Sunday, March 31, 2013

Home and Away

We've returned after a week in the woods, and while I miss the quiet of the cabin, it's good to be home, too.  Near the mountain there's no cell service or internet connection, no distractions of new television episodes or errands around town.  We spent three days and four nights reading books, playing card games, sharing meals, cocktails, and stories, taking walks and photographs, and a surprising number of naps.  We took time to settle, really settle, and celebrate five years of marriage.  We laughed and talked and made plans and changed plans and at the end of our stay we felt grateful for our time away and grateful for the desire to return home to the lives we have, not just the lives we want.  

Five years in and I cannot imagine a day without him - he asked me when he came around that wall in the photo above if I was ready to go home.  Yes, I said, I'm ready - but really, with him, I was already there.

Monday, February 11, 2013


“Sometimes I get the feeling that we're just a bunch of habits. The gestures we repeat over and over, they're just our need to be recognized. Without them, we'd be unidentifiable. We have to reinvent ourselves every minute.”  - Nicole Krauss

It starts small - this business of reinvention.  It starts, though of course not for everyone, but at least for me, with two hands full of teeny tiny fingernails.  People asked if it was painful, the biting to the quick, and yes, it absolutely was, but in a way that was simultaneously physical and emotional, recognizable and well ignored - biting one's nails for almost 30 years makes the practice one of pain, comfort, ease, frustration, and habit.  It's a habit so ingrained in daily process that I would venture to say that most of the time, I didn't realize I was doing it until it was too late and my fingers burned and face glowed, the shame of an adult with her hand stuck in her mouth.  

And so, when I decided to stop biting my nails this time, because yes, yes, there have been so many prior attempts, I thought beyond the act of sneaking fingers to my mouth with squirrely fidgets and nibbles. I think it's hard to think of comfort when you see a hand ravaged by nail biting, but comfort it is. Nervous or anxious? Hand in the mouth.  Trying not to say unkind words? Hand in the mouth.  Fearful of failure when you speak? Hand in the mouth.  Like a pacifier to a baby, my fingers allowed me moments of silent escape from whatever it was that needed me to more present than I felt I could be.  

Now 28 days in, I've only fought the urge to bite once.  I want to have a good reason for you about why this time was different, why this habit of not biting came about with so much more ease then the times before, but I'm afraid it was a confluence of sorts.  This time, unlike the others, I threw it all out there and asked for support; I showed off my progress and admitted my past defeats.  This time, unlike the others, I let it be what I needed it to be - a big "win".  Because although the fact that I've stopped biting my nails is so minor in the grand scheme of life, and so trivial that even as I type this I am slightly embarrassed by the voice I've given it, this habit is much, much more than a nail long enough to don paint (A Good Man-darin is Hard to Find, specifically).  This habit is an act of courage, something I fear I lack.  This habit, in its very small way, is a reminder that it is never too late to make  decision and make a change.  It is never too late to be courageous, and it's the small, seemingly insignificant acts of courage that remind me more is possible, and not only is it possible, it's worth it. 

I've got my sights set on more habits and more change, more courage and less fear, more celebration of what's working and less time spent fretting on what isn't, but for now I have Flannery O'Connor themed nails that are just bright enough to keep me mindful of reaching for the life I want instead of the life I can manage.

Monday, December 24, 2012

It Goes Around

So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange, swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn't,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest of numbers.
                            from "Burning the Old Year" by Naomi Shihab Nye

I love these lines so much that I use them every year in one way or another.  The impermanence of their message has been burned in my heart and these lines have become the stone they resist.  The new year is creeping up and as I am sure it does for many, it spooks me when see it on the horizon.

This year has been full, cumbersome and full, and I would be remiss if I let it pass without recounting how it tumbled through. I turned thirty, Andrew got a new job and left an old job. We worked insane hours and carved out as much time as possible for each other and now, as we approach five years of marriage and a little over seven years together, I can say we might be happier together than in the beginning, when for a few days I thought my heart might explode from how much I liked him.

