“stay angry, little Meg…you will need all your anger now.”

Posted January 7th, 2018 1 Comment »

The Latin complicare means to fold. I love the tactility inherent in folding: it requires some pressure, some movement, some shaping. I love that this tactility assumes a degree of control while still allowing for chance and surprise. Folds might be knife-edged and precise, or loose and haphazard. Folding might be a deliberate and premeditated action, or in sudden reaction to a losing hand.

Complicare also begets the English to complicate, which is a relationship I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. If folding is complicating, unfolding is…simplifying? No, not really. Paper must be smoothed, stitches must be unpicked, space in which to expand must be found. All these take time and effort. Some folds can’t be undone; some complications are permanent; some visible lines remain, no matter how faint, of whatever the initial fold once was.

I’ve been thinking about the permanence of complicated experiences we fold up into little pieces and wedge into interior corners. Are they pulled out and examined occasionally? Do they lie hidden, tucked away because the density of a folded object makes it at once easier to manage and more difficult to fully comprehend?

Here’s one: I was a manager and he was my boss. He convinced one of my staff members to text him surreptitiously-taken photos of me. He responded to these texts with suggestive remarks and opinions. Sometimes he requested specific photos.

This truth is frustratingly haunting just now, one I’ve been unfolding to try to see more clearly. Writing these sentences holds my memory to the light at different angles, as if perhaps there’s a pattern in the creases I haven’t yet discovered or didn’t know at the time.

I don’t know how many pictures passed between the two of them, or for how long. Weeks at least, months maybe, before I knew it was happening, and when I finally saw the text thread it was with a horrified non-comprehension. I still remind myself that it was real, that the texts and photos were there before my eyeballs.

My discovery happened the day before I was scheduled to go on vacation; I spent my time off weighing what to do and who to tell. I eventually went to HR, filed a report, and gave multiple statements to multiple people. One particular woman I’d considered a mentor asked me, with a hint of exasperation, why I’d given the photo-taking employee a promotion with a degree of responsibility a few weeks prior–how did I not see this coming?–conveniently forgetting she’d approved the promotion. 

I felt myself shrinking when HR called to tell me that both the boss and the photo-snapping employee had given notice so of course there was no real action the company could take. I compacted neatly under the implied pressure to let it go. I don’t remember what I said. I hung up the phone. I laid down my losing hand and never went back.

I was and am unsettled by the ease with which the entire situation just …evaporated. I wonder if I will ever like having my photo taken. I’m still, years later, dealing with the financial ramifications of leaving a job without a real plan B in place. I can count the number of men I trust to have my best interest at heart on one hand. 

It’s there in my pocket, complicare. I unfold it occasionally so I don’t forget, so I remember that this was a thing that happened. I unfold it to remind myself that so many carry these things in some form all the time. I tuck it back in place to live adjacently to all the other complicares being female in the world provides, as we carry ourselves and our histories in manageable, portable form.

I have complicated, contained what I now know is a deep and steadily-pulsing anger that took a clearer, sharper form the moment ‘grab them by the pussy’ became part of the national lexicon. I’m not sure what to do with this anger, not yet. I have smoothed open these folded moments repeatedly over the last year in the hope that putting something down in words might help. It feels futile, even amid my ferocious joy at monstrous men falling like dominoes, because of one particular man still out there, maybe preying on another unsuspecting woman. It feels futile because of so many still in situations where they cannot speak out, where livelihoods are at the mercy of men who may never be held accountable for their actions. 

Postscript

Wise, beloved friends have the gift of special perception, and a few weeks ago one sent me a simple thinking of you text that included a snapshot of a  Rupi Kaur poem:

i fold the good days up and place them in my back pocket for safekeeping. draw the match. cremate the unnecessary. the light of the fire warms my toes. i pour myself a glass of warm water to cleanse myself for january. here i go. stronger and wiser into the new.

I can fold up the good and carry that as well. Burn the unnecessary. Stay angry. In A Wrinkle in Time, Meg’s anger fuels and solidifies the power of her love. May my anger do the same. 

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pilgrim souls

Posted December 9th, 2017 No Comments »

how many loved your moments of glad grace.

is a particular alliteration that is one of my favorites in all the literature I’ve ever read.

Glad grace.

