Rainy Day Musings

Sunday, May 7, 2019

Dear friends,

It’s been raining at my house on and off for days now. A little over a year ago, we moved into a new-to-us house on the outskirts of town where we are surrounded by trees and grass, and it’s very peaceful. On rainy days, I like to be especially quiet and maybe open a window or two so I can hear the rain fall.

Our old house was the very last townhome built in a neighborhood full of them, and there were not many quiet days, even in the rain. The main road of the neighborhood was a long, slow, downhill slope, and we were at the very end of it. There was a storm drain in the parking lot, but it was often blocked by trash bins, children’s toys, and other debris that washed or rolled down the hill. Children from all over the neighborhood lost basketballs and other playthings that ended up blocking the storm drain, littering the grassy commons in front of our house or washing into the woods. The rain would trickle from the top of the hill, form a small stream in the parking lot, be rebuffed by the blocked storm drain, and form a rushing river down the broken sidewalk.

It was there that I last played in the rain, nearly ten years ago, shortly after Chris and I moved into that house. We were renovating the whole place ourselves with some help from friends and family, but most of our time at home was spent laying tile, building a deck, demolishing old drywall, replacing studs, patching and painting. The to-do list was epic. When we got our first good storm, I stood by the front door, gazing out in astonishment. There were actual rapids. It would have been dangerous for a small child. Someone’s tricycle was pushed by the stream all the way down past our door and up against the retaining wall we’d built to try and prevent our little slice of land from washing out from under us, as the property ended in a steep hill that plummeted into forest. At that time, I felt the pressure of adulthood descending upon me as I realized I’d just willingly taken on a debt I’d probably never see the end of — ain’t home ownership grand?

I was certain our neighbors would not like us much. At our first courtyard cookout, I drunkenly told our neighbor my mostly uncensored feelings about the Catholic Church only to learn that she and her family were practicing Catholics. I was also pretty sure they’d heard us having sex with the windows open one afternoon around the time all their kids were coming home from school. I didn’t think I was doing a very good job of adulting. That day when we got our first real rain storm in the neighborhood, I was briefly taken by an impulse from my inner eight-year-old. I stood in the rushing stream on our sidewalk laughing and dancing like a crazy person while Chris stood just inside the door, sipping his coffee and questioning my sanity lovingly.

I only stayed out a few minutes. Playing in the rain is not the same when you’re an adult. For one thing, I couldn’t stop thinking about the potential parasites in the mud around me. Lots of our neighbors had dogs, and the grassy area in front of our house was a favorite place for walking them. Not everyone was consistent with picking up after their pets.

It’s also more fun when you have someone to play in the rain with. As a kid, I had my two friends Justin and Drew with whom to actually do stuff in the rain, like fight. We would find a particularly wet sinkhole in someone’s yard to fight in. Or we would just … run around. No direction, just glee. Me and Amanda played on her swingset in the rain. Her mom was really mad about that one. It was either hailing or sleeting. She said it was too cold to be out in the rain, but I don’t remember it being cold. I remember the exhilaration of absurdity — how good it felt to do something so out of the ordinary.

Back then, I couldn’t understand why adults didn’t want to play in the rain. Everyone complained when we had rainy weather. They’d call it ugly, dreary, gross, and bad. That made me sad because I thought rainy days were just the best. What an amazing opportunity, you know? And adults were not only passing it up but scorning it —  running to their cars to get out of the rain but splashing their pants along the way, and carrying stupid umbrellas that helped a little but then dripped on everything in the car and in the house. It seemed to me that everyone was just determined to make a bad thing out of something beautiful. It would have served everyone better to just enjoy the rain.

I asked my friend’s mom why adults never wanted to play in the rain, and she said it was because, “then you’re all wet,” and I was like … that’s the point? But she said it’s a pain when your clothes get all wet because you have to wash them. Also if you’re out running errands and you go into stores, you track water everywhere, and it’s just a big mess. Plus the air conditioning is on in stores so you’ll get cold. And also, you don’t want to get the inside of your car all wet and muddy. She did have a pretty convincing point about how car seats would feel gross when you’re all wet, but I didn’t see how any of these things should stop a person from enjoying rainy days. On the other hand, I didn’t do my own laundry back then.

I’ve gotten a bit more practical about when I’ll play in the rain, but only because I had to. For example, right now, I will not play in the rain because I’m very comfortable sitting here at my desk with a blanket over my lap, sipping coffee, and day dreaming about the best parts of childhood. Also, it’s Mother’s Day, and my mother-in-law will be coming over soon, and I don’t have time to play in the rain and take a shower and then still help cook lunch.

