Why Would Anyone Leave Lawrence, Kansas?: Everyday Magic, Day 869

Last night I dreamed that we had just moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where our oldest son now lives, because Ken got a kick-ass job directing a nature center. As soon as we arrived at some friend’s house and brought in a suitcase, I started crying uncontrollably. Ken was sad too, and eventually, a friend from Lawrence showed up for a walk that ended up at the curb outside a Walgreens, where all three of us were very sad. I woke up thinking what I often think when anyone I know leaves Lawrence, Kansas, center of the universe as far as I’m concerned.

I don’t mean to put down anyone’s decisions to live elsewhere and call it their own center of the universe, but there’s something about Kansas that got a hold of me a long time ago, and there’s no place I would rather live. Yes, there’s the politics, more despicable these days that the worst most of us could imagine. There’s the weather, sporting stretches of summer where the temperature barely falls below 90 and can top 100 for days, tempered by ice storms and sub-zero winters. There’s the chiggers, public enemy #1 for many of us who step into fields in summer. There’s also far too many conservative Christian Republicans for my taste, and slim chance of finding a real bagel, let alone a bialy. There’s rattlesnakes, cougars, and too many mosquitoes.

But there’s also this: the wind right now pouring through the Osage Orange around the porch. There’s people throughout the state who would, if your house caught fire or car broke down, show up to help build you a new house and trouble-shoot your car for hours. There’s pie to die for. There’s long and curvy roads as well as endless horizon roads where your own company is the tallgrass prairie, wind, sky and an occasional coyote. There’s a panoramic view of wild weather, the thrill of lightning striking all around you, the purple flash it ignites, and the very rare tornado that wakes us all up and sends us outside to watch (close to a basement of course). There’s our Free State history along with the history of the Kaw, Osage and many other tribal peoples so resonant in this land. There’s Castle Rock, the whole town of Lucas, wonderful neighborhoods in Wichita, amazing Vietnamese food in Goodland, and the best fried chicken in the universe in a St. Francis gas station.

In Lawrence especially, there’s long brunches at the Roost while sitting outside on Mass St., the most beautiful floor tiles I’ve ever seen at Kring’s, astonishing fabric at Sarah’s, and coconut cream pie at Ladybird after a great pizza at Limestone. There’s the river and our many walks across the Kaw alone or with big groups of friends. There’s swirls of goldfinch reflecting back the light, bluebirds and eagles in winter, and indigo bunting exploding from tree to tree to summer. There’s the gorgeous Snow Hall building on campus with Snow White lettering, and thousands of iris in spring down Jayhawk Drive. Of course, there’s basketball, fireworks, the old-fashioned Christmas parade, the Final Fridays when the streets fill up with art and a building in east Lawrence is flooded with blue lights. There’s Clinton Lake in kayaks while the moon rises, and the Baldwin Woods in early spring when the Spring Beauties appear. Mostly, though, there’s a sense of community and magic made of knowing many of us are in for the long haul and eventually, we’re run into each other at Liberty Hall and dance to the music of Kelley Hunt like there’s no tomorrow. There’s also tomorrow.

While I love visiting the places my work and kids have drawn me to in my life — amazing cities like Burlington, VT., Minneapolis, and Madison — along with the city I’m from, New York — it turns out that this place, battered by history and politics and once a microburst, is my place.

Everything That Converges: Everyday Magic, Day 868

12039012_974395835935962_4617718929892754117_oLife composes itself of convergences we could never plan on our own. A week ago, I was rocking the empty nest blues, and I don’t just mean the official offspring. I felt tired, restless, sad, confused, and a little cut off from my sources after finishing some massive projects that had filled big and little bits of my time and thinking for years. These projects had happily taken flight, leaving me grateful but in transition between endings and beginnings.

Enter a surprising convergence, starting with a great big ball of light Sunday evening. After finally getting the kayaks out of the rattlesnakes, and the rattlesnakes out of the kayaks, we took those babies (the kayaks, not the rattlesnakes) out to Clinton Reservoir to try them out. We were running late because Ken found he needed to further secure our kayak carrier, some important phone calls rang in, and of course there was the matter of getting the pill down the throat of the sick cat. But because we were late, we ended up launching ourselves on the water right on time for the the super moon rise and eclipse.

