Independence Day.

This past Sunday, from sun up to sun down, I went off the grid.  Inspired by my decision earlier in the week to deactivate my Facebook account, I decided to go “all in” and spend a blissful day without using my various devices: computer, iPad, and television chief among them.  I allowed myself to glance at incoming emails occasionally on my phone (of which there were precisely three, two of them from Living Social), but even those spot checks felt unnatural and unnecessary as the day wore on.  With all of this extra time on my hands, I returned to something I’ve been doing far too little of here in Austin.  I read.

I was thinking about why this is, why reading — something that has seemingly always been such an important part of my daily life — has faded into the background of late.  I can think of a few possible reasons.  First, before I got here, I went through a marathon reading of all of the A Song of Ice and Fire books, from page one of Book One to the very last page of Book Five.  I read them in record time (I think I started in mid March and finished in early June) and, upon finishing, I was spent.  I just couldn’t muster the energy and enthusiasm to move on to something new.  To make matters worse, I don’t think it helped that the next novel I picked up was Richard Ford’s The Sportswriter.  A damn fine writer, Richard Ford.  But a “guy writer” if there ever was one.  No ladies need apply.  I once had a male friend who carried a tattered copy of Independence Day with him everywhere he went.  Okay, no, I didn’t.  But I should have.  That’s the kind of guy writer Richard Ford is; the kind who inspires men both real and imaginary to carry his tattered books in their well worn leather satchels, to move to the bucolic suburbs of New Jersey and start Divorced Men’s Clubs, and to name their firstborn sons Frank.  That book took me seven weeks to read.

The other reason I’ve been so off reading, besides the obvious poor choice of reading material, is because my carefully assembled routine has been forever interrupted.  In New York, I did most pleasure reading on the subway.  After many moons of trying to perfect my reading for work / reading for pleasure balance, a few years ago I adjusted my schedule thusly: In the mornings, before heading to the office, I’d sit on my couch, coffee in hand, and read for my job as a literary agent.  Proposals, articles, manuscripts, memos.  Anything and everything work related had my full attention for one to three hours every morning.  After that, it was pleasure reading for the rest of the day.  On the subway in the morning, on the subway in the evening, in the tub at the end of a long day: pleasure reading.  But now?  No morning subway ride.  No evening subway ride.  No tub.

So you can see why a new routine was necessary and, after my recent controlled experiment, I think I’ve found it.  Sunday will be my day to hop off the grid and into a comfortable reading chair, like I did this past week.  I can’t begin to tell you how awesome it was.  My eyeballs thanked me for the time off from “the screens!  The screens!”  My imagination thanked me for the chance to meander off course and back again without all of the visuals that accompany pretty much everything I consume online.  And Richard Ford thanked me, or he should have, for finally finishing his long suffering book.  What to read next?  All suggestions welcome.  Don’t say “Independence Day.”

And one last note on the Facebook announcement I so casually slipped into that first paragraph above: I don’t miss it at all.  For something I was spending an awful lot of time checking and checking into and updating and browsing, it has slipped quietly out of my life with barely a ripple.  Postcards, emails, phone calls.  These are the ways I’ll be keeping in touch with the good souls in my life moving forward (except on Sundays).  You know who you are.

Wednesday Haiku. #2.

Ninety degrees by

9:00 (nine).  Overheard: “Off to France

to become famous!”

 

(I’ll keep trying my hand at these Wednesday haiku until they make me want to pull my hair out.  So this may be the last one.  But, seriously, there should be more haiku-ing going on.  John, I’m looking at you.)

Ride, Sally Ride.

When I was very little, before I really understood what my dad did for a living, I used to tell people who’d ask that he was an astronaut.  Even after I realized that wasn’t true, that there were no manned space missions in my father’s past, present, or future, I still said it on occasion to my elementary school classmates who couldn’t possibly know better.

