Tuesday, December 29, 2009

upside down

New person: They came into your life and turned it upside down. Who is your unsung hero of 2009?

I have to say that the newest and most influential "person" in my life this year is: Swedes. The ones I met and befriended, all of them. Although I know they aren't exactly unsung, at least on this blog. ;)With the first one I met and then it continued with every consecutive one I got to know, I discovered how well we got along, how much I loved their various perspectives, was amused by their observations, intrigued by their language, delighted by their customs, and blessed by their real friendship. One of them told me when they were doing intercultural training to prepare for their year in America that they were told, "It's really hard to get close to Americans. You will have a hard time knowing if they mean it when they say they want to hang out or follow through with you. 'Let's get a beer/pizza' or 'Give me your number, come over to my place next week!' These phrases can just be niceties, not as meaningful as you might expect. They are so friendly but the connections they make can be more transient."
When I heard this, everything in me wanted to be different. I already knew that I had proved that it was with me, but I knew that these friends were ones I was absolutely going to see again, and hopefully again, someday. They laugh and dance and wonder and plan and believe and challenge me and care in ways that make it seem like I was always supposed to be friends with them, and in 2009 that time arrived.

Puss och kram, min svenskar.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

whimsical christmas

On Christmas night I step out into the below freezing air. There are so many stars in the sky, many more than I can usually see in Santa Barbara. Dark trees stretch their triangular shapes up into the night. I take each step solidly, being sure that my wimpy southern California boots don't slip on the ice patches. I'm heading away from the house on the side of the mountain and into the surrounding forest. I come to stairs carved into the hill, set with logs carved in half. I head down into a ravine and a strand of brightly glowing green christmas lights illuminate the path. It's an unnatural glow, ethereal, but it doesn't seem out of place here.

Halfway down the path a glass and metal lantern hangs from a low branch, a tiny candle burning inside. The path leads to a wood platform. It stretches out over the ravine until it's over twenty feet above the ground. Huge beams are in place, holding it up securely. I walk out to the furthest section. A thick, twisted twine rope stretches around each edge, waist high, the only thing that really is supposed to keep anyone from falling off. A firepit sits in the center, logs packed in tight, flames lighting up the deck and bringing us in with their warmth. I sit down, pull in close, and sit quietly around with my brother and sister and dad. It's been a long day, and the day will be long tomorrow too, so we don't say much, just look up at the stars. I couldn't see as many from this place as I could before I descended the path, now the moss covered trees obscured many of them. I've always loved that moss... when we were younger and played pretend games on the other side of the hill we would collect that moss to create our forest beds. It always made the forest look more mythical and mysterious, hanging gently from a majority of the trees, so very light green. So even though less stars were visible, the moon was still clearly seen and bright, perfectly halved, claiming the top center of the night sky. I stayed there, warm by the fire, and loving the reminder of just how lovely the cold weather and wilderness are. I don't get enough of either. I want to stay all night, and come back the next day and the next... but my life thirteen hours away demanded me back, and I had to reluctantly answer to it.

I rose and passed a massive, reinforced tent/house. On the other part of the platform. My dad's treehouse. He lives there, most of the time, for now. Instead of down in town, and usually instead of with my grandma up on the hill where I was staying. He built us a treehouse when we were kids. Now we sat around a bonfire with him in his actual tree House. I walked back along the magical greenly lit steps to go to bed.

Some have wondered where I get my whimsy from... much of it is from what happens in the forest in Oregon.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

growing up and away

Learning experience: What was a lesson you learned this year that changed you?

I learned other lessons that were more important than this one, but I've touched on them before and will mention them again in my year wrap-up.
But this lesson was hard, sad, and instructional. I wish to mention it once, briefly, and no more.

It was that the friend you trust with everything, all your secrets and contemplations and desires, when you are 26 may not be who you can trust with all those things when you are 27. And it's not because of some explosive dramatic event. It is realized slowly, painfully. A morning in May with thoughts tripping over each other in confusion and hurt. A night in July where I think maybe I'll try to untangle it all, and decide that I don't know how. Not sure if untangling will be possible or help, or if they will really understand themselves enough to know what to say. An afternoon in October where I realize I've mostly forgiven but that it won't ever be the same.

This sounds dramatic and it wasn't really. In a life so blessed and rosy as mine, it was just a low point to learn that not all relationships can be kept the way I want them. That was obvious when I was younger, but hasn't been during my twenties when one assumes that friendships have become static and stable. And it's possible I've let people down in similar ways, and for that I am sorry.

the beacon

"The best place: A coffee shop? A pub? A retreat center? A cubicle? A nook?"

