Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
You can also find Monica's writing here:

It looks like rain and other small talkisms that destroy me

At work I dutifully engage in the requisite, mostly weather-related, conversations required to grease the wheels of the small talk necessary to make a trip to the coffee machine or restroom not completely, unbearably awkward. These conversations about weather are doubly painful not only for the torturous nature of small talk, but because I happen to work at AccuWeather. The last thing I want to do on a coffee break is discuss the weather.

"Yes, Sharon, it IS unseasonably warm for this early in Spring!"

After these interactions wherein I crank up the charm and bury the charisma needle in red, I often shake my head at myself and mutter "What an asshole" as I walk away. I'm referring to myself, by the way, not the innocent soul with whom I just chit-chatted about the cold or what day of the week it is. Days of the week: another work small-talk go-to.

"How you doin?"

"It's Thursday! We're almost there, Bob!" Finger gun to my head as I round the corner because WHO AM I? A person who says things like I'm hangin' in here Carl, just have a case of the Mondays, I guess. Corporate Monica who is very much concerned about office-related small talk that lubricates otherwise painful social interactions.

I'm an asshole because I detest these interactions and yet there I am, faithfully adhering to the social contract of work small talk in these United States. And I'm not just eagerly following the rules, I crank that shit into overdrive, I rev the engines of small talk, shift into gear and lay rubber with my feigned enthusiasm for the abhorrent ritual because I can't not. I am obsessed with your comfort level, always at the expense of mine.

Maybe it's my fault, though. Maybe everyone else is perfectly content to luxuriate in silence. I have consciously tried to sit in silence with another human being or in a group setting without attempting to improve the scenario with polite questions and small talk and I can't do it. The silence is unbearable, but maybe only for me. Do others even find the silences uncomfortable or is the fact that I'm perceiving discomfort my problem?

It's not just small talk, either. I have spent my entire life overly concerned with the comfort level of others. A people pleaser to the detriment of my own well-being. I can't help it. At social events I keep conversations flowing like I'm being paid by the host even as I long to go home, take off my pants, eat chips and watch TV. It's exhausting and why I require recovery time after any event that causes me to curl my eyelashes, leave the house and interact with humans for more than an hour. I'm constantly worried about your goddamn comfort level.

Is he enjoying this conversation?

I should ask him about his family, he might like that.

He looks uncomfortable, I should change the subject to his job.

"Oh, you're a (insert whatever job here), that must be really interesting. What's your favorite thing about your job?

***10 minutes later***

"So you met your wife at your job but she's not there anymore? You're divorced? With two kids? Ugh, that must be difficult, how are the kids handling it? Ooh, you're dating? Is it serious?"

People love to talk about themselves, I've found. Even the quiet ones. I walk away from these interactions knowing more about someone than their relatives and realize they never asked me a single question. Is it because I didn't give them a chance what with my awkward silence phobia or because people spend most of their time hiding behind keyboards these days and suck at actual conversations? Why do I always feel like I'm doing the heavy conversational lifting, is what I'm asking.

It's rare that I find myself in an engaging, reciprocal conversation. When they do happen, the engaging conversations, I go all Anne of Green Gables, mentally declaring someone my kindred spirit, probably because I'm thrilled they're sharing the conversational burden and not even because what they're saying is all that enthralling. Interact with me during a conversation by offering up a cool fact or interesting story or maybe ask me a few questions about my life and I'll be blown away by your effervescent charm. Am I just that hard up for good conversation? Yes. Yes I am. The conversational bar is set very low these days, I am easy to charm and yet I am rarely charmed.

Maybe I should explode the whole motherfucker and roll with weird, uncomfortable silences from here on out. Terminate small talk effective immediately. Stop working so hard to keep conversations flowing. What do I care? I'm 41 and tired. Let someone else do the work now. Except I won't. I'll bury that charisma needle in red every damn time because awkward silences destroy me, they are my Kryptonite and there is nothing to be done about it. Except complain in blog posts.

