Lovebirds

A teapot depicting a bird in a cageI’m obsessed with this tea set my parents got as a wedding gift 50+ years ago. It had been sitting in their basement for years, and wound up making the trek with me out here to St. Louis.

There are 2 distinct birds depicted on the teacups, pitcher, sugar bowl, and other items in the set. I guess they’re supposed to be (literal) lovebirds, though lovebirds don’t look anything like that.

Are they stylized doves, maybe?

A vase with the image of a bird in a cageThey make me think about the restrictions and freedoms of pair bonding, mating in captivity and out of it. Each bird is depicted in a cage with a flaring ribbon. The bars of the cages are wide enough that either bird could get out, if they wanted to.

On only one item are the birds shown together, and it’s unclear if they’re both inside the same globe-shaped cage, or both hanging on the outside of it.

Sugar bowl depicting birds on or in a globe-shaped cage

I’ve mentioned before that I admire the mixture of loyalty and independence my parents have achieved in their marriage. Monogamy is not a cage, gilded or otherwise.

But it is a framework—and we can reject or embrace that frame.

What bars am I putting up between myself and love?

What structures need to be in place to keep love standing?

Photos by Anya Weber.

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Gateway

A relative asked me recently what the most amazing thing is that I’ve seen so far in St. Louis.

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, MO, seen from below.

The Gateway Arch is not the most original answer, but it’s true.

When Eero Saarinen won the contest to design this monument, to celebrate Thomas Jefferson and U.S. westward expansion, the judges told him that his design was the best, but they also weren’t sure anyone could execute it. Apparently the general expectation was that at least a dozen people would die in the construction. As it happened, no one did.

Photos of the Arch don’t do it justice. When you stand under it, it is both immense and lighter than air. It gleams and defies gravity.

When you go up inside it, you get inside a little tram, along with 7 fellow tourists. The tram looks a bit like a space shuttle. It is cramped and claustrophobic. As you go up, you don’t have a view out to the city, but you have one of the pipes and concrete girders holding up the structure on the inside.

At the top, there are only narrow windows–larger ones would have blown the structure apart. You get a sweeping view of St. Louis, including the brown and fast-rolling Mississippi River. (I’d heard that Mark Twain called the Mississippi “too thick to drink, too thin to plow,” but it turns out he said that about the Missouri River.)

The Arch symbolizes conquest, ingenuity, and domination. The American hunger for more. “Settlers” weren’t willing to settle for anything other than liberty, for lands rolling out in front of them for the taking (regardless of the people who’d been living there for centuries, or millennia, before).

Standing inside the top of the Arch, my body could feel how far off the ground I was. It even seemed that I could feel it shifting under me, though that was an illusion, probably just the vibrations of the other souls riding up and down in the trams.

From the top, I could see Illinois. I could see the courthouse where the Dred Scott case was tried. I could see Busch Stadium.

I could see my new home city, in all of its muddy, gleaming, lively, and conflicted beauty.

Arch photo by Anya Weber.

 

 

 

5 Tips to Make Moving Easier

A room full of colorful packed boxes.
I’m in the middle of a move that will take me 1,200 miles across the country. Many blessings surround this move: I’m making it by choice, I have supportive friends and family, I can afford to hire movers, etc.

But it’s still been intense! If you’ve got a move in your future, here are some tips to make it a little easier.

  1. Push your boxes to the edges of the room.

Our outward surroundings reflect our inner state, and vice versa. So when you’re surrounded by the chaos of boxes, bubble wrap, items being sold and donated and discarded and packed—you want to consolidate all of that as much as possible.

U-Haul boxes up against a wall in a room.One thing that’s weirdly helpful is pushing boxes to the walls. It gives the illusion of greater organization, and makes it easier to walk across the room and to feel freed up as more and more items get boxed up or leave the premises.

  1. Lean on friends and family.

Whether they’re going to help you load and schlep, or just offer moral support, let them help! Don’t be a hero and try to do everything yourself. People are generally happy to assist in one way or another, maybe by lending you their car or even just spending time with you as you fill up box after box.

  1. Tell people how much they mean to you.

We don’t do enough of this, so now’s a good time to let the sentiment flow. Doesn’t have to be a flood—just tell a neighbor that you’ve really appreciated living next door, or a coworker that they’ve made your work life easier. Exchange contact info, in multiple formats—you never know when you might cycle back into each other’s lives.

