Return to Fallingwater

FWFallsI went back to Fallingwater, as I had promised myself, but this time I took my sweetie. I had the same reaction as the first time, I was moved by all of its beauty–a feeling of profound wellbeing settled in. Fallingwater feels like home. Home. Looking through Merriam Webster’s definitions, the snippets that resonate with me are about being “at home”: “relaxed and comfortable: at ease,” “in harmony with the surroundings,” and “on familiar ground.” This is actually a big deal for me–over the course of my family’s migrations through space and time, all my childhood places, all the spaces where I felt “at home,” have been shed. I cannot go back. I cannot go home. Imagine my surprise, delight and relief, stumbling into Fallingwater and feeling like I have found my place in the world, one more time. Could Frank Lloyd Wright hear my future yearning across the decades? (Yes, this notion is a touch pompous, but emotionally very real.)

FWLivingOr perhaps my yearning is a common one. A yearning for a well-organized, well thought-out space–a space in communion with nature, a space that lets you live among the trees and streams, with seamless movement between the inside and the outside of the home. In some sense, Fallingwater reminds me of my french grandmother Nicole who recently passed. Fallingwater was designed with an appreciation for its setting, with a love of the woods. Fallingwater creates a state of rest. It’s majestic, but it invites relaxation. It would be a great space for a nap. There is both a great amount of light and real privacy. I love the colors, the materials, the shape, the spaces at Fallingwater.

FWHearthI think what continues to surprise me about this house is that it is so special and beautiful both as viewed from the outside, and as viewed from the inside. I knew I loved the exterior long before my first visit, but I did not expect to be so enchanted with its interior. For that, I owe a great debt to the Kauffman family, for having the foresight to gift the home intact to the Conservancy–as a visitor, I can experience the house as a home–with all its art, furnishings and fabrics. All the period books. I can easily imagine spending a whole day in the house. And my honey was there too. What more could I ask for?

FWSweeties

How to Balance

Over our decades, my body and I have had many long conversations about our perceived shortcomings, and in particular about my resentment around my inability to balance on one foot. I’m the yoga practitioner who goes over to the wall and still manages to tip over whenever we try to hold a one-legged pose for a few seconds. Since this has been going on for four decades, I’m pretty convinced that I have no balance.

Here’s what happened at the gym last month. My trainer looked at me and said, “You always fall the same way.” I agreed. I already knew that my feet supinate–they roll outward at the edges–the insides of my soles don’t touch the earth much. He then said, “Why don’t you overcompensate by putting more weight on the inside of your foot?” I did. Voila! Balance. I can balance.

The Culprits

The Culprits

Four decades on these feet. For at least thirty years I knew that my feet leaned out. For thirty years I tipped outward and fell over exactly the same way, over and over again. One thirty-second conversation later and I could solve my own problem. It seems so obvious now, it’s totally infuriating.

It turns out, even when you are conscious of the solution, miracles are exceedingly demanding. If I want to stay balanced on one leg and do my warmup exercises, I systematically do the following every single step of the way:

1. Concentrate, but just enough. Too much concentration will doom me to failure.
2. Keep abs tight.
2. Bend knee slightly.
3. Think about my stance: Try to keep weight evenly distributed between inside and outside of my foot.
4. Have my planted leg more or less in the middle below me.
5. If balance is compromised, over-adjust toward the inner edge of foot, but not too much (because now I’m having the entirely novel experience of tipping the other way and falling inward).
6. Repeat.

Addendum: Keep trying despite typical start-of-exercise hopeless flailing. Get to the middle point of reps–from 1/8 done to 6/8 done and maintain good form. For 7/8 and 8/8 done, manage exhaustion and track form.

There are lithe and balanced gym ladies and men running around doing amazing tricks while jumping and twisting on one leg. I’m just beginning to understand the standing one leg part. I’m so proud (and so very tired of concentrating).

Art & Nourishment: Frank Lloyd Wright

It’s been an exquisite banquet of stress in graduate student land of late, as I wrap up the eighth and final consecutive semester of my part-time MSW program. (Starting in September 2011, I’ve had classes in Fall, Spring, Summer, Fall, Spring, Summer, Fall and now Spring. The experience, drawn out, exhausting, was chosen by me, and I am glad to reach the terminus of this particular leg and start off on new pursuits in new directions.) Enough with the whining.

And now, a refreshing serving of good news. I had a rather vivifying, soul-searing encounter with the work of Mr. Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) two weekends ago.

FallingwaterVisiting FallingWater in Mill Run, PA, did great soothing and inspiring things for my soul, my mind and my heart. When those aspects of me are basking in the comforting presence of beauty and vision, my body tends to do rather well also.

Art! Great art. It’s practical magic (for me).