Grace is a concept central to Christianity, of course, but I probably-quite-consciously avoid faith-tinged definitions in both my reading and use of grace as a concept. I prefer it literal–this glad grace–as a learned, cultivated quality of consideration for others, of awareness of what is beyond oneself.

The transitive verb form is nice as well: to confer dignity.

And in both senses to be glad: to be willing. To be willing to look outward and extend to someone else a thought, a care, a consideration.

And perhaps all we can aspire to are moments. Glad grace as a perpetual state of being sounds exhausting. But a moment? Doable. I’m looking at my arm as I think through this one, which reminds me of Wallace, which reminds me about caring for others in petty, unsexy ways day in and day out. Glad grace.

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w/r/t

Posted August 9th, 2017 No Comments »

But the real mystery and magic lies in those quasi-mystical moments, portraits of extreme focus and total relinquishment. We might feel more comfortable calling this “meditation,” but I believe the right word is in fact prayer. […] unmoored, without its usual object, God, but it is still focused, self-forgetful, and moving in an outward direction toward the unfathomable (which the mystic will argue is God). It is the L word, at work in the world […] for the secular among us, art has become our last best hope of undergoing this experience.  

.zadie smith.

A few days ago I found the old journal I kept back in Glasgow, during what was to date my most cognitively dissonant stretch of time. It was jarring to see how thoroughly a desperate and ongoing conversation with the god I was terrified to not believe in was woven throughout those months.

And much of that pain and confusion and devastation was due to such wonder and beauty and gorgeous challenge all around me that felt so expansive and true, and struggling with the conviction that my too-deep-for-tears responses were somehow wrong. I could not reconcile the two, I still cannot.

Posted in Read, Uncategorized

Old things, diffuse, unnamed, lie strong across my heart.

Posted November 9th, 2016 No Comments »

I voted for her because she’s the most qualified. Because representation is essential. Because I have little nephews I hope grow up believing that girls are badasses with whom they need to reckon. Because I want the fact that Hillary has shown up and done the work day in and day out for a lifetime to matter. Because with this precedent the work other women do will matter. The women I have learned from and been mentored by will matter. The women who are girls today will grow up knowing they matter. I will matter.

I voted for Hillary because she embodies what women can be: complex, multi-faceted, difficult, wicked smart, driven, powerful. I voted for Hillary because she has lived all those things together consistently, in the face of heinous sexism and misogyny, her entire life. And I find that really fucking inspiring.

And now, the most intelligent, accomplished, driven woman I have seen in my lifetime lost the job to a man who …where to even start? The list is long and horrific. So I am currently feeling the kind of devastation I’ve felt maybe twice before in my life.

As a woman, among the lessons I take from yesterday are these: half the country is fine with sexual assault, and half the country thinks that skin color, sexual orientation, physical abilities, gender, and religion are things that should automatically disqualify one from being seen and treated as fully human.

This is not new, of course. Just newly stark, in a relief it was privileged to hope wasn’t possible.

And the glass ceiling is still intact. Not one woman has succeeded in breaking it and the odds are so against us since women comprise a mere 1% of our government throughout history. There were small, encouraging gains yesterday, yes, especially for women of color (!). But how far will they get? When the overwhelming message is that no matter how hard we work, how much energy we put in, how much time it takes, or how smart we work to become it just won’t matter because someone else (white, male) will still tell us how far we are allowed to go? It will be much less far, now, for those who aren’t 10s, or white, or who can’t control their gag reflex at the smell of tic tacs.

I want, as Hillary said so beautifully today with every ounce of the composure that has made her such a formidable woman, to “never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams,” but I am fully doubting. We have not seen it, it has not happened, not yet.

There come now well-meaning men saying things like “it was about the system, not the candidate” and “sure, sexism played a part, but…” If you are one of these men, please stop talking for a moment. Consider that perhaps, yes, deeply entrenched sexism is at the root of so much of what is wrong right now and work to recognize it. Look to the women around you who are devastated, acknowledge our heartbreak and give us space to mourn what might have been.

Listen when we tell you what it is like to be a woman in the world. To be professional. To be single. To be a wife. To be a mother. To be childless. To be all the things women can be, but mostly what it is to not be a man. How particularly cruel and unfair and heavy it feels at this moment in time.

