10 for 10

There is something about mornings like this morning that remind me of France,  and the three - or was it four? - story house on the edge of the spa town of Bourbon Archambault where I stayed for four months with the Colliers. The house from which you could cut through the back yard and get to the parking lot of the supermarket and walk over to get bread. A baguette, obviously.

Back when there were still Francs, the cashier would open up the flat European cash drawer and pull them out. Back when Gauloises were 10 for 10, 20 for 20, 30 for 30. I would walk from the house to the castle, on the other side of town, with a moat and high walls and sad sunlight. Sometimes, when I am putting on eyeliner, which I never wore at the time, I remember the procession for St. Michael, around the pond at dusk. The lights, all candles, and the white horse, and the red capes. Afterward, there were quite literally chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and a cozy barn with mulled cider, I believe.

All these things I remember. I wonder what it would be like to live that life now, as as an adult. The farmhouses and bright cheeks and country hedges and frozen feet. The slow rhythms and crafts and baking. The retreat.

Beginner's Mind

I love the first ride in a new place, from the airport to wherever I'm staying. It's like unwrapping something - going through different layers as the city (usually it's a city the first day) inches up around you. First there's a welcome sign and often some kind of odd sculpture upon exiting the airport, then industrial area or nothing much. Then usually little bits of suburbs, and finally the city itself. I'm a blank slate during those rides, a beginner.

When I'm coming home from the airport, I have started trying to hold the beginner's mind. I like to try to imagine that I'm seeing my city for the first time. I like to think, what would this feel like if I was a person from the country I was just in, seeing this place for the first time? What would be curious, what would be different, what would be the same? Would I love it? Would I hate it? Would I feel overwhelmed or disappointed or excited? Would I think it's just the weirdest thing ever?

Excess and lack

When I was young, my mother would walk me through these guided visualizations to help me decide on one thing or another. The idea was to envision one choice or another, and try to feel what that choice felt like - good, bad, indifferent? Recently, as I've been debating the children/no children questions, I've been thinking I could use another one of those guided visualizations (are you out there mom? my sole reader?).

For a long time I assumed I wouldn't have children, that I wouldn't be interested even if I met the right man. As is often the story, once I met the right man, my ideas shifted. But not enough for certainty, more a feeling of, maybe this wouldn't be so bad. My husband would make a fantastic father, and I don't want to deprive him of that opportunity. He would be interested and engaged, hug them often and teach them about the universe and how plants grow and the general wonder of being alive. I would not be great; I'm uncomfortable around children and don't usually find them cute. But I'm responsible and together I think we could do a good job.

It's impossible to know, guided visualization or not, what having a child would feel like, be like, what it would create and destroy. But I've been thinking about it a lot and what emerged recently, cobbled together from reading too many articles on the internet and listening to friends and observation and my own hazy feelings, is the choice between two particular kinds of excess and lack.

The first is the path we're on now. Already there is excess - money, opportunities to travel, time to talk, to read, to cook, to see friends. There will be plenty of time to self-actualize, whatever that means, and there will be silence. So much silence. I mean that in the best possible way; I love the calm and clarity of solitude. There will be time to shape and perfect the outsized self and the bond between the two of us. The first path is an abundance of everything, more than we would need, for a lifetime. And a specific lack of one thing, another life, between us. Silent Thanksgivings, silent Christmases.

And the other path, it's a deprivation of everything else - less time, less money (or at least money and time spent very differently), fewer travels. Hasty meals and stolen moments. The risk that the special bond between us will grow small and frail next to the new relationship and that the self will be shrunken and lost in the abundance of that new relationship. No more silence, no more long Saturday afternoons. The specific excess of another life alongside ours.

So how to decide? Which kind of excess can I handle, what kind of lack is bearable? How do I know? How did you know?


Last night my laptop, which has been dutifully chugging along since 2009, finally stopped. Of course, I had backed up my hard drive, but not recently, so lots of things may be lost, blah blah. This tale of woe is predictable like everyone else's - I knew the right thing to do, but didn't do it. Now I'm left cursing my carelessness for not saving more frequently and wondering, if I had just done something slightly different last night, would it still be working? I'm also mentally cataloguing everything that I think I lost, remembering with successive little shocks to the system the memorialized vacations and small moments all stored on that hard drive.

