lesson learned (again and again and again….)

learnYou would think a 55-year-old woman who pays close attention – like me – would learn things. And of course I do, I’m not being ridiculous about this, but there are some lessons I just have to learn again and again, and it annoys the crap out of me.

There are all kinds of lessons I learn over and over, but if you dumped them into categories, the biggest category by far would be the “Taking Care of Myself” category. Sheesh I am just not good at that. I’m better than I have ever been, but it was a very low bar. I dash out the door and never pause to think Take water. Grab a bag of nuts. Do I have kleenex? What might I need, a sweater?  I might have brief periods of doing this and I always feel so proud, so grown up, but then I forget.

I think, Oh, it’ll be OK. I think, I’ll make it work.

The lesson I’ve just learned [again] is that I cannot be away from home for so long. I like to think of myself as flexible, as a person who can just go with it, who doesn’t need everything to be just-so, and those things are true but I also have a limit. And six weeks out of pocket pushed me to my limit. Actually, I think I got here at the start of four weeks (*note to self). I’m feeling very irritable, on edge, crying easily, feeling a bit frantic and tired of waiting.

Marc’s place, the apartment that used to be mine too, has never looked or felt like my home. There’s nothing about it that looks like me, that feels comfortable to me. Even when I lived here, I felt like a visitor for a whole lot of reasons. One small ongoing reason is that the bathroom cannot be really lived in, because of his patients. Since his office is here in the apartment, the bathroom has to be kept perfectly empty when they are here, so there was always this dance: every morning, carry out all the bathroom stuff; after the last patient leaves (sometimes 9:30pm), carry it all back. The weekends were glorious because we could just leave our stuff in the bathroom the whole time. (But in plastic bins, of course, because they’d have to be carried out on Monday.) It was a strange feeling to realize that I felt so much more at home at Sherlock & Peggy’s house — a place I’d visited just once — than I do here at Marc’s. That feels very sad to me.

Ordinarily I don’t have a suitcase, as I do this time. Ordinarily my travel bag is just my backpack holding my laptop, and my purse. I have toiletries and clothes here, in my one drawer and section of the closet. This trip, though, with clothes for two weeks in Greece, and clothes for the writers’ conference, and extra shoes and stuff, I’m just living out of the suitcase. And whatever I need, it seems I have to dig through the whole suitcase to find it. And the suitcase takes up precious floor space — precious because there is NONE — so it’s always in the way.

o I cannot wait to make this again...
o I cannot wait to make this again…miso and soba noodle soup with roasted sriracha tofu and shiitake mushrooms. click the picture to go to the recipe.

My sweet little home is clean (unlike Marc’s place, which hasn’t been cleaned since the last time I cleaned it, September 2012 don’t.get.me.started), and quiet. I have silence around me for thinking. I am uninterrupted. My morning routine is my own and beautiful, and important for me. My dinners are a pleasure to cook (in my clean little kitchen) and eat.

I have seen friends here in New York, precious friends I adore, and I miss them terribly when I don’t seem them for extended periods. So my “seeing friends” need has not been neglected, but my “seeing my Austin women” need has been starved.

So lessons learned, Queen:

  1. You need silence. And the little birds outside the window.
  2. You need your own little pleasures — morning routine, for example.
  3. You need a bit of space of your own.
  4. You need your home. Don’t be away from it for six weeks ever again except for dire circumstances.

I miss seeing Katie and Oliver, and Trey. I miss my bed. I miss my shower. I miss my kitchen, my morning coffee, the little birds. I miss my leather chair. I miss my sweet neighbors/friends, Nancy and Bob. I miss happy hours with girlfriends, lunches dinners walks whatever with them. I miss knowing how they are doing in a see-their-faces way. I miss turning out the lights and checking the locks and walking back to my bedroom. It turns out that I made myself the home I’ve longed for my whole life, the space where I can just be, and be comfortable and safe and myself. It’s past time to get back there.

snips and pieces

Kalimera! That’s the greeting Greeks offer each other throughout the day — it’s a kind of warm ‘good morning’ thing, and it’s usually accompanied with hugs and kisses. We got back late Sunday night and honestly I don’t know where Monday went. Ordinarily I unpack everything and put it all away (and into the laundry) as soon as I get back, but I haven’t done that yet. Kind of scattered and lagged, I guess. Greece was magnificent, if you were following along, and I need to update and finish that blog — maybe later today, maybe tomorrow. There are a couple of posts still to write, the one about the Palace at Knossos and our time in the mountains, and then the concluding finishing-up post, and I need to organize my photos and get them all tagged and uploaded to flickr, and then I suppose I’ll feel like that trip is finished. What a wonderful country, what a wonderful people, what fantastic food, what beauty.

About all I can manage today is a set of snapshots of random stuff, and a hope to be more collected and together tomorrow:

  • As we were boarding the ferry on Santorini for our fast trip to Crete, my husband said, “I hope we’re not on one of those infamous sinking ferries.” I laughed so hard I had to pull out my phone and write it down. He is so strange sometimes, and sometimes he’s strange in a funny way. He does all the cooking for us and is a very intuitive cook, and tuned in to smells and tastes, so he was thoroughly delighted by the wild oregano and thyme growing everywhere, by the enormous bushes of wild rosemary. Walking anywhere took a long time because he’d have to stop and grab some oregano (which he insists on pronouncing oregana) and pinch and smell it. We drove everywhere with the windows down because the air smelled like these herbs. Finally he said, “I wish we could have our country smell like this.” I pulled the car over the side of the road to write that one down too. Me too, honey, I wish we could have our country smell like oregana.
  • We were having dinner in Rethymno at a harbor-side taverna. I had my Mythos beer, we were nibbling on tiny wrinkly black olives and dunking beautiful bread in olive oil, the air smelled like oregana, and the music playing was “Solitaire” by The Carpenters. This disconnect always cracks me up. When we were in Oaxaca and when we were in Phnom Penh (a year apart), Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” was everywhere.
  • Yesterday he came into the house after walking to the bank with a big story to tell me. He asked if I’d heard the guy shouting and ranting (I hadn’t, because that’s too ordinary an experience in NYC to register as something unique). He said there was a very tall, 20-ish black man, nicely dressed in shorts and a shirt, not looking at all crazy but shouting and ranting and waving his arms around. The rant was a series of complaints about something but it was vague enough and random enough to seem like maybe the dude was crazy. A 20ish black woman, dressed professionally, was walking towards him and as she got near him she said, “Want a pear?” and handed it to him. And all at once he shifted and became a normal dude. They didn’t know each other, apparently. Who knew the magic of a random pear?!
  • After breakfast, before heading to the Heraklion airport to leave Greece.  Sadness to leave underneath those smiles.
    After breakfast, before heading to the Heraklion airport to leave Greece. Sadness to leave underneath those smiles.

    On our last morning in Greece, we quickly grabbed some coffee and a final gorging on Greek yogurt with honey before racing to the airport. The hotel started serving breakfast at 8 and we were there waiting, along with a few other couples and a small family. Ordinarily we got to breakfast around 9:30, so we were seeing a different crowd. (The hotel was small, a series of cottages with a B&B-style breakfast provided.) As I sat at a table in the sun, drinking thick black coffee and fresh OJ, smelling the oregana in the air, I looked at the others on the patio and thought how different it is to see strangers eating breakfast than to see them at dinner. They’re raw at breakfast, dressed in very casual going-out clothing but they haven’t dressed their faces in the same way, they still look sleepy, their hair is messy and just awake even if they’ve run a comb through it. Seeing couples eating breakfast together makes me feel like I know something different about them, about who they are together. I see their comfort and silent ease (or not) together. It seems very intimate and I just loved all of them. There were two British families in the bunch, and both were particularly interesting. One family was a young mom and dad of a 4-year-old girl, maybe. As they walked into the patio, the little girl ran up to the cat that wanders around the restaurant to introduce the cat to her Minnie Mouse doll. She held the doll right into front of the cat’s face and said, so seriously, “This is Minnie Mouse.” She stood there for several seconds to be sure the cat saw the doll, and then turned to join her parents. SO adorable. The other family was larger, and included the grandparents. The young boy kept draping sliced ham on his face in various ways (once he tried to hang it from his chin, calling it his meat beard). The grandmother said, “Grandad wouldn’t like that, and neither would Grandmum.” It was bizarre, her speaking of herself in third person like that and with conditional verbs, in the moment. The little girl at the table spoke up with the poshest accent and I nearly turned around to see if she was kidding.

