Word vomit

In 2013, I made very late “New Year’s resolutions”–I  call them that because that’s the trendy, recognized thing to call them, I suppose, although I’m pretty sure that’s not what they actually are.  In 2013, my goal was straightforward: to get to KIPP (the school I worked at on Wednesdays) early, so around 7:15-7:20 a.m., leaving my apartment by 7:00 a.m.   I am pretty sure I was successful after making that inner announcement, if not silly, telling everyone that I’d made a New Year’s Resolution (in February). My NY resolutions are a little more complicated right now, but I am going to try.  Possibly because they are more macro things that I have tried to integrate before but have never succeeded with entirely.  Which sends a larger message to myself that I really have to be intentional about the things I do or they probably won’t happen.  Some kind of structure is usually a thing I do well within; I like to know that I’m following the rules–but outside of that structure, I’m a generally expansive person who will go in many different directions.  I don’t know that it’s bad; in fact, it can be very good; the wandering leads me to good places sometimes, although other times, it leaves me feeling without momentum.

So I don’t know.  Or I only know, really, that I don’t want to be up so late at night that I can’t wake up in the morning.  And that sometimes that I have to remind myself that I have freedom.  One fall afternoon talking with my creative writing professor at LSU, during my senior year, in a nice house-like building, he reminded me about how we’re all “totally free” to do “whatever we want” (barring the issue of, like, say, money…) and I was like, OH MY GOD, YOU ARE RIGHT, I CAN DO THINGS.  (Like Daddy said, not “should”-ing all over yourself.)  And I think about that from time to time, since it’s easy to forget, and then I think about these macro-rules I want to implement, and I’m not sure where to fall in between the two: freedom and macro-rules.

So, does anyone else have belated “resolutions?”

These are mine:

1. Be early.
I chronically plan for only exactly enough time to get places, which usually ends up in my being a few minutes late.  It makes me more nervous than I’d like, so I figure I’ll bargain for the extra time, freedom of being early, and reading if necessary.

2. Get more sleep.
It’s taken me too long to recognize I basically need 9.5 hours of sleep every night; knowing that’s not possible, I am trying to aim for 8+ and all the accompanying, sane practices.  Tea, etc.

3. Take care of your fingernails and toenails.
This has been more of a self-esteem booster than I assumed it would be.  The chlorinated pool water tends to be treacherous for polish, but I’m liking it so much, especially on my fingers…it’s like when I discovered earrings.

4. Pay attention and watch yourself when you start to turn simple tasks into arduous ones, or feel burdened.
This is the main resolution.

5. Cook and bake for other people.
This just makes me feel really good.  Anyone who reads this: you are welcome to make requests!  I just need a little time to figure out all the post offices around here.

6. Get in touch with your people from afar.
“Whatsapp” helps with this, and I have been messaging with Purity and my Zanzibari host mom, but I miss Bikombo from Zanzibar and other people too because they’re so lovely and funny.  Michael Ojok referring to me as “Lady Sarah” in an e-mail or all my kid friends–Ida, Mutuma, Boniface–in Kenya–Ida, who yelled that one day as I was walking back to the children’s home: “Welcome home, Sarah!”  So I need and want to be much more in communication with those people whom I love, especially since one of the key informants I interviewed in Uganda said to me, at the end of our phone interview: “You know, when you people you back to your place, you get so quiet!”

My people

My people

7. Finally subscribe to the New Yorker, and read it.
I’m behind since I get surprisingly dizzy on the metro, but my metro-reading is improving, and I love everything by Elizabeth Kolbert so far.  More importantly, the NY subscription was a thing my dad said he’d get for me one Christmas, since it would indeed be perfect, and subsequently forgot; so I bugged him about it for a Christmas or two, but now I’ve gifted it to myself, to hopefully help with writing, writing.  And it seems good to get yourself these intentional gifts…??

photo 1

8. As a final thought, another would probably be to volunteer somewhere, in a  way that puts me around young kids, since, let’s be honest, they’re better than watu wazima/adults, and I tend to ruminate, so everybody wins! when I volunteer (with the literacy organization Everybody Wins! that I interned with back in 2007 :) )

9. Okay, also, I really want some translation projects…I’m working on that one, kind of.

10.  And if this is just turning into a wish list, I really, really want a functional and sexy road bike.  Please, Easter Bunny?!?

