On Finding a Setting

August 13, 2008

This evening D and I had a conversation on the phone that lasted more than our typical phone conversations now-a-days. Actually, we had an argument, but that’s not what this post is about. In the midst of all of it, during the resolution of the whole thing — the time when we are done with the heightened feelings and adamantly trying to prove a point, when we both re-cap what we need and try to find some sort of compromise — I closed my eyes for a moment and could picture my apartment back in Arkansas so clearly, right down to the feel of my bed and the cat’s tail ticking against my leg and the way my bed creaked when I moved. We spent a lot of time talking on the phone in those days, back when he was the California branch of our relationship.

It’s funny that the very thing the argument began with (our arguments rarely end with what they began with) was the very thing I was picturing: Setting. This post is not about the argument, so I’m not going to go into the details of what transpired. For the past few days, however, I’ve been attempting to put into words a discovery I made on the beach Saturday. But I’ve also been trying to challenge myself to improve my writing style so it’s slightly less amateur and emotive. Today I tried writing a post entirely devoid of “I” as a subject. It just doesn’t work in blogging. This is what I came up with:

“One of the major components that separates a seasoned writer from an amateur is the emphasis on setting. The category of seasoned writers is by no means this girl’s dwelling place, but freshman year fiction writing left me with a better understanding of setting in writing. Heck, this blog nearly tripled in its readership once it took on the personal of a Midwestern transplant living in Los Angeles. Or maybe it was the advertising to friends on Facebook that did that.” Can you say boring textbook? I just need to stop trying to justify blogging with failed attempts to turn this entirely narcissistic thing into something literary. It’s a blog. Of course it’s going to have a high degree of gush.

Anyway, what I really wanted to say is that often amateur writers neglect setting in their work, and they leave their poor characters floating around in a readers’ mind in banal, shadowy places like generic bedrooms, rather than putting them someplace specific. In real life, we live in specific places: not just any room, but my room with the pile of laundry on the bathroom floor and the broken blinds and the stale scent of herbal shampoo. Not just any old park, but the park with the statue of the man who invented the chocolate bar. J.R.R. Tolkien is so fantastic with his settings that I am having such a terrible time getting through The Lord of the Rings. Any time Frodo or the other hobbits think of the shire and how they long for their home, I start crying. Homesickness…meh.

Saturday, le roommates and I went to the beach, and the fact confronted me that I’ve only been to the beach three times in the last seven months even though is less than five miles from my apartment. And by going to the beach, I mean donning a bathing suit with at least a slight intention of getting wet. Saturday was the first day since I moved here that I actually immersed myself in the Pacific. And then I realized that part of the reason that I have been homesick to some degree since I left for college back in 2001, moving away from Minnesota for the very first time, is because I have never given myself a chance to get to know the land in any other place.

If you were to ask me about Minnesota, I wouldn’t just say that I lived in a house there or went to high school there. I would tell you about the countless snow structures we built and how we would hang our mittens and hats and scarves over the radiator in our first house to let them get warm before we put them on. I would tell you about the mulberry bushes in the backyard and how they would become so ripe and juicy that you could bump the branches and they’d fall to the ground, washing it in purple, and how the birds would poop mulberry seeds all over the patio. I would tell you how our family built that patio with bricks and sand and cement blocks, and it all went quite well until the ice that winter built up under the bricks made them explode. Every winter the fire department would flood the park for ice skating, and Jack Frost would paint our windows. I remember how it feels to lie in my bedroom, the exact way the bed fits my body, and how it is to wake up there to the sounds and smells of absolute comfort — to knowing the people you love most in the world are only a wall away. When I was a little girl, in our first house, I could always tell who was coming up stairs by the rhythm of their steps. Mom would always stop at the bottom to pick up toys and bring them up. There were twelve steps at my first house. Sixteen at my second.

I never gave myself the chance to know Arkansas that well. There was the damp and musty feeling of our house on Maple Street, where I lived with 3 other girls, and the sounds of the frogs outside my window in that studio above a professor’s garage. There was the feeling of desperation and sadness when I finished college, broke up with my boyfriend, and moved out of that apartment all in a few days. But the same elements and concretes are not there. I was so busy being productive that I didn’t take the time to memorize the number of steps from the ground to my door. These were merely places, apartments for a temporary life. It’s no wonder they never felt like home.

Sometimes I think that I will never feel at home again unless I get married, have kids, and settle down somewhere. Nothing reminds me of home more than watching my niece and nephew play and seeing again the things that are important to children. For my niece, it is wearing pink, putting on chapstick, and reading books. My nephew just wants to run everywhere with his binky in his mouth. They want other kids to play with, adults to entertain them, and lots and lots of cookies. They remind me of what it was like to grow up with an older brother and what it was like to have such a big living room… what it was like to have a house not just cover you, but protect you. There were all the alcoves and crannies to that place… the towel cupboard you could climb inside and close the door, the secret storage closet in my brother’s room, the turning cupboard in the kitchen corner where breakfast cereal was kept.

At the same time, I know that my life is here in L.A. now, at least for the next few years, and I need to be investing myself here. I need to pursue the land with the same intention that I pursue the friends I am making here. I need to count the steps from my carport to my apartment. I need to go to the beach every weekend and find a spot to memorize. I need to stop floating around in this generic place and make it specific. I need to find my setting.

A couple of weekends ago these hands touched a public payphone for the first time since, oh, probably the summer of ’03 when I went to London and Ireland for five weeks. Now, London and Northern Ireland, because they both belong to the UK, have cool payphones, payphones which are so asthetically pleasing that one can almost forget the germs festering on the handle and buttons and the advertising for naughty massages papering the inside.

