Thursday, July 30, 2009

"In the Still of the Night"

It was 2:10 a.m.

As is often the case, I was up late. The day had been particularly fun, for—thanks to my aunt, who holds a yearly “Camp Grandma” at their lake home—we were kid free. We’d gone to the Co-op that afternoon for coffee and pie, after which Groom and I enjoyed the rarity of seeing a movie. Then we got Greek take-out and sat on the deck, eating Gyros and spanikopita and drinking beers. Later, we had a cuddle on the couch and watched The Colbert Report. At one point, we looked directly at each other. Two times during conversation, we even completed full sentences.

In sum, during that day, we lived the fantasy of a long stretch of together time, just Groom and me, free of the clamor and interruptions of life with children. Since we were married only 4 ½ months before Girl came along (so precocious was she--*cough cough*-- that she only needed to gestate for 18 weeks!), during Camp Grandma, we play out some of the time we didn’t have together before the onset of The Kid Years. Beyond just wanting to get to know my husband (suspicion: I might like him), there is also the fact that, generally, getting my own self through a day is as much as I can handle. Adding small people into the mix shoves me to a place of overload where I’m chronically late, sometimes snappish, and frequently found holding Clue Junior, soccer cleats, and a dozen eggs, a look of befuddlement on my face. Indeed, I am the parent who waves jubilantly when her kids to go away for awhile, allowing her the space and time to be prone, turn some pages, and fluff her hair. Fortunately, and I am not at all implying that being with Groom is as boring as watching Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky, time with with my husband feels like being alone. With him, I can eat Gyros and still manage to fluff my hair, and it doesn’t feel at all taxing.

So there I was during Camp Grandma, relaxed and pipping and blissed out about a few days with no kids around.

Then, at 2:10 a.m., after a few hours of reading Colm Toibin's Brooklyn and being completely absorbed in a young emigrant woman's feelings of loneliness in a new city, I finally had to honor my bladder’s kvetching.

As I stumbled through the hallway to the bathroom, my glance fell to the left, through the open door to the kids’ room, and suddenly, the rich contentment of that day fell away, leaving behind an unexpected ache.

That room. Usually a brightly-lit, tumbled, tousled visual cacophony of colors and textures, it startled me with its dark quietness. Empty. No shuffles, no classroom of Animal School laid out across the floor, no chatter, no thumps, no singing.

Frozen, I felt the emptiness more than saw it; without the kids in it, their room is a place of lapsed energy, a place without its people. Frozen, I felt the future more than the present; without the kids in it, that room will become an echo of previous times. Even after the kids move out and launch themselves into active negotiation with the world, that room will always be the setting of so much of their everything. I will never walk into that room and not feel the impulse to give goodnight kisses, to pick up a slinky, to help find a glue stick. They will move on, but I’m not sure how my heart will.

Standing there in the hall, the wrench of anguish was startling.

And a sliver of my heart shaved off right then and dropped onto the hardwood.

It's one thing for me to feel exhausted and overwhelmed--to want the kids gone and then savor the vacation of it when it happens. Knowing they will be back shortly imbues the temporary quiet with liberation and celebration.

It will be quite another thing for them to be gone, permanently, of their own volition--because the world holds more for them than I do. Knowing they will be gone for the rest of their lives, with occasional popping-in over the holidays, creates in my crusty little heart an unexpected hollowness.

There will come a day when, instead of their following my every movement around the house, I will be the one tripping at their heels, wanting to carry their suitcases, make their favorite dinners, hear about their new friends. They will hold the power as I offer an adoration that seeks confirmation.

Fighting through melancholy there in the hall that night, I caught a whiff of my fifties, a decade when my kids will become adults, when I could end up spending many a 2:10 a.m. standing in the hallway outside their empty room.

May I not be pathetic, as I offer to wipe their bottoms when they come home from college. May I not be pathetic, as I hold out Clue Junior and a slinky to them over the Thanksgiving turkey. May I not be pathetic, as I sleep in their empty beds at night, clutching a stuffed monkey to my chest. May I not be pathetic, as I try to carve my way into the edges of their new lives.

Because standing in a darkened hallway in the middle of the night, clutching at my bladder, crying about how my children will leave me one day…

I was—just possibly--a little bit pathetic.

Briskly, I wiped my eyes, threw back my shoulders

and swept up the shard of my heart from the dusty floor.

