Tag Archives: song lyrics

An itch

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“Constantly risking absurdity/ and death/ whenever he performs/ above the heads/ of his audience/ the poet like an acrobat/ climbs on rime/ to a highwire of his own making…” –Lawerence Ferlinghetti

It has been a long time since I wrote here.  I missed holidays, seasons, thoughts and ideas.  I missed the click of keys and the scroll of ideas across the screen.  I missed writing.

I have been working to the point of exhaustion since my last post, both in person and online.  Days spent on my aching feet and nights straining my tired eyes have been so incredibly long.  As I have been working as a TA, grading papers and looking at the process that others go through as they write, I have missed it myself.  I envy them, getting space and time and an audience.  They get to collect and present their ideas.  They get to narrow topics, sift through articles, make arguments and craft titles.

I miss writing.  I decided early on that I would write here regularly as I teach, to keep my own sanity.  That has not happened so far, but I think it needs to.  As I made my way through the text for this course, Ferlinghetti spoke to me.  There is a drive, a frightening dare to create.  Something inside compels a writer to write, something that is greater than the fear of failure.  I miss that push, that scream that demands to be given voice.  It has grumbled and mumbled, but I have not given it a chance to develop because I haven’t made time to set it free.  I need that time.

In one of the texts I’ve used for teaching, the introductory chapter discusses, at length, the fact that no one is born a writer.  Good writers do not exist–they develop.  They practice and learn mechanics and understand how to structure a paper.  Good writers are made.  Which I belive, to an extent.  I spent years learning rules and diagramming sentences, identifying thesis statements and formatting bibliographies.  I learned to write.  I learned to articulate with conviction and support.  Great men and women showed me how to make thoughts bigger than they started, how to give them life and send them into the world.  They taught me to look at the words of others that came before, see what they meant and mean.  I learned to see the bigger picture, the web of people and life and literature that is more intricate and unbreakable than I know.  I learned to read and write, and how to read deeply and write powerfully.  I learned.

But that push inside me recoils, whimpering, “What about me?”  Aren’t writers born to do so?  Doesn’t something in me, unique and determined, make me write?  Isn’t it the same thing that drives painters to smear the canvas and chefs to filet?  Isn’t something inside me special, something that cannot be taught or learned?  Don’t I have something that makes me write, something that sets me apart?  Or is that all wishful thinking?  Is it only true for real writers, those who have something authentic and big to say with words that are not tired?  This idea, though meant to strengthen confidence, shook me.  If I am honest, I like to think that I am a good writer.  I want to be seen as someone who uses words elegantly and effortlessly, who puts words to thoughts that others cannot.  I want and like to think that I have a talent or, perhaps more powerful, a gift.  I want to think that I was made to write, made to express.  Those words, meant to convince everyone that they have the potential and ability to write well, took all of that away from me.  Perhaps that has also led to my lapse in writing–I feel doubtful.

The one thing that I have clung to, the one thing that I think I do well, was snatched from me.  Even knowing that I have worked hard in school, for years, to learn the skills that the text was encouraging students to learn, stings.  Learning to be a good writer is not the same as being one.  I want that gift that I am now unsure exists.  A skill is not as special, as defining, as a gift.

All of this has brought me here, starting yet again, with the intention to continue.  I guess I want to take time for me to continue to work on the skill that I have developed.  What I pray is that I find a tiny place inside where I still feel chosen to be a writer, born with graphite and pronouns coursing through my veins.  I want that joy, the thrill that string words together brings me.  I feel lighter, more agile and powerful, when the ideas are left on paper.  I need to remember this intense affection I feel for letters and spaces, and the world they create.

“If I get it all down on paper, it’s no longer inside of me/ Threatening the life it belongs to/ And I feel like I’m naked in front of the crowd/ ‘Cause these words are my diary, screaming out loud/ And I know that you’ll use them however you want to…” –Anna Nalick, “Breathe (2am)”

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“Some Sweetness”

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“Grab somebody, come on down/ Bring your paintbrush, we’re paintin’ the town/ Oh there’s some sweetness goin’ ’round/  Catch it down in New Orleans…You wanna do some livin’ before you die/ Do it down in New Orleans…” The Princess and the Frog, “Down In New Orleans”

My final morning in the Big Easy started slowly.  I packed in a quiet apartment, before my hosts were awake, and thought about how quickly it all had passed.  I was so nervous about the trip, about everything involved, and now I wanted it to last indefinitely.  I straightened up the living room and tip-toed over the creaky wood floors, savoring each minute left in the city.

