Monthly Archives: April 2006

A Poem for National Poetry Month

An Apology

To the young man I loved 35 years ago
I would like to say I am sorry.
You said we should get married.
My first thought was, “You’re kidding?”
not a positive indicator.
I knew instinctively it wouldn’t work long term.

But after I left, I missed
things about our time together:
going out at two a.m. for grilled cheese
at the 10th Street Diner, watching every scary
Roger Corman movie, your huge empty loft
with just a mattress on the floor,
the off color cartoons you drew in my
anthropology notes to surprise me in class.
And alley walking; getting from river to river in Philly
via just alleyways, using big streets only to keep going.

I would have liked to have been kinder,
less abrupt at the end,
explained that deep intuition
made it impossible to stay. I hope that
when you look back it is not with resentment
but are able to enjoy the memory too.

by Leana McClellan

About a month ago, my mom and I were talking about ended relationships. I was expressing my feelings of longing for elements of my last relationship, while also being grateful that I was no longer in it. I was having trouble making those two feelings coexist. She confessed to me that she understood, having remembered those feelings from the relationship she had just before she married my dad. That conversation spurred her to write the poem above.


Tuesday night I got home from work around 5:30. I was meeting a friend in the Square at 6:30 for dinner and I was excited about the prospect of having almost an hour in which to do nothing. I kicked off my shoes, glanced at my email and grabbed a snack. No sooner had I gotten comfortable on the couch, the tv tuned to the Food Network, I heard a voice in my head. It wasn’t the normal voice of my thoughts, the one that chatters on endlessly about what I did or said or didn’t do. It was a clear, strong thought-voice, coming from a different place.

It said, “go outside.”

I tried to ignore if for a while. I was comfortable! I was happy on the couch, eating my cereal bowl of tortilla chips. I didn’t want to go anywhere just yet. Besides, I was going to go outside in a little while, couldn’t I just have a little down time inside first?

I heard it again, “go outside.”

At this point I knew I had to leave my apartment and go over to the square early. I spend a bit of every day asking the universe to tell me clearly, in a manner I can understand, what I should do with my life. It would seem the summit of stupidity to ignore it when it finally started talking, even if all it was saying was, “go outside.”

I put my shoes on, grabbed a jacket and headed out. I was actually a little excited, because there I was, heading outside, knowing that there was a purpose behind the walk. I covered the two blocks slowly, paying extra attention to the people around me. As I walked into the Square, I walked right into my friend Trisha. After the initial hellos, and her surprise at running into me, we fell into a conversation that several layers deeper than the ones you typically have when running into friends on the street. She told me that she had recently quit her job, because it wasn’t working for her anymore. That she’d been accepted to grad school, but didn’t get any of the much-needed fellowships to make it possible. I told her of my feelings of stuckness and frustration.

We took at extra circle around the square, wanting a few more minutes to talk before heading our separate ways. When we finally parted, I felt alive. I felt filled with light and possibilities. I felt amazed that I had been able to listen to a little dribble of guidance while sitting on my couch and had such a terrific conversation because of it. I stood in the sun, waiting for the friend I was meeting for dinner, and thought, “this is how I want to my life to be.” And I think I heard the thought-voice say, “it can be.”

When you do things from your soul…

Yesterday after work, I sat in on a bench in the sun on campus, breathing deeply in the hopes that it might induce a little enlightenment, waiting to meet a friend. I talked to my mom in the meantime, listening intently as she read a section from the latest spiritual book she was working her way through. It was helpful as the words hit my ear, I found little pockets of peace and hope to grasp onto, but my ability to retain the meaning and purpose of the thoughts was nil, and as soon as her voice was out of my ear, little waves of worry and panic started to creep back up.

What if I don’t find work that makes me happy?

What if this life is just a sham, designed to make me crazy?

What if my understanding about the manner in which this all works is fatally flawed?

Still breathing deeply, I met my friend, and we walked over to Wharton to attend a short presentation on leadership. We were mostly going to this lecture because they were serving a sandwiches, and we wanted to get something to eat before heading over to a reading at the Kelly Writer’s House. As we walked in, the coordinator greeted us, and asked us to make sure that we just took a cup of soda and not the entire bottle (as the caterer hadn’t brought as many as she had ordered, and she was worried they were going to run out). We smiled and nodded, and Jess said hi to the speaker, as she had taken a class taught by him earlier in the year.