Monday, July 27, 2009

"He's Making a List and Checking It Twice: For Only With Such Careful Reviewal Can He Be Certain No One Named 'Pedro' Gets a Train"

"That'll be $1.50," announced the parking lot attendant from inside his air-conditioned box. Eyes twinkling, cheeks rosy, beard fluffy, he followed up with a jolly, "So...what's new at the zoo?"

It was hard not to grin back at this Santa Claus look-alike, especially because I haven't exactly been a good girl this year, but I still want a present in December (unremitting greed being one of the myriad faults keeping me off the Good Girl List)--and so it suddenly struck me that a huge, toothy grin might up my chances at getting that spendy hairbrush I've been pining after for a decade.

My lips pulled back to expose every last molar, I answered him. "Well, my mom is visiting from California, so we have that going on."

Santa's internal sleigh dipped a bit, and his jovial manner faded. "You're not from California, are you?"

"Oh, no," I explained. "I grew up in Montana, but a few years ago my mom moved to California--Riverside, outside of L.A.."

"And does she actually like it?" Santa wondered, still looking as though he'd dandled one too-many whiny tots on his lap that day, including an ailing lad named Patrick who'd asked for a Transformer and then released his bowels directly onto red velvet pants and coal-colored boots.

"She LOVES it! I know, for me, it would be too hot, and the sheer number of people would be frustrating, especially with the driving. But it makes her really happy at this stage in her life."

Swiping distractedly at his leg, Santa Attendant weighed in, "Well, California's not for me, and not just because of the Mexicans, either."

¡Santo cielo!

As my brain absorbed his remark, a feeing started burbling up inside of me...a feeling that I wasn't going to make the Good Girl List this year. Again. My upstart mouth was starting to form the words, "Is it 'the Asians,' then?" when I looked at the line of cars behind me, listened to my stomach growl, looked at his 78-year-old face--wrinkles worn into the patterns of a lifetime--and decided to pay the toll and get home to the cold sugar snap peas that awaited me in the refrigerator.

Handing over the dollar bills, I did assure him, however, "Well, it definitely seems like you've found your perfect place, right where you are."

...locked inside a small, dark, dingey room--a place with no horizon, where the air doesn't move, where the vividness of human traffic streams by, never touching you, on its way

out into the light.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

“Take My Wife…Please”

My dad was a mild-tempered man. He made Jimmy Carter look like a rowdy spitfire.

In fact, I only remember my father snapping or lashing out on the rarest of occasions during my childhood. I remember him getting upset one time when his three monkey children were blowing really big, loud bubbles in their glasses of milk at a Howard Johnson’s. I remember him—we all froze--slapping my brother when he had been breathtakingly disrespectful to my mom. I remember Dad trying not to clonk my brother and sister’s heads together during their constant bickering (*typed the angel child who docily observed from the corner*).

And I remember him pulling the car over to the side of the road one time when his three monkey children started a game of yelling “FART FART FART” as loudly as they could, escalating the game as only a herd of “Holy Chachi, but has anyone in the history of the world ever been as funny as we are?” pre-adolescents could.

With the car idling on the side of the highway, the message we were given was, “We. Do. Not. Use. That. Word. In. This. Family.”

Because Dad’s displays of ire were so rare, they carried force. To this day, not only do I refrain from blowing bubbles in my drinks; I don’t go to Howard Johnson’s or drink milk.

And, for sure: I don’t use that word I’m not allowed to use, even though my dad’s been dead for 6 ½ years (like, what’s he going to do if I mutter the offending word—reconstitute his ashes into bodily form so he can then pull his gravestone over to the side of the cemetery and give me a lecture by a shepherd’s hook holding a basket of plastic geraniums?).

Fortunately, my husband was raised in a home with similar standards of manner. This commonality is largely responsible for the success of our marriage. We chip away at the crossword puzzle, hug each other when Ruth Reichl releases a new memoir, sigh contentedly when we put garlic scapes and kale in our eggs, and are generally, mutually, quietly couth.

When we’re not busy licking each other’s necks.

Truly, though, we don’t use the verboten term (“der fartein”) at our house…to the point that our kids first heard it from a neighbor boy (who also regards Garfield as the epitome of fine humor). Rather, after much casting about for a suitable synonym—it’s not that we want to ignore the realities of the body; we just don’t want to get grounded or lose our telephone privileges—we landed upon the word “toot,” which, frankly, gets waaaaaaaaay too precious waaaaaaay too fast. But in the absence of a better choice, it’s what we use.

All of this is preamble to the household crisis that reared up last night, as Groom and I carried out our nightly ablutions (that’s how the couthies roll; we ablute).