R and I drove back to the French Quarter for breakfast.  Early on a Sunday, it was just coming to life.  Families strolled the streets and vendors unloaded their wares.  It was just beginning to stretch out of sleep as we wandered in.  We walked down to the Mississippi River.  The Mississippi River.  It was surreal, something out of books and history, something huge and untamable.  We stood on its banks in the warming sun, staring out at the rippling water.  I may as well have been visiting the rings of Saturn.  It was all so mythic.  It was smaller than I thought, quieter, but still magical.

We walked the banks back to the historic Cafe du Monde.  Standing in the winding line, we watched people pass and eat.  We inched into the shade of the cafe, thankful for a little relief from the ever-hotter sun.  We picked our way to a table in the back, ready for the heavenly beignets to arrive.  We swooned over the cute children, covered in powdered sugar, being wheeled in in strollers.  Realizing that there is no dignified way to eat a beignet, I dove in.  R laughed as a fine, white dust settled on her black dress and I fought to find a way to bite without sugar coating my entire face.  Eating more than we should have, I finished my plate, reminding myself of Robert Frost’s insight: “Yet knowing how way leads on to way/ I doubted if I should ever come back.”

Breakfast at the Cafe du Monde!

After  breakfast, we walked back to the car, taking a detour through the French Market.  Looking through used books, shot glasses, produce and drinks, I picked up a small souvenir to send home and we hopped back in the car and headed to church.  I was a bit nervous about going to church, but R wanted me to see it and I wanted to enjoy all of her New Orleans.  We pulled up under a tree and she pointed out that we were parked next to a few of the remaining Projects.  Even they were beautiful.  Red brick houses with old trees lining the streets made even the neediest part of the city enchanting.  We walked into the building and I immediately felt out of place.  After growing up Protestant in a Catholic school, I still feel unwelcome when I attend mass.  I sat alone in the pew as R ran to the bathroom, and looked around the sanctuary.  Transported back to my theology classes in college, I noticed a lot about the church without speaking to anyone.  It was bright, open.  The colors were light and welcoming.  The Stations of the Cross were closer to folk art than anything else and beautiful.  R pointed out that there is only one crucifix in the building, and it is off to the side of the altar, out of sight.  People walked around, some praying, others chatting.  The choir warmed up, piano music floating through the room.

The choir leader emerged from behind the piano, which was adorned with a Saints pennant.  She walked to the front of the sanctuary, dressed in a Saints jersey, black leather pants, and a gold chain belt.  She talked to those of us who were seated, explaining the new language that has been added to the mass and how to follow along.  She was lively and funny, engaging as she readied the congregation for mass.  Then the service began.  The music was enlivening.  The piano played, a horn and saxophone joined in, a drum kept time and a tambourine made appearances.  People sang with joy, the priests swaying at the altar as they did.  Everything that could be sung was, and it was sung with zest.  The mass was familiar but new, welcoming in ways it never was before.  We sang the Lord’s Prayer.  We sang “Peace Like a River” after the sign of peace, which was mashed up with Sinatra’s “When You’re Smiling.”  It was a party, relevant and accessible in ways that I had never felt before.  The mass, which was the same one we crashed at the cathedral, was tailored to its congregation, meeting their passions and needs beautifully.

The priest’s homily hit me deeply.  Tears flooded my eyes as I realized why exactly I loved this city.  He talked about giving to Caesar what is his and God what is His.  He talked about life, how it is fleeting and the important things are what belong to God.  “Amens” filled the air as he continued, a far cry from the silent, formal masses I knew from childhood.  He talked about money belonging to Caesar, because it is stamped in his image, and us belonging to God, because we are created in His.  He instructed that we are to give everything to God, because our lives are His: money, time, burdens, joys.  As the mass concluded, the recessional hymn was a game day tradition: “When the Saints Go Marching In.”  And then a “Who dat?” chant started.  R grinned widely, at home in room of people in love with life and their city.

