Friday, May 27, 2011

on happy weekend

I love this day.  Work closes at one on the Friday before Memorial Day and every year my friend Siobhan and I meet somewhere outside for lunch and some afternoon drinks in a welcome summer celebration.  I am off tomorrow morning to my grandmother's for the weekend but I'll be back on Tuesday to post.  I am not sure who out there is actually reading this, but if you are, I wish you a very happy weekend and a day of welcoming in summer.

I love my Mum's house, but wouldn't it be nice to be in this swing all weekend?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

on needing adventure

I am plotting for summer adventure. I don't know where to, I don't know when, but I'm plotting. Without these important specifics though, my plotting has turned into non-realistic daydreams of a cruise in the Mediterranean or backpacking in Alaska.  I have to reign myself in.  But a part of me wants to just let go of practicality and do something big.  It has been a long year.  We need something.

We had a similar experience after Mike's dad passed away a few years ago.  Except that time instead of the stress of student teaching and final months of a graduate program, Mike was dealing with the stress of being unemployed for eight months.  I needed an adventure then too, but I needed it to be alone.  I know this might sound terrible, but the burden of helping someone out of mourning coupled with the burden of being the only one bringing in an income was just too much.  I needed some selfish time but was afraid to ask for it.  One night that winter I came home to find the Sierra Club's outing page up on the computer.  Mike, knowing me better than I know myself at times, sat me down in front of it and told me to go.  A few months later I left New York and spent twelve days away.  Eight of them in the wilderness of the High Sierras.  With ten strangers.  And a lot of nothingness.  It was amazing.  And slightly terrifying.

I have always loved camping, but on those trips when I was growing up there was always a car nearby and if the rain and thunder lasted too long, my Dad would break the 4th wall of wilderness and take us to a bookstore for warmth or a diner for pancakes.  This was something completely different.  There were no cars.  Instead there were 35 miles of walking between me and the parking lot where we arrived the first day. 

And there was the quiet.  In the Adirondack campgrounds we frequented, even on still nights there was a hum of activity.  The soft sound of a radio from the other side of the campground.  Or a family walking by on their way to the bathrooms (yes, bathrooms, how could I forget I had never camped without running water!).  But in the Sierras, miles away from civilization, there was only quiet.

On the first day of hiking, after a long uphill climb to our resting spot for the night, I fell up a boulder as I tried to maneuver my footing.  I slipped forward, and the weight of the 50 pound backpack forced me into the rock.  My knee hit first, hard, and I stayed down and shuffled over to the side to let the rest of the group by.  There was blood, and a pounding that started in my knee and elbow then traveled to my head, to the space behind my eyes that would normally trigger tears.  I managed not to cry.

I got myself up and moved a few more feet to flat ground where some members of the group were setting up our kitchen while others were staking their claim to a tent site for the night.  I found mine up another short climb and then met our leader down at the lake to get cleaned up and bandaged.  Afterward I took out my journal and started to write.  And I wrote that I wanted to go home.  I hurt, I was tired, and I was pretty sure that I wouldn't be able to make the hike the next day, one of the toughest of the week, up and over Mono Pass. 

I don't think I fully believed it yet, but by the time I finished writing I had told myself that I could do this, and made the decision to stay.  The next morning two women decided to leave, and as I watched them make their way down and away from us, I realized it could have been me, and was proud that it wasn't. 

My bravery was not all encompassing though.  At night, when things were still, I thought of what might be out there beyond the flimsy confines of my tent and was scared.  Mike had recorded a goodnight message on our camera and I would take it out, muffling the speaker so that no one else could hear, and press it against my ear to listen to his voice saying "you can do this, goodnight sweet girl".  Panic set in a few times as I watched clouds rise and double in size on the horizon.  I was irrationally scared of rain during the night, of lightning storms on the trail, of not being protected.

