Three Legs and a Poem

I left my apartment in Brooklyn before dawn on Monday, December 18th and took Amtrak down to DC, en route to where I grew up in NoVA. It was the first leg of the extravaganza I planned for my holidays because I wasn’t hemmed in by work on either side. Usually, I can’t travel until late in the day on December 23rd and I have to back, conscious, at work at 8am on January 2nd. Not so this year.

I had a lovely lunch with my aunt, who is also my godmother. She’s always been very special to me not just because she lived closer than the rest of my dad’s family. She’s driven, intelligent, and kind. She’s also one of three women who read aloud to me when I was young, thus cementing my love of books and enabling me to imagine everything I read/hear. We talked about writing, both process and product. She offered to reach out to some people who might be able to help me with the jobs available that called to my heart loud enough to make me let Turkey slip through my fingers.

On Tuesday I baked Christmas treats with my mom after going to a genetic testing consultation. My doctor said it was better to have her tested for the various breast cancer mutations because it would provide us with more information and it would be covered by her insurance based on her medical history. It was an interesting conversation illuminating another wacky portion of my gene pool. Mom’s family was a mess. It punctuates just how poorly suited my parents were – and I say that fully aware that if they hadn’t gotten together I wouldn’t be here to say so. The world would be missing me and my awesome big brother, so I know grace is real even if I doubt many other things. Mom is negative for any known breast cancer genetic mutation, so I have to go back to my doctor for my early detection plan armed with the knowledge that as far as current science can tell, I’m not a genetic timebomb.

The baking though. My mom and I aren’t good in the kitchen together. We both like to do things our way, and as similar as we are, our way of doing things is not always the same. It creates a lot of tension. But we can also laugh about it and throw ingredients at each other and walk away knowing we love each other. That is a gift to me. I know I can depend on my mom for anything, most importantly emotional support and a laugh. And our cookies weren’t too bad either, even if we growled at each other more than a few times. They were truly baked with love.

On Wednesday, I got one of the best gifts that I decided to accept from the union. I wrote about it here. I don’t often worry about money (a sure sign of my privilege), but paying about $700 a month for health insurance wasn’t a prospect I relished. There are still social philosophies banging around in my head about it, of course. I’m choosing not to worry about it though, a new strategy for me.

Thursday was friend day – lunch downtown and a first post-surgical support group in the evening. I don’t think much of people in general most of the time. They are horrible. I’ve had a lot of those horrible people in and out of my life. The people I keep, though, are amazing. That day was just one of many examples over the course of the trip, even though I didn’t see lots of my friends in person. I’m blessed, so when I forget it in my darker moments, let me re-read it here if I can’t bring it to mind. For all the shitty people I’ve had to deal with, I have a precious group of golden people.

Friday I saw family for a quick hour – ships passing in the night. They had just gotten back from London on Thursday evening and I was leaving for Zurich on Friday evening. We live separate lives. I struggled with that a little bit, but a pint of ice cream and some consideration of what family means to me helped. As did the bacon my stepmom kept placing in the middle of the kitchen island as we caught up a little. It was also special because I suggested a sister scavenger hunt – I told them to leave something for me to find in London the following week. The result is my audition reel to be a TV personality, hosting a travel, food, morning, or late night show. (Would anyone watch that? I think I have a few former students who have suggested it before.)

Then it was off to Switzerland, leg two. I didn’t research the trip very well because I was excited to get a new country stamped into my passport. Mom and I went halfsies on it for the most part. I would go back, but there were a few shocks – like the stink eye we got from a lot of people, the price tag on everything, the outdoor seating in below freezing temperatures, and the being in the EU but not using the Euro because the Swiss can’t be bothered.  Christmas Eve atop Mount Titlis, where I walked around outside without skiing, was a highlight. I recommend that everyone do something they are afraid of every now and again. For me, it was walking higher up on a trail than I thought safe given that I’d have to come back down. I stayed on my feet the whole time. I didn’t go so far as pants-shitting-fear… meaning, I didn’t even TRY to ski because I like my bones unbroken. Another highlight was finding an Anglican church that had a service in English on Christmas morning. For as much as we argue and misunderstand each other in recent years, worshiping on Christmas with mom is something very important to me. Then, of course, there was the fondue.

You can get fondue with just bits of bread to dip in the cheese. That’s all well and good. But I ordered potatoes to dip too. Potatoes and melted cheese. There are pictures. I look very happy in those pictures. They brought me a bag of potatoes. I had a bag of baby potatoes and a pot of four melted cheeses. If this is not in Dante’s Paradiso, he missed something. As we ate, some cheese stuck to the very bottom of the pot and caramelized I guess. I called this FRUHMUNDAH (from under) cheese and did everything in my power to get all the globs into my belly. Mom was worried that it was too much for us to eat, but I assured her that no cheese or potatoes would be left behind. We sat and froze outside, but there were no potatoes or cheese left when the waiter handed us the check. And I could’ve done another round after a little stroll. I didn’t, but I could have.