I have had some chances to hang out in the rain lately, though, thanks to these on-and-off storms that roll through spring. My derby league had a round of headshots done in the rain, and we’ve had some after-practice parking lot beers in the rain that have been super high quality hangouts. However, much to my inner Ramona Quimby’s chagrin, I have always stayed under an umbrella, except for the few brief moments when I  modeled for the camera and did a handstand in the rain. She really loved that part.

But the main reason I won’t go out is that it’s still a little chilly outside, as we’re not quite half way through spring, and I am a summer person. I thrive on heat, and nothing makes me happier than a downpour on a sweltering day. I am so looking forward to summer. I can’t wait until the Renaissance Fair starts — the fair grounds are within walking distance from my house, and on rainy days it’s far less crowded, and I will be there, ready to maximize my enjoyment of the people, the shows, the trees, the fresh air, and every drop of rain I can catch.

I wonder what it’s like where you are, my friends. If you’re close, are you in the city or the woods? What does a rainy day feel like for you? Or are you in a place where it’s very dry? Would rain be a welcome change for you? What does the air smell like where you are? How does your environment embrace you, and you it?

I ask these questions knowing I most likely won’t get responses. I always tell the recipients of my letters that they don’t have to write back, and that’s true. But it’s not for lack of curiosity about them. I love getting letters back, but I also know sometimes it’s enough to have received a letter, and for me, it’s enough to have written one.

Thanks for reading. May you always play in the rain,

Mary

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The End of Wanting

by margaretglin

Photo by margaretglin

Everyone has their Jordan Catalano. Mine was Kurt. I was in the 6th grade, he was in the 8th, but he had been held back a year, I think. We met at a youth group lock-in at church. He went to public school. I went to Catholic school. It was bad news.

That was the summer I wore wind shorts. Everyone wore wind shorts, except the girls who wore jean shorts, and I didn’t like those girls for reasons only sixth graders understand. One of them could put on perfect lip liner without using a mirror. I heard she hung out with Kurt, and I asked her about him. She said, “Ugh, you can have him.”

There were two lock-ins that summer. My best friend went with me to the first one and kept me out of trouble. I admired him from afar and wished he would talk to me. At the second one, my best friend wasn’t there. I made friends with this awkward girl who the jeans short girls didn’t seem to like. There was a dance, and I made out with Kurt while slow dancing right in front of the youth group leader. That night, while everyone was lying on the floor sleeping or surreptitiously fooling around under their sleeping bags, he tried to finger me. We were barely even covered, and I didn’t quite understand what he was doing, so I drew back.

In a bitter moment months later, I told my dad Kurt spent the whole night trying to get his hands in my pants — in reality, he’d spent maybe 20 minutes actually trying, microscopically inching along my leg to see how close his hands could get to my panties. It was bad enough I’d kissed him in front of everyone, and I knew my reputation was about to take a big hit, but if we got caught messing around on the floor at a church lock-in, I might as well die.

On the other hand, I really liked him. You have no idea how cute he was. What I knew about him was just a handful of dubious facts. His parents were divorced. He lived with his grandfather or an uncle. He was troubled. He had a bad reputation. He was probably just misunderstood. Of course. But after I pulled away from him, he didn’t talk to me for the rest of the night, didn’t ask for my phone number, and didn’t acknowledge me again until the day my dad nearly kicked his ass in the church parking lot.

We had a total of five conversations, including the one after choir practice the year we were in Christmas choir. We were standing outside the church waiting for rides home when he repeated some gossip he’d heard about me from someone I never met. I told him his friend was a liar and that he’d hurt me with the way he acted before. I don’t think he got it. We didn’t talk again for a long time. That year at Christmas Mass, he had a solo in “We Three Kings,” and his voice cracked badly. My older brother made fun of him on the car ride home, but I still liked him so I felt bad about it.

One day, after I’d stopped waiting for him to like me, maybe 8th or 9th grade, he called and asked me to be his girlfriend. I told him I needed to think about it, and he said, “Just don’t call your friends and ask them what you should do. Girls always do that, and I don’t wanna date someone like that.” Of course, I called my best friend, and together we determined that he was too much of a gamble and I could do better, even if he was really cute and I still sorta liked him.

In high school, I heard he had sex with a girl from my class in a movie theater. There were gory details I still won’t repeat. Once, they showed up at the house where my friends and I would hang out after school. I knew he was coming, and I made a point to be there for reasons only high school girls understand. When they arrived, he was uninteresting. He acted tough but was too out of place to be convincing. We nodded like old divorcees. She had on too much mascara. Her bangs were too heavy. She avoided eye contact and smiled weakly. That was the last day I wanted him.

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Monday Night Nonfiction: What I Learned from My Parents

Credit: Paul K on Flickr

What I learned from my parents was to see other people’s suffering.