 

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Since the summer of ’04, I’ve been a mobile-r and have joined the throngs of distracted multi-taskers who will likely develop brain tumors in our seventies because of constantly cuddling an electronic device to the sides of our heads. Next year California is supposedly banning drivers from using cell phones without hands-free devices, and who can blame them? According to the journal Quarterly Factors, “Cell phone distraction causes 2,600 deaths and 330,000 injuries in the United States every year.” My cell phone has caused headaches, neck aches, facial break outs, and cost a total of approximately $2,380 since its acquisition in May of ’04. Not to mention the panic… when dropped. This past winter I dropped the beloved cell phone (let’s call her Bess, shall we?) from a high table bar stool in a restaurant. She crashed to the floor, and her battery shot out, sliding across the linoleum to land underneath some lady’s foot. Thankfully, she did not step down and crush the battery. Because of this instance, I was forced to exclaim a near explitive in front of a room full of elderly people getting their afternoon coffee at the podunk cafe; spring lithely from my seat and rush to kneel on the floor where I scooped up Bess’s parts; and crawl on my knees on a restaurant floor, underneath a table, with my rear sticking up like a stretching cat in front of all, just to retrieve a stupid battery.  

Sometimes, I admit, I’ve even had the thought, “Why doesn’t Grandma just get a cell phone? It would be so much easier to text her this question!” Grandma just turned 82 in January. Heaven forbid that I should actually have to call my grandmother on her land line and have an actual conversation with her.

No matter how much grief this small, red device has caused me, my cell-love never manifests itself until the sans-cell phone situation emerges. A few weekends ago, D treated me to some lovely date-time, in which we decided to go see a movie. We drove separately from my apartment so he could leave to go back to his place from the mall. It wasn’t until we were about to enter the parking garage for the mall that the horrific truth arose:  I had forgotten Bess at home.

Mall parking on a Sunday in LA is never easy. One will rarely find a parking spot in the garage next to one’s party. One must simply hit the gas and zoom toward the closest spot available, whether it be on the second floor or the tenth. On this particular occassion, that special spot meant for me was on the seventh floor. By the time I parked Mable the Sable and hopped the elevator, D was nowhere to be found. Well, my naive small-town self said, I’ll just wait until D rides the elevator down, and we’ll meet at the bottom.

Half an hour later, I finally figured out that there are several entrances to the parking garage. I took a few loops around the area, paying specific attention to the movie theater. No D. Maybe I should go wait for him in the philosophy section of Barnes and Noble, my romantic side whispered. I made a comment to D a few weeks ago that I’d like to know how much time we’ve spent in the philsophy section of Barnes and Noble in the course of our relationship. A pay phone loomed in the corner of the courtyard where I waited, but two problems reared their ugly heads:

1.) No change. What savvy city girl goes anywhere without quarters? Give me a break. I grew up in population-4,000 town in Southern Minnesota, where paying for parking is merely a legend and you could more easily walk to someone’s house than dial their number.

2.) No phone number. Yes folks, now is the time to sheepishly admit that D and I have been dating for nearly 20 months, and neither of us know one anothers’ phone numbers.

My mission became clear in an instant. Find quarters. Call any number I have memorized that might know D’s number. Call D.

Finding quarters seemed like it would be easy in a mall. Except that California mall clerks don’t have the wholesome helpfulness that Minnesota or Arkansas clerks do. D and I went to a high-end mall called The Grove. The thing has its own trolley tinkling its little bell through the cobblestone streets. The only remotely lower-class store I could find was J. Crew. I went in to get some change and ended up having to purchase a $6 plastic barette so the cashier could open the cash drawer.  It was the cheapest thing I could find. I had previously recoiled when picking up a $26 coin purse.

The accrual of change brought me to the next step: Calling someone I knew to find D’s number. The deposit of four quarters affords a pay phone patron a mere 4 minutes of conversation. First, I called my friend A in Arkansas. She got her cell phone back when I didn’t have a cell phone and still memorized people’s phone numbers. I got her voicemail and left a frantic message. “Hi, A. I know I haven’t talked to you in a long time, but I need you to do something for me if you get this in the next few minutes. I’m going to call back in five minutes. I’m on a payphone in a mall in California, and I need D’s phone number. I thought you might have it somewhere, and you’re the only friend I have that I actually know your number. So, please pick up when I call back.” I called back three times. No avail. My parents weren’t home — they were spending the afternoon at my brother’s house, but I figured it was worth a shot. Mom is one of the most prepared people I know… the type who will carry wadded up plastic bags in her purse, just in case. I thought I might know her cell phone number. I dialed. It was dad’s.

“Hi, Dad. It’s Ann. I’m calling from a payphone in a mall in L.A., and I need your help. Does Mom have D’s phone number?’

“You don’t know his number?”

“I don’t. You’ve got to hurry. I’ve only got four minutes until I need to deposit another dollar.”

“I’ll ask her.”

Muffled voices in the background. “She’s checking,” Dad said.

“She has G’s number.” (G is D’s twin brother.)

I pause. “Why does she have G’s number?”

“I don’t know. I’ll ask her.”

“No, it’s okay. G’s number is good. Give me that for now in case we get cut off before she finds D’s number.”

We got cut off before I had a chance to say goodbye. Mom didn’t have D’s number, but for some reason she had G’s. So, I called G.

“Hi, G. It’s Ann. I’m calling from a payphone at the Grove. I need D’s phone number.”

“You don’t know his number? You’ve been dating how long?”

“I know, I know. I only have four minutes. You’ve got to give me the number. You’ve just got to!”

