Tuesday, December 30, 2008


The "traditional" Western method of heterosexual courtship consists of a very specific set of rituals: - boy asks girl out, picks her up, pays for dinner, etc. While I often enjoy symbolism, I find the symbolism of this particular ritual troubling and somewhat insulting. It seems, historically, the male has specific, concrete, active ways to show interest in pursuing a relationship with another person: I will pay for your dinner. I will hold the door for you. However, what is the parallel ritual for the female in this situation? (You shouldn't have to think too hard about that one. Hint: rhymes with "put out.") In sub-cultures which discourage sexual relations outside of marriage, there is less of an answer to that question.

Meanwhile, the "hookup" culture seems to be becoming the norm among our generation. Totally absent are traditional dating behaviors. It seems - at least superficially - to be more egalitarian. However, I also find this replacement to "traditional" courtship troubling as well, for different reasons. It does not seem to be a solid basis for forming a lifelong partnership, which is, purportedly, the goal of courtship. At least as a courtship model, hooking up fails.

This puts young people from more traditional sub-cultures, such as LDS, which strongly discourages sexual activity before marriage, in a somewhat awkward position. There is an amalgamation, an entire spectrum of acceptable courtship behaviors present here: from the people who follow the traditional pattern very strictly, to people who opt for a more egalitarian approach (not to mention people who pick and choose). This can make things messy. Extremely messy. And that messiness sort of helps me to see the benefit of having things clearly defined. When there is no formal framework to distinguish a romantic relationship from a simple friendship, the participating parties can easily end up with differing expectations regarding or understandings of the interactions. Recipe for disaster or heartache or at least confusion. That point has been especially driven home for me recently.

So what are we left with?

The traditionally arbitrary, gendered behaviors? Lack of any sort of framework whatsoever within which to place the relationship? Is there some sort of compromise here - some sort of egalitarian ritual we create - perhaps from the traditional pattern superimposed with our current ideals? Or does it come down to that pesky adult behavior called communication?

I am interested in what other heterosexuals think. Also, I'm interested in how individuals within the gay/lesbian community approach courtship.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

One Day, a Week or So Ago, When it Snowed

We wanted to make brownies. We are always full of good ideas. But we had no butter or eggs.
Me: Ok so let's bundle up and get that stuff to make a treat. And maybe also get a smaller treat to eat while we're making the bigger treat. Don't you love the way my little brain works?

Beth: It is not little. It is a powerful machine.
Powerful machine. Did you hear that?

Anyway, we bundled up, trudged through the accumulating drifts to the grocery store, and bought some butter, eggs, and tiramisu.

Beth fell on the way home as we ascended a small incline in the parking lot, dropping the eggs in the snow. It was soft though (snow - duh), so they didn't break. When she fell again, because her boots had no traction, I offered her my hand. When she refused my assistance, I became just a little bit miffed that she wouldn't allow me to help her.

So, like any rational person, I left the tiramisu on the hood of somebody's car and walked off towards home.
Beth (muttering to self): GREAT. I didn't do what she said and now SHE's acting like a five-year-old too.
By the time she has caught up of course I had forgotten about the whole thing, because I was fully entranced with walking backwards and looking at my footprints in the snow.

We ended up not making brownies at all --- just eating "smaller treat" and going to bed.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


My dad and I rake the yard for awhile Thanksgiving morning.

The activity is a pleasant one, the sunlight bouncing through the empty branches and the air, with the slightest hint of winter's chill, pinching our cheeks. Over the years he has developed a method to minimize wasted labor and maximize the amount of leaves in each barrel. I do not know all the rules, but it involves specific patterns of raking, the specialization of labor among rakers, and a large round metal pan to compress the leaves inside each garbage can.

