March 31, 2011

Gogyohka-Thursday [29]

I fear I'll wake

and find this happiness

a dream- but my dreams

have never been

this happy

March 29, 2011

There and Back (AGAIN!)

I learned something about myself yesterday. It took all day (or ten years, depending on how you figure) to learn it, but I think. I. finally. did.

My sister and I took Katie sight-seeing in the city. The Hudson Line took us down (courting the river for miles and miles giving us beautiful scenic views). Grand Central. I love the great expanse of the Main Concourse. I love the sea of people in black coats which swarm across its floor. We grabbed bagels at our favorite bagel place. The ladies working behind the counter barked at the mob before them, "Who's next! Who's next! Who's next!"

Weaving our way down to the subway (keeping an anxious eye on gawking Katie), we figured out which line we needed to get on and went through the turnstiles. The crowd pushed closer, "Maybe we should do more hand-holding," I joked anxiously. But then there was our awaiting subway. "Let's get in that one" said Sarah, indicating the car in front of us. 

New York City always brings out the fiercely independent streak in me. I stepped onto that car with confidence. I had already woven two good steps though the crowd towards a seat when I heard my name being called. I turned around. The doors had closed. And Sarah and Katie were on the other side.

It should have been in a movie. Separated by glass. Train taking me away.  The roar of the engines. The frantic gestures, "Wait for me!" The look of shock, the pounding heart, then the stunned silence.

Eventually I looked around, a young woman caught my eye. "Don't worry, it happens all the time." I exchanged pleasantries, but silence brought thoughts pounding into my head. Another woman spoke to me, her Indian accent thick, "How will  you meet up with your friends?" I told her I would wait at the next stop. She seemed to approve.

I got off. The platform grew quiet. Union Square. I suddenly had a panicy thought. I had our shared metro card, what if they couldn't ride the train? No, it wasn't a train, it was a subway- we'd already paid.... but what if they got an Express line and they didn't stop at my stop? I would check the next train's cars very carefully.

It was a good thing I did- because Sarah and Katie had had no intention of getting off at my station- they were going to wait at our destination, the Bowling Green. But we saw each other and reunited. Laughing. Amused. Relieved. My stomach a little shaken.

After the Staten Island Ferry we walked down to Ground Zero, which was gated and thick with construction. We approached one worker to ask where we might be able to get the best view and he replied, with a swinging Italian accent, "Wella, you're not'a going to see too mucha." An Irish man intervened. "Take ah right, go 'round tha block, take tha overpass to tha building, and yah'll be able tu see it froom tha bridge." Thank you.

We walked through the World Financial Center- with its marbled floors and countless young men in ties and suits (chatting, presumably, about desperately important things like interests and loans and the stock market).

While we were riding the subway up to 86th street two men boarded with drums. They greeted all of the New Yorkers with their blank faces and ear-buds in. "HI!!!" I replied. They were struck. The man addressed the car: "That's what we LIKE! Hey, ya'know if more people show respect like THAT then the world be a better place, ya'know?!" They played, their inner beat flowing to their mouth and the palms of their hands. Just before they left one turned to me, "Where you from?" he demands. "New York." "Are you sure?!" and he's gone. "California" probably would have satisfied him more.

We walked thirty blocks down Madison Avenue window-shopping. We gushed over flounced baby-girl clothes and strapping little-man clothes, laughed at frilly purses displayed on ostriches, and compared decorating styles. (While Katie and I related to the modern, sheik style, we agreed that we would always pick warm and woody over glass and steel). We shared a sourdough baguette, and bought ourselves treats from La Maison du Chocolat. [The man behind the counter claimed he remembered me from past years (I think he didn't) and  he began speaking in French as we left.] I always look at that tiny piece of chocolate (smaller- maybe half the size of a  Girl-Scout Cookie)  in my hand and wonder why I pay so much money for something so small. We all wonder. But then you bite off the corner and the tender delicacy of that long-brewed chocolate potion completely and in every way overwhelms you. Perfection in a bite. THAT is chocolate. THAT is why it is worth it.

We had a splendid time in Tiffany's ring department comparing cuts and styles and marveling at the fiery brilliance of the sedentary gems. The salespersons were surprisingly accommodating. We were, after all, three young women. For all they knew we had some of the before-mentioned snazzy-looking business men interested in us. (We laughed because all three of us girls couldn't imagine anyone spending so much on a ring when an equally pretty one could be found that wouldn't burn your fiance's pockets and leave you with guilty feelings for the rest of your life.)