But my moments of fear were tempered by the thousands of moments of amazing.  Things I had never realized, never noticed before in my hometown world of light pollution and noise.  Like how long the sky holds on to every bit of light long after the sun sets.  Or of all those stars, so many that it was as if the sky was star and the darkness the stuff that could be counted.  Or on the last night when the wind screamed its way through the stunted trees on top of the mountain, how I got up in that perfect darkness, alone, to stake and re-stake my tent into the sandy ground, tying knots around rocks to keep the tent from picking up, and found that I was no longer afraid.

When I turned on the phone for the first time after walking out of the Sierras, I found a dozen text messages from Mike.  Most were just to let me know he was thinking of me, one night the scores of a Mets game, another that he missed me but was proud.  Then, on the last day, the text said that he was ready to move on.  After twelve months of mourning, he felt something shift and was ready to move forward.  Somehow my being away was not just important for me, it was for him too. 

And so I think we're in need of that now.  A little adventure.  But this time, together.

Monday, May 23, 2011

on the weekend

The weekend started with a visit from one of my favorite old friends and ended late last night (early this morning) with Mike finishing the final portfolio for his teaching certification.  In between there was a peony splurge at the farmers market and some practice with the new camera's zoom.  Today, bleary eyed, but so proud of Mike.  Since photos of us proofing the 50 page paper at 2 am would not be very appealing, I give you peonies instead.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

on the guitar

I grew up with musicians all around me.  On both sides of my large extended family, nearly every aunt, uncle, and cousin played an instrument or sang.  At home, my mom's beautiful voice, my Dad's guitar, my brother's combination of both.  When I was in elementary school I started playing the piano and violin, but I wanted what they had.  I wanted to sit in the livingroom after family parties and play songs late into the night like they could.  Minuet in G and Pacabel's Canon didn't really fit there, so when I was 13 my Dad taught me the basic four chords on his old camping guitar.  After that I taught myself a few more, but basically spent the next 18 years strumming poorly between those 6 or 7, just hoping that one day my innate natural ability would kick in and, like them, I would be talented.  But it didn't happen. 

For most normal people, deciding to take lessons would not be the shameful realization that it was for me.  Having to ask for help felt just a little like I had failed, but I realized that if this is going to come to me, it was going to require a little work.  So one night in March, after walking beneath the banner outside a second story window advertising Queens Guitar School, I decided it was time. 

I told Ross, my newly appointed guitar teacher, that I most wanted to play the blues, since it was my favorite music to sing.  He eyed me skeptically as if white girls from Long Island don't really know the blues.  In an effort to explain to him how serious I was (or how weird I was), I told him the story of my hamster, who I lovingly named Albert in honor of Albert King, the great blues man who died on the same day I got the hamster.  Surely naming a childhood pet after that man should garner some street cred.  He still looked doubtful, or maybe just bored of my babbling. 

But it's been a few weeks, and I'm getting it.  That thing that didn't come naturally, but turns out was just beneath the surface waiting for a little encouragement, is coming out.  And at night I take out the once dusty guitar (in the past I thought just having it in the house should mean that I would know how to play it well) and practice.  Practicing in order to get better at something, what a novel idea. 

And maybe this summer when I go with Dad to the hole in the wall bar* in Oneonta to sing the blues at open mic, I'll be able to play them too:

*as of now, singing in the shower or singing for the 8 people in the Oneonta bar is about all I can manage.  I'll work on that courage thing next.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

on a birthday part II

My Dad used to steal lilacs for my birthday.  "Steal" is a hard word here.  He took them from places where they were not being appreciated...does that sound better?  He would go out the night before, cutting them down from spots in town where no one would notice if a few were missing (there's a joke here if I want to go to an off color place about the fact that one such spot was the cemetery across the street).  And so each year on May 14th I would wake up to lilacs, so many that now their scent is intertwined with birthday memories.

