September 05, 2009

Facebook as a hedge against lonliness

I spend a lot of my time alone. Often at work, I'll spend hours immersed in work, email or a project without talking face to face or even on the phone with another person. I live alone too, so I go home to a place whose quiet is only broken by me or the mad scramblings of a lunatic cat or two.

This is not my natural or desired, state, alas. I've realized over the years that I'm a people person. Not that I love all of them all the time, but I like having other people around for small moments of interaction as I go about my day. That's also not to say that I don't value time by myself - I do -  I just relish it and actually enjoy it when it's in the context of a life that generally involves a greater default level of human contact.

Yesterday afternoon, my boss swung by my office around 2:45 and said I should head home. It's a ritual between us now, where before a holiday weekend, he says I should leave early and I never do. Our office actually officially closes at three on these pre-holiday weekend days, but I have never in all the years that that policy has been in effect, actually left early. As I'm sitting there, listening to my boss make his ritual "go home" statements, I think to myself - "to what?" My cats? An achingly long weekend unfurling before me, with long hours rattling together filled only by my own company and Oscar's insistent "play with me!" whine?

I had hoped that some of this loneliness would be mitigated by finding a partner but these days that seems like a more tenuous proposition.  I suspect I will need to be more active - perhaps buying a 2 bedroom something-or-other and taking on a roommate - not so much for the economics of it, but for the company, even if infrequent.

Until then, though, Facebook is often for me a hedge against loneliness. It's a little pathetic to write that, but truly, in low moments, it exists as this asynchronous community where I can dip in to the mundanities of life of my network. It feels a bit like the opening 10 minutes of the conversation with a partner or housemate when you walk in the door from work - how was your day? your coworker did what again? yeah, looks like that dead tree down the street finally fell during last nights storm...exactly the sort of thing that I don't have much of these days.

There's another, less positive side to the social network, though. For all that Facebook serves as a conduit for the small moments of daily life and phatic, relationship reinforcing non-conversations (which incidentally are hugely important socially, even if they're relatively vapid), it also serves to reinforce to people like me seeking refuge from loneliness how little other people's lives in my circle resemble my own - how most people I know live overfull lives chockful of spouses, trips, work and children. I too can project that image myself on Facebook if I choose, so perhaps its more of a charade than I think it is, but never the less, even as I seek (and find) solace on Facebook, it comes tinged with a bit of sadness, or perhaps even envy.

September 5, 2009 at 09:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

September 03, 2009

bike commuting

I've started commuting to work a few days a week by bike and I'm shocked by how much I love it. I had a rough start to my relationship with this bike - the frame is a tad too long, and the seat - oh the seat - was an abuser. It wasn't until my third seat that things settled down. It still isn't great, but bearable on the bum.

But I'd been thinking about starting to bike to work, for athletic, environmental and economic reasons. A colleague of mine who lives near me does it sporadically, and another colleague did it regularly with her husband before her son was born last year. So I figured, why not? I have a bike? What's stopping me?

Even though I selected one of the year's hottest days to start, I've been deeply surprised by how much I like it. It's like starting off each day with an adventure. Biking safely in the city requires quick thinking, vigilance and problem solving. I ride "a little bit scared" every morning, because I do need to be prepared for many things - potholes, car doors, insane drivers, people who don't signal their intentions and the general invisibility of bicycles to the car driving public. I ride like I'm invisible - defensively - because to many drivers, I am.

I've been surprised too, by how much I now notice bicycles on the road when I'm behind the wheel of my car in a way I never did before. It's like I've join a select group.

I particularly like the ride home. It's all up hill (literally), but I love having that heart-rate raising transition between home and work, and the delight of pedaling into the lowering dark and cooling day.

I suspect as it gets colder that the commute will get more challenging - that it will be harder to carry all the clothes I'll need for the day and dress comfortably for the ride. I worry too about the loss of daylight and the need to get a few more lights to make a dark commute home feel safe. A rack and panniers (or even just a rack to bungie my bag to) will also substantially improve the commuting experience. At the moment, I can't stomach putting the rack on my "racing" bike (since I only have one and it does double duty for commuting and triathlon training/racing.) But the more I commute, the more I dislike the feeling and disruption of my peripheral vision that results from wearing my large backpack.