We got back in the car and I tried to explain what I was thinking and feeling.  We drove through New Orleans and down to the 9th Ward.  She explained the Ward system, described different neighborhoods, and prepared me for what I was about to see.  As we rolled through the streets, I caught glimpses of gutted houses, rotten porches.  Spray paint still marks homes, though I didn’t even want to ask what it all meant.  As we arrived in the Lower 9th, I was fascinated by it all.  I had expected something frightening, a graveyard of houses.  I imagined dark, decaying messes, frames falling apart, destruction everywhere.  In fact, there were cute little homes, brightly colored, all over.  They were smaller than the ones on St. Charles, but I couldn’t help but love them too.  She explained that every empty lot I saw was once a home.  I saw quite a few, filled with dirt or looking like a lawn with no home to claim it.  We crept over the jagged streets and asked if I truly understood what I was seeing.  I apparently wasn’t.  There were plenty of clear lots, but there were also countless homes in fields of grass, reaching at least shoulder-height.  These were once homes too.  What looked like a house built on a lot with meadows surrounding it was a neighbor to an un-kept lot.  Then it hit me just how much was missing, what was lost.  It was weird, driving past places where people died and entire lives were lost.  We talked about whether we would come back, if we lost everything, or if we would just rather not see it all.  She showed me the homes Brad Pitt was helping rebuild.  They were cool, but couldn’t hold a candle to the beauty of the aged New Orleans.

We got back on the Interstate, driving toward my trip home.  We passed through a massive cemetery, lining both sides of the freeway.  White tombs litter the graveyard, housing generations of families together.  They keep the dead away from the mud and rain, keep them buried in the storm.  As I hugged R goodbye, I was sad to leave it all.

I tried to explain to her what I had fallen in love with.  New Orleans is a city at ease with tragedy.  It is violent.  Cemeteries litter neighborhoods.  Brass bands lead funeral processions.  Katrina still lurks, a scar that they cannot shake.  In the middle of all of this is Bourbon Street, children dancing in church, artists lining the street.  There are festivals and music, drinks for everyone and hospitality freely shown.  It is a city with every reason to mourn and fear, but it chooses life.  There is a choice to live the little time we have, to accept that it will end, and the determination to taste all that we can of this world.  The passion and zeal of the city are inspiring, it bursts with energy and celebration.  They dance for marriages and deaths, communion and touch downs.  It is the opposite of my life–vivid and electric.  It refuses to give up or grow up, greeting each day like a child: twirling through life with wonder and radiance.

“Mardi Gras is the love of life.  It is the harmonic convergence of our food, our music, our creativity, our eccentricity, our neighborhoods, and our joy of living.  All at once.”  Chris Rose, 1 Dead in Attic

“Dreams do come true in New Orleans”

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“I’m not going to lay down in words the lure of this place.  Every great writer in the land, from Faulkner to Twain to Rice to Ford, has tried to do it and fallen short.  It is impossible to capture the essence, tolerance, and spirit of South Louisiana in words and try to roll down a road of clichés, bouncing over beignets and beads and brass bands and it just is what it is.  It is home.”  –Chris Rose, 1 Dead in Attic

There is a magic to New Orleans that cannot be put down in words–it must be lived.  On Saturday, R and I woke up a little later than planned and got dressed to go see the mythic French Quarter.  As we walked down the street to catch the Street Car, the sun was warm and a cool breeze sifted through our hair.  We climbed onto the full car and rattled down St. Charles.  As my curls tangled through the open window, whipped in the sun, I drank in more of the beautiful architecture.  R, being the girl she is, struck up a conversation with a lost couple next to us.  They asked where to get off for Lafayette Square and she directed them, asking what they were up to.  They told us there was a festival, so we decided to get off with them and see what was out there.  We wandered through booths and heard a little music.  R told me “I love a good festival!” and that summarizes New Orleans well.  We got breakfast–a beer for R and the best pina colada on earth for me–and walked on.  (One of the strangest, and most enjoyable aspects of New Orleans was the ability to drink on the streets.  It never felt normal to get a drink to go, but it was wonderful!)

R wanted me to see a Second Line, so we walked to City Hall for the Occupy NOLA protest, listening for the band.  As we sipped and watched, R saw some of her friends from school, who stopped to chat for a moment.  They told us that the band could not be booked, and no Second Line was coming, but they were heading our direction, so we joined them.  We were accidental protestors.  “This is what happens when you fly by the seat of your pants!” she said with a wide grin.  Walking with the protestors was surreal and we were glad to have alcohol on our side.  A young girl rode on her parent’s shoulders on the outskirts, taking in the scene.  Signs were everywhere, all angry about something different.  A woman marched in front of us with a sign on her backpack reading, “3 degrees, 2 jobs, and I can’t sell my house.  I’m tired and angry.”  A drummer walked next to us for a block, flanked by a saxophone player, as people shouted “This is what democracy looks like.”  As we entered the Quarter, we broke free and left behind the shouts of unrest.

