Throwback Thursday: My First College Class

This week on Throwback Thursday, we’ll be recounting a pivotal day in the history of Susie: my very first day of college. I actually wrote this in a journal I was keeping in tandem with my best friend, who went to college in Sacramento. The deal was, since we couldn’t be with each other every moment anymore, we would each write about all of our experiences in a journal which we would later exchange. The fact that I still have this journal to be able to recount it to you should tell you how well that plan worked out.

Maybe decades of overhyped college movies are to blame here, or the amount of time I’ve spent envisioning this moment… but my first class as a student at SDSU is infuriatingly disappointing.

My professor is not old and wise and graying, with studious-looking bifocals and the hint of a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. He is a 40-something divorcee (he mentioned his ex-wife 30 seconds into his introduction) – with too much hair, and the tendency some adults have to assume that cursing allows them to relate to today’s youth. His sentences are peppered with “hell”s and “damn”s, and he looks around for approval each time before continuing.

When I signed up for “Philosophy 101,” it was with wide-eyed enthusiasm, envisioning – oh, I don’t know – desks in a circle, not rows. Heated class discussions that continue long outside the classroom. A teacher who coaches us with the unbridled passion of a close friend.

My notebook is categorized into pretty little sections, and one of which is labeled, in meticulous handwriting, Philosophy. It is to this section that it currently lies open, “August 27, 2007” written neatly at the top of the page. My pen is still poised on line one.

I look around at my fellow freshman, presumably also experiencing their first college class. Fifteen minutes in, two are already sleeping. The girl to my immediate left is doodling boats in the margins of her paper.

Our desks, regrettably, are in a boring little grid. As of yet, we have not engaged in any awe-inspiring philosophical debates, and this professor looks about as excited to be here as we do.

He drones on about course expectations, walking us through the syllabus line by line. He feels the need to outline for us that 90% and above is considered an A. 80% and above is a B, etc. (Where does he think we’ve been for the last 18 years, that would necessitate this explanation?)

There will be a midterm and a final and they are both multiple-choice (in a philosophy class?). Academic dishonesty will not be tolerated, nor will tardiness or truancy. (But sleeping in class is apparently a-okay.)

When he begins talking about chewing gum (we’re not allowed to), I start to drift. My eyes begin to wander, and I settle on the girl to my left, whose nautical drawings in the margins have expanded – her oceans eventually spilling onto the main of the paper. The entire first page of her notebook is filled with swirling water and waves – just on the brink of crashing into impressively detailed sailboats and pirate ships.

After a minute of being mesmerized by the sight of it, I look down at my own notebook – which still only holds the date. I suddenly become overwhelmed with pressure about what my first penstroke of the first page in my first class on my very first day of college will be.

If only I could doodle.

After a few awkward scribbles, I settle on a short story. I write about my walk to class, and how positive I was about being the only female in a several-block radius wearing jeans. How my iPod played “Hard Times” by Ray Charles, and it made me chuckle to myself – juxtaposed with my surrounding peers, donning Gucci purses and designer clothes. I reflected on my fellow students at this school, the sororities and short shorts. It was like a gathering of the “popular” group of every high school in the state, consolidated into one location. I’ve never exactly fit in, but here I couldn’t see how I ever would. I felt wholly and absolutely different. Other.

Before I can even finish a paragraph, Mr. Freeman is telling the class they can go. It catches me off guard – I scramble to stuff my supplies in my backpack, and everybody else is out the door more rapidly than I can even process what’s happening.

How were they all so completely synchronized? They must have been packed up already, I think. They must have been watching the clock.

I can hardly blame them. We’ll all probably be watching the clock for the next four years.

How Not to Propose to Me

One of the cool things about blogging is that I’m rarely at a loss for post ideas.

(…I said rarely, not never.)

This is partially because many ideas stem from real-life experiences and conversations… and during these conversations, if I don’t immediately recognize it as an opportunity for a blog post, someone else will point it out for me. (“Hey! You should write about that!”)