G hooked me up with the digits I needed, and my triumphant “Hi!” to D when I finally heard his voice on the line an hour and fifteen minutes after we parked our cars was enough to turn the heads of several by-standers. We met in front of the movie theater. “I’ve been walking around this whole area,” he said when I hugged him. “I guess we just missed each other. I thought about going into the philosophy section of Barnes and Noble.”

“Really?! Me too! This is our plan if this ever happens again. We’ll meet in the philosophy section of Barnes and Noble.”

And so, we went, hand-in-hand into the movie theater to purchase our overpriced confections and find our seats.

About seven minutes before the end of the movie, entitled Definitely Maybe, we got evacuated from the movie theater. But that, my friends, is a story for tomorrow.

Today the post was going to be about blogetiquette: my definition of what should not appear on a blog, for reasons of gentility and just plain Not Embarrassing Yourself Later. I’m sure that I have broken some of these rules, and I am probably about to break more of them. This morning I realized that I need to do a little honest writing here, a little something that shows what’s really going on.

This transition to California has been hard. I’m not going to go into all the little details of it because I don’t believe in writing things that I wouldn’t tell people to their faces. Especially on the internet. (This would be one important rule of blogetiquette that many, many people violate.) I might make exceptions in a journal, but journals are meant to be private outlets of thoughts and feelings.

But I can talk about myself and some of the things that I have been going through. Most writers tend to be inward people. We are the shy ones, the introverts, the ones who don’t really want fame but have to write anyway because it possesses us, and the fame sometimes just comes with it. It is hard to write anything worthwhile without an audience.

I made an important discovery about myself a few months ago when a Myers/Briggs expert came to my workplace and went through the Myers/Briggs test with each of us. My personality type (INFP) came up as a person who has high ideals for herself — so high that she often can’t reach them. And when she doesn’t reach them, rather than realizing that she’s putting too much pressure on herself, she gets upset at herself and begins a downward spiral. It is so easy to get sucked into that spiral and have a difficult time getting out. It’s happened before, in a life-altering way, so I feel better equipped to deal with it through talking to friends or positive self-talk or even therapy. It’s infinitely more easy to deal with something when you realize that it’s happening.

This Myers/Briggs expert warned me that when I went to California, I’d have to be careful. “I have such a soft spot in my heart for INFPs,” he said. “You need to surround yourself with people who you trust who are going to encourage you and support you when you move. Moving to a new place can be incredibly discouraging.”

This move has been especially hard because I had such a wonderful time with my family while I was home in Minnesota for those few months. I am very homesick this week, not because I necessarily want to go back to Minnesota, but because I miss my family so much that I get tears in my eyes every time I think about them. I know that coming to California was the right decision, and I’m going to fight through this because I can’t live my whole life in the circle of their safety. I’ve got to get out and do my own thing for a while. It’s just that with them I am always home, and here I am not.

Yesterday I acknowledged for the first time that this move has turned my whole world completely upside-down. Just before this, I was in the safest place possible. Now I am living with people I barely know, far away from my closest friends, in the second largest city in the United States, without a job. D is the only person I have known long enough to trust, even though I know many people who are trustworthy, and I even feel bad about depending on him so fully — not because he has made me feel that way but because my over-idealistic personality type tells me that I should be independent all the freaking time.

Plus it’s just difficult to transition from living on your own for the past six years and never having a real curfew in your life, to living under the roof of kind and generous people who raised their children a lot differently than how you were raised.

Also, even though I am overjoyed to finally be in the same city as my boyfriend, moving from a long-distance relationship to a close-distance one is harder then you might think. Roommate J had a similar experience with a guy she used to date, and she told me that finally becoming close-distance almost broke them. I know D on a very deep, communicative level because of the long-distance part of our relationship. As far as the detailed, every-day planning, interacting side of things, I’ve never really experienced that with him except for the few times we’ve seen one another in person. And those times were always with the starry-eyed attitude of, “We’d better savor this while we can because it’s going to be over soon.”

We’ve had a lot to talk through. I’m invading his turf. I’m adopting his friends. I’m expecting him to make adjustments in his life to fit me into the every-day-ness of this. My whole life has been one giant adjustment for the past several weeks. Yesterday D and I had a very good talk about one important thing that was bothering me. It was good. Through all of this, it’s good to know that I have strong allies in Roommate J and D.

And my best friend L is coming down from San Francisco this weekend. She has a habit of swooping in and saving the day at the exact moment that I need her, and I’m getting all teary-eyed right now just thinking about her. It will be nice to have a bit of home for a few days. Also, my friend LR lives in Irvine, and I need to get together with her this week. She is another strong ally who I haven’t seen in a very long time and miss considerably.

I just pray that God leads Roommate J and I to the right jobs and the right apartment. And that whatever He’s developing in me right now will develop quickly and help me later on.

Yesterday D’s roommate B returned to The Astounding House of Six Men Who Rule the World From Three Bedrooms, so I decided to go home early for the first night in a week. D, B, and I were playing Boggle at the table when I realized that D and I have been spending time together every day and evening this past week, and geez, I hadn’t had any significant alone time in over two weeks, and man, D must need some guy-time now that his roommates are coming back from the break. So, I says, “D, I’m going home,” and he says, “What for? Are you okay?” and I says, “I’m fine, but you need to spend some time with your friends.”

I went to bed at 9:30.

I can’t wait to actually have my own friends here. I mean, I love D’s friends, but I also need my own. You know, like, girls.

Perhaps I will sign up for a church small group at Mosaic. It’s nice that some church services meet in the evening, so even if I find a morning church somewhere else, I can be involved in both.

