Get what you deserve

The other day, I read an article about how the lead singer of The Killers, Brandon Flowers, was inspired by his wife’s struggle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as he wrote many of the songs for the band’s new album. I was struck by how invested he was in his wife’s well-being and touched that he cared enough about her to take time off of touring to support her when she was doing especially poorly.

Even though I know that people who love each other should be willing to go out of their way to take care of their partner, I was still taken aback to hear the lengths he went to to be there for her. Whether in friendships or with romantic interests, it’s easy to get used to not being loved back in equal measure, to feel like you invest in others more than they give back to you. You at some point accept that that’s the way things work and just expect to drop everything for people who might just say “Oh, sorry” when you’re struggling. You work out a balance of recognizing that people can only offer so much and it’s not worth being upset over something that a person will never be able to give you.

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Deerfield, Massachusetts (photo by Rebecca Gale)

I have to pour out compassion to others, but I’ve learned to temper that down over the years and not get too invested, but it’s a little sad to realize that I’ve inadvertently been conditioned to expect that nobody outside of my family will go out of their way to help when I’m struggling. I bookmarked that article and have left it up in my Internet browser to remind me to have faith that I can find that kind of love one day – or better yet that that kind of love will find me.

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Deerfield, Massachusetts (photo by Rebecca Gale)

I jokingly call myself the queen of unrequited love sometimes. I have gotten so used to being obsessed with people who are ambivalent about me over the years, that I’ve lowered my standards for how much affection I should expect from a man. I’ve lost faith that I can ever find someone who would take off time because I was having a dark day. I’m trying to tell myself to let go of people who don’t love me the way I love them.

The truth is I deserve better. Maybe you do too. We all deserve to love and be loved.

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Deerfield, Mass. (Rebecca Gale)

You deserve someone who will stick around to get know and love your quirks and best and worst parts, who doesn’t walk away at the first sign of trouble or the first revelation of your imperfection.

You deserve someone who listens to you talk about what makes you excited, who comes to see your concert, who pours over your art, who asks about your job.

You deserve unconditional love that sees you at your lowest and still forgives and supports and understands.

You deserve somebody who is on your team and who cheers you on.

You deserve someone who knows you’re sexy, who gazes at you with That Look, who can’t take their eyes off of you.

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Deerfield, Mass. (Rebecca Gale)

You deserve someone who keeps their promises.

You deserve someone who lets you know they care and appreciate your unique self, whether through words or actions or physical affection or gifts.

You deserve someone who hangs on your words and listens to your thoughts.

You deserve someone who drives to be by your side when you don’t know how to make it through another day. Or who just drives to see you just because they miss you and it’s been too long.

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Deerfield, Mass. (Rebecca Gale)

You deserve somebody who thinks about you when they can’t sleep at night.

You deserve somebody who can’t sleep at night because they’re thinking of you.

You deserve someone who does more than the bare minimum for you.

If he or she isn’t that someone, I hope one of these days you and I both will be able to move on.

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Song of the day

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Crying in the Cafe

It’s 2pm and I am in a coffee shop. My day off was supposed to be tomorrow but I woke up this morning after a restless night turning over anxious, angsty thoughts in my head and I just couldn’t face going to work where I’m not even needed. I arranged to switch my day off to today and didn’t put a bra on for hours, idling in bed wishing I could fall asleep again to relieve the sleep deficit-induced ache in my head.

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Sturbridge, Massachusetts (photo by Rebecca Gale)

It’s one of those days where I cry at the title page of a book on archaeology. It’s beautiful but not that beautiful. I teared up again when the author incorporated the title into the text so beautifully. I straight up cried because one of my favorite Sara Bareilles songs came on the radio. I teared up again because a man walked past and I looked at his shoulders and remembered the way the shoulders of another man I know alternate between sloping endearingly and standing straight with poise and confidence I can only dream of.

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Sturbridge, Massachusetts (photo by Rebecca Gale)

I want to run away and be home and find a job I actually enjoy. But I would still feel broken and lonely and I would still remember his shoulders but not be able to lean on them when I hurt. I want to stay here in this coffee shop forever where I feel safe and cosy and emotional but it’s kind of okay. Singer-songwriters croon through the speakers and it makes me feel like maybe my own angsty music is worth writing. It reminds me I’m not the only one with too many feelings.

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Sturbridge, Massachusetts (photo by Rebecca Gale)

Sometimes life isn’t easy. And for some people life is never easy. But sometimes we find little safe havens to take shelter in while the storms rage in life. People. Embraces. Conversations. Coffee shops. Shoes. Songs. Shows.

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Basically my life today. (photo by Rebecca Gale)

My therapist keeps telling me to live in the present moment. I’m not entirely sure what the hell that means, but I guess I’m in this moment and it hurts but it also has its beauty.

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Even beautiful things get filled with ants. (Sturbridge, Mass.; Rebecca Gale)

Song of the day

Chapter Two

Today was better than other days. It’s good to get out, even if it’s hard to get yourself out there. I’ve been exhausted, struggling to adjust to my new sleep schedule, but I’ve been trying to force myself to go out and have mini-trips when I can.

