Sunday, February 12, 2012

At the End, Begin Again

Here is what I've learned: growing up is all about the people. Things happen, life happens, good stuff, bad stuff, funny stuff, ridiculous stuff, but still, it's all about the people. I went into the list, and this project as a whole, with blinders on that focused all my energy toward the events and accomplishments I believed to be valuable. Now, one month and really three decades later, I understand my own misunderstanding. The graduations, moving days, cross-country trips, celebrations, scholarships, and presentations were all amazing, life changing experiences, but they're more than the sum of their parts - more than a tally of hours, miles, gifts, or papers. The best and worst moments in life are about the people - the ones who teach you, support you, love you, chastise you, surprise you, forgive you, understand you, trust you, and when you need it, remind you to be the person both of you know you can be.

In the last month I thought I was setting out to get to know myself better, to make peace with where I am and where I've come from, but something different happened. The more I tried to know and remember myself, the more I learned of those around me, the people I am so lucky to have in my life, whether they be new friends, old friends, or family. I learned that even when I stubbornly declare my own independence, I only have the luxury of doing so because of the team of people I am surrounded by everyday, in person and in spirit, that structures an incredible support system - a scaffold of sorts - invisible to the naked eye. I am who I am because I have a mother and a sister who love me enough to take me as I am, but expect more, because I had a father who gave me the best and worst of him, friends who let me ramble and over-analyze, and know when to bring me back down to reality, who have been with me since my moody and at times unfortunate teenage years, who let me love and hold their babies, who know just the right words to give and hold back; I am who I am because I have a husband that looks at me each morning and each night as if I am the best person he's ever met, even though I fall short of that each day, because of the new family I've gained through him, because of co-workers that most likely stayed up all night to make me a giant cake shaped like a carrier pigeon even when the choice seemed odd, who surprise me with gifts that reveal they are not only thoughtful, but that they know me so well. I am who I am because of all the people who read these posts and took this trip with me.

So, I guess, what I'm trying to say, though I believe I've fumbled it already, is thank you. Such humble words for such a large emotion, but I'm not sure gratitude ever really has an adequate lexical response. Regardless, I hope you understand that when I say thank you, I mean it, and not just for reading, but for the comments, and "hellos," and shares, for indulging me when I needed it, and for celebrating with me at the end.

It was good to write again, to carve out a space and force myself to slow down and pay attention, and maybe most of all, to share. I've been keeping blogs for many years now, closing each one as a new chapter opens, and beginning again. I hope you'll stick with me as I do that now: . I'm hoping to begin posts next week, and though they won't be daily, I'm excited to keep going, in any direction they lead.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


This past Saturday Andrew and a couple of my dear friends gave me something I'd never had before - a surprise party. The girls kept me out of the house for a few hours and plied me with a very cute baby, coffee, and shopping, while Andrew quickly prepped amazing snacks and a handmade birthday sign. I returned home to the smiling faces of the lovely people I work with all clustered in our dining room.

We laughed and talked and watched as two baby boys waddled around on their newly walking legs and shared half-chewed celery and sippy cups. Andrew presented me with a tray of my most favorite tiny cupcakes from the bakery around the corner and I made a wish I won't share with you for fear of it not coming true.

I'm a bit apprehensive about tomorrow, trying not to look too far ahead yet, excited about the possibility a new year of age can bring, and a little sad about the end of this project. Tonight is my last night as a twenty year old, but I'm ready to be surprised again, this time at how great thirty might be.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Graduation Day: Three

I knew when I graduated with my BA that I wasn't done. I knew there was something unfinished in my educational history. I knew I had to go to grad school. I didn't know it would be so complicated once I arrived.

I didn't love grad school, but I didn't hate it either. I was surrounded my amazing people, both peer and professors, was afforded fantastic opportunities as a teacher, an editor, and a friend. I read and read and read, and wrote and wrote and wrote. I listened and shared and tangled myself up only to untangle and re-tangle. I threw a few books at the wall and cried in my shared office late at night when no one was there, and I wondered why on earth I thought I belonged there.

I didn't feel graceful or natural, but clunky and messy - a roaming cluster of ideas and questions without foundations, the Pig Pen of Higher Education.

But (all good things have a but, don't they?), I made it through, even though I whined I whimpered with the glory of a six year old at times, I completed what I needed to do and at times, though it felt impossible to see in the moment, I even thrived. Those two years remind me that all experiences, even when difficult, or simply just complicated, offer us something, and though my stubborn nature neglects this, I feel it to be true.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

How to Have a Life and Share It

Like marriage, I've written about teaching before (I'll wait a minute while you catch up so the title makes sense). Like marriage, teaching is a complicated, beautiful beast that demands pieces of you that you might not originally know you have. Teaching, like anything worth doing well, asks you rethink your expectations every minute - not to let go of them, no, but to redefine them.

It's tough to bring something new to how I feel about teaching since that last post because when I return to reread it I am immediately met with a simultaneous longing for the classroom and a gratefulness that I was lucky enough to have the experiences with those students that I did.

Now, nearing two years since I've been in the classroom, I think I can tell you what I learned from that time that extends well past the papers and the grades. Teaching taught me to be a better listener, and required that I hear what the people in my presence weren't saying. Teaching taught me everyone needs someone in their life that refuses to give up on them, and because it's impossible to know who has that and who doesn't, I might as well be that person to them (a little extra reinforcement never hurt anyone). Teaching taught me that just because something works once, doesn't mean it will ever work again, and being flexible and inventive are the difference between stubborn failure and positive change. Teaching taught me, even when I didn't want to learn, to accept people on their terms and not my own. I'd like to tell you now that I learned all of these lessons and now execute them flawlessly, but it's not that simple. The best thing teaching taught me? Patience.

I still receive updates from a number of my former students as they declare majors, move apartments, take exciting trips, and just generally become adults. I've given feedback on papers for other classes, opened emails filled with excited exclamations for high grades, and listened as Andrew describes which former student of mine recognized him at work and said hello.

I miss teaching, yes, but I don't think I actually ever gave it up. I'm not currently in the classroom, but the classroom is most definitely in me.

Moving On, One More Time

It's packing time again, loading a truck and heading toward a new home. Just a few months after we married, Andrew and I packed all of our belongings, and with the help of my mother and Irby, we filled a large Penske truck, hooked our Jeep to the back, and headed West. We were heading toward Washington, yes, and graduate school, yes, but more than that, we were heading toward the future; we packed a truck and headed toward possibility.

It took us a little over four days with many, many stops along the way for photos and picnics and roadside attractions (I'm a sucker for a souvenir pencil). We were excited and scared and so, so nervous, but we had each other, and a good music, and of course, coffee.

I underestimated the impact of a cross-country move, and that first half day in Bellingham, as we unloaded the truck in a city where we didn't know anyone, into an apartment we'd never seen before, I called my mother in tears. It's been about four years since that day, four challenging, educational years, but now every time I leave and return to this city, I feel relived - and comforted. There aren't any more tears, except those of appreciation: for the trees, for the air, for the people, for our home - for this city of subdued excitement.

