Monday, May 17, 2004

In the midst of a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, I played two games of softball. This may not sound like much to you, and I understand. But for me, this was one of the more glorious days in the past few months. Even though we lost both games.

You see, my mind exulted that my body is capable of playing softball for hours at a time now. It was only four months ago--almost to the day--that my back was so badly injured that I crawled on my hands and knees around my apartment for days. I can still remember the feeling--the shocking, sickening pain of sciatica and a throbbing migraine for days on end. My god, I've been through hell. But now, it's May. Suddenly, miraculously, it's May. The sun has shone for weeks on end in Seattle. That last entry about the unexpected pleasure of rain pattering on the roof was purely aberration. It's 65 and pellucid blue outside. Again. And my body feels similarly clear.

I've been playing with this team for a few weeks now. X-Box. I play with Microsoft guys who design video games. You'd expect serious geeks, who snort when they laugh and swing at the ball feebly. But they're athletes instead. And lovely, adjusted people. Yesterday, I looked down the bench at all these married men my age, men who know how to swing the bat and play graciously, and I thought, "What did I do to miss out on this? Why can't I have one of these?" But that's another entry, about the frenzy of dating and trying to find love. That one's a book. This one is about softball.

So we win. Much to my surprise, I'm finally on a winning team. My entire life, I've been the star of a sadly faltering team. The CHS Wolfpack, which didn't know how to field grounders. The slowpitch team on Vashon, which let balls roll through their legs or rush over their heads. The hilarious Irish bar team in New York City, where 8 out of the twelve had never played baseball before, and our pitcher spoke with a thick accent made thicker by the cigarette perpetually hanging from his mouth. And the engineers' league in Seattle, in which every game seemed drenched by rain, and we splashed through the puddles to losses.

They were always fun--I love playing no matter what the circumstance. Especially the Irish bar team in NYC. We played in Riverside Park, perched on the edge of the Hudson, and I made line-drive-double plays at first base every game, because no one knew how to hit. We lost every game but one. The team had played together for a couple of years, and they had never won a game. But somewhere in the middle of July, one hot and sticky day, we actually won a game. I don't really remember how, now. It was a surprise to us all. But win we did. When we went back to the Broadway Dive (the bar at the bottom of my building that sponsored us), we were treated like returning heroes. Pizzas arrived from Sal and Carmine's across the street, steaming with the sweet smell of success. Beers were poured all around. The owner of the bar asked us to sign the winning game ball. And a couple of hours into the evening, someone put U2 on the jukebox. Triumphant and drunk off of lagers, we all joined arms at the bar and shouted, "In the Name of Love" with such pride and gusto that I actually felt, for a moment, as though we had won the world.

But still, it's better to be on a winning team. And now, I am.

Except we lost on Sunday. We played the top team in the league, every one of them a bat, every one them a player who knew how to hit the cut-off. Doesn't happen that often. They slouched balls over the shortstop's head or slammed balls over the left fielder's head. We never knew what was coming. Still, we came close. In a middle inning, I stood on first, Luke up to bat. I love Luke. He adores the game, knows it by blood. He can hit the shit out of the ball--two games ago, he had two grand slams in one game. And mostly, his body is loose and ready, his eyes always watching. But he's also kind, not wrapped in his competition. He says good job to everyone who hits, everyone who attempts a play. It's joy to be on a ballfield with him. And when I'm on base, I want Luke up next. So he hit this long, loping drive into center field. Not a home run, by any means. But as soon as he hit it, I took off running. I ran as though I'd never had an injury. I ran, head down, legs pumping, dust rising. I ran hard and it felt good. Rounding second, I looked to see the center fielder bobble the ball, so I took off running for third. Made it, and I forced them to throw fast, because they hadn't expected me to move. The third baseman leapt, but the ball rattled against the chain-link fence of the dugout. I sussed out immediately his lumbering pace, and I took off. I ran toward home with all my energy. Nothing in my mind for those few seconds but making it down the base path and leaping onto home plate. I could feel the ball come from behind me, but the girl catcher looked tentative. So I darted around her, suddenly, which made her lose her focus. And I ran across home plate smiling.

