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Walk On

How are you doing with your training?

When Seventeen was Five-and-a-Half, we moved kit-n-caboodle a thousand miles west, arriving at the front door to our new Iowa home on a below-zero December day, just shy of Christmas. Earlier that fall, I worked with a realtor to find our big box. She asked me for my “hot button” items. I answered, “Living space. I don’t care if we sleep in closets; we’re all home, all the time. It’s cold there. We need room to move around.”

Some thirty-eight houses later, she showed me the brick-front at the top of a short street with an enormous pantry, morning and afternoon sun, a sizeable yard, and oodles of living space. It was, among other things, a “circle house,” not merely situated atop a suburban circle, but inside you could walk around the main floor in a complete circle, a figure eight even, if you were feeling fancy.

One evening as we were still settling in, figuring out the light switches, and dreaming of living room furniture, I was making dinner too slowly for the children. I remembered that when I was little, my mother would send my brother and me outside to run around our house. That house was ringed in wooden decks, so we could go all the way around without touching the ground. But the ground outside our new house was snow and ice covered, so I reasoned little feet could pound around the inside circle of our house without causing too much disturbance. I tore around the first lap with them and then said, “Keep running. Go! Go!” Off went Five-and-a-Half with Two-and-a-Half pell-mell behind him.

“What are you doing?” Their father asked, arriving home.

“We’re running marathon!” They panted past.

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Running boy then …

The next day I got a tape measure and marked off their course. Then I converted 26.2 miles to feet, divided by the indoor track’s running distance, and wrote 1,946 at the top of a blank sheet of paper. “This,” I told Five-and-a-Half, “is how many times you need to run around the house to run a marathon.” For some time after, every night he would run a few laps and record his progress. When the weather got warm and they could run around outside before dinner, the big backyard became a secret land, a place to dig, a world of adventures. The marathon was perhaps half-completed when it was forgotten.

Today Seventeen’s long legs could stride that same circle in no time. Nonetheless, I like the way our house expands and contracts—I can fill it with people for a party or snuggle in with the peeps for family movie night. With Seventeen away at college, I’m very aware that for most days it’s much too big for his sister, Fourteen, his grandmother, Ninety-Two, and me, but as I commenced training to walk a half-marathon, my treadmill in the basement became too confining and I started to roam.

From my front door I can walk a five-mile loop that touches four towns. I can take the bike path east to do errands like dropping the water bill at City Hall or making a deposit at the bank or west to my friend’s house a whole county over. I can loop a variety of little lakes that front the expansive corporate buildings for the countless banks and insurance companies that make their headquarters here. To mix things up I have added destinations like Trader Joe’s, four miles from home, and endless loops around larger lakes to which I have to drive. No matter where or how far I go, I start and end every walk sitting on second stair lacing or unlacing my shoes. Second stair was another feature of that first house I lived in, the place I would be asked to go and sit when I was naughty. Now it’s a seat of nostalgia and a convenient perch near the door.

Three weeks ago I completed my last long training walk, just shy of a half-marathon at 12.5 miles. Since, I’ve been walking a few days a week, between four and seven miles each time. I feel ready for the challenge even as I have started to feel that Sunday’s event is no longer the point. It’s the training, the feeling strong, the finding out what my body can do, and the connection to the world outside my house that feel like they matter. It’s the stick-to-it-iveness that inspires me, dovetailing nicely with stringing together word after word toward my second novel, learning the art of continuous narrative. It’s not the destination but the journey, as clichéd as this trope may be, that has become the point.

Nonetheless Seventeen, who will be home from college, will join me at the starting line on Sunday. He will finally complete the marathon he started when he was a tiny boy. And I will discover just how much I can accomplish when I set my mind to it.

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…and now.

The moon is full on 10.15, and it’s a full moon by which to leave behind anything that no longer serves you. Happy Full Moon—I promise a post-half update early next week. Thanks for cheering us on, Rxo

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#RadiantOmYoga

#RadiantOmYoga

How do you know when it’s the end?

