Category Archives: road to freedom

Walking to Know a Place

This morning, I put on my cheap white Old Navy sneakers and headed out the door of our new home.

When I moved to Somerville, it was the beginning of a beautiful summery September. I walked everywhere. I quickly learned that the bike path, while not faster than College Ave, at least offered more beauty and quiet. I peered into shop windows. I wandered into a vegan taco shop (accidently) and was sorely disappointed by my cheeseless/meatless taco. I discovered I didn’t have to go to the artsy, hipster (and, ultimately, quite depressing) coffee shop in Davis, but that delicious coffee was around every corner. I learned that cutting through Nathan Tufts park was the best way to prolong a good phone call or enjoy the last rays of a setting sun.

When I moved to this new town, with its rich history and fascinating blend of socio-economic statuses and educations, it was the cold, snowy month of November. Gabe and I got married Thanksgiving weekend, and even though it was a beautiful and fun celebration (there were points in the evening when he would lean over to me at our little table for two and whisper: I wish we could live this over and over again), it didn’t leave much time for settling in. Christmas flew upon us in a whirlwind, and I was suddenly asked to split holidays and change my ideas of how things go. By the time the New Year started, I had only tried two restaurants in our new hometown, and for this pretend-Bostonian, that is shocking.

I didn’t take a single walk.

I drove to the post office, the town hall. I drove to the famed sports bar/restaurant for a buffalo chicken calzone (not even close to Mike’s). I drove to the YMCA, worked out, and drove home. I drove to the DMV and sat groaning for over an hour, only to be told that I needed to change my name with Social Security first. I gripped the edge of the counter, leaned backward and said through my teeth: “I am not mad at you, but I am very mad.”

Not only had I moved to a new state, but that state was not so sure it wanted me.

It’s taking me awhile to settle in because I’ve been confined to my car. Or I’ve been in our condo, trying to set up our home in such a way that we want to spend time here. We’ve arranged furniture, cooked new meals, cleaned the bathrooms. I’ve been so consumed with teaching and life changes, that I haven’t actually settled in.

So today, I emptied the dishwasher. I prayed. I walked downtown. I looked at the buildings I passed. I smiled at the runners (I am still in awe). I met a high school friend for coffee, and she connected me with a friend who is involved with a local church Gabe and I are considering. I drank a hot coffee and tried to explain my experience with the Church, with church, with God, in a few sentences. It felt new and interesting to do this, partly because so many times I talk to the same people who have known my my whole life, or at least my whole adult life.

I walked over the river to the library and got my library card. That’s how I know it’s official. I checked out two books, partly to show the librarian I mean business.

—     —     —

As you can see, I’ve decided not to stop blogging. I seriously, seriously considered it. I went over all the reasons it may be time to move on. I had a few good ones.

But then I set up my desk.

[the imperfection of the creative process — I couldn’t resist a little filter action, though]

It is the largest desk I’ve ever had. Gabe and I found it at a thrift shop and picked it up with my father’s truck two days later. I am still not using it to its fullest potential, but I have a lamp. I have plants. I have a candle.

There’s something about this desk that begs me to write at it, just like this new town begs me to walk its sidewalks.

Discover it for who it is. Bring to it who I am.

That’s what I plan to do here, as well.

Who Am I?

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We play this game in class with the last few minutes on Fridays. I call it “Who Am I?” but really it’s just “20 Questions,” and only sometimes do I make them choose Greek and Roman mythological characters. One student leaves the room while the rest of us decide which person he or she is.

They love making boys goddesses and girls gods.

And so we’ll choose a character and call the exile in. He or she will commence asking yes-or-no questions until eventually it becomes clear who he or she is supposed to embody.

The thing I keep noticing is this response from the rest of the students.

Let’s say it’s a girl, and she only knows that she’s from mythology, she’s male, and she’s not a god. Her next question might be:

“Did I defeat a lion?”

Every time, the rest of the class guffaws in disbelief.

How could you ask that question?

OBVIOUSLY NOT.

Oh my gosh…!

I didn’t quite understand what was happening until this week.

