August 28, 2012

dark though it is

this big sad thing happened, and I'm going to tell you about it but also I'm not going to tell you about it.

in the darkness there is writing, there is running (on my terrible leg, because necessity wins over injury, at least briefly). there is putting one foot in front of the other, stringing together a breath and a breath and a breath, until morning turns to afternoon and then to evening. my closet is piled high with clothes I can't put away, and I haven't really slept.

in times of trouble the desire to X myself is very strong. I don't mean the desire to kill myself. I mean, the desire to erase. not for the first time I've idly considered pulling down this blog. I retire facebook, I delete twitter from my phone. I don't know what this impulse is, exactly, although I have seen it before. at first I gave into the urge, but then I resisted. partly because two (!) of my cousins had babies yesterday and I really want to see those new little girls. but mostly because erasing these things feels like stuffing my head in the sand, like running away from a big sad thing. and I will not run away.

ok, technology: you win.

life is terrifically messy. in order to live day to day, we convince ourselves that we have control. but most of the time the shit that happens just happens. it's inconvenient and sloppy and it doesn't give a fuck about the schedule we set for ourselves. cancer happens and your brother's suicide happens and car accidents happen. but also, huge unexpected bonus checks happen. your grandmother you haven't seen in 25 years happens. free coffee from strangers happens. love happens.

"expect nothing," said alice walker. "live frugally on surprise."

you can pull your hair in anguish and gnash your teeth and say WHAT AM I GOING TO DO? you can curse and scream and say why me? why now? you can bury your head in your hands and pray for a rewind button, for a different page of the choose your own adventure book, for deliverance. I have done all those things. they don't work. you raise your head and blink and whatever bomb went off in your lap is still there, smoldering away.

I fell in love. it came unexpectedly, at a bad time, and changed everything. for the better. it was incredibly messy. it erased everything I thought I knew about who I was and what I would do. it defied the thing we begin telling ourselves, once we reach an age: that things don't really happen like in books. from the minute it started I thought, this thing is a freight train, bigger than me, and in motion.

I got on. it felt inevitable. there was, in fact, no choice in the matter.

I have known such friendship, such happiness. I have known all along that it might not last, and somehow the knowing made everything keener and more exquisite. I have yearned and longed, I have wanted, I have cried into my pillow, overcome by the force of my wanting. I hit the core, the heart of my heart. inside the heart of my heart I found such profound kindness, such humor and playfulness, such beauty and cheerfulness and joy. such certainty. the better person inside of me. the best person inside of me.

it blew up. life is beyond our control, messy and headstrong, a bomb, a freight train. I love, I love, I love. it is the rightest thing I've ever had. I would not take any of it back.

August 27, 2012

exhausted, but can't sleep. although it's not so very late, I have spent the weekend eating myself up with worry -- for myself, for one I love, for the universe.

I lay there against my father's side with my head pillowed on his arm, hearing the wind, and feeling a pity that was far too deep to have any particular object. I pitied my mother, who might have to come looking for us and would never, never find us. I pitied the bats and the mice. I pitied the earth and the moon. I pitied the Lord.
-- marilynne robinson, gilead

I have rewritten this four times, deleted it, rewritten it. what it is I want to say cannot be said.

nothing in this life happens the way we expect it to. nothing.

your friends feed you tequila shots and don't judge you for your foibles. your sister sends you a picture of her roommate's dog, which they have just, not for the better, shaved. people step up to try and fill the void. the void is huge sometimes, but people try so hard. so very hard. this part of the universe is a blessing.

nietzsche: when you look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.

when I was a second-year graduate student, and my stepfather was dying of brain cancer, I stood once, late at night, on the slab of concrete outside my back door, smoking a cigarette, feeling terrible about everything, and thinking in great depth about grace. grace was something that my stepfather could not find in his last months, though let it never be said that I think he should have had to. but it made it hard for us, his grief, his brokenness, the way all he could talk about was cancer, cancer, cancer. in those longest, hardest nights, alone in the dark in my ant-ridden apartment, broke, terrified, I thought hard about grace, about how, above all things, it was what I wanted to find.

