Crunched

I’m not yet convinced that my hand will ever make a fist again, or that my fingers will stand up straight. For more than ten weeks I’ve been trying to train them, but like beginner yoga students, they don’t assume quite the right position without a push. The ring finger will bend nicely at the middle joint but hardly at the tip. Its little neighbor bends somewhat nicely at every joint but doesn’t stay in its own path, preferring to lie on top of the ring finger. The hand therapist measures my progress in millimeters, and when I get frustrated, she assures me that I’m getting better even if it’s not obvious.

Due to a reckless moment on my bike in early March, my right hand has progressed from total incapacity to partial usefulness to, now, a stiff and sensitive version of almost-normalcy. It started with foolishness, pain, and regret. During the second half of a long bike ride, I came to a familiar juncture where the bike path broke continuity to cross a busy street. I hadn’t been there in a while but I knew the way to get back on the path was to ease up onto the sidewalk via the curb cut … or was it? Maybe I had to get on the street, in the bike lane, instead. With a split-second maneuver I decided to do the latter, and a moment later saw that I’d been wrong. There was a curb between me and my intended route. From a place of bad judgment came the idea that I could jump it on my steel-framed touring bike. So I tried, and speedily crashed forward into the pavement. (more…)

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A sense of gratitude

Dear friends,

Have you noticed that I started using this salutation last year, for some (maybe many) posts? It is supposed to make my blog seem like a less formal place for writing, to take the pressure off, to make me feel like I’m composing a letter (which I still do, sometimes, with pen and paper) instead of an essay. The net effect should be that I write more prolifically. It hasn’t worked very well, but I still enjoy—and need the outlet of—writing, so I will keep coming back here.

Today’s post is about embracing the good. By and large, I’m not a complainer. Even as a kid I held the notion that negative attitudes are a drain on a person’s energy and a drag for everybody around. I complain about the complainers! But lately I have shamefully expressed some gripes about my own life. The list is short: (1) I am single again. (2) My belly fat is unattractive and makes my clothes too tight.

Right away, you’ll see that the brevity of this list indicates that my life is pretty f*cking good. And if that’s what you’re thinking, I heartily agree with you. Here’s why. (more…)

Dreams for the new year

Some friends of mine have a Dream Collage party at the beginning of every January. They gather a bunch of people in their little apartment with piles of magazines, sticks of glue, sheets of poster board, and pairs of scissors, with the intent of having us depict what we wish to happen in our lives over the coming year. I think of it more as an Intent Collage, since I don’t believe in the direct manifestation of thoughts and dreams. (Probably few of us really do.) I created my first one two years ago and still had it hanging on my bedroom door until yesterday. I filled it with pictures of things that I wanted to cultivate in my life or in my personality—but then mostly forgot about it. I’m sure I could have put it to better use by letting it be a reminder of what I had wanted for myself.

Anyway, this year I’ve made another collage, and a few themes emerged.

Dream Collage

Bikes: Always bikes. Every year, bikes. Not so much like that girl in the photo, who is clearly out for more of a cruise than an adventure. (Hey, it’s all relative.) I don’t often wear a dress while cycling, but it’s a cute photo, showing an environment that I’d be happy to find myself in. But I’d rather be in the top-left-corner scenario. It’s not unattainable just because it was staged on a mountaintop. I’ve had a mind to ride across Mt. Hood one of these days, and up to the rim of Crater Lake another one of these days. Either or both may not happen this year, but somewhere, somehow, I must go on a tour. (more…)

2012 retrospective

January

It was going to be the year of bike touring. I woke up in 2012 at Stub Stewart State Park, having biked there from Hillsboro with a group of friends to celebrate New Year’s Eve with two nights of cabin camping. Although it had been an easy 22-mile ride, I reacted to the dawning of the New Year with relief that I wouldn’t have to pack up my gear and pedal home that day. Most of my prior bike camping trips had lasted a single night each, allowing little time for laziness in the morning, as it was always best to head out by 11:00 to get home at a reasonable time. And mornings were always cold. This time we were tucked into heated cabins full of furniture, food, and board games that people had stashed in their panniers. I had the entirety of New Year’s Day to play silly games like Taboo, read my book, drink from various bottles of liquor sitting on the windowsill, and take a couple naps on the bunk bed while eavesdropping on friendly conversations. It was thoroughly relaxing.

