Archives: General

Thailand, Day 1

What an inglorious two weeks, huh ?  I had this whole post ready to go, and then Boston happened.  Man.  It hit me hard, in the way that these things do.  I have this hang-up about posting really goofy, possibly frivolous stuff in the midst of national tragedies, and it’s happened twice now in the past year; first with Hurricane Sandy, and now with the Marathon bombing.  I had this post more or less ready to publish , but I felt conflicted about doing it last week.  The sun has been out for TWO WHOLE DAYS here in Seattle, so I’m chalking it up to some kind of “sign” that the air is clear to post slightly neurotic recaps of vacations to hot places. 
I’m back from Thailand!  Thailand? Yes, Thailand!   I went to Thailand for my honeymoon! Your  honeymoon? Yes, my honeymoon!  I went to Thailand for my honeymoon! With no planning and no reservation!  Um, what?  You didn’t plan your honeymoon?  Nope!  I just packed a bag and went!  No reservation!   Like Anthony Bourdain, but with way less leather jackets!
And, of course, I brought back stories. 
I’m going through my journal right now and re-reading some of my notes .  There are two weeks’ worth of restaurant reviews and first impressions and the like, but I’m combing through it for the best parts.  I’ll post a few days’ worth of stuff at a time here on the blog. 
First, though, a little preamble.  I can’t emphasize enough that this is the first trip I’ve ever taken where I didn’t do ONE lick of research beforehand.  Literally.  Like, I didn’t even Google a MAP of the place.  I had a generalidea of where Thailand was in the world, but that was where my education ended.  I bring it up because that lack of information really colored the first part of my trip.  It will probably become obvious here in a minute when I start having anxiety attacks over long pants, but I promise you I eventually relax and eventually ENJOY my honeymoon.  The first few days, though, were fraught with a myriad of concerns, not the least of which was: if Mr Burdy gets swallowed by a narwhal, how will I get home?  (Let’s agree to ignore the obvious lack of narwhals around the Thai peninsula, shall we?) I had a few vivid daydreams involving the Thai authorities asking me questions like: When is your return flight?  Where are you staying tonight?  How do you plan on getting to the southern islands?  Where are your long pants?  And then I broke out in a sweat imagining myself answering each question with a big fat I HAVE NO IDEA.  MY HUSBAND HAS THE iPHONE WITH HIM IN THE NARWHAL.
In all fairness, I knew a *few* things about Thailand before I went.  They were this:
  1.        I knew that it would be a good place to vacation because of the suggestions of friends who had been there years before.
  2.        I knew it would be good and hot and sunny and a welcome relief from the crap weather in Seattle.  Also very, very beautiful.
  3.        I knew it would be “cheap” (It wasn’t. Not the way I thought it would be. More on that later).

It’s worth mentioning I was right in the middle of some massive changes with my professional life when we made the decision to buy the plane tickets.  I spent the weeks leading up the trip preparing my clients for my absence for two weeks, and then writing letters to terminate our professional relationships (more on that later). So, that was my preparation for my work life.  My preparation for the trip included finding out how hot it was in Thailand so I knew how short my shorts would need to be, and visualizing getting five pairs of orthopedic sandals into a carry-on.  Once we were in Thailand, the only information about geography/language/culture I was able to absorb came from what Mr. Burdy was able to look up in the few minutes of free wifi we picked up here and there.   I used a few tattered guidebooks that had been left at the various hotels for help, too. Most of them were already ten to fifteen years old, so the information was not exactly, um, current.  All of them, though, from the Lonely Planet I found in Chiang Mai, to the glossy coffee table book in our hotel in Bangkok, said the same few things, which I took as gospel.
            –“Thailand is a modestly-dressed country.  Leave your spaghetti -strapped tank tops and Daisy Dukes at home. If you’re a woman, consider bringing loose fitting long pants, and something to cover your shoulders with, especially if you think you’re going to want to visit the temples.  There will be signs posted that read: ‘dress appropriately’.  Covering up is not optional; it is mandatory.”   As a North American being constantly pitched to by lingerie companies, celebrities wearing bikinis, tooth whitening manufacturers, diet pill inventors, and makers of uncomfortable, supportless “ballet flats”, my idea of “appropriate” is COMPLETELY skewed.   (I’m looking at you, Victoria’s Secret PINK line). Not that I don’t know what appropriate is… just that it doesn’t even occur to me that perhaps flashing my fleshy white thighs is rude in other places.  Hell, it’s rude here- if only because it’s impolite to flash something that BLINDINGLY BRIGHT at someone’s bare eyeballs (shaking fist at Seattle skyline).  Anywho, the rules in Thailand are this: cover thyself up.   And that was unfortunate because a) I DID want to visit the temples and b) since I knew it was going to be hot, I had packed ONLY tank tops and Daisy Dukes.  Whoops.  To market, to market to buy a fat pair of pants. 

 – “It is considered rude to publicly display affection.  Avoid kissing, or holding hands”.  Um, I’m on my honeymoon, y’all.  I kind of want to touch my husband.  Lucky for Thailand the way Mr. Burdy and I show affection to one another is by fake punching each other in the solar plexus and then dramatically doubling over in slow motion.  PDA problem solved.

 –“DO NOT make any negative comments about the King.  Do not use the feet to touch any images of the King, including currency, which features the King.  If a paper note should fall to the ground, DO NOT retrieve it by using your feet.  Feet are considered the lowest part of the body. Any slander against the king is taken seriously and punished accordingly.”  Whoa, T-land.  I got it.  No smack-talking about the guy in the palace.  I have to admit, this little note scared the ever loving bejeezus out of me. What if I said something slanderous accidentally?  Like what if someone asked me a question with an obvious answer and I was like “Does the King shit in the woods?”  Not that anyone we ran into knew enough English to linguistically spar with me this way, but WHAT IF? So, yeah.  Monarchies.  Weird, right?  Say what you want about the United States,  we still have the right to say all kinds of nasty, nasty things about one another, including the president. In fact,  If you show up to my neighborhood’s post office during an election cycle, you might just run into the LaRouche supporters who hang a 3’ x 4’ poster of Obama sporting Hitler’s mustache off their card table.  So, yeah.  Freedom of speech?  We got that.  I hear it again and again when people come back from travelling: we have not even BEGUN to appreciate our freedom of speech here.  Travel to lots of other places in the world and you’ll soon realize how much we’re allowed to say (and look up on the Internet) here.  Is our republic perfect?  No.  Are there people being hushed up all the time, some even by force? Yes.  Do all of us really feel permission to fully express our views without fear of violent retaliation?  No.  But can we print posters of our democratically elected leaders wearing a former murderous despot’s facial hair and NOT go to prison for it?  Mercifully, confusingly, yes.

“Be sure to bathe.  The Thais consider daily bathing natural and right.  Body odor is considered extremely rude.  If you are backpacking, and plan on making a homestay, or interacting with a family, take care to clean yourself up.  You may think you are doing a good thing by conserving water and living simply, but the Thais appreciate personal cleanliness.” Check and check.  Thailand, you don’t think patchouli is an acceptable substitute for soap?  HEY!  ME NEITHER!  I think we’re gonna get along just fine.  I’m terrified of your king, but we’re obviously on the same page about the smell of unwashed hair.