There is little I love as much as moonlight on water, and that night, I actually got to kayak down the long shimmering line of light from the rising moon on the waves. The moon started large and mother-of-pearl-lit in a pink sky. As it rose, it brightened and goldened. We kayaked in circles, marveling at the beauty of it all a large cloud of mosquitoes descended, helping us learn how to kayak at faster speeds.

12027221_974396045935941_4398415911881657781_oFrom there, it was off to get French fries at a local shop that, when we told the workers the eclipse was starting, ended up giving up triple the amount of fries. We took our heavenly bag to an eclipse-watching party where we watched the moon lose itself to the reddening shadows and light of the totality. We shared our fries, drank hot cocoa, and probably because of that particular combination I imprinted on as a teenager, I felt that old thrill of being free and alive.

On Monday, my car unfortunately smelling like fries, the eclipse gave way to preparation for a colonoscopy and endoscopy, the latter because of my chemo-damaged esophagus. For those of you who have done this, you know it’s kind like your own little science experiment as one of friends aptly described the process. For those of you who haven’t done it, I’ll just say it’s not the end of the world although I found it hard to remember words when speaking to various people throughout the day. It’s surreality with a lot of trips to the bathroom between downing enormous jugs of fluids.

Tuesday, the procedure was a liIMG_0007ttle scary, but I have a great doctor, and the nurse covered me in heated blankets before giving me the drugs that seamlessly transported me to the other side of the procedure. I woke up, ate crackers, talked with the doctor, and looked at vivid photos of my insides. Afterwards, a little like being on the other side of a particularly bad migraine, the world was vibrant, food incredible, and sunlight an extravagant adornment. In a sense, and in reality, I felt cleaned out and ready for what comes next, which was fortunate because part of the future would entail a journey.

Still moonstruck and medical-procedure-finished-grateful, I slept easily so I could wake early on Wednesday to drive myself, some hot tea, and a whole grain English muffin to the airport, take one plane to Chicago, wander that airport a bit, take another plane to Burlington, VT, pick up the rental car, and dock at the Goddard College for four days of meetings and events.

IMG_0013The colors here are just starting to pop, so much turning quietly yellow, calmly pink, and psychedelic red. Tomorrow, I’ll see more about where I am through this new window, almost unimaginable a week ago.  What converges–medical procedures,  blessings and beauty from the sky and land, journeys conjured but mysterious if you open your eyes–sometimes has just the kick-ass power a woman needs to help her land where she needs to be, flung out of her old nest and into the open sky. I’m not sure if “everything that rises must converge,” to quote Flannery O’Connor’s story of the same name, but this surely has been a week of everything that converges showing me more about how to rise.

Moon photos by Roy Beckemeyer. Check out his wonderful book of poems, Music I Could Once Dance To.


Grateful to Be Back On the Old Road Home: Everyday Magic, Day 867

Last night, instead of going west to the new route home, I turned left, following a line of cars down a new road without being sure if I was heading toward a dead end or back to my favorite old road home.

For 16 months, Louisiana Street — the best way for me to get from home to town and vice-versa — was closed, not just for repairs but for a partial vanishing act. Part of the wrangling for the new trafficway resulted in increasing the wetlands that were previously on the east and west sides of Louisiana Street, consequently erasing a long stretch of Louisiana Street. It’s not often roads was unpaved and plowed under to allow for migrating wildlife, but this is precisely what happened*. When that new road curved back to where Louisiana Street starts again (a mile of it to the north now wetlands full of egrets and tall grass), I felt a surprising blast of joy and sweetness.