  • A frequent topic of conversation for us was the huge difference in vacationing in Europe vs the places we usually go in SEAsia. Setting aside the incredible difference in cost (YIKES, for real), we were also so aware of being one of a horde of tourists. The places we usually go, we are often the only people who look like us, and the people who live there pay us no mind or attention. We like both of those things. Marc was imagining what people in SEAsia usually think when they see us and he said, “….and one is a GIANT.” That made me laugh so hard; I’ve shrunk to ~5’10” and there I guess I am seen as a giant. A big, super white, always-grinning giant. We’re thinking about our fall vacation and will probably go back to Laos and Bali, two of my favorite places in the whole world alongside Vietnam. I’ll say more about this in my concluding post on the Greek blog, but Greece is now one of my very favorite places in the world but I’m pretty sure we’ll never go back. For that reason, leaving made my chest ache.

Oliver turned two months old a few days ago and he’s growing and changing so much while I’m away! Katie sent me this picture the day I arrived back in the US, captioning it “Wearing his sailor shirt because Pete is back in the States!” It made me so happy, and I miss them so very much.

sweet little boy. Ahoy Cutie, indeed.
sweet little boy. Ahoy Cutie, indeed.

To say I am glad to be back is a complicated lie. I miss Greece, I miss the very different feeling of that place, the gorgeousness of it, the rhythm of it. And the food. And the people. I am glad to be closer to my people I deeply miss, and maybe if I were back in Austin I’d be more simply glad to be back . . . but I’m neither here nor there. I’ll see friends here in my two weeks in NYC, and then I’ll stay with Peggy and Sherlock when it’s time for the writing conference — two huge happy pleasures, the conference and them — but for now I’m not gone and I’m not home, really.

Such a beautiful Tuesday in June, here in New York, I hope it’s beautiful where you are, and that you are happy to be wherever you are. Kalimera!

so many homes

My friend Dee ran my family tree for me and there were so many shocking and thrilling branches (and a horrifying one, a branch in Georgia who owned slaves iamsosorry). But otherwise, great great stuff, so interesting. I know that my father’s paternal line came from Bavaria, and I knew that a set of branches came from the UK. I’d been told we were Comanche, but actually we’re Chickasaw  (one of the Five Civilized Tribes).

I am not Greek. I am not French. Of all the branches in my family tree, not even a twig ventures to those places, not even a twig on a twig on a twig on a tiny branch on a bigger branch. Nope, nothing. And yet both of those places are homes, of sorts, for me. Those places belong to me because of books.

It can be mysterious the way things resonate so deeply. I’ve read thousands and thousands of books (and thousands), why did the Odyssey get into me so deeply? I at least know why Paris is so deeply wound around my heart — the themes from Hugo’s two best-known books, Les Miserables and Notre Dame de Paris were huge books in my little childhood. The good man damned, the outcast needing sanctuary, I saw myself in those stories as if they had been literally written about me. I’d never seen myself so squarely in books until I read those. I was Jean Valjean. was Quasimodo. Hugo could’ve written my name in those books. Old Paris became so vivid in my mind it was in my dreams and my plans. When I finally made it to Paris when I was 42, I found some of the old wall and put my hands on it and stood there crying. I don’t know how often that happens in Paris.

But Greece? Homer? Why has that struck my DNA in the way it has? And while I love the Iliad, it’s the Odyssey that sings to me so deeply. It’s Odysseus’s trials, it’s the places he went, his constantly frustrated effort, the breaking-down of his pride. Why does that touch me the way it does? It isn’t the storyline of Penelope, of Telemachus, it’s Odysseus. That book means so much to me and I read it over and over and over.  (Robert Fitzgerald’s translation is my favorite.) The last time I wanted to kill myself (and by “the last time” I mean both “just the most recent time” and “the very last time that will ever happen”) I ended up in the hospital. My suicidal mind kept calling to me, pulling me, convincing me, trying to do me in. My therapist called me one night and told me to plug my ears with wax and lash myself to the mast. It still makes me cry that she did that because it reflected such a deep, deep knowledge and understanding of me, that speaking to me from Homer would be the way to reach me. I’ll never forget that.

On the rocky beach at Olympos. We could walk through that opening at the base of the rock, just to provide a sense of scale.
On the rocky beach at Olympos. We could walk through that opening at the base of the rock, just to provide a sense of scale.

When my husband and I went to Turkey, one place we went was Olympos. And of course I was reading Odyssey. And I will be taking it with me when we go to Greece in May, too, and even though we aren’t going to Ithaca I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for Odysseus wherever we go.

I adore Dante’s Comedy, especially Inferno and a little less, Purgatorio (and almost not at all, Paradiso yawn). I’ve read those books over and over again, and will keep reading them over and over again. (I love John Ciardi’s translation for sentimental reasons — it was the first I read, when I was at home with newborn Katie, but the translation by Robert and Jean Hollander is just brilliant.) Although I love it, those books didn’t capture my DNA in the same way, those books didn’t make Italy a home for me. And it’s not that I couldn’t identify! The lost man, the various sins (especially the suicides, torn apart forever by harpies). My therapist spoke to me of Odysseus, but I referred to her as my Virgil, leading me through and eventually out of the lost dark wood. But still, the book has never been home to me the way those others have.

I’ve been thinking about the complete originality of each one of us — chemically, biologically, intellectually, spiritually, every way. The thoughts that come into our minds…from where? You don’t “decide” the things that come into your mind. You can direct your thinking, but the unbidden thoughts, the results of the original and deep structure of your mind. And the longings of your deep heart, the urgency of your deep needs, the places and people that will immediately and deeply be home, original to you. You might come up with stories to explain them, as I’ve just done, but somehow these things emanate from our deepest original selves. And I think that’s just so so cool, so fascinating to think about.

I’m off to my Katie-girl’s house to spend the day with her, cooking, cleaning, baby-prepping. It’s a drizzly morning here in Austin, maybe thunderstorms later today, a very good day to stay in and do happy things. I wish you all a very good Saturday! xo

blessed or lucky, take your pick.

Honestly, I wouldn’t even know where to begin counting the ways I am blessed, or lucky, or however you might wish to organize it. I wouldn’t know where to start, but without a doubt I’d have to start with people. In absolutely NO particular order:

kkHow lucky am I to be near Katie while she is pregnant with Oliver?! After having lived far away from my daughters for so many years, I never take for granted the riches of being so close to Katie that we can suddenly decide to spend a day together. Go shopping together. Eat with each other. Katie and I can spend a day making things for Oliver — another blessing in my life, little Oliver. And Trey, goodhearted, caring Trey, Katie’s husband. Whenever I go to their cozy home, Trey hugs me, a long, real hug, and he looks me in the eye and we are truly glad to see each other. LUCKY me.

mgHow lucky am I that Marnie reaches out to me and shares her life with me! When things go wrong, she writes me immediately. When things go well, she writes me immediately. She calls me every Saturday for a long catch-up, and if for some reason either of us can’t talk on Saturday, we reschedule. How lucky am I that her sweet husband Tom is as much my son (like Trey) as if he were my own? How lucky am I?

And how lucky am I in the friends department? HOW LUCKY?! Karyn invites me to her house by a river, in the hill country, for the weekend. Karyn and her husband take me into their lives, and with such deep love and affection. When she writes me I feel honey in my heart. Dee sends me my whole family tree, just because she is kindhearted, and pays attention: I’ve been blue, and she wrote me to be sure I realized it was a gorgeous day yesterday. Cyndi texts me and invites me to everything she does, and opens her heart to me and introduces me to all her friends, with a generous and laughing heart. Lynn calls me after hearing of a really crappy day, just to say What the hell! and commiserate with me. Debbie comes to my house for dinner and we talk for a few hours, comparing life stories and understanding each other in a very specific way. Sherlock and Peggy share their happiness and troubles with me, and it’s the trouble-sharing that makes me feel most part of the family. And I share mine with them. Faith sends me emails that make me smile, and I cannot wait to get to know her better. Lorrie writes me with an invitation for a fun and easy evening out, to distract me, and even offers to treat me. Paying attention, being generous and open-hearted. Traci is always in my heart and life, and responds to my trouble with an immediate warrior stance, and I know without a second’s question that if something happened to me, she would have my back. And she would avenge me too, and our eyes fill with tears. Jeff was my health coach but is my friend, and we share a giddy love of Shakespeare and Moby Dick and how many people in your daily life can you geek out over that stuff with, I ask you?! And Nancy, my darling and brilliant neighbor, always looking out for me and helping me, and always with a dry dry sense of humor that makes me chuckle down to my toes. And then Dixie, my sweet and darling loved one, and her husband Karl — family with the biggest and deepest meaning of that word. I am loved unconditionally, and Dixie always assumes the very best of me, and gives me the benefit of every single doubt. We should all have someone like that in our lives. For a lot of us it’s our mother, and I never got that but instead I got Dixie and that’s a more than fair trade-off.