But, 4 trips in, I'm starting to think I might be hooked. Probably not for everyday, and probably not in ice and snow, but otherwise, I think a few times a week seems manageable and sensible and more than a little fun.

September 3, 2009 at 09:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

September 02, 2009

return to pottery

This spring, pottery class was frustrating. I felt like I wasn't progressing, stagnating at a level of skill that left me frequently with lopsided or off-kilter pots. Sometimes the issues lay in the difficulties of transferring creations off the wheel - it was only late in the game that I learned that many more advanced students own their own "bats" or the platforms that attach to the wheel and allow the just-created piece to be removed so wheel can be used again without having to transfer a wet, fragile piece to another resting place in order to dry. Because the studio I attend has a limited number of bats for students to use, students without their own bats must transfer all their pieces off bats at the end of class (if not before) and on to another platform for drying. Many tragedies occur during this transfer.

My frustrations with pottery simmered enough that once an expensive car repair presented itself, I took that as an opportunity to take a hiatus from pottery, ostensibly for schedule and financial reasons, but also to give myself a break from my lack of progress.

But in an attempt to keep myself busy, particularly in light of sad events in my life that continue to churn and use up most of my excess energy, [I'm not inclined to discuss them here - suffice it to say they are similar to waiting to hear a diagnosis, without being that.] I re-enrolled.

And upon re-enrolling, I declared that I was back with a new purpose: to get back to the basics, to refine my throwing techniques so that I could reliably produce symmetrical and attractive (and larger) items, and eventually, end up producing items at the end of a wheel session that I had envisioned at the beginning (instead of the usual - "hmm, I think I'll make a large bowl...yikes! maybe a small bowl...okaaay, maybe a mug." and at the end I've got a tiny plate.)

So back to basics we went. I spent much of the session refining my centering technique - a crucial skill, because if your clay isn't fully centered on the wheel, your end product is likely to be uneven, assuming it doesn't entirely collapse and get scrapped off into the slip bucket. After working on centering, I went back through the various "throws" (movements with your hands over the clay to move it around and take it from a lump to a bowl), with S, my instructor. We talked finger positioning, pressure, wrists. It was specific and very helpful.

And by the end of class, I had produced two, large symmetrical pots that will most likely eventually become the bodies for satisfyingly large mugs.  As I explained to S at the end, I had finally figured out how to center well, open evenly, and to do the first two (of three) standard throws. So now I had ample time to start screwing up things during the third throw, an opportunity I'd never had before - as the vast majority of my previous pots were already wobbling by this point.

It felt good to recommit to pottery, and to make a noticeable improvement over the two and half hours. It got me outside of my head and myself for an hour or so today. I rode up to pottery wondering what I was doing, why I was going to spend my hard-earned money to continue my mediocrity. I rode away from the studio in the lowering dark glad I'd made the leap back in.

September 2, 2009 at 11:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

August 27, 2009

watches and a sense of time

I've been having trouble with watches lately. 


Back in July, my trusty metal sports watch gave up the ghost. I waffled for a while, not sure of what kind of watch I should get as a replacement, and as a stopgap, I wore my dress watch. The problem was, I don't treat my watches very well - I tend to wear them everywhere - in the pool, the shower, while working out, biking, walking, gardening, etc. All which is totally ok if you have a waterproof sports watch (more on that later) but not ok if you have a classic leather banded dress watch that is modestly water resistant at best. That poor dress watch went into the shower about 17 times before I finally got the hang of taking it off before bathing. Swimming required more creativity - there is no outdoor clock at my stripped down neighbor hood pool, so I resorted to bringing my cellphone in a snack-size ziploc baggie and every so often stopping my swim to punch a few buttons to bring the time back up on the screen. Not ideal.

One day I forgot to put my dress watch back on after showering and felt so naked and disoriented at work that I went out and bought a perfectly fine utilitarian waterproof-to-100ft sports watch at my local sporting goods store. That was July 28th. All was right with the universe until August 14th when condensation appeared in the watch face, and the 16th when it died on my wrist.

I'd only used it as the manufacturer had suggested - done a triathlon, done some swimming, running, etc so I was mystified about what happened to it. So I packed it off to Timex once I got home from vacation and reluctantly switched back to my dress watch. Until two days ago, when the watch band broke.

So now, I'm totally watchless. (Note: I will eventually replace the watchband, but the local jeweler is charging $40-$50 for a band and I can't bear to pay that much for a skinny strip of leather.)

