about bliss

Monday, August 31, 2009

daily bliss: teachers

This summer I saw my two favorite elementary school teachers. 

Mrs. M taught first grade and crated a fun classroom, complete with a corner called Australia that students could visit when they were having a "no good terrible very bad day." On one memorable occasion, she had to explain the concept of tardy to me, as my little friend and I would walk the short distance from my home to the school, meandering in ditches, following our whims and keeping a lackadaisical pace. In general, though, I was an excellent, albeit quiet, student, a bookworm with her own reading group (aptly named "pink") until I started joining the second graders for reading lessons. 

I saw Mrs. M at Morningstar Cafe, home of my favorite pancakes. Having seen my Mom a few weeks earlier, she knew the general details of my life, and kept repeating "how cute are you?" I beamed, suddenly that little girl again, so happy to be pleasing my teacher. 

Mr. K taught fifth grade, and he was innovative and fun. We read long chapter books in his classes, and played softball outside on warm Spring days. I remember heading outside to play ball, the song "Let's Hear it For the Boy" echoing in my head. Long after I was a student of Mr. K's, he took to playing Santa around town. One year we visited him, and my brother L, nine years younger than I, was astounded that somehow Santa knew so very much about him. 

I saw Mr. K at the Holland Farmers' Market, and he was in the thick of things, making a promotional film. He stopped action to talk to me and he kept repeating how proud he was of me and my achievements. He remembered the adjustments I faced in fifth grade, what with a new brother and a new last name. 

As I sit here on the Eve of Back-to-Schoolness, I think of my favorite teachers and how seemingly effortlessly they encouraged, inspired, and engaged me and many of my fellow students. I always loved school and I attribute much of that affection to my excellent teachers, who reached out to a quiet, nervous, imaginative girl and reeled her into the world of words and ideas and greatness. 

I often joke that my current job is a way for me to stay perpetually in school, and in many ways it is. Though I teach, I'm constantly learning. Students have so much to teach us about their lives, struggles, needs, dreams, stumbling blocks. The day I stop being open to learning from my students is the day that I should stop teaching. 

After an amazing summer far outside of my academic role, I'm eager to return to the not-so-Ivory Tower with my renewed energy and optimism, my new dreams and my new supports as strong foundations for the work I do.

I can't wait to talk about the joy of words, the frustrations of the blank page, the challenges and opportunities of college, and feminist approaches to vampire romances with my students. To engage, to learn, to delight.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

daily bliss: what i did this summer

A grey, drizzly night, humid yet chilly. Summer is slipping away. All day I've been melancholy. All day I've been off: burning my finger with a rookie baking error, overcooking my vegetables, snapping at my Mom.

I vowed several weeks ago to follow the rhythms of nature's calendar, marking the seasons with solstices and equinoxes, but now that I'm on the eve of my official return to work, to the academic year, it's hard to remember that summer is still here. For another month.

My heart is so full that I don't even know how to gather the words and share them with you. Or maybe I do and I'm still scared to write them here. "Just write for yourself. You have to. You can't worry about who might be reading," he says, and I know he's right. And yet...

I queue up a selection of summer songs, lyrics of home and moments echoing in this otherwise quiet pink room. I make a mug of vanilla black tea laced with milk and sugar, which I sip for courage and sweetness and comfort. I resist the urge to pick up the phone and instead I tap these keys, my burned fingertip aching with every "c" and "d."

I sift through blog entries written on the other edge of this summer, when I had a simple goal—to enjoy a Summer of Fun, a summer of being me and not thinking about work, allowing days to unfold as they would. And as they did.

I read my bittersweet melancholy at the close of a school year, with all the summer before me, wondering how to find the rhythms of relaxation. A smile lights up my face as I realize just how simple it was to find myself, to fill my days with words and laughter and companionship and walks. A tear traces down my cheek as I now try to remember my way back to that other rhythm of alarm clocks, bubbly encouragement, efficient productivity, firm compassion.

I find an early "to-do" list for the summer, including 14 items, the 14th one being the pivotal item around which everything shifted into a kind of happiness I had almost given up on: love.

And I know there will never be another summer quite like this one, a magical season in which time flew and lingered, in which days stretched into forever and whole weeks disappeared. Moments that seemed inexplicably predestined, somehow, strange and familiar all at once. Hours that melded into one another and any worry of accomplishing anything other than just being alive and happy and real disappeared like the fog over Lake Michigan on a hot summer afternoon.

All I want is to bring this zen-like ability to savor life as it's unfolding into the next season—fantastical fall— and those stretches of time in which I wrangle more with others' words than my own, weeks that demand an extroversion that I've tucked away in favor of quieter connections, months that challenge the soul with ever more greyness and chilliness.

And yet. I know, somehow, magically, elementally, that these seasons too will be full of heart, of discovery, of bliss. And so I settle in, ready to slip into heels and shoulder school bags, ready to walk into classrooms and meetings, ready for new writing ventures, ready for music and trips, and ready for long meandering conversations that never end.

