I took a break from writing here regularly a few years ago. At the new year I started fresh here: http://tangiblyblue.blogspot.com/ and for all things food, here: http://greedyhaven.blogspot.com/
…just in case you were wondering.
Grandmother – never nana or granny until my youngest nieces were born 15 years later and began to wrestle with the moniker we’d been warned not to change – didn’t call me dirty red until i returned from Peace Corps. By then she’d had several mini strokes and the doctors weren’t sure if they, or Alzheimer, were responsible for her diminished capacity.
Suddenly, a thought would blow through her mind like breath into a bubble. A sudden puffing up, filled with everything she needed in the moment, only to burst and be lost in an instant.
I imagine for my family her decline was subtle. A day by day or weekly dimming of her vibrant light. But after my two year absence the difference for me was jarring. she still had tightly curled hair, more silver than black, i had never known her beyond pictures with any other style. She still had a steely gaze accompanied by her pursed lips. It was familiar to me, as familiar as her silken skin (softer than anything i’ve ever touched). And although her voice was the same as before my departure, the words she formed weren’t.
“dirty red, why haven’t you come to visit me?” she chided. I had only been home a week or two. Still recovering from jetlag, my family had trundled me into the car and we drove the 80ish miles to visit my grandparents in Beaumont, tx. Taken aback by “dirty red”, a phrase i associated more with college boy pickup lines than my grandmother, i smiled and took my lumps. I’d been gone for more than two years. She could fuss.
Only 15 minutes later and she asked again. Admonishing me once again for the same sin of absence. And again later. And later. And again and again.
the mini-strokes were diagnosed shortly before i left the country. Grandmother, always quick and bright, had been a little off kilter. diagnosis in hand, i had a crisis of geography.
“maybe i should postpone south Africa.” It seemed a reasonable thing to do. Something that demonstrated my support and love. What if she was dying?
“postpone until what?” my dad asked. “nothing is promised, you can’t wait to start your life. You can’t wait for people to die.”
It was jarring at the time. Jarring to my 24 year old ears. Jarring to my sense of filial duty. But it also made sense to me. Growing up my parents had always instilled in me that love wasn’t about location. So when i left for school in florida, 900 miles away, there was no guilt. And as i boarded my plane to south Africa i was (mostly) guilt free.
And then i returned.
And my grandmother, always sharp edged and direct, baptized me dirty red and asked me constantly why i hadn’t come to see her. I’m not sure i thought it at the time but looking back, maybe i have internalized it as my penance for going so far away.
Two of my best friends live where they live so that they are close to their parents. They left for a time but love and unspoken duty called them back. Meanwhile, while California is closer than most of my other recent addresses (it doesn’t require a passport or traversing large bodies of water) it is not close to my family.
As my parents have stomped their way into their 60s, the challenges of age slowly slink their way behind them. i am suddenly and painfully aware of the distance. I am aware of the six hour flight and $450 ticket that separates us. More than the thinly veiled incredulous voices of acquaintances that wonder – out loud- how i can be so far from home, i judge myself.
I could have relocated to texas last year. Could have set up shop and dug in roots close to the people that are my first and enduring embodiments of love. Always a source of strength and support, part of me repeats my grandmother’s mantra to myself… “dirty red, why haven’t you come to see me?”
But i also hear my father. Clear and logical, the sentiment as much as the words pushing back against the call to texas…you can’t wait to start your life.
i haven’t waited. Good, bad, and crazy, i’ve charted a path and followed my own wayward compass, the gift of guilt-free parents at my traveling side – in spirit when geography conspired against us. guilt-free parents or not, the guilt is still there pushing against my flight of fancy life. This year i’ve seen my parents once and i will only see them again at Christmas. That is a paltry presence for the people who are my definition of love. What kind of daughter am i?
I am thankful for their quiet reassurance that my life is my life and they are proud of the journey i’m taking. But i still hear whispers of the daughter i could be, the daughter some(sometimes even me) argue i should be…and in those moments i hear my grandmother’s voice, “dirty red…dirty red…” and i wonder why i haven’t visited more.