This was the case during a happy hour with my coworkers on Friday, when we got into a discussion about marriage proposals.

The girls (all of us unmarried) went around the table talking about the best and worst proposal ideas. One girl said jokingly that she’ll probably be proposed to on the couch while watching TV… and we all debated whether that would be lazy and uninteresting, or cozy and sweet.

Another girl expressed bafflement that “public” has become synonymous with “romantic.” Why does the thing have to happen center-stage? Why can’t we enjoy this moment privately?

In any case, there seems to be a lot of disparity on the topic. Far be it from me to criticize the most important moment of someone else’s life… but for me personally, here are the ways NOT to ask for my hand in marriage:

At a sporting event.

075proposalThis marriage proposal is brought to you by the Zales Fan Marquee.

First of all, this proposal would make no sense in my case, since sports aren’t really my thing. But even if they were, I can’t identify with people who are comfortable sharing this life-defining moment with tens of thousands of strangers, with their response being captured on a 100-foot-wide jumbotron. Why do they always look so surprised? Because nobody goes to a sporting event, in jeans and a jersey, stuffing their face with hot dogs, expecting to be proposed to. There’s a reason.

Anything with a character count.

Jodie-Valentine-620x601

…ke dinner tonight?

I’m not exactly known for my brevity. So I would hope that whenever I’m asked the most important question of my life, it’s through a medium that doesn’t limit expression at all. I would just never want to miss out on any small detail of the proposal because it wouldn’t fit in the space provided.

One-size-fits-none.

wedding-proposal-plane-banner“Insert partner’s name here.”

Asking someone to spend the rest of their life with you should be an experience completely unique to each couple. Any “propose-by-number” option where the question is template-ized feels lazy and insincere.

In food or drink.

swallowed-engagement-ring-xray

I have no idea who came up with the idea that putting an engagement ring in something edible is romantic. Worst case scenario, I swallow it. Second worst, I’m about to swallow it but your frantic yelling and waving stops me short. So then, what, I have to gag it back up into my open palm? How romantic.

Even if consumption wasn’t a risk at all… what is the appeal here? If I notice my engagement ring in a champagne glass, what am I supposed to do? Reach into the glass with my fingers? Pour it out on the floor? Still drink it, only slowly and cross-eyed? I just think people who propose in this way haven’t spent a lot of time thinking the whole thing through.

Anything that puts the ball in my court.

billboard

Possibly my greatest fear is being proposed to in a way that requires me to make the next move. I am the most awkward person alive, and just the thought of this makes me squeamish.

Like… billboards. When I lived in San Diego, there was a month where every day on my way home from work I passed a billboard of a man proposing to his girlfriend. Eventually they added a red banner to it, “She said yes!” and I’m sure she was thrilled and they’re living happily ever after now.

But all I could think about was how it went down between the two of them. Was she alone in the car when she drove by it? What did she do? Call him from the road? “Sooo, hey. I saw your billboard…” Or did she wait until she got home? Was he waiting there? What if she hadn’t seen it? Took a different route home?

Overall, it just seems like a lot could go wrong, and a lot is riding on the girl’s role in passing the billboard and then doing something about it. No thanks.

How TO Propose to Me

Lest I sound like a cynic, there are some proposal ideas that I would go absolutely gaga over. I won’t go into them all here, but they usually follow a few guidelines:

They involve some foresight. Spontaneity is lovely (if you can pull it off effectively), but generally speaking the best proposals are thoroughly thought-through. Many boys aren’t great planners, so when they take the time to orchestrate their question it’s especially endearing.

They are personalized to the ask-ee. There’s nothing sweeter than catering the question to be meaningful to your partner specifically. If he/she is a dancer, or loves horses, or is very in touch with their Italian roots… customize the experience to their passion, background, and personality.

They are an experience. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with just dropping to one knee. But I do think it’s sweet when the question is encompassed in a larger event or experience. After all, this story will be told for decades… make it something worth telling.