The chocolate wasn’t too shabby either. Lindt makes Lindor truffles in more flavors than I could’ve imagined. I tried every one of them. The cappuccino one is pretty awesome, as is the strawberries and cream. And the orange. And the coconut. And the hazelnut cream. And the whole hazelnut. Okay, they were all good.

Mom and I parted ways at the Zurich airport – she went home and I went to London for leg three. I apparently booked a fare that was so low-class that everyone who looked at my ticket wouldn’t make eye contact except with a gaze that said they wanted to spit on me for being that cheap. I didn’t know this when I booked it, otherwise I wouldn’t have. I don’t like people looking at me like I’m garbage. I will say, though, that SWISS air has the best economy – wait, I was below economy – snacks. Chocolates, cookies, and a clementine. I was in an aisle seat for the first time in I don’t know how long. Good thing it’s a short trip from Zurich to Heathrow.

That night I fell asleep in my friend’s living room on an air mattress with a fire slowly dying at my feet. Remember earlier when I said I’m blessed to have amazing people in my life? Well, Lor! is one of them. She is generous to a fault. We had a walk around London the next day, completing the sister scavenger hunt and adding to her illustrious career in movies as camera lady. We went back to a restaurant I went to when I lived in London 15 years ago. They still remember me and ask after the large group of friends I used to go with. It always floors me because, yeah, I’d go at least once a week for several months and with a group of at least 6-8 other people, but the intervals between visits have been varied and lengthy since then… but they are always so wonderful and ask how I am and where my friends are, what they are up to. Punjab on Neal Street in Covent Garden gets my approval forever and ever. Then we hit a show because why not? Kinky Boots was highly entertaining and informative. “The sex is in the heels” explains so much!

The next morning I reminded myself how much I love being in that part of the world by taking a walk around St. Albans, grabbing a coffee, finding a cute winter set at Accessorize, and visiting Marks & Spencer to pick up lunch and cheese. The song “I’d go the whole wide world just to find her, to find out where they hide her” from Stranger Than Fiction was playing in the coffee shop, and, as I noted in my handwritten journal, I’m comfortable in the drizzle grey of England, Ireland, Scotland. This thought settled bittersweet into my brain, so I’m still exploring it.

One of the things I love about Lor! besides everything is that she’s cool to stay in and watch all of season 1 of The Fall or go to a musical or walk around at the Cezanne portrait exhibit, eat at Wagamama and shop for vintage dresses in big girl sizes and talk about movies and music the whole way.  We road tripped together in 2011 and discovered how compatible we are as travel buddies. I think we could also be compatible roommates, but let’s hope we’re both far enough along in our lives and careers that we won’t have to go back to having roommates.

We gussied up for a fancy downtown London Great Gatsby New Year’s Eve party. Being the awesome person she is, Lor! did my makeup expertly and with successful results. I don’t like makeup much, but she let me choose my look and walked me through everything as she put it on, letting me check that I liked what she was doing along the way. If I ever do get that TV host job, I might demand that she be my stylist. We met some fun people at the party – a few teachers who had some advice and leads! A woman that reminded me of my godmother so much that I had to take a picture with her. Two women from Eastern Europe who demanded to know where the single men were: “They’re all in a couple or gay!” We had a good laugh about that. I could be wrong, but I don’t think a group of single guys would get dressed to the nines on New Year’s Eve to go to a party in central London when they can go to the local pub or stay on their couch. If there were single guys there, they weren’t in large groups making themselves known to us single ladies, so why did these women think we had a line on them? It was hilarious though.

I lost a day in there somewhere to a sleep that might have been a coma. I wasn’t hungover exactly. I got up on New Year’s Day to get some hot chocolate and have a little stroll. I ate mid-afternoon and fell asleep first at 7ish. I woke at 10 and took some Advil for ankle pain. I turned off the TV at 12:30 and didn’t become conscious again until 12:49. My body told me I had been asleep longer than 19 minutes. Blackout curtains are usually my friend, but they did a number on me this time. I realized it was afternoon not morning when I opened the blinds. Ooops. I guess I needed it? I got ready and had enough daylight to walk around a new neighborhood (St. Johns Wood) and pass through my old stomping grounds (Baker Street and Regents Park). I also earned the badge of honor of being asked for directions in a place where I could actually give them. WHAT?!

