the way we spend our days

"the way we spend our days is, of course, the way we spend our lives." –annie dilliard

nifty shades of gray

in case you were wondering: 

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DAVYS GRAY: Named for Henry Davy (who doesn’t have a Wikipedia page, which must mean he isn’t real). For the sunlight-disinclined.

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JET GRAY (from my perfectcolor.com, in case you were wondering): The first recorded instance of jet was in 1450. Pretty old. So I would say this is for the medieval color-scheme inclined. 

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SLATE GRAY: For the earthy, or people not adventurous to use JET GRAY.

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XANADU: Wow. This picture is large, but so is the name of this gray (which, I definitely agree, does not look like gray). For people who want to paint their living rooms with colors that sound like anti-depressants. 

missing the mark (and then maybe one more time and then also a few more times)

Here we go again!

Meanwhile, a taxi with a glowing TAXI sign is sitting outside my house angrily honking. If I was in a movie and in a desperate stitch, I’d run out and get in and the driver would say “Are you Martha?” or something and I’d lie and say “Yeah, Martha, that’s me. I’d like to go to Iowa.” (or Nebraska, or probably California) and we’d go on a diner-desert infused indie-film roadtrip! But I have four potatoes, two loaves of pumpkin bread and a pan full of vegetables in the oven, so I’m just going to watch the TAXI blink out my window. I don’t think I’m in a desperate stitch: and if I was, I’m hoping to abate it with re-igniting a blog, for what must be the 15th time since I was 13. Open door, close door, open door. 

Blogs are not fashionable, in the sense that they run the gamut of navel gazing, which fact I am painfully aware of. I will probably not read yours unless you are Stephen Colbert or have unpretentious recipes on it. So, you’re welcome to not read this one. I understand.

It’s mostly for myself. Even though I’ve swung the pendulum of wanting to be saved, in some sense, this year I know that a blog will not save me any more than having romances with boys that read books or getting what you believe will be Zooey-Deschanel bangs or receiving praise, will. But the two things I am most afraid of:

1. Forgetting. 

2. Not knowing what I like

Can easily be prevented by obsessive cataloging. And boy, is writing an obsession. Between writing a poetry thesis, a litany of English papers (mostly on Aristotle…screw you, man), writing a column, helping put out a magazine and cheating on my poetry thesis with a heavy side of prose, senior year is marked by one thing: obsessive writing, which, better put, means missing the mark very often and being continually frustrated. But I’ve come to the unsettling conclusion that I don’t know what I like to do, and the only way I know to change that is to write things down and give way to a world that wants to be noticed. 

folk music is real

So, there we were (Suzanne, Siobhann, Sarah) huddled around our campfire. Maybe “campfire” is a bold word: we had hauled damp driftwood from the beach to pile up and after a few minutes of coaxing (via a tampon: camping tip, tampons are the best fire starters ever), had persuaded a limp flame to kind of just, hang out among the drift wood. Banagrams having proved difficult to play with two layers of gloves on, we just sat and drank tea. It was cold, around 25 degrees, and we were on an island. Our parents were probably worried.

All of  a sudden, a man stepped out from behind a palm tree. He looked like he was from Wisconsin.

“Hi,” he said, uncertainly. “My name is Lucas and I’m from Wisconsin. It’s my 30th birthday so, I mean, you should come over to our campfire. We have whiskey and a banjo and stuff.”

None of us can resist the siren of whiskey and a banjo and stuff, besides which; we could see their admirable campfire blazing from between the palm trees. So we walked over.  As it turned out, all of our neighbors were from Wisconsin, which was thrilling because I’ve never met anyone from Wisconsin but I have watched Lars and the Real Girl an embarrassing number of times and I’m not even sure LATRG is set in Wisconsin but I imagine it is. Anyways, everyone looked out of the movie: thick beards, knitted caps, vests. They welcomed us, vaguely introducing themselves all as politically radical and working at radio stations (which, Sio romanticized, must mean NPR and I agreed) and told stories about gardening and camping on frozen lakes; exactly the kind of things I always imagined people from Wisconsin talk about. And then, the one without a beard pulled out a banjo.