We stopped in a stately hotel, cool behind its white pillars, and glimpsed the slowly turning Carousel that made up the bar.  After the pit stop, we strolled the streets, passing galleries and shops and a cat in a window.  We wandered the historic streets, older than the stars and stripes.  The corners bore tiled signs, proclaiming the names the streets were known as under Spanish rule.  Stone and brick sidewalks turn into cobbled alleys, old shuttered doors bright and warm.  We wound down to Jackson Square, arriving just as horns began to echo.  We were surprised by a Second Line!  We stopped to watch, as the band approached, and clapped as the bride and groom followed.  We walked past the artists, work strewn on tables and pinned on fence bars, and the fortune tellers, browning in the autumn sun.  Skinny streets with beautifully old names crisscrossed through history and we wound up next to the mule-drawn carriages.  Promised a cheap ride if we joined strangers, we toured the Quarter by carriage, listening to tidbits of history and lore, seeing the oldest bar in America (Jean Lafittes Black Smith Shop), the only business open during Katrina (Johnny White’s), and an elementary school just off Bourbon Street.  Back at Jackson Square, we admired Saint Louis Cathedral, popping in for a look around and a homily about economic justice.  We walked back past the art vendors, enamored with a collection of bird paintings, and then headed for lunch.

We entered an almost empty dining room at the Gumbo Shop, which I would have walked right past if R hadn’t stopped me.  We entered the cool restaurant, seated next to the window where we watched a large woman, dressed all in red, clean up her keyboard and seat for the day.  R ordered gumbo and I enjoyed my first po’ boy after we shared an order of alligator sausage.  It was all new, steps away from all that I know and have ever experienced, and it was delicious–just like the city itself.  Full, hydrated, and content, we left our first real meal of the day for more walking.  Our feet had grown tired and we had not drunk nearly enough for a day in the Quarter, so we made our way down Bourbon in and into Pat O’Brien’s, where we would stay for much longer than we intended.

In the dark, smoky piano bar, we found an empty table near the stage and sat down with my first hurricane.  Sipping and singing, we watched tables fill and empty and fill again.  We heard some songs three or four times, and grew excited when a new one was requested.  We were mesmerized by their fingers, pounding and flying, effortlessly creating every song we threw at them.  The players cycled through, as did our drinks, and we sang on.  Finally R’s roommate joined us, which called for another round of drinks, and shouted our day’s journey to her over the music.  Eventually we tottered our way out, squeezing between crowded tables, and found that it had grown dark outside as well.  We walked to the car, taking Bourbon just to say that I did, and slowly drove away from the Quarter, just beginning to pick up for the night.  We listened to her roommate’s day, filled in details of ours, and decided some food was in order.  We drove through Rally’s, another new taste, though much more familiar than alligator.  We limped home, tired and hungry, and snuggled in for a little television before sleep.

At the end of the day, it felt like we had live a week.  It felt forever ago that we climbed onto the Street Car, and we crammed as much into a day in the French Quarter as possible.  I got to see and taste the city, breathe in the pounding heart of New Orleans.  It is a place of history, rich in humanity.  The streets ring, sing right along with the brass bands marching.  People come to perform, to dance and play, to paint and predict.  People come to where the life is.  For one day, I was one of the people who came to the Quarter, one of the pulses creating the beat of the street.

“You cannot help but learn more as you take the world into your hands.  Take it up reverently, for it is an old piece of clay, with millions of thumbprints on it.”  –John Updike

A Big Small-Town City

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“Got nothing against a big town/ Still hayseed enough to say/ Look who’s in the big town/ but my bed is in a small town/ Oh, that’s good enough for me…”  –John Mellencamp, “Small Town”

I’m a homebody.  I’m boring.  I like routine and familiar.  I like comfortable.  I grew up in a small town and, while I have enjoyed some of the luxuries of the big city, I miss it.  I don’t fly by the seat of my pants.  I don’t do adventure.  I don’t try new things and most of the time I regret it, and then do not try something new the next time I have the opportunity.  I’m predictable and small.  Sometimes, though, I dream about being big and having stories to tell.  I think about what it would be like to be different, to be interesting, to be alive.  So, when one of my closest friend, R, left for graduate school at Tulane and continually invited me to come visit her at Tulane, I planned a trip with every doubt and reservation in the world.

