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Day 6 (July 15)
I’ve always been mystified by those who are gifted at bringing people together. They throw the best dinner parties with a wide assortment of interesting people, who all get along and enjoy each other’s company. These magical folks orchestrate meet-cutes on the regular and introduce strangers (soon to be friends and soul mates) with ease.
Spoiler: I am *not* one of those people. Besides the fact I can only seem to have about three friends at once, I panic over social situations (I could probably end the sentence there) at which I will be “mixing my groups,” hosting people from various aspects of my life. I should just trust that if they like me, they’ll like each other, but instead, I host the night with manic energy, trying to micromanage everyone into having a good time. I throw GREAT parties.
Tonight I had dinner with two of my dearest friends from two different worlds, both who find themselves in Boston at this present moment. Both have heard loads about the other, and they even met briefly in Waco almost three years ago. Both are exuberant, full of life, funny, passionate, and smart. Both have been truly good friends to me.
We had the best time together. We ate so many tapas, drank too much sangria, and indulged in delicious dessert. We laughed too loudly and told ridiculous stories. We cleaned our plates and felt proud of ourselves for doing so.
The truth is I have always found my way to brilliant and beautiful people, and I have been grateful to share life with them, whether for a summer or a year or a decade or more. As long as I have them, I’m set for life. I don’t need to be that hostess in pearls, effortlessly guiding conversation. Instead, I can just be ridiculous awkward nerdy me, and rest in the confidence that my friends love me for these qualities; at least they all have that in common. Oh, and a deep and abiding love for tapas, sangria, and decadent desserts — significant pre-requisites for all of my friendships.
Day 7 (July 16)
That’s not a humble brag, or a regular brag, or a “look at how great a houseguest I am.” Lots of folks have stayed on the same fold-out couch I’m sleeping on, and lots of them have washed bottles and folded laundry.
I’m saying that I don’t have many household skills. I’m rubbish in the cooking department, and my baby skills extend to “holding” and “looking unsure when baby cries.” I’m good at watching toddler dance parties but not good at thinking of toddler activities. Sometimes I feel like an unhelpful extra body in a small space wherein small disasters are constantly happening (a.k.a. life with small children).
But what I can do is dishes. Babies eat frequently, I’m not sure if you knew, and so there are always bottles in the sink. Also, toddlers eat, and so do grow ups (sometimes). The kitchen is a constant revolving door of dishes and bottles. I have two hands often not filled with children, and so I can use them to fill the dishwasher and scrub the bottles and put away the leftovers (of the dinner I couldn’t make to save my life). I know the cabinet homes for most of the items, given my multiple stays on the couch and in the guest rooms of this family, and it pleases me to know where each item is placed. It makes me feel at home.
Washing dishes is actually soothing for me. Jess and Stephen remember my furious dish-washing in college anytime I was in distress. Once I washed a mug so thoroughly that the handle broke off and sliced my finger open. I still have the crescent-shaped scar. Washing dishes is a task that you can watch being accomplished as you do it, can see diminish with each passing plate. Then the kitchen is clean, for just a moment. A short moment.
The best part, though, is that they let me do this. I know, I know, it seems like a great sacrifice on their part. But it is. Letting someone do your dishes is a vulnerable act. Even more, though, it is a gift to me. It lets me feel part of their household, the daily functioning of life. I feel like I belong, like I’m being useful, that my actions are for the good of us all. I am family.
I’m so grateful to wash dishes.
Day 8 (July 17)
On Mondays, I have to grade, so this morning, I left behind the baby, shrieking like a happy pterodactyl, and the pilot-boat captain-chef-ballerina toddler, figuring out who she’d be today, and I walked through tree-lined neighborhoods to Cafe Nero, where I got a teapot and a cozy booth and prepared myself for the onslaught of reality.
I’m thankful to teach online in the summers for the university I graduated from and the program that gave me my first (and only) real job. I left to go to graduate school, and when I got my master’s, I started teaching online classes for the adult degree program. While my students are primarily in the Portland area, this summer I’ve sent them video messages from Fort Worth, Waco, the Philadelphia airport, Tampa, and Boston … so far.