I am not unaccustomed to banjo’s. This is not because I play a banjo or know the difference between  a five-stringed, three-stringed or no-stringed banjo, but because I have been blessed to fall into groups of people who all happen to play folk instruments. This is how I know that folk music is real; because everywhere I go, there is a man with a banjo (wouldn’t that make a great novel? “everywhere edward went, there was a five-stringed banjo” except the rest of the novel would be pretty sub-par). I’m taking a class on the folk music revival of the 1960’s and have a tall stack of Bob Dylan books on my shelf; though I love these classes to death, in my more doubtful moments I wonder what relevance, if any, my Liberal Arts major has in ordinary life. American Studies and Folklore are studies of culture, but to a large degree, they are also studies of myth in every day life. We learn about folk songs from the Civil War, but then you think, so what? I like chasing ghosts, but sometimes the ghosts of the past become confused with what is actually happening in the present.

But sitting around the campfire with the Radical Wisconsin Radio Hosts, I remembered that, folk music is real (and so is my major…maybe…but it might not be). They made the round of folk songs, whooping and hollering into the cold. They sang Big Rock Candy Mountain, and the six-year old, who somehow in the dark had nestled his way underneath my arm, knew every word and sang it loudly. They sang Freight Train by my hero, Libba Cotten, who, as it happens,  lived in Carrboro in the early 20th century and wrote Freight Train about the train track that runs by my house (and she was discovered when she happened to help one of the Seeger children find their mother in a department store! What are the odds!).

As a final birthday present, the non-bearded man sang Lucas a song he made up about Hobo Joe. It was brilliant and warbly and raw and about waterfalls and lost love. If I had been a true folk document-er I would have had a pencil and paper and could have recorded the words, but I didn’t. Instead, they trailed off into the emptiness of the island, and we thanked the Radical Wisconsin Radio Hosts for their campfire hospitality and said goodnight. Except, I had to run back to give Lucas his seashell. I’d felt rude going to someone’s birthday campfire without a present, so on the way over I picked up one of the 50-something shells I’d found up on the beach (with the ambitious idea that I’d get home and make CRAFTS with them-SHELL ART!) and presented it to Lucas, and said

“Umm this shell is for you. It might look like every other conch shell you’ve seen in your life, but it actually has properties to bring you good luck on your 30th year.”

He looked at me with watery blue eyes and accepted it. “I’ll carry this to the end of my life.”

I think he was joking, but you never know with hobos. If I run into him in forty years at a commune or camping, he might just be wearing it on a string around his neck.

recaps

Tonight, I went back to reread old entries and was reminded of the following obscure memories that wouldn’t be preserved if I didn’t have a blog and if you have read this blog for awhile, was inspired to post the following summaries. Call it best-of-life-moments-while-having-a-blog-since-thirteen-life. This, if nothing else, is the reason that having a blog since you were thirteen is valuable. While it may seem somewhat self-congratulatory to re-post these particular memories, if you are reading this, you probably participated in them anyways. The Top 15 Things I Forgot Actually Happened:

1. Having a dog jump out of my window while I was driving. Having the dog live (and we were reunited in December! I am happy to report that Dog #2 is flourishing in her charming country life).

2. Meeting a guy named Tony who gave Sarah and I a tour of D.C (“Unlike most guys named Tony, he wasn’t creepy, just a visionary young guy in orange pants who had an hour to kill”)

3. Asking Dave The Bearded Outdoorsmen “What is the difference between a long-leaf pine and a short-leaf pine?”. Not continuing in the Outdoor Education program. Coincidence? Not a coincidence? Only God knows.

4. The Jane Austen Bedspread: a classic.

5. The Davis Librarians discussing my poor choices of biking clothes (aka, romperbiking, never a good idea). Do I know said Davis librarians? No. Do they know me? Apparently. Having the gossip get back to me. Reforming romperbiking.

6. Having 15 Rwandan Schoolteachers praying for a husband for me (“I love babies.” Peter: “Ah! I see! You are ready to have babies! You want a husband!No.”). Come to think of it, though, this is not unlike all the hairdressers I am currently acquainted with who are also praying for a husband for me. Prayers (husbands, babies) pending. Thank goodness. 

7. The inherent awkwardness in showing up for a date with the Belgian UN Ambassador and then running out of the restaurant right as he arrived. Saying hello. Saying goodbye. Feeling awkward.

8. Running: “Believe it or not, this is actually the second time this week that I’ve been running and been motivated by a yellow beard.”

