29 July 2005

Happy Birthday, Megan!

Currently home in Madison (well, Fitchburg), enjoying the recently cool temperatures and loverly humidity. Tonight I was driving along one of the many winding country roads between Oregon and Fitchburg, trying to taste my place here as you'd taste a sore spot on your own tongue. Here? Here? Is this where I belong? Is this who I am? I drive along, windows wide open, my head hanging out in the rushing wet air, as if I could sniff the answers in the wind. (The midwest SMELLS so delicious!) The richness of sensory details overwhelms me: the lush greenness, the warm, wet earth, the smells of all things growing in the air, the sound of breezes playing with bristling grasses in fields... at the corner of Fish Hatch and CC, an entire field of wildflowers! What simple beauty. What luxuries we have taken for granted all these years.

And fountains! Water! Lake Michigan, sparkling warm topaz on a cool, sunny day in Milwaukee. Two rivers and a lake? Is it possible to have so much water in one city? Look at all these bridges, bridges and boats everywhere. We even had to wait in the car while a bridge lifted and sank to let a boat full of people pass underneath, bells dinging merrily all the while.

My sister, becoming something of an adult...

I spent about 26 hours with her in Milwaukee, going out for dinner, playing with the dog, driving through the twisted city streets, idly shopping and making fun of ugly shoes. Playing at the big, pretty ship of a museum, perched above the water like a ship skimming the waves. She made me breakfast and I searched through her apartment, marveling at all the evidence of a life lived in my absence: she has dishes, and shirts I've never seen, movies and books, plants that she waters, thoughts that she thinks when she's alone. A whole life, of her own.

And tonight, dinner at Red Robin with Cindy and Memo, who laughed when I stepped into the car wearing a clown nose, and obligingly let me take a picture of him wearing it a minute later. He's six.

Everyone here seems to wait patiently for me to come home, holding some breath until I say I think I'll stay in New Mexico another year or two, at least, and then with a quick, disappointed sigh they say, "I wish you weren't so far away," like I'm breaking their hearts every time.

It's hard.

But this trips says I'm as much of New Mexico as I am of Wisconsin, at least right now, at least right here. Though I miss the bobbing fireflies at dusk in the misty roadside weeds along the fields that I love. The lightning flashing through the saturated sky. The sweet, hazy smell of summer here, here in the green.

23 July 2005

On Monday, I'm flying from Albuquerque to Chicago, where my mother will pick me up and drive me home to Madison. I'll be in Madison for a week, drive down to Chicago for a day to see some college friends, celebrate my sister's 23rd birthday with her, and fly back to Albuquerque on the following Tuesday.

I won't see George, Dan, Ali, Nadia, Mary, or Cam, but I'll see a bunch of other people, many of whom I haven't seen since I graduated from Grinnell more than three years ago. I'm looking forward to it, absolutely. And I'm hoping to see some of my dear Oregon friends as well, including Ila, Heather James, Cindy and Memo, and perhaps some of my dear teacher friends. I'll see my family, some of whom I saw at Val's wedding in May, some of whom I haven't seen since Christmas. And I'll see the land, the green hills and cornfields, the sparkling lakes, the tall, leafy trees of Southern Wisconsin which are my family just as much as my people are. I'll sit on the end of the pier at the Memorial Union, splashing my feet in the lake if it's not too gross with algae. I'll walk the roads at night, following the railroad tracks under the dusty brilliance of the milky way. I'll drive old paths, so familiar it will seem I've been gone mere days instead of months.

I'll probably cry when I leave. I usually do. And as always, I'll re-examine my committment to New Mexico, wondering as always if the velvety peaks of the Sandias at sunset carry enough weight in my heart to balance the winding roads and sturdy red barns of the midwest.

21 July 2005

The great thing about summer is I have lots of free time to think about stuff.

The bad thing about summer is I have lots of free time to think about stuff.

