Monday, January 16, 2017

But I don't wanna say goodbye


It’s 1am.  I should be asleep.  But I’m not. My mind is busy, playing through memories.  Playing through memories that I don’t want to be old or forgotten, unable to be duplicated, unable to be replicated, replayed, relived.

As I’ve gotten older, I feel like death has become less real to me.  It should be the other way around, where death is more real than when I was child in a world where magic existed.  I think it’s because the people leaving are people I don’t see daily, or even regularly.  It’s easy to forget they’re not there, wherever they usually are, until you see someone or hear a voice or a laugh, and for a split second, you think it’s someone you know and love and care about.  And then you remember.  You remember it cannot be them, they are gone.  Or maybe it actually is them, in those moments, a fleeting, twinkling, dancing, laughing moment to say hello, to say “remember me?”, to say “remember me.”

I almost had one of those moments today.  On my plane.  A voice, a voice I almost knew.  But the news was still too raw to be caught in a foolish forgetful hope.  Yet that timber, that tone, while uttering some other words I didn’t hear, still said, “remember me.”  And now I lie here, awake in the dark, obeying the command, remembering.

It is that shining gleam in her eyes when her daughter was crowned Junior Miss that makes the tears flow hardest.  She was so very, very proud.  Always proud of her children, their achievements, her own children and those of us she’d welcomed in with open arms and southern hospitality.
It is her insistence, against her eleven-year old daughter’s attempts to assert “friend-girl” as a thing and three teenagers’ clear awkwardness, that it was so wonderful for her son to have his girlfriends over for dinner that brings choked-up giggles spilling from my throat, morphing into sobs and back to giggles again.  Sobs.  Giggles. Sobs.  Sobs.
It is knowing she’s cheering loudest and hardest from the stands, waving a pompom and hooting and hollering as we snap our horns down that makes me feel a warm giant hug though surrounded by thin air alone in my cold apartment. 
It is that broad, joyful smile that makes the corners of my mouth turn up to smile back even as my lip quivers and my heart crinkles into the deepest frown. 
It is plates of eggs and bacon, folding chairs on lawns, red pew cushions, and a big blue easy chair that unleash a booming, echoing, “so, what’s going on with you?” bouncing around inside my head, waiting for an answer. 
And it is realisticness compounded with a firm resolve that reminds me that within my memories of this wonderful woman lies a superhero’s capethose who believe can do anything.  Even while acknowledging the mountains that need to be climbed along the way, the hurdles that need to be jumped, and the rivers that need to be crossed.  “Well, there may be a big mountain and eight lions on this path, but I think there’s a real possibility he can do this if he just...”  That was so often her attitude; it may be tough, but there's a way.  And of course, she always had plenty of input on what that way was, too.

It doesn’t matter that the station agent gave us a schedule and we’ve been standing on the platform watching the train come in; I’m still mad it arrived.  Mad it didn’t delay more.  Mad it was even on its way already.  It’s always too soon when people you love go, but sometimes, it really is too soon.

So. I’ll let the memories play, until life goes on enough to bring one of those twinkling moments.  And then, I will obey.  I will remember her.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Cultural Popcorn

I received my first Christmas card of the season today, from my high school World Cultures teacher.  World Cultures was one component of a course called “Humanities.”  It included, aside from World Cultures, Speech and English class as well.

Looking back at that course from my life now, I’m almost tempted to laugh.  A sad, somewhat disbelieving, somewhat awed chuckle with a hint of mirth.  She taught us so much, tried to teach us so much more.  She was herself quite cultured in the world and endeavored to share all her experiences with her students.  We were not cultured, our blue-collar town on the edge of a decaying manufacturing giant, a city with ethnic lines left from immigration patterns a hundred years ago, a place where we could tell the difference between those with German, Polish or Swedish heritage, but not between the first-generation Chinese, Vietnamese or Laotian immigrants.  A classroom full of students the majority of whom, I can say from my last high school reunion, were not destined for four-year college or moving out of the state.