Nervous and unsure of what to really expect, I left home last Thursday and took flight to the Big Easy.  I was off to see how R lives, so far from everything I know.  Sitting on the plane, I worried about so much.  Would it be too hot?  Would it be filthy?  Would I find new food that I liked?  Would it be scary to walk around in such a violent place?  Would I be boring and disappointing as a guest and friend?  Would I overstay my welcome?  What in the world would I find?  Would it be a miserable weekend?  I was calmer flying than I expected, but the nerves came as I stepped into the airport.

I am not an adventurer.  I stepped into a new place, not sure of where to go.  I felt embarrassed, lost among the people who knew these walkways.  I made my way out the doors and found R waiting for me.  I hopped in the car and drank in the dark sights along the highway on the way home.  We wound through tight streets and sped through the gaps in the neutral ground, which I never got used to during my visit.  The sun had set, but I could still make out the neighborhoods that we drove through.  I fell immediately in love with the houses, the porches, the wrought iron railings, the old trees sweeping over head.  I could not drink in enough of the streets.

Feeling a little less nervous, we climbed the stairs in her quaint, beautiful building and dropped my bags off.  Lingering a little on the crystal door knob, I pulled the door closed and headed out for my first real steps into New Orleans.  We crept down the street, past a pale cemetery bathed in moonlight, and turned down Magazine Street.  I felt a funny recognition, the shops looking like our beach areas here.  We passed bars and boutiques, yoga centers and apartments.  We stopped for pizza–familiar and safe for my first venture into the unknown.  We sat on the sidewalk and watched people walk, and stumble, by.  We saw a couple of her friends from school and watched a man’s car get towed.  We chatted and it really didn’t feel like I was anywhere but home.

After dinner, we went to a small bar, favored by locals, and had my first drink in the city.  In a number of the bars we went to, mojitos were prominently advertised.  It was strange to see something other than margaritas being pushed, and exciting.  I had a blueberry mojito, boasted as the best in the city, and quickly decided that it would be my last.  But I was brave and fought every instinct that pushed me toward the familiar.  We sat on the patio, bathed in smoke (also VERY different from California) and talked about family and boys and work–the familiar in the new.  After our drinks we went home to settle in and watch a movie.  She had to work the next day and I was getting my sea-legs, easing into the big outside world.

That first night, I was comforted by how underwhelming some aspects of New Orleans are.  I expected a sensory overload, people everywhere and no escape from the party.  On the contrary, her neighborhood is quiet and calming.  Life is simple and casual, slow and easy.  I expected big city grandeur, the anxiety that comes with drowning in traffic, sky scrapers, people and rush.  Instead I found a city that reminded so much of home, of life in a town too small for a Costco.  The city is cozy, comfortable with its smallness.  I admire that.  I revel in it.

There is much more that I saw and loved about New Orleans.  That first night, I was surprised to be drawn in and embraced by the city, not swallowed alive.  As I leapt from my comfort zone and dove into travel, I found that I landed somewhere comforting and wonderful.

“Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city/ Linger on the sidewalk/ Where the neon lights are pretty/ How can you lose?/ The lights are much brighter there/ You can forget all your troubles/ Forget all your cares…” –Petula Clark, “Downtown”

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”

A Potter Prologue

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“Billy Shakespeare wrote a whole bunch of sonnets” –LFO, “Summer Girls”

I love writing sonnets.  I crave the structure of the fourteen lines, find freedom in the pentameter.  I love rhyme schemes and limits–I find them liberating.  Yes, there is something wonderful in writing as you feel, the freedom to create your own, make your mark.  Free verse is beautiful, but I find creativity in rules.  The more that I am restrained, the more I have to work to create, must try to find originality and my voice.  Sonnets are delicious.

As I watched Order of the Phoenix today to get psyched for Deathly Hallows tomorrow, the first lines of this snuck up on me.  I know that I am no Shakespeare.  Lord knows that kind of genius comes but once.  But today I was inspired, and goofy, so I went with.  I remembered how much I loved to write, how I miss structured creative writing (is that even possible?).  So here it is, for all the world to see and mock, because I can and want to.  I needed to write, so I did.  And I love the majestic sonnet, so I used it.  And I am flooded with Harry nostalgia, so I let it inspire me.  In honor of both the Bard and the Boy, here’s my creative mess of the day:

Four houses, all alike in dignity,

In fair Hogwarts, where we lay our scene,

From Magick Most Evile breaks new atrocity,

Where muggle blood makes pure-blood hands unclean.