While one student stands ignorant in front of her classmates, the rest of them can only function with their knowledge. They’ve forgotten (in the span of about .65 minutes) that not everyone has the same information they have. This student asks “Did I defeat a lion?” with less knowledge than they have, but with enough to wonder, hmmmm…maybe I’m Hercules…

Student: “Did I get punished by the gods?”

Chorus: “HAHAHAHA!”

Student: “Did I become an animal?”

Chorus: “WHAT?!”

After a few rounds of this teeheeing and finger-pointing, finally I stood up.

“Listen, guys,” I said, “you have to remember that she doesn’t know what you know. Her questions make complete sense because she doesn’t know already that she’s Theseus. The question only sounds crazy to you because you already know.”

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I have this vision of something big and grand that would open high schooler’s eyes to the great wonderful world. I have this idea that our faith is too small, too cultural, and that to get these kids out where Christianity looks different but transforms just the same is part of my job.

I look at my students, and I want to dump every ounce of experience and wisdom I’ve gained through trial and error into their beings so that they don’t have to do it themselves.

I wonder how parents do it. How do you watch these little half-yous-but-not-at-all-yous walk the earth and not suffocate them? How do you let them function in their ignorance? And it isn’t ignorance in the negative way, so much as it is a stage.

You can’t force experience.

RIght, you can’t, but what is experience if not created?

How do you not expect your children, your students, to be in the same place you are?

I am constantly reminding myself that I function at a different level than these young minds and souls I teach.

They don’t know who they are.

They walk into the room, and they don’t know who they are, so their questions, the way they interact, might seem strange to me, the one who has just a bit more knowledge.

The one who progressed smoothly (and not so smoothly) through the stages of growth to arrive at a non-arrival where things are still being worked-out.

Even people all the same age are not in the same place. Whether it be actually (some are married, some are single, some have children, some travel the world) or just internally (some feel confident, some love their jobs, some long for more, some have faith that pumps life), we are all spinning on different trajectories.

And that’s okay.

I will never have the calmness of my high school friend, who, when I asked her, “What do we have to look forward to?”, said:

“Well, I’m a pretty content person. So I don’t know what to say.”

That will never be me.

We’re spinning different stories, but we’re both playing our own games of “Who Am I?”.

Good Things #45: A Face that Shines

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Exodus says that the people could tell Moses had been with God based only upon the look of his face.  It is real when it is real hard. Don’t go to a place to preach, go to help and in helping earn the opportunity to share the reason your face looks different.”

I asked my uncle about missions and what he thought about them and I tried to explain why I wrestle with a lot of what I see around me. And this is what he sent me.

It has been my prayer since opening his email.

Does my face look different? Does it shine?

Am I breathing in that I may breathe out?

 

Bleeding Out

Even if I was lonely, even if I was broke
Even if all the dogs in the pound let me know
Saying it’s never over, it never ends
Grab the guns and the ammo, let us descend
To the darkest of prisons, and break their defense
We will rattle the cages, rules will be bent
Oh, remind us our days are all numbered not spent
And peace it comes easy, like mist on a ridge

[Chorus]
Breathing in, breathing out, it’s all in my mouth
Gives me hope that I’ll be, something worth bleeding out
Breathing in, breathing out, it’s all in my mouth
Gives me hope that I’ll be, something worth bleeding out
All the worries folks tell us to break all of our ties
To our families and loved ones, we leave when we fly
To these cities we think we need in our lives
Oh you Manhattan jungle, you tangle our pride

[Chorus]
Breathing in, breathing out, it’s all in my mouth
Gives me hope that I’ll be, something worth bleeding out
Breathing in, breathing out, it’s all in my mouth
Gives me hope that I’ll be, something worth bleeding out

All the buildings, they lean and they smile down on us
And they shout from their roof tops, words we can’t trust
Like you’re dead, you are tired
You’re ruined, you’re dust
Oh you will amount to nothing, like tanks full of rust
But we scream back at them

From below on the street

All in unison we sing, at times, been redeemed
We are all of the beauty, that has not been seen
We are full of the color, that’s never been dreamed
Well, nothing we need ever dies, yeah
Nothing we need ever dies, yeah
Nothing we need ever dies
[Chorus]
Breathing in, breathing out, it’s all in my mouth
Gives me hope that I’ll be, something worth bleeding out
Breathing in, breathing out, it’s all in my mouth
Gives me hope that I’ll be, something worth bleeding out.