Kurt Vonnegut opined in his play Happy Birthday Wanda June that heaven is a giant shuffleboard game. I think of my father sending a disc gliding down the court and then leaning on his cue, sipping a heavenly cocktail, and gazing down at us periodically. He would be especially proud of his grandchildren, two Harvard men (my nephews), Fourteen, a budding novelist, and Seventeen, who shows every indication of moving toward finance but who has been writing front-page articles for his school newspaper since the first week of school (Grinnell’s newspaper is The Scarlet and Black).

Seventeen’s grandfather found his early writing roots in journalism. His father, Seventeen’s great grandfather, was a newspaperman. My brother is an editor for Field and Stream. My grandmother wrote children’s stories and women’s fiction before there was chicklit. Writing is in our blood. From his early journalism exposure, my father never finished a manuscript without centering at least one # at the end. I can still see his desk, which is now mine, covered with piles of thin bond, Xs crossing out the mistakes, his unmistakable handwriting annotating his drafts. Somehow, my father always knew when he was at the end. It must have been such a victory to type those pound/number/hashtag signs at the bottom of the page.

I mean to ask Seventeen if he submits his electronic stories replete with ### at the end or if there is a new convention now that submissions present in digital form. It was less conventional for my father to end his novels that way, but he never typed “the end.” For years I copied him, until one of my college professors circled the ### on the last page of my paper and swirled them away as unnecessary with a delete symbol. Curious, I do a little searching. According to the Internet, it was all the way back in 2007 when the # got repurposed by the tech world. It wasn’t on my radar in its hashtag capacity until much more recently, and while I’ve been known to “hashtag” a phrase or two, I’m enough of a traditionalist that I still think of it as the number or pound sign first.

“Punctuation,” I tell my writing mentee, “makes meaning.” I am incredibly fond of punctuation for this reason. Beyond knowing when and how to employ the squiggles and dots that pepper the keyboard, I marvel how in each unique application punctuation eases the workload for words, adding just the right finish to a polished sentence.

Period. The end. But how do you know?

To finish something, we have to anticipate the end. Early this year I met with my accountant: “I don’t think I’m going to renew the studio lease,” I told her. “After five years, this is going to be it.” And after five years of cheering me on, meeting with me at every turn, soothing and comforting me when obstacles threatened to derail my progress, my accountant simply agreed, “It’s time.”

Full of the promise of possibilities, eager to show my children that their mother could create something amazing, ready to give up the life of a road yogi teaching at as many as seven different places in a given week, it was six years ago when I started writing the chapter that would become Radiant Om Yoga. There were lots of firsts on the journey—from legal explorations like becoming the proud owner of an LLC and a trademark to learning QuickBooks and small-business banking to getting the key to my first leased commercial space. What I didn’t know when I started about running a business, in spite of being self-employed for much of my adult life, I learned to the best of my abilities, marveling at just how different each day could be.

On the fifth anniversary of the very first class I ever taught at Radiant Om Yoga, with the help of three women I am lucky to count as friends and supporters of my yoga journey, we picked up the floor, the last big task to closing the space. That night, Wednesday, I taught my first class in a new space, a yoga cooperative where my community kindly followed me, and the yoga that night reminded us that the practice allows us to adapt.

Thursday it took two car trips to load the tiles into my garage. I made a pile so high that, as Fourteen said, “The floor reaches the ceiling.” The rest of my garage looks very much like a jumble sale; somehow the contents of the studio will find new purpose in my house or move on to new homes.

With nothing left but the garbage cans and a couple of resin chairs I was leaving behind (they were there when I got there), the studio felt like a shell. For five years I was the self-appointed steward of the space. Sitting on the floor one last time, I could see vast improvement to the interior of the building in spite of how hard as it often was: how many times did I curse my leasing company (indeed, at one point when they were fully in breach of contract I was one chess move away from rolling up my mat and taking them to court); how often did I arrive to find leakage from the roof, pest infestations, freezing temps because the furnace was out, snow under the door, broken plumbing, or humidity buckling my flooring; how frequently did my heart sink because just as I struggled to keep the place afloat another yoga studio would announce their grand opening in town? But then again, how many times did I teach in that sanctuary and find ease and joy in my whole being?

