Easter Sunday.

eggs

This morning — before half of the house’s occupants were awake but after my first cup of coffee — I hid twenty brightly colored Easter eggs for Cee’s two girls, Eee and Kay, to find.  The backyard here at Cee’s house, on this lovely block in Hyde Park, is wide and deep and chock full of great hiding spots – which may explain why now, two hours after the conclusion of The Great Easter Egg Hunt of 2013, one of the original twenty eggs is still unaccounted for.  I’m guessing it will make its presence known in a few weeks, when the summer sun is high in the Austin sky.

When I was growing up, church wasn’t a big part of my life.  Most Sunday mornings, Easter or otherwise, I sat watching the clock, waiting for my neighborhood friends to return home from various denominational services followed often by CCD or Sunday school, my siblings and I pacing the floors and bemoaning the fact that Saturday cartoons were just that.  My parents weren’t big on organized religion and its attendant rituals and events, although they did kindly offer to take me to any church of my choosing if I ever felt a yen for some of that ritual, the desire to attend those events.  When my mom’s close friend Max dug deep into his pockets and his fledgling congregation’s reserves of faith and love to build his own church – the place of worship where my sister and brother-in-law exchanged vows a little over twenty-three years ago — I can remember pitching in to help as the beams were raised, the square patches of grass were planted, and the beautiful wooden pews were installed and oiled by hand until they shone.  I wasn’t sure if I believed in God or anything really, but I wanted to be a part of that building, that grass, that love.  Maybe my parents felt the same way because we attended Max’s church intermittently for a while.  I don’t remember much about the sermons, even though I remember being in awe of Reverend Max (so different – inexplicably taller, more imposing – than every day Uncle Max), but I can hear clearly the sound of my dad’s baritone rising into the air as he stood next to me with his open hymnal.  He may have had a scientist’s skepticism when it came to matters of faith, but my father had a singing voice that did God proud, that’s for sure.

I also have a memory from when I was quite young of sunrise Easter services on the shore of the pond that sits across from the mall and just to the east of the hospital in my hometown.  I can’t swear that I wore a bonnet the few times that we attended, but I can feel the ghost of the weight of one on my head when I recall those mornings, along with the bitter chill in the air and the sweet unfolding of warmth and light that bathed my bare skin as the sun rose into the sky.  I stood next to that same pond with my brother many years later, as we took in fresh air and once again welcomed the sun’s touch while on a short break from the oppressive industrial air conditioning (why are hospitals always so cold?) and the crushing sadness of our father’s room in the ICU upstairs.  I asked Keith if he remembered those Easter services by the duck pond (he did) as we took a lap and then another around the perimeter.  All the while, step after step, I was thinking, “Let’s stay down here, let’s stay where it’s warm.”  And so now those two memories are forever connected in the memory chamber of my mind: that pond, those long ago Easter Sundays, the afternoon of the day before the day of my father’s death, and the healing salve of the sun’s warmth on my naked arms.

These days, I think occasionally about going to church, about finding a place here in Austin to retreat to on those Sunday mornings when I’m feeling the pull to commune with that something bigger than me I call God.  I haven’t taken any real steps towards it just yet, it’s still a thinking thing and not quite a doing thing.  In the meantime, I’m finding my recent re-discovery of poetry and my Poetry & Motion pact with John to memorize verses to be a satisfying communion all its own.  With that in mind, here’s what I really wanted to share with you today, on this Easter Sunday (before I got side tracked with all of these other musings).  Enjoy.

i thank You God for most this amazing… by e.e. cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

(Egg photo — and eggs — courtesy of Cee.  All rights reserved.  Seriously, how cute is that ninja egg?)

Guys, Did You Hear About Kim Jong Un?

kim jong

Apparently, there’s a picture floating around of North Korea’s young dictator in his war room with all of his buddies (many of them wearing some quite fetching hats) and they’re going over a large map, spread across an even larger table, which details specific military targets within the U.S.  Exciting news!  Austin’s a target!  Which is really only exciting because it’s opened the door to all sorts of hilarious tweets (#WhyAustin) about the reasoning behind this nuclear shade being thrown by KJU at our little “People’s Republic of Austin.”  I know, I know, everyone’s busy today with Easter egg dying and last minute Peeps buying and the like, but do yourselves a favor and follow this link.  It’s good for a chuckle or two.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/03/29/texans-mock-kim-jong-uns-apparent-plan-to-strike-austin/

kim jong 2

 

Oh, the Things Mrs. Johnny Rocket Says. #3.

I’m fairly certain Mrs. Johnny Rocket and I had a similar conversation about seventeen years ago when I was applying for my first job in publishing, but this little exchange took place today when I mentioned a job here in Austin that I’m waiting to hear back on.  Some things (and some moms) never change:

MJR: “You just tell those people that you’ll solve every problem they have if they’ll cooperate with you.”

