byronic mnemonic

Imagine a studious young brontosaurus, curled up on the couch reading while a storm rages outside. The book in his claws is Brontë's Wuthering Heights, which he chose based on the title (thinking it might contain characters as relatably statuesque as himself).

Thunder claps boom, rattling the windows, and he looks up nervously - but he isn't afraid. Brontosauri aren't scared of thunder, because they're just as big as it. In fact if he were to put down the book and run to his bedroom (where underneath the blankets the storm would surely not seem so loud), the sound of his massive legs hitting the floor would drown out that crashing thunder.

But he won't do that. Because studious young brontosauri aren't so bothered by thunder that they'll put aside their Brontë and hide. Not this one, anyway.

---

(And now perhaps you won't forget the word brontology, which is the study of thunder.)

8.29.15

Whatnots this week:

wow no bra strap for once

Hollywood Boulevard between Vine and Highland is jam-packed with sightseers, chintzy souvenirs stalls, vape/hookah/head/stripper shops, and hawkers trying to hustle tourists into celebrity bus tours. Kind of awful, in other words. The side streets in that area, however, hold many treasures. This week we found STOUT, an airy and unpretentious little gastropub on Cahuenga. I'm not a beer drinker so I'm pleased as pickles that cider is The New Thing and STOUT serves a great one: Pitchfork Sonoma Cider. Great, that is, if you like sweet. (I like sweet.)

There's a whole 'nother floor below, too!

Everything I just said about the strip is true. However. There is a place. It is called Iguana Clothing. It is right smack on Hollywood, near Vine. It's one of those vintage-and-costume shops I'd sort of written off, because I don't need a poodle skirt or an Elvira wig (yet). But oh my, was I ever hasty in my judgment. I finally took the time to check it out thoroughly and it is fantastic. $25 cashmere sweaters in every color of the rainbow. Turtlenecks, v-necks, cardigans, you name it. Ponchos and fair isles at a fraction of what you'd pay for them at Free People. Thermals and graphic tees, cords, flannels. Please don't tell anyone about it.

Doesn't take his eyes off of Terence the whole time.

On Thursdays, Grand Central Market stays open late ('til 9), which means two things: 1) Chaucer gets to lick the McConnell's Black Coffee Chip ice cream from my fingertips after I've finished my double scoop, and 2) I get to poke Terence in the ribs and say "There he is!" whenever we see Mark Peel working late at Bombo. (Top Chef Masters fans, lemme hear you say PEA PUREE.)

I call them "Oxygen-Deprived Swallows" and "Fleur d'Infected Nipple", respectively

Colorfy is a ridiculously addictive coloring app, and my new favorite way to unplug. Pop in the headphones, crank some Tycho, snuggle into the ol' armchair, and play with a virtual box of crayons.  It's marketed as "the coloring book for adults" but since when do age guidelines mean anything?

You will thank me. (It's ok if you don't thank me.)

I'll keep this simple: What We Do In The Shadows is the funniest movie I have seen in years. Don't look up who's in it, don't watch the trailer to see what it's about. Just go rent it on iTunes. Immediately. We were DEAD. Dead on the floor I tell you. (We really do watch movies on the floor. Chaucer's idea.)

When we close the doors our pants totally make out in the dark. 

Did a closet purge and reorganize. Feelin' pretty good about it. Feelin' pretty adult. What's that? Do I really need to hang up my cutoffs? WHATEVER LEAVE ME ALONE GO ASK TERENCE IF HE HAS ENOUGH WHITE BUTTON DOWNS

The first chapter of Sam Harris's Waking Up is on SoundCloud, and if the video I shared a couple weeks ago resonated with you, I think you'd enjoy it. It's about the endless whatnextwhatnextwhatnext game of life and how to stop it, if only for a few moments at a time.

Listening to it was something of, well, a wakeup call for me. I realized I spend nearly every waking minute worried about what I need to do in the next minute, or the next. Forever obsessing about the future, even if it's some small thing like trying to remember what I need from the store. Harris's solution to this low-level misery is meditation, which for all of my life has seemed like something foreign and borderline religious. Weird and new-agey. Not for me.

Then I started doing drugs, and came to see the advantages in altering my consciousness, even briefly. But of course I can't do drugs every day. Though I sure would love to feel really good every day. So I'm finally opening up to the idea of meditation.