  1. Pack a suitcase for the first 4-5 days after your move.

This helps deter the dreaded “I’m in my new home but I can’t find any of my shoes” effect. Pack a big suitcase with a few key outfits, shoes, and anything else you’ll need to feel at home over those first few days in the new location. Even if you’re only moving next door, this will help you know where those items are…Plus, it makes it feel like your move is a fun vacation! (Well, sort of.)

  1. Change your address with utilities, magazines, banks, credit cards, etc. BEFORE you move.

You’ll have enough to deal with settling into your new place, so a couple weeks out from your move, make a list of every single entity with which you need to change your address. And don’t forget to get the post office to forward your mail. It’s nice to have this all lined up before you go.

Are you moving this summer? If so, how are you upping your sanity levels?

Top image by Jess Robinson via Creative Commons. Second image by Anya Weber.

The Long Goodbye

A see-through heart floating in water.
I started applying to graduate schools in different cities last October. So for almost 8 months, people close to me have known that there was a good chance I’d be leaving Boston this summer.

There’s an advantage to a long goodbye. When you tell people you’re leaving, their love for you pours out. I’ve had people say that they wish they’d gotten to know me better, that our workplace will go to hell in a hand-basket without me, that I’m brave, that they’ll miss me, that it’s been good knowing me.

It’s been lovely to feel this outpouring of affection. But it’s made me wonder—why don’t we tell each other that stuff regularly?

Why don’t I tell my best friends at least once a week how much I love them, how important they are to me, how brave and sweet and impressive they are?

Emoting like that feels awkward, especially for us stoic New England types. Some of us need an excuse to tell our loved ones how much they mean to us.

We never know how much longer we have with anyone. With each goodbye, I’ve had to tangle with the fact that I may never see this particular person again. The reason that’s top of my mind is that I’m moving out of state for at least a couple of years. But honestly, it would be true even if I’d committed to living out the rest of my days here in Boston.

*

My evangelical friends tend to be pretty good at telling each other how much they care. There’s a tradition of praying for one another in small groups, in which you ask God to help people with whatever their issues are, to strengthen them to meet those challenges.

This is normal in religious Christian circles, but not in agnostic ones. Usually it takes something climactic, like a wedding, a funeral, a graduation, or a departure from town, to draw expressions of love and good wishes.

If we know our friends love us, then why must it be stated aloud? Why can’t we just believe it silently, and assume that we all know it about each other?

There’s an element of risk in stating those feelings. Kind of like being the first one in a new romantic relationship to say “I love you.” You put yourself out there, risking rejection, risking being thought awkward and weird, risking mockery.

Our culture allows verbal expressions of love in romantic relationships, and to some extent in family relationships, but not so much in friendships. I do hear younger women telling their platonic friends “I love you” as they say goodbye at the end of the night. But that feels like a reflex, rather than something that carries emotional weight.

The higher the risk, the greater the potential reward. It is a holy thing to have someone express their love verbally, because they are making themselves vulnerable. They are taking their armor off.

*

Not everyone is lucky enough to have close friends. For many years, I doubted that my friendships were as real or solid as those I saw around me. I used to hold myself back a lot, which made it harder for people to know me. I’m getting better at opening up, but it’s a skill I’m still learning.

Some people have been wounded so badly that they shield themselves from closeness. Others have pathologies that make it much easier for them to drive others away than to draw them in.

So if we have friends, we’re fortunate. And we should struggle daily not to take them for granted.

*

Let’s make an agreement. Let’s start telling our friends that they’re the best, that we’re so happy to have them around, that we know how rare true friendship is, that they do it well.

If it feels weird, that’s cool. Life is weird. Humans are weird. Relationships of all stripes are weird.

If we put our hearts on the line, more and more often, it becomes easier to do, and we get more adept at it.

Anything that increases the amount of love in the world can only be a good thing. Verbalizing that love shows us how strong a foundation we have right under our feet—if only we’d look down to see it.

Image by seyed mostafa zamani via Creative Commons.

Bad Medicine Cabinet

I’ll be living here in my condo for another month and a half, and I’m feeling sentimental. So I identified a little home improvement project: cleaning up my medicine cabinet. It was gross and rusty. Check it out.

A rusty shelf in a medicine cabinet.

Gnarly!

A rusty shelf in a medicine cabinet.

I found a couple great sources online for how to fix it up, and added in some tips from my building superintendent, John, who knows everything about home repair.

Here’s how I took my cabinet from nasty to nice.

