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Traveling the States February 9, 2016

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Of course, with or without that passport, there are many places I would like to see right here in the states. Since Northbrook left me, I’ve done a little better about getting out west, to California, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah. I wish I had way more time and money.

I’ve never made a list of the states I’ve been to, and I suppose I should, but I get hung up on defining a visit. If one has driven through the state practically nonstop, seeing only the interstate and maybe just at night, does it count? If one has only been in an airport in a particular state, one has physically set foot in that state, but again, does it count? I would argue no, but I guess it depends on what kind of lister you are. When listing birds, hearing the call counts—if it’s a positive ID, you don’t have to actually see the thing (although getting to is better!).

So I’ll make a list here. I will scour my memory, thoughtfully consider circumstances, and assign each state to one three categories: Yes, Yes but No, No.

I certainly hope I can fully Yes more than half.

Passport 2: The Sequel February 8, 2016

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My passport expires in November. It’s on my mind, because I know there are places that one can’t go if one is within six months of one’s passport expiring. It’s also on my mind because I recently read an article in the New York Times warning of the expected flood of renewals in 2006 and 2007 because of 2007’s Western Hemisphere Initiative, which required passports for Americans returning by air from Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. Millions of people got passports that year, and those millions are up for renewal. The article suggested early renewal and noted that turnaround time is about six weeks, up from two.

That makes me nervous.

You may recall that I don’t like the idea of not having a passport at the ready, even though I apparently have always let my passport expire in the past (not this time! I swear!). Since that last neurotic missive about my passport, I happy to report that I did at last leave the country (London! Paris!), but it took 2½ years after that post. And I still haven’t gotten to Montreal.

And in a way, it’s Montreal that makes me feel unwilling to go passportless for six weeks. Even though I haven’t been there since my twenty-first birthday, even though it’s only four hours away, what if I want to go there at the very point at which my passport is not with me?

And should Tim and I renew our passports together or sequentially? Last time we clearly did it together, as they expire the same date. We should do it that way again, no doubt. But it makes me even more nervous to think that neither one of us would have the option of leaving the country.

Truly, not having a passport is less about being able to take a vacation and more about feeling trapped. I’m someone who always wants an escape route clearly in view. Without a passport, I’ll feel a little less land of the free and a little more home of the brave.

But I better embrace that home-of-the-brave soon.

Oh, crap. Now I need another photo of myself.

Selfie February 5, 2016

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It took me years to get an iPhone, what with bad cell phone coverage and all, but I got one a bit more than three years ago, at last, and of course I use the camera feature quite a bit. But in all that time, I have maybe attempted a half dozen selfies, always with other people, and it’s embarrassing when I try, because I’m bad at it. Because I never do it. Because I hate photos of myself, for the most part. Because most of them are really, really bad. (Well, either they are really bad, or I actually look like that, which is even more upsetting.) So why would I take a selfie?

In fact, I was going to post something last week (or so) that involved an old photo and a new photo but I don’t like the way I look in the new photo, so I let that stop me.

So a couple of days ago, Amy (see “The Shirt”) posted a rather long note on Facebook which began, “I dislike most pictures of myself. I don’t actively hate them, but I’d just rather not look at them. And what, exactly, do I dislike? I just don’t think they look like me. I feel glowy on the inside, but my pictures often look a bit . . . off. Flat maybe. You know how the camera just loves some people? Well, that is the opposite of me.”

She goes on to say that she didn’t always feel that way, that she used to like photos of herself, that maybe it’s an age thing, that her internal picture is about twenty years old. “Anyway, why do I care how I look in a picture? I guess because I want the world to see me the way I see myself. But, really, why does it matter how I look? Why is that such a big deal? It surprises me to realize this, but appearances are a bigger deal than I would like to admit. Logically I know this is superficial. But it is in there pretty deep! It is a hard layer for me to shed.”

This is all leading up to her plan to post one selfie a day for a month. I have so much trouble with photos of myself that I can’t even imagine doing such a thing (but I don’t have trouble imagining other people doing this—everybody else looks pretty good!). The comments to this first post, of course, are interesting, with so many people feeling the same way about photos of themselves. (It was within these comments that I got Amy to at last post her shirt photo.) One woman noted that “My beauty doesn’t translate to 2D.” I like that.

Amy’s sister, Anna, who may be one of the most confident people on the planet, wrote: “I always LOOOOOOOVED looking at pictures of myself until about three or four years ago. Now it feels very hit or miss! Sometimes I think I look amazing. Other times I look pretty astonishingly bad. But I have started having fun with trying to look as bad as I can in a photo and then telling myself, ‘There, that is actually worse than I look.’ Also—I am SUPERimpressed with myself at how bad I can look if I really throw myself into it. Do I get any points for the width of discrepancy? Or for daring to put this on FB?” And then she posted—and I love her for this—a photo she’d shared with us during our weekend together, a first-thing-in-the-morning photo in which she is nearly unrecognizable—alongside a potential head shot for her upcoming book.

Anna headshotsI don’t know that any of this can make me feel better about photos of myself or about even looking in a mirror (when I get my hair cut? I can’t do it.), but it’s good to know that even the beautiful can look bad if they try.

The Shirt February 3, 2016

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Way back in November, I went to a reunion of five childhood friends who were friends really because our parents had been friends. The parents had at one time all lived in Princeton, New Jersey, and three of the friends who were getting together had all been delivered by the same obstetrician within a year’s time. I was the middle one of those.