I have a hard time with it, though. Staying perfectly still, concentrating on my breathing and doing. absolutely. nothing. else. I can, however, practice being more present - connecting to my senses. Slowing down to notice my surroundings, find enjoyment in them. That's easy. Where am I in this moment? What makes this place special? How does the breeze feel on my shoulders, or Chaucer's fur against my cheek? What can I see and smell and hear that is interesting or just quietly beautiful? From there, a sort of detached gratitude floats up to fill the space where anxiety was. How amazing and fortunate is it to be here, alive and healthy, safe and loved? Of all the planets in all the galaxies, I get to experience this one. Oxygen. Oceans. Love and pain and growth.

I know, I know. Super goofy. But it's a wonderfully relaxing and happifying exercise. And along these lines, I've got a post percolating about the ways in which I'm 100% convinced using LSD has improved my mental health. Yeah.

fri-ni jamz volume II

Should I make Fri-Ni Jamz a regular feature? How flexible can we be with the term 'regular'? Does the fact that my headphones are partially broken cast doubt on the euphony of my selections? Did I learn a new vocab word?

These and many other questions will not be answered in the videos below. Weekend. Happy. You!









bear vs. bear

Would you rather be a grizzly bear or a teddy bear? (For the purposes of this exercise, we're talking about a sentient teddy bear.)

If you were a grizzly bear you'd live wild in the woods. The exhilaration of seasons, fresh air, freedom. But you'd have to contend with all the usual threats: hunters, hunger, encroaching humans, other bears. If you were a teddy bear you'd have a pretty good chance of scoring a cozy home, and a loving child to keep you close forever. Or you might spend your life sitting in a warehouse in China. Or worse - discarded after years of friendship, lost at the bottom of a Goodwill bin.

Because being sentient, that would hurt.

It's a question of risk and reward, and I think it comes down to whether you prize security or independence more. I asked Terence one night over burgers and we fleshed out every hypothetical pro and con we could think of. (Louie and Silicon Valley are on break. We have a surplus of free time in the evenings.)

Anyway, I like to think it's a good sign that I'm firmly in Camp Grizzly - because I wasn't always.

choose your own

I'm falling into a depression, she said. I'm this close. She held up her fingers. And I feel like I should tell you. That I might go away for a little bit. Yanno?

And maybe he said, Fuck that. Fuck depression. Show it to me. Drag it out here in the light where I can see it and I'll stomp its face. Tell me what it looks like and I'll help you kill it.

Or maybe he didn't. Maybe he just referred her to a competent health care provider.

So maybe she drifted away on a wave of resentment. Maybe anger kept her afloat for a few days, despite how heavy it is. But in the end the loneliness got to her and she ditched the raft. Swam for shore. Collapsed exhausted, unsure. But at least not alone anymore.

Or maybe she accepted his limitations, knowing everyone has them. Being all too familiar with her own.

And maybe the threat passed. Moving over them, darkening the sky like an eclipse. Maybe afterwards they found themselves blinking in the sunlight, momentarily dazzled by the relief of being back at the start.

queen of the buns

SUNDAY

Rounding the corner on our street, shuttling Chaucer between shady spots in the afternoon heat, we were stopped by a woman from our generation but probably not our tax bracket. "Do either of you happen to speak French?" She wore a white lace minidress, heels, and matte red lipstick. One hand rested on her hip; the other held a cell phone angled away from her body as if annoyed with it.

"Yeah, actually," I replied, surprised.

"Like, fluently?" She seemed skeptical.

"Yep." Terence sounded more cautious than enthusiastic, but he took a step forward to offer his help.

The woman was hosting a foreign exchange student due to arrive any minute. She wanted to let the girl know there'd be an Uber waiting for her at the terminal, which would take her to the agreed-upon meeting place, a busy and popular restaurant downtown. She didn't speak any French, though, and needed someone who did to call the student and convey this information.

While Terence left a detailed voicemail, Chaucer sniffed the hem of the woman's dress and I inwardly wondered what kind of host wouldn't greet her internationally traveling guest at the airport herself. "What are the chances?" I mused politely, referring to the good luck of happening upon a Francophone and his Francophony girlfriend.

The woman fidgeted with an ankle strap, preoccupied. "Yeah." She bit off her words, upspeaking slightly. "I really appreciate it."

Terence ended the message wishing the student good luck and handed the woman back her cell phone. I guided Chaucer back around her legs and the four of us parted ways.

MONDAY

Terence and I swung by a party supply store on our way to get groceries. We wanted to grab some glow sticks and cheap bead necklaces for an upcoming festival. Once inside, however, we lost focus. We walked the aisles slowly, goofing around, distracted by all the silly toys and costumes. I bounced a pink rubber ball over to Terence. "Heads up!"

