07 August 2016

Left Coast Home

I haven't lived in the mountains in years.  In about sixteen to be exact.  That was when I found myself living in Las Cruces, NM with the Organ Mountains in the background.

Then I moved back east, and headed northeast to New York.  Yet, in years of moving and shuttling about I forgot and suppressed the memories of where I started.  Seattle.  All those years ago.  

I'm in Oregon for the month, on work and research officially and more so is the resounding reset of me.  Pretty much from the moment I exited the Portland Airport a sense of comfort and ease began to settle in on me.  One of those moments when you realize you are home . . . in my case it was a home I always knew I had, but along the years I had suppressed it and moved on.  In the days since, things have fallen in place like natural kismet, without strenuous effort and with buttered ease. 

I started out in Seattle, and we lived in a little house on A Street in Tacoma.  Curiosity got the better of me last night, and I looked it up on Google Maps.  The subsequent owners have  . . . well, the cherry blossom tree that was an infant has  now overgrown the block, and the paint is grey--as we had blue--but from the looks of it the siding is all the same.   I'd like to think in the decades since they've re-roofed and replaced shingles my Dad and I put up years ago.  I remember staying close to him and never looking down from that A-frame roof.  The windows . . . my brother and I thought it was so cool to watch them put those in; in all reality it wasn't.  We were just young and impressionable. Our little house was blue back then, with a mustard yellow ceiling lamp in the dining area.  Odds are that lamp was replaced before we entered the new millennia (or at least I would like to think so!).  Though, I'd like to think some of the roses my Dad planted are still populating the back yard, along the fences . . . that backyard was a veritable rose garden.  I always loved the tree, especially the memory of it.  Tucked away, in photos, I'm sure I'll dig up old ones one day.  Just not today.  

And, no I won't post a picture of the house. New owners live there and I'm fairly certain they would not be keen on a stranger posting pics to coincide with my memories.  Though, it's funny how we reserve a place in our memory and as much as we change and life moves on we never think about the static lives of homes and objects.  The condition of the house, with its cracked paint and yard in a scraggly state of affairs, isn't what shocks me so much.  More . . . the tree, once tiny and cute, barely providing shade, now needs a trim, a cut, and a tow down as it surpasses the house in height and girth.  My brother and I loved that silly tree.  Probably because it was so pink when it bloomed, and that no one else had a tree like that . . . well, on that block, back then . . . 

When we left Seattle my mother has said I was homesick for three years.  That I do believe.  That stupid tree  . . . the mountains from the front door and the back, the vibrant life of kids on our block, the hill at the other end of the block my brother and I did asinine things on his banana bike on, and just the general atmosphere of life.  Beaches that are chilly--or outright cold--and seemingly endless arrays of forests and greenery back by blue skies and white clouds that even when raining there's an ambiance of life and continuity.  Then we moved to Texas where you didn't need a sweatshirt on the beach, as the Gulf Coast roared big waves and hot sand, and camping felt like we were just forcing ourselves and intruding on space of rattlesnakes and chitters instead of embracing the rich green forests and lakes with frogs sitting on lily pads.  Yea, that was a weekend at Lake Tanwax when we got our first camper.  I was fascinated with the Lilly pads and Lilies popping up.  My Mom, the hater of all things camping, even came that weekend.  

In the years since, there were things I loved about all the places along the way . . . even Mississippi, the place none of us like the least. There I learned a love for muscadines.  I'm too far west to get a good haul this year, but--ya know--I'll take marionberries and handcrafted coffee and endless bike rides and a relative peace to my soul in lieu of those jumbo grapes.  

For a couple of years now I've been looking to leave NYC.  In all reality, I never intended to stay as long as I have.  Career sabotage has kept me there that past few years, but these days I'm crafting ways to move on.  A part of me will always be a New Yorker, as anyone in Corvallis can tell you that I'm the resident oddball side eyeing anyone who looks too long or stands too close.  Yet, yesterday while riding my rented bike (whom I've dubbed Limey) down a hill I didn't realize was that crazy long or steep at the start two bikers with more might than me cheered me along as they laughed at my four lettered bombs exploding in what felt like miles and miles of downhill racing.  In all reality, it was half a mile or so, but at the bottom a short and quick conversation had them high fiveing me on my bravado (especially on a Townie bike, not recommended for feats of stupidity yo).  Upon finding out I'm a New Yorker, they assured me that Oregon, its coast, and this return to my roots will cure those ills.  As one said, "Look, you've already defeated the bike fear!"

