Monday, December 30, 2013

The time I almost crushed the entire left side of my body.

Racing back to the park before dark. 
I recently experienced a crazy combination of a giant epiphany mixed with a ginormous miracle mixed with my typical run-of-the-mill everyday badassery. 

Boyfriend acting surprised on the airplane.
I flew down to spend some time in a great part of western Florida, the real Florida: beautiful rivers and a tear-jerkingly gorgeous sunset every night, wildlife that will play with you (manatees) and of course the great people watching. Don't forget the people watching. I have a friend who is working for the park services down there so we stayed right in a nature preserve all day- atvs, kayaking, riding throughout the preserve in the back of a pick up truck. It was totally out of a book. I actually flew down on the plane with boyfriend, who had no idea I was coming with him in the first place-- surprising him randomly in the seat next to him on the airplane in Philadelphia is another story in itself. 

Before we left to come back up to Ohio, I told my friend I would help her move her trailer into its campsite. I had never hitched up, backed in or even driven a trailer for that matter, but I figured it was one of those things everyone should be able to do. I like to toot my parallel parking horn on a weekly basis, so I thought I would take a stab at my trailer skills.

This part of the story isn't the tragedy. In fact, I nailed it. I was pretty damn good. I backed the trailer up and lined it perfectly with its porch my friend had built with pallets and planks. I put the pickup truck at an angle that dodged a big tree and the little electric box for the camper in one beautiful swoop. 

Crystal River, FL in DECEMBER.

Everything was going really well.

Everything was going too well. I had spent enough time in campgrounds with my family's RV to know there wasn't enough yelling going on.

The campsite was at the top of a little mound. We set up the trailer on yellow blocks to level it. I had the truck somewhat jackknifed to avoid the tree, so the trailer and the truck were practically perpendicular. I stood there as we unhitched the pickup from the trailer.

It turned out the hitch had been the only thing holding the trailer up on its blocks. And when the ball and hitch disconnected, the trailer started to fall into the truck right where I was standing. Stuck between the two, I let out a howl. Thank god for adrenaline. And howling. Super strength kicked in and in a blur of a memory I pushed the trailer off of me and fell into my boyfriend. Who, needlessly to say, was freaking out and trying to gauge my injuries with his jaw simultaneously dropped to the ground at the sight of his girlfriend's super strength.

My boyfriend held me up while I kinda made some more howls and realized I was completely fine. I put weight on my leg. Very little pain. I tried to bend it. Sore, but totally fine. There they were! My legs!  I could have just been crushed between a pickup truck and a trailer. But I wasn't. I was fine. 

Five minutes later, I was laying on the couch icing my ass and thanking the good lord for any sort of intervention he may have just had in recent happenings, trying to recall what had just ensued.

I had two thoughts in the second I felt that trailer squish me into the truck: the first was that getting to the hospital and filling out paperwork was going to suck and then we'd be later getting home. The second was that I wouldn't be able to run.  That's when I decided that wasn't going to happen and hulked the shit out of my friend's camper.

I was very lucky that my accident was all that it was. I know that I'm not invincible and that I need to be a little more careful. My reaction time and my coordination isn't good. At all. I'm so thankful that a big bruise and a few days off from the gym were my only consequences. I know it only takes one trailer falling on you and five seconds to forever change people's lives. This is all the more reason that I need to take care of myself - in staying active and eating right - in celebration of my thanks. 

I didn't need a near-hip-crushing experience to tell me that I love being able to work out. Just talk to me on a day I didn't get to and my grumpiness will tell you all you need to know. My body needs to be moving.

I didn't have any tests done or anything confirming, but I am very sure that my injuries were so little because I take such good care of myself. I've got an ass that can take a hit. I box, I squat, I lift weights and I love it a lot. I don't lift a lot of weight. I lift more weight than most women at my age and size, but it isn't anything impressive. [It's really important that women take part in weight-bearing exercise. You won't get huge. You'll lose fat and gain muscle. Your bones will gain the kind of density they need to fight against being squished between trailers and pickup trucks.  Osteoporosis is estimated to affect  200 million women worldwide. And it's pretty preventable.]

