a place called glovebox

part four in a week-long series about the rituals associated with napkins...yes, napkins

one registration, signature smeared
three pens, one that writes
two pencils
one glasses case, empty
one throat lozenge, ricola
four pennies
seven napkins, crumpled but mostly clean

she flips the top open
tosses the glasses case on the passenger seat
and grabs the fistful of napkins

she blinksblinksblinksblinksblinks
not crying
not crying
jamming the napkins at her shirt
at her lap
at the sticky sweet diet coke staining her favorite sunshine dress.

the paper tears and leaves little brown bits of detritus on the field of yellow.
she drops the napkins in her lap
she drops her head
she drops it all and sits there
knowing she will not be making the best first impression today.


the abundance of cloth

part three in a week-long series about the rituals associated with napkins...yes, napkins

i used to love having dinner at friends' houses who used cloth napkins.  the napkins weren't fancy, but for some reason they gave me a real sense of abundance.  it took a couple of years before i realized that i could have cloth napkins at my house, too.  somehow i had subconsciously associated them with an abundance that i didn't feel, even though a pack of four wasn't very expensive at all.  funny how we do that.

and now: i love my cloth napkins.  and you know what makes them even better?  our napkin rings.  metal napkin rings!  they were a gift, ordered from etsy, and they have our names on them.  it seems silly, but those cloth napkins in those etsy napkin rings make me smile.  they make me feel at home.  they are a mealtime ritual that reminds me how simple and personal and sustainable abundance can be.

i'm curious:  what rituals make you feel abundant?



part two in a week-long series about the rituals associated with napkins...yes, napkins

i look in her eyes and notice
for the first time
how often she blinks.
she laughs raises her eyebrows lowers her eyebrows presses her lips together.
i start to speak and she is nodding
before i've gotten two words out
she is nodding.
her chin is tipped down
and her eyes are looking up at me
so that i know she is
what i do not know
is that she is sitting on her hands
because her therapist has suggested that she try it.
what i also do not know
is that if she weren't sitting on her hands
she would already be three rips into her napkin,
on her way to having 64 perfectly-torn squares in a little stack,
on her way to having six of those stacks in a row beside her fork before the entree is served,
on her way to arranging those six stacks in a three columns of two and then two columns of three.
what she does not know
is how long she can sit still.


i am ever-so-slightly obsessed with napkins

part one in a week-long series about the rituals associated with napkins...yes, napkins

i have a very tiny obsession with napkins right now, so i've done a very tiny bit of research about them.  i do believe that any amount--even a very tiny bit--of research into napkins indicates some level of obsession, because who thinks about napkins, really?

since i'm interested in ritual these days, i fell down a napkin-rituals-rabbit hole.  and here's what i learned:
  1. see the tablecloth swagging down in front of the table in this painting of the lord's supper?  that's the napkin.  it's a communal napkin for everyone to use. and according to this blogger's first generation italian mother, the communal napkin stuck around for awhile, at least in italian families. she remembers growing up with a mopina at the table, "a communal dish towel set on table used by all greasy hands young and old." in our hand-sanitizer-tastic society, i'm not real sure the communal napkin is gonna make a comeback. we are too germ-conscious to be truly communal.
  2. even when napkins made the move to individual, they used to be huge because eating was a messy, tactile endeavor.  then, along came the fork in the seventeenth century.  suddenly, eating became a neat, polite affair, and napkins got much smaller.  we traded fun and immediacy for refinement and politesse.
  3. and finally, it seems there was a time in roman civilization in which, if you were invited to dinner, you brought your own napkin.  yep, b.y.o.n.  and when the meal was over, these roman napkin-bringers just wrapped up leftovers in their napkins and took them on home.  next time you spy your great aunt slipping a napkin full of wedding cookies in her purse, know she has history on her side.  these days, we use styrofoam and plastic containers with all kinds of toxic crap in them when often a cloth napkin would do just as well.  sigh.  we make things so complicated.
napkins:  who knew they had so much to say?


what s/he wrote

tim sanders posted this about four years ago, but i thought of it immediately when i embarked on a rituals of summer-vacation-taking week.

