Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Flip Flop Weather

Today I walked to the laundromat in my flip-flops. No scarf, no hat. The clouds disapproved, and the wind made sure I noticed it. But there was just enough sun to justify my bare feet, and my toes rejoiced for one more experience of freedom before December snaps shut around them and they hibernate for three months.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


I love this song:

This is the place I am. Restless, restless, unsure of my path, unsure of where I'm running. Why? I keep wondering. Switchfoot tells me what I should know of myself: "I'm looking for You."

Life Questions

Lately, I've been asking myself a lot of questions. Life-changes (especially those in the box of surprises we call marriage) seem to generate these questions--or perhaps it's the conflicts created or revealed by changes that give birth to these questions. The questions come in flocks. They descend from the skies, their wings clattering. They leave the ground a mess of droppings and feathers.

One flock is the color of money. Its birds sing about saving, about future expenditures, about how I spend too much. They demand to know why I need so many things, why I want them. They remind me, people are starving in other places. Children are shoeless in the Russian snow, and here I am, my closet floor full of shoes, considering whether I "need" a pair of boots.

When that flock drifts away, another flock settles around me. It pecks at me. It caws about newer clothes, more make-up, a different purse, more care in putting together an outfit. It tells me I am not doing things right.

Like sparrows that fill every bush and peck every square of sidewalk, questions twitter at me about chores. Has the laundry been done? When are you going to do it? What's for dinner? How about breakfast? Is there granola? Is the bread dough going to go bad? Are we getting enough vitamins?

There's a bird that shrieks that I'm not accomplishing anything, that I'm going nowhere. When will you apply to grad school? Why do you expect anyone to accept you for a PhD program? Why haven't you sent out any poems yet?

There is a rooster that crows some mornings: What do you have to contribute? What could you possibly have to say that is worth reading? (This started after I read a couple of posts on how to get more readers for your blog, which introduced previously unconsidered goals and standards into my brain.)
There is a vulture circling overhead, asking, What are you forgetting?

And I keep hearing the questions, Am I a child or an adult? What makes me happy? Why am I here? But at least those questions are asked by my own soul, not by insecurities and fears and the polluting influence of a materialistic, narcissistic, workaholic, kaleidoscopic society.

I constantly need to remind myself: I am not what I accomplish. My worth is not measured in statistics of any sort--in fact, it isn't quantifiable. I am a person, a story, a poem, a picture: not a machine. In solitude, in silence, in stillness, I still exist.

I breathe in deep, and blow out. I blow away the birds.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Things a sick person is grateful for

This gratitude-list is perhaps not very dignified, but it is entirely sincere!
  • lotion-enhanced tissue
  • Ricola cough drops
  • a husband to bring home the cough drops & take out the trashbags full of dirty tissues
  • herbal tea that tastes of cinnamon
  • honey in the tea
  • the microwave (or the stove & kettle) to heat the water for the tea
  • decongestants recommended by the doctor
  • the doctor
  • insurance to pay the doctor
  • a furnace
  • the furnace being on and working properly
I have essentially been sick for four months straight--ever since marrying and moving here. At the same time, I've been struggling with questions about whether it's okay for me to be here being absolutely unproductive (by external standards), for months on end. What does rest mean? What does it mean for me to rest? Who am I when I'm not doing anything?

I think this sickness, annoying as it has been and continues to be, may be God's way of making sure I know it's okay and even good for me to rest and to do nothing. In the ordinary course of life, I believe rest is good but I don't necessarily believe it is good for me to rest. When I'm sick, though, I know I should rest, that it's the right thing to do. I tend to see that as a temporary state of affairs, though: the sickness departs, and at that point I ought to go back to doing and doing and doing. I've never been sick this long, and I've never rested so much. I'm learning. I just hope it won't take lifelong sickness for me to absorb the lessons of lifelong rest and an identity dependent on relationship, not accomplishment!

