Monthly Archives: September 2007

Forty hours in the Midwest

Missouri sunset

I am sitting in the Kansas City, Missouri International Airport (I do love an airport with free wifi), waiting for my 6 am flight back to Philly. I stayed in a Hampton Inn last night, going to bed too late to possibly get a good night’s sleep and then waking up every half hour, certain that I’d slept through my alarm and had missed my flight. When I woke with a jolt at 4 am, out of a dream in which I had been out to dinner with two couples I don’t know and was eating some strange fried sushi appetizer, I decided to give up on sleep and just get up.

When I checked in last night, the woman at the desk told me that I needed to sign up for a shuttle slot, as they filled up quickly.  When I went downstairs this morning, a couple of minutes before 4:30 am, the shuttle driver looked at me and said, “Looks like you’re the only one this run.  Take your time getting some coffee.” The drive was all of eight minutes and we spent it chatting about regional accents and the uproar in Kansas City about the proposed plan to replace the airport with something slicker and less approachable.

I spent most of my time out here in the Midwest in Ames, IA, leading a Unitarian Universalist Campus Ministry workshop.  I had a terrific time, it’s always fun for me to tell groups of students what I know about doing UU campus ministry, especially when they have a lot of energy and enthusiasm for the community they are building.

Last night, as Sherry and I were driving back to Kansas City from Ames, the sun was setting on our right.  I don’t often get to see dramatic sunsets in a setting where the horizon is nearly uninterrupted by city.  I watched that cloud move with us for the longest time, sometimes looking like it was galloping across the sky and other times seeming like it was being blown away.  I kept looking at it, thinking its presence would be fleeting and that I wouldn’t have time to get a picture of it, so I wouldn’t reach for my camera.  After ten minutes it was still there and so I grabbed a couple of shots.  Soon after I pulled the camera out, three deer showed up running along side the highway.  Sherry came to a halt in the middle of the interstate as two of them dashed across to the other side.  Unfortunately, my camera’s settings weren’t quite right so all I got was a blur where deer should have been.  I hope the third deer made it across without injury.

It’s been nice to get out of my routine, to get off the east coast and out of the big city.  I always like coming to the Midwest, where people are less guarded and more willing to interact with strangers.

I'm leaving on a jet plane

I’m heading to Ames, Iowa in about seven hours to teach a Unitarian Universalist campus ministry workshop to a bunch of folks in the Prairie Star District.  I’m looking forward to getting off the east coast for just a bit and am hoping against hope that I’ll get a chance to eat some fresh Iowa corn while I’m away (maybe I can smuggle a few ears home).

For the family members of mine who check in here occasionally (the rest of you are welcome to look, but you might not find it as fascinating as those of us who are actually related to him), make sure you check out the pictures I took of Derek last Sunday night when Melissa was in town.   He is one dreamy baby.

Seth moves on

This morning a little after 10 am, I looked up at my friend Seth and said, “Wow.  This is the last time I’ll see you before you move.”  We just sort of stared at each other, mouths agap, trying to come to terms with the fact that after five years of close friendship and intertwined lives in the same city, things were about to drastically change.

I met Seth at a Unitarian potluck in Rittenhouse Square in the summer of 2002.  He was one of the first friends I made after moving to Philadelphia and we’ve stayed close through fights, relationships, break ups, church committee work (which is enough to test many a friendship) and deep growth and change.  He was the first one to come to my aid the night my relationship with Ted ended.  We’ve driven each others’ cars, picked each other up at airports, cooked together and once, in a drunken moment on New Year’s Eve, kissed each other (thankfully Cindy came along and broke that right up).

He’s heading back to the town in Western Massachusetts where he grew up, while he takes a couple of classes and possibly applies to seminary.  I know it’s the right choice for him, and that his life is going to expand in joyful and unknown ways.  But that’s not going to stop me from missing him like crazy.

