Friday, August 22, 2008

Moving sucks

That has been the theme of everything this summer.
I'm sitting in a nearly empty room listening to music that reminds me of a year ago. This music is arriving in this empty room with boxes and hope, it is driving on 206 under a canopy of fall leaves, it is homemade mayonnaise and aperitif with olives and cornichons, it is red wine from Trader Joe's, it is a million late night conversations around the little table in the little kitchen, it is bug collecting, it is walking to the Writing Center on cold mornings and stopping to look at the green steeple of the red church through the branches of a yellow-leafed gingko. It is working all day, every Tuesday, drinking gallons of tea, in the warm, friendly office of the Writing Center, yapping with my new friends.
I wish (in a way) I had been more detached this past year - that I hadn't thrown myself head and heart first into would make this separation less painful. I made a ton of new friends, only to leave them, I formed routines only to break them.
I hope I make friends in Morristown, instead of having to wait until weekends to see my New Brunswick friends.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Birds and insects are singing all around me. Occasionally, church bells join in, coming in with the soft breeze; it's like their sounds are rolling over me just as is the cool air. A strip of sunlit grass glows, with cheerful, wild clover blossoms sticking up. Bumblebees float around the roses-of-Sharon that someone planted, who knows how many years ago, holding their own among tall weeds and neglected tomato plants against the back fence.
I think this is one of my favorite things about this summer--at least about the everyday routine stuff. Though in a way, I guess I do like this--my sitting in the backyard drinking coffee routine--as much as I liked seeing the USA and traveling to Vancouver. As much as I liked the excitement, I like peace, too.
It's nice to be able to sit and reflect, to take a small break from the anxieties of now and the wondering and worrying about these next weeks will bring. I only have fourteen more mornings to do this, to sit in this yard at this house. From where I sit, I can't see the garbage in the neighbors' yard. I can't see the inside of my falling-apart apartment. I can't see the tub that won't drain or the leaky refrigerator, the buckling kitchen floor and the broken kitchen tiles. I can't see dirty streets devoid of natural life (except for grass and invasive plants). I see white houses with colorful shutters and roofs, birds and insects, and our behind-the-house neighbor's vegetable and flower garden. I see my little refuge from the potentially scary future.
I know it probably won't be scary. Between turning in my last paper and leaving for the road trip, I would get these occasional, brief surges of panic--not because I was afraid that something terrible would happen to us, but just that it was so unknown. My routine that I've had for as long as I can remember would be gone. It would be like learning how to live and be me again, like becoming a new self. And I realized yesterday that I have changed a lot since the middle of May when I finished college. The way I approach things and think about things has in some way drastically changed. But it doesn't feel unnatural, like I jumped all over the place. It feels in some way like a natural progression, like even though I'm so different, I'm more me.
Mainly, I'm afraid of less things. I can't believe how much I used to worry. I still do, of course. But I feel like AFRAID is the word that fits how I felt. I was so afraid that I bet it kept good things out of my life, because I was too afraid to go out and meet them when they were coming to me, or go out and get them when they were just out of reach.
It makes me wonder if other people around me, who you wouldn't think are this way, are actually terrified of things in their lives that could be really good for them - just terrified for some reason - and it's crippling them, keeping them from being as happy as they could be.
Someone in this neighborhood is cooking breakfast. It smells like eggs and bacon and toast. I wish I could have some!
I just finished reading The Walk West by Peter and Barbara Jenkins. It made me want to see new things, the things I managed to miss on my 10,000 mile road trip; it made me want to mail a copy of the book to Mary right away and insist that she read it; it made me want to do something adventurous and physically taxing (more like testing - a test for myself, a test and an exercise) like going on a big walk; it made me want to see more of the world and read and read. It also made me want to keep going to work, keep entering my expenses into an Excel spreadsheet, and keep living this stationary, practical life for a bit, so I can save money and days off to go travel!
Especially when this stationary life isn't so bad. I had a really nice time at work yesterday. One of the things I did was help at a big outdoor event where, at our table, we were helping people (mainly people with no yards and possibly not a lot of money) learn about houseplants, giving them free plants, and teaching them how to re-pot and take care of them. I had this flash of memory, realizing that THIS was what I wanted to do when I was in college, working towards my botany degree. It's not the only thing, but something like this--making people happy, helping them out in some little way--my way being plants, because that's what I know about--that is one of the things I wanted to do when I was sitting in Botany School thinking, What do I ultimately want to do with this degree?
So now I need a new book to read. The last three books I have read were A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins, A Walk in the Woods by ... I forget ..., and The Walk West. All three books were about walking! Maybe I should read a more stationary book now; a book that doesn't encourage the desire to throw my belongings into a suitcase and hit the road....or head for the AT. Patrick and I traded A Walk in the Woods for Primary Colors, plus I still have his copy of The Magic Mountain. I "borrowed" a bunch of my dad's Richard Brautigan books, and I have a book about ferns to read, too.
I have nothing more to write about. I have today and tomorrow off, so I think I'm going to continue packing, cleaning, knocking things off the to-do list, but also make time for fun things like reading, relaxing, and baking zucchini bread or clafoutis. Or pickling cherries. I have some NY sour cherries and I can't decide if I should pickle them or make clafoutis. I think I'm going to finally - for the first time since the road trip - clean my car.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I just heard something that made me very happy...
The ice cream truck that drives around our neighborhood for hours and hours on summer nights was just playing "Deck the Halls." It's been a long time since I've heard it playing seasonally inappropriate songs! It's been "The Entertainer" and "Do Your Ears Hang Low?" all summer!
I'm taking a break from cleaning and packing right now, drinking this new beer I had to buy because it is called...
Of all the places I'd see the word BALLAST, I think the last one I could think of would be the liquor store. I was tempted to buy bottles for Sasha and Lena, the other two members of the Ballast Plants of New Jersey team.
Once I find my camera cable, I will post a picture of this beer.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Socially Conservative 2000's

