Sunday, December 9, 2012

My Big Jud Challenge

It looks more like a pie than a hamburger when they bring it out. One pound of sizzling meat sandwiched between two thick buns with a cushion of lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions, cheese, and ketchup on top. They put the vegetables on so you will have a reason to justify yourself when it’s all over. “It was okay because after all, I got all five food groups! Bread from the buns, vegetables from the lettuce and pickles, fruit from the tomatoes, meat from the hamburger, and milk from the cheese!” You say this as your grease-filled heart pumps out blood to your bursting arteries. Then you go home, holding your stomach and swearing never to touch another burger in your life. The taste of hamburger lasts in your mouth for about a week, and you have to shower for at least twenty minutes to get the smell of deep-fried food off of you. And still, even after that, you can still smell it in your nostrils as though the aroma of French fries and hamburgers has taken permanent residence in your nose. And all this from eating one hamburger.

One giant, massive hamburger, mind you. It’s called the Big Jud. The one pound challenge that leaves even the most die-hard burger eaters crying on the floor. Don’t believe me? Check out the mother of all hamburgers for yourself.

Massive, isn’t it? My little sister Sarah and I took it on together that day, which also happened to be my birthday, now that I remember it. “Happy Birthday to me! Now I’ll die sooner and have fewer birthdays from eating this!” But we still smiled. See?

Note that this picture was taken BEFORE we ate the Big Jud. I don’t know if we could have smiled afterwards even though each of us only ate half of it. (Half is still half a pound of hamburger, plus that thick bun, and the vegetables. Not to mention the overflowing basket of French fries and root beer they give you too.)

There was a time, however, when I did NOT split the Big Jud with someone else. One whole pound of meat to myself. Oh, joy. Lucky for me, my metabolism could take it.

It’s funny to think back and realize I was on a date for my first experience at Big Jud’s (that’s also the name of the restaurant.) My date’s name was Addam, and we were doubling with my roommate Rachelle and Addam’s roommate Keith.

Well, the boys somehow got it into their heads that it would be fun to see two small girls with crazy-fast metabolisms take on the Big Jud. The Big Jud was legendary—everyone knew what they were up against even if they had never actually seen it before. So, I prepared myself and hardly ate anything all day long. Little did I know that this is exactly what you DON’T want to do right before eating a ginormously large meal. My stomach shrunk like a Capri Sun package being sucked dry. But I had no idea what my stomach was doing at the time. I thought I was ready to take on this burger and show it who was boss. When we arrived at the restaurant, I ordered my Big Jud and waited eagerly for it to come.

But as soon as I saw it, I felt sick. They brought it out on a white plate, two green toothpicks stuck near the center to hold it together. It looked like a pie. I had never eaten a whole pie by myself, and I was thinking that this was probably the equivalent if not worse. They provided big, steak knives so you could cut the burger into sections since trying to hold the whole thing and eat it was out of the question. As you can see from the picture, I was a little worried.

After eating a quarter of it, I knew I was in trouble. My stomach was already telling me it was near full, and I had three quarters left to go. I ate another quarter, forcing it down now, and then I couldn’t eat anymore. My stomach, like a gas pump, had reached its limit and clicked off. I had failed the Big Jud Challenge. And worse, I had failed by a long shot.

Rachelle, on the other hand, hadn’t starved herself all day long and was ready. She downed it all. Unfortunately, she didn’t get her picture on the wall of fame that all Big Jud Challenge champions are immortalized on because we had to go. Rachelle left victorious, and I left defeated.

As usual in my blog posts, this experience taught me a number of valuable lessons:

1.       Before eating a large meal, don’t starve yourself in the hopes that by not eating you will be able to eat more.

2.       Big Jud’s burgers are not all that tasty, and in fact, make you feel sick simply by looking at them.

3.       Sometimes in our effort to overcome a big challenge, we fail.

The third one is probably the best lesson to take from this, although the first one is pretty important if you’re entering an eating contest or trying to outdo your brother at Thanksgiving. A fact in life is that we are going to fail at big challenges sometimes, even ones that we think we are prepared for or really want to conquer. The funny thing is though, that after the challenge, we may realize that failing actually made us a better person than succeeding would have.

Failing isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It helps us grow and become more than we were before if we let it motivate us to succeed next time. Granted, the next time I went to Big Jud’s I split the burger with my little sister. So I guess sometimes failures help us see that what we were trying to succeed at may not have been the wisest decision in the first place. Looking back now, I’m pretty glad I didn’t succeed. Who knows? If I had eaten that entire burger, I might have died from cardiac arrest.

