I’m home.

The rideshare I eventually ended up taking was with a photographer and an artist. The photographer ended up being Brett from San Francisco, who is the photographer of the political blog 538. (I could never get into 538 because I don’t process statistics very well without a great deal of feeling behind them, but Brett is very cool nevertheless.)

And the artist was Beth Ann Shannon, sister of one of my favorite Pandora artists (these being the artists I would never have heard of without Pandora), Sarah Shannon. Post War Hope is one of the songs I find emblematic of my thesis revising semester in fall 2007, when everything – apart from my uncomfortable living situation – was so bright, I had to wear shades.

I loved driving when I first started; there is so much possibility inherent in being on a highway with changing landscapes rolling out in front of you like time itself. When I was demoted from the Land Shark (my name for my parents’ 92 Mercedes 420 SEL) to my first and last car, a stick shift Toyota Corolla, that joy was lost in worries about whether or not the car was going to simply stop in an intersection and the constant threat of getting hit by another car because I was simply so much smaller than they were now.

My anxiety has not been lessened in the past year by Zipcar expeditions – which added temporal and monetary penalties for dawdling or getting lost – or the singular terror of taking nearly all of my driving trips in Portugal with someone who thought nothing of rolling a joint (hash, not pot - even worse!) from scratch while piloting a service van through the fast lane. This trip was the first time in a long time I’d felt the satisfaction of all that space and time and story and history scrolling forward at every moment, so conscious of my position in the nation now, and now, and now now now now now.

Beth Ann was fun, if excitable, and her slightly ramshackle life was exciting to hear. But I found Brett really inspiring, in a very quiet way. Brett is 25, and yet his photographs have gotten national exposure. He went a long way towards finishing a degree in English Lit before switching to photography, but his latest project has nothing to do with any of that – he just made a documentary about Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

I frequently struggle with the fact that my life, my career trajectory and what have you, doesn’t make much sense. And I further struggle with a vague but pressing and dense sense of failure that I haven’t lived up to the predictions of those who knew me when I was five years old and precocious, that I’m not one of those kids who gets a PhD or owns a restaurant or writes the great American novel by the age of 25. I feel like a haphazard drifter, with lots of potential but not much focus. But the fact is that 25 is not here yet for me.

And the biggest thing holding me back from throwing myself passionately into those things I’m interested in and seeing where they lead (like Brett, the bulk of whose photographic portfolio outside of 538 stems from a trip he took after graduating from college wherein he simply drove from San Francisco to Argentina, documenting things along the way) is fear of committing – and of failure.

Part of the reason I love being in Genova is the way that all of my friends are passionately doing something. Acting, writing, directing, singing; chairing their own radio shows or gaining prominence as stand up comics, and even bringing surfing as a serious competitive sport to the rocky, lonely beaches of the Ligurian Sea. They all scoff at Genova and bemoan the lack of opportunity and infrastructure, the dearth of resources – when the truth is that they are the resource, and precious. Amid all of the difficulties they face, and that I would face if I wanted to move there and make something of myself, learn to believe, no one ever tells anyone he or she can’t. And all of them are constantly telling me that I can.

I think it might be that support and unconditional belief in my strength that has forged my bond with that city; it is as important as the narrow winding streets, the darkly foreboding romanticism, the gruff embrace of its tall grey stones and the enigma of its homes retreating into the mountains even as its businesses and famous port slope down into the sea.

This drive with Brett felt a little bit like that. I never identified myself as a writer, and certainly not as a photographer; I have a crippling shyness that stems from not wanting to be seen as a dilettante, even though it cuts me off from many things I love (this is, in some ways, the story of my life up to this point, and it’s one I’m trying to tear from its foundations and throw down). But his quiet statement of his interests and past projects, his confidence that was neither brash nor desperate in fields that are largely talent driven – and therefore have a certain “Mother, May I?” quality to them that I’ve always been too self-conscious to claim – was a salve.

It is, in fact, a new day, for me as well as for my country. And one of the most poignant lessons from this coda is that we choose, every day, what the shape of the morning and the lowest lows of the nights will be. This shaped up to be a trip that was shattering in the simple and life-changing way that it made me fully conscious of the fact that while I sit or stand, the earth is moving. I felt every rotation in the axis, was conscious of each degree we moved around the sun.

