Letters

013115Traveling alone in the days before the internet, my stops to pick up letters from home were sometimes what saved me. They made me feel connected, less lonely, loved even when I was surrounded by strangers. One day I took a train from Florence to Venice and back just to secure a handful of letters that were waiting for me at the Amex office. If I dug into a box in my closet, I’d find them there today. But I don’t write letters much anymore, and don’t receive them either, now that technology has offered so many news ways to connect. But this week I got a short and beautiful letter — accompanied by a short and beautiful poem — by the friend I most often correspond with. It carried sad news, and I held those pages at the kitchen table and cried a bit, for the news itself and for the way we are no longer young, buffered from the hard things life can deal us. I responded to the letter with an email, though it deserves paper and ink. The letter in the photo, though, goes back to an earlier innocence. My sentences, offered in the the most legible print I can manage, and Chris’s drawing, are on their way to San Antonio. The recipients are six and four, early readers, and we don’t see them as often as we’d like.

January 31, 2015

Things I Didn’t Do On Friday Night

013015

Put on mascara. Start the piece I am writing about students’ held transcripts. Catch up. Simmer down. Resolve anything. Turn the two-step double turn without grimacing. Became a confident dancer. Finish my dinner. Find Chris’s lost glasses. Clear the list. Buy socks. Stroll the busy paseo of a Spanish city, which is what I wish for every Friday night. Pay the bills. Weep. Sing. Order the gelato, despite its fine presentation.

January 30, 2015

Lyman on Pilgrimages, Sabbaticals, and the Sameness of Craft Beers

012915Driving his truck and trailer down the highway at the start of his sabbatical, Lyman asked the question a poet would ask: What kind of traveler do I want to be? Tourist. Migrant. Nomad. Settler. He and his family would be on the road a year, crossing the country, living in campgrounds. Pilgrim, he thought. I want to be a pilgrim. One who goes all the way out and all the way back and arrives home changed.

So we watched that pilgrimage – first on his blog – and then in his performance at ACC last night. The journey included numerous hats, visits to the graves of Emerson and Cotton Mather, echoes of those lost in the Holocaust, at Gettysburg, on 9/11. There were heavily armed RVers, yogis with limbs in four states. He gave us an evening that was reflective, moving, and righteous. His pilgrimage opened with lines from Simon and Garfunkel, “… all gone to look for America,” and ended in the most American of places: a baseball field in Iowa. Father, sons, ghosts, and future selves throw the ball, hit it, then watch it sail past.

Thanks for a beautiful evening, Major Dude.

January 29, 2015

In Shadow I Am Tall

012815Walking the Camino de Santiago, I was often aware of my shadow. It stretched out in front of me in the mornings, drifted to my right in the afternoons. In it I could see my moving legs and swinging arms, my pack changing my body shape from human to something vaguely tortoise. Maybe the brim of my cap. Maybe the nub of a ponytail at the back of my head. Scanning through Camino photos online there are countless snapshots of pilgrim shadows, I think because seeing your figure cast down upon the path is proof that you are doing it — that figure is you, who after planning and dreaming and training and imagining is actually walking, one step at a time, on an ancient trail west toward Santiago. And so this morning shadow as I head out to walk to the office. The streets are familiar, the park I cut through one I have crossed hundreds of times. My shadow is bigger than I am. I’d like to think it is carrying some of the strength, confidence, certitude that I picked up along the Way.

January 28, 2015

Dance While the Dancing’s Good

012715Pretty quickly I begin to believe that life is too full. During my time off the days shifted back to the most essential — writing, reading, time with family, long walks on the boardwalk and beyond. When the new year dawned I went back to work, which has meant not just the eight hours a day I spend at the office, but also the active life I was once used to. Happy hours, readings, friends from out of town. Good things, all of them, even when they feel like too much. Meanwhile, the hard news keeps coming. People I love prepare for or recover from health crises, major surgeries, big losses. I carry them with me. I send up prayers. And I know that once I was the one delivering the hard news, and that someday I will be again. We don’t always get a life of too much good stuff. In fact, we don’t often get one. So we pop into C-Boys on a Tuesday evening to marvel at the music of 8 1/2 Souvenirs,the smooth spins of a dancer in a swirling dress. You’ve got to dance while the dancing’s good.