My last day was for some shopping, which may have been a mistake, but everything still fit into my suitcase, so who cares? First I sat in a Caffe Nero (which I call Caffe Nerd because of the font used on the sign) where I will set the opening scene of an x-rated romance novel, if I ever finish writing legit stuff first. I laughed to myself about that as I wrote an entirely unrelated poem (below). Then I got on the plane and wondered why the seat next to me was still empty. It didn’t show as empty on the seat map online, so I knew someone had to be sitting there. I was flying business class again. Flying into and out of NYC, this means that I sometimes have a celebrity sighting. Not that I recognize anyone because I can’t see. I glean that the person is one of the beautiful people through context clues. I don’t like to stare while my brain scrolls through images until one matches. I was flying into Newark, too, so I thought this significantly reduced the possibility that anyone recognizable would be on the flight.

Then a tall redhead boarded and the guy who’d been making a nuisance of himself already had a moment of verbal diarrhea followed by a request for a selfie. Request politely (and in my opinion understandably) denied, the redhead eyes our shared overhead bin… the same bin I already felt bad about taking up too much space in. That’s when I was staring. And I was caught and felt stupid, but then it registered who he was. And his most memorable role, to me, is a Victorian asshat who makes his wife’s life miserable. I know he’s well known for other stuff that probably paints him in a much better light (stuff that I’ve been streaming the last several days), but all I could think was, “asshat, asshat!” Of course the character is an asshat, not the man. I offered to remove anything from the overhead bin if necessary, but he assured me there was plenty of space. In an American accent. He’s English. This struck me as weird. His accent only slipped once or twice the whole flight. He plays Americans more often than he plays Brits, I think, and is currently in an American TV show, so method acting maybe? He reviewed one his peach paged scripts, so I got an elbow view of his rehearsal, murmuring the lines and dialing down the hand gestures. I wanted to bother him with chitchat many times, but I don’t think he was feeling very well, and I usually wouldn’t strike up a conversation on a plane, so why act any differently just because I recognize him? It struck me funny though because there aren’t tons of tall redhead actors and I’ve recently become obsessed with one, so it was like the universe was teasing me because this wasn’t the one. But I’m calling it the year of the redhead anyway. It’s like the Chinese calendar but not.

On the plane I also read an article about teaching English that got me fired up to get back to work in that field, just in a different setting. It was an article a former teacher had shared, so it was also a sweet little moment of legacies. I might not be as recognizable as the guy who was sitting next to me, but I have had (and will have) an impact on the lives of my students the way my teachers have influenced me. It’s a kind of stardom (I tell myself because I know I probably won’t ever host a travel TV show).

I came home to a fucking bomb cyclone polar vortex though. I’ve been essentially hibernating since I got back because it’s been too fucking cold and windy to leave. It’s given me time to get to know the actor’s repertoire beyond Victorian asshats.  I ventured out to the grocery store and post office only to learn that a mile in frigid temperatures is unlike any other mile I’ve ever walked.

I leave you with that poem I mentioned above.


As Yet Untitled
~LJD, January 3, 2018

Wasted worry
Wakeful nights
Days of dread
all passed to nothing.

Great pitch and moment
yes, the butterfly effect,
but more often for naught.
Not even a good bar anecdote
because no one wants to
re-live your fruitless fretting.

Cycle says you’ll
Waste worry again
Have more wakeful nights
Live dozens of days in dread
Before you learn
It’s all for naught.

Ride the waves
without anxiety.
It will all pass

to nothing

or something

whether you worry or not.

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The Grey

Not the Liam Neeson movie where he further demonstrates his awesomeness by taking on wolves.

Grey as in the weather in England, Scotland, and Ireland. The places I want to be.

Grey as in Charlie Hunnam passing on playing Christian Grey and it being one of the stupidest decisions a person could’ve ever made. Not that I mind because I worship at the alter of Jamie Dornan. But maybe Charlie and I have that in common. Earlier this week the clock ran out on my great job offer. That’s right. I gambled. And for now, it may be a loss because I haven’t heard a peep about the two openings that I want in my heart of hearts.

But it was a sunny place, and I think I belong in the grey. Earlier this week I was in Zurich and didn’t mind the fog. I’m now in England where the sun doesn’t always make an appearance in a day. I like it. It was weird the first fall and winter I was here because I didn’t know about the early sunsets, but I got used to it. It doesn’t bother me now. The trade off is the long summer days that don’t usually get too hot, and especially in Scotland and Ireland, the sun on those days lights up stunning views of green blanketed moors, rocky coastlines, and craggy mountains.

So I don’t totally regret passing on a great thing in hopes of getting the right thing (or if not the right thing, the thing I really want). I might come to regret it. I might feel like an idiot when I don’t hear anything in the coming weeks. I accept that.

But as John Mayer sings, “I think I’m gonna stay in the grey.”