one of the rituals of taking a vacation used to be coming back to an email inbox that you imagined would be chock full and would require several hours to deal with.  now, you don't have to imagine it because you can just-real-quick check your work email from vacation on your fabulous smartphone, and you already know what's awaiting you when you return.  in fact, you've probably half-heartedly dealt with some of it during vacation.  and you've certainly thought about one or two items, whether you've responded to them or not.

i like tim sanders' idea for managers, co-workers, and clients:

when I worked at yahoo, i put my employee’s vacation days into my calendar to remind me to leave them off threads or bcc/ccs. when there was an email that they would eventually need to see or be copied on (when they got back), i would part [sic] it in the draft folder, then send all of them the day they returned.
i'm going to try it.  i'm going to put emails to people who are on vacation in a draft folder and send them when they return.  it sounds to me like a kind ritual to put in place.


the non-negotiable breakfast

part six in a week-long series about the rituals of summer-vacation-taking

when i was growing up, my dad had only one demand when we went on vacation.  that demand was breakfast.  he didn't care much whether we spent all day in the ocean or walked the pier 25 times or sunned ourselves into oblivion around the pool reading magazines with our walkmans turned up.  but breakfast was non-negotiable.  and it was early.

at around 7:30 in the morning, he'd start to get antsy, and no later than 8, we were dragged out of bed, pulling our hair back in sloppy ponytails or grabbing a baseball cap, and sliding on flip-flops or jellies or those adidas slipper-shoes to go to some spot that would serve us bacon and coffee and maybe some biscuits and molasses.  we protested mightily.

but now, so many years later, guess what each of my siblings and i consider to be an inviolable part of going on vacation?  yes, indeed:  breakfast.

i'm curious:  what are your vacation must-dos?


i love

part five in a week-long series about the rituals of summer-vacation-taking

installment ten || kure beach pier

kure beach pier, i love you

because you make me feel like it's the year instagram photos try to replicate, but you do it without a special filter.  i reckon being the oldest fishing pier in the atlantic coast helps with that.

because you have photos of happy, sunburned people with their biggest fish catches hanging on your walls.  real pictures.  developed at a drugstore.

because you sell ice cream.  really, really good ice cream.

because you are open 24 hours, and that is awesome.

because walking on a wooden pier at night and peering into the black of the ocean and hearing the crash of the waves is simultaneously so romantic and sad and present and nostalgic that i have no choice but to let go, relax, let the tension slide away.

because fishing is meditating, and it is amazing to walk down a long promenade and see people of all shapes and sizes meditating together in the same way.

because you used to have the best baseball pinball machine, which my cousins, my siblings, and i played approximately one billion and seven times.  it was yellow, and if you managed to get that silver ball to go up the metal ramp in the middle, you scored a home run.  i know you don't have it anymore.  that's okay.  the ten-year-old in me will always love you for it anyway.


a place called boardwalk

part four in a week-long series about the rituals of summer-vacation-taking

the sun is up but the sunrise pinks are still in the sky
and the sounds of flip-flops and tennis shoes slapping against the wood haven't yet begun.
a fat seagull is perched on dumbo's nose
on the flying dumbo ride
right where the shiny gray paint is peeling off.
the garage doors are pulled down and chained on the arcade,
the shop where you can buy jewelry made of fake shells produced in taiwan,
the shop where you can buy airbrushed t-shirts circa 1984,
and the tattoo parlor.
the garage door is up on the doughnut shop
because it's hot in there already
and because the sweet sticky smell is too much
and because there is one more teenager who has yet to arrive for work.
a lost phone chirps a low-battery warning where it was dropped last night in the sand near the trash barrel.
the pavement is heating up down here
as the locals have their coffee in their kitchens
and the tourists sleep off their beers in their hotel rooms and rental cottages.


smartphone vs. vacation

part three in a week-long series about the rituals of summer-vacation-taking

smartphone, you are the enemy of the true vacation.

yes, it seems like no big deal when we're shooting a quick email here, and sharing our awesome vacation photo on instagram there, and picking up a short call, checking our office voicemail, and responding to just this one hilarious tweet from our friend from college.

let's compare:

vacation before you could work, plan, and socialize internationally from almost anywhere on the planet:

  • 9:00am:  coffee and breakfast
  • 10:30am:  horse around in the ocean with your kid, your best friend, and your best friend's kid
  • 12:00pm:  read a magazine lying on your beach chair while periodically poking your leg with your finger to see if you're burning
  • 12:30pm:  lunch
  • 2:00pm:  nap
  • 3:00pm:  play bocce on the sand and lose to your dad...again
  • 5:00pm:  shower
  • 6:30pm:  go out to dinner and watch the server's eyes get round when your whole crew walks in
  • 9:00pm:  drink wine and eat snack food you would never have at home

vacation now:

  • 9:00am:  check facebook, twitter, gmail, and work email.  make a mental note to respond to 3 work emails after you make coffee.
  • 9:15am:  coffee and breakfast
  • 10:30am:  send 3 aforementioned work emails while your kid, your cousin, and your cousin's kid start playing in the ocean.  scroll through facebook for just a quick second, and get surprised when your kid comes back out of the water.  say you were just getting ready to go out to join them.  dang.
  • 12:00pm:  read your magazine instead of the work stuff you brought along and feel guilty and stressed about it.
  • 12:30pm:  lunch
  • 12:45pm:  pick up call from this guy you know who is helping you plan a charity event for next week because you've been playing phone tag with forever.  feel the urgency of what he needs from you, so agree to post something to facebook, your neighborhood listserv, and your parents' group listserv by tonight.
  • 1:15pm:  nap
  • 3:00pm:  try to post about charity event, and discover that your facebook app is telling you it lost its connection over and over again.
  • 3:12pm:  give up and go find your dad playing bocce with the kids on the beach.  take an awesome picture that totally captures the moment and realize that it's so perfect you have to post it on instagram immediately.  try out six different filters, narrow it down to three, decide one is too grainy, and finally choose the one that makes it look like csi miami.
  • 3:22pm:  play bocce while periodically looking to see how many likes your photo has gotten.
  • 5:00pm:  look up best place for reservations on phone.  read reviews of seven seafood joints within a one-mile radius, and choose pirate's cove.  try to make a reservation using opentable, discover pirate's cove isn't on opentable, and call the restaurant instead.
  • 5:23pm:  shower
  • 6:30pm:  during dinner at pirate's cove, look up blackbeard on smartphone to prove to your sister that blackbeard was shot and beheaded, since she insists he had to walk the plank.
  • 9:00pm:  drink wine
  • 10:16pm:  tell your spouse to go ahead to bed without you because you still have to post about the charity event.  after you post, check your work email one last time.
  • 11:12pm:  lie in bed thinking about the best way to handle the latest wrinkle in your biggest work project until you fall asleep.

hmph.  i've done some varying versions of the second schedule, but that first one up there seems a whole lot more like a vacation to me.

i'm curious: has your smartphone changed your rituals on vacation?  for the better?  or not?



part two in a week-long series about the rituals of summer-vacation-taking

she doesn't care for the beach much
this is where they have wanted to come
every year
since the oldest one could say the word ocean
she packed the sunscreen the bathingsuits the raggedy towels
and proceeded to have fun
their way.
she got tangles out of hair
she held hands jumping over waves
she made rules about how late they could walk on the pier without a grownup.
she sits on the porch of the rental, half-reading her book as they and their spouses unload the cars
bringing in water wings and sand pails and sunshades.
she watches them swarm into the kitchen where she earlier unloaded the only kind of macaroni the toddler will eat, the favorite potato chips for the son-in-law, the special milk for the one with allergies
all things she knew to bring without them even asking.
she feels the place fill up with her favorite kind of noise, the unconscious noise of family, and keeps it to herself that
she doesn't care for the beach much.


