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

The Fitness Dance

I have finally fallen down the fitness hole into the care of a fitness trainer. This was many years in the making. For two decades I took myself to the gym, forced some cardio, perfunctorily performed sit-ups, and with pleasure used the weight machines.

I got reasonably far if I stuck with it, but there always came a time when I ran out of steam. Repetition, boredom, loneliness. I do not like sharing my fitness journey. No one needs to see me sweat or grit my teeth. I like to plug into a Pandora Fitness radio station and go. As best I can. There always comes a setback. This year it was India, in 2012 it was a back injury.

I am passionate about my new social work career, but it is emotionally exhausting, and the end of the day leaves me ready for a long nap and warm blankets. While napping is my go to stress relief option, I realize it’s not the best or most effective choice I can make to manage my body or my mind.

I’ve decided to take (some) choice out of the equation and avail myself of professional services. I went to the trainer in dread of the bullying. I can worry about anything. In this case I worried it would be either too hard or too easy. I worried it would be great and I’d be starting a new expensive habit. I didn’t know how I would feel about being exhorted to ever greater effort. The most terrifying thing about having a trainer is seeing other people at the gym who are further along in their fitness journey doing terrible looking balance, strength and endurance exercises. I look at them and then I look away and pretend they are Aliens–what they are doing will never apply to me. They terrify me. I don’t want to be them. I hope I will be them. Dragging a weighted sled to the yard mark and dropping for push ups before the timed sled run continues. It’s crazy. What the trainers make people do is amazing.

One of the nice things about no longer going to the Penn gym, where 20 year olds abound, is not having to see a bunch of fit 20 year olds, who aren’t really striving, they’re just using their young bodies with ease. At my new gym, I see a variety of people at various levels of fitness using their bodies, working through sweat to meet personal goals.

I am awkwardly one of them. It turns out, despite my array of misgivings, that I love having a trainer. First, and most important, the two trainers I have worked with are wildly more inventive in the array of tortures they devise than I ever dreamed. Whoever is responsible for fitness science, bravo–you’ve really perfected the art of fitness in the last twenty years. The trainers (try to) make you fast, they make you strong, they make you lean.  Every exercise uses  upper, core, and lower portions of my body. There are lots of interesting props. There is anguish. And there is a lot of discomfort the next day–once my body cools, it slows down as though it were weighted by leaden sheaths, but it’s just my skin, laying gently over my exhausted muscles. I’ve learned that I can still work out when my body is sore–something I’ve never done before.

And being constantly watched and constantly accountable changes the game. I push harder, I am also pushed harder. It sometimes borders on fun, but mostly I’m grateful for the kindness of having someone full of hope try to help me transform. It’s amazing what external sources of hope can do for me.

The Possibility of Change

Sometimes I worry that it’s very easy to become cynical, especially since I care about “trying to do some good.” As I become a social worker, I don’t want to take myself seriously, but I do want to be sincerely hopeful–to believe that things can and do change at the personal, community, and society levels if enough strategic energy is applied.

Before my internship with Durbar/Usha, I liked this hopeful attitude, and I wanted to embrace it whole-heartedly, but I was also hungry for inspiring stories. I wanted to know change was possible. I wanted some case studies for hope.

My six weeks in Kolkata working with and meeting with the women of Durbar and Usha have been nothing short of inspiring. I have witnessed a community system that works for the greater benefit of its members, transforming women’s sense of agency, solidarity, how they manage their health choices, and creating financial empowerment, and helping them plan for their families’ future. Each piece in the puzzle–collective, clinics, bank, children’s school–strengthens the others. It was amazing to listen to and see a community use its wisdom and power to take care of itself in such effective ways. In about twenty years, what began as a health initiative has become a powerful social and professional institution with impressive political, medical and financial impacts. One of the aspects I admire most about Durbar is its interest in the welfare of other marginalized communities, like domestic workers. It’s an amazing organization.

My hope system has been immunized. This can only help me be a better collaborator with friends, clients and communities.  My role going forward is to continuously remember what I witnessed to know what is possible for each of us and for our communities.

Usha

Research Team with Usha’s Secretary.

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.

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.

India: Dream Continent. Kolkata: Dream City

Here’s one of my theories about travel: For every major city known around the world (think London, Hong Kong, New York, Cape Town, Kolkata), there is a dream version of the city which lives in our minds–a dream composed of impressions, movie clips, song lyrics, images, fleeting conversations and travel fantasies. Equally, certain (sub)continents are stamped with dreamed exoticism. For example India and the strange assortment of reactions news of my trip engendered in friends and family.

parkI do not know when I started wanting to visit India, but I remember telling a cab driver in Philadelphia that India would always be there for me–eventually my time would come. (This conversation took place 10 years ago.) But the feeling was stronger than that, I wanted to experience the India in my heart and mind. Was I really having a relationship with a country?

cowsNow that I am here, I feel close to Kolkata. I feel an affinity for the city’s abundant spirit, its in-your-face attitude, its generosity, its speed, it’s intensity. It’s a tropical New York. It is nothing like New York. I worry about my love for India. I wonder how self-serving this love is. Do I adore being “Other”? Being noticed? I think about how tourists use foreign spaces as fun-house mirrors for their egos.

greenburbsIs going to India a cliche? At least I’m not in an ashram. I am living in Kolkata, walking its sidewalks, taking its metro, eating its food, finding a tailor, navigating commercial interactions and human exchanges of all durations and intensities.

