06 November 2013

Robin Romano: 1956-2013

I remember the November night almost ten years ago when we huddled in quilts and sweaters in front of your fireplace and read our favourite poems back and forth to each other to stave off the pain and the cold and the dark. I hear your voice speaking these words again tonight, asking me to read them back to you after you shared them. I hear your voice in everything. You taught me how to speak. Tonight the loss of you is a silence bigger than any words of my own, so I speak your favourite words back to your spirit tonight, to the part of you that might still listen from wherever you are.

The Port

The river is slow
and I knew I was late arriving but had no idea
how late
in the splintery fishing port silence
was waving from the nails
dry long since
the windows though rattling
were fixed in time and space
in a way that I am not nor ever was
and the boats were out of sight

all but one
by the wharf
full of water
with my rotted sea-clothes lashed to a piling
at its head
and a white note nailed there in a can
with white words
I was too late to read

when what I came to say is I have learned who we are

when what I came to say was
consider consider
our voices
through the salt

they waken in heads
in the deaths themselves

that was part of it

when what I came to say was
it is true that in
our language deaths are to be heard
at any moment through the talk
pacing their wooden rooms jarring
the dried flowers
but they have forgotten who they are
and our voices in their heads waken
childhoods in other tongues

but the whole town has gone to sea without a word
taking my voice

-W.S. Merwin
The Carrier of Ladders

29 October 2013

On the Banks

Peace and All Goodness.
I realise this whole post is a bit more New Historicist/Reader Response/narrative theory meta-meta-meta-nerd than I usually get in this blog, but bear with me here. I’m trying to get at something that is not easy for me to express, or even to admit. 

Everything in this life is story. Maybe that’s odd coming from someone whose primary lens for viewing the world has always been poetry—especially since I tend to be more of a lyric poet than a narrative poet—but that is one true root that has been given me. We are the stories we tell. To each other, to ourselves, to the rivers and rocks and tree limbs. We are the stories we map in the stars at night, even when those stars are hidden from view and the hoot of the owl terrifies rather than reassures. The rivers themselves are stories.

The stories we tell ourselves are not always true ones. Honesty is often painful, especially in the dark, alone with ourselves and our worst fears and anxieties and memories. We remember how things should have been but weren’t. We get so caught up in what we think we wanted that we forget to be grateful for what is. We tell ourselves our version of the story so often we get confused between truth and fact. We forget that we can change our story, that maybe all good stories change over time.

Sometimes the best thing we can do is quietly hear the story out from someone else’s perspective. Just because right now, in this chapter, in this scene, we might be our own narrators, we forget we might be a part of someone else’s story—and it might be about something else entirely. And it might not be as scary as we thought. I was reminded again last night, while in the presence of beloved friends I don't see enough of, how much this becomes instinct over time, this forgetting to hear the stories of others. One of the most powerful things my friend Dan has ever said to me was this:

Stop being so afraid. We do so many awful things out of fear. It seems like most of our moral, ethical, and even religious tensions are bound to a need to control what we are afraid of or do not understand. To know this about ourselves might lead us to a different response, maybe even err on the side of love.

I don't think Dan knew just how close to the marrow he came when he said that. I think he was thinking about his own story, how it gets interwoven with the lives of others. I don't think he knew how much it was also my own story. Those aren't the words we use with each other most of the time. And I know he wasn't thinking of an internal picture of our skeletal structure, with a rotten broken heart and no lungs, barely breathing, concerned, confused, feathers launched like arrows through the dark to sprout directly from our fragile chests.

Stunned, but still breathing.
It might turn out that Emily Dickinson was right, that hope is the thing with feathers. It might turn out that what we thought over and over again was the hammering home of loss was actually a story about rebirth. It might be time for the story of us to change. It might even be that the story to which we thought we were doomed was no more than the prologue to the enduring myth of love. It may just be as simple and as inexplicable as that. Maybe our whole lives here are one big tangled love story.

23 October 2013

Twenty Thousand Hearts

Monday morning, everyone started their week as if it were any other: most people went to work, others dropped their kids off at school, I overslept...so, the usual. I got word of Deb's collapse the way a lot of shitty news seems to spread lately--via Facebook. I've known this family since 1980. Joel and Lauri adopted my favourite of our first batch of kittens--and let's not even discuss how I felt when their mom insisted they change his name from Hot Rod Kanehl (one of my mom's favourite baseball players growing up) to the more innocuous,  dare I say even emasculating, Sunshine. We lost touch for a number of years when their parents divorced and their dad married Deb, but Joel and I reconnected when I moved back home after grad school (the first time). Joel was the first person I asked for when I woke up from my cancer surgery, since I'd already been wheeled past my dad who was pacing by the elevator, and that morning when we'd checked in, his dad was already parked in the chair in my hospital room. Remember when I got stranded in Denver (the first time) last winter when Ruby was dying and suddenly had no ride home from the airport at ridiculous o'clock p.m., and somebody's dad saw the Facebook post and drove all the way out to Newark past midnight even though he had to be at work at 5 the next morning? Yeah. That was Bob. They're that family. They always have been.

I knew they would bring Debby here to Doodlehem because we have the nearest Level One trauma facility and at that point they weren't sure what was happening to her or if she'd hit her head on the way down. I can hit the hospital in six minutes at a dead run; the only reason it took me twelve was because I detoured to Dunkin' Donuts to get Bob a cup of coffee the way I know he takes it: milk, sugar, from Dunkin' whenever possible, and in the largest size possible. The only other person waiting with Bob was the coworker who had performed CPR until the ambulance arrived. Joel was on his way up from Virginia and Bob's siblings hadn't gotten there yet either. I knew I was going in as the anchor, but I still wasn't really prepared to have to be Bob's. He had always been mine. Bob's a former Marine. He served in Vietnam. He also suffered a (non-military) traumatic amputation of his right arm when Joel was about a year old, the divorce from their mom, Deb's treatment for breast cancer the year before my own cancer, and his own bout with lung cancer surgery, and his courage and sense of humour never so much as wavered outwardly in the face of any of that. So I can't imagine the hell he must have been in for him to reach blindly for my hand the first minute we were alone and gasp out, I'm so damn scared.

