All the Way Back

“You go away for a long time and return a different person – you never come all the way back.”
~Paul Theroux

I wander. Most would call it travel, I suppose, but most of the time it feels just like putting one foot in front of the other.

Thanks to generous parents, I journeyed early and have never stopped. I love the discovery, the adventure, near or far, that traveling brings.

I don’t see myself as a tourist or even a visitor. I often feel instead like a peripheral witness, somehow becoming the proverbial ‘fly on the wall’ soaking in experience.

My blonde locks and blue eyes don’t do me too many favors in the “blending in” department, but I believe I’ve been lucky enough to truly sit amongst and within brief glimpses of this world.

In my urge to document, understand, and process I often struggle with how to accurately convey my thoughts. Travel is the one time when telling the story seems simpler. The odd, the petty, the seemingly mundane are all enlivened by some sense of their new place within the tale that will be told of this time.

The bus ride becomes “The Bus Ride,” the two-hour delay becomes “The Two Hour Delay,” and so on. Perhaps that’s what our fascination with digital documentation is today – an honest attempt to imbue our day with a measure of newness, of risk, of that flighty temptress adventure.

As I contemplate what steps to take next, I feel the confidence of those I’ve taken before. None have been what I’ve imagined, but all have offered me fleeting moments sitting in the middle of a bazaar, on the top of a mountain, and yes, even on those interminable bus rides, when life makes just a little more sense.

***

Thanks to Basil for the musical inspiration!

Advertisements

Eight Years

I forgot.

Something I never thought I would ever forget. Today, thank you NPR, is the 8-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Stepping, sight-unseen into the August heat six years ago, I had no idea what I was getting into.

IMG_0444

New Orleans brought heartbreak, confusion, struggle, rebirth, midnight street dancing, soul-vibrating music and the best transition into post-college adulthood I didn’t know I needed.

Moving in with three strangers to share space, food money, loosely-defined spirituality nights was about as far from the Real World as you can imagine (okay, we did shotgun some beers). Although hindsight offers rose-colored glasses, that year with those women was one of the most difficult, but most rewarding experiences of my life.

Witnessing the recovery of a city that still housed FEMA trailers on my block in 2008 profoundly altered the vision of my country – what we can, or really what we will, do for each other.

For most, it was just too difficult. Too removed. Too far from daily life to be watched closely. Such a unique and long-troubled city maybe should just be “relocated” (to use one of the nicer things I heard from people when I said where I lived).

Words said without empathy or an understanding of New Orleans as the tortured, beautiful, pulsing heart of this nation.

You can take New York, LA, San Francisco, Miami, Chicago, even my beloved Portland – no other city lays bare the strange, sad, ridiculous state of America, but parades in the face of it.

No other place have I been swung onto a dance floor by multiple strangers only to be swung off when the next Zydeco song started with a simple “Thank you, baby.”

No other place could keep me up for a 3am start time for a show after a day of Mardi Gras grilling, laughing and catching.

No other place stares real, deep, pain in the face and lets Kermit loose with jambalaya and a trumpet.

No other place embraced this lost, questioning, unmoored person; righted her, and sent her on her way – with a little lagniappe stitched forever on her soul.

Dreams of Trespass

dreams_ “Aunt Habiba said that anyone could develop wings. It was only a matter of concentration…[but] she became impatient and warned me that some wonderful things could not be taught.

‘You just keep alert, so as to capture the sizzling silk of the winged dream,’ she said. But she also indicated that there were two prerequisites to growing wings:

‘The first is to feel encircled and the second is to believe that you can break the circle.'”

Walking the streets of Fez, battling after a long, hot, crowded flight, I looked up. Sparrows spun maniacally around our heads as we found our way to the hostel.

That first night, my friend J and I spent behind the tiled walls of a ‘western friendly’ hotel before we were able to find our way to a hostel in the old medina. Watching the hushed feet scurry from task to task, we realized that this now open tourist spot had once been the barrier keeping eyes inside – sheltered from everything outside the gate.

Reading Fatima Mernissi’s book, one of the last generations raised in a Fez harem, I was transported back to fantastical, magical, incredible Morocco. Mernissi tells her tale honestly and beautifully from her eyes as an investigative eight-year-old – questioning, discovering, confusing the meanings of harem that surrounded her.

Mernissi does not allow her academic perspective or a post-modern drive to ‘truth’ to determine her writing. Instead, she mines her memory, her thoughts, her honest experience of growing up in a separated, mandated environment of a harem and the change she witnessed.

As Mernissi explores, she begins to question her role as a woman – and her place in the world.

From one aunt she hears: “The essential thing was to have a role, to contribute to a common goal.”

