Saturday, December 31, 2011

Oh, 2011.

I started you off kind of poorly and almost seriously injured so you and I, we only had up to go from there.

We had some bumps, still, along the way. I spent a lot of you quite sick with George Washington's germs,  and recovering from the buildup and subsequent disappointing collapse of my trip to Nicaragua. A lot of time spent being just plain tired. But then at the same time there were so many weddings and celebrations and dance parties, so much laughing all over New York and magic Orcas Island. I learned about shooting guns and circus skills and finishing graduate school, and December in particular has brought an incredible number of impending babies and marriages. I have done a lot of kissing and dancing and, as always, had a lot of fun.

So I don't know. You remember how this time last year I was thinking almost constantly about the ways to build a life worth valuing, on how to do more good and less harm. About all the fires that we walk through just to be able to look ourselves in the eye, and how these are really the only battles that matter. More and more I think about the Larkin poem I mentioned the other week, and about making ships in bottles out of more good things than we could fit back out the doorways. These are still my plans, you know--doing more good than harm, looking and seeing and remembering, holding on to the best parts of these adventures and learning from the rest. As though there was any other option.


Friday, December 30, 2011


In Switzerland the children are visited by Samichlaus, who shows up kind of whenever with a guy dressed in black named Schmutzli. The two of them knock on the door and check their big book of sins before giving the kids a little lecture on good behavior. They have to do penance by reciting a poem and promising to do better before Samichlaus will reach into his bag and hand over fruits and candy. This is secretly something I think about all December.

My flights home were some of the most harrowing yet, the sky thick with towers and pillars of clouds nearly the whole way along. I changed planes in Newark, and had to close the window shade against the unsettling sight of the solid expanse of thick grey clouds that we were sinking into, unable to shake the feeling that they had solidified and we would be trapped there forever. Landing in Seattle, the plane bounced so hard it nearly launched itself back into the sky again.

The perihelion is on the 5th, friends. Best to start baking cakes for the sun now.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I'm heading back to North Carolina tonight to spend Christmas with my family. Flying alone at Christmas time is almost always the most invisible sort of flying, because I'm not generally very bustling. Everyone else is always juggling families and bags and frenzy. One of my favorite things about airports is how anonymous it is possible to be in them, and that is never more true than now.

My favorite thing about traveling at Christmas time is flying through the dark over towns covered in Christmas lights, twinkling up at me like festive constellations. All those towns I'll probably never go to, filled with all those people I'll probably never meet, having their lives without realizing my airplane is there. It's comforting.

I'll be spending the holiday hugging the dogs and annoying my brothers in the grand tradition of older sisters everywhere. And then coming home, which is always the best part of going away.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Hyak Sno-park

I went in search of snow this weekend. It still is a wonder to me that the mountains are so close, holding any number of secrets cupped in their valleys. We found a groomed trail covered in snow and strolled for miles. Down the road a bit skiers peppered the hillsides, and all around us everything glittered, so brilliant I had to close my eyes. I'm not what anyone would mistake as outdoorsy, but even still I had been craving the peace to be found in those trees. 

I think a lot about what all of those rocks and those trees have seen in all of these years, the time before people came and what has occurred after. All the scars we have left on them and the structures we have built to shore them up, whatever remains of the people that had passed through those vistas before me. More generally, I guess, I think a lot about the last line of that Larkin poem: "What will survive of us is love", and how we make that more visible than all of the scars.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

It's in between breaths that we disappear, thinning and fading and slipping, tethered only barely to nothing at all. Everywhere is always riddled with cracks, and it's easier to fall through than to not.

Equally easy, though, is falling in love with the soft whisper of a leaf brushing against your cheek in the chill sparkle of an early morning. So that's lucky. All of last week we were plagued by stagnant air, a hand pressing down on what is usually so light, reusing and poisoning and passing around. All foggy in the morning and brutally clear later, and no new breaths to be had for any of us. As though our lungs don't lay heavy enough in our chests, doing all the work of leaving and returning.

In the late nights I feel around the fist of my heart jumping wildly around in my chest, trying to dispel the fog with its own erratic rhythm. I'm almost sure that when I go transparent my heart hovers there in the air, waiting for me to come back. I almost always do, eventually.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

I remember when we learned about our light, the way we are always glowing even though our eyes haven't yet figured out how to see it.

In my head when I think about sonoluminescence I pronounce it with an m instead of an n, unconsciously. As though we are sleeping when we create light from sound, and maybe we are. The thing I like best about sonoluminescence (aside from how the mantis shrimp makes it happen with its hands like bullets) is that although we know how it works we still don't really know why. Maybe it's because of thermonuclear fusion, or vacuums in the middle of bubbles, or something we haven't even invented yet. Whatever the reason, I like to think of us shouting secrets under the water, telling them in just the perfect way to make them a stream of light arcing almost across oceans. Staying secrets, but so lovely that we don't really mind. And then when we wake up not even remembering, but feeling satisfied, columns of light still hidden under our skin.

Except the only problem is that we don't live in water, we live in space, and we can't see the glow coming from our skin. This I find harder to reconcile. Still, it makes sense given all of the troubles that we have. Just standing there far apart, made of poetry and bones, shining softly and shouting secrets that turn into nothing at all.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

This is my week of jury duty, which is I guess a pretty good literal representation of how the rest of everything goes, all the archipelagos of waiting, dim islands of something all surrounded by the milky swamps of not much at all. All of my pathways seem lost in the mud, the corpse candles as always leading in circles. I don't know why we always follow them, drawn without reason to their bright flash even though we know better, turning to look back once we leave the swamp and finding ourselves drawn back in. Maybe it's only that the lure of something different is stronger that the thought of something new.

At the end of an essay about forests John Muir talks about the hidden lairs of all the animals, nearby and yet as difficult to find as if they were in the sky. But I think that's true of the habitat of most of us, unknowable as the sky, hidden in unexpected corners and cracks. Sometimes that's a comfort, our hands like sieves since what's important is somewhere safe, our eyes filled with only new things. Mostly, though, I think it would do us best to unearth each molecule of everything and have a bonfire with it, all together. To start emptyhanded from the same place.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

On Saturday I will finish grad school, which as far as life list goals go is perhaps not the most romantic but is still kind of a big deal. It's been feeling a lot like an anticlimax, and this I believe is because two days after I finished my undergrad I moved 3,000 miles and started a whole new life. The week after this milestone, I have jury duty, which is not exactly another revolution. Not unusually, I am feeling restless.

I started down this road two and a half years ago because I had realized that this life of public service is the one I want, but I've been working for the same nonprofit for seven years now and that's a pretty limited view of the landscape. (Also, you know, I like to do things properly and officially, because I am secretly a little old man.) I needed new angles.

People keep asking me if it has been worth it, which is a valid question--I've invested a lot of time in the whole thing all while working a full time job, gone back into student loan debt, and written a whole lot of nonsensical papers about things like bat fungus and tax law. (Although, regrettably, not both at the same time.) Higher education is such a highly contested thing these days, with a lot of shallowly reasoned arguments on both sides. There are absolutely a lot of problems with the whole system, and my program itself is pretty deeply flawed, but even with all of that in mind it's always felt like the right thing for me to do. I am frustrated and exhausted and restless, but also a better and more thoughtful public servant. And that was really the goal all along.