Saturday, March 27, 2010

the reinvention of the smile

So today was my first official day as nanny for my three month old niece, Lemma. I'm going to be her nanny for the next two months, because my sister just went back to work in her big, fancy law firm and they can't get Lemma into the undoubtedly fancy DC daycare until June. I've been up in DC almost once a week since Lemma's birth to help out, but my sister has always been around. Today was my first full on solo day with the wee one.

And let me never forget this. Taking care of an infant is the HARDEST JOB IN THE WORLD. I have been a barista, where I had to start work at 6 a.m. and stand on my feet for eight hours making cranky people cappucinos. I have been an ESL teacher in Thailand (and we all know how hard that was). I have been a restaurant hostess who had to restock the freaking salad bar but didn't even get a share of the tips for Lord's sake. But nothing comes close to the mind, body and soul difficulty of taking care of a newborn. I was in some ways prepared for this. I have been a nanny or babysitter on and off since I was twelve. I have been a full time nanny on several occasions, for babies who cried and pooped and did all of those baby things. But I had avoided newborns somewhat like the plague. To be honest they terrified me. They seemed like weird, squishy little aliens who could break at the slighest touch. I wanted nothing to do with them. But then I became an aunt and it was sort of unavoidable.

And to my surprise I found that my niece was neither weird nor squishy nor alien-like (okay fine at first she was a little squishy). She was in fact a perfect, beautiful little baby girl. And over the last three months it's been amazing to watch her grow and develop a little personality. And that personality is charming and lovely, but completely and totally high maintenance. I'm sorry Lemma if you read this when you're older, but it's the truth. You, my dear niece, need a lot of attention. You are not content to sit idly in a bouncy baby chair and watch the world go by (as Sex and the City Season 5 would have led me to believe all babies are willing to do, damn you Sex and the City for your false information about life! Does this meant that a freelance writer can't afford 700 dollar shoes? Was any of it real?!). I digress. Back to Lemma. You want to interact with the world at all times, with of course the help of an obliging adult to carry you around and bounce you and play you jaunty music (your preference is for all three of these things to happen simultaneously and constantly, and your favorite music is the Black Eyed Peas but I won't hold that against you).

And I knew all of this going into our first day together. But still I was not prepared. Typing this I have dried spit up on my shirt and in my hair. There is probably poop residue somewhere on me (I'm sorry if you find this gross, but these are the realities of baby land). While taking care of you for nine hours I consumed three cups of coffee, two diet cokes and a handful of goldfish (apologies for the goldfish crumbs that landed on your head). The majority of our time together was spent upright, you tucked nicely inside your preferred method of transport, the Almighty Sling (and caps are absolutely necessary, if babies could create religions, then there would be a Latter Day Church of the 7th Day Almighty Fabric Sling, complete with the Holy Sling Sacraments and All Slings Day). You like this sling because you can sit poised and regal and look out onto your DC condo kingdom. Plus you are able to stick both fists into your mouth, which delights you to no end. I meanwhile bounce and jiggle and wiggle and sway like a lunatic who has lost all control of her body. I either play you music from my Ipod (you like Journey, which, AWESOME), or sing (one day you will realize that your aunt is tone-deaf, but for now you seem to like it). This goes on for sometimes hours on end, until you nod off. And it is beyond cute. Your little head tilts forward, slightly at first, and you try, oh you try so hard to fight it. Your eyelids flutter then open, flutter then open. I can see your mind working, telling yourself to stay awake at all costs, but inevitably you lose this battle. And then you slump over in the sling like a drunk at a bar around last call. I wait a couple of minutes, because God forbid I wake you and then have to start the whole dancing, jiggling, bouncing, swaying process over again.

When I'm sure you're fast asleep, I lift you from your sling and put you in your little baby bed. And then, well it's like the pistol going off at a horse race. I am off. Today you took three fifteen minute naps in your bed. And those fifteen minutes, well I was darn well not going to waste them. I know being a nanny is not being a mother. I know there will be much more for me to learn. But I feel this experience is at least giving me an approximation of motherhood, especially this particular job because I happen to live with the baby I nanny for. And I have come to understand already the absolute thrill and terror that comes when the baby finally falls asleep, thrill because oh my God my hands are free. I can do ANYTHING! I could eat a sandwich or or BRUSH MY HAIR! Quickly followed by terror because suddenly the timer kicks in, and you hear the tick tock, tick tock counting down the minutes, nay seconds until this brief interlude ends. And you're wasting it just standing there brushing your hair you idiot! Today during your first nap I ran to the bathroom, took the fastest shower of my life (and for six months in Thailand I took cold water showers mind you), raced to get changed, put in contacts and then poured the first of many cups of coffee. During subsequent nap breaks I ate that aforementioned handful of goldfish, started the dishwasher and took a little bathroom break (not to be indecent but did I mention I had four cups of coffee on a virtually empty stomach?)

