The Last Day of September

On my bike this morning at 6am, mostly still nightime with a little pink in the distance, mist rising off of the lowering summer ponds, sun rising later than usual, crossing 95/128 to find it not quite up, despite a burning orange horizon. It was 48 degrees when I left, and only 51 by the time I got back home. When I biked past Hanscomb airport, there was a smell in the air of clean cold North wind, like snow. My cheeks and fingers were cold, cold, but the leaves were falling, the sky was a startling blue, and wind brushed the top of the forest.


In the center of all this beauty

So, I've caught Friendster fever; I'm raving with Friendster madness. Here I am. If you read my blog, be my Friendster. There's so much cultural etiquette in the thing, as in every gathering. It's how human-ness pervades and overcomes technology. There are widespread trends, like how single men tend to post photographs of themselves with women. There is a great deal of charm that some people can convey in just a few words and a picture, and you remember how you miss old friends. It's like walking into a party and not knowing anyone but having to explain yourself to vague acquaintances anyway, and then suddenly someone dear from your past grabs your elbow and pulls you aside and smiles at you, and you are relieved and thankful. Then again, you can snub and be snubbed with nearly no effort, people from your past suddenly populate your present, and there is a lot of taking-oneself-very-seriously while trying to appear as though one is doing the exact opposite. It's exactly why I never moved to New York. And here I am. Come join me.

I feel distressed lately. Yesterday the sky was a perfect blue, and I watched the sun rise over 128/95 as I biked across an overpass on my 31-mile ride before work. The orange glow was nearly blinding, and was so later on, too, as it shone across Cambridge's brick sidewalks in the afternoon and as it slid off the soccer field near our house where Blue was flying his radio-controlled airplane after dinner. And despite this, and the visit to the puppies and the ridiculousness of Battlefield Earth on TV and three black kittens swatting at me through their cage in the pet store, I still felt mildly irked. Every weekend in October is currently booked, Thanksgiving and Christmas hang in the air like big question marks, our wedding has yet to be planned and paid for, and worse, I haven't finished my current writing project. My poetry class begins this Tuesday, and "ready" is not quite the word I'd use to describe myself. If I could just finish/publish my children's book, I think things might feel much better. On the other hand, maybe this is just the way things going to be for a while. And I can handle that. I mean, the honest truth is that things have never actually been this good. Things are very, extremely, seriously good. Scarily good.

Time to start reading How to Stop Worrying and Start Living again. Yawn. (Just as soon as I finish Al Franken's outstanding Lies and the Lying Liars That Tell Them, which I can never recommend enough.)


P.S. Reasons to like Minnesota
Tough woman meets tough black bear, via blog of Dave Berry.

Chicago was a whirlwind, capped off by a $40 cabride home from the airport last night ($40! What has happened to this city?). There was plenty of fun to be had, and one immense challenge which has left me wanting a hotel room very much in the future: how do you sleep in a small house *with no doors* when one member of the household awakens at 4:30 or 5? Turns out I can't.

The wedding reception was great fun, lots of meeting people and dancing and laughing, eating and drinking. They had lots of good wedding-party ideas, all now firmly committed to The Notebook. I felt very welcome, especially good given that I only knew two people there and it was a tight-knit group. Every odd or intriguing person seemed to be drawn to our table, which was particularly fun. I had a great time being overly analytical between drinks.

Before this, I attended my first Catholic wedding ceremony, a full hour including a bonus Mass. I was surprised at the amount of ritual, and to be honest, I was also suprised at how little of the ceremony seemed to relate to what marriage is (or appears to be). Genesis was read (the bit where the woman is the man's rib), the couple was told how their love will persevere if they just believe in god, and how they are now one body (not actually true!). I thought that at the least all the kneeling and standing and praying would make them feel *extra* married...that is, the ritual ensures that everyone knows it really happened. But then I remembered that when I got engaged, the whole world changed. And we didn't really have that much ritual. He just asked me. I think even without the ring, I would feel pretty damn engaged. It's pretty major. Not what you might call easy to ignore.

But still, the ritual has its own pull. Blue was torn about not running through the motions, but he held back from taking communion. Later, his parents asked him if we'd have a minister preside at our wedding, to which he said something along the lines of "No." Later, his mom said that he must still have a part of him that responds to the Catholic institution. He does; I've seen it. But not in the way she means. The ritual seems to work its way into your blood. I actually believe the institution is capable of drilling the spirituality right out of you. I understand how ritual can make meaning, but for some it seems to drain action of meaning.

