Category Archives: Travel

Brooklynisms, Lower-Manhattanisms, and Other Things Heard on the Street: Everyday Magic, Day 852

Roaming around Brooklyn and the city for about five days yields not just astonishing things to behold (two Chinese multi-generational bands jamming in a park where dozens of people play table-top games at high speed in between yelling in Catonese at each other) but also snippets of things people say to each other. Not knowing Catonese or any of the probably 22 other languages hummingbirding past us as we walked, I could only catch these intriguing phrases in English, some of which Ken, Ruth or I may have actually said but most of which we heard:

  • They’re taking over an area that used to be HORRRRible!
  • In Dublin, Van B and Van C are far superior to Van A.
  • I basically made it sound like you’re the only reason the city could sell the company, so you should thank me.
  • He’s turning into you.
  • ….Or like a passive aggressive British woman.
  • The thing about her is that I could actually feel her aura vibrating. It was that intense.
  • The Paris Metro is far superior to this subway.
  • Waiting for the bathroom is a fucking nightmare at this theater.
  • I could sell him anything if he’d just answer the phone.
  • They do the voices really good, but it felt bad anyway. I didn’t get anything out of it but squeaks.
  • It wasn’t just that the penis was elevated.
  • They’re great at growing rocks here.
  • Bagels are for losers.
  • I loved him but not really.
  • I’m like the healthiest person on the face of the planet because all I eat is Chinese food, that and some salad.
  • Person 1: Watch it! Person 2: I don’t have to watch it. You watch it.
  • The rats all know about the third rail. It’s passed down. It’s in their DNA by now.
  • Father to 5-year-old daughter: What did you see? Daughter: Money!
  • The olive oil cake is sublime.
  • You have to go down to go up.
  • Don’t open your mouth. The devil is going to trick you.

So I’ll close my mouth now and go find some Chinese food, that or salad.

The Obstacle Course of April: Everyday Magic, Day 846

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Oy vey!

I spend a lot of time on my calendar, trying to ensure that I’m not putting myself out there too much at the expense of taking care of myself in here (this body, this home, this balance). Yet this year, somehow the convergence of all I scheduled for April eluded me. From February on, once I saw the totality of my over-commitment — 17 gigs — readings, talks, workshops, a keynote involving four flights, 1,400 miles of driving, and 7 states — I felt scared. How would I keep from getting sick and exhausted? Answer: I wouldn’t, and on April 29, I can say, that’s okay. Then again, for a poet and former poet laureate, plus someone who wrote a Holocaust book, April is kind of the bread-and-butter month of freelancing, thanks to the blessed and cursed poetry month designation, and Holocaust remembrance events. I’ve been telling friends that it’s a kind of obstacle course: run fast through the hoop, shimmy down and crawl under the rope, hoist myself up the pole, and go face-first down the water slide into the pool to swim 18 laps. I think running up and down small mountains while balancing an egg on a spoon is also involved. Each time I return from another journey, I high-five everyone I know, then begin re-packing my books, clothes, and notes for the next gig.

In person together again or for the first time at Eat My Words in Minneapolis
In person together again or for the first time at Eat My Words in Minneapolis

Some of us are hard-wired to leap over the cliff without remembering that’s a long way down, and it would have been wise to have packed wings. I’ve long realized that berating myself up for over-committing is a silly endeavor. I suck at beating myself into submission, and I wouldn’t want to give up these confluences of such meaningful work, beautiful stretches of mountains in the fog, loud music to sing to while driving across farmland, or people I get to meet and love in faraway places. In the last month, I’ve read tornado poems in a soulful Minneapolis bookstore to friends, family, online students I was meeting in person for the first time, and a Goddard student I hadn’t seen in years. I’ve laughed hard over gyros with old and new friends in Minnesota, complained about lunch and praised the beauty of the dogwoods while re-uniting with poetry therapy pals in North Carolina, watched spring leap forward in blossom and leaf from the northern to the southern border of Iowa, listened to people living with chronic pain read their powerful poems in Kansas City, and marveled at the dozens of prom-dress-attired couples filling Falls Park in downtown Greenville, SC. I’ve tasted nettle pesto for the first time in a Kansas library right before Stephen Locke and I presented our virtual tornado chase and associated poems and stories. I lucked into a private tour of Jay and Barbara Nelson’s stunning Strecker-Nelson gallery in Manhattan, KS, and just Monday, talked with a WWII veteran and a woman who grew up in Nazi Germany while presenting an Osher talk on Needle in the Bone. There

