When you live in the South Pacific, you should really explore it a bit

I know Kiwis who have never left the boundaries of New Zealand. Heck, I know people down here who have never left - and continue to refuse to - the South Island of this insular nation. I , on the other hand, couldn't live without expanding my comfort zones or see new places and meet new noders, er, people. With my brother (representing a large German company) being down in Melbourne on business with his delightful partner and me being in Auckland for the Steely Dan Concert, I thought I use the proximity of an international airport and extend the weekend for a little trip to the capital of Victoria and meet my protector, financial advisor and all around good guy.

Emirates Airlines flew me within 3 hours thirty and in comfort over the Tasman Sea. The only problem was my seat neighbour from hell: without introducing myself (or my profession) I knew within the first minute about her medical conditions (arthritis and epilepsy {though never fully diagnosed, which screams Pseudo Seizures}), the fact that she hasn't flown for 27 years (honeymoon to Fidji) and that the poor people on her right were her long suffering hubby and her embarrassed daughter. After half an hour of instructions of how to use the in-flight entertainment system, the pillow and the blanket, I finally switched on Ocean's 13, just to be interrupted every 15 minutes to get her luggage out, let her through to have walkies and loo breaks and still get interrupted with details about her medications. After 3 and a half hours of purgatory I left elated and made it within half an hour to my hotel, the very soon going to be reviewed (and it's not going to be pretty folks) Hilton on the Park, to meet my waiting bro. Highland Park and Heineken ensued, and after an refreshing nocturnal snooze, today the outskirts of Melbourne beckoned. What a refreshingly well designed place Melbourne is: public transport in abundance, excellent beaches, nice air and a general cosmopolitan atmosphere around it. Sorrento felt positively European with its little beach cafes, good eateries and general snobbery around it. Nevertheless without a doubt a great weekend retreat for the upper middle classes.

More tomorrow.

Hi there, little girl! (Aside to my mother: She's so tall for her age!)

And what do you want to be when you grow up, darling?

I'm three years old. Mom has me enrolled in a part-time Montessori preschool class. I still remember how pretty my young teacher Miss Neely was - the tickle of her caramel-colored hair against my cheek when she leaned over my desk to whisper encouragement to me, the way she floated around on a cloud of Love's Baby Soft, how she greeted me every morning with a fragrant, enthusiastic hug. I was the oldest girl of three in my family, and boys scared me a little bit. I suppose they still do. But Miss Neely told the mean boys to quit pulling on my pigtails. (Mean boys really do like to pull on girls' pigtails; it is not just a myth perpetrated by Little House on the Prarie.) I think Miss Neely was my first crush.

One morning during Story Circle Time, Miss Neely was called away from our little classroom, probably for a phone call that wouldn't wait, and my classmates and I were instructed to sit tight - Miss Neely would be right back.

She wasn't gone long - the phone call couldn't have been bad news, because she came back all ready to finish The Story of Ferdinand, the book about the little Spanish pacifist bull who was always content to just chill out and smell flowers rather than fight with the other bulls. I'm not sure how long she was gone, and I don't know whether she was dreading returning to a room full of mean boys and passive little girls. But when Miss Neely came back, I was sitting up at the front of the room reading to the rest of my classmates.

Miss Neely called a conference with my mother. It probably went something like this:

Mrs. B., your daughter can read.

Oh, yes...yes she can. Her father is away most of the year on submarines, so when she was a baby I taught her to read. We had a lot of time on our hands. And she took to it so well! She really enjoys it.

But Mrs. B...your daughter doesn't just read phonetically. She understands what she's reading. I asked questions. She answered them. She can read.

Miss Neely, I know she can read. She's been reading since before she could walk.

*thoughtful silence*

Mrs. B., I think Ashley might belong in a more advanced classroom.

God, I mourned Miss Neely. I pretended I didn't know how to read for a few days when I found out that they were going to start me in Kindergarten, but my secret was out. I was busted. I was Smart.

It went on like this - I skipped 7th grade because my test scores were insane. I went off to boarding school at age 14(almost 15, mind you) because I had a scholarship for writing. I started college at 16 (almost 17!) on another writing scholarship.

But to this day I hate, despise, abhor, and can barely do math of any kind.

And what do you want to be when you grow up, darling?

Plantation tour guide. Grill operator, office worker, waitress (in a seafood restaurant). Day care worker (regular and Montessori flavors). Personal trainer. Waitress again (this time in a fondue restaurant). Nanny. Night shift in a silkscreening factory. Grill operator (again). Waitress again (this time in a diner). Clerk in a Christian bookstore. Salesgirl in a ridiculously upscale clothing boutique (the owner would dress me in the shop's clothes when I came to work because nothing I owned was properly chic). Waitress again (this time in a New Haven, CT vegetarian restaurant across from the Yale freshman dorms. The lunch rush was insane.). Pizza maker/deliveryperson. Docent for the Charleston Visitor's Center. Sunday school teacher. Two failed attempts to graduate college. More jobs, each more forgettable and random than the last six...or eight...or twelve. One successful course to become a Certified Nursing Assistant (which means I an licensed to change linens and adult diapers).

Now. Today. Taking classes to become a nurse. A Registered Nurse. This school, including the years of prerequisites, will probably take me about four years to complete if I take classes all year round with no breaks for any reason.

Do I want this?

The real question, I suppose, is, Do I want a real paycheck? A job with some semblance of social status? A job that will net me more than tips? A job that will make me eligible for insurance and vacation time and retirement (well, retirement when I'm 73 or so, but still)? Do I want a Real Job? And the answer to all those questions is Jesus H. Christ, of course I do.

