Saturday, March 29, 2014

Dispatches from Midwest, Issue 3

Sunday, 2 March: Morning
In the wee hours, after I finally fall asleep, the weather finally comes. Even in my slumber, I’m dimly aware of the semi-frozen rain as it hits the window. I’ve been in the desert long enough now not to take the sound of precipitation for granted, and so spend most of the early morning in a half-sleep, listening first to The Weather and second to the sounds of Mr. Indiana, Anna, and Wesley quietly puttering around. I’m reluctant to awaken, because when I do, that will commence the final hours I spend with them. Duncle will come to pick me up later, and while I’m excited to see him, I still hate leaving.

Sunday, 2 March: Afternoon and Evening
Miraculously, the weather holds, and the Big Snowfall of Doom holds off. Nonetheless, we decide that I should leave Optimus Prime at Mr. Indiana’s place and submit to Duncle chauffeuring me around. Just after one, he shows up, and after a brief good-bye—how painfully sudden our parting, after two leisurely days together—Duncle and I are on our way.

It’s been two years since we’ve seen each other, but immediately, we fall into our usual pattern of casual banter, peppered with caustic jabs, foul language, and the occasional rather deep observation. Duncle is one of my favorite people alive, and it’s completely crazy to me that he’s now ten years older—he seems never to age. Perhaps those who retain a young mindset are like that.

Twenty minutes later, we arrive at his and Jo’s home—they live on North Mount Gilead Road, and really, is there anything more Midwestern-sounding than this? on twelve acres of land, at the edge of a wooded ravine. In the summer time, you can’t see through the forest, as it’s leafy and green, but now at the end of winter, there’s not a green thing or leaf to be seen. Jo—a wiry, energetic older woman who’s in much better shape than I am, agrees to hike with me to the bottom of the ravine, and so we bundle up and set off.

The verdict? Ravines are much easier to look down into than to climb down into.

By the time we come back to the ravine, the snow is beginning to fall more heavily, and it’s therefore a perfect time to retire to the warmth and coziness of the house. Jo, perhaps sensing my ever-lasting fixation on this view, obligingly settles at the dining table so that I can gaze out at the view for the duration of our catching-up, which goes on through the late afternoon and the early evening.

She and Duncle and I simply talk, about everything from books to cholesterol to grief. After that, we have a simple but delicious dinner of cod and asparagus and baked potatoes, and a fragrant apple crumble for dessert.

That night, surrounded by family who know and love me, I sleep better than I have in a long time.

“The ones that know you so well are the ones that can swallow you whole…” –Dar Williams

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dispatches from Midwest, Issue 2

Saturday, 1 March: Daytime

Less than 36 hours into my vacation, and I’ve already made my way back to a Library. Mr. Indiana and I strap Wesley into the back seat of Optimus Prime (my flagging confidence in this vehicle is not exactly helped by Wes’s delighted exclamation “This is the biggest car in the world!”).

Me and Optimus Prime, AKA the Biggest Car in the World

We head to Monroe County Public Library for a celebration of Dr. Seuss’s bday. Well, Mr. Indiana and Wes are bound for Seuss-land; I indulge in a rather more boring activity of perusing the Indiana Room and fantasizing over the imaginary dream life of being a Local History Librarian.

At one point, I wander next door to my Darling Uncle’s record store, Tracks, which sells not only cds and records, but college apparel. It’s a tradition for me to drop a few bucks on various IU gear, and today was no exception. When I was at the cash register, paying, a woman walked in, leading along her dog on a leash. The sales clerk glanced up and said words, magical words, that I hadn’t heard in eight years:
“I’m sorry ma’am, but you can’t bring your dog in here.”

Saturday, 1 March: Night

It’s been an epically brutal winter all throughout the Midwest, and all day people have talking about the latest winter storm which is supposed to hit right about now. But it’s two o’clock in the morning, and so far the only weather we've had are clouds, which gleam eerily as the lights of Bloomington shine against them.
My body is still on California time, despite  the two hefty glasses of wine I have consumed, and I cannot fall asleep. So I sit on the couch and gaze out the back window into the night, pondering the bare trees silhouetted against the weirdly-illuminated sky, waiting for The Weather to come, waiting for sleep to come, waiting for my bewildered version of grief to pass. It’s a strange, even stupid thing to think, but I can’t help but to wonder, Did my mother look out into the Indiana winter nights and see something similar?
The rest of the house is asleep, or so I think, but as it turns out, Mr. Indiana hears me puttering about and comes downstairs to join me. Perhaps he soon regrets it, as I attempt to launch into a tearful attempt to articulate my thoughts. He listens—he’s great at listening, he always has been—but commiserating? Not so much his strong point, as evidenced when he soon digresses into one of his highly-intelligent but not-totally-relevant tangents.

It’s okay. Some sorrows can’t be explained, and can’t be shared.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Dispatches from Midwest, Issue 1

Friday, 28 February: Afternoon
A day before I flew out, my aunt called from Indiana with dire predictions of snow and doom and imminent death if I didn't upgrade to a rental car with four-wheel-drive. And so, the dudes at the Enterprise Desk were able to come up to trumps and upgrade me, after me agreeing to a painful fee and the unstated promise that oh my god of course you won’t die in an icy car crash.

