Saturday, January 31, 2009

I have a very severe fear of my apartment burning down. As a kid I used to wake up in the middle of the night, convinced that I heard arsonists creeping around outside our trailer. This is largely because of the day the man across the street died in a fire, but that happened all the time in our trailer park, people's homes being burned down. I remember once a place burned when the family was out and a girl was babysitting the only child; she panicked and ran out, and the baby, family cat, and bird all died. They hauled the remains of the trailer to an open space by our bus stop until it could be dealt with, and the boys all said that if you peeked in the windows you could make out their sad charred remains. I was never brave enough to look.

As a result I often catch myself listing in my head the things that I would grab if I were here and there was a fire, mapping out where they are located and what would be the best route to get to them. My box of family photos, and my great grandfather's books. The quilt I've slept with all my life. Grandad's maps, his painting, and the ring he had made for me. The ship in a bottle, if there's time. A few other things. It turns out that I have a whole plan for piling everything into my quilt like a very large hobo bindle and escaping with it, although I don't recall ever deciding to make such a plan.

But the other day we had an earthquake, and though I slept through it, it made me realize that I don't have an earthquake plan. I think I have a lot of research to do.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

In Italy I spent a considerable amount of time inserting myself into the background of people's pictures. No to make faces, or stand in funny ways, or to in any way ruin their atmosphere, but just to stand there, maybe only in parts. I was trying to make myself transparent on that trip but in the process feeling invisible--all of the people I met on the way had a camera stuffed full of pictures of themselves in front of the Colosseum or outside the Doge's Palace, but as I was traveling alone I was never a part of my own hard copy memories. There was no proof that I had been anywhere except what was in my own head, and I became a little preoccupied by making sure that I showed up somewhere. To confirm that I had really been somewhere; that I wasn't only a ghost.

Even now when I feel myself disappearing, I think of the small girl with the pink umbrella idling by a bridge sitting on someone else's computer, in someone else's memory, and feel myself just a little more solid.

Monday, January 26, 2009

I left Seattle late, tired from alcohol and conversation, and slept through most of my first flight, waking only when the pilot announced our descent. The houses on the ground were dark, penned in by streetlamps, except for one spot that doubled the light of everything around it. It was only when we swung down closer that I realized the bright house was one on fire.

My grandmother's voice has gone soft and thin, and we all had to gather close to hear her, except for the moment when a nurse that she wanted me to meet walked past the door. Suddenly, my grandma found a voice that echoed down the hallway.

Late at night in a smoky bar a man feeds money into the jukebox and then turns to our table, gesturing with one hand at the six song credits on the screen. Watched over by a bar dog named Nikki Sixx, I picked our favorite songs from the nights we spent at the pool hall in high school.

And then home, watching the sun sneak through the clouds and gild swathes of the Gulf as far as I could see, huge sparkling sheets of water.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

There's never really time to adjust to the time zone on these trips, and too many people to see, so I always seem to go to sleep on Seattle time but wake up on Florida time, and this means that there have been approximately three hours of sleeping done by me in the last few days. I am coming home from this trip with a cameo of my grandmother's, my grandad's old fishing maps, and my great-grandfather's copy of Treasure Island. My grandad's leather sap will either follow in the mail along with his James Bond books or come back with me in a larger suitcase when I'm back in a couple of weeks. None of my airplanes so far have encountered any flocks of geese.

Right now I am in the airport, waiting to go home, having looked at my grandma and spent some extra quality time with my old friends. I let myself get suckered into an upgrade to first class on this first flight, which will be on a Volkswagen beetle with wings and therefore probably not particularly luxurious for my first visit with the privileged class, but perhaps an adventure nonetheless. Tonight I will sleep for hours and hours and then tomorrow after brunch I will make six quarts of soup. I am equally excited about all of this.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

And now here we are in this new old world with a job of work to be done and certain sure we'll screw some of it up somehow. We always do. Still, I get a little damp in the eyes every time I even think the words President Obama. I have always been a hope junkie, and I'm so glad people are finally there with me. The air is thinner out here, but it tastes better.

Tonight I'm off on an excruciating red-eye flight back to Tampa Bay, to look at my grandmother for a few hours and then come right back on Saturday. With luck, the refrigerator fairy will visit my apartment while I am gone and deliver a new, non-frozen refrigerator. With more luck, my airplane won't encounter any geese, and with even more luck I'll manage to schedule in a little extra quality time with a couple of people who have known me since I carried a pager because it was cool. I'm not usually very lucky, but this seems like a pretty good time to start.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Eight years ago I was just barely into my second semester of college, an unhealthy 20 pounds lighter and with very long wavy brown hair. Within a few weeks I would be breaking up with my first boyfriend and, immediately after, having a bout of pneumonia and bronchitis that would leave me hallucinating feverishly for most of a week, even today the sickest I can remember ever being. We had all recovered from the crippling feeling of defeat in our first election, the shock of all of the election-related Florida shenanigans, and I'm frankly unsure that I knew anyone at all who even realized that the inauguration was happening. That world was too big for us, and uninterested.

