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).