They echo the flavor of the couple. Whatever the proposal is, it should be completely unique to you and your partner – something that reflects the nature of your relationship and history together. This is your moment, your experience, and your story. (I feel the same way about weddings.)

They are meaningful. Ultimately, when it comes to asking someone to spend their life with you, it doesn’t matter how you do it… so long as it is genuine and sincere. And if (for you) that means proposing at a sporting event, newspaper ad, plane banner, champagne, or billboard… so be it.

Just Spit It Out, Would You?

As promised in my last post, today I’d like to write about writing.

Since landing my first writing job a few months ago, I’ve been learning an awful lot about writing lately. So much learning, in fact, that it honestly feels like I’m a new writer every single day. As each day passes, I look at things I wrote yesterday – and already think, “Oh god, this is awful. This is so bad, why didn’t somebody slap me?” This is a blessing, because I’m ecstatic to be growing so much so fast – but a curse, because with each new development I become more and more critical of my previous work. This journey has been one of continual self-discovery and evolution.

One thing in particular that I’ve become hyper-sensitive to in my own reading/writing is “fluff” …or writing more without necessarily writing better.

…Fluff, in other words, is other words.

One of my favorite copywriting articles to date has been ‘How Twitter Makes You a Better Writer‘ by Copyblogger. The gist? 140 characters forces you to (1) prioritize what you want to communicate, (2) maximize on the vocabulary words you include, and (3) become a dynamite editor.

Because on Twitter (as in writing in general), you just simply can’t afford any unnecessary verbiage.

Mark Twain knew this, when he expressed his opinion on the word “very”:

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write very; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.

‘Very,’ like many other superfluous words, contribute to fluff in your writing.

For those of you unfamiliar with why my blog is called The Nutshell Version, I’m definitely guilty of fluff. I’m usually of the age-old storytelling philosophy: ‘When in doubt, write more.’ (This is a bad philosophy, guys. Don’t do this.)

But as I grow in my writing (and, hopefully, begin to tone down the fluffiness), I read over old blog posts and am tempted to delete whole paragraphs. (“What was I thinking? This doesn’t contribute to the story at all.”) Being paid to write (and, specifically, having to work within ironclad word counts) has given me a new perspective on the importance of written real-estate.

It has made me similarly critical of fluff in other’s writing. Which is why, when I read a lot of marketing content, I’m tempted to shake the writer by the shoulders and say “JUST SPIT IT OUT!” Because it almost seems like they’re deliberately tiptoeing around what they want to say.

For instance, I came across this on a company’s ‘About’ page recently:

XX provides clear answers for real people. We will conduct a comprehensive analysis, communicate our findings, and develop customized solutions based on your unique needs. Upon completion, we’ll evaluate our work, reconcile our progress, and provide our expert recommendations. Because at XX, we believe in solving the tough problems in a way that makes sense for our clients.

…Yeah okay. But what do you actually do

This is an example specific to my industry (marketing), but I think the same can be said for any writing. As writers, we get so caught up in wanting to sound conceptual and sophisticated that we almost forget that we have a message to communicate and a reader to satisfy.

In conclusion, whether you’re writing for a company ‘About’ page or a comprehensive history of the world… be deliberate when fashioning your prose, and consider forgoing eloquence for concision.

Or, to give you the Nutshell Version:

Cut the fluff.

Writing About Writing About Writing

When I first started blogging, and specifically when I began reading others’ blogs, I remember being surprised how much writing there was out there… about writing.

It seemed like for every blog post I came across about someone’s childhood, there was another guiding writers how to write a blog post about their childhood.

I didn’t realize writing about writing was even a thing, and it struck me as a little odd. Like taking a picture of a camera…

camera

Or painting yourself painting…

norman

But now that writing is such an enormous part of my life, I have a deep appreciation and understanding for all this writing about writing. Mommy blogs exist because the joy of motherhood is so fulfilling that people are eager to chronicle it. Travel blogs exist because it’s impossible not to want to document every adventure.