I hope to keep the clarity I gained in that quiet car, as we wandered from Maryland through Delaware and Pennsylvania, through the snarling tangle of New York by way of the mismatched brackets of prim Connecticut and the Dirty Jerz. We dropped Brett’s photos off at Harvard, and then he walked me up to my door. When he put my suitcase down and left, I unlocked my apartment door and opened all the blinds as the sun set on this last day outside of time. Hello, apartment – my daily litany.

I was overjoyed to see it, missing all its little unfinished quirks and the ways in which it smiles to greet me after some wide travels. Whatever came from this weeklong journey, through the crackling and inspiring messiness of it all, I’m eager – and rejuvenated, and ready – to dive back into the raw fabric before me and shake it out, stitch it up, turn it into the shaped honesty of a life.

rendez you

Tryst is amazing!

I held this evening clear in my schedule to spend time with a friend from massage school, Kim. I adore her and I always have a wonderful time when our plans line up, but Kim is a disaster at staying in touch, making plans and sticking to them. I’ve tried, at her urging, not to take this personally, but at a certain point in all relationships, there is a conscious choice to either make them a priority – or, not.

There comes a time when that failure to make time to involve yourself in someone else’s life does become personal; not necessarily cruel, but it is a signal to me that clearly, my energy is being wasted on this person, and might even be making them uncomfortable due to his or her own lack of responsiveness. I reached that point in my relationship with Kim over a weeklong sojourn to the District of Columbia when calls went unanswered, texts were returned perfunctorily if at all and, on the night she’d said to plan to hang out, her silence (as opposed to my cell phone) was the only thing that rang out.

So there I was, wandering lonely as a cloud, wanting to leave DC with a bang but not knowing how, and criminally bad at feeling comfortable hanging out alone in public. The home is so much the center of the social life for me that if I leave it, it is because I am going somewhere to do something, usually something that can’t be accomplished in my house. Sitting around updating my blog and uploading copious International Herald Tribune articles to my Facebook page not being among the number of things that require social locations, I was at a bit of a loss to understand what to do or where to go.

Lauren suggested Tryst, a small place in Adams Morgan, and I’m so glad I mustered up my courage to go. I walked from her house cold and indignant, checking my phone for messages from Kim that never came, getting lost and asking directions in an airheaded way from a gentleman in a fetching scarf that was only black and white checked (but I figured I could still trust him to steer me in the right direction because of the nearness of his garment to those I sought in Houndstooth Watch 2009). I walked in and moved seats three times in the first ten minutes, but then comfortably settled back into the holy grail of seating comfort: a couch by a lamp and not one, but two tables, in a small alcove of two couches and three chairs, with its back against the wall.

Tryst is a coffeehouse whose décor makes me happier and more comfortable than I thought any one place ever could: most coffeehouses focus far too much on ease of stacking and cleaning, and content themselves with uncomfortable desk chairs that don’t encourage a very long stay. This place, on the other hand, is a mishmash of parlor scenarios, fabulously fallen old antique couches and chairs with ridiculous lamps and tables thrown in for flair.

The jumble means that you can sit, as I did, alone between two groups of people having private conversations, two of whom were sharing a couch with me, and not feel alone or forlorn or bereft. I felt, instead, enigmatic, mysterious, alive and completely at my ease. The piped music (loud, hard-edged) was interspersed with live, a jazz bassist, keyboardist and trumpeter, whose cheeky instrumental rendition of “Happy Birthday” instantly conjured up Monroe’s breathy delivery of same to another young president, so many years ago.

Lauren joined me later and delighted, as did I, in our sweetly ditzy waiter - seen above, trying to explain the mystifying Chartreuse - and the delicious drinks he brought us. (Because, although up to Lauren’s arrival I had focused on the aspects of the menu such as vegetarian quesadillas, chocolate roulade and an amazing homemade chai that would have made pickier tea drinkers even than I weep, once she arrived it was time to get krunk.) We chatted, marveled, joked and dreamed, and caught each other up on the last many years.

I don’t think I’ve seen Lauren since we both went off to college, at a meetup of friends on our first extended break from school in December of 2003. So much has changed since then, but it was so lovely to rediscover this friendship in full flower, and delight ourselves with all the things that have remained the same – or gotten even better, with age and time. I began the evening in a fit of pique over a relatively new friendship that I hoped would provide me with the wild night that I ultimately never had on this trip to our country’s stoic fortress.