RULES, people.  There were RULES in Thailand.  And even though I was somewhat unprepared to follow them, at least I knew they existed.   And now that I knew they existed, I had license to freak out about them.
At the top of my Checklist to Experience Paranoia? LANGUAGE.  I’m a big fan of being able to speak at least a few words in another language when traveling.  I think it indicates a genuine willingness to experience a place, and it opens you up to a beautiful kind of vulnerability. There are some things you can ONLY understand about a culture via its language. Also, it’s super annoying to have to keep smiling and pointing to everything.  Asia, in general, as travel destination has terrified me for a long time because all I’ve ever heard is how IMPOSSIBLE it is to learn an Asian language.  There’s not just vocabulary to learn, but intonation as well.  Intonation?  You mean I could be saying “I’d like the fish soup” or “your mother is an orangutan” and the only difference would be that penultimate syllable rising or falling? I’d rather not, thank you.
Lucky for me, most Thais learn English as their second language, and most Thai English is impeccable. It’s slow and thoughtful and deliberate- quite the opposite of what you might expect of people trying to very quickly get a concept across with as few words as possible. This intentionality, this deliberateness is at the heart of the Thai culture as a whole, I would soon learn.  It is not a country of hustle and bustle, as I imagined, but one of calm confidence.  I couldn’t help thinking that this was the result of never really having been colonized.  Their national identity was still intact, unbroken by a colonial power’s command to work harder, go faster, be more. 
Here’s something else I learned within hours of landing in Thailand: food is available at all times of the day.  You want a hot bowl of soup at 2 am?  You got it.  A bag of freshly deep fried and salted taro root at 8 am?  No problem.  Thais love to SNACK.  Did you hear that?  The Thais love to SNACK.  They LOATHE BODY ODOR AND THEY LIKE TO SNACK.  I HAVE FOUND MY PEOPLE.

Here are some notes from my journal:
The sign that “welcomed” us to Thailand as we drove in last night was provided by Sharp Corporation, and it was about the size of a house.  Really, it said: “SHARP” and then, in much smaller letters beneath, it read “Welcome to Thailand”.  I felt a teensy weensy surge of pride knowing “my” country’s ingenuity and cleverness and chutzpah had made its way to this other side of the earth (what they are providing, of course, is questionable.  Goods?  Services?  Landfill?  Billboard pollution?).  And then I got pretty sad thinking that I had just paid a small fortune and sat on a plane for four-fifths of a day to see… stuff I could see in my own country. What have I agreed to in being here? Is everything in Thailand sponsored by an electronics company?
Day 1: Bangkok
Took a tuk-tuk to Wat (“temple”) Sitaram.  Met a lovely man named Tan-An (?) who told us to go to the clothing factory (already scheduled for us on our route per a guy on the street Mr. Burdy “had a good feeling about”.)  Tan-An taught us in five seconds how to be Buddhists.  Or, at least, what to do when we visited the temples: you kneel down, feet tucked under you.  You make a wish.  You say a prayer to Buddha to make it come true for you.  You put your hands together at your heart and you bow three times facing the altar.  That’s it!  He asked us if we were Buddhists.  He seemed surprised that we, as foreigners, were there in the first place.  Mr. Burdy answered, “Well, we’re not not-Buddhists…” Well played, farangi, well played.  What we are, I wanted to tell him, is Jake and Elroy. We are lapsed Catholics on mission to find God.  So yeah, today, we are not not-Buddhists.
We went to the factory and Mr. Burdy ordered five tailored shirts. Strangely, none of the “Thai” shops we went to featuring that “famous” Thai tailoring were run by Thais.  They were run by hip, urban young men from, perhaps, India?  Or points west of Thailand?  Bizarre.  My Seattle sensibilities flared up and I immediately suspected some sort of indentured seamstress operation going on.  After Burdy was done placing his order, the salesman turned his attention to me.  “And for you, Madame? Perhaps a blouse?  We have many materials.  You like cashmere?  Perhaps a wool coat?  Look here.  Very fine quality”. Here he rubs the grey cashmere coat’s lapel between his fingers.   I stood there in my short shorts and tank top, letting the air conditioning do its work on my inflamed, red skin.  I flipped through the catalogue politely, though disinterestedly.  It featured mostly collared dress shirts being modeled by serious looking women in pinstripe pants and expensive watches.  How to explain to this man in very simple English that I’d just fired nearly all my clients and that, when I actually DO go to work, I work in a big open penthouse with a smelly dog, and kayak equipment everywhere, and a dirty sink overflowing with dishes?  Or, that, on other days, I work in a loft with a bunch of dudes in tee-shirts and athletic shoes who eat trail mix and drink out of plastic sports bottles?  “No”, I said smiling graciously.  “I don’t have a… need… to dress up for work. Very casual, I said.  Very casual”. I showed him my palms like “jazz hands” was the international symbol for “I don’t possess the level of maturity required to wear your fancy clothes or the language skills to tell you that in five words or less”. 
Our tuk-tuk driver, a lovely man with the most beautiful light brown eyes I have ever seen,  must have gotten the message that we were not in Thailand to buy suits or silk or rubies as we spent only five minutes exactly in all the places he dropped us.  It was a fine game of bowing and smiling and polite agreement to enter into this ridiculous tourist dance.  He obviously would receive a kickback for dropping us off at the jewelry factory or the suit place, and we would get the cheapest ride of our lives around an enormous city. Fair enough, I suppose.
The jewelry factory was an unexpected stop, but I think we handled it well.  A smartly dressed woman wearing a badge asked a hurried set of questions (Where were we from?! Did we like the heat?!  Did we know Thai rubies are the best in the world?!), then led us into a blinding maze of glass counters.  I looked down at a case. She offered me an elephant-shaped ring in white gold, with a tiny diamond where the eye should be and inset stripes of blue topaz.  I thought that my cockeyed, oversized thrift store sunglasses and my shorts made baggy with sweat would  have tipped our sales lady off that I was more of a found object/knotted rags-jewelry kind of gal.  Still, she gave it her best shot.  After much dramatic lowering of the price (“I discount for you today”  is the working alternate for “hello” to foreigners) and the final offering of $67 for the damned elephant ring, and my polite refusal,  she handed us a coupon for 10% off anything in the souvenir shop and moved on to the next dazzled foreigner.  For a brief moment, I entertained the idea of buying an investment piece of jewelry like Burdy’s dad would have done back in the day, but the whole experience had been one part sensory overload, one part “sell this to foreigners” and one part “ I would never wear a gold elephant-shaped ring in a thousand years”.  I didn’t want to take home a piece I had bought under duress while wearing sunglasses that cost me $1.17.   
I can’t quite shake the annoyance I feel at being judged a consumerist/glutton because of my skin color.  It’s totally fair, of course.  But I am still annoyed.
I can’t quite figure out the garbage situation here.  And most things smell of three things: incense, urine, or fish sauce, and not much else.  For a country offended by lack of personal hygiene, I find it strange that the smell of comfort is rotting fish.  There are civil servants (?) everywhere in Day Glo yellow safety vests, thick denim, and bandannas around their mouths and throats, sweeping the sidewalks with broad and sparse handmade brooms.  They’re just sweeping up the curb, looking like they are wearing homemade Haz-Mat suits.  Just looking at them makes me break out in prickly heat rash.  I have to wonder how dangerous the air/garbage is that they are wearing so much clothing. Most of what they’re sweeping is vegetative, dried leaves and the like.  I haven’t seen anyone hauling away actual garbage yet.  Again, my Seattle sensibilities have me instinctively holding on to all my empty water bottles and cellophane wrappers until I can dispose of them “properly”.  I’ve been separating my garbage into recyclables, compostables, and landfill, but I couldn’t so much as find a single empty can on the street, never mind a color-coded, well-signed triumvirate of waste management.
We went to Wat Pho after another ridiculous trip to a tailor shop where another non-Thai sales clerk pointed out in a glossy-paged book that his store was THE number one tailor shop in Bangkok.  I have no doubt that the authors of the book are also THE number one fabricators of statistics.  And that they are on the same take as our tuk-tuk driver.
In between the Thai clothing factory and Wat Pho, we visited Wat Benchamabophit where we paid 20 baht (about sixty cents) to walk around for few minutes.  We bought a coconut and slurped down the juice in seconds. The heat was merciless. I decided to follow Tan-An’s advice and bow three times and send a prayer to Buddha to ask him to protect my immune system after I watched the coconut vendor hand the same (dunked in dirty water) metal scoop to me as she had just handed to about a dozen other tourists before me…. tourists who’d put the metal scoop into their mouths.  WHAT the hell, Thailand?  Don’t take a bath and you might be frowned upon.  Eat from a dirty spoon, and nobody says a word. (*Follow up note #1: Hey, kids! The metal scoops are designed to JUST scoop the flesh up from the bottom of the coconut!  Use your HANDS to put the flesh in your mouths, NOT the spoon! What?  Really?  Oh, man!  Thanks, helpful Follow Up Note!)

