Sunday, December 26, 2010

Over the mountains and through the storm, to a motel room I go

Perhaps it is best to stay home when snow threatens, but being always ready for an adventure, I planned my epic holiday roadtrip for the middle of winter.  How was I supposed to know that 'possible blizzard conditions after 4 pm' meant 'car accidents and slush and ice and a big pond of bad drivers on the NJ Turnpike?'  I mean, I live in Texas.

Coming from Chicago, my good friend, to Louisville was a bit wet but fine.  Leaving Louisville was sleepy, so I pulled over and took a nap.  Leaving my nap was snowy.  I-64 through West Virginia was full of flurries, but the temperature couldn't decide if it was above or below freezing, which is really (I thought) the worst of all ways to go with the weather conditions.  I called twenty people to find out the prediction for the roads, which I have since found on the weather channel website.  There's a whole thing with forecasts for freeways.  One person answered -- she was helpful with advice, but nobody had the weather.

So, I pulled off at Mossy, WV and pulled into the T & C Motel.  There was a big picture of Elvis behind the counter and a teensy, yipping black dog of indiscriminate breed under it.  It took a few minutes for the rather rolling woman from the room next to the counter to come out and offer me her best room for $40.  I was optimistic; I like old-fashioned, mechanical objects, like keys.  And crappy keychains.  So I took my key, got in my car, and pulled down into the lot next to the room doors.  Well.  The lot had clearly once been gravel.  Now, it was a pit of ice and snow and slush, with a smattering of ridiculously sharp, large rocks.

I parked.  I grabbed my bag and my bathroom things from the backseat of the car and made a beeline for the bedroom.  I couldn't unlock the door.  Why?  There was no resistance in the doorjamb for the door.  It just kind of rattled there, which made it really hard to unlock.  I got inside, and the smell poured toward me like a long trapped cloud.  I tried not to look at the stain on the bedcover as I ran for the bathroom, as I had to pee like a racehorse.

Lucky my boots were still on, because the bathroom flooded when I flushed.

I went to turn the heat on, in the hopes that the room would warm and maybe the smell would fade.  Ignoring the freezing air which whooshed out of the heating unit (I was hoping it would warm up), I decided to investigate the bedding situation.  The stain on the comforter emitted a slightly stale odor.  The single, mothy blanket beneath was no better.  The lone unfitted (and poorly tucked in) sheet was the smelliest.  I got my sleeping bag, pillow, and blanket from the car.

The air from the 'heating unit' was getting progressively colder, so I shut it off and put on three shirts, pants, socks, and my sweatshirt.  I slid, shivering, into my sleeping bag.  I was cuddling into its polyethylene silkiness when all the texts came pouring in from all the people I had called.  Just reaching out of my sleeping bag into the air of the room -- which was significantly colder than outside at this point -- was painful, but I had to, to reach the phone.  Needless to say, I passed a chilly night in that room, scared of what might be breeding in the blankets, somehow certain it would be better for my back to stretch out on the bed than be warm in the car.

When I got up at five I stayed in bed as long as I could before the cold seeped into my bones, but when light came it was time to go.  I packed up my things and dragged them to my car like a person carrying too many plastic shopping bags.  I started my car.  It didn't move.  Gravel pit, anyone?  Thank god for kitty litter in the trunk is all I have to say.

I tried to check out.  There was a sign directing me to the Exxon station.  The woman from the night before was there -- she didn't recognize me, but the guy smoking a cigarette in the predawn snow looked at me like I was a dream come true and probably also a nightmare.

It can't be legal, how beautiful the ice-encased trees were, after that.

I wandered through Lovingston when I arrived a few hours later, discovering a little coffee roastery up an unpaved hill with horse grazing around it and a hardware store with a kind old man who talked my ear off; and then there was lunch and then there was dinner, a few days full of my friends and my family and everybody giving each other things and feeding them -- good to be home.

There is a quiet to the light found only in the morning.  It is the only time left without ipods.  I have found myself on the road for sunrise more often than not in these last weeks.  No matter how cold or long or drunken the night, the sunrise has filled my heart with happy, sparkly things, while my family has been filling it with warm, cuddly things, like felted bags and books and wine, good food and sweet company.

Alone in a motel somewhere along the New Jersey Turnpike, again shunned by the highway, again being made to take a break from my long-held plans by the intervention of nature, I am really happy I know all the people I know.  I watched some people swerve and spin into each other and off the road today; I saw a car crumpled, while something kept me calm and steady; I looked into the face of a girl who had just spun into a cement barrier and nearly lost herself or her car, and I am so happy to be alive and have my family waiting on either end of this here turnpike.

Some other thoughts:

What does disposable mean?  Cheap or recyclable?  Styrofoam is 'disposable' but takes years to dispose.  Let's be better about that.

"Come on, Mr. Frodo!  I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you."

Monday, December 20, 2010

Over the lake and through the farmland, to Chicago I go

On Saturday, we stopped for lunch in New Orleans and made Birmingham by 7:30, right on time.  It was a quiet drive which started a bit late, but since we'd made our schedule up, that wasn't a big deal at all, really.

I think it is a testament to the some incredible change in me that being late threw me not a bit.

The diner in New Orleans was amazing; a white marble countertop where everybody sat, no seat left empty; the waiters and cooks were the same, and enjoyed messing with us.  "Who dat?" they asked.  So we pep-rally competed to see which side of the diner was louder.  One guy named all the reindeer.  I found perfect bacon.  The streets were canopied and there was a house decorated in pink fluffy boas.  Somehow, this was obviously Christmas decor.  Funny how structural cues, like something being obviously in the shape of a wreath or garland, can tell us what it is supposed to be.  Knid of lkie slipleng wrdos wtih olny the frsit and lsat lteerts in the rghit pacle.  You could totally read that, kind of, couldn't you?

Birmingham is 3 for 3 on amazing, awe-inspiring, evidence-that-there-is-a-God style sunsets.

And so, yesterday, by way of Louisville, I made it to Chicago.  My nephew is adorable, by the way, and my brother and sister-in-law are as sweet and kind as ever.  (Family is the best.)

Here I am, Chicago.  Last night, I parked on a street which miraculously escaped the private electric parking meters, I froze my ass off (literally -- I couldn't feel it) I drank the fanciest of cocktails at the Violet Hour -- and ran into a friend I haven't seen in years -- before eating quesadillas (cheese somethings, I translated) and hitting the sack on a couch.  I've missed waking up in the cold; I can actually appreciate my blankets that way.  I've role reversed with an old friend, which was a lovely thing to laugh about.

Vespucci has been introduced to my old street, I've eaten a good Chicago breakfast and drank my cup of Intelligentsia, and it's all so familiar I can feel it in my toes.  Well, when I get the feeling back in my toes.  Or maybe the lack of feeling in my toes is the familiar part.

When I was parking on Broadway, I offered to move my car so that the guy behind me would have more room (he pulled in right after me).  So he bought me an hour of parking.  I love, love, love the people in this city.

I walked past the Erie Paint Company and I was home.  Time changed for a minute, and I was walking to work, remembering where the icy patches are.  It couldn't have been more than a second, but I was somewhere else, on my way to something else, with a different bounce in the balls of my feet and a different kind of peace in my heart -- the peace that comes, perhaps, from years of friends in arm's reach.  I breathe differently here.  I like it.

I am so happy I lived here!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Pinecone Bird

There is a bird which looks like a fluffy pinecone sitting in my windowbox.

