Wednesday, April 28, 2010

improved capabilities

J and I disagree about many, many things, like whether college basketball is superior to pro ball (obviously) or whether ladle upon ladle of olive oil is really that good for you (I'm skeptical). But we agree on one very important thing: one needs good tools. About this, though, we have contrasting definitions of tools. J would call anything manufactured by Apple a tool that he needs and I would instead favor a good screwdriver or a perfectly weighted hammer. Fortunately, for my birthday we agreed that I needed a new tool for blogging and for life: a digital SLR. My Dad gave me an old Ricoh film SLR when I turned 12. I loved that camera and took thousands of rolls with it: grainy overexposed images and eerie underexposed landscapes. It still sits on the top shelf of my closet and one day I'll migrate back to film, but for now I needed something quick and capable. Something that would allow me to meditate for a moment on a bowl of clementines, even in the low light of my 550 square feet:

And while catching up with a cousin and friends on the phone, I gave her strap a little homespun twist, just so she won't get lost in a crowd (the seams are uneven, but I was in a mad dash and can be more precise next time around):

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

10 days gone

How does this happen?

Didn't I post yesterday?

How do ten days go by but it feels like not a one?

I think it might have something to do with this:

Days and days evaporated from my life, all spent dutifully penning addresses and return addresses, stuffing envelops, and cringing when my stamps don't quite fit. And wouldn't you know it that all of the envelops that I really cared about (is that a contradiction in terms or what?) I screwed up (e.g. a one M.D'A) -- a misspelling here, a missing directional there. I had ordered a lovely embosser for the return addresses, but it seemed cursed. The top line routinely failed to imprint and it just didn't look right, so I ended up writing all of the return addresses. And the penmanship? Well...let's just say that there was little consistency. I just tried to channel the recipient (those whom I knew) and act accordingly. And in a truly uncharacteristic move, I added these:

I can't really believe that I--the least romantic person I know--ordered these. I can't believe that I'm going to circulate myself through the US Postal Service in a full-on make out (or more like a sweet little peck, but you know what I mean). It's almost scandalous. I wonder if my Grandfather will be horrified?

I can actually tell you why I did it. It's because last fall when I was getting to know my new friend Lori, she mentioned that we were really different in our relationships. I asked what she meant: "Well, I'm a bit of a romantic," she confessed. The implication was clear: I was a wet rag, a prude, a romance-killer. Ever since, I've been hoping to prove her wrong. This my friends, this kissing-crazed stamp, this is my proof.

But I'm not buying it...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

high winds

I'm teaching this book next week. God I love it. My love of it confuses me a bit. I mean I hate graphic novels. I hate cartoons. But this, this is so good. My hatred of cartoons and my hatred of comics are easy enough to trace and feel nothing but fundamental. When a child, I preferred Little House on the Prairie or The Brady Bunch to anything animated. I like to think that it was because I had a particular refined sense of the real, that I was beyond fantasy even at eight. But that doesn't really get at it. I think I just wanted to imagine an alternative that actually felt like it could be real. I guess I did want the fantasy like everyone else; I just didn't need it to be too much of a stretch.

Anyway. There are high winds in Rittenhouse Square this weekend. I'm horribly and mysteriously hung over after just two glasses of wine (unless of course my friend slipped me something else that I can't remember). When I finally got my haircut this morning for the first time in eight months, I looked a little green and stylist, trying to inquire without being a total jerk, asked "Do you ever get haircuts regularly?" I wanted to both laugh and puke. It's the same sensation I've had all day while lying in bed reading the Bechdel, wanting simultaneously to laugh and puke, or really to laugh and cry. That's a good book, one that makes you want to do two things at once. Go read it. Like now.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

a hint of lovely

It's hard to be lonely in just 550 square feet. Loneliness takes at least a thousand, if you ask me. You actually have to feel like there's space around you that should be occupied but isn't. It's hard to be lonely when everything is in view. But yesterday, as I reconciled 34, I felt a bit of loneliness, probably because the one friend I have in Philadelphia was away and I didn't peep a word of my special day to a soul at work. It also rained all day; that unrelenting sogginess was everywhere. I came home, though, to two deliciously lovely treats: white tulips and this perfect little vintage handbag. I thought of the two ladies who sent them my way--one in the springtime of a new life and the other with two curious babes always in tow. I thought about how each one had been my witness and my friend: in darkest days of graduate school and in the far more hazy and joyful days of college. I love them both and get to see them far too infrequently. Perhaps my best birthday treat was the realization that not only do I get to see them both soon, but they'll get to meet each other. This, I think, must be the best part about getting married: all the people you love bound up in one joyous occasion.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

remembered birthday rememory

I have a secret. If I tell you, I’ll blow my cover. But I think I need to come clean. Here’s my secret: I haven’t forgotten everything.

