Alihelisdi Iga*

AROUND THIS TIME OF YEAR ON TWITTER (MAY IT REST IN PEACE), you see lots of us historians preparing to ruin Thanksgiving en masse. These folks are fanning out far and wide to dinners where no one wants to hear about Indian massacres and syphilis. Can you believe? It turns out that some people would just like to eat their turkey, stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce (the only pop of color in an otherwise monochromatic meal) and maybe watch a little football. (Of course the NFL is its own can of worms…). And these ruiners of all things light and breezy? Well, they might say something like, Did you know there are only TWO actual primary sources upon which we base this whole holiday tradition?! I, myself, only just learned that the Wampanoag leader, Massasoit (see photo above), was basically the guest of honor at the original shindig. In fact, research shows that this whole event was much more like a catered tête-à-tête than a family get together. Makes sense to me.

I remember as a kid I wanted us to go around our small family table of four — plus maybe an errant graduate student or two — and have people say what they were thankful for. Well, you’d have thought I’d asked my family to strip naked and dance. I’ve always been a sap, and then once I learned about our country’s actual history (not the one purported to be the full story in those ratty textbooks we had in school) I was in my feelings all the more. Only I was mad, as well as sad. What the – ?! So my ancestors (on my mother’s side; my father’s side was secretly practicing their Jewish religion and basically keeping their heads down) rolled up onto the shores of New England and did a land grab as if there were no other humans already living there? It was urban renewal, old-school style. I have since felt funny — as many do — about this Thanksgiving holiday.

Now, once I became a vegetarian… I was never especially radical about my vegetarian-ess, but I thought it odd that some people (my kids’ friends’ parents, for example) considered it outrageous that we did not include a crispy, dead bird in the middle of our Thanksgiving table. Like somehow the holiday wouldn’t take or something. Anyone who knows me knows this kind if reaction only stoked my contrariness. I made sure to have a most lavish pescatarian dinner (because Kosher — another story). Flounder Florentine with Pistachios was my specialty. I even wrote a children’s book (self-published on my Epson home copier) that I read at my kids’ pre-school each year. Fishy Turkey Day, it was called. I’m still not sure if my kids thought it was actually cool that mommy was coming in to school and reading her handmade book. It may have been totally embarrassing and they were just kind of polite about it.

Anyway, that all ended when I started eating meat again. Now sometimes my mother would host the Thanksgiving meal, and she would lay out a most beautiful table, that was for sure. But mom liked to experiment, never quite content with how things were as initially presented. (This was actually a personality trait that I think got in the way of her living her best life). So, out would come a lovely main meat course, and perhaps some type of potatoes, and a vegetable. We had been making what we called Aunt Flora’s Broccoli Casserole since forever. We thought it was kitschy, what with Velveeta cheese and Ritz crackers as the main ingredients. It was only decades later that I realized that Aunt Flora’s recipe was literally on the side of the Velveeta cheese box.

Adding to Mom’s feast, my son would often make the cranberry sauce and my daughter usually had a hand in dessert. But there would always be that one outlier dish, the Experiment. Mom would kind of laugh as she brought it out. “I’m trying something new,” she might say, “but the recipe called for raisins and all I had were capers…” Sometimes it was good, but most of the time not so much. My polite kids (man, come to think of it Thanksgiving must have been a tough time for them) would say they liked it — or at least try it and not spit it out. “Interesting” was a word we often used on those occasions.

Well, what I started to say is that Thanksgiving is a pretty complicated holiday. We are supposedly celebrating fellowship with the indigenous peoples of this land — the Tongva where I am now, and the Chumash where I’ll be spending Thanksgiving, for example. But it’s kinda like celebrating an abundant cotton harvest on the plantation and telling a magical tale of how enslaved people “helped” us reap the benefits. Smithsonian Magazine has a great article from 2020 that features a bit of history, lots of cool hyperlinks, and some original recipes from Native chefs. It’s worth a read for those interested in digging a little deeper into this fraught occasion.

The fact is, most people who I know are thankful for so many things on the regular, they live a life of gratitude. And Thanksgiving, if simply a tradition of seeking out family and friends and then cooking together, is a fabulous idea. But I wouldn’t be the villainous historian that I am (you should see me bursting bubbles in the classroom) if I didn’t simply ask that folks look for a moment into their own land’s indigenous origins. I really like how so many of the activist/advocacy groups I participate in begin events with acknowledgment of whose land they are speaking from. So maybe that could be a little something added to the dinner — if you don’t do such a thing already. And, as many also do already, donations to food pantries — now and throughout the year — is a great move.

Anyway, I think that’s enough from the dark side for now. Happy Day of Giving Thanks to all, and to all a good feast. Here’s a Commanche-style Corn recipe, in the native language (from Smithsonian article).