When your dad spends his days and nights stargazing, you come to feel a certain ownership over the Universe.  Not a God-like ownership, more of a time-share condominium type of arrangement:  It’s not yours and yours alone, but you do have a connection and a stake that not everyone can claim; you have a special relationship, the Universe and you.  You feel the way the citizens of Green Bay feel about the Packers, I suspect.  And the other people who share this unique ownership, well, they’re family.

And while I never personally aspired to be an active family member — to don a spacesuit and follow that uncharted course, exploring solar systems near and far or walking on the moon — when I was ten years old, my cosmic sister Sally Ride showed me and a host of other girls that we could if we wanted to.  We could dream big.

Sally Ride died yesterday.  She was only sixty one years old, which means she was barely thirty when she changed the world.  Just before her 1983 mission, the first for an American woman, she was quoted as saying, “It’s too bad this is such a big deal.  It’s too bad our society isn’t further along.”  I’m going to spend some time thinking about her today.  Thought you guys might want to, too.

Righty-Tighty Lefty-Loosey.

A few days before I left Florida, I went to Target and bought a new bike.  I also bought a bike rack, headlight, rear light, helmet, and tire pump.  I’m a gal who rarely does things halfway.  I loaded the bike into the back of my car and, over the next few days, I assembled and attached the rack to Cleveland’s hitch, fastened the headlight and rear light, adjusted the seat, and generally made sure my new little Schwinn was ready for the long trek to Texas.  Easy.

Okay.  That first paragraph is riddled with inaccuracies.  Here’s the real story:

A few days before I left Florida, I begged my brother to leave work early and meet me at Target to help me pick out a new bikeKeith also helped me choose a bike rack, headlight, rear light, helmet, and tire pump.  I’m a gal who relies on her brother a lot for such thingsKeith loaded the bike into the back of my car and, over the next few days, he assembled and attached the rack to Cleveland’s hitch, fastened the headlight and rear light, adjusted the seat, and generally made sure my new little Schwinn was ready for the long trek to Texas.  Easy.  Easy for anyone who has a Keith, that is.

And then last week I was riding my new bike, taking advantage of the cool evening air that often precedes a summer rainstorm, when my front tire went left while my handlebars stubbornly went right.  Not good.  As I gracefully crashed to the ground (seriously, it was graceful) and thanked my lucky stars that I wasn’t going very fast when things went haywire, I had a vision of the stock guy at Target who assembled my bike getting home from a long day at work only to find three screws in his back pocket.  Thanks, stock guy.

So I loaded my bike onto the bike rack (of course, while I was attaching the rack to the car’s hitch I called my brother at his office so that he could remind me what the washer thingy was for and, more importantly, where it belonged) and took it up to the corner bike shop for a full tune-up to the tune of sixty bucks.  And all the while I was thinking to myself, “God, why haven’t I ever learned how to fix a bike?”

Yes, for someone who fancies herself to be a modern and independent gal I’m actually pretty dependent on a number of people for an assortment of things.  My family mainly.  Here’s how the list has broken down by family member and corresponding dependency for most of my life:

Dad: A given: all things astronomical.  In addition, anything computer-related (including ordering a new computer, acquiring and connecting computer accessories, backing up files, and every sort of trouble-shooting) and any nagging questions about politics, science, or general history.

Mom: All cooking related questions.  I once called my mom and, no joke, had her walk me through how to boil an egg.  I believe I was 35 at the time.  And every Thanksgiving that I’m away from home, like clockwork, I call to ask her to email me her mashed potatoes recipe (damn, her mashed potatoes are good) and to remind me how to truss a turkey.  I also depend on my mom for anything related to family history or scandal – she knows better than anyone who the various characters are, generation to generation, and where the bodies are buried.

Jenny: My administrative needs fall to my big sis.  Anything having to do with taxes, health insurance, this blog and its maintenance, decisions big or small concerning the various adult responsibilities one has; I go to Jenny for all of that.  And now that our dad’s gone, I pretty much rely on her for his categories, too, although I’d like to start auditioning Marc (my brother-in-law) for that role.  He seems to know his way around a computer.  Job application pending.

