Oct 19 2016

To All the Circus Freaks (a love letter)

Okay, y’all. I have a confession.

The Circus is hard for me.

(Which, out of context, is a sentence I never thought I’d say. But then again, I married a guy named “Bonesaw.” So I guess all bets are off at this point.)

Anyway, let me explain.

I’m a true Gemini. I have two distinct “selves” who are pretty much constantly jockeying for position in my head and my heart. I’m always working to find balance between them. Both are sincere, and both are genuinely me. But they don’t always get along. It’s a daily struggle.

I love people. I love hugs, and big smiles, and hearing about what makes everyone different and interesting and complex. I don’t like small talk – I want to know you if I’m gonna know you. And I want you to know me, so I sometimes over-share. I love conversation and real talk and connection. I enjoy the spotlight; I tend to talk too much and too loud; I always have an opinion. I think I probably come across as confident and outgoing (even if, on the inside, that isn’t always how I feel).

But this comes at a cost to my other self. While some people draw energy from others, I feel drained by a crowd. Noise and mess and chaos make me uncomfortable. I feel scattered and overwhelmed by too much activity and too many tasks. Disorder, blurred boundaries, and unclear expectations freak me out. I use up my reserves in my more celebratory, demonstrative state. All of the being on takes a lot out of me, consuming much of my already limited head-space.

Now, it isn’t that I don’t enjoy it in the moment. I truly do. I actually think this is one of the reasons I went into teaching. I love performing, engaging, discussing. I generally feel all the emotions in the room – are my kids energized or somber? Is this one having a hard day? Is that one is distracted or embarrassed or sad? My friend Jenna reminds me that “caring is my super power” (because oh, I care so very much). But even as I savor and enjoy the activity and fun, sometimes [often] I find myself dramatically depleted by it.

So I’ve learned that I need to consciously, purposefully feed the other twin. I need quiet alone time, where no one is asking anything of me. And as a middle school teacher, I’ve learned that this is something I need every day if I want to be my best self. Sometimes, if I decline an invitation or I’m flustered by a neighbor who drops by unexpectedly, Bonesaw will say, “But it’s so-and-so! You LOVE so-and-so!” And I have to remind him that it isn’t about the person. It’s about me. And in fact, when it’s someone I really adore, it’s sometimes even harder for me to step away and take care of myself. Because I want to see her! Because I want to have a beer with him! Because I want to make that person feel welcomed and valued and appreciated! Because the very last thing that I want to do is miss out on an opportunity to build a connection or strengthen a relationship; the last thing I want is for someone to feel rejected or hurt by me; the last thing I want is to appear rude or insensitive or selfish. So I find myself putting others ahead of myself … And then eventually I start to crack. And the introverted, rattled, low-energy twin emerges in a big (and not entirely likeable) way.

This is one of the reasons you’ll rarely see me at a merch table or a check-in booth. Because I need to stay ahead of these moments of collapse. Because when I get “flooded” (as my counselor puts it), I know that I need a break. And I need it SOON. When all of the humanity and the feelings and the hugs and the smiles become overpowering, I need to step away and catch my breath. I need to check in with myself in a soft, peaceful place. Turn off my brain, quiet the voices in my head. (And that just isn’t possible if I’m responsible for slinging headbands.)

The high level of activity at the HQ can sometimes trigger a desire to escape. Sometimes, when there’s nowhere to run, I can feel my heart start to race and my head begin to spin. And those are the times when I’m exhausted…When one twin wants to fight the other. When my dual selves suddenly find themselves at war. (Which leads me to more mind-numbing anxiety and worry, which just drains my resources that much more.)

Sometimes I think I’d like to retreat from society altogether. Go full-on hermit, living in a cabin in the woods with an unlimited supply of aged gouda, Harry Potter fanfiction, cider donuts, and Buffy The Vampire Slayer episodes. (I mean, doesn’t that sound effing AMAZING?!)

But …

Then I’d miss out on all the incredible beauty.

I wouldn’t get to hear the drop in “Black is Back,” when I almost always dance a little too hard and fall into someone. I wouldn’t get a big hug from a drunk fairy selling jewelry (I’m talking to you, Becca Honeyman). I wouldn’t get a surprise kiss on the shoulder from Mari Morningstar in the middle of the show. I wouldn’t have a badass wood bar top made by T-Money’s talented hands, or guitar string earrings from Emily. I wouldn’t know Ashe Biles (missed you at the Circus, girl!) or Sasa Frye (when’s that baby coming?!), or Andrew Hartnett or Rob Linder and his band of merry men. I wouldn’t get to marvel at artwork by Jessica and Sean, or see Twinky-P’s little boy grow up, or wax philosophical with Sean Tovson. I wouldn’t get flagged down by the Radkes (of the famous RADKE PARTIES) or do shots with Caren and Anika and Rusmir during the Smell and the Other Senses after-party show. I wouldn’t have had Kama bartending at my wedding, or Nicole to talk with about the X-Files. I wouldn’t have had the honor of officiating Marisa and Casey’s wedding.