Everyone in my life keeps telling me that this is a great decision. It's rational, it's what a grownup does, it's a career, it's a lot of good things. It's supposed to be spiritually fulfilling and desperately needed in Today's Society with its Aging Population. It's a sure thing as far as jobs are concerned. I dispute none of this, and I've already started down this road. I'm not going to turn back now, because it's time I settled into something Rational and Paycheck-generating and Grownup.

And what do you want to be when you grow up, darling?

So, nice unnamed lady who smelled like gingersnaps and cheap sachet when you smiled gently and pinched my five-year-old cheek: here is what I want to be:

I want to be a Reader. To read Dr. Seuss, The Story of Ferdinand and the Little House on the Prarie books to my nieces and nephew.

I want to be a Chef. I want to cook good food for people I love on a regular basis.

I want to be an Audience. I want to read books, to be an appreciative, unironic reader, because a book without a reader is just kindling.

I want to be a Listener. I want to listen to people tell their own stories.

I want to be a Wordtaster. I want to roll combinations of words around on my tongue and then spit them out like a watermelon seed when they taste just right. If they taste perfect, I want to swallow them and keep them safe until I find just the right person to share them with.

I want to be a Useless Anachronism - a writer who writes Just Because It Feels Good. No, I do not want to write a book. No, I do not have literary aspirations. I do not have the Great American Novel hiding behind my pancreas. I just like doing it.

I want to be a Friend. I want to paint my girlfriends' toenails and cry with them and laugh a lot and eat brownies in our PJs together. Nothing complicated there.

I want to be a Traveler. I want to collect stories in languages I don't completely understand. I want to see things I can't explain in places I can't imagine. I want to sleep under unfamiliar skies and eat food I've never tasted. I don't want fancy accomodations, I want experience. I want to meet people in their natural element and enjoy their favorite food with them and ask them to tell me things about themselves, to show me what makes their country/town/village so special to them. I want to dance with them. That is the kind of Traveler I want to be.

I want to be a Hostess. Tea parties are always good, especially when wine and hats and complicated hors d'oeuvres are involved.

I might - MIGHT - even want to be a Mother. One day, under the right set of circumstances, with the right person who also desires to manufacture a small human who wears footie pajamas.

Most of all, I want to be a Companion. I want to spend my mornings with someone I like and who likes me, and I want to be in a partnership where we enrich each other's lives. It feels ridiculously subversive to even think this, but I want to be someone's Companion. Is it even okay to want this? Probably not. It probably isn't okay at all. Because I am supposed to want to be Independent and Bravely Alone and Able To Stand On My Own Two Feet, By God. Plus also to be Financially Stable And With Something To Bring To The Table. (I'm assuming this means capital, or at least a set of good china.)

I do not have any desire to own a career of any kind. I never did, even when I was little and all my friends wanted to be ballerinas or astronauts or cowboys or ballerina-cowboy-veterinarians. Even then I mostly just wanted them to tell me their stories of why, exactly, they wanted to travel to Mars or put tiny little casts on kittens' broken paws or dance the role of Sleeping Beauty.

I want to spend the time I have left not thinking about money (which I know is the biggest pipe dream there is, and worthy of nothing but scorn).

The idea of starting down an academic road like this at my age makes me sick, not excited.

But I know that This Is The Way The World Works, and that Money Makes It Go Around, and that People Are Not Supposed To Just Want To Be Pair-Bonded, Not In These Enlightened Times Of Hookups And Prenups And Separate Bank Accounts, and that wanting to be a Companion is the most useless anachronism of all. It's probably even an affront to my own sex and a slap in the face of all those fearless women who have gone before me to make certain that I have the choice to even attend school in the first place.

I understand that independence, financial and emotional, is essential, and that it's the only thing that won't be taken away from me, no matter what happens. Believe me, I understand that better than most women.

And I also understand that without a career, someone will end up taking care of me in ways that will infantilize me and cause resentment on the part of the person I most care about. Those are Bad Things. (This is an extended whine, not a delusional ramble, after all.)

I feel most alive when I write, when I read, when I make love, when I sit around swapping stories in semi-darkness with people whose hearts mean more to me than the stars and the ocean and Steve Jobs's paycheck put together. And I can't get paid for any of those things. And only one of those things constitutes a career unless you want to be arrested in any state aside from Nevada. And that kind of lovemaking isn't my specialty, anyway.

Nursing school it is.

GDMA Jewish mafia: an offer you can't refuse

Last week I found somewhere to get a good New York-style bagel, where the owner is a gruff but attentive servant of his customers. I got my "everything bagel toasted with vegetable cream cheese", and chatted with Gary as my bagel toasted. I asked him how the day was going, it was slow, because dammit it was a Monday. Fridays and Sundays, better. Sometimes Wednesdays. David had come out of the back, occasionally answering a blaring cell phone. I browsed the display case, wondering if I'd ever get something else.

"Could I also get a raisin twist? They look good today." (he eyes me, judging my sincerity and haircut)

"You had 'em before?" (he finishes the cream cheese, wraps and bags my bagel)

"Well, no. But I'm looking forward to it." (he grabs another bag, throws two twists into it. eyes me some more.)

"You gonna see your girlfriend tonight?" (my turn to stare)

"Uh... yeah?" (he walks to the other side of the display case, holds up a bagel flecked with purple)

"You give her blueberry bagel, yes?" (he fills the bag with four more) "She'll love you forever."

(it didn't look much like a diamond ring, but who knows?)
"Sure thing."
($2.00 even, out of $20.00)

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