Sep 22 2011

Breaking and Being Broken

When I was little I wore an old ring that my grandmother, Bobbie, gave me.  It wasn’t particularly valuable, but it was pretty, and it was hers, so I wore it proudly.  I loved that ring.  I loved how the colors inside the soft opal danced and glowed.  I loved that it fit my finger snugly, like I was a grown woman, in a grown-up dress and heels.

My best friend down the street was also fascinated by the ring.  One day she was at my house and came across it on the counter of the bathroom.  While I wasn’t looking, the ring slipped from her finger and she dropped it on the cold, hard tile at her feet.  The stone was jostled out of its setting, and it splintered into three neat, even pieces.  Forever irreparable.

I was so angry with her, even though I knew that it was an accident.  Even though I knew that she was just admiring the jewelry; that she was a bit envious of the gift from my grandmother.  I mourned the loss of that ring as if I’d lost Bobbie herself.  The ring represented my future, my adulthood, and now it felt like I’d remain a child indefinitely.

But there was also a time when I found the same friend’s porcelain dolphin on her dresser.  She’d gone swimming with dolphins on vacation with her family the summer before, and I knew that the figurine reminded her of the trip.  I, myself, was in awe that one could actually swim with dolphins.  This sounded like a true adventure.  Like an excursion available only to the privileged few.  So when I touched the little statue, I imagined myself twirling through clear, cool water and running my hands along the smooth flanks of the animals.  And when the little statue tipped over, and its fin chipped and shattered into dust, I was immediately regretful and sad.  Sad for my friend, who I knew would be sorry to have her treasure tarnished.  Sad for the dolphin itself, which I imagined as a living, breathing thing.  And I was sad to have the fantasy damaged.

When we’re young, we break things and have them broken all the time.  And we recover fairly quickly, because we grow up.  We have our whole lives ahead of us, and we know that hand-me-down rings and porcelain knick-knacks are only material things.  At some time around adolescence we realize that what’s truly meaningful to us is far less tangible, and infinitely more valuable.  This act of breaking and being broken becomes something altogether different.  The stakes are higher; the consequences greater.   We learn that loss isn’t actually a function of what we own; that grief lives in a dark and frightening place deep in our gut.  We sense it when our stomachs drop and our faces flush; when our vision blurs and our hands tingle and shiver.  We can’t touch it, can’t throw it away or burn it into smoke, but we recognize it when it finds us.

Some of us protect ourselves effectively.  We conserve and defend our resources strategically, methodically.  We build fortresses, locking the gates against intruders lest they damage our possessions or steal them from us.

But others don’t have this skill.  Some of us happily and willingly share what we have—too freely, at times—believing that others will handle with care.  That they’ll respect the value and fragility of those offerings.   We are risk-takers and adventure-seekers, and we throw caution to the wind, with the blind promise of a safe and happy outcome.

Conversely, sometimes we are careless ourselves, and sometimes we can’t prevent destruction despite our best efforts.  We understand with a terrifying sense of helplessness that we are the destroyers; the demolition crew; the wrecking ball.  We build something up, only to find that it must be torn down again.  Even when we desperately want to keep it upright and strong.  

Because no matter what, life is messy, and accidents are bound to happen.  Sometimes rings slip off fingers, and delicate sculptures teeter on their bases, falling fast toward a hard and unyielding surface.  It’s no one’s fault.  It’s a tiny calamity.  A small and permanent disaster.   The matter of intent is irrelevant.   

There is no secret weapon against these disasters.  There is no defense strong enough, no protection firm enough.  Things will always be broken.  Sometimes we will do the breaking, and other times we’ll be left to tearfully, painfully pick up the fragments.  Hoping that there’s enough glue, enough needle and thread, enough clothespins and tape in the world to put them back together again.  And if we’re lucky, we believe that—while we’ll never be the same, and cracks will probably always show like scars—we can mend.

Sep 16 2011

A Gemini’s Dilemma

“We didn’t see you for, like, two years,” Amanda said from the back seat.

And I agreed.

