Jan 1 2012

Welcome, 2012: Saying Yes To What Is

Whew, 2011. 

You were one sassy bitch.

My blog is evidence that I’ve had some major highs and lows in 2011.  I was busy, to say the very least, and that included an upswing in writing over the spring/summer and a distinctly somber fall. 

But I’m not here to re-live the last twelve months.  I’m writing now in an effort to welcome the coming year with broad, open arms and warm hugs.  I sit quietly on New Year’s Eve, my third glass of wine cozying up to my laptop like they’re old friends.  (And really, who am I kidding?  They are.)  Matt the Electrician sings his version of “Jesse’s Girl” on my speakers, and the Christmas lights still twinkle from all corners of my living room. 

I could write a bulleted list of New Year’s Resolutions, as I have the last two years.  (Full disclosure:  I will be jotting down just such a list in my brand-new journal very soon.)  But that’s not what I want to do with this post.  This is about one resolution, and one resolution only:  “Say yes to what is.”

While I was visiting my family in Massachusetts last week, one of my oldest and best friends, Will, recited this mantra to me.  Will and I have been friends since kindergarten, when I refused to share my cheeseballs with him in the Fort River Elementary cafeteria.  He knows me better than most people in my life, and he’s aware that I often struggle with letting go.  New Year’s Eve is frequently a bittersweet holiday for me, because I perceive it as a goodbye; as forced closure; as the relentless passage of time when all I want is for things to (please, please, please) just slow down

Will (and his bright, insightful, bombshell-hot girlfriend Genevieve) talked with me about our lives over spiked hot chocolate in front of a crackling fire.  We evaluated just how much has changed and how much is happening for me right now.  They recognized that it’s a complicated, challenging, and altogether exciting time.  Yes, some doors are closing for me along with 2011, and that is sad in many ways.  But 2012 holds so much promise…

And so Will advised that, obstacles-be-damned, I should say yes to what is.  Look toward this new year with an open heart and an eager mind. 

I’m so lucky to have friends like these, who recognize that life is never simple.  That it’s best, in fact, when we live in those shades of gray and see the beauty and wonder in the darkness.  I resolve to take Will’s advice.  I’m looking into the unknown – even though I’ve always been afraid of the dark – and rushing headlong into what is.  

And so now it’s New Year’s Day…And after I post this latest insight into my sordid and crazy life, I plan to put on a bikini and head to the Polar Bear Plunge at Barton Springs.  Yes, this northerner will be swimming on January 1st.  Step One toward saying yes.


Dec 13 2011

…And Being (More) Broken

“I don’t remember stealing

But I do it all the time

I took your heart and kept it

And put it next to mine

 

I am no good for anybody

I am a cautionary tale

I am an accidental thief

Won’t be locked up in a jail

 

I didn’t mean to hurt you

Or waste all of our time

I am an accidental thief

These are accidental crimes”

 

Matt the Electrician

 

*****

 

This is being an adult.  This is human experience.

I woke up yesterday and my comforter felt too heavy, like it was pinning me to the bed.  It was an effort to push it off, to start my day fresh.  And so I dragged myself through the morning with that heaviness bearing down on me like a weighted cloak.  Like chainmail.  Like chains.

No matter how we might try, we always carry the feelings and expectations of others.  We perpetually hold ourselves to standards that we can’t maintain; consistently raising and reaching for the idiomatic bar.  But it’s so far, so high.  Too lofty to grasp, unless we become less human.  Unless we remove ourselves entirely, push people away, hide in our safe and dark places like small animals, where it’s quiet and calm and otherwise empty.

And the same can be said of our own feelings and expectations.

We ask much of others, too, hoping that they’ll reach for their own ethical bars in the interest of care and consideration.  Our hearts are exposed all the time, whether we choose for them to be or not.  Some of us crack open our ribs and tear it out, presenting it like a bleeding, throbbing gift.  And others curl in around it protectively, only to find that it’s just as vulnerable that way.  Perhaps moreso. 

