Friday, December 28, 2012

The Rhythm of the Beach at Year's End

I began this year by going to Mexico, so it only seems fitting to return, if only in my mind. Now, I was never one of those people that bought into the whole beach, relaxation, sunset thing. During the part in guided meditations when you are asked to visualize a calm beach with softly lapping waves, I generally rolled my eyes underneath my closed lids. Why does everyone always talk about beaches when they are stressed? And if they are really that great, why have we not all relocated by now? (Besides the obvious deterrence of hurricanes and tsunamis)

I realize now that the reason I never “got it” before was because I had never been on a beach for longer than a week. And I had never been on a beach for longer than a few days since entering the adult world of jobs, life plans, bills, heartbreak, meaning-seeking, and responsibility. Beaches were made for adults. Sure, kids enjoy them. They build sand castles, they play soccer with the waves, they do long-jump competitions in the sand, but the beach that permeates meditation literature, health and wellness blogs, and personal ads “I love long walks on a beach”—that beach is an adult beach.

I am currently up at my family cabin in Northern Minnesota. It is lightly snowing outside. I spent the afternoon skiing on top of a lake. Yes, I can stand on water. Be impressed. The peace of this place is nearly unparalleled, except of course by beaches. Hence my reflective pause backwards. For Christmas, I got lots of thoughtful gifts from my family, and a few unclaimed things my mom found in the back of her closet when she did her latest organization storm. But, perhaps the most cherished present, that all twenty-somethings love/hate, was my period (sarcasm intended). Only twelve days late and full of rage—thank you copper Paraguard IUD. Having forgotten to stop and buy supplies on our way up to the cabin, I had to call my aunt to run the errand. Keeled over in pain, moaning and clinging to my heating pad, I was grateful when Aunt Carla showed up.

With a box of Tampax super plus tampons in her hand, she leaned in, “You know honey, I loved buying these for you.”
            “Remind you of pre-menopause?”
            “No, it’s not just that. It reminds me of when my life had a rhythm. I loved having a rhythm.”
            Dopily, feeling sorry for myself in the throes of one of the worst periods in the history of the world, really, I replied, “Well, mine is always unpredictable, so it is hardly a rhythm.”

Still, the point was heard. Rhythm.

I think maybe that is what the beach offers us. That is what spending five weeks on the Pacific coast gave me. Rhythm. And that is what it has continued to give me since returning stateside, starting grad school, coping with the death of two uncles, supporting family, writing papers, facing my fibromyalgic body… all of this. When life feels chaotic. When I am not quite sure where to put my energy. I can close my eyes, take some deep breaths and feel the waves rocking me awake, visualize the sun setting over the big white rock at 6:24pm. 

A few weeks ago, I was in a yoga class, something of a triumph to make it to anything that starts at a set time in my grad school life. It was what seemed like the thousandth downward dog, and I was plotting my escape. Would it hurt the others’ zen if I just slipped out the back? The teacher doesn’t seem to be paying attention to me too closely… While I was busy concocting an elaborate plan, the beach snuck up on me. Breathing in and out, I literally relocated in my mind, unwillfully, back to Zipolite. I heard the voice of my favorite Norwegian yoga teacher. I saw the sliding bamboo doors in front of me. I saw the pacific horizon melt in the distance. I was there, and then I was here. Present within my body, at peace with the pain, ready to engage more fully with the world. The rhythm of the ocean got inside me as few things ever have, and I have marveled at its stickiness. Its refusal to leave me. Thank god.

So, here I am. YOOT months in the past. Masters degree half-earned. And, I get it now. The beach is pretty awesome. But, really, I don’t think it is so much the beach as an entity that I hold on to so tightly. It is that thing that happens when we really surrender to being. Something not easily accessed in the day-to-day life of achievement focused, do-gooders entrenched in capitalism while attempting to live life well. In surrendering, the rhythm I found, though inspired by the waves and the sunsets, was really more internal—about me. A core pulse that is always there, sometimes beating too faintly to hear, but there to catch you when you are too tired to hold a downward dog or too stressed to write a paper or too sad to be alone. The beach introduced me to me (go ahead and roll your eyes, but I'm serious). I used to think that to find a good rhythm, I had to make better lists. Schedule out work-outs and plan meals with more acuity. Create a better life organization system. Turns out, I needed just the opposite.