After Tiffany's we saw St. Patrick's Cathedral. On a whim I asked one of the caretakers to see the crypt (we're family of Bishop Sheen) and who of all people should be available but Father Joe, (whom our family had met at the Bishop Sheen memorial party two years ago). He recognized me- even remembered where we lived, and started talking about his findings to a theological question we'd been arguing about. He told us some great juicy stories about each of the men buried under the alter and afterwords we said the Our Father together.

By this time we were exhausted, so Katie texted her fiance and he gave us directions to the nearest Starbucks where we got hot drinks, put up our feet, and delighted in girl-talk for an hour or two. Rejuvenated, it was off to Time Square (where  we bugged a policemen about directions to a movie theater and took lots of pictures) and then we wrapped up with pizza, gyros, and Indian food at Grand Central.

We were on the train. We were done visiting. We were going home. Rivers. Trees. Quiet. You know I've always liked the city.  I really do. How can you not love history and beauty and people? But I've always known I could never live there. And that night as we journeyed home I realized something more. Maybe it was being in the city twice in five days. Maybe it was our conversations about work and life and how hideous certain dresses, offensive certain adds, expensive certain baby-clothes, and extravagant certain rings were. Maybe it has been being  at my college and getting closer to drugs and alcohol and the image-consciousness of our culture, but I think my materialistic streak (which I spoke of in my first New York post) has been somehow severely subdued.

I have learned, or discovered, or maybe just decided: I am a country mouse.

March 25, 2011

Narcotics Anonymous

When my teacher told us that one of the semester’s assignments was to visit an open NA meeting I sighed, rolled my eyes, and inwardly quipped about state-run education.

Tonight I got it over with- I went to a nearby meeting at the church of a friend’s. It was wildly different than I expected.

Narcotics Anonymous is not a government program. It is comprised entirely of addicts, and specifically of individuals who have come to a place where they realize they are addicts, they realize they have an addiction, and are making steps to overcome that addiction.

There is, of course, not much I can tell you- I respect the spirit of that closely-knit fellowship: what happens in that meeting stays in that meeting.

But I can tell you that as I listened to each individual share their thoughts (on randomly drawn popsicles sticks with principles of the program written on them)- as I heard each of them honestly face the problem of that week, that day, even that very hour- my heart went out to them. I heard them face themselves, talk about guilt and shame, their own selfishness, and recognize the multitude of people they had hurt (including themselves). They had broken families. Broken relationships. Broken careers. Broken hearts. Broken lives. And as each spoke my heart broke- again, and again, and again. I wanted to weep- but I could not add to their pain.

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference."

One particularly interesting saying one person drew went something like, “I can’t. He can. Let him.” They wrestled with “surrendering” to God and his will (and God’s will becoming theirs), even while taking responsibility for their actions.

There they were. Many were still users- maybe only clean for twenty-four hours. A slender few had been clean for years- and still struggled, day by day by day.  I rejoiced over their heart-felt support of one another and their earnest desire to conquer their addiction- to be “at peace and free.” I rejoiced that they recognized that they had to rely on and desperately needed God- knowing that every bit of truth is a means of grace in their lives, and cried that though they be able to will themselves out of addiction- they would remain slaves to sin without Christ.

And there I was- different. But why? I felt lavishly blessed- insurmountably undeserving. Why was I never  tempted, never offered a pill, a single fix? Why did my parents never abandon me? Why was I not there, burning and breaking like they were? 

I had never touched any sort of substance- never even seen any (by God’s grace). I had parents who loved each other, a family crazy about one another (by God’s grace). I had a precious, safe-guarded childhood (by God’s grace). And, true, God rescued me from myself, washed me clean in his blood (by God’s grace) and I am who, what, and where I am today by God’s grace.

             My heart is heavy.

I have been given a perfect life. I have never struggled. I have not been tested to the point of shedding blood.

March 24, 2011

Gogyohka-Thursday [28]

A God-thing:

In whispering to my brother

I missed the first offering-plate.

The whole of my tithe

went to Japan.

March 22, 2011

Oh, Spontaneity!