Overheated and sweaty and probably dehydrated, we reached Wat Pho when we thought we were being taken to Wat Pra Kaew.  No matter.  We still had our long pants on.  We saw the enormous reclining Buddha (the soles of his feet inlaid with mother of pearl was magnificent)  but couldn’t take the heat anymore.  We changed into shorts, but we also wanted to see another Buddha so I let a tiny assertive woman in a blue uniform warp me in a scratchy and stained wool skirt and drape a purple wool shawl around my shoulders.  Thank goodness for the guidebooks or I would be confused about being dressed in public by Thailand’s version of the TSA.  Remember: no covering up out of respect, no seeing the Buddha.  Got it? 
The plastic bag situation, as one might expect, is outta control.  Worldwide, the plastic bag is as ubiquitous as oxygen. It’s the only thing you can find on every continent on earth, even ones not inhabited by humans.  Dozens of them clung to the moorings on the river, dried, bleached, thin, and slowly dispersing microscopic fragments into the water.  Note to self: figure out a way to convince the world to STOP using plastic bags in my lifetime.

The boat ride along the river was my favorite part of the day.  The breeze, the splashing, the ice cold beer at noon.  We pulled down a “side street”; a tiny fleet of handmade canoes “parked” under some trees on the banks of the river came to life.  One of them, steered by a young man in a conical hat, approached us, his canoe packed full of cheap trinkets wrapped in cellphone.  Bought a can of beer for the captain, whose swollen bare feet and wide smile made a permanent impression in my memory.  No souvenirs or bamboo carvings, though.  The vendor looked genuinely hurt.  I need to learn the Thai words for “no, but thank you”.
Our hotel room in Bangkok smelled like Chinese food and cigarettes, and the Carl’s Jr. next door only served to substantiate the suspicion that perhaps we had, in our 17-hour flight delirium, accidentally boarded a plane bound for Las Vegas.  The bed in the hotel was rock-hard, some of the lights in the room didn’t work, and the individually wrapped condoms stood at attention right next to the packets of peanuts in the snack bar. If we hadn’t seen the street carts outside piled high with soup, basil sprigs, and fluorescent-lit piles of offal at 2 am, I would have sworn we HAD, in fact, landed in Las Vegas.  I fell into a dreamless sleep that night, and had my first (and possibly most delicious) breakfast of the trip the next morning: a big ol’ bowl of broth and rice, seasoned with those quintessential tiny dried Thai shrimp, and garnished with black pepper and a few green onions.  What the hotel lacked in charm, it more than made up for in the Thai food department.  We skipped the quarter-mile-long buffet of uninspired variations on white bread and eggs and ordered right off the Thai menu.  Unsure of how to handle tipping, we left our server a few coins and expressed our sincere gratitude for her patience with our terrible pronunciation.  She brought her hands together in prayer formation, softened her eyes, bowed slightly, and smiled.  This was our first experience with the wai, which I was to read about later on in the trip, and it was absolutely magical.  The Thai Smile is real, and it is life-changing.   
And that was Day 1, more or less. 
Follow Up Note #2:
4/12/13: I took a really great cooking class last night offered by our local food co-op called “Night Markets of Bangkok”.  It featured some of the food we ate (in Bangkok!  At night! In the market!) and was hosted by Becky Selengut, another Jersey Girl living in the Northwest.  (Sorry if I’ve outed you, Becky).  It was AWESOME to share stories and basically re-live our trip through food.  It was also a great reminder that a draft of this post has been sitting on my laptop for a LONG TIME.  More to come, I promise. 

On Writing

Recently, I had my ass handed to me by my writing group. It was a good thing, this ass-handing.  It didn’t feel quite as nice as being handed a bouquet of roses and a Grammy, but, it was probably more valuable. 
What happened was this: I brought in a VERY rough draft of a book chapter I’d written and I read it aloud to my writing group. I then got some VERY valuable feedback.  Feedback that made me reconsider whether or not I should be calling myself a writer.
The piece I brought to my group was one I’d written a while ago and it was really my first real pass at writing a full chapter of anything. It was a piece about one of my very first clients and how unhealthy our relationship was. I hadn’t quite told enough of the backstory in the piece, and I can see now that it was not so much a chapter in a  book as it was really an angry breakup letter with my client. A breakup letter plus every bitter, snarky last thing I have ever wanted to say to everyone I have felt under-appreciated by in my life.  Ever.  My God, was it awful.   You know how sometimes you think of the MOST clever comebacks five minutes after someone says something inappropriate to you?  Well, imagine a whole five pages of that. With a lot more expletives and nastiness.   Bookended by “once upon a time” and “the end”. 
I don’t know where I got it in my head that I would just sit down, and,  in twelve easy installments, crank out a full length book like it was no big thang, like the book  was a gorgeous butterfly just waiting in the chrysalis of my subconscious, fully formed and perfect. But I did think that, and I brought that first draft to my group thinking I had started my book.  Now the truth of the start sits before me, much more representative in the form of a hairy-knuckled troll, soil-damp and smelly.  This whole writing a book thing is MUCH harder than I thought it would be.  It’s still entirely possible the story is fully formed and beautiful inside me, but I need to contend with the troll first. I HAVE begun to write my book, but it is not the beginning I thought it would be.
I should have tossed that first draft into the “it’s unhealthy for you to have this much pent up rage inside you, so it’s best to just throw this rage-vomit right into the fireplace” file.  But I didn’t.  Anxious to just start the process of airing these stories out, I read the piece to my writing group.  Ah, woooo boy! It was sort of like hearing yourself say something stupid and then watching  yourself  try to recover by saying something even more stupid and then watching helplessly as more and more stupid things just come tumbling out of your mouth.  I couldn’t  stop it.  The train had left the station.  The cow was out of the barn.
Lucky for me, I write with a fantastically honest and supportive group of people and they gave me some very helpful feedback.  They explained that perhaps this piece was better suited for my journal (with a title of “Why I Think So-And-So Is a A Great Big Poopy-Head”) than for general consumption.
I’m learning.  I’m learning so much.
 