Keith: Anything having to do with fixing, tightening, adjusting, strengthening, engineering, building, tearing down, attaching, wiring, assembling, powering up, powering off.  Basically, if a problem has an on or off switch or if it has anything to do with mechanics of any sort (or if I’m buying anything with an on or off switch or something that might one day need repair), I call my brother.  As I’ve said here before, he’s the handiest person I know.  And while I think he attributes much of what he knows to our dad’s teaching, Keith always was and still is my go to for such things.  He’s the one who taught me “righty-tighty lefty-loosey” when we were both still kids and has kindly proceeded to allow me to rely on him for any tightening or loosening over the years.

I don’t see any of this changing any time soon.  My dear family can expect “How do I…?” calls from me for the duration, I’d say.  But I also think I’m going to strike out a bit on my own.  It’s time.  This week, I’m planning to look into volunteering at the Yellow Bike Project here in Austin – it’s a community bike shop that will teach anyone who’s interested how to fix a bike, soup to nuts.  And I’m looking into a class on auto repair; I want to know how to change a tire, check the fluids, jump start a battery, especially now that I’ve mapped out several thousand miles of upcoming road trips for Cleveland and me.

It’s long past time, dedicated readers.  A smidge more independence for this gal.  Some self-reliance and personal accountability and all that; good for the soul.  At least until the next time I try to boil an egg.  Then all bets are off.

Indecision 2012.

When I was a little girl I wanted desperately to be the first female Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  For years I wanted this.  Well, first I wanted to be a dentist (well into my twenties, Mrs. Johnny Rocket would still occasionally say to me “Remember when you wanted to be a dentist?”) and then seemingly overnight I became obsessed with all things Supreme Court related.  If I had to pinpoint when this obsession solidified into a yearning for my own spot on the bench, I’d say Mrs. Lafontaine’s history class in high school.  I can remember reading a book called “Gideon’s Trumpet” which detailed the landmark Supreme Court case of Gideon v. Wainwright.  I’m going to track down that book (I still own it, it’s in a box somewhere) and reread it and, when I do, I’ll probably discover some inaccuracies in the summary I’m about to give you, but here goes: In 1961, in Panama City, Florida, a burglary occurred and an indigent man named James Gideon was arrested, tried, and convicted.  During the course of the trial he told the judge that he was too poor to afford a defense attorney and asked that one be assigned to him, but the judge allowed the proceedings to continue with Gideon forced to represent himself.  Up to that point, the constitution’s right to counsel had only been strictly applied to federal, not state, trials.  In Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court ruled in Gideon’s favor and changed all of that.  What does a trumpet have to do with anything, you ask?  Truly, I have no idea.  But, trumpet or no trumpet, that book and that decision and the power and necessity of the Supreme Court held serious sway over my young mind and an obsession was born.  I absorbed books and articles and anything court related I could find and I set my sights on the perfect way for this small town gal to make her mark on this big bad world: Chief. Justice. Oliver.

And then I went to college and became obsessed with other things, some big (feminism, environmentalism, and changing the world through lobbying and canvasing and general rabble-rousing) and some small (remember Bobby?), and the burning desire to follow a judicial career path slipped farther and farther away.  Besides, it sounded like law school was a miserable experience (I briefly dated a young lawyer who told me as much; I still cc: him if I ever write irritable letters of complaint to businesses) and I suspected that my activist activities, while always mostly legal, might be frowned upon by the Senate during any confirmation hearings.  So, I moved on.  And I’m fine with that, albeit miffed that we still haven’t seen a woman leading the nation’s highest court.

Which begs the question: If I’m so fine with it why am I telling you all this?  Because last week I received (forwarded by MJR) a promotional mailer for a Democrat running for the Florida State House.  Staring out at me from said promotional mailer was the smiling face of someone I recognized.  Who was it, you ask?

My high school prom date.