"Ooh. Should we get this for Chauc?"

"Nah, he'll eat it."

A bin filled with party favors marked .35 cents caught my eye. I picked up a tiny silver plastic tiara attached to a hair comb and set it on my head. "What if I wore this during sex?" I moved my hips exaggeratedly.

"Oh my god. Yes. That's amazing." He took the toy from me. "You have to get it."

"So ridiculous," I laughed. But he didn't put it back.

Back in the car we ate foil-wrapped Rolos and cherry Jolly Ranchers from the fifteen-for-a-buck bin. I flipped down the car visor mirror and carefully pushed the comb into my hair. "Ta-da!"

"Yes! I love it so much. You look like a Disney princess, you have no idea."

"Oh god." I cringed, shaking the comb back out.

After grocery shopping we stopped at the PetCo down the street from Whole Foods, to see the bunnies up for adoption. We're not looking to get any; it's just something we do occasionally just for the cute of it.

We knelt by the glass cage at the front of the store and peered in. Two massive adult rabbits - one white, one orange - were inside nibbling greens. There was a placard on the glass describing the bunnies' background and relationship to one another. I started reading the card aloud, enunciating in my best elevated-pitch storytelling voice. The rabbits - named Mary Jane and Leap - were apparently a bonded pair, and had a history of being moved from foster home to foster home - though never separated.

As I was dramatizing their romantic tale of bunny love, a man entered the store, walked directly to the rabbit cage, and crouched down beside us. As he seemed to be another rabbit lover, I kept on reading out loud.

A moment later I noticed Terence had stopped looking at the rabbits and was smiling hard at me. "Baby," he said in a quiet tone. Assuming he was trying to let me know that another customer had joined us, I ignored him. "What?" I said loudly, before continuing. "It's a Tale of Two Bunnies." After I'd finished reading the information I sighed. "They're so gorgeous." Glancing at the other shopper I added pointedly, "They live as long as dogs. Most people don't realize what a commitment they are."

The man nodded seriously, addressing us with his reply. "Really smart, too. Great pets."

Terence and I stood up and started towards the dog toy section. "Baby," he repeated softly, touching my elbow. I turned and saw his face flushed with suppressed laughter. "Your head." I frowned, reaching up to touch my hair, suddenly realizing.

I was wearing the tiara. I'd put it back on in the car after leaving Whole Foods. I'd been wearing it for my entire performance by the rabbit cage. The stranger we'd shared a moment of bunny love with must have thought me crazy. The loopy lady who wears a child's toy crown to go around to pet stores and advocate for the animals like some kind of daft, self-appointed Queen of The Buns.

I somehow managed to lose the crown between PetCo and home, which is a bummer. But the good news is, I know where to find a replacement. And now I know where to wear it, too.

recharge/clarity

I can only go without you for so long.

You are the batteries that never die, in the flashlight that is always on hand. I push the switch and light floods the tunnel, more light than seems possible every time. And the ugly things scatter, the creepy crawly crunchy things that live here in the dark with me, that I let scare me more than they should. And for a few minutes I don't have to scrape my hands along the wall, feeling the way inch by inch. For a few minutes the obstacles threatening to bark my shins and make me stumble look as silly and as small as they really are. I stride right past them, catching up to where I'm supposed to be.

A few minutes is all I need, because I know how to make those minutes last - like batteries.

PPRL: The Known World, by Edward P. Jones (winner, 2004)

Well, what started out as an accidental journey through all of the Civil War-era themed Pulitzer Prize-winning novels is officially no longer accidental. Cool way to move through the list, and now I've got a much better understanding of antebellum plantation life (for better or for worse). Terence even promised he'd take me to the Civil War exhibition at The Autry Museum, and the fact that I'm excited about that is quite a compliment to these writers. History and I have not, historically speaking, been fast friends.

So, more slavery. But this time - black slave masters. Racism, violence, heartbreak, all the horrors of trafficking in human beings - but some breathtakingly beautiful scenes, as well. One of my favorites takes place between Celeste and Elias, two slaves belonging to Henry Townsend of Manchester, Virginia (himself a freed former slave). Celeste has a bad leg and suffers from a limp; she's self-conscious and defensive about her affliction. Elias has recently had part of his ear cut off for attempting to run away. Though at first the two didn't like one another, they've come together to care for Luke, an orphaned slave child.

