31 August 2010

tell me again

Tell me again
about the three billy goats gruff.

Tell me again their simple lesson:
Appreciate where you are and
what you have.

I have forgotten
(just a little)
as I strain ahead,

searching for ways over bridges
bridges that have not yet been built

hunting for trolls I think I should fight

ignoring how the grass right here
under my feet is a
cool, complete green

and that I could stretch myself out on it—
the blades would tickle my ears and
ants would crawl across my knees.

The earth smells wholesomely dirty
when you're that close to it
and to run your fingers through the grass is to
scoop life by the handful.

Tell me again
how good it is
to be
right here.

I believe you,
but I want to know that someone else
can feel the ants and blades.

25 August 2010

unfinished and in need of motivation

A few months ago, I started this piece.

And a few months later, it still isn't finished.  It's not that I have writer's block.  {And anyway, I know lots of tricks around writer's block, my favorite being:  do a handstand.  I think having the blood rush to my head while I focus on perfectly pointed toes helps the words flow.  This tip may not work well for writers who didn't do gymnastics for 17 years.}

I don't know why this is unfinished, and and so to motivate myself, I decided to post the beginning of it.  Even re-reading it now, I could feel more words coming, so I think this idea just might work.  If it doesn't, I expect a lot of handstands are in my near future.

{But see, the goal is that even just one other person would read this and say, "Oooh, you'd better finish this, or I'll come challenge you to a handstand contest and make you stay upside so long, you'll get scared about your head actually exploding."  That threat would work only if you're really, really good at handstands.  But you can fill in your own threat in order to make me finish this, if you think I should.}


“Hi, Kamiah. It's Mom. Just wanted to let you know that the girls and I are having a fine time here at home. We found some of your notebooks from middle school and high school in the upstairs closet, and we're really enjoying reading them. Talk to you later!”

It may have been my paranoia, but I'm pretty sure that in the background of my mom's voicemail, I could hear my nieces—the girls—shrieking with schaudenfreude. It's generally easier to laugh at an embarrassing situation when you're giddy with thankfulness that it isn't happening to you.

So that's the voicemail that induced a panic attack. Or a near panic attack: I had trouble breathing deeply, a sign that emotionally and physically, things aren't going as well as they could be.

Old notebooks.

From high school.

And oh good Lord, from middle school.

There should be a rule: thou shalt not be reminded of thy middle school self on a Thursday afternoon, 10 minutes before a conference call thou are leading.

And that rule should fall under the law: It is illegal to induce flashbacks to middle school before a person reaches their 30th birthday. After you're 30, flashbacks are allowed because if you haven't accepted by then your inner unpopular, nerdy, awkward self, you need external help.

I tried to figure out what notebooks my mom was talking about.

Journals? I was sure I had taken all those with me—packed into a sacred and fear-creating box that was covered in skulls and crossbones, the mark of the beast, and stick figures who look like a particular type of serial killer that normal serial killers would be scared of.

Anything to keep people from opening the box and seeing even the covers of my journals.

But as I dialed my mom—not that any of us really dial anymore on our cell phones—I saw two journals in my head: my diary from middle school and a notebook I wrote in throughout high school when I was feeling especially angsty. {Emo, as a word and concept, hadn't been invented yet when I was in high school. Therefore, I'm sticking with the heavy German angst.}

23 August 2010

a haiku

Inspired by two things, I wrote a haiku this morning.

Inspiration #1:  My friend Beth has this thing on her blog called Haikuesday.  Is that not just so, so witty?  I love a good play on words.

And her punniness got me thinking about how when I lived in France, I used to write a haiku every morning.  I wrote a lot about the rain, that dang Normandy rain, and the gray skies.

But then it became spring in Normandy and you know what?  That rain throughout the winter is good for something:  So much green.  So many flowers.  And when you finally see the blue sky after months of gray, you feel like you never understood blue until you saw it in a Normandy April sky.  My haikus suddenly became light and airy and happy, so happy.

Re-reading my haikus from that time is like re-living the weather, and re-living the weather is like re-living what it felt like to be there.  I take one look at one of my little 5-7-5 poems, and I can smell the damp oldness of my apartment and feel the chill wetness to my bones—and do a two-step dance when I remember seeing spring's first flower.

Really, in what other form can you convey so much in so few words?  Trying to fit into the structure of a haiku helps you pare down to the essential, to the heart, to the essential heart of the emotion.

