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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.