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Daring the fine fabric

From time to time, I think about the people who’ve touched me markedly, in passing moments.

1) There was the German cosmetologist.  It was the beginning of spring, and returning to Germany from holiday, I’d run out of makeup.  I’d stopped taking birth control in the fall, not wanting to deal with the hassle of obtaining ten months’ worth of prescriptions, and my skin was a disaster.  I was becoming reclusive again in the early springtime–springtime in Germany (ha) is intense, with all the Rilke-isms floating around and unwanted post-modern interpretations of Mozart operas coming to an opera house near you (h8 Mozart, minus The Magic Flute), and I’d made enough friends so that it felt safe to recede again a bit and deal with the wreckage of the fall/winter storm.  Part of that meant getting back on birth control, finding a new toner, and replenishing my oil-free, for-sensitive-skin foundation.  The foundation I normally used wasn’t available, so a woman at the department store helped me find something similar and applied it to my face.

You know how, when you go for a long period without touching anyone, the slightest touch can feel totally electric?  Brushing someone on the street, exchanging cash, etc.  And it was like that as the cosmetologist applied foundation gently to my skin, pointing out kindly that it wasn’t possible to cover everything up, making jokes with me, smoothing out the color around the edge of my face and neck.


2) Then there was the woman I met in a Boston cab, soon after hearing that Kayla had died.  My dad’s reaction had been perhaps too concerned to be helpful–and I needed a strategy to get me to the airport in one piece.  Once there, I somehow felt a sense of freedom, and I ate a bag of potato chips; on the airplane, I was seated next to a very handsome man, which somehow made me laugh.  But this lady helped me to get there, in this vulnerable phase of my life, before I really had my own strategies established.  She very intentionally communicated that she was going to talk to me about “random things”–we talked about college applications, how absurd they were, my visit to Middlebury.  What mattered was the fact that she gave up her time to talk to me, about anything, rather than submitting to fear or discomfort over being trapped with a teenage girl wanting to weep in a Boston cab.

3) I also think about Mauro, who I e-mailed with about 80 times as I prepared the logistics of my six weeks of fieldwork in Uganda.  I received this e-mail from him, soon after my dad had passed away, in response to some very belated coffee and a framed picture of my favorite church (St. Alban’s) in Baton Rouge that I’d sent him, in a feeble attempt to say “thanks,” since really, he’d willingly given up so many pieces of his time helping me to plan my trip.  He wrote:

Dear Sarah,

I received your beautiful and thoughtful present.

I like so much the English word present. It immediately reminds me of a presence, the presence of a friend that you may have not been thinking about for a while. Immediately he/she comes back to you as the most beautiful gift. Because the gratitude that you have demonstrated to me for my poor and little help is something not usual and for sure not due.


This was especially warming coming from such a pragmatic NGO worker.  But all of his messages to me were thoughtful, in response to my near-panic attacks over wondering where I was going to stay in this country, less than 100 miles from the South Sudanese border, what I was going to eat, and how the heck I was going to get there.

Anyway, there are more of these people, whose kindness I’ve felt, and I don’t think imagined (although I’m sure that sometimes you imagine it, because you need it), daring the fine fabric that separates people.  People can be so good.

On another note, I dreamt last night that I was struggling to make poached eggs.  They were really quite awful; I was poaching them with some spinach, I think, but they weren’t cooking at all.  I was living in an American family’s house, but they spoke German.  Then I somehow was the close companion of a woman who’d broken the law, and we were treacherously wandering about (a) town (somewhere).  We ran into “Cyrus’s dad,” (who?!?) who wanted to arrest her, and then suddenly we were driving along the side of a mountain, encountering near-death.  She tried to pay off a ticket under someone else’s name since she was on probation or something, and soon after, I woke up.

So, does anyone have any resources on dreams to point me towards???  Mine are so minutely detailed that I feel like God might be trying to tell me something.  (Kidding.  Mostly.)

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I’m a big advocate for the new Disney Channel show Girl Meets World (and most Disney Channel shows, to be honest, based on their foolproof acting methods), a throwback to the Diney Channel show, Boy Meets World, that many of us grew up with.  “Topanga” y’all!!!