Inspiration #2:  I stepped onto my balcony this morning, coffee mug in hand {one that I got in New Orleans that says "Hot, Fresh, and French" on it}, and I wanted to go back inside for a light jacket.  A light one, I said.

The early morning air had the tiniest of hints in it of the coming fall, a season that always makes me want to tackle new challenges.  I know this is because school starts in the fall, and even though I'm no longer on the school calendar, I hope I always feel like that—like anything is possible, just because the leaves can change colors.  That's a pretty amazing perk of our world, when you think about it.

Without further ado, my haiku.

golden rule days

Crisp August morning

I want to buy school supplies
and learn all day long.

19 August 2010

delayed pleasure

There is
in standing at the kitchen sink,
soapy scrubby brush in one hand,
wine glass from last night's party in the other.

Last night, I didn't do the dishes right away,
as soon as the lock clicked on my red door and
I was alone again.

Last night, I went to bed right away,
looking forward to
this moment in the early morning
standing at the kitchen sink:
delayed pleasure, yes, please.

Wet hands move without thinking,
diving again into the water to find a fork.

I clean by touch and
look out the kitchen window

at how the rising sun changes
the color of the grass
ever so slightly
every few minutes

at a squirrel scurrying
around and up a tree.
Now in sunlight.  Now in shade.

there is
in a routine task
in bringing order
in finding a place
for the skillet on the drying rack.

17 August 2010

life necessities

Essential things* in life:
  • running shoes
  • dark chocolate
  • journal
  • pens from Muji {to write in said essential journal}
  • French press coffee
  • Oreos
  • full bookshelf {preferably full of books, not just knick-knacks}
Life necessities.  It helps to have little things you consider to be necessities—because then you can get all joyful giddy every time you have, say, coffee or chocolate.  Even routine parts of your day will be something to smile about.

If you put things on your list like, I don't know, a Prada dress, you probably won't get to have this daily perk of "Ooh!  Something I enjoy, here in the middle of my humdrum day!"  Unless, of course, you lead a very different life from me.

My life involves stuff like Monday evening trips to Target where I get sucked into the school supplies section.  I quickly backed out of there, though, because...well, screaming children.  That is all I will say.  And they weren't screaming in excitement about how amazing it will be to fill their notebook with math problems and answers.

Target provided me with one of my life necessities last night:  Oreos.  They were only $2.50, an excellent price for Oreos, trust me.  I keep an eye out for good Oreo prices.  Other people watch milk prices; I watch the Oreos.

I may love them, and they may bring me joy, but I don't like paying $5.00 for them.  I am too practical for that.

$2.50, though, is acceptable, and the first thing I did when I got home was eat three Oreos.  Okay, five.  Fine.  Seven.

But I also drank a big glass of milk as I thought, 'Ooh!  Something I enjoy, right here at the end of a normal Monday!'

* Yes, just
things.  I put in this asterisk note so that people wouldn't freak out about how I didn't include stuff like family on here.  I mean, would you really want me to refer to my family as just things?  That seems awfully mean of me.  I didn't include faith, either, so unless you've read this asterisked note, I look like a person who hates God and people...but who really, really likes things, which is an unfortunate characterization of me.  I do like people.  And God {oh, maybe I should go back to my list and add that the Bible should be on my full bookshelf; then you'd know I like God, right?}.  And I like things**, yes, my little life necessities.

** I tried to just write the first few life necessities that came to mind, although this list could've gone on forever.  It's a fun exercise, this little work of thinking of the little things that make you happy.  I'm not saying these things keep me happy, or that I rely on thing for my happiness.  I'm just saying that you should try thinking of your little life necessities, the things that can brighten your day, no matter how gray of a day it is.

Oh  my gosh, now I sound like I'm doling out "life happiness" advice.  I'm not.  Really.  I'm just giving a suggestion of something fun to do, particularly if you like making lists.  Oh, why didn't I put "lists" on my list?

15 August 2010

when you're the best of friends

According to my library, today is National Best Friend Day.  The librarians created a special display of books about friendship because one of the best ways to celebrate community is by reading alone, right?

Snarkiness aside, I like this idea, this National Best Friend Day.  However, I think the librarians may be wrong.  I know; it's a thought-provoking idea, that these embodiments of Marian the Librarian could be wrong.

But the Internet tells me National Best Friend Day was June 8.  National Friend Day {note the lack of best-ness} was two Sundays ago, and as far as I can tell, August 15 isn't anything special.  In terms of friendship celebrations, that is.  I'm sure, if it's your birthday, this is a very special day.

