I’m heading into the home stretch of my year in IT, and am enjoying a bit of extra attention from my colleagues as a result:
Am I the only one who misses that era of about 2008ish where everyone had a blog and part of the day’s ritual was to read all of your friends’ recent posts? Every once in awhile I peruse the lists of sites from my now-defunct RSS Reader and I can recall the thrill of having so many writerly friends that I heard from nearly every day. But mostly I miss the thrill and energy of regularly writing for an audience–my writing muscles have become pretty flaccid these past few years.
This quotation, from one of my most favorite articles about blogs, sums up the magic of the phenomenon so well:
Finally, I think I get the superhero fixation. It’s the flying. It’s the suspension of punctuation and good manners and even identity. Bloggers at their computers are Supermen in flight. They break the rules. They go into their virtual phone booths, put on their costumes, bring down their personal villains, and save the world. Anonymous or not, they inhabit that source of power and hope. Then they come back to their jobs, their dogs, and their lives, and it’s like, “Dude, the ball.”
Blog writing is id writing—grandiose, dreamy, private, free-associative, infantile, sexy, petty, dirty. Whether bloggers tell the truth or really are who they claim to be is another matter, but WTF. They are what they write. And you can’t fake that. ?
(Note: the peonies have nothing to do with blogging, but they seemed worth including anyways…)
I began the day by reflecting on my past few birthday celebrations, each of which has been special in its own way…
2011: birthday #40(!), spent the morning at the Farmer’s Market, the afternoon in Laguna Beach, and then an evening party with friends. The day marked Stijn’s first return to the U.S. after having been gone for 6(!) weeks.
2012: a morning wander around San Gimignano, then back to the Fortezza di Cortesi for an afternoon swim. Dinner was a simple meal of olives, bread, and cheese in the gazebo. That this happened in Italy was all part of a last-minute adventure that began when we boarded a train bound for Cologne a few days before, and then found ourselves bound for Zurich and eventually Italy via the Alps.
2013: a drive to LA to the Spanish market in search of spices for paella and a special bottle of Rioja. I was not feeling particularly well–with my first surgery of the summer happening a few days later–but we managed to celebrate and dream and enjoy the serendipity of finding just what we needed at the Spanish market.
2014: and today, things are a bit hectic as we pack up the house & simultaneously host guests from Europe, but I’m especially happy that there’s time for a bit of celebration because it will be awhile before I get to hang out with my local friends.
As for the future…I have no idea where or how I will celebrate my day next year….but that’s okay. I’m becoming more and more accustomed to that feeling. :)
A long time ago, I encountered this table while staying at the Friends’ House in Beacon Hill (in Boston). Way back then I remarked how much I’d like to have such a table for entertaining someday.
Our current kitchen table isn’t quite that large, but it does handily seat at least eight people once the leaf is inserted. And lately we’ve had a houseful of visitors from overseas, stretching that capacity to the maximum.
As I pondered that this afternoon (while hearing the happy noises of friends coming from downstairs) I realized just how much I enjoy entertaining and how I had imagined this future for myself many times: to break bread with good and generous people, who are at ease and hopeful about their lives. People who know how to laugh and relax…and then wash the dishes together afterwards…
Hi there friend, and welcome to my blog. I started writing on the internet more than ten years ago, first anonymously as “pilgrimgirl” and later under my own name. I began as pilgrimgirl because at the time I was studying journey narratives and had a feeling as though I was starting on a new path with an unknown destination. Since I began writing online I’ve started and finished a PhD program, left the Mormon church and became a Quaker, got divorced, started a history podcast, found full-time work in academia, took up rock climbing and outrigger canoeing, and traveled across the globe (China! Belgium! Italy! Chicago! Montana! Portland! Gettysburg! and oh-so-many points in-between). For my 38th birthday and 25th anniversary of my bone cancer diagnosis, we (meaning me and you) bought legs for a young double-amputee from China.
A dutch-speaking friend recently told me that, based on recent happenings in my life, “met zijn gat in de boter vallen,” which translated literally would mean something like “I’ve fallen into the butter.” The connotation of this idiom is that I’ve had an unexpected amount of good fortune.
She’s right, in so many ways. Most days bring delight and adventures that exceed anything that I would have predicted for myself a few years ago.
Perhaps the richest part of things right now is the expansion of my world to include strong ties to Europe, and a growing feeling of my second home being in Brussels, here:
There is much fortune that comes from being linked to places that are located on nearly-directly opposite sides of the globe–I feel an expansion of experience and possibilities that’s unlike what I felt when my world was more tightly tied to SoCal. There’s deep satisfaction from having a suitcase always at the ready, and to feel at ease hurtling through the night and shaking off the jetlag that follows.
