Aug 29 2011

I Want To Go Back

The summer is over.

It’s been barely two weeks, but I already miss Monday night wiffle ball and meeting Allison to write at Mozart’s.  I’m nostalgic for those first blisteringly hot, sunset-heavy Happy Hour practices filled with eager new players.  I long for the limitless unstructured time; for the quiet of Robin’s lake house; for the bustle of Barton Springs on Tuesday afternoons and during free swim after dark.  I miss writing into the early morning hours, my eyelids determinedly rejecting sleep; the Decemberists show at Stubb’s with Gina and Naz; Rainey Street for Jess’s birthday; True Blood with Tim and Megan and the Roller Derby with Tina.  I wistfully (and regretfully) recall dashing around 6th Street for a downtown scavenger hunt with ReVA, Julia, and Libbie, dressed alarmingly like Axl Rose (and then sitting with Hoag for an inexplicably long time on the curb after the hunt had ended).  I want to go back to free yoga with Bonesaw on Saturday mornings; to summer league with Dana and Hannah and the Full Service guys; to the Master’s tournament in Ohio with Dawngo and Harper and Leigh—heat, humidity and all.

The summer came and went in a flash; a disarming blur; a dry hurricane.  I blinked and it was gone, and I only had a few stray beers, Facebook photos, and awkward tan lines to prove that it had happened at all.  It was a dreamy jumble filled with snapshots of smiling people.  A little chaotic, gloriously unpredictable, at once foggy and crystal-clear.

The summer’s end frightens me.  I’m afraid of what this conclusion means, like I somehow didn’t capture the moments firmly enough (as if I could hold on to them at all).  These memories were fireflies that needed to be trapped in mason jars, but I wasn’t quick enough.  I was so distracted by their brilliance that I let them get away.  And now they’re lost forever, and everything will change.  I won’t be the same person that I was during this whimsical whirlwind summer.  I can’t do the same things with the same people.  It feels certain that the wonder of May, June, and July will cool like the weather. 

So all I want to do is go back.

Aug 20 2011

I Should Be Working, But I’m Writing

I should be working in my classroom, but I’m taking a short break to write.  There’s just no getting around it right now; I need to write.  Now. 

One of my new colleagues just told me that I look stressed today, and I am.  The anxiety is creeping in.  It’s been a busy, busy week.  I’m at a new school, and with that comes a whole new level of beginning-of-the-year chaos.  I spent the entire summer racing from one thing to the next, but I always made time to write, because my time was my own.  And with that commitment, I managed a level of equilibrium during a time of transition and challenge. 

So here it is—my commitment to write, even when my time isn’t “my own.”

Last night I got home from dinner at around 9:15, and Holly scolded me for missing my “curfew” by fifteen minutes.  She and Frances were just about to start a movie, and the smell of freshly popped popcorn hung in the air.  I had so many other things to do—shower, clean my room, go to sleep at a reasonable hour, for that matter—but I abandoned them all to sit with the girls and half-watch a half-decent rental.  The pair was curled up on Hannah’s new couch, their feet dangling on the futon mattress (which is on the floor because we haven’t put together the frame yet).  Holly’s dog, Fly, lay at their feet, and Marley quickly jumped up into my lap for snuggles.  Hannah got home shortly after that, with takeout for Holly since she’d poached her leftover lasagna from the fridge earlier that day.   As the movie wore on I sipped on wine, Fran answered quiz questions for her Ultimate team’s bonding activity the next day, and Holly migrated to the futon to spoon with Fly. 

At the end of this crazy week, it was such a welcome release to sit and giggle with girlfriends.  The house is filled with mismatched furniture, and the unassembled futon frame pieces greet you right when you walk in the door.  My bedroom looks like it’s been ran-sacked by fiending junkies looking for cash in the pockets of all of my clothes.    (I really should put away some clothes eventually…)  The bathroom doesn’t have a curtain on the window yet, and my cooler is still sitting outside the door to Holly’s room.  But those things are all temporary.  (And really, what isn’t?)  It still feels like home.  And on a Friday night at the end of a long, emotional, harrowing week, that’s all I wanted.  I’m learning that in this crazy life, we have to appreciate those moments of peace and comfort whenever we get them.    

So there you have it.  My short writing break.  It’s messy, it’s disjointed, it’s impromptu…but here’s to Making the Time, right?  I feel better already.

Aug 11 2011

You Don’t Always Get To Choose

Late July, 2011

It’s dark outside the window, even at 4:00 in the afternoon.  We’re getting just the smallest glimpse of a break in this Texas drought, as a meager rain sprinkles across the backyard.

That rain reflects my mood today. 

I’m not desperately sad or fantastically happy.  I’m perhaps some shade of soft blue crossed with gray; not sinking, not soaring, just being.  I’m on the down-swing of my summer, and it’s been a summer wrought with change and surprises and go-go-go.  But now the wheels are slowing on this raucous ride, and I’m looking back at what I’ve learned.

