Saturday, December 8, 2007

the smell of Prell

I'm making a gift for my aunt, and spent part of the afternoon at an art supply store. I adore art supply stores, and have to restrain myself from stocking up on random things that catch my fancy. Like today: origami paper in all manner of styles. I've never made origami, but if I did, I would want to make that dinosaur they discovered recently, skin and organs intact, and send it to a friend.

But I digress: this particular store didn't carry fabrics or threads, and part of this project calls for linen and gold embroidery thread. So after I got my foam core cut to size and had flirted with the foam core cutting boy for a while, I went in search of a fabric store.

This served three purposes, besides the procuring of my supplies: 1) I got to use my iPhone to search "fabric" in Seattle, locate a place, and get driving directions to the place--all while engaging in public iPhone gloating; 2) I got to cruise all over Seattle, tunes a-blaring, and into Ballard on a sunny Saturday to find it; 3) I re-lived part of my childhood.

My great-grandmother made all my clothes when I was a child. All of them. From pajamas to winter coats, and everything in between. And for each outfit she made me, she made a miniature matching one for my Barbie (one of my great regrets in life is that I traded all those Barbie clothes for some Monkees albums--at the time, it seemed like a good deal).

Most Saturdays, I went with her (my great-grandmother, not Barbie), my grandmother, and my mother to the Hancock Fabric Store in downtown Little Rock. We perused the Simplicity and Butterick patterns, bought remnants for dirt cheap, loaded up on clearance cards of buttons.

I'm struck by how little the stores have changed. I opened the door and was carried away by the scent of sizing; the thump-thump-thump of the flat fabric spools being turned over on the cutting table; the garish fluorescent light; the little girls begging their mothers to please let them have store-bought clothes instead...

But these little girls don't get to go afterwards to the lunch counter at Walgreen's on Center Street and have a patty melt, and they don't get to go to Nanny's sewing room in the back of the house and sit in the recliner next to the grocery sacks of scraps and the snuff can and chat and chat and chat to the rhythm of the Singer treadle machine. They don't get to lie stretched out on the kitchen counter while Nanny washes their long hair in the summertime with that green, bejeweled Prell shampoo in the glass bottle shaped like a lady's figure.

There's no good way to end this blog post. The Prell leads to the warmth of the porcelained iron tub after a bath, and that to the omnipresent bowl of stewed apricots in the icebox with a plate on top, because who wasted aluminum foil in those days?

And the attic fan and the Carol Burnett show and Nanny's high-pitched giggle.

And so many other things that don't represent a flourish of an ending in a next-century blog.

So many other things.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Minnesota Hot

I ordered Thai delivery last night.

As I was on the phone placing my order, I was asked the question "how hot?" and I replied "medium."

Now in Minnesota, where I lived until a few months ago, that would have gotten me a dish that had a little bit of kick. For my native MN friends, however, "medium" would have required a trip to the emergency room for a tastebud transplant and emergency hose-down.

Ah, but I live in SEATTLE now. There are actually tons of real live Thai people here, and so the audience is quite different.

"Medium" involved a capsaicin nasal lavage.
"Medium" meant melted ear wax.
"Medium" caused weeping and sweating and steam rising off my head in clouds.
"Medium" meant I actually drank a glass of milk. Eeeew.

I should have remembered the knowing question asked of me in my favorite Thai restaurant in St. Paul years ago.

"How hot?"
My reply: "Pretty hot."


"Hot hot or Minnesota Hot?"

Just so we're clear, Minnesota hot is about equal to a year-old diner shaker of black pepper, sparingly applied.

Anyway, I survived the larb gai last night, and made it through, ahem, this morning unscathed.

What I want to know, though, is what on earth "extra spicy" means to a Thai person.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Travelblogue, Thanksgiving edition

Here I sit, having just taken a sick day--my first ever at my new job--because I was finally beset with a bug. I just counted it up and, since I moved here in June, I've been in eight airports full of people and on twenty different packed airplanes.

The law of averages...

It was bound to happen.

This trip featured the usual long waits at security; the customary seat mate--either too loud, too familiar, or too unsavory; the expected delays due to something mechanical or climatic.

Even some interesting things to see on the tarmac: for example, have you ever noticed that de-icers look kind of like giant scorpions ready to strike? Did I mention I was sick and feverish?

So no surprises so far. What DID take me back a bit on this last flight, though, was the fact that the row in front of me was occupied by a mother, her two daughters, and a pet carrier containing a puppy. Oh, a PUPPY!!! How sweeeeeeeet!!! Yes?


The poor puppy, upon take-off, started to cry. I could have handled that, even though it made me sad, and I wanted to fix it (you know, the crying problem, not FIX it--the puppy--a la Bob Barker).