Sitting on the cruddy subfloor, I lit the candle and some sage and thanked the building, out loud, for the many, many gifts. Beyond everything I learned about business, beyond all of the yoga delights and revelations, beyond all of the healing, beyond the professional approbations and the personal friendships, the space was my sanctuary too, my healing place as I made the transition out of married life, as I forged ahead into and then out of an intense romance, as friendships deepened and I became ever clearer about who I am and what’s important to me. To mark the end, I rang the tingsha, three times, blew out the candle and knew … it was time to go. For the last time ever, I locked the door, patted the building, and got into my car. So much of the good continues with me, but the chapter, the chapter is truly and really over.img_7361

 

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With a new moon, new beginnings. Looking forward to writing the next chapter, xoR

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The keeper of the keys no more … later today I’ll drop this pile at the leasing office. 

Go Ask Alice

Go Ask Alice

Who needs Wonderland?

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Thirteen, a Cheshire Cat in the recent junior high production of Alice in Wonderland

 

One school year we left the farm and moved into town—my parents rented a ranch house on a little-traveled street in a neighborhood where I had school friends within walking distance. The house showed every sign of being a flower child, complete with a car port, shag carpet and avocado green appliances. That year, one of my prized possessions was a plastic record player, orange, that I could carry around when it was folded like a brief case. I would set it up, plug it in, and play full-sized LPs, either Terry Jacks’ Seasons in the Sun or a complete recording of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The latter was four records, the unabridged text, and took about three hours to listen to all the way through. I listened over and over until I could recite the story line-for-line from just about any starting point in the book.

Alice was one of my childhood heroines, more friend than literary character. Just as I felt with Dorothy’s Oz, I never fully bought into the “it was all a dream” framework of the story. Wonderland was real to me, the intro and ending added, I was certain, to appease adult sensibilities.

A few years later my seventh grade Language Arts teacher, Mrs. Ostrem, would forbid us from ending our work with any intimation that the foregoing had been a dream. It was, she instructed, an authorial cop out. If we asked her about Dorothy or Alice, I don’t remember her response. But hers was one of those lessons that taught me to compartmentalize—I loved the stories I had always loved even as I worked to discern the literary merit of crafting a fantasy world that held sway without the dream device.

At the end of her romp through Wonderland, Alice—grown back to her right size that is enormous in comparison to the creatures who wish her beheaded—stands up to them all and asserts, “You’re nothing but a pack of cards.” In the traditional John Tenniel illustration of this moment, Alice stands sideways, her head ducking, her hands raised against a flurry of playing cards that are ineffectually leaping at her even as a menagerie of animals scurries out from under her feet. In the next moments her sister is brushing leaves from Alice’s hair saying, “My, what a long sleep you’ve had!”

That illustration came to mind again and again as February, launched by a broken ignition coil, turned into March: the barrage of pesky cards kept flying at me. While I refuse to complete a financial tally, by the time the injured-reserve list included the washer, a toppled pine in the backyard, the vacuum, the radon-abatement system, and Cooper the squirrel, we had also been derailed by stomach flu, bronchitis, and worrisome maladies in the extended family.

In the depth of it all, even though I could barely catch my breath to do so, the time arrived to share the news with the Radiant Om Yoga community that ROY will close this year. There is no good time to deliver disappointing news, and with life already spinning through an unpleasant Wonderland, the timing felt destabilizing at best. The email (click here if you’d like to read it) went out and another barrage of reaction ensued. Holding space for everyone to respond, I thought: Who needs Wonderland?

And then the answer came: I do. Because making a point of attending Alice in Wonderland in which my Thirteen played one of a chorus of Cheshire Cats, once for dress rehearsal with my mother and again on closing night, being able to make painted-rose cupcakes for the IMG_6059concession stand, having the wherewithal to remember to purchase real roses for my actress, and being granted the escape of a couple of hours of live theater are what it’s all about. As there were junior high students at the production helm, they chose to blast “Welcome to Wonderland” before and after the show. My ears picked up just enough of the gist: Welcome to Wonderland/This is your new address/You’ll love it more or less/…Everyday it’s something new/Problems up the old wazoo/…Life can be fantastic every minute/For as long as you can just stay in it/…Welcome to Wonderland. And I thought, Yup. Theme song, and added it to my playlist. And no, I’d like to tell Mrs. Ostrem, none of it—not the weird, worrisome, disappointing, nor delightful—has been a dream.

