"You're the only one who knows when you're using things to protect yourself and keep your ego together and when you're opening and letting things fall apart, letting the world come as it is - working with it rather than struggling against it. You're the only one who knows." ---Pema Chodron
This quote is me. At Thanksgiving. At any holiday really. Struggling, fighting, throwing an emotional temper tantrum because things aren't going my way. Because what I see isn't what I want to see. People have changed. I've changed. But I want things to be as they were. As they were all those years ago when Thanksgiving was perfect, the potato rolls were on the table, the country ham was never too salty and the turkey was never too dry. When all your loved ones were still with you, and the only stress you had was whether or not you'd have room for Nana's perfect pecan pie.
The memory you have in your heart is always perfect. Unblemished. All year long I eagerly await Thanksgiving because I crave the closeness and the gratitude and the peace that comes from family. Okay, I just wrote that and re-reading it microseconds later I don't even believe it myself. If family=peace Hollywood movie writers wouldn't have any material. But somehow in my mind I equate Thanksgiving with all the happy memories I have of that time when I was a child. It's like a perfect portrait of nostalgia. Not saccharin like Norman Rockwell, but certainly something close to it.
Except that picture doesn't even exist. Life isn't a stagnant oil painting. We grow up. Loved ones die. People move away. Things change. And the picture is a lie anyway. It doesn't show everything. It only shows the happy, pretty surface, not all the pain, baggage, and crap the kids in the picture carried into their adulthood. Carried with them like a second skin, refusing to ever let go. You can't see that in the picture. In the picture all is well. It's this perfect, unrealistic picture I'm carrying around with me, constantly trying to recreate. Struggling to recapture in vain. Not ever looking past the pretty surface, hoping to forget the painful shadows and only see the pretty highlights.
In my head this is how Thanksgiving is SUPPOSED to be. Happy happy. Pretty pretty. Perfect. And so every Thanksgiving rather than accepting what is, surrendering to what I am and what I have, and what I can handle, I fight against what I think it should be. What definitely ISN'T there, but what in my mind SHOULD be there. Instead of living in gratitude, I'm struggling and fighting.
I haven't accepted change and so I use nostalgia and memories as shields - to guard against the very real fact things are different. We don't get together as a family anymore, I don't have children, and things are never again going to be the way they were. And that's okay. I can't live in the past. It's getting tiring. I am grateful for Pema's words, because in reading them it's helping me to be aware. I might not be ready to surrender my shield just yet, but she promises that maybe relief from all this fighting is in sight....awareness is the first step.
Trouble is, this whole blog is about remembering. Recording and remembering for when I can no longer. How do you record and remember without totally getting lost in the past? And how do you accept change and begin to move through the holidays without losing yourself in nostalgia? Without fighting. Accepting and moving on. Being truly grateful for what you have instead of spinning and spinning in this longing for what you think you've lost. Creating new memories rather than longing to bring back the old ones. They wouldn't be as great as you remember anyway, would they? If hindsight is 20/20 then nostalgia is Blu-Ray...
Sunday, November 29, 2009
"You're the only one who knows when you're using things to protect yourself and keep your ego together and when you're opening and letting things fall apart, letting the world come as it is - working with it rather than struggling against it. You're the only one who knows." ---Pema Chodron
Sunday, September 13, 2009
I have a phobia about cooking, Any and all cooking coming from my own two hands. I just know from the moment I start pulling down pots and pans it's going to turn out TERRIBLE. It's going to SUCK. It's going to taste like crap, the people I serve it to are going to get sick. People are going to give me a look that says, "You're kidding, right?" So why do I write a food blog? Why am I writing right this very minute about appetizer anxiety? Because lately I have found two cures for my food fear. Two REAL cures that appear to be ridding me of a life-long phobia I have about cooking. Two cures that once I realized were there, seemed so very simple.
I've always had this fear. Creating a meal gets my heart racing, my hands clammy. The very thought of bringing out the chopping board fills me with a dread much like getting a root canal. Don't even get me started about planning full-0n dinner parties, or barbecues or Thanksgiving get-togethers. I've had full blown anxiety attacks from even opening my old cookbooks to look for recipes. The act of even LOOKING at an ingredient list for Herb Stuffing gives me stomach cramps because even though it looks scrumptious on the page, I know it's going to taste like cat litter.
Last Christmas was supposed to be a simple affair - a small brunch with just my husband, my sister, her boys, and my Dad. All I had to do was make some eggs and make sure the house was clean. Hubby was even available to help. But two hours before they were scheduled to arrive I was crumpled on my bathroom floor, paralyzed with anxiety and stomach cramps. They arrived to find me in my bathrobe, prone on the couch. I feigned flu - and I guess it wasn't all feigning. I really was sick. All because I had to cook.
What am I so afraid of? Failure obviously. But why? One reason is my mother. I always preface stories about her with the phrase, "She was Martha Stewart before there was one," or "She made Julia Child look like a rank amateur." Because she did. Growing up in the 1950's, and MAJORING IN HOME ECONOMICS (yes, you heard right) at Longwood College gave her a step up onto the Betty Draper platform of housewifery. Yep, she had to major in Home Economics to land a husband (instead of Art, her first choice), because everyone knows a woman can't make a living as a painter. So cooking was her art which she practiced almost as much as her painting. Tuesday night dinners were exotic affairs often served by candlelight (for mood), and much to the chagrin of my Dad, who always complained he could never see his food.
She experimented with Hawaiian, Chinese, Mexican, Japanese, and Indian when all you could buy at your local A&P was LaChoy ("Makes Chinese food........SWING American! Think of it!). Pretty exotic stuff in the early to mid 70's. When your Mom is making Baked Alaska from scratch on a Thursday night and the rest of your friends are eating Nilla wafers for dessert you sort of get ingrained in your head that you just MIGHT be set to a higher standard.
I tried. She pulled me into the kitchen, showing me the basics like greasing and flouring a pan, or cutting a carrot for your mise en place. But Mom always saved the fancy stuff for herself, like arranging the whipped egg white on the mound of mint chocolate chip ice cream (with a brownie base) for the Baked Alaska. So maybe I got it in my head that I was never good enough. I could never BE good enough. When she arranged the 12 different kinds of made-from-scratch cookies on her cookie tree - I could eat them (when she said so). But could never ARRANGE them. That was her job.
From all this I learned dinner parties were EVENTS. The lighting, the music (usually Sinatra), the food, the linens, all of it was so important. One detail left out could ruin an entire month's preparation. It's no wonder I become apoplectic at Thanksgiving! I can remember freaking out the first time Hubby and I presented Thanksgiving to my in-laws. I had forgotten to buy potato rolls, and of course, EVERYONE knows it cannot be perfect Thanksgiving without potato rolls! Hubby tried to help, but I was inconsolable. Dinner was ruined.
When I spent weeks planning a Tex-Mex barbecue, buying multicolored pitchers to serve sangria, festive tablecloths, tumblers, party bowls, and then TWO people showed up I freaked out. I was a failure, a waste. Why did I even bother? No one likes me that's why they didn't come. They knew the food would suck and it probably did anyway.
As you can probably tell, the other reason for my cooking fear is I have some sort of sick notion if the meal isn't good, my character isn't good. A failure in cooking is a reflection of my very self. Yeah pretty messed up, but that's my head. I can't help it. At least I'm AWARE of it, right?
I wasn't always like this. For many years I was single, and out of pure boredom I would cook. I loved scones and so decided to learn to make them. If they didn't turn out, that's okay, I'll just feed them to the birds. Got bored by prepared processed meals which tasted like cardboard and so learned to make simple pasta sauce. From there I started improvising - cooking the pasta and mixing it with different things depending on my mood - pesto one night, sauteed vegetables (Provencale style) another night. Just plain with garlic and feta a third night. I ate a lot of pasta - because it was easy to make, forgiving if it turned out wrong. And if it turned out wrong the only person seeing it was me. Eventually got so adventurous I was making curries - first from a recipe, but then eventually improvising on my own. Buying fish sauce and making authentic Vietnamese shrimp and chicken soup was a Sunday afternoon adventure - a way to kill time and entertain myself when I wasn't dating anyone. No stress, no anxiety. If it didn't turn out, I'd just dump it and make some mac and cheese. Try again next weekend.
So what happened? Somewhere along the way I got married - to a guy who cooks WAY WAY WAY better than me. So of course I transferred my Mom thing onto him. Poor Hubby. Without even knowing it, he had become the object of all my childhood "not good enoughs." Somehow I got into my subconscious I had to prove my cook-worthiness (and self worth) to Hubby, just as I had to do with my mother. Being successful at Thanksgiving would prove this. Creating a magical Tuesday night dinner would also. The anxiety was crippling, but I didn't know where it was coming from. Poor Hubby. It wasn't as if he was doing anything to make me think this sort of thing was expected of me. He loves to cook and will do so at the drop of a hat! And he'd love me even if I couldn't boil water.
Realizing all this was coming from my own twisted experience was liberating. A huge weight just lifted right off. Sure, you have that first moment of, "Oh my GAWD, I can't believe my subconscious is doing this," but once again, when you're aware, you can fix it. Or at least try. So what did I do? Simple. I just pretended I was single again.
