Tuesday, December 14, 2010

wholly wholly wholly

and kisses are a better fate than wisdom

since feeling is first

who pays any attention

to the syntax of things

will never wholly kiss you;

wholly to be a fool

while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,

and kisses are a better fate

than wisdom

lady i swear by all flowers. Don't cry

- the best gesture of my brain is less than

your eyelids' flutter which says

we are for each other; then

laugh, leaning back in my arms

for life's not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis

~ e.e cummings

I like wisdom too, but I also like giving up entirely into things. But it might be true that those two states of being are not so related. And now, either way, it is time for bed.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

in a moment close to now

Tomorrow is my birthday. I’ll be twenty-nine years old. I never know why that’s supposed to be scary. Yeah, I’m older, but it’s one of those things that is so completely inevitable that for the most part it’s never weighed too heavily on my mind. Next year, of course, I’ll be turning thirty, so maybe that will be more difficult somehow. But hey, probably not. Mostly it’s no big thing, except that I now sometimes get hangovers after two glasses of wine and I often feel sleepy at nine thirty.

My friend Rose-Anne turned twenty-nine just last week, and in a minute I’m going to follow her lead and make a list of things I hope for this year. But first… Well, a horoscope. I have an ex who is very spiritual, and while that’s not something I’m too invested in (sort of like fear of aging, actually), she did get me a little hooked on Rob Brezsny’s Free Will Astrology horoscopes. I can’t help it; they’re funny, and I appreciate his raucous and joyous good-natured advice, even if I don’t always take them too personally. Lately they’ve actually seemed rather pointed, occasionally in some rather harsh ways, but not this week; after all, it’s my birthday. Here it is:

“Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote a book called Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is. I'd love it if in the next few weeks you would think a lot about how you are on your way to becoming what you were born to be. Current astrological omens suggest you will have special insight into that theme. For inspiration, you might want to borrow some of Nietzsche's chapter titles, including the following: “Why I Am So Wise,” “Why I Am So Clever,” and “Why I Am a Destiny.””

The picture caption next to this was “Possibility.” Okay, so maybe I’ve been losing sight of this a little bit. Maybe right now is a good time to get back on track. And in light of that, here is my wish list. Twenty-nine, here I come, teeth clenched and with trembling heart.

I want to write more often. I don’t need to “be a writer”, but I want to remember how good writing feels.

I want to bake my own bread on a semi-regular basis. I want that to be relaxing, not stressful.

I want to smile more often.

I want to take in my surroundings peacefully, to not be so far inside my own head that I forget to appreciate textures or colors or scents, leaves and the sky.

I want to allow my relationships with other people to be reciprocal, instead of placing all of the weight of interaction either on them or on myself.

I want to sing along when I listen to music at home alone.

I want to pet my cats and hug my lovers and do the dishes joyfully and savor my food and laugh, as often as possible. (Well, maybe not so often with the dishes. But if I’m doing them, I’d rather take it lightly instead of irritably.)

I want to feel overwhelming joy again, at least once.

And, dear readers, that’s all I have. I don’t know what this year has in store. God knows I would never have predicted how twenty-eight would turn out, so I’m trying to just let things happen and figure it out as I go along. Lately I’ve felt like I have a death grip on my life, like I’m trying so damn hard to be happy that I’m turning into stone, but inflexibility isn’t the answer. If there’s one single thing I wish for this year, it’s to let go. I need so badly for this to happen that what comes after is almost of less consequence than the process. In order for my wishes to come true, I need this one thing first.

Here is my horoscope from a few weeks ago. The picture caption next to this one was “Passion.”

“Your old self is the fuel you will use to burn your old self to the ground. This bonfire will liberate your new self, which has been trapped in a gnarly snarl deep inside your old self. It's only at first that you'll feel freaked out by the flames. Very quickly a sense of relief and release will predominate. Then, as the new you makes its way to freedom, escaping its cramped quarters and flexing its vital force, you will be blessed with a foreshadowing of your future. The intoxication that follows will bring you clarity and peace of mind.”

Yes, please. Bring me my passion, my joy, and my fierce desire back. No more stone.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

keeping my head up

It’s officially been almost a month since I wrote anything. It’s odd, because I remember last year and how in love I was with the feeling of writing something that felt good to write, but lately even when I do get something out—usually in my journal, as you can tell by the gap here—it feels mostly perfunctory. The joy of creation is almost completely absent. I think that lack, among other things, is why I’ve been so quiet.

But! But. I think a corner may have been turned, although it’s hard to say for certain. All I know for sure is that I feel better this week than I have for some time, and the pervasive feeling I’ve been laboring under, the feeling that everything is heading in the wrong direction—Murphy’s Law writ large across these past few months—is fading. I’m not saying shit won’t still happen. To think that would be foolish and surely lead to no good end. My best hope is simply that there will be a more even balance between the shit and the good stuff, the stuff that perks me up and reminds me that everything, positive and negative alike, has its place.

I have a friend who keeps this as her motto: Everything Incredible, All The Time. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, about the different meanings that could have. For instance: incredible things will happen and are happening. Or: each individual thing is incredible, even if it is also shitty. Or even this: Life is miraculous.

My birthday is coming up, and Thanksgiving is mere days away. Last year I spent that holiday with my extended queer family, and my future was in limbo. This year my family is spread over an entire country, and the future I wanted is here, and I’m wondering about the future after that. Life is funny that way: whatever you anticipate is not the last thing, generally speaking.

Lately my life has felt fractured, split into all of these difficult-to-reconcile pieces instead of something resembling a whole. I want my life to feel like a growing thing, something bulgy and uneven but all connected, all growing from the same cells and heading outward to new places while still retaining a sort of cohesion. Feeling fragmented like this, more than almost anything, more than it makes me depressed or anxious or sad, makes me cranky, ill-tempered, and surly. And it sounds silly, but I absolutely hate feeling like that. Happy and sad, to generalize greatly, can both be beautiful, can both be emotions that I appreciate for their merits and nuances, but grumpy? Grumpy has few redeeming qualities. Depression sucks, don’t get me wrong, but some days I feel like discontented is, in some ways, worse. It poisons everything. (The combination is deadly in terms of productivity, it turns out. Sigh.)

In an effort to escape, to move back towards the me that is optimistic and able to roll with the punches, I’ve been working on remembering the potential miraculousness of every single thing, to appreciate things even when they are shitty. If you want to be happy and unhappy or irritating or inconvenient things keep happening, what other option is there? Seriously. So I’m working on looking forward to the next thing.

There’s this man I keep seeing in my neighborhood. Every time I pass him he calls across the street or from down the sidewalk or wherever, “Lift your head up! A pretty girl like you should look up, not down at the ground!” Pretty girl comment aside, he’s right. The ground is interesting and not to be overlooked, but there is so much more all around me. I’ve been trying to walk with my head up, to remind myself to look at the trees and the sky and the squirrels and birds and dogs in windows. Everything is incredible, yes? All of the time. Yes.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

sugar maple turn

I recently (like, yesterday) read a book by the poet/mortician Thomas Lynch, Bodies In Motion and At Rest. He speaks with eloquence, humor, and a caustic sort of understatement about death and words, how they relate and don't, what he's learned from each of them. It's quite good. I haven't read much of his poetry, but this poem was included in the book and I liked it so here it is, for you so you can hopefully enjoy it as well. He said that it arose from his solution to writer's block: take one object in your house, one object you can see from your house, one thing you read in the paper, and one thing you saw on television, and then try to relate them all.

