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Friday, August 31, 2012

Portfolio Piece #5: Old

Trying a little something new.  Something I’ve wanted to do for a while.  For the next few days, I will be posting the pieces I submitted for my Writing Minor Portfolio.  They are all from classes I took Sophomore to Senior Year at Keene State College.  Most of them are memoir in nature, but a few are slightly different.  These are pieces I love, but know still need work.  If you would like to know more of the stories behind the pieces, let me know and I will be happy to share!  Also, any and all constructive feedback is always welcome – just because these were the final versions to be submitted doesn’t mean that they are perfect.

Oh, and also?  These are mine.  Do not steal them.  Thanks.

A Dream Story Written for Cooking, Eating and Dreaming, Written Junior Year
It had been more than a decade since I last saw Jon.  He used to know me better than anyone, and was the passion of my youth, but I rarely thought of him.  Lately, he had been lurking in the dark corners of my mind, a reminder of who I once was.  Making me nostalgic, and regretful.  My heart ached for him.
I was sitting on my bed when he appeared.  His clear blue eyes and dimpled smile reminded me why I once loved him. 
“You look old.” I say. 
“I am old.” he says. 
“You always were.”  We laugh, my head resting on his familiar shoulder.  I feel at home.  “Let’s get out of here,” I murmur into his shoulder.
“OK.” he mutters to my ceiling.
We are sitting at the RHO meeting, when he introduces himself.  He turns to me and loudly questions my being in college at my age.  “Oh, hey now!” Jana says, her voice issuing an unspoken warning, as she fixes an intense gaze from her scary eyes at him.  I am touched that she defends me.  There is laughter around us, but my heart hurts a little.  I thought he would be proud of me.  I look at him, trying to hide the embarrassment and pain in my eyes.  His face turns apologetic, and he takes my hand in his.  He nods his head towards the door, a signal of his desire to leave.  I smile.
We walk by the pond, two old friends, arm in arm.  “I miss you.” I say to the clear blue sky and the sparkling water.  He melts my heart with his smile, warmth creeping from my belly out.  I snuggle up against him as a breeze kicks up.  His soft lips press against my forehead and my heart drops.  “You know I don’t like it when you do that.  It always means goodbye,” I say to his chest, inhaling the scent of sandalwood oil and pipe tobacco.  He steps away, his face tired.  “I know,” he says as he fades away.
I am left alone and confused, the warm autumn day giving way to chilled blue twilight.  I feel old and run down.  The water has lost its sparkle, and I feel empty.  I meander through the deserted campus, leaves whirling around me, a melancholy soundtrack playing in my head.  As I enter my room, the emptiness of it makes it difficult to breathe.  I climb onto my bed, and smell the sheets, but his scent is gone.  My heart aches with disappointment and loss.  I slide in under the covers and try to sleep, hoping to see his face once again in my dreams. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Portfolio Piece #4: Go Fish

Trying a little something new.  Something I’ve wanted to do for a while.  For the next few days, I will be posting the pieces I submitted for my Writing Minor Portfolio.  They are all from classes I took Sophomore to Senior Year at Keene State College.  Most of them are memoir in nature, but a few are slightly different.  These are pieces I love, but know still need work.  If you would like to know more of the stories behind the pieces, let me know and I will be happy to share!  Also, any and all constructive feedback is always welcome – just because these were the final versions to be submitted doesn’t mean that they are perfect.

Oh, and also?  These are mine.  Do not steal them.  Thanks.

Go Fish
A Dream Story, Written for Cooking, Eating and Dreaming, Junior Year.

“I am a big fish in a teeny-tiny pond.  I need to get out,” I state clearly and plainly to my goldfish.  “You know how it feels, when you outgrow your tank.”  My goldfish swims over to me and swishes her tail in agreement.  “Yes, I do.  By the way… the tank is getting small again.”  I just shrug and turn to face the revolving door in the middle of my bedroom.  “Sorry, Ms. Fish.  Not my problem anymore.”  I push the door…        
            And come out in the Plaza Hotel lobby in New York City.  Everything is black and white, except for the brass door, creaking to a stop behind me.  A piano plays something mellow from the dining room.  The lobby is void of furniture, plants, and and full of a seemingly endless rows of treadmills.  On the treadmills, identical people wearing identical black tracksuits, smooth skin where their faces should be, walk in steady unison.  They all turn their blank faces to me.  There are no empty treadmills, so I have to go.  I turn and push on the door…
            The Chinese Theater in Los Angeles towers over me.  It is abandoned, a breeze gently swaying my skirt, old movie posters scattering at my feet.  I am surrounded by Technicolor, big band music playing from the sky.  I walk over to Judy Garland’s prints, but they are gone.  She has left me a message in the pavement: “Stop trying to be me and find your own way!”  A sob breaks out from my chest as I push my way through the door…
            I land on Appian Way in front of the Keene State College Mason Library.  It is an average fall day, leaves scattered all around, and the perpetual smell of apples surrounds me.  The computerized library bells clang out a Beatles tune.  There is an old woman standing on the stairs to the library, a history book in one hand and a graduation cap in the other.  On the step next to her is the fish tank with my ever growing fish.  The tank is twice the size, but the fish is still the same.  I turn around, but the revolving door has disappeared, a grassy lawn in its place.  I step forward to hug the old woman, take the book and put it in the backpack that has appeared at my feet.  I put the cap on my head, and pick up my fish.  “Yeah, I guess we didn’t really need a bigger tank after all.”