Yakin' into an offshoot of the river that probably
has a more technical term than offshoot.
I get really grumpy when I can't work out. I don't know how people live like that. I'd be a completely different person.

The human body was made to exercise. The heart wants to pump harder. The lungs long to breathe, truly breathe. The mind itches to be pushed. The soul craves it.

I love running. It isn't because it is easy for me either. It's because it is really hard. It is hard to get out there and get going. It is hard to wake up before the sun and get out of bed and put on my running tights and other cold-weather running gear. It is really hard to look out the window and ignore pouring rain and tie my shoes that have holes in the toes, knowing they'll be squishy and heavy and sopping wet. It is hard to not cuddle back into bed and snooze for another hour. 

But once you walk out to the street. Once you're out on that road, you've passed the test. You've made it past the hardest part. Push yourself to what you can do and be proud that you got out there, no matter how far or fast you go. My biggest motivator is the look on the faces of the people in cars that pass me on a snowy day. "Look at that idiot trying to run in this shit!" 

Everybody has to find their own fitness muse. Some people are built to lift absurd amounts of weight. Some people are made to cover absurd amounts of miles. Some people can dance the crap out of their Zumba shoes. I think I'm lucky because I've found a passion for most things, and I don't get too down if I'm really horrible at it. (The only thing I don't like is volleyball. I just don't care enough to sacrifice my body for a ball. Also, ouch forearms.) There is no way you don't have enough time for your health. Because you know what nobody has time for? Being sick all of the time. Give me that excuse and I'll show you my schedule. If you fall in love with something, you'll make time for it. You just haven't found it yet. 

In the end, I am thankful for my strong bones and muscles. I am thankful that I never sick and that soda tastes gross to me. I'm thankful for the people in my life who live for adventure and I can't wait to see where my body takes me next. 

Also, that trailer can kiss my butt.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Twenty three things I've learned in the last year

Sometimes I feel like I am in the final part of a movie trailer—the part where they just montage a bunch of great scenes together at hyper speed with epic music. It's the end of the trailer where they have ten seconds left to really hook you, really make you turn to the person in the jumbo movie-theater seat next to you and say, "that looks good."

The protagonist is running herself to exhaustion with something clearly on her mind, and in the next second she's laughing with whom you can tell are her very close friends, the quirky kind of characters that make movies interesting. In the next quick transition they’re climbing a mountain, arms stretched out and screaming across open hills.  Next, there's a quick shot to a mentoring character telling the protagonist something deep, then the protagonist ignoring advice she will eventually learn and thank mentor for later. Jump cut to a passionate cry scene. Jump cut to the protagonist finally standing up to the antagonist. Jump cut to her kissing an attractive actor who you  probably recognize from another film. Jump cut to them fighting. Running for each other. Lessons being learned. Hopeful music. Crying. Laughing. Loving.

"That looks good."


Every year I vaingloriously celebrate my birthday with a list of the things I've learned in the last year, an item on the list for each year of my life. (See 20 things or the 21 things).

One day this list is going to be too long to put in one post. But for now, I give you Erin's Lessons of the Year, Volume 23:

1.  Anything you need to know about living life well you can learn from a dog. Loyalty. Forgiveness. Unconditional Love. Pure Joy. Excitement about the same exact meal every single day.
2. Make your life’s story a good one.  I love reading the life stories of real people. Not people like John F. Kennedy or Marilyn Monroe or John F. Kennedy with Marilyn Monroe, but about normal people you may have never heard of (until their awesome biogs came out) but who did something great because they decided to live a good life story (I hope to some day write these kinds of stories).  If somebody was going to write a biography of your life, first, would somebody want to write a biography of your life? Secondly, would people want to read it? Thirdly, would people tell their friends to read it too because it was a great life?
3. Contrary to popular belief, everything does not happen for a reason. This is just an excuse somebody who didn't want to take responsibility made up once, regardless of whatever higher power or galactic karma force you believe in, there are some things that just happen. People go against the will of the world all of the time. (In Christianity, it's called sin, and it's essentially doing the opposite of God's intention for humanity.) This might piss some people off. But there are really shitty people who do things to other people and animals and the environment. And then there's really good people who have really shitty things happen to them like cancer, or car accidents or ugly children. You can, however, change how you react to them. Taking the blame off of "everything happens for a reason" helps you cope with the crap and find real reason in your life. 
4. Show gratitude. Enough said. 
5. Never apologize for being yourself. So many times, women especially, apologize for really stupid and uncontrollable things. Apologize to me when you’re late. Don’t apologize to me when you’re a brunette or introverted or gay.
6. Care about the environment.  This isn't a political issue. It’s an 'I like breathing' issue.
7. Put down your phone. Tell me about your life dammit. Tweet about it later. 
8. Thank your lucky stars for a lot of conveniences the US has to offer. Europe liked charging my poor behind for everything it could possible charge it for: toilets, tap water, places to sit. I held onto my waste for hours looking for a bathroom on multiple occasions. I sometimes like to give the US a lot of crap, pun intended, for its regressive ways, but I'm thankful that I can find a toilet while I'm traveling.
9. When you meet someone who has enough patience to deal with all of your nuttiness, don't test it all of the time.  Thanks boyfriend for still liking me when I bawl at this commercial and for watching Parenthood with me every week. 
10. Get excited about how much you've changed. "You've changed" doesn't have to have such a bad connotation. Not changing means no growth. And that's kind of lame. Let yourself be proud of your growth. And don't be embarrassed that you used to wear this or dated that giant goober. Just be glad you've come that far. Because he really was a giant goober. 
11. Don't get jealous as people your age are having babies and diamond rings and husbands and really fancy jobs.  Sometimes I need to remind myself that I don't want to get married any time soon because I have a ginormous pile of debt and even more ginormous personal goals and my entire life to do those things. I have to remember that I chose a career that probably isn't going to make me a lot of money, but that I would rather have no money than not do it. My life is pretty damn good.  Looking at pictures of my friends' cute babies is sufficient for now.
12. Social media interaction does not build real relationships. Foster a real friendship. Not a spoon-fed Facebook one. 
13. Anger and violence are not the solution to anger and violence. For example, I really really hate rape culture. I'm a passionate feminist who is done with letting things slide. But screaming the F word at rape culture down your town's main street isn't the way to solve a horrible horrible problem. The F word is an inherently violent word.  It makes you only look irrational and crazy. And the people who you want to hear your message will only roll their eyes. I don't know what the solution is. And I know taking back the night is a very empowering experience that I really love. I know something needs to be done. And I am glad people are trying everything they can. Maybe on my 24th birthday I'll have a solution to this. 
14. Being a nice person doesn't always get you the job, but it's a heck of a lot less lonely. After being the longest and hardest working employee at my job in college, I applied for a Supervisor position. They told me I didn’t get the job because I didn’t dress well enough for the interview. It later came out that I didn’t get the job because I was too nice and they worried I wouldn't do the job well (har har). I will never let my niceness be a bad thing. I will never regret being nice because someone who was intimidated by my courage to treat people well tried to hold me back.  Instead, I skipped over the supervisor position into a higher-up managing level position, won the award for “Friendliest” for three years straight, and won the Butch Hill Customer Service Award for my kindness to all other employees and patrons at my job. While a few people had tried to discourage me from continuing to work hard and with integrity, I owe them a ton of gratitude for being one of the most motivating factors in my career. They will never be able to carry my kindness-covered briefcase. People are going to try to hold you back because they fear your potential to one day out-do them. This leads me to #15:
15. Surround yourself with giants. Surround yourself with people who are going to inspire you, push you and never tell you that you can't do something. Meet people who aren't afraid to be extraordinary, people who work their asses off. These kinds of friends and mentors will inevitably rub off on you a little bit. 
16. Don't be the kind of person who always points out when a person in the room farted. This is both a literal and metaphorical lesson. 
17. You need to do it now. Not later. Now. “Living a life fully engaged and full of whimsy and the kind of things that love does is something most people plan to do, but along the way they just kind of forget. Their dreams become one of those "we'll go there next time" deferrals. The sad thing is, for many there is no "next time" because passing on the chance to cross over is an overall attitude toward life rather than a single decision.” - Bob Goff, Love Does
18. If there is a person that you see walking to and from every where you go every single day, you should become best friends with him or her. This happened. I'm really thankful. 
19. There is no correlation between volume of your voice and correctness. The winner of He Who Shouts The Loudest or She Who Uses the Most Obscure Metaphor doesn't get a prize. And if they did, it wouldn't be being right. 
20. Don't let someone else's wrong opinion of you make you cry too many tears. When I got my LSAT score back and it wasn't what I'd got in my practice tests, I actually cried. Not because I wasn't proud of myself or because I wasn't going to get into a good law school someday, but because there's a person who makes me feel dumb every time I talk to him, and I didn't want to have to deal with what he'd think. Isn't that horrible? If someone doesn't want to take the time to learn about how smart or INSERT OTHER TRAIT HERE you really are, then that's on them.  
21. I still refuse to believe "bad with names" is an actual thing. 
22. My parents are still really incredible, in every sense of the word. 
23. I am by no means wise. I am by every mean still learning. 