9. About Goodwill, this also is still very very true: “The employee that looks like whoopi goldberg is still an employee and still looks like whoopi goldberg. the cranberries still play every ten minutes and the idea of of purchasing bagels from an aisle adjacent to the used-lamp aisle still creeps me out. this is comforting somehow; the idea that nothing ever changes at goodwill.”

10. Forgetting that there is a button that pops the little door on your car so you can get gas, unsuccessfully trying to pry it  open with my credit card, and going inside to ask for help. Commence gas station man patting me on the cheek. Feeling humbled. Moving on.

11. This line from the poem Zoe wrote me: “who on earth would have spent their entire summer/ volunteering when they could have gotten rich and bought a hummer/who in this lifetime would have thought to take care of a dog/that was being hunted like a tasty frog.” That’s right, a dog hunted like a tasty frog! Who jumps out of car windows!

12. My autobiography accidentally being printed in the town paper. (“Bold move, Sarah.” Kelley told me. “Huh? What are you talking about?” I said, as she handed me the town paper).

13. The Feast: “An assortment of elderly people in armor came, I’m not sure where from; and then the artists who were camping by the pond. They all got drunk very quickly and disappeared in pairs into the orchard above, while the rest of us sat by the fire and quietly ate Rhubarb Pie.”

14. Setting Maggie’s microwave on fire on an exam day by heating up a metal cup (here is the six-word short story: Blew Out Flames, Firemen Came Anyway)

15. Having a very wise monk in my ESL class. I miss him.

The End!

happy new year, write lots in books

I’ve met some Billy Collins snobs. That’s cool.  But me, I like poets best who take thoughts and emotions minute enough that you might not be able to put them into the word “thought” or “emotion”, and turn it into a story with unsentimental adjectives, with metaphors that take time. Billy Collins does that so well, and I love this poem because I love books that have the margins written in. Even when it’s a little annoying (think: Cold Mountain with the following annotations “she’s unhappy!”, “nature”, “the civil war”, etc etc) it’s still funny. It gives the book personality. I write in all books even in pencil in…YIKES….library books.

marginalia

sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
if i could just get my hands on you,
kierkegaard, or conor cruise o’brien,
they seem to say,
i would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

other comments are more offhand, dismissive –
“nonsense.” “please!” “ha!!” –
that kind of thing.
i remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
who wrote “don’t be a ninny”
alongside a paragraph in the life of emily dickinson.

students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
one scrawls “metaphor” next to a stanza of eliot’s.
another notes the presence of “irony”
fifty times outside the paragraphs of a modest proposal.

or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
hands cupped around their mouths.
“absolutely,” they shout
to duns scotus and james baldwin.
“yes.” “bull’s-eye.” “my man!”
check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

and if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written “man vs. nature”
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

we have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

even irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird singing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

and you have not read joshua reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with blake’s furious scribbling.

yet the one i think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of catcher in the rye
i borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
i was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents’ living room,
and i cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when i found on one page

a few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, i could tell,
whom i would never meet-
“pardon the egg salad stains, but i’m in love.”

-billy collins

HELLO I AM BACK!

 

Please, you say, rolling your eyes. I have so heard that a time or two.

(Or, maybe you don’t say this, because three months later you have stopped checking this page. Oh well.)

I will probably say it again because I am a slacker. But the thing is, blogging has always been a discipline; a good habit that I have maintained steadily since I was thirteen like flossing or running. I have loved it because it combines my two favorite things: making lists and telling stories. The last kind is especially valuable because there’s no real place for that in ordinary life; a space for telling stories that no one asked you to tell. Not for awhile anyways, until I am an old woman in a rocking chair and can spin unsolicited stories as much as I like (can’t wait). But, unless it isn’t yours, you don’t have to ask permission to tell a story on a blog.

Like: today I came in the back entrance of the bookstore I used to work at; an entrance that makes you come down the stairs looking like you really know what you are doing, like you know everything about books. I wanted to buy thank-you notes and peek at the bestseller clipping that is always posted on the wood post. There was this guy standing in the classics section; handsome, wearing work boots with crusty clay still clinging to them, and a trucker hat. I think he thought I was an employee, because he looked up and “HEY” in a loud, sudden way and I smiled and walked past fast so he would know I didn’t work there. He was holding a Socrates book, turning it over and then over again, in his hands. I have forgotten many things since working there; like how to ring up gift cards or when it will be in stock again; but I still know how to recognize a customer with a question. He walked to the cash register, hesitated, and then put the book back and walked out.