Mernissi poetically and simply delves into that deepest of feminist concerns: the desire and corresponding in/ability to break free of expectation: “Liberation starts with images dancing in your little head, and you can translate those images in words. And words cost nothing!”

As women, and indeed people, throughout the world have done, Mernissi seeks advice on how to live a fulfilled life. At a young age she felt and understood the disquiet and anger her mother and others felt at their circumscribed life. Held in stark contrast with the rural, somewhat open harem of her grandfather, she tries to understand what is real.

She outlines,

Hem was a strange suffering, quite different from a mushkil, or a problem. The woman who had a mushkil knew the reason for her pain. If she suffered from hem, however, she did not know what was wrong with her. Whatever was making her suffer had no name. Aunt Habiba said that you were lucky if you knew what hurt, because then you could do something about it.”

“…only quiet and beauty could cure women affected by hem, they were often taken to sanctuaries on the tops of high mountains…or one of the many retreats lying near the ocean.”

Yet, despite enclosure: “If you’re having troubles, you just swim in the water, stretch out in a field, or look up at the stars. That’s how a woman cures her fears.”

“You have to develop a talent, Aunt Habiba said, so that you could give something, share, and shine. And you developed a talent by working very hard at becoming good at something. It could be anything – singing, dancing, cooking, embroidering, listening, looking, smiling, waiting, accepting, dreaming, rebelling, leaping. ‘Anything you can do well can change your life,’ said Aunt Habiba.”

Through her transition between child and woman, Morocco’s change from isolated to exposed, Mernissi’s tale lightly and openly allows the reader to make their own conclusions and compare their own experience to hers. The relatability is powerful, because who hasn’t sought:

“Happiness…when a person felt good, light, creative, content, loving and loved, and free.”

IMG_1568


IMG_1597

Preparing to Live Well

“It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested.” ~ On the Shortness of Life, Seneca

Pressure me much Seneca?

Last week I offered up a Seneca quote that I rediscovered through the blogosophere. The author gives a great ‘quick read’ version as well as posts the entire letter, which focuses on Seneca urging Paulinus to consider what it means to truly live well.

As I took my time through the text, letting it wash over me, I found a strange peace.

A realization that through the storms and battles and buffeting and continued unknown this year has brought me, I’m much closer to Seneca’s advice than at this time last year – where you would’ve found me staring at a grey speckled cubicle wall exploring the vast reaches of internet GIFs.

I’m slowly living into understanding Seneca’s main point: that the present “is an everlasting and unanxious possession.”

There are so many reasons humans fault, as “You have all the fears of mortals and all the desires of immortals,” but there is no reason to despair. Rather than become exhausted by the famous seven, Seneca urges us to value time itself.

 “I am often filled with wonder when I see some men demanding the time of others and those from whom they ask it most indulgent. Both of them fix their eyes on the object of the request for time, neither of them on the time itself; just as if what is asked were nothing, what is given, nothing. Men trifle with the most precious thing in the world; but they are blind to it because it is an incorporeal thing, because it does not come beneath the sight of the eyes, and for this reason it is counted a very cheap thing—nay, of almost no value at all.”

To realize that within the offer and taking of time, we are ultimately deciding our lives. Seeking balance of knowledge, doing good, and true enjoyment (as opposed to lustful, fleeting pursuits) is where one can truly live – as oppose to prepare to live.

As Seneca bluntly states:

“Are you not ashamed to reserve for yourself only the remnant of life, and to set apart for wisdom only that time which cannot be devoted to any business? How late it is to begin to live just when we must cease to live! What foolish forgetfulness of mortality to postpone wholesome plans to the fiftieth and sixtieth year, and to intend to begin life at a point to which few have attained!”

This ancient Stoic resonates perfectly with our modern struggles, asking us what (for me) is most difficult: turn away from the value of others’ opinions or external value; learn to deeply and honestly cherish your own time and self. And to do this now.

“The greatest hindrance to living is expectancy, which depends upon the morrow and wastes to-day. You dispose of that which lies in the hands of Fortune, you let go that which lies in your own.” 

IMG_1431

A special postscript for all my philosopher/theologian friends:
“Of all men they alone are at leisure who take time for philosophy, they alone really live; for they are not content to be good guardians of their own lifetime only.”

***

Dispatch this week to Blake, in honor of starting his PhD, I offer Seneca’s academic niche BURN: 

“It was once a foible confined to the Greeks to inquire into what number of rowers Ulysses had, whether the Iliad or the Odyssey was written first, whether moreover they belong to the same author, and various other matters of this stamp, which, if you keep them to yourself, in no way pleasure your secret soul, and, if you publish them, make you seem more of a bore than a scholar.”

