A Moment in a Bottle

    We all have those moments in life, those moments we wish we could store in a bottle and live over and over again.  They are the moments I store in my memory box and pull out when I am feeling down or having a bad day.  On December 28th, 2013, I had one of those moments.  I was on the island of Tobago, and we were at a nature preserve.  We did a bird watching tour followed by a lovely snorkel of Little Tobago.  The waves were getting a little rougher, but the ocean was still a perfect blue.  Our tour guides were young men, probably slightly older than me and very athletic.  They were helpful to my mother and a few of the other slightly older people on our tour who needed a helping hand from time to time, as our hike was fairly steep and the rocking boat with the glass bottom was difficult to board on a wavy ocean day.  On our way back, I think they sensed that I needed some reflection time because they looked at me and said, “would you like to ride on the top?” 

    At first, I felt scared.  The top of the boat had rails, but was obviously not as secure as the bottom of the boat.  But, they insisted I would be safe.  So I said yes.  I was the only one riding at the top, and I could see the whole ocean and the surrounding islands.  I felt happy, and most of all, I felt free. 

    I realized two things that day.  One, I want to continue working on my fitness goals so I can climb to the top of the boat still in 30 years.  I am in my early 30s now, but I want to climb to the top in my early 60s too.  Two, sometimes climbing to the top of the boat and really living life is worth it, even if it’s risky.  Yes, you need people to cheer you on and to convince you to take the road less traveled.  But it’s worth it.  Even if you have moments alone, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be lonely.  In fact, those adventurous times might be the best moments of your life.  

    All I know for sure now is that 30 years from now, I’ll remember that view of the blue sea, and I’ll be grateful to those young men who encouraged me to climb to the top.  

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Confessions of an Outlier Girl and Her New Year’s Non-Resolutions

    For me, 2013 was about learning to take risks and put myself out there.  In my early 30s, I left a stable teaching job and decided to go back to graduate school full time because I wanted to pursue my true passion, writing and research.  In other words, I did at the start of my “Jesus year” what many people do in their mid to late 20s, which is to change and/or explore a new career.  In all honesty, part of my hesitation was knowing that being a female Ph.D. would make dating and relationships harder for me.  More than one of my friends has experienced a relationship falling out due to the fact that she either received a Ph.D. or wanted to go on the academic job market as a result of one.  Plus, some males (seemingly in the south even more so) will think “I don’t want to date her” as soon as they hear the words “Ph.D.” associated with a woman’s name, simply because they feel intimidated.  I mean to be honest here, not bleak.  And unfortunately, I have found that my fears have not been completely unfounded.  That said, though, it was a risk that I was and still am willing to take because I feel that I was called to be a professor, a writer, and an academic.  I’m not one to wear my spirituality on my sleeve, and I am not by any means a fundamentalist.  Anyone who knows me at all knows that.  But, I really do believe we all have a God-given purpose that we are supposed to fulfill while on this earth.  This is mine.  It would be a disservice to myself and to others not to fully utilize my gifts for writing and for challenging others through my instruction.  So this is the path I take.  In spite of its challenges, I’m so glad I chose it. 

     Sometimes, I still hear those voices of doubt creeping through my hair.  In 2006/2007, when I was a young, sweet mid-twenties middle school teacher, one of my male gifted students was talking about the crazy cat lady who lived in her neighborhood, a mid-fifties woman who had a bunch of cats but no family.  He looked at me and said, “I’ll bet that in 30 years, you’ll be the crazy cat lady.”  He was just being a typical middle school boy twerp, but his words still stung, simply because he relayed a deep-seeded fear of mine that I’ve had since my own middle school years.  Ironically enough, this young man was one of my favorite students by the end of the year, in part because I encouraged him to actually use his potential and not just be a lazy class clown.  Eventually, he realized that I can actually be pretty cool and fun, in addition to being hard-nosed when called upon.  But, occasionally, his words come back to haunt me. In the past eight years or so, I’ve gotten more male attention, including on this cruise boat. Some of the men who work on this boat seem to look for opportunities to hit on me when my parents and my brother-in-law are MIA. I am the late bloomer girl who started becoming pretty in her mid-twenties. But still, part of me still feels like the middle school girl who stood alone at the dances.  

    I am an outlier girl and always have been.  I was the pre-school girl who colored outside of the lines, the kindergartner who created a time machine with the fold-out chair, the tomboy who played transformers with the boys in addition to cabbage patch kids with her younger sister.  I always knew I wouldn’t be like other girls, but sometimes, my extroverted and people-pleaser tendencies come into conflict with my creative spirit.  I want to be a thinker, a boundary pusher, even at the risk of being a misfit.  But I don’t want to be a misfit to the point of being an outcast, and I don’t want to be a 55-year-old crazy cat lady.  Whether or not I want to physically have kids, I’m not sure, but I want to be married one day.  But, I’m not going to mold myself into society’s perception (especially southern society’s perception) of what a woman should be just to please someone else because deep down, that’s just not who I am.  I do dishes and I bake, but I hate to cook.  I will clean the house, but sometimes, I’d rather write first.  And on a rainy day, sometimes, I’d rather wear pajamas, write, and read a book than go out on the town looking cute.  Whoever I one day marry will have to accept me for who I am, an outlier.  A social and amiable outlier, who likes to throw parties and entertain people, but an outlier nonetheless.  Rather than fearing that status, I am growing proud of it.  And no, I am not just going to take care of him; as much as I pride myself in being strong and independent, I want to be taken care of too.  It should be a two way street. 

     So, as an outlier girl hoping to have an oulier soul mate one day (albeit one who has reasonably good social skills and can stand on his own two feet), I’ve created some new year’s non-resolutions to better myself and to make myself happier, regardless of how many dates and potential “gentlemen callers” 2014 brings me.  First of all, I’m going to write more, both academically and creatively, simply because it makes my soul sing.  Secondly, I am going to continue to work at being active and eating more healthy.  2013 brought growth in that area, as I went down 14 pounds throughout the year.  But, I could still do better at making lifestyle changes.  It’s not about size, I’ve realized, it’s about health.  Thirdly, I’m just not going to care as much if people think I’m weird.  Graduate school has helped with this because I feel like I’m at Hogwarts.  But sometimes, I still feel like I’m a round peg in a square hole, and that’s hard for me.  My immediate family is wonderful, and they’re all writers and researchers of some sort.  But, they are in more conventional fields, like literature and law.  And some of them think it’s weird that I like to research and write about graphic novels and children’s literature.  One of them (who will remain nameless) actually said, “I just don’t understand why someone pays 20 dollars to read a book that you can finish in an hour,” referring to graphic novels.  Another’s reply was, “well, we pay ten dollars to see a movie,” and also, a graphic novel is deeper and has more permanent lasting power.  Plus, the visuals convey messages, along with the words.  But, you’ll have to read my academic articles if you want to know more of my thoughts on the genre.  The point is, I want to push the boundaries of what the literary canon should look like.  Yes, people are going to raise eyebrows at me, maybe even my own family.  But I’m doing it because I know it’s important.   

     So yes, I am the outlier girl.  But I’m becoming more proud of the fact.  Because as Steve Jobs reminded us, it’s the creative thinkers, the misfits, the round pegs in the square holes who can and usually do change the world.