But thanks, God, for teaching me.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Baseboard heater contents

For your combined amusement and horror (or perhaps simply sympathy, if you have lived in a brownstone yourself), a list of things I have vacuumed out of our baseboard heaters in the past week:
  • 3 leaves, of a shape that does not match the leaves on the trees outside, whose highest branches end ten feet below our windows anyway
  • 1 green thumbtack
  • a round plastic thingy that goes on 
  • several lumps of plaster, presumably from when these walls got replastered, almost certainly from the previous millennium :P
  • 1 feather, dark brown and crumpled
  • at least 100g of what looks like sand. What it actually is, I really can't say. I've vacuumed it up before but it keeps coming back...
  • 15 cents in pennies and dimes
  • copious spiderwebs
  • plenty of what appeared to be cat hair but may have actually been (a) dog hair or (b) more spiderwebs
  • dust
  • dust
  • dust
  • and more dust
  • [update:] ball-point pen
  • [update:] at least 3 screws
How most of these things got into our heaters is a mystery. I can only hope that now that they're out, my allergies will go down and maybe the chronic fatigue will dissipate.

But let me stop a moment to be grateful: for a vacuum cleaner, for the narrow pointy attachment on the vacuum cleaner, for electricity; for heaters, for the pilot light on the furnace finally being lit, for the furnace working properly, for the expansion tank on the furnace not leaking or blowing up; for an apartment; for private space.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

House Perspective

Today I started vacuuming the living room while the toaster oven was heating up my lunch in the dining room. It worked for a few minutes, and then suddenly the vacuum cleaner went silent. The air filter five feet away in our bedroom was still puffing away, so it took me a bit to figure out that the circuit had blown out... Yup, no light in the kitchen, bathroom or dining room.

Oh well, I thought. Last time, when I stupidly ran the microwave and toaster oven at the same time from the same outlet, the electricity returned to us in about 30 minutes, seemingly not connected to anything we actually did. The circuit will fix itself after a while, I figured.

An hour and a half later, the situation remains the same. Half the outlets in the living room still work, though, as do the ones in the bedroom. For this I am grateful.

And as I wander the house, frowning as I flick light switches and see no results, the thought occurs to me: I should be grateful that I can still heat water and cook things (thanks to our much-maligned gas stove). Yes, I am grateful for the gas stove/oven, and grateful that there is still running water, and grateful that normally there is electricity throughout the house, and grateful that there is a house at all.

Thank You.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Reflections on Place

Having moved recently to this new city, place has been on my mind lately. Actually, place is on my mind by default, because I am a person who does not have an obvious geographic home (which is also to say I don't have an obvious cultural home). I was born in California, but we moved to Japan when I was four. During our six years there, my identity was: American, gai-jin, foreigner. Then we moved back to California, and I found I was not a normal American. I certainly didn't fit in with the kids in my classes, some of whom were living in the same house they'd been born in, and who would still be in that house until they moved away for college. When I was fifteen, I spent five months in Nîmes, France, where I became, again, American, only to return to my high school where I knew I was not the same kind of American as the others. It wasn't until I moved across the country to Long Island for college that I came to call myself a Californian and to realize that, yes, California feels like home (Northern California, anyway). And now here I am, living in technically-New-Jersey,-practically-Manhattan, married to a Turkish man, and I a Californian who is simultaneously sort of Japanese and, deep in my blood, half Korean, while somewhere down in my genes I am German. Where is my place? What is my country?

This apartment, with all its quirks (the slanting walls, the mold in the bathroom, the exposed water-heater, the leaking furnace): this is home now, this is my place. Home is where my books are, home is where I cook, home is the place I have to clean, home is where I am the one who changes the sheets on the bed. Home is where O. is. Yes, this is my place.

But my place extends only as far as the front door. Maybe out onto the landing, on a good day. This city is not home, not mine. I still worry if I stand out on the streets. I am still busy watching the other people, wondering how I should dress, walk, move. Then the Spirit moves in me and I remember that it doesn't matter what those people think of me.

Still, I would like to know what impression I am emanating. I think home is the place where you don't have to wonder about that. You know already.

Will this place ever be home to me? I should give it time. It's only been three months. But we're only planning to stay here two years. Yes, we've planned to uproot ourselves again, soon, soon. Is it worthwhile? Is it right, to act as if this place is just a brief stop?

Every place is a brief stop. Home is not on this earth. Home is where my Father is, and I'll be there someday, regardless of how much I move around this continent, this planet, during my three score (or four or five score, God willing) sojourn here.

