If I ever need to remember what it was like to be young, I can think of this soap super couple who I dreamed about at 18 as if they were my actual friends. In our dorm room, freshman year, was a small black-and-white television. Twice a week I would sit in front of it watching Days of Our Lives. The other days of the week Beth would sit there doing the same. We used the tape recorder her parents had bought her to record her classes and we filled the cassette with just the audio of the shows. One or the other of us would race home to listen. This was frothy, like the fuzzy navels we made with peach schnapps, like the hot rollers we wrapped our hair around, letting them cool before taking them out. There are so many things I could have been doing with my time, trying to pass my biology test, sitting in the quiet of the divinity library, learning piano. It was college. There were professors and lectures and why didn’t I try to write for the college newspaper? I was busy, hitting “record” on the little tape recorder and waiting for Patch and Kayla to kiss, to fall into bed, to storm away and back and away and back and ultimately to marry on the deck of a ship with Kayla in the puffiest white dress with the biggest 80s hair. I didn’t know what I wanted for my life. But I knew where to be between two and three in the afternoon, and on alternating days I was there, only a breath beyond childhood, taking notes towards a world I thought might be mine.
July 29, 2015
Where our shoes land tells you where we’ve been, where tiredness overtook us or we decided, This is it, I’m in for the night. This spot below the kitchen table suggests we started talking: his brother, my applicants, the little list we keep of what hasn’t been done — car headlight, fig tree, pest control, and aren’t we almost out of milk?(Yesterday we both went to the store without checking in. The result: four dozen eggs and a line of rice crackers on the shelves.) On my side bags gather in need of emptying. On his a folded paper towel where he rests his elbow. Maybe there are houses where the shoes always land in closets or in a special rack by the front door. But would I want to live there? Here I can trace our days by the places we paused, then unlaced, realizing now I am home.
July 28, 2015
My father, who would have been 77. He would have been 77, but never quite made it all the way to old. Hard to imagine him grayer, balder, thinner, still swimming in the apartment complex pool in the mornings, still bickering with the neighbors. My father, who inched toward happiness and then tumbled backwards again. There were so many ways to understand how he lived those last few years, but perhaps the most real is to say he made me a wreath in a craft class, a tiny gold and burgundy wreath that the ladies helped him with, a small wreath with a big bow at the bottom. My father gave me a wreath, offered it with a shrug layered with pride and for a long time I hung it in front of my house, a little circle on the big brick wall of our fireplace. For his 70th birthday he received his first grandson, Ian, who turns 7 today, another thing we should be commemorating. So for Ian we took this goofy selfie and sent it through the sky to him and received back a photo in which his eyes have their wise gentleness and a smear of chocolate cake darkens his cheek.
July 27, 2015
We have the imagine the purple martins came this way even before the swath of land housed a Walgreen’s and a Target, even before this spot by the river became home to a towering power plant that chugged along for years and then was taken apart, piece by piece, and hauled away on the backs of trucks.
July 26, 2015
I know I am middle aged by how much domesticity roils through my writing, my photos, my discussions. Back in my mid-20s, when I worked a corporate job, I would eat lunch in the cafeteria with my older coworkers. (Sometime during that time they made a smoking room in the cafeteria, forcing the smokers into one hazy space with their cigarettes. They were terribly offended.) At lunch the talk would turn to gardens, the weekends spent mulching and trimming back, the best place to plant a hydrangea. Inside I would roll my eyes. How do I keep myself from becoming that person?
A few decades later, here I am snapping pictures of the cosmos crowding the path, the invasive passion vine that’s taken over what was once the veggie bed. I talk bathroom remodels and pest control with friends. And on my day off I make okra pilaf, jetting to Trader Joe’s to buy bacon, and read about infusing my vodkas with summer’s fresh berries. The domestic is all around me, and so often I’m like a downhome version of some celebrity lifestyle blogger, offering up the picturesque and enviable without the high price tag. Here is my CSA basket. Here the nectarines I cooked on the grill.
And here the laundry I woke to this morning, folded in front of the TV while watching an awkward and accurate movie last night. In the kitchen, cheese wrappers and ringed mugs collect on the counter. There the stain from the nail polish I spilled last week, there the half-read magazine folded over and sliding off the coffee table. The house teems with all that needs to be done. Will I ever make it through those piles? Is the fig tree dying from lack of water? What are we going to do about the tiles that have fallen off the porch? Why didn’t I plant the basil in a more protected spot?
July 25, 2015
This time of year kicks my ass. Interviewing applicants, twenty, thirty, forty of them, reaching and scheduling and inviting and welcoming and listening and explaining and testing and reassuring and then, hardest of all, choosing. It’s difficult to imagine a privilege greater than sitting down to hear someone’s story, the losses, the yearnings, the very hard things that kept them from what they wanted. They arrive with tattoos down their arms and onto their fingers, or in a nice blouse they clearly wore for the occasion, or with young children trailing behind to be entertained by cell phones while we talk. They laugh or fall silent with shyness or sometimes cry and cry. And it is an act of attention, of holding space, to be there with them, to really be present. And it tires. And so yesterday afternoon I stepped away early, came home, put on stretchy pants and lay down. When I woke two hours later the cat was snoozing at my feet. I ate tuna salad, cleared my in-box, watched Chopped, and went back to bed. This morning puttering in pajama pants I set tomatoes to roast at low temperature for three hours. They will turn sweet, so sweet, so slow and so sweet.
July 23, 2015
All those dance lessons have mostly shown us how far we are from being good dancers. The system is set up to get you to learn more, learn more, learn more. Shift from level 1 to level 2, from level 2 to level 3. Adopt the clothes, the culture. Add a move, a styling, a shift of weight you hadn’t tried. And then Saturday night we went to the Whitehorse and danced to a honky tonk band. This is what we wanted all along. A little two step, a little swing, my purse whipping dangerously around my body when I spun. The floor was concrete, the crowd mixed, and we danced all that we wanted to. We danced just fine.
July 18, 2015
You can read my latest piece for Edible Austin, an essay about walking the Camino de Santiago and meeting people from all over the world across the dinner table, here. It includes a recipe for our favorite Spanish tortilla.
July 13, 2015
I don’t know any of them, the writers who show up early Sunday morning for a day of practice around the folding tables of the Writing Barn. They are drafting picture books and novels, dissertations and short stories. All morning the keyboards rattle gently and occasionally the doors squeal to shatter the silence. We stay at it, lunch under ceiling fans on the porch, return. Outside, I walk a circle down limestone gravel paths, under live oaks hung with chandeliers, past funky chairs. Once more Austin steps forward to greet me before sending me back into the world.
July 12, 2015
On Saturday night we sat in folding chairs beneath the trees while Strings Attached adapted the Beatles to South Austin. A little Texas Swing. A bit of Latin. A full complement of voice and instrument and heart, so much heart. We gathered in the front yard, all around us camp chairs and bug spray and tank tops, regulars settling in and kicking off their sandals. A woman in a head wrap offered massages on a portable table. People danced in the margins in their long skirts. Once there was a way / to get back homeward, they sang. Once their was a way / to get back home. Everything scruffy and overgrown, the barefoot child swept up into so many arms. This is a place I once knew. This is where Austin went when we weren’t looking.
July 11, 2015