Numu Atakwasʉ Kuʔinarʉ

Wahatʉ nakooʔipʉ̠ha nʉmʉ kutsu taʔoo
Sʉmʉ moʔobekatʉ kʉʉka (ma hʉnʉkooʔi)
Wahatʉ nakooʔipʉ̠ha kukʉmepʉ̠
Paa (tʉtsituka tʉbinaawekiti pawʉ̠saʔnai)
Paaki saawhi tuakupa ma noyaikʉ̠.

Kukʉmepʉ̠ tsa yʉʔyʉkaruʔi.

Subetʉ ma.

*Happy Thanksgiving in Cherokee.

Mind Fields

Photo by Diana Dypvik on

I’VE BEEN THINKING OF THE WORD “GLEAN” LATELY. I was reminded in a recent sermon about the book of Ruth and how she went into Boaz’s fields to glean what was left after the harvest. The leftovers. She asked if she could follow behind the harvesters and pick up what fell to the ground. That got me thinking how we use that word glean in conversation. As in, you can glean something from talking to someone, or hearing a lecture… The etymology of the word comes from the 14th century, originally meaning to gather reaped corn. Reaping is the act of cutting grain(e.g.) for harvest. That got me to wondering then, when we glean something are we receiving the leftovers provided us, or are we picking and choosing that which we want to take? Is gleaning active or passive?

Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi, was down on her luck right about then. Ruth was determined to help her, dead husband and all. Back then (oh, and for centuries thereafter) no man in a woman’s life meant no money in a woman’s life. So Ruth was taking what she could glean from the field so that she and Naomi would have something to eat. Well, it turns out that she was in the field of Boaz, a man related to Naomi on her also dead husband’s side. Boaz meets her in the field and — in caretaking fashion circa Biblical times — tells the other workers to keep their hands off her and to let her work in the field as long as she wants. Ruth wonders why the man is being so generous and he says he heard tell of her good deeds as a daughter-in-law.

Well things get even better after snack time wherein Boaz tells the other workers to actually leave some stalks of wheat out of their bundles so that Ruth can take those home, too. (Like when we give our cats a full spoonful of tuna salad instead of just letting them lick our finger, I guess). One Bible commentary reads, “According to the Mosaic law, when the Israelites harvested crops from their fields, they were to leave some plants at the edges and some of the gleanings, the bits of grain that the harvesters would drop or otherwise miss as they went through the fields. The purpose for this legislation was so that the poor and the sojourners traveling through the land could eat from what was left in the fields (Lev. 19:9–10).” So what was gleaned was charity; folks were even gleaning the gleanings sometimes.

I learned, in researching this word, that many different companies are named Glean. There is an electronic note-taking platform, a “work assistant” for finding info on your own company, a “self-service data visualization” company, and a collection of artisanal bath and body products. (Quotes in this case mean I don’t have the foggiest idea what those things actually are). So, clearly a lot of us are taking major poetic license with this word. What I also gleaned is that the majority of people see gleaning as an act of picking through fields of stuff — information, apps, toiletries — and collecting what is needed in the given moment. So that got me to thinking how when I read a book or an article or such, am I simply collecting what is needed in the moment? Like, consider the way we might watch a film one time and get a particular message or feeling from it, and then return to that field of creativity on a different occasion only to gather a whole different armful of thoughts.

So then it seems that what might be important about gleaning is what it is we do with the stuff we have gathered. Whether we were meant to have it through someone else’s doing, or we just stumbled upon the stuff and took it for our own, how will we make the most of that which we have gleaned? Ruth, for one, “threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah” (Ruth 2:17). In other words, she brought a bunch of food home to her mother-in-law. Do we share our food for thought with others, even if it might seem insignificant at the time? Are we actually just a bunch of gleaners going through our days, collecting things only in the way that we can and then sharing our bounty with others? Teachers, authors, scientists… I mean it’s basically what I just did here. I picked through the fields of my mind — and the internet — then threshed all those thoughts and offered them up on this page. Not sure if it even amounts to a bushel (ephah), but just in case you might be hungry for some freshly gleaned thoughts, here you are.

Make Room(s)

I WAS WATCHING THE WATCHER THE OTHER NIGHT, because a lot of people I like said they liked it. By the time the ferret met its violent death in episode one, I was done. But, before I freaked out I was thinking about how big that family’s house was. And that got me to wondering why they wanted such a big house for only four people (I think four, I had my hands over my eyes a lot). And then that got me thinking about some of the big houses back in New Jersey. Some of my kids’ friends had big ol’ houses, yet few of the parents were home enough to really make them feel lived in. No shame, I am simply wondering, Why don’t we use all the rooms in our house?

