writing to survive
. . . only the retelling counts

I am not a bagel

I have been sitting on the couch in a crooked patch of flickering sunlight, catching up on blogs and mindlessly surfing the interwebz. It gets more and more easy to toss the intellectual brain aside and wallow in trivia, to take quizzes that tell me what kind of bagel I am (pumpernickel?!?), or which Harry Potter character I would be. (Luna Lovegood? That makes a hell of a lot more sense than pumpernickel.) I have the sickly taste of dissolved Lemonheads in my mouth (first sweet, then sour, then cloying), and I really should get a glass of fizzy water or brush my teeth. But here I sit, distracted and wanting.

After being crazy busy for months, having a few days off feels . . . unsettling. I still have plenty to do – write a transcript and case/process notes, clean, weed, and plan for my girls’ groups, among other things. Theoretically, I have the time to complete a few tasks. Tuesday stretches out before me, with no boy in the mix until dinnertime. However, the more time I have, the less efficient I often become. And these long days can be isolating. By 2:30, I will be clawing my lonely way out of the weeds.

Last night, in a discussion about lightening my course load for family reasons, a classmate seemed visibly surprised when I said the boy was eight. My take on her reaction (which could be wrong) was that he was a little old for me to be using him as a rationale for tapping on the brakes. But that could have been my own bias at work. The guilt-prone, self-deprecating part of me thinks I am a lady of leisure, nicely buffered from real world issues. While the boy is in school, in camp, at his after-school program, I dabble in coursework and consider what color to paint the living room.

OK. I am no lady of leisure. There is always work to be done, even when I am not doing it. Unlike this week, this summer will be filled with useful household projects. Still, I’ll admit it – there are things about everyday working life that I do not miss and feel relieved to have taken a pass on for almost a decade. Though I have responsibilities and required tasks for both school and my placement, much of my time is mine to structure as I choose. These days, worn down by coursework, clients, and commuting, I choose to just be during quiet, unscheduled moments. I write. I feel my breath rising and falling, rhythmic, soothing, and almost eternal. And maybe I take an internet quiz or two.

But too much quiet can be a problem. Silence ricochets through a long, lonely day. It reverberates. The key to managing a long solitudinous stretch is to structure my time around tasks, little explosions of activity, to fill these empty rooms with movement and thought. It is up to me to create the meaning.

Creating meaning does not include killing time with quizzes on which bagel I might be, should I be a bagel. Because I’m not a bagel. Or a
dead philosopher. The color of my aura (green?) will not be sussed out by an online quiz, and it doesn’t matter which city I should live in because I am firmly planted here (sorry, Portland, Oregon). I must resist the siren calls of Facebook, the BuzzFeed distractions and intriguing links from New York magazine and the Huntington Post.

Wish me luck. No, not luck. Wish me willpower. I’ll need it.

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Image from
CopyKat Recipes
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The bunny man cometh

The house is still filled with the sweet smoky scent of last night’s dinner, the deeply satisfying aroma of salmon marinated in soy sauce and maple syrup (with touch of adobo) and pan fried until the flesh was this side of flaky and the exterior caramelized to a deep brown sheen. We accompanied it with fava beans tossed with red onion and mint and thick slices of tangy Semifreddis sourdough baguette, butter on the side. It was good, a fitting meal for Holy Saturday.

Today, after we eat the waffles and jellybeans and deviled eggs, I will make a crab quiche served with salad and roasted carrots with a cumin yogurt sauce, this pescetarian’s answer to Easter ham and lamb. Between the various dishes, the total egg count for this weekend will be a baker’s dozen.

I don’t really get Easter, although we do traditional things with the boy – the hardboiled eggs dyed into paranoid electric visions or pastel mutes, the visit from the creepy man-sized rabbit with his cavity-engendering treats, the hunt for eggs the man-rabbit plants in secret places for the boy to find. My own associations with childhood Easters are rituals that seem musty and antique, though I am sure there are still girls out there proudly wearing new Easter dresses and (maybe) staring down at their shiny, uncreased patent leather shoes, relieved that church is out.

If Easter is about the Resurrection (despite the rabbit and his chocolate doubles and clutches of eggs) and I don’t believe in Christ as Savior, then how can I really get into this secular mess of a holiday, which is stripped of redemptive meaning? Don’t get me wrong – I understand the shared appeal, the cultural aspect of it. I know the boy enjoys Easter, and that in general kids crave these traditions. I am fully on board. And, thanks to working at a Catholic school, I am more tuned in to the holiday this year. But I just don’t feel it.

Perhaps I miss the certainty of childhood, the assumption that things would never change, that every spring brought a new pale, frilly dress and basket of sugary treats. Maybe it was the way I learned the truth about the Easter Bunny at six or seven, the remains from my present to him (a stick stuck in a bucket of sand) found discarded by the shop side of my grandparents’ house, as though the bunny had rejected the gift but lacked the wherewithal to dispose of it properly. Here was another sign that even fantasies weren’t to be trusted.

Really, I think my lack of excitement about Easter has to do with the ghost family that once surrounded me, now lost to time and broken connections. They are truly gone now, in one way or another, my mother the only tenuous thread to a dead past. So it is up to me to carry on the tradition, to keep things together for the small group left.