My loft. The one just underneath the slanting wood beam ceiling in my cottage, that holds my bed and some books and my favorite wood and paper lamp. I looked forward to this element the most when I moved into my cottage back in January. It seemed romantic and private and wintry cabin-like. And it is. If it was mine as a kid there would have been no limits to the pretend games I would have created up there. However, I have cursed it many times... when I have to gingerly climb down in the middle of the night if nature calls, which totally wakes you up because if you aren't totally alert you will fall and die. I've also cursed it for being the place where I have to sleep in summer heatwaves because the hot air collects up there like crazy. I curse it when I have to change my sheets because that job is awkward and takes forever when your bed is on a wood floor but the ceiling is just above your head while you're kneeling.

But mostly, I think it is cozy and I will miss it the day I don't have it anymore. It is a place where you sleep and the rain will beat down just feet away from you. It's a place where I become drowsy while I read too late into the night, although I actually don't do this enough. It's a place to lay under my silk comforter and talk to someone next to me about what the future looks like, about history, about music, about growing up, and so many things. It's where I fall asleep sometimes to my ipod. It's where I couldn't sleep and sometimes cried at various points. I've sat there and thrown pillows down at people. I've sat there with some favorite friends and talked about love and life. I have felt the most alone there, and I have felt the most companionship there. There's been lots of kissing there. You can hide in the loft... sit on the bed against the wall and reach your feet out to rest along the beams of the ceiling and pretend there is no responsibility or things to do, and just dream.

The light up there has been named the beacon, and sometimes I go up and light the beacon just so that later in the night when I'm downstairs it will call me to bed earlier. I actually don't spend as much time there as I would like. I plan to do more, as long as it is mine.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

leave the world behind

"Rush: When did you get your best rush of the year?"

Best rush... well, I went over some Class IV rapids in the rain on a boogie board in a foreign country. But that wasn't what I would call a rush for me... It was terrifying and character-building and is a whole other story.

I stood in a sea of people in front of a huge stage. Lights flashed and the crowd around us pulsated to the beat. Fists raised and pumped the air along with the bass. On stage was a DJ, working up a sweat, smiling a mile wide, nodding his head to the music that he was creating. House music. Dance, electronic, club music... remixed... blended together... 80's songs blended in with the climaxing beat. I had never really known what house music was until three months before. And then it still took me awhile to understand it and realize the good, the great, in it... how you can dance mildly without thinking for most of it and then when the beat really hits you can jump and punch the air like your life depended it. It's feeling the music in a way that can be sustained longer than your favorite hip hop jam, in a more physical way than your favorite acoustic melody. So there I was, in the heart of Hollywood, under a Swedish flag, with friends all around, the guy who introduced me to this music stood behind me, hands on my shoulders, smiling a mile wide as well, it was 3 a.m., in high heels that didn't hurt after dancing for 5 hours, with the incredible rush of this new music experience. The rush of being somewhere and doing something I never imagined being or doing. Something told me that I should feel like being up that late, dancing for that long, pumping my fist toward the stage was somehow too edgy and wild. But it really was an experience I knew I'd always remember, that set me free in a tiny way.

My arm was sore the next day from pumping to the beat. In the months to come my legs would be sore from the running that such music would induce. Such a rush... and certainly in a way, one of the best of 2009.

Friday, December 18, 2009

forks and spoons

I just discovered this challenge a couple days ago, and I'm just going to use it however I want to in order to inspire my writing for the rest of the month...

"Restaurant moment: Share the best restaurant experience you had this year. Who was there? What made it amazing? What taste stands out in your mind?"

It was such a culinary and social year, I have more than one...

1) The air is warm and slightly breezy. The evening is waning but the sun is only slowly making its way down to the water, dodging the sail masts that cover the horizon. Stephen and I each had a beer, and it tasted like lifewater at that moment. Our dishes were incredible, fish with some gourmet mashed potatoes... we laughed as we realized that in New Zealand "entree" meant "appetizer", so we ended up ordering a few more starters to fill up, some sweet potato fries and shrimp cocktail. There wasn't too much to say, we just reveled in our first dinner in Auckland and the soothing jazzy live music accompanying our meal. We'd soon find out that live music at dinner seems to be the law in that country, and we would delight in it the weeks to come. The singer, with his long dreds and lilting voice, sang Sting's "Fields of Gold" and I thought about how I'd made my dream come true by being there.

2) There are old and new friends around me and some that I've just met. The smell of meat and tomatoes and fish is heavy in the air. Candles are lit and sitting everywhere. To us Americans many of the dishes looked odd and questionable, to our Swedish friends they looked like Midsummer dinner, Christmas dinner, Mom's table at home. They had been preparing for hours to give us and themselves a taste of home. Their special brands of schnaps sat on the table. We dove into the meal... I loved every bite. The herring in the mustard. The meatballs. The little sausages. Then we picked up the folded lyrics by our plates, poured ourselves shots of schnaps, and sang Swedish toasting songs together. In Swedish. We attempted them in a rough English translation. We all laughed and laughed and laughed. I marvelled and drank in this culture that loves to create a meal together, insists on wearing their nice clothes to sit down and enjoy it, sings silly songs afterwards while they enjoy wine, and believes that the night is just beginning at 11:30 pm when all that was done and it was time to go dance.