So, perhaps all this longing for sunsets and beach vacations is really just our longing to have the space and time to take a few more deep breaths. Perhaps it is a yearning for that thing we all feel inside of us, that feels too often too far away, that can only be revealed when we press pause and feel our own unique rhythm. Beaches are a great place to find it. But, I think it just might be accessible in many other spaces and places, if we can just slow down enough to feel it. And, what has made me most excited about this discovery of my inner beach is that it sticks. You do not have to relinquish normal life forever. A little dose goes a long way.

(Note: This blog has been relatively inactive since YOOT travels have concluded. Thus, upon reflection, I have decided to designate this as my official travel blog. Where I write when I travel. I will look for other outlets for my writing when not traveling…)

(Second Note: I just read Mindy Kaling's book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, which I think contributed to the tell-all nature of this post--i.e. period writing)

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Amazing Race Application Video

Of the many accomplishments in the YOOT, few come close to this application video for the Amazing Race prepared by my dad and I with directorial input from my brother Adam. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) we were not selected. But, like many of the Olympians we have all come to love over the past week, the glory is not always in the gold, but in the journey.  We gave it our all.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Just another Family Vacation: Italia

I volunteered to drive back to Rome from Benano with my dad and cousins. Jeff, Perrine, and Milo were with us for week one and would be flying back to Paris and my dad would take over driving their rental car. It was the first time I got to touch Milo the entire trip as we had been living in a family quarantine situation. Milo brought some hand, foot, and mouth disease, and mild chicken pox with him on the trip. So, we all had to keep our distance a little to protect baby Oliver. Luckily, we mastered air kissing, winking, goofy faces, and knowing eyes among adults. As for Milo, I fear he might resent us for years to come as the relatives he went on vacation with and wouldn't even give him a hug. Oh the stuff of family vacations is always so rich.

So, after our goodbyes, my dad and I hopped into the Peugot station wagon, and set off in the direction of Gualdo, Le Marche, Italy. I know what you are thinking. It was our favorite joke of the trip as well. Credit to Ben G.

"Where's Gualdo?"

Here it is:

There were even people wearing white and red stripes in the region who always seemed to be a little bit lost.

Anyway, back to the drive to Gualdo. I went with my dad on one condition: we could do something "cool" on our drive. Equipped with no guidebook or phrase book, the finding of the cool seemed a bit elusive. As we drove through the stunning beauty of the Sibillini Mountatins, our stomaches began to grumble. So, when Posta, Italy appeared, it seemed as good a place as any to stop for a meal. My dad ordered the tagliatelli with sausage. I ordered pasta with porcini mushrooms. We got an Italian beer to split.

After our first bites and satisfied murmurs, we looked up to find an Italian man, who had been enjoying a leisurely lunch with his family on the porch next to us. He placed an empty wine glass in front of my dad, filled it with a generous pour of red wine, and in his best Italian-accented english said, "This is the wine to drink with that pasta." We smiled and cheersed him and went on with our eating. Of course from that point on the meal quickly expanded from a daddy-daughter date to a full family affair. Marcello was the pharmacist from the next town over. He was showing his brother a good time (as the two bottles of wine on their table showed). His wife had better english and helped translate the more depth-ful parts of the conversation about politics and work. The conversation fizzled as Maria got pulled back into talking with her sister-in-law, and my dad and I returned to our one-on-one. However, as soon as our wine glass was empty and we had returned to sipping water, Marcello was standing over us, "I do not like water," He said.

With that, we were back in it. We learned that Marcello is a communist and his brother is a socialist. We learned that while it was 3:30 in the afternoon, and all had been having a great time, at 4:30, Marcello and his wife would go back to work til 8. Marcello was a principled man. He was the head pharmacist for all the small town pharmacies. He did not get extra pay for this responsibility, but he felt it was the right thing to do. They all originated from Puglia, in the heal of Italy, a place they raved about. It was work that brought them to the mountains. There was a 9-year-old girl, Marcello's niece, who occasionally answered questions with her school-learned english, while her parents smiled proudly. It was the kind of conversation that only happens on the porch of a small-town restaurant over a couple of glasses of shared wine. It could not be found in a guidebook.