Still, we realized that night that we may face previously unforeseen religious issues. I thought our biggest spiritual hurdle was that he doesn't believe in ghosts, but, in fact, he can't imagine going to Christmas mass with his family and not participating. This would leave me sitting alone. It's strange to have been raised as a permanent outsider, but I guess I'm used to it, and indeed, I expect those close to me to join me. I think it's not nearly as lonely out here as it is when you are stuck in the middle of the mainstream. But I guess relationships have to accomodate the truth of two bodies, not one.


Windy City

As long as we can make it through the hurricane and threats of terrorism, we'll be dining tonight with my future in-laws. Though it all makes me nervous, I have to admit that it feels right to finally call them that. The quirks and demands of my relationship with them are somehow of a classic in-law nature, all the territorial instincts and desire for approval and simultaneous acceptions and rejections. It's been too intense and serious to just be the secondary aspect of a passing attachment. In an expanded sense, after two years of being intensely involved in the perimeter of their family, I feel kind of like I belong. I belong as an outsider, but still. An outsider who sticks around. That's something.

There's a big wedding on Saturday; I expect to make thorough notes afterward in our wedding notebook (which from here on in should really be known simply as "The Notebook"). Maybe I should add a "What Not to Do" tab, just in case. Hey, I'm sure it will be lovely, but ever since the engagement I've been hearing lots and lots of Bad Wedding stories from former guests of wretched ceremonies.

I enjoyed this interview in today's Salon with novelist Mark Salzman, who taught creative writing in juvenile hall for four years, and loved it, despite his status as a fish out of water: "Let's face it, do I have any street cred? I was brought up in a leafy suburb in Connecticut."

Also, yay for Clark, huh? My dad recently mentioned the possibility that it wouldn't be beyond the Bush administration's desire or capability to postpone the elections. And as extreme as that sounds, it is not as outrageous as what they have already gotten away with. We talked about the idea at work this morning, and agreed that was there to be, say, some kind of terrorist attack or natural disaster or the like, it could happen. Perhaps there might be an aggressive stance backed by the rationale that Bush "has" to stay in power? Look, they are scary people. Who knows what could happen? It just seems like a good idea to have someone authoritative around....someone who was formerly titled "Supreme Allied Commander." Check out last Friday's letter by Michael Moore, asking Clark to join the race. "That is what we have needed for a long time on our side -- guts. I am sure there are things you and I don't see eye to eye on, but now is the time for all good people from the far left to the middle of the road to bury the damn hatchet and get together behind someone who is not only good on the issues but can beat George W. Bush."


Miscellanous Details, and the Miscellanous Detailers Who Detail Them

After a brief flirtation, I have finally committed to Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. After reading the excellent chapter "Ann Coulter: Nutcase," I have come to see that the FOX News lawsuit against Franken for using "Fair and Balanced" is even more of a scream than I realized. Of course they have to protect that slogan; it's the only thing they have that suggests they could possibly be fair and balanced. Franken seems to be delivering my favorite kind of critique: the "Look here. Now look here. See the indisputable evidence?" technique. He reprints a paragraph of Coulter's in which she makes an explicit claim that the New York Times is elitist, then reprints a small view of the entire front page to which she refers. She indeed lied. It's not a matter of judgment or partisanship; she simply said that the Times did not do a front-page story on racecar driver Dale Earnhardt until 2 days after his death, when in fact the story made it onto the front page the morning after it happened. See? Very clear case. And there seem to be enough of these clear cases to fill an entire book. Not to mention that he is a very funny writer. Bravo to Al, I say. I hope he comes on board with my organization. Which I am continuing to love, by the way. Gush. Gush.

My future mother-in-law sent us a humorous book on weddings. Normally I don't like humorous books on weddings, but I did like the distinction this author made between getting married and getting weddinged. It's only been a week and a half, but as I said in the previous post, I now have a wedding notebook. Remember that I have always wanted to get married outside, in a cotton summer dress in some beautiful color. Surrounded by wildflowers. With food made by my mom. And a friend to officiate. The dream persists. It is tough, and will not die easily. But what if we WERE married on Cape Cod and I DID wear one of those white dresses? That could be fun. Isn't this what savings accounts are to be emptied for??? Who cares about educational debt! Agh! Agh!

