Monday, October 2, 2017

On Being Alive

This might be my favorite time of the year,  these early days of autumn. The mornings and evenings are cool--a couple of times, now, they've even been chilly--but days are still warm. And yet...the late afternoon sunlight is a particularly brilliant yet gentle golden, as though it's apologizing for the harsh summer months and trying to encourage us to soak up what little warmth remains before winter sets in. The crickets still chirp at night; not the loud clamor of high summer, and rather fewer of them, but they are still their, making their noises quietly and persistently as though saying, "We will continue our song until the bitter end."

It's a beautiful early fall evening right now, and I am reminded of a fall evening from my very early years. It must be one of my very first memories--I was three, or perhaps four. We were still living in Ohio. My mom was getting me ready for bed, and insisting I wear an undershirt under my nightgown because the nights were getting cooler. I remember looking over her shoulder at the open window in my bedroom, seeing the dark night beyond my cozy little world, feeling the chill night air, knowing she was right.

It's a beautiful fall evening right now, and for me at least, it is a beautiful day to be alive. And oh, how rotten I feel, thinking that. At least 59 people are no longer here to enjoy life on this peaceful evening. Their lives ended yesterday, their peace shattered. I wish that I could believe that they have never-ending peace, now, but I don't have any certainty of that. I know that we who are left have even less peace and security than we had before (and really, those were and are only illusions), and I know that many of us sit in our homes, and look out our open windows into the chilly autumn evening, and know that it's a dark night that lies beyond our cozy little world. And not all of us have the privilege of a cozy little world.

I'm sad, I'm distressed, I'm exhausted. I imagine most of us are--and probably for a lot longer than just the last 24 hours. I don't know what to do; I only know that I can close my eyes against this gentle autumn night and wake tomorrow and rise and meet the day with a desire to act with courage and a strong moral compass and compassion. Maybe that's all I can do. Maybe that's all any of us can do. Or maybe that that is the bare frickin minimum.

May we all retire to our beds tonight, safe and loved. May we all wake tomorrow to wrest whatever beauty we can from this chaotic world. May we all survive to see another beautiful autumn evening tomorrow. And may we rest our heads tomorrow night knowing we did all we personally could to set this world to rights.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Another Homecoming

Well and so! Another August--my second one back here in Bloomington--draws to a close. Other than a few brutally hot days, it's been unusually mild and dry, and while I'm no expert when it comes to leaf science (is that a thing?), I wonder if this weather has anything to do with the red and orange pops of color that are already here in the trees.

With the end of August comes the inevitable return of the students. And here is a rather unexpected development--the students are not the only ones returning to Indiana University. I am, too.

Two weeks ago, I stood before a class of library science students. Eleven and twelve and thirteen years ago, I had been one of those students, sitting in that same classroom, prepared to absorb the information my instructors were about to impart. Now, I am one of those instructors, teaching Collection Development. Strange to think that I'm now a little bit of an expert, at least in terms of having over a decade of professional, practical public library experience, which is apparently a marketable commodity.

So. It seems I've come home, in every sense of the word.

The basement halls and lockers around which  I and my friends and fellow students hung around now echo--other students cluster around them, of course, but all of my people--even the most of the professors I knew--have shuffled on to other things--other jobs, retirement, even death. Now, down these halls I walk, an almost middle-aged woman, missing those who populated my youth.  I try to hold myself rather accountable--"I'm not chasing some lost youth or fanciful second chance, am I?"  But still, I'm simply grateful to be here once more. It's another way to be useful and occupied and to try and lead a life of significance, if not success.

And I now have a solid reason to spend time on this beautiful campus, observing the lively, hopeful students, being challenged intellectually and professionally, roaming the stacks of the Wells Library.

Here, at least, things have not changed. These books, also my friends, have not left. They greet me, as they greet all, with a studied, passive indifference, but they accept me. They are steady, and change only as much as the people who read them (or revise them) change and project their own thoughts and interpretations onto the texts.

Most comforting of all: the campus, while now boasting of old buildings with sometimes-new names, and a few new buildings and cosmetic features, hasn't changed much either. It's still lush and green and a little bit abandoned in high summer, a little bit burnt-brown and a lot crowded in the late summer, but the land endures. The thoughts and personalities and hopes and sadnesses and worries and insouciant joys of thousands of students seep their way into the trees, the paths, the soil, becoming part of the story of our university, becoming the stories that nobody hears, but that endure nonetheless. A dozen years ago, I was one of those students, and my story became part of the university. Now I'm back to write another chapter.  