A week later he was at her door again and she was in the doorway and he opened a little piece of a rag and presented a comb he had carved out of a piece of wood. The comb was rough, certainly one of the crudest and ugliest instruments in the history of the world. Not one tooth looked like another; some of the teeth were far too thick, but most of them were very thin, the result of his whittling away with the hope that he was approaching some kind of perfection. “Oh,” Celeste said. “Oh, my.” She took it and smiled. “My goodness gracious.”
     ”It ain’t much.”
     “It be the whole world. You givin it to me?”
     “I am.”
     “Well, my goodness gracious.” She tried to run the comb through her hair but the comb failed in its duty. “Oh, my,” Celeste said as she struggled with it. Several teeth broke off. “Oh, my.”
     He reached up and taking her hand with the comb, they extricated it from her hair. “I done broke it,” she said when they had pulled it away. “Dear Lord, I done broke it.”
     “Pay it no mind,” Elias said.
     “But you gave it to me, Elias." Aside from the food in her stomach and the clothes on her back and a little of nothing in a corner of her cabin, the comb was all she had. A child of three could have toted around all she owned all day long and not gotten tired.
     “We can do another one.” He reached up and picked out the comb’s teeth that had broken off in her hair.
     “But . . .”
     “I’ll make you a comb for every hair on your head.”
     She began to cry. “Thas easy to say today cause the sun be shinin. Tomorrow, maybe next week, there won’t be no sun, and you won’t be studyin no comb.”
     He said again, “I’ll make you a comb for every hair on your head.” He dropped the broken teeth onto the ground and she closed her hand tight over what was left of the comb.
     She put her face into her other hand and cried. There had been a slave on the plantation she had come from who had come upon her in a field of corn and told her that a woman like her should be shot, like a horse with a broken leg. And she had cried then as well.
     Elias put his arms around her, tentative, for this was the first time. He trembled and the trembling increased the closer she got to his body. He kissed the side of her head, near the hairline, and his legs met not only her skin and hair but a tooth from the comb that he had somehow missed. 

Something else, right?

At times The Known World can be feel a little meandering, but that's only because it's so ambitious, encompassing the intertwined lives of several generations of blacks and whites connected through experience, blood, money. But there are plenty of passages like the above to keep you turning pages, no worries there.

Things to think about:

  • unrequited love; satisfactions denied (Robbin's wife being passed over for a lover, Henry rejecting his parents in favor of Robbins, Fern Elston pointlessly being a "dutiful wife"...)
  • human beings as commodities, as disposable chattel and marks in a tally book, reduced to their utilitarian value
  • complicated relationships and how the ties that bind aren't always made of blood
  • the significance of dreams, superstition, and spells (Robbins' "storms", root work, Alice...)
  • the idea of duty; what does dutifulness require? what are its boundaries and exceptions?
  • the whims and capriciousness of fate; how everything can change in an instant since the slaves have no control over their lives
  • the ways in which a sort of roundabout justice is served to various characters throughout the novel; karma and come-uppance (Broussard losing his wife, Robbins' suffering of headaches, etc)
  • the role of longing, of imagined paradises (Richmond for Philomene, Philadelphia for Gwendolyn, NY for Calvin, etc)
  • the role of hospitality; the significance of host vs. master (invited, free guests vs. those in chains) - what are the responsibilities and consider the dark ironies behind them?

of paparazzi and pool parties






If I were interesting enough to merit a paparazzi following, those bushes behind Terence would be the best ones through which to stick a telephoto lens and take unflattering pictures of me (tossing back frozen peach margaritas, sniping at Terence for hogging the guac, debating the merits of Bernie Sanders with Kerry and Ross...). This is as far as we fearsome foursome tend to go out of downtown. But the company and conversation are top-notch, the enchiladas adequately smothered, and as I don't need much more on the weekend than some laughs and some melted cheese, I don't much care what zip code I get them from.



At a certain point one cares less about one's appearance in photos than the fact that one has good friends to take them with. Note I didn't say "one doesn't care at all". Only that one cares less. Oof.


After dinner last Saturday we checked out Echo Park Rising, which is a free weekend festival comprised of local (rock) bands staggered around Echo Park's bars, parks, and restaurants. The music we heard wasn't really our jam, but Kerry (who has a zero tolerance policy for crowds) was a sport and let us drag her around to no less than four different venues before we left - and I count that a smashing success.




Kind of a magical moment: right about the time when we'd all given up on finding a show we'd be into, Terence grabbed my hand and pulled me hopefully into one last bar. Kerry and Ross at my heels, we ducked through a narrow front room that branched into two smaller rooms at the back. One of these had a dance floor, and suddenly, without stopping, without even conferring about whether we wanted to stay, we all started dancing. Pools of colored light moving across the floor, kitschy swing music, and four totally unselfconscious drunk friends. That's the stuff for me, baby.