I stood at the sink, scrubbing my teeth, when Groom stepped up next to me, ready to spit. As his presence neared, so did a certain--how you say it in your country?--stank.

“Hey, uh, so did you just toot? Because if you didn’t, then you need a shower,” I noted, sniffing delicately, adjusting my bustle.

Sometimes when you’re brushing your teeth and sniffing delicately and adjusting your bustle all at the same time, you get a little toothpaste up the nostril, which set me to honking and snorting so loudly that I nearly missed Groom’s response of, “I did toot. I don’t need a shower. Oh, and, by the way? It’s time for a new line. You use that one every time. It’s officially old. If you’re going to call me on my reek, you need a new line.”

Not only was I struggling to get toothpaste out of my clogged nostril, now I was struggling to get this latest piece of information into my hollow skull. Whaaa? One of my tried-and-true, patented humor lines (carefully calibrated to a point of understatedness wherein the humor reaches shore gently, almost unheeded) was old? Was this how all the classic Vaudevillians felt when the moving pictures came to town? Suddenly needing to up their game and add a little soft shoe to their seltzer bottle gags?

Reeling, I realized with great rapidity that I lack the “better line” that my audience now demands. Without that hackneyed line in my repertoire, I have no way to convey to my beloved life’s partner—with freshness and originality—that he stinks, and if it’s not a gaseous emission, then he has larger problems.

I've been mulling on it, but all I’ve got so far is,

“Did you toot? Because if you didn’t, then you might need to write a letter to the folks at Right Guard about the fallibility of their product.”


“Did you toot? Because if you didn’t, then you might want to check your knee pits for skunk nuggets.”


“Did you toot? Because if you didn’t, then it’s time for us to get a pitch fork and turn over the compost heap inside your pants.”


“Did you toot? Because if you didn’t, then I think your torso might be caked in dried fecal matter.”

Clearly, I’m hurtin’ here.


Whoops. Sorry, Dad. What I mean is:

HELP. Please.

(if you don't, you're a big fart-head)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

"Shove Me to Snivel"

Ever since I had kids, and my head got full of other voices, I tend to figure things out when I'm running.

During the hour or so a day when I'm alone, when my body's motion is overcoming my Fatigue of Brain, thoughts gel. As feet turn over, I think forward.

It's actually become a household joke, this thinking while running, to the point that, when I get home from a run, I sidle up to Groom and ask, "So, do you want the download now, or should I wait 'til later to lay it all on you?" Generally, the thoughts that comprise our debriefing have to do with: 1) What we should get his mom for her birthday; 2) Why I think we should get new carpet on the stairs; 3) What I should have actually said as a rejoinder when our neighbor suggested I put a camera in the shower with me and then post it to YouTube; 4) Why I love Philip Roth so much; 5) Which weekend we should hire a babysitter so we can ride bikes to the brewpub and play Cribbage on the patio while drinking Big Boat Oatmeal Stout.

It was no joke the other day, however, when Groom and I both took advantage of a kids' birthday party at the local nature center to go run and bike on the trails there. He biked; I ran. He hummed along and dreamed of the Thai-grilled chicken he planned to cook that night; I,

on the other hand,

contemplated why so many days, of late, have felt long and sad and down,

Why, as I whisper thanks to the universe about how beautiful, smart, and healthy my children are--as I actively savor the rich comfort of my marriage--do I feel like my heart is catching itself in a sob, like I want to curl up and cuddle my own belly, like the hours would fly if I were left to my own devices, yet they trudge in the company of others?

Even more, why am I recently suffering occasional insomnia, where I wake up at 3:15 a.m. and finally get back to sleep five hours later? Why, when I wake up, do my thoughts pace around a dread about going back to work in August, around fears about travel and breaking daily patterns (two things which have been a source of huge excitement, traditionally) if I should get a sabbatical next year? Why have I, a flowy person who hates predictability, become anxious about far-off possibilities?

Out-of-whack sleep patterns, plus the unrelenting togetherness of summertime, when no one in the family gets up and heads out anywhere, ever...well, they've conspired to make me feel desperate every third day or so.

Part of me thinks it's hormonal, that I'm heading into a kind of peri-menopause that is shifting my innards just enough to cause a whole-being shake.

But since I'm only, *cough cough*, 24, it couldn't be that.

Here's where the running helped:

I realized the other day, as Groomeo biked at the nature center, and I ran for a long time, that I've always had two ways of dealing with stress:

1) Don't let it accrue in the first place. Example: if someone at work puts out a call for a meeting, my habit has been to view that meeting as extraneous to my existence, pack up my work bag, and head home for a long run and Thai-grilled chicken. Second example: if someone is groaning about not having finished a project on time, I think to myself, "Maybe do the project when you first know about it, Weezer. So glad I did my project two months ago. Now I'm heading home for Thai-grilled chicken and a run."

