Monthly Archives: October 2006

Thoughts on Advil

There is a bottle of Advil in my medicine cabinet that my last roommate left behind. I would never have bought it for myself. I feel like name brand painkillers are a gross indulgence when a larger sized bottle of the store brand can be bought for nearly half the price. And yet, these days when I reach for something to numb a headache, my hand eschews the hulking, anonymous bottles that stand like bouncers amoung the cough syrup and vitamin C and goes for the Advil instead.

I love the shape of the container, the way the cap slopes gracefully into the shoulders of the bottle. And don’t get me started on the glossy, sweet coating on the pills. You can even swallow them without water.

Does this mean I’ll change my ways and start buying brand name ibuprofen? Probably not. When that bottle of the big A runs out (and it’s starting to sound empty and forlorn when rattled) I’ll switch back to the bitter, matte-finished pills that can be had for cheap. Nonetheless, I’ve enjoyed this short visit to the land of consciously designed and ergonomic headache relief.

Swimming in soup and other bits

My favorite six-month-old in the world took a half hour nap on my chest yesterday afternoon while I drank tea with her mom and another friend.

18 people had dinner in my apartment last night.

This afternoon a vendor at the Italian Market refuse one of my dollar bills, because it had a corner ripped off.  I had just gotten it down the street at another merchant.

In the last 24 hours, I have made approximately 2 gallons of chicken soup.  Most of it from scratch.

I have just reset all my clocks backwards an hour, including my bedside one, which I always keep exactly six minutes fast.

I’m about to disappear into a short story that’s due Monday evening, so chances are that there will be nothing but silence from me until Tuesday.  Please send creative, inspired thoughts my way.

At the table with my insecurities

Last night, in the space between sleep and awake I had a moment of lucid imagination.  I saw myself walking into a room of women.  One woman had a stomach that stuck a good three feet out in front of her, while another was dowdily dressed, meek and timid.  One had facial features that were wildly out of proportion and yet another, dressed in severe business clothes and pointy high heels, kept coming up to me and asking, “Who are you?  Do I know you?  What is it that you do?”

There was a conference table in the room, and watched as the representative of myself in the scene invited all these women to sit down.

Just as we were gathering, my conscious self rose to the top and the scene went foggy.  As I processed what I had just experienced, I started to laugh and then rolled over to grab a notepad in order to write it all down.  Each one of these women either represented an insecurity I possess or was there to help me experience an insecurity.  I felt gifted to have gotten a chance to sit down with them and I only wish I could have had more time in that space to interact and hopefully discharge them.

Kinda kooky, I admit.

Getting Rid

There is a little thrift shop near my apartment building that is only open on weekdays, between the hours of 10 am and 3:30 pm. When I was younger and we’d come to Philly on vacations, my mom would often stop in there while my sister and I were at day camp, rarely finding much but enjoying the looking all the same.

When I first inherited my apartment, I filled bag after bag with things to get rid of. I was the one responsible for disposing of all my grandmother’s clothes, shoes, coats and handbags (I actually kept most the handbags, she had really good taste in fine leather goods) as well as some of my grandfather’s clothes that were also still tucked into the corner of a closet. In addition to clothing there were random items like a personal coffee roaster (which was odd since my grandparents were devoted Chock Full ‘O Nuts drinkers and never roasted a bean in their lives), bunches of fake flowers and a set of graduated metal canisters from the 1970’s.

I had all this stuff to get rid of but could never take it over to this conveniently located thriftstore because they were NEVER open during the hours that I was home.

I’ve been in a purging mood again lately. The spaces I created when I cleared out my grandparents stuff have long since filled up and about a week ago I felt the itch to have less. I started with the drawer of sweaters and quickly moved to the laundry basket of sweatshirts. Half way through, sweating slightly from exertion and excitement, I ran to the kitchen for a stack of brown paper grocery bags. I filled six before I was done. A couple of nights later I found myself sitting in front of my living room bookshelf, removing cookbooks from the bottom shelf that I knew I was never going to cook from. Three more bags filled.

I spent today buried deep in homework, forcing myself to complete the assignments that were due for my journalism class. Around noon I surfaced, needing a break and a little fresh air. Looking around my apartment, the bags of clothes and books cluttering the entry way caught my eye. And I was struck by inspiration. For the first time ever, I could actually take things over to this little thriftstore nearby. I loaded up my squeaky folding shopping cart and headed out. Within minutes the six bags of clothes were gone and I felt lighter. Tomorrow, I take the books!

