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A Run

I went on a run today. Saying an unqualified “run” might be a bit generous, I guess. I went on a walk that often tilted into jogging and, at the very end, became a gasping, delirious, slightly-more-than-jog. I strategically walked when there was no one else on the path, but I did make it through to the end without stopping.

So this post could go either way. It could be about how running is not my forte, how I probably will stop, how things never quite work out the way I planned them to and it’s worth trying but not that much. I guess if you look at it that way, there are enough qualifiers for my run that I should probably feel bad about it and probably quit so that I don’t twist my ankle and crumple to the ground in tears.

But this post could also be about what life is like when you give yourself the gift of no expectations.

I know, don’t expectations keep us successful and happy? Aren’t over-achievers the ones who rule the world? The ones who excel and join twelve clubs and never ever cry? Isn’t forgoing expectations kind of a cop-out, a way to go through life without trying too much or changing the world?

Maybe. But what happens when over-achievers stop achieving? What happens when you can’t meet your own sky-high expectations and things start to fall apart?

I write this as an over-achiever who was forced for a significant time in my life not to achieve, and it devastated my sense of self. In 2010, I was forced to take time out of school due to unforeseen health problems, and suddenly I was left to wander through my house with nothing to do, trying to force myself to eat carrot sticks instead of cookie dough. I had expected to graduate in 2012 with all of my friends and move on to some as-yet-undecided career. I expected to find a boyfriend and get an internship and maybe, just maybe, develop a sense of style that wasn’t based on floor-length second-hand floral dresses.

But then I was sick, and those expectations started to crash around me. I had to ask myself: what could I possibly achieve that would make all this sadness go away? The answer, I think, was nothing. There was no kind of external success that could make the loneliness and isolation disappear, no achievement that ensured lasting, fool-proof happiness. Ultimately, that had to come from the inside.

So now, of course, I go through life blissfully free of all expectations, with complete knowledge that my own self-worth is what is most important. The success of those around me doesn’t impact my self-esteem. I am carefree and entirely open to whatever the world throws at me.

NOT.

But still, time has allowed me to loosen my grip on some of those expectations, and the result is, for example, a run. A so-much-worse-than-every-single-one-of-my-cousins run, but a run that leaves me feeling exhilarated and proud. Daring to be imperfect, daring to achieve less and try more, is a gift that I am slowly giving to myself. It is a gift that makes life worthwhile.

Project Alone, Not Lonely

Right now I am sitting in a café (a theme?) watching a girl outside the window with her seemingly well-adjusted boyfriend, her brother, and his seemingly well-adjusted girlfriend. I, on the other hand, just came back from a self-improvement walk, and I am alone with my thoughts. Of course, this made me think about all sorts of things, and I’ll let you decide if they’re well-adjusted or not.

Recently, I have been enacting a project—project “Alone, Not Lonely.” (Oh, yeah, and I just found out that that’s the title of an angry Evans Blue song that you can experience here.  “Call me vicious, cast your stones on me, you’re the death of a million men, you’re the face we defend with a patient virtue…” They’re not related, I swear. But it’s also kind of hilarious.)  As you may be able to guess from the super imaginative title, this project is an attempt to tame those voices that expect me to be in the company of others every minute of every day. It is an attempt to be alone without drowning in self-criticism and sadness and all sorts of “negative” emotions that can plague me when I am left to my own devices. I would say that it is 50% working.

Today I went on a walk along the river, the same infamous path that I’ve written about before, the same place that has witnessed a hell of a lot of angst and wonder. I started out plowing forward with my eyes on the rocky ground, trying to anticipate every pitfall and prevent myself from falling on my face. I was there to “figure myself out,” name all of those voices that have been following me around lately, the ones that insist that I am not quite living up to the life I’m supposed to be leading. I was there to get shit done and make things better.

At some point, as always happens, I had a mini-epiphany: Wow, I was spending a gorgeous, windy, summer-like afternoon with my eyes trained on dirt and rotting leaves. Really? That’s really how I wanted to be spending my time? So then project get-shit-figured-out took on a new objective: Look up! Feel the wind! Enjoy the sunshine!

