Posted in Lessons Learned

Being Real

I learn a lot from kids. And not just the usual, “Kids are so full of innocence and wonder,” blah, blah, etcetera (although it’s true, they are).

What I learn are often strange things.

One of my students walked into her lesson one morning seeming distracted and sad. “How are you?” I asked, preparing for the automatic “Good.”

“Not so good,” she said. “My parents are fighting.”

From that, I thought, Why am I always keeping things safe? Why is everything always, ‘awesome,’ ‘great,’ or other? Why am I afraid to talk about the unsafe feelings – sadness, difficulties, or other things? I am actually glad this girl shared with me something real she was feeling and struggling with that day. She gave me the chance to react and respond to the real her.

One student of mine has taught me something just by being himself. He has always been an “easy student”: mild-mannered, pleasant, a hard-worker. He’s in an in-between age right now, almost a teenager. I ask him, “How would you like to learn this piece?” He says, “Sure.” “What music do you like?” “Oh, I don’t know,” he says. “I like lots of things.” He is really willing to go along with things I suggest. But it’s gotten to a point that I really kind of want to see him express anger, or frustration, or annoyance at me, just one time – so that I know what’s really going on. I want him to give me a chance to know him better.

And that’s when I reflect and see that, in many ways, I am just like him.

I will open up to people, and show what’s really going on, if they either express what I’m feeling first, to me, or if I know that who I am – in all my various forms – will be acceptable to them.

For instance, I’m a committed Catholic, and more conservative person in terms of politics. Most of my time is spent with people who I know lean more left, and who mistrust Catholicism. So, voila – I hide that part of myself. I don’t pretend otherwise, but I certainly don’t talk about it, either. I’ve already heard what they think of people who think like me (because they probably have no idea that they’re talking about me in my presence), and I guess I’m afraid that they will close their hearts to me if they know. Isn’t that funny and ridiculous?

But I have learned from my students, that I am just so happy when they share their funny, crazy, interesting, personal and unique thoughts. One girl looked at me and said, “Why are you always smiling?” See, I love that, because a person slightly older would have learned not to say what they were thinking, and I got to hear what she was thinking.

My students have taught me the most unique ways to teach piano. Just the other day, one girl said she was tired of the old “Good Boys Deserve Fudge Always.” She said, “How about ‘Grandma Betsy Didn’t Forget Always?”

Another student had a piece with the V7 chord in it all the time, and she said, “Let’s call it the Big Friendly Giant because it has B, F and G in it.” That’s awesome.

One girl came this morning and shared with me that she had been hoping to go to a soccer game this morning (soccer is her first love) but her parents had made her go to piano instead. She cried. I was thankful that she trusted me enough to tell me what was really going on.

So, I am thankful to my students for what they taught me this week, and hoping for more courage to share the real me with more people.


Posted in Dating, Lessons Learned

Dating Tales from a Veteran: shy library guys and the yet-again-proved-book-cover proverb

My first year in the big city, my heart would beat rapidly at the thought of all of the libraries within close proximity. Not just one! That winter, as my schedule was not completely full with lessons yet, I quelled bouts of homesickness with books and pilgrimages to libraries. 3373551962_89e8ab04bc_m

One one such trip, I had discovered a new treasure: Melanie Benjamin’s Mrs. Tom Thumb. I was eagerly reading the jacket, when a man walked by me, lightly brushing my arm. “Hello,” he said, shyly. I smiled.

As I read, I felt aware that there was someone directly across from me in the next stack, and realized it was the same man. He was Kenyan, dressed nicely in khakis, and a blue and white plaid cotton shirt. Polite, unassuming, modest. It seemed like the sojourn through his aisle was mirroring mine, and I hoped this was accidental. But then, suddenly, he showed up in my aisle.

99129170_7d542023a6_m.jpg“How are you today?” he asked.

“I’m good, thanks. How are you?”

“Oh, very well, thank you. Would you… like to go next door and get a coffee?”

“Ummm…” I hesitated. I felt a little weird. No one (except in romantic comedies) walks up to you at a library and asks you out. And although while watching said comedies, you may have wistfully wished for something similar to happen (running into a man dressed as a bottle of ketchup in the street, maybe?), when it actually happens, it feels like – What are you doing? I was minding my business in my introvert bubble. Are you a weirdo? 

“You see,” he said, “I just moved to the country, and I don’t know many people yet.” Oh, he’s lonely! Maybe this wouldn’t be weird. And I was lonely too. I knew how it was to be somewhere you didn’t have any roots. I said no to the coffee, but gave him my phone number with the promise of getting to know him better, and then “seeing from there.”