how to leave for a vacation

part one in a week-long series about the rituals of summer-vacation-taking

how to leave for a vacation

  1. plan to leave by a certain hour.  save up 413 small tasks that you must accomplish before you leave.  begin those tasks 90 minutes before your planned departure time.
  2. pack way too much.  remove three items from your suitcase.  feel proud.  put one of the three items back in your suitcase. 
  3. water the plants.  think about how you should go on vacation more often so that the plants get watered more frequently.
  4. unplug everything in sight:  the coffeemaker, the rickety old lamp in the hallway, the microwave oven.
  5. spill something on the floor.  preferably something that makes a big sticky mess or will dye the floor a nice shade of purple if it isn't tended to immediately.
  6. decide to set the timers for the lights.  spend 25 minutes looking for the timers for the lights.  get in a fight with your partner/child/dog about where the timers for the lights could be.
  7. leave 104 minutes after your planned departure time and feel pretty psyched that you stayed on schedule.  or close enough.  or close enough-ish.
  8. feel relieved that you're finally on the way, and then throw a big rock at that feeling by stopping for gas, lunch, and cash before you even leave town.
  9. get fifteen minutes down the road and make a joke.  smile for the first time in several hours.  remember that you actually like the person/people in the car with you.
  10. relax.


what s/he wrote

part seven in a week-long series all about the rituals of being friends

a long old time ago, someone whose writing i respect said some mean things about my writing--valid criticism, perhaps, but said in a mean, ouchy way.  when a new friend heard about it, she defended me thoroughly, intelligently, and without reservation.  she may not remember it, but i sure do.

in my mind, it cemented our friendship status.  that's one of the rituals of friendship, after all:  leaping to the other person's defense.

fast forward fifteen years, and i still consider the woman who defended me a friend.  which leads me to another ritual of friendship:  celebrating the other person's successes.

that's why this week's what s/he wrote is a little different.  i haven't actually read the thing that i'm going to ask you to read.  it's my defender-friend's debut novel.  her name is emily colin, the book is titled the memory thief, and it's available beginning august 21.  you can see the trailer here.  and if you're a book club kind of person, check this awesomeness out.

p.s.:  the  mean-things-sayer is now my friend, too, and she's an extraordinary person.  but that's another story.


an offer of help (softened with a sprinkle of movie)

part six in a week-long series all about the rituals of being friends

in the voice of two new characters, gary and tim

hey man how's it going
it's alright man how're things with you
can't complain
well i could but wouldn't nobody listen so
i hear that
nice out here right
oh yeah
wouldn't want to be the one to have to cut this grass though
need a tractor mower for this place
[insert movie quote here]
[insert movie quote rejoinder here]
[insert laughter here]
so y'all gonna move again?
ah i don't know
[insert movie quote here]
[insert movie rejoinder here]
i don't know we're trying to figure out somewhere a little bit cheaper but there ain't much out there man
i don't know
what kind of stuff are you lookin' for
what kinda house?
house job both
oh anything really anything for either one
i hear you
well let us know if y'all are movin' and you need some help i know jennie can't be carrying anything
thanks man thanks appreciate that
yep no problem man just let me know


i love

part five in a week-long series all about the rituals of being friends.

installment nine || elmo's diner in durham

elmo's diner in durham, i love you

because i was scarfing down your french fries the time j + k + i talked about the unconditional love we have for each other (and j creeped us out talking about bones).

because i was drinking your decaf coffee the time g + t + i nattered on about religion-related things and stuff.

because i was having your side salad with extra thousand island the time m + g told me with a gleam in their eyes about their visionary plans way before they actually happened.

because i was eating your chilaquiles the time b had tears in her eyes before she took a big leap.

because i was standing in your crazy crowded waiting area on a sunday morning with a the time the line between friendship and more-than-friendship was blurring.

because i have no idea what i was eating the time what used to be 11 of us (and had grown to 19 with kiddos and a new husband) all went out together for lunch.

because i was lingering over your huevos rancheros the time t + i had an incredible conversation about creating a new model for theatre in the triangle.

because my legs were curled up under me in one of your booths with m the time he made a momentous long-distance drive to see one of our shows.

because i have had three different beverages in front of me at one of your tables for so many hours with so many friends so many times.  and you have never once suggested that we hurry it up.


a place called kitchen floor

part four in a week-long series all about the rituals of being friends.