Yesterday we sat around a table of family and ate soup and six varieties of grilled cheese, and later through my fontina and white cheddar coma, I sat in a warm room filled with tiny white lights and I felt full in a way that food alone cannot manage.

We went to bed in clean, warm flannel sheets and I woke up this morning just as Andrew's keys jingled him out the door.  A short walk and I am in the cafe, my home away from home, and though I can see glimpses of sun on the horizon, it it still a beautiful dark blue outside, leaving the bulbs in lamps and strands to reflect in layers off the window next to me and suddenly I am sitting in a sea of glass ablaze with white light.

Tonight we'll make pizza (I'm thinking asparagus with pan seared pork and dry salami with feta), play games, and don flannel jammies.  I am bound to the house for a bit today waiting for the last of the Christmas gifts with the rest purchased locally and wrapped with paper I love so much that I might be that girl who smoothes out bits in the aftermath and saves it for next year.

For now, I will putter my way home and then putter my way around the house and maybe, just maybe, I will work on a few more holiday cards, and maybe, just maybe, I will send some of them out before Valentine's Day.  And for today, just like every day, I will think about those who are far from us, and appreciate those who are near, and just before bed I will remind myself to be thankful for what's yet to come.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Autumn Sun

All stories happen when the old way of life doesn't work any more. -Luis Alberto Urrea

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Live Anyway

"So here’s to the cracks and the crevices. Here’s to not just finding the time to create, but making the time, wrestling the time down, wooing the time. Here’s to learning how to balance life well and not so well and everything in between and having grace for oneself in the midst of it all." - Meghan Arias 

On Friday night my little sister had the words "live anyway" tattooed on her forearm. I'd scribbled out the phrase in at least eight different ways the night before, and of course, she chose the first version.  Over and over these past few days, I've been returning to the photo she sent me once it was done.  I've been looking at the handwriting I know so well, my own curves and pauses, and mulling over the words that mean something so different to me than they do to her, and yet regardless of their implication, I think we celebrate the same application. There's an impetus to persist, not just exist, regardless of life's climate.  

This page behind the scenes, is a series of incomplete posts, little half-starts, and good intentions.  I've got a stack of photos, and words on scraps of newspaper, receipts, and the backs of envelopes.  I've got so much to say and so many reasons (read: excuses) why there is not the time/energy/interest to complete any of it. I've got a bag full of life that I am schlepping around with me, weighing me down to a slow crawl most days.  Want a reason not to do something? I am your girl.  Want to justify why now is not the time? Call me. Want to keep yourself safe and protected from the unpredictability that life almost guarantees? I will show you the way.

And then, oh, and then, I read Meghan's word from one of her latest EPs.  I thought about the cracks and crevices that we can so easily ignore and discredit - about how easy it is to see them, but how hard it is to take advantage of them for anything more than hiding.  I thought about wrestling time, and I've spent the last three months wondering just when it was that I lost my fight?  I'm hoping now that Meghan won't mind me sharing this, but before reading these restorative words of hers before the release of her latest music (which please go get right this minute) ...before all of that, I watched her struggle.  I read her posts, tweets, and status updates recording the frustration of getting lost in a life, that while so beautiful and full, is not what it could be - what it should be.  I spent time with her photos of family and life and I felt kinship with the luck of having found such amazing love.  I read her lines when she was not, not, not (writing, creating, playing) and I clicked off quickly - they were real and honest and they said something that I wasn't ready to hear.  I can justify my own self-soothing, but when confronted by my struggles reflected in someone I respect and admire, my reasons grown thin.  The fear of failure is a comforting seductress because she whispers safety with her words, and as long as I keep her close, I know just what's not ahead.  

It's time, I think, to stop hiding in the cracks and start living in them.  It's time, I think to stop tuning out what I do not want to feel, hear, or think.  I've been hiding from myself and anyone else who might call me out - there's safety in silence for a while, but it runs out, just like everything else. You know it's funny that it took Meghan's words to remind me of my own, but they were there the whole time: It's good, I think, to love something even when it's broken, but even better at times, to love it enough to fix it.

