Porta Potties and the Joy of Being

It’s spring here this week, really, really spring. Last night, after dinner, I walked to the store to pick up a few things. I wore only a jacket and the air was blue and soft and fragrant and on my way I saw blooms that looked like dozens of tiny daisies all crowded round together, like cluster diamond rings. Every one of my senses told me that all this was a beautiful day, but I couldn’t really feel it. 

I got what I needed at Safeway, and came out thinking about my foul mood, and how recently anytime I try to reflect on the last year I feel resentful. Perhaps then, I thought, I should focus on the here and how. Maybe if I start there, I won’t be so angry. But even that didn’t seem to be working, I was so far out of sorts. Everywhere I looked, all I saw was annoyance, so I slouched on.

And then, passing a construction site, I looked up and caught sight of a couple porta potties next to each other, one blue and one pink. And I stopped, and I stood still, and a strange feeling came over me, and I laughed. Because why, oh why would anyone go to the trouble of making aesthetic choices for a porta potty, one of the most famously man-made, utilitarian, temporary, and gross objects on the planet? I mean, if you want to have separate toilets for men and women, just a straightforward sign on the door will do the trick. And yet. At some point some manufacturer must have said, How about if we have some design options? How about if we have not only grey, but deep sea blue and bright bubble gum pink? Let’s get those going on the production line! People will love it. And then I imagined some site manager or someone, when planning for the build, had looked at the pictures and gone, Ooooh, yes, let’s mix and match a little, and order a few of each color, then we’ll alternate them for visual contrast once we get them on site! What fun! The more I thought about it, the less I could think of any other explanation.

So I stood there and kept on grinning, because the color of a pair of porta potties was all superfluous joy. There was no reason for them to be this way, and yet here they were. In fact, because of the porta potties, I had trouble getting home. My feet moved me very slowly. I kept getting started and then just stopping and standing there in giggling, grateful reverence, and then needed to remind myself to keep walking.

My body, which on the way over had resisted all the delicate, sublime urgings of creation itself to rejoice, was now responding with fierce delight to the absurdity of colored plastic boxes full of human waste. 

There’ll always be something, friends, there’ll always be something.

Highlights of 2014

I’m not late, see? I’m just very, very early.

New Years’ evening George had been banned from the computer for something or other and Mary came upstairs and asked me if I smelled something burning. At first we thought it was the heater, but then we realized it was just a bored little brother burning “stuff” in the kitchen sink in his room. (My mom said “I thought he was scared of lighting matches!” We said, “Well, I guess he’s over that.”) So I brought him downstairs and gave him a cello lesson, and he happily plowed through an entirely unrecognizable version of “Twinkle Twinkle.”

The next night Mary and Karen and I played Explorers, quite possibly, as I kept reminded them, the worst card game in the universe. But for some reason, it was fun. Perhaps because we learned that Sir Francis Drake “enflamed the British Isles with desire for new lands,” or maybe because we were eating fresh guacamole, or just because they’re two of my favorite people. All games should be so poorly thought out.

Yesterday I took a walk in the woods with Elspeth which wasn’t long enough, because we never end up having enough time to say all the things we want to say. And whether she knows it or not, that was easily the cheeriest I was all day, because being home is hard sometimes and seems to fit poorly, but friendship has a bolstering effect on the soul.

This afternoon I got an email from Laura in response to something funny I sent her a week or two ago, so not only did I get to reread and reappreciate my own hilarity, but I got to be reminded that I’m not alone in my awkward, uncomfortable winter idleness and that I have a whole semester left with some very dear people before the world opens up at our feet.

And just about an hour ago I had this delightful exchange with my brother:

A: I’m going out.

G: Don’t die.                                                                                                                                          …Where are you going?

A: Oh! He cares! Look at that! I’m going for a walk.

G: No! I, um…yeah. (furiously reads newspaper)

So I walked a bit and came back by way of the Little Free Library around the corner from us where I picked out a memoir, and on my own block I was just cold enough to smell the winter in the air and the woodsmoke from our chimney, and I thought that there are few better feelings than a book under your arm. Here’s to actually reading it.

One Little Room an Everywhere

First, for fall break, Elspeth was going to come up and visit. Then she emailed and told me she wasn’t going to be able to make it, so I came up with plans to go down to the orthodox monastery in Ellwood City, and ran around telling everyone I was going to be a nun over break. But then their guesthouse was full, (“no room at the inn,” Jackie and I decided,) so now break has come and I am holed up in my little apartment with thick socks on and corn and bacon chowder in the crockpot. My own sort of monastic living.

Wednesday afternoon I got a package from Elspeth in lieu of her visit, which contained tea, biscuits, a despairingly sassy mug, and my favorite of all: gummy Flintstone vitamins. I can’t get sick now, can I? I mostly sat in for the evening and begun reading As I Lay Dying, took a brief walk in the rain with my friend Mary, and discovered that, glory of glories, there is whole season of What Not to Wear suddenly available on Netflix. I’m not prone to these sorts of statements, but I’m fairly certain I could actually be friends with Stacey and Clinton. More than one episode has gotten me perilously close to crying, and I have definitely squealed—they just look so marvelous and happy, even if Carmindy the glowy make-up lady does slather an obscene amount of foundation on every single one of them.