Later that month, I bought some Adventure Cycling Association maps and cultivated the idea of a bike tour down the Oregon coast into northern California.

February

On a day in mid-February, I walked into my office for a day of work just as I’d done for the past eight months. Nothing was different except that I had just been converted from contractor to full-time employee of the company. Procedures dictated that I be treated as a newcomer and receive a two-hour orientation. I listened half-carefully during the session while skimming the employee handbook. At one point, the company president walked into our conference room and shooed us out because he needed the meeting space. He was friendly, and when he found out that we were new employees, he introduced himself to us. My hands were busy cradling all the orientation paperwork and a coffee cup, so unfortunately I couldn’t accept his handshake. He welcomed me to the company anyway, and some indignant part of me wanted to say, “Haha! That’s cute of you, but actually, I’ve been working here for a while and I’m too good for this orientation. Will you please tell this HR person to let me return to my work?” Instead, of course, I left quietly and followed the trainer into the lobby so she could finish telling me things I already knew. I haven’t had a chance to meet the president since. (more…)

Heartaches and stomach pains

I didn’t really want a carton of french fries and a huge milkshake. It’s rare anymore that I have a craving that junk food would genuinely satisfy. But after this happened I was hungry, and lazy, and felt like I actually should feed myself junk against my own will. I thought it might help the indistinctly crappy emotional phase I had just entered by breaking up with a boyfriend. My true melancholia was gone. I’d already spent the past week feeling my way through the inevitable, lying on friends’ couches, drinking more vodka than I’m accustomed to. By the time I hit the Burgerville drive-thru I was ready to look forward—just not quite ready to start caring properly for myself. I deserved the stomachache I had for the rest of the evening.

It’s been a couple of days and I’m still in limbo, still indulging these unhealthy couch-potato cravings that seem to come from a juvenile place. I know better than to fill my life with distractions instead of real hobbies and reflections. I guess I’d like to be excused from those responsibilities for a little while longer. It seems a bit unnecessary because I’ve been through the worst already. When things get back to normal, however, the past will come into focus again and I’ll need to acknowledge that I recently had a relationship that I was pretty happy about for a while. There’s no serious heartbreak here, but underlying the numbness and frustrated disappointment, I’m afraid there could be real sadness.

It comes in waves

Glued into a photo album somewhere is a picture of me, at age eight or nine, hugging my knees and staring at the ocean thoughtfully. Half of my legs are covered by a red San Francisco 49ers sweatshirt, and my face is covered by a big pair of glasses and long, straight, sun-bleached hair. My family and I are vacationing at the Oregon coast from Sacramento. The cloudy day doesn’t bother me; beaches are among my favorite places in the world.

I’m drawn to the water. I’ve been climbing intertidal rocks in search of a high spot where I can sit apart from everybody for a while. As I often do, I want to be alone to think. What am I thinking about?

A few weeks ago I drove to the small town of Oceanside for a contemplative two-day spell. The weather was cool and verging on foggy, but it had stopped raining a day or two ago. I headed for the beach as if I had an appointment to keep. On a scarce patch of dry sand I stopped, laid out a towel, took off my shoes, opened a book, and let myself relax in the way I’d anticipated all morning. But I kept looking up from my book to the northern end of the beach, where a tunnel had been bored into a sea cliff. There was a neighboring beach on the other side. Overcome by curiosity, I packed up and went. (more…)

My uncertain history

You might have seen that Seinfeld episode where Jerry talks about the mark of a bad Christmas gift: when the recipient sort of narrates it out loud, as in, “Ohhhh, crew socks! Great!” I usually laugh at that joke because I see the truth in it. But it wasn’t true for me in December 2001, when I opened a Christmas present from my college boyfriend. As the torn wrapping revealed a distinctive red box, I read aloud from the label, “It’s Fun … It’s Challenging … It’s Scrabble!” I was grinning shyly as I gazed at it, unsure of the proper etiquette of expression. It was a unique situation. I was eighteen, and he was the first guy I’d ever dated.