Adulthood: Part 1

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[Was teaching English with this lady worth it? Yes, I’d say so.]

On April 6th, I wrote two checks: one to the federal government and one to the state government. I cursived boldly because I was angry. I whined to my father that it didn’t seem right to take so much money from someone who made so little. I dipped into my savings to cover the amount of money I owed my country in taxes.

Frustration comes quickly when it comes to money. I’ve been working hard over the past year to save as much as possible, partly because I knew I’d be paying for grad school, and partly because somewhere in my imagination I’d love to buy a little house in the future. Every pay check, I’d put a little away, and I’d been hoping not to touch it for years.

Well, I had to.

It’s the first year I’ve ever owed the government. I’m used to getting a good chunk back (thank you! forced savings!), but this time, because I worked as a contracted employee teaching English last summer, I was the one in the red. Yes, I was fully aware when I took the job that I was responsible for the taxes. What I’d been hoping was that somehow it would all cancel out…I grumbled as I took money out of my account, and I grumbled as I mailed the checks.

But that’s exactly what savings are for, right?

Don’t we have them for expenses we’re not anticipating?

These are the words I know my father was thinking but didn’t say. These are the words I used to coach myself down from my anger. (It’s not like the roads are all well-paved and pothole-free because I paid my taxes. My bug is getting DESTROYED out there.)

I will say I benefit greatly from the Library Reads campaign that’s been happening in my town. And from the stop signs and traffic lights, sidewalks and what-have-you. Yes, taxes are a necessity, I know this.

So shouldn’t I be grateful that I had the money to pay these taxes?  That I didn’t have to ask my parents to help their flummoxed daughter?

I feel this is the beginning of a lifelong balancing act between patriotism and my desire for autonomy.

Despite my half-joking prayers, God did not have my taxes miraculously paid for me. But he did enable me to save up to pay them myself.

So, I’m working on being grateful. Guess I’ll have to put off buying that luxury yacht another year.

Lessons While Driving

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My mom says Dad could never sit around the apartment. He’d come home eleven hours after he’d left, shed his city-coated suit, eat the dinner my mom was learning to make, and then say, “Let’s go for a drive.”

We’d get buckled into the blue volvo and cruise the streets. Mom says it was back when gas was cheap and they were young and the apartment walls felt like a trap.

I don’t remember this – we moved out of the two bedroom apartment when I was three – but I do remember the lull of the car from the backseat. I remember watching the taillights and asking how come everyone got to speed except us. I was sandwiched between the twins’ carseats, and they thoroughly enjoyed pulling my hair.

When we grew up a little and moved to the house, I remember driving on the weekends. My favorite was when we headed to the beach, especially in a storm, and watched the waves hit the rough, red sand. Late-afternoon Sundays spent along winding marsh roads, the twins had stopped pulling hair by then, and Harrison was tucked into his carseat. We ate grapes and danced in the water, my aunt and uncle meeting us for a beach dinner (or at least, that’s how I remember it).

And then our twice-yearly trips to Maine…a slightly different story. We drove the six or seven hours, often with a dog or two in the backseat. Long after we’d started asking, we stopped at a gas station and Dad would buy two fruit pies – one for himself and one for the four of us to split. Mom would get her diet coke (but none for us ’cause kids drink tried and true coca cola), and, when I got old enough, I’d opt for a snickers over the fruit pie. I got pretty adept at reading in a moving vehicle, and the first book I remember reading in the car was a green biography of George Washington. The biggest book I ever read was Harry Potter, page after page until we rolled into the driveway.

[This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I thought as I was taking my driving test.]

My first car will beat any future cars because it’s a cream convertible bug and there’s nothing that screams *FUN* like one of those.

