Thursday, December 31, 2009

everything that happens is from now on . . .

the end of the year nostalgia is coming over me in various waves of emotions.

in summary :: i loved a boy, and it felt like freedom not bondage. laurie and i had an art show. we danced with manny. we called it 360 degrees of love because everywhere we looked, there were people to love. i student taught. i drank a lot of gin and tonics. i had crushes on boys and some of those crushes bore fruit. i lived with sarah and watched the sun set every night over lawrenceville. i listened to a lot of bon iver. my college ex-boyfriend told me to never contact him ever again. i watched a lot of birds flying in the sky. i ate a lot of pierogies. the boy broke up with me. i wrote a break up song about it. we got back together. i got a masters degree. i spent most of my time with mrs. foster and her 3rd grade class at miller. chris and lacy left pittsburgh and moved to boulder. my church bought a building. my dad moved to boston. i drove across the country with laurie. we had more fun than i could have ever imagined. i moved to the grand canyon. i met my arch-nemesis. i fought with 19 year old christians about whether or not drinking was a sin. i spent months in total seclusion. i went to flagstaff a lot. i went to bedrock city. i met luis, an 80-year old cuban who i loved. i didn't miss anyone. i was happier than ever. i was free. i lived the dream. i ate a lot of ramen noodle soup and hot dogs. i spent a lot of time in bed. i spent a lot of time traveling. kate, paul, denise, my parents and amanda came to visit me. i changed, a lot. i left the grand canyon. dominic and i drove across the country. we spent a night at the coral sand dunes in utah. we saw chris and lacy in boulder and danced to youtube videos all night. we saw the bridges of madison county. i saw the sun rise over lake michigan with the skyline of chicago behind me. dominic and i fell out of love with each other on interstate 80 in nebraska. i moved back to pittsburgh and moved in with laurie. i had a difficult time settling back in. i questioned all of my relationships and friendships and motives. steve moved to pittsburgh. i drank a lot of gin and tonics. i took a lot of pictures. i longed for more. i pulled a cop over for running a red light. i was more hipster than ever. i struggled with what it means to be a christian more than ever. i struggled, generally, more than ever. i did things i never would have thought i'd do. i watched people do things i would have never thought they'd do. i learned more about grace and humility than ever before. i tried to be honest with myself and everyone else and, hopefully, everyone who was part of this endeavor grew a little, changed a little, but most importantly, laughed a little at my exploration of the truth.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

letters to a young poet

when i was in the grand canyon, steve told me to read it. it took me a while. i'm reading it now. it comes as a sort of haunting reminder.

themes of isolation and solitude vs. community and intimacy seem to be overloading my brain lately. confused about attachment. confused, too, about human love, in general. confused, then, too, about what it means to be a christian.

here's a few, in a list of many, good things found in this book.
"the necessary thing is after all but this: solitude, great inner solitude. going-into-oneself and for hours meeting no one - this one must be able to attain. to be solitary, the way one was solitary as a child, when the grownups went around involved with things that seemed important and big because they themselves looked so busy and because one comprehended nothing of their doings."

"and if it worries and torments you to think of your childhood and of the simplicity and quiet that goes with it, because you cannot believe any more in God, who appears everywhere in it, then ask yourself, whether you really have lost God? is if not rather, that you have never yet posessed him? for when should that have been? do you believe that a child can hold him, him who men bear only with effort and whose weight compresses the old? do you believe that anyone who really has him could lose him like a little stone, or do you not think rather that whoever had him could only be lost by him?"

"and you should not let yourself be confused in your solitude by the fact that there is something in you that wants to break out of it. this very wish will help you, if you use it quietly, and deliberately and like a tool, to spread out your solitude over white country. because people have (with the help of conventions) oriented all their solutions toward the easy and toward the easiest side of easy; but it is clear that we must hold to what is difficult; everything alive holds to it, everything in Nature grows and defends itself in its own way and is characteristically and spontaneously in itself, seeks at all costs to be so and against opposition. we know little, but that we must hold to what is difficult is a certainty that will not forsake us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it."

"to love is good, too: love being difficult. for one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation."