Entitlement

Today I returned a phone call from a woman with the teachers’ union and got the best Christmas present ever – I don’t have to pay for health insurance out of pocket for the duration of my leave! I thought I’d be paying $700+ a month come January. I wasn’t looking forward to it, but I can’t go without health insurance. She also told me there is some paperwork I can submit to get a percentage of my paycheck. As if the health insurance wasn’t gift enough, a little paperwork to take some of the financial pressure off sounds almost too good to be true.

It got me thinking about what I deserve, what the union and the DOE owe me. I absolutely accept that I’ve put in time enough to deserve health insurance while I take time off to continue to be able to do the job. And I have paid union dues every paycheck since I started, so really I’m getting my money’s worth. But do I deserve part of my paycheck when I’m not working? Does the organization I’ve given so much to over the last decade owe me that?

My independent nature bristles at the idea of getting something I haven’t earned. I think I’d be gaming the system, freeloading. I remember the graduation letter my big brother wrote me with several key life tips, the first of which was that the world doesn’t owe me anything, so I shouldn’t act like it does or expect anything. It’s an important thought: “deserve” isn’t an issue, it’s about getting what you’ve earned. If I’m not working, I’m not earning. No free rides.

But because I’m insane and can’t ever be singleminded, a part of me thinks about all the times I put my own money into my work, all the times I did extra stuff with zero expectation of financial compensation (sometimes knowing there wasn’t intangible compensation either), all the unacknowledged team player moments over the years. Maybe I have earned some money to be paid out now even though I’m not working right this minute. Can you put a price tag on the service I’ve provided to students, their parents, coworkers, bosses? What is all of that worth? Who decides?

I also think about the idea of being with a company for an extended period. What, beyond a salary, does an employer owe its employees? It’s a philosophical question that informs economic structures and causes ideological rifts. It benefits employers to keep employees healthy, but that doesn’t explain retirement. Why does a company contribute to retirements or pensions? The people don’t work for them after retirement, so what’s the financial benefit to the company? I’m not complaining at all, just wondering… maybe because I have some of my family’s entrepreneurial streak.

I disdain entitlement in others. It makes people behave in unacceptable ways. I worry that the risk I’m taking with my big decision is a symptom of my feelings of entitlement. I should be grateful for a good thing and take it without thinking I can get something better. I’m going to take my health insurance for sure, but what about a portion of my paycheck? Can I live with myself if I take advantage of the system?

Re-Casting the Problem

Maybe I’ve been looking at this all wrong. Waiting to make a decision isn’t a mistake; my heart calling isn’t the devil picking at me when I thought I was ready to dive in. Maybe my heart CAN be trusted, and this is just one of those times when God is answering a prayer in a way I don’t like…

Some people say God doesn’t outright give us what we want; rather He creates opportunities for us to learn or grow in the particular area about which we prayed. Well, I’m not a patient person. Maybe God is creating an opportunity for me to learn patience?

Or maybe because I didn’t want to be married to my job like I have been – the cycle of abuse in the DOE – God is giving me the chance to say no to something that would be the same thing in a different place. Maybe the job that’s right in front of me would be a repeat even though it looks all shiny and pretty. Maybe I’m supposed to wait for something else that would expand my life in non-professional ways, that wouldn’t make work the center of my world.

An interesting side note related to this possibility: When consulting with my best friend from college about all of this big life-altering stuff, she said, “Well, you aren’t doing it for a man. If you were doing it for a man, I’d restrain you. I wouldn’t let you go. But because it’s for a job… it’s okay.” Another dear friend asked why I couldn’t have normal problems, like should I go out with the blond guy or the guy with brown hair. I love them both, and have spiraling thoughts and feelings about both comments. I’m extremely blessed with amazing friends.

I hear the immediate counterargument to “expanding my life in non-professional ways” in the reality that with this job, I’d learn a ton of stuff about the world and myself that I wouldn’t if I wait for something else. Not that I wouldn’t learn from getting what my heart tells me I want, but I don’t think I’d learn the same things (and maybe not as much).

So, when I ask facebook friends for prayers of wisdom, discernment, and clarity… are the prayers working?! Or, like Pastor Tim on the The Americans said, “The temptation is to put off making hard decisions, but then that becomes its own sort of decision.” (The lead up to that quote is also great: “I think you’ll have trouble either way… you can’t predict what a person’s life will be, and you can’t deny them the challenges that will shape them.”)

Back to packing for NoVA, Zurich, and London.

Unpopular Opinions

Kale is bullshit. I don’t care if it’s a super food or if it’s going to save my life. Every time it’s even on a plate I eat from, I’m sick for at least 36 hours. Raw or cooked, dressed or plain. Get it the hell away from anything I’m eating.

