Sunday, January 29, 2012

New Year, Second Chance

Today I went to the Lunar New Year parade; I was so excited I couldn't sleep last night. I arrived at the barricades early enough to claim a spot and visited with the others who were waiting, as the crowds shot off streams of confetti and snapped firecrackers against the sidewalk. After the parade, I went to a vegetarian restaurant for dim sum and sat and watching confetti blow past the window like snow. Then, full of yam cakes and green tea, I kicked through the streets, through the confetti-drifts.

A month ago I was meditating on the glorious extravagance of Christmas, and now I'm mulling over the wonderful, abundant graciousness of two new years in one month. Did you mess up on your New Year's resolutions already? Well, guess what?!  It's a New Year AGAIN, already! 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Sort of Homecoming

My trip to Shrimp Town and City Where the Water Bends was surprisingly – normal.
In my recollections, they were larger than life.  (To be fair, the dragonflies and mosquitos really were.) I expected that I would be overcome with emotion as soon as I saw the airport gate where I used to wait for my trips home. I worried that I would cry as soon as my friend came to meet me at Arriving Flights. I thought my heart would drop to my stomach and fly to my throat, simultaneously.

But arriving in my sort-of home felt right, without feeling dramatic. The airport Christmas tree was draped in Carnival colors, just like I knew it would be. My friend and I fell into a rhythm of conversation on the way back from the airport as if I had been gone two weeks. And as we took a walk in the afternoon, the sidewalk buckled over the live oak roots (faded silver beads dangling from their branches) just as it always had and still does in my memory.

I saw my old and wonderful friends at the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner, where we looked out into the misty evening at the lights glowing over the City Where the Water Bends. There were a few awkward pauses, but then our stories and laughter flowed easily. At the wedding, we danced and goofed off in the candlelight, and we felt the sweat gather and our hair curl in the humidity, just like any other spring or summer evening we had spent in the porch light or standing on sticky bar floors.

There was a brass band; mint juleps and hurricanes. We were so at ease.

In the morning I drove to Shrimp Town; I treated myself to the scenic route and to the roads I had always loved. I stopped to take a few pictures.  I expected I'd take them with desperation or urgency, wanting to recapture the feeling of adventure, independence, and novelty I felt when I'd first driven them. But I didn't feel urgent or desperate; just peaceful.

The next morning I went to visit my coworkers. I sat in my rental car in the rain, just outside my old office, and noticed that my initials were on the license plate of the car in front of me! After catching up with my coworkers and my boss, I revisited some of my favorite spots in my sort-of hometown: the library and its garden, the grocery store with the incredible cheese samples, the roads I travelled every day between the office, the gym, and my apartment. Fortunately, the sun had come out.

There were also some frustrations. I remembered how much of a hassle driving could be, along one-lane, curving roads, when a single bridge out (or getting stuck behind a rusty pick-up towing an old motorboat) could mean a 25 minute delay or detour. My purse even slid off the front seat as I braked for an unforeseen obstacle, which reminded me about that near-daily annoyance! Also, my hair doubled in volume within a few hours of deplaning.

I had started to think of City Where the Water Bends and Shrimp Country as entirely magical places, filled with multi-colored sprinkles, butterflies, sousaphones, warm breezes, ceiling fans, oak leaves, perfectly sweet oranges, the freedom of the open road and, well, abundant water and shrimp. I remembered my job as hassle-free with angelic and unharried coworkers and supervisors. Going back to my sort-of home allowed me to remember that it's a place on earth, with its own hassles and limitations. It also reminded me that it's not a place in my imagination or fairy-land – it's a real place that I can visit and remember.  My trip was rejuvenating and delightful, but now I'm happy to be back in City of Sidewalks. I feel so full of love, for my new home and for my always Sort-of Home.

Friday, January 20, 2012


I'll be gone on Sunday (Shrimp Country, here I come!) so I leave you with an early post.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Things in the Wrong Places

This week, I caught three incongruous, surreal scenes:
an easy chair, part of yet apart from the park benches,
the line blurred between living room and public spaces;

a hula hoop caught in a leafless tree
yellow like any other bright spot in a street scene,
but a vestige of yesterday afternoon,
and transient;

a soaked and smiling bear,
painfully oblivious to the rain and the pigeons,
carrying on, blindingly positive, unwanted.

