Tuesday, December 9, 2014

before they move away

When you live in Southern California, you get accustomed to certain parts of life: June gloom, celebrity sightings, incredibly un-functional fashion. And people moving in, and then moving away.

Another of my good friends is moving, and the decision came quickly (though the option was simmering for longer than I knew). It's not just one friend who's moving, actually, but a family - a woman, her husband and their dear nearly-one-year old son. I've been rooting for them to stay, but even more I've been rooting for their joy and nurturing. For now, moving to a place with some better job options and more family is that.

So I'm doing what I've learned to do in my ten years of living in a transient city: helping them wrap up their time with us as best I can.

Last night, that meant watching their son as they packed. I was really looking forward to this because, have you ever been around a one-year-old? I mean, getting them to eat or take a nap can be tricky, but all I was tasked with was being with him so his parents could get some things done. I was told this might include some snuggles, and I knew there would be some giggles, so I was all in. After arriving and catching up with my friend, I was led to the little guy's bedroom where we'd hang out for an hour or two. And then my friend closed the door and I was like, what the heck am I doing?

I mean, we read two books, played with his basket of shoes, found a few blocks. I found some tickly spots on him. I tried to talk to him because I heard that's a good thing, and tried to help him clap. But for that first stretch of time I felt a little bored, and then felt bad for being bored when I was with this incredible little guy. The thing about a one-year-old is that most activities don't last too long, so I felt like I was constantly looking for something new to entertain him with. And then I was trying to entertain myself. I reached for my phone but remembered I'd left it in the other room (and was then grateful for that).

Eventually we settled in. We played alongside each other, and I tracked him as he crawled to see what it was that he saw, what he was crawling toward. He made a few grunts and I imitated. We danced around a little bit. I treasured the moments he wanted to touch my face or be held or laughed. Soon I was done trying to distract him and myself. I was close to just being with him.

And then his mom came in and like that it was time for bed. He and I, we gave each other a snuggle-hug and I said goodbye (though not for the final time, that's not until next week). The good thing about living here is definitely not the seeing people move away. But the gift of having them move in, even if it's not forever, is something that can last.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

that special kind of light

"... in your light we see light." - Psalm 36:9

So very grateful for many things, but especially the light -- the kind in which we see things as they really are. Happy thanksgiving, and may you enjoy light today, whereever you are.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

grown-up christmas list

No, that title isn't a riff off of the Christmas song that Amy Grant sings where she altruistically asks for gifts like world peace and food for the poor. This is a real, indulgent list of things that will make me wake up giddy like my 5-year-old self on Christmas morning when my parents rolled their eyes and told me to go back to sleep until the sun was up and they'd had their coffee. Family, I hope you're reading this.

Lots and lots of books. Yes, those words are all separate links to books I want. And yes, I need them.

The KeepCup. I have been driving to work with a regular mug half-filled with lukewarm coffee in one hand (on the speed-race-track that is the 110 freeway). I have also been buying a lot of coffee in paper coffee cups. This will help me kill two bad habits with one stone.

Madewell Zip Transport Tote. Two things that are ideal in a bag: big enough to hold my journal, my Bible and at least one book (oh, and sunglasses, my wallet and a water bottle). And a long strap to wear it messenger style. This has both, plus it's beautiful.

The Ostrich Pillow. This showed up in my facebook feed. I'm touched by how well facebook has gotten to know me over the years. I basically do this with a hooded sweatshirt and a blanket whenever I can, so having a pillow ready-made for this purpose would really help me out.

Monday, November 17, 2014

today being a woman

Today being a woman was*:

  • Being told my one of my (very kind and also very silly, male) running mates that I have two secret admirers on Skid Row
  • Being told by a (not very stable) man who I am pretty sure is one of those said admirers that he "likes my neck" (not, "you have a nice neck" or "you're neck is pretty" but "I like your neck.")**
  • Having a slightly confusing interaction with a man whom I realized was trying to hold the elevator for me and my (female) coworker
  • Receiving several lingering looks from a man at Starbucks who looked to be with a girlfriend (at the very least, a girl friend)***
  • Feeling empowered when I walked into the auto parts store and found the head light bulb I needed, which feeling soon turned to frustration and a little bit of foolishness as I cracked a minor part, struggled to detach the old bulb from the power source, then couldn't get my hood to close right when I was finally done
  • Deciding not to ask my apartment manager or another (male) neighbor for help (and going to the internet instead)
  • Seeing my male neighbor minutes later**** and receiving his compliment on my boots, which, along with my dress, I still had on from work  

*I recognize that this list isn't all of what it meant to be a woman today, but these interactions seemed representative and poignant, especially juxtaposed with each other.

