Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Remember my list?  The one that has a bunch of incredible, fantastic things I simply must do by the end of the summer? Well, something new is on the list. Something big, something brilliant, something majestical and wonderful and spectacular! Something I’ve been waiting to do my entire life. This summer, I will finally do it. This summer, I am determined to make it happen. This summer, I will (drum roll, please) learn to roll my R’s.
Stop laughing. It’s not funny. I’m serious. Think of the one thing you’ve always wished you could do. For some people, it might be something big, something important like piloting an airplane or singing opera or free-running. And for other people, it might be something smaller, but still important, like pogo sticking or talking to boys or riding a bike.
Do you know what your thing is now? Good. Now every time you feel like laughing at my not-so-secret ambition, I want you to think of how much you want your secret ambition. Because as much as you want to be able to break-dance or play the harmonica, I want to be able to roll my R’s. And at least I’m getting out there and trying, while you’re sitting here reading my dumb blog. Really? Chase your dreams, people! But finish this post first, if you don’t mind.
Sometime in the not-so-distant past, my roommate tried to teach me. (She is, conveniently, proficient in the practice of rolling R’s.) For half an hour, I made bizarre blubbering sounds with my mouth, she laughed at me, and I complained. Soon, a strange sensation took over the muscles in my face. Like when you go to the dentist and your cavity is too minor for them to put you all the way under, so they just use a topical anesthesia and you can’t close your mouth right. My. Face. Was. Numb.
But I didn’t mind, because my roommate and I were laughing too hard to worry about anything at all. This may have had something to do with the fact that it was almost 2 in the morning, but I choose to believe otherwise.
Anyway, after that failed attempt, I gave up all efforts at succeeding. But now it’s summer, and I am determined to give it another shot. Both my parents are skilled R-rollers, so I have their expert advice at my disposal. Neither of my brothers can accomplish this feat, so they have no grounds on which to ridicule me. The opportunity has arisen, and I will conquer!
So, of course, I check the Internet. This is my go-to method of seeking knowledge, and it hasn’t failed me (much) yet. I type in “How to roll your R’s,” and up come over 35 million results. It’s comforting to know I’m not the only one with this disability. We should form a support group. For those strrrrruggling with the alveolarrrr trrrrrill.
The alveolar trill:  that’s what the first link, wikiHow, calls it. I’m not entirely sure this source is trustworthy, but it seems legitimate. I mean, it lists ten pre-trilling steps, then five specialized methods with detailed directions that cater to all different types of potential trillers, then it lists some tips in case none of that insanity works! I’m feeling very hopeful about this whole R-rolling business. I’ll use just this one website, I think. I don’t see how I could try all this stuff and still be unable to execute a proper alveolar trill.
A piece of advice I got from wikiHow:  “Don't be afraid of sounding ridiculous.” Oh, so it knows that I sound ridiculous. Great. Now I’m self-conscious.  A piece of advice I have for anyone else trying their hand at this endeavor:  do NOT, for any reason, wear your retainer while the Internet teaches you to roll your R’s. Not only will you inevitably fail, your computer screen will end up coated in tiny, wet, rainbow-colored specks. Sick.
I try all the insane methods on this website, but I only succeed in making extremely loud hissing sounds and becoming light-headed. You might think I sound like a stubborn old car that doesn’t want to start. Or a tiger with a hairball. Quite honestly, it’s hilarious. But I still can’t roll my R’s.
I look to the end of the article for helpful hints, or maybe just consolation. The best they can give me is this:  Don’t worry, Lenin couldn’t roll his R’s either! Awesome. They’re comparing me to a dead communist leader. I feel SO much better now.
I’ve practically given up when I come across one last tip on the art of the alveolar trill:  try lying on an exercise ball while rolling your R’s. My mom tries this and tells me it does make it easier, so I give it a shot. AND IT WORKS! I try again. It wasn’t just a fluke. I can roll my R’s! I try it sitting up. No dice. Lying down again:  score! I’m only half successful, but I’d expected complete failure.
Roomie, you’d be so prrrrroud! (See what I did there?)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Harm, Healing, and Hope