As we wrapped up the meal and conversation, a bottle of 10-year aged grappa appeared on Marcello's table with two glasses. My dad commented to me, "Wow, he is really bringing out all the stops for his brother." Just as soon as the comment was made, one of the two glasses was placed on our table and filled with grappa. "Grappa, 10-years aged, very good." We clinked glasses and obliged. A bit worried about just how generous Marcello had been with the alcohol, I took a few extra sips to spare my dad any chance of tipsy driving. It was the least I could do.

We made it safely to Gualdo where we met up with the rest of the family for another week of fun. Too many stories to share, each worthy of their own blog post. But the lazy-womans approach will be photos with highlights from the two weeks:

Le Coste de Gradoli, a natural winery, where we walked the vineyard, and tasted many wines, even though Jean Marco was"too busy, and could only let us try one... ok, one more... ok five more." My cousin, a wine enthusiast, planned this outing for our first day in Italy, one that remained a favorite for the entire trip.

Orvietto was the closest big city to Benano. It was a beautiful walled city with a large duomo. We toured the underground etruscan caves. We sat in the formidable church and discussed our own views on religion. We ate gelato, of course.

No family trip is complete without homemade, gourmet meals. This trip included wood-fired pizza, eggplant parmesan, cabbage slaws, pesto potato salad, fresh fig and pear galette, homemade gnocchi, fennel salad from the garden... We did not need to eat out every night to eat like Italians. It is in our blood.

 Evenings were spent at Lake Bolsena, a beautiful natural lake near Benano. Oliver even went for a little swim there.

 Meredith claims that she ate gelato everyday we were in Italy. If double-dosing days can make up for days without. I think we all can make that claim.

 Benano, a small hill top town in Umbria, was our home for week one. It was a town of Italians. There was the guy who always sat on the bench where we parked the cars. There were the nonnas out in abundance always ready to goo and gaa at Oliver. We practiced our friendly Italian greetings, and felt at home in the decadent home equipped with a wine cellar from the etruscan period. My parents' friends, Karen and Paul, co-own the home and were kind enough to rent it out to us. We all want to come back and think you should probably go too!

 The best times were shared with Oliver, our newest addition to the family. He really fits right in.

 Our second day in Gualdo, we went to the Adriatic sea. We found a beautiful, if a little precarious, swimming spot equipped with jumping spots and shade. Epic swimming ensued.

Good friends of mine, Zach and Bill, peace corpser and fulbrighter and international affectionados, joined us from their posts in Moldova for a few days of the trip. Their energy complimented our family well especially for the celebrating of the Fourth of July, done with a full-blown first, hopefully annual, Gingold-Gerhardstein & Co. International American Olympics.

Weeks of work went into this exhibition piece. Events in the olympics included: relay race with such strokes as side stroke, elementary back stroke and doggy paddle; underwater distance launch; synchronized swimming including dolphin mimicry (pronounced Mimi-cry); underwater rock scramble; individual creative jumping; running. Winners of each event were awarded penne pasta medals. Re-runs should be playing on your local PBS station.

The most important part of the trip, and the reason we were all in Italy, was the celebration of my parents' 40th year of marriage. The town of Benano blessed them in their Catholic church (see family photo above), we heard stories of their college years and young love. We discussed family values and how to find role models to help guide your life. We chewed on all the good and bad and authentic stuff of family. Thank you mom and dad for this amazing trip and for creating such a strong and beautiful family.  Here's to 40 more.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Cousining England

The man with the vest
Grasped tightly to his baguette,
Nodding down to bite.

In London, I have begun writing haikus. I find that it is an excellent way to boil down a moment to a particular sensation, oddity, feeling. The man with the vest was on the tube escalator. I fully surrendered to the tube escalators. They are just too long to consider trekking up, especially with jet-lag. So, I would settle in behind the man with the baguette and the lady with the high heels, I read the play posters, and give into the journey to the higher ground. This is clearly a luxury of my time off. When I “have to be somewhere,” I would rarely settle into an escalator, no matter how steep the climb.

