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.