27 March 2013

5 things that prove I love Garrison Keillor

My love of Garrison Keillor has finally paid off, in the way only an English major raised on a steady intake of A Prairie Home Companion would consider a pay off:

As a promotion for his new CD, My Little Town, he's doing a "submit your favorite story about your little town" contest, and he picked this thing I wrote to publish on his site. {I'll tell you more about the thing in a minute.}

  Note several things:

  • I keep saying "he," as if Garrison is there coding the submission form. {You can see it for yourself and admire his handiwork. Such a renaissance man, he is.}
  • Or as if he's staying up past his bedtime reading submissions from people around the country who are trying to make their town sound like Lake Wobegon.
  • I mean, I realize that Garrison probably didn't actually read my poem, but I'm going to pretend. After years of listening to him him spin tales about a town that seemed so familiar and home-like to me, I'm going to pretend that he read about my little town—out loud, obviously, in that deep, nostalgia-creating voice of his—and thought to himself, 'Well, oh my, I'd like to go to this town this Kamiah girl is from. Maybe the next time I'm doing my show at Ravinia, I'll pop out to Glen Ellyn and visit her. We'd get along like gangbusters.' I just know he'd use the word gangbusters.

Yes, I'm going to pretend that my poem has now become one of Garrison Keillor's favorites.

In my mind, he's going to read it on that Writer's Almanac podcast of his someday {which I just wrote about yesterday. Garrison and I are already displaying best-friends-who-think-alike behavior}.

Please don't take my fantasy away from me, but give an NPR nerd her moment in the pale Minnesota sun that's shining down on Lake Wobegon right now.

A Little More about This Thing I Wrote

All you had to do was tell a story about your hometown, and I, in a rare moment of turning my back on Iowa, submitted a poem about Glen Ellyn that I wrote about two years ago. The carnival comes to town every year, and there is nothing like the smell of corndogs to put me in a poetry mood. {That's just the kind of statement Garrison would relate to.}

You can read the poem here on my blog.

Or, if you'd like to see it in its Prairie Home Companion glory, you can see it here. {You, sadly, have to scroll down to the bottom. I need to call Garry and get him to put my poem on the top.}

So, there you have it: Garrison Keillor is, I'm sure, going to visit Glen Ellyn soon in order to meet me. If he comes during the carnival, I would most definitely buy him a funnel cake.

The following list may help really convince him that he should come.

5 Things that Prove I Love Garrison Keillor

  1. I own this t-shirt:

    It is, for those of you who don't know {I scoff at you}, the shirt for the Professional Organization of English Majors, this group that Garrison made up and sometimes does sketches about. If it were real, you know I'd belong.

    If you're an English major and you'd like a shirt, too, you should order one from Garrison.
  2. I once met him—at Tanglewood. My family, we're kind of Garrison groupies, and we went out to western Massachusetts to see him do his show live one summer. Afterwards, we stood in line to meet him. When he heard my name, he said, "Kamiah. Kamiah. That sounds like a name that belongs in a limerick," which is not something I've ever had said to me before, nor is it the conversation I envisioned having with him, but that is all right.
  3. When I was in middle school, someone asked what I liked to listen to on the radio. I said, "A Prairie Home Companion," before I realized that I should've said, "Really awesome music that kids my age would know."

    That experience mirrors the time in elementary school when we were asked our favorite band, and I said, "Peter, Paul, and Mary."
  4. My parents go on the Prairie Home Companion cruises almost every summer. I realize this doesn't really prove why I love Garrison, but it clearly shows that it's in the blood.
  5. Someone once told me, "Your stories sound like something Garrison Keillor would tell. You're like a 30something girl version of him." I had just recently met the person, and I wanted to hug them. That is the 3rd best compliment I've ever received.

26 March 2013

early morning: the spring {a poem}

Early Morning: The Spring

In the early morning, I rise
from my bed by the window,
flannel sheets with orange flowers,
my winter set I have yet to change.

There are sometimes flowers
on the the bedside table.
There are pens and cards for writing,
and always books.

The window look out
over the garage,
and always up
into the first hint-of-day sky.


Whenever I can, I listen to Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac podcast, and by that I mean: when I remember to plug in my iPod and let it download all the recent episodes, I'm more likely to actually listen to the thing.

