Kitsch and Koriente


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


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

Shiny and New


At lunch I come home to check on the progress of our HVAC installation. Across the middle of our house ductwork blocked the way, swallowed the rooms. (“Space worms!” says Joe. “Sculpture installation?” says Donna. “Cat tunnels,” says Kristin. Thank you, Facebook.) A man stood in the hall and snaked it up into the attic (the attic where we are told a rat had chewed through electrical wire, leaving it raw and dangerous). I hovered in my cold kitchen and ate the lunch of a twenty year old — pasta tossed with sauce of indeterminate age from the fridge, an egg boiled alongside the pasta, genoa salami I peeled off in pieces while I waited for the water to boil. The workers tromped their heavy boots across the floors. They kept their distance.

January 21, 2015

Saying Goodbye to the Beast

012015I lived once in a rental–a tiny one-room house set on a hill under the trees–with a leaky roof. For years the landlord patched and repaired it and still I propped buckets and pots around the house when it rained and my plants all turned black on the mantel. Then one morning I woke to the sound of feet on the roof. Outside, a truck, and men marching back and forth across my yard, tossing roof tiles from above, carrying new tiles toward me. It was like the house erupted. I got dressed and went out to breakfast. My landlord ate at another table, as he often did. “Oh yeah,” he said, “I forgot to tell you.” By the time I got home the crews were gone, the roof replaced, the house made new.

It will be like that here after a couple of days. The HVAC unit we have battled with, that has been a living thing in the closet by our bedroom, grumbling and mumbling and rising to a roar, exchanged for something new and quiet and hidden in the attic. No more will we not hear each other when we call across the house. No more will we open the bedroom door in the night to a jet engine thundering in the hallway. So today we open the closet one more time and put our hands on the unit to say goodbye–to its noisiness, to the part we had to replace every couple of years on the most frigid days of winter, and to the many years it kept us warm, or cool, without our noticing.

January 20, 2015

Winter Walk

At the end of the day, walking, I listen to Congressman John Lewis say, “When you pray, move your feet” on Krista Tippett’s On Being. It’s an old African proverb, and its wisdom is written through the Civil Rights Movement, which we celebrate today with a Martin Luther King holiday. I didn’t join the march earlier today, and I didn’t volunteer my time. I stayed home and to myself, then I walked a good long time and took visual notes about the world around me. Those notes are above, little peeks into Austin, Texas, on a warm January afternoon. They aren’t about justice or politics. They are glimpses at the funky world I inhabit. But what I carry from the day will be Lewis’s admonition and how I can use it in my own life to seek the right action in all things.

January 19, 2015

What We Need for a Writing Retreat


A full weekend day. Art on the walls. Yellow chairs that glide on wheels. Three women, pens in hand. Chocolate. Tea. Diet Coke. White boards wiped for the occasion. Markers. Compassion. A heart bent on opening. Clutter cleared. A twice-yearly commitment to spend a day in wild imagining. Strategy books. Tarot cards. A polka dot blanket offered by a daughter. Belief. Courage. Dreams.

January 18, 2015