This comes at an interesting time for me because I've been experimenting with minimalism, or at least, I've been trying to get rid of a lot of stuff. I'm sentimental to an extreme, so the key has been remembering that the memory is distinct from the thing I'm getting rid of. The green blazer is not itself the first inkling of spring the year I started dating my husband; the white cotton pants are not the sun-soaked Athens apartment; that bag is not the moist sea air hanging low in the Venetian lagoon.

Still, getting rid of stuff is difficult. After each successive round, I have felt free. But also, at first, a little sad, and a little unmoored, as if my stuff anchored me (and indeed it did weigh me down). More than that, as if it defined me, just a bit. What I mean is, the stuff, all the clothes, the photos, the objects - these are not my memories - they are representations of the life I have lived. But as much as I would like to say, it's all there, all my moments are safely stored in my mind, I know that's not true. Already I can barely remember what it was like to be 23, newly minted and underemployed, let alone 11 and trading middle school secrets under the Magnolia tree, not to mention being 4 and careening through a field of dandelions. I forget, and I'll continue to forget at a faster and faster pace until it's all gone.

The stuff is a memory aid. Without it, all those moments are still out there, but so many are just outside of my reach. Without my stuff to anchor me, I can almost feel my edges floating out to sea; like the universe, constantly expanding with no end in sight.

Explore This Weekend - Spanish Steps

 Photo by  Spencer Millsap

The first few times I visited the Spanish Steps of DC were by chance. We never intended to go there, just stumbled upon it, and it always felt like stumbling into a quiet slice of somewhere else. The Steps are modeled after the Spanish Steps in Rome, but much smaller, and in a tree covered neighborhood.

From the top looking down, the Steps remind me of steps in Montmartre, like in Brassai's photo. Just a short walk from busy Dupont Circle, it's never crowded there. We liked this place so much, we ended up getting married there - somehow squeezing more than 80 people in to a spot which was most likely not designed for that number. Beyond wedding ceremonies, it's a lovely place to walk through, picnic, sit and read, or just to breath in the quiet for a moment before heading back into the rush of the city.

Subway Commute

When I start my new job in a few days, I'll be taking the metro to work, for the first time in almost four years. I am a big proponent of the walking commute, and I'll be sad to give up those daily windows of time when I'm moving through the city, preparing for the day or sloughing it off of me.

But it got me thinking, this move back into the crowded subway cars, about the last time I took the metro to work. I like to do this, from time to time - remind myself of where I was at a given point, where I am now at another. It's hard to see progress or change when you are in it. Occasionally life throws in a change so abrupt and dramatic that it's obvious to the person experiencing it at the moment they experience it. But most of the time, at least for me, it's so slow and minute as to be almost imperceptible. Like the catkins on the trees this week. They'll bloom at some point, in a month, or two, but they started now, when the snow is on the ground and they are so small you could walk right past if you weren't looking closely.

Four years ago I had finally, just, put myself back together again after I had ended a relationship a year prior. It was such a good thing that the relationship was over, but it takes time to move past the end of something. I was living in my own apartment, the second apartment I had in DC, and the first of my very own. It was a tiny studio and I paid through the nose for it, but I loved it because it was mine. At the end of the block was a pink flowering Kwanzan cherry tree with blooms so heavy the limbs would sink toward the pavement, creating a floral archway. If I had to pick one thing to say about that year, I would mention the intoxicating luxury of walking underneath those flowers on a balmy spring night.

I had been seeing a man and it was new and intoxicating as Kwanzan blossoms. Everything about that time felt dizzying. I hadn't really learned to take care of myself well - I stayed awake too late and didn't cook for myself and smoked. I remember smoking on the way to the subway in the morning, smoking on the way back. I hated smoking, but also loved it too much to figure out how to stop. That year I subscribed to the Washington Post, the paper edition because I couldn't afford internet in my apartment. The paper would arrive on my doorstep every morning, and one morning I locked myself out grabbing it. I had no hidden keys, I had no one to call. I was alone that year. Not completely, but more than I had ever been, more than I would be.

Now I'm married to the man I was dating then. We live in a still small but bigger than a studio apartment on the opposite side of town. I finally figured out how to stop smoking and cook and go to sleep earlier. I subscribe to the digital version of the New York Times. It's all different now, not better, but different. Less alone, less dizzying, or dizzying in different ways. My life changed in ways couldn't have predicted then, but there is still a Kwazan at the end of the block I live on now and for a precious period of time each spring, the sidewalk is carpeted in its blossoms.