I don't know how these special days are decided.  Does Congress vote on them?  Can't you just see two senators, with matching striped ties and American flag lapel pins, suggesting this National Best Friend Day together because they were just so giddy to have found someone they can really talk to, I mean talk about what they're feeling and thinking?

Well, that's probably not how National Best Friend Day, whenever it may be, came about.  It has the distinctively saccharine sweet smell of Hallmark, those people who think the Sweetest Day is a holiday worthy of a card.

{Although in their defense, Hallmark didn't start Sweetest Day, a holiday that has always confused me and not just because I don't have someone who is sweet on me.  Sweet on me:  that sounds like something my grandma would say, and I like it.  It has a thoroughly nostalgic ring to it, and I think we should use it more instead of devolving into, "Well, do you like him?  Or like like him?"}

So my librarians are wrong, at least in America.  Maybe it's National Best Friend Day in Canada.  Or maybe it's just National Best Friend Day in the librarians' hearts, each a country unto itself.

I'm going to go along with my library.  This is National Best Friend Day, and it makes me think two things:

  A major perk of being a kid is that it's completely acceptable to point at someone and say out loud, "You're my best friend."  Every kid knows you have to have a best friend, an undeniable truth about life that I don't think we should lose when we grow up.  Somehow, though, declaring someone your best friend when you're past college feels slightly...well, childish.  Sure, we all need friends, but do we need the label?

Yes, we do.  We all like to feel special, and knowing that you're important enough to be declared a best friend—that's the best kind of specialness and it should be shared.

Two.  Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet are an excellent best friend model.  Take this quote, for example:

Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.  "Pooh," he whispered.
"Yes, Piglet?"
"Nothing," said Piglet, taking Pooh's paw.  "I just wanted to be sure of you."
Such honesty.  Such vulnerability.  Such being okay with asking for reassurance.  Such trust.

Such best friendship.

Yeah, I think this is clearly National Best Friend Day in my heart, too.

13 August 2010

1:36 in the morning

I could not sleep the other night and so...no, that is not correct. 

I slept until 1:36 the other night and then I could not sleep anymore.  I sat bolt upright in bed, which is a bizarre phrase when you say it too much.  Bolt upright.  Bolt.  Bolted.  The very sharp snap of that word implies movement, purpose, determination, too busy to talk.

Those words should not apply to 1:36 in the morning.  1:36 in the afternoon, sure.  But 1:36 in the morning is a time I rarely see, so maybe I shouldn't be so decisive about the words that apply to it.  How would I know?

Bolt upright at 1:36 and no intentions of going back to sleep for awhile:  my body made that clear.  I tried deep breathing.  I tried deep breathing while praying, "Lord Jesus Christ {breathe in}, Lamb of God {breathe out}, have mercy on me {breathe in}, a sinner {breathe out}."

When I just typed that, I made typos that had to be fixed.  I had typed:  Lord Jesus Christ, Lamp of Dog, have mercy on me, a dinner.  Should I try theologically analyzing that?

I tried reading.

Planning my outfits for the rest of the week.

Cleaning the bathroom.

Writing a note to a friend far away.

And then.

I just gave up. 

I don't know why my body woke me up at 1:36, just to say hi and get an early start on the day. 

But I also don't know why I decided that I could trick my body into going back to sleep by doing a bunch of stuff.  I mean, after the deep breathing/praying failed {and I tried it for five entire minutes}, I just went into overactive mode.

This is, I hate to admit it, my response to a lot of situations.

When I run into a challenge, I try the deep breathing thing.  I try remaining calm.  I try to not focus on the challenge but to see the chink in the wall, the chink that will give me a foothold to get up and over, or the chink that will give me a different view than the one I'm so focused on.

And as I'm doing all that, I pray.

I pray by writing, and I pray while running.  I ask for the ability to deal with a difficult person without screaming at them, as I'd really, really like to do.  I ask for forgiveness for my selfishness, and I ask for a heart of forgiveness towards others.  I ask for strength and courage to serve God with gladness and singleness of heart.

And then.

The apparent slowness of the keep calm and carry on timeline makes me bolt, and I'm in overactive mode.

This is when I make pro and con lists, and my journal entries turn from prayer to bullet points and action items.  I forget about forgiveness and how the Golden Rule is a really effective way to approach every day, especially when you factor in John 15:9:  As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Now remain in my love.

