Time out

Tomorrow, I’m off to follow my dream. Tomorrow, I will be getting in my car to start a four-month road trip in which I karaoke in the 48 contiguous states. Tomorrow, I will begin my MelOdyssey.

I’ll be taking time away from this blog for a few months so I can focus on my new one. I hope you will follow me on my journey — and pursue your own as well.

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Follow your own path

Morning thought

I woke up to answer a text. A friend wishing me a great time on my journey to China. I responded:

“Thanks! Things are starting to fall into place. Or become unraveled. One of those two.”

I put the phone down, continued to lie in bed, and thought:

Or both.

I think that’s closer to the truth.

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My bus ride home from work last week.

Grief

My arms are heavy and tired. My hands are shaking. My chest is tight and empty; my heart doesn’t hurt because it’s not really there. Numb, fuzzy, in shock. I somehow made it to my car service appointment; listening to sports radio made me think of Molly – who am I going to discuss the latest Dan Patrick Show with? Who else appreciated that fact that I had a bizarre relationship with an ESPN radio host that lasted an odd four years?

No one.

I wait for my oil change by doing work. All done, and I get back into my car. I hate the fact that I have no floor mats, but I don’t have the strength to buy any. I go home, check email, review a document and collapse on the couch. My body is too heavy to move, so I stare at the ceiling. I want to have an Oscar party. It’s sunny so I think I should go outside, but I’m shivering. I thank the sky for being a beautiful blue today.

Molly and gang

I let social media know about our collective loss of an amazing person. I cringe when I figure out this is the way some people learn of her death. I obsessively read all the comments on my wall, her wall, and the walls of her husband, sister, and other friends. I don’t know most of these people, despite our 25-year friendship. She is a part of so many.

I want all my friends in my living room right now, and I never want to see anyone again. I want our group to get back together. We need to be together. Maybe even in a dilapidated house, all crammed together, living aimlessly like we did long ago. I think about the daring time Molly and I cleaned out the refrigerator, finding more than our share of liquid, fetid lemons (I think they were lemons). We also found some expired Fluff in the pantry from several tenants prior. She always got super annoyed when the other six of us at the house failed to buy toilet paper or ate her cheese. She did a good job keeping us in line, pretty much an impossible task.

Somehow there has to be a way for us to sing again. In the car, with the windows down, I want to sing Motown hits or Crowded House. We harmonized pretty well. As I typed this, there was a knock on my door. My passport has been returned to me, a new Chinese visa in place. I won’t get to compare notes with her on our visits. She isn’t here to help shape my trip. Or any other trip I will take again. I can’t believe we never left the country together, although our trip to Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky seemed pretty foreign at times. I’m grateful that she decided to spring for the convertible when we went to Hawaii together; I’m too much of a cheapskate to splurge on those details that are worth it.

I’m angry, but too tired to express it. Since I had to stand to answer the door, I let momentum carry me to put in a load of laundry. I have no idea how I will muster the energy to put it in the dryer. It’s so far away.

Molly

Tonight I will work on her obituary. I’ve never written one before. Though I’ve experienced loss before, this is the first time I’ve been called upon to formally articulate what it means to lose someone, to break the news to people that a loved one no longer walks this earth, to document a life that is nothing short of amazing. A life full of risk, stability, fun, dependability, strength, and talent.

I miss you already, Molly McKenna. You are a part of me.

10 Cent Wings, by Jonatha Brooke (one of the many artists Molly introduced me to)

If I knew what I was after
I’d remember where I’d been
If I was sure of something better
I’d go, I’d go

But I am just another picture
And I watch myself like you
I imagine what you’re thinking
I know, I know

Ten cent wings, I’ll take two
Pin them to my sweater and I’ll sail above the blue
Ten cent wings, tried and true
Orbiting like satellites I’ll sail away with you, you

I will love across the borders
I will wait until it’s dark
And I will fly and you’ll be with me
My wings, your heart

Then our memory may fail us
And our language will go too
But the shooting stars will catch our
Celestial view

Ten cent wings, I’ll take two
Pin them to my sweater and I’ll sail above the blue
Ten cent wings, tried and true
Orbiting like satellites I’ll sail away with you, you

But I’ll never tell, I’ll never say
I’ll never be that brave

Ten cent wings, I’ll take two
Pin them to my sweater and I’ll sail above the blue
Ten cent wings, tried and true
Orbiting like satellites I’ll sail away with you

Ten cent wings, I’ll take two
Pin them to my sweater and I’ll sail above the blue
Ten cent wings, tried and true
In another life you are with me, and I’m with you

Reading, writing, and cooking

For years, my mother and father have insisted on no presents for Christmas. I try to abide by this, and for the most part I am successful (every once in a while, I sneak in a small gift when I see something that resonates – a photo, or book – when I simply can’t resist). Instead, I donate money in their name to a cause that I believe reflects their values. For many years, I donated to the Oregon Humane Society in my old dog’s name since that’s where we found each other. My parents also met their most recent dog when he was found wandering the roads by their former country vet.  My brother and sister-in-law found their dog at the pound. We are a family of rescuers.