I think about the India stereotypes and how Kolkata does and does not fit my pre-arrival ideas. Yes, it’s abundantly dirty and polluted–water, streets, exhaust, the generic dusty grime that covers everything and gets in my ears. No, I haven’t been confronted by many beggars. Yes, it is an assault on the senses. No, the smells can be quite lovely. No, there are no wild monkeys. Yes, there are dogs everywhere, but mostly they nap. There are also a few cows. Yes, westerners stick out and are stared at. No, the people aren’t always friendly (but then I wouldn’t expect New Yorkers to be constantly friendly.) Is it safe? Yes, I think so. Do I feel comfortable walking alone? Sometimes, by daylight.

trashReal Kolkata is both more familiar, and less exotic than dream Kolkata, but it is also more mysterious beneath the commonplace surface. I am never sure what really happened, what was understood and what was not, after I have an exchange with a local. We meet on fields of stereotypes, each expecting the other to play a role, and then we try to become human to each other, to surprise, or control the interaction. As a privileged foreigner surrounded by real need, my “purpose” is to be ripped off, but to try to be reasonably ripped off. I don’t know enough yet to be able to bargain wisely, but I trust the knowledge will come in time.

busMy dream Kolkata has become my real Kolkata. It is more vibrant, more human, more complicated and more charming than I had hoped for.

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.

Aikido

This week, I’m thinking a lot about energy and how it can be used and redirected, and I’m thinking that maybe I need to learn the martial art Aikido. The premise of Aikido is that your attacker’s energy can be taken in and redirected so as to protect both you and the attacker. If every human interaction is an exchange of energy, and human energy needs to be safely and productively handled (particularly in the work place) then Aikido is the ultimate physical manifestation of understanding how to make the best and kindest use of personal energy. (I’m sure there are many other physical practices and schools of thought and faith that address the issue, but I like the idea of Aikido very much right now, as an embodiment of the best human values. )

I’m aware of Aikido because my mother’s friend Agnes studied it when she was a young mother and showed me a couple techniques in her doorway, on a fall or spring day, when I was about eight. She kept asking me to “attack” her and I kept running at her and she would very gently but firmly take my arm and twist like a bullfighter out of the way and I would find myself on the other side of her body and the door, on the outside. It seemed very magical. At the time I was learning Judo and I was more attracted to the possibility of hurting an attacker (appropriate for an eight year old).

I’m currently fascinated by how knowledge, history and life themes can converge in surprising ways. It’s surprising how my child self and my adult self are meeting through this memory of Aikido and my current preoccupation with the fruitful and kind harvesting of energy. In turn, this makes me think of my mother, one of the first people to talk to me about energy, and how while I knew she was right–there definitely was energy–for most of my life I felt uncomfortable talking and thinking about it openly. The concept was just a bit too groovy.

My mom is on my mental scene in a second way. Here’s one of her oft repeated nuggets: No learning is pointless or useless. All knowledge acquired will be used again, eventually. This came up repeatedly between us during my teen years and twenties, whenever I complained that I was being forced to master skills I considered uninteresting or too specific. And here I am, middle aged, putting pieces of my decades of learning together like a jigsaw puzzle. Maybe this is what wisdom looks like, becoming more than the sum total of your experiences.

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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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.

Paris, Other Eyes

View from sixth floor of Beaubourg, Pompidou Center, Paris

Modern Art

So I went to Paris with my honey, which I understand you are supposed to do, and we toured the bestselling sights, which I suppose was my duty, and it turned out to be a delight, because it forced me to look again, spectate afresh, at what I already thought I knew. So my lesson learned is always travel to loved places with friends, because companions provide invisible diamond glasses–everything you look upon is more beautiful, more complex, and more rainbow colored in the company of a friend, even when it rains.

My latest crackpot theory about babies

It occurred to me that as some parents tend to prefer a specific age in a child’s development, some favoring babies, others toddlers, and others teens, so it is likely also the case with babies — they themselves might be more comfortable at certain ages than others. This for me would explain why some babies are so much more comfortable in their baby skins and while other infants seem uncomfortable and put upon, and others still have that patient look in their eyes, clearly tolerating the condition, but without much affinity for it–other than the cuddling, I think most creature enjoy the cuddling.

I’m thinking of writing a story along these lines that takes place at a playdate, where the parents have mental monologues about the babies and the babies do the same about the parents and each other. It could be hilarious!

Sports and Love

So, I’m dating a lovely person who happens to be far more daring with his body than I am. (I tease that he is an adrenaline junky.)

He would deny this. But he would be wrong.

Specifically, the ways he likes to use his body are: snowboarding (on black diamond slopes); rock climbing; and whitewater kayaking.
Whitewater kayaking (which I didn’t quite understand when I agreed to apprentice in the sport) means you are going to go down rivers, take on rapids, go over falls, and wear helmets because you will be in rocky terrain being pushed along by implacable current. Really good whitewater kayakers sometimes drown.