The plan for Sunday was very simple: church and then a surprise outing to one of our favorite local restaurants, McKinney & Doyle. But after the service our parents engaged in a rather important (and lengthy) conversation with a fellow church member. Eventually my dad turned to me, handed me the keys to the Camry, and told me to take a bunch of us home. I grabbed my two sisters, Sarah's friend from college (Katie), and Peter, and off we went.

It was a truly spring day (before the snow hit yesterday). The ground was bare- daffodils blinked shyly, and the sky was blue. We rolled down the windows a bit and my iPod went on. One of the first songs up set the mood, "I love you more... than the spring in its blooming against the sky." (Ought To Be, Audrey Assad).

Then came Lucky (Jason Mraz) and all the girls (the seven year old mostly smiled) began to sing... "Lucky I'm in love with my best friend / lucky to have been what I have been..."

Then came the Newsboys- and the car began to bop. We sang our hearts out in unified consent, "I'm not ashamed to speak the name of Jesus Christ!" We were enjoying ourselves immensely. I looked sidelong at my sister, "Take the long way home?" Yes. We wove in and out around brimming reservoirs and the iPod hit a run on Beach Boys...

Well she got her daddy's car
And she cruised through the hamburger stand now
Seems she forgot all about the library
Like she told her old man now
And with the radio blasting
Goes cruising just as fast as she can now
And she'll have fun, fun, fun
'Til her daddy takes the T-Bird away

Surfer Girl. Catch a Wave. The sun was bright, our smiles were brighter. We cruised into the driveway. When I reached the door I heard the phone ringing- I rushed in and caught the phone off the receiver on the umpteenth ring- it was Dad. He'd sent me with the Suburban keys- he, Mom, and the boys were stranded at church. So back off I went, this time by myself.

I skipped to my favorite songs. As I drove (a little faster this time) I suddenly had the odd sensation of seeing myself- as I couldn't have imagined just twelve months- let alone twelve years- ago. 

There I was. Living in New York (of all places). Driving down back roads to pick up my parents (of all things). Listening to country love songs (of all music). On a spring Sunday in 2011 (of all times).

By the time we all united at home it was about three o'clock. We all piled into the Suburban and were just about to leave when we called the restaurant and discovered they were closed. Nobody felt like going inside to have PB&J. We were hungry.

In fact, we were so hungry I think we were a bit crazed. We wanted food. REAL food. Dad made a suggestion, the members of the car erupted in loudly voiced opinions in true Democratic form- parents used their executive rights to overrule the few dissenters and the next thing we knew the nine of us were making the hour+ trip down to NYC to go to Flor De Mayo

We grabbed some chips to tide us over. We were scarcely twenty minutes down the road when, to our dismay, it was discovered in our spontaneity no one had grabbed a camera. Katie, my sister's friend, was particularly disappointed since this was her first time going into the city. (Thus I am writing this post, to immortalize the occasion.)

At Flor De Mayo (Peruvian-Chinese cuisine) we ordered the timeless favorites: two whole rotisserie chickens, four large orders of black beans and yellow rice, and several plates of maduros and avocado. On such occasions, manners are temporarily disbanded. There is much grabbing and yumming and clashing of forks and general silence as the meal is consumed. As Katie attested, it was well worth the wait.

We drove down Broadway to show Katie Time Square. There was much traffic- we gazed up at show signs and advertisements and read the newsflashes on the economy and wars and talks and treaties scrolling in large neon letters around a building.

Just as we passed the Apple store (giant glass conservatory of technology), Dad pulled the truck over and said he had to go see something (presumably something in the Apple store) and Mom should take the car around the block to pick him up. Then he was gone. Mom looked amused, climbed over into the driver's seat, and began driving around. Crazy. Jammed. Loud. Broadway. We had only gotten half way around the block when we suddenly saw Dad running up (already done) and he hopped back in the car. Mom whirled around and said to Katie, "All the stories you heard about us were true."

We drove through Central Park (past the petting zoo and barred doors leading into the hillside, under overpasses, betwixt stone-walls). At some point during the evening we sang the George Washington Bridge song.

Then we were driving home... back upstate. The tall buildings turned to tall trees, parks turned to lakes, noise into the single melody of a Rascal Flatts song on a country station.