All good and well, except for the fact that apparently, all four-wheel-drives are approximately as big as Optimus Motherfucking Prime. Case in point: my vehicle for the next two weeks is a Nissan Pathfinder.
My usual vehicle is a Toyota Corolla. Yeah, this is gonna be fun.

Friday, 28 February: Evening and Night
After pulling into the parking space in front of Mr. Indiana’s Bloomington townhouse and enduring some gentle ribbing about my rental Optimus Prime (“I know you said you gained some weight, but this is ridiculous!”), I quickly get settled, give a huge hug to Mr. Indiana’s girlfriend, the awesome Anna. Of course she’s awesome! By default, any woman that welcomes her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend into her home with open arms, and understands loyalty and friendship, is awesome! She and I immediately begin to discuss the sinus infection from hell that kept her from grad school for years and bond the CT scans from her horrible sinus illness. It’s the start of an epic friendship.

Over a dinner of veggie burgers and homemade potato chips (oh my god, Mr. Indiana, why did I ever leave you) and increasing amounts of wine being consumed, I catch up with them both and tease little Wesley, who’s not so little anymore, and marvel at how so many years can pass and never take away the feeling of Home.

For many reasons, Anna is great for Wesley. She’s a librarian, and has instated family storytime every night. Bless this woman's heart, she doesn't hesitate for a second to include me in this ritual. This gives me a chance to cuddle up with Wesley and deliver an exuberant and slightly drunken narration of Dragons Love Tacos as Anna snaps lots of photos and immediately post them. And Mr. Indiana and  I are stricken momentarily speechless with laughter by our old friend Dea’s response on Facebook:
“Is this…real life?”

 Dea was/is an old comrade of ours.  She KNOWS the skeletons in our closet, and her memory is a long one. She is a fellow survivor of our college years, a witness to the Catastrophic Breakup of 2006...she caught the fallout, along with many of our friends. And so I can and do laugh with love, and relief, and gratitude, that I can be here now, enjoying this time, reveling in relationships new and old, taking pride in--and rejoicing in gratitude for--my freakish ability to forgive and be forgiven, and learn, and thrive. 

It's a perfect first evening Back Home in Indiana. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

An Update from the Heartland

In hindsight, the need for a vacation was glaringly obvious to probably everyone but me.

Sure, I've had some time off over the past year. A long weekend in Flagstaff--surrounded by a group of people. A week on a cruise ship--also surrounded by people, and also maybe scabies. A week in Florida at Christmas--to mourn my recently-deceased mother and try to help put her affairs in order.

None of these were particularly relaxing or restoring trips or retreats. Given the fact that I'm a abit of a weirdo, one could almost say that these "vacations" almost added to the queue of stressors  in my life. And then, factoring in staffing shortages and the BFD Writers Event and my own expectations and neuroses and guilt and repressed grief and occasional feelings that holy fuck, nothing will ever change, the end of February, I was beginning to see what the end of my rope looked like. And you know what? It looked like me. Frayed. Worn out. Not good for much.

My bosses saw it. My husband saw it. My colleagues saw it. I know I saw it too, but I didn't feel able to do much, because after all, a real vacation was coming up. Two weeks in Indiana, and Ohio, and Michigan, visiting friends old and new, family known and unknown, and going to a big Library Conference. It hasn't been tropics, or the streets of Paris, or majestic mountains. I didn't want that, at least not this time.

It's been rolling hills and flat fields and winter-blighted grass and bare trees and a bunch of really damned friendly people (overwhelmingly, self-consciously white, alas, but it is Middle America, and many really, really try to find the little diversity there is and celebrate it) and old houses and suburbia and hospitality and really, really bad sushi and really, really good pork tenderloin sandwiches and steaks. It's been about family and family history. It's been about seeing where my mother and grandparents come from, and seeing how much, yet how little, everything changes in the Heartland of America.

And that was just the first week.

Now, after a week from bouncing from Bloomington to Noblesville to Tipton to Mount Pleasant, Michigan to Dayton, Ohio, and then back to Indiana, I am settled for the next several days here at a hotel in Indy. I'm on the 19th floor, and the view at my window isn't that different from the view I remember at the Winterhouse Apartments, Summer of 2005. Same flat horizon, stretching on for miles, offering a view of just about everything in what feels like a 50-mile-radius. Some people would find this boring, when compared with the expanse of the ocean or the towering cliffs of the mountains--but not me. What's not fascinating about this view of buildings and land, people and trees, all of it part of this simple, quiet state?

But while the last week has been about looking back, about personal connections and mental/spiritual restoration, the next week is about looking forward, committing to professional restoration and recuperation. Tomorrow morning, the "preconferences" of PLA commence,  and it's time to get my librarian on again.

This time in 2004, I was preparing to move to Indiana and begin Library School. Now it's ten years later and I am a librarian, returning to Indiana and in a way, continuing my education. This is merely one chapter in the continuing (and admittedly, rather boring to anyone who isn't me) saga of my life, but it's one that I intend to have a helluva good time writing.