Friday, May 28, 2010

best thanks ever

I've owed my Ari-love a birthday present for about a million years. No joke. And then I stumbled across this pattern and thought I'd better give it a go. And it's a funny thing to make something you wouldn't necessarily wear yourself, but that you know someone else, someone dear to you, will love (whether they wear it or not is a different story entirely of course). So I knit this (rather deformed) little goddess shawl up for Ari, and I got the following voicemail message the other day: "You are the fucking high priestess of knitting!" And that's just about the best thanks I could ever imagine getting. Love you, Ari. Love you so very, very much.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

bookthinking

I have been preoccupied lately with deciding which books I will bring on our cross-country train expedition. While our departure on June 6th is still over a week and a half away, we've got various houseguests and a wedding inbetween and I am feeling time closing in on me a bit. I've narrowed it down to seven (see below), for the moment at least, but then I started reading The Gunslinger and am almost done so now it's down to six. And one of them is about the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, and do I really want to be reading that on my summer vacation? And one of them is the second novel in Stieg Larsson's trilogy, which, while pretty entertaining are also pretty atrociously written (or maybe it's just lost in translation) and a bit dry. So I might have to reassess this pile and start all over again.

Evan gave me a pained look the other day, a humorous roll of the eyes, and said, "Emily. How long exactly do you imagine we'll be on the train, anyway?" But 72 hours is a damned long time, and for how many hundreds of miles can flat and often empty landscapes really hold one's attention, and it seems to me bringing along seven books and two (or three) knitting projects is not at all overdoing it.

* * * * *
Jill and I have been discussing George R. R. Martin's infamous (or at least infamously longwinded) Song of Ice and Fire books. It's been an unexpected delight, this recent book-talking with Jill, because it's just not something we often do. I don't say this in the context of there being something lacking in our friendship -- we have known each other for nearly thirty years now and have a plethora of stories and interests and histories to join us. It's just that reading hasn't ever really been among them. I love that it is now. I love reading, and I love talking about reading, and I love Jill.

* * * * *
Friend Christopher L. is apparently at Book Expo America today, about which I am insanely jealous.

* * * * *
Mom and Paul arrived safely home Monday afternoon after three weeks of traveling around Japan and Borneo. We chatted for a bit later that evening and Mom mentioned that she'd brought several books on the trip but, horror of horrors (my words, not hers), she finished all of them before the trip home. Out of sheer desperation she bought a book at an airport store but then finished that half way through the flight.

I, aghast, said, "So what did you do?!?"
She, in her ever placid way, replied, "Well, I took a nap."

* * * * *
Maybe, just maybe, I should draw a page from her book and relax a little bit about bringing the perfect library on our expedition via train to the western wilds. Or maybe what I really need for my birthday is a Kindle. My dear M offered me the loan of hers for this trip, but though I was grateful, I had to decline -- knowing my luck I'd probably sit on the poor thing, or drop it into the icy June waters of Lake Coeur d'Alene, or leave it behind somewhere like so much cast-off detritus. I don't think I ever really want an E-book reader -- there is something to be said, a huge something to be said, for the feel of paper between fingers, the ability to indulge in my habit of flipping through the corners of the pages as I read, that subtle book smell I love so much. Though not all books are worth owning, the experience itself of reading a book, however bad, seems so much more magical to me than reading that same book on a screen.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

bullies

A friend mentioned this article the other day, and the name of his particular childhood bully. Mine was Scott Schlein. We got into fisticuffs on the school bus back in 3rd or 4th grade. My mom was mad because I got into fisticuffs. My dad was mad because I didn't hit him so hard he couldn't get up again. Go figure.

Monday, May 17, 2010

beads & strawberries & michael jackson

I have this idea of memories being pulled one by one out of a swirling mess and into a clear light, like beads strung on wire at midday -- sparkling and luminescent from certain angles, almost disappearing completely from others.

Katrin, my dear Nirtak, recently asked if I would do a reading of some sort at her wedding this summer -- something from a piece of literature that is dear to me, or a poem of some sort, or something I've written or may write in the intervening months.

The first clear memory I have of Katrin is from the summer that I turned eleven. I was home recovering from a tonsillectomy and one afternoon during that week of recovery there was a knock on the door. My mother answered, and then called me out to the front porch. There were the Stamatis girls, Katrin and Yona, 7 and 5 years old (give or take), arrayed neatly and smiling in front of their mother Karen. They were dressed in matching flowery summer dresses (hand-made by Karen, I'm pretty sure), and had crazy curly hair billowing out from their little girl heads, and cradled armfuls of flowers (wild, and fresh picked) and get-well cards (drawn by hand in crayon or color pencils).

This is my first memory of Katrin (indeed of all three Stamatis women), though I know logically we must have met before -- otherwise why would they be bringing me flowers and get-well cards?

Dan ordered a salad at Max's Cafe last week and when it arrived garnished with slivered strawberries I couldn't help but tease him about his penchant for strawberry-laced salads. He looked confused at first so I described another salad he had ordered once at another of our dinners, a salad surrounded by sliced strawberries and crispy sweet kernels of corn. Eventually he smiled that endearingly crooked smile of his and we spent the next few minutes pulling bits and pieces, fragments and shards, of memory from each other until we had unpacked a mostly-forgotten evening and let it sit there on the table between us.

It was raining on that almost-forgotten night and the Heights (one of our frequent dinner haunts) was closed for a special event, so we ended up going to Deluxe right across the street. Dan had a salad (the strawberries and corn) and Nick had meatloaf, but oddly enough we never did remember what I had that night. Nick and I each had a beer and the restaurant was playing a lot of Michael Jackson, which we found odd. And then Michael Jackson died the next day and we, or at least I, felt a little bit haunted.