2) When it does land in my gushy lap, I process the stress promptly and throughout my entire body with a rapid and intense weep. Three minutes of sobbing every few days have continually kept me balanced and skipping. I'd actually never realized this--merely thinking of myself as a big, wussy crybaby--until my mother-in-law pointed out the beauty of this tendency, with a smidgeon of envy, a few years ago. She noted, in relation to her own long-delayed grief over having had a child who had died a few days after birth, "The way you allow emotion to blow through you is so healthy. When something is happening, you feel it then, at that moment, and then you release it." Her wise observation heartened and awakened me to a previously-unrecognized gift.

Due to these naturally-evolved strategies, I've managed to trip fairly blithely through my days.

As I considered this the other day on my run, I had a flash of "Whoa, Nellie Olson (and Michael Landon in his turn as Pa), but I've got it: I've been feeling internally weighed down and low because I haven't been crying. Everything in life is going along so swimmingly, from kitchen remodel to love of husband to amazement at children, that I've neglected my crying time.

I've neglected to register how stressful it is to have a work crew, however cool they are, in our house all day, everyday. I've neglected to give myself credit for being the sole wage-earner in a household of four. I've neglected my need to holler, "Hell, people, could I just be alone in my house now so that I could sit down during daylight and read a book?"

Because everything is so wonderful, I haven't let all the tiny indignities register. I haven't let them add up into a good wail, albeit for no good reason.

As I ran the other day, I finally got how much I am craving--emotionally and mentally, but also physically--a really good sob.

Naturally, right as I cottoned to this fact, I stumbled across my beloved Groomeo. There he was, suddenly, in the midst of many kilometers of trails. He biked towards me as I ran towards him (evidence of our Kismet). With me punching my stopwatch and him hitting his brakes, we merged for a chat. Within a minute, as he kept his bike from toppling down the steep and rocky hill, I'd poured it all out on him, ending on a weepy note. "And I think I just need to start the crying right now," I laughed, as I burst into tears and hugged on his sweaty shoulders.

He kept his wheels from spinning down into a ravine, and I lightened my heart, assuring him, "Oh, this is just the start. I need a real Kleenex-depleter of a cry some night here, soon. I think I need to find a really sobby tv series or movie and have it unlock all these little stresses I've let build up. Too damn bad I've seen Slings & Arrows, eh? The last episode of the final season of that one had me tearing through four tissues, at least. Hmmmm. What will do the job?"

And that's where I leave you now, Gentle Readers. I need a cathartic bawl. I'm not looking for something cliched or sentimental, so no Nicholas Sparks, please. What gives me the best yowl is usually a moment of tremendous beauty (such as the last few episodes of Slings & Arrows, wherein Shakespeare and modern life prove one and the same, in scenes of startlingly gorgeous theatre; or in the closing scene of the Glee pilot, when those uppity kids sing "Don't Stop Believin'"; or when Robert Duvall in Lonesome Dove and Anthony Hopkins in Remains of the Day slice me in two with profoundly-felt, frozen emotion)...or a moment of stilted adoration, per Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy.

I actually Googled "top sad movies" last night and have been tipped that Atonement and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind might toss me over the desired edge. But I dunno. What I need now is help in achieving a breakdown.

What shows or films have rendered you a pathetic heap of tears, chocolate, and crumpled tissues? What has cracked you open?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

"Real Cool"

If you crave a getaway right now, click on these, and I'll take you to the beach:

Then we drove up the road to warmer waters:

I can't believe a kid of mine refused to put her head under a waterfall due to moss. What a pansyarse:

Monday, July 13, 2009

“Seems I'm the Type That Was Heard on High...or, In Your Case, Read While High”

A few weeks ago, after two terms in my English classes (both writing and literature), a student sent me this email:

"Thanks for your engel pacience"

First reaction? Clearly, my work here is done.

Second reaction? Less clearly, something like “BWAHH?” coupled with an impulse to mock.

Third reaction? Clearly, I should never try to convince myself that my teaching makes a difference. If I’m being realistic and honest about how little impact I genuinely have on students—as evidenced by a five-word email containing no fewer than three errors, written by a student who had just finished 21 weeks under my tutelage--then my motivation for walking into the classroom needs to be restrained to this feeling: if I am in front of a large group of people, I’m going to need new shoes. A lot of new shoes. For a very long time. Even if I'm teaching the class online. Yes, that's the ticket. If I can't create better writers, then I should at least fail in my efforts while wearing awesome shoes.