Every time I cooked, I pretended Hubby wasn't in the picture. I pretended the only person who would be eating this meal would be me. So if it was a failure, it was okay. I could just throw it away and eat mac and cheese. Just me. And you know what? It worked. By tricking my mind, my soul calmed down. My anxiety eased. Not all at once, but in steps. And every time I cooked, it got just a little better. Baby steps. But better each time.
Having a CSA was the other cure that helped baby-step it along. When you've got 16 tomatoes just on this side of too ripe and might be covered in mold tomorrow - you HAVE to figure out something to do with them real quick. Pasta sauce? Ratatouille? It forces your mind into creative cooking real fast like a smoke alarm runs you out of a burning house. Tomatoes. Rotting. Must. Cook. NOW!
Eventually all this forced creativity got me into small acts of regular food improvisation. I could look at a recipe and think, "That would taste better with a little acid, like lime juice," or "That cobbler would be WAY better with pumpkin spice instead of just cinnamon." And it was. Another baby step of confidence. Stepping away from all that fear.
Recently I've discovered not only am I as good a cook as my mother was - in some respects I am better. When I pull a homemade peach cobbler out of the oven that looks like it should grace the cover of Gourmet magazine, I still pick apart its flaws. I'm still way too hypercritical. But inside, deep, deep inside, I'm thinking, "You know, Mom never made cobbler." She BOUGHT plenty of pies, maybe even made refrigerator pies, but never a true, homemade peach cobbler. One that looks great, and I admit with much reluctance, tastes incredible. Credit goes to the CSA peaches, but also to my willingness to take a recipe and tweak it without fear. To actually NOT follow it to the letter, is a pretty big step. And to not sink into a heap of anxiety on the floor is leaps and bounds beyond anything I ever thought possible...
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Had an odd and strangely surreal and beautiful experience over the weekend. I went to a reunion. But not a school reunion. Well, maybe, but a different sort of school. The school of my early 20's, the school of young adulthood.
Somehow, my old roommates from when I was 20, with a little Facebook magic, managed to pull together about 50 people to come back to Richmond, VA (my hometown) for a weekend celebration of.........what? That I'm still trying to figure out.
Back in the day my friend D. was the man. Along with his partner G., he gave parties, beautiful, elegant parties. Themed parties where everyone dressed like it was 1927, complete with bobbed hair, black tie and tails, cigarette holders. Pandora's Box starring silent movie star Louise Brooks would play on the television while we all mingled about, pretending we were Gatsby. Or Daisy. Or Clara Bow. Or Gloria Swanson.
D. threw LOTS of parties. Always packed with people because he created fliers and passed them out at the dance club where we lived. I say "lived" because we went there to dance, drink, socialize and generally make fools of ourselves literally 6 nights a week. D.'s parties were spectacular - always cocktails (never beer), fabulous lighting, and he'd place huge bowls full of Benson and Hedges 100's all around the apartment so whenever somebody wanted one, all they had to do was reach over. The consummate host.
We dressed to the nines more often than not because the surroundings required it. The apartment was SPECTACULAR - like you'd just walked into the Vanderbilt estate. Beautifully painted eggplant walls, polished brass window latches (because he removed and stripped them by hand), antique sofas reupholstered in black silk shantung, Egyptian artifacts, oil paintings, the works. Very Rococo, but it worked. I loved living there. Moving in from my split level suburban shithole was like moving into the Metropolitan Museum. I had an antique armoire in my bedroom, and every time I walked out to make coffee in the morning, I felt like I should be wearing a silk robe or an antique peignoir. A friend once remarked he could never live in D.'s apartment because it looked like a museum. "How can you EVER relax?" he asked. But I love museums. Of all the places in the WORLD I'm most relaxed in a museum.
So why did I go to this reunion? Why does anybody go to a reunion? To brag? To satisfy that morbid curiosity that says, "I wonder how everybody LOOKS?!?" Isn't that why? But I didn't need or want to do any of those things. I just wanted to see them again. To give them a big ol' hug of thanks. To see my old roommates, my very first roommates as a matter of fact. Other than living with a boyfriend which turned into a DEBACLE that sent me running back home, I had never lived away from my parents. D. and G. were the friends who first taught me to be, and to live, as a free adult. Free from parents. Free to make mistakes and fall right on my ass drunk and learn that most times you have to pick up your own damn self because most of the time no one is going to be there to hold your hair.
They didn't even know they were doing it, but just by living with them, by being in that environment, they were teaching me it's okay to fall on your ass sometimes. More than that, they accepted me for who I was. At a time in my life when I felt like less than NOTHING, completely self conscious and dorky, ugly, and beyond shy, they simply said, "Come on in! Live with us! You're welcome here!" I've never forgotten it. And because of that they are, and always will be, good friends. How could I NOT go?
What were we celebrating? In a weird way I think we were celebrating the fact we had even survived that time. The substances, the casual sex, the shit we did back then? It's pretty damn lucky all of us not only came out the other side of that 1980's black hole, but came out well. Some of us own businesses, some of us have kids, 401K's, nice cars, nice houses. And all of us, at least the ones who showed up this weekend, seemed happy. And damn did everybody look fucking great! We fell into old routines, refilling our glasses with vodka and tonic, picking up the cigarettes right where we left off when we quit back in 1992. It was as if time had stood still. Or at least turned back just a little. Except for the gray hair. And the laugh lines. And the beautiful crinkles around our eyes. Crinkles we had EARNED by god.
Talked about this with another old friend that night - someone I hadn't seen in literally over 20 years. We marveled at how well and happy everyone looked and at how there really weren't any horror stories when there should be. When you think about all the shit we got away with, there really should be. But we were all there. And all okay. Imagine that?
Were there stories? Maybe there are and I'm just choosing not to remember them. Or maybe all the drugs have washed away my memory. That's completely possible. The more I think on it, there were a few. But they weren't good friends, close friends. Well, one was. I still tear up when I think of Russell and how we lost him way too young. And I'm sure there are others. I bet if we all started hanging out again, we'd remember them. Think of them. But tonight wasn't about that. It was ultimately about celebrating the ones who were here. Who had made it. The very fact D. and G. are still together (25 years!) gives me a warm glow of hope. Too cool in my book.
And of course these days, when you think of all the things "the kids" are doing at FOURTEEN, it makes the partying we did in our 20's look pretty innocent. Sure didn't feel like it at the time though. I remember D. remarking once at how it was a good thing we weren't rich, or at least one of us would end up DEAD from the 6-day benders we used to go on.
Back then we even had a schedule - we'd come home from work, eat, nap, and then get ready to go out - never before 10pm. And every day had its own specific club. Can't remember them all. Do remember Wednesday was reserved for Russian Quaaludes at the Bus Stop, then on to Fielden's (an after hours club) for more dancing, drinking, and general misbehavior. Other nights? Maybe The Pyramid - then on to Fielden's. Sneaking into Rockitz by sending one person in, then recreating the stamp she got on our own wrists with ballpoint pen to save some $$$.
Sunday brunch might be the Texas Wisconsin Border Cafe, or this other place upstairs from it that served hot dogs and drinks for $1 - sitting out there on Sunday afternoons, getting tan, talking about where we'd head to that night. All those places up and down Main Street and Floyd in the Fan where we'd drink pitchers of beer, nursing our hangovers, discussing where we should go out. The only nights we didn't go out would be Monday, possibly Tuesday. A girl needs her rest after all.
Those were heady times. No obligations other than to get to work each day by 9am. And to somehow pay off that credit card bill. And that car payment. And rent. Maybe some food.
Why the Black Celebration album image? This was our soundtrack. Sure we played other stuff - Bowie, the Cure, the Smiths (LOTS of the Smiths), Erasure, some house music. But we always came back to Dave Gahan and the boys. Every single time. Black Celebration lived on our turntable for weeks on end, providing the background noise to so many parties.
Depeche was on the turntable last night in fact - D. still has that turntable, and finally hooked it up once again. The strains of "Drive.....drive anywhere," and "Route 66" really take me back to those times. I can't say they were the BEST of times. They were good times. They were important times. I learned a lot then. We lived through a lot then. All of us.
D. and G. are even living on the same block where I used to live shortly after moving out. It's a long story - I still blame myself - for being too much of a party girl, for relying on them too much to pick up pieces I really needed to learn to gather my own damn self. But going to their house on that block last night brought it all back. I lived just over "there" from where they live now, my sister and her husband lived just "there" when they first got together in 1990, and two other good friends lived right around the corner. Yeah, I'm waxing a little nostalgic. But it truly felt like coming home. To a place you know like your own bed. Your own pillow. A place warm and safe and full of old friends. What's better than that?
Saturday, July 11, 2009
...a must for any dog lover, Charlie Chaplin's "A Dog's Life". It figures prominently in Glen David Gold's book, Sunnyside, and besides, it's just a damn adorable little movie. Why was Rin Tin Tin a major movie star and not Scraps? What a sweeter! I just want to rub his ears in both hands while saying, "Who's a good boy? Who's a good boy? WHO'S a good boy? (except that Scraps is a girl, lol!) And yes, I'm still on my Chaplin kick. Which should subside in a few weeks, and then it'll be an obsession about something else - that's just how I roll...