[Thoughts in this post catalyzed by this fine essay.]

Monday, November 7, 2011

Reading Poetry on the PATH Train

We hurtle through the earth.
Water above us. Fire beneath us.

Within us, poems
twisting                   to breath--,
                 to wind--,
                                       to air.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Today I am grateful for...

... O. getting the oven pilot light re-lit without any explosions or injuries! The smell of gas, a flurry of "what now?"; a prayer, a decision, a protracted moment of terror; and a flood of relief.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Once upon a time, we sat by the window in the third floor of the library and watched a hawk chasing a swallow. We were young, and I was unbroken. Later, night fell. You came for me, and I could not drive you away, and I could not dip and soar like the swallow to escape. Your hair was the color of night. I should have known the sun would leave me, and like the silent owl, you would arrive.

You left. You left me, broken; you left me broken. You left my space, my time, my thoughts, but I could not leave you. I keep finding you, a splinter in my heart. You are still exactly the same as when we soared over the island and the waves diminished into minute wrinkles below us, and between us the silence roared so I could scarcely hear the music that still calls up your ghost for me, when I hear it, these long years later.

It is November, a season I never saw you in. Yet I find you living in my memories, as you have lived with me since that single rainstorm.

In a few hours, my husband will come home, and I will live again, in the beautiful present. In a few years, these memories will be buried under more strata, starting with the autumn leaves of today. When I die, they will die with me. And when I live again, there will be no more tears, no more secrets, no more death, no more night.


[I've been going through the drafts I wrote but never posted, and found this specimen from 2010, when I was living in school housing with girls I didn't know. Reading this time-capsule account, the scene (or one of a host of others like it) resurrects itself in my mind. I am so glad I am not there any more. I am so glad I am here, in this apartment, in this marriage, in this new time and space, where I the only invasions come through the internet, or come very small, beady-eyed, through holes in the wall, and O. and I can catch them and send them away.]

I came home tonight to find a strange guy lying on the couch, playing with some device from the iPod family. He didn't look up at me when I came in, though I stared at the back of his head. I bristled inside, but held back the desire to bark or growl. I did lock the door though: keep out any other wanderers that might try to invade. And then I marked my territory by collecting my scattered dishes and washing them all, and starting a baking project.

The guy on the couch kept his eyes bound to his phone/toy/iPod, as though so secure in his position that he needn't observe anything in the environment, because there was no way that any of it could possibly have any bearing on him. Nothing would dislodge him, and nothing would threaten him. That couch had become his.

Well, the kitchen would remain mine. I measured and stirred, poured and sprinkled.

A few minutes later, someone knocked on the locked door, and the couch-occupier opened the door to another unknown male, this one an Asian in a red baseball cap. This guy, too, walked in, as though this were his apartment. My suitemates, meanwhile--the people who do actually live here--were nowhere to be seen. I couldn't stop myself from glaring at the two guys, but they didn't seem to notice anyone else was in the room. But the newercomer soon went to my suitemate Y.L.'s door, and disappeared inside.

I returned to mixing. Half an hour later, with midnight around the corner, the guy on the couch was just as well-settled in his new territory. Hostility rushed over me again--rage that my home had been invaded, terror of who this person might be, what he might do--and I spoke.

"Hey, excuse me," (and he finally looked up.) "What are you doing here?" Suddenly anticipating the answer, "playing with my iPod/etc.", I elaborated, "Why are you here? What are you doing?"

"Waiting," he said. "For that guy."

I know how the dogs feel.

Lunch (a post with pretensions of being a poem)

Bell-pepper bright red,
goat cheese pure white, pesto glowing
emerald with olive oil. Brown bread
still steaming from the oven.
(Softer than usual: too much water?
Who's to say?)

Japanese mothers strive for three colors on every plate.
I throw together lentil soup, eggplant curry,
grilled cheese sandwich: nothing but brown.

But today's lunch was
fresh, bright, raw,

like this snappy autumn day of leaves still green on the trees,
of snow drifts stubborn in the sidewalk-shade,
of a sky so blue I almost believe

it's still summer, and I'm at home
in California where the clouds retire at noon,
and the joys and pains of these three months are distant
as my memory of the Atlantic, unimaginable
as this wintry cold
during that summer simmer.