I caught up on the Almanac, as I've never called it until right now, last Friday when I took little pug on a long walk in the early spring. Every day, Garrison reads a poem, and in his voice is everything good and relatable about poetry.

Listening to him read is like being wrapped in a blanket by the fireplace. It's like the first crocus of spring, and it's like the first snowfall. When he reads poetry, you remember why we write poems in the first place: to get across a feeling, an emotion, a thought, an idea. We write them to relate to each other, and when Garrison reads poetry, I feel like all is right with the world.

During my podcast blitz on Friday, Garrison read a poem called "Morning" by Frederick Smock. {You can read it here on the Writer's Almanac site.}

And something in the three short stanzas that described a very normal morning inspired me. It made me think about what I love so much about the morning and why I always smile when I say I'm a morning person: It really is my best time of day.

So I wrote a poem in homage to that Frederick Smock "Morning," and there it is up above. I took him one better and made it about the early morning {I'm so competitive}—specifically, the early morning during spring since that's what I wake up to every day right now.

You should maybe scroll back up and read it again in your best Garrison Keillor voice. That is, by the way, the voice I hear in my head when I read my own poetry. He makes it sound so much more monumental, of course, when really all I'm doing is trying to get across a feeling.

25 March 2013

we wait for spring

Upstairs from me, a sweet retired couple lives, and on March 1, the man, Hal, declared to me: "My winter ends today."

We were standing outside, having met on the sidewalk—me coming in from my morning walk with the little pug, and he heading out to his volunteer position as the crossing guard for the local elementary school.

The first time Hal told me that he was a crossing guard, I wanted to ask him if he got to wear the reflective belt—the one that loops over your shoulder and then wraps around your waist. I remember that from my crossing guard days at Grimes Elementary, and I also remember always getting it twisted, which rather limited its reflective abilities.

I didn't ask him that but assumed he was the lucky guy who gets to hold up the stop sign and wave at the cars as they drive by.

On March 1, Hal, on his way to be a crossing guard, had on a stocking cap, wool mittens, and a parka, and yet he declared to me: "My winter ends today."

He went on to explain, "See, Kamiah, I say every year that winter is over on March 1, even if it doesn't really happen until later in the month. But I like to believe that spring comes earlier, so I just say that winter is over."

He's told me that several times since then, and I can tell he tells a lot of people that. It gets him a laugh, and there is a practiced patter to how he says it. "So I just say that winter is over," he always concludes, and then he laughs, a quick ha-ha, at his own joke, as he zips up his parka.

I find these kinds of conversations comforting in their predictability. When it comes down to it, we all have something to say about the weather, and the very fact that on March 25, I woke up to flurries is indeed something to comment on.

The sky is falling, and we are all waiting for spring. Real spring, I mean, not the kind that comes just on the calendar or when an old man declares he's had enough of this Midwestern cold and gray.

I hope I see Hal tonight on my walk with little pug. I want to tell him that this morning, I saw a crocus pushing up through the earth, dotted with snow, but there all the same. Winter is ending. It really is.

18 March 2013

things that are terrible about being sick

Here I sit in the hotel restaurant at a Courtyard Marriott in West Orange, New Jersey. I spent the night here last night, and the view out my window was into a strip mall: this place is not exactly bursting with atmosphere.

Even with both layers of curtains pulled tight—the opaque layer and then the pretty layer—I could still sense the glow of the grocery store's sign across the street.

This glow was made worse, in my mind, by the fact that I very much needed something that was located in that grocery store: NyQuil. Theraflu. Some sort of heavy but over-the-counter sleeping aid, the kind that knocks you out but allows you to wake up refreshed.

You know, medication that doesn't exist in real life—but in commercial life. On commercials, a congested someone takes a pill and wakes up 8 hours later with butterflies flitting around them and then they go on to perform heart surgery while writing the next great American novel, the one that would astound Hemingway.

I never feel that way after taking congestion medication; more often, I wake up with the sense that my dreams have kept my body too busy, but I can't quite grasp at what they were about. I am rested but still tired.

Not that I had a chance of feeling like that last night: I had some cough drops, daytime Theraflu, and a Ritter chocolate bar.

Chocolate can ease so much pain, but it cannot unclog your nose that's full of phlegm—on just one side. Why is it ever only one side? Why don't the nostrils share?

