Thursday, August 29, 2013

The flight path.

Recently, I realized that we live pretty much directly under a flight path for Salt Lake International Airport. I realized this, because I spent much more time outside, a lot of it looking up, evidently, especially in the mornings and the evenings.

This reminds me of the time a few years ago, when I made an unfortunate wrong-airport ticket purchase on my way back to American from Scotland. This error necessitated the hiring of a driver to take me from Gatwick to Heathrow, which, by the way, is not as simple as it sounds. Pro tip: don't do that. I did, however, get this benefit: the driver, who knew the back roads of that small city, Heathrow, like a native, showed me how the planes stacked up, waiting to land. Even in the sick winter haze, I could see more than ten planes in the air, lined up, waiting waiting waiting for the signal to land.

This evening on my walk, I saw as many as four planes in a holding pattern, right above me. If we lived a few miles further north, it would be awful--so much noise and so constant--but where we are, we can see the planes clearly without too much engine roar. Holding holding holding, then each in its turn, surging forward. Then the next one, and the next.

Holding, holding, holding. Then the next, and the next, and the next.

I won't spell it out for you--that would be gauche--but this is a metaphor.

Well, hello. For better or for worse, I'm back.

Friday, August 23, 2013

In which I am interpellated by a state apparatus.

I'm discussing the D.M.V., of course.

The people, in seven days it will be my birthday. I'm telling you know so you can start to compose your wittiest birthday wishes for Facebook. Or in person, whichever. Actually, I'm only mentioning my birthday (in seven days) because I'm hoping someone will bring me a cupcake.

NO. In point of fact, I am only mentioning my birthday, which is in one week, because I'm reminding you that I had to renew my driver's license.

Which can send a person into a tailspin, if you ask me, what with the whole memento mori aspect of it all. Yep, you're getting older, tempus fugit, too bad that your diem hath already been carpe'd and soon you're going to die. But not before you have to go to the D.M.V.

Luckily, I have a friend who is extremely in the know, who told me, when I was moaning in this fashion about this very topic last week (on Facebook), that you could make an appointment at the D.M.V.! And it would be super speedy, snappy, and relatively pain free.

Well! I got on the internet and found the fake Driver License website, and then discerned that it was fake when its information was patently archaic, whereupon I found the one true Driver License website. Whereupon I made an appointment and filled out my paperwork online. Whee! Then all that remained was to locate and assemble all the billion documents you need to demonstrate that you are a real person who really is a citizen (or not) and who lives here, in Utah, really, and also that you are not a fake person who just wants to while away her days in the D.M.V. in the hope that she will acquire a Driver License, I guess.

Luckily--and this is huge!--I only had to look five places for the folder that I labed "DOCUMENTS" many many years ago. A folder is one thing, but the real question--I hope you're feeling the suspense--is whether the DOCUMENTS folder had, in all actuality, any documents therein. But it did! I only looked five places--four of them file drawers--found the folder, looked in the folder, and therein I found, and to wit:
  • a certified copy of my birth certificate, speaking of memento mori
  • a copy of my Social Security card 
If I had needed to, I'm certain I could have rustled up my passport. But I didn't need to, according to the instructions on the website, which were clear-ish on this topic. Even so, I brought a recent bank statement, just in case.

So here's how it goes: you walk into the D.M.V. with your documents in your hand. (You will already have wrestled with yourself about whether you will wear and/or display your reading glasses, which you do not wear to drive--you will conclude that honesty is the best policy, you don't after all wear them to drive, but you do in fact need them to read.) You scan the room and find the sign that says:

If you have an appointment, 
check in here.

 So you'll walk over and check in. They will then send you to the woman who takes the pictures. She will persuse your documents and stamp them and instruct you to sit in the chair, then look at the camera. "You'll see a flash," she says, helpfully. Which you will. She'll give you a number and you'll go wait in a chair for about 90 seconds before they call your number.

You'll talk to the guy and he'll be extra friendly. "Delaware," he'll offer, as a conversation starter. "The only state we see less than Delaware is Rhode Island."You'll chat about this, and then about the reading glasses, and then you'll take the eye test, which you may actually have dreamed about the night before. You'll lean your head against the machine, which will light up the screen. Yeah, you'll think, those letters on the left side are kind of ... flickery? Then you'll realize that you can't fidget. Your head has to lean up against the machine with steady pressure. Once you realize this, the letters on the left will swim into place, and you'll read the letters on the top row like a boss. Or well enough, anyway, because you'll get the license.