So what is it that I love about this show?

Overall, I thoroughly enjoy depictions of female friendship, especially the kind of bonding that takes place before or early on in high school, when things are beginning to get “complicated” but you’ve probably not yet reached your emo/goth phase.  The vulnerability but naiveté of that life-period possibly encourages the openness of close female friendships within it; they can be really eye-opening, will get you through a whole lot of other bullshit, and remind you of how you want to be treated.

I also enjoy all of the family bonding and closeness and Riley’s bay window and the fact they live so close to Bleecker Street.

But primarily, I like that Riley (the “girl”) and her best friend Maya, despite being entirely too un-awkward and pristine and made-up for the life period they’re supposed to depict, model intelligent girl decision-making for the 11-14 year old girl (and sometimes myself) quite well.

In one episode, Shawn, Cory’s best friend returns and revisits the story of how he and his girlfriend Angela first met, when asked by Maya, “Have you ever been in love?”  He describes how he feel in love with Angela by…going through the contents of her purse.  Riley and Maya respond: “So…you fell in love with the idea of a girl???”  And then they make up some silly chant about how they are too sharp to ever let something like that happen.

In another episode, the endearing class nerd, Farkle, “speed dates” both Maya and Riley, trying to decide which one of them he will take to the “Buggie Awards” (don’t ask), hosted by Jane Lynch (whom Farkle refers to as “giant lady”).  In the process, he offers them both gifts which refer to very specific, nostalgic things he remembers about them; the girls decide: “Let’s never settle for anything less than Farkle.”  Which is sweet and probably overall a good, if not specific, message, I think, given the kind of ridiculous and unkind ways a lot of boys (and girls) can act in middle and high school.  I.e., don’t put up with bullshit.

Also, the name Topanga is part of my vocabulary again, which is more than enough of a reason to adore this show.  And old Shawn is kind of hot. Finally, there’s actually an episode where the actors play their great? -grandparents in the 1940s as the Beats, and it’s brilliant.

Stay tuned for more reasons why I love GMW … (just kidding/kind of/possibly not).

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My field methods professor at DU, a “stereotypical” anthropologist who knew Indonesian and had, of course, been to Indonesia and been on multiple boats in Indonesia sometime in the 1970s (like all of the other stereotypical anthropology professors), all of which was recorded on grainy video, was passionate about “traversing” new landscapes, which is basically a fancy field terms way of saying “walking around new places.”  (I loved/still love him for his humble creativity.  And I almost want to say he called it “transversing,” which seems more appropriate if not more made-up.)  So, to traverse a new “landscape,” he told us to capital ‘W’ Walk (at least it’s this way in my mind), think of your walking in a gridlike fashion and be sure to go to A) markets and B) cemeteries.

I know he’s right, since the desk research version of me can get bogged down in googling.  As soon as I got to Arlington, I found a list of Episcopal churches, googling their proximities, e-mailing folks, before I realized, on a slight detour (getting lost) on the way back from the metro, that there was one right around the corner.  Traversing works!!!  Who knows whether that church will end up being a “good fit” for me, but at least I know that it’s there.

Maybe this is one reason I often prefer to go without a car, because walking or biking or even being a passenger on a bus allows you to feel out your environment in a much more active way.  You get to push through it, touching everything, and placing it in your mind.  I’m hardly a very navigational person, but I value the sense of walking or biking through places to feel them out and get a sense of their textures.

It can be scary though.  I remember when I first got to Germany in 2008 and basically the first thing I did at the time was to go straight into the heart of the city-town, where the Beethoven statue was and one of the two lovely and formidable yellow buildings.  Courthouse, I think.  I walked until I found a Starbucks, had coffee, and then walked along the Rhine and took pictures of the golden leaves and pavement.


The Rhine

It was terrifying. I spent the next few weeks in my room, for the most part, watching The Daily Show, until I had to start classes.  I had never watched the Daily Show very much in America, so I don’t know what that was all about, other than trying to effect a closeness with the absurdism of American culture amid the German seriousness.