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Portfolio Piece #3: Someone's in the Kitchen with Pooh-Pah

Trying a little something new.  Something I’ve wanted to do for a while.  For the next few days, I will be posting the pieces I submitted for my Writing Minor Portfolio.  They are all from classes I took Sophomore to Senior Year at Keene State College.  Most of them are memoir in nature, but a few are slightly different.  These are pieces I love, but know still need work.  If you would like to know more of the stories behind the pieces, let me know and I will be happy to share!  Also, any and all constructive feedback is always welcome – just because these were the final versions to be submitted doesn’t mean that they are perfect.

Oh, and also?  These are mine.  Do not steal them.  Thanks.

Someone’s in the Kitchen with Pooh-Pah
Written for Cooking Eating and Dreaming, Junior Year

“Pooh-Pah!  Are you making dinner?  Can I help?”  Mary runs into the kitchen, excited in that five year-old way to play chef with her grandfather.  I smile and laugh – my niece is so much like me.  She climbs on her chair in front of the stove and throws me a heart melting smile over her shoulder. 
“Auntie!  I’m helping!” 
“I see that, Mary!  Be careful, and listen to Pooh-Pah.”
 “Oh, Auntie!” she giggles as she turns back to stir the boiling water for the Kraft mac and cheese.  I watch for a moment, enjoying the scene with wistful eyes.  I can’t lie - I am a little jealous.
I am a daddy’s girl.  Always have been.  My father was the cook of the family.  He taught me, encouraged me.  When I was living on my own for the first time, he was the one I called for cooking advice.  Now he cooks with his granddaughter, her tiny chef’s cap and apron adorned with Disney Princesses, his gentle guidance teaching her how to properly stir the mac and cheese.         
It is December, and I am home from school.  December in my family means a lot of things: school vacations, Christmas Pageants, Caroling.  Singing the Christmas Cantata on Christmas Eve; complete with a duet of “O Holy Night” with Dad during the Offertory.  And fudge.  Tons of fudge.
Fudge has been very important in our family for decades.  My dad used to make it to give to bank tellers at Christmas, and for our annual Open House.  Eventually, it spread to our teachers in school, the ladies down at the JC Penney Hair Salon, church members, our bosses at work, and friends who lived far away.  He would even make it for someone’s birthday in July if they asked.  Watching Dad make batch after batch every Christmas, sweating over the hot stove, cutting the freshly chilled fudge with his giant machete, was fascinating to me.  One year, he finally taught me how to make the fudge.
            He stood next to me, giving me gentle directions.  We chatted about how he came to this particular recipe (which I will not share, so don’t ask), which pot works best, and his off-temperature candy thermometer.  “If I ever lose this thermometer, I am screwed.  It’s off by a few degrees, but I know exactly where it needs to be to hit the right boiling point.  That is the key to making fudge.”  I nodded, taking in his sage advice while I continued to stir the pot.
            After the mixture had reached the magical boiling point, we mixed in the chocolate and poured it into the pan to be refrigerated and sent out as Christmas gifts to loved ones and acquaintances.  It turned out pretty good, in case you’re wondering.
            I have since forgotten how to make Pastor Ted’s Etna Famous Fudge.  I know he will show me again and again until I can make it from memory, batch after batch, just like him.  Someday, we can both teach Mary how to make it, keeping the family tradition alive in her.
            I still call my dad for cooking advice.  I give him a hard time for putting his Furi knife in the dishwasher.  We talk about Top Chef and Rachel Ray.  Cooking always and forever will be a major part of our relationship.  Even when I insist on making food for my family with no help, he is always there in the background, a calm reassurance that if I mess up, he can help fix it.  If it is beyond fixing, he eats it anyway, insisting that the effort was more than enough.
            One Fourth of July, he taught me how to grill steaks.  I had broiled and pan fried steak before, but was nervous about the grill.  He sat out in the blistering heat, the sun shining in our eyes.  Once he showed me how to get the grill heated properly, he sat in the sun lighting sparklers.  I soaked the steaks in my fabulous bourbon marinade; caramelized onions, cooked corn on the cob and fresh green beans.  We had Hood ice cream cone sundaes for dessert.  Mom and I ate in the living room, while dad sat at the kitchen table, occasionally piping up as we talked about traditional Fourth of July movies.  Mom took two bites of her steak and proclaimed “Ted, I think Beth may have surpassed you!”  After much protest from me, Dad quietly but firmly stated from the kitchen “That’s how it should be.”
            As I stand in the kitchen of my childhood, watching the new baby of the family learn from the master, I think to myself “the baton has been passed...”  Dad has always said that I would be his little girl; that no matter how old children get, parents will always think of them as kids.  That is, of course, until they have children of their own.  The day Mary came into our lives, I was no longer the apple of my Daddy’s eye.  She has his heart in her tiny fist, and none of us really seem to mind too much.  I suppose that’s how it should be.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Portfolio Piece #2: Generation of Idiots