And my online friends, Kristie and Laura and Linda and Mary and Megan and Pamela and another Laura and Anna and Josh and Paula and Becci and knitting friends and book friends and people who comment on occasion and lurkers. How lucky am I!

The world is full of beautiful and generous people, just longing to find other people. It really is. Obviously it isn’t only full of those kinds of people, but you are sadly missing the boat if you don’t realize how many people there are around you who are huge on the inside, and longing to find other people. Longing for you, perhaps. It often feels to me like I can’t turn any corner without running into yet another person of depth and splendor. Lucky all of us.

And people come to my house each month to read poetry to me! Seriously! Another friend has a spare ticket to Billy Collins at the Paramount next week and invited me. Poetry! And I met Nick Flynn, let’s not forget, my most cherished writer.

HOW LUCKY AM I.

And through my work I meet people who care so much about words, which is my favorite thing in the world after my people. Traci brings me a new writer, Amy, and Amy and I click, and Amy is a wonderful storyteller and now she is my person too. And Ron, a brilliant storyteller, and Mia and all the rest. Not all the rest, a great many are just people who want to write their stories and that’s good, but in the mix are these brilliant storytellers, and they are in my daily life. Daily! I get to read all day long and make a little money from the reading. And then I read at night. When I was a girl I used to wish I’d get paid to read. I GET PAID TO READ.

lori mama elephant2And I see the world — I see the world! — and I ride in a boat down the Mekong River, and in a small boat on a nameless river in the mountains of Laos, and to an island off of Borneo, and I bathe an elephant in Sri Lanka and chase a sperm whale in the Indian Ocean, and I sit in a tiny boat in the middle of the Ganges for the morning puja and later watch the ceremony where the Brahmin put the Ganges to sleep at night. I hold the hand of a tiny Hmong woman in the mountains of far north Vietnam — her as small as a child, leading me over rocks and streams. And I grin while panting for breath on Macchu Picchu and Lake Titicaca, and I cycle through Amsterdam and Enkhuisen, and I cry in front of Notre Dame in Paris and imagine Quasimodo, my old friend, and I drink a beer in Glasgow, and Katie and I eat in pubs in Ireland, and gape at the Giant’s Causeway in Belfast, and I watch the crimson-robed monks in Yangon, and I run from monkeys in the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud. I cry at the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul because I never dreamed I’d see it in real life. I eat figs off of trees on the coast of Croatia, I snorkel in Honduras, I eat very well in Oaxaca. I make my way through the crowds in Phom Penh during the Water Festival a couple of days before the terrible tragedy that kills more than 300 people. I feed monks in Luang Prabang, and wave at them in Cambodia. I eat amazing food all over the world.

I AM SO LUCKY.

And I’ve come to accept and like myself, after all these years, and to appreciate the parts of myself that are most central. OK, I’m a smart girl, I’m fine with that finally. OK, I am open and I cry easily, I am OK with that. And guess what: my friends are smart girls! I LOVE THAT! And my friends are openhearted, and I love that!

I am so very lucky.

at Nobu after our wedding.
at Nobu after our wedding.

And I get to keep finding my way with Marc, who I love more than I’ve ever loved anyone else, and he challenges me and we challenge each other and we have both grown so much. I get to be in two places I love, and it adds stress and hardship but it also gives me so very, very much. I am so lucky.

I am so lucky.

And so I don’t have much work right now, and friends and loved ones are having difficult times, and children starve and women suffer and men go to war and life is hard. And in the middle of all this, I am so lucky. I have a beautiful little home to live in, so comfortable and mine, and another home to visit on the Upper West Side (upper upper, as my friend Craig says with a snooty accent) in New York. I have not one home, but two!

I am so lucky.

scattershot

Oh, how many days I’ve been dreamy-eyed at the prospect of being home. I do love to travel and I do love being in New York, anddo love love love my little home. I love the rhythm of my occasionally solitary life. I love getting to do what I want to do whenever (and however) I want to do it. It’s kind of hilarious to me just how much I love being the boss of my own life, since a year ago I had no familiarity with this. I remember feeling kind of paralyzed: what do I want? How should I know? Well, I have learned and it makes me happy.

love love my fireplace
love love my fireplace

Last night I was utterly exhausted by the time I got home, and when Katie and I were briefly chatting I thought I might just crawl into my wonderful bed when she left, imagining I’d be fast asleep before the covers even settled around me. I was hungry but didn’t have any food in the house, after being away just over a month, and had tentatively planned to run out to the market last night but bailed on that idea. Maybe some steel cut oatmeal, which sounded good because I was so cold. My house was freezing — the air and heat had been turned off the whole time I was gone, and the thermostat said it was 52 degrees in the house.

So I lit the fire and put on the oatmeal, decided to unpack everything, and then I ended up doing all my laundry and completely and totally unpacking and putting everything away. By the time I went to sleep last night it was as if I hadn’t been away on a trip at all. I love that too.

Now, a whole lot of craziness, things to do and things to figure out and get done enumerated here for my own benefit:

  • Breakfast with beautiful Karyn this morning, can’t wait to see her smiling face
  • FIND MY CAR REGISTRATION STICKER! I received it (it expired in November) and I have the receipt, but cannot find the sticker anywhere. I have a vague recollection of putting it somewhere I’d spot it but I have no idea where it is. Danger, Will Robinson.
  • A bit of grocery shopping on the way home from breakfast, just a bit, so I don’t have to live on oatmeal
  • Do all the Christmas decoration, set up the tree, in prep for poetry group party tomorrow night
  • Dinner with Jeff tonight at Beets, yay!
  • Tomorrow, haircut and color in the morning, shopping for the Christmas party, food and wine, and then  the party
  • Friday, work work work all day and then birthday party thrown by Cyndi, cannot wait to see her!
  • Weekend in Dallas with sweet  Dixie
  • Book club party Monday, lunch and Armadillo Christmas Bazaar with Dee on Tuesday, happy hour with Cyndi and gals on Wednesday, nothing scheduled Thursday and Friday (work! work! work!), and then Marnie and Tom arrive on Saturday.

I have a bunch of stuff to write about, notes I’ve been making while I was away, stuff I’ve been thinking about and comments on all the books I read while I was gone. I need to block and finish a darling baby blanket I knit for little Oblio — it looks like a giant green leaf, so so cute, and Katie and I need to shop for fabric for the quilt I’ll make for him. I’ve so missed writing here and can’t wait to get back into the rhythm.

love this sweater so much
love this sweater so much

Brrr! The great thing about this super cold weather is that I get to wear one of my handknit sweaters. This is one of my favorites, so comfortable and with a nice drape. I used to knit all the time, and I have a stack of handknit sweaters I thought I wouldn’t get to wear back in Texas. Plenty of days to wear them in wintry New York, but turns out there are enough days to wear them here too.

Always always more things to do than time to do them. Always always more things to explore, more things to learn, more things to make, more books to read, more connecting with friends, more (and never enough!!!) time with my precious kids, and always always too little time for it all. I wish there was a magic Santa who could do something about that for me. 🙂

Happy to be back; missed you a lot, but thanks for following me in Sri Lanka!

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pleasures

The only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth of the hole — I read that once, and it obviously stayed with me. I see the truth in it, but I also know the very real pleasures of a shallow rut, which is surely an abbreviated version of the word routine (note to self: look that up later). I’m thinking about this as I enjoyed the deep pleasure of sleep in a familiar bed, once mine and still part-time mine. As I know just how to adjust the glorious shower so it’s exactly the way I want it. As I make my own French press coffee and get to enjoy it the moment I want it, instead of waiting for someone else to do it for me.

