Nate Abrupticates a Snapcaster: or, My Magic Relationship

Back before Nate, when I spent a lot of time with my journal articulating What I Wanted in a Relationship and making Man Lists with the hope that I’d end up with Something Awesome instead of drama and heartbreak or endless lonely doom, I distinctly remember saying I wanted a relationship with “a lot of magic in it.”

Well, I got that. Not only is Nate a guy who is deep and unafraid of mysteries and pretty much kicks ass at being a boyfriend, he’s also really into magic. Or I should say Magic, as in Magic: The Gathering, which if you don’t know, is an insanely strategic game with a cheesy fantasy guise. Nate plays online. A lot. You may have heard me struggle with this. Sometimes his relationship with me and Magic feels like polyamory, only without any risk of STI’s. To be fair, I’m writing a novel, which is its own kind of love affair. I just do more of it during working hours.

Anyhow, Nate plays lots of Magic, and watches lots of videos where people talk about “killing people infinitely with murderous redcap” and “trotting birthpod out there with three untapped manna.” These things make sense to him. When I eavesdrop, I can’t even tell when I’m mishearing the names of the cards: Celestial Purge, Kitchen Finks, Turmeric Zurich, Birds in Noble, Man a Leak — which of these are plausible? Nate knows.

Nate’s passion isn’t misplaced. He’s really good at the game. He just got invited to play in a prelim championship tournament because he was ranked in the top 150 players in his type of Magic. That’s the top 150 in the world. During the tournament, he kept coming inside with a dazed look, as if he’d just pulled a sword from a stone, having won again. He placed 34th (remember, that’s in the world), and was kind of disappointed. This is a man with some standards.

I’m bragging on him because he won’t do it himself. And also because I’m really glad he’s getting some outward recognition for his awesomeness. Because it may look like he’s just a guy in a shed with a computer and a hot sauce bottle — it might even feel like that to him — but there he is, in the top 150 in the world at something, and how many people can really say that? And beyond that, he’s a kind man, a smart man, a dedicated, persistent man, with a hot sauce bottle and a lot of inner, uncapitalized magic. The universe might like puns, but it sent me a good one.

Enough, October!

It’s been quite a month. It began with Nate and me getting desperately mad at each other for a week. Then our house got broken into while we were all at work and my computer and flute and a bunch of other stuff got stolen, including Nate’s awesome gold bolo tie that his grandma made him. Then Nate’s back went out. Then Squinchy gave me a black eye because he heard “jump!” when I said “duck under!” and he jumped over the tire I was hoping he’d crawl through and collided with my face. Then our housemate got sick. Then I got sick. Now Nate is sick. Also, our chickens got worms, and they aren’t laying because they are also molting. I’d like to blame it all on Mercury Retrograde, but that ended a while ago, and anyways, that just may not be fair.

In any case, enough, stars! Enough, October! It’s November now, Mercury is direct, I deep-cleaned my house, and the renter’s insurance sounds like they’ll do us right. So here’s to a new month.

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Important Insurance Documents Showing Stolen Flute and Locket. By the way, burglar, were you seven? If not, why did you want my locket?

That’s me on the Claps

When I was a lonely teenager, I had the conviction that the key to life was to turn the right direction down the right street at just the right time so that the Important and Spontaneous Thing could happen. I went on a lot of aimless walks where I dithered at the street corners under the immense pressure of being open to fate. Usually, nothing interesting happened. Now I think that worrying about serendipity is counter-productive. I focus more on walking confidently in a (semi) clear direction. But sometimes the random turn at the random moment does turn up a true, pure serendipitous thing.

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Take my last night in Dublin this September. I had gone out to look for some dinner. I was crossing the street, when I looked left and saw the sunlight shining on a bridge over the river. That’s where I’m going, I thought, so I did. On the bridge was a man in one of those Irish caps. He had binoculars, and he was looking at another man who was stumping around in the mud where the river usually was when the full moon hadn’t pulled the tide so low. What’s he looking for? I asked the man with the binos, and he gave me a look.The man in the river had a trowel in his hand and a cigarette in his mouth. I think he was a treasure hunter.

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The man with the binos’ name was Joe and he was from Dublin, and we started talking about things, which was a huge relief after four days in a hostel where no one wanted to put down their devices long enough to have a conversation. (Tangential rant: people, when you’re traveling, please get off the internet and talk to people so I can have some faith in humanity.) Joe decided to show me a block on Henrietta Street where all the old tenement houses were still standing, so we started to walk across the city.