Lately, however, I’ve been donating to local classrooms through Donors Choose; my parents have always encouraged educational pursuits, so it only seems fitting. Oregon has some of the worst educational outcomes in the country, despite high levels of spending, so perhaps giving money to classrooms here seems like a somewhat a foolish decision. Still, I comb over the wish lists of 100s of teachers across the state – most asks revolve around technology. While I agree that classroom tech can result in better learning and better preparation for the workforce, I find I am not really drawn to those requests. I instead give to those asking in order to provide materials for less fundamental educational needs: Not math, but art; not tablets, but science equipment that allows students to mimic the analyses they see on countless crime shows. I want to support student learning in ways that foster connection in themselves and the world around them.

Last year, I gave money to a rural classroom teacher so she could buy cooking supplies for her middle-school students. In her request, she stated how her kids lack the basic skills needed to make a meal, and how the school no longer supports this sort of learning (does any school now, I wonder?). While I never learned how to cook in school – pretty much figuring it out through reading, watching, and trial and (lots of) error – I see cooking as a skill that should be taught. Cooking meals improves nutrition and eating habits and therefore overall health. It can even help with math skills when the need for doubling or halving a recipe arises; I’ve never seen a recipe without fractions.

Cooking slows a person down and allows them to focus on the now, and the people they are with. Preparing a meal can bring a young person closer to their family or culture, or help them learn about others. When people cook together, it requires communication and coordination. A home-cooked meal shows love, whether it is made for a large family or just one. When I sit with a meal I have made, I feel less alone.

When I was younger, I had the reputation for being a horrible cook. I’m not sure where that came from – possibly because I was such a tomboy, or perhaps I went to great lengths to place that label on myself, finding it a source of pride for whatever rebellious adolescent reason. Maybe I didn’t want to try to cook because I was afraid of failure. It’s taken a while, but I am less concerned with the idea of something not turning out right now. Yes, there are some great cooking and (especially) baking disasters,  but I’ve learned that oftentimes a culinary mishap can be salvaged. And, even if it can’t, the process itself proves to be relaxing and enjoyable to the point where I can actually say, “I like to cook.”

What I tend to eat for breakfast/lunch and sometimes dinner too, if we don't go out.

What I cooked for myself in Korea; I bet it will be a staple during Portland winters.

A few days ago, Dave and I tried our hand at jackfruit carnitas. A friend of his had made them a couple of weeks ago, and he thought they were great; websites touted that this vegan option was indistinguishable from the “real thing.” For some reason, he advertised our experimentation on social media and a friend, who is an excellent cook, wanted to taste the results; the invite was given.

I followed the recipe almost exactly, and even consulted with a friend who is known to put together excellent meals to make sure the spice combination sounded right. Seven hours in the slow cooker, and the result was bland. In a knee-jerk reaction to fix things, I added too much chili powder, which created a paradoxical spicy-boredom. We warned our soon-to-arrive guests of the preliminary results. They didn’t care and I believed them. When they got to our house, the cook came in, tasted the concoction, and simply stated “needs salt.” One quick fix and things turned out well (his amazing contributions of ceviche and caipirinhas made for an amazing meal).

I wonder if school cooking classes can incorporate lessons on failure. The practice of trying, the experience of things not working out, and the trouble-shooting of solutions; learning to adapt to an unexpected outcome. When we teach a young person how to cook, we teach them more life skills than simply providing sustenance.

We are Pilgrims

A friend from Oman calls on Facebook messenger to chat with Dave. He lives in Spain now, back in his flat in his homeland, after growing tired of the college we worked at and the Middle East in general. I love the fact that technology allows for face-to-face time. So immediate, and in some ways, authentic. We get to see each other as we are right now; me without makeup, he winding down his day, getting ready for a typical European late dinner (10pm!). Sharing the ordinary is simply extraordinary.

We get a tour of his flat, full of mementos of the lands he has traveled. One wall, decorated with masks from across Asia, serves as his background while we Skype. A continual reminder of lands and cultures he has experienced. I am making an effort these days to place more artifacts of my times across the globe – to turn my home into a better reflection of who I am and where I’ve been. Before I left, my home was pretty depersonalized; possibly because I shared it with someone who was more private. Possibly because, in an attempt to create a true shared space that represented both of us, the compromise resulted in a reflection of neither and no one. But now, four continents worth of memories are in my living room (for some reason, I didn’t grab anything from Australia); states across the US are represented as well. Textiles, artwork, and pottery: even a twenty-year-old pack of cigarettes and two bowling pins are all displayed to recall the past, enjoy today, and anticipate future journeys.

Our friend from Spain reflects on what’s next for him. “After a year, it will be time to move on. Things just get old after a while. I like different. We are pilgrims, where it is always time to try something new. To see new things. One year is a good time to rest, then something else. Life is interesting.”

I write this while sipping tea out of a mug depicting Snoopy exploring Canada; I bought it in Korea. While I know that sitting in the present is something that benefits me, I also know that I don’t want to become so wrapped up in what’s in front of me that I lose future goals. Goals of continued exploration, learning, and experiencing different.

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My Korean mug