God, my poor computer has two backdoor Trojan viruses, which means that my computer gets attacked several times a day. Thank god for my Norton firewall, but too bad I didn't put it in earlier! If anyone reading this has ever heard of a successful way to get rid of these things, could you drop me an email? I've tried a lot of things, but here's hoping I haven't tried everything.



We drive around the rural New England suburbs, checking fields and rivers and the like for nice wedding spots. "The tent could go here," says Blue, pointing to the left of a large patch of poison ivy. "We could stand here" I say, pointing to the base of a cluster of pine trees. A newborn garter snake slithers across the grass under my toes. Blue picks it up. It curls its tail underneath its large head, and looks up at us with the same big eyes every baby seems to have. We pet it and let it go into the brush. In Maynard, where renovated brick factory buildings hug broad blue rivers, we sit on a bench. Blue becomes distracted by a bumble bee as I write up a guest list.

Yesterday my godson finally arrived home after spending three months in New Mexico. I met them at the airport, and though I assumed he wouldn't remember me (being only 1 year & 1 month now), he did. And now that he can say "hi," he's even more fun than ever. I walked him around, or I should say, he walked me around, leading me by the hands as he toddled manically in circles, occasionally stopping to look up at me, beam, giggle, and then say, "Hi!" What can you say to that? "Hi!" Sigh. I see him again tonight, along with his mother, who I've missed very much. She has already suggested we put him in a tutu and have him throw flower petals at the wedding. This just may happen.

I have a wedding notebook now, with tabs like "Decorations" and "Locations" and "Food." Ha! It seems so utterly strange, and to those of you who actually know me and are shaking their heads thinking that perhaps I've lost mine, all I can say is, this will happen to you too, someday.

Tomorrow night, if you're in the area: Jhumpa Lahiri reads in Cambridge.



It's amazing how different engagement is for a woman than for a man. I think it might have something to do with the fact that I wear a ring on my finger, whereas the man does not. I cannot forget that things are different; after all, my hand feels different. And people notice it. "Let me see your ring," they say, and then they glance at it in meetings or on the bus and you almost want to cover it, represent yourself again and not two people, but in fact, you do represent another person, and you feel proud to do so. He, however, can walk around and not be asked. Maybe for half an hour, he even thinks of something else.

Yesterday, our third day of being engaged, he worked. I worked too, but after work, I sent email inquiries to possible locations, discussed the logistical possibilities with women who have good ideas, and I talked about food, the dress, the date and the invitations with my mom and friends. I don't think anyone has even asked him about the logistics, other than the date. It's a fast turn over from one minute to the next; you are reeling with the great gift, the honest question of marriage, the sudden power of your future, the truth of your feelings. And around you, gentle voices are suggesting ideas for party favors, tent prices, catering venues. You say, "I just want to get married outside." But there is so much more to this than that.

I felt, yesterday, as though I were walking into the mouth of a dragon. The dragon was the rest of my life, tangible for the first time. Like I had woken up. I can't stand the "I feel like a whole person now" crap that women sometimes say about being in happy relationships, since I was single for a long time and was certainly a very whole person then. But, it's true that this is something very odd, very different than I've ever experienced before. As my dear, wise mom pointed out, you move through life believing that you didn't ask to be born, that you make the best of what comes to you, that while you can direct what's around you, anything can and does happen, and you have very limited control. It's not that this is no longer true, but for the first time, I am making a directed choice. I am actively shaping my life now in a way I have never done. It is a phenomenal moment, one that unseats every other fixed thing in my life. It pushes nothing out, but cloaks it all with direction, sincerity and consequence. "For the first time," said my mom, "you have great responsibility."


Simple Words

I heard, on Saturday, the most simple words, the most beautiful I know; they were a profound gift. And ever since, my thoughts have been everywhere, considering everything, jubilant, scared, all of it, but mostly just the deepness of my love. On September 6, on the edge of a big lake in Western Massachusetts, I became engaged to the love of my life. We plan to be married next summer. I feel so extraordinarily lucky.

From Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac:

It was on this day in 1952 that Ernest Hemingway came out with his last novel, The Old Man and the Sea. After he published his first two novels, The Sun Also Rises (1926) and A Farewell to Arms (1929), he was considered the best living American writer, and he was probably the most famous writer in the world. But he began to write less and less fiction in the 1930s. He went on long hunting and fishing expeditions. He became an intrepid journalist, covering the civil war in Spain. He moved to Cuba and organized a private spy network to uncover Nazi sympathizers. He patrolled the Gulf of Mexico in his fishing boat, looking for Nazi submarines, though he didn't find any. He covered the invasion of Normandy on D-Day and the liberation of Paris, and he was one of the only armed journalists fighting alongside the other soldiers. After participating in the war, he had a hard time getting back to writing. He said, "[It's] as though you had heard so much loud music you couldn't hear anything played delicately." He finally published his first novel in 10 years in 1950, Across the River and Into the Trees, about World War II. It got terrible reviews. Critics said that maybe he was overrated as a writer. Journalists started contacting him, asking to write his biography, as though he were already dead. Hemingway had been working on a long novel that he called The Sea Book, about different aspects of the sea. He got the idea for it while looking for submarines in his fishing boat. The book had three sections, which he called "The Sea When Young," "The Sea When Absent," and "The Sea in Being," and it had an epilogue about an old fisherman. He wrote more than 800 pages of The Sea Book and rewrote them more than a hundred times, but the book still didn't seem finished. Finally, he decided to publish just the epilogue about the old fisherman, which he called The Old Man and the Sea. He knewthat the book was almost too short to be a novel, but he was tired of not publishing anything. The Old Man and the Sea won the Pulitzer Prize, and two years later Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He didn't publish another novel in his lifetime.


Writers to hate

I enjoyed today's Salon article on hating writer Nell Freudenberger for being too pretty, too fortunate, too young, and too famous. Her first book, Lucky Girls, comes out this week. The article's author, a young woman Nell's age (28), is a writer herself. This is established early on in the article when she refers to having been a student in the Iowa Writer's Program, which seems to exist just to give me a complex. Somehow Iowa legitimizes you as a writer in ways that just writing all the time simply cannot. Of course, without a published book, you can't begin to compete with that establishment, but I suspect that the quest for legitimization is always there, even among people with numerous publications. Maybe the literati is just there to make you insecure.

Then again, maybe I shouldn't blame others for feeling a little insecure. Jhumpa Lahiri, who won the Pulitzer for Interpreter of Maladies when she was in her early thirties, seemed brilliant to me until I saw how beautiful she was. Then I didn't like her anymore. Just kidding. Not really. Still, I can't wait to hear her talk when she reads at a nearby church this month. I never get tired of hearing how it's done. And I like it when beautiful young women win Pulitzers. It's good for everyone. And Lahiri didn't even go to Iowa!


The commute

You know what not to do? Blow dry hair, apply mascara, then bike to work in the rain. Now, I don't recommend staying off the bike, as biking in the rain has its charms, as does changing into your non-wet work clothes in the bathroom of Dunkin' Donuts. But perhaps, that morning, the elaborate drying of hair, the careful application of dark-colored, smudgeable makeup, are not what we need. Not what we recommend. No.

I didn't mention one crucial ingredient about my long happy weekend: the frequency of baby animals. I have become one of those women who likes baby animals of all kinds, and I can't help it. I secretly want a baby animal calendar, and baby animal posters, because honestly, just seeing them makes me a happier person. I don't know why and I can't help it. It's not very alterna or very feminist or anything else, but there it is. I'm a young woman, my clock has been ticking extra-loud for a good five years now, and in between bouts of vigorous reminding of the boyfriend of how many babies it might be good to have, we make visits to the local pet store (which is very humane to its puppies, by the way), where we played with heaps of happy puppies of all kinds. And a nearby farm, where we saw two twin goats who were maybe one or two weeks old. I nearly died. They are very short. And they cry so loud. But their ears are so tiny!

On to a serious topic, for god's sake. My dear thoughtful friend (some)Bonnie always posts intriguing quotes, and her latest is this:

"I'd rather vote for something I want and not get it than vote for something I don't want, and get it."

- Eugene V. Debs

I admire idealistic voters; many of my friends thought this way, at least before the last election, when lots of them voted for Nader and regretted it later, although I wish they wouldn't feel that regret. As far as I am concerned, an honestly democratic society desperately needs these people. We need people who believe in what they are voting for, and vote with their heart. I, however, am not one of these people. I am a pragmatic voter who votes to get the Republican out of office. I don't even care that much about the candidates at this stage; will it be Dean who can do it? Then I'll vote for Dean. Even if I would secretly love to see Carol Moseley Braun win. Just call me the anti-Debs. But I'm so grateful for the idealists. I think we have room for both kinds of voters, and sometimes, I think, the dreamers win.