Recently has featured Slater Mill, MA; Hartford, CT; Wellesley, MA; Brimfield, MA, and Sturbridge, MA, along with all the places along the way where I inevitably take a wrong tour and end up accidentally enjoying the scenic New England countryside. But I digress. Let me get to my “thank you” of today:

Today I’m thankful for people.

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Sturbridge, Massachusetts (photo by Rebecca Gale)

I’m honestly not usually thankful for people…They’re alternately annoying, frustrating, disappointing, and hurtful. Sometimes they’re all of those at once. I have trouble connecting with most people – I very rarely feel like I fit in anywhere. I’m an introvert and I definitely love my alone time, pondering life. Yet I long for meaningful friendships and relationships where I can be myself and know I’m supported.

The past couple weeks I’ve had some small moments where people I met warmed my heart, which gave me some joy to keep enduring. I started my second week of work yesterday and I had to spend about an hour helping shepherd some first graders around a museum. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past week and a half, it’s that kindergarteners and first graders are strange creatures. I sometimes question if they’re really even human.

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But as frustrating as the kids were at times (why won’t you listen to me when I tell you not to pick up fistfuls of the dirt on the road that animals regularly walk and poop in?), there was one little girl who, from the moment I joined the group, kept looking up at me like I was really cool (I’m not) and telling me random crap about her life in the most endearing way. She was quirky, and I like quirky people. I felt a little sad for her because I could tell even at 6 she was a bit of an outsider. Another little girl asked the person next to her if she could switch seats with them so she could sit next to me. This warmed my heart too. It’s nice to have a moment where you feel kind of cool.

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I found a frog in the marsh! Sometimes you have to kiss a few to find a prince.

To dust off our knees and stand back up to adult level, here’s a more comical misadventure of mine. A week ago, I was at Guitar Center looking for a new guitar with a pickup. I struck up a conversation with the staff member waiting on me, an attractive guy who seemed to be a few years older than me…and what can I say – I like older guys. I stayed probably over half an hour and he kept coming back and checking on me. The cynic in me said he just wanted the sale but the hopeless romantic in me wondered if he appreciated the unexpected visit of a young, fairly attractive woman who could talk acoustic guitars.

In the end, I had to leave before I could make a decision, so he gave me a card with his contact info on it before I left. Over the course of the hour-long ride home, I grew increasingly excited about the possibilities I began to imagine. I started to psych myself up, deciding I was going to ask this guy out. It was time I went on a proper date and he seemed normal and the other relationship I had pinned my hopes on seems to not be working out. I don’t mind asking a guy out. I know my girl friends tell me men don’t like to be pursued, but I know the kind of person I want so why not try and at least drop hints about your interest if not straight up initiate.

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My imagination runs away when it comes to relationships. I should probably move into this tiny fairy house and sequester myself from the world while I’m still ahead. (Sturbridge, Mass.)

When I got home, I decided to Google the guy before I got in touch. Lo and behold, I search the phone number he gave me, and it was the store telephone. I realized it was probably a business transaction. I laughed at my own silliness and inability to read whether men are interested in me. I felt a bit let down but a bit relieved. I don’t know if I could go on a date with someone who I didn’t know well. But people I don’t know well don’t seem interested in going on dates with me. All the same, the story is funny and I was humbled and I’m still glad to have met the guy.

But to balance out that slightly embarrassing interaction, two days ago I went to a CVS and as I was taking my bag from the cashier he told me as politely as possible, “You know, you’re really cute.” I was so surprised, I was flustered, but mostly extremely flattered and, honestly, a bit touched. I don’t think a guy has ever told me I’m cute before. I appreciate that guy’s bravery in complimenting me…I wouldn’t have had the guts to compliment a stranger, but it made my day.

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A single, unexpected, small gesture can leave you smiling with wonder. (Sturbridge, Mass.; Rebecca Gale)

People can hurt you and they can bring you unexpected joy that is like nothing else you’ll experience in life. Oftentimes the same person can bring you both. We can laugh with friends one week and complain about how they never call the next. Relationships ebb and flow and cycle; I’ve noticed people will get wrapped up in certain relationships and let their friendship with me fall to the wayside and then one day they will pick things back up with me again because their life situation or perspective changes. It used to irritate me to no end – I felt disrespected and neglected.

But with time I’ve come to accept that to some extent that’s just human nature. And when people need me, I’ll be here to listen and to try my best to empathize. I sometimes wish I had more people to do that for me, but at least I have been blessed with an incredible mother who consistently does that for me and has modeled what it is to be a compassionate, self-sacrificing, accepting human being. I value that above all else.

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The man who consumes my thoughts and heart these days…He has brought me so much joy over the past months. But also some pain. Disappointment, disillusionment, confusion, hurt – then a reconciliation that deepened our relationship beyond what I could have ever anticipated, shifting things from us being acquaintances to friends. Those conversations were invariably previous to me, as difficult as they were, because they were real and honest and I felt like he trusted and regarded me well enough that he was willing to open up. I didn’t take that lightly. It meant the world to me.

But it’s hard when you then feel like subsequently the person has shut you back out of your life after they let you be privy to their hurts and struggles. Because you’re then invested and you care and you are concerned, sometimes even worried. But you don’t want to press them for answers, yet you wonder what’s going on in their life. You want to be an encouragement but don’t know how to bridge the gap. You’re willing to pour yourself out, but you want to have at least a little indication that the person is receptive to your pursuits of a relationship.