Things became brighter, and I could feel myself relaxing into the beautiful day. Relief from all the bad things almost floated over my head and landed somewhere around my chest. The florescent moss threatened to blind me and water dripped from cracked, ancient rocks; the water rippled, and the wind whipped my favorite dress and tickled my face. In other words, things were good.

That new communing with nature lasted about five minutes. Then I thought, “Wow. Look at me. I am alone, but I’m not lonely. Am I? No, I’m not. But am I? Yeah, I kind of am. Shit! I’ve got to figure that out!”   Looking up became a chore, and the ground a comfort, a relief from the trying-to-fix-my-life stress.

So in other words, the second I tried to turn fixing my loneliness into a project, the less the project even makes sense in the first place. The more intensely I tried to push away my self-criticism and stress and sadness, the more it found me. I could not escape my loneliness by adding another facet to my plan. Probably something self-help books could have taught me in chapter one, project self-acceptance or accept-what-is. I must have skipped those pages.

On a seemingly-unrelated note, I just unzipped my backpack searching for my cell phone and found both an uncashed check and the key to my bike lock that I rooted around for all morning. I was not looking for them, but the relief is unexpected and tangible. The angst followed me around all morning, but then I wasn’t looking and they found me. Maybe project “Alone, Not Lonely” should take a cue from this bike lock hide-and-seek. Maybe being alone and not lonely will find me like a forgotten uncashed check. Maybe the relief will be unexpected, but tangible.

In the meantime, project “Alone, Not Lonely” might have to collect dust and project “Maybe I’m Alone, And Maybe I’m Lonely” can commence. I think I can live with that.

And So We March…

*Here’s my YouTube video inspired by the march! Ignore the fact that my eyes sort of roam around the room…*

 

Woah, people in cafes talk about really personal things really loudly. Really, really personal things. Really, really loudly. There is a mom and her son’s girlfriend talking about their unhealthy, awkward relationship. There are kids with their faces covered in chocolate whining about needing to use the bathroom. There’s a gaggle of women in their twenties searching on their phones for how to avoid government surveillance and deal with their periods during marches. Again, really, really personal. Really, really loudly.

I am writing this a week or so after I left for the women’s march in Washington, D.C., and it seems important that I emulate that blind sort of bravery to be loud and personal.  It feels like a lot of things have happened since January twenty-first (the immigration ban? the EPA? the freaking wall?), and so to stay sane and stave off hopelessness, I wanted to reflect upon the day in which I donned a pink, cat-eared hat and made my voice heard.

I made about twelve packing lists to prepare myself for the march.  Would I have enough food? What boots should I wear? How many names should I scribble on my arm in Sharpie?  A week before, I had the requisite “I don’t know if I should be doing this…” anxiety, especially as my health condition can make lack of sleep dangerous. But by Thursday, I was determined to go and to do it right.  I brought my crappy ukulele and Rise Up Singing, two granola bars and some melatonin.  I was ready for whatever the marching gods threw at me.

When I left with a busload of women (and one man!) on Friday evening, pink hats of all shades and patterns peppered the already salt-and-pepper heads.  Honestly, just that was moving!  (I feel like I’ve really become an adult when the diversity of hat patterns brings me close to tears.) We were individuals that made up an empowered, excited group—there for different reasons, but committed to the same ultimate goal.

So why was I marching?  Why was I willing to risk the consequences and board a bus headed for the unknown? Because it was something I could do in the face of overwhelming anxiety. On one level, marching was a straightforward, bite-size solution.  It was something concrete, a way for my body to align with my mind and heart. I was marching because I am taking this political moment really, really personally, and I am trying to do it really, really loudly. I was searching for solidarity and hope, and I found it in every single cat-inspired sign and chant.

Still, it is easy to say that I was marching for love and peace in the face of hate and fear. It is harder to think about what I hate and what I fear. I am trying to be loud and curious—loud and loving. But how? Really, I want to know. How??  Because love and unity are concepts that I think everyone in the world wants to embody. People across the country of all political persuasions believe in uniting for a common cause.