Thursday, July 09, 2009
ADORE this image. I call it "Chaplin At Rest" or "Laundry - the Tramp Way". Found it after a mad search online. After becoming Charlie-crazed (much like the fans of his day) while reading Sunnyside by Glen David Gold. I heart heart heart this novel SO much. I'm really digging it - devouring it actually, like a starved raving rabid dog. How does one write like Mr. Gold, please tell me? An historical novel (wait, don't run for the hills) that is completely engaging, a total page turner. It's made me fall in love with Charlie - his unruly hair, his obsessive nature, his lascivious manner disguised in a childlike smile. Or maybe I can just really identify because it's a little TOO much like me...
In any case, I look forward to the time each day when I get to pour over Gold's words. And like Gold (I'm assuming) I too am now completely obsessed with all things Chaplin.
Gold has taken an engaging narrative and injected it with observations on not only American culture, but patriotism, capitalism, and the nature of celebrity. Chaplin was the 2nd worldwide celebrity, Houdini being the first. However, Chaplin was DEFINITELY the first celebrity who became famous for not being there. For doing his thing on film, not in person. Where Houdini was dangling directly above the masses (and failed miserably in the movies), Chaplin lured people into his character, his world, strictly from film. A comedian, choreographer, dancer, filmmaker, studio owner, and song writer. Did you know he wrote "Smile" the song sung at the Michael Jackson memorial? I didn't. Maybe Jermaine's version will bring publicity, and new readers, to this book. Probably not, but one can hope. The book is that good.
God, I loved Houdini as a kid. Where other kids were buying Tiger Beat and plastering their walls with grinning pictures of Shaun Cassidy or Scott Baio, I was staring longingly at Harry. His hands up near his face in a classic pose that said, "Come hither, let me show you something mysteriously wonderful and magical!" His hair a wiry mess of curls. His eyes trying to look scary, but in actually they were more mischievous and twinkly. And for that 13-year-old dorky geek girl, it was all I needed.
Coincidence that I'm now pouring over a book about his celebrity successor? While going through what is probably a mid-life crisis? As well as a jealous rage because I can't write like Glen David Gold? Probably not. Okay, rage isn't the right word, but the envy is so green and deep it's like a frikkin emerald ribbon some prospector discovered down in Australia. Or Africa. Or wherever they dig up emeralds. Hell, who would've thought that I'd admire an author named GLEN anyway?
But I do. Glen's book is great. Just great. Dammit, it's so frikkin' great that I'll probably cry when I reach the end. And now that I've seen Glen himself on film, creating his own brand of celebrity (the irony of that + the book's topic isn't lost believe me), I want to buy him a whiskey. He's sarcastic, intelligent, engaging, funny, and mischievous. Just like his books....
Monday, June 22, 2009
...A sip of wine, a cigarette, and then it’s time to go. I tidied up the kitchenette; I tuned the old banjo. I’m wanted at the traffic jam. They’re saving me a seat. I’m what I am, and what I am, is back on Boogie Street...
---Leonard Cohen, Boogie Street
There we are, exiting the New Jersey Turnpike on a Friday afternoon, traveling at great speed under the overpasses of Hoboken. Slowing down as we reach Lincoln Tunnel. Snaking our way left and right between car and tourbus, tourbus and car. Winding down and down and down, spiraling as we get closer to the tunnel. Stopping. We're not going anywhere anytime soon. The New York skyline just ahead through the windshield - hazy and hot for May. A giant hole resides where the towers used to be. And as I watch and wait for traffic to start up, Leonard's song shuffles onto the iPod. And there I am. Back on Boogie Street.
It's been 10 years since Hubby and I ventured to NYC - 10 years. We traveled there then to visit friends in the fresh bloom of our romance. We'd only been dating a month at the most. The bloom wasn't yet off the flower as they say. And actually it still isn't. But back then we didn't know each other as well and so tiptoed around one another as new lovers do. Hesitant, questioning. A bit afraid to show the other our true self. I was a different person 10 years ago. More afraid. Less sure and quick to jump in with both feet. Back then it was one toe in the water, if at all. Although I'd been to NYC numerous times, 10 years ago the place still frightened me. It was a place of hide your purse and watch your back. But as I would learn over the course of a short weekend, things change. It started with that wait at the Lincoln Tunnel. Where before my heart might have started beating faster, this time it actually slowed. As I gazed at the skyline, oddly, New York felt like a homecoming.
We drove up specifically to see Leonard Cohen, who, after his manager ran off with his money Madoff-style, was forced out of a self-imposed-Buddhist-monk-retirement-existence into touring again. At age 75, Leonard would be performing at Radio City Music Hall. Since Hubby is a rabid fan, he scrambled to get these "last chance before he's gone" tickets. I just wanted to go to New York again. Leonard? Eh. I just wanted New York.
And as we strolled Manhattan that weekend, doing all those cliched New York things like watching the yacht races in Central Park, eating smoked fish at Barney Greengrass, gazing at sculptures in the Met, and walking the streets of Chelsea, right by the hotel in fact, I felt (corny to say) reborn. I was a different person in New York THIS time. The city finally fit me. Before it felt too big, too intimidating, too fast. Now it was just right. I felt like I was running the city, the city wasn't running me. I felt like a better, fuller version of myself. Like I had finally grown into my own skin. My fear was gone and instead of anxiety, I only felt enjoyment.
Even the enormous crowds at Radio City didn't phase me - where 10 years ago I would have hyperventilated and made a beeline for a bathroom stall. This time I just breathed it all in and rode the wave - let the crowd and the feeling of being in the crowd wash over me. And the show? It was incredible. Leonard was simply amazing - so amazing I felt like a complete idiot for suggesting to Hubby that Leonard's music resembled something you'd sing at a FUNERAL. Well, yeah, it does, but live? Here the songs come to life. Leonard brings them to life. Not only does his deep baritone resonate right to the heart of your soul, but he is so engaging and childlike you become caught up in the happiness he is feeling. Leonard skipped around that stage in his suit and fedora like a six-year-old boy, gleeful and mischievous like he'd just won at a game of marbles by cheating.
It was then I realized Leonard isn't a depressing person. He's just in love. So deeply in love with women, and love, and sex, and life that every song reflects it. He's not singing sad, he's singing love. He's the Pablo Neruda of pop - all his songs dripping with so much innuendo I found I needed some air when intermission rolled around! And when he's not singing love, he's singing justice, and spirituality, and loss, and death, and wonder, and all the things philosophers have been pondering for thousands of years. In his fedora and suit, skipping around, going down on one knee to pray and then to arise and sing and skip some more. He was like a playful mix of Pan, Tom Jones, and a Zen Buddhist priest all rolled into one. And Pablo Neruda. And Bugs Bunny. With a little bit of superhero thrown in for good measure because the man sang for THREE HOURS.
Yes, THREE hours. He sang for an hour, took a 12-minute intermission, then sang for two more. At age 75. I couldn't even go up and down on one knee without a great deal of agony much less sing for three hours and I'm almost half his age! Maybe it's all that Buddhist meditation he's been doing, but the man was spry.
And when he wasn't spry, he was grateful. Thankfully for the jumbotrons we were able to see it. Several times when he began to speak or sing the crowd went wild, yelling, clapping. We were grateful too. To have Leonard back on Boogie Street again. Right by Chelsea. In New York again. Everyone knew why we were clapping and it made us clap harder. And Leonard just basked, his face a beaming smile of gratitude. Bathing in our appreciation. Taking it all in. Remembering it.
The biggest yells came during Everybody Knows when he sang, "Take one last look at this sacred heart before it blows..." The crowd went wild. And I started to cry. Because the irony of the statement - that this would more than likely be the first and last time I'd ever see him on stage - washed over me in a flood of emotion I didn't expect. Which is why the concert was so mind-blowing. All those surprises. New York City. Leonard. The weekend. It was all just too awesome.
I cried at least 5 times during his show. When he performed 1,000 Kisses Deep as a spoken word rather than a song. When I realized he looked just like my Pop-Pop in that suit and fedora. When I realized how much love emanated from this man. And when he beamed at the crowd for the last time during the third encore. Amazing. He wore a face of gratitude that in my wildest dreams I could never hope to emulate. Does that come from meditation? Or does he feed on the love from the crowd? Or does he just live in the moment? I don't know, but in this day and age, we should bottle it, because hell knows, we sure could use more of it.
I am so floored by the man's aura (for want of a better word) I haven't even mentioned the incredible musicians he surrounded himself with - drummer, bassist, backup singers, a one-man horn section. And probably the most beautiful Flamenco guitar playing I've ever heard in my life - whole sections of melody so complicated, fast, yet light as a feather it was like his fingers were butterflies alighting on the strings. And oh yeah, that playing made me cry too - and I don't think I was the only one. The entire audience was rapt the whole three hours. Never have I been to a concert so silent when you're supposed to be. Not one cell phone, not one ignorant bastard whispering when they should be appreciating. It was GREAT.* And on the walk home it began to rain......hard. We laughed, running under an awning to wait out the storm. Another cliched New York moment. Except we had just seen Leonard Cohen at Radio City Music Hall. Neither one of us could stop smiling.
