I got stuck in the airport in Atlanta on my way in for Christmas Eve. A solid 14 hours of repeated flight delays, then cancellation, being told no flights are available, only to overhear two people behind me in line getting tickets, then stand-by’s which also ended in cancellations. When I got to Milwaukee, barely tangent on the cusp of Christmas Morning, my suitcase was completely soaked, a lot of the presents ruined, and my brain felt like the innards of a over-ripe pumpkin.

Airports sometimes symbolizes freedom, since you’re most likely going somewhere. But the polar opposite can be true too, especially when you have nowhere to go because the warm and cold fronts are having a marital dispute outside the oversized windows and consequently, your plane is stuck in some god-knows-where cornfield. It struck me how vulnerable we are to isolation when we depend on machinery to get to places, and how confined we are by our bodies. Having a car, a home, a place to be and a place to go, sometimes makes me forget that I am at the mercy of physics — that sometimes, I cannot go as I please.

As I groped through the fatigue fog –per internal human resource report, getting up at 3am after 4 hours of sleep is no longer agreeable with my body — and took in the throne of thwarted Christmas Eve travelers, I thought of the people who are homeless. I had a place to go, and people to take me in, but somehow spending 14 hours — almost the amount of time it would have taken me to drive from Durham to Milwaukee — in an airport imparts this sour taste of loneliness, of being invisible in a crowd. That visceral sense of being in an eternal moment suspended in time, going nowhere, and being nobody.

I don’t know if this is why we keep busy, so we don’t realize that we are lonely.

And the first real bout of snow stranded me in Milwaukee until today, when I was due to leave on Monday. Dear Midwest, I’m returning all of your snow; refund please. After the initial internal screaming, I decided to visit friends who were in the area; the whole kerfuffle ended up a blessing in disguise, really. And now I am back in a very rainy town, with a very leaky roof. I am glad and I am reluctant to be back.

And what really makes a home?

Somewhere in the world the water-child is stomping about, terrorizing all of the thrift stores for their hidden gems. The absence tastes like a frozen moment, a truth I daren’t touch but warily paces about its periphery, drawing its circumference with memories, and hope.


Diversion for myself in the upcoming year. Intercourse between brain-cramming for licensing boards.


reblogged: Before We Fall in Love, by Kristin Monk


I think I could be falling for someone, a little.

It’s exciting, and scary. It feels like I’m flying, and falling, and happy, and sad, like my stomach is full of hot sand and my chest is full of hummingbirds.

I love to fall in love. I love the warmth, and the fire. The way a new lover is unveiled like a summer’s day, slowly at first—a promise of heat in the air.  Sunlight on the horizon. Dare I say it… Birds singing, flowers blooming? Only a new lover, no matter how long they have been falling, can relate.

A summer’s day can unfold into a scorcher though, as well. So before my new love unfolds too much, there are some things I would like to say.

I’m not here to fix you. I’m not even here to figure you out. If you need to be fixed, or figured, or chased, I wish you all the best, but I simply cannot be involved—I don’t have the time, energy, or inclination. I am not looking for someone who is fixed, because I am still filling in my own cracks in many ways. But I need to know that you are capable, and willing, to fill in your own, without looking to me, or alcohol, or sex, or football, or outside things to fill in yours. From this place of caring deeply for ourselves, can we come together and care deeply for each other?

I need alone time. Probably about an hour every day to read, practice yoga, run, read the news, or just veg out. Some days it may be less. Some days it may be more. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about you. It doesn’t mean you’re annoying me. It simply means that in order to take care of myself, and you, and everyone else in our lives, I need time to reconnect with myself. I will always give you this same consideration. If you need more, or less, don’t be afraid to ask for it—or anything else, for that matter.

I need to marvel. I am someone who thrives in the richness of the soil, the brightness of the dawn, the colors of the sunset, the taste of rich black coffee. Even in the acuteness of the pain. I need to throw out my arms at least once every day and feel my heart sing in joyful harmony with the universe. And I need you to understand that.

