25 June 2013

this town 2

A homeless man on the corner, leaning against a building, swinging a gallon of milk half-full in his hand. Another homeless man said hi as he walked by, and the man with the milk swung it out toward him in offering.

The other guy kept going.

24 June 2013

hugs and more hugs

I drove down to Universe City on Saturday, and it was weird. It was very weird. 

I drove down in the daylight, first of all, in the sunlight, and I almost never did that. I put off driving back to Universe City until the absolute latest moment, and it was always getting dark and almost always raining (okay, it felt like it was almost always raining; the reality is that the summers are clear and beautiful here) as I drove back.

But it was daylight, this time, and sunny, and the world did not funnel into a trap at the end of the valley. 

Instead, there were hugs and more hugs among babies toddling on a deck while adults overdosed on guacamole and blue chips. 

There were hugs and more hugs among the detritus of the martial arts studio, all away from the walls for painting. ("I love it!" I said, and I do. Now it is all grey and red and black like our tshirts and boxing gloves.) 

There were hugs and more hugs in the kitchen with salad and G&Ts, with tea and dark chocolate buttons, with Irish comedians and model aeroplanes.

There were hugs and more hugs after a night in such-a-boy-house belonging to my friends I. and B., except in the morning I noticed that the guest room closet contained a hanging Christmas wrapping paper organizer neatly stocked with paper.

There were hugs and more hugs at the newly opened Universe City branch of my tea place, together with conversations with former coworkers and former professional adversaries.

There were hugs and more hugs just down the hill from my old house, with S. and little K., with Cameroonian style beans and lemonade and little chocolate wafer squares and determination to fix S.'s iPhone (I did).

And when it was all over, a flurry of hugs and food and smiles, I came home, here, to Gone West.

I have some good friends in Universe City. There are quality people there. I miss them.

I caught myself driving on auto-pilot, making my way without thinking toward home, toward work, toward martial arts. It felt so familiar, like I could have slipped right back into my life there.

But - for me - it's better to call Gone West home.

18 June 2013

good ache

I finally pestered my new martial arts studio into letting me do standup fighting as well as Brazilian jui jitsu, and now it's on. I'm back. 

It was killing me to sit there on the floor, learning how to get six points in a BJJ match when I could be punching things. 

"You aren't going to be in [the beginner] class long," the instructor said after the hour wrapped.

Which is probably good, because the novelty of being back in a standup class may only last so long if every class is an hour of just jabs and then just crosses and then just jabs and crosses. I didn't even get to do any combinations or kicks or or or. But it's coming. And it feels so good to move and punch and dodge and cover up.

I haven't worn the boxing gloves in three months, though, and what used to be easy is now heavy. 16 ounces is a pound on each hand, held up to my temples. My arms ache, and my shoulders, and also my legs from the fighting stance. It's a good ache. I feel like I worked hard for the first time since I left Universe City.

16 June 2013

glowing in the dark

My dad called me on Wednesday night, but I didn't get the message until Thursday morning because I was camping out in the middle of nowhere, next to a rushing river, with no cell coverage.

I listened to the message while waiting for tea in Sunny Ski Town. 

My dad laughed through the entire message, and as soon as I heard what it was about, I started laughing, too.

I sent a package for Fathers Day, and it apparently arrived on Wednesday, right when USPS said it would. On Wednesday night, there was a tornado warning, and the power went out, and my parents ended up in the basement in the dark.

When they came up the stairs, the package was glowing in the dark house, the only light around.

Dad was just wondering if that was a problem.

I called him back, 16 hours too late, and told him that it wasn't a problem. The package had been glowing all that time.

In fact, the package was still glowing today, when he opened it to reveal the light-up armband I found at the running store to make him more visible when he jogs at night. It might need a new battery now, though.

15 June 2013

Overheard in Sunny Ski Town

"Not many people use chamber pots anymore."

That is an accurate observation, sir, although I did use a powdered milk tin as a chamber pot in South Sudan.

the other side of the mountains

This is the fourth year that I have driven across the mountains to this conference out in the desert: twice from Universe City and now twice from Gone West. I also came once for a job interview for a job I didn't get.

(I ran into one of the interviewers later, and he said, "You and another person were both equally qualified, but she seemed more excited about living in Sunny Ski Town." Which was probably true, since I like visiting small towns like this, but I don't think I would want to live here, at least not at this point in my life. Also, I noticed that all of the employees of the potential employer wore khaki, flowy clothing and no makeup (they were all women), and while I understand the impulse to wear whatever you want because your clients are poor, I disagree with it on principle. I think dressing professionally shows respect for the people you work with, and everyone deserves that. Also, I love me some mascara. And the job was less interesting than what i do now, and it paid even less than the dismal pay I received in the non-real lawyer job i worked when i lived in Gone West before. Enthusiasm was hard to summon.)

