Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Our bones may as well be outer space, for all that we will ever see them without tools and photographs and uncomfortable accidents. It's only other people that get to look under our skin, long after we're gone, having turned disconnected and forever smiling gruesomely.

I think about my bones in the hands of future archaeologists, fragments extrapolated with plaster and reassembled wrong like a blank puzzle. They'll peer through the hollow tubes that once held me together and wonder, was she related to the birds? The thinning toward the elbow suggests that this species likely tended toward the sentimental. These colors, here, show a clear preference for whiskey over gin. There might be a few fossilized bits of gristle left, a solid string of ligament or a scraping of marrow, but mostly only bones, shedding dust on to the gloves of strangers. Building a portrait of me that I was never able to see.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Yesterday we threw a surprise early birthday party for one of my favorite people, and I tasked myself with distracting the birthday boy long enough for the people we were having brunch with to get to the party, and for the rest of the guests to assemble. I was doing remarkably well, considering how bad I am at keeping both secrets and my cool, until a last minute change in the plan led to attempting to buy a cake for the party with the honoree in tow. I didn't blow the surprise, but I nearly did, concocting a ludicrous story and delivering it while sweating and stuttering nervously.

Fortunately, the thing about throwing a surprise party two weeks before someone's actual birthday is that they never see it coming.

And then we made kites and tried hard to fly them in the park in the absence of both wind and structural integrity, and had cake and cheeseburgers and champagne, and the whole thing was incredibly satisfying. I don't think we do enough positive scheming, any of us. We should probably all start making up for that right now.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Three smell memories:

1. Walking home late the other night, I passed a house with sprinklers on soaking a garden, smelling exactly like coming home at the end of summer right after the streetlights came on, having just adjusted my watch so that it looked like I wasn't getting in after curfew. It's the smell of earth that has spent a day soaking up the sun, of petals waking up and stretching, of powdery mildew forming in the damp and relative coolness, of freckles darkened and muscles sated with movement.

2. Sitting at the bus stop next to an old man who smells suddenly like my grandpa did when I was eight, just before he died, living in the VA hospital with a hole in his throat. It's an antiseptic smell, sharp, but layered halfheartedly over something more unpleasant. Decay, maybe.

3. The diesel smell of a truck driving past my apartment during a soft green sunset, filtering through the lake smell and trees, is precisely the smell of Venice, lost in the cold and the rain and sitting on the edge of a canal with a cat the only living thing in sight. Not knowing that in a few minutes I will come across the back yard of a violinmaker's shop, where the rain will suddenly cease and I will drink a glass of wine and watch those men build their instruments like they are molding them out of their own flesh.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


One of the things I most regret is not asking for my grandfather's stories before he died.

I love stories, but it always feels like a delicate thing, asking for them. I think that this is at least partly related to the fact that life was so shrouded in mystery when I was growing up, everyone so carefully not talking about anything, living in houses of vellum and secrets. So asking my family members to tell their stories has always felt like intruding, like asking about an unsavory medical condition.

But not asking is such a waste, because I learned all of these things after he was gone that I would much rather have heard about from him. On one of my trips back to Florida this year, driving down a long empty road with my mother, she looked at me for a second and said, "I think that you were the only person he ever really loved." And while I can't believe that that is true, the thought was a little like being stabbed, knowing that I was only carrying my memories of him into the future and not any of his memories of himself. Selfish.

Sitting on the cold tile floor in a room of my mother's house, I sifted through the detritus of this life I should have known. There was a letter from a relative talking about watching my grandfather play his guitar in a country band on television, something I can't even imagine him having done. And there were envelopes after envelopes of pictures, of him posed underneath the Kapok Tree looking like Huck Finn, of the family picking cotton in fields which are now strip malls, of my great-grandaddy the bootlegger dapper in a suit and lounging confidently against a fence.