Since the error-riddled email was sent by a community college student, there had to be a story behind the misspellings. What’s more (we're having a Jocelyn’s Rare Maturity Moment Here, so put your hands in the air, raise the roof, and yell “woot-woot”): taking into account that story makes all the difference.

Here’s the rundown on the author of the email:

--she’s almost 44 and is nearing the completion of her first higher-education degree, the A.A., something it took her 25 years to decide she wanted to earn

--she has seven kids, ranging in age from 8-24

--she’s been married five times, with each marriage resulting in additions to her brood. She now explains it thusly, “Once I counted out how many years of my life I had been pregnant, breast-feeding, and changing diapers. All that to learn at the Environmental Science class last semester that our planet Earth is heavily overpopulated! I have got an ‘A’, but it’s too late anyway, my youngest is 8 and I can’t put him back where he came from.”

--each of her husbands hailed from a different country, with the group of them spanning four continents

--she describes herself as “spacey,” as she often forgets to get off the train at the right station, to take food off the burner, to pick up a kid from daycare (or, um, to proofread)

--due to her spacey-ness, she decided not to get her driver’s license until she was 32, for fear that she’d forget she was driving while in the middle of doing it

--she is originally Polish, spent her early childhood in Chile, is a Swedish citizen, lived almost 1/3 of her life in Germany, and has been in the U.S. (Nevada, specifically) for two and half years.

--she is fluent in four languages

--over twenty years ago, in Sweden, she became involved in the Hare Krishna movement and still regards that time with great fondness

--she hopes to get a wolf-hybrid puppy

--she and her fiancĂ© (there’s an optimist!) have signed up for a MUFON (Mutual UFO Network) course to become UFO investigators. She would like to “relieve the mystery” of some UFO phenomena. When advised by her *cough cough* English teacher that writing a college-level research paper on the topic of UFO’s would not be *hack hack* the best choice, this student responded quickly and admirably and ultimately turned out a solid paper on *better-but-still-sigh-inducing-simply-because-it’s-way-overdone* global warming

--she loves plain vanilla ice cream with tons of Hershey’s pure cocoa powder and cinnamon spice on it

--her very presence in an online class ramped up the energy of the other students; grammatically-clean or not, her messages in the Discussions area always supported, answered, and calmed her classmates


The teacher learns her lessons:

By and large, I won’t transform my students into precision-writers.

Often, poorly-written sentences grow directly out of life circumstances.

Generally, I’d rather read a poorly-written sentence from a vastly-interesting human being than a perfectly-constructed one from a nob.

Being an unbending stickler who operates out of condescension would make me a nob.

As I contemplate next semester, then, I--optimistic in the fashion of my quintuply-married student's current fiancé--internally shake out and fluff up a load of commas and apostrophes, in the hopes that some student might need them.

In the absence of that, though, I’ll just shore up my “pacience” and prepare to lend an ear to every last “engel” who couldn’t run spellcheck because she was too busy relieving the mysteries of the universe.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

"I Did Not Either Go Back Three Days Later and Stage These Photos, So Hesh Up with Your Badgering Questions Already"

Check out my science experiment this week:

When a body falls in the forest, and no one's around to hear it, it does make a sound, and that sound is "Great Johnny Appleseed, but OWWWWWWWWWWWWW!"

This scientific breakthrough happened the other day when I was out for a run on one of my favorite sections of The Superior Hiking Trail. I love trail running for multitudinous reasons, but one of them is that the varied terrain breaks a run the hell up, so that I can be out there for more than an hour and not even realize it's time to turn around (contrast this to a run in town, where I spend the last mile counting down: "Fifty-Second Street. Fifty-First Street. Fiftieth Street. Ah, hell, is this only Forty-Ninth Street?") A side benefit of trail running (aside from rock-hard quads capable of opening a No. 10 can of peaches) is that the varied terrain provides all good reasons for sloggish runner to go rewy, rewy slowly.

With all those roots and rocks jutting up, caution is clearly in order.

What is The Suck, however, is when a sloggish runner who is "running" in a way that actually resembles a quick hike because she is being so very careful about rocks and roots

still takes a mo-fo of a tumble, thanks to biffing her toe on a semi-exposed piece of Nature.

Yup, the other day my body hurled--backwards, by the time I finished pirouetting--into the prickly brush, making contact with at least three more squads of rocks as it gradually skidded to a stop.