Trying a little something new.  Something I’ve wanted to do for a while.  For the next few days, I will be posting the pieces I submitted for my Writing Minor Portfolio.  They are all from classes I took Sophomore to Senior Year at Keene State College.  Most of them are memoir in nature, but a few are slightly different.  These are pieces I love, but know still need work.  If you would like to know more of the stories behind the pieces, let me know and I will be happy to share!  Also, any and all constructive feedback is always welcome – just because these were the final versions to be submitted doesn’t mean that they are perfect.

Oh, and also?  These are mine.  Do not steal them.  Thanks.

Generation of Idiots:
Every Child Left Behind
Written for Creative Non-Fiction, Sophomore Year.
“A teacher has two jobs; fill young minds with knowledge, yes, but more important, give those minds a compass so that that knowledge doesn't go to waste” (Mr. Holland’s Opus, 1996).
This country is raising a generation of idiots.  Rather than teaching children how to think, schools are teaching them how to memorize.  My first day of high school, way back in 1992, my social studies teacher, Mr. Bohi, taught us a very important lesson: “What is thought is often more important than what is.”  He taught us about perception, how we, as a country, put values on things which have no intrinsic value.  He made us think, give our opinions and stand by them.
I know a woman who has been a Special Education teacher for thirty years.  In her time, she has seen many changes to the education system, the worst of which came after the turn of the millennium - No Child Left Behind.  This program focuses so much on standardized testing that the main focus of educators is to cram as much information into young minds as possible.  When she suggested to her Principal a Native American parent should come in and give a presentation, as it would be educational as well as entertaining, the principal answered:  “It’s not in the curriculum, so we can’t do it.”  This is a serious problem facing many teachers today.  Since the federal government is not footing the bill for all this Education Reform, it is up to the individual states.  The result?  An increase in time, money and effort spent on curriculum for the standardized tests, and nothing left over for enrichment or enlightenment.
So, what is No Child Left Behind?  In an effort to find a clear-cut definition, I turned to, the official Education Department web site.  The most information I received was the Overview - the Four Pillars of NCLB:
·        Stronger Accountability for Results.  “Under No Child Left Behind, states are working to close the achievement gap and make sure all students, including those who are disadvantaged, achieve academic proficiency…. Schools that do not make progress must provide supplemental services, such as free tutoring or after-school assistance; take corrective actions; and, if still not making adequate yearly progress after five years, make dramatic changes to the way the school is run.” (
So, they check up on the schools to make sure all students are passing the tests, and if they aren’t they have to offer more assistance.  Sounds good, right?  In theory, sure.  Most schools should be offering these kinds of programs, anyway.  But, who’s footing the bill?  Is the federal government going to pay for all these required programs?  I think you already know the answer to that one.  So, if low-income school districts are required to offer these services, where is the money coming from?  Where the money always comes from in times of budgetary crisis: the arts, class trips, vocational programs, etc. (Fletcher, 161). 
·        More Freedom for States and Communities: “Under No Child Left Behind, states and school districts have unprecedented flexibility in how they use federal education funds.  For example, it is possible for most school districts to transfer up to 50 percent of the federal formula grant funds they receive under the Improving Teacher Quality State Grants, Educational Technology, Innovative Programs, and Safe and Drug-Free Schools programs to any one of these programs, or to their Title I Program, without separate approval.” (
While this sounds pretty good, note how it is possible for most schools - not all.  Which schools are included, and which aren’t?  Also, do you really think that schools are going to use their funds like this?  Sure, they might use them to increase teachers’ salaries, which they can, but really, is giving that kind of freedom to individual schools such a wise move?  And what about those who don’t have much funding to begin with? 
·        Proven Education Methods: “No Child Left Behind puts emphasis on determining which educational programs and practices have been proven effective through rigorous scientific research.  Federal funding is targeted to support these programs and teaching methods that work to improve student learning and achievements.” (
Why does this sound familiar?  Oh, right. uses the same thing in their advertising!  Does the government really think selling NCLB in the same manner as an over-priced singles web site is helping their cause?
·        More Choices for Parents: “In schools that do not meet state standards for at least two consecutive years, parents may transfer their children to a better-performing public school, including a public charter school, within their district.” (
This is laughable to me.  If the entire district is under-funded, who’s to say that one school is better than another?  The scores may only be marginally higher, and there is still no guarantee that your kid will benefit from this move.  Also, according to Edward Fletcher in his essay “No Curriculum Left Behind: The Effects of the No Child Left Behind Legislation on Career and Technical Education”, “only 2% of students have taken advantage of the option to transfer to another school” (160).  I mean, let’s be serious - what kid is going to want to change schools and leave all their friends just because the school is failing, in the government’s eyes, to “educate” them?
The federal government sticking its nose into education is nothing new.  Since the beginning of the United States of America, it has played some kind of role.  That role has varied throughout the years, but it has always been there (Anderson, 6).

