Sunday, July 31, 2011

on a song for Sunday

I woke up this morning at my mom's in Gloucester.  For a second before I opened my eyes I forgot where I was, but from the next room I could hear her humming and remembered.  It wasn't this song, but it reminded me of this, of her song for me. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

on E.B. White

This piece about E.B. White and the new book about the making of Charlotte's Web made me love that man more than I already did:

One early fall morning in 1949, E.B. White walked into the barn of his farm in Maine and saw a spider web. That in itself was nothing new, but this web, with its elaborate loops and whorls that glistened with early morning dew, caught his attention. Weeks passed until one cold October evening when he noticed that the spider was spinning what turned out to be an egg sac. White never saw the spider again and, so, when he had to return later that fall to New York City to his job as a regular contributor to The New Yorker magazine, White took out a razor blade and cut the silken egg sac out of the web. He put the sac in an empty candy box, punched some holes in it, and absent-mindedly put the box atop his bedroom bureau in New York.

Weeks later, a movement on that bureau alerted him to the fact that tiny spiderlings were making a Great Escape through the air holes. White was delighted at this affirmation of life and left the hundreds of barn spiderlings alone for the next week or so — to spin webs from his hair brush to his nail scissors to his mirror — until, finally, the cleaning lady complained.

And this:

White's own later estimation of his work is, perhaps, most touching. In old age, when he was suffering from Alzheimer's, White liked to have his own essays and books read to him. Sometimes, White would ask who wrote what he was listening to, and his chief reader, his son Joe, would tell him, "You did, Dad." Sims says White "would think about this odd fact for a moment and sometimes murmur, 'Not bad.' "

E.B. White's free hand sketch of Charlotte

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

on knowing your audience

My foot was put in a boot yesterday.  A big, black, felt and plastic boot that makes stairs and subways resemble obstacle courses.  I knew it was coming, but wasn't really prepared for the annoyance of it all.  But I'm thankful it's just this and not something worse, so I am trying not to complain*.

Friday night, out with a friend, she asked me how the boot was going to fix the foot.  I told her that I thought it was meant to keep things stable enough so that the ligament would fuse back together.  I then said that when I thought of it meshing back together I couldn't help but imagine the scene in Avatar when they fuse their ponytails with the ponytails (probably not the technical term here) of their animals and then there I was, sitting at the table, acting it out with my fingers and making a sound that I thought best exemplified the fusing of ligaments.  She laughed, hard, and I joined in, thinking I was a pretty funny person.  Unfortunately, it is now apparent that I might might be the only one to think that.

Yesterday, sitting in the doctor's office, I told my doctor what I envisioned for my foot.  I laughed as I told her about Avatar and since it had been funny just two days before, I thought I'd share again, pretty sure I'd win her over** with my hilarity.  But she only stared blankly back at me and I detected the slightest eyebrow raise/eye roll and immediately wished I could disappear in a puff of embarrassment.  I really need to know my audience.  The doctor is not it.

See? Fusing. Just like ligaments.
*I am not going to complain, I am not going to complain, I am not going to complain...
**Yes, just a little strange that I want my medical professionals to like me.

Monday, July 25, 2011

on the weekend

We celebrated Mike's birthday Saturday night.  The temperature climbed to over 100 degrees and as we sat outside at the beer garden in Astoria we waited for relief from an occasional breeze and the setting sun.  Mike had been having a hard week.  I thought it was because we were gearing up for another "first" without Bernadette, but he said it was more from remembering where we were a year ago.  When we still thought we had time, when we didn't know that it was only a matter of weeks.  He had brief moments of panic in not being able to remember, "what did we do this weekend last year? Were we with her?"  And I reminded him, yes, we were there, we were all together, you were with her. 

But as people gathered on Saturday night he was happy and so thankful for his sisters and cousin and friends who trekked in the heat and through subway mishaps to be there.  He was reminded of all that he still has and that was such a gift.

Friday, July 22, 2011

on fresh air

This morning, when the concrete felt like it was sagging with each step, when deep breaths stung just a bit at the back of my throat, when the air was thick and foggy with haze and heat, I thought of Roseanna.  Of her childhood self sitting on the fire escape outside her bedroom window trying to catch some moving air and I felt a pang of regret in my gut for not being better when I had the chance.

My family sponsored Fresh Air children when I was growing up.  Roseanna was our last and favorite and returned year after year for two weeks in July.  We acted like sisters, volleying between love and hate at any given time.  I wasn't always my best when I was with her.  I wish I could apologize to her now for it, but it's too late.  She moved to Florida with her family when we were teenagers and after a few years we lost touch. 