A Note On The Rapture To His True Love

A blue bowl on the table in the dining room
fills with sunlight. From a sunlit room
I watch my neighbor's sugar maple turn
to shades of gold. It's late September. Soon...
Soon as I'm able I intend to turn
to gold myself. Somewhere I've read that soon
they'll have a formula for prime numbers
and once they do, the world's supposed to end
the way my neighbor always said it would -
in fire. I'll bet we'll all be given numbers
divisible by One and by themselves
and told to stand in line the way you would
for prime cuts at the butcher's. In the end,
maybe it's every man for himself.
Maybe it's someone hollering All Hands on
Deck! Abandon Ship! Women and Children First!
Anyway I'd like to get my hands on
you. I'd like to kiss your eyelids and make love
as if it were our last time, or the first,
or else the one and only form of love
divisible by which I yet remain myself.
Mary, folks are disappearing one by one.
They turn to gold and vanish like the leaves
of sugar maples. But we can save ourselves.
We'll pick our own salvations, one by one,
from a blue bowl full of sunlight until none is left.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

of soup and friendship

Today I had a genuine day off, the first in far too long. I didn't do much: read a bit, drank coffee alone at my desk--I've fashioned myself a bit of a me-corner, with photos and my computer and a notepad and a green plant that smells like limes when you rub the leaves--embroiled myself in some various forms of correspondence, and called it a day. For the first time in weeks and weeks I felt like I wasn't running myself ragged, and god, that felt good. I wasn't entirely unproductive, though. I made soup.

My friend Rose-Anne and I did this thing a while back that we called the Tandem Posting Project; every other week we choose a topic and we both wrote a post about our reflections on and around that idea. We talked about long-distance friendships, favorite recipes, and even dirt, but eventually writer's block and a trip to Europe got in the way and we haven't resumed yet. I feel guilty about this, but I'm uncertain I'm up to the task of writing anything--much less something topical and with a deadline--and so the project has languished in a corner of my mind, waiting. But tonight I made a soup from Rose-Anne's blog, a pumpkin soup with chewy hominy and tangy tomatillos that I just freaking loved, and it occurred to me that I have a pumpkin soup recipe of my own to offer up. And so! A homage to the on-hiatus Tandem Posting Project.

Pumpkin Black Bean Soup

The funny thing is that even though I've been utterly overwhelmed by basically everything lately, my cooking has been going really well. I cook nearly every night, mostly new recipes, and I'm more willing to adapt things all willy-nilly and just sort of go with what I think will be good. Sometimes this is mediocre--there was a weird cauliflower moment a few weeks ago, for instance--but often it's not too bad. This recipe is loosely adapted from (seriously, folks) www.pumpkinsoup.org, a website dedicated entirely to pumpkin soup recipes. I've never had much of a love for sweet soups, so it was a relief to discover last year that there were good savory ones out in the world, lovingly collated by some pumpkin soup aficionado out there for my own personal benefit. This one--it's in the International Pumpkin Soups section--has bite and creaminess, and I love the use of black beans, chilies, and coconut milk together.

Rose-Anne, this recipe isn't as elegant as yours always are. I'm afraid my memory is bad, and I don't always remember what it is that I do when I cook. I don't measure or time, and this might well be wrong in several different ways, so be vigilant if you try this at home. Consider this a rough draft, but one that I believe will work just fine. I enjoyed your soup, and if I ever refine mine I'll serve it to you some autumn visit.

2-3 tsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
1-2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and diced
2-4 cloves garlic, diced
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp thyme
1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 can pumpkin puree or equivalent amount fresh pumpkin puree
4 cups vegetable broth
4-6 cups water
2 cans black beans
1 can coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste
lime juice to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot, and saute the onion until it begins to become translucent. Add the jalapeño, garlic, cumin, and thyme and saute for another minute. Add the broth, water, and sweet potato to the pot and bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer until the sweet potato becomes very soft, roughly ten to fifteen minutes. Coarsely mash with a potato masher, then add the pumpkin and black beans and simmer for ten more minutes, adding more water if the soup seems too thick. Add the coconut milk, salt and pepper. Serve with lime juice on the side, to taste.

Friday, October 15, 2010

the secret garden

“[S]ecrecy hides far more than what is private. A private garden need not be a secret garden; a private life is rarely a secret life.” –Sissela Bok

…but what about where the private life is a secret garden and it has always been off-limits to you? And what if you respect those limits because you think you know what’s inside them? It’s you who would be keeping secrets then…” –Sue Halpern

When I was a kid my dad would go on weeks-long working trips in the Grand Canyon, and while he was gone my mom and I would stay up all night together watching Politically Incorrect and then whatever came on after Politically Incorrect or old Hitchcock films, eating food that I can’t even mention without shuddering now, stuff we never ate during daylight hours or when my dad was home. We once stayed up until 2 AM together watching a show about people with weird “supernatural” abilities because I was insistent that I wanted to see an old woman called the Human Cork. Another night my mom read me the infamous vomit scene from Steven King’s The Body (the filmed sequence in Stand By Me really can’t compare) and we laughed until tears rolled down our faces, until my entire body hurt and we were stifling giggles, trying not to wake my sister. Those nights, and that night in particular, I felt closer to her than I ever have before or since. I think it’s because we were sharing a secret, because we’d made a privacy out of the two of us and it existed independent of the rest of our lives.

But what is private, and what is secret? I’ve been going over these questions a lot lately, as it is obvious to me that a decrease in my immediate access to privacy, not to mention solitude, caused some pretty severe distress, mentally and emotionally. And here’s something: as the amount of privacy I had decreased, the amount of secrecy I required increased pretty dramatically. As the amount of time I had to engage with myself on a one-to-one basis (so to speak) began to disappear, I found myself retreating in lockstep into behaviors that felt furtive, like I needed to hide away some stolen moments for myself like a squirrel with a cache of nuts for the hard times ahead. I went invisible on gchat, I only listened to music when I was alone; when I got a night to myself all I ate was instant mashed potatoes just like my mom would have, and as I ate I think I understood her a little bit better. I think I’ve desperately needed control over some part of my life, and so I began controlling tiny things and calling them secrets, actions that were only for me. Maybe it was the same for her, and I’m retrospectively proud to have been let in on the game.

Secrets aren’t inherently bad, and I think that actually they’re one of the keys into the mystery of desire for solitude. Privacy, at least in the American sense, means getting to choose what you want to show other people, and secrets are what you choose not to show. You can share privacy with as many people as you care to, but secrecy is usually a more personal matter. Most of my secrets are silly: foods that I only eat while alone, the need for an occasional night where I drink too much wine and read and get all adamant in my journal about the nature of beauty or whatever. Others carry more weight, but I find I’m bad at keeping the big ones. If it’s important enough, it’s usually important enough that I want to discuss it. Either way, the less privacy I have the more important my secrets become because, when I don’t have as much control over my privacy my secrets start to define more clearly who I am when I’m alone.

Because even though my secrets feel silly and small to me, I hold them close because they remind me of who I am as a solo entity, when it’s just me in here and out there and I’m not thinking about anybody else at all. No matter how much I care about them, other people are always a factor to be considered when I think about what I want to happen next, another variable that I can’t control. My small secrets wouldn’t hold up to the scrutiny of others, and so they become a symbolic stand-in for the solitude that is no longer as prevalent in my life as it was a year ago. The joys of eating gross comfort food or of a solo listen-through of a favorite cd increase exponentially when these actions become secret; they become precious, because they are for me and me alone. I could let other people in if I chose—as my mother did with me during those long preteen nights together—and sometimes I do (I just told y’all about the instant mashed potatoes, for instance), but for now I’m mostly guarding them carefully. A secret is insurance against the encroachment of others, no matter how welcome that entrance might be. Sometimes, you just need something that belongs only to you.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

sweet home

Over the weekend I moved, of all things. We’d been looking at places, weighing the merits of a three-bedroom, a two-bedroom, or two one-bedrooms--being in a triad complicates housing, among other things--before deciding on the last option, but the move was still an almost complete surprise. We filled out an application for a one-bedroom in a designated low-income complex, which turns out to be an incredibly complicated process, and it took a week to get all the paperwork—proving our residency, ability to pay rent, income, job status, etc.—sufficiently completed. Eventually, however, we were declared officially poor (we're half a yuppie, my boyfriend says) and on Friday we were finally approved; because of my work schedule, we decided against all common sense to move on Monday.

