The End of Summer.

The end of summer is here.  Some indications that tell me this is a true and accurate statement: The college students have returned to this college town, which makes parking downtown that much more difficult and the line at (insert name of local coffee shop here) that much longer.  The pool a block from me sits abandoned all day long; not yet emptied of its water, but closed, closed, closed.  The movie theaters are once again quiet and sparsely populated during the daytime hours.  A positive, for sure, if only there were some decent films to enjoy in them; the last dregs of the summer blockbusters are hanging on, even as summer itself tips its hat and heads for the door.

It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a summer in the way that I’ve enjoyed this one.  I graduated from high school in early June 1991 and a short week later I was working in the stacks of the library at the University of Florida, a summer job procured through the oldest and most reliable of methods, nepotism.  I pushed carts and shelved tomes and sorted periodicals for two and a half months and then, by late August, I was tucked away in a dorm room in a new town, not so far from home, ready to commence my biggest project to date: adult life.  Before 1991, my summers were long and lazy days full of meanderings and mischief.  Sun-up to sundown spent poolside at the YMCA and in the woods at the back of our childhood neighborhood; in the fields just over the fence from our backyard and along the streams that snaked across Northwest Gainesville and its subdivisions.  I never worked a day in my life until that summer in 1991 spent in the stacks just before I commenced college life.  And then, it seems looking back, I never stopped working.

It’s now twenty-one years later and this is the first full summer break I’ve had in all of those twenty-one years.  And what a blissful break it’s been.  But, especially after the last eight months of rest and reflection I’ve enjoyed (three years of summers, practically, if you do the math), there’s also something blissful about what’s in the air right now, here in Austin on August 29, and no doubt where you are, too.  I can feel the city stirring, waking from its summer slumber and leaning into the promise of Fall.  With one last hoorah this weekend (Labor Day!), it’s back to school time, back to work time, back to goals being set and reached, deadlines being met, stuff getting done.  And, know what?  I want a piece of that action.

I don’t have a nine to five gig that I’m accountable to and there’s no time clock lurking nearby, but I’m planning to drink a shot of morning espresso and get down to business with the rest of you.  What is my business, you ask?  Great question, You.  My business is travel (across the country and back again before the sun sets on this year), and family and friends, and writing (this blog and the Great American Novel, in case you hadn’t heard), and nailing down some future unknowns (hence the vision board and the espresso), and anything else that comes my way (including some actual business business, happily).  I’m waking up, too, dedicated readers.  And, after the full night’s rest I’ve had (eight months’ worth of rest), the possibilities look pretty endless to me.

Summer’s over.  Fall’s here.  Let’s do this thing.

Secret (v.).

I hope what I’m about to tell you doesn’t bum you out as much as it bummed me out, but here goes.  Remember the woman I mentioned in my Wednesday Haiku a few weeks ago (Overheard: “Off to France to become famous!”)?  First, I should tell you that her exact words (and syllables) were abridged for the haiku.  What she actually said was “I’m moving to Paris to become a famous painter!”  Commendable, for sure.  The thing is, last time I checked, my local post office is NOT in Paris, France.  So imagine my surprise when I strolled into said post office this afternoon, to mail some postcards and say hello to the guy behind the counter who likes to talk about conspiracy theories and the military-industrial complex and sometimes both, and there she was (let’s call her Haiku Lady, shall we?).  Clear as day, standing in line, the woman who’d felt it necessary weeks before to declare her intentions loudly and proudly for all of us sad sacks (an unfair generalization about people who still regularly go to the post office, I might add) at 43rd and Speedway to hear.  Haiku Lady.  Not in France.  Not famous.

Upon spotting her (she was hard to miss, she was talking about France, AGAIN), I was suddenly and inexplicably annoyed and, just as suddenly, not annoyed anymore, instead bummed; sad for her and her missed chances, her artist’s dreams deferred.  And then I just wanted desperately for her to quit chatting about Paris (“If you like it so much, why don’t you go there and become famous?” I wanted to ask) and move along, move along.  Nothing to see here, move along.

As I walked back out into the bright sunlight I wondered what had happened to Haiku Lady and her big plans, why she was still here.  I wondered if she’d put off her trip for a while or canceled it altogether.  Or maybe there was never a trip planned, maybe she was just telling anyone and everyone who’d listen that she was moving to Paris to become a famous artist because the possibility of it truly happening lay in the uttering of the words aloud.  Send it out into the Universe, Oprah and Heather are always telling me, and it will come back to you.