I'm ready for the fall...

Monday, August 24, 2009

daily bliss: i am...

...standing in my kitchen, peeling and slicing peaches.

...walking down the stairs, carrying trays of food to put on the grill.

...sitting on my couch, talking about a book.

...standing in my kitchen, saying a long goodbye.

...walking down the lakeshore trail, talking about blueskys and picnic tables.

...sitting in my living room, drinking in conversation and sauvignon blanc.

In all these moments, I thinkfeel happy. My heart swells with gratitude for whatever good fortune has aligned all these moments, this feast, these friends, all together on this day.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

daily bliss: risk

"The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." Anaïs Nin

roses, the american club, kohler, wi, august 2009

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

daily bliss: meteor showers

A cool August night. I step out onto my deck, talking on the phone as I watch the sky, looking for familiar landmarks of dippers and myths.

"If you can catch a few, it's amazing," he says.

My reply is interrupted with an involuntary "ooooh," as a long, bright meteor streaks across the panoply of stars in the blueblack sky.


I hang up the phone, layer on fleece, and wrap my trusty pink pashmina scarf around my neck. I brew a cup of vanilla scented tea. I perch on a cold chair on my deck, arching this way and that for views of the whole sky. Nothing. I stand, eyes scanning the sky for a streak of brightness against the pinpricks of dying light, traveling so far across space and time. I bend my back, yogi style, to see the sky more perfectly.

I think of special relativity, and my most basic understanding of the phenomenon that perspective alters how we experience space and time and distance.

I think about this summer, how moments have seemed to stretch beyond eternity, how months almost seem like years, how new conversations seem to have been started before I was even born.

I catch a tiny meteor on the edge of my vision, nearly imperceptible as it trails across the bowl of stars.

I drink in the quiet of this summer night, the stillness even in my city neighborhood, the gentle din of air conditioners the only sound. And then the sudden, swift rustle of a small animal scaling the neighbors' tree, startling me into spilling the steaming tea all over myself.

I breathe in the sheer magnificence one last time, eyes searching the sky for moments of wonder, finding plenty, even if not of the meteor variety, and then head inside to sleep, perchance to dream serendipitous dreams.

"the most beautiful and most profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. it is the sower of all true science. he to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer stand rapt in awe is as good as dead. that deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe forms my idea of god." Albert Einstein

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

twd: brownie buttons

In honor of these diminutive treats, I--along with a small cadre of others--am writing a tiny post, in which I claim that these are good, but not great, simple to make and cute, but not, ultimately, the most satisfying of brownies I've ever made or eaten, all in the space of one sentence (though no limits were set on the length of said sentence, though the understanding is that it should be grammatically sound, yes?!?); Jayma of Two Scientists Experimenting in the Kitchen selected these wee goodies for our weekly recipe, and, as always, you can check out the other TWDers' narratives, whether long or short (select the full blogroll , or here for a list of one-sentence groupies).

Monday, August 10, 2009

daily bliss: rainy weekdays

Back when I was a young girl and teenager, I spent most of July and August out in the blueberry fields, hand picking fruit. Or in the packing shed, watching berries spill down a conveyor belt, attempting to perform quality control. Rainy weekdays were blessings: days we couldn't work on the farm, and days that we packed with everything good and fun and non-agricultural related. Trips to the library to check out towering stacks of books. Back-to-School clothes shopping at Rogers Department Store in Grand Rapids. Days spent reading or baking cookies.

Rainy August weekdays like today are perfect days to fill with syllabus planning, and brownie baking, and closet cleaning, and vacuuming, a mix of intellectual and domestic work rather than play. Days to work ahead so that when the sunshine returns I can linger outside under the dappled light. Days to work ahead so that when I go back to school I have a handle on the weeks unfolding.

(although i just may need to do a little preliminary online back-to-school clothes cyber window shopping:)

Sunday, August 09, 2009

daily bliss: julie & julia

julia's kitchen, smithsonian, seen *just* before they added her pans:(

"It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others." M.F.K. Fisher, "The Art of Eating"

What I love most about Julie & Julia, the film, is how well Nora Ephron evokes Fisher's famous statement throughout the film, though particularly in the Julia storyline. Every foray into eating and cooking and writing is filtered through a deep abiding love of life, of discovery, and, most certainly, of Paul. And the film beautifully captures the power of this trifecta of food and security and love, illustrating how blissful life can be when these elements are strong and true.

And then there is the writerliness. We see Julia feed onionskin paper and carbon sheets into a typewriter; we see Julie settle in with her laptop, tapping keys, and creating an online narrative confessional of her search for something more. The sheer joy at possible publication, the thrill of comments, the sense that our words can give shape and pleasure to others, the arrival of that first finished book, well, aren't these the kinds of validation that most writers crave?!?