He called – not too often, but often enough that I knew he was interested. He was slightly flirtatious, but never obnoxious. Always polite and tasteful. Finally, I felt safe enough to say yes to a dinner date, in public. We decided on 6:30 at a burger place.

The day of, he said work was detaining him. Could we meet at 8 instead? Sure, why not? I said.

We met. It was a nice date. He was thoughtful, pulling out my chair for me. We had an interesting conversation. He told me about Kenya, and his mom and family, and a little about work. I talked about my friends, the band I was in, my faith. He said he was Catholic, too.

Dinner was going well, so we walked down the street for a drink. Somehow, age came up.  He joked about being “old for me,” and I said something like, “I don’t think so. Is it rude to ask your age?”. I do remember him saying, “I am….35?” in a slightly questioning way, which I interpreted as him testing me to see if I thought that was ancient. And I laughed. I suggested walking by the river, but he said that, since it was late and the riverside was more secluded, he wanted to make sure I was staying safe. How thoughtful of him!

I had an Adoration hour at midnight that night (which made me feel a little like Cinderella, having to dash before the clock struck 12!) As I entered the chapel, I felt queasy. It didn’t make sense. The date had been fun. It had all been good. So, what was this feeling?

It just so happened that I couldn’t sleep that night, so I turned to the modern version of the Magic 8 Ball, Google. 5408186048_3223c00e17_mI typed in “Gut feeling,” and got a variety of responses, most from a site called tinybuddha, saying why it’s so important to trust your gut.

Google is also like a rabbit-hole (the metaphors are endless!), and somehow, I ended up thinking that maybe I should Google this guy to see if I could set my mind at ease. All I had was a first name (had I learned nothing in all my years of dating?) and a phone number. But the phone number kept pulling up a white woman in her forties with a foreign-sounding last name, who was associated with good works, charities, and prayer chains. This didn’t make sense. But then, eventually, her name and his appeared to be linked. And then, I found a website where they were written about as a husband and wife team doing charitable things all over the world. And that wasn’t all. It said that this guy was 44. And there was more. On Facebook, I saw a cute picture of him, his wife, and a daughter who looked like a student I might teach, all smiling contentedly at the camera.

It seemed I had my answer, but I couldn’t believe it was true. As I thought through the date, I realized that I’d felt uncomfortable because he did not share anything about any people in his life. He made it sound like he went to work, and then came home to an empty apartment each day. 15161734_39ed84dda3_mHe shared things about his distant past, but nothing about his life here. And somewhere in there, my intuition started crying foul.

So the next day, he texted something like, “Hello, hotness!” Well, I wanted to just disappear. I felt embarrassed and ashamed for going on a date with this apparently sweet woman’s husband, even if I didn’t know. But I decided it couldn’t hurt to question him on it. So, I texted back, “Are you married?”

There was no reply, for hours and hours. The next day, my phone buzzed, and I saw it was from him: “I was going to bring that up. Why?”

Oh, yeah, whoops. Sorry, it slipped my mind! I am married. What’s the issue?

I decided it was best just not to reply ever again. So, I didn’t.



Posted in Dating, Lessons Learned

Dating Tales from A Veteran: Regrettable Things Said or Heard on a Date

One of the best things about going on a bad date is being able to talk about it with one’s friends later. Some of my favorite dating stories are not my own.

Here’s a few winners from my album of awkward dating discussions had by my friends and I, on their dates.

Surprise Me!2168425462_cb66c0b55e_m

Girl and Guy are out to eat at a restaurant, on a second date, looking at their menus.

Girl: “So, what are you going to have?”

Guy: “I don’t know. How about you surprise me?”

Girl studies the menu, sees a couple of interesting options, one of which being the tongue tacos.

Girl: “I could surprise you with tongue!” (guy blanches, she realizes how this sounded) “….But maybe that would be weird.”

Creative License

A friend of mine starts attending a weekly creative writing class.  A guy in his 40s also attends the class, and says they should hang out sometime. They exchange emails. She thinks about it, and writes him a polite email, stating that she isn’t interested in anything romantic, only coffee and friendship, just to be clear with him from the start.

They meet for coffee sometime after this. Throughout the conversation, the man reveals that he is a model. “Oh, that’s cool!” she says. “Yeah, here’s a photo of one of my shoots.” He shows her a picture from his wallet. In the process, she sees several pictures of children.