But it was an unexpected pleasure, just as this whole sojourn has been both unexpected and full to bursting with pleasure, to discover an old friendship that has survived the test of all this scratchy time. Unmindful of either of us, like a field of wildflowers neglected to tend to a demanding orchid, it continued on its cycle, flowering in a matter of fact way as if to suggest that there are things in life, sunrises and a good night’s sleep and springtime, that march on forever while we get down to the business of moving those stones that take drudgery and patience. They will be there, in reserve, when we take a moment to lift our eyes from all that toil and see.


what to expect when you're expecting things to be the same

I ended up finally leaving the house and, after an eye-popping walk around Lauren's neighborhood, heading to the National Mall to meet a friend.

It was good to see Adam; we wandered around the Museum of Natural History (love that elephant!) and through the Hirschhorn, two of my favorite pieces of the Smithsonian pie.

It’s a little funny though; it seems like nearly every time I come to DC, I spend time with someone (from RIT or from high school, or sometimes just my sister) who renews my consciousness of the fact that I am not the same person I was when we met and became friends. The old status quo of our relationship, the uncomfortable things I was apparently okay with at the time that I would never take lying down now: they fascinate me.

I’ve changed so much so quickly, especially in the past five years, that following my development has become a bit like tracking that of a very small child. I see myself, for better or for worse, every day – but sometimes it’s only by seeing the past specters of myself that don’t quite fit, and aren’t quite right, that I fully comprehend how much I’ve grown.

hitchcock, where you at?

I am surrounded by birds!

I slept in after Lauren went to work and Julie left to catch her bus (and go to the temptingly named OBAMA SUPERSTORE), then woke up to start loading the images from my inaugural dérive. Lauren’s stolen internet and I were having a bit of a Cold War standoff for most of the morning and early afternoon, exacerbated by the incessant squawking of the birds (who clearly disapproved of my slugabed ways).

I just got off the phone with Lauren, who encouraged me to head to a café in Adams Morgan to work; I suppose she’s right. I’m ironing out details of my trip back to Boston (tomorrow), but this is my last full day in DC and I want to make good use of it while I can.


extra golden

After the inaugural, we walked for what seemed like ages. I still couldn’t feel my feet, so we made our way from the Mall to the Waterfront metro stop, which Google maps tells me is about two miles. It felt like it. Have you ever walked two miles with absolutely no feeling below the ankle but a jarring, numbed up sense of absence? I find I can’t recommend it.

We made our way to my sister’s office, my phone officially giving up the ghost along the way. Huddled there for a few hours to regroup, we found when we were getting ready to leave that my chemical warmers, hitherto having been given up for dead, were piping hot. Lesson learned: buy them early and start them up hours before leaving the house.

After a great Thai dinner and putting my cousin on the bus back to New York, we made our way back to a tense house. I half-decided, half-realized that the situation necessitated, that it would be best to spend the rest of my time in Washington in the city proper. The problem was that the city was not exactly a sparsely populated place the night of the inauguration and all the balls, parties, and out of town visitors that that implied.

I felt, laden with my carryon suitcase and brimming big blue IKEA bag, like the donkey that the family of Christ might have ridden: no room at the inn. I left in a hurry, meaning I was still wearing the great dress, tights, coat and jacket I’d rocked to the inauguration – but instead of my scruffy smart vintage cowboy boots, the outfit was capped with SERIOUS snowboots that made me look like I was a runaway from the lunar landing.

Schlepping along attired exactly like a bag lady, I made my way towards the welcome of my friend Lauren. We’ve known each other since middle school, and like many friends I made during that time, although our paths have diverged and we only see each other once every few years, our senses of humor are still mysteriously in sync and my comfort with them never falters.

Arriving at Mount Pleasant’s Gastropub in all my sketchy glory (I seriously looked like I was off to go sell knockoff handbags on a plaid blanket by the waterfront), I met and chatted with Lauren and her lovely friends Julie and Patricia, and mostly managed to forget the fact that I was a domestic refugee.

I have a certain anxiety about traveling, possibly because I don’t have a lot of money, but I think it comes from a lot more than that. There is a fundamental insecurity in not really knowing much about the bed you will sleep in the next night or the next night or the next, about the environment in a home that’s not your own or the likelihood that you may or may not be imposing on someone else’s kindness, hospitality and, ultimately, patience.

The frequent discouraging factor in mini-excursions or nights out on the town – how am I going to get home? – takes on a vivid extra urgency when I don’t even really understand what home currently is. And so it was that instead of going out and painting the town red (or blue, as the case might have been) on the night of inauguration, we squeezed three (and, briefly, four) girls into a full sized bed for girl talk and conversation.