My students are adults, coming back to school after time away. They started their degrees but for any number of reasons, never finished. Now, they’re giving it another go. In my class, I have single dads, pregnant moms, and moms getting advice from their college-bound daughters. I have students hoping a degree will get them that promotion, a new career, or just something new. I have students who just got married, just got divorced, and just celebrated 35 years of marriage. Most of them are working full time. Nearly all of them are frightened by writing and college, having had poor past experiences. But they’re trying again.
I don’t tell them enough how brave they are to dive into something new. To do something they couldn’t finish last time. To be novices as adults. To try and hope and work so very hard though life is so busy.
In the busyness competition, a sophomore pledging a sorority has nothing on a single mom of three who works full time.
It’s not a competition, of course. Every student I’ve had came to our classroom with baggage and fears. But my online students are special. I watch them struggle and fight and succeed, all without seeing their faces. The reward isn’t tangible but it is sweet.
I drank my tea and read some bad papers and some good ones. But it’s fine. See, it’s a revision week for them. No grades. Just the chance to try again. They’ll get it this time.
Day 9 (July 18)
Well, I am happy to report the Atlantic is a marvelous ocean. Definitely in my top two.
We took a day trip, all five of us, to Gloucester (a word I misspelled four times just now and cannot pronounce despite repeated practice). We set up camp on the lawn of Carol’s house, a kind woman who loves this family and especially this toddler generously. Her backyard overlooks the ocean, which is the understatement of the year.
The day was overcast and warm. The toddler ran and played to her heart’s content. The baby slept in the tent and giggled in the wind. I got to see the Atlantic.
The water at Gloucester is divided long-ways by a sand bar. On one side, the water is deep enough for sailboats and other seafaring vessels. On the other, Carol’s side, the water is shallow and still, and you can easily see crabs scoot along the ocean floor while you stand among them, water to your knees.
We waded out to the sand bar and walked the length of it. At the tip, we were surrounded by water on three sides. We felt like we were standing in the middle of the ocean.
This beach reminded me of a cross between the Pacific Northwest beaches of my heart and the Florida Gulf beaches of my childhood. Big rocks, small shells, soft sand, big wind, cold water.
As I get older, so many things remind me of something else, something I’ve done or said or experienced. But I never want to be that person who only relates things to the past, instead of seeing these moments as new, shiny brand new, and worthy of both my attention and my joy.
Each of the past few years, I’ve kept a document on my computer chronicling the things I’ve done for the first time that year. That list is always in my mind whenever I encounter a new situation. I always try to decide to do the new thing. At the end of each year, I want the list to be long.
2017: I went to the beach with my Maddie and my Lillian. I went to Gloucester, Massachusetts. I saw the Atlantic Ocean.
Added to the list.
Day 10 (July 19)
I came to love art museums only recently, but I fell hard for them. Three art museums in Fort Worth–the Kimball, the Modern, and the Amon Carter–are my favorite places in the city. I feel at home there.
Libraries have always been my first love, but while art museums have a similar ambiance of hushed appreciation, the museum cannot pretend to be anything other than what it is: a temple of useless artifacts.
I will fight to the death for the importance of art. I believe it makes us human. I also believe its power lies in its uselessness, that most of it cannot be used for materially productive ends. It can change our inner landscapes if we let it, but art’s true value has little to do with its usefulness.
Jess took me to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and good lord, what a place. It’s huge, with multiple floors and wings, organized by continent and era. I saw a fraction of what the place held; I’m already dying to return.
In one day, I saw mummies, Pollock and Picasso juxtaposed, photos from a Polish ghetto, Monet’s water lilies, concert posters from 1960s San Francisco. I always tell myself I’ll remember the names of the artists but they float away as I walk to the next room. I experience art in the present tense.
I know I’m in the right field because I couldn’t stop thinking about art as rhetoric, as a form of contemporary communication. Then I revisited the idea of museums as rhetoric (a class I’m dying to teach). The ways we engage with art in museums, from the lighting to the placement to the placards, are all crafted with intention and purpose.
After the art museum, Jess and Stephen’s community group came over, and they talked about work, vocation, calling, and service. I thought about the art I saw, and the things I write, and the research I do. What use does it have? How does it serve?
It serves by being. By delighting. By expressing and communicating. By challenging and confronting. By showing the human experience in colors so bold, shapes so wide that we can’t help but gape.
Artists’ names are forgotten. Art can be destroyed. But that it existed, was seen and created? I think that’s its power. Its purpose. Its service.