The rest of you can be a well-adjusted grown-up who's used to sharing both responsibility and privileges, but your nostrils are little babies, and they can turn you into a little baby who doesn't have full grasp of language capabilities and just wants to cry.

That's how I felt last night, by the way, at about 2:30 when I still couldn't sleep and all I could think was: Being sick when you're away from home is terrible.

Other Things that Are Terrible about Being Sick

  1. Coughing fits. For example, I just had one here in this hotel restaurant, and I had to go outside to prevent the hacking, might-be-the-plague cough from echoing off the walls. This very silent room is made worse by the fact that it's decorated to look so cozy, as if all these hotel guests are part of a large family who lives in a manor house and soon, they'll all be down to have a drink before dinner.

    There are just a few other people in the room, though, and all these chairs and couches do nothing to absorb the sharp yet phlegmy cough. If there were more people in the room, they'd at least be chattering more to hide my fit, but as it is, the three other people here looked at me like I ought to start shouting, "Unclean! Unclean!"
  2. Being sick in the winter. This affects the previous coughing fit point: When I stepped outside to cough up a lung, I stepped into snow and ice. I hear that's supposed to help open up the airways—the cold is—so I breathed in deeply. Instead of starting to yodel as if I were in the Alps and braced by the fresh air, I choked a little on snowflakes and the smell of New Jersey traffic. And then I coughed more.
  3. Having to steal a box of Kleenexes from the women's bathroom. Sorry, Courtyard Marriott. I tried to fill my pockets with Kleenex before checking out of my room, but I underestimated the number I'd need. And the napkins you gave us with lunch in one of your meeting rooms are basically sandpaper, fyi. You pretty much led me to stealing.
  4. Not being able to taste anything. I'm flying first class back to Chicago tonight, and I'll be darned if I'll pass up a free meal, even if I can't taste it.
  5. Sounding like a man. This one is really only a terrible thing if you're a woman.
  6. Fearing that you'll never feel better. I always convince myself of this when I'm sick: I will never, ever feel back to my normal self. It's especially easy to feel now as I sit in this hotel restaurant and think about the hassle of getting back to the airport, through security, onto the plane, and all the way home. All I want to do is be in my own bed, and there are so many steps between me and my pillow.
  7. Feeling you need to apologize every time you cough. My seatmate on my flight home is going to hate me. I just know it. I will start working on creative ways to apologize now.

11 March 2013

at times like this, i long for france. {or, how i wish i could take my pug everywhere.}

With a title like that—and if you, for some reason, have been following the weather where I live—you're probably thinking: Oh Lord, she's going to write about the beauty of the rain and how it reminds her of Normandie. Again.

Well, I'm not. So there.

This warm almost-spring rain does make my rather mundane town feel like it's been transported to northern France. When I'm out walking little pug in the early morning, I can close my eyes and pretend, just for a moment, that I'm walking down the Eau de Robec in Rouen, which is this little street that has a stream running down one side of it. There are cafes and half-timbered buildings and even an art studio where I often considered stopping in to take a painting lesson.

It's all in the smell of rain on pavement, I've convinced myself. That is the aroma of Normandie, and this spring rain has brought it back to me.

But if I walk with my eyes closed for too long, I will run into a tree or a light post here on my very American street named Duane and so I need to keep those urges and longings for France in check.

And dang, I just wrote about the beauty of the rain and how it reminds me of Normandie, didn't I?

Let's start afresh.

I long for France at various moments {many of them related to food}, but right now, I am longing for that ability in France to take your dog everywhere.

Dogs in markets and cafes, restaurants and, bien sur, on the Eau de Robec. The French definitely embrace that "man's best friend" aspect of dogs {even if they don't always embrace actually cleaning up after their little friends}.

Now, I am not feeling this way because I fear Miss Daisy has become lonely at home during my workdays and needs me around for companionship. I'm not even worried about how—as one of my co-workers points out frequently—I travel a lot for work, which means Miss Daisy gets to stay with various people, leading her to be confused about who her real family is.

I am her family. She knows this because I tell her all the time, when I'm not travelling, obviously. It's not like I call her when I'm on the road. That'd be weird, and I don't want to be weird; I just want to be able to take her wherever I go tomorrow.