And then I thought, “Maybe Haiku Lady needs a vision board.”

Yes, dedicated readers, you heard me right.  I am in the process of constructing a vision board.  I can’t say that I know 100% what a vision board is, but I think I have the gist, thanks to Georgia, who is rapidly transitioning from “Austin Friend” to “Non-Geographic-Specific Friend Friend,” which has been a real pleasure.  Together, Georgia and I picked out a cork-board and some pushpins (some seriously cute pushpins) and a few magazines for me to flip through for inspiration.  I already have a ton of clippings and quotes and sundry other items that have been traveling with me through life and are likely great candidates for occupying some of my vision board real estate, so I’m off to a good start.

I’m thinking of it as a crafty way to “secret” things that I want in my life.  Yes, as many of you already know, I’ve taken the concepts behind the mega bestseller The Secret and turned them into a verb.  Secret (v.): to call things into your life by way of visualization and any other avenues that make sense to you, including speaking to yourself in the shower, writing in your journal, telling your mother, shouting it from the rooftops at your local post office (ill-advised, I promise you)… constructing a vision board!

I have a feeling this won’t be the last you’ll be hearing about my vision board, dedicated readers.  Yup, I have a feeling the vision board is going to be instrumental moving forward.  Stay tuned.

(Rats!  I should have picked up a cork-board for Haiku Lady.  Next time.)

Wednesday Haiku: Thursday Morning Edition.

Instead of “Hump Day,”

how ’bout: “Laundry Day.” “Road Trip

Planning Day.” “Nap Day.”

My Big Sis has agreed to drive across the country with me in October: California to Georgia.  I called her yesterday at work and asked her on a whim and she immediately and without hesitation said “yes.”  This reminded me of all of the other things I’ve asked her for or asked her to do across the entire span of my life, practically, and that she’s always immediately and without hesitation said “yes” to.  She’s a good Big Sis.  Now, let’s see if she’s a good Chief Navigator.  And a good “sing Journey songs at the top of your lungs”-er.  And a good Starbucks sniffer-outer.  (There’s an App for at least two of those, so she’s one step ahead already.)

Oh, the places we will see!  Oh, the postcards you lucky bunch will receive!

On Ignorant Statements and the Dangers of Overreaching.

First, the most obvious and the one I just couldn’t let pass me by given my frame of mind these days and, more importantly, my latest television obsession.  As much as I like to shy away from politics in this forum, here goes, just this once: Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler would be bullshit about that stupid stupid comment about rape made by Representative Todd Akin from Missouri.  You know, the one where he said that women have the ability to shut their bodies down during sexual assault so as to avoid pregnancy.  (Oh yes, he did.)  Seriously, judging by his current instability, I’m pretty sure Elliot would beat the guy to a pulp if given just ten minutes alone with him in the unit’s interrogation room.  Even Cragen would turn a blind eye, I suspect.  (More on Elliot’s instability: It’s 2005 in my SVU world, which means his wife has just left him, his middle child has just been busted on a DUI, and he’s exploring some awkward sexual chemistry with Mary Stuart Masterson that can only end well for her and confusingly for him.  He’s on the edge, people.)  Rep. Akin wouldn’t stand a chance.  Seriously, moron: Stop. Being. A. Clown.  Don’t make me regret my decision to spend a weekend in your fine state next month.

And does anyone else think that maybe Diana Nyad should stop trying to swim from Florida to Cuba?  She just cut short her fourth attempt because of storms (that nearly drowned her) and jellyfish stings (that are beyond painful and have left her face and her extremities a swollen mess).   Look, I’m a big fan of goal setting. As you guys know, I practically invented goal setting, from my legendary to do lists (spread across post it notes, notebooks, and napkins far and wide), to the Carrie lists during my New York years, to an impressive array of New Year’s Resolutions compiled since practically the beginning of time; I f’in love setting goals.  Know what else I love?  Swimming.  Yup, just today I swam thirty laps at Deep Eddy and pulled myself out of the pool exhausted and oh-so happy.  Diana Nyad: I get you.  Truly, I get you.  But, seriously, call it a day on the swim from Florida to Cuba.  Give yourself a rest.  A few things worth loving as much as goal setting and swimming?  Breathing.  Your family.  Not resigning yourself to a watery grave.  Think about it.

Old Dan, Little Ann, and Leisl Meminger.

