Wednesday, April 27, 2005

One is silver and the other's gold

Brian frequently comments on how long my friendships last. Most of the people I am close with I have known for years. It’s important for me to keep friends for a long time. I like the familiarity of being with someone who has known me since I was ten years old. They know what I’m like. We’ve watched each other grow up. When I’m with someone I’ve known since the first week of college, I know that they’ve seen me through a lot of changes and that they understand something about why I am the way I am.

But underlying those reasons is something else, something that’s also important: if I didn’t have my old friends, I’d have to make new ones, and I find that prospect absolutely terrifying. I prefer to stick with the friends that I’ve known for so long that I wouldn’t know how to stop being friends with them. They’re like family: there are times when I’m not sure why I like them, but I know I love them dearly and life wouldn't be the same without them.

I’ve always been shy. Meeting new people can be a struggle for me, a painful one. I’m not entirely sure why that is, or what I’m afraid of. I suppose it’s probably a matter of self-confidence. And maybe I just don’t have enough practice. I lived in the same town until I left for college. The times when I needed to make new friends were few and far between. My closest friends, with a few important exceptions, are people I met on the first day of middle school and during the first week of college.

A couple of days ago, I had a wonderful afternoon with one of those exceptions, my friend Becca. Of my close friends, she is the one I have known for the shortest time. I met her during orientation, but we didn’t really become friends until our second year at Georgetown, when we had all our classes together. We spent a lot of time “studying” in cafes, with about a 3:1 ratio of chatting to studying. When she got married and moved to London, I was worried that we would fall out of touch and I would never see her again. But less than a year later, we were hanging out at a cafe and prowling used book stores, and it was as if she'd never left.

As we were sitting outside, enjoying the sun and our tea, talking about marriage and traveling and anything else that came up, I thought how strange it was that I felt so close to someone I've known for so short a time. It doesn't feel as though we've been friends for less than two years. If I think about it, I know that Becca doesn't know me in the same way as someone who has known me since I was ten years old, and I don't know her as well as I know the people that have been friends with for more than half my life. But somehow I feel as though I've known her forever. I started to wonder when that line was crossed, when she became such a good friend to me. Is there a specific moment in a friendship when that happens? If there was, I didn't notice when it happened, but I am happy that it did.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Don't talk to strangers

In the first few months after I moved to Washington, I noticed that strangers didn’t talk to me on the Metro the way they did on BART. Other Californians in my graduate program also noted that people were less friendly with strangers on the East Coast. I don’t think of myself as someone who talks to strangers. I rarely strike up a conversation with someone I don’t know—I’m too much of an introvert. But when someone speaks to me, I nearly always answer. Usually it’s a tourist who needs directions. Occasionally, someone will ask me about the book I’m reading. I will commiserate about the weather when a stranger offers to share his umbrella at the bus stop on an unexpectedly wet day. And these superficial conversations with strangers don’t make me uncomfortable.

There has been a man on my bus in the evenings, who has decided to initiate conversations with me. Something about him made me uncomfortable the first time, a few weeks ago, but I wasn’t entirely sure what it was. I was sitting near the front of the bus, talking with Marvin, the driver. When we pulled out of the Pentagon, I opened my book.

“Excuse me? Miss?” I was totally engrossed in my book, and it took me awhile to realize I was the one being addressed. I looked up. “Can I ask you a personal question?”

I looked at the man. I had noticed him when I first boarded the bus. He had been talking on the cell phone in a loud, slightly twangy voice. He was sitting near the front of the bus, and I had wished he would go to the back to finish his conversation. And now, he was sitting not too far from me, wanting to know if he could ask a personal question.

I glanced at Marvin. I could tell he was listening.

“Okay,” I said, not totally comfortable with it, but not feeling that I could say no. Besides, if the man was out of line, I knew Marvin would make him get off the bus.

“How many pages have you read?”

I was relieved. It seemed like a silly question, but it wasn't exactly personal. I looked down at my book, checking the page number. I don’t usually use a bookmark, choosing instead to note the page that I’m on, so I knew how many pages I’d read since I’d left work, how many I’d read on the Metro, how many I’d read on the bus from the Pentagon.

“Of this book?”

“Just since you’ve been on this bus.”

“Um, eighteen.”

