December 31, 2011

2011

never ran this hard through the valley
never ate so many stars

I was carrying a dead deer
tied on to my neck and shoulders

deer legs hanging in front of me
heavy on my chest

people are not wanting
to let me in

door in the mountain
let me in


- jean valentine

although I don't truly believe that the flip of a calendar page can change a life, I still can't wait to shake the dust of 2011 off my skin. I don't need to do a year in review -- you know what it was: full of depression and sadness, struggle, grief. I'm much, much better now, but still I am so done with it, and don't feel at all sorry for its passing.

for all of you out there who read this little thing, who suffered through the months of endless weeping, I am eternally grateful. some of you I know; some of you I have never met or heard from. but thank you. for all of you, may the new year bring joy and excitement, contentment, challenge, exhilaration, peace.

2012, you already hold great promise. big things await. my guns are at the ready.

December 30, 2011

home. I tromp down into our woods, a path I used to walk all the time in the summers, when I would go and sit on the big rock in the creek and read books and feel wild.

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my mom's cats are utterly ridiculous.
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I finally found prettyboy dam. I was just one road off the first time I tried.
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on christmas eve, there are family activities.
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(the icing was hard to get out of the bag)

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christmas day:
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tristan and I drive up to new york.

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he indulges me and we go into fao schwarz. all the candy is jurassic.
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nintendo world. a theme emerges.
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at home, bananagrams. my sister makes this (illegal, proper noun):
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...while my brother makes this.
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all of this is pretty much how it goes.

December 23, 2011

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maryland. my brother is much taller than he was this summer. my sister mostly talks about track, and it's funny to hear so much chatter about 8 x 300s, what running tights should be called (she prefers leggings), what my old coach is making them do. he's retired from everything but coaching, and only does that as a volunteer. he has a buzz cut and a glass eye. he taught at the high school for 41 years.

I have a zippy little red rental car and on thursday I find myself driving the old back roads of my youth. It's been years since I had the freedom of a car here at home; mostly I borrow my mom's truck. on a whim I turn down one road after another, not remembering where any of them lead. this was a hobby of mine the summer between junior and senior years of high school: pick a new road and drive until you come upon something you know. in that fashion I learned three ways to anywhere in a twenty mile radius. but now, when I try to remember the way to the old reservoir, I end up somewhere completely different instead.

my mother rescued five kittens from under the shed this summer. two of them remained as pets; they are identical orange cats aptly called fred and george.

this afternoon I headed out for a trail run, wearing a bright magenta shirt and an orange bandana tied around my neck to avoid being shot by the bow hunters. what can I say about running that old trail, except that I was full of breathless, unbridled joy -- so much memory, so much wildness, so much belonging -- and after cresting the one big hill, at the start of the long decline, I ran as fast as I dared on my bad knee, flying with loose hair through the oak trees, like a deer. given two good legs, I would have run all four of the trails today; it was hard to pull myself away.

two of my old girlfriends and I visit our french III teacher at the high school. my sister has him for french II, fourth period. the high school smells the same as it always did, and we all get giggly as we walk down the hall. mr. baier -- we can't bring ourselves to call him 'brett' -- treats us as old friends. we stopped being his students fifteen years ago; he drops an f-bomb and I realize he's closer in age to me than scott was. we talk horses (he and his wife own four) and he makes us do busywork: a worksheet of holiday terms to fill in. I leave mine on my sister's desk for her to cheat from, and indeed, later on that day he lets her use it, sending it home to me marked with a star. later on, the three of us walk the halls, laughing; we crash into the band room and take our photo, then discover an arts booster table where they are selling personalized sweatshirts. we each order one, asking for our old nicknames to be embroidered on the back.

tomorrow is christmas eve. in the car on the way back from hampden tonight, talking about our plans for the day, my brother informed me that I would have to take him christmas shopping. when I asked if he was joking, he grew defensive and copped an attitude, and I called him an asshole. oh, family.

