A Year of Thanks

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the present is always the past June 29, 2011

Filed under: favorites,friends,self-discovery — courtsbrogno @ 12:05 pm

Warning: This is a long post, which is why it’s going up Wednesday. I only finished 3/4 of it by midnight and then called it a night.

There are times in my life, more so in the past year or so, that I begin to feel like a I belong in the Talking Head’s video, “Once in a Lifetime:”

t’s not that I want to be in the video, so much as I completely understand this song, and really, deeply understand the meaning.

I think David Byrne is a genius, especially lyrically, and his genius, I would argue, is most apparent in this song. Here is a guy who wakes up suddenly and wonders, “You may ask yourself: where is that large automobile? You may tell yourself, this is not my beautiful house. You may tell yourself this is not  my beautiful wife?” This man is in the middle of an existential crisis, surely a social commentary of the high living, skyrocketing income, and coke-snorting mores of the 1980s. At the end of the song, after trying to “let the water hold [him] down” and even “the water flowing underground,” the man cannot achieve any sort of renewal (water as a metaphor for baptism), and everything will always be “the same as it ever was, the same as it ever was, the same as it ever was.”

Existential. Sisyphusian. True.

Though I’m not quite near the state of mind Byrne is in this song, I think it does speak to me in a sense of growing older, growing up, and realizing that so much of life can be the same.

I guess the feeling of life remaining the same comes in a weird sense of time passing for me. There are days when I wake up, take Maddie to school, drop Luke off at daycare, go to work, and then repeat everything the next day. And then the next. And then I feel the monotonous “sameness” of life.

And I have a flexible, always changing job. Imagine all those who don’t. Those who sit in the same desk, in the same office, doing the same thing.

Every.Single.Day.

Mind-numbing.

Getting out of my routine and enjoying the lazy days of summer causes me pause as well though. I don’t find myself doing the same routine thing so much as I take the kids to the park, or the beach, or on a hike, but all of a sudden I freeze up. I look around. I notice the green lines in a leaf, the century old shaved down smoothness of a beach stone, the cracking plastic of an aging swing.

I think: I’m 35. When did that happen? How did this happen? Where did these kids come from? How did they grow so fast?

It honestly seems like just yesterday that I was the lost 18-year-old student that I now teach. It seems like just yesterday Maddie was two years old….or not even born. In one swift blur, as I stand at the park or on a trail or at the beach, every moment of my 35 years hits me.

“You may say to yourself, well,  how did I get here?”

And it’s in these moments that I turn and stare intently, and most likely quite rudely, at the oldest person I can find. I stare at her wrinkles. I absorb her attitude. I wonder, “Is she happy. Was her life fulfilling? What does she wish she’d done differently? What can she teach me? Is she bitter?”

Then I find the youngest person to stare at: a young adult just starting life. I stare at his flawless skin, his confidence, his bravado. I want to tell him, “Do you know how fast this will all go? Do you realize that every decision you make WILL impact your future? Will you always–please, please, please–use birth control diligently until you are ready to have kids. Oh, and don’t be ready to have kids until you’re in your mid-30s. Oh and don’t get married until you’re at least 30. Oh and….”

I promise I’m not crazy nor having some kind of break-down, and I actually believe 35 IS still very young. But sometimes these moments give me pause. And I rather examine my life pauses than ignore them.

Which is all to say this past week, in some cosmic intersection of oddness, brought me back to my youth, my younger years.

Starting with the fact that Luke’s father and I had mediation to reassess our parenting schedule and we decided to block out Luke’s time more with his father to lessen Luke’s developing transitional anxiety. What this means is that Luke’s father gets Luke 8 more hours a week, which isn’t really that big of a deal, but what is a big deal is that I have every other weekend without Luke. I thought at first this would be really difficult, but it wasn’t at all. It was needed. And Maddie was with my parents all weekend.

Which meant I had 48 hours, basically, all to myself.

Pause.

This is the very first time I’ve ever had this amount of space to myself.

Wait. Scratch that. When it was just me and Maddie I took a few trips without her (once to Chile when she was 2 1/2; once to England when she was 7; and a few weekend trips–and I really mean just a few–throughout the years). But since Luke’s been born I haven’t really been apart for him for more than 24 hours, and even the one time he was gone with his father for three days, I still had Maddie. Sure I get a night off from both my kids here and there, but an entire weekend….

