No need to check my bag. I only brought my ninja skills.

I did it. I graduated with my Master of Library and Information Studies… and as with many should-be-boring events in my life, I made it an adventure with my finesse and ninja skills.

ninja
Me. Just lying. I’d lose a nipple just taking this picture.

In 2010, I received my Bachelor’s degree from Central University, a smaller college known for being the best teaching school in the state. Because of its size and the fact that the ceremonies were divided by college, graduation was held in the gym. My Master’s degree, however, came from University of State, which offers the only degree in several states that is accredited by the American Library Association. Attending a large state university means I officially get to align myself with a football team like it’s my religion, along with several thousand other people in the Midwest .. who were all at my fucking graduation ceremony.

huge crowd
I’ve never exaggerated anything in my life.

Having been told to be at the convention center by 9:15, I decided to leave at 8:45 for the 45 minute drive. Graduation wasn’t until 10:00. Why would I want to wait for 45 minutes when putting on a robe takes like three? Furthermore, it was only the College of Arts and Sciences, so just like my undergrad, it wouldn’t be that crowded. It’s funny how seven years of college left me how-does-she-not-drown-in-the-shower stupid.

shower

Not only was I running late to graduation, but my Gramma was as well, since she didn’t want to drive down alone. Now, just to be clear, my Gramma is the best person in my life. She’s also the most pessimistic. When her football team is ahead by three touchdowns and loses the ball, she will shout “Well, we’ve lost it now!” at the T.V. and try to kick me out before the game ends. I’m not kidding. I had to threaten to never watch another game with her if she wouldn’t let me finish the one on the screen. Therefore, the entire trip to the convention center went like this…

Gramma: “You’re not gonna make it, Belle.”
Me: “Thank you, Gramma. I appreciate the input.”
Gramma: “There’s no way you’re gonna make it in time.”
Me: “Thank you, Gramma. That’s not really helping.”
Gramma: “We should have left earlier.”
Me: “Why, yes, Gramma. I hadn’t considered that.”

The traffic was nearly as terrible as the road work and I hate to drive… probably because I suck at it. This is one time I desperately regreted my single status, because I (not all woman-kind, Gail) would have loved a penis behind the wheel. I wish there were some way to thank the man in the Dodge in front of me for not pulling out a gun, because in my stress I was pretty much on top of him. He kept kindly motioning for me to not follow so closely, an oddly civil reaction to road rage in the Midwest. I tried. I really did. But in my stress, I would just inch more closely all over again. It really didn’t matter how I drove, though, because even when I wasn’t following closely, I got the same response from my Gramma every single time I braked.

Gramma: “Belle!”
Me: “Gramma, I have never been in a wreck. I see that he’s stopped. I’m not going to hit him.”
Gramma: ::Gasp::
Me: “That’s it, Gramma! No more sounds from you! You are on mute, now!”

By the time I pulled up to the convention center, I was convinced I wouldn’t be allowed to walk, because I was so late… and because my Gramma kept telling me so. It was 9:53. I asked her to park the car and bolted toward the door… only to forget my hat and sigh with relief that she hadn’t taken off yet. I rushed back to the door and saw the sign saying I needed to be at the south entrance. I was at the north entrance and it was 9:55. I ran full-throttle to the south entrance… and forgot I was in knee-high leather heeled boots. Stepping off the sidewalk was either a godsend, for it didn’t destroy my legs, or a curse because it caused me to fall in the first place. Either way, I went down. Hard. No one even laughed, it was such an epic fall. When a man asked if I was okay, I shouted “I’m good!” and rolled and jumped up action-movie-style to take off. In my haste, however, I didn’t fully catch my balance and re-face-planted immediately. I took slightly more care getting up that time, shouted “I lied! But I’m good now!” and took off again. Ultimately, my big action scene was far more Will Farrell than Jason Statham.

will ferrell

When I finally got to the south end of the convention center, I was somewhat rumpled and a professor helped me right the ridiculous collar for which I paid $64 last semester and I realized my tassel said 2012, because I’d intended to walk in December before failing my portfolio. My professors were glad to see me, though the time was a bit embarrassing, seeing as how the undergrads had already started walking. As an asthmastic, I couldn’t really handle the run and stress of the morning and once we were seated, kept coughing…

Woman beside me: “I wish I had a cough drop for you.”
Translation: God, I hope I don’t have to listen to that for two fucking hours.