Turns out the little pup was crying not from fear, but from, well, gastrointestinal distress. Which manifested itself through repeated and pungent diarrhetic episodes. Which were met by horror and crying and a cycle of "you deal with it, no you, no you" admonitions from the mom and the two daughters.

We finally reached cruising altitude and the mother took the carrier to one of the lavatories and was gone a VERY long time. When she returned, I craned my neck to locate the puppy in the carrier, because, well, you know, she was gone a LONG time, and you just never know with some people. I didn't want to learn later that some oblivious bystander on a street corner in Fargo had been, um, torpedoed by a diarrhetic airborne puppy.

But the puppy was fine, and settled down for the rest of the flight.

My own feverish state allowed me to break through my normal inability to sleep while upright, so that and iTunes sent me to my happy place. Or at least to my unconscious place.

Now I'm home, and I've thoroughly enjoyed my day off. I was too puny to go in; not too puny to do some household organizing, make some soup, catch up on some phone calls, and read a bit in front of the fireplace. All while in my flannel jammies!

Oh, and the trip itself? I visited some friends, which was lovely, but mostly I hung out with my bestest friend from home and his elderly mother. So it was turkey, putting up the Christmas tree, and singing along at the top of my lungs to LOTS of Eddy Arnold and Patsy Cline. Partly because my elderly friend can't hear. Partly because I didn't want to have the conversation about why I didn't stay put in Minnesota. And partly because I dig Patsy.

Lucky for me I've got range.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hi. I'm Jenifer and I'm a Penaholic.

It's true.

I covet pens.

I even have people score particularly desirable ones--those with .038mm tips--in foreign countries to satisfy my habit (thanks, JOY!).

I have them everywhere, and the vessels that hold them are always jammed full. They stick out of the jars at odd angles, unruly, like Dennis the Menace's head of hair.

And there's a secondary addiction, as well (please don't judge me), Clairefontaine notebooks and Moleskine tiny cahiers. It's not just that the former is sleek paper, or that the cahiers fit perfectly into my little purse, allowing me to capture random blog fodder at a moment's notice...

but they take the .038mm ink so nicely. They're grilled cheese and tomato soup, convertible and Pacific Coast Highway, fireplace and bearskin rug, Sunday night and Simpsons.

A great pen and an Office Depot yellow legal pad?

You might as well ask me to wear opera length gloves to a NASCAR event.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Home again, home again.

I. I got to the San Antonio airport with plenty of time to spare, which jinxed the entire journey. OF COURSE there would be a maintenance issue on our plane, getting us into Minneapolis late. I arrived on the D concourse at 9:20 PM and was scheduled to depart from F14 at 9:36. So I leapt out of the jetway and hailed one of those carts, screaming "F14!!!!" Saleem felt the adrenaline and cracked the whip. We raced through the terminal (people, MUST you walk in the very middle???), and it was just like a scene from Ben Hur. Granted, Saleem wasn't a Roman, and he wasn't standing up in the front of the chariot, but otherwise it was just like that. I got to the gate just as they were closing the door. Thanks, Charlton, er, Saleem.

II. How far away do you have to get from cheese to still be considered cheese?

Since I barely made the connection in Minneapolis, where I had planned to have some dinner, I resorted to the NWA "snack box" to hold body and soul together on the Minneapolis-Seattle flight.

First of all, raisins are overrated. I'd just like to put that out there and move on to the protein in my box.

The label said "Pasteurized Process Cheese Food, Gouda-Style Flavor"--which, to me, falls into the category of protesting too much. I mean, really, if you have to CLAIM you are food, you probably aren't. By the way, the first ingredient was cheddar cheese. Not gouda.

III. I wasn't fondled on this flight, but my seatmate, who was about 6'4" or so, reported that he might snore. He'd been hunting, after all. Really? Does hunting lead to snoring?

He then said that if I were taller, he would lean against me to sleep. Really? Is that the only thing stopping you? How about the fact that I'm a total stranger who is glaring sternly over the tops of her bookish glasses at you???

IV. I get to do this again on Thursday. Oh, joy.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

San Antonio

I. The towncar service is always punctual, and is cheaper than parking my car at the airport. And still, I always feel just a TEENSY bit Leona Helmsley when I walk to it and am greeted formally...

Today's driver was in a bad way. "It's hibernation time, Dr.'s the graveyard time of year." What do I say to that? He looks back at me in the rearview mirror, so I know he wants me to respond. "Look at those birds on the powerline, Dr. J. Just sittin' there starin' at us drive by. Wonder what they think of us, messin' every little thing up like we do."

I am almost frantic, trying to move my otherwise sharp and quick tongue into action. But I'm tongue-tied.

Just then, the Christian radio station he's listening to cues up a song he likes. And he starts singing "born again, I'm born again." I don't use that as a way out of the graveyard imagery, but it's tempting...

