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Shakespeare, the city and me

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“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover.”  –Mark Twain

On my first full day in New Orleans, I was left alone for most of my day.  R had to work, so I woke early (even earlier when I remembered the two-hour time difference) and tried to plan for my time alone in the city.  I spent my first hour catching up with my online obligations for my new job and then debated where to wander.  I checked (and double checked…or triple checked) that I had the spare keys in my pocket (and that they worked…some things never change) and headed out into the streets.  I packed a camera and went to see just what there was to see.

I started out searching for St. Charles to see the historic homes.  I stopped at the corner to watch the street car pass and dodged through some traffic.  I had big plans.  I was going to find a coffee shop, get breakfast, and take in the neighborhood.  I walked and gave myself whiplash looking at all the houses.  Everything is old and wonderful.  Houses are wrapped in cozy porches and balconies.  They hide behind twisting wrought iron.  Bricks are everywhere and broad, white columns stand tall watch.  I could look at those buildings forever.  I fell in love with the old, full trees shielding me from the sun and the bright colors splashing relief against the russet bricks.  I kept watch for my destination and kept walking.  And walking.  And walking.  I passed schools, towering and stately, and more of the delicious homes.  And more.

After a half hour of walking, my feet were sore and the sun left few places to hide from its rays, so I turned to go home.  I walked and savored the homes, the beauty of the old neighborhood.  I stopped suddenly, overtaken with a sweet aroma: floral notes, melted with a fruity scent.  I searched for what the smell could have come from, but could not determine its source.  It smelled like a summer day in the South should.  I lingered over water meter covers, the quiet beauty of something so mundane.  Every street name, tiled into the cement from bygone decades, broadened my smile.  Sweating and aching, I came to my final street crossing and looked at what I had missed before: St. Charles was the first intersection I had come to.  Frustrated that I had missed the mark by so far, and reaffirming that Charlie Brown in me, I went inside to rest.  My feet were blistered and face pink with the midday sun.  So I showered, turned on a movie, and relaxed in the beautiful apartment, tiptoeing over the dark, hardwood floors and lounging under the ceiling fan.

R came home late, so we hurried to get cleaned up and head out for the night.  We started by meeting two of her friends from school for dinner.  I continued to step into a limbo of familiar-new with cajun-mexican food at Juan’s Flying Burrito: jerk chicken nachos.  They were delicious and her friends were wonderful.  They were funny and sweet and instantly treated me like one of the girls.

After laughter and dinner, we set off for the New Orleans Museum of Art for a night of Shakespeare under the stars.  We wandered in, taking our program/fan from the children at the entrance, and got a drink.  We spread our blanket on the grass and settled in as R pointed out acquaintances and professors.  As A Midsummer Night’s Dream opened, I was more enamored with the experience than the play.  We watched the beginning on a grass slope and then moved further into the garden for the bulk of the play.  Trees spread overhead, dripping with moss and fairy trinkets, as the action unfolded in the hollow below.  As I bored of the story, never one of my favorites, I noticed the moon beginning to rise.  It was massive, yellow, magical.  R noticed it too and we were transfixed.  As the play closed, we followed the fairies around to a pond, where the cast rowed out onto the water to close.  It was such a wonderful experience, unique and tactile–theater as it should be.  We loaded up the blanket and left for a bar.

My single gripe about New Orleans is that smoking is still allowed in bars.  Gross.  But we entered and R warned me that it is a “pet-friendly” bar.  We found stools and ordered drinks as a small wiener dog ventured across the floor, looking exactly like my own.  He scampered off into the dark back room and we met more of her friends from school.  They were beautiful, smart, outgoing girls and I felt a benevolent jealousy of her world.  They are passionate and driven to make the world a better place, and have more fun than anyone I know.  We drank and talked until late and then headed home.  Smelly and blistered, my eyes were heavy and ready for some rest.

