Stitch Fix #4! What to do?

Okay, guys, I need ya'll's input here. Unlike the other times, I have not sent back the scorned items yet. I cannot decide. Give me your wisdom, oh friends inside the computer.

Oh, and the reason I'm hardly ever looking at the actual camera (phone) in these pictures is that Clay was playing photographer and he was almost always saying something ridiculous. Him saying ridiculous things while I laugh and/or tell him he's ridiculous is sort of our love language.

Moving on!


Jeans! Actual petite person jeans! I think I like them. They kind of do a weird stretchy thing around the waist, but everything is fab. Dunno.

Kind of. I think. Hmm.

Next! The shirt that you've already seen, because I'm wearing it above. This is probably my favorite thing in this box. 


Cute, right? I like this. If it looks awful you guys are going to have to work really hard to convince me.




Keeping. Next!



Gray sweater. It's exactly as cozy and unremarkable as it seems. I like it. It doesn't look quite this shapeless IRL. I think. Sometimes I'm surprised by how much better clothes look in the pictures, and sometimes it goes the other way. Well, this one feels good, so I'm inclined to keep its unremarkable self. 


Next! Green sweater. 



Not bad! Does it give me boob shelf? I try to avoid boob shelf, which is why I rarely wear stuff with higher necklines. Am I making that up? Here it is from the side.




Clay is making appreciative comments about this sweater as he took this picture. This does not mean it's good, just that he appreciates it. 

The next thing is this box's truly awful thing.



This is a wrap or something. I don't know what they called it. Here is how the helpful card suggested I style it.




I'm not a fan of things around my neck. I will wear a scarf outside during the winter, but only if freezing is the other option. And even my heartiest scarf is less than half the yardage of this monstrosity.

I don't really like the print either. 

Also, I do not feel like my particular chest requires a great deal of bulk to be added to it. 

"Well, Kira," you are thinking, "perhaps you should send that one back. I don't think you like it." And you're not wrong! But I am experiencing the Stitch Fix conundrum. When you buy all the things you get a 20% discount. So it actually costs less to keep that horrible thing if I'm keeping everything else. You see my dilemma, right?

If you've stuck with me this far, please enjoy this picture of Sophia trying to keep Tre from going home after Thanksgiving. There is absolutely no reason to include this picture, except that I love these kids and I'm sick of looking at pictures of me.


Awwwww. These ones I'm definitely keeping.


Stitch Fix! #3! Because I forgot last month!

Okay, let's get this thing done. I think I'll start with the most awful one, so we can only go up from there.


Don't you just feel sorry for me right now? You winced, didn't you? It's okay. This deserved a wince, and maybe even a muttered "oh dear."

The only potential good of this top is that I could secretly pretend to be a flying squirrel.

Still not worth it.

Not that I would actually pretend to be a flying squirrel.

Although that would be kind of fun. 

Moving on!

I also received a pair of skinny jeans, which is kind of outside my comfort zone. I might have kept them, except they were too long, sort of like the rest of the world. Note how they are wrapped around my heels. This is how I live. Everything in the world is made for people who are taller than me. You should see me scale the grocery shelves. It's kind of terrifying. 



That is my dog, Tchai, who keeps wandering into the photos. She was either worried about me acting strange or she thought it was possible I was a flying squirrel. 

I also took a picture of these jeans from the side, but it makes me feel bad about my butt, so I'm not showing you. 



A purse, which I gasped at a little, because I love it. I did not keep it because I don't need another purse. I don't. But I still feel a little pang about it. 

And yes, those are my feet, which Sophia was so anxious to exclude from the last batch of pictures, but I think they're fine. I have no problem with my feet. 


Love this top. Love it! The sleeves have a slight puffy shirt feel to them, but I don't care. I can act fancy! It's nearly as convincing as my flying squirrel act. 

Not that I would do that.

Also, you may notice the wild variations in camera angles. This is what happens when you drag your daughter away from her screen time to take pictures for you. She either sits on the coffee table...