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I’m sure lots of good memories were made here and it meant a lot to the family who once used it. Now it just looks like a dump to whoever comes by and peeks in. But it can always be fixed up again. Renewal of a relationship can be even sweeter.

Relationships are messy. And confusing. I’ve expended a lot of emotional energy and angst worrying over them the past several years. Sometimes it’s tempting to wish someone had never even been a part of your life because the hurt is so deep, the loneliness without them such a gaping hole that aches and yawns like an empty cave, making life appear that it will merely stretch into darkness from here on without them.

But I wouldn’t trade most of my relationships even if it meant I wouldn’t have some of the scars on my heart and body that I do. I learned, I grew. I keep learning. And even though you have to let go of people sometimes for your own emotional well-being, sometimes they come back.

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Sturbridge, Massachusetts – Sturbridge Treks trail (Rebecca Gale)

It’s easy to rewrite history to make a relationship all good or all bad to help yourself move towards whatever goal you have in mind – convincing yourself the person was all awful so you can break up or telling yourself that he’s perfect so you can push down those red flags that keep coming up when you daydream about finally kissing. I’m guilty of both. Maybe that’s part of the process of, well, processing a relationship. But I think the goal of a healthy acceptance of a relationship in your past is appreciation of the beautiful and acknowledgement of the ugly.

Sometimes people surprise me, even when I’m reeling from the ways other people have disappointed me.

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Still walking. Step by step. I don’t know how I’m going to make it sometimes, but I’ve felt that way many times before and I’m still here.

Chapter One

Today sucks. So did yesterday. I don’t know how to keep on going with my life. In moments like these, you wait for some big thing to come and rescue you from the unbearable pain – a declaration of love, a dream job offer, a letter of appreciation – but rarely do those things come.

I’ve found that a lot of times when you’re struggling, you have to save yourself by holding onto the little things. Look for one little thing to look forward to or to love and let it carry you. Inch by inch you drag yourself. I’m going to keep giving life one more shot. And another and another. I don’t have faith right now it will get better, but if I give up, I forfeit any chance to see.

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Today my small measure of happiness is that I love these ankle boots. I got them on clearance for $25 at DSW last fall. I tried them on and loved how European and 1970s musician-y they made me feel (plus anything Fergalicious brand has to make you feel extra confident) but I got shopping anxiety and left without them. The moment I drove out of the mall parking lot, I regretted walking away from them. I prayed they would be there the next day when I went back. They were and have made my feet happy ever since.

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Different set of boots, but they click when I walk and also make me happy #fallfashion

My friend told me he’s excited for the fall weather. I am too because I love my fall clothes – how long my legs look, how hip and singer-songwriterish I can dress. I wish he was here to see. I wish that he felt about me the way I felt about those boots…When I was out of his life, he realized how much he needed me. I know that after the last conversation we had, I felt so hollow, knowing we would be separated in less than 10 hours. I needed to pack but I felt like my soul and energy had drained out of me into the floor. I draped myself across my bed and just lay there, letting the emptiness of being alone – of being without him – wash over me. I texted him I would miss him.

He never replied.

Maybe I should have known then that he didn’t feel the same.

Now I’m just finding little things to help me survive being stranded alone away from home.

I like my boots. I like my jeans. I like my long legs. I like putting my feet up so I feel cool for once in my life. I like light flooding in windows. I like the comforting canopy of leaves on a tree. I like a good cry every once in a while.

I like that even though nobody ever loves me back, at least I love.

Maybe if I hold onto those things, I can get through today.

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Song of the Day

I wish I were pretty (I think.)

Like most people, sometimes I have moments – usually while Facebook stalking a woman who just commented on the status of a guy I’m interested in – where I sigh inwardly and say to myself, “I wish I were pretty.”

Over the years, there have been different women who I’ve secretly (or sometimes not-so-secretly) kind of hated because they are gorgeous, put-together, well-dressed, have a perfect smile, are well-accoladed on social media, turn men’s heads, and are always peppy, friendly and outgoing. I would look at these sorts of women and think to myself, “I wish I were pretty (and well-liked and outgoing and confident and positive) like her.” Before I got in bed tonight, I was on Instagram doing this exact thing.

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This flower just garnered more likes than your job announcement on Facebook. (Duke Gardens, NC; photo by Rebecca Gale)

But I think if I were honest with myself, I don’t think I really even want to look like them. I freely admit that I’m a rather wonky-looking person, but that kind of fits my personality. Most of the time, for the most part, I like the skin I’m in. There are a couple things I would (and might) change…Straight teeth would be nice. Though part of me respects middle school-aged me for deciding not to finish orthodontics and just embrace my wonky smile. But I also realize I probably look like a hillbilly vampire. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have voluptuous breasts like Victoria’s Secret models. Or really just most any normal woman who has passed through puberty. But I have come to accept my flat chest, even to like it.