The plants which once grew in it are long since dead, and though there is one pot of basil left standing, most of that's gone, too.  This enormously round little bird has settled in, just beneath the last of the sweet smelling leaves.  It's head movements look like little automatronic frameshifts; there does not appear to be any real movement, it's just -- his head is in one place and then it's somewhere else.

The fuzz beneath his throat looks soft and downy.  When the little guy makes his whoopy hooping sound, it pulses like a tiny wave.

His beak looks like the stem on the end of a pinecone.

So here we are, sharing a bit of morning sunshine with each other, listening.  He's calling back to all the other birds outside, and I'm calling, in my way, to all you little birds.

He was just joined by a slimmer version of him!  His wife?!

ARE THEY MAKING A NEST IN MY POTS?  Oh, how I hope they are!

OH NO!  In came a much bigger, scary blue marsh bird, eating seeds from my one healthy basil plant, and chased the little guys away!  Marsh bird's markings were beautiful, it's true, but he seemed so... violent.  His motions were charged with something I didn't like very much.  And he made my bird friends go away.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Turkey, Leaves, Temperature, Aleve, Tea.

Pallid turkeys are really weird.  So, this year, my dad and I basted ours with clarified butter and sage.  It was browned, but not brown; it looked like aged, stained wood; certainly not cherry, maybe an oak dresser from the 30s, maybe a maple wardrobe made by the Amish some time in the early nineties -- golden, browned, but in no way brown.  My aunt actually said, "Wow!" and stood still for a minute when she looked at it.

It was a golden day.  I woke up to my Meme's voice in the kitchen; I thought I must be dreaming because it was 7:30 in the morning, but then her dog licked my face.  I think that, in cartoons, I have seen people leap out of bed so quickly the blankets swirl up in the air, and I think that happened on Thursday morning.  This is surprising because most of the night before I had been tossing a few back with some people I've known since elementary school.  Amazing.  Have you ever drunk tequila purchased for you by someone you played video games with in the third grade?  You should.  It's great.

Thursday was a golden day.  People filtered in all day long.  As the sun rose and then sunk, the occasional flurries of activity got more flurried.  The day lost its chill but kept its nip.  The trees that still had leaves were reddish, but most of them didn't, so the sky was everywhere, and everywhere blue.  

Leaves are wonderful things.

The weather might be warmer in Texas than in Virginia, but the people back home made me feel so welcome I felt like I was in a big blanket.  My brother even taught me how to drive stick.  I asked, and then he remembered that I'd asked and made sure to find me and teach me.  How sweet is that?

A list of other things that made me happy: thai food with a dark & stormy and a friend, breakfast in a bookshop, raking leaves until they swished like optimism in lawn-form, long drives, Gordonsville, friends who sobered me up with cheesecake, a conversation on Marx in a bar, my amazingly chill parents, friends and wine and circular stairs, apple picking up mountains which take a different gear to climb, cider and brandy, my Popop's family tree -- complete with pictures of people in their fancy overalls in front of their teensy cottages.  The list could go on.

I have a propensity for weird maladies; on Saturday, I choked on an aleve and now the abrasion in my throat is infected and I have to take antibiotics.  Also, I'm not allowed to talk.  So I'm just going to sit here in the early evening breeze, drinking tea and knitting.  The chill in the evening air here is just the same temperature as the middle of the day was back home...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Commuter Love

What if every day
our knees touched
in seats made for such
on the train?

One day, they’d have touched so long
we’d have an electricity all our own
but we’d never ask
each other’s name.

The changing seasons out our window
would be our timeline – honeymoons
of fancy over hilltops far off, we’d take
long traipses hand in hand with dreams.

It would be too late for familiarities
beyond the scent of your shampoo
or the static of my stockings
against your slacks.

Still, we would know
our love was 


the shade of each other’s eyes, divine
and for an hour every morning

gliding towards our separate lives
we’d be entwined in details
hopelessly, perfectly, quietly
in love.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Days Change

Mornings are always fresh, no matter how wet, how foggy, how hot.  There's something compelling in the quality of light, around about dawn, which makes everything new, possible, clean.

But by the end of the day, I don't always feel that way.

So the last few days, I've been really happy to find that I have the friends to brighten my day back up.  I mean, I knew I had you guys, I knew I did; but then the rough days happen, and they're nobody's fault but they still totally blow, and it doesn't always feel like it's going to be a good day anymore.  But then I have these friends, these amazing friends -- and their voices which call a different time into the present, their smell, their fuzzy blankets and ice cream, their taste in bistros, their washing machines, their thoughtful menu selection, their willingness to yell inappropriate words really loudly with me and then sit for a few blocks in quiet, looking at the map; the way they remember to remind me in the smallest ways that the way opens -- this brings me back to the morning, even if it's dark outside.

So thanks.  It's easier to feel the glow inside when I see it glowing (oh so brightly) in you.  Also, I love love LOVE writing here, because I feel like I'm writing to you.  Yes, YOU.  Hi!

Your (bright) friend,

PS: fun fact: I'm memorizing the Declaration of Independence.  Ask me to say it when you see me.  I just might be able to.  I'm two long, long, long sentences in...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Wet Books

I brought a book on the founding fathers
on this camping trip
last weekend. 
I left it out in the rain.

It's wrinkled now, and gooey.
It's not altogether happy
I forgot it in order to have
a long chat with my tentmates.

It is not pleased
that while I reveled in a rainstorm
like a giant bowl of rice crispies
it was getting mushy on the picnic table.

So tonight, I will read it.
I will take it to bed
love its pages with renditions
of speeches long since past

and hope that it forgives me.
I let it get wrinkly.
I promise I still love it.
Will that be enough?

Good Movies

Sometimes green lights align in this beautiful way so you can go for miles and never completely brake.  Sometimes, they align so beautifully that you never really have to slow down, and sometimes, in rare strokes of brilliance, the green lights just keep coming so that the occasional lessening of the gas pedal, as one may do in normal traffic, is all one needs to meet the lights in just the right way.

I think it takes years of practiced driving to find these moments, for indeed, these moments require an understanding of timing, acceleration, and good fortune.  All of which come best with time.

I want to learn to drive stick for the metaphors.

"You've got to learn to let go of the clutch," or, "feel the gears fall into place, don't push them so hard," sound like they could have profound meaning in my life, but they don't because I can't drive stick.  Alack!

Tonight, I saw an amazing movie.  I also went to the gym, so the endorphins could have had something to do with the fantastic experience.  I have learned to accept that chic flicks are going to cater to my romantic streak, that they are going to spoonfeed me something ridiculous, and that while quirky, none of the heroines are going to regularly fuss themselves up nearly as badly as I do.  Well.  Tonight, I spent $10.25 on "Morning Glory," with Rachel McAdams, and my goodness, those things didn't happen.  It didn't quite dash my expectations, but it broke them a bit in key places.  I laughed for real.  I was genuinely curious about the status of the relationship when they brought the plot back around to it.  The older male 'papa' figure(s) were convincing and kind but not cliched too badly.  The script was actually well written... it had, at the very least, far fewer adverbs than I've used here.  It was really a movie about the inner vs. outer workings of the main character, which was refreshing.  I like movies about women that are actually about the women, not about the women falling apart over a man.

Not that I'm opposed to falling apart for a man, I just don't think that every aspect of entertainment for women (from TV to books to movies and back again) should necessarily center around it.  It gives the impression that that's all we ever think about, which is only a little bit true for some of us.  So there.

There weren't many people in the audience, so we were all a little liberal with the laughing and the shrieking and the gasping (mostly in the appropriate places, too).  I think I'm probably a TERRIBLE person to go to the movies with.  At the end, my friend and I walked back to our cars.  It was a beautiful night.