Friday, December 11, 2009

eyes wide open

my bed - it's my mother's from when she was a child. my lamp - it's from the time that my mom and i were driving to central pennsylvania to visit family and stopped at the antique shop outside of new bethlehem. the green chair - sarah, andrew and i carried that chair from locust street to the vanbraam apartment. the lady bug pillow case - i told a friend at school that i liked it, so she took it off of her pillow and gave it to me to keep, leaving her pillow bare. the old reader's digest books stacked on the mantel - they're from the trip to appalachia in college; sarah helped me pick them out. the lamp hanging in the window is a christmas present from my brother and his ex-girlfriend. the framed print above my head - red mountains - is from my dad. the paul simon songbook, the rug at my feet, my winter coat, the tea cups, the lights outside of my window, the street that i've driven on almost daily for my entire life, the street light hanging in my view: red, yellow, green. the nick drake song that i listened to on repeat when he told me about when his mom died. sitting at ritters with steve and singing along to "rocket man" with half of the people filling the diner.

this is just as good at adventure. the old is just as meaningful as the new. tonight we said that balance was the hardest thing - it takes a lot more discipline, strength and work than being an extremist. i will have to remind myself that i need a balance of these two lives. neither one is better than the other.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

everything is meaningless

he's tall and thin with long black hair. we've worked together for a few months now, but i've been so consumed by how attractive he is that i've been unable to talk to him. today is the last day of work and it's his job to drive me around to the general offices, uniform center and housing to hand in paper work, turn in my uniform and give back my key. we get into the van, he rolls down the window and "every rose has a thorn" has never sounded better. the sky is blue, the sun is shining and there are large white clouds littering the sky above us. his wrists are square with tiny threads of fabric framing them.

we stop at the general offices and i get some papers signed. when i come back out of the building, he's leaning against the white van. he's smoking a cigarette and the classic rock station is playing loudly. we only get three radio stations here. i approach him and he asks me if i'm in a rush - if it's okay if we take our time. i tell him that it's fine. he finishes his cigarette and we get into the car. we drive around for a while. to drive from one end of the grand canyon village to another is about a mile drive. so we make the loop a few times. the conversation opens up quickly and intimately. our time here is now limited and ending - i will be leaving in a few days. there is no time for bullshit now. he wants to know why i'm leaving. i brace myself because i know that for the first time, i'm going to be honest.

i tell him this, "sometimes you make decisions. and you're not sure why you make them. or if they're right. but you just sort of have to go through with them." i can tell that he understands what i'm telling him. i'm telling him that i am a scared child - that i don't know why i'm leaving, that i have no good reason, that it's probably the wrong decision - but i'm going to do it anyway, because i'm scared of what it would mean to stay.

staying would have meant that the people who i cared about - i don't actually care about. staying would mean that everything that i had built my life to be was wrong - a lie. staying would mean that the purpose of my life is happiness, not love, not community, not growth, not change and transformation. staying would mean that all of the things that mattered to me didn't matter. staying would mean that love isn't the answer, that relationships don't make me happy, that intimacy doesn't really mean anything to me.

and here i am now stuck. feeling like it's all true :: everything is meaningless. i don't actually care. everything that i thought mattered doesn't matter. i want to be alone. i want to go home early. i'm in so many places with so many people and i don't like it. everything i did that was important to me isn't important to me anymore. like the only purpose to my life is happiness. and i've met happiness and i know her well. only, now i'm stuck in a gray, rainy city where happiness is as rare as the sun.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

who the hell did i think i was?

top 5 things that i miss about the grand canyon:

1. my job. i liked working at a front desk - a lot. and i liked my coworkers. we had fun together. i never dreaded work. i never wanted to sleep later or not go in at all. i always wanted to be there, to hang out, laugh and have a good time with my coworkers and the guests.
2. the acceptance. i've never been in a place as accepting or open minded. it doesn't matter if you went to college, work at mcdonalds, or if you're 55 and living in a dormitory with a 20 year old from thailand. it doesn't matter if you're an alcoholic, a loser, an outcast, or a recluse. everyone - and i mean - everyone is there because something about normal life doesn't appeal to them / or something about normal life doesn't work for them.
3. simplicity / rhythm: my life there can be summed up like this - work, save money, see things, take pictures of things, sleep, rest, write, go to church, consume as little as possible.
4. no expectations. no one had any expectations of me. and i had none of anyone else. i wasn't supposed to be anything - i was a person without history. i was taken completely out of context. i wasn't great, or funny, or awesome, or spiritually mature. i wasn't fun, or smart, or nice, or mean - i was nothing. and we all kept just enough distance that we never burdened one another with our expectations.
5. happiness. i was just always happy.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

