Wednesday, November 30, 2011

on someone else's words for today

Essay on the Personal
by Stephen Dunn

Because finally the personal
is all that matters,
we spend years describing stones,
chairs, abandoned farmhouses-
until we're ready. Always
it's a matter of precision,
what it feels like
to kiss someone or to walk
out the door. How good it was
to practice on stones
which were things we could love
without weeping over. How good
someone else abandoned the farmhouse,
bankrupt and desperate.
Now we can bring a fine edge
to our parents. We can hold hurt
up to the sun for examination.
But just when we think we have it,
the personal goes the way of
belief. What seemed so deep
begins to seem naive, something
that could be trusted
because we hadn't read Plato
or held two contradictory ideas
or women in the same day.
Love, then, becomes an old movie.
Loss seems so common
it belongs to the air,
to breath itself, anyone's.
We're left with style, a particular
way of standing and saying,
the idiosyncratic look
at the frown which means nothing
until we say it does. Years later,
long after we believed it peculiar
to ourselves, we return to love.
We return to everything
strange, inchoate, like living
with someone, like living alone,
settling for the partial, the almost
satisfactory sense of it.

sunrise and the last leaves out the kitchen window this morning

Monday, November 28, 2011

on thanks and giving

I am still trying to wrap my head around the idea of being back in the office, of the frenzied energy that slammed me as soon as I walked in this morning, of this first day of the busiest eight weeks of our work year.  So for now I will stay in the last four days. When there was plenty of time for walks on the beach and cooking and eating and catching up with my family.  It was a good weekend.  A happy and belated thanksgiving to you.

the Little Peconic Bay, morning after thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

on ego and a pie

Sunday night, after a few hours of revising my short story attempt for Monday night's class, I started to panic.  Just a little.  I worried that the story didn't change enough from draft one to draft two, that I did too much telling instead of showing, that I had missed the boat on fiction because I chose to write a character who was real to me.  I read the 11 pages again and again and the more I read the more I panicked about having to hand it in.  So I took a break.

I went to the store and picked up apples and a Pilsbury pie crust* and came home and made three apple galettes for my office Pie Fest the next day.  I peeled and cored and preheated and folded and then cut tiny little leaves out of extra dough to make it pretty.  Forty minutes in the oven for each and they came out looking like something that should be photographed.

Except I didn't photograph them because by the time they were finished it was late, my draft wasn't ready, and I was just a little too far on the wrong side of cranky (ahem, crazy) to take out the camera.  And then when I moved them from the cooling rack to the tupperware for transport, they broke into pieces.  So I threw a minor temper tantrum.  I announced to Mike that I would not enter them into the Pie Fest the next day and felt pretty strongly that they were rotten no good ugly pieces of apple worthlessness.  When I took them out of their tupperware at work (I brought them in because, crumbled or no, they were still pretty tasty) I left them on the kitchen counter, two floors above the Pie Fest festivities in the conference room below.  There may have been some huffing and pouting as I walked away from them.

An hour later when people returned to their desk from the party they passed by the kitchen and saw my disaster.  Only it wasn't a disaster.  I hadn't looked at the galettes as I tossed them out of the tupperware when I got to work and somehow overnight the pieces had cooled and gelled back together.  What was left were two pretty pies that I had been too ashamed of to offer up to my colleagues at the Fest**.  People kept stopping by my desk asking why I hadn't brought them down and I had to fumble for a reason that wasn't, "well I had a mini breakdown last night when I thought they were ugly and was too embarrassed and angry to bring them to you all."  There's a moral there somewhere.  Maybe even several.

photo of Dinner A Love Story's galette

*sorry Dad, no time to make a homemade one.
** Mind you this was just a Pie party, at work, where very little culinary scrutiny takes place.

Friday, November 18, 2011

on an end

It was a Sunday morning.  Mid-September.  Fall was on its way and the last of the garden roses sat in a vase in the center of the table.  As we finished breakfast I noticed that there was something different about the way the silence filled the room.  It was not an easy quiet as it usually was, instead it felt tense, strained, something about the way my Dad looked at the paper in front of him without really reading it, the way my Mom kept her eyes on him, the way my brother noisily moved the last piece of pancake around the plate with a scratching sound that made my shoulders shudder.