Friday, February 3, 2012

We Vowed

I've written about it before, but that was almost three years ago now, and we were just shy of a year in. The last time I wrote about marriage I was answering a question I received over and over in graduate school: What made you decide to get married? I felt an impetus with my replies to not only introduce this incredibly amazing person I am lucky enough to share my life with, but also to re-establish the act of marriage from another perspective, to breath new life into an institution that many people I encountered felt unnecessary, and to show them, as best I could, how a girl who never felt it was a necessity, or a desire really, could be so ready to make that commitment, and be so happy in the wake of the vows.

I encourage you to read that post if you're interested, because even these almost three years later, I still mean every single word. These past few years have been tough, and careers and paths and plans have not been what we hoped, and that life's not clear-cut has made me, at times, a mess of stress and worry.

I second guess choices daily, reevaluating decisions long gone, but I never regret that day on the bluff, the sun setting as my best friend took my hand and we walked down the grass to this song, in the dress my mother made for me, toward the dock and through an aisle lined with brown paper bags filled with wild flowers. We were married by a dear friend in the company of a small group of family and friends while little girls in daisy covered dresses sat on a quilt and giggled at my side. We shared vows we wrote for each other and we made our teary-eyed guests laugh when Andrew's first line announced that he did not fall in love with me at first sight. We celebrated back up the grassy hill through the clapping and smiles of these same friends while this song played. We drank our favorite wine and bourbon with ginger ale, and snacked on radishes topped with butter and pink sea salt. When the sun was gone we moved to the front of the house and sat at long tables filled with family linens and old tins holding more wildflowers, flanking mismatched vintage plates we'd scoured shops for together in the months before. We danced to this song in a small grassy cove under the glow of thousands of white twinkly lights. We dined on food we'd made ourselves, with the generous help of friends, and when our bellies were filled with grilled salmon and roasted vegetables, hummus, beautiful crusty loaves of olive, wheat, rye, and sourdough breads, chocolate chip, and Linzer cookies, and so, so much more, we gathered around a small green table and we fed each other carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, and as we took that bite we smiled at each other, and then at our guests, and we felt like the luckiest people alive. We filled baskets with gifts for our guests containing our favorite dark chocolate bars, the ones Andrew brought to me in a small brown paper bag when we'd first begun, wrapped thoughtfully by family with images of our former (tinier and cuter) selves. We stood, surrounded by the people we love, and held tight to each other in a way that we still do.

I'm not one for fussy expensive weddings and so we set out to conquer this one ourselves with the help of our village, and in the end, though it meant resisting well-intentioned suggestions and requests, I married the best guy I've ever met in the most perfect ceremony for us.

In the last line of my vows I declared to Andrew, "I'm in." I still am.

Graduation Day: Two

When I moved to Savannah I was determined to be a Biology major on my way to a job in the medical field, focused on science, but in love with words. If people and death aren't clear-cut, neither are the paths we take, the ones we follow, or the ones we veer off to when we feel we've lost our way. Five years, two majors, one minor, many, many jobs (most at the same time), two years as Editor of the school's art and lit journal, bursts of rather frenzied political fervor, the loss of my father, the end of my first significant adult relationship, the beginning of my best and current relationship, invaluable time with some really amazing ladies, introductions to authors and works and lines and words by people who cared about the individual in their office more than their own lofty projects, and a paper comparing Willy Wonka and Wallace Stevens later, I gained my BA in English with a minor in Gender Studies.

I felt so restless during those years - mostly with myself. I was going taking too long, moving too far off track. I spent the first two years trying to make up my mind, the middle year muddling through grief, and the last two years finding my stride, carving my niche, and gathering my voice.

I didn't walk in the graduation ceremony, and though that's mostly because I'm terribly impatient with long, organized celebrations that begin in folding chairs and end in photos, it was more than that, too. My undergraduate time was complicated and confused, most likely no different than many of those who attend college, but even though I was relieved to have completed the hours necessary for my degree, I knew I wasn't done - I knew there was more to go, and so I saved the walk for the very end, and end we'll get to soon.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

My Big Win

I can't be the only one with a baby picture in this space, and so I introduce to you my husband, Andrew. He's already made an appearance through his video debut, but I can't get to where we're headed in the list if I don't first meet him, so I'll start at that beginning.

When I met Andrew I was just about to finish my undergrad degree and I was working two jobs - as a nanny and managing the office of a walking tour company in downtown Savannah. Andrew was a tour guide for the company and I can definitively say, we were not on each other's radars. When we started spending time together I was fresh out of a long relationship and he was trying to get me out of my work/school/home hibernation, introducing me to everyone he knew and prodding me to pull myself up and out. It seems impossible with the amount of time we spent together with his friends, but for quite a while we weren't even flirting beyond what happens subconsciously (I'll leave room for what we don't always realize we're doing). We both say now that it didn't even cross our minds at first, as if we weren't really an option for the other.

Fast forward just a bit to the Savannah Jazz Festival in Forsyth Park, just a block or so from Andrew's apartment, where we're sitting with a group of friends listening to a great concert and sharing a bottle of wine and other little snacks, when suddenly I notice Andrew's behaving differently. There's more questions than usual about my interests and history, and I though I have no recollection of why it came up, I remember Andrew describing what he considered to be the "New Alpha Male." I realize now that he was trying, in his sweet, misguided flirtation, to charm me, and honestly, though the talk of men and art confused me, I was intrigued. In that park surrounded by hundreds of people, some I knew, many I didn't, I felt as if I'd closed my eyes to blink and opened them back up to a person I'd never really seen before even though I'd spent almost every day in his presence.

Everything changed after that night, even more than just our relationship titles for each other. The more I got to know him, the more I loved him, and the more time we spent together the more in sync we became. It's slightly nauseating, but sweet sometimes, how much our minds function in rhythm with the other, especially considering our clueless beginning.

Meeting Andrew changed my life in a lot of big, obvious ways that are still to come, but it's the smaller, subtler ones that day to day, moment to moment, reassure me that after our walk home from the park that night when he asked if I'd kiss him on the cheek before I got in the car to go home, when we were still so mired in figuring out what was happening between us, leaning in to him was one of my best decisions yet. After all the heartbreaks and my stubborn insistence that maybe this love and happiness gig just wasn't for me, I leaned into a big win, and I feel so lucky for it.


I've written about meeting Grace Paley before, about her writing and the impact her voice has had on mine, and so now, years later, years after her death, I'm trying to find new words to articulate what meeting her meant to me.

It's more than her presence in the front row of our conference presentation, or her tiny hand touching mine, or how, in her Keynote speech, her voice was so simple and so clear that I immediately teared up and jotted down one of the first things she said: "There is no such thing as having a spiritual life without having and interest in life."