II. Plane change in Minneapolis. Walking by the pan-Asian restaurant, an old man with a southern accent is ordering General Tso's Chicken and a Thai coffee, paying with dollars, and handing it to the Somali cashier.

III. My seatmate in 4C is Everyman. Courteous, taught to help a lady put her rollaboard in the overhead bin, eager to engage everyone in conversation. A little boy is shuffling down the aisle in front of his mother, and the foot traffic stops as people try to get seated. He turns and looks at my seatmate in that completely guileless way that kids do. "I caught a lizard," he says. "Where did you catch him?"--my seatmate is delighted. "Around the middle." "Son, bless your heart, I'm so proud of you."

I know I'm back below the Mason-Dixon line.

IV. Turns out 4C is also a fan of the "free wine" in First Class (yeah, I fly a lot and get upgraded). A happy drunk, he tells me all about the doors he sells and blesses my heart at every turn, too. He then falls into a medicated, snoring sleep, and has to be awakened by the flight attendant as we approach the airfield. Did I say happy drunk? What I meant to say was AMOROUS drunk. In his journey from sleep to waking, he took a wrong turn at Fondle Street. He was quite sheepish when I spoke sharply at him, and excused himself with "the wife and I tend to start most days with a little romp."

V. There's a crescent moon over San Antonio tonight. My hotel bed is beautiful.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

the studio

I work with visual and performing artists.

Yesterday I got to sit in on a final rehearsal for a dance production. It was alternately moving, playful, urgent, languid, powerful, and painful.

It was in the rehearsal studio, intimate, and I was in the thick of it.

I had to pull my legs back repeatedly, so as not to trip someone.
Necklaces of sweat lashed me from more than one dancer.
I smelled heat, shampoo, laundry detergent, determination.
I heard the squeak of bare feet on the floor, the music, the counting, the grunts of effort, the propelling breaths.
I saw focus and grace and I was jealous.

I turned to my colleague, who had choreographed one of the pieces, and whispered to him: "I can barely keep from weeping, this is so beautiful."

I meant it.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Salt Lake City, layover, mid-afternoon musings:

1. Most hairdos that require lots of hairspray in airport bathrooms are hairdos that shouldn't really be lacquered into permanence.

2. Well-behaved babies and toddlers and their reasonable parents are always seated at the opposite end of the plane from me. Their screaming, kicking, whining counterparts (and sorry excuses for parents) are always seated as close to me as possible.

3. Wireless hotspots are an obscene exploitation of consumer gullibility. They're charging me for AIR and I'm paying (and before anyone makes the "upkeep of the servers, etc." argument, if I just ONCE got on without having to call Mr. Boingo--I'm sure it's a man--I might have more sympathy).

4. There are 4 electrical outlets in any given airport. They are always hogged by a pimply-faced adolescent boy with a computer game and a 'tude.

5. ATMs are always from the other bank.

On a good note, the person in 12B didn't show up, and so 12A and I had an expansive time of it, lifting up the armrests and using the middle seat for our shared coffeetable/magazine holder.

And I'm going home, after a good trip, to sleep in my own bed.

: )

Monday, September 24, 2007


I grew up where the Mississippi Delta meets the Ozark foothills, where summer was long, hot, still, hazy, and humid.

The first days of autumn always brought a promise of movement and clarity and relief: life began to speed up and the sluggishness of mind and body started to abate.

Autumn is when we loved each other; summer was surly.

By the same token, there was a sense of impending doom after the first few days of springtime: soon the white hot sun would shrivel up those lovely, but ephemeral, blossoms--we knew this. We aimed to s-l-o-w down, talk less, lounge more.

Then I moved to Minnesota, and the game changed. Just as I started to wind up for the relief of autumn, others set their jaws and braced themselves for the first freeze and the one after that, freeze after freeze, endlessly lining up to play Winter. And in the springtime, when everyone else was giddy, my body's rhythm would tell me to throttle back.

Now I'm in Seattle, and I have no embodied sense of what is about to happen. The beginning of autumn is a tabula rasa, and I find it unsettling. Am I supposed to be girding my loins? Throwing caution to the wind? Revving? Idling?

I've bought a hooded raincoat, just in case, and have laid in a supply of coffee.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Robert's Rules

I was facilitating a meeting today at my new job, and someone suggested that we dispense with Robert's Rules of Order. Too formal, they said. All that "move" and "second" and "point of order" and "call the question" stuff.

And I countered with "well, WHICH Robert? Sure, we could use the old standard, but why? Why not come up with rules of order to structure conversation or shut people up based on OTHER Roberts?"

Robert Duvall's Rules of Order: "I love the smell of napalm in the morning."
Robert DeNiro's Rules of Order: "You talkin' to me???"
Robert Redford's Rules of Order: "Naturally blabby, I guess."