Yesterday morning I borrowed Ali’s van and went out and spent more than fifty whole dollars on groceries for soups and things, then felt like superwoman carrying almost my own weight in foodstuffs up the stairs in one trip. I played hymns on my cello, and went out to wander around in the neighborhoods even though it was just about to rain. (Though really, it was just about to rain for all of yesterday, except for when it actually was.) This may be sacrilege or something in this cloudy part of the world, but I like the way fall looks beneath a thick grey sky. The colors are deep and saturated and drowsy. In the evening I went over to Haley’s and we made dinner and talked about Shakespeare and cross-country road trips and Dr. Brown herself.

I came home to plan for the little class on devotional poetry which I am hopefully teaching in January, and found I wanted something from my old creative writing syllabus from last fall. So I called my dad and he dug through my huge box of papers, and cheerfully read off the titles of everything from Classical Ed on back through junior year, in an effort to make me regret I ever asked. He was positively intrigued to find a poem I had written which he thought was about my mother’s rouge. (It wasn’t.)

In any case, I went to bed early and lay there reading more Faulkner, which I’m pretty sure I’m enjoying. There is something about sitting down and trying to actually write a novel myself which causes me to drink in other’s good prose like I’m parched. And though Faulkner jerks and spits and just generally behaves in an ornery fashion, he knows the way beautiful language works, that any voice can speak poetry, that a great part of reading and writing is listening. I fell asleep to his words last night.

The title up above is from a John Donne poem about being in love, which I am not. But though it’s just me here, I have plans to fill this little space with good cooking smells for hours on end, to scrub out the bathtub, to vacuum the thick carpet, to sit down at my computer and courageously introduce a villain into my story for good and all. For now, this little two-room apartment with its finicky lamps and pile of dirty dishes and sunlight sliding through the blinds is plenty enough for me.

The Sacrament of Birthday

Yesterday was my twenty-first birthday. At midnight Jackie and Renée came shuffling into our room singing, with a cake and lighters, because they’d forgotten to get candles. The four of us ate the cupcakes, and put on the little plastic rings that had come with them. I read them my Dad’s birthday poem and opened the package from home that had been on the top shelf of my closet for three weeks. There was jewelry and chocolate and a teabag-rester and a book on E.B. White, in which my mom had written “For Alice’s Web.”

Then that morning I got up at seven-thirty so that Sarah could braid my hair. She was listening to a contemporary piece for music history class, but then it ended, and I sat in silence in the dim light as her fingers neatly shifted my hair back and forth over and under itself. I thought of school mornings growing up, sitting at the breakfast table, gulping my milk, while my mother performed the same task. But it was not quiet then.

In Classical Ed, after a few false starts, they sang happy birthday to me and I didn’t know where to look. We had plans to hike and bring along champagne to celebrate. But that fell through so Sarah Bryan and Megan Rossi kindly walked Pinchalong with me. On the way back down Pine Street the rain and wind swelled up out of the ground, it seemed, and we were wrapped and lifted in it. Our eye makeup ran and we laughed.

The three of us went to Elephant and Castle for dinner. We had hot food and I had spiced cider with a bit of rum. We talked and remembered and I was grateful. When we got back on campus I borrowed Megan’s hair dryer, took a hot shower, and blew my hair out. I put on my third outfit of the day and was warm.

Then all us Classical Ed kids went bowling and Dr. Edwards and RJ came too. I bowled one spare and a lot of zeros and we ate leftover cupcakes. We sat close together and laughed, hands on one another’s shoulders and knees, and I made everyone take a picture at the end. They called me birthday girl.

And at the last Sarah and Jackie and Renée, my girls, took me out to Rachel’s. I had whisky and wine and peanut butter pie, which was tall and creamy. We stayed a while and sat. Then Jackie, the baby of the group, drove us back through the dark. I slept heavily till about five this morning and fitfully after that. Finally I got up, and listened to part of the morning prayers online, and then sat in silence with the softly greying sky.

My grandparents are ill and are suddenly in the hospital and I am frightened, but the sun rose this morning. The Son rose.

March

I slept for twelve hours last night and I’ve got an attractive bass cough. I’m not sick, it’s just been a full week.

I spent a huge amount of time with my classical ed classmates, trying to figure out what to do about our midterm and our class and our lives. By having us spend so much outside-class-time together, Dr. Edwards has kind of created a monster. I’m tempted to try to write you some hefty, ideological entry, because that has been my week. But yesterday, after our Hamlet discussion, when I told Dr. Dixon that I’ve just been in a really critical mood lately, he said, “Yes. You have.” So instead, I will be gentle.