While you napped I ran around like a crazy person, never resting for a moment because I knew this was precious. You see dear niece you are not at the moment a "napper" in the traditional baby sense. You are more like a narcoleptic. You fall asleep without realizing it and before long you're going to wake up in your crib, and be like "What the hell? Why am I in this bed?! What is happening!?" And then you begin to make noises to alert the nearest adult to the obvious mistake that was made by putting you in the bed. Clearly there was some mix up. So today, with my hair still wet and my mouth full of goldfish, I heard you start to stir and make little baby chirps.

And so I opened the door, walked into the room, and the following moments are the reason that babies are not routinely thrown out of windows. When you saw me you smiled. And this was no ordinary smile. This, this was the reivention of the smile. Oh my God, I can't believe I've lived this long without seeing an infant smile. I've seen older babies smile, and it's pretty great. But these, these tiny baby smiles, well they just destroy you. This is smiling in its purest form. And seeing you smile, I realize beyond a shadow of a doubt that what adults do is only a faint echoe of what a smile really is. Okay here's sort of a weird metaphor but it's late and I'm tired so it will have to do. A baby smile and an adult smile is like the difference between the ginger ale you but at CVS and real, 100% ginger ale, or the difference between vanilla extract and raw vanilla bean. The smiles adults give each other are at best diluted versions of what we're capable of in our very early youth. The smile a three month old baby gives you, it's just smile concentrate, a smile that will knock you off your feet and make you start involuntarily cooing and pinching cheeks and basically acting like your great-aunt Mildred. This is a smile that has no thought behind it, no ulterior motives. As we get older, there's a process between what makes us happy and the resulting smile. There's synapses that have to connect, a little algebra to be done. But babies don't have that process. There's no in between, no lag time. There's simply that smile, the smile to end all smiles, a smile that you could live off for days after you ran out of water or food. And the only thing I had to do to get this miracle smile was to show my face over your bed. The sad part is that those smiles are finite. We are each born with a certain number and they will run out. When you get to be the genius you will undoubtedly be (I mean she reached for the plastic set of keys today all on her own, how could she not be a genuis!?), those smiles will become more deliberate, less concentrated. But if we went our whole lives smiling like that, then it wouldn't be special now would it?

So to summarize, yes, this was a long day. We played in your bumbo and we played on your little mobile mat. There were tears. There was music. There was poop.

And by God there was that smile, and that, my dear, makes all of the rest inconsequential.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

the perfect meal

image from

Mezzanine (on W. Cary Street across from McDonalds) has fast become my new favorite Richmond restaurant. I went there a couple of weeks ago for my brother's birthday and within one sitting had tuna, oysters and portobello mushrooms that completely redefined for me tuna, oysters, and portobello mushrooms. I am somewhat of a tuna connuseiur if you will. I am not exaggerating when I say I eat tuna in some form probably about five times a week. And yes I know I am going to pull a Piven and get mercury poison any day now. I simply don't care. My favorite sandwich is tuna. My favorite sushi is spicy tuna. And you guessed it, my favorite steak is tuna steak! (Okay to be fair tuna steak is the only kind of steak I like, and yes I know this means I should probably hand over my Southerner membership card) But I digress. When I ordered Mezzanine's tuna steak over soba noodles, it was like having tuna for the first time, tuna the way God intended. Every bite exploded with flavor. The fish was so tender it flaked off perfectly with just my fork. And it didn't stop with the tuna that night. Our appetizer of oysters dynamite (oysters served in the shell with sriracha aioli) were so full of spicy, salty, briney goodnesss that I could have eaten a dozen of these things by myself. Our other appetizer, the portobello mushroom pizza can only be explained by wizadry. This was a giant portobello mushroom with cheese on top and it tasted like pizza! Like real pizza. Not frou-frou veggie, vegan cardboard pizza but real Mary Angela's cheezy, crusty pizza. But there was no crust!