I’m trying to live a negative of myself. Not so polar opposite that i am unrecognizable, and not because i am harboring some deep disdain for the person i am…but because, as the overused adage goes, “if you always do what you’ve always done you always get what you’ve always gotten.”
I’m quite familiar with what i have. What i have now and what i’ve gotten in the past. And in many ways it has been wonderful. I’ve been places, done things, met folks. I’ve lived and laughed and loved. But i’ve lived laughed and loved in a very specific way, based on a particular way of thinking and looking at the world.
And i wonder…sitting with “still intentions” (a rare thing for me)…i wonder what experiences, what places, and folks- what life and laughter and love, another avenue might take me.
The plan was to make a quick change, like my friend at her wedding. One moment she was drumming like a goddess, delicate strap falling from her shoulder, face in contented concentration, and then suddenly she was less restricted- barefoot and flowing and riding a rhythm. And then i blinked and she emerged in an orange ball gown as if that had always been her dress – as if she had only ever worn that. I thought my changes would be like those.
I envisioned a switch in my head. Simple; self-explanatory. Or at the very least a point of clarity where the other options are apparent and i am able to decide which one is suitably different but that i am amenable to.
But that is the thing…i already make decisions that are amendable to me. To be the antithesis of me is to make decisions that are the antithesis of what i’ve historically decided i want for myself. And that gets complicated. How much of my daily decisions are tied to my bigger idea of me and my life? Pancakes vs omelets aren’t life changing but how i partner and with whom, could be.
My toenails are green for the first time but even i don’t care because that doesn’t matter. But how much of myself i share and with whom i share it. That matters. And because the long view of life i’ve always had plays out in my head a certain way – a balance of consequences and potential joys – i have a pattern of decisions, risks i’m willing to take…or not. And living an inverse me doesn’t change the bigger life pattern. Although i guess if done properly, it would.
A novel idea about spicing up my life and trying a new path was so simple in my brain. Like changing all of the hes to shes in my story, a quick addition of a letter with little consequence to deeper meaning or how the plot unfolds. Only it does matter. A yes instead of a no makes a difference, not with green nail polish or the purchase of sequin pants but who i invite in and what they have access to…that matters.
I glibly joke that i’m trying out the anti-me, a little project to wile the summer away. But it is no little project and it is not light thing. Changing a character should impact the plot of my story and if it doesn’t…well if it doesn’t something is terribly wrong with the writing.
these days i am contrary to what i have most often been. so much so that i made up a word for it.
ask me what i want to do and i’ll most likely shrug my shoulders. ask me what i want to eat and the most i can generally muster is what i don’t want to eat. this isn’t me. if nothing else in life, i generally have an opinion. i generally have thoughts – even if i decide to keep them to myself. they litter the pages of my blog for everyone or no one to read and agree or ignore.
but right now…right now i am filled with a malaise. not so much depression as a tacit expectation that whatever is happening is beyond my control. inevitable. rick perry will override the filibuster by calling another special session. president obama, congress, and he nsa will collect the information that facebook and google help them mine (that we help them mine by posting our every thought- my every thought – online).
i think i’m out of righteous indignation.
at least for tonight. maybe tomorrow…maybe i’ll find it tomorrow.
there is a derisive delight in the unfolding drama that is paula deen’s reclaimed invitation at the foodies’ ongoing dinner party. her southern accent and liberal use of butter AND bacon grease are being packaged into facebook memes for all to enjoy…and with the announcement that her contract won’t be renewed, the expectation is that she, and her apology, will fade into don imus obscurity.
i’ve read the spectrum of responses from friends. appreciation for her (belated) apology, disgust that this is taking up so much collective brain space, and sheer glee at her firing – in pretty equal measure.
i’m a bit at a loss though. confused because i’m not sure i understand what people want. sure, every non-racist wants the world to be colorblind – or at least color consious without the negative baggage- but short of that?
since we can’t rewind paula and teach her that that “other time” she laments when black men dressed so nicely and served food was not simply an asthetic, or that positions of power, such as owning a business, give more weight to jokes and other language that can create a hostile work environment, what do we want? do we want silence? are we hoping that continued public shamings for racist and/or mysoginistic language will teach people to whisper instead of shouting loudly to co-workers, or maybe think it privately so that we all beleive the hard work is done?