It was the 1996-97 school year; she tried to teach us about the Rwandan genocide.  The facts were learned, but nothing really sank in until last year when I saw Unexplored Interior at Mosaic Theater here in D.C.  Her teaching had put a seed in my head, but not like a bean seed to sprout and grow gradually, like a popcorn seed that exploded with meaning and awe as I started to understand just what she had taken on in even trying to get us to understand something so inconceivable to our young minds even while the world was still seeking to understand how and why and what.

She brought in couscous for us try on a world food day.  I’d never heard of it before; I don’t think any of us in class had ever had it before.  I liked it but went home and ate my potatoes and veggies; for the next dozen-some years couscous remained an exotic dish to come across in the fancy instant-food section of the grocery store where very salty little just-add-water cups of soup and grain appeared.  Now, there are 6 tubs of couscous in my pantry, owing to my inability to properly manage my Amazon Subscribe and Save subscriptions, or my ability to accidentally order massive quantities of things I don’t need---however you want to view it.

She organized and chaperoned a group trip to Paris---she was also the French teacher---giving us opportunities to see places like Versailles and Monet’s garden up close.  Again, places I wouldn’t even begin to understand until much later, until some other experience of life connected dots she’d drawn on my brain.

There are probably many more seeds sitting in my head, waiting to pop, many more dots on my brain waiting for life to draw the connecting lines.

I thought of her last week, standing in Switzerland, looking at artistic Christmas cards written in French, wondering if she could have imagined this 20 years ago, imagined that I’d be standing there, in Geneva, yards from my ridiculously fancy hotel, in a suit, on official travel, staring at tiny paper birds adorning a script “Meilleurs Voeux.”  She always saw so much more in us than we could possibly see in ourselves.  She challenged us to dream beyond our classroom walls, our snowy streets, our giant lake.

She taught us about far-off places I thought I’d never see and tried to get us to see the same in the differences, the us in every them.

I am so very thankful for that, and thankful that my Christmas season has begun with a beautiful card from her and a thoughtful note that continues to emphasize the us in every them.  

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Beach


I went to the beach this morning.  I went to the beach in bare feet.  Crossed the street from my hotel to the beach.  Stepped onto the hard pavement.  Took jarring steps down to the corner, across the warm asphalt.  Stepped onto the rough curb.  Walked through the prickly parking lot with its tiny stones that poke your heels.  And stepped into the warm sand of the beach.

I wriggled my toes, grains sneaking into the crevices.  Warm grains from the top of the beach, hot from basking in the rising sun.  Cold grains from below, hiding in the damp darkness of the beach’s underlayer.  Temperatures and textures mingling around my digits, coaxing me into feeling again.

I stepped.  I walked.  Each pace a new sensation of rough and smooth, grains of sand, grains of warm, grains of cold.  Advancing towards the water.  I picked my way through the seaweed line at the edge of the last tide’s waves.  Rushing through little swarms of tiny flitting bugs.  Aiming to avoid mushy green splurting between my toes.  Across the washed-up branches.  And onto the cold, wet, smooth spance of sand.  The sand that sinks under your heels and leans you backwards as if saying, “stay, sit, do not go, be one with us, be another grain, a piece of the wide expanse, a tiny morsel of the world.”

And down, down the sight slant towards the water.  I stood there.  Quietly.  My long dress bunched into my hands just above my knees.  The sun warming my calves, my shoulders and my face.  I stood.  I watched.

The waves cresting, peaking, rolling over themselves into tubes, tunnels, caresses.  Silky smooth panels crashing into frothy, bubbly white.  Running onto the beach.  Rushing forwards, up the slant, onto the dark cool sand.

I stood.  I listened.  Roars as the waves built, rushing up, cresting into screams, dying down into licks, falling back as whispers.  Birds overhead, birds in the distance.  Birds peeping quick, high-pitched little cheeps.  Birds honking, loud, long snaps.  Swooping, diving, floating.  Riding the swells far out on the sea, far from the beach, beyond the sand to which I clung tight.

I stood.  The waves rose and fell.  Cresting with anger, receding in resignation.

I stood.  Wave edges lapping in front of me.  Coming.  Going.  Coming.  Going.  This one near.  This one far.