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When we got to that one particular block, we heard music coming out of a building. Joe inquired and found out they were the Na Píobairí Uilleann — the Uilleann Pipe Society — recording a radio show. They invited us in to listen.

So there I was, fifteen minutes into a conversation with a stranger, in a basement with a bunch of Irish musicians playing incredible music. If you don’t know this, in studio shows are much more constructed than they sound. They don’t record the things in order. They recorded all the music, then took the clapping separate. We’ll take the applause for Sheila now. And we’d all (including Sheila) clap our hearts out. You can listen yourself if you like, thanks to radio archives. Maybe you’ll hear me cheering.

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Later, Joe and I were eating chips on a picnic table, when an old man in a dirty coat rode up on a bicycle. Joe offered him some chips, which few people would do in the U.S. The man sat down with us and told us stories of his time in Brooklyn and of marching against the Iraq war, even though he felt it was futile. I never did get dinner, unless Guinness and chips count, but I did get to listen to people I so easily might never have met. I don’t know if this was an Important Thing like I was imagining as a girl. It was something more subtle than money or love or fame or purpose. But I felt the current — the story — that moves through life. I felt that sense of possibility. And that’s still a reason I walk down the street.

Into the Wind

As many of you know, my cousin Evan died suddenly last Sunday. He collapsed while running a half marathon. He was twenty eight. Even though Evan lived in Seattle and our parents are close, I don’t think I’ve seen him since my sister’s wedding. It’s so easy to take people for granted.Evan Sebenius

There was a memorial for Evan at his folks’ house yesterday, a huge and beautiful party of a couple of hundred or more people who cared about this man. There were stricken faces and also there was laughter. There were sunflowers and music and food. There was a great amount of beer. It made me wish that everyone I knew would get married, because that’s the only other time people have a gathering that good in their honor, and with marriages they get to attend. They get to see how loved they are. Though in the cosmic merging of the afterlife, I would hope people feel loved too.

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Photo credit: Patti Pitcher

There is a circle of cedar trees at Evan’s family’s place, and they strung prayer flags up high in the branches that fluttered like spirits and made a circle to grieve inside. The cedars grow in a thick circle, and as I stood inside them I thought of how even as some of the magnificent trees fall over time, the circle will still stand and the remaining trees will grow to hold the space. That circle of trees feels holy, and it feels resilient.

I don’t know that trees grieve like we do, and I know Evan is deeply grieved, but I saw that same magnificence and resiliency in Evan’s circle of brothers and friends. They made something together, through their inter-grown lives. They made something that is still growing. It was so clear, watching people speak yesterday, that Evan is mourned by a community, not by a few straggling lone souls. This speaks to who he was as a person, and to the love he was raised inside.

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Photo credit: Patti Pitcher

At the end of the memorial, they released a cluster of balloons into the sky. As a childhood subscriber to Ranger Rick magazine, I admit I cringed at the thought of where they all would land, but there was also something so incredibly right about that act. His family stood in a tight circle and released the balloons, which wiggled slowly into the air. They moved strangely like sperm, which made a kind of beautiful, circular sense. As they rose, the sky seemed to grow larger. I could almost imagine infinity. It didn’t happen instantly; for a while the balloons seemed to hover, as if they were looking down at the party. Then they shrank into specks. People turned towards each other, moved towards the beer. I forgot to be watching the moment they disappeared into the clouds.

There is a memorial 5K run planned to honor Evan, and also a fund going to help out his family and let them complete the orchard that Evan had been helping build. It’s really beautiful to see so many people chip in to help.

Dublin Conundrum

So now I’m in Dublin, slowly heading home. Here’s my newcomer’s observations: Dublin is a city of contradictions. I’ve seen a nun in Birkenstocks, a man driving a horse and buggy while talking on a cell phone, a lady who had to move to England to divorce her pub-loving husband but many pairs of men holding hands, a bedraggled 1940’s boy scout canteen from North Bend Washington being sold for twenty euro in a flea market, the word “authentic” on everything that isn’t. 

Dublin looks as if its fashion-consultants were all alternative high schoolers in Seattle in the ’90’s. Lots of black lipstick, hair dyed the color of cherry lollypops, short dresses and frumpy sweaters, everything a little loud and a little awkward, like it’s a statement as much as an expression of natural grace.