Man, that was a sweet, exultant moment.

Final score: 17-15. Them. I didn't care.

Quick break, for bathroom stops and Subway sandwiches from across the street. Time to gaze at Greenlake, which is always a pleasure.

Next game, we held the new team for three innings. And it was in the third that I had my other baseball glory moment. This game, I was playing catcher. Normally--in fact, all my life--I've played at first. I know that bag like my breath. I know where to stand, how to gauge when the ball's going to be hit toward me, how to guide the rest of the infield based on a flicker in the batter's eyes. And standing at first base, waiting for that pitch, is one of my favorite places in the universe. On the ballfield, I don't think about anything. I just move and adjust and blink. No grading or bantering or second guessing. I'm just there. I love that spot of earth.

But this team already had a first-base person. And I'll give it to her--she's good. She knows that plot of land and knows how to stretch out on it to make the play. And besides, since the car accident, I'm not so possessive of my place. I just want to play. So the first game, I was at second base. Except that it felt profoundly odd to me. Playing on the right side, but not at my spot. And just where do I stand for the cut-off? (I think the last time I played second base was in the fourth grade.) It's like moving into a new house on your own block. You're sort of in the same place, but you don't know how to read the creaks in the basement yet.

So during the second game, I played catcher. Afraid at first of all the squatting and the proximity of the bat to my head, I used to hate playing catcher. But now, it feels right. It's slow and methodical, just catching the ball and throwing it back. But I am also involved in every pitch. And I can see the field with more expansiveness than when I'm guarding my little plot of land. I could grow used to this.

In the third inning, they put a man on second. Damn. After some close pitching by Craig, the guy at the plate hit a solid thunk out to center field. The guy on second was sure he was going to score, so he started wheeling. But this time, the girl catcher didn't get thrown off her focus. Luke pegged it to Chuck, our shortstop. I bent my knees to ground myself in front of the plate, blocking the third-base line a bit, and shouted, "HOME!!" Chuck turned and pegged it at me, with a whoosh and solid accuracy. Right to my glove. The glove that was positioned right at my left knee. Without thinking, I swooped down and tagged the guy on the leg, while also grounding down in my heels, so I wouldn't be moved. Out, I gestured, triumphant with the play. "OUUT!" the umpire shouted. And this big guy on the ground grinned up at me and said, "Nice play, Catch." And all around me, I could hear my teammates whooping and hollering, shouting my name.

I'm back. I'm here. And don't try to stop me.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Finally, it rained in Seattle.

For weeks, the days have bloomed, gorgeous and wide-skied, endlessly sunny. How strange. I can't complain--it has dried out my once-dampened spirit and I've remembered my grace again. Along with this, since Daylight Savings Time, the skies outside my living room window stayed light until well after 9. There have been orange glimmers above the blue-shadowed Olympic mountains well after the time I'm supposed to go to bed. I haven't been able to sleep properly in weeks. My body wants to be awake. My body wants to play. My body wants it to be summer.

I can't wait for summer. Right after school, I leave for Sitka, Alaska, the happiest place on earth. Disneyland has nothing on my little fine arts camp at Sheldon Jackson College. Impassioned people teaching enthusiastic students about how to do art, and live in the world with dignified chaos. Light all night. Swapped stories in the bathroom as we brush our teeth together, Beverly and Kristin and I. Bad food in the cafeteria. Green fern fronds out my window. Endless sky. Faculty art shares. Clean air. Teaching students writing without the need to grade them at all. Perfect play. I adore that place, and I'll write much more about it later. But for now, I wish I were headed there right now.