Woman in Search of Women Part 2

A post shared by @monicabielanko on

I'm a woman, sure, but I don't know fuck-all about courting women. At least I don't think I do. Is it really all that different from flirting with a guy? In my limited experience, sometimes it's vastly different and other times flirting is flirting, regardless of sex or gender identity.

Still, for a brief moment my nerves win and I wonder what business I have driving through the dusky evening, steering in the direction of the bar & grill at which my Tinder match and I had agreed to meet for drinks.

She was smart and funny - via text, anyway. And bisexual, which was a relief. I was tiptoeing into an unfamiliar universe and loathe to piss off anyone who could potentially perceive me as some kind of lesbian tourist. Besides, it wasn't tourism. I've always been attracted to women. As far back as I can remember, I've been intrigued by women. My upbringing simply didn't allow for the curiosity to even manifest as a conscious thought in my head. Can it be tourism if I'm open to buying a house in the region?

Sexiness is subjective and those who land on my sexy spectrum generally do so for reasons difficult to define but that rarely have much to do with appearance. Intellect and humor are the tits and ass of my world. Which is not to say that tits and ass don't hold sway, because tits and ass sway beautifully, it's just that it's possible to do without them, but without intellect and humor there is nothing. And then there is the way one carries oneself, a combination of the physical and that mystical essence of a person that make them so uniquely them. A certain tilt of the head, a gentle tucking of hair behind an ear, biting a lip while deep in thought, the sway of hips while walking, how she looks when she's listening to me tell her something. Eye contact is everything. She looks away, looks back, tucks her hair behind her ear, bites her lip, then laughs. Looks away again. This exchange of physical-ness is equally as important as the actual conversation, sometimes even more important.

I pulled into the parking lot, checked myself in my mirror one last time and walked into the bar.

Woman in Search of Women Part 1

A post shared by @monicabielanko on

About a year after my divorce I ventured onto Tinder and clicked the box that prompts both men and women to show up in the videogame-esque dating app that allows you to indiscriminately swipe people in and out of your life based solely on appearance. As I live near a city smack in the middle of the enormous rectangle that is Pennsylvania, pickins was slim. Penn State is located here, so while it is a college town, I was 37 at the time, which, for me, ruled out a large percentage of the collegiate population, although there was a brief but certainly educational dalliance with a sexy Argentinian grad student.

Bernardo was an invaluable acquaintance as I attempted to rediscover my sexuality amid the smoldering wreckage of my divorce. But it wasn't strictly a physical thing. About a week after meeting him my beloved dog Max died. Bernardo allowed me to cry on his couch while he studied. He'd serve me tea, occasionally adjust the blanket he'd draped over me and play M. Ward's Hold Time album on his turntable, the perfect soundtrack to debilitating grief.

If I thought quality available men in the area were lacking - on Tinder, anyway - women (seeking other women) were nonexistent. Profiles like "Power of God blesses me every day. Constant work in progress, getting closer to who I want to be every day. Love pizza, my cat, tequila slammers and dancing but not necessarily in that order lol" left much to be desired.

I'd almost decided to delete the app when I saw her. Cute thirty-something blonde, director of something that involved advocating for children and a smattering of photos revealing she also liked to play in the great outdoors. Attractive woman who spends her worklife concerned about the well-being of children and also likes to get outside and have some fun? Fuck it. Let's give this thing a go, I thought and swiped right.

Blood Red Sentimental Blues

The fucked up thing about it is that because I was the one who initiated divorce he indisputably became the heartbroken victim. My broken heart, although equally savage, is constantly written off as my choice.

"You're the one that wanted the divorce," is the glib response when I express valid hurt over a devastating outcome related to the end of my marriage and life as I knew it.