And then my Dad said it, they were separating.  They found an apartment and were going to take turns living in our house and this new place.  They assured me not to worry, nothing would change for me, I wouldn't have to be the one to move.

The tears were triggered instantly and I raised my eyebrows and blinked hard to force them back to where they came from.  They said something else but I was no longer paying attention, I was too concerned with the feeling of crying that was quickly coming up my throat.  I put the glass I was holding down, folded and refolded the napkin in my lap, and flicked a crumb off of the placemat and onto the floor.

I took my time as my hands moved in front of me, fearing the moment when I would have to look up at them, knowing that I couldn't do it without yelling for them to reconsider.  Still not able to meet their eyes, I followed the light that came through the lace curtains as it made delicate patterns across the tablecloth.  I could feel them watching me, waiting for me to say something to make them feel better; to make them feel like what they were doing wasn't going to warp me, turn me bad, make me into the kind of kid they held after class in parent teacher conferences because their home life was disrupting their school work.  But, in spite of my normal first instinct to please them, I kept quiet.  Cris was sitting across from me with his head down and I fought the urge to kick him underneath the table for not warning me.

It was quick.  In a sentence we were over.  The four of us would never sit like that again, I knew it even then.  I went to my room when I thought I had listened enough and later that night I took the ride with my Dad as he drove my brother back up to college in New Paltz.  On the way home I asked him what was going to happen to us next.  If we even were an us anymore.  He looked tired, and sad, and said he didn't know. 

But I do.  The next week Dad would move over to the apartment they had rented.  He and my Mom would move back and forth each Sunday so I didn't have to, but after a year that stopped working and the shared apartment was given up.  My mom would move to a one bedroom apartment and I would spend the next few years shuffling between the two, sharing a bed with my mom in one space, living with my Dad and my future stepmom in the other.  My mother, so ready to leave that she would give up her dream house, though when I picture it now it seems small to me, off in ways I know she didn't see then.  For her, the picket fence out front, the "french blue" living room and "soft pink" dining room, the dormers on the second floor, one just big enough for a reading nook and window seat.  But together, the blue was too blue, the pink clashed in the room next to it, the window seat only ever used for piles of laundry and papers.

There were beginnings that came along afterward, happy and whole beginnings, but that end will stay with me.  I imagine that when I am an old woman I will still be able to recall the way the light came through the lace curtains that morning, the intricate layers of light and dark spread out before me.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

on poor fundraising

I saw a woman on the street today with a box of candy bars.  Not any old candy bars, but "World's Finest" Candy bars.  The ones parents all over the tri-state area lug into work to sell to eager colleagues for their kids' school fundraising.  I saw the box, and felt just a little sick.  The box mocked me, stared back at me through layers of foil and deliciosness and said, "and you call yourself a fundraiser?".  Ok, it probably didn't say anything, but that's how I felt.  Because I may have worked in Development (that's fancy speak for fundraising) for the past eight years, but I used to be the worst fundraiser ever.

I was given these boxes of chocolate to sell on several different occasions in middle school.  But because I was a sugar crazed and kind of chubby kid who had very little portion control, I had a problem keeping the boxes of individually wrapped $1 bars in my room.  I'm not sure why I didn't hand the box over to my parents to bring into their work to sell like everyone else did, maybe I was struck with some strange code of ethic where I thought I was the one who was responsible for the actual raising of funds, selling of chocolate, but, either way, I failed: over a period of a few weeks, I ate most of the chocolate and paid myself back with my saved up babysitting money.  I repeat, I fundraised for myself from myself.

Pretty sad, but still not as bad as those times when I didn't turn in the change* that I had collected in my UNICEF boxes on Halloween-that's another confession for another day.

*I know, I know, that change was to help put an end to children's suffering around the world and not for me, I know, I'm awful, I get it. OK, fine, I'll go make a donation to UNICEF right now, I feel guilty enough as it is without you looking at me like that!