I wouldn’t know all of the amazing people who I couldn’t even begin to mention here.

So sure, the activity is hard for me. The constant on-ness is draining, and something I work hard to manage. Having my safe haven at the HQ turned into Circus Central can be … a lot.

But at the intersection of my two selves, somewhere in the crosshairs of activity and quiet, chaos and order, messiness and structure, there is so much magic. Between the music and the art, the dirty martinis and the IPAs, the carnival games and the dancing, the late nights on the loco bus and the early(ish) morning yoga, there’s connection. And because I have these two selves, I choose to live in those crosshairs. For me, it’s never either/or. It’s always both/and. I can absolutely, completely, deeply love the Circus (and especially all of the Circus Freaks!) at the same time that I need to emotionally prepare for it and take care of myself throughout. I can dance and drink and eat and socialize AND stay tuned into what I need each day and each moment, so that I can continue to enjoy it and be present with the friends (not to mention my husband).

Because, ah yes. My hubsaw.

I know it’s strange, but one of the greatest gifts that y’all give me is validation. When you love someone so so much, it’s so much fucking FUN (sorry for the cursing, Momsaw!) to know that others see what you see. When my husband performs, I get to celebrate him with all of you. I get to marvel and think, “He’s incredible!” and see the same thought in all of your eyes. I get to watch you all show him (and Smell and Hoag and Weber … and Twinky-P and Sunny!) that love over and over again, all the time, in great big gestures. I know that y’all appreciate and rejoice in Bonesaw’s talent, his hard work, his integrity, and his kindness. And so do I! I love all of those things about him, too! And if that’s what it means to share him, I’m happy to make space at the table.

So yeah, the Circus can be hard. So can teaching middle schoolers all day, every day, for that matter. (Which, it turns out, is not all that different from attending the Circus…)

But I digress.

I choose you Circus Freaks and Fansaws. I choose Bonesaw (and Hoag and Weber and Smell!). I choose to be Wifesaw, and to walk this path rather than one that dead-ends at an isolated cabin in the woods. I’d rather eat my fancy cheese and watch my Buffy episodes with with all of you anyway. Sure, life is more complicated with a crowd … but love is so much stronger when it’s shared.

Photo Credit: Rusmir Music


Aug 22 2014

Kinney For Life

It was decided at dinner at Contigo.  Or, at least, I decided.  Jeff was still in survival mode.

I was filing for divorce, and Jeff had just moved out of the house that he shared with his wife.  As we both prepared for an unclear future and the realities of returning to single life, picking up pieces of our broken marriages and cobbling together new homes, we examined what was next.

My lease would be up in May, and his sister (and current roommate) was moving permanently to San Antonio in the spring.

“Perfect,” I declared.  “Then we can be roommates!”  It seemed so simple, so obvious, so perfect.

It wasn’t quite as obvious to Jeff.  He couldn’t think that far ahead.  Being my roommate meant a truth too difficult to process just yet.

He chuckled, shrugging over his crispy green beans and white bean dip, unable to think that far ahead just yet.  I understood, seeing the grief still fresh on his face.  I let it drop for the moment.  We continued to pick at a plate of marinated olives and sip our handcrafted hipster drinks, under a Texas sky punctuated by string lights.

Jeff and I were colleagues, then co-coaches, then critique partners.  We watched our middle school ultimate team win its first and only championship together, in dramatic and exciting fashion on one rainy spring day.  We sat in coffee shops on Sunday mornings, gently editing each other’s works-in-progress.  We didn’t know then where we were headed, and how our lives would collide, merge, and crisscross in startling ways.  Tragic, it might seem, but also revelatory.  Eventually and ultimately we were roommates, survivors, and friends.  We were wounded soldiers together, watching pets and spouses fade and disappear in the waning sunset.  We marked these transitions with well-planned dinners that lasted late into the night with probing conversation, embarrassing reality TV, blistering afternoons at Barton Springs down the street, and lots and lots of wine.

Living with Jeff was easy.  We fell into the routine of teaching and writing, running through our old-Austin neighborhood, checking in after long days and sipping coffee in the kitchen on weekend mornings.  One winter, when we were unexpectedly hit by a streak of “ice days,” we made pancakes and watched nostalgic movies in our pajamas, reminding me of snow days with my elementary school friends in Massachusetts.  Jeff took awkward pictures of me when I had a messy case of the flu and couldn’t get up off the couch. I regularly caught him drunkenly snacking in the kitchen after last-call.