Also in London, I have found the joy of traveling sans guidebook, with the guidance of a lovely cousin and her lovely boyfriend. It is such a remarkable privilege to arrive in a foreign land to the welcoming embrace of a loved one, who is willing and able to take you on a journey. In my 9 days here I did not see Big Ben or Westminster Abbey. But, I did stroll through St. James and Hyde parks, drink world-renowned coffee at Monmou Coffee while tasting the most divine flavors known to man as I weaved through Borough market. I also saw art at the Tate Modern, including the original Dali painting that donned the walls of my high school boyfriend’s bedroom in the form of a poster cut up into sections on his closet accordion door.

Becca and Ajay preparing our first meal together

In the countryside of England, we walked. A lot. Becca and I both came to understand why people continuously write about pastures and label music “pastoral.” Pastures are simply divine. Our most arduous day we walked 12 miles through pastures of cows and sheep to the sea where we found the Seven Sisters National Park. The coastline boasted white cliffs that dropped straight into the ocean without a hint of hesitation. We were given blue skies and sunshine and sunburns for our walking, and soaked it all up.

Pasture walking on the South Downs Trail
Cousins atop the Seven Sisters
The Seven Sisters
Becca atop Seven Sisters
We met the characters of the countryside including the man who owned the crystal shop in Littlington. I would write his name, but I fear I would butcher it… just imagine the name of a jester in a fantasy world full of dark lords and dragons. He spoke about the powers of crystals so matter-of-factly, that he might as well have been talking about car mufflers. His round belly, slightly balding head, and nerdy glasses seemed to be all too knowing, leading both my cousin and I to find crystals to help guide our ways. Or there was Roy Savage, the man who owned the tennis courts/campground in Alfriston. He went to Ohio State for a year on a tennis scholarship. There was something in the way he carried himself that made him seem like a star of years past who has all but been forgotten, but at one point was really something.
First British Beer at George's Pub (with tunnels underneath it where Pirates used to smuggle in goods!)

In the city, there was Simon, a friend of Becca’s who is a poet-writer-artist-performer who has many rituals he sticks to and a way of seeing the artistic talent in others. He offered free tickets to a play, so our last night in London found us at the Royal Court Theater where we watched opening night of a play about a man giving birth. It comedically explored very interesting themes about the medicalization of the birthing process, gender roles, and parenting. After the play concluded, Becca and I sealed our week with ale and porters and shared stories.

I really had an amazing time in England. But it was not because I planned the best trip itinerary. I actually never read a single guidebook, I share perhaps with a tinge of shame. I had an amazing time because I allowed myself to bump into the city as I strolled and because Becca and Ajay welcomed me into their home as only family can, creating an adventure full of beauty, delicious tastes, affirming love, and challenging questions. I left London satisfied and ready to sign up for Fare Alerts so I can hop across the pond for another visit!

Burrough market tomatoes
Venison and Wild Boar sandwich
Monmouth Coffee made with love
It did not hurt my impression of London when I was upgraded to business class yesterday morning, allowing me to hang out in the elite British Airways lounge and indulge in croissants and cappuccino. But clearly, the most lasting feeling from the trip is my love for my cousin and how special it was to get to share that time together. I continue to be reminded that the greatest gift one can give another is time and shared experiences. And I think when those ingredients combine, positive residue is left behind…

London streets sparkle
Not just because of the rain
Cousin love sheds jewels.

Cousins in Camden Town

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Healing in Cincinnati

I have been keeping a google doc of my symptoms. But, it is hard not to feel like I am just complaining and too sensitive. I saw my back doctor’s eyes as I told him all the things that I have been feeling. They pretty much resided in the back of his head. He bantered back and forth with me about my symptoms. He noted his only exposure to yoga was living above a studio, and mocked my assertion that it had helped me with awareness. “Right, awareness. That is what yoga is all about huh? Smirk. Smirk.”

As I left, he told me I had a pretty smile. He did not take me seriously. He reluctantly ordered an MRI of my low back, though he said he would “sleep just fine at night without you having one.” Still, I did it. And two days later, there on the computer screen, were my two degenerated, bulging discs complete with bone spurs and adema and shit. The back of a construction worker or grandma. Shit. He says it will never get better and there is nothing I can really do. He suggested paying attention to it and modifying life according to that. I said, “cool.” He said, “cool.” Really. This is what Western medicine has to offer.

