Grammy: Trendsetter

My great-aunt, whom we all call Grammy, is a pretty phenomenal woman. She knows everything about most good things, and is happy to share that knowledge. She’d be the one I would call if I wanted to know what a strange bird was, or how to blanch something, or how to save a favorite quilt, or what my great-great-great grandfather was like, or how to play cribbage, or why exactly Pebble Mine is so controversial, or if I just wanted to feel loved.

A giant, trendy, Grammy-endorsed boot?

She is widely considered to be an authority on many things, both by my extended family and by her community. However, she is not often called on for her fashion expertise. You see, Grammy is a very active, naturally-beautiful, practical woman in her eighties, who values comfort and utility and long-lasting materials over trends. She is usually seen wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt, probably one with birds on it, and Birkenstocks with white socks. Her glasses, which she swings behind her back when she gives you one of her incredible hugs, hang on her chest by what I remember as a turquoise foam cord. Not really a fashion trendsetter, even in a Macklemore Thriftshop kind of way.

This fall, however, I saw her wearing boots that were so comfortable, durable, and practical, and all around awesome that I decided to copy her and get myself a pair. When I went to order them, they were backordered, and I waited painful weeks of cold rain without my exciting new fashion splurge. You see, they were L.L. Bean boots, which have been around forever, but are suddenly trendy. Trendy with young people.

At first, it really amused me that Grammy’s fashion was hip with the youth, but then I got to thinking about what else young people wear and the truth is they wear a lot of sweatpants and t-shirts of things that they like. Of course, their shirts have things like Notorious B.I.G. on them instead of Seabirds of Alaska, but let’s not quibble.

Also, how awesome is it that comfortable, practical, durable, made in the US women’s footwear is cool? It gives me hope that Youth of Today might grow up to be as awesome as my Grammy.

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.

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.

Frigidaire

My brother is disappointed because I’m not being a very friendly moth. “Write something!” he said. “Write something I want to read!”

“Like what?” But he didn’t have very good answers. Luckily, I figured it out: I can write about refrigerators.

Publicity photo for Stars Over Broadway with Jane Froman, James Melton (left), and Pat O’Brien, 1935

We had one. Then on Tuesday, its freezer stopped working. Our homegrown self-slaughtered chickens thawed. The fifteen pounds of berries I’d picked leaked out with the ice into a bloody puddle on the floor. My chocolate pudding ice cream turned into plain old chocolate pudding. Sometimes its easy to forget the fragile balance of life with machines. Sometimes life reminds you.

There we were at midnight, self-diagnosing our refrigerator on Nate’s telephone internet, hauling the fridge out to look at its backside with Nate’s internet telephone turned flashlight. Our diagnosis: call a pro.

Then came a period of what my mom calls “the life of a housewife.” I was personally involved in 23 phone calls and 13 texts on the subject of refrigerators, and that doesn’t include Nate’s calls to the landlord, the landlord’s calls to the repair guys, the repair guys calls to each other, Nate’s calls to appliance stores, or his call to our friend with a truck after the compressor was declared defunct and Nate took it upon himself to get a new fridge that night at Lowes. “Nate’s a doer,” said our landlord, during nearly the last phone call. “He’s a shaker and a – a – I can’t even think of the word.” Which is about right.

Now we have a new fridge! The chickens survived by being little chicken refugees in our neighbor’s freezer. The berry juice mostly came off the floor. I ate my ice cream. My brother has something to read. Something thrilling, right Buddy?

And if you would like to send us a photo of yourself, we’d put it, like my Aunt Buck would say, on our Frigidaire.

Swimsuit Season

You guys, I bought a swimsuit without having a panic attack. Sure, I did it through the mail, but I’ve tried to buy swimsuits through the mail before and nearly died of shame in the privacy of my own bathroom. The first time I bought a bikini — in a Southern California boutique while my boyfriend at the time did laps around the block in his van because if he turned it off it probably wouldn’t start again — I really did panic. In general, I like buying clothes and I like my body, but that day in the dressing room I remember hyperventilating and wishing I could melt into the floor.

It’s no secret that swimsuit shopping freaks a lot of people out. Things that feel perfectly great to wear underwater on a hot day are much less flattering in the hard light of a dressing room. Or a bathroom, for that matter. Also, it’s actually really hard to find a bikini that’s comfortable when you have breasts. They make most of them halter tops, which keeps them from looking like bras, but means that all of your breast-weight ends up hanging from a thin string tied around your neck, like when you go blueberry picking and they give you those tin cans to pick into. Having full can boobs myself, I think this is no fun. I’ve gone so far as to make my own swimsuit, which worked ok, but wore out eventually.

Anyway, this spring I wanted a new swimsuit. I wanted a great swimsuit. I wanted to buy summer and sunshine and sexiness and the feeling of diving into cold water and I wanted it to not hurt my neck or fall off or feel frumpy or unflatteringly revealing or cost a million dollars. See why this whole swimsuit-buying thing is so hard?