black and white linoleum:
g's butt covers one black square and one white square
f's butt covers one white square, one black square, and half of another white square
p's butt is in the air because she is laying on her stomach.
the refrigerator just kicked on and g can feel the hum in her back
which is leaned against the bottom door.
f notices the splatter of tomato sauce at the top of the dishwasher
and follows it with her eyes all the way down.
it streaks its way into a dried up river along the bottom edge
where no one will ever get it out from between the white part and that metal border thing.
g wonders what f is thinking about.
p wonders how f will tell her mother.
f wonders if her face is regular-crying-puffy or sobbing-crying-puffy.
she asks them which kind of puffy it is, and g assures her lovingly that it is
p agrees.
they are laughing like lunatics
that laughing that hurts and sounds either ridiculous and high-pitched or absolutely soundless
and g crumples the empty ritz cracker sleeve
and throws it at f
they have long since eaten all the crackers, eaten all the pop-tarts, eaten what they could stand of the cool ranch doritos, drank up all the diet coke.
now they are drinking regular coke
and trading the can of easy cheese back and forth
to squirt onto their spitty fingers and eat crackerless until it's all gone.
f lays down and even though she can feel the crumbs poking into her arm as it stretches out beside the stove
even though she is sad and pissed off and humiliated
even though her head hurts in a way that advil cannot touch
she knows there is no place she'd rather be right now.


decisions decisions decisions

part three in a week-long series all about the rituals of being friends.

it's a complicated, nuanced dance: a conversation with a friend.

the give
the take
the laying it all out there
the pulling back
the pausing
the checking in
the laughter
the keeping quiet
the analyzing
the overstatement
the speaking up
the teasing
the truth
the white lie
the glancing blow
the are-you-okay
the validation
the reminders of who you are
the reminders of who you wish weren't
the sighs
the i-knows!

in an effort to share, we are continuously, constantly making decisions, faster-than-fast decisions that we often don't realize we're making.

we are deciding whether our friend needs us to ask more so s/he can say more, whether we need to reach out or hold back, whether our tragedy-du-jour is worthy of the conversational airtime.

we are deciding how to support a risky choice, how to get all the topics covered in the space of one lunch hour, how to make the joke last longer.

we are deciding when to give the good news that might hurt a little bit, when to compare your stuff to my own life, when to keep our mouths shut thankyouverymuch.

in the best of times, with the best of friends, it's a nearly effortless ritual, heady and hilarious and heart-full.  in the worst of times, with the best of friends, we are working our asses off to hit the marks, to point our toes, to relax our jaws, to remember to breathe.

it is one of my favorite rituals of friendship.  not the easiest.  not the most glamorous.  but one of the most rewarding.



part two in a week-long series all about the rituals of being friends.

she looks at her phone
and sees the name flash up.
she would love to answer she would love to talk she would love to
she is so busy she only has three minutes she has her hands full
the potato chips she just dumped on the kitchen floor / the ponytail she's trying to get in / the phone call she has to return from two weeks ago to the gas company about that bill / the gas she needs to get so she can drive to work / the text from her mom she needs to return / the stuff she was supposed to read for her meeting tonight / the book she needs that she left in the car / the keys she can't find
and they haven't talked in so long so many months to catch up on so much she needs to wait for a long stretch she needs to block out some time
she lets it go to voicemail.

three minutes later
she looks at her phone
and sees the name flash again.
same name.
she laughs, knowing that the longest message-leaver on the planet has struck again,
knowing that the voicemail timed out and the longest message-leaver on the planet has called back to finish the message,
knowing that the message will be hilarious, rambling, silly, loving,
knowing there will be no reproach for not returning the last two messages
the ones from last month.
she feels a rush of warmth and wistfulness and sorrow and gratitude and humility that she doesn't have time to tease apart.
she is on the run.

one minute later
she looks at her phone
and sees the name flash again.
same name.
and in a matter of seconds she realizes
there is no rambling silly message.
she stops.
she recognizes the code
their s.o.s.
their i need you now ritual
three calls in a row
and she drops it all
everything that was on her plate
everything right down to the plate itself
to answer the phone
and sit patiently with her friend at the edge of the deep, dark well.


how to make a new friend

part one in a week-long series all about the rituals of being friends.