Driving in the fog

When I was in high school, I often found myself driving home at night in rainy, foggy weather. One of my favorite parts of those drives would be when I would have to cross the Fremont Bridge from the east side of the Willamette River to the west, where my family lived in those days.

The Fremont is the highest bridge in Portland, built so that it never has to be raised for passing ships. When the clouds rest low and the fog rises up from the surface of the river, the air covering the top roadway is thick and inpenetrable. Driving through that soupiness was my favorite part of the ride home. I loved not being able to see the bridge in front of me. I knew that it would continue to curve safely down to Vaughn Street and I knew that stretch so well that I could have followed it in my sleep. I found it joyful, how the bridge would unfold in my headlights, foot by painstaking foot, and would lead me home.

An analogy similar to this experience came up in one of my classes recently. That the process of writing is like driving through the fog, with the only visible part of the road being those couple of feet in front of you that are illuminated by the headlights of your car. But with those few feet, you can travel the entire journey. It’s an example that can be made to apply to life as well as writing. It makes me think of those nights on the Fremont Bridge when I had to trust that the unseen road would continue to ease to the right and take me home.

There’s just one problem. The processes of writing and living don’t feel peaceful to me right now. I don’t feel like I’m traveling, guided by my personal puddle of light.  Right now I feel like I’m out beyond the perimeter of my illumination, stumbling and guideless in the absence of light.  The fact that I can’t see out into the distance terrifies me. I am wracked with worries that somewhere along this road the bridge will end abruptly and that I will fall. And it will hurt.

I keep trying to remind myself that the road hasn’t let me down yet. That I’ve never actually fallen, and the few times that it felt like I was falling, I ended up landed in a soft, green meadow instead. But fear is masterful, with the power to cloud the emotional memory. I have to remind and re-remind myself that things will work out. And when I get tired of remembering for myself, I call people so that they can remind me.

In three weeks, I’ll be back in Portland for a visit. I’m hoping for a really dark and foggy night, so I can go out and drive the bridge again, to remember how it feels to trust the road as it curves to take you home.

Hording rubberbands and other confessions

In some ways, I am like one of the little Jewish grandmothers who cluster in the lobby of my apartment building between the hours of 10:30 am and 2:45 pm, chatting with each other while their walkers are parked a respectable 2 feet away. I squirrel away the green rubber bands that Whole Foods wraps around containers of cut melon, 1/2 dozen and dozen egg cartons and plastic boxes of carefully chosen salad bar options.

I have a brown lunch-sized paper bag under the kitchen sink that holds reusable cellophane produce bags. Garbage is gathered in used plastic CVS bags, legs of laddered stockings corral the lint from my dryer hose and twist-ties always live to see another day. I pick up every penny I pass on the street and I flip through the cast-off magazines in the recycling room for ones I haven’t read.

I can’t roast a chicken without turning the carcass into soup (celery leaves and Israeli couscous make a nice addition in the finished product) and I served the same bowl of roasted potatoes twice last week to two different groups of guests. I sometimes drink reheated day-old coffee and just tonight I finished off a three-year-old bottle of sweet chili hot sauce. It’s now soaking in water, so that I can reuse the container for salad dressing someday.

However, I’m not always insanely frugal. I spent nearly $50 on handmade soap last week (I did have a gift certificate, though) and if I had saved the money I’ve spend on pens in my lifetime, I’d be able to feed a small nation for a good month. I subscribe daily to two newspapers and I can’t stop buying books.

But, there are some moments, when I feel a little out of step with the rest of my generation.  I think that maybe the best thing I could do would be to sidle up to the circle of bubbes in the lobby and nod my head with understanding when they say, “Kids today, they just don’t understand how to get the most out of a good brisket.”

Random Friday–Original Music

It’s Friday.  Time for an random collection of music, gathered from the dusty corners of my music collection, for your edification.  So, set your pod a’shufflin’ and report back the first ten songs.  No excuses, no exceptions.