Earlier this summer, I wrote about wanting to savor every moment, and I’m happy to say that I think I’ve been doing that.  I’ve absolutely been living in the now.  For the last three months I’ve kept a bathing suit, towel, and my giant blanket in my car at all times, knowing that I could find myself at Barton Springs at the drop of a hat.  I lost battery power on my laptop frequently, went through three journals, and survived on minimal sleep and an excess of caffeine.  I realized that I ate an almost entirely vegetarian diet, because I generally ate raw food on-the-fly.  I tried new things, jumping—or rather, madly flinging myself—at every opportunity that arose. 

It’s a wonder, really, that I’m not more tired!  Just the opposite, in fact:  I feel energized and alive.

But reality will set in shortly.  I’ll begin a new job and move into a new house.  My Ultimate season will kick into high gear, demanding many of my weekends.  I’ll see the freedom of summer dissipate as I’m bound by a structured schedule.  So the real challenge will be to appreciate every moment, even when I don’t necessarily have the final say over what I’m doing with my time.

A former colleague recently said to me, “You don’t always get to choose your opportunities for growth.”  And she couldn’t be more right.  I like to have control; I like to strong-arm all of the factors in my life.  But life just isn’t like that.  It’s a slippery character, and we can’t always anticipate or manage all of the variables that inevitably come about.  In the last eight months, the universe has surprised me at every turn.  It’s thrown me curveballs and it’s helped me out.  Fate has been a wicked trickster as well as a fairy godmother.  Every time I thought I was going to stumble, I managed to stay upright.  I may even be standing taller.

But another friend argued that he doesn’t believe in fate.  “Things happen for a ‘reason,’” he said, “but that reason comes from the things you do (or don’t do).”  And so maybe I’m leaving too much to the universe.  Maybe I’m giving fate too much credit.  Perhaps I’m just doing just what Valeri said—seeing these twists and turns as opportunities to grow and learn about myself.  I’m using them as such, even without realizing it.  It isn’t about fate or destiny at all, but about me and the choices that I make.  Especially the difficult ones. 

How often do we sit comfortably in routine, taking the well-trodden path?  I’ve done that very thing many times, and found myself in painful, sticky ruts that leave me feeling empty and flat.  The tremendous shake-ups in my life right now are teaching me about myself partly because I’m embracing them.  Sure, I could dwell on how difficult change can be—and it is hard, make no mistake—but it feels so much more productive to live in the moment and be an active participant.  I’m not sitting around, waiting for life to happen to me.  Surrendering to the unknown is a new thing for me.  It’s typically uncomfortable.  But I’ve learned that fighting against it is so much harder.  I’m realizing how validating—how life-giving—it is to allow these moments to be a part of the person I am.  To throw my arms around the unpredictable future and give it a big, welcoming bear hug.

Aug 1 2011

In the Looking Glass

On Friday I went to a book release and signing party with my sassy and savvy friend, Allison.  BookPeople is already one of my favorite Austin spots, and even though I haven’t read any of Amanda Eyre Ward’s work (yet, anyway) I was looking forward to the event.  And not just because they were serving free St. Arnold’s beer, sweet tea vodka, and empanadas!

They began the reading with an announcement from the Austin Bat Cave — a non-profit that works to inspire creative writing and expression in Austin area youth and provide a platform for their work.  A friend and colleague of mine, Matt, has worked directly with the Bat Cave in the past, so I was already familiar with their philosophy and the tremendous things that they do.  I also knew that some of my former students had been a part of some Bat Cave projects, and I was excited to hear about their recent anthology of music, lyrics, and visual art.

Before Amanda read an excerpt from her latest novel, Close Your Eyes, a representative from The Bat Cave announced the winner of Austin’s Young Literary Light Contest, who then stepped up behind the mic to read three of her original poems.  It was a packed house, and I can only imagine how nervous this teenage girl must have been, looking out at the sea of adult faces.  She began by saying that she was uncomfortable with public speaking, but of course she read with poise and confidence, her voice steady and calm.

As I listened, I felt like I was stepping back in time.  Looking in a mirror, even.  (Though I doubt my writing was as poignant and insightful as hers!)  I remembered the fearlessness that comes with youth.  When I was her age, I didn’t balk at going to open mic readings at Fire Water café in Northampton and sharing my work in front of brooding college students and struggling bohemian writers of Western Massachusetts.  I recalled slam poetry competitions in college, and the times that I spent pacing my dorm room as I hammered out a beat in my words.  I remembered sending off short stories to magazines and shrugging off the rejection letters.  But most of all, I remembered not worrying over what people would think.  I just wanted them to hear me.

I know that this young writer is half my age, yet I still (inexplicably) feel like a teenager most of the time.  And not in a bad way.  How much has really changed for me?  Well, everything…and yet nothing at all.  I live in a different part of the country; I have three more degrees to my name; I’ve garnered the experience of more romantic relationships, more athletic enterprises, more travel.  I’ve grown and changed from the myriad of amazing and enriching people who’ve come in and out of my life.  But I don’t, in fact, feel that different.  I’m still a writer, which is what I knew myself to be when I was a naïve sixteen-year-old.  In my heart of hearts, at the core of who I am, I still think in poetry and prose.  I still hear words as lyrics.  As music.  As perfect, meaningful packages.  And more than anything else in the world, I just want to be heard.

I’m thankful to this teenage writer, this girl who reminded me of how near and far I’ve come.  And how much road there is yet to travel.