I think about that still, constantly. I don't know if I have found it except in glimpses. I could not really tell you, even, what I think it is. the ability to rise above? the ability to shield others from yourself? when you put it like that, it just sounds terrible, repressed and stoic. it isn't what I mean. grace is what you give to people, to make the passage through trouble easier. my troubles, and yours.

I can't say any of this right.

when I was in syracuse -- I don't even think I told you, but I was in syracuse in july -- I saw an old professor of mine, one I have mentioned once or twice, in no specific way, here on this blog. in my mind I think of him as "my old adversary," a person who never directly was my teacher but who taught me much nevertheless. the relationship was a fraught one from the beginning, supposedly about clarinet but always more about writing, about life. as a young 20-something, I felt he was somehow a kind of omniscient narrator, that he could see right through me. how terrible, then, were his condemnations when they came down. I took them to heart, and very badly. we fought. we stopped speaking, then started again, then stopped. once, he called me the only woman I will never fully understand.

well, I saw him when I went to syracuse. I saw him at the expense of my dear old clarinet professor, who was never anything but kind, who deserved all my love. I saw him in order to lay to rest all those old demons between us. and, as it turns out, such a thing is possible. we had lunch. it was light and easy. we laughed and were glad to see one another. all the old bitterness had vanished. it turns out that you can change, grow wiser, be braver, face your fears.

I realize how much I did, in some sense, believe that there was a sort of sacredness just to the sight of him, and it really shocked me that those children could violate it as they were doing. I was standing there, taking it in, trying to decide what to do, when the old man wheeled around and planted that stare on me. How he knew I was there I don't know, and why he looked at me that way is a thing I never have understood, as if I were the betrayer. It felt unfair to me at the time, but I never could dismiss it. I never could tell myself that it was just an error, that there was nothing in it.
Well, I'll confess I did feel a certain embarrassment about him. It may even have been shame. And it was not the first time I had felt it, either. But I was a child at the time, and it seems to me he might have made some allowance. These people who can see right through you never quite do you justice, because they never give you credit for the effort you're making to be better than you actually are, which is difficult and well meant and deserving of some little notice.


when later he wrote me an email with some of the old dramatic psychoanalysis, I could see straight through it. 'why, he's just wrong,' I thought, amused. 'he thinks he knows me, but he doesn't. all that time I thought he knew everything, but he didn't. in the end he was just wrong -- such a simple thing.' lightness, after all that struggle.

what am I saying to you?

life is short. more than anything, I want to love deeply, forgive easily, be kind. there is no room in my life for anything but honesty. there is no time to be bitter, and no time to be afraid. when faced with a hard choice, the question I always ask myself -- always -- is, "if I were on my deathbed tonight, which would I regret more, the doing, or the not doing?" it's the yardstick of my life. I have made so many mistakes. big ones, that have caused great hurt. I might regret them, but I would not take them back. the mistakes are a part of you, and form you so much more than the successes. the good things, we glide right through; the things we do wrong carve us into our future selves.

a friend once wrote me, years after we had last spoken. we'd gone to school together. he chose a life in finance, I chose the arts. he wrote to say, 'you knew better than I did. how?' I couldn't answer. he said, 'if I had to do it all again, I'd become a craftsman. I'd make furniture, have a woodshop.' I said, 'if I had it all to do again, I would.'

every mistake I have made; all the things I have doubted; all the times I have been so afraid. I can't sleep tonight for fear of loss, for worry over one I love, for devastation at my own mistakes. but if I could go back and do it again, I wouldn't change any of it. for all the fear, so much joy it brought me. if I could do it all again, I would.

Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don't have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it?

