Sunday, July 29, 2012

Summer surrender

At the beginning of this summer, and truthfully, most summers, I begin with a mental list of goals. They include the mundane (clean out the closet, clean out the garage, organize the clutter of my home workspace) and the unfinished projects (convert old cassette tapes of my music to digital, transfer hours of oral history videos of my parents to digital and begin to organize into a Sundance worthy family documentary, and re-teach myself how to play banjo). They include putting lots of miles on my bicycle. They include prepping for the fall semester. They include writing and revising.

And now, as I am just two weeks away from returning to campus for the kick off into the fall semester, and facing the next two weeks with being on campus two days a week, I take stock and realize summer had a different plan. I have cycled a bit, but have not put the usual miles on my bike as past summers. While I might attribute this to the ridiculous heat of June and July, there is a different culprit. This same unexpected intrusion has also been the cause of why most of my goals are still in the same state as May--undone and often untouched.

Now, I'm not one for goals. You might actually refer to me as the goal avoider. Ask me to articulate a goal, and I shudder, afraid to set something for fear of disappointment. But, truthfully, there are goals set, even if only in my head. These goals, however, don't matter enough for me to prioritize them. Instead, summer is more of a journey, a path that I set with intentions, but a path that always has its own route. I just follow.

And this past summer that journey was one of travel. I travel most summers, but this summer felt differently. At first, I believed it must be because I will have spent about 30 days (roughly 1/3 of my time off) sleeping away from home. But when I started adding up previous summers, nights in other beds usually falls within that time frame, sometimes even exceeding that amount. This summer, though, I never felt like the giant expanse of summer, the time to have days faced with nothingness, the time to kick into a habit, because our trips never allowed for more than a few weeks at home. Those few weeks were usually filled with catching up with friends (something I had neglected most of the spring semester due to juggling too much), life maintenance (hair cuts, dog grooming, oil changes), and a bit of home care.

I am not complaining, though, because I would not trade the vastness and diversity of all the roads traveled for that expanse of summer nothingness. Life tends to deliver what I need rather than what I thought I needed, and for that, I am thankful. Instead of accomplishment, I needed experience--to immerse myself in different worlds; I needed to regenerate. From the unfamiliar horse farms of Lexington, Kentucky to the enchanted skies of New Mexico, I peered outside in order to get inside, understanding myself a bit more by listening to stories from strangers and walking on paths filled with plenty of sky.

During our most recent trip to New Mexico, I began to take stock and own what summer had bequeathed to me. Nan and I intended the trip to be a bit of a writing retreat, assuming that several hours a day would be spent writing and revising. I lugged my computer, several journals, and a folder with revisions and notes. I only touched the journal, briefly, one time. Instead of writing, I reflected on our recent trip to NYC, on revisiting my apartment and the memories that kicked into my consciousness (fodder for my memoiresque coming of age thing that I cannot call more than a thing because committing to it overwhelms me). I watched people and filed away character traits and potential plots. I soaked in hot springs and enjoyed hours of spacing out and napping in a hammock, so relaxed that I let little nuggets of writing ideas dissipate into the adobe sky.

Rather than assume I had not done all the writing intended (the summer goal that truly matters), I looked at what I had accomplished and realized I should stop chiding myself for not having done more. I revised an essay I have been working on for many years (and am still revising it), I revised a couple of micro-essays I have targeted as potential pieces to submit this fall, I blogged several times a month, and I began to draft material for my NYC memoiressayesque thing. Summer had given me the time to be, to breathe in the stillness that nature affords me. Summer had given me space to understand some of the meaning behind some of the essays I'd been revising. Summer had taught me that I cannot always plan.

I finally surrendered to summer at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos. While wandering around a labyrinth outside its entrance, I realized just how ridiculously superstitious I am, determined that I could not simply jump over the boundaries of each path to get back to the beginning, because breaking out of the labyrinth's set paths meant that I would curse all my dreams (all writing erased and ceased by that simple action). Holding writing in my awareness, I walked inside and outside the former home of this 1920s salon artist/writer, noticing that everyone I passed was writing. Walking in the midst of a writing retreat, I didn't look at their practice as something other, but instead, I belonged, a practicing writer. Standing in the front of the building, looking up toward the DH Lawrence painted bathroom windows, I realized that I would not change a thing about this summer.

Musical inspiration: Lumineers, Vampire Weekend, Wagner

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Atlantic City--An Eclectic Combo

I have a distinct memory of walking down the Boardwalk in Atlantic City as a kid, thrilled by the sight of Mr. Peanut strolling the boardwalk, a beacon to the nearby location of roasting peanuts. He no longer visits, but memories of him hung with me as I wandered the Atlantic City boardwalk recently. Even though the boardwalk held very little from those years, it welcomed me with its grittiness, rolling waves of the Atlantic Ocean, and endless possibilities for amusement. In two quick days, I walked and walked despite the heat, sampling amusement and eats from early morning to late evening.

The gritty can be found in the slumped homeless, scattered lightly on the boardwalk. One morning we found an old woman in a wheelchair, hunched over, hoping this signified a deep sleep rather than an early expiration. The previous evening she could be found awake, hanging out in the wheelchair outside a casino.  Further down the boardwalk, a wailing woman held church on her own bench in front of the ocean, a bible and collection box to her side, belting Kumbaya and other spirituals for anyone passing by. Occasionally, some would be moved and give her some change, always eliciting a "god bless you" pause in the spiritual. 

