Thursday, March 31, 2016

State Project: Minnesota

Minnesota is north of us. In Minnesota is Lake Itasca. The headwaters of the Mississippi River that flows past my city in a constant unthinking way.

The river is always east.

Minnesota and Lake Itasca and I lived at Itaska and Grand when I first got married. I didn't even know where the name came from.

This water flows past. I stare out at it from the park I'm not supposed to go to because it's supposedly filled with drug dealers and prostitutes. I watch it from the national cemetery. I hear the tugboats when I drop my daughter off at her school that overlooks the river. I remember going to a school close enough to hear those boats. And see those graves as well.

The watershed, of course, is larger than Lake Itasca. It pulls in from far to the west. When I stand on the Point down in Cairo where the Ohio meets the Mississippi, the waters are from all over the United States.

Watershed. Headwaters. Bluffs and flood stages and bank swallows and all these river words.

Have I been to Minnesota? No. But it goes past me every moment.

State Project: Michigan

Michigan is game for it. I met Michigan first at a roleplaying game convention. If alarms aren't going off in your head right now, you're my people.

Michigan, though, stepped into my life for real several years later. Michigan was game for it. Learn stained glass? Sure. Help me strip the paint off my stairs? Ok, when? Enable all my fiber hobbies? Of course.

Michigan came with me to the school where I taught and we put together hundreds of mosaic concrete stepping stones. For a project I didn't finish because I had a baby and left it behind. We organized the library and dewey decimal system'd the hell out of that place. And she'd step into the hallway and play trumpet to hear the echo.

Michigan went to hobby stores with me. Michigan went to Cairo with me. Michigan went to Alabama with me.

Michigan is game for it.

I visited Michigan, together with her, to her parents' place. The next day we joined her whole family at a place where they rode small-scale trains around while serving a 5 course meal.
I am not joking.

Michigan is learning to love a friend who isn't like me much at all. But who is game for it.

Michigan is probably a pretty nice place to be.

Lastly, Michigan is this, it is a camping trip with my family, my own little family of 5 people on this earth standing on a beach in front of Lake Superior and experiencing wonder for the first time in many many decades.
I am unabashedly completely in love with all I know of Michigan.

Have I been to Michigan? Of course I have.

State Project: Massachusetts

Note: Massachusetts? Iowa? Nebraska? Idaho? These names. After awhile they all sound stupid.

Back to Massachusetts, which has far too many extraneous letters. My resident dyslexic would have a fit.

Massachusetts is phone calls from the hotel, where Bixby is spending a week doing some sort of work for someone.

I work a job from the Coloring Book of Jobs. I'm a teacher. My dad was a nurse, and now is an accountant. Teachers all around me. I know construction workers and carpenters and mechanics and social workers (a lot of social workers in fact). But Bixby? His job doesn't have a page. It's like the last page in the back of the Coloring Book of Jobs, with a mirror outline and the words, "What are you going to be?" And he's never actually drawn in what it is. He has one. He just hasn't been able to explain it to me in a way that can make me understand, love, care, and extrapolate about all at the same time.

Back to Massachusetts, I keep thinking that one year we will just drive up there and knock all those states out in one fell swoop.

But we haven't done it yet.

Have I been to Massachusetts? Nope. Can't even spell it consistently without correction.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

State Project: Maryland

Maryland is a mid-Atlantic state that contains Baltimore. Oftentimes I have heard that St. Louis is a lot like Baltimore. I don't know if that's true. I can't imagine many places being a lot like St. Louis. Or a lot like anything. Having been to many cities, I never look around and think, "whoa, now where am I?"

Maryland is where my aunt lives. I sat across from her in the bar a few years back and thought to myself, I am looking in a sort of mirror into the future right now. Having spent nearly no time with relatives growing up, this is always a little disconcerting. And comforting. A link to someone like me, perhaps.

Maryland is connected to me now on Facebook, which I stay on pretty much 99% of the reason is to stay in contact with my aunts.

Maryland is where emails come from when I have questions about genealogy. Especially when those questions feel tricky, too tricky to ask people here.

Maryland is sitting across from me at another aunt's house and telling me, essentially, "oh honey, let me tell you how it is." And it being exactly how she says.

Have I been to Maryland? No, but Maryland has been here.

State Project: Maine

I aspire to Maine. I think I could like Maine if I were from Maine. And if I had any tolerance for cold.

Maine is the name of what I thought my cat's genetic heritage might be. Maine Coon. Until I learned what a Norwegian Forest Cat was. Oh, he was a Norwegian Forest Cat.

Maine is looking at pictures of the national park and thinking about maybe, soon, we'll take a trip to the northeast.

Have I been to Maine? Not yet.

State Project: Louisiana

Louisiana is the Pontchartrain Causeway, an endless ribbon of highway across the water.

Louisiana is the Lake Charles Bridge. Louisiana is remembrances of my father's family's vacations.

Louisiana is a high school French class taught by an elderly Cajun woman. It's a French Food day with a stock pot with a whole damned chicken in it and sausages that I'm not sure we should have eaten.

Louisiana is realizing the French I learned isn't the French anyone else speaks. I skipped most of French III, though, so I might be wrong.