So as writers open the door of discovery, navigate the labyrinthine maze of new tactics and strategies, and explore unchartered corners of their own voice and story… why shouldn’t they get to catalog that experience, too?

I could geek out with my boss on compelling headlines or parallel sentence structure for hours… the same way I could theme an entire night with my best friend based on our favorite authors and poems. (Oh wait, that’s what I am doing tonight.)

securedownload
(Pardon her French, Mom and Dad)

So I can relate to obsessing over one concept so much that all you want to do is talk (write) about it. And if writing just happens to be the subject in question, so be it.

All this to say, I’ve been spending a lot of time writing lately. And I hope you’ll forgive me for wanting to write about it. I promise it won’t all be as annoying as this post, writing about writing about writing.

Throwback Thursday: A Collection of Poems

Hey there, readers! Happy Throwback Thursday! If you’re new around here, Throwback Thursday is when we take a trip down memory lane with the recent discovery of all my childhood journals. Sometimes these trips are nostalgic, some confrontational, some humorous, and still others are a little haunting for me. But nonetheless, I hope they’re entertaining.

For today’s installment, I’ll start off by saying that I love poetry. I grew up with Emily Dickinson and Dorothy Parker, and was trying my hand at iambic pentameter before I could even pronounce it. However, I’ll have to admit that I was never very good at it. To quote Leif Enger, one of my favorite authors, “There was no word I wouldn’t misuse, no rhythm I wouldn’t break for a rhyme.”

So today I’ve prepared a compilation of sorts, a “greatest hits” of some of the poems I’ve scribbled over the years… with the caveat that, admittedly, none of them are really all that awesome. My hope is that by grouping them together, several mediocre poems = one passable blog post. That’s math, right?

So here they are, organized chronologically:

One:

The messenger says when he brings us good news
That we oughtn’t be happy, it’s surely a ruse.

But what will he say when bad tidings he brings?
It’s the rhythm that pulses all things, all things…

Two:

Write stories of Egyptian kings
In perfect rhythm rhyme
Disgusting are the little things
I do to pass the time.

Three:

I once had a very nice shoe.
Its brother was very nice, too.
But the left and the right
Were both lost in the night.
Oh heavens, now what shall I do?

Four:

Your heart is like some icy lake
On whose cold brink I stand
And though, for you my heart doth ache –
I’ll stay warm here on land.

 

Happy Throwback Thursday, y’all!

The Ice Bucket Challenge, and Why Your Meme Isn’t Funny

If you’re on social media, or watch the news, or live within reasonable proximity to another human being, chances are you’ve heard of The Ice Bucket Challenge.

For those of you who haven’t, it’s an awareness campaign for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Several variations of the challenge have been circulating, but the gist is that if someone challenges you, you are given two options: donate $100 to the cause, or film yourself pouring a bucket of ice water over your head. 

The challenge has gone viral on social media, extending to professional athletes, celebrities, and politicians. The campaign has raised over $15.6 million in less than three weeks, compared to $1.8 million over the same period last year.

But of course, as night follows day, it has also generated its share of skepticism – since it seems most people would rather do the challenge than the more arguably beneficial option of donating. The term “slacktivism” has been thrown around a lot.

The meme factory started churning out its usual…

batman

matrix

zoolander

And my personal favorite:

water

I understand the temptation to criticize, I do. The challenge is a little annoying in its own right, and it’s gone so damn viral that there are probably more people participating in your newsfeed than not at this point. Posting a witty quip that makes the general populous look superficial and cheap, while simultaneously making you look like the altruistic voice of reason is downright tantalizing. (…And sure, it does seem a little silly that so many are ready to dump ice water over their heads before contributing to the actual cause.)

But what I think people are forgetting is that it’s an awareness campaign. Ideally, yes, it will equate to more dollars in the bank… but first and foremost, it was an attempt to bring an issue to light, which has had almost no exposure in the last century (hence the fact that it’s still best known as the disease that killed a professional baseball player in 1939).

