Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Lunches with Jeanette

I have had two days in a row of lunches with my co-worker Jeanette. Both days were filled with fascinating, somewhat shocking incidents.

Imagine the scene... sandwiches and gazpacho from the bakery LeBus and conversation in Rittenhouse Park until a film crew came up to an empty spot on the bench next to us. We spent the next twenty minutes watching a photo shoot/documentary of an older man who was clearly a singer. Oddly, the whole shoot centered around his reading the newspaper.

At the same time, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the creepy guy who had cat-called us a few minutes earlier had followed us into the park and was watching us from behind a large, stone planter.

We took our leave of the craziness, checking periodically to ensure the stalker didn't continue to follow us and headed to our next destination: La Columbe Coffee Shop. Cheaper than Starbucks, but staffed by egotistical hipsters, it is always dicey whether you will be cool enough for decent service on any given day. We were unlucky and got snarky service.

Outside La Columbe, an elderly woman was hit by a car. Jeanette and I tried to be concerned citizens and tried hard not to rubberneck. Luckily we were on foot, thus not contributing to the traffic stoppage. The ambulance came and the woman was taken to a nearby hospital. She seemed responsive, so hopefully she's okay. It's not a good feeling to see a woman laying on the concrete and a car at a weird angle in front of her. I hope I never see it again.

Jeanette and I again went for sandwiches. This time we saw Animal Rights protesters wearing only nude bikini bottoms and body paint. The dialogue around this protest was not-at-all about Animal Rights, but more like "they were Naked" and "no, they had panties on." I tried to emphatically convey to Jeanette that there is nothing I care enough about to be naked in the city. She was most concerned that they were barefoot.

Really, what could be next? Film crews, accidents, and public nudity. I adore Jeanette, but I'm afraid of what else could happen! I wonder if this will be what my new life in the city is like... weird stuff everywhere, causing barely a ripple... no pun intended.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Prana versus Prada

My only meaningful activity yesterday was getting to and from a yoga class downtown. This gave me a lot of time to think about life, yoga, and priorities.

With the change of seasons, as well as lots of baby showers and birthdays to buy presents for, I've been spending more time than usual shopping. I'm amazed at how quickly money can be spent, and especially amazed at the amount of money people spend on designer apparel and accessories. When I initially woke up yesterday, I was tempted to go shopping to search for a new dress. Something low-cut, red, and fun for the summer. I resisted, choosing Prana over Prada.

So yesterday gave me a full day to really think about the wisdom of setting intentions and priorities. I had a wonderful yoga practice, in which I set my primary intention on my breath. The class and type of yoga are not what I'm used to, so I told myself that I would let my breath guide me. I would make sure to keep my pace one that I could maintain my ujjayi breathing - a breath process that is kind of like fogging a mirror with your mouth closed.

It was very interesting because it meant that I had to abandon a certain amount of ego. I didn't push myself into a headstand because it would have meant leaving behind the focus on my breath. Often I was a full position behind everyone else, partially because my breath is naturally slow and deliberate, and I was only willing to transition at the pace that my breath transitioned. I did not want to be rushed by someone else's pace.

For anyone that doesn't do yoga, this may not make sense, so let's switch the topic a bit.

Prana in yoga is considered the life force. It encompasses more than just breath and air - extending also to the metabolic functions of the body, but to simplify it, let's just talk about the breath.

It serves as such a good analogy to life in general. Our breathing is certainly something that we take for granted, and unless we are confronted with a serious illness or anxiety attack, it comes without fanfare and without fail. The beauty of the breath is that we also have control of it. We can consciously relax our body just by focusing on the deep potential that lies in the control of our breath.

I would argue that most of the other good parts of life are much the same: love, friendship, health. They live with in various forms on a daily basis without much effort. Occasionally we become conscious of them, particularly when they become difficult or especially wonderful, but regardless they are always there. So then my question is: If we consciously relax certain elements of our emotional lives, is there the same deep potential for change and control?

I like to believe the answer is yes. With each new breath we can change the way we live our lives. We can choose to live differently, love differently, react differently, and accept differently.

*insert deep breath here*

So what did you just change?

Friday, May 18, 2007

Happy Birthday, Roomie!

Tomorrow, May 19, 2007 is my roommate's birthday.

I would like to take this opportunity to extol the virtues of being friends with her, and tell some classic stories.