But even though we know we are going to fail at some things in life, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still try to do hard and difficult things. If we never try, how will we ever know if we can do it or not? Even though I failed at the Big Jud Challenge, I’m still glad I tried.

So the question is: Can YOU take on the Big Jud Challenges in life? You just have to remember that taking it on doesn’t necessarily mean you will come out conqueror, but at least you can say you gave it your best shot. And who knows? Maybe your failure will prove someday to be your success.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Seeing Inside and Out

Perspective. That’s what it all comes down to.

It was a warm summer evening, and the apartment door was open. The June air wafting inside seemed to be inviting me to forget my homework for one night and go play outside. I was trying to be good and do my homework, but somehow I ended up in my bedroom doorway talking to a roommate about two of our friends who had unexpectedly broken up and how I hated how I found out everything through Facebook. I was chatting away when suddenly, a guy named Tom walked into our apartment through the open doorway. I paused as I looked over at him. I didn’t know Tom well, but from what I had heard, I knew that he had recently gone through a pretty hard breakup. Poor guy. He was tall and skinny and had a bush of curly hair on his head. I couldn’t help being reminded of Mr. Tumnus from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe whenever I saw him.

“Hey, Tom,” I said, waving over to him from my bedroom door.

He had slumped onto one of our couches and waved lazily back at me. He looked like he’d had a rough day. He asked me, “You wanna make something good to eat?”

One trip to the store and one giant cookie with ice cream on top later he asked me, “Do you want to go to the park?”

I knew I shouldn’t. I had a whole research proposal to finish for class tomorrow. But I decided that I wouldn’t live forever, (especially after eating that 1,000 calorie cookie) and made the choice to be a rebel. I changed out of my denim skirt into pants and followed Tom out the door. All day long I had been wearing high heels, and they had given me one giant blister on the side of my foot. I had put a band-aid on the sore, but it didn’t do any good. I felt like I was trying to play hopscotch as I leapt around spasmodically, trying not to let my shoe rub against the blister.

Tom laughed, “You don’t want me to have to carry you on our first-“

He stopped mid-sentence. But I knew exactly what he had been about to say: “Our first date.” And I knew why he had stopped too. This wasn’t a date. At least, not according to me. After walking around the park once, we sat down on a bench to talk.

“I don’t get angry easily and I never shout,” Tom told me. “I really like helping people—But I’m not very good at listening.”

As Tom talked to me I felt funny somehow, as if maybe the things he was telling me weren’t completely accurate. And then suddenly, I realized what the problem was. Tom was telling me all about himself exclusively from his point of view. He wasn’t allowing me to see him from my own view. I was getting a biased version of Tom based solely upon Tom’s perspective of himself. This is when I thought of what I now call The Perspective Theory.

Here’s the idea: there are two versions of ourselves—the self that we see ourselves as and the self others see us as. Both are equally valuable because they both offer two completely different insights into our true character. However, they are both limited. When Tom told me all those things about himself, I knew that those things might not be 100% accurate because his perspective of himself is limited. But at the same time, I knew that my own perspective of Tom wasn’t spot-on either. Tom was stuck on the inside and I was stuck on the outside.

Am I not making sense? Maybe another story will help.

One day, my speech partner Jake and I needed to videotape a persuasive speech for class. We hunted around on campus for a good place and finally came across a deserted classroom that looked like a prison cell with white cement walls. (Perfect, right? Don’t ask me why we chose this room.) Jake set up the camera on the tripod as I rehearsed my part.

When we were both ready, Jake said, “We’ll just keep the camera rolling the whole time, so if you mess up, just back up a few lines and keep going.” I nodded my head and looked at the camera. Then Jake tapped the record button and gave me the thumbs up.

“We realize the issue of eating disorders with American women is one that needs to be addressed; however, putting disclaimers on altered photographs is not the solution to decrease the rate of eating disorders among women.”

I paused. I couldn’t remember what came next. I remembered what Jake said about keeping the camera rolling, so I just looked down at my notes real fast and then started over again.

 But I messed up again. And again. To save space, let’s just say I messed up a lot. After take two, I asked Jake if I could watch some of the video to see if I was doing alright. He took the camera off the tripod and handed it to me. I replayed the video and saw a skinny girl with long, brown hair on the small, square screen. She sounded very professional at first as she began to talk, but then she messed up. Her eyes rolled upward and she said something funny. I laughed. When she messed up, she said things I didn’t remember her saying before. I saw her from a different light than I had ever seen her before.