And in the end, it doesn’t matter.

This is human experience.  To break, to be broken, to dis- and reassemble over and over again, with cracks and splinters and scars.  These are acts of living.


Nov 12 2011

Full Circle

The truth is, I find myself just a bit startled by where I am in my life. 

This isn’t what I expected.  It isn’t what I planned for.  In fact, I made decisions and commitments that should have dictated that I wouldn’t be precisely where I am.

And yet…

I can’t imagine it any other way. 

It’s hard to let go of what I anticipated; to abandon that vision of what my life would be.  But when I do—when I push myself to embrace not so much what might have been but instead what is—I’m aware of how happy I am.  And I remember that (to state the very obvious) it’s pointless not to celebrate it.  We can’t change where we’ve arrived, we can only affect where we’re going.  (And right now I’m content not knowing exactly where that is yet.)

In April I invited the Austin band Full Service into my classroom to perform an acoustic show for roughly 50 of my students as part of a unit on lyrical interpretation.  (Check out my post about that show.)  The founding members, brothers Hoag and Bonesaw, were new friends of mine.  I met them before knowing that they were in a touring band, but quickly became a “Fansaw” when I heard their music.  I followed their acoustic classroom-show with an electric one at Stubb’s Barbecue soon after. 

Enter transition.

I’d been quietly, inwardly struggling with some things for a long time; silently and privately wrestling my proverbial demons.  I finally found the courage to face them head-on in the spring — to talk talk about them, even — and that naturaly led to a series of major life-altering decisions.  Since April I’ve changed jobs/schools, moved twice, and taken some major steps in my writing life.  Full Service songs like “Strings”, “The Pieta” and “Ramona” became the soundtrack to one of the most pivotal seasons of my life. 

But summer is over now.  Fall is officially upon us, and winter rapidly approaches.  It’s all happened so damn fast.  So when I saw FS perform an acoustic set at their house party  last weekend, I felt distinctly aware of the changing seasons, and just how much has changed for me in these last months. 

I shouldn’t be surprised by this, but the music sounded different.  Not better, and certainly not worse, just…new.  I know the songs (and the people, for that matter) better.  They were mainstays on my iPod for six months, and now everything in my life is flipped upside down.  Maybe it’s even beginning to change again.  I’m a new person in many ways, and so “Hi Ho” and “Kristine” sounded fresh and unique.  I was slightly startled when Bonesaw declared that “No One Can Find Me” is his favorite track on Roaming Dragons (I’d always thought it was “Strings”—my favorite as well), but when they played the tune I realized just how good it is.  I heard it with new ears.  I’d always liked it and all, but I appreciated it more somehow.    

We all have those songs that we associate with specific times and places, so that when we hear them we’re brought back in a palpable way.  That night was the opposite for me.  It wasn’t a reminder of where I was seven months ago, it was a realization of where I am now.  And a piece of bittersweet evidence that I like this place.


Oct 20 2011

Homemade Vegetable Soup

For the past three years, I’ve made a point to take a trip to Massachusetts in the fall.  After so many seasons of what can only be described as “summery” autumns in Austin, I realized that I wanted—nay, needed—some foliage; an October chill; cider doughnuts and crisp Macintosh apples.

For the first two years I was met with perfect New England weather:  Blue skies, sun warm to the skin but cool enough for a light scarf.  Sparkling days and clear, shivery nights.  I was lulled into forgetting that fall in the northeast is often accompanied by dismal, arbitrary, confounding bouts of crummy weather. 

This year my visit was, indeed, rainy and gray.  On Friday night Claire and I made several mad dashes in and out of bars.  On Saturday, my family and I emerged from a movie to find that the temperature had dropped substantially, and we braced ourselves against the cold.  I went for a run on Saturday morning, fondly recalling the sensation of cheeks rosey from the wind and a jersey damp from—as Claire called it—a “driving mist.” 