We had made it official just a couple weeks before our gift exchange. In his single dorm room, which was notably absent of visitors that night, despite the open door, we confessed our feelings for each other. It came as a sort of relief to some of our friends, who had noticed the attraction and debilitating shyness between us and had not-so-quietly encouraged the union. After our anxious and awkward declaration, I ran upstairs and squealed the news to my friend Jessica, doing a manic little dance inside her room. I was exhilarated and completely innocent. (more…)

Youthful follies

I’ve never read the Twilight series, nor have I seen the movies, nor have I felt a need to hate either one. Based on secondhand commentaries alone, I’m pretty confident that it’s a goofy story without any obvious draw for me. As a cultural phenomenon, however, I find the study of it interesting enough to (at least) pass the time during lulls at work. Sometimes I do appreciate being clued in to what’s happening in the world I share with other media consumers.

In my daily reading of the Skepchick blog I found a link to a three-year-old Twilight dicussion that had garnered more than 500 comments. (Hey, that’ll take up some time!) The first 75 comments or so comprised a well-reasoned dissection of the movie’s message to young girls. Then, a little farther down the thread, the Twilight fans invaded. They came in with usernames like xVampiresxArexSexyx, with poor spelling skills, and with malformed ideas about romance. They came to disagree with the criticisms of the original poster, to tell other critics that they just don’t understand, and to insinuate that everybody secretly longs for a relationship like Bella’s and Edward’s. In short, they came to fulfill stereotypes. To wit:

“I thought they [the books] were funny and dont’ depict how love really is but depicts how everyone wishes love would be [aside: This is precisely the problem, but that’s a discussion for another day]. He loves her and she loves him and they want to be together forever. What is so horrible about all that?”

“i mean, its not even bad if you rally focus on all the stuff in it, i mean, even my grandmother wants to see it. its just about love, vampires, fighting, and everything else that people love in life.”

(more…)

Sharing the gray

It’s the couples who are in middle age, or beyond, that tend to catch my eye. There were several in front of me at the coffee shop where I spent a quiet morning today, eating breakfast and reading a magazine. Through glances, I watched the pair who sat at the counter facing the window. She was very slim, with salt-and-pepper hair, wearing a denim skirt and a Columbia Sportswear jacket around her waist. Her partner wore a polo short and had nothing around his own waist but a bit of extra flesh. They perched on stools next to each other and read a shared copy of the Willamette Week, exchanging brief and quiet commentary on the news within.

I know that I’m reading too much into a quick observation, but that couple represents a state of being that I deeply wish for and fear I will never have. They are comfortable together, having spent many years in each other’s company. They go on hikes and on neighborhood walks. They have shared rituals. He is far from perfect. She is too, and he knows it well but still treats her like royalty—often enough, at least, that she always remembers how important she is to him. They have long ago made a choice to devote themselves to this partnership. In the face of that devotion, that promise, their personal habits and flaws matter no more. They have settled on each other. (more…)

My inner child, in person

She wanted a balloon. Red Robin had a bin of them, un-inflated, at the hostess booth. With no employees nearby, Simone reached in and picked one out. I didn’t mind, but the hostess looked a little cross as she came up and offered to seat us. I’m sure it’s verboten to let customers touch the contents of the hostess booth. Still we kept the limp, pink balloon and took it with us to our table. Simone (not her real name) was more interested in it, and in just about everything around us, than she was in ordering food. I kept it in my hand, and made us finish most of our meals before I put the balloon to my lips and blew it up for her. It was less than ideally plump, but we had fun batting it gently across the small table to each other.

We soon realized that, given the pathetic job I’d done at blowing it up, the balloon wasn’t even energetic enough to float at the end of a string. So we grabbed one of the already-inflated balloons on our way out of the restaurant. I carried the limp one back to the car while Simone carried the new, vibrant orange one, keeping a tight hold as the wind tried to loosen it. To her it became a lively pet on a leash. In the car, she talked to it and coaxed it onto her lap. It was a boy, and the other (pink) balloon was its sister. I agreed to let brother and sister share the backseat while we drove back to Simone’s house. When I dropped her off, I had to promise the pink balloon that I would play with it.

A child’s imagination yields constant surprises. I thought I had a reasonably good imagination, at least for a grown-up, until I started mentoring a seven-year-old girl (who recently turned eight). Every object we encounter plays a role belied by its mundane appearance. Pieces of tree bark are life-giving talismans to fortify us in a battle against trolls in the park. A dirty pen cap found on the street is a magical paintbrush. A pine branch, when dragged along the ground after a rain, is a dog that likes to play in puddles. (more…)

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