August 22, 2012

I have begun,
when I'm weary and can't decide an answer to a bewildering question

to ask my dead friends for their opinion
and the answer is often immediate and clear.

Should I take the job? Move to the city? Should I try to conceive a child
in my middle age?

They stand in unison shaking their heads and smiling — whatever leads
to joy, they always answer,

to more life and less worry. I look into the vase where Billy's ashes were —
it's green in there, a green vase,

and I ask Billy if I should return the difficult phone call, and he says, yes.
Billy's already gone through the frightening door,

whatever he says I'll do.

-- marie howe, "my dead friends"

August 21, 2012


+ sunday with my friend rachel, who I finally got to see somewhere other than above a table full of dead chickens. we had brunch and then wandered up and down hawthorne, looking at things. when we were figuring out what to do she said, 'you're so good at making ordinary things adventures!' and I thought, 'wow, I'm developing a reputation.' I kind of couldn't live up to it this weekend -- too worn out -- but it was so nice to see her.

+ housesitting for some friends. free satellite tv, hot tub, backyard, but in the end the thing I most appreciate is, again, the simplicity of having friends who have become like family. the feeling of belonging that comes with being familiar with someone else's house, with being trusted with someone else's things. I thought a lot while I was there of the nights I used to go over to cristina's, before we lived together, and do her dishes while she was in the middle of insane tech weeks. a simple, small thing that made me feel like I had a family here.

+ my kid sister made the field hockey team and now she's up for captain. I'm proud. they are finally allowed on facebook (my mom is very conservative about some things) and one of the first things my brother did was ask me how to 'claim' me as his sister. I'm glad they still haven't decided I'm not cool anymore.

- waking from a dream where it is sunny and I am on a group bike ride, climbing up some imaginary road in the west hills, just reaching the peak. when I woke I was so, so sad. I haven't been on my bike since I started back at work. I'm still trying to remember how to fit everything in. I slept through my ladies' ride last weekend, which felt like the right choice at the time but now makes me full of regret. I think it would have helped.

- true, utter terror about hood to coast, which is this weekend. I am, very simply, not ready, and with a strange recent flare-up in my leg, almost certainly too injured to run. it hurts to crouch, it hurts to sit, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts. anyone who has been around these parts for any time at all knows how long that's been true, and there isn't even language for how much I don't want to keep saying it. goddamn, I don't ever want to hear myself talk about injury again. but this morning I burst into tears standing at the kitchen counter, because I had to crouch down and put away something in a lower cabinet and I couldn't do it without extending my leg, because it hurts so much to bend that knee. I don't know what else to do for it other than stretch and massage and try not to have a nervous breakdown.

+/- desperate to go camping, desperate to hike, desperate to be dirty with the windows down, to go swimming in a lake, to take a train ride, to drive to the other side of the state, the other end of the country, the other part of the world. still so itchy.

+/- still so preoccupied.

August 15, 2012

don't be afraid

so, hi blog.

I went back to work. a week and a half ago, in fact. I was kind of dreading it but also kind of glad to get back. I bought myself a new lunchbox, as though I were a kid about to enter the next grade (which is what it feels like, frankly) and it might be silly, but it helped. I washed all the possible washable things in the house (sheets, blankets, clothes, dishes, etc); I reorganized my fridge; I've been spending part of the weekend making tubs and tubs of food for lunches for the week. it's one of a number of possible times in the year when I get to start over fresh, so that's what I'm doing.

I guess my summer was pretty satisfying, because unlike last year, I haven't felt sad about it being over. I mean, there was the feeling of dread and doom on the last few days of my furlough, and of course every day there's a moment when I think, 'it'd be great to be on my bike in the sun right now,' and of course most of all I miss having total control over my time. but on the whole I'm pretty proud of the way this summer seems to have gone, that I'm ready to move on and am not feeling sad about saying goodbye to it.