Once, after an unusually long absence, he sent me a text:  “Are you ever coming home?”

He was teasing … but he also wanted an answer.

Because living with Jeff on Kinney Avenue, I was claimed again.  I had a person, a family, a partner.  Sure, I was embarking on a new romantic relationship, and Jeff was weaving his way through a shockingly unfamiliar dating scene.  But after cutting some of the ties, and mending old heartaches, and accepting the loneliness that came with divorced life, we belonged to a unit again.  Not a romantic one, and not the kind that comes with rings and strings, but one that was marked by kinship and commitment nonetheless.

As they tend to do, time passed and life continued.  Eventually I moved out, desperately putting my faith in an untrustworthy universe and a very trustworthy man.  The separation from Jeff and our house on Kinney Avenue felt like a breakup.  Like when “Friends” ended after ten years, and it seemed wrong that Joey and Chandler would no longer live in the same building, or that Monica was moving to Long Island.

Jeff left for Italy a couple days ago.  After crashing with me in my ‘new’ home for a brief period of in-between, he finally got on a plane without a return ticket, landing in Genoa to teach and write and make amazing pizza.  I imagine him learning (even better) technique from Italian chefs, speaking the language with stunning European women, and writing the great Italian-American novel.  I imagine him never returning to Austin, to the states, to our house on Kinney Ave.

But then again, it isn’t our house anymore anyway.  Someone else has already moved in, and now it’s theirs.  And one day it will be someone else’s, and someone else’s yet again.

There was no way that we’d live in that little green cottage forever, but some small part of me thought perhaps we could.  Had he not wanted to travel, and had I not been ready (however terrified) to move forward in love, maybe it would have been a nice little life.  With coffee and writing, front-porch sitting and Barton Springs; with happy hours and ice days and reality TV.

Or maybe it will always be perfect this way: Unchanged, finite, and just what we both needed.


Mar 28 2014

To Love Deeply

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”  -Lao Zsu

 

Bonesaw has been nesting.  He’s fixing the pipes in the bathrooms, installing new windows, patching up the walls in the kitchen.  We bought a new washer-dryer, and he’s repaired some of the molding in heavily-trafficked areas.  Every day it’s a new project, a new task.

I know that he’s excited, and that his Papa Bear intuition is kicking in.  I know that he’s showing love, and that these little steps and improvements are gifts.  They are acts of caring.  He’s putting things into place so that I’ll feel welcome; at home; cozy.  And it’s working.  Because Bonesaw loves deeply.  He doesn’t know any other way.  And it does give me strength; it does make me feel powerful and confident and sure.

But loving deeply trips me up.

This weekend I move in.  Someone asked me about my expectations for the moving day.  “Efficiency,” I answered.  But the truth is that, with the crew of friends who will be helping, I think it may just be fun.  Moving is always a struggle, but I hope that the day will end with a celebration.  With pizza and beer and toasts to this new adventure.

Bonesaw and I recently painted my Reading Room – or “Study” as he calls it.  We chose a bright, minty, hopeful green.  We twittered about the revised space excitedly, giddy with the accomplishment, our fingers speckled with paint.

A few days after that, we bought a soft, squishy love seat for one of the corners of the living room.  Its rusty-brown warms up the space, contrasting with the forest green on the walls.

And then, a week later, we got into a knock-down, drag-out fight.  The kind of fight that keeps you up all night, and leaves your eyes puffy from tears and lack of sleep.  I spent the next day wrestling demons and doubt, watching the sunlight change through the blinds on my bedroom windows.

“Soon you won’t have another home to go to,” he reminded me.

And as much as it sounded like a threat – like a vice, like a cage – I know what he meant:

Stick around.  Fight it out.  See it through.

Because my run-the-fuck-away approach of late really doesn’t help.  Nor does it work.  I don’t feel better, and in the end we both lose.  It’s a finely-honed, acutely-learned instinct that really kicked in following past heartache and loss, and it’s just dumb.  There’s no better way to put it.   Still, I did run that day.  Just a little bit.  I packed up all of my things like an angry child with his toys, and I retreated back to my own house.  To a place that would only be mine for exactly one more week.

But that night, we put down our weapons (and I put down my armor) and we held hands.  We barely even talked, but we didn’t really need to.  Because I’m trying to be brave.  I want to live in a room painted “Wishful Green” – a place that breeds faith and trust; confidence and freedom.  A place filled with love, where frustration and anger are okay.  Where they’re safe, even.  I don’t want to watch the sun, alone, pass across the sky.  I want to be bold enough to love deeply.