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Here it is, in early August. 2017 marches onward, slowly and reluctantly relinquishing its grasp. It's been rather obnoxiously hot outside, but that's the nature of summer, and now, during my second summer Back Home, I still don't feel depressed and angry and frustrated the way I did in the deserts. Here, summer is a thing that happens to us, that blesses us for our endurance of the winter, that stays for the proper amount of time and then cedes its position of authority to Fleeting Fall. It's all very right and proper feeling.

The fireflies seem to have faded away (possibly?) but the crickets and the cicadas and the frogs are racheting up their song, and it's impossible to feel lonely in the night, as I sit out on the balcony and listen to their chorus. The wildflowers (or are they weeds?) are blossoming in every bit of uncultivated land, and although I can only identify one, Queen Anne's Lace, I still admire the yellows, oranges, purples, and whites of the other anonymous flora. One of these days, I'll acquire a book on Indiana wildflowers and learn a thing or two about a thing or two, but for now, I am content to simply enjoy the fact that I live in a place where flowers bloom without the intervention of man.

July was a good month. I was quite prepared to love it because I viewed it as something of a "new year"...or new "half year", really. And July, despite being as hot as balls, obliged, and I managed to get through the month more or less unscathed.

Possibly because I spent a good part of the month holed up in my bedroom, reading. Back in June, I re-discovered a historical fiction series that I rather love, and because I work at an incredibly awesome library that carries all approximately 245,631 books in the series, I hunkered down in my bed, drew the blinds, and spent many an evening ignoring any adult obligations in pursuit of the oblivion that comes when reading engrossing, highly-detailed novels set in 1400s-1900s England, in which the compelling characters indulge in mercifully little bodice ripping.

Because bodice-ripping? At this point in my life?

Other than reading, and working, and hiding out from the sunlight, I did manage to get out a little bit. Middle Sister and her husband drove out to see me (this is now the ninth time I've seen them in the 16 months since I've been home!) and we took a lovely jaunt over to Cincinnati. It's rather absurd to me that I was born there, and yet I hardly ever manage to get over there. It was only in 2015--30 years after I had left--that I managed to make make my way back. Fortunately, Middle Sister loves it there, and it's becoming something of a tradition for us to make a pilgrimage there--to eat Cincinnati Skyline Chili Cheese Coneys...
(and fortunately not suffer from cheese-coney-induced death)

To visit our childhood homes...

(One of which now appears to be the site of a fairy garden on meth) 

To eat more food that is slightly more classy than Cheese Coneys...

And to just enjoy this remarkable, beautiful city which feels so strange to us, and yet, if our lives had gone somewhat differently, which could have still been home. Would have never felt alien, would never have looked foreign, because it would have been familiar. Instead, it's a foreign-feeling place (although I think that has to do at least somewhat with the many German and Irish influences in the architecture and food) that bewitches and intrigues us, perhaps mostly for roads not taken. 

It's odd to think of this city being our birthplace. It's odd to think that our family spent a significant period of time here, and yet their mark--if ever there was one--has been erased. The voices of the people who raised us, who saw and knew us at our most young and vulnerable, have been silenced by time and and rejection and death brought on by hard living or just living too damned long.  The only thing that remains are echoes of memories that are fuzzy even to my sisters and myself. The restaurants and stores we remember shuttered their doors years ago. The hospital where I was born closed, even. The elementary school that my sisters attended has changed names, and judging by the exterior, it might not even be the same damned structure. The houses we grew up in have been gutted at best and turned into a fairy-garden meth-lab, at worst. 

Ah well. The past is a foreign country...they speak a different language there, etc. etc. Although, some nights, I feel like the present is a foreign country to me, too, and that I am speaking a language that, hell, is based on an entirely unknown alphabet that only I know. But that's a different thing to ponder, on a different night. 