By the time Joel arrived just after lunchtime they'd discovered that there had been an aneurysm that ruptured, causing a massive brain bleed, and they were trying to stabilize her for long enough between scans to find out if surgery would even be an option. Every update was worse news, and by Tuesday the decision was made to remove all life-sustaining measures and transfer Deb to palliative care. There's never any way to tell, but given the significant damage, no one was expecting her body to keep functioning longer than a few hours at maximum. Despite that, early Wednesday evening they transferred her to hospice care. Deb didn't take any shit from anybody, ever, and this was no exception. She was going to go in her own sweet time, and this wasn't it quite yet. Hospice told me later they hadn't expected her to live through the first night. Clearly they don't know our Debby.

Thursday, 12th September, was one of the most precious days of my life. Bob couldn't stand to be there anymore, and he had all manner of legal legwork to untangle and plans to start making. I had planned to stop in and sit until they returned, expecting them back any minute. One of Debby's work friends came by round supper time, and talked to her for a good hour--telling her all about Deb's favourite kids and what they'd done that day, and put sweet-smelling lotion on her hands and feet. We got a little bit to eat, but mostly we sat with her, and I listened. I'd never known Debby as well as I know the rest of her family; we probably hugged whenever we saw each other, but I felt uncomfortable touching her or holding her hand. Not because she was dying, but because it felt like an invasion of her privacy. I don't actually know whether she liked being touched, though as someone who worked for 30-something years with preschool-age kids, I can't imagine she wasn't at least comfortable with it. So part of me wondered what I was doing there. But mostly I felt someone needed to be there with her, someone she knew, in case any part of her was still there and needed us.  After Marie left, we sat some more. Sometimes I read to her out loud--from Edgar Huntly, because that's what I was in the middle of that day--but increasingly I just sat there as the unexpectedly fierce thunderstorm bent the trees outside nearly double and rain rolled down the French doors in sheets.

By ten o'clock I was done my book and needing to at least stop home long enough to feed my cats. But also, something was changing. Deb was starting to breathe differently, taking long gasps of breaths followed by shorter, ragged breaths, evening out, then starting again. I knew this was one of the last changes. It wasn't painful for me to hear, so much as worrisome. I knew she was being medicated to alleviate any anxiety she may have been feeling, and I knew her breathing patterns were simply her body trying to regulate oxygen flow to her brain as the pressure from the bleed increased and spread down towards her brain stem. I knew she was trying to let go. But I also knew--don't ask me how, since I really didn't know her this closely--that she was hanging on because I was there. I knew this was something that was between her and the God she loved so fiercely, and she wasn't going to do it with an audience. My being there was only going to prolong this.

I will not tell you what I said to her as I kissed her forehead goodbye. I will only tell you that two hours later, the spark that made her Debby was gone.

13 October 2013

A Dream Deferred

The end of August brought with it some personal and professional trials that just about knocked me on my ass. I knew I was at my breaking point when marathon training started becoming a cause for anxiety rather than a reliever of it and I found myself avoiding training runs because I was afraid they would go badly.

What can I say, y'all, I was stressed.

So after a couple of weeks of being very nearly unmoored, occasionally in front of other people (which was almost as upsetting for them as it was for me), I finally realised that something had to give. Since I was loath to part with my sanity, my relationship with Himself, or my academic career, that something ended up being Marine Corps marathon later this month. After talking it over with a couple of folks--the man I consider my running coach, the chiropractor I consider my counselor and spiritual advisor, and the man I consider my dad--and weighing my options, I decided to defer my marathon registration until 2014.

Stay tuned for other stuff. Not all of it is stuff I want to talk about on the interwebz--in fact, some of it is stuff I don't even really know how to talk about it in what a friend charmingly (and weirdly, since she's vegetarian) calls "meatspace"--but some of it needs to find its way out and home.

20 September 2013

Really? Really-really?

Apparently God does not read my blog (see sidebar, right).

It has just been suggested I change into knickers I don't like, just in case.

10 August 2013

Come On Home to Me

I've been trying to write this post for six days.

I haven't thought of a single word that can begin to contain everything I mean. There are no words for the unexpected spiral into grief I should have seen coming from ten months out but still managed to hit me like a freight train when church bells woke me that morning. There are no words to convey the soaring relief bestowed on me like a blessing at the foot of the mountain a week later, relief I had prepared myself to never find, but was stubborn enough to go searching for anyway. Instead, every word has no meaning, has two meanings.

And, too, I couldn't help but think of Maura. Like her, I headed north without telling my family. Very few people knew of my plans. Coincidentally, my destination that first night was a friend's house in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Like Maura, my trip was spur of the moment, poorly planned, and more than likely ill-advised. Like Maura, I'd received a series of emotional shocks in the days leading up to my journey that had actually spurred it into action. (Also like Maura, these emotional shocks caused me to drive stupidly and get into a relatively minor accident at one point that weekend.) Some of this is conjecture; we don't know why Maura left or where she was ultimately headed. So early Friday morning as I drove north on I-93 into New Hampshire, rattled and upset to the point of tears, I couldn't help but think, this is the part where it all goes wrong. This is the part where they never see you again. This is the part where you can't come home.