But some days it’s hard to have a heart that spans longitudes. When I’m here, I long for there. When I’m there, I miss out on so much that’s here. Those days, like today, I stand in my closet and bury my face in clothes that still carry that damp smell of a home built of stone and plaster. Where there is a loaf of bread from the local bakery on the kitchen counter. The loaf is half-gone and there are crumbs scattered on the cutting board. I take a slice and spread a thick layer of butter, then sprinkle on a bit of salt and pepper. I take a bite. And another. And another.
Reading Andrea’s post about busy-ness reminded me of a change I made awhile ago. I decided that I wouldn’t reply to people that I was “busy” or “too busy” when they made a request. Because it seemed that I’d fallen into a pattern of using that excuse to get out of doing things that weren’t important to me. Instead, I started replying with a more specific response, either letting them know what was precluding me from attending their party/concert/kaffeeklatsch or explaining that I couldn’t help them because I had another responsibility that was taking priority at the moment.
Doing so gave me the opportunity to affirm my priorities, such as replying that I couldn’t attend an event because I wanted to spend time with my daughter that night, or I couldn’t join in on gathering because it was a morning that I needed to be out on the ocean, getting some exercise. I’d like to think that it made my relationships with my friends and associates more authentic, too. Because I was able to honestly respond to their requests with an affirmative “Yes, I will attend,” or a “No, I have another engagement that will take precedence on my calendar.” I’m not sure if that was how it was received, but it made me feel better than just the canned reply of “oh, I can’t–too busy.”
But, additionally, I have been trying to take more time for friends lately. A chat in front of the fireplace, taking a yoga class together, or even just a brief phone call. I don’t want to ever be “too busy” for friends, and it feels good to make time with them as a higher-priority item on my list of possibilities.
Monday I went to lunch with an old LDS friend, someone I’d known back in the days when most of my time was spent corralling toddlers and keeping house. Because she was on her way to Italy and I just returned, we planned to discuss travel. But instead we talked mostly about change. I wondered if she would recognize the now-me, and how different I would seem from the Jana of twenty years ago.
She said I was still the same person, but suggested that maybe my years spent as a mother-of-young children and as a dutiful-Mormon-wife were more of an aberration from the “real me” than is my life now. So I’ve been thinking a lot about that since we met and I’m not sure. I think I have changed in some pretty fundamental ways–that was the major insight that I had while ruminating on my life at Cape Cod last year and that feeling has persisted since then.
Just like I look back on the essays that I wrote when I was a college freshman or even the blogposts that I wrote a few years and cringe a bit at my naivete, I do the same when I reflect on some of the decisions that I made in the past. I don’t have any regrets, per se. But my lens is not the same as it was before, and that change means that I make decisions differently and hold other priorities than I used to. It feels right to see an evolution of behavior and choices in myself, instead of stagnation.
But perhaps the biggest change in me is that I used to be afraid of change. And I’m not so much anymore. Maybe it’s just a phase that I’m going through and eventually I will find a familiar path and will no longer want to deviate from it. But for now, I’m enjoying the exploration and the traveling. It feels right to be trying new things, even uncomfortable ones. And it’s a liberating feeling to not be constantly measuring myself against the expectations of a church, a community, or a relationship that doesn’t fit my values. In general I feel more present and alive to my experiences and possibilities than ever before, which seems right to me at this mid-stage of my life.
Tonight I’m making Susan’s carrots: a delightful (and a smidge healthy) dish of steamed carrots caramelized in a tablespoon of real maple syrup. They’re candy-sweet and so tasty! I learned how to make these so many years ago when Susan and I were friends living near each other in Salt Lake City. Every time I make these carrots I think of her and her charming Martha-Stewart-like kitchen and the hours spent chatting over food (and kids and photos and writing and…dreams of graduate school). Another favorite thing I make that I also learned during those years of my life is “Mindy Sauce,” which is an Italian marinara that my friend Melinda taught me how to make and has a few variations (varying the final spice can make it a bit sweet or a bit more savory). As I whip it up I always remember her admonition to keep adding the basil until the contrast between the red tomato-y sauce and the green leaves “looks like Christmas” in the pot. :)
I have so many recipes that I make based on the memory of a friend sharing them with me. Some recent additions to my repertoire include Jonathan’s steak (with a bleu cheese sauce, amazing), Karen’s guacamole (with a secret creamy ingredient!), Stijn’s Salty Cod (although he makes it so much better than me), Aubrey’s Salt-crusted Chicken (my new favorite way to roast a bird), and Sandra’s Magical Salty-Sweet-Crunchy appetizers (yumyumyum).