The national government has supported education since the beginning of the republic, and there have always been different ideological perspectives on the appropriateness of federal involvement in general and with regard to specific programs. (Anderson, 6)

            Teachers and education majors alike are concerned over the amount of control the federal government has over education.  Recently, I mentioned to several education majors here at Keene State college that I was writing a piece on No Child Left Behind and the education system here in the U.S.A..  Each time, it was met with the same reaction: an eye roll, a groan, and “I hate No Child Left Behind!  The education system sucks!”  This is coming from students who have been through the program.  They are asking for more; why not give it to them?
Indulge me while I look back to a better time in education… Back in my day, as we old people say, education was truly valued.  I consider myself lucky to have gone through the town of Hanover’s school system, K-12.  There were resources galore at our fingertips.  We were required in fourth grade to take French, and were given the option that same year to learn the violin.  Many held out until fifth grade, when you were allowed to take up a band instrument.  We had choruses for third, fourth and fifth graders, putting on various concerts throughout the year.  In second grade, we had Colonial Days - a time when we would study colonial life, and have two days to live it - we farmed, made our own mugs, worked with the blacksmith, cooked, and attended school, complete with a dunce cap and tardy sign.  In third grade, we studied Japan, and put on a Japanese Festival.  All the third grade students ran various booths: serving rice and teaching how to use chopsticks, making hats, a tea ceremony, flower arrangements, and more.  We learned Japanese songs and folktales. 
My fourth grade teacher had the freedom to teach us about Ancient Egypt, and read to us from The Hobbit.  In fifth grade, we got to learn all about Medieval Times, and put on the Medieval Festival - a two day event during which we sang Medieval songs, put on skits and plays from the olden days, reenacted battles, learned dances of the time, and jousted.
My high school offered a lot for people who were struggling academically.  I was enrolled in one such program, The Dresden Program, but never really took advantage of it.  But it was there.  Our theatre and music programs were excellent - when you’re turning people away at the door for the spring musical, you know you’re doing something special.  There was a lot of freedom, and a lot of educational options.  It truly prepared us for the freedoms found in college.  We were taught to think, encouraged to question, and learned more than what was in a text book.  The lessons learned inside and out of the classrooms have stuck with me more than a decade after graduating.  We never asked to be taught just what we needed for the test - we took it all in.
I feel sorry for today’s youth.  It is becoming more evident that they are not being challenged.  In one of my classes, we were told to visit a web site to supplement what we were learning in class.  One student asked “Is there something specific we should be looking at for the test?”  To which my professor answered “Just look around it, it’s got a lot of stuff on there.”  Student: “But is there anything specific for the test?”  Professor: “Just look around at it.”  Me: facepalm. “Really?!  What ever happened to learning for the sake of learning?  Damn kids today…”
More like “damn administrations today…”  They are teaching for the sake of passing tests.  Kids are learning that it isn’t useful or important to learn about the world around them unless it’s going to be on a test.  Is this really what we want to be teaching them?
In an effort to save their own asses, school administrations are now lowering their standards to make themselves look good.  In his article for the “New York Times”, Sam Dillon reported

A new federal study shows that nearly a third of the states lowered  academic proficiency standards in recent years, a step that helps schools stay ahead of sanctions under the No Child Left Behind law. (Dillon)

            This way, their test scores read better, but this is unfair and confusing to parents (Dillon).  They think their kids are learning more, but really, all the schools are doing is dumbing the lessons down, “allowing a lower score on a state test to qualify as proficient”. (Dillon)
            In reality, academic achievement has hit a lull.  When the National Assessment of Education Progress test was administered in 2009, the results were surprising.  Student achievement was actually slowing down.  Before No Child Left Behind, achievement was growing at a pretty good clip. (“No Child Left Behind Act”). 
I have pondered the idea of being a teacher in the past.  I wanted to be the cool history teacher who reenacted battles, made the entire class sit on four desks to show what is was like for slaves crossing the Atlantic, and asked the opinions of students regarding the validity of their text books.  What once would have been considered progressive is now antiquated and inappropriate.  The standardized tests don’t care if you know how it felt to be an African slave, so why bother teaching it at all? 
No Child Left Behind sounds like a good idea - it’s a catchy name, but it doesn’t deliver.  If we want to overhaul the system, standardized testing and redistribution of funds isn’t going to cut it.  The average kid in public school has little interest in learning for fun - they never have.  Programs like Colonial Days and Medieval Festivals are needed for just that reason.  Teaching the arts and vocational studies are just as important as math and science.  Not everyone is cut out for Harvard, or even Keene State, why not give them a chance to learn and excel as well?  As Mr. Holland so eloquently put it, “Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want… Sooner or later, these kids aren't going to have anything to read or write about” (Mr. Holland’s Opus).  You can force these kids to memorize all the facts in the world, but sooner or later they aren’t going to have any opinions or thoughts of their own. 