The weather in Texas continues to impress me: today, standing outside my gym (which has free valet parking when it's raining, mind you, because Houston stops dead/forgets how to drive when it rains), I realized that this soft November rain looks like snow under the streetlights.  Rain, though, is significantly less comfortable than snow: it's wetter, it's warmer and therefore colder, ultimately, because it asks you not to dress properly for it, and then it makes you cold from the bottoms of your pants all the way up.  But then it stops.  And it's perfect: warm but not steamy, quiet, clean.  This was my night, tonight, as if I were you:

You're walking out of the movie that was SO GOOD you're oozing clouds out your fingertips, the donkey sitting on your chest has gotten up and left, and then you look outside and can't see a thing -- but the rain has definitely stopped, you can feel it.  So you walk across the street laughing over nothing with your friend, you get in the car and the music's just right, and it's green lights all the way home so you keep going; it's a red light at the freeway but it's a right hand turn, so hey, you can go; and then the song ends just as you catch sight of the exit a few blocks from home.  And your apartment doesn't smell like trash, even though you forgot to take it out this morning.  And in the mailbox is a postcard.  And last night you got all caught up on sleep, and the two nights before you were camping, so all is right with the world.  And it's not that life is perfect and you're exuberant and there's not a thing to complain about, but right now, in this moment, your optimism fills the glass.  I

like positivity which fills things.  I think that looking at things can change them.  I think that looking kindly makes things better.  And I think that a commitment to being happy can't be taken lightly, but it's actually a really light thing to carry around.

The problem with Houston is that it doesn't have curvy country roads, and I would like more pairs of nice work pants.

This is a high that does not last, as I know, for it was broken before I could even finish this post.  Life marches on, with all the sadnesses and broken spells which come with that.  But underneath are beautiful nights, real movies, good postcards, and a peacefulness that can no longer be broken by the little things which used to torment it.  It used to be that on a night like this, if some unfortunate force of negativity were to rumble in over the sweet evening I just had, I'd want to toss the evening out as a muckup.  Well.  I'm still breathing nice and deep, so take that and eat it, misfortune.  This is why I would not turn the clock back.  Right here.  I am actually not as ecstatic about everything as I was a few years ago -- but I still feed off enthusiasm and I am a basically happy person.  I just freak out a bit less often.

I do not think that my ability to be extremely happy has gone away.  I think that my tendency to live in extremes is fading.  That just means, I think, that when I'm happy, I jump really high, but then, coming back, there's a nice fat plushy mattress where I've been trying to cultivate the center.  Like right now.  An hour ago, I was up in the stars.  Now, I'm down in a mattress.  But I'm not in the deepest chasms of hell, which is where I might have imagined myself a few years ago, had my balloon been popped in quite this way.

I like optimism which fills the glass.

This did not end as the post I started.  Well.  Interesting.  Go see "Morning Glory."

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Bacon Sighting in Mississippi

I love bacon.

I love very kind of bacon; I like Applewood Smoked Bacon, Hickory Smoked Bacon, Unsalted Bacon, Salted Bacon, Thick Cut Bacon, Thin Cut Bacon (though it's never advertised as such, is it?), Regular Bacon, Oscar Meyer Bacon, Boars Head Bacon, Fresh Bacon, Pounds of Bacon, Bits of Bacon, Bacon Flavored Other Foods.  Basically, if it's fatty and meaty and sliced from a porker, I will eat it.  I would eat it in everything I cook if this wasn't terrible for me -- or, more accurately, if other people would eat my food with me if I'd put bacon in all of it.  The only requirement be that it is pan-fried bacon.

How else would one prepare bacon, you ask?  Let me enlighten you.

When you go to a diner and order 'bacon,' what you are ordering is what once was bacon put on a baking sheet and left in the oven until it was removed and put on your plate.  This is not, I repeat, not, bacon.  Bacon is cooked in it's own grease until it is crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside (YES, this is possible.  Good bacon is both chewy and crispy).  Bacon must be flipped so that both sides are exposed to heat and the puckerings of fat are not allowed to take the associated meat away from the heat.  Also, the puckerings of fat should still be crispy.  The last thing bacon should be is dry.

Unfortunately, dryness is a direct result of baking something on low heat for a long period of time.  There is such a plethora of fat in most strips of bacon it seems impossible to sap it, but it is.  All you have to do is cook it so long all the fat leaves.  This is when bacon burns.

The interesting thing about baking bacon is that if it's done at a low enough temperature, it's going to take a long time to blacken-burn it.  Any length of time is going to make the bacon taste burnt and dry, but it doesn't look burnt.  It just looks dry and flat and brownish.  The con-artists in most diners are counting on this deceit: it won't look like you've burned it so it can be served.  So I have basically given up ordering bacon in diners, though it is one of my favorite foods.  It is also one of the only things I can theoretically eat in diners.

But then we were in Mississippi last weekend.  After taking pictures at the statehouse, I stopped a guy on the street.  We had a nice conversation about how we were both doing that fine Sunday morning.  I asked him where I should go for a good Mississippi breakfast, and he took me to the corner where my car was, showed me exactly where to turn, and gave me otherwise excellent directions.  Except that I haven't been in the South for long enough that I'm no good at accents.  So, I couldn't understand the name of the street he told me the truck stop was on.  Gatlin?  Gaitlin?  Gataling?  Galveston?  Galston?  Golston?  Golsting?  Gosling?  Eh, we got in the car anyway.  It was Gaitlin.  We got off the highway and pulled up to the truck stop he'd recommended, exactly where he'd said it would be.

The boys all ordered chicken fried steak with sausage gravy, which I thought was ridiculous, because everybody knows that sausage-and-cream gravy goes with biscuits, and chicken or steak-and stock gravy goes with chicken fried steak.  Like, duh.  When I ribbed the fellas about this, the waiter gave me a twinkle-eyed look... so I broke my rule about ordering bacon in restaurants.

Oh man, was it worth it.

That bacon was greasy and chewy but crispy on the edges; it was puckered like it should be and a teensy bit black at the ends.  There were pink bits.  It wasn't so crispy it could be broken into bits, but it gave a satisfying amount of resistance to my teeth when I took a bite.  I could go on about the qualities of this bacon for pages, but I think discussing it too much would subtract from the perfection.  Indeed, it was a rich, sweet, savory experience, worthy of a poet better than me.

My faith in humanity isn't low or tenuous; I believe quite strongly that all people are basically good and that the world is a beautiful place; I expect that there will be moments of actual peace in my life every day and that God in some form will come to me when I need it, whether I know it or not.  But somehow, despite my already intense faith in the beauties of existence, eating three pieces of perfect bacon in a truck stop in Mississippi made my certainty that there is good everywhere infinitely stronger.  I like that the world can be good enough that better sounds like an impossibility... until it isn't.

I have a rule about not ordering bacon.  I broke it because of a twinkle in an eye, and I was repaid with three perfect slices.  We live in a beautiful world, do we not?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Restoring Sanity

I was in DC to restore sanity this weekend. I suppose everybody who is anybody has already blogged about this, but driving to DC and back in 72 hours is an exhausting endeavor. I only just had a moment to sit down and write about it.

I think that's an important part of the message of Saturday's rally -- don't rush home and write a million words about it; instead, think, and write later.  I had been looking forward to this trip as a good way to go home for a couple weeks, at least.  I've been feeling strange from time to time and was attributing it to being homesick.  To be honest, I've been thinking in a mildly destructive way that Houston is the wrong place for me, that risking this move was wrong, and that I should just go home.  I definitely needed a dose of sanity.