Ummmm, yeah. They didn't buy it. Not only that, there was an awkward silence as they all turned to me, in slow motion, no blinking, just blank puzzlement.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


The movers came, the movers went. They got started 5 hours after their scheduled arrival time.

Casualties: one whole side of an antique glass china cabinet; the top of an antique end table; sections of hardwood floor; sections of hallway into my condo; my nerves.

Things that stunned me: they didn't have boxcutters. Our only tool was the knifelet on my corkscrew. They brought in boxes willy-nilly, and THEN wanted to try to fit furniture in, in spite of my voiced concerns that there was going to be big trouble. Ultimately, they had to take boxes back out into the hallway to get the furniture in. They brought a leather recliner and dining table and chairs in that didn't belong to me, and then seemed mad that I wanted them to take them back out.

I have no idea how to deal with the china cabinet, still filled with glass.

I live in fear of starting to open the boxes marked "fragile."

And I want a big old prize for not indulging in felonious behavior when one of the guys, upon leaving, leaned on a stack of boxes, grinned, and said he was going to come back in a few days so I could play the piano for him.

But at least it's all here, and my king Tempur-pedic is made up and ready to welcome me, after a week of sleeping on a twin air mattress--which I can only liken to trying to relax and sleep on a Pilates stability ball.

So I'm crawling towards the finish line to my new, my real, home.

; )

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Travelblogue, Final Day

The morning began early. I had slept well, having rid myself of yesterday's headache and having upgraded to a Snob Level hotel. After a quick shower and cup of coffee, I hit the road.

Montana was lovely, but I must confess my delight when I rounded a bend and a huge sign declaring "Welcome to Idaho" turned out to be the opening act for a series of beautiful postcard-worthy scenes clear to Coeur d'Alene. Unfortunately, road construction (and the winding nature of the roads even at their best) made it hard to capture any postcards of my own.

Once in Washington, I passed through Spokane. Uh-huh. A mall. A hospital. An Applebee's. 100 car dealerships. Done and done.

On the other side of Spokane, however, I started to worry that I had some sort of fatigue-induced dementia. What had been lush, green pine and spruce forests in the mountains turned abruptly into something that looked like a mars-scape. Really, I fully expected that little satellite/robot/ATV thingie (what was its name) to appear over one of the craters on this brown, arid desert. Flat. Did I say flat? It was, except for occasional rock blemishes on its otherwise FLAT complexion. I saw a cow. I have no idea what it was eating. There was nothing but dirt and rocks and some scrubby flora that couldn't possibly have been edible.

Finally, there were some irrigated fields in with the dirt plots, and on the horizon I saw what I thought was smoke billowing from a series of smokestacks. As I got closer, though, I saw that they were not smokestacks at all, but dirt devils. A whole troupe of them, cavorting and whirling on their dusty dancefloor. Stunning.

Sign, but not my favorite: Leaving Apple Maggot Quarantine Area (I didn't know I was in one. And what is an apple maggot?).

Once I approached Ellensburg, the Cascades were ahead of me, and then the adrenaline kicked in. I was only 100ish miles from Seattle, and I was ready to be done. I raced up and down mountain passes, taking a few random shots from my camera held up (I have some lovely studies of my dashboard, the empty water bottle--a few mountains, too).

I didn't even stop to go to the bathroom, which I had needed to do for the last couple of hours. That was a mistake, seeing as how I could NOT get to the entrance to my parking garage from the freeway exit. Oh, I knew how to get there--I was within spitting distance 6 or 7 times. I saw it from a number of angles. But between the construction of the light rail line by my apartment and the relentless NO TURNS and ONE WAY signs, I was granted no mercy by the Arrival Gods.

I finally made it, although I'm convinced it was via Vancouver.

And here I am. Everything is out of my car, and I'm sitting on the floor of my apartment on the 10th floor. My furniture won't arrive for a week, but I bought a corkscrew and a bottle of Ursa wine (a local Baer Winery red that I love), I'm tapping into someone's unsecured wireless network, I've christened my shower (oh, that was transcendent), and my inflatable bed is inflated and ready for me.

I am home.

Favorite sign: City of Seattle

Monday, June 18, 2007

Travelblogue, Day 4

I had an uneventful departure from Sheridan, WY, after a night in a motel room that confirms what I already feared: I am a snob. Well, it's not so much that I'm a snob--which I'll own--as that I don't like paying snob level prices for crappy accommodations. Are you buying it? ; )

The scenery was lovely, very Brokeback Mountain. In fact, I actually saw two cowboy-hatted guys on horses, perched on the ridge of a mountain, with cattle spread out on the hill below them. I had a visual, but I made it go away when I almost ran off the road.

First stop was Bozeman, Montana, where I had a passable lunch in a passable chain restaurant, and drank passable iced tea and copious amounts of water.