A few weeks after beginning my first internship during college, the first period of more than a couple minutes I had spent in an office environment, I remember coming home (I lived in Albany that summer) and helping my father turn over the soil for the garden, remember using all of my muscles - arms, legs, back, shoulders - to perform the task. And I recall also, a feeling of gratitude for the chance to move like that after sitting for so many days in a row. Thanksgiving morning, it strikes me again, as it struck me that day four (?) and a half years ago: human beings are not intended to sit at a desk all day, every day. It is a virtue to stretch and use the muscles of our bodies as they were made to be used.

“Does it hurt your back?” I ask him.

“Naw it doesn't hurt my back,” he says jovially. “It hurts my arms.”

The brown oak leaves and the dark pink ones like dried rose petals from the Japanese maple lie scattered in the grass/moss/weeds in our yard, strewn by the wind and rain like a fragrantly autumnal potpourri. A few weeks ago, my good friend from high school recounted to me a conversation with a San Franciscan transplant who was aghast that anyone could enjoy living in New England. E. described the first day of each season (the first day of that season's weather, not the first day on the calendar), how there is a change in the air; you can feel it, smell it, and it magically brings you back to each of the two dozen other autumns or winters or springs of your life.

This day, raking with my father, brings me back even further than the span of my own life. He sent out an email to the extended family a few hours earlier. The Reillys, Dad's mother's family, recently off the boat, were living in Maine at the time of the 1918 flu epidemic.

Happy Thanksgiving. I hope this finds you well, today. We just got the pies made.

So I do not know what to make of this story. The dad and the oldest son just lost their lives. No income. There was panic in the surrounding community over the flu. The kids wore garlic necklaces to school, if they were going at all. And the church offered the family a free turkey to cheer them up.

Mary Reilly turned them down. We'd be OK with out the turkey.

I don't know if she was too proud to accept charity. Or she wasn't feeling very grateful. Or maybe she just wanted to rest.

The story touches on some of the darker elements of life, but through it, these people, our ancestors, maintained a certain dignity, just as, to use Beth's words, “Dad's writing has a certain elegance to it.” We talk about where this branch of humanity is headed, about the family reunion this past summer, about next year's reunion, whether we should make a huge water slide from a large tarpaulin greased up with some dish soap. You know. For the kids.

We finish up on the driveway and head inside the house. In the kitchen, he rolls up his sleeves to remove the elastic braces on his forearms. “See I have to wear these because the tendon starts to tear back from the muscle.”

“Why does it do that?”

“I'm getting old, honey. When you're old your body starts to fall apart. You have to be aware of which body parts are most at risk when performing a particular activity. And you act to minimize that risk. So I wear these.”

I do not think of my parents as old. And I do not really want to think of them like that, nor the inevitable, what happens to everyones parents, to everyone, actually, in the end. I never even knew my dad's parents.

Falling asleep on the sofa, because I no longer technically have a bedroom in that house, I am guarded by looming towers of my parents' possessions. And I realize: this is what I come home to, what I come from; this is a part of the package, whether I accept it or not. And it will probably be healthier to accept it. I think of going to visit my mom's parents when we were younger, the forces in her childhood that shaped the person she is today. I consider how the forces in my life so far have shaped who I am, my dad with his six computer monitors tracking the stock market in the tiny basement office, going out to work on the car during lulls in trading activity... my mother quietly collecting every single memento from our childhoods; writing lists of everyones favorite foods on the inside of the kitchen cabinets; carefully taking her rounds of herbal supplements each day, morning, noon, and night. To the ticking of the seasonal garden clock with its familiar sun and moon that rise and fall, I imagine my future children coming to visit my own parents, tiptoeing around tumbling stacks of documents and craft supplies.

Past. Present. Future. Connected to this eternal strand of evolving humanity. Yes. This is home.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Somehow I have disabled comments and I do not know how to fix it.

Monday, December 8, 2008

My Life is So. Unfair.

Excuse me, but I am not the one who went away all weekend. I hardly got to see her at all except for one minute this morning before work. Now she kicks me out of her room as though she would rather be alone than with me.

Where does she expect me to go? In my own room? In the living room? BY MYSELF???