That’s right.  My prom date is running for a seat in the Florida legislature.  Which, in my mind, means he’s about three steps away from the White House.  My f’in prom date is going to be the leader of the free world.  By contrast, I don’t own any furniture.  I know, I know.  It’s not a competition.  And it’s not like we didn’t have a lovely time at our senior prom (although he did peer pressure me into swallowing some escargot at the dinner beforehand.  Yuck).  I wish the guy no ill.  But, in the grand scheme of things, I’d prefer that someone I once pinned a powder blue boutonniere on not so glaringly and obnoxiously outdo me by being elected President of the United States.  Not cool.

So, as if I didn’t have enough to worry about, it’s back to the drawing board I go.  I still don’t want to go to law school (dear God, no) and I’m even more sure that the Senate confirmation hearings wouldn’t go my way.  With Chief Justice off the table, I’m thinking a Pulitzer or Nobel Peace Prize is my best bet at this point.  Seriously, how hard can that be?

And yes, Mom, according to the mailer, he’s married.

Cleanliness.

Mrs. Johnny Rocket will appreciate this: Earlier this week, after my lovely out of town guests departed, I decided to invest in a big scrub down of my Austin casita and scheduled a cleaning service for the following morning.  With an 8:00 arrival time locked in, I set my alarm for 7:00, woke up ahead of my wake up call, and spent a good half hour… cleaning.  Yes, I cleaned the casita in advance of the cleaning of the casita.

This is a page straight out of MJR’s playbook, as Jenny and Keith well know.  When we were kids, our mom would announce the evening before the cleaning woman arrived: “____ is coming tomorrow.  We need to straighten up!”

“We” really meant “You” and “You” was us three kids.  On the eve of every cleaning day, we’d grudgingly turn away from the television or Atari, we’d set aside assorted comic books and paperbacks and other distractions (“Five more minutes, please?!”  “No, now!”) to empty out trash cans, wash rugs and bedspreads, tuck away any evidence of our domestic messiness that was left in sight and generally do a fairly thorough advance cleaning of the next day’s cleaning.  All along we’d think to ourselves (and confirm in knowing looks exchanged with each other): Mom is crazy.  Plum crazy.

Well, all these many years later, after endless ribbing and eye-rolling and whispers of “Why are we cleaning for the cleaning lady?” out of MJR’s earshot, I found myself this week doing the exact same thing.  And I think I finally understand the spark behind MJR’s madness.  It came to me as I wiped down the counters with Clorox wipes and took out the recycling.  It was there hanging like a neon sign above my door as I carried my basket overflowing with dirty clothes to my car where it would be safely out of sight.

It’s this: There’s some guilt associated with paying someone to clean your space (anyone who says they’ve never felt even a smidge of this is a big fat liar or a narcissist, I suspect).  There’s that voice in the back of your head wondering “What’s wrong with you, why can’t you do this for yourself?  What else in your life are you dropping the ball on?  Seriously, what’s wrong with you?”  On Thursday morning, I found myself assigning that prying voice to the cleaning woman (her name is Eve, by the by) who would be arriving in one short hour.  All of the judgy judginess I felt in my gut toward myself was now Eve’s judgy judginess and there was no way I was going to let her get the better of me.  (Reminder: this was all taking place in my head.)

So I cleaned the casita just well enough to show Eve that I didn’t really need her to clean my space, that this little world of mine she was stepping into was in perfect working order to begin with (which, by natural extension, meant that everything else in my life was also in perfect working order) and any results of this farce we were perpetrating (you know, me paying her to come and clean when I didn’t really need her to) would be gravy.  Delicious shiny bacteria-free gravy, sure, but gravy nonetheless.  In short: I’m plenty clean already, Eve, thank you very much.

(Oh, and you’ll find the vacuum in the hall closet.  Where I left it.)

Austin, Meet Jen and John.