And I hate it.

I know that some advice guru types who advocate life simplification tell readers to banish their watches for a more relaxing life, but I find the opposite is true. Without access to a readily available timepiece, I'm constantly edgy with a low-grade anxiety that I'm late for something. What time is it, I keep wondering, but each quick glance at my left wrist yields only freckles. Of course, I have things around me that can tell me the time (computer, cell phone) but neither of those things is always readily accessible. Being without a watch makes hyper-aware and constantly vigilant about the time, and always worried about lateness. With a watch, I have the reassurance that I can always know the time if I need to - like insurance, and maybe some mothers, it's always there when you need it. My little temporal security blanket.

I've been surprised by how violently I dislike watchlessness. So the question becomes, how do I remedy? the sports watch is off at Timex, due back (maybe?) in 3 or 4 weeks. I can order an affordable watch band online, with presumably I'll get in about a week. Or I can take the ancient (and frankly extremely cool) watch I had as a child (red band, with a red prop airplane on the face - clearly purchased for me when I was about 6 from the Air and Space Museum) and get the battery replaced. Still not sure which route I'll go, but I've got to do something. And soon.

August 27, 2009 at 09:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 29, 2009

friends

 I wish that more of my long held friends lived near me. Sometimes it seems that even when we are all in the same general place, the logistics of family and children, as well as optimistic ideas of what "close" is ("hey, we're in town! well, we're an hour from you with no traffic, but we're close, really!") keep us from getting together in person.

So we try - to squeeze in phone calls, to work around the schedules of cranky toddlers and exhausted parents, work schedules and time zones. We send emails and photos, check in on Facebook, and do our best to stay connected. I've gotten over (mostly) worrying about "bothering" my friends when I call - they can either not answer, or tell me when I call that its not a good time and I"ll call back again later.

Of course its not the same as being in the same place. Days like today I wish there was someone I could call up and say, "time for a drink tonight?" or where I wish I lived in a neighborhood where I was connected to people, rather than surrounded by transience. Where if I sat on my front stoop or porch, that they're be someone else to talk to, even if it's just a neighbor nodding as she walked by.

But this is how our lives work in these diasporic times, when people move around for jobs and school and life, and particularly in this fair city which seems to make almost a sport of the flow of people through it. Many of us no longer live near those we're closest to, and so we look to media to knit us back together when face to face interaction isn't possible.But Facebook isn't quite the same as facetime, is it? The nuance, the laughter, the conversational flow are all missing, and right now, I miss it.

July 29, 2009 at 11:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 28, 2009

mixed

It has been One of Those Days. Well, not actually one of Those, but a day when the good generally coexists with the bad, but you focus on the bad anyway.

Hot and sticky weather makes most things seem less bearable, which is no doubt part of it. Made a potentially expensive blunder, had a tough conversation with a friend, and got some advice I'd have rather not heard. The advice was true and well-meant, but the delivery left a lot to be desired, and mostly consisted of someone blundering into a situation to give advice with out really understanding the situation itself. And I bought a watch that I know is ugly out of desperation - watchless, and having worn the dress watch into the shower for the 16th time, hurriedly taking it off, drying it and then promptly forgetting to put it back on, I went and bought a rubbery plastic thing, that can go on runs and in the pool and shower, and which I wont forget - though now I wonder whether that's because its so ugly that"ll never invisibly blend into my daily wear. Though I suspect that even with my previous watches, the blending was only in my mind, rather than in the eye of the beholder.

I am trying to focus on the good things - the mini-moment of office camaraderie when we took our departing research assistant out for smoothies, the sense of accomplishment from moving a project through yet another step on its way to completion. The sense of relief in donating a few bags of stuff and paring down just a tiny bit more, the clutter that sometimes feels comforting but also often burdensome. And the pleasure in spending money given as a gift, earmarked not for bills, or debt or groceries but you.

And the long planned and anticipated vacation, threatened repeatedly with the work-related derailments of two different parties to the trip appears to have been pulled out of its nose-dive by my mother, my grandmother and an old friend from nursery school as well as some creative rescheduling. 

So, like I said, good and bad. And there's really no response to a day like this except for to recognize that you've got blinders to all but the bad and go to bed and hope the ratio of good - to -unnoticed - to bad is better tomorrow.