Works Cited
Anderson, Lee W.  Congress and the Classroom: From the Cold War to No Child
Left BehindUniversity Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State
University Press, 2007.
            Dillon, Sam. “Federal Researchers Find Lower Standards in Schools.”  New York
Times 30 Oct. 2009: Education, n.p.
            Fletcher Jr., Edward C. "No Curriculum Left Behind: The Effects of the No Child
Left Behind Legislation on Career and Technical Education." Career & Technical Education Research 31.3 (2006): 157-174. Education Research Complete. EBSCO. Web. 15 Nov. 2009.
Mr. Holland’s Opus. Dir. Stephen Herek.  Perf. Richard Dreyfuss, Glenne Headly,
            Jay Thomas, and Olympia Dukakis. Hollywood Pictures, 1996.
Unknown.  “No Child Left Behind Act.”  New York Times 15 Oct. 2009: n.p.
U.S. Department of Education01 July 2004

Monday, August 27, 2012

Portfolio Piece #1: Two-Faced Bitch

Trying a little something new.  Something I’ve wanted to do for a while.  For the next few days, I will be posting the pieces I submitted for my Writing Minor Portfolio.  They are all from classes I took Sophomore to Senior Year at Keene State College.  Most of them are memoir in nature, but a few are slightly different.  These are pieces I love, but know still need work.  If you would like to know more of the stories behind the pieces, let me know and I will be happy to share!  Also, any and all constructive feedback is always welcome – just because these were the final versions to be submitted doesn’t mean that they are perfect.

Oh, and also?  These are mine.  Do not steal.  Thanks.