Oh gosh it reminds me of high school when she would always want to do homework, and she would whine and whine, and then finally Mom would have interfere. "Katie leave your sister alone."

All I can say is good thing these earphones are small and I can fit them under the ear flaps on this hat.

I shall listen to angry music.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Some Songs

Some songs make you want to cry and dance. Both at once.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I just got to inquire

My sister and I went to sushi down the road several stops and were waiting to catch the trolley home. The stop is a small one, and at that part the road is pretty wide and dark and is flanked only by the semi-vacant stares of apartment buildings, no stores or restaurants. The street lights are dim and spaced further apart. When we arrived, there was nobody even there waiting. After a couple minutes a man and his little daughter had also arrived to wait.

We heard yelling and saw two men toss a third one out the front door of their apartment building onto the pavement and start beating him up. He tried to get up and they threw him back down.

I looked at Beth to see what we should do, but she did not know either.

The man called out to the father to help, but what could the father do? He had a daughter.

My sister and I and the father and the daughter all got on the train and left the man there to get beat up because we did not know what else we even could do except call the police. We arrived home to our apartment pretty shaken.

We had never known something like that to happen in our neighborhood.


The next evening I am running a little behind.

Even though you aren't supposed to do it, I am picking my way across the ballast, stepping over both sets of darkened trolley tracks. Avoiding headlights, I cross the main road, the narrow traffic island, then the parking/access street, finally reaching the far sidewalk, where I exchange brief grins with a somewhat older gentleman who ends up walking a couple paces behind me.

Up a few yards ahead, the shops are glowing, but here it is still a bit darker. I am a little nervous recalling the events of the previous night, nervous and - I am ashamed to admit - suddenly suspicious of this man whom I do not know.

I will definitely be fine in a couple moments, I remind myself.

Mid-whistle, I gasp. I hear the sound of something scrabbling, coming suddenly closer from behind. It is not the man, though, it is a rabid animal, a salivating raccoon ready to tear at my jugular with its tiny razor teeth and wild, wild eyes.

No, actually it is neither a man nor a beast. It is just a little punk-ass kid zipping by on a bicycle.

"Too fast" the man mutters, mostly to himself.

I resume walking and whistling, willing my heart to slow to its normal rhythm.

"Excuse me miss," I look over my shoulder. It is still that same man. "Excuse me miss, but I just got to inquire. What's got you whistlin' Dixie?"

"Ohhh... I don't know, I guess it was stuck in my head."

"I thought you must have had the most fantastic day or something."

"No my day wasn't really fantastic, just regular. It was pretty good. I was just whistling." Although it's pretty fantastic now.

A few more steps we go, past the Chinese food place with children's drawings papering the wall, not sure if we should put this conversation to rest. "Well you have a good night."

"Thanks. You too." He keeps going straight, but I have to turn the corner.

The experience the night before had me feeling a little worried, but now I remember that most of the people you will ever meet are actually really nice and good people and that most of the time I am just so glad to get the chance to talk to them or see them, even for only a couple minutes.

I just got to inquire!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Sacred Ground

Knowing me, knowing you, knowing anyone, that is a sacred space.

Remember that any time you step into the secret thoughts, hopes, dreams, sorrows of another human being, you are treading on holy ground. Take off your shoes.

Monday, December 1, 2008


(October 27th to December 5th)

The first time I saw the above words on a big sign in the neighborhood next to mine, I thought, What a great idea! Residents collected pretty leaves from their neighborhood, and then a local artist arranged them all into a public display.

My mind sort of went crazy for a few moments, thinking about the awesomeness of a community leaf collection.

Maybe there will be photographs of the individual people to go alongside it... or perhaps stories about the trees or the streets where the leaves were found.

I was in the middle of wondering the methods by which the leaves had been preserved (or whether their transience and inevitable decay had been one of the themes of the art installation) when I realized that the sign had been put up by the public works department so that people could have the leaves they had raked into yard waste bags removed to be composted at the city's facility.

Bummer. Oh well, it still makes me smile to pass by there on the bus.