Whew, is all I have to say. I feel like I haven’t sat still in days, between work and moving and cleaning the old place and being in the very baby beginning stages of setting up the new apartment. But even though this apartment is still overrun with full boxes and empty bookshelves (Don’t even freaking ask me how many boxes of books we had. A LOT) and my spices are all buried beneath some blankets in the giant box that nearly killed me getting up the stairs, I’m already ridiculously happier than I was. I think this apartment will be an excellent argument for space’s impact on mental health.

I wrote a few months ago about how my apartment, my old apartment, had gone rather suddenly from being just a space I lived in to being a home. Well, shortly after that it went from being a home to being something else entirely. My space, while perfect for one inhabitant, proved to be entirely too small for two cohabitants (two and a half, really, since my girlfriend was visiting for about half of every week), two cats, and more books than you can shake a stick at. The apartment went from cozy to claustrophobic, and my insomnia and the lack of a second room to flee to led to me spending many, many nights quelling my restlessness in the bathroom, writing with my back braced against the tub. It made me so sad, watching a place I loved become something akin to prison, someplace that made me itch to leave almost as soon as I entered. People would laugh when I told them I’d spent the wee hours hanging out in my own bathroom, but really it made me deeply sorrowful and more than a little crazy-feeling. If you aren’t home when you’re home, what’s left?

Here, even with the boxes, there is already space. It’s been so long since I’ve lived somewhere with, for instance, a hallway. There are three closets. I set up the bones of my kitchen tonight and my god, I choked up: a full-sized, brand-new stove and refrigerator greeted me when we got here, and there’s even room for a bookshelf. My cookbooks are finally home as well, it seems. It’s almost alarming, the space. A coffee table, really? I am so in love with the idea of what this can become for me, geographically and creatively, that I can barely wait. I hope to be writing at my desk in the living room soon instead of the bathroom; I hope to drink coffee on the couch in the morning and write my goddamn heart out. The worst part about losing my sense of home was that I couldn’t write a word. I hope the drought is over, or at least beginning to be over.

But here’s to new homes, to sharing space with loved ones while preserving your own life, to being happy where you are. Loving where I am makes me want to love the whole damn world, and having a home makes all the difference. I think I’ll love it here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

what we want from what we lost (Berlin, part two)

My guidebook had this to say about my last museum: "Berlin's Jüdisches Museum, the largest Jewish Museum in Europe, celebrates the achievements of German Jews and their contribution to culture, art, science and other fields... [T]he exhibit also includes one section about the Holocaust, although this is by no means the museum's entire focus. In fact, what makes Berlin's Jewish museum different is that it looks at Jewish history beyond the very narrow context of the 12 years of Nazi rule." I’m sure that’s true. In fact, I wanted to see the special exhibit on Jews in comics, but it cost extra and so I somehow only saw the Holocaust section, and while I guess it shouldn't be surprising that it was an emotional experience it was emotional in a way I wasn't expecting.

What was so profoundly disturbing had somewhat less to do with what I was seeing than with where I was seeing it. The exhibit itself, on the lower floor of a very unassuming building, is surprisingly sparse: a handful of windows set into the walls, each with a small token from somebody's life and a note describing their eventual displacement or murder. There are two longer hallways, the Axis of Exile and the Axis of the Holocaust, and they are intersected by a third hallway, the Axis of Continuity, which leads back to the surface. Many museums attempt to somehow thematically link themselves to their subject via architecture, but this was the only space I’ve ever been in where the intent was to make the visitor uncomfortable, unsettled. The three axes intersect at odd angles, and the floors subtly slant; the walls are perfectly white, the lighting cold, and display windows are set flush with the walls so that the long hallways appear unbroken and clinical. That’s it: three hallways, some exhibit windows, a few artifacts.

The Axis of Exile, which deals with displacement during World War II, leads to the Garden of Silence, a square of twenty-foot-tall stone pillars—the only right angles present anywhere in the exhibit, I was informed—reaching towards the open sky and filled with low-growing trees. Teenagers were playing hide-and-seek between the columns, their echoes surrounding me, and I could see blue overhead; even though I was stumbling over the rocky ground, thrown by the endless columns and the still-slanting floor, the air took away a little bit of the disorientation I was feeling, and I stayed there longer than was necessary, craning my neck to see the clouds. Then I went back inside, to the Axis of the Holocaust.

At that point I was still okay. I walked slowly, reading each plaque and looking at every artifact. I’ve been to a few concentration camps, and what I remember from those is their attempts to overwhelm me: rooms full of shoes, hairbrushes, hair. They try to tell me that I can never understand the number “six million”, that I can’t even come close. The Jüdisches Museum took the opposite approach, sneaking in through tiny details and abstract representational force. The end of the Axis of the Holocaust is an empty room, the Holocaust Tower, with tall grey stone walls and a completely black ceiling. The angles were so completely wrong and the silence was pushing every sound back; the echoes, unlike the almost friendly ones from the teenagers in the Garden of Silence, came at me so loudly that I fled in a panic after less than a minute. There was nothing there, but somehow I was more horrified than it is possible for me to express because there was nothing there. It was shocking, the emptiness of that chamber.

I left not only the room but the exhibit, fumbling for my backpack in the locker, in a rush to exit this nauseating place that felt so quietly and viscerally horrifying and be back in the normal world. In my haste I stumbled out the wrong door and ended up in a garden that seemed benign but which I couldn’t seem to find my way out of, although I could see people in deck chairs, presumably at the museum café, sipping drinks and watching me as I stumbled around. Every gate was locked; every stairway led back to where it originated. At first I laughed, nervously, and acting nonchalant because of the drink sippers—who, frankly, seemed more menacing by the second—but after ten minutes I was walking faster, tugging at doors and trying not to run. After fifteen I was nearly in tears. When I finally found the door I had come out of I burst through, breathless, disoriented and wild-eyed. I ran to the actual exit without caring if I was drawing looks, ran out the doors and to the children’s playground next door. I wrote and sat and ate some bread and cheese and blueberries—blueberries were a great comfort, somehow—watched ants run around on the bench beside me, recovered. Eventually I left, quietly, and went home, went to bed. It was all I could do.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

one of the cities in which i loved you (Berlin, part one)

In Berlin, I mainly did two things: I walked to museums, and then I walked around inside of museums. Travelling alone made me realize how many of my prior travels had been based around themes like "let's find a good place to eat lunch" or "let's sit around and talk to each other about what we see and then maybe have a beer". Without those fallback positions, I discovered pretty quickly that I had no idea what to do with myself, which is when I started hitting the museums.

I went to seven museums in three days, which would have been tiring even if I hadn't been walking probably seven to ten miles of urban sidewalk each day on top of that. I learned about the fishing boats of Pacific Islanders and saw photographs of Depeche Mode, looked at still lives of garden gnomes and wondered at partially destroyed Greek friezes, all beauty and decay and silent stylized struggle. I went to a contemporary art gallery housed in a revamped train station decked out with neon lights, and I went to the Zuckermuseum, which I thought would be a candy museum but instead turned out to literally be about sugar; ironically, it was staffed by the sourest people I met on my entire trip. I saw a lot of stuff, but I would say that I had exactly two truly moving experiences in those three days, moments that were divorced from the intellectual coldness that can accompany a museum visit or seven. These two things have been tumbling around in my head ever since. This is the first one.