The first time I was allowed to drive kids outside my family (i.e., the day I had my license for six months) was Cinco de Maio in 2005. My two cousins and my sister and I headed to Chile’s, the top down and the freest we’d ever been. We were home by 8:00 but it felt like heaven.

This summer I went for the longest road trip of my twenty-five years. The girls knew what they were doing – they packed food to eat on the drive, taught me that you leave in the middle of the night and take shifts, and were far better at pushing through the exhaustion than I was. I felt like a little kid in the backseat, and I didn’t mind the feeling at all. When I woke up, rubbing my eyes, we were in New York state and it was my turn soon. I felt like a little kid who could somehow drive a car.

When we stopped, I got a coke and snickers. Tried and true road trip food.

2013 – A Year in Pictures

 Start off the New Year with a birthday and a dance party. Enjoy the fact that 2 goes into 4 twice and 24 makes a beautiful number.

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One of the perks of sticking close to home is you get to visit your old favorites.

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The girls had a rainy spring and the garden went through a transformation.

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At first, I was completely against the pond. “It’s too big! Who’s gonna maintain it? My forsythia bush!” Now, though, I’ve grown to like it. I do NOT however agree with the unceremonious way my forsythia was disposed of.

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We sold out of honey for the first time this year – a good thing, in most ways, but I hate having to tell people to wait till the spring. We’re also doing the favors for two weddings. Picture this: cute little glass jars with “One Pound Honey” on them, a simple cream label and a bow of twine.

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My first wedding of the season was on a beautiful island in Maine. We sang “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need” and frolicked in the night along the dark streets of a sleepy town.

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I learned that you can have the wedding you want and surround yourself with all different kinds of people at once.

Hannah\'s Wedding

We drove half-way across the country to celebrate another college friend’s wedding. The groom made their wedding shoes of leather and they danced to swing.

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I even missed a wedding, but I got to go on a hiking bachelorette – that’s the way to do it!

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The wine tasting which brought four friends together on a hot June Sunday. It’s also where a little bet began, but that’s for another day.

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The best summer job ever – teaching English at my Alma Mater.

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We didn’t have any fun at all.

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And then a trip to London, a trip I never thought I’d go on.

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A train-ride away was Oxford, and this is my attempt at a panorama.

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We stumbled upon an exhibit of mystical writings and illuminated manuscripts at Oxford University. We also found a large blue rooster.

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This photo was taken at Kensington Gardens, after a not-so-pleasant run trying to catch a tour through the palace (“I’m sorry, it’s 5:02. The tours are closed.”). I look much happier than my feet were feeling at the moment.

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A week at the Swiss L’Abri and mornings of “Oh my gosh, this is real.” Did you know the Swiss care about bees, too?!

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Fishing trips in the Atlantic are always cold, even in August.

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We didn’t win the photo contest, but the winners were holding a baby. Not fair.

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Cousin Christmas pic.

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The last photo of 2013. A reunion of roomies and I got to hold her little one for the first time.

[This has been a good exercise for me. Too often I let things slip through my fingers, moments of joy and communion, the hard lessons I’ve learned and re-learned.]

[Next week, I’ll be posting my favorite things of 2013. A little late, but I want to make sure it’s a rocking list.]

A London Update

The best sleeps are the stolen ones. I’ve had a lot of those since getting to London. The best, though, was in a tiny graveyard in Oxford. I thought it was secluded (“I just need a place where no one can see me. I’ve had enough of people.”), and I laid down in the grass and leaves and branches and fell asleep. It was safe – my friend sat beside me writing a short story – but it wasn’t nearly as secluded as I’d imagined. People walked by, talking and laughing, and the sounds of the small city lulled me to sleep. It’s been far too easy for me to drift off lately.

Not everything about this trip has been so easy.

For example: I am currently sitting in an airport again, roughly 6.5 hours early, because we had to check out of the hostel at 10:00, and who wants to drag this luggage all across London? S is off on his way to Scotland, so I paid the 5.50 pounds it costs for a one-way ticket and came to Heathrow early.

Decent plan.

Until they tell me I actually have to check this bag (“I carried it from Boston.” “Doesn’t matter.” Ah, joy.), but when I went through the queue to check it, it was way too early.

