Sarah R. Callender

Archive for January, 2012|Monthly archive page


In General on January 19, 2012 at 8:36 am

A few weeks ago, some friends and I went out for drinks and then dinner and then more drinks. We all have boys in 3rd grade (age eight and nine), all in varying degrees of social maturity. Buddy, for example, thinks the word “nipple” is just about the funniest word ever invented. So do I. Just utter the word and he (and I) will roll on the floor in hysterics.

On the other end of the spectrum lies my friend’s son, Harvey (a fake name). Of all my friends’ sons, Harvey is the most mature in terms of his awareness of the opposite sex. He is soulful and shaggy-haired with big brown eyes and nice cheekbones. He’s an amazing athlete, too, and while he’s “all boy,” he’s also great with adults. A little while back he asked me, “How’s it going having two kids in two different schools? Is that hard?”

My first thought: You’re only EIGHT!

My second thought: You’re thoughtful enough to understand the hassle of having kids in different schools? MARRY ME!

What I said: “Thanks for asking, Harvey. You know, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. You’re so thoughtful to ask!”

This brief interaction must explain why third grade girls (and a few moms I know) dig Harvey: 1)  he’s cute, 2) he asks questions about a woman’s feelings.

So at dinner, my friends and I were talking about how smitten Harvey has been for one of his classmates. Seriously smitten. It’s adorable. It’s been going on for months, this smittenness.

“Ahhh. Harvey’s going to be such a heartbreaker,” I said.

“Really?” his mom/my friend said. She looked worried. She’s just about the nicest woman ever, as is her husband. The last thing they’d want is to know their son is leaving lines of cleat-stomped hearts in his wake.

I nodded. “But it’s OK, because unfortunately, he’ll likely get his heart broken, too. He will break hearts, and his heart will get broken. It’s inevitable. He’s just got a lot of love in him. Chicks dig that.”

I paused then, to stick my left hand under my right armpit and pump my bent right arm up and down like a chicken wing, doing that armpit-farting thing that kids (and I) like to do when appropriate. Or inappropriate.

“And then there’s Buddy,” I said, still armpit-farting. “Buddy who’s got a lot of armpit farting ability in him. Chicks don’t dig that. We’ll be lucky if Buddy starts dating by the time he hits thirty.”

Which is fine by me. It gives me plenty of time to help him land a mate who will adore and appreciate me. Who will refer to me as The Best Mother-in-Law Ever.

This conversation about Harvey Heartbreaker made me think about heartbreak, my own. Also that which Buddy and Sweetie may some day experience.

It breaks my heart to think that some guy/gal could break the hearts of Buddy and Sweetie. Especially Sweetie. And jeez, Buddy too! Especially Buddy because he will not see it coming, being that he’s not the most socially aware kid I’ve ever met (a blessing and a curse). It’ll devastate him. And poor Sweetie, she’ll find it difficult to ever trust again. Ack!

As someone who has had her heart broken by many a sailor (three), I wouldn’t wish it on even my two worst enemies (Darth Vader and Michelle Bachman).

Yet in spite of the pain, I suppose some part of me is grateful to have had the experience. To know what true heartbreak feels like. To know that I can survive it.

Perhaps it’s part of Life’s required reading. Like how in college, I, an English major, had to take Intro to Geology and Math for Idiots. It’s just part of what you have to go through if you want a PhD in Life.

But do I wish heartbreak on Buddy and Sweetie?

Of the three gentlemen who broke my heart, two of them might say that at some point in the relationship, I also broke their hearts. So that’s good; as a first-born, type A-minus kind of gal, I appreciate fairness and equity in all matters, including love.

But the third heartbreak smarted something terrible, likely because it was 100% one-sided. Almost two decades later, thinking of it makes me feel a bit punched in the gut.

I will say this: This fellow was, and probably still is, a lovely human being. Kind, smart, funny, handsome, successful, a fast runner.

The break up went a little somethin’ like this:

23-year-old Sarah: I’m worried you don’t feel the things for me that you think you’re supposed to feel. I also worry that you think I’m a little chubby.

Fast Runner Boyfriend: (pauses; looks uncomfortable; pauses some more.) Um. Gosh. I’m so sorry (gets a little teary). I don’t know . . . maybe . . . you may be right, Sarah.

Sarah: (doesn’t cry, which is unusual.) Oh. I’m right? Really? (Long pause while Sarah wonders if she might throw up.) Well. WELL! Maybe you should leave and figure out your stuff. And please do NOT call me until you have. Figured out your stuff. OK? Got it?