I’m only part-way home, here at this way station that is my part-time home. The tail end of a trip is bad in a lot of ways; the vacation is over but there’s still all the hours of traveling to get back home (22 hours from Colombo to NYC), all the hard without all the fun anticipation, tired of the clothes I’ve been wearing, tired of being out of pocket, even as it was without a doubt one of the best vacations we’ve ever taken. The gorgeous beaches, the whales, the fun of Galle, the beauty of Kandy, elephants — oh, let me pause here and think again of the mama elephant:

a memory I will always cherish
a memory I will always cherish

Two absolutely brilliant vacations this year, Bali and Sri Lanka, and I feel so lucky, and churlish to be complaining about any tiny little bit of it, which I’m not, really. I’m just relishing the very real pleasures of home, and looking forward SO VERY MUCH to getting back to my very own home in Austin, my sweet little beautiful home, my quiet and solitude, my beautiful family, my beautiful friends, the familiarity of home and place and life.

Today I’ll be repacking, redistributing, rearranging, leaving some things here and taking other things back with me, writing my final post on the Sri Lanka blog, getting myself organized and together. I’ve missed you all, and I’ve missed writing here, and I’m glad to be back.

xoL

gettin around

I do love my little home, here. I love everything about it. I love that Katie and I picked out each and every little item in it. I love that she did that with me, during such a terrible time for us both. I love the quietness of my home, the peace of it, the way it’s always so clean and just as I left it. I love that it waits for me and welcomes me back. And I love that it holds so much evidence of my travels.

pics
a few of the pictures that hang on one of my bedroom walls — there are currently 35 of them, from every place I’ve been in the last 10 years.

And also on the walls I have a beautiful large sand painting of Buddha feet, bought in Bagan, Myanmar at a temple, and a shadow puppet bought in Indonesia, on Java at Borobodur, and various things tucked here and there throughout. A funny little West Texas calendar I bought in Marfa earlier this year, and some pieces of flint I picked up outside my trailer there. It’s definitely my home, SO my home, and I dearly love it.

But I also need to wander, still. I need to do that, and I need my wonderful little home to return to. So in the remaining weeks of this year, I’ll be going to New York City a couple of times, and back to Marfa for a long weekend, and I’ll spend a couple of weeks here, crossing November and December:

Yeah, that's Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, floating in the Indian Ocean just off the tip of India.
Yeah, that’s Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, floating in the Indian Ocean just off the tip of India.

The red X-shape at the bottom plots the route and stops — Kandy and Colombo and Galle and Tangalla. I’m unsure of the specific order, but I don’t even care at this point. I’m going to Sri Lanka. And then I’ll bring back some memories to decorate my cozy little home. And before I leave, I’ll share the blog link, as always, because as always, I’ll be taking a lot of pictures and telling stories.

It’s the wandering that matters to me — of course I love seeing the whole beautiful world, but I’m just as thrilled to watch the west unfold as I drive to Marfa, or to see the NY Thruway whizzing past as I drive from NYC to Phoenicia, or to watch the sky when I’m driving anywhere. Being in my sweet little car, heading somewhere, is one of my favorite experiences. And being in an airplane heading anywhere — except when it’s due to a terrible tragedy I’m having to fly to — is also one of my favorite experiences. I don’t even really care where we’ll be landing, where I’ll be stopping. I just want to see it all, smell it all, eat it all, take pictures of it all, meet all the people, feel disturbed, feel jolted out of my ordinary, see the different ways of living a life in this world, feel those feelings. You could put me in a plane, blindfolded, knock me out, and then wheel me still blindfolded out into the Hanoi airport and as long as my skin and nose worked, I could tell you that I’m in Hanoi. And I love that. I am SO SO LUCKY, and I know it. I don’t think I’ve had one second of taking that for granted. I am so lucky. I have my own whole world of ways I’m not at all lucky, but this one is huge and I am grateful.

I also loving ramblin stuff — that line from Tolkien, “not all who wander are lost,” Steve Martin’s funny little song Ramblin Man, they all sing to my gypsy soul I guess.

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Raaaaam……….BLIN. Happy ramblin to those of us who need it, and happy staying-at-home to those of us who need that. And happy Tuesday, y’all. xo

in which i will complain

When I was a kid, there was a period of our lives where we moved ALL THE TIME. Several schools a year. And then, once we were at the grocery store and as we got in the car, I was trying to imagine pulling into our driveway but no matter how hard I tried, I didn’t know what the driveway looked like. There had just been too many, each one “ours” for too brief a time to get stuck in my memory.

ubud alam jiwa ganesh3The other night I had a dream like that — I dreamed a driveway, then the dream kind of rebooted and it was another driveway. Reboot, another driveway. Reboot, another driveway. I think the dream went on like that through a dozen driveways. When I lived in New York — the longest I’d ever lived at any address, ever, 7 years — I’d honestly believed I’d never have to move again. But then I did, my 81st move. That was a wrenching thing, losing that thin root I’d believed would stick forever. For the last several weeks I’ve been here and there, and it’s been wonderful! Three weeks gone back to New York and on to Indonesia, sheer bliss that Indonesia trip. I didn’t mind at all being away from home for those three weeks.

And then home for a couple of weeks, then I stayed at my daughter’s house for 6 days to take care of their puppies and their house while she and her husband took a much-deserved vacation. And it was sheer bliss to do that, to get to do that for her. Nothing short of bliss. For too long I lived too far away to do anything for her, and for too long before that I had less than zero money and couldn’t help in urgent ways, and she and her husband have had such a terrible time the last couple of years, so truly: It was bliss to get to help them in such a small way. Every morning I drove to my own house to water my plants and fetch my mail, then back to her house to stay and sleep.

beverly-hillsAnd then home for a couple of nights, then off to Beverly Hills for an all-expenses-paid trip to work with a client. Who gets that! What lowly freelance editor (who works in yoga pants, a t-shirt without a bra, sitting on her couch all alone all day every day) gets to do that! I usually read bad vampire novels, how did this happen! I haven’t been to Beverly Hills since 1980, whee, back to a very pretty place for 6 days.

But I really just need to be home for a while. I really just need to pull into my own driveway over and over and over, until I see it in my mind when I think “home.” No matter how wonderful all this traveling and elsewhere-sleeping has been, it’s really time to be home for a while. It’s funny how this feeling shows up in the tiny moments. My room here in Beverly Hills has an espresso machine (no boring “Mr Coffee” for Beverly Hills, nosirree). A Lavazza machine. The instructions on the top of the machine aren’t all that clear, but I did my best. And made a bit of a mess, and got one and then another poorly made coffee. That was the moment that broke me today. I JUST WANT MY OWN COFFEE. I want the morning pleasure of making my French press pot, that ritual I relish each morning. I know how to do that, it turns out rich and delicious every time, my day starts in a predictable way and then whatever, bring it!

Everyone here refers to this place as paradise — “here are your tickets for your trip to Paradise,” “Ah, you’re finally coming to Paradise!” “See you in Paradise,” and it is lovely. It’s strange, it kind of feels like Disneyland in some way I can’t quite pin down, surreal in some way, but it’s lovely. Not my idea of paradise — my idea is grittier — but lovely. Still, I just want to be back at my own cozy little home. Waah waah waah, poor me.

(almost) home again

Dear Pillbug friends,

I am back from my [literally] around-the-world travels; I left NYC and flew to Istanbul/Singapore/ Jakarta, and then on the way home I flew from Jakarta to Tokyo to NYC, so for once I really did circle the globe. If you have been following the travel blog you have a sense of what a fantastic trip it was, even though I changed the itinerary quite dramatically. My plans for today, while I’m here in NYC, are to prepare all the pictures and get them uploaded to flickr and write a final summing-up post for the travel blog. Tomorrow I’ll be once again in the air most of the day, flying back home to Austin (yay!), so I probably won’t be back here in the palace until Wednesday, but oh how I have missed writing here. And oh, I have so many things to tell you.

But apropos of this blog, guess who I saw in Narita, at the giant and beautiful Narita temple (Narita is one of the big airports near Tokyo, and we left the airport during our 10-hour layover to explore the small city) — some of my dear darling little pillbug subjects!

Japanese pillbugs!!
Japanese pillbugs!!