“You’ll have to come back at 16:50.”

“Are there any coffee shops I can sit at?”

“Well, most things are through security…”

And I find myself at a Krispy Kreme (Yes, you heard that right, a Krispy Kreme in London. I’ve never set foot in a Krispy Kreme at home.) I’m writing this in Word because I only get 45 minutes of internet.

My vision of an afternoon spent sipping strong coffee, reading, and writing, is looking very different.

~     ~     ~

“Catherine, what should I do when I go to London?”

Well, first off, buy a London pass. It goes against every bone in my body to fork over 60 pounds in the blink of an eye, but it is so worth it. We toured the Globe (If only we could’ve seen a show there! An actor was warming up on stage while we were touring, and she sounded like us music majors, all trills and blubberings and over-dramatizations.). We walked through the whole Tower of London and saw the crown settings of Georges and Henrys, Victoria, and Alexandra.

We did the London Bridge Experience (an underground historical/horror show) and my eyes were closed for most of it. The butcher took a liking to me and kept asking me questions, but he was a crazy murderer and I was freaking out.

We climbed a monument (ah! I forget the name!) and saw the city from the sky.

We did all the free stuff at the Tate Museum of Modern Art. It was awesome. But there are whiney artists everywhere, I guess, and they’re always wanting to stick it to the man.

And, probably the best part aside from the Tower:

Westminster Abbey.

There it was. The real thing. So many names I wasn’t even expecting. So much history behind that stone.

Kings and Queens, Dukes and Earls.

And Poets’ Corner shocked me with its concentration of literary history.

Then there was Oxford, with its more intimate streets and academic walls and surprise exhibit of Magical Books. Illuminated manuscripts peered out at us, with the imaginings of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and countless others. The best part was that it was unexpected: we just wandered in and there it was, golden and colorful and fantastical.

~     ~     ~

“What should I not do when I get to London?”

DO NOT not buy an Oyster card. Your feet will destroy you.

DO NOT assume they will take your card everywhere. (“Do you have a chip?” “What?” “A chip?” “What?” “We don’t accept cards without chips.”)

DO NOT assume that the coffee will be strong. It probably won’t be.

DO NOT assume that trying new beer will always pay off. It often won’t. But at least you were adventurous, right?

DO NOT think you can fit everything in. You can’t. Just accept it and tell yourself, “If I really want to, I can always come back.” You might never return, but it’ll placate you long enough to get you back home.

~     ~     ~

Now, Switzerland waits on the other side of that plane ride. A friend I haven’t seen in over a year (the same friend who writes me beautiful letters of her new life) and a chance to think and read and talk about things that matter to me. Such a different vibe, I think, than London.

We shall see!

 

[P.S. I am so technologically challenged that I cannot figure out how to get my pictures from the iPhone my mother forced upon me for this trip and my computer. I guess they will have to wait. Know that they exist and that the photo in this post is unrelated but at least pretty.]

London Awaits

This very moment I am awaiting my plane to London, England.

I am sitting at the terminal, surrounded by people, but I am alone. This is my favorite way to travel.

“Catherine, is anyone going with you?”

“Yeah, S is meeting me in London, but I still get to fly alone.”

My grandmother does not understand my phrasing – “get to” – and most people don’t. There’s something about the separation – the ability to exist without the confirmation of anyone else – that reminds me who I am.

C. S. Lewis wrote that it is only when we look at the other that our Self is able to be. I agree with him…mostly.

There is another Self that materializes at the Gate, and this Self is just a little different from the others. She doesn’t need to do anything. She doesn’t need to be anything for anyone else. All she has to do is be. Oh, and do what she’d like, of course. Which is write this, at the moment.

My bag is filled too full with books (check out the What I’m Reading to see what I brought), and as you can tell, I decided to bring my laptop after weeks of internal debate. Of course I could just write in my notebook, but the moments flit by so fast, I know I’d lose them.