This can be a literal or metaphorical question, of course. Like I think about my faith tradition and the discourse around using one’s gifts, the things God has provided. There is much admonition, in all sorts of fashions, not to leave our gifts up on the proverbial shelf. (Or under the tree, perhaps, what with the Holidays-writ-large upon us). We are, instead, to accept those gifts — things like Prophecy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Giving, Leadership, and Mercy according to Romans 12:6–8 — and then unwrap those gifts and put them to use, by serving others. But we don’t always do that, do we? Or maybe sometimes we think we tried to use one of our gifts, but then decided it wasn’t really ours to use — or not actually a gift at all. Or perhaps that gift caused just a little too much commotion and we hurriedly put it back on the shelf before people started noticing.

I was an actor for a number of years in New York City. I don’t know that I thought I was especially gifted then, I just really wanted to do it. When I think of actors today who blow me away — like Wendell Pierce or Viola Davis — it occurs to me I really did not have a gift for acting. But what I think I might have is an acting-adjacent gift! I mean I’m pretty good at public speaking, whether in the classroom, at a professional conference, or during a community meeting. I think that means I just didn’t read the directions carefully on that particular gift after I opened it. No regrets though because, well, how many people can say they were a body double for Ally Sheedy and then met Alan Alda all in one day?!

In scripture, Jesus is to have said to his disciples, “In my Father’s house are many mansions…” (John 14:1). Bible commentaries often explain these mansions as abiding-places, homes of rest, sites of peace. As in, there will likely be lots of space for chilling in the hereafter, and it will probably not be related to square footage. So I’m thinking, when people desire homes with lots of rooms, lots of floor space, are they thinking these places will offer them multiple opportunities for relaxing, playing, fellowshipping with friends and family? Do some simply want a big house because of investment purposes? And are there a few mansion-owners who just enjoy the appearance of big-house ownership? I’m trying to figure out, when folks don’t use all the rooms in their house, then what are those rooms there for?

My mother had extra rooms in her last home. And I really wish I had asked her, when she first bought the house, what her intentions for those rooms were. How did she foresee them being used? Why were they there? Was what eventually became a guest room intended for scads of friends visiting from out of state, or her grandchildren’s regular sleepovers? Because neither of those events were especially common occurrences. And what about that room next to it, the one you could only enter sideways because the door wouldn’t open all the way due to all that stuff stored in there. Was it, perhaps, going to be an art studio? Did my mom envision getting back to her painting, having a dedicated space just for that? Because that did not really happen either. And what about that finished attic? Do we have plans for our rooms — our gifts — but then sometimes just start piling things on top of them such that we end up forgetting our intentions, no longer able to see the possibilities in front of us?

There are so very many humans on this earth who have fewer rooms than the number of people living under that roof. When I think of my apartment it seems majestic, the way I can glide from room to room, undeterred by any other human. I grew up in a medium sized, rambling home. Rooms were plentiful but their uses changed a lot. Like just when I thought a room was my bedroom, it was turned into my father’s study; and then the bedroom that I subsequently shared with my sister became the guest room, and so we were moved upstairs to the attic. Maybe our family was searching for our gifts in these rooms, shaking the packaging to find out just what they were. At any rate, I was convinced I had no gifts for a while. But I’m glad to report that is not the case anymore.

The Netflix description of The Watcher is, “A family moves into their dream home, only to be plagued by ominous letters, strange neighbors and sinister threats.” Apparently this is based on a true story that took place in Westfield, New Jersey. I know that town well, and I can see how scary stuff would happen there. But I wonder if maybe that family was put through the ringer because they didn’t use their rooms, didn’t employ their gifts. Or maybe they were using other people’s gifts and calling them their own. We know that never ends well. I have no intention of watching the rest of the series, so I won’t learn how the story ends. But I am pretty sure it’s not happily. On the flipside, I have come to understand that when folks use what they have, when they take advantage of their gifts and notice the possibilities presented to them, then their stories end up scary-good.

Eyes Off the Prize

Kayla Ephros, “Poem 5”

IT REALLY IS ABOUT THE PROCESS. ISN’T IT?! I was just texting with my artist-daughter, talking about shows, presentations, and publications. How we (meaning, society) get so wound up about these result-oriented moments. And it reminded me of what my gym teacher, Mrs. Krauder, taught us in 3rd grade when we were playing Bombardment — which is apparently no longer allowed in school gyms across America: You are never winning, only leading; never losing, only trailing. I mean that really stuck with me (obviously, since 3rd grade was a very long time ago). It seems like Mrs. Krauder was talking about process there. So then my question is, when we are writing or painting or teaching or learning or competing, “When can we say we are we done?”