From forth the fateful scar of He-who-lives,

A connection, to He-whom-we-name-not,

Frightful insight into evil ‘s mind it gives

And drives Rowling’s colorful, winding plot.

To friends and foes they make along the way,

The fearful passage of their fights to live,

O.W.L.s, spells, dragons, and Headless* Nick’s death day,

Through seven tomes, your full attention give.

The “witch” if you, with open mind attend,

What here shall miss, magic shall strive to mend.

“He was not of an age, but for all time!”  –Ben Johnson, To the Memory of my Beloved, the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare

*”Nearly-Headless Nick” would have thrown off my rhythm, but I know better than to call the poor ghost headless!

Cautious Optimism

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“Hope itself is a species of happiness, and, perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords; but, like all other pleasures immoderately enjoyed, the excesses of hope must be expiated by pain.”  –Samuel Johnson

Tomorrow I begin work towards a new job.  I have finished the application process and now am working on training/orientation which will (hopefully) lead to a new job.  It won’t pay enough or be predictable enough to rescue me from the grasp of retail, but it’s a start.

Last year I got really excited about a job posting that I found that was made for me.  It fit my interests and talents perfectly, but it never developed into anything, not even a rejection letter.  I let my imagination get the best of me.  I began to see a life away from retail, away from coworkers that I cannot stand the sight of and customers who make me want to throw myself from a bridge.  I imagined a fulfilling job, one that I wouldn’t hang my head in shame when I admitted to.  I let myself hope.

Tonight I am nervous.  I am worried that I will botch this online teleconference.  I worry that I will put time into this, and never get a job.  I worry that this will have been another tease, a crueler one because it came closer to reality.  I am anxious and will be happy when four o’clock comes tomorrow and it’s all over.

But I can’t help but feel a little hopeful.  I am trying so, so hard not to, but I am hopeful that this will be a step in the right direction.  It will be the death sentence to my retail life and lead to another job, a bigger step, a world that I feel more at home in.  I hope that it will bring me joy.  I hope that I love working with students online, working with writing, working on something that is not calculating coupons.  I hope that it will mean that retail no longer defines (or confines) me.  It will broaden the picture of who I am, for others and myself.  I hope that finding fulfillment somewhere will make dissatisfaction at work more bearable.  I hope that the money will make me independent, make me comfortable.  I hope that this is a sign of good things to come.

As I look at all this, I realize that it is not too much to ask and hope for.  But I am not a lucky girl, and things tend to go any way but mine.  I feel my throat knot as I try to leave those hopes on this screen, let them out of my heart and forget that they were ever there.  I need to let go of them so they don’t haunt me when they are dashed.  I am trying to get a good night of sleep, trying to clear my mind and kitchen table for tomorrow, but I can’t help but feel a tiny flutter deep inside.  I can’t help but, with an abundance of caution, feel like tomorrow will be different and better and a new start.  I am trying to ignore and release it, but for the first time in a long, long time, I am actually hopeful.

“Every so often we long to steal/ To the land of what-might-have-been/ But that doesn’t soften the ache we feel/ When reality sets back in… Don’t wish, don’t start/ Wishing only wounds the heart”Wicked

Wedding Wrap

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“No it won’t all go the way it should/ But I know the heart of life is good.” –John Mayer, “The Heart of Life”

After a few whirlwind days, my best friend is married to a wonderful man.  I am tired and my head is still spinning from all that we rushed around doing and all the emotions.  I am ready for some very good sleep and can’t believe it’s all done.

In a nutshell, it was amazing.  We ran ragged and should not have made it to the end.  We ate nothing, never slept, and it all came together.  A dress zipper broke.  A bridesmaid fainted.  The rings were determined to disappear.  It was wonderful.

E was beautiful.  She always is, but she shined as she walked down the aisle.  As my strong, brave, silly friend’s chin began to quiver when she hugged her father, I knew I was done for.  As every eye misted over, the breakneck insanity of the week stopped and every moment took its beautifully sweet time to pass.  They savored the vows, embracing the calm that came with an end to planning and preparing.  They were happier than I have ever seen before.  As I watched him watch her, I knew that my best friend, my roommate no more, is in good hands.