She hugs him then, because he’s crying and Sarah always feels bad when others feel bad, even after they’ve just said mean things to/about her.

Fast Runner Boyfriend leaves and doesn’t call and doesn’t call and doesn’t call. Sarah is confused. It shouldn’t take this long to figure out his stuff when the answer is so clear: He Loves Her. After all, Sarah wants to remind him, we had decided what we were going to name our children!

Meanwhile, Sarah, a high school English teacher, has a hard time concentrating on lesson plans and Shakespeare and five paragraph essays. To make matters worse, she has heartbreak-related digestive issues and, throughout the day, finds it very difficult to breathe. Because she’s a total train wreck, she decides it’s both prudent and necessary to show the Mel Gibson version of Hamlet during class, during which she writes seething letters to Fast Running Ex-Boyfriend. Letters that will never be sent. Letters filled with angry words not becoming of a lady. Plus, with the classroom lights off, she can cry a little. 

But! On the last day of Sarah’s first year of teaching (three weeks after the break up), Sarah receives a flower delivery. More of a flowering plant delivery, to be accurate, one with a tag that says Gloxinia.

This is a Gloxinia.

Sarah thinks it’s an odd flower to send one’s girlfriend, as the plant sounds more like a venereal disease than a romantic symbol of one’s love.

But she doesn’t care! Because the card says: Congratulations on finishing your first year of teaching! –Fast Runner Boyfriend

Sarah is jubilant. She understands then that he DOES feel the right things for her! He doesn’t think she’s chubby! He was just confused and temporarily stupid! Everything will be OK! Gloxinia is her new favorite flower!

When she hurries to call Fast Runner Contrite Boyfriend, you know, to thank him, the conversation goes a little like this:

Sarah: Hey. I got the flowers. Thank you. They’re so pretty.

Fast Runner Guy: Yeah. Well, it’s a big deal to finish your first year of teaching. I’m really proud of you.

Sarah: (smiling humongously) Thanks. That’s so nice . . . I didn’t expect it. Gosh, it’s nice to hear your voice. How are you?

Fast Runner Guy: Good . . . busy. But Sarah? I just don’t think . . . I don’t think we should see each other anymore.

Sarah: What?

Fast Runner Heartcrusher: I’m sorry. I just don’t think I feel the right things–

Sarah: Hold on. You send me a Gloxinia and then when I call you to thank you, you BREAK UP WITH ME?

Fast Runner Annihilater of Self Esteem: I’m sorry. I just don’t feel the right things for you . . .

After that, everything went black.

I do know that I marched into the entry where the Gloxinia was perkily sitting on a little entry table. I picked up that plant by the blossoms and threw that plant as hard as I could down the very long hallway of the apartment I shared with three dear college friends. I think I made one of those sounds that sounds more animal than human as I threw that Gloxinia. Dirt went everywhere, and the plant narrowly missed hitting my BFF, Ann, who sat reading on the couch.

So back to my original question: is having one’s heart broken, in the end, beneficial? Is it something good to experience, simply part of Life that most of us must endure? If I wouldn’t wish it on Darth Vader, why would I wish it on Buddy and Sweetie?

An article in Men’s Health stated this research on the science of heartbreak:

Over the past decade, evolutionary psychologists, neuroscientists, and pharmaceutical researchers alike have begun to shed fascinating new light on heartbreak. The forces that bind two people in union are powerful, but love’s dissolution is more potent still — a trauma to the brain and body that in some cases can be all but indistinguishable from mental illness.

In the book A General Theory of Love, three research psychiatrists say romantic rejection triggers a two-phased response in humans as well as many other mammals. During the initial protest stage, our brains are flooded with extra dopamine, norepinephrine, and similar excitatory compounds — leaving us more obsessed, energized, and desperately in love than ever. Such “frustration attraction” provides extreme motivation to regain our beloved.

“When something is enormously important to us, it makes sense that we don’t give up too easily,” says Arthur Aron, Ph.D., a professor of social psychology at Stony Brook University.

With the help of fMRI scanning, Aron, Fisher, and Brown have begun to reveal the relentless neural pathways that goad such efforts. Early scans of volunteers who were “truly, madly, deeply” in love showed activation patterns reminiscent of getting a cocaine hit. A follow-up study of heart­broken individuals who had been recently dumped by mates they still adored showed activity in some of the same basic regions lit by an addiction. But it had shifted slightly — to regions seen in compulsive gamblers craving a big win.