I’m learning that the pace of my book-writing progress is aligned with the pace of my life. That’s frustrating because I want it to go much faster.  But the path to the end of a piece is wending and sometimes it doesn’t even involve sitting down in front of a computer and typing.  Sometimes, to get the story out, I need to shop for shoes, or go for a walk, or make a pot of soup from scratch.  I need to acknowledge the path that the words themselves take to get where they need to go.   In my head, at night as I am drifting off to sleep, my book sounds like poetry, like well organized, gorgeous poetry.  And sometimes when I sit down to write, it doesn’t come out that way at all.  It comes out sounding like an upset orangutan wrote it.  It sounds like: “Dumb man say bad things.  Make me mad.  Me hate dumb man.  Me hate job.  Something something something me so much smarter than dumb man something something something dramatic wrap-up.”  After all those years of being jammed up in my heart, the words and the story and the character arc are all trying to get out at the same time, and they’re getting all knotted up and coming out all crooked and one-sided. And that’s frustrating. And, quite frankly, startling.
I am learning the very first draft of a story is like the first pancake.  I have to be willing to throw it out.   I’m only warming up the griddle with that first pancake; it’s not intended for consumption.  That  first pancake is a test:  Is the griddle too hot?  The batter too runny?      
Right now, the words are like fetid water that’s been sitting in a pipe for too long. The story is behind it.  In order to get to the good stuff, I’ve got to let that water run for a few minutes.  That fetid stuff MUST have the opportunity to come out before I put my cup underneath the pipe to catch a bit to drink. If I drink the stuff that comes out first, I’ll find my mouth full of rust and debris.  The story will be brown and bitter and it won’t slake my thirst.  That first run of writing is poison.  It’s all the stuff I’ve wanted to say to everyone who did me wrong.  It’s all the self indulgent bellyaching and why-me sob story I’ve been rehearsing for years. And most important of all:  It’s got nothing to do with the story I want to tell.
I didn’t know this rusty stuff was going to come out when I sat down to write this book.  I mean, I figured the writing would be fierce.  But I didn’t know it would be so mean and entitled and entirely lacking empathy. I thought I was writing this honest and clear emotion that anyone could relate to.  I hadn’t. I’d  written something from the fog of anger, and anger is fleeting.  After the anger, there was nothing else for my readers to hold onto.
Everyone has to start somewhere, I suppose.  My start is SO much more messy than I thought it would be.  I thought I would be sitting all cool in my granny sweater and ironic retro sneakers in a café on Thursday mornings cranking out perfect chapter after perfect chapter.  After all, this story has all been sitting in my veins for years and years.  You would think that something with that much built up pressure would have no problem releasing.  I mean, I’m a volcano, not a constipated rhino for God’s sake.  I think this stuff should be shooting out of my wrists like webbing, like fireworks, like a heartbreaking work of staggering genius.  But it isn’t.  Some days I sit at the machine and I think I’m telling a story.  What I am actually doing is having a one way argument with a computer screen.  I’m “yelling in the basement” as my friend John says.
Last night, I met with my writing group again and I attempted my story one more time.  I wrote for ten minutes without that rage.  I simply said what happened.  And what showed up on that page was the story I wanted to tell: Once upon a time there was a young  woman.  She worked for a man.  She struggled with the work. She left the man.  The end.  It was clean, and it was powerful.  It landed entirely differently than that first piece with my audience.  It offered so much broader a picture, so much more detail for my readers to play with.  
There will be many more weeks, months, even years of yelling in the basement. What  I’m sure of now, after having shared my new piece with my group, that after the yelling, the story will come.  

A Transplant. A Storm. A Way To Help.


You guys, I had this whole piece ready to go about the cereal.  And then Sandy hit.  And I just couldn’t fathom posting a bit about breakfast cereal as a wildly destructive storm was bearing down on the place I was born.  My whole family was in the storm’s path and I was worried for days about them.  They’re all fine now.  They lost power for a few days there, but they were all safe, and their property was not destroyed.  There were others, though, who suffered.  Suffered huge. And I just couldn’t stop thinking about them.  I couldn’t sit and write about cereal if I tried.
I’ve been working on what I want to say here for days now.  It’s been a crazy two weeks of emotional ups and downs: worry, then relief…endless energy to help, then frustration with red tape… helplessness, and then a renewed sense of urgency and hope … it’s been difficult to distill this down into one piece.
The stories that have been coming out of the New York/New Jersey area have been story enough.  What can I add, really? A firefighter from Breezy Point was called to the scene- HIS OWN HOME- and because the winds were whipping around at 70 mph, he had to just stand there and watch HIS WHOLE NEIGHBORHOOD burn to the ground.  A woman’s only two sons were yanked out of her arms by storm surge and carried away by the water.  A woman called a tree-removal company to remove the tree that had fallen on her roof, but the repairmen accidentally cut a power line, triggering an electrical fire, and her whole house burned to the ground in front of her.
Okay, okay. Reality check: there are enormously good things happening, too.  There are people volunteering, and corporations donating money and goods, and millions of dollars being raised for the Red Cross by citizens like you and me all over the country. 
Since the storm, I’ve been using the words there (New Jersey) and here (Seattle) interchangeably.  I’ve mixed up us and them. Tragedy does that to transplants:  it wakes the sleeping giant of our origins.  It confuses the psyche about our sense of place.  I am at once the thing I was and the thing I have become.  I exist in two places at once, emotionally.  I have been straddling my blue collar roots and my white collar future for some time now, even without the hurricane.  Nothing makes this dual existence more crazy-making than watching my childhood stomping grounds being violently dismantled.  
It’s hard not to sound overly dramatic about all this.  I’m trying to keep this all in perspective.  I think the thing that most people from New Jersey can’t get their heads around is this: it happened here, in my state, to us.  I mean, it’s not like New Jersey isn’t familiar with extreme weather. New Jersey was one of the original thirteen colonies, y’all.  It’s been populated by transplanted Europeans for two hundred years.  And it’s a coastal state.  Somehow, in the two hundred or so years it’s been part of a Union, Jerseyans have managed to hold it all together, hurricane season after hurricane season, Nor’easter after Nor’easter.  So the fact that an enormous, iconic roller coaster sits twisted and placid in the Atlantic Ocean, that thousands of pounds of sand have been displaced, that whole cars are falling into sinkholes formed by receding water… it all seems surreal.  Surreal in the way that all disaster in the United States always seems.  I can’t believe this is happening here, my mom saidNot because she doesn’t know how to prepare for a storm.  And not because she doesn’t know what it’s like to recover from one, either.  Not because East Coasters haven’t experienced tragedy or loss in their lives.  Not because we can’t imagine other people’s tragedies. I think it’s because of the scale, the enormity of it.  And because New Jersey, especially, is brimming with people who live there for a taste of hope and the American Dream. This kind of destruction seems wholly incongruent with the regular pace of life there.  When 8.8 million people live elbow to elbow, a particular kind of symbiosis develops, one so tight and complete it seems almost impervious to disruption. I think destruction on this scale is almost too much for the mind to take in at once.  Miles of coastline.  Thousands of homes.  Millions of people.  How does a city like New York not have power?  How can whole towns be wiped off a map in a night? How can a few hundred years of infrastructure be wrecked in a few hours?
If you’re like me, with a sometimes crippling sensitivity to suffering worldwide, you practically go nuts with worry when disasters happen.  You feel EVERY SINGLE ONE of those hearts breaking over their loss.  You feel that Homeric pull towards the place you are from and you want to be there. You want to paddle the canoe, pilot the plain, shovel coal into the furnace of the train, anything to get you to where you need to be to be helpful.  You are fueled by one part adrenaline and one part blind devotion.
I struggle with wanting to wave away this overarching sentimentality. I go to this place of thinking: those are resort towns, built mostly for recreation. And if you’re going to live on the coast, you have to accept a certain level of upheaval by storms.  I mean, if Disneyland goes down, you just build another one, right?  Well, thanks to reality TV and our love of stereotypes, it’s easy for me to believe that the only people who come to the shore are goons and vacationers.  The truth is that people live down there, too, year round.  And those people had modest homes they’d owned for decades, full of family memories and knickknacks.  And those homes were destroyed right alongside the roller coaster and the soft-serve joint.  Those homeowners deserve my sentimentality.  They deserve my help. Loss is loss.
You know who else I’m thinking about right now?  The victims of Hurricane Katrina, and of the earthquake in Haiti, and the tsunami in Indonesia.  I’m thinking of everyone who has to rebuild after natural disasters.   I’m wondering about what the transplants of those areas were thinking when they saw the places of their birth come undone.    
Know what else I’ve been thinking about?  Numbers.  I’ve decided that it’s all about the numbers.  We can get through this because the numbers are in our favor. 
I haven’t lived there in more than a decade, but I want to give back.  I think it’s because New Jersey cultivates in its ilk a peculiar mix of pride and revulsion for the place.  We can’t help but agree with an outsider’s classification of the place as aggressive and loud, but we also defend New Jersey’s honor with the fervor of recent converts.  This mix of push and pull- it’s part of an equation, really.  The addition of sudden tragedy to a certain amount of amnesia about the past, over enough time and distance, yields love and concern.
So now it’s a numbers game.  There are, quite literally, millionsof us NOT living in Jersey anymore, but who feel that yank on our heartstrings when anyone mentions the place.  And the numbers game really works in our favor in the wake of a disaster. We have new friends, new communities, whole new cities we can ask for help now.  I’m extremely lucky because I’m in a position to reach out to my community, as I’m sure lots of native Jersey kids are.
In the weeks since the hurricane, I’ve called on my fellow Seattlites to help with relief and the response has been overwhelming – so much so I can hardly keep up.  It’s been a huge lesson for me. Here’s what I now know: when you have a dream, you have to make BIG room in your life for that dream.  Then you have to make EXTRA room in your life for all the people and places that want to prop you up.  Your dream is always bigger than the box you want to keep it in.   
I’m asking anyone who can to donate to the Red Cross.  And if you live in New Jersey, and have the means and the time, consider putting on a pair of work gloves and volunteering to remove debris, or to work at a shelter for a few hours.  Take a moment to consider what it would be like to lose your house and everything in it.  Now imagine doing that in the freezing cold.  With your children in tow. With your neighbors all in the same dire straits.
Consider the hope it would give you to witness the kindness of strangers.  Consider the hope it gives the world to see prodigal sons and daughters returning to restore a sense of place for those still there.  It’s a numbers game.  If each of us with capable hands helps those who are overwhelmed by their circumstances, the world heals.  Not just from hurricanes, but from everything.  We produce one more person, one more family able to empathize, able to help another person, able to help another family.
Think of it.