Thank you, July, for not kicking my ass. Thank you for the good books and the good family and the good food and the warm nights and the days that, while hot, were still not something that would kill me. Thank you, July, for being a quietly, peacefully solid start to the second half of this year, which so fat is going far better than the first half. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

It's not yet even the beginning of summer, but here in the Heartland, we haven't really gotten that memo. The last few days have been wretchedly hot, and up until yesterday, the sunlight has been relentless too. But today, the heat and humidity hit that perfect combination, and late in the afternoon, the clouds piled up in the sky, the wind picked up, the rain poured down, and we got a little bit of a respite. After spending a lazy evening on my friend's porch (and seriously, is there anything more Hoosier than porch-sitting?) I made my way home, driving over rain-slicked asphalt that was still steaming. Fireflies lit up the dusky evening, undeterred by the recent storm, and in the distance, more storm clouds gathered.

Yet oddly, in my own life, there are no clouds on the horizon. And let me tell you, that's a strange sensation, to lift my head up and sense no incipient troubles. It's been a minute since that's been the case...really, the past six months, since November, have been... a relentless clusterfuck. First I was sick. And then that horrible shitshow of an election. And then more sick. And then the holidays. And then more sick. And then my Mawga passing away. And then moving and all of its attendant stress. And then more sick. And then getting trifled with by a very nasty creep. I'd still be reeling from one or two things when the next salvo would bombard me.

Things have settled down. The boxes are unpacked. Thoughts of my grandmother are never far, but they are thoughts of love, and not sorrow. My health is restored...ish. Our country is still a hot mess, but at least we have recovered from that shock.

Life is peaceful and busy and happy, at least for this moment in time. Which, really, is the only moment we have. "Ebbs and flows," Middle Sister says, with the sagacity of one who is a fellow veteran in the never-ending battle against those savage siblings, depression and anxiety. And she's right. I won't always have good days, but today was one of them, and that is a triumph that I will take to bed with me, as the storm rages outside, and the peace settles inside.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Broken Into Better Shape

About a month back, I tried to do a thing.

That thing involved trying be vulnerable, and willing to try to trust someone, in a way that I hadn't done in nearly a decade. It was terrifying and exciting and there were about 5,309,568 times when I almost nope'd out of trying.

And as it turned out, that thing didn't end well. Blew up in my face, spectacularly. The person who I had been trying to trust actually turned out to be a rather cruel, creepy person who did a cruel, creepy thing that thoroughly violated the trust I had been trying to build. And to be left with that, after making the deliberate decision  to push myself out of my comfort zone, to put myself at be left with that, and with no pay-off but a bitter lesson of Look what happens when you try...see where it gets should have listened to all your anxieties that told you this would happen...well, it wasn't pleasant. At the end of the experience, I was left feeling utterly tricked, misled, and with an unpleasant feeling that I was nothing more than an unworthy bag of damaged, flawed goods.

Well, time does its thing, and so too does the support and love of the family and friends who, as always, have rallied around me and tried to help me see that the flaw was not with me, but rather the person who violated my trust. Nonetheless, there is the lingering, bitter aftertaste of regret, and the useless vision of hindsight, and they have been weighing down upon me. I really didn't need this new crack on my already fractured spirit, acquired in this particular way.

But...we keep on keepin' on.

This last weekend I spent with my friend Jain up in Indy. It was a lovely weekend, and on a sunny Saturday afternoon, as we shared plates of hipster, locally-sourced food, Jain mentioned to me something called kintsugi.

"It's something the Japanese do. It's a type of pottery repair," she explained in her low, soothing voice. (How does she do that? I love her voice.) "The idea is that they repair a piece of crockery with gold or silver laquer, and the cracks aren't hidden, but are visible. And the breakage, and the cracks, become part of the story of the object. They become part of its beauty and function."

Source: Lakeside Pottery

At the time, it probably really seemed like I wasn't paying attention, but I was. It really stuck with me through the rest of the weekend, and it's still on my mind now. It's a beautiful concept, especially when we apply the concept as a metaphor to our life journeys and the sorrows, traumas, and betrayals we endure. This Huffington Post article does a splendid job of summing it up.

This thing that I tried, the unpleasantness that resulted...I still don't know why it had to happen to me. Perhaps it didn't, and I was simply a fool to allow it, and that's the end of it. But nonetheless, it did happen, and it caused another crack to form in my spirit. It was a small crack, given how brief the whole experience was, but significant, given its timing and the effort and courage I put into pushing myself, when all I wanted to do was hide and listen to my fears. I'm not going to pretend tha the crack isn't there. It's part of my story now. Just like all the other disappointments and sacrifices and joys and hopes that I've endured are part of my story. I'm repairing this crack, yes, and the me that will emerge from it will have another few lines of gold where the repairs are. But it doesn't mean I'm damaged goods. I wasn't before this happened, and I'm not now.