The snippets of stories about FLW reveal a complicated egomaniac with impeccable taste and a pretty amazing imagination and understanding of light, space, materials, human function, the need for beauty, functional design, community, and communion with nature. Neat.

I also visited Kentuck Knob, so I had two homes, designed two decades apart by my new friend FLW, to give me a sense of his trajectory as an architect and designer. There are bones to pick with some of his choices. He was a man’s man in a man’s world. His family rooms and incorporation of outdoor spaces are awesome, but he (seriously) neglected bedrooms as spaces (his are quite small), but more gravely, his bathrooms and kitchens are really tiny–my interpretation is that he did not take that aspect of the human experience into much consideration. In FallingWater, the whole house is oriented to the outdoors, and this is clear in his design, every room has a large terrace–you are constantly being ushered out and closer to the stream and cliffs.

I had wanted for years to see FallingWater. When I first learned of its existence, it sounded like an improbable miracle. How could a building be ushered into being out of my dream? Maybe wanting to live directly over a stream in the woods is a secret ancestral dream, a common hidden human notion? In any case, the concept resonated and I was terribly excited to go there in person and measure my immense hope to the physical space.

I knew I would respond to the experience, but I did not expect to be so moved. His intent is everywhere. His taste is pretty much flawless. I love his fabrics, his furniture. The whole world should live like this.

FallingWater is right out of the future and it was designed in the 1930s.

And then there’s the very homey Kentuck Knob, which had an interesting coziness and warm darkness to it. It has an understated front and a proud prow of a living room, jutting out into the hill below.

kentuckKnobThat was two weeks ago, a bit before Spring sprang into its fullness, and now, before the tender baby green leaves peek out, we are showered in an outrageous fullness of flowers. I thank thee Cherry Blossoms–cheerful hopefulness embodied.

SpringFlowers

Food Is So Freaking Good

I made some ratatouille last night. My secret ingredient was the expired wine in the back of the fridge. I have a purple veggie stew and it tastes absolutely delicious. I thought it was just my biased opinion, but a friend came over and confirmed my suspicions. When I get the time and gumption to cook, the end result is usually pretty tasty. This is my downfall. I love what I make. Last night I had two heaping servings of these veggies. My tummy was all stretched out, ratatouille-iffic. I could barely move off the couch to go lie in bed, read and wait for digestion to occur. I justified the second serving because I was eating veggies. Impeccable logic, clearly.

I love food. I’m not sure what food’s feelings about me are, but it really doesn’t matter, this one-way crush is going nowhere.

I keep trying to change our relationship. I ping pong between health-seeking solutions and the total satisfaction of eating a very good, juicy medium rare hamburger with blue cheese and bacon, and plenty of ketchup. Sometimes I double down on fruits, nuts and vegetables. I try to meet my deliciousness quotient sideways. I distract myself with a large volume of berries, and organic heirloom grape tomatoes. Stuffed full of baby carrots doesn’t count. I’m sure of it.

(I wonder what it is about feeling really full that makes me feel so happy. It’s like the world is bountiful and I am now a vessel of that bounty. I am full of nature’s boundless generosity.)

My fruit-stacular evasive maneuvers work sometimes, but not all the time. After my veggie burger lunch, I’ll have an evening cheddar snack, a salad for dinner, and a heaping serving of chocolate and a shot of calvados later in the night. Maybe it’s my tapas-inclined personality. I thrive on flavor variety. I am bored by repetition. I cannot cook two dishes for the week and alternate between them. It would suck the joy out of my food fun. Basically, I need to keep my mouth entertained. It’s a demanding organ with a short attention span. It’s not me, it’s my mouth, it has its own agenda.

In the summer, when there are plenty of good things that come out of the ground, my good intentions get ground to dust by the smell of charred meat. The flavor of crisp, burnt animal fat is amazing. If you don’t believe me, buy a fruit pie made with a lard crust and see if you notice the difference.

Sometimes I fantasize about becoming a vegetarian. It’s a solid move, morally. But my taste buds would just mope around in my mouth. I would gripe about lentils and chickpeas. I try to imagine some halfway measures that might be sustainable for the long term, like eating seafood, bacon, and fruits and vegetables. Who am I kidding. Instead I eat a lot of tofu, flip-flopping between carnivorous and well-meaning.

My current efforts are focused on increasing my exercise to give me a bit more leeway in pursuing my one-way food crush. I’ll provide some updates as this initiative continues. For now I bid you a fond good evening, from the couch, where I have indulged in three salt free spelt squares as an alternative to delicious fondant maples sugar candies. Compromises.