is that hope that someone who thinks that way, has thought that way for a lifetime, will see the error in her ways and join the cursade for a racially tolerant society? after all, she apologized; we are halfway there. right?
only i think apologies have become the lastest victim of political correctness. everyone colors between the lines and says the right words and “poof” magically the stain of whatever transgression is washed away.
i’m not opposed to lamentations or the grace that makes them possible. i pray my heathen prayers that people will have space enough in their hearts to forgive me for my own transgressions…but i’m actually apologetic. i have the luxury of privacy and lack the indulgence of a guaranteed audience for my acts of contrition.
are people really sorry or are they simply sorry that their fanbase (and employers) have a different threshold for flippant use of deragoatry language and nostagia for a simpler – if less tolerant – time? paula went from seeming nonchalance and certainty that it wasn’t a big deal to an apology and a “hope that i can learn and grow from this”.
maybe i’m the intolerant one…unwilling to assume that others have the capacity to hear opinions contrary to their own and decide to change their minds. i’ve been there. i’ve done that. why don’t i offer that same benefit of the doubt to celebrities?
and then i remember…i don’t actually care about that. not about secret fantasy weddngs featuring a thousand lawn jokeys and aunt jamimas gleaming in the sun. i don’t care about that because offensive as i might find it (or delusional) her personal preferences are less my concern.
the public manifestation of them in the work place? that is the crux of it. we’ve all been sidetracked by her possible use of the magical n word when really, the issue is her brother. her porn watching, segragated bathroom mandating, racist joke telling, co-owner of the business.
i may not like paula now that i am familar with her vocabulary and thirst for the “old ways” but her brother…her brother seems to have broken the law. and he’ll need more than an apology for that.
In my adulthood i’d hoped to shed the need for do-overs in my arsenal; the result of misjudging things so grandly that they require me to erase them from existence rather than simply adjusting, learning, and moving on. It seems silly as i write it now. Silly to think that at almost 40 i have not figured everything out at least enough to negate the whimsical desire to restart my game of life.
I work with high school students. Few things make me feel as old as high school students. Not babies or toddlers, or even my nieces (the first one just shy of entering her tweens) make me feel as grey haired and obsolete as high school students. In part it is because they delight in doing so- exaggerating the things that set us apart. But part of it is because i remember being where they are even as it is inconceivable to them. And while i’m sure my memory of myself is skewed, as my boss pointed out the other day, the point is i remember sitting where they sit, my life billowing out before me with little form or substance but a universe of possibilities.
I remember making my first pseudo-adult mistakes and wanting to melt into the floor. Wanting to disappear. At the very least, to reset the board and try again. I desperately wanted do overs.
Instead i learned that if you endure, you learn. If you learn, it passes. I learned that few lessons stick like the epic ones, the ones that confuse, the ones that hurt.
In recent years most of my epic lessons have felt different. They felt like the advanced setting on whatever game i was living. So while the lessons i was subject to learning weren’t entirely new, they felt more complicated, more adult. And because there was complexity, learning the lessons, even the painful ones, didn’t feel entirely redundant. Didn’t feel like i should have known better. Should have learned this and moved on already.
But right now i do. Right now my learning stinks of déjà vu. i feel foolish and young in my misjudgments. Not young of heart. Not youthful. Not even naïve. Instead, young as chump. Young as follied. Young in a “shame on me” kind of way.
There is a rational part of me that knows that age alone doesn’t graduate me from learning, even the simple lessons. New experiences, or variations on a theme, will emerge and if i’m lucky i’ll read the signs properly and walk away with a reinforced understanding of the world. But sometimes there are no signs to read – or the signs are in another language, in another country, in another world all together. sometimes the signs, though seemingly familiar, are actually as foreign as they come, and the lessons as mortifying as anything high school and college threw my way. And in those times, as in my youth, i yearn for the do overs that, while novel to contemplate, never actually existed.