yes to this. yes and more yes. full life and the right now and a god who is for us and not against us. to the haters, sorry i’m not sorry, i love rob bell. he is courageous and honest and speaks to my heart.
new glarus, wisconsin is about three hours away from our house in chicago. i think i spent two-thirds of that time freaking out.
you always do this, matt said.
and he’s right, i do.
i sign up for something because it sounds great! and then right beforehand…i get nervous.
maybe this was a bad idea, i said.
it’s going to be so cold! what if i’m not okay. if i’m not okay, will you take me to a hotel? what if there are serial killers in the outhouse!
you always do this, matt said.
but, do you know? i wore long-johns and wool sweaters and threw hand warmers in my sleeping bag and it was fine. i used an outhouse and did not die, via serial killer or otherwise. it was really fun, actually! well, the outhouse wasn’t fun. but you get the picture.
we went with our friends the toonens, who are wonderful and originally from minnesota, currently from pilsen. they like cold weather. they also know how to make breakfast hash with bacon and yams over a campfire. and they brought a box of wine. so.
after the breakfast hash we went for a hike, and then we went to the brewery. strawberry rhubarb beer, people! have you tried it? TRY IT. we walked through all seven of the shops in new glarus, including the cheese and chocolate haus, and ended up admiring the wood paneling at the glarner stube over dinner.
…not sure there’s a better place eat a reuben and drink a pitcher of spotted cow.
i think we really were stinky at that point, too, because the waitress asked us if we’d been at a campfire. whoops. but it turns out there is a strange freedom in being a stinky camper and not caring.
very soon after all of that, monday happened.
so we’re back to reality and running water and five-year-olds hopped up on halloween candy. i hope it’s a happy, sugary one for you, too!
actually, we’re on our sixth week, come to think of it.
already i can feel the tension building in my muscles. i wake up and before i know it the sun is fading and it’s time for bed again. all those good hours meant for life-living are getting away from me.
over the summer i read a book for the second time. it’s called “a million miles in a thousand years” and it’s by donald miller. i like donald miller. the way he writes, it’s like we’re having coffee and he’s thinking out loud.
in the book he says living life is a lot like writing a story, and that we are each a character of sorts. some of us live good stories, a lot of us live boring stories, but we’re all living a story, like it or not.
i wonder a lot if i am living a good story.
somewhere in the middle of july i realized i’d become a character who listened to news radio and rode her bike to yoga class. that probably doesn’t sound out of the ordinary, and it isn’t, but i felt proud of it. on my bike i felt like i was interacting with the city instead of just passing through it, and i liked that.
one day i rode my bike 75 miles with some friends, and suddenly my story felt exciting.
it probably sounds silly, but i felt like tectonic shifting happened in my mind that day. before we left i was pretty sure i would be the brick around my friends’ ankles, slowing them down. i’d never biked that far before. but it didn’t turn out that way at all, and i wondered if i hadn’t been operating inside a bunch of limits that weren’t even real. like, maybe the character in my story was capable of a lot more than i gave her credit for…or something like that.
afterwards i spent a lot of time thinking about what else i could write into my story. maybe i could hike machu picchu like donald miller. maybe i could be a real writer again. a lot of things felt possible.
but that season was punctuated by a very big sadness, followed by the first day of school, and suddenly my to-do lists had grown into multi-page documents.
i was making a lot of promises, because i wanted to do a lot of things, but i was finding it harder and harder to follow through.
so, in light of all that, i’ve been thinking a lot about balance. how does anyone manage it? how does anyone figure out when to promise and when to pass? how does anyone write a good story without keeling over, exhausted? or is that what makes a story good?
anyhow. i’m not sure about any of it. i wish i was - i like to feel like i’ve wrapped up my thoughts before i post them here. but i doubt this will resolve anytime soon, so consider it a mental work in progress.
in case you’d like to mull all of this over with me, here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:
"people love to have lived a great story, but few people like the work it takes to make it happen. but joy costs pain."
"the character has to jump into the story, into the discomfort and the fear, otherwise the story will never happen."
"perhaps one of the reasons i’ve avoided having a clear ambition is that the second you stand up and point toward a horizon, you realize how much there is to lose."
"and once you live a good story, you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time."
"the reward you get from your story is always less than you thought it would be, and the work is harder than you’d imagined. the point of the story is never about the ending, remember."
i’m not sure how much time i get to keep publishing sadness here before everyone tires of it, but assuming that time hasn’t run out yet, i do have one more thing to say…
matt ryd wrote songs about a lot of things, a lot of people. and he wrote a song for me one time. even when he was still here the song broke my heart. i remember the first time he played it for me and told me it was mine. he wrote it about a time when our friendship shifted and we had grown apart a little. it was a hard time for both of us, i think. i remember wishing my song had come from a happier place, but now i think it’s actually the best gift he could’ve left me. it’s almost eery how perfectly it gives voice to the way i’ll forever feel remembering him. listen to it here, read the lyrics below.
another day goes by,
slips right before my eyes,
and i keep trying to separate the tiny truths
from all the lies.
and now i’m counting sheep,
desperate to fall asleep,
desperate to hide from all the promises
i’d ever thought we’d keep.
'cause i can still hear you
in a crowded room.
i can still see your face
in all the things i went through.
i know who you are,
i know who you are,
and i never thought it all would change.
i watch the stars all fade,
and i quietly hide away,
watching everything just fall
like it’s some terrible mistake.
then i see your face
sitting in a picture frame,
a frozen moment of a time
i could never replace.
'cause i can still hear you
in a crowded room.
i can still see your face
in all the things i went through.
i know who you are,
i know who you are,
and i never thought it all would change.
i am not a singer - not even a little bit. but sometimes i liked to try to sing along with matt, because he had that effect on people. he swept people up in whatever tune he was singing that day, in the literal and the figurative sense. he used to get such a kick out of me trying to sing along, because he said i always harmonized by mistake. and i got a kick out of making him smile, even if it was accidental. i hope he can hear all my accidental harmonies from heaven, and i hope it still makes him smile.
most people who read this blog with any regularity already know that this week has been terrible. i had a friend who played a starring role in 10+ years of my memories, from high school through college and then some. after years of battling depression, anxiety and eating disorder, he took his own life this week. i wrote this the day i found out.
* * * * *
today i drove slow in the left lane.
there wasn’t any traffic. it was dark.
i kept my hands at ten and two. i stepped on the gas half-heartedly. i stared at the road, but in that hazy way, do you know? everything is a little out of focus - you’re looking but you’re not.
after a few miles i noticed the cars riding my bumper, passing me angrily on the right, flashing their brights.
and i realized i could go slow but i couldn’t slow things down. i couldn’t gather up all the angry drivers passing me to explain that i really hate slow left lane drivers, and that in real life i’m not one. in real life, i pass on the right and get mad about it, too.
it’s just that today i found out my friend died, and i don’t know how to do things right anymore. this doesn’t feel like real life so i can’t drive the right way, i can’t focus my eyes, i can’t find the words that usually come easy to me.
my friend died. my friend who walked with me right through adolescence and into adulthood. one of my very best friends.
it turns out that when very sad things happen - things that knock the wind out of you and kick you hard while you’re gasping - the world still turns for everybody else. people still cut in line at the deli counter and flip each other off on the highway.
when i got home i told matt the same things over and over and over, and he was kind and didn’t point it out. i dropped both lids to my contacts case three times trying to screw them on. i walked in and out of rooms and forgot what i was looking for in the first place. i sat down and when i looked at the clock so much time had passed and i hadn’t moved or blinked. but i didn’t cry.
and i hated that i didn’t cry. all day on the phone i had listened to people slowly falling apart under the weight of the news they were hearing. they felt it.
but not me. i felt like a shell of myself. i feel that way now. my hands shake over the keyboard if i stop typing, so i don’t stop.
a lot of friends are good and loyal and all of that. but this friend. he helped shape my worldview with his kindness and humor and all the fight in him. i really, really loved him. i still do.
so tonight i’ll go to sleep, i guess. i’ll wake up and scrub my house from top to bottom until my skin stings and smells like bleach. i’ll take out the trash. i’ll bake cookies and put food on plates. i’ll invite old friends over and we’ll tell all our favorite stories about this person who is somehow gone from us.
and later when they go home i’ll lay in the dark, and maybe then i’ll feel the very big sadness starting to come down. and my mind will scream all the things it’s been screaming - things like no, no, no and it isn’t true and this is just some horrible game of playing pretend.
but in my heart i’ll know and i’ll be resigned to it - to the big sad that is waiting for me after everything is clean and there aren’t any more cookies to bake. i’ll have to face it eventually.
and i just wish, friend, that you would come back before then. i just wish that you would reappear before i have to acknowledge this weighty gray that i can feel hovering above me. because i am so afraid of it. i am so afraid that it will settle on me and i’ll be lost in it, looking to make some sense of a tragedy that will never make sense to any of us. not in this life anyway. mostly i just wish that you would come back so we could have you again. you with your bouncing gait and your stack of bracelets and your smile that hid so much and too well. mostly, friend…i just miss you.
* * * * *
so. this has been very hard. the other day i got to read the very last things my friend wanted to say to me, and that broke all the numbness off pretty quick. if you’re the praying type, you could pray. you could pray for me and for all his friends, but most of all pray for his family, who i saw him love with his whole heart. death is a murky, mysterious thing…sometimes even a peaceful release if you believe good things about the afterlife. but being left behind…there’s nothing mysterious about it. it’s just dark and sad and lonely.
the last twenty-some minutes of that drive, they always get me. especially in the dark.
we passed an airport landing strip, all lit up like a christmas tree. i counted the street lights as we passed under them - one, two, three - and watched the buildings on the horizon grow bigger, closer.
maybe no one else hears it? but for me, every minute, every city light adds to this hum. this buzz. and it builds into a wild rhythm, like the city is breathing and singing and groaning all at once. in my head it sounds like bongos and car horns, and it keeps step with my heartbeat.
the sky was full of those big, low, thin clouds that move so fast. the ones that settle on the skyline and hang like smoke between the buildings. and just as we rounded that very last bend on I-90 it began to rain. big, fat drops on the windshield. we didn’t mind. we rolled the windows down and let the heavy, wet air inside.
woven in between those low clouds, the city was staggering.
it looks like gotham city, matt said.
it looks like my whole heart, i thought.
we kept the windows down the rest of the way home. the underpasses in the loop smelled like a chocolate factory and a gas station bathroom. i breathed deep anyway.
on the highway we had passed this billboard with a picture of some place out west - maybe the grand canyon. “awe is such a small word,” it said. and i thought maybe i didn’t have to travel so very far at all to understand just what they meant.
i was driving home in the dark, thinking about all of the things i could’ve done. i could’ve gone for a walk in the park. i could’ve sat out in the sun for a bit. i could’ve gotten much more work done.
woulda, coulda, shoulda. i’m good at that game.
i guess i was thinking about the trade-off. because you really can’t have it all. everyone says that, and it’s the worst, but it’s true. you can’t. there are only so many hours, only so much energy. there are limits.
i wrestle with it the most in the summer, i think - the constant trading. fork after fork after fork in the road. a finite amount of days and an endless list of worthy ways to spend them.
i have a tendency to apologize for things that aren’t the way i wish they were. our house. our dog’s [mis]behavior. the way i use [or misuse] my time. because i’m always trying to do and have and be it all.
it’s exhausting, really. and pointless. why live life constantly apologizing?
so, i’ve been trying to retrace my steps back to each “fork” moment, and remember why i chose what i chose.
like today. today is gray and drizzly and not warm like july ought to be. so i’m at a table in a little coffee shop and i’m working on three things and nothing all at once. and that is what it is what it is. no need to weigh it against every other thing. it just is. i’m just here.
or like, our house, for example. it is old and weird and full of quirks…many of which are expensive to fix. but it’s ours, and it’s in a great spot, and every month it looks a little better. i can feel it becoming a home. it has enough space for people to come and stay. and that alone makes it worth it.
or our jobs. we don’t go on fancy vacations. we don’t eat at every awesome restaurant. we don’t have a lot of free time, most of the time. but, tiny people! they are the best. and even the worst day at school is better than the best day in a cubicle, if you ask me. the general level of joy in and around me is just way, way higher here.
so, i don’t know. i guess when i look at the alternatives - where we’d be if we’d gone the other direction, towards all that other stuff - i feel good about what we chose. i know this isn’t true for everybody, but for me, the things we have are worth more in the long run. even if they do go hand-in-hand with a leaky first floor bathroom and a wonky work/life balance.
i’m working on remembering all of that. on making choices and being content with them. on facing forward.
teaching is a refiner’s fire kind of job. a carbon-to-diamond kind of deal. over the last two years, work has fine-tuned some of the traits i already had, and it’s developed some brand new ones, too.
patience. quick-thinking. a crippling caffeine addiction.
coffee and i are on a need-it-every-day basis at this point. ahem. sometimes twice a day.
fortunately, i found the best iced coffee recipe last summer. it makes mondo batches, so i only brew it every two weeks or so. coarse grounds are key, otherwise you end up with a lot of sediment at the bottom, which…yuck.
we’re of the full-fat, full-sugar persuasion over here, so i add half and half and some sweetened condensed milk. french vanilla half and half is good too, if you’re impatient - the condensed milk takes a minute to mix in. but, whoa…worth the wait, if you ask me.
i’ll be sipping one [or two] of these on the porch all the way through august, thank you very much. three cheers for summer.
to all of you who have been enjoying 60+ for weeks now, i’m actually not too envious. because the spirit-swelling that happens on these very first summery days is really worth the wait. seasons, man. god knew what he was doing.
in contrast, yesterday was kind of blue. nothing a long walk couldn’t fix, but you know. just blue. i think because last week was so intense. there are days that really test your faith in humanity, and last week had a couple of those…
but then the park was full of babies and barbecue smoke and bomba y plena music. it’s hard to be blue in the midst of all that.
spring break came and went, just like that, and i don’t have a tan or a t-shirt or any other tchotchkes to show for it.
schedule reconfigurations thanks to the teacher strike made my break one week earlier than matt’s, so kedz and i hung out at home. i cleaned the house. we walked about a thousand laps around humboldt park. i went to hinsdale a couple of times, which was loverly. and the beat goes on.
oh, but people. i started doing yoga. because life is stressful, okay? and anxiety happens, okay? namely it happens in the muscles between my shoulders and all along my spine, if you would like specifics. so i started doing yoga. i look like a sweaty idiot, probably, but i have to say…i like it. i can touch my toes now, which is a true accomplishment. [my pediatrician will confirm.] anyhow, i’m coming up on the last week of my groupon and i’m doing mental math [scary] to try to figure out if/how i can keep going. do you know of a cheap-ish yoga studio in the west town area? because corepower is ‘spensive. help a sister out.
in other news, matt spent his whole entire break working in the yard. we’re talking jackhammer, dumpster, monstrous piles of dirt and mulch and the like. i’m happy to announce that we’re no longer living amidst rubble and shame. yes, shame! there were abandoned pine boughs trying [failing] to cover three dead shrubs in our front yard right up until yesterday. eesh. next we’re buying grass seed and building some planter boxes and eventually landscaping the front yard with help from my mom who has a much greener thumb than i. it’s going to be an urban oasis, people. come on over.
and now i’m back at work. there are…wait for it…ten mondays between now and summer break. so i think it’s possible i’ll make it. plus, sun is happening. and sixty-ish degrees. oh, blessed springtime!
travel goal: rent a VW westfalia camper van and roadtrip from l.a. to san francisco before i turn 30.
it. will. happen.
i admittedly stole this idea from one of my favorite blogs - smitten studio. this spring sarah sherman samuel and her husband rented a westfalia camper van and traveled around new zealand for eleven days. [click the photo or the link for pictures of their incredible trip.] i would love to see new zealand that way…but i think california might be a little more our pace [read: price] at the moment.
so far vw surfari is the most promising rental company i’ve found, but if you hear of a better option, please pass the info along.
seriously…i’m more than a little giddy at the thought of this. it’s the perfect marriage of matt’s love for camping and my love for vintage vws. christmas break 2013, perhaps?
work has been…yikes. we’re in the midst of formal observations, and turning in progress reports, and writing brand new units all at the same time. plus, do you know? indoor recess is like an express lane to crazy. for kids and adults. it means i’ll be writing at least a few accident reports. it guarantees a day-long headache. it is an utter abomination.
last week on the way home from church i turned the seat warmers on high and rolled down the windows. i don’t care if it’s 30 degrees or 3 degrees. i can’t breathe the inside air anymore. i can’t, i can’t, i can’t.
on top of everything, or because of everything, or whatever…i feel like i’m on the brink of some big change.
actually it’s more like i better be on the brink of some big change. otherwise…i’m not sure what i’ll do. have you felt that way before? twenty seven isn’t too late to make a change…right?
in the meantime, i am trying to make a little mental list of all the things i know are true and focus on those things. if you’ve ever been seasick maybe this will make sense. to keep yourself steady, you focus on the horizon - the one thing that isn’t moving. i am trying to find some sort of horizon to focus on.
for example: i love my kids, my job matters, spring will happen, etc. those true, good things can be a bit slippery towards the end of february when it feels like the soggy gray might last forever and ever.
but now it is march. the month of spring break! the month of melting snow, and rising temperatures, and slightly longer days. so i am focusing on that, and every other good and true thing i can grasp, and trusting we’ll all make it to the other side of this season.
this week i sort of fell off the wagon in terms of my photo-a-day goal. i checked, and all i’ve got is a picture of a cart full of groceries and a few more shots of kedzie sleeping. and i think we’ve all had about enough of that by now.
a words-only post every now and then won’t kill us, will it? i didn’t think so.
anyhow, this past week was the last of the semester, and i got a cold, and…that’s about it. i think it’s fair to say all the rested-ness i stored up over winter break is long gone. do you know there are about five months of school left? and that means we’re only about halfway there? lord, have mercy.
a few semi-noteworthy happenings:
i made this soup for probably the millionth time, only this time i tried it with gluten free broth and noodles [to accomodate a dinner guest] and it was just as good as ever. really, really…make the soup. you won’t regret it. this cucumber salad made a nice side dish, if you need one.
i joined that new video app “vine” the other day. and i kind of get it but i kind of don’t. have you tried it? i’m going to try to post my one, excessively uninteresting video on the blog sometime this week. if you do decide to join, my username is just my first and last name all together, no spaces and no caps. [for the record, i haven’t seen any…questionable videos…since i’ve been using the app. so if you’ve read the zillion news articles about it, fear not, i think they’ve taken care of that problem.]
it is february! which means i can go shopping again! i spent my whole december and january budget on my new j.crew coat, which i don’t regret for a second, but i’ve really been looking to picking out a few things for spring. maybe a shopping wishlist post is in order? hmm.
okay. we’re off to watch the super bowl. in other words, i am off to eat snacks and not care about whether the ravens or the 49ers are better at football.
bonus weird story of the week:
also, friday we had a professional development day, and about two hours in i noticed the library smelled a little funny. now, in all fairness elementary schools always smell at least a little funny. but this particular smell got worse and worse and worse until i started getting lightheaded. we all started trying to pry the very old windows open to get some air in, to no avail, of course. and then the office did an all-call and told us to please evacuate, we were having a gas leak. i heard a few comments to the effect of, “i’m not going out like this!” or “grading these papers will NOT be the last thing i do!” and we all rushed out the door. turns out that in addition to the regular, smelly gas, the place was also full of carbon monoxide. or so said the fire department, anyway. sa-weet. so long, lost brain cells of mine.