Steve Harvey and a whole bunch of other Christians like to say, “He ain’t through with me yet.” It attempts to explain why we consider ourselves followers and emulators of an exceptionally good person yet are far from that ourselves. It’s a process, we’re saying. A procedure. We have been proceeding on a long (read infinite) path in order to walk through life a certain kind of way. We are in a procession. And really anyone who considers that there is a power or entity or such outside this world believes they are living a process, being in the moment, acknowledging the here and the now. Right? Yet — we are still so excited about getting the flowers. You’ve done it! Congratulations! You won! Nothing wrong with all this, in and of itself. But I’m just thinking that these rituals and traditions may stop us short of our path’s direction. Or, maybe just throw us into confusion as to where we meant to go in the first place.

I have a book coming out. Right now I am working on final edits. The editor has made very reasonable suggestions and observations that will in all likelihood make this book better. And I worked very hard to get someone to publish this book, to have a book to even publish. When I first heard the news last December that I was being offered a book contract, well, I sure felt like I had won. All those years, all that time at my desk, the research… Turns out I’m still only leading. Because there is so much work to do just to garner this prize. And I realize, as I revise every day, that I could change the sentence I just changed another five times at least. So each sentence, revised five times, multiplied by three hundred pages. Well, you can do the math, but it sounds infinite to me.

When my daughter first started having gallery shows, I was giddy. Finally, people would see how amazing her art was, how she expresses ideas and feelings in a way no one else does — and how her work can resonate so much with so very many people. (Take a gander for yourself). She, on the other hand, was never quite as excited as I was about the show. (Of course, is anyone ever as excited for anything as the mom of the kid doing the thing)?! Now, it’s not to say that my daughter didn’t work very hard to get these shows, to have representation by a gallery and all those things, but the show itself wasn’t her goal I don’t think. Only now am I starting to understand that. Her art is her path, and it does look infinite from where I stand. The shows are like little rest stops along the way, and I do not think these events will ever throw my daughter off her own track. Certainly we want our work out there; we writers and artists and musicians and all desire to communicate with people through that work. But does the publication/show/concert signal some kind of finish line? Maybe not.

I’m starting to think of all these events as simply small achievements along a big procession, mile markers where you grab a Dixie cup of water out of a volunteer’s hand as you continue on your marathon. But I am also thinking that sometimes we spend so much energy and resource on these mile markers that we might diminish our strength and commitment to the long run. Imagine, for example, if our political leaders all kept their eyes on that road ahead, the long haul, the big picture. That thing. Not the I’m up in the polls; I was on some jenky TV news show; I got to fly in a private jet. Imagine, if after all those years since they first launched their career as a civil servant (yeah, that’s what they’re supposed to be) they are still laboring towards their initial goals of human dignity and equity. (I mean for those whose goals were ever that anyway). Cough cough, Bernie Sanders.

I am really writing this to myself. Even though I have known intellectually — through sport and faith, among other things — that winning isn’t everything, I think I am only now figuring out that there just might not be such a thing as winning at all. Or maybe we have won just by being here, and all the rest is just that proverbial frosting (not icing, ick) on the cake (carrot, please). It really is about the journey, isn’t it? In fact, what else could it even be about? See, I’m going to finish revising this book, and it will probably get published as planned. And I will be thrilled that the stories I share in it will have made their way into the light of a more public space. But that all is really just a nice drink of water along the way. I am not going to forget to admire the scenery and enjoy the proceedings along this path called life. Maybe that would make me a winner already.

Never Mind

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WHY CAN’T ANYONE DO ANYTHING RIGHT? I found myself mumbling that at my computer today. I have been saying it a lot lately, as a matter of fact. This sounds incredibly arrogant, but it just so happens that I’ve come face to face with way too many blunders and dropped balls for my patience lately, and I am yearning for something resembling a well-oiled machine right about now.

Exhibit A: I was supposed to teach a class online beginning the last Friday of August. The Monday before that I was told it’s probably not running. I had spent a week crafting a syllabus on a subject I know very little about – classical Greek literature. Like, I listened to the audio play of Antigone! (I wrote Aphrodite first because that’s how little I know about this mess). And for this non-existent job, I also had to scurry down to Wilshire Boulevard and wend my way through a mega Staples store in order to find a sad little office where I was to secure my background check. Actually, the young woman processing the whole thing was very efficient – and lovely to talk to. So there’s one well-oiled machine/person. But it cost me $130! And why did I have to get a third background check in 5 years, you might ask? Well, because “New York state has its own code,” I was told. By the way, I am insisting on reimbursement for this; a sad little display of protest on my part.

