Posts Tagged ‘memory’

The Traveler

2 March 2012

Dear J-

Usually when I touched down in Spokane the first thing i’d ask my parents was whether or not Charlie was around. I’d give him a call and walk over, and we’d take the dog for a long walk, catching up as we strolled around campus. The campus has changed now — that old brick quad outside Patterson now has better paving and I’m sure nicer landscaping, there’s a fountain somewhere that I didn’t think I’d see, and the student union now features Baldy’s instead of the Alleyway Grille. One of my big regrets has been that I didn’t do more to document the Cheney of my youth, either through words or photographs and that era is gone. Colleges are big business and the upgrades to curb appeal no doubt make better impressions than ivy-covered Hargreaves Hall somberly empty in the hot summer sun.

The high school is wholly different, the junior high is now a middle school (and expanded and remodeled away from the funky 70s prison it used to be). There are houses now where I remember wheat fields and some of the places we used to walk have now been no doubt walled off and barred up. My parents’ old house has been sold and I’m not convinced that I could go back without walking by at least once, convinced that I still have a bed there ready for me at the end of a long dark night spent outside in the cold walking in loops and talking.

I would ask what you’ve been up to and what movies you’d seen, maybe, and how scchool was going because the thought I have going back to Cheney is that of a student: that’s how we were, that’s what we did when we went back. Life was that walk: settling back into steady orbit around some larger star; the gravitational pull of Cheney was always family and friends andn we’ve been scattered to the four winds since then: Michigan, North Carolina, California. I fear I’d go back only to remember that you can’t go back: the physical changes and way we’ve grown up, grown apart have left me without roots in the north. My life is here, my home is here, my heart is here, for better or worse I’ve staked our family on this so Cal life. There must be something academic to it: this alienation of life and purpose, this continued feeling of stranger in a strange land.




Better than Dreams

5 December 2011

Dear J-

If you’re a fan (and I know that doesn’t mean every one) Katy Perry has two albums out, Teenage Dream and the earlier One of the Boys. Neither is particularly challenging or encourages growth as far as music goes but our parents used to despair that our idols were Madonna and Boy George so every generation has a chance to be curmudgeonly about young peoples’ music. What I want to talk about is the waking-up-and-realizing-what-happened songs, Waking up in Vegas and Last Friday Night. If for no other reason these are fun songs to listen to and provide a vicarious thrill: man, those were some good times last night, amirite?

At least since the eighth grade I had a recurring dream throughout high school where I’d wake up next to the same person every day, nestled snug together adrift under a sea of blankets and a tangle of limbs. I’d open my eyes in the early llight and take in the world around me, shrunk down to the fifty or so square feet of bed, get a little closer to catch the scent of her hair and drowse some more in her warmth. That’s the easy, unforced intimacy of my dreams with the face sometimes changing as crush statuses were updated and I wonder if that wasn’t the criteria I used at times, how you’d look asleep in the morning.

Of course there was no getting there without some of night before and for some reason my dream would always omit that part of it so maybe theVet is right and I have slowly been turning into a teenage girl the older I get. Katy Perrry sings those songs of libidinous postmortems fueled by alcohol and impaired judgment but I remember that night in 1995 when we were surprised by our mutual night ouwl tendencies (me studying, theVet coming back from work) and how the innocent question “What are you doing still up?” quickly became code for “let’s maul each other like high school locker sweethearts.” It’s true what they say: truth is stranger than fiction, and I add that life is better than dreams.


Memory Momentum

25 May 2011

Dear J-

Gas prices are trending down in advance of Memorial Day (as they like to say it’s the first big driving holiday of the year) and it’s another opportunity lost to educate the public about the true cost of personal mobility. I suppose there’s enough misery to spare, with all the natural disasters that have struck recently. We don’t need to compound that with someone preaching why you need to get out of your car. I walked to the library last Saturday because theVet was working and it’s less than a half-hour walk, but I could have cut that to a five-minute drive instead. I got there all very hot and sweaty and was tired for the rest of the day and consequently crabby. So it sounds like a bad tradeoff, right?