"When you decide to drop everything that’s typical, all that is left is just a big idea about an even bigger God and a world that’s worn out from the way everyone else has been doing it. The world has been shouting over the noise of our programs that it doesn’t need more presidents or organizations, what it needs are more friends. If you are a sincere friend, folks around you will quickly understand that there’s no hidden agenda and nothing on the other side of the equals sign, just you." - Bob Goff, Love Does

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I wasn't born an athlete, but I decided to be one anyway.

I'm number 20. Look at those tiny arms. 
I tried out for the field hockey team in ninth grade because I wanted to make friends, I wanted to be a part of a team and I wanted to have a cool Under Armor jacket to wear around school on game days. Fortunately, everybody made at least junior varsity. Unfortunately, all the girls were very competitive and none of them really wanted to be my friend. Also, the printers screwed up our jacket order and we never even got them.

I was the slowest person on the team. By a football field's length. Literally, when we would run ladders (25 yards and back to the end zone, 50 yards and back, 75 yards and back, 100 yards and faint), I would glance back from the opposite side of the field to the rest of the team staring at me and questioning if maybe I had just walked the whole thing or something. We were suppose to complete this in under two minutes. I never made it quicker than 2:30. People don't ever believe me when I talk about how slow I was, but I have a team of witnesses to explain how it worked: I made the face like I was trying to sprint, my legs and arms were pumping like I was trying to sprint, but the ground below me just didn't get covered. It was like that cliche dream where you're running and not getting anywhere, except I wasn't in my underwear and nobody was chasing me.

What I lacked in speed, I made up in the ability to run forever like a madwoman. I got put at midfield, where my job was to run and run and run and run around the field the whole game and occasionally pass the ball to somebody and more occasionally just get in the way of the other team so somebody else on my team could do something athletic.

We went to field hockey camp at Penn State for a short week and I was the only girl on the team without a roommate. I spent my first night at a college campus alone in my room crying to my mom on my pay-as-you-go cell phone until it ran out of its loaded minutes.  (I should mention, however, that I spent my second night exploring State College by myself and meeting some really cool strangers which made up for my horrible first night.) I worked my ass off in field hockey, and I ended up just falling on it. I don't know if people didn't like me because I was unbelievably slow, irrationally positive, or awkward and said things nobody understood through my mouth guard all the time.

In the long run, I thank field hockey for introducing me to the incredible feeling of pushing my body to do things my tiny thighs and lack of fast-twitch muscle fibers never thought they could do. I loved the feeling after a circuit run. I loved the idea that I couldn't run a football field in August and by October I was pushing five miles a game. I loved that different feeling that lingered in my lungs hours after a tough practice. I fell in love with exercise. (Eventually people realized I wasn't competition for any starting spots and I was really good at making up funny names for everybody, so I became an important asset to the team's morale and they kept me around for a couple more years.)

When I turned sixteen my sophomore year, I got a job at a new fitness club that was opening down the street. This club boasted healthy living and it was contagious. I saw people of all shapes and sizes doing things that made them feel good. It was about the inside, that awesome feeling of accomplishment and noticeable improvement in ones own abilities. (Don't get me wrong, there are some BABES at this place, but a tight booty is just an external perk to the magnificent joy that partners it.) I was learning something new everyday and I was learning that it didn't take that much coordination to do some of these things. I took what I knew I was good at, endurance sports, and I used it to help me in what I was really (really really) bad at.