I saw myself outside myself.

It makes me wish that I could see myself from the inside and the outside all the time. How many things could I learn about myself if I were to see Liz how everyone else does? Instead of being trapped inside trying to figure myself out, how wonderful would it be to escape from myself for a moment and take a look from the outside perspective? But I can’t. Nobody can.

Except for one person. It randomly came to me one day as I was walking down some stairs on campus. I was just beginning to walk down, when suddenly I thought, “God knows us so well because He can see us from the inside and the outside. He can see us from our perspective as well as the perspective of others. That’s why He knows us better than anyone else.” And interestingly, he loves us more than anyone else too. So, would we love who we are more if we were able to see ourselves how God sees us? Would we come to understand who we really are if we were able to not only see ourselves from the inside, but the outside as well?

It’s hard to tell. I’m sure I would see more mistakes I’m making in life if I were able to watch a videotape of myself at the end of every day. That probably wouldn’t make me like myself more. So, I don’t think seeing ourselves from the outside would make us necessarily like ourselves more, but we would certainly understand ourselves more.

Now I’m wondering: after reading this, do you think I’m crazy or just very thoughtful? Do you think you’re wiser from reading this, or did you just waste your time? Is the glass half full, or half empty?

It all comes down to your perspective.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Taking a Hit: My Almost-Non-Political Post

           We were going to get hit hard whether Obama or Romney became President. We will always get hit hard no matter who is leading us because, well… that’s just life. Life is full of hits. Sometimes they’re BIG hits that leave us sprawled out on the ground for weeks and sometimes they’re little hits like a friend punching you playfully on the shoulder. But the fact remains the same: life will hit you.

           Last week, I was invited to participate in a writing retreat where blooming creative writers who want to someday write the next Harry Potter go to be inspired, write down ideas, and eat lots of really good home-cooked food and yogurt. We drove to a lodge and became hermits for three days, going out for walks now and then when it wasn’t too cold. We must have been cooped up for too long, because on the last night of the retreat, we decided to get a little crazy. We took all the bed mattresses from the loft and threw them all on the main floor. Then, we took it in turns to jump from the loft onto the mattresses. I guess you could call this “loft jumping.”

After we got tired of falling onto dirty mattresses, we decided to play a game called “Ninja Kick.” (Now you know all the weird games creative writers play, right?) In this game, one person holds two mattresses upright while another person runs at full speed straight toward them and tries to knock them down by slamming their body against the mattresses. The person behind holding the mattresses has to brace themselves and pray the person coming at them is either merciful or really weak. Or you have to be a person with actual muscle on their body to take the hit. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people.

 “Hey, Liz! It’s your turn!” one of my teachers said. I knew it was a joke because I was easily the smallest person on the retreat.

“Haha,” I laughed. Then I said, “But I can do it if you really want me to.”

“Nuh-uh,” my teacher said, laughing. “You couldn’t even hold the mattresses up.”

“Oh yeah?” I said. I knew it was a bad idea to go behind those mattresses with someone charging straight at me. I knew I would go down if I did it, but I heard myself saying, “I can do it.”

I pulled two mattresses up from the hardwood floor slowly. They were heavy. It was all I could do to drag them both upright and get them vertically aligned, one in front of the other like two oversized dominoes. I was reminded how dominoes always tend to fall, but I was determined to go through with it. I knew I would get hit, I knew I would go down, but somehow I didn’t care. I would prove to them that I could stand behind two mattresses and take a hit, even if it brought me down. I handed over my glasses to someone standing nearby so they wouldn’t break, and made sure a couple of mattresses were placed behind me when I fell backward. Then I held the two thin pieces of bedding in front of me and braced myself.

The first person came at me. Oh no, it was Kaira. I could tell by the thundering rhinoceros-like running. It was like a pounding death drum coming at me. I squeezed my arms tighter around the mattresses and shut my eyes.

POW. I don’t remember feeling the hit, but I somehow flew to the side and landed lopsided, partway on one of the mattresses and partly on the floor.

“Are you okay?” voices all around me said.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” I responded as if it had been no big deal. And it wasn’t a big deal. I wasn’t hurt. I had just taken a hit. “I’m great.”

“Let’s see if you can handle a smaller person,” they said.