Let’s agree that our relationship is a no judgement zone. You are free to be completely, 100% you. All of the burping, slightly odd, hogging the covers, overly generous, wickedly funny, crazy affectionate, million other wonderful you things that you are. Be them. Don’t ever hold back, even a bit, even when you think you will offend me or hurt my feelings, or that I will judge you. Because if we’re going to do this thing, all of those things will happen. And we cannot be afraid that the person we care about is to not going to care about us when we are not perfect—we will be cranky, and eat an entire bag of potato chips (me), and never clean the bathroom (you). Thoughtless words will be said. Let’s pause. Breathe. Address the issue without judgement, and talk.

On that note, let’s fight. Because sometimes you will hate me.

Sometimes I will annoy you so much you will want to claw out your own eardrums just to quiet the sound of my voice. And believe me, I’ll do the same, because my temper is like a thunder storm. Usually short, but wicked, and known to cause damage. We will get past it. If we accept each other. If we don’t stonewall. If we can give space, and love, and don’t fight dirty.

We will drive each other nuts.

Let’s talk.

Let’s be on the same side. Ours.

I want to feel amazed. By my love for you. By your love for me. By our love for each other, for life, for sunshine, for adventure, for patience. I don’t want to ever take advantage of you— if I do, I want you to gently remind me that sometimes I am selfish. I want to look at you every day, at least once, and wonder at how this perfectly imperfect life came to be.

I want you to think I am beautifully flawed and hopelessly whimsical.

Let me make blueberry scones for you, without a recipe, because I cannot follow them, and serve them on mismatched colored dishes. Then I will write, and practice yoga, and you will work on your computer. We will be quiet, but content. Later, we will walk downtown, and have a drink, and talk. About bicycles and tequila and Brazil, or perhaps fashion, because we can talk about anything. Or maybe we will sit quietly, because we can be quiet. We will walk home, touching hands occasionally, because I like to walk alone. We will make love slowly but roughly, full of the passion and heat born of two people who cannot get enough of life, or each other.

Let’s be silly. And sad. And joyful. Let’s explore the world, and each other, and the backyard. Let’s make cookies, and memories, and love, and gardens, and a life that is full. Of what, I’m not sure yet. It’s taken me a long time to get to this place… I’m ready to find out.

shameless plugging: featuring Katherine Hein

I have a solid group of women that I’ve known since undergrad, who support each other no matter where we might be. I guess it’s normal to stick together after chugging through a few dozen weddings: cloth-pins for windy days and freezing by a lake in June and narrowly escaping death by truck on a rural highway and ad lib-ing through some of the most classic pieces because the wedding party randomly started processing down the aisle. And lots and lots of Canon in D. 

And some of them write the kind of poetry that I wish I could have written, and we understand each other without having to say a word. So here’s my shameless plugging for one of them, Katie Hein, whose lines came across my path and struck me wordless all over again.


sometimes i forget that you haven’t known me all my life,
that you never knew the little girl
that became a not-so-little girl
that became this young woman you call friend.
sometimes i remember what never was
because today is something that i never imagined.
sometimes i forget that i have to tell you about myself for you to find out
what’s in there.
sometimes my past catches up and my present wants to step aside.
sometimes my present catches up and i just want to go back.

it is strange for me to think that you have made assumptions
about me,
but i suppose we all have our suppositions.
i feel i know you where the rain meets the leaves,
whatever that means,
and though i am so familiar,
you don’t know what to think

Winter Contrast in Krakow, Martin Ryczek

Winter Contrast in Krakow, Martin Ryczek

a time to heal

When I was twenty I had my heart broken in earnest. And my mother wrote this for me. I think having a woman like her as my mother is one of the reasons I have grown resilient and grounded, but not hard, because being tough and hard means that I would be closed off to the world and the people around me, and there would be no exchange between the world and my human-hood.




This is a rough time, hard to tough through. When we first encounter a crisis, or even during its midst it’s easy to think, I can’t do this. Then allow God run the course of the crisis; we ask for His mercy.