I did my best to shut up while inventorying my injuries, at which point I realized my knuckles were bleeding and my knees were bruised. I texted Gail to tell her this and the conversation went as follows:

text
My phone kept correcting my sarcastic “Bestie” to “Beastie”. Gail is now stuck with this nickname.

My dad texted to ask where I was. I told him I was the one in the hat. I made sarcastic comments to my little sister, Bea, about how she shouldn’t wear anything under her robe when she graduates high school in a week, because it’s so fucking hot. I believe there was a recommendation to wear baseball pasties (she’s a baseball manager) and fling the robe off into the crowd. Since her nippels wouldn’t be showing, it wouldn’t even be illegal. She declined my advice. Ungrateful little shit. The rest of the ceremony pretty much went the same way. I texted and completely ignored the generic speech so clearly directed toward traditional undergrads.

Speaker: “It seems only yesterday we were moving into our dorms…”
text to Bea: I’m pretty sure I know the official melting point of human flesh.

The names were called.
Bea: I must really love you.
Me: Hey. They’re giving you baby name ideas for when you get knocked up in your freshman year. Pay attention.

I worked to subtly take off the sweater I had under my robe… and failed.
Me: “It’s shockingly difficult to undress beneath a graduation robe.”
Woman annoyed by my coughing: silence

Since my mother is as insane as her mother is adorable, she spent the entire ceremony staring at me through a pair of binoculars… from about 50 yards away. I kept mouthing “find Gramma” at her and texting her to say that I’d had her park the car and would hate for her to sit alone, since I made her late. My mother did not budge, nor did she redirect the binoculars. I could see this clearly, because she was fifty fucking yards away. Finally, I found my grandmother (without a telescope, I might add) and texted Bea to tell her she was on the same row, not far from her, my dad, and step-mom. Minutes later, Bea sent me a text saying they’d found my Gramma and were all chatting outside. My dad made the extra effort to find his ex-mother-in-law and keep her company, while my mother…

binoculars
… was otherwise preoccupied.

The drive home was significantly less stressful and I laughed and chatted with my Gramma the whole way. When we got back to town, I realized how much my boots were hurting my feet… only to later see the bruise wrapping the left one. My poor knuckles are still raw and a good night’s sleep brought to my attention the pain coursing through my shoulder and left arm. Battle scars. Graduating is hard, y’all.

Gramma: “I can’t believe you made it. I just knew you wouldn’t. I kinda figured you’d miss it.”

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“Divorce is the coward’s way out”: My yellow-bellied bliss.

