On Thanksgiving

I’m headed home Wednesday for Thanksgiving in New Jersey. It’ll be our family’s first Thanksgiving with the new member of our third generation, Jack Michael.

We’ve always been a pretty nuclear family, just the four of us, five since my sister got married. There are a total of 10 aunts and uncles and 14 cousins but we’re close to none of them, really. Depending on the state of various marriages, we’d have an uncle at the holiday dinner table from time to time, but with all the grandparents gone, there’s been no consistent extended family presence.

This has its advantages. We don’t dress for holiday dinner–jeans are entirely acceptable, as are slippers and sweatshirts. We eat dinner in the dining room, but mostly because, like Everest, it’s there and the extra room for all the dishes is useful. Dessert is most often consumed in front of the tv, after some number of us have woken up from post-dinner naps. That’s usually when my mother and sister start plotting their early morning Black Friday shopping trip while my brother-in-law, father and I roll our eyes.

These are our traditions, and while they’ve felt thin on the ground to me from time to time, now these little traditions of ours will be the way holidays just always have been for Jack.

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I’m not a very mushy person, but I’d be remiss not to acknowledge the many, many things I have to be grateful for, including the health and happiness of my family and friends, the challenges and rewards of my work, and the very basic things like food, warmth and shelter that so many cannot imagine taking for granted.

There are thousands of great organizations doing good work throughout the holiday season and all year long, and I hope you’ll consider making a gift of thanks to one that does work that is meaningful to you. Tonight, I’ve made a gift of thanks to So Others May Eat, an interfaith, community-based organization that exists to help the poor and homeless of our nation’s capital.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

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Inspiration, That Bastard

The thing about this fickle, fickle Internet is this: It giveth and it taketh away.

Because of what I do for a living, I didn’t comment on the Penn State events of the week on any social media platform until the current chapter had drawn to a close. Believe me, I have opinions. I have opinions like I have glasses of wine at Wednesday night happy hour. But I’m not skilled enough a writer to do a dance with all the nuance involved, so best to keep my mouth shut and send up good thoughts to the victims of this horrible, unspeakable situation.

Plenty of other people commented, though, and so many of those comments were, quite frankly, small and short-sighted and thoughtless and completely ignorant of nuance or any worldview that started beyond the tip of their own nose. But I held my tongue, as there’s nothing to been won by getting into those kinds of fights.

On the other hand, the Internet, fickle and convoluted engine though it is, has brought so many wonderful, wonderful people into my wobbly elliptical orbit. People who write like this and this and this and this. People who make me laugh and make me think and make me believe that maybe there’s a way to express myself and dance with the nuance and occupy a corner in a way that might be pleasing to some (not least me).

So, here’s my pledge of the moment: A post a week. And a list like Laurie’s before the end of Thanksgiving weekend.

Deal?

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When We Were 18

When we were 18, we were college freshmen. We were part of the same pack of friends though I always felt somewhat like an outsider, a result of both my own shyness and my, at that time, underdeveloped sense of irony.

He was from Illinois and he liked bands I had never heard of — Mudhoney and Rev. Horton Heat. He seemed so much worldlier than I was, and not just because he took Arabic before I had even figured out where Arabic was spoken.

In my mind’s eye, I see baggy pants and plaid shirts and Doc Martens, a vaguely military-styled khaki shoulder bag with a red emblem — a bird, maybe? I see a brilliant guy who was still a bit charmed by his own intellect. I see a boy I kissed, once. Just once…he had dated a friend, and maybe was going to date her again, and it just didn’t sit right with either of us.

Over time, we followed the elliptical orbit that most friends do, drawing closer and traveling further, drawing closer and traveling further. About a year or so ago, we ran into each other at the ATM just blocks from both of our offices. We had lunch a few times, and I was oddly nervous for the first one. But we talked about work and his girls and laughed over things I can’t remember now.

On Friday, I logged onto Facebook in search of new photos of my sister’s new baby. I saw instead his sister-in-law’s posting on his Facebook page. A link that led to an obituary that led to a hand clapped over my mouth and a strange shortness of breath. Thirty-eight years old, and dead at home. Survived by his wife and two daughters, the youngest eight months old.

I wish I could hang more specifics on this story. I wish I had taken notes. What day did we meet at the ATM? Was it three or four weeks ago we had lunch? Which friend did he live with freshman year, and sophomore year, and so on? Did he have mono junior year or senior? What was the emblem on that khaki bag he carried?

Instead, tomorrow I’ll dress in black and travel to Bethesda for a memorial service for a 38 year old husband and father of two who still reminds me of when we were 18.

*****

Christopher Boucek, in addition to being a father and husband, was a noted Middle East scholar, with particular focus on Yemen. This eulogy on the blog of Foreign Policy, speaks beautifully about his work and his character.