All these years and 3,000 miles later, it's hard to imagine being able to talk about a president without disdain, but with luck that might be about to change. I was in Italy during their elections, when Berlusconi was coming back in, and all of their political hopelessness was tinged with frustration at American politics. Money and power and deeply rooted corruption were leading their elections, and not a single person I spoke with felt like they could ever changed the outcome, voting or not. Almost all of them talked of leaving Italy, talked leaded with bone-deep sadness because they loved their country in a way that we usually don't. They all wanted to know how we had ended up with such a president when here, voting can change things. They all wanted to know how we had made the same mistake twice, and why we were wasting our rights.

Everything isn't going to change immediately, and maybe not ever, but the next 100 days will start to show us whether or not this world is too big, and still uninterested. In any case, I don't think a single person that I knew eight years ago is unaware that this inauguration is happening tomorrow.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Seattle right now is covered in fog, fog that thickens and disperses and then gathers itself again, and has been for days. Late at night it muffles everything beyond a few steps, muting the sulphur glow of the streetlights over my head. Anything can happen in these fogs, hidden from sight after only a few steps. Anything frequently does happen. Last night I took a small walk through this fog, thinking about what it must have been like to have grown up on the sort of farms that supplied to perfumeries in France a hundred years ago, harvesting jasmine and lavendar instead of corn, arms coated in fragrance and sticky with pollen. About whether in the harvest season your dreams would be scented lightly with the flowers you gathered by the armful during the day. About whether the flowers ever stopped being beautiful and started to be only work.

This fog is the sort that steals the thoughts right out from your own brain, and it was with surprise that I suddenly found my head surrounded by a cloud of jasmine, at night in the wintry north, where no jasmine should be. I briefly considered that perhaps someone wearing jasmine perfume had walked down the street shortly before me, leaving their scent to linger in the fog. But this isn't a fog for simple explanations, and besides, perfumes and flowers weigh differently on the brain. This was not that.

I had stopped walking and stood there for a moment, breathing in the ghost of a smell that I associate with hot summer nights, puzzled. I have been exhausted lately, thinking slowly, and it took me a minute to realize, oh, it's the fog. It steals thoughts.

Emily Dickinson said, "To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else." I turned the corner and walked back around the block and home, vaguely happy that I had been thinking of flowers and not knives.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I spoke to my grandmother today, which was hard after yesterday's news. And all the more difficult for being hard, I think--we speak every couple of weeks, always with the same easy understanding that we will have the same conversation next time, that I will always order her gently to feel better soon and that she will always fret about the phone call costing me money or distracting me from work. We both know that these chats aren't exchanging new information, since my mother passes on all of the news in both directions much more frequently than our phone calls happen, but this has been our habit since I left Clearwater in 2000 and was no longer five minutes away.

When I sift back through my memories I find it hard to conjure up any of my grandmother being anything but positive. She never pretended that situations were any less serious than they were, but she's a woman who believes in dealing with what is in front of you as well as you can, and it never seemed to ruffle her if we were fleeing to her house in the middle of the night any more than if we were just stopping by to say hello. She's the only family member I have who recognized my tendency to blame myself for things out of my control, to worry tirelessly, and somehow she could always tell when my brain would start tightening. And then it was always a firm look and a, "Now, Sammy, that's not for you to worry about. You just keep your mind on school." She was like gravity, keeping me tethered whether I stopped to think about it or not.

So today's conversation was hard in unfamiliar ways, her voice thin and reedy and her speech slightly slurred. I am by nature a researcher, not willing to deal with what's in front of me before I can gather every single possible fact about it and read thirty second opinions, but of course the very nature of mortality thinks my need for control is pretty funny. She was having a better day, her mind clearer, full of vim and annoyed at the rehab hospital for keeping her hostage. And I was full of terror that this might be our last conversation, and of false cheer while demanding that she be recovered by the time I am in town next month.

But this is how family works, when it actually does work, right? You are the wall when it is your turn to be the wall, no matter if you actually feel less solid than air. I doubt that my grandmother was always as complacent as she seemed but she played the part well because it was what needed to be done. And now it is my turn, no matter how much I would like to avoid calling, to avoid hearing her vanish. It is my turn to pay her the same courtesies of concern, to be as solid as I can, to hold things up for my mother while things get harder and harder for her. It's the only way to be worthy of all the support I have always been given.

It's not going to be easy, but then, nothing ever is.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

All I really want to tell you about is my uncommon grandmother, and how 20 years after the doctors told her she had five left to live we are suddenly moving much too quickly toward actually losing her, but words aren't big enough for a lady like my grandma. My parents were never very good at being parents, so for my whole life my grandparents have been just as vital, and more in some ways. Sometimes it takes a village to raise a samantha, and the terrible thing about time is that it steals everyone important eventually. It is much too soon after losing my granddad to be thinking about this, but the doctors are officially calling end stages. I am suddenly paralyzed by the thought that bad news comes in threes, and I have two grandparents left and both of them barely hanging on.