And while pouring water over your head might not cure anybody, it will certainly get some attention. Then, by challenging someone else (three people, actually), you are exponentially increasing the impact of this effort. They will each either donate, or bring awareness to three more.

This is the power of a human network, and it’s working.

Did you even know what ALS was a month ago? Probably not. But now? It’s on the forefront of everyone’s minds, every social platform, and the subject of all kinds of media attention. That $15 million came from 307,000 new donors, who had never been involved with the organization at all before.

Not to mention the irony that those who criticize this act as “slacktivism” are, in essence, slacktivist hypocrites. You care just enough to criticize others… for not caring enough. But your advocacy apparently stops just shy of actually doing anything. The same can’t be said for those who voluntarily took an ice bath for a cause.

Ultimately, slacktivism or not, it’s doing a world of good and that should be all that matters.

So, those of you posting shaming memes: Take a deep breath, carefully climb off of your high horse, and let the people tip their ice buckets in peace.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Literature

I did a bad thing last night.

It was a thing so dreadfully bad that I’m having to will my fingers to even pound out this confession. My hands are quivering reluctantly over the keyboard, begging me to stop writing this incriminating post. “It’s not too late,” they tell me. “We can still walk away. Nothing’s been published yet.”

But I fear that if I don’t relieve this burden, it will bury me in its crushing weight of shame and disgrace. I order my fingers to keep moving; we can’t turn back now.

…I have something to confess.

It is only upon a foundation of hope and desperation that I entrust this admission to you, dear reader. I pray my transgression does not forever shade your opinion of me. I hope your eyes don’t narrow in loathsome disgust when you discover this wretched, despicable truth.

Last night, in a moment of pure weakness and absolute lunacy… I skipped a chapter of my book.

Make no mistake, it is a true measure of your character that you’re still reading right now. My heart is filled with fervent gratitude for giving me the opportunity to explain.

I would tell you the title of the book, but I’m so ashamed that I’m afraid to divulge it.

But I’ll tell you what the chapter was about: it was metaphorizing military tactics and their application to business philosophy – discussing a general in the Vietnam war who lead his troops to victory through keen split-second decision making and meticulous dedication.

I would go into more detail except that I don’t know anymore, since I skipped the rest.

I couldn’t help myself, it had gone on for so long already. Reading this chapter was like trudging through molasses – every paragraph, every sentence required excruciating effort to absorb. I found myself dragging my eyes across the page in slow, deliberate strokes, willing myself to digest each syllable. The cogs in my brain churned reluctantly, pace as steady as a prisoner’s gait.

I couldn’t take it. Not for another instant.

I did something I’d never done before, in my entire life. Blinded by numbing frustration, I flexed the paperback, released some pressure from my right thumb, and let the pages tick by without granting them more than a passing glance.

There was something exhilarating about each leaf settling from right to left. They fanned my face deliciously, and I felt wicked satisfaction bubble up inside my chest.

When I finally reached the next chapter, its bold text waking me from my indulgent ecstasy, I found palpable relief.

I was free.

No more Vietnam generals, no more metaphors connecting military strategy with leadership skills, no more sloshing through miles and miles of impenetrable text.

I assumed my reading position again at full attention, my book none the wiser. The next chapter, mercifully, was much more interesting.

…But it began to gnaw at me.

I thought about every other book I’ve read – for school and for pleasure. There have been times, sure, when I just stopped reading entirely (Textbooks aren’t exactly riveting). And on occasion, I would come across a book I read for pleasure which also didn’t grab me enough to want to keep going.

But to skip? To completely take the wheel of my reading experience? This was a concept totally new to me. I have never taken ownership of a book like that. My entire life, I’ve been the undemanding passenger, allowing the author to take me on his or her journey without asking them to slow down or change the radio station. This is their work, after all. This is their story. I’m just along for the ride.

