Summer Land

 "Land really is the best art."-Andy Warhol

When the Wednesday of summer is near, I already start feeling Sunday's creeping approach. Mid-summer hums of crickets and creeks turn into a revving engine in my late July mind. But then I go past, walk past, or drive past fields and open land and I feel like time stands still for a moment. A pulse of truth recounting the way the world moves and shifts and how a 5:45 am alarm doesn't really have to signal a certain death (maybe?), because nature and centuries of trees know it's all just a cycle of life where beginnings and endings don't really exist.

Like Adrienne Rich wrote, "In times like these to have you listen at all, it's necessary to talk about trees." And the thing about trees, land, and art 'in times like these' is, you get to straddle the past and the future and let it drip into the right now, preferable with a big sun-flare for dramatic effect.

In the end, or middle, the answer lies in timeless land; part sherbet sky, Swedish roots, and Fairview drives with some late night talks and open rain-soaked windows thrown for good measure.

Notes

I found a piece of torn paper on this cobblestone street a few months ago, and I wanted to know the story. The ink was smeared, but I could make out a little heart. I kept walking, taking in the foreign air and people around me, and I remembered what I almost always remember when I notice a homeless handwritten note.

...

Once upon a grad school class, a friend and I were walking to our cars, and she told me a story that worked its way into my bones. Her husband had died of melanoma a few months prior. She had tons of pictures of him skiing, doing patrols at dawn—action shots worthy of Life magazine covers, but she confided that she had frantically searched every physical scrap of paper and hard drive in the house for any remnant of his writing. Any story, any sentence, any love note...and specifically, any to her. Any words that could be salvaged that stayed behind - in his voice - in his handwriting - his inner thoughts. At that point she had found nothing. But the moment I saw the piece of paper perched on the street, I breathed a breath of hope for her.

salt - memoir class assignment

 

We parked on the side of the street and walked a few hundred feet through a parking lot. Our bodies stiff after a 6-hour drive to Las Vegas followed by a red eye flight across an ocean.

“We can’t check in until 3, and it’s only 10, so let’s just go to the beach?” Marianne suggested.  

“Did I hear a question at the end of that sentence?” Melissa joked.  “Why would you raise your voice at the end like it was a question?”

The three of us had the same beach and vacation rhythm, making being together on an island ideal. It was our second trip and we vowed it had to become a tradition.  Our rules were simple. We could book this trip if:

1. We could find air fare and lodging for $800.00 or less.

2. We  were fine wasting away on the beach for multiple days in a row. No crazy driving or all day excursions if it ate up a beach day.  

3.We  were willing to stop counting how much sugar and diet coke we consumed while off the main land.

It became an unintended sanctuary, our rite of spring and shedding our winter-tired skin. Comfortable hours spent staring off into the ocean without hearing or speaking a word, followed by hours of sharing deep unguarded secrets. Laughter and silence sat side by side. Even though the beach as a whole was not undiscovered land, the separate parts of sand, sun, and water awed us. Picking up handfuls of newly washed grains, we let the mixture drip through our fingers and splatter onto our legs as we marveled at the shiny particles nourished and worn down by water and sun. Somehow touching the earth, feeling the rays, and tasting the brine on our lips allowing a deep knowing reality and peace to settle among and between us - we knew saltwater truly did have healing properties.

 After we found our beach and parked, we dug through our bags comprised of more swimsuits than clothes. The magic air and location tricked us into forgetting high-maintenance habits and anti-camping vows. Stripped of our worries, appointments, and inhibitions from the Motherland, we rolled the windows down enough to trap a towel and create a makeshift dressing room. Shirts came off, pants were thrown, and the acrobatic feat of pulling lycra on over sticky bodies ensued. We dumped sunscreen, books, and water bottles a la yours, mine, and ours into a beach bag still littered with sand pieces from last year. The chairs we bought at Kmart minutes earlier swung, clanking against our backs. The weight of the bags, and chairs distracted me from realizing I had bare legs and hardly anything covering my chubby pale winter legs.

As we crossed the street from the car to the alley leading to the beach, I saw a brown dumpster in a corner next to huge flowering bushes. It felt odd to have such a practical utility amidst natural beauty. Round and brown little bathing suit kids buzzed around the dumpster as they threw popsicle wrappers inside; only half the wrappers making it in.

“Don’t you wish it was still cute to be chubby and have rolls on your thighs at this age?” Marianne sighed.