Humanity can attest to another humanity as one heart to another. Like pain, to which every person has been acquainted. I don’t want to see my child go through any sort of pain, bodily or mentally. But even more so, I don’t want my child to be desensitized to pain because that would be a frightening anomaly.


It’s almost impossible to be spared of heartbreak; we neither welcome nor desire them yet they are inevitable, arriving unannounced and wreck havoc. Heartbreaks cause us pain; cause our growth. We never want to break up with those we love, yet the fatality of first loves is not infrequent. It’s been said that we don’t understand love the first time around, even when we think we do.


A woman bring a child into life through pain and likewise through metamorphosis, a chrysalis becomes a butterfly. Metamorphosis is agony and metamorphosis is necessary.


You have a hard time of letting go because you are dedicated and committed. You let go despite of your own suffering because you are responsible and respectful. Respectful of his decision and your own ontology.


We both see the infinite and absolute love of God and the inept and finite love of a mother. Yet there is one thing that I give you without reserve, one thing that is absolute: I will always share your pain and joy, you will always have a place to come home to. I will always be waiting for you, ready for you.



Gallway, Ireland. By Abby Kroken

Gallway, Ireland. By Abby Kroken

the inexplicable ordinary

This is a story of no exceptionality. It is ancient and it is born anew every day, every time I draw a breath. This is a story of the ordinary, the sometimes tediously mundane. It is a story of a boy who left and came back as a man, and a girl who, while the boy was gone, grew up a woman.

How do we explain fate? Coincidence? How do two dust particles become tangential for an ephemeral moment, an instantaneous eternity?

He always remained an enigma, a dichotomy, like the way light is both a continual wave and an explosion of particles. His humanity and hers touched briefly in the blossom of a single summer’s day. Does the brevity detract from the sincerity in sharing your souls?

And she still doesn’t know if she was in love with him, or her idea of him, or perhaps, because he was the kind of person she wanted to be.

When the Eurus wind took him to another land she resigned in her heart that their life stories will have no more common plots. Even the most potent disappointment is diluted by the passing of time, and she grew up and he grew distance in her mind, as a line on the yellowed pages of her memories grows fainter with each dance of the seasons.

Then he came back.

He came back and she realized that in her starry-eyed dawn of womanhood, she loved him as her hero, a set of ideals. But now that he has returned she realized that her hero is just a man, a man who, while away, has metamorphosed from his not-so-distant boyhood, a man with his dreams and insecurities.

He came back with the Zephyr wind but she was leaving. She was leaving for a land that beckoned her and a life that she has been growing toward, fighting for. Has she become who she wanted to be? Then what becomes of him? What becomes of them?

He held out his heart and touched hers. Ember inhaled and fluttered into flame. For two seasons their humanities breathed in the same spirit and together recited the names of the constellations. We are a divine comedy, she thought, and comedies parody our tragedies. We learn to say the right lines at the right times and it’s a bit dehumanizing. Whose applause am I vying for?

He did not realize how his heart was the offering for hers, and she was no longer the girl he remembered. There is a strength that he has hitherto only seen from a distance, and a quiet confidence replaced the childish timidity. And he discovered, with a note of amusement, that her resilience has bore the fruit of stubbornness. The woman that grew from the girl he remembered is no longer a child.

But he knew that she was leaving and he, to his surprise, found his heart growing into hers. Two trees entwining into one. He has never given his heart to anyone. Not completely. And now he watches himself entering a rebirth, terrifying and beautiful.

She was leaving and he did not know how exactly do two humanities remain tangent for an eternal instant, an inexplicable now.

This is an ancient tale, the ones that hunters tell around a fire while the stars breathe the night away. No one really speaks the ending out loud, at least, not the wise storytellers, because the end is the beginning.