Awake, Dreaming the Taj Mahal

DreamTajThe Taj is a waking dream. It is a building on the shores of a river, in a specific town, but I think it functions better as an apparition and a dream. I couldn’t really enter the Taj (technically, yes, I visited its obscure heart, but it didn’t help me make sense of the experience), I could only see and relate to the Taj from a distance, from the outside. There are so many pictures of the Taj Mahal, it was steeped in my mind long before I went in person. Up close, it no longer made sense: I lost all perspective, all sense of scale; it swallowed me in its vastness. To encompass its beauty is to keep it far away, inapproachable, in that sense it is a great flirt, you want to come closer, but can’t. The real payoff is in the longing for the Taj, glimpsing it from afar. Maybe that’s why I particularly loved seeing the Taj Mahal from the vantage point of Agra’s Red Fort—the Taj beams beautifully in the distance, changing color with the light.

SideTajI don’t want to discourage Taj visitors. Going in person to see the Taj Mahal first thing in the morning is a great way to start the day because it keeps the night’s dreams alive. Seeing the Taj Mahal shapes the day into a silent dreaming space.  I had a delectable nap after my visit. I slept contented, filled with beauty and grand plans.

The Taj Mahal Quest

I have spent six weeks in India over two visits. I have never seen the Taj Mahal. In November 2011, I came to New Delhi and spent a week. The only day I had off from the conference I was running was a Friday. The only day of the week the Taj Mahal is closed is Friday. I spent my last day in India touring Delhi and saw many marvels.

No Taj Mahal, however. I came all the way to India and I did not see its most famous site (which was only a few hours away). Many of the attendees who came to my conference did see the Taj. I tried not to be bitter. I tried to tell myself this was fine. This was okay. I didn’t have to see the Taj Mahal just because I was in India. I’m sure lots of tourists who have been to Delhi haven’t seen the Taj Mahal. Right?

In the last two years, I have not met a single person who has seen the Taj Mahal who thinks it was anything less than amazing.  (I keep asking because I’m still trying to rationalize my prior failure.) I’m happy to say that my time has come.

I’m in India. In terms of Taj touring, I’m somewhat inconveniently situated in Kolkata. The monsoon is getting underway.  This weekend I will take a taxi to the airport at the pre-dawn crack, then take a plane, then a taxi to a train, then a taxi to the Taj or my hotel, depending. I will see the Taj Mahal. I hope to see it at sunset and again at sunrise.

When I went to buy my New Delhi to Agra train ticket at the Kokata Foreign Tourist Counter, I waited 1.5 hours on a sofa chair. I made friends with an Iranian scientist and has a speed round geopolitics chat. When number 43 was called out and I finally got to speak with the train booking gentlemen, they spent 20 minutes trying to convince me that I really wanted to take a bus (they did not sell bus tickets) instead of the train. I held firm. I wanted a ticket that said Agra. I wanted a ticket that guaranteed I would get to my target town on Saturday afternoon. I had to argue and plead. They disagreed with me repeatedly. I held firm. They finally gave in. I have a one way second-class train ticket! They would not sell me a ticket back to Delhi. They insisted I should take a bus–that buses were common and easy to find; that a bus would be more convenient. This remains to be sorted out. I don’t know if I can get back to Delhi and then Kolkata on Sunday (despite my plane ticket). But I do know I will see the Taj Mahal. Or at least I’m as moderately confident about it as I am about any other aspect of my life in India. Further updates to come. Wish me luck.

Acts of Communication

Ever since I got to Kolkata, I have been trying desperately to communicate with my fellow humans. It’s an attempt because it’s very hard to ascertain how much is truly understood in this environment–there’s a lot of nodding, engine starting, plunging forward, with uncertain results on the line. It’s also desperate, because I dearly wish to share information, or a common purpose, or an agreed upon destination. There is often the appearance of agreement, or a measure of understanding, but results will vary. And when results vary, there is the kindness of strangers, or at least my persistence in seeking out information in the dark, in the rain, in New Alipore, engaging one auto rickshaw driver and his clients in conversation at a time, trying to ascertain my distance from my destination.

In the last four weeks in my search for mutual comprehension, I have employed miming skills, the handing over of currency, body posture, hand gestures, eye movements, lots of wide smiles or concerned looks. I will show written text. I say the words haltingly. I repeat the words, hoping for a different answer or a different head nod. I pray. Once I’ve raised my voice to respond to volume with volume when I was being spoken to stridently in Bengali (and couldn’t understand) knowing that my English would also not be understood. I’ve ascertained that occasional volume is an acceptable form of communication. Conversations here are quite animated, with multiple people expressing their views simultaneously. I am in admiration of the translator who facilitates our research for her vocabulary, quickness of mind, and prodigious memory for long streaks of expression.