Sometimes I can hear this old earth shouting (...)
That's when I climb up here on this mountain
To look through God's window

Now I can't fly, but I've got two feet

To get me high up here
Above the noise and city streets
My worries disappear

March 17, 2011

Gogyohka-Thursday [27]

sun bathing

my too-long cold limbs

while the dog

chases cats and butterflies

and bounds, grinning, head-first into me

March 16, 2011

Room Rhapsody

Rooms are like clothes and photographs- they tell stories. As I look around mine this afternoon- my mind goes tripping down the trails of my life... remembering what has been that has brought what I see around me.

Tucked into the glass doors of my secretary I see the pictures of people I hold dear (from California, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Georgia...). Above them are verses which I have printed on parchment paper and magazine cuttings of India. Behind the pictures I have lists of IP, e-mail, and street addresses, letters, and a piece of paper on which my dad has scrawled guitar chords.

Inside my secretary it all gets even better. I hide my few paperbacks behind the glass doors and verses. I have my Hindi dictionary and Indian travel guides,  empty and half-filled notebooks made with hand-crafted paper, anthologies, and several Russian novels. The top shelf has my CDs and DVDs (Pride and Prejudice!) and the bottom shelf has my diary and Bible and hair-spray (which I have yet to use but am glad I have) and a canister of Starbucks Hot Chocolate powder which my siblings gave me for my birthday.

The drawers below my desk each have a specific purpose. One has all my scarves (I have a good twenty, half are from India). Another is completely devoted to letter-crafting- I have stacks of stationary, boxes of cards and envelopes, and a couple compact water-color sets (a nod to past and present wistful artistic leanings).

The bottom drawer is a mystery drawer. I'm not exactly sure what it's for. Generally speaking it's hard to open. But I know that inside I have a scarlet tapestry almost as large as me- covered in patchwork and embroidery which I bought in Pushkar, India. And also in that drawer I have a painting done by an artist who I thought was going to shake my hand but who kissed it instead.

My bookshelves are my favorite part of my room. I have about fifty small, gilt-edged books  (arranged by color) from a collector's library which grace the bookshelves over my windows- flanked by carved elephants. My main bookshelf (which my sister and father made when I was six) has lots and lots of hard-backs, all there for one of four merits: being very old (i.e. 100-200 years), being very beautiful (inner beauty counts!), or being on India or poetry. The exceptions are my diaries. There are four currently full- massive bulks full of my scribblings. (And if you ever see them in person, don't you dare read them or I'll have to do you in!)

In other places I have stacks of my drawings from 2nd grade and the novels I wrote when I was twelve and thirteen. And somewhere I have packages of letters tied up in ribbons- and a  shoe-box in which there are the sleeves of my favorite pajamas from when I was nine, a pine-cone from a sidewalk in California,  an empty shampoo bottle from Venice, a wind-up musical bell, shards from a wooden box, and magazine cuttings (who's value, I happen to know, lies solely with the blue-eyed-blonds they feature. One of them is of Prince Harry- you will forgive me.)

I happen to think Shakespeare wasn't really Shakespeare. He only willed away  his second-best bed (by which we know he hated his wife) and a great deal of money. Could someone so in love with language really not possess a single book for posterity to gossip about?

But then again, I think if I was Shakespeare my biographers would have a hay-day with my will. From the bottle-caps (which I collected when I was ten) they'd think I drank.  From my three plants they would have no idea I killed five. They would probably think I actually used my hairspray. And as I wouldn't will my bed (best or second best) to anyone  they would probably come up with something about me hating men.

But while I must concede that the contents of one's room are wide-open to misinterpretation, I yet maintain that they are also glimpses into entire lives- open to countless conjectures and hypotheses.

Thus I sit here and wonder freely: what would I find in your room? And what would it tell me about you?

March 11, 2011

Ode to the Wall

I wrote this poem exactly a year ago for a World Literature class I was taking. It was meant to be after the fashion of Pablo Neruda (who liked to write odes to menial objects such as tomatoes, artichokes, "broken things," clothing, etc.) however I'm afraid my poem turned out a bit too metaphysical to be truly called Nerudian. Still, of the poems I've written it's one of my favorites.