I don't usually do much on this day, something small with a few friends is happy birthday enough for me, but the lilacs will always be there.  Mike has continued the tradition, and as much as I love the ones from the farmers market, there is something missing.  Maybe there was something special about the idea of Dad going out in the cover of darkness (yes, I am capable of making anything more dramatic than it really is) to cut them down to bring them in.  Maybe the farmers market way is just too, I don’t know, legal. 

brooklyn botanic lilac pre-bloom
farmers market lilacs
lilacs at home

Thursday, May 12, 2011

on a birthday part I

In honor of my Lauren, who I have been celebrating birthdays with since our 3rd one in 1983 (minus a few here and there).  Since then there has never been a May 12th when I am not thinking of her, and I know she is doing the same on May 14th.  Happy birthday my friend.  Here's to the next 31 and more. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

on mother's day part II

I sent my mom flowers last week in advance of mother's day.  I called the florist in Gloucester and asked for an arrangement of spray roses, garden roses, and stock in purples and pinks and whites.  I asked if it would be possible for the bouquet to look like something that had come from a garden.  The next morning they were delivered to my mom's building just as she was running out for a doctor's appointment.  My mom yelled across the street to the delivery woman, "by any chance are those for Laura?".  The delivery woman, surprised, "how did you know?".  And my mom, taking them from her, "they look like something for me". 

I know my mom.  I know her better than I've ever known anything or anyone in my life.  And that is a loaded sentence.  It means I know what she's trying to say when she isn't actually saying it.  It means I know when the bluesy periods are settling in sometimes even before she does.  And it means I know when I have made her so happy that I can predict the exact pitch of an "oooooh" squeal when I get her call.  I received the latter yesterday afternoon after sending her a card over email with the photo below.  Happy mother's day mama, you are mine, and I love you more than I am usually able to say.

on mother's day part I

Yesterday, mother's day, we went upstate to visit Mike's sisters.  We wanted to be together for this first one without Bernadette, were scared of how it might feel if we were separated and left with our thoughts for the entire day.  I thought it would be difficult, but instead, something surprising happened.  We were happy.  There were moments of sad quiet, but that happiness outweighed them, and I was reminded that we really are coming through.  As we walked above the Hudson, the wind carried their laughter, and I watched and listened as the three of them worked on finding their way back.  I said a silent mother's day thanks to Bernadette for bringing them into the world, for raising them to be such wonderful people, for filling us all with so much love that even without her here to remind us, we know we will be alright. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

on a name change

I have officially become a Cannon.  I gave myself a few months to think it over, to weigh options, and then I made the switch.  I'm still a Driscoll at work, so I feel a bit like a Cannon sham, but I did it.

I knew it would be a big decision, and it was.  It wasn't easy.  I thought hard about what it would mean if I made the switch, if I wasn't being a good feminist, if I wasn't honoring the women who came before me who didn't have a choice other than to become Mrs. Hisfirstname Hislast name.  Even after nearly nine years together, when we were married last August I still had not made up my mind.  The thing is, I love my name.  My parents chose it for me.  My first and middle name flow nicely into Driscoll and that's how they wanted it.  It felt like a strange thing to then mess it up.  And, not only to mess it up, but to go with such an alliteration friendly name: Caitlin Ann Cannon.  All those c's and a's and n's just felt like too much.  Caitie Cannon.  Like the local news reporter who only gets to do the fluff pieces and has big hair.

What finally pushed me toward the big C is the way Mike feels about his name and all that surrounds it.  He loves it.  I mean, really, really loves it.  And it's not the one he was born with either, so he's probably one of the only men who was able to say, "but I've done it too" when the discussion of name change came up. Mike was born Brennan (don't get me started on how much nicer Caitlin Brennan sounds) but that Dad was not a good man and did not stay around for long, so when Bob Cannon came into his life and became his Dad, Mikey Brennan became a Cannon.  He is so proud of that, the feeling ended up being kind of contagious.