                Yes, this is a post about writing. Probably the first of many. See, writers tend to rant a lot, but however poetic our ranting, I realize it can be quite irritating (and occasionally cliché). I apologize ahead of time. I’ll try to keep it short.
There is infinite depth in certain words. Of course, there are those that simply fly off the tongue without consequence, ricocheting off walls and eardrums, creating fainter and fainter echoes until they finally fade into nothing. But there are also those that hone in on their targets. Certain words, aimed correctly, can pierce a person’s very soul. Some words can fill a person’s veins with healing, restoration, peace. Others are capable of emptying that same person’s heart of joy and replacing it with anger, fear, even hatred.
Words have immense power.
Too often, people write off this power. “Sticks and stones may break my bones…” they chant, frantically ducking behind the frail, brittle shield of indifference. They grin in triumph, beyond the reach of those painful, piercing words. But if a person does not allow words to hurt him, how can he accept their help? The same shield that protects him from harm deprives him of healing. Of hope.
Words bear enormous hope.
One only has to know how to use them. Anyone can throw together a sentence, even a well-structured, grammatically correct one. But what makes a writer is the ability to place deeper meaning in that sentence. What’s more, a truly exceptional writer is born when a person discovers how to pierce souls with a simple phrase. How to instill fierce hope—or its frightened opposite—in those who read or hear his words. A truly exceptional writer breathes life into his words, giving them their own hopes and fears, dreams, desires. Giving them the ability to harm or to heal. Giving them worth.
Words have extraordinary worth.
We give words extraordinary worth.
Letting down our shields allows them to return the favor.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Girl vs. Lawn

                When my little brother was about three years old, he had a toy lawnmower. It was green, yellow, and black, and it was the coolest thing ever. Even I, an outspoken, self-righteous, bossy seven-year-old, had to admit I was a little bit jealous. I mean, the thing blew bubbles out the top when you pushed it across the lawn! It was even cooler than this picture of a bubble lawnmower, because the colors were WAY more macho and it actually blew real bubbles!
                Unfortunately, several years ago, my experience with lawnmowers took a dark turn for the worse. I found myself faced with a daunting task – mowing (gasp!) a real lawn. I’ve mowed many lawns since, but my most recent lawnmowing excursion was on Friday. At every turn, I felt the grass fighting back against the vicious, hungry blades of the awkward contraption in my grip. And it was my job to tame the unruly monster of an overgrown lawn into submission.
                Round 1:  Optimism
                Today, the lawn; tomorrow, the world! This is my battle cry as I head outside to cut the grass for the first time this year. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the grass is long. Extremely long. Knee-high long. So long that my backyard looks like a small, overgrown forest. I’m a little surprised my family let it get this bad while I was away at college, but I’m not discouraged. I can handle this.
                I hook the bag to the back of the lawnmower, pull the cord, and it runs beautifully. Life is good!
Girl:  1     Lawn:  0
                Round 2:  Bagging
                My optimism doesn’t last long. After about three rows, the mower starts spitting out nasty chunks of wet, sticky grass. Everywhere. It’s stuck to my shoes, and now when I try to shove the contraption forward, its confident hum fades to a pathetic little whimper. It’s time to investigate.
                I stop mowing and wheel over to the patio, where I proceed to remove the black collection bag. Grass pours out onto the concrete, and I groan. A humongous clump of wet grass is blocking the bag, and when I get it out of the way, I find the bag to be completely empty. Except for that one monstrous, irritating clump. I toss it into a paper yard waste bag (I found this very technical term online, of course) and hook the collection bag back onto the mower. If the first run is any indication, this is going to take a very long time.
Girl:  1     Lawn:  1
                Round 3:  Mud
                The mower keeps clogging with thick clods of grass, but I try to remain positive. It could be a lot worse, I tell myself. I could be mowing through poison ivy! Or, since I don’t really react to poison ivy, I could be mowing through cat hair! I’d have hives all up and down my shins! No, emptying the bag every other row is much better than that.
                Then I hit the mud. It rained yesterday, the day before that, and pretty much every other day this month, or so I’m told. I hadn’t seen any evidence of all that rainfall until now. And this evidence is now coating the lawnmower’s wheels in a thick, sticky, brown layer. Gross.
                Little rivers of muddy water are flowing across my path, and try as I might, I just can’t seem to get the contraption through them. Its wheels get stuck too easily, and the blade flicks little specks of mud onto my ankles. I give up and pull the mower back.
Girl:  1     Lawn:  2
                Round 4:  Tree
                Nursing my mud-inflicted wounds, I press onward toward a cool, shady spot on our lawn.  Normally, I would welcome the relief from the sun, but the source of this particular shade is a tree with very low-hanging branches.
                Fortunately, there’s a simple solution to this roadblock. After emptying the collection bag for what I think must be at least the thirtieth time, I duck and push the mower under the branches, which brush my back as I stand up. Problem solved. I’m back in the game.
Girl:  2     Lawn:  2
                Round 5:  Anthill
                I’m on the home stretch. The score is tied, and I’m getting anxious. Will there be another challenge to face so I can return victorious? I don’t have to wait long to find out.
                In the last little patch of grass is an enormous anthill. I’ve seen this anthill before, and I’ve always loathed it. Once, when I was thirteen, I mowed over it, oblivious to my fate. As my flip-flop fell next to the hill, an army of tiny invaders swarmed my foot. I stood my ground, calmly brushing off the ants as I finished the section of grass I was mowing.
                Okay, that was a lie. I’m a girl. I shrieked. And flailed. Let’s not go into detail with that.
                This time, I refuse to fail. I must win! I am the lawn’s intellectual, physical, and emotional superior, and I will not lose! I grit my teeth and plow forward, glad I’m wearing closed toe shoes.
                As it turns out, I had nothing to fear. The remaining rainwater must be keeping the ants busy with matters underground, because there are no little six-legged warriors leaping from the soggy mound to defend their home. I finish up the lawn, empty the bag for the last time, and head inside. I’ve won!
Final score:  Girl:  3     Lawn:  2
                Oh, the sweet, sweet smell of victory. It’s strangely similar to that of freshly cut grass…