Don’t let my decided lack of shape be a turnoff for you. I’ll push to walk there again this weekend because I know I’ll get better at it. Besides, we already jump into the car at the drop of a hat for the smallest things. Last Saturday instead we got some nice memories of people we met and flowers we saw. It did take longer, but what else would you spend your time on — television or movies? We have canyons we never explore and parks we don’t go to anymore because of electronic distractions at home and boy wouldn’t it be nice if I could just carve out a little attention for myself, right? Your time is a gift, sure, and how you choose to lavish it is up to you but I’d like to point out that no one has warm memories of dad not spending time with them*.

Look, it really doesn’t matter what the excuse is. If you can’t articulate a reason that you’re sulking around the house and shirking various duties (is the baby too poopy? too loud? too clingy? too demanding?) remember that it doesn’t last forever, and the time spent now is an investment. You know, before I even will know what’s happening it’ll be time for kindergarten and school and college soon thereafter. The last four years have been a blur. And once Calcifer is up and about he’s doomed to be as bossed around and roped into silly games-of-the-day** as I am, and I know I’m going to miss that way more than it drives me nuts today. See, the investment isn’t about making sure they still talk to you thirty years on, it’s about building up your memories and moments.


* I suppose that if the dad is abusive then maybe absence comes as blessed relief. That’s not the point I’m trying to make. And me, I need to remember that if I don’t take a long nap on the vanpool, I’m a much different person (and definitely not for the better) at home that evening.

** We have played such sundry activities as the painting-face game and tra parties to, lately, acting out the roles of Plants vs. Zombies. You would be surprised at how adept she is at the game in conveyor-belt modes.

Unsettled Ways

20 March 2011


Dear J-

Strange day today between the unsettled weather (the promised rain materialized pretty late but with early wind and clouds the whole day threatened) and being recalled to work. During our In-n-Out dinner the door kept blowing open like it had a mind of its own, forcing those patrons closest to it to wrench it closed. The longer it went on the less amusing it seemed but in the end it felt much like we had some kind strange symmetry going on all day: dining out in the morning and evening with TV and a trip to work sandwiched in between. The door flapping open kept me aware of those instants we kept trying to get things decided and instead let the day dictate its pace and direction.

When I got the call at 12:30 it was one of those things that you know happens eventually but never on a weekday when it would have been convenient. It was a relatively simple problem that took little time to solve but ended up having to be done in person because I no longer have remote access to the system. Meanwhile the normally unflappable theVet when told that the work was necessary to keep the plant running said that maybe they should just shut down instead, that maybe that would teach them a lesson, trying to yank people away from their families on a weekend. While that’s not actually a valid choice that tells me that I need to groom other people and that another job — where I might be more likely to be called in — might be the impetus to push me away instead.

The day begins and ends when Calcifer deems it so: we march on his stomach, we plan around his feedings and moods, we learn his moods and gently jostle him asleep or jolly him by showing him his favorite baby in the mirror (he smiles quite reliably) as needed. This week though we introduced a bit of rice cereal and were rewarded by a ten hour blackout last night that would be more rewarding if we hadn’t had to keep plonking figgy on the potty overnight every few hours. For as much as we step forward there’s something new to remember every day. And maybe that’s the lesson to learn for the symmetric day: you never know where you’re going until you get there, but if it seems oddly familiar, you should roll with it. We remember everything imperfectly, but with increasing nostalgia and a bit of regret: will we pass this way again?


Idle Chatter

6 July 2010

Dear J-

So I took my first fish oil capsule yesterday, a nice golden lozenge shaped and sized like the last segment of my little finger; it goes nicely with my lactose-free iron supplement (the other stuff lets me know — quickly — that I’ve developed lactose intolerance) to make my own little cocktail of old age. Sodas are a treat. Between-meal snacking is a historical notion; dipping into the crackers after work is a small handful of salt and fat that I should probably look into cutting out. Break out the fiber and the walker; the notion that the Beatles sang of, when we’re sixty-four doesn’t seem so far-fetched any more.