I know maybe five Bengali phrases. And most people here know a few English phrases, but it’s exceedingly subtle work trying to assess overall language comprehension on either side in any conversation. The most enthusiastic are the young children and teenagers in the street who will call out a phrase after my passing. Today it was “Nice umbrella!” which I gratefully registered.  Many are shy to reveal their English skills. Some will only start speaking English when I am befuddled by a situation and they are embarrassed on my behalf with my uselessness and general ignorance. Many understand more than they can speak. Some can read better than they can process spoken words (with my American accent), and others make a show of nodding, but it is eventually revealed that we have each failed to make the other understand. In turn I stumble over the rhythms, intonations and the phrasings, there are quite a few British-isms, and many other interesting uses of language: a man mentioned molestation last night, and I think he meant masturbation. I could be wrong. Many people speak to me in Bengali when they get frustrated with the situation, and I too find myself using more English to explain what I would so dearly like. Amidst the surprises, the challenges, there are many triumphs, big and small, all day long. I am getting where I want. I am traveling, purchasing, bartering, speaking, hugging, smiling back, all the time. It’s a miracle. Should I thank the British or curse them for the spread of English? Of course I feel guilty being the benefactor of imperialism, but post-colonialism bites back, humorously again and again.Sylviepond It is a great lesson in the many ways I can communicate, and the many ways I will fail to do so.

Details and Weaknesses

My written french is abysmal, so when I wrote to my french grandma that Kolkata was pretty interesting, she chided me that I needed to try harder to convey the experience. The fact is that it’s very hard to explain what makes the city so captivating, so exhausting, so worthwhile, so magical, so frustrating, and so bittersweet. My time in India is complicated, layered meanings for each banal, charming and/or brutal experience. The details of the every day are impossible to recount, there’s just too much happening, too much observed, too much forgotten: There’s the way the taxi swerves to evade the brightly colored trucks, the nonchalant dogs in the middle of the road, the irrational confidence of the pedestrians putting their palms out to stop cars, the god statues and pictures and flowers in the altars found on the dashboards of the taxis and auto rickshaws, the altars on the side of the street, the small dishes made of leaves used to eat chickpea curries at roadside stalls.

Everyday I experience how internally inconsistent I am, all the tensions between wanting to be open to others and wanting to preserve myself. This is in parallel to the multiple contradictions of my external environments–are strangers being kind, are they in need, are they ignoring me or swindling me, or reaching out in friendship? Will my toes hit another brick in the uneven sidewalk in that tiny moment I am distracted? I navigate small pleasures and small displeasures through always changing, chaotic, stop and start, tempos. The pace is a rush, the pace is a crawl: the moment will stretch and I will feel old, but then soon it will be evening and I will be young again. Time cannot be tracked. Was it morning yesterday? I’m a bit dizzy with the array of surging and ebbing flows: the lifeforms, signs of their passing, signs of their decay (my own).

I’ve had frequent bouts of feeling suddenly overwhelmed by smells. The smells aren’t offensive, just strong: today it was the smell of baking cookies. Previous days, it’s been the smell of curries, beauty products, garbage, or flowers. Any of these might suddenly make me feel out of control, and just as quickly, if I remove myself, five minutes later I’m utterly fine. It’s the unpredictability that frightens me.

Equally mysterious are my range of reactions to the heat. Yesterday, I was immobile. I was wedded to my air conditioning. The thought of full sun made me fearful.  Today, in the sun, I was almost fine. I didn’t become drenched in sweat until evening came and I had been sitting still for hours. Sometimes there is nothing left of me. I am a shell crawling to the comforts of a cold shower.  Sometimes I am abundant, and resilient. It’s my repertory of weaknesses, blooming in Kolkata. The city abounds. I cannot keep up. I can only be, a little bit at a time, and then a lot, quickly. And then I sleep. Blessed sleep before the web of life absorbs me again in its colors.

Minor Miracles

I don’t expect whatever spiritual energy there is (call it god or the force, or gumby, I’m not really sure and I’m unattached to the particulars) to act or intervene in my favor in practical ways. But my faith has been tested (perhaps strengthened) recently, with a series of minor, but delightful surprises. I’m feeling, let’s say, the presence of angels at work in my life, in silly, but nice ways. Makes me feel grateful and a bit ungracious for not praying/meditating more. At least I have the presence of mind to take note of these moments of beauty.  Here goes, my gentle thanks to the great unknown for my relentless luck of late. Some agents of fate, as a matter of fact all agents of fate, have kindly faces and are mere mortals.

1. Two today: 1. Right after I realized I had a headache, one of the wonderful Post-Docs dropped off a gift for me: special combs from China that are supposed to stimulate the scalp, improving cranial blood flow, and averting headaches. 2. I broke off a chunk of molar/filling in the UK and was walking around with a giant groovy cavern in my back tooth. I went to the dentist today, steeling myself for a gory Novocain plus drool and blood extravaganza, but no! Nothing.  A little white filling and some lights was all. No numbing at all. No drooling sips on water for hours afterwards. Just walk in, walk out, all smiles.