I couldn’t possibly care less about Star Wars (or Star Trek for that matter). I’m glad others take joy in it. I’m sure I take joy in things other people could live without. As long as you don’t judge me for my lack of interest, I don’t begrudge you your happiness. Don’t make it seem like I’m less than human (or less than intelligent) if it’s just not my thing. You do you, boo. I’m happy you like it. I don’t. Are we good? How we feel about Star Wars is not the determining factor in whether or not we can have a conversation.

No one should play Christmas music before December 10th. After that, go crazy. I’ve turned some on in my apartment in the last few days. It’s cool. Just not in every store, every minute, as soon as November 20th hits.  We should also be a little more selective about which “recording artists” are allowed to tamper with the classics.

The voting aspect of Democracy is mob rule. Not the open debate of ideas and everyone getting a voice, that’s good. But the voting, wherein a person or idea can “win” without even getting 50% of the votes, is mob rule. It leaves a shit ton of people unhappy, especially in a two-party system. Limiting our thoughts to the binary is inherently divisive. I can’t decide if Democracy is the best form of government these days. Before you make a sound of disgust at me, please know that I’m not offering an alternative, nor am I making a statement in stone that will never changes. Democracy seems pretty broken right now though.

And while you’re disgusted with what I’m saying, let me also say: I’m NOT excited by what happened in the Alabama vote. What the FUCK is wrong with the huge number of people who voted for Moore? Yes, thank you to those who didn’t, but more importantly, SHAME on those who did. The margin numbers terrified me. Accusations aside (I’ll upset you later with that), Moore spewed hatred and idiocy. And yet nearly half the voters in Alabama went for him. I don’t even want to talk about the race and gender binary – mainly because I’ve already pointed out that binaries are divisive rather than inclusive. Taking the accusations INTO consideration, how can THAT many people ignore multiple accounts against the guy? We are a deeply divided nation. How can we ever accomplish anything if the numbers balance on a razor’s edge?

And now, I’m going to get in a lot of trouble… perhaps only because I’m trying desperately to understand why so many people did vote for Moore. Accusation is the word I chose to use here. Accusations have been the be all and end all the last few months. Please hear me: I stand with victims. I believe victims. In an effort to understand why people who do not believe them think that way, the one thing I can come up with on my own is that one of our national tenets is trial by jury, innocent until proven guilty etc. That answer, which is not what I truly believe, leads me to ask, “Should people be losing their careers on the words of others?” It’s a horrible thought, but I think it’s what deniers might think. Granted, I haven’t asked them.

Okay, this went from light to heavy real quick. I’ll end with a light unpopular opinion to bring everyone’s heart rate down…

If the internet went away, we’d all be fine. In fact, we all might be better people. We had information before the internet. We kept it in libraries, or if your mom was as awesome as mine, she got you an Encyclopedia Britannica for your living room.  (I don’t WANT the internet to change, but I’m saying it’s not the end of the world if it does. I’m more worried about taxes and healthcare.)

Como Poesia a Vino

Rough translation: like poetry to wine. It’s from a Rachael Yamagata song called “I Want You,” one of the lyrics of which is “When I dream of London I can only see your face.” I like the idea, but it’s never been true for me. London is so much more than a one-faced dream.

I’ve made tons of mistakes when it comes to my educational choices. I should’ve taken IB Spanish instead of going the easy route. I’d be able to enjoy some of my favorite literature without the aide of translators instead of slowly bumbling through conversational Spanish. Oh well. I still read Neruda’s love sonnets side by side.

I first got my hands on Neruda when I was 16. I can’t remember if it was in English class, Spanish class, or at the induction to the Spanish Honor Society… It all happened junior year though. He’s been on my bookshelf or nightstand ever since. I wrote about one of his sonnets before because I used it for teaching how to analyze poetry. “Sonnet XLIV” is one of the 100 Love Sonnets from the afternoon mediodia section, and it’s beautiful with romantic love in mind. “You must know that I do not love and that I love you because everything alive has its two sides… I love you in order to begin to love you, to start infinity again and never to stop loving you: that’s why I do not love you yet.” One of the reasons I’ve always liked reading it, and particularly liked using it to teach poetry strategies, is because it’s so fucking confusing, not unlike romantic love. However, I’ve been thinking about only three lines of it the last few days, and not with love in mind at all. “…as if I held keys in my hand to a future of joy- a wretched, muddled fate-…”

I have a decision to make. On one level, it’s a simple yes or no. On a bigger level, I’m at something much more complex than a crossroads or a fork in the road. Two roads do not diverge in a wood, Mr. Frost. There are at least 10 roads to choose from. (Frost came to me in my senior year of high school, but I don’t love him any less for arriving in my life a year later than Neruda.) It’s more complicated than even Neruda implies with his two choices, though “muddled” seems to be the operative word of the moment. I like the image Neruda conjures though – I’m holding the keys, but I do not know what’s on the other side of the door. I have the means to find out, but do I want to know?