During the Q&A one of my professors that was attending the conference asked Grace what advise she had for someone who wanted to be a writer and then looked over towards me, and Grace answered the best answer I didn't expect: one must be very lucky. Of course, later that night she reinforced, one also makes their own luck just by participating in life, and so I keep that urge to participate and be lucky with me today.

When I handed her my commonplace book to sign she made a few quick comments about the paper my friend Alicia and I presented, and about my notebook and her own notebooks, and then she jotted a note about the weekend on the page. After she gave it back to my shaky, excited hand, she asked I return it to her for just one more thought and she added the last line. I could have used a couple more days, too.

Writing Through It

Just a couple weeks after loosing my father I attended the Wesleyan Writers Conference in Connecticut. I'd won a scholarship from my undergrad institution just a few months before that, and though everyone assure me that I didn't have to go, I needed to. I brought two bags: one small suitcase filled with clothing and other essentials, and an large duffle bag filled with books. I spent days filtering in an out of workshops, met more new people in one setting, willingly, than I ever had before, and spent endless hours on the breezy green lawns writing a long series of bad poetry on death and survival.

I met authors I loved and admired, was introduced to authors in person and on paper I now considers my most favorite. I woke up every morning and read through the New York Times they provided and ate huge bowls of fresh fruit oatmeal. I remember bits and pieces of writing projects I began that week, but I think it was so much more than that. So far from everyone and everything I knew, I spent a week with words - a week to sort myself out a bit.

I'm so grateful to have received the scholarship, to have had so many people behind be, to have had those days to remind myself of myself (and oh, what a task that can be).

Monday, January 30, 2012

For Every End, a Beginning

I've put off this list item for as long as I can, and though I tried to rationalize my way through to the next posts, thinking of how order and chronology are so highly overrated, the truth is that the experience informs everything, every single thing that has happened in my life since then. I've been trying to find a way in to a lofty, emotional subject without allowing sentimentality to override honesty, and it wasn't until I reread my last post that I listened to what I knew how to do all along: remember the lines.

When I was in my early twenties I sat in a coffee shop at the table I used to gather around with friends in high school and I wrote my father's eulogy. I'd been home less than ten hours after being woken up in the very early morning by an unexpected call from my mother. As soon as the sun rose my boyfriend at the time, a kind and patient man, had driven me the four hours home and then just hours after that, coffee in hand, I sat silently with glassy eyes and typed the lines of my father that I could remember.

At the time I wrote out his lines I was still struggling to make sense of them, still trying to reconcile the man I'd known as a child with the man I'd only really met as an adult maybe sixth months before that terrible phone call. I was attempting, in such a broad way, to decide if this man I'd always felt so connected to, so much alike, was good or bad. It seems so simple now, silly even, that I thought I might get at the heart of a person, at the heart of their life, their choices, their end, in some clean-cut way. It's never clean-cut. The same man who made up songs for me and sang "Oh little round head, your Daddy loves you," and took me on Daddy Dates and sent me coupons in the mail when I first left for college is the same man who struggled with his own addictions, who chose have another drink and another, who couldn't battle himself any longer. And so I sat at a very public spot and tried to make sense of very private issues, much like I'm doing now, and I wrote.

I wrote my way through my father's life, through the life he chose to share, and I put down into words what I wanted to remember and I stood at a podium in front of a crowd and I read. And the key to all this? The lines I wanted to remember.

Shortly after that I tossed aside the wants and got to the needs. I recounted everything I could think of, tugged at hindsight and looked for clues that would make it all make sense, and I justified my need to understand him better with idea that I loved him but I didn't want to be naive about who he really was. I wanted my eyes to be open and I thought it would make his life and his death mean more; I thought that knowing him more honestly would make our time together more valuable.

As it turns out (and yes, I say this with a smile and a bit of sarcasm), knowing a parent more honestly isn't really simple, and dare I say it, necessary. People are a beautiful, convoluted sort. I am so grateful for the man I knew in the beginning, even if it wasn't all of him, and grateful too, though it's harder to say, for the man I knew at the end, even if it wasn't all of him.

Part of me wanted to come to this space and tell you that my father was an amazing man that could charm a dead horse, excelled in his chosen career, knew exactly what treats two little girls would claim as heaven, and could cook incredible feasts and feed anyone and everyone who needed it. Part of me wanted to come to this space to tell you that my father was generous to a fault and would have given you the shirt off his back if you'd asked, or really, if you'd simply said you liked it, and that even when the restaurants he managed went from one to five to ten to fifteen and so on, he still knew regular customers in every city he was in and they loved him, basically a stranger, like family. Part of me wanted to tell you all those things and more because they are all true, and because most of you won't ever be able to say that you met him, but I hope that one day you will know him because you see some of those things in me.

I tried so hard for so long to make sure that I wouldn't carry on his struggles, that I, who was so much like him, wouldn't end up as he did in the end, that I allowed it to overshadow all the good, and there really was so much good, because even complicated good is good, it just takes more patience. I tried not to love him too much, then to love him more, but mostly, in the end, I just love him, every messy bit, just as he did for me.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

I Remember the Lines

As an undergrad I changed my major to English and very quickly realized that I wasn't going to be able to pick and choose what I wanted that major to teach me. I loved fiction, creative non-fiction, and essays on literature. What I didn't get was poetry. I had childhood favorites, sure, and teenage rhymes, but the discussion and dissection of a poem in a classroom? The process completely intimidated me. I was overwhelmed by my peers search for meaning, for my own need to discover something new and unique in what felt so old over played. It wasn't until a class with a small, quiet professor who took her time on each line of the poem, not as if she could show us its meaning if we looked closely with her, but as if she was as interested as we were, as new to the words as we were, as open to whatever the poem had to tell us, that I began to get it. Instead of asking us what the poem meant or talking about its impact as a whole, she focused on the lines, telling us that she "only remembered the lines."

I felt empowered by the knowledge that I didn't have to get it all right at that moment, didn't need to know everything about the piece or retain any greater wholeness - I could know and love one line. It was a reintroduction to poetry that changed my method in my major, yes, but more than that, with those few words that professor gave me the power and freedom to find my own way in, and more importantly, my own way out, carrying with me what I choose, not what I assume I should retain. It's a nomadic connection between a reader and a line.

Poetry is now such a huge part of my life, part of my every day really, that I forget my initial fears and confusion, but I'm grateful that struggled my way to the lines - they're better that way.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Moving On, Again

Another gratuitous childhood photo to replace the one that I don't have for this post. It's moving time again, at least as far as we are on the list, but for this move I'm on my own. About a month after graduation, maybe even less, my family packed my very tiny world along with additional furniture and drove me three hours south to Savannah. My parents bought a house and our deal was that I got to feel cooler and more responsible than I actually was, find and collect rent from roommates, and make sure the roof didn't pick itself up and run away, and my parents got a break from me whining about my fear of sharing a bathroom (WITH OTHER PEOPLE) in a dorm.