What else can I really say today? I’ve been applying for more jobs. I updated my resume on Monster today. I’ve been searching Craigslist daily. The newspaper has been the subject of my consistent perusal, and I’m keeping my ears and eyes open. I’m almost afraid to get excited about finally being in California because I don’t have a job yet; therefore, I don’t know how long I’ll be staying. I like a sense of permanence just as Emily Dickinson likes “a look of agony/ because I know ‘tis true.” Yesterday it finally stopped raining, raining, raining, and while it is still chilly for Southern California, my goodness, this weather is fantastic.

And then there is the boy. Yesterday we were driving to the train station to pick up B, and I admitted to D that I’ve been mad at him for the past day or so. Well, first I admitted that I was mad at him right then because of something he did. He said, “I’m sorry,” and I said, “Well, you should be. Apology accepted,” and then we both started laughing. If it had been a sitcom, our laughing faces would have freeze framed at that moment, only to be the background for the scrolling credits.

And then, amid our laughter, I told him the dark and sickly truth: “Actually, I think I’ve been mad at you for the past several days.”

“Really? Why?”

“Yes, really. But I don’t think I realized it until last night. I’ve been mad at you because I don’t have a job yet.”

It’s funny how my attitude about seeing D has changed now that we are seeing one another on a regular basis. I don’t have the sense of gratefulness that I had on vacations of seeing him, or the sense of urgency to spend loads of meaningful time with him. We’ve watched a bunch of movies. We’ve sat at Barnes and Noble and done literary things. We’ve hung out with his brother and friends. We’ve gone to church. I taught him and his brother how to air up the tire of his car. We’ve played with kittens.

Yesterday I realized that I have already gotten so comfortable with him that I’m taking him for granted in a way that I never did when we were long-distance. Before, I missed him, all the time, every day. It wasn’t a pathetic sort of pining way of missing him. It was just constantly with me as I lived my life and did the daily things. It wasn’t really pining, but wishing: I wish D could come out with me and my friends tonight. If D were here, I wouldn’t have to go to church alone. It would be nice to go out to lunch with D today. One great thing that we both acknowledged about our long-distance relationship was that we never took one another for granted.

For the past week, his roommates have been either gone or out of the house most of the time, and my future roommate has yet to arrive. I don’t have many friends yet, and I’ve been depending on D quite a bit to learn where I’m going. My world has a pretty small radius right now: my house, D’s house, Panera, Starbucks, and the real stretch is the Chick-Fil-A (Top 5 Quick Service Restaurants: 1. Chick-Fil-A, 2. In and Out Burger, 3. Subway, 4. Jack In the Box, 5. Wendy’s) in La Habra that I hunted down my first day here. I have driven to Hollywood a few times but have yet to do it on my own. This is a new feeling for me – the sense of dependency that I have not really experienced since I left for college in 2001. And it annoys the shins out of me.

That is why I have been mad at D. My sense of dependence on him has robbed me of my independence. So, while he is all helping me adapt and taking care of me and being so wonderfully protective (do you know just how romantic it is to have a strong, sexy boy usher you through a crowd of crazy Hollywood people? Whew. It’s hot.), I am resenting him because of my own failure to take steps of my own. Or because none of the places of employment that I have applied to have responded yet. In a few ways, I have been taking steps. I just need patience… and trust that God has me here for a purpose.

Yesterday D asked me if we’d been spending too much time together. I was hesitant to answer even though I know the answer is, “Yes.” The hesitancy comes from how comfortable it is to depend on him. While the dependency is aggravating because it’s not really how I operate, it’s also safe. I am the kind of girl who has a few close friends rather than a network of distant ones. Those close friendships are hard to build. They take time and effort and a dollop of vulnerability. At the same time, I know that missing D has always been a vital component to our relationship, and now, even though I’m currently living just a few blocks from him, I need to let myself miss him again, so I can come to him at the end of the day excited to tell him about all the great or discouraging things that happened to me, on my own, in this new life.

When I began this series, I wrote down a number of points in my journal that might be good to cover. For the most part, this will be the last entry of the series, but I might come back to it every once-in-a-while when I learn something new or if anyone has a topic for discussion that they would like to share. I do have a few more things to add, however, and most of them are practical things.

1.) Never underestimate the U.S. Postal Service

USE THE MAIL. There is nothing like receiving a good old-fashioned letter from the sweet dumpling in your life, or even a care package. As many of you know, I’m really into fashion (I write a fashion column on finding discount fashion at ZIA), and I really like dressing people. I especially like dressing guys. I try to stay away from getting clothes for D because he has two sophisticated sisters who have taught him well. Plus, he’s just got good taste. But I have sent him a few surprise articles of clothing: an excellent shirt that I bought at the GAP when I worked there and had my tremendous employee discount, and a red and grey scarf that I crocheted:

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D is excellent about sending me mix CDs. In fact, one of the ways that we got to know each other so well over the phone in the beginning is because he sent me a bunch of mix CDs with playlists like…

“To Be Young” by Ryan Adams
“Sugar Magnolia” by The Grateful Dead
“God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys
“Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan
“Ocean Breaths Salty” by Modest Mouse
“Novocaine For the Soul” by The Eels
“I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” by Wilco
“Thank You For Sending Me” by the Talking Heads
“Baby Blue” by Gene Vincent
“Down By the River” by Neal Young
“I Hope I Don’t Fall In Love With You” by Tom Waits
“Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman
“Visions of Johanna” by Bob Dylan
“Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd
“Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star
“Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen

They were excellent. I reciprocated by sending him some of my favorite music, and we had a good time discussing what we like and dislike, etc.