It’s exhausting to unlearn the misogyny we internalize from girlhood. It’s exhausting to catalogue all the conversations where eyes can’t seem to focus on your face, all the ‘no offense, but’ comments involving gender, all the conversations that happen around instead of including you, to always wonder if you’re being paid, treated, acknowledged the way a man would be were he in your position. It’s exhausting to live with vivid recall of all the instances you’ve thrown up a practiced half-smile-deflector-shield and tried to let all the above go. It’s exhausting to do all this over and over in so many different ways, and tonight that exhaustion is bone-deep, soul-deep. Tonight I grieve.

Tomorrow, I know it is incumbent upon me, as one who has been given much, to give much in return and to fight for those who cannot.

I can. I will.

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for all you are worth.

Posted July 6th, 2016 No Comments »

We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things; because the shadow always follows. Choose a place where you won’t do harm – yes, choose a place where you won’t do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine.

EM Forster, A Room With A View

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…the road has always led West.

Posted May 30th, 2016 No Comments »

Yesterday Linus and I went down the winding Skyline, dodging cyclists every hundred yards, testing my manual driving prowess, zipping between dim forest canopy and brilliant ridgetop. The road itself didn’t feel much different than the last time I drove it in the fall, which is one of the strangest things about this place: a total lack of the markers, namely weather patterns, I used to associate with the passing of time. I am assured they exist, but have not quite registered the subtlety of whether or not the orange poppies are blooming hidden among tall grasses.

Midway on yesterday’s loop was the Wallace Stegner memorial bench, made of stones set into the hillside, looking out over the Santa Cruz mountains in their hazy shades of green and blue, at a point in the hike that was almost too bright, too sunny too …much. And in the 24 hours since I’ve found myself thinking more and more about the man, remembering especially Angle of Repose and the strange relief of recognizing a place I’ve never been as my brain linked remembered scenes to the new sights scanned by my eyeballs.

I should say more about Stegner, should flesh out some of that relief and wonder, but for now it is enough to revisit some of the things he wrote and believed about the West–where I am now, again–and about the concept of home, which is of course my long-standing personal preoccupation.

I keep circling back to two passages in particular, from my beloved Angle and from Marking the Sparrow’s Fall: The Making of the American West: 

I wonder if ever again Americans can have that experience of returning to a home place so intimately known, profoundly felt, deeply loved, and absolutely submitted to? It is not quite true that you can’t go home again. I have done it, coming back here. But it gets less likely. We have had too many divorces, we have consumed too much transportation, we have lived too shallowly in too many places.

American individualism, much celebrated and cherished, has developed without its essential corrective, which is belonging.  

So here is my placeholder post, reminding me to think about what it is to live shallowly, what it is to belong. How best to be someplace new, again.

 

 

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I ate the day / Deliberately

Posted October 25th, 2015 No Comments »

“I don’t know if it’s a function of age or temperament, but I’m no longer seeking those major exclamatory notes of pleasure. I want a life that has pleasure contained within it.”                                                                                            .terry gross.

I’ve got an actual studio space coming together, with room for my machines to stay out, the vintage bolts of fabric, and in-progress projects spread out so I can actually work toward completing some things. I’m finally completely box-less, with neat stacks of books waiting until I find shelving I like. I spent some time swatching orange wool today, full of faith that I’ll need to be wearing wool soon. I found the limits of an unfamiliar Korean green tea this morning. I have some interesting experimental dishes planned for the week. Clean laundry. This single malt is sipping really nicely from the mustard stoneware I don’t have occasion to use often.

In other words, I didn’t do a bang-up job of MAXIMUM FUN this weekend, didn’t throw myself into EXPLORATION DO IT ALL but …I’m okay with that. I got out, I filed away some notes and places to explore further, and continue to locate myself on this different coast/planet. But I mostly made time and space for my daily rituals to come to life, to acknowledge the things that make me me.

I realized last week that this week marks the first time in two-ish years that I will have been in one place for more than two weeks at a time. Which means that the rhythm of my days is totally foreign right now. Which means life and work are endless possibilities instead of finite chunks of time/projects with distinct best-by dates.

And so much possibility of containing pleasure within and amid that time.

Posted in Digested, Made, Read

uniquely portable magic*

Posted August 25th, 2015 No Comments »
IMG_4219

(not actually MKE. but just as good.)