...or stands on the coffee table. I actually call her "Squirrel," and this is one example of why. 



Kept this one too, mainly because Sophia swore to me that it was good and I should keep it. But then again, she hated the purse, so what does she know. I think this next one is a better picture of it, and it also demonstrates the finale of the picture-taking adventure, a photo I like to call, "OKAY, that's enough, Squirrel! Just give me back my phone."


Aaaaand that's all! 

Stitch Fix #1


I posted something on Facebook about getting my first Stitch Fix, because Clay was funny. And then my friends HOUNDED me to let them see pictures. So mean. Somehow this seems like a safer place to post these pictures than Facebook, because I haven't posted anything here for almost 11 months, so nearly no one will see this, while I'm Facebook friends with my priest, so. 

Disclaimer: I have no makeup on here. I'm not deathly ill, that's just how I look without makeup. Also, I worked out this afternoon and I just took a so-I-don't-stink kind of shower, but I didn't fix my hair, so that's why. Basically, if I had made an effort you would hardly be able to look at me for my stunning-ness, but that's not how this event came together. (Note: I opted for the exact opposite approach to beautiful women, where they do all the things to look stunning, then say they look terrible. THIS way is way less work.)

Okay, first picture. I kept the purse because I have a problem with purses. I want them all. All of them. This is a cross-body bag with intriguing pockets, and it's cuter than it looks. I think. I have a problem.

The dress is not ON my body (simmer down, Lisa!) because I wanted to show how pretty it is that way. Oh, I wanted to love this dress. I love the style, the print, the length. But oh, is it disappointing when it is on my actual body.


And here it is. Don't say I didn't warn you.


RIGHT? Oh, so disappointing. Also, Sophia was taking these pictures, and as she took this one, she said "Oh, and I will be SURE not to get your feet in the picture," so now I'm wondering what's wrong with my feet. 

Moving on. 

I got a pair of jeans, which I am keeping, and now I'm realizing that I don't really have a good picture of the jeans, but they're good and I don't have to go buy them because they are right here, which are two qualities I adore in jeans. Also, here is a shirt that I am not keeping, because I'm not crazy about the color, and it doesn't look bad here, but I'm sucking in my stomach like crazy, so. Also, the high scoop neck gives me enormous boob shelf, which is something I try not to do. It frightens small children.


Finally, there's a sleeveless top that has a cute print on the back, but meh. It's almost September, and I'm not buying a sleeveless top. Then Sophia took pictures, and I was completely horrified. It truly looks awful on me. Please enjoy my farmer's tan. Look for my YouTube channel about how to effortlessly look stunning. 



So bad. I'm also wondering why I chose such a weird place to take these pictures. Please look for my lifestyle blog, coming soon. 

There you go, you relentless hounds, you! Stitch Fix #1! And now you know....the REST of the story.


Okay, fine, I didn't want to post the bad picture, because of how bad it is. But THIS IS THE FRONT of the sleeveless shirt.


You're sorry now, aren't you?


Kira: 0. Females with attitude: 2.

 So first of all, I have to tell you about what happened with the deer. There were about six deer milling around in my front yard the other day. I don't care if deer want to hang out in the front yard. I'm deer-tolerant. But Tchai? My freaked out little dog? She is pretty sure the deer are murderous rapist communists who just insulted her mother. 

Ridiculous pup

So the ridiculous pup was barkbarkbarkbarkbarkbarkbarking, and I tried to gently redirect her by bellowing "SHUT UP, RIDICULOUS DOG!" but that didn't seem to help, somehow. 

So fine. I went outside to shoo the deer away, opening the door about an inch and a half wide and slithering through the opening while I nudged an enraged ball of fluff and fury away with my foot. She really wanted those deer. 

Once outside, I made shoo-ing noises at the deer, and most of them turned and trotted away, alarmed. But one of them, a doe that was just settled in for a nice snack of lawn, just turned and gave me the most disgusted look before turning back to eat. It was exactly the look my middle school nemesis Joyce used to give me. I clapped my hands, waved my arms, grabbed a stick and pounded it against the ground, and tossed a golf ball near her (not AT her, near her). Nothing. Finally, I went down the steps onto the lawn, clapping and yelling and generally looking like an insane person. 