I didn't choose divorce. Who wants divorce? Isn't it considered the worst possible outcome for both people involved in the relationship? It's the worst thing that ever happened to me, the hardest thing I've ever experienced. Divorce eventually became the only option. And if you don't get that, if your knee-jerk reaction is that I "didn't try hard enough," then you don't understand how relationships work. It's a stupid, offensive statement.

So maybe I'm not as far along as I should be in the grieving process. Maybe I will never get to where some people think I should be at this point in time. Maybe I'm just fuckin' nuts. Regardless, no two divorces are even remotely alike and what I feel about the end of my marriage and the divorce that took its place is my response to my own very personal experience. His experience, even though it's in relation to the same divorce, is not even a relatable experience. He's struggling through his own divorce experience that, from my vantage point, doesn't resemble mine at all. No one else will ever know the intricate ins and outs and myriad fucked-upness that seem insurmountable to me a lot of the time. There is no timeline for what you're supposed to feel and when you're supposed to feel it. Just try to survive to the end of the day and call it a win. I lost today.


Ride Your Pony Thank You Jesus

A motorcycle thunders past my living room window and Billy Idol's "Mony Mony" lingers in the air like smoke, instantly calling forth air-conditionlesss summer MTV marathon memories from my pre-teen years.

Ride your pony. Ride your pony, Idol's top lip violently curling heavenward.

Humidity hangs as heavily as the perpetually wet beach towels decorating the side porch railing. Dory, Nemo and the Paw Patrol gang, official flags of summer.

Feel all right, I said yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah...

Feels like rain. Smells like rain. Looks like rain. Air like the bladder of a pregnant woman, forced to release a deluge on this little town tucked in the rolling green hills of Central Pennsylvania. A tired breeze filters through the window in place of Billy Idol's growl and sends a tumbleweed of black dog hair silently skimming across the wood floor.

I think, once more, of the vehicle I try not to see parked near Serge's house every Friday night and Saturday morning. Divorce in a small town. Motherfuck. I have an intellectual response and an emotional response and they usually reside at opposite ends of my response spectrum, my ultimate response falling anywhere in between based on various interchangeable life circumstances including but not limited to my stress level, alcohol consumption and the time of month... In other words, my reaction to the soul-constricting circumstances divorce faithfully serves up is a pull of a slot machine lever; Some days I'm all cherries, baby, the champion of divorce! Other days... Eh. Not so much. But I'm ridin' that pony, getting back on the fucker every time I fall off. It's all about the kids.

Later. After the rain. After stumbling onto a treasure trove of chanterelle mushrooms while walking in the woods, Cory stops the car in the middle of the country road we're rolling over. Wordless and shirtless, he hops out and begins picking black-eyed Susans he will present to me with a shy grin so I can fill the giant mason jar sitting atop the kitchen table he built me from wood he also scavenged from the side of the road.

Me, in the passenger seat, watching him in the rear-view mirror lope through weeds and wildflowers. I pop wild raspberries we just picked into my mouth, one at a time to make them last longer, and think strange thoughts about them. Raspberries; nature's finest jewelry, I declare to no one as I peer at the dozens of delicate caviar-like pouches of juice that comprise a single raspberry. It really does look like a precious stone bauble that might adorn the hand of an aging wealthy socialite. Strawberries hog the berry spotlight most of the time, but raspberries have always been my favorite. Strawberries can be cloying, the good girl of the berry world, all straightlaced and churching. Raspberries are their sassy cousin. Zingy. Church? Girl, please. We goin' clubbin.'

On the way home, chanterelles, raspberries and black-eyed Susans jostling for space in my lap, I spot another one of those "Thank you Jesus" signs that dot the yards of Jesus lovers across the land.

Thank you Jesus.

The only time I've ever uttered the phrase with the straight-forward sincerity the sign conveys is when offering a thank you to the universe at-large after a negative pregnancy test in my teens or a narrowly avoided car accident, but never from a place of genuine gratitude to the lord and savior of scriptural times.

Thank you Jesus, I whisper to myself. And I smile.