Boxed Wine

Friends are like a great box of wine.

Follow me on this one.

The past few months have brought some absolutely phenomenal people across my threshold. Friends from throughout my life have made the trek to our rural abode.

(I’m pretty sure the lakeside property doesn’t hurt, but I like to think my sparkling personality is the real draw.)

IMG_1557

Our time is spent in epic cribbage tournaments, midnight grilling, boat adventures, dockside board games with Allen’s in our coffee, and soaking in Perseid’s showers from a canoe in the middle of the lake.

Never have I taken my incredible network of individuals for granted, but it seems this place brings out the best in them, and, I’m slowly finding, in me.

For a lot of reasons most of my cohort is in the midst of a tumultuous time in our lives.

Nothing seems very certain, and as jobs fail or succeed, school ends or begins, babies and weddings are side by side with sickness and funerals, we cling ever tighter to each other.

The gift of technology allows us to laugh at each others’ faces (literally), and see what Hans had for the ever-important meal between lunch and pre-dinner snack.

But nothing can replace the hugs, the jokes, the meals, the tears, or the mimosas.

And, luckily, we’ve found ways to be together. To show up when it matters, and almost more importantly, when it seemingly doesn’t. Like that trusty Bota box in our cabinet, my friends are smooth, reliable, and yes, young enough to make you cringe in the morning.

(Even Wine Spectator got off their prissy perch for once and gave it an 84!)

While we haven’t aged into a fine Bordeaux or found our perfect balance, I know we’ll get there. Together.

***

Dispatch this week to Hans – welcome back to ‘Murca ya dirty Norge!

Caring Too Much

Yesterday, for not even close to the first time, I was told I care too much.

In nearly every job I’ve had, at some point, a superior (usually much older) tells me to “not take it personally” or to “not be so passionate.” And honestly, I’m not sure I can change that about myself – or want to.

So far, I’ve been lucky enough to find opportunities that allow me to invest deeply, give care, and act in some way to make this world a better place. Don’t get me wrong, there’s been a lot of photocopies, drudgery and data entry along the way, but the variety of work I’ve found not only pays the bills (kinda), but also gives me outlets for my passion.

I pour myself into my work – finding that understanding the entire picture helps me make strong, informed and impacting decisions. My friends often laugh at my spreadsheets, lists, brainstorms, color coding and filing – but for me it’s the only way.

And when I’m given a project, I take full responsibility. I often worry about every aspect, and yes, if there are problems, I take it personally – as they reflect on me and my work.

I also find that the “just accept it as it is” “there’s no changing it” “meh it’s okay” attitude that most of us encounter in our working lives is what creates more problems. Just accepting a half-ass, half-hearted attempts is not okay with me. Whole- ass it.

This is where I will admit my weakness. In pursuit of ‘perfection,’ I sometimes (okay most of the time) miss what really has been accomplished.

In pushing forever forward, perhaps, I lose the picture of what I really am doing right now. I blame Girl Scouts for the “always leave it better than you found it” that constantly rings through my head, but I take that motto very much to heart.

Whether it’s in my academic work, social work case management, historical preservation, victims’ rights, Church, I want to leave it better than I found it. To invest fully and whole heartedly into doing what I can to right at least some of the small wrongs this world offers up to us.

Yet I know, deep in my philosopher bones, that Seneca is right:

There is nothing the busy man is less busied with than living: there is nothing that is harder to learn.

On the Shortness of Life, Seneca

Moby Duck

Our marshy end of the lake does not suffer a lack of birds.

From sparrows to herons to ospreys to chickadees to loons – they’re all here. Recently we’ve become home to a seemingly ever-expanding cadre of ducks.

Like most, they’re skittish, scrubby brown and not too shy in the noise department.

One of the group recently caught our eye. Until a few weeks ago he (or she) wasn’t around, but now he’s hard to miss. Why?

This duck is white. Full on, fairy tale book, drawn-for-kids white with a yellow bill.

He seems to be integrating pretty well, beyond the fact that our friend Tim (aspiring birder) has discovered that we’re “almost 100% sure it can’t fly.”

Like any lakeside Mainer worth his salt, P has a good pair of binoculars down at the dock house, and has taken to stalking the white duck.

As long as he doesn’t break out the harpoon gun, I think we’re okay.

IMG_1465

Moby Duck in his natural habitat

On Stranger Tides

Zombies.

Not enough.

Zombie pirates.

Not quite.

Zombie pirates searching for the Fountain of Youth whilst fighting the Royal Navy, each other, and a young ingénue in distress?

Perfect.

On_Stranger_Tides

This week I just went all-out entertainment and dug into On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers. My review? It’s like Indiana Jones in book form and totally awesome.