I am pretty much betting on my low risk profile and my dislike for heart pounding experiences to keep me safe. So I’m going to do the lamest possible version of whitewater kayaking that I can get away with, without totally disgracing myself.

Last summer, I proved my love by taking the novice intro class to whitewater kayaking. This went mediocrely for a variety of reasons, which I wont go into in detail, some of which had to do with my general state of unfitness and some of it had to do with how much time I spent outside my boat. I had been told that what happens when your kayak tips over is that you “go for a swim.” I was on my high school swim team, so the notion of “going for a swim” seemed totally okay. I like swimming. I’m good at swimming. Swimming in scenic rivers was a fine prospect.

Crucial details had been omitted: 1) when you exit your boat there’s probably a good reason that you tipped over–the current was strong, you didn’t quite make the bumpy ride over the whitewater caused by current flowing over rocks. This means you exit, upside down, pushing out of your boat, INTO rocks. 2) When you exit your boat, which is upside down in a river, your boat fills with water. You then need to a) be rescued b) rescue your boat, so that you can c) empty said boat in very inconvenient places–the boat will have 60 gallons of water in it, and you will need to drag it to shore and lift the boat and rock it front to back so that the water flushes out. 3) repeat Step 2 five times in one day and you will find yourself a bit disheartened.

So this year, in preparing for this summer’s misadventures, I’m now engaged in rolling practice, because truly the thing about kayaking is that it’s okay to tip over as long as you can right yourself. The one big lesson this swimmer picked up last summer was: Do Not Exit the Boat!

I just want to be clear in defining rolling practice, because those two words together sound innocuous: Rolling practice consists of strapping into your kayak and then volunteering to be forcibly tipped under, upside down in a pool, over and over again, while you try to learn the skill to right your boat and un-drown yourself.

Why am I doing this?
I could go on about wanting mastery, and wanting to feel brave, and those would both be true, but the fact is that my boyfriend is super cute in his boat, and I want to be cute too, and I want to learn something that he is learning too, even though he is by far way more athletic than I will ever be.

Valentine’s Day

I’m here to stand up for the select pleasures of the lonely. The full bed to stretch across, the remorseless expression of one’s body, the savage gnawing on absurd treats at absurd times, the sole mastery of the electronic cornucopia.

I’m also here to cheer for the kind of solitude that will eventually be broken by visits and visitors–the solitude that makes opulent room for the celebration of a friend’s appearance. That’s solitude worth treasuring (I’m sure one of many): the one that makes you more generous, more joyful, and more kind to your friends.

If Valentine’s Day is a marketed, constructed and corporate celebration of those we love, then so be it. I’m of the more is more family of love. Every Valentine’s Day, like most days of my life, I am incredibly grateful for my chosen family, my friends. They are my solace and my anchors and my rays of hope in all seasons and moments, quiet or cheerful. Happy Corporate Sentiment Day, Friends: Thank you so very much for co-sponsoring this life of mine.

Philadelphia V. New York

As the time came to board the bus back to Philadelphia on Sunday night, after three really good days in New York City, I started feeling the usual: relief plus validation. Relief because I’m always happy to come home. I’m a little bit smug in the knowledge that I picked the right city to live in. I love living in Philadelphia. I love living here because I find it to be (Philly attitude and all) an exceedingly gentle city (with the exception of the universal horror of the Philly driving culture). Philly has a vibrant art scene, a delicious food scene, architecture, history, quality of life, and affordability to recommend it. NYC has that odd way of making my spine tingle with the unfettered sense of possibility that makes me want to run around giggling. NYC is recklessly overstimulating. I LOVE the people watching in New York. It is awesome. But my wallet lies flat like dessicated husk whenever I leave Manhattan. And what I love more than being overstimulated is being relaxed. I love the fact that I never ever feel stressed out when I’m commuting home in Philadelphia–even annoying setbacks in public transportation are generally manageable. The distances aren’t that great in my life. I can walk if I must. (This distance thing includes emotional, financial, and intellectual distances–it’s a metaphor). In New York, there’s a low level but endless grind that makes me feel like my soul is constantly battling tiny little scratches to its vital organs. That said, I’ll be scratched to death while sitting in a restaurant with a really fabulous interior design, which might distract me way past soul death. On the other hand, back home in Philadelphia, I feel like my soul drinks smoothies, listens to Mozart, and gets regular massages–even if the setting is less fantastic (and nothing feels more like a fairy tale come true than when I walk the High Line Park in Manhattan). I like the Philly option better. That’s just me.

And in fairness, I already had my five years in Manhattan and I loved every second of those years.

What I love

There are many things I love. I won’t enumerate them as we would all be exhausted by the mere process. Though I do advise the occasional stock taking of that which you love. I digress, I just wanted to post, that in the many ways in which I am a spoiled creature, a creature of privilege and joy, well my greatest privilege by far is the amazing and kind company of my wonderful friends. I have built a family out of ether and it is a beautiful gathering.