Sometimes a bagel is your destiny (named so here) at blurry-o-clock in the morning somewhere in South Carolina
Sometimes a bagel is your destiny (named so here) at blurry-o-clock in the morning somewhere in South Carolina

has been strong tea, too many carbs, occasional yoga, a round of antibiotics, a lot of hot baths, and serious thought about what kind of Spanx to wear. There’s also been an abundance of hugs, tears, deep talks, selfies taken with many a friend, and many manner of reunion or first-time connection. I would want to grow a bit more wiser when it comes to leaving spacious stretches of spring open. Maybe next year, I tell myself, and no matter what happens, even these blossom-weighted days and too-short nights have their gifts.

What Is a Year?: Everyday Magic, Day 833

If 2014 was a mouse, I’d let my cats kill it, and then I would, like I do with all their usual triumphs, pick it up by the tip of its tail and fling it out into the cold, dark night. Fortunately or unfortunately, it’s not any kind of mammal, but just another bundle of time nearing its expiration point. Yet when I think about this year, I land on wocrisis, near-miss, loss, death, outrage, fear, and the most challenging word of all, change.

In the last year, many family and friends experienced game-changing crises, catalyzing moves home or away, job changes, long stays in hospital rooms or short stints in triage, and a whole lot of funerals. Some of the changes or deaths were slow, full of healing, grace, pain, and release. Some were sudden and shocking. Some were utterly surprising although, in retrospect, we should have been it coming.

In my life, I’ve been slogging through the potholes of grief in the last few weeks since my friend Jerry died, and earlier this fall, six people I was a little or a little more close to left the planet. Last spring, there was a heart-shaking showdown between the union and management in my workplace, fueling a binge of insomnia for me. Some of my three children underwent big shifts in jobs, homes, relationships. My mother-in-law has been in the hospital for much of December, and the tunnel through heart issues to greater health and longer life is still very much in play. Some organizations I’m very involved in needed to rescued from the brink. And I’ve tried to be present for dear ones going through some of life’s most excruciating passages.

I’ve also had more than my share of blessing, whimsy, and laughter, including breaking my toilet, delighting in three books coming out, working in discernment and love with students at Goddard College and in workshops, and witnessing great unfoldings of beauty — in the skies, in the faces of people I meet, in the eyes of cats, dogs, and humans. I’ve traveled through Kansas and to Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Michigan (for the first time), Missouri, Oklahoma, Iowa, and three times to the Twin Cities and back. I’ve gotten too many colds and have eaten too few dark, leafy greens. I dragged a cedar tree into the house and strung it up with lights, capping it with a decorative squirrel. I’ve cleaned the house about 41 times, and even scrubbed the laundry room once. I’ve made and consumed a lot of enchiladas, and taken many naps with cats on my chest. I’ve read some great books, including many of the novels of Ann Patchett and Amy Bloom, and also surely gotten enough sleep, one way or another. I swam many laps, walked many miles, sat many hours on my ass, and pushed/relaxed myself into deeper downward dogs. I’ve also watched a whole lof to movies, aiming for inspiration, laughs (even when wedded to stupidity), and charm.

There’s no way for me to encapsulate any year, particularly this one, which often defied any single word, sentence or paragraph. So often, I’ve felt like I was climbing a roller coaster, and then holding my stomach for dear life as we plummeted down at high speed. What echoes and winds through all of it? Music, even if mostly of the wind. Attention, even and especially at the moments so hard there’s nothing left to do but focus on the immediate. Tenderness, which I keep finding trumps all else when the chips are the down, the storm is upon us, and the pain makes us want to jump out of our skin.