Louisiana is watching a baseball game in Houston with a Cajun girl I'm nervous around. She's sitting next to me on the bleachers while we watch the team dressed in white and brown warm up for the game. She tells me the story of how they met. She and her friends had come down to Nacogdoches to watch an ex-boyfriend play. How the catcher on the opposing team had asked her out, from all the girls in the crowd, and she wound up drunk at his place, sorting through his mail trying to figure out who he was. How she knew getting into bed with him was a bad idea, but she couldn't even help herself. How her family was livid when she dropped out to marry him. How she knew he wasn't the perfect man, but he was hers. At least for now, she ended with a sigh. I followed her gaze out towards the dugout, where he was going over the lineup. And instead of the guilt or shame I should have been feeling, there was this rush.

I sat and listened to her and watched as the game started and I kept the books and wore a t-shirt with a baseball on it, and his ball cap with his name inside the brim. White cap dingy with sweat and a brown MC on the front.

Louisiana is her getting up to go take a smoke and him coming over and spitting on the ground in front of me, sunflower seeds.

"You don't need to worry about her," he tells me.

"I might never worry about her again," I said, full of the risk of this entire conversation.

"Good. You're way smarter than she'll ever be."

Well no shit, I thought, but didn't say.

Louisiana feels a little rundown and a little scary, a little foreign and beaucoup de risques.

Have I been to Louisiana? In several ways.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

State Project: Kentucky

Kentucky is driving back and forth between Bixby's parents house and the hospital where his dad is being treated for a broken neck. Kentucky is calling my dad and asking me his unofficial opinion about how bad it's going to be. Luckily Terry was wrong.

Kentucky is pulling over to a fork in the road to let Bix's brother, who isn't even a teenager yet at the time, throw up on the side of the road. Every single time I drive the two of them to the hospital.

Kentucky is a quilt show.

Kentucky is stopping for lunch on the way home from the Smokies with the girl scouts, and a woman telling me that my daughter wasn't sitting modestly enough.

Kentucky is a national park with a mammoth cave and with a visitor population that left me scratching my head. And realizing that we're a bunch of national park junkies and they were tourists. Say it with a sneer.

Kentucky is a Shaker Village that made my mind feel like it was being resorted and stacked up neatly like a dry stone wall.


Have I been to Kentucky? Yes.

Monday, March 28, 2016

State Project: Kansas

Kansas, you know, is staring into the middle distance.

Kansas is the purgatory before the mountains, the labor before the birth.

Kansas endures.

Kansas is a state park in the wind, cooking dinner over a fire in a dutch oven.

Kansas is a sunset all the way around us.
 Kansas is a little bit more than it seems.

Have I been to Kansas? Yes.

State Project: Iowa

Iowa is a friend who needed to finish up a semester of college she left hanging when she followed a boyfriend down to our town. They wound up breaking up (girls, note, following a boyfriend against your better interest is rarely a good idea) and ten years went by.

Iowa is packing up my car with her stuff and driving her to college, which was a weird parental thing to do considering that she was 6 years older than I was. But I'm always kind of parentaling around with people.

Iowa is a cute little town filled with pristine houses and well-maintained yards. The streets were very clean.

Iowa is driving back up there at the end of the semester to bring her home, a graduate.

Iowa is her asking me if we will still be friends if she breaks up with the current boy (not the boy she followed from before).

Iowa is my mental calculus on how to do that right.

Iowa is doing that wrong.

Have I been to Iowa? Yes.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

State Project: Indiana

Indiana is on the way.

Indiana is on the way to a Toledo wedding I was a +1 for. Bixby was in the wedding of a high school friend. We had recently gotten married and we drove together through Indiana.

After the ridiculous wedding, we drove home through Indiana again and had lunch in Indianapolis.

Indiana is on the way to Michigan where we met the Other Mary's family and participated in the amusing subculture of small-scale home-built trains.

After that interesting weekend, we drove home through Indiana again and didn't stop, since we were on our way through Chicago and stopped there instead.

Indiana leaves no impression on me. It feels like Illinois Light. That's not fair to Indiana, of course but I have nothing to put my hands on and hold.

Indiana may be on the way, but have I been to it? Kind of.

EDITED:
NEW HARMONY. How could I forget New Harmony?

It is solved by walking. A town full of labyrinths and open air churches and weird defunct  utopian societies. I wasn't thinking.

I have totally been to Indiana.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

State Project: Illinois

Illinois is across the river. Living on the western side of the Mississippi, Illinois was oddly separate from my life. We hardly ever crossed the river. We knew no one in Illinois. There was no reason to go there, except maybe to pick apples.

Illinois is where Bixby is from. Suddenly it takes on some importance. Bixby knows all about Illinois from St. Louis' latitude down to the very bottom tip at Cairo.

Illinois is driving on a levee road when I've only been dating this boy for a month. Getting out and looking at the stars and arguing that we have to cross the river next, and the river is east.

The river is always east. But in Illinois it is west.

Or sometimes south or northeast. Local mileage may vary.

Illinois is a 'tater patch, staring up at the meteor shower.

Illinois is Christmas at too many grandparents' houses and being overwhelmed by so much family.

