Stories from middle America

“You’re not going to get all weird on me, are you?” Josh* asked. It was early on a weekend night, I had snuck home to meet him at my place.

Moving to Omaha had been an embarrassing cocktail of recovering from an unnecessary broken heart mixed with a few other painful interactions. I was finally on my way to “no strings attached.” This guy was immature, emotionally unavailable, and attractive. Perfection.

I’ve always identified with being single. Proms as the 11th wheel, sorority functions full of drunkenly exchanged numbers that I immediately lost, Facebook stalking, 12 bridesmaid dresses – these were the telltale signs of my life.

I concentrated on solidifying friendships with a rad girl squad. Pursuing romantic relationships seemed to make people an unattractive version of themselves (which includes especially, regrettably, myself).  

Besides – I always had a good story to tell.

Josh and I continued to hang out for months. Midnight texts and playing it cool, we both made it known that we were not interested in more. I relished in how attractive he found me and rarely sent the first text: a millennial’s guide to winning the game.

During a vacation with some girlfriends, forcing them to tag me on Facebook photos so Josh would know I was have a great time without him, a friend called me out.

“You’re wasting time on him because he can’t ultimately hurt you, you don’t matter to him and he doesn’t matter on you,” she said, tagging a photo of me hiking in the desert. I shrugged it off – who cared? Maybe I just didn’t want to hurt for a while. Maybe, I wanted to be The Cool Girl for once.

As the New Year approached, I loudly declared that the next year was the “year for me”: men would be an accessory to my enchanting single life. But, at a New Year’s Day hungover lunch party, an actual human walked into my life. Someone I found endlessly fascinating, handsome, driven and creative. He was pretty forward in the fact he was interested in me. Outwardly, I balked. Inwardly, I swooned.

The Cool Girl stayed out on school nights and drank whiskey with her best friends. The Cool Girl tried to download Tinder just for the stories. The Cool Girl always had her legs shaved and her apartment clean. The Cool Girl didn’t have serious relationships with emotionally mature adults.

But there he was, threatening my Cool Girl status. I lacked the energy to keep up with shaving my legs, let alone keep my apartment spotless. We stayed up so late talking the first weekend, I fell asleep a few nights later while a friend and I were out for wine, practically mid-sip. I fielded complaints from my friends that I wasn’t around anymore.

I tried desperately to hold onto my Cool Girlness, but it didn’t last long. I didn’t lose myself, either. All those years I spent terrified I’d leave part of myself behind if I shared my life, were wrong.

I recently attended a wedding where I wasn’t a bridesmaid, just an attendee. I watched, almost jealously, as the bridesmaids flocked around the bride and shared inside jokes and danced. It was the first wedding I had ever brought a date to, and instead of keeping the bride out of awkward in-law conversations, I sat in the back with my boyfriend and kissed his cheek.

I’m finding that I can still keep a little of my Cool Girl manifesto, and even imbibe in a little mid-week whiskey. My dreams and ambitions are not diminished when I decide to share my life with someone else, I get support and encouragement from my partner. I often find myself watching this beautiful person standing next to me, and I’m glad it took me this long to find him and have him prove me wrong.

*name changed cause duh.

MyExpatTable11

This is a guest post by my college friend, Katie Rhone. Katie is a generous, kind, talented, worldly woman who was one of the first of my peers who taught me what being a feminist was all about. Please check out her post from her blog, My Expat Table, where she chronicles life living abroad in England.

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It has been a while since I have written a post. This isn’t because nothing has been worth writing about, a lot has happened in the past couple of months and worth sharing. When you get out of the habit of doing something (kind of like when you stop exercising) and it can be really hard to get back into it. Then something happens that spurs you back into action, last night was that time for me.

After putting the kids to bed, I was lying down doing some mind numbing searches on Pinterest trying to unwind from the day. Jasa was off to France so I had the quiet house to myself. In the middle of looking at some quinoa recipes, I heard a faint cry from the other room. Then I realized it was Adrian and thought that was odd. As I turned the corner into his room, he was tucked into his Batman blanket laying on his side in a fetal position crying. This was the type of crying that I could tell was coming from his heart.

I kneeled down next to his bed and asked him what was wrong and he said “I want to see JoJo” sobbing through his tears whom is one of his grandma’s. I grabbed him quickly and pulled him into our bedroom so he didn’t wake his sister and he nestled into me like it was freezing outside and he was fighting for any ounce of warmth he could. I repeated back to him what he told me and I asked him if he wanted to call her right now. Adrian still crying said “No, I want to have a sleepover at her house in Nebraska” and then asked “When can we go and see her?”

My heart sank again as a parent and thought we were over the missing Nebraska stage. Then I realized of course he is feeling this way after an amazing month home, how could you not!! Adrian and Juliette had the opportunity to spend time doing things with friends and family they love to do- go to the swimming pool, play in the garden, run through sprinklers, go four wheeling on the farm, drive the tractor, stay up and watch movies, have gobs of ice cream, do wheel barrel races, bike races, etc. As young child, it must have been magical. It was so strong for him that out of the blue he started thinking about home and Nebraska which illicted sadness, tears and a urning to go back. I don’t blame him.

Before going home in August, I would get those feelings often. Our trip home was wonderful. We had the opportunity to see old friends, family, business partners, and others we have missed dearly. The highlight of the trip was my brother’s wedding in Atlanta. This was the finale of our trip as the next day, it was back to Manchester. As this day approached and the morning of the wedding, I was sad cause I knew it was all coming to an end. The day of the wedding was really special and so happy we got a chance to be a part of Dan and Alli’s day. I will never forget saying goodbye to my family at the airport, man was that tough.