Friday, May 20, 2011

Naming Sheridan

                I have made a list. A quickly growing list of glorious, spectacular things I plan to do this summer. And on the top of that list is “start a blog.” Okay, okay, the idea’s not exactly spectacular, per se, but it’s better than sleeping till 3 and watching TV all summer. Plus it involves writing, which is definitely spectacular.
                Once I decided to start a blog, I concluded that the next step was to name it. And, of course, this began an epic quest in search of the perfect name. And when I say epic, I mean “Frodo goes to Mordor to get rid of that incredibly inconvenient ring” epic, not “Winnie the Pooh can’t find his hunny” epic. I mean, come on. I know how to spell the word “honey.”
                My first task was, as in most epic quests, THINKING. I thought forever. I thought until my brain melted and dripped out my ears. And you know where that got me? Nowhere. I struggled with severe disappointment and tried to think with my partially melted brain until I finally realized what could solve my problem:  a simple Google search!
                Why didn’t I think of this before? How could I have been so stupid?!  Obviously, Google knows everything. It knows that the moon landing was a hoax. It knows that the world will end tomorrow. It even learned (after a very long time) that swimming across the Atlantic isn’t really the fastest way from New York to London (it doesn’t know this yet, but riding a dolphin is clearly the way to go). Google must know how to name a blog!
                So I typed “how to name your blog” in that little box and clicked the first link that came up. Guess what? It told me a bunch of things I already knew. Like, “your blog name should be short,” and, “your blog name should be catchy,” and, “it needs to sound good.” Never have I heard anything less profound.  Thanks, Google.
                Next link. Instead of three things I already knew, this one came up with ten. Great. Stupid Google Search knows the square root of pi, but it can’t figure out how to name a blog. And neither can I. I’m as dumb as an Internet search engine. Actually dumber, because I don’t know (and don’t really care) what the square root of pi is. Fantastic.
                What’s the next step? I couldn’t think of one. So I went to that baby name website and decided to name my blog Sheridan. Do you know what Sheridan means? To seek. To seek a better blog name, in this case.
                Unfortunately, Sheridan is kind of a terrible name for a blog (though it’s not too shabby for a guinea pig or small iguana). So officially, this blog will be known as Quest for Better (cheesy, I know). I’ll change it if I come up with a legitimately good name.
                Until then, say hello to Sheridan, everybody.