Roseanna came to us from the South Bronx tiny and tough in 1988.  She was six but would turn seven over the course of her vacation (somehow this meant something to us as kids, she and I were two years apart when she arrived but the gap would lesson to one year by the end).  She laughed hard, threw a ball better than any boy I knew, and had breasts and a first kiss before I had even thought about either.  I loved her, felt protective of her, but by the end of two weeks, couldn't wait for her to leave.  I was never quite sure what people thought of me and always had the feeling that I didn't fit.  Roseanna seemed to have the ease of fitting everywhere, of having everyone love her in an instant.  It sounds awful to admit now, and I can't describe how even with those superficial advantages I could be jealous of this person who had so little, but I was. 

I wish now that I could sit with her and tell her how sorry I am that I wasn't always able to share it all with her, how jealous I was that my parents so easily loved her, how I hated that she knew our family was coming apart at the seams before I did, and how that fear fueled a selfishness I had never known before.  I wish I could make it better, but it's too late.  


"My brother's got a gun underneath his bed."

We were sitting on the edge of the pool, feet skimming the surface, peeling away pieces of sunburned skin from our arms when Roseanna broke the silence.  I looked over at her, searched her face for an appropriate response, but nothing came to me.  Instead I sat quietly and watched my toes make circles in the water, suddenly aware of how hot the concrete had become beneath my palms.  I wasn't sure if it was a threat or a fact, but I didn't know what I was supposed to say in return.

We kicked our feet and waited for conversation to come to us.  We were eight and six and had been informed that we would be best friends by the end of our first day together.  But there we were on day two and I still wasn't sure.  From inside the house a radio played and Roseanna started to sing along, "you got a fast car, I want a ticket to anywhere, maybe we make a deal."  I knew the words and joined in but next to her my voice was too light, too high, too polite sounding to sing them.  Roseanna sounded off, but tough, her accent ending the words in a perfectly cool way.  "I remember we were driving, driving in your car, the speed so fast I felt like I was drunk."  And then the song got to the good part and loudly, half laughing, half singing, we started in together, "and I--eee--I had a feeling that I belonged.  And I--eee--I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

on not that kind of adventure

At one point during my senior year of college I decided that I wanted to join the Peace Corps after graduation.  I was pretty set on it.  Spoke to the recruiter, received the application, read through the materials.  In the pamphlet they sent me was a piece written by a young woman who had just returned from Africa.  She wrote about driving her jeep home from a neighboring village several miles away and getting a flat tire.  About how she had to get out of the jeep in the middle of that wild landscape just as a storm broke out above her.  Of kneeling in the rain and mud and fighting with the tire as the sounds of nighttime animals moved about her.  The piece was meant to be inspiring, to show the new recruit what power being in the Peace Corps could bring to them.  Instead, I closed the booklet and three months later moved to Boston.  To an apartment three blocks away from my brother, far from carnivorous animals and nighttime feats of heroism.  I was fairly certain that I did not have what it took to live that life.

Our good friend Nick just accepted a position teaching at his veterinary alma mater in St. Kitts.  He owns a home, is partner in a great animal hospital, lives just a few miles away from most every person he loves, but is packing up next month and moving to St. Kitts for four years because he said he needed an adventure.  Mike and I told my Dad this when we saw him last week and my Dad quickly replied, "you have to do something like this".  I laughed it off but he pressed on, "no, this is the time, this is when you can do this.  Don't worry I'd visit you."  And so for a few hours in the car on the drive to wedding number two on Sunday Mike and I talked about where we could go, what we would do.  Maybe not bringing running water to a village in Africa as was my original adventure goal all those years ago, but maybe living in another country and teaching.  Or, as Nick has suggested, farming pineapples on St. Kitts and being his neighbor.

A part of me wishes I could turn into the person that could pick up and go.  That I was not this homebound person who was just a little fearful of all those what if's.  But it's been tempting, and I'm wondering if I have been selling myself short in thinking that I couldn't.

Nick's new island home...
UPDATE: just saw this commercial for the Peace Corps and thought it was pretty timely, and inspiring...especially because the actor says, "I really didn't think I had it in me."  As if he new that I had just written this little blog post. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

on the weekend

On Saturday, we headed upstate for my cousin's wedding and gave ourselves extra time before the ceremony.  We lost my grandfather the day after we lost Mike's mom last August and so I never really had a chance to say goodbye.  Bernadette's passing was nearly more than we could handle and so my grandpa got lost in the mourning shuffle.  They had a funeral for him when we were on our honeymoon, and then when we came home life just got away from us a bit.  So nearly a year later, we drove around the town my grandparents used to live in, the same town where my cousin was getting married, and I said goodbye.  And then we went on to the wedding surrounded by my Dad and the rest of our family and had a party.  We've had so many sad days since August 14th, being there with them for something so happy felt, well, kind of healing.