Did it matter, the rest of that chapter? Were the points made there vital to the overall message of the book? Would the author circle back to them later? Leaving me in the dark, an ignorant bum who couldn’t be bothered to muscle through one of the drier portions?

The thoughts swirled around my mind like black clouds before a storm.

I was a fake. A fraud. A cheat. I was the lowest type of person, who took the easy way out rather than doing the right thing.

This philosophy of books has spilled into other aspects of my life – most notably with mix CDs. Whenever I have received a mix CD, I’ve considered it my moral obligation to listen to the whole thing start to finish. I don’t jump forward to see what other songs it holds, I don’t skip around to my favorites. I start at Track # 1 and don’t stop until it’s over.

Because that’s how it was meant to be listened to. That was its original intention, its overall purpose. Who am I, to say that this song deserves to be listened to now, that the second half of the CD is better than the first? Someone took the time to sculpt this experience from the clay, just for me. And I believe in carrying it out the way it was intended.

The same has gone for books, for me… until now.

This author, the artist, sculpted a literary experience for me from the clay, and I cast it aside like an ungrateful child. I progressed, undeservedly, to the next chapter, and will likely never achieve the true vision of this book. Even if I were to go back and re-read, now, it would be out of sequence and insignificant.

I did not follow the true path. I shunned my destiny.

I hope you will accept me for what I am – truly disgraced and ashamed. A repentant girl, begging for your forgiveness.

Throwback Thursday: A 10-Year-Old’s Take on Boys

Welcome back to Throwback Thursday! Where we explore the labyrinthine rabbit holes of Susie’s youthful brain, as documented in 16 years’ worth of childhood journals.

This week, we’ll be delving into the mind of 10-year-old Susie, upon her first exposure to a permeating lifelong challenge: boys.

On October 12, 1999, I plopped down onto my bed and pulled out my trusty green marker to write down this little gem:

Boys. Can’t live with them, can’t live with them.
(sigh)

I actually wrote that. I wrote the word “sigh” in parentheses. Dramatic literary tendencies momentarily set aside, this revelation was one that resonated with me so wholly that I felt each letter warranted the occupation of TWO lines’ worth of journal space. College-ruled just ain’t gonna do it for me this time, journal. These boys – and their insufferable nature – are a serious business.

Why do boys have to make everything so difficult??????????

I have to admire my elementary-age self for being just childish enough to want to add several superfluous question marks, but still just obsessive-compulsive enough to want to make it an even 10. (For that matter, I guess that particular trait followed me into adulthood, since I also felt the need to count the question marks when transcribing this)

UGH!

I also wrote “ugh,” because I wanted this journal entry to be particularly onomatopoeic.

Today I was holding cupcakes for Lauren, and Mike came up to ask for one. I told him they weren’t mine to give, and he said “fine” and called me mean!

Riveting stuff.

It gets better:

That right there ruined my day completely.

…Wait, completely? By a guy calling you mean? Little Susie, first of all, please treasure this life of yours… so carefree that someone calling you mean is journal-worthy – and ruined your day, no less.

But second, I have to admit that based on that impassioned opening, I expected something a little more exciting to follow… and I find myself disappointed. You’ve now reached a conclusion that would later shape romantic interactions for the rest of your life – that boys are difficult – and it turned out to be the result of one silly little cupcake-related comment? The first two lines of this entry wrote a check that this story simply did not cash.

If the person reading this is in my room right now, Mike is the guy in the black and white picture on my bulletin board.

…Wait I’m sorry, what? If the person reading this is in your room right now? Hey, psycho child, if a stranger is IN YOUR ROOM READING YOUR JOURNAL, we’ve got bigger problems than character identification.

Isn’t he cute? I think so too.

Ahhh, and the clouds part. Here we unveil the real truth to this journal entry… that I actually secretly had a really big crush on Mike but couldn’t admit it – even to myself – and the most I could do was print out a black-and-white photo and display it nonchalantly on my bulletin board. In hopes that maybe someday someone would come along, read my journal, comment on his devastating cuteness, and I could carelessly agree without anyone being the wiser.