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The point is, I think what I really envy about these women is not their appearance, but their attractiveness, the way they naturally draw people to like them and pursue their companionship. Women want to be their friends, know how they did their hair, like their artsy selfies on Facebook. And men, men flock to them in an odd daze of fearful infatuation. Frequently men who I’ve had a connection with and pinned my romantic hopes on end up getting hung up on one of these hot, peppy women who they feel like they can’t obtain but still hang around, drawn to their beauty and radiance. They might not ever even make a move, but they can’t seem to let go of the girl.

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Duke Gardens, NC (photo by Rebecca Gale)

As someone who has written enough songs about unrequited love to make Fearless-era Taylor Swift proud, and who frankly is still waiting to even experience a requited romantic relationship (there…I admitted it to the world), this really pisses me off and preys on my own insecurity about not being attractive enough to interest anyone because, well, historically that’s been pretty true.

I’m not sure what makes people attractive. It’s more than just their physical features, it’s their clothes, their voice, their energy, their personality, their mannerisms. I don’t know what the right combination of these things is that makes you attractive or how to obtain it. I suppose we all have different traits we find attractive in other people too. The people who will really value us will love us for who we are.

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A pensive moment. 

The one time I have come close to falling in love was with someone who was quite different from my ideal man or physical type that I tend to fall for. But I was quickly won over by who he was, and the traits that were especially quirky and different are the ones I found the most endearing. But overall, while I can point out certain physical and personality traits I especially love about this person, it’s his entirety overall that captured my heart – his presence that can’t be recreated or replaced or made up for. Someone could look just like him or have similar interests to him, but they still wouldn’t be him.

I guess it’s good to keep in mind that people who love and care for us love our entirety. When we compare ourselves to others, we tend to fall into a mindset of picking out parts of ourselves we would change, but the reality is we each are individuals that people love or hate for who we are, if that makes sense. It’s not worth trying to be different or wishing we were different. I think at the end of the day, most of us just want to be myself and be loved and appreciated for the unique conglomeration of traits that make us who we are more than we actually want to look a certain way.

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Even utilitarian things have their own beauty. (Duke Gardens, NC)

 

I’ve had a million pieces of advice given to me over the years on how to magically make yourself attractive to people. Be confident. Wear spanx. Let your body run free and burn your bra. Don’t wear makeup. Wear more makeup. Put on heels. Wear sweats. Focus on yourself. Focus on other people. Go after the men you want. Never, ever pursue a man. Concentrate on the energy you put out. Get involved in what makes you passionate.

My favorite that I constantly get is some variation of “Once you stop pursuing a relationship and focus on yourself, the right person just appears.” This sounds like a fantastic idea, only every time I attempt it, the thought in the back of my mind is constantly, “Awesome. Once I do this, whatever it is, I’ll finally find love!” So that kind of undermines the exercise.

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We forget the light that our unique personality brings to the world and the joy that our happiness brings to the ones we love. Word. (Duke Gardens, NC; photo by Rebecca Gale)

I’m not sure why I’m sharing all this personal information with you, except that I think most people, men and women, probably can relate on some level. And I think the more we admit and are vulnerable about the things we struggle with, the more we get out of our own head and can move on, and the more we help one another deal with the things that keep us up at night and keep us from being our best selves and living a happy life.

Jealousy resulting from personal insecurity can really eat you up inside. It can destroy relationships with friends and significant others. It distracts us. It preoccupies us. It’s not easy to get rid of…I’ve been in therapy long enough to know that. But admitting our insecurities, considering whether we really want to be that person we envy and why it might not solve our problems, naming our own strengths and realizing that our attractiveness lies not in individual features we pick apart but in a collective essence of a person – their appearance yes, but their quirks, their unique physical and personality traits, their voice and walk, their talents, their conversation, their interests and passions…It’s about so much more. Which I guess means we should be ourselves and embrace who we are. Because that’s who and what people will love when they love us.

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For example, I like big ducks and I cannot lie. They’re goofy and ridiculous but bring such joy to people, myself included. (Duke Gardens, NC; photo by Rebecca Gale)

And unfortunately we can’t always find people who appreciate our uniqueness, whether platonically or romantically. I’m sorry if that’s true for you right now. And even though it might not seem like it, you’re not alone in experiencing that. But I hope you can start to embrace yourself, your loneliness, and turn it into independence.

I’m not about to prescribe to anyone a treatment plan to magically fix insecurity. I’m not even going to condemn you for envying someone else. I’m tired of those didactic, condescending pep talks in articles and during conversations from friends, telling you to embrace yourself and go on a fast from men (usually given by people in happy, committed relationships, may I add.) I believe there’s a process to everything that you have to feel out for yourself. Rules and regimes work for some but not others.

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Maybe we should stop forcing ourselves to try and either 1) fit into a mold of attractiveness or 2) force ourselves to stop caring about being attractive. I’d rather just accept myself – clingy, desperate, coming on too strong sometimes and being way too shy at others – and start from there. Maybe first with finding kinder ways to describe myself.

You do you. And enjoy it.

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Be your own free koi spirit. (Duke Gardens, Durham, NC; photo by Rebecca Gale)

 

Well, that just sounds dumb…

Hi. My name is Rebecca Gale and I like to study old scrapbooks.