Next stop was Butte, where I burst into a Perkins with a bursting bladder and a raging headache. Dehydration? Altitude (I was on the Continental Divide, after all)? Lack of caffeine? To cover all bases, and after visiting the facilities, I drank more water and a cup of coffee. I had a waitress who was MAYBE 20. Heavily made up and world-weary, she asked how the coffee was, HON. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I was twice her age and that I should be calling HER "hon" and not vice versa. 20 is too young to trot out the "rode hard and put up wet" schtick, but I figured she was moonlighting at Perkins while trying to break into acting. She was probably just working on a 1940s diner waitress character.

The approach to Butte was fascinating. Huge mountain faces covered with round and oval, smooth, somewhat elongated boulders. They looked like they had just been stuck on the side as decoration: geological gumdrops on the side of a mountain cake. I also got my first whiff of evergreen. Followed quickly by Eau de Skunk.

By this time I was starting to realize that several days on the road were starting to wear on me. Sure, the vistas were beautiful. Of course, it was humbling to see nature's rich pageant. But people, I'm an extrovert! I was starting to talk to my steering wheel, shout laments to deer carcasses as I whizzed past them on the side of the road. This scared me.

I decided to call it a day in Missoula, Montana. I splurged on a somewhat nicer room than last night, where I plan to take a bath in a real bathtub, order up a glass of wine, and look forward to the last day of driving. Tomorrow I should be fresh for the views across Idaho and into Washington, and then...finally...will roll into my new hometown before rush hour.

Favorite sign today: TESTICLE FESTIVAL, outside of Missoula. I missed the dates, because I was so taken aback by the cartoon bull, eyes wide, mouth agape, standing upright and using his two front hooves to protect his naughty bits.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Travelblogue, Day 3

Away, I'm bound away...across the wide Missouri...

It started with the Corn Palace and ended with me leaving my suitcase outside my car in front of my motel room. Happily, the sandwich delivery guy in Sheridan, WY noticed it and brought it in with my sandwich. Even more happily, the populace in Sheridan, WY is honest and let it sit out there for over an hour.

But along the way, it was all about songs. As I rounded a bend in Chamberlain, SD and gasped at the flat landscape now descending into a valley, and beheld what I thought was a lake--but was, in fact, the Missouri River--I broke into Shenandoah. Then, in the Badlands, I saw the buffalo. Oh, give me a home, where the buffalo roam, and the deer and the antelope play... And finally, sitting in the Badlands Bar in Wall, SD, in a leatherette booth with a cheeseburger and iced tea, looking up the length of the dark bar and back to the pool tables, all packed with tourists and locals, and considering the image of Jenifer in her solitary booth with her bookish glasses, solemnly squirting bright yellow mustard onto her sesame seed bun, I burst into one of these things is not like the other... OK, well, that one I sang in my head, not wishing to have the Harley guys swagger over for a confrontation.

I can safely say that the Corn Palace and Wall Drug gave me my fix of Americana for the year. Holy moly. Now I know why we're in Iraq, because the number of RVs I saw today alone necessitates all kinds of oil. It was enough to make me want to turn around and head back to the Corn Palace, to beg them to convert that thing into ethanol, and fast.

Beautiful, dramatic thunderstorms as I crossed into Wyoming, and the 7,340 bugs that met their end on my windshield as I crossed the prairie were washed away.

Favorite sign of the day:


Tomorrow, the BIG mountains.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Travelblogue, Day 2

Up early, greeted the day with a goodbye to friends over breakfast at our local dive--the kind with old men, regulars, who drink coffee and play checkers every morning of the year.

Mid-pancakes, I get the cell phone call I hoped I wouldn't receive THIS time, even though I believed, in my cynical heart of hearts, that I would: the driver slated to pick up my worldly possessions "filled his truck" elsewhere and wouldn't be coming. My moving "consultant" (give me a break) suggested we just leave the packed goods in my house and load them when the next available truck was coming through. I pointed out to him that I had hotel reservations tonight, had someone scheduled to help me with the final cleaning, and was due in Seattle mid-week.

He pointed out to me that the only option would be to bring a local truck, load my stuff, take it back to their warehouse, offload for the weekend, and then re-load when they got a westbound truck. Such a lot of toting and lifting! I pointed out to him that I sort of considered that HIS PROBLEM AND NOT MINE. He started to point out to me that...STOP RIGHT THERE...I pointed out to him that he had best STFU and get moving. OK, I didn't really utter THAT, but let's just say that he knew from the steel edge in my voice to drop the phone and run, not walk, to gather his strapping lads and burn rubber.

[goodbye to my breakfast 90 year old friend brought the little figurine I gave her to remember me by, and set it on the table during the meal.]