The Milwaukee airport is home to one of the best used book stores I’ve ever been in–all the more endearing for being smack in the middle of the terminal where you’d least expect to find fine collections of 1940s pulp, political theory, and full sets of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. It was one of the first things I noticed on my interview trip, and I have since allocated an extra half hour for browsing nearly every time I’ve flown into or out of MKE. I’ve actually driven to the airport a few times just for the bookstore. But this makes perfect sense to the five of you who read here, as will the old-ish rumination below on packing up and leaving Boston in 2013 (!), a process looming again in my future. 

Last week I was eight boxes down in packing up my library, not sure how many boxes were still to go. I had the brieftest of thoughts, getting ready to move again, that the whole process would be so much easier if I would just get rid of my damn books.

I’m not against technology and the digital age and all that (mostly). I recognize that the publishing industry and technology generally are rapidly redefining the ways in which we write and consume literature and I’m okay with that; I’m even paying attention to and am interested in these developments and changes. I read ebooks, I really do (at least romance/thriller/pulpy bubblegum crap, and uh, I consume a lot of this). If I were ever to travel for extended periods of time, or knew that I wouldn’t have access to the books I have now, I wouldn’t hesitate to up my e-reading game with some sort of three-thousand-books-in-one-small-device. I don’t think that good literature necessarily needs to be printed with ink on paper.

OH WAIT IT DOES. For me, at least, thornier questions of content transcending medium aside. I need you, feel of paper and smell of ink. If we still had to cut the pages of books before we read them, I would be all over that shit with my vast collection of papercutting tools. I like the indentations in a letterpressed frontispiece (even the word “frontispiece” can’t apply to a screen, can it?). I like the weight of pages as they fall open, and how that weight redistributes itself as I progress through the book. I like the conversations that start up in public places when book covers are shared. I like seeing a row of neat, colorful spines of a shelf, and the recollections of time and place and emotion each of those spines evokes.

See, my books have always been the most distinct markers of time and place in my adult life. Yesterday I started flipping through the pages of each book before I added it to its box (fruitlessly hoping to find $50 or a free movie ticket), and as I flipped this vague link between book and physical place began to take on a more tangible form.

I have actually read very nearly every book I own, and I have managed to leave something behind in every one. Not remarkable things in and of themselves: lots of boarding ticket stubs, bus tickets, bookstore receipts. A tree’s worth of Booksmith bookmarks. Teabag wrappers. Funny doodles from various friends. Grocery lists. The occasional foreign bill.

These bits and pieces clearly mark where I was when I first read each book, and my annoyingly elephantine memory for details fills in the rest. I am on the plane home from Guernsey reading Out Stealing Horses. On the beach in New Hampshire with Skippy Dies. On a couch in Wash Perk with Edmund deWaal and his netsuke. In Three Friends meeting Rene for the first of many times.

It’s not just about where I was for the actual reading of each book either, but where said books found their way into my hands. I’m proud to say that the lion’s share of my books came from independent bookstores. In a very, very few instances I have bought something out of print or needed quickly for class from (an independent bookseller on) Amazon, but I’ve been so, so privileged to have access to excellent bookstores and they have had my not-insignificant business. I miss Powell’s more than just about anything in Portland. Tattered Cover titles remind me of home. When I think about living in Boston, The Brookline Booksmith, the Raven, the Harvard Bookstore, and Porter Square Books have marked my time here most clearly.

If you know me at all, you know that I have strong feelings about Amazon and how it impacts reading habits. I have strong feelings about supporting and participating in the literary cultures and communities that have been lifelines for me. I want my dollars to go back into the stores that bring my favorite authors to read, I want my dollars to support the stores paying taxes to the community in which I live, I want my dollars to help create jobs for the booksellers who are so essential to a reading life. I want to be able to ask these booksellers for books that will change me, change the way I think. I want to know that they’ll suggest things that Goodreads and Amazon and insert-any-bookreview-site-here would not because, while the Internet hosts powerful algorithms, excellent writing and vibrant thought and has expanded literary consumption in many positive ways, the Internet can’t look me in the eye and know me personally (though I’m sure MIT is working on a robot for this). I want to browse slowly through shelves, to breathe in ink, to be reminded, yet again, of all the things I do not know or have not read.

So, goodbye Boston/Cambridge bookstores I have loved. Hello, new places I will love, wherever you may be.