We sat down with our sandwiches, mayonnaisey pasta salad and soda-filled Au Bon Pain paper cups in the second row. I felt uncomfortable in the grandeur of the Wharton classroom and the reflected confidence of the other students. Except that then the speaker started to talk, I felt like he was talking right at me. Through me. In me. The last place in the world I expected to find a little inspiration that day was the basement of Huntsman Hall, but that is truly the beauty of life, the chance to find illumination where you least expect it.

He talked about the how and why of leadership. Of how getting things done contains two components, the will power and the wish. The will power gets us going, but that the wish sustains and motivates us. How what we are all looking for is to do work that comes from the wish. Work that is filled with joy and fun. I almost started crying right then, although the fear of humiliating myself in Wharton kept the tears at bay. I so was completely floored to hear someone talk about work with the perspective that it should be pleasurable, since mine has always fallen so far away from that mark. He pulled this Rumi poem up on the screen of the power point and pulled out a guitar (this was so much more of a show than I was expecting) and started to sing.

When you do things from your soul, you feel a river
moving in you, a joy.

When actions come from another section, the feeling

I experience this starting and stopping of flow every day, and was further stunned and a little wrecked to see it put into words so clearly and with deep understanding by someone who lived 800 years ago. Soon the talk was over and I followed Jess out of the room, half blinded by words.

This morning when I got to work, I went looking for the poem on the internet, wanting to have more of it than the few lines I could paraphrase. In addition to finding the poem, I also found a sermon that had been given less than a month ago by a Unitarian Minister in Needham, MA. He used the poem as a reminder to “let go of easy answers and to live in your deep questions. Knowing that in them, through them, as well, flow the living waters.” [Rev. Dr. John Beuhrens, March 19, 2006]

In a time period of less than a day, I experienced this poem being applied to both the practices of work and of spirit, at times when I deeply needed something to create movement inside of me on both levels. I had been asking, pleading, begging the universe to help me see a little light for days, and here it was, neatly wrapped up in a poem, a lecture and a sermon. Maybe my understanding of how the universe works (that you ask for what you need and trust you will get it, although you never know in what form) isn’t so flawed after all.

Mail for the dead

I still get mail for my grandfather, even though it’s been more than six years since his death. Things also trickle in for my grandmother, although not nearly as often.

Grandpa Sid married my grandmother in 1969, three and half years after her first husband died from a massive heart attack. Despite his “step” status (and the existence of his own five biological grandchildren), he was the only grandfather my sister and I ever had, and so he took his role with us very seriously. He welcomed us into their two-bedroom apartment for weeks at a time every summer, allowing us to take over the room that housed his home office and closet. He would come in as we were getting ready for bed each night and pick out his clothes for the next day so that we could all sleep in without being disturbed.

He always had bus tokens tucked in the top drawer of his desk, and there were containers of tic tacs (that he would pour into our open hands) in the pockets of his coats. He drank hot Tetley tea with dinner, and a meal wasn’t a meal without a plate of bread or rolls on the table. He was vehemently again water ice, because of the red food coloring and when he took us out to eat at Little Pete’s, he would recite the menu from memory. He was a brilliant and an international known scientist who worked well past his 90th birthday, but never learned to use a computer.

He died when I was 21, three days before my senior thesis was due. I wasn’t able to fly back to Philly for the funeral.

It’s been months since I’ve gotten any mail for him, but today, for some strange reason, there was not one, but two items addressed to him in my mail box. I stood sorting my mail as I rode the elevator up to my apartment, and when I saw his name, I let out an amused little snort. The woman to my right gave me a sideways glance before looking down again. The envelopes contained solicitations for money, so they don’t require a response, although I’ll probably toss them back into the mail box with a “Return to Sender, Addressee Deceased” notice on them, in the hopes that it might stem the tide of future mailings.

Then again, maybe I won’t send them back, as there part of me that doesn’t welcome that last piece of junk mail with his name on it. Because if he can receive mail, then there’s still part of him that’s still alive, even if it’s just for the 30 seconds during which I sort my mail, once every three months.

Flickr Field Day

I’ve been taking a lot of pictures lately, and then letting them collect metaphoric dust in my computer’s hard drive. After Anna asked for the fourth time if she could see the pictures I had taken at HER wedding, I decided it was time to get some new Flickr sets up. So, here’s some of my life over the last month, in neat visual form.