Speaking of codes, I have been battling the insurance company since last November regarding the cost of a procedure coded “diagnostic,” when it was merely “preventative.” The latter meaning that my crappy insurance actually covers it. But the quack doctor I found through my scientific study of physicians within a 30 mile radius who are women wrote down the wrong code on the referral. So the office where said procedure was performed insisted that I owed them an extra $600. After multiple phone calls, emails, and vapid “decision letters” from the insurance company which simply restated the issue and then resolved that I owed $600, a saint named Francis called me one day. Francis might be a smoker; she had that Brenda Vaccaro kind of voice. (You’ve got to be of a certain age to know that reference). Francis was the first person who understood the crux of my issue, and — with only slight requirements of small talk — after a month, Francis called me personally (on a Friday night) to tell me things were taken care of. She then had a coughing fit and had to hang up abruptly. I really hope she’s okay.

And don’t get me started on unemployment insurance. They stopped paying me. Okay, fine; it was good while it lasted. But then they said I owed them money because I apparently have an excellent chance of signing a new contract with my past employer (on the other side of the country), according to their algorithm or whatever calculus they use to make things up and torture people. The last time that I worked for said employer was December 2021, and nobody’s knocking at my proverbial door. So I’m pretty sure they do not plan to sign me up for any kind of lucrative position in the foreseeable (as in ever) future.

And have you ever had a suction-cup bathroom shelf or caddy actually stay in place?! I mean just when you think it’s finally decided to stay up there — crash – in the middle of the night, you and your cat are startled awake by the sound of something that could be an intruder but that turns out to be nothing more than your Paul Mitchell shampoo rolling around the bathtub floor.

I guess it’s not always that people don’t do things right, but that the communication (or lack thereof) obscures any possibility of foreseeing issues, understanding problems, or answering questions. And you know what’s funny, none of this matters. Not one bit. There is nothing I can do by worrying, stressing, or  fixating on these things. As my devotional this morning read in part, “You are… looking at difficult times looming ahead… However they are not today’s tasks – or even tomorrow’s. So leave them in the future and come home to the present…” (Jesus Calling).

Or as Matthew writes in chapter 6, verse 34 of the Bible, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

There is so much good stuff in my life – I won’t bother naming it all. But I just felt like illustrating to myself – and anyone else interested – all the mess, miasma, and michigas that can fill our heads and take up space from way deeper thoughts.

It’s a lifelong practice putting worldly worries behind us. It’s also a privilege afforded some more than others. So, having that privilege, relatively, I will turn my back on insurance companies, unemployment agencies, doctor offices, and disorganized group leaders. Instead I’m going to send some mental thank-you notes to all the good people in my life!

Dear… Thank you!

Hot Mess

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JUST ABOUT EVERY DAY I THINK TO MYSELF, “WHY DID THIS TAKE SO LONG?” What’s the this, you might ask? Well, it depends. It has been, and could be again:

Why did embracing your body take you so long?

Why did asserting yourself professionally take you so long?

writing a book

liking brussels sprouts

having a strong faith walk

reaching out when you need a friend

admitting you want true, romantic love… and so on.

And then, of course, there is the accompanying thought that, “It might be too late to do this.” The this in this case might be:

have a professional career to my liking

establish myself as a scholar

end up in a soulmate relationship

publish a second book

learn Spanish fluently

find the perfect church

get comprehensive health insurance… that kind of stuff.

So, this has been a messy week. My devotional reading this morning told me to trust God on messy days. And I know I should – and I mostly do. But, well, sometimes it’s harder than other times. Like right at this very moment, I am on hold with a doctor’s office where I have an appointment at 12:40pm today. They called to say the appointment time is wrong and then put me on hold to figure out when I should actually come in. A month ago, when I made this appointment, the time given me was 11am. This changed yesterday.

Additional messiness: I was slated to teach an online course for which I would be compensated quite well. That was supposed to have started today. (A week of supposed-to’s). Well, Monday I was told that the class might not run. And not – as adjuncts are prepared for – because the class didn’t fill, but because the school just might not open its doors. This was to be a college course for high school students at a “public charter school.” (Red flag right there). Apparently these poor kids may not have a school to go to – and I don’t seem to have a course to teach. Oh, I had to drive to Wilshire Boulevard last week for a speedy background check at the cost of $130. (I haven’t heard anything so apparently I passed).

Still on hold with the doctor’s office, by the way. I can’t quite make out the tune they’re playing, but it’s on a very short loop. At some point I am assuming someone at the office will notice the line is occupied and… Ah, she came back on and asked if I could come at 11:50am this morning. Yes, yes I can. That way I can make my dentist appointment – which was already canceled and rescheduled twice. It’s me, right? Like I’m really trying to go to the gratitude department here, grateful for medical care at all (even with a $5000 deductible). But of course, we really shouldn’t have to be grateful for medical care in this backward country still run by capitalist insurance companies. Luckily, people are working on that. Like Bernie and his compatriots. Like Socialists. Like I’m grateful.