My story ended differently. I will never know why. I will never be able to understand the reasons behind why I was met at the end of my drive with more love and mercy and forgiveness than I knew what to do with. More, certainly, than I deserved. More than I have words to describe, and more than it would be prudent to speak of. It could have been so much worse. Actually, I was expecting it to be much worse, and I don't understand why Maura's path ends where it does--with a blank on the map--and mine continues forward with the people who loved me, who love me still, despite everything that could have gone wrong and every mistake we'd already made. I only know that, even though I didn't deserve it any more than she did, doors and arms were opened to me, and I was allowed to see my home again.

Where your darkness hits the light, in the space where you stand against the tide
You will always be home to me, no matter where our paths take us.

31 July 2013

Where I'm Supposed to Be

Back and mostly recovered (physically, anyway) from a sprinter-van northeast tour with the guys. Had some long-overdue conversations, mostly conducted with eyebrow semaphore, shoulder nudges, deep earthy sniffs, chocolate chip cookies, and the occasional tiny rowboat --though I did actually have occasion to use my big girl words at one point, too, which was more difficult than you'd expect coming from me. Looking someone in the eye without getting lost and having to speak coherently to them from a place of authenticity is really hard for me. And by hard I mean terrifying and vulnerable. And the more I care about the person, usually the harder it is. This means it was damn near impossible.

Welcome to my tiny boat.

A flotilla of tiny paper boats.
Late Sunday night I took a crash course in origami off instructions printed on a t-shirt. Partly this was to work off nerves, and partly this was because sometimes my brain gets too cute by half when it gets going. Half the band thought this was the gift until I informed them it was just the wrapper. (Then one of them proceeded to leave it in the van when they returned it to the rental place. I'm looking at you, Stephen Daniel.)

Yes, we resorted to middle names. There was a slightly rotating cast of characters, mostly in the tour staff. At the start there were two Steves (both with ph's) and three Matts. A week later there were two Steves, two Matts, and two Saras. For twelve glorious and very confusing hours on Thursday night, we had the trifecta--three Stephens, three Matts, and two Saras. We were looking for a third Sara, or at least a Sarah, or even a Sally, just to hit bingo. Sadly, the closest we could come was a Rasheeda. Oh well. God knows what we could have accomplished with three of us, considering the shit that just the pair pulled off that first afternoon alone. The Matts even had hand-gestures to go with their names, based on hairstyles (Muppet, mohawk, goatee).

Two Matts, doing the same thing.
(c) Todd Polesiak
In between, there was a lot of driving. No, I mean a lot of driving. While I had the luxury during this sprinter of returning home to my own bed every night, unlike the boys, it also meant approximately a shit-ton of extra driving for me between venues. Also, I had a dissertation meeting on Tuesday morning. Because that was intelligent of me to schedule. Oh, and did I mention it was nearly 100° every day, and my apartment isn't air-conditioned? There was also therefore many a cold shower just to get my body temperature down someplace sleepable.

Sadly, due to the nature of people's private lives and That Thing Called the Interwebz, I have to leave out most of the good stuff, like the Fairy Zombie Attack, the endless rotation of people onto the air mattress on my living room floor, The Macaroni and Cheese That Would Not End, the part where I had to upend myself into every single front-of-house case with my legs a-waggle trying to get stuff out of the bottom, how I ended up with a bar rag from the Birchmere in my laundry today, and the birthday cookies that weren't.

No, really. Ever try to make cut-out cookies when one of the recipients is a vegan? And it's 102° in the kitchen before you preheat the oven? And you're working on something like twelve hours' sleep for the week and it's already Saturday? Yeah. Like that. Fortunately they tasted really good, even though they rather looked like dog biscuits. Let's just say we ended up taking a detour to the vegan bakery in town, and judging by the swipe of icing the guys left me after the show, it was worth it.
Two Saras, doing the same....
well, whatever. Close enough.

During the week, I also had a chance to catch up with some very dear friends not connected with the tour, some of whom I hadn't seen in months, and one of whom I hadn't seen in a few years. Altogether, there was much bolting through various lobbies to launch myself bodily at people, a koala bear hug off the side of a loading dock (which left a very interesting bruise on most of the right half of my body), late night Wal-Mart shenanigans (CDs! Matching jammies! A packing box to get that crap out of my life and back to Ohio as soon as possible!), a constellation of fly bites on my ass from the proximity of Monday's venue to the Atlantic Ocean, two of the world's most well-travelled birthday cards (one of which, yes, made reference to my illustrious career as Snowmeister, having been to Colorado twice during snowstorms), and a choreographed set-up of folding tables that would make Bob Fosse weep. Oh, also leopard-print sticky notes!, brought to me by a  band fan with whom I'd had an hysterical conversation on Twitter regarding the plural of Post-It. Personally, I'm still holding out for Post-Them. Kim disagrees.

Making it rain string beans.
Oh! And I almost forgot the string bean truck! The guys swore we were hallucinating, because who on earth just drives an open truck crammed full of string beans down the I-95 corridor? The guy driving this truck, that's who. Needless to say, I got teased about string beans for the next 36 hours or so. And, really, I was ok with that, all things considered.

And, perhaps best of all, there was a righting of the world where it had been wrong, a resettling of my soul in my bones, a coming home, however brief it turns out to have been. If I had known it was really goodbye, I'd have made you stand up for a proper hug, no matter how tired we were. Like last time, I was caught ill-prepared and you were halfway into somebody else's van before I knew what was happening.

Close Encounters of the Matt kind
I know there are no words for this parting, that even a breath is too much, that my blood would be too little. I know now that every time I see you there will be that door that we walked through once, that remains half-lit, half in shadow, just behind us. I know now that even among the trees that night we could never escape the concrete of the streets that would carry you away after I had fallen to my knees.

Do you remember what the city sounded like?
Do you remember what the city sounded like?