I thought nothing could top this experience. And then I went to Mezzanine tonight and ordered the pan-roasted free range chicken with goat cheese, asparagus and celery root puree (the image shows haricots verts, but part of the beauty of Mezzanine is the ever-changing chalkboard menu which means you get what is local and seasonal and absolutely fresh). I can honestly say this was life-changing chicken. I would die happy if I could make chicken like this, tender and juicy but with perfectly crispy skin, the pan juices creating the perfect gravy. The beauty of this dish was its simplicity. There was nothing twee or show-offy. No foams or gels or carrots carved into the shape of a flower (okay it is cool when they carve vegetables into flowers). This was food, food without ornamentation or frills, food good enough that it could stand completely on its own. This meal was all about the integrity of the ingredients, the appreciation for what is seasonal and local and good. And yes I'm talking about a piece of meat, but this meat, this chicken, this meal, well it's the closest food can get to poetry.

The asparagus was perfect, not smothered in sauce, but seasoned just enough. And then the celery root puree. When my plate arrived I thought surely the menu must have left off the mashed potatoes. I took a bite and almost peed myself a little. My exact words to my friends as soon as I was able to open my eyes and resist the urge to dive face first into my plate were, "Oh my God, these are the best mashed potatoes I have ever had." But as I glanced over at the menu once again, it dawned on me. These were not potatoes. I had to ask the waiter to confirm this miracle, but this creamy, buttery, melt in your mouth goodness was celery root! What the what?! I am telling you, this is dark, evil, wonderful magic at work. Has anyone seen the inside of the kitchen at Mezzanine? Because I am inclined to think there are little Keebler style elves, tapping their fingers together in their best Mr. Burns impressions as they work their evil magic and turn freaking celery root into the creamiest, richest pile of mashed potatoes I have ever had. I do not know how this is possible. All I know was that it was the biggest food disovery I have had since the time I ate a bite of black truffle Mac N'Cheese.

It is not an exaggeration to say that this was one of the best meals of my life. And I don't hate myself for eating it either! I'm fairly certain South Beach would approve, minus the butter and cream, but without a little butter and cream from time to time, what's the point of living?

This meal was a study in simplicity, an earthy, homey plate that could come straight out of your mother's kitchen, if your mother was an evil food genius. I mean really, CELERY ROOT?!

Monday, March 22, 2010

and one more thing

I really wanted to post something eloquent about the health insurance reform bill, but I am simply not feeling all that eloquent on this Monday night (I think those five minutes of exposure to Dancing with the Stars cost me several thousand brain cells). But when I clicked on one of my favorite blogs,, I found a post that said it all for me! Yay plagiarism! Although I am giving credit where credit is due, so here are my thoughts summed up in much better words than I can currently muster, from

"Yesterday was a nerve-wracking, twisting, twirling, everyone walking around with an accidental mohawk kind of a day in our house as we waited to see what would happen with health care reform. Now, before I go any further, this is not going to be a rant or an attempt to shove my liberal agenda down your throat. And if it were possible I'd pass out cookies and Tic Tacs at the end. And of course we'd bless them first and ask the Lord to make sure that everyone had a safe trip home.

Many of you I'm sure disagree with me when it comes to health care reform, and that's fine. But I was really hoping that this bill would pass because it affects Leta directly and immediately (and Jon and me eventually). When we started this business five years ago we each had to apply for private insurance individually, and each of us was denied because of pre-existing conditions: Jon for hay fever, me for depression, and Leta because of a skull disfiguration at two-months of age that healed itself within a few months.

We applied to three different companies, and each company denied us. So we qualified for the state-run high risk pool. Which is basically catastrophic insurance. And it costs a fortune. But now Leta cannot be denied insurance for her "pre-existing condition" and no longer has to depend on the state-run plan. I heard a lot of talk about how this bill was going to socialize medicine, when in fact just the opposite is happening, at least in the case of my six-year-old daughter. We can now pay into the private sector for her health insurance. Boom.

Also, if Marlo gets sick, she can't lose her insurance.

Is this bill perfect? No. Is it a start in the right direction? I personally think so. Do I expect to change anyone's opinion? Of course not. But I thought it was important to show you that we are a living, breathing example of how this bill is changing things. For the better, I think. This is healthcare for my children."