And now I can't believe that I spent all those years living five minutes away from my grandparents, seeing them a few times a week, and never thought to ask.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I was walking home last night, in the hours which a month ago would have been verging on late but which are now, in the softening spring evenings, only more hours. It was warm enough to not be wearing tights but cool enough that the breeze rustling the bottom hem of my light walking coat buttoned over my dress gave me goosebumps. The air smelled of the last of the daffodils and the first of the lilacs, of lake water and car exhaust and a distant barbecue. My shoes were rubbing blisters on the tops of my toes and I was mulling over a fun scheme, and for a moment I thumped down into the groove of most myself.

That's all, really. But after months of being grumpy and ill-contented and mad at the world, of feeling too small for my skin and too big for all rooms, it was like being on fire and then suddenly doused with cold water. Like coming to the end of a long tunnel and finally taking a breath again, finally finding the space to take a step backwards and say, calm down, silly. Everything has a way of working out, remember?

In my pots green things are starting to poke out their heads, and soon there will be flowers just steps from wherever I am in my house. There is nothing better than right now.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Man, didn't we have a time.

I knew that there was a pretty good chance that this weekend in Vancouver was going to be fun, but there was just no way to predict that we would spend all of the last 48 hours laughing. All of my laughing muscles are sore. We ate a ton of good food, formed a religion, played a lot of goofy car games, drank wine on a dock, and laughed ourselves silly. It was just unstoppably fun.

I went to Vancouver with a few people I know socially but not terribly well, and the whole thing could have been a disaster. Instead, we lucked into a whole weekend full of more fun than I can remember having in a long, long time. I'm all refreshed and unwound and ready for spring and adventures and hijinks. We put together an ace traveling team, and I'm excited for whatever happens next.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Well. It looks like an impromptu weekend trip to Vancouver is in the works, and I couldn't be more excited. I have been going out of my skin with restlessness since, oh, January, and will like nothing more than to get in a car with a bunch of people who laugh easily and then consort with some Canadians for a few days. I plan to take my role as co-captain of wacky hijinks very seriously.

Yesterday I went and had my bones cracked for the first time in years. The bone cracking man went through the usual amount of exclaiming about how broken I am, pressing all along one side and tsking over how wound all of my muscles are, how misaligned all of my bones are. My brains are the same way these days, but I'm hoping that a day or two breathing other people's air will help straighten things out some.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Late one night I told you a story about an apple who meets a bird and becomes jealous of the bird's freedom and discontented with his own future. The apple didn't want to become a pie or cider, to be crunched between anyone's teeth, to fall from his branch and rot slowly and seep back into the ground. The well-meaning bird told the apple scary tales, attempting to make it feel better, stories about fighting too-strong winds and running from fast cats and barely escaping hunters with guns, but all the unhappy apple heard were the verbs.

You were asleep before I got to the end of the story, before I told whether the apple made it out or was made into a slightly bitter pie. I didn't know the ending, myself, so it was lucky that you were already breathing softly on to the pillow that was slowly making creases on your cheek before I had to decide. Happy ending or sad ending? Freedom or responsibility? Even now I'm not sure I know.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

I disappear sometimes, in between breaths. Thinning and fading. Happens so fast that you wouldn't notice unless you were watching very closely, but it's interesting how far you can travel without breathing.

There's this cave on the Greek Island of Crete, the Zeus Cave. It's supposed to be the cave where Zeus was born or reared while his mother, Rhea, was trying to hide him from his father, Chronos, who was in the habit of eating his children. Certain cults say that touching parts of the inside of the cave will alter your DNA. In what way, they can't be sure, since it's your DNA and only you can possibly be sure in what ways you've changed. Still, each visit leaves the potential for a fresh start smeared all over your fingertips.

But there are caves in between breaths, too, thinning and fading and slipping through the cracks under eyelashes. Finding the icons that can change DNA.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

It's been a year now since I landed in Italy, tired and rumpled and broken and frankly scared out of my wits.