Happy full moon—can it be spring already? Wishing March is marching along with gusto wherever this finds you. Thanks, as ever, for reading, xoR

February, Have Mercy

Hey, Robin, have you got bats in your belfry?

When I arrived at home between teaching a yoga class and driving Thirteen to Wednesday night dance, I had about thirty-five minutes to scramble dinner together, serve and eat, and head back out the door. My mother, Ninety-one, sat across the kitchen island from me brimming with a story. “We had a small incident,” she started, “you can see the cats are still riled up over it.” I looked where she was looking and welled up with concern—had there been a really bad cat fight? The peace among them is tenuous. But that worry didn’t wash with the reality that all three cats were sitting sentry near the hearth.

“What happened?”

“There was a squirrel around the fireplace; it sounded like it was underneath. It’s gone now, but it made a terrible racket.” Our smallest kitty, Katie, was sitting with her shoulder pressed against the hearth, Leo was peeking out from under the philodendrons, and Starling was at attention on her watching perch, the corner of the sofa. “You see?” Ninety-one indicated, “they think it’s still there.”

For the past year or so I’ve been hearing squirrels too close to my head in my office, a four-season room that juts out from the side of the house. Understandably, Ninety-one and Sixteen had concluded that the squirrel near the fireplace had somehow worked its way from that discrete roof through the walls to the fireplace. I walked over to investigate.

All it took was a touch to the handle of the fireplace door for the frightened squirrel to kick up a ruckus. I jumped back, “The squirrel isn’t gone, Mom, it’s very much still there.” She came closer to listen and we both heard the squirrel, thoroughly distressed, skittering around within. “He’s on top of the fireplace. He must have fallen down the chimney.”

Our fireplace is in fact a wood-burning stove with a two-story metal tube chimney that ascends with two bends around Thirteen’s closet. You’d never know from the outside where it looks like we have a large, rectangular chimney. From the inside what you see is a solid glass door.

The squirrel’s renewed chattering sent the cats scampering in every direction, so I did the only thing I could think of at that moment, shut off the light, finished dinner, and took Thirteen to dance. Driving away I just kept shaking my head, “how is there a squirrel in my chimney?”

Tired, scared, maybe dazed, the squirrel made no more noise until morning. In the meantime, I left two increasingly panicked messages on the machine of the company that installed the fireplace and woke from a dream in which the squirrel had morphed into a rabbit that I somehow managed to catch and then tame. In my waking mind, there was no scenario that I could imagine in which the story had a happy ending.

The next morning connected me with Wade of Critter Control. Wade arrived with nets and gloves, a tarp and a long pole. He told me he retrieves five or six squirrels a year from fireplaces. Sometimes he even lowers a special rope down the chimney, a rope he’s knotted every foot, and, he reported, most of the squirrels find their way out.

But the set up of my stove and chimney gave Wade pause. A series of baffles direct the smoke into the chimney; there is no flue. Usually, he explained to me, he’d hold the net in place, open the flue, and out would drop the squirrel. But in my fireplace we ran a distinct risk that the squirrel would bolt. Into my house. He shook his head, giving himself a less than fifty percent chance of catching the squirrel, maybe.

“I hate to say it, but we may just have to let him die in there.” Wade was managing my expectations, but he must have seen how distressed I looked, because then he presented his idea. “What I’m thinking is that maybe we can help him save himself. I’m going to drop this part of the baffle. I don’t know as I’ll be able to put it back right after. I’m going to drop this down and put a trap in. Maybe he’ll come down on his own.”

It seemed as good a plan as any. I must have looked hopeful when I said, “Oh, can we try that, please?”

So Wade set the trap, showing me precisely how it worked and how much food he was loading it with. Then we surveyed the squirrel issues on the outside of my house and he set some traps there as well and outlined a plan to seal the vents where they’ve been getting in. It was at this point that my neighbor, seeing the Critter Control van in my driveway, came over to inquire about bats. He, too, was nonplussed to learn that a squirrel could end up in the chimney.

Giving me his card and writing out a handsome bill for the visit, Wade said: “If you see the trap is sprung, you just call me. I’ll come get him.”

