Monday, May 31, 2010

Cliff/Tori: Weekend away

Whew! I just got back from a relatively enjoyable weekend away from life. As nice as it is to hang around with the girls, it's just good to get away from it all.

The Pearce family are maybe not the most tight-knit family unit in the world, but Mom and Dad do seem to enjoy family activities, and as much as I value my personal time, when Dad brought up the subject of the apparently-annual Memorial Day camping trip, it came along at a good enough time that I felt like it would be a good idea to spend some time with these people while they're still in my life. (I call them "Mom and Dad" because even though I know their real names, it feels more natural for me to call them that, if that makes any sense.)

Of course, just because it came along at a good time for me doesn't mean it was a good time for everybody. Mae's been moping around all month over the prolonged disintegration of her relationship with Ed. I have to admit, as an observer, I'm not that shocked. Considering how uncomfortable he seemed on the rare occasions he'd been around the family, it seemed he was only in for something casual (slash physical.) They've been going out for most of my time as Tori, and if he didn't think it was "serious," well... then I don't know what is serious.

So she was not keen on coming along. She wanted to stay at home and take care of Scruff (the English sheepdog I rarely talk about, yet he sleeps right outside my door) but Dad nixed that idea and pretty much dragged her out against her will, letting Ken and his fiancee take care of the dog over the weekend.

So she was pretty temperamental over the course of the 90 minute drive out to the campgrounds.

I hadn't enjoyed camping much as a youngster, but mainly because it always felt like my dad and brother used it as an excuse to show off how much manlier than me they were. We went a few times, and by the end of it I was, well, a much more introverted version of Mae. Just angry about stuff.

It wasn't the test of survival I was expecting, though. Even though we had tents (which were a bitch to put up,) we had plenty of amenities. Electricity via generator. Magazines. Mae has a Nintendo DS. We weren't exactly roughing it.

So on Saturday morning, Dad woke me up to see if I wanted to go fishing. We had a cooler, so I knew we weren't intending to catch dinner or anything, and since fishing is a very relaxing activity (when your brother isn't teasing you about your inability to catch anything.) For a while we just sat in a canoe with our lines in the lake, facing opposite directions, staying quiet.

Then randomly he asks, "You seeing anyone lately?"

The speed with which I turned red with embarrassment, and laughing nervously, probably indicates how much I now think of him as a father figure. "Wha-ha-hat? N-no, no, no."

"It's been a while, huh? This whole time you've lived with us, I mean, either you're great at hiding it, or you're just not..."

"No, I'm really not. There isn't anyone."

"Is it because you're embarrassed? You don't have to worry about your mother and me, we know you're an adult, and you we won't say anything if you bring a boy home."

"no, dad, stop it, it isn't that."

"Now, Mae on the other hand..."

Conversation goes to a dead stop.

He continues, "You know about that Ed boy, right?" I nod. "It kills me. I've known for years, there's not a lot a dad can do to stop his daughter from getting busy--" this is the moment where I realize how young-at-heart Mr. Pearce is, that he can say something like that and not seem lame, "And it'd be pointless for me to try to force her to stop, because that'd just send her further away. I've learned..."

I know from reading Tori's diaries he's talking about Tori's teenage years, and his negative reaction to her early dating.

He goes on, "I was worried you'd be upset, I was so strict with you, and now with Mae I'm less so... but you know it didn't work with you, I don't have to explain it, do I?"

"No, I get it, you changed your tactics... for what it's worth, I think Ed and Mae are done."

"Is that what she's so upset about? Well... that's life, I guess." He wasn't much hiding his satisfaction about this.

After another pause, he began to reminisce about how he and Tori used to go fishing and do other boyish things when she was young, and how he missed that kind of thing since she became more of a girly girl. I told him that it was maybe not going to stay this way, but I was not lying when I said I enjoyed it.

As we rowed back to the dock -- having caught nothing -- he advised me that it was all right with him if I wanted to stay at home as long as I needed to, but that he figured I must be getting tired of it. I told him that was one way of thinking about it, and that "a change" may be in order.

Later that afternoon, I was reading in the woods when I heard some distant noises -- bangs that sounded like firecrackers. A while later, Dad and Mae came out of the forest. Dad had a rifle.

"Oh my God, was that you two?"

"Yeah, you heard us, did you?" he said. She was beaming. "We walked about a mile and a half out there to try to keep it down."

"Did you shoot something?"

"Nah, it was just target practice," he grinned.