Illinois is hiking in Shawnee National Forest with Bixby. With Carlos. With Thad. With the Other Mary. With the girl scouts. With everyone I love, eventually.

Illinois is standing at the Point and looking at the water.

Illinois is a funeral for a man who hardly knew who I was; the whole town, the whole county, knew exactly who he was, and people stopped on the side of the road to salute us as we drove to the cemetery.

Illinois is half my children's DNA. Illinois is in their genealogy.

Illinois is in mine too. My accidental namesake, her husband killed a man in his saloon in East St. Louis and then committed suicide with rat poison in his whiskey. Illinois haunts me a little. But only because I want it too.

Illinois is flood and worry and deer hunting and weddings and funerals and baptisms and holiday parties and sitting on a porch swing with the smell of the soybean factory permeating everything.

Illinois is my state-in-law.

State Project: Idaho

Idaho is surrounded by states I know: Montana, Oregon, Nevada, Wyoming, and so forth. So I can make assumptions about what Idaho might be.

Idaho is a movie about Native American teenagers in mourning. Or a movie about a gay hustler with narcolepsy. Either way.

Idaho feels like isolation and disconnection. I was within a half hour of Idaho, could have scratched it off my list, but I just. Didn't.

I might have actually been to Idaho; I think on a trip out west we visited my brother's godmother's family.

But it might have been Wyoming.

Either way, I was under the age of 2 when it happened.

Have I been to Idaho? I can't say I have.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Bridges Old and New

My name is all about bridges. So I like bridges. I wonder if people with other nouns in their names feel like this. I like visiting bridges and walking on them and driving over them, even when they are terrifying like the Calcasieu River Bridge down in Lake Charles, Louisiana, which admittedly I only rode over in a car one time, and I was a passenger. Google it.

I like what bridges are. Spans that connect two unconnectable places. Places that would otherwise have to be brought together by boat or some round about detour are brought together by bridges. They bring us together. They strengthen bonds. They are symbols of peace and freedom and openness.

In Cape Girardeau, there was a bridge to Illinois built in 1927, before even our Chain of Rocks Bridge up here in St. Louis. It was a narrow little bridge, only 20 feet across. When it was 60 years old, it was known that it needed replacing. But the new bridge didn't get put in place until 2003.

It was the route to Bixby's parents' place. Down to Cape Girardeau on I-55, through the city, and across that bridge. That narrow little thread across the Mississippi, sharing the space with 18-wheelers and locals who didn't bat an eye crossing it.

It got terrifying. The bridge was unstable and needed to go. Work began on the new bridge, but I stopped taking the old one. I'd go all the way down to Sikeston and cross on the I-57 bridge. A little more time but I had started having obsessive thoughts about crashing into the water in my minivan and my mental health was more important than the 20 minutes I'd save.

They built a new bridge, a beautiful modern thing that they light up at night. We cross now and a few minutes later my kids ask if we've crossed into Illinois yet. It is perfect, as river bridges go. Wide and well-lit and 4 lanes, divided.

They blew up the old bridge, a bit north of the new. Today Bixby and I ran some errands for my mother-in-law, and while we were over there, we went to the park that sits where the old bridge's gaping maw used to open on the Cape side.

I stood and took this picture at the end of the old span, now an observation deck.
I could see the dent in the tree line where the old bridge used to land on the other side. Trash trees are growing up fast in the flood plain but even 13 years later there's still that dent.

The new bridge stands happily there to the right, to the south, doing the same job its predecessor once did for so long: connecting.

The past year or so, a lot of my bridges disappeared. Some were unstable and in need of destruction. Others were pulled out from under me.

I've been a little stranded.

But recently? I've watched new bridges go up.

I'll always be able to see that scar in the tree line from where those old bridges stood.

But I'll happily cross the new ones and reconnect.

State Project: Hawaii

Hawaii is far away.

Hawaii is a mystery. It is volcanoes and beaches and sunken ships named for other states.

Hawaii is my favorite philosopher typing out a manuscript in a boat tethered to a pier. Writing to me, about thermodynamics. Making me believe in God again.

Hawaii is Pacific, makes me think about aircraft carries and my uncle's tattoos, and they didn't even come from Hawaii.

Hawaii is other people's vacations. We don't fly. At least, not yet. Too much to see within driving range right now. Too many people to corral.

Have I ever been to Hawaii? No, I haven't. But I could go.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

State Project: Georgia

Alaska was his trauma. Georgia is mine.

Georgia is standing in the registrar's office in the high school I don't want to leave and telling them where I'm moving and the Texan writing, "Makin, Georgia." Like Makin' Love. No. Macon. Like Bacon.

Georgia is being an outcast. Being disconnected and not knowing why. Never being able to figure it out. Looking all over myself and not knowing what I did wrong. Did I sound wrong? Look wrong? Why am I on the outside?

Georgia is the first place where I was new, and never was able to pick where I belonged. Georgia is being told where your place is.

Georgia is my name scrawled on the chalkboard in the locker room with the word "Dyke" as my definition. Is. A. Dyke. One of those green chalkboards with yellow chalk that never really erase. Coach Hatcher never had the decency to wash the board down with a wet rag. So I was a dyke for most of sophomore year.

