Saturday, September 11, 2010

Out of Oil

I measure every Grief I meet


I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, eyes –
I wonder if It weighs like Mine –
Or has an Easier size.
I note that Some – gone patient long –
At length, renew their smile –
An imitation of a Light
That has so little Oil -


The rest was a bit too much for me, but Emily has hit a chord with me tonight. Today was the 9 year anniversary of the attacks on the twin towers of NYC. Instead of a fresh wound, as it was the first couple of years, the memory has now scarred. We can look at it without flinching. It's become filed into our habits, dealt into our daily hands. With each anniversary, instead of crying, we remember the things we saw on the day that it happened: where we stood, what we wore, how blue the sky.

Of course, international terrorism should put into perspective the catastrophes I might suffer in my own heart. But today it seems more obvious. No matter how large my own personal demolitions might feel, I won't remember the scarf I was wearing when it happened or the song that came on the radio while I cried.

When many people share a tragedy, it becomes a stone in their shared foundation of friendship, family or community. The attack on the twin towers brought our nation together in mourning and continues to this day to bring us all back into thoughtfulness and conversation about the events of that morning. But when just one heart is broken, the burden falls entirely on the heartbroken to remember the details of the tragedy.

The moment which has half-ruined me for today won't scar me for life. Just hinder me for awhile: smear my mascara, make chatty conversations in bars a little less fluid. The wounds should heal in relative short time. Until then- a smile like an imitation of light, low on oil. Or, perhaps, a flashlight with old, run-down batteries.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What My Parents Can't Teach Me

I've stolen some thoughts today from someone with a little more wit and time for editing on her hands. Listen to Sandra, first. (she's a non-fictioner/poetesse from D.C. and someone I know very little about other than somehow the Academy came to love her enough to include her in the Poem-A-Day emails, and that she seems to know the pain of feeling vocationless-- or vocationfull perhaps.)

by Sandra Beasley

For six months I dealt Baccarat in a casino.
For six months I played Brahms in a mall.
For six months I arranged museum dioramas;
my hands were too small for the Paleolithic
and when they reassigned me to lichens, I quit.
I type ninety-one words per minute, all of them
Help. Yes, I speak Dewey Decimal.
I speak Russian, Latin, a smattering of Tlingit.
I can balance seven dinner plates on my arm.
All I want to do is sit on a veranda while
a hard rain falls around me. I'll file your 1099s.
I'll make love to strangers of your choice.
I'll do whatever you want, as long as I can do it
on that veranda. If it calls you, it's your calling,
right? Once I asked a broker what he loved
about his job, and he said Making a killing.
Once I asked a serial killer what made him
get up in the morning, and he said The people.


Since becoming an adult citizen, (for easier division of time, let's say that this miraculous change occurred after college graduation- June, 2006) I've been:
  1. an archivist
  2. a public relations rep
  3. a craft sales person
  4. an editor
  5. an Americorps volunteer
  6. a Panera Bread employee (for a record 2 days!)
  7. a phone salesperson
  8. a babysitter
  9. a waitress
  10. a hall counselor
  11. a substitute teacher
  12. a signmaker
In four years and several months I have accrued a jumble of job experiences in 12 different positions. Some experiences may have overlapped in positions as I wore several hats, but the count only goes down to 8 when you compress them by employer, and 7, if you decide that a couple months of regular babysitting isn't really a job.

In addition to that laundry list: I have received federal support through food stamps and unemployment (let me tell you- acquiring those benefits was at least the equivalent of a part time job in itself.) I have lived in 5 different apartments and two cities (+my hometown in Kentucky for the first couple months of it all) and have lived with 8 different housemates not counting the 75 teenage girls I lived with last year.

There was a point last summer when it became clear that my life had taken so many twists and turns that my parents no longer had any advice for me. Long before, I had realized that they didn't know everything. Every child has that moment- when their parent shows weakness and, poof! the facade is gone and they're suddenly falliable. Even worse, they are just darn wrong sometimes. But this was a separate realization. Not only are they not the experts on living, but they have no experience-related insight on many of the decisions that I am facing in my life. Their young adult lives, in comparison to mine, were linear and mostly planned. They went to school, got a degree, found a position and worked there for on average(ish) 7 years. My father has held three major positions in his adult career. My mother ceased working due to illness sometime in my teenage years. I can't even fathom these paths taking place in my own life.

In addition to an inability to understand my career conundrum, my parents have never been unmarried in their late twenties. Though I hear them and choose to believe them when they console me on my lonely days or commend me on my independent, adventurous days, they have no idea what it's like. They have no advice for the emotional or economic hurdles my singleness might create.