Because at that time I was hardly ready to do such a naked thing: leave my tall apartment that barely had internet and roommates I hadn’t spoken with and dirty kitchen and pink couch to forge out into the unknown.  At that time, I wasn’t ready to leave America.  My relationships had been crumbling, and I had been crumbling.  It’s the only recent time I can look at, section off, and say that I know I had been “depressed,” and since then I haven’t ever gone back to something quite like that.   I don’t think you ever do cycle back to quite the same stuck or irredeemable feelings.  At least I know when it’s happening now and I allow it, briefly.  (I don’t know how to describe the difference, since it’s not necessarily that redemptive, but it is different.)  But the main thing that characterized that time was that most of the things that I felt, things that seemed like they were supposed to feel good or beautiful or satisfying, felt, instead, terrifying.

Now I think I understand better how traversing works, or at least how it works for me.  I go to a new place and I settle in slowly.  I arrive to the middle-of-nowhere Northern Uganda, it starts raining, and I go take a nap before I meet the hotel manager.  I go with Patti to a new neighborhood and drink a latte for a few hours.  I take inventory, I make lists, and I watch tv.  Then, I open the door: I go here and there, and I explore piece by piece.  But I don’t go out on the first day to see the Beethoven statue.  Maybe there aren’t rules like that–I mean, I know there aren’t, and it’s totally different when you’re not in a different country and you’re not starkly alone–but being in public can be overwhelming to me, and I like the feeling of unity I get from being inside a room.  VW writers in her essay “Street Haunting” about leaving a room for the street: “The shell-like covering which our souls have excreted to house themselves, to make for themselves a shape distinct from others, is broken, and there is left of all these wrinkles and roughness a central pearl of perceptiveness, an enormous eye.”

DC version of traversing

DC version of traversing

The idea that walking among others implodes unity of self resonates with me, and it helps me to understand why doing it would be so terrifying when you’re in a period of scathing self-awareness and self-doubt (this is how one of my classmates referred to me once at LSU, a year after all this: “scathingly self-aware.”)

So I’ll keep transversing, but I know that every time I do it, I’ll become a little different, maybe feeling a little less safe, but a little keener, and a little more aware.

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Quarter-formed story ideas

They possibly all have to do with dinner.

1. Imagine someone coming to dinner? …looking at my watch, the pearly thing you gave me in 2003, I knew it wasn’t a dream but I knew it wasn’t real either.  (Idea of someone “coming to dinner,” to play things out fully, even though in reality, they can’t.)

2. The kinds of things that happen when you live alone in another country
–> copying other people’s movements to remind yourself of them–some intentionally, some not–realize you’re doing it after the fact, softly tapping a rhythm on your legs.

(too sad/unique?)

3. I was listening to music that had nothing to do with you or the time in which we knew each other: it was after all that had happened.  But it still made me think of you somehow, sadly/in sadness.

4. The first time I/she stole … it was on a Wednesday.

5. Looking back on things as they happened/things that don’t have meaning at the time but later do

6. “Basically, I love you.” (this notion overall, since it can be so hilarious)

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Why’s everyone still singing about California?

I have an opportunity right now to see people I’ve not seen for a while and do new things.  And this has me thinking about the anticipation I have of “seeing people” and “doing new things.”  It’s partly wrapped up in the glory of moving to a new place and that “new place buzz.”  I remember Kirsty and Cathy talking about this in Germany,  about the melancholy that set in after we realized, about four weeks into our first semester there, that we were still living there, neither citizens nor vacationers, and the buzz was gone.  And this feeling, though less exaggerated, is with me in any new place, and usually the reason for my ability to establish new patterns, like checking my phone less often, because of that space for reinvention, before I start to feel a bit concretized again.

I know that this overarching narrative of “how things might be” that starts to entice me in a new place is not one I totally buy into, and I’m reminded of that as it becomes crushed in small ways.  I might have coffee with someone and it doesn’t feel exactly as I thought it was going to.  And even if it’s better than I imagined, it’s still disconcerting somehow, because of that disconnect between how things are and how I imagine them.  I find myself living in that liminal space of “possibility,” which may not be a bad thing–it lets you do things like reinvent small behaviors and patterns–but it also feels inhibitive of being able to see things truly.  My stories have centered around this identity-shifting idea frequently: Josie, who looked in the mirror and felt frozen, as if unable to effect her image through actions, and Emilyn (when I was 15), who moved from place to place to begin new narratives.