The gritty could also be found in the psychic parlors along the boardwalk. Everywhere I walked, a psychic offered readings for only $5. The first evening, I simply looked in at the assortment of offerings, women in back booths, a hidden mystique promising deep revelations for little money. Feeling overwhelmed by all the choices, I deferred to the next day, when late morning didn't hold lots of open places. Quickly, I entered one of these places (not the one pictured in the photo), looking around until a distracted woman, probably in her early 20s, emerged from behind curtains, texting away on her phone. This should have been a sign to leave, based on her disinterest, but I had entered and was determined to give away a bit of money. Since $5 only got me a character analysis but $10 got me a palm reading, I chose the latter.

We sat in a small booth, while Nan hovered nearby to listen and watch the psychic perform her magic. The psychic asked me to make two wishes and then instructed me to tell her one. "Do I have to tell you one," I asked, concerned that uttering a wish aloud to someone would curse it from happening (superstitious me). For a moment, I considered telling her one that I hadn't thought, but again my inner neurotic believed that the utterance of a lie would destroy any possibility of truth and goodness. So, reluctantly, I told her one wish. She then asked to see my palm, but looked at it with the same disinterest I had viewed initially in her gaze, telling me such generalities as I would live a long life and die from old age. After several minutes, it became clear to me that I had given my $10 to a drug addled psychic whose intuitive sense and spiritual channeling needed years of lessons in order to appear even remotely authentic. When she told me that we could go deeper, but it would cost more money, I simply said, "No thanks," and took my leave, feeling as though I had sampled a bit of the grit of the boardwalk.

Amusement could also be found several steps away on the Steel Pier, even though it only held hints of its lively past. While there are no longer human cannonballs or diving horses, there still are acts, such as a high-wire motorcycle trapeze act (which we could view from outside the stage area). Nan and I found a water gun squirting booth that for $3 yielded me, the winner, a brand new stuffed animal to bring home to fluffy Sasha.

Life only got better when we walked from the pier to Ripley's Atlantic City. Wandering amidst all its oddities, I amused myself with the little quiz questions on panels throughout the museum, such as counting the number of triangles. At times, certain exhibits freaked me out, like the tourist lookalikes (pictured in the photo to the right), eerily true to life. After making it through the entire attraction without too many squeals, I found myself faced with walking in the optical illusion of a rolling barrel in order to exit. I took one step forward and had to run back to Nan, clueless about how I would successfully walk, sick with potential dizziness. Having lost all reason, Nan as always calmed me, telling me to simply close my eyes and hold onto the sides and walk. I did, very quickly, hurrying out to the exit and back into the beating heat of the afternoon, knowing that without Nan there, I would have retraced all my steps back to the entrance in order to exit.

During our two days there, we ate extremely well, even if it sometimes meant a bit of taffy as snacks (ubiquitous on the boardwalk). For our first night, we ventured a couple of blocks from the ocean to the famed Monopoly Atlantic Avenue to Dock's Oyster House, a classic seafood house with more than hundred years of history and fresh oysters. Our meal consisted of a dozen oysters, mostly east coast, and delightfully unfamiliar (Barcats, Old Salt, and Cape May Salts), and a delicious entree of fluke, perfectly cooked so that the white flakes simply fell easily onto the plate, melting in freshness in our mouths. The next evening we opted for the Atlantic Grill, one of the restaurants in Caesars, with a good view of the ocean and a fantastic happy hour. Our food selections included various sushi rolls, calamari, crab cakes, and oysters, all $4-6 less than the cost on the dinner menu, along with a refreshing gin cocktail. 

And so our days and nights were filled with much more than the mindless games of the casino floors (which we did contribute to at times), making Atlantic City a delightful escape for my eclectic soul. And even though this time I only had the image of Mr. Peanut to stroll along with me, I left the boardwalk with a nostalgic smile.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Don't Dismiss Ted

Honestly, I had not given the movie Ted any serious thought. I wondered how a film about a talking teddy bear could have any merit, let alone sustain my attention for more than twenty minutes, even if it had cutie Marky Mark Wahlberg in the star role. When a friend recently asked me if I was planning to go (knowing my movie buff habits), describing the film as about a teddy bear who curses lots and is crass, I immediately said, "No. Why would I want to go see something like that?"

Well, today changed all that. With a movie date planned with a pal, I began to roam around metacritic, reading reviews of some of our possibilities (Bel Ami; Your Sister's Sister; Peace, Love, and Understanding) and seeing that all were simply rated mediocre (some a bit better than others). Then, I decided to look up reviews for Ted, and without reading much more than the synopsis of the review, I decided that based upon its score and nature, it was worthy of an early July summer movie viewing (the kind of film that takes little brain power).

I confess, I like my movies crass. Adolescent boy humor of fart jokes and big boobs makes me feel oh so adolescent in a way that I can relate, much more than the girly adolescent. So, the possibility of watching a foul mouthed teddy bear became appealing--he sits plastered to the couch, smoking out of a bong, chilling out with his best friend John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg). Together, they brave thunderstorms, guzzle tons of beer, and essentially act like a bunch of stoned adult teeners enamored with Flash Gordon.

While I love Ted's sassiness and downright disregard for anything proper (what else might you expect from the creator of Family Guy), it is his steadfast love with John that carries me through the film. They're bros, and no matter what happens, they are forever linked, a pledge from childhood. I laughed throughout the film (I dare you to try to view it without laughing), and I even shed some tears in an extremely sentimental spot (watch it to see where). Don't overlook this film, just because you think it's a fucking stupid movie about a teddy bear--it's much more.