Not in 2004, though. Discuss amongst yourselves! Especially tonight, as you watch the first debate among the democratic candidates (on from 8-9:30 on WGBH in Boston). Enjoy that bottle of Sharpton & Dean!


Happy Days

The words "long weekend" hold new meaning for me. During this past weekend, each day was long, in the best way. You sleep in, you watch a matinee, you cuddle up on the couch, re-pot the plants, and yet when you think to look at the clock, you find it's only 2pm. Each minute crawled by in luxury, utterly slowly, stepping carefully across what's normally mildly frenetic. Being sick actually helped, I think. No bikerides, no long walks, no need to drain your energy. No need not to lay around. How glorious. All of it: the new Astroturf Peaches laid down in the attic, his greasy lesson on changing one's bike tire, the talk with the new bride, even the Texas shotglass ground into the sink disposal. The moment when I walked into the garden store to buy 4-inch herb plants and she said, "If you want to rescue them, take as many as you want for free," which is how we ended up at Home Depot last night buying window boxes for my new fields of regular mint, peppermint, spearmint, candy mint, old fashioned mint, and parsley, of course, two kinds.

Because of the rain, I walked into work this morning, a brisk 45-minute walk, and got wet, but stayed happy.


Change in seasons

My referral logs show an increasing amount of people arrive here by running searches for "crawlspace"....and even one recently for "crawlspace mold pictures," which I thought sounded exciting. It's gotten to the point where I've begun to wonder if there is a new movie titled Crawlspace...or maybe just a new wave of citizens seeking out small spaces in the nooks and crannies of their attics and basements. Viva the crawlspace revolution, I say!

I really love this time of year. As somebonnie points out [Aug 30], for Boston, September 1st means streets clogged with moving trucks as students pour back into the city. Even now, in fact, I'm passing the time until I can help a friend move (UHaul seems to be holding his truck hostage). But it is also when the tide turns in New England, and the warm ocean days give way to brilliant blue skies and trees that burn with color. Though I want to visit and even live in other places, I do frequently catch myself wondering why anyone would ever seriously consider living anywhere other than Vermont, Maine, or Massachusetts. Every year at this time, I experience a powerful longing for Western Mass., where I attended college. This seems silly, since I returned to school in the fall for only four years, and it has been well over four years since I stopped.

But I think I feel such a powerful sensation because that was when I fell in love with New England. Every year for four years, in the beginning of September, I would return to the Pioneer Valley and like clockwork, everything would be sane and simple again, clear-cut and interesting. I would live with people, learn from people, walk in the woods alone, and have the time and space to smell the turning ground, the new apples, the winding creeks, the leaf-ripped wind.


We watched Solaris last night. My man, a scientist, loves sci-fi, and was due a movie of his choice after a weekend of girl-oriented movies (Swimming Pool, Personal Velocity). I was surprised to find it very beautiful, well-acted, resonant and moving. "The person who wrote that really knew what it was like to be in love," I tell him afterwards. "And what it would be like to lose someone," he says. "But to be in love IS to know what it could be like to lose someone," I respond, and he nods, trying to understand what I'm saying. "To know what it's like to need someone who is mortal." And suddenly I am steeped in the pain of loss. And loss is not just about being in love, but springs from feeling a depth of care and need for anyone. Beyond the act of taking pleasure in a person, there is a simple trust, a trust that comes with having living beings nearby, standing like anchors in high seas, always ensuring that you stay unaware of death.

But I felt the loss of others last night, like an opening of the curtain; the numbed fear of an adolescent boyfriend when he tried to overdose on painkillers. Worse, I remember children who lost parents in car accidents, and my own shuddering, thundering car accident at 18. One line in Solaris: "I was haunted by the idea that I could not remember her correctly, by the fear that I was wrong." But ultimately, the man who utters these words about his dead wife had always "remembered her wrong," had never quite seen what she really was, even when she was right there, alive in his arms. And that is almost a worse kind of death, a daily death, which is why, my dears, we must always look as hard as we can at the life around us.