And so now I am a Cannon too.  Alliteration and all.  And when we see it in print, or even a cannon itself, I am directed to take a photo:

Cannon sighting on vacation day outing to South Street Seaport

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

on chapter endings

My friend Siobhan wrote the other night that Osama bin Laden's death is not the end of the book, that there is still much more to write, but rather the end of a very long, painful chapter.  Mike and I were watching the Mets game Sunday night when the breaking news alert came across the bottom of the screen.  He flipped to CNN and I went to the computer to find out more.  We didn't talk as we read the Washington Post news blast that bin Laden had been killed, but I grabbed his hand which was resting on my shoulder and squeezed it.  We didn't celebrate, I wouldn't call it that, but there was a sigh between us, a collective feeling of relief. 

I felt guilty for feeling that, but I've given it some thought, and I think it's alright.  And maybe that feeling of relief is amplified because we live in New York.  Maybe it's not.  But we have lived with a level of fear each day since September 11th that we did not know on September 10th.  If the lights flicker off for too long on the subway as we dip underneath the East River at Queensboro Plaza, I catch my breath in anticipation for what might come next.  When I daydream on the commute in to work, there are times when I am rattled alert by images in my mind of an imaginary explosion, of scrambling out of the subway into the darkness of the tunnel, of working my way up a ladder and out of a manhole cover into a chaotic street.  It is a reoccurring, wide awake dream and the man that brought that to me is no more. 

Osama bin Laden was the face of the fear we have lived with for a decade and even though I know there are others like him, that we are still not safe from repercussions, that our own country plays a large role in the anger and violence that persists around the world, I am still allowing myself this feeling.  This feeling that I can't quite put into words, because it's not happy or celebratory or vengeful, it's just relief.

I took this in the fall of 1995 (the kodak stamp on the back reminded me of the date), standing in the center of the street while my Dad watched for traffic. I still can't cross 6th ave without turning my head to where they used to be.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

on Spring, finally

I have been hesitant to make this announcement for a few weeks now.  Spring arrived, then went away, then came back, teasing us with warm afternoons and bursts of color, only to leave us yet again with a string of cold, damp days.  But this morning, walking to work, I felt it was finally here.  So for now, no words*, just some photos from a vacation day outing to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden two weeks ago: 

*I feel like I have a lot to say about Osama bin Laden and the past two days, but not yet.

Monday, May 2, 2011

on bug battles and Mike being a wus (how's that for a title)

I wrote the below paragraph a few years ago and Mike told me to post today because, unfortunately, Saturday morning we experienced a very similar situation.  Except this Saturday there were two sightings of large bugs in our apartment, not just one, but the linking factor is that the first one was, and I cringe as I type this, on my foot.  The cockroach was on my foot.  I yelled and tried to shake it off (in the Spring after the exterminator visits our building they come out of the wall to die and so it was not moving quickly), Mike jumped up on to the couch and started to scream profanities and directions for killing it while I ran to the kitchen, whimpering in disgust, to get the Raid.  Some things have not evolved in our relationship:

Saturday night.  Mike was at the computer.  I was standing in front of the tv trying to get the phone to work.  Something tickled across the top of my foot.  ‘Mike, what was that?’.  As if, from 8 feet away, he would know.  No answer.  Walk over to the overhead light. Turn on.  ‘Mike, do you see anything’.  He looks around ‘no’, and then out of the corner of his eye he must have seen it because within seconds he was out of the chair, across the room in one jump, and squealing like…I can’t even think of a proper simile here.  The cockroach was about the size of my hand (I exaggerate only a little) and all I could hear was Mike screaming for me to get something to spray it with, as he grabbed the tennis racket that’s never once been used for its actual purpose.  I ran to the bathroom.  Febreeze, Lysol, a can of the death Raid…for some reason, I chose the febreeze.  (Now I must interject: if this had been a normal sized insect, a paper towel and a kind ‘shoo” out the door would have sufficed.  But left to its own devices I think this thing would have learned how to program my remote control and subsequently taken over the apartment).  Back in the room. Mike’s on the offense now, crouching under the bed to shoo it out.  What followed was not for the weak of heart.  Carnage, hollers, lots and lots of febreeze spraying.  In the end, victory. And a sweet smelling room.