My Chiropractor, Dr. Baker, on the other hand ensures me that if I wobble on a blue inflated disc, lay over a foam wedge daily and get consistent chiropractic care, I can take my stage 3 degeneration back to a stage 2. Dr. Baker is serious about chiropractic care and even more serious about his contempt for all types of care that are not part of his Total Maximized Living package. He is more of a motivational speaker and coach than a doctor. His office is adorned with quotes from MDs about subluxation and corrective care and the number of deaths hospitals cause and healing. He relives his glory days of competitive weight lifting down the hallway to the bathroom where his muscles literally bulge through the photographs as you pass. You do not go in your own room to get your care. You are with a community of other healing people and hear Dr. Baker cheer each one on as they climb atop his table. “Ooohh, good one. Great adjustment.” “Oh, did you feel that? You have been doing your homecare!”

I can’t help but feel like I am a C student when I go see Dr. Baker. I do the homecare, sort of. I don’t give him hugs after my adjustments. I can’t bow down and worship the chiropractic care God as my one and only savior. I still worship a few other health care gods. I suppose I am a polytheist. I want to believe in one way, but there is so much proof of so many different answers along with so much proof that there is no answer. I find myself doing what any good Unitarian would do and finding a little bit of each to fold into my personal care plan. Yet, I clearly have yet to be saved… as is also typical of most Unitarians.

So, it was my back pain’s unending knocking and this persistent foggy headed fatigue that ultimately brought me back to Cincinnati for the past 6 weeks. While my soul could have kept hopping, my body had had enough and once I sat down for a minute, I realized my soul was ok with the reprieve as well. I found a friend with an extra room in Northside, and I made a little home centered around healing my body, discovering what young adults are doing in Cincinnati, networking, and repacking for my final big move of the year.

Six weeks later, my back still hurts, but I have a new understanding about what is really going on and arsenal of exercises that should at least help me manage. My fogginess has lifted. My childhood is thoroughly sorted through, straight A report cards from age 6 to 18 were carefully pruned down to the ones just with the best teacher commentary. I held off from throwing out my 6th grade presidency campaign signs just in case I run for office some day. I thought Huffington Post would surely like to do a piece on my first successful political campaign. 

My Midwestern blood is pulsing proudly. This time in Cincinnati, I really did it. I did two long group bike rides centered on food. 

Queen City Bike and Dine

I had visitors from Chicago come and boasted the city’s gems. Clearly if I ever come back to live in this city, I will need to recruit a few other like-minded urban pioneers to join me.

I spent a day strawberry picking and strawberry baking with my mom (perhaps the stuff of another blog post). 

Strawberry- Rhubarb pie and Strawberry- Rhubarb "syrup"

I explored the all-american country side of Adams County, Ohio with my sister-in-law and nephew.

I played one too many games of Settlers of Catan with fellow artists, politicians, bakers, and twenty-somethings with flexible schedules.

I indulged in delicious riverside beer with my dad. 

I volunteered for Sherrod Brown. I met people doing amazing work in education, juvenile justice, politics, and youth development. I sowed a few seeds just in case someday my path brings me back to the place I was born.

In Boston, I continue to update my symptoms journal and search for the perfect doctor who gets it all. But, until then, I heal with the knowledge that I really do love Cincinnati, I am so happy to be in Boston, and I get to go to London tonight. 

Oh what a YOOT it has been.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Thank You, Mr. President

I was recently forwarded this thank-you card template from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force urging me to thank the president for his words of support for gay marriage. I did just that.

Their form letter begins:
Congratulations, Mr. President, for making history today by becoming the first sitting president to explicitly support marriage for same-sex couples. Millions of families now know that their country’s leader believes in fairness for all.

We celebrate this moment and also remember that the right of loving, committed couples to get married is just one of many issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. It is heartening to know the president stands with our families in the pursuit of full equality, economic security and justice.

I am an Ohio voter. People talk about how this could hurt you in Ohio. There are plenty of Ohioans like myself who applaud your position and will use it as fuel in our efforts to ensure your re-election. I am twenty-six years old. I am the daughter of a civil rights attorney who fought in 1993 to strike down a Cincinnati charter amendment that essentially legalized discrimination against homosexual employees. He lost. Cincinnati only recently overturned it. I really hope that when my kids are growing up, this issue has been put to bed for good. I really hope that no matter what sexual orientation my kids have, they know that the leaders and the policies of this country support them in their love, career, and educational aspirations. While your announcement does not end the fight for this vision, it does help me sleep better at night.