So this is my fifth visit to this town, and I am starting to have a sense for where things are. I can find my way to downtown. I can find the shortcut to downtown. I can find my way to the ritzy shopping area (it is a resort town, after all).

Two friends and I went camping out in the woods on Wednesday night, and they followed me on the alternative route out of the woods, on little forest roads badly marked with numbers. I drove unhesitatingly, guided by a glance at the map and a lot of instinct. 

"We have a theory," my friends said when we stopped just before the main road to consult on whether to stop in town for tea, "that your survival instincts are better because of living in Africa." 

But the truth is that I just have a good visual memory and a good sense of direction. My experiences in Rwanda and other countries only help in that they make me a little more fearless about getting lost. Is there a rebel army occupying a place I could accidentally drive into? No? Then who cares if we get lost?

When I lived in Universe City, this conference was a chance to stop at my favorite tea place, but now I walk to it every weekend in Gone West, and last week they opened a branch in Universe City. I stopped here anyway, for an iced coconut Assam latte and for a cardamom roll that is available nowhere else.

Now I am looking in the guidebook for a good hike, somewhere to take in the warm, dry air and the sunshine that has already left me with a tan line on my arm from yesterday. I love visiting this town, and I love seeing my Universe City coworkers as the conference, but I'm glad that when I start back over the mountains this afternoon, I will be driving back to Gone West. 

09 June 2013


"You have exciting plans for the weekend?" asked the checker at Trader Joe's.

"So far I have no plans for the weekend," I told him. "But it's going to be awesome."

"That's a good answer," he said.

It's also a true answer. 


I drive my car about every other day now, mostly to go to my Brazilian jiu jitsu class and to the big local Whole Foods-like store. I take the bus to work, I walk to the street with the tea shop, and I ride my bike to do errands on the weekend. 

I last filled up my gas tank 22 days ago, and it's now just below half a tank. 

I love this town.


My roommates and I have a little strip of lawn on the side of the house and longer strip in front of the house for which we are responsible. ("Isn't this the landlord's job?" I asked, soon after I moved in, and my roommate said, "Yeah, we brought it up with him once, and he said, 'If you want the rent to go up, sure.'" So we are responsible for it.)

I mowed it today with an ancient motor-less mower. The blades are old and rusty, and I'm quite sure that the grass was not so much cut as torn off, but pushing it around until it stopped short and the handle slammed into my stomach, I felt very Gone West because I was not using any natural resources but my own body.

Now all I have to do is figure out where to get the blades sharpened.

06 June 2013

reach out

A friend from Universe City was in Gone West this afternoon, and as we talked, as my two most recent worlds grew a little less isolated from one another, I realized one very good thing I learned in Universe City: how to reach out to people. 

Last weekend, I ran into an acquaintance who I knew when I lived here before. We bonded back then over our respective international work, but we never really became friends, because I was too shy to take that extra step and suggest that we hang out, or even to really talk to him when he held a party and invited me. When I saw him last weekend, he said, "You didn't say goodbye!"

I didn't say goodbye because I didn't want to assume that we were better friends than we were. There were a lot of people I left that way when I left Gone West.

That didn't happen when I left Universe City. I said goodbye. Sure, there were people I didn't see when I made the rounds to say goodbye, but I made the rounds. I hugged people I never thought I would hug. I left cards for a good five people in my office. 

Yesterday, waiting in line at a food truck for food, I saw another person who I knew on a professional level back when I first worked in Gone West. My shy-ness instinct was to say hi and shuffle on by, and I did, but after I ordered my food I went back to ask how he's doing, and where he's at these days.

Universe City is small. Not so small that your neighbor notices when there is a different car parked in front of your house for an evening, but small enough that everyone in the same general field knows one another. If I learned anything from that, it is to make connections and keep them up. 

Universe City is small enough that you have to make friends with almost everyone who is vaguely in the same life position as you. If I learned anything from making friends all over again as an adult, it is to reach out to the people you think might make good friends. I suspect it's going to serve me well.

01 June 2013


I am sitting on a bench in a quiet neighborhood with kids running around and bouncing balls in all directions. The bench is shaded by a maple tree whose leaves are summer-full. There are two sets of grooves in this bench for seats and legs, and the inscription is in memory of a couple "who loved it here."

This peace could seep into my bones, if I gave it time on this sunny evening. I need this, after the week I've struggled through. I need this quiet. I need this sun. I need this music in my ears.