I had no idea he had a gun, or that Mae would even be interested in firing one, but I have to admit I was a little jealous that I wasn't invited. In any case, it appears to have been a fairly genuine father-daughter moment: Mae's spirits seemed raised. That evening, in our tent, we even had girl-talk -- something Mae hates doing (and I rarely intentionally initiate anyway) and she enthusiastically ran down the list of things that bugged her about Ed, from the way he always talks about himself, to his inability to really express himself, to the size of his dick.

Her mood fluctuated for the rest of the weekend, but generally, it was a good time. I felt more at ease with myself than I usually do, and it was just nice to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine on my skin, spending the weekend dressed ruggedly in tank tops and shorts. It was also pretty awesome watching the fireworks over the water.

Anyway, it was a really fun weekend, but now I've gotta go to bed since I have work tomorrow.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Alia/Rob: 90's Dance

A lesson I keep having to learn no matter what life I'm in: you can't control other people. You'd think, having dated Todd, I would be used to the idea, but it was something that often frustrated me. People are gonna feel what they're gonna feel. It's hard enough to control yourself. Other people? Forget it.

I was chaperoning a dance with Cathy last week. Teachers are obligated to put in a certain number of extra responsibilities, and sometimes I'm okay with them, sometimes not. By that token, dances are a bit easier to stomach than, say, PTA meetings or parent-teach nights. The PTA is a bore, and parent-teacher nights have largely been a train of parents asking why their kids aren't doing so well (admittedly, their teacher is an under-trained novice, but I've gotten better.) Some parents can handle themselves, others decide to forget that I'm a human being and just let loose all their frustrations on me.

So dances. Yeah, that's a bit easier to take. All I have to do is stand around and enjoy the snacks while the kids paw at each other, and make sure they know they're being watched.

By some strange twist of fate, the dance Cathy and I signed on for was the "90's dance." I'm not some old lady, but I grew up in the 90's, and it was trippy to see my youth re-purposed the way people did the 80's when I was young. Nobody dressed up in 90's clothes or anything, but the music was a pretty dead on recreation of what was around back then, ranging the entire decade:

List of artists who were played over the course of three hours: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Guns N Roses, Soundgarden, Metallica, Boyz 2 Men, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Brandy, Monica, Eve 6, Smashmouth, Sugar Ray, Third Eye Blind, Fatboy Slim, Beastie Boys, NSync, Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees, Blind Melon, Jamiroquai, Beck, Cranberries, Barenaked Ladies, U2, Rob Zombie, Cher (Believe), Aerosmith, Spice Girls, Michael Jackson, Seal, Chumbawumba. Yeesh. Talk about hitting all the bases. The 90's were one effed-up decade, in retrospect, as far as popular tastes were concerned.

Cathy, who is about Rob's age, was similarly nostalgic for all this, although she has very different memories than I do, obviously. I was in grade school, and a little bit of high school, for all of this, so my earliest school dances would've had Britney and boybands. Also Canadian groups like The Tragically Hip, Great Big Sea and Moist got their due, but I'm getting off topic.

Cathy and I rehashed the stories of our youths, me sort of improvising on the spot to account for my age and gender. I mainly let her do the talking. When the Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way" hit, she couldn't take it anymore and led me out on the dancefloor for an "awkward high school slowdance."

I had my hands around her waist, she reached up and rested hers on the back of my shoulders. Suddenly I felt like I was back in a time before all this, way before Rob Garcia and the Trading Post inn and even before heartbreak and angst over Todd or the stress of University, when you could just be with someone and feel awkward over something so simple. And I looked down at this woman and she was clearly thinking the same things, just enjoying her flashback, and then she drew closer and closer, and I didn't mind so much, even when she pressed herself against me and I very clearly had an erection. She felt so small in my arms. Then at the end of the song, she turns her face upward and kisses me in the cheek, then again closer to the lips. I pull away in shock.

She glares at me in... shock? Disappointment? Embarrassment? I don't know. She wasn't pleased with either of us, because she just walked off and didn't talk to me for the rest of the night.

I caught up with her the next day and she was still cold. "I'm sorry about that," she said bitterly, "I guess I just misread the entire thing. I'm an idiot, okay? don't hold it against me." It was half a sincere apology and half pure anger. I know, because I've used that tone.

"Cathy, things are really complicated, and I don't think..."

"No, shut up. It's not complicated at all, you idiot. We're grown-ups. You don't have to act like every little thing is a tragic romance. You have to let yourself have a little fun. I mean Jesus, what did your wife do to you that you can't even just... enjoy things?"