But, this is more about the move than the house, and the move was quite an experience. My parents dropped me off and left same day, something I'm sure I swore I was happy with at the time, though I cried the tears of a teenager that night, no matter how old I was trying to be. It was late summer in Savannah and the heat was melting the trees. Unfortunately, the air conditioning wasn't working and the repairman was unavailable immediately, so I spent my days circling the mall, round and round again in the overly cool air. I didn't know anyone in the city and because school hadn't started and my first roommate hadn't moved to town, I fluctuated, minute by minute, between excitement, confusion, and sheer terror. There was no one to call into the room when the GIANT palmetto bugs flew at the wall and then at my head, no one to check on the thud from the next room, no one to come get me when I got lost trying to find a new shop.

But, but...I learned to do more on my own, made my own little home, called my very patient mother a thousand times a week, listened to her, took her advice (sometimes).

There's still another big move to come, one that felt a lot like this one did - frightening and exhilarating, the kind of change that makes you feel like the biggest little kid you know.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Broken Parts

In the very first draft of my list I tried to brainstorm everything significant I could remember from these past almost thirty years. Extensive, the list included many, many experiences that didn't make the cut, some more prominent than others, all for a good reason. It's difficult, at least for me, not to consider some of the heart breaks involved in life as they've so thoroughly informed who I am now and where I am now. My heart breaks led me to my... what would one call it ... heart win? But we aren't there on the timeline yet, and technically, we aren't even to the biggest of the heart breaks either, chronologically. But this isn't the space for a run down of breakups, and surviving a broken heart is more than an individual event. For me, surviving a broken heart is a community event, a reminder of who we are alone while simultaneously bringing us closer to the people and parts of our life often go unseen until needed.

When I moved to the most recent version of the list, surviving a broken heart was nestled in my late college years, holding the weight of my last big break before my my current great win, and while I understand my intention, in this early morning quiet, I realize how inaccurate that placement was. Adult broken hearts are different than those in youth. Not more significant, not better, worse, easier - just different. As an adult, though this theory is allowing for exceptions of course, there's more history involved, more rationalization, it's more understandable and predictable and more complicated in some ways, and sometimes even the devastation is more practical. A broken heart as an adult doesn't always have the luxury of innocence and ignorance, or really stubborn will, that the brokenhearted youth can afford.

And so, though I wept and thrashed and called my friends over and over and made sweeping declarations about the end of life and love, I survived. I loved a couple boys so much my heart ached from the impossibility that we would never be together again and I allowed myself to wallow in the notion that I would never love again just long enough to feel it, really feel it, and not too long that I missed out on the moving forward, of getting where I am now. I went back to bad situations when my heart hadn't broken quite enough and I made sure to finish the job, but I still made it through, and each time I learned a little bit more about when an end is the end.

It's a messy beast, this thing we call love, these rituals of romance and relationship, and though I cringe now at the situations and people I threw myself into wholeheartedly, I'm actually pretty grateful, despite what my high school journal says, to have those memories, to have loved that much, to have given so much so blindly (as most great teens do), to have suffered so poetically (as most great teens do). It all felt so final, but I'm thankful it wasn't.

I'm definitely a person who believes we don't celebrate enough of the smaller wins, the moments when we simply survive, because thriving is great, but sometimes we need a pat on the back just for making it through, broken heart and all.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Graduation Day

I was a terrible graduate - refusing to participate in the ridiculous amount of activities that they packed into those last days, not submitting a photo to our Senior yearbook, and I'm relatively sure I screamed out very unkind words to a girl who'd done me wrong (we were in the South, this description feels appropriate).

This photo, though it does remind me of the minutes that followed (cue memory of previously mentioned unkind words), brings back the best parts of graduation. The best parts, the only parts that counted to me then, and actually still now, were the friends, the anticipation, the possibility. I didn't cry a lot or lament what I'd leave behind. It wasn't about what I had done or who I had been, it was about who I could be.

Plus, I had a really great dress.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Things do not change; we change.

"However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in the poor house." - Henry David Thoreau

In English class my Sophomore year we were given a list of books to choose from to read and subsequently write a paper about. There were trends and most people seemed to choose the same books, so I chose the only one on the list that no one else wanted, a book I'd never heard of before by a man I'd never heard of before. I hated Walden instantaneously. So many calculations, so many rationalizations, I went back to my classroom and asked to switch to something else. My teacher, god bless her, asked me to keep going, to give it more of a shot, and so I did - I began again. I loved Walden instantaneously.

The more time I spent with the book, the more time I spent thinking through how something from so long before me could be so in sync with my life, a high school girl. Soon, the patience I found while reading that one book trickled over into all the books I read, and opened up new books and new ideas. I carried my copy (the one shown above), a $2 Dover Thrift edition, everywhere. The pages are rimmed in pink and buckled and curled from the Powerade that fueled my high school lunches. I marked my favorite passages with large, highlighter stars, and scribbled notes in the margin.

As a college student, and again as a graduate student, I tiptoed in and out of theoretical debates on the texts, questions of validity and significance, but I refused to give up on it, a choice every Lit major must make for themselves at one point regarding one or more texts from their youth. I refused to let go of the fact that a book written by a man who was just a little older than I am now in 1854 meant so much to me at 16, and that even with all that complications brought up byreexamining a book from a perspective that is afforded the luxury of time and access, the lines still ring true to me.

"I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one." -HDT

Monday, January 23, 2012

Sweet Sixteen

As far back as I can remember there was the dream of my sweet sixteen party. My mom, not being one for too much unnecessary fuss must have temporarily lost her mind when the time actually came for the event as even I am now a bit embarrassed by the party (though not enough that I don't still beam at the memory). We rented out a room at the local country club, chose a menu from the caterer, picked out personalized napkins and invitations, and put together a, goodness, fifty person guest list (Mom, can you confirm that?). We asked for semi-formal attire and my friends and I swooned at the chance to buy long, fancy dresses and beg our high school boyfriends to wear ties. There was music, which I just now remembered might have been from a DJ, and the cake was tiered and sprinkled with edible glitter. I very clearly remember dancing with my then boyfriend, my head nestled in his cologne drenched neck, swaying back and forth to Celine Dion and "My Heart Will Go On." Oh, 1998, I miss you.

It was surely over the top, and my almost thirty year old brain shudders at the expense, but the part of me that's less rational loves the memories of feeling like a princess, yes, I said that, of dashing around with friends in fun dresses and heels we weren't equipped to handle. I remember feeling sad the next day that I didn't eat any of the food or taste the cake's edible glitter, but I love that it means I had too much fun to notice. I need more of that in my life now.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Date Night

Though I'm not sure why I have this photo, I remember this moment vividly. My mom took this photo as I got ready for my first (fully approved) date, though now that I do the math, it definitely didn't fit the rule, so I'm going to assume that I blocked the screaming and yelling and pouting that preceded this moment. My hair was courtesy of a temporary hair dye, Deep Apricot, a split second decision I'd regret later, and those curls were most likely covering the small stubs of hair left over on one side after I'd turned my "curling brush" all the way up to my scalp only to realize that scissors were the only way out.