Did I mention I was in my jammies still? Because of course I was in my jammies. 

Finally, the deer turned and ambled away. I'm pretty sure she was muttering something about being done here anyway. 

"You know you can MOVE a little FASTER," I bellowed after her retreating butt, "that's JUST RUDE."

From across the yard, behind the trees, I heard the voice of my very sweet neighbor. She must have been playing with her dogs in her yard.

"I'm...sorry?" she called back, sounding a little afraid.

So yeah. Sadly, it's not even the stupidest thing I've done recently. I'm just sharing it with you so I can share what happened the next day.

I was puttering around in the kitchen, probably trying to remember how to pour coffee (because morning), and getting Sophia's lunch packed for school. I noticed that she was still not dressed and downstairs, despite the fact that I'd woken her up twenty minutes ago. Theoretically woken her up. 

I called up the stairs, "HEY, KID! Get moving!" To add to the whole rousing feel of my words, I clapped a few times. 

"MOM," she bellowed back, "I'M NOT A DEER."

Don't let her fool you. She's a savage fairy.

Mostly unseen

This afternoon I was out in the garden, ripping out the wilted remains of plants. It was beautiful and warm and golden outside, the temperature in the sixties, late day sun slanting gold across the yard. But that's all changing tonight. The temperature is going to plummet, and the snow is rolling in. We're actually under a winter storm advisory as of midnight tonight. All day long people have been tilting their faces to the sun and saying, "hard to believe it's about to snow, right?"

But that's Colorado for you. And I hate cleaning out the garden after the snow has made everything soft and mushy, so I went out and enjoyed the sun. Most of the plants are already dead, so it felt satisfying to yank them free of the ground, to shake off the soil from their roots, and shove them in a bin or bag. The earth was damp and soft, and the effort was just enough to leave me flushed.

I had a fairly happy garden this year. I've been gardening in this spot for a couple of years now, and it just takes a while to get the soil healthy. As I pulled the spent plants, their roots raked through the soil, turning it over, leaving it mounded and soft. Earthworms twined and writhed away from the sudden exposure. Occasionally I leaned in to study what was had been hidden underneath. Happy, living soil looks different - dark and rich and almost velvety. I poked and saw tiny white threads, and smiled. Mycorrhizal fungi, baby. That's good stuff. It's this amazing network of fungus that lives in healthy soil and supports the plant life. Plants are healthier, the soil is healthier, even the air is better with a sturdy mycorrhizal fungi population. Microbiology is so cool.

I have been doing some freelance writing, which is not nearly as interesting as it may sound. Does that sound interesting? I'm not sure. Mostly I've been writing terrible little things for terrible pay. If you need a flow-through spa heater described, I'm your woman. This is kinda not what I had in mind when I thought about writing as a career. But the other day I got to write an article about mycorrhizal fungi and carbon fixing in the soil, which dude. SO up my alley. 

The client loved the information in the article but wanted me to rewrite it. "Can you make it more friendly? Like a conversation you might have with friends or family?" The client has clearly never heard me bore my beloveds to tears on this exact subject. This is EXACTLY how I would talk to friends and family. Can I make it more friendly? It's a fair question. I tried. Waiting to hear back if they like it or not. I do a lot of that these days.

All of this freelancing stuff feels weird. Finding work, asking for work (this is awful), doing the work, getting comments on the work (this is exhilarating and/or awful), fixing the work, waiting to hear if you got it right (SO. AWFUL.), getting paid for the work - all of it, weird. In a very realistic "you gotta start somewhere" sort of way, I think I'm on the right path. I'm moving forward. Well, I'm moving some direction, anyway. 

I was thinking about this, in the garden this afternoon. (Since I started writing this, the wind picked up, and now icy rain is pinging against the window behind me. Such a funny world.) When I pulled those roots free, it unfurled a complex hidden world in the soil. You can't tell from above what is happening underneath. Life spreads quietly and mostly unseen.