Needless to say I too am now a rabid fan. I walk around humming Everybody Knows under my breath. When things don't go my way (or when they do) I sing Boogie Street. I feel cheated I came to his music so late. But so grateful that when I did it was with a wallop. I saw him where it all began, at the height of his fame (2 sold out shows tells me that) and in Radio City, a place so architecturally decadent, so ultra-Art-Deco-New York, I can't imagine seeing him anywhere else. And I saw him at a time when I was the "new" me, the better me, the stronger me. The me that is unafraid and so can take it all in as it happens and be in the moment too. Thank you Mr. Cohen.
Leonard Cohen's Setlist
May 16, 2009
Radio City Music Hall
New York City, NY
Dance Me to the End of Love
Ain't No Cure for Love
Bird on the Wire
In My Secret Life
Who By Fire
Waiting for the Miracle
Tower of Song
Sisters of Mercy
Take This Waltz
I'm Your Man
1,000 Kisses Deep
So Long, Marianne
First We Take Manhattan
Famous Blue Raincoat
If It Be Your Will
I Tried to Leave You
Whither Thou Goest
* Find myself running out of words to describe this show, but hopefully you get the idea...
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Click Here to Read More..
"Stole" this from the Interwebs. Considering its content, I don't think the artist will mind. You go Jim Jarmusch. I completely, totally, unequivocally agree. Every story has already been told, somehow, somewhere before. You just have to steal it again for yourself, then make it your own.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Every Mother's Day I put something in the ground. Not just because it's the first safe day for gardeners (no danger of frost), but because I want to remember my mother, who passed away in 2001, and who most of my blog posts have been about.
But Momma ran marathons, she had no time for gardening. In fact, I don't think I EVER saw her with dirt under her nails. They remained perfectly manicured and lacquered, usually with Revlon's "Toast of New York". So today I should've gone for a run if my intention was to honor Momma. Instead I repotted my geraniums. Not technically putting something in the ground, but repotting is putting a plant in dirt. Giving it renewed life.
The tradition actually started several years ago when I wanted a wildflower garden in my front yard. My sister happened to come over after our Mother's Day visit with Momma at her caretaker's home. When Sis learned I was planting that day, she asked if she could help. So instead of dwelling on Momma's poor health, we dug up the front yard and planted a wildflower garden. It felt healthy to be growing something on Mother's Day. Instead of being depressed that our mother would never be the same, we were creating life. That wildflower garden came up tall and strong. But just before the whole area burst into bloom, my downstairs neighbors mowed it down, thinking they were weeds. Ever since then, I've planted something, or done some sort of major gardening project on Mother's Day.
I actually love to repot plants. And I usually wait to do it sometime in the spring. I like the feeling that they will be reborn, just as everything else is, in the spring. Giving them a new lease on life. Discarding the used up soil - dry, powdery with all its nutrients sucked out, for the moist new potting soil, chock full of plant food, and smelling of mold and earth and life. I gently coax the plant out of its root-bound prison where it has spent all winter trapped in a too small terracotta space, gently placing the root ball into a pot with much more room. Burying the roots in a shower of moist earth. Patting it down. Watering. Allowing the plant to get used to its new home. Sometimes I think I can hear the plant breathing a sigh of relief as it gently lays itself onto its new food-filled bed. From winter boots to summer sandals. At last, their rooty toes have room to wiggle around and breathe.
I'm taking care of my geraniums on this day - leggy things I bought years and years ago. They lay dormant and bloomless all winter, but explode into ballooney balls of color the minute they're placed on the deck out back. Explosions of red, pink, and white like flowery fireworks. And like I said, my momma never grew anything but her two girls. And our hair. And her hair.* But my grandmother Muddy overwintered her geraniums every year. I remember being shocked to learn this last year at her funeral. Then shock drifted away and I was left feeling comforted. Why, of course she overwintered her geraniums - mothering them through chilly sunless days, watering the bloomless green leaves - not panicking when most of the leaves dried out and fell off and you were left with just stems. Of course she did. It's probably why I do now.
When I was a teacher I overwintered my flowers in the classroom, and my students used to ask why I didn't just throw them out. "They're dead!" they'd exclaim. But no, I mothered them. Like Muddy did. Like my Nana mothered her iris and roses. And like Momma mothered us, nuturing, caring, cajoling. Scolding sometimes. Scolding a LOT actually. Standing by and hoping, praying when our flowers weren't as prolific or as abundant. Knowing that sometime soon, they'd come back. I put plants in the ground every Mother's Day because I want to remember Momma, and Muddy, and Nana. All the wonderful women who nurtured us, along with their flowers, when we needed it the most.
*in fact, we grew so much hair that when we all went for a haircut, they alerted the media. For real. But that's another story for another time...
Thursday, May 07, 2009
For various reasons, I haven't been writing. I've been THINKING about writing, but not actually doing it. Part of it was health related (more on that later) part of it was a much-needed change in jobs, but most of it was because the urge wasn't there. Something was missing to spur me on, to keep me going line after line.
But the health-related problems abated, the job changed, Spring came, and I found I was out of excuses. I made changes because the urge was there. I got that new job. Instead of Sirius or Itunes on the hour-long commute, I started listening to audio books. Began with Lee Smith's, On Agate Hill and found that as I traversed the rolling hills near my home, snaking my way around them to finally emerge onto the main road, Smith's words settled on my mind like a fine rain. She writes of Appalachia. Of doomed love, and tragic death. Real Southern Gothic stuff. The legends of my ancestors, both sides of which came from the very valley I reside in now. Her words sound like roots music. Like a banjo and fiddle. They lilt and yarn, twist and stretch themselves into a Southern langorous way, slowly meandering, taking its time. It calms me while at the same time inserts a longing, a missing of family in my heart. Family gone, and not gone. Because there are always memories. And so I'm urged to write by the sound of her words.
And as I sit here now at midnight, writing, up because of insomnia and because it is thunderstorming outside and my dog Lois is vitally afraid of thunder, I find I'm no longer afraid of insomnia. Or storms. I used to down benadryl like candy to fight the insomnia, to force myself to sleep. Now I sleep when it comes. If it comes at all.
I used to be afraid of Lois bolting during our walks, running away and never coming back, but when it happened today I wasn't afraid. I laughed, gathered myself up, and started singing out her favorite word, "Ride! Ride!" (she loves the car). She had bolted after a squirrel, causing the leash to run fast in my hand and me to almost fall over. She took off into the woods, racing, galloping like a thoroughbred, at one point all four legs were in the air at the same time, her floppy black ears pointing straight back off her head like pigtails, her smile wide and grinning. She raced away like a little girl child. But when I called, she turned to look at me - she seemed to be giggling - before running back.
We had been out for an afternoon walk in the woods. It has been raining for what seems like years and because of that the trees have exploded their new spring leaves all at once. Overnight my woods are a jungle of new life. Trees are covered entirely with a fine mossy green down. Tiny little green leaves. Newly born. Brand new spring. The whole world is the color of a praying mantis, a bright acidy green. The air smells mossy and green too, like an old cemetery. Like the cemetery we found as children in the middle of the woods. Full of stones so old they'd been worn down to nothing and the tiny plot surrounded by a rusty iron fence.
As we walk I notice the new fiddlehead ferns on the forest floor, the tiny violets, the wild dogwood and azaleas that struggle to grow in this deep woods. Tiny white rosebud type flowers on a vine that I can't identify. Everything is quiet and new and good. Even when I call out to Lois because of her running away, it doesn't disturb anything. It's more like a bird call.
I love Lee Smith's book because it reminds me of this forest. Quiet yet wild at the same time. Musical. Green. Old. It's a book I wished I had written because I have a feeling much of my family has lived it. But instead of me telling my family's story, she did. It's like she stole it away in the night. I love that she did it. But I hate that it wasn't me.
Friday, March 27, 2009
(Momma, age 16, left, and Aunt age 15, right)
Eight years ago today, just before dawn, my mother passed away. With one last soft breath, let out in a quiet sigh, she left us. And each March 27th I'm a little quieter, I walk a little slower. I'm just a little sad. Because I'm remembering. My sister calls every year to remind me about "the day" - as if I needed reminding. Sis leaves a quiet voicemail, suggesting maybe we should go put flowers down at the cemetery. But we never do. We talk about it, but never do.
All eight years I've grieved. And I think I've finally come to a place of peace. A small, fragile-as-a-bird's-wing place of peace but nonetheless it's there. Where before this day would immobilize me, now I just retreat to a place of quiet reflection. I've tried to come to terms with my grief in various ways with varying amounts of success. I loved my Momma and have tried to comfort myself by telling myself that whenever I do things she loved, she lives. Her spirit arises from wherever it lays, or floats down from whatever cloud it has alighted on, and joins mine for time. Every time I knead bread dough, or run, or sing at the top of my lungs in the car, or dance, or shop for shoes, or sip a margarita, or eat salsa and chips, or decorate a Christmas tree, or measure out ingredients for cookies, scraping the knife across the measuring cup full of flour so its level - she lives. She's with me again. On days like today, that's what I hold onto.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
We interrupt your regularly scheduled posting of memory meanderings to bring you the following ULTRA COOL movie trailer. I can't remember how many times I've read Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. I can't remember how many times I've listened to The Arcade Fire's "Wake Up!" Too many to count. Pairing them together, with Spike Jonze and Catherine Keener along for the ride? Genius. I can' frikkin' wait until October 2009. Enjoy.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
(Sara and Melissa, photo by Jennifer Moseley, Jennifer Moseley Photography)
I’m in a daze. On February 28th I ran in my first 5K race. Not only did I beat my best time by 6 minutes, I medaled. Finishing third in my age group in the “Guns ‘n Hoses” 5K benefiting cops and firemen (clever huh?) down in Woodstock, GA.