The purpose of this memory is not just the date though, it's the moment of my first real kiss. It was a romantic setting, of course, me and my beloved along with maybe six of our friends enjoying the release of another timeless film (obviously my youthful dates show a trend). Midway through Twister, in a theater dark enough to somehow convince me that no one else, not even the people behind or beside me, could see me (another cringe moment). I was ready, and though nervous, everyone reassured me this was no big deal, nothing to worry about. Just as we fumbled towards each other and the very minute we kissed, a minute I'd never forget, it happened. You're thinking "kiss" and I'm wondering if you've seen the movie, because if you have you'll remember the moment, full of suspense, when the storm is full speed and the landscape and objects are spinning through the air. Everyone in that theater's heart was racing, wondering if the cast would survive, and I, in my own little world, heart also pumping, wondering if I would survive, and just before we could catch our breath a cow flies mooing across the screen. I remember the theater's gasp, the giggles of my friends, but mostly I remember my date's "ouch" as I realized our first kiss was more of a moment than either of expected as I bit hard as I jumped from fright at the unexpected bovine calling out from the screen.

I remember wanting to die, considering the stealth move of slipping from my chair to the floor, down the aisle, out the door. I stayed, we both stayed, and now I'm much less mortified and much more amused. It's amazing how forgiving teenage boys can be...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Coffee, an Introduction

If you know me now you know how much I love coffee. In fact, in our wedding vows, which we wrote separately and did not share until the ceremony, both Andrew and I referenced our thankfulness that we both love coffee as much as we do. We love amazing beans, praise local roasters, work to perfect our morning (afternoon and night) cup whether it be from the french press, Chemex, or stove-top espresso maker. It's hard now to imagine a time when I did not love coffee, but it definitely existed. In fact, though my father had a pot of coffee every morning (black with two ice cubes), I had no taste for it at all.

When I was in 8th grade, or maybe 9th, an older girl from the church I was attending took my best friend and me out for coffee at a little shop in town. Ashley, do you remember this?

I remember how much older I felt out with the two of them, and even though I ordered, oh goodness, I think it was an Irish Cream flavored latte (tiny shudder), and I did have to work hard to get down those first few sips, which I also partially blame on my syrup choice, it wasn't terrible. I remember thinking that maybe this coffee thing wasn't so bad after all, and even better? We laughed and talked and shared and I realized that it was more about the gathering than just the beverage. Since that first coffee date I've enjoyed more than my fair share of amazing cups of coffee, and though I meandered my way to an appreciate of the bean and the process, I enjoyed some pretty fantastic phases of flavor along the way. I remember these phases of favorites, and they make me smile, but that smile is less about what was in the cup, though that does at times make me chuckle, and more about who I was spending time with during those times - sharing coffee, laughter, stories, just like that first outing.

For remembrance, in order:
- Irish Cream Latte
- Caramel Mocha
- Hazelnut Latte
- Raspberry Cappuccino
- Vanilla Latte
-Black coffee or latte (no syrup)

The Vacation is Over

Where were we? I'd feel more guilty for breaking my post-a-day roll if I hadn't come home from a very long week at work to find the newest issue of a favorite magazine, a small chocolate doughnut from out favorite local shop, and my husband in the kitchen making dinner. Relaxation oozed from the arrangement and Andrew's demands for me to leave the kitchen and sit down to enjoy the sweet tea he'd made washed away any guilt I was mildly tinkering with after considering the posting delay. but, back to the list, because time is dwindling and there's still more to remember.

I'm not sure if this will surprise you or not, but I didn't get in trouble a lot as a child. My biggest punishment was over my messy room, which really, might need to be a post all on its own. I was generally, though my mother might be able to say different, a good, well-behaved child. I had two rules I clearly remember: no makeup outside of the house until I turned 13, and no single/double dates (also called car dates) until I turned 16. I don't remember how much the makeup rule bothered me, though I remember few whines about not being able to sport anything more than Bonne Bell Lip Smackers, a whine that overwhelms with irony now when I only put on Lip Smackers "Bubblegum" each morning. The dating rule, to my hormone addled middle school brain? Yeah, I probably still need to apologize to my mom for some of the screams I released over that one.

So when my 7th grade boyfriend and his best friend wanted to go to a movie with my friend and me? I lied. My mom dropped us off at the theater in the middle of the afternoon and we, acting no cooler than we were, met up with the boys inside, though I can almost guarantee that we barely spoke to them the entire time. Were they worth lying to our parents and sneaking around for? Of course. Were they were worth acting mature and making conversation with? Of course not. We thought we were home free when we left the theater, but my mother knew right away and let me tell you - I knew she knew. During the walk from the theater to my mother's tight grip and frightening close ear whispers I learned the most important lesson of my youth: YOU CANNOT LIE TO MY MOTHER. When we arrived home there was quite a bit of yelling and door slamming, fueling my youthful drama. I had never seen my parents so angry and to this day that was the most trouble I've ever been in - two weeks grounding, no phone, no friends, no boys.

I'd like to have some redeeming aspect to all of this, like the film we saw was so incredible and timeless that even with silent, clammy hand holding and plenty of lost trust and parental disappointment it was worth it, but the image above was more than just a place holder. Wait, that film didn't change your life, too, with those incredibly witty lines, suspenseful, unique scenes? That's what I thought.

I haven't watched it again sine that day, and though I considered it just in case it might bring back even more memories of that day, I couldn't do it. I'd say the day wasn't worth it either, that getting in that much trouble and seeing my parents so upset was something I'd like to erase, but even though it made me cringe, it taught me where the boundaries were and I was much better about living within them.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Moving On

No, we're not jumping back, I just decided that if I didn't have a picture that applied, I might as well post a big-headed baby photo. And really, a Polaroid with a giant bald noggin, crazy star headband, and a scary dog tongue/devil eye combo? Yeah, you're welcome.

When I was ten we moved from a small town in Virginia to a slightly larger one in Georgia. Considering that I was young and inflexible, completely enamored with our house, my school, our church, and all of the various activities I actually participated in, I did not take the move from Virginia lightly. In fact, I remember tears, tantrums, and a number of wet, then crinkly dry pages of my Lisa Frank gumball machine diary. Well meaning elders kept showing up in my face asking if I was ready to be a southern belle and presenting their own best fake accents, neither of which pleased me in any way. The South was a foreign beast, and my only concept of it was a place others treated as a syrupy sweet myth.

Sad reality for me, it was no myth and we moved regardless of my silent and not so silent protests. The good news, for me at least, was that roots grow even in the most unlikely of places, and slowly but surely I adapted to the heat, the drawls and twangs, the "Yes, Ma'am" (though please, for your safety, do not say that to my mother), the pride in place (I don't remember so much identity-based Virginia paraphernalia, thought maybe I just tuned it out due to age). I rallied against it most of the time I was there, feeling like I was ready to get out and move somewhere that felt more like home, more like me.

