Monday, April 30, 2012

The Limits of Your Longing

This poem: "Go to the Limits of Your Longing" (Rilke).  Beautiful.  I need to read more poetry.

Friday, April 27, 2012

I Lied About the Vertigo

Road trips abound in opportunities to contemplate identity. 

The right music helps: Antje Duvekot's "Vertigo", John Gorka's "Broken Place," and Sarah Jarosz's "Edge of a Dream."

"oh the view from this height
high above the ferriswheel lights
might cause me to sway
but i am teaching myself to be brave"

"That beautiful broken place
you could not outshine your twilight
your demons were not outpaced"

"Smiling face, that no one really knows
Singin' bout the passion in my soul
Playin' it safe, move in time with the beat
Take a chance, learn a new dance"

If that isn't enough, you can contemplate the unlikely coincidence of traveling for two out of six hours while neatly closeted on a two-lane road behind one or more dump trucks. The view doesn't change much behind one of these guys. Seeing what lies ahead is all but impossible, and instead of glorying in the mountain scenery, you find yourself fixating on the grimy brown shade of the truck's back panel and wishing that it would move faster. 

Road trips also reveal unmistakeable truths about your shifting identity.*

A simple license plate is enough to strip you of Bible Belt citizenship and reaffirm your status as a penniless student. Like a red-green color blindness test, the way you interpret cryptic vanity plates produces a more accurate representation of your psyche than does a Meyers-Briggs typology. Eight characters: 4EVRAMEN. The Bible Belt citizen reads, "Forever Amen!" and gives a pious nod. The penniless student sees the word "Ramen" and ignores the rest, suddenly seized with an intense craving for that 33-cent delicacy.**

There is no limit to the powers of self-discovery unleashed by acceleration. Lighting out for the territories is sounding better every day...

*Even if you drive an automatic. :)
**On second thought, the Jesus fish, family-sized van, and location near Lynchburg, VA ought to have been a giveaway.  Just saying. Ramen. You cannot escape its magnetism.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Out of Rhythm

Every small town has its flavor, points of interest, rhythm of life. Even a corner gas station, linked to a major national chain, evinces this fact. Whether it's the two-for-three dollars sale on two-liter cokes, the individually plastic-wrapped chocolate bars on discount at the counter, or the few endlessly hamster-wheeling hot dogs at the grill station, they all keep pace with some inaudible metronome. 

Two sisters in the ladies' room follow suit: wearing bright-colored shirts, high-waisted shorts, and straight hair in rumpled ponytails, drawling in accents with a surplus of "a" "o" and "w" sounds, they demonstrate the resourcefulness of an older sister who can instruct her junior in a calm tone martyred by repetition to crawl under the locked bathroom door (watch, I'll show you), remind her that she's NOT too big to fit beneath (scrunch up your knees), and then demand that she wash her hands WITH SOAP (but only two pumps, silly).

They belong here, alongside the cashier with teased hair and bright pink lipstick who is giving out free smiles to a tattooed regular, in a way that I, with my peripatetic after-work ways, never could. And, what's more, they all know it. No wonder the elderly man standing in his carport across the street stares at me, arms crossed over his plaid shirt, as I slowly turn back onto the main road.

The winding country roads and their small-town synapses are full of memories and untold stories. None of them, however, answer the question most prominent on my mind: if not here, then where? If not this, now, then what? when?

After much hesitation, doubt, and over-thinking, I decided not to accept my one offer of admission to a PhD program. As I keep telling myself, "not now" does not mean "never." I know I made the right decision. But, having said that, I will admit I'm left feeling a little lost. A little weary. A lot uncertain. Making a decision without a backup plan is scary. Closing the one open door that stands between you and the future is frankly terrifying.

So please don't ask me what comes next. I know that's a logical question. Believe me, I've thought about it. I still don't have an answer. Respectfully, I suggest that you pose the question to instead.

Or, if you must ask, please be prepared to join me when I light out for the territories. I'll bring the two-liter cokes.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

New Spices, New Beginnings

Tropical Blast Chicken (serves 2)

Start with approximately 1/2 lb of chicken thighs, thawed and cleaned, with excess fat trimmed.

1 tsp fresh grated gingerroot
1 clove fresh garlic, minced
1 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
1/4 cup lime juice
A dash of fresh ground black pepper

Whisk together the marinade and pour over the chicken in a large plastic bag. Marinade for 45 min. to 1 hour, turning occasionally.

2 tsp fresh grated gingerroot
1 large clove fresh garlic, minced
2 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
1/4 cup lime juice
1 tbsp brown sugar
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup raw pecans, roughly chopped.

Whisk the sauce ingredients together and set aside. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Peel two large sweet potatoes and cut them into cubes. Arrange the potatoes in a shallow glass baking dish, and place the chicken in the middle. Coat with the sauce. (Add more oil if needed to baste all of the potatoes.) Bake for 35 minutes, until the chicken is no longer pink in the middle.

Remove pan from the oven and cut the chicken into large pieces. Toss with the sweet potatoes and return dish to the oven. Bake for 25 minutes longer, or until the sweet potatoes are soft and the entire dish is beginning to brown. Serve with steamed sugar snap peas, brown rice, and an acidic white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc.


Verdict: I love the flavors in the sauce, but to bump it up a notch, I might add pineapple chunks for the last 20 minutes of roasting. This could also be a vegetarian dish; it would be equally delicious without the chicken.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Life, Easter, and the Music

It may not be the most traditional Easter music (no sunrise service or long rows of brass this year), but I love the rhythm and emotion of this song.

It may not be my most traditional Easter morning either, but life keeps catching me by surprise.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Multiple Smiley Faces

I think -- I think this is exciting. Can I let myself get excited now? Is it okay?

I received an email acceptance to the University of Wisconsin-Madison yesterday afternoon, and I have to admit, the statements above simulate my initial response pretty well.

After months of waiting and trying to keep my expectations low in light of repeated disappointments, I faced the good news without the ability to celebrate. Where the Jen whom I imagined might have danced around the house in giddy exuberance, the real Jen stared at the computer screen and started calculating pros and cons, all the while trying to muster an appropriate level of enthusiasm with which to share the news.

(Based on my repeated failure to hone a believable poker face, I doubt it was very convincing.)

It was in this moment when I remembered the downside of being a reserved, careful person, someone who is terrified of being hurt or vulnerable, who attempts to monitor and regulate all expressions of emotion. Not only emotions perceived as negative -- anger, fear, sadness -- but also positive emotions like happiness, excitement, and delight are difficult to express freely. I can just about number and name the instances when I've felt and expressed strong emotion of either type in the last few years.

However, there are also moments that fall outside the grid. The pure, spontaneous, unadulterated joy of dancing at high speed, running barefoot in the grass, or watching the stars emerge at night while singing at the top of my lungs: these things push back against a sense of control or reserve. In those moments, it is difficult to keep away the kind of smile that might be called more accurately a silly grin. If only I could channel that feeling of freedom into the opportunities and milestones that punctuate my daily life.

But maybe it is not impossible. By the end of the day yesterday, I was able to borrow some genuine enthusiasm from the people around me. Their excitement gave me permission to feel the same way. I could set aside, for a little while, the weight of the decision I now have to make. I could celebrate an accomplishment without tracking out its long-term implications. It felt pretty good.

Sometimes, holding emotions in reserve serves me well; sometimes, not at all. The trick, I guess, is learning how to distinguish between the two.