It makes me wonder what food reminds my friends of me? My pizza, perhaps (that I love rolling out on the bar in my kitchen while entertaining a group and sipping wine and giggling? Or a loaf of my homemade bread? Or something else?
And, what is your signature dish?
Two upcoming events that might be of interest to my followers in SoCal:
1) The Past Tense seminar at the Huntington Library with Peter Stallybrass. Always a delight to listen to (such as in this podcast of his plenary at the Past’s Digital Presence conference), Stallybrass will be speaking on “What is a Book? And how do we write about it?” At noon in the Munger Building on January 20th. RSVP to reserve a box lunch and to receive a copy of the pre-reading for the event.
2) Novice Open House for the IMUA outrigger paddling team. Everyone is welcome to join us and try their hand at this sport. January 29th, 9-11am at NorthStar Beach (next to Newport Aquatic Center), Newport Beach.
While I’m enjoying some lingering goodbyes with my party guests, get started on the dishes and have them nearly done by the time I return to the kitchen. Swoon!
PS: other than my failure to acquire ample numbers of goblets, plates and silverware, the new house is a great venue for cooking and enjoying pie with friends! :)
PPS: Turning in the keys to my old apartment this weekend was a bittersweet experience. I will miss that home desperately–for so many reasons. But am delighted to hold on to the memories of sharing it with so many of you!
This entry is scheduled to post on my blog while I’m at lunch with two friends who have happy plans ahead that will take them away from southern California. Two friends who I might not see for a very long time. I’m feeling a bit emotional about it right now…
These are the friends who stepped in last summer to care for TobyJoy-kitty as her health declined. I was alone and at my wit’s end and so so tired. Their gift was such a huge one. Here’s a reprint of the post that I wrote after that event (and for those who are interested in more of the TobyJoy saga, the post I wrote just after she died).
We returned home last night after an absolutely wearying day of travel. It was a day where we where often singled out of for “extra ” security checks, where we stood in lines for hours at each transfer point, where the ridiculousness of it all nearly pushed me over the edge a few times. All in all, a good sign that it was time to be home and to return to some semblance of our own daily rhythm.
Waking up this morning in my own bed and the exact time (even w/o an alarm clock) that I usually do each morning…just felt so right! Irvine’s humidity is so delicious. the familiar birds chirping outside are my birds,” and so forth.
We came home to something so important I’m not even sure that I can write about it cogently (and if this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, you can chalk it up to jetlagged delusion). Two weeks ago, just as we were preparing to leave on our trip, our beloved kitty TobyJoy had a severe neurological incident. So severe that she needed round the clock care. And as our lives were completely derailed by concern for her, we knew that we were also about to leave the country on this trip to England that was so super-important to my kids–both of whom are Anglophiles, and one whose biggest wild dream is to start boarding school in Wales next year. We were faced with this horrible catch-22 situation. TobyJoy needed to be brought to a quiet controlled environment if there was any chance of her healing, because over-stimulation was causing more seizures of the kind that initially caused her brain damage, but she was in such a state that she could hardly be cared for by anyone other than a family member. Boarding in her in a kennel simply wasn’t a good option. It was super hard for us to see Toby so ill (if you’ve never met her–it’s hard to imagine a cat with a more whimsical quirky character), and we were just aching with seeing her hooked up to tubes and so deeply drugged that she wasn’t aware of her surroundings. We wondered if it woudn’t be more humane to put her to sleep than to continue her medical trauma (and at that point it wasn’t even clear that she would ever eat or drink on her own again).
So..as all of these ideas were on the table and I was trying to make decisions, a dear friend who is studying neurology, whose research is specifically on small mammals, stepped in and offered to care for Toby so we could go to England.
She (along with her partner and some other friends), developed a round-the-clock schedule for caring for Toby once she was released from the ER. She ferried Toby to vet appointments, cleaned up after numerous toileting problems, prepared a specialized diet, and administered a dizzying amount of meds every day. All while we were traipsing the British countryside. Our friend wrote daily updates, sent videos, and worked with our vet to troubleshoot problems.
When we came home last night and met Toby, we found a kitty that’s still suffering from occasional seizures, but recognized Catgirl, held her tail high as she explored, vocalized pleasure at being around our family again, and now remembers how to use the litterbox. In short, she seems happy. Certainly a bit different than before, but happy.
As I tried (and failed) to express to our friend just how much it meant to us to have her care for Toby, she simply replied, “Your family had this summer planned where you were all out pursuing your dreams…I wanted you to be able to do that…”
Anything I try to write now, can’t even touch the goodness of that gift.