And that was that. I'll never be able to explain exactly why I can't be with her. I was trying very hard not to get close enough to anyone that this sort of emotional reaction would happen, but I guess no matter how hard you try, people can't be taken and packed away like that. Now I've hurt someone without meaning to, and made things awkward with the woman who had pretty much been my closest friend here. I shouldn't take things like this personally, maybe, but I can't say "it's not really my life" because it really is. I did this.

I don't think I was wrong, but I feel bad that it came to this. I wish I could just crawl into bed for the next month and a half and wake up in Maine, but sadly, this is the real world, and I have work to do.

-Alia

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Cliff/Tori: Retail therapy

I was out at the mall with Raine on Saturday, and we ran into my co-worker Cyndi and her boyfriend Leo.

Leo looked exhausted. The poor guy was clearly being dragged from store to store while Cyndi tried on outfits and browsed the racks, and in my secretly-male way, I had sympathy. But even so, it put me in mind of exactly how much things have changed for me since, well, the change.

In my real/original/actual/male life, as I've said, I was never that good with women. In fact, I was downright scared of them, and for some reason the fear of rejection seemed like the worst possible outcome of any interaction. Sometimes, I overcompensated, usually at the behest of my friend Justin, but it wasn't a good fit for me (as Alia will recall from our first meeting, when I tried to get into bed with her. Back when Alia WAS a her.)

I remember being dragged around from store to store by my last girlfriend. It was a rocky relationship because we were celibate and I was, well, I was okay with it, but I'm not going to pretend it wasn't the source of some tension, especially after a few years. I was still dating her when I saw that movie The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and I was always -- hell, still am -- worried that I'd end up like that.

Back when I was still myself, I would see a guy like Leo, groaning and rolling his eyes at his girl's shopping, waiting patiently while she compiles potential outfits, and I'd sympathize, but also be bitter. I knew the feeling, but it was far away: and soon the only thought would be "At least you have someone, man."

And now? Now, I shop a lot like Cyndi, although not with as much, uh, enthusiasm. And I think most girls appreciate their Men's patience, so hang in there, Leo, and all guys like Leo. I know we can be very trying. And I don't even care about singlehood, because in my position, it's a damn downright benefit.

Did I just say I shop a lot like Cyndi? Yes. I'm not exactly a fashionista, or whatever you'd call it, but I'm quite fascinated by the number of different styles and fabrics and combos available to women. Skirts, pants, tights, jeans, tops, blouses, button-ups, camis, sweaters... I don't buy a lot, but I do like to look. There's an art to it, or maybe it's a science, figuring out a good outfit, that I never really thought much of as a guy, but when your body has curves to accentuate (or downplay) you think about these things, because comfort and confidence become serious issues. At a certain point several months ago I dedicated myself to being a girl who took pride in her appearance, and it's stuck.

That's not to say I'm capable of doing this on my own. Maybe Raine and Sara think it's odd what an influence they have on me, but their advice and direction has been invaluable. Most of what I buy, I show to them, and ask "Do you think this would go with that? Wouldn't this look cute?" It was definitely a surreal moment when I found out, according to Raine, I have good taste in colors. Go figure!

I was trying on some outfits in the store when I had one of those "This is so weird how normal this feels" moments. Slipping a dress on. Being in my bra and panties. Seeing myself in the mirror. The urge to look hasn't even really hit me that much lately, because I've gotten so used to what's there. And for a moment I thought "Is this right?" but I realized it can't possibly be wrong to feel good about the way you look, regardless what gender you are. I mean, I felt pretty okay about the way I looked as a guy, and I assume I will again. This is just... coping. Right?

Anyway. The whole shopping exercise was therapeutic because I've been dealing with some stress all month. I don't think Buddy's getting the hint that I don't want to date him. As much sympathy as I have for him, I just want to scream whenever he e-mails me to check on my plans for the weekend. He's even managed to tag along on a few group outings, due to his friendship with Raine's Guy. Now that they're getting serious, I'm pretty much the only single girl in a group of 5-7 (depending whether Cyndi and Leo are around)... and whenever Buddy comes by, it just gets that much more awkward. We haven't talked seriously about any of it, I just keep putting him off.

It's still nearly 2 months until I go back to Maine. I feel like I'm going to have to deal with this in the meantime, because the anxiety of having him checking in on me is starting to get to me. It's sad, too, because he's otherwise a nice guy. Just can't take a hint.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Alia/Rob: Mentor

Yeesh. If it weren't for the walking reminder of my physical state, I might forget this blog exists.