I know it’s just a road, but it’s the road that runs through the core of my life for many years. I drove up and down this road ferrying babies and toddlers, then a gaggle of little kids, and eventually teens  to various schools, piano lessons, doctor appointments, and mostly downtown where they could treat the library like their personal rec room. We drove late at night down this road after too-long road trips for work for family. I drove through blinding snow, piercing sunlight, lines of blossoming trees with billowing thunderheads to the west and great blue herons overhead. Many years ago, I sadly hit and severely injured a deer who the sheriff had to shoot to put her out of her pain. Once I stopped to herd a cow back over the fence. I taught, or at least, tried to teach, my kids to drive on this road. Thousands of days and nights, I took in the familiar markers: the bungalow on the corner, the row of pear trees, the ridge thickly wooded to the east and full of cattle to the west. I drove this route in great despair, utter joy, thorough boredom, obsessing over little stuff, at peace with all of life, and outrageously confused; sometimes I saw the real life vibrating all around, and sometimes I drove this road on instinct and memory, not taking in anything but what I was thinking.

“The road is just a river/ it can’t help to bring you home,” Kelley Hunt and I wrote in one of my songs, and I felt this truth as I returned to my old road. Like a river, you can’t step into the same place twice, but like a river, you can rejoice in the old comforts of place in its flux. I’m grateful to be back on this road.

*For those of you locals with a dog in this fight, I haven’t been a fan of the new trafficway, and I wish there had been another solution. Then again, it’s good to see wildlife inhabiting the solution that landed. Thanks to all of you who put years into advocating for saving the Haskell wetlands and sacred sites — my heart is with you.

A Quiet Moment on Yom Kippur: Everyday Magic, Day 866

Early afternoon on this day of repentance, I’m sitting on my porch, laptop open despite this being the kind of holiday when many observant Jews would put aside their electronic devices. I’ve changed out of my white skirt and top, symbolic dress for Yom Kippur although this is a custom I’ve only recently adopted, not just because it’s a way to cozy up to aspirations of being purer, but because it’s such a different way of dressing for me, a way to distinguish this night and day from other nights and days. This morning and last night, I wrapped myself in the tallis my mother gave me, a special gift I generally only wear for this holiday, to also remind me of this holiday’s distinction.

But all is not according to all the rules today or most days in my life. I’m not fasting because I’m rocking a little cold and ginormous exhaustion from just having organized a big conference, and besides, as I rationalize to myself, with a colonoscopy next week, I’ll get a good fast in very soon. I stayed at services less than a hour because I had to find a bed and get horizontal in a hurry. I also am not feeling the songs and prayers with the same passion (likely because I’m not feeling so well) that usually comes to me although I love when the special tunes and words come tumbling around, especially all the ai-yi-yi songs and Avinu Malkeinu. Then again, the thing about prayer that I keep re-learning, is that it’s a practice, not something to do because of its emotional entertainment value.

Still, Yom Kippur comes when it comes, never so predictable to me and most Jews I know who regularly have to look up when the High Holidays launch each fall. Its timing often seems somewhere between unfortunate and totally messed-up to me, but that’s kind of the point: part of the challenge of learning how to live better (which I define as according to our potential to do good in the world) is not enrolling in self-examination lessons and practices when it’s most convenient for us.

So when late afternoon comes, I will stand in my white clothes and wrap myself in my tallis, pounding my heart lightly with my fist as I’m part of our congregation’s many-layered and sometimes disharmonious call for forgiveness, atonement, repentance. I do this not just for my individual sins–which include a multitude of character flaws, poor decisions, petty conversations, and a frequent unwillingness to sit with and through discomfort or pain–but as part of a very old tribe with all manner of collective and individual sins. Obviously, a bunch of people scattered across the planet singing and pounding their hearts, listing off many forms of doing harm in this world, can’t actually atone for all the evil that is and was, but I believe in the power of this ritual to at least remind us of how we’re alive to break our hearts open in love.

Getting there takes practice, time outside of our plans for time, community, and moments like this: listening to how the wind in the leaves of the Osage Orange tree, the crickets, the snoring of the sleeping dog, and distant cars on the highway altogether tell me–and this is how I interpret the central Jewish prayer, the Sh’ma–that all beings are and have always been one.