Just beginning is almost the same thing as ending

This morning I took Sophia to her first day of third grade. She slipped her hand out of mine and ran ahead to exclaim hellos to her friends. Parents stood around and chatted while kids swarmed around us. Then the doors opened, and all the students turned toward to go inside. I dodged around a few of them to take my place next to Sophia again. She was holding hands with a friend and when I touched her arm she looked at me, startled. 

She waved a shooing hand at me, subtly, by her side. "It's okay, Mom," she said, "you don't have to come." I kissed the top of her moving head and stepped away to watch her dance up the stairs. 


At the grocery store, the eclipse began, and the sky started to shift to gray, ever so subtly. I was getting my groceries rung up, and the checker and bagger were talking to each other. 

"I will be glad when this thing is over, just so people can stop talking about it." 


I waved a hand at the dimming sky. "And look! Here it is, almost over."

The checker gave me a look between pity and contempt.

"Actually, it's just starting. Right now."

I nodded, but he was the one who didn't understand. Just beginning is almost the same thing as ending. He is far too young to know that. There's no use in trying to explain it. Life will show him soon enough.


I arrived to pick Sophia up early. It was a noon dismissal. Third grade was going to watch a live stream of the eclipse in their classroom, which she was looking forward to. Here we were going to see 92% coverage at 11:47, and I didn't want to be driving and miss it. 

I saw a friend whose mom died this summer. She stood with a group of moms. Her kids milled around her, peeking at the sky cautiously through their boxy eclipse glasses. She was on the edge of the sidewalk, just where the concrete gives way to a sweep of green lawn. She smiled and chatted and looked through the glasses. Every so often she turned away, distracted, and stared at nothing.  Everyone looked at the sky, and she stared into the middle distance, studying the nothing in front of her. 

I made my way over to her to give her a hug. She hugged me back, tight. Before she even spoke, I could feel the weight of her shock. 

You never really think your mom will die. How can you? She's always been there. 


At the last minute, encouraged by the other moms around me, I went into the school to collect Sophia from her classroom. She had been interested in the idea of the live stream, so I wasn't sure she'd want to come. I peeked through the window, and the class was sitting on the floor, watching the disappearing sun on a laptop. I hesitated. But when I stuck my head in the door, Sophia's face lit up, and she scrambled off the floor to run over and take my hand. The teacher waved us permission to leave, and we slipped out.

Back outside, another mom gave Sophia some eclipse glasses, and she turned her face to the watery light. The air had grown cool and the sky looked like a storm was bearing down on us. I watched her as the minutes slipped past, and the light dimmed, then brightened, so slow it seemed you must be imagining it. 

Soon the sunlight grew strong enough to throw crescents through the shadows of the leaves of the tree next to us. I moved her into the strange light, to try to take pictures of it on her face. She came around to look at the pictures, and for a moment she leaned against me.


"I'm so glad you came to get me, Mom." She stood there for just a minute, warm and soft against me. Then her friends started streaming out of the school, and she was gone.


Love for him

Everyone I know who used to blog and doesn't anymore says the same thing: growing kids. When kids are little, it's easy and lighthearted to talk about their lives. When they get older, it gets unbelievably more complicated.

When kids grow up EVERYTHING gets more complicated.

I want to respect my adult kids' lives. I don't want to reveal what's not mine to share. At the same time, I miss talking about what's real and important to me. So this is my attempt at a compromise. I hope it's careful enough; I hope it's true enough.

When Max was three, he was gripped by the worst night terrors I ever saw. Deep in the darkest and most bewildering hours of the night he stiffened and reached out. His feet shuffled, then kicked. His arms flexed. Soon he was writhing, clawing and punching the air, bellowing at nothing. He seemed determined to hurt himself and the people around him. 

As his mother, with love for him knit into the very flesh and bone of me, my job was to hold him. I reached around him and circled his wrists with my fingers. I folded his arms across his chest and pulled him close, pinning him against my heart. I whispered words of comfort that he could not hear and waited for the storm to pass.