I medaled. In my first race. It’s real, there’s a picture of it on my Facebook page and everything. I look at the photo and think, “Is that me?!” Medaling, running, this is unbelievable to me, a woman who has resisted any form of exercise her entire life. Who spent gym class sitting in the bleachers with the other rejects, refusing to dress out for gym because once a cheerleader had made fun of the fact she didn’t need a bra. And that was in 6th grade. That was it – no more gym for that girl. Ever. I was one of those who used to stand there when we played volleyball, arms crossed over my chest, morose and sullen. I’d just let the ball fly by me and hit the ground – my team groaning, the other team cheering wildly. We always played volleyball when it rained, and in 10th grade it rained a LOT.
I hated sports. The closest thing I came to athletics was twirling a flag in color guard. Convinced myself that it counted, but knew secretly it didn’t. My mother was a marathon runner and used to always encourage me to join her on the track or on the road during her weekend 10-milers. “It’ll lift your spirits,” she’d declare. I’d just sulk and slam my bedroom door, going back to my horror novels.
Here I was medaling of all things! And it’s absolutely true what runners say – you really DO get an extra jolt of energy from somewhere when you see those little red digits flashing. I turned a corner, plodding along like I carried lead weights in my shoes. Saw “39:30” and thought, “Holy Shit! I could finish under 40 minutes!” Even though my heart was jouncing around like it was on one of those bull riding machines, somehow I found the strength to pump my legs. I actually SPRINTED toward the finish line. Lifted my arms in victory, pumped the sky with my fist, yelling, “Yeaaaaah!” One guy clapped half-heartedly at my exuberance. What’s the matter with you people, you should be APPLAUDING like CRAZY! I’m a sports reject! A couch potato! But everyone just looked at me like, “Yeah, so? You ran a 5K. Big deal.”
Looked around some more, sure there must be a celebration. But it was only in my head. Had they taken my picture? I’ll pay a million dollars for that photo because who knows when we’ll see the likes of that again. But this was a community race, no cameras. Hell, the main thoroughfare was also the finish line, so I actually had to break through a crowd of tired runners leaving the park to finish the race. Excuse me please, pardon me, excuse me. Overall a pretty small affair. But damn I felt good. Proud of myself – which doesn’t happen often. 39:42 felt pretty good to this old fart. And I had sweet Sara to thank.
The day had started out horribly – cold, with a pouring, drenching, 40-degree rain that threatened to cancel the entire event. But I knew I’d run no matter what. I’d run in a frikkin’ BLIZZARD. Because I wasn’t just running for myself. I was running for Sara. Sara was the one who finally got my ass moving when no one else could. I knew my friends would be there too. They would run because we were *all* running for Sara - my friend Melissa’s 5-year-old daughter with CHARGE Syndrome.
CHARGE is a debilitating birth defect affecting a child’s heart, lungs, hearing, sight, and development. Sweet Sara has lived with CHARGE and eosinophilic esophagitis all her life. Melissa treks up to Cincinnati with Sara three, four, sometimes five times a year for observation and surgical operations. So many of these complicated procedures and the equipment needed to live with CHARGE aren’t covered by insurance, so Melissa decided she needed to take action. To raise awareness about CHARGE, and to help other children in the same situation as Sara, children with birth defects who face lifelong challenges needing necessary medical equipment uncovered by insurance. People who face financial challenges every day in addition to the ones they surmount because of CHARGE, cystic fibrosis, and other debilitating conditions.
To accomplish her goal, Melissa formed Sweet Sara’s Chargers, a group of family and friends determined to raise awareness to the plight of families hit hard by uncovered insurance needs. Melissa wants her Chargers to help people understand CHARGE, while at the same time honoring their own fitness goals. By running in races and gathering pledge donations, we’ll all be getting strong for Sara while at the same time letting the world know how very real her situation is. And how strong she is.
Never does this little girl let her situation get her down. On a recent visit, we played with Bratz dolls and she taught me sign language while dancing around to her "Signing Time" DVD. She made me laugh hysterically when she roughhoused and tormented her brothers and Ashley, the family beagle. She’s an absolute mischievous little angel who deserves some help. All the help we can give her. Every time I see Sara and hear her laugh I want to run, farther and faster than I ever have before. I want to run as well as Sara dances when she watches Alex and Leah signing the words for "friend" and "game" on her DVD.
Unfortunately, on race day a lot of people who committed to walking and running didn’t show – the rain kept them away. The rest of us, about 30 in all, wouldn’t let a little rain keep us from honoring ourselves and honoring Sara. We did show. We braved the rain. What’s a little water to a little girl who’s allergic to every food on Earth? Who has to be fed powder through a feeding tube, and who sucks on cookies for the taste because she can’t digest them?
Every morning, months before the race, I woke up at 6am to train. I thought about my mother doing the same thing at my age, trudging down a country road to improve her time and distance. But more than that, I thought about Sara. She endures SO much, every single day, and still acts like each day is a gift and a blessing. She laughs and smiles, and NEVER acts like any of this is a problem. So if it’s 20 degrees out and dark as pitch while I’m running, I think I can handle it. If Sara can carry all that heaven has told her she can, then I can certainly handle a little cold. Or a little rain.
All of us there on race day felt the same. We wore rain ponchos, carried umbrellas, and walked or ran the best way we could, the best way we knew how. My friend Kim had never walked that far in her entire life. Her sister Kelly walked with her, and for the last half mile, many friends dropped in and did the same for encouragement. It took her over an hour, the cop car was following them because they were last, but they didn’t let that bother them. “Slow and steady,” as they say. Those cops probably thought they were strolling along, taking their time. They didn’t realize that for Kim, this was momentous. A giant mountain. But she could do it. If Sara could endure, she would too. It was a sight to see, one I’ll never forget. She was walking for herself, and walking for Sara.
At first when the girls began walking with Kim, I didn't know what they were doing - I was too wrapped up in my own little victory. By the time I realized, when I *COULD* have joined them, it was too late. My feet actually did start to follow them, but my soul said no. This was their moment. I was their friend, but I hadn't made their journey. I stayed behind instead. Why didn't I walk with them? I guess deep down in my gut I still felt like it was my race. My first race. Even though it was Sara's day, it was my race. I was running for myself first, and then for Sara. But it wasn't a selfish act to think this way. It's self-FULL. After all, you have to fill up your own spirit before you can feed anyone else's.
I feel grateful to know Melissa, and to know her daughter Sara. I started running to improve my health, but because of them, I’m running well. I’m TRAINING?!? Unimaginable to me. But I am. My next race is in June. And I plan to put 39:42 far behind me. For me, but more importantly, for Sara.
One last thought - when I finished "my" race and was wandering around wondering where the celebration was, realizing it was all in my head, I ran into my friend Susan. She gave me a big hug and said, "Your mother must be so proud of you right now." And my heart was full. I began to cry. Happy tears though because the moment she said that, I had an image of my Momma in heaven, jumping up and down clapping wildly. Here was the daughter who never exercised, finishing her first race. Where I had been looking for the party all around me, I should've been looking to the heavens. Cause that's where Momma was cheering.
Contact me if you'd like to pledge, either for CHARGE or for Sweet Sara's Chargers. I'm taking $5 pledge donations (somehow, haven't worked out the specifics yet). But basically, you pledge $5, and you only pay if I beat my time of 39:42. As the race is in HILLY Charlottesville, odds are no one will be paying anything! :0)
Read more about Sara here:
To donate to Sara’s Chargers, click here:
To donate to the CHARGE Foundation, click here:
Friday, February 20, 2009
When I was little, my mother was Martha Stewart before there was one. She was Betty Crocker, Emily Post, Jackie Kennedy and Cher all rolled into one. She made Betty Draper (pictured) look like a hillbilly. She actually had Williams-Sonoma-type kitchen gadgets while most people were mastering the can opener. She knew what a chinois was for. At Christmas she brought out her Christmas linen and a special "cookie tree" - a multi-tiered tree-shaped-platter-thingy meant to hold cookies. She would buy glass cookie jars and fill them with a dozen different homemade varieties. And she did it all with style, grace, and a lot of bitching.
And this is why I write about food. Because when I stood in the lunch line in 5th grade talking about the Baked Alaska we had for dessert on Saturday night, my friends would give me blank stares as they chomped on their graham crackers. What? Didn't everyone dine by candlelight while listening to Sinatra's Ol' Blue Eyes Is Back on the turntable? Wasn't everyone eating sukiyaki with lemon raspberry tart for dessert on a Thursday night?