Byrned

Last week, Mr. Burdy and I went to see the inimitable David Byrne at the 5th Avenue Theater here in Seattle.  The venue is one of my favorites not only because of the grandiose they-don’t-make-’em-like-this-anymore beauty but because of how the seats are arranged. They cascade down from the balcony to the stage at a slight angle so each seat is offset from the one in front of it. This means there’s literally not a bad seat in the house. No one’s head is directly in your line of sight. See that, arena designers and theater owners?  I will gladly pay that “service charge” for the privilege of being able to see past Herman Munster, who, invariably sits RIGHT in front of me at every show.

Anywho, David was amazing.  Annie Clark was a quirky, loud, dissonant and choral counterpart to David Byrne’s contemplative humans-are-odd-birds lyrics and the whole show was a seesaw between a post-modern rock show and classic Byrne tunes.  Hearing those older tunes made me feel sorta bad for the rest of the Talking Heads.  The whole audience stood up and collectively pooped its pants during the first few notes of “This Must Be The Place”, and then again for “Burning Down the House”. I imagine the rest of the Talking Heads have some kind of built-in sonar that makes them cup their ears at cocktail parties and lean into the wind, explaining to their guests in a melancholic tone, “Oh, it’s nothing… Just that… sometimes I can pick up the sound of 20,000 people in another city singing along to ‘Life During Wartime'”.

I wonder if performers who have been playing the same songs for thirty years ever get tired of it.  I’ve seen lots of artists plod through the measures of stuff they’ve been playing for a long time, and it just makes me feel a little sorry for them.  Audiences love that stuff because it calls up for them some part of their adolescence, or some critical happy moment that they get to relive every time they hear it… but for the artists, it’s just a song they wrote a long time ago;  artistically, they’ve probably moved on.  And David Byrne, more than most artists I know, has done artistic loops around the moon.  They guy is prolific and explores so many different themes in his music. He still delivers the older stuff with as much punch and vigor as he did back in the day (dude can still hit all those notes!), but he, especially, is probably solving for x, or mentally organizing his sock drawer while he’s playing, because those songs are rote by now. I imagine he asks himself while he’s playing: “Why do humans fixate on point in time?  And isn’t it fascinating that we have the capacity to strongly equate time with sound?  Oo! I think a few notes on the theramin would work right here!…”

I am VERY grateful to my fellow concert attendees for a) respecting my North American three foot radius of personal space and b) not talking through the show.  There was that brief spot in the middle there where a woman behind me launched into some musical analysis wholly inappropriate in timing, but, I’m pretty sure my very theatrical display of plugging only my left ear with my hand tipped her off.  I’m happy to perform such services for the good of all my fellow concert goers.  Some people just don’t understand the fine art of SHUTTING THE HELL UP.  
Overall, DB fans are a pretty mellow group.  They’re feisty and excited, but just WAY more in possession of their fine motor skills (I’m looking at YOU, Dude Who Spills His Beer Down My Back At Every Outdoor Show).  The last show I saw in a theater was Beirut, and that band’s fans are cut from a different cloth.  The entirety of the show, three guys sat directly (and not at angles) behind us and tossed the terms “fucked up” “so wasted” and “obliterated” around like so much verbal confetti.  Lucky for me, I have the type of hearing loss that drowns out the middle tones of any conversation, so I could only hear those knuckleheads’ running commentary between songs.  During the songs, I just heard mandolin and trumpet music. And during the songs, I made sure to sigh dramatically, stretch my arms out over my head A LOT, and give them laser-eyes.  I should be awarded an honorary Grammy AND an Emmy.

At the Beirut show, I thought about my younger concert-going days, when I was seeing shows as a teenager and wondering what the story was with those reserved “older” people standing at the edge of the crowd with their arms folded across their chests, glowering .  Now I AM that “older” lady standing at the edge of the crowd, trying to enjoy the music and ignore the drunken weaving and bobbing and off-key singing and air punching in front of me. Oh, Time.  You are a sneaky devil, aren’t you?  I have become the thing I never thought I would be. And there you go, Mr. Byrne.  I’ve just written the first lines of your new song for you.  Insert theramin here

In Case of EgoMergency, Break (Hour)Glass

Things hit me in threes and fours, usually. It’s got something to do with synchronicity, I think. These past few weeks, I have felt unmoored, adrift. There have been multiple deaths in my immediate circle lately (will write about that when I have something cohesive to say about it). Ever since the wedding (which I will write about soon, too), I have been feeling uncertain about the direction my life should take. It’s the inevitable fallout, no doubt, of going from planning a very detailed wedding every waking moment of the day to planning… nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. Working counts for something, I suppose. But my work has never been the thing that’s defined me, so I’m back to feeling like there’s something else I’m supposed to be doing with my day. That, and the presence of so much death has really got me thinking about how to live more purposefully.