Since I’ve seen you last, I’ve written an Easter poem, done my laundry, gotten a cuddle-wrap in the mail from my Grandma, walked Pinchalong, and cleaned and cluttered my desk several times over. I’ve had an interview for a summer job, planned for an independent study, cleaned up when a four-year-old didn’t make it to the toilet, gotten an apartment for next year, stayed up till three talking, and found rides to and from school for Easter break. Since I’ve seen you last, I’ve been blessed.

And now I am sitting here, not knowing what else to tell you, which is unusual. Usually I write my entries before I actually write them, if you know what I mean.

I guess the purpose of this is to tell you again (though I’ve told you before) that after twenty years, God’s goodness is still large and small, unexpected and regular. There’s no need to say anything more spectacular than that, and there never will be.

As I Write This

I can hear a group of freshman boys serenading their sister hall down in the courtyard with “We Are Young.” I wonder what they expect to come of it…

I am waiting for an email from a professor giving me permission to take a quiz early on Wednesday, so that I can catch a ride home to North Carolina for the long weekend.

I am wearing my mother’s flowered dress, which has pockets.

I am wishing that today’s weather would hang around forever, so I could walk in it forever. This afternoon, Amy and I met a woman walking her goats on Pinchalong.

Our room is cluttered, but the carpet is vacuumed.

I am thinking about how I like pumpkin mini-muffins and friends and my church and poetry.

I am planning for tomorrow–I’m going to bake bread at Emily’s.

I should clean off my desk. It has notebooks and spoons and a mug and pencils and a calculator and a sweater and a hairbrush and post-its and needle and thread from a button I had to sew back on and an empty envelope that says “$Cash$” and a stuffed giraffe named Butterscotch and a letter I need to answer. And other things.

I have my knees curled up to my chin.

I’m remembering that I should go to bed early because I have Bible study at seven-thirty tomorrow morning at Beans on Broad.

The boys in the courtyard did two encores.

Rich Condition

A week and a half ago, during the drive back up to school I made this list of things I was thankful for.

Friends who periodically lose their voices

Birthday cake

The opportunity to read books and write papers

My sister’s slackline

My sister

Weddings

The south

Leaves on trees

Mille Bornes

My grandparents

Driving by myself

The promise of summer jobs

The perhaps of eventual teaching jobs

Storybooks

Heroes

Computer battery life

Sun

Pretty dresses

Mothers who sew things magically overnight like the tailor of Gloucester’s mice friends

Not wearing make-up

Growing up

Chairs that recline

Not going to the dentist

Mountains

Game night

The fact that there is a man named Roger Beverage running for Sherriff Somewhere in West Virginia

Small boys In Subway with bowl cuts

Scenic overlooks

The Family Pantry

Dinner

Double spring

The interim between then and now has contained some less than pleasant days, but let me tell you some nice things.

-Sarah and I are officially living on third floor West next year, with a bathroom all to ourselves. I will forever remember MEP with fondness, but can promise not to miss it in the slightest.

-I registered for classes last night, and (along with Pre-Calc and Baby Physics) am taking Creative Writing, Sacrament and Lit, and Fantasy Lit next semester. Wonderful, wonderful.

-Today I got up and dressed up for Friday for the first time in quite a while. Then, with the rest of my Educational Policy class, I went to Dr. Edwards’ lecture for the Vision and Values conference, instead of watching the movie he’d assigned us for our class hour. He sent us an email later which said “You all are very kind. Disobedient. But kind.”

-This afternoon Laura and I went on a walk down Pinchalong, and sat on the edge of a cornfield for about twenty minutes. The field was raised so right at eyelevel we could see the stubble of the stalks all crowded round with big bright dandelions, and behind them were barely-leafy trees and a grand blue sky. There was sun and wind and roosters from that one weird house crowing in the distance. We decided that it was almost like finding Nowhere.

-In a few minutes I have a date with Heidi and Maddie to discuss making a big old wonderful breakfast for the Family Pantry in a couple weeks. Then I’m going to children’s theatre, then to finally watch that movie with the girls from Ed Policy.

I can easily describe this year in one word: humbling. I can no longer seem be able to do anything the way I’d like, or be anything I think I ought to be able to be. I am incapable, broken. Sometimes I feel like those words must be written on my forehead. I know that this is God “breaking the back of foolish pride,” and it is good, but it has been long. Every time I think I must surely, surely have learned enough, something else I had been counting on breaks down, and I must run for cover to the Rock. I must keep returning to Him till I clearly see that all else really is sinking sand. The first verse of one of my favorite hymns ends in this way:

Perish every fond ambition,
All I’ve sought or hoped or known;
Yet how rich is my condition!
God and heaven are still my own.

That, I suppose, is the lesson of the year. My condition is rich. I have faithful friends whose goodness continues to bless me, I have truly wonderful parents who will love me no matter what, I have two wonderful homes (at the very least), I have clothes and books and papers and pencils which make me quite happy, and I’m getting a really good liberal arts education, for heaven’s sake! Yet I have all these things by the grace of God. They are His. And, by the grace of God, so am I.