), lay upside down on a table, and perform behind a purple bathtub cardboard cut-out. Our plan was flawless.

We had a minor setback after searching high and low for a recording of “Splish Splash.” This was in the days before iTunes and YouTube, and all our local entertainment centers were fresh out of the latest CD copies of Bobby Darin’s greatest hits. It was okay, though, we told ourselves. We would would simply sing it loud and proud and a capella. Fine.

The big day drew closer, and we collected all our keys to success: bandanas, googly eyes, and, of course, the centerpiece of our performance: the purple bathtub. It was a magnificent feat of seventh grade artistic engineering. Purpler than an iris in May thanks to a can of metallic purple spray paint, it stood three feet tall on two-dimensional claw feet that had been meticulously cut out with a box-cutter. We had gone all out.

On the day of the performance, we gathered backstage and waited our turn. We were sandwiched between an 8th grader singing “Kryptonite” and two 7th graders performing a juggling routine. As the 8th grader watched the world float to the dark side of the moon, the drama teacher came up to us. She had some bad news: the tech crew couldn’t get the microphone stands to lower down to the level we would need them for our chin people to sing into, so they weren’t going to put them out at all. We were going to have to go without vocal amplification.

At this point, my two fellow splish-splashers were in full-fledged panic mode. “I don’t think we should do this, Molly. This is going to be terrible. We are going to be terrible.” One of them had started to cry a little bit.

I realized right then what the best thing to do was: I needed to give everyone a pep talk.

“Y’all. We are going to be fine. We have worked so hard to get to this point, and we are going to do great. We are going to go out there and sing our song, and people are going to love it.”

That did the trick. The Kryptonite crooner finished his song and exited stage right. We shuffled into the stage left corridor, watching as the production crew set up our two folding tables on the stage.

“You have to close the curtain!” I whisper-shouted to the stage manager on the opposite side of the stage. I made exaggerated hand jerks to the front of the stage where the curtain stood gapingly, apathetically open.

“Just go!” The stage manager shouted, no whisper this time, back to me.

Someone must have pushed us from behind, because the next thing I knew, we were on stage, staring out at the entire junior high population staring back at us from the cafeteria side of the cafetorium. The stage lights created hazy halos around the otherwise darkened faces of our peers in the audience.

We climbed onto our tables and realized that the purple bathtub wasn’t in front of us. They had positioned the tables too close to the edge of the stage, and there was no room for it. We laid down on the tables, leaned our heads backwards, and pulled our bandanas over our faces. I counted us off: “One, two, three!”

And off we went. We splished and splashed, knowing everything was not all right, but committing ourselves to the performance. We rolled and strolled, the audience yelled, “What?” and “We can’t hear you!”, and we moved and grooved. Our synchroneity ebbed and flowed, and a few times we got lost in the song. But finally we finished.

I don’t remember if the audience applauded or not. I don’t remember if we took a bow. I don’t even remember climbing off the tables and walking off the stage. I blocked it out of my memory.

I do remember, though, that from that point on, my friends never trusted my little pep talks.

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Free Advice from a Novice Expert, Molly's Miscellany

The Year of No Resolutions

My resolution on January 1, 2016 was to not make any resolutions.

If you know me, you may find that resolution surprising. That’s because I’m usually very goal-oriented, and I often find myself setting goals as a way to channel my energy into tangible results, whether those results are as big as saving money for a European adventure or as small as growing a strawberry from a potted plant.

So when I decided in early January not to decide on any specific goals for the year, I initially feared that my life would descend into a slothfulness not seen before on this side of the Mariana Trench.

And at first, it did. January is a cold, dark, and mirthless month, and February is similarly cruel. It is difficult to move about in those winter months, much less wiggle yourself aimlessly here, then briefly there, then back here again, with no goal to wiggle towards.

Last year, the year before the Year of No Resolutions, I’d resolved to donate my hair to the Make a Wig Foundation. Last year I could spend my quieter moments contemplating the concrete specificities of my hair’s slow but deliberate progress towards its acceptable length. Last year I had goals.

This year, staring the the Year of No Resolutions right in its dull, unfocused eyes, I had nothing to do in my idle moments but twiddle my thumbs while contemplating the mystery of why Germans “squeeze their thumbs for you” instead of just crossing their fingers for good luck. (If you are German, by the way, and can somehow rationalize this idiom, please contact me immediately. You have a lot of explaining to do, but I also have a lot of resolution-less time on my hands.)

After a few weeks of pondering thumbs, I got bored, so I decided to modify the Year of No Resolutions into the Year of Generalized Lifestyle Improvements. I convinced myself that this plan was still not a resolution because I had no specific goal in mind, apart from my plan to make myself feel slightly less like a molten Wicked Witch of the Northwest Arkansas Metropolitan Statistical Area. Because let’s face it: my muscles, my brain, and my self were all melting right into the couch.

So off I went, developing Generalized Lifestyle Improvements but avoiding resolutions like the plague. I started with yoga, then soon after added in running. At first, I just ran to run. I knew I wanted to improve my heart’s health, so I followed the American Heart Association’s recommendations of a 75-minutes-per-week regimen of vigorous aerobic activity complemented by a twice-weekly muscle-building activity.

Initially, my only requisite to exercising was to put in the time: I decided to commit to three days of running and two days of yoga per week. And then I started, running Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays; and doing yoga on Mondays and Wednesdays.

I spent the first few weeks just trying to acclimate my body to the routine. As the weeks progressed, though, I began to see running as a refuge. The regularity of the schedule I’d built around it, combined with the “mind-clearing magic of running,” became a haven to me.

In mid-April, after surprising myself with nearly three month’s worth of wholehearted commitment to my running schedule, I decided to add a third project to my Year of Generalized Life Improvements: writing every day. This was also around the same time I first learned about Jerry Seinfeld’s secret to success: start making a consistent chain of activity, then simply “don’t break the chain.”

I was astonished by this recommendation. I had never considered success in such a simple and straightforward way. All I had to do was work a little bit on my chain every single day, and then, over time, those little bits would accumulate into larger bits? It seemed obvious enough, and I had seen how this accumulation process worked from watching strands of hair collect into larger and larger tumblehairs in the corners of my bathroom floor. But I’d never thought of accruing links on an activity “chain” as a way to move towards success.

I decided to try it anyway. And sure enough, my tiny clumps of words that I wrote each day slowly formed into bigger—well, bigger clumps of words. But still; as of today, I have clumped together 23 days’ worth of words. And who knows how much bigger the clump of words will be in 46 days, and in 346 days?

My Year of No Resolutions started out as an amorphous challenge to my goal-oriented self to try simply living in the moment, but it has since evolved into something much more interesting. It has turned into a year of teaching myself how to create sustainable habits. Because I’ve learned that habit is a key foundation of long-term success. If I want to run a marathon, first I have to build the practice of running regularly into my schedule. If I want to write a book, I have to foster a routine of writing every day. Goals can focus my plans, but I also have to have well-developed habits to lead me closer those goals each day.

Squeeze your thumbs for me and my habits and goals. I’ll keep you updated.

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