06 May 2013

RR St. Jude Country Music (Half) Marathon, Code Word: Doing the Nasty

Despite being on the NTP (Nita Training Plan, also known as not training at all) for this race, it ended up being redeeming in a lot of ways. It was in many ways a baptism. And I'm not just saying that because of near-flood conditions.

The day after I got home from Nashville in January, all hell sort of broke loose in my emotional and spiritual life, you may recall, and I'm only now coming out of the carapace I'd built around myself to try to ward off the crazy. As much as I tried to stay with it and engage with the process, I really hate change. I hate it. It's uncomfortable. As I once memorably said to a pastor's wife and dear friend, "I like my comfort zone. It's comfortable." I wasn't being ironic or witty, either. I was dead serious.

So, all that is to say that I had mixed feelings about returning to the scene of the crime. (Except love is not a crime. Only denying it is.)

None of this makes sense. It's not a narrative, it's not about running, and it's not about the race.

Welcome to my life, folks.

I don't know why I thought flying down to Nashville at 7:10 in the morning was a good idea; surely the hundred dollars extra a flight at a human hour would have cost was worth not having to get up at 3:15 in the morning and drive to Newark. Alas, it was not to be. Mags lives literally on my way to the airport, so I offered to drive her, for which she gave me a mason jar full of homemade moonshine. We hit the expo pretty shortly after checking into the hotel, where I accidentally got interviewed by Channel 5 News because I was wearing a Boston Strong t-shirt. Fortunately my interview is only quoted in the write-up, and not on-camera. I do, however, make a cameo as That One Chick Who Indiscriminately Hugs Strangers Because They're from Brighton and Are Safe from Terrorists. After the interview, said Stranger from Brighton asked for a picture with me from her organization. Due to the unfortunate combination of biology and Adidas's graphic design department, it appears she is pointing enthusiastically at my enormous rack. She is, but not for the reasons people normally do.

My breasts are not from Boston. But they stand as one. Er, two.
Then there was all sorts of stupidity involving the hotel shuttle and a comped lunch because of the hotel shuttle, and then I fell sound the hell asleep for a few hours until everything started happening at once.

Thursday night ultimately found me with my beloved friends the Masons and their lovely neighbours Inspector Dave and Sunny, drinking moonshine from a mason jar around their living room coffee table and ultimately watching He-Man reruns because it got that late and we couldn't find the remote to change the channel. In truth, we could not turn away.

Friday, needless to say, was spent drinking a lot of water to undo that hilarity, lunch with Mags, a little bit of solo wandering downtown, at loose ends and at odds with myself, and then back to the Mason Jar. See what I did there? No? Ok. Anyway, Steve had left for a couple of house concerts in the upper midwest, so it was me and Jude and the kids, and we had a splendid time eating pizza that's better than any pizza so far from Brooklyn has a right to be, catching up, and watching Pitch Perfect which involved my staying up far later than I ought to have done.

And then it was race day and I was up far too early for the second morning that week. It started raining just as I got into Geoff the Jeep to drive to the start shuttle at LP Field. After that it was sort of all downhill. Except the parts that were uphill. I spent the better part of pre-race loitering in a McDonald's near my start corral with several hundred of my closest friends while the skies lightened...and opened. By the time I lined up for the start, it was full downpour and I was as cold as I've ever been in my life. Fuck this noise, let's run so I can at least feel my feet again. My feet, which are starting to ship water.

For by you, I can run in the night. You'd have loved this race.

At the expo, we had been given blue and yellow Boston commemorative bracelets with 4.15.13 on them. Just prior to the start, we were asked to hold those arms in the air, and give the peace sign during a minute of silence. It was the peace sign that undid me. I'm tearing up just writing about it. Then they went straight into the national anthem (which was aca-awesome). Fortunately it was raining because by the time they sent off the wheelchair start with Sweet Caroline there were thirty thousand people bawling their eyes out.

And then we were off. I was in a closer corral than I often am, but still pretty far back, so there was a lot of standing around shivering. While I was waiting, I bit thumb-holes in my throwaway jersey because it was clear I was going to need every layer of clothing I had on.

My back had been very tight in the area just north of my right hip for several days leading up to my flight down there, and with the wet streets I was really concerned about slipping at some points. Mostly I was just concerned about not drowning. I hadn't realised this was going to be a run/swim duathlon when I signed up for it.

It had been obvious for several weeks that I was going to run the half course instead of the full. Between the loop-de-loops in my life, the exams schedule, and the part where I broke toes walking into a piece of furniture in the middle of the night to avoid a cat, that message was loud and clear. Nevertheless, at one point during the first three or four miles I felt really good and thought briefly that maybe I'd attempt the full after all. Fortunately within moments I realised the folly of my ways.

By mile six things were utterly ridiculous. It was raining like a cow pissing on a flat rock. There was water coursing down the road on the hills. I was doing a lot of walking because of my back, and a lot of peeing because of the rain. Something about being waterlogged from the outside makes drinking water at rest stations fairly redundant. Seriously, I peed more during this half marathon than I did during any full, ever, or possibly even put together, and for that matter more than during El Scorcho. Which I would like to remind you was THIRTY-ONE MILES. In short, there was some serious peeing happening in Nashville last weekend.

Anyway, somewhere past Belmont in the middle of mile six or seven, a very lovely young woman offered me her red Solo cup full of mimosa. Whoever you are, I love you. Then, a half-mile later, another lovely woman, somewhat older and probably a mom, had dry towels stashed in the trunk of her minivan for runners to wipe their faces off so we could see for even a little bit. Whoever you are, I love you even more. Maybe.

And then I squished and slogged and sluiced along for another seven miles. I had a bad moment on Twelve South when I had to run past the Frothy Monkey, because they were open. And selling coffee. Hot, glorious, yummy, bone-tingling coffee. And then I was past them at the top of the hill. Sad Monkey.