In short, I've long thought about heading back west . . . northern Cali and the Pacific Northwest. If I still believed in signs, I would say there are many though sometimes odd, contradictory, and frightening. Yesterday, on the bus to Newport I shared a seat with a woman from Iowa--where I was the week before coming here--and her affirmations of life here, the solitude, the community, the replacement of roots . . . and her belief in signs . . . le sigh.  Time will tell, as life is not like the movies and finances and funding a move must be accounted before heading west as we say.  

With that in mind, I'm off to write the travel article I'm pitching about the escapes of Limey and me.  Yesterday was a bus ride to Newport and my toes in the sand.  She served me well on more hills than we probably should have done.  Today, between sitting on sidewalks in downtown Corvallis, I'm rolling along the river walk, and letting Limey take me through the environs of downtown.  It's Sunday, so the streets are mostly rolled up, but there are enough pedestrians out on this 70 degree summer day to infuse the infiltration of vitamin D with more than a bit of charm and humor.  Perhaps it is life that is happening, the west coast ideal, the kind idealized on the old show Northern Exposure, and in some ways the petri dish for movements launched by Gen X and them immortalized into pop culture fame.  

For now, at least, I'm back on my Left Coast home.  

30 July 2016

Messages in the Night

It's been two weeks now, I think.  Today I'm sitting at the Eastern Iowa Airport, situated in the middle of a veritable corn field, heading on the next leg of my late summer journey.  Farther left, farther west.  Farther removed from the city I've long called home, that's no longer feeling like home, and yet within the same proximity to those I chatted away that night with . . . a coup, a message, a saving stream of wifi.

Sitting at my computer, working on a fellowship app I was about two minutes from pushing back for a break of coffee and idle work around my apartment, but like any red blooded western soul I opted to divert my eyes and head with a couple seconds of Facebook scrolling.  That’s when the messages from friends in Turkey popped up about low flying jets, and then someone saw a tank . . . 3pm turned into a protracted timeline of messages, chats, and a game of holding our collective breaths.  Ironically, or perhaps poetically, the app is to spend five months in the Balkan region writing and developing plans and options for tourism growth and posterity. I’ve long written about what I now call my beloved Turkey, and as the night turned to morning memories flooded, fears mounted, and threads of humanity, love, and faith are all we really had to guide us. 

There’s something to be said about social media in moments like these.  One friend was due to fly home for the month—to New York—another . . . well, he got a series of messages culminating in “Gordi, turn on your news!” His response: “fuck.”  Both of them are in Ankara, with Gordi having a wife and daughter in Istanbul residing on the Asian side.  Chatter among us, later with his wife too, perhaps brought a sense of calm.  Links on updates, notes for what to do if this situation turned into a protracted nightmare and the embassy opened its doors to begin evacuating . . . as of now, evacuations have been avoided, but the emotional and physical carnage remains. 

As messages came my way about buildings shaking, bombs overhead, explosions, and smoke in the air I read them in a state of shock.  To be cliché, it is moments like these that the scholar in me has read about and certainly never expecting to see them come to life.  My closest friend sent a pissed off message about inappropriate comments from people. My super, from Ankara, got a text from me asking about his family and then to break the tension I told him about that.  I told Gordi.  We all collectively agree Tanfer was polite to not respond.  I would have lost my cookies in a vitriol response of compressed anger and disdain.  All of that aside, as Gordi said, times like these teach us who our friends are. Sadly, they do. 

As our evenings turned to midnight hours and daybreak, the historian in me saw her predications that daylight would bring some solace, levity, and calm.  The sun’s first rays certainly did, as collective sighs of relief could be heard via social media messaging as friends in Turkey awoke from a couple hours of turbulent slumber and those of us not there attempted to drift off for a few of our own fitful hours.  As political pundits around the globe critique the coup, the geo political positioning of it, and the Turkish President’s use of Facetime to address the nation several social points stand clear.  In a world of increasing violence, attacks, and mongering fear our senses are going to be seeing more moments like last night. 

When 9-11 happened there was no social media concept in full swing.  Phone calls sufficed.  No news was good news. . . then we merely waited for the phone call or email.  Now, a decade and a half later an international text message can tell your friends and family the world has gone mad before the ensuing news outlets barrage us with images, fears, and conjecture.  At the same time, those text messages turn into conversations rocking us through the night as we look around and count our blessings for being relatively safe, forgetting about being stood up, spending birthdays alone, career tortures, and failed relationships.  Yes, the pains of adulating—as the millennials say—become displaced as humanity shakes our core and we wonder what tomorrow will bring.

In the following day’s light, as we sit around the globe, an Italian friend awoke to Tanfer and me having included her on a bizarre conversation that bombarded her phone with hilarity and psychological avoidance.  Friends throughout Turkey, having lost filters hours before, emerged in the digital wake with messages of calls for the dead from the minarets and notes that just because the violence was quelled does not mean we know what the following days will bring.  Airlines started flying again, citizens ventured from their homes to view the carnage, purchase supplies, or even just converse face to face with humanity. 