I guess not. I'd sit there in our lunchroom munching on a dry, crumbly apple brown betty, or at least something that resembled as much, and try to enjoy it. While at the same time trying to engage my friends in conversations on the joys of using brownies and mint chocoloate chip ice cream in your Baked Alaska instead of the usual yellow cake and vanilla. But they had had Oreos for dessert, hot dogs for dinner, and didn't understand in a gosh darn minute what the heck I was talking about.
SIDE NOTE FOR THE UNINITIATED - Baked Alaska is a dessert - so fashionable in the 1960's - where you pile ice cream on top of a cake, then meringue on top of that, then bake the whole thing in an oven for a few minutes. The ice cream does not melt, and the dish is out of this world good. Especially with mint chocolate chip ice cream. And a brownie.
This is why I write about food. Because my mother made me love it. I learned to grease and flour a cake pan when I was four. I was baking cakes with her by the time I was seven. And Momma was a caked crusader. She had ones for every occasion. Valentine's Day called for a heart-shaped 4-layer yellow cake with pink frosting and tiny heart-shaped red hots all over it. Easter called for a white cake with vanila frosting and coconut smothering it. With jelly bean eyes and paper ears sticking out of its head. It was my job to color and cut out the ears. And never with white paper either. Yep, we were the only bunny cake in town with a white body and purple ears.
I used to love doing this, putting the finishing touches on the cake, but I remember the older I got, the more I grew to resent it. I grew to resent Easter. I HATED making the ears after a while. I'd grit my teeth and cringe - here it comes - she's going to ask me to cut out the ears I just know it - holding my breath...
"Would you please make some ears for the bunny cake?"
Grrrr.... and I would trudge along to my fate grudgingly, as only a resentful teenager can do. Not only did I see it as yet another chore, eventually it came to represent everything I wasn't allowed to do when it came to cooking. I could flour a pan with the best of 'em, but when it came to baking, the only thing I was qualified for was cutting out the bunny ears. Or maybe putting on the frosting if I was having a good week. With all other cooking I was assigned to less than prep work. Of course they say hindsight is 20-20 and memory is much less so, but I do recall being relegated to a class lower than dishwasher when it came to helping my Momma cook. She was willing to show me how, every way and every time, but not always willing to let me try.
I think my current hesitance to cook comes from this. I can write about food until the cows come home, but actually cook? Nah. I'm too afraid of failure. And at cooking, my Momma never failed. I don't remember her burning ANYTHING and really don't remember any massive culinary failures (okay, the way she baked flounder with no seasoning on a roasting pan wasn't the greatest, but it was edible). Seriously though, all of her cooking was perfect. Beautiful, flavorful. Perfect.
So, as a young woman, I'd end up standing at the kitchen counter trying and trying to cook and be frozen scared stiff to a standstill. I couldn't even get started because I believed by then that meals were events. EVERY meal was an event. And this event had to be a showstopper. It had to be perfect. My Momma, without even knowing, had set the bar pretty damn high.
It was even worse when cooking for someone else, like family or a boyfriend. Forget it! It's quite all right to overcook the pasta when you're alone, fine, just eat it mushy. But to burn the quail you're serving for the first time to your family to impress them with your new-found independent zeal? Unheard of. Unthinkable. Cooking for me became episodes of psychotic breakdowns, violent outbursts, shaking fists at the sky. A crying, blubbering mess. I remember the first time my husband and I made Thanksgiving dinner for both sides of the family. I actually had a freak out breakdown because we didn't have potato rolls on the table. "But Nana ALWAYS had potato rolls!" I wailed. Hubby rolled his eyes and went to the store.
It's like Momma had trained me all those years to be understudy, but once I was called upon to perform, I froze. You know, I started this entry thinking it would be why I write about food, but now I think I should've entitled it, "Why I Hate to Cook". But I sure as hell can WRITE about food. And I do as often as I can. And I don't worry if it's perfect or not. It's just me. Loving food. Writing about food. I write about food and sometimes it helps me remember. And sometimes it helps me grieve. I actually started this entry because of a cookie. Not a Baked Alaska, but a cookie.
I remember one particular episode in 2001 - my mother had died that March, the same year I started teaching high school. I remember that year as chaotic, full of high highs and low lows. I got married that year, and it was the most magical event of my life. We moved to Pittsburgh a mere two months after my mother's death. By moving so far away I left behind memories. I left behind grief. I poured myself into my teaching and tried to forget how sad I was. And one day I stopped at a Barnes and Noble to grade papers. Purchased a latte and a Reese's peanut butter cup cookie simply because it sounded delicious.
And it was. I bit into the chewy nutty cookie and the flavors of chocolate and peanut butter flooded my taste buds. And I started to cry. Because my mother used to make this kind of cookie for Christmas, only she would take the peanut butter cookie dough and mold it around a Hershey's kiss. So the cookie ended up shaped like a kiss. I bit into this Barnes & Noble cookie and I couldn't hold back my tears because it tasted just like hers. EXACTLY like it.
I remembered my Momma, and I remembered Christmas, and I remembered her showing me how to bake cookies, and flour cake pans, and whisk eggs, and make vinaigrette, all those basic things you need in order to build a cooking repertoire. She was teaching me the basics, so I could take it from there. And I didn't have to be perfect. I just had to try.
I bit into the cookie and I grieved. I really grieved for our loss and for myself and all the lessons learned and all the things that went unsaid. Because of a cookie I grieved for my Momma for the very first time ever. People surrounding me probably thought I was crazy, sitting there buried in English essays, crunching away and crying. I didn't care. I ate. I grieved. I allowed myself to feel sad.
I hadn't made this cookie. She hadn't made it either. But the cookie reminded me of the woman who had made it first. A long time ago. And she made it perfectly.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Another great meme I found right here. I think you're supposed to do this at the beginning of the new year. But it's close enough right? And heck, I've still got Christmas lights up...
1. What did you do in 2008 that you’d never done before?
Actually began writing on a daily basis. Had always talked about it, thought about it, never actually done it. Now it feels weird if I don't write something every single day.
2. Did you keep your New Year’s Resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I've decided the only resolution I ever need to make and keep is to find balance. Continually seek balance, strive for balance, and be happy when I find moments of balance.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My friends Susan and Stephanie both gave birth to sons, Aiden and Mills.
4. Did anyone close to you die?
Both my Muddy and Aunt Ann passed away. I wrote about them in this very space.
5. What countries did you visit?
The Dominican Republic in January for the wedding of a cousin. I saw so many things I have yet to write about because I haven't processed them. I will though. Also traveled to London with the family and wrote extensively about it. I just love London, it's such an easy city to visit.
6. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008?
Friends that live in the same town. All my friends seem to live someplace else.
7. What dates from 2008 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
November 4. For obvious reasons.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Finally committing to making a career out of writing. And finally beginning to run. I think Mom would be happy and proud of that. I'm running in my first 5K in two weeks.
9. What was your biggest failure?
The job I took in July. It's so different from the work I did at Chatham University, not nearly as challenging, or as rewarding, or as meaningful. I just hate it. But it did help me realize I need to focus more on writing as a full-time job. Whether it pays or not.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Yes, and I'm still dealing with it, but I'm confident to be fully well by summer.
11. What was the best thing someone bought you?
My husband bought me the most incredible meal of my life at Petrus in London. It was the meal of a lifetime - we're still talking about it.
12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Everybody who voted for change this past November.
13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Some of the candidates during the election. And the people who voted for Prop 8. And actually the behavior of some of the people I work with continues to depress me. Narrow-minded gossipy behavior. Yuck.
14. Where did most of your money go?
We moved from Pittsburgh to Virginia, so there's that. And student loans.
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
I was super excited about the destination wedding in Punta Cana. The trip ended up being more trouble than it was worth. Drama-filled family surrounded by an all-inclusive resort in the middle of nowhere with ultra poor bussed-in Dominicans working there. Very depressing. I wanted to give them everything I had and then some. I need to write about it.
16. What song will always remind you of 2008?
Anything from the movie Once. I spent most of the year listening to the soundtrack.
17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
- Fatter or thinner?
Fatter. Damn desk job.
- Happier or sadder?
Sadder, but not awfully. I just hate my job and wish I could spend more time at home writing. And walking my dog Lois.
- Richer or poorer?
Richer because we just sold our house last month, finally.
18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Running. Yoga. The only things that seem to calm my anxieties and fears.
19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Worrying. Being afraid. Eating bad foods and drinking and popping a pill every time I was worried or afraid.
20. How do you plan to spend Christmas?
Oh, I am late on this. I spent Christmas sick as a dog. Entertaining my sister, her kids, and my dad. Trying like hell to play Martha Stewart when I felt like curling up in a ball. It sucked.
21. Did you fall in love in 2008?
I've been in love since the day I met my husband in 1999.
22. How many one night stands?
Not since I fell in love, and not much before.
23. What was your favorite TV program?
Mad Men. Nothing else comes close and here's why.
24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
Hate is such a strong word for someone who tries to meditate and practice yoga. There are definitely people I work with that I wouldn't choose to hang around on a regular basis.
25. What was the best book you read?
Soul of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman
26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
FINALLY seeing Nick Cave live. Damn he was fantastic! Like Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond and Mick Jagger all rolled into one. One of the top five concerts I've ever been to.
