Monday, July 30, 2012

running in the morning

This morning I woke slowly to the sound of nothing. It was still dark outside, the only light from the porch of a bungalow outside my one open window. I rolled over to check my clock, willing it to show me a time hours from when I needed to wake up. Instead, it read just one minute before my alarm would sound. I lied in bed a few minutes longer, scorning Mondays and suddenly remembering that I’d left my car on the street overnight and may have a parking ticket. Thank goodness for the capacity to remember the sun, to recall it’s steady rising, because on mornings like these that is the only thing that can pull me from my bed before it’s already there. From there it was contacts in, clothes on, shoes laced up, door locked behind me, an empty street before me. I ran across and down and away and I was off. Slowly the sky woke up as I ran, from black to grayish blue like the colors Picasso used. I ran down the hill, blindly ripping through spiders’ webs, all those hours of work gone with one sweeping move. I counted down my steps on the way back up, and as I rounded the corner home something told me to look up. Behind the mountains the sun stirred, splashing orange and yellow against the now bright blue sky. The colors, which we give names in order to distinguish one from the other, blended into each other like they knew a secret we never want to face: that bleeding doesn’t hurt as much as they say, that it’s actually what connects one thing to the other. I ran fast at the end because I could, and I knew that pain as the kind that feels good. After I stopped, I untied my shoes to retrieve my key from the lace and walked through the front door. The house was still, and no one knew the quiet world of things I held and let go of even before the sun roused them awake.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

inwardness and reading

I stumbled upon the Underground New York Public Library last week or the week before, I can't remember. Since then I've been thinking about how to share it here, with you. At first I was like, "wow, look at all these people in New York reading!" And that still amazes me. The photographs, though, really invite you into the lives of these New Yorkers. You see a young beautiful woman in a sleek dress and heels standing on a platform surrounded by strangers while secretly indulging in the adventures of new kindreds (or maybe the characters are strangers to her, too). Or wonder how a young black gentleman decided to pick up Nietczche. Or what this woman is discovering that keeps her from putting her book down even to walk through the station. I also wonder what the people around them -- the ones who aren't reading -- what they're thinking about. (And I LOVE that there are so few people on cell phones in any of these photos!)

Here's part of a statement from the photographer:

What I’m showing isn’t about reading or books, actually. I’m photographing inwardness... This means that I’m not just finding people with books on the subway and photographing them. I’m finding a connection with their inner worlds (and with those of the people around them too) and I’m photographing the event of it.

I find that the juxtaposition of inwardness in such a public, shared space is part of what's so fascinating about these photos. It says something, I think, about being able to locate and connect with yourself where ever you are, whomever you're with.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

she can laugh

"she can laugh at the days to come..." - Proverbs 31:26

Tonight I lie in bed with my window open, and my computer open, too. I came here intending to read but instead find myself distracted by things I think I need to do on the internet. Cool air floats into my dim room just above my head where a window is open. The house is silent, but somewhere in the apartments next door there is a man practicing opera in what I am assuming is Italian and with only a moderate amount of talent. And he is doing this very loudly. He stops for a few minutes and I think he's done. Then he starts in again, with more vigor, and every once in a while he hits that high note and tries for a vibrato.

This after a long day. There was a seminar at work that turned long and boring, discomfort from having to hold my pee too long (twice), stray looks from the 15 month old I live with that seemed to hold all of the misunderstanding and disinterest I sense from people around me and made me want to run into my room and cry (yes, I might be pms-ing and by the way, she's recovering from jet lag). There were also intentions to be productive that I didn't meet and a few decisions that I need to make but don't feel like I have enough information to settle on anything or the resources to have what I really want. And also the temptation to give up, even on the things I really want.

So this opera singer might literally be pushing on my last nerve.

Life is strange, and laughter is usually the best way to acknowledge that. And it's basically the only thing I've got tonight. Well, besides prayer, which also helps, but I'm not sure that will work with the opera singer.

Monday, July 16, 2012

now i can call it summer

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My feet have felt hot sand and lapping water. My skin has been red and hot from just a little too much time in the sun. My hair has been blown to bits (that's what my mom would always say) from a car ride with the windows open.

Now I can call it summer.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

a sound of rain

"...for there is a sound of rushing rain." -1 Kings 18:41

Southern California is a dessert, though walking through my neighborhood, you might not guess that right away. You’d walk past lush lawns and roses that teeter over fences greet you with their bright colors. You’d hear lawn mowers almost any morning of the week and breathe deeply of that fresh cut grass scent that reminds us things are growing.

But it actually doesn’t fool you for long. There are places that give it away. Like the LA River, which is less a river than a concrete ditch with a trickle of water that smells like the slums of Manila. And the hiking trails, which are like a celebrity without make up. At first you might feel embarrassed for her, but you quickly appreciate what’s true, even if unpolished.

Seasons are different here, and I had to adjust at first. When I moved, I arrived in June, and I didn’t feel a drop of rain until October (the 14th, to be exact, I remember). Every winter and early spring I wonder if this rain, or this one, will be our last for the next six months as we watch any green that grew on hillsides gradually crisp to gold.

Today is July 12, and last night I woke and swear I heard rain falling. I don’t know for sure if I was awake or just dreaming. When I went running early this morning, the only sign of water was the puddles from sprinklers that aim over the border of lawns. But the sky was dark with the kind of clouds that are weighed down by something, and they were slow to let any sun shine through. I guess I’m ok with the mystery, and in most ways it doesn’t matter. A light sprinkling won’t do much to help our browning lawns and hillsides.

Most of me just wants to believe in the probability of rain in a dessert, even when it’s just as simple to dismiss it as a dream.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

since i'm not looking out this window

My housemates are all away, and so is half my office. It's time for summer vacation. And I'm feeling it. Some internal rhythm is set to pack my bags and jump on a plane with all the others, but that's not in the cards for this summer. I'm stuck in everyday life.