We also tried something that kind of flopped, but it might work for other people. D had the idea that we should send each other brief homework lists once a month with a book to read, music to listen to, and movies to see. We each sent one another one homework list, but neither of us ever completed them. I am still chipping away at Crime and Punishment, and D still has not sent me those Seventeen Magazine-style, heartthrob photographs of himself that I requested. I guess we can tell which of us is the one with depth in this relationship.

Speaking of photographs, digital cameras make it a lot easier to share photographs of events family, or yourself. D loves it when I send him pictures, even if they’re just my outtake photos from masthead pictures for this website. I also send him pictures of stuff I’m doing because he lives so far away and often can’t be there.

D and I have also sent one another books and DVDs for borrowing so we can read or watch them and then discuss. Also, we both listened to his copy of the audio book of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. That gave us a lot to talk about.

2.) Use email extensively because it’s free!!!

D and I email each other articles, notes, messages on Facebook, links to short stories and poetry, and basically anything that interests us. It’s a great way to touch base on a daily or weekly basis. Also, Facebook now has applications where you can engage in a little bit of healthy internet competition with your significant other and friends. D and I often play Scrabble with each other over the internet. Nothing beats playing a game with him in person, but Scrabble on the internet is just one of the little things we can do to keep in touch and have fun together without having to talk on the phone all the time.

3.) And lastly….

When you’re in a long-distance relationship, it’s easy to get in the rut of being extremely gushy and relationship-y when you’re on the phone. You know what I’m talking about… those people who get all mushy every time they talk to each other. People in close-distance relationships do the same thing, but because they have to spend time with other people on a regular basis, it doesn’t have the chance of happening as often. I’ve learned, however, that at least for me, it’s better if I don’t say, “I miss you,” unless I really mean it. If I say it constantly, it diminishes in value. I want it to surprise D and make him feel good. I don’t want it to become a routine.

In a long-distance relationship, it’s also really important to make an effort to be vocally affirming. People who live close to one another don’t have to be quite as intentional because they can hug and kiss each other at least once-a-week. D and I don’t have that privilege. If I want to tell him that I like him, I have to tell him. I have to say things like, “You’re my Little Cracker, and I’m your lady, and you’ve got some seriously symmetrical elbows there.” Or whatever works.

If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask. I’m not saying that I know all the answers or anything, but I know several people who read this blog are in or have been in long-distance relationships and could also provide some advice.

Thanks so much for reading this series! I’ve enjoyed writing it and enjoyed your comments.

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Yesterday my mom gave me an early Christmas gift in the form of a new cell phone. After spending the last two and a half years using a phone very similar to this one,

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the very basic phone, regarding which people have asked, “Oh, is that one of those pre-paid telephones?”, I have moved on to greener, er, redder pastures:

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I got a Razr. And it annoys the helsinki out of me that it’s called a Razr and not a Razor. Now, I am not one to be romanced by status symbols of the phone world. Little Nokia served me well with a few glitches, like never accepting my voicemail password the first time I typed it in, or shutting off randomly when I pushed the number “2.” It had no fancy ring tones, no photograph capabilities, no froo-froo, and no bling-bling. But it could text message. And I could talk on it. I had many-an important conversation on that telephone. I wonder how many hours it has experienced the suppleness of my cheek…. more than any human, that’s for certain.

I got the Razr because it was free. My mom bought one through Alltel’s Christmas deal for $20.00 and got mine free for purchasing hers. If she hadn’t, I’d probably still be living it up with Little Nokia. When Mom gave me the phone, I was initially very excited because all of the fantastic features. I love the fact that it is a flip phone and that it slides so nicely into my purse. I can hear people better on it, and it fits against my face better. Little Nokia made me feel like I was holding a bar of soap against my ear. I was so excited about the new phone that I didn’t even think about one terribly sentimental thing… until D called last night.

And the phone just rang. Like normal. Like, without his ring tone.

The new ring tone on the Razr was a smooth, jazzy, suave ring tone, a Robert Redford kind of ring tone with a twist of the young Sean Connery, and not the tinny da dun da dundun duuuuun Little Drummer Boy tone that has made me jump up and run to the phone with bells on my toes each time it has rung for the past year and a half. D had no idea. He doesn’t have a ring tone for me on his phone, and last night was the first time I told him about it:

Ann: I’m really sad. I didn’t realize that your call yesterday would be the last time I would hear that ring tone.

D: What did it sound like?

Ann sings out a sweet little melody on a series of da’s.

D: And what does the new one sound like?

Ann: Ba DAAAAAAAA, BA DADADADA… I can’t believe you’ve never heard the ring tone I have for you. To me, it’s such an intrinsic part of who you are, ever since I started getting to know you.

D: Wow, I didn’t know that.

Ann: I don’t know if I can be in this relationship anymore.

Obviously since D and I have been dating long-distance since, well, ever, we’ve spent a lot of time talking on the phone. In fact, the first time I met D I felt really shy around him. He called me the next day after our initial meeting, and everything was normal and great on the phone, because that is how I was used to him. I wasn’t ready to handle the real-person D, in all his manly glory. And sometimes I still feel a little shy around him the first time I see him after a particularly long separation.

So, how exactly do two people sustain a relationship over the phone?

That’s a good question. Heh.

I don’t know. This is a question many people have asked when quizzing me about whether or not long-distance dating really works. And all I can really say is that, so far, it has worked for us. D and I have an advantage because we’ve never lived close to one another. The phone relationship is all we’ve ever known; therefore, we only sometimes miss the in-person relationship where we get together a few evenings a week and on weekends and see each other on a regular basis. The telephone, though frustrating at times, has always been a bridge between us. It’s true that I like him more every time I see him, and I look forward to my big move to California with rampant rejoicing, but for now, we’ve been fine on the phone. And here are a few reasons I think it’s worked out for us*:

1.) We are both articulate. We know how to explain our feelings pretty well and have extensive enough vocabularies to express what we’re thinking. Sometimes, when we’ve been fighting, I will anticipate my future feelings, and tell him that the next time I talk to him on the phone, I will probably be mad at him again. I don’t know why I do this — perhaps I want to prepare him, or perhaps it’s my apology ahead of time for anything mean I might say.