Though the next move is a post in and of itself, I will say that I've learned this need to escape, or more precisely, that this idea that home is a place easily mapped, is unrealistic. Home follows you, places follow you - even more than the sand from the beach. Even now I miss some of the very things I hated from all the places that I lived, not because I now love them and lament the loss, but because I find that I miss what some of those less comfortable experiences and places spurred me to do, change, be.

I might not have become that southern belle myself, but I met more than a few after that move, many of whom are still there across these many states between us, and I can't imagine what my life would have been without them.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Have you seen my sister?

Keeping on the track of the amazing people in my life being an experience in themselves, let me introduce you to my sister. The photo time line jumps us ahead, but it captures so much of who we are - separate and together. We couldn't be more different in so many ways, but my childhood wouldn't have been nearly as full or eventful without her. Sometimes I lament the fact that we don't have more in common, that we didn't share more interests, but now, as we get older together, I'm grateful to have spent so much time with someone so much braver, radical, outgoing, and funnier than me. My sister introduced me to what it means to really get to know someone else and love them, even when they seem so different, though I still don't always carry that process out as gracefully as she does.

She didn't and doesn't take a lot of crap - see that giant Minnie Mouse head lunch box she's carrying in the first photo? Yeah, there's a mouthy little boy with a scar that's regretting messing with her at school. And if I was the prissy, quiet child that just wanted to be left alone to read? She was fearless, covered in mud and most likely a little blood, halfway up the tree looking for a place to jump. She mastered everything she tried when we were growing up including gymnastics and percussion instruments. She wasn't plagued by my own crazy issues with embarrassment (EVERYTHING EMBARRASSES ME). She took risks and had fun - she was even an amazing mascot when needed.

She reminds me, even today, to keep trying new things, not to be so afraid of what might happen, and just take both a deep breath and a chance. She's still an experience really, every year that I get to know her better, and I'm excited for what's next (you know, when she turns thirty).

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


First, let me admit that this photo has nothing to do with this post. You do actually get to see Baby Jane in action, her poor little bloomer-clad grey body. In my defense, we're entering the Middle School years and because of that I don't actually have any photos due to awkward pauses in my ability to dress myself in a way that made sense (let's not even talk about the hair - combs were so Elementary School, and thankfully, High School).

So, my name, specifically the unofficial changing thereof. Do you remember that time in your life when you would meet one other person that shared a similar trait (or name) with you and that realization made you feel utterly unoriginal and less than special? A realization that spurred you to immediately change that trait (name) so that you could return to be the unique person you always knew yourself to be, you know, before everyone started copying you? No? Huh. Well, at some point in sixth grade I came to the realization that every Brandy I knew (really, how many could I have known? one, maybe two?) spelled her name with a "y" at the end, just like me, and I wanted to be different. I couldn't handle the thought that there might be another me out there (oh, my young mind). My solution? Change the spelling of my name, obviously, from "y" to "i" - a transition I proudly displayed on my English DOL (Daily Oral Language) paper. The result? Points take off my grade for misspelling my name and I feel relatively certain that my teacher called my mom to tell her - or maybe she made her sign my paper? Regardless, what would have probably have blown over, stuck. I felt defiant, bold, and best of all in my very small part of the world, one of a kind.

Over the years I became so used to it, and so did everyone else, that Brandi feels much more natural to me, though I feel much less impassioned than my twelve year old self. At work I go by Brandy, leading to my distinction of my work self and "life" self, though I still field many questions about the difference. People ask which spelling is correct and I find that hard to answer, though legally it's clear.

I might care less about which I use, or which others use, but I'm a little glad that the younger version of me, even if misguided, felt impassioned enough to make a change and make it stick.

Monday, January 16, 2012


When I started my list I wrote down my maternal grandmother's name, Bess, with a series of words scrawled next to it, all followed with question marks. I was trying to decided what experience with her was the one that changed me the most, the one I remember above the others, when I realized that she was the experience. Complicated and kind, mysterious and giving, she mesmerized me.

She had a swash of white hair right at the front of her face that I envied and struggled to understand - what made it white? How could I get one? She made pancakes shaped life Fred Flinstone and cacti, allowed us to make mud pies in her best kitchen pans, served us Pepperidge Farm cookies during our tea parties (pirouette wafers were a delicacy in my young life), and convinced me, and egg hater in my youth, to eat them hard boiled in her special way (sprinkled with salt- I must have been so focused on those cookies that I lost all ability to protest).

In her own life before mud pies and tea parties she was even more than that - resourceful, creative, driven, spiritual, and most impressively to me, simultaneously no-nonsense and fully supportive. She had a relationship with my grandfather that I was enthralled by - his shop out back holding over-sized prints of the two of them - I remember being impressed, even as a girl, that it seemed liked he always wanted her around - even in what we might today call his "man cave".

We lost her when I was very young, but lucky enough to have had enough time to know her, to experience her, to remember her.

I know my mother's memories are different, and I ask her all the time to tell me more than what I know, to give more to my memory of a woman I think I would have really liked as much as I absolutely loved.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

On the Road Again

If I thought my mother a saint for piping thousands of tiny frosting stars onto my childhood birthday cakes, the fact that she willingly piled two children, multiple suitcases, coolers of sandwich ingredients, books on tape, barbie dolls, and travel games into a car and drove for four straight days across the country through Texas (Texas people!), well, let there now be no question of her levels of patience and love.

My sister, eager to call shotgun, always frustrated me with her cry for the front seat, but somewhere during my rearrangement of my backseat nook complete with portable tape player and headset (remember those orange foam covers?) so that I could hear that soul-affirming "ding" that reminded me to turn the page when reading along with books on tape, I forgave her.

From Virginia to New Mexico, we drove all day, spending hours in a car filled with the sounds of two young girls yelling out inaccurate lyrics to classic songs, shouting out demands for others in the car to look out the window, crying at our mother that we hated the other of us, and quietly simmering about how unfair our lot was at any given moment. With all the fighting and whining and emergency bathroom stops, it's a wonder we ever made it to my grandparent's house. Really, looking back, it's amazing they looked forward to what would spill out of the car once we arrived.

The truth, through all my memories of frustration and tears and well, vomit, is that I look back on those trips as some of the best times of my life. I remember odd tidbits, like the fact that Denny's still allowed children to eat for free and the toys they gave out one summer were little Flinstone's toys that rolled on tiny wheels and it drove me crazy that I couldn't get Wilma out of that damn stone car.
Thank you, Google, for remembering her, too.