Which gives us a date, Wednesday, June 24th, 2009, and an evening that otherwise would have disappeared; would, for all intents and purposes, never have even happened. And it's not so much that it was an important dinner, or even a memorable one, but still, the return of it, its re-emergence from the shadows of memory, felt like finding a long-lost trinket, a small gift.

My mother sometimes bemoans the fact that she has an awful memory, that there is a vast blankness when she looks back over parts of her past. She doesn't mean blackouts or Alzheimer's or anything remotely so formal, but rather simply that she forgets so many small day to day events, and that it is these small, often mundane memories that add up to what makes us human, makes her who she is, makes us who we are.

I have a great memory for small things (strawberries, get-well cards), but I get scared sometimes about lack of context. It comes as a glimmer of hope to think that with the help of those around me (Katrin, Dan, my mother) these mundane things can grow out of their isolated moments, pulled out of shadows to catch the light like beads strung on wire, and expand exponentially into a whole history, a whole self.

Friday, May 14, 2010

quirky signs

The NY Times ran a collection recently of reader-submitted funny foreign signs, including one from yours truly.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

nyc in dc

Assuming Elena Kagan is confirmed (and chances are she will be), New York City will have its very own voting bloc on the Supreme Court. Awww yeah.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

saturday night meltdown

I knew in an abstract way that the ex-boyfriend is getting married sometime this year, but a mutual friend confirmed last night, in the midst of another friend's birthday bash, that the wedding is happening this summer. I didn't ask for or get specifics: even this, somehow, was too much (compounded as it was by hours of drinking), and I found myself sobbing all melodramatic-like on a balcony in the middle of Astoria late on a blustery Saturday night.

We just didn't work, the ex-boyfriend and I, despite loving each other intensely (albeit in our own twisted ways). He joked once, a few months after he left, that eventually we would have killed each other. But the sad truth is that it was no joke, and that we brought out indescribable rages in each other, and that he was stronger than me, and that I would have let him.

Here then is the truth of it, the kernel at the heart of my failure to fully move on from him: I would have stayed.

I am glad that he has found happiness and I am even more glad that I have found happiness, and the beginnings of a certain peace that was impossible to imagine during the years that we were together. But there is a piece of me that shatters still every time we interact, every time I hear of his upcoming wedding, every time I see him from across a room; that same part of me, I suppose, that never would have found the strength to leave, even had my life depended on it.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

million pins shawl (haruni shawl II)

Knit Picks Shimmer Laceweight
(70% Alpaca, 30% Silk, 2 skeins)
Pattern by Emily Ross, available via Ravelry or Knitpicks

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

the empire builder, or, finding moments of patriotism in unexpected places

A month from today will be the eve of the beginning of our cross-country expedition. First we'll take the Lake Shore Limited north from Penn Station along the Hudson and on to Chicago, and then we'll transfer to the Empire Builder and head west across the northern plains and over the Rocky Mountains and the Cascade Mountains and eventually to Everett, Washington, just north of Seattle.

It's funny, the spectrum along which friends' reactions have fallen, all the way from "I'd rather die," to "You only think trains are romantic," to "Well that's nice," to "Oh my God that sounds incredible!" I have to confess to vacillating between these a bit myself, and yet in the end I find myself being suckered in by the excitement of it all.*

The Empire Builder. It's a name th
at carries with it a certain old-school grandiosity, a romantic vision of American greatness and expansionism and fortitude and the conquering of western frontiers. It carries images of vast flat prairies and steeply banked curves through snowy mountain passes and sunlight seeping into the darkness at the edges of tunnels boring through mountains too tall to go over. It carries the lives and sometimes deaths of thousands of emigrants, Chinese and Irish Americans brought in to build the first transcontinental railroad. It carries, in my childish heart, the wanderlust of Charles Ingalls as he moved his little family from Wisconsin's Big Woods to Indian Territory in eastern Kansas to Minnesota and Iowa and eventually South Dakota, farming and hunting and furniture-building and laying down tracks for that first railroad.

I'm surprised at my excitement in taking this Empire Builder all the way to the Pacific Ocean, at this unexpected sense of pride in a nation I so often complain about.

The only other time I've really fel
t anything similar was six years ago, in April of 2004. Dave, Josh, Jill, Nate, and I had rented a car and booked a hotel room and drove down to Washington, DC to participate in the March for Women's Lives. We arrived early the evening before, went out to dinner, and then spent a couple hours wandering along the Mall, skipping and cartwheeling and holding hands and laughing and growing maybe a little misty-eyed as we gazed up at Lincoln, at the soldiers of Iwo Jima, at the reflecting pool and the Washington Monument, at the World War II memorial still under construction, at the thousands of names carved in to Maya Lin's death wall. To walk amongst such greatness and such heartbreak on the eve of protesting our own government, in a country that allows, that encourages, that in fact is founded on such protest, made me cry like a baby, surrounded there as I was by friends who'd gone all that way to march not necessarily because it was a cause close to their hearts, but because it was a cause close to mine.

These two incredibly disparate things, this train and that march, bring up similar emotions; emotions that I f
ind somehow both inexplicable and gratifying, set even as they are in a more practical reality (76 hours on a train, NYC-DC drive in a car full to capacity with 5 large adults). Let me have my moments of romantic patriotism: after all, they do not come all that often.


* Along with what I like to think of as a healthy dose of practicality: Evan has been teasing me because I am already pondering which books to bring, which Trader Joe's snacks to pack with us, and looking for the perfect knitting projects to keep my fingers and mind occupied while looking out at mountains and cities and miles and miles of ghost towns and farms and nothing and nothing and more nothing.