One of my best friends in the world is a gay man who is in a committed relationship. The two of them have taught me much more about love and commitment than most of my heterosexual friends. While they have yet to announce marriage plans, I am ready to stand by their sides someday if they decide to say I do. Their love is not a political statement. It is just love. While your statement has been called "playing politics" by the right. I understand it as a call to say what is the truth and if that is political, I'm fine with that.

In our world where war, inequality, loud-mouthed-one-sided-close-minded disagreement seem to be the norm, it is nice to take a moment to affirm that all love is equal. And, lord knows, this world needs all the love it can get.


Jessica Gingold

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

May Failures: Textual Hiatus

So... ummm... about that commitment not to text this month. I put it out there all public-like, and then the fifth of May happened. Hilary asked me to text her the address of where she was meeting me. I could not very well refuse her that. With the text of my address, it hit me, texting has a purpose in our world. And with that realization, a hard line stance on texting no longer made sense.

The next text I sent was to a good friend in Chicago. Most of my best friends are living in cities other than Cincinnati. Emma and I were both getting ready for our nights out in our respective cities, communicating via google chat. The best way to virtually share that experience is by sharing and commenting on each other's outfits. I tried to e-mail her the picture of my new dress. But, it was taking too long. Pic text sent.

Then, I sent a text to a friend who I realized would probably never listen to her voicemail that I had left several hours prior where I invited her out. I was right. When I texted, she texted right back.

Next, came the exchange with my new housemate who invited me to come back and play a game of Settlers of Catan yesterday afternoon. I felt like calling him back was just unnecessary given we are new friends, and this was his way of reaching out. Then, I was running a little late, so I texted to tell him I'd be back around 2:15. Clearly communicated, nothing more necessary.

Then, my boss texted me. I am doing some consultation work for Mikva. If your boss texts, you text back.

Up until the third transgression, I thought maybe I could still keep it going at least for another week. But, here I am, one week in, with too many transgressions to make the commitment legitimate any longer. So, I quit.

But, I do not quit without lessons learned. Turns out texting is not all bad. I never really thought it was, but I did maybe think it was more bad than it actually is. While this metaphor is a little drastic, my texting ban is somewhat like saying I am just going to write letters from now on, no more e-mails. While it is cool in theory, your friends might start to hate you for not responding to them. The thing is, people text. And it is convenient. The more voicemails I left, the less conversations I seemed to be having with people. Additionally, as a youth worker, I could not deny that part of me that knows text messaging is a legitimate form of conversation for many young people. Maybe in the 1990s we talked on the phone to share our deepest emotions, but the truth is teenagers can communicate a lot with their thumbs. Texting has found a comfortable spot in modern communication, and the refusal to use it when it is the right form makes me a luddite.

Thus, this is not a failure really. Sure, I did originally intend not to text for the entire month of May. As of today, or really Saturday, I am texting again. Still, I hope to maintain a level of intentionality. Sometimes we just need a little breather to reassess and then can move forward with a more balanced perspective. Let's be real here, I was never going to give up texting for good. So, here are my new texting commandments:

  1. Choose phone call first in most cases: if you are choosing text because you are scared of the call, call.
  2. Limit texting when with other people (or just don't do it at all).
  3. If you are running late, text.
  4. Information the recipient would need written down (i.e. addresses) should be texted.
  5. Pictures make wonderful and practical texts, but once again, always consult # 2. If you are taking pictures and sending them to everyone in your life instead of sharing the moment with whomever you are with, you should probably at least wait to send the pic.
  6. Do not text and drive, duh. 
  7. Texting really can be such a present, but when there are constantly presents, they stop being as meaningful. Additionally, no one expects presents on any day other than your birthday, hence, don't look at your phone with baited expectation.
  8. Always call parents.
  9. Be wary of texting in new relationships, sarcasm, enthusiasm, flirtation, anger may not translate well.
  10. Text with awareness.
First I failed my 10-day silent retreat, now my texting ban. I guess I really like to talk.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Oliver is 1 Month

A couple weeks ago I visited my newborn nephew, Oliver, in Atlanta. He is exactly what a nephew should be. He never made eye contact with me intentionally. He cried a bit. He sucked on my bicep. He did not laugh at any of my jokes. He never asked me how I was doing. He did not learn my name. But, the connection was deep. Very deep.