Seven years later, I'm kind of more coordinated and a little bit faster. But I'm stronger and I'm healthy and I'm not afraid to test my limits. This summer, I ran my first two triathlons, backpacked on the Appalachian Trail, swam across a whole lake, got lost in the middle of the woods and practically pooped myself as I sprinted out six fear-miles, I squatted the most I've ever squatted in my life, climbed the hardest route at my local climbing gym and I've gotten to do it all with my boyfriend and friends.

I'm still a clutz. I stubbed my toe and broke it (then ran a triathlon on it and hiked on the Appalachian Trail). I slammed my hand jumping up onto a plyo box bruising my right wrist beyond usability and gashing my palm open (then finished the rest of my box jumps and leg workout). While doing pullups, I let go of a resistance band that had been on my feet to slap me in the crotch (then kept doing pullups with the resistance band in my crotch). But I still did it, right?

My arms are still pretty tiny. But whatever.
I like to think that the gym could use a few more people like me, who lack athleticism but don't use it as an excuse. The gym needs somebody who isn't afraid to turn to the body builder next to her and joke about the resistance band that just smacked her in the between-legs. I've met amazing people in my fitness journey, which to be honest, just like field hockey, is why I started in the first place. Everybody should know the feeling after a good workout, "good workout" being a completely relative term to the exerciser him/herself.

I love motivating others to get healthy. And I have gotten to meet some amazing motivators in my own fitness journey: the moms at my gym with bomb booties and gorgeous smiles; my former co-worker, Stephanie, who continues to push herself (including biking across the country, completing a half-iron man, and being one of the sweetest women I've ever met); my friends Kelly and Rachel who have the most contagious love for the outdoors I've ever seen; my friend Maeve who taught me that swimming can be great, because you're out of this world; my SCUBA instructors who taught me that the only way to succeed is to stop being such a damn spaz; and my super hero boyfriend whose idea of an "off day" is hot yoga and rock climbing.

One day this last summer, my boyfriend, Chris, and I went to my high school track to do an interval workout for our triathlon training. But before I could do that, I had an old score to settle with the football field: the ladder. With Chris timing me, I finished that sprint in 1:45, the fastest I've ever been. Maybe I would have rather made that time in high school because then maybe I would have maybe made Varsity Field Hockey (let's be honest, probably not). However, the amount of work I've been doing ever since high school ladders, the amount hours I'd spent with salty sweat down my face is really what made that time so damn sweet.

Looking over Maryland on the Appalachian Trail. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

College Principle #2: I did not let myself be a selfish student.

When I was little, I used to play a game we called The Never Ending Game. It sounds a lot more intense than it is. It was just a game of Make Believe where my friends and I always played the same characters and picked up where we left off playing the last time. We would play that we were in college or high school because we could never remember which one came first in an older person's life. (I blame Boy Meets World... sometimes they were in high school on reruns, sometimes they were in college and they always had the same principal/administrator/whoever Mr. Feeney was). We'd have lockers and always hung out at them. Because that's what you do at College High School. You hang out at the lockers. But like many young suburbanites, college was never not an option for a kid like me. Both my parents went. Their parents went. It's what you did.

College today is a lot different than when my parents went in 1904. It was cheaper, for one. It wasn't rare to NOT go to college, which meant that what you studied made you a smartiepants in that field, which meant you got a job more easily. I knew this going in. I realized I was going to be in a lot of debt, I was going to be one of millions with degrees in my field, and getting a job was going to be pretty hard. I went through a great program where the other students were super competitive and everything but humble about their internships and published works. 

It would not be fair to categorize college students into those who are selfish and those not. There are so many different kinds of people attending university every year, and thanks to hundreds of student organizations, they can be passionate about all different kinds of things. It's never quite accurate to classify people into two categories (cough, politics, cough), but I'm going to anyways.

 And to be fair, I think the act of going to college in itself, is partially selfish: I AM the one attending college in hopes to better MY life, to better MY opportunities, to become a more educated human being. I struggled with this for a while. 