I just do and push ahead.

That idea didn't work for me at 1:36 in the morning.  The only thing that worked was laying down in my spare room.  I got a change of scenery, and I went back to the deep breathing/praying thing.

The next morning, I woke up to the alarm singing in my bedroom, just next door, and I thought about this very obvious object lesson while I brushed my teeth:  Unexpected stuff happens.  This is just simple truth, and if it weren't true, life would be rather dull and we wouldn't have much to talk about except our agendas and plans that we all know will work out.

The unexpected stuff can freak us out, and we can try to deal with it in our own special way, ways that may involve snarky comments or passive-aggressiveness or full-out aggressiveness {perhaps speaking from personal experience}.  Sometimes, this dealing can even make things a whole lot worse.

And then.

We get a perspective shift on whatever is happening.  We find the ability to take a step back and stop trying to control and manage.  We calm down.

I, of course, don't have a formula that gets you to that perspective shift place.  I'm the girl who cleans her bathroom in the middle of the night when she can't sleep and then writes philosophical about the experience; I don't think I should be the authority on dealing with the unexpected challenges.

I can only say that the perspective shift happens a lot at a transition time.  Like when I first wake up, or right before I go to sleep.  Or on the way to work or while stretching after a run.  It's those times when I'm moving towards something else and when I'm not thinking about what I should be doing; that's when I have my moments of "Oh, so I guess I can handle this."

The problem doesn't mystically, magically solve itself at that point.  But the approach to the problem involves a lot more deep breathing and a lot less screaming.

And then there is rest.

11 August 2010

my umbrella

The last time I saw my umbrella
it was in a trash can in Paris.

A burst of wind came up the Seine,
perhaps blown all the way from London
bringing traces of tea, curry, digestive biscuits, and Mary Poppins
the English Channel, 
the Normandy cows, 
the Impressionists' fields.

My green umbrella turned inside out.
I was no Mary Poppins
and my umbrella was no longer good for anything
but the trash can.

I think of
that trash can along the Seine
every time it rains.

I haven't bought a new umbrella:
the idea never occurs until it's raining
and I'm pressed against a building, relying
on the slight overhang of the roof to
keep me dry.

And then,
instead of thinking about 
where I am,
I get to think about
where I am not,
and how there,
like everything else in French,
is more romantic.

10 August 2010

drawback to living in the midwest

I'm not one to speak against the Midwest.  I'm more the ever-ready cheerleader for this woefully misunderstood part of the country.

Heck, part of my senior thesis was on the Midwest:  representations of the Midwest in the musical, if you want to know the whole, not just the part.

{And coming up soon, right in this space, my entire thesis, in 500 word chunks.  Who says you have to post new stuff that you write?  And publishing on your blog counts as publishing, right?  Oh my word, I'm kidding.  I wouldn't actually make anyone read that whole thing, but I will, if you want, call you and sing songs from musicals about the Midwest.}

But today, I have identified a drawback to living in the Midwest.  In August, you do not feel like drinking red wine.

This is only a drawback if you prefer red wine, like I do.  August is probably the best possible time to drink white wine:  it's chilled and it pairs well with things that come out of a garden, such as zucchini.

I am a red girl, and when the August weather gives me the mean reds {thank you, Holly Golightly, for that just-right description of how it feels when you can't let go of anger or frustration}, there is nothing I would like more than to sit still on my balcony with a glass of Medoc.


The humidity.

The mosquitoes.

The sweating even while sitting still.

When it's hot, the last thing I want to do is drink something warm, something that will make me a little flushed.  No matter how good that Medoc is, one step outside and I'm thinking of pink lemonade.

Not that that's a bad thing.  It's just that no one unwinds from a twisted day in the cubicle with pink lemonade.  For that, I want red wine, and I want to drink it outside.

I know.  Such demands.  Such ideas of how things should be.  But August humidity makes me a more demanding person than I normally am.  Weather has bizarre effects on me.  Some people feel rain in their arthritic knees; I feel humidity in my cranky soul as it threatens to take down my Pollyanna spirit.

To redeem the Midwest {I'm telling you, ever-ready cheerleader}, I should point out that it isn't just the Midwest that becomes nothing more than a ball of humidity in August. The South, I hear, is no peach, and humidity is probably why they invented sweet tea.

But I live in the Midwest and so I want to honestly say:  there might be this one drawback to living here. Just one.  And it's one I'm working to overcome.