I’m not sure what it is sometimes that makes me feel happy, but it frequently seems to be a newness or flexibility, like walking down a street in the snow, thinking a sad thought I’ve never had before about an unnerving, distant thing that happened earlier that day, and it reminds me of the time Giselle told me that she would sometimes walk very slowly and weirdly, trying to do things in a way that had never been done before.  And that seems to be my way to reinvent things: in small and powerful ways, driving cracks into things and making space for movement, in that in-between place.

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A narrative to fall asleep to

Many nights, my technology-filled brain needs a narrative to fall asleep to. At least that has been the case for a few nights, when, lying in bed, I can’t quite turn off analysis-brain. I lie and think about all the news and all the other things, and I focus on one thing or another until it loses any clarity or focus. I experience stress in a very physiological way, and lately, and often, it’s been through a weird pulsing sensation and achiness near the sinuses in my neck (what the heck? but yeah). This seems to be my body’s way of telling me to shut it down (it being the stress or the thinking causing the stress), and it gives me a sense of what I can think about and what I really can’t. When this happens, I try to tell myself a story, which might be something like this:

It’s snowing outside, and you’re under a blanket. You drank hot chocolate earlier and had a lovely meal of curried lentils with yogurt. You walked in the snow and had thoughts. You talked to a few people, and it was nice.

Other times I imagine a specific place. This place is usually in the woods in a cabin. It’s secluded and safe. The weather isn’t usually relevant. The most important thing is that I’m able to look out the window and see where I am and know that it’s a good place to be.

This place in my mind reminds me of a place where I woke up once, when Julia and Anna and I went to visit some of their friends in Hburg, the night we stayed with Bekka. That night was random-filled and fun, with her mom throwing a party and Paul acting absurdly, trying to flirt with this girl who was conveying clearly how ridiculous she found him. That afternoon we had driven through the South Mississippi dusk and trees, reminding me of Louisiana–which is a different memory than the one I have now, since I hadn’t yet experienced all of the full-blooded, intellectual, solitary angst that college was for me. The next morning, after the parents’ party and Paul’s antics, I woke up and looked out the window and felt that it was perfect–even though I felt overweight at the time, and my hair was super weird so that I messed with it constantly and Anna joked later about a picture of me: Sarah’s probably freaking out about her hair. That morning Anna and Julia and I drove away from Paul, listening to a Kings of Convenience song, and Anna exclaimed something about how very! sad it was and I probably laughed but agreed.


Still, it felt perfect and calm, and I think about it sometimes, and it’s become my place. And that specific place in time and space has flexibly received other esoteric stories and memories of safeness, and it becomes a narrative to fall asleep to.

Waking is important too, yet rarely this restful, because of …”modern life?” Perhaps. But if waking can be calm, I want to take a page from Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life, and have it be like this:

I mean, picture it: you’re lying in an overstuffed bed in the upstairs bedroom of a bed-and-breakfast in Cape Neddick, Maine, just before Christmas, and there’s snow piling high on the ground outside, but it’s warm up there, under the canopy, in the bed. It’s eight’o’clock in the morning. There’s a knock at the door. You roll out of bed. At your feet is a silver tray with one cup, a coffeepot, a cream pitcher, and a sugar bowl. You pick it up, close the door, rest the tray on your bedside table, pour yourself a cup of blackybrown coffee, and you sign back into bed under the comforter and return to the second volume of the Tales of the City series. … And then, of course, there’s breakfast at nine. First there will be pineapple scones, still warm from the baking sheet, and a cloth-lined tin of cinnamon muffins and spice bread. Then a poached pear, buoyed by a pool of Grand Marnier crème anglaise. Then a warm plate with a small poached egg on a bed of puréed spinach, with caramelized apples and a crispy phyllo purse filled with sausage, ricotta, and mushrooms and baked until flaky outside and melting inside. This is breakfast on this almost-Christmas day. You sigh and decide to stay seated right where you are until tea at 4:30 (cranberry linzer tart; ready?).

So yes, I liked poached pears.

I like that for a number of reasons, number one probably being food, but number two probably being a feeling of freedom to do something you desire. But underneath all of that is the feeling of singular happiness that someone would think about you upon waking, and bring you coffee or food, which is something my dad used to do, even though he always added cream and sugar though I only take cream.

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