My freshman and sophomore year, I spent a lot of time feeling bad. Feeling bad because there were people who didn't have the opportunities to attend college, and here I was having an amazing time, meeting amazing people, getting excited about discussions in my classes (I am that girl). I wanted to help others and college seemed like four years of putting that off. 

But the reason I did it was the idea that, without it, I could only do so much to help others. With an education, my opportunities would be greater to do something bigger for others down the line. And just because I wasn't starting a Non-profit-world-saving-hunger-fighting-disease-curing organization right after high school graduation didn't mean that I couldn't do things to help the people I was around. That's the beautifully brilliant thing about helping others: It can be done regardless of where you are or what you're doing or what your job description says. 

College was hard for me. When I was in high school, I never studied and I never did my homework, but I got good grades because I got grades on tests to make up for my laziness in other areas. Then I got to college and learned material more complex than memorizing a lecture on the first try and I actually had to study. But it quickly became apparent to me that I would be doing far more learning and living outside of the lecture hall. I met people from very different backgrounds than mine. And I fell in love with them. Being a good friend to them meant more to me than an A on a paper (although writing papers was my strong suit). I learned that Athens, Ohio was but an island in the middle of a rural area, struggling with things I hadn't experienced much as a kid. I became a mentor to high school students in the area through a thing called Young Life, which meant more to me than shmoozing a bunch of visiting news executives to hire me. I fell in love with exercise and adventure and learned that I could push myself to do things I'd never have even considered-- getting over my fear of heights rock climbing and backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. Inspiring others to get healthy and active meant more to me than setting the curve on an exam. 

[sidenote: Don't think what I'm saying is that working hard in classes doesn't matter because you're learning more important things elsewhere. It isn't right to put off your studies and cheat yourself out of a good education because you're busy having fun. My parents worked their asses off to get me through college and I respected them enough to maintain a substantial grade point average. But it wasn't the only thing that mattered.]

When I was in the classroom, I made a point to know the people in my class. They mattered to me. They weren't competition. I'd give people my notes when I noticed they had been absent, I made conversation with them about their lives that consisted beyond what they did that weekend. 

Outside the classroom, I made a point to care about people. Because I did care about people. It wasn't very hard. 

My priorities were different than other students in my program, but I also know that I experienced a sort of whimsy they will never know. There are a lot of ways to be a student and not be a selfish student. You can go out of your way to help people and get involved in organizations, or you can just choose to not be a douche bag and hold the door for somebody every now and then. I chose the former. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Principles I lived by in college, Part One: I took extra classes that challenged me and had absolutely no importance towards my graduation.

Part of the fun in being a writer is that you don't have to settle on one specific topic-- you become a jane of many trades, a renaissance woman of sorts, not necessarily staying in any particular industry, but writing about people who have. I liked being in journalism school because I liked learning how to comb out my grammar and learning how to make All the President's Men relevant material in all of my classes. J-school classes were very great, but my favorite subjects I studied were the ones I took for nothing more than the hell of learning something new. (There's only a couple of us at every institution who actually appreciate learning, but here I am, a rare breed!)

It took some extra caffeine, but I let myself take classes in subjects irrelevant to my graduation.

At the bottom of my transcript there's a miscellaneous category that should be titled "GPA ruiners that your optimistic little heart still enjoyed despite all odds."

I took some great stuff: dance classes, SCUBA class, some other easy one-credits. I also took some really hard things: histories, exercise science and personal training classes, philosophy, myrmecology, siphonapterology.

Unfortunately, my expression of interest outside my major field was never rewarded the way it should have been. For example, one particular class I enrolled in last winter left me with scars on my transcript, GPA and my soul.

I'm going to refer to this class as Nazi Germany. This class featured a subject that I was quite interested in. We were assigned weekly papers on various readings and grad student graders were assigned to tell us our work sucked based on the alphabetical location of our last name. There were three graders: Cute little curly-blonde mother-figure-type donning a blue daisy sundress (floppy hat included), tall brunette with earthy shoes, tie-dye headband and colorfully-patched backpack, and Ben.

My grader was Ben.

The first paper I turned in, I got back with a big fat zero written on it.