I come back to how the way we treat each other — no matter what is happening and particularly when it’s painful, confusing, and scary — is what matters most. We pay attention, which means listening enough to hear the music of the moment. Then we open our arms, even to whatever a year has been, and with hope, to the next year’s story.

The Storm Before the Storm, and the Actual Storm: Everyday Magic, Day 819

IMG_5891 2Driving home from teaching Curvy Yoga tonight, I was delighted by the flashes to the north and south. A parade of storms was circling its wagons. Because I love a good storm (good thing too, considering I live in Kansas), I drove foot loose and carefree, despite Wagner’s dramatic “Tannhauser” blaring dramatic build-up on the radio. Barely to the southern edge of Lawrence, Ken called: a blinding rain was here, and I would be driving right into it. I told him it was dry where I was but he assured me that the road to our house, just three miles away, was barely visible for him a moment ago.

There’s nothing like listening to Wagner while lightning illuminates a vast, dark grey monster you’re driving right into at highway speeds. I was surprised at how quickly (in a flash, so to speak) my happy storm anticipation turned into wheel-gripping apprehension. By the time I turned onto our road, I realized I was in a lucky pocket, arriving between waves, skirting the fingers of intense downpour.

Now, some hours later, I’m writing in the dark while big wind pours across the land, the rain sheets down, and rapid-fire lightning powers from all sides. The weather radio makes it buzzing sound to say something is upon us. The dog in the back room, the one with few windows and my sleeping son, claws anxiously at the door. The cats rumble across the living room floor, attacking each other and then forgetting their attack in the hunt for another hair tie to kill.

Usually, Ken is out of bed, checking radar for any hook-shaped blotches threatening tornado or hail, but this time it’s me, occasionally pausing to run to the porch and feel the wind, watch the soft gray edges of the traveling clouds, and listen to tens of thousands of raindrops make ground fall. The storm of the storm, unlike the storm before the storm, is the real thing. As I wrote in one poem in Stephen Locke’s and my book, Chasing Weather, you’ve got to respect that.

Respect the Storm of the Storm

Watch like your life depends on it.

The first wave pushes the blackbirds

over the seam of the darkening west.

Uplifting wind multiplies and divides the world.

Flags tatter themselves in its speed. Then sirens.

From the overhang of your porch, wait

for the imprint of lightning to open your eyes.

Surrender to the wide yawning of thunder, the tendrils

trailing the supercell, and the one sweet songbird

at once unaware and aware. Follow

the storm of the storm, not the storm you expect.

When the rotation makes landfall, go inside swiftly.

Rush the stairs to the basement, grabbing the small cat

and photo albums on the way. Call the neighbors

from the crawl space. Press the anxious dog to your chest.

Turn up the weather radio and let the tone of danger

vibrate through your beating heart.

Obey the hunter you once were thousands of years ago.

Northerning: Everyday Magic, Day 815

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Hello, my name is Lake Michigan

Usually summer aims me west, the direction any self-respecting Kansan wants to go when the temperatures heads for the hinterlands of triple digits. This summer was a northerning thing instead with three trips to the Twin Cities (visit our daughter, help her move, and attend a newphew’s wedding), a lovely vacation in the northern pinky tip of Michigan (to see a friend), and the usual airport-infested trek to Vermont and back to teach. Whatever the reasons, it seems I as just getting back from one northern catapult  when it was time to pack (or just not completely unpack from the last trip) for the next one.

There’s a lot to said for getting in a tiny car early in the morning, guzzling ice coffee, and driving from 90-something degrees to less than 80 degrees. Just that shift in temperature can shift perspective, not to mention what’s blossoming up yonder that thoroughly finished its gig here months before. I inhaled lilac in June in Michigan and July in Minnesota after lamenting it finishing in Kansas by late April. There’s nothing like a little travel to scramble seasonal markers and wake me up to how much “whatever is” isn’t necessarily so. Of course, there’s also the Twilight Zone restaurants in Northern Missouri or Iowa we have a talent for finding, but that’s another story.

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In the middle of a Minneapolis neighborhood

Cooler bouts of air also meant wearing pants frequently all summer instead of shorts. I’ve lived many Kansas summers when slipping my legs into jeans in September felt positively exotic.