*****

This isn’t how I wanted to come back to this space, but I’m grateful to have the outlet. Thanks, friends.

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I Need to Lay Some Things Down

I’m sorry I’ve been gone, and I’m sorry I’ve come back for a purely selfish reason, but I tonight I just need the blank white space and the blinking cursor for just a few minutes.

A list:

My dad is a wonderful man. A stubborn, challenging, wonderful man who is ignoring a health issue that is long overdue to be dealt with. (Preposition. I know. I can’t stop to care right now.)  It’s nothing life-threatening, not anything at all serious. But he’s stalling in ways that are terribly transparent. Every daughter of every father knows that she has the nuclear option — the ultimatum. I don’t want to use it, but I’m damn close. Damn close.

My sister is expecting her first child this fall. She’s sharing so much of this with me and I’m so honored and so excited for her and for our entire family. But as we get closer to her due date, I can feel her anxiety level rise. And in trying to keep her calm, I can’t help but acknowledge my own anxiety level about the experience she’s about to go through. And I also have to acknowledge that with each passing year, having a biological child of my own becomes a slimmer and slimmer possibility.

Both of these issues impact my mother, who is there day-to-day with both my father and my sister. I am trying so hard to be a good listener, a good daughter. But is that enough? Could I be more helpful? Can I fix any of these issues for her, for my sister, for my dad? Should I move home?

I am also questioning myself at work, trying to find the balance between doing all the things I expect of me and finding the time to think the bigger thoughts. I am uncomfortable delegating–not because I don’t trust my team, but because I feel badly asking anyone to do anything for me–and I have to fix this. Hoarding work isn’t good for me and it isn’t fair to my team.

I am starting graduate school in four weeks. Five weeks? Whatever. I want this experience to be worthwhile. I want to be open to it, not once again the terribly shy woman who raises her shoulders and hides from interaction with people. I worry that I simply don’t have the capacity to fake it, to hide my insecurity when walking into a room full of strangers.

I made a pretty significant lifestyle change two weeks ago and it has screwed with my sleep schedule and my metabolism and my habits. It’s probably screwed with my psyche a bit, too–I find myself searching the mirror for signs it’s working, but my brain fluctuates wildly between pride and confidence and a deep sureness that it isn’t working, there’s no progress, I’m kidding myself.

And I’m getting a cold. A goddamned summer cold, most likely from sleeping under my air conditioner.

I am, to my very core, a carrier. I carry my stresses and strains inside, for miles upon miles. I probably always will, to a great or lesser extent. My tombstone will read, “No, no, I’m fine. That’s fine. It’s fine.”

And re-reading this drivel, I feel the need to say that I am fine, I really, really am. I am.

But I do feel better for laying some stuff down. So thanks.

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I Did A Thing

Last week, I went home (one of three homes — I am a woman rich in emotional connections if not real estate) and did a thing.

It wasn’t a big thing; indeed, it was a pretty small thing in many ways. But I think it meant a great deal to a dear friend who has been a part of my life, in ways large and ways small, for 20 years and is now retiring from his dream job.

At dinner later, as I attempted to dissect the lovely event and he attempted to change the subject, he shook his head and ran a hand roughly across his forehead. “I don’t know why…” he said, then trailed off. “I just don’t know what I’ve done to make these people care.”

A pretty neat summary of the human condition, I think. The challenge is to put aside the question and just be gratefully accepting.

There endeth the Chicken Soup for Your Blogging Soul interlude. Below, should you care to read them, are the remarks I gave on Wednesday afternoon. I would like it noted for the record that I welled but I did not tear. Until after.

Madison, NJ, 2009

Good afternoon.

I can’t describe to you what it feels like to be asked to speak on behalf of thousands of Drew University alumni on the occasion of Chief Evans’ retirement from the Department of Public Safety.

I guess the closest I can come to describing it is…”payback.”

When Pat Naylor asked if I would do this, she wrote, “We’re hoping for a happy, upbeat tone.” Of course, I thought – just like Chief Evans himself. A regular ray of sunshine.

In all seriousness, there isn’t anywhere else I’d rather be today than here at my beloved alma mater, joining the Drew community in honoring one of the finest people I know.

For me, Drew has always been about people, many of whom are in this room today. People who challenged me, supported me, cheered for me, frustrated me, asked more of me. Chief Evans has done every one of those things for me and for 21 years worth of Drew students.

And we’re a needy group. We don’t park well, we can’t hold our liquor, we lose wallets and cell phones and keys, oh do we lose keys.

We drive too fast, we play our music too loud, we stay up too late and every once in a while, we break into the Commons in the middle of the night the week before graduation and move every single chair onto the roof. And no one is prouder of us when we pull off tricks like this than the Chief.