January 27, 2015

Watching the Weather

012615True, it was so balmy in Austin today that I took a walk during lunch and removed my jacket on the way back to let the sun warm my shoulders. Still, all day I was tuned to the weather as a blizzard — “crippling and historic” predicted Mayor de Blasio — spun toward New York City. B was on a plane from LAX headed straight into it. It was a work gig, already scheduled, and she didn’t want to risk missing it. So by 6am the texts were flying. We checked flight trackers, web sites that showed airports mostly closed. We wondered about the roads between JFK and Manhattan. We breathed a sigh when her flight landed. By nightfall the temps dropped in Austin and I sit before the fire, feet stretched toward the heat, laptop open, getting news. B is safely in her hotel near Grand Central. We wait to hear what bears down in the night.

January 26, 2015

Austin Grocery Store Grackle

“Austin’s flocks of grackles…can sometimes reach Hitchcockian proportions.” Austin Chronicle

“Grackles fucking love HEB.” reddit

012515

Unless you’ve encountered them, you won’t understand. In Austin, trees turn from green to black for the masses of dark birds perched within them. Power lines take on new shapes as thousands of birds line up along them. One time I left my car on a side street downtown after the battery died and returned in the morning to find it literally doused with grackle shit, like I’d run it through a carwash spewing paint instead of water. People turned their heads as I drove by. The city has tried to run them off with bird screech recordings, laser guns, cannons, trained falcons. They are still here. So it’s no surprise, sitting at a Central Market cafe table before shopping on a warm Sunday afternoon, to find a fearless female inching toward us. Her kin were in the trees causing trouble. She was hoping for a french fry.

January 25, 2015

Kitsch and Koriente

012415

It’s good to have a favorite place, one where you’ve sat at all of the tables and sampled from much of the menu, but know the one item you’ll order, the one seat you’ll hope is open. I have that at Koriente, where Jay waves at me from behind the counter and comped my family’s entire meal when I stopped to eat on the way to my flight to Spain. I eat the mix mix bibimbap and bring the leftover spicy tuna sauce home to dab on my morning eggs. I don’t go to Koriente for the kitsch: chairs painted with quirky quotes, figurines tucked onto shelves, teapot markered with “RIP our first teapot. We loved u, why did u leak?” But it wouldn’t be the same place without those things. When I placed my order on Saturday after a morning work event, the new cashier asked, “Have you had the mixmix before?” I answered, “Only about 400 times.”

January 24, 2015

Cats: Above, Below, Beyond

012315Like children, like houses, like new lovers, pets are the unwilling recipients of our longings for a certain kind of life. And like children, like houses, like new lovers, they often struggle to keep up with our expectations. We adopted kittens last year because we missed the fat old tabby who used to doze all day on the couch. We imagined the calm presence of two cats stretched out before the fireplace, the comforting purr of them flopped in our laps. But when these two came home, they came at us claws first. That first week we had scratches from our faces to our feet. It wasn’t malice that had them tearing up our home and bodies. Just kittenhood, that excess of energy and lack of manners. Even today they dismiss etiquette, pushing the bathroom door when one of us is sitting on the toilet, inspecting us from the tub’s edge if we take a bath, attacking our feet under the blankets when we stretch out for a Saturday afternoon nap. But they’ve started offering some calm as well, sometimes stretching long across my legs while I watch a movie, sometimes indulging in a nap taken on top of the fridge.

January 23, 2015

Play

0122152Sometimes in Free Minds we take things a little seriously. We are talking, after all, about Plato and Shakespeare, about missed chances and new opportunities, about how capitalist culture insinuates itself into the Friday evening football game. But tonight Mr. Sidney, as the kids call him, helped us lighten up. We moved the tables to the edges of the room, put our bodies in the middle. We clapped invisible balls at each other. We made homes with our arms and then crouched to sit inside them. “Shelter!” called Patricio, and the houses moved. “People!” Ben yelled, and the people ran to find new homes in which to crouch. “Community!” said Joanna, and the room burst into movement, new structures popping up everywhere. Laughter, commotion, and Mr. Sidney managing it like the calmest conductor, towering tall in his gold pants. We finished his session feeling a little sweaty, a little lucky, a little closer to each other. Play–done right–is serious business too.

January 22, 2015