But this time around, the experience was so different. Partly, I wasn’t twenty-two in a string-bikini boutique in SoCal. And partly, I had Nate. He really should be some kind of volunteer swimsuit consultant. It would be a serious kind of community service. I showed him a LOT of swimsuits. He considered them patiently. He vetoed some and liked others, but his vetos were things like “that one makes it look like you’re trying to cover up something you don’t need to cover up.” See why I like to have this guy around?

In the end, I found a good suit. It isn’t quite summer-in-two-pieces, but what is? Summer, after all, isn’t something you can buy.

 

A Grateful Run

Running through the fog today, in the pre-festivity Thanksgiving morning lull, I started thinking about how grateful I am to have work that I love. Frog Hollow is pretty much my grown-up equivalent of unschooling; I get to share what I am passionate about with people who are bright-eyed and passionate themselves. It’s pretty great.

 
And I realized that homeschooling was what gave me the confidence and the trust to invent my own perfect job and make it real. This led me to feeling grateful (for the zillionth time) that I got to homeschool. There were the practical benefits, for instance that when I applied to Stanford homeschoolers were admitted at twice the general admissions rate, but beyond that, there were all the life skills I learned.

We had a class when I was miserably attending middle school that was called Life Skills, of which I remember two things: people being sent out in the hall for drawing on themselves, and a painful sex-ed video where a camera followed the journey of the sperm only everything was blue and there was bad synthesizer music.

Homeschooling, on the other hand, I learned a basic life philosophy, and I learned it through experience, without a synthesizer sound track. I learned what it feels like to follow what excites me and to trust that whatever crazy place it takes me is a good place for me to go and that if it ceases to be good, something new and exciting will open up. This is a huge life tool for someone as indecisive and hesitant as myself, and the times when I have used it have been some of the best.

Operating from that kind of inner motivation is a profound skill, especially in a culture as grade/prestige/image oriented as our own. It makes both success and rebellion authentic, and I believe that it is the source of most deep positive change in the world.

I feel grateful to have been raised with many role models and the encouragement to develop that in myself, and I feel incredibly lucky to do work that not only allows me to keep following my passions, but where I can encourage that in another generation of young people.

(This post appears as well on my new blog about teaching writing to homeschoolers. Most posts on that blog do not overlap with The Friendly Moth, so if you like what I write, check it out! You could even subscribe!)

Words to the Wise

This crazy thing is happening. My baby brother is starting college. He is installed in his dorm room, with his guitars and many blocks of cheese and mason jars of kombucha — did I mention he’s at Evergreen? As his much older sister, I potentially might be wiser, and even if I’m not, I have opinions. So here, for Aidan, is my setting-out-into-the-real-world advice.

Can you see why I had stories to tell about him?

Ready to take on the world.

1.Life is easiest when you stay on top of the details. Pay your bills on time. Do your homework on time. Don’t let the hairball in the shower get so big you think it’s a rat.

2. Listen to people’s words: Everything but yes really means no, whether the question is about if you can kiss them or borrow their peanut butter. Respecting what you hear is the essence of integrity.

3. Wear your seatbelt/helmet/condom — hopefully not at the same time.

4. You can’t talk anybody into loving you. See #2.

5. Consumer debt is enslavement to the status quo. Be wary of credit cards.

6. Cars don’t mix with texting/dancing/drinking/deep philosophical conversations/phone calls to your sister. To maximize fun, stay away from cars.

7. Don’t do things you don’t believe in: the integrity of what you do and believe and the love that those beliefs and actions embody is what gives life meaning. However, integrity is not the same as rigidity and judgment. Think of it as a supple rootedness rather than a line.

8. “I’m an artist and need to experience some things,” is not a better rationalization for doing stupid things than “Everyone else is doing it,” or “Woo hoo, freshman year!!!” In other words, lofty bohemians can still do slimy things. Be warned.

9. Speak up for what you love. It’s ok to get arrested if it is for something that matters.

10. School is not worth pulling all-nighters for. Girls are. (But see #1.)

11. Always ask for what you want. Don’t feel entitled to having it given to you.

12. Exploring altered consciousness is a time-honored human pursuit. However, traditionally it is done inside the shelter of a ritual, and in my observation that piece is important. Be picky about what you surround yourself with if you’re exploring — there can be unhealthy rituals too, like when the Mt. Si football team hammered bottle caps into each other’s biceps. Listen to yourself. Substance induced oblivion is not a sign of maturity or awesomeness. Trust me, ok? I’m right. Avoid needles. Meth sucks your soul out and makes you lose your virginity in public restrooms, so they say. Regardless, it’s gross and stupid. The process of making coke is just foul — that stuff is not just a plant. Mexican pot is fueling the drug lord insanity in Mexico. I know too many people who’ve died of heroin. Also, there are many ways to alter consciousness without substances: dancing, playing music, meditation, running barefoot in the rain….

13. Vote.

14. Buy your own underwear.

15. Remember your family loves you and we’re here for you, although you better take care of that hairball on your own.