July 28, 2009 at 11:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 23, 2009

Living vs. writing about living

I've been wrestling with how to balance writing about life and living it, versus being fully present and cognizant during one's daily experiences. 

On one hand, I do buy the idea that one "write's one self into being," that to write about something, particularly experiences solidifies them and makes them more permanent.

But in this day and age of ever increasing speed and brevity in opportunities to share and write one's life, where does the immediacy increasingly demanded by the medium interfere with the experience itself? I started thinking about this when an acquaintance posted status updates about being in labor. She kept her 500 person network updated through the day with small tidbits, until she finally posted announcing the birth of her daughter later in the evening. And while I enjoyed reading about her experience. I did wonder if perhaps labor and birth might not be experiences that would be diminished by sharing them in the moment of their occurrence? Sort of like the difference between attending a child's 1st birthday party and participating/viewing it from behind the view finder of a video camera versus putting the camera down and interacting fully with the child, guests, cake. There's a similar, but perhaps lesser effect with still cameras, since it's easier to periodically put them back or come out from behind the viewfinder.

That said, I think having pictures/videos of events to use to remember them later are valuable things.

I've also been wrestling with how this question of living vs writing about living applies to this blog. There's a part of me that thinks that my decline in blogging is because of a more purposeful effort at living. (or that there are other, shorter, ways of doing similar things in newer applications). But it comes down to wondering whether if I'm out doing something and while Im doing it, I think about how I'd blog about it, or if I even could, am I some how short changing myself of really enjoying and being mindful of that very experience?

July 23, 2009 at 09:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

July 22, 2009

Retail scenting

In recent years, I've been liking shopping malls less and less. Something about their sanitized, regulated interiors bug me, all marble and fountains and fatty-food purveying food courts.

There is a certain efficiency about malls - the high density of stores can make a multi-item shopping run quicker and require less driving. And in really foul weather (bitter cold, drenching rain) they can be a more comfortable way to to acquire new things.

But a recent shopping run has added another check on the "ugh!" side of the list. I'm not just talking about my Tuesday evening disappointment over finding goods advertised online unavailable in person, or cheap, sheer or unpleasantly colored. (At least the cast iron skillet was available, and on sale. But it seems harder to screw up a cast iron skillet than a cardigan sweater, somehow.) No, my current mall peeve is the store "fragrance." It's pretty clear that stores in the Abercrombie family are now using signature fragrances as a part of the creation of their no-doubt heavily focus grouped "shopping environment."  I walked past three separate stores during my latest mall foray where I was enveloped in what smelled like Axe-body spray scent rejects. Each scent was slightly different (all no doubt part of "positioning" the store), but all gag worthy. It was sort of like realizing that the person 3 cubicles down got what s/he thinks is awesome cologne for his/her birthday and has moved rapidly from use that might be called sparing to what would be more accurately termed "self-drenching."

Admittedly, I'm not a big fan of home or personal fragrance myself - I have a pretty strong and sensitive sense of smell. But If I'm walking 10 feet away from the store entrance and I can still smell it (hell, it's probably angled or even blown out the front door to lure people in), I can't possibly imagine how people work there, let alone shop there.

I know this really means I'm just galloping further and further away from their target demographic, and I have absolutely no doubt that this is all a part of a well researched effort to make more money at those stores. But truly, it will drive me away from enclosed shopping malls, and back into the outdoor shopping districts somewhat more (but not entirely) organic constructed in my fair city. Being nauseated is not high on my list of key attributes in a pleasant shopping experience.

July 22, 2009 at 10:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 16, 2009

Washing the cats

Neither Daisy nor Oscar has ever had a bath in their lives. Tongue baths from mothers, others and their own fine appendages, sure, but never have they had their bodies doused with water.

That all changed yesterday after I applied a topical pesticide to my cats on the advice of my vet. This was the new version of the stuff I've used over the past few years to prevent heartworm. They don't go outside, but they do have access to a screened porch, and apparently that's enough of a risk that they need an anti-bug treatment.