As we boarded the plane back to Manchester something strange happened, I got renewed energy. It was a readiness to come back to our home in Alderley Edge. I felt a sense of calmness and relief walking into our house- almost like coming back home. I remember then being confused as to what I was feeling.

Is this home? Or did where we just come from home? Can home be in multiple places? I guess this is where the expression “Home is where the heart is” applies.

When you are an expatriate, the concept of “home” becomes somewhat blurred. We are Americans living in another country and culture that is different but we are still very American. Yet, we are trying to integrate into a community the best we can, although our lovely American accents are always a dead giveaway. There are things that we like and don’t like about each culture. This is why it was so hard to answer the question to our friends and family “So how is it living in England?” Often times I wanted to ask “How much time do you have?” It was very difficult to sum up to an elevator speech our thoughts and feelings about living in England because in many ways, it is becoming our home.

No matter what happens with our time here in England, this experience has made our lives richer. I hope that this will give our children a different perspective of the world that will follow them into adulthood. Until that time comes, we just have to work through these feelings together as a family and help each other on this adventure. Anytime I am yearning for a familiar Nebraska countryside, I know exactly where to go on a trail up by The Edge to get this view….

england view

I’m sitting on my couch eating kimchi. It’s delicious. Kimchi used to be way too strong for me, taste wise. Since I like it now, I worry my taste buds are dying.

Last summer, I tried to make kimchi and have yet to try it. I bought the wrong kind of spice at the Asian Market, and it turned brown instead of the vibrant red I had expected. “That looks disgusting,” my friend Miranda observed as I hand mixed it. I now wonder since I am not of Asian decent, if making kimchi in my kitchen using Mason jars makes me a special kind of culturally illiterate asshole. I throw the jar out.

It’s almost weird to be in this moment, with these things. At the height of the Recession, I started a long unemployment journey that often left me with barely enough money to pay my bills. Buying kimchi on a whim at Whole Foods was a luxury I wouldn’t go near.

Despite my sudden financial trajectory, I still lived a life of privilege. I had parents who stepped in when I called. I had friends give me cheap housing and others got me a job when my unemployment benefits ran out.

For about a year, from 7 AM to 3 PM, six days a week, I would transcribe handwritten comments into typed text. Since I couldn’t afford the parking garage, even in the dead of winter I walked over a mile to my building. When my productivity slowed or I made too many spelling errors, I would get lectured about “increasing my output” for approximately five to seven minutes by my manager while her subordinate listened in. I was allowed two 15 min breaks and one 30 min lunch during the day, and was encouraged to work all major holidays for no increase in my hourly wage (which I did, because I needed the money and not a day off without pay).

I still job searched in my field, which ironically was copywriting and marketing. I was the finalist for so many jobs in exotic sounding cities like Seattle, Boston and New York City. So many times, I would lose out in the final interview round and be forced to return to my beige, windowless cubicle. So many times, I would cry the whole day.

Years later, eating this over-priced, Whole Foods kimchi – I’m mortified by how I looked down my nose at that job. It was a job; it helped me pay my bills, on time, every month. I worked next to Lyndsey – an aspiring self-taught photographer who loved her mom. And Gunther, a talented musician who came to work, got his shit done, and went home to his beautiful wife. To be ashamed meant I thought I was above the work and these people. Now I understand – you’re never above honest work.  

Dreams and reality don’t always mash up. But you do the work to get you there. Fanaticizing about a certain lifestyle or job won’t put the skills on your resume. Appreciating the here and now, the actions you’re taking to reach your dreams – that’s when you look back, connect those dots and think, “I got through that so I could be here.” So often, I’m reminded that many people never get the resources to pull themselves up.  If you’re able to better your situation, remember to not be an asshole  – life doesn’t owe you a cushy career trajectory paved in nice salaries.

 

I cannot tell you how much social media makes me long to be a fancy photographer. I refuse to follow people who post poorly lit images or blurred lunch shots. I feel a sense of false superiority when I reach the coveted “11 likes” level on Instagram. Because of this many of these platforms are not so much a reminder that everyone is living a better life than me — it’s that most people are better photographers than I am.

And here’s my ultimate problem: I’m competitive in the most unfortunate way. If I’m not going to be awesome at something, I don’t want to do it at all.

At first, I thought this was just laziness. I have a collection of half-assed hobbies I’ve hoped to master based on natural talent: partially filled journals of incomplete stories; a guitar, resting neatly next to a borrowed piano; a dusty collection of fancy cameras set to Auto mode.

There are so many moments in our lives when we need to realize that we don’t have all the answers or skills. Humans sitting right next to us offer expertise beyond our experiences.

I get really embarrassed when I put myself out there with a creative talent. Writing for COOP on a regular basis was Amanda Actually Trying Step 1. Being a part of a team of different discipline forced me to put aside my insecurities and finally just write. Just writing has been the biggest reward.

Step 2 was taking a photography class from Hooton Images. It went awesomely — and horribly — all at the same time. I forgot to charge my battery. The first picture we took, my shutter speed was waaaaaaaaay wrong, and five seconds later it finally closed. The whole class looked at me.

But I learned and put myself out there in a way I had only done behind filters and staged iPhone shots before. Now I have a mentor that I trust and who will push me to keep trying and finally step away from my security blanket: my iPhone. It was a thrill to learn from someone whose skills I deeply admire — and to then befriend.

Step 2.1 was having my best friend get me to start dragging my camera around with me again. And take glamour shots of her.

I’m embracing the learning process, instead of focusing on the end goals. Celebrating my friends who have deep talents that I can learn from is one of the best things in my life right now.

I can’t wait to take another class.

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Black-and-white photos by Hooton Images. All other photos by Amanda Rucker

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