Deep? No. Plausible? Not even close. The pitch-perfect summer read? Hell yea.

I mean, how can you say no to a swash-buckling-caught-in-circumstances hero, fighting his captors who are not only pirates but in league with, and at times are, the undead?

“As neatly as if it were a dance move they’d been practicing, Davies stepped out and punched the old surgeon in the head with the knuckle-guard of his sword, and Norse caught the man as he fell. ‘Great,’ said Davies with satisfaction, ‘Off we go.’”

There’s really not a lot more to “review” here besides the fact that Powers writes a fun, visual, literally explosive story with good grammar and non-stop action.

Sometimes, you just need to get away.

CSAdventures

Last night I cooked all the things.

All.

The.

Things.

IMG_1263

There’s nothing quite like picking up that CSA on Tuesdays but I am hurting for a good turnip and/or beet recipe, y’all.

My creativity lately has been absolutely poured into work where I’ve been planning huge summer events at the Garden. This leaves me pretty tapped out at the end of the day in terms of both time and ideas.

When that fridge fills to the brim the night before the next round, though – something has to be done.

In a stroke of luck, absolutely everything I made came out good enough that I want to share.

First, knowing I would need it to marinade, I put some pork chops in the ever-magical Soyaki to marinade for Bibimbap (aka Korean bowl of awesome). Then I dug into prepping and peeling all the turnips and beets to roast with chopped fresh ginger, oil, sugar, salt and pepper:

IMG_1502

I then started on making some Summer Squash and Carrot Curry Soup (like the kind they serve at Indian Buffets) to use up at least one of the gigantic yellow squashes (I added more spice: whole black peppercorns, whole coriander seeds, smoked paprika and bay leaf):

IMG_1503

Once those were well under way, why not make another loaf of Zucchini Bread?

IMG_1505

And more quick Asian Pickles? Sure! (leave out bay leaves)

IMG_1374

Fresh Blueberry Salsa you say? Why yes!

IMG_1504

Phew. By that time I’d switched out the now blended soup for the onion, garlic, eggplant, green beans and green bell pepper that make up the veggies for the Bibimbap (I know I’m missing an egg). After some rice and grilling up the chops, time for dinner!

 

***

I’m always looking for people’s favorite recipes, especially in this time of bounty – please share!

The Cult

don't mess with jez

There’s loving your alma mater, then there’s going to a Jesuit college or university.

Never in my life have I been a part of such an impassioned, loving, hilarious or vital community. Santa Clara was not only a college, but Jesuit association quickly becomes a lifestyle.

P jokes, somewhat seriously, that because of “the cult” I can go anywhere in the world and run into an SCU connection.

On the flight from Portland, OR to Boston, in the airport in London, randomly on the streets of Turkey – hey, it happens!

More than that, an association with the Jesuits means to me a dedication to service to the poor, connection with the world, and scholastic reflection about its betterment.

Never did a teacher, mentor or priest urge me to back away or tell me my questions were too controversial.

Quite the opposite, they asked me to delve deeper, challenged my blanket assumptions, and at the end of the day, always assured me that I was bigger, better and more loved than any grade, paper, mistake or accomplishment.

As I wrote about last week, Reza Aslan (an SCU alum) has been in the news a lot lately. Now, I am pretty good at ignoring all things Glenn Beck, but when SCU posted the above photo and statement, I couldn’t resist:

‘SCU became a target in Glenn Beck’s show last night when Beck went into a rant about Reza Aslan ’95, “He was a Christian before going into college and colleges are doing a great job of churning people out that are not Christians anymore. It’s there that his professors started ‘teaching’ him…So it’s not surprising to me that the elitist, godless professors sway him away from Jesus.”‘

I’m going to ignore the source and get right to the meat: never would I have become a person of faith (of any kind) or a Catholic (perhaps especially) if it were not for SCU and specifically the Jesuits who became a part of my life.

The reactionary statements of Beck don’t so much make me angry, as sad. His assessment fails to recognize the deep wealth of religious reflection Aslan and others are taught to seek in Jesuit institutions – whether they come away as a Catholic, a pagan, a Muslim or an atheist.

Jesuits taught me about what it means to love one another through conflict, tragedy and the most essential questions we all have about why we are here.

About how to engage with each other to learn and listen, rather than “win” or convince another of your position.

And, most essentially, how to expand our own compassion and empathy to recognize the mystery we all live in – however it is defined in our lives.

With the first Jesuit Pope in office now (one of us!), I can only hope we all take the real lessons of the Jesuits to heart, and grow together “to love and serve.”

+++

Dispatch this week to Bandito, the newest of the Jezzies I know!