I wanted to take off the doors, but they were screwed on so tightly I wasn’t able to. This was a bummer, as it would have given me easier access to the cabinet’s innards. But I plastered painter’s tape all over everything and hoped for the best.

Blue painter's tape on medicine cabinet.

Next, I had to get the rough rusty bits off. You can buy a Rustoleum product for that, but I decided to use the natural approach: mixing up some salt with some white vinegar, and making it into a gentle abrasive paste.

Salt scrub in a bowl.

I applied that to the rust stains with an old toothbrush, and let it stand for about 2 hours.

Toothbrush on rust stains in medicine cabinet.

Then I scrubbed the salt and rust off, first with the toothbrush, and then with an even stronger abrasive cleaning pad.

Scotch Brite scrub pads.

That left a surface that was still discolored, but smooth and ready for painting once I’d dried it off.

Smooth rusty shelf in medicine cabinet.

Next, I painted on a coat of Kilz. This was John’s suggestion: He said that without Kilz, the rust would eventually re-emerge, even from under a coat of primer and a topcoat of paint.

A quart of Kilz on a mat over a sink.

I painted on the Kilz with a 2-inch brush, and left it for 12 hours to dry.

Medicine cabinet shelf with layer of Kilz.

Then I painted on a coat of Rustoleum Protective Enamel Oil-based Paint in gloss white. This also took at least 12 hours to dry.

And this is the finished result.

Clean, repainted medicine cabinet.

Doesn’t it look nice?

Clean, repainted medicine cabinet.

If I were to do the same project again, I’d use foam brushes instead of paintbrushes, to get that super smooth finish.

And I would paint a thicker layer of Kilz on, to make it more of a primer.

Also, a word of warning: the salt scrub leaves little grains everywhere after it dries. Be careful to wipe your work area off completely so they don’t get embedded in the layers of paint.

Here’s my playlist for this project.

Have you done a project like this lately? If so, how did it go?

Two Choices

Two large trees leaning away from one anotherI’ve narrowed my grad school choices down to two.

Two schools. Two cities. Two different states, both in the Midwest. Equal scholarships. (Equal amounts of student debt looming. But let’s cruise right on by that for now.)

I know it’s an illusion that my life will now divide neatly, one way or the other. It’s not like one choice will be bad, and the other good. Both will be complex and challenging and fascinating and rewarding.

Both will test me. I’m hoping that both will unfreeze a part of me that’s been iced in for many years.

This is a huge turning point. And it’s also absolutely routine.

*

Every moment, our lives divide in this way.

As immortalized in the pre-goopy Gwyneth movie Sliding Doors, the difference between missing a train and catching a train can yield two completely distinct life paths.

Not that it’s ever really that binary. It’s just easier for our minds to grasp an idea broken into two neat chunks.

I’m trying not to get hung up on making “the right choice.” I’m relishing the opportunity to visit both cities, and to see which one gives me that live-wire feeling–the feeling that zapped me when I decided to apply to grad schools in the first place.

You know. That feeling of, “I’m about to blow up my whole life…But I think it might be OK.”

Photo by Gillie Rhodes via Creative Commons.

Laughter at the Rape Crisis Center

Statues in a fountain depicting women laughingYou might think it would be a gloomy place: the office where survivors of sexual assault go for therapy appointments. The phrase “rape crisis center” conjures images of institutional, grim rooms, with people sitting in the scuffed-up waiting area weeping quietly.

The Boston Area Rape Crisis Center is the opposite of that. Its waiting area is a bright, colorful space where clients can drink tea and relax on a comfy chair before seeing their therapist. It’s nothing fancy, but it feels safe and welcoming.

I’ve been volunteering at BARCC for a couple months, checking people in for their appointments. It’s rare to see anyone in obvious distress or in crisis mode. Most are composed when they come in to the office. Some are cheerful, and some are straining to appear so. Others are quiet, and hesitate to make eye contact. I only have their initials in the calendar, not their names.

When people come out of their appointments, they appear physically lighter. They move more easily. Sometimes their therapist will walk them out, and they’ll be laughing together.

Isn’t that the essence of healing? To walk out of a therapy session with a brighter aura, cracking up about something?

I haven’t done a fundraising walk for many years, but this spring, I’m jumping on board BARCC’s Walk for Change. I’ll share more about it as the date gets closer.

Their 24-hour hotline is 800-841-8371.

Learn more about the work they do in Boston and beyond.

Image: Laughter, by sanpani, via Creative Commons.