So they came, they loaded. In the meantime, 3 more friends showed up to hold vigil over me and my fury. We were standing around out in the garage, and one guy brought out a bookcase from my study. The one next to the couch, where my cat had slept for many years of his 19-year old life, just ended in January. When the breeze hit the bookcase, the bottom shelf released tufts of his hair. They lifted up, floated in the sunlight, and then drifted away on the breeze. My friends became reverent, silent. I felt all the emotion from the past weeks of packing, of saying goodbye, of deciding to leave, of letting my feline companion go, of my whole life, of the life of all all broke open and I sat down on the garage floor and wept. And wept and wept and wept.

After the movers left, my cleaning lady came over and helped me do the final run-through. Wiping out refrigerators, vacuuming, mopping...every pass of the rag an incantation: please let this house sell, please let this house sell soon.

Lunch with more friends. Standing outside the cafe, each one of us saying how we don't do goodbyes. So we didn't. Quick hugs all around, "see you during the holidays"--and we all turned on our heels and dispersed. Quickly.

Back to the house, the final walk-through. My best friend came, finally, to retrieve his vacuum cleaner. No words. Just tears and embraces.

The drive out of Minnesota and into South Dakota was marked by a timely phone call, great billboards, thunderstorms dancing all around me, Prairie Home Companion on the radio, and a bizarre sculpture of a longhorn bull rising up over the prairie.

I'm in Mitchell, SD. Tomorrow morning: the Corn Palace.

I am untethered.

It's OK.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Travelblogue, Day 1

So my house is all packed up.

After weeks of sorting, donating, discarding, procrastinating, sorting, and donating some more, the Professional Movers were to show up this morning bright and early to pack my dishes and such.

Now in the advertisements, these PMs are always crisply attired young women, with ponytails and sunny smiles, bearing pristine sheets of packing paper and tape guns.

What did I get? Cartman and Butthead, in sweat-stained baseball caps.

Highlight: my half-filled garbage bag on the kitchen counter, containing sandwich bits, cherry pits, the contents of the refrigerator crisper, and bacon grease (yes, I'm originally from the South, and we always have a jar of bacon grease in the refrigerator for seasoning greens) disappeared midway through the proceedings. Of course, Butthead packed it. He was incensed when I made him open up boxes to find it, and acted like it was MY fault for not identifying it with the rest of the "do not pack" items. EXCUSE ME? Do I really have to NAME a bag of trash as a "do not pack" item???

Now I'm in my room at the Americinn, where I will shower, then have The Last Supper With My Friends.

Back to the NoLongerMyHome house tomorrow morning to oversee the loading of my worldly possesions, then westward, ho!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

She's leaving home. Bye-bye.

I have been in my current profession for 27 years, starting as a teaching assistant in graduate school. I've kept papers, class notes I took, books, and then later scholarly papers, syllabi for classes I taught, more books, files from committee meetings, student grades, student papers that were never picked up, research files...not to mention funny toys and notes and photographs given to me by students over the years.

Today was the day I left denial and went to my office to start clearing out and packing up.

I've procrastinated and procrastinated, because I knew how it would be.

I knew I couldn't toss stuff without looking at it.

I had a stomach-ache all morning and found every conceivable thing to do at home before I finally went to campus. But I went, and it was just as devastatingly tender as I had dreaded.

I barely made a dent in 5 hours, but I just had to leave it for a while. Too intense. I swung wildly from tossing whole drawers without looking, to sitting cross-legged on the floor re-reading a student paper from 1997 in its entirety, and back again.

This is what is known as liminal space. I'm between my old life and my new life, I'm residing in transition. It's raw here, and both exhilarating and terrifying.

So I cling to fixed points in my landscape one second and in the next one I long to get in my car and drive away, leaving absolutely everything behind.

I usually curse the fact that my friends are spread to the four winds, but today I take strange comfort in the knowledge that at least some of "my people" are not fixed geographically in the place I'm leaving.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Miss Eliza Jane Wilder

I just had my every-six-months exercise in humility and vulnerability. That's right, the teeth-cleaning. Maybe it's that I make my living with language, but being struck dumb because a latex-gloved hand and a sonic de-scaler are crammed into my mouth is just about the most powerless I ever feel.

On the upside, there was a re-run of Little House on the Prairie on the overhead TV, and Miss Eliza Jane Wilder, the spinster prairie schoolteacher, was featured in today's episode. And I kept thinking "OK, I'm a spinster prairie teacher, too, but I'm a ROCKSTAR compared to her and plus, I'm leaving and going to the west coast."

My new complimentary toothbrush is blue with a hot pink racing stripe and my complimentary floss is minty.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

leaving on that midnight train to Georgia

Well, not really leaving. And not at midnight. And not on a train. And not to Georgia.

GOING. To a new job. A major step in my career trajectory.

IN JUNE. Or as soon as I can manage it in advance of a July 15 start date.