…be still my heart.

My weekend started Friday night with dinner and drinks with my sister and my sister’s sister-in-law. It was a good time and the fact that I didn’t have to worry about getting home at a certain hour was liberating.

Saturday morning I woke up and went to Jon, my brother-in-law’s, birthday party. His one request for his birthday was to play sloshball. Talk about bringing us all back to our late teens and early 20s. Sloshball is a form of baseball that involves drinking a beer at second base. usually played by young, obnoxious, drunk men in college. However, we were going to play the game with a bit more class (or so we thought).  A bunch of Jon’s friends came into town and even my dad played the game. It was such a fun time, and I think Jon had the best time of all.

(pre-game relaxing)

(reviewing the rules of the game)

(my sister at bat)

(my dad at bat)

(2nd base drinking)

I left the game a bit early because I had another engagement at a winery. I was a little hesitant to leave the game and drive up to the north county, but I am so very glad I did. The summer solstice wine event was fun and the wine was good, but even better was the little reunion that occurred.

When I moved to this town in 1995 I was 19 years old. I moved with some friends, and the first person I met outside my roommates was Matt whom I worked with. Matt was actually from a town that neighbored the town I grew up in. Matt had been living in town for about a year, I believe, and I’m not kidding when I say about 20 or so of his friends also lived in this town. Through Matt I met many friends, including Maddie’s dad, my friend Colleen, my friend Jenn, and Steve.

It was an incredible time and there was this two-three year period (before I had Maddie) when we all hung out all the time. There was one house that we all seemed to gather at–a house where about 5 boys lived. These boys were honestly the first men I met that taught me what good men, gentlemen really, are like. I was so used to boozy, immature high school boys from my home town that meeting these boys can be likened to opening my eyes to manners, and respect, and consideration. They opened doors for me and all their guests, women and men. They offered friends water (or beers). They cooked dinners. They were considerate when I was at their house and doing homework. They tried–unsuccessfully–to teach me the fine art of baseball. They were so different from boys I had known before. Kind really. In fact, I often think how much I’d like to thank their moms for doing such a good job.

After I had Maddie, I quietly slipped into the life of a mom, a student, an employee, and person with responsibilities and many of these boys moved back to their hometown, and other than the friends that still live here, I haven’t seen these old friends in over a decade.

Until Saturday at the winery. The main reason so many traveled up to the area was because another old friend, who still does live in the area though I rarely see him, is part-owner of this winery and invited everyone. To show up to this event and see all these people I haven’t seen in a decade was not only fun, but almost magical. We sat around a table, drank wine, and told old, old stories that made me laugh until my side hurt. In many ways, we’re exactly the same, though more mature with kids and responsibilities, but still…the core of our personalities is still there, and it honestly felt like no time had passed.

From the winery, I met my friend Leslie for a movie and then a glass of wine. And I wanted her advice.

I had–rather all of a sudden–been thinking about a novel I started writing about six years ago and this past week I revisited it, knowing where I wanted the plot and character to go. It’s silly how this story came back to me, but it basically started with me commenting on a friend’s facebook status, and I liked what I wrote, and then suddenly, I just knew that comment would, or maybe could, be the first line of that old novel I had started so long ago. I had abandoned the novel because I felt stuck and lost with the writing, and quite frankly, my life was going too well for me to write. I tend to write better when I’m depressed. I’m in no way depressed right now, but there’s something about this summer, this moment of pause I’m having about my age and life, that makes me feel better equipped to write more truthfully.

I wanted Leslie’s advice because I know nothing about fiction writing and she has an MFA. While her MFA is in poetry, I still figured that she’d have some good thoughts. Right now, the novel’s in first person, but I’m debating changing it to third person. Leslie advised to stick with the first person as it offers more immediacy and intimacy with the reader. Which felt good, because writing in third person may be too difficult for me: I can’t fathom how to get in every character’s head nor do I feel the need to have any God-like powers over my characters (even if I decided to go with a third person limited  point of view).

I shared with Leslie the whole plot and my struggle with how the ending should go since I still haven’t decided what decision the main character will make. And she liked my idea, which made me feel ecstatic. And ready to write again. So I made some serious edits because a lot of what I wrote six years ago is embarrassingly bad.