“In what? Four minutes? Are you some kind of speed reader?”

“I—no. It’s a good book.” [Actually, it was a great book, and if you haven’t read The Kite Runner, you need to. Now.]

He apologized for bothering me. We exited the freeway, and I got off a few stops later.

I didn’t think about him again, until I was waiting for the bus earlier this week. Brian and I had ended up on the same train coming home, and I was talking to him when the same man interrupted me to ask the time. I answered him, and turned back to Brian.

“Now is that really the time? You aren’t one of these people who sets your watch 5 minute ahead or something?”

“No,” I told him. He, Brian, and I had a brief conversation about people who set clocks ahead. Then the bus came, and Brian and I spent the ride home talking with a woman who lives in our building. When we got home, and I mentioned that the man was the same one who had asked me about the book, he agreed that something about the man made you think he was weird.

Yesterday it happened again. I had noticed the stranger in line behind me for the bus. I settled down to read, and tried not to notice the man when he sat down across the aisle from me. Marvin wasn’t driving, and I was not up front near the driver.

“Excuse me, miss?” The bus was moving off of the freeway, merging onto the traffic circle. “Can I ask you a personal question?”

I didn’t want to say yes, but I wasn’t sure why. His last personal question had been harmless. But I felt uncomfortable. It wasn’t just that I didn’t know him. I didn’t know the man who had offered to share his umbrella with me while we waited for the Metro bus outside the Spanish embassy a few weeks back. But I had taken him up on his offer, and over the course of a few bus rides we had gotten to know each other. His name is Miles, and his wife had a baby girl back in December. He’s not a stranger anymore, but he started out that way. Why did this feel different?

I didn’t say yes. I just looked at him, waiting.

“Have you ever considered growing your hair longer?”

I turned away from him, looking straight ahead. I noticed that the woman in front of me had stopped reading. I didn’t know her name, but I’d smiled at her in greeting as I got on the bus, as we use the same bus stop and we have spoken casually before. I could tell she was listening. I wished Marvin was driving.

I didn’t know what to say. It was a personal question, and while I couldn’t say exactly why I didn’t like that he had asked me, I was certainly uncomfortable. I considered not saying anything.

“I’m not going to talk with you about my hair,” I told him at last, not looking at him, as the woman in front of me pulled the cord to request the next stop.

The man apologized, and I rose to follow the woman whose name I didn’t know but who was not a stranger off of the bus.

We had gotten off one stop before ours, and walked up the hill together. She told me that I had been right to not simply ignore the man, but to be direct with him. She had requested the stop, thinking it would be a good idea to just get away from that man. She turned to walk down her street as I walked up the stairs in front of my building. Next time I see her at the bus stop, I will ask her name.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


Take a look at the dnext website. I've watched the video about six times now, and I'm still not tired of it.

Friday, April 08, 2005

The pope's funeral

Although I am not Catholic, I got up a little earlier than usual today and sat down to watch the funeral of John Paul II. I don’t have a television, so I watched the video on my computer, and turned on NPR for sound, since the sound on the computer seemed choppy.

I thought it was beautiful. I have a great appreciation for traditional ceremonies—graduations, weddings, funerals—and the pope’s funeral was full of the pomp and circumstance that awes me.

For an instant I was offended by the knowledge that this one was so much more than any other Catholic would receive. It bothered me that people are dying in horrible circumstances every day, and people are making so much fuss about the death of one man. I wondered why everyone, even non-Catholics, was glorifying the leader of a religion that oppresses so many.* But I realized that these things didn’t bother me that much. He meant a lot to all the pilgrims who came to the funeral and to others around the world. The deaths of world leaders always draw more attention than the deaths of poor people in developing nations. Maybe that should upset me, but this morning it did not.

And so I sat and watched the pageantry. I loved the colors of the robes and learned about the water on the casket. I wondered how many people know what the Latin means and how many just recite the sounds. I marveled at the beauty of the singing. I was surprised by the applause. I was aware that this was a historical moment, and one that I would remember for a long time.

It was a beautiful service and I’m glad I watched it.