Georgia is the wrong boyfriend with the wrong color skin in a time when that still wasn't done.

Georgia is a broken collarbone, broken glass, brokenness.

Georgia is anonymous notes written to me, my family, my parents.

Georgia doesn't want our kind.

Georgia is a purgatory that burned away the last bits of my nonsense and made me set my face like flint and push through each day until that day my parents announced we were moving to Texas.

Georgia still makes my fists ball up, pushing my fingernails into the flesh of my palms with anger at the indecency of it all, the unfairness, the wreckage and shards of glass all around me.

Have I been to Georgia? Oh yes.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

State Project: Florida

Florida is standing on a national seashore looking east to where the ocean meets the sky on a lonely January day. We're not beach people, even though I kind of am, growing up on the gulf a bit, but I don't think "beach" when I dream of vacations. Standing on the seashore looking out at a gray green line, though, was my kind of beach moment.

Florida is driving up the coast and seeing the space shuttle, getting ready for its last launch. Thinking about Bixby and his heart and glad we saw it.

Florida is sharing a condo with my family and some family friends who'd driven down from St. Louis to meet us there. Florida is an easy vacation when you live in Georgia. It was a good week.

Florida is my mother-in-law taking us to Disneyworld when Bixby and I were engaged. Two vanloads of us. It was strange to be adults in Disneyworld without children in tow.

As a child, it was an interesting experience, although I never wished upon a star to go there specifically.

As a parent, our one trip there was about as perfect as a Disney vacation could be, and therefore we will not go back.

Florida is more than Disney, though. Or less, as the case may be.

Have I been to Florida? Yes.


State Project: Delaware

Delaware is known only to me because my grandmother would sing that song by Perry Como, Oh, what would Delaware?

Midatlantic and New England states are a mystery to me. I am so midwestern. At least I have aspirations to places like Maine and Vermont; I have relatives in Maryland.

So boring, thinking about Delaware.

Have I been to Delaware? No.

State Project: Connecticut

Connecticut is a tiny little puzzle piece that is attached to Massachusetts and Rhode Island in a cardboard puzzle of the United States. My knowledge of Connecticut is a slim volume.

Connecticut is a street about 5 blocks south of me. Right past Hartford, which is named for the insurance company. We have many state streets here (so many times I hear, flippantly, from people afraid of the city: "Well, you don't live by state streets, do you?" and then I have to break it to them that I'm a half block from Arkansas. And that they are irritating me). Connecticut is one that isn't actually for the state. It's for the insurance company. It runs the wrong way to be a state street--they are north-south, while Connecticut is east-west.

Yes, Utah is east-west as well, but it's a tribal name. At one time we had two Kansas Streets. One for the state, one for the tribe.

Back to Connecticut. More than most states, I don't have much frame of reference on this. I don't know anyone who lives there or who is from there. I don't know anything there that I'm dying to visit or see. Cynthia Voigt started Homecoming there, which doesn't give me much to go on.

I know no stories about Connecticut from anyone I love or hate.

I don't know Connecticut.

Have I been there? No. Obviously.

Monday, March 21, 2016

State Project: Colorado

Colorado is the reward after crossing Kansas in a minivan all day long.

Colorado is the highest road in America, having Bixby drive because there was no way Bixby wasn't going to drive.

Colorado is aspen trees, which mean more to me than perhaps to other people, but it is aspen trees sticking together, resistant to fire, the cousin to the bottomland cottonwood blowing in the breeze, but aspens shake and quiver and look afraid but have courage.

Colorado is strong girls on strong hikes.

Nothing bad has ever happened to me in Colorado. Nothing sad or scary (except that highest road in American through the national park of course).


I have a sweetness for this state and its mountains.

Have I been to Colorado? Many times.

State Project: California

California is being two years old in San Diego and seeing the ocean for the first time. My aunt says I pointed at it and said, "Pool."

California is my kindergarten year in Palm Desert. Learning to ride a bike. Spending the night at friends' houses. Tiny lizards in the tamarisk trees. Chicken pox. Losing my first tooth. Visiting my aunt, my godmother, my sister's godparents.

California is visiting. It is vacation. It is deserts and mountains and ocean and date palms.

California is coming to the realization that we aren't really friends anymore but I'm still going to have you in my wedding because I'm not at the point that I can say goodbye yet.

California is a scent in the air when, living on the gulf coast, the wind would shift and the salt and wet and sand would blow in from Galveston. That smells like kindergarten, I would think.

California is a honeymoon in San Francisco.

California is returning 10 years later with my girls.  It is Yosemite and Big Sur and hauntingly beautiful places that don't seem to share the same reality with the safe grounded place I call home.

California is giant trees and smoothly polished granite creek stones. It is cats in windows in Chinatown and a wok I use every week.

California is Irish coffee staring out at the piers with a baby in a sling on my hip.

California is meeting my cousins for the first time and having a yearning for family I couldn't name until I found it as an adult.

California is late night phone call when you tell me you're in love with me but the reciprocal isn't true.

Have I been to California? Always.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

State Project: Arkansas

Arkansas is missing the turn at Little Rock and convincing Bixby to just go on to Fort Smith and we'll take a shortcut through the Ouachita Mountains in Oklahoma.