2. One yesterday: All trains to Heathrow from Green Park tube were stopped at Hammersmith. We were warned there were no trains to the airport. We stayed on the tube, feeling worried and hopeful that the kindly tube staff would concoct a solution for our dilemma at terminus. They had! Many staff members were on hand to inform the confused commuters and get them safely to their flights. There were even gracious staff porters for managing the steps. Walk to train to bus to train to airport, but still, it all worked out, slowly but methodically. And the security checkpoint at Heathrow was a breeze, even though I was randomly checked at boarding and my boyfriend laughed as he walked past, saying something like “you look like a menace.”

3. The New Year’s Eve Miracle. We bought, for better or worse, tickets to a Thames Fireworks River Cruise on New Year’s Eve (a three-hour cruise!). I have done NYE in many locales and been roundly disappointed by the evening about 90% of the time. I mean, NYE and Valentine’s day are inherently doomed, aren’t they? Anyhoo. When we set off for our cruise at 8:30pm for a boat departure of 10pm, we were not prepared for the rolling shutdown of the tube stops around the river. We were not prepared for the barricades shutting down whole streets to pedestrian traffic. We were not prepared for the near-violent intensity of the mob scene on the river banks. We were not prepared for boozed up British hostility –those who had decided to hold their ground in the heart of the mob. We were also not prepared for the lack of signage along the river banks. We knew roughly to go to Embankment Pier, but weren’t sure where the heck it was despite the google maps. I tried with most profuse and abject apologizing along the route to all the kindly folk we shoved aside, explaining over and over again that we were sorry but were trying to get to a boat, the crowd looking at me as if I had lost my mind. We held hands and pushed on to the last river barricade, and finally found the entrance to the pier.  We walked onto the gangway plank to the applause of the crowd that I had struggled past. We got to the boarding dock. We saw a boat. I kept expecting someone to tell me that I had gone to the wrong pier, that my reservation paper was for another boat, somewhere else. But no, we were in the right place in the nick of time (against all odds, it felt) and there was our boat. We asked, “Is this our boat?”And the friendly staff affirmed “yes, this is your boat” and we looked at the boat, trying to decipher the boarding spot, and the boat sailed away. We three on the pier cried out in unison frustration. And the kindly staff said, “please have a seat, we’ll see what we can do.” And twenty minutes later, the boat came back for us. And we got our second round of applause from total strangers as we boarded. That was a good night.  The crowd on the boat was dizzy with relief at having found the boat and very friendly. The bar was modest and the selection limited, but we were so pleased to be on the boat, everyone was in a good, playful mood. The Thames was beautiful, the lights glamorous, and the fireworks fun.

Thank you great unknown, and kindly strangers, for taking such good care of me in the first week of 2013. It might be a surprisingly lucky year.

RiverNYE

Gifts

I have some singular gifts, for example, my ability to do very little, for several consecutive days, during vacations. I really luxuriate in stillness. I seem to have two main modes–running around and inert. Being unchained from my to-do list gives rise to the inner dreamer. The contrast is interesting, I feel most philosophical at the peak of the gift giving season.

Here’s my vacation self, which I adore, but am a little embarrassed by: This Sylvie-shaped sloth excels at napping, sleeping, drowsing off, half dreaming, being warm, having something sweet on the tongue, taking salty breaks from the sweetness, eating rich meats, and eating seafood. Not to mention the holiday beverages. My winter holiday self indulges in a rich (and languorous) sensory buffet.

My drowsy late December self also ponders the meaning of gifts–those I developed, those I found, those that were innate, and those that appeared by luck.  Tis the season for giving and receiving, but also a time for assessing the “wealth” in my life. My most treasured assets are my human relationships, be it the solace and humor of friends, or random conversations with strangers, or encounters with wisdom through books.

I am gifted with the love in my life. Then there are all the fun trappings of the holidays, cherries on the sundae of solstice indulgence: melted cheeses, hot meats, old music, new music, blues and jazz, wrapped packages in bright paper and ribbon. I like to wear glitter on my eyes, add light to the darkness and warmth. I make it a practice to be thankful for love and kindness each day, but it’s also fun to be thankful for ephemeral material surprises. Gathered with family and friends, I see all that we hold, all that we share, all that we own, all that we gift.  It’s a joyful time.

The End of the World

I’m a day late. The world has ended, and inconveniently, but maybe joyfully, it seems to be going on for me. The end of the world looked pretty much like any holiday Friday in my experience, except for the amassed police and their brusk ways and the impossible traffic, impatient drivers honking. (That business, which threw my end of the world skepticism for a loop during my ten minute walk to the El, turned out to be a response to the overnight flooding–so some of my expectations were satisfied, the neighborhood had a bit of a watery calamity on its hands.)