**Necks are a thing?

***Men in Los Angeles take more liberty to look than in other cities, I've noticed. There are probably other aspects to this list that are determined by place, too.

****Where were you a few minutes earlier, buddy?

Monday, November 10, 2014

one really ugly pie

At a time when the internet feeds us such beautiful images of food, bodies, homes, most of which have been made to look effortless but which in fact cost much time and money, and which images were likely photoshopped or filtered or altered in some way from the original... at a time like this, I bring you one really ugly pie.

I made this pie last night. You may not be able to tell, because it is so ugly, but it is a pumpkin pie with a gingersnap cookie crust. I spun the cookies in the food processor until they were crumbs, added sugar and butter, then flattened the mixture into the pie dish. While the crust baked, I mixed home-pureed kabocha squash with sugar, eggs, milk and spices. Then I poured the pumpkin mixture into the shell and let it bake. I'd made this pie before, several times, so I really wasn't that worked up about it.

The poor thing looked a little iffy when I pulled it out of the oven, but I thought I'd let it catch up with itself. I checked in on it after it had some time to cool and I grimaced, even made some sort of audible noise, though I was alone. That is one damn ugly pie. (I don't like to curse, but this one deserves an expletive.)

I am trying not to reach too deep with this pie. I'm trying not to think of all the things I've baked or cooked recently and how they haven't turned out great, how I feel like I'm losing my touch (if I ever had one). I don't want to analyze too deeply what is happening for me when I'm rushing in the kitchen even though I have no place to be except on my couch (which was the case last night). I don't want to sit here and wonder for too long how many of these kinds of pies are in the kitchens of bloggers and food critics but don't find their way to the internet (this guy can't be the only one out there, right?). I am also trying not to wonder how much I judge myself by such inconsequential productions  - soon this pie will be eaten (at least I can hope someone will eat it) and may never be thought of again.

Except that now I'm posting a full reflection of it, along with a photo, so I guess this ugly pie may last a little longer than I'd intended.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

these posts are my scraps

A week or two ago I finished a heartbreaker of a book. Those are always the hardest to follow, so I waited on what I should read next. Some kind of presence nudged me to a book I've had on my shelf for a few years, one I bought at a used bookstore because I'd heard good things about it, and there it was, gently loved and only $7. It's called The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers. I'd been thinking about this book a lot over the past few months, but it's one about writing and I try to be careful about these books because they can lead to procrastination without a whole lot learned.

But this book is renewing my confidence in books about writing. Every chapter is exactly what I need to hear to the very hour. Last week, for example, I had been revising an essay in which my former housemates are mentioned. As a courtesy, I'd been planning to send them the essay to read before I submitted it, but as I got closer to finishing it, I became more and more anxious about having them read it. I made a few last changes and sent it off, hoping I'd explained myself well enough in my emails to them. Then I drove home from the coffee shop where I'd been working and finished reading the chapter called The Wicked Child, which is really about the risks of writing about your tribe, your community, your family. This essay wasn't about them per se, but it involved my time living with them, which makes it about us. The author had a bunch of helpful admonitions for me, many of which I'm still chewing on. This one sticks out:

I can't think of a risker business than writing. Not only because so few succeed in conventional terms, with publication and some payment, but because it almost certainly requires banishment. First, there is the literal act of removing oneself, of choosing solitude. Then there is the psychological separation, holding oneself apart. And finally, the potential rejection of friends and family, critics and publishers... But you cannot censor yourself; successful writing never comes about through half-measures.

