The Day After the Boston Marathon Bombing

Sudden violence (is there any other kind?) throws the world into sharp relief. Horror that doesn’t speak but roars in the head like the ocean. Magnolias blooming under the crescent moon.

It gives things the proper perspective, too.

Last night, laying on the bed, talking to my mother on the phone while Army Guy relaxed next to me, the younger cat purring between us, I felt utter contentment.

This morning I woke at 6:00 am to take down the emergency update on the hospital website that I maintain. Cortisol shot me awake, makes me drained and snappy today. The sun is shining, the air is crisp and lovely. The Copley Square area is closed from Mass Ave to Berkeley. Did they wash the pavement clean? Will they find who did this? Will the cycle of violence continue, into the end of the time? Is peace just a pipe dream, like dreaming for the end of hunger, the end of darkness?

All things in sharp relief, from one moment to the next.

Mailbox

This is the sort of memoir piece I aspire to write. It’s also a wonderful reminder of a few of the advantages I took for granted growing up. Compassion grows from an understanding that we are more alike than we are different.

I shall be a toad

MailboxI was 20 or 21. He couldn’t have been more than a few years older. I can’t remember his name. Once a week, we would meet at the Trenton soup kitchen. I was volunteering. He was forced to be there. One of the conditions of his probation was that he would work toward his GED. We had a long way to go. He didn’t know how to read.

I had heard of people who went through life not knowing how to read, but the concept was completely foreign to me. I struggled with reading in 1st and 2nd grade. They even held me back a year. But I had a great teacher the second time I was in 2nd grade. I had an incredible mom who worked with me at home and read with me every night. And I loved books. I loved books so much I…

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Tiny Gratitudes

  • Sunflowers painted on the ceiling of an ultrasound exam room
  • Getting to an appointment 10 minutes early so I can sit in the car and stop rushing
  • Living in a place where the trees are taller than the buildings
  • Mentholated cough drops: bits of eucalyptus trees born thousands of miles away, soothing my throat and my lungs
  • A tiny white pill that keeps me from breaking into tears every 15 minutes
  • Miracle cures that ease cold symptoms, even if they do need to be taken again and again again
  • The rain washing down the windshield of the car, softening edges and smearing lights
  • The Fort Point Post Office, open 24/7/365, even at 7pm on the Sunday before Christmas
  • Working in an industry where skills matter as much as connections

Gratitude Day 25: Cranberry, Turkey, Pumpkin, Pecan, Peace

To do something imperfectly is better than to not do it at all. I wish I believed this axiom. I was raised in the school of do it perfectly and then check to make sure it’s really perfect. I was raised in the school of what do you mean you didn’t know that. I was raised in the key of G Minor.

I don’t remember how I learned to cook a turkey. It’s possible my Mom was involved, but the story I tell myself is that she never cooked. She cooked, of course, in between working long shifts at the light company, practicing piano, teaching piano, driving us to and fro, imagining we were being followed. Upon I reflection, I remember the following:

  • corn tortillas warmed on the gas burners (flip flip quick, until they were tinged with fire)
  • minestrone with the beans too hard
  • bread. lots of bread. she once said that the thing she missed the most when we left California was her sourdough

My brother and I learned to cook from osmosis, trial and error, and the encyclopedic Rodale’s Natural Foods Cookbook. It includes instructions for roasting, braising, broiling, frying, et-cetera-ing every kind of meat one could find in the grocery store. I started with chickens. I can’t remember the first turkey.

The last turkey before this one I shared with my roommate from mainland China and his girlfriend. Mom was supposed to come, but she called in sick — as she has done for more than one holiday since I hit my majority and started paying my own rent consistently.

This year, M’s family came to our house. I cooked the turkey, the stuffing (stuffing is my favorite), the green beans, the broccoli, the butternut squash. His sister brought her own delicious interpretation of mashed potatoes. His mother came early, made the cranberry sauce and the gravy, brought her graceful maternal presence into our home and negated all my mother-in-law fears.

Of course, technically, she is not my mother in law. She’s not even my mother in common-law — I believe it would take another seven years for that to take effect.

For most of my twenties and thirties, I scoffed at the traditional family model, bristled at the term “family values” with the rest of the queer feminist pagans. But to have eight or more warm animals gathered in my living room, brought together not by choice but by the accident of birth, people who in spite of the slings and arrows of outrageous genetics have gelled into a cranberry sauce of a family — bitter and sweet, whole cranberries suspended in a pudding made of the simplest ingredients — to have that in my living room, which is his living room, to be a part of that, was really quite an experience.

One that I wouldn’t mind to have again.

Also: she who cooks the turkey keeps the leftovers.

30 Days of Thanks

Gratitude Day 19: Flow, the Morning Walk, Thanksgiving Shopping, the Luxury of Obscurity

I’ve heard tell that something happens when you just start typing (or writing, as I still prefer composing in longhand) and keep writing. Something begins to flow in your brain. I’ve experienced the most pleasing sensation of flow, so I know that it’s true. The experience of success in the face of adversity makes it easier to overcome all kinds of obstacles.