December 18, 2011

my youngest sister answers the phone when I call to talk to my mom. these days, we're always talking about high school, because she is a freshman, encountering many of my old teachers; for the first time in either of our lives, my past and her present very neatly overlap. the old geometry teacher doesn't remember me (which is good; I often slept in my back-row seat). my indoor track coach, of course, does, and delivers the sad but unsurprising news that my old high school record in the 800m relay, hard-won, has been broken. because of my antics in his class, my old french III teacher (one of my favorites) teases her more, which I know she secretly loves.

she asks me if I remember someone three years my junior, and the name doesn't really ring a bell. "he's my indoor track coach now," she says, "and when I asked if he knew who you were, he said, 'of course I remember her.'" I remind her that I was a senior when he was a freshman, and so more easily memorable; I was also one of the best on the team that year. secretly I am a little pleased.

now she is running all the trails I have kept close in my heart for the twelve years I've been gone, though many of them are called by new names: the old barn trail is the barnyard trail now; the barn trail doesn't have a name at all. the ridge trail, though -- forever and always my favorite -- remains the same. I promise her I will show her the quarry trail, which we used to access by climbing the back fence and then crashing through the woods to the river. the trail follows the gunpowder to the base of a hill on a road near our home, and in the latest weeks of spring track we would run there to leap from the bridge into the water.

life has been unspeakably busy, the kind of busy that's so overwhelming you can't even quite look at it. sixteen hours some days have been spent doggedly marking parts, which reached my mailbox much later than they were supposed to from various string principals. my back aches and I have hardly been outside in days, but they're done. I leave for maryland in 36 hours. I haven't slept much, and as usual I've eaten too much candy.

at home there are many people to see. I think the trip will be full of nostalgia, and maybe some sort of quiet awakening. a fissure. in maryland the winter sky is diffuse blue; the leaves crack underfoot in the woods of my backyard. the rope swing is gone, I think, from the ash tree, having finally rotted away. the beloved family dog was put to sleep this summer; her absence, long anticipated, will nevertheless be a soft ache. the chickens will be under the heat lamp. as usual, the family room thermostat will be set at a preposterous 55 degrees. I never bring enough to wear around the house, but thankfully can rely on my sister, who is officially as big as I am. I refuse to let her grow taller.

my brother's voice is suddenly deeper. they are both nearly grown. who may abide it.

December 14, 2011

time travel

unearthing old journals: there is so much power in it. somehow, this is always a surprise. I have online diaries scattered across the web, hidden in nooks and crannies. strung together with the nineteen notebooks, they are a remarkable, vivid record of my life. reading these old blogs makes me feel as though I could almost talk to past versions of me. old jess, through the page, is as close as she'll ever be. I like her.

back in those days, writing was as sure as air - easy to reach and unending.


from the archives, august 5, 2005:
I have my hair braided into twin braids and a new shirt on, and I am laughing as I pull into the driveway, not knowing what to expect, but in ten minutes we are kissing in the kitchen and it's as though june and july forgot to exist. we have unbelievable chicken ('why is it unbelievable?' I ask. 'because that's what I decided to call it,' he answers) and squash and watermelon margaritas and I sit on the kitchen counter, telling stories. he says, you are writing the novel! this is it! and I shake my head impatiently, saying that I'm not writing anything and that's the problem. but he shakes his head and says, this is it, it's just not written; I am thankful for this, his saying it.

we get stoned and drunk and have sex on the dining room floor. the chicken really is unbelievable.

December 12, 2011

abominable snowman says, no pictures please

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Burl Ives

the days are short, and dark, and cold. I spend my sunday making homemade cinnamon hard candy; it cools in a slab on the counter, then gets broken up with a hammer, sugared, and put into jars. I infuse vodka (cranberry lime). the sealed jar leaks when I shake it. I dye my secondhand full seat breeches, to hide the stains made by someone else's black dressage saddle. I intend to dye them from white to dark grey but, inexplicably, they emerge navy blue instead. I make a double-batch of caramels and discover too late -- as the pot is boiling -- that my candy thermometer has sprung a leak and is steaming on the inside, making it impossible to know the temperature. they come out as the world's softest caramel, too pliable to wrap into bites. they're still delicious, but you almost could eat them with a spoon. unsure of what to do with them next, they sit in pans on the counter, wrapped in parchment paper.

I think to watch a movie, but I'm too restless. I stretch my injured places, which keep hurting anyway. I sit down to knit, but I am too distracted to finish more than four rows, and I get up again. I make the next day's lunch. I stand in the kitchen eating a banana, which I smear with peanut butter before every bite.

life is lovely, but very messy. all we can do is learn to work with what it brings.