She qualified the statement, acknowledging that it wasn’t like I’d totally disappeared.  Only mostly.  She was practically saying, “We knew you were alive.  But we didn’t know where you were living.” 

And it’s funny, because for a while I did feel really out of touch with everyone.  I’ve had an extraordinary, ever-changing, ever-growing network of friends in Austin since I moved here, but there was a time when I thought I’d lost touch; when I felt like we’d mutually written each other off.  I was beginning to wonder if Austin was the right place for me anymore.  If I’d lost my center; my niche.  Austin is so brimming with activity and life.  It has so much culture and excitement.  So much to offer.  But I was wondering if I still even liked it at all.  I just didn’t feel connected or grounded in the way that I once had.

And then it dawned on me:  When I was opting not to go to the happy hours, the parties, the shows, and instead sinking into my couch and watching episodes of The Jersey Shore on DVR, I was writing myself out of the equation.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go.  I just felt so tired all the time.  Getting my ass out of the house seemed so exhausting.  Especially when I could make some mac and cheese, curl up in my PJs, and get a good night’s sleep.  (Damn, that sounds depressing.) 

So of course my friends stopped inviting me to things.  Who can blame them?  A person can only hear “no” so many times.  It wasn’t that they didn’t want me there, it was that they were forgetting about me.  I wasn’t on the list of people who, you know, do stuff.

And then I started doing stuff again. 

“I’ve seen you more in the last six months than the last two years,” Amanda continued as she, Tessa and I drove home from Cara’s weekend-long wedding celebration. 

And again, I agreed.  And I’m so thankful that when I emerged from my self-imposed isolation, my friends welcomed me back with open arms.  That it was like we hadn’t missed a beat.  Our relationships were as strong as they’d ever been.

And Ironically, I’ve had more energy and felt more alive in these six months than I have in the last two years.  I’ve always thought that, as a Gemini, I love both being with other people and being alone.  I thought I was equal parts introvert and extrovert. 

But I’ve been approaching life from a place of YES lately, taking every opportunity to meet new people, do new things, and relish my time with the people I love.  If it’s true that extroverts gain energy from being in a crowd, maybe I’ve resolved the dilemma of being a Gemini.  Maybe that’s why I was so tired all the time before.  I thought that a “good night’s sleep” would give me the energy and the enthusiasm I was lacking, but in fact I was cutting myself off.  Being with people charges me up in ways that sleep and rest (and the DVR) don’t. 

What’s more, I would always regret not going out and joining my friends for the fun.  I never say, “Gee, I wish I hadn’t gone to that kickass show,” or, “Too bad I played in that Ultimate tournament,” or, “That book -signing was a real drag.”  But I did frequently spiral into despondent remorse when I didn’t go to those things.

Now, I do still like my “me” time.  I’m a writer.  Quiet, isolated introspection is a must.  It’s an expectation and a luxury.  But all of this bustling activity, all of these gloriously friend-filled experiences are fueling my work.  I bring more gusto to my alone time and my writing than I ever did before.  The words come easier.  My cup runneth over.

So it’s with this understanding—this embracing of the new (or old, or re-imaged) me—that I approach this weekend. 

This morning a friend emailed me to say that she had stumbled into two free passes to ACL Fest, and she wanted me to be her “plus-one.”  Yes, for a moment I thought, “But I wanted to sleep in this weekend, and rent a movie, and make chocolate chip cookies…” 

But I caught myself. 

I realized that this is one of those times when I need to seize the moment.  Sure, there will be crowds and heat and hassle.  But I’ve used that excuse too many times.  This is an opportunity, and I’d only regret not taking it.    

So go, Colleen.  Savor the adventure.  Celebrate being an extrovert.

Sep 7 2011

“Besides the autumn poets sing…”

Besides the autumn poets sing,
A few prosaic days
A little this side of the snow
And that side of the haze.
~Emily Dickinson

There’s been a marked change in the weather over the last few days.

First, KRuss noticed it at our four-hour Saturday practice, and we all laughed that anything under 100 degrees feels “cool.” 

