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


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


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