the hour when the ship comes in

these are some pictures from frick park with mark, steve & jon. the sun was magical this day. it's the first time i remember seeing the sun since the day that i arrived home. i love a gray city - but i do think that all of the rain and clouds make it more difficult to stop feeling gloomy sometimes.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

i wish i understood what he was singing

it's been a month now since i left the grand canyon. it's been a dull, slow shock to my system. leaving the comfort and safety of happiness, isolation and simplicity to return to the realities of life and relationships and what it means to be human. i will watch great men fail. i will be hurt by people who love me. i will do things that i would have never thought i would do. i will change. i will look back, and look forward, and have no idea who i am, or who i've been. i will try to relate to a God who i love so deeply, and i will fail constantly. i will stop trying to relate to that God, even though i love Him deeply. i will lie to myself. i will lie to everyone. i will try to manipulate the people i love the most. i will allow them to manipulate me. i will not do what is best for me.

why would i leave the grand canyon? i didn't miss my friends, i didn't miss my home, i didn't really have a boy to come home to, i didn't have a better job in pittsburgh - and i liked it in arizona, a lot. there are many parts to this answer. but the answer that i can give, that makes me the least vulnerable to my listeners, is that i don't think happiness is the only way to measure meaning in my life. i think the nature of retreat is rest, happiness and simplicity. most importantly, it's temporary. if it lasted, it wouldn't be the same - it'd be real life. the question then becomes, how do i take parts of that time with me? how do i find a balance? or - are they too black and white? the city and the wilderness. community and isolation. desert and forest. i don't know the answer.

i used to be a christian who set up pretty conventional boundaries and lived by pretty conventional rules that helped me stay safe and happy. it helped me avoid ever getting hurt. it helped me avoid the contradictions, the gray areas, the dirt, the mess - the reality. it was like living in the grand canyon. good - happy - peaceful - beautiful - but not real. and the problem is that once you've been pushed too far, once you've gone past those boundaries, you can't go back. the old ways just don't fit - the old ways of relating to God and people and yourself just don't work. and i'm left with the same question that i ask myself about the grand canyon and pittsburgh - what do i do now? how do i find a balance? or - are they too black and white?

i took these pictures this morning. they are for brian werner.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

this is not the sound of a new man / or a crispy realization / it's the sound of the unlock and the lift away

at 5 am, it was too early to leave and too late to go back to sleep. plus i just wasn't tired anymore. i was woken up by the sound of laughter and shoes going up and down the stairs to get more beer from the refrigerator. i was kept awake by feelings of loneliness and emptiness. i was aware, at the time, of the difference between being alone and feeling lonely.

i got dressed. put my shoes on and walked to lake michigan. having a vague idea of the layout of chicago since i'd once flown into the city and made a mental image of it, it only took me a few wrong turns to finally get to the lake. it was still completely dark out. the city shined so brightly, making everything yellow. knowing instinctively that i needed to be near something big again. something so big that even in the darkness, the presence of this thing so big could be felt and understood enough to make me feel small. i sat quietly, listening to the water, listening to my little tiny voice sing hymns, reminding myself of the things i too often and too quickly forget.

the night before, walking around chicago, was so hard for me. the smells of perfume, the noise, the people, the drinking, the smoking, the stores, the signs, the lights - i felt like all of my senses were being overwhelmed by chaos. i was confused. i didn't want to be there. i wanted to go backwards or forwards. i wanted to go back to arizona or i wanted to go home to my friends. but i couldn't, i was stuck in the city for the night.

so, this is real life. this is wanting again. this is what it feels like to desire something. this is what it feels like when enough isn't enough. this is less is not more. this is the feeling of hot tears on your cheeks again, dripping down your neck. this is the comfort of your insanity. this is the crazy seeping back into your bones and veins. this is hysterical. this is when you're not strong enough to separate reality from your imagination.

so i left. a few states later, i crossed into pennsylvania and then eventually i crossed the veteran's bridge into downtown pittsburgh. then i crossed the bloomfield bridge to laurie's house. and then we crossed the street to ritter's and ate pierogies.