3) It was the Fourth of July and I sat across from the beach at the Fishhouse with my mom and stepdad. Our table was next to the bonfire on the patio. My salmon was amazing, as salmon always is. The wine was light and crisp. People were flooding the beach, the pier, the streets, the grass... I was overwhelmed at all the people out in my beautiful town for this holiday. As it got dark and the first firecracker lit up the sky, everyone hushed up, and we turned away from our table to watch the gold, red, white and blue explosions in the sky, framed by silhouetted palm trees. I had never before been so achingly in love with my city. And it was that weekend in realizing how great my love was, but confronting the fact that I was still faced with this growing, undefinable desire to experience something new and far away, that I made plans for 2010 that will likely take me away from this beach city I'm in such a deep relationship with.

4) We sat around a table, drinking sangria, in the city that never sleeps... the city of lights... Las Vegas. I had turned 27 that very day. Friends surrounded me, ones that I've known for years and a couple that were brand new but already had fastened themselves to my heart. The tapas were the best we'd ever had. The paella met every expectation. When the servers brought out the tiniest little slice of chocolate torte, with a lit candle stuck in it, and everyone began singing happy birthday, I was smiling so very very hard, harder than I could remember smiling in a long time, I couldn't wipe it off, it was so hard I thought I'd be sore... I was so very happy, the moment was perfect, I loved my friends so much, and I was so grateful for the year that was 26 and thrilled for the year that would be 27.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

some rest for the weary

My grandma got on facebook earlier this year. She spent some time looking through my photos from the first few months of 2009 and then sent me a message, saying, "Your life makes me dizzy!" It does the same thing to me, but I almost always enjoy it, pushing for more, never saying no to anything. It's almost impossible for me to say no to fun, to being social, to spontaneity, to people...

And then my Introversion creeps in. Every couple of weeks when I haven't had the standard amount of hours spent at home alone in my personal space, thoughts, song lyrics research, writing, etc I can feel myself build up a bit of a wall. Ignoring calls, neglecting errands, just aching for some quiet time. I can hear the edge in my voice if a friend or family member asks something of me or tries to get me out somewhere. This fall roared in like a lion, and is going out in the same way, and I am weary. I have had too much of everything, and been enjoying it, but have sensed this week that the holiday break away from my life couldn't come soon enough.

So while a 12 hour drive up to Oregon (which I plan to split over two days) is usually daunting and unfavorable, right now I am positive that what awaits me there is so exactly what I need that I'm looking forward to the journey. Some quiet in the middle of the mountains and forest. Cold and maybe snow. Big jackets, scarves, some quality reading, and soup made by loving relatives. Some tree chopping with my dad. A peaceful chat with my Grandma on the couch, overlooking the view with no houses in sight, sharing the endless amazing crazy stories of this past year... so happy that they happened, but definitely glad to not be in one of them that moment.

All this dizziness... I need to get my head on straight.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

everything leaves a mark

at least with me, it does.

more on that later... but first, it's strange, this feeling that grows, month by month... that I just don't want to feel attached...emotionally... to anything that has the potential to a) hurt me b) make me feel crazy or c) tie me down.

because a) i've been there, too recently, and i'm not up for it right now b) this moment, my right now, has been so wonderful lately that i don't want to be wondering about anything, anyone, waiting for my phone to light up, my email inbox to fill, my thoughts to settle down. and c) i have plans. exciting ones, that feel right, and have pushed me to action and to dreams of great things. and i'm afraid of something happening that i won't be able to turn away from in order to press forward.

there are so very few things that cause the former a, b, and c to happen. the main one is a boy. and because i know that, i can feel just how protected i've become. i'm bolder, more laid-back, yet more straightforward... all these things laid layer after layer over the part of me that can hurt. and i hear myself say things i have never said, like "well you live out of town, and i don't want to be thinking about you when you leave. i don't want things to be complicated for me." it doesn't sound like me but i meant it.

and the next day i wonder if i really did mean it. i remember the delight that came over me when i felt a tug on the back of my white winter coat, and turned around to see him. i'd thought all day about him, wishing that i'd gotten more than his first name after talking to him for so long with my friends the night before. i knew he was only here for a day or two and then was going back up north, and i really doubted he'd be at the same place, same time, two nights in a row. and three seconds after walking in, there he was, behind me, towering over me, grinning. laughter, cigars, each others' friends, dancing, racing in shopping carts, wine and youtube videos, and then we were alone. and i say what i said, that i don't want complicated. and even though that's true, with me, nights like that leave a mark. doesn't really matter what happens afterwards, but people have never been dispensable to me, and really great moments aren't either.

so today i have been wondering what to do with all that. wondering about when feelings contradict each other. and when you wish you didn't feel at all. and worrying about the increasing moments when i'm not allowing myself to feel, when a, b or c are threatened.

"And we are so fragile,
And our cracking bones make noise,
And we are just,
Breakable, breakable, breakable girls and boys."
-Ingrid Michaelson