Two-Faced Bitch
Written for: Creative Non-Fiction Writing, Sophomore Year
“I’m adopted.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Yes, I am.”
“No.  You can’t be!  You look just like your dad!”
I had this conversation many years ago in the chorus room of Hanover high school.  I don’t remember who I had the conversation with - some boy who obviously knew who my dad was.  It always amazes me when I tell people I’m adopted, and they gasp with disbelief.
“Really?  I had no idea!”
I’ve often wondered why people feel this is something detectable, like a disease or ethnicity.  Funny, I don’t look adopted.  Is it because these days the only kind of adoption people hear about is when Angelina Jolie buys another baby from Asia?  Or when Madonna “rescues” a baby from Africa?  Perhaps that is where the confusion comes from - I’m too white to be adopted.  Society seems to forget that there are many children right here in the United States who need homes, too.  I was one of them.
            I was born in Keene, New Hampshire on June 23, 1978.  It was a Friday.  In high school, I took an English class in which we had to give one of those “On the Day I was Born” speeches.  Everyone told the story of how their mother went into labor, the time of day, what the weather was like.  I always felt so awkward, as I have no idea if it was sunny, rainy, warm, or unseasonably cold.  All I know is I was born, and given a name: Billie Jo Hillock.  There is debate over whether my mother, Mary, even held me.  I say no.
            This theory that I have never been held came out after months of therapy which was actually working.  I had battled my depression for years without getting the help I so desperately needed; it was such a relief to finally make some kind of progress on it.  We uncovered a not-so-hidden truth about what makes my baggage so heavy and colorful - it all could be traced back to the fact that I was not only unwanted, but that my own birthmother never held me.  No one had to tell me this.  It is something instinctually understood within me. 
            Shortly after my not-so-joyous birth, I was taken home by my grandmother for a little while, while Mary was sent off to rehab for her illegal drug and alcohol abuse.  Or so I am told.  We’re not sure what her vice was, only that it was not me.  After a brief period of time, Grandmother could not take care of me, either.  I was put in a foster home in nearby Greenfield, New Hampshire
            Around this time, the Brayman family was moving to Etna, New Hampshire.  Ted had gotten a job as a minister at the First Baptist Church of Hanover in Etna, and Barbara would be working at Lebanon High School.  Their daughter, Rebecca, was two years old.  Ted and Barbara were looking to add to their small family, so they began the lengthy adoption application process.  Finally, in the fall of 1980, they received the stamp of approval.  In a lovely twist of fate, that is when I became available to be adopted.  
            I was never clear as to why it took so long for my paperwork to go through.  It wasn’t like they were running background checks on me.  I can only assume it is how long it took Mary to get coherent enough to sign the papers.  Maybe she died, we don’t really know.  It is a good thing those papers got signed, though.  Any later, and I would have been “un-adoptable”.  Most couples are looking for a cute little newborn they can shape and mold, not a young child who is already starting to form their own personality. 
            Ted and Barbara told the social worker they would take up to age five.  As soon as I became available, she called them and sent up a picture of me.  Barbara walked into her new Principal’s office and told him she was taking the following day off from work.   From the stories she’s told, the conversation pretty much went like this:
“I’m taking tomorrow off.”
“Um - “
“I’m going to look at a girl we want to adopt.  I’m taking tomorrow off.”
“Um…  OK.”
The following day, Ted and Barbara drove down I-89, to exit 6 and followed the long, country road which led them to a big, red farm house.  They talked to the Nichols family, and were brought into the backyard, where I was waiting, patiently and quietly to meet my potential new family…
            Yeah, ok, so that last part is total bullshit.  I was punching a little boy in the face.  Ted took one look at me and said “Yeah, we want that one!” or something to that effect.  I often think perhaps he was too hasty in his decision.  Being the self-named black sheep of the family can be rough on the ego.
            I had visits with Ted, Barbara, and Rebecca over the next month.  In October, I became part of their family, and rechristened Bethany Jean Brayman.  My earliest memory which is mine is from the day I was taken home.  I was sitting in the back seat of an old green Duster, my sister next to me.  This was before car seats were mandatory.  I’m pretty sure I was just buckled in.  My dad was nowhere to be found, and my mom was in the front passenger seat.  It was a pretty fall day, and we were parked under some trees.  Mom turned around from the front seat, and handed us each a teddy bear.  They were identical.  My sister named hers Amy Bear, and I wanted to be just like her, so I did the same.  Either that or I just didn’t know any better – naming stuffed animals was new to me.  This created a rift which would remain until we are grown adults. 
            My sister resented my presence for a long time.  Even though she, too, was adopted, she was an infant when she became a Brayman.  She had her mommy and daddy to herself for four whole years.  Suddenly, along comes this feisty little toddler, with whom she has to share her room, toys and parents.  As we got older, we slowly realized that while we seemingly have nothing in common, we have something most important to bond us - we were both adopted.  This was the beginning of the closing of the rift.  It wasn’t until she gave birth to her own daughter, the rift really began to close.  We still argue, as all sisters do, but there is now an understanding between us.  She has since forgiven me for stealing her bear’s name.  She doesn’t even sleep with hers anymore.  I still sleep with mine every night.
            My life was not the easiest.  The two traits I inherited from Mary and her lineage were depression and possibly substance abuse.  I know I could easily give in and become a full-fledged alcoholic, it is in me, I have tasted it before.  My first semester of college, I was unable to write a decent paper without a strong Bacardi & Diet Coke.  As the year progressed, the drinks got stronger.  I referred to my friends as Jack, Jim and Sam Adams.  I soon feared that I could not interact with people without alcohol.  I only drank in the evenings, but sometimes I’d count down to five o’clock.  I reined it in, and hardly drink anymore, but the need for it is still there.  Thanks, Ma!
Growing up, I was always socially awkward, kind of a spaz.  I was teased in elementary school, as many kids are.  Elementary age children are cruel and ruthless, especially if someone is “weird” or unique.  And boy was I.  I sang to myself, was prone to hitting other kids, and often came off to my friends as needy and clingy.  Most kids, when insulted, can just brush it off and come up with witty and equally hurtful retorts, or stay stoic and turn the other cheek.  For me, it was devastating.  My own peers did not want anything to do with me.  That’s what brought out my depression -- the rejection.  I have always had rejection and abandonment issues, which relates directly to my being adopted as a toddler. 
            Adoption can be a two-faced bitch.  One side is loving and wonderful.  Someone chose you; they see something wonderful in you that made them say “I want this child to be a part of my family.”  The other side is rejection.  Someone rejected and abandoned you before they even really got to know you.   This can lead to a fear of going to the bathroom when you’re at dinner, because your friends might ditch you.  Or putting yourself out there with someone you’re attracted to, because you know they are just going to reject you.  Then you tell yourself it’s ridiculous to think that way - someone out there wanted you before they got to know you, and they love you even after almost thirty years.  This can be comforting, but only fleeting.
            The fact that I am adopted is a big part of who I am, of how I am.  It is why I want to have my own children someday, why I would never get an abortion, regardless of the circumstances.  It is why I feel the need to tell people I love them, and need to hold and hug babies and small children.  It is why I fear commitment and sharing my feelings with people - eventually they will all abandon me, like Mary did.  It is why the thought of being a mom scares the Hell out of me, even though I want children more than I could fully express.  It is that two-faced bitch that can make you feel extremely loved one minute, and absolutely worthless the next. 
            For all the pissing and moaning I do over being adopted, no matter how hard my life has been as a result of it, I am perpetually grateful for the family I was given.  In one of the rare conversations with my dad about my adoption, I asked why he not only chose to adopt domestically, but also through the state.  He told me the difference between going through a private agency and the state comes down to this: instead of finding that perfect baby for Mom and Dad, the State social workers look to find that perfect family for Baby. 
            I have always thought the state did its job with me.  While I was born from one woman, I was made for the Brayman family.  It is a constant struggle, and a daily reminder to myself of this fact, but it is the truth.  I was given to a family of art and music, love, faith and education.  Given what little we know about Mary, had I stayed with her, my life would have turned out drastically different.  I always imagined my life full of hardness, a dark white-trash world with little hope for a bright future.  By giving me up, she gave me the opportunity for a great life.  At times I am consumed with a morbid, almost obsessive need to learn about her: who she was, who she is now.  I know she is not my mother.  She is simply the vessel who gave me life.  The Braymans are the ones who taught me how to live; they are the people who have influenced the person I have become.  And therein lays the paradox of it all: I have both of these lives living within me at all times.  I feel both grateful and angry for the origin of my life.  I love and hate Mary for having me and giving me away.  Sometimes I feel like I’m the two-faced bitch, and not just the product of one.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