Jun 28 2013

The Leslie Knope Standard

Last night the Boysaw and I saw World War Z on a bit of a whim.  It’s summertime, I didn’t have to get up early, and the timing was right after our taco dinner.  We scurried off to catch the 8:15 in 3-D (which, when all is said and done, was a bit unnecessary…but that’s beside the point).  We liked it a lot.  I was captivated, my fists clenched almost the entire time.  At one point, the BF was so overcome with anxiety that he actually gagged and thought he was going to throw up.  (I have to say that I laughed at him a little bit.  As deserved.)

So it stood to reason that we needed a palette-cleanser after such an intense flick.  We agreed to put on a carefree, laugh-out-loud sitcom when we got home, just to flush the nightmarish visions of knashing rotten teeth, decaying flesh, and bloodshot eyes from our minds.

Enter Parks and Recreation.

We snuggled in, iPhone in hand, Netflix streaming cued up on our personal electronic device.

I was a latecomer to the Parks and Recreation Fan Club, but now I’ve been fully, whole-heartedly initiated.  When I first saw glimpses of the show, I assumed that its main character, Leslie Knope, was a female incarnation of The Office’s Michael Scott.  Awkward, cringe-inducing, socially inappropriate, and barely likeable.  Barely.  And she is almost those things.

But Leslie brings more to the table than that.  People don’t only begrudgingly like her.  They genuinely love her; respect her; stand up for her.  Sure, she has some of Michael Scott’s quirky naivete, but she also has a sense of integrity and selflessness often missing in Scott’s character.  She possesses a sensitivity and a moral compass that he lacks.

Leslie is infectiously honest, smart, and driven.  She’s a waffle-loving hot mess at times, but she does it with leadership.  Sure, her colleagues’ good intentions to support her are frequently bumbling and riddled with missteps.  But Leslie still manages to motivate an otherwise mismatched, lazy bunch of townies to actually care about what they do, about town politics, and about each other.  She sees the best in her friends and co-workers, and she believes in them despite their often un-likeable, un-relatable qualities.  And if she doesn’t like you?  If you’ve given her a reason to peg you as the enemy?  Well, you’d better get your guard up.  And fast.

This girl knows who she is.  She’s unapologetically genuine and starry-eyed.  She truly believes that miracles and grand gestures happen every day.  (Largely because she makes them happen.)  She will not be stymied by the rival town’s snobbery or superior funding; she will stop at nothing to advocate for her causes (even if it means digging through rubble during her own bachelorette party in the dark).   She’s silly and childlike at the same time that she’s socially aware, political, and respectful.  She maintains a moral integrity often remiss in public officials.

Like every good hero, though, Leslie is also flawed.  Her single-minded good-doing is sometimes her Achilles Heel.  Take, for example, when she plants Indian artifacts in the aforementioned rubble in order to stop the construction of a fast-food restaurant on a plot of would-be park land.  Of course, eventually she can’t manage to follow through on the poor decision.  She owns up to her (admittedly horrific) error in judgment, without excuses or justification.  She owns it, and makes good on her commitment to integrity.  And we still root against the fast-food giant and for Leslie…misfired ethics and all.

Leslie’s feminism reveals itself in surprising ways.  She posts photos of female political leaders – her role models – on the shelves in her office.  She chooses partners who know and embrace her flaws as well as her strengths, and describes her ideal man as “George Clooney’s mind with Joe Biden’s body”.  She loves relentlessly, but she doesn’t compromise who she is for anyone.  She’s sassy and dependable, playful and driven, proud and humble, all at the same time.

I recently shared this article by Linda Holmes on my Facebook page, feeling especially discouraged by the extreme lack of women in this summer’s movie line-up.   (If you haven’t already, it’s well worth the read.  Check it out.)

And I know that one character doesn’t change the face of American pop culture.  Katniss doesn’t mean that people will now see (or look for) just as many heroines as heroes.  Bridesmaids doesn’t mean that people now believe the truth that women can be funny.  These examples are easily dismissed as outliers; the exceptions that prove the rule.  But the more Leslie Knopes that we see out there, that we create and consume, the more we have a fighting chance of presenting female role models to our young girls; of equalizing the number of male and female characters in our books, movies, and TV shows; of reminding the American public that, despite what they are consuming in unbelievable quantities, girls can be powerful and heroic and smart and funny.  And everything other quality that makes for an interesting, unique, memorable character.

Watching a few episodes of Parks and Recreation restored a little bit of my faith in American popular culture, at the same time that it rocked me to sleep and swept away the nightmares of World War Z.  It isn’t revolutionary, but if we’re looking for female characters, Leslie Knope is a damn good standard.  It’s time we started holding ourselves to that bar.