On Sunday, I went to Barton Springs and didn’t feel as compelled to get in the water.  I did, and it felt amazing, but I wasn’t desperate for relief from the heat.  I was completely comfortable, lounging in the sun on my big blanket and towel, my book propped against my hip.

Then, last night, I played what may be our last wiffle ball game of the season.  I noted with wonder that I wasn’t sweating profusely in the way that I had at nearly every other game all summer.  It was glorious…and heartrending.

And this morning, taking Marley out in the dark at 6:00am, I hugged my arms to my chest against the chill, and realized that my feet were cold against the slick wood of the porch. 

On those first days of fall, the air smells different.  It triggers a tightness in my chest, sparked by nostalgic memories of orange leaves crunching under my feet and sweaters wrapped snug against my shoulders.  I can almost feel the firmness of my field hockey stick in my hand; the burn of frosty air in my throat.

Even though I no longer live in the northeast, and the shift in temperature here in Texas is subtle at best, my body responds to the change in the same way.  I crave food made with nutmeg and cinnamon; I long for the crackle of a wood stove and a good pumpkin for carving.  I want to retreat back to being a kid in a Halloween costume, worried only about the weather cooperating for trick-or-treating. 

My mood has been subdued for the last few days.  I’ve been slower to laugh and sleep eludes me.  I love the fall.  It may even be my favorite season.  But as I sense this transition, I sit down a little deeper in my thoughts, aware of the chapters that are constantly beginning…and ending.  

Just a few days ago I wrote about celebrating the summer, and now here I am reveling in (or wrestling with) impending fall.  I anticipate that this “cold snap” will be short-lived, and that we haven’t seen our last 100+ degree day here in Austin for 2011.  But right now, there’s a tangible and definable difference, and it’s a preview of what’s in store.  The kids are back at school, and people are starting to talk about the World Series.  I’m seeing Halloween candy in the drugstores, and thinking about pulling my scarves out of the closet.  The change in season is both welcome and melancholy, especially as I struggle with the concrete and heady changes in my own life.  I’m staying on my feet, but there’s no question that I’m stumbling here and there and that my balance is definitely a little off. 

So I have to wonder – is this why we call it fall?

Sep 4 2011

A Dedication to My Summer

“Let every vessel pitching hard to starboard / Lay its head on summer’s freckled knees”        –The Decemberists

The mourning period is over.  It’s time to let go and celebrate the summer; to embrace the changing of the season.  Sure, there’s a part of me that wishes it were still July.  But that doesn’t change the fact that I had three incredible months.  And despite all of the pouting I’ve done recently, those experiences will stay with me.  So on that note, I dedicate my summer to…     

A Big Yellow Patchwork Quilt

I spent more than my fair share of time at Barton Springs Pool this summer, and I made my first foray to Deep Eddy one happy Thursday afternoon as well.  As Texas trudged through yet another draught (honestly, it feels like we’ve been in a draught since I moved here), I found refuge in the freezing-cold water.  Barton Springs is a literal oasis in a burning wasteland.  I tore through bottles of sunscreen, and became accustomed to filling my nalgene bottle to the brim with ice cubes before heading on my merry way to the Springs.  I learned the tricks:  Bring a Frisbee and put my water and chapstick-with-sunscreen underneath to slow the melting process.  Move to the shade now and then.  Bring a good friend, a good book, my journal.  Maybe all three.  Oh, and leave your cell phone at home…It turns out those things overheat when it’s 108 degrees. 

But best of all, I dragged my big yellow patchwork quilt to every visit.  It provided cushion against the hard ground; an easy way for people to spot me; space to stretch out; extra coverage for water bottles and cell phones; and plenty of surface area for friends to join me. 

Beer (and wine, and margaritas…)

Maybe this reflects poorly on me, but I drank a lot this summer.  Sure, there were times when it was to excess, like in the Showdown Town Hunt on 6th Street, but for the most part it was a glass of wine at Apothecary with Allison during happy hour, or a spicy melon margarita at Spiderhouse with Sheila for my birthday.  I got in the habit of bringing sixers to my summer league games…and enjoying several after the carpool home. 