Photo credit: stockvault.net

Photo credit: stockvault.net

reblogged: Missed Connection, a Craigslist Post

Photo credit: public domain

Photo credit: public domain

I saw you on the Manhattan-bound Brooklyn Q train. I was wearing a blue-striped t-shirt and a pair of maroon pants. You were wearing a vintage red skirt and a smart white blouse. We both wore glasses. I guess we still do.You got on at DeKalb and sat across from me and we made eye contact, briefly. I fell in love with you a little bit, in that stupid way where you completely make up a fictional version of the person you’re looking at and fall in love with that person. But still I think there was something there.Several times we looked at each other and then looked away. I tried to think of something to say to you — maybe pretend I didn’t know where I was going and ask you for directions or say something nice about your boot-shaped earrings, or just say, “Hot day.” It all seemed so stupid.

At one point, I caught you staring at me and you immediately averted your eyes. You pulled a book out of your bag and started reading it — a biography of Lyndon Johnson — but I noticed you never once turned a page.

My stop was Union Square, but at Union Square I decided to stay on, rationalizing that I could just as easily transfer to the 7 at 42nd Street, but then I didn’t get off at 42nd Street either. You must have missed your stop as well, because when we got all the way to the end of the line at Ditmars, we both just sat there in the car, waiting.

I cocked my head at you inquisitively. You shrugged and held up your book as if that was the reason.

Still I said nothing.

We took the train all the way back down — down through Astoria, across the East River, weaving through midtown, from Times Square to Herald Square to Union Square, under SoHo and Chinatown, up across the bridge back into Brooklyn, past Barclays and Prospect Park, past Flatbush and Midwood and Sheepshead Bay, all the way to Coney Island. And when we got to Coney Island, I knew I had to say something.

Still I said nothing.

And so we went back up.

Up and down the Q line, over and over. We caught the rush hour crowds and then saw them thin out again. We watched the sun set over Manhattan as we crossed the East River. I gave myself deadlines: I’ll talk to her before Newkirk; I’ll talk to her before Canal. Still I remained silent.

For months we sat on the train saying nothing to each other. We survived on bags of skittles sold to us by kids raising money for their basketball teams. We must have heard a million mariachi bands, had our faces nearly kicked in by a hundred thousand break dancers. I gave money to the beggars until I ran out of singles. When the train went above ground I’d get text messages and voicemails (“Where are you? What happened? Are you okay?”) until my phone ran out of battery.

I’ll talk to her before daybreak; I’ll talk to her before Tuesday. The longer I waited, the harder it got. What could I possibly say to you now, now that we’ve passed this same station for the hundredth time? Maybe if I could go back to the first time the Q switched over to the local R line for the weekend, I could have said, “Well, this is inconvenient,” but I couldn’t very well say it now, could I? I would kick myself for days after every time you sneezed — why hadn’t I said “Bless You”? That tiny gesture could have been enough to pivot us into a conversation, but here in stupid silence still we sat. 

There were nights when we were the only two souls in the car, perhaps even on the whole train, and even then I felt self-conscious about bothering you. She’s reading her book, I thought, she doesn’t want to talk to me. Still, there were moments when I felt a connection. Someone would shout something crazy about Jesus and we’d immediately look at each other to register our reactions. A couple of teenagers would exit, holding hands, and we’d both think: Young Love.

For sixty years, we sat in that car, just barely pretending not to notice each other. I got to know you so well, if only peripherally. I memorized the folds of your body, the contours of your face, the patterns of your breath. I saw you cry once after you’d glanced at a neighbor’s newspaper. I wondered if you were crying about something specific, or just the general passage of time, so unnoticeable until suddenly noticeable. I wanted to comfort you, wrap my arms around you, assure you I knew everything would be fine, but it felt too familiar; I stayed glued to my seat.

One day, in the middle of the afternoon, you stood up as the train pulled into Queensboro Plaza. It was difficult for you, this simple task of standing up, you hadn’t done it in sixty years. Holding onto the rails, you managed to get yourself to the door. You hesitated briefly there, perhaps waiting for me to say something, giving me one last chance to stop you, but rather than spit out a lifetime of suppressed almost-conversations I said nothing, and I watched you slip out between the closing sliding doors.