The squirrel was quiet and I alternately worried off and on all though another night that he was dead or barely living. On Friday I waited until the morning bustle was over and then I went to investigate. The trap was sprung. I peered in with a flashlight—all I could see was my squirrel’s tail—he was curled so deep in the trap. I danced to my phone to call Wade. Less than forty-eight hours after Cooper—the squirrel I only allowed myself to name once he was freed—had his fall down my chimney, he was released to live happily in the country north of Bondurant, and Wade was my new hero.

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Cooper in his trap awaiting transport to his new life. 

Stories from real life aren’t always so neat and even this happy ending has two tags. The first is why I named him Cooper—no, not because he was cooped up. I wanted to name him Alice, because the line from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland kept playing in my head: Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, because she had plenty of time to look about her as she went down and wonder what was going to happen next. But everyone had been saying “he,” about our squirrel and while we have no confirmation, a gender change didn’t seem in order. Then I thought of Alice Cooper, certainly a boy, and made a little mental leap so that Cooper the squirrel had a fitting name.

The last piece is a different tangent, but in some ways the most important part. Shortly after Wade came to collect Cooper, Sixteen and I picked up a few items at our local HyVee grocery store. In the express lane we were behind an elderly lady with a wispy cloud of white hair. She was paying for her groceries when I set our grapes on the counter. The sight of them made her stop and reach for my grapes: “Don’t those look nice,” she said, her fingers lightly touching the bag. “I didn’t see those.” She returned to her transaction and after stood watching the grapes go on the scale and into a bag.

“Would you like me to get you some of those grapes after I finish this order?” The cashier inquired kindly. I sent my son, “Sixteen, can you pick out some grapes for this lady?” He was around the corner in a flash and back just as quickly, “These okay?” The lady looked pleased. “Put them on my order,” I told the cashier. “Oh, no, you don’t have to do that,” the elderly lady said. “It’s my pleasure,” I told her, “my treat today.” The cashier put the grapes in her cart and smiled at me. Sixteen said to me, as we walked out, “That was nice.” I leaned toward him, my heart open and full, “I am happy I was able to do something in honor of Cooper and Wade and all the people and critters who have done the right thing today.”

This month … this month has been a roiling challenge from the beginning. Mechanical things have failed, members of my family have been ill, my house hasn’t been a fortress (there were even ants, ANTS, in my basement last night), and of course my heart is still sad about Bugsy (The Bugsy Blues) … I am ever grateful for the gifts of kindness, compassion, and safe squirrel removal, for the connection this blog gives me to you, and so much more. A special tip of my chapeau to SGW who celebrated her birthday recently. A shout-out to each of you who so lovingly read my words and extra gratitude when you let me know how they touch you. Thank you for sharing my journey and inviting me to be a part of yours, Rxo

String Theory

String Theory

Did you sleep?

Cosmic theories befuddle my brain. My son, Sixteen, likes to think about time travel and the edges of the universe and life on other planets. And he likes to talk about them, too. Such considerations are my mental undoing. Even a concept like our national debt doesn’t truly resonate because I don’t have a clear way of imagining what that amount of money looks like.

But it is not these things that disturb my sleep. If there are concentric rings of thought, moving from the immediate to the theoretical, I’m most-often lodged in those inner rings, trying to figure out my own realities, fiscal and otherwise. Sure, I’ll look up to consider the news, wonder about the political race, or feel dismay about foreign affairs. I love to think about the meaning punctuation makes in a sentence and challenge myself to read thought-provoking books. I might tackle a new recipe with fearlessness or a toilet repair with considerably more trepidation, but generally speaking these aren’t the things that wake me either.

In spite of all of the yoga I practice and teach, I’m a worrier. And when I wake up in the wee hours, it’s to worry—did I make the right decision? Will there be enough money? Is my roof going to hold? What shall I do about the basement leak? What can I do about it? Will there be enough money? Why don’t my cats get along? If I get rid of the landline, what’s the best means to fax in my editing work? What’s not done for tomorrow? What do Sixteen and Thirteen need tomorrow? What day will tomorrow be? Will there be enough money? If I go back to sleep, will I be groggy in the morning?

