Intense, Vivid, Saturated

Main Hall

Lawrence University’s Main Hall, a view on my way to Reunion Convocation

Note:  I was asked to give the toast at my 20 year reunion at Lawrence University this past weekend.  People seemed to enjoy it, so I’ve reprinted the text below.

 

It’s always so magical to get back here and grapple with the simultaneous reality of permanence and change.  I am always happy to be reminded, too, that Lawrence is, at it’s very core, just a place. That is in contrast to the many permutations that Lawrence has taken in my dreaming mind since graduating.  That Lawrence is some sort of Stranger Things Upside Down that I need to get over.  Here are some things that I still have dreams about:

  1. I parked my car somewhere and now can’t remember where I parked it.  It is usually winter. It might be under one of those unidentifiable snowdrifts.  
  2. I forgot to drop a class and have been registered for a mysteriously titled class, usually in Main Hall, the entire term.  The final is tomorrow. I have never attended and don’t even really know how to find the classroom because it’s in Main Hall.
  3. I haven’t checked my mailbox the entire term and can’t actually remember how to open it.  This is a variant on the high school “can’t open the locker” dream
  4. I can’t lock my dorm room and when I come back it’s been
    1. Ransacked
    2. Emptied
    3. Taken over by squatters
  5. My dorm room has a secret annex that I never noticed that includes among other things a small kitchen, deck space, an atrium, and a full appliance package.

 

sage hall

My friend and I chose to stay back on campus for reunion, perhaps adding fuel to the fire of my dorm-related anxiety dreams.

So in my dreaming life, apparently Lawrence serves as little more than a conduit for all of my waking anxieties.  Because these anxieties are numerous, I rotate these Lawrence stress dreams with other favorites, including the one where all of my teeth fall out one by one like one of those Hillbillies on Hee Haw.

 

These weird dreams stand in stark contrast to my actual daytime memories of Lawrence  They’re so very vivid and numerous. Vivid, intense, saturated. I think for most of us gathered here, some of our most purely distilled emotional moments happened on these 88 acres.  My fiercest friendships grew up here. My most mind-blowing realizations. The shell of my small-town existence was chipped and ripped away here. We loved wholeheartedly, idealized unjadedly, grew unrestrainedly.  We have never been so terribly hung-over either before or since. It was intense, vivid, saturated. And so, like you all, I come back to take a restoring sip from the fountain, to bring back into focus the moments from the faded photographs, to make out the echoes of laughter and tears and oratory in these walls.  

 

So, with that common, perhaps terribly sentimental thought in mind, let’s all raise our glasses:  

 

May our lives continue to be blessed with intense loves and vivid moments.  May our lives be saturated with Light, More Light!\

Veritas Est Lux

Good neighbors don’t need fences

Making friends as an adult is a tricky, tricky proposition. If you’ve got kids, that’s a good place to start.  I’ve found it useful to identify potential friends among my kids’ parent group by complaining about something and seeing if anyone joins in.  Just a little bit, I mean they have to know what they’re getting into.  I like to make sure their kids aren’t too clean or perfectly well behaved, because I don’t need that kind of pressure in my life.  And then there’s the whole thing of being on your guard in case someone seems like potential friend material but then it turns out they just want you to join their multi-level marketing scheme or cult or something or group that actually stays out after 10:00 or something.   There are so many awkward stages, it’s almost worse than dating, because it’s highly unlikely that at any point in the proceedings, you’ll get to break the tension by making out.  I mean, not impossible, but highly unlikely.   So, yeah, tricky proposition all in all.

I wish that I could have just keep all my best friends from all of my stages of life with me as I moved from place to place and job to job.  Create some sort of nomadic caravan of friends that I’ve collected.  That way all I would need to do would be to pop out of the door and wander over to their tent or whatever.  But alas, that’s not the way our world works, and they remain scattered, accessible on a daily basis only through a computer screen. It was so easy back in college, when all you had to do was wander into a dorm hallway and start banging on doors.  It’s harder now, but having a neighbors as best friends sure makes things easier.

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The neighborhood keeps me sane

 

My healthiest relationship and longest neighbor friendship is with Vicky.  I was reminded today of how much she means to me because we had a stupid argument, and that’s what got me thinking. Don’t worry–it’s all fixed up and better, not two hours after it happened.  On the rare occasions when we irritate each other, we argue like professionals.  Seriously, we should be used as a model for couples counseling.  For example, today I said something rude to and insensitive and made Vicky mad.  Then she called me back and, using “I” statements, told me how she felt. Then she allowed me to respond. I took ownership for my mistake, explained my point of view.  She listened. Then I said that I was sorry and asked for her forgiveness. Then she forgave me and we talked about other things and signed off by saying “I love you.” We should take our game on the road, I think.  She is honestly the ONLY PERSON that I argue with correctly!

Vicky and Me and the Kids

Here we are taking the girls to vote in the 2016 election.  It was good to have a friend after that…

 

To wrap up my little musing on adult friendships, here’s a little something I wrote three plus years ago when a couple of our other neighbor friends moved away.  The feelings hold true today, as new clans fill in the empty spaces of our neighborhood circle:

I like things the way they are.  Maybe not everything, but I love my neighborhood the way it is, and I weep to think of losing it.  I like that our kids have known each other since they were in diapers.  They lope home from the bus each day, secure in the comfort of each other.  Games and imaginings sprout up at a moment’s notice in the backyard tree fort, sunlight dappling the most ethnically diverse locality in all of Franklin, people with the brownish-whitish souls that belong to us.  I like that they belong to US.  I don’t care whose house they are in—they’ll be fed, and scolded, and loved, and entertained, and secure in the knowledge that they belong.  I like that my ugliest secrets belong to these three women and they don’t care.  They are some of the only friends who don’t need anything from me but me.  When I grant them kindnesses or favors I do so not to uphold some carefully crafted image or façade, but just because that the way it is.  I like that our backyards and the lollipop of a street are enough of a world for our kids in the summer, that they can subsist on endless popscicles snuck from freezer after freezer all summer long.  I like that we’ve cried together and even more so laughed together.  I like that my girlfriends are my family, and that we’ve created a magical little village for ourselves that is so rare in today’s world.  I guard it and speak of it with pride and knowledge that it inspires envy.  –me, Friday, April 17, 2015

Four of us

We were always too busy to get better pictures.  Miss this.

March

March

I have a love-hate relationship with March.  I love that it’s the month that heralds the slow transition into spring.  Like the final slog up a really steep hill, we just have to get through it.  And the climb through March’s ambivalent days isn’t all thankless toil.  There’s robins and foolhardy crocuses and newborn lambs.   Morning and evening commutes and drives to and from school can finally be completed in the daylight.  The earth emerges bleary-eyed into the shocking brightness of it all, the dirty snow melts away, and we remember what our world looks like stripped bare.  It’s all kind of exhilarating and hopeful, isn’t it?  

But all that earthen nudity and shocking sunshine makes me a bit panicky as well.
From the purely practical standpoint, the seasonal shift adds countless items to the list of things to do.  For example, after the recent snow melt the item “pick up random shovels, sleds and debris buried in drifts” was added to mine.  Then there’s all the “get the yard ready for the next iteration of life in Wisconsin.”  For six years we lived in Arizona, and it was sooooo easy.  A change in seasons usually just meant bringing out or putting away one’s jacket.  There was no complete turnover of the yard and equipment required to maintain it at that given calendar moment in time.  I begin to panic over all of the “I’ll get these things done over the winter” tasks that I never got to.  Repainting rooms.  Sorting through paperwork.  Completing that first novel.  Taking up knitting.  Reading Important Books.  All of these tasks will, be inevitably left to wait until I’m forced indoors once again at the turn of fall into winter.  

And spring begins so quickly–I always try and notice it happening but, like the passing of any of the seasons, I never capture it exactly.  Being someone who mourns over the passage of time with real, visceral, gut-wrenching anxiety, the change of seasons can be difficult!  The other day my youngest came to me during the night, worried about the fact that some day she would die and that she didn’t want her life to move so quickly.  Girl, I feel you.  Those are big worries for a little person.  I should know, because I had them at that age too, coupled with a complicated concern for limbo and eternity born out of Catholic education.  I wish I could tell her that these preoccupations get easier, but they don’t.  They just get more manageable and predictable.  Spring is tricky.  Focus on the perennials.  

But would I give it up?  Absolutely not.  Those years in Arizona slid together too quickly, without the bittersweet mile markers of  seasons marching visibly onward.  So bring on the tulips and the crocuses, bring on the spring rains that scour the salty crust from the Wisconsin landscape.  I’ll only get so many springs in my lifetime, and I intend to do my best to wring the essence out of this one.  And those piles of indoor projects will just have to wait patiently in the corners once again.  The lion of March is prowling at the door.

Olympic-level dedication

bob costas

Bob Costas in Sochi before they found him some subs to protect us, the viewer, from the horror of his conjunctivitis.

 

Today is the first day of the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.  I love the Olympics, specifically marathon Olympic viewing.  I love immersing myself in sports that I don’t even think about during the intervening four years, briefly becoming a luge-obsessed freak.  I love the familiar voices of the play-by-play announcers and color commentators.  I loooove Bob Costas (what am I going to do without him this year?  It was bad enough when he had that eye situation last time).  I love the pre-packed bits of biographical information designed (uniformly successfully) to make me cry.  I love that it only feels slightly slovenly to take to the couch for a one to two week period.

 

 

 

 

The first time I truly dedicated myself seriously to Olympic viewing was, I think, during the Seoul summer games of 1988.  I would have been 12, and my younger sister Louise around eight or nine.  Because it was summer, we had nothing to do except gorge on the Olympics, and gorge we did.  We pulled out the sofa bed in the TV room and slept down there so that we could watch the official telecast from beginning to late-night end, well after everyone else had gone to bed.  And we tried to wake up for any special during the night broadcasts.   I remember the mental focus required to tune in for a 2 a.m. broadcast of Greco-Roman wrestling, but our goals were clear:  complete knowledge of the Olympics as related to us by Bob Costas and the folks at NBC.  

Our dedication to Olympic viewing continued through our childhoods, although I don’t recall another occasion when we were able to devote such single-minded focus to the games as that summer of ’88.  Since then we haven’t always been able to watch the midday live telecasts of events, the more unedited, exciting broadcasts with announcers that have become friends (I’m talking about you, Tim Daggett).  Despite this limitation, all primetime broadcasts were taken in, regardless of what usually-coveted sitcoms they came up against.  Sorry, ALF, the Olympics are on.

My senior year of college, the winter Olympics occurred in Nagano. While other 21-22 year-olds were pursuing more age appropriate activities like dating and excessive drinking, I was holed up in my dorm room, devoted to the evening broadcasts as viewed on my tiny TV-VCR combo.  Occasionally a friend would join as we sat across my dorm room bed and ignored our homework together.  Oh, and at the same time I was working on a cross stitch for a soon-to-be-born cousin.  Just to complete the completely ridiculous, pitiable picture.

nbc olympics

My key to Olympic obsession

Since then, professional-level Olympic viewing has become simultaneously easier and more overwhelming.  Now that NBC broadcasts over several channels, one has to really stay on top of one’s game to make sure an early-round curling match doesn’t slip by unnoticed.   Similarly, there will be moments where clutch decisions regarding a choice between channels must be made.  And it’s hard to know when to stop one’s obsession–online supplementary content is essentially limitless, which is why I avoid it.  Too many choices are a problem that I like to avoid.  I tend to bookmark a few key sites including broadcast schedules and leave it at that.  Just a little tip from a professional.  It leaves my hands free for needle crafts.

Which raises the question:  is it really the Olympics that I love, or the televised version of them delivered neatly packaged to my couch?  And is the distinction even worth teasing out?  If I ever have the chance to be at an Olympics live and in person, I will OF COURSE snap at the chance.   But I know I’ll be missing something if I do, and my couch is so comfy, the afghan so soft…   So my key channels are “favorited,” some websites bookmarked, Louise is on speed-dial, and a new cross stitch selected.  I’m ready.  Are you?

pyeong chang olympics

 

If I hadn’t been me

The other day, my 8 year old was having anxiety about who she would be if she’d never been born.  She’s never been one to present me with easy “worries before bed” topics.  One summer when she was around four, every night she worried about dynamite blowing up the house.  I could only calm her down with the white lie that dynamite ONLY works on boulders, such as in train track construction.  As she’s gotten older, things have become a bit more nuanced, but still quite challenging.  So I wasn’t exactly surprised by the nature of this most recent concern.  And strangely, I knew just how to relate–because as a kid, I had the exact same preoccupation:  if I wasn’t me, then who would I be?

I wonder if there’s a name for this particular obsession?  It gets to the heart of what it means to be human, what makes one unique in the cosmos, and the fleeting and illusory nature of consciousness.  Big thoughts to be having as an 8 year old.  While I remember having them at that age as well, for me the question didn’t exactly come out of the blue.  Rather it came from a book by Dr. Seuss that my Grandma Bier had, a big, hard covered picture book about a magical land that you go to on your birthday.  

happy birthday to you

Disturbing Dr. Seuss book

The book is probably intended to make kids giddy with with wild fantastical nature of a land all for you, but it mostly stressed me out.  I didn’t ever want to be whisked away from my bed by an odd, slightly bird looking yellow man only to go to a land of  very circuitously constructed aqueducts.  There was a line in the book something like “if you hadn’t been you, what would you be?…..You might be a bag of old dusty potatoes.”  Now that shook me up.  First, if I could be a bag of potatoes, that indicated that potatoes might be sentient, and I couldn’t even beginning to wrap my head around that.  Also, the idea that me-ness might be transmutable? No thank you, Dr. Seuss.  

potatoes

Imagine this, but hung in an unheated laundry room and you’ll get the general idea.

When I was little, the potatoes were hung in one of those wire baskets in the laundry room,  an unheated lean-to attached to the north side of the kitchen.  The basket also served as an improvised hanging area for dad’s umpiring uniform shirts.  Those potatoes led a fairly forlorn existence, and every time I caught sight of them, I thought of that stupid book.  What if I were the potatoes?

So I knew we were in trouble when my daughter came to me with a particularly disturbing book to read last night:  Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.

sylvester

Sylvester and the very concerning pebble.

In this shockingly award winning book, a donkey named Sylvester discovers a pebble that grants his wishes, and he accidentally wishes to become a rock.  Then he’s a sentient rock for OVER a YEAR until he luckily is turned back by a series of deus ex machina style plot twists.  He’s a rock out being snowed on day in day out while his parents cry at home.  GOOD LORD HOW WAS I READING THIS TO HER?  I tried to focus a lot on the more ridiculous aspects of the book, so that she wouldn’t realize just how disturbing the notion that you (or in this case, a donkey) could just turn into a rock version of themselves.  It just makes the whole potato proposition all  the more probable.

There’s a couple of lessons to be learned here.  One, children’s books can really freak people out, so let’s treat lightly, OK.  Two, treat your potatoes well.  And three, welcome to the world of lifelong existential angst, oh daughter of mine!

Typewriter

The first typewriter that I ever used was the heavy gray one that sat in Grandma and Grandpa Cousin’s dining room.  It sat on Grandpa’s desk, which was squeezed in along a wall.  There was just enough room between the table and the desk that Grandpa’s chair could be rotated between the table to the desk.  You knew it was Grandpa’s chair because it had arms on it, and because it was the one next to Grandma’s.  Grandma’s was easy to tell, because it was closest to the kitchen door.

grandpa typewriter

Grandpa in his chair with the typewriter behind him.

grandma typewriter

Grandma in the dining room with the retinue of office equipment in the background.  In addition to dining and typing, the table was used most often for game playing.

The desk was always heaped with papers, these balanced carefully between the heavy gray beast of a typewriter and the two adding machines–electric and mechanical.  We kids loved to use those machines, but Grandma didn’t like us using the electric 10 key calculator too much because we burned through all of the adding tape paper.  So we’d take turns pounding out nonsense on the sheets of scrap paper that she kept around for our visits.  We never really ever SAW Grandpa using the typewriter, but I know that he did.  We occasionally received typed responses to school-related inquiries, and his sketches were often completed on the backs of the beginnings of typewritten letters that had gone hopelessly wrong.  Also, his records of the 15,000+ record collection were completed on that typewriter.  It had both a red and a black tape, and you really had to pound to get that thing going.

Abby typewriter

My cousin, Abby, taking her turn at the great gray beast.  Hey kid!  Where’s your paper?

CheaperByTheDozenI read the book “Cheaper By the Dozen” as a kid.  Not the dumb Disney version, but the actual biographical story of a family of 12 kids with parents who were interested in economy of movement and consulted for industrial operations to improve their efficiency.  One chapter focused on the father’s teaching the kids to “touch type” and taking them around to show off to prospective clients.  I figured that was OK, so I practiced at Grandpa’s and on mom’s machine whenever I got the chance.  Mom’s machine was portable and kept high up on a shelf in a closet.  She’d bring it out for us occasionally, and it released a wafting puff of “office” smell whenever it was opened.  I loved typing so much that I would simply transcribe stories, for the sheer joy of hearing the clack and seeing the smooth, even result of a perfectly-typed page.  She didn’t like us to type too often, though, because we burned through the correction tape.

When we got our first computer around about 8th grade, it came with a typing tutorial program that I took to like it was going out of style.  In my opinion, the resulting dot-matrix printed results weren’t nearly so aesthetically pleasing as those done in unbroken inked-letters on the powder blue travel typewriter.  My first research paper in 7th grade was done on that typewriter, footnotes and all, an exercise in frustration that was rivaled only by my senior thesis at Lawrence in 1998 in which my image drive was somehow corrupted.  In the spring of 8th grade Joanna McCall showed up with her social studies paper printed out on a smooth, creamy sheet of paper with nary a dot matrix in sight.  Her family had an early ink jet or laser printer.  It looked like her work could have been part of the actual social studies textbook, so smooth and professional.

In high school my mother made me take typing, a class that I resisted due to the effect that it would have on my GPA.  It is by far the class that I use most readily every day.  Sure, it didn’t do anything in particular to launch my academic career, but I can carry on a conversation or stare out the window dreamily while I type, thanks to that class, the only class I ever took in the Business department of Milton High School.

Computer keyboards have come and gone, but I’ve never felt a true commitment–lots of passing flings, but no keyboard monogamy.  I knew what I liked–clacky, a bit of oomph required, but my previous keyboard relationships were but mere infatuations once I met my new true love.

 

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My new love, Azio Corp’s MK Retro 

 

It arrived under the Christmas tree, a gift from my husband who knows me so well.  It is a computer keyboard that looks like a typewriter.  The keys are round and raised slightly up.  They require a bit more effort to engage, and I suppose that this results in a bit more fatigue, but the sheer tactile joy of this thing makes up for it.  The keys clack so satisfyingly that even responding to mundane emails has been rendered a joy.  And the space bar–oh the space bar.  Its tone is slightly more high pitched and more resonant than the other keys.  I will simply never be able to give up two spaces after a period after this.

Every day I try to write at least 500 words, usually of sheer drivel.  My 500 word habit has become an obsession thanks to the love of my typing life that took me back to the dining room on Elm Street, kneeling on a phone book, clacking away on the old grey beast while Grandma cooked in the kitchen.