They were all scenes that stopped me, and I would have stared even without my camera.
Out of place.

They made me think of the times I've felt out of place and incongruous. In college I realized that, once you study abroad, you'll never be in the right place again.
I threw myself into loving England,
but I didn't quite fit in there, as happy as I was. That's just the way it is.
The day that I came home, I looked at the mail that had piled on my desk,
while my mom made my first American meal.
I opened a letter from Oxfam, and the 8.5 x 11 sheet looked like a square after months of A4.
I came downstairs and desperately asked my mom if paper was always that shape,
and she didn't know what to say.
I went back to my College in Farmland but no one else had changed. I missed England.
"Don't worry; you'll get over it,"someone said,
which only made me more upset.

After college, I lived in Declining, Now Reemerging Port City in my Rolling Hills, Tidewater and Peach Blossom State. I worked with migrant workers and immigrant youth.
I threw myself into their celebrations.
I related to them because I missed England and they missed Michoacán, San Marcos, and Toluca.
I was neither mexicana nor guatemalteca nor quite the American I had been.
After those two years I moved again for grad school; living in a small city reminded me of England, and I missed tostadas and Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Then I found hurricanes and low-flying herons in Shrimp Town;
I caught throws in the City Where the Water Bends and discovered that I actually like fried oysters. I
became accustomed to tremendous storm clouds and never ending sunsets in the huge, flat sky.
The beauty took my breath away but I was different, an outsider.
I came home for a week each Christmas and a week each summer and I ate mid-Atlantic water ice or egg bagels.

Now I've been in City of Crowds and Concrete and Challah for a year and I love it.
I can go for walks every day. Every restaurant has a unique vegetarian option. I have not yet been able to go to every museum I want to see. But my breath catches in my throat when I think of herons against the storm-clouded sky.

Every place I go changes me, and for the better; every place leaves its indelible mark on me. On Friday, I'm flying to City Where the Water Bends for a wedding, and then I'll drive out to see old friends in Shrimp Country. I'm so happy, thinking of driving on the roads that I still see when I close my eyes.   I imagine myself under the orange trees again, at home and out of place, as I always will be.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

There's nothing that brings my family together like a walk in the woods. 

We stop and stare quietly at the fallen leaves, or chatter like blackbirds.

We point out treasure buried under the humus.

We tell each other to be careful, and not to trip.

We leave nothing but footprints.

It's nice to know that if we were ever stranded in the wilderness, we would get along quite happily. 
What brings your family together?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cozy Winter Textures

During Christmas and New Year's I found so many opportunities for picture taking - cookies, always one of my favorite subjects; the colors of a knitting project in the morning sun; long walks through the woods after hearty Christmas meals. Though there were family pictures and landscapes, my eye was always drawn to the winter textures.

There was something soft and light about all the textures, despite the cold. The sun was always angled, and its golden glow caught tufts and brambles and fields lying fallow. Even in the tangles of bare branches I kept seeing softness. Summer, though it is deep green and many-leaved, is pushing outwards and upwards too urgently to be soft in the way that winter is. The winter textures invite rest and breath – centeredness.

I don't know if you're making any New Year's Resolutions. New Year's, for me, is usually a time when I get a hankering for a new adventure. My mind races ahead to begin planning projects and dreaming of accomplishments, and loops back to see if I've caught up with myself. This year I'm resolving to treat myself softly, to step back from the whirlwind of the City of Perpetual Motion and take better, more restful care of myself.

I think that the best New Year's resolutions come from a desire to treat ourselves softly. Lately I've had several conversations with a Jesuit colleague about a retreat that we're planning. I mentioned that I wanted to talk to the retreat goers about praying for freedom to make good decisions, a foundation of Ignatian discernment. My colleague answered that being free from fear, worry, pride, and so on allow us to be free to be truly ourselves. He said that authenticity - being true to ourselves and the unique way that God calls each one of us - is the path to holiness.

So resolve to treat yourself softly. (Not that you've asked for my advice!) Be true to yourself. Don't jam yourself into new habits that aren't right for you or new projects that don't suit you. Treat yourself kindly and let yourself flourish! Take a deep breath of the soft and cozy winter!