I’m pretty embarrassed about that…I feel self-conscious every time I have to bring it up. But I can’t seem to let go of my desire to look at these musty collections of random crap that I once described as “compressed trash bins.” They’re so strange and personal and cryptic and beautiful. They tell stories of people who didn’t get to invent gunpowder or write a best-selling novel or marry someone famous.

I love untangling those stories from the web of junk pasted onto crumbling paper and literally letting them see the light of day again. I love the sense of fulfillment that comes from giving voice to someone who has been overlooked. I love the fun discoveries that come when you open an envelope and find a love affair or a half-eaten cookie, the layers and layers of meaning, the little mysteries that will never be solved.

Beyond that, I think a little part of me is afraid that I’ll never make it into the history textbooks either, so I like to think maybe one day someone will open up the acid free archival boxes containing my own carefully constructed creations and give them a second glance. I like the thought of giving forgotten people a second life, a chance for their stories and secrets to see the light of day. Because I, too, one day will probably just be a box collecting dust on the shelf of some historical society shelf (if I’m lucky enough to even end up there.)

I know my reasons for loving scrapbooks are legitimate. I firmly believe deep down that they are treasure troves of historical knowledge worthy of attention and study. But I’m still embarrassed to admit I like researching something as girly, messy, silly and sentimental as scrapbooks, something associated with $7.99/pack Martha Stewart stickers, middle-aged moms, and glitter. Even using the term “research” to refer to them seems like a stretch. When I try to describe why I think they’re important to other people, I just get bashful and tongue-tied.

I was talking recently with my professor about how easy it is to feel insecure as a student. This summer, I participated in a fellowship program, learning about material culture studies, something I’m passionate about, but quickly realized I knew much less about than I thought. I spent a lot of the summer grappling with self-doubt, feeling dumb because I gave a wrong answer in a seminar or frustrated because I didn’t speak up when I did know the answer. I felt inferior to my colleagues who had a much more extensive knowledge of decorative arts and art history. I even occasionally felt angry, perceiving that I was belittled or underappreciated. (As a side note, I also think my teeth got even more crooked this summer, and I’d like someone to please contact my middle school orthodontist and demand a complete refund at this point.)

As I shared all this with my professor, I tried to counter-balance some of my ranting with the lessons I had learned along the way, in spite of how frustrated I had sometimes been. Mostly I was thankful for the clarity that the program brought to some of my goals for future study and my career. But at one point I also mentioned to her that maybe it was good for me to realize that I need to start finding value of my own academic abilities and scholarly worth within myself, rather than relying on external affirmation or letting myself be swayed by situations not going as I hoped or people criticizing my efforts.

My professor responded to this by telling about how she herself up until recently had constantly questioned her ability as an academic, all through the process of getting her PhD and even afterwards as she worked on writing a book. Then suddenly she realized that if she was passionate about her topic, others would see its value too. It was amazing to me that someone so obviously intelligent and capable, working in a legitimate, established, respected field of research could feel so insecure. But the more I get to know people, the more I realize that something most humans have in common is insecurity.

I’ve come across a lot of cocky people, especially in academics, who are constantly trying to name drop or network or make clear that they know just what or who it is you’re talking about. As annoyed as I get with these people, on a certain level, I feel bad for them, because I think that they’re the most insecure of us all. I could be wrong, but I think the constant efforts to prove themselves to people, even when nobody has asked them to, stem from some some need deep down to impress, which in turn comes from a fear that they are not enough.

I’ve been guilty of bragging and trying to prove myself too though most of the time my insecurity manifests itself as timidity or silent self-doubt. Either way it isn’t healthy. Insecurity in any form, about anything, eats away at us and distracts us from dedicating ourselves to whatever work or cause is our purpose in life. We drop classes, don’t turn in applications, put projects away in drawers, keep quiet instead of engaging in exploration of a topic, play it safe when we should take risks, don’t ask questions for fear of seeming ignorant, and don’t speak up for our cause or passion for fear of judgment, thus minimizing the impact we could have on the world.

Own your cause. Pursue your passion. Talk back to your doubt. Let go – bit by bit – of your insecurity. Move forward in spite of your anxiety. Speak out in spite of the fear of judgment. Continue to speak even when judgment – or perhaps worse, silence – comes. You were given certain interests and loves for a reason, so you could bring awareness to them. Unfortunately, not everyone will see the importance of your passion because not everyone is passionate about the same thing.

And sadly some people, because of their insecurity, feel the need to put down others’ passions in an attempt to validate their own. This is awful behavior, but also probably the sign that they are, deep down, a broken human being with their own self-doubt. But look for the people who are what Anne of Green Gables (another love of mine I’m always ashamed to admit) called “kindred spirits” – those who share your love. Or those who are allies, who can appreciate and support you and your love, even if it’s not theirs personally.

Cultivate relationships with those people. Take a risk and open up to them when you experience doubt about your work or even your value and ability as an academic. This is an act of strength that any good friend will respect you for and be happy to tell you not to be ridiculous, you are one of the smartest people they know, etc. And do the world a favor by being an ally, even to those who love something you just can’t get excited about, listening to their point of view, giving their work your time and attention, and letting them know that you respect their work and encouraging them to continue to pursue their passion.