But I’m also nervous. I think I can do this. I mean, if I write 250 words a day then I can foresee finishing a rough, rough, rough draft by the end of summer. But the mountain seems so high right now, especially after talking with Leslie because she is a poet, and I love beautiful language even more than plots, and Leslie just gets the beauty of language (I mean, even her facebook posts are gorgeous. Case in point, her last update:  “Tonight I believe we each have one honest gesture; not that other gestures are dishonest, but one, in the course of a life, might change things. So every note, word, touch becomes practice for something greater…yes, I’m talking about tilting a life on its axis.”).

Seriously, who writes like this?

Leslie. Which makes me feel like I’ll never accomplish beautiful language, but that’s alright because I’m not Leslie, but I’ll use her not only for advice (and our obvious friendship), but also as a challenge: a challenge to make it up the mountain, to the very top and look at the words I wrote spread across the sky, scattered and disconnected, and then rearrange them into something honest and beautiful.

Well, I’ll try at least.

The weekend ended Sunday morning when I woke up–still without kids–and went over to my friend Andy’s house for coffee, conversation, and the New York Times.

(NOT bloody mary’s. Smoothies.)

After this long, fun weekend my kids returned to me, and I felt relieved and happy to have them back in my arms. But there was a part of me that was longing for the freedom I had this weekend. The freedom to roam where I wanted, to wake up when I felt like it, to take care of no one but myself. I never appreciated nor thought about this before I had kids, and I became a parent at 23 years old. My entire youth shifted and all my focus has since been on my kids. Which is good. And I think the parent in me, the all-consuming mama, is the best part about me and my character.

But sometimes there is this purling inside of me to step back in time. To be 21 again. To have no responsibilities. But to be this way with the sensibilities I have now. I’d like to go back to the young me and whisper in my ear, “Leave. Go travel the world. Experience everything you can. Let go of that Catholic guilt.  Roam the streets of Italy by yourself. Be more comfortable with who you are. Be more self-assured and confident. Don’t be afraid to show emotion. You don’t always have to be so hard. Open up to the possibilities.”

The thing is most of this advice I have learned throughout the years and the younger me wouldn’t have understood it. I still need to work on some of it, but I believe having these few free weekends a month will help me accomplish that. No, I can’t go to Italy for the weekend, but I can do something just for myself. I can be open to the possibilities. To the brief freedom.

I think this will make me a better mama and a better person.

The past is sexy, always.so.damn.sexy. The movie Leslie and I saw was Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. And it was so good. Amazing even. Sure it was not as deep as some of his finer films (though not as bad either as some of his newer films like Match Point) and the literary characters were a bit overdone, and the main point was rather didactic, but still, it was whimsical and witty and it tackles the whole idea of longing for the past, though in this case the past is more generational, but the point holds true for all of us looking backwards. The main character, Gil, learns that it is better to accept the present for what it is. And then he quotes the famous Faulkner line: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

At some point we all must have a moment of pause where we wonder, like David Byrne, “well,  how did I get here?” I think it’s good to stop and think this.

I think it’s good to consider that it’s the “same as it ever was, same as it ever was, same as it ever was.”

Existential. Sisyphusian. True.

But that doesn’t make it unconquerable.

 

detox June 21, 2011

Filed under: family fun,friends,kids,work — courtsbrogno @ 9:46 pm

It’s been exactly one week since I finished work, and while I look forward to this day from the beginning of Fall quarter, by the time the real deal rolls around, days of no work, I actually become a little manic.

I wake every morning and literally have nothing that needs to be done. Sure, I have a summer to-do list that includes cleaning out closets and stuff, but basically that can be put aside if I want. I have no essays to read, no emails to answer, no meetings, no where that I must be,

The sudden stillness of my life is at first very irksome.

The day spans ahead of me and time ticks by more slowly than I ever thought possible. I find myself counting down the hours until lunch, then dinner, then bedtime. My children look at me expectantly and I think to myself, “what the hell do stay-at-home moms do all day?” We go to the park, visit friends, take adventures, and then the day is only half over.

By the time Fall quarter comes, I’m completely used to this lifestyle and can’t imagine how I will ever go back to work. But for now, it’s like I’m in detox. I shake a little; I don’t know what to do with myself; I feel all out of sorts.

It’ll take a good two more weeks before I settle into the routine of being a “mother-of-leisure” (as my friend Andy calls me), but until then, we’ve managed to have some great moments this week: moments that I’m thankful for.

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What to do with two kids and hours of sunlight left? Beach days! And lots of them. The kids run free and I read in the sun: it’s a win-win for all parties.

(I love this look: Luke’s roaring like a tiger.)

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I’ve been spending my days getting crafty. With so much free time and so many people to thank for all the help provided to me and my babies throughout the school year, I’ve got some serious gifting to do. The first up? Luke’s preschool teacher who’s leaving for L.A. We’ll miss her TONS, but know she’s going to be super happy. I made a bag for her in less than a day. It felt great to put needle and thread together. I’ve missed this.

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When you finish a grading marathon at the end of the quarter, you should celebrate. So me and some fellow colleagues got together, drank wine, ate chocolate, and enjoyed not feeling guilty for drinking instead of working because, once again, WE HAVE NO WORK.

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If I get to have a small get together then so should the kids. Which is what we’ve been doing a lot here this week: having friends over to play, watching movies, eating home cooked dinners, and relaxing.

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With the nights staying light until almost 9p.m., it feels good to walk downtown for just an hour or so to check out some live music. This week, my friend Reese was playing at a local coffee shop and I went down to see her play.

I’ve known Reese since I was in grad school, and I just love her. She’s hilarious, kind, thoughtful, and such a good singer:

(This video is terrible quality, but you can hear how good Reese’s voice is)

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I’ve finally had time to catch up on all the news that I’ve missed in the past week, and to read about New York possibly passing a same-sex marriage bill makes my heart swell with happiness. But what makes me even happier is Republican New York Senator Roy McDonald’s comment:

“You get to the point where you evolve in your life where everything isn’t black and white, good and bad, and you try to do the right thing. You might not like that. You might be very cynical about that. Well, fuck it, I don’t care what you think. I’m trying to do the right thing. I’m tired of Republican-Democrat politics. They can take the job and shove it. I come from a blue-collar background. I’m trying to do the right thing, and that’s where I’m going with this.”

Finally, a Republican I can get behind. I LOVE THIS!!!!!

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I think I may finally be winning my fight against poison oak. I’m not even going to upload a picture of how bad it got. It’s that disgusting. Let me tell you, poison oak is no joke. I have never, ever, ever–in my entire life–been so uncomfortable and itchy and my God, this shit is just plain all-consuming.

So I went to the doctor, got a shot of cortisone in my ass, got on a regiment of steroids, started scrubbing with Zanfel (the absolute best poison oak medicine in the world. the only thing that has stopped the itching. Of course, it’s $50 for 1 ounce, and I’ve gone through three tubes, but I don’t even care. The relief is worth every penny.)

My legs look terrible, but I’m hoping by next week all will be back to normal.

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Finally, because I really can’t not do anything all summer long, I’ve paired up with a fellow instructor to study incorporating wiki pages in the classroom. Neal, my colleague, was the one who instructed me on wiki page usage in Winter quarter. In Spring, I started using them myself and loved the results. Now we’re planning a study, meeting, and we’re even going to blog about our adventure (which will actually work as a sort of virtual meeting place instead of trying to meet all summer long). The study will–hopefully, if everything works out well–last all next year and even have the potential for long-term usage, but for now, for this summer, we will just plan and get everything in order.

I’m super excited about this.

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So I’m working a little, but not too much. I’m relaxing a bit and getting more used to long summer days ahead of me.

Within a few weeks, I will be in full “mother-of leisure” mode and will have made significant progress in getting the work, work, work drug out of my system.

Detoxing can be such a bitch sometimes.

 

an irish blessing (of sorts) June 14, 2011

Filed under: family fun,friends,kids,kindness toward me — courtsbrogno @ 8:44 pm

I have always loved the famous Irish blessing:

In this same spirit, and after having a week of many blessings, I’ve created my own Irish blessing for you. Well, an Irish blessing of sorts.

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May there always be preschool graduations. Because they are just so damn cute. My niece Cate graduated from preschool this past week, and seeing twenty 3 year-olds on stage singing and dancing, some enthusiastically and some frightened,  is akin to God smiling on every person in attendance.

And, during the course of a preschool graduation, may you have a son who has no self-awareness nor inhibitions; thus,  while Cate is on stage said son screams, “Hi Cate. That’s Cate. Hi Cate. Hi Cate,” while frantically waving his arms.

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May you live in a town with many places to hike and surround yourself with nature. I know it may seem redundant that I always hike, perhaps even boring, but it’s the one thing I love second to my kids. And I’ve been exploring different treks lately, stepping out of my norm.

May your hikes be abundant with foliage, trees, wildflowers, beautiful views, and cows close enough to pet!

May you always have a good friend to hike with, like my friend Leslie.

May you have a good-natured daughter who will begrudgingly hike with you because even though she hates the exertion to reach the top, she loves the accomplishment and the descent.

May you always, always, always push to the top no matter how much you want to give up. Because it’s always worth it.

And may you never, ever be proud and arrogant when encountering poison oak and exclaim with pride, “I never get poison oak.” And then rub it in to all your friend who DO get poison oak. Because the universe is funny that way and even though you may have trekked through poison oak many a times, you will be kicked in your prideful ass when luck catches up with you and you awake one morning to find your ankle covered in poison oak. You will be humbled and shamed and incredibly itchy.

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May you have a good friend, like my friend Mel, who has a HUGE backyard and invites you over so your kids can play. I mean, I love Mel, but I really LOVE her backyard.

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May you always take time from your week to spend some one-on-one with your kids. Like walking downtown with Luke to get ice cream on a warm day and then going to the bookstore. Happiness on every level.

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May you have a friend who needs a date to a wedding and asks you. Cause then you get free food, free drinks, some dancing, and generally just have a great time. But more importantly, you get to witness a couple starting their lives together with hopes and dreams of being better together. I’m a cynic when it comes to this, but let me just say, this couple was not only cute, but seriously in love and committed to each other and their families were supportive and the speeches made me tear up. Thanks to my friend Adam for bringing me along.

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May you have incredibly intelligent friends in your life to make you feel smarter just by being around them. Tasha, my dear, dear friend whom I miss daily (daily!) came down for just a few hours and I got to see her for just a short hour, which was not enough. The reason she drove all the way down from San Francisco though is because her Master’s thesis won Outstanding Thesis of the Year award!!!! That is amazing, especially since she lived with me the whole time she was writing it, and I still couldn’t tell you exactly what it’s about (feeding cells, feeding cells is all I understand and even then I just picture Pac Man). I told you she was smart–off the charts!

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May you never have a friend who battles cancer, but if you do may your friend be like the indomitable Colleen!

Colleen left this week for Seattle where she will be having another round of radiation on her brain at a metropolitan hospital that specializes in this. She will be surrounded by a team of neurosurgeons and oncologists, and I have complete confidence that this will be the last treatment she will need and will finally kick this cancer in its ass. But, let’s be honest, the last time she did radiation, it wasn’t bad at all, but she was also at a level 2. In Seattle, her radiation will be at a level 18. So send prayers, whatever your religion or faith, for an easy treatment and an end to this cancer.

Because Colleen and her family will be in Seattle for almost the entire summer, Colleen’s friend Katrina arranged a surprise birthday party for her daughter, Scarlet (Scarlet’s birthday is in July). Keeping a secret with this many moms and kids seemed impossible, but Colleen was surprised!!! Our good friend Matt was in town and since he’s a singer/songwriter of children’s songs, he played for all the kids. The party was a great success and a good way to send Colleen off to Seattle–with lots of love and support.

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May you have people in your life that love your kids almost as much as you do and support you in every way imaginable. And may you always cook them dinner in return. Like I said, my good friend Matt popped into town and I had him, Steve, and my sister over for dinner. It’s obvious how much my sister does for me (A LOT) and it’s also pretty clear how much Steve is a part of our lives, but since Matt moved away, we only see him about twice a year. Which is definitely not enough, but I’m still thankful for it. Because when he’s here, he’s hanging out with my kids, downloading new music on my computer, singing songs, and generally trying to cram in a year’s worth of love in just a few short days. My God, do we just love him. And Steve. And my sister. I’ll cook them dinners for the rest of their lives for all they’ve done for me. With friends and family like this, I never feel alone.

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May you have a couple of guy friends to drink beers with and eat greasy food and tell amazingly funny stories when you really should be grading but can’t focus and need to take a break. That’s right, I couldn’t stand reading one more essay and so I went out for beers with my friends Joe and Tim. We had a good time. they had good stories to share.

And if you decide to keep the party going, and wander over to a friend’s house, a friend who likes to be called, “the nicest guy in town,” and whom I like to call “ONE of the nicest guys in town,” and in the middle of a conversation you feel the slight churn of your stomach and you silently count how many beers you had and realize you may have had ONE too many, and then have to bolt, mid-sentence, to the bathroom to vomit…
…may you have  friend like mine to hold your hair, pat your back, flush the toilet, give you his toothbrush, and tell you that there is no shame in puking, for that’s what toilets are for.

Oh, but yes, there is shame in this. I’m pretty sure I walked home with my head hung low. But in my friend’s own words, “You puked then made an instant recovery. No tears, no loud yodeling exhale. You’re a natural. You should do it more often.”

I did make an instant recovery and bought him a new toothbrush, but I also learned an important lesson:

May you know your limit.

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Finally, may you have a job that rewards you in a million little ways even when you’re cursing all the late nights and busy weekends and low pay. A job like mine. Where the biggest reward is finishing grading, pleased that everyone passed, and then getting emails from a few students wishing me a good summer and thanking me for the class. All the hard work, all the hand cramps from writing comments…it all seems so worth it in the end.

Oh, I lied. The biggest reward is having summers OFF!

And not having to look at this:

Let summer begin!

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An Irish blessing, like any other blessing, only holds as much fortune as we allow, but this week has been so full of blessings that I feel like every minute made an impact on who I am; perhaps more who I’m becoming.

Becoming me. Becoming myself.

Comfortable and happy.

Now, for another real Irish blessing. The best I’ve ever read:

May your joys be as bright as the morning, and your sorrows merely be shadows that fade in the sunlight of love. May you have enough happiness to keep you sweet, enough trials to keep you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human, enough hope to keep you happy, enough failure to keep you humble, enough success to keep you eager, enough friends to give you comfort, enough faith and courage in yourself to banish sadness, enough wealth to meet your needs and one thing more; enough determination to make each day a wonderful day than the one before.

 

a full week of things I love June 7, 2011

Filed under: books and reading,family fun,friends,garden — courtsbrogno @ 8:38 pm

This past week was full of everything good in life. OK, that’s not entirely true. I had a lot of work to do this week.  Yet, in between all the essays that I graded, the students I conferenced with,  and all the hours spent cleaning up after Luke the destroyer, there was a lot of times I felt full of gratitude and love for my life. It’s almost magical how full circle my life has come. A year ago, I worried about everything and now I’m getting pretty good at letting almost everything just float by me. A year ago, I felt like I was swimming in mud, unable to see all the good around me (unable, really, to even notice how much GOOD there was), and now I find it difficult to notice anything that annoys me (Wait. You know what really annoys me? People who honk when the car in front of them doesn’t immediately go. I can’t stand that.).

Life has been good this week, and I’m thankful for all moments of love and gratitude I’ve felt this week. My heart feels wide open and if my arms could extend around my entire town, I’d engulf every last person and place in a warm embrace (even the honkers).

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This past week was full of parties. I love a good party, but three in a row almost did me in. I may have been tired the next day, but I realized it’s so rare that my social calendar is full that I just need to be thankful I have people in my life to celebrate.

First I and a few friends celebrated Jenny’s  birthday:

I’ve said it a million times before, but I just love Jenny, and in typical Jenny fashion, she invited a few friends, made some food, and we all drank some wine. It was such a low-key gathering, but I has so much fun. Every woman in attendance is vastly different, and we all don’t know each other very well, but to come together, drink wine, and share our stories–who we are, what we like, who we want to be, and even who we wish we were–was an incredible feeling of camaraderie.

I feel like I learned a lot about life and took all their wise advice and thoughts on life to heart. There’s something so accepting and easy-going about Jenny that good people gravitate to her, and I’m thankful to be able to circulate through her life coming out always better and brighter. I hope we were able to give Jenny the love and attention she deserved and that her birthday was one to remember.

The second party was the English department’s annual end-of-year party. It’s a pretty basic party where everyone who teaches and works for the English department get together and complain about how much grading we all do. But on a more positive note, a few people were retiring this year, and it was nice to listen to all the speeches given. It’s amazing when I think about how much one instructor can change not only his/her students, but also an entire department. there was laughter and tears and even jealousy (most of us will still be grading papers for decades), but mostly there was an immense feeling of respect, and I’m thankful to be part of such a great department.

The last party I went to was for my sister.

My sister’s birthday took on epic proportions as the night went on. We started with dinner and drinks and ended up at a bar. I actually left early, but from what I heard my sister was in rare form, and I think turning 33 meant really turning 21 again for her.

She spent the entire next day in bed recovering, but I’m so glad she had the opportunity to go out and have fun and let loose with all her friends. My sister always seems to be taking care of someone–her kids, her husband, me and my kids, friends, extended family–that she deserved a night of only focusing on herself and doing what she does best: dancing on bar tables.

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It’s well-known that I have a nightly ritual where I put Luke to bed, read books to him, and then I stay in bed and read for a few hours myself. Friends always seem amazed that I can finish a book so quickly, but I have to remind them that I HAVE NO LIFE AND LITERALLY LIE IN BED EVERY NIGHT AT 8PM. I have no patience for TV (even Glee…what’s wrong with me???) nor movies, but I can read a novel for hours on end with no problem. It’s really not glamorous, but it does suit me. In the past few weeks, I’ve finished 3 good books worth noting:

This book was good. It won the Man Booker Prize in 2008, so I knew it had to be worth the effort. It took me awhile to slip into the character and appreciate him, though I can’t say that I liked him. The themes of corruption in India and the effect on India (and other countries) due to globalization were a little heavy-handed at times, but the satirical writing lessened the blow a bit. Furthermore, it was an easy read, and I finished it in two days.

A friend recommended this book to me claiming it was one of his top 5 novels of all time, and so I just borrowed his copy, and now, of course, since I loved it so much, I will have to buy my own damn copy. But this novel was really great. I loved the interwoven stories and the unfolding of the narrative. I am amazed at how A.S. Byatt took on all the different tones and time periods and emulated the poetry as well. I loved how drawn I was to the characters and the different time periods. I loved this quote: ‘We come to grief and regret anyway–and I for one would rather regret the reality than its phantasm, knowledge than hope, the deed than the hesitation, true life and not merely sickly potentialities.” When I read this quote, I immediately wrote it down (couldn’t underline it since it wasn’t my book. sigh.). And I think this has become my mantra lately. I would rather LIVE than regret or hide. I would rather feel pain than nothing at all. And while I’m not yet ready to lay all my cards on the table, I definitely think there’s nothing to really fear in just being open and vulnerable (though if my therapist was reading this, he’d be laughing hysterically at me right now, telling my how I’m NOT actually letting myself be vulnerable, but that’s another story, and hey, therapist, I’M TRYING.)

This last book, the first of my reader’s group summer picks, is by far, my favorite. I’m actually a little amazed at myself by how quickly I read this book, but I just couldn’t put it down. The writing, oh the writing. It’s simplistic yet the depths of description are vast. Every character, I mean every damn character, is explored. And I cried, I really did. And not the sentimental crying where I know the writer has tricked me into feeling a certain way (I’m talking to you Nicholas Sparks). I mean, if someone can read the early chapters of Phillip’s youth and not shed a tear than that person is a cold-hearted individual that I don’t think you should be friends with at all. Oh, and Fanny Price. Has there ever been such a sad, pathetic character that I loved so much?

Besides the character development, it was also a novel of ideas, and for the first time in a long time, I found myself underlining huge portions of text and writing little notes on the side. I will say, however, that Maugham doesn’t seem to like or understand women, but the one thing he gets is that desperate love we’ve all felt, the rejection we’ve all succumbed to, and he makes an acute observation when he writes: “there could be no greater torture in the world than at the same time to love and to contemn.”

Really, go read this novel.

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In typical June fashion, it rained part of this week, and we were stuck inside for a few days. But on Sunday, my friend Megan asked me and the kids to go on a rain hike, so I bundled us up, and headed to a nearby town to take a new hike. As soon as I entered our neighboring hike, the clouds parted and there was no rain. Just shine.

I think Megan’s four boys and I were kind of sad not to be hiking in rain, but Maddie was happy beyond belief and our hike was gorgeous.

It was an easy trail and the majority of the time, we were hiking through forest, which was stunning. We walked slowly and let the kids meander on their own, climbing up trees and stopping to eat lunch. The one downfall was that we didn’t look at the map very clearly and we thought the trail would loop around, but it didn’t and just ended, so we had to turn around and hike back. The big kids were fine with walking 5 miles, but Megan and I had the littles on our backs, and by the time we got back to the car, my back was aching from Luke being on it. But it felt great to be outside and even better to be spending the time with Megan and her boys. Even Maddie had a fun time.