I was glad it was the end of the world. After all, it was also my last work day for this calendar year and I was ready for a long break after a demanding semester in grad school. I couldn’t wait for the day (and the world) to end, because I was pretty sure that whatever came after would be really good for me. I was right.

I’m settling into a luxurious Saturday on my couch, listening to American Routes, drinking coffee out of the porcelain mug on the end table, instead of slurping out of a travel mug on the El. I haven’t been home on my couch on a Saturday in four months. It feels ridiculously good not to be rushing off to my internship. I have a long to do list, but none of the items have real consequence–my multiple bosses and teachers expect nothing from me right now, so that’s a lovely lightness. And now I’m listening to Elvis’s Blue Christmas, which is one of my favorite holiday songs, so after-the-end-of-the-world time feels decadent and sounds pretty groovy and Hawaiian.  Not too bad, this afterlife.

 

Regeneration, Care of the BBC

Since I was a little girl, I’ve enjoyed the BBC show Dr. Who, particularly the Tom Baker Dr. Who when I was little, and now all the new reboot Doctors. I especially love the re-generation story lines when the doctor seems to die and is immediately reincarnated into a totally different person, who sounds different and generally speaks and dresses differently and has other kinds of charm and energy, but somehow embodies the same philosophy and all the same knowledge. This metaphor seemed particularly apt to me yesterday as I was sitting on the trolley, thinking about my current transition between skill sets, populations, peers, and focus. I was trying to mentally sketch the person I am becoming but also considering the multiple past selves I already contain that are totally invisible to the casual observer–it’s not only the good Doctor who does this: in some sense, each human life is a story of countless regenerations. Hair cut to hair cut, lover to lover, bell bottoms to jeggings. Older people are icebergs–so much floats beneath the surface: forty years of flirtations, seductions, griefs and small triumphs, career changes, jobs and hobbies taken up and discarded, tie-dye tshirts made on the kitchen stove–it’s all there, past knowledge, past hope just waiting to be recalled, reactivated. I too forget, when faced with an older woman, how she must have danced and blushed at other points.

Open Spaces

I have four delicious days with no urgent deadlines or projects. I’d get this kind of satisfaction from traveling to Tahiti, receiving two daily massages for a week, or… being able to metabolize meals made of nothing but red wine, bacon and dark chocolate with no impact on my weight.

I honestly don’t know what to do with myself (well, besides the floors, I should be mopping the floors). I’m experiencing a rare breed of mental restlessness: somewhere between itch and cottony feeling.  I’m a bit dizzy with the temporary freedom. My dizziness will blog.

I’m valuing several kinds of space this week. Mental space for one.

The road is another. I love motion. I always feel full of potential when I’m covering vast distances. As we prepare to travel to this year’s thanksgiving destination, there will be asphalt space, wheels turning, speed, and the fast of the road will be overwritten by the fullness of a home.

There is also the space of identity, of personal reinvention. I’m enjoying my training in social work, though it certainly is daunting, the array of listening and speaking skills: the mastery of thoughtful, kind inward gaze and outward being. If I consider the array of choices I’ve made, few feel as momentous or as close to my heart’s desire as working toward this professional degree.

I can honestly say I want few things out of life. (I mean, I want vast experiences, and physical comfort, always.) My goals, however, are few: I want to adorn my life with friends; I want to commit to my partner; I want to write; and I want to become a therapist.

Everything else that is dear to me is pleasure and luxury. The right to determine what to do with my time, I’ll admit, is the ultimate luxury.

 

Humbled by my Humanity

Now that my time is parsed, sectioned, subdivided, and carefully annotated to account for every one of my multiple (and seemingly endless) obligations–I have to confront the obvious, which I love to pretend doesn’t apply to me: I’m human.

If I can reconcile myself with what might seem like an obvious proposition, then, what does being human require of me? What are my human obligations, rights and responsibilities?

And importantly, why do I shy away from being human?

Also, if I think I’m not human. What Do I think I am?

1) Requirements (inherited in silence, sometimes found in science or faith): Humor, Love, Passion, a dose of patience, a notion of hope, a heaping ladle of curiosity, a kind center, a practical turn, a Glass (neither full nor empty- realism tempered with thoughtful optimism).

2) Rights/Responsibilities: ecstatic moments; a longing for intimacy-sometimes beautifully fulfilled by forest, friends or lovers; the quiet solitude of pain; the quiet peace of reflection; knowing moments of perfect sun or rain. Long dimness in fogs-bodily, intellectual, heart generated, or atmospheric.

3) The shying away–I shy away because the weight and wonder are troubling to encompass.

4) What do I think I am? I do not know, but I enjoy it.

Human–a term I sometimes equate with great failure, and yet a term that trembles with generous potential.

I don’t feel sufficient for my humanity.

And yet.

As another human helped me see: So it goes.

Final question: is this a poem?