The guy will print out your temporary license. He'll punch a hole in your old one. You'll look at your new picture and reflect that you look simultaneously exhausted, truculent, startled, and--inescapably--older.

And this will temper your sense of triumph that you're walking out of the D.M.V. precisely ten minutes after you walked in.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Megastore Recommends: Back-to-School Edition.

Serious Professor. From A Serious Man. 
1. Start slow. Let me ask you, Professor So Serious: why are you in such a hurry? Are you afraid the kids won't think you're serious if you don't scare the bejesus out of them the very first day by having a rigorous, killer discussion and also throwing your professorial weight around, already? Hey, Professor: leave them kids alone, and while you're at it, cut yourself a break too. Is it not August? Is it not, therefore, still summer, if only the last remainder? So go in there, meet the kids, point them in the direction of a syllabus, do a couple of magic tricks, crack a joke, and hightail it outta there. They'll be all, my professor is chill. And you are: you are chill. You're chillin' with a couple of minutes to spare, because you took my advice. You started slow.

[parenthetical note: does the above recommendation make my ass look lazy?]

The Answer.
2. Sandwich. Is the answer to pretty much all the questions on the first day of class. For instance:

On the first day of class, what should I have for lunch? Why, a sandwich.

When will class be over? Just in time to go grab a sandwich.

Where shall I eat my sandwich? On the patio. Near the cafeteria. Where they make the sandwiches.
Do I need to buy the textbook--are you really going to use it? or can I just scam off the class discussions? I don't like your attitude, but I'll feel better after I eat a sandwich.

3. Keep an outfit in reserve. "What shall I wear for the first day?" I asked the historian last night. "Comfortable shoes," he said, sensibly, although not entirely helpfully. (see #4 below for more on this point.) Shoes are important, but what about the clothes? Like every college professor in the land--okay, community college professor in the land--I have been stocking up on teaching outfits since before the weather got hot, so there is truly no shortage of possibilities. But it's August, am I
Or I could just wear this.
right? And thus it is still summer, if only the last remainder, so that means sweaters are for suckers. Ditto boots. Ditto anything that touches the body, basically. So the possibilities are not actually all that robust. As I considered the question, I recognized how I had been wearing, literally, the same four things all summer long, and my outfit assembling skills were thus a little rusty.

I'm sure you know what that means: black. Yes, I took the coward's way out and wore a black skirt, a black shirt, and black shoes. I tried to make up for it with badass accessories, but I'm not sure that the message came across--I might have been too busy contemplating the sandwich I was soon to eat when class was over to convey any simmering badassery.

Anyway, the point is this: even if my outfit today was a little predictable, I still have outfits in reserve. I have backup outfits. Today, I was perfectly presentable and pulled together, and I still have outfits yet untold. Outfits yet to be imagined! It's a good feeling, the people, a good feeling indeed.

The Lord help us if it comes to this.
4. Comfortable shoes, or shoes that live in the neighborhood of comfort. Recently, I have declared to many, many people that I will wear no more uncomfortable shoes forever. This is nonsense, of course, because I have so many, many shoes that are not comfortable. I am parting with them, one two three pairs at a time. (Pro tip: if you're in the "getting rid of uncomfortable shoes" game, I suggest wearing the shoes first, since the actual sense memory of how your feet feel just after you've worn them is a direct motivator.)

Anyway: on the first day of classes, you've got your walk in from the parking lot, schlepping your stuff. You've got your walk up the stairs. You've got your walk to class, you've got your walk back to your office, you've got your walk across the quad to get your sandwich. Your walk back, your walk to the car, etc. That's a lot of walking, Professor Fancy Shoes. So get real, and pack a pair of super comfortable shoes in your bag. You can put them on once you're done with the part of your day that calls for Fancy. That's what I did, and I call it genius.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The reminder.

Writing is hard. That's first.

The whole "everything you do is writing" notion notwithstanding, which I respect and honor, the actual sitting down to make a draft: hard.

Writing that draft can make you feel stupid. Stupid and stupider. Over and over again, for your whole life.

(Why do I do this, again?)

Yesterday, I finally plunged in, with all the brave bravery in my quiver of braveness, to wring a poem out of some notes that, truth be told, had been sitting around on their lazy, complacent asses all summer. "Notes," I said, "I will make a draft out of you or know the reason why!"

The notes did not even bestir themselves to look attentive. They were all, big talk for a person who hasn't written a poem in weeks. And they had a point, but I would not stand for that insolence. No! that insolence would not stand!