I'm whole.

I'm broken into better shape.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Finding Home

"You can follow your job, or your family, you can follow your heart
You can wander, and wonder, and end up right back at the start
It may take a month, or a year, or a lifetime to know,
You may think you've arrived, and you realize, it's time to go..."
-Tim Grimm

On a recent Saturday night, I found myself driving down a lonely stretch of country road, heading out to a friend's party barn. The darkness pressed in on all sides, and I slowed down, as much to avoid hitting any suicidal deer as to enjoy the balmy night. I turned down the radio to better hear the crickets, and I absently marveled at how insanely my life has changed. 2 years ago, I would have been driving down a populated California road, passing a few palm trees lit up by the brutal sun, finding a way to avoid all the many people I disliked and distrusted. Now...well, I was driving to a party barn, for chrissakes.

A couple of months ago, my one-year Indianaversary flew past. I was too caught up in moving establishments to really note or celebrate it in any way, but it was--and is--on my mind, how that year has passed. How I settled in and adapted. How I've made this my life, on my terms. How little I missed California, then or now. How much I love it here. How I still feel like seasons, and how rapidly yet predictably they shift, are a kind of magic. How I feel at home here in a way that I've never felt anywhere else, and how the simple beauty of a green field calms me in a way very few other things can. How I pass by old barns and forests and think about my grandfather growing up, and wondering what his life was like. How I drive through Indy and fall a little more in love with it each time I go. How I enjoy the kind company of my colleagues and the undemanding trust of my boss. How lucky I've been, and how lucky I continue to be, with most of the people I've met and the friends I've made. How right it feels to be here, and how peaceful I feel, just driving down a country road.

Is this my forever home, here in Bloomington? I know enough of the nature of life now to know not to count on anything, or assume something is set in stone. I love it for now. I love Indiana forever. I don't know what's going to happen past the next year or two, but for now, this is good enough for me. This is home.

Five Words

Vacations are lovely things. They are a perfect time to do nothing or everything, just as you please, to eat all the things or skip all the meals, to read a stack of books or gaze blankly into space, to catch up with friends or ignore texts sent by obnoxious creeps, to be alone or go to all the parties, or to gaze at your navel or expose it to the sun as you drink a margarita by the pool. They are a perfect time to run away and escape on your 37th birthday when you don't want to do anything but you don't want to do nothing, either.

I plan to do all of those things in the next few days, but for the moment, I am content to lay in bed and do not much of anything. In this moment, that entails catching up with Eldest's formidable body of online literary works. But alack! Almost as soon as I started reading, I stumbled across a phrase that just stuck with me. It's blunt and yet a little harsh, like I am, and it's succinct, which I most decidedly am not, and I love it to bits. 

Living your own goddamn story. 

It's a little like the statement "living your life on your own terms" but a little bit more bold, a little more uncompromising. Both of which I need to be more of in my life. 

It's hard to do, sometimes, especially when your story gets caught up in someone else's. It's hard to do when other people don't seem to like your story. It's hard to do when the plot hits lulls or snags. It's hard to do when you're not quite sure the story is going the way you want. 

Living your own goddamn story. 

Living purposefully, deliberately, proudly. Making conscious choices, being proactive rather than reactive. Walking away when shit gets fucked up (I've gotten good at that.) Actually, no, not just walking away--walking away with that purposeful stride that somehow makes my entire body bounce and jiggle. (And then owning that I have a stride that does that.) I guess it's owning all the parts of the story, and choosing how I tell it. 

I can't choose the ending of the story--the when or how or inevitability of death, but I can choose how to get to that end. I can't choose the incidental events or the minor bit players, but I can choose the characters and the major plotlines and the setting and the moods and the themes. 

Living your own goddamn story. Here's to me learning more, day by day, how to do that. Here's to me perfecting the art of choosing the right characters, and to actively knowing where and how I want things to go, and owning the mistakes and triumphs. Here's to my 37th year on this chaotic, fragile rock, and to making it uniquely mine.