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The Charm Offensive

I’ve been trying to get better at tuning in and connecting in some small way with every person I exchange words with today. It’s a fun project-makes me feel very vaguely like the Dalai Lama’s neighbor–like after a lifetime of watching someone else be gracious and wise, it’s my turn. It’s also interesting how ambivalent I feel about extending care outward–after all, aren’t these my private goodwill reserves? How strong is my emotional muscle? Will I run out of charm? Will I permanently exhaust the supply, leaving me a bitter-pinched-dour wreck for the next few decades?

Is love a renewable personal resource? I mean, we’re told to be brave and fearless in loving others–religion, mentors, family: all espouse the notion–but how many living examples are left to model this practice? I mean: Mother Theresa is dead. Loving may have been her superpower, but she remained mortal.

Well, for today at least, I’m going to keep going until I fry my battery. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Lightness

Someone once said to me that it takes about 10 years of therapy to realize what a total stranger can figure out about you in about three minutes (which sometimes makes me want to go bounding about asking strangers what they see.)

I take myself too seriously. I love to laugh, but I think my fundamental state is a bit wistful, maybe yearning. My grandmother tells me I was a melancholy child–she liked that about me. Tonight, a friend told me in all seriousness that I need to get more playful about my various obligations. I’ve been thinking a lot about teaching others to embrace fun, but it never occurred to me that I should be giving myself that exact speech. Typical.

Oh the awesome shortsightedness of being.

I used to think a lot about Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.”

Using his metaphor–I wanted to be a light person, but I knew that I was heavy. I can sometimes make people think I’m a light–but it’s a trick–that’s not me.

So how do I become more light in my ponderous being?

In not-so-light fashion I have added “FUN” at the top of my to-do list. (no comments needed.)

Spiral Staircase & Puppies

When I was in my twenties, someone said to me that I would never truly be done examining any issue in my life, that it may lie dormant for a part of my journey but that it would reappear in other guises at different times, and take me off guard. The metaphor at hand was that I was climbing a spiral staircase. One simple way to picture this is to think of myself ascending the staircase very slowly, and as I turn and rise, I am next to a different part of the staircase wall at each step, on the north side of the staircase might be my family experiences, on the south side, my romantic relationships, on the east side my career, and on the west side my evolving attitudes towards and beliefs about the world. The point was that I would keep encountering the same themes and issues at different points in my journey. I might think that I have put away my resentment towards my parents forever, but no, it’s just a step away, as I climb my life’s staircase.

I try to be honest with myself about my shortcomings and character flaws–though my various weaknesses make me feel badly about myself. So today I went on a self-empathy project and dug around for a while for the right metaphor to put my weaknesses in perspective and be more patient with my own slow evolution as a sentient being of conscience. I’m visiting my grandparents in Florida and I am spending time with my mother who is here also. It’s actually a good time for me to be reminded of my family context, and how much what I am evolved against the pressures these related creatures placed on me. I am thinking about my personality and I am thinking about the people in my family and their personalities. Honestly, we’re a very peculiar bunch: maddening, impatient, enthusiastic, funny, intelligent, curious, particular, changeable, demanding, stubborn and desiring of recognition and affection. I understand this largely puts us in the human category. At any rate, it’s good to see my anxious energy manifest in my oddly angled forefathers and mothers. It’s a straight line from them to me. If I can find the goodwill to extend compassion to them, I can extend some compassion toward myself.

For example. My grandpa. He is punctilious to a fault. I wish he had never gone into the navy (or worked in a hospital) because he’s been annoyingly tedious and persistent with his love for being on time all my life. This exactitude about clocks extends to anyone who is standing within a mile of him–we must all be on time. Not on our time, but on his time. My boyfriend and I are battling colds, so we’re even slower to wake and move than usual. My grandfather called me four times over an hour to ask when we would be ready to be picked up. A classic bit of dialogue goes like this:

The phone rings (again).
Me: Hello.
Grandpa: Are your clothes on?
Me: Yes, but boyfriend is still in the shower.
Grandpa: I don’t understand. It’s been twenty minutes. When will you be ready?
Me: Yes it has. We’re moving slowly. We have colds.
Grandpa: I’m getting in the car in five minutes.
Me: I’m going to need you to calm down.
Grandpa: Can you please call when your clothes are on?
Me: Yes. Thank you.
Grandpa: Goodbye.

10 minutes later: The phone rings again.

I started laughing after my grandfather’s third phone call. He’s just impossible. I’ll skip the incident where he got furious with me for asking him if he has regular coffee.

By then I had come up with my grand metaphor. My family is like a bunch of unruly St. Bernard puppies. I am one too. I like us all a lot more now that I know what we are.

The Shores Of Philadelphia

I’m leaving West Philadelphia for Northern Liberties. I’ve lived on the western shore of this city for almost twelve years – its the longest time span I’ve ever spent in a single neighborhood.