I’m crazy jet-lagged — I woke up at 3am this morning, raring to go — so for the next month or 6 weeks  I’ll be very grateful that I work for myself, at home, so I can allow myself to readjust without too much  pressure. As I learned to say in Ubud, pagi! The morning greeting is selamat pagi (there’s a different greeting for 11am to 3pm, for 3pm to dark, and for evening — also, a different goodbye if you’re the one leaving vs the one staying, it’s very cool!). No one says the selamat part, apparently, they just jump right to pagi which is pronounced pah-gheeeeeee.

xo
Lori

love song

American Idol is not a show I watch, with two exceptions. Back in 2004, I watched the last few episodes of the season because I loved Fantasia Barrino’s voice. I never watched it after that, until this season. Katie and Trey watch it, and I had dinner with them a couple of weeks ago and was entirely dazzled by a couple of the women. Last week I made a point of watching it and Candice Glover’s two performances that night knocked my socks off — in fact, her second performance of The Cure’s “Love Song” hit me so hard I’ve watched it ~35-40 times now. It’s not just the gorgeousness of the song (I love Adele’s version of it too), it’s not just the power of her voice, it’s also her performance, her facial expressions and physical gestures. It makes me ache, the whole beautiful thing. There’s a weird sound midway through, no idea what it is, but oh please watch:

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Whenever I am alone with you, I feel like I am home again. Yeah, that idea moves me. I’ve always loved the line Deborah Kerr says to Richard Burton in Night of the Iguana, when he’s tied up in the hammock and raging at her. He mocks her for traveling peripatetically with her grandfather, and she says:

I don’t mean what other people mean when they speak of a home, because I don’t regard a home as a … well, as a place, a building … a house … of wood, bricks, stone. I think of a home as being a thing that two people have between them in which each can … well, nest, rest, and live in, emotionally speaking.

loveThat punched me when I first heard it, back in 1980. I longed for that feeling, I longed for that kind of safe enclosure, that kind of going inside and pulling the door closed behind us. The “us”ness of that feeling. I’ve sought it and hoped for it, and I’ve found it, in moments. Maybe that’s all we ever have it, is in moments, and maybe I have the wrong idea, but I don’t think so. I think of my precious Dixie and her husband Karl, they are absolutely home in and for each other. So maybe it’s just me, too gypsy in my blood to do that with and for someone else, which means I also don’t get it back.

And yet at this stage of my life, I don’t feel lack, I don’t feel emptiness or loneliness, I don’t feel incomplete in myself, or in my life. I have definitely felt that, in earlier parts of my life. From my deep loneliness, my lifetime homelessness, I’ve searched for Deborah Karr’s definition of home for myself my entire adult life. Maybe I’ve become the home that makes space for my lovely and grown family, and maybe in being a home I have a home.

But it is also true that I feel like home is a space within myself, for myself, and I never really got that before. I could only think in terms of someone else to be that home with me; partly it’s that my emptiness was so deep, I think, and partly it’s that I just didn’t know how to think about a life on my own, dependent on myself. Even though I sang along with Helen Reddy, “hear me roar” were just words, just the lyrics to a song, and not an attitude that made sense to me in a deeper way. Make myself happy? Make myself a home? Comfort myself, entertain myself, relax with myself, be content all by myself . . . I just never understood that. I have a family — a growing family, five kids now including two sons-in-law and one day, grandchildren — and a lot of friends of all kinds and depths, so home is a big place. A mansion.

love

OH I had such a moment yesterday via facebook, and I want to put it here so I’ll have it for safekeeping, and say more about it. Marnie’s husband Tom has a sister named Andi (what does that make her, to me? If he is a son and she is his sister, then she’s my daughter[-in-law] and I am confused.). Anyway. Andi gave me a tremendous gift yesterday, and it came at such a tender, cracked-open time. Quite literally, I was sitting in my chair feeling sad and missing my husband and thinking about all of that, and here it came. It’s one of my favorite Derek Walcott poems:

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

But before I go on, that poem. Of course it’s absolutely perfect for me, at this moment in my life, and Andi knew that. She said it reminded her of something I’d write, and I take that to mean the spirit of it, not the beautiful poetic words. And it is something I’d have fumbled to say, at some point. It describes a moment I’m walking toward. I keep turning around to look backwards at what I left, grateful not to turn into Lot’s wife, but filled with yearning. And then I face forward again and keep walking toward this moment where I will do just what Walcott said.

I keep wanting to comment on the poem, but when I look at the lines I start crying and my words disappear. I have at least figured out it’s the line, “You will love again the stranger who was your self” that breaks me down. I feel this spasm in my heart.

In a perfect coincidence of music in the background, when I was first reading it, my favorite old hymn was playing at the same time, Softly and Tenderly, and right after that came the gorgeous song from the Spring Awakening soundtrack, Whispering. (Links take you to a video of each song, which I recommend with all my heart. And not for nothing, Softly and Tenderly is about home, come home.)

Here’s where I wish I was a poet, I really do. Because I can’t possibly tell you the feelings I experienced in a way that will make sense. I felt washed in brilliant emotion, untangleable. Grief and sorrow and happiness and hope and love for and connection and love from. It’s almost mystical, how it’s possible to feel all those things at the very same moment. This is why it’s essentially a wordless experience, because I need all the words at once.

I do want to be home. I have longed my whole long life for a home of my own. I want to welcome myself home. My whole life, I’ve felt that yearning, which is why I love that hymn so much. It says, “ye who are weary, come home.” Every time I’d sing it at church as a child, I’d think oh yes, I am so so weary. The trite, cliched thing to say here would be “I was home all along” or “I had a home in myself all along,” but even aside from my abhorrence for cliche, it’s also just not true. As I said in my post about beauty, it took me an extraordinarily long time to grow into myself, to even know my own skin, and I’m only just learning how to be comfortable in it.

Happy Sunday, y’all.

The good thing of the day today is poetry. And someone to send you just the right one.

old pro

When you’re an old pro at something, you have perspective — even if it’s something as black and bleak as depression. And I’m definitely an old pro, whoo boy. It runs in my family on one side so I’ve got experience with it from every direction: the child of, the Sufferer Herself, the sister of, the mother of, the granddaughter of, and more generations though I didn’t know them.

So I’m in this really bizarre situation of being unable to stop crying, and feeling nothing but dark gray, while simultaneously (as an old pro) seeing what all is there inside me and around me. It’s like being in a filthy glass bottom boat. (Hey, that was pretty good!) There are rumblings inside that I know but can’t yet feel, but I know they’re coming:

Thing the first:  I’ve got a great book, I can tell it’s great, I know it is, I know it would suck me in and I’d be unable to sleep until I finished (which would be a few nights, because this sucker is big). Marnie, it’s been compared favorably to 2666. If you’re interested, check out the Amazon reviews here. The original book is written in Hungarian and it’s just recently been translated. It grabbed me from the first sentence, but my current inability to think and persist keeps me from going on. But I can tell I want to.  See? Filthy glass bottom boat, doesn’t mean there aren’t gorgeous fish under there. I’m watching my pennies so I’m getting books from the library instead of automatically buying them on kindle, but I think this is one I’d want to own and read again so I may even spring for a real version.

Thing the next: Underneath my flatness, I can tell there is real excitement about fixing up my patio. I’ve been bloodlessly daydreaming and Googling about strings of lights, like these, or these, or these, or even these. My patio area isn’t huge, but it’s a nice enough size. There is a tree right out the French door, and a gated plank 6′ fence all around, so I could string lights (maybe) from the tree to the fence, and then swag them along the fence. I don’t know, I need to figure this out. And chairs, I know I’ll want chairs. And flowers. (If you have any advice on any of this, bring it.) So even though I don’t feel any of the excitement when I think about it, I know it’s under there, under the filth.

Thing the next: I’m going to a women-only happy hour tomorrow (hope Cindy is there), and then beer and pizza Thursday night with the brunch/disco gang, and on Friday night I’m going to the Texas Printmakers Juried Show (holla, Marnie!) at Gallery Black Lagoon. The mere thought doesn’t make me more exhausted than I already am, nor am I utterly filled with dread at the idea of any of it. Perspective!

Thing the last: I glanced at the French doors and saw the dawn and noticed the beautiful spread of colors, soft pinks and purples, and felt something way down inside me do a little flip. Musta been one a them little fish.

Thank heavens for being older, I’m not kidding. I’ve been around this miserable old place enough times to know there are lots of doors, even if I don’t see them just yet because it’s still too dark. AND I know how to find the light switches. And then my well-practiced legs will know how to dance me right out the door, once I get it open. (Hey, pretty good extended metaphor!) Now I’ve been here enough times to go, “Hey, wait. I know this place, I’ve been here before. Sit down, get your bearings. Take a deep breath, it’s going to be OK, I promise.” And then I says to myself, I says, “Self, OK.”