Mostly though, all this northerning brought me face to face woods and water. Everywhere I traveled, I inhaled the smell of pine and glimpsed (or waded hesitantly into) clear water.

The lakes of Minnesota spill out across the landscape and throughout the cities. A few weeks ago, as Ken and I walked a Minneapolis neighborhood, we happened upon one lake (Lake of the Isles), that seemed a pond until we turned a corner.

The northern climes of Michigan are surrounded of course by Lake Michigan, which I hadn’t really seen up-close before with its Caribbean blue of the turquoise water, the jewel tones everywhere. Having spent some time with Lake Superior, which is a living being that changes pastel tones all day, I was surprised by the different look of this lake. I wasn’t so surprised by the crazy cold of the water though, and only made it in up to my knees (although I did swim in a cold and white-capped pond later on).

In Vermont, I spent a day hugging the shore of Lake Champlain, one of the loveliest places I know with the Adironacks to the west and Green Mountains to the west. The wind is always big there, photo 1-1and I slept in a darkness interrupted by the heartbeat flash of a lighthouse. I also swam daily in this pond surrounded by woods and sky, and often shiveringly cold. Even when well-immersed and swimming for a while, I could skirt pockets of deep cold from the depths.

Back home, my northerning ways come full circle. The fog that enveloped the world this morning, the cool and damp air, and the recent rain bring me back and forward at once. The lakes around here are muddy and surrounded by a protective army of chiggers. The pine I inhale is only from an essential oil. I’m happy to be finished, for a while at least, with propelling myself north. As for that desire to get on I-70 and drive a long way west, I tell myself next summer can be for westerning again.

 

Running with the Ruling Class: Everyday Magic, Day 812

Here I am in my bigger, better first class seat.
Here I am in my bigger, better first class seat.

When I saw those stark words — “Flight Delayed” — on my computer at 7:30 this morning, I went from barely awake to fight-or-flight (without the flight) caffeination. Within 30 minutes, I had speed-showered, rushed over to my office (one of the few places on the Goddard campus where I could use a phone that didn’t drop every call), and discovered all was well, if not delayed, in the universe, and something else too: a welcome to First Class.

What? I had to read it several times. Seems that my projected two-hour delay was bumping me from downstairs to upstairs. Having never flown first class before, my mind doggie-paddled with possibilities. Would there be champagne, caviar, jumbo shrimp, hot chocolate chip cookies? Maybe I’d be offered a steaming towel to refresh my face after the complementary manicure. What actually happened behind the blue curtain?

The whole thing reminded me of a lodging upgrade a few months ago in Kalamazoo when my cheapest-room-within-walking-distance-of-the-train-station was suddenly upgraded to a grand suite. When I checked in, the hotel clerk asked if I wanted dishes sent up, which was my first clue that something was different. “Why would I need dishes?” I asked him. He politely explained that they could be handy in the kitchen I was getting.

I was hanging out with my friend Stephanie at the time, who had driven me to the city and was going to look at my room with me before we dined and parted. Having just spent five days in her small book-lined house in the woods with a woman who wrote a book called Epicurian Simplicity, I was more than dazed when we went up to the suite. “I can’t stay here! It’s much too big,” I told her as we tentatively opened cabinets, ran from room to room, and opened the drapes to reveal floor-to-ceiling windows curving around the corner of the large living room/dining room/kitchen. I have no idea why I was given that space, but after detailed discussions about whether I should beg for something more humble, I surrendered to luxury. Amazing how fast we can get used to fancy digs: by the next morning, I was reluctant to leave.

It’s interesting to glimpse how the upper 10% (or whatever percent) lives, but the most fun part of it all was speaking with a U.S. Airways rep before the flight when I told her I had a stupid question to ask her. “There are no stupid questions,” she said.

“Actually, I think there are many stupid questions in the world, but here’s mine: do they feed us in first class? I usually grab some dinner at the airport, but is there going to be fine china and gourmet food in my near future?”