08 August 2010

lois & clark

My sister and brother-in-law got me a Netflix subscription for Christmas.  Their rationale was that:

a1a.  I like old TV shows, and Netflix has what they should call the Nick at Nite library.  When I saw that The Mary Tyler Moore Show Seasons 5 and 6 was on Netflix, I immediately declared Oesa and Sid's present the best present ever.  It's the gift that keeps on giving; when MTM Season 6 arrived last week, it was Christmas all over again and it's cooling to think of snow in August.

b2b.  I like getting mail.  This is very, very true.  Email, voicemail, real mail.  I am enthralled by all of it, but I am mostly enthralled with real mail.  I love that slice of a moment before you open the mailbox.  That moment also exists with email, but the length of that moment is more determined by your connection speed.

Opening your mailbox, though, is all up to you, just to see if someone was thinking about you a few days before and took the time to tell you that, perhaps on stationery.  {Credit card companies of course don't count in this anticipation; they're always thinking of you and wanting to do something to your APR.}

What I'm hoping for here is that with all this talk of mail and stationery and how much I love opening my mailbox, someone will be inspired to sit right down and write me a letter.

I don't want to come off desperate, though, so I won't tell you how the last few weeks have been nothing but flyers and credit card offers and bills.  I won't describe my face when I open the mailbox and see all of that.  But you know what a puppy looks like when you accidentally step on its little paw?  Maybe my face is something like that.

Yeah, I'm going to need to distract you from my desperation {in relation to my mail situation}.  Um...quick!  Look down here!  At this story about my recent Netflix adventures!

I got Lois & Clark:  The New Adventures of Superman, a show that I adored when I was in middle school.  Last Tuesday night, I sat down with my middle school self right beside me {figuratively speaking} and watched two episodes.

No matter how grown up I become, I will always have a 12-year-old hanging out in my head.  She's the part of me that's worried about fitting in, the part that isn't sure about how to get through small talk, and the part that gets antsy for attention and starts taking stock of who's getting what and how I'm missing out.

Sometimes, you need to take a break from being a grown up so that you can take care of the 12-year-old inside.

Maybe you have a 6-year-old inside, or maybe a 15-year-old.  I'm not talking about the whole "inner child" concept, because that phrase sounds so...catch phrasey and like we should be doing yoga in a field of sunflowers.

I'm just saying that I bet {or at least really hope} that other people have these younger versions of themselves scooting around inside and that they can  help us keep that child-like wonder thing at life, even when your computer crashes and you don't get anything but bills in the mail and no one calls all week to see how you are.

But you have to take good care of the kid.  I did just that by watching Lois & Clark.  I gave myself a night off {of feeling responsible and like I have to be doing something useful every moment} to watch this show that made me want to be just like Lois Lane when I grew up.

When I was 12, I wanted Lois' spunk, her drive, her intelligence, her sharp sense of humor, her wittiness.

It didn't hurt that Superman was in love with her, of course.  The quip-filled, flirty, slightly antagonistic relationship she had with Clark:  I was sure at age 12 that that was a worthwhile model of how to interact with boys.  Keep them guessing and keep them cognizant that you've got a lot of vim, vigor, and verve.

Watching Lois & Clark on Tuesday night, I had this tumble-me-upside-down realization:  on that show, Lois is probably 28 years old.  Aka, my age.  

More often than not, I don't feel like Lois Lane; I still feel like the 12-year-old who wanted to be her.  There are moments when I still feel like I'm playing dress-up, although thankfully not with Lois' early 90s wardrobe.

So I won't hide it:  I panicked slightly.  It's not that I don't have my life figured out {for right now} or that believe I should be a star reporter for a newspaper and be in love with a man who can fly.

It's just that I am officially the age of grown-up, as determined when I was 12.  This is the same type of panic that takes over when I see that someone my age has published a book.  I suddenly think, 'Wait, what am I doing?!?!'

I won't hide this, either: the other night, before I could trip on that pothole of panic, my 12-year-old self told my 28-year-old self to shut up and enjoy the show.

Panic attacks over Lois & Clark are not worth it.  Neither is comparing yourself to someone else {um, especially someone fictitious}.

But Netflix is worth it, and so is taking care of the kid inside you.

07 August 2010

i do not like being objectified {who does?}

The August weather has been deceptively pleasant for running.  I head out at 6am, and it feels like there's a catch of chill and freshness in the air.  This is what happens when it's been in the 90s with 127% humidity; if the temperature drops to 70 overnight, you're suddenly re-invigorated by the fall-like crispness.

