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,