One Small Step, One Great Man

Neil Armstrong died today – another in the long line of famous people who have passed away this year.  With each celebrity passing, I have expressed my sadness, but this is different.

Growing up, I was always drawn to the moon.  It has filled me with a sense of awe and peace – it was God’s porch light.  As I got older and learned about the Apollo program and the first moon landing, I was more fascinated.  Like many of my generation, I was at one point obsessed with the sixties.  The two major events that had my attention were the assassination of JFK and the moon landing.  In sixth grade, we had to research, write and present about a decade, and I got the sixties (woo!).  Part of the assignment was to write two short stories – mine were about these two events. 

As I got older, I became more interested in NASA than the Kennedys, thanks in no small part to Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 and Tom Hanks’ From the Earth to the Moon.

The Apollo program, though funded by government and big corporations, ran on two things: Faith and Hope.  And I think the continued fascination with not only the Apollo program, but space exploration in general, runs on those two things as well.  Faith in the capabilities of those who make space travel possible, and hope for a unified universe; hope for a future only ever written of, but not yet achieved. 

Neil’s passing is truly the end of an era, and came at an exciting time for space exploration.  The excitement over the Mars rover is akin to those first steps Neil took on the grey powdery surface of the moon.  One can but hope that the legacy he left will continue on for generations to come – that we will never lose that sense of awe and adventure; our faith and hope. 

Thank you for taking that one “small” step, Neil.  May you rest peacefully among the stars, and know that I will think of you every time I gaze up at God’s porch light.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Agoraphobia, Yay!

The past two weekends have been exhausting for me.  Not because of work or any particular sort of running around, but because I had to be social.  Being social is rough, y’all…

Last weekend, my sister got married.  While I am happy for her and the turn her life has taken, I was dreading the wedding.  I didn’t know a lot of the people there, and am horrific at being social when it’s not part of my job.  I had to take a lot of deep breaths in the car on the way up.  Thankfully, during the ceremony I was given the job of videographer, so I could just hide behind the camera before it started.  But the reception… I was so glad there was going to be booze available, because, wedding receptions.

Luckily, I sat with my cousin, uncle and aunt, and my cousin’s daughter.  There were also old family friends at the table, and eventually my mom joined us.  So, I wasn’t stuck with a table of total strangers, just people I don’t interact with a lot.  Thanks to my old high school acting skillz, and a glass of wine on an empty stomach, I was able to be bright, cheerful and chatty, but not embarrassing.  (I quickly absorbed the wine I was drinking with the trays of amazing hors d'oeuvres that kept on coming around).  I entertained my cousin’s daughter and my niece by letting them take my camera around and take tons of pictures, and overall had a nice time.  Phew!  The next day, I was completely beat.

This past weekend was slightly different.  This was self-inflicted social anxiety.  A friend of mine from high school was hosting a little shindig at his house in which we had BBQ and mocked a crappy comic book.  Being that this is one of the very few friends from high school I still interact with on a regular basis, and a possibility to meet some people that are not still in high school, I really wanted to go.  While I am not the biggest comic book person I know, I appreciate the artform, and love mocking crappy things, so yeah.

Right up until I left the house to drive to his, I was still not sure if I was actually going to go.  There would be two other guys I haven’t spoken to since high school, my friend’s wife who I’ve only met once or twice briefly, and a gaggle of geeky guys I’ve never met.  This of course meant I would be extra awkward because geeky guys are the sexy.

But I made my pasta salad, I dressed cute but casual, got in my car, and drove.  Hm.  Took less time than I thought.  Still not ready, I passed by the road my friend lives on and decided to take a drive down by the lake.  I turned around, and parked in the parking lot of a local grocery store, debating if I wanted to run in and grab some beer.  Surely I can’t do this sober, right?  No, I will be good.  Deep breath, deep breath, let’s go!