who will love / what's love when you've hurt / you wonder as you see the snow kissed curb / love is love's return

we left boulder. we spent the day driving to nebraska. slept outside of lincoln. woke in the morning and drove through iowa to chicago. there was snow. and then there was chicago. and then there was night.

omaha, nebraska. the bridges of madison county

i will freeze until the end / love is love's reprieve

after zion, we woke up and drove to colorado. we stopped in bryce on the way and also passed through capitol reef national park. this was one of the longest drives in my life. we were in the middle of nowhere - and by nowhere, i really mean, nowhere. not middle of nowhere pennsylvania, middle of nowhere utah. i started to go a little insane. by this point, i was tired of the isolation. tired of the nothingness. tired of the red rock, the crazy landscape, tired of a world that didn't feel like home. most of the day was spent driving through this kind of landscape. eventually, we made to colorado and on the other side of the border, we stopped in mancos, a small town i'd spent some in before. we stayed at a motel, woke in the morning, had great breakfast and drove through the san juan mountains up to boulder. there was snow. there was cold. my pictures sucked because of the fog and gray. eventually we made it to boulder and spent the night two nights with chris and lacy. this was precious time.

san juan mountains are the most scenic mountains in america.
these pictures do an awful job at showing that.
this put in a bad mood for a long time.

she's standing inside, but surely you repeat / oh God, don't leave me here

we got to the sand dunes at night. to be honest - everything about the trip paled in comparison to the night and morning at the sand dunes. this was the first time i'd ever seen sand dunes - they were beautiful. soft. and different. we were alone there, it seemed. i think we would have stayed there forever. in the night, they glowed in the moonlight. they were a ominous presence. we layed and watched the sun set, and the moon rise. the sky turned dark and the stars were everywhere, even twinkling. in the morning, they were kind and gentle. these are some of the best pictures i think i've ever taken. after the sand dunes, we drove to zion national park. a park i've never been to. i didn't take many good pictures at zion.

this is the only picture from zion that is worth anything.

i told you to shed away and trade in your blues / love is loves sad news

i picked dominic up in phoenix and drove to the grand canyon, we spent the night there and had my going away party. in the morning, we sat at the canyon, got breakfast and left. the sky that morning was gentle. the canyon was quieter than i've ever heard it. these pictures are from the grand canyon and the drive north to the sand dunes where we camped the first night. i've taken more than a million pictures on this road north, so there aren't many from this first day. dominic is a good person to photograph.

horseshoe bend - near page. the colorado river is always proving me incompetent. lake powell. or a disgrace.

Monday, October 26, 2009

home again

i am home, safely. i am home, finally. i am home, despite a fiasco. i am home, happily. i am home, where love isn't complicated. i am home, where kids play in the street. i am home, where the waitress gives me a hug and knows my order before i sit down. i am home, where my friends adore me and i can see it in their eyes and their smiles. i am home, where my mom makes me baked apples. i am, thank God, home. laurie and i walked to ritters yesterday. there was an old man, who looked tough - or at least - gruff. it was a beautiful fall day. the sun was even out. he had the windows down. he was blasting norah jones. that was when i knew that i was home.

i will post pictures from the trip home eventually. i need to put some space between me and the trip before i'm ready to look at the pictures and share them.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

one more day up in the canyon

i took these pictures on one of my first trips down to flagstaff when i first got here. i moved here, again, more for this than the canyon. for these mountains. for the desert.

to be honest, i'm pretty unsure about coming home. i hate admitting this. i'm usually so sure about every decision i make. so decisive. and too proud to admit second thoughts - about anything. it feels premature sometimes. like a baby bird pushed from the nest too early. or like a premature baby - not, quite, ready to leave the safety and warmth and peace to emerge into the world. and be, somehow, a normal person.

the first sunday i got here, i went to church. i saw ed williams. i saw his big white beard. i saw his bushy white hair. i saw his smile. his warmth. i saw Him. ed sat next to me in church. we were singing this song - i don't like the rest of the song, but most of it just goes, "your love is extravagant, your friendship is intimate, i feel i'm moving to the rhythm of your grace, your fragrance is intoxicating in a secret place, your love is extravagant." i cried most of the way through this song. and there was something about hearing ed sing next to me, a grown man, in a raspy voice, sing along. and mean it. with his eyes closed. i hoped the song would never end. that was the last time that i've cried.

i don't quite know what to say about leaving. this time has been precious. this time has been the first real peace i've ever known. it's been a life without any obligation - without worry, care, purpose. to the normal world - this time looks really useless and meaningless. the act of waiting, sitting - the practice of stillness usually does appear pointless to the normal world. it's been the longest period of happiness in my life. like an old man singing a love song to Him. slow. simple. quiet. no hurry. nothing particularly wonderful.