Three Rattlesnakes and Three Kids Gone: Everyday Magic, Day 865

FullSizeRender“You’ve removed three kids and three rattlesnakes from the house as of this week,” a friend said although at least one of the kids managed to remove himself (the one with a car), and we can’t take credit for physically removing the rattlers (Hank did the snake-catching). I also don’t want to imply that our kids were like rattlesnakes: true, some of them ate whatever they encountered, but none of them, thank heavens, had fangs and venom (although there was certainly excessive rattling over the years).

On one hand, all is good. My heart is full and calm this morning as a hidden pond as I sit on the porch surrounded by soft rain, cats and a dog lounging on the furniture, and piercing bird song. On the other hand, Ken and I now have some reason (translation: three rattlesnakes) to think there may be more rattlers just outside our bedroom window. Plus, from past releases and re-catches of our offspring, I know how fast we can get into a groove of living with three or four, and then, voila! It’s Thanksgiving, and there’s five again, which is wonderful, but also ruffles the water of the pond.

Still, this is a moment. I feel a little safer knowing the rattlersnake in the kayak is gone. I feel a little unsafer knowing all my kids are walking, driving or being driven, and making choices in the arduous sea the world beyond home. May they be safe, and may all the rattlesnakes living too close to houses (for the comfort of humans) find new safe ground.

See Hank catch the third rattle snake here:

Predictably Crazy in Unpredictable Ways as the Nest Empties: Everyday Magic, Day 864

Daniel showing us the native prairie plant greenhouse on his last day of work there.
Daniel showing us the native prairie plant greenhouse on his last day of work there.

I knew this was coming, but sometimes knowledge isn’t as useful as we wish it was. This week, within two days, Ken and I go from people who have lived with their kids in varying configurations for 26 years to empty-nesters. On Aug. 18, Daniel moves out to begin his masters in Landscape Architecture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. On Aug. 20, Forest moves out to immerse himself in journalism school at the University of Kansas.

From past bouts of grief-crazy nest-emptying I’ve learned how much being a parent means being an animal connected to another animal. Eight years ago, I cried on and off most of the way home from Newton, KS, where we left Daniel to begin college, and for the next week, found myself curling up in his bed and sobbing in between opening the fridge with great joy that all the groceries I bought were still there. Five years ago, I did it again, this time driving Natalie on my own to the Twin Cities. While she attended vibrant orientations at her college, I multi-tasked: I cried hysterically and got lost all over St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Now, just back from Vermont, I’ve landed at home in the middle of mayhem, laundry, and the dance of desks. Turns out the massive, oak desk a friend gave Daniel fit into my car (which involved unbolting seats) but wouldn’t fit into his, so yesterday, we moved that surely-heavier-than-a-refrigerator desk into Ken’s office, Ken’s desk onto the porch where it quickly found a home with a friend, and Ken’s grandpa’s old green metal desk into Daniel’s car. Meanwhile, there were hundreds of t-shirts to fold while sorting things into staging area #1 (Daniel’s), and staging area #2 (Forest’s).

When I’m not doing such things, I feel lost and confused. Today as I drove to meet Kelley for pizza, I wondered what I would eat because I wasn’t the least bit hungry. Half an hour later, I had eaten most of the pizza we were sharing, plus dessert, and I could have kept eating, all sensors broken on what’s enough or too much. Later, I took too much time picking out laundry detergent for Forest and ended up missing yoga class. I froze in an aisle of Target, wondering what to do. Go home and pack more for Daniel? Clean the basement and re-arrange all the furniture? Drive to that frozen custard place at high speed? Take a nap?

I couldn’t tell so I aimed myself to a thrift store, where a man in the next aisle sang out to me, “I am standing in the middle of the field of mystery.” I wanted to sing back that I was standing in such a field too, but it turned out he wanted my opinion on whether an embroidered foot stool was worth $10, and the last thing I could do was conjure up an opinion. I gathered the flannel pajama pants I found for Forest, but fled the store after finding that a woman in line in front of me had at least 50 items in her shopping cart.