I finally feel up to the challenge.

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Image: Easter at my grandparents’ house, 1974?.
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Clear skies expected

When I got off my university shuttle bus yesterday morning, the campus sun-vibrant, I was overcome with an enormous feeling of gratitude. I was grateful for my ability to learn and change. I had a supportive family. I got to travel through San Francisco a few days a week and lived in a city where my values were valued.

So what that I’d started my one-credit Monday evening class that week, which got me home after 8:00 p.m., only ten hours before I left the next morning? Or that I might have acquired two more clients despite the fact that there are only five weeks left at my placement? Or that my careful, somewhat obsessive preparation for my girls’ groups had been overrun by their need to really
talk about bullying and the ways they have been left out, frozen out, or singled out? The class seems doable, the potential clients need someone to listen to them, and I love that these girls feel comfortable sharing, that I am giving them a space to talk about things that are often kept on the down low.

That grateful feeling, lovely and expansive, matched the uncomplicated beauty of the morning. However, days wear on. Clouds sidle in and block the sun. Storms blow through and soak the scenery, and there you are without an umbrella. Some days, no matter how fine the morning, how luscious the afternoon, you find yourself sitting in a bar at five minutes to midnight, fumbling for cash to pay for that fifth cocktail, the sky on a sob-fest just outside the door.

Not that yesterday
exactly turned into one of those days. I admired the morning, did the academic thing, traveled the rails back home, and picked up the boy, whose outdoor after-school program is closed this week. We hung out. I made a nice family dinner. But the persistent demons of self-doubt still came a-knocking. They rattled me from the inside, told me I said and thought stupid things, that I was slow and clueless and should keep my mouth shut. (I had participated in class more than usual yesterday, always a trigger.) The demons took the best parts of me and obscured them with cape and smoke and obfuscating lies, grabbed my strengths and shoved them into heavy black leather satchels, the worn bags scratched and nicked by claw and tooth and time.

Until I had had enough. I upended those satchels and kicked the demons out of the overpacked rooms of my mind.
Ignore them and keep marching forward, I told myself. After all, I was capable and smart. I’d come this far. I could do it.

Today has been harder. I am tired and ineffectual. The second girls’ group of the week turned into a gossip fest that was difficult to manage. My last client was as eager as I to leave, and I was not as attentive as I could have been. Despite the Bay Area’s blue skies, my internal weather has been partly cloudy. But it’s also Holy Thursday, which holds special meaning for me this year. As of 12:30 (or earlier, if you don’t count the Mass), my placement site is on Easter break. Hallelujah! A week without the
6:00 a.m. commutes, the 39L, or the three hours of supervision. A week to breathe, to air out my head. To sleep. To clean. To be. Even if I do still have to go to class.

The weather report is looking up.

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Image from here.
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Period piece

We had crab cakes for dinner last night and roasted salmon with a dilled potato chip crust, along with baked potatoes and lemon butter broccoli. I unearthed the crab meat from our freezer on Saturday while making room for popsicles. No one could remember how long it had been there -- maybe 2012, from one of my mother’s summer visits? Leaving it in the freezer seemed like a waste, so I added the crab to an already seafood-heavy meal. And we ate most of it. Even the boy had a cake or two.

I am heavy with nostalgia this month, for parts of my life long over, for worlds that were intact when I was born but have now crumbled into anachronism. So when a friend posted an article to Facebook about a house for sale in Toronto, the place a period piece of 1960s decor, I felt a stab of recognition. Reader, I knew those rooms and that furniture. They were as familiar as family Polaroids.

My past is becoming a museum of styles now enshrined in dystopian Mad Men sets and houses decorated in the gap between Sputnik and the Bicentennial (and let’s not even get into the checkerboard patterns of the 1980s). Still, though I can remember using rotary phones and watching UHF channels on heavy wooden console televisions, I am not yet a dinosaur. I am an early mammal, still connected to the here and now, but ultimately an insignificant creature, scrappy enough, but doomed to be overtaken by evolution. It is best to get used to my fate. Time does not go in reverse.

In this wistful, slightly melancholy mood (which, to be honest, maybe I am in all the time), silly and not so silly things bring tears, music in particular. “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor (the upheaval of 1978/79). “Would I Lie to You?” by the Eurhythmics (waiting in line at my high school snack bar during a basketball game halftime). The Oakland sunshine and me all in black (punk lives). Herons perched on the roof of a fast food joint, hunched over like old men (DC and the herons fishing in Rock Creek). The boy’s combination of savvy humor and kid imagination (a temporary mix).

Life unfurls all around us, each moment slipping away into the next. So I defrosted the crab meat. I mixed it with mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, an egg, breadcrumbs, and parsley. I formed the patties with my hands and set them in the over to bake until they were lightly browned. We ate them alongside tender salmon, fluffy potatoes plied with butter and sour cream, and bright green stalks of lemony broccoli. The dinner was a small, good thing, tangible, another piece of life lived and stored up for later.

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Image of living room furniture circa 1976, almost all of which resembles my grandparents’ early seventies living room suite, from Retro Renovation.
Image of wooden console TV, similar to the one that dominated my grandparents’ family room (theirs had a channel dial), from
A Girl and A Puppy.
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