 

*Stephen King in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft 

 

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tigerish waters

Posted April 16th, 2015 No Comments »

If we could get the hang of it entirely
It would take too long;
All we know is the splash of words in passing
And falling twigs of song,
And when we try to eavesdrop on the great
Presences it is rarely
That by a stroke of luck we can appropriate
Even a phrase entirely.

And if the world were black and white entirely
And all the charts were plain
Instead of a mad weir of tigerish waters,
A prism of delight and pain,
We might be surer where we wished to go
Or again we might be merely
Bored but in brute reality there is no
Road that is right entirely.

                                          louis macneice

Posted in Read

pennies for pinecones

Posted March 29th, 2015 1 Comment »

IMG_4038I’ve lived in ten different places in the eleven years since I graduated from college. Ten different places I’ve called ‘home’ for varying lengths of time, ten different neighborhoods, ten different homes that have all looked like variations on a theme because I am a champion nester, ten different zip codes to remember and addresses to learn. And each time I move, I get a little less attached, become less anchored to …anything, I guess. And sure, there’s an element of excitement there, an adventure, a freedom. I could go anywhere, do anything.

I didn’t ever want that adventure, necessarily, though. At least not without some equal and opposite stability. Anywhere and anything gets lonely.

I wrote here last year about the few recent months I lived in my grandfather’s house as an adult and tonight I’m sitting in that house for the last time, writing my way through a big shift again. My family has lived on South Gilpin for more than 70 years, which is about 70 times as long as my average. I’ve spent more nights under this roof than anywhere else except 1137 down the block.

As we sat on the porch yesterday, listened to Dad talk about building the house, took pictures, and sorted through stuff, the weirdly specific memories my siblings and I each have about growing up here came out. For me it’s eating Safeway-brand fudgesicles and the endless stacks of Reader’s Digests in which I read only one feature ever: the Drama In Real Life. For my brother, it’s Poppa paying him a penny for each pinecone he collected from the grass under the trees. My sister was all about SpaghettiOs, which I’ve definitely blocked out. We all remember cutting the thickest slices of Velveeta we could get away with on the cheese guillotine, TicTacs in Poppa’s shirt pockets, and cinnamon gum in Grandma’s dresser drawer.

Other elements are hazy, and I can’t recall some specific details as easily as I’d like. Flashes of images skirt around the corners of my memory and resist my grasp and the house that lives in my mind is a weird mashup of how it looks now (elegant! timeless!) and how it looked when my grandparents were alive (1968 in all its glory).

Then there are the vivid, complicated, undimmed moments. Right this minute, I’m sitting in approximately the same spot I was sitting in the last time Poppa was here. He was sick, we knew, and he called one afternoon when I was the only one home. So I came down to sit with him and Grandma and we watched Jeopardy until he said he thought it was time to go to the hospital.

He was wearing my favorite orange plaid flannel shirt that day. I felt helpless sitting there next to him. I felt good knowing I could be there, that all he wanted was me, sitting next to him. So I did, held his hand, and kept holding it until the EMTs loaded him into the ambulance and took him away.

Just a few feet over is where Grandma always sat, usually with red lipstick on, sometime without her teeth in and a wreath of toilet paper protecting her hair, always smiling. She called each of us “my,” always. My Marissa. My Matt. My Molls. And god how she smiled just for me every time she saw me. I’m so lucky I got to be her my.

I miss my grandparents. I wish they were here. And as I think about them in their home, I know this place has seen so much more than I have been around for. So many other people and events and lives have been lived here. And there will be so many more and yadda yadda we’re all just specks in the universe, I know. There will always be more pinecones.

I figured I’d be able to bring this neatly around somehow to a thematic point or grand thought as I type, but it’s not working out that way and my nose is doing that running-while-crying thing. I think the point I’m trying to get to is that while I’ve moved through the world as an adult in a way I wasn’t quite anticipating, it’s been comforting to have solid, physical things as touchstones. This is the house, block, street, neighborhood I am from and they are familiar to me as home in ways my other stops have not been. I’m struggling to remember that so much of these touchstones aren’t just specific places, but memories and people. And that the memories are mine forever.

Tomorrow I go back to my tenth apartment, to another world, to a different home.

Tomorrow I leave this house for the last time with a heart that’s breaking just a little, and immense gratitude that it’s been such a part of my life.

 

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