Also profound in the visit was watching my big brother Ben and sister-in-law Katy be parents. Ben is six years older than me, and while we are mostly equals now, throughout my life I have looked to Ben for guidance, protection, and love. Ben is the one I call when deciding what new bike to buy because I know he will actually take the time to thoroughly think through ever angle of the purchase. Or a more recent example, Ben was the one I called after a late night back pain-initiated panic attack because I knew Ben wouldn't panic with me. He is cool and steady and clearheaded almost always. Watching him father, I saw everything I have ever known my brother to be plus something. A giggle at Oliver's weird twisty faces. A concern for the well-being of his child and wife. A tenderness as he simultaneously baked bread and changed diapers.

Ben and Katy amaze me. They brought this damn cute new child into the world and all of our lives, and while they are making him their number one priority, they are also not giving up who they are. Everyday I spent there we ate gourmet breakfasts of pancakes with fruit, frittatas, and homemade bread with almond butter and apples. We went out for craft beer. We went on a long bike ride (just Ben and I, no baby....yet). We ate delicious dinners and desserts. Katy breastfed Oliver with joy, never once complaining of being tired despite the fact she had been up every two hours to feed him. I am so very impressed with them. In honor of all their hard work in Oliver's first month of life, I put together a video highlighting all of his tricks.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Commitments: Textual Hiatus

The New York Times wrote an article recently about the lost art of conversation in the face of the technological world we now live in and are consumed by. There was nothing radically notable in the article. It said the things my friends and I have been conversing about for years now. Still, it hit me this time. It hit me in the way that made me want to act. It is so much easier to think about the problems of our world than to act on them. So, in an effort to make May a meaningful, learning month, I venture into a month with no texting. Of course, I already did this for two months while I was in Mexico. But, I was in Mexico. So, that was a good distraction. In the US, where I yearn to be connected to all those I love, choosing not to text is more of an effort. I have already caught my fingers in mid-leap toward the phone, pulling them back away from the keypad. They are left with that tingly tension of desire.

If I had not admitted it before, the tension in my fingers right now has shown me that I am a texter. I do not text to nearly the extent that my students do. I do not text with that many people even, but still, I feel attached to it. I look to my phone with expectation that it will deliver me a present from the world of my social network, and when there is nothing, I feel disappointment. I send out texts and hope for responses, feeling powerless in the in between time. Perhaps I am being a bit dramatic, but sometimes it feels dramatic. And that is exactly why I want to break that. I also feel like texting feeds a growing cowardice in me. In high school, my friends and I talked on the phone for hours, sharing our ideas and feelings, making plans, supporting each others’ dreams. My parents had to buy a second line to accommodate all our chatter. Now, phone conversations feel like work, and can even get wrought in anxiety. What do we do when we want to say bye? How will I transition from the casual conversation to why I am really calling? Is it ok to call just to talk to someone because I want to talk to someone? Do I need an agenda for the phone call? Will it be weird if I call someone if we have never done that before? And so to avoid any awkward silences and rude goodbyes, I text. I am not sure when I started getting scared of the phone, but I am sure that texting is not helping.

Increasingly, my networks are spread and I have less face time with those I most care about. I think that by being in text communication, we are connected. But, that connection is no proxy for real communication, authentic conversation, dialogue. In the month of May, I am challenging myself not to text, but also not to shy away from communication. To pick up the phone and call people I want to talk to. To send e-mails when I want to have a dialogue. I also do not want to be rude to those who do text me. Thus, I will respond... but in some other fashion. I recognize that the biggest limit is time. That most people who are not on a YOOT with a flexible life schedule are not reflecting about texting with this grandiosity. It is simply the most efficient way to communicate. That may be so. Still, time is always about priorities, and I am not convinced I just text to make things easier and faster… How often do we try to plan things via text only to realize a 30 second conversation would have done the trick?

But I wonder… will not texting promote more conversation or will I just end up less connected?