Met another thyroid cancer survivor at mile ten, going on seven years strong. April 27th was my fifteenth cancer-versary, and it was because of this that I became a runner in the first place, so this was pretty sweet. We exchanged soggy hugs when we parted.

Right around mile 12.5, I met up with Susan, who had a cramp in her foot, and no wonder because it was cold, man. We were all little clenched shivers of wet humans trying to keep our shit together. It had long ago become obvious that I didn't give a shit about this as a race anymore, as long as there was a pot of hot tea waiting for me back at the Mason Jar (Jude's British; this is a completely reasonable expectation). I had long blown any PW out of the water, so to speak, mostly because of the standing in line to pee FOUR TIMES, but also because have I maybe mentioned that it was raining like pouring piss out of a boot this whole time?

This is not me. This is some other drowned rat of a runner.
So anyway, Susan and I sort of trundled our way back in to LP Field, which for the record is also "just around the corner and up the hill" from mile 13. (Long story, but that's how the finish line of my very first ever 5k was described by the cop directing traffic. Suffice it to say that "up" is not a word you want to use in front of first-time runners if you do not want dirty looks in response. Eight years later at my first Marine Corps Marathon, my dad stood at the bottom of the Very Enormous Hill up to the Iwo Jima Memorial that comprises the last 285 yards of the marathon and greeted me with, "Just around the corner and up the hill." If I could have lifted my arm at that point I would have gladly slugged him. Instead I just lobbed my water belt at my mom and kept limping along.)

I got my kick in and finished strong, then wrung out my shirt and skirt while in the finish chute, which cracked some people up. I'd taken off my throwaway simply so there'd be at least one picture of me on the course. Turns out I'm barely in the frame. Dorks. That's ok, I look like every other freezing, waterlogged, drowned rat of a runner looked that day. Susan and I did take a picture together at the end, which was really sweet. Then I set about finding Geoff the Jeep, because he had a dry zip-up for me, and more importantly HE HAD HEAT.

Due to the way the finish line was set up, I had to walk fully three quarters of the way around the stadium to get to where I'd parked. By this time, the rain had stopped. Of course. I wrung out everything I could, including my hair and my hat, and hopped in for the ride home. Under normal circumstances it would have taken two minutes, but I couldn't get onto the damn road in the right direction and had to get on the freeway to get off at the next exit. This gave me enough time to text Jude and let her know that maybe she needed to meet me at the kitchen door with a couple of towels.

God love her, not only were there towels, there were cheering teenagers at the front door, a hot fig and honey bubble bath with a scented candle on the toilet seat, the pot of tea, and leftover pizza. Eventually I thawed out and took E2 with me to Kroger (so I could find it) to get the crucial ingredients for Thai green curry supper. If you're wondering why I went, it's because I offered, so that Jude could get Bean down for a nap and the big kids could maybe not kill each other. Also, E2 and I sort of bonded big time last weekend. Love. Her. While at Kroger, I made the beautiful discovery that you can buy beer in the grocery store in Tennessee. So I did, which made both Jude and me very happy later that evening.

Slept hard Saturday night and barely made it out of my pajamas in time for Steve's return, and thank god because wouldn't that have been awkward. I mean, this is a man I've known for close to twenty years and I'm pretty sure he's seen me throw up at least once (yay cancer) but he does not need to see me first thing in the morning, ever. For the sake of our friendship, I found some clothes I could put on without too much effort, since going up the steep stairs to E2's bedroom to get them was about enough activity for me, thanks.

Sunday was lovely. There was a walk round the neighbourhood in the sun, lunch at Calypso (omg fruit tea addiction), spontaneous friend visits, French cricket in the backyard (where I fell over, because of course), more spontaneous friend visits, and enormous pork loin barbecue. So. Good. Oh, and haircuts for the guys, because Steve is in barber school. With a mustache like his, it's the perfect place for him. Here, Steve nails Cal pretty good.

After altogether too much food and good company and helping Steve with the washing up (what, darlin, I'm Irish. We can't help ourselves. We wash up. It's how we do.) it was time to head back to my hotel room and give them some family time alone, which they don't get nearly enough of between Steve's tour schedule and the E-Team being with their mom during the week. I dearly wish I could have caught up with Steve more, but we managed to get some good talking done in the little bits between other stuff happening.

Monday I slept until almost noon and spent the rest of the day reading in the sun by the pool and trying not to nap. Which was closed, but that was fine. I didn't want any more water. Possibly ever.

And then it was all over until next time. There's a lot I'm leaving out, but some of it is utterly inexpressible. Only know this: once a door has been shown to you, there is only one way and that is through.

Flying Inland.

12 April 2013

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Interior Monologue

Someone just asked me what I think about while I'm running.

Oh god this sucks. Why do I run? I have so much shit I have to read it's not even funny. My ass hurts. I miss Matt. Fuck. This is stupid. I hate running. Hey, this doesn't feel too bad. Wait, yes it does. My nose is running. Oh hey look, a bird. Bye, bird. My knee feels weird. I wonder if I could make the argument that Thoreau...nah....Ed won't buy that. Wait, what time is it? I gotta pee. God this feels good. Shit. This sucks. How far is it? I hate running. I love running.If I keep this pace up, my marathon time will be....carry the four.....DAMN YOU BART YASSO! God, fatass cyclists who never yield. Make a hole, dammit! Fine. I'll just run into you. Asshole. I hate running. I gotta pee. Is it over yet? I miss Ruby. Fucking brain tumours. God I'm so angry. Ew. I think I ate a bug. My ass hurts. Relax. No, seriously. Relax. Am I there yet? I love running. I wonder how far it's been. I gotta blow my nose. I'm hungry. I gotta pee. Where's Len? I hate running. I love running. I want a cheeseburger.