We just need to ask ourselves what it is we want to unite over.

At the march, I met up with one of my dearest friends from college. We navigated the crowds with our elbows linked and laughed at the signs, half of which seemed to mention that infamous cat euphemism. When we couldn’t hear any of the rally, we bailed and went to Subway for lunch, where I waited 30 minutes to use the bathroom and tried to surreptitiously stuff my turkey and avocado sandwich into my mouth. Once we finally got back to the march, I surprised myself by how much I liked to chant. “Tell me what democracy looks like!” I screamed. “This is what democracy looks like!”

I wasn’t expected to feel as moved as I did. I still felt anxious to please, anxious of the crowds, anxious of the expectation that I would change the world. But my overwhelming feeling was one of hope and solidarity. Why was that kind of unity possible?

Honestly, I think a big part of what made my march so successful and moving was that trip to Subway. Every big movement is as strong as the hungry, tired, inspired, marching individuals. We can hold signs and shout slogans—and man, it is fun to do so!!—but we can also take the march personally enough to sit down and wonder. Why am I here? What is important? To me, the strength of my relationships and my own humanity was what made the march so powerful—that hunger, that questioning, that body aligning with my mind and heart.

I defined what I was marching for, and I think that is what we all have to do. What do we hate, what do we fear? Can we take marches or movements seriously enough to ask those questions? That is where true hope and solidarity springs from, and maybe that is how we are loud and personal. Maybe that is how we truly vanquish hate and fear.

I am sitting in a café drinking my decaf maple latte with soymilk, and political conversations are woven into the air around me. I can only hope that the movement of pink hats can include many ideas of right and wrong and can listen as much as it chants. May we navigate the crowds with our elbows linked, do the things we need to do, and ask ourselves—what exactly am I fighting for?

Celebration

*Disclaimer:  This was supposed to be posted a week and a half ago, but it slipped my mind—so forgive the not-quite-timeliness!*

It is now 2017!  The holiday season has somehow evaporated, and we are facing a new, fresh, clean-slate year.  I didn’t make any resolutions, because I was sniffely and grumpy, but I did think about celebration.

This Christmas, I spent a few nights with the entire Ellis family at my gramma’s house.  We counted seventeen of us in all, and seventeen is a lot… but seventeen Ellis men and women can sometimes seem like ONE HUNDRED and seventeen Ellis men and women.  There are a lot of bathroom jokes and gag gifts, and last year we all died when my aunt gave my mom a water bottle that looked like a dildo.  We laugh a lot—but this year we cried, too, because my gramma is sick, and it is a challenge for her to do almost anything.

Last Christmas, I focused a lot on the “lasts”—as in, “this is the last time we’ll spend a Christmas in this house” or “this is the last time I’ll have to paw through the refrigerator looking for mayonnaise that hasn’t expired.”  The lasts dragged me down and added a big asterisk next to any fun that I was having.  How can you truly enjoy yourself if there is something big looming ahead that will be sad and hard and overwhelming?

Instead, this year I spent a lot of time wondering about how to celebrate “effectively”—how to make the most of the season that centers around giving and family.  There is always something big looming ahead.  The something big might be sad and hard and overwhelming.  How can we celebrate when there is such an uncertain future?

I think these are all questions that we need to be asking right now.  I’m counting down until January 20th and mourning the loss of reasonable and sensitive leadership.  There is something big looming ahead, and I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be happy and easy.  And yet, I still think about celebration in the face of a difficult future.

I have tried to stay positive and optimistic throughout the entire transition of power, but my worldview continues to shake with every new appointment.  To cope, I find myself searching for hopeful articles rather than honest portrayals of the challenges we are facing.  I avoid the news, turn off the radio, and read about celebrity divorces instead of racism or sexism or homophobia.