Ultimately, I believe it's a noble pursuit, but along the way my thinkyness tends to lead to days (sometimes weeks) of self-questioning, doubt, internal debate and drama, and of course, angst. (The internal drama's the best: "The real problem is that I can NEVER ESCAPE MY OWN HEAD! Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!") Tiresome, painful, and even frightning, these phases of thinkyness often help me to clarify, to shift, to let go. To grow.

Recently, I've been submerged in the re-evaluation of a particular friendship, and in the process have spent a great deal of time thinking about friendship in general, what it means, what it costs, and what it's worth. And more specifically, of course, I've been thinking about my friendships, what they cost and why. Too, I've thought about myself as a friend, at what cost my friendship comes, and at what worth.

I'm difficult, I think. I'm intense. I can be demanding and self-centered and controlling. I struggle with change and I suck at saying goodbye. I can be jealous, and I can be such a bitch.

(I see you laughing. "Tell us something we don't know!")

(Or my friend Doug last night: "You are a pain in the ass, but you're sweet, so it's okay.")

On the other hand, I'm loyal. I'm forgiving. I'm devoted and supportive and helpful. I'm honest, and I'm generous. I love my friends fiercely.

Ironically, I believe that my closest friends are those for whom my friendship is the most difficult. Certainly I have the highest expectations of my closest friends, and there's almost always trouble when I can't shift my expectations quickly enough to match the changing lives of my friends.

Maybe it's those confounded journals, or my long memory, but I seem to have an excess of nostalgia in my brain center. I'm forever saying Remember when....?

Remember last summer? Remember when you used to take the time to make me laugh? Remember how funny we used to be together? Remember when you were kinder, warmer, different?

Believe me, my friends, the nostalgia thing is far more obnoxious for me than for you, because you can walk away, close the email, hang up the phone.

But the good thing about my long memory is that I never forget a kindness, and I never stop giving credit for it. Do just one really nice thing for me, and I will love you for it forever, even if you then go on to join the army or become the asshole in the attic. I'll always be there to defend you: "I know he's difficult, but listen, this one time...."

As we more fully immerse ourselves in adulthood, many of my friends are turning to their jobs for self-identity, working impossible weeks, living at the office, relishing the clarity of self provided by work. "I don't have time for friends right now," they say. "You have it easy," they tell me. "School ends at 3:00 and you're finished, but me? Sometimes I'm here until midnight. I'm working 80 hour weeks!"

The thing is, I could be working 80 hour weeks; every teacher knows it. But I *choose* not to. The last two years for me have been an ongoing quest for greater balance, greater harmony in my life. Of course my job and my work are important to me, but they're not the sum total of the person that I am. I also have my writing, improv, meditation and pilates and walking, the mountains, the dog, reading, my family, and yes -- my friends -- to define and sustain me.

In the last few weeks, some friends and I have kept up an ongoing discussion about Harry Potter, first speculations for the sixth book and then predictions for the seventh. My friend Paul and I, in particular, have been arguing about which of the six is the best, and tonight I realized why I argue so passionately for Goblet of Fire -- its climax mirrors the way I see the world. Harry has to do battle with Voldemort, but he's not alone: the ghosts of Voldemort's most recent victims emerge to offer Harry strength and support, encouraging him to keep going, to stay strong, to believe in himself, and ultimately they help him to escape and survive.

And this is how I've always seen myself. I imagine my friends in circles around me, encouraging, supporting, cheering. Believing in me. Even in my darkest times, I trust that they are there. Distant, perhaps, but there.

This quotation, originally in an email from Gail Gregory, has sustained me for seven years: "Keep your balance, know that you are greatly loved no matter what, and that whether or not you see the light, it’s there."

I'm difficult. I'm demanding. I'm intense. But oh my heart, oh my friends, I do love you fiercely.