Thoughts for a Monday night

  • Shannon Doherty has not aged well.
  • Kate Gosselin looks like a crazy, orange, bedazzled alien.
  • Note to self: never make the mistake of flipping to Dancing with the Stars ever again. It is like some horrible, cheesy, glittery fever dream broadcast live on network television.
  • Chuck is absolutey the best show on television right now and it has the most killer soundtrack. This is the show that introduced me to The New Pornographers (it's a band grandma if you're reading this!) and Rogue Wave.
  • Cadbury creme eggs were invented for the sole purpose of tempting me into evil. If I remember correctly from my thirteen years of Catholic school, isn't Lent supposed to be about fasting? How am I supposed to fast when there are chocolate eggs filled with sugary goodness foisted on me by adorable bunnies? How!?
  • Tina Fey on the cover of Vogue (and yeah I realize I'm a month late on this) is awesome. Even if she has quickly been replaced by that skinny you know what, Gisele.
  • I've followed Oprah's advice and decluttered my closet. Out goes all of my winter wool. In goes spring florals and color and stripes :)
  • Apparently there are some Republicans out there who think that yesterday was one of America's "darkest days." Because sure, I defintely think the passage of a bill that may fix some of or part of our absolutely broken health care system, a bill passed without coercion by representatives we elected in free and fair elections, a bill that might help someone like me who is unemployed and no longer on my parent's insurance and thus totally screwed and insurance-less, is right up there with Pearl Harbor and 9/11 and the dark days of the Great Depression. Really accurate and not at all hysterical description guys. Keep up the good work.
  • Saw Ben Folds at The National last night live for the fifth time. And there is simply no one like him. I have seen shows with pyrotechincs, shows with smoke machines and giant puppet strings (okay all three of those may have been N'Sync). I have seen a lot of live shows with a lot of bells and whistles, but none of them come cose to what Ben Folds does by himself with just a piano. The ultimate artist who represents quality over surface packaging. He's just the greatest, and so I leave you with a little taste of Mr. Folds.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Michael Vartan aka Vaughn from Alias aka Mr. Coolson from Never Been Kissed just got engaged. According to he met his future wife at Whole Foods. The only logical conclusion to this story, I have GOT to start spending more time at Whole Foods.

awesome cause

I've been feeling really happy this last week. It's been beautiful out. There's been world class tennis on every day from Indian Wells. I got to do some shopping with the largest freelance check I have ever recieved in my life (okay fine, I've only ever recieved one other freelance check and it was for fifty dollars but still!) I found the world's greatest coffee at Ellwood Thompson (it's the Counter Culture seasonal selection from Ethiopia if you're curious, and it tastes like BLUEBERRIES AND CHOCOLATE!) Oh and there was also some really great cheese (also from Ellwood Thompson, this is officially my Richmond go to grocery store of choice, now that, let me gather myself, now that U...oh God I can't even say it, if you're from Richmond you know what I mean).

So there's been all that. But I think the biggest source of my happiness this week has come from my new volunteer role with Voice of Witness, a non-profit book series that aims to gather oral histories from people and publish them in a book. They've done these books with post Katrina hurricane victims and Sudanese people and people who have lived through tragedies all over the world. And my volunteer position is small and not at all glamorous. Basically I was asked to transcribe an audio interview with a former Burmese political prisoner. It's painstaking and it's a lot of work and sometimes I have to rewind and play a five second piece of audio like thirty times to understand it, but it fills me with joy.

Part of the reason is that my affiliation with Voice of Witness means that in a tiny way I am connected to my all time hero and favorite author, Dave Eggers. I could gush about the man, about his brilliance as a writer and his non-profit work, not only with Voice of Witness (which he co-founded) but with the 826 centers all over the country dedicated to bringing creative writing into the lives of children (a cause so incredibly close to my heart), about his novels What is the What and Zeitoun which were sparked by Voice of Witness interviews and which told in beautiful intimacy the stories of two men who endured the unendurable and who managed to not only survive but to retain a sense of hope, and okay fine I'm gushing. I can't help it. I think Dave Eggers is the greatest. And my volunteer work with Voice of Witness means that my name will be on something that his name is on and I cannot tell you how giddy that makes me. I seriously want to tell everyone I talk to, including the cashier at Starbucks.