I am in many ways ashamed of this selfishness.  Because of my life circumstances, I am able to turn it off.  Recently, though, the reality has come knocking.  I might face medical bills of over $800 per month.  I might lose access to safe and reasonably priced abortion.  My friends may lose the ability to marry the person they love.  My former students will lose access to food stamps or housing.

All of these things leave me breathless with anxiety.  And so I bury my head and silently brace myself.  I feel powerless and defeated.

Then enters celebration.

I am not saying that we need to read only hopeful articles and plan parties around systems that are broken. It is not enough to “focus on the positive,” “stay optimistic,” or in any other way deny reality.  I am not even saying that we have to embrace imperfection wholeheartedly, although I do think paying attention to what is working is an important step toward change.

What I do think we need celebrate is our unique capability to contribute to this world.  Within every one of us is an innate ability to change the places around us in a specific way, one that reflects our goodness, our strengths, and our sensibility.

I think that we need to sit down with a pencil and paper and celebrate the steps that we can take to enact change.  I can write articles.  I can drive my car less.  I can pick up the phone.  I can donate money to causes I care about.  These are all within my sphere of influence, and that is a beautiful thing.

In the face of a future that may not seem worth anything, we need to remain empowered and cultivate realistic, well-informed hope.  I am convinced that celebrating with clarity and determination is our best shot at making a difference.

And even within systems that work to oppress us and keep us silent, could we ask for a better gift than the ability to be ourselves in the fight for a better, more just, more bountiful world?

 

When it goes dark

I just found out that a classmate  died tragically and suddenly on Thursday. She wasn’t a friend, but I had a few classes with her, and I admired everything about her. I felt cooler just being in her presence. She was musical, smart, kind and funny—and I knew that just from sound bytes in college lecture halls. I actually made a point not to look at her Facebook profile, because her life seemed to be a lot of what I wanted, and it was hard not to feel jealous.

And now she is gone.

Loss like that is so complete and so shattering, and I feel touched by it from the very outskirts of her life. Her friends and family are devastated, and I can’t stop thinking about what they must be thinking, what they have to be feeling and doing right now. She must be present in their Christmas traditions, in songs she loved, in dirty laundry, in the YouTube videos that she made, her voice so rich and full of emotion. Her traces radiate from an empty center, and her loved ones now have to move forward with all of that weighing them down.

I remember when my grandfather died feeling exhausted from grief—not because of all the thinking and crying, though that saps energy. It was more from realizing how long it would take to heal, and that things would always be a little bit worse, or a little bit emptier.

When young people die, I question what it is we are here for anyway. I always wonder about those big questions, but they become pressing when someone barely got the chance to become who they were. They can’t have fulfilled some big purpose, because they didn’t have time. This classmate did amazing things with her time on earth, but she could have done more. She could have been more.

There is no way to make this better, and that’s what death is, how loss works. When I went to see my dentist, crying with Novocaine stuck into my gums, she said that we had to appreciate every moment we’re alive, and I think that’s true, though it’s hard for me to do that. I’m more likely to freeze up and hold onto my family and friends too tightly and fear the future.

I guess there is no one right way to process this kind of tragedy, and I don’t really even feel entitled to process it when my life overlapped with hers so briefly. Still, my plan seems to be to write about it, though it doesn’t make any more sense now than it did when I found out yesterday. So I’m lighting candles in her honor, I’m writing songs, and  I’m pushing love and hurt into the blogosphere. I’m not really hoping that her friends and family recover quickly, or even completely, because that would do her a disservice. I guess I’m hoping that celebrating her life and her talents help her glow a little brighter until it all goes dark.

I hope that you can keep her in your thoughts and hearts. I know I will be.

Laughing About Race in a Comedy Club

“I have never seen white people so upset since they elected Donald Trump!”

I sat there in a comedy club at the bowling alley and had no idea how to respond. It was a Friday night, and I had come to see a friend perform with his band after a long day at work. I hadn’t known that for $10 I would be handed a green paper bracelet and an evening of stress and angsty inner monologue.

When the comic uttered those words, I was hunched over my mashed potatoes, terrified that he would spot my pimples or my belly and mutter an insult that would bring me to my knees. Instead, this. I was confused and terrified in a new, murkier way.