I know.  70 does not an autumn make.  But after slogging through so much humidity on my morning runs, 70 does a happy runner make.

70 is still 70, though, and August in the Midwest is still humid, even if the humidity level isn't at soul-sucking {as it was for part of July, and as it will be again soon, I'm sure}.

I ran 5 miles yesterday morning before work.  Supposed to be an easy, gentle jog with some hill sprints in the middle, but by the time I got to those hills, I had the river of sweat thing going.

And my back hurt.  This is one time it's not useful to be a medical writer for a spine site; I know too much for my own good.  That twinge?!?  Oh my gosh, that's coming from my SI joint...!  It improves with extension, so there might be nerve impingement...!  I think I have [fill in spinal disorder].  My hypochondriac bet is on ankylosing spondylitis.  It's where your spine slowly but naturally fuses all the way up, starting in YOUR SI JOINT.  {Sorry about the shouting.  I get overly excited about back pain.}

So I was not exactly the picture of a running model, but the hill was in front of me, and up I went.  Striding.  Pulling.  Thinking about using my upper body.  Pumping the arms.  Feeling the thighs complain with the effort.

Halfway up the hill, a garbage truck came past.  The garbage man whistled, and while I do not like being objectified {I'm not just some pretty thing for you to appreciate from afar}, that whistle made me run better.  Someone was watching.  Someone was liking what they saw.

I feel bad for admitting this, that I liked the attention, like my empowered woman self should've given him a piece of my powerful mind.

But I didn't.  I just ran harder.

It was a good run.

05 August 2010

welcome morning {anne sexton}

I wrote the other day about Janet Fitch's 10 rules for writing.  She said that you should consume good poetry to get a handle on how other people use language.

She didn't really say consume because eating paper isn't healthy for you.  So I've heard.  {What?  Stop it with your face looking like that.  Can you seriously say you've never eaten paper?}

One of the poets she recommends is Anne Sexton, and I found a poem of hers, "Welcome Morning," in my very loved copy of Good Poems, the anthology put together by Garrison Keillor.

And with a little Google searching, I found out that she committed suicide by locking herself in the garage with the car running.  She was wearing her mother's fur coat, a delightfully WASPy detail that makes the story especially vivid.

I thought about suicide the other day.  Oh my gosh, no, not in that way.  I should watch my phraseology.  I just mean that I thought about the act of suicide in general—and in specific, how Sylvia Plath killed herself by sticking her head in the oven.

I was scrubbing my oven.  I'd made a French apple tart a few days earlier.  Made my own crust.  Thinly sliced the apples.  Cut them into perfect half-moons and arranged them in a diagonal design.

When the half-cup of sugar and full stick of butter I'd scattered on top of the apples started to melt, it ran over the edge of the sheet and smoke poured from the oven.  I had a friend over for dinner, and we stopped in the middle of the salad to open every window in my apartment and search desperately for the fan I once owned but now cannot find.

Ever resourceful, my friend grabbed another cookie sheet and started to wave the smoke out the kitchen door.  She looked like a modern version of that slave who had to keep everyone cool with palm fronds, except she was laughing a lot as she tried to keep the smoke alarm from going off.

It didn't go off, although I bet that would be a good way to meet my neighbors/some firemen.

And the tart turned out perfectly.  It would have made Joan of Arc and Julia Child overjoyed, had they ever shared a meal.

My oven, though, needed a very intense scrubbing.

On my knees in front of the oven, I removed the racks and stuck my head in.  This was a time I was especially grateful for my weight lifting routine and my love of tennis.  I scrubbed and scrubbed and scratched away at that sugary mess that had made such a smoky smell. 

That smell—and the interrupted salad course and the image of my friend flapping a cookie sheet—is all I need to remember that life is surprising.  And joyful.  And hilarious.  And disappointing.  And learning-ful.

There, with my head in the oven and my arms splitting with the effort, Sylvia Plath crossed my mind.  How she killed herself at 30 and how the inside of an oven was the last thing she saw.

I didn't dwell on that thought, and I don't mean to sound trite or overly blithe when I say this, but:  I'd rather dwell on the small joys of life.

The big ones are nice to dwell on, too, but when it comes down to it, our days are made up of small moments of joy.  Some days, they're few and far between, but at the end of the day, I like looking back through the hours and finding those moments, the ones that roar with life.