On that note, there really is nothing we know for certain.  Tomorrow may be the day the proverbial bus hits us.  Or, tomorrow might bring a unicorn to the mix and arise peace and posterity for regions, states, and peoples who have long lived devoid of its comforts.  Yet, the only thing we can do is take stock of those around us, fight the good fight, and make sure that last message was not one of hate.  Instead, remember the good. 

Right now, I’m sipping some Turkish Tea on this hot summer day.  It’s been iced, served in an American Mason Jar, sitting atop a coaster from Antalya.   That along with messages and jokes among friends amounts to the little things collectively buoying us along in a growingly uncertain world.

25 July 2016

Night Away

A few months ago I found myself in Providence, RI.  This week I'm in Iowa City, IA for writing and work, and as I find myself continually lost among the corn stalks and melting under the sun's burning rays intensified in this open, almost barren, Midwest heat I leave you this. 

In the 2002 movie The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood Ashley Judd’s character flees home, family, and perhaps sanity as she escapes to a seaside hotel.  Awaking a day or so later, she learns from the hotel operator how much time has passed.  In that moment, the power of revitalization has taken over.  The viewer can almost see the sweet relief in her shoulders, even as she frantically calls her children.  Yet, the power and pressure of the young—and even more mature—mother is not the only narrative here.  Women, across the board, are all in need of that frantic night away.  The solitary night, in a bed you didn’t have to make, sheets you didn’t have to wash, a shower that you don’t have to scrub  . . . the power and the moment are here. 

In my twenties society largely told my single self that I should prime and primp, apply lotions of various smells erupting from Candy Land, invest in no less than a shoebox full of makeup, and meet the girls for drinks.  Drinks, of course, would lead to dates.  Dates would lead to dinners.  Dinners would lead to marriage proposals and diamond rings.  Diamond rings meant happily ever after.  To be honest, I look back wondering if I ever really, truly, earnestly believed in the fairytale.  Then again, I didn’t get married until I was 36 and that ended badly and quickly.  Yes, it was—in more ways than one—a case study from one of the Women’s Studies courses I’ve taught over the years.  Embarrassing, but true. 

At 36 I wore a yellowish, ivory based dress with a ring of chocolate diamonds on my hand, as no one who has known me a hot minute ever expected me in true white or a standard ring.  Though, with my cowboy boots underneath the courtship and wedding happened in a whirlwind.  In the early days of the marriage I adhered to social custom and pulled my husband away for a quick, and cheap, weekend away to Cape Cod.  It was a quick jaunt, in October, from NYC, and rather than look at the strains of my marriage I thought a couples weekend would fix us.  It did not.  Instead, the events of that weekend were my marital basket falling.  A year and a half later I would finally let that basket fall, the eggs crash out, and smatter on the floor.  Just as the child’s rhyme, Humpty Dumpty could not be put back together again. 

Two weeks after I left, I ventured to Eastern Europe for a spell.  Since I had a work project there, I extended my stay and ventured about via trains, taxis, and my own two feet.  A near two heavily intoxicated weeks later I returned home to continue on with the day-to-day of life.  My night out was a prolonged one, perhaps something a man is accoladed to do, and honestly I would recommend to near anyone on the dark side of divorce to embrace something similar.  Like a line from a country singer, go get drunk for two weeks and then rejoin the world.  You will feel a whole lot better.  I can earnestly tell you that jetlag woke me up at 4am, and a text message from work, and as I stood in a dark hotel room in Vienna I thought “so this is what this feels like.” Crawling back into bed, eating an Advil, and keeping the light out I drifted back to sleep. My days were filled with coffee, and my evenings were littered with the sweet, sweet beer of Austria and Germany.  I met up with a friend in Poland, and there I looked at her and said “if only I had taken a night away before I said I do.”  Back then I did not think a night away was for me.  Why? I already slept alone.  Why spend money to do it elsewhere?

Ashley Judd’s character was not healed from her night away, just as my sojourn in Europe didn’t come close to curing me.  Yet, I can’t keep but wonder why are single women rarely encouraged to embrace the alone? We are shuttled and molded into taking weekend getaways with partners and friends.  When we get married, it is then about the great couples weekend escape, find a day away from your kids, or revitalize your friendships with a Girls Weekend.  Time and time again, the single night away is largely shuttered under doors and hidden behind curtain layers. 