Earlier this year I had a similar decision. It wasn’t so much “this or that,” nor is it now. It was one thing at a time, one yes or no at a time. I gambled. I said no because I was holding out for what I wanted with most of my heart (yeah, not all of it. There’s very little I do with my whole heart because the thing gets bruised too easily.) I took the risk and lost. The words of Kipling’s “If” have stayed close to the surface of my brain because of it (and because of Paullina Simons’ The Bronze Horseman trilogy book two Tatiana and Alexander… Alexander and his dad in prison – I can’t read it without crying). Not to repeat history, and not to breathe a word of my loss, I was ready to say yes this time around.

But then my heart came calling again. Quietly at first. I heard it and wrestled it and calmed it and told it that “Wait” doesn’t mean “never.” Then it got louder, and I had to stop my “yes” before it led me in a direction I wasn’t ready to go. Now I’m waiting, gambling again. There might be less risk this time because I have a better idea of one thing that might be on the other side of the door, what lies down one path. The “use your head” crowd is battling the “follow your heart” crowd – and I’m blessed to have loved ones in both camps.

And because I haven’t referenced enough literature, I’m just this minute reminded of the payoff in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch “What if one happens to be possessed of a heart that can’t be trusted?”

It’s no wonder poetry – and literature in a broader sense – goes hand in hand with wine. I need the alcohol to kill the brain cells that stir all this mess.  Tonight, without wine, I’m still holding the keys, not using them yet. There’s a special agony to waiting outside with the keys in your hand.

Reading the River

I went to summer camp when I was a kid. It’s how I’ve fired a rifle; shot an arrow; blacksmithed; repelled; tacked, ridden, and groomed horses; made countless lanyard key chains; learned rudimentary survival skills; cooked on an open fire; creek walked; fished; canoed; camped in a cow pasture; and built life-long friendships among other things.

One year, I went on an overnight canoe trip. I had been in a canoe on the lake before, but this was going to be on the river. I knew how to paddle and a little bit about steering. Because I was a stronger paddler than steerer, my counselor decided to put me in the front of the canoe. I have good hearing, so the person steering at the back would have no trouble with me. When she yelled directions, I could hear and knew which side and how to paddle. What I didn’t know was how to navigate a river.

The counselor kept telling me to look for the Vs, the signs. At eleven or twelve, I thought she meant road signs, like there would be a pole in the middle of the river with a sign posted on it – arrows and Vs because those were more informative on a river than miles per hour or yield signs. I spent an entire morning frustrated because I had no idea where these signs were and me and my steerer kept getting stuck on shallow rocks.

I may or may not ended up screaming at lunch. I may or may not have used profanity. I may or may not have made an ass of myself. Such are the things you do when you’re frustrated!

After lunch, I finally bridged this communication gap with some generous soul – I don’t remember who. This person explained that I had to read the flow of the water. It would make Vs or upside down Vs (arrows) depending on what the unseen rocks beneath the water were doing to the river’s current. I had been looking above the water’s surface for the signs I’d been told were so obvious. Turns out, the signs were almost below the surface. A V meant the rocks were positioned in such a way that our canoe would get caught and we’d have to jump out (I’d done that far too many times for my river sandal’s liking during the morning). An upside down V, or an arrow, meant that the water was flowing past the rocks in a way that would allow our canoe to get by unscathed.

Once I knew where to look, we didn’t get stuck for the rest of the day. I was able to navigate with ease and communicate to my steerer which direction was best. It was a fantastic afternoon. And camping in a cow field introduced me to a special kind of alarm clock – cows do not, in fact, say “moo.” It’s more like a prehistoric sound that will scare you awake in a flash. The next morning of canoeing was awesome too.

I had so much fun once I knew what to do that I signed up for a week-long canoe trip the following summer. Unfortunately after our first day and night on the river, floods devastated the area and we were pulled off the river for our safety.

I’ve kept the lesson with me though. I’ve been rafting since, and the same rules apply with an inflatable vessel. V in the water, you’ll get stuck. Arrow in the water, go for it…  at your own risk, depending on how fast the water is moving. I also kept my steering lessons in mind, so I was the only one capable of punting in Oxford during a grad school study abroad. (Punting is more like being a gondolier than paddling in a canoe. I’m not a fan of operating a small water craft from a standing position with only a long thin pole to steer!)