Because the only downside of all this sunny weather has been the havoc it's playing on school. When it's 78 degrees outside, light until 10 pm, and the warmth pours in all the windows of our classrooms, not a damn one of us wants to be here. I can see the lassitude on students' faces. I can feel it seeping from mine. If someone could tell me why I need to be in a darkened office, preparing a test on the Middle East and Latin America (I mean, what in the hell? 11th grade woes are another entry), when I could be outside, walking around Greenlake, listening to Walking on Sunshine--I'd be thrilled to hear it. And don't tell me it's to earn money or be responsibile or teach the future leaders of this country the horrors of American meddling in the world. I'm tired of being serious. I just want to stretch out in the sunlight and lie in the warmth all day.

So it rained this morning. When I woke up, all the streets were slick dark with wet again. And I breathed a sigh of relief. So good to hear the gentle insistence on the skylights in my kitchen. So good to see people huddled under umbrellas, dancing with the distance between them and their cars. So good to feel the wish to hunker down on the green chair in front of my living room window and sip my coffee slowly, the warmth cascading down my throat. Home.

I love this weather. I love the sun too. I just like how ephemeral it all is here--no endless days of sunlight, at least not predictably. Weather in Seattle reminds me how quick-silver it all is. How much I want to enjoy it in the moment, not after it passes. And how I am alive.

And it's Friday afternoon. Glory be to all that is good in this world, it's Friday afternoon.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

A quick snapshot from my crazy-ass school:

Community meeting day. We gather together in the commons every Thursday morning, the entire school (all 450 or so of us ) sitting on the worn carpet, packed in together so tightly that students lean back on the knees of the student behind to find a place to rest. But today, the seniors were gone, so there was an anomalous sense of spaciousness in the room.

Today was Drop Everything and Read. I had just been discussing Chronicle of a Death Foretold with my juniors, another fabulous forty minutes. (In it, I read my favorite passage from the book: "I dreamed that a woman was coming into the room with a little girl in her arms, and that the child was chewing without stopping to take a breath, and that half-chewed kernels of corn were falling into the woman's brassiere. The woman said to me: 'She crunches like a nutty nuthatch, kind of sloppy, kind of slurpy.'" You try to do an exegesis of that one.) But at 9:40, we left our cold classroom to wander into the commons. And flop down onto the floor and read. Once a quint, we give over the community meeting time to DEAR. Every person in the school is reading something, including the assistant head of school (who sat tall and proper in a chair by the trash can) and the receptionist. We turn off all the phones and don't answer the door. We read.

I'm reading Middlesex, by Geoffery Eugenides, and I'm so utterly besotted by it that I'm slightly resentful that I have to do anything else but flop down in the sunshine and read for hours. The narrator is a hermaphrodite named Cal, who used to be Calliope, who comes from an epic, Greek tragedy of a family. And mostly, the voice is sprawling and precise, wonderfully tragic and ironic, mostly filmic, some poetic. God lord, I love this book. And I'm only 136 pages in.

So I read, in my camp chair (brought in for my back, months ago, and now I just like sitting in it, like the queen above her dominion), along with everyone else in the school. Students filtered in after half an hour, because it was time for announcements. Reluctantly, I stopped reading.

Most of community meeting is listening to students and teachers make announcements. I lost my cd player; has anyone seen it? Yeah, I have it, right behind you. There's a dance performance at the Broadway Performance Hall, my friend and I are in it. Please come to see us dance. (This from a beautiful junior boy who is proudly out already, and beloved.) Don't forget to compost in the lunch room. You should really clean your plate, so you don't waste any food. But if you do have to throw food away, remember to put it in the compost can! The seventh grade was best at cleaning their plates, so the entire class will win a prize. Basketball camp this summer--sign up now. Thank you for coming to the first Asian food festival. The international students are so proud, even though there were a few mistakes. And we raised lots of money for the migrant farm workers trip. I did this internship with the peace and reconciliation fellowship last summer, and I want to recommend it to everyone else. They pay you to work, and they teach you how to bring peace to the world. And make public speeches.