Apparently Mercury has headed into Gemini, and that is part of the problem. As my friend Kristina Lynn Martin at KLM Astrology notes:

Mars makes a foreboding move into the sign of Gemini. Typically Mars stays in a sign for 6 weeks, but starting today, Mars stays in Gemini for a whole 6 months, due to an upcoming retrograde. What does this mean? The rocket-fueled, unchecked and action-oriented motivation that Mars provides us is coming to a slow down. It’s as if we want to move forward but the gas pedal gets stuck. So in turn, it requires us to meticulously examine and review how and why we were going forward in the first place. Additionally, being in the sign of Gemini, this will likely occur in communication with others. We can expect frustration in not getting our message across, the news/media/information outputs acting impulsively and needing to slow down our own reactionary charge after getting upsetting information. It’s an incredibly auspicious time to turn inward and readjust how you speak when faced with conflict. Expand your vocabulary, gather information from multiple sources and improve your listening skills.

Yup, the gas pedal is stuck right about now, and things are messy. (And let me tell you, I read several horoscopes weekly and they are all saying similar things. So pshaw at me if you want to, but I buy the fact that our earth’s atmosphere has something to do with our minds and bodies).

So there I was metaphorically speeding down the highway of life, V-8 engine, convertible top down, wind in my hair, and then — screech! A whole bunch of possibilities just started popping, like bubbles blown by a child hitting hot cement. Poof, poof, poof. And while I am fiercely sure that things are exactly as they are supposed to be, it still doesn’t mean it’s always fun. But this is the life I asked for, that of a gig-worker/independent contractor/contingent faculty/writer/activist. I don’t have one big block of a thing to rely on for income, for focus – or for distraction from life’s messiness. Nope, there is a constant assessing and investigating and weighing and negotiating that goes along with all this. And once in a while it catches up with the best of us. As it has with me this week.

So I’ll go to my two medical appointments today (August is my get-everything-seen month); then I’ll do a nice, long, hot, walk in my neighborhood. Then I’ll pop by the Armenian grocery store and pick up some grape leaves and baba ganoush to serve my neighbor who is coming over for a drink in my backyard tonight. Because I reached out. Because it’s been a messy week. So yeah, it has taken me a while to do things like that, to let people know I could use their company. But I do it now. So, clearly it’s never going to be too late for anything.

Hoping Mercury isn’t messing with your life as much as mine! But if it is, I’d love to hear some examples of your gas pedals getting stuck. Share – it feels good!

Tell Me What You Want, What You Really Really Want

I’VE BEEN THINKING A LOT ABOUT WHAT WE ASK FOR LATELY — and what we get. As in, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). Or as in, “you asked for it,” which apparently is a common theme of many a Sunday sermon. (Thanks Google). It turns out we really do get a lot of what we ask for. So maybe a useful perspective on that would be that reflecting upon what we get — and why — could help us understand what it is we really, really want in the first place. As the Spice Girls said so well, “I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want/So tell me what you want, what you really, really want.”

I don’t know about you, but when I’m at a restaurant, for example, looking at a menu, I imagine some of the dishes that I’m considering having already arrived before me. How would I really feel being faced with a medium rare steak, asparagus, and red potatoes? Is that what I really, really want? I then imagine starting in on the meal, does it taste good, does it satisfy? Was that what I was looking for? Sometimes, the answer is yes. And I order the steak. But other times, in this somewhat elaborate process (it goes faster in real life, of course; I’m not trying to make my dinner partner sit through all this) I realize that my imaginary steak isn’t fitting the bill at the moment, and what I really, really want is the mushroom risotto with shallots. So I order the risotto.

Life isn’t quite as orderly as a menu. (Order-ly? Hmmm). As in, one cannot simply place an order in life. Order: the arrangement or disposition of people or things in relation to each other according to a particular sequence, pattern, or method (Google again. Whatever did those of us who love rabbit holes do before the Google)? Anyway, sometimes we are not even aware that we are asking for — ordering — things in the first place. It’s like dialing the wrong phone number. After the fact, though, we might just realize we had actually envisioned that particular scenario or situation that we eventually find ourselves in. Sometimes that can be a great surprise. Like my apartment in LA. I literally imagined, over and again, standing at the back door of a modest house, looking out upon a modest backyard. When I finally looked out the back door on my first day here, in a place I moved to sight-unseen, I realized it was that which I had been picturing all along. Order up!

Other times, however, we find ourselves very clear about what we want. Dead certain, no question. (Which can be a red flag when it comes to us humans). For example, I thought I wanted a companion to fill some of the hours I have in the evenings. I have finally settled into life on the west coast such that I have arrived at some sort of routine. And on any given day, once I am done with exercise, work of various sorts, some volunteering perhaps, I close my laptop and think, “I wouldn’t mind someone taking me out to dinner right about now.” To that end, I reluctantly signed up with an online dating site. Starting with truly positive energy and hopefulness, I quickly wearied of the parade of men who looked old enough to be my grandfather; or were searching for lifetime partners only; men still married who had “agreements” with their wives; and especially those who refused to engage in a bit of written correspondence prior to getting together IRL.