We left on Thursday night, after work. I was writing a grant literally down to the wire; one of my compatriots was waiting at my office door for me to finish. We got to my apartment. We loaded up the back of the car. We departed.  But I didn't feel like I was headed homeward or anything like that, I just felt like I was... getting in the car for an adventure.

In the first few miles, we defined the ground rules: ding when we pass into new states, driving shifts would be of no more than four hours, passenger seat isn't allowed to sleep, fill it up when you finish your shift (it's just nicer that way). And so we began.

It was a wonderful trip. America's freeway system is a state unto itself, and it's a state I know well.  I love it.  I love the consistency of the roads set against the many landscapes of the American terrain.  I love that there's always a McDonald's, an Exxon, or a Shell station because they give me a real sense of familiarity everywhere I go.  That said, I can always tell when I'm home. The trees are different, the air is familiar, the mountains are the kind you can feel even in the dark. Lucky for us, we arrived in Virginia in the late afternoon:

and that, my friends, was the view from the gas station.  A Shell station.  So I frolicked in the field, and it was good to be home.

My cousin and her husband took us in for the evening.  She had beds made and dinner ready; she even made gluten free bread, just for me.  Her home was so happy and so warm that the ache in my knees from having bent them in the car for twenty four hours just... slipped away.  It was so peaceful.

We went to the rally in the morning, Simon & Garfunkel leading the way.  We were planning on parking at a park and ride metro, but alas, the one close to my cousin's was so overwhelmed with people that the highway was backed up four miles out of the station.  So, rationally, we moved on to the next.  The line was long there, but it was a calm line.  Even the dude not wearing any pants was pretty reasonable.

So then, we met the crowd:

And approaching the innards of it, we heard, "Who's ready to restore some SANITY?"  It was Colbert or Stewart, we weren't sure which, but the happy sounds from the crowd meant we weren't hearing anything.  Still, we made a foray in, and out, and in, and out... until we had to leave the mass of people.  From the outskirts of this massive crowd of people emerged one of my brothers.  Perfect!

We sign watched a bit:

And then again we wove in and out of the crowd, holding hands, moving in the currents of the people around us.  It was one of the calmest groups I've ever met.  Some of the rallyers were climbing trees, so we all cheered them and pitied them as they climbed and fell.  Realizing that there was no destination in the middle of the crowd, we decided to head for the back of the rally and maybe catch a glimpse of the stage from there -- there was no way we were going to hear anything.  So we did... by way of the art museum, a very rational decision on our part, I think.  A sane and beautiful choice.

Walking towards the other end of the mall, it became rather clear that we weren't going to hear any of what the people watching on TV were hearing.  We weren't going to hear any of the programming, at all, because we just weren't going to get close enough.  This conversation we'd driven halfway across the country to take part in was going to happen without us ever hearing a word of it.  This was disappointing for a moment.

Then I looked around and saw with me some of my favorite people in the whole world; I saw the crowds of kindhearted rallygoers who had come out to the mall that day to ask everyone to please, take it down a notch -- for America -- and I felt the solidarity in the air that day.  I had good people all around me and beautiful, beautiful day in our country's capital.  The disappointment went away.

I felt the crowd.  The breath of this quiet crowd was in me.  They weren't all vocally quiet, but the vibrations of the group were energetic but steady and calm.  What more could I want?  After all, watching what you missed is what youtube is for.  I decided that I'd find out what the public perception of that day's shindig was later -- for now, I was going to feel it.  From the opposite end of the mall, which, by the way, is really crazy far, this is what the crowd looked like:

So we sat out there on some steps near the grass and hung out.  It was nice.

After the rally, we sat in a restaurant nearby for some beers and lunch.  Old friends and new friends happened by (it's incredible to me that we ran into people we knew without meaning to, but we did), and it was good to see them all.  This rally was a reunion of people and ideas: we can feel passionately about things, but that doesn't make our opponents our enemies.  After months apart, it will always be good to see an old friend.  People are inherently kind.  These are a lot of random statements, I know, but I don't feel compelled to structure an argument around this experience -- I just want to share some of its beauties.  For example, the sunset which sent us home:

And the sunrise that greeted us over Birmingham:

And the monument to confederate women in front of the statehouse in Jackson, Mississippi:

The chicken and the cat which shared our dinner in Louisiana:

And last, our own little monument to what we did:

One of my car-buddies fell asleep on my lap on the last leg into Houston.  He woke up when I whispered, "We're home."

The funny thing is, I meant it.  The first picture in this post is of the mountains of the stomping grounds of my youth; that place will always be a home of mine.  But so is Houston; so is Texas.  Taking off my sweater, being once again in a place where it would be completely absurd to wear more than a long sleeve shirt and jeans was a relief to me, in a way.  I breathe differently here.  The air is different here.  Home, I think, is where you breathe it right.  That's why there are many of them for some people.

I know I'll make it back to Virginia, in time.  Meanwhile, I'm here.  And I have friends willing to travel for 48 of 72 hours.  Nice.

The sun rose on Birmingham in both directions, and I never felt like I was leaving home.  I think, instead, I may have traveled between locations I've loved and truly lived in.  I do not carry my home with me on my back, but I think I've made them in quite a few places, which is a comforting thought... even if I do want to get back to Appalachia.

Virginia, good to see you.  Texas, it's good to be here.  And Jon Stewart, thanks for the sanity.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Hello, people reading this blog in Egypt, Peru, and Jordan. I was not expecting you. I'd greet you in your native tongues, but I don't know what they all are. Thanks for reading, I suppose!

The View

1. My gym is visible from my office window. It is on the right. On the left is a big field, and then a parking lot. On the right hand edge of the field, just inside the cover of shade when the sun slips west of noon, is a path.

In the afternoon around 3, a ridiculously attractive guy leaves the gym and runs sprints along the path.

Everybody else uses the path to get from work (in my building) to the strip mall (where the gym is) for lunch, etc. They stick to the path, which is there probably only because lots of people have walked in the same line over and over again to go have lunch in the strip mall.

This guy runs in the grass.

Pretty sweet.

2. I can see lots of parking lots.

3. I don't think there's anywhere in America that is less than 30 minutes from a Starbucks. In Houston, it may be that there is nowhere less than 30 minutes from a Starbucks on foot, which is saying something, because nothing else in h-town is really all that walkable. I know I'm coming late to this realization. It's kind of scary, even though it appears at the moment that they are using their powers well...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Cheesy Road From San Antonio

On the road from San Antonio, I had a lot of time to think. There is little that I find more meditative than a long stretch of open freeway with only my headlights and the moon to light it.

While I won't share all the thoughts that rambled through my brain (some were too personal for even I-don't-care-I-say-almost-anything-me), but I will share three of my reflections upon this past weekend. Warning: reflectiveness ahead. If you don't like reading my thoughts, stop reading.

My mom came to visit on Wednesday, so for the next few days I just kind of took her around my life. We went to a flag football game I was playing in, we went to a reception at my work; we went to the farmer's market and meat market I go to every Saturday with a friend of mine. We went to the movies, to the beach, ate DELICIOUS crabs, rode roller coasters, and I took her to Quaker Meeting. It was pleasant, peaceful. She did my dishes and cleaned my bathroom, and I cooked for her.