My parents kept apologizing.  “We’ve had so many beautiful days!” my mom exclaimed in frustration. 

And you would think that this dreary weather would disappoint me.  But after months of draught in ATX, I welcomed the rain.  It was such a relief.  I woke up every morning and buried myself deeper under the covers to listen to the persistent patter against the skylights and watch the streams of water cast shadows on the floor.  I felt no need to race around town, instead embracing the excuse to stay in my pajamas longer than necessary and curl up with my coffee, a book, and my family.

On Sunday, we decided against grilling during the Patriots’ game, unanimously agreeing that vegetable soup was far more appropriate.  So we watched the football game comfortably nestled into the family living room, in pajamas and sweats, under blankets and dim lights.  (None of this helped with the truly horrific pile of grading in front of me, mind you, but I was so cozy that it was a fair trade.)  I idly shared some of my favorite (and most entertaining) student work with the room.  We alternately cursed the Patriots’ defense and cheered their offensive successes.  Timmy and his adorable girlfriend, Kerry, snuggled at the end of the couch.  Our very old, very deaf, very blind family dog, Lexie, wandered aimlessly around the room when she wasn’t settled on my dad’s lap.

And at halftime, we all gathered around the table for fresh bread from the local country store and, yes, my mom’s vegetable soup. 

It was perfect.

Now, here’s the thing about soup, if you’ll pardon my digression.  I’ve gotten to the point where I’ll pretty much only eat it homemade (and I make a mean soup, if I do say so myself).  Among many other things, I’ve learned that the longer it simmers, the better it tastes.  Stands to reason, right?  The flavors develop and blend; the broth gathers layers and depth.  The potatoes and carrots soften; the garlic matures.

But it’s so hard to wait!  When you walk into the room and you can smell it on the stove, all garlic and onions and spices…Well, you can’t help but want it RIGHT NOW. (Especially when you’re like me, and you like things to happen immediately.  Or better yet, yesterday.) 

But it’s so worth the wait if you give it the time.  If you let it do its thing.

Okay, by now it’s obvious I’m not talking about soup.  Not exclusively, anyway.  When I visit my family, something settles in me.  I slow down.  I comfortably percolate.  And I remember how much I’d benefit from simmering a little more in my life in general. 

I’m getting better at this.  At breathing through the fray; at exercising my patience both long and short-term; at taking my time and trusting that there’s something really amazing up ahead, but that I can’t rush its arrival.  In fact, I need to allow it to develop and unfold for me.  I need to remember that, while it’s true that life is short, I do have time.  I don’t need everything instantly, whether it be answers, or a returned text, or decisions, or that show that I’ve been wanting to catch on Hulu.  And in fact, when I rush things, I often spoil them.  Those incredible things up ahead?  I also need to be ready for them.  And I’m not always ready rightnow, no matter how much I may want to be.   I’m better after a good rolling-boil, too.

After all, the soup tastes that much better when you have the appetite for it, right? 

Now, I couldn’t resist.  A post like this begs for a recipe, so I have two.  I hope you enjoy this week’s muses:


MOM’S VEGETABLE SOUP (a.k.a. “Rainy Day Vegetable Soup”)

*Contains meat

Ingredients:

1 to 1½  LBS. chuck steak (preferable) or flat chuck roast * 1 bag mixed vegetables * Assorted fresh veggies, cut up small (i.e. mini-carrots, approx. 3 potatoes, one small onion, cabbage) * 1 large can or 2 small cans diced tomatoes * ½ box spaghetti or linguini * Salt and pepper to taste * Beef bouillion cubes

 Preparation:

Cut off as much fat as possible from the meat and put in a large pot with about 8-10 cups water (more for a larger piece of meat).  Add salt and pepper and 2 beef bouillion cubes, and simmer for about 1 ½ hours.  Remove the meat to a plate and add the tomatoes and the cut up veggies to the water, and bring to a slow boil.  After it cools a little, cut up the meat, removing as much fat as possible, so that only the good pieces of meat go back in, and put back in pot.  Cook for 30 minutes, then add the bag of mixed veggies and cook for another ½ hour.  While the veggies are cooking, boil water in a large pot and cook the spaghetti.   After the soup has had time to simmer, put some of the spaghetti in the bottom of a large bowl and add soup on top.  Serve wih bread or saltines.  Enjoy (for a week or so)!

