Sunday, October 30, 2011

Life Today

I've been fiddling with another blog entry, but work has been busy and I have another project as well, so I’m finding the inspiration for great ideas a bit lean.  I have had a few thoughts--insubstantial little trickles which could very well be left unsaid, given the fact that there is no one breathlessly waiting for these words.  

Still and yet, yet and still.

Which brings me to point #1.  The above phrase is from a book I read maybe 20 years ago with a book club comprised of terrifically smart women.  I had about a million kids at the time and three hours at book group was like going to Stanford for a semester.  In fact, given how many children we all had, it’s a wonder we didn’t open meetings dancing around the room shouting, “We’re free!”


The book was Run with the Horsemen by Ferrol Sams and the phrase, spoken by two sisters on a semi-regular basis, eventually made its way into our family lexicon.  The Brothers K gave us, “Hay, grate!” and this summer Mary Karr’s remarkable memoir, Lit, offered up, “Build a wall around the day and don’t look over it,” a thought I just texted to my sister today.

The joys of reading are incalculable and recited by far more auspicious observers than I, but one of the best is the way a book makes its way into shared consciousness--one more bridge across the rivers of relationship.  These phrases are touchstones, ritual mezuzahs we tap as we pass back and forth into each others lives.

I went to Philadelphia last week to see Daniel in The Merchant of Venice and The Venetian Twins, which got fantastic reviews from the Inquirer.  He and I spent four days talk talk talking and I got to see a life I'd only been able to imagine since last January. Ghana came down from NYC and spent the night in the garret with me.  I ran every day and got to eat at my colleague Casey’s favorite restaurant in the whole entire world (Alma de Cuba--Best Mojito Ever). I cooked for a crowd and saw the WORST MOVIE I HAVE EVER SEEN*, made bearable by the Rocky Horror-like attitude of the people I was with, and came home with clear eyes and a full heart.  My gratitude runneth over.

Tony La Russa is a smart guy and a manager who will go down in history.  But really, someone should talk to him about his hair.

I am listening to music again, another glad development. Matt Nathanson and Mat Kearney are currently on replay and I am wondering when I will tire of them.  I’m not going to say this reminds me of my Archie’s, Sugar Sugar phase, but writing that just made me feel some anxiety.  That said, If I Left the Zoo is playing now and 12 years later, Jars of Clay can still be the cure for what ails me.

Mary Glen lost her room key awhile ago.  She was going to have to pay $107 to have a new one made, but didn’t get to the office in time because of a busy day....which included class, allergy shot, and an email letting her know that someone found her key.  Dude I love when that happens.

I can make just about any dessert there is.  But seriously, what is better than a s’more?

My friend Elizabeth has a big time job with a big time company, a husband, two kids and a very busy life.  Last week I got hung up at Midway Airport and called because I thought she might have insider information, which was a little like calling the mayor's office to ask about road construction on I-70 (I realized this after the fact, of course.  At the time it seemed a perfectly fine thing to do.)  Not only did she call back, but she kept me updated until things were moving again, all while doing her actual job.  That woman is a keeper.

Rayner Fredrick, look at you playing college basketball five years after a coach said you didn’t have what it takes.  Haters gonna hate. Ballers gonna ball.

It’s a gorgeous day outside.  I’m done taking those for granted.

* The Three Musketeers.  It’s still too painful to discuss.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

You All Know Who You Are

It’s been 10 years since we left New York, a healing decade in which I learned to appreciate the skyline in my rearview mirror and love the plains with specificity and devotion.  Embracing my life and my people here, I put down roots that I thought would grow forever.  And then one day my mailbox held a package with a Riverside Drive return address and just like that, an old lover walked through the door.  

The Porch Where It All Happens is what Gina called the painting she sent, a tribute to the three years we spent at The Cathedral School.  They were days of life and death-- 100 year old steps bearing witness to grief unspeakable and laughter so loud it drew public chastisement (We are still trying to teach students here).  There were public debates and private glances, yet through it all, unseen hands knitted together a unit that miraculously still survives.  Some people go to New York to see theatre, and some to revel in art.  I go to New York because, to my grateful wonderment, there is still a seat in the garden for me.  