Sitting in Denny's on the way to San Antonio, I asked my mom a serious question and she made a joke. This upset me. Where a few years ago that would have started a fight, instead we had a conversation about how we aren't really sure how to talk to each other. This is hard. I want to be serious and she wants to make me laugh, or I want to be lighthearted and she doesn't get my jokes; but it goes deeper than that. We have gone about our lives in very different ways and we have correspondingly different systems for choosing a course of action in our everyday lives. We have similar values but entirely different logical systems.

Which we talked about. And agreed on. And at the end of the conversation, I made a joke, and she said something serious. I'm not saying we've fixed it or it's perfect, but it's pretty great to know that I can sit in a Denny's with my mom and talk openly about how we relate to each other and how to make it better. I think 'Agree to Disagree' had a pretty positive connotation that day.

That same Sunday morning, I felt led to speak in Meeting about compassion as the best way into forgiveness, and about anger being a really easy thing to latch onto instead of being compassionate. There are so many ways into anger -- blame, pride, shame, righteousness, resentment... and so few into compassion. Sometimes it's hard to remember that we're human and people make mistakes, though I find it easier to remember this about others than myself, which is a strange truth. Why do other people have more of a right to be human than I do? I don't know. But I think I behave like they do.

Sometimes I think that I am like swiss cheese, full of holes, and that I'm never going to stop bumbling around long enough to fill them. I mentioned this to a friend, who said she thinks I'm more like brie, and I said, "No, you're like brie, I'm like swiss cheese, and not even jarlsberg swiss cheese," and she said, "WHAT?! Not true!" or something like that. It's easier to believe that other people see me the way I see me, as swiss cheese, than it is for me to believe that you see me like I see you, as in, like brie. Maybe compassion is somewhere in the many varieties of fromage I sort through at the store on Saturday afternoons...

There was one more thought on the road:

There are a lot of people in my phone who I could call late at night to keep me awake as I drive. This is a nice thought. Thanks for that. And thanks to those two who I did call, because you picked up the phone and you were really amusing.

San Antonio is a beautiful place, full of missions and a really fantastic river, great food, expensive parking, and, as it turns out, wonderful storytellers. I can't wait to go back! Remember the ALAMO!

Forms of Clouds

I have a window in my office.

The bottom fifth is a freeway interchange, which sounds awful but actually isn't. None of the cars go at quite the same pace, but from here, it looks like they still get where they're going. They just keep moving in this endless stream in all directions. It feels a bit like the roads are full of possibilities.

I suppose I should say the freeway is in the bottom third of my window, because the sun is always in the top fifth and makes that whole section not really usable as something to look out of. Unlike Copernicus, I do not wish to destroy my eyes by staring at the sun.

My gym is also in this bottom third of my window. The air conditioning units and gravel, the whitewash, the skylights are all I see of it all day long. I wish contemporary roofs were prettier.

So, that's a new thing. I'm going to the gym. I hope it sticks!

I'm writing, though, because of the top two thirds or maybe top three fifths of my window. It's big Texas sky. This morning, it was as open and blue as a piece of inordinately pretty paper, and now it's fluffed up with clouds. There is this one Georgia O'Keefe painting in the Art Institute of stacks and stacks of almost rectangular clouds. It's a huge piece, so they have to put it in their stairwells (which are enormous) or hallways because it's just too big for a gallery. I didn't get it until I moved here.

I didn't get a lot about Chicago until I moved here. I didn't get how rare it was to be able to walk places, I didn't realize how well I had contextualized myself in the city, I didn't get that Chicago really was a place I went home to, that it made sense to me. But mostly I didn't get this painting.

When the sky is big like it is here, it is stretchy. Clouds a certain distance away only show you their bottoms as they wander off towards the edge of the earth -- like tabs in a gmail chain, they just show you that first line before the next tab comes up. Actually, these clouds look exactly like an upside down gmail chain, with the big open letter at the top, by my window, and then tabs of the last line (instead of the first) all the way off to the edge of the earth. Though the whole thing appears to collapse on itself, eventually. It seems to curve into itself at the end. I can see why people thought there was an edge to the earth -- except that from here, the flat horizon is a curve.

So this painting is a long, wide, short stack of clouds. It's what these clouds would look like if you picked up the part where the cloud-tabs collapse into indefinite distance and pulled forward, but only allowed them as much space in the horizon as they are taking up right now. The top ones would stay big, but the bottom ones would get small and rectangular.

I like it when I see the Form of what a piece of art meant to capture -- though maybe the art is the Form and the sky is the imitation. And maybe, still, they are each the best possible version of what they are, endlessly imitating nothing at all. Take that, Aristotle.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Grateful! !!! !!!

This morning, I woke up a half hour after my alarm. My bed was cozy and my head hurt, but there is a post it note by my bed which says, "Get up and think happy thoughts, don't try for five more minutes of less than restful sleep." This reminded me that I do not want to miss Meeting just because I stayed up too late the night before. So I got up.

I am glad I did.

I slipped in just before the doors closed, and I did not even have to speed on my way there. It was a beautiful meeting. There weren't very many leadings from outside the thoughts of the Meeting; it seemed people were reflecting on their lives and the things they were grateful for. Many people stood to speak about the kindness of the Meeting, the generosity it had shown them; one man spoke of the way his beliefs were affected by the validity of the ideas of a couple he met on a train; another said, quite simply, that Love is Sweet. I cried a bit.

The Clerk of Meeting and his wife are the kind of people I want to be when I grow up: gentle, peaceful, so intentional you can feel it. Today was potluck day. When the clerk asked, I volunteered to set up tables. Then, on my way to get coffee, the Clerk came over (his gray ponytail reminds me of my Dad's), put a hand on each of my shoulders, and said, "Thank you." It was wonderful.

We blessed the food. Turns out, you're supposed to have children present to bless the food in Quaker tradition. Grace was a rather upbeat song. We sat around and talked and ate; there were hilarious discussions about adapting to extreme weather and serious ones about the nature of peace. We sat in the shade outside and were together. I have been going to this Meeting about ten weeks, and today I met new people and re-met people I've met before. I picked up conversations left off at the last potluck, and I learned quite a few things about the people I sit with every Sunday morning. Honestly, it didn't matter that people I'd met had forgotten me a little, because they sought me out to say hello and introduce themselves while I was doing the dishes afterwords. They were all so very nice. They made eye contact. I like that.

This morning felt like it was full of light. There wasn't a person there who wasn't grateful for everybody else, it seemed.

Sometimes I say things before I know what I mean, and I hurt people. Sometimes I hurt them in other ways. So I knit them things, I cook for them, I torture myself with embarrassment, and I apologize. It never really fixes it. Today, though, was a healing day. I think there's a lesson in being grateful.

Later, I went to Central Market to save some money on groceries. I found an aisle -- a whole aisle -- of gluten free food! There were soups with noodles, there were frozen pizzas, there were different types of bread. I found a VARIETY of bagels, baking mixes for everything I could ever want to bake, and all-purpose flour. There were raviolis and gnocchi and frozen dinners. There was boxed macaroni and cheese. I had a selection of noodles. I stood there for ten minutes with happy tears in my eyes, being so thankful and happy. It was whole aisle full of food that wouldn't make me feel bad. How great is that?!? It was like my grocery store gave me a hug. It was actually better than interspersed gluten free options at Whole Foods, because it was like a whole little store just for me. There were no temptations to fight, just delicious looking food! Lovely!

What a wonderful day. A content day, with lots of things to be grateful for, and I didn't miss any of them... I don't think.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

On Groupings

I have been remiss in my postings, but I am determined not to feel bad about such things.