Oh my god, now the sky is nearly lurid, the colors are so intense. If you saw an accurate painting of it, you’d sneer and think the painter was bad, one of those kinds of skies. And I hear that tiny little flip down under the boat.

good thing of the day: patience and fortitude, plus a landlord to come fix the dryer for me. 🙂

visitin’

Before I get to the visitin’ let me say a little word about the tyranny of depression. There’s so much physical pain that comes with it—the aching body, the heavy lead coat you have to wear (and it just doesn’t go with ANYTHING), the sleeping and eating problems (either not at all or too damn much)—but it’s the anhedonia that’s so miserable. Anhedonia, lack of pleasure in everyday activities. And when you’re me, a person who ordinarily finds so much pleasure in all the big and small things, the pleasures of making morning coffee, watching the sky, making good food, making things with my hands, making music, then it’s a harsh loss. I haven’t been able to make things since Gracie died; her quilt remains unfinished, her stocking is unfinished, other little things I was knitting for her, and sewing, unfinished and I can’t pick them up, or anything else. I sat in my chair today and ran through all the things I could do, and they all seemed like soggy gray felt to me. I’ll be so glad when the medication is fully in my bloodstream and light comes back to my head. Boy, I really will. I’ll still have all the rest to deal with, but I’ll be better able to do that.

But visitin’! I’m so excited that Sherlock and Peggy are going to come visit me over the Memorial Day weekend. From the moment I signed my lease, I’ve been thinking and dreaming about having people visit me. Even though 99.9% of the time I’m here alone, I set aside the second bedroom as a full-on guest room — not even a semi-guest room, with a fold-out couch, so I could use the room as an office or something. Nope, it’s a dedicated guest room. Now I’m turning my attention to my sweet little enclosed patio; I have a nice-sized raised bed and I want to plant it thick with whatever kind of flowering plant makes sense for the space, and I want to climb something on a short length of fence near my French doors (peas? beans? vines? honeysuckle? tomatoes? gotta investigate). I want to get a barbecue, and yes I’ll use it all the time, but my motivation is to have it for times when people are visiting me. Patio furniture is on my mind, but it doesn’t go on sale until the fall so I may just get something to hold me over for this summer. We’ll see.

Of course I’ve clearly forgotten what it is to live here in the summer, the heat, the glare, the humidity. So I imagine most social time on my patio will be in the evenings, which means I need to have lights strung to make it lovely at night. Check, will get on that.

When I was a kid, we couldn’t have people come to our house (long story), so I never developed the habit of having people over. Life in New York kept that going, since our place was so tiny and so un-me (like, really un-me) and then there was the fact that Marc saw patients in our apartment most nights, so I literally never had a friend over, until once Temma came in right before I left. But I’ve longed for that whole package: a cozy and pretty home, friendly to visitors, comfortable, welcoming. And now I have that! The main thing I say to people outside Austin is, “come visit me! Come visit me!” I’ll have a set of keys for you (house and car) to use while you’re here, all the wi-fi you can consume, and really good food. You’ll have your own room with a queen sized bed and a door you can close, you’ll have to share a bathroom with me but I’m tidy 🙂 and full run of the kitchen, which I’ll stock just for you! Doesn’t that sound great? So come visit me. Seriously, y’all. There’s a lot of good stuff to do here in Austin, you don’t have to just sit with me, or go out with me — I’ll give you all the 411 you need.

I can’t wait until I can feel the excitement about this that I know I possess. That’ll arrive with all the other pleasures, one of these days. Happy Monday, y’all, I hope we all have a good week.

good thing of the day: being a spot in the world for other people. And antidepressants.

the last post of this year! YAY!

So! Here we are at the end of one of the worst years of my life, but let’s just look ahead, shall we? I’ve been busy this morning getting the new year set up for a fresh start. On Friday I’ll get my crazy-long-messy hair cut (but I think I’ll keep it long); I joined the YMCA (there are a couple of outstanding branches minutes from my house) and signed up for a weight training class for women and I may sign up for swimming lessons; I filled out an application for a library card and will take it to the neighborhood branch (which is alleged to be one of the best branches in the city, lucky me); and after I take my car to the dealership at 11:20 for a bit of a tweak, I’ll stop by the grocery store to stock my refrigerator with some good fresh food. That’s all good, right? I’ve been feeling so out of control, and the remedy for that feeling is to exert control over the things that you can and try to accept/let go the things you can’t. Well I may not be able to control much, but I can at least control my hair. 🙂

I also shot another little 5-minute video of my place. Want to see? I sent out a link when I first moved in, but it looks different now because almost all the big stuff is in place and I’m left just needing to decorate the walls. Here you go! (If you are an email subscriber, you’ll have to click through to this post to see the video.) I even make one quick appearance to wave at you.

“My house / is a very very very fine house.” Yes it is. I wish the thumbnail weren’t of the mostly-empty guest room, but then again maybe it’ll lure you to Austin to see me……  

So out with the old, and in with the new [me]. A friend sent me a backchannel message this morning about assigning intention words, power words, to the year. For her, and she suggested for me, 2013’s word will be steady. I think that’s brilliant, it’s going to be my touchstone word for the year. Steady as she goes, steady as a rock, slow and steady wins the race.

cattle call

MAN. Yesterday morning when I got to the airport, I saw from afar one section that was clogged up, crowded, the lines snaking halfway down the ticketing area and back again, crossing in front of half a dozen airlines. NO….NO…..yes. It was for Southwest Airlines.  All the other airlines had just a few people standing in line waiting for ticketing agents. What the hell. So, with my extraordinarily heavy backpack on one shoulder, my big camera bag filled with lenses and flashes and camera on the other, and with two enormous stuffed-to-the-brim suitcases, I got in line. I wish I’d looked at the time when I started; maybe I didn’t in order to protect my blood pressure. So I don’t know how long I stood there, but when I finally got my bags checked I thought the worst was over.

My gate was the last one in concourse B, and when I was about halfway down the concourse, the crowds stopped moving. There were so many people clogged up there, it was nearly impossible to move forward. I asked the people standing around me what gate they were needing and they all said my gate. Gate 8. NO. Yesterday morning was very foggy on the east coast, and in my experience, if anyone even says (or thinks) the word “rain drop” in the vicinity of LaGuardia, the whole thing crashes to a halt. So fog? Yeah, fog is really going to make it a mess.

Apparently, two flights had been cancelled, and one had left for Baltimore but turned around and came back. So there were three flights full of pissed-off and already-tired passengers needing to be rerouted. And whoo boy, they were not happy. If you’ve ever flown SW, you know that all the employees tend to be . . . um . . . “perky.” So the gate agent kept making announcements trying to cheer up the people waiting, trying to get them organized. His announcements became increasingly cranky, though — even he couldn’t maintain perkiness in the face of all that — and his last announcement was stern: “OK then, I guess THIS is what you want. We’re not going in order now, we’re going to deal with you by final destination. I guess you want it this way, apparently this is what you want. So sit down and we’ll call you by final destination. Sorry if you’ve already been waiting a long time, but I guess this is how you want it.” YIKES. I didn’t blame him, but hearing a SW Airlines employee talk like that was a bit shocking.

So the flights were all packed, not a seat to spare and not nearly enough room in the overhead compartments. Fellow travelers were hostile and not in the mood, man. My too-long layover in Chicago was unpleasant because Midway has such crappy food offerings, at least in the terminal I was wandering in. Bad hot dogs, mall food court Chinese, junky “local” restaurants that weren’t, food court Italian. Ugh. With 2.5 hours still to go, I was sitting at my gate, engrossed in work, when someone called my name. I looked up, and it was one of Marnie’s very best friends from Smith College standing in front of me! That was an exceptionally wonderful treat; I always loved Sophie, and how she spotted me in that terrible crowd was a miracle, but a wonderful one.