And though my memory holds a strong tie for what was better - the frustratingly fantastic time in the car or the moment we saw our grandparents come out the front door, I'm glad I had both - a quick flight across the country just wouldn't have done. We had rock forts, neon paints, pony beads, and mud pies to look forward to, and as any good traveler knows, it's as much about how you get there as what you do when you arrive.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Daddy Dates

My memories of my parents grow complicated as I age. Emotional reflections that once seemed so simple are clouded now by my own rationalizations; becoming an adult informs me of how difficult it is to be one, and it makes it harder not to think through old memories through a different lens. Noticing that I'm tending toward this, I've been carving out some experiences that I'm working hard not to tarnish or redefine, those times I want to keep as they've always been, uncomplicated by at least some real-life motivations.

The image above is from a photo booth strip taken during a "daddy date". I loved these dates as a kid - a little time out just me and my dad - dinner, and most of the time, a little treat. I remember bits of different dates, the food we had, the stores we meandered through, the gift I picked out at the end. Part of me really wishes I still had that set of pastel skinny belts with punched out hearts and stars instead of plain belt holes. While we're on that subject, I really wish I still had the shirt in this photo - how cure are those sleeves?

Well worn by years carried in a wallet, this photo still holds our smiles in tact. We look happy in a way that I feel grateful for - evidence of a time before we knew the truth about who we'd be and what would happen. My father and I shared a lot of our personality quirks, and though as an adult I find that to be a daunting realization, as a little girl, it made me feel special and safe.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Butterfly in the Sky

At some point during elementary school, I'm not certain which grade, but certainly during the time that I would have still made that face at the camera, we got to watch Reading Rainbow episodes on Fridays. For a child who didn't love recess, in class movies, parties, or other "fun" things, Reading Rainbow time was huge for me - i looked forward to it all week. I'm not sure how to describe this with enough enthusiasm, but I LOVED Reading Rainbow - I loved the song, the books (all those books), the vast array of people and purposes, and of course, Levar, sweet, funny, Levar. Sigh. It might be better if I didn't admit this, but I still like to watch old episodes online from time to time as they become available, and when I discovered that the library carries episodes on DVD? Well, if you live in Bellingham and you're child can't get a copy because it's been checked out, call me.

Reading Rainbow highlighted everything I loved and still love about reading: adventure, observation, connection, information, and education. I wanted to be in an episode with Lavar, and short of that, I wanted him to at least use my book of choice at the end when children would present their picks that related to the show's theme. I've had the same pick since I was little, one of my all time favorite children's books, and because I married well and have discovered that the threat of an almost thirty year old's breakdown is quite worrisome to said spouse, Andrew agreed to make this dream a reality.

In all its homemade glory, shot with my ipod and unedited because I don't know how, I give to you a book I really think you'll love, but you don't have to take my word for it.

And if that gem wasn't enough for you, we invite you to the outtakes - our ridiculously embarrassing gift to you - feel free to use them against us one day, we already laughed enough to make them worth it.

I'll see you next time.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Narrator

I almost scratched today's list item and replaced it with something more jovial, something easier to put into words, and I could have very easily done that considering that one, no one's seen my list but me, and two, who would even miss a reflection on a misguided school play from 1988? The answer, the one that kept me from moving on to something simpler, is no one and me. Because this one small, seemingly insignificant moment? This one might say more about me than the lot of these combined.

When I got engaged my grandmother sent me this handout she'd kept from the play, such a thoughtful token, and an instant reminder of the time just before everything was computerized and printed, the folded orange page could only have been more perfect if it was covered in purple, mimeographed ink. It wasn't until I turned to the back, with the list of students and roles (oh, I can still remember the moment years later when I learned that the story wasn't as clean and simple as this friendly portrayal of Pilgrims and Indians - I felt so cheated and lied to). I'm losing focus, and most likely on purpose, but back to what I saw: Brandy Kincaid, Narrator.

The narrator, the person in the story that tells the story, exists somehow simultaneously within the story and outside it - a reader of sorts (a title I would have adored) - the narrator is as much a part of the action as he/she is removed from it (a respite I would have welcomed). For a little girl that was a mess of extremely shy and yet incredibly outgoing, depending on the situation, the role of the narrator was the perfect fit for me in this play, and well, life.

My shyness, much of which still exists, did not and does not hinder me from public speaking, I absolutely thrive on that. Crowds and presentations, whether prepared or impromptu? Yes please, and thank you. However, as small party attended by people I don't know? Whew, that's going to be a tough one. It's easy to be alone in a crowd, a sensation that I must admit I rather love, all that quiet mental observation of one's self and others, but there's an element of control that's needed for this, and the expectations of socialization don't always lend themselves to such behavior.

My mom would classify it as an all-or-nothing kind of shyness, either being the center of attention or being left alone completely, and while I think this is absolutely accurate, I think it's taken me all of these almost thirty years to embrace it. The first half of those years were spent trying to change it, to be more outgoing and then failing and then of course, not trying again for quite some time, and then the second portion spent feeling guilty, having decided that I must be such a dreadful person to crave attention but not be able to give it back in a normal way - the kind with a circle of close friends alongside the ability to make new ones - new ones that you would spend time with outside of their initially prescribed setting (work, school, etc.), outside of a comfort zone. But now, in the last few years, I think I've finally started to get it, to love the parts of me that understand their preferences enough to stand behind them when necessary and bend them when needed.

What I've realized, what I've come to embrace about the narrator, is that sometimes it's a necessary role; sometimes a narrator is needed to make a story tick, to keep it going. At times unreliable or unsympathetic, withholding or demanding, introspective or annoyingly omniscient, the narrator can be a pain in the butt. On the flip side, the narrator can be dependable, thoughtful, insightful, open, and honest (depending on ho we define the parameters, I suppose). I'm not very good at quite a lot of things, including water sports and small group interactions outside of work, but all that time I spend in my head, and my fearlessness when it comes to speaking in front a crowd? I'm pretty proud of that - good stuff comes out of that.

It's tough to define shortcomings, even tougher to own them, but it's kind of amazing to see where what was once a bit of a downside lends itself to so much of what makes us who we are. I loved being the narrator that day and though it brings with it as many complications as it does explanations, I'm thankful for how much that moment has informed so many of the moments yet to come in this collection and in life in general. I'm going to keep trying to get outside of my head a little more, push myself outside my comfort zones, but not because it's a bad place to be, or a bad role to play, but because it isn't the only one.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

What happened is that she was put into the attic for safekeeping and one very generous mother climbed up there much too late at night and snapped a photo so that her daughter could write about her childhood friend. Baby Jane? She brings people together.

Baby Jane was a gift from my Aunt Jane, further proof of how creative I was as a child when it came to naming dolls. While I might not have remembered my first birthday, I remember Baby Jane. It would be hard not to, really, considering that she went everywhere with me, most likely held by one of her arms, the proof of which is the large set of stitches that had to be sewn to reattach her cotton body to her little plastic limb.