When you have to communicate predominately via telephone, it’s important to be really clear about what you’re thinking or feeling. When a boyfriend or girlfriend can’t read your body language because he or she can only hear your voice, it’s even harder to decipher what’s going on in your head. I say this especially to girls because we tend to have this ridiculous idea in our heads that if our boyfriends really cared about us, they could be thoughtful enough to read our minds and then explain our thoughts back to us in Swahili. Forget it. Give they guy a break. If you’re mad, tell him why. And just the same, if you’re really glad to be his girlfriend or really impressed, tell him why. The same goes for you, fellas. Just be clear, capiche?

2.) We make each other laugh. A lot. And often. Even when we’re mad at each other.

3.) We have similar taste in music, film, and literature. That alone gives us LOTS to talk about.

4.) We are both good listeners. My closest friends are the ones who listen as much as they talk. And when I say listen, I mean that they hear and remember and care about what I tell them. This is an important quality for my friends to have in relationship to me because I am a strong introvert, and I listen more than I speak. I feel loved when people listen to me the way that I listen to them. Listening builds trust. One of the things that first impressed me about D was his capacity for not just listening to what I was telling him, but for comprehending it and then asking me about it later. I strive to be that type of person in our relationship as well. Listening skills are vital in a long-distance relationship.

5.) We are both good talkers. It has taken me a long time to become a good talker. I’ll never forget the freedom I felt when I realized that I didn’t have to wait for people to ask me questions before telling them things. You mean I can just interject my own thoughts into a conversation without being asked for them? NO WAY!

Way.

I’m a much more confident person since I realized this. Now people actually think I’m kind of funny instead of being stuck up.

The other day I even accused a stranger of making a fat joke against me. And then we had a funny conversation about how we do the same thing to our significant others. It was great. She didn’t even have to ask me, “Do you think I am making a fat joke against you right now?” And I didn’t have to reply, “Yes, I think you are making a fat joke against me, Ha, Ha, Ha.” Instead, I just had to say, “Is that a fat joke?” And we laughed.

D is good at encouraging me to just talk. About random stuff. About nothing. I sometimes feel dumb telling people the stuff that goes on in my head (yes, even on the blog), but D is very affirming. I try to be the same for him.

Does anyone else have any ideas on how to make a telephone relationship work?

P.S. We’re supposed to get a blizzard this weekend. Six to ten inches of snow tomorrow. Sub-zero windchills. Yeah, baby.

* Note: Obviously all of these principles will benefit any relationship, whether close or far away. My point is that one reason D and I are still together is that we are very intentional about each of these five things. We can’t go out for coffee with a group of friends or go to a movie or sit and watch TV together, so we have to work hard with what we have.

Today’s installment is going to have to be quick because I’m a sick-y, and my head is pounding. Who knew that so much mucous could come out of one so polite and genteel as I? The illness gods have not granted my wish for that one really, really good nose-blow where everything comes out from deep inside, and afterward you can’t help but peek in the kleenex and say, “Yesssssss.”

Thankfully we had no fruit orders to go out today, so my co-workers and I didn’t have to work. Mom went shopping and asked if I wanted to come along, but I decided to spend the afternoon in my pajamas on the couch with the dog. It has proven to be a fantastic decision except that every time I get up to re-medicate, the dog has stolen my place on the couch.

For the most part, those who replied to the last post (and you can still reply if you’d like) said that they, too, believe that technology has made long-distance dating more rampant than it was twenty years ago. Some brought out the point, however, that times of war change the statistics. Quite logical. Perhaps one reason long-distance dating is more common today is because of the War In Iraq, all technology-speak aside. But World War II or World War I probably saw more situations of long-distance relationships just because so many more soldiers were involved.

The most difficult obstacle I’ve encountered in this whole D Dating Debacle is trust. Sure, it’s tough to go places without your boyfriend and to not know when you’ll see him again, but trust is a major hurdle. I have to trust that even though he hasn’t seen me in the past four months, he still likes me. I have to trust that he is, indeed, the good man that I think he is and that he won’t chase any skirts or capris (dear goodness, I hope not) or gaucho pants. It would be so easy for one of us to cheat, and no one would ever have to know about it.

I especially struggled with this in the beginning. Here I was dating this guy whom I had met only twice before he scooted off to California for his next year of school. When 9 p.m. rolled around and those free cell phone minutes began, I would often get worried if he didn’t call me. When 9:05 came, I would carry my phone around with me and start glancing at it every thirty seconds. 9:10 brought with it sweaty palms and glares of angst. 9:15 had me fuming. Why hasn’t he called yet? And then I would try to call him and get his voicemail, and the whole world would tumble, tumble, tumble: Who is he with? (My knees look particularly ugly today.) What is he doing? (I should probably consider working out a little more.) Where is he going? (I don’t just feel fat. I am fat. My hips are entirely too wide for the rest of my body.) WHY DOESN’T HE CALL? DOESN’T HE CARE ABOUT ME? AM I NOT A PRIORITY IN HIS LIFE? (He’s going to dump me because he thinks my thighs look like Dachshunds.)

dachshund.jpg

So, for a while, like a mother, I instated this spoken un-rule that we needed to check in with one another at 9 p.m. my time and 7 p.m. his time each evening. I used the excuse that I wanted to plan my evening around his call so I wouldn’t sit by the phone waiting for him, but I could still fit talking to him into my “busy” schedule. Yeah. My busy evening schedule of watching episodes of Mary Tyler Moore on DVD, snipping cute outfits out of magazines, and contributing to those sausage thighs with giant bowls of ice cream.