But most of the reason this makes so happy is that by transcribing this interview I have been introduced to the most incredible woman from Myanmar. I sit here in my room in Richmond listening to her words from across the world, and I cannot begin to do justice to her story. It has been an absolute honor and pleasure to listen to and transcribe her words, this bubbly, sweet person who is secretly a total superhero. This interview is a part of an upcoming book on surviors from Burma's military regime. To be honest I knew very little about the history of this South East Asian nation. But through this one woman's story, I'm beginning to learn. She was a political prisoner at nineteen, locked up because of her involvement with the National League for Democracy. The reason she joined this pro-democracy, peaceful group-she simply wanted to go to college. When she was a first year college student, the only child in her large family who could be sent because of money reasons, the government shut down every university in the country. She wanted to learn. She wanted an education. She wanted access to libraries. Can you imagine living in a world where access to a library full of books is something you have to fight for? And so she joined a group that wanted the same thing she did, a free and democratic society, a place where she would have the room and freedom to learn. And because of her involvement, which was entirely non-violent, the kind of grassroots political activity that is so commonplace in America, she was sent to jail, put into solitary confinement and basically starved. And yet listening to her speak, ten years later from where she now lives in Thailand, you hear no bitterness, no cynicism. She still believes in change. She still hopes for a better future.

And listening to her you believe in this future too. That is why these Voice of Witness books were created. That is why they work more than any textbook or history narrative could. They immerse you in the story of a human being, and you cannot distance yourself from it. You cannot tell yourself that it's okay, that it has nothing to do with you or your life. And to make a long story really long, the reason for this post is that because Voice of Witness is non-profit they rely on donations to make these books happen. They currently need donations to finish this book on Burma. There is no profit involved. These books are simply to tell stories, stories like the one I've had the absolute honor of listening to and transcribing this past week. So if you have anything at all to give, even if it's a small amount, I promise you this is a worthwhile cause.

You can find the place to donate to the Burma book on the homepage at And you can also learn more about these wonderful books.

I urge you to do this. I urge you to support these people, their stories, and their hope.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

i am a huge English major nerd

So I recently decided I was way behind on my great American writers of the second half of the 20th century. And I knew one of these great writers was Philip Roth. So I picked up two Philip Roth novels at Barnes & Noble, American Pastoral and The Plot Against America.

I recently finished American Pastoral and well, here's the enormous dorky English major coming out in me, I need to discuss this book with someone who has read it! Some books you can read and finish and then just call it a day. They pass out of your mind as easily as they entered it. Everything is on the surface that you need to know. But other books, usually the great ones, lodge themselves in there.

American Pastoral has lodged itself into my head. And the thing is, I didn't love it. I understand that it is a great novel. I get that, the same way I got that Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke is a great novel. I get why it won the National Book Award the same way I get why American Pastoral won the Pulitzer. These books are works of art. They are beautifully written, near perfect. But I feel the same way about them that I do about the Empire State building. These are collosal creations, nearly blinding in the sheer scope of their ambition. They tower and they shine and they represent what humans are capable of. But neither the Empire State building nor American Pastoral inspires in me any kind of love. I can respect and admire, but I can't fall in love with a skyscraper, the same way I could never fall in love with a book like American Pastoral. There's simply no hope in it, not that I could discern. It is a bleak book and it ends like a building collapsing. Everything falls in on itself and no one is spared from the misery of it all.

And yet this is undeniably a great book. Roth pulls off an incredible hat trick. What starts as one man's story dissolves into another's and there are no seams! This book should be brimming with seams, obvious signs of the work put in, but it's flawless. Roth can write a sentence that knocks you off your feet. When it comes down to it the great writers create their masterpieces from truly great sentences. They are the brush strokes, and without them the canvas would mean nothing. But I am just bursting with questions. I wish I could read this book in a college class. I would love to argue and to question this book in a room full of my peers. So if you've read it please chime in on any of the following. If you haven't read it please skip this post because yes I am an ENORMOUS nerd.

1) What does Roth have against women? I simply cannot get past this. The female characters are across the board unlikeable. Whether it's the half despicable, half pitiful Merry Levov or the broken, shallow Dawn or Rita Cohen who is perhaps the most terrible, ugly, horrendous character I have come across in any book I've ever read. The women in this book are either insane, cruel, spiteful, simple minded, in denial or sometimes all of the above. Is this a Roth thing? Does he do this in his other books? I would absolutely love some background if anyone knows it.