Me: “Will do.”

MJR: “And if they don’t, you send me their phone numbers and I’ll call them.”

Me: “Of course I will, Mom.”

Hello, Austin. Let’s Do This Thing.

Guys, it’s a real scorcher in Austin today.  89 degrees, but it feels hotter and there’s no wind to speak of.  Of course, the real news from that first sentence: “Blah, blah blah blah AUSTIN blah.”  Yup: I’m in Austin!

I arrived almost two weeks ago, just in time for SXSW (or “South by” as the natives call it) and Spring Break (when all of the natives flee town to avoid “South by”).  I’m bunking at my friend Cee’s place in the same neighborhood I lived in last summer, which means that my favorite post office is just a walk away (I wandered over there a little while ago) and the familiarity of the streets and the various landmarks is making me feel at home again in record time.

On the South by front, I managed to catch up with New York friends and volunteer for my favorite Austin radio station and even hear some great live music, all while avoiding the worst of the festival fray.  Breakfast tacos, coffee, and Billy Bragg singing protest songs at 8:30am?  Only here, folks.  Only here.

On the temporary home front, the word is “Blissful.”  That’s the best way to describe this corner of Hyde Park that Cee and her girls inhabit, and it’s a blissful blessing for me to be able to share their space even if just for a little while.  You’ll be hearing more about Cee in the future – along with her girls (Kay and Eee) and the family dog, Daisy (there’s no end to the charming information I could share with you about Daisy, my foster child for the week that her mom and pups were away) — but for now I’ll just say this:  I am constantly amazed and delighted by the new souls who’ve crossed my meandering path this year.  No, not just crossed my path, but have actually fallen into step beside me and struck up a lovely and lasting conversation.  To be able to meet people – still, at the ripe old age of (almost 40) – who I feel certain will be lifelong friends the way I do about Cee (real certain, certain in my bones, dedicated readers).  Well, let’s just say I’m lucky and I know it.

There you have it.  My first two weeks in a nutshell: South by and Hyde Park.  And that wonderful feeling that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Hello, Austin.  Let’s do this thing.  (For reals this time.)

John Shannon Has Changed My Life. Again.

You guys remember my friend John, right?  If not, I’ll point you to the post I did on May 30 of last year, “Quebec Is Becoming a Dictatorship.”  It’s an oldie but a goody and will give you an inkling of the one-of-a-kindness of Mr. Shannon.

Well, I was visiting with the Shannons in February and, while the lovely Jen was off Zumba-ing, John and I found ourselves taking a morning run together.  (An aside: Yes, dedicated readers, Jen and John are on quite a health kick these days.  To say that the Shannons are melting away before my very eyes sounds way dramatic, but it’s true.  I’ve only ever wished to have more of them, not less, but I’m pretty smitten with their svelte selves, too.)

I would be remiss if I didn’t give John big props for taking this morning run with me in the first place.  If you know John (God, you guys would be so lucky to know John), you know that he is a pretty solitary guy.  If he could spend every minute of every day with Jen, he would, but beyond that, he’s most often pretty content doing his own thing on his own.  Especially something as intimate and sweaty as a morning run on a hot day.  Truth be told, when I invited John to join me for a turn around the block I really didn’t expect him to say “yes.”  And he almost didn’t.  But then he did.

And that’s when it happened.  As we slipped out the door, sneakers laced tight, John turned to me and said, “By the way, Becka, I like to memorize poetry while I run.”

Wait, what?  Come again?

You know those great moments in life when someone says something to you that’s so utterly perfect and is truly, exactly what you needed to hear at that moment in time?  They don’t happen often, those moments, and I can’t even think of the last time I had one.  But on February 17, in Palm Beach Gardens, there it was:  “I like to memorize poetry while I run.”  Bam.

I’ll rewind a tick and share this secret desire with you: I wish I had more poetry in my life.  In college, I was all about the poems of Marge Percy, Margaret Atwood, Sharon Olds and the like.  Their books, still in my possession after all of these years, are dog-eared and beat up and beloved.  I don’t know why I stopped reading poetry after I moved to New York, but the kinship I once keenly felt with that old as time literary tradition has stayed with me.  About a year or so ago, Oprah’s magazine pointed me to the twenty-five books of poetry that the editors deemed worthy of any start-up poetry shelf.  I immediately added all twenty-five to my Amazon queue (Truth: I do pretty much whatever Oprah tells me to) and have been slowly purchasing them ever since.  Of course, shortly after I started collecting poetry collections in earnest all of my books were boxed up and transported to Florida and haphazardly stacked in my childhood bedroom.  John’s confession changed all of that.

So, here I am, three weeks and four poems committed to memory later, happy as a clam.  On that first run, John introduced me to Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley (I met a traveler from an antique land…).  Once I had a pretty good grasp of it, I mentioned to him that I’ve always wanted to learn The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost in its entirety (I’ve had the first stanza in my noggin for as long as I can remember, but the rest alluded me).  John was enthusiastically on board for Robert Frost so now we both have that one, too.  And then I introduced him to Mary Oliver (Bless you, Mary Oliver) and it was love at first verse for John.

Now we call ourselves the Poetry & Motion Club (new members welcome) and we plan to regularly update each other on our progress and share our latest discoveries and critical analyses.  John nailed a key observation about Morning Poem by Mary Oliver in an email yesterday (the difference between “and” and “but” can be a real game changer, folks) and I’m anxious to see him in person and talk about the if-they’d-been-a-snake-they-would-have-bitten-us religious references in Dylan Thomas’s This Bread I Break that we both missed during our last poetry run.  I’m also pretty sure we’re doing wonders for our brains and staving off dementia and the like.  Bonus!  More than that, though, I love having this to share with my dear friend.  (Seriously, guys, see if you can’t meet John sometime.  You won’t be sorry.)

Xanadu.

When I was a kid, I was a whiz on roller skates.  Seriously, my trusty skates were like an extension of my two feet.  My very-best-friend-in-the-whole-world, Lisa E, and I would spend hours zigging and zagging along the street in front of my house and hers, endlessly looping around and around the cul-de-sac until the arrival of dusk and the illumination of the street lights, accompanied by the “Time to come in!” call of one of our four parents, signaled an end to our day.

I will always remember the nervous feeling in my belly the afternoon we skated, full speed, hand in hand, into the closed door of Lisa’s two-car garage.  We were smart kids, for sure, but on that particular summer day in 1980, just home from the movie theater and straight into our roller skates, somewhere deep inside us we each dared to believe that maybe, just maybe, the E’s garage door was the portal to Xanadu.  (Key the Olivia Newton John song.)  It wasn’t.

Of course, things changed, as they do.  A few years later both roller skating and Lisa E had a much smaller, less all consuming, role in my life and by high school they’d each faded away mostly for good.

Many moons later, here I find myself, back in my hometown and occasionally stopping by the landmarks of my childhood – the mall, the YMCA, even the DMV.  It was inevitable, I suppose, that I’d make my way to the skating rink.  As fate would have it, Moira has joined the local roller derby league.  They practice three times a week as a team with the option of practicing on their own on Wednesdays during the “Adults Only” skate that goes from nine pm to midnight at the local roller rink.  Two Wednesdays ago I decided to join her – to lace up a pair of roller skates for the first time since I can remember.

It was nice to be there with my niece – outfitted in her gear of regulation skates, knee pads, and ripped stockings – and to see her so delighted by something that once so delighted me.  And, even if I know that what really delights her is potentially having the crap pounded out of her by other chicks wearing regulation skates, knee pads and ripped stockings, on that first Wednesday she still kindly pretended to be impressed by my ability to turn round and round in tight circles on the floor (Jesus, I was impressed) and, despite her watching me hug the wall for my first few laps, this close to falling on my ass, my reputation as her “Cool Aunt” appeared to escape intact.

During the fifteen plus years that I lived in New York, I felt about as far away as a person could from what I’ve been so happily immersed in since leaving NYC last January: the days of my youth.  Days spent at the pool, swimming fast and strong through the water, emerging exhausted and happy.  Days spent escaping the heat in a cool theater at 3pm on a Tuesday and maybe again at 2pm on Thursday if I’m so inclined.  Days when my legs whipped here and there along the pavement on eight wheels, confident and sure, before taking that last loop around the cul-de-sac and down the slope of my best friend’s driveway.  The days when anything was possible.  Even finding Xanadu.

Love.

There’s a lovely moment in the film Amour when Georges tells his wife, Anne, about an afternoon he went to the movies by himself when he was a kid.  He talks about the overwhelming emotions he felt as he sat in the dark, about being deeply and profoundly moved by the story in a way he never had been before.  On his way home from the theater, he happened upon a neighbor at the door to his grandmother’s building and he found himself recounting the details of the film to this acquaintance and, in the retelling of it, he was once again moved to tears.  The funny thing, Georges explains to Anne, is that he can’t remember much of anything about the movie, this movie that moved him so.  And he can’t remember how the neighbor reacted to his emotional over-sharing, even though he can clearly recall being embarrassed by the chance encounter.  But, Georges tells her, he remembers vividly the feelings the film brought up.  He remembers the sadness, the ache, the tears.  She asks him why he’s never shared that story with her before.  “I have many stories I’ve never shared,” he replies.  God, there’s such an ease in that exchange and in all of their conversation in the early part of the film, a back and forth that doesn’t look like hard work at all.  It looks like what people should look like with each other.

There’s a moment later in the film, a shocking, desperate, heart-breaking moment that will punch you in the gut if you have any heart to speak of.  And between those two moments, the lovely one towards the beginning and the shocking one towards the end, for me at least, there’s a wonderful string of reminders of how we should treat the people we love.  It made me think of all of the choices I make every day, the opportunities to show kindness that I can take advantage of or walk right by.  My choices are much less daunting than the choices Georges is faced with, for sure, but they’re no less important.  Making a spontaneous cup of tea for my mom.  Answering the phone when my sister calls to catch up.  Driving miles to have lunch with my brother.  Usually, I choose the kindness, I think.  That’s certainly more and more the case of late.  But sometimes I let it all – the tea, the phone call, the drive – go to voice-mail.  I’ll keep working on that, scout’s honor.

This is all to say, go see Amour, guys.  Bring some tissues.

My So-Called Retired Life.

First things first.  I should tell you guys that I have a friend named Kim and that she is true blue.  About a minute before she was my friend she was my boss.  She’d be the first to tell you that she taught me everything I know and I can honestly say there’s more than a morsel of truth in that statement.  When I accepted the job as her assistant, my very first job in publishing, she said she was offering it despite my recent work as a bleeding heart environmentalist (“I hope you don’t expect us to start recycling”) and I knew this was going to be fun.  She did not disappoint.  When I told her I was leaving to accept another job, my palms sweaty, my nerves on edge waiting to see what she’d say, she was about as supportive as a person can be in her very Kim way (“Fuck, Becka, you’re going to work for Nancy?  I want to work for Nancy!  I hate you.  Get out of here, go be happy”).  In the intervening years between then and now, since that day she hired me and well past the day she watched me move on, she has been one of my biggest champions, one of my favorite people, one of my dearest friends.  Kim has a big big heart and she gives and gives to the people she loves.  I’d like to believe I’ve been respectful of her generosity over the years, that I’ve managed to not take advantage of it.  I guess only she could tell you that for sure.  What I do know is that she is someone I can turn to in desperate times and she’s still one of the first people I want to share good news with.  I can’t imagine that ever changing.  That’s my definition of true blue.  That’s Kim.

One more thing to know about Kim?  She has a sweet-ass beach condo in Sarasota, Florida.  We’re talking two bedrooms, two baths, with a balcony, people.  A super sweet condo.  And, in another shining example of Kim’s generosity, I’ve been living here solo for the better part of this month.  Since January 11, with the exception of a brief and blissful sojourn to the “other coast” to visit Chez Shannon, I’ve been enjoying leisurely pool time, taking long runs by the beach, reading like a fiend, and just generally getting a feel for the retired life, along with all of the other, well, retirees.  Lance says I’m like Cameron Diaz in “In Her Shoes,” without the long legs and curmudgeonly senior sidekick.  I actually think I’m more like Shirley MacLaine, the curmudgeonly senior.

What has the retired life taught me?

I now know for certain that children with noodles have no place in pools.

I’ve learned that my love for men with British accents is not age-biased (I have a mad crush on Andy who looks like he’s sixty-five but sounds like a solid forty; alas, married, not widowed).

I’ve learned that Sherrilyn Kenyon is a terrible writer (of course, that didn’t stop me from reading all 309 pages of Night Pleasures: A Dark-Hunter Novel; the condo’s bookshelves are silly with trashy romances).

I’ve learned how to make my own coffee frappuccinos in Kim’s blender; all of the taste, a fraction of the calories!  Ditto on homemade guacamole.  Seriously, forget early bird specials.  This sweet condo has a kitchen and I’m happy dining in.

I’ve learned that Carrie Mathison is batshit crazy and should be removed as Nicholas Brody’s handler immediately.  Immediately.  (Hey, a gal has to escape the sunshine occasionally.  Thanks to Jen and John, I’ve been escaping to Homeland: Season 2 on Showtime Anytime.  One word: “Wow.”  Another word: “Carrie, sweetie, he’s just not that into you.”)

And I’ve learned what I suspect many snow birds have known for some time now: Southern Florida winter weather rocks.  It’s consistently in the 70s, the sun is almost always shining, and the only burning questions on this gal’s mind are “Do I hit the pool today or the beach?  Or both?”

Yes, I guess above all else I’ve learned that the retired life is the life for me.  Next up: Finding a job that I can one day retire from.  How hard can that be?  Tomorrow.  I’ll focus on that tomorrow.

Today?  Mahjong!  (Just kidding.)

And a thank you card to Kim, for sure.