In the midst of this, today, a ninth-grade girl raised her hand, was recognized, and stood up. She's gawky, has enormous black glasses, and an ironic smile. I'm Trina, and I'm a freshman. And then she pulled out a little red accordion, started to play it plaintively, and sang the first verse from Soft Cell's Tainted Love. "Sometimes I feel I'd like to get away, I'd like to run away..." And with no abashment, she tugged at the accordion, back and forth, and sang this broken-hearted love song in a quavery voice. And when she was done, she sat down, and everyone applauded, thunderously.

These are my days.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

In my eleventh-grade class, we talked about Marquez' Chronicle of a Death Foretold. I love this book, for its sensory details, beautiful absurdity, and the way he shows just how time bends back on itself and turns everything around. We were talking about this, but really, they were talking. I love leading discussions of literature, because all I have to do is ask the right question, and listen intently, and they're off. I love watching them having the bravery to bring up ideas, watching them listen to each other, watch their faces widen as they realize a new idea from the kid sitting to the left. And I stand in front of them, quiet and happy, orchestrating it all. Today, we filled the board with ideas, spurred by my asking them, "Why did Marquez write this book? What is it really about?" They talked about violence and dignity and absurd expectations and the different way people's minds work and the role of women in Latin American society and sexuality and death. All within ten minutes. That's part of the reason I love teaching.

Later in the day, I met with Todd, one of my favorite juniors. When I first taught him in the ninth grade, he was gawky and nearly silent, but filled with this expectation of grace. Now, he has filled into it. He moves slowly, methodically. He loves Japanese anime and silent films, anything to do with language, and traveling to new countries. And everything to do with Macintosh computers. He has this delicate surety that most teenage boys could never understand. When he's 30 years old, he'll be so powerful and kind that he'll move beyond himself entirely and start changing the world. I adore watching these children grow into adolescence and starting into adulthood. The first students I ever taught are 28 now, and they have full, adult faces, and life stories I could never have predicted. They still come back in droves to see me, and I'm grateful every time. Some of them are my dearest friends. Todd told me, excited, about his upcoming trip to Japan. And then we went over each sentence in his precis about the war in Iraq with a loving attention as though it were an ancient manuscript. The sun was shining through my office window, the day was almost over, and I was in love with my job again.

After school, I drove to see Sarah, my massage therapist. This is one of my favorite times of the week. I'm healing, deeply. Enough to enjoy all of this, deeply. For months, it was agony. It has also left me irrevocably changed, and better for it. I'm more grateful and insatiable for life than even my friends thought possible. (I was like that before the accident, but a paler version.) Now, I'm on the last stages of pain, and I can feel it all becoming a memory. I went from having a three-month-long headache (seriously; not one break in three months) to feeling clear-headed most of the day. The sprightly energy that comes from this release is impossible to convey. Just say that it feels like spring, and then some. And so, today, I could feel Sarah's hands in every moment, instead of drifting in my mind. There's something powerfully loving about touch. When we allow someone to touch the outer edges of us, then closer, and closer, everything becomes softer, and more itself. So I left feeling close to tears, in gratitude and happiness.

Driving home, I was listening to NPR, as usual. More money for Iraq. The administration weakly apologizing for abuses in Iraqi prisons. Bush on the campaign trail, already. I could have been deflated. But feeling soft after my massage, I floated through it instead. I felt my hands on the steering wheel, my body bending with the turns, and the sunlight coming through the window and falling onto my body. A long line of cars snaked up the hill, under 99, on the way to Queen Anne, off Dexter. Instead of sitting impatiently, wanting to be home, I widened my eyes instead. Stopped under Canlis restaurant, I saw a blonde waitress dancing by the window, when she thought no one else was looking. A grey feather drifted down the air, toward my car. And all the greens ferns and grasses by the side of the road, blue sky behind them, reminded me that it's finally, firmly, spring. The long, dark winter is over. And I'm here.

So now, I'm going to have some shrimp gyoza with lemon pepper ginger sauce, an arugula salad, and a couple of squares of good dark chocolate. I'm going to read, and catch up on conversations with friends on the phone, and write. And fall to sleep early. I'm ready to surrender after massage.

I hope that the day left you feeling soft and open and happy.

All my love,

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