The place was The Short Stop. I'd never been, but I quite like the vibe and will definitely be back.


Good god, but those flippers of mine are terrifying. When I die they should use my hands for one of those claw machine arcade games. You can all come play and I'll ghost-cheat and make sure you get a toy every time. And no, I have no idea what's going on with my forehead bleeding over the top of the image borders. But if it means I'm actually dead already then someone call Netflix because Ghost Blogger would be a cool-ass show.



Is that not the prettiest alley you've seen so far today? I like to think some romantically-minded rats put those lights up, and that all the other rats downtown come here for their date nights.


This guy, with the dimple and sleepy face. Took me for breakfast to Egg Slut at Grand Central Market (yep, it's worth the wait). Hoping if I play my cards right he'll take me back for lunch soon, too.


My friends Atouzo and Yvonne had a pool party! Like, with sangria and teriyaki meatballs and cabanas and everything! And after I finished taking a selfie in Terence's face mirrors I even socialized with other guests! I wore a "statement necklace" for the first time, which was a stupid thing to do on a 100+ degree day. But as I am not well-versed in the ways of statement necklaces, I did not anticipate how badly my neck would sweat under the weight of a spiky metal collar. So I guess the statement my necklace made that day was: I am a dumbass. 



The night this was taken:

we took the train to Hollywood
we ate dinner at Katsuya
seated at the table behind us were three thuggish guys and a beautiful blonde woman
something happened between these four people and there was drama
the drama involved the woman TRYING TO PHYSICALLY ESCAPE ONE OF THE MEN
that man grabbed her purse out of her hands, so she couldn't leave
two waitresses and a manager got involved
the party was asked to leave
when no one was looking the blonde DUCKED OUT A SIDE DOOR
she then reappeared a few minutes later seeming calm and chill and cool with the situation
Terence had his back to the table and didn't see anything
(I narrated)
we went to a terribly cheesy but terribly fun bar nearby, with books lining the walls
(so this pic was not taken in a library)

fri-ni jamz

Oh hey is it Friday night? How about a few relaxing, weekend chillout* tracks, to meet your various ambient background music needs?







Have a great one, kidlets!

---

Autocorrected to "chalet" which I think works, too.

dear Liza, dear Liza

Crop Top Feels Unfairly Burdened With Responsibility for Woman's Happiness

REDWOOD CITY, CA -- Unsure as to its ability to singlehandedly boost the wearer's ego to a state of self-perceived fuckability, a local crop top admitted today that it might need reinforcement. "I'm doing all I can here, I really am. But this chick is never satisfied." The crop top, a sophisticated shade of hot pink rarely seen since the Reagan administration, expressed concern that it may not be adequately providing the emotional fulfillment expected of it. "I fear I'm just the latest in a long list of stuff failing to furnish this lady with any sense of gratification. It's almost like she doesn't want to be happy." Doubtful about its capacity to grant the sort of genuine contentment she'd been unable to find in other things including her children, marriage, several URLs, pretty light, health and relative wealth, the crop top was also worried about job security. "She'll probably toss me out in the next toy purge. Unless she finds a way to wear me backwards."

out of words

When my brother and I were kids, my dad would occasionally drag us down to the gulf coast of Florida to spend a few days of our summer vacation with relatives. These visits were awful. We hated Florida, with its flat, interminably boring stretches of highway, its unbearable humidity, its beaches crammed with condos full of the walking dead. Our grandmother was a miserable woman, spiteful and manipulative, so vicious to our mother that eventually she just stopped coming along. With one or two exceptions, our uncles and cousins were an equally nasty lot.

My mom had no living relations other than a couple of nephews in Brooklyn, so that was pretty much it for us. Those sojourns down south were our family reunions. Dreaded and dreadful. My parents divorced when I was ten, and by the time I was twelve, my brother had started down a road of crime that landed him in juvie - and then jail - almost constantly. The last time I saw my parents and brother in the same room was 1985.

The point of all this? Family is not my favorite f word. Family is not a thing I have known, for the better part of twenty years. Family is a feeling I had forgotten.

Then I went to Lake Burton.