The play was delightful.  It was a remarkable experience, sitting huddled with the crowd, rapt beneath the moon.  We shared a magical night, sitting among the statues in the shadow of the museum.  The bar was fun, seeing R in her world, her life at its most silly and joyful.  I have felt recently, and my stroll through the neighborhood confirmed, that I was born at the wrong time.  The cracked sidewalks and bumpy bricks tell a story.  The houses are old, have endured and seen, adapted and withstood.  I find comfort and peace in the beauty of the old, something that new, state-of-the-art can never bring.  The steadfast trees and porch swings beckon me and welcome my soul home.  For an hour, those streets were mine, and we both loved it.

“Over hill, over dale,/ Thorough bush, thorough brier,/ Over park, over pale,/ Thorough flood, thorough fire,/ I do wander everywhere.” –William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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A Dark Day

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“In the future, can’t wait to see/ If you open up the gates for me…It’s kinda hard with you not around/ Know you in Heaven smilin’ down/ Watchin’ us while we pray for you/ Every day we pray for you/ ‘Til the day we meet again/ In my heart I’ll keep you friend/ Memories give me the strength I need to proceed/ Strength I need to believe… I still can’t believe you’re gone/ Give anything to hear half your breath…”  –Puff Daddy, “I’ll be Missing You”

September 8th is a difficult day.  It marks the anniversary of my aunt’s death, which rocked my family.  My mom’s only sister, her death was incredibly painful and something that we just don’t talk about.  In fact, her name is only mentioned with the greatest caution.  While she crosses my mind throughout the year, the day we lost her always comes with an empty ache, a fog that makes everything else so much less important.

Terry was the first person I knew who died.  I had friends who lost parents and knew of some girls who had tragically died when we were in junior high school, but no one that I knew, that I loved, that I had a relationship with, had died before.  I remember the frustration and deep, novel sadness that overcame me.  As a freshman in high school, I was in a difficult middle place between wanting to be comforted and coddled and feeling compelled to comfort my mother.  It pains me that we do not talk about her.  I hate that she is taboo, too hard to remember because she was wonderful.  I know that we turn the dead into saints, and she had plenty of demons that she faced and conquered in her life, but she became a wonderful woman.  I actually spent very little time with her, but she was an inspiration.  On top of defeating addiction, she was the mom I hope to be–she led her daughter’s scout troop, shuttled her children to archery and AWANAS, loved her grandbaby fiercely, and met the neighbor kids at the front door to pray with and for them before they walked to school each morning.  Her family fell apart after her death and now, twelve years later, I still do not see the silver lining, the reason, the good that came of all this.

This unresolved anger, the senselessness of her passing, is perhaps why I feel so unsettled on the anniversary.  As I drove to work, I was incredibly stressed and tired.  I had (big shock!) computer complications that made me miss an important conference early in the morning and was running on just a couple of hours of sleep as I left for a long day of work.  For the last month and a half, the only thing that I have listened to in the car has been the Avenue Q soundtrack.  I closed at work the night before, so I had listened to the radio on the way home because Love Line is a super secret shame of mine.  As I started my car, the radio was still playing.  Before changing over to my cd, I scanned my presets just to see what I was missing.  In a moment that makes me think that “coincidences” are just a simplistic word for God at work, the song that opened this post, good old Puff Daddy’s “I’ll Be Missing You,” was just starting.  My eyes flooded and throat closed, but I couldn’t turn it off.  A cheesy remnant of my adolescence, this song is so full of sorrow and strikes me as painfully sincere.  It was a reminder of Terry, of her day, that sadness and anger is okay, and that her memory and legacy live on.  I haven’t heard that song in years, but it made its way, in its entirety, into my drive.  Mourning with the radio made me feel a little less alone.

As the day dragged on and the city baked in an above-average heat, the day looked to be as bad as it could be.  And then everything went black.  From Mexico to Orange County, the Pacific to Arizona, electricity disappeared.  Of course.  Because when it rains, it pours on the day I forgot my umbrella.  Sitting in the darkness, unable to leave work, I thought about the fatigue overtaking my body.  I thought about my stressful morning, about how tired I am of having the worst-case scenario always play out, and then I thought about Terry.  The day was just overwhelming.  I felt small and helpless and very, very alone.