Now, on occasion, I would go out with L, or my roommate and friend AS, or friend AA for dinner or a movie or game-playing. On those nights, I was far less worried about what D was doing. In fact, 9 p.m. would roll around, and I wouldn’t even notice that we hadn’t checked in. Why? Because I was actually getting out and living my life.

Apparently I am a much more structured person than D is because the spoken un-rule started to drive him crazy. He called me on it, among other things, and we had a big fight of the worst kind: the Maybe We Should Break Up kind. So, I realized I needed to lighten up. If I had to speak to him each evening in order to feel like I could trust him, then I really didn’t trust him at all. I must note here that D has never done anything to make me doubt his trust. In fact, he is one of the most loyal people I know — loyal to his family and friends. All the worries resulted from my own inability to get beyond stuff that’s happened to me in the past. I have an abandonment complex which overpowered all the truth I knew about D. In my head I believed he would leave me, and if it was in my head, I was convinced it was how it was going to be.

I’m kind of dumb sometimes.

After D and I talked about all this, I knew that I had to let go. My fear of my own inadequacies was pushing him away from me. He felt like he had to choose between being with me and living his life. And if anyone starts feeling like that in a relationship, the wise thing to do is to contemplate whether or not you should be in it. I’ll never forget the beginning of that conversation, just how he said, “I feel like my needs aren’t being met,” and the four hours of talking/crying/yelling it out and the no-sleep-that-night that followed. The deep, hard sacrifices come with marriage and engagement. At this point, D shouldn’t have to choose me over his friends and his goals. I should come with his friends and with his goals. We are together at this point not because of need but because of choice. And sometimes perhaps there is more power in that logical, active choice than in a vulnerable, passive need. Any thoughts?

Those first few nights of not talking to him were agony. Thankfully L was visiting from San Francisco, and she and my other friends encouraged me and hugged me and helped me get over the little wounds in my heart. They also helped me stay busy because I’m such a homebody that my first tendency is to stay at home “reflecting” on situations when really what I am doing is drowning in the proverbial abyss of self-centeredness. Once I took time to be upset about it for a while I just needed to move on. I had to make the decision — the non-emotion-driven decision — to trust D. I had to list off all his fantastic characteristics and decide that they provided enough evidence for me to trust him. I had to stop taking my issues out on him. I had to let go of me.

Before we begin today’s installment, let me just note that I have a kleenex stuffed up in my nostrils, hanging down over my face. It is the only way to keep the drips in without rubbing the sore rims of my nostrils. I used a decongestant, and while my sinuses are now killing me, at least I can breathe air without stupidly hanging my mouth open. One nice thing about long-distance dating is that you never need to be worried that you gave your significant other that cold. Baby, I miss you and haven’t hugged you in nearly four months, but that cold? Yeah. Not from me. But since we’re on the subject, FROM WHOM DID YOU GET THAT COLD IF IT WASN’T FROM ME?

I’m excited about the response I’ve gotten on the first two posts. Not everyone is willing to comment on the actual blog, but via the blog and friends on Facebook and MySpace, I’ve gotten some interesting feedback. I’d like to share it with you:

SC, the artist formerly known as D’s roommate, wrote, “[…] I’ll give people tips on how easy close-distance relationship s are… you know… cause they’re really easy. Plus to make you even MORE jealous… I get to see your boyfriend all the time!!!”

SC, if I were a mean person, I’d be mad at you for rubbing in the fact that you get to see my boyfriend more than I do. If I were your English teacher, I’d tell you to use exclamation points more sparingly and to please, PLEASE stop dotting them with little hearts.

All that aside, let’s address the real issue here. Pointing out that long-distance relationships are hard does not diminish the fact that ALL relationships are hard. SC is quite right in his sarcasm. I find it interesting that when it comes to a close-distance relationship, most people will say, “Oh I really like such and such so I’ll date such and such.” When it comes to a long-distance relationship, most people will say, “Oh, I really like such and such, but I’m not going to get involved because such and such lives too far away.” I guess I’m more of an advocate of the idea that if you really like that person, you’ll at least be willing to try. I understand that many hurdles come up when one gets involved in a long-distance relationship, and a lot of trust is required, but as our fine heart-dotting friend has pointed out above, ALL relationships will have hurdles, and trust will always be required.

Jennifer had a comment on the last post: “[…] Do you think these tidbits of long-distance dating advice could help a relationship that stretches across an ocean and not just a country? And C. The Hornets have moved to New Orleans. I believe this happened somewhere around 2002.”

This comment made me laugh because Jennifer’s knowledge illustrates just how little I really know about sports. I knew a little bit in junior high because my brother convinced me to start collecting basketball cards so he could trade with me. But that was like 13 years ago. Thanks for the knowledge. And yes, I do think the advice could be helpful for any couple in a long-distance relationship. Brad commented after Jennifer, asserting that once the person is a plane ride away, it’s pretty much all the same. I think I disagree with you, Brad. It’s cheaper for me to fly to L.A. than it is for me to fly to Holland to visit my other boyfriend, Olen. So my relationship with D is stronger because I see him more often than I see Olen. And the whole cultural thing is just a little challenging. Olen wants me to wear wooden shoes, and I have to remind him to stop telling me what to wear.