Jun 20 2013

“Existential Scabs”

A friend recently observed that I’m drawn to stories that seek answers; that posit about life’s purpose and meaning; that present some glimmer of light in the darkness.

“You think a lot about that stuff,” he argued.  “Way more than I do.  Talking to you, I’ve started to do it as well.”

And I was surprised.  For one thing, it hadn’t ever occurred to me that other people might not think about proverbial ‘meaning of life’ as much as I do, or even at all in some cases.  And for another, I’d never really considered myself all that…existential.  I remember reading a line by Jon Krakauer from Into the Wild.  He said something about “picking unhappily at my existential scabs,” and I thought, “Oh man, what a pretentious load of bullshit.”  I swore never to write a turn of phrase like that myself.

Yet here I am.  Picking at my own scabs and scars and boogers like a little kid on a playground.

And that’s probably why the swell of a good musical theater ballad makes my chest tighten with adrenaline, and why my chin crumbles in the falling action of a good book.  It’s why I desperately cling to connection, and why I relentlessly look inward for purpose.

And sure, that’s why I’m comfortable arguing, here, that for me THE MEANING OF LIFE is love.  Cliched and predictable though it is, that’s my truth.  And no, I don’t necessarily mean romantic love (although that too).  I mean self-acceptance; holding a teammate’s hand on a sideline; resting a tired head on the shoulder of your father; being kissed by your seventh grade boyfriend or your 72-year-old wife; walking your dog; planting a slowly-growing plant and observing it gently wind up and around your garden gate; watching your baby sleep.  I mean relationships and community.  A world constructed by little moments of shared experience, strung together like popcorn on a Christmas tree and illuminated by softly-glowing twinkly lights.

So yeah, I guess do look for an explanation and a reason for life, for humanity, for – hell – waking up in the morning.  Absofuckinglutely I do.


Apr 8 2013

Spring Break

Morning light on my face, a book in my hand, laundry swaying placidly on the line.  Wrapped in an Amherst throw blanket, perched on a quirky, comfy chair, my dachshund resting warmly on my lap.  No music but the birds, my toes dangling off the front edge of the porch.  Quiet, peaceful togetherness.  His laptop, my coffee, a newly-cleared backyard.

And then his hands on my shoulders with a reassuring squeeze, and his breath at my ear.  A kiss on the cheek.  A few hushed words, exhaling affection.

Shortly I’ll go to my doctor’s appointment, and he’ll go play tennis.  We’ll meet again this afternoon when the sun is high and the rest of the world has woken up to join us, teeming with life and alertness.

But the Right Now is ours.  And it’s my favorite.

 

 


Mar 13 2013

“There is Nothing Ironic About Show Choir!”

Has anyone else noticed?

About a season or two ago, Glee got a little carried away.  And that’s saying a lot for a show about high school kids in an underdog show choir.  But sometime between Santana’s lesbian “this is why she’s a bitch” plot line, Sam’s foray into stripping to feed his family, and this year’s rotating romantic spiderweb, it lost its way.  I continued watching, but with a sense of mild distaste and boredom.  I was starting to feel like the writing was merely a vehicle for the music.

But, in all honesty, that’s why I kept going back anyway.  For every poorly-developed character there was also a rousing rendition of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (gush).  And before you call me out for thinking way too deeply about an adolescent teen drama, let me just say, yes – I know that I’m giving this too much of my precious time.  But for a musical theater/pop culture junkie like me, it really isn’t that strange.

And also, in my recent musings on the subject, a bit of truth occurred to me:

Yes, it was a bit arbitrary when Santana came out (or was outed, depending on perspective).  And true, we stopped caring about Sue Sylvester when she got a heart, long before she decided to have a late-in-life baby as a single mom.  And YES, it’s bizarre that Tina is now apparently in love with Blaine.  (Although it’s hard for us to believe that someone Blaine’s age is even in high school anymore…So maybe we should just suspend our disbelief to begin with.)  And now – spoiler alert – Ms. Pillsbury and Finn?!  COME ON.

But then again, this is high school.  Romances bud and end in an instant.  You date your friends’ exes, because let’s be honest:  You just don’t know that many people.  By second semester sophomore year, you’ve forgotten that you even had friends as a freshman.  You swoon over your teachers, you flirt with whoever makes you feel comfortable, and you “accidentally” make out with ill-advised partners.  You wonder about your sexuality.  You experiment with your fashion sense, your taste in music, your reading material, your hair.  You take your family for granted.  You fall in love a hundred times…and then a hundred times more.