I disentangled a note, one with a small turn-of-phrase-of-possibility, from its slothful compatriots. I reorganized its syllables. I broke it in two, the better to form lines out of it. There, I said. A beginning.
Then did the same with another note. I discerned a form in the offing. Encouraged, I went with it: I constructed a whole draft out of two mangled notes and a nascent form.


I went to bed on the draft with this thought: I could reorganize the two settings and sort this from that, I could make it into longer stanzas instead of couplets. I thought, I'll work on it in the morning.

So I did. I checked out the entire internets and ate my breakfast (did I neglect to mention that I made a splendid dinner and cherry clafoutis last night? this is one of the side benefits of writing horrible drafts: inspiring dinners, with leftover cherry clafoutis for breakfast!). I re-investigated the entire internets to see if I might have missed something important. I forwarded a New York Times article to the historian and my oldest friend. Then I trailed, all summer and smoke--no, seriously, those fires to the east and the west are making my throat hurt and my eyes water--into my study, sat down in my big chair, and opened my draft.

I had to consider that my draft might, at this point, have the upper hand. What with its form and all. And its sheer presence.

But I opened another document, and started to sort this from that, to reorganize the two settings, to make longer stanzas.

And now I have a new draft.

So that's the second part: even a horrible first draft, wrested from indolent notes and bad formal experiments, can turn into a better second draft, as long as you're willing to let smoke, summer, weird dreams, roasted garlic and broccoli pasta with pecorino, cherry clafoutis, the entire internets, and your own sense of control (have you lost the header of this clause? Me too!)--as long as you're willing to let all of the above intervene.

Writing lesson out.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Oh, hello there.

Today I was at Whole Foods buying overpriced, well, everything. Happily, because there's nothing I like better, frankly. Not the overpriced-ness of it all, but the Whole Foods-ness of it all. What can I say? I just like the aroma of virtue all up in there. The eggs. The sugar. The super-expensive vanilla paste. Happy happy happy.

Not my point, however. My point is this: I got to the cashier, loaded my precious commodities onto the conveyer belt, got the total and wrote a check (hi! I'm old.), whipped out my driver's license before the cashier could even ask for it, and then I heard, faintly, as I was putting my pen back in my purse, a voice say, "This is about to expire."

I was all, now what's that? and thought maybe that was some other cashier speaking to some other patron, the way you think, are you talking to ME? when you hear honking nearby when you're driving. I looked up at him. He had my driver's license between his thumb and finger, ready for me to pluck and stow. And I was all, Right. Dammit.

Because he's right: my driver's license is about to expire. Like, at the end of the month. When it is my birthday.

This set in motion a series of mental events:

1. Where is that stuff the D.M.V. mailed me three months ago?
2. Probably in my study.
3. --but where in my study, exactly?
4. Wait: do I have to take a test? Because I don't want to be taking no test.
5. Eeek, what about an eye test!?
6. What should I wear? The last time I got my license renewed, I had new badass boots. What now? What outfit and/or accoutrements will protect me in my hour of need?

...and so forth. 

Like the rest of America, I dread the D.M.V., the people. I'm pretty sure you know the reasons why:

1. crowded.
2. stressful.
3. possible failure putting a critical American survival ability in doubt.
4. what if my eyes have crossed over from just needing reading glasses to needing actual glasses? and I didn't even realize it?

...and so forth.

Well, onward. At least I got some work done today before the bureaucratic state intervened to loom all over my happy bourgeois activities. Leave me alone, bureaucratic state, while I make a frittata and sulk!

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Best ever hat trick.

Today started out kind of low-key. Because of a late-ish evening last night, wherein I lingered at my book group to chat with my friends, and then watched an episode of Justified, then chatted with the historian about our respective days, and took Bruiser for a walk, and look at that, it was 1 a.m.!, I did not quite finish a little chore for today's course redesign. So I got up and did it lickety split in the morning, then sauntered off to the redesign meeting.

Which was fine. Productive, as these things go.

Then I had a long overdue lunch with my friend, and after that, wandered around Target and was not overly impressed with anything. Sure, I could buy a mulberry lipstick. But I'm pretty sure I have, like, five of them already. Ditto everything else in Target. So I went home--

--and proceeded to conduct one of the very best naps of all time. I was reading some more of Beautiful Ruins, which I was supposed to have finished for my book group last night, but had not. It was good. It was great, and then I was sleepy. I took off my reading glasses and marked my place and fell asleep in an overcast afternoon that was so delicious that it, the nap, lasted for almost two hours.