We met the very first day of our freshman year in college, although we were mostly only acquaintances for the first couple years of school. She was sitting on the wall of an area called "The Beach" wearing a Nordstrom t-shirt. I had just spent the summer working at Nordstrom and was still victim to the strong branding (read: mind washing), so I went up to her to ask about her t-shirt. I'm very glad that I was so bold.

We started getting to be closer friends in our Junior year when we started to ride the shuttle together. She would be coming home from her fluting activities and I would be coming home from my life at the Walter's Art Gallery. One day in particular, for no apparent reason, we started talking about stories that make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Not horror ghost stories, but supernatural, paranormal type ghost stories.

I guess I shouldn't share her story, since it might be too personal for public view... or at least I'll ask her and get back to you. But the story that I told her was about summer camp.

My sister and I were sent to camp in the summer of 1980. I was really far too young for sleep-way camp, but my father was seriously ill and my mother needed to turn her attention to him. I spent most of my time in the nurse's office because nearly every activity at the camp was terrifying to me.

My sister was 3 years older, so I think she mostly had a good time, except for one very odd, very scary experience. We talked about this night many years later when we were both in high school. At the time, my sister said this night was her proof that there is a God.

She and her cabin went out for a walk in the back portion of the camp. There were over 100 acres that had been allowed to go wild on the far side of the lake, and they were used for hiking, wilderness training, and special activities. There were only a few footpaths into the woods.

Just a few minutes into the hike my sister saw a snake. She was so scared by it that one of the counselors, no doubt aware of our familial situation and my ongoing traumatized nature, agreed to walk her back to the cabin.

A short time later the rest of the group on the hike were confronted by a man, covered in blood, who chased the group of girls all the way back to the main portion of the camp. The police came, some girls went home, and no one ever figured out who the man was, why he was covered in blood, and what possessed him to chase all those young girls back to the camp.

My sister believes, or at least believed in high school, that the snake was there specifically to save her from the trauma of the man in the woods. God sent the snake to protect her from what she could not handle.

Well since that initial exchange of stories, my dear roommate and I have collected many more. I know there are serious skeptics out there reading this that will not, under any circumstances, allow themselves to believe I once lived in a haunted apartment, or that I believe my grandmother visited me at a TGI Fridays in suburban Maryland via a receipt, but I am awfully thankful that I have at least one person in my life that encourages me to believe.

Oh, and then there's the little fact that she has saved my tail from fates unknown, supported me in times of great need, and always been willing to lend a kind, protective ear. Happy Birthday to you and thank you for everything!

And I encourage you all to write me with your stories. My favorite humorist told one of his this past week, read it here:

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Now I need another writing contest.

I had such a good time writing the short story that now I want to write more.

I googled "writing contests" but came up with a bunch of shady sounding stuff.

If anyone sees any interesting writing contests for legitimate organizations, let me know!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

What would you have done?

Lately there have been a series of things that have been serious tests for my conscience. I have an example of one from this morning.

I was walking to work, gorgeous day, perfect temperature and I see a bird on the ground. At first I thought it was just sitting there, then I thought it might be dead, and finally I realized it was wounded.

I stopped to look at it. It looked at me.

Then I kept going.

I just simply could not figure out what to do. Should I euthanize it? There is no way I could put a poor bird out of its misery. Should I call someone? Really, in the middle of downtown Philadelphia at rush hour, who would come? Should I pick it up? Would that help or just scare the poor bird to death? Then what if I did? Should I call the vet?

It reminds me of my saying "Whose job is it to care?" that I use to remind myself that it is all of our jobs to care about everyone that is here on the planet. But does that extend to birds?

I'm waiting to hear. What would you have done?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Things I need to make myself do:

1) Find a car.

2) Figure out a good place to work on my new portrait project.

3) Figure out the grad school programs I am applying to.

4) Take a GRE course or start studying for the GREs.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Happy Graduation!

Today was the graduation ceremony at the College. I don't envy these young people, they face a huge transition.

In talking to many of them over the last few weeks, what most of them want is a break. They want the summer off, or at the very least a couple of weeks. The only problem is that come July, they'll be back in my office horrified at how competitive the job market is.

It's tough to graduate full of ideals - convinced you'll be able to find exactly what you want to do with your life. It's tricky to give them advice without scarring them or contributing to the inevitable jading process.

What I want them to realize is that life is a process. They have to enjoy the path or the destination will disappoint. They have to find a way to keep working on their art - and that is not easy.