In my family there’s a kind of collective understanding that I’m the child who forgets, who can’t remember anything, who can’t be relied upon to fill the narrative gaps with anything but literary invention. My little sis, the one with the elephant’s memory (not to mention the elephant’s feet to match), plays the role of official keeper of family memory. She does, in fact, remember a lot. Like what I wore on the first day of junior high. Yes, that’s right, not what she wore on the first day of junior high, but what I wore on that terrifying day. What I never tell her is that she remembers everything from her eyes. She can’t remember from my eyes or my mom’s or my dad’s or my brother’s. We have to remember—or forget—for ourselves. And so here’s what I remember from the first birthday I can still reconstruct in fading hues and sugary sweet tastes:

I think it was my seventh birthday. It could have been my fifth or even my eighth or maybe my fourth. We still lived in a house that was taller than it was wide and we played in a basement with beige carpet and wide sliding glass doors. In the afternoons, the sun filtered in those doors and you could lie on that carpet and let the light warm your face. It was my birthday, like I said, and something very unusual attended this birthday. We planned to play party games, the kind for which you win prizes, and they pile up in little arcade bags. You could go home with a whole slew of pleasure. We shopped for those little packs of jacks and marbles—oh my, do I sound old?—at Toys ‘R Us. This is why I know it was an early birthday, long before my mom and a pal opened a toy store with hefty and “educational” toys. These were anything but: they were cheap and silly. But there were lots of them, one of each for every invited guest. It didn’t matter if you were the first or the last to pin that tail on the plastic donkey. You still got a tube of bubbles. I had it all planned out. That was until something unlikely and— to my mind—tragic occurred. My cousin Alyssia showed up. At least I think it was Alyssia. I can’t imagine who else it could be. Maybe it wasn’t her. Maybe it was just a girl up the street. But there it was: an extra guest. And you know what that meant: no prizes for me. This birthday was to be my lesson in selflessness, in sharing, in being a considerate host.

But I wasn’t selfless. I didn’t want to share. I hadn’t been read Emily Post. I wanted those jacks and that sidewalk chalk. So this is what I remember from the first birthday I can remember: I cried. I sat out. I didn’t play musical chairs. I cried.

I may not remember what I wore to that party—a mouse brown dress perhaps—but I remember the shame. And I remember with shame. It’s a powerful thing shame is.

This birthday I plan to do some penance: sharing this with you now. Forgive me.

Monday, April 12, 2010

stock taking

The night I turned twenty-six, I ate dinner in the dining room at the boarding school where I was teaching, a bucolic—and very fancy—school tucked in the northwest corner of Connecticut. I had dinner that night as I did so many others that year, sitting at a round table with my colleagues, eating lukewarm mashed potatoes, trading witticisms and ironic banter. That year I nursed a horrible, stomach-aching crush on an unavailable history teacher and I worried about what it would be like when I moved to North Carolina to start graduate school in a few months. I remember that night because I remember rattling off a long diatribe about how everything happens when you’re 28. I went around the table and asked everyone what happened when they were 28.

I got married.
We had a baby.
I finished graduate school.
I got married.
We had a baby.
I bought a house.

See, I said, it all happens when you’re 28. But I knew that 28 would come and go for me. I knew that I wouldn’t get married at 28, finish graduate school at 28, have a baby at 28. And while I did technically buy a house when I was 28, I sold it when I was 30, so it doesn’t really count. That night when I turned 26, I realized that I was on a different schedule, an alternative timeline. I went back to my tiny dorm apartment and made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies for the fourteen girls who lived on my hall and knocked on my door when they didn’t know what to do about Sara’s anorexia or Katie’s nasty boyfriend, or their own soccer coach, or that damned college essay. I ended my 26th with a stiff gin and tonic, earplugs, and a fat dog named Arlo taking up half the bed.

Tomorrow I turn 34. It’s an even number and even numbers work better for me. I no longer eat dinner with colleagues in a dining room—which, perversely, I often miss—but I still take stock of numbers and years. I’m 34.