I finally got home and quickly rounded up candles and flashlights.  I called home quickly to tell my parents I was alive and, if something more sinister struck while we were without power, that I loved them.  I settled for the most edible of my food and finally gave into the darkness and went to bed.  Laying in the still, hot darkness, willing my open window to carry a breeze instead of the roar of freeway traffic, I drifted in and out of light sleep.  I woke up and hoped that when I checked the time on my phone that the night had passed, that dawn was near.  It was 10.  I lay in sweat, near tears, and resolved that it would be a sleepless, endless night.  No tv, no reading, no video games, and no phone.  I knew I would never make it.  And so did God.  As I lay there, feeling the hot darkness crush me and my spirit, it happened.  About ten minutes after I woke up and panicked at the long night ahead, the lights came on.  My fan kicked in and the air swirled over my hot skin.  He really wasn’t going to give me more than I could bear, but as Mother Teresa said, “I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.” 

I do realize how insignificant a dying computer, mean customers, no lights and a hot night sound compared to my aunt, who no long can fight those little battles.  It was just a long day,  a hard day, a day that I was more than glad to see end.  But, as I fell asleep, with most things back in order, the words of my beloved Avenue Q ran through my overwhelmed mind:

“For now we’re healthy/ For now we’re employed/ For now we’re happy/ If not overjoyed/ And we’ll accept the things we cannot avoid, for now… Only for now!/ For now there’s life!/ Only for now!/ For now there’s love!/ Only for now!/ For now there’s work/ For now there’s happiness!/ But only for now!/ For now discomfort!/ Only for now!/ For now there’s friendship!/ Only for now!… Each time you smile/ It’ll only last a while/ Life may be scary/ But it’s only temporary/ Everything in life is only for now!”  —Avenue Q, “For Now”

Puzzle Logic

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“It turns out that an eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind a facade of order– and yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an even eerier type of order.” –Douglas Hostadter

Today was a gorgeous day in America’s Finest City.  Actually, the past week has been amazing.  The sun has been out in all its glory and has drawn the flowers from their hiding places.  Greens stretch across hills and parks, broken only by bright patches of yellow, pink and clean white.  So, with all of this surrounding me, I laid down on my floor and started a jigsaw puzzle. 

I definitely could, and probably should, have spent some quality time outside today.  After running errands and changing plans, I stretched like a cat in the sun that spilled across my living room and opened up a puzzle that I bought months ago.  I haven’t put one together since I was a child, but I wanted something to show for my afternoon of laziness.  Sifting through the pieces, pulling out the misshapen fractions, I felt a sense of calm begin to melt over me.

The past few days have been filled with anxiety and frustration.  I have felt something akin to depression set in, weighing me down.  Simple errands that, a week ago, were filled with a peace and mild contentment take more effort and cause more frustration than one might believe.  It was as if a dark cloud slowly moved in and settled inside me, blocking out light and clarity.  I’m still in whatever funk has found me, but the sadness stayed at bay for a while today.  Something peaceful and light cleaned out my mind as I began to link pieces together.

My delight in this puzzle is completely unexpected.  I sped through the border and began to sort out the trickier inner pieces.  The chaos, disorder and mess of the pieces did not phase me.  I like order, neatness, logic.  I want my markers in the order of the light spectrum.  I organize greeting cards by occasion, January through December.  Jumbled things typically cause my muscles to tighten and mind to panic.  I cannot shop at Ross.  But today, the disorder was not only acceptable, it was welcoming.  It begged to be organized, to be completed.  I had a difficult time getting very far.  As a perfectionist, I veer away from things I cannot excel at.  This did not happen either.  I simply left it to continue later.  No fear or frustration, simply a sense of starting something that would take time to finish.

There is a power in putting together a puzzle, and a poetry.  While I did not design the picture, nor cut the pieces, I am creating.  I am taking brokenness and making a whole.  From the chaos, order emerges.  But it’s more than order.  It’s completion.  The puzzle can only go together one way.  It can only fit just so.  There is a secret to unlock.  Puzzles are great because you can’t have an advantage.  Sure, some people see the whole easier, but all in all, it’s an equalizer.  When I am finished, I will take the puzzle apart and put it back in its box.  If I began it again the next day, I would not be at an advantage.  I won’t remember which pieces go together, they won’t tumble out of the box in the same order.  It’s a clean slate. 