In other words, we seem to become as desperate as junkies deprived of a fix. For a while, at least, says Fisher, neurons that have become accustomed to love’s chemical rewards become even more active when such rewards are delayed. The system curbs itself only when the hit never comes, and then the hopelessness of heartbreak’s second phase, resignation, sets in.

With the abandonment of hope often comes deep pessimism and self-recrimination over the many ways we’ve screwed up. Though it’s highly unpleasant at the time, evolutionary biologists suspect such forced introspection is necessary for us to learn from our loss. “When you’ve suffered a major setback in life,” says Keller, “it’s actually unhealthy to feel optimistic. The pain and obsessive thoughts of heartbreak force us to gear back and really think things through, examine our strategies and ­mistakes before we rush out and try again.”

Interesting. It’s true that the “pain and obsessive thoughts” of break-up made me feel and act like a mentally ill nutball. Yet the experience also made me a little more cautious. That’s a good thing, I suppose, for someone who never really employed much Love Caution.

There’s also this bit of very good news: had Fast Runner Guy not broken up with me, I might still be with him, probably not as happy as I am, living in a place that’s not as awesome as Seattle. Worst of all, I’d be living without Husbandio. That makes me feel worse than the worst heartache ever could.

Life can fast-pitch some pretty tough stuff in our direction. Maybe that’s OK.

I suppose some day, if Buddy takes a few lessons from Harvey, or, if he eventually finds someone who appreciates armpit farting, and if Sweetie finds someone who admires her very weird outfits, and those people break their hearts, I will want to punch the heartbreakers in the face and then in the stomach.

But after much punching, I will know to hug my children and wipe their tears and help them breathe, eventually reminding them that there’s a better mate out there somewhere. . . probably just over that second hill, just three or four or a hundred blocks away, just a few miles down the highway.

Plus, twenty years from now, Buddy and Sweetie will have a good breakup story to share with thousands of people.

Now, do I dare ask . . . what’s your best break-up story? After the fact, are you glad it happened? Is heartbreak part of Life’s required reading? Please share (just use appropriate pseudonyms).



In General, Writing on January 3, 2012 at 11:14 am

I’m thrilled to be blogging over at Writer Unboxed today. Don’t worry if you’re not a writer . . . if you have a brain, you are more than welcome to mosey on over. Just click here. Thanks for reading!


In Faith, General, Writing on January 1, 2012 at 11:57 am

Have you ever read T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”? It’s a good one, for lots of reasons. Here’s a link to the complete poem if you care to read it. Or, in the case that poetry gives you hives, let me simply share a few lines that often come to mind right around the New Year.

Poor J. Alfred Prufrock, the balding, indecisive, middle-age narrator of the poem. He ponders:

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all;
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

Prufrock is living his life like an “etherized patient” often wondering, “Do I dare?”  A mousy sort of fellow, he asks, “Should I, after tea and cakes and ices / Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?” Worst of all, Prufrock “measures out [his] life” with something as mundane as coffee spoons.

I suppose, if we, like Prufrock, believe our lives are mundane and dull, why would we measure them with anything other than an ordinary utensil?

But let’s assume for a moment, that our lives are something other than ordinary and mundane. Do I dare to consider such a thing? Do you?

Of course, you may (unless you are Queen Elizabeth or Amelia Earhart or the Dalai Lama) feel ordinary at times. Maybe many times each day. I do. But does that mean we are ordinary people? Does that mean we should look back at 2011, our coffee spoons clutched tight in our hands, measuring the worth of the past year?

No way, José.

Even amid the mundane elements, the chores and routines, our lives are filled with quite a lot that is unordinary. If you know where to look.

I submit this idea to you: each event in our life matters. Sure, some matter more than others, but each action (or inaction) impacts the world in some way.

I’d like to spend just a moment or two sharing some blog-related news and updates, some happy, some sad, some weird, one that made me cry in Safeway, another that made me blush in Safeway, all of which could seem unremarkable to others but matter to ordinary-yet-not-ordinary me.

Let’s start with Abe. You fellow Abraham Lincoln lovers may have heard the thrilling news: December of 2012 will bring a film about Abraham Lincoln where Daniel Day-Lewis plays Abe.