This happened four and five times a night, for months. Sometimes I was so tired that my vision shimmered. I moved carefully as I could through my days. Some days I didn't trust myself to drive.

When Max was eighteen, a different storm gripped him. He lashed out, seeming determined to hurt himself and the people around him. I longed to reach around him again, as though these fingers could fit around his man-sized wrists, as though these arms could span his shoulders and chest. I wanted to pull him close and hold him still and wait for it to pass.

But as his mother, with love for him knit into the very flesh and bone of me, my job now is to let go. My hands dangle, useless, at my side. I don't think he can hear me and I'm not sure what to say anyway.

He is gone from me, out on his own, and has been for nearly a year.

I'm doing pretty well, actually. This may sound cold, but I have lots of people I need to be here for, not least of all myself. I think of it like living with a chronic illness. I am careful with my heart and opt out of any drama I can. I have only so many emotional spoons to spare

Some days missing him howls through me. Some days I can feel the love that lives in and around him and I know he's going to be just fine. Some days I only look at the other parts of my life and sift them through my fingers as if everything were perfectly normal. Occasionally I even talk to him, and some days we are both kind and reasonable. Some days we are not.

Always I am his mother, with love for him knit into the very flesh and bone of me.

Pictures to keep

A few weeks ago Raphael asked me if I remembered what hand he smashed in the window when he was 3. I puzzled over it, closed my eyes and tried to picture the scene, dithered for a while, then said "OH, I know! It's on the blog!" And indeed, it was

We looked it up, which took way more time than it should have. It ended up with us meandering through old posts, mainly the ones about him. We laughed, a lot. He finally found out why Mir always says "Ah gonna DIE!" when talking about him. It was like taking an afternoon trip back to when the boys were little and I traveled in the midst of a cloud of them, their words, their adventures, their ridiculousness.

I enjoyed the pictures of them, of course, but back in 2003, there weren't that many pictures. But all the way through there were word pictures that brought those boys back so vividly that I could almost smell the grubby puppy scent of their sweaty heads. 

It made me think about Sophia, and how I've missed writing down a lot of her childhood so far. All those pictures that are gone already, like they were left behind on some picnic bench, to get caught in the wind and dotted with rain. 

So here are a few word pictures of my own girl.

The other day we went for a walk. I took Tchai (our ridiculous dog) and she took her scooter. She was excited to get to the big hill, a steep swoop of blacktop that takes her breath away with its dangerous, flying joy. The sun was easing down toward the horizon, and the light turned golden. She sailed away ahead of me, hair flying out under her pink helmet with the ears (wolf, not kitten ears. Don't call them kitten ears). We were almost to the big hill when she glanced over her shoulder to check on me. That glance caused a wobble, and in a moment too quick to see, she went from flying to curled up in a ball on the blacktop, cradling her elbow, and gasping in the air that was about to be a wail. 

Tchai and I ran to her, and by the time we arrived her elbow was bright with blood. It was an impressive scrape, spiraling around her arm from wrist to elbow. Her palm stung and her knee was tender, but the brunt of the fall was worn on her arm. I sat on the road and pulled her onto my lap and she leaned into me and cried spots onto my t-shirt. 

When she was ready, I picked up her scooter and threw it over my shoulder, and we turned to walk home. After a few minutes, her crying died down, and she rubbed at her eyes with the back of her uninjured hand.

"That was an impressive fall," I told her.

"I guess. I think I looked back and that's why. I didn't even get to the big hill."


"Yeah. It seems like it's taking a long time to get home."

"Well, you were on your scooter before."

"Yeah. It's a lot faster that way." She fell silent, thinking. "HEY! I should put some of this blood on a slide! Do you think I could see something under the microscope?" She got a microscope for Christmas. 

"I think that's a great idea. That's thinking like a scientist."

"YES." Our house was in sight now, and she looked at it, then at me. "Why don't I run ahead? So the blood doesn't dry up before I get there?"

