Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mod Cloth – Terrific Transformations Contest

Most people that know me today wouldn’t associate me with the word “shy,” but I used to be quite the little wallflower – especially if I was in a new, unpredictable situation. For instance, as goody-two shoes/teacher’s pets in middle school, my best friend and I were allowed to skip gym and cover the administrative office while the secretaries lunched. (No, really.) I could not get myself to answer the phone, my friend had to get any calls. It just completely intimidated me to have to talk to someone I didn’t know, whose questions I couldn’t predict.

From 6th grade on, that best friend and I were absolutely inseparable. Even though all of the girls in my school were friendly, it was widely understood that we were the BEST friends. You didn’t invite one without the other. We were allowed to bring each other to family events (I went to Christmas Mass with her family and spent the holiday with them) and if she wasn’t at school, the teachers knew to ask me why. We had a few fights as all girls do, but I was so dependent on her that I could look past most anything in the name of our friendship.

When I was 15, I was recommended to participate in the People to People Student Ambassador program to Australia. I had never been to sleep away camp – or even a camp that I couldn’t walk to from my house – so three weeks on the opposite end of the world was kind of a stretch. But for me, Australia was THE country to visit and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Best Friend had not received the invitation, which meant I was going to Oz with 41 people I didn’t know. In the months of preparation for the trip, I focused on koala bears and kangaroos to avoid the separation anxiety that was obviously in my future. Somehow, we said a teary good-bye, I gave my parents a big hug, and got on a flight to Los Angeles.

My brave veneer started to crumble in the LA Airport. Our layover was just long enough for me to start doubting myself. There I was, surrounded by unfamiliar faces, tired from a 6hour flight with another 14 hours to go. I started desperately scanning my surroundings for a pay phone; I had every intention of calling my parents, apologizing profusely for wasting their money, and then begging for a return flight to the East Coast. But I was afraid to wander off by myself and was soon ushered onto a Qantas flight across the big, blue sea.

I had taken my contacts out for the flight, but I could still see a few bright stars out the window. I focused on those stars the entire flight and made tentative conversation with the fellow ambassadors next to me. It was so calming to see the same stars out the window whenever I looked… and yes, a few years later, I finally realized that those were the lights on the wing that were keeping my heart rate normal. As long as it worked, right? I was a little too nervous to think clearly.

Once we landed in Sydney, our itinerary went into full effect. Our trip leaders wouldn’t let us stop for rest so our bodies would adjust better to the crazy time difference. We were ushered around Sydney and Bondi Beach in a whirlwind but because everyone was so exhausted, it put us on the same playing field. Suddenly, I didn’t feel like so much of an outsider.

The three weeks in Australia were beyond amazing. We traveled from Sydney to Cairns (the equivalent of Florida to Maine) by charter bus, stopping to spend a few nights on a cattle ranch in the Outback and – gasp! – live with a family in the tiny town of Coffs Harbour. That was another extremely difficult portion of the trip for me but I made it through with flying colors and a few pen pals. We learned how to play the didgeridoo and snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef. The best part of that whole trip, though, was learning that I could handle a big, scary situation like a trip abroad without needing to hide behind anyone’s skirts. I made great friends on that trip and learned that I was a person that people wanted as their friend. It was shocking, which looking back is pretty sad, but I thought that the reason Best Friend and I were so close is that no one would want to know me as well as she did.

When I got back home, Best Friend and I were still extremely close. But that year I started developing a few other friendships and expanding my social circle. And when she and I had a relationship-ending battle senior year of high school, I had other people to fall back on for support. Australia taught me that I was a complete person who did not need an ‘&.’ I was not a “Buy One Get One Free” item – I would sell at full price by myself.

Now I am able to see new situations as opportunities. I’m still nervous about meeting new people, but who isn’t? Taking a chance is frightening, but only because you are opening your life up to potential. I never would have known this if I had found that payphone at LAX.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Novel Way of Thinking

As previously discussed, I'm a bit of a nerd. And in true nerd-cliche, I love to read. I mean, LOVE. When I was younger, I volunteered at the local library where they knew me by name. I took a book with me at all times and read in the car even if we were just going to the grocery store. Because of this, when I got my license at 17 I had barely any idea how to get to my friends' houses. My first job was at a Barnes & Noble so I (and my parents) would receive the employee discount.

I've recently started making more time for books again (ahem, less TV watching), and I can't believe how little I've been reading since I graduated from college. Part of this is because I was trying to "expand my mind" with non-fiction, aka non-fun. I couldn't even get through Obama's book when it was all the rage. I just listened closely to other people's conversations in case anyone ever asked me what I thought.

It must be the wanna-be actress in me, I need character development and plot. If a book is even remotely well-written, I can fall head-over-heels in under 20 pages. Right now, I'm reading Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk (this is my 3rd Wouk work....hahaha...in the past 9 months) and I can hardly put it down. I'm even reading instead of watching the Daily Show at night, and that is really saying something. I read for maybe 6 hours on Sunday, in various locations around the apartment, on the metro, in a park near Dupont Circle, and at Russia House while techno music played in the background. Socially awkward? Perhaps - except that it drew attention and I made a friend as soon as I put the book down.

The truly socially awkward part is that I get stuck in a good book in more than just a metaphorical way. For historical fiction like Wouk's, it takes me some time to shake off the cadences and vernacular of the writing. For example, this book takes place between 1946-1952 (so far) and I find myself thinking in much more refined sentences for an hour or so after putting the book down. I half drove myself nuts when I was 12 and my mom suggested I read Gone With the Wind. My internal monologue had a Southern accent for 3 straight weeks.

So, at the same time that I love that each Wouk book is at least 900 pages so I can get properly invested in each character and situation, maybe I need to find shorter books. I'm almost reading so voraciously for two completely incompatible reasons; on the one hand, I love the book and want to be wrapped up in the story. But on the other hand - if I don't get to the end soon, I'm going to start speaking like a 1940s NYC book editor.