IN MY CAR. Just me. And my iMac. I'll trust everything else to movers.

TO SEATTLE. Be nice to me, people. I'm leaving folks I love behind.

...God, I hope this decision wasn't the result of a midlife crisis. That would suck, especially since it would have just been easier to take up skydiving or get a sports car or a 28-year old boyfriend or something.

; )

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Lucy and Ethel Get a Pedicure

I'm in my black leatherette pedicure throne, minding my own business. The massage function is on "rolling"--intensity and heat level 9. I'm leafing through People magazine (and hoping no one I know catches me at it), sipping my Aveda "Comforting" tea, and otherwise languishing in the moment. My feet are happy in their sudsy bubbles, and only the pulled muscle in my shoulder reminds me that I am of this world.

In comes a woman my mother's age. She's a little anxious. She's never had a pedicure. Her nails are in bad shape. She's embarrassed by them. It wasn't her idea to do this. Her granddaughters gifted her this spa day. So what could she do? All this verbal handwringing elicits a practiced, sympathetic clucking from the pedicurist, and soon the poor woman is calmed down enough to clamber up and into the chair, with some help.

"Is the water too hot?" Fine.
"Do you need a magazine?" No.
"Can I bring you something to drink?" Coffee.

After this ritual, the pedicurist encourages the woman to lower her feet into the bubbles, and away she goes to gather the requested nail polish.

But alas: the woman with her feet submerged, just as she's relaxing into this new sensation, hits the handle of the faucet with her leg. Out flies the hose with the force of the water, flying madly and uncontrollably, spraying the terrified woman, the chair, the surrounding chair (luckily empty) and causing the cup of coffee to drop into the foot tub.

She and I are the only ones in the room, our pedicurists both out in the main salon. I, with my gimped up shoulder, am unable to turn completely to visually assess the situation, but I know it's dire. So I leap up out of the chair, feet dripping, and rush to her aid.

Almost. My feet are WET. And SOAPY. And the floor is slippery. So what should have been a gallant jaunt across the room turns out to be a kind of quasi-surfing maneuver that ends with my head in the woman's lap and my arms braced to catch my fall in her foot tub.

All's well that ends well, of course. We both survived.

Last I saw of that woman, she had great-looking toes but was on her way to the doctor to get her blood pressure medicine upped.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


Driving home tonight, there were two deer standing on the frozen and snow-covered Minnesota River. It was dusk--the time they typically come down to the river to drink.

I wonder if they're surprised when they arrive and find that their river is ice. Do they walk out, one step after the other, hoping that it's just a little further?

At what point do they accept that it's for naught?

Do they turn around and go back where they came from?

Or do their hopeful steps lead them beyond the halfway point, to where it's easier to cross on over to the other side?

The winter solstice was December 21.
The spring equinox is March 21.

We're beyond halfway.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

all over

I just got home from picking up my cat's ashes and certificate of cremation at the vet's office.

I waited until I thought I could go in there without causing a scene. 4 weeks to the day, it's been.

I was fine in the car. I was fine going in. I was fine greeting the familiar staff, even with their condolences. I was fine when the vet who euthanized him came out to greet me. I was fine when she went to the cupboard to retrieve the little box.

The box was in a little brown bag with a ribbon and a card--a little "memorial" poem, which I haven't read yet. Because the minute I took the bag, felt its light weight, and looked down onto the box and saw Eliot printed on it, I realized it was all over. It was all over.

It's all over.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Public. Private.

I always assumed I was a varsity-level external processor.

Hand-wringing about which food processor to buy, how to re-arrange my furniture, how to deal with a leaking water heater, why my colleague might be angry with me, what to cook for dinner--these have always been hashed out in public, with my friends and family.

I've been single all my life, and I always thought that needing all that feedback was a kind of handicap for a bachelorette. But there it was, and so I just took it as a further paradox in the long list of things that have struck me as quirky about myself.

But I had never tested this theory with grief. None of my most immediate family had died, no close friends. Somehow I'd been spared that. Until this past week when my cat died. I knew it was coming; I knew I would grieve.

What I didn't expect is how completely I switched into an internal mode. I didn't want support at the vet's clinic for the euthanasia; I was awkward in phone calls from my friends, as appreciative as I was of their care; I didn't leave the house; I let no one in; I was downright rude to my best friend, who came by to bring me a loaf of bread and sit with me.

The solitude was right. It was what I needed, as stunned as I am to acknowledge it. I needed to mope, wail, clutch toys to my chest, let dishes pile up, clean them, vacuum up cat hair, refuse to change my sheets where he had slept, forget he was gone, remember with a start, scrub and disinfect his litter box, clean his brushes, look at pictures, look under all the furniture for sparkly balls, choke up, smile at what my friends had remembered in their e-mails about him.

And I didn't need spectators.