*I went back and forth over whether I should include that sentence. I’m not entirely sure why it concerned me so much; I guess I was worried about whether I would offend anyone. I decided to leave it in. Maybe on another day I will write something about differences between religions and the people that interpret them. But I will need to think those things through a little more before I can write anything worth sharing.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

100 things about me

Lists like this apparently went around on blogs awhile back. I found out about it on an awesome blog I recently discovered. Since I didn't have a blog back then, I'm doing one now.


1. I would rather be near the ocean than just about anywhere else.

2. I like to fly kites.

3. Patience is not one of my virtues.

4. I have a good memory for numbers.

5. I prefer Jif or Skippy peanut butter to the natural kinds.

6. I don't care that Jif and Skippy are bad for me.

7. I don't like peanuts.

8. I keep friends for a long time.

9. I sometimes laugh before the punchline.

10. I am not a tidy person.

11. I think I have pretty feet.

12. I am a vegetarian.

13. Purple and red are my favorite colors.

14. I am allergic to cats.

15. I have a cat anyhow.

16. I think my cat is the cutest little critter ever.

17. I wish she would let me pet her belly.

18. I love pizza.

19. I wish I knew more languages.

20. I hate doing the dishes.

21. I take pride in being a liberal.

22. I hate being told what to do, especially if it was something I was
planning on doing.

23. I will sometimes not do something I was planning on doing, just because someone told me to do it.

24. I will laugh at the same joke more than once.

25. I am a Giants fan.

26. I never leave baseball games early.

27. I love Mexican food.

28. And Indian food.

29. And Italian food.

30. I like to pack light.

31. I am afraid of the dark.

32. I feel most peaceful at the beach or in a church.

33. I am not a good singer.

34. I don't like math.

35. But I'm actually not too bad at it.

36. I do things the easy way.

37. I don't wear makeup.

38. I am easy to guilt trip.

39. I sleep on my right side.

40. I like to kayak.

41. I am afraid of heights.

42. I would like to write a novel someday.

43. I like the cake more than the frosting.

44. I cry easily.

45. My feet get tired faster in museums than anywhere else.

46. I prefer history museums to art museums.

47. I like art museums best if they are small and have a theme.

48. I can be very jealous.

49. I need orange juice to start my day the way other people need coffee.

50. I like folk music.

51. I read poetry and novels.

52. My favorite part of carving a jack-o-lantern is pulling out the seeds.

53. I believe that places that make Italian sodas with Sprite are evil.

54. I can't watch scary movies.

55. I like to read travel guides.

56. I don't really like to shop.

57. Except I like doing the grocery shopping.

58. Ice cream may be my most favorite food.

59. I am surprised by how many things on this list are about food.

60. I like to have a routine.

61. I sometimes stomp my foot when I am angry.

62. I walked a marathon once.

63. I am not a very good liar.

64. I lose a pair of sunglasses every summer.

65. I lose a hat every winter.

66. I don't floss every day.

67. I tried surfing once.

68. I tried skiing once.

69. Caffeine upsets my stomach.

70. Okay, lots of things upset my stomach.

71. I like to paint my toenails.

72. I don't like to drive.

73. I tend to be a backseat driver.

74. I don't like socks.

75. I am an introvert.

76. I believe giving and receiving are both pretty good.

77. I like pens with glittery ink.

78. White wine makes me drunk faster than red.

79. I can be snobby about my writing.

80. I like apple desserts.

81. I especially like apple desserts that have lots of cinnamon.

82. People tell me I seem organized, but I'm really not.

83. I love to bake.

84. I have never really outgrown that stage girls go through in their early teens where they love dolphins.

85. But I never had a "horsie" stage.

86. I am afraid of speaking in front of groups--even small ones.

87. I am a feminist.

88. It bugs me when people try to say they are more of a feminist that someone else.

89. When I don't shave my legs it is not because of any feminist principle. It is because I am lazy.

90. I sometimes cry at movies.

91. I cry reading books more often.

92. I have cried reading a book on the Metro.

93. I worry about house fires.

94. I am a morning person.

95. I consider myself a person of faith.

96. I prefer squishy pillows.

97. I don't always handle criticism well.

98. I like to eat outside.

99. I like monkeys.

100. I like giraffes because they remind me of my grandma.

Happy, shiny people

The sun is shining, and people are smiling and talking to one another. Is it warm weather that makes people friendly? Or is it just the change from warm weather to cold? Maybe we’ll all be keeping to ourselves again in a few weeks, but right now everyone is walking slowly, stopping to talk on the sidewalk, and smiling at strangers. No more hurrying from heated car to heated building as in the winter. And we haven’t yet reached the hot, muggy weather that will make everyone scurry between air conditioned locations without stopping to say hello to the people they pass.