Large Loss Specialists

A lost stuffed animal sits among plants.On a walk today, I saw a truck labeled “Large Loss Specialists.” If your home gets destroyed or flooded or burned, this company will help you get it rebuilt, cleaned up, and looking right again.

Their slogan, similar to others in that field, is this: “Like it never even happened.”

Like most people who’ve survived into their 40s, I’ve experienced loss. I’ve had loved ones die. I’ve been dumped. I’ve dismantled loving relationships that were no longer healthy.

The “large” part of “large loss” is relative. I have not experienced the death of a child, for example. Or the destruction of my home.

My losses have been peanut-sized compared to those of many other people. But to me, those losses were real and painful. They set me back. They hurt.

The truck’s slogan made me think twice about loss. If we do go through a large loss, isn’t our objective to learn from it, rather than pretend it didn’t occur?

*

In the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, people can use a service that erases their memories of a particular person. One of the film’s messages is that deleting pain is impossible without erasing ourselves. Our hurtful memories are intertwined with our joyful ones, and cannot be disentangled.

To lose our pain is to lose our humanity, to stay shallow rather than diving deep.

I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t clean up and repair our damaged homes, or move on from broken relationships. Dwelling in the past is just as unhealthy as pretending it never happened.

But large loss is a great teacher. We learn what’s essential. We learn who our friends are. We learn how tough we are.

Afterwards, if all goes well, we are NOT the same as before. We are no longer unblemished and smooth.

We proudly bear the scars of loss, and we can hold our breath a little longer when we go under again.

Image: Lost!, by brockxx, via Creative Commons.

A Poem for Harold Lloyd

Silent film star Harold Lloyd hangs from a clock several stories up on the outside of a tall building.Harold on the Clock

Keep climbing, Harold, even though
it was supposed to be your buddy
and not you
seven stories up
the outside of the department store.

Los Angeles tilts around you
and you cling
to the façade.

Your fiancée runs up the stairs inside
Taking the sane route, you the mad one.
Later, you’ll meet on the roof
Press your pursed lips together
The only kind of screen kiss
chaste enough for 1923.

Moviegoers swooned
to see you stagger on the window ledge,
to see the fragile minute hand of the clock
support your flailing body weight.

Did they have to look away,
as you once did
when you saw another stuntman
make this same scramble?

Did they know
you were climbing the building
with only one hand, the other
half blown off
years before
when a prop grenade
turned out
not to be
a prop?

Almost 100 years later,
my own palms are sweaty
as you face danger after
danger: vicious attack pigeons!
A falling badminton net!

Your glasses had no glass in them.
Your eyes, though also damaged by the blast,
were sharp and clear.

You scaled the building,
almost literally knocking
yourself out.

And then you got the girl.
Onscreen and off.

And she got you.


Inspired by the movie Safety Last (1923). Watch it on Kanopy!
Image from the same film, retrieved from the Music House Museum.

The Terror of Not Logging In

A computer keyboard showing the keys "Control" and "Option"

What about when control isn’t an option?

One morning last week, I couldn’t login to my work computer.

On the one hand, this was a total champagne problem. I was not in danger of losing my job, of physical violence, or of anything else truly disturbing.

But it almost sent me into a panic attack.

If I can’t login, I can’t do my work. Stuff will be happening without my knowledge, people will be asking for my help, and I can’t do anything about it.

I can’t write, I can’t edit. I’m a writer, I’m an editor.

I’m rendered useless.

*

My email was behind a firewall. So were my files. So was the internet (though I could have accessed that from my phone).

What was frustrating wasn’t so much any terrifying consequence of my lack of access. It was more the loss of control. If I’m locked out of my home, I can call a locksmith. But the walls of technology are a lot less climbable.

I wonder if there’s a spiritual equivalent of being unable to login. We long for access to truth, to a sense of order in the universe. And we can tell it’s there.

We just don’t have the password.

*

After about two hours, David from the IT Service Desk liberated my computer. He reassured me that the lockout wasn’t my fault: “Sometimes bad things happen to good people.” He was pleased when he saw me typing in a new long passphrase, instead of a puny password.

And I have access again.

For now.

Until the system goes down, until my computer dies, until I accidentally delete all the documents that populate my digital kingdom and that I’ve forgotten to back up.

For now, I can get in where I need to go.

My soul, though? That’s still pressed up against a sheet of colored glass, looking at the lights on the other side, wondering how to break through.


Photo by Frederico Cintra via Creative Commons.