19 July 2005

This morning I went to my friend Dawn's coffee shop and actually worked on the YA novel I started in May, finished chapter six and am feeling good. Then Lisa called and wanted to gossip about Harry Potter, so we got bagels at Einstein's and brought them back to my house, which she hadn't seen since she brought me saltines and gatorade when I was dying with the flu a month or so ago. She was very impressed with the cuteness of my place now (compared to a month ago, when it was nothing but boxes and STUFF everywhere), though she's concerned about an "entity" that is apparently trapped in the corner under the stairs. Ghosts make Lisa cough.

New Mexicans make me giggle, sometimes.

14 July 2005

Today I have learned an important lesson: I have the power to end droughts! Or at least to make it get really windy and spooky and WINDY oh my god. It's like a desert hurricane.

... just had to run through the house and close all the windows....

So how, you ask, do I know that I have the unique power of summoning the rain? Well. Today I bought two wicker bookcases at the thrift store. They're just about perfect for the space I have, and I was *JUST* thinking this morning that if I didn't get another bookshelf soon I was going to go crazy from too many piles. One day, I will have a house with a whole room of just BOOKSHELVES, and then I will be the happiest girl ever. But for now, I make due with the... well, my recent acquisitions brings me up to a total of seven. SEVEN. Most of them are small, though, and/or formerly gunracks. So.

My new bookcases are kind of a half-hearted white color, like they were spray-painted white several years ago and then never cleaned and then enhanced with kool-aid stains. Immediately after loading them in the truck, I drove up the street to the hardware store for paint. (I love small-town hardware stores! I don't know why, but I always have. I loved the one in Grinnell, and the one in Oregon... and the one in Cedar Crest has its very own store-dog, a big foofy muppet dog.)

I came home and started painting immediately, with several problems. One, my back patio is a major ANT SUPERHIGHWAY and I soon had ants in my pants, quite literally. Two, the paint I bought is a latex blend (because I'm thinking of putting one of the shelves in the bathroom for towels and such) which makes it very very sticky. Sticky isn't too much of a problem until the DESERT HURRICANE starts and every miniscule speck of dust blowing through the backyard instantly adheres itself to my new shelves. Sigh. Also, I had to scrub my hands like crazy to get enough paint off to eat. That is, to eat without getting paint all over my food... not to eat paint.

I got all five shelves of one bookcase washed, stripped, and painted (tops only -- tomorrow will do bottoms and then a second coat on tops). Yay me. Until the wind started blowing, leaving my poor defenseless shelves at the mercy of the elements -- because they're too sticky to come into my pretty house with its newly refinished blond wood floors. The unpainted cases got to come inside, but there are still five shelves in the middle of the Ant Autobahn, collecting dust and bugs and leaves as I speak. Le sigh.

What does all this have to do with my power to summon the rain, you ask?

Well. Four years ago, when Ali and I lived in the house on High Street with Jamie and Nancy, I felt the need to paint a bookshelf I'd inherited from Quance, which was painted the most unfortunate combination of McDonald's Red and Yellow. Ali and I spent an afternoon out on our porch, using several coats of white paint before we could completely cover the red and yellow. On the back of the shelf, we painted "Molly & Ali, June 2001," which made me laugh a year later when we moved it out of White House and up to the Brand, where it lived with Ali.

We left the bookshelf out on the porch to dry in the Iowa summer sun, along with the paint tray and paint. That night, it rained (of course!) and the not-quite dry paint in the tray turned into white-paint-water.

Then the raccoons came. For weeks, I'd been telling my housemates that a family of raccoons came to our house and tapdanced on our porch all night. I should know, I said, my room's adjacent to their dancefloor. My roommates were skeptical. The night of the rainstorm, though, the raccoon family came to dance and dipped their little feets in the paint-water before dancing a pattern of little rodent feets across our porch like an old-fashioned dance instruction sheet.

And that's how I know that I have the power to end droughts: let me come and paint bookshelves under your hot summer sun, alongside your wilting crops. The rain will come, to ruin my bookshelves and reveal the nocturnal secrets of tapdancing raccoons.