I am a white person, and I am upset that they elected Donald Trump. Is there something wrong with that? I do not mean that in a superficial, aggressive way. I mean really, what does it mean that my opinions can be easily identified? What does it mean that I belong so securely to a group with a clear ideology and commonly held beliefs? I like to think of myself as a person concerned about the world and on the side of progress. But how else am I blind to the stereotypes I inhabit?

As a white person, I am not used to thinking of myself in terms of race. We talked about that in my Psychology of Racism class—we most strongly identify with the parts of ourselves that are oppressed by society. A white, gay man would most strongly identify as being gay. A black, straight woman would identify as a black woman. I don’t know if that’s true for everybody, but it’s certainly true for me. In my own head, I am a woman with a disability, and that is where my self-image is forged.

But those other identities, the invisible ones, guide us along our life paths and kick away barriers that arise. I like to think that I have gotten to where I am solely from hard work and a good head on my shoulders, but a persistent voice will not let me get away with that brand of thinking. What a privilege to be able to imagine that the color of my skin has nothing to do with my success!

I do not know how to have conversations about race—I don’t even know how to laugh about it in a comedy club! And I don’t think I’m unusual. Those kinds of conversations are my growing edge, and they make me very, very uncomfortable. With a fairly homogenous friend group and a Facebook feed that spits out statuses that align with my own worldview, how can I be a part of the change that needs to happen? How can I talk with people who are different from me without being offensive and saying the wrong thing?

I have decided that it’s okay to have all of these big, anxious questions when thinking about my race. In a world where whiteness is invisible, it’s really challenging to start to looking at how my life has been shaped by forces that I didn’t even realize existed until halfway through my college career.

But I have also decided that letting these anxious thoughts stop me from moving forward is not okay. Ignoring whiteness and all that it implies has made life infinitely more challenging for many, many people, and I have decided that it is my duty to do something about that, anxiety and all. I want to be a force of good in the world, and figuring out how to laugh about race in a comedy club seems like the first, murky, terrifying, desperately important step toward justice.

Something Essential

Last night I lay awake in bed worrying about the election on Tuesday, and I bet that many of you did, too.  I’m afraid for my future, for the future of my children, for my friends and family and enemies.  

And the strange thing is that people on all sides of these vicious debates are scared.  That strikes me over and over again.  I have a strong opinion about something, and then I remember that someone believes the opposite just as strongly.  Who is right?  And why do we believe such different things?  Of course, I think I’m right and on the side of justice—but they do, too!  That seems like the biggest problem we are facing in a complicated world.

I can’t help but think about our personal identities and how they shape who we are.  I am a white, cisgender, middle-class woman with a disability and a liberal arts college education.  I come from a liberal hometown and was raised in a non-religious family.  I am temporarily employed and in serious debt.  

Every single one of those identities affects the way I vote and the way I think, and if you changed one of them, I would end up a different person.  Or would I?  It seems that we come together when we see an essential part of ourselves in someone else.  I’m not sure if that means that we have an essential self or that our social circumstances somehow overlap.

But we cannot see each other clearly unless something is the same.

There are a lot of concrete things to remedy this situation (diversify our media, try to meet people different from ourselves, get involved in causes that we’re passionate about, etc., etc.).  That is all so important.

But I think another thing that is absolutely fundamental is finding something essential within ourselves that is worth cultivating.  We need to figure out what it is that is worth connecting over.  If we try to connect based on things we don’t really care about, it doesn’t get us anywhere.  It reminds me of this quote by Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

As I sit here googling whether or not my candidates are predicted to win, getting more and more anxious and overwhelmed, I am also trying to figure out why the hell people on the other side are googling their candidates and feeling anxious and overwhelmed.  I am trying to think about what essential part of myself is worth connecting over.  Is it fear that our country is slowly rotting from the inside?  Anger that other people are bonding over hate and greed?  

Is it that I am a white, cisgender, middle-class woman with a liberal arts education?  I don’t think so.  Bonding over what identities make us the same gets us doesn’t completely get us where we need to be.