Friday, October 9, 2009

the way home

so i'll be leaving arizona in a little more than a week. my feelings towards this are mixed - obviously. regardless, i'm incredibly excited about the drive home. dominic is getting here on saturday. i'll pick him up in phoenix. i hate phoenix. but - it's okay. saturday night i'm having a going away party - which will be funny and good. i've grown to really, really love my coworkers and the few people around here that i've gotten to know. the rest of our trip looks like this:

sunday - we'll leave the grand canyon at some point. i want to watch the sun set over horseshoe bend outside of page. i still remember the night we watched it set in 2005 - i think we all cried. it was the most beautiful thing i've ever seen. sunday night we're camping in kanab - right inside the utah border. we're staying at the coral sand dunes state park - i'm excited. i've actually never seen sand dunes.

monday - we'll go to zion. i've wanted to go to zion for a while now but never had the time/money to get there this summer. we'll hike. we'll listen to lauryn hill. it'll be great. we'll spend monday night there camping at watchman.

tuesday - drive mancos, colorado whatever way possible. we'll go through bryce, some state parks/national monuments as well as capital reef national park. we'll spend the night somewhere around cortez or durango. i got to know this area pretty well when i spent a week camping at mesa verde national park last fall. we'll go to the coffee shop in mancos. it'll rock.

wednesday - we'll leave. we'll drive the million dollar highway through the san juan mountains. the san juans have been voted the most scenic/beautiful mountains in america. the million dollar highway has also been voted one of the most scenic drives in america. we'll take a picture with wilson peak which is the mountain on the coors beer bottles. we'll have some coors. we will also hopefully listen to charles kuralt's "on the road." we'll go to silverton and i'll think about moving there, again. we'll arrive in boulder, eventually.

thursday - we will spend all day hanging out with chris and lacy. it will be great. i will consider moving to boulder.

friday - we will leave. we'll go to omaha. we'll listen to the counting crows song, "omaha." hopefully there's something else to do in omaha. hopefully it won't disappoint me.

saturday - we will drive to chicago. on the way, we will stop in madison county, iowa. we will take pictures with the covered bridges of madison county. i will relive my love affair with maryl streep and clint eastwood from the movie. we'll spend saturday night in chicago. i've never been to chicago. we'll see how it goes. "she came to chicago to party, i came to chicago to kill myself" is all i have to say to miss laurie trok.

sunday - we will drive the rest of the way home.

**if you know anything awesome about any of the places that i speak of, please let me know. especially omaha. we'll need something to do there besides listen to the counting crows song.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

finding all my previous motives growing increasingly unclear

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:38-42).

i work with a woman named martha. she works at the cafeteria. i see her daily. i see her name tag, "martha / arizona" and she sees mine, "laura / pennsylvania." today i helped her with something. she thanked me and called me mary. it startled me.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

for steve, forever ago.

i went home and called steve back. i met steve here the first time i lived at the grand canyon. we became friends because we were unhappy loners who thought we were better than everyone and listened to good music. luckily, our friendship now has evolved past this initial connection. we're also happier and less proud, in general. he went to school in pennsylvania so we'd often meet up at concerts or he'd come to visit from time to time. he moved to LA after college and i would see him once a year, usually. my favorite of these times was the night we stayed up drinking ridiculous amounts of guinness and watching a whole season of the office. a few months ago he moved from LA to pittsburgh. this is one of the reasons i'm most excited to come home. anyway, on the phone, we talked aspens. so i drove to take pictures of aspens. humphreys had its first layer of snow. i cried. i hid in a forest of aspens. i cried. i drove into a field and watched the moon rise. i cried, again.