That was a mistake.

Arkansas is a train in the middle of the night on my way to visit my brother, whose girlfriend just had a baby and damn it, I was going to visit.

That was not a mistake.

Arkansas is coming home from a family get-together in those Ouachita Mountains, stopping on Tontitown and finding the general store Bixby's Italian great-grandfather's family used to run, now an "antique" shop.



Walking through the cemetery. Seeing the vineyards.

Arkansas is home to Niles' namesake (Niles' real name, of course), Bixby's great-uncle with a sharp white van dyke and sharper words shared over red, red wine.

Arkansas, though, is also my father telling about visiting his cousins on his mom's side who still had dirt floors in their house. In the 50s.

Have I been to Arkansas? Yes.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

State Project: Arizona

Arizona is an old yellowed photograph of my mom with a bandana covering her hair, holding me on her lap sitting in an old jail cell in Yuma.

Arizona feels like taking a bet that the old van can get across it without overheating.

Arizona is standing on the edge of the southern rim of the Grand Canyon when I'm about twelve, my dad holding my youngest sister, grinning at my mother to take the damned picture. The Grand Canyon was bigger than anything ever was.
I have a button on my sweatshirt that says, "Say nope to dope."

Yes, yes I do.

This summer, we are going back. Taking my parents' camper. Going west and especially to this place here, to Arizona and all of its desert bigness. I plan to take a photo just like this one.

Have I been to Arizona? Yup.

State Project: Alaska

Alaska feels like pain to me.

I mean, it's beautiful and full of wildness and animals that my father-in-law shoots and brings home and it is where, he tells me, the hunting is so far away from civilization that you don't even pick up static on the radio.

But different places evoke different things for different people, and Alaska is not a happy or wondrous place for me.

Alaska is where my ex-boyfriend spent his 5th grade year.

His parents had divorced about a year before. His father was abusive, both to him and his mother. To the point that when I knew his mom, the brain damage from his beatings made it almost impossible for her to hold down a job.

After the divorce, he left Texas and went up to Alaska. The Last Frontier.

She took her young son and followed him. Remarried him. That's a verb that shouldn't exist.

By the time I knew him, Alaska was part of the story he didn't tell. Until it was seeping out of his pores.

Alaska was part of the reason we couldn't stay together. I was too young to handle so many things that adults can't even handle most of the time. We were 17, 18 years old and Alaska was ruining my life.

At self-centered 17, it was hard for me to see that Alaska had already ruined his.

And that was the biggest part of the problem. I couldn't see beyond my relatively safe happy middle class suburban life to look at his, to really see him and who he was and who he would be and who we could be together.

I don't regret leaving. God, I love my life and my husband and my children and my neighbors and my friends and all of what would never be if I'd stayed with him, if I'd dwelt in the realities of what Alaska had done.

What Alaska has done for me, though, I don't regret either. Alaska opened my eyes to pain. Pain that doesn't go away. Pain that can't be easily managed. Pain that reverberates all over your life. Alaska made me see. I can't ever say I don't see. I see you. Oh baby I see you now.

Alaska is pain.

But have I ever visited? Only in dreams and in moments across a classroom or table. Only in my heart.

State Project Stolen from Indigo Bunting: Alabama

The first person who ever read and commented on any of my blogs that I didn't actually know in person, was Indigo Bunting. No, not her real name. She read my 32/365 blog, in which I wrote 32 words a day, for a year, about a person in my life. I was 32 at the time. This year I will turn 42. So it's been a long time to know someone I don't really know. She is, with Mali (another early reader I don't know in real life), my most consistent commenters still to this day.

I have been remiss in my duties as blog reader, across the board. Some blame Facebook. I do too. And my job. I have a job that sucks a lot of my free brain space away. But I went over to Route 153 the other day and found Indigo Bunting hard at work, cataloging all the states she has visited.

Oh my goodness that is my sort of project. Geography, writing, memories, lists. Boom.

She worked in alphabetical order. Seems sensible, and it won't leave me wondering which state I forgot when I get to 49 and I'm stumped. So I'm totally stealing her project. Which is what bloggers do. Right now.

Alabama

Alabama is crossing through into Phenix City from Georgia in a station wagon with my mother, all my siblings and our cat, following my dad in the U-haul dragging the Triumph Spitfire behind, heading to Texas. Heading to freedom.

Alabama is a space and rocket museum and Bixby correcting the tour guide. Correcting the tour guide. Listen people: he corrected the tour guide in front of other people. And he was right and would not it go and she was embarrassed. And it was mortifying. And then I did it to him later in a cave tour in Colorado and realized that when you know something is false, and is being spread as truth by someone with an official looking outfit on and a nametag, you just can't smile and nod. That's not who we are.

Alabama is visiting friends of Bix's after the museum, eating jalapeno jelly for the first time and asking for that recipe.

Alabama is being told that polite people do not ask for recipes.

Alabama is getting ready to leave the hotel and waiting in the 15 passenger van listening to my friend, the Other Mary, talk about how she now has seen all of our underwear, wondering if the same was true for me, and then watching as Thad walks out of the hotel carrying a stolen towel, stuffing it in his bag. Because, umm, there's no reason I can come up with that makes sense.