I went on two uneventful dates. And then came a third date, at the very end of my subscription period (how I couldn’t wait to bow out). It was a nice date. We both liked eating at bars – a funny commonality, but it said a lot to me about shared sensibilities. The guy was cute, fun, smart, adventurous, and complimentary. Quite a contrast from the last two guys, so I thought perhaps there was something there. There was. Sort of. I had found someone to fill those hours I was looking to fill. Kind of. I mean, not reliably. Not the way I would have liked, by him asking ahead of time, suggesting a plan, that sort of thing. But I told myself to be more open; just because I favored a more traditional (old?!) style of dating, didn’t mean I should cancel someone just because they did life differently. After all, I liked his spontaneity, right? Well, there’s spontaneity and then there’s just plain flakiness. And immaturity. And I really just expect grown folk to do life in a bit more orderly fashion than he did. (His bedroom was messy – messy like my daughter’s in junior high). So, it was a whatever and we mutually stopped communicating. (Officially, I sent the last text, but I’m not calling it “ghosting” because his non-response felt consistent with the rest of our short-lived relationship).

Anyway, I say that all to say that as soon as this guy and I started seeing each other I started feeling a little uneasy — restless about things. And God said to me, “You asked for this.” Now this isn’t the mighty, booming voice God used on Moses at Mt. Sinai, it’s more a little quiet spirit voice that comes from inside. But that spirit can be quite pointed in its declarations. “Yup,” I responded to God, “you got me on that one.” It turns out that I didn’t really, really want someone to take up space in my days, but instead space in my heart. I had ordered the steak when the risotto is what I truly desired.

The cool thing about life (and let’s just take a moment and acknowledge that this is coming from a place of high privilege and cannot be applied to all the shattering situations people find themselves in – like my friend who I just learned has been living in his truck for the last two years) is that you can often send your order back. Or at least push it to the side, and then go ahead and re-order. Like the tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears (which I referenced to a 20-something the other day and received a blank look in return), we can try all the porridges, and take our time doing so, as long as we are not afraid. Certainly there could be bears lurking (and we shouldn’t be partaking of others’ resources if they don’t have it to spare), but the fact is that life can be one big feast where we learn what we like, and what we need, along the way.

I’ll leave you with this blast from the past, when a car company decided that “you asked for it, you got it,” would make a terrific commercial campaign. So many metaphors, so little time! Enjoy the feast.

Only Natural

Smith Rock, photo by author

When I was in a book club way back when, I became notorious for disliking the nature-themed books we read. This eventually got boiled down to, “Katie doesn’t like nature.” And I went with it, because if that meant we did not have to read another five-page description of a tree’s shadow, or a leaf’s crackle, that was fine by me. After all, it would not be my first curmudgeonly attribute. The thing is, though, I actually really like nature. And one of the women in that book club of so long ago recently led me through some pretty big nature. And I am forever grateful.

Suzanne lived a lot of her life in the state of Oregon. And I have known her for some thirty years, but this summer I really got to see the places of her young life. This was a unique experience, a way to see someone more broadly. Like, how many of us have gone home with a friend during college break perhaps, only to find they live in a mansion/brownstone/housing project and then seen them in a whole different kind of light. It is not like my friend has kept this part of her life quiet; anyone in ear shot will have heard tales of her nature-filled Central Oregon childhood, the deep meaning of the coast to her as both mother and daughter. But this particular trip showed me the rocks the she climbed on, and the rivers she swam in, and the house she lived in… and I watched sense memory in action as she told me stories of these important places.

I may never have seen such beautiful parts of Oregon had it not been for my friend. Years ago my kids and I visited her mother’s ranch in Terrebonne, meeting up with Suzanne and family there. The vastness of the landscape wowed us. (And that’s all I’m going to write about that landscape)! Years later my daughter and I visited Suzanne at her mom’s latest abode in Newport, on the coast. It was a whole different ocean than the one Down the Shore. And then there was this trip. Well, this trip I saw some stuff that made me understand just a little bit better why folks insist on writing for pages about light glinting off wet rocks in the middle of a flowing river. (Doesn’t mean I want to read about it, but I get it)!

Briefly, our first stayover was at Smith Rock. I mean, just looking at it was enough to stir up the Holy Spirit. I mean, take a look at the thing.

We hiked the Summit Trail (an arduously exhilarating day); we floated in the Crooked River, using the rocks as our pillows; and we stared at the sunset each night as it fell behind the ancient canyon. After three beauty-filled days replete with poplar trees and deer, we headed to Yachats. (So many things along the way, but I am not going to be accused of writing some travelogue here – I have a reputation to hold on to, remember)!