A few weeks ago, a woman who was unaware that she was speaking to a once 23-year-old divorcée, told me that “divorce is the coward’s way out.” Fine. She was a coworker, because I am broken and no one I work with knows I’m divorced. Happy, Gail?!? Of course, this isn’t the first I’ve heard of statements such as the above. I’ve ranted about them here, here, and here. I didn’t even comment this time. Now that I think about it, though, that was an inappropriate time to burst out laughing. Once I caught my breath, I started to really consider the implications of this statement. What about leaving my marriage to a sociopath makes me a coward? Then I realized… holy shit, it did take bravery to stay with the man that long. He was terrifying and I was terrified of him. For the last year of my marriage I slept with my wallet in my pillowcase and drove around with my Gramma’s jewelry hidden in my car. I spent my few free hours, between jobs and grad school, chatting and crocheting with Gail in a Taco Mayo, because I could buy a .99 soda and get refills all night and not be home. When I did get home, I drank to take my mind off my misery and would even play the “let’s see how fast can I write this essay before the Everclear kicks in” game. Both drunk and sober, I created entire fantasy worlds where my ex-husband died (through no fault of my own) and just was not in my life. I secretly (and sometimes not so secretly) wished he’d finally give into all of those suicide threats, because then it would be over. To this day, I sleep with a revolver next to me in a gun sock, occasionally cuddling it like a stuffed animal when I have nightmares about still being married. So yeah. It took bravery to stay and perhaps, by extension, cowardice to leave. If that’s the case, though, my cowardice has reaped some fantastic rewards. In the last two years, I’ve made amazing friends, had some hilarious dates, taken several epic day trips, gussied up and gone on too many dates with me-and-only-me to count, reconnected with God, chosen a new career path, lost nearly 100 pounds, taken up a dozen hobbies (only one of which sprung from my fear of my ex-husband)… … and oh, yeah… today, I have officially earned my Master’s degree. That’s right. Despite that sociopathic son-of-a-bitch doing his damnedest to drag me down into the gutter with him, I did everything I ever said I would and am going on to live my life with a bright future. I’ll never again eat free movie theater popcorn all summer or shoplift bags of frozen chicken under the dog food, because that one hundred dollar bill went missing from my wallet. I’ll never find myself pregnant and praying for a miscarriage more than freaking Rosemary, because that baby would have a father without a soul and then weeping with shame when said request was granted. I’ll never miss another holiday just to avoid lying to my family about whether or not my husband has a job and I’ll never again wipe blood from the dog’s paws. I don’t live under constant fear of eviction, since he not only hasn’t paid the rent, but faked having a job. Because I am such a fucking cowardmy life is filled with absolute yellow-bellied bliss and he doesn’t get a single minuscule piece of something for which he did not work. I’ll gladly take this over the scars of bravery any day.


Bravery

Cowardice

That Time I Tried to Fake a Master’s Degree

I’m going to open with a secret. I’m a little high-strung when it comes to school.

shock
Jump back and gasp!

Growing up, my dear ol’ dad used to look at my report card and sternly say “Now, why do you have a 92 in math? You need to quit talking in class and get that up.” I was in the second grade. This resulted in two extremes. There’s my brother, Bo, who is constantly talking about the waste of time that is college, because he’s a successful electrician with no formal degree and… me.

Last summer, I had the assignment to create an online resource guide for my library over a subject of my choice. I chose sewing and hand-picked every title listed in the Wiki, including color photos matching the cover art of the specific copy housed in the library and an explanation of difficulty level. I screen capped shots of the online public access catalog, explaining how to use it and described, in detail, system requirements for a library card. This wasn’t part of the assignment. I’m just insane. All of my classmates told me they hoped I’d leave it up for their future use and how they loved the name: ”SewResourceful”. The professor commented to say she thought it was wonderful, creative, and appreciated the obvious extra effort. Then she gave me a 98.5%. A fucking 98.5%!!!! I read and reread that Wiki 15 times and added elements that went above and beyond the requirements and she gave me a 98.5%?!?!? Why doesn’t she just come over and personally shit on my computer?!?!?!

biting laptop
After this…

I’m going to tell you another secret. Being a little high-strung when it comes to school, occasionally makes me an exhausting friend. Gail and Jay were both recruited to talk me down from the absolutely devastating loss of that 1.5%. I couldn’t discuss it without my bottom lip trembling. I am not embellishing even a little, here. So… fast forward one semester to last fall.

If you’ll recall from A Chronicle of My First Failure Since the Driver’s Test, back in November, I “did not pass” my graduate school End of Program Assessment portfolio for the Master of Library and Information Studies program. I don’t think I’d be exaggerating to claim that it was the greatest tragedy in the history of time. Had Nostradamus foreseen this, he’d have just destroyed the earth preemptively, himself. As it was, there was a mushroom cloud over the campus, when I delivered a completely off the mark presentation. You know that scene in Legally Blonde where Elle Woods dresses as a Playboy Bunny to attend a Halloween party, only to discover that it wasn’t, in fact, a costume party? That’s pretty much exactly what happened.

elle woods
Wait. This is conference room B, right?!?!

What actually happened was that I had a program advisor who was on her way out. She retired without telling her students and had never given me any clear constructive criticism on my portfolio progress, instead giving me a semesterly thumbs up. This woman was tough to pin down, particularly for a student who worked two jobs and took every class (save for one hybrid course) online, never really trying to meet up with her advisor. When I got a new advisor, didn’t take the opportunity to make sure I understood the portfolio requirements. Dr. Black’s gentle criticisms went ignored, because I didn’t have the time to change things that weren’t important enough to strongly emphasize. The same attitude was employed when she suggested I practice my presentation beforehand. I’ve always done well in school, pretty much without trying. I thought I could wing it on the End of Program Assessment. So, it was ultimately all my fault when I showed up to the party in a corset and plush ears.