27. What did you want and get?
A bigger yard for a garden. We got that and acres of woods when we moved. I love it. Where before I used to hear sirens, now I hear cows.
28. What did you want and not get?
A meaningful job.
29. What was your favorite film of this year?
Once. I loved everything about it and have recommended it to everyone. And Waitress because it reminded me of my family, and No Country for Old Men (for the direction) and Eastern Promises because whoa, is Viggo Mortensen a badass or what?
30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 41, and for the life of me can't remember what we did. I know I went to Continental Divide for my birthday tequila shot. The shot is a tradition started way back when by my husband and me. We do it every year just to prove we're not too old to do one.
31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
To have a meaningful job. To have been able to spend more time at home writing and walking Lois, our doggie daughter.
32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2008?
I watched a lot of Tim Gunn and discovered I needed a shot in the fashion arm. I cut my hair, ditched all the clothes that didn't fit, and started dressing in "thirds" rather than "halves" Watch Tim Gunn's Guide to Style if you don't know what I'm talking about. I also realized a uniform of jeans, a cute top, and heeled boots isn't necessarily tired if you always look good in it.
33. What kept you sane?
My husband, my dog, and music. Running. Watching the sunsets out my kitchen window. Listening to mooing cows at sunrise. Meditating to the cicadas and the crickets in the summer.
34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Fancy? Well, Javier Bardem is as hot as they come. Woof.
35. What political issue stirred you the most?
Gay marriage. People need to relax and let people, all people, find love where they can find it.
36. Who do you miss?
My friend Scott Nichols. I keep looking for him on Facebook with no success. I want to apologize for being such a shitty friend and losing touch. Not being there for him when he needed me.
37. Who was the best new person you met?
All the new neighbors we met are wonderful. We moved from a city neighborhood where people barely spoke, to a rural neighborhood where people actually say hello and share the time of day and look out for one another. It's fantastic.
38. What was the best thing you ate?
The meal at Petrus in London. I wrote all about it, for weeks and weeks it seemed. My husband and I still talk about that meal. The meal of a lifetime.
39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008?
No food, drink, or pill can truly take away your anxiety or fear. It only blankets it.
40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
I heard this song on my iPod during a particularly bad day and it stayed with me. It struck a chord and really spoke volumes. Now, whenever I have a really bad day at work I play this song to calm me down:
GOLDEN TIME OF DAY
Maze (featuring Frankie Beverly)
...People let me tell you that the time
In your life, when you find who you are
That's the golden time of day
And then in your mind you will find
You're upright, shining star
That's the golden time of day
When you feel deep inside
All the love you're looking for
Don't it make you feel okay
That's like the time of the day
When the sun's going down
That's the golden time of day...
Wednesday, February 04, 2009
Saturday, February 7, 2009, if you are anywhere near Farmville, Virginia, I URGE you to go see Ed Trask's show, "Long Gone" at the J. Fergeson Gallery. Not only is Ed a masterful painter with an eye for capturing bleak, urban landscapes in such a way as to make them seem miraculous and poetic (my own amateur critique), he's also my cousin's husband and just an all-around terrific guy. A constant smile on his face and a big hug at the ready. Porkpie hat and a blond soul patch, puppy dog eyes and paint-splattered clothes. That's Ed.
When I look at his work I'm instantly reminded of Richmond. Gritty, sweltering summer days on the hot concrete of Grace Street when you feel you can barely move or breathe. Roaming around the abandoned factories on Brown's Island before they turned it into a museum. Back when it was still a hangout for teenage punks who just wanted to be alone and smoke.
I'm reminded of the urban Gothic South of abandoned railroad tracks, derelict buildings, rusted steel, hulking trestles spanning the James, crows sitting on telephone lines, old guys in fedoras and shirtsleeves smoking Camel unfiltereds on street corners with nowhere to go. I'm reminded of Carson McCullers's books and Gilbey's gin. I'm reminded of my grandfather.
Pop-Pop was a rover and a rambler who ran away from a North Carolina tobacco farm at 14 and lived by his wits on the concrete streets of Washington, DC. He wore a fedora, smoked those Camel unfiltereds, and drove his hulking, enormous 1971 blue Chevy Bel Air real fast. I adored him. And he adored his granddaughters. Every Easter he would drive us down to Newberry's so we could pick out whatever candy-filled basket we wanted. As the eldest, I remember him best (he passed away when I was 8). I remember being incensed that I was considered too young to attend his funeral. Forced to stay behind with the rest of the kids when all I wanted was to tell him goodbye. To thank him for driving loose and fast over the rolling hills between Front Royal and Winchester, making my heart rise up in my throat. Just like a rollercoaster.
I'm reminded of all these things looking at Ed's work. So imagine my shock and awe when I went to visit Ed and my cousin in their new house a few years back and saw a painting of a bunch of guys standing around in fedoras and shirtsleeves. "They look like Pop-Pop," I declared. My cousin agreed, and then pointed out something on the far wall. A huge portrait of Pop-Pop in his fedora. I gasped. Then teared up. It was beautiful. It captured the crinkle of his eyes, his engaging smile, and that air he always gave off of being half Woody Guthrie, half Francis Phelan (of Ironweed fame). Perpetually hopping train cars during the Depression in my mind, even if the calender said it was 1971. Living by his wits. Living day by day and for the moment. That's what Pop-Pop will always be to me. Hard-drinking consummate storyteller. More myth than man, I suppose.
When Hubby and I eloped in 2001, we held a reception for family and friends at our house in Pittsburgh. We had registerd in a few places, so I knew what to expect when opening the gifts. But I was not prepared for the phenomenal gift Ed gave. A framed print of a painting he had done. My Nana, standing in front of their house in Front Royal. My Nana who I missed so much, who had passed away just two years earlier, and who had put up with Pop-Pop for 40 years plus after marrying him only two weeks after they met. I bawled big tears. Couldn't help it. Here was my Nana in front of the house I loved most in the world, a place where I had experienced so many memories. And he had painted it. To this day it is the best gift I've EVER received from anyone.
There's another picture I cherish, which I have to admit I "lifted" from Nana's house shortly after her death. I just couldn't bear to part company with it. It seemed too precious to languish in a dusty album and now sits framed in my study where I can look at it often. Pop-Pop and Nana are young and dressed to the hilt. He wears a suit, no tie, and she's in a 1940's skirt suit with pointy lapels and a perky little hat off at an angle on her head. He has her arched back into a dip and is kissing her full on the mouth. She's got her hand up at her hat so it won't fall. I love this picture. It's perfect. Full of humor, love, and the promise of all that is to come. This is them at the beginning when it was all magic and new and perfect, before the children and the worries and the hard times that lay before them. It's the prelude to all else. Someday when I'm rich I want to commission Ed to paint it. He's the only one I know that would capture what they're feeling right then. I know it.
So, if you're near Farmville, go to Ed's show. Marvel at his genius. And buy one of his paintings. Someday, I will.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Lois is a snow dog. You can see the change come over her with every flake floating to the ground. Lois sleeps on a gray day, barely getting up to get a drink of water or to change positions on the sofa. But when the snow starts she changes. Her ears perk up first. Then she lifts her head and starts looking around. Looking out the window. Pacing. Looking at me. Pacing some more. Like a child home from school due to bad weather, this child wants to go build herself a snowman.
Today I was gratefully home from work because of ice and snow. I say gratefully because work has been especially nerve-wracking lately - but that's a subject for another post. So I was grateful for this gift of a whole snowy day for just me and my dog. Hubby went to work. Being from Buffalo and owning a car with built-in traction control, this was business as usual for him.
But today I was free. Free all morning to write, listen to the radio, drink coffee, and watch the sleet fall down like needles then the snow float down like feathers. Lois was fine all morning, but as the ground grew covered, she grew restless. It's like she knows now there is enough snow on the ground to be worthwhile. Enough to go play.
And so we walked. And as we climbed a small hill in the road, I looked ahead to a strange sight. About 30 robins sat in the middle of the road, dipping their heads forward to sip the melted ice which lay in puddles before them. A few would fly up and swoop down and around so they looked like bats. And yes, they were all robin red-breast birds. You see one as a prelude to Spring. What does seeing 30 mean? It was magical. Lois took off chasing them, determined to make one of them her lunch. Straining against her leash, threatening to pull my arm out of its socket.
But the birds would just alight awhile and then come to rest again, a little further down the road. Sipping the melted ice. Flitting about in the gray steel-colored air, their breasts as red against the snow as a Beefeater's coat. Red and gray. They would never touch down behind us, always in front, so it was like we were chasing them. I crunched along in the snow, the only sound except for the birds calling out to one another with playful voices. It has been so silent this winter. Hearing the sound of birds now again reminded me of Spring's approach.
And Lois played. Rolling in the snow on her back, tongue hanging out, the top half of her going one way, the bottom half the other. Like she's doing the twist lying down. Then she jumps up, shakes herself off, gives me a sparkling grin and wags her tail as if to say, "Can I go again Mommy?" Her favorite thing is to roll on her back down a hill. She'll start at the top then twist herself all the way down. Then run up and do it all over again. Like 10 times in a row. Sliding down the playground slide in reverse.