The first time a book made me cry I was in the fourth grade and it was a mandatory all-class assignment.  State-sanctioned emotional distress, I realize now.  In unison.  I can set the scene for you: Me, sitting at the tiny (at the time, perfectly-proportioned) table for four in my tiny (perfectly-proportioned) straight backed chair in Mrs. Brassfield’s classroom at Stephen Foster Elementary School, surrounded by twenty of my equally unsuspecting classmates.  The book:  Where the Red Fern Grows.  The story in a nutshell: Boy longs for two hunting dogs.  Boy scrimps and saves and buys himself two puppies, walking barefoot thirty miles through the mountains to the nearest train depot to retrieve them (don’t feel sorry for him, he likes to walk around barefoot).  Boy and his faithful dogs wander far and wide throughout the Ozarks of Missouri, tracking and catching and winning prizes and developing a fierce bond of love and friendship (a fierce, fierce bond).  Boy and his dogs run afoul of a mountain lion one dark night.  Dogs die.

Seriously, Alachua County School Board: really?

On that climactic last day of reading, when Mrs. Brassfield’s faithful (did I mention unsuspecting?) collection of ten-year-olds sat in silence and commenced to finishing the final twenty pages of the book, you could hear a pin drop.  And then, slowly, one by one, as we realized that Old Dan and Little Ann would not be making it out of those dark woods with their lives, the tears came.

Up to that point in my short life, I most often cried for two reasons.  First, I cried when brought to tears by the injustices perpetrated on me by my older siblings.  One on one, we got along swimmingly, mostly.  Two (them) against one (me), it was awful.  We have a famous story in our family of the time the three of us were on the roof with our dad, cleaning off leaves and debris, and Jenny and Keith took me aside and told me there was no Tooth Fairy.  And no Easter Bunny.  And no Santa Claus.  That’s the kind of injustice I speak of.  (Mrs. Johnny Rocket loves that story.)  Second, I cried when I was faking it and trying to get my siblings in trouble for injustices they hadn’t actually perpetrated but that I felt certain they would if given the opportunity.  Payback is a bitch and I was really really good at faking the tears.

But what I was feeling in those moments in Mrs. Brassfield’s classroom, after Old Dan had already died and Little Ann was slipping away as Billy clutched her closer and closer and begged his mother to do something, anything, to save her, was different.  God, what I was feeling right then was like nothing else I’d felt before.  I wasn’t crying because of something that had happened to me, little self-important me.  No, I was crying because I was genuinely, gut-wrenchingly moved by a story and its characters and the unbearable sadness that had fallen onto their slight shoulders.  I was crying because of something I’d read in a book.  Wow.

I could tell you that those tears led to an “ah-ha” moment.  That that was when I decided I would one day move to New York City and find a job in publishing so that I could be a part of something so big and grand and important – literature! – that it could bring even the most narcissistic members of society (fourth graders) to the emotional edge and back again.  Alas, no, I was still pretty committed to being a dentist in those days.  But I can tell you that I’ll never forget that book and that little boy and his dogs and the feelings they stirred in me.  And I’m constantly chasing that same emotional connection in the books I devour.  I don’t always want to be brought to tears by what I’m reading, but when it happens it’s a welcome and wonderful occurrence, for sure.

It happened last week for the first time in I don’t know how long.  Scene: Me, sitting in the sun with a lovely breeze stirring the napkin wrapped tightly around my large iced latte on the side porch of my local coffee spot.  The book: The Book Thief.  The story: Well, it’s narrated by Death and set in Nazi Germany so I don’t need to tell you that it’s not exactly a laugh riot.  It follows the life of young Leisl Meminger in a small suburb of Munich while she plays soccer in the street, steals through open windows, befriends a basement dweller named Max, and reads aloud to her foster parents and fellow neighbors as they huddle in the darkness of a bomb shelter during false air raids in the dead of night.  It’s charming and quirky (in the best possible way, I think) and lovely right up to the moment when it punches you and Leisl Meminger in the gut about forty pages before the end.  I sat outside that coffee shop, finishing The Book Thief, and cried and cried and cried.  Tears puddled in my Ray-Bans, people.  They puddled.  It was devastating and heartbreaking and also sweet, that feeling and those tears.  (Seriously, you guys should read The Book Thief.)  And now that I’ve finished it and have handed it off to another (unsuspecting) lover of good books, I’m already missing Leisl, the way I’ve missed Old Dan and Little Ann before her, and hoping it won’t be a lengthy passage of time before another book moves me to tears.  All suggestions welcome.