Before she picked me up at the airport last night, my sweet daughter Katie stopped by my place and turned on the heat, and turned on lamps in every room so I’d come home to a warm, well-lit place. SO THOUGHTFUL, my daughter. I unpacked everything and climbed into my own beautiful bed, and slept like a log all night. I’m home now, in a place of my own that I cannot be kicked out of, I cannot be told I have to leave. My place, my home, oh so sweet. It is so very good to be home.

ramblin

I can’t ever use the word “rambling” without hearing this in my mind, and then popping over to watch it:

I hope you watched it all the way to the end. ‘BLIN. I’ve been rambling since mid-September, through Myanmar and Thailand to Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong to home to Austin and through the desolate salt flats of unimaginable grief. Even just getting home yesterday was a bit of unexpected ramble, as we left Austin and had a surprise diversion to Louisville, KY because a child on the plane had a medical emergency. Then, at the BWI airport, we sat on the runway an hour only to return to the gate to kick off a couple of drunk jerks, then back to the runway. Rambling. I’m a rambling gal, having moved 80 times in my sweet little life, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a sense of home, and that coming back to it is meaningless.

Texas is home, but so is New York, and a different part of me relaxes, coming back. Ah yeah, just walk to the corner if I need food/the bank/the post office/ medicine/ coffee/ anything at all. Korean food? Around the corner. Indian? A block that way. Pizza? One block over. Bistro? Around the other corner. That feels like home to me too.

My thoughts are still rambling and need to settle down, to get quiet. I’ve been immersed in profundity and I return to ordinary, now. I’ve been held up by so many arms, so many loving words, so many thoughtful gestures, and I want to let all that settle into me. I feel kind of dazed, I don’t feel like I’ve heard anything anyone has said to me for the last couple of weeks so I need to interview my husband — so what happened while I was gone, again? What did you do? And did you get a haircut?! You told me about it? I’m sorry. I need to unpack my suitcase …. wait, didn’t I just do that? Coming home from Myanmar three weeks ago….three weeks? It was a lifetime ago. I need to try to understand time and get back into its ordinary flow.

My birthday is Tuesday — election day, I’m too strange even to realize that, really — and the following weekend we’re dashing up to a little cabin in the woods, to pull in and be cozy, to be quiet and alone and off the map, and to soak up the changing seasons. Myanmar was hot and sunny, Texas was sunny out the window, and I’m home to chilly windy mid-Autumn. I’m lost in my understanding, lost in time, and lost in weather, too. 🙂

Happy Saturday (it is Saturday, right?), whatever you’re doing. Thank you for your many kindnesses to me over the last couple of weeks, and for reading my pain-drenched words.

ramblin

I can’t ever use the word “rambling” without hearing this in my mind, and then popping over to watch it:

I hope you watched it all the way to the end. ‘BLIN. I’ve been rambling since mid-September, through Myanmar and Thailand to Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong to home to Austin and through the desolate salt flats of unimaginable grief. Even just getting home yesterday was a bit of unexpected ramble, as we left Austin and had a surprise diversion to Louisville, KY because a child on the plane had a medical emergency. Then, at the BWI airport, we sat on the runway an hour only to return to the gate to kick off a couple of drunk jerks, then back to the runway. Rambling. I’m a rambling gal, having moved 80 times in my sweet little life, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a sense of home, and that coming back to it is meaningless.

Texas is home, but so is New York, and a different part of me relaxes, coming back. Ah yeah, just walk to the corner if I need food/the bank/the post office/ medicine/ coffee/ anything at all. Korean food? Around the corner. Indian? A block that way. Pizza? One block over. Bistro? Around the other corner. That feels like home to me too.

My thoughts are still rambling and need to settle down, to get quiet. I’ve been immersed in profundity and I return to ordinary, now. I’ve been held up by so many arms, so many loving words, so many thoughtful gestures, and I want to let all that settle into me. I feel kind of dazed, I don’t feel like I’ve heard anything anyone has said to me for the last couple of weeks so I need to interview my husband — so what happened while I was gone, again? What did you do? And did you get a haircut?! You told me about it? I’m sorry. I need to unpack my suitcase …. wait, didn’t I just do that? Coming home from Myanmar three weeks ago….three weeks? It was a lifetime ago. I need to try to understand time and get back into its ordinary flow.

My birthday is Tuesday — election day, I’m too strange even to realize that, really — and the following weekend we’re dashing up to a little cabin in the woods, to pull in and be cozy, to be quiet and alone and off the map, and to soak up the changing seasons. Myanmar was hot and sunny, Texas was sunny out the window, and I’m home to chilly windy mid-Autumn. I’m lost in my understanding, lost in time, and lost in weather, too. 🙂

Happy Saturday (it is Saturday, right?), whatever you’re doing. Thank you for your many kindnesses to me over the last couple of weeks, and for reading my pain-drenched words.

things I forgot about Texas (Austin)

I forgot how lovely it is to interact with such friendly, friendly people. Nearly every person I encountered (even if all they did was hold the door open for me at the fast food joint) smiled and said hello, spoke to me like they saw me, and often stopped to have a very brief chat. Nothing big, nothing long, and not fake. It was jarring at first, and disorienting, but it was easy to remember this way of being, and to get back to it. Just try to make a quick run to the grocery store — it ain’t gonna happen. There will be short friendly conversations with a lot of people.

In the same vein, the interactions are not rote. For instance, whenever we ate out, the server would greet us with a big smile (and a y’all, of course, which slowed my pulse to a relaxed state) and ask how we were doing. We’d answer, he or she would listen and respond, we’d ask how he or she was doing, and the answer would always be “thanks for asking, I’m [whatever].”

It’s a little less true than it used to be, but if you need to merge in traffic, someone lets you in and you look in the rearview mirror and wave at them when you merge in front. And they either wave back, or lift a finger (and not the middle one!). Again, this falls under the friendly deal.

People don’t talk at the same time! This was really disorienting. They take turns talking, and they listen when you’re talking. If they interrupt, they usually apologize. And if they interrupt, after they say what they have to say, they then say, “But I interrupted. What were you about to say?” I miss this the most.

I forgot the fun of being in a place that values being weird. Austin is much less weird than it used to be, but it’s a place that pointedly values “weird.”

I didn’t forget at all the pleasures of sitting outdoors at a funky little place like Shady Grove or Chuy’s, eating good food in the sunny afternoon, and taking our time because people aren’t in a rush. 

My Austin is gone, the Austin of my childhood; I moved here in 1962 when I was 4, and we never locked our doors back then. All that over there? It wasn’t here then, it was just countryside. This stuff here? It used to be something else. Austinites complain about all the Silicon Valley Californians who have moved here, but before that in the 1980s they were complaining about all the people from Michigan who’d come here looking for jobs. (Shameful revelation: Back then, it was common to see a bumpersticker that said “Keep Texas beautiful, put a Yankee on a bus.”)

Like most places, I guess, this is a thing about living in Austin — the nostalgia for how it used to be. If you cobble together all the time I’ve lived in Austin over the years, I’ve lived here more than anywhere else. In a deep and true way it feels like my real home, the beating heart of me, deep inside. I’ve relaxed here, hearing people who sound like me, feeling the comfort of the familiar rhythms of life and people, I’ve relished being back home. And now it’s time to go back home, to the other place that feels like home in such a different way you’d think I must be crazy for them both to be home. But they are.

But no matter what else may ever be true, as long as my daughter lives here, it’s my home. It’s so hard to leave Katie and Trey, especially now, but it’s time to go. Bye y’all, I’ll be back as soon as I can. xo

getting somewhere, the mix tape

1)  Yesterday morning was rough, man. Rough rough rough, rougher than anyone expected (and we were all expecting rough). When Katie and Trey came home from the crematorium, we sat in shared stunned silence for a bit, each lost in our own deep and awful suffering. Then, because you can only do that a little bit at a time, we watched Arachnophobia. It was stupid, and just what we needed. Katie’s aunts and uncles gave her and Trey the gift of a new tree, in Grace’s honor, for their front yard, so we’d tentatively planned to go select one if they felt like it.  Thankfully, they had a sense that it would be helpful so we gathered ourselves together and headed out. Lunch at Shady Grove, one of my favorite weird Austin joints (I had Frito pie! Frito pie! Frito pie!), then down Bee Caves Road to the nursery and they found a tree, a Texas red oak. The aunts and uncles will have it planted for them, as soon as they’re ready. It was just the right thing to do, after the dreadful morning — a reminder of beautiful blue-skied days that also exist, a daily and seasonal reminder out their front window of their dear Grace, to accompany the constant reminder in their hearts, and a connection to the living that’s going on all around. It probably seems much more of this to me than them, because they’re still numb and in different grief, but I know it’ll come to them in this way, when they’re ready. 

I’ll be heading home tomorrow, on Friday. My time here is winding down. It’s time for them to grab their life by themselves and reconfigure it together. It’d be too early (to me, the mama!) no matter when I went, and this is best for them — and that’s what matters more than anything else.