Call it self-censorship. I don't live a terribly interesting life. Cliff doesn't either, but she's at least willing/able to air her grievances/thoughts on her body, on her life. I get home after a long day at work and just zonk out.

Stress stress stress stress stressstressstress.

For a long while, it was just overwhelming. I wanted to find some quiet corner of the school and cry (manly tears) over how overwhelmed I was. But generally speaking it is not recommended that teachers lose control of their emotions in front of students. So I bottle it all up.

It's hard, man. Let's not kid ourselves here, this is a stressful job. I remember when I was in high school, the feeling of how overwhelming the pressure was, my quiet suspicion that nothing I was doing would affect me in the long term so long as I got into a decent University (I did.) These kids walking around the halls, half of them have the same parental issues as I did, some way worse. Some don't even talk to theirs, for better or worse. I certainly don't know all their stories, but you get to know who's having trouble.

Oh, you get to know things. The way hormones rule this hallway is palpable, to say the least. Monday morning comes and you can tell which ones had a bad weekend. Every little romantic gesture is scrutinized and agonized over. Students' moods and behaviours change on a regular basis, especially the girls. I've chaperoned a couple dances (I'm on duty for one more this week as a matter of fact) and seeing the way these kids attempt to free themselves from their own awkwardness - with varying degrees of success - well, it takes me back.

That's not to say the teachers are immune to this. We gossip, we make cliques, we have in-jokes. In some really sad ways, we emulate the behaviour of the kids for whom we're supposed to set the example. The sex lives of unmarried teachers (like myself and Cathy) are scrutinized by the older ladies teaching English, Geography and History. We all indulge in inappropriate speculations about the kids. It becomes like a weird little soap opera for some of these people.

Some, however, don't seem to care. This is Marshall McPhee, the senior English teacher. Earlier this year, when the Vice Principal was on my ass about my lackluster in-class performance, Mr. McPhee stood up for me, and even became a mentor of sorts. He's the kind of teacher who's been at it for 25 years, and still gets out of bed in the morning, glad to be teaching, where so many of these people have had their spirits ground down. He's a friendly, balding, thin, bearded sort with John Lennon glasses and a button-up vest.

"Rob," he says to me after school one day, "It's our job to positively impact these kids' lives. We may be here for the long term, but they aren't, and it's our responsibility to see them them through that. We only get a few years to do anything for these kids, and even then it's just a sliver of time. And then they're gone. You've got to be strong. You've got to know your stuff, and you've got to be there for them." I'm paraphrasing, of course: This was months ago. But the feeling stuck with me.

There was this girl who, at the beginning of the semester, was having relationship trouble. That much was true. She showed promise, but also distraction. I knew a lot of girls like that in high school -- hell, I envied them, I was never the one who had the boys' attention, until Todd -- and I know it would've been hard for me to take any teacher's advice seriously (especially a male one) but I did what I could.

Basically, what it amounted to was taking her aside after class and assuring her of the potential I saw in her, and reminding her that things were probably going on in her life that felt the most important, but wouldn't seem so relevant down the road. And showing her perceptiveness, she rebuffed, "And all the classes ARE?"

I told her, "At this point, you're learning more about how to be a person than you are about books. We give you assignments and work not only to teach you their lessons, but how to learn, how to work, full stop. Having a life is important, but what's really important is to learn to balance it all, because believe me, it's never going to stop. There will still be boys, if you don't run off every weekend to hang out with them, and instead keep up on your readings."

And she laughed at this, but a little later when we started doing poetry, she was the only one to have anything memorized, and her insights were quite strong as well. She did a report on Sylvia Plath, which was a sort of "Oh God what have I done" moment (I kid, Plath-lovers.) Was it University-level? Of course not. But she's only a sophomore in high school.

Anyway, the balance-talk worked on both ends because I started dealing with school-related issues a little better, even taking a few extra assignments just to hone my abilities. It's still not my dream job, but I'm getting better at it. And like high school, my time here is limited, and in fact coming to an end sooner than later.

Anyway. It's late, and as always I have an early morning tomorrow. Todd sent me this album by this new Canadian band, Zeus. He loves it, but I think it's a little weak until the midway point gem, "Marching Through Your Head," and then there are some lovely tracks after that, such as "The Sound of You" and "At The Risk Of Repeating," which all makes me yearn for home.

I made him promise not to send me the new Broken Social Scene album. I don't want to hear that until I'm a girl again.

-Alia

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