While I’m a little uncomfortable talking about just how much alcohol I consumed, I also have to cut myself some slack.  Because it wasn’t so much the alcohol as the relationships.  My friends and I don’t need alcohol to enjoy each others’ company, by any means.  But I had many an important conversation—with some very important people in my life—over a beer or two this summer.   (Or a margarita, or a glass of wine…)

My White Compression Shorts

Yes, that’s right, I’m dedicating my summer to a pair of Underarmour.  (And not only because I actually wore them downtown one fateful night a few months ago.)

Really, this is just a fancy way of saying that Ultimate was a huge—and I mean huge—part of the last three months.  It kept me sane when my head was spinning with questions and anxiety.  It made me sweat out the ugliness and the fear.  It kept me physically healthy and gave me a group of peers to laugh with as we pounded ourselves into the grass.  It’s silly to think that chasing a piece of plastic could be so therapeutic, but the sport gives me an outlet; it provides camaraderie and competition; it’s central to my experience in Austin, and it served as a touchstone through a summer filled with change and uncertainty. 

As the summer careened ever closer last spring, the Austin Ultimate community organized women’s scrimmage nights.  Those Monday night games got me through the last months at my old school.  And then, just as my summer was beginning, my own team began practices and I met a whole new group of high-energy, quick-to-laugh, hard-working women.  I left our first practice feeling like I was discovering an entirely new level to my summer.  And that’s how it continued, with practices that ranged from challenging, to painfully sweaty, to dirty and dark.  But I knew that I could count on those Wednesday-night dates where I’d sweat through fatigue and frustration to find calm.


I could easily say that I dedicate my summer to Greek yogurt and granola, too, because the combination of the three was pretty much my favorite dish over the summer.  Who cares that the yogurt is as high in calories as a burrito?!  It’s delicious. 

I’m not a vegetarian, but I may as well have been this summer.  I spent so much time eating on the run, and so much time in the sun and heat, that all I ever wanted to eat was something cold and raw.  This summer’s chilled, fresh strawberries were the perfect fit.  And in many ways, the summer itself was the same way:  sweet and short-lived.

My Birthday Magic 8 Ball

Months back I wrote about the questions swimming around in my life right now.  Some of those questions have been answered, and others still hang like Chinese lanterns—fragile, beautiful, and a little bit ominous.  Allison bought me a Magic 8 Ball for my birthday following that post, and it’s sitting on my dresser right now.  And yes, I still occasionally shake it up and ask it questions, both silly and serious.

Just last night I said that I’ve finally made peace with not having all of the answers.  I’m not sure how I found that sense of calm in the storm, but this summer’s barrage of uncertainty didn’t rattle me in the way that it may have before.  Or in the ways that I expected it to.  Instead, I let the questions wash over me.  I snuggled up with them.  Do I still want answers?  Well, sure.  But I’m almost—almost—prepared for the likelihood that I won’t find them.  That I’ll just have to make up my own.

My New Boots

Just before the start of the summer, Tessa came to town and we paid a visit to Allen’s Boots on South Congress.  She fell in love with a blue-and-brown pair, and I with a brown-and-red.  I exercised some self-control and didn’t buy them that day, but they haunted me for months.  I’d put on a skirt and think, “Damn, those boots would look great with this outfit.” 

At the risk of sounding ridiculous, I felt pretty good about myself this summer.  And don’t cowboy boots just holler confidence?  So about halfway through the summer, I broke.  I made a return trip to Allen’s and bit the bullet.  And I wore them that very night.  And the next.  And three days after that.

The boots will last, and I know that I’ll get a lot of wear out of them.  But I chose to include them in this post because they represent the way that I feel about myself right now.  I’m a little beat up and a little weathered.  I’m not always in control, and in fact I’m sometimes a little out of control.  Especially lately.  But I like myself, and I’m hoping that it shows.  I’m strong and sturdy—even more than I ever realized—and I walk with a swagger.  I’m determined to keep that swagger, that sway, even when the summer is long past.