Usually when I see famous pieces of artwork I end up feeling a little let down. They look exactly and unexcitingly like their reproductions or there are too many people around--hey, Mona Lisa, I'm looking at you here--or I end up psyching myself out, thinking "Is this neat because it's famous, or is it famous because it's neat? What am I enjoying here, art or fame?" When something bypasses all of that, it's incredibly shocking.

I saw the bust of Nefertiti at the Neues Museum (New Museum) on my first day, almost as an afterthought. I wasn’t excited about it; it wasn’t something I’d ever felt a desire to see, and I assumed it would be underwhelming. Instead, when I rounded the corner into the room where the bust sits alone, the shock I felt took me completely by surprise. The sheer presence, the vitality of this piece of painted limestone was like nothing I’ve ever felt before, like what I imagine people mean when they speak about seeing something supernatural. It wasn’t a reaction to the beauty of the work—although it is beautiful, much more beautiful than you’d guess—but, I think, to the intent of both artist and model. I think that for a piece of art to cause a skeptical visitor to shake 3,300 years after its creation, the force put into it must have been incredible. It felt huge and almost menacing; I stood trembling, riveted, trying to decide whether I felt like crying or running away or throwing up.

I ran away. After maybe three minutes, I turned and fled. After I had recovered--maybe twenty minutes, during which time I saw very little although I passed by many things—I went back. The impact was gone, except for an echo of the awe and fear. I left the museum soon afterwards, and spent the rest of the afternoon in the Tiergarten, trying to recover.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

falling down

Just a brief update, although I hope to really write something tonight. It's 11 PM and I'm not even remotely tired, so... We'll see. At any rate, I wrote something for my friend Louise recently. It's about my terrible horrible no good etc. etc. trip to Germany, and the book that put it all in perspective by being incredibly awesome. Read my thing, and then read the book. It's called The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, and it's just as fantastically beautiful as its title. Good night, and good luck.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

when it rains

Dear friends,

(Or, you know, strangers who googled "naked girls and me" or whatever.)

It's been more than a month since I wrote anything on here. That really sucks. But can you believe me when I say that lately I don't seem to have more than the bare minimum of words available to me, that anything beyond that seems like an absolutely overwhelming? It's been a long and exhausting month since Berlin. It was a long and exhausting month before Berlin. Exhausting is perhaps my most-often used word lately. And that also sucks.

I remember writing last year about how I'd survived a bicycle accident relatively unscathed, how lucky I felt. Well, lately I feel profoundly unlucky. It's incredibly frustrating, because I feel like I should be on top of the world: I have two loving and amazing partners and countless wonderful friends, I just spent a month in Europe, my ensemble won an international performance prize and return invitation to perform again in two years, and my cats are adorable if irritating. My jobs are generally fulfilling, even. But good god, all the smallest things seem to be against me lately.

First there was the trip to Europe. I think I mentioned this before, but I'll reiterate: lost (and quickly regained, thank god) luggage, lost wallet, missed flight (not my fault! I swear), giant rebooking fee, nearly spending the night on a stoop that I wasn't even sure was mine in Germany. Also, back at home my bike was stolen, because seriously, what the fuck? Travel travel travel--including running out of money in scary ways several times that were complicated by my lost wallet--and then home to an apartment where my kitchen sink and bathtub immediately and irretrievably clogged themselves. A week later, the unclogged bathtub began leaking through the floorboards, flooding the bathroom; when that was fixed, the bathroom sink didn't work for several days. There have been massive scheduling conflicts between my two jobs, attempts to decide what to do about my future housing situation, and one of the cats won't stop shredding the goddamn toilet paper.

I hate to bitch, but goddamn. It hasn't all been bad, of course--I spent a few lovely days in Paris, and there are still amazing people all around me, and there are plenty of small good moments--but all of these things added together, plus others that don't bear mentioning, are wearing me out. I feel like I haven't been this tired in years. And so, the lack of words. Hopefully things will get at least a little better soon and I'll be visiting here more often, but for now I'm going to focus on staying afloat. Wish me luck.

And hey, you know what? My wallet was returned to me by a nice British man who mailed it to my parent's house with a kind note about how sorry he was that I'd had to go through the anxiety of losing it. Nothing was missing. So maybe that's a harbinger of better things to come. I certainly hope so.

Thursday, August 05, 2010


Today was my last day in Berlin. There will be more details later, but the important thing for this moment is that today I splurged and rented a bike, which was one of the best ideas I've had in a while. As I rode around on my clunky cruiser--too short, crooked handlebars, no helmet, but wonderful nonetheless--I felt the sense of freedom that always comes with the wind in my hair and the ground whizzing by under me.

I spent my first two and a half days here walking absolutely everywhere, which served to orient me but also made me sore in ways I've never been before. Exploring a large urban area by foot is a fantastic form of control over your own movement, but it's also slow and incredibly gruelingly tiring. So today, the bike. This is a good bike city: lots of paths, and it's completely acceptable to ride the wrong way down the sidewalk when there aren't. It's an enjoyable place to get around.

But this was the best moment, and the one I'll end with today. There was a moment, a moment after I had correctly negotioted a tricky platz and ended up on the right street--the irritating things about being in a platz here is that all of the street signs disappear and simply say 'platz', which is an excellent way to get lost if you don't know your way around--and I was feeling pleased. As I rode down the avenue, I suddenly realized where I was.

That sounds so minimal. After all, I was on pretty much the major street in town (Unter den Linden), in an area I'd spent a lot of time in two days earlier. But that moment, where my mind said 'Museuminsel' and then a quarter of a second later I saw the dome of the Altes Museum, which is on the east side of Museuminsel, was tremendously gratifying. It felt triumphant. After days of only sometimes and somewhat knowing where I was, I suddenly had this sense of place that both took my breath away and made me laugh, if those things are simultaneously possible.

Tomorrow I leave for Paris. I don't know much french, I know little about the city, and I'm woefully underprepared for my visit. But I think that part of what I so desperately need from this trip is to let go, to give up and just be where I am. I haven't been doing a particularly good job of that. How could I? I just spent a highly-structured number of months in Chicago juggling an incredible number of obligations, followed by two weeks of rigorous music rehearsal and performance. I'm primed to control this journey and make it into something less than it can be. But I hope that in Paris I can just throw my hands up, wander and sit and exist and be happy with that. I need to let go, and what better way to do that than by going somewhere where I have nothing to hold onto?

Monday, August 02, 2010

i say hallo


I'm in a hostel in Berlin. (I have three minutes left, so goodbye, eloquence! Also proofreading.) This trip has been indescribable so far, in good and bad ways. I've lost my wallet, missed planes, almost cried at more consecutive rehearsals than is strictly healthy, but I also (as part of my badass quintet) won an international performance prize. And now I'm in Berlin, so that's good. Today I will walk my feet to pieces at Museuminsel, Museum Island, where for twelve euros I can s4ee as much of four museums as I can handle. Then I'm thinking falalfel and bed.

Last night I ate excellent naan-based pesto pizza with an Australian man named Ray. He told me I'd missed the flea market, but that Berlin in the summer was the best place to be. Right now I'm inclined to agree. On Thursday, though, I'll fly to Paris, where I hope they don't hate me for speaking pretty much zero french, and then a day in London and then home.

Home sounds incredible. Right now it might all be pizza and museums, but for my first two weeks in Germany I literally did almost nothing but practice and rehearse. A typical day involved four to four-and-a-half hours of intensive rehearsals, lunch, two hours of practice, a lesson, a lengthy and intellectual concert, and then a slow collapse into bed. I was nearly at the breaking point, and I have rarely been so happy to have a cocnert occur. Our work paid off though, and we will be returning in two years to play a full concert. That kind of recognition for such effort is astounding, and nearly drives me to tears.