This is pretty much an exact replica of every internal monologue of every run ever. If it sounds boring to read it, imagine being trapped inside your own head with it for six hours.

30 March 2013

Go Home, Colorado, You Are Drunk

So remember that time I went to Denver to support the band, and it got snowed out?


I wish with all my heart I was making this up. This time they called me from BNA, with all their gear loaded onto the plane. Which was now offloading. The pisser of it is, if their original flight hadn't been delayed, they would have already been in the air when the promoter cancelled, and I at least would have had the chance to see them. But no. No, instead I got to swear with them over the phone. I also got a new nickname from Steve, which is sort of fun. And now even the audio engineer from their latest album calls me Snowmeister. (Love you, too, Beau. That was the only time I outright laughed that day.)

On the plus side, this happened

A Mer, in her natural habitat.
on the way back from breakfast Monday. No, seriously. It's on the way home from her house from the place we ate breakfast. I almost whipped out my phone right there not just for the picture but to call the boyfriend and ask him how he felt about moving to Colorado Springs. This weekend.

Oh yeah. That's another thing. I won't get into it in public, because he's very very private (despite being somewhat of a public figure, or maybe because he's somewhat of a public figure) but....yeah. Apparently that happened this winter, too. About damn time.


And then yesterday I found out that apparently I've had an office mate this entire semester. And no one bothered to tell me. Including said office mate. Someone I took an advanced-level mixed grad/undergrad class with last spring stuck her head in my office yesterday afternoon. I was surprised to see her, but really happy. Wondered why she would have tracked me down in my office on a Friday afternoon before a holiday to visit, since we weren't really close. Turns out she was looking for Kristin, who told her that her office was in 303.

Um, no. 303 is my office. Has been for two years. I've had two different office mates, neither of whom are named Kristin. Last semester I was sharing with an adjunct who wasn't teaching this spring, so I've been sort of spreading out slowly onto the surface of the other desk when I need to stack books up (which is about once a week) to sort them. Apparently this has caused Kristin to wonder who's using her desk.

And here's the thing. I am in my office, on average, four to five days a week. And I'm usually there for hours at a time. Hours. As in, I get there between 10:00 and 10:30, I go downstairs at 11:00 to teach for an hour, and then I come back upstairs and read. And read. And read. And usually I go home when it gets dark, or Sarita drags me out to the gym, which is about the same time. Anywhere from five to seven at night.

And I have never seen Kristin.  Never. Not once.

The otherwise fabulous office staff (seriously, these women are amazing. Not only are they excellent at their jobs, they keep my shit together on a fairly regular basis. I love them for their snark, their humour, their adorable Woolrich sheep sweaters, and their unerring ability to pull a date, a room number, or a form out of their head or their filing cabinet without breaking their typing rhythm) didn't tell me Kristin existed. They didn't change the names on the door. So I was genuinely shocked when two minutes after this undergrad senior stuck her head in my office thinking I should be Kristin, some chick comes walking in like she owns the place and says, "Oh hi! I'm Kristin. This is my office."

Um, no. This is not your office. This is (apparently) OUR office. And who (the fuck) are you, exactly, anyway? And where have you been all semester? And why am I just finding out about you with four and a half weeks left in the semester?

Apparently she usually uses another office for conferences and office hours, but that one's currently occupied by someone doing something.

Yeah. Imagine that. So's this one. Fortunately, all I was doing was re-reading Last of the Mohicans and listening to Anderson East, so since this apparently her actual office, I could clear out of there and go home and do that on better speakers and a more comfortable chair. After I got done being all territorial and shit, I was actually really greatly amused by this whole incident.

But seriously. None of this was on my calendar for this week. Not one damn bit of it.

The universe needs to lay off the hallucinogens it's apparently been putting in my coffee. For reals.

01 March 2013

So Young

This is how I will remember you. This is how your spirit shone through in everything you did.

courtesy of WJ Gage

Even when your body was horribly bloated from the steroids, when the tumour took your vision and your words and your understanding and eventually your life, it never once stole your dignity or your spirit.

Len, me, Ruby (January 2013)

You were truly a "beautiful, precious gem," not just to James and the girls but to all of us. My faith is so little, so easily shaken, it's hard for me to understand that at the end, you were excited to die. You couldn't wait to meet your God, to get that perfect sight and that restored body. It's hard for me to understand that you asked us to be happy for you. It's hard for me to understand a universe without you in it, without your crazy energy and your goofy jokes and your emails of encouragement.

I'm trying to be joyous. Right now all I can be is angry, because I want to understand the reason for this loss, in the season of so much loss everywhere around the people I love most.

I almost never called you So Young, first because I knew you by your American name, then later because I was afraid if I said it too loudly God would hear. And I didn't want him to take you so young.

27 February 2013

Ground to a Halt

Catastrophic weekend failure.

I had really hoped my three hundredth post would be more chipper, but there you have it. Things started going downhill shortly after I woke up Saturday morning on my cousin's couch. What woke me was a text that my friend's death is imminent. Weighed down with that news, I nevertheless started firming up plans for Sunday, rumoured to include all manner of fantastic supper and shenanigans post-gig. I was excited.

Until it started snowing.

Point made, universe. You are drunk, you are mean, and you are not giving up the keys.

Short version: flights cancelled, band stranded in California, promoter cancelled, three-quarters of the band engaged in a round-robin of incoming messages that were alternately supportive, laden with rude but amusing sound effects, and delirious from having to drive 200 miles to Oakland for a 5 am flight back to Nashville. Without me. Though we did manage to tweet the Oscars at each other, which was a wee bit of consolation (though not much).