Today was the Greek Festival in Houston. The Greek Orthodox church which holds it is called "The Church of the Annunciation." A friend asked me what that meant. Being a relatively active Christian (I go to Quaker Meeting on Sundays), knowing something of the Orthodox faith (my sister is a nun), and having been an English major, I thought I should know. So I hazarded a guess.

I have a tendency to want to know things that I don't. You will be happy to hear that before I spoke, I said that I was guessing. The hypothesis: the Orthodox faith has a thing about the Judas incident. They also have a thing about Easter. "Annunciation" sounds like the root is the same as "Announce." Annunciation must mean something to do with announcing the return of Christ.

It was only my training in English which led me correctly in this guess. According to wikipedia, "The Annunciation is the Christian celebration of the announcement by the archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would become the mother of Jesus Christ, the son of God." So, an announcement, certainly, but not the one I was thinking of.

So, obviously, my religious training is far less extensive than my academic training. Why does this bother me? Certainly, I do not envy those who have been taught from a young age that there is one correct religious path. I value my ability to think critically, which is a function of my academic training. But my friends who had religious education as a child have a cultural identity manifested by a common body of knowledge. And most of them can think quite freely. Perhaps, if we are going to think critically about our world, it does not matter what we are taught. Perhaps the tendency to question is as genetic as haircolor.

That does not ring true.

I am Christian, in that I believe in charity, peace, goodwill, kindness; I believe that people tend towards laziness from time to time and that life takes work; I find Quaker Meeting helpful. I believe that God exists and can speak to us. I went to Episcopalian church when I was a kid. But I don't know things like 'Annunciation' or how many gospels there are. I often miss biblical references. So, while I identify with the values, I do not have the context or knowledge which would make me feel like I am a part of a culture.

Lucky for me, I know how to study.

This brings me back to the thought that it was my academic training which led me correctly in my interpretation of Annunciation, for it is also my academic training which has taught me to study. This ability to study and think is what will admit me to the world of common knowledge which underpins cultural identification with a religion.

I can only conclude that if one type of training had to be sacrificed, I am glad it was not academic. Still, we miss something when we do not have a cultural identity that goes beyond geography. I think as people we seek groups who share our values, and I think teaching a value system to children can, therefore, be protective. A sense of shared values, common culture, a sense of a whole is comforting in both good and bad times. It isn't just the religion; it's the food you eat at religious gatherings, the dances you dance together when people get married, the greetings and habits of speech which you all know, the mannerisms of polite behavior you hold in common, the things everyone knows to do when someone gets married or passes away.

I don't have a lot of those things. Many of the people at the Greek Festival did. When my friend asked me about the Annunciation, he had an expectation that I was part of group that knew that. I wasn't. But I can be. By study.

I was thinking much of this as I walked back from the festival. crossing the street, I ran into a friend. Well, he ran into me. Literally. In going for a run, my friend ran into me. It made me feel, again, like I live here. I live here. In this silly place where leaves don't change color in the fall, even when there is definitely a nip in the air at night. So I do have a group; there are people here who see me on the street and call out my name, which I really, really like. I live here.

Later, I am going dancing with my friends. In the morning, I am going to meeting. I have groups, I have people I identify with, with whom I share values, with whom I live my life. So I do not mean to imply that by having little religious training I am left inconsolably bereft -- merely that I would like to have that type of an understanding of a group. I also do not mean to imply that knowing things about the Bible and the history which surrounds it defines religious experience or faith; I know very little but get very much out of Meeting. But I am sure I will want to write more on that tomorrow.

Monday, October 4, 2010

An Open Letter To Sarah Bareilles

Dear Sarah,

I know that is sometimes considered rude to address a distinguished person -- particularly a person distinguished by their creative acts -- by their first name, but I just spent an evening with you at the Houston House of Blues, and I feel that after sharing this particular evening with you and all the rest of the people who were watching and playing, I cannot call you anything but Sarah.

I had never heard you perform any of your work before -- I had only ever listened to a single track of an a capella version of one of the songs you played this evening. I think I was the only person in the audience tonight in that particular situation.

Thank you for being accessible anyway. Thank you for singing clearly enough and without blasting us so to pieces with over-amplified sound that your words were intelligible. Your voice, so rich and variable, filled the entire house with vibrancy. Thank you for having fans who, when they sang instead of you, were actually clear enough for a person who had never heard the music before to understand the words.

Thank you for your words. They spoke my mind. Thank you for having troubles and owning them, for having made mistakes and owning them, for having been hurt and owning it. You were both emotional and comfortable in your skin (from where I stood, that is). Thank you for having so much fun that I believed you when you said we were giving you positivity vibes; thank you for wearing a sequined skirt, holding notes because you felt like it, enjoying yourself though you sang sad things, and for writing truths in a way that didn't presume you were the first to discover them, didn't deny the unique nature of the individual experience, but also let them be as aged and ubiquitous as they are.

Thank you for playing six different instruments (I included your voice and your dancing self in that count) and snarking us for cheering when you switched between them. Thank you for appearing innocent in your tunic shirt but sassy in your sequined skirt, for being sweet and cursing in the same sentence.

Your earpiece was giving you trouble all night, but you were graceful about it. That was lovely. Thank you for understanding that there are people we can love forever and keep returning to who will never be as good for us as we need them to be, for acknowledging the incredible difficulties of doing things that are good for us but at the same time being empowered by that challenge, for defending a woman's right not to choose a fairy tale, for being honest about the basic troubles of living an open, loving life -- and still having a lot of fun.

You spoke of sober things with a light heart and happy face; you made me feel welcome though you would not recognize me; you made accessible again a certain confidence in openness which heartened me. Thank you for reminding me of things I knew and validating the way I learned them. Thank you for also being possibly too open about your emotional state with perfect strangers.

I think you're really pretty and super talented and have a wonderful spirit. You reminded me that I like to sing and dance whenever I feel like it, that I deserve to be happy whether other people are on board with that or not, and if we ever met, I am sure we would be fantastic friends.

I found you joyful, thoughtful, dramatic, playful, gorgeous, sweet, snarky, sexy, happy, and honest. In short, you are a lot of the things I like when I find them in myself, only a bit more actualized than I think they are in me. You have a way with words and sounds which spoke to me.

Indeed, you spoke my mind, and I have been having a bit if difficulty doing that properly for myself lately. So thank you. I had a really great time tonight!

Warm regards,

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A New Package of Bacon

I haven't had bacon in my fridge for a few weeks; my officemate bought us this giant vat of Puffed Cheese Balls (yes, that is generic for Cheetos), so I felt that my totally-non-nutritive-excuse-for-protein category of the food pyramid was effectively filled by our epic consumption of these rather addictive little buggers. Thus, I bought no bacon.

But this week I couldn't resist, no matter how many cheese balls I eat at work.

I have to say, this morning, sitting on my balcony, I was really happy I had bought it. The smell of it coming from my kitchen was the only reminder of reality as I sat out on my porch. It was one of those mornings that seems to happen to you instead of being something you watch; it was so slow, so pale but so bright, and the fingers of dawn climbed over and under and around every rock and tree and car in such a way that even the parking lot below my porch seemed a beautiful thing. I have never seen those shades of pink in that order, and I have certainly never seen that shade of robin's egg blue.

At the same time, I have seen a morning of equal wonder every time I've woken up early enough for it -- it was a totally discrete instance, but it also wasn't at all. In a million mornings, there will be many of these, remarkably similar at the surface; but that's not how it felt, eating my eggs and perfect bacon. (Seriously, it was the perfect blend of chewy and crispy. It also wasn't so heavily smoked that it had a heavy smell while cooking -- it was more like a light breeze of maple syrup coming from my kitchen.)