I stood.  Large waves roaring down the beach.  Splashing against the sand.  Edging closer.  Coming.  Coming towards me.  Rushing around my legs, froth nipping at my knees, swirling past me and back out to sea, sand scurrying out from under my feet.

I stood in the ocean.  Rough, beautiful, powerful, peaceful cold ocean.

And without moving, I stood again on the beach.

Friday, September 30, 2016

A Reprieve in Geneve


I spent most of last week in Geneva.  I’d gone to visit WIPO.  This is a pretty big deal, visiting WIPO.  As a Midwestern city girl, WIPO is much like Harvard or New York, one of the places on tv that doesn’t really exist in real life.  But it does, and like Harvard and New York, now I’ve seen it.

My three favorite things about Geneva were the roads, the silence, and the shutters.  The cheese definitely deserves an honorable mention.  And I mean the cheese at the grocery store, the big blocks of hefty, strong Swiss-made cheeses, and maybe a few of the soft French cheeses.  I could easily get by on meals of bread and a bit of cheese.  The cheese was priced about the same as American brands of cheese back in DC, so it was still a bit of a splurge.  (In DC, these are usually from Pennsylvania and Vermont and occasionally from Wisconsin.)  But of course, these types of cheeses would be imported back home and thus far more expensive.  My big find for the cheese was a tube of mustard that went splendidly with the Emmantaler and with fresh rolls and baquettes.  I wasn’t completely sure it was mustard, but “moustarde” and “Dijon” both sounded like mustard-y words to me, so I took my chances.  Boy was that a good gamble; it was so delicious!  Cleared the sinuses and woke you up really good too, perfect for a bright breakfast.

The skyline in Geneva is an odd mix of glassy new, blocky mid-century and quintessentially Swiss.  The different styles nearly all had some type of exterior window covering.  Some had awnings that could be dropped down, others had horizontal blinds that rolled down.  A few had metal doors similar to the ones on mass storage units in the U.S.  But my favorite were the shutters.  Real shutters that opened and closed instead of being silly ornaments stuck to the sides of windows for which they are clearly far too small.  I loved to walk down the streets and look at all the variety of shutter positions, latched open against the building, shut tight, flung open and hanging ajar high above the bustling roads.  Someday, I would like a home with shutters.

The streets were narrow and made of all sorts of different materials, sometimes pavement, sometimes brick, sometimes cobblestone.  I struggled to tell street from sidewalk from bike lane from tram line.  At first, this made me very nervous as I had no idea if I was supposed to be where I was in any given spot.  But then I realized, everyone was okay pretty much everywhere.  People were sharing the space, paying attention, deferring to others as needed.  Everyone seemed to acknowledge that others needed to use the same space.  It was so much nicer than the I-have-a-right-to-be-exactly-where-I-am-wherever-that-is-all-the-time mentality from back home.  Much less ground was needed to accommodate the movement of massive numbers of people.  And with narrower streets, it felt less like one was traversing a big city or long distances; it was easier to walk a mile surrounded by buildings and activity than across stretches of pavement and parking lots.

And with sharing the space and moving all those people came an immeasurably pleasant silence.  Oh, there was talking and laughter and engine rumbles and tram dings and the noise of a city, but there was no incessant automated yelling like one must endure on a daily basis back home.  No “STEP AWAY FROM THE DOORS!  THE DOORS ARE CLOSING!”  No “THE FARE FOR THIS BUS IS ONE DOLLAR AND SEVENTY-FIVE CENTS!”  No “THE WALK SIGN IS ON TO CROSS!  THE WALK SIGN IS ON TO CROSS!”  Even at the grocery store automated check-outs, no “UNEXPECTED ITEM IN BAGGING AREA!  UNEXPECTED ITEM IN BAGGING AREA!”  No glaring signs screaming at you to don’t do this or not do that, to stay away, to go this way and to not go that.  No we-must-put-warning-labels-on-everything-or-someone-will-sue-us-signs.  It was so nice.  So refreshing.  So amazing to be in a place where people were left to get by on their common sense; and you know what, they did ok.  Don’t want to get hit by a tram?  Move when the tram is coming.  People open the tram, bus and train doors themselves by pushing a button.  If the door is closing, push the button and it will open again.  And the people are so polite.  Not in the Southern or Midwestern smiling and speaking nicely polite.  In a very matter-of-fact way that said “I acknowledge your existence and your need to get where you’re going, too.”  And that was that.  It was so very pleasant.  I want to live in a world like that all the time.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