For the most part, long-distance daters depend on the telephone. Telephoning could get a little more tricky with an overseas partner because it costs more money. I can’t tell you how many times I have praised God that I have free evening and weekend minutes on my cell phone. We definitely take advantage of those. Now I guess there are technology advances like Skype that could help the overseas relationship considerably. Also, the Internet is a great resource for keeping in touch, though if I had to choose between seeing D’s grammar and hearing his voice, I’d choose his voice every time.

Sometimes couples will put off talking about a serious issue because they’d rather do it in person. This may be a healthy thing for couples who see one another regularly, but for the long-distance dater, speaking face-to-face isn’t always feasible. The tendency is to hoard those important things that need voicing with the excuse of wanting to talk about them in person, when what you really need to do is to just say what you think/want/need/etc. Don’t save it up. Resentment will build and because you aren’t around for your significant other to read your body language, your parter may not have any idea that something is bothering you. Bad communication is frequently the root of the Break Up.

Another important thing I’ve learned is that I need to support D’s life, even if it is far away. One reason it took me over a year to decide to move to the L.A. area is because D didn’t want me to come if I was just coming for him. I have my own life and my own interests and my goals. It just so happens that my goals can happen in L.A., and that D is close by is a HUGE perk. If he broke up with me tonight, I would understandably be a little heartbroken, but I think I would still go. D is a great part of my life, but he’s not my life.

D could’ve come back to Arkansas during his summer break, and honestly part of me hoped that he would. But when he decided to stay in California to take a class and spend time with his friends out there, I convinced myself to be glad for him. I mean, what was he going to do in Arkansas? Sure, he could’ve hung out with me, but I had my own life and job and friends. It was a better decision for him and his goals.

Today I started wondering if long-distance dating has become more common than it was, oh, say, 20 years ago. We have the internet now and internet dating sites. With technology, long-distance daters have an advantage of daily contact. D and I play Scrabble together over the internet. We send each other interesting links. I post lolcat pictures on his MySpace even though he keeps threatening to delete them, but even when he says he will, he never does, so I keep posting them. I’d like to know your thoughts. That means you, lurkers who don’t identify yourselves. Is long-distance dating more common than it was 20 years ago?

If you’re hesitant to post your answer on the blog you can email me at ann [dot] clipperton [at] hotmail [dot] com.

P.S. It was six degrees in Minnesota today with wind chills plunging to sub-zero temperatures. I’m California dreamin’.

Before I pick up where we left off last night, I must inform you that this evening when I was changing out of my work jeans into more comfortable pants, I found a penny in my jeans. Not in the pocket–actually inside my jeans. I pulled them down slightly and the shiny copper glinted in the light of the bathroom. It was miraculous.

I have decided that God is answering my prayer for provision by making my body produce a 1988 American penny each and every day. By this time next year, I will be $3.65 richer.

Yesterday I started writing about a few principles that make long-distance relationships easier. You can read that post by scrolling down. I am too lazy to provide a link. Here is the second principle:

2.) Baby, I know that you’re over 1000 miles away, but let’s go to South America this afternoon.

Translation: Indulge in a little long-distance dating, as in going on dates even when you’re not even close to being in the same city.

D is a sap. For Valentine’s Day he took me on a date that was so romantic it almost made me vomit. The only problem was that he was in Hollywood and I was in Rogers, Arkansas. D, however, is a man with genius ideas, and he surprised me with a great little date. For the whole day, he left me sweet messages on my Facebook, MySpace, blog, and phone via voice message and text message. The messages would say things like, “Check your Facebook at 11:30,” etc., sending me on a virtual scavenger hunt. For the final message, he told me what we were doing. He went to Build-A-Bear in Hollywood, and I went to Build-A-Bear in Rogers, and we built bears for one another and mailed them to each other.

Build-A-Bear was a little bit of a let-down. In my idealism, I thought I was going to get to go in there and build this totally awesome custom-made bear with cooky eyes of my choosing and all kinds of different body parts… a Frankenbear. But I wasn’t thinking about the average American who can’t sew. I wasn’t thinking about a revenue-generating business. I wasn’t expecting the hundreds of deflated bear carcasses lying in their mass graves, just waiting to be stuffed through a tube on a reverse vacuum. The whole experience was significantly disturbing, but I got an awesome bear out of the deal and sent D and equally awesome bear. The clothes for the bears were far too expensive, so I dressed mine in a pair of underwear and a pink cowboy hat, and D’s wasn’t wearing any pants… ooh, la la. What may come across as suggestive is really just the plight of the money-less.

This whole scenario has become one of my favorite memories with D even though I wasn’t actually with him.  I also learned a lot about him through the adventure — about his creativity and ingenuity and thoughtfulness. And even though it was a bit over-the-top, I have to admit that I really, really like the bear he made for me.

Another evening was much more spontaneous. D had a copy of a book on the 1000 greatest films ever made. We decided to have a little healthy competition and read every single title of those films to see which one of us had seen more of them. D read them off as I wrote down tick marks on a sheet of paper to score, and in order to make it through the list quickly and efficiently, we had to say either yes or no unless we had an important comment or suggestion. No fluff. I was winning for a little while during the classic film, but D smoked me after we got through the ’50s or ’60s. Yes, it was a little bit ridiculous (1000 movie titles? Really? Yes, really, and it took a long time), but it was a great way to just hang out together. It was something we would have done if we lived close together and were hanging out at his apartment for an evening.

It is vital to a relationship to have some time to just spend together, not necessarily talking about anything fantastic or impressive. That is the rut that so many long-distance relationers fall into: All conversation must be meaningful and significant. While deep conversation and good communication are key, I honestly don’t think D and I would still be together if we didn’t take time to be flippant. To waste time. To be friends. This is not easy over the phone, but it is possible with a little ingenuity.