Families bickered and cakes were messy.  Presents were forgotten and dogs ran off.  And, in the end, it was amazing.  The joy, the radiating love between them, was undeniable.  As he tended bar and she carried their dog around, the evening was relaxed and simple and filled with people loving them and wishing them luck.  As they danced in her living room, to the music of youtube coming from a laptop, it was the most touching reception I can imagine.  The simple was enough.  They had family, a few friends, and each other.  It was more than enough for the wedding, and will be more than enough for the marriage.  I have never been happier for her.

Weddings and Flowers

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“The best things in life are nearest: breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you.  Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life’s plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life.”  –Robert Louis Stevenson

This is delayed, but tonight I collect my thoughts about the royal wedding.  I admit, I was more than happy to wake up in the middle of my night to watch two strangers marry.  I was excited, not sure of what to expect.  I just knew, as I went to bed, that I wanted to wake up and be a part of something historic, to watch with millions around the world. 

I was sad, when I flipped on the television, that I had missed most of the ceremony.  I thought I had calculated everything right, but I was misinformed.  I was hoping to see Kate walk into the church and barely got to see the couple walk out.  But I stuck with the newlyweds.  I watched them leave the church, ride away, kiss, and begin life, husband and wife.  I did this with a joyful heart.  The much-anticipated dress was lovely, but so unexpectedly ordinary.  It could be on any bride, fit any ceremony.  The two walked down the aisle and the future king gave side glances and small smiles as he met familiar eyes.  They invited friends and family and the people who sell them candy. 

The thing that I loved so much about the wedding, what made waking up more than worthwhile, was the splendid ordinariness of it all.  Yes, they are royalty now.  Yes, it was expensive and pretty.  But they were a happy young couple committing to life together.  The now historic second kiss they snuck was incredibly unrefined and loving.  The stories of Prince Harry’s “survivors’ breakfast” for the guests who could stay up all night was exactly what a best man/brother should have done.  The queen, after the royal reception, left the castle to the couple and friends.  Yes, it was a castle, but it was not much different from the wedding of my friends.  It was beautifully, refreshingly normal. 

That same week I went to see the famous flower fields of Carlsbad.  I had wanted to visit them last year, but did not make it out before they closed for the summer.  I was so excited to go see these acres of blooms.  I wanted to practice a little photography and see if I could get a good shot or two.  I woke up early, made the drive, paid my entrance, and excitedly entered the fields.

The fields were pretty.  There were a lot of flowers.

There were many kinds of flowers there. 

I am glad that I went.  I wish that I had gone a little earlier in the season because some of the flowers were starting to wilt and die, but it was nice.  It just wasn’t the overwhelming experience I thought that it would be.  Perhaps I had built it up too much in my mind, but I expected…more.  I expected breathtaking.  I expected.  I may have expected too much.  I liked the flowers, but had thought I would be inspired, I would fall in love, I would rave about it and never want to leave.  I was satisfied rather quickly, much faster than the driving I did to get there and back.  These famous fields simply were not as great as I thought that they would be.  In fact, possibly my favorite part of the field was a mistake, something only I seemed to notice:

It struck my, on the way home, that it was the ordinary, the unexpected that moved me.  This magnificent flower patch was pretty, but it did not make me feel like I had hoped it would.  Instead, I thought about the yellow flowers (okay, weeds) that line my route to and from work.  The wall of yellow against the freeway, following the river bank, makes me happier than most things these days.  They are my flowers, my spring, my joy.  Today I spotted this poking through the parking lot fence:

I made sure to return and take a quick picture of it on my way home from the grocery store.  These are the things that I love deeply.  They are the everyday.  They are the common beauty.  They make this city of concrete and this world of pain a little more friendly and beautiful.  They are the free, accidental gifts of life.  They are quiet and simple.  This is what made the wedding great, the flowers stunning: the unremarkable.  The simplest things bring the most awe.

Happiness is just outside my window/ Thought it’d crash blowing 80-miles an hour?/ But happiness a little more like knocking/ On your door, and you just let it in?”  –The Fray, “Happiness”

“My mother, that’s who I mean…”

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“A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.”  –Washington Irving

I love my mom. 