My mother always rips articles out of Newsweek and the local paper and will give them to me, in a pile with my mail that got sent to their house. Like many people, I'm frequently too busy (or perceive myself as too busy) to sit down and read through them when I get them. Yet I rarely throw them away unread. They just, at the end of each year when I move, get piled together in the box labeled "Misc Papers" with class notes I want to keep, academic articles I want to keep, bank statements, pay stubs, bank receipts, and letters.
While packing to move from this apartment, I finally had the idea to put them in a bag, and that way, when I'm drinking my coffee outside in the mornings, keeping them all together, and actually making an effort to go through them. This is nice because they're about an assortment of topics,'s just nice to sit down and read something factual but not overly dense, sometimes. Sometimes I'm so starved for text that I find myself reading the uninteresting surrounding articles, even if they're sensationalist trash about Heath Ledger or Amy Winehouse.
I have an entire issue (not just ripped out articles) of Newsweek saved, because the whole thing looked interesting. It is from July 2007. That tells you how far behind I am in my reading.
This was a rather long preamble to my topic...
Anyway, the article I read yesterday was about Jane Austen, her current popularity among a wide array of audiences, and what all that means. It was really great! There's a lot I could say about it, but I'll limit myself for now, especially since, not having the article in front of me, I might be less than accurate. I'll edit this post later with the article nearby, so I can at least write down the name and writer.
The writer discussed the popularity of Jane Austen, contrasting her with equally popular Dickens and Shakespeare, but arguing that they have lapsed into "venerability," whereas Austen has remained accessible--like someone you could sit down and have coffee with. Like an eighteenth century version of our (most intelligent) chick lit heroines. But, she argues at the end of the piece, this doesn't make her low-brow. I guess what she's saying is the great thing about Austen is that she is accessible at nearly every level--though perhaps ignored by literary snobs of the highest order.
Anyway, one of the parts of the article that jumped out at me and stuck with me all day was reference to "the socially conservative 2000's." I am going to get the wording screwed up probably, but she was writing about how - I believe it was the marriage plot in Austen's novels - resonates with the "would-be feminists" of the "socially conservative 2000's" who have instead become "Bridezillas."
Something clicked. Socially conservative!? I've never before heard our decade referred to in this manner...but it makes sense. I frequently find myself thinking about an issue of progress or equality and wondering why things seem stagnant - even regressing. I wonder why I have to argue in a class at a women's college that there's nothing biologically weird or wrong with a man who decides to take care of his children instead of working full time. Why so many people seem obsessed with banning gay marriage. Or weirded out by interracial couples. Why I have to assert, so often it seems, that although I lack a Y chromosome, I am actually cut out to be a scientist/live alone/have opinions/drive a car/walk down the street without a male relative (obviously I am exaggerating.)
I learned in my medieval lit class--where I was shocked by how racy some of the texts were, or by some of the feminist stuff I read--that contrary to what we believe, society hasn't been climbing a liberal, progressive escalator for all time. It frequently goes in waves. So are we in a downhill slope right now? Are we going to have less rights? Am I just going to have to get used to truck drivers honking at me (and not in a friendly way) because I have the audacity to be a woman with my shoulders showing driving alone on a highway? Let alone when we were driving across the country -- well, there were TWO of us then, and what were we doing so far from home? With no men to look out for us and keep us out of trouble! How did we do it without killing ourselves in some haplessly female way--such as forgetting where we parked our car, or getting so distracted by a "Clearance" sign at a shoe store that we forgot to look both ways and ran into traffic, or perhaps of dehydration due to crying SO MUCH, you know, women are such saps, we couldn't stop, and we were in the desert and it's like, dry there.
I only latch onto feminism because I am female and have the most personal experience with it. But this conservatism relates to all things - censorship, gender equality, racial equality, class, gay rights...etc.
What do you think, my three readers? Are we progressing at all, or are we truly in the socially conservative 2000's? Will we have to be more watchful to maintain our rights?