It’s refreshing to dwell in the disorder.  I don’t do this in my life.  Ever.  However, here, it is okay.  I sat and sifted through pieces, not puting any two together, and did not worry.  I took time to see the pieces.  They look similar at a distance.  Sure, some have indentations, other protrusions.  On a closer examination, they are nuanced.  The pieces really are all different, in picture and shape. 

The metaphor is clear and nevertheless powerful.  Without any one piece, exactly the way it is, the complete is impossible.  No piece can take the place of another.  It takes time to find the spot it was made for, patience and vision, but once you see where it goes, it slips in effortlessly.  You don’t force a piece into place.  You can search and work, but mostly it hits you, in a moment of clarity, exactly where it belongs.  Slowly, as pieces find their home, the chaos melts into a whole, into order.  It becomes clear that the chaos was not real to begin with.  The order was always there.  It simply takes time to see the bigger picture.

“There are no extra pieces in the universe.  Everyone is here because he or she has a place to fill, and every piece must fit itself into the big jigsaw puzzle.”  –Deepak Chopra

Betting on 2010

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“New Year’s eve is like every other night; there is no pause in the march of the universe, no breathless moment of silence among created things that the passage of another twelve months may be noted; and yet no man has quite the same thoughts this evening that come with the coming of darkness on other nights.”  ~Hamilton Wright Mabie

2010.  A new year has begun.  I have not written yet, which is less disappointing than I thought it would be.  There has been a lot that has happened and inspired me to write, but I don’t feel the need to berate myself for not writing.  Perhaps 2010 will be a more forgiving year than 2009.  One can only hope.

This year began in spectacular fashion.  On a cold, clear night, under a blue moon, I welcomed a new decade surrounded by friends.  No matter how cliché, it truly is a special thing to think of the year starting with a blue moon.  It shone brightly, lighting our walks to and from the bar.  It heard our laughter and listened to our excitement.  It saw us look to the next year with hope that it would be better than the last.  Not that 2009 was all terrible, but the world as a whole has seen better days.  Very few would say it was the best year of their lives.  I would not be among them.  After leaving my family behind and returning to an empty apartment, I was exhausted and content to relax and enjoy a quiet night.  I think it would have been nice and nothing I would regret, but I’m glad that I opted for a  little more excitement.  I spent the evening with girls that I love and am loved by.  I spent it laughing so hard I could hardly catch my breath, working my core harder than any workout.  I spent it surrounded by warmth and joy and people who know me at a time when I forget who I used to be.  I spent it with friends.  As the sparkling ball descended on television, we turned down the volume and rang in 2010 with Journey.  Nothing could capture the new year, our optimism and hope, our faith that this would be better, than singing at the top of our lungs, “Don’t stop believin’!” 

Since that night, the year has been good and bad, joyous and tragic, as all other years before it, and all years that will follow.  I still hold out hope that it will be a better year.  It has to be.  Or, rather, I have to hope.  If we didn’t hope, we wouldn’t have a reason to wake up, to do the things that perhaps did not end well before, that disappointed and frustrated us last year, hoping that this time it will be better.  Hope is the only reason the human race continues.  Hope is a powerful thing, bred into us.  It’s the magic of New Year’s Eve.  We all need new starts, second (or third) chances.  We all need clean slates, but they are only useful if we have the hope, the confidence, the faith that this time, we might do better.  We hope that next year, we might not need them.  We hope that instead of rushing to start over and put the year behind us, we will wish it a fond farewell and hope that the next year will be just as good, because it couldn’t possible be better.

This image of persisting hope appeared again in my life today.  Today we went to the casino.  It’s interesting to see the crowd that gathers around the flashing lights and card tables on a rainy Monday afternoon.  It’s a humorous and tragic sight through the smoke and slots.  But no matter who they are, where they come from, what they own or owe or have, they all come with hope.  No one gambles without hoping to win.  They may try to keep a level head, accept losses and limit the damage, but they would not play unless they hoped to come out ahead.  You don’t try to lose.  You do it because maybe, perhaps, things will turn out better when you leave than they were when you entered.  You hope that this is your lucky day. 