What I love about Baby Jane is that she's more than just a toy. That poor crazy doll went through quite a bit, evidence of which lies as much in my mind as it does in her poor beleaguered little body. Why they make doll bodies out of white cotton cloth I'll never know - a nice muddy brown, that's what they need. Clothes come off (which they always do), baby gets dragged about (which they always do), baby gets washed (which they rarely do). Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately so for posterity's sake, the life of a loved baby doll is never fully washable from its body.

And the fact that she somehow managed to keep her limbs in tact even when surgeries were needed and that her soft body hasn't petrified from all that childhood love? Proof that when my mom stopped working to stay at home Baby Jane hit the wall and never quite came back. She was loved, always, and even now at almost thirty years old I had to stop myself from begging my mother through text message to "Send her to me!"- but when my mom came home and stayed, and then my sister appeared on the scene (we'll get back to that in a minute), Baby Jane changed from being a need-to to a want-to. She gained a little more time in her cradle and I got a little more time with other people in my life.

As it turns out, she is nearing thirty too, though she might be handling it better than me - she does have such a baby face. She's crazy, that girl, and even in the snapshot above I can't tell if she reminds me more of the baby Jesus from my childhood nativity set or if she's about to raise the roof and start the party off right. If you look closer you'll see she's not so innocent.

And this frightening shot, my friends, is the last piece of evidence of why this darn doll is so great. Even though that tear from cheek to cheek is the result of my little sister's determination to put the baby bottle IN HER FACE, it also allowed me the opportunity to talk to my friends about her hilarious "Mick Jagger" mouth as I got older. It didn't matter that I had no idea who that was or what he did, or that I most likely only saw a short clip on MTV that focused on a scandal I was much too young to understand. What mattered was that the doll I couldn't bring myself to give up? I didn't have to - she stayed cool and I stayed clueless, and that's about as much as any pre-teen can ask for.

That Baby Jane, she wasn't just a doll, she was a time in my life.

A Very Nice Place to Start

The beginning, at least the one measured by a party, is a grab bag of sorts - you take from it what you need, but you're never quite prepared for what you're going to get.

Although I do not subscribe to my dear husband's assertion that no one remembers their first birthday party, I, sadly, do not. My memories are instead a tapestry of photographic evidence and oral histories, stories told and retold, shaped and reshaped, until what's left is something that makes sense in the way I need it to make sense, a time in my life that it sweet, simple, and untarnished. This beginning, and all that led to it, tells me a story I need to hear every time I return to it, though I understand these parts differently each time, and I'm grateful for that.

When I need to remember my mother, these photos remind me of how patient she was to pipe what I can only imagine to be seven million tiny frosting stars onto a three dimensional cake with a very small child under foot. A few years ago I used a Rainbow Brite pan from my 4th birthday to make a cake for a friend and about two rows of uneven mangled stars in I whined through tears into the phone that my hand was already permanently cramped and that this kind of cake decorating was obviously an impossible task meant to fool the masses into a false sense of possible accomplishment. My mother, on the other end of the line, sympathized, rallied with me, encouraged me onward. Instead of reminding me of the sheer number of star piped cakes she created for me as a child, including one that SAT UP ON ITS OWN FOR GOD'S SAKE, she let me pity myself out until I was back piping stars again. It's the same patience she had with me on that first birthday when I wouldn't go head and hands first into the cake, the reason why there aren't any photos of me with my first sugar rush, covered in frosting and fragments of cake. I wanted no part of the mess and though she admits to sticking one of my hands in the cake for nostalgic purposes, she took my scream as a sign to stop. She didn't laugh and keep prodding, she let me be who I was - a prissy, quiet, big-eyed girl that was probably nowhere near as gutsy as she'd probably initially wanted me to be. In a way, the best gift I got that year, though lord knows I didn't appreciate it until way past those terrible teens, was the chance to be my complicated little self.

And yes, sometimes it has nothing to do with the loftier life questions, and my time looking back on these photos focuses more around the fact that someone gave me a tiny gold ring that year, a gift choice I might never understand and one I most likely swallowed during the party by accident, or how amazing my dad's t-shirt was and that GAP is now selling the same "vintage" style for thirty dollars, or, of course, his Magnum PI mustache that he rocked to the very end.

Sometimes I look at these photos and I can't get past the tiny ruffle on my sleeve and how small my fingers were resting on that balloon, the wonder if my dad ever convinced me to blow out that candle, or the fact that my head, finally sporting a dust of hair, could definitely hold its own.

The first birthday doesn't tell me everything, or most things, really, but it reminds me that there was a beginning - proof that some things never change and a reminder to be grateful for the many things that do.

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Life, Lived

I cannot tell you exactly how old I am in this photo, but in my mind's eye, this is the year I began looking into the mirror and wondering what I might look like one day, who I might be, what being "older" would really mean. Of course, to the little girl in this photo, "older" was mostly likely twelve, maybe even sixteen, never twenty-nine or thirty; to the girl in this photo, those years did not yet exist as comprehensible one-days. And yet, thirty days from now, the girl in that photo will be thirty years old - I will be thirty years old.

In order to be honest about what I'm doing in this space, why I've decided to carve out a very public nook within which to make sense of what turning thirty means, I need to admit that I've not been gracefully embracing this upcoming turn into my third decade. I've been doing the big tally in my mind, the one that seeks out the best of the past, the grand moments and big wins, the mental tally sheet that reminds me, ever so gently, of what I have not done, and second guesses what I have.

The temptation to look back, second guess, and compare is strong and often unforgiving, and my usual remedy for such a danger zone? Don't look back. Crawl under the covers with a flash light and a good book and just keep going - move forward, grow up. The reality? I cannot move forward without what's come before, and looking back isn't even necessarily in the game, as much of it is not behind me, but in me - a part of the almost thirty year old that I am.

So, the question is, how can I embrace turning thirty in way I can be proud of and doesn't end with crying in a closet (as classy as that may sound)? Maybe what I should really be asking is, how can I remember that I'm more than just the sum, or lack thereof, of the big wins, whatever those may be? Everyone has their advice and so much of it has been shared with me recently along with numerous eye rolls and many, many exclamations regarding "the best years of my life". And while I am grateful for all of that, even the frustration with my plight as it grounds me when necessary, I know that I have to carve out my own way through, find my own answer to these questions.

And so, as an answer of sorts, for the next thirty days I will reflect once each day on an experience that changed my life - a little piece of the puzzle of sorts - beginning with my first birthday and ending with my thirtieth. It's an assertion as much as a reminder, a nudge to my mind and my heart to pay more attention to what counts, maybe to redefine what that measure even means to me. I've made a list and I'll work my way through in somewhat of a chronological fashion, though I'm only relying on my memory for this, so I ask that you forgive any small inaccuracies as mistakes of the mind rather than misleads.

Some of the experiences are seemingly more significant than others, some so small that it might be hard at first to see their value, but that's part of it, I think, to figure out what matters in a time when it's all up for grabs.

A life, lived, is one that is done honestly, openly, respected and shared, cleaned and painted; a life, lived, is remembered.