Alabama is giving everyone southern names on the way home. Matt became Cooper. I think I might have been Daisy Sue. Maybe it was Daisy Mae.

Have I been to Alabama? I most certainly have.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

I wish

Sometimes I get writing prompts in my email. Actually, I get them every week. But sometimes I read them. And sometimes I am struck by them enough to write something. It is spring break and the "ten on tuesday" I got was lame (ten ways you celebrate St. Patrick's Day!). But the other email prompt included this.

I wish. But I am:

I wish that I would get my act together all over my life. But I keep striving.

I wish I had been braver earlier. But I am brave now.

I wish I hadn't looked away then. But I am seeing now.

I wish I could adjust to change without scarring myself in the process. But rough edges get ground down each time and I learn something from them.

I wish I could convince myself I'm good enough. Or just enough. But other people see it.

I wish I had better teeth. But I do have good eyes.

I wish I could trust myself each time I need to, before I really have to. But when I do, I find I'm always right to do so.

I wish my room were cleaner. (This one is my fault, yeah).

I wish I could be the best version of my best self, always. But I fall and get back up.

I wish I didn't feel so damned broken all the time. But we all are and saying that out loud is key to connecting.

I wish I found faith a simple thing to do. But when I have those moments, they are powerful.

I wish I could fix all the things. But I can't; perhaps I can heal just this one piece.

I wish I could find what I am seeking. But when I rest from searching, I realize I am already found.

I wish some things were better. But things are I am pretty good the way they are I am.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The author of my life

I got up and did what had to be done. I talked to my invisible boy on Tuesday. He was talking right back to me with his posture, with his hands in fists tight to his side. I didn't even ask any hard questions. Couldn't. He was terrified from the moment I called his name and asked him to stay behind just a second. I asked how things were going. I told him I was thinking about him and wanted to check in because it seemed like things weren't going so well. If he wanted to talk, anytime, he was welcome to. Eighth grade boys come see me and unpack their day sometimes, I told him.
"I'm good," was his only response. He said it 4 or 5 times. Panicked. Looking at me, trying to be brave and then not being able to sustain that, looking down at my feet, at the chalk tray, at the desk. Shifting away from me until there was about 4 feet between the two of us, standing at the board.

I'm good. Oh but baby you are not good. You are telling me that story with your hands.

The rest of the day--I saw him in the hall a couple of times, at lunch, and then at math in the afternoon, whenever I looked over at him, he was looking at me, but quickly looked away.

Those wheels were turning. His world might have actually been spinning.

On Wednesday, third period of the day, I had my class sit and listen to me tell a story from my own life. About loneliness. Because the Jews must have been lonely during the Exile. Taken from their homes and routines and set up against their will in a foreign land. Lots of negative emotions but loneliness had to be one. I talked about moving all the damned time growing up. Getting set up in a life just to be uprooted and taken somewhere else. I told them to write about a time when they were lonely. Or disconnected from friends or family. Or if that was too hard, talk about helping someone who was new or lonely. And at the very least, write me a what-if story about being a refugee or immigrant in a foreign land.

Let me tell ya, I don't think anyone has asked these kids questions like these. Some refused to engage at all, telling me boring stories about what if they moved to Tokyo. Of those who wrote about their lives, about half were about helping a specific new person in their lives--either this year or in 4th grade or kindergarten. Kids who felt for others and reached out. The other half talked about being alone. Some of these kids experience normal loneliness, more akin to boredom, really. And some of them are isolated.

My invisible boy wrote to me about loneliness. Frankly, about being invisible.

And I had to go out for a drink with a friend to try to hash out what to say in response. I wrote him back on Thursday, but we don't have religion on Thursday so all of those books with their heavy words and feeling fermented in my bag another day.

Friday, last class of the day, my topic was betrayal. Talking about Hosea a little bit and his wife who wouldn't stay true to him. But before I talked to them about a teacher who betrayed me and my friends when we went to him with something important, I passed back the booklets.

Invisible boy opened his up to the page. God, he'd been waiting for me to reply for two days. I watched him as he saw that I'd written something, a lot of something, and he held the book almost all the way closed, reading it, so no one else could. He must have felt so exposed and I wanted to help him but I couldn't. He read it, every word, and then shut it, putting it on the desk in front him. I started to read my story.

Sixth grade me and my friends. I'm setting it up, talking about a friend's revelation of abuse and how I went to a teacher, with another friend, to tell him what she'd disclosed. And how he'd responded in the worst way possible: by going to her parents. Suddenly we couldn't be friends anymore and she went to a different school and that was the end of that. Smack. Adults suck. I didn't say that, but sometimes? Wow.

In the middle of the story, when I'm about to start talking about what this did to me, the intercom beeps and I hear the secretary's voice.

I know before she says it. I KNEW BEFORE SHE EVEN SAID HIS NAME THAT SHE WAS GOING TO TAKE HIM AWAY BEFORE HE COULD WRITE BACK. And of course, that's how it goes. I have him drop the little journal into the crate. I keep reading, trying to get the story done. Part of me wants to throw the papers in the air, but I don't because he's not the only person who needs this. He's not.