It’s all very dramatic.  And to the outside world – i.e. adults – it probably seems trivial and ridiculous.  But it’s yours.  And with all of the hormones, and the newness of every experience, and the microcosm that is high school, it’s natural.  It’s normal.  It’s to be expected.

So maybe I’ve been too hard on the Glee writers.  I still cringe – a lot – watching the characters fumble around so much.  And I admit that a lot of it still seems implausible and annoying to me.

But then again, so does adolescence.


Jan 29 2013

A Love(?) Letter

Dear 2012,

 

I know, I know, it’s hard to say goodbye.  I don’t want you to feel slighted, now that I’m welcoming 2013 so warmly.  After all, you and I certainly had some good times.

2011 was like a bad relationship:  Dramatically fun, terrifically dangerous, and all-consuming.  That year was wrought with change and loneliness, and it presented the crippling task of facing some hard truths in my life.  I loved it in many ways and for many reasons, and I rode that wave with everything that I had.  But it’s a miracle that I made it through alive.

So you were a healthy change of pace, 2012.  If you were a novel, your theme would be “recovery”.  If you were a song, your tempo would be gentle and light.  If you were a painting, you’d be filled with frothy purples and creamy yellows.

You brought me to a new house in a thriving part of Austin.  You gave me a new roommate – another writer/divorcee/teacher whose talent in the kitchen has helped me pack (back) on a couple of those pounds that I’d lost, and whose thoughtful conversation has provided yet more insight into my life and the world.  You carried me into my second year at a new school, where I found my groove and set the tone in my classroom.  A dear friend moved away this year.  Others had babies and got married.  Some reinvented themselves, while others still searched for answers that may or may not exist.

Alas, your even-handedness led to some pretty considerable writer’s block.  There’s truth, in my case, that the poet needs the pain, and my pain was far less acute for the twelve months we had together.  But as December drew to a close, I started to work through that.  I found the inspiration you were subtly, quietly granting me.  So you and I finished on a creative high note.

2012, You offered me a new love.  And without getting into the mushy details there, let me just say – Thank youLike, a whole lot.  I’m taking him with me to meet 2013, FYI.

You provided me with the opportunity to breathe again; to assess and reset and settle into a newly-renovated life; to apply the lessons I’d learned (albeit messily) in 2011.  You weren’t free of conflict and struggle, but I came to you older and wiser.  I wasn’t the Colleen of 2010 or 2011.  I was changed, and I think for the better.

So cheers, 2012.  You were pretty great, and I’m sorry to see you go.  Thanks for the memories.

 

Love,

Colleen


Jan 18 2013

Layovers and Standbyes

I was halfway to the airport in Boston, on my last day of Winter Break, when I realized that I’d screwed up the flight time.  I was going to miss it by minutes.

It was entirely my own fault.  I just hadn’t paid close enough attention.  I’d been on vacation for two weeks, and forgot what it was like to be on a schedule.  To have to worry about things like, I don’t know, time and responsibilites.

So it was that I found myself stuck in Logan International Airport, on standby, unsure when I’d be back in Austin.  I found a quiet spot to set down my dog (yes, the poor pup was traveling with me), dug my cell phone out of my bag, and tried to slow my breathing.

I could have spent the day beating myself up, wallowing in teary-eyed boredom.  And in all honesty, I almost did.  I started out with some very watery minutes on the phone with my boyfriend.  After all, I look forward to things with such fervor and enthusiasm, and the letdown when they’re over can be pretty devastating for me.  I always have to fight against a sinking feeling of loss, as if I should have somehow bottled the moments of carol-singing and fireside-sitting.  Like now that they’re over, they never existed.  Like they were only a sepia-toned, nostalgic series of good dreams.

Missing a flight on my last day on the east coast certainly didn’t help take the sting out of my looming sadness.  But Bonesaw encouraged me not to be too hard on myself.

After all, I’d just spent two full weeks on blissful vacation.  I ate well.  Drank too much.  Watched movies and sipped tea by the fire.  Went sledding (SLEDDING!) during a perfect, gentle snowstorm.  I took a walk around a frosty horse farm.  Did yoga with my very first instructor.  Worked out with my mom.  Went out to my favorite hometown restaurant.  Took photos with Santa and rode on a train through twinkly lights.  Made new friends and connected with old.

This trip was as close to perfect as it could get.  If a few long hours in a chilly airport are the worst of my problems, I have it shamefully good.

Soothed by the sound of Bonesaw’s voice, I bought a coffee and a pastry.  Settling back into my chair, I tackled the next obstacle:  How would I get to my house in Austin?  There was no telling when I’d arrive back in Texas.  It’s Friday night, I lamented silently.  Surely people will have plans!  Who’ll be available to wait around and then pick me up at a moment’s notice?