I'm prone to sentimentality. I know this. I'm better about it than I used to be. I stop myself from infusing meaning unnecessarily into situations and relationships, from saddling them with undue pressure to fill some need in myself. I'm not a magical thinker. I hate magical thinking. But it was really, really hard not to feel like the time I spent in Georgia was the universe giving me something I missed out on, as a kid. It was really hard not to feel like a kid there. I'd send pictures to Mason, texting him excitedly about boating and swimming and zip lining, about my new friends and how welcome I felt in his uncle's home. I feel like my daughter's at summer camp, he'd joke. I'm so happy you're having a good time. I was afraid you'd be bored. 

Are you kidding? I'm having the time of my life. 

Mealtimes were when I felt it the most. A table set with flowers from the garden and wine from the cellar. Playfulness and good humor. The way I imagined it was supposed to be. Towards the end of my stay I made a game of steering the conversation to the subject of Mason's dad. I'd prompt Bill or Hannah as subtly as I could, then surreptitiously hit record on my phone so later I could compile and send Mason these remembrances of his father.

Hannah and Bill would talk about their sons, too, bringing them to life with boyhood anecdotes about hunting or fishing - and later, their adult misadventures. The things that made them who they were, beloved and difficult. The things that make them missed today.

What I'm having trouble expressing, what I've written into and then revised out of the above paragraphs half a dozen times is how, for the week I was at Lake Burton, I was made to feel like a member of this family. I'm not sure it's something I can easily explain, because it came through it little moments. Small kindnesses, gestures, exchanges. But I wrote some of them down, so I wouldn't forget.


My hosts got used to me slinking out of the house and down to the water at all hours, trying to see the lake from every cast of light. My afternoon walks began with much greater ambition than they ended with, though. Deflated by the heat I'd be home within the hour, sticky and thirsty. Mornings and early evenings proved much better for exploration. At the time I was afraid of being perceived rude, running out of the house all the time, but Bill later said it was nice that I kept myself busy, not needing to be entertained every minute. Indeed, the lake was entertainment enough. I'd plant myself on the roof of the boathouse, or the edge of an abandoned dock, and just sit. Watch and listen and think and breathe.


Despite it being high season, the lake was surprisingly quiet. Birdsong and insect buzzing occasionally interrupted by the shouts of children splashing somewhere down the shore. I took short videos of the lake's surface, or the waves lapping the docks, or the breeze in the trees overhead. I sent these to Terence and friends back home, timing them to arrive at rush hour downtown. Should you be having a stressful day, may I present tonight's episode of Lake TV...





We went into town a few times, for meals and drinks and to see the community. Bill was especially excited to show me The Laurel Bar, where he's had a wild night or two cutting it up with strangers as only an 87 year-old can. It's a cozy little spot. Wood-paneled walls, chandeliers blazing overhead, and deep sofas for lounging near the live music.

Woody came with us, and we three had a grand time telling tall tales over the cocktails. I learned about Woody's background in the shipping business, about the tornado that destroyed his first home on the lake, about his love of cooking and wine (I remember the two of us got unreasonably excited about how much we agree that most vegetables need only salt, pepper, and olive oil to be happy).

After a second round of drinks, Bill took stock of the scene, looking for mischief to get into. But the bar crowd was thin that night, and we decided to start trouble of our own back at the house. Bill produced three bottles of port, and we sat on the porch, sipping and laughing in the dark until late. I couldn't get over the fact that just feet from where we sat was the lake, deep and black, silent and still. The port was magnificent, a chocolate-cherry delight that clung to the inside of dessert glasses so tiny they'd barely fit a man's thumb. We passed the heavy, squat bottles across a red and white check vinyl tablecloth and I realized they'd probably been purchased years if not decades before. Saved for nights just like these.





On my way home from zip-lining I stopped in a farmer's market for supplies to make dinner - a hearty vegetable chowder I'd been making often enough back at home to be comfortable whipping it up in someone else's kitchen. Bill's a bit of a gourmet so I was keen to impress him with at least one meal before I left. It was Hannah's enthusiastic response that made my day, though. Meant the world when later she asked for the recipe.

The peaches at the market, though. Peaches for days and days.


One day there was a storm, and I spent several minutes edging along the railing of the porch, taking video of the rain pelting the lake. Positioning and repositioning my phone, trying to keep it dry but get the best angle. Bill looked up from his newspaper, laughing at my antics. I didn't know how to explain to him how intoxicating it all was to me, that I didn't want to forget a single sound or smell. After the storm subsided I grabbed an umbrella and walked around the corner to where the road recedes into a private drive, a place where the mountain comes down to meet the lake. The trees shed fat drops of water on my head, and the air tasted thick, like wet earth.