While this particular visual (DDL is on the left, AL is on the right) does not reflect the utter hotness of either man, I trust the movie will include bits of The Young Lincoln. Ha-cha-cha. If you want to go see it together, just let me know.

In other breaking news (and in light of my love of the weirdness of organic produce, second only to my love of dead, depressive presidents) I give you this photo, taken shortly after purchasing this behemoth at PCC, the local organic grocery co-op.

What’s important is not that I have posted such a mad-looking, unshowered photo of myself. What is important is the size of that big, hairy carrot. It is, as you can see, almost as wide as my face. And I needed to share it with you.

As for my well-voiced Safeway checker, the romance continues.  Just before the holidays, I went to Safeway and was wandering the wine aisle, wondering how many bottles of Riesling I should purchase, when I heard The Voice.

I immediately felt my whole face get hot, and I turned to see that my well-voiced checker had, in fact, gotten a promotion. He’s now the wine steward!

I had to fight every instinct not to ask my well-voiced wine steward to just stroll down the aisle and read the names of wine. Read the ingredients of each bottle. Read the Don’t Drink This if You’re Pregnant warnings. Anything. Just talk to me in that voice, and I am yours.

But I didn’t say that. I just stood there feeling a little sweaty and happy for him. He, apparently, is the opposite of Mr. Prufrock. Which I always suspected.

Of course, when one is trying to live an un-Prufrock life, there’s bound to be some sadness too. And here it is: my lovely agent is leaving agenting. I received this news just two weeks ago.

Well. As a result of the out-of-the-blueness of this news, I have been a bit sad and sideways. I have cried (twice) in the dairy section of Safeway and (just once) at an otherwise fabulous Christmas Eve party with dear friends.

After the Safeway and Christmas crying, the terror arrived on the scene. Loud terror, arriving on the loudest of jet skis on an otherwise-quiet lake, launching itself off the wake left by the shock and sadness.

It was mean terror, too, terror that hollered stuff about how my fab, now-former agent was the only agent in the world who would ever like my book. Stuff about how, back in 2010, I had somehow managed to find the only agent in the universe who 1) was insane enough to represent me, and 2) apparently took on one charity case book each year, just out of the goodness of her kindhearted heart.

But after a few days, thank goodness, those jet skiing hot dogs of terror ran out of gas. That’s the thing about terror: it doesn’t know how to pump its own gas.

Unfortunately, when the terror faded, in slunk a small, well-knotted rope of depression, mostly due to this realization: I would now have to do another agent search.

In case you haven’t experienced an agent search, I’ll share this: searching for an agent is roughly as fun as getting a dental check-up while completely naked. Roughly as fun. It depends on the dentist, of course, and the sensitivity of your teeth. And how you feel about public nudity.

So let’s just say I was both thrilled and surprised when, strangely, I woke up on Wednesday, to a total absence of depression and terror and sadness. No sign of their henchmen, either. In their place, stood only good and helpful things. Excitement, certainty and hope. Peace. Courage.  Whew . . . thanks, God.

It reminded me of a little spider I once knew, very briefly, one whose beautiful web I decimated. That plucky arachnid would have told me this: When some clod walks through your web, get back up there on that branch or garbage can or that corner of the living room and start spinning your heart out.

Getting a novel published requires talent, sure. But it also requires tenacity, the ability to nurse the bruises, apply some Arnica gel, and get back into the game.

So I have. I have reached out to many of my writer and author friends, all of whom have been more generous than Santa with their empathy and wisdom, all of whom have offered to help me in every way possible. It gets me a little weepy, that’s how grateful I am to them, to you, writer pals.

I have a good list of agents to query.

I have a manuscript that’s even more polished than the last time I went searching for an agent.

All of this makes my brain take a huge sigh of relief.

Of course, there have been many other highlights, but that’s enough for now. But tit for tat. Will you take a moment to share some of your highlights? Some of your anti-Prufrock moments? How do you hope to make 2012 something that’s the opposite of ordinary? How has 2011 offered you sparks of magic or joy or pain? In what ways have you grown or changed in unique, totally unordinary ways?

I’d love to hear. Those of us who get out of bed each day and live life as the very cool gift that it is, deserve some recognition for such an anti-Prufrockian feat. So share, please.

And if you’re more of a Reader than a Sharer, thank you for reading. I am grateful to have such an unordinary group of readers in my life.

In fact, allow me to make a toast: Here’s to 2012, a year during which, when we ask, Do I dare? some part of our selves will yell, “Yes!” in a very big, very loud voice.