And what does the modern human do in a void of unknowing like this? She compulsively checks Facebook all day long to see if anyone has any great ideas. She checks it before she gets in the shower, and immediately after her shower, just in case anyone has posted anything brilliant or funny or helpful in the last eight minutes. Anything to make her laugh or think as she can’t seem to generate anything amusing or clever herself. She’ll check it after she’s turned the kettle on, and again after she’s let her tea steep the requisite four minutes. She’ll check it in the company of her friends, on the bus, while waiting for the bus, as she fumbles to put away her keys and press the button in the elevator, while she waits at red lights, and while she waits for her computer to boot up.

Eventually she will remember there are other venues for the sort of inspiration she’s looking for, ones that don’t include guilt trips for not re-posting some blurb about cancer or privacy or patriotism. She will explore a few local writing workshops and even consider that gorgeous retreat house out on the islands outside her fair city. Eventually she will remember why she got on Facebook in the first place and she’ll visit the blogs of her accidental mentors to see what they’ve been up to. She’ll read and read and read and she’ll try to find her life reflected back to her in the words of others. She’ll come to find that she’s not the only one who feels bombarded by the amount of information out there in the digital world. She’ll find she’s not the only one who is both overwhelmed and unfulfilled by it. After a spell, she’ll find her mojo coming back to her in small bits. She’ll pry that spider monkey of not-good-enough from her back and post what she’s feeling and not care *too* much if it seems unpolished. She will let her feet drift out in front of her as she clings to doubt with all the might of her upper body. Her knees and ankles will bump up against the moorings in the murky water. She will let go of the catastrophe she’s been hanging on to, and she will allow the promise of weathered wood and firmness somewhere in the grey-green guide the rest of her body to the pier.

And then she will stop referring to herself in the third person.

 *clearing throat dramatically*

The Universe (and the Internet) is REALLY GOOD at reminding me that I am not alone in my search for something more meaningful in my life and the discipline to write for writing’s sake. My friend Amber said it beautifully on her blog: we get greedy for the thumbs-up and the likes and it becomes a drug to be liked. And we get away from why we came to write in the first place.

In my clawing away at the cobwebs, I visited another favorite blogger. Mrs. Kennedy has the inimitable ability to drop a metric ton of knowledge on one’s ass. And drop she did, along with Charlie Kaufmann. And, just like that, things shifted for me. I decided to turn off the Facebook notification ringer on my phone. I decided to look up from my screen and out the window a little more often.

And, because I am human, and because the need to be liked isn’t QUITE out of my system just yet, I’m going to post all the comments I’ve gotten from spammers lately that vaguely resemble compliments but are actually just bait. If I want to believe that these words are the things that goad me on to writerlyness, then I want to read these from time to time and understand how seductive (and utterly silly when coupled with bad grammar) praise is. Feel free, when you’re feeling unmotivated, to come back here and bask in the great warming glow of spammer love. Print these up and hang them up in your office and pretend they’re your book (art/cooking/child rearing/martial arts/woodworking project) reviews from a bunch of enthusiastic critics. Just remember, no matter what you do, no matter how lost you feel, parts of Ukraine, and probably huge swaths of Africa, really think you’re the bees’ knees.

“We cherished your site. Significantly thanks once again. Much obliged.”

“Your writing style has been surprised me. Thank you, very great post.”

“Very amusing thoughts, well told, everything is in its place:0))”

“Excellent read, I just passed this onto a friend who was doing some research on that. And he actually bought me lunch as I found it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch!”

“I must express my passion for your generosity supporting men who actually need guidance on in this subject matter.”

“Very intriguing points you have noted, appreciate this for adding”

“Your site provided us with valuable information to work on.”

“Whoa! This blog looks just like my old one!”

“Your site is really good and the posts are just wonderful. Thank you and keep doing your great work.”

Mrs. Burdy Goes To Vancouver

A few months ago, I went to my very first Seattle Sounders game. I was about to tell you that it was my first ever soccer game, but that wouldn’t have been entirely true.  I have vague recollections of being somewhat interested in the outcome of a World Cup a few years ago, but that memory is also twisted up with memories of drinking copious amounts of beer in a sports bar and yelling at a TV screen, so who knows what I was really interested in?  (Hint: rhymes with “deer”.)
As Mr. Burdy will tell you, I am a strange breed of sports fan.  I didn’t grow up playing sports in school (unless you count being the editor of the literary magazine a “sport”.  Because, if you do, then I totally would have been MVP of writing bad poetry).  Naturally, given my moodier tendencies, I wasn’t much interested in camaraderie or good sportsmanship or any of that sort of team-building crap.  I would have won an Olympic Medal if there was a category for scowling and bookreading and scribbling social commentary into a journal, but, alas, the ancient Greeks had a thing for throwing stuff and running and the like. Also, ours was not a particularly sporty family.  My dad didn’t watch football.  My mom did not drive us around in a minivan to practice soccer.  How I managed to wind up engaged to a man with an active athletic life, I’ll never know.  
My interactions with sporting events are few and far between.  I sometimes forget that sports even exist. I’ve been stuck in miserable traffic in the south of Seattle and have asked aloud if the pope was in town, because why the hell else would everyone be jamming the sidewalks around the bowl-shaped buildings? When I actually do attend sports events, I need to pack distractions like you would for a toddler at a wedding. Here’s the indication that my attention span rivals that of a two year old: I brought my knitting to the last Superbowl I was dragged to.  
I’m not a very good sports fan, either. 
Instead of getting worked up into a scream-y lather over the hometeam, I’m blubbering through the national anthem. I then crumble into a full-on emotional wreck when the players stoically take the lucky dozen or so kids by the hand and walk them out onto field for the opening ceremony.  I’m slapping an open palm on my sternum and wailing, “Oh, the humanity!” and looking for the other criers in the room, but most people have their noses tipped into their beers by then and are avoiding eye contact with me. 
Inevitably, though, something strange happens to me while I’m watching any sports event.  For the first half of any game, I’m generally bored.  My brain is taking in all the noise and the fanfare, the amount of corporate sponsorship and advertising, the nutbags with their faces painted, and the general mania that is game-watching. 
By the second half, though, I am looking up from my book or my needlework every few minutes or so. The action has picked up and I’m actually paying a little bit of attention.  There have been a few near goals, some footwork has been fancy, someone has been subbed in, and the clock is running out. In other words, things are happening. Drama is happening.  And that’s when I get into it.  I start holding my breath during yardage gained.  I start gnawing on my knuckles.  I start making those disappointed “awwwwww” noises when the team I’m supposed to be rooting for has a near miss.
That’s kind of what happened with this game In Vancouver.  The first half was a real snoozer and I wound up drinking an absurd amount of hot tea and making multiple trips to the ladies room.  Only in British Columbia would you not get disapproving looks for drinking hot tea at a sporting event. Thank goodness for that. I didn’t want to drink the stadium beer because a) eight dollars for a baby-sized beer is nuanced and charming for about ten seconds when you’re 21 and never afterward, and b) the beer cups had sippy tops on them and nothing kills a good buzz like SAFETY FIRST, EVERYONE!  Besides which, every dude in the place looked like he was drinking his own urine out of a cup designed for a toddler.  Remember when you could drink beer out of a plastic cup that wasn’t approved by OSHA?  (Oh, man.  See what just happened there?  Social commentary. I just won a silver medal in the “Jaded Stadium Attendee” event). 
In Vancouver, the Seattle fans- the people from the most literate city in the US, the city with the most sensible shoes worn per capita, the epicenter of earth-toned fleece-lined clothes, where everyone looks like he’s going camping every time he leaves the house, where the Almighty Salmon is the subject of every single reusable tote bag and bumper sticker- these fans were a bunch of ANIMALS.  They turned their backs to the Vancouver team during the opening ceremonies and flipped them double birds.  Double.  Birds.  My fellow co-op shopping, recycled-rubber-shoe-wearing egalitarians flipped CANADIANS the double bird. Canadians!  The nicest people in the world. I was so confused. Watching Seattle behave like that was like watching a bunch of librarians take a dump on a kindly senior citizen’s front lawn. It was just bizarre.  
Then it was time to raise the flags and sing the national anthems.  And, true to USA form, The Seattle fans belted it out with all the Roseanne Barr they could muster.  Of course, instead of registering that the singing of the anthems indicated that action was mere seconds away, this sensitive little flower was imagining Francis Scott Key huddled on the deck of a wooden war ship, composing his song while under enemy fire, feeling the concussive explosions overhead and the walls of the ship reverberating with each blast, the sky lighting up, his heart aching for his fallen countrymen… And just as the tears are threatening to spill down my cheeks, the Seattle fans cut in at the end and replaced “the home of the braaaaave”, with the collective dog bark of “SOUN! DERS!”.   
The Canadians sang their national anthem with eyes closed and their hands on their hearts.  They looked downright angelic.  World peace was achieved for three minutes and thirty seconds while the strains of “Oh Canada” reached the heavens. If you need more proof that Canadians may have figured out a thing or two about how to get along with their fellow human beings, watch them sing a song about their country.  Next to the warm glass of milk that is the Canadian national anthem, ours is a rusty cup of whiskey and gunpowder, chased with a dram of whale fat and a lit match.  
The other reason I don’t really do sports watching is because they usually involve stadiums.  And anything that takes place in stadiums these days is littered with a lowest common denominator feel to it that usually leaves me disappointed in humanity.  Within minutes of arriving at the stadium in Vancouver, I’d gone to the restroom and sat down in another woman’s urine. There appears to be an inverse correlation between the size of a place and the care with which people aim their excrement. It’s like everyone’s common decency just goes away in stadiums, at big box stores, and outdoor concerts.  A woman pees all over a toilet seat and thinks, “Meh, someone else will clean this up. I’m gonna go fill up on a sippy cup of beer now.”  This is why I stopped going to stadium events years ago.  That and the smell of ketchup.  Can a smell more embody the fluffy-middled, sweaty enthusiasm of America more than the warm must of vinegar and tomatoes?  I think not. 
I wound up standing next to a guy who, for the second half of the game, directed a stream of LOUD profanity-laced commentary to the umpires.  Interpreting my leaning towards him as interest in what was happening down below (I was actually just trying to get a better signal on my phone so I could check Facebook) he asked me what I thought of the game so far.  Hopped up on black tea and the idea that this would all be over soon, I told him, giddily, that I didn’t really care for soccer and that I was just there because my fiance had brought me.  I didn’t even understand what the hell was going on, I admitted, and wasn’t that just HYSTERICAL?  Dude looked at me like I’d just asked him to sit down on a pee-streaked toilet seat.  I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND soccer?  What the hell was I doing here, then?  Um, I don’t know, sir. Looking up the definition of “conciliatory” on my phone?  