Monday, November 14, 2011

on the strangeness of google

I checked the blogger stats tab yesterday and scrolled down the list, curious as to how people had found this site.  Most of them stumbled upon it accidentally while googling something else (surprisingly, there are a lot of people out there who search for Jane Eyre or Bertha Mason images, bringing them to this post), some came from sites where I had left comments for other bloggers, but the best was this one yesterday.  A google search of "where to aim for moose kill" led some unsuspecting hunter to my sappy post about wanting to see a moose when I went to Vermont to visit my family.  That poor person did not find what they were looking for here.

looking up 5th...not sure how this fits today, but it's pretty, is that enough?

Friday, November 11, 2011

on November 11th

I finished this book two days ago (with no intention of coinciding with Veteran's Day) and have not been able to shake it since.  Louis Zamperini was with me on the subway yesterday morning and then in my dream last night.  In that one he was an old man, sitting in our livingroom telling me about Japan and coming home and the years since.  It's a testament to Laura Hillenbrand that he has stuck with me in this way.  And maybe to how much I miss my grandfathers and their largely untold stories.

Unbroken is a hard-to-put-down (really technical review here) story of survival in the Pacific theater of World War II.  The story was beautiful in ways I didn't expect something so harrowing to be and even though I am always wary of book titles that resemble Lifetime movies ("A Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption"), I shouldn't have been with this one.  I am not in the habit of reviewing my book finds here, but it seems fitting today. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

on the lasts

For the first three years of our relationship, Mike lived at home with his mom, dad, two sisters, a dog, and a cat.  I would tell him, enjoy this, don't rush it, and when it ends, when you come down to the city to live with me, you're going to know when your lasts are, you're going to be able to say goodbye to them.  I told him this because I couldn't remember the last time I woke up in my parents house as a kid who lived there with them.  The last time I had breakfast with them before moving out.  I didn't know when the lasts would be, there were gradual movements towards independence, there was no singular end like there was for Mike, and I missed not enjoying them enough before they were over.  So he had the lasts, and now that so much has changed since then, I'm glad he knew them.

A few weeks ago, Mike took the day off to have his last meeting with the attorney who was handling his mom's affairs.  He drove up Friday morning and, since we had a wedding to go to farther upstate that night, I took the train and met him there in the afternoon.  As I was walking to Grand Central, I realized that this would most likely be my last time making that trip.

That trip, the one I could do in my sleep by now.  The walk from 20th and 5th to 23rd and Lex.  The uptown 6 train to grand central, the flight of stairs at the middle of the track to the station, the train at track 32 at 5:53.  Then the Hudson at my side as we passed Yonkers, Ossining, Croton, and the rest of the stops until New Hamburg.  For the first few years of our relationship, I made this 90 minute commute at least two Fridays a month, and then even when Mike moved down to the city, visiting his home and that trip were still such a part of our weekend routine.

Last August, the morning after we got the call that we needed to get to the hospital as soon as we could, we took the train to Mike's hometown and his sisters picked us up at the station.  Bernadette passed away a few hours later, we stayed for the funeral, our wedding, and then when things had settled and it was time to go home, we took her car with us and have had it here ever since.  We don't need the train to visit anymore.  I didn't know that August trip would be the last, so, when I got on the train a few weeks ago, I thought of all that trip had meant for us, and I memorized it.

I love that trip along the Hudson.  For years it was what brought me to Mike and then to the family that became my own.  Maybe it's a strange thing, but I like knowing when I'm saying goodbye to something rather than the pang of memory years later when I realize I never knew a last was a last.  So I had that last.  And I knew it.  And I was thankful for it.

poor quality phone photo through the window of the train

Thursday, November 3, 2011

on moving

Even when you know something is the right choice, the right decision, the right move, it still feels so strange to pack up and leave.  We moved in four years ago sad and broke just three months after we lost Mike's dad and Mike's job and we left last night* a little less sad and a little less broke, a year after we lost his mom.  In between there were good things, happy things**, but that place still feels weighed down with loss and mourning.  With just a little too much struggle.

Our new apartment is clean and bright and feels, well, new.  A break, a fresh start, a real physical change to help along the emotional one.  It's time.  And it hasn't even been twenty-four hours yet, but it feels kind of amazing already.

*yes, last night, being Wednesday, which means on Tuesday, the morning of moving day, we got a call from our broker letting us know that the place wasn't ready yet. Stressful two days ensued.
**Mike proposed in the living room of 2A.  He got down on one knee right there in front of the couch and asked me to marry him.  It wasn't all bad there.