I thought of the years I spent living in the desert, hating the dry, scorching heat - a heat that withers and twists, forcing everything that grows into gnarled and dangerous shapes. I tipped my head back and looked at the canopy of green high above me, shimmering with rain and sunlight peeking through saturated branches. I remembered our yard in Michigan. And it was as if in this moment the dry years were pushed a little bit tighter together. Made a little less important, a little less powerful. Like they'd taken less from me than I remembered.



Bill has two dogs: a sweetheart of a labradoodle named Ziggy and a chubby, fiery little Papillon named Joey. They've got run of the house and a few different doggy doors that let them into the yard downstairs - from which they occasionally sneak to wander across the road and climb down to the boathouse. In the mornings Joey would plant himself at the edge of the porch, taking first watch, raising the alarm whenever anyone approached. Like the other Papillons I've known, he's ball crazy and terribly jealous. Hannah spoiled these little guys like nobody's business. They only had to sit and beg near the treat jar for her to indulge them several times a day. You know how there are dogs that act like pets, and dogs that act like kids? Yeah. Anyway, it was so nice to have something furry to cuddle on when I was missing Chaucer.


For every family story I was told, I was shown a dozen pictures to go with it. Framed photos filled every side table, and the shelves of several cabinets. Hannah or Bill would jump up to grab one of these. Here we go. This is Kerry right here, and his girlfriend. Several generations of history, of love and memories. At times I felt like a biographer, listening and seeing the story of this family unfolded for me in bits and pieces. Nothing secret, though it felt just as special as one.

Eventually Bill brought me downstairs, where he pulled out a carton containing a treasure of loose snapshots and memorabilia. He rifled through it, passing the more interesting photos to me, letting me piece together who and what and when. A wedding party: puffy-sleeved taffeta, hairspray, frosted lips. A portrait: graceful woman in a buttoned-up blouse smiling knowingly down the years between us. Mason's teenaged dad, leaning cockily against the hood of a roadster. This I take a picture of, texting it to him. I've always loved that picture, he says back. He looks like such a badass. I don't answer what I'm thinking, which is that they look identical, if not in feature then at least in attitude.


The lake is a series of whispered invitations. Narrow decks stretching out over the water. Stone-paved trails leading off into the woods. My fear of poison ivy and trespassing keep me mostly on the road though once in a while I venture off.

Is this your dock? I call to a man unloading groceries on his driveway.

Sure is, he nods.

Mind if I walk out on it, take a few pictures?

Walk on it, sit on it, dance on it, sleep on it. Whatever you want.


On Friday I drove out to Clemson, South Carolina, to meet some old friends of my dad's for lunch. It was an intensely emotional meeting that deserves its own post, if I can get around to it.

At any rate, I got back to Lake Burton that evening feeling deeply unsettled. I parked the car and tried to shake off the day before I went upstairs where Bill was baking, alone in the quiet house. He took one look at my face and knew I was upset. But I said something lighthearted, shrugging it off, and announced I was going for a quick walk before dinner. When I got back half an hour later Bill was waiting at the kitchen table for me, with a bottle of wine and two glasses. Sit, he said. He looked me squarely in the eye and asked what happened in the gentlest, most fatherly way possible. And then he listened - just listened, until I was done.

Later that night I FaceTimed with Terence, sitting on the boathouse, far enough away from the house that no one could hear me cry. But my tears that night weren't sad; they were grateful. I tried to explain how parts of me were being put back into place, right side up this time, by my time at the lake, and with Bill. That the kindness and solicitousness he showed me as a matter of course - because he is a kind and loving person - were repairing things in me that I'd long since given up on repairing myself.


On the way back to Nashville, I stopped at every pull-off and scenic overpass I'd had to hurry by on my way in. I'd given myself plenty of extra time to explore, and I took advantage of it.


Did you know green beans have pink and orange and yellow cousins? I didn't.


Cluster of mailboxes at the end of a long private drive. The isolation of such an existence fills me with wonder and envy. How often do they come into town? How often do they visit Atlanta, or some other big city? How often do they even want to? What fills their lives and homes and land and minds, that they don't need the bustle and noise and chaos that I do?


Shared-use floating docks, for those who don't have boathouses of their own:



The view from the room I stayed in; I wish you could hear it, too. The rhythmic, swampy noises of morning birds. Carpenter bees sneaking stealthily into a nest under the eaves. Thrumming boat motors starting up at the nearby marina.


A hammock on the front edge of Woody's property. I'd passed it on my walks a few times and finally set off after breakfast one day to get a picture of it. Do you think he'd mind if I lay in it? I asked Bill. Oh heavens no, not at all.

