December 23, 2009
by Billy Collins
You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.
However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.
It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.
And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.
It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.
I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.
I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's tea cup.
But don't worry, I'm not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and—somehow—the wine.
December 17, 2009
The heat in my car didn’t feel oppressive that day. I made my way to a little side street... what was it called? Lincoln? Jackson? Washington? It was the name of a president anyway. I turned up my music and inhaled the overwhelming scent of pizza. For some reason, delivering pizzas in your car day after day renders the “pizza” smell different than when you are actually eating the pizza. The “I deliver pizzas” stench is more like cardboard, old cheese and olives—whether or not there are any olives on the pizza, incidentally enough. The smell mingled with the scent of Victoria’s Secret Pure Seduction body mist, with which I had drenched my car seats in an effort to mask the aforementioned Hungry Howies’ Pure Repulsion.
Though I had only been working at Hungry Howies for several weeks at that point, I felt like the routine was old, worn-in, comfortable. When I first applied for the job, I never imagined myself being “at ease” with delivering pizzas. The enterprise is often viewed as “man’s work,” much like plumbing, carpentry, or growing facial hair. Initially, all of my co-workers scoffed because, in their minds, my femaleness somehow prevented me from delivering as quickly, driving as adeptly, or navigating the local maps as proficiently as their male selves were inclined to do. I couldn’t decide which was worse: their taunting about my perceived weaknesses or their unrelenting reminders that my long hair and curves would produce more generous tips from the male clientele. From my perspective, the Hungry Howies uniform produced more of an androgynous appearance than an attractive female one. Every day I wore beat-up sneakers, khaki pants, an oversized maroon polo shirt that proudly bore the Howies logo, and a baseball cap with matching insignia: a blond boy whose head pops out of a pepperoni pizza, licking his chops in anticipation of the mouthwatering “Original Flavored Crust Pizza.”
In spite of the adversity I faced in the form of frumpy outfits and grumpy co-workers, I managed to prove myself as a pizza delivery girl. (At this point, it would be entirely appropriate to imagine a Mulan-esque montage in which I am trained to fight as a man.) When work was slow and I was stuck folding boxes at headquarters, I let my eyes wander over the giant map of Coldwater that Spencer, my boss, had laminated and taped onto the wall. I came to learn all of the street names and I even gleaned an idea of which were the “best houses”—a title earned purely on the basis of high-end tipping. Likewise, it was also important to know about the “bad neighborhoods.” In some cases, all that denoted was dysfunctional families, yipping dogs, and the likely appearance of a mullet or two. Other times, the area was intimidating enough that I allowed my male co-workers the satisfaction of taking the route for the sake of my safety. I didn’t play the “damsel in distress” card too often, though, for fear of tarnishing the image I had worked so hard to build.
I squinted to see the house number on Lincoln... Jackson... Washington? street and pulled my car over the crunch of a gravel driveway. I walked up to the door, tattered black pizza bag in hand, and knocked.
I knocked again.
“Pizza!” I said, as though the word alone would be enough to excite someone off the couch to answer the door.
After several minutes, I began to wonder what to do. The house was old—splintered wood that had been painted a heinous color like olive green or cadet blue. I couldn’t tell exactly which because all that remained were the pallid chips of color that represented the house’s former glory. The windows were covered with the fading pastels of old Care Bear comforters and the rickety swinging doors were all shut and locked. I looked back at the ticket to insure that I was at the right house. Yep. 378 Linjacksington. Looking around to see if there were any signs of the family’s presence, all I saw were broken beach toys lying in the driveway and a variety of worn-out furniture, plastic silverware, and old magazines strewn haphazardly across the porch. I truly began to wonder if the customers were home, but then I heard voices coming from inside the house and I saw a pair of eyes peeking through the make-shift “curtains.”
“Okay, I know you’re in there!” I yelled, feeling like one of the detectives on Law & Order coming to arrest the suspect. I Mirandized the best I knew how: “I’m not sure what’s going on... but I have your pizza. And pop. It’s root beer.” I waited. No response. I guess the promise of impending soft drinks didn’t do the trick. Unsure of what else to say, I finally pleaded, “I need to see you so you can sign for your food!”
Confused and frustrated, I trudged back to my red Subaru Forester and grabbed the cell phone my mom let me borrow while I was on the job. The initial idea was that the phone would serve as a safety precaution for dangerous night routes. More often than not, the small blue device was used to hold lengthy conversations with my boyfriend in New Mexico during “boondocks” deliveries, or to ask a customer why 122 Park Drive didn’t exist, only to find that it was Park Avenue, not Park Drive. This time, I was calling my supervisor at headquarters.
“Hey Doug... yeah, listen. I’m at the house with the pizza and they won’t come to the door. What should I do? … Yes, they are here. … I have no idea why they aren’t answering… Of course it’s weird! ...Okay. I’ll be right back.”
I glanced back at the house and re-adjusted my cap. Just before calling it quits and hopping back into my car to bring the pizza back to Howies to sit in the heat-box, untouched all night…
“They’ll never come out.”
The mysterious voice came from a man who was casually sitting on the neighboring porch. Dressed in slacks and a Banana Republic sweater, he seemed very “out of place” in this area of town.
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“They won’t come out,” he stated matter-of-factly as he leaned back and clasped his joined palms over his knee. “I’m their landlord and I came here to evict them. I left the porch as you drove in so that you might have some luck getting them their pizza. They’re in there all right, but it looks like they’re not going anywhere for a while.”
“Umm, okay. Thanks.”
Stunned, I hopped into my car and drove back to the store. Upon telling my co-workers the story, they all laughed and gleefully proclaimed, “Well, that’s a first!” I seemed particularly prone to having “firsts” at my job. The entire scenario might have been worth it if we had been allowed to split the unused pizza, but Spencer firmly upheld the policy that unused pizzas go straight to the trash. Supposedly, this rule kept the pizza-makers from intentionally “messing up” so that we’d all get a free lunch, but we all knew that Spencer just liked enforcing arbitrary mandates in order to produce an illusion of control in his life.
An hour later, we got a call from Mrs. Care Bear Curtains.
“Where’s our pizza?”
December 13, 2009
there is nothing so lovely
as a picket fence with two hands on it,
a honeydew smile,
a flash of genuine in an abyss of adulteration.
charmed moments breed miles of meditation:
hallowed hopes that reality can be as real
as a snowflake lazily drifting
fixed (briefly yet eternally) in the evening glow of a
December 1, 2009
George, my new friend from the flight out of Salt Lake City
A family who gathers around for an impromptu sing-along on Grooveshark
Mom and her fudge-making prowess… or everything-prowess, as the case may be
Freshly laundered sheets and down comforters
Games with my little brother
Philadelphia cream cheese and consequent cheesecake experiments
Roxy and Jude, those little pooches whom I miss so dearly
The chance to finally play piano
Simply Apple Juice, nectar of the gods
Trees, trees everywhere!
Josh and Jess’ wedding photos
Movie theatre popcorn
The traditional sleepover with my niece and best friend, Alisha
Girl-talk with my sisters and nieces
Speedway Icees with Niki and Bradford
Chocolate chip cookies (alldayeveryday)
The miracle of finally deciding on a place to get dinner with indecisive Philip
The fact that the world is not currently coming to an end... to my knowledge?
Free lunch at Olive Garden (“The meal’s on us, happy holidays”)
A sister who is willing to pick me up in Salt Lake and take me back to my Provo apartment
Knowing that everything is, somehow, going to be okay
Mostly: Mom, Niki, Bradford, Josh, Jessica, Ben, Uncle Mike, Mikey, Grandma & Grandpa Patterson, Sandy, Mike, Alisha, Olivia, Mykel, Cassandra, Regan, Delaney, Briana, Michelle, Sarah, Dan, Philip, et al.
Because it’s the people who really count, if I haven’t yet made that sufficiently clear.
Now it’s the Christmas season and I need to be thinking of how I can show gratitude to all of those people and more (the whole wide world, if at all possible) by giving back. Our family decided to do something non-traditional, at least for us, by drawing the proverbial name-from-a-hat and buying a Christmas present for only one sibling. I picked Josh & Jess, our resident newlyweds. Would it be too conniving to buy them a baby bassinet?
(The answer is yes, by the way.)
November 24, 2009
Does God like cheesecake? And what kind of toothpaste does He use? Does the cheesecake taste good even after the teeth-brushing?
I love cosmic questions. Maybe even more than I am looking forward to the cosmic answers.
November 19, 2009
Who is Him, you ask? Well, take your pick.
Life (the one in the black t-shirt with a predilection for winding roads and evenings of stargazing)? God? My father? My brothers? My blue-eyed best friend of yesteryear? That Canadian waiter in Edinburgh? The dozen or so men in my dance class who have to deal with my blundering, maladroit version of the Viennese waltz?
Dance isn’t such a bad analogy for this. Part of my problem in the face of constantly being told to “Relax!” is that… well, it seems nigh impossible. I have a hard time trusting that those sweaty-handed men can really get me anywhere without a fatal crash into the wall or, worse yet, an innocent passerby. Often, I am being swirled and spun into a dizzy frenzy, flying backwards and all the while never knowing when I’ll feel secure again. I want to love that feeling. I crave to love it. Yet, even after every vow to myself that today will be different, today I will relax, today I will trust… today becomes another fractured dream. My dancing will always be gauche as long as I refuse to surrender that little part of me to another person, or to my own embodiment even. And probably so will my life.
I don’t mean for this to be a postmodern lament on how my marginalized voice leads to a fractured identity, resulting in my disembodiment and consequent loss of phenomenological experience. (You can thank my literary theory courses for such lofty explanations.) Alls I really need is a good, hearty dose of courage. And maybe some chocolate milk. We Americans have this awful habit of saying “Good luck,” as though we move through our lives helplessly at the mercy of this Luck, who occasionally smiles down on the fortunate. Luck is kind of a fair-weather friend, though. I’ve found that the equivalent French phrase is much more awesome, as the French are wont to be: “Bon courage.” It’s not about happenstance anymore, it’s about having courage to face what lies before you and to tackle those things head-on.
I probably shouldn’t tackle anyone from my dance class head-on. But I should probably pretend to be graceful until the blessed day that I actually am.
Perhaps all of this is why, as I was contemplating what to post about, the first thing that came to mind was a butterfly-shaped leaf I found on campus. That is a much simpler topic.
The moments of happiness—not the sense of well-being,
Fruition, fulfillment, security or affection,
Or even a very good dinner, but the sudden illumination—
We had the experience but missed the meaning,
And approach to the meaning restores experience
In a different form, beyond any meaning
We can assign to happiness
Writing means never missing the meaning. Living means never missing the experience. I kind of need both. As always, salvation lies in the balance.
November 17, 2009
Life would just look at me with the earnestness of a child, not saying anything.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean it…” I would stammer. “Hey, last one to the tree is a rotten egg!”
I don’t think Life would have a lapel, though. He’d probably be wearing a black t-shirt—black because it’s either the most beautiful or the most devastating color. After a lunch of PB&J’s with sun chips, Life and I would head back home. He would want to take the “scenic route,” over all the bridges and through dense thickets of forestation. Whenever I’d be tempted to complain and ask why we hadn’t just taken the highway, Life would say some cheesy thing like, “It’s not about the destination, but the journey itself.” (A line he learned from my cousin Keith after we spent two hours bushwhacking to finally arrive at a lone outhouse off a beach in northern Michigan when we were twelve.)
But you know? Keith and Life kind of have a point. It’s like when you’re a little kid and you keep whining to your parents, “Are we there yet?” not even considering that the state of being in transit can be wonderful. As I’ve gotten older, I have come to find that I love road-tripping, or driving just to drive. There is something about being in your car, listening to your favorite music, and watching the scenery whizz by as a world-montage, the stage for those thoughts you can only have in the quiet moments. As a lover of literature, it’s hard for me to admit this but… there are some things that just aren’t meant to be vocalized. Like the way I feel when I see the sun set behind the mountains as I’m driving back to my apartment from Springville and a beautiful Eric Whitacre chord seems to aurally paint the majesty I’m witnessing.
So, you know, Life being as wise and adventurous as we’ve learned he is… not sure he’d approve of the fact that I took an evening off from work just to sleep and hide from him. In fact, Life approves of very little I’ve been doing lately. We used to be best friends, you know. When we were little. Back then, we’d have the greatest of adventures. But now? Now we always seem to have these awkward encounters. I wish I weren’t so afraid of him. I wish I could just tell him how I feel and ask him why things have to be so… hard. He’s never liked that question. For being such a wise guy, Life can be really bad at sharing his feelings. Maybe the best thing to do is go stargazing. Life always seems to open up when I just allow him to be silent and look at the stars.
And imagine my luck: the Leonid Meteor Shower is tonight.
we're never where we want to be
that's okay with me
that's just the way it is, they say
it feels like make believe
that you're my history
but brother I've rediscovered you and
we're pushing on
we're passing through
and it won't be long
till I walk with you
tonight I'm down
yeah, I'm inside out
staring at the pictures in the album you forgot about
isn't it a shame
that times have changed?
but isn't it strange?
lifelines stay the same
round and round
I can't believe my heart has waited this long
all along, we've been children in a cold world
where wonder was lost, every day
and if love was a compass
oh, I've lost my way
October 27, 2009
"I'm just being myself. So if that doesn't work, I'm kind of out of options..."
This kind of brilliance was also manifest in his earlier observation about overalls, namely that "there is a good reason they are not allowed at BYU-Idaho." Although I'm not entirely sure what that reason is, I could venture a guess. While general human decency is usually not required in writing, I think BYU-I is trying to eliminate the option of being tacky.
So what if we could do this with other things? Mandate being classy, that is. We would see a lot fewer intimate "study sessions" on "chemistry" at the library (or anywhere else on campus, for that matter). More than likely, fewer students would be willing to plop down at the public piano in the Wilk and blast inane, repetitive music (the likes of which only belong on an EFY CD). Certainly, girls would cease justifying their tights as being pants, and nobody would try to conduct (or evade) extremely personal matters via texting.
But what do I know? Maybe girls who wear overalls or boys who mindlessly serenade innocent passersby in the student center are kind of perfect for each other. Maybe there is a place in this world for our quirky idiosyncrasies. Maybe one of these days, we'll find that "just being ourselves" is actually enough.
Until then, I think Plan B is to become a troglodyte. Preferably in southern France.
September 27, 2009
Let thy Spirit whisper peace
Swell our hearts with fond emotion,
And our joy in thee increase.
Never leave us, never leave us
Help us, Lord, to win the race.
Never leave us, never leave us
Help us, Lord, to win the race.
Help us all to do thy bidding
And our daily wants supply
Give thy Holy Spirit's guiding
'Til we reach the goal on high.
Ever guard us, ever guard us
'Til we gain the victory.
Ever guard us, ever guard us
'Til we gain the victory.
May we, with the future dawning,
Day by day from sin be free
That on resurrection morning
We may rise at peace with thee.
Ever praising, ever praising
Throughout all eternity.
Ever praising, ever praising
Throughout all eternity.
We sang a beautiful arrangement of this hymn as our audience participation song at the BYU Choir Showcase this weekend. As the house lights went on and the crowd stood up, I could feel power as we all sang together.
If you ever want to feel less alone, sing a song like this. Better yet, sing it with hundreds of other voices echoing yours. After all, we're in it together. We're all running the same race.
September 11, 2009
It just walks in where it left you last
You'll never know when it starts
Until there's fog inside the glass around
Your summer heart
There are several things about me that make me the odd one out from time to time. One of these is that, unlike many of my friends who are mourning the end of summer, I am celebrating the beginning of autumn. From the time I was very little, I have always loved this time of the year and cherished it as my absolute favorite season. Perhaps as someone who has been a student for the last fifteen years, fall represents new pencils and folders, books that smell oh-so-delicious and are begging to be read, and a fresh start. It's even in the air. It's crisp and cool. Suddenly, your senses pick up on things you never noticed in the summer: the crunch of a leaf underfoot, the smell of apples and bonfires, the light weight of a jacket in the breeze.
For me, there is something about this time of year that manages to bundle the past, present, and future all in one. Don't get me wrong, I have year-long nostalgia, but autumn has a special vibe to it. I look back and think, "Another year has passed? I'm already in high school... a senior in high school? A freshman in college? A senior in college?" (That last one is this year, by the way. And it's hard to imagine I've come this far.) It's a time of re-evaluation. I look back at where I've been and, with a brand new academic year, where I can be going.
September 2002 - My mom, my sister Niki, and my brother Bradford were in Indiana for two months during Bradford's radiation treatment. It was just me, Sarah, and Dad at home. None of us were very proficient in the kitchen, so we ate grilled meat with instant mashed potatoes and canned vegetables for almost every lunch. I can still taste it in my mouth, and in spite of what was going on, I really miss it.
September 2003 - This was my first year back as a full-time student at public school. I wore a plaid skirt my first day at Coldwater High. I spent most of my time working on the musical Godspell.
September 2005 - The beginning of my senior year at CHS.
September 2006 - The beginning of my freshman year at Brigham Young University. (For more on this, go here.)
September 2008 - One year ago, I came back for my junior year at BYU. It had only been one month since my Dad passed away.
It's funny what I remember about last year when I try to think about it. I remember the songs on Renee Olstead's debut album that I would listen to in the morning as I was getting ready for school. I remember the smell of the autumn spice and mulled cider candles we bought for the apartment. I remember the khaki green messenger bag I started taking to campus with me every day. It was the first time I really noticed how amazing the Timpanogos mountains look against the blue sky on a crisp autumn day.
Every year around this time, I make a point to walk by the bell tower. I only went there once my freshman year, yet somehow it emblemizes my experience here at BYU. That night I was wearing a brown courderoy jacket, leaning over the edge of the tower and looking out onto the panorama of campus, and talking with a good friend of mine about literature and camping and family. And I realized that this is where I am supposed to be.
What am I doing right now that I will remember next year?
August 27, 2009
Meet my Grandma and Grandpa Wilson. They both passed away before I was even a teenager, but I have certain unforgettable memories of them. One that really stays with me is an occasion when Grandpa and I were alone in his living room. He was kind of a quiet type in his later years, and we just sat in silence for a long time. After a while, Grandpa held up his arm and positioned his hand in the "Live Long and Prosper" symbol from Star Trek. That was the day I learned how to do that trick.
What does that moment really mean? I'm not sure. What I do know is that I smile to think of it. My only regret regarding my grandparents is that I wish I had had more time. I wish I had gotten to know them better while I had the chance.
... and that's where the present comes in. If we make our days worth living and create a constant flow of happy moments for ourselves, our past won't be lamentable. It will be a source of joy and comfort. That's not to say nothing bad will ever happen. These two lovely people are no longer on this world. But I can stand as a living legacy of their impact. And maybe that's all that matters. For today.
August 24, 2009
Today I played on the computer with Sarah. Then we played with water balloons. Next I watched TV. Guess What! On America's Funniest Home Vidio's a baby recited the Presidents's Names. I read my scriptures.
I wrote that entry in my journal thirteen years ago. There is nothing particularly spectacular about it. In fact, as I read through four of my old journals yesterday, I realized that none of the entries by themselves could capture the magic that I found in all of them collectively. In my first journal (1996), most of the entries consist of two or three sentences about what I did that day. I usually mention reading, exercising, going to church, reading scriptures, and playdates I had with my friends. In my eyes, all of it was "FUN!"
Each day was like a new little treasure. Everything was important. When Alisha was having a birthday party, it was important. When I swam underwater at the beach with my family, it was important. When Josh and I watched a movie together, it was important. When we sang songs in Sunday School, it was important. When Sarah and I invented a new game, it was important. When Stacy and I were "solving a mystery," it was important. I wrote about what I ate, who came over on a Sunday afternoon, what I named the bunnies we found in our front yard, getting haircuts with my siblings, having Family Home Evening on Monday nights, which books I checked out from the library... everything. Any time I met someone new, their name went in the journal. It was like everything and everyone was worthy of my attention.
Now? It's not that I'm not happy about my current journal, but it certainly lacks the excitement for life contained in the pages of my floral-print and Winnie-the-Pooh covered diaries. So is it just a question of age? Maybe. I've also wondered if it's a generational thing. Back then, very few families had internet access. I never had a cell phone until I was nineteen years old. While I played with computers (Atari, anyone?) and watched TV (Full House, anyone?), most of my entries are about reading books or playing outside. We were constantly creating our own fun instead of waiting for it to be served to us on an LCD screen.
I never meant for this to be a diatribe about technology. Really, I didn't. It's just that there is something about the modern day that makes everyone a lot more... apathetic. We are waiting for adventure to come to us. On our Facebook statuses, we tell the world we're doing "nothing" or having a "boring day," when really, we probably had lunch with a friend or finished a good book or played a fun game that day. So what makes something worthy of our excitement anymore? Are we waiting for something "big" like getting married or traveling to Europe? Or can we find it in the small things of daily life?
In fact, let's get rid of that term. "Daily life." It somehow connotes that quotidien normality is mundane and boring. Why not love the routine? Or why not create a life where nothing is routine? A life in which our day's events are "FUN" and worth writing about?
Wednesday, July 16, 1997
As I now write in this book I wish the best to all the adventures I have in the years to come. Happy Reading!
... and for now: Happy Living!
August 21, 2009
In spite of this fact, I tend to feel uneasy about change. I grasp at the sands of the present only to find them slipping through my fingers faster and faster. Every time I think I've adjusted to a new reality, an even newer one presents itself and I wonder if I can keep up with the pace. It's like I have to run to keep up with my own life. (For the record, I've never been very good at running. I was one of those kids who received a "Participation" ribbon at field days in elementary school.) And just as I settle into a routine, just as I'm beginning to adjust to my new reality... it's broken or disturbed by change.
That's not to say that there isn't an element of change that I love. I remember as I was waiting to board the plane to France, I kept thinking of how much I love airports. There is just something special about them. No matter what, it seems like something efficacious is happening: you're either embarking on a new adventure or kicking the traveler's dust off your shoes and returning home.
"Airports see it all the time, where someone's last goodbye blends in with someone's sigh because someone's coming home."
... and that's the way this wheel keeps working. We roll along in tandem with the ever-changing present and the result is an ever-changing self. We're constantly being refined by our experience. And if we let it, all these changes can create an extraordinary individual in us that we never knew could exist.
Yet I still wish my family didn't have to leave tomorrow. I was just getting used to having them here. I wish my dad could have come on this trip. I wish this weren't my senior year at BYU because I don't want to say goodbye to that reality, either.
And maybe it's my uneasiness about change that has led me to accruing outlandish fees because I just can't bring myself to turn in my RedBox rentals or my library books.
July 22, 2009
Stayed with the La Brosse family in the eighth arrondissement for six weeks.
Attended classes at the Institute building on the Rue Saint Merri, just across the street from the Centre Pompidou.
Walked in and out of the Metro countless times.
Meandered their way through at least 20 churches and cathedrals.
Relaxed in approximately 10 parks and gardens.
Visited more than 25 museums and nearly a dozen castles.
Stood gazing at the endless blue on half a dozen beaches.
Explored a cave.
Attended a ballet at the Opera Garnier.
Watched a performance of Ionesco’s hilarious La Cantatrice Chauve at the Theatre de la Huchette.
Enjoyed one piano performance, a string quartet, and an incredible medieval vocal group.
Dragged their way through the Louvre on four different occasions.
Rode on a boat along the Seine.
Wandered among ancient Roman ruins.
Held faithful through the three hour Ascension Day Parade in Brugge.
Watched an outstanding performance of Les Miserables at the Queen’s Theatre in London.
Stayed overnight at more than 30 different hotels and hostels.
Saw a Jason Mraz concert at Le Zenith in Paris.
Stood still for over 2,000 images and videos on my Nixon CoolPix.
... and probably thousands of other photos on 26 other cameras.
Visited: France, The Netherlands, Belgium, England, Scotland, and Italy (that’s six countries).
And did it all in style.
So when I arrived in Paris that first day and realized that I had not packed any socks and was only equipped with the pair on my feet, I decided it would be a good thing to let these faithful grays have an adventure of a lifetime. And they did.
Sure, it’s gross. My friends told me so time and time again. In every store, they would not-so-discreetly motion towards tempting packages of fresh socks. But I held faithful. I figured no one can say they spent 65 days in Europe with only one pair of socks. Besides me.
(Just don’t tell anyone that 80% of those days were spent wearing sandals.)
July 14, 2009
Luckily for me, today is one of those days. The combination of doing pilates, swimming, hot tubbing, and Dairy Queening with one of my best friends has been unbeatable. Later, we will commence scrapbooking and stocking on candy for a midnight showing of Harry Potter. Aside from exercising my bragging rights for having an altogether too-perfect day, there is a point to all of this. Last night I went to our weekly home evening activity with a bunch of kids from my neighborhood. Sister Madsen gave us a brief lesson about how the stages of our lives should be more than just "getting through it." Even though as college students, we're in what is meant to be a transitory phase of exploration and change, that is no excuse to purposely keep ourselves aloof and unrooted from what we're doing. That really hit home for me. How many times have I reassured myself that life will be better "when this test is over" or "once I finish the semester"? How often do I deny myself the opportunity to create a home wherever I am just because it seems temporary?
I started thinking about the quality of my life—as in, my life right now—as the activity continued. We ate popsicles on the lawn and played water balloon volleyball. I took off my shoes because I felt like being barefoot and licking on a dripping lime flavored chunk of ice would signal to the universe that I'm ready to call this place home. Why? Because I said so.
Just yesterday, I finished re-reading a favorite book of mine. It's called The Strangeness of Beauty and you all should read it. (Why? Because I said so.) At one point, the old samurai mother makes an observation that just jumped off the page at me. "Generally, people don't want glory. They want small gentle pleasures like baseball. Have you ever observed a baseball game? ... There you are, sitting on a hard surface, in a position of discomfort, participating in a slow-moving ritual. Little happens. Your mind wanders. Gradually, you notice the small moments that make life rich. The sun's heat, the ball's arc." She goes on with her wisdom: "It's this love of small things, by most people everywhere, that just might keep us from war. The most powerful things are small: the taste on our tongues of our favorite childhood foods, the rub of skin against skin."
It seems to me like summer is the perfect time to become "truly engaged in life's essence." So go outside. Take off your shoes and feel the blades of grass between your toes. Lick a popsicle, or your favorite childhood treat. Pack a picnic, grab a blanket, and meander over to the nearest park. Go put on your bathing suit and start your perfect summer day. Or, maybe better yet, head to your public library and pick up a copy of The Strangeness of Beauty. You won't regret it. I spent a good half hour in the library last week, just smelling the books and rifling through them to find some good reads for these long and lazy days that I love so much.
What are you waiting for?
July 9, 2009
opportunities, poke cows, and invent a large cartoon mouse who can talk.”
For the past week, the United States has warmly welcomed me back to...
free public restrooms
free water at restaurants
free laundry at my apartment
(we call it the “Land of the Free” for a reason, folks)
readily available drinking fountains
the lovely U.S. dollar
... to say nothing of dollar menus
cheap phone calls
hot showers with good water pressure
a huge wardrobe I’d forgotten about
my warm bed
... among other things.
That’s not to say there is nothing I miss about being in Europe. Looking through my pictures, I am reminded of what an incredible experience I had for those two months. But there is something about coming home. When we were riding the long train from Milan to Paris during one of my last days of adventuring, I listened to an album called The Road Home by the BYU Choirs. The songs echoed messages of travelers, literal and metaphorical, who speak of homecoming. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so achingly alone, just knowing that for centuries, millions of us have wrestled with the same questions about leaving and returning. About home.
A mom who comes to the rescue by driving 20 miles to your bank to deposit money into your account when you’ve found that Europe is more expensive than you’d imagined.
Feeling your stomach jump into your heart as the airplane lands and the flight attendant says, “Welcome to Salt Lake City. For those of you who call this home... welcome home.”
A boyfriend who picks you up at the airport with roses in hand.
A sister and brother-in-law who delay their plans to have dinner out with you on your first night back.
Unlocking the door to your apartment and smelling that familiar, sweet smell of hardwood floors and the black leather couches you’ve grown to love so much.
Having a dear friend who is willing to help you unpack and settle in for an entire day.
... and that’s just the Provo version of home. I’m even more excited at the thought of returning to my family in Michigan later this month for a homecoming with a capitol H. I echo the words of an ancient Japanese proverb that warmly wishes: “May all of your journeys lead you home.” Because, let’s admit it. There’s just no better feeling.
June 24, 2009
All of that is still relevant, I suppose. But maybe not as relevant as the fact that I have learned more about myself by traveling Europe than anything else. I am the same person whether I am in Michigan or Utah or France or Holland or Belgium or England or Scotland. I am the same person sitting here at an internet café in Italy. Yet I feel completely different. I often wonder about why this is, but I think I know the answer now. I am me everywhere. But never in my life have I been left so completely alone with myself. So much of who I am is defined by the people around me... my family, my friends, my teachers, those people in passing who come to mean so much. I operate according to what is familiar. Here, all of that is gone. I am forced to create a new familiarity with nothing but my own eyes and my own heart and a place that is completely foreign.
What I really wonder is why we romanticize the unfamiliar. I know I always did. I figured Europe would be cooler than the States because... well... it's Europe. Yet as I have spent hours driving through the countryside, I realize that the scenery isn't all that different from the places I call home. Yesterday I took a day tour through the Highlands in Scotland. We passed by many beautiful things and the driver would ask us "Can you feel the DSL (Deep Scottish Love)? Can you feel it? I know I can, and I see this every day."
The Scots... talk about a people with pride for their country. They love who they are and where they are and what they do. Shouldn't we all have that for ourselves?
Perhaps the most important lesson is one I learned from Albert. He was our driver in southern France. When I asked him why he would spent 40 weeks out of his whole year with a bus full of obnoxious college kids wanting to see European landscapes, he responded, "J'aime tout le monde. Il faut aimer tout le monde." I love everyone. It is necessary to love everyone. And let me tell you, this is a man who practiced what he preached. This is a man who stayed up late into the night to take a girl to the hospital. He waited there with her for hours and helped her get a prescription. For the record, that girl was me. And when I thanked him for everything he had done, his response was "C'est normal." I tried to tell him that it was anything but normal to be so kind to someone who is more or less a stranger. His response? "Il faut aimer tout le monde."
If only there were more people like that. If only I were like that.
Which brings me back to the overarching principle. Places are nice. They are interesting. They can be sources of great pride and comfort. But people? People are everything.
May 14, 2009
20 Things I Learned in The Netherlands
1) It's actually not "Holland." We Americans use that term, but people in the know say The Netherlands. The French say Pays-Bas.
2) I want to learn Dutch.
3) All the Dutch I know is that spoor = platform
4) The Dutch never check on buses or trains that you actually have a ticket, or what they call a strippenkart (I guess I know two Dutch words, actually).
5) A little kindness can go a long way. Everyone there speaks English. They love American tourists and they always want to help. Sweetest. People. On. Earth.
6) American music is everywhere. At the youth hostel where we stayed, there was a wedding reception. I heard "Love is in the Air (Everywhere I Look Around)" playing over the loudspeakers. The next morning, two old Dutch ladies were trying to sing "Footloose."
7) Burger King is also everywhere.
8) ... and Fanta, which has multiple flavors in Europe including "cassis" which is a black currant flavor.
9) Looking at beautiful flowers can be efficacious. If there is one thing you can see in Europe, go to the gardens at Keukenhof. It is the most photographed place in the world and now I know why.
10) Looking at beautiful paintings can be efficacious. I went to the Van Gogh museum and saw an exhibit called "Colors of the Night." It was magnificent. I was especially excited to see "Starry Night," which has always been one of my favorite paintings.
11) Asking for help never hurts.
12) You can never have enough pictures, but sometimes it's important to enjoy the moment outside the camera lens.
13) Good friends make all the difference.
14) Trips are always more fun if you can create a musical along the way.
15) The Dutch are obsessed with bicycles.
16) Underwear can be a good place to hide money. Just make sure you know you put it there.
17) The Dutch eat chocolate sprinkles with their breakfast. This is a good idea. A very good idea.
18) Watch where you walk in Amsterdam. You could be hit by the Tram at any minute.
19) The North Sea is cold. And beautiful.
20) "All right... it's okay." This is what Dutch people would say in place of "You're welcome." I sort of felt like it should be my mantra for life.
All right... it's okay.
May 2, 2009
- Old men playing petanque (This is a game that reminds me of horseshoes, except it's played with balls.)
- Park security men keeping people off the grass
- A mini Statue of Liberty (Unfortunately, the statue had been moved to another display, so I missed it.)
- Children riding donkeys (It's true! Not sure why that happens, but it does...)
- People practicing martial arts
- A couple kissing on a bench (Here, I thought he just meant "a kiss," but actually the Parisians are completely okay with making out in pulic.)
- People jogging (The professor said this was a rare sight in Paris, but there were a lot of joggers; another American we ran into told us that jogging has come into fashion since the French President Sarkozy jogs.)
- Chess players (Bobby Fisher, anyone?)
As for how they are the same, one big thing around here is iPods and American music. When we first rode into Paris in the BluVan, the driver told us that the French love American music. He was listening to jazz the whole trip. At the hotel, we heard a lot of songs that are (or have been) popular in the United States. In spite of the fact that the French have appropriated a lot of American pop culture into their own, our professor asked us to "cut our American strings," referring to things like The Office, McDonalds (which they call "Mac-Do" here), Oreos, English, and stupid tourist habits. After some convincing, he said we could use Facebook sparingly. I can see why he brought it up though; it'd be so easy to be here and miss what is actually Parisian about it while we're so absorbed in our technology and our American ways. Still, it's hard to go anywhere without seeing Oreos, Fanta, Subway, or Beyonce Knowles (who is currently on most of the huge posters in the Metro).
One huge manifestation of American-culture-meets-French-culture was La Foire de Trome. It's a fair that they had yesterday for le premier mai (the first day of May, which is a holiday here). Our group decided to go and, let me tell you, I felt like I was back in Coldwater, Michigan in no time. Other than the fact that everyone spoke French and they served crepes at the food stands, there was almost no difference between that French fair and the ones we have for 4-H. It was kind of uncanny, actually. We didn't do much at the fair besides order some crepes and Nutella. The place was seeming with people who were "louche" (creepy or sketchy), to say nothing of all the pickpockets and smokers. Even elementary school kids smoke around here. I kept thinking "I would never bring my child here," but there were a lot of children. In general, it seems like the Parisian kids are like little adults. They just walk around by themselves, ride the Metro, smoke, talk on cell phones, and generally function like a teenager or a young adult. It's a little strange, to say the least. I think most of them feel like more of an adult than I do.
On the way to the fair, my friend Maren and I witnessed a most interesting scene. We were waiting to cross the street. The pedestrian light was red, but many Parisians pay no attention to things like that. A little old lady began crossing the street at the same time that a car was making a right turn and nearly hit her. The old lady didn't seem angry... maybe just a little crazy. She hit the back of the car with her purse and was about to go on her merry way. UNTIL. The car screeched to a halt and a young woman in a leopard print jump suit came out for the confrontation. Leopard Suit Woman pushed Crazy Old Lady and the two began hashing it out in French. I didn't understand most of what was going on, probably because they were speaking fast and using a lot of swear words that I haven't learned. Even when the pedestrian light turned red, Maren and I were afraid to traverse the street and into the cross-fire. We waited for about three minutes until Leopard Lady looked like she was getting ready to hop back into her car. The old lady motioned to us and said something; I think she was expecting us to vouch for her right to cross the street, or say that she had done nothing wrong. The Leopard Driver said something like "On connait la verite" (We all know the truth). As Maren and I were making our way back onto the sidewalk, we heard a man approach and ask another woman, "Qu'est-ce qui se passe?" The woman answered, "Il y avait une lutte entre la fille et la grand-mere!" (There was a battle between a girl and a grandmother.)
Maren and I laughed all day about "la lutte entre la fille et la grand-mere." All day.
No, really ready?
I'm in France. And the best part? It's not even a dream. That's what I kept wondering as I sat at the Salt Lake City airport, passport in hand, waiting at the gate departing to Charles de Gaulle on Monday afternoon. I looked around at my fellow passengers and wondered what their reasons for going to Paris could be. I wondered if they wondered about my reason for going to Paris. No reason seemed quite as cool as "I'm studying French language, culture, and civilization in the heart of Paris." Maybe they thought I was one of those twenty somethings headed off to Europe to "find myself."Even though that's not explicitly why I'm here, I can't help but wonder if it will happen.
The flight was long. Extremely long. Two sub-par meals, three episodes of crying baby, three or four restless hours of sleep, one finger burn from the reading lamp, two hours of iPod, three movies, and five thousand miles later... we finally arrived at the Charles de Gaulle airport. There were four of us from the BYU program who had arrived on the same flight, so we made our way through customs and tried to figure out how we were going to call our private shuttle to get to the hotel. Everyone was speaking in French (except for the American tourists, who stuck out like sore thumbs) and I realized just how limited my capabilities are. What we read in our preparation class is absolutely true: The French don't like to give more information than is necessary. If we asked someone "Do you know the number for the BluVan shuttle?", they would simply say "No" and move on with their lives. No "Oh, but I could find you a phone book" or "Maybe you should try asking that lady over there..." None of that. Nothing. It's not rude, it's just the French way.
We finally got a hold of the shuttle. We were told that the driver would probably be Pakistani and able to speak English. The driver was actually French and, we soon learned, unable to communicate very well in English. It ended up being to our advantage to try our skills on someone who was so kind and patient. He told us that, even if you don't speak French well, just making the effort is good enough to open a lot of doors. The French are actually very patient and hospitable when foreigners try to show respect.
Our first day in Paris was spent doing somewhat cliche things like visiting the Eiffel Tower. Mostly, we were trying to stay awake and get over our jet-lag. Professor Hurlbut took us out to dinner (aka our program fees covered a dinner) at a nice little place. Wish I could say what or where it was, but I was so disoriented and just ready to dig into some delicious French cuisine. I ended up ordering French soup, a steak, and some chocolate mousse. Much to my surprise, the steak came with French fries (who knew?) and the meat was pretty much raw. "Just don't think about it," my professor kept saying. "Just don't think about it."
My first night was spent at the Etap Hotel, which was very small. Our room looked like it had jumped right out of the 80's with teal and magenta colored geometric shapes all over everything. I bought a phone card at a little Tabac (they are little French stores that pretty much function like the stores at American gas stations). I was having some difficulty getting the card to work on the pay phone at the hotel, so I asked one of the concierges for some help. Even though I asked my question in French, he answered in English. That's happened to me several times throughout the trip. I've learned that it's not an insult to your ability to speak French, but most American tourists only know about two or three phrases (if that) in French, so the people around here have grown accustomed to switching over to English pretty fast.
Our first morning here, we had a petit dejeuner a la francais at the hotel: bread, chocolate, fruit, jam, hot drinks, and cereal. We went to our first day of class, which was pretty informal and mostly a quick crash course in how to survive around here. Mostly, I was excited to meet my host family. My rooommate, Amy, and I took a taxi to the La Brosse's apartment. Immediately, I could tell that the family is warm and accommodating. The only ones living here are Madame et Monsieur, although they have three children who are grown up and living away from home. They are also hosting another American student named Cami. She's only fifteen and she's from Maryland. Madame de La Brosse told us "On ne parle que le francais ici," meaning that we would only speak French in the apartment. Amy and I are allowed to speak English in our shared bedroom, but we made a pact to stick to French as much as possible. The La Brosse's are very patient with us, and they think our French is magnificent (or at least they act like it). I can tell I will learn a lot from them.
I get the feeling that this city will change me. There is something so magical about exchanging "bonjour"s with the locals and listening to a random guy playing guitar in the Metro and walking down a narrow alley surrounded by apartments and shops and realizing that this city is both extremely historic and extremely vibrant and living. It's a city of motion. And in spite of my aching limbs and my broken French, I want to be part of the motion.
April 9, 2009
Presented here are just a few of my pipe dreams, so I guess you get to feel a little of my heartbeat and peek into the freedom of my soul. That's a pretty tall order. But it's definitely worth the time to take a moment and think about those aspirations in life, far-fetched as they may be, that make the present worthwhile. Thanks, Flavia.
As for me, I'd like to move back to Michigan for this...
|Beautiful photo courtesy of Marty Hogan:|
Did I mention I'd love to adopt an Asian child as well?
Own a dog who promises to be there when I wake. More specifically, this adorable West Highland White Terrier from Cesar dog food commercials.
Learn to play the saxophone.
Become a published writer.
Spend a spring in Paris.
... oh wait. I'm already doing that. T-minus 18 days until I leave. I guess not all dreams are improbable after all.