Monday, November 09, 2009

Painting Her Portrait*

As I mentioned yesterday, I now have a lovely list of websites to browse. I've been looking, and I've already set my sights on this program. Using medieval stone masonry techniques to restore a village in southern France? Yes, please!

The new plan:

Step 1: I fly into Paris and kick around there for a few days. Maybe with Jason? Maybe with my parents? Maybe with another one of you I can talk into joining me? (Not that that worked last summer when I tried to talk y'all into coming to Spain with me. Or Chicago this fall. But PARIS! C'mon!)

Step 2: I take the train to Avignon to work on the Sabranenque project for a week or two (I'm not sure what the length is). Cut stones and build me some buildings in the morning, take in the Provencal countryside in the afternoon. And I imagine there'll be some good things to eat, too.

Step 3: Train back to Paris and from there fly to Africa to do some more volunteer work for three weeks!

Why Africa?

Honestly, I don't know. I had been planning for Thailand, and India's been a temptation, but lately something's pulling me to Africa. Although the preliminary plane ticket searches I've been running hardly support that idea - Paris to Dar es Salaam is not cheap, my friends (initial results: $2340). Still, I'll try for it. I'm not sure which program yet - working with humans? Working with animals? Working with teenagers?

Oh, and one of my friends from Pueblo Ingles just reminded me that I need to come visit him in London. Again I say: Yes, please!

So, I've got somethings to think about for next summer. I'm not sure if I can save up that much by then - at least $7000 for the two-legged trip I'm hoping for. But it's nice to have something like this to research right now.

(Warning - self-discovery and long-windedness ahead!)

I've been planning a trip for next summer since, well, about halfway through my trip last summer. 'Tis my nature. But it came to a bit of a crisis mode last month for me. A few different things triggered a bout of feeling very much not married.

When I'm thinking rationally, I'm fine with being single. I'm happy, and I have a fantastic life - I have a good job, I own my home, I picked where I live, I have a terrific family and good friends, and I get to plan vacations to Paris and Africa and such.

Still, I never planned on being single now. In high school, all of my friends kept telling me what a great mother I'd be. And that's what I planned - I would go to college, get married, then be a great mom and maybe teach or write on the side.

And then I went to college, and I didn't get married.
And I went to teacher college, and I didn't get married.
And my sister got married, and I didn't get married.
And I started my career, and I didn't get married.
And I finished grad school, and I didn't get married.
And I moved to Denver, and my brother found an awesome girl, and I made a life of my own, and I still didn't get married.

Gah. Part of me hates that list. I don't want to measure my worth by what I haven't done. See the footnote for the title of this post. Moreover, I don't want to even consider for a moment that I have failed because I haven't gotten married. What kind of person defines herself by that?

What kind of person? Well, frankly, a Mormon person. For Pete's sake, they group members into wards based on two factors - 1) geography and 2) marital status. In church yesterday, I heard a phrase I hear every week - the speaker referring to us as "singles," literally identifying me and the people surrounding me by that one (ONE!) facet of our lives.

Look, I want to get married. I'd love to date, to learn that kind of relationship and to have that level of friendship, trust, and love with someone. It's something that everyone tells me I should have, and it's something that I can't get, and I can't figure out why. It's like I'm in school again, but this time I can't figure out why I'm not getting the answer that matches the one in the back of the book. Back then, if I didn't get the right answers in Calculus or Physics, I'd check my notes again, get some help from my dad, and do the problems over until I figured them out (albeit with some tears and a lot of scratch paper). And I always figured them out.

So I approach this the same way - what's the problem, what mistake am I making, and how do I fix it?

The well-meaning advice I get from people suggests the same kind of philosophy - "You're too smart," or "You're too independent," or "You're successful - that's intimidating," or "Men aren't attracted to heavy girls," or "Pray that you'll learn what you need to learn in order to move on to the next level," or "Just stop looking - it always happens when you stop looking."

I appreciate the advice, but here's the thing: all of that advice tells me that it's me - I'm doing something wrong. Or, worse, that it's something about my very nature that's wrong. And, I'm sorry, but I just won't believe that it's not possible for someone to love me.

It's exhausting to constantly shout down the doubts and deprecations. There's a lot more voices saying that it's me, I'm wrong, than the ones saying that I'm doing something right.

But then, quietly, last week a thought occurred to me - maybe there's just more that I get to do first.

Did you catch that? It's such a subtle shift - a slight change of tone, a more precise vocabulary. Maybe there's something more I get to do first.

The thought caught me off-guard, like a fish you're trying to grab with your bare hands brushing right up against your fingers (I don't know why you're trying to catch a fish with your bare hands. It's my metaphor - just go with it). I've been playing the thought over and over in my head this last week, trying it on secretly and admiring it.

Maybe there's something more I need to do first. Maybe there's something more I get to do first. Maybe it's not that there's something wrong with me that I need to fix. Maybe I'm just different in a totally-okay no-need-to-fix-it kind-of-way and that means that I get to take a different course. Maybe I get to go work with orphans in Russia and teach English in Spain and direct middle schoolers in Shakespeare and feed lions in Africa and maybe all of those things count just as much as being married does in the end. And maybe I get to do those things, not because there's something wrong with me that I haven't figured out how to fix yet, but because I have something else to offer the world.

So that's the new philosophy I'm trying on. It doesn't really change anything, but it kind of changes everything for me. And it's okay if you don't get it - you don't have to. This is about me figuring out what comes next.

* "(Jane, to herself) 'Listen, then, Jane Eyre, to your sentence: tomorrow, place the glass before you, and draw in chalk your own picture, faithfully, without softening one defect; omit no harsh line, smooth away no displeasing irregularity; write under it, 'Portrait of a Governess, disconnected, poor, and plain.'

"Afterwards, take a piece of smooth ivory--you have one prepared in your drawing-box: take your palette, mix your freshest, finest, clearest tints; choose your most delicate camel-hair pencils; delineate carefully the loveliest face you can imagine; paint it in your softest shades and sweetest lines, according to the description given by Mrs. Fairfax of Blanche Ingram; remember the raven ringlets, the oriental eye;--What! you revert to Mr. Rochester as a model! Order! No snivel!--no sentiment!--no regret! I will endure only sense and resolution. Recall the august yet harmonious lineaments, the Grecian neck and bust; let the round and dazzling arm be visible, and the delicate hand; omit neither diamond ring nor gold bracelet; portray faithfully the attire, aerial lace and glistening satin, graceful scarf and golden rose; call it 'Blanche, an accomplished lady of rank.'

"Whenever, in future, you should chance to fancy Mr. Rochester thinks well of you, take out these two pictures and compare them: say, 'Mr. Rochester might probably win that noble lady's love, if he chose to strive for it; is it likely he would waste a serious thought on this indigent and insignificant plebeian?'"

"I'll do it," I resolved."


  1. Amanda,

    I like your new philosophy a lot. You're one of the coolest and most "put-together" people I know. I could think of lots of "advice" like a lot of other people, but it would just be blowing smoke. The idea that you, of all people, would need to fix something about yourself is completely ridiculous.

    Now I'm wandering off somewhere... My point is: You're awesome and way smarter than me or most other people I know. I know that you'll figure out what's best for you, and I'm excited for you new plan. Also africa.

  2. I love this post. Like, really really love it.