Soon after those three births, everyone left Princeton, but the parents remained friends and there were visits during our childhoods. So we knew each other this way—occasionally.

The youngest of the Princeton born, Leyla, was my best friend throughout my childhood, damn the distance. We saw each other a few times a year, called, wrote letters. It became tougher in adulthood, but mostly after she had kids.

The oldest of the Princeton born was Amy, and in part because she was older, I looked up to her and found her wiser, cool, and more sophisticated than moi.

The other two friends who were getting together again were the younger sisters of the two elder Princeton born. The younger sisters (Alison [mine] and Anna [Amy’s]) were born 8 days apart.

It is pretty certain that the five of us hadn’t been in a room all together since the mid-1970s. One of us wondered allowed if we had ever all been a room together, or if it had always been this configuration or that. I’m not sure.

More than a decade ago, Alison and I got back in touch with Anna and visited her in Somerville. Tim and I visited there once too. Anna brought her family to visit all of us one summer (Alison lives a mile from me). On some visit, probably the first, Anna relayed a story of being in Leyla’s house to help pack it up for Leyla’s move to Toronto. It’s a little unclear why Anna’s family was helping to pack up when Leyla and her mother weren’t there (Leyla’s father had died), but that’s what was happening. Anna had always loved Leyla’s clothes (who didn’t?), and while packing them up, she helped herself to a shirt. She liked it, she took it! Leyla had so many other cool things, she wouldn’t be likely to miss it.

Anna told me and Alison this, and I’m sure I then told Leyla, but even that was a long time ago now, and Leyla had forgotten. So when the five got together, the story came up again. Anna described the shirt, and Leyla said she remembered it. And Anna gave her a new shirt.

Anna had to sing in church (remember when I went to church twice in one month? both Unitarian? once in England, once in New England?), so she left the house early for rehearsal. I said, “We should steal a shirt!” So we did.

We took turns having our pictures taken with the shirt and then posting them on Facebook, waiting to see if Anna would notice. Amy said she’d collect the photos and put them together, framed, for Anna for Christmas. (The shirt was driven from Concord, Massachusetts, to Parts West, Vermont, then mailed to New York City, then mailed to Baltimore, and ultimately driven to Delaware, Ohio.)

I was first to post a photo, on December 16, with the line, “The komodos and I wish the holidays could be a little om-ier.”

Komodo Kate

Leyla commented on my nice shirt, trying to draw more attention to the post, then tagged Anna a few days later saying that the photo made her (Leyla) think of Anna, although she wasn’t sure why.

On December 19, Alison posted this photo, tagging the gang to check out her new tile.


Oddly, a random friend noted immediately that the shirt matched the tile.

On December 21, Leyla posted a new profile photo: a shot of herself with the shirt in front of a painting in Anna’s house—an amazing PhotoShop job!


I commented, “I used to have a shirt just like that!,” upon which Anna commented, “How is it possible that you, Leyla, and Alison, and Indigo, and I all have that same shirt? (at the exact same moment you are posing in front of the painting that is the exact same as the painting I have??? (!!!!!)” She was catching on.

The next day, Anna posted the three photos together, saying “OK, it is JUST beginning to occur to me that MAYBE (just possibly?) you guys are messing with me and you STOLE MY SHIRT, Leyla, Alison, Indigo, and just possibly Amy! I was digging around in my closet to find that shirt, to take it to Ohio, to have my sister pose in it to freak you out . . . only IT’S NOT THERE! How could someone steal a shirt right out from under me? What did I ever do to deserve this? Oh . . . right . . . I stole Leyla’s shirt. Karma is a bitch! Or, then again, it is maybe just possibly a LOT of fun! Did I figure you guys out??? Do I WIN anything for figuring you out? Like—my shirt back? (might be too much to hope for since Leyla had to wait, um, 37 years) And wait—did I just publicly admit that when I was 13 years old I STOLE my friend’s shirt? Thank goodness no one ever reads this deep into a FB comment!”

Amy, in fact, had the shirt, had her photo taken in it, added it to the mix, and the shirt and montage were delivered over the holidays.

But Amy’s shirt photo never appeared on Facebook. And when she posted something a couple of days ago about hating photos of herself and her resulting month-long project to address that, I pushed her on seeing the final shirt photo. She  posted it in the comments section, and I love it:


I haven’t yet seen the photo montage, and it occurs to me that we need a photo of Anna in the shirt.

And maybe this is rather a silly and indulgent post, but it’s somewhat reflective of what can happen when little kids get together after forty years.

MLK January 15, 2016

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I once had a relationship with a guy who had the same birthday as Martin Luther King Jr., and twice or thrice I almost had a relationship with a guy on whose birthday MLK was assassinated. I had a hopeless crush on assassinationday guy, and he liked me too, but just enough to let me know that he did and then do nothing about it. This is confusing for an introverted teenager—getting all the signs, then getting shut down. After a two-year gap—during which I never saw assassinationday guy, and I started seeing birthdayguy, a very nice guy—I ran into assassinationday guy, he being home on break from college, and he led me on again, and my desire to squash that old perceived unrequitedness was such that I wasn’t as nice to birthdayguy as I should have been, not fair at all really, but in the long run, of course, assassinationday guