Monday, August 3, 2015

be the tortoise, not the hare

I measure my life in tally marks these days.

At the end of each 25-minute pomodoro of dissertation,  I make a tally mark on a piece of paper on my desk. Then I reset the timer and get up from the desk for 5 minutes of not-writing.

I'm at the stage of the dissertation process where I can feel it starting to gather energy as we roll down a steep hill. It's tempting to embrace the heady momentum and stay at the keyboard for hours at a stretch.

That way lies madness, though. Taking my hands off the breaks and my feet off the pedals and giving myself over wholly to the writing means forgetting to cook or even buy groceries. It means forgetting to make important phone calls and pay bills. After a few days, I have no brain for words and no energy for thinking and the life outside of my desk is in shambles. I've done that before, and I always hate myself for it.

So, now I aim for six poms a day, every day but Sunday. Most days, I make it to six tally marks by mid afternoon and then come back to the desk for two more poms (and two more tally marks!) in the evening.

Making myself stop feels like a bizarre kind of discipline.

I can attest that it is a fruitful discipline, though. The document on my computer is growing longer and more complex. The rest time away from the keyboard often leads to connections among chapters and solutions to knotty problem spots.

This is a mountain stage, not a sprint.

And the tortoise wins.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

a glimpse of family

At the aquarium today there was a manipulative that taught about how objects moving independently of one another may appear to be coordinated if they are following the same rules (as in the natural laws of physics), and this appearance of coordination is heightened when the objects look alike. The manipulative used black spheres on strings, but it was teaching about fish and schooling behavior.

I was visiting the aquarium with assorted aunts, uncles, and cousins spanning three generations, and we moved through the space with a minimum of coordination. But we all had the same goals:

1. Enjoy the fish.
2. Be with each other.
3. Keep track of children.
4. Avoid toddler meltdowns at all costs.

Sometimes we were all together in a clump, showing each other the same thing. Sometimes, we were spread out into smaller clusters. At the end, we left the aquarium, as we had arrived, in small, nuclear-family groups.

This evening we sat around looking at old family photos. Over and over again, we collectively marveled at how much we all look like each other, each of us resembling different others of us at different times in our lives.

Most of the time, we are fragmented into clusters by geography and the quotidian demands of our individual lives. Every once in a while, though, we gather, and there is some critical mass of natural law that helps us hang together.

Photo courtesy of Alison Griffin.

In those brief moments, we are a glorious school of fish dancing individually together.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

free at last

Over the last two years, I've written a lot about inhabiting the wilderness between end and beginning. Moving halfway across the country a month ago was a huge step toward exiting that liminal space.

The more momentous occurrence of the last thirty days, however, was the official closure of my late husband's estate.

This most recent letter from the probate court is the matched pair of the first letter designating me as the personal representative of the estate. It puts a seal on all of the official actions I have taken to dissolve his corporation, sell his real estate and his vehicles, and distribute his investments among his heirs.

That unchosen responsibility was a too-large yoke on my shoulders, and I resented it.

This most recent letter marks the end of my legal responsibility for my late husband's affairs and effects. Now, my only obligation to Adam is to maintain his presence in the lives of his children, a yoke which I will gladly bear.

I feel so free.

Happy Independence Day!

Friday, June 26, 2015

pinch me

Sometimes when I walk past the door inside the apartment, I forget that I'm in an apartment. The stack of locks and the light from the hallway peeking around the edges are somehow coded not-home.  More than once, I've caught my mind whispering, 'Gosh, we've been in this hotel for a long time,' like the ghost of a thought that almost isn't.

And yet, all my things are here.

All my books, all my yarn, my cello, my photos, my spinning wheel, my dishes, my broom, my tax paperwork for the last ten years, my clothes, my bedding, my bills, my teapots, my computer.

All of it.


In the place I picked.

Sometimes it feels so very right, and sometimes it feels unreal.

Like playing house.

Sometimes the sky is too beautiful for words.

And I feel so blessed to have found this apartment in this building on this floor on this side.

The Netherlands Carillon and the bugle calls at Fort Myer make an unexpected and pleasant counterpoint to the urban din of quotidian traffic and emergency sirens.

Yet, even as high as we are on the eighth floor, the overwhelming sound throughout the day is the birds who make their homes in the trees that reach higher than my windows.

I definitely didn't expect the birds.