It felt a bit like fate that I had bought my bacon and woke up at six, that I had one bag of my favorite kind of tea left, and that the sun had waited until I got there to give its morning show.

I suppose I know that this morning, down to the smell of my breakfast, has happened a hundred times before and will happen a million times again; I know that none of it had anything to do with me and that most of this was chance, but I think that moments of beauty happen because we are ready to see them, that sitting still long enough to let them happen is a skill. That stillness has not always come naturally to me, but the peace that comes from enjoying the morning is a lifestyle choice I am happy to make.

Then again, it could just be that the world looks better when it smells like bacon.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A List for 9/25

Today, I:

wrote a note in all caps and meant it
finished knitting a sock
got prettily sunburnt on my nose.

completed an interception
unintentionally conned a jock into thinking I play football
ate two bagels (!), gluten free.

I registered to see a documentary
had two long heart-to-hearts and
left three good messages.

I took a long walk into geographic clouds
found porches which reminded me of long absent friends
and was followed home by thunder.

It is satisfying when the clouds burst
and lightning crashes with all threatened fury
just as I slip under the porch overhang.

Today, I bought jello, cider, vinegar chips, and a water bottle
I ate a bowl of chicken soup
and woke up tucked in. It was a rather pleasant day.

Tomorrow morning I am hospitality at Meeting.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Texans and the Car Doors

I never understood that brand of feminism which got offended when men opened doors for us ladies or waited until we got all the way inside our houses before driving off after a date. I never assumed it meant they thought I couldn't open the door, I just thought it was thoughtful that they did it for me.

But then I met these Texas Men, who come all the way around the car to open the door for you and actually get a little weirded out if you open a regular door for them instead of the other way around. And they don't like it when you sit on the ground if they're in a chair, or if you're standing and they're sitting. I know this one guy who stands literally every time a lady gets up from the table. This just feels like taking it a little too far.

But then this past weekend I spent some time with a good Texas family and mentioned this oddity of the car doors at dinner. It was right after the parental unit had said they were buying dinner, and I had repressed my immediate desire to protest and replaced it with a polite, if effusive, thank you. I thought this was a big step up.

The son of this family said, in response to my inquiry, that he actually enjoyed opening doors -- even car doors -- because it's a good way of telling a person you like them or respect them.

Which is exactly how I feel about feeding people.

I don't invite people over for dinner because i think they can't cook, I do it because I want to do something nice for them because I like them and I like feeling like I'm taking care of people I like. Maybe this door thing is as simple as that.

I honestly had not made that connection.

Well, then all kinds of synapses started firing, and let me simply say here, because there are too many instances of this for me catalog and apologize for them all individually, that I'm really sorry if I've ever told you off or gotten offended when you gave me advice, or when you helped me out of something, or when you opened a door or jar or can of worms for me. I get it now, I swear! Just like when I give advice or a friendly word it's because I like you and respect you, I GET IT that that's what you're doing, too! Ha! Liberation! Car doors and cooking! Same thing!


There really is something to be said for this southern hospitality thing. I missed it. I like it. I think it might be good for me.

An Ode To Whole Foods

After a few months of being very good about never shopping at Whole Foods, I have caved. Whole Heartedly caved. I love it. I love the lighting, I love the smell, I love the way the vegetables are arranged, I love the organization of the dairy section, I love the way you can sample types of cheeses and have actual conversations with the person behind the cheese counter about the flavors, textures, melting temperatures, tartness, or crumbliness of each of them. I love the music. And the carts. And how nice everybody is. And how easy it is to buy sustainably produced everyday things. I know I'm succumbing to a ridiculously awesome marketing campaign, but I honestly don't care.

I love that every type of bacon comes in different thicknesses. They sell soap called, "Coconut Skin Trip," they sell veggie flavored Pirate's Booty, and they sell quinoa pasta. The organization makes sense to my feet as I walk around.

I don't like asking for special treatment and I do like foods made of flour, so shopping for gluten free breads, pastas, fried things -- it's tough in other places, even if they carry the stuff, because it's never obvious where it is. I know it's stupid, but I get embarrassed telling people I need the gluten free section, like I am asking them a favor. But Whole Foods makes it so easy. It's all clearly marked. For every regular wheat item, there's at least one gluten free option. I never have to feel uncomfortable. Obviously, I'm working on the thing about asking for my dietary needs to be met in other places, but to walk into a place to do all my shopping and know that not once am I going to feel weird about my food is really great.

Food is important to me. Feeding people is something I get a lot of joy out of. Since this whole gluten intolerance thing, Food has become something I worry about instead of something easy for me and my people to gather around and enjoy each other over. Shopping, going out, eating at other people's houses -- there's a hitch now. That's fine, I can deal (or I'm learning to), but today, when I stopped at Whole Foods on my way home from work to get supplies for chicken soup, I felt better just walking in there. I felt like I was with a bunch of people whose food philosophies and mine just meshed.

This life thing is most rewarding when it's hard, but it's nice, when I'm cooking and grocery shopping and feeding people, to only feel the good and simple parts.

(There's a really cheap connection with Whole Foods and Whole Eating and all that to be made here, but really, I'm not going to do it.)

Best of all, the chicken soup was perfect.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Good Day For Mail

Usually, I don't check my mailbox; in Chicago, it was the opposite direction from my front door, all I ever got were bills, and it was too cold to stay outside long enough to run up the stairs. Here, it's still the opposite direction from my front door, but it's been too hot. Plus, old habits die hard. Today, though, as I was putting my key in the lock, I thought, "Mail!" and looped right around. Not sure why that thought was powerful enough to move me today, but it was.

Lo and behold, there was the postlady, locking up the banks of boxes. It's quite a sight, if you've never seen it -- many tens of rectangles angled out to look like one long triangle, like geometric mouths with braces. I went to mine, fresh closed up into the wall. I turned the key. I squealed. (Really, I did. If you have a hard time believing that, well, then you probably don't know me very well.)

"Good day for mail?" she asked, a lilt in her voice.

"Yes! Ohmygoodnessohmygoodnessohmygoodness yes!" I said back.

A moment for context: I used to babysit for a family in Chicago, and I love them. My love for them is so big the only word for it is BIG, in all capital letters. And here for the last week or two I've been feeling like I have to send them cards or maybe the next time I mail them something it will be awkward, and I don't want that -- what if I've missed the correspondence gap? (Those of you who send regular mail understand this fear. You should know that with me, there is no such thing as too long or too short between letters.)

But there, in my mailbox, squished against a bill for Ashley Eukhert (who doesn't understand the concept of changing an address) was a big yellow-orange envelope with handwriting and STICKERS. OHMYGOODNESS OHMYGOODNESS OHMYGOODNESS.

A package! A package! WOW! But WAIT. What is this larger than normal padded envelope just underneath it?

ANOTHER package! It even had a 'delivery confirmation' sticker. The return address? A person I haven't spoken to in years, but about whom I once cared a great deal.

A moment about that phrase, to 'care a great deal.' For me, this means that at the time that I knew him, I felt we had a stake in each others' existences, that how I lived my life was of concern to him in a positive way, and vice versa. That we put thought into each other. This is still true; what he wrote in his letter made me think in a way that will change me a little, or maybe a lot, if we look at this in terms of angles. Today, this was a little thing. If his thoughts from today stay with me as long as his thoughts from way back when have stayed, well, the projection of the angle grows. So today, I got a letter from an old friend about whom I care a great deal.