That’s the thrill of gambling and the new year.  It’s the hope for a win. 

“Working hard to get my fill/ Everybody wants a thrill/ Payin’ anything to roll the dice/ Just one more time/ Some will win, some will lose/ Some were born to sing the blues… Don’t stop believin’/ Hold on to that feelin’…” –Journey

Expectations

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“So often is the virgin sheet of paper more real than what one has to say, and so often one regrets having marred it.”  ~Harold Acton

 

I expected that this little journal would last about four days.  I was pretty much right.  For the past couple of days I was excited to write, to reflect and create something.  I waited to sit down and type.  Tonight I thought I might pass on it.  I thought I might just go to bed.  I could justify it and no one but me is reading this, so it wouldn’t have made a difference.  I was very close to making it only four entries in.

But I decided to sit and think of something to say.  I perhaps should have spared myself from ever having to read this in a moment of retrospection, but here it is.  Part of this is my stubborn side.  I’m not so much motivated or inspired, but I’m determined to stick to something, no matter how mundane.  Perhaps if I give this time, real insight or creativity will come. 

I also have the embarrassing idea that someday this will turn into something interesting.  Someday, this will be worth reading or sharing, or at least revisiting.  I want to believe that this will be important… at least a little bit.  I’m reading about a man who decided to commit to reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.  That ended in a book.  A friend of mine decided to take at least one picture each day.  That ended in an actual published book.  Julie and Julia is the hit of the summer in theaters.  I want to make something that matters.  This, to be sure, is not it.  But perhaps if I keep trying, something will come up that will lead to my contribution, my defining work, my opus.  Perhaps it will lead to utter garbage that will make me blush when I reread it.  I remember my creative writing teacher in high school saying that if you write every day, a lot of junk will come out, but some really good stuff will surface too.  It’s just bound to happen.  So I’m marring this blank space with some ramblings, I’m not living up to the potential of what this could be.  But at least, for today, I’m trying.

So here goes nothing…

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I’ve decided to force myself to write again.  I spent a long night earlier this week looking over many different things that I wrote in college: essays, poems, journals and stories.  I wrote constantly for years.  I miss the act of writing.  I miss the feel of keys under my fingers as they fly over the computer.  I miss the sound of clicking as I type and the appearance of words across a once empty stretch of white screen.  I miss being me.

However, wanting to write is not the only reason I want to start this.  I need focus.  I used to know who I was, what I loved and aspired to and enjoyed.  I feel like I have floundered for the past two years and have lost sight of me.  I was at a point near the end of college where, while I recognized the monumental changes and growth I still had coming my way, I was somewhat comfortable with who I had become.  I am no longer that person.  Sure, change can be good, but this has not been.  This has been loss.  I’m hoping that writing, something that defined me in the best possible way, will help me find me again.

I want to sharpen my skills that have dulled with lack of use. I want my vocabulary to return and my observations to become more focused.  Not only do words escape me at an alarming rate, but I feel like I miss so many things around me.  I don’t see like I used to.  I want to write intelligibly about things, to write creatively, to write clearly.  I want to remember how to do what I was groomed to do for years.

But this venture isn’t all about skill and creating.  I want to reflect more.  I have recently encountered so many different stories about people who set out to complete something: writing every day, cooking every day, reading the encyclopedia.  I admire their ambition and dedication.  I want to write every day, or close to that, but I want to write with purpose.  I don’t want to make a diary about lunch and crushes and the weather.  I want to find joy again.  I’ve never really been a glass half full kind of gal, but things have taken a downward turn in the past couple of years.  I learned that, despite my introversion, I love people.  I like their stories, I like their company, I like their authenticity.  I have lost this love and fear it’s never going to return.  I have never identified with this quote from No-No Boy so closely:

It’s a matter of attitude.  Mine needs changing.  I’ve got to love the world the way I used to.  I’ve got to love it and the people so I’ll feel good, and feeling good will make life worth while.  There’s not point in crying about what’s done…I want only to go on living and be happy.  I’ve only to let myself do so.

So, in an effort to be happier, in a genuine way, and to be better, in an authentic way, this is one of my projects.  I just need to hold myself to it.