"Good plan," I told her, and then she was gone. I walked along, with my ridiculous dog trotting beside me and my daughter's scooter swinging from my shoulder with the rhythm of my steps. The gold of the light deepened, and the moment hung suspended. 

I decided to keep the picture. And so I did. 



In the Service of Life

Every spring I experience two cravings. One is to paint my fingernails. Apparently (I discovered while hanging out around on campus) people don't paint their own fingernails anymore. I can't fathom the time and money required to get manicures that often, but whatever. I slosh polish on my own fingernails, every spring, and feel very pretty about the whole thing. Right now I'm very fond of a lavender shade.  

Unfortunately, the other thing I crave in the spring is gardening. I'm not a tidy sort of gardener, either. I don't wear gloves, because how do you feel the proper tension in the root of a weed with gloves on? If you pull too hard, you'll snap that thing right off, and then you just lost. How are you supposed to feel the texture of the soil, how compact or damp or crumbly it is through gloves? Look, I know lots of accomplished gardeners manage it just fine. I'm just stuck at some earlier stage of gardening development, apparently, where I have to feel it in my fingers. At the end of the day, I come inside wearing smudges of dirt, and fingers that are rough with drying soil.

Unfortunately, that doesn't do a manicure any good. It seems like every year I spend a few weeks fighting these two springtime urges until enough nails have given way to the abuse, cracking away in shards. I remove the polish and clip them as short as I can, and get back to the weeding.

It's a relief, really, because looking nice is not really something I'm all that adept at. I don't always grow things successfully either, but I feel better about that effort. As the garden takes shape, I sometimes run my thumb over my nails, feeling the rough tips that are traced with fissures, and scraps of hangnails that sting as they peel away. When tender nubs of green shoulder the soil aside to unfurl in the sunlight, it seems a fair trade. 

I will always choose to work in the service of life, even when I look foolish.

So, I graduated. That was wonderful. I don't think I realized just how much I carried the fact that I'd never finished my degree until I was there, within spitting distance of finishing. The last week of classes, people kept saying to me "You're graduating! You're out of here!" and I would shake my head and reply "Well, I have to get through finals first."

This was a silly thing to say, because I calculated my grades and I knew that I could not get a low enough grade on my finals to fail my classes. And yet, I muttered fretting things about those finals. It wasn't until I finished the very last one (Microbiology. You guys. Microbiology is SO COOL), that I realized I'd actually done it. I got into my car and drove home and sobbed the whole way. I did it. I finally, really did it. It felt so good, and I'm so glad I did it. 

Of course, now I'm job hunting. Here's a news flash that will be shocking to all of you, I'm sure: Job hunting is TERRIBLE. Don't do it, if you can avoid it. It's a horrible thing to do. It's been 22 years since I've had a job, and it turns out that the professional world was not waiting breathlessly for my return. Weird, right? Also, the entire process of looking for a job has turned into the very worst massively multiplayer online role-playing game EVER. I am not good at it. 

At the same time, home life has changed. Tre has moved out - well, I know that happened a while ago. But now he has his own apartment, which feels different yet again. He doesn't come home for the summer. Actually, when he leaves here, he IS going home. That's just weird.

Max also moved out. Hmm. How do I say this? The details aren't mine to share, but suffice to say it's not what I'd hoped. Ultimately, I believe in the heart of Max, and I believe in his future. Right now? There have been a lot of tears. 

We are down to a family of four, huddled at one end of the table at dinner time. I am no good at cooking for this number of people. I end up making hot dogs AGAIN or preparing an enormous lasagne that we will never, ever finish before it goes bad. I feel out of step in this new configuration. 

It's not hard for me to turn these hard things into self-doubt. I turned my back on the working world 22 years ago, assuming it would be fine. Now it's like a massive, smooth wall to me. There are no doors or window, no fissures that I can get a fingerhold on. I don't seem to have been very wise about this, and I'm embarrassed by how bewildering it all is. It feels like something a grown-up should know. 