For one day, I want to be French because I have this guy coming to install a new fireplace for me.

{As an aside, I should acknowledge that as cavalierly as I said "this guy," it makes it sound like I wandered into the DMV and announced: All you people just waiting around here, do any of you know anything about fireplaces? You do, guy over there? Great. Please come to my house next week. Thanks.

That is not at all how this happened. It's a legit contractor coming to install my fireplace, but I feel a tad pretentious saying "my contractor." I could also refer to "my interior designer," if I wanted to up the pretentiousness, but that person would really just be me, wandering around Home Depot trying to pick out tiles.}

So this guy—my contractor—is coming to install a new fireplace, and I've taken the day off work in order to make important decisions about tile placement and such.

Because I'm me, though, I keep thinking of other things I could do with my day off:
go to a cafe to write
go to Hobby Lobby when there aren't 3million people around
take myself out to lunch

And then I remember the little pug. She really can't be left alone with strangers, especially strangers making loud noises and ripping things apart. She would most definitely be a micromanager and want to stick her nose in everything. She may even try to crawl into the fireplace in order to inspect it/sneeze on it {which is a pug's version of approval}.

If I were in France, Miss Daisy could come with me. I would even consider getting her a little bag like this:

She would love it and all the old French ladies would coo over her—and I would be able to run errands.

But I'm not in France, am I? I am somewhere where I get a day of rest at home tomorrow, mixed in with loud noises and tile decisions.

Coming at the end of a couple weeks of travel, I should be grateful for this, this atypical day of rest.

Maybe I should thank my little pug for giving me a reason to just be at home without the pressure to be accomplishing anything.

As a reward for just being herself, maybe I'll take her on a long afternoon walk and pretend we're in France.

09 March 2013

how do we ever get used to this?

Last weekend in Seattle, I couldn't stop looking at the water.  It's what always happens when I get near the ocean, perhaps because of my landlocked Midwestern sensibilities.  Even though I grew up on the Mississippi {or, more correctly, on the river bluff above it:  I was not Huckleberry Finn, floating down the Muddy Mississippi and hoping for a better life around the bend} and therefore saw water every day, it simply is not the same as seeing so much blue stretch in front of you.

From my parents' house, I could see Illinois and more farmfields...with a ribbon of a brown river in the foreground.  And though I knew that that river fed the farmfields and had inspired stories and songs, it was also just the thing I saw every morning when I ate breakfast.  

But the ocean... 

I drove to my bed & breakfast in the dark and so it wasn't until the next morning on my run that I saw the water.  The town I was staying in, Port Gamble, was tiny and had about four main streets, one of which was called NE Walker St.  Of course I interpreted that as a sign that I was in the right place.

I had to make about seven loops around the town, running up and down every street over and over, in order to get in my 31 minutes.  {Several years ago, I decided that the minimum time I could run would be my age.  This plan will, at some point, backfire, but for right now, it's working well.}

On my fourth lap past the espresso stand {this is the Seattle-area, after all}, the woman working waved at me and laughed.

I stopped by afterwards and said, in that way that lone travelers have, too much too quickly, as if I was concerned that this espresso woman would be the only person I'd talk to all day:  "I live in Illinois, so I'm really excited to be able to run outside and not have to worry about slipping on the snow and ice.  Look at me!  I'm in shorts! I also can't stop looking at the water and smell that!  It smells so fresh and clean here, like industry and inspiration are just waiting for you.  But the water:  Do you ever get used to seeing it?"

More than anything--more than the babbling and the talking of my shorts--that last line betrayed me as a foreigner.  I suppose it would be like someone asking me, "But the Mississippi: Do you ever get used to seeing it?"

And of course I did.  It was just there with barges going up and down it every day.  

Sometimes it smelled like rotting fish.  

The Mississippi mud can hide clams that slice your toe before you even know you've stepped on anything.

When we read Huck Finn our sophomore year of high school, no one once stopped a discussion to say, "But did you ever think that this river that seems so mythical and magical is literally two miles from this classroom with no windows?" 

The Mississippi was just there, just like for that espresso woman in Port Gamble, the Hood Canal is just there.  It's amazing what we can get used to.

But I'm still convinced that I would never get used to seeing so much water every day.  I would never get used to breathing in deeply and feeling like I was taking in life itself, which I suppose I do every day anyway, but it's hard to remember that when you're in the suburbs of Chicago.