I’m taking some time off from the blogging this week, dedicated readers.  Jen and John are in town and their presence demands my full attention.  BBQ every day!  Tacos every day!  Music!  Swimming!  Lively conversation!  (And probably some crunchy salty snacks and Friday Night Lights in the wee hours…)  Pure bliss, for sure.  Alas, for you, not so much blogging.

Happy July 4!

Back next week.

A Better Place.

The other day I was driving in my car and thinking it would be nice to have a phone conversation with someone during the twenty minute ride across town.  I looked at the clock and realized it was smack in the middle of the lunch hour in New York City so trying to reach my various nine to five friends would likely bear no fruit.  Who else to call?  And then, out of the blue, I thought “I’ll call Dad.”

Wham.  Like a sharp punch in the gut, my brain put the possibility out there and just as quickly took it back.  No, kid.  Sorry.  You can’t ever call your dad again.

It’s the first time I’ve experienced a moment like that on this long and winding road of loss and grief.  Until now, the thought of calling my dad would never have occurred to me because I’ve been so acutely aware of his being out of my reach, certainly out of AT&T’s reach, pretty much every moment of every day since his death almost a year and a half ago.  Me thinking “I’ll call Dad” is the same as me thinking “my dad is alive,” and, well, how could I possibly think that given what I know?  But I did think it and, now that this albatross has reared its ugly head, I can’t help wondering if this is the way it’s going to be moving forward.  Will my life be sprinkled with occasional lapses, occasional moments when my conscious mind believes that my dad is just a phone call away?  I hope not.  Because that is seriously fucked.

I was talking the other day with a good friend whose entire life has been flipped upside down in the wake of a family tragedy so sad and so senseless that the retelling of it leaves us bystanders clutching our loved ones closer and tighter, feeling thankful while feeling guilty for feeling thankful.  One facet of this tragedy: the painful death of a best friend and the wrenching apart of two people who spent the last twenty plus years speaking to each other every day.  Every day.  I’m not going to go into any more detail here, it isn’t my loss to write about, but this is all to say that, like anyone who’s been forced to suddenly navigate the treacherous waters of grief, my friend has a few okay days and some bad days and everything in between.  During this particular conversation we talked a bit about what comes next after the people we cherish die.  So many people find themselves compelled to reassure you (“time heals all wounds”), to suggest that your loved one is “in a better place,” that they’re watching over you even now (“can’t you feel her?”).  God, such pronouncements, however well intentioned, can really test the nerves.

My friend asked me if I feel my dad near me, if I sense his presence even in the sharp painful slash of his absence.  “Do you feel your dad near you,” she asked.  “Do you?”  And the answer came quick and fast and sure: No, I don’t.  At least, not in the way that people who suggest such things mean.  He’s with me, for sure, and he always will be.  Tucked inside the folds of my being, I carry him forward into each new day, doing my best to make him proud, calling up his image and the sound of his voice when I choose or need to.  But I don’t believe that he’s a spirit, hovering in this life, his essence standing sentry over me.  Honestly, I don’t really know what I fully believe or don’t believe when it comes to such things, but I know what I feel and I don’t feel his presence.

I feel his absence, for sure.  I feel that every day.  Which is why a moment like the one that I had the other day, when I forgot that he was gone and I had to correct myself and take the cold hard truth of it in again, that moment really sucked.  Not so much because of the pain of remembering, I’m used to that by now.  What really sucks in such moments is that nanosecond of promise contained in the lovely feeling I get when I think of this call I’m going to have with my dad.  Knowing exactly how he’ll greet me (“Beep!,” he’ll say, his nickname for me) and how quickly the call will turn to politics and current events and what I’ve been up to, big or small.  That moment, that nanosecond when I anticipate this call that will go like so many of the other calls before it, reassuring in its predictability and its ease.  In that moment I sense my dad’s presence; in that moment I feel him near me.  And that’s something I realize now I’ll only really be able to do on those occasions when I forget that he’s gone.

Time heals all wounds, they say.  He’s in a better place, they say.

Maybe, eventually, it will.  And maybe I will be, too.