On Sunday morning after breakfast with the family we got on the road to Carlisle for Josh's wedding, Plato's Symposium in hand.  I stumbled the reading once, and then apologized for the mistake, ignoring rule number one in public speaking.  But thankfully there was a beautiful bride and groom standing next to me about to say vows so my mistake was of little consequence. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

on rebirth and brass part II

Last night I went down to South Street to see Rebirth Brass Band, the band I loved in April, at the NOLA Funk Jazz Fest.  It was a gorgeous night and after a popup rain storm a rainbow appeared over the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg bridges forcing everyone to the edges of the pier with their cameras in tow. 

I hummed to myself on the walk home from the subway, ears buzzing from standing next to the speakers for too long, moon almost full above me, and said a quiet thanks to the world.  I spend so much time wishing for time to move more quickly, wishing for more space and a house and a baby and a dog, for everything that is to come next.  But last night I reminded myself that I won't always live in New York City, I won't always be able to stay out until 1am with my friend just to listen to a band.  That for now, as hard as this year has been, there is an ease to life here that I am thankful for.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

on somebody's getting married...

On the morning of my wedding I was getting ready when I heard my brother singing this through the window outside my room.  It's a silly thing, but it is one of my favorite wedding day memories.  And so I sent it to my friend Josh this morning since he is getting married on Sunday. 

This weekend is a wedding weekend.  On Saturday we'll head upstate for my cousin Kristen's wedding (made extra celebratory because it will be the first time I see my Dad and Stepmom in 11 months) and on Sunday, we drive to Carlisle, Pennsylvania for my friend Josh's wedding. 

Josh and I met my first day at NRDC nearly 8 years ago.  He was a temp in the mailroom and the first time I saw him he was listening to Coltrane and reading Hegel.  A stack of books was next to him.  And I thought, this is no ordinary temp.  I made him my friend even though he was too smart for me and we bonded over our love of music and words, our long distance relationships and then his long distance breakup, his attempts to get into a philosophy doctoral program, his many drafts of papers on phenomenology, his leaving the city for school, and then his meeting a woman who he thought was the one.  And now my friend has his doctorate and will be teaching at Penn State in the fall.  And he will be married on Sunday. 

Josh asked me to do a reading at the ceremony and so I am currently looking at a full page excerpt of Plato's Symposium.  No "love is patient, love is kind" here.  As I said, he was no ordinary temp.

"...And so, when a person meets the half that is his very own… something wonderful happens: the two are struck from their senses by love, by a sense of belonging to one another, and by desire, and they don’t want to be separated from one another, not even for a moment..."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

on the weekend

On the weekend a day late.  Doing things a little backwards this week it seems.

Saturday night, a 50th birthday party for Mike's cousin served as an excuse to play arcade games with the Cannon sisters and act like 7 year-olds.  Wasn't I just saying last week that I wanted to act like a 7 year-old?  We stayed in the party room with the adults for what felt like a reasonable amount of time and then joined the kids downstairs for a few hours of games. 

Mike conquering the Death Star
Sunday morning, an impromptu trip to the ocean with Mike and my friend Lauren.  I've lived in New York City for 8 years but never with a car.  The idea that we could walk out our apartment door, get into a car, and be out of the city and in water fairly quickly is a new concept, but such a happy one.  Forty-five minutes after we left Astoria we were settled down into the sand at Jones Beach and then into the water where Lauren and I made each other laugh so hard we swallowed waves.  A few hours of sun and laughing.  It was a good day.  

Monday, July 11, 2011

on a joyful girl

On the subway this morning with the earphones in to keep everything else out when Ani comes on in the shuffle.  A song I haven’t heard in years and by the time the first verse is over I am in my brother's apartment in Boston listening to it for the first time 15 years ago.  It was hot out then.  August maybe.  We sat in front of the windows that opened to the back of the building where later that night Cris would point out the rats across the way and I would hate him for knowing my childhood fear. 

I fell in love with a life away then, with all that he had living there.  Wanting to stay a little longer and dreading going home just to move every Sunday between my parents, of even one more month in my hometown.  I swallowed back crying when I heard the song that night but tears were nothing new, that summer fell smack in the midst of the “Cait the Great Queen of Doom” years (or so named by my high school English teacher).  I didn’t think there’d ever be a time when I wouldn’t be sad or angry at what had happened to our family*. 