Lauren has three birds, and the need to reinforce the darkness was stronger for their presence. So we crowded in and spoke in whispers about travel, music, love, satisfaction and dreams of the future and time. I thought I would need a crazy night out with bars and strange people and some kind of physical catharsis to mark the change in eras, the change in me: dancing until I couldn’t stand up straight, or my own reenactment of the Unconditional Surrender of 1945. But in the end, the changed world was represented no less fully, no less tangibly, by the world we wove of soft voices, painting landscapes that shimmered and glistened in the air above our heads.

I felt the world resettling itself around me like a blanket of safety, and when I stopped to consider the fact that I could feel this safe anywhere in the world but my own rabbit’s den, I realized that the changes I’ve seen recently go beyond a new party, a new administration, a new president, a new year. The catharsis I was looking for has already begun, and it’s inside me. I’m anxious and eager and curious to see what happens next, to peer into mid-morning on the dawning of this fresh and bright new age.

44 - destined to witness

we start before dawn.

ghostly in the gloaming, and cold with nerves and 21 degrees

we pacify our ears, our toes, our bladders - this is not their day. the word of the day (clever doctor dictionary) is pandiculation: it means an instinctive stretching, as on awakening or while yawning. as we do, so does the nation: we awake.

the metro has a feel of expectation.

you and i and hope at l'enfant plaza

and thousands of our newest closest friends

we masses huddle, yearning to breathe free.

snaking up the subway steps i get a sense of how we are unbroken: we the people, on today of all days, stretching in a sense to all eternity, and seeking absolution in the end.

we are governed only loosely

and commerce is as healthy as the cold.

this is a way to prove our witness tangibly

bearing its trappings with us on our sea.

we move forward.

as we shuffle in our thousands,

arches rise above us, high

and all we are is motion

(and sartorial distinction - what a hat! it is the day's first fanciful chapeau, but not the last)

as these two float away i fidget

fretfully, aware of the sea turtles that await their final resting place, but

we are moving, washington is with us

we are found.

we are not dignified or elevated, raised on high or particularly near our reason for this hajj of ours today

we are here to notarize: we came. we saw.

washington, even more than lincoln, haunts my mind like one more ponytailed ghost

in the country that he helped to build, in winter

we are not upon the delaware, but we face a moment no less striking for the lack of blood we shed.


and disbelieving


and massed

and tired

we are many.

i begin to lose feeling in my toes and go searching for a warming tent.

i find very little that is useful to me, but these soldiers camp in packs, leaving their bags in slowly proliferating huddles, circling the camouflage wagons, seeking the lea of the storm.

i travel onwards.

chris matthews and keith olbermann are not as impressive as you might think in real life, and if it is a case of "real" america versus unreal, i am inclined to believe in the veracity of my fellow sufferers of cold and cramping, waving flags and hoping against hope.

still, few find themselves impassive on this day.

my savior is a soldier after all (thank you, lieutenant harris - from all ten of my still-wiggling toes)

and i return in time to start to see.

as we pray

or document

and pose

(and freeze)

it begins to become point of fact that the man whose vote we rocked is drawing nearer. he is saying thank you. he is rising.

but on the mall this morning, barack obama is in some ways beside the point.

this twelve year old boy (who moments later took a break from his call to cheer the entry of sasha and malia obama with the fervent joy of one deep in the throes of first love from afar)

and this cool-hand luke-ette

are as much a part of this inaugural as The One.

he is here

but so are we

and while his duties are many, ours are:

- to be moved
- to understand
- to see.

(occasionally we think we are seeing with more stealth than point of fact will dictate)

we see mistakes

and we see grace

and we see that in some cases it stops mattering

we see change.

all of us are here to bear this witness

as if our seeing makes this real

and the fact that this is here to see

in a way makes our reality more complex and more honest and more true.

we are all lifted up

and held safe, for this moment.

ordinary details make me cry

everything makes me cry

but in my weeping, here of all places: i am not alone.

we are on the move again, where ambulances ask us "mother, may i?" (we say: yes you can.)

taking the exit onto 395 is surreal

for what should be dangerous is safe for us; we cannot be injured or stopped

in our masses, borne aloft - even as we enter underground -

by hope

and pepsicola.

in a way the event is ending and the show is over

but everything is different now, in ways i still don't grasp or play at understanding

we are moving

we are moving

we are moving

we have moved a mountain.