I’ve exaggerated a lot here, for the sake of hilarity, but I truly think that the presentation I delivered in November had to have been one of the worst the committee members had ever seen. I wasn’t even completely sure what I was supposed to do. I actually told my Gramma that I was sure they wouldn’t fail me, since I’d completed all of the coursework. I somehow just missed the dire importance of the entire assessment. Approximately one minute into my presentation, however, Dr. Snyder’s expression gave away that this was not at all what was expected. I didn’t have a change of clothes, though, so I had no choice but to continue with the party in my cotton bunny tailed panties. I plowed through, becoming more and more flustered and by the time I got to the Q&A portion, I was just grateful I hadn’t thrown up.

Dr. Black: “Well, what was the reason for removing the reference section?”
Me: “I don’t know.”
Dr. Black: “What is reference?”
Me: “… I don’t know.”

“Books is neat, y’all. Give me a master’s degree.” I’m embarrassed just thinking about it. As the committee deliberated and scratched their heads over how in the fuck someone made it this far without being able to define reference, I texted Gail about how my life was over. She told me she was sure it would be fine and I didn’t respond, because I was certain it was not fine. Reference, by the way, makes up the books filled with specific tidbits of information that can be difficult to find without the help of a librarian. Included in this are almanacs, dictionaries, and encyclopedias. I knew that then, but when I tried to explain it, I fumbled and used the word “obscure” instead of “specific.” Hellz yeah. Tell the reference librarians that their position is pointless, because the information they’re finding is “obscure”. Maybe just jump to “murky”, “unintelligible”, “vague”, “ambiguous”, “doubtful.” When I walked back into the conference room, the first words spoken were “We’re disappointed.” My first thought was “No shit. Can you pass me anyway?”

elle woods eating chocolate
No. The answer was no.

I was so excited to graduate last semester, that I purchased a class ring and a t-shirt and sweatshirt that read “Alumni.” I even sent out graduation announcements. There are not a lot of things that are more embarrassing than sending out graduation announcements only to respond to the congratulations with “JK!” I think the only thing more humiliating would have been that time I married a crazy person and got divorced at 23. So, having failed my graduate portfolio, I packed away the ring and the shirts and told myself I could have them back when I deserved them. Just like when I burst into tears in the third grade over my first B on a midterm, I didn’t even need my dad to shame me. Only difference is, this time he didn’t. Regardless, I was absolutely inconsolable at dinner with Gail, but as always, emotions are icky and I coped by making exaggerative and somewhat offensive jokes.

“They kicked me out of college and made me ride the short bus home!”

“My dad’s going to hate me. I’m the slow child now.”
He, in fact, thought I was being completely unreasonable and told me he could never be disappointed in me. Today, he regularly tells me it doesn’t matter what the grade is, so long as I graduate. How fucking ironic.

I would sometimes start with a joke, only to convince myself that I was speaking the truth and end up in tears.
Me: “I’m going to have to buy World of Warcraft! I can’t afford World of Warcraft! It takes a monthly subscription and I don’t even pay for my gym membership!”
Gail: “What?”
Me: “My life in the real world is over. I’m never going to be amazing or impressive here, so I’m going to have to establish an influential presence in the virtual world. It’s either that or I have to join the military!”
Gail: “Why the military?”
Me: “Because I could be impressive and have a real career in the military, even though I can never be a librarian! I don’t want to join the military! I hate being yelled at and I’m an indoor girl!” :Legitimate tears:
Gail: “What the fuck are you even talking about?!”

To fully grasp how irrational I was being, it’s important to remember that this is a master’s degree. I have a bachelor’s degree. I could easily teach and just have no desire to do so. That’s hardly World of Warcraft status, y’all. Thank God, himself, for Gail’s patience and insight.