This has been a strange summer so far, with few hot days — time outdoors has sometimes required jackets and long pants. Yet perhaps the cold is a generous reminder of summer’s promises, easily forgotten (and I’m finding that the more I go without writing things down, that’s just more opportunities to forget) without a hint of sun to drive away bad memories. You know, they call it a marine layer but you might as well call it what it is: a driving mist.

They say that you struggle with weight loss all your life: first getting the pounds off, and later trying to keep them on; likewise sleep eludes the elderly. I won’t be so dramatic as to claim that the insomnia is back, or that the weight is just melting off me (hey, maybe I’m not as old as I look!) but last night — feverish child asleep early but awake often — I thought of as a preview for puttering about the house at odd hours. Yet I now have the opportunity to start preparing for the next stage of my life, four months hence, and it looks like free time is really the first thing to go.


Day 13: Gamesters of Triskelion

7 April 2010

Dear J-

At some point today I read the instructions for a verbal counseling session and felt all kinds of deja vu — they were an exact match, down to the philosophy and key points, of a meeting we had after I left to catch my vanpool without completing a work assignment (I’d talked with my partner on it and we’d agreed that there was no huge rush, but we were mistaken). Thus today was spent mulling over that particular meeting as we went over the world of labor relations, management and unions, grievances and disputes.

We’ve already got three days slated for this, and I’ve switched from water to iced tea in the afternoons in an attempt to stay alert (of course it doesn’t help that I never seem to be able to go to bed early lately); it’s not that the presentation isn’t interesting, but I’m not convinced that I’m going to be in a position to supervise represented exempt employees soon, though stranger things have happened. The more diverse topics we cover the more respect I have for my classmates; we’ve got experts on everything we’ve touched on so far, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see us through the rest of the five weeks without leaving somebody’s comfort zone.

We’re now officially just over halfway through the course. I actually got a call from work yesterday and I surprised myself with the appropriate answer so even though I was wondering the clue to my password earlier today, I haven’t completely forgotten everything yet (ASTM A182 is, generically, an acceptable substitute for A403, but that’s the sort of thing a good procurement-type should know). Eventually we’re going back to real life and productive work, but for now we continue to learn amazing things about each other.


Family Meal

17 March 2010

Dear J-

Every few days we’ve been able to eat dinner as a family around the table; strange as it seems now, it hasn’t been something we do on a regular basis. Both theVet and I grew up in families with long hours and when we shared meals together, it was often balancing plates on the arm of the couch while the TV provided background distraction, at some late hour of the night. My mom used to come home from work between 6:30 and 7, so there was a lot of Jeopardy! and syndicated sitcoms on our diet. We had a table in the room where I used to do my homework; it would be interrupted by dinner and the attendant good smells coming in from the kitchen telling me it was time to pack up and put newspaper down over everything; as an old restaurant table, it was used to kids and food duty.

It’s strange to be able to sit down as a family unit, then; it’s not a background that we’re famililar with (although now that all of our parents are retired, whenever we visit is full-on family mealtime), and consequently we’re not great at it, bringing all kinds of distractions to the table (books, electronics, newspapers). The idea of a formal dinner party, say, is right out, though we may yet be able to demonstrate some semblance of normal before figgy is five.

One of the greetings in Chinese is whether or not you’ve eaten; food is something that’s paramount in our lives. The advice is to eat slowly so that you feel full faster, but these are written by people who have never been to restaurateurs’ banquets. We went to a few, all held late at night (after business hours, which are generally long for a restaurant) featuring and endless parade of dishes: chefs flexing their muscles and showing off dishes that don’t make the menu. It’s how I feel about family dinners: unexpectedly cosy, meals with focus and showcasing our talents.


Both Sides Now

13 February 2010

Dear J-

It’s been less than two years since the Beijing Games and though the spectacle of that particular opening ceremony wasn’t exceeded last night, all the ones that I’ve watched have had a memorable moment that flares in my mind still, from the arrow-lit torch of Athens to the synchronized drums of Beijing. Vancouver, I’m happy to say, meets my expectations as well; I’ll never be able to listen to Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now without conjuring up the accompanying dance as a salute to the Canadian Prairie. Two things work for me: the youthful sentiment (Mitchell was well less than thirty when the song was released) and the imagery (whatever projection technology they used was pretty impressive, but it’s the infinite fields of wheat that resonante in me).