This year's treatment (Advantage Multi) was said to be a step forward from the Revolution brand I'd used in the past. So I applied it yesterday morning after clipping their claws in a monthly ritual of cat treats and clipping. I was not prepared for their reaction to the Advantage. Despite the fact that I applied it as directed to their skin between their shoulder blades, they can still groom their and quickly licked some of the stuff off their fur. Nearly immediately they started gagging, drooling and foaming at the mouth. Their eyes dilated and Daisy gagged and assumed the Cat Vomiting Position. They were both clearly afraid and uncomfortable. I called the vet, who assured me that it was just "mouth irritation" from the Advantage, but if they vomited I should bring them in. I stayed home and watched the cats for an hour. Oscar settled down, but Daisy couldn't shake the lick, gag, drool/foam cycle, so I faced facts and realized I'd need to give her a bath.

It was a bit of an ambush - She'd never had a bath before and always liked hanging out in the bathroom with me while i showered. So I turned on the water, grabbed a cup and some baby shampoo and plopped her into the paw-deep water. Needless to say, she was less than thrilled, and scrabbled and yowled and tried desperately to get away. I did manage to hold her down long enough to get some soap on her and then rinse her off before she'd finally had enough. I toweled her off and let her sit and groom while I had my shower. And when I pulled back the shower curtain when I was done, she unleashed a meowed litany of what I imagine was cat profanity at me.

Later in the day, I returned home after work to find that Oscar still had the chemical-matted fur on the back of his neck and was licking and scratching it repeatedly, so into the bath he went, too. Unlike Daisy, as soon as Oscar's claws touched the water, he fought like a wild cat, twisting and flailing and jumping out of the tub. I finally grabbed him and compromised with a sink bath, in which I soaped up his neck and then poured a couple of cups of water over him to wash it off. I had a work dinner later that evening, but thankfully I had removed all my work clothes and changed into something more suitable for cat bathing, so when I ended up covered in water, soap and cat hair it wasn't the catastrophe it might have been.

And I definitely hope that we can go at least four more years before anyone needs a bath again.

July 16, 2009 at 08:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 15, 2009

Birthdays

Daisy hooked a claw into my left butt cheek. Good Morning! Now Get up and feed me. And oh by the way, Happy Birthday.

This birthday hit me like gut punch on Sunday when I was sitting in a Northampton Mass restaurant and finally allowing myself to think about what lay ahead in my life the following week. "staff meeting, yoga, important meeting, birthday, cats to vet..." Well, perhaps less of a gut punch and more of a glancing blow to the kidneys that makes you gasp.  This is a biggish birthday for me, not one of the landmarks, but an ugly straddle between two of them. And for the first time in my life, a birthday really doesn't feel like cause for celebration.

I feel a lot of whiplash about my age these days. There are days when I feel keenly the social pressure to have done things in my personal life that I have not (marry, become a parent) and the vague ooze of pity from loved ones, friends, others, who I sense worry about me in that regard. But then there are times like last night, where I get to attend an invite only dinner - incongruously in the garishly lit backroom of a bad Chinatown restaurant - thick with major policy and government players who get together now and again to talk off the record about things that they're thinking about. At these kinds of things, I'm the youngest in the room (though last night I was the second youngest) and waffle between pride in my accomplishments that got me here, and wondering when I will be discovered as an intellectual impostor and escorted from the room.

These days, I actually have trouble believing that I am as old as I am. Because of my life stage, I tend to spend more of my time with people who are a bit younger than I. Don't get me wrong, I do, often, feel "old," increasing everyday stiffness, slower recoveries from workouts and injuries, increasing likelihood that when I'm sick, something is actually wrong. Its just that it feels odd to articulate my actual age these days, like I can't really believe I'm here.

So I'm not all that keen to celebrate today. This generally mood isn't helped by the Summer Birthday Situation, a chronic problem whereby none of ones friends are ever around for your July birthday - off at camp or Grandma's or the beach when you're younger, and weddings & vacations when we're older. This year it isn't helped by the fact that many of my friends are in transitions - moving out of this fair city to faraway places, launched out on epic, life changing travels, expecting new babies (sometimes for the second or even third times) or wrapped up in the care of newborns and young children. So what celebrating I manage for my birthday will be with a small group of friends. And I think this hits on another layer of my gasping reaction to the flipping of the calendar: I feel a bit as thought I'm waiting to exhale, waiting for the next chapter of my life to begin. Last night, I walked up the dirty stairs to my apartment, and was struck as I fished around in my bag for the keys to admit me through the beaten up wood door and into my apartment, by the thought that I had been living here for more than 6 years. I love my place, but that seems like a long time. All around me, I see friends who found themselves in similar ruts and took steps to pull themselves out.  And so I wonder to myself whether and how I should begin to address this feeling within the constraints of my personal and professional life. I don't know the answers. But I do know, given the melancholy feeling I've got around this day, that it's time to starting looking.