But home. I want it slow and lazy, with no goals. And afternoon napping, without worrying about my ability to buy produce or communicate my needs afterwards. I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

food and sex and good writing

Well, okay, maybe this is the last thing before I go. My friend Louise started a book blog, and I revised something I'd written about Dorothy Allison for it, and it's posted here. Thanks, and see you in Germany!

Friday, July 09, 2010

i still only travel by foot and by foot it's a slow climb

So here's another reason I haven't been writing: I'm going to Germany. For a month, almost, and I leave six days from now. I'm pretty sure I forgot to mention this, but my amazing new music group--which I am a part of because I took Music and Gender at NU with the founder and she later looked me up on myspace, of all places--got accepted to a fancy-schmancy music festival just outside of Frankfurt, and I'll be playing my ass off for two weeks on a concert program that gives me headaches and that includes the first piece I've ever been given that I couldn't even read. (Seriously.) After that? A trip to a farm in the Black Forest, and then... Somewhere else. Berlin? France, somewhere? Amsterdam, Copenhagen? I haven't decided--I'm taking suggestions though--but hopefully I'll be ready to tell you all about it, either while it's happening or after I get back.

I'm both excited and terrified. How much can change in a month? When I flip through all those empty pages in my planner, all those days with no work, no appointments, no dinners or coffees or meetings or anything, I get a little freaked out. My life here has felt so insane for so long that the thought of just abandoning ship (as it were), of going out alone and having so little agenda, is incomprehensible. I think that actually that means that this trip is necessary. I need a break, to reset and get myself back to myself instead of feeling tugged apart, smashed flat between all of my many and mostly beloved obligations. My most important rule is that I have to love myself if I want to love anyone else well, and lately there has simply been no time. Here, suddenly, there is nothing but time. It's like jumping into cold water.

But until my plane leaves next Thursday I'm short on time and, except for today apparently, words (I haven't written a thing in the past nearly-month, which is sort of scary), so I won't belabor you any longer. Wish me a happy journey, write me an email to remind me that I'm coming back, and enjoy your summers.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

limited but fertile possibilities are offered by this brochure

When the going gets tough, sometimes it helps me to take a step back. Actually, it doesn't just help; it's completely necessary. You can step back and look at the situation from another angle, or you can step back and try to remember what you were doing before things started going off the tracks, and either way the footing might be a little more secure than it is now. Two nights ago I had a panic attack; last night I had a surprisingly productive practice session, an invigorating and enlightening phone date with a friend, and made the best brussels sprouts I've ever had, bastardized slightly* on a whim from this recipe. Which is more important, the bad and hopefully isolated incident or the string of affirming and positive ones? It's hard to say, and I hesitate to even begin to quantify such things, so I won't. What matters is what I take away, and for that I'm sticking with the brussels sprouts.

During my conversation last night, it came up that some people believe that your romantic partner is the one who is supposed to offer you the most support, to help you the most with difficult things, to be the most there for you. I interrupted, surprising myself with my vehemence: "No! You have to be that for yourself!" My voice was loud, and my blood was up, and I felt unexpectedly angry. It felt sort of good. It reminded me that, actually, I do believe that. I believe that the most important person for each of us should be ourselves, and I don't believe that that denigrates our partners. In fact, it's like flattery: I'm so awesome and I can take care of myself and I'm totally a self-sufficient grown-up person, and hey, I'm dating you! So you're awesome too! I believe that your sense of self should be as precious to you as something shiny and golden and full of weight, that you should hold it close and defend it fiercely. How can you expect to relate to somebody else as an equal if you don't believe that you are equals?

Even though I'm pretty sure that people who believe in the partner-as-supporter ideal would agree with me that a strong sense of self-worth, self-sufficiency, is important, they sure as hell aren't saying it. They've saying that somebody else is responsible for your happiness, for your ability to be awesome; they're saying that you can shift that difficult task to somebody else, and they will take care of it for you. But if you don't have an internal support structure, if you don't trust and believe in and love and fully appreciate yourself, how can you expect somebody else to provide that for you? I think that can only breed laziness at best and resentment at worst. I feel like I've heard (or seen enacted, or intuited the presence of) the partner argument a lot more times than I've heard the self argument; I think that we give a lot of lip service to self-awesomeness, but I think there's a cultural tendency to raise our glasses to ourselves and then go right on leaning on the people we love the most.

I'm still worked up. This is probably partially--although not entirely; this stuff is important--because I've been having a hard time with this myself lately, not the leaning-on-my-partners part so much as the believing-in-myself part. I'm having difficulty seeing my own value. Hence panic attacks. Hence depressed days. Hence feeling like I'm being needy when I'm asking for things that are totally legitimate things to ask for, like help with the dishes or comfort after an upsetting experience. If I don't believe I have worth, then asking for something sounds like this in my head: "Can you maybe possibly do this tiny thing for me? I know I totally don't in any way deserve it and I haven't done anything to warrant your doing this thing for me, but maybe you are so nice that you'll do it anyway." It annoys the shit out of me, and furthermore, it isn't true. I know that. So why is it still happening?

A step back. Before I began this relationship, I believed I had worth. My relationship didn't change that, and I still believe it in my heart, but there's a disconnect between my heart and my head that scares me enough that I want to take a step back. Just one, just inside my own head. I don't know what's going on, but it can stop. There can be more brussels sprouts, less panic attacks. My partners are amazing. I am amazing. Believing that is the first step. I can go on from there.

*I added some garlic because I was short on shallots and used white vinegar instead of apple cider.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

the hot blood in my veins

So. I haven’t been around here much lately. That’s because lately it seems like virtually everyone and everything in my life needs so much, so much time and attention and conversation and consideration, that I feel positively beset by responsibilities, and I’m being forced into cutting corners where I can. Actually, this entry could be considered a stand-in for any number of emails, phone calls, skype calls, and letters that I just haven’t had the time or heart to respond to recently.

I’ve always been somebody who gives, for better or for worse, and although I’ve made a lot of headway in terms of keeping that exchange healthy, right now I feel considerably overwhelmed. Every day I’m riding my bike purposefully instead of for the sheer hell of it, writing emails instead of writing in my journal, practicing and secluding myself with my unreadable pieces of music instead of walking two blocks to stare at the lake and allow myself to relax. Everything I do has a function, and very few of those functions are, strictly speaking, about me. It’s wearing me down, this constant need, this seeming urgency. I can barely sit still, and yet when I do I’m completely exhausted, emptied out.

This happens to me periodically, and I never seem to know how to handle it gracefully. The problem is that all of these needs are related to things that are also genuine wants: I want to be there for my friends and loved ones, I want to play interesting music, I want to lead a purposeful and productive and fulfilling life. The problem is not so much that these things are part of my life—they always are, to some extent—but that the part I assign them in my life is sometimes misplaced. The truth is that the meanings of actions are colored by intent, and lately my intent has been merely to survive, to get through. I’m not enjoying the things that I want; I’m enduring them to get somewhere else. And when I allow want to become need, when I turn my actions into means instead of ends, I am less happy.

I suspect that this particular run through this cycle is hitting me hard because I wasn’t expecting to be here again. Here’s where I admit to a small bit of seemingly-unrelated narcissism: when I’m down, I go back and read my own blog archives, happy insightful posts about waking up and learning how to be happy. It helps, although I often feel like past me is a hell of a lot smarter than present me. (I’m hoping that’s just the mysterious power of hindsight.) This time last year I was in the full-on throes of personal epiphany, learning how to be happy and myself and still get things done, and my writing reflected that. This year I’m winding once again through the torturous passes of figuring shit out, the slow grinding movement that is the precursor to better things, and it feels like a setback.