I went with coworkers to eat lunch in the park today (for the third time this week). As we passed a man that was standing on the sidewalk near the picnic tables, he smiled at us.

“How are you?” one of my coworkers asked.

“Fabulous, brother,” he said, drawing each letter out slowly. “Just fabulous.”

Me too.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Before and after

There was a line in Jon Carroll’s column recently that made me think. I liked the whole column, the metaphor of the trapeze artist and all that, but what caught my attention was when he said that his daughter needs to “understand how to feel the moment just before and the moment just after” the trapeze’s momentum changes.

Sometimes I try to record a moment in my mind—-usually when something good is happening. I focus on the moment, hoping I can commit it to memory to pull up again later. I’m not entirely sure it’s successful. There are moments burned into my memory as clearly as if they had been recorded on tape, and I’m sure there are other memories that I’ve tried to preserve that have been pushed aside.

But what about the moments just before and just after the times that I am trying to hold onto? When I pause to say to myself “I will remember this,” do I remember what happens just before then or just after? Maybe.

Our first winter in Washington, it snowed in January, after Brian and I returned from a visit with our families in California. We went down to the Mall, because I wanted to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial covered in snow (the Korean War Veterans Memorial was actually even more striking that day). We had a snowball fight in Constitution Gardens. I remember that moment clearly, and I remember being out of breath and covered in snow, thinking “I need to remember today.” But what happened before and after? Those details aren’t clear.

But Carroll is talking about the change in momentum, and the times that surround that change. My life was not frozen for an instant at a momentous occasion that day on the Mall. What happens when the momentum in my life changes? When I tried to think of an instant when my life’s momentum changed, my mother’s illness and death about four years ago were the first things that came to mind.

I called my mom to ask her about a recipe one evening. I remember where I was sitting. I remember that the room didn’t have enough light. I remember the notebook on my lap, where I wrote down the instructions for the acorn squash. That was the moment before. And then she told me she was sick again. Her leukemia was back. I remember the sound of her voice, but not her words. I don’t remember afterwards. I must have hung up the phone and told Brian the news, but I don’t remember. Did we make squash with dinner that evening?

I remember when I first was told that she had died, only a few months later. I was still in bed at my in-laws’ house, before they were my in-laws. My father-in-law came in and told me that my mom had died. I remember that moment clearly, even though I had just woken up. But then I remembered the moments just before. The ringing of the phone woke me, and I knew what it meant. I curled up against Brian’s back and pretended to be asleep until Andy came in with the news. But just after? The moments just after are less clear. I remember eventually going downstairs and calling the hospital to talk to my dad. I reached the nurses’ station, and they found my aunt for me. I don’t remember what I said to her. I don’t remember if my dad came to the phone. I remember my hair being wet from the shower when we arrived at the hospital. And that is all. The rest of the day, up until my brother and sister arrived that night, just isn’t there.

Those memories of the moments just after are lost in the trauma of the event. With happier memories it is easier. I do remember the moment just before my wedding: I was standing in the entry way at Brian’s parents’ house, with my dad beside me, looking at our friends and family gathered in the living room, and thinking “Am I really going to do this?” And I remember the moment after, when we kissed and the music began. I remember that moment every time I hear that piece of music. And, truthfully, I don’t actually remember the actual moment—-the reading, the lighting of the unity candle, the vows-—all that well. There it is the moments before and after that are important: standing beside my dad, and then not wanting to let go of Brian.

With the happy memories and with the sad, I don’t think I was conscious of the moments before and the moments after, at least not in terms of their importance as being the moments before the pendulum swings. And I don’t know how I used those moments. Maybe these aren’t the kind of moments that Jon Carroll is talking about. But reading what he wrote, I understood that the moments just before and the moments just after are something to be conscious of. Perhaps in the future I will become conscious of how I can use those moments. Right now, concentrating on those moments, just for their own sake, is enough.