One last book review from me for today, this one for Gone Girl.  Current New York Times #1 bestseller.  I read it in two days flat.  No tears, for sure, but some twists and turns that were pleasantly surprising and made the reading easy, breezy and fun.  Mostly, it’s caused me to look askance at several married couples at the Whole Foods Market this week.  I declare it “The single person’s feel good book of the year!”

Now, get out there and support your local bookstores, people.

Gratitude.

Kirby and I were talking the other day about that thing that happens to new moms and dads when they come up for air after their first child is born.  You know, that moment when the clouds part and all of the angst and anxiety that used to keep them up at night (often associated with their jobs, or at least from what I’ve seen) now seems mostly trivial and inconsequential when juxtaposed with this sweet arrival and the unconditional and awe-inspiring love love love that accompanies it.  “It really puts things in perspective,” they say.

“The same can also be said of terminal illnesses and funerals,” Kirby mused.  “Babies, terminal illnesses, and funerals.”

That Kirby, he’s a wise one.

“It’s almost reason enough to have a kid.”  My reply.

Well, I have no children of my own (none that I know about; nod nod, wink wink), but I do know a little something about funerals and the clarity of perspective they can bring.  Which is all to say that, of late, I’ve been thinking a lot about how much my life has changed in just a few short months and I’ve especially been thinking about the things that I’m grateful for.  (Yes, in case you’re wondering, I did recently start practicing yoga and drinking herbal tea.  And yes, I do have a subscription to Oprah’s magazine.  I f’in love Oprah’s magazine.)

So, here it is.  A self-indulgent list, in no particular order and by no means definitive, of fifty things I’m grateful for right now: Mom (and Hampton!), Austin and new Austin friends, oranges, cool water on hot days, the poems of Mary Oliver, Peg the zombie, KUT 90.5, my sports bra, Keith, Jenny, Elspeth, Moira, Dorothy, Marc, Brian, Karen, Taylor, my Havaianas, postcard stamps, my roasting pan, fat free cool whip, Heather, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, Jen and John, Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic books, the night sky, memories of my father, chocolate soy milk, my yoga instructor, Joe Biden, you guys (my 19 subscribers; each and every one of you), Cleveland, Tom Waits’ voice, my friends’ kids, coffee, Patty, Suzanne, my savings account, Lance, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, Town Lake, Linda, Sundays, Monday mornings, my Clarisonic, the tennis court a block away, Chicago in September, California in October, coconut milk, and my printer finally working.

Fifty Shades of Gratitude.  (Groan.)

Making Friends.

It’s been a while since I’ve really thought about making new friends.  That’s one of the great things about settling into one place and watching the days and months turn into years and almost decades.  You make new and exciting friends in those blissfully new and exciting early days and then again with each significant change — new job or new neighborhood or new social circles attached to new significant others — but, for the most part, after enough good people have been gathered close and tight, you sit back and rest on your laurels a bit.  “I’m sated in the friend department,” you say to yourself.  I’m full to the brim.

And then you move yourself across the country on a southwesterly trajectory that takes you further and further from your closest relationships in the world – an assortment of kindred spirits and confidantes who, truly, put most other people’s friends to shame (sorry, other people’s friends) – and you bemoan the loss of the day to day companionship of these quality souls.

Long days stretch out in front of you in this promising little town.  On some of those days, you battle a mopey disposition that is in stark contrast to the bright sun in the sky.  The kind of mopey disposition that often goes hand in hand with a whole day spent not speaking to another living soul (unless you count the checkout kid at Whole Foods Market which, for better or worse, you don’t.  He called you “ma’am” after all).  “What now?” you wonder.  “Where are the friends?”

These are the sorts of musings running through my mind this afternoon after spending the morning with my newest friend, Georgia.  A sweaty game of tennis in the blistering Texas sun followed by a leisurely dip in one of the many public pools that can be found in this sweltering town.  And then on to a coffee shop for reading (me) and writing (her) and that kind of lovely solitary togetherness that allows you to leave your laptop at the table while you grab iced tea at the counter, but doesn’t require much talking because, really, we’re both here to get some work done.  And all of it easy: the tennis and the swim and the drive across town and back and the coffee shop and the casual parting with a promise of a movie later in the week, maybe another tennis game.  Easiest of all, the conversation that seamlessly ebbs and flows.  A new friend, dedicated readers.  An honest to gosh new friend.