July 15, 2009 at 08:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

May 28, 2009

car woes

I hit a pothole the other day, a big one. I didn't see it and I was going faster than I would have if I had seen it. Ever since, the car has had a bit of shimmy, a little extra vibration. It went in that instant from driving normally to driving like an Old Car. 

Now "Harriet" is 7 years old - right at the age when things start going wrong with a car, but she's a Honda, and I've been diligent in doing preventive maintenance, so I thought I would be ok for another few years before the gigantic shop bills started rolling in.

Wrong.

I think my first error was taking the car to the dealer. But I knew the car needed a good once over - inspected brakes, tires, alignment, belts, pumps, etc. It probably needed its transmission fluid replaced (a year five service) and would probably need new tires in the next year or so. Plus I wanted to get the shimmy looked at by someone who would know what they were doing.

But nothing prepared me for the call from the service guy (Stu) at 2. I wish he had asked me if I was sitting down, because sit down I did during his litany of things wrong with my car. Leaking right front strut, unevenly wearing tires (their perp in the vibration mystery), lower arm joint thing cracked and worn, improperly installed battery (this one's my fave - apparently the Jiffy Lube guys installed the wrong battery in my car 8 months ago - the terminals are reversed, and too close to the hood prop, and in danger of electrical fire/explosion should the hood prop hit the terminals. At least this is what the dealer tells me) and finally, and most terribly expensively, apparently the timing belt (and the water pump and oil seals) all should be replaced at 7 years. I had thought that the timing belt was a 100,000 mile/10 year fix, but apparently its 7 years. My car is no where near 100,000 miles, but it is 7 years old. I don't want to mess with the timing belt - I've heard the catastrophic horror stories.

But its $1300 to replace. More than my RENT. And that doesn't include any of the other work. Or that oil change. Hell.

Things like this leave me feeling helpless. I don't know enough about cars to really know what these guys are talking about, so I don't know if I can say "Nah, I'll do the timing belt next year." I'll be doing a good amount of driving this summer and I don't want to be worried that the car is going to blow up literally or figuratively at an inopportune moment - but as soon as the service guy says it, it's like the fear of breakdown has been planted in my mind.

Ultimately, though, it's about trust. Who do I trust? Does this mean I can't trust the jokers at Jiffy Lube who slapped whatever battery they had in my car? Or is the dealer making a big deal out of nothing, and just padding their charges to make their monthly service quota in a bad economy? If I took it somewhere else, would any other mechanic look at the mileage and year of my car and suggest the timing belt fix? I hate not knowing who to trust and oscillating between worrying about spending money needlessly (LOTS and LOTS OF MONEY - more than a year of savings GONE.) and worrying that I'm not properly taking care of a vehicle that I want and need to have last me 3 to 5 more years.

Sigh. I get it back tomorrow night. Stu promised me some "discounts." Said he'd "See what he could do." So we shall see what the ultimate damage is, but I suspect it will be well into the 4 figures.

May 28, 2009 at 07:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

May 27, 2009

A sense of place - thinking about travel & home

I'm currently reading Richard Russo's The Bridge of Sighs. The book begins with the main character describing his almost anachronistic rootedness in a place - his hometown - a place he's never really left.  The narrator (one of them) has never traveled much at all, and is preparing to travel to Italy - leaving the country for the first time.

I cracked the book on my plane flight back to this fair city from a simultaneously fun, but frustrating weekend at a conference that left me chaffing at some of the responsibilities of my job and the choices I'd made with regards to it. I started thinking about travel, and homecoming and the importance of the idea of home.

I enjoy travel - love it for the way it upends me out of my routines, my complacencies, my ruts. It exposes me to new places, foods, communities, accents and languages, attitudes and regional quirks, and in doing so makes me reconsider all of those elements of my own life. Shakes the dust off, challenges my own assumptions, and adds a new lustre to those previously wearying chores and life moments. The grocery store, the walk to the dry cleaner, my office all feel a little fresher.