2) What is Roth saying about the anti-Vietnam movement? By presenting anti-Vietnam protesters as singularly violent and angry and ill-informed, it seems that he puts them all in this group. This is a book about a man who simply cannot understand or deal with change, whether in his personal life or in the fabric of his country. But there is something problematic about this to me. The Swede is the most sympathetic character in the novel, or at least that's how I read him. Is there something wrong about that interpretation. Is Roth more subversive than I'm giving him credit for? Or does he agree with Swede, that life was ideal and perfect in the 40s and then everything went to hell. But if that's what he's saying with this book, then I have a huge problem with that.

To go on a tangent (which I always seem to do), isn't it usually the white males who pine for the golden days? If you're a white male feel free to disagree with me and call me names, but I've always chafed at this idea that America has gone down the crapper and that the 40s and 50s represent this idyllic world. You know what was also going on in the 40s and 50s alongside all of that American pastoral---blatant sexism, racism, segregation, a massive war that cost millions of lives. What about the probably tens of thousands of gay people growing up in this time, who more than likely went their whole lives hiding who they really were, in unhappy marriages, forced to pretend because they had aboslutely no place in their country? I'm not saying it was all bad, but that's my point. It's just as foolish to say that this time was all bad as it is to say that it was all good. Yet my issue is that when this refrain of America's decline is echoed by a white, male like Roth, what does that say about his attitude toward women and minorities. And yes, I know Roth is Jewish and he does bring up issues of anti-Semitism in this book, but these are also problematic to me. Or maybe I'm totally wrong. Maybe Roth is poking a hole into the myth of the American pastoral and he's not sympathetic toward the Swede but rather pitying him for believing in the myth. And in that case this book is far more depressing than I even thought possible.

3) Does anyone else see a Gatsby parallel? Both the Swede and Gatsby are men who for one beautiful moment believe they have achieved the American dream, only to have it ripped out from under them from a cruel and merciless society. They are betrayed by the America they believe so deeply in. Yet in both cases it is ironic. These men have done what is so celebrated in America, risen from lower stations, built themselves up, and yet the American society that is supposed to commend that dream is unwilling to let outsiders in. They are both dreamers, gentle souls who believe in love and who hope desperately. For Gatsby it's that green light and for the Swede it's a little girl swinging from a cherry tree. But their dreams shatter in the light of day. And they are both destroyed. And both of these novels are framed by a narrative within a narrative. Neither Gatsby nor the Swede tells their own story. Other narrators witness their hope and their anguish and then tell their story. Yet the reason I love The Great Gatsby but simply respect American Pastoral, is that in Gatsby there is hope. It's small moments really, Nick telling Gatsby he's worth the whole damn bunch put together, Owl Eyes coming to Gatsby's funeral, but these are moments that reveal a human decency, some kindness, however small. In American Pastoral there is no decency or kindness in the end that I could see. And I could be wrong. Maybe I've misread the whole book.

But that's why I need an English class right now. I need feedback. I need to know about Roth's life and background. So maybe this is my attempt at a little online book club but if you've read this book I would LOVE to hear what you think :) And if you haven't read it, please consider it. I know I may have kind of turned you off from this book what with all the talk of misery and destruction, but it truly is a wonderful novel. And maybe you'll find the hope that I missed and fall in love.

Monday, March 15, 2010

the real reason they invented the iphone/ipod touch software

So that when the need arises for one to walk around for hours on end with a baby in a sling, a baby who in fact demands that one play jaunty music for her, then one can also surf the internet while walking and bouncing.

But I mean how could you say no to this?


This is just one of the many reasons I know I'm getting older. This past weekend three of my friends and I went to my beloved Charleston for a girl's weekend. While getting ready to go out we sipped wine and borrowed make-up and swapped one person's boots for the other's tank top. All of this was familar. And yet there was one signficant difference. Whereas a few years ago we would look in the mirror and loudly complain about an unsightly pimple, this time the refrain most heard was:

"Oh my God, can you believe the size of this WRINKLE!?"