Forest in front of staging area #2 (his stuff)
Forest in front of staging area #2 (his stuff)

Instead, I made myself go do something physical, which seems like the only sensible thing to decide when a person can’t decide anything, and in 20 minutes, I was in the pool swimming laps. I wish I could say the motion and water calmed my ramped-up mind, but it was more that my ramped-up mind found a great rhythm for keeping its pace while I swam. What was I thinking about? How to pack Daniel’s car, which I just did, playing to my strength of squeezing too much stuff in too little space. I delighted in piecing a down comforter into a tiny space between a toolbox, violin, and computer speakers.

Now that Daniel is ready to roll first thing tomorrow morning, I’ll be aiming my attention to staging area #2 in between bumping into myself coming and going, all the time pacing, swimming, packing, hauling, and standing around very confused, sad, excited, stunned and perhaps even joyful in a field of mystery.

A Perfect Travel Day: Everyday Magic, Day 863

Goodbye, Vermont!
Goodbye, Vermont!

I travel a lot. Consequently, a lot of things that go could go wrong do go wrong: three-day stints  flying from Vermont to Kansas City; cancelled flights or long delays; truly awful airport food served in restaurants blasting the kind of hard metal music that makes me work off a past lifetime of bad behavior; and a whole lot of caffeinated-to-a-fault anxieties over how much in this world is beyond my control.

Rarely, everything goes right, and yesterday was such a day. Although I was so tired, I worried about staying awake during those intervals when a traveler needs to be alert, I found my propensity for 8-15 minute power naps fit well in the nooks and crannies of having the taxi take me from Goddard to the airport, falling asleep on plane #1, and falling asleep twice on plane #2.

My awake time yielded ample magic, beginning with waiting to go through security. “That’s an unusual way to spell ‘Caryn,'” the security person said to the woman in front of me. Soon she and I were comparing driver’s licenses to see that both of us spelled our name with a C and a Y. Given that I’ve met less than a handful of people my whole life that spelled their name like I do, I took it was a sign of good will from the universe that this Caryn was right next to me.

Then, as I was walking to where my plane to Philadelphia boarded, I thought I saw Bernie Sanders, IMG_4725sitting alone and waiting. No, I told myself, it just must be a guy who looks like Bernie Sanders but after seeing several people, mostly young people, walk up to him and shake his hand, I bolted over just as Jane, his wife who started as interim president of Goddard when I started teaching there, appeared. She remembered me, we caught up a bit, and I even got my picture with Bernie. On the plane, it turns out that Bernie was in the seat in front of me flying in coach, no entourage, working on a speech he had hand-written, smiling at the airline attendant, and even helping a woman with her suitcase when we disembarked. I ended up having another conversation with him and Jane, and found out they were flying to Minneapolis so Bernie could, as one would expect, go to Iowa. “Come on, Bern, the gate is this way,” Jane said as we wished each other well after Jane talked about how Goddard was her beloved alma mater.

Next was the challenge of getting just the right lunch in limited time before the longer plane ride to Kansas City. I have failed this challenge many times, ending up with sometime too greasy or tasteless or rushed. This time I paused in front of Legal Seafood and let my eyes land on “lobster roll.” Expensive? Yes, but given the abundance of charm already (a Caryn, a Bernie!), I told myself not to think and just to order. On the plane, when I opened the box, I was delighted to find an exquisitely overflowing lobster roll, some fries, and coleslaw.

The flight went without a hitch, yet when I landed, I found out Ken was stuck in traffic on I-70. No matter, I went to wait at baggage claim, grabbing Jerry’s (now my) suitcase before pausing at the Starbucks to get an iced green tea. Stepping outside into the 80-something degree day (not 90-something, another gift), I sipped my delicious tea, looked to my left, and there was Ken pulling up.

Hello, Lawrence!

Once back in Lawrence, I stepped through another set of doors, to our marvelous good co-op, the Merc, where I settled my way toward home by putting a lot of ripe peaces into a bag and doing other shopping before the rest of the way home to happy cats, an ecstatic dog, smiling sons, and a house not a complete wreck after being left to very busy men and very active animals for 13 days. Now I’m home with nothing to complain about when it comes to getting from point A to point B, and that’s about as perfect as travel gets.