So I put out a frantic call to half a dozen friends, who responded with universal support and reassurance.  It became utterly clear that I wouldn’t be stranded at the airport after a grueling day of travel.  They’d take care of me; make the drive so that my poor dog and I could get home.  I started to feel guilty, in fact, for asking all of them in such a panic.  But I also felt overwhelmingly loved and buoyed by their replies…which caused a mild round of weepy gratitude.  Abby even reminded me that “Alcoholic drinks at airport bars often help with travel stress,” prompting a much-needed laugh.

Over the next few hours I wrote a letter to Bonesaw and scribbled away in my journal.  I touched base with a few close friends in a series of random Friday-morning text messages.  I plugged in my headphones and watched Netflix Streaming on my iPhone, contentedly whittling away the time.

The minutes passed quickly, and then I was going through security, hoping to catch a flight on standby.  Once again, I took stock:  I have a great job and even better friends.  I have a boyfriend I adore.  I have the resources, the skills, and the means to get myself out of difficult situations.  I have love in my life beyond measure.

I didn’t know if I’d make that first flight.  But I knew that the flight was a minor detail; a variable; an inconsequential matter.  The significant was rarely more clear.


Jan 11 2013

…And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

Anyone who knows me is aware that I have a bit of an addiction.  To Christmas.

(Yeah, yeah…I realize that I’m a few weeks late on this post, but cut me a break.  I was busy celebrating!)

It isn’t just about the specific Christian holiday for me – it’s about the season altogether.  I was raised in a Norman-Rockwell postcard-perfect New England town, and my college was much the same.  For me, December has always meant warmth and togetherness and love.  I make potato latkes, homey soups and stews, trade gifts with friends, and avidly decorate my house.  I start planning my Christmas Day meal in October.  I’m just as happy to curl up by the fire on New Year’s Eve as I am to party in downtown Boston (or Austin, depending on the year).

This year, I was happy to make it back to Amherst for the kind of holiday that I remember with my family.  I spent one of my days in New England traveling to Connecticut, where I met some new family members.  The afternoon was filled with festive foods, games, sock puppet construction, mischievous dogs, and carol-singing.  It was my idea of the perfect Christmas party in so many ways.

That crew sang a raucous version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” … which got me thinking about all of the many things that I love about the holidays.  Some of those things are personal and specific to me.  Others are traditions for other families, too.  In honor of that song, here are just twelve of my favorite holiday traditions:

#1:  Working out with my mom

When I come home from Austin, I’m thrown off my fitness routine.  What to do without a gym membership?  My yoga studio?  Texas temperatures?  My boyfriend’s backyard weights?  My ultimate games?  But in truth, I often get a better workout back in Massachusetts, going to my mom’s gym for her intervals and cardio classes.  I always look around at the post-menopausal group and think, with no small amount of hubris, “I got this.”  And without fail, I’m dead wrong.  So wrong that I find myself bent over now and then, hands on my knees, struggling to catch my breath, feeling my groin muscles scream at me during squat after squat.

My mom is a true athlete.  She’s a rock star.  I should know better than to underestimate her fitness – and that of her friends.  But most of all, I love the example that she sets and the togetherness that these workouts provide.  Sure, I still go for runs alone, hit up my old yoga instructor for a class or two, and head to the Amherst College gym with my dad.  But there’s something fun and special about those morning classes with my mom.

#2:  Watching my younger brother open presents

I’ve heard parents say that they get to experience the wonder of Christmas through the eyes of their young children.  My family has much the same experience with my 28-year-old brother, Brendan.

Brendan was born with a rare syndrome that’s made him developmentally disabled.  He’s intelligent and social, humorous and fun, but he still maintains some of the innocence and joy that we usually only see in kids.  Brendan doesn’t care what’s inside the gifts; he just wants the experience of tearing into the paper.  He laughs out loud, signing “more” immediately after he’s finished tossing each box aside.  (This inevitably leads to all of us allowing him to open our remaining presents.)

It was the same deal this year when my parents and I took Brendan to a local park to see a display of model trains, visit Santa and Mrs. Claus, and ride on a real train that drove us through holiday lights set up along the  grounds.  The four of us linked arms against the cold, sang along with the Christmas music playing on the ride, and watched B light up just as much as the displays.

#3:  Yankee Candles

It’s a store where it’s Christmas year-round!  And they have candles with scents like “Cookies for Santa” and “Home for the Holidays” and “Christmas Eve”!

‘Nuff said.

#4 & #5:  Twilight Runs and Twinkly Lights

On Christmas day, I took a light run around my parents’ neighborhood at twilight.  My family was waiting on me to watch a movie, and the darkness was rapidly encroaching on the faux Victorians.  There was no time to spare.