I’ve sometimes even applied the idea to life. I’m a believer in signs. In a 10,000 Maniacs song called “These Are Days,” Natalie Merchant sings, “These days you might feel a shaft of light make its way across your face. And when you do, you’ll know how it was meant to be; see the signs and know their meaning. It’s true. You’ll know how it was meant to be, read the signs and know they’re speaking to you.” (It’s a brilliant beautiful song top to bottom really.) When I hear the lyrics, I think of the river… and how I didn’t see the signs at first, so I didn’t know how to read them. Once I knew, I saw them and understood them, followed them, and succeeded where I had previously failed.

The signs aren’t always where you’re looking for them. They don’t always look like what you’d expect. I spent the morning of that canoe trip ignoring them and hating everything. I thought there’d be something big and obvious to show me where to go.  The river is far more subtle, but once I knew what to look for, it was clear. It wasn’t easy because I still had to make sure we moved in accordance with the signs and, more so with rafting, it wasn’t always a smooth ride down the rapids even if the rocks pointed an arrow to the path through, but it was better, less frustrating, more fun.

Dreamscape

In the brief time I fell back asleep before the alarm and after the sun woke me, I found myself running on the Washington and Old Dominion Bike Path in Northern Virginia where I grew up. RUNNING! I don’t run. I have never run in my life. The particularly displeasing shape of my feet prevents it. If I’m ever in a situation where I have to get away from someone or something, I’ll have to outwit it rather than outrun it. So it was weird to be dreaming about running.

And I was doing it for fun! What the actual fuck? A friend I grew up with was there and we were running in leggings and sports bras FOR FUN! What? As we rounded a corner to backtrack down a particularly brutal hill, she disappeared, and I was running alone in a sports bra and leggings by myself FOR FUN! And I didn’t even have headphones because, as is common in dreams, the transition from my friend being there to her not being there was instantaneous and inexplicable. I continued to run though.

I was rather fast, to my conscious mind’s surprise. In my subconscious, it was a given (ha!). I was so fast that I was passing people. WHAT? Most people followed the rules of passing – on the W&OD you’re supposed to call out, “Passing on the left” and the slower party is supposed to move to the right to make that possible. My dreams are often vivid, and this one was no exception. I passed a few people as I neared a bridge. On the bridge, there was a man in front of me with headphones, but he wasn’t using the headphones… he was playing his awful music choices loud enough for passersby to hear. Except he wasn’t letting ME pass. He was being a jackass in the extreme, making it a competition. Well, I’m fucking competitive! But I also didn’t know him at all and wasn’t interested in him interrupting my running (what?! Under awake circumstances, anything ANYTHING could interrupt me trying to run because I. Don’t. Run.)

He continued to play crappy music for me to hear without letting me pass on the bridge and as we neared the street crossing closest to the house I grew up in. I debated whether or not to cut my run short and just turn off, depending on where he headed, just to get rid of him. I also pushed harder to try to pass him, with little success. Oh, did I mention he was also attempting to sing along to his bad taste in music. It sounded awful? At one point in the stretch from the bridge to Sandburg street, I actually smacked his sweaty sleeveless arm away, possibly trying to knock him down so I could pass. Other people didn’t seem to mind his music or his rudeness in forcing us all to hear it.

I got to the street and there was some kind of block party happening in the parking spots for people who don’t live close to the trail. It was the place to be. In another dream transition that made no sense, it was the dark of night when it had been broad daylight. The party continued despite abominable lighting – the trail is not designed for night use, nor are the parking spots. I began a conversation with someone I presumably knew from somewhere (not uncommon to run into people I know when using the path in real life. It was practically in my backyard growing up, so neighbors etc).

I sat in the grass on the side of the road, sweating from my hard run, still annoyed at the guy who wouldn’t let me pass and forced me to listen to shitty music. I was disgusted and wasn’t quiet about telling my acquaintance about it. I was also attending to sore muscles, giving myself a rub down and conducting stretches that may or may not have been provocative. The guy was standing near a car, not leaving because it was some kind of impromptu party and why would he? At least he wasn’t blasting craptastic music anymore, though I’m sure his car would have provided an excellent source of amplification. I could feel his eyes on me the entire time I bitched about him to my friend. I don’t recall letting her get a word in edgewise.

The evening seemed to be calming down, people were leaving slowly. I stayed seated on the grass even though my house was less than a block away – I’d probably be able to see it if I had better vision and the road didn’t bend the way it does. A random guy wearing a red shirt came up to me, asking me to go with him, though he didn’t say as much. He was standing and I was still sitting on the grass. I acted like he hadn’t even spoken because apparently I’m a monster in my dreams (instead of the everyday bitch I am when awake). He kept standing there as another guy in a red shirt approached with a similar offer. I bothered to look up at him, but my response was still a hard no. They stood there like guards to my seated form, legs crossed in front of me.

