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I see two women walking together on the side of the road as I drive past, and I wonder if the woman waving her hands is talking and talking and talking too much, and if the other woman is regretting inviting her friend to exercise with her on this chilly late summer afternoon, since that’s what she really wanted to do, exercise, not walk slower than she normally would and listen to all of her friend’s  updated life struggles. “My cat just won’t stop staring out the window,” I imagine her saying, waving her arms as she walks, pretending that she wants to exercise, too.

And now the women are in my rearview mirror, I can look back and see them, and see the leaves turning orange or brown on the trees they walk under.

People are already complaining about the cold, about how it’s almost fall and the weather is colder than it was a month ago, and I think about how this always happens, every year, everything. Hot in the summer, cool in the fall, cold in the winter, with snow, and the same fetching of the dusty snow shovel from the basement.

I look in my rearview mirror at the beautiful orange leaves and I think about how I’ve seen this all before, seen those women before, or women like them, had those same experiences, talked about that same cat, seen those same leaves change from green to orange to brown, raked them into piles and jumped in them, or left the piles to rot. Again and again, year after year.

“It’s so cold!” she says, another faceless woman in my mind, pulling on the sweater she hasn’t worn in nine months.

Winter will come. Snow will fall. Salt trucks will melt it away, or try, or make ice patches that are worse than the snow was.

Again, again, of course. And of course the people will go on, dealing with seeing their breath in the air on cold winter mornings, plowing through snow drifts and piles of paperwork and gallons of hot coffee. What else can they do?

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1. Take what you can get. Something is definitely better than nothing.

2. It all depends on proximity and timing.

3. People are never going to act the way you assume they will. If you stop expecting people to live up to your expectations, you’ll be a lot happier, and live a better life.

4. Nothing lasts forever. Including friendships/relationships. People leave, or move on, and it’s ok. Even if you KNOW that the person you’re spending time with won’t be in your life for too long, you should still be happy and be with them and treat them like a great human being who you’re happy to be with, for however long you’ll be in each other’s lives.

5. Do something today you’ve never done before.

6. Seriously, I am super funny. I just wish you could understand how funny I am. I am so funny.

7. “Smile! Don’t look so depressed, it’ll be OK!” – guy outside the drug store, to my retreating self. Uh, two things. First of all, no one smiles all the time, so why should I be smiling as I walk out of a rite aid? Second, rite aid does not carry muffins, so why the hell would I be smiling/not looking depressed as I walk out of my local rite aid at nine in the morning, muffin-less?!

8. I’m (re-)learning French on this super cool app I just got on my phone (Duolingo). Je suis une femme blancheSo useful! I’m off to France!

9. Do people really listen to the radio these days? I don’t believe it. Who are you?

10. The closest anyone can come these days to visiting another planet is to go to any Home Depot late at night. Just try it. This sort of thing you just have to experience first-hand.

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You wake up and you feel it almost immediately. You try to shake it off, brush your teeth, eat breakfast; it’s still there. Maybe it’s in your house, along with all the good and terrible memories. You get in your car, drive away toward somewhere. Where can you go? Shopping? Maybe that’s how people become shopaholics. Addicts. Maybe they’re all the same. Maybe we could all easily become like them; we were just born into different circumstances — found ourselves in a better place when we popped out into the world, and now we all struggle to stay upright where our mothers left us.

You pull into the mall parking lot. You turn off your car, but you know you’re not going in, so you roll down your window and sit still for a few minutes. It feels a little better. But running away doesn’t solve anything. What you’re looking for can’t be purchased at any store. Time is the only thing that helps. Time passes you by out the car window; people march in and out of the store, lugging out bags full of things they may or may not need. You put your seatbelt back on; you’ve sat there long enough, let enough time go by, and it’s still the same and it still will be the same for quite some time.

You could call someone. A friend. But it seems that these days all of your old friends are busy living their own completely different lives. It just doesn’t work anymore. Maybe you need to meet new people. Maybe you need to move. Anything to avoid staying here and falling slightly down, becoming something else. What were you born to be? This? Maybe new friends can’t help you. Maybe a new city can’t help you, either. Maybe nothing can. Maybe everything is just a cover-up, just a distraction. Just like sleep. That’s why you feel it the most in the early mornings, when you can still hear the birds chirping in the dying trees across the street, before the motors start and don’t stop until well after nightfall. That’s why some days, when you don’t have a calendar full of tasks to complete before you head back to bed, when you wake up and look at the clock and realize how many hours are going to stretch out in front of you, you feel it. Life. Just living. What the birds and the squirrels would feel if they had brains like we do. Emptiness. Or, rather, not emptiness. A lack of something that is full of something else. An empty fullness we try to cover up with the society we’ve created. With the laws, the stop signs, the uniforms of employees and school children. With religion. With purpose; an easy purpose, one-size-fits-all, that can be found in several different very old books. And, of course, with shopping.

The jet engines roared and I was pushed further back into the uncomfortable aisle seat of the plane.

We’re going into the sky, people! Wake up! The sky! We’re freaking flying!

The flight was to be almost four hours long, headed East, gaining three hours as we flew. It was dark, midnight, and the flight attendants asked for the window shades to stay down, as the sun would soon be coming up. For that reason, I couldn’t watch, even from my aisle seat, as we left the ground. Instead, I closed my eyes and felt my body tipping. We were flying. There was no longer such a thing as “level” or “up” or “down”. If you’ve flown before, if you’ve looked out the window as the plane tilts, you know what this means. Flying. It’s very different from anything else.

