Tuesday, August 6, 2013

On Packing.

I am packing tonight. If you count the times I moved in and out of my parents’ house (three summers in college and one 3 week stint in the fall of 2011), this will be my 14th time packing up my meager adult life since I moved to New York for college, six years ago this month. I will use the same suitcases my parents bought me then: big, black, and anonymous, just like I wanted. I will use the same packing process I did the other 13 times:

1.     It is always at the last minute, and it always reveals that I have so much more crap than I knew. Why did I not immediately recycle the flyer for the graduate school picnic? Or the planner from the year before? Why do I insist on keeping that one navy dress with pockets that I didn’t like that much when I bought it 3 years ago but might be exactly what I need for some undefined-but-not-impossible future occasion?

2.     It is never not at night and never unaccompanied by music. Silent packing provokes too much anxiety, like the time the night before college graduation when I was more stressed about packing than I had been about any of my final exams and almost had a panic attack. My friend Brian stayed up with me til 4 am, tightly rolling my every sweater, scarf and sock into submission. Thanks, Brian.

3.     It never fails to illuminate my intentions and how wildly unrealistic they turn out to be. Every time I move I discover that I have saved notebooks full of classtime scribbling, apparently planning to return to them in my spare time -- perhaps curled in an armchair, ruminating anew on the Schlieffen Plan or Derrida. As if I wouldn’t spend that time watching the Daily Show instead. Notebooks go, almost inevitably, into the recycling pile.

The one notebook I have held on to stubbornly is battered and green. It has a lot of notes from the GRE prep class I took almost 2 years ago. But it also has one feverishly, exultantly scribbled journal entry from April 2010, which I wrote on the train from Edinburgh to London as the sun set over wild crags and placid sheep, and the green hills were so green and the blue sky so blue. My handwriting was dreadful and my rapture complete. There is nothing like being alone on a train in Scotland with “Colorblind” streaming through your earbuds. I am covered in skin. No one gets to come in. Pull me out from inside. I am folded and unfolded and unfolding

I can’t get rid of that one.

4.     There are lots of other things I just must keep, in addition to the green notebook and the navy dress. I pack them in my boxy suitcase, and I unpack them somewhere new. They are my favorite symbols of the pieces of my life, and with every move there are more of them:

a.     The box that Katherine made for me at the end of my senior of high school, the box whose lid showed a map of upper Manhattan and an excerpt from Oh the Places You’ll Go. I always set the lid carefully on top of the box, so the inside is visible, its walls and floor a carefully compiled collage: me with my four dear and beautiful friends, in elaborate costumes and faded leotards, in our post-Nutcracker party outfits, dancing our way through middle and high school, dancing and laughing and discussing Harry Potter. 

b.     I always put the doll Jessica made for me next to the box -  a small white doll with yarn hair, complete with tutu and ballet slippers, that represents one favorite role in the Nutcracker we performed every Christmas. My Doll doll. The last tutu left to me.

c.      The 50 or so postcards that sit on my desk, still imprisoned in rubber bands, which I fervently collected during my study abroad, the cheapest items at every gift shop we haunted from York to Cardiff. I planned of course to write on them all, documenting my impressions of each place and the funny things that happened there: when Calvin and Cameron and Kellen tried and failed to make a human Stonehenge; the time on Brighton pier when Anna was almost attacked by a vicious seagull in the middle of smiling for a picture; the magical moment at Jane Austen’s home when Kira sat down at the small upright piano and played that one song that accompanies all the best moments of the 2005 version of “Pride and Prejudice.” We walked around enchanted while she played.