I think it might be that I am a musician and a writer, a thinker and a doer, someone concerned by what is going on in the world and wants to make a difference.  These are the essential parts of myself worth bonding over.  I have to keep thinking and thinking and thinking about what else is inside me that others might share.

And I think that finding those things is the most important thing we can possibly do in a complicated, hateful, greedy, loving world.

Angst and Eyeliner

I have been in an angsty period for the past few months, though recently things are starting to come together.  An unrequited crush, an unsuccessful interview, and, honestly, a little persistent headache.  No, I haven’t gone crazy with eyeliner and I am still wearing a few colors every once in awhile.  I’ve gotten pretty good at battening down the angst-hatches and only bringing it out in phone conversations with my friends.

06-ways-to-wing-your-eyelinerOne upside to the internal drama is that all art suddenly starts to speak to me.  It’s kind of hilarious, actually.  Rock music that I usually find nauseating suddenly is meaningful and deep.  I grab onto everything that even slightly references emotional pain and slip it on like a mink coat.  “I Want You To Want Me”?  Wow.  They’ve really gotten to the pulse of humanity.

It’s kind of amazing how much our internal landscape shifts from day to day, week to week.  Things that occupied every waking thought are inconsequential within six months.  In a way, it’s comforting that these things are temporary, but it’s also sad.  What if I want this pain to linger?  What if I’m holding on so tightly because I know that otherwise the whole experience will disappear?

I think that dynamic is especially true of our hopes and dreams.  Anyone who reads self-help literature (and I count myself among that lucky, enlightened, self-righteous number) knows that dreaming is a positive thing.  It’s just that attaching to that dream makes things hard.  I like someone and I imagine us married.  I have a job interview and I imagine my next promotion, what my office will look like, how I’ll be invited to barbecues and christenings.  When those things fail to materialize, it feels like a strange sort of failure.

But, as I’ve asked before, does that mean you don’t imagine your future?  Some people would say that, I guess.  I’m not sure.

Yesterday I opened my ‘Resumes!’ folder and counted my job applications: twenty-five.  TWENTY-FIVE?!?  And guess how many nos have graced my professional email inbox?  TWENTY-FOUR!  (Actually probably more like fifteen, thanks to that weird not-getting-back-to-you-even-though-you-spent-days-on-the-application thing.)

With every application, you send in a cover letter, a resume, references, and a little piece of yourself.  How can you apply to something and not want it to be a part of your future?  That seems like a total waste of time.

imagesSo my angst, I guess, is a response to those little pieces of myself being returned wrapped in a dented package.  But interestingly, angst, in its own way, is moving me slowly forward.  It shows that I care about what will happen to me.  I care about my internal dramas!  Maybe angst itself is not the most mature response to those kinds of feelings, but even maladaptive responses seems to serve a purpose.  Composted mayhem, perhaps?

I’m doing my best to keep my eyeliner firmly zipped in my  make-up case, and I’m trying to rein in the attachment.  Music may be blaring my things-aren’t-working-out songs and I might be caught up in the drama, but at least I’m applying!  At least I’m crushing!  At least I care!  And at least slowly, slowly, slowly, I am moving forward.

*If you missed my YouTube video and feel like emoting with me, check out it out here. And if you’re up for some seriously fascinating tweets, follow me at @srellisboo!*

 

Wild Thoughts and Songs

When things start to be too much and I’ve finally exhausted my Netflix queue, I start to write music.  Somehow writing a song helps me distill all my wild thoughts into a few phrases that resonate deeply with me—and then, of course, I imagine singing them to a packed house, and that imagined validation doesn’t hurt.  

I thought I would share one with you!  I am cheap and am not into paying for things that I can get for free, so the powers that be at WordPress won’t let me add it right in.  Here’s the link!  It is written about a previous unrequited crush, so be kind.

https://youtu.be/flfYP0WZNXs

Yesterday I walked around the lake by Smith College during my lunch break.  As I’ve written before, walks and Sarah’s mind are an electric combination.  I was thinking about all the things I want in my life and was imagining a bright future ahead of me.  Brighter than now, of course.  Much shinier and more colorful and special.