Whoever you are and wherever you live, I think we all need a Port Gamble-like place to escape to when our normal lives and normal view start to feel like drudge and sludge.

We need to see something else for a few days, and then, most importantly, come back to where we started and say:  Here is good, too.  

What is it about being away that makes you see the beauty of here?  I don't know, but I'm willing to spend years figuring that out.  It means, after all, more trips to more Port Gambles.

08 March 2013

straight on until yesterday

West to the sunset and straight on until yesterday.

Looking out from the 11th floor of this hotel—once the fanciest in St. Louis—it is not hard to think of yesterday.

Imagine here on the top floor ballroom, a society wedding in 1922. The smoke would be thick but that view west to the rest of Missouri and the rest of America would still be, besides the bride, the view of the day.

Or imagine the World's Fair in Forest Park, just across the street.

Meet me in St. Louis, Louis! Meet me at the Fair! How can you not think of Judy Garland singing about streetcars and heartstrings and merry little Christmases when you're in St. Louis?

When the Fair came to town, people who'd never been outside the middle of American could feel, not that they lived in the middle of nowhere, but that they lived in the middle of it all. The world had come to them, and they could stroll past it at their leisure.

No, it is not hard to think of yesterday up here, probably because the orange suffusing the view gives it all a nostalgic tint: That orange is the color equivalent of Judy Garland's voice.

Day is dying in the west; Heaven is touching earth with rest—but before it goes, there is one final blaze, as if to shout: remember me.

Then the shout fades to a whisper and we're all left staring at the memory of color and light.

07 March 2013

girl in a fiat

I am far from my normal life and yet so much feels familiar.

The sun on my face—of course that is familiar, but it has been months since I've felt the sun's warmth.

The temperature, according to my rental car, is 55. At home, according to my phone that always displays the current temperature in Glen Ellyn, it is 25.

30 degrees of separation, but it feels a world apart. Here in the Pacific Northwest, there is no snow, no ice, no donning of a heavy winter parka before taking the dog out.

In fact, I'm in this place with no responsibilities beyond attending a wedding for a few hours on Saturday afternoon. I don't have to take the dog out—I don't have to do anything.

The thought of that both thrills and frightens me, and I feel for a moment that I've run away from my normal life.

I am the grown-up equivalent of the little girl who packs her bag with her teddy bear and her favorite Sunday School shoes and her copy of Charlotte's Web and then sets off down the road of life, which of course is nothing more than the street she grew up on.

She thinks that conditions at home have become unbearable because she keeps getting in trouble for reading past her bedtime, so she's decided to pack it in. She doesn't need this place; she needs to be somewhere else where nobody knows her and yet they understand her.

Is that what I'm doing here in Seattle? Escaping from my normal life where of course everyone knows me and to this place where I can make small talk with shopkeepers and call it a day?

That is not what I'm doing, tempted though we all are at times to run away from home and try a different life. That's why, in part, we go on vacation, I think. We want to be away from the normal rut of routine we can't seem to get out of because it is so deep.

And even from the first moment when your car points toward the airport—not toward work or the grocery store or church—from that first moment when you're "on vacation," you feel your soul start to elongate.

You can feel your muscles pulling yourself out of that rut, that darn rut, and you begin to feel not like a different person or someone trying on a new life—but you begin to feel more like you.

Last night when I picked up my rental car at SeaTac, the Enterprise girl said, "You got an economy car, so you can have this Toyota Corolla or this Fiat 500. Which would you like?"

I looked at the Toyota. It was a dark silver, just like my car at home, and while of course it's a new car, I can never see a Corolla without thinking of the old, old Corolla my sister drove in high school. A Corolla is what got us to school every day, but a Fiat...

When I last went to France, my friend Amie and I rented a car, and we had a Fiat. In that Fiat, we drove over the Pyrenees and to the running of the bulls in Pamplona. We saw fields of sunflowers stretching to the horizon in that car, and we drove on along a canal that was a UNESCO World Heritage site because it was so old and because it had transformed that little corner of southern France.

Adventure came to me in a Fiat, so I told the girl, "I will take the Fiat, thank you."

And just like that, I was a girl in a Fiat again, zipping around curves and wondering what would come next.


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