But I put my grown-up self to the task of parenting. Maybe more than I should have, I invested in my kids. Maybe I should have kept more space for myself in my life. I look at the struggles my kids face, despite my every effort, and wonder what I thought I was achieving there. It turns out that in the best of situations, children are supposed to grow up and leave. It turns out that no amount of love guarantees the best of situations. It turns out that I was unprepared. 

I don't know. All I really got from those years is...those years. I got to spend that time with them. It's all I get right now with Raphael and Sophia, these days that slip through my fingers. I picked that over having a career. So maybe I look silly, a 46-year-old, trying to figure out how to win a job in a strange new world. 

But I suppose I will always choose to work in the service of life, even when I look foolish.


Most improved

About a month ago I met with a professor to arrange to be registered for the capstone course for my degree. 

Capstone, baby. Like, the last one. The one you take in your FINAL SEMESTER. 

I'm in, by the way. My transcript is a hot mess, with credits from two universities and three different degrees programs. I like to think of myself as well rounded. A renaissance learner, if you will. The university likes to look at it as "Please graduate, already. Srsly." They send me frequent emails reminding me. Nonetheless, the professor and I waded through my many pages of transcripts and determined that yes, I was within spitting distance of graduation, and just like that, welcome to the capstone course. 

I walked out of her office clutching my fistfuls of paper, barely touching the ground. CAPSTONE. I am going to ACTUALLY GRADUATE.

In the hall I met a young man. We had a class together last semester, and I recognized both him and the nervous shuffle of paper in his hands. 

"Andre! Are you taking the capstone in the fall?"

"Yeah," he looked nervously professor-ward, "I hope so. I'm finally going to finish."

Finally. I looked at his worried, shining young face. Finally.

The first time I went to college, I was in the marching band. It was amazing and so much fun. I played percussion in the pit. I loved it, but I was also dead intimidated by the caliber of the musicians around me. I drove the percussion instructor insane, because I played so softly no one could ever accuse me of an error. Or of existing.

"If you are going to make a mistake, PLEASE," he would bellow at me, "PLEASE MAKE IT LOUD!"

I nodded a sheepish okay, sure thing, by which I meant, hellz no. I patted gently at my instrument that whole first season.

Next year I came back, though, with a new determination. I played. I played loud. And I practiced my behind off, so my mistakes were audible, but they also were less. One day I spent hours locked in the percussion studio, working on a solo. When I came out, my hair was damp and my shoulders ached, and the hall was lined with the hotshot percussionists who (although irritated at the wait), nodded at me with grudging respect. It was like a movie. I was the one with MOXIE.

I really have always wanted to be the one with moxie in a movie.

Anyhow, at the end of that season, at the banquet, I was given an award for "most improved" in the percussion section. I felt pretty good about this, grinning at my self and just generally enjoying my moxie. After the banquet a friend of mine (low brass. I should have been on guard) came up to me and shook his head.

"Wow," he said, "you must be pretty pissed about that award. I mean, most improved? Your second year? What an ass that guy is. What was he saying, that you sucked last year?"

And just like that, all my delight in it deflated. From something light and glossy it shriveled into something dull and embarrassing. I closed my mouth and never mentioned the silly award again. 

I thought about that award, standing there in the hall outside the professor's office. I thought about being so ready to accept embarrassment instead of delight because I hadn't arrived at improved sooner. I thought about a conversation I had a few months ago with a friend (who is himself a college instructor, actually). He was telling me how great he thought it was that I'd gone back to school, and I confessed that I usually felt pretty darn snazzy about the whole thing. But then, sometimes, I would look around and realize that I was accomplishing something normally done by 20 year olds, and I would feel kind of dumb. He shook his head at me.

"Competition," he said sternly, "has absolutely no place in learning."

He's right, you know. If I get there first, if I get there last, does it matter? I will get there. Hopefully in December, twenty seven and a half years after beginning my degree, I am going to finish it. 

Twenty five years ago I was the most improved percussionist, too. Just so you know.