"OWWWWW!" does, indeed, echo loudly in an empty forest. As do a few of Yosemite Sam's finer expletives, particularly those ending in "-frackin'sassafrass."

Taking stock, as I lay there, I first checked for witnesses (it being several weeks before the local trail ultra-marathon, I'd already passed a couple of gel-squishing 135-lb full-grown wiry males out on 40-mile training runs). Fortunately, no one was around, so there was no need for me to spit the ferns out of my mouth to facilitate a sheepish explanation of, "Em. Lost a contact lens. Oh, and also: I ran 50 miles yesterday, so I’m only having a short 20-mile recovery run today. But keep at it, you pusses."

Alone in the now-silent woods, I felt around for my head.

Praise Marie Antoinette: it was there!

As well, I still had roughly four limbs extruding from my torso, and as luck would have it, two of them hung out above my waist (Hey, wait. a. minute. I actually have four appendages hanging out above my waistline alone—although two of them are capable of hanging just to my waist while the other two can stretch nearly to my knees. It's your guess which two are my breasts).

All that new math aside, I felt around and sighed in relief when I realized I also still had two hands--thanks for doing the feeling around, dudes!--along with some leggish things stretched out in front of me. When I bent the leggish things, I saw one of the kneeish things there in the middle was properly scraped up and having a good bleed.

Yes, I realize one of the biggest drawbacks of social media is that anyone with a boo-boo can broadcast it to the world. I also realize this could totally be Conan O'Brien's knee.

Here's the moment in a mini-crisis when I often surprise myself: in my general self perception, I tend to think that I'm infinitely open to getting wound up and milking the drama from any possible moment (such as the time, on a day called yesterday, when I got a hangnail and was convinced its removal would require radiation). In reality, though, I actually tend to keep my spirit together in moments of crisis or OWWWWW (case in point: one of my all-time favorite students was raised without advantages, so she spent her mid-twenties learning things most of us mastered as kids…you know, like reading and writing; she also didn’t know how to swim, so I determined to teach her. The first time we were in the pool, her natural athletic abilities kicked in, and she was stroking around in no time. We headed for the deep end. Did I mention she has a seizure disorder? Yea, okay, so in the deep end, the movement of the water and the weird fluorescent lights brought on a seizure, and while I would have thought I’d get all shrieky and limp when faced with her jerking, sinking body, all I really felt was a sense of calm resolution and "NOT ON MY WATCH" wash over me, as I swam to her, dove down and grabbed her, swam her rigid form to the edge, and called repeatedly for the distracted life guard to help me pull her out and to get flotation devices to put under her head so she didn’t crack her skull).

After taking a moment to collect myself there under the sugar maples, I realized I was only bleeding from three places (knee, shoulder, hand) and couldn’t do much about it until I got home. So why not enjoy the rest of my run, as I had to cover the ground to get back to my car anyhow?

I hit the backtrack button on my Ipod, having, during the fall, missed out on the last few informative sentences of the Savage Love podcast (sentences that, upon relistening, went, “I have no problem with you having a centaur fetish; I just feel sorry for you because it’s not a fantasy that can ever actually get played out in real life. ‘Cuz the closest you can come in real life is a guy in a centaur costume, and when everything interesting is packed inside a costume like that, it’s never going to be fulfilling.”). Thusly heartened, I started to run again.

Four minutes later?

Wearing a cap, and being careful to watch the path for roots and rocks, I didn't notice the birch tree blocking the path—suspended between two other trees—just at head level.

(why didn't any of the paparazzi skulking in the foliage call out a warning to me?)

BLAMMMMM. My forehead plowed into the thing at five Large American Miles Per Hour.


I was actually thrown several feet into, you got it, another stand of ferns. I actually didn’t know what had happened until I found myself sitting there. Gently, I shook my head and tried to focus my vision. Oh. My. Lawsy.

My eyes had been knocked loose. Even after a minute of trying to clear my vision, everything was blurry and out of focus. I would never see right again. How would I read? How would I drive?

Then I saw my glasses sitting next to me on the ground.

Never mind.

Once I put them on--gingerly, as my noggin was a’screamin'--the world got clearer and, once again, I found myself in a moment internal inquiry: “Do you need to have a little cry right now? Because it feels like you might need a little cry.”

Again, however, Self turned all calmish and replied, pretty quietly, “Naw. I don’t think that’s going to help. I think we should get up now and go to a place of Band-aids and hugs.”

So we did.