 I have kept them. They are blank. I love them anyway.

d.     The box my sister Julia made for me in ceramics class, the one that captures all the dearest loves of my quasi-cosmopolitan, pre-Utah life. One side for our house in Albany, complete with welcoming red door; one side for the Eiffel tower, whose city I spent little time in but will always cherish for the best ice cream I’ve ever eaten and every moment spent inside Saint-Chapelle; one side for the Empire State Building; one side for Big Ben. All the places that have welcomed me onto their streets and made me happy and taught me stuff.

e.     A subway map that has hung in every room I’ve paid rent for since I left New York, reminding me of the years when my dearest Leslie was an 11-minute, 8-stop ride away from me always, ready to get falafel and discuss every minute detail of our lives. And a little desk lamp I’ve had since I moved into my triple room at Fordham University six years ago. Affectionately dubbed the Lomp (the Lo-lamp) by my roommates, who endured its oddly searing light in their eyes way too late into the night, it has illuminated many many hours of lucubration – but was also witness to all the best things about college: the many finals-induced dance parties; the uncontrollable laughter at 4 in the morning; Joe’s potatoes and Brian’s birthday cakes; Bonnie’s sleeptalking; Cecilia’s raptor walk; Amanda’s astonishing ability to be photogenic and funny at the same time; Katryn’s parabola frowny face; Keely’s love for the number 18. 

f.      From my 22 months in Utah, I have more books, thanks to my adventures as a graduate student in English. I have all 5 seasons of “The Wire,” although I have yet to watch the last and when I think about it I worry about Omar and McNulty and Kima. I have a small white piece of paper that reads only, “Dear Laura, f*ck the haters. Love, Lydia,” from my third week of grad school during which a retired former electrician in my writing class accused me of immodesty and inappropriate behavior in a paper he turned in to me. I am keeping that advice from Lydia, because sometimes it is the best advice.

g.     Oh, and I have a picture of my fiancĂ©, Jamie, next to my bed.

And that, I suppose, is why packing this time, despite the same procedure and the same stuff and the same memories, feels —

not the same.

Because in 11 days, the guy in the picture is going to be my husband. Because when I take my big black suitcases out of this room, I will take them to our one bedroom apartment in Salt Lake City, into which we will move when we get back from our honeymoon. Because I am choosing to take all of my baggageliteral and, I suppose, figurative – and combine it with his. Because the next time I move, I will be we, and we will probably have a lot more shit.

I can’t wait for our apartment. I can’t wait to take walks in our leafy neighborhood and eat pizza in our seventies-era kitchen. I can’t wait to take naps on Sunday afternoons. I am impossibly glad that I get to love Jamie until and after all his hair falls out. I am staggered and moved and intensely grateful that he plans to love me until and after I am wrinkled, lined and flabby, especially because it would be an historic medical mystery if he were to ever join me in flabbiness. There is actually no one in the world who makes a better half of we than he. I can’t wait to pack and unpack with him, all over the world, for always.

But my map, my Lomp, my doll, my memories: I’m glad they’re coming with us.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mandated Life Reflection

In the interest of full disclosure, this update is required for one of my classes. I'm not much for public internet musings, it turns out. The only place I'm consistently loud on social networks is my sisters' facebook walls, when all caps is usually required, somehow. But because this is for grad school, here is my mini reflection on the first 6 weeks of it.


  • There are lots of smart people around who say smart things. They are usually funny too, so commiserating is improved by levity. 
  • Teaching freshmen writing is an excellent reminder that: a) actually I learned a lot in college; b) actually I would way, way, way rather be 23 than 18; c) actually my students, those little punks, are working pretty hard in my class without even realizing what a phony I am. 
  • Weight gain is avoided even when ice cream is a staple for dinner -- hooray for misery-induced lightning metabolism! Or something. Anyway, ice cream for dinner is always in the pro column. 
  • Teeny tiny victories make me feel like Michael Phelps.


  • I miss sleeping. I miss the planner that was not so full of lists I can barely read it. I miss evenings that were my own and not a constant battle between my students and my professors, my lesson plans and my papers. 
  • I miss watching Hulu. I miss being informed about important national and international events.  I wish I could say I miss a more than b. Not sure that's true.
  • Being around so many smart people is a quick and easy way to realize that you are not, in fact, very smart at all. 
  • JAS is away -- and that's not grad school's fault, but I have to list it because it's a major life con. 
  •  Perpetual caffeine buzz makes me reasonably certain I am shortening my life with every fizzy sip.