Anna and Dave’s wedding

Rittenhouse Square last weekend

UU Young Adult Happy Hour at Buffalo Billiards Friday Night

A small assortment from Saturday

First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia Flower Communion

Seth’s Easter BBQ

If you’re looking for the Unitarian Church flickr page, you can find it here.

Happy Easter

I’ve had a packed, friend-filled and active weekend. I hope everyone else out there has had the opportunity to welcome spring with as much joy and love as I have.

Poop for Peace Day

Tonight while checking my blog stats (I admit it, I compulsively check where people are coming from, how many people have stopped by and for how long they stayed), I discovered that someone found my blog by googling the phrase “Does papaya make you poo?” It turns out that mine is the very first website that turns up in response to that question (it became so when I posted the Papaya and Prunes entry a couple of weeks ago).

I mentioned this to my mom tonight on the phone, to which she responded,

“Speaking of bowel movements, did you know that today is Poop for Peace Day?”

I was forced to admit ignorance. She told me that evidentially, someone out there realized that the one thing we all (and I mean all) of us have in common is our need to poop and that that very basic human function could be used to unite us all.

After we got off the phone, I went and looked up Poop for Peace Day and found their website. They say:

Think of the children of Iraq and the children of America. Think of Bush and Blair and Hussein and bin Laden, and think about the fact the twelve hours following Taco Bell are going to unfold for each of them in the exact same way. Think about how our differences are irrelevant — we’re all human beings. Our poop proves it. Empathy through excrement. Brotherhood through bowel movement. Utopia through undulating butt pythons. Today, April 14, 2006, war is over — if you grunt it.

I realize that there only a very few minutes left of April 14th, but I felt the need to stand from my own little soapbox and let you all know about the uniqueness of today. It’s just the kind of disgustingly awesome idea I can get behind.

Random (Good) Friday

It’s Friday, which means it’s the day I skip out on writing anything substantive (although I haven’t actually written anything substantive in weeks) and instead post my Friday Random Ten set. You know the rules, but here they are anyway. Grab your iPod or other (less cool) digital music devise and set it to shuffle/random. Report back the first ten (or 11 songs) it spits back, without deviating, omitting, excusing or justifying the music that shows up. You made your bed, and now you have to lay in it.

1. My Lover’s Gone, Dido (No Angel)
2. Am I Born to Die?, Tim Eriksen (Cold Mountain)
3. 83, John Mayer (Any Given Thursday)
4. Dracula Moon, Joan Osborne (Relish)
5. Scampering Away, Mason Darling (The Secret of Roan Inish)
6. St. Claire’s Defeat, Gibson and Camp (Gibson and Camp at the Gate of Horn)
7. Headstrong, 10,000 Maniacs (Blind Man’s Zoo)
8. The Mind of Love, k.d. lang (Ingenue)
9. Tune Up #2, Original Broadway Cast (Rent)
10. Resist, Melissa Etheridge (Yes I Am)

First Thoughts: There are an awful lot of soundtracks in the set today (well, if three makes a lot). The transition from St. Claire’s Defeat to Headstrong is totally jarring and almost unpleasant, despite the fact that I really like both those songs. They just don’t go together.

Favorite Song: Dracula Moon by Joan Osborne. I like the way the harmonica, the piano and the mellow, throaty guitars come together for the introduction, before she even starts singing.

Favorite Album: The Secret of Roan Inish by Mason Darling. Last year when I was home in Portland, I stumbled across this disc, sitting in a stack of other caseless cds in my parents living room. Before I even listened to it, I had ripped it to my computer, because I had such fond memories of the movie. For those of you who haven’t seen it, I recommend that you check it out (if you like lovely, quiet little stories that seemlessly merge magic with reality on a tiny island in Ireland).

Personal Connections: The Camp half of Gibson and Camp was a friend of my parents until he died last fall. I’ve written about Bob Hamid Hamilton Camp a couple times over the last eight or so months, but I can’t remember when, so no linking for you.

If you need a couple more spoonfuls of Randon Friday sets, check out these folks:
Coffee Girl

If you’ve got a list up and would like a little link love, let me know!