I went to hear some traditional music in a pub outside the tourist district a couple of nights ago, and while the bar was a dead ringer for Conor Byrnes, this was no Seattle Old Time Jam. This was a bar full of people (lots of guys — lots of dudes) who were belting out the choruses of everything from “Wild Mountain Thyme” to “I’m Just a Teenage Dirtbag, Baby.” Not sure how that one made the trad cut. I drank my obligatory Guinness; the Irish drank Bulmer’s Cider. A girl with cherry pop hair and cherry pop lipstick drank a cherry pop colored drink. A guy spilled his beer in my hair and then headlocked me and kissed the top of my head to say sorry. I met a bunch of very sweet guys from Donnybrook. One of them insisted on walking me home, though he was smaller, younger, and drunker than I was. I hope he got home alright — he had much farther to go. When I showered in the morning, my hair gave of the artichoke smell of beer.

So that’s Dublin, or a flash of it. No pictures, because I’m in a hurry. 

The Bad British Biscuit Project

I’ve been doing a serious cultural investigation into the biscuit aisle of the grocery stores. I want to try as many kinds of bad British biscuits as I can. I think it’s because they a) are kind of wonderful in their badness, and b) they just aren’t as gross as cheap American cookies. They have real food ingredients (well, like white flour, sugar and safflower oil) instead of being solid GMO soy oil, cottonseed oil, corn syrup, sugar beets.

I’ve tried Hobnobs, Jaffa Cakes, Cafe Noirs, and lots of different digestives with and without chocolate. Luckily, the wonderful women I’ve been staying with have been very graciously assisting me eat all the bad biscuits. Also, I’ve been walking a lot, and as the Jaffa Cake wrapper reminds us, snacks are ok as part of a balanced life that includes vegetable eating and exercise. They even put a soccer ball on the box.

As I’ve been walking, I’ve been doing another serious cultural project: constructing the following photo essay about the Country Gates of Devon. I think this is probably The Friendly Moth’s post that is most likely to go viral. Enjoy!

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Hedgelaying

Yesterday I was reading an article about hedgelaying, which is the craft of maintaining hedges. Some hedges have been around for a thousand years, and they aren’t just a row of bushes — they are periodically cut and woven together into a living fence that then grows up providing berries and shelter for birds and voles and weasels. Anyhow, the whole subject was pretty fascinating.DSCN3474

Afterwards, I walked to this little biodynamic farm called Velwell Orchard, and who should I meet but a hedgelayer! Turns out they guy who runs the farm, Jeremy, makes his living building walls and laying hedges. The farm itself isn’t a moneymaking venture. Instead, it’s worked by volunteers (some of whom also donate money) who then get the produce. Jeremy says he ran it for three years as a commercial farm and lost 8000 quid, and has run it as a community venture for two years and hasn’t lost anything. Instead of being a model where everyone is trying to get the best deal, his is a model that is based on generosity. He gives people veggies, and they give their time. 

In my case, I helped him turn a big compost pile. Then we had tea. I went home with a wealth of raspberries, tomatoes, beans and zucchini (er, excuse me — they’re courgettes here). It was interesting — I felt shy taking it all, and wished I could have worked more, given more. Whereas if I’d spent two hours worth of money buying those veggies, I’m not sure if I would have felt like I’d gotten a good deal. And back home, the generosity continued, as I felt no hesitations sharing the raspberries with my housemate here.

Jeremy and I had an interesting conversation about invasive species. I’ve always felt like people’s intense hatred of them is a projection of our own guilt, as Western culture is the most invasive presence of all. Of course, it’s not quite the same in England, where there are thousand year old hedges. In the US it’s hard to find a way of living that really feels right — some kind of middle ground between concrete strip malls and primeval forest. It’s so easy for things to feel like a pose or a starry-eyed experiment. Here, though, there’s another story. Take the hedges. A person could trim them with a machine, which makes them so patchy they have to be lined with a wire fence, and trims off the fruiting wood. That’s the modern way. Or a person could let the hedge turn into a row of trees, and then a swath of trees, and then a whole wild woodland. Or there’s that old middle way, hedgelaying, which makes wildlife habitat and farmland, and can also pay a generous young farmer’s bills.