They chose the next smallest person besides me, and I got ready once again behind the mattresses. This time, I wondered if I would actually be able to hold my ground. After all, she wasn’t much bigger than me. I positioned myself again with one leg bent behind me so I would be able to take the impact better. My hands firmly held both mattresses together as they both leaned heavily against my body, already threatening to tip it over even without someone running into me. I braced myself and got ready for the impact I knew was coming.

BAM. This time, I flew even further to the side, missing the mattresses behind me completely and almost slamming into a rocking chair. But the rocking chair was far from my mind even though my head had almost banged right into its hardwood arm. It was the floor that had hurt. When I had been hit, I flew to the floor and fell straight down on my backside. Instantly, I felt a jabbing pain in my tailbone and knew how stupid I had been. (Funny how it takes us getting hurt for us to realize how dumb we were being, right?)

But at the same time, even with my tailbone throbbing, I was glad I had done it for the simple reason that I had done it. I hadn’t allowed my size to determine what I could and couldn’t do. I had said I would do it, and I had followed through even if I had gotten pulverized in the process.

Some people may think I was crazy—an undersized, underweight, twenty-two year old holding up two mattresses that probably weighed the same as her while two people running at full speed slammed their full weight against her. And maybe I was a little crazy that night. But the fact remains that I learned something very important by doing this stupid, crazy thing. I learned that I can take a hit and get back up again.

In the end, it doesn’t matter who we are or what our size is. If we are all determined enough to take on the challenges that come running full speed at us in life, brace ourselves, and take the hit, we can get back up again. It might be hard; the hit might leave us dazed or hurting in uncomfortable places like our tailbone, but we can do it.

I’m not saying you should go throw yourself behind two mattresses every day and allow someone to bowl you over, but I am saying we all need to realize that hard hits are going to come our way and we need to be ready for them. Brace yourselves and pray that you’ll be strong enough to hold up against the things coming at you. But if you do fall, missing the mattresses completely and hitting the ground hard, know that it’s not over. You can get back up again.

It’s not over. Be strong, even if the only strength you have is the strength that allows you to get back up again.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Takeoffs are Inevitable

Takeoffs are inevitable, I think as I stow my polka-dot bag underneath the seat in front of me and fasten my seat belt. My mom is my sitting buddy, and before we sit down, I ask her if I can have the window seat so I can see the plane as it lifts up from the ground. I feel like I am twelve instead of twenty-two as I crane my neck to look outside. The plane gathers speed, tilts its wings upward, and lifts off, the whole world slipping away in one smooth glide. I glance over at my mom as we continue climbing. She’s clutching the armrest and chewing her gum wildly.

            “It’s okay, Mom,” I tell her. She’s afraid her ears will clog up.

I love plane rides. Lifting off the ground and leaving everything behind is so liberating. No wonder why birds seem so happy. I look out of the small, square window at all the cotton-candy clouds that stretch across the sky like fleecy mountaintops and think how beautiful the world is. The view inspires me to write a poem:

An endless snow scape is

Spread outside my window.

I crane my neck to see.

Wispy and billowing,

Cascading cotton.

The clouds hide you and me.

            It’s not the greatest, but it will do.

English is my major, and I am graduating this December. I try to write a poem about that too, but it’s not much better than my one about clouds. The ending line is the joke about how all English majors end up flipping burgers. With all the less-than-perfect poetry I’m thinking up today, I can’t help believing the joke is true. And it’s scary. I don’t want to be flipping burgers all day long with poems by Robert Frost going through my head about taking “the road less traveled.” Flipping burgers is not the road less traveled. Then again, someone has to take the worn-out path. We all can’t take the less traveled road or else it would become the more traveled road. Even though this is a good thought, it doesn’t make a career in the fast food industry any more appealing to me.

At any rate, it makes me think about what I’m going to do once I graduate, and suddenly the thought, takeoffs are inevitable comes to my mind. They’re inevitable because we all have to experience a lift off in order to get somewhere. I can’t help realizing that in less than two months I will be having one of the biggest takeoffs of my life. I will be slipping away from the college world I’ve known for the past four years and flying into something completely new and different. It would be nice if I knew I was flying into “wispy and billowing” clouds instead of endless hamburgers and fast food. But I don’t know, and the uncertainty makes my heart drop to my stomach like a paperweight.

My thoughts are disrupted as the flight attendants come down the aisle with ginger ale and Biscoff cookies that have “Delta” written in the left-hand corner in white. I take my gum out of my mouth and put it on the napkin right underneath the words, “Make every flight a delicious one.” I try composing more poems, but my heart just isn’t in it anymore. Where will I go once I have graduated? Where is my takeoff going to lead me?