December 11, 2011

the blessings

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well, I can imagine him beyond the world, looking back at me with an amazement of realization-- "this is why we have lived this life!" there are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.
-- gilead, marilynne robinson

this morning, driving through the early morning fog to a race a few hours away, I suddenly realized that the day had come when I became the girl I yearned for a few months ago, crying late at night in the bathroom. in the raw terrible days immediately following the breakup, I wished fervently to time-travel -- I'm sure you remember -- to the days just before it, so that I might impart some lasting knowledge on the former, pre-heartbreak version of myself. if I can't go back, I said, at least let there be a future me out there somewhere, in a place where everything is all okay, who fervently wishes she could travel in time to today to tell me it will all turn out in the end.

life is full of blessings. so many of the people I love are far from me, and for so long it has felt like a burden to be without them. but I am not without them. the other day, Cristina's toffee arrived in the mail at work, which was joy, tripled: one, I miss Cristina desperately; two, I got to hand out the bags of toffee to their recipients, making me the toffee fairy by proxy. and three? that toffee is delicious.

today was one of the best days I've had in so long, full to the brim with boundless happiness. the drive to eugene, where I might have had a one-person dance party singing single ladies loudly in the driver's seat somewhere around albany. the race, where I met up with a dear new friend I might as well have known forever, plus a gaggle of very kind folks from his running group; almost all of us won a medal -- I took third place. the impromptu beer at a corvallis brewery, where I stopped just to buy a bottle of their christmas beer but discovered it was sold out, leaving me to sit for the first time alone at the bar, drinking a pint so I could enjoy it once this year. the grange, where my farmer friends had a stand; we got to hug and catch up, egging each other on about our 5K times (nearly identical; I just pulled ahead). I bought some eggs. I ate some surprisingly delicious west african food. I hugged my friends again, saying goodbye. internet, I'm pretty sure they are some of the best people I know.

girl, I promise: it will all turn out in the end.

December 7, 2011

hobble

so, vegas.

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we jumped on the beds. (seriously.)

we went ziplining down fremont street.

we played the penny slots. (and collectively we might have won enough money for a coffee.)

we walked A LOT. that place is like new york in terms of walking. they trap you in those casinos and you're forced to go, I know there's a parking garage here somewhere, because the car's in it...

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we ran the half. having a night race meant we kind of accidentally spent the whole day walking. also I had kung pao chicken for breakfast and probably like three cups of coffee. bad choices. it was okay.

my full write-up of the race is forthcoming on the run oregon blog, but on the whole, our personal experience was okay leaning towards disappointing. the event itself was catastrophic. we couldn't hit our intended goal time (2 hours) because there were just too many people. my right IT band, which has never been a problem ever ever ever, had suddenly flared up on friday and caused me a tremendous amount of pain beginning almost instantly at the start of the race. bad enough that I let dayna go on without me; bad enough that I actually burst into tears at one point. I would have gladly DNFed if there had been any medical tent anywhere who could have transported me to the finish, but as it was, I mostly chose to keep running on my leg because the only alternative was walking, and that was worse.

I have moved mountains in the last day and a half to heal -- employing every single behavioral, dietary, and medicinal trick in the book -- and I can almost bend the leg again without pain. almost. I'm currently wearing a bag of frozen corn on my knee.

otherwise, we had fun but we were both glad to be back in our beds. vegas is exhausting. half-marathons are exhausting. being surrounded by 44,000 people is exhausting. I still haven't caught up on sleep.

in vaguely related news, here is the nike cross nationals video I shot a month ago. I am visible for a split second at 0:35, just before the announcer introduces Andrew Wheating.



hopefully I'll be running like that again soon. I was supposed to run two back-to-back 5Ks this weekend (one Saturday, one Sunday) and I am super bummed at the possibility of missing them. SHAPE UP, LEG.

December 1, 2011

december 1

the ale fest: tents with transparent roofs, clear crisp air, a table full of crackers and cheese and cookies. when I arrive late, everyone is happy and tipsy and they all immediately pour me beer from their mugs to taste, which spills drop by drop from an unseen hole in the bottom of my cup. we grin at one another. we pore over the list of beers. which one, I want to know, tastes the most like a christmas tree?

next to me, jon is adorably drunk and we lament that I can't be his boyfriend and he can't be my boyfriend; we both like boys. behind us, a man dressed in an immaculate velvet santa costume comes up and we take his picture. a friend jokes, 'whatever you do, don't sit on that santa's lap.'

at a stand near our table, they are roasting chestnuts, the smell of which mingles with the christmas tree beside us. there are string lights overhead. we all eat too many oreos. we toast our friends tom and rob, who were married in new york yesterday after cross-planet dating (u.s. & australia) for years.

the chestnuts are expensive but worth it; I've never had one. I share them with jon and bob, and then walk through the tent flaps out into the cold, clutching the paper cone in my hand. the chestnuts are each cut so that they can be eaten with a squeeze of the fingers. the night is full of christmas shoppers and commuters, and the stars, for once, are bright and clear.