I pull into the designated parking area across from his house at the same time as a carload of strangers.  They say hi, I kind of mumble a “hi” back, and book it across the street.  Where I pretty much stand around completely awkwardly, not speaking, for a while.  Once we started to eat, though, I was able to open up a little, and contribute to the conversation, especially when movies came up.  Also, someone had brought a case of decent beer to share (no Natty or PBR here – God, I LOVE GROWNUPS!), so a couple of those and I was much, much better.  But mostly, these were “my” people – people who are interested in more intellectual and artistic things, people who like the geekier side of life, and people who are not in high school.  Not even in college!  ADULTS!  Also, very nice group of people. 

I was able to partake in the mocking of the comic, and had an overall fantastically fun time.  I think I made a decent impression on the people I met, and hope to maybe see some of them again? 

The past two weekends have solidified the fact that I need to get out there.  I need to be social.  It is possible to meet new people in the Upper Valley.  But now, I don’t know.  How to reach out?  How to stop being so fucking socially awkward?  These are things I would like to know.  And things I need to work on.  Or else, I’ll turn into this guy:

Friday, August 3, 2012

Take Off...

Most people who have met me know that I have a mild obsession with Canada.  It began with Anne of Green Gables, and more recently was kicked up due to a class I took my last semester of college called Cinema of Quebec.  I’ve been to Niagara Falls, Quebec City, Toronto, and cut through Canada on our way to Michigan when I went there for college back in the day. 

I love to travel, but had never been anywhere that required a passport.  The times I went to our Northern Neighbours were before a passport was required.  So, in March I finally bit the bullet and applied for a passport.  It came Easter weekend, but I never used it until last night.

I have been antsy lately, and needing to just get out of my little life for a few hours.  Yesterday, I went for a little walk in the woods, but that didn’t cut it.  I went out to dinner with my parents, and my mom randomly gave me $20 and told me to treat myself.  Little did she know…

I decided to take the long way home, opting to drive out of West Lebanon via Route 10 through Hanover, then out the back road that would eventually connect me with the road to Hanover Center, taking me home.  Somewhere along the way, though, I decided I was just going to drive north and finally go to Sherbrooke, Quebec.  I drove out to Orford, and crossed the bridge into Fairlee, VT, stopping at a Cumberland Farms to use their restroom and buy some coffee.  Then it was off to the races.

At the border headed into Canada.

As I approached the boarder off of I-91, I got excited.  I was going to use my passport.  Finally.  When they asked me where I was headed, I responded “Um… Sherbrooke?  Yeah.  Sherbrooke.”  The guy asked me what my plans were, and I told him honestly, “Not sure, probably just gonna grab some food and head back.”  He either didn’t believe me, or thought I was crazed because apparently driving from New Hampshire to Canada for a bite to eat is just not done.  But ok, I was in.  I followed my GPS to a movie theatre in Sherbrooke, stopping only once to use a bathroom at a gas station.  I turned around and kept on driving.  After passing a Tim Horton’s, I got super excited, but realized that my debit card is low, and I only had an American $20 bill.  Also, my French is rusty.  I didn’t want to be an Ugly American, so I called my Dad (I don’t even want to know how much that cost me) and asked him if he knew where I could go to exchange my money at 10pm in Quebec.  He assured me I could pay with my American money, so after a little more driving around, I decided to go for it.  I pulled into Tim Horton’s, took a deep breath, and went in. 

There was a group of people ahead of me, so I had a chance to check out the display counter.  Of course, everything is in French, but I can sort of sound out what I want so I don’t have to just point.  The people behind the counter smile at me, and timidly, I squeak out “Parlez-Vous Englise?”  They smile and nod, and I ask “Can I pay with American money?”  Smile, nod.  But first, they inform me, I have to wait for the people before me to finish paying, even though they had already gone and sat down.  Ooops.  OK, I order, and there is some confusion about how I want my coffee, and the girl asks me if I’m traveling through Quebec.  “Nope,” I say, “I just randomly drove up here!”  She smiled, but I could tell she was thinking I was crazy.  Well, maybe I am.

So, I sit down and enjoy some delicious coffee and a donut, use the bathroom, and take off.  Like the hoser I am.  Oh, for fuck’s sake, look it up if you don’t get the reference.

Everything is all good until I get back to the border.  This is where I learn that randomly going into Canada because you can, doesn’t mean you should.  Yup.  I got detained and had my car searched.  I tried like Hell not to laugh uncontrollably as I waited inside the border patrol building, lest they think I am truly insane, and not just a little eccentric. 

I completely understand their suspicion – a woman, traveling alone with a big cardboard tube containing movie posters in her back seat late at night who went into Canada and out within two hours is fairly odd.  I didn’t give them any issues, explained what I was doing, and while I think they kind of believed me, they also thought I was crazed.  Which, ok, I am.  But I don’t really care.

I got home around 1am, no better off at clearing my head or figuring out my life, but having had an adventure that will be a fun story to tell down the line, and having finally tasted the awesomeness that is Tim Horton’s coffee and donuts. 

So, on that note: have a good day, eh! J