I am now home, having barely averted a full-blown stress meltdown Sunday afternoon at Gate C29 (which would have been mortifying) when my flight was delayed three times resulting in almost not being able to find someone to fetch me from the airport. And no, the bus does not run to Doodlehem after midnight.

I expect that any moment my phone will ring telling me Ruby's gone. It won't be long. She is receiving no nourishment, just morphine and oxygen and a sedative for anxiety. Her husband manages to persevere with so much grace I am ashamed to breathe the same air, to be called the same species.

I manage to be astonishingly grateful, however, at the bright spots--and there are many. My cousin and I made endless pots of Earl Grey tea and drank them out of our grandmother's Wedgwood that she inherited while reminiscing about being Henry women. Her children, though exceedingly high energy and often bewildering as they express their teenage frustration, are bright and thoughtful when you least expect it, and often screamingly funny. I managed to meet Mer for cafe au lait and beignets Monday brunch before she drove me to the airport, am utterly smitten with her, and remembered how much I adored living in the western half of the country, in the mountains. I still seem to have one of the best friends a girl could have, even though I'm a manipulative asshole when I'm grieving and I still miss him more than I can express. Lastly, I'm in student conferences all this week, so it will go relatively unnoticed that my cheese has temporarily slid off my cracker and wandered several hundred miles south of here.

21 February 2013

Utility Infielder and Merch Juggler

I'd been waiting for Part Three, and it just came via text message. I am now working in Denver this weekend. Because I am apparently incapable of not getting drafted by these guys when I'm within a three thousand mile radius. Which is how Steve ended up calling me the Utility Infielder and his wife ended up calling me to ask if I could possibly pretty please work the gig this Sunday.

19 February 2013

On Second Thought

I've decided, after waking up to snow when it was meant to be fifty degrees out and a second conversation that involved someone crucial to my life going off the radar for an undisclosed period of time, that perhaps my Personal Prayer Wheel?

Is a unicycle.

Cue the dancing bears, please.

18 February 2013

Ticket for a Prayer Wheel (Part Two)

Oh dear. It seems the universe I inhabit is not particularly a tidy one. But at least it's entertaining.

I mention this because prayer wheels are supposed to to be soothing. Prayer wheels are those Tibetan things with a brass compartment and a wooden handle, often with a scroll containing a mantra inside the compartment. The idea, pretty basically, is you spin the prayer wheel round, and the motion itself, the revolution, is a prayer.

Apparently my personal prayer wheel? Is a merry-go-round. Or a ferris wheel. Something big, goofy, and garish, with lots of tacky flashing lights that is equal parts nauseating and exhilarating.

Which explains why I am suddenly, within the past 72 hours, in possession of an airline ticket to Denver for this weekend, to see these guys.

Disclaimer: I rarely actually see them from this angle. Usually I'm somewhere offstage, backstage, on a spot tower, or running around like a crazy person looking for an extra iPhone charger and more towels/water bottles/picks/gaff tape, which is what happens when you used to be a stagehand for a living. So I'll be impressed if I actually see their faces during the gig.

They probably won't be dressed like this, though....

Photo courtesy of Charlie Lowell.
....or this. But you never know, especially when Steve's around. 

Photo courtesy of Charlie Lowell.
Ok, I'm serious. And I am well aware that it is, to say the least, rather unorthodox to fly to Denver to visit friends who live in Nashville. Because, I mean, have you looked at a map, like, ever? Pennsylvania's not close to either of those things, but Nashville's a fair sight closer. Except when it's not. Which would be next weekend. Because last week, my actual flight to Nashville, which is for my spring marathon in April, got completely borked up. That's not to say I'm not flying to Nashville this April. It just explains what I was doing near Southwest Airlines when this ticket to Denver fell out of the sky and hit me over the head. For darn close to zero dollars and only a minimum of trying to convince Southwest Airlines that my name is actually Steve.

See what I mean? Ferris wheel. My version of spiritual growth is a fucking carnival ride.

The reason for this particular circumference of ridiculosity at this particular moment in time is that these guys have been the glue that has kept me together on more than one occasion in the past seventeen or eighteen years. I know I'm not alone in that, in a spiritual sense, but in my case it was also occasionally the literal sense. Not through their music, or their leadership, necessarily, but through their very personal compassion, their senses of humour (not to mention timing), and above all their cherished friendship. Individually and collectively, these men have opened their homes and hearts; shared their stories, their families, their coffee, and the contents of their bookshelves (this last of which I confess that I am sometimes bad about returning); gotten lost in King of Prussia Mall with me; nearly run me down with their Hammond B3; nearly left their accordions and laptops in my yard; been the recipient of knit gifts, Oktoberfest beer, pinot noir, and the occasional guitar-case emergency roadside repair (man, you can do anything with aircraft cable and a set of needle-nose pliers--just wait until you see what I bring you this weekend!); compared facial hair with me during Movember (fortunately he won); had marathon text message conversations with me while I'm trapped on the ninth floor of a hotel post-literal-marathon during a hurricane and going stir-crazy; prayed with me, for me, and over me; cried with me and for me when I'm grieving; had intense conversations about Thomas Tallis and Downton Abbey that last until four in the morning; pondered and poked holes in my dissertation topic; lovingly called me out when I'm being a right arsehole; and conspiracy-theorized about the possibility of a multi-state, multi-jurisdictional serial roadside toy bear mutilator or whether it was just a copycat....er, copybear....um, yeah, I can't really explain that last one either, but I swear it totally made sense two weeks ago when it happened.

So come Sunday morning before soundcheck there will undoubtedly be a good deal of this....

Photo courtesy of Stephen Mason.
Frankly, I have no idea who took this one, but it was
almost certainly not me. I don't even think I was there.