I went to his office hours after class, introduced myself and attempted to understand my grade (or lack of). There must have been a mistake!

Ben, so thoughtful as he was, assured me that there had been no mistake for I had used too many sources. Granted, I had two sources, but I was only to use one.

I explained to him, "Mr. Ben, I am sorry, bear with me. I'm a journalism major taking this class out of sheer interest. Where I come from, MORE sources is a good thing. Next week's paper will be the less-credible standard of your liking. Promise."

The next week I improved.


I went to Ben's office hours after class, introduced myself (again) and attempted to understand my grade. This time as I approached the closet they must have accidentally assigned him to instead of an office,  another girl was leaving the room crying. I assumed it was because Ben was just such a funny guy!

"Mr. Ben, I used fewer sources like you wanted. But I'm still confused why I'm only getting a D. There must have been a mistake again."

Ben, in the respectful way that he was, told me there had been no mistake. I had, in fact, received a D, this time, because I had used too many quotations from the cited reading.

Again, I told him I was a journalism major. We are taught that more quotations, more citing of credible source materials = good job. His response: "That would explain your ridiculously short paragraphs."

When I asked Mr. Ben what I could do to get an A, what made an A paper, he told me it depended on the paper, which I assume really just meant on his mood that day.

I told him he was a great guy. Then I silently farted in his closet and left him for dead.

I was determined to prove Ben wrong. I spent a lot of time on this Nazi class writing papers with as few quotes and sources as I could not find.

In the end, I pulled out a C-.

What's sad about my C- is that my intentions of the class were so good. I wanted to learn. In the end, I learned a new way to think, I learned how to use criticism to better my writing and I learned that some professors are going to treat you like a fart in a closet office.

I am so glad I took this Nazi class. I am so glad I took extra classes. I am hopeful that there is a professor out there who sees the value in teaching people outside of his or her field of study. Instead of the mentality that the 101 class is a bunch of stupid freshmen trying to fill their basic requirements, it is as an opportunity to get a bunch of stupid freshmen interested in the topic in which one's devoted to his or her life's work. My favorite class was a 100-level plant biology course. Not because I'm really interested in leaves. But because the professor made leaves really interesting.

If you have the extra time, take a class that isn't going to fit anywhere on your graduation requirements. Especially if you don't mind a little C- action every now and then. You'll learn a lot about something new. And maybe you'll meet somebody as outstanding as Mr. Ben. And if you're lucky he'll make you cry.

(Author's Note: You can take classes pass/fail. Do that. I wish I had known this sooner)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What I'm going to do today.

Welp, Erin ya graduated college. It's about time you started writing your people observations again.

I'm a busy body, a busy bee. I like to go, and I like to be going. And when all the GO GO GO turns into SIT SIT SIT around and watch Kitchen Cousins and Curb Appeal for seven hours straight, two things happen: one, I have really beautiful and memorable intense workouts (thank you!) and two, I start thinking. I have been going for four years straight and I thought I would take a week to let myself rest before I let myself fix my portfolio or post in my blog or apply to ten jobs a day or unpack all of the boxes now sitting in my parent's garage.

But there's a problem with trying to let myself rest: I'm a thinker. And when I get thinking, I get really thinking. First, I replayed my last semester in Athens. (Yes, It was a great one, but this blogpost isn't about Athens... I think there are enough nostalgic manifestos that I'm afraid to even read because I'll cry let alone write my own cookie-cutter version of.) Then I replayed my own experiences over the last four years.

So, yeah, I'm going to talk about me. Suck it.

I thought of the four principles, two academic and two personal, that I lived by in college and I'm going to feature them over the next four days.

The first academic principle: I took extra classes that challenged me and had absolutely no importance towards my graduation.

The second academic principle: I did not let myself be a selfish student. 

The first personal principle: I never said no to adventure or good conversation.