Tears and fears and feeling proud
to say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds —
I’ve looked at life that way

Oh, but now old friends are acting strange;
they shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well, something’s lot but something’s gained
in living every day

— Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now

The sentiments are surprisingly mature; I know that at twenty-five I was convinced that I was able to synthesize gold from air, not quite ready to compromise on anything. We have to learn by mistakes some times, and calendar age is no indicator of the age of your soul, after all; maybe I wasn’t too far off: the sum of our experiences are what makes us unique and interesting, they make us gold, in a sense. But compromise is about accepting different viewpoints as valid as yours, and understanding that is part of the spirit of the Olympic Games, I suppose, finding equal joy in similarities and differences.

The other resonance was the wheat fields, and that’s easy enough to understand, growing up on the edge of the Palouse and having spent parts of summers in St. John, a single-street town where life revolved around wheat harvested from rolling hills, sheaves whispering in the summer winds. Landlocked, we never had to worry about the inconstant sea, but we had oceans of fields, infinite waves of crops. We didn’t spend enough time on the land to understand the soil, but we always had the memory of wheat and tall grasses stretching out beyond vision.


Old Time Song

22 January 2010

Dear J-

I suppose it was inevitable; the songs of your youth show up on some nostalgia station or retro show and you end up reflecting on the passage of time. What were you doing the first time you heard it, and how long has it been now? If it feels like forever, perhaps it has been: the years have a habit of slipping away from you as you’re not looking. Me, since high school every four years or so I end up moving on to something else: new school, new job, new place to live; I get so caught up in the acts of change that I never realized counting off by twos and fours makes the time pass twice as fast.

We might be on the verge of something new or not; we keep picking up new experiences and talents as we get older, after all, and who knows what we can do now that we couldn’t when REM made the jump to mainstream radio. The jokes are about being aged to perfection and how we don’t get older, we get better, right? Yet you find yourself in a kind of stasis year after year; you settle into a comfortable groove, you decide that the path of least resistance must be the best one but that’s just putting your life on autopilot and killing time until the next big thing comes along.

How far away from Tubthumping are we now, twelve or thirteen years? It’s an amazing gap; I love reflecting on the changes and every similarity too. We’re still going out for lunch — together — when we can, but now we have a little passenger to tag along weekends; we’re still laughing with abandon, but now often at her antics. Kudos to your past, right, but let’s let it lie there; we flash back to it every so often when we get reminded by song or dance but only to visit, never to stay.


All Day Long

8 January 2010

Dear J-

One year I got an Advent calendar; every day for a month brought some kind of questionable chocolate dispensed from its own little compartment. Well yes, it was chocolate, but I’m pretty sure that the calendar was one of those gifts my parents got years earlier and kept in the basement, hoping to regift at some point and never quite finding the right person for it. The basement used to be filled with mystery and delight alike; pictures we rarely saw, overflow inventory from the store, and gifts that we’d beg open at strange times of the year.

The fun thing about that particular Advent calendar was the way each day opened, the cardboard doors and louvers were unique, what worked one day wouldn’t be repeated for the next. Of course it was only paperboard and would not stand up to concerted efforts, but the overall theme (it was a house, if I remember right, and you started by opening each of the attic windows and worked your way down towards the front door) was nice enough if you opened each door correctly. I did my best but I don’t think I lasted through the end of the first week: it wasn’t the rewards inside, it was the challenge of those little flaps that drove me to pull them open out of order.

I am not always the most patient person; between real life and work there’s a lot of obstacles between me and the person I could be; yet sometimes you have to remember that it’s not the goal but the problems along the way that pique your interest and keep you coming back for more. Are you still learning every day, J-? I know I try but being in the moment keeps us from seeing the learning opportunities around us. We are lost in details, we block our ears with the cacophony of well-meaning advice and we fail to believe what we’re immersed in all day.