When I got home fifteen minutes later, ready to tell Groom about my wee trail adventures, he pre-empted my story with a, “Are you okay? You look really rough.” I’d known my skull was rattled and that I was worried I was going to go all Natasha Richardson or Sweet Baby Lime on him, and I knew I was bleeding, but I hadn’t realized how much dirt was covering my body. Seriously, some women would have paid hundreds of dollars for a mud wrap like I had just gotten for free. Later, when I rinsed off, I realized I might have needed Ibuprofen, but, damn, my pores were tight.

In the days since my wrassle with the woods, my neck has been stiff and painful, even mid-way down my spinal column (my neck extends very far). Plus, the jarring of my top and bottom teeth against each other during the impact chipped a nano-tidbit off one of the lower teeth. I need to file that baby.

Maybe into a fang.

What I've learned from all this is that emory boards (and mojitos) are wonderful tools for coping.

Even more profoundly, I've learned that Nature and exercise are, like the thing I tripped over in the forest, the Root of All Evil.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

"Can't Touch This"

On my first day of college twenty-four years ago, I heaved into my arms a laundry bag holding Kermit the Frog (a stuffed version, mind you; the live one was on location in Hollywood), Howard Jones cassette tapes, and aerosol cans of Aquanet. A bit tremulously, I walked into my freshman dorm.

Naturally, the dorm was located on the far outreaches of campus, and my room was on the top floor, farthest away from the main doors. Any exercise I got in the ensuing nine months was due to the trek I had to make to get back to my room (or from the repetitive elbow lifts associated with hefting a beer).

That first day, though, because the dorm was teeming with parents, the college put on the shine a little bit and actually opened up the sole elevator. That one and only time, we were able to step aboard with our heavy loads and enjoy the quick trip up four floors. Once the last parent drove away at dusk, however, the elevator was shut down with a clank.

As my laundry bag and I stepped into the mythical parentally-inspired elevator that day, I joined another nervous-looking student and her handlers. Small talk set in, and my fellow student, one Shannon, asked, “So are y’all from Minnesota?”

People. I. could. hardly. believe. the. glamour. of. my. new. life.

This person had a Southern accent.

I was going to be attending school with students who were, like, cosmopolitan.

By extension, this meant I, too, was glamourous and cosmopolitan, kind of like how my shoulder pads always felt just a tidge bigger when I watched Joan Collins on DYNASTY. It was glamour enhancement by association.

As the weeks and months ticked by, my first impression was born out: not only did Shannon have a Southern accent, but she also had attended a private girls school (just like Phoebe Cates did in 1983's PRIVATE SCHOOL!! It was so handy to have seen a movie that gave me insight into the realities of Shannon's life before college: clearly, her days had been full of handsome lads--like Matthew Modine--from the neighboring boys' school playing cross-dressing pranks on the girls, all to a soundtrack of Rick Springfield and Bow Wow Wow!!!); even more, when not engaged in peeping shower scenes to the tune of "I Want Candy," Shannon had actually been part of debutante culture and knew what the word “cotillion” meant!!!!! Holy exclamation point, but the girl was chichi!!!!!!

As even more months ticked by, turning into sophomore year, I ended up living in a sextet with ChiChi Shannon, during which time I discovered she was outrageously down home. Certainly, she was from a different background, but most importantly, she was just a girl, moving into womanhood (er, womynhood; any chick worth her Birkenstocks attending a small, liberal arts college in the 1980s would never co-opt “men” into a word for creatures as fabulous, independent, and distinct as womyn). As we made Ramen noodles together, cried about roommate frustrations together, walked to class together, I got it. In all the essential ways, we were the same.

And so college spun on to graduation in 1989.

Since then, I have kept in contact with a slew of college pals, attending weddings and reunions, raising kids in parallel lives.

Shannon has not. In fact, after a few years, she never attended a reunion or had much contact with anyone. She got busy living in D.C., doing things like trying to get medical coverage for children. Nice excuse. So no one had seen her.

Until a few weeks ago.

Then, she—bravely--set foot on campus for the first time in twenty years at our, get this bit of irony, 20-year Reunion.

When I spotted her and launched into the requisite hugging of her body and licking of her face, she finally managed to gasp out, “I’ll never forget that you were the first person I met freshman year. We got into the dorm elevator together, and I knew it was a different world when I learned you were from MONTANA. I mean, wow, I didn’t know people from Montana. I couldn’t believe I was meeting people from Montana. I knew college was going to be something.”

There it was. We were back in the elevator together, open to mutual dazzlement.