In the meantime, what no one mentions is all that they will mourn: they'll miss this community. They'll miss their friends. They'll even miss me - although I'll keep bugging them to find out how they're doing, at least for a little while. They'll even miss the faculty they have come to loathe. Very soon they'll realize that they had many mentors here... and mentors in the real world are harder to come by.

But I wish all of them the best. I'll be here for them when they need someone, even though the rest of the world will quickly move on to the next batch of young students!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Paper or Plastic?

Normally I know clearly my answer to this question.

First choice: "Neither, I don't need a bag" or "I have this bag with me."

Second choice: "Paper, please. Can you fit it all in one?"

And usually there is no third choice. I try to only accept plastic at stores that offer no alternative when I forget my own bag. I know that plastic bags have become an environmental hazard, a littering eyesore, and a poor replacement for traditional containers and handicrafts.

But today I learned there is a time when paper will simply not work: RAIN.

I asked the grocery to put all my things in one paper bag, leaving the laundry detergent out for me to carry by the handle.

I made it approximately 10 steps from my car before the paper handle broke. I then made the crucial error of allowing the bag to touch the ground - it immediately disintegrated.

I had to make a mad dash another 30 feet to my place, run inside to find a non-paper bag and run back out to reorganize my groceries off the sidewalk. By the time I got back inside, anything that was in a cardboard container was soaked.

So I ended up eating a large dinner and throwing away quite a bit of soggy food that was too compromised to sit on the cupboard shelf.

Oh well.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Thanks to everyone: here's the final version

Those That Sow With Tears By Kathryn Evans

The ringing of the phone brought Kay out of a deep sleep.

Yesterday was a long day. She had spent the day with a pregnant friend whose mother has been seriously ill. Their tasks for the day had been twofold: to clean out the mother’s small apartment and to visit the hospital.

The first task was to tackle the small apartment. Driving up to it, they pull past the lumbering Victorian on the shady avenue; behind the main house, they reach the old carriage house. The apartment is on the second floor, up a narrow staircase – dark, dirty, and unkempt for many weeks. The state of the apartment tells the tale of the past few months of denial. No one could accept the thought of the mother’s illness progressing.

Her friend’s family is a matriarchy. Fathers disappear. The new baby, armed with a sweet temperament, will help break the cycle of abandonment; the tiny little boy will be the lucky one, the first offspring of the new patriarchal structure. The baby and his father have already started in the games they will share. Every evening they play a game of paddy cake, with only a bit of flesh separating them. Just an hour after the baby is born, his father will start to sing the song, as he has done everyday for months, and the baby will turn his head to towards the noise, shocking those in the room with the recognition that he has been an active participant all along.

There is a solemnity to this moment in the tiny apartment: cleaning the mouse droppings off the shelves, removing the smell from the refrigerator, and carrying the remnants of a life to the curb. There is not the slow shuffling of old age to comfort anyone. The illness has fallen on friends and family with the sudden impact and deep wounding of an enormous weight dropped from a great height.

By late afternoon they have finished all their tasks and they go off to the hospital to see to the ailing mother. Today when they walk in, her friend will notice her mother has shifted off to one side. Instead of helping her back to the center of the bed, she crawls in beside her. She allows herself to relax against her mother in the same way she has her whole life, laying her head on her mother’s soft shoulder. She places her mother’s hand on her stomach and lets her feel the baby kicking. Her mother instantly remembers that resonant feeling from her own pregnancy, and her face softens. Her only child there in bed with her; she will try not to cry.

Kay is embarrassed to witness such a poignant moment. The intimacy between the friend and her mother pushes everyone else out of the room. It takes only a moment for her to realize she is intruding, so she says goodbye and leaves them to their time together.

Kay feels dirty, lonely and exhausted. Above all, she is jealous. Jealous of the kisses that pass between the newlyweds as the dad-to-be stops to check on his lovely wife. Jealous of the unborn child so full of promise. Jealous of the tender moments between the mother and her daughter. Jealous of how quickly the rest of the world becomes insignificant in a moment of true intimacy. Jealous of the trauma that can only exist when people truly love one another.

She is hoping for a hot bath and a comfortable meal when she gets home, before her tightly wound tenant walks in and fills the common spaces with his self-inflicted tension. After a day like today, she likes to sit quietly in the house, allowing the disappointment and tragedy of life to slowly melt away into the silence.