It took me a few more stops before I realized you were really gone. I kept waiting for you to reenter the subway car, sit down next to me, rest your head on my shoulder. Nothing would be said. Nothing would need to be said.

When the train returned to Queensboro Plaza, I craned my neck as we entered the station. Perhaps you were there, on the platform, still waiting. Perhaps I would see you, smiling and bright, your long gray hair waving in the wind from the oncoming train.

But no, you were gone. And I realized most likely I would never see you again. And I thought about how amazing it is that you can know somebody for sixty years and yet still not really know that person at all.

I stayed on the train until it got to Union Square, at which point I got off and transferred to the L.

reblogged: when it is all new, a letter to hilary, by Preston Yancey

Preston Yancey is one of those people who give me hope that being mildly lost at twenty-something is alright, and this trying to cobble together some sense of life, this doing the best I can with the continuous now that I have, this often tedious shuffling toward Jerusalem, is all worthwhile, and that there is joy in this land of in-between, and that we can create something of beauty along the way. Preston Yancey is also one of those people who make me sort of bubble with envy, because my writing isn’t as sharpened and well-oiled, and that my words cannot divide sinews and tendons. Not yet. After going through my customary crush on competent, eloquent, and ever-so-quirky boys such as Preston Yancey, I am very glad that he has found someone who makes him inexplicably happy. 


July 25, 2013

Lake Gaston Sunset. Photo credit: Jackson Rollins

Lake Gaston Sunset. Photo credit: Jackson Rollins

 In what seems like another world now, with so much space between, Hilary and I used to pass digital letters back and forth to each other on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I smile at those days, smile half, over the way I was falling in love with her after every tumbled word without quite realising it at the time. Retrospect is a powerful thing. We now mark a series of new letters, back and forth, Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can read Hil’s letter that I’m responding to here.

Dear Hil,

I debated about this letter, which has something to do with the reason why it took me so long to write it. (We won’t talk about how I didn’t write you one last week, because as you know I was in your kitchen making you a birthday dinner, among other things, so I’m holding firm on not being guilted for missing a letter, even if it was the second time it’s happened in the year of these exchanges.)

I debated because you and I care a lot about protecting our story, about preserving the intimacy of us and the love we have, about keeping the online at a distance from that and giving only what is truly beneficial and, often, even then holding out. There are some things that once they have been spoken are no longer, and so much of us and our story is hidden in the thin places of self and space and time–it seems injustice to try to root it.

But today I want to pull back the curtain a bit, bring out a bit of that story for the sake of others. We talk often about how we don’t want other people to hear the story of us–meeting online, letter exchanges, flying across oceans and crying in airports–and think of it as the ideal, as the thing that they wish they could have, because every story of love is its own sort of extraordinary that really only the two people right in the tangled midst of it can understand. This is not that. This is not an attempt to loudly convince anyone of the love or the uniqueness or the wonder of it, but a sort of promise to those who have not found that sort of love yet.

You went running in prayer that day because you had read the draft of the third chapter of my memoir and you ached to have been in the story at that point. It was full of memories that would never be quite yours, would be shared but only in the after and experienced only in retelling. You felt the sting of not being rooted with me yet, as I had felt the sting writing it out and marvelling at the chaos and uncertainty that it all was, in a field with another girl who wasn’t you and could never be you, trying to make a bastard love blossom that would fade as quickly as it had been imagined. I told you that night on Skype that you were there and not there, that when I wrote those words with the honesty I could bring to the page they only flowed that way because you were there with me, somehow, in the magic of retrospect and reweaving.

It’s not the same, I know. It’s not the same as having been there or having haphazardly journeyed it alongside. Never mind the dreams we conjure with one another about what would have happened had we met then somewhere on the east side, with your red wine and my bourbon in an old bar that still had a coat room with a clerk that could be tipped well. Never mind all that, because the sting of being there but not being there is real and is not, I know, unique to us.