I’m getting married.
I’d like to have a baby.
I finished graduate school last year.

Tomorrow I turn 34 and last night I baked oatmeal chocolate chip cookies for sixteen young ladies who ask me questions about post-structuralism and deconstruction, who look at me as if I know the answer. I’ll come home from work tonight, alone. I’ll go to gym and run like mad for exactly 28 minutes. I’ll do a hundred sit ups and stretch my 34-year old back. Maybe I’ll have that one beer in the back of my fridge. I’ll pat the place at the end of my bed where my two-years-gone hound used to sleep. I’ll think about what’s changed since I was 26. I’ll remember that history teacher who made my stomach ache and I’ll think about the history teacher that I’m soon to marry. I’m 34 now.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

saturday morning

I sinned. I cheated. I peaked.

My little sister M sent me a birthday package that arrived yesterday. I should have waited the few more days until my 34th. But I didn't. In a fit a spring cleaning last night, I decided that I needed to recycle its envelop, so I had to open it. And what a lovely friday night treat! M knows my love of hot tea and hot tea that lasts and lasts. She also knows that it drives me crazy when my pot goes cold. So here's what she sent:

A teapot cozy! I've already used it twice, last night with a pot of mint and this morning with some orange pekoe. And it works -- amazingly well. My mint pot stayed warm for the better part of an hour of cleaning. This morning my pekoe stayed warm while I did a bit of saturday quilting. I'm liking the way my wall looks and thinking that perhaps I should just leave the wall like this and forget the quilt. We'll see...

Thursday, April 8, 2010


I need your help again. I picked up my wedding invitations this afternoon. I admit that I hoped--dreamed really--that there was going to be some strange ordering fluke and they'd just happen to come back letter-pressed. They didn't. I'll get over it. They're fresh and crisp, just what I ordered. But here's my dilemma. I'm not sure how to address the envelops. I'm committed to doing it myself (I think...) and making it look decent, even though I also had dreams of having her calligraphy them all. So the above are the options. I admit that Emily Smith does not, in fact, exist. At least not this Emily Smith. She's just my sample gal. So what do you think? Can I pull it off? Which style? Is it all going to be hopelessly tacky? And if you're more daring: how is it that a perfectly sane person (okay, that's a little stretch) can become bent out of shape over her mailing addresses? Don't even get me started on the lack of good stamp options...

sorrow and stitches

Last night was one of those nights when I’m reminded why it is that my friendships are the most important thing in my life. I was on the phone for nearly five hours straight. It was sort of like being twelve again and holing up in our old phone-booth on peninsula drive. I have no idea what I spent so many hours talking about back then, but I had the feeling last night that the topics probably weren’t that different than those that consume us now: the desire for love, the pain of disappointed love, the expectations of family, the need for sympathy. Last night was a night filled with friends whose lives are changing, and I found myself talking on the phone and pulling scraps of fabric from my closet at the same time. As I listened to the pain of recent separation, my fingers started cutting and sewing, arranging and ironing, as if all I could do was start to mend back together friends whose pain was so palpable. I don’t know what I’m sewing, but I know that when I hear the sorrow of those I love, I feel an overwhelming desire to make something beautiful, as if something just lovely enough will make up for all that sadness.

Friday, April 2, 2010


Thank you all for your week of indulgences. All this talk about shoes has left me feeling a bit vapid, a bit vain, and really very girlie. J has been around all week and been witness to my absurdities. And so last night when I came home from work toting a fabric swatch of my dress (a swatch I should have gotten long ago) that he said looked like homespun (yikes), I realized that it never really was all that gold. It's more like dull gray. And so in surveying all the choices there really was only one that would work well: no. 8. The most modest, least exciting one of the bunch. But it was also the most comfortable. At a 1.75 inch heel, it was also perfect for allowing J to just barely stand taller (a little wedding day gift from me to him). It's also a great company, La Candadienne. I was pining for their boots all winter. And here's the best part: no. 8 doesn't go so well with my crazy rehearsal dress. I think no. 3 is going to be the winner there. So in fact I do get to keep a little gladiator spirit in my life. We'll see...

For now I'll try to spare you the gory details of interreligious wedding planning at a barn in Michigan.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

the line-up

calling all voters. yah, that means you. i need to send the rest back and rescue my credit card from a near death experience.