That last one is rooted in solid experience. If there aren’t at least 90 minutes between the worry block and my alarm clock, I’m liable to go back to sleep and wake sluggish, hitting the snooze alarm more than once. If I hit it too many times on a school day morning, I’ve got two choices: stumble downstairs and get the morning going for everyone else, skipping my treadmill/Sun Salutation routine that invariably gets my brain on track for the day, or head to the treadmill in spite of the time and guarantee a morning that is at best hurry-hurry-hurry and at worse a dash for the first school bell.

It’s pretty much a given that I’m going to wake up sometime during the night. But when the timing works right or—in the best-case scenario—I’ve had a short afternoon nap, my brain doesn’t spin up and I turn over and get more comfortable. Deep sleep, then, takes me to a place where I remember my dreams.

And so it was the other morning that I woke from a dream that seemed to be a fuzzy memory of my mother’s last car, a sleek black Lincoln we called the “mafia staff car.” I didn’t know when I woke up why I was dreaming about the car—just woke up thinking about it and realized that I was relaxed, not worried, the sign of a good night’s sleep.

That very night, nearly asleep, curled up in my bed on the floor after a day when my activities flowed easily from one thing to another, it occurred to me that the stitch that lingers post-op in my hand had come out. I replayed the moment in my mind, my hand raw but opening up to release the string, a black suture I tugged out gently with my other hand. I woke up then and felt my left hand with my right. The hard spot was still there, the puffy, sore spot to the inside of my knuckle not obviously better. And I realized that while falling to sleep I had flashed back to the dream about the Lincoln, a dream in which the suture was poking right out of my hand and I had tugged on it, removing it. My dream was so real, but only a dream.

Once I had sorted out that the image was a dream memory, I found it could play over and again in my head. Living in a body with a track record of rejecting stitches, was I visualizing what may eventually come to pass? That was enough to wake me fully and bring on the slew of worries that accompany not having a completely functioning and comfortable hand.

Erma Bombeck is credited with the first version of the quote I learned as, Worry is like a rocking chair: both give you something to do and get you nowhere. My worry is a naughty magic carpet, rocking me out of sleep, skidding into dreams and occasionally settling me down gently. My yoga mat feels like a better magic carpet to me, a place where I find serenity and a break from the worry. And I wonder, as I often do, how it is I have so much cause to worry when I practice and teach so much yoga. I am invariably stopped by the enormity of the potential answer to the next question: how much would I worry if I didn’t practice yoga?

A mudra, or hand gesture, that inspires knowledge and concentration. This is one of my favorites, and I've just learned it's also good for insomnia. See you at 3:23am Gyan Mudra.

A mudra, or hand gesture, that inspires knowledge and concentration. This is one of my favorites, and I’ve just learned it’s also good for insomnia. See you at 3:23am Gyan Mudra.

With the New Moon of 9.13.15 and Mercury cruising into retrograde on 9.17.15, we’re in a period of taking great care. The best-laid plans may go awry, even as the urge to make them is strong. Whatever your practice, hang in there & thank you for witnessing mine. Namaste, Rxo

Bright Eyes

Bright Eyes

How was your trip?

The Big Apple Circus is a one-ring spectacular famed for taking excellent care of their animal and human performers. When Thirteen and Sixteen were just about Two and barely Five, we drove from our urban home in Bethesda to rural Maryland where the circus was performing in their tent, erected in a vast field. It was a late-afternoon into the evening performance and I remember the worries: would they stay awake? Was it too much money to spend on tickets for people so young? Would they enjoy the performance? Would the clowns scare them? What would they eat for dinner? About half-way through the evening, when Five was sitting on his father’s lap and Two was on mine, so that each of them could see better over the heads in front of us, they were leaning forward, eyes wide, completely absorbed. Tears sprang to my eyes and I thought, sometimes, sometimes as a parent you get to get it completely right.

Intrepid travelers

Intrepid travelers

I felt the same way over and over again touring Spain with my teenagers this summer. Two weeks took us to Madrid, Córdoba,

Sixteen and Thirteen at the Alhambra

Sixteen and Thirteen at the Alhambra

Granada, Barcelona, Valencia, and back to Madrid. We marveled at some of the most visited tourism sites in Spain, including the Alhambra and the Sagrada Familia, and enjoyed the markets, the grocery stores, and hanging laundry on the line out of our apartment window. We learned about hotel rooms where you have to insert the key card in the slot just inside the door to make the electricity work and sometimes struggled to find wifi as reliable as that which we are used to. We rode in taxis, buses, trains, shuttles, and even a Spanish airplane, and we walked in the surprise summer heat wave so much that Sixteen came home five pounds lighter in spite of eating every wonderful thing imaginable and ice cream nearly every afternoon around five or six. (My treat was sangria, almost every night with dinner. Yum.)