So what is the point of this? Pulling back the curtain enough? It is a promise to you and to those still waiting, that there is newness with you that is not like anything else. To hold you is to have never held someone before. To kiss you is to have never before been kissed. To brush our hands together or lean into you or take coffee from your hand in the midmorning at your kitchen table where we are at home in a still point of our own fabrication, that is to have never before known touch, pressure, or gift before.

Memory plays us like fools, pretends that we have a hold of it when what we have is a farce of our own design. But love makes us fools in a brave way, teaches to overcome memory’s trick with the firmness of words, vows, that are spoken in those gestures long before they are said aloud–in the hair elastic I wear around my left wrist, in the way you tilt your head when you look at me, in the crystal sugar bowl and the slice of lime.

I wanted to put somewhere public something of a promise to those who wonder if it can all be, truly, wonderful. I wanted to tell them that it can. You simply have to realise the wonderful comes not in the loudness of a story but in the quietness of it, in the way that you thought you knew so perfectly and so truly exactly what it felt like to be seen, to be kissed, to be loved, until one morning in the midst of the ordinary a woman looks at you from across the room and you realise what poetry must be, what it is to feel the vault of the earth in tilt, what it is to fall in love over and over again until you believe that you could still time if you only hold your breath just long enough.

Because it is all new. And it keeps being new.



reblogged: When you think your love story is boring

original post by Lisa-Jo Baker, 22 July 2013. 

“My love life will never be satisfactory until someone runs through an airport to stop me from getting on a flight.” ~Teenager post of the week via the Huffington Post.

He drove us all home 18 hours over two days.

Three kids and hundreds of miles and potty breaks and princess pull-ups, the car covered in the markers I’d bought for window art. Turns out the soft beige ceiling of a mini van makes a perfect canvas. Rainbow swirls color the door panels and there are goldfish crackers crushed so deep into the seats that they will likely be there come next summer and this same road trip all the way to Northern Michigan and the lake that his family have been coming to for decades.

He’s never run through an airport for me.

Three times he’s held my hands, my shaking legs, my head, my heart as I’ve bared down and groaned a baby into being. He has run for ice chips and doctors and night shifts and laid himself low to help me hold on through the hard rock and roll and push and pull of labor and I’ve never drowned holding onto his hand.

There is a rumor, an urban myth, a fiction, a fantasy, a black and white screen cliché that love looks like the mad, romantic dash through airports for a last chance at a flailing kiss.

And then the credits roll.

And the lights come on.

And we must go back to our real lives where we forget that love really lives.

When you think your love story is boring via lisajobaker.com

I threw up so hard and fast and often one night in a farmhouse in Pennsylvania that I couldn’t stand come morning. He moved over and out and gave me the bed. He went out for crackers and soda and mind numbing games to keep the three kids occupied and away from mom.

I looked in the mirror and there was nothing romantic looking back at me, but around the wrinkles in my eyes, the parched, white cheeks, there was the deep romance of being loved beyond how I looked.

He’s never run through an airport for me.

He’s gone out for milk at 10pm, he’s held our children through bouts of stomach viruses and told me there is nothing about his kids that disgusts him. He’s carried us on his shoulders when we were too tired or too sad or too done to keep doing the every day ins and outs that make up a life.

He’s unloaded a hundred loads of laundry and put the dishes away.

He lays down his life and it looks like so many ordinary moments stitched together into the testimony of a good man who comes home to his family in the old minivan, the one with the broken air conditioning.

It undoes me every time to look around and find him there, having my back in the day to day and the late night into late night and then next year again.

He’s run a thousand times around the sun with me and we hold hands and touch feet at night between the covers even when we’re wretched and fighting we’re always fighting our way back to each other.

He’s never run through an airport for me.

He runs on snatched sleep and kids tucked into his shoulder on both sides of the bed.

He is patient and kind.