A third red shirted guy stood directly in front of me and put his hands out to help me up – except it wasn’t so much help as pulling. He dismissed the other two easily, saying, “She’s coming with me” as he lifted me, now not fighting, off the ground. Yes. He was the bad-music-playing-blocking-my-progress asshole from earlier. He was also a Cory Monteith look alike, height included, a fact that eluded me until that moment. I know he wasn’t Cory Monteith himself for two reasons: 1) the bad singing. Cory was a good singer. and 2) Cory is dead because of drugs. (Also this guy didn’t look as lost/stupid as Cory always looked on Glee).

Upon realizing I was willingly leaving a street party with a Cory Monteith look alike who earlier I had wanted to murder, my alarm went off.  I hit snooze, but I didn’t return to the same dream. In the new one I was watching a weird movie and worried about accidentally moving furniture around in a living room that wasn’t mine.

Take what you will from this. Get a Freudian on it if you want. Just don’t ask me to go running or force me to listen to bad music. (God knows I’ve analyzed it and cringed at myself for dreaming it.)

Misheard Lyrics

My mom is probably the queen of misheard song lyrics – to her shame and to my entertainment. One of my favorites of all time is from my youth when my brother listened to a lot of Nirvana. The song is called “Dumb,” and Cobain ends it repeating, “I think I’m dumb.” My mom heard it as “African doll” and asked what it meant. She was met by laughter from my brother and me. We don’t mean it derisively, but it bruises her ego I know.  It’s all in good fun though because one of my mom’s many amazing qualities is her ability to laugh at herself.

There’s another classic from TLC’s “Waterfalls.” The ladies sing “Don’t go chasing waterfalls, please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to.” What many people (a dear friend included) hear is “Don’t go Jason Waterfalls,” begging the question “Who IS Jason Waterfalls?” So many people misheard this one that a t-shirt company made money off it – my friend and I have t-shirts with a male bust in outline with a giant question mark above the smaller print “Who is Jason Waterfalls?”

Once when in the car with my middle brother and sister, I heard Metrostation’s “Shake It” and damn near had a heart attack that my teenaged siblings were listening to what I heard as weird stalker lyrics. I don’t even remember what exactly I think I heard, nor do I remember which part of the song it was, but now every time I hear “Shake shake shake shake a shake it” I think of that moment, that car ride. Not that the actual lyrics are all that appropriate for teenagers… whatever.

These are just a few examples I can think of. I’m sure everyone has their misheard lyric of choice and a fun story to go along with it – like maybe how and when they were corrected or how embarrassed they were to learn their error. Today I was thinking about another one I misheard for a long time. The song isn’t very well known, nor is the story funny, but I always liked my version better.

It was during the height of my internet discovery of music – caught between my late ’90s love of *NSync and my blooming appreciation of acoustic guitar singer/songwriters. I found a very rough recording of something that was labeled (maybe wrongly) as JC of *NSync singing a piece of a song called “The Look.” I heard JC distinctly sing “your soul a pillow for me” during the bridge, and the idea planted itself firmly in my brain and heart. Using your lover’s soul as a pillow – rest, comfort, peace, relaxation, trust…. how romantic?! Taken literally or figuratively, the thought was beautiful. I loved it.

Well, turns out the song is by Ryan Tedder (who?). It is called “The Look,” and all the lyrics are stunningly romantic. Just not as awesome as I thought. What Tedder really sings is, “Just open up for me,” and I can’t for the life of me explain why I heard something different. I guess I’ll blame it on the shitty mislabeled recording. I must’ve heard the song fifteen years ago now, but I still sing that one lyric my way because it’s more evocative and better. Yes, my version is better!

Here’s the song  if you want to listen for yourself. It’s a great song, even if it doesn’t present the metaphysical prospect that a lover’s soul could provide ultimate comfort.

Playing With a Poem

I’ve been shuffling some of these ideas around for a week or so. I finally committed them to paper tonight. Because I haven’t been very good about writing every day, I decided to drag myself up from my prostrate position diagonally across my bed in order to type it.

Late November into early December has been a rough time for me since I was nine. That year there were two life-altering events within two weeks of each other. Not to be outdone by 1991, life has thrown a lot of shit at me in the same weeks many years, so memories kind of pile on. It’s sometimes hard to be in the here and now during this period. This year seems a bit different though.


“Muddled November Thoughts”
~LJD November 27, 2017

the intangible autumn quality
of afternoon sunlight
a peaceful end is near
nothing to be afraid of
embrace it with calm

the riotously joyful colors
of the leaves
they too know the coming
sleep is nothing to fear
a matter of course
unavoidable
therefore unlamentable

a warm sweater in soft blue
cable knit
sleeves long enough to cover my wrists
relief that this November
has offered a reprieve of some kind
not a promise, per se, but
a cease fire in the war
we annually wage

will December be as diplomatic?