....and hopefully no additional arse-kicking for being a jerk. Because I've really sort of been a jerk lately. I guess you could say the Prayer Ferris Wheel is making me slightly motion sick, which is causing me to have to send rather more apologetic texts the next day/hour/whatever for Getting The Stupid On You Again than would be ideal in any given friendship. So I'm going two-thirds of the way across the country to say both thank you and I'm sorry.

Thank you for being my shelter, thank you for being rain in my desert. Thank you for teaching me how to forgive myself and love other people again. Thank you for being you. Thank you for growing that ridiculous moustache. Thank you for E-Team hugs and Earl Grey and sneaking me into sold out shows when you forgot to comp me and I forgot to ask. Thank you for not thinking I'm ridiculous when I come charging across the dew-wet cow pasture during the middle of your eight AM festival soundcheck, vault onto the stage, and squeeze the stuffing out of you. Thank you for tromping down the South Side Greenway with me in the middle of the night before bus call and loaning me your favourite new coat so I didn't freeze to death. 

I'm sorry I'm so weak. I'm sorry I'm so scared of being broken. I'm sorry for being frail. I'm sorry for so often trusting my fear more than I trust your kindness. I'm sorry for being a raging passive-aggressive wanker for most of last week (or, okay, most of last month) all over most of the forms of communication we have. I'm sorry I got so upset that one time that I almost threw up my cupcake and caused you to hate yourself for it. I'm sorry I lost touch with you for almost four years when it turns out two of us were going through awful divorces and we needed each other's shoulders the most and didn't know it. I'm glad we have them back. I'm sorry I'm being the hard part of your lesson right now, and more than anything I'm sorry I still don't fully trust that I haven't lost one of the most precious friendships I've ever had and that I have to get on an airplane and fly to fucking Denver to ask your forgiveness face to face because I don't yet believe that I'll actually have it. Because I should. I should know that. I should know it like the air I breathe and the ground under my feet. And I don't, and I'm sorry.

Because sometime on Sunday night or Monday morning, when all of the feast day celebrating is done, after the show is over and the fans have gone home, and after this happens....

Photo courtesy of Stephen Mason.
....one of us is going to get on a different flight home to a different state in a different time zone and go home to her books and her students and her little family of one, and it is either going to feel very much like it did driving through Western Kentucky last month, with my heart cracking open with possibilities like the stars over Elizabethtown, like a carnival ride in August when everything is weightless and free and lovely and real, or else it is just flat-out going to feel like this:

Photo courtesy of Jude Mason.

And I don't know that I could bear that.

16 February 2013

Illumination (Part One)

So, my life got turned on its ear the first ten days of the new year. Because, you know, of course. Actually, I knew it was coming. I just didn't know what it would look like, how I would react to it, or what I was supposed to do with it.

I'm not talking about turning forty, though I did that earlier this winter too. I'm talking about whatever it is that's been rumbling about in the subtext of my life for about the past six months. Since maybe the beginning of October. I knew whatever it was, it was going to be big. And ultimately it will be for the good. It's just that--well, remember that part in CS Lewis's The Voyage of the Dawn Treader where Eustace tells Aslan he wants to be a little boy again, instead of the dragon he's turned into because he's been behaving like such a horrible excuse for a human being?

And remember how Aslan responds? Essentially, he says, "Okay, but first I'm going to have to take your skin off."

Yeah. It's been a bit like that.

So I started off the New Year with a much-anticipated trip to see some darling friends in Virginia, Nashville, Ohio, and various parts of PA (with a quick stop in West Virginia to change my tire in the middle of the night.....twice....) which was a mixed blessing. The bitter, with the sweet. One of those darling friends is fighting a losing battle with a brain tumour, and my trip to see her was to say goodbye. This post isn't about that. It's not my story to tell, and her husband will tell it in his own way as he is able. Nor is it about the way my heart fell out of my coffee cup in Green Hills Friday morning and into a glass of pinot noir later that evening, came to rest in the shelter of a Saturday afternoon kitchen in East Nasty and then poured out open across the Kentucky hills as I drove through the darkness outside Elizabethtown (yes, that one).

Nope, this is a post about a poem that happened when I got home, had to take down the Christmas tree, and realised I was wearing a dragon skin. And that I wasn't in charge of when it was coming off. Like Eustace, I could kick and scream, or I could lie down and take it.

Being me, there's been a lot of kicking and screaming. It's been grand, let me tell you. But anyway, with apparently way too much ado, here's the first of a series of poems that came out of that journey and its aftermath. There's not quite so much kicking and screaming in this one.

After the Epiphany

When we take the lights down, tangling our hope
for another winter, we are supposed to hold on to clarity,
onto the visions of yesterday. Instead there is the bleak

January sun, and the promise of hard freeze yet to come.
The trees we bustled indoors so recently—
their needles, still green, have fallen into drifts.

Some of us will not live out the season; others
cannot imagine the soft light of spring
ever coming. This year is perpetual winter for certain.

Sometimes the light breaks in all at once,
dazzling us into temporary blindness, and we
cannot see the ground for the stars in our eyes.

01 January 2013

File Under Bizarre Holiday Traditions

So, once again I found out about the town's annual Christmas Tree Toss the weekend after it happened. I've never seen it, but apparently it involves the City police chief and the Township police chief engaged in exactly what it sounds like, a procession in on a pony, the City police chief wearing his excellent and sexy kilt (seriously, if I ever wanted to marry a cop, I'd off this guy's wife and marry him), and an inexplicable ceremonial goat.

Yeah, I don't understand the bit about the goat either.

I bring this up tonight mostly because the holidays seem to bring out a lot of unique traditions here, and New Year's Eve is no exception. Have I mentioned yet that we drop an enormous Peep?

This town is very, very strange.