Faux Seder, family style

A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting on a bench in Rittenhouse Square, eating a bagel and reading a book, when my cell phone rang. It was my mom’s cousin Angie, and she was calling to invite me to dinner on the second night of Passover. She traditionally has the family Seder on the second night, but this year she was going for something a little lower key. I said I’d love to come and made sure I wrote it down in my calendar (yes, I still use a paper calendar and write everything in it in pencil, it makes me happy).

Well, low key it was (which is kind of sad, it’s the first time in my life when I would have been the youngest in the room, and thus the automatic winner of the afikomen prize). I headed down to her apartment tonight (about a year ago she bought my aunt Flora’s old apartment on the 9th floor of my building. My family, we like it here) a little after I got home from work. My cousin Dan was sitting on the couch, talking to Angie and Donald. Dan’s wife Sabrina showed up fairly soon after I did. The table was set, and held a few representations of Passover, but not the whole plate. There were hardboiled eggs and whole wheat matzo (which I never actually got any of). Donald stood by the table, and summarized the Haggadah in under 30 seconds, and deemed the religious portion of the evening complete. We sat and ate matzo ball soup (which really is all I need to feel like it’s Passover). Next was a green salad, which Angie called “parsley” for the sake of tradition. Then there was turkey, roasted potatoes, steamed green beans and a big honey baked ham.

This is the point at which I feel it’s necessary to pause and repeat. A ham. On this faux Passover table. Don’t get me wrong, it was a really good ham (I had several pieces, which is unusual for me, as eating ham typically brings on a good case of guilt for me. It’s how I know my Jewish half isn’t totally dormant). The larger problem with the ham is that the remaining half in now in my refrigerator. Dan didn’t want to take it home, and Donald doesn’t like frozen meats. He started to make noises about throwing it out, which I couldn’t deal with (I can’t stand to waste food) so I said I would take it. I really wish there was a way I could get it to my dad, as he is the original lover of ham, but Portland is a long way from here.

So, to recap, my Passover Seder this year consisted of fake parsley, a 30 second Haggadah, a honey baked ham and family. All in all, not a bad way to celebrate the holiday.

Beverly Cleary

Today is Beverly Cleary’s 90th birthday. She was born in Yamhill, OR in 1916 and lived there until it was time for her to start school. She started writing books when she was working at librarian in Portland and little boy asked her why there weren’t any books about kids like him. She went home and started to write one. 39 books later, including two volumes of autobiographies, here we are.

She is a member of the long list of children’s authors who had an impact on my growing up years*. I remember what a thrill it was when we moved to Portland to discover that I was heading for her home town, and the setting of many of her books. I wasn’t so much of a fan of Henry Huggins, but I loved Ramona. I still get a kick out of the fact that my parents live three houses down from Klickitat Street, one of the main streets in the Ramona books.

When I was 13, I actually got to meet Beverly Cleary. I was into acting in those days, and had gotten myself involved with a community theater (Portland Civic Theater which sadly no longer exists). I spent the year of 8th grade in a song and dance troupe at that theater, and we were all recruited to be the neighborhood children in the theater’s production of Ramona Quimby: Age 8. I got to miss school for two weeks, as we did two shows a day, five days a week for school groups, as well as evening and weekend shows. It was my one little taste of professional acting, and I loved it.

Beverly Cleary came to the opening night of that show, and met specially with all the children who were in the cast before the curtain went up. I remember standing in a circle around her, while she talked quietly with the Anthea, the girl who was playing Ramona. We all waited silently until they were done with their private talk. When they were done, Anthea turned to the rest of us, trying to be professional and keep her potential tears of nervousness and excitement inside and not doing a very good job. I don’t remember a word of what Beverly Cleary said, I was so stunned and awed to be in her presence. After a few more minutes, she was done and we were all sent back downstairs to wait for the show to begin.

Today is also “Drop Everything and Read” Day (DEAR), in honor of Beverly’s birthday. So if you have a moment, drop what you are doing and go spend fifteen or twenty minutes reading a good book. It’s the very best way I can think of to celebrate her birthday.

*The list, from the top of my head, also includes: Norma Klein, Judy Blume, Jane Yolen, LM Montgomery, Maud Hart Lovelace, Gertrude Chandler Warner, Joan Lowry Nixon, Lois Lenski, Ann M. Martin (I was a sucker for the Babysitters’ Club) and Margaret Mahy. There are more that belong on this list (and I know that I had to have read some male authors while I was growing up), but that’s all I can conjure up right now.