It’s not, though. I feel like I got stuck on the feeling of radical change and it’s keeping me from appreciating what’s happening now. Last year was all about that change—crazy growth spurts, massive amounts of new knowledge flooding in, a wicked learning curve. This year, however, appears to be all about learning how to grow within the context of relative stability, of the framework that I was learning how to build last year. What I’m trying to say is that even change has to change. Last year was a flurry; this year is more like tidal pull, erosion, a slow shift. I don’t want to discount now just because the pace is different. I’m readjusting, realigning, looking for the good that I can use and discarding the bad that is just holding me down.

And so, I’m taking a step back. If this summer is about slow learning, then I need to let that happen and not try to turn it into something it’s not, namely last summer. I need to relax my hold, take a breath, and allow my needs to magically transform back into wants. And so, if you don’t hear from me in a phone call or chat or email or on facebook or whatever for a little while, don’t worry; I’m just getting back on my feet so I can be a better friend, a better listener, in the future.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

the things we take away

Rose-Anne, my co-conspirator in tandem blogging, visited me here in Chicago last week. Our relationship has always been defined by food—my god, the cookies we’ve baked—and by conversation, and this visit after eight months of long-distance friendship was no different. We ate braised fennel and almond-crust pizza and oatmeal cookies sandwiching rum raisin ice cream; we petted my cats, and Rose-Anne met my two partners, and generally I think we both came away with a new dimension added to our friendship. While she was here, we also decided on our next tandem topic, and I surprised myself with my suggestion: things we take for granted. (You can read Rose-Anne's take here.)

The thing is, I spend a lot of time trying not to take things for granted. I try to pay attention to the small moments, the tiny details that would pass me by if I weren’t making an effort to see them, the stuff that can be easily overlooked. Why, then, was I compelled to suggest this? And anyway, what does it mean to take something for granted? Does it mean that we don’t see it, that we don’t think about it, that we do think about it but consider it inevitable instead of capable of change? In the end, for me it came down to this: I think that in the same way you can listen to somebody without hearing them you can also look at things without seeing them, and this is when you begin to take them for granted. They’re there, and on some level you know that, but they are so far below your degree of engagement that they might as well not be. The things we take for granted are our blind spots.

Really, if I take anything for granted, it is the big picture. The wide view, the burst of motion that moves you somewhere else, the flurry: I am, relatively speaking, mostly oblivious. I’m examining the sidewalk cracks while traffic moves around me, fascinated by a person’s facial expressions while I should be noticing that they’re flirting with me; I’m more likely to see the graffiti on a building than the building itself. When I think about my life now, I tend to think of it as a series of miniatures: a tiny movement here, a singular moment there, an isolated phrase within a larger conversation. This flower, that footstep. I hadn’t realized how insular my world was becoming; not that seeing small things closes me off—if anything, it brings me closer to the present—but that in my quest for nuance I had mostly stopped seeing larger things.

This all came to a head last weekend, when I was trying and failing miserably to find the Evanston farmer’s market. I walked around the small downtown, wheeling my bike and becoming more and more frustrated because goddamn did I ever want some rhubarb, and after all these years shouldn’t I know my way around downtown Evanston? Jeez. But in addition to being rather spatially inept, I also don’t often see buildings; I see the flowers in front of them, and the people coming out of them, but the actual structures themselves slide past my eyes without leaving much detailed evidence of their existence. And so when I was faced with finding the freaking Evanston Hyatt, which I have been to and by many times, I had to call a friend to ask for directions. Oh, the shame.

But beyond not being able to find hotels that house farmer’s market full of rhubarb and raw honey and asparagus, I wonder if my attention to detail has been giving me tunnel vision in other ways. As I’ve been struggling with my recent backslide into a less happy place than I believe I deserve to be in, I wonder if it’s partially because I’ve become mired in sidewalk cracks instead of opening myself up in order to soar and see things from a different perspective. “Intent gets blocked by noise,” Marge Piercy says, and even though I love the noise maybe sometimes I need to stretch past that to the next level. I started looking down at the ground because I wanted to see the things other people were missing, but maybe I’ve been missing out a bit myself.

I’ve pointed out more than once that in natural settings--I don't know about urban settings, although I'd be interested to see if this holds true--adults tend to see panoramas while children see smaller objects closer to themselves in scope, but I think you need a bit of both for a more balanced view. Besides, who wants to be only an adult or only a child? The minute details are not all there is; the broad strokes of my life also have the potential for beauty. I can’t pay attention to everything, but I don’t have to pre-define the scope of what I choose to see either. Mountains and grass, conversations and graffiti: I want it all.

When I was little I wanted to live life full-tilt, like Teddy Roosevelt. Now, I just I want to live life with my eyes open. I think it's better this way.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


I woke from an ill-conceived daytime nap recently to discover a cat sleeping on my elbow, my handmade childhood quilt folded down over me, and a pearly grey light, the kind you get when it's midafternoon and overcast, suffusing the room. I was still wearing my black dress clothes from my morning concert, and my hair was in my face. It's gotten long while I haven't been paying attention; a few months ago I was shocked to realize that, for the first time in years, tangles had re-entered my life. People compliment me on it, and that never fails to confuse me. I moved, the cat--it was Skip, Rita could never sit still in my immediate proximity for so long--turned to look at me reproachfully, and I made a noise somewhere between a sigh and a groan as I rolled onto my back.

I’ve never been a napper. In preschool I got in trouble for refusing to take part in naptime; eventually we reached an agreement with my teacher wherein I was allowed to read quietly while the other children slept (or pretended to sleep, I was never sure), because even at the age of four I was adamantly opposed to naps as a concept. (Unfortunately, when she left the room and the lunchtime aide showed up, away my book had to go because she refused to believe that I had permission to not sleep, which I sort of understand because who wants to argue with a four-year-old? But I still remember my indignation.) As an adult, my opposition came from the fact that sleeping during the day is a nearly surefire way to stay up all night. I walk a delicate balance most of the time between being too tired to stay up and just barely tired enough that I might be able to fall asleep at night, and upsetting the scales in either direction is to be advised against. At the most I'll lay down and practice deep slow breaths for a few minutes to reenergize myself, but sleep is usually right out.

That said, lately I've been napping. Frequently, like nearly every day, and yet somehow I'm still sleeping about as well as ever at night. Apparently the key is that I'm exhausted most of the time, drained of energy to the point where sometimes I don't even want to do anything, where I'm napping almost out of sheer boredom because everything else sounds too hard. (And seriously, if that’s what sleep requires, give me insomnia.) It's true that life has felt hyperactive lately, but on a deeper level, I think part of why I'm exhausted is emotional: I feel sad. Not all the time, because some days I feel good, great, wonderful, and not for any particular reason that I can pinpoint, but enough of the time that even when I feel good I rarely feel sparkly. I feel muted. Lately I've been annoyed because everything I write sounds the same, but I think it's because I'm trying to hold onto some of my wonder and amazement as it’s getting progressively buried behind layers of grey. It scares me because I feel like it’s impairing my ability to figure out the terrain inside of my head in any sort of helpful way, and the longer that goes on the more confused I feel.

The morning of my nap I'd been playing Mozart. I haven't played Mozart in a long, long time--nowadays I mostly play things that are so contemporary that I can't even necessarily read the notes right away--and the music made me feel peaceful. When I play Mozart, I am doing all the right things at all the right times, and I can feel my musician self, often dormant now as I play less and less, listening closely to everything around me, and I enjoy that. Mozart makes me happy, because I feel like I'm absolutely where I should be. I am in synch. In a time when my head is so full of uncertainty and vague dread, the feeling of rightness filled my brain and heart and fingertips and I felt calm. I felt that way again waking up from my nap several hours later, cat hair on my black dress pants and my own hair in my mouth, the warmth of my good cat sleeping on my elbow and the pearly sunlight. It felt like the day had been bookended by that feeling, except what had been surrounded by calmness was sleep.