In her eyes I see nothing but pure happiness as she chases the birds, follows a scent trail, slides down the hill. Leaping and bounding through the snow. She has a look in her eyes like she's remembering something. Like she has Alzheimer's, but for one brief shining moment she remembers everything. The dawning crosses her face and I see it. "I remember this," she seems to say. And it makes me melancholy because I wonder what her dog memories are. She has happy memories of chasing birds, running through the snow, rolling on her back. Was it while she was alone? With no home? Or did she run with a pack and it was ruined when that dog attacked her but now she's remembering her younger, better days. When all dogs were nice to one another and everything was free for the taking and the only important thing you had to do that day was roll in the snow? Did she have another family? Did they play with her in the snow too? Does she miss them sometimes?
Or maybe dogs don't have memories. Maybe they just live for the moment and the expression I'm seeing is one of pure unadulterated joy at this moment, right here, right now. Who knows? But I do know I hope we get to do it all again tomorrow...
Monday, January 26, 2009
I liked the idea of this - and the opportunity to post a lot of memories in one fell swoop. I might even expand on some of them at a later date (good brainstorming exercise). Found the meme at this website.
Here are the rules: Bold the things you’ve done and post on your blog!
1. Started your own blog - I started *3* (pats self on back) - this one, edible cville (Charlottesville food), and escape cville (travel stories).
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity - Yes, to Animal Friends because of our doggie daughter Lois (we adopted her there, she'd been a shelter dog for a YEAR - had been adopted and then returned. Their loss, our gain).
7. Been to Disneyland - I lived in Orange County when I was 5, so we went there every weekend. We even have Super 8 home movies of it circa 1973. Very Brady Bunch.
8. Climbed a mountain – Just Humpback, here in Nelson County. Once with my grandfather, and once with a college boyfriend. Now I want to go back with my husband.
9. Held a praying mantis – I held a tarantula in the 4th grade on a school field trip. Very tickly.
10. Sang a solo - Does karaoke count? I sang Lynrd Skynrd's "Gimme 3 Steps" after much encouragement and many Jameson's neat. Forgot about the 3-minute intro but was applauded after. That same night my husband sang "Big Bottoms" from Spinal Tap. You should've seen everyone's face. It was HIGH-sterical.
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris - My husband flew me there for a few days after a conference he had in Belgium. We were still in the early stages of dating then, and it was magical. After that trip I knew he was something else.
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child - Our doggie daughter, Miss Lois, in 2007.
16. Had food poisoning – Oh lord, I'd rather forget this. Once in Las Vegas and once on a trip to view potential houses in Charlottesville (before we moved here). Both times were ugly. I crawled into the CVS and bought saltines and Gatorade. The cashier actually said, "So, how're you doin' today?" I just looked at her.
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables - I used to grow habaneros. Now I grow tomatoes and herbs, and I'd like to branch out and try salad greens.
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France - We never made it to the Louvre, oddly enough.
20. Slept on an overnight train - I took the train to Miami from Richmond, VA while in college after a BAD breakup. Then rented a car and drove to the Florida Keys. Stayed a week and felt my icy exterior just melting off. It was beautiful. It was February and snowing when I left Richmond, 85 degrees when I stepped off the train. Got drunk in the dining car on the way and talked with a guy who was a citizen of Monaco. Imagine.
21. Had a pillow fight - Has anyone NOT done this? It was the main event at slumber parties when I was 11 and 12.
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill - Oh no, never. ;0)
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping - My sister, her friend and I went to Virginia Beach as teenagers and bribed the caretaker's son of a Howard Johnson's motel to open up the pool. He thought he had died and gone to heaven.
27. Run a Marathon - No, but I'd like to. My mother did. Whenever I run, I miss her.
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset - Many, many times. Most recently in Punta Cana. My husband and I were there for his cousin's wedding, and on the last day we forced ourselves out of bed to view it and take pictures. It was breathtaking. And I am blessed because the sun sets in my kitchen window every day.
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person - My husband was born and raised in Buffalo, so yes. He has a picture of me all bundled up for winter, holding a cup of coffee, standing in front of the falls, grinning. It's in a frame on his desk at work and I think it's the best picture of me that's ever been taken - trust me, there aren't that many good ones.
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors - I keep looking for our Irish or Scottish ancestry, so I'm going to say yes. I lived in Scotland for a time, traveling to Ireland for four glorious days. I love both countries and feel an affinity for both.
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied - Right now. I'm trying to live in a state of gratefulness always. You're only "poor" if you find yourself wanting.
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangeo’s David - I saw a copy in Florence, Italy in the Piazza della Signoria, on the day we were married. It was stunning and surreal. I'll never forget it.
41. Sung karaoke – See #10.
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight - Many times in the Outer Banks. As a teenager with my friends, as a young woman alone when I needed a weekend away, and now with my husband.
46. Been transported in an ambulance - A college boyfriend and I were in a major accident on I-95 headed to Washington, DC on November 2, 1992. The car flipped 4 times, but miraculously we walked away from it. My purse ended up 50 yards down the road. The door to the car was ripped off by a van of Marines traveling to Woodbridge. I remember the EMT wanted to cut off my bra to check for collarbone injuries but I wouldn't let him because I'd just bought it. We lay on our gurnies for 4 hours because another accident was brought in just after us. Those people died. I remember feeling so fortunate.
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing - Yes, with work friends in 1999. We spent 8 hours off the coast of Cape Hatteras. I caught two 20-pound tuna, and a 10-pound mahi-mahi. It was fantastic. Later that week we were caught in a Nor'Easter which was awesome to see but very frightening.
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris - Lines were too long :) And who wants to wait in a line on a beautiful June day in PARIS?
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain - My husband, on our first date - or at least I like to think we did.
53. Played in the mud - Hasn't everyone unless you're a stick up the rear milquetoast?
54. Gone to a drive-in theater - All the time in my '67 Rambler with the Mickey Mouse mitten we used as a car door opener. I miss drive-ins. You'd hear crickets, hear the tinny sound of the movie (usually a bad one) and eat stale popcorn. Total summer.
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma – I donated blood ONCE. They told it it wouldn't hurt. It did. Like a sonnafabitch.
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check - At least one a week from the time I was 20 until I was 25.
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy - I have so many of these it's sad. I even have the magenta tricycle I owned when I was 4! It has my name on the seat written in fingernail polish. Used to love seeing my nephews ride around on its creaky wheels when they were little.
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial - Yes, many times because I used to live in Alexandria. It's magical at night.
71. Eaten Caviar – Oh, I heart caviar so much. Especially if I'm eating it while sitting in Bally's in Las Vegas at their Sterling Brunch. Sipping Perrier Jouet champagne. Sigh. If you go, sit in Hugo's section. He's waited tables there for 30 years and is very chatty and generous with the champagne...
78. Pieced a quilt
79. Stood in Times Square - Many times, but haven't been in 5 years. I'm overdue. Love the surreal ambience all those lights give off. A mini-Tokyo.
80. Toured the Everglades
81. Been fired from a job - Um, yeah. When I was 19 and working as a secretary at a law firm. I caught bronchitis, missed a week of work, and the mean ol' senior partner who used to hobble around the office on a cane because of his gout (who gets GOUT in this day and age?) told me to not bother coming back.
82. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London - Was in London this past June, but missed this.
83. Broken a bone
84. Been on a speeding motorcycle - Yes. With my husband on his Triumph. It's awesome. I love it.
85. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
86. Published a book - I want to. Very badly.
87. Visited the Vatican - We ate at a basement Trattoria less than a stone's throw from the Vatican. But we had arrived late at night by train, and were leaving early the next morning, so we missed it. Next time.
88. Bought a brand new car - Um, duh.
89. Walked in Jerusalem
90. Had your picture in the newspaper - When I was 11 my sister, mother, and I had our hair cut. For the first time, and the first time in 12 years for my mother. Over 80 inches of hair disappeared. Not only did we make the paper, we made the local news.
91. Kissed a stranger at midnight on New Year’s Eve
92. Visited the White House
93. Killed and prepared an animal for eating - Just fish. On that deep sea fishing trip (see #48).
94. Had chickenpox - Yep. As a kid. I just remember it being really scratchy.
95. Saved someone’s life
96. Sat on a jury - Almost. I was called in, waited several hours and then was released. A current prisoner was suing the jail, but his lawyer wasn't ready. It was nice to get most of the day off from work, with pay. I read a lot.
97. Met someone famous - Once in college a professor had a crush on me and gave me the opportunity to sit next to Joyce Carol Oates for a dinner at Randolph Macon College. I was thrilled, then later so scared I totally chickened out. I think I was afraid more of what this professor would expect of me after.
98. Joined a book club
99. Lost a loved one - Too many. My grandmother and great aunt just this year. My other grandmother in 1999. And my mother in 2001.
100. Had a baby - Too painful a topic for me...
101. Seen the Alamo in person
102. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
103. Been involved in a law suit - LOLOLOL! Well, almost...
104. Owned a cell phone - Um, yes. What year was this meme written?
105. Been stung by a bee - I was stung by a hornet on the VERY FIRST DAY I arrived at my first full-time paying teacher assignment at Matoaca High School. I was unpacking my trunk when I felt a burning on my arm. I should've taken it as a sign...