Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ryan Adams, running, and life

when I was finishing my sophomore year of college -- I had been an RA for freshmen girls that year, and was headed to a semester in Europe in the fall -- one of my good friends gave me this mix CD. she actually gave it to a bunch of us girls who were part of a class-mandated small group that turned into way more than a class-mandated small group, and even though I don't see this person much anymore, I still think of her as a close friend (am I weirding you out yet?) because of the intimacy with which we traveled the journey of a deeply and intensely formative year.

the small group has, obviously, since disbanded, and in ways that I could never have expected, they mostly all remain in my life in some fashion. one of them lives not too far away, and keeps teaching me thing after thing after thing. another one is part of a new small group, four hundred miles away from where the first one took place. there was one who i thought would be a best friend for the rest of my life and, as life would have it, is not.

but you know how some people influence you - the right people at the right time, or not right, but right for you, or however you think of it - more than you actually know in the moment? that was this small group. and that was lisa, the maker of the mix CD. it was named after our omelet orders in the DC at Westmont -- class would get out at an hour reasonable enough to still be having breakfast, especially for college, so we would sit at the same table and take bites off each other's plates. sin cebolla, no bacon.

this was my first introduction to Ryan Adams, and I played that CD on loop so many times those last weeks of sophomore year that I cannot hear "La Cienaga just smiled" without an instant mental image of my tiny RA room crammed to the gills with boxes, hot breeze blowing through the window, lots of future ahead of me but only existing, for that moment, in R-207. Time stopped when I listened, and that was where I was.

And quickly, life moved on. But it moved on just a bit differently, because I knew that I was known. And I was in the throes of deeply anxious feelings, but being known gave me something to rest into.

I went for a run this morning. Zack took my iPod to Tahoe last weekend and, ahem, forgot to charge it so I was faced with the prospect of running without music -- and I am just not there. So I picked up my iPhone, shuffled around to see what could get me through several miles in the mounting morning heat, and headed off with Ryan Adams in my ears. And for so many reasons that I couldn't even begin to mention, when La Cienaga comes on, I am transported instantly to a table in the DC, to my packed-up RA room and saying goodbye, to an uncertain future and to dreams I have and dreams to let go of and a world of goodness to live in-between those two. It was a gift of the moment and a gift of the past; the two gifts that give us all what we need to move into the future with a sense of who we are.

And I hold you close in the back of my mind
Feels so good but damn it makes me hurt
And I'm too scared to know how I feel about you now
How I feel about you now
La Cienega just smiles and says, "I'll see you around"

Friday, June 10, 2011

birthdays and expectations

5 year old Laura
When I turned five, we had a birthday party at a park in Simi Valley. My best friend, Brittney (who I would later live with after college) came with the best present: Her mom had made this beautiful Barbie outfit - a silky, black dress with big white polka dots that made me think about the glamourous fashion that was surely not too far away from my own wardrobe, now that I was five.

My mom made a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting (still my dessert of choice), and drew the Little Mermaid on the cake in frosting. This has since become something of a family legend because, although my mom is not blind, you couldn't tell that by looking at poor, lopsided Ariel.

There were a bunch of kids - boys and girls still played pretty freely together, without the weird chasing and pushing and liking that would develop a few years down the road. It was a warm day, and the park was familiar and I wore a dress.

That was what you did on your birthday. You played with your friends in a place you loved. People brought you really fun presents, and you ate too much sugar but it was okay because your mom would carry you home at the end of the day. You spent too much time outside and got a little sunburned, and you said "Thank You!" really loud every time you opened a gift because, hey, you had good manners even then.

Today, I turn twenty-six. I will spend the day at work - doing work that I enjoy, sending emails, making phone calls, preparing for a big event tomorrow. I will get some presents and lots of Facebook wishes and phone calls from those friends who know how much that means to me. I will have a nice dinner with my husband where we order wine and pay for the bill ourselves. And it will be a lovely day.

But I noticed myself feeling sad this morning. Sad that at twenty-six, I don't think I'm where I thought I would be with my life. And sad, even more so, at the expectations that I need to let go of, to some degree. Because now, those five year-old kids have jobs, and live all over the country, and we don't really go to parks and play too much anymore. (This isn't to say that we can't, or that we never do -- the magic of that is still hugely important. But it isn't the same, now.)

So, I grow reflective and dream dreams for this coming year. I want to write more, and to take my writing seriously. I want to grow friendships that mean the world to me. And in the sweet and nostalgic sadness of remembering that early birthday, I want to live out of gratitude for the years I've had and the years to come.

Happy birthday to me.