She checked the computer as if what I was asking wasn’t so stupid, then told me the truth. “No, not on the 5:15 p.m. flight.” Instead, there are slightly bigger seats with more room between them. Also, the plastic drink cups are a few ounces bigger, and we were offered a choice of a treat (pretzels, tiny packs of cookies, or potato chips). The cookies I surely don’t need are not baking on board, and there’s no hot wash clothes being doled out with sterling silver tongs. So I do have to wonder why people would pay hundreds of dollars more for a packaged fig bar with their slightly-taller glass of ginger ale.On the other hand, no need to look a gift horse in the mouth. Instead, we ride on, the whole plane engulfed in some turbulence right now, first class as well as coach class being jerked around in our seat belts as we dream of solid ground.

Traveling By Train: Everyday Magic, Day 803

From whence I come
From whence I come

I had this illusion that train travel would be serene, a rollicking cradle of comfort up and down the tracks as I dozed off and dreamt of unfurling horizons. So when I booked my ticket to go to Michigan — two trains, three hours between them tooling around Chicago — I was thrilled at the sauna-like travel experience I was sure would follow. Having done a whole lot of driving and a whole lot of flying, train travel always seems to me to be a vacation to get to the vacation.

Amusing and intriguing? Maybe. Scenic and rhythmic? Definitely. But this is not the spa version of any kind of self-propelling through time and space. Exhibit A: the hour the first train comes to fetch me is long before dark’o’thirty. I wake at 4:30 a.m. into a universe I barely know. Once onboard, the swaying back and forth I imagined is more like being flung from one side of the world to another. As I leave my seat to check out the bathroom or find the cafe, I have to lunge at other seats to keep my balance while everyone around me is doing the same. Have trains always been like this, and I just forgot?

Then there are all the first-world-problems: food okay but not as good as I IMG_0650remembered, bathrooms that seem to not have been cleaned since 2011, overcrowding to the point that some people boarding have to wait in the lounge car, and in the lounge car, someone narrating historical and geographical features in a booming voice. My favorite moment: when he pointed us all toward a bald eagle in the field before introducing the dirt road we were riding over.

Chicago, a place I haven’t really been since 1981, is bigger, faster and louder than I remembered. While I made my way to Greek Town for Linner (dinner + lunch at 4 p.m.), my back and arms strained a bit with all the luggage, but the fresh air, after 9 hours on the train, was luscious.

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The Great Hall isn’t green

Back in Union Station, my train fantasy burst. Maybe taking a train at 6 p.m. on a Friday, in retrospect, wasn’t the calmest way to go, but as I walked up and long long slanted floors toward wherever I was supposed to be (or thought I was supposed to be), rushing people slammed into me or halted abruptly, looking at me as if I had landed in front of them from Mars. Once at “D,” the place I was supposed to go, I joined a long line as someone ordered her to go to “the Green Hall.” We scurried away, confused. “What is this Green Hall?” a woman asked me. I told her I didn’t know, but let’s go find it, and in no time, facilitator that I am, I was leading six of us through a maze of shops and turns, escorted part of the time by a kind security officer, to the “Great Hall” (no green in sight) where, in the vast emptiness, we saw a sign with our train number on it, and a long line of people waiting.

30 minutes later, many of us confused and asking each other why we were here in between speculating about whether we were going to be put on a bus instead of a train (the horrors!), someone came, yelled at us to follow, and the rushing forth of the lemmings began. We went a long way back until we got to the train platform, occasional Amtrak personnel herding us with sticks (well, not sticks, but plenty of yelling). Then it was onto an kindly but old train to sit in full sun without the a.c. not kicking on yet. I know, more first world problems, and not really problems at all.

Now we’re moving north, we’ve cleared downtown Chicago, and out my sun-blasted window, I see old houses and new baseball fields, hear the long and lonely whistle of this train, and in the distance, glimpse a vast stretch of refineries. Nothing is what we think it is most times, and while this has not been a day to rest and replenish, it is a day with its own gifts, like this gorgeous cottonwood we just passed, eeking out its life between a cement wall and broken sidewalk while the blue of the sky sails back.