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I’ve said before how much I love the new coffee shop in town, and I’ll say it again. I spend so much time there grading and conferencing with students that it’s begun to feel like a second home for me.

I love the coffee art:

I love the notes people write and hang on the wall:

But mostly I love that almost every time I’m in there, I meet someone new, and this week was no different. I sat down to grade and a man sitting next to me made a comment about the rain. I would never ignore a person, but I really didn’t want to talk to anyone. I had a pile of essays to grade and a limited amount of time to get everything done, but he looked so kind and even a little bit like a shorter, older, rounder Indiana Jones. So we started talking and in the course of an hour he had told me his life story.

His parents died when he was 3 and he grew up in an orphanage. His father’s friend came once a month to make sure he was being treated well (he was, though the orphanage was on a farm so he had to work from dawn to dusk doing farm chores), and when he was about to graduate high school, his father’s friend came to visit and asked him what he planned on doing. The man explained to me that in those days, not many went to college and so he had the idea of doing what every other young man did–work in a factory. His father;s friend, however, asked him to try college for one year. “For me. Not for you,” he asked. So this man applied to universities and received a scholarship to attend Columbia University, where he stayed much longer than a year, and eventually became a physician. He opened a practice and worked for many years before his kids all moved away and his wife died. He retired but found retirement boring, so now he works as a physician for migrant workers and travels up and down the coast of California.

I know, right? An incredible story. And I’m not doing it justice because the way he spoke about his first year in college, the first time he discovered scholarship and academia and medicine was magnetic. I truly felt drawn into this man’s life story and sat eager to hear more. I forgot all about the essays I had to grade because I felt like I was learning so much more from this man. He said to me, “have you ever asked your children to do something for you rather than themselves? Something big…not just chore stuff. Because it works and I think it’s good for kids to know that sometimes we have to do things for other people. In fact, we should do much for other people. That’s how we cultivate humanists.”

He soon got up to leave and take a hike, and right before he parted I asked him how old he was.

“76,” he answered,

I was blown away. I would have guessed 60, and I told him so.

‘That’s because I eat right, I exercise right, but mostly it’s because I think right.”

Best advice I’ve heard in a long time. The funny thing is that I never even learned his name, but he’s had a lasting impression on me all week, and for that, I’m so grateful.

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We finally finished planting our summer garden. I think this has been the latest we’ve ever got plants into the ground. I was a little worries that we wouldn’t be reaping any vegetables until September, but the master gardener where we buy our plants from assured me that it’s been a cool spring anyway, so even if we had planted early on, our plants wouldn’t have grown very much. I actually kind of doubt this as my friends garden is in full-bloom, but he made me feel better about being such a procrastinator. So we bought and we planted.

Now we just watch. And wait.

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My mom once told me that when she met my biological father’s family for the first time, she thought she had entered a flop-house. My grandmother had an open door policy and people were always staying in the small New York apartment. Friends, family, lovers: people camped out on the floor and ate freely from the fridge.

Well, I think I’ve got a bit of my grandmother in me because my house has often resembled a flop house as well. I never mind friends staying with me and I would never think of charging them a dime to live with me. Steve, Jason, Katy, Tasha, Jenn, Christine…and I’m sure there are more friends who have lived with me at one time or another.

Just this past week, I said good-bye to my friend Jenn who had been staying with me on and off since December and said hello to Christine who will be staying with me for the summer.

And while I know many people couldn’t stand to have friends constantly staying in their house, I really don’t mind. Sure my house is small, but I like hearing noises. Mostly, I like being able to help friends in need.

But I’ve got to admit, sometimes having no one in the house almost feels like heaven.

Like this past Monday when both kids and Christine were gone. I had worked all day, graded, gone to therapy, run errands, and by the time I walked in my door around 9p.m., I was transfixed by the quiet house. A friend came over, we drank whiskey and wine, and just read. Quietly. It was bliss. I like nights like this and it may have to become a house rule: if you live with me, one night a week, I need a quiet, quiet house all to myself. I think that’s a fair compromise.

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This week was long and hectic and fun. It was a good week. A week that I’m still feeling the effects of. Unlike a year ago, though, the effects feel like a warm embrace rather than a stiff and quick hug. I’m leaning to enjoy life a little more, to be less insistent on rules and regulations, to unwind, and to enjoy the moment rather than the expectation.