It wasn’t my fault, but I still felt a little guilty. Maybe he would have bought the Socrates book if I had said “HEY” back. Why didn’t he buy it? Was I just surprised because he was wearing construction boots?

The other reason I mostly stopped blogging was because I picked up poetry and that replaced all other forms of writing: not just writing poetry for class, but reading it; actually getting up early for it and losing myself for hours every day, backspacing it. This was a good development, because I really, really like poetry; and if I could pull anything even vaguely academic out of my college experience; I would want it to be learning that. But 2012 will be different, because I will be able to handle more than one writing discipline, or two or more disciplines in any arena, for that matter. Things are looking up. I already went running today and might floss.

Clothespins. This is my favorite poem that I read today, by Robert Bly:

I’d like to have spent my life making
Clothespins. Nothing would be harmed,
Except some pines, probably on land
I owned and would replant. I’d see
My work on clotheslines near some lake,
Up north on a day in October,
Perhaps twelve clothespins, the wood
Still fresh, and a light wind blowing.

Tomorrow, I get to drive to Asheville and see a staggering portion of my favorite women: Eva, Sarah1, Sarah2, Ayla, Jessica, LINDSAY! It is something of a grown-up holiday vacation; where we all get dressed up in tinsel and go out for drinks and host brunches and drink spiked eggnog (maybe); except that it is at our parent’s houses and they are feeding us and giving us beds to sleep in. Nevertheless, I have been having fantasies about velvet all week.

I love the drive to Asheville because it stays exactly the same. There is an old man at a gas station along the way that gives me free coffee; but I never look at the exit number because I have a game that I play with my intuition called “I bet I can sense the exit coming up and in the mountains you can feel these things” As if. Sometimes I get too zealous with my intuition. Something you should definitely not do when free coffee is on the line.

Today, I was sitting inside a tire shop waiting for my tire to get changed; and let me tell you, it was an amazing place. The tire-changing men–a tribe of honest abe’s, in navy-blue collared-shirts–took my keys politely and gave me the internet pass code. It smelled like grease and coffee; a comforting train of soap operas flashed by on the television and I was addressed as “Miss Edwards”, a title I am rarely privy to, except on the envelopes of bank bills and in first-grade classrooms. I wanted to write a poem to this place to express my feelings. Someone asked me today if my poems ever rhymed and I said no, they sound pretty damn artificial when I try, so I tried to rhyme it and sure enough, it sounded artificial (although, something beginning with the line oh chapel hill tire, chapel hill tire how I love you so! didn’t stand much of a chance to begin with). Instead, I picked up my keys, wrote a hefty check and left.

But it did make me realize this: once I start writing poems to a tire shop, I know I might as well start blogging again. I left this one for awhile. Seven years–that’s right, seven!–was enough time spent typing out my feelings about the world (or, so I thought). Plus, I thought that if I stopped blogging, I would actually start writing independently more and become a real writer, which has always been the goal. To prove this to myself, I started getting up before 7 to write and rearranged my room so that my grandmother’s old desk faced my window. This is something I figure Real Writers do: get up, drink coffee, write and watch the sunrise; live your life, then return, drink wine, write and watch the streetlights blink out. Didn’t Virginia Woolf do that? Right?

But I didn’t actually do that, except for the watching streetlights blink out part. I do watch them, every night: the moth-light of my own porch light and the television square of the Bro’s Across The Street, the dim glow through the woods of my neighbor. The lights are the slow, dependable fireworks at the end of the day, and I seek dependability. Besides which, I started blogging for a health food magazine (decided I have nothing to say about health food, quietly stopped blogging), started blogging for the UNC Admissions office and my internship at the Women’s Center; and so I might as well blog here, too.

In the two months that I didn’t touch this webpage and didn’t really become a Real Writer, either, here are a few things I did do:

+Lacked Socks in cold weather

+Turned 21 and had a pioneer party to celebrate

+Directed my first short play

+Got my first acceptance letter for a poem and, immediately following that, my first rejection letter

+Missed this summer more than I can say

+Still lacked socks, in even colder weather and no heat in my house. Welcome to Russia!!

So here I am, readers that have persisted in the face of an indefinite absence. Thanks for stopping by! I’m going to try and be better. And if you ever need a place to get your tires changed, I have some very strong feelings about a shop down the road.