Sunday, March 7, 2010

spring awakening

image taken in Tanah Ratah, Malaysia, where it's eternally spring

For the past couple of weeks I've sat down at my computer several times to write a bitter, sarcastic and angry post about my unemployment status and frustrating job search. Because I've felt angry and bitter for much of the last couple of weeks. I've been disappointed and self-pitying. I've been a great big storm cloud, a giant Eeyore.

But here's the thing I realized. In 2009 I had six of the greatest months a human being could possibly have. Every second of my time in SE Asia, even the bad parts, collectively made up the most amazing months of my life thus far. In Bali I saw a hulking gray volcanoe rise from the greenest, lushest landscape I've ever laid eyes on. In Thailand I climbed limestone cliffs next to an emerald green sea. I saw Mt. Fuji outside of a plane window. I watched dolphins skim the surface of an ocean streaked with orange from the sunrise. I swam with Nemo fish in what is possibly the most beautiful place on earth, in water the color of which I have never seen, and probably never will see replicated anywhere else on Earth. I did these things. I saw these things. For six months this was my life. And so you know what, maybe it's only fair, maybe it's just the universe's way of balancing things out, that those six months be followed up by an average, unemployed, not so awesome six months.

Life can't be great all the time. Life can't be volcanos and monkey forests and tropical islands all the time. It just doesn't work that way. There are peaks. And there are vallies.

I realized all this the other day. I realized how spoiled I've been, how lucky. And honestly it's okay if the big things in my life aren't so great right now. I had great. Maybe for a while I just need to be content with average. And you know what's the awesome thing about life? Even when the big things aren't going well, even when our narratives falter and slip into the mundane, there are always little things. I guarantee each and everyone one of us has one perfect moment in every day, whether it's the first earthy sip of coffee in the morning or stepping into a hot shower or meeting a good friend for a glass of wine or just a new episode of a favorite television show. Even on bad days, days where we get professionally rejected or personally rejected or worse, we have that one perfect moment. And sometimes, we have lots of them. Sometimes our days are simply stuffed with them.

Today the world rose and stretched and yawned its way out of the deepest, coldest winter I can remember. Today, even though I'm unemployed and single and living with my parents, I had dozens of perfect moments, a plate of huevos rancheros at a favorite brunch spot with a best friend, a finally clean car after (ahem) years of letting it get progressively dirtier, a 45 minute run (yes that's long for me) in the warm air, pushing myself the whole time to run further, to go just one more block.

And maybe that's all I can ask for. Maybe that's all any of us can ask for. Every once in a while the big things are going to go wrong. That's just a fact. But the little things will never fail us.

And you want to know the other realization I had. I'm not alone in this. I think part of why the last few months have been so hard is that I've felt absolutely alone in what I've been going through. All of my friends are either in grad school or in jobs. And it's not like they are all living their dreams jobs, but at least all of them have something at the moment. And I've felt like the failure. Honestly I've been embarassed, more than anything that I've felt that's hurt, the embarassment and humiliation have been the worst. But part of the reason I've felt so humiliated is that feeling of being alone.

And today while running it just hit me. Maybe it's because the song I was listening to was talking about exactly what I'm going through. Maybe I just realized how completely idiotic I've been. How naive and foolish to think we are ever for a second alone in anything? In a world this big it is simply impossibly that what we are feeling is not being felt by at least one other person, much more likely by thousands of other people. I'm not the only recent graduate who is sitting at home every day applying for jobs. I'm not the only 24 year old living with her parents, feeling professionaly rejected, wondering if I can make a career out of what I love. I'm not even close to being the only one. It doesn't matter if I'm not sharing that experience with someone I know. All that matters is that other people are out there, feeling exactly what I'm feeling.

And isn't that the point of this whole crazy civilization thing, to share in the collective, often messy, often frustrating experience of living? We as humans are notoriously self-involved. We somehow let ourselves forget how massive the human experience is. It doesn't mean we're not unique. It simply means our experiences, whether tragey or triumph, aren't. And that's something to take comfort in.

And maybe this is all a little too philosophical for a Sunday afternoon. Or maybe it's simply that first giddy rush of spring flooding into my life. After the winter we've had it's a feeling that's especially acute. Something about the warm air makes us want to reevaluate, rethink. We want to literally and figuratively clean house.

Or maybe after a season of hibernating in the cold, we simply want to open our eyes to something beautiful.

also in Tanah Ratah, Malaysia
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