Whoever you are, wherever you study, whatever you love, go for it. Do the best work that you can do. Practice articulating why what you love is worth studying. Write or speak about it for a non-academic audience to gain experience communicating your topic’s importance to the layman (no offense to non-academics – you are normal and wonderful.)

Love what you love and your passion will shine through as you speak and write about it. Others will be convinced and made to appreciate it too. Maybe not everyone, but some people. There is great power in doing work well and in doing what it is you were meant to do. Someone was meant to bring light to your topic, and that person may very well be you.

My name is Rebecca Gale, and I really love scrapbooks. (And, yes, I do make them too, okay.)

Oops, I did it again

Some things – and people – look really good on paper. Or a computer screen. They seem like a perfect fit for you, just what will make your dreams for your life come true. But those things oftentimes don’t turn out to be what you thought. They might still have a purpose in your life, teaching you things or helping you grow, but they might not bring you the happiness you thought. Whereas other things or people your friends were skeptical about or that you never anticipated would be part of your life end up being bigger blessings than you ever could have imagined.

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Havre de Grace, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

I guess it’s an irony of life. And a reminder not to discount things or people. And, for me as an anxious person who likes to map things out, it’s a reminder to have faith that things will work out apart from my own power or wisdom. I need to let go and trust that I will end up where I am supposed to be.

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Havre de Grace, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be proactive about applying for jobs or meeting people or trying to figure out potential next steps, but I think it is wise to be open to possibilities and to be aware that sometimes doors to opportunities or relationships open or close for a reason. Sometimes you just have to listen to circumstances and walk through a door that opens that might not have been your first choice…or walk away from something that isn’t panning out.

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Havre de Grace, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

I think it’s comforting to know when that when you find yourself on a path and feel like “what on earth have I gotten myself into,” there might be a reason that you’ve ended up there. Currently, I’m partway through a road trip to my next stop in life: another museum internship at a living history museum in New England. Part of me is excited for a new opportunity – even driving myself on my first road trip is an exhilarating feeling – but part of me has been plagued by doubts about whether or not I made the right choice in taking this particular path.

I’m not sure I should have moved so far away from home. I’m not sure I’ll like the work I will be doing. I wonder if I should have waited for another internship that involved writing but started later. I wonder if I should have tried harder to get a job instead of an internship. I wonder if I shouldn’t have let a desire to be close to a certain person have influenced my decision so much…Plus the more bad experiences I have where something I thought would be really cool ends up just being stressful and disappointing, the more hesitant I feel starting new things. And it doesn’t help that everyone I talk to has their own opinion about what I should be doing now that I’ve graduated.

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Havre de Grace, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

But the reality of life is that sometimes the cards just fall a certain way and because of time constraints or money issues or relationships or other situations that arise, we get pushed onto certain paths. When we’re making decisions, we can only see and know so much information to help us make our choice. And even when we make seemingly well-thought-out, logical, wise decisions, there are so many factors that can end up influencing our experience that it ends up not being what’s best for us. So we can’t put too much pressure on ourselves to figure out what the right place or person for us is, and at a certain point we just have to trust that life will take its course.

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Havre de Grace, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

This may sound like a downer, and it is an extremely frustrating reality, but I think there’s a comforting flip side to it. If you currently are afraid that maybe you should have gone to a more prestigious school or chosen a different job or moved to a city closer to home, have faith that maybe you are supposed to be here. If people are rolling their eyes when you tell them what’s next, don’t let it get you down. People like to make their own judgments about everyone else’s life, but ultimately it’s your call. And there isn’t a right or wrong choice. And the responsibility isn’t all on your shoulders. If you’re stressed out about figuring out where you’re “supposed” to be, trust that things will work themselves out.

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Havre de Grace, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

Case in point, I chose a college for my undergraduate experience that, on paper, looked like pretty much the perfect match for me. I ended up disliking most of my time there and transferred after my junior year, after chickening out twice on transferring or doing a semester study program at a different school. Looking back, I think in some ways it was the right school for me to be at, even if I wasn’t happy there and even if I wasn’t able to take classes in what really interested me, museum studies. I felt safe there and I was far enough from home that I was able to build more self-sufficiency because I couldn’t just go home when I was miserable.

But in the end, I’m glad I transferred, even if I never, ever anticipated that I wouldn’t finish my degree at what I once believed was my dream school. At the time, it seemed like my life had gone totally awry, but I ended up at another school that built my self-sufficiency through living at home instead of a “campus bubble” and commuting. Not to mention I had two wonderful professors who really mentored me and introduced me to public history, social history, and material culture studies, which I now love. I finally felt like a valued student who was part of a community, but I never would have guessed that the place where I finally felt that way would be a state school.

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Havre de Grace, Maryland…with yours truly making an appearance by accident (photo by Rebecca Gale)

Life takes you through a lot of difficult terrain, but you also sometimes end up in the place that’s right for you even when you didn’t even try to get there. And I guess even the places that don’t feel right still are. I’m not sure if this post is really saying anything worthwhile, but maybe it’ll be encouraging for anyone else out there who is afraid they screwed up their life with a bad or hasty choice or took the wrong path or whatever. I like to think everything in life has purpose, any situation can be redeemed, and somehow we end up where we’re meant to be.