Electronics turned off, forced into the 1800s by the man over the speaker, you lose track of time. You almost forget it exists. You want to, anyway, because the seat is uncomfortable and you don’t want to know that that nap you just took that seemed like it lasted for hours was really only fifteen minutes, and you are really not very much closer to your final destination, as they say.

No such thing as time, or space. And surrounded by strangers. The man in your row who couldn’t stop talking before take-off sits by the window, leaning against the side of the plane, dozing. The man who wore a cowboy hat on the plane  — is he a real cowboy? — who sits in the middle and is made of only arms and legs and keeps knocking his foot into your foot as he adjusts his sleeping position, attempting to make himself comfortable, and failing, and making you uncomfortable, too. All the rest of them, the boy with too-large muscles, the latino couple across the aisle who made polite chit-chat with the weird older guy who boarded the plane late with too much luggage, the group of three young brothers who are spread throughout the back of the plane, passing around bags of food and making the other passengers laugh with, “Marcus! Marcus! Can we eat yet?” Somehow you’re all not really strangers, at least while in the sky.

Long hours, what seems like hours, anyway, pass, and the voices over the speaker tell you many different things, things you’ll forget afterward, but remember again when you board another plane, even if it’s a month later, or four years: “The captain has turned off the seatbelt light. The captain has turned on the seatbelt light. We’ll shortly begin serving free drinks and expensive bags of pretzels. Please make sure your tray tables are stowed and your seats are in the upright position. You may now use your cell phone, if it is within reach. We thank you for flying with us today, and hope to see you again soon.”

The plane touches down, and you feel it, but you can’t watch the ground as it quickly grows larger. Someone opens a window shade rebelliously, and the plane is filled with light. Only then does everyone remember that’s morning, that time has passed, that we have just crossed our country in the air. Phones are immediately turned on, time is checked, people jump up to claim their bags and then stand, waiting. Gravity has returned, time has returned, and once again we are a group of strangers, ready to head to our final destination.

But flying is different. And although travelers part ways, although the man with the cowboy hat takes his cowboy hat and goes about his business, there will always be those strange hours when hours did not exist, when one day became another and we were in the sky and didn’t notice, and didn’t know. When time did not exist, and the only way to know what time it was was to look out the window  and wonder what state, exactly, was that tiny car driving in? And where was that person going? And did they see the other tiny car on the other street, not far from them? And would they ever meet that person they passed by, so closely? Would they ever know how close they came? Would we?

1. Don’t ever wave at cars without the driver/passenger of said cars waving at you first. Otherwise the person driving won’t see you and you’ll end up having waved at a car. This is an important life lesson.

2. Nope. I still don’t like babies.

3. In High School you’re told to choose what you want to be when you grow up. In College you’re told to pick a major that will help you become what you want to be when you grow up. Then you graduate and do whatever the hell you want. People find themselves in places they didn’t expect to be back in High School, or even in College, but it turns out alright.

4. Just do what makes you happy. Don’t over-think it.

5. I think the sort of music people listen to matches the beat of what’s usually going on in their heads.

6. Every day that you’re hesitant about doing something is another day that passes you by. Life rolls on. Keep moving.

7. Make it happen. The days of waiting for someone else to do it, or, “You know what’s a good idea?” are over. Who’s going to do it if you don’t? No one. Exactly. Or, someone else will steal your great idea and become super famous and successful and happy. (Probably not.)

8. Life rolls on. Keep moving — but slowly enough that you head in the direction you truly want to go.

9. Know when to get out of the way.

10. Can we (we= everyone on the entire planet) please stop (over-)using the following words: “gentrification”, “millennials”, and “creatives”. I must have missed the please-use-these-words-every-other-sentence-in-order-to-sound-hip/intelligent memo. Stop. Just stop.

The best and worst moments of my life have been when cute boys have smiled at me.

I was sitting in my beige SUV with the engine on, getting ready to leave school and head home for the day. Music from my iPod was already flowing through my speakers as I pulled the seatbelt around me and clicked it in.

Looking up and through the windshield, I made eye contact with a student passing by. A boy. A blonde boy. He wore a blue stocking cap over his shoulder-length hair. He smiled at me.

I looked away. Then, back. He was already past the front of my vehicle. Gone.

I shifted into reverse and backed out from my parking spot, wondering. Who was he? Where was he? I couldn’t see him anymore.

I shifted into drive, heading in the direction he had been walking: away. Away from the school, away from the parking lot, away from me. I slowly drove past one car, and another… searching for him with my eyes. Then,  there he was. Walking to his car. Our eyes met, again, and I quickly looked away. Again. Again, again, again.

Who was he? Why did I look away? What would have happened if I hadn’t? What if I had smiled back? What if I had stopped my car and jumped out?

Driving away, doing none of those things, I wondered.

I thought about the potential in that moment: sitting there, watching the boy smile. I thought about all of the small moments of potential that have passed me by. I thought of that boy who had passed me by, and I him.

Library guy to his friend: Why do you wear all those fly ass golf shirts if you don’t golf?

 

Guy #1: We have that really smart guy in our group – Ryan?

Guy #2: Ryan?

Guy #1: Yeah, Ryan. He’s super smart and really short. He has a really high-pitched voice?

Guy #2: Oh.

Guy #1: Yeah, he got us like 10 sources already for the paper.

Guy #2: Cool.

 

Classmate: “Is that my phone? Did somebody text me – does somebody care? …. Nope.”

 

“I’M ON A DIET UNTIL MARCH FIRST! YOU KNOW THAT!” – lady looking at candy bars at Meijer, to her friend.

“Hey guys, don’t worry: That snapping and straining you hear is not the support cables breaking!” – Guy at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Mich., as the doors closed on a overly-packed elevator with me inside.