But travel is also wearying. All that newness and disruption requires energy and management. We get into routines because they streamline life in certain ways and changing them requires more "cycles" of the brain and body. Add to this the indignities of travel - the cramming, jostling, lines, power struggles over security theater, the endless details of identification, liquids and compliance with regulations. Not only has travel lost its glamour, it's lost any element of enjoyment or relaxation and has become purely a utility - a way to get from A to B rather than a journey, or a part of the experience. Even when nothing particularly goes wrong, travel is exhausting.

So fleeing the stuffy confines of the airport on Sunday was like the release of a prisoner after a long captivity. I was headed Home, to the cats and their attendant dirt, my apartment, crammed full of its books, and ceramics, handmedown furniture and threadbare oriental rungs. The city itself welcomed me as only this place can, with a warm May evening, air soft and scented with honeysuckle through the open cab window as it wended its way past parks, glimmering river and glowing marble monuments in the lowering dark.

Home is now cast as a comfortable retreat after 5 days absence rather than the pedestrian and rather unkempt roof-over-ones head it was when I left. The idea of home is such a central concept to our ideas of life, its rhythms, and relaxation. I think of this when I remember the distinct moment when I no longer thought of my parent's house as home - the transition sometime after college, a month after signing a lease and moving into my own house with friends - and how incredibly radical that felt. I also think of this when I see how S's girls struggle at times with having two homes - Dad's and Mom's - but designating one as "home" so freighted with untenable favoritism and preference that it becomes as hard to articulate as it does to sometimes manage. But not having one "home" is a significant adjustment, and not just with regards to the movement of material things like soccer cleats and tshirts and favorite toys.

All of this makes me appreciate my own small apartment and renews my sense of delight in coming home to it.

May 27, 2009 at 11:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

May 01, 2009

What I should have written

So about a month ago, I wrote a post about eating at a restaurant with a very old friend and her husband. And while it was an amazing meal of poetically delicious food, I didn't really tell the whole story. But today I'm feeling honest and unflinching, so I'll share the parts I left out.

The parts about feeling resentful of having more food that I could ever possibly eat laid before me - including three or four 'gifts from the kitchen.' Of sitting with people who ordered fois gras (after talking with their server about how if it becomes illegal in their state - it might, for reasons of animal cruelty - they'll just raise their own geese to force feed), and not one, but two helpings and rationally expected me to help pay for the $45 they just added to our bill.  What was styled as generosity (and don't get me wrong, it was) ended up feeling like obligation and left me feeling ill having over-eaten out of fear of offending my various hosts and companions and trying to figure out how to expense an $80 meal.

I also left out the part about how one of my companions felt compelled towards the end of the meal to wax rhapsodic (really, brag) about the other person sitting right there at the table with us. It's nice to be supportive of your spouse and all, but there's really no need to tell me every single wonderful thing about him. Really. It's actually a little embarrassing for us both and makes wonder if a little bit of the old high-school you bubbled up there for a second. I hope it wasn't because I did something that made you uncomfortable.

It was great to reconnect with this person and ultimately the meal was lovely - particularly a special salad of asparagus, radishes and new peas that the kitchen made especially for us. But it wasn't quite all sunshine and roses, either.

May 1, 2009 at 08:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

April 30, 2009

About suicide, but not in the way you might think...

I'm supposed to attend a small group event next week that looks at the problem of suicide and how various new media might contribute to or help mitigate the problem. In preparation for the event, various participants have been sharing their online footprints. At first it was just PR and media types - here's my company, here's my research. Follow me on Twitter!

But yesterday and today, it's been the personal stories. The families of teens and young adults who killed themselves - bullied to death by peers, or silently suffering crushing depression - now politicized and energized to work publicly on this issue through websites and foundations, each gently telling their story. The documentary about teen suicide that aired on PBS last night. The news reports of laid off family men taking guns to themselves and sometimes their spouses and children. And the 45 pages of background reading with statistics.

I'm not sure I can take much more of it. Each story hits me from a fresh angle, and claws at me. It's for the same reason that I can't and don't watch garden-variety local tv news and their tragedy of the day anymore. It literally hurts every time.

I was a bit apprehensive about signing up to participate in such a group given the topic, but I agreed because I think it's an important issue, one that's touched me at times in my own life. And besides, how do you say no to something like this?   But I do wonder what's going to be left of me, emotionally next week once the two-day meeting is over if just the preparation for it seems so very hard.

April 30, 2009 at 05:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)