Coping mechanisms:

  • Ice cream for dinner (see above).
  • Nice people who let me complain.
  • Skype.
  • Ballet class.
  • Mumford & Sons, soothing my soul. 
  • Angry Swedish ladies, pumping me up with their Europop.
  • Escape trips to Salt Lake.  
  • Daily mountain viewing.  
Most of all, most futilely but obsessively of all: knowing that the first semester will end, that time is passing, that come December 17th I will be gone from Provo, gone from Utah, gone from the United States and gone from classrooms...

and headed toward Germany, and family (including a very pregnant seester and growing little niece/nephew), and Jamie, and chocolate, and Christmas.

And no college freshmen in sight.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The future. And sweating.

The fresh start. The blank page. The bend in the road. They all terrify me. I like my pages comfortably filled, marked up with friendship and planning and routine and chocolate fingerprints. And here, in New York, to one degree or another, I have those things. But not for long.

I graduated from college a while ago. Eighteen days ago. This is the time, so logic and cliché and many overeager middle-aged acquaintances tell me, for bent roads. But I get carsick on the twisty ones. I always have. Inelegant but true.

So this is what’s happening. I’m in the city for the summer, and truth to tell, I’m so much more in love with it than I’ve been for months – years maybe. I loved my time in school at Fordham, but I never stayed for summer. The pull of the San Francisco Bay Area is a near-irresistible force to my organically-grown heart. But here I am wearing cotton dresses every day, sitting on the steps of Lincoln Center eating strawberries in the molten air at eleven o’clock at night. I get to do what I want without the sickening dread of a week of sleep deprivation to disturb me. During the day I go to a couple of jobs. I work as an intern – for a publishing house most days, for a literary agent one day, and I make enough to pay my astronomical rent and sometimes buy ice cream sandwiches.

I fill up the rest of the time. I watch small children play and then I put them to bed with a drink of water and a book. Their parents come home and pay me cash, which I spend on movies and thai food. I read books that I transfer from purse to backpack to different purse to hand, from bed to table to subway to park bench, because I can read for my own pleasure and not because I’m expected to. I talk to my roommates about our lousy apartment and ways to make it marginally less lousy. And I watch the unbeautiful and the breathtaking intermingle on the sidewalk, in the gritty air. Sometimes, I go to social events that call for chatting and smiling and nibbling and occasional flirtation. Sometimes, I have fun at them. Sometimes I see friends and am drawn into the warm circle of familiarity and care, though we’re all aware that things are changing and none of us quite know how or where or what or who we will be in one month or six or ten. In my case, it's two: the end of August brings the end of my pathetic income and plans up to this point and begins my...what?

And that’s the problem: the not knowing. The blank part is what scares us. Or at least me. And because I am me, along with feeling frightened, I feel guilty for feeling frightened. And occasionally, angry for feeling guilty for feeling frightened. Because youth is wasted on the young, right? Because anyone would kill to be me – 21 and healthy not destitute and college-educated and free as a bird and long-haired – right? I should feel lucky, right?

Except me and many of my friends, who are me only more so (smarter-prettier-braver), would not kill to be themselves. Would, in fact, like a little stability and a little bit of knowing. That things will work out okay. That dreams come true sometimes but when they don’t you’re okay anyway. That a boy will love you enough to kill bugs for you and hold your hair when you throw up. That one day you will know what you’re doing enough to not keep your voice at an unnaturally high pitch at your workplace. These are things hoped for. They can feel like fairytales.

We don’t get the knowing. We get the freedom, the single, soaring rapture of open air. And it is joyful and liberating and great. But the freedom, without the knowing – sometime even without the hoping – can suck. If you fly far enough without a guide, you end up lost and tired and alone.

Help me figure out what to do…so maybe little pieces of knowing will rain on my face and keep me cool in this heat. I’ve always been someone who gets a lot of advice. I’m okay about that.

Maybe youth is wasted on the young: at least the cowardly lion, failure-fearing, worry-wart brand of young that I happen to wear.

But damn, age is wasted on the old.