Someone pinch me.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Paris, je t'aime?

Today I came closer to using my epi-pen than I ever have before.

I expected to be in Michigan by now, but I'm still in Paris, because I was careless enough to eat a sandwich whose bread included walnuts.

On the one hand, why are there ground up walnuts in sandwich bread?!?!?! Really, why?

Dear international healthful food movement,
Please stop putting nuts everywhere just because you can. Baked goods, yes. Granola, yes. Sandwich bread, please can we not?
Itchily yours,

On the other hand, what food-allergic person reads just the placard and not the sticker on the sandwich, eh? I grabbed a sandwich and a salad from a lovely fresh bakery after having read the placards detailing the contents, but I didn't notice that the sandwich's placard didn't say anything about the bread or that the sticker holding the wrapper closed listed WALNUTS, just like that, all caps in English even. How could I be so inattentive? I should know better.

Boarding was just getting started when I realized that I couldn't get on the plane. My ears hurt, the front of my neck felt thick, and my chest was tight. I could still breathe and talk, but I wasn't confident that would continue.

First aid came, took my vitals, and tried to convince me to just get on the plane because the symptoms would have gotten more serious faster if they were going to. Except, that's not always the case with anaphylaxis, and Paris to Detroit is a really long flight.

When first aid called for a consult, the airport doctor counseled coming in to the med center, and I went despite the first responder's skepticism. Vitals, examination, a dose of prednisone, a dose of Zyrtec, and observation time later, I had, as predicted, missed my plane, the last direct flight for the day. The good news is that, although my face and chest felt awful, I was still breathing effectively as evidenced by my stellar pulse oximeter and blood pressure cuff readings.

Air France's customer service was amazing, though. Someone met me at the clinic to walk me through the process of rebooking the flight, picking up a prescription, and finding a place to spend the night. I have a boarding pass for a flight tomorrow, a room at the Citizen M, and more doses of steroids and antihistamines.

I also have a renewed awareness of my own vulnerability.

Monday, April 27, 2015


A brief drive along the coast to the west of the city of Algiers took us to Tipasa and Cherchelle, the sites of Roman ruins. 

I have to say that I was not enthused when Stuart told me about these plans, but I was willing to go along for the adventure.

Photo courtesy of Taylor Walters Denyer.

I had forgotten how powerful it is to walk the paths trod by people two millennia ago... think about how those people used these spaces... marvel at how much the ancient city's structure is still apparent... ponder the lives of the artisans who created this beauty.

This city was built right up to the edge of the Mediterranean, and I was ecstatic to be able to dip my fingers in the water. 

Photo courtesy of Taylor Walters Denyer.
These women were also visiting the ruins, and they requested that Taylor and I pose for pictures with them. Unlike many people who have seen us out and about, they didn't ask our names or where we were from. They didn't use us for English practice or even try to speak to us in French. They just touched us gently and mimed their request.
Photo courtesy of Taylor Walters Denyer.
The young man with them took many more iterations of this photo with different combinations of them and us. It's a bit odd to be cast in the role of Exotic Foreigner, but I was happy to oblige.

In hindsight, I am so glad that we went.


So far my posts from Algiers have been about the places and the things, but this trip was really about the people.

On the day of Adam's funeral, his friends gathered at my house. There was a moment in which they looked at each other and said, 'We're so glad to be together again. We shouldn't have waited this long, and it shouldn't have taken a funeral to bring us together again.' In the aftermath of that day, I thought long and hard about the friendships I value enough to put energy into, and I have resolved not to let it be a funeral that brings me together with those people.

There are few people in the world whom I could contact and say, 'I would like to buy an expensive plane ticket and spend a week in your house,' and whom I could trust to say, 'Yes, we will do the complicated paperwork required for you to come. Can you really only stay a week?'

Taylor, Stuart, and I have known each other since college. Taylor and I got through stats together freshman year. The three of us were founding members of Fellowship of Sound, a student music group which continues to this day. Stuart played the organ at my wedding.

Maintaining a friendship over time despite great distances is hard work, and Taylor and I haven't been constantly close. Our mutual effort to make time for one another and to spend energy on our friendship has been fruitful, though. When we do have the opportunity to be together we have rambling conversations about hopes and dreams and disappointments and challenges. 

It's hard to believe that we met eighteen years ago.