1. Original Music from the Wonder Years, Various Artists (The Wonder Years-Party Time)
2. Drive, Jonathan Coulton (Thing a Week 1)
3. Gun Shy, 10,000 Maniacs (In My Tribe)
4. I Got a Mind to Give Up Living, Paul Butterfield Blues Band (East-West)
5. Hotter Than Mojave in My Heart, Iris Dement (Infamous Angel)
6. I May Know the Word, Natalie Merchant (Carnival [Single])
7. Jim Dandy, Black Oak Arkansas (Dazed and Confused)
8. Amazing Grace, Rachael Davis (Live in Bremen, Germany)
9. Lovely Day, Bill Withers (Bill Withers Greatest Hits)
10. Silver Street, Ben Folds (Ben Folds Live)

Favorites: I’m a big fan of Iris Dement, her song “Let the Mystery Be” is among my all-time favorites.  I also enjoy the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and I’m getting a little kick out of the fact that they’ve now appeared a couple of times in a row in the Friday Random Ten.

Seen Live: Jonathan Coulton, Natalie Merchant (at the kick off for Lilith Fair, in 1998), Rachael Davis and Ben Folds.

Need more?  Check out these folks…

Past Me/Future Me

Today I got an email from myself that I wrote a year ago.  I had totally forgotten that I had written a note and left it at, for future delivery.  But it was a treat to receive it, and an interesting experience to learn that I am not where I expected to be last October.  But I never fathomed that I would be where I am back then either.  Grad school wasn’t part of my equation yet and I was on shaky, uncomfortable psychic ground then, just gearing up to head into a major crisis of interior faith and identity.

If anything, I wish I had written more to my future (present) self.  The email is chatty and frustratingly superficial, quickly referencing my sister’s gig opening for Johnny A and a family friend’s foot surgery.  I want to know more about who I was a year ago.  I can imagine myself sitting at my desk at Penn, quickly dashing off the note, one more way to momentarily avoid the mind-numbing work that waited for me.

After getting the email from myself today, I went over to the website and wrote another one, to be delivered next year.  The things I wrote to myself are already starting to fade, and I know that it will be a fun surprise to receive it on October 18th, 2007.  If you want to read what I wrote to myself in 2005, it’s after the jump.

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The sticky stuckness of being me

I have spent much time over the last couple of weeks crowing to friends, family and anyone else who would listen how happy I am these days.  How well school is going.  How my writing is just flowing and that the work is satisfying and easy to get into.

Well, I should have kept my mouth shut, because now I’m more than a little mired in the muck and I’m not entirely certain how to unstick myself.  In the last four days, I have gotten nothing done.


I have about 10,000 words to write.  Most of it is due a week from tonight and I haven’t done a lick of it.  And the well of self-motivation from which I’ve been fueling has run mysteriously and inexplicably dry.

This is not to say that I’m now regretting my choices, or that I’d like to take back the Happy post I so jubilantly offered up last week.  But all of the sudden it’s gotten really hard and I’m befuddled as to why*.

*Okay, so at the moment, I am deeply, frustratingly, dangerously premenstrual.  That just might have something to do with my current muckiness.  But I hate to play that card, and I really don’t think it’s an excuse that my journalism professor is going to accept.

One fall day

I just hung up the phone. The window above the couch is open a tiny crack, enough to let in a wisp of cool air, but not much noise. If I concentrate, I can make the consistent distant sounds of the city sound nearly like the ocean. For just a moment, the steady beat of Market Street was punctuated by the urgency of a police siren, but it has faded and the waves of traffic, trains, electricity and life thrum on.

Today I met a friend for coffee at 11 am, which stretched into lunch in the square. Walking home, I stopped to chat with two women from church and then wound up leaning again a fire hydrant at 19th and Spruce for 10 minutes, talking to my mom about what that particular corner had been like 35 years ago. Later I roasted a chicken and a medley of mushrooms, brussel sprouts, carrots and onions, filling my apartment with the smells of rosemary, lemon and garlic. Seth and Nikyia came over for dinner, we held hands and got quiet before eating.

Later still, I reminded my closest friend from college that she is deeply lovable, a fact that her still-fresh breakup makes it hard to remember. When we hung up the phone two hours later, the tears were gone from her voice and she sounded more like the woman who used to wake me up with a gentle, “Ma-ree-sa, it’s time to get uuu-up.” I capped the evening with a little chat with my mom once more.

In the words of my friend Jamie, it was simply the best day ever.