There were speed bumps, naturally, like the flight to Madrid that left Atlanta nearly five hours late, in part because Sixteen was held at the gate while the Delta employees struggled to figure out what had become of his suitcase. We each took our turns feeling grumpy and out of sorts, and there were a few scary what-will-we-eat moments, like the free tapa that was a dish of batter-fried fish, complete with their heads. But most of the time the trip was charmed, and even things that might try our patience around home, like waiting in line nearly two hours for train tickets, became interesting as we considered how we would ask for what we wanted in Spanish when it was our turn.rowing

We stayed in apartments in Madrid and Barcelona. In Madrid, especially, it made us feel like locals, on the residential side of the most beautiful Parque del Retiro, where Sixteen ably rowed us around the lake and a turn around any corner brought us to another glorious fountain.

flamenco

Flamenco!

The cathedral in Córdoba and the Alhambra in Granada were inspiring. But the flamenco trio we lucked into in Córdoba and the sales women in the tourist shop who knocked a few Euro cents off Thirteen’s purchase when they saw she was paying herself were the delights we couldn’t anticipate, just enjoy as they occurred. It was with real pleasure, too, that we navigated the country without a car of our own, settling in to read and write and daydream or nap during our journeys from place to place.

It’s been forty years since I saw Barcelona. In the taxi from the airport I was stunned—the joyful creativity of the architecture clicked into place, the landscape of my dreams making sense after all these years. Top that with sitting in the café where Picasso sat with his friends, and I couldn’t have been any happier.

Picasso was here!

Picasso was here!

If it was hard to leave Barcelona, it was with pure bliss that we splashed in the Mediterranean Sea. And the day following may have been the most charmed of all—back to Madrid by train, the perfect paella, twentieth-century art at the Sofia Reina museum, and an upgrade on our birthday-gift last-night rooms at the Airport Hilton to the elegant and massive Presidential Suite.

We planned and saved for this trip for two years. To work for such a trip, enjoy it fully and then arrive home is to set the last period on a chapter. That is, all except the telling about it afterwards and the distilling of all that we learned—the gifts of travel. These include the valuable lesson of setting a goal and making it happen; the intrigue of being plunged into a foreign culture and noting the similarities and differences; the opening the door on the world to my children; the contrast of a technological developmental arc that’s different from the one we’re used to; and the opportunity to be completely present, somewhere new and unknown. Here at home, it almost seems like a fantasy already.

Back home on my treadmill, confused like a newborn about day and night by jetlag, I rubbed my eyes, not comprehending how it was that the credits for the show that I had just finished could be in Spanish. Were my electronics playing tricks on me? I noticed the same phenomenon the next day and it was then I realized that no, it was not a trick. Those Spanish credits rolled every time, right at the end of the broadcast, but I had never watched all the way to the end before. And at that moment I realized that bright eyes, eyes that can see the familiar in new light, are among the greatest gifts of travel, alongside renewed and replenished hope for the future and my faith that all will be well.

My hand is healing, and it felt great not to drag my computer around Spain, but it’s wonderful to be writing again. Thanks for your understanding that life’s events mandated a break from OverneathItAll. Full and new moons have come and gone since I last posted, but the crescent moon hung huge and low in the western sky last night and I’m celebrating summer along with you. Thank you, as ever, for sharing a bit of my journey. Namaste, Rxo

... paella!

… paella!

Salad, Sangria ...

Salad, Sangria …

Gaudi, oh how did you ever think of this?

Gaudi, oh how did you ever think of this?

One of the soaring windows of the Sagrada Familia

One of the soaring windows of the Sagrada Familia

The Alhambra

The Alhambra

Parco del Retiro

Parco del Retiro

Digital Immortality

Is this what fifty looks like?