Maybe I'm being hyperbolic, but lately a lot of things feel pretty shitty; I've been sad before, and this feels frighteningly familiar. But now I know what happy feels like too and I refuse to give up what I'd been hoping was just getting started. The thought makes me feel fierce. I absolutely refuse. Right now it often seems like the way I want to feel is just beyond my reach, shimmering like a will-o-the-wisp on the edge of my vision, but it’s not a figment or a mirage or unreal; it’s just something I haven’t gotten to yet. I will, but first maybe I need to cry a bit and let all of my plants die and rest for a little while before I get there. And so, if I seem a little more absent right now, if I write less or call you less often or seem more reserved, it's because I'm saving up my strength for the next step, for the tumble back into being the happiest shiniest best me I have to offer.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

dust to dust

(It's tandem post time! This week Rose-Anne and I are writing about dirt. You can see her post here.)

Last week my coworker ate potting soil. He was planting seeds at home on his back deck, and there was a bowl of oatmeal next to him, and it was windy. He told me he noticed the sprinkling of sediment on top of his breakfast, but he just stirred it in and went on eating.

This is my face as a child upon discovering that

mud actually tasted nothing like chocolate frosting. Surprise!

It’s been a long haul here lately. I seem to have no energy left at all for anything beyond what’s written in my datebook. Things like buying plane tickets or making anything more complicated than a bagel for dinner—I sometimes can’t even convince myself to get out the cream cheese—or putting away the socks that have been sitting on a chair for at least a week become monumental tasks, and I can feel my muscles grow heavy, can feel the inertia of exhaustion take me, and then things go undone. The crunch will lighten next week and I’ll be back to normal, but right now all I can do is hang on and wait, take good things as they come and hope for the energy to enjoy them.

So yesterday I was pleased when my boss asked me to re-pot some plants. It’s a total cliché to talk about how good it feel to get your hands dirty, but it’s true that I’m always happy when I come home with grit under my fingernails and it felt like a good day for that to happen. When I first began planting things at work I was concerned; I don’t have the greenest thumb despite my best efforts, and I imagined the plants shuddering from our contact, rejecting the soil I patted into place around their root systems. But after a fleet of angry customers failed to come after me brandishing the blackened carcasses of their jade plants, I relaxed, and now my favorite days are the ones where I can convince people to let me plant things for them.

I like the way dirt smells. When I walk around, especially during this time of year, I try to make an effort to use my nose more often—because of lifelong allergies I tend to breathe through my mouth and so miss a lot of discernible scents—and aside from the lilac and hyacinth and spirea and freshly mown grass one of the things I sometimes pick up on is overturned dirt. Scents are notoriously hard to describe but we often recognize them instantly, and this one reminds me of good things: helping my mom and grandmother garden as a child, re-potting my own small plant collection in my living room (shoving my hands into a bag of dirt in my carpeted one-room apartment always feels oddly subversive for some reason), sitting on the grass watching things happen around me. I think it’s so easy, with our sidewalks and paved roads and manicured lawns—god forbid you should walk on them—to forget about the ground entirely.

When I was little and living in Tucson, on hot days my mom would sometimes let me run the hose into our apartment complex’s communal courtyard of packed dirt and scrawny palo verde trees and then coat my entire body in mud. It was luscious, wallowing in cool wetness when the temperature was well over a hundred degrees. Sometimes I wish I still had more space in my life for that kind of abandon. Sometimes I wish I had a garden. Especially now, when I’m exhausted and trembling at the thought of the next week, I wish I had more opportunity to be dirty and uncaring and ridiculous. I want to be passionate about not just love and music and joy, but about dirt and coffee and gorgeous prose and geeky science facts, the ground in front of me and the far-off view.

I am so sick of hearing myself talk about how important the small stuff is, but lately I can’t seem to think of anything more worthwhile to say. I don’t want fame and fortune from my life; I want to appreciate the very ordinary things that happen to me. I want to sniff lilac bushes and eat fresh vegetables and read beautiful books in sunny train cars, and to dig my hands into the soil and come home with dirty fingernails to my cats and my books and a silence of my own choosing. I want sunlight and the color green and lots of garlic. I want dirt in my oatmeal, and mud in my hair, metaphorically and perhaps literally. I’m such a ridiculous optimist, an earnest romantic despite my best efforts, but I want to do small things and enjoy them fully and just savor the feeling of being alive and happy, to have a life that is wonderful without necessarily being huge.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

put on your red shoes

It hasn't been the worst week for sleep ever, but it hasn't been the absolute best either. Right now, for instance, it's 7 AM and I'm drinking coffee to try and get myself psyched up to go read college student compositions for three hours and pondering the (sometimes painful) things we do for money. Anyway, a friend recently told me (via facebook, since half of life's interactions seem to take place there sometimes) that she saw this and it reminded her of me. Which is cute, no?

Monday, April 26, 2010

the single body alone in the universe against its own best time

The sun is out today. It's sunny and I have the day off, and right now I'm still in a bathrobe but soon I'll finish my coffee and put "real" clothes on and pull my bike from its place in the closet and ride somewhere. I'm looking forward to it. I woke up happy today, and I want to make the most of what I have, the sunshine and the warmth and the ability to control my own transportation destiny.

I almost forget about my bicycle every winter. Out of sight, out of mind, and the truth is that I dislike being cold too much to go through the winterizing process and I'm too cheap to buy good gloves. As soon as the temperature drops below a certain point and the snow starts falling, I resign myself to riding the train or the bus--or walking long distances, because sometimes I do that too, even during the bitterest months--waiting in the cold impatiently, trying to at least get some reading done but often being distracted by the flow of people around me. I actually quite like riding the train in some ways, and I'd certainly much rather be people-watching or reading than driving (although I do miss singing in the car), but being a passenger on a public transportation system also automatically makes my movement something out of my own hands; I can show up when I want to, but I'm not going anywhere until the train pulls up to the station or the bus pulls over to the curb.

I think that's actually a large part of why I love riding my bike so very much: I don't have to wait. (I'm also somebody who will often simply hold it if I'm in a public venue and there's a line for the restroom, so this isn't just transit-based.) I remember coming to that realization during my first Chicago spring. In Arizona I never used public transit on a regular basis, and one of the big struggles I went through after I got here was simply trying to figure out how to get anywhere roughly on time. I was profoundly irritated by the fact that I often had to either risk being late or show up half an hour early, by the feeling of wanting to be moving towards somewhere else but being forced to stand and wait, to be motionless. It sounds sort of funny in retrospect, but I felt like I had to submit my autonomy of movement to systems larger than myself, and it drove me crazy until I adapted and gave up my resentment as pointless.

But oh, that first bike ride! It's part of why, in the middle of winter, summer sounds like freedom. There are a lot of reasons to love biking--the wind rushing past, the intricacies of weaving through traffic, the blood running faster and the muscles tightening and the speed--but there's also the autonomy. After a winter of waiting, I suddenly get to choose where I am in space, how fast I go, when exactly I leave. If I'm late, it's my own damn fault and I should have left earlier. If I'm early, I can ride around until I'm on time. My first spring, I felt that clear as a bell: I am in charge of this now, of the movement of my own body, of my own schedule. I was elated; I think I laughed out loud.