THIS is why you need to stay in school, kids

It’s good to have your mind blown at least once a day. I mean, that’s what I’ve always said.

OK Go has got to be one of the most brilliant musical (theater? dance?) acts on the planet. I loved them the minute I first got wind of them. They’ve joined the ranks of other mind-blowingly talented folks who have used Chrome to deliver a personalized, make-you-cry-it’s-so-good, Internet experience. I feel like a total toolbag writing the words “Internet experience”, but I’m at a loss for how to explain what just happened to me.

What makes this even BETTER is that OK Go has teamed up with Pilobolus, a Dance Theater Company. Here was my introduction to them:


If you are not moved by this, then I’m pretty sure you are dead inside.

There are thousands of critics of our thoroughly modern electronic-gadget-driven lives. Hell, on some days, I am one of them. I waffle back and forth between wanting to unplug and run through fields of daisies and wanting to know what every single person in the world is doing right now through some form of media. I remember days when the first thing I did when I got out of bed was reach for the tea kettle. Now, before I do anything, I slip into my desk chair and check the news, my email, Facebook… Those simpler days are over. And soon to morph into something different, I’m sure. Though it’s sometimes exhausting to keep up, I LOVE that our brains are complex enough to invent things like the Internet, streaming video, wireless accessories, and Facebook. (and I love that I’ll be able to look back on this post in ten years and laugh at half of what I listed because it will be obsolete.)

On some days, I just need the tactile sensation and smell of an old book in my hands and utter silence.

Today, though, I needed these guys and what they have done with technology:

(You’ll need Chrome to make this work properly)

http://www.allisnotlo.st

We Can Talk. Or Not Talk.

CIVIL WAR, ANYONE?

The U.S. Civil War has been making recurring appearances in my life. Given the situation in the Arab/African world right now, I’ve been thinking, (if I’m thinking of war at all) about that area of the world, and not about my own country. But I was flipping through the channels on live TV the other night (something I almost never do) and there was a Ken Burns documentary on PBS. I was hooked within a minute. It was riveting. I had a million other things to do that night, but I couldn’t pull myself away. Besides which, Garrison Keillor was narrating, as was Morgan Freeman. And who can resist their voices? Then, about a day later, a friend mentioned the Civil War on Facebook. (whaaa??) Then Ancestry.com sent me a newsletter and said I should thumb through their newly released Civil War records to look for my ancestors! (Ah, but Ancestry.com doesn’t know my people are relatively new to this country). Since I am on a path, these days, of reading into every little thing that would otherwise be called a “coincidence”, I’m taking this as a sign that my United States of Being are at war with one another. I think I need my own internal Abe Lincoln to stand up and give a two minute speech to say how regrettable it is that so many had to die to get this whole living as a unified entity right. Or something like that.

PHONE CALL FOR MR. JONES

I accidentally left an event Saturday night without my phone. I couldn’t get it back until Monday morning. On Sunday, I ran the gamut of electronic-device-withdrawal: first I was annoyed, then panicked that it would be stolen, and finally, resigned to the fact that I was going to have to spend ONE WHOLE DAY (Oh! The humanity!) without my phone. I stopped in at one of those dizzying Here, This-didn’t-sell-at-the-department-store-so we’ve-marked-it-up-from-its-department-store-clearance-price-and-shoved-it-on-this-shelf-with-an-egg-slicer,-a-no-name -candle, and-a-frying-pan stores. Doesn’t that sound like a bargain hunter’s dream store? (and a Type-A’s worst nightmare?) I realized about halfway through browsing that I was actually sort of bracing myself for my phone to ring. Seems most things these days are interrupted by a beeping or dinging of some sort, right? But the phone didn’t ring. And I eased into this sense of peace I have not known since 1999 or so. It was remarkable.

FUCK YOU, CHASE BANK

But Sunday was also the day I had set aside to call all the various financial entities that autodebit my account and tell them that I have officially dumped the jerks at Chase Bank and would they kindly autodebit my new bank account? And I didn’t have my phone. I felt like I was missing a limb. The whole part about not having a phone is that you can’t TELL anyone via phone that you are missing your phone.
Me: (sighing heavily) I don’t know where my phone is.
Burdy: Maybe it’s in the house and you just can’t see it. Do you want me to call it?
Me: Sure. Go ahead.
Sound of dialing. Sound of silence.
Burdy: Well, did you call the event center to tell them you think you left your phone there?
Me: blink. blink blink.
Burdy: Oh. Right.