April 28, the day before Fifteen changes his name to Sixteen, four of my father’s books, out of print for many years, will become available in electronic editions. The books, The End of My Life, his first novel published in 1947, The Violated (1958), Confessions of a Spent Youth (1960), and Brill Among the Ruins (1970), are a part of my father’s backlist, a literary bequest of ten novels and three works of nonfiction, one coauthored with my brother. They were written without exception by his two index fingers on a series of typewriters large and small. He would eventually adapt from the hard press of a manual to a more responsive electric typewriter; he never comfortably touched a computer.

In fact, my father’s fantasy writing device was a wall-sized keyboard that he could set to take a full-body punch or a light tap, depending on his mood. The room, as he imagined it to me, would contain a collection of costumes, so that he could dress as a ballet dancer one day, twirling from key to key, a boxer the next, punching the keys hard to get them to imprint letters on the page.

In today’s digitalized world, such a typing room is technologically possible. Perhaps one even already exists. It’s ironic that my father, who loved, read, wrote, and lined our houses with books, now has a chance at being discovered by a whole new readership devoted to their e-readers. I don’t know what he might have made of these re-releases, but since I do remember that he liked to stay abreast of changing times, so long as he himself didn’t have to manage the technology, I suspect he would have been pleased.

I know that I am. Working with the professionals at Open Road Media has been a pleasure. On spring break in New York with Twelve, I took her with me to meet with the editor and media relations team at the publishing company. It was a legacy trip, the kind of trip I went on with my father at about her same age. We took the meeting, enjoyed a tour, and left with new impressions of the publishing world. They asked for a suitable photo of my father for marketing purposes; I promised I would see what I could find.

In my all-time favorite picture of my father, his face is close up and his head is ringed by a laurel wreath. The photo, taken at his fiftieth birthday party by Iowa Writing Workshop director Jack Leggett’s wife Lee, shows my father the way I remember him best, eyes twinkling, fascinated by whatever conversation he is enjoying at the moment. I don’t need a color photo to remember how blue those eyes were.

Vance Bourjaily, 9.17.1972

Vance Bourjaily, 9.17.1972

For the occasion of his fiftieth birthday, in 1972 when I was newly seven, he took out an advertisement in the Iowa City Press Citizen and invited everyone reading the ad to come to our farm for the day, bring picnics and celebrate. My parents’ parties and events were legendary and frequent, but I like to think that the fiftieth is one I remember distinctly. The pasture was dotted with picnickers, the pond full of happy splashing people.

When Twelve and I are back from New York, I find the photo and am relieved to discover it isn’t professionally fixed in its frame. I take it in for scanning, another digitalization of my father. It is only when I’m fitting it safely back into its frame that I realize and remark to my mother:

“Dad was fifty in this picture. My age … or at least the age I’m about to be.”

I’m turning fifty in four months. Unlike forty, I find I’m not the least bit concerned by this milestone birthday. I am intent on celebrating it, although perhaps not with a newspaper ad invitation. But gazing at Dad’s image at fifty gives me pause. Do I look as old at fifty as he always seemed to me? Have I accomplished as much as he had by fifty? How much are we alike, and how much do I live my life on my own terms? What are the important lessons of being my father’s daughter?

My father never got his fancy wall-sized keyboard on which he could pound or prance, but in his most productive writing years, he protected his writing time. We all did. Dad had a room of his own where he could and did write nearly every morning. His afternoons were reserved for his students at the university, tennis, farm projects, and the huge garden he planted every summer. Evenings after dinner he would sit, absent-mindedly chewing on this thumb, reading. My father was a writer his whole life. And I never hesitated, when I was growing up, to say if someone asked what my father did: My father was a writer.

I do hesitate when people ask me what I do. It’s complicated, I tell them, or, I own a yoga studio, but I don’t elaborate. It’ll be some time into the conversation, after I’ve also copped to being an editor and a mother, when being a writer might come up. But I stepped into the digital literary world ahead of my father, launching this blog in 2011, engaging in social media, and publishing my own novel, Throwing Like a Girl (available through Smashwords), earlier this year. I think, perhaps for my fiftieth birthday, it would be a gift to both of us to learn to say upfront: I’m a writer, just like my Dad.

Happy new moon on Saturday—wishing you glorious blooms and soft spring evenings. Thanks for walking along on my journey with me, Rxo

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