42723650_b92429a7d6_m.jpg“Oh, are those your kids?” she asks. “They’re really cute!”

He says, “Yeah. I’ve got kids.”

“Yeah? How many?”

“Oh, four – – or five.”

“Four or five? You don’t know?” she teases him. “Were you married?”

“Yeah, I was married.”

“Oh, so do your kids live with you part of the time now, then?”

“Yeah, they live with me part of the time.”

“That’s nice. Their mom must live close, so that it works out that easily. I know other couples where it’s not that easy to share custody.”

“Yeah. We live pretty close…Actually, we live in the same house.”

“Really? Wait – are you still married?”

“Well, I guess yeah, you could put it that way.”

Nothing Happened: Don’t judge a guy by his plaid8228774782_d07786a91c_m.jpg

I am on a date with someone I met at my 30th-birthday celebration. My friend encouraged me to “live it up!” and “try new things!” so she encouraged a guy who paid me a compliment to come and sit at our table at the restaurant. And now, a week later, we are on a date.

He wears the kind of generic plaid-patterned cotton shirt that codes “I have a decent job and I could afford the white picket fence if you want one,” rather than my usual type, whose tattered, ironic or ciphered clothing often says, “I defy society’s standards and live passionately for my art.” I decide it’s time to live by the plaid model, and realize how comforting it is to date a person with a 9-5, steady job – the responsible, hard-working American man. Maybe it is good to try new things, I’m thinking.

Twenty minutes in, my plastered grin begins to ache on my face (he’s doing most of the talking). He says something about his friend who “used to be a good time” but now he’s “started going to AA and only wants to convert me.” “What do you mean?” I say laughingly, but the truth is, I have a high respect for AA and what it does, so I’m trying to understand his hostility.

“Well, this one time, we walked up to the top of this parking garage with a bunch of beers, and after we got a little wasted, we started to throw the bottles down below. 8997773481_d2abbc5e33_m.jpgMy buddy threw his bottle down at this van, and completely obliterated the rear window.”

“Oh, my gosh! What happened next?” (I’m thinking, did the cops come? How did the friend pay for his mistake? Is that how he decided to go to AA? Were you horrified that your drinking adventures had led you to the point where you were damaging property?)

“Oh, nothing happened. We didn’t get caught.” End of story.

That’s when I realized that I had somehow equated plaid-button-down-shirts with virtuous manhood, and that this was only a pitiable myth in my mind. So thus my new rule: A guy of awesomeness might wear a plaid shirt, but a plaid shirt does not necessarily mean that the man wearing it is awesome.

I learned another dating principle from this encounter. People always say, “Make a good first impression.” But I realized, it’s not that people mean to be judgmental and want to think poorly of people from the beginning. It’s just that when you first know a person, you know maybe two things about them. Each thing you know equates to 50% of your knowledge about that person. 1367356779_71e5690709_m.jpg

So, if within the first twenty minutes of being on a date, one of the four things I know is, “He got drunk, smashed a van window, and feels cool about it because he didn’t get caught,” that’s 25% of my information about this guy (the other information being, he has a job, he wears a plaid shirt, and I met him at a bar) – it’s not that I am judging him based on “one little thing.” It’s more that that one thing is 25% of what I know, and that’s a pretty high percentage. So, I guess to me, this is why you want to be careful what information you share right away, not with the intention of being false, but because you don’t want a yucky incident from the past to be 25% of what a person knows about you. That’s not lying, it’s just a good marketing strategy.

U Owe Me a Kiss71805821_730ea4e28d_m

Technically, this regrettable thing was said before the date even happened, the end result being that there was no date.

Me, and the guy in question, had set up a date over text. It was getting late, we’d arranged when and where to meet. I turned off the light and went to sleep.

Twenty minutes later, my phone buzzed. “Oh, and u owe me a kiss if you’re late!” said my prospective date.

I felt a tiny rumble of weirdness, but decided it might be just my stomach.

The next morning, as I’m teaching my early lessons, I hear a ping from my phone again. When I check my messages, there’s another one from prospective date. “Rule for before u meet me: u must think of me fondly two times today before we meet later.”


I call in my sister and my friend for backup, texting them, “I’m getting these weird texts from the guy I’m supposed to meet for a date later. Is it acceptable to call it off before it happens?”

Yes, each chimed in.

As politely as I could, I tried to frame a text that could get the message across. “You know, I’ve decided that I’d rather not meet. I wish you all the best.”

“Why?” he wrote back. “Am I not allowed to make a joke?”