I'm trying to live all my life in this way.

there are the normal updates. the garden is out of control. somehow the peas are still making peas, which doesn't make any kind of sense in nature but whatever, I'll just keep eating them until the plant finally dies. the salad bested me and everything has started bolting before I could eat it all. there are tiny watermelons. I might have exclaimed TINY WATERMELONS!! out loud the other morning. fortunately nobody was standing there. I have three of the most beautiful zucchini you can imagine. one of them is longer than my forearm and I'm pretty sure it could double as a bludgeon. there are probably a hundred cucumbers. the tomatoes are leggy and hopefully they'll ripen. I let anything that volunteered itself just grow where it would so this year there's not much rhyme or reason to where anything is, which, whatever. wild is okay.

my kid sister's in the midst of field hockey tryouts. she got a brand new, very fancy stick while I was home. what a different world it is from the track world. the first cuts are today. of course I'm three thousand miles away and fretting, although she ran a 6:50 mile (she has to run sub-8) and feels, generally, pretty good about her chances. my other sister's son -- the cutest nephew ever, obviously, except maybe for my other nephew -- starts first grade in two weeks and we can't get over that. my third sister wrote me a lovely email over the summer telling me she wanted to get to know me better, and vice versa. my kid brother is running cross-country again this year. he got to be the mascot at the national aquarium, where he has an internship. the puffin. I die. my other brother is now following me on twitter, which I guess means he knows I exist, finally. don't worry -- I can't keep track of them either. one day I'll draw you a diagram.

cookie's half-leaser scored us a perfectly-sized pessoa close contact saddle over the weekend and it is about 800 times better than my admittedly beautiful, beloved old crosby. the two of us felt like we were robbing the guy she bought it from, even though he knew what he was doing. it feels like a dream. I rode on saturday for the first time in six weeks. it was alarmingly weird for the first thirty seconds, and then of course it was fine. I'm so thankful for danielle (my half-leaser) I don't even know what else to say about it. we got into a hilarious love-fest on saturday, when she exclaimed, "cookie is the sweetest best horse, you are so lucky to own her! I am so lucky to ride her!" and I replied, "I am so lucky to have you! we are all so lucky!" group hug moment. we abstained. anyway, I love her and now my saddle's at home, making the whole living room smell like leather.

I'm still itchy for change. waiting to know what that will be.

if I've been kind of quiet, it's because there's a lot going on these days, and a lot on my mind. intensely personal, too much so for this space. writing has been the best refuge -- isn't it always? when will I learn -- but not here. it's good things (so stop worrying), but big, and things for which there is absolutely no map. which is true about all of life, I suppose.

August 5, 2012

drive until you lose the road


excerpts from an unsent letter, written in the air above colorado:

the world does look awfully beautiful at this distance. when the plane had taken off but was still relatively close to the ground, you could see the strange perfect geometry of the fields, the lines of the mower, the different shades of whatever crops there were, mostly all brown with occasional vivid circles of green. dry riverbeds snaking through. the houses just small specks in the middle of what seems, even from a height of at least a mile, to be an enormous expanse of land. and then higher up, the clouds so perfectly formed, each bit of them unlike the rest but also still so cloud-like. we're too far from the ground to see much of the land at all now. all of the world from here is coated in a fine haze.

the other day when I called my mom's house, my sister answered. we got talking about my flight and I said it came in at 10:30. "in the morning?" she asked. "because if so, sorry, but I'll be sleeping." it made me laugh. I remembered at christmas, how in her whole week off school she had only one day she could sleep in; I think it was boxing day. she was determined to make the most of it so she declared that she was going to sleep until noon, and that's exactly what she did. it was 12:30, I think, and when she finally walked into the kitchen, her hair all rumpled, she was triumphant. she's so much like I was at that age that it's kind of a mystery to me. and how delicious were those teenage years, when you could sleep until 11 and you didn't have anything to feel guilty about at all.