Thanks once again to my friend, we were in a beautiful house on the misty coastal beach. It was grey most days which only intensified the power of the waves as they contrasted with the stillness of the sky. We walked every day, sometimes not even being able to what lay in front of us, thanks to the deep fog hanging like chintz curtains from the sky.

It was so much nature, and it was all so beautiful. I am lucky that Suzanne chose to bring me along on such a tour of her land. I saw things I had never seen and, well, the older you get, the more exciting that is. I soaked it all in, the red rock, the running water, the smell of sage, the beating sun, the lava flows, the Ponderosa Pines, the packed sand, the biting water, the salty air… My molecules rearranged and I am fuller for seeing so much of God’s creation up close. That is what nature is to me, gifts to be received, humbly, joyfully. I believe Suzanne feels similarly. And I want to be in it, that nature thing. I just don’t want to read 200 pages about it. But that’s just me; so keep it up all you nature writers out there. Because someone somewhere might never get the chances I just got, so reading about it could certainly be the next best thing.

(Don’t) Do the Hustle

Photo by Brett Jordan on

I’m waiting to see if I got the job I most recently interviewed for. I mean I’m doing other things, but I am also totally checking to see if there’s a (1) in my Gmail tab pretty regularly. Just as I wrote that, a (1) came up: it was a rejection of a short story I submitted to a contest last month. And herein lies my point: we artist/writer/gig worker-types are constantly checking, weighing, applying, submitting, and researching. And it’s exhausting. You know how they say that looking for a job is a full time job? Well, that’s our eternal job, looking for a job: before we have a job, while we have that job, and then after that job no longer exists. So that’s why this month I have taken an oath to not try to make anything HAPPEN. It’s No Hustle July up in here.

See, my birthday is in July. The 10th to be exact. And I love summer. When I was a kid I longed for summer. Kind of because of my birthday, but mostly for a reprieve from Michigan winter/springs which were pretty much just one long bleak season. Summertime and the livin’ is easy – – all that. Summer meant no school; tubing down the Huron River at Delhi Park; playing tennis for hours at the Pioneer High School courts and then going to A&W for a tall waxed carton of ice cold root beer. Summer was being so hot, and so sweaty that you just weren’t expected to be at top productive level.

When I moved to Arizona for college, summer was still discernibly different from the other seasons. Summer still meant no school (sometimes); tennis all day under a very hot, but very dry, sun; and then sitting outside drinking pitchers of Coors Light at Gentle Ben’s on University Boulevard. Next for me came New York City summers: not as many acting jobs to audition for, and lots of space to breathe. See, the wealthy city folks headed out to the Hamptons, Montauk, and the like. Manhattan emptied out like an hourglass and all us poor people got the place to ourselves. Summer meant hanging out near the fountain in Washington Square Park; tennis at the Riverside courts; and drinking Heinekens on the stoop at the end of the day. Next were New Jersey summers, which will always be about my kids. Homemade waterslides in the backyard; popsicle-red tongues; and renting our beloved beach house at the Jersey Shore. (It took me a long time to transition to my next season of summers once my kids were too old for wading pools).

And now here I am in Southern California, and I still and again love summer. My East Coast peeps might think summer doesn’t hold the same weight here, seeing as how it’s pretty much tennis weather all year ’round. But that is not the case. In the summer my teacher friends come visit; street fairs abound; and the Pacific Ocean is actually a tenable temperature for swimming. So why should I power through this spectacular season, grinding out applications for jobs that have a good chance of already being filled, spending money I am not making on short story submission fees? I know there are a lot of months already earmarked for ostensible self-care and expression: No-Shave November, Dry January… So why not No Hustle July?

Now, clearly this is a privileged stance in many ways. But it is probably a stance more folks could take than will choose to. After all, it is scary to take the foot off the gas if one has been acculturated by our capitalist society to remain productive at all times — and have something to show for it. I am hoping that the space I make this month by taking my foot off the gas — and my eyes off the job boards — will illuminate any opportunities I might be overlooking simply because I can’t see over my nose and the grindstone. This is exciting to me, the possibility of it all. And that is why not making anything HAPPEN is my birthday present to myself.

I’m still writing this month, because I enjoy it. And clearly I’m still interviewing if someone asks. I don’t want to be rude, after all (and I really do need a job). But I’m also watching the hummingbirds for even longer than usual, and monitoring the height of the one sunflower miraculously growing out of the sandy dirt that is my backyard. And yes, of course, I am playing tennis — all over Los Angeles. Because it is summer. And I need a break from this hustle, this lifestyle that I chose so very many years ago. Here’s to not hustling, and instead just taking it all in for a month. Happy birthday to me.