I've already biked a few times this year, but not enough. And so, once I finish this cup of coffee and put on some pants, I'm off. I have no real goals today, but that's part of the point; I just want to ride.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

the thickened heart, the dumb tongue

For whatever reason I've been feeling sensitive this past week or two, more susceptible to barbs and setbacks and sensations and emotions than I normally am, and as it turns out this was a particularly bad week to be feeling that way; I wrote and am not going to post a whole spiel about the fact that I'm suddenly and unexpectedly in a place where I'm worrying about feeling anxious, a vicious circle that I'm doing my best to calmly break. But I feel abruptly fed up with looking at my own navel, and right now I need to move ahead more than I need to back myself into a claustrophobic corner of self-examination. And so, instead: a poem, one of my favorites, which I am shocked--shocked!--that I've never posted before. (At least as far as I can remember...) I've been thinking about this all week.

Dreaming of Hair
Li-Young Lee

Ivy ties the cellar door
in autumn, in summer morning glory
wraps the ribs of a mouse.
Love binds me to the one
whose hair I've found in my mouth,
whose sleeping head I kiss,
wondering is it death?
beauty? this dark
star spreading in every direction from the crown of her head.

My love's hair is autumn hair, there
the sun ripens.
My fingers harvest the dark
vegetable of her body.
In the morning I remove it
from my tongue and
sleep again.

Hair spills
through my dream, sprouts
from my stomach, thickens my heart,
and tangles from the brain. Hair ties the tongue dumb.
Hair ascends the tree
of my childhood--the willow
I climbed
one bare foot and hand at a time,
feeling the knuckles of the gnarled tree, hearing
my father plead from his window, Don't fall!

In my dream I fly
past summers and moths,
to the thistle
caught in my mother's hair, the purple one
I touched and bled for,
to myself at three, sleeping
beside her, waking with her hair in my mouth.

Along a slippery twine of her black hair
my mother ties ko-tze knots for me:
fish and lion heads, chrysanthemum buds, the heads
of Chinamen, black-haired and frowning.

Li-En, my brother, frowns when he sleeps.
I push back his hair, stroke his brow.
His hairline is our father's, three peaks pointing down.

What sprouts from the body
and touches the body?
What filters sunlight
and drinks moonlight?
Where have I misplaced my heart?
What stops wheels and great machines?
What tangles in the bough
and snaps the loom?

Out of the grave
my father's hair
bursts. A strand
pierces my left sole, shoots
up bone, past ribs,
to the broken heart it stitches,
then down,
swirling in the stomach, in the groin, and down,
through the right foot.

What binds me to this earth?
What remembers the dead
and grows towards them?

I'm tired of thinking.
I long to taste the world with a kiss.
I long to fly into hair with kisses and weeping,
remembering an afternoon
when, kissing my sleeping father, I saw for the first time
behind the thick swirl of his black hair,
the mole of wisdom,
a lone planet spinning slowly.

Sometimes my love is melancholy
and I hold her head in my hands.
Sometimes I recall our hair grows after death.
Then, I must grab handfuls
of her hair, and, I tell you, there
are apples, walnuts, ships sailing, ships docking, and men
taking off their boots, their hearts breaking,
not knowing
which they love more, the water, or
their women's hair, sprouting from the head, rushing toward the feet.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

to take what we love inside

(The tandem posting project continues! Every other week, my friend Rose-Anne and I will be writing about the same topic. You can read her take on this week's subject, a sense of place, here.)

What is a sense of place? What does it entail, and how do you get one? What place are we talking about? A sense of place is different than “knowing your place”, which is less about expanding to fill where you are and more about holding yourself back to as not to push your boundaries. A sense of place practically begs you to push, to feel the weight of where you are against your skin but to keep on growing anyway, to infinitely magnify and become more in tune with what’s around you even as you become more attuned to your own autonomy.

It begins to seem almost like a contradiction when I say it like that, but it’s not really. In order to know about where you are, I think it’s essential to first know about who you are. I’ve seen this in myself again and again: I move to a new place—a new city, a new neighborhood, a new apartment even—and I feel very uncomfortable, I don’t know how to relate to the people or sometimes even the objects around me, I act oddly and not like myself, and I don’t like my new home at all. But then one day I relax enough to remember that I, personally, am an okay person, and suddenly I’m in placelove and home has somehow become Home and I know that when I move later on I’ll probably cry because this place, this place has been so good to me. It happened in Tucson and Flagstaff, it’s happened in every neighborhood I’ve ever lived in in Chicago—the only place it never happened was Evanston, which just tells me how desperately unhappy I was during my first year of grad school.

This leads me to suspect that a sense of place is more complex than I initially thought, not just about a where but about a tangled interconnection between a physical location and the way I approach that physical location. When I’m happy and in touch with myself, I actually suspect that I could fall in love with almost any place. I feel like lately I’ve been talking a lot about connection, about noticing the small things that cross lines and bring everything together for me, but for me that’s the root of the matter: the only way I can see those details, which literally mean the world to me and make me continually fall in love with every day and every foot of ground I cover, is to be comfortable enough with myself that I can tune in to what’s outside the cacophony of self-ness. When I don’t have to spend all of my time considering my own (largely existential) personal crises, I’m set free to turn my mind to recording the generations of graffiti in my neighborhood, watching how the various people I run into connect and disconnect and ignore and share moments with each other to form community, feel the firmness of the ground beneath my feet, look at flowers and plants and birds and funny street signs and squirrels and dirt. When I’m happy, I simply see more, and seeing more makes me happier, and then life is good.

A sense of place, then, for me could be a geological region, a state, a city, a street, a forest, a building, or the space inside of my own head. But I’ve loved (and written about) Chicago for a while now, and my own interior self for nearly that long, so instead here are some pictures of my apartment. I’ve been here nearly two years, but it took me a good deal longer than I realized to actually grow into my own space; in a lot of ways this just became home for me. My apartment is a room on the fifth floor of a ridiculously quiet building, where unless I make something happen I can live in nearly perfect silence, divorced from the clamor of city, from other people, even from the weather—I can’t even tell if it’s raining, because there is nothing close to me that registers the drumming of a shower. As somebody who spends so much time exhaustively chronicling the outside world, it’s deeply comforting to me to have a space where I can relax and just exist, where I am surrounded on all sides by well-known and well-loved books and cats and food, where I can let my guard down. This is my safe space. And because I love it for its details as much as for what it means to me I’ll elaborate slightly on the pictures, but I’ll try to keep it short so I hope you’ll bear with me.

My desk and skinny bookshelf. I nailed shelves in at varying intervals so that I can store not only books but objects and jewelry there. There's a picture of my friend Erica and an Alaskan mountain on my desk, a picture of me next to a giant redwood tree on the shelf, a fan painted by my dear friends Jesse and Lauren on the wall, and plants. It's good.

My favorite bookshelf array! One of those shelves holds my books, the other holds my boyfriend's. The wall shelves (which I love) hold a mixture; the themes are random history, the desert, and science. And yes, that blanket has sushi all over it.

More books! Really, that's what my apartment consists of. The tall shelf is J's, the short one is mine. Also, I have a good amount of tea stacked up on there.

Messy, I am. But these wall shelves and the wide variety of small tables I've collected--mostly from the alley, I'll admit--hold all of my cooking stuff and save my sanity. I recently installed the smaller wall shelf that holds my spices, and that's how I knew I was home finally.

This is my view. It isn't much, but I get to watch the sunlight change and see how the vines on the wall leaf out in spring, stay happily green all summer, redden and fall in the autumn, and the bare architecture of winter. I try to be so connected to the world the rest of the time that it's somehow restful for me to limit my interactions to a single focal point. The picture on the wall--an abstract of tulips--is a batiked wall hanging I bought in either Prague or Krakow in 2005, and was the only thing on any of my walls for roughly a year. I sort of failed at nesting.

So that's where I live, where I call home. I love saying that: home. Books and cats and food, a spice shelf and a sushi blanket and a love for who I am, and I'm happy.

"O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach."

(from From Blossoms, by Li-Young Lee)