I didn’t exactly fit in as a kid, and whenever I complained about other kids being jerks, my mom always said, “Poor thing, that person is probably very sad and doesn’t have very many friends.” When I was little, I felt consolled knowing everybody else probably hated the mean kid as much as I did. When I got older, I realized Mom was right. People who were mean were mean to everyone, not just me. Even when a group of kids ganged up on one outsider, they were really the sad ones. Any one of them could be the group’s next target, and they knew it, so they stuck together in their meanness. I felt so sorry for most people that I even tried to be nice to them and occasionally made a friend.

As for my dad, he’s a doctor (still practicing in his late 60s). He loves his patients because they come to him with their problems, they are vulnerable, and all they want is for someone to make them feel better, so he tries. Many nights at the dinner table, Dad would tell us stories about funny things kids would do. Once in a while, the stories would be sad, like the entire family living on nothing but rice. (Of course he told us this without telling the names of patients or any personally identifying information!)

I think Dad was trying to teach us something with those stories. What I took from them was that people can make you laugh and they can make you mad, but they also suffer, so you have to be kind.

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Being a Writer is Meaningless

Writer's Block I

When I was a little kid, I wanted to write books. I don’t know how I got the idea, but I think it had to do with feeling that I was strange and other people didn’t understand me, therefore I was bound to be some kind of artist. Also, I won some silly little writing contest in the first grade, so I thought, “There we go! I’ve figured it out. I’m a writer.” It was handy for all those tedious years when adults incessantly ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“A writer,” I would say, thinking it made me sound quite smart. I never did get the awed response I hoped for, but I did start to believe in this idea of being a writer.

Unfortunately, it hadn’t occurred to me that a writer is not a thing you can just be because it doesn’t mean anything. You have to write something. And before you can write something, you have to care about something. When I tried to write fiction, I was completely unable to care about the characters. Sometimes it happened with essays, too. I’d realize after 200 or maybe 500 words that I was rambling on about nothing in particular, just thinking out loud. I feared this was a sign that I should give up because I obviously didn’t have anything to say, but I couldn’t just quit writing.

When I had strong feelings about anything, I needed to write it down in order to figure it out. For a while, I only wrote when I felt strongly about something, and I avoided cultivating any one topic for too long. Most of my ideas and projects would eventually bore me or prove to require more effort than I could to give. To be perfectly honest, I flaked out a lot because I didn’t care as much as I thought I should about my writing. Journalism was the worst for me because most of my assignments felt pointless, and I didn’t feel equipped to handle big stories without prior reporting experience. Writing in and of itself, done purely for its own sake, didn’t interest me at all.

I gradually accepted the truth: My childhood dream of being a “great writer” was based on a complete misunderstanding.

That’s when I realized I needed to tap into what I was most passionate about — not writing for its own sake or books in particular, but the things that mean the most to me. I experimented with a lot of different topics, but it took a while to find something that consistently inspired me. When I started talking about creativity, spirituality, yoga, and meditation, I knew I’d struck a nerve.

Now, I don’t know if what I’m doing is “good” writing. I don’t know if it’s entertaining or interesting. I have no clue if anyone besides me laughs at my cheesy jokes. But I’m noticing that I haven’t gotten bored with it, either. I haven’t stopped caring or run out of material. And the fun part is, now I get to trust my training and leap into the wind. All those years spent trying to shape perfect metaphors and construct clear sentences aren’t going to waste because I finally have something to say that’s worth the effort. At the same time, I have so much to say that I can’t obsess over every sentence, nor do I want to. If I’m trying to express a difficult idea, I pick the best metaphor I can and run with it and just cross my fingers that I’m getting it right. This work feels like riding my bike down a big hill — it’s exhilarating, and little risky, not the tortured process I put myself through in the past.

The other day I asked myself: Am I still a writer?

And do you know what the answer was? I don’t care.

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invective

This is from a journal I share with my sister, Katie Daniel. In the picture below, the handwriting is mine, and the drawing is hers.

Invective by Durght

Sit down every day, every goddamned day, sit down and do it. And don’t give me any guff about your muse or being blocked because you do so much shit every day — complete and utter shit — that is neither inspired nor inspiring. You sit down and write emails, make phone calls, count the bills in someone else’s cash register, and you don’t whine to your boss about not being inspired.

Can you believe you have a fucking boss? You who used to be so fond of saying “You’re not the boss of me,” are now saying “yes sir” at every turn to every corporate douche bag who comes around the corner. Frankly, your six-year-old self would’ve given those guys the finger.

What ever happened to the you who thought you could do anything? What ever happened to that girl who thought she was a total superstar just because?

If you can make that blessed little hellion sit down, be polite and answer phones all day, for the love of god, for once, one hour, even one minute — for every day you  make her sit down and do this bullshit, you — the responsible adult asshole — owe it to her to sit down and fucking write.

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