These are a Few of My Favorite Seats

Southwest heartMy favorite seats on the airplane are the front row.  As part of the insiders club (see prior post) of people who fly Southwest so much they know how to work the system, I’ve developed a strategy that gets me one of those seats about 90% of the time I fly.  Sharing that strategy puts it a bit at risk as it may increase intelligent competition for my desired seats, but I’ll do it anyway.  After all, there’s plenty of flights I’m not on, and it could help people on those, too.

The short version is: pack light and be nimble.  When you get on the plane, you have to act quickly and get out of the aisle.

As I said, I like the front row.  In order of preference, 1A, 1F, 1C, 1D, 1B, 1E---window on the left, window on the right, aisle on the left, aisle on the right, middles.  These seats are desired because they have tons of legroom, but they have downsides that temper this.  A lot of people don’t realize the  downsides until they try to take the seat.  If someone is attempting to go for one of my favs, I wait patiently until they are situated.  There’s a decent chance they will give up and move.

After a few flights, you start to see what prevents people from being able to sit in the front row. 

1) They don’t want to forgo a tray table.  I don’t mind this and I consider that I will not have a table when choosing what I want to do on the plane (knit, read, write, etc.). 

2) Their rollerbag does not fit in the smaller front bins.  I don’t carry-on a rollerbag.

3) They have too much luggage.  They may not have a rollerbag, but they have one small item and one larger item.  Both have to go up in the front row, but they often can’t find space for the larger bag.  If I do not check my luggage, I carry two small bags---my purse and a bag the size of my purse---that can both easily be tucked into small spaces left in the overhead bin.

4) They haven’t figured out what they want to use on the plane and aren’t ready to store both their bags, so they give up and go for a seat with under-the-seat-in-front-of-you accessible-during-flight storage space.  I choose what I want to do on the flight before boarding and keep that one item in my hands when boarding.

5) The aisle or window is more important to them than the row.  I’d rather have the middle in the front row than a window or aisle elsewhere.  Because middle seats are generally less desirable but are fairly high up on my list of preferences, I can often get a front row seat even if I’m boarding at the end of the A’s.

I make some decisions before getting to the airport, primarily whether I will check a bag or not.  This depends mostly on the speed of baggage claim at my destination and whether I will be leaving the secure area on a layover.  (I love layovers in Kansas City; hi, Alfred!)  I know that baggage claims at OAK and DCA take ages but that it’s relatively quick at MKE and MCI.  If I’m flying into MKE or MCI, I may check a bag so I only have my purse to carry on.  If my trip will involve flights into OAK or DCA, I try to avoid checking luggage. 

I also have backup seats in mind in case the front row is full.  I consider the likelihood of needing to go to these at two points, when I get my boarding position the night before and when everyone lines up for boarding.  Having to go to backups depends partly on my boarding number but also on where the plane has come from (likelihood of large number of through passengers), number of preboarders and their ailments---preboarders are likely to take the front row, especially if they have leg injuries or canes.---, the number of Business Select passengers (boarding spot 18 can actually be boarding spot 3 if there are no Business Select), and the amount of rollerbags in front of me, which as discussed above generally disqualifies people from the front row.  I know that a flight out of MKE is very unlikely to have many Business Select passengers unless it’s going to LAS; every flight to Vegas seems to have lots of Business Select people, as if they’re saying “hey, I’m already throwing away a ton of money on this trip, let’s go big all the way!”

Considering all these things, I pack for the goal of the front row based on my calculated likelihood of getting it.  If I’m in the B group on a flight with a layover or stop in Vegas, I’m going to pack for not getting the front row and probably just pass it up even if it is available.  But B group and flights going through Vegas are rather rare for me, so I’m in pretty good shape for getting a nice front row seat where I can stretch my legs.