I’m also very fond of the artificial structure imposed by lists. It often creates the most delightful poems (I would link to one but Google and my memory both fail me at the moment). Of course, one must be willing to discard what doesn’t work upon rewrite — but in one’s own time.

The thing about gratitude lists is that if I make the list long enough, a kind of comfortable warm joy begins to open in my mind and in my body (around the vicinity of the heart but sometimes the stomach). And it becomes easier and easier to find things to be grateful.

So enough talking and let’s get to the list. The public, public list:

  1. I woke up this morning feeling mostly rested.
  2. My partner is a Nurse Practitioner, and when I complained of extra dizziness he gave me the standard neurological tests that confirmed there was nothing wrong with my balance.
  3. In spite of my inner critic’s whisperings I suited up this morning for a brisk November morning walk, through woods that I’ve walked a million times before but in which I always find new things to marvel at.
  4. The happy accident of the leaf-obscured paths, difficult to make out, led me to the top of the rocks that look out over the VFW Parkway.
  5. On the bare even sidewalk I began to run, inspired by the Foo Fighters.
  6. I have more than enough to eat, more than enough nice clothing to wear.
  7. Heat is included in our rent, so when the furnace is on the fritz and wants to keep warming the house past the thermostat temperature we just open the windows and smile.
  8. The morning walk made it that much easier to suit up and show up to work.
  9. I have a nice easy list of things to accomplish today.
  10. They had beets at the salad bar, which I love in combination with the other tasty offerings.
  11. I know that beans contain enough grain/carb  (not just protein) to keep me well sated and don’t have to resort to the stale roles or croutons on order.
  12. We have finished 90% of our Thanksgiving shopping and won’t have to stand in line with a dump truck of food this Wednesday.
  13. There appear to be more of you reading this blog than there used to be. I still have no idea how most of you got there.
  14. I’m especially extra grateful that I can write about whatever I want on here and am not tied to the slave-chain of encouraging American consumerism.
  15. If the Internet has gotten crowded with stupid people, it’s still possible to create smaller versions of it.
  16. Community building happens, online and off-line.
  17. If I look back on this entry in a year or two, I can always delete it.
  18. I am a private citizen, toiling away in obscurity.
  19. I am loved — and I love.

Gratitude Day 15: Moment in the Sun

This morning on my daily walk, the woods were bare, barren, still in disarray after Sandy. Branches and whole trees strewn across the trails, the trails themselves obscured under a carpet of rust-colored oak and beech leaves. I’m fortunate enough to live next to not one but two different pieces of conservation land. On the opposite end of our townhouse complex, past a grove of eastern hemlock, is a circuit through a wetlands, boardwalk in spots, bare earth, rock, and mud in others. Closer to our house are the woods. Maintained by a different municipality, they’re the local stomping grounds of all the discontented youth in the area. We regularly come across the vestiges of bonfires and parties: carcasses of beer cases, crushed and empty cans, glass sparkling among the mica on the granite outcroppings. Once, an entire couch, or rather what remained after most of it was consumed by flame.

This morning, the woods were fully Novembered, bare branches and trunks rising over that russet-brown carpet, and the sky above marshallowed with clouds. The cold nipped along the edges of my fleece and I was glad I’d thought to bring gloves. Underneath though, legs swinging through the empty crunch of the bare woods, I felt myself opening, enlivening, made vital in the way that only the cold air can make one vital. Sweat ran down my stomach, cooled when I stopped to stretch against a boulder at the top of the hill, drove me on to greater exertion to bring my body temperature up again.

On the way back, I picked around the edges of a red oak, its entire crown fallen over a pathway as wide as a street. Someone had already visited the swamp’s pathway, taken a chainsaw to the trunks that had fallen. Who will come to tidy these woods, one small island of wildness in the city of Boston?

Later today, I drove from an off-site meeting to my office under skies still glowering and chill, skies that seemed to promise snow. Instead, at 11:00am, just as I pulled up to parking spot, the sun came slanting through my sun roof. I opened it, and basked for a moment in the November sun.

Day 13: Nothing Lasts Forever, Not Even Guns & Roses

Five things I’m grateful for today:

  1. The guys who called to request “November Rain” by Guns & Roses after a day installing sheet rock.
  2. The DJ on 100.7 who played it during a particularly hellish commute home this evening — through cold November rain, early November dark, and crosstown Boston rush hour traffic.
  3. The excellent speakers in my car so I could blast Slash’s solo in the last two minutes of the song.
  4. The peculiarly layered sensation of hearing the song in my car now, the memory of the first time I saw the music video on MTV, and reliving in an instant the twenty-plus years between the release of Appetite for Destruction, their brief stardom, their decline into obscurity, and their return as retro metal stars. The whole concept of retro metal still boggles my mind. Those years in the late 80s when hair metal ruled seem preserved in amber, out of time.
  5. I will never have to live through the winter of 1989 again.