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one last shot from Havre de Grace…a spontaneous stop on my road trip because I’ve always liked the name of the town and wanted to go there (plus any Chesapeake Bay town with museums = drooool.) Or maybe I was just meant to be there this afternoon 😉

Final Farewells: Historic Deerfield Fellowship Pt. 5

It’s hard to believe, but on Monday I finished up my nine-week fellowship with Historic Deerfield, a museum in Massachusetts. The last weeks of the fellowship were particularly intense as the six of us fellows were completing our 25-page research papers. We did have some brief breaks from research with fun workshops learning how to dance in 18th century America, harvest flax, and polish pewter spoons, which we used to eat ice cream!

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Using metal files to smooth out the rough edges of recently-cast pewter spoons…Who said internships were all about making copies and getting coffee! (Photo by Penny Leveritt)

Researching my paper was both fulfilling and exasperating. The late nights made me wonder whether I had graduated, but ultimately I love having the chance to uncover the incredible story of a woman who has gone unrecognized for her prolific career in social work. It was inspiring to see how full of a life Elizabeth Greene, the subject of my paper, led, especially as I start off on my own career. She never stopped working, traveling, or getting involved in her community. And as a fun twist to my research, I found out that Greene was essentially a cat lady!

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The extremely powerful and poignant entrance to Mount Vernon’s exhibit on slavery. The doors list the names of some of the enslaved people owned by George Washington and Washington’s statue can be seen beyond them. (Photo by author)

Once we had finished our papers, we gave each gave a 10-minute presentation about our research findings to the museum staff. I remember sitting down from giving my presentation, breathing a sigh of relief, and suddenly realizing the enormity of what I had accomplished this summer! We heard an incredible talk from an alum of the program, Jessie MacLeod, who curated an exhibition dedicated to talking about the experience of enslaved people at Mount Vernon. She shared some words of wisdom about representing a wider constellation of people when we tell history.

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Celebrating finishing our fellowship and giving incredible presentations! (Photo from Historic Deerfield)

After our presentations, we got to head out on a 9-day trip touring historic sites in Connecticut, New York, Delaware, DC, and Virginia as a reward for finishing our papers and a continued learning experience about how different museums are run.

We started off in Connecticut with a tour of three historic houses in the small town of Weathersfield. This stop was especially memorable because the creative executive director of these houses, the Webb Dean Stevens Museum, likes to use real food coated in hairspray to liven up the houses. Next, we visited the Yale University Art Galleries in New Haven, CT, which have incredible pieces from all different times and continents.

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Getting a behind-the-scenes look at historic photographs in the conservation lab of the art museums at Colonial Williamsburg.

We trekked down to familiar territory for yours truly – Washington, DC – where we toured the Smithsonian Castle, the monuments, the National Museum of American History, and the White House. Even though I’ve lived in the DC area my entire life, I often forget about the museums and monuments right in our backyard. It was interesting to get a behind-the-scenes tour of some of these places and see how the Smithsonian is making an effort to incorporate the stories of more Americans into the museum. It was also extremely powerful to see the lunch counter from Greensboro, NC where student protesters staged sit-ins against segregation during the Civil Rights Movement.

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Learning about Southern furniture, a previously overlooked area of decorative arts, in Colonial Williamsburg’s DeWitt Wallace Art Museum.

Our next stops were Alexandria, VA and George Washington’s Mount Vernon. We toured the powerful exhibit on slavery at Mount Vernon, which I highly recommend visiting before it goes off exhibit later this year. We also toured Colonial Williamsburg, learning about how they are changing their historic spaces to be more interactive and engaging, and Winterthur Museum in Delaware, learning about their graduate program in American material culture studies. Our last stop was at Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow, New York to learn about early Dutch American culture, agricultural practices, and slavery.

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Panoramic of Mount Vernon (photo by author)

Overall, this summer has been full of learning opportunities and an enormous chance for personal growth for me. Stressful situations are difficult but also can change you as you overcome obstacles. I’m indebted to everyone who allowed me to have this opportunity, in particular Historic Deerfield and my professors at the Universities at Shady Grove‘s history program with UMBC. This is also sadly my last post here on Around the Grove, so I want to thank everyone who allowed me the chance to be a student blogger because I’ve enjoyed it immensely. Best of luck to everyone as you start a new school year!

Trekking Along: Summer Fellowship Pt. 4

This was originally written for the Universities at Shady Grove’s student blog “Around the Grove on July 25, 2017 as an installment of a three-part series about my participation in Historic Deerfield’s Summer Fellowship Program in material culture studies.

If there’s one thing I’ve accomplished this summer during my fellowship at Historic Deerfield, it’s a lot of walking! Between trekking up and down the mile-long Main Street of town and going on trips to local museums and historic sites, I’ve really broken in every pair of shoes I own and toned my calves. But I’ve also been learning a lot about both myself and New England history.

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Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, MA is a fun, interactive historic site recreating where the first Pilgrims who immigrated to the U.S. lived. You can sit on chairs and talk to real-life “Pilgrims.” (Photo by author)

Some of the highlights of the past three weeks since my last post have been visiting the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem, Plimoth Plantation (a recreation of the village where the pilgrims settled), and the island of Newport, Rhode Island. These trips have allowed us fellows to see different ways of running a museum and designing exhibits, and have given us the chance to interact with staff members and learn about their jobs.