Of course, from time to time, we get ourselves into real jams. And when we do, there is no more fierce a protector, no more loyal a friend than Chief Evans.

Five years ago, almost to the day, I got an offer to go work in Washington. And Chief and I stood on the back porch of this building and he said, “You have to go, young lady. And if you don’t, I’ll kill you.” It was quintessential Tom Evans – support and friendship expressed as only he could do it.

There is no way for me to thank you, Chief, for everything you have given to this community over the last 21 years. It’s been an honor to work alongside you, to stand with you during difficult times, to call you friend.

And today I get to welcome you to the Drew alumni family. There are many, many perks and privileges that come along with this exalted status, not the least of which is, of course, the obscenely generous bookstore discount.

But I’m happiest about conferring this status on you, Chief, because quite frankly, I’m not sure I’d want to be part of this place if you weren’t anymore.

So, my friend, congratulations and great good luck. We love you.

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Vignette

I’m running it in my head, over and over, like a movie trailer, like an instant replay of something that hasn’t happened yet.

I see the platform, the stairs down to the parking lot. I can feel the hum of the highway below my wheels, the muscle memory that takes me from on-ramp to travel lanes to off-ramp while my mind races on ahead.

Camden, NJ, 2011

I want to control it all – set the angle of the sun in the sky, engineer the perfect soundtrack. I want the camera that doesn’t exist to capture the brave set of my jaw and the squaring of my shoulders, the quick and confident click of my heels as I force myself forward, step by step, toward you.

If it were a movie, the audience would know our heroine’s tells—they’d know she’s quailing inside, second-guessing her moves and her words and her very presence.

But I’m going to do it. I’m going to do what’s hard, because the alternative says things about me I don’t like, things that make me too much like you.

Set the jaw, square the shoulders. Click, click.

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Up Top

Have I told you how I feel about my roofdeck?

Washington, DC, 2011Because it’s nothing short of love between us.

On my roof, I’m 35 pounds lighter and four inches taller. The wine I sip is a sophisticated vintage only available to those most in the know. The book I read is witty yet thought-provoking and these qualities are wryly expressed by the cover art.

During daylight hours, I sit in dappled sunshine. At night, everything is candlelit. My shoes are sandals that display my devastating arch and well-turned ankle. My clothes are gauzy and flowing. My hair ripples in the breeze like a flag.

My friends are raconteurs and the wrought-iron furniture is hand-crafted by artisans in undiscovered Amazon villages. The air was bottled in Paris. The yellow jackets are heirloom yellow jackets from a organic yellow jacket farm in Idaho of which Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher are part owners.

Honestly, it’s good shit up there.

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Housekeeping

A couple of quick updates…

The foot is so much better. I was released from the boot about two weeks ago, though I played it safe and kept it on through my annual conference. Now I need to figure out where I can donate some crutches.

Washington, DC, 2011

Two days after annual meeting, I got on a plane and headed off for a week in Mexico. The most brilliant idea ever. Sleeping, sunning, eating, drinking. I read four and a half books. I drank many cervezas.

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, 2011Now I’m back and I don’t know if it’s the impending spring or the perfect relaxation of vacation, but I’m itching to do something. I need a project, an outlet.

Or I just need to wait until the feeling passes.

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A Whole Damn Month.

Crap. That’s no good. Wonder if I’d be more faithful to something like Tumblr. Probably not. I am a fickle, fickle beast.

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A Brief Political Interlude

I’m not a hugely political person. This despite having worked in politics (for Republicans) for much of my career, this despite being a to-the-bone Democrat. Most of the time, I shrug at the silly theater of “No new taxes!” and “Winning the future!”

I’m also leery of jumping on the bloggy bandwagon, but this evening, after being moved by Lemmonex’s tweet to make a donation and after reading Suburban Sweetheart’s fantastic post, here I am, standing with Planned Parenthood.

I know that the Pence amendment will die a most deserved death in the Senate. So what Rep. Mike Pence did by offering his amendment and what the United States House of Representatives did by approving it is make my health, my sister’s health, my mother’s health, Lemmonex and Suburban Sweetheart’s health a pawn in their silly, silly game.

The fact that it’s still ok to use women’s reproductive health as the rook on a political chessboard is staggering. No political party tries to score points by threatening research or treatment funding for testicular cancer or prostate cancer. Nor should they. So why, in this day and age, when we have so much important shit to worry about, is it ok threaten to shut down access to the vital services Planned Parenthood provides?

This isn’t about abortion — the federal funds Rep. Pence tried to zero out today don’t fund abortion, but they do fund STD and HIV testing and prenatal care. These aren’t luxuries for women or for the men they sleep with or for the children they carry.

I stand with Planned Parenthood. Click here to write to your Congressional representatives and click here to donate.

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