But you cannot hear from an old love without taking a bit of inventory and it’s been the fortnight for that, memory trawling me back through different lives and other porches.  I’ve heard from someone who joined me when our existence was measured in single digits and shared meals with a few who knew my unlined face.  I began a new timeline with one and sent a family email to another with whom I share no dna--both of them The Right Answer for the days the universe carried them in.

I returned to Kansas City once before--17 years ago after two years away.  Feeling like an out-of-towner, I realized how completely life had moved on without me.  I was wieldy, lemme tell ya, with five tiny companions for every step outside the house, so it didn’t look like much would change. I don’t know if I actually prayed, or if the heaviness in my heart was enough, but I remember wondering--Is this it?  Except for a few add-ons through the years, Have I met all of the people I will know?  

And then this small, smoking, swearing, high-powered career woman was standing on my porch.  It was the unlikeliest of friendships, me with naps and after-school pickups and hers a life of Senators and eventually Presidents.  Yet through some crazy mix of need and persistence we found a place in the middle where each of us shared the overflow that was exactly what the other one needed.  It was the beginning of the rest of my life.  

From that day on, old friends and new were received as the miracle they are, held with an open hand and the knowledge that, Lord have mercy, we needed each other.  I laugh to consider that question I asked, the pieces of my heart since scattered across the country and held in people I never knew I would visit, much less grow to love.  That’s the thing about porches--anyone can come up and have a seat.

I feel the ground moving, hands loosening roots that I have tried desperately to protect.  I don’t know where they will put down, but thanks to Gina, I know there will be a crowd.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Much Abides

“We’re 300,” says Jim cheerfully, as he enters El Comedor, Airstream creation of the visionary Patrick Ryan.

Our host is as confused as the rest of us, until everyone realizes that we have arrived at this night, with six momentous birthdays in the rearview mirror.  Patrick is suitably impressed, though perhaps not as much as when we tell him we have known each other since we were 90.  I think of this throughout the night as we seize joy exponential from an evening that we all knew promised at least joy squared.

According to Mary Glen, El Comedor, loosely translated, is “dining room”.  It is an apt moniker.  Patrick Ryan is a culinary genius, and better food critics than I have written of his many skills, but the truth is more complicated than that.  I’ve eaten in a lot of great restaurants, but this is the first time I felt like I was at The Perfect Dinner Party.  Like Juliet Binoche’s mysterious Chocolat, there is more to Ryan’s food than meets the eye.  

I’d sent an email, tasking all diners to bring an offering of some kind to the party and the results did not disappoint. Poetry, music, beloved literary passages, and even eggs from hens who are a down payment on a future life--all were gifts brought with no pretense and received with a thankfulness which would have bewildered our younger selves.  Pondering the potency of the evening, I realize that our chef is an unaware but ardent contributor.  We listen as he tells us his story and understand that we are not just having dinner, but partaking in his dream as well.  In a day and age where anonymity rules, Patrick Ryan forces you to reveal yourself before you ever even set foot in his dining room.  And once you do, the closeness of the kitchen, the walk up window traffic, of Max and Katie serving you like its not a job, makes you realize that what you’ve been given is a priceless commodity indeed--community in its purest form.

Gratitude hangs heavy on me, even amidst the laughter.  Reading glasses are passed around and a few more pictures taken.  We stand in the parking lot not so many miles from the parking lot where we all met, and say our goodbyes knowing that, at least in the morning, we will feel 300.  But for now with our fingers on the pulse of holiness itself, words unbidden come to mind.  I copied them down on a piece of paper in 1995 and have carried them through states, both mind and United, knowing their truth more intimately with each passing year  

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Tennyson: Ulysses

My mother taught me to send a thank you note when you’ve been to someone’s home for dinner.  
Patrick, I’m hoping we’re square.