Gail: “You have a semester to fix this. It’s not over. So get out your laptop and fix it.”

elle woods moping
Advice I did not immediately take.

After Gail dropped me off at my apartment, with my promises not to harm myself, I cried myself to sleep. I hid in fiction for a couple of weeks and then I put on my big girl panties and got to work. In the MLIS program, at my University, you get two tries at the End of Program Assessment, regardless of whether you choose comps or portfolio. You just have to be enrolled in two hours to present, so I took a one-on-one course with Dr. Black… and went full-on Emily Dickinson hermit for six months. I deleted my online dating profiles, only to recreate them out of procrastination and boredom, but completely gave up any actual dating. I didn’t shoot my guns. I continued working out, because getting fat again isn’t going to make me a librarian. I worked both jobs… and I studied. I reread several textbooks, along with every assignment I ever completed. I wrote my required essays for my professor, read books on leadership, and rewrote my portfolio from the ground up. I practiced with Dr. Black twice before my actual presentation. I did not sleep for six months. That’s not true, because I’m not from Krypton, but the only way I have been able to crawl out of my own head in the last six months has been by reading for pleasure and even that was often interrupted with “homework breaks”. Sleep just allows for nightmares. I have had to talk myself down from numerous panic attacks, usually taking place sucking my thumb while fully clothed in an empty bathtub. They all went something along the lines of:

I guess I could be a mechanic. I don’t know anything about cars. I’m good with my hands, but that’s really technical. I don’t like grease or getting dirty. This is a terrible idea. I want to be a librarian!!!! I don’t want to join the Air Force!!!!!

sitting in empty bathtub
It looked just like that.

Even Dr. Black told me I was overdoing it, when I presented her with my course by course evaluations. In these, I found the syllabus to every course in the program, copied the description and objectives, wrote a paragraph of where I was before the course, a paragraph of where I was after the course, and one to two paragraphs about what I learned from the specific assignment I chose to reference.

Dr. Black: “It’s really not necessary to do that for every course. You’re overthinking it.”

Gail: “What’d your professor say?”
Me: “She called me a rabid pit bull and told me to calm the fuck down.”

pit-bull-growling
My graduation photo…

Gail was the only one who knew that I was presenting my portfolio yesterday, just in case I failed, because as Donnie Darko taught all of us Mellenials: “Every living creature on Earth dies alone.” This time, however, I delivered my final graduate portfolio and the first word I heard after the committee deliberated was “Congratulations.” Dr. Snyder told me he enjoyed attending a presentation where he actually learned something. Dr. Black teared up and hugged me. The committee member from a public library gave me her card. I called my Gramma afterward.

Me: “Guess what.”
Gramma: “What?”
Me: “I just passed my graduate portfolio presentation!”
Gramma: “Really? So that’s why you’ve been so secretive! I thought it was closer to the end of the month.”
Secretive” to my Gramma means not talking to her three times a day, because that’s how close I am to her.
Me: “Yeah. I purposely led you to believe that, because I knew you’d stress out and then say shockingly unsupportive things to stress me out and I couldn’t deal with it.”
Gramma: “Well, you’re probably right. That was probably for the best.”

I wore her pearls to the presentation and I’ve been asking her to give them to me for graduation for months, but she’s said no every time. When I asked if she wanted them back, she just told me to keep them. See. My Gramma won’t even give me her prized pearls with any kind of ceremony, because emotions are inappropriate, y’all. That’s where I learned this shit.

old woman
This is her proud face.

Gail bought me a congratulatory dinner and a mall cookie. We both made fun of my initial presentation and the fact that I actually had a nightmare about the zombie apocalypse and failing my portfolio, only to wake up and hyperventilate over school. I did it and it was totally worth not sleeping for six months… which is awesome, because it has suddenly hit me how incredibly overwhelmed I’ve been and I am absolutely fucking exhausted from working two jobs and finishing graduate school while researching Air Force recruitment requirements. I keep reminding myself that substituting is almost over and in a month, I’ll be lounging by the pool, only working at the library in the evenings. I’m not even going to consider a PhD. I’m gonna go T. Swift on this and just say that college and I are never, ever, getting back together. This seven year adventure, complete with abusive marriage, miscarriage, divorce, Gail’s dead daughter, losing 90 pounds, dating, moving ten fucking times in four years, and accidentally creating a secret identity at work has just worn me the fuck out.

passed out studying
My other graduation photo. It’s all about the lighting.