More on that another time - maybe. What I really wanted to write about is what she starts with, which is answering the question about why one should write. She calls the chapter The Ambivalent Writer. She's an editor, so she knows how many of us are just that. Most of her advice is reminiscent of Rilke (a la "must I write?') but in modern and straightforward terms, and taking it a step further to encourage us to unearth not just an obsession to write but what our obsessions compel us to write. Finding form and subject is like finding a mate, she writes. "You really have to search, and you can't compromise -- unless you can compromise, in which case your misery will be of a different variety." She writes about honoring the forms and subjects that invade our dreams and diaries, of mining the scraps of what we write, and of listening to the voices that keep calling to be written.

As you might gather from my erratic posting, I struggle with knowing what to write about. That's part of the reason my job works well for me -- they tell me what to write about, and usually I'm able to do it with some enthusiasm. Though let me tell you that they day they took me off Urology as one of my designated programs, I was a happy woman. Even that tells me something -- I enjoy writing about my organization's efforts to address spiritual or emotional challenges and support patients beyond the bedside, or studies about how cancer affects large populations of people, or the disease's impact on women. Sorry men, my writing heart is not beating for your prostates, not now anyway.

But something I'm hopeful about is that some of the most random or messy posts here could still be useful because they can point to write I notice and what calls to me. They tell me what I care or notice enough to write about. They are my scraps that I can mine.

Monday, October 27, 2014

leaving sisters

requisite Charlie's Angels pose, taken weeks before I moved to LA

When we were young, my sisters and I all slept in the same bedroom. Eventually, Lori left for college, which meant that I moved from the mattress on the floor to the big full-sized bed with Andi. Two years later, she left, too. I had the bed to myself. I set my own picture frames on the dresser we used to share and spread my clothes out in the closet.

During those years when we all lived together with my parents, that one bedroom was our shared private space, we laughed and fought and co-existed. Lori lost it when Andi and I teased her about liking a boy named Carl Long, whose name we found on the covers of her text books or in notes we found of hers. Andi begged Lori to wear some of her clothes, which always escalated to screaming fights in the early morning before they walked to the bus stop - Lori insisting that she didn't want people to see them wear the same thing, and Andi being stubborn and manipulative (as we all were at times). When the screaming started between them, I hid in my parents' room and willed them to like each other again. For me, Sunday afternoons were some of the best times to pick fights, because I had my church shoes on. The hard, pointy tips could bruise shins with one strong kick.

Our story is the same as many others. When Lori left for college, she somehow morphed from distant older sister to insightful mentor. I still have a note she wrote to me at the beginning of my sophomore year with advice about guys. Andi chose the same school as Lori, where their friendship grew, and where I visited on Friday nights and met their friends, slept in their dorm rooms and ate with them in their food court. By the time I was in college, we all made efforts to visit each other, to email and call. We talked about God, about our parents, about boys. Andi started dating the man who is her husband now. Lori moved to Virginia, then back. We became adults, and friends.

I loved being close to my sisters. For a few years during and after college, I lived in the same town as Lori, and then even went to the same church and shared friends. Then, I decided to move to Los Angeles for two years, a decision I assumed would be reversible at the end of that time if I didn't like it. I didn't know then that two years and a move across the country are things you can never reverse.

And here I am, ten years later and still living three thousand miles away from them. They've moved, too, which means that I see them once a year, twice if I'm lucky. The last time the three of us were all together was nearly two years ago now.

Tonight Andi texted me about the new Taylor Swift album. I told her I'd burn it and send it to her if she wanted. "Yes please!" She texted back. And just the thought of showing her my love by sending a CD felt so precious and at the same time not nearly enough. I don't know if she knows, if Lori knows, that I would do anything I could for them. I love them more than anyone else I know, to be honest. And so texts like that one make living this far seem ridiculous. I don't want to burn her a cd, I want to sit down on the couch with her while the cd is playing, or make dinner to it, or drive to it, or dance with her kids to it. For the thousandth time this month, as every month, I asked myself, "Why am I living here? Why don't I move closer?"

And that same verse that I've heard and read and recited these ten years came to mind, unsummoned but stuck in my heart: Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold in this time...