Anne Sexton's "Welcome Morning" poem conveys just that idea—to me, at least. You may disagree and that is fine.  But what I see here is an invitation to enjoy the every day.

Welcome Morning

There is joy
in all:
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
each morning,
in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
each morning,
in the spoon and the chair
that cry “hello there, Anne”
each morning,
in the godhead of the table
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
each morning.

All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
each morning
and I mean
though often forget,
to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing
as the holy birds at the kitchen window
peck into their marriage of seeds.

So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.

The Joy that isn’t shared, I’ve heard,
dies young.

04 August 2010

the old bell bike helmet

On my drive home from work yesterday, I saw an older guy—60ish, I'd say—who was a waterfall of sweat as he biked on the side of a road that's barely big enough for two cars.

It's one of those roads that, when you see a Hummer or even a "normal" SUV coming your way {you in your little Honda Civic}, you suck in your stomach because you're pretty sure that will help you pass like strangers in the night.

But there he was, toiling away and holding up traffic slightly as the cars weaved around him and each other.  I didn't mind the slight hold up, but I could tell that other people were...well, you know how other people can be.  So not like you or me, with our patience the length of the Great Wall of China.  Right.

No, I didn't mind the biker-induced hold up because I was staring at the man's helmet.  He had on the old Bell bike helmet, something I hadn't seen since the early 90s.  When it had been on my head.

At the time, I pinpointed all my uncoolness on that Bell helmet.

Never mind the pink plastic glasses.

Or the perm {it was the 90s!  I firmly believe that we should all extend grace for any hair or fashion decisions made in the 90s, especially if you were just a kid and therefore at the mercy of your mother}.

Or my tendency to read at recess instead of playing.

Or how I used big words, even if I wasn't sure what they meant.

I despised that Bell helmet—which I think had been purchased before I was born. 
It was my cross to bear {sorry, Paul}, the real reason I'd never fit in and why no one ever asked me to a middle school dance and why I didn't get the allure of hanging out at the mall.

While the other kids wore sleek, aerodynamic, gleaming plastic helmets in ocean blue or sunny yellow or moody purple, I wore a helmet that looked like it had been designed just following World War II.

I'm sure the designers thought, 'Hey, you know what worked well for protecting heads from Nazism?  Those very dense, very round helmets!  If we make it white and stick some reflective strips on it...look at that!  It's a bike helmet!'

And I had to wear that helmet every time I biked.  My parents were fond of saying, "We didn't pay all that money to put an education in your head, only to have it spill out on the pavement if you're in an accident."

As a pre-teen who had yet to fully appreciate the meaning of James 3:6 {The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.  It corrupts the whole person.}, I thought about saying, "But I go to public school.  You haven't paid anything for my education."

I didn't, though, and that's probably a good thing.  My parents {the accountants that they are} might have taken that opportunity to teach me about property tax and how yes, they did pay for my education.

Also—and this is a tip you pick up on by trial and error-slash-punishment—you should always avoid even suggesting that your parents aren't paying for you.  Suggesting that does not, in any way, endear you to them and they may start thinking about how to pay someone else to take you.

When I biked to school, I wore that Bell helmet.  I couldn't even do the thing where you wear the helmet until you're out of sight and then stuff it in your backpack.  It wouldn't fit in my backpack.

When we took family bike rides, we all wore that helmet.  It was our uniform of dorkiness.

Often on those bike rides {a 5 mile route to the park and back, with a stop to play on the World War I tanks.  My gosh, there's the second time I've mentioned a world war.  Good thing I've run out of world wars to reference}, I would politely, sweetly, yet firmly point out to my dad, "We are the only people in the world who still have these helmets.  Everyone else has gotten rid of them.  Everyone."
I said this with the same certainty my dad used when he said, "Kamiah, all the kids your age want to go on a 40-mile backpacking trip instead of going to Disney World.  All of them."

Turns out neither one of us was right.

That man biking yesterday proved me wrong.  Sorry, Dad.  I appreciate the helmet and your concern for my safety.

I also appreciate the new helmet you bought me when I was 13.  It is a sleek, aerodynamic, gleaming magenta helmet and had—until I picked it off 8 years ago—a sticker on the side that said Rebel {one of the first words that comes to people's minds when asked to describe me, I'm sure}.

That was the present tense there; I still have that magenta helmet, which means it's now 15 years old.  Or 15 years out of date.  But why buy a new one?  It still works.

Oh my.  That must be the logic my parents were using when they strapped that old Bell bike helmet on my head.