Mushroom Cloud Over Madison

Aside

I’ve been feeling a bit agoraphobic for the last day or two. Gail tried to diagnose me with social anxiety disorders that she Googled* and I told her to shake her rat bones at someone else, insisting that psychology is a bunch of voodoo witchcraft. In actuality, I completely believe in the effectiveness of psychology, which is why it freaks me the hell out. I don’t want anyone cracking open my skull and taking a shit in it. Despite my discomfort, I went to Mass today, wearing jeans and a pink t-shirt, which I never do (dresses, usually). I huddled into my coat the entire time thinking about how if I transformed into a lion, I could run out. I’m not sure why that required being a lion, since I did, in fact, leave immediately after Communion.

*She majored in pyschology for the most annoying week and a half, so that’s an exaggeration, for which she’ll call me a bitch. As a matter of fact, she’ll call me a bitch for this side note too.

I’m just still not in a good place over my academic set-back. I’ve convinced myself, somehow, that this lessens my chances of ever being a librarian, regardless of my future success on the portfolio. The rational part of me knows that the job market hasn’t changed in the last week and won’t in the next six months. The irrational part of me, however, is still crying in bewilderment over a ridiculously large Old Chicago cookie about how the only life left for me must reside in the virtual world. Huh. Just made the connection from that to this blog. Ultimately, I know that I’ve been in worse places in life. Gail herself said “Hey. Look on the bright side. You’re not married.” Damn. Fucking. Straight. But it’s still a crushing blow for me. I don’t fail at things. I do a little less than expected and cry my eyes out over it, but I don’t actually fail.

ward - foot in mouth
Yeah. He did.

If it seems exaggerative, that’s a text from my friend, Ward, who has seen me in tears over a B or the infamous 98.5% assignment. I still haven’t told my guy friends about my delayed graduation. I kind of plan to avoid telling them and then just swear it was May the whole time. They’ll know something happened and that I can’t talk about it without crying and making them uncomfortable because they have penises. Win/win.

After a day of laying around in leggings and an oversized t-shirt, reading blogs and trashy supernatural romance novels, I got this super encouraging E-mail from my professor. He told me he looks forward to my re-presentation (word I made up) and that he’s sure I’ll do great. Either my portfolio defense wasn’t as bad as it seemed, or my instructors think I’m about to swan dive from the top of the college library after E-mailing to promise them that I’m going to re-read everything ever. It’s likely the latter, because I’m absolutely certain that a mushroom cloud went up over Madison as I gave that awful presentation. Then, first born sons mysteriously died. There was even a run on the banks for some reason. It was really bad.

Regardless, my professors don’t want to kill my spirit, and that’s what I took out assloads of loans for, am I right?!?! Honestly, I think they have faith I’ll do well. They wouldn’t be encouraging me to present in March if they didn’t, when I can have up to a year to prepare. Even I know I’ll fix this, deep down. But I still have these fits of “WHAT IF I DON’T?!?!?” Being a librarian is all I want. I went through so much to get here and I might lose it. I have no backup. I want no backup. The idea of not being able to do this job breaks my heart.

I feel like my whole life has stalemated until I pass this. I’ve decided to give up dating until I’ve graduated. That’s partly an excuse, just because I’m REALLY bad at it, but it’s still a distraction I can’t afford. I don’t have time for funny bad dates. Nor do I have time to hit it off with someone who demands a substantial chunk of my life. School. Career. Then boys.


That time I tried to be sexy…

I wish I could just cope with this adjustment and move on. I wish I could just get excited that I only have one more class left. I wish the stress would stop taking root in the form of feeling naked when I’m in public. Tomorrow’s the start of a new week, I suppose. At least I’ve come down from my promise that I’d only dedicate an hour a day to entertainment and the rest would be to studying. I’m too obsessive a person for this.

Gail: “Get out your laptop and fix this.”

I’m clinging to those words.