All this adds up to mean only one thing and it isn't sad: I am a ground breaker, a forager and a leader. The first in my family to take on these challenges. And I think I'm succeeding swimmingly. I am the oldest, wisest, unmarried cousin with years of experience in shooting from the hip and going with the flow. Drop me and a smattering of my relatives into the middle of a dastardly forest: I bet a few of them might find their way out, a few might famish scrapping uncertain berries into a meal, but I'd be the only in the woods with a lean-to, grass skirt, feather pillow sipping on a homemade moonshine mojito while bubbling in my hotspring hot tub, figuratively speaking. Simply put- I'm my family's greatest survivor.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Great Get Together

On Wednesday, I spent seven hours at the great Minnesotan get together. My closest friend, Laura, and I biked across along the Mississippi, through the University of Minnesota campus, behind full buses of fair goers, and arrived sweaty and eager at the Minnesota State Fair. We went just after lunch, hoping for a respite from the evening crowds, but were greeted by thousands of other people with the same great idea. After all, it was the perfect day for the fair. A little overcast, but still bright, low 80’s with an occasional, crisp wind and the promise of a cool evening.

There is something about get-togethers of that sort— block parties, reunions, fairs— that send me back to my roots. My childhood home of south eastern Kentucky was a place where a stranger waved on every road crest. Where every man was a cousin of his neighbor and if he wasn’t, he’d treat him just the same. It was a place into which I was transplanted during the most awkward time in anyone’s life: the middle school years. I came in a “yank” at the age of 9. Fifteen years later, after simply existing with those people— an open, loving, friendly accepting crowd with a blunt tongue and a taste for both adventure and stillness— I, too, walked away a full-blooded, cousin-of-her-neighbor Kentuckian.

There was a twinge of this Kentucky feeling at the fair. Each man meandering from his own corner of the state, his bag full of tools of his own kind: film, wool carder, flask, saddle, & fanny pack. Men and women and their children tossing their arms in excitement, noshing on fried bits shoved through with sticks. Hardly a square yard to stand alone. This is the Minnesota State Fair. It is a place where llamas and geese are judged & where alfalfa and timothy seed make art. There are jangling rides, invisible dogs on leashes and plenty else to toss money at. But before the tickets are purchased it is only 6 square blocks of buildings separated by dusty roads.

Each morning, as the 4H kids brush down their horses, it begins. A family walks through the gates, then a couple, then a man carrying a dufflebag of water bottles. Each body, a tick to the turnstyle, a new citizen in the biggest and most temporary small town anyone’s ever visited. People pour like grain through a spout. The place fills up, shoulder to shoulder on some paths. You can’t help but bump someone while walking, not sure where your eye should land with so many hats baubling in the sun.

In the heat of an afternoon, it’s hard to imagine a time when the crowds will thin. But they will leave— fingers still sticky from sweet cotton fluff, salty sweat caked to their foreheads, feet pulsing tired. And as they pass the gates one last time they might not know that they won’t ever come back. The populace gathered at one day at the fair is never to be duplicated. The people will never reunite in that order, in any location. And though the buildings stay standing, it’s as though the place has vanished.

I’ve been gone from Kentucky now for 4 years. In that time, I’ve re-learned the yankee tongue and all but forgotten the broken glass trickle of a mountain stream. I love the city, but I have thoughts that it’s still not too late to return to the hills for good. I could take a job at the school where I once etched in desks and meet a thick-necked mountain boy. I could hike the hill where I grew tall and scribble in journals about the flutter of leaves before a country storm. The hills, however, were merely the setting and the work the means of my life in Appalachia. The people made the place my home. Some have died, some moved on, but most have simply replaced me with a new smile, a new hand.

I visited once, a couple years ago. I was walking down a footpath near my old house— one on which I’d like to think my feet helped pack the dirt. A women watching from her porch lifted herself out of a wicker chair to ask me “Honey, are you lost?”. I didn’t know. I didn’t think I was until she asked. It turns out, when I left Kentucky, the turnstyle ticked behind me. I will go back, but I’ll never really return to that place.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Project Up & At 'Em

This isn't going to be a food blog. It isn't going to be a journal or therapist. Neither will it be a soapbox, an account of events, a tally or any number of things. But it may very well be all-of-the-above.

It has become increasingly apparent that I am out of the habit of writing. Well, here I am. The title is not a reference to food & wine. So don't expect me to spout about turmeric and fennel. (I may, still, though.) The title is a recognition of the fact that I have always been a glass-half-full girl and though it might not lend itself well to the angsty life of a writer or academic, it is something to be proud of and preserve. This space will be a positive place.

In real life, I enjoy my glass most when it is more than full and constantly attended to- so it stays that way.

On to the first post.
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