Before I know it, the “fasten your seat belts” blinker comes on again, and the flight attendant announces that we will be descending.  As I buckle up, I suddenly think, landings are also inevitable. If you take off, you have to land somewhere too, don’t you? You just can’t hover in the sky forever. Despite the sinking sensation in my stomach from the descent, the thought lifts my heart. When I take off, I’ll have to land somewhere, and why couldn’t that somewhere be a good somewhere? After all, don’t you decide before you climb onto the plane where you will be landing?

Confidence and strength come to me as I realize that I’m not just going to take off blindly—I will take off with a destination in mind. And if I decide now that my takeoff is going to lead me somewhere I want to be, then why am I afraid? I am the pilot of my plane.

As we touch back down to the earth with a slight bump, I vaguely wonder if I’ll have a bumpy landing or if I’ll come in smoothly. But as I walk out of the plane into the new, unfamiliar place I have arrived at, I realize that all anyone can really do is jump on the plane and take off into the sky, believing they have the strength and ability to touch down to where they ultimately want to be.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

He Kissed My Hand... And Then I Cried

         It was a windy day, and I was wearing my high black boots with skinny jeans and a gray business jacket. I was heading down the stairs between the third and second floors of the library, when suddenly I heard hurried footsteps behind me. A guy I had never seen before in my life with jet black hair and a tall baseball cap stopped abruptly next to me. He looked at me with wide eyes.
          "What's your name?" he wanted to know.
          “Liz. What's yours?"
          He said it as though it would be music to any woman's ears. We stood there for a moment, and then he said:
          "You are ridiculously pretty."
          Oh dear. I could already tell that sweet-talking was his second language if not his first.
          "Thank you," I decided to say. "That's really nice of you."
          We continued to talk and got to the part where the guy asks for the girl's number. At this point, I told him I didn't give my number out to guys I didn't know or had just met.
          "Oh, I didn't want your number," he said. "I wanted to give you my number."
          I must have looked at him like he was crazy because then he said, “That’s the way we do it in my country.”
          “Oh, where are you from?” I asked.
          Apparently, he was from everywhere from France to Argentina. He knew about five different languages including Portuguese, Spanish, and French. Then he sat down on the stairs and invited me to sit down next to him. Nope. Not happening. I remained standing right where I was. After a while, he must have gotten uncomfortable looking up at me because he stood up. Then he told me I was “different.” He said I had "a wall" and "was more reserved than other girls." That’s right, I thought.
          "But that's okay," he said. "That's good. I like that."
          Then he stuck out his hand to shake mine. Warning alarms went off in my head, but what could I do? There his hand was hanging out in the empty space between us, and there I was standing awkwardly as people passed on the stairs. So I took the hand and shook it, saying, "Have a nice day."
          "Au chante," he said, as though his French would win me over. Then suddenly, he flipped my hand around so my palm was facing down and...
          He kissed my hand.
          I walked hurriedly away from Abe down the next flight of stairs. And suddenly, I just wanted to cry. I wanted to hide away from everyone. To be alone and away from people like Abe who come up to me and tell me I’m “ridiculously pretty” and kiss my hand goodbye.
          You may well ask, "What was the problem, Liz?" And I would honestly answer you with: "I don't know."
          Or maybe that's not an honest answer. Maybe I cried because every girl wants a guy to kiss her hand. She waits and waits for it happen, but then when it finally does, she finds out she really didn't want it. At least, not from him.
          Examining this entire experience has led me to realize some things about myself and what I really want. I realized that some girls would be flattered by Abe's forwardness, but my heart just sighed. Why? Because I want so much to find the right person in my life. I imagine finding him all the time. So when someone comes up to me, pretending to be him when I know it's not him... it just gets tiring after awhile.
          From this, I learned that I need to look at the reasons behind why I do the things that I do. Of course, it's hard to examine your life and ask yourself: "What am I really feeling?" It's not always fun. We would much rather just push the "up" button in the elevator, skipping over the painful examination of life and how we really feel about things. But if we skip over looking and thinking about our lives, simply pushing elevator buttons up and down, we're never going to move onward. Onward is not necessarily upward. Going forward in life sometimes hurts and requires us to go down first. But even if we do have to push the "down" button and examine hard things we would rather leave alone, in the end, forward is the only way we can go afterwards.