Meeting with my thesis adviser

I met with my thesis adviser on Friday morning.  She invited me to come to her new house in Fishtown, but I sorely underestimated the time it would take to get up there and so was nearly half an hour late (I did call to say I was running behind).  Not exactly the best way to make a positive impression on someone who holds the fate of your academic future in their hands.  It’s a good thing she knows me pretty well already.

I finally got there and she gave me a big hug as I walked in.  We spent some time catching up while she made a pot of tea and laid out a few little pastries she had gotten at a local bakery (I have a really terrific adviser).  Settling in at her round dining room table she said, “You know, you really had me scared when you first sent me these pieces, as you said in the email that they were really rough.  Personally, I think they need a little cleaning up, but essentially they’re in good shape.”

At those words, I let out a sigh I didn’t even know I had been holding in, starting grinning and said, “I am so glad to hear that!”

We spend some time going over them (two essays and an introduction) line by line.  It was helpful for me to have someone else look at them and offer some suggestions as to where I could potentially go.  I left her house nearly two hours later, feeling good about the meeting, my thesis and my potential as a writer.  Not a bad way to spend a Friday morning.

New-old flatware lends a needed boost

I’ve been sort of struggling lately.  I’ve taken on a lot and I’m finding that writing for pay, doing my school work and still having time to relax, is hard.  A couple of nights ago, I was on the phone with my mom, talking about how overwhelmed I was and she said, “Just find one thing that makes you happy, even if it’s small.”  We got off the phone a few minutes later, and I didn’t really think too much about her comment.  Until I found myself in the kitchen about half an hour later, switching out the silverware in the utensil drawer.

I have this set of really nice stainless steel Dansk flatware that belonged to my grandparents.  I’ve always liked it, but have never used it, thinking it should be saved for good.  I took out last Saturday night to use with friends, and on Sunday as I was cleaning up the kitchen, I started thinking about fun it was to use this nice flatware (as opposed to the also-nice, but very familiar and sort of battered silverware that also belonged to my grandparents).  So I took all the old stuff out of the drawer, put the shiny “new” stuff in and called my mom to tell her that I had found something that made me happy.

Crazy part is that several days later it continues to make me happy.  I never realized just how often I go into that utensil drawer and how many forks and spoons I use over the course of the day.  I love reaching in and find these nicely shaped items as they makes eating very pleasant (not that I particularly need incentive to eat, but still).

Inner dioramas, paying attention and Thanksgiving 50 years ago

I’ve discovered something about my writing process lately which is that if I can’t see it, I can’t write it.  So much of my writing is about evoking a feeling of time and place, of creating moments that are described with unusual details in order to make them feel both totally personal and universal.  But unless I can see the moment in my head and walk through it (so to speak) I can’t write it.

If I’m writing about stuff that has happened to me, seeing it is pretty easy.  Often times, I find myself writing about other peoples’ memories, and that’s when the seeing gets a little more tricky.  Thankfully, in most cases I’m writing about memories that belong to people in my family, so their brains are accessible for the picking.  However, in my search for details with which to create my inner diorama of the scene or situation, I’ve come to learn that many people don’t pay attention to stuff the same way that I do.

I’ve had this realization about paying attention before, but it still always comes as something of a shock to me when I realize that not everyone is watching the details they way I do.  I remember that as a kid, I would often be the one who noticed the moment before the knee was skinned or the precise second when the lunch tray dropped.  I often pretended that I didn’t see other peoples’ embarrassing moments, blushing with empathetic humiliation.

As I continue to walk down this writing path, I’ve come to realize what a gift it is to have paid attention for so many years, although I didn’t always see it that way.  Now I must go and build an inner diorama of 1960s Thanksgiving dinners at my Aunt Doris’s house, when the kids sat at a table in the foyer and Uncle Abe insisted that there be a basket of sliced white bread near his plate.