Writing about her proves a little harder than writing about my dad because I have always been a daddy’s girl.  On the other hand, I had quite a few years where, at best, I maintained a shallow truce with her and, at worst, was furious with her.  Perhaps that is every adolescent girl’s fate.  Perhaps it is the timeless Greek tragedy, the younger determined to tear down and defeat the older.  Perhaps these are just excuses.  The truth is, I said and did so many things that I now regret.  This shame is why it’s hard to write about my mom.  I didn’t have a life-long friendship, a close companionship.  I have guilt and deep, unquenching love.

I spent a lot of time angry at my mom.  I was angry because I had two little brothers.  I was mad that she babysat other children.  I hated that she was a dedicated teacher that loved her students.  I hated that (I thought) she had all the time in the world for every other child.  I wanted her to myself.  I can seen now how much I craved her affection and attention.  She was in no way distant or absent–it was just never enough for me.  No matter how present she was, I needed more.  To this day, I don’t know why.  I may have been a deeply unhappy child, lonely and unpopular, that just wanted someone to fill that emptiness.  Maybe my jealousies just got the better of me.  Whatever the reasons, I resented her.  I also burned with hatred for her rules.  She was so strict with me, lenient with my brothers.  She was unreasonable when I wanted to go out in high school, unwavering with her rules when it came to boys.  She wasn’t like the other moms who bent curfews and trusted their girls to make good choices.

Because she wasn’t like other moms.  She has lived a harder life than I will ever understand because she shielded me from it.  She struggled more through childhood than she let me.  Her family was unstable and fractured–she held ours together.  Her mom still works endlessly to support her children–she spent years at home so we were not alone.  She saw what drugs and violence do to people, and put up her iron walls to protect us from those evils.  She is a stronger woman than I ever knew.

As I’ve grown, I’ve understood her better.  My dad told me this time and again, but I now see how deeply she loved us, loved me.  She is not an overly affectionate woman, but I never went to school without a clean, ironed uniform.  My lunch was always full and fresh, my hair washed and combed.  Our home was clean and comfortable, our homework checked and complete.  Our birthdays were photographed and Christmases video taped.  She crocheted me afghans and sewed my bedspreads.  She stitched me Easter dresses.  And Christmas dresses.  And birthday dresses.  And Halloween costumes.  She found the perfect stocking stuffers and underwear.  She made dinner every night and birthday cakes, snacks for class and cookies for the fair.  We never went without. 

I would have prefered more cuddles and tender moments.  But I see as clearly as the keys beneath my finger tips that this was how my mom loves us.  This is how she knows to show her love.  She spent every last penny, every moment giving to us.  She gives things, does things, and makes things to show her love.  She doesn’t say it often and doesn’t talk endlessly about it, but she gives it. 

As I grow older, I see what this has done to me.  I send cards every holiday.  I send gifts every birthday.  I buy things that remind me of my friends when I see them.  I don’t regret spending money on others.  I am happy to run errands for them.  I bake for people.  I do for people.  I try to be better than she is about telling people how I feel, but without realizing it, I have taken on her generosity, the physical form her love takes.

Today, I love my mother just as much as I did when I was young, if not more.  I know more of her, have had more of her, and have been given more of her now.  I like to call her and talk about the television shows we both watch.  I like sending her websites to look at.  I like making her recipes myself.  But I also love making her laugh.  I like to make people laugh in general and want to be thought of as funny, but there is a pride that comes with making her laugh that no one else gives me.  I want to make her proud.  I know that there really isn’t a lot that is remarkable about my life right now, but there was a time I loved to call and tell her about tests or papers I aced, programs I coordinated, projects I completed.

I loved her so much more deeply when I was young than I realized.  My anger and pain eclipsed my devotion to her.  Now that age has tempered that angst, that love is clear and easy to find.  It courses through me, it crosses the miles, and it beats like the life blood she infused me with.  I wish there were no asterisk to our relationship, nothing that I want to forget, but the reality is that life and relationships are complicated.  I would rather not think about the monster that I was, the cruelty that she loved me through, and focus on the now, the true friendship that we have forged.  My mom may not be the easiest person on earth to love, but neither is her daughter, and we both overcome that.  I am so proud of her, so amazed by her strength and resilience, that “love” seems too small a word, my heart too weak to hold all that I feel for her. 

“All women become like their mothers.  That is their tragedy.  No man does.  That’s his.”  –Oscar Wilde