Oh, ten-year-old me, how I wish I could impart some wisdom on your confused soul!

But alas, I would have to stumble upon these wisdoms on my own. Happy to report that, 14 years later, I apparently got over my fear of liking boys. Although, old habits die hard: I definitely have a black-and-white picture of Taylor in my wallet.

In case you’re wondering, I did some Facebook investigating and uncovered that Mike is now engaged… to a girl who is (presumably) not mean.

Traffic is our all-powerful overlord and resistance is futile.

Here’s a fun fact for your Tuesday: the city of Vancouver, WA has a population of about 160,000 people. 

60,000 of them (that’s almost 40% of all Vancouver residents) work in Portland.

…I’m one of them.

For those of you who have never travelled to our little corner of the Pacific Northwest, allow me to give you a geography lesson. Vancouver and Portland are separated by the Columbia River… over which there are a measly two bridges.

Which means, if you’re paying attention, I share a total of seven available lanes with sixty THOUSAND commuters every weekday.

trafficThat’s not the Columbia River, but look! My phone has the chicken pox!

Needless to say, my travel time is not ideal. I thought traffic was bad in the Bay Area… but this Portland-Vancouver mess has brought my appreciation for congestion to another level. (Thank goodness I love my job, and that some kind, angelic soul introduced me to audiobooks.)

I tell you all this, because something strangely magnificent / magnificently strange happened to me yesterday.

For the first time since getting this job months agothere wasn’t any traffic on my way home.

You might not think this is very noteworthy, and that’s because you’re living in a fool’s paradise where driving is a speedy ordeal and traffic doesn’t add two hours to your workday. But for those of you who feel my pain, who have ever felt my pain… I kid you not, I went the speed limit the entire time. I never even had my foot on the brake pedal. Traffic hummed like a gospel choir, smooth and solid and never wavering. 

I felt like I was on an episode of the Twilight Zone, and I found myself pondering this anomaly. Did I leave at a different time than usual? Is it a holiday? Any notable weather occurrences? I tried looking at it from every angle, dissecting every remote possibility. Is this even real? Am I maybe hallucinating? Could it still be Sunday night, and I’m actually still asleep in my bed?

Then, I stopped this train of thought dead in its tracks.

Somehow, I became fearful of acknowledging this phenomenon. I seemed to know, instinctively, that if I called attention to it, it might slip away from me. I forced myself to think of other things.

Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it. Is it because summer is ending, and tourists are going home? NO. Don’t think about it. Or is it the residents who have gone on vacation? STOP. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it.

But my car kept speeding along, and I couldn’t help it – I gawked at the world around me in utter disbelief. I was tempted to roll down my window and ask a fellow driver at 60 mph: “What’s going on? Do you know? Why is this happening?”

But I imagined they would give me the same reprimand – “SHHH! Don’t let it hear you!”

I became so deliriously happy with my car’s speed that I actually began to see it as a gift, just for me. I started wondering if maybe I’d done something to deserve it – maybe I’d pleased the karmic gods somehow and this was my reward. I racked my brain for recent good deeds but came up short. 

I very literally found myself pleading with traffic to grant me this easy commute again. Tell me what I have to do, traffic! Be nice to strangers? Exercise more? Sacrifice a lamb? But my questions were left unanswered, and as I arrived home – a full 40 minutes ahead of schedule – I allowed myself a sliver of hope that maybe I’d be so lucky again.

Today, I carefully duplicated my Monday routine. Parked in the same spot, left at the same time, took the same route home. It took all my will power not to run to the car when I walked out of the office. I calmly began my journey, trying my best to act like this was a completely normal routine – so as not to tip traffic off to my desperation. As I neared the bridge, I bit my lip and peeked around the corner eagerly. 

Before me stood tangible despair, in rows and rows of brake lights. 

Oh, well.