Who knew? Grieving isn't made more difficult by being alone, at least for me. Quite the contrary.

I would never have imagined it.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

full circle

I was 60 miles away, with a visiting friend, mourning in advance the day that my cat would die, while my cat was preparing to die that very night.

The day he died was the birthday of my great-grandmother.

Before she died, we were chatting about reincarnation, and she said if she believed in it, which she didn't, she would want to come back as my cat. She knew a good gig.

Today I went to a fabric store to help an elderly friend pick out fabric for a valance. She wants one in her room, and will hem the fabric by hand. She may not live to the end of the project, but she will work beauty in her hands on the way.

My great-grandmother made all my clothes when I was a child. She made matching outfits for my Barbies. I wish I had not traded them for a Monkees album.

The fabric store smelled like her sewing room. I brought a swatch of material home to consider for re-upholstering a chair in my living room. I laid it on the chair, which is still covered with my cat's fur.

It's perfect.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Eliot, Rest in Peace

It was time.

I returned home this evening to find my sturdy companion of 19 years staggering, disoriented, and distraught. He was diagnosed with the early stages of kidney failure two years ago, and in the last year had lost 3 pounds. He had been my constancy, my best example of unconditional love, my model for what a pet should be. I spoiled him rotten. He returned in kind. Lately he had taken to sleeping under the covers, curled in the crook of my arm.

Tonight he couldn't get in the litter box. Half in and half out, collapsed over the side, he turned and looked at me. I helped him in, I helped him out, then we laid together on the floor and I stroked him while he cried. I called the vet and she got out of bed and met us at the clinic.

I held him while she gave him the injection. She barely had it started when he gave into gravity and sank against me. A sign, she said, that he was ready.

He sat on my lap when I wrote my dissertation. He grieved when I traveled. He had a throaty, unique meow. He had violet eyes when he was a kitten. One time he got tangled up in a shopping bag and it chased him around the house. The faster he ran, the more the bag flapped and terrified him. My mom and I thought he would have a heart attack before we could rescue him from the Attack of the Dillard's Bag.

I loved him more than I've ever loved another living creature.

May he rest in peace.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

I feel pretty, oh, so pretty.

I didn't MEAN to.

I just got back from a massage and my massage therapist has a very sweet black labrador that also serves as a service animal. This dog visits nursing homes and the like, and she has been trained not to lick, not to approach unless beckoned, not to bump up against someone (given that her "clients" are usually frail and could be knocked off-balance very easily, etc.). When she's in my therapist's office, she knows not to come around the curtain, but to stay on the "office" side.

I was out very late last night and because of the hell that is being 48 years old, was up at the regular time. Let's just say I didn't get enough sleep.

Combine no sleep with intense massage pleasure and the result for me is PUNCHY. So after the massage I was getting dressed on my side of the curtain and started giggling. I saw my whacked massage hair and giggled more uncontrollably, and burst into a rendition of "I FEEL PRETTY." Now, I've had some vocal training, and so when I burst into something it's with some lung power.

This dog leapt to her feet and raced around the curtain to see what unbelievable calamity had transpired. My CMT is shouting for her to come back, and so she starts running back and forth between her owner, whom she knows to obey, and me, who is now on the floor laughing. The CMT finally got the dog back on the right side, and calmed down.

I composed and dressed myself, and solemnly walked around to the couch to write my check. When I appeared, the dog stood straight up at attention, and then fell to the ground and rolled over on her back--unprecedented behavior, evidently.

I don't know if I'm a witch, or a dog whisperer, or what.

I'm still punchy, by the way, and I have another late night ahead of me.

Happily, I have no planned encounters with animals tomorrow.

Monday, January 8, 2007

my mind's eye

Approaching from the west, at fifty paces, I spy a twisted culvert half-buried in the snow.

Only I think it's an errant Canada goose, struck by a car perhaps, or shot from the sky. Its beak is pointing up and is open in mute mid-honk, cut off from its migratory impulse or lost to its goslings or too late for its calling as a holiday feast.

Closer, now, ten paces, I see it's only metal.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Epiphany 2007

O nata lux de lumine by Morten Lauridsen is on my iPod as I head out today. It's a two-pair-of-leggings Saturday, hovering around 32 degrees, but the sun is brazen, blazing over the fields on the edge of town.

The snow is deep and gashed over and across with snowmobile tracks. White snow, gold sun, blue sky, and the choir is perched on my shoulders, caressing my ears.

Tears form, my nose runs in the wind, and I can barely hear the crunchcrunchcrunch of my feet on the pavement. I could walk 100 miles like this.

There's no real epiphany, no concrete thing, no word made flesh, no light bulb. And yet, the elements have broken me open just a little. There are cracks and fissures, more like a map of smiles and grins, really, as I blink and sniff and think that I could have an awakening on this day…