Feast of Love alone

I did one of my favorite things tonight.  I went to the movies alone.  I realize that some people find this tendency strange, but it’s not like you talk during movies, so having someone there with you often seems sort of pointless.

I saw a Philly Film Society free screening  of Feast of Love which is based on the Charles Baxter novel of the same name (I’ve always meant to read it, but I have yet to get around to it).  It was a generally terrific movie, but the thing I liked best about it was that it was set in Portland, OR.  I recognized where they were in just about every scene.  Of course, they did that thing where the splice together different areas of the city, making them look contiguous when really they are miles apart, but even still, it was nice to see the city of my formative years looking so good and photogenic.

The words are flowing

I had a thesis deadline last week and when it came around, I was unprepared.  For some reason I have been wholy unable to connect with the creative detail-aware side of myself from which most of my writing comes from.  I’ve kept on posting at Slashfood, because that writing rarely needs to tap deeper resources, but I’ve felt stymied when it comes to all other stuff.  Dry.  Undernourished.  Without access to anything interesting.

Until today.

Suddenly I was able to write and it was like a tap had been turned on that I hadn’t realized have been switched off.  I could feel the flow and it was such a relief I nearly laughed out loud when I realized it.  It’s amazing to me how a couple of good writing hours can make me feel so completely alive and on track.

Three years is like 30 in the life of a computer

I feel like it was yesterday that my trusty iBook and I came together for the first time.  I had it shipped to my parents’ house in Oregon so that I wouldn’t have to pay sales tax and it sat there for three days, until my I arrived from Philly, ready to be on vacation and play with my new computer.  I took it out of the packing while my dad watched with envy (he got his own iBook just a few months later).  I would sit and gaze with adoration at the glossy, unscratched white plastic casing.  I was in awe at how it zipped through the internet.  It was the first computer I ever had that knew how to handle wireless signals.

My how time flies.  That joyful introduction was nearly three years ago and my beloved little computer has gotten battle-scarred.  Several of the keys are bare of any printing, my fingernails have long since scratched away their identifying letters.  The outside is crazed, it bears marks from the time Scott took it apart to fix the dead hard drive (thanks again for that, by the way) and it’s not so good at regulating it’s internal temperature anymore.

These days when it is on my desk, I keep it sitting on several chopsticks, in order to keep it’s bottom nice and cool.  I got it a new battery a few months ago, and while that has helped its functionality in the outside world, I hate taking it places because it’s just so darn heavy.  You know what I’m getting at don’t you?  It’s starting to feel like time for a new computer.  Hmm, we’ll just have to see what happens when that student loan money arrives sometime next month, won’t we.

Distraction and the benefits of cooking

Recently, the carefree, relaxed grad student life I was leading all summer long disappeared. I’m not entirely sure where it went, but I know that it was replaced with a constant need to do work and get things done. I go to bed at night totally exhausted and wake up the in the morning with a mind that is already plugging away at what needs to be done next. If I don’t make lists I find that I wander from one half done project to the next, always getting distracted by something else before I get a chance to finish what I had intended to do. It’s all good stuff–thesis, freelance writing, email answering in pursuit of more opportunities, but never in my whole life have I felt so constrained by only having 24 hours in the day.

This afternoon I intended to spend some solid time working on my thesis, but instead I came home and started playing with the veggies I had picked up earlier in the in morning at the farmers market. I sauteed chard with onions and garlic. I steamed string beans and tossed them with butter, salt, pepper and garlic powder. And I sliced up a huge heirloom tomato and ate it salted, in big hunks, with a napkin in hand. While it was nice to cook because it sated my hunger, it was also nice to let my brain shift into a different place, one that wasn’t so concerned with words and the turn of a phrase and instead cared about the sizzle of oil when the garlic was added and scent of the toasted sesame oil when added to the hot greens.

I ate while sifting through the Saturday and Sunday papers, wandering back into the kitchen to clean when my plate was empty.  When the dishes were done and the counters wiped, I was ready to get back to my computer again.