I used to fantasize about which Philadelphia neighborhood I would leave for, and then the idea of leaving became totally absurd.

I love the crunchy artistic punk environmentalist, bicyclist, young kid established family grad student african immigrant vibe of the place. There were at least seven distinct ethic or specialty eateries within two blocks of my home–during Baltimore Dollar Days, the crowds wantonly bypassed the Subway offerings for locally sourced ice cream or samosas. We did not dance in the streets when the Phillies won the World Series, but we did when Obama became President.

I love the architecture, the gardens and trees, the devoted neighbors who organize block parties–it’s part transient, part lifers. It grows and organizes itself in a dance. The firehouse at 50th and Baltimore that used to be a market now holds Dock Street Brewery–Philly Car Share offices became sliding-scale Community Acupuncture. There’s plenty of DYI and community art events.

I’m leaving for Philadelphia’s eastern shore – five miles and a river away.
It’s a new life, with other communities full of artists and urban innovators. I’m leaving for love, which is the only pull strong enough to take me away from the place where I finally started taking my writing work more seriously.

It’s a joyful new beginning and a weird time for me. The seven years I spent on Cedar Avenue are the longest consecutive stretch of time I’ve spent under the same roof in my entire life.

I’m already familiar with the outlines of my new home, but I will have to dig deeper to find my communities and spaces, the places where I stop by and waste time browsing or conversing. I will have to learn who I am becoming against this new urban mirror.

Sorting the Physical Self

Tonight I finally opened one of my two mystery “old file” boxes I’ve been lugging around from apartment to apartment since the mid 90s. Boy, I was organized back in the 90s. I found traces of my old New York life, one of my many partially discarded and partially digested selves. I uncovered my original birth certificate in a plastic sleeve surrendered to me by my mother many moons ago. It’s got that great 1970s type and is printed on a green piece of paper.

I always joke that I own nothing other than my own body.

Several boxes of books say different. Also, I had no idea I had so many knickknacks until I started the classifying process. Belongings: books, clothes, bathroom, kitchen, entertainment, appliances, files. a few odd bits of furniture. And a surprising number of borderline useability objects–they’re totally well intentioned, but kinda cluttery and worthless. I’m also surprised at how well sorted my random piles of papers are.  A light notion of a sketch of sense emerges gradually as I handle them again. I can tell I was really trying hard during prior organizational drives. Tonight’s drive will be more authoritative, I congratulate myself assertively.

Sorting is part delight, one third confusion, a smidgen of embarrassment and of course, there’s the back pain. I have to be really strategic in how I utilize my compromised muscular resources.

There’s also the dawning reality: my belongings are a sharp mirror: time, money, friends come and gone. Old address books. Former employers and former health plan details.  I’m finding long letters sent by college friends. All sorts of unsorted pictures. I’m trying to classify the modes, moods and feelings of my existence so they can be boxed up. It’s weird boxing your being up. You want to act all detached. These are things. I don’t believe in things.

I am sinking in things. At the same time, I’m emerging clearer as my self, oddly. I can’t fully explain the paradox, but rediscovering my long journey as I clear out from my longest lived home ever, ultimately fills me with pride in who I’m becoming (not that I’m puffed up about it, I’m just cozy glad).

 

The Sea

Today’s ocean

My grandfather plunked me into the sea before I was six months old. It’s one of my oldest and most gratifying relationships. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in my life, when I step into the ocean, I’m a newborn again. I’m free. I’m safe. I’m floating. I’m happy.

Some people have churches, some people have lakes or mountains. My memory is full of sand and cottony towels, and the stickiness of sunscreen, and the taste of salty fries after a long day, and the feel of blackberries, hot from the sun, exploding in my mouth. I remember night swims, and day swims, and the feel of the waves, and the feeling of being submerged and being rocked by the water’s currents. It’s a place of sensations, the stinging flies, and the sand in my toes, the drying sand in the sunscreen on my legs, the hot sand burning the thin soles of my feet, the feel of shells in the sand underfoot, and sometimes in the water, when I set foot for a moment on the sand-bed, stepping on a crab going about its business. There’s the odd corset-like feeling of a wet bathing suit drying. The pleasures of a seafood dinner after a beach day. The endlessness of the long sleepy ride home from the beach.

There are always small surprises when I get home: the splotches of red skin when I look in the bathroom mirror and notice I missed applying sunscreen to my neck.  There’s the return of the summer freckles on my face. Finding sand at the bottom of my beach bags. The way the New Yorker crumples up and dries stiff after its pages get wet.

Teen year kisses on the beach. Long walks with grandma looking for shells at low tide.

It’s all there. Past, present, future, intermingling in the brine. Some say our blood has the salinity of the sea.