I wasn't there for a minute, futzing around with my Joby, when Woody himself drove down from his house in a golf cart. Bill had called him when I left, given a head's up that I was walking his way. Said I'd set out to see to the park about a mile down the road. Woody offered me a ride on his golf cart, so I wouldn't have to trek in the heavy midday heat. He waited patiently while I ran around the tiny park, taking pictures of the historical plaques to read later on my own, then drove me back home.





Unforgettably peaceful.





For dinner one night, Bill, Hannah and I drove to an Italian restaurant a few towns over. The drive was a nightmarish twist of switchbacks and narrow mountain roads, and I felt carsick almost immediately. Poor Bill felt terrible, and kept cursing himself for forgetting I don't fare well in the passenger seat. No no, I'm fine... I insisted, when the road opened up and I could see the horizon again. He assured me we were almost there, so I assured him I didn't need to take over driving. I hung my head out the window and took huge, gulping breaths of the sweet Georgia air.

By the time we got to restaurant Bill was furious at himself for putting me through such a rough ride, and I teased him by pretending to puke the second we got out of the car. He laughed, and I was perfectly fine within minutes. And I was really touched by his consideration. I love and miss my dad like crazy, I'd give almost anything to take one more road trip with him - but oh man, did he not give a damn about my tendency to get carsick. Not in the slightest. Sometimes I even think he had a sadistic streak about it.

The restaurant was a disaster of tinned tomato sauce and overcooked pasta served by an indifferent waitress. I don't even remember what I ordered. It was one of the nicest meals of my year so far.


And with that, I am once again out of words.




PPRL: March, by Geraldine Brooks (winner, 2006)

I didn't set out to have a Southern-themed summer of reading to coincide with my recent traveling. It just sorta happened that way. The Road takes place partly in the very area I was in (there's even a reference to a 'See Rock City' sign!), and from one Civil War-era novel (The Killer Angels) I've gone on to another with March.

March is the retelling of The Little Women family's story, but from the perspective of the father. Not quite as feel-good as its inspiration though:

From a burlap sack the man drew out a braided leather whip almost as tall as he was. Then, moving to a spot about six feet from where Grace lay, he made a swift, running skip, raising the lash and bringing it down with a crack. The stroke peeled away a narrow strip of skin, which lifted on the whip, dangled for a moment, and then fell to the leaf-littered floor. A bright band of blood sprang up in its place. Her whole body quivered. 

Yap.

I'd be doing an injustice to Brooks though, if I were to scare anyone away based on that passage alone. It's a fantastic book. There's a beautiful rhythm to the writing and the novel is peopled by flawed, complex characters whose struggles are nuanced and often surprising. Racism and slavery are vividly portrayed and the battle scenes are described in unflinchingly graphic terms. And it all makes for a chilling and utterly absorbing read. Also: Little Women references!

So, who wants some discussion questions?! No one? Okay, here you go!

  • How is March's religiousness affected by his time in the war? How do the atrocities he faces challenge his belief in God?
  • Paper idea! Discuss the moral motive of March's vegetarianism. Compare his distaste for the eating of meat (flesh) with his horror at the selling of it (slavery). (Consider his disgust for the rough appraisal and use of both; slaughterhouses v. slave auction blocks, etc.)
  • Comment on the nature of self-deception in the novel. What are the lies the characters tell themselves to be able to "march" on?
  • Indeed, consider the various "marches" the protagonist undertakes, as peddler, chaplain, teacher, husband, lover, and so on. How is he "marching" under the orders or according to the (moral or literal) dictates of others? What is the bigger picture of his path through life? Where does it take him geographically, emotionally, morally...?

always now

Ugh. I'm not stumped for content, just for flow. Distracted and scattered. Reading lots but not feeling much like writing.

But here's this, which is something good to think about:



Happy weekend, gang.

safety in numbers

Hi Tina! It's Ellie, from LA. We met yesterday in Highlands?

If you'd still like to do the zip line with me, check out highlandscanopytour.com and let me know when is good for you. (They have a reservations page showing availability). I'm free tomorrow, Sunday, and Monday anytime after noon. We could book individually and meet there I guess? Hope you're still game - safety in numbers and all... ;)


and lo, a great man was born that day

him: "Wanna watch a movie?"

her: "It's kinda late to start one..."

him: "Episode of John Oliver?"

her: "We're all caught up."

him: "Hmm."

her: (sigh)

him: "I have an idea. Let's look at Cute Overload on the projector."

her: "...."

- five minutes later -