how to make a new friend when you’re five years old (option one):
  1. say, “hello.”
  2. wait for the other five-year-old to say “hello” back.
  3. ask, “wanna be friends?”
  4. wait for the other five-year-old to say, “okay.”
how to make a new friend when you’re five years old (option two):
  1. say, “hello.”
  2. wait for the other five-year-old to say “hello” back.
  3. ask, “wanna play dinosaurs?”
  4. wait for the other five-year-old to say, “okay.”
how to make a new friend when you’re an adult:
  1. watch the other person and how s/he behaves in a group.
  2. wait.
  3. dance around in your mind about whether you need a new friend because you already have enough friends for god’s sake.
  4. have a good conversation with the potential new friend but don’t follow up.
  5. forget how to suggest fun things and/or decide that nothing you do is fun.
  6. get scared that the new friend doesn’t want to be friends.
  7. get busy.
  8. try to act cool and aloof around potential new friend.
  9. hold back your real personality until you judge that potential new friend can take it.
  10. judge potential new friend as too snobby/smart/busy/pretty/unattractive/granola/corporate/soft-spoken to be your friend.
  11. take potential new friend’s busy schedule as an indication that s/he thinks you’re horrible and never wants to see you again.
  12. somehow, against all odds, hang out with potential new friend.
ah, to be five years old again. in the world of adult new-friend-making, it seems we have to be subtle, fend off awkwardness, avoid showing our hand in case the other person doesn’t like us. sigh.
about fifteen years ago, when i was newly living in chicago, i had an amazing experience in this ritual of new-friend-making. i made one of the best friends of my life with a conversation almost exactly like the five-year-old version above. it was so simple. and it worked. and we’re still friends.
it worked so well, i’m not sure why i didn’t stick with it.
this week, i got a message from a new-ish friend that reminded me we don’t have to do the adult version of new-friending. she said, in plain language, that she feels we were meant to cross paths, that we are kindred spirits. and it made me feel like a million bucks.


what s/he wrote

in celebration of july 31, the anniversary of the day my husband and i got married, this week’s blog posts will be about the ways we mark the passage of time.

back in march, gretchen rubin of the happiness project posted "celebrate leap day, or any other minor holiday." i had a one-month-old baby at the time of the post, so i missed it.  but this week, i was looking for gretchen's "why i now own a set of four heart-shaped placemats" post, and my search lead me to both the placemats post and its update, the leap day post.


in these two posts, gretchen describes making a celebratory valentine's day breakfast and planning a fun leap day mini-adventure for her family in an effort to "find occasions for festivity."

in her words, "celebrating minor holidays is one way to make time stand out."

i love this idea for marking time.  i've loved it since i read the placemat post in 2009.  but i haven't done anything about it yet.  the minor holidays--heck, even the major ones--keep sneaking up on me.  i realize at about 11:15 the night before that i don't have pancake mix to make valentine-shaped pancakes for valentine's day or chocolate gold coins for dessert on international talk like a pirate day.

clearly, i wanted to do this way before there was a kiddo in our house.  now, i want to do it even more.  i just have to figure out simple ways that don't necessarily involve a trip to the store.

i'm curious:  do you celebrate minor holidays?


one hundred and seven puzzles

in celebration of july 31, the anniversary of the day my husband and i got married, this week’s blog posts will be about the ways we mark the passage of time.

in the voice of a new character, john

i have one hundred and seven.
one hundred and seven that are complete.
i hang them on the walls of my shed out back.
but i might move them here to the house if i can convince janet.
i probably can't convince janet.
that's okay.
they look good in the shed.
they're all the same size, so they fit together real good on the walls.
i only do 5,000 piece puzzles.
40 by 60, not 42 by 62.
i like them all to be the same size.
i do one every month, you know.
mostly i work on them at night, after supper and before i watch the eleven o'clock news.
i have to stop at 10:47 because it takes me thirteen minutes to brush and floss my teeth before the news comes on.
i like to watch the news in bed, and i don't want to have to get up out of bed to do my teeth after the news is over.
sometimes it's hard to stop when i'm in a pivotal place in the puzzle, but i do.
i always stop at 10:47.
or earlier.
this one is from february, but i don't remember what year.
i know it's from february though because i was cold when i worked it.
that part there in the trees was really hard, and i remember i was wearing my orange gloves when i was trying to get it done.
it's hard to work a puzzle with gloves on.
but i needed to have them on anyway because it was really cold in the house because i forgot to pay the heat bill for a few months in a row and they cut the heat off.
i was kind of a mess then because janet had left me.
she left in november, and i didn't pay the bill for november, december, january, or february.
february is when they finally cut it off, when i was working this puzzle.
eventually, i paid it all and they cut the heat back on and janet came back in april when i was doing this puzzle over here with the tower of london on it.
that was a long time ago.
i'm running out of room out here in the shed.
maybe i'll try asking janet again about hanging my puzzles in the house.