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The interior of Marble House, one of the mansions owned by the Vanderbilt family in Newport. It was jaw-dropping to see the wealth of families who summered on the island. (Photo by author)

I’ve also given tours of two historic houses owned by Historic Deerfield, which was quite a challenge! We only had three days of shadowing current tour guides and then had to give tours to the public. This was a great lesson in the idea that “you know more than you think.” I was not very confident about my ability to give a tour so soon, but I was surprised by how well things went. Even when you’re not confident in your abilities, it’s always worth giving something a try.

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Looking at an eighteenth-century silk gown with one of the museum’s curators during a seminar on historic clothing.

Currently, our last major project of the summer before we go on our week-and-a-half long road trip is finishing writing our research papers. Each of us have chosen a topic related to New England history and are using the museum’s library and archives to do research. I have been looking at a scrapbook created by a woman from Greenfield, Massachusetts, in which she documents her life story as an older woman. I was very excited to find a topic that had a Maryland connection; the woman, Elizabeth Greene, got a Master’s Degree from Johns Hopkins in 1917 and lived and worked in the Baltimore area for parts of her life. She had a pretty incredible two-decade career in social work, amazing for a woman living in the early 1900s!

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One of the pages of the scrapbook I’m basing my paper off of. Greene, who created the scrapbook, is the woman sitting one seat from the left in the large photograph, and she is surrounded by people connected with Johns Hopkins. Sadly, she was a supporter of the eugenics movement, and the paper above the photo describes a class she took in the subject. The other photos on the right page document a vacation she took. My favorite is the one at the bottom of someone trying to stand on their head on the beach! (Photo by author, scrapbook is property of Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association)

Next week we will turn in and present on our papers for the museum staff, so the pressure is on to write! Of course, I’m also starting on the job hunt, so there is a lot to do right now, but I’ve also learned so much…the summer has flown by.

Read my previous posts about my fellowship here and here.

People Need other People

Yesterday I was on my way home when I walked past an older man who often sits on a bench on Main Street, taking in the ambiance, I guess. I’ve talked to him a couple times before, so I slowed down and said him, asking how he was. He inquired about my own life and I told him I was writing a research paper which was taking up most of my time at the moment.

He spoke some encouraging words about being able to finish and asked me what my plans for after the summer were. I hemmed and hawed, explaining I was in the middle of trying to figure something out; the subject has been weighing on my mind lately. He abruptly interjected, “You know, you’ve got personality. And that means you’re going to go far.”

I scrambled for words to thank him for such an unexpected compliment. Being a shy person, usually personality is the last term people use to describe me. People who have only met me a few times tend to assume I’m a placid doormat with a kind soul and a quiet voice, which may be true, but I always get frustrated that people don’t get to see the witty side of me, the side that loves dancing and singing along to the radio, making off-color jokes and doing impersonations and complaining about people I don’t like. Here was this man I had talked to for maybe five minutes of my entire life saying I had personality.

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Oxford, England…Different bench, different place, different people, but same idea, y’know. (Photo by author)

He went on to explain that hardly any other young people stopped and talked to him or even say hi. And then he told me about his own years of running the hockey rink at the local school, how he would keep an eye on people and notice when they were upset. How he knew one boy had diabetic seizures and called an ambulance because the kid didn’t look well and ended up saving his life.

How another time he saw a student sitting in the bleachers looking pensive and went up and asked what was wrong. The boy said his parents were getting divorced and he didn’t know who to stay with. This man drove the boy that weekend to talk to both of his parents and figure out what to do. I bet plenty of people assumed the kids at this place had so much money they didn’t need any other help, but those kids were just as needy as anyone else.

The school is going to name a room in the new hockey rink after this man. His hands shake and he has chronic migraines now. He can’t fly anymore because of an aneurysm in his neck. He told me he was afraid soon he’d have to stop driving on his own. We’re all frail and limited in what we can do. I’m sure at a ritzy prep school nobody thought much of the hockey rink manager, but as I stood there listening to his stories, I was struck by what a legacy he had left, beyond just a name above a door. He has left an imprint on a constellation of lives. I swear during the ten minutes I stood there, at least three people must have driven past and waved to him.

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Oxford England. I appreciate people who sit and enjoy the ambiance of a place. (Photo by author)

At the very least, this man brightened my day. Most of my summer here, I’ve felt inferior. I’ve felt bad for being the person who doesn’t have the next ten years mapped out. I’ve hated how quietly I talk and how awkward I am. How much I suck at networking because I get socially anxious and overwhelmed. Someone telling me I’m gonna go far and have personality? Thank you. I needed that.

I don’t know if I’ll do anything great in life or work at Sotheby’s like one of this guy’s former students, but I hope I can do what he has done – keep an eye out for people who are hurting and go out of my way to help them through whatever is going on. I don’t know if that will actually help me in my career the way this man suggested, but either way, people matter more than my LinkedIn profile. I’d rather leave this world knowing I helped people feel listened to than knowing that they knew what my name is. People need other people, and people need to know that someone is in their corner.