the wall
impenetrable, impassible
my constant companion
I've seen you a leviathan
and I've seen you blue
covered in clouds and rainbows
you are the artist's easel
the fingerprint of restless minds
easing passions
in white you have flashed
inspiring the relentless
pencil of the engineer
sketching the future
on your surface
inside of you
dynasties from the cradle
when first we picked up mud
when first we created
on your inviting canvass
you were familiar
you stood as a child
his fists clenched
defying the world
to knock him down
but you are also soft
when I clung to you
back to back
curled in a ball
you hid me
when I beat you with my fists
you let me beat
you still listen to my tears
matching my cries with your own
reminding me I am finite
you have heard every secret
but still you keep mine
you keep me in
you keep them out
you are my eyes first sight
and my body's last blanket

- 3/11/10

March 10, 2011

Gogyohka-Thursday [26]

our voices are caught

on a tape recorder

we know we'll be squeaky

our grandchildren

will think we were mice

March 6, 2011

Missing Peaches

Some of my favorite memories convene around peaches. I recall a summer day on the wharf in San Fransisco where we wandered a Farmer's Market taste-testing. I saw a store there which sold every  imaginable kind of mushroom. We had Gelato and I bought several small "refreshing" misting bottles- one the scent of Douglas Fir, another of Roses. 

Another memory is peach picking at a near-by farm. It was a rainy-weekend so the farm wasn't getting enough business, so we purchased twenty bags of fruit at a peerless price. The peaches were at their peak- they fell off the branches at a touch. We picked and we ate- and ate, and ate. I have never since tasted such perfection.

Peaches. I miss peaches.

But this eternal winter! Weeks of whiteness- then speckled gray. I had forgotten what the ground looked like. For a while there I would walk down something resembling tunnels at my school -the snow was nearly up to my shoulder. (Lest the image be exaggerated, I must here remind you I am vertically challenged.) My father thought the streets resembled toboggan runs. My brothers made a fortune shoveling driveways.

And now winter quakes. I remember the first day I smelled the earth again- wet, whimpering, gasping for breath. We have had times where it rained, sleeted, and snowed all in the same day- but still the  mail came and still the ice on the lakes turned from white... to a shivering gray... and now it is gone.

My uncle in California asked me if I can see the ground. Yes, I see lots of it. But I  also see great mountains of snow yet lingering.

I drove my brothers to church today in rain. had a flash-flood advisory. On the way there we groped our way down mountain sides thick with fog. On the way back I had to cross the ever-glaring double-yellow-line to drive through the shallower portion of an enormous puddle.

All is wet. All is melting. The skies are doing a victory-dance.

I pray it is not a premature celebration. Because I long for thick grass, for picnics, for games in open fields, for wanderings barefoot through trees, for parties with music and food (where the sun is invited), for white clothes, for water, for fish on the grill, and for the sun rays and warm breezes caressing my bare arms and face. And I miss peaches- trees laden with the ripe and luscious.

March 5, 2011

Dream Burning

"Trying not to hope too hard for what I want."

Maybe it's me- and maybe it's just being human- but I get awfully attached to the plans I make.

"Trying not to go too far with all the dreaming."

And then something happens. Castles in the air, castles made of sand, fall, break, and are washing away...

"Oh, the disappointment so hard to handle."

I mourn the dream which has died- clinging to the sheer knowledge that He holds my life in His hands.

"I'm still in the dark, lighting candles."

I think if I could plan my life out years in advance I would. And yet for all the grand plans I've made- I think I can say that not a single one has worked out the way I had wanted it to.

("Oh, the disappointment, so hard to handle...") 

God always has different plans than mine. And his are always, without fail, better than my wildest imagination.

("I'm still in the dark, lighting candles...")

I think the hardest part of doing something other than I planned is explaining to people what happened to their unmet expectations.

"Late at night I lie awake, think I should go / Catch a train to stranger towns / Where no one knows me."

But because He knows better than them- and better than me- I'm taking every dream I ever had and laying each down, a fagot on the pyre of faith... watching them go up in flames.

"Now that I have got somewhere, where will I go?"

One foot in front of the other- I watch God write my life-story. He uses all my favorite plot devices. And he gives me wonderful surprises I neither deserve- nor asked for. Am I so stupid that I forget he knows the deepest desires of my heart?

"Love's a train to city lights / Where someone knows you."

So I'm giving my life- and the future I want- to Him. Again. and Again. and Again.

*Set to the lyrics of Lighting Candles by The Weepies. 

March 3, 2011

Gogyohka-Thursday [25]

[wheeze] Excuse me

[gasp] if this Gogyohka

[closes eyes] is interrupted


by sneezes.