I HEAR / THE SECRETS THAT YOU KEEP

I’m spending lots of time these days inside my own head. I am doing what the head shrinkers call “a lot of processing”. One of my head shrinkers told me yesterday that I need to “give voice” to stuff I’m keeping in my head. In other words, I need to get out of my head and into my vocal chords. I need to turn my internal editor off, and just let ‘er rip. I can worry about the fallout AFTER I’ve insulted everyone in the room. The important part here, kiddo, they say, is to just say what’s on your mind.

So, this morning, I’m having a dream. I’m knitting a sock while I’m having an argument with my dad. My dad is telling me to get a job. I tell him that I don’t want just any job. We go back and forth for a while. The anger builds. He tells me I should apply for this one job, this job that seems completely improbable. But you need a degree for that, I shoot back. No you don’t, he says, eyes ablaze with fury. And then, in my sleep, I snarl, at the top of my lungs:

I DON’T WANT TO BE AN OPHTHALMOLOGIST.

I wake myself up and Burdy too. I’m smiling because I feel triumphant! and vindicated! Take that, overbearing dream dad! I’m smiling, too, because I have just yelled at the top of my lungs in my sleep, something I have never done in my life, and holy crap is it funny! Burdy, meanwhile, is trying really hard not to laugh. He spends a few minutes lying very still. He eventually stirs and I open my eyes and stare at the ceiling and start to spell “ophthalmologist” over and over in my head thinking there is some code word embedded in the letters if I just rearrange them. Burdy, unsure if I am fully awake or not, asks me if I remember what I just said. Yeah, I say, impatiently. I DON’T WANT TO BE AN OPHTHALMOLOGIST. And we break down laughing. We laugh for a fully minute. This is going on the blog, isn’t it, he asks. And I think for a moment and say no because then I will have to explain why yelling in my sleep is so profound and that I am seeing therapists to help coax all these words out of me and the first thing that comes out of my mouth is “I don’t want to be an ophthalmologist”.

And then I think: fuck it. I’m going to take the advice of those head shrinkers and worry about what everyone thinks later. So, yeah. I think I’m finding my voice.

Pictures From A Trip

These past few mornings, I have been waking up from some pretty strange dreams. There’s a rule out there that says never to fill your blog with descriptions of your dreams, so I’m going to skip the details. Suffice it to say, though, they have been setting the tone for the day in that way that unshakably bad dreams do.

Ever since the trip to California, things have been less sharply focused. All that energy I had before the trip has been slowly draining from my body. The weather has been colluding to keep me inside. It’s been raining real rain, in real storms, for the past week or so.

This is a transitional time of year and I feel it in the very core of me. This is the time when we all want to stretch our achy muscles, wipe the dust from our eyes, and see the sun again. Our bodies sense Spring is around the corner and we want to end our willful hibernation of book reading and tea drinking and coiling our bodies under heavy blankets. The crocuses are poking their optimistic heads out from the ground. Daffodils have burst open, their bright yellow almost unnatural against the hard wet cement and mulch. We humans are gravitating towards windowsills, and lingering in front of piles of folded sleeveless shirts, and gradually feeling like our winter coats are just a touch too heavy for days like these.

I am ready, but the skies, heavy with clouds, have other plans for March. And, like a kid who can see, if she cranes her neck just so, the Christmas tree through the slats of the banister at five am, I know I have to wait some more before that really good thing can happen.

That isn’t the introduction I wanted to write for what I am about to share, but this is a season of much back and forth, contradiction and anticipation, so maybe it is, after all, fitting.

My very good friend Tara just returned from a trip to Africa, specifically to Rwanda and Morocco. (She was slated to visit Egypt, but then, well, Egypt happened, so she had to do some rearranging). Tara is a brilliant photographer and one of the most kind, spirited, passionate, honest, talented, and ambitious people I have ever met. You’ll see all that when you see her photographs.

When I watched the slideshow this morning, something was put back, something wobbly was righted inside of me. I gained a little perspective. All my fretting about my life, privileged as it is, was made to feel (rightfully) small in the face of genocide and civil war. Of course, something new was set in motion too. I started wondering about the long history of Africa and the inevitability of war… and then, because Tara who she is, and because of the genius of her work, I started to think about resilience, and this divinity we all posses, this ability to overcome devastating defeat and to rise again. It’s enough to make me want to slap myself in the face for feeling sorry for myself.

Right now, it’s all about scales of gray. What paralyzes me now will not keep me down me in the months to come. This will all be distant and probably laughable one day. I will look back and wonder who I was when I wrote these words. Right now, though… right now, this is all monotone and stifling and unbearably real.

Enjoy Tara’s work.

http://tspoonphotography.com/darkroom/share/?n=rwanda

Did You Remember They Had A Dog?

List of things I did today out of love:

1. Wiped a four year old’s butt. (Then washed hands)

2. Touched turkey cold cuts with my bare hands and spread mayonnaise on bread. (Then washed hands)

2. Took a four year old, a nine year old, and a rambunctious King Charles Cavalier out for a walk to the candy store. (Then washed hands)

Seriously. The skin on my hands feels like dried corn husks.

The most uncomfortable thing about this whole ordeal (did I say ordeal? I meant “glorious opportunity to experience the joy of parenting”!) is not having all my stuff with me. Stuff like my rubber gloves. The ones I wear when I do the dishes. The ones that help my skin to retain its natural moisture while I scrub pots and pans.

Burdy didn’t get much work done today. He usually works from home, but now that our home is 20 miles north, in a house full of two kids and a dog (I can’t believe we forgot about the dog), he’s set up at the dining room table and the kids don’t quite get that he’s there to work. They’re used to roughhousing with Uncle Stan when he’s here. It’s hard for them to understand that when he’s obscured by that 27″ screen, and his brow is furrowed, it means he’s looking at the Matrix and coding. And it’s wholly unproductive to interrupt Uncle Stan when he’s looking at the Matrix and coding.

What’s blowing my mind tonight, at the end of Day Two, is how distinct the consequences are when the schedule is not strictly adhered to. Dinner is to be served at six sharp… or plaintive cries from the living room for grapes will ensue. Bathtime is at 7:15, or you run the risk of running into overtime and missing the bedtime deadline… which, in turn, will make for a cranky child in the morning. There really isn’t much else in my life that works like this. If I don’t finish work for a client, I come in at some other time to make it up. No big deal. If I don’t get all the laundry done on Sunday, it doesn’t matter. There are always more clothes to wear and I don’t mind wearing my dirty jeans for one more day. If we run out of frozen blueberries, well, then we’ll just eat frozen strawberries instead.

But holy shit. Try explaining to a four year old that you ran out of blueberries and it ain’t no thang… and you might as well say goodbye to the skin on your face, because his wrath will melt it clean off. (Note: we have not run out of blueberries.) Sticking to the schedule is turning out to be harder than I thought. And giving up my free time to be at the beck and call of two children is even harder than that.

I don’t have that kind of rigidity and responsibility built into my life right now, so this change feels particularly swift and severe. Sure, I have to show up to work when I say I’m going to show up (more or less) and I need to meet deadlines, but everything else is up to me. If I want to skip lunch, I can. If I want to go to the gym in the middle of the day, I can. If I want to not come home till nine pm, I can.

This whole parenting thing has definitely put a cramp in my hobo lifestyle.

The dog, thank goodness, doesn’t seem to care one way or the other about the schedule. He’s just rolling with the punches right now. He seems like the type who wouldn’t mind wearing his jeans for that fourth day in a row.