I dutifully took my place behind a semi-truck, turned on my audiobook, and settled in for my usual ride. Traffic is a fickle friend, and pays no mind to efforts like routine duplication or lamb sacrifices.

Then again, there’s always tomorrow.

Please don’t tell me I look like Natalie Portman.

Here’s a fun fact about me: In some really warped, alternate version of reality where the sky is purple and it rains skittles and hair-color-apparently-equals-resemblance, I’ve been told I look a little like Natalie Portman.

This compliment does wonders for my ego. Whenever someone says it, I blink back at them like a goldfish and thank them like I was just knighted by the Queen of England. I walk around the rest of the day with a tiny spring in my step, trying my best to carry myself the way I imagine Natalie does. Birds sing, and flowers bloom, and my life is all unicorns and rainbows for awhile.

Don’t get me wrong, though – I’m self-actualized enough to know this claim is completely bogus, and I understand that the people who make it are likely long overdue for a trip to the eye doctor. I look like Natalie Portman in the same way that a starfish looks like the sun.

But nonetheless, every so often I’ll get the head-cocked, pointer-finger recognition: “Do you know who you look like?”

I stare back at them with hopeful anticipation. “Please be Natalie, please please be Natalie.”

“THAT’S IT! Natalie Portman!”

Then, my heart swells up like a balloon and I float off into oblivion.

Once, a guy just barely believed I wasn’t Natalie herself. I was working at a hotel at the time, and he mentioned it as I was checking him in. We chuckled good-naturedly at the resemblance. Afterward, as I was handing him his room keys, I thought we’d moved on in the conversation… but he kept eyeing me suspiciously like he half-expected a cameraman to leap out and tell him he was on some celebrity prank show.

“You’re suuuuure you’re not Natalie Portman?” he asked, squinting at me sideways.

I stared at him. “Yup, you got me. I’m playing the part of a hotel manager in my next movie, so I’m here doing character research. Shh! Don’t blow my cover!” I laughed.

He didn’t let up, though. “I mean even that, that right there. That sounds exactly like something she’d say.” (He and Natalie are besties, apparently)

After a few more back-and-forths, I managed to convince him that I was not, in fact, an A-List celebrity taking a break from my red carpet life to hang out at the front desk of a random hotel. He reluctantly agreed that he must be mistaken, but still asked if I would do him the honor of taking a photo so he could trick his buddies back home into believing he’d met the great NP.

Bizarrely, this was actually the 2nd time in my life this had happened. The first took place four years earlier, with a movie theater employee in San Diego – who pulled out his camera phone to snap the picture before he tore my ticket.

I have no delusions about my resemblance to Natalie the Magnificent. I imagine this to be one of those cosmic, unsolvable mysteries – like the Bermuda Triangle, or the world’s infatuation with reality TV. There are some things science just can’t explain.

Historically, I’ve reveled in this comparison… but I’d like to request, here and now, that everybody just stop.

It’s way too much pressure.

First of all, Natalie is one of the most amazing people to ever grace the Planet Earth. She is a Harvard graduate, former Ambassador of Hope for FINCA, and a fanatical human rights activist. She became a vegetarian at age 8, after witnessing a laser demonstration on a chicken during a medial conference with her father. (Know what I was doing at age 8? Watching Spongebob Squarepants and eating cookie dough with my fingers.)

Oh, and by the way, she’s also a stunningly talented Academy-Award-winning actress, and the heartthrob of every teenage boy in the last 15 years.

Do you get what I’m saying here? I can’t handle it. I can’t compare. I just can’t do it.

It’s even worse when one person points it out to another person, in front of me. Because then the 2nd person takes a long, calculated look at my face. And I feel like I should do something as a physical response to this analysis, but I have no idea what that thing is. Smile? Shrug? Wave? Do something Natalie Portman-y?

Then the other person reluctantly shrugs and says, “Sure, I guess I kinda see it.”

Nope, no you don’t. And that’s okay. Tell me I look like Susie, and then I’ll have a lot less to live up to.