COLLEEN’S VEGETABLE SOUP (a.k.a. “I Wish it Were Raining Vegetable Soup”)

*vegetarian

 Ingredients:

½ medium onion, chopped * 2 C. carrots, chopped * 2 C. celery, chopped * 2 T. finely-minced garlic * 4 T. olive oil * 3-4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced * 1 16-oz. can corn * 1 32-oz. can crushed tomatoes * 1 pkg. frozen or 2 C. fresh spinach * 1.5 – 2 quarts vegetable broth * Italian seasoning * ¼ – ½ bottle red wine (any type – you can add more or less depending on your preference) * ¼ – ½ C. vinegar (balsamic or white – I’ve used both and been happy) * Sriracha, to taste * Salt & pepper, to taste

 Preparation:

In a large stew pot, sauté the onion, carrots, celery and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until tender.  (You may want to add the garlic toward the end so that it doesn’t burn.)  Add the broth, tomatoes, wine, vinegar, a few dashes of sriracha, potatoes, salt & pepper and Italian seasoning.  Cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender.  Add the corn and spinach and simmer a few minutes until the spinach is tender.      

 Note:  Check the broth often, adding vinegar, wine, sriracha, seasonings, etc. as desired.  Play around with the flavors and quantities.  You can also substitute red pepper flakes for the sriracha and/or add one 16-oz. can of kidney beans, if desired.


Oct 7 2011

Magic 8 Ball, Revisited

Dear Magic 8 Ball,

I know that four months ago I said that I didn’t need answers.  And I’m trying to be patient and cool about that.  As my Friends doppelganger, Monica, would say, “I’m breezy!”

I’m pretty proud of myself, really, for letting go of that sense of control.  I’m coaching myself to embrace the chaos and take it one day at a time.  But there’s only so much uncertainty that a girl can take.  I mean, you’ve been (pretty) wrong on several counts.  I’m asking you some important stuff here.  The least you can do is shoot straight. 

Let me offer an alternative.  If you aren’t going to accurately predict the future, perhaps you could try a sardonic and blunt approach, like, “Get your s**t together, Colleen.”  Or, “Stop being a dumba**.”

Another option could be philosophical and vague, a la Rafiki from The Lion King.  This style would allow you to wax poetic.  For example, “The answers live in you.” Or, “In life, there are no answers.  Only more questions.”  (Though that might be a little long for one side of that little cube.)

Lastly, there’s always the slightly-sarcastic, but totally fair, “Don’t ask questions if you don’t want to know the answers.”

So what gives? 

I’m giving you some flexibility, but the urgency is creeping in.  After a certain point, I have to wonder if there’s a difference between equilibrium and limbo.  I could really use your help.  Please see what you can do for me.

Sincerely,

Colleen

 

Thanks to Allison for her birthday Magic 8 Ball back in June, and to Gina for sharing a related link with me this week:

 http://www.horoscope.com/horoscope/genie/magic-love-ball.aspx

Gina’s referral prompted me to look up some other online Magic 8 Balls.  Maybe one of them will produce some answers?  Because I certainly have enough questions…

http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~ssanty/cgi-bin/eightball.cgi

http://www.indra.com/8ball/front.html

http://8ball.tridelphia.net/

(For the record, I asked all of them the same question, and of course got a range of responses.  It figures.)


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.

Strawberries

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.


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.