I had no idea until recently that the last 15 years were stolen ones, but trust my grandma to live three times as long as she should have just because she doesn't like being told what to do. I've been stupidly lucky to have her around for as long as I have, but I would prefer to keep her for as long as possible.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Tin cans and string were not our worst means of communication, given how lost we are anyway, given that our only compass is the soft thump of blood passing under our fingers. Given that the stars are all muffled in our closed eyelids. Like the synesthete who was blind, we have found our own colors where colors never had been found.

While you slept I replaced your telephone with tin cans and yellow string, looped over telephone wires and stray dogs and the moon. There is no danger in telling secrets that echo as whispers but vibrate into space through and into those thin bright strands and bird's feet and softly polished metal. I still don't know how long those threads could last, or if anyone noticed when they fall apart.

Secretly, I buried a copy of that telephone, ran it under our feet through continents and around earthworms and at the bottom of the ocean. So that the fish could hear the same secrets, if secrets can be connected by similar string. I could only orient those connections by the magnetic north of my own pulse, but perhaps all those blood vessels were map enough.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Like clockwork comes a wave of restless, of smash-everything, of dye my hair black and change my name to Lola and move to South America to run guns and whittle tiny elephant figurines with a little pink pocket knife. Too much time stationary and sickly and turning in the same tight circles. Not enough explosions.

In Alice in Wonderland she jumps down the rabbit hole without, so they say, ever "once considering how in the world she was going to get out again." Which sounds like a fine idea, and I keep giving that a shot, except that these rabbit holes keep turning out to be badger dens, not down just out and to dead ends and piles of dirt. Maybe badgers are so grumpy because they're looking for rabbit holes and finding only more dirt too. Right now I'm worried less about how to get out once I find one and more about how to get in in the first place. None of these heels are punching through the right layers of soil.

I liked the satisfying crunch of my snowboots through the icy snow of the last few weeks, the struggle and concentration involved with not falling. I like the feel of throwing just to hear things break. Everything is slowing down just when I wanted it to speed up, and I never have been patient enough for all of this waiting.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

In evolutionary biology they have this wonderful term, "hopeful monster," for a creature that has a severe mutation that gets passed down and turns out to be the key in the lock of whole new evolutionary groups. It doesn't really work for science--more often than not, the real excuse is just something that we've overlooked--but science isn't the place where monsters belong.

Monsters are all click-clacking across my kitchen with their toenails and sleeping just outside my cupboard and pacing on the other side of this tiger pit I've built outside the front door in an effort to trap them. Waiting for doors to open and faucets to turn on, to be dropped and shattered, to go for throats and heels and hamstrings. If I had a microscope they'd probably knock it over, or steal it and sell it to a car full of clowns.

But hopeful monsters, monsters that end up as the starting point to something entirely new, well, that's a whole other car full of clowns. Those monsters might evade tiger pits and jimmy open locks, and maybe that's what they're supposed to do. Maybe those are the ones that will take us somewhere new.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

This morning was the perihelion, and part of it was also the end points of the Quadrantid meteor shower, so it was the work of only moments to put together a fleet of paper airplanes to send up to those meteors, to land on their craters and to later be burned up by the sun.

Telling the sun secrets on the perihelion is a delicate matter, because the next trip around to now is a long one through the dark vastness of space lit only by its own fire. So you don't want to give the sun too much, don't want to weigh it down with even more dark things, with heavinesses that are not its own to carry.

In the end, the only thing for it is to tell the sun stories. On one paper airplane, a story about an aardvark and a pangolin and a star-nosed mole who become unlikely friends and go on crime-solving adventures. On another, a story about splashing home in the snow in the wrong shoes, stomping just to watch the wet clumps scatter and laughing happier than when anyone is looking. On one more, the feeling of waiting for people I know will show up and make me smile, the feeling of contentment borne of happy dependability. On two or three, stories about smiles from across the room, about blushing, about the best of moments before.

But it would be a waste of a perihelion without a few secret stories and a double handful of wishes, tied with lopsided little bows around the noses of their airplanes, to give them extra weight.

After I had tossed them all skyward with a firm flick of the wrist, I whispered to the sun a little, all of the things too important to be written down, too soft to not be broken in the act of joining pen and paper.

In return the sun sent me a snowstorm to smile home in, so I think perhaps we understood each other perfectly.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Hi, 2009!

Just before you showed up last night, a girl sitting above and behind me shattered a glass, which filled my hair and purse and seat with tiny slivers and giant chunks of glass. I'm just going to go ahead and call that 2008's parting shot. 2008 is such a jerk.

When you came it was with hugs and champagne and my friends at the bar that I love, which is an incredibly satisfactory way to start of the year. I came home some time after last call and ate tater tots, because my fridge is broken and has frozen everything in it solid, so the cake I had planned on for my first 2009 food was not an option. Stupid fridge.

But today I started you out for real at a Very Special Thursday Edition of my favorite part of the week, brunch at Linda's (10 hours after we left at last call), where though it was crowded we somehow immediately were seated. After mimosas and pancakes and bacon we had post-brunch coffee at a new favorite, and then I walked home in the light rain, all of which makes me very happy.

2009, I find you very satisfactory so far. I am going to go ahead and decide right now that this year is going to be awesome, and full of cookies and aardvarks and pangolins and robots and movies and whiskey and friends and memories and smiles and high fives. I think we deserve it.