Imagine me, pink plastic glasses and permed like a poodle, in this helmet.  Now imagine me in spandex on a family bike ride.  Actually, don't do that last part.  Just stick to the helmet.

02 August 2010

go, fight, win tonight!

When I was 3, I had two life goals:
  • to be a cheerleader
  • to work at McDonald's
That's it.  I thought that if I could be the girl on top of the pyramid at a Friday night football game—and then spend Saturday morning serving hotcakes at McDonald's—I would have a full, complete, rewarding, no-doubt-about-it-I'm-happy life.

Apparently, my full life involved me never leaving high school.  {Oh, that sounds like purgatory now, 10 years after I graduated.}

The cheerleading part makes sense.  Plenty of little girls want to be cheerleaders.  And princesses.  Maybe princess cheerleaders, although I think the tiara might be a hazard when tumbling.  Also, I bet princesses aren't allowed to show that much leg.

But the working at McDonald's part?  This confuses me to this day.  I mean, I don't even remember liking McDonald's all that much.

From what I remember, we only got to eat there on rare occasions on vacation.  From family lore, I know that I once threw a temper tantrum at a McDonald's.

{Sidenote:  many, way too many, in fact, of my family's stories start with, "Do you remember when Kamiah threw a temper tantrum in [fill in restaurant, store, national park, theater...]?"  I really brought the family together with my screams.}

The McDonald's temper tantrum was because my brother Patrick hadn't cut my hotcakes in the appropriate grid pattern.

I'm pretty sure this was while we were on our trip out to the 1984 Olympics in LA {Mom?  Dad?  Is that right?}:  we were like the Joad family travelling west, this ragtag group of six Walkers.  My sister was 4; I was 2.  My brothers were teenagers, and halfway to California, I think my mother wanted to jump ship.

And by ship I mean 1950-something Mercedes-Benz with no air conditioning and those vinyl seats the back of your legs stick to.

I'm sure my temper tantrum over Patrick not following my very particular demands for order {even at the age of 2!} didn't help my mother embrace this quintessential American road trip.  I'm sure it didn't comfort her to think, "Oh, but we'll have such stories to tell later."

But stories we do have.

About how we camped in someone's backyard in Hollywood because do you really think a family of six from Iowa could afford to stay in LA during the Olympics?  Actually, can a family of six ever afford to stay in LA?

And how we saw President Reagan's motorcade on the highway in California.  Wait, I just had a moment of panic.  Keep in mind that I was 2 when all this happened, so I'm relying on my familial memory.  It was him, right?  Or was it the vice president?

And how by the end of the trip, the boys had to push the Mercedes to get it going.  I bet my mom helped, too.  I probably sat in the car and screamed.

And how my sister made the boys read the children's version of The Hobbit to her over and over.  She did love that Gandalf. 

McDonald's was one of the official sponsors of the 1984 Olympics, so maybe my strong desire at age 3 to work there had something to do with my Olympic experience.

I was in love with Mary Lou Retton {you know, the gymnast who won the gold.  Can't you just see that perfect vault right now?  How she stuck it?  How she smiled?  What, you can't?  Ok, full confession:  we had a recording of the gymnastic final, and I used to watch it...well, let's just say "frequently."  I would ricochet around the TV room, doing round-offs and somersaults, as she did double back tucks and Yurchenko vaults.  And at the end, I'd give a big smile, just like her, and jump up and down, just like she did.  The only thing I was missing was the gold medal.}

So I was in love with Mary Lou, and maybe I thought that if I worked at McDonald's, I'd get to meet her.  Who knows how the mind of a 3-year-old works.

Actually, who knows how the mind of a 28-year-old works.  I started this piece wanting to write about cheerleading because I heard a story on NPR about how a judge recently decided it's no longer a sport.  I really just wanted to talk about that.

And about how I had a shirt in high school {when I was a cheerleader, you know.  Or maybe you didn't know, but I bet you weren't surprised by this new fact} that said:  If you don't think cheerleaders are athletes, then you've really missed the game.

That's what I started off wanting to say but here I am telling you about The Hobbit and cutting pancakes and perfect vaults in 1984.

So, just to wrap it up, you should read the NPR cheerleading story.  That is all I wanted to say.  Oh, and go get 'em, Grayhounds.

{Even 10 years after my last toe touch and fight song dance, the cheerleader in me will not fade.  My desire to work at McDonald's has faded, though.}


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