On her way home, while waiting at the station for the train to take her home, Kay allows her mind to wander. She imagines all the things that might very well come to her, should she ever be reunited with the man she loves. Long nights staying up late play-fighting about news stories and politics, and luxurious Sunday afternoons with cups of tea and their favorite newspapers. She dreams of extended travel to his native country, offering him a turn at feeling like he belongs in that place where he was born, and returning with him after he slowly remembers the good points of his new life so far away.

Mostly she thinks of his long arms warming her, or his hand resting in that crook at her waist. The fantasies of a young woman rarely focus on the turning of an axle or the firing of a piston, but instead rest in the soft feel of a cushion, the warmth of her hand in his, or the light playing across the surface of the wall as they relax in each others arms.

They have continued to write to each other every few weeks, even after his move to the metropolis. They exchange poetry, well wishes, and stories of their work. Six months has passed since they were in each other’s arms, and the tone of the letters changes from time to time. Cool inquiries alternate with furtive yearning. Closings vary from “Warm regards” to “With all my love”. Both talk of waiting for the other one without ever defining the particulars.

Kay knows when she turns the corner on her walk home that today there will be a letter from him in the mailbox. She always knows. She sees his name carefully written in the corner of the envelope sticking out of the postbox. She careful opens the letter, unaware she is holding her breath.

Hello, my dear, how are you? I apologize for the delay in my response. I have been so engaged in my roles at work and at school. The time that has passed has vividly distilled my thoughts of you. Even in all my exuberance and tiredness, a swirl of longing surrounds me – full of fragments of a poignant past. Scenery, sounds, color and scent—the image of us at the garden has become a consoling niche in the chaos of my life. I hope that I will see you when you come next week. Take care and be safe. Warm Regards, David

The letter exhausts her. She adores the poetry of his words, but cannot help but be disappointed that she again has his regards, in place of his love. Every other beautiful sentiment becomes tainted with doubt. She is wary from experience that his schedule may not allow for them to see each other when she travels to the city, and she begins to worry.

She abandons her thoughts of dinner and a bath. She coldly ignores her book on the nightstand. She leaves her clothes in a pile on the floor and turns out the lights. Time passes as she relives the day: her friend, the filth, and the letter. Past, present and future succeed each other as her thoughts move from the day the baby will be born, her dear friend’s dying Mother, the empty apartment, and the last time she was in David’s arms.

Sleep comes without her realizing, until the ringing of the phone slowly rouses her. She reaches for the receiver without really waking; certain it will be a misdialed number, the milkman, or perhaps a friend that she can put off for a few hours.


Darling, it’s David, I’m sorry to phone so early.”

Oh David. I just received your letter. How are you?”

It occurs to her that he never phones, and she begins to wonder if something has happened.

Everything is fine, dear, don’t wake up, I just wanted to tell you I love you.”

The relief and warmth wash over her as if he were there in the bed whispering those last three words in her ear.

Is that all you called for?”

Yes, I’ll see you next week. I’ve got to free the line, but be safe and know that I miss you. Ciao, Darling.”

The line drops and for a moment she is uncertain if she dreamt the call, until she becomes aware of the weight of the phone again.

In that moment of comfort she knows, as surely as she knew his letter would be in the box that day, she will be with him. She knows that he will make time for her, but he will also work too much. She knows that their life together will be difficult, and she knows that someday their children will visit her in the hospital. They will all mourn their father’s passing, but not before they rejoice in weddings, births, and 63 more of her very own birthdays. As sure as her next breath and the next beat of her heart, she knows that her life will be marked by the trauma of truly loving and of truly being loved.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

A dip in the shallow end of the pool...

I've been struggling since this week's People magazine cover with Drew Barrymore on it.

For those of you who missed it, see above.

Back in the dark ages of my childhood, I was often told that I looked like her. When E.T. came out, many in our small town fed my ego with regular comparisons. You can see an example of the kind of childhood cuteness we're talking about above.

While I'm more committed to working to end poverty and genocide in the world, I have begun to think "Could I look like her again?"
This has me thinking of a challenge of sorts. Spending the summer trying to be more active and healthy, shedding a touch of weight, and then going through a "drew-like" makeover, nothing drastic, just some highlights and a temporary straightening.
Maybe it will go really well and People will want to do a profile on my celeb-weight-loss-before-and-after thing.
Okay, maybe I don't actually want that kind of exposure, but I'm still going to use this as a point of inspiration.