the thing that I always think of when I think of my mom's house is the light, how much light there is, particularly in the kitchen, which faces east. it's always the light I remember. it's the light I think of that morning with ashley, the cold pressing against the kitchen window, and all the sunlight, almost as if the house were open to the outside. I get homesick more in the summer than in the winter because of that, because you can stand in the kitchen and feel as if you are out in the world. that's the thing I always seem to crave more than other people -- a connection to outside, a feeling of being outside on my skin. when s and I were together I sometimes felt like a caged animal, because there was air conditioning in the condo and in the car, and when we drove anywhere he never wanted the windows down, not even for a few minutes. I know it sounds absurd but it really did make me feel sometimes like a wild thing that had been caught. when I moved into my apartment it was an unexpected treasure, the moment I realized I could sleep with the windows open again.

you know, the reason I'm so fond of birthdays is because I'm so grateful to get another year, to have made it another year. I think this sentiment is the one blessing you can receive from having someone very close to you die suddenly, and too soon, so I try to never lose hold of it. I'm grateful that the days keep coming, another and then another, and another. we don't think twice about assuming that they will, even though at any moment they could stop. there isn't a way to say that that doesn't end up in cliche, which is a shame because more and more I wonder at how much we take our own continued existence for granted. it seems to me that the simplest path to joy is to recognize our own impermanence. once I told you that I worried you thought I was frivolous, since I'm so often driven to seek out cotton candy and swingsets and bumper cars. and you said, I don't think you're frivolous, I just think you are very serious about your fun. you were right, of course, but I hope you know that I'm serious about my fun because life really is too short, and if I have a single driving force in my life it's the desire to never look back and think that I worked too hard and worried too much and missed something beautiful as a result. regret is probably the only real fear I have, but it is, in its own way, everything.

August 3, 2012



yesterday me and my bike set out in the early morning cold -- I could see my breath! -- and went on a bike adventure to salem. the cloudy weather they had predicted never materialized, which I was grateful for; those first 8 or 10 miles before the sun came up were cold, particularly without the benefit of bike gloves. but the sun came up and the temperature was perfect, and everything I needed was stuffed into the pockets of my jersey. I opted for the scenic route, ten miles longer than the more direct way, cutting west for awhile to travel along the willamette valley scenic bikeway: back roads littered with orchards and vineyards and two tractors tilling the earth, dirt clouds I rode through happily, glad to be able to smell the land. 66 miles from portland to salem, where I was greeted with beers and ice cream and a couple of happy dogs.

this is the last week of my summer. this week I've processed chickens at my friends' farm, I've skipped stones on the willamette, I've eaten candy, I've ridden my bike, I've cleaned stalls at the barn. I've read my book. I've hung out with my favorite person (twice). I've woken before dawn (twice). it's easy to spin everything as lovely, but in truth I've also been restive and bored and lonely, itchy and yearning in ways that I find difficult to articulate, even to myself. they are feelings that I suspect I should probably sit with, listen to, but I find myself avoiding them instead. one recent morning I lay in bed thinking, I wish I could travel more, I wish I could just up and go away for the weekend, I wish I led that kind of life, and then I got mad at myself, because if there's anything I've learned in the last year, it's that you're never stuck. you're only as stuck as you think you are.

although I let it pass without mentioning it to anyone, a year ago yesterday this happened. it took me months to pick up the pieces. I wasn't sure I wanted to acknowledge it at all, because JESUS, I've talked about it enough. I don't want to give the mistaken impression that I have any lingering regrets or pain or sadness. I don't. that ship sailed long ago, and good riddance. but this morning, I was standing in the sun-soaked barn, cleaning a stall, thinking of my one-year-ago self, and feeling a great deal of compassion for her. she thought she was stuck; she thought nothing would ever get better.

she came such a long way to get here. here, there might be transient boredom and worry, but there is also so much sunshine, adventure, playfulness, humor, resilience, courage, gratitude, love.