"Have a good break," I call him by name. He nods without looking at me and tells me bye. And he leaves for ten days. Like some hideous end of a novel with no sequel written yet.

I finished class up and everything was fine and the booklets go in the crate, go in my bag, go home with me to read and respond to.

In the car with Bix that evening, heading out to a pub crawl, which, come on, aren't I too old for a pub crawl? In the car, I say to him:

"There must be some kind of cosmic plan there, you know? Twenty-five students sitting in my room and she calls his name? That's a 4% chance. That's ridiculous. There has to be something to that sort of cliff-hanger. I have to be comfortable with the fact that at least he'd read what I wrote to him and left with that in his head. I have him on the hook now, Bix, and I need to reel him in so carefully."

I pull onto the highway.

"I just made a fishing reference when speaking about teaching," I say out loud as I think it.

"Because this is your year of fishing," he reminds me even though I don't need the reminder.

And that's when I was at peace with it. Fishing:Peter as Teaching:Sally this year. It's the only thing I know to do. And I'm going to go do it.

Cast those damned nets into deep water and you see?

It's never what you think it's going to be.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Purim is coming! Everybody be happy! Seriously!

Purim is coming. In a few weeks, right before Easter, we will celebrate Purim. When I say "we" I of course mean all Jews, but also my Old Testament class. We will learn of Esther's story and how her husband, the king of Persia, did not know she was Jewish, and was also convinced by an antisemitic official to exterminate all the Jews. So then Esther gets all brave and tells the king she's Jewish and in the end, everyone except the antisemitic official (who is executed) lives happily ever after.

The point being, Esther told her secret, one that was too big for her to carry around anymore, and it led to a positive conclusion to the story instead of the death of all her kinsmen.

I was reading about Purim today, thinking about how to make it a bigger deal for my kids than I have in the past.

There are several rabbis I follow on Facebook, which time and again show me how much joy Judaism contains. And today, one of them wrote about Purim.

The book of Esther is the only book of the bible that never mentions God's name.

And this is part of why it's so important.

Passover is a big awesome amazing traumatic deal. God brought down hellfire on the enemies of the ancient Jews, saving them from slavery and drawing them out into freedom. God did this. All of this, Jews believe. Everything from too many frogs clogging the streets up to and including the death of the first born sons of Egypt. God's hand, God's miracles. God.

The book of Esther is about our hands. It is about our work to bring about the kingdom of God. It's about turning on the light and getting down to what is really wrong. It is about being brave and doing it. Using our senses and intuition and hands and everything God gave us and getting it done.

We don't see God's name in the book of Esther because people are doing the work and God is underneath it all.

All our choices to do right. All our challenges and synchronistic moment and every time we say, "oh thank God it happened this way."

And this is why Purim is such a joyful celebration. It is one of the greatest miracles of God because "the ultimate revelation of G-d's power and ever-presence is when He does not have to interfere. This is the meaning of the Megillat Esther--the revelation of hidden-ness. Within the free choice of people, G-d's will and plan are being completely fulfilled, step by step." (Rabbi David Aaron).

Everyday heroes. Ordinary folks. People who speak truth to power. People who bring about change in small consistent powerful ways.

People who listen to their instincts and open themselves up to that small voice.

And then get up and do what needs to be done.

That's God's story for us.

That's why I'm going to celebrate Purim with my 6th graders.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Vulnerability, Feeling, Doubt, Pain, and Trying to Swim

Ok I'm going to say some things here.

I've been kind of drowning.

This current mess started in October and continues to grow.  I've talked about my invisible boy before. I worry and watch and try to see. But recently it's started to solidify for me that there is something wrong. I talk to trusted advisers who get quiet and say, "yes."

He has started staring at me.

And not like I turn around and he smiles and waves at me all goofy kind of staring. Like he's looking through me into my soul kind of staring. I look over at him, and he's looking straight at me and does not look away like normal folks would after a moment of eye contact. I always look away first. It has become unnerving.

Because in addition to staring at me, he gives me nothing. I don't mean "he gives me nothing" like I'm expecting some sort of tribute. I'm a bit of an empath, not in a psychic way, but in a "This is how I encounter the human species" way. I feel my way through and if that doesn't sound like a thing, then it's not a thing for you. It is a thing for me. I can feel you people.

I can tell when folks are bored or sad or angry or happy or excited or manic or flat or any number of things. I don't always act on it, but I often consume it. I bring your mood home to be my mood. This is a maladaptive trait sometimes, but in a classroom it makes me the teacher I am. I can tell, without having to ask, that you do not understand what I'm teaching, because I can feel it. I can tell that you like my lesson today. I know when you are hurting and I need to take it easy on you. I know when your frustration is about to boil over and I can try to alleviate it.

But it's like this one child is staring at me through a television monitor. He isn't actually in the room. Emotionally, I mean.

He is staring at me and he's not there and nobody knows who he is and he's in 6th grade and his former teachers confuse him for another boy with a similar name.