That single moment from my first day of college, ultimately, summed up my entire college experience--and continues to sum up why the Reunions are so amazing. A group of smart, talented people, all very different, are drawn together by the excitement, the potential, of mutual dazzlement. And it never fails to deliver.

Invariably, at Reunion, I end up rubbing my eyes with my fists, trying to clear away tears of laughter. Invariably, I end up meeting people with whom I graduated but whom I never knew during college. Invariably, I end up wishing I'd known them all along and that they lived next door to me now--so that I might dash over, ring their bell, and yell "Hold me, College Boy!" when the world becomes too much. Once the embrace would break, a little awkwardly, I'd ask for a bagel. With strawberry cream cheese. If they have it. Please.

But because the magic of Reunion is tied into it happening infrequently (clearly, the excitement of seeing me everyday would wear thin quickly; for one, the cost of cream cheese would add up, day after day, year after year, as, for two, would my semi-creepy insistence on a deep, emotional hug with someone who lives next door and really just wants to mow his lawn), I revel in its intensity, in the spurts of conversation with people who had Paul Wellstone as a professor, who mainlined No-Doz when writing papers, who constructed shantytowns on campus in anti-apartheid protest, who filed into the chapel to listen to Garrison Keillor tell stories.

By Sunday, after three days of conviviating wildly, my heart is full, and I stand back from my life, once again, and can't believe its glamour: because I am allowed to know such people.

Then I realize I'm hungover and haven't slept but twelve hours in three nights, and it's time to go home. Plus, I need a latte. However, for the next few months, whenever the world gets to be too much, I can simply click on the mental slideshow of that weekend, and I will feel the dazzle.

Dimming the lights now. Click:

At some point in the next few months, Beautiful Man here and his family will travel to Madagascar to adopt two more children. When my dad died six years ago, this Beautiful Man empathized with my grief. When he was 18, he had never drunk before. We remedied that. Nowadays, he certainly doesn't drink, but he rides horses.

Poopsie on the Left was my roomie through college; I did a semester in Ireland with her; I lived with her after we graduated; I did a reading in her wedding; I learned huge amounts about the world during her divorce; she has, on occasion, held my heart in her hands and kept it from splintering. Five years ago, at our last reunion? She was piecing herself together post-divorce; at the same time, the fella on the right here was imminently divorcing. Now? They've just signed the closing papers on a condo in Chicago.

The chica on the left has done everything cool in the world, including living and working in Antarctica; the one on the right is my bestest dance partner ever. During the course of the weekend, inspired by the notion of a BIG LOVE life of polygamy, where we all get to share a communal backyard with a pool, I began suggesting possible Sister Wives to Groom. These two made the cut. The one on the left here could change theh oil in my Mom-Van, which is always a boon in a Sister Wife.

I have no idea what was so funny. But it probaby involved the punchline "Pigfu**er."

During college, I never did that experimental thing of loving on girls. Good news for the frustrated: twenty years later is not too late to start kissing girls. I know a guy here in town who recently got divorced because his wife realized that very fact.

This buddy here is descended from elves and has the best taste in music ever. One of my best memories of him from freshman year is of him walking around campus, a little boom box on his shoulder (not that he couldn't have managed a bigger one, for he might look lithe, but he is VERY STRONG), listening to The Replacements' song "Kiss Me On The Bus." I also remember him pointing out to me, as a fellow Titian, this quote from Gulliver's Travels: "It is observed, that the red haired of both sexes are more libidinous and mischievous than the rest, whom yet they much exceed in strength and activity."

You don't know the half of it, Mr. Swift.

The guy to my right here graduated a few years before I, but he was back on campus with his band to play one night of Reunion. Even my shoulder blades were sore the next day, from the thrashing around. Incidentally, I nominated him as a candidate for Brother Husband. He could play calming music for all 27 kids at The Compound. If he really wants, we'll even let him be Prophet.

Kum-by-yah. My Lord.

I look at my Girl (in the middle) and two of the daughters of my college pals, and I'm forced to muse: "Crikey. In nine years, they're going to get on an elevator with someone who has a Southern accent!"

Did you ever notice how 9-10 year old girls really like hearts and pink? And butterflies and San Diego?

By the time Paco and his compatriot get to college, we'll be hauling their laundry bags out of our hovercars and stocking their mini-fridges with stashes of Tang and freeze-dried ice cream.


Click. Lights back on now. The slideshow is over.

Time to go to work now--powered by a happy, flowy feeling of gratitude.

Maybe I'll meet someone with a Southern accent today.

For--as I learned when I was 18--anything is possible.