2)  On facebook and here on my blog I requested book recommendations and got a whole bunch of good ideas. I’d requested books that grapple with big life things and that aren’t silly. Here’s what I got, in case you’re ever looking for something like that: (edit — aaargh! None of the links work! I’ll have to figure that out later, sorry…..)

  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green — reading this one first and it’s amazing so far. Seriously. Original and big and smart.
  • Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking 
  • Didion Blue Nights 
  • Pomegranate Season by Carolyn Polizotto 
  • Resilience by Anne Deveson 
  • Baby Catcher by Peggy Vincent. 
  • Stones from the River – Ursula Hegi 
  • History of Love – Nicole Krauss  
  • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer 
  • Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie  
  • A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry  
  • The Cunning Man – Robertson Davies  
  • Broken for You – Stephanie Kallos  
  • The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Lemmon  
  • poetry of Louis Macneice  
  • Robin Romm’s memoir The Mercy Papers
  • Margaux Fragoso’s Tiger, Tiger  (memoir)  
  • The Dovekeepers  
  • A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle   
  • The Gate to Women’s Country    
  • Mating, Norman Rush    (an anthropology grad student crosses the Sahara for love to get to an experiment in screwing up the natives)   
  • Cement Garden, Ian McEwan (three kids left unsupervised after their mother dies descend into uncivilization)   
  • The Innocent, Ian McEwan (1950s Berlin) 
  • What Maisie Knew, Henry James (James from a child’s point of view, Maisie knows everything!)  
  • Civil Wars, Rosellen Brown (civil rights activists in the South get custody of racist children, a marriage falls apart)  
  • Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey  
  • Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus  
  • The Great Fire, Shirley Hazzard 
  • The Mitford Girls by Mary Lovell 
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog
  • When You’re Falling, Dive

3) One thing that has been so great through this tragedy is the way in which big help comes from surprising quarters (in addition to the unsurprising quarters….we’re very lucky in our misfortune). I have friends all over the country and world, from (a) being 53 and (b) moving around a whole lot, and they’ve come through in ways I wouldn’t have expected, given the fact that we don’t see each other. One of my friends from graduate school, a guy I liked a lot but never got to know in depth (a real loss for me!) sent me this wonderful note: “I read an essay by a Christian monk once who talked about the difference between “suffering against the grain” and “suffering with the grain.” He argued that sometimes, life is painful, and if you try to run away from that fact, distract yourself, or fight that feeling, then the long-run impact is that you exhaust yourself and feel worse than you have to. I’ve always liked that idea, and it feels honest. Sometimes life is awful, and trying to change that artificially causes bigger problems than just accepting that life is going to be sad for a time.”  Isn’t that such a great distinction? And such help it gave me when he sent it.

4)  This is an oldie but a goodie, and the fact that I wanted to track it down tells me that light is returning to my spirit, and that there’s room for more than just grief inside me now. My dear friend Dixie (more like a sister, she is my former husband’s cousin) has a little granddaughter nicknamed Peanut. WELL. Peanut is hysterical; as her father says of her, she can go from 0 to Joan Crawford in 4 milliseconds. Peanut is 4, I think, and one of the most original and funny people I’ve ever heard of. Peanut’s mother posted this on facebook several months ago, and it makes all of us laugh hysterically:

Peanut is composing a little ditty at the piano. She’s got some pretty fitting minimalist music going and the following lyrics:

All my days. All my life.

It was terrible. Terrible.

Running. Running. Running out of candy.

Missing my friend’s party.

I couldn’t take it anymore.

She threw oranges at me.

I called the police.

I couldn’t take it anymore. 

This may be the most awesome thing Peanut has ever done.

I think so too. A couple of days ago, Katie mentioned it out of the blue, with a big smile on her face — medicine for us all. Thank you, Peanut and Heather and Dixie.

5) And so to life. I know there will be sorrow and waves of grief to come, too-quick reminders of the Grace I’d dreamed, concerns for my daughter and her husband, and anniversaries that creep up. There will be difficulty in NYC as it recovers from the big storm, problems I don’t even know about yet. There will be muted joy for my birthday, but there will be joy because I love celebrating my birthday. It won’t be the birthday I thought it’d be, but it is my birthday and I’m damn glad to be here. And there will be everything else too — little happinesses, big ones, dull times, big joys, strife, irritations, surprises, the whole big buffet. And I cannot wait for it all.

it was a bumpy flight

​Under the best of circumstances, Hong Kong to JFK is a tough gig. The flight is ~16 hours, two long workdays. Cathay Pacific is a decent airline, but it’s no Signapore Airlines, which was the first airline I ever flew around the world. Back then, October 2005, my husband and I flew nonstop to Singapore, for our first trip to Vietnam, and it was as luxurious as a flight can be when you’re not in first class. Since our tickets are always free, I have no idea what first class is like — but Singapore Airlines was pretty great. We had plenty of room, just the two of us (not 3 seats side by side, just 2), and in the big back lounge was arranged a constantly replenished buffet of fresh strawberries and other fruit, cheeses and meats, snack bars, SNICKERS (so thrilling I had to capitalize it), soft drinks, fruit drinks, all for the taking. We were newly in love and kept our heads together the whole trip, whispering to each other, staying awake, wandering to the lounge, standing around talking, sitting next to each other talking, holding hands, eager. Of course that kind of attitude makes any flight better. 🙂  Seven years later, we tend to do our own thing a little more, I read and knit, we each tune in and watch our own movies, we sleep, we try to make the time pass. Cathay Pacific doesn’t have the lovely well-stocked lounge, just tight quarters around the bathroom, and the seats are 3-4-3 so it’s only if you’re very lucky that two people get to sit alone.

We were very lucky. We took our seats near the back of the plane — an aisle and a window — and watched each person approach, hoping hoping hoping that they didn’t have our middle seat. Of course we ask them to switch, and they always do, but this strategy gives us at least a shot at sitting by ourselves because the middle seat is everyone’s last resort (especially in the back). When the cabin doors closed, we still had the middle seat empty, joy! Rapture! But my husband turned to me and said, “I don’t feel well honey, do I have a fever?” He felt clammy when I first touched him, but very quickly he had a fever. Aches, chills, sweats, that awful headache, the poor guy caught the flu. So for the entire 16-hour flight, he was suffering. He tried to stretch out, lie down, sit up, lean over, everything possible, but he found no relief.​ And there was quite bad turbulence the entire flight, like being in a cargo van driving through Mongolia on rutted rocky unpaved roads. Seriously.

​For some bizarre reason, as we walked off the plane the crowd came to a halt. I still can’t figure it out, but immigration and customs was immediately off our gate, and it was jammed. As far ahead as we could see, there were big crowds. Finally there was a little break in the crowd and I could that American citizens were being taken a little more quickly, in the right-hand lane, so we scooted over. Half an hour later, we finally got to the immigration room, and my husband sat on the floor near the wall, suffering and miserable, while I snaked through the lines. The only good thing about the insanely long wait was that by the time we got through, our luggage was waiting. I’ve never seen the lines so terribly long.

We got our luggage, called the parking lot number, waited for the van to get us, ​drove through JFK to another terminal to pick up another customer, then off to the parking lot to retrieve our car. Then the long drive back to our apartment, then the fingers-crossed hope that I could find a parking spot at that late hour, and we were finally sitting in our living room at 1am, after landing at 10:30. My poor feverish husband, so miserable and suffering he keeps crying out. We’re now in the topsy-turvy world of recovering from jet lag, and from 2 weeks spent in a world where night was day. It’s 6:08am as I write, and my body thinks it’s 5:08pm. 

​But what a wonderful trip it was. It was frustrating not to be able to share the photographs on the travel blog, so one thing I’m going to try to do today is get some photos uploaded into the old posts and rewrite them (oh, the typos!), and finish writing about the end of the trip. Today is laundry, getting a new phone, catching up, recovering, moving slowly, and reentering the world. I don’t know quite how long I have, since little Grace could decide to make her appearance just any day now. Her due date is Oct 27, but there are some things going on that make it likely she’ll come early so I may suddenly fly away with little warning.

I read 7 books while I was gone, so I’ll tell you all about them later. Although the coffee was amazingly quite good — dark and rich — in Myanmar, it’s a pleasure to have my own French press coffee this morning, sitting on my own couch in NYC. I hope you had a good time while I was gone!​