After the presents and breakfast, I’d spent most of the day preparing dinner items, talking to my family, and napping by the fire.  So far, it had been perfect.  And that trend continued as I realized that twilight was actually the perfect time for some private moments of activity.  The lights were coming on in the neighborhood houses, making the snow and ice on the trees sparkle with a pre-sunset glow.  The air was chilly without being freezing.  I passed a few people, but for the most part it was a quiet, peaceful thirty (okay, twenty) minutes of alone time.  Just me, my iPod, and my thoughts.  I felt fast and healthy.  I watched my breath billow out in front of me.  I soaked in the brisk Christmas spirit amidst the growing dusk, the temperature, and the calm.

# 6, #7, and #8:  Sleeping in, Waking up early, and Naps by the Fire

I’m a teacher.  We work long hours for little pay and even less thanks and understanding.  My school begins its day extra-early, so most of us wake before 6:00am and stay up late grading papers.

Despite the difficult hours, I really love my job.  But when it’s winter break, and the hours stretch into days, and I have two weeks to visit my family…I’m even more thankful for what I do.  Because during those days, I can sleep in with my puppy, or lie in bed with my book until noon.  I can wake up early (like I did on Christmas) to make the dough for the dinner rolls.  I can stay up late watching movies or writing blog posts, knowing that there’s always time for an afternoon nap by the fire.

I wouldn’t want to go without a schedule all the time.  But during the days of Christmas break, I relish the lack of structure.

#9:  FOOD

I’m a pretty healthy person.  I try to practice portion control, and I really do love fruits and veggies.  I rarely touch fried food, and although I love cheese I’m attempting to cut back.  I love to cook, but I make an effort to balance my diet with exercise.

So when I do indulge, I go big.

At my house on Christmas, I make the dessert.  This year it was pumpkin pie and chocolate bourbon pecan.

On Christmas morning, my family eats a sausage-egg casserole that my mom prepares the night before.  We usually open our presents while it bakes, sipping coffee and listening to our growling stomachs.

Around ten years ago, we lost a good friend to cancer.  We spent many holidays with her, and she always made the best rolls.  Before she died, I got the recipe.  Ever since, Betsy’s rolls have been an important contribution to my Thanksgiving and Christmas tables.

This year we made turkey, but there’s also been ham and roast beef in the past.  My dad insists on mashed potatoes, and my brother usually eats a plate-load of stuffing.  If we can manage, we take a cold walk post-dinner to try and work off our food baby bellies.

#10:  Crowded Churches

I admit, this one is a little silly.

My family is notoriously late.  To everything.  It’s, like, a thing with us.  And we all know that Christmas Eve mass is popular and generally packed.  Add to that the fact that my brother is in a wheelchair and limited to where he sits, and you have a recipe for family grumpiness, frustration, and (inevitably) standing in the aisle rather than sitting comfortably through the service.  One year my middle brother and I even played hookie and got a drink at the bar down the street to avoid standing for 90 minutes in the choir loft.  (Not my proudest moment, but it was pretty damn fun.)

So as much as the whole will-we-get-a-seat thing can cause stress, it also brings us together in some kind of dysfunctional way.  We squeeze in close to each other; help with everyone’s jackets; whisper a little to loudly; critique the sermon; pick up Chinese food afterward.  It isn’t always pretty, and sometimes one of us gets a little impatient or short-tempered with the rest, but it wouldn’t be Christmas Eve without it.

#11 and #12:  Cookie Parties and Gift Exchanges

Growing up, I watched my mom come home from cookie parties with her friends all through December.  She’d come through the door with a tray covered in treats: chocolate mint squares and molasses chews; pumpkin bars and peanut brittle; jam thumbprints and peanut butter drops.

So what was I to do but start my own tradition when I got to college?

I started hosting my own cookie exchanges with my field hockey teammates around junior year, when we all got apartments and actually had working kitchens.  The gatherings were a hit.  (I still dream about Kelly’s 7-Layer bars and compare my own snowball cookies to Megan’s.)  Now that I’m in Austin, I’ve taken the tradition with me and added a gift exchange to the mix.  This year we had almost thirty people packed into Amanda’s kitchen, and we filled the house with the smell of mulled cider.  For the first time, we had the next generation there when Molly brought her daughter, Adelaide.  The five-year-old squealed (nay, screamed) with delight when she – quite miraculously – selected a gift that included a Dora the Explorer Santa hat.

I occasionally share the spoils with my students, but it isn’t even about the sweets anymore.  Now it’s a tradition that simply rings of friendship and urban family, and helps make Austin feel like home…even if it doesn’t have snow.