So since I'm not looking out the window of a car or plane traveling away from here, or at the sun dipping into the ocean or behind any strange and wonderful land, and since I'm not tasting new food in foreign places... I'll give you a peak into what I am escaping into.

This quote has me continuing to think about introversion and my need to make space for solitude.

So sad to hear this news, especially after reading (and loving) Love in the Time of Cholera earlier this year.

"The ideal body is the one a girl is born with." Word.

Thinking of trying to create some of my own book spine poetry. (Wouldn't that be fun to try with kids? I'm imagining some ridiculous compositions.)

I like their round-up, too. Especially the part about books changing lives.

And speaking of books changing lives, the one this letter is excerpted from changed mine.

I don't read much of this kind of nonfiction, but these books on innovation look interesting.

Where are you taking off to this summer?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

the courage to speak softly

The story goes that I, the youngest of three girls, didn’t start talking until I was 2 ½ years old. I understood what people were saying, and often responded in my own way — with nods or shaking my head or simply doing what people told me to — but I didn’t speak. This doesn’t surprise most people because I’m still usually quiet (unless you give me some alcohol or coffee, then I can be quite entertaining). Usually I’m more comfortable listening, and I could spend days alone. I’ve [mostly] learned to embrace that I’m an introvert.

But I do worry sometimes about balance. Some of the things I love most and feel called to are writing, reading and prayer, and these are mostly solitary activities. And yet I live in a house with four other people and have a high value for friendships and social outings, though admittedly sometimes I confuse my value for these things with the need for them to validate me. Sometimes my housemates (all introverts, too!) are ready to play a game or just sit around and chat, and I make the difficult decision to be by myself. It can be hard to wonder what I’m missing out on, or if I’m being completely antisocial.

The other day I came across this youtube talk about introversion. You might have heard this argument before (I have) — that extroverts, though they often get the spotlight in the public sphere, aren’t superior to introverts. In fact, introverts have something unique to offer our society, especially today when it seems like overstimulation rules and we’ve made busyness a sign of our worth. Into this crazyness introverts speak (or don’t speak, but live), reminding us that to be alone and to be quiet are productive in a profound way that we understand only when we can experience it.

When fellow introverts like Susan Cain abandon their natural tendency to be quiet and speak into the conversation, I feel validated and recognized. I don’t want to sound like a member of another disenfranchised group of people (who in reality have a lot to be thankful for), but let me say for the record that being an introvert is hard sometimes. Or rather, being an introvert around people who want me to speak is hard. As is being an introvert around people who like to hear themselves speak, or who rush to talk because they’re uncomfortable with silence — because then, when I do want to say something, it’s difficult to get a word in.

What was new about this talk was the historical perspective — that people used to work alone much more often, and there was more time and space for solitude in the way life was set up. I can’t help but think of what we miss out on when we fill our lives to the brim with people, tv and computers. Some of these activities may even masquerade as introverted time, and yet there’s something precious about not stimulating ourselves. I also like how Ms. Cain includes the notion of modesty into her definition of introversion. I don’t think she’s saying that all introverts are humble (and that extroverts aren’t), but rather that introverts usually have a difficult time tooting their own horn or enjoying the public recognition of their efforts. (Introverts, do you find this to be true, or are we extrapolating too much on this one?) And I love the argument for moving away from group work. Just because. (Working in groups is so stressful!)

And of course I love her closing exhortation: Have the courage to speak softly. 

So here’s my question for you all: What do you love about being an introvert (or extrovert)? I’d love to hear. Personally, I love the chance to people watch, and that I make observations or hear things that others often miss or forget.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

closing the separation

My best friend lives more than 2,000 miles away. We met when I was five and she was six and she and her family moved into a house that was only a few hundred feet from mine. We were separated by one house, and the family that lived there graciously let us cut across their yard instead of walking down to the street, around the yard and up the other’s driveway. They must have known that when girls need their friends, the fastest route is the best. 

In church we sat together and made the pew tremble with our giggling. This always made my mom embarrassed, but I don’t remember her splitting us apart to keep it from happening again. In school, a grade separated us (she was one above me), so during the school year we walked each other to the bus and said goodbye at the entrance to school, then joined each other at the end of the day. 

During middle school, those tenuous years when friendships seem fragile and a small separation can unravel what was formed over nearly 10 years, we wrote notes to each other during the day, folded them up and handed them to each other when we got on the bus in the afternoon. Mostly they were filled with musings on the boy we liked (yes, for a short time we liked the same boy and miraculously our love for each other — and the fact that he didn’t know that either one of us was alive, really — helped our friendship to outlive that crush). 

Those notes formed a foundation for our relationship, which would endure further separation as the years passed. When she graduated from high school, she went to Kenya for a few months and wrote me letters faithfully. In college we emailed and visited and made each other mix tapes with the names of the songs and artists written on a handmade cover (I wish I’d had the foresight to keep those!). Now visits are rare, time zone differences make the phone difficult, and with three kids and one on the way, she’s usually brief on email. Every once in a while we still send a hand written note across the miles, because we both agree that in the absence of the other, nothing is like that familiar handwriting that we’ve been reading for twenty years. Hers is as familiar to me as her voice and her dark curly hair and happy eyes. 

I thought of her when I found this lovely stationary this morning. I like to make cards to write to loved ones, but there is just something about writing sheets (is that what you call them?) that makes me want to write a long letter. Maybe it’s because I know the thrill of receiving one, the way it can close the separation, however big or small, and bring someone right to you.

(I especially like the ones with flowers and the life is poetry set.)