Officially having been single for a year or so now, and legally so for seven months, the power and pressure of my work, my life, and my economic station has been crushing me.  Of course, every now and then I find lyrics of Adele songs haunting me as I wonder will I love again and what if this is all there is . . .  Oh rest assured, I haven’t missed the ex husband since long before I left; the dog now is another story and I don’t think about her.  Yet, the confirmed single gal in me is sometimes overwhelmed by the reality, security, and proximity that with all my education and creative moxi I was not able to carve a marriage worthy of time and that like so many others I am looking at forty with questionable finances and perpetual instability.  Thus, before I dropped my basket, I boarded an Amtrak and headed north. 

Exiting the train, three hours after leaving NYC, the moderate New England city of Providence welcomed me with its night lights.  My boutique hotel welcomed me with a card, as I had stayed there a couple of months before for other reasons, and the adjacent bar still had crisp and delicious perogies (comparable to those I scarfed between gluttonous rounds of vodka and Advacaat last spring in Poland) and beers and ciders on tap.  I won’t tell you how many ciders I had with a shot of German peach liquor I had, or of the jolly and borderline insane conversation I had with a fellow NYer, or the bartender from my original hometown of Seattle.  Perhaps if I still believed in signs those all mean something.  Instead, I awoke the next morning, before the holy hours and bells could ring, to see the sun rise.  As I sipped an Americano, looking out the window to portals of artsy Providence, my wanderlust spirit and broken soul breathed easy for a moment.  That night away, once again awaking alone and on my own, reminded me that I am okay.  Most importantly, taking that night—escaping from the pressing financial pressures I can’t seem to catch—allowed me to keep my basket intact.  That is something we should all do . . . remember, nights and weekends away aren’t just for the couples, groups of friends, vacation bound, or exhausted parent.  Instead, a moment of solitude serves the soul from the single to the coupled. 

18 July 2016


As life goes, the last two months have flown faster than I care to think.  Yet, they have slugged by so painfully that I can not bear to think of them.  This past week, especially, has broken me in ways I didn't think possible.

I quit a job that I was never wanted at, that I was treated so poorly a second class citizen got more respect than me, and in the end I was always left under water and barely breathing.  In more ways than one I feel like a perpetual failure, as I've wasted far too many years trying to succeed in academia to never be given more than a passing bone and used to provide someone else with leverage to receive promotions and pay raises.  Publications and reimbursement grants don't amount to much of anything when you are crushed under suffocating rent, student loans having passed critical mass, and nights littered with the inability to sleep from the side effects of Lupus and the stress of knowing you are less than a paycheck away from collapse.  Most days I just can't breathe anymore.  Then, then the days that I feel like I've caught my breathe it all comes flooding back when friends and lovers show their colors of disdain as they tell you to just go be a secretary and leave you standing in an emotional wake.

Years ago I learned that I had to deal with my own emotional baggage, as no one else will.  Yet, there are times when we all need a shoulder to just listen.  Someone to just let us fall apart.  Telling a feminist that her feelings of failure aren't what feminist do and she's not allowed to have emotional letdowns . . . that is probably more crushing than waking up from a heat laden afternoon nap, after an emotionally scarring day at work, to find yourself shaking with rage and shame to only send your resignation (via email) two years later than you should have.  One rage subsided, but the oppressive weight of shame and broken hearts presses more heavily than before.

The next day you find yourself driving, something you used to do on angstful nights, and as your car points east you exit the city that once held your dreams.  You aimlessly drive, knowing eastbound means Long Island and the end point is either the ocean or the ocean.  You find yourself buying a water and walking along your old alma matter, in a blazing heat so bright and intense you look down to see if your shoes still have soles, and you look around and see your favorite class sitting on the lawn while you jabbered about comics, gender, and political prowess of presentation and perception. You look farther down the academic mall and see you and an old friend smoking, while snow flakes began and he started singing a Christmas tune, then as you turn you see a long time love walking away as you stood there wishing things were different that spring day.  Shaking the proverbial memory away, you leave remembering that first August day you came.  The heat, the fear, the same walk to the parking lot.

The only difference are there are more blooms now than 16 years ago, and you are certainly worse for the wear.

As the week rolls on, and the pressures mount and the catastrophes accumulate, your birthday passes with you waking up forty, alone, and mostly unemployed.  A friend you made plans with vanished, and in the end it was like every other day with you spending it alone.  today, though, decidedly more miserable than the past. Yet, when the people that you held closest can't be bothered to remember to say it, and then make it your fault since you aren't talkative and are keeping to yourself, life has shown another way of where you stand.  

It's not about the birthday though.  It's about being the failure, the colossal joke, the public recourse for everyone's amusement but your own.  At some point I'll recover.  In the meantime, I'll figure it out on my own since I've learned--once again the hard way--of where I stand.