Melissa and I played along, and pulled our jersey beach dresses up to make them  even shorter and kept walking.

As the beat of our flip-flops searched for sand, a familiar general store with green wooden letters and an A-shaped awning appeared on our right. This store would soon provide our daily sustenance. Natural Cheetos and Diet Coke. As the three of us filed pass, our arms full and backs red from straps of chairs, our eyes met each other and we silently knew our traditional beach habits had commenced. Our brightly painted toes sprouted from the hot damp sand as we shuffled to find our spot.  

Our lethargic movements looked like a modern dance. Together we stopped, creaked our bodies over and slipped off our flip-flops. The towels unfurled with a soft snap as our beach bags collapsed into the sand with a dull thud. The colors of green and tuquoise glass roared their siren call, soon to be answered, but first we turned to the sun with sand grit beneath our nails and stood at attention. Standing before the surf, sand grit beneath our nails, and before lying down for the next few hours, we stood at attention. Salt-bidden, worshipful release.  

Heard in Class

 

This view has been mine for almost two years.  I see this site 8-10 hours every day.  Most of the time there are students in the seats.  When the seats are empty I feel the gravity of their presence even more.

This moment in time was after kids were talking about The Kite Runner.  17 year olds – most middle of the middle class. Most white.  Most girls…discussing real issues about situations and stories they will never experience. Experiences I will never experiences. Phrases were flying and discussion was actually happening amid lulls.  

And then she raised her hand and said, “it’s made me check my privilege a little bit more”.

diana barrys - memoir class assignment

 

I hovered over my desk and turned on my computer. Too busy to sit, I became a frantic bird and flitted about, never finishing one thing. I walked back and noticed the homepage had skipped to a different site. Thin legs sucked into dark denim glared at me.

The caption ‘how to wear boyfriend jeans 18 different ways’ taunted viewers in bold block letters.  Do I really need an article to tell this to me? And 18? Come on. I thought. But I clicked anyway.

I looked away, and thought back to the weekend.  My college roommates, my people, had planned a short get-a-way to California.  This was no small feat: jobs, babies, and husbands were left in order for 5 girls to travel from 4 different states for 3 days. We run 13 years deep, and have known each other through boyfriends, break-ups, unfortunate fashion fads, heartbreaks, marriages, moves, wishes, and defeats.  We are women now, but laugh and relax as the clear-eyed, open-hearted 18 year olds we were when we walked through the doors of college life.

IMG_2734.JPG

The rarity and blessing in the lack of competition, drama and the ease of support, transparency and laughter is not lost on me.  In moments when I forget there is divine construction of people and events in my life (which happens mostly in dramatic dating woes and familial angst), I remember these women and how I’m wrapped in their stories, and they in mine, and am brought back to a warm knowledge in the strength and holiness of my associations in all realms. I’ll just say they are my Diana Barrys and leave it at that.

Years ago when teaching 9th grade, I met a teenage girl through a bathroom mirror. Not having time to go across the school to the faculty lounge between classes, I darted in the student restroom.  As I washed my hands, I noticed a young girl dressed in black, with a short dark stick straight bob. She wore lipstick and drew on eyeliner over already heavily placed eyeliner as she talked to her friend.

“I need to go home and put on make up – I have like no make-up on.”

I almost laughed out loud, but as I walked away I thought these young girls have no idea who is looking back at them in the mirror. And do we really see them? Do we even see ourselves?

We let our (women and especially young girls) currency and validation come from status updates and screens. Culture tells us who we are and how much we cost and we are happy to oblige. What kind of jeans to buy? Click.  How big should my boobs be? Click.  What is the in color of hair this year? Click. How to keep, catch, or train your man? Click.

Here’s the thing – I click too.  A lot. And I know the dialogue of women and media literacy is growing, but the root of the dissonance for me is lack of identity and not feeling seen. When I’m with these women and friends, it shocks me back to a more aware state of worth and joy. And this is the base to then work from and relate to other women – to see more of their divinity and strength before, or amidst, or over the critiques, judgments, comparisons, and perceived flaws of all of us. Which, let’s be honest, we have endured many Mormon Mean Girl moments from different angles and positions of late. Counter. Productive.

As we sat in a hotel room in California, our tired bodies with salt water hair and baggy sweats laid heads on the table and drifted in and out of consciousness and we closed our eyes, and talked.