Two hours is kind of a long nap, if you ask me. It's a possible sleeping-at-night disrupter. I woke up and thought two things:

a., Whoa. Long nap. How'd that happen?


2. I need to go to the store and get a watermelon, stat.

I hollered down the stairs to my youngest son to see if he wanted to come to the store with me, in case he had special food shopping needs, such as: buy tortilla chips, and while we're on that subject, buy tortillas, etc. Yes, he did want to come. So we moseyed on over to Macey's and grabbed a cart and discussed this and that while buying

a. a sugar doughnut
b. ciabatta rolls
c. fresh mozzarella (for caprese sandwiches)
d. tortilla chips
e. auxiliary chips of the potato variety
f. toilet paper
g. a bottle of Coke for the historian
h. Perrier for me, because I am fancy like that.
i. tortillas.
j. we almost forgot the ice! but didn't! and then
k., the best watermelon of the summer so far!

My personal superpower, if you want to know, is the ability to choose a watermelon that is not mushy but is sweet. So far this summer, my record is good but not perfect, because the watermelons, while not mushy, have not been quite as sweet as one might like, especially if one's superpower is watermelon selection. But this watermelon! I cut up half of it, ate some, and then scooped what was left in the rind, then scooped some more, and drank the juice. And so forth. And then had more for dinner. BAM the best watermelon ever! (this summer.)

And now, finally, I am duty bound to report that a couple of days ago, I bought a pair of jeans that should go into the jeans Hall of Fame. I am wearing them right now, while I write this blog post. I bought them at the Gap Factory store in Park City. They are a camo print, but dark navy and gray and black. You have to get up close to see their camo bona fides. They are skinny but not super skinny. They are fantastic. Seriously: you would not believe it. And comfortable, which only burnishes their Hall of Fame credentials.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Notes from underground.

It's August. Even though I think of August--always have--as still high summer, you can see the end in sight. I have made a note on my little calendar, counting down to school, that says, "*start preparing." That note is more than a week away. School starting is two weeks away. I am putting things off. I am trying to make these days last.

I have, without exactly saying so, made quiet the object of my seeking. Without exactly acknowledging it, I have been unfolding, letting my mind wander. I think that's what the morning out in the backyard is about. This morning I listened to the traffic beyond the field, and a rooster that was crowing rather late, and the breeze, and the wind chimes. That's noise, but it didn't feel noisy. It felt still. Whatever business it contained was far away from me.

My son, the youngest, is leaving for China in a few weeks. "Twenty days," he says, precisely. He'll be there a year, and maybe longer. Without making a big deal about it, I want to be around to help with whatever would be helpful, but also just to appreciate the house, our household, with him in it. The flux of his friends coming and going. The chance to go to a movie or eat something together. I felt the same way about my older son moving to Tempe for grad school. Not that I was crucial to any part of their plans, but I wanted to be there to help, and to have the occasions to be with them. I count it one of the best parts of this summer that I could go with them to Arizona, to help get them moved in and to see their new place, the start of their new life. How lucky that was, to be able to do that.

When I think of this summer, I will remember that we went to Scotland and spent two wonderful weeks there. This is the summer I listened to Daft Punk almost all summer, on and off, in Scotland and England, here and in Arizona. This is the summer I visited my oldest friend in Sonoma County. This is the summer I drove to Arizona with my son and his family and my youngest son as well. This is the summer I watched The Killing and Top of the Lake and Justified. This is the summer I read The Woman Upstairs and Ender's Game. This is the summer I spent time with most of my children and grandchildren. This summer, I spent time with my friends, did some writing, kept quiet time nearly every day.

Between now and when I go back to work, I hope to work on my second manuscript, write a poem or two, and make a couple of video projects. I want to buy and eat more watermelons. I have been eating the most wonderful strawberries from the farmer's market--I hope there are more of those. I want to make a pie, and preferably more than one pie. I hope to sit on my porch every morning and dream a little. I like spending time watching Justified with the historian, and I hope to do more of that. I don't see any reason not to think of these last summer days as infinitely elastic: I want them to extend and expand to contain all the beautiful morning and evening light, the little gray bird that landed on a branch of the cherry tree this morning, the wind sifting in the chimes, the drift of my thought, the culmination of my efforts, and the steady hand of quiet that has sustained and held me all these weeks.


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