I've got a million excuses why I cannot, but as it turns out, I've got one really great reason why I can: I want to live anyway.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Puttering

All weekend, no matter where we go, the question always comes: Any big plans for the day?

I wonder, always, how they might define "big".

We've answered with a millions different shrugs and smiles, anything to wrap the conversation onto the next step, anything not to have to define the piecemeal days we find so comforting.  It's hard to to present the walks (long and short), the card games, snacks, market trips, coffee pauses (the weekend calls for pots, plural, daily), films, books, etc., in a way that shows someone what these days really mean to us.  Today, instead of fighting it, I answered "puttering" to the kind clerk at the market down the street.  He smiled at me through his Flock of Seagulls haircut, furrowed his brow as if trying to define it for himself, and instead of jumping in as I am often wont to do, I just smiled back and he in turn smiled again.  He didn't need to know and I didn't need to tell, but it was better than bumbling out "oh nothing" and not meaning it one bit.

We have been puttering, and with the holiday we will have one day more (so lovely).  What does that include these days?

-walks to the market, coffee shop, water, antique mall, record shop, and museum
-coffee and scones outside in the museum's courtyard
-new music on repeat, new records being flipped and played, flipped and played
-countless hands of Phase 10
-cleaning, always cleaning
-clean linens in each room
-watching 84 Charing Cross Road for the billionth time

and tonight...

-pulled pork tacos with pork that's been slowly cooking all day, homemade corn tortillas, fine, tangy cabbage slaw, and freshly made crema

-vanilla bean cake and warm compote made from local peaches, served with cool, lightly sweetened cream

-our current favorite wine - Bookwalter Subplot 26, local and amazing.  How can you beat a description like this:  Our Subplot blend is a complex wine that provides an aromatic symphony of fresh fruit: red fruits like Maraschino cherries, vine ripened raspberries and even black currants are wrapped with the subtle hints of savory herbs, brown sugar, vanilla extract, cloves and pencil shavings.  The wine enters the palate sweet and has a generous, round mouth coating mid-palate. Flavors abound; red and black fruits, figs, plums, dashes of nutmeg, crushed cashews and waffle cone are blessed with a hint of dried herbs and cola on the finish.  

...more Phase 10....I just know it.

Puttering has heart - a rhythm to its madness - it soothes and it occupies us.  But for now, the music has stopped, so the record I must flip...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Where it Falls

Virginia writes about it in her diary, and so too does Rilke, and countless others, I suppose - this fickle life we shun at times for its unpredictability.  They don't linger though, as I do these days, fretting about how to "fix" it before it happens (control is more directly the word I'm meaning, though); their words are more focused on the regrouping and gathering of the bits left over when what we wanted and expected is instead a naive memory of an unmeasured wish.

There's been a great deal of change lately, some large and some small - a new job for one of us, new responsibilities and shifting priorities for both of us, and most days we're just happy to sink into the one unwavering foundation - the base of "us".

We're making it through though - hopeful of what's just on the other side of this and thankful to have the option for something different, for the possibility of better.  In the glimmer and worry involved in the anticipation of better, I'm taking the words above to heart and taking more time in this act of living that includes the curation of days and the arrangement of the pieces (an act I adore), but more so, remembering to take them as they come, not simply as I want them or need them, but all of them like a mother who loves without bounds, these pieces of life.

So we went blueberry picking and I mastered the grasses and needy branches with red ballet flats and felt warm and silly and happy.  My sister, a mouth full of blueberries and a bucket rattling with the few that made it in, laughed and took photographs.  Andrew washed dishes and I dried, and the record played the soundtrack to The Big Chill and we sang every lyric - most of them correctly.

In a few hours we'll walk a block over to the local theater to catch a documentary I've been waiting months to see, and then tomorrow we'll return to work once more and just maybe I'll be a touch better about the they come our way.