It's funny how physical being lost is, how you can travel in circles for fifteen miles looking for something three blocks in the opposite direction, and how suddenly you are faced with a lower back full of sweat and a friendly german shepherd and bleeding feet and feeling lost is the silliest feeling yet. I was constantly lost on that trip, lost looking for Bomarzo or the Colosseum, lost in a bus careening through the countryside by Siena, lost in the silent depths of Pompeii, because I have no sense of direction. Emotionally or corporeally. And being lost and limping and just plain tired out from looking at everything smashed me back together when I wasn't paying attention.

One afternoon in Florence I sat on a square right below Cellini's Perseus with the head of Medusa, with gelato in one hand and my journal balanced on my knee. Sitting alone in Italy is an invitation for conversation, especially if you're a young redheaded girl. In this square an old man walked over and sat down, and though I was wary--you never could tell which conversation would abruptly lead to a proposition--I slowly got drawn into conversation about books and politics. He was thinking of leaving Italy if Berlusconi came in, of traveling, and he asked the question everyone got to eventually: what I was doing in Italy alone. I shrugged and told him what I told everyone, that I was thinking, and resting from a bad experience. He nodded and narrowed his eyes in a manner that I would come to recognize as peculiar to old Italian sages, patted my knee, and sucked his teeth. "I think you are on a journey, yes?" he asked, squinting in the sunlight. "A quest. We have words for that here. In Italy, you say, farmi le ossa."

Which mostly, it turned out, translates to "building your bones".

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

They say that 2,000 years ago the climate of the Congo was cooler, less damp, that instead of being composed of thickets of impenetrable jungle the land was mostly smooth grassland with fingers of forest along all of the major water sources. All the bigger animals and the running animals that usually lived in other, always-open places, moved in to these grasslands, probably enjoying all of the space and extra grass.

But then slowly the climate changed back again, became hotter and wetter, and the jungles spread out and out into the slowly dampening plains, claiming all of the land that was open in the name of tall trunks and thick green undergrowth. Until eventually the open plains were closed.

The elephants were still there, though, and the running animals, glimpsed in flashes of gray and brown and stripes standing very still among the leaves. It confused people for a long time, all of these animals so poorly built for jungles living right in the middle of one, until one day they found a surprise intact grassland in the middle somewhere and realized what had happened. That though the animals still were built for running and stomping and wide open spaces the world around them had changed and trapped them there between the trees. Until eventually they forgot what running was like. They could still, but don't, mostly.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Oh, hello there, spring.

We knew you were on the way, of course. The signs were all there--the daffodils, the thick purple flowers up in the higher branches of the trees, the chives coming up in my window box, all of the bright pink and gray earthworms strung along the sidewalks. And then there was the usual ache all along my bones, looking for movement, the restlessness threaded along every nerve.

But you popped up this weekend, covered in sunshine, sending everyone stumbling dazed onto the sidewalks and patios in sunglasses and without coats. Everyone's friendlier on the first spring weekend, finally starting to emerge from their winter haze, ready for everything to start again. Time to start thinking about planting things and smiling at strangers. You're bad luck, spring, but you're the sort of bad luck that is sometimes indistinguishable from good luck.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Right on schedule, same as every year, I find myself bored of everything in the world, tired of being cold and sick, of looking at the same things and eating in the same places and listening to everyone in the greater metropolitan area whine about the weather. There's always a moment, when I'm walking up to catch the bus to my regular haunts, where I pause in the middle of huffing up a big steep hill and look back over Lake Union and bridges and boats, and that moment settles my ruffled disposition. But by the time I reach the top of the hill I usually find that the fists have settled back in my hands and I am irritated and restless all over again. Even a cheerful clump of daffodils nodding along the sidewalk can't quite smooth out my crumpled forehead.

What I want, of course, is an adventure, to suddenly disappear to somewhere in Spain where all the girls wear colorful skirts and everyone has a red sash in their closet, to move to Mongolia and change my name to Lucy and learn how to construct a yurt. Discover a new tiny species of frog in a jungle somewhere or finally learn to milk a cow or stumble across a hidden cache of buttercups just waiting to stain shy chins yellow. Something.