For a minute listening now I remember what it felt like then and wish I could go back and tell that girl on the couch in Boston that it gets better.  That in time her parents start acting like grownups and stop being so difficult.  That it won't always hurt.  Maybe then her English teacher could call her something else.  But maybe then she wouldn’t feel so happy to have all that I do now.  I’ll try not to wish to change her so much.

Do it for the joy it brings,
because I am a joyful girl.
Cause the world owes me nothing
we owe each other the world.

*I've read some of my journal entries from this time to Mike and, after hearing them, he promised to burn them if anything were to happen to me.  If you think I'm dramatic now, believe me, 16 year old me was a doozy.

Friday, July 8, 2011

on conquering dessert

I brought dessert to our friend Nick's barbecue on Saturday.  Actually, I brought a homemade dessert to Nick's barbecue.  Now, this doesn't sound like a feat worthy of writing on the internet to most, but to me, it was a small step towards conquering the fear of the kitchen.  Of producing something that someone else other than Mike (who is sworn by an oath of marriage to eat things I make) was meant to enjoy. 

Two weeks ago I had grand plans for this barbecue.  I was going to make something festive, something patriotic, but then I realized flag cakes are tricky, and time consuming, and just a little on the wrong side of Martha so I started to panic. 

Then Jenny posted about berry galette.  A post with beautiful photos of an easy berry dessert and I was saved.  I woke up Saturday morning and after a quick trip to the fruit guy on Broadway and the grocery store for dough I was preheated and making dessert.  It took all of 45 minutes from prep to finish so a normal person would probably not boast about this, but it was big for me.  A few hours later a chorus (ok, chorus might be pushing it) of ooooh's and ahhhh's sang out around the patio as my creation was devoured. 

There is a pride that comes with a clean plate that cannot be matched by pretty packaging from a bakery.  And I know it was only a simple dessert, but it's been inspiring.  I feel just a little bit like a success story.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

on a camp day

There is a pace I have come to know over my years of working on this block.  But today it is slower.  Something about pushing through thick air saps the energy out and makes you wish for anything but here. 

So I’ve decided we should be at summer camp today.  That it is just too hot to be a grownup.  I should have woken up, had some breakfast, been dropped off at camp to play with my friends, and not have come here.  At lunch I would have a soggy peanut butter and jelly sandwich (my mom put the peanut butter on both pieces of bread in an effort to avoid this, but it never really worked).  In the afternoon I would go to the beach for swimming lessons and Jesse would let me sit next to him on the bus, solidifying my hunch that he would in fact propose to me by the end of the day.  After the beach we would head back to camp where we'd most likely build some sort of craft out of Popsicle sticks and Elmers, half of which would be eaten by Jesse.  But that would be ok, because love transcended glue-eating 7 year-olds.

But instead we’re here.  It’s a strange thing to be jealous of 7-year olds.  But today I kind of am.

and this from Three Potato Four.  I'd like to be doing this as well.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

on the weekend part II

We headed up to Mike's hometown on Saturday afternoon to spend the day with one of his oldest and favorite friends.  Nick and his brothers throw an annual 4th of July (er...2nd of July in this case) pig roast* and this is the first year we were able to make it.

There was a volleyball tournament, a game involving a tree stump, nails, and flipping hammers (seriously the most dangerous thing I've ever witnessed a bunch of slightly tipsy adults play), and hours of sitting on the back steps and catching up.  We set up our tent in a quiet corner of Nick's front yard and were laughed out for being so excited about sleeping outside.  The phrase "city folk" may have been thrown around in our general direction.  But we woke up early Sunday morning to the sounds of thunder in the distance and rain pattering on the tent and felt a thousand miles from home.   

*I am not a vegetarian, but still couldn't bring myself to eat the pork after it surfaced from it's roasting home.  It looked too much like what it once was.  I just couldn't do it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

on slowing down

Last night, as fireworks went off all along the horizon around us, I didn't look at the time.  I didn't wonder about the parking lot of traffic that might be out there on 95.  I didn't worry about waking up this morning and being overtired*.  I sat on a beach chair on the lawn in front of Justin and Mary's house and soaked it in.  It's new for me, but I'm trying to slow down**.  And when we left it wasn't late, there was no traffic, and this morning we weren't sleepy.  But if it was, if we were, it would have been okay.  I have to keep reminding myself of that.


*Yes, overtired, sometimes I confuse myself with a toddler. 
**It seems I'm not the only one, Mary just wrote a post about the same thing.