I sit, eager and calm, ready and not ready, because I’ve learned that after each trip, I come back just a little different than before. Not in big ways – I don’t dye my hair or pierce body parts or change my name – but the landscape of my mind shifts. It grows. It changes. And the places my mind wanders in down moments now includes the place I’ve just come from, with all its colors and shapes and sounds.

Here I come, London.

Update

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1. Spring is springing. Finally. I will update the “View From My Window” picture soon so I can prove it.

2. The musical is over and it was beautiful. I keep attempting to write about it, but it deserves more time and thought than I’ve been able to give it. Expect a post soon, though, filled with quotes from darling children and an extremely proud director.

3. Went bee-ing for the first time this year. Sunday afternoon was spent in a smoke-and-propolis-filled jeep, bumping over bumpy gravel roads to get to the hives. (Propolis is a dark golden cement that bees use to hold their hives together – very strong stuff!) We checked on three hives and fed them. Oh, and we found a mouse nest (yes! a mouse nest!) in the base of one of the hives. Confusing, because Dad had put up a mouse guard, but the little buggers climbed in through the opening. It was filled with cotton-looking stuff, deer hair, and a bunch of cozy mouse things. Not good. Dad said, “Where’s the blogger’s camera?”, and I just shook my head; some things are better described than seen.

4. Did not get into the MFA programs. Am I shocked? Not really. I tucked the rejection letter in my briefcase of correspondences for the day when I will look at it and laugh. I’m not laughing right now, but I hope it’s coming.

5. Last week before April vacation!!! Can you tell I’m psyched? But I can’t imagine how hard it’ll be to motivate my seniors when we get back…ugh…

6. Finally figured out the email subscription thingy. All it took was, “Um, Harry? Will you help me?” and with one simple click he changed the entire thing. Embarrassing. So if you’d like to be notified via email of new posts, sign up! It should finally be working!

7. Listening incessantly to: The Shins Pandora Station. Love.

Have a wonderful Monday!

The city is like…

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The city is like a wide open field. A weekend cracks open the world to me and reminds me that life is big. I am small and life is big and because of grace I am full.

A small apartment that will never be mine is brimming with love and friendship. Just a few hours sprawled on couches, sprawled on floors, and mutual friends make comfort. We open the windows because even in the March coldness the heat is too strong, and the purple curtains flutter against the walls.

We talk about Lent and its strangeness and we rejoice at its shaping of us. Mine has been less than amazing – but I hold even that up as a sacrifice. I’ve decided it can’t all be emotion; I can’t always be in the throes of feeling. Praise God for that.

It wasn’t easy getting down here. I got lost, mapquest serving as much as a hindrance as a help. I got turned around and turned around and when I finally met up with K I couldn’t even smile. But it wore off quickly. We read each other’s minds: So I was thinking we would drop our stuff off and head out for dinner. Great, me too. And then get coffee before the cello recital. Great, me too. 

And we hit the town with our black and brown boots and feel free.

We sit in a Starbucks window, watching the lights and people passing by. I tell you you’re terrible for redeeming a free treat coupon and only getting tap water, but that doesn’t stop me from splitting the brownie with you. A man stands on the brick, smoking. He leans against the iron railing and watches the cars. Our faces are reflected in the glass, and I say, This is our life, and you laugh at me. But it’s true, and we are blessed. We are sitting right now in a coffee shop and there is nowhere we are supposed to be and nothing else we are supposed to be doing.

Fifteen minutes on a church’s cold stone steps and we laugh because sometimes it’s the only answer to the bizarrity of life (I know, ‘bizarrity’ is not a word, but that’s what it is). Three friends linking arms because it’s warmer that way, and that’s one of the reasons I’ll never really fit in – things are too posh and sophisticated and modern. We part at the street-corner, promising to see each other soon, but none of us really know what will happen.

The shower is running and I am writing and Sunday stretches before me empty and full.

This week of Tech Week and Alice in Wonderland and Good Friday and Easter seems far off.

[The cello rises over the room full of people, and I am transported back to four years spent studying practicing singing. Nostalgia fills me until I am dreaming of both those years and the years to come. The Dvorak makes me want to dance, the Beethoven makes me want to read, and the Barber makes me want to fall in love.]