I started to think about our own weird ways of having wild thoughts.  Every individual seems to have a unique brand of neuroses and vulnerabilities.  (And strengths, of course, but the neuroses are so much more interesting!)

I walked past couples laughing and students with their pink iPhones out taking pictures of the foliage.  Every single one of them had their little inside voice directing them.  Isn’t that fascinating?  On some level, we will never know the complete reality of the person sitting next to us.  Even our best friends have wild thoughts that we can’t entirely understand.

That can be overwhelming when you have a crush on someone, let me tell you!  When you like someone, you have incredibly weird neuroses and vulnerabilities just below the surface, and the fact is that you have no idea what the other person is thinking.  It could be about you, but it could also be about elephants.  There is really no way to know.

And so I write songs.  And sing them on repeat until the wild thoughts are a little more manageable and a little less toxic.

I’ve realized that there is no way for us to take a vacuum and suck up all our weirdness.  We’re stuck with it.  The sooner we realize it the sooner we start writing songs and doing whatever else we do to take our electric, shiny, colorful, weird vulnerabilities and neuroses and turn them into something more manageable, less toxic, and much, much, much more interesting.

And now a question:

What is your way to distill your wild thoughts into a few phrases that resonate deeply with YOU?  Tell me!  I want to know, because I could use some new techniques.  Comment, email, send a carrier pigeon… And I’m going to shamelessly plug my Twitter feed, @srellisboo—be all high tech and TWEET it to me!

Over The Net

Picture this: You’re sitting on the dock finishing off a can of lime seltzer when a ball whizzes past your face. You look up, and in front of your eyes a gaggle of brawny athletes plays a game involving rakes, old bottles, tennis rackets, and an inner tube. What do you do? Where do you go? What are you made of? What do you care about? These are the questions I ask every time I step up and play an Ellis family game.

I have a love/hate relationship with sports, made-up or otherwise. On the one hand, in my fondest memories of JV soccer I sit on the bench with hot chocolate.   On the other, I stayed up until midnight to watch the Red Sox win the World Series. In middle school, I took gym every day of the week and actually had a good relationship with the gym teacher (who, it turns out, was sexist, racist, and homophobic… who knew?). In high school, lacrosse practice made me cry.

The half of me that loves sports doesn’t really make sense for someone with questionable coordination and an aversion to competition—and yet I cannot join the ranks of the artists around me and eschew all athletics, because rejecting soccer, Nordic skiing, baseball, basketball, and track means rejecting the backbone of the Ellis family.

 Still, the raw athleticism that courses through my relatives’ veins lie dormant in mine, and however often I whisper to myself, “but you can sing,” the consistent losses sting.

But since when should stinging stop you from playing the game? Last Sunday I went to my fourth afternoon of pick-up volleyball. I left last week with bruises tattooed on my forearms, and this kind of badassery propelled me past my anxiety, into my car, onto the interstate, and into the Smith College gymnasium. Now I know to climb the stairs all the way up to the third floor, past the pool gallery and into the open gym with blinding wooden floors.

When I got there, I did a little lap around the gym and pretended to know how my body worked. I did high-knees and butt kicks and grapevines and lunges. I did drills and forgot over and over how to bump the ball to my teammate. When the game began, I wanted so badly to impress the people around me that I failed to hit the ball over the net once.

It was embarrassing and I wanted to run to the bathroom and lock myself in a stall. But over and over again I had to bring myself back to the point of it all: I was not there to become a great volleyball player. I was there to put life in my Sunday afternoon. I was not there to be perfect. I was there to have fun!

I came to the volleyball court as a hopeful member of the Ellis clan, with a fear of competition and a love for a team. And I think that might be what runs in my veins: beneath all the rakes and inner tubes and tennis rackets is the desire to put life in your days. When I can hold onto that mission, the rest doesn’t matter.

And one day I might even hit the ball over the net!