He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

And we come running to him. When the battered white minivan pulls into the driveway his children trip over themselves, their abandoned Crocs and the pool bag to be the first to open the door and spill out their day into the hands of the man who can catch them.


He’s never run through an airport for me.

This ordinary unremarkable love walks slowly every day alongside. One step, one day, one T-ball practice at a time.

One permission slip signed, one Lunchable, one school play, one art project, one Lego box, one more night time cup of water delivered at a time.

This ordinary love that wakes up with bad breath and crease marks on its cheeks and is the daily bread that sustains across time zones and countries and cultures and the exhaustion of trying to figure out how to be a parent and a grown up and somebody’s forever.

And this is a love life – to live life each small, sometimes unbearably tedious moment – together.

To trip over old jokes and misunderstandings. To catch our runaway tongues and tempers and gift them into the hands of the person who was gifted to us.

He lets me warm my ice cold feet between his legs and the covers at night.

He has never run through an airport for me.

This is love with the lights on and eyes wide open. This is the brave love, the scared love, the sacred boring, the holy ordinary over sinks of dirty dishes and that one cupboard in the kitchen with the broken hinge.

to love at all…

“[…] is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

― C.S. Lewis

Giant's Bleeding Heart, Photo: Abby Kroken

Giant’s Bleeding Heart, Photo: Abby Kroken

re: a rose is a rose is an unicorn

It’s a week of throw-backs. 

Lake Tepako, New Zealand. wuxshen.wordpress.com

Lake Tepako, New Zealand. wuxshen.wordpress.com

somewhere along my twenty-second year i decided that if i reach the age of twenty-four without marrying, i will keep my maiden name. as the Chinese zodiac consists of twelve animals, each zodiac year reached (in multiples of twelve) usually calls for some sort of special celebration. last time it happened i was uprooted from China and moved here with rudimentary knowledge of Western culture, mostly scavenged from books like Shiloh, Little Rascal, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and a bare-bone understanding of the English language, courtesy of Chinese elementary schooling’s attempt to broaden our little overworked minds. now they teach English in kindergarten.

so, this zodiac year around, i will stake my claim on nomenclature autonomy. gentlemen, you have a little over a month to sabotage my plans.

my decision is influenced by several elements, none of which are out of spite for my eventual husband. professionally, i will likely have published research articles under my maiden name, which will streamline search engines whenever necessary. evidently PubMed assigns a number to each published author and whenever a name is changed, they add more numbers onto your name. human bar-coding, anyone?

personally, i have grown to enjoy a name that threatens to inflict brain hernia whenever pronunciation is attempted. the first days of classes were always amusing and embarrassing: the teacher would arrive at the end of the name list, frown, flinch, then slowly inhale. then i’d raise my hand and say “i’m here! i go by Hannah” and watch their faces return to their natural shades. hopefully a name like mine will dissuade identity thieves. too many Z’s at inconvenient places.

however, i believe another reason makes the case. in Lois Lowry’s A Summer to Die, Maria told Meg how she’s proud of what she has accomplished and who she has been as Maria Abbott, aside from thewife of Ben Brady. she doesn’t take his name not because she doesn’t love him–or love him any less–but because she is herself and her name has been part of that identify, apart from her other roles and whatever exogenous thing she has become attached to. when i am young it’s easy to want to be identified with something great and impressive and washes over the tongue like fine wine so i can say, why yes, i am this and this and this while underneath all that i am really hoping for you to approve of me, and i think that by associating myself with something, someone, some title, you’d like me more. i wonder if that’s the same when i get older. i hope not.

a mother wrote to her daughters once, you are not precious because you are pretty or you can paint or make boys fall in love with you or because you earned a scholarship to attend Stanford;  you are precious because you are here. i like that, and that’s something not only young women but everyone who is here should know too. and i think that’s why i want to keep my name so i am reminded i am me. i am here and i want to bring beauty into the little piece of the world i inhabit, and i want you to know that you are precious because you are here. you are you, and the world is a little bit more beautiful because of you.