Oh, and the food. The sizzle of melting butter. The playfulness of a chocolate and slivered almond covered cake. The sparkle of champagne in coupes. The pleasing, rhythmic thud of a chef's knife meeting a wooden cutting board. The smiles, the joy, the little happy sounds when people eat said food. A revelation in simple, elemental happiness. The surprise that something so wonderful and tasty and transcendent can be created not in a four star Michelin restaurant, but right here, at home, in crowded kitchens.

Watching the film made me long to write and cook and share, to write and cook and not be alone. And that's exactly what I/we did. And it was lovely.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

daily bliss: bridges


The waters were not troubled. They were bluer than blue. I paid my three dollars, and deliberated whether to drive on the inside or outside lane. The inside lane turns to a thick metal grate that rumbles under the tires 1/3 of the way up the five mile bridge, whereas the outside lane is concrete all the way, but it is...close to the edge. The road crews working on the outside lanes made my decision for me. As I left da UP behind and crossed over to the Land of the Trolls, my spirit soared and the word home echoed throughout my being. I was sorta almost there, to my summer getaway and favorite place I've ever been, the Leelanau Peninsula.

On the way back to Wisconsin today, I drove over the bridge again, stopping and going along the highest spans of the structure, imagining the air rushing up under the metal grate, feeling every rumble of car tires, sensing my heart accelerate, and my fear of heights and weightlessness activating. I may have shed a tear or two or four at leaving my LP (lower peninsula) home behind, and facing the long expanse of da UP before reaching my new home.

lost highway, us 2

I often ponder how this lake I adore has shaped my life--through presence in childhood and absence in young adulthood, and now, largely, through making journeys farther than they would be if it weren't there. But, if it were not there...I wouldn't be here, or there, or even me.

One time a tourist approached my friend B and asked her where the bridge was.

"What bridge?"

"The one to cross the Lake," she insisted, even as B told her there was no such bridge in our town, and that the only bridge "across" the Lake was the Mighty Mac.

On days like today when I make epic drives around Lake Michigan's curvaceous shores, I almost wish for such a bridge, or at least a really swift boat, or, better yet, people with Trekkie powers to beam me home, making the transition between my past, present, and future smooth and quick and painless.

And yet. The time, the distance, the space between, whether traveled on slow boats or long two lane roads or congested freeways or delay-prone trains, clears a space in my heartmindsoul to feelthinkbe. And that's where I usually find...me.


Monday, August 03, 2009

daily bliss: road trip + restoration

Look for me to cross the bridge noon-ish tomorrow...

Eight hours of sheer beauty.

Eight hours of swell music.

Several days relaxing with one of my best friends and her family at the most magical, restorative place I know. Long walks on the beach. Splashing in the waves and digging in the sand with my "niece" S. Tasting (and buying) bubbly wine with H. Enjoying meals with the whole gang. Sharing 'sconnie goodness (a sampling of cheeses and a bottle of prairie fumé). Exploring the city and the smallish resort towns. Marveling at towering dunes.

from atop the 200 foot dune at sleeping bear dunes national lakeshore, 2008

Endless satisfaction in a mini-vacation before work and routines begin anew.

H and I, 2008

Sunday, August 02, 2009

daily bliss: community

The windows are open and a cool breeze blows in. I hear neighbors singing happy birthday and then clapping. I imagine a towering cake, a smattering of candles, wavering flames, and a rush of smoke. I wonder what flavor the cake is, if it's homemade, whose birthday it is, and whether or not they're happy...

I walk past the rustic ball diamond at the elementary school around the corner from my house. A group of boys practice softball on the diamond. On the side of the field, on the shaggy lawn, a handful of girls practice softball. Parents watch, encourage, clap for both groups. Hands twist in the air, and balls land with a thud in the center of gloved palms...

My friend B and I take her two boys for a walk/bike ride. M shows me all the toys in the garage, and covers his face with his hands when I have to go home. Little B smiles a bright eyed, full toothed grin before ducking his head on B's chest...

Young G sits on my lap at BW3 and we talk about fashion shows and the proper technique for applying lipstick (it's important to use a color and a gloss, I say, for maximum effect). She smooths my wayward bangs across my forehead in a glamorous swoop, and tells me we should fill our hair with tiny pink and blue braids *or* buns for the aforementioned extravaganza...

A roomful of sixty+ people gather on a late July evening to hear poetry and music, clapping, laughing, and sitting transfixed as poets--professional and amateur--musicians--polished and raw--take the stage...

I help J sell vegetables at the farmers' market, and love the diverse conversations with customers who clearly love and appreciate good food. Recipes are shared, smiles widen, and bags fill with the season's harvest...

I, slightly nervous, bake and take a warm blueberry crisp to G's family gathering, offering something from *my* family, from my kitchen as a sign of goodwill. They, in return, offer kind words, laughter, and praise (for said crisp), as well as a delicious meal. Later, as orange campfire flames lick the sky and throw up showers of sparks, I feel nothing but warmth.