The second personal principle: I let myself become an artist. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The best thing I ever did in all of my entire college

It was something like 4 o’clock on a Thursday morning. I walked to the kitchen and pounded my head on the counter until coffee magically came out of the machine. I looked at the assortment of bags packed on the floor by the front door—my cute Vera Bradley duffel looked funny hanging out with my fins and snorkel. I headed out the door towards the Aquatic Center with bright eyes. Athens, Ohio had been kissed by one of its first frosts of the year, all the more reason to get the heck down to Florida. As we packed up the trailer and everybody put themselves back to bed, I reviewed what had engulfed my stress for the nine weeks prior: OU SCUBA.

“Did you know SCUBA is actually an acronym?”: the only thing I actually knew about it going into the class.

Our first day was like an episode of "1000 Ways to Die"—SCUBA edition. The instructors sat us down and told us anything and everything that could go wrong while we’re diving. Like how your skin could fall off, or how you could get bubbles in your blood and your skin would fall off, or how the bends would make your skin gross right before you died, or how a shark could come up behind you and tear all of your skin off.

Then we signed a release form.

I immediately called my expert diver boyfriend crying.  We had planned a big dive trip to the Dutch Caribbean with his family for Christmas break, but I wasn’t about to go near any water after this first class.

Somehow, I managed to make it to the swim test.

And to the next class.

And to the next pool lab.

And I kept going back, learning something new every time, going out of my comfort zone every time.

The next nine weeks of class gave us more information and practice in the pool than any other introductory SCUBA training I’ve ever heard of. We learned a lot of badass techniques that most divers don’t know—like different kinds of dives, swimming to the bottom of the pool and clearing our mask (getting the water out) all in one breath. We learned how to dive down, gear in hand, and put it all on underwater.

The instructors were total characters, but they also helped you keep calm, while pushing you to push yourself. I have never had a professor genuinely care so much about my success in a class.

At the beginning of pool labs, I was struggling getting my ears to clear on my way to the bottom of the pool—if you don’t clear your ears, the pressure builds up, and the pain is unbearable. My instructor brought me solution for swimmer’s ear the next day.

One instructor had me pushing myself harder than I ever had before. He couldn’t believe how horrible I was at holding my breath.  (which, was actually quite horrible.)

“Are you an athlete?” he asked.

“Yes, I’m a runner.”

“Then why do you have no lung capacity to hold your breath?”

“Because when you’re running, you’re allowed to keep breathing.”

We figured out my incapacity to hold any air in my lungs was directly correlated to my incapacity to relax longer than a half second. (Picture me underwater: I’m the guy from Accepted who they finally get to meditate when they put him in a straight jacket.)

“Relax,” he’d tell me. Until I practiced just sitting at the bottom of the pool and letting myself forget that I couldn’t breathe, I was very horrible at relaxing.

It’s funny to me how often many people, upon finding out I was taking SCUBA diving, responded so very cynically. “Oh, I would never take that class. I’m too scared.”

The irony of their responses is that my reason for taking SCUBA diving is exactly that. I was scared. I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to push myself well beyond my comfort zone. I wanted to poop my wetsuit.

I wanted to let myself relax.

And I’ll admit, I had to go into the aqua center a couple times outside of class to practice sitting at the bottom of the pool.

It sounds ridiculous, but I got so good, in fact, that the lifeguards were on the edges of their seats, praying they wouldn’t have to come in after me.

The final consisted of a written test and a pool test. And then we had the option to head to Florida for a check out dive to get our certification. (Well, hell yeah I’m going to take an opportunity to be excused from my classes and go to Florida in November.)

If you had told me in August that I would be SCUBA diving through pitch-black caves in just a couple months, I’d have called you a liar.

But there I was, kickin’ it with the manatees.

Taking SCUBA diving at OU isn’t for everyone. But everyone should take a course that scares the skin off of them. Whether you are a macho dude who’s taking Women’s Gender Studies or you’re an arachnophobe taking Spider History (that’s not actually a course), everybody should be pushing themselves beyond that box called comfortable that we like to live in.

My trip to the Caribbean was the greatest of my life. I dove 100 feet underwater to see the remnants of a shipwreck. I swam through beautiful reefs. I got to ask rainbow fish what it was like to star in every child’s favorite book.

I learned more about myself in SCUBA diving than any other class I’ve ever taken in college. And I couldn’t have done it if I hadn’t let myself get a little scared.

*This story was published in the opinion section of The Essay Magazine.