It wasn't just a letter, it was a bookmark, too. In 1923, Robert Frost and his son planted 1,000 pine trees at their farm in Vermont. Two trees were harvested in 2009 for local artisans to make beautiful things from.

Frost is my favorite poet. So when this friend moved on to the next thing in his life, I gave him my favorite copy of my favorite collection of Frost's work. Today, years later, this friend sent me a piece of something Frost himself planted, and he sent it enclosed in some beautiful thoughts. Reading them felt like just yeasterday we'd left off the thread of a conversation.

So I opened his package first. Then I rather gingerly broke the seal on the large envelope from the family I used to sit. Inside, I found this beautiful art:

1. A First Painting:

2. A Banner

3. Another Banner

There were notes, too. Really lovely notes, with phrases like, "Tomorrow is peace day at school I made a shirt," and "I want to see you too," and "We got your letter thank you I like your card I miss you how is TX," just like that, which are really heartwarming things to see spelled correctly in mostly straight handwriting. My favorite thing about these kids, (trust me, it's hard to pick a favorite thing) is how honest and open they are. I love their willingness to ask anything and say what they feel, but also how thoughtful, clear, enthused their words are. In a note I almost missed because it was stuck to the back of the painting, their mother promised to steal me and never give me back if I came to visit.

Today, I felt a few little gems of life with them in it. I feel full. Not overflowing -- just perfectly full of peaceyness, all the way up.

This is not the only kindness my mailbox has treated me to lately. A little more than a week ago, I was told in an unlooked for letter from another old friend that I am warm and 'glinty eyed' and that sometimes this person thinks of me when cooking or jumping into lakes. The best part of this one, though, was this, in chickeny scrawl on a yellow piece of slightly rumpled mini legal paper: "Just met a teacher atop Mt. Katahdin. Apparently there is space camp for teachers. Just so you know what's out there. Are you writing at all these days?"

My mailbox has been good to me of late.

(You may wonder why I include no names here -- it's because the internet is scary and googleable, and I don't want other people's contributions to my life to be tagged and named and scattered across the unknown permanence of this particular web. I think that would be unfair.)

Today, I opened my mailbox and I felt, I physically felt, the weight of how much a few people I really care about love me. I felt, where often I only hope, that opening or giving myself to people really does come back. I think there is a difference between knowing and expecting it to be true that the people we love love us back. I feel it fairly often, but today I felt it like a cocoon. Some days, we really can get the thought we put into people given back to us, tenfold. I know, because it happened. Today. Unexpectedly. In my mailbox.

Sure, my tendency to open myself up to everyone I meet may cause me occasional pain, and there is a lesson in that -- the people who witness your life have a power over it, so I'm really trying to let the self select and not give binoculars to negativity. But today, my mailbox was basically overflowing with the physical manifestations of certain beautiful friendships, and that makes it all worth it.

Letters aren't just objects. They are unique dedications of time and affection which you can hold, lose, find, touch, smell...

I suppose it's ironic to talk about the merits of physical communication in a blog, but today was too good not to share in as many mediums as are physically (or electronically) possible.

My contentment is fuzzy, full, and BIG -- a blanket better than even the heavy Texas air.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Rough Draft of My Brain

Dear Friends,

Three of you have told me in the last few weeks that my attempts to start thinking more before I talk are possibly folly. This has ruminated in me for a while, so I'm opening the gates. WARNING: you are about to enter the inner workings of Morgan's reflective mind. Blah blah blah or forever hold your peace (Piece? Maybe...).

My office is a fluorescent cave. It gets to me. When my officemate isn't there, I keep the lights off, even though that makes it dark -- my window is artistically sliver-like. But I don't mind the dark. I don't even mind the Twilight jokes, since it means I don't get a fluorescent light headache. My officemate is on a business trip this week.

The downside of her absence is that I don't have her to bounce ideas off of. She's excellent at listening to some project I'm about to work on and make the task a million times simpler than I would have. Today, I spent two and a half hours working on a pressing project doing totally unnecessary things primarily because I am not good at simplifying tasks. I've also had to pass along a project I'm really loving because I am not the person for it for the same reason; I have to learn to write simply, to be straightforward, to not get attached to unnecessary facts and phrases just because I like them; I have to learn to get less caught up in romance because I miss the reality of it. I suppose the bit about romance has a lot less to do with work and a lot more to do with me, but I like the way it sounded, so I'm not going to cut it.

Case and point.

People can learn to write in declarative sentences. I have learned to write in declarative sentences. I have almost learned to think in them -- if I think about thinking in them, I can make myself do it. I think my life would be easier on other people if I were better at this type of thought. I'm not. I want to fix that.

But maybe, and this idea is by no means uniquely mine, 'fixing' is the wrong word.

I think that the words we choose to talk about our lives matter. I have a friend who actively listens to everything I say. I never knew how much I talked purely because I like it until I met this person. I never realized how little thought I put into my words until I met this person. It feels good to know you're being listened to. It also made me want to make sure what I said actually mattered, so that his energy was not wasted. I think people can tell when you're thinking by talking and thinking before talking. I think that translates into how people listen to you, and I think there's a relationship between being able to think before speaking and listening well.

This afternoon, thinking aloud, I invited C. to dinner, and then I., and then J.. I didn't contemplate what I was going to make until John asked me what kind of wine should hit the table. Never before meditated ideas flew about in gchat. Dinner was a rousing success, Bullshit (the card game) was a rousing success, the British sitcoms we watched afterwards because we'd been talking about British sitcoms were a rousing success.

It isn't that every sentence needs thought beforehand to be good. It's that the habit of thinking before an action could be really valuable. I would probably be able to simplify the way I do things -- and thus avoid hours of extra work and heartache -- if I could.

But then, this little rough draft of my brain wouldn't exist, would it? And aren't you just loving that it does?

The other side of this problem is that in listening to other people I am inclined to think about what they say as they say it rather than think about what I am about to say. In order to avoid long pauses, however, one must either craft a response while the other person is talking or think while speaking.

Perhaps the answer there is allowing peaceful pauses. I like that thought. It didn't come around until the second draft of this here posting.

I have learned that declarative sentences are valuable. I am convinced that people who think in them, really think in them without having to remind themselves to, cause their people much less... turmoil, in that what they say has been edited for purpose and to avoid hurting anybody. But I don't actually feel that this is a better default model for me. It's a skill, but these last weeks and weeks of trying to learn it have made me feel... cold. I actively feel less warm when I am busy feeling guilty that I'm not thinking and phrasing simply enough. I've started feeling bad about faux pas instead of laughing about them.

I'm going to keep trying, so I can turn on and off this thinking-before-I-speak thing. Perhaps with pauses in conversations, this new speech pattern is possible. But for better or for worse, I am too complicated for simple sentence structures in my heart of hearts. About this I can be clear, but to untangle myself into simple statements would be to untangle the layers of truths and memories which keep me feeling warm and fuzzy and full of wonder; I think perhaps these things are worth more than simplicity in the soul.

There's a difference here, between presenting myself clearly and thoughtfully and doing so as a reflection of my inner self. I've conflated them because my problem with thinking before I speak/speaking simply is that I do not like to present myself differently than how I feel myself to be. That may be silly. It may be wise. I don't know.

I still do want to listen better, think more, and bring stillness with me when I go. I want to be clear and thoughtful in my conversations and my thoghts. I want to not say inappropriate things at work. Maybe these things don't require thoughts constructed of short, declarative sentences... maybe they require a deeper separation of thoughts and verbalization. Perhaps everything that pops into my head is there for me, not everybody else.

I mean, I knew that, it's just a matter of feeling it.

Goodness, but life takes work!