i love

in celebration of july 31, the anniversary of the day my husband and i got married, this week’s blog posts will be about the ways we mark the passage of time.

installment eight || first ladies at the smithsonian

first ladies at the smithsonian, i love you

because you are an extraordinary example of conservation science, something of which i've only recently become aware.

because you mark time for us in a way we're used to in this country, by presidential administration, but you do it from a different perspective.

because you make me think that maybe grace coolidge was fun with her flapper dress and that it must have been very strange for jane findlay to come to washington to act as first lady, even though she wasn't married to william henry harrison.

because no one who does important things in the world does them without support, and the people in the support role deserve some recognition, too.

because you are fun.

because the last time i went to see you, you had welcomed a black woman into your ranks.

because someday when i take my daughter to see you, you will no longer be called the first ladies at the smithsonian, since a first gentleman will have joined you.


a place called farm

in celebration of july 31, the anniversary of the day my husband and i got married, this week’s blog posts will be about the ways we mark the passage of time.

a man is laying down on the wooden porch at the side of the house.
he is listening to the rain on the tin roof while his daughter sits cross-legged beside him
playing with a leaf.
the peas need the rain
and the man, the girl, the birds, the bugs,
they are all silent in their relief.
the tractor sits under the shed on the side of the barn
still warm
an old t-shirt tied over the crumbly cushion in the driver's seat.

the man laughs at his daughter's joke,
and his gaze wanders from her face to the old tractor
and for a moment he sees his own father standing there
in his yellow and blue plaid flannel shirt
with his head under the tractor hood
tinkering and swearing
trying to get it to start.

he sees his father stop suddenly
and look out over the field
the one where the corn is now
and his father sees his own father walking the rows
in his gray work pants, saggy at the butt,
inspecting the tassels and opening an ear here and there.

he sees his father stop suddenly
and look down the row
to the field across the dirt path
and his father sees his own father bent over
in his coveralls sweaty and sticky
pulling the tobacco leaves and stacking them up.

he sees his father stop suddenly
and look up at the house
to the porch with the rocking chair
and his father sees his own father sitting there
in his leather boots and shirt buttoned to the neck
watching the rain come down in silent relief.

and just for a moment
the man sitting on the porch
reaches out to the man laying on the porch
and they each know the other is there.
the sitting man's great-great-great-granddaughter smiles.
she can see that in this moment her father is content.


what are your befores and afters?

in celebration of july 31, the anniversary of the day my husband and i got married, this week’s blog posts will be about the ways we mark the passage of time.

lately, i am thinking about the eras in our lives, the ways we measure our "befores" and our "afters."

global standards dictate that the timeline of human history is measured in b.c. and a.d.--or sometimes b.c.e. and c.e.  but i'm more interested in how each of personally marks time.

my memories tend to get automatically passed through the "before daddy died" and  "after daddy died" filter.  i reckon that could sound morbid, but i'm guessing i'm not the only one who has discovered that one of those "before-and-after-death-of-loved-one" filters got installed in my brain without my realizing it.  

i also have the "before baby was born" and "after baby was born" measure, "when i was in chicago" marker, a "when i could still eat gluten" and "gluten-free era" label, and a "when i was in the green/blue/yellow bedroom" filter from the musical bedrooms me and my siblings played growing up.

when i'm writing or performing a character, i often try to identify a moment in which things change for that character.  now i'm curious to think about characters in terms of their "befores" and "afters," the filters through which they catalogue their lives, the ways in which they mark time.

so, you can help me write stronger characters.  let me know:  what are the "befores" and "afters" that mark time in your life?