And I fully admit I am not trusting my gut on this one (even though it has been pointed out that I am never wrong--sometimes I don't get a bullseye but I'm always hitting the target). But I'm terrified of making a mistake and one single mistake feels like it will ruin this whole house of cards and he's reaching out to me but WHAT IF I'M TOO EXTRA FOR HIM? WHAT IF HE'S WAITING FOR ME TO DO SOMETHING AND I DO IT WRONG? WHAT IF I AM WRONG AND I SOUND LIKE A FREAK?

WHAT IF I'M RIGHT?

WHAT. IF. I'M. RIGHT.

So this week I've been feeling it build up, the stress of knowing that I don't know, the choking feeling of wanting to do something and being afraid, the soul-killing fear of being right, the pain of all the past everything coming to bear, crushing me into paralysis.

I went and got a tattoo on Thursday. I walked out and felt better for the first time in months.

But I ruined it again on Friday in my religion class, when I talked about a former student of mine who committed suicide. Because we're studying Jeremiah and we read chapter 20 and we talked about feeling betrayed by God. Being tricked. Being angry. I wrote out and then read to them, out loud in the semi-darkness of my classroom, about my student and about his death and about his funeral.

They got the picture. I had them write for 15 minutes about a time they were either angry with God, or if that didn't ring true for them, with a person who had power over them. They wrote. They shared. Most were about when grandma or grandpa died, which was a relief. Some were not. I have work to do this weekend to respond in the best way possible.

And then I went out with a friend Friday night and talked, pretty much non-stop, for 7 hours. The night ended with me in her car leaning on her dashboard sobbing through similar words that I say above. I'm angry that nobody has seen him. I'm afraid he's not going to make it. I'm terrified of what I should do. I'm paralyzed by doubt. It's too much.

She told me to stop asking permission to do what I knew was best. That I was the expert right now. Talk to him. Just. Do. It.

I went home and, once I was able to get to sleep, all my dreams were preludes to a conversation. They were rehearsals.

Except for one. I stood across the street from his house and watched construction work going on. Work that took off the front of his house and put it on a hinge so you could pull it open like an oven door. I could see into all the rooms.

I woke to two feelings:

1. I really needed to go out with her on Friday and be vulnerable and share my pain. I've been walking around, for years, with friends I didn't feel I could do that with. Not and still walk away with any of their respect. I am so relieved and happy that being me was ok? It sounds ridiculous because I am often way more me on my blogs than I am in real life. But I was me last night and I needed to be.

2. I am not drowning anymore. I'm swimming as fast as I fucking can.

In the end, the message probably won't be for me, like I said a couple of days ago. This invisible boy will slip through my fingers and remain invisible, which will kind of permanently etch me as much as Andy permanently etches me every time I walk into that tattoo parlor to have him hurt me on purpose.

But I'm not going to stand in another classroom, ever, for the rest of my life, and think to myself, "what more could I have done? My God, I could have done a lot more."

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The one with Sally talking in too many metaphors

Synchronicity. You know what I mean, right? The Jungian idea that there is meaning in unrelated events. Sort of. Like you are thinking intently of a geographically distant friend one morning and you find out that evening that her mother died around the time you were thinking of her. Maybe it's a thing. Maybe it's not a thing.

Maybe we can go ahead and say it is a thing because what's stopping us? I don't mean magical thinking or superstition that keeps us from making decisions. I'm not talking about "I must paint my living room blue so the fairies will visit" or "It is God's will that I give up my rational thinking for my husband to make all the decisions". I'm not talking about crazy or deluded or giving up free will. I'm just talking about happy, or unhappy, coincidences that make you turn your head and say, "Ok, so that happened. Ok then."

Maybe it's confirmation bias. Sometimes it probably is. I am focused on, say, logarithmic spirals, and suddenly they are everywhere. I'm ruminating on my higher purpose and the bumper sticker on the car in front of me reminds me that God is not mad at me.

But there's this other thing going on in my life of late, not really synchronicity or confirmation bias, but more like the rod cells in my eyes are noticing things the cone cells in my eyes are distracted from by pretty colors all around me. I'm noticing things out of the corner of my eye these days. I'm starting to collect bits and pieces of information that seem, all alone and out of context, just odd bits of flotsam, but when put into a large bucket with all the other bits, are starting to add up to something.

Yes, I'm talking about my classroom.

And yes, that's all I'm going to say about it here.

It's just, it's like I'm tuning into to a radio station. To a numbers station. From Russia. In 1989. Odeen. Dvah. Tri. Chteri. Pyat. Null. 

I'm catching the message midway though.

On an analog radio in a basement.

I don't have a one-time pad to help me decode.

And all I can do is listen, record, watch, and be my best damned version of my best self for the next...rest of my life.

She sat in her classroom. They were all writing. Tell me about a time you felt God in your life, she had prompted them. She was teaching them about Isaiah. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Tell me about the light you see. She'd told them stories of her life. They wrote, and she wrote, too, thinking about the question. Things that have come to pass. Things that might. The words scribbled onto the page in her purple ink and suddenly she was at peace with some things. She looked up into the semi-darkness. They were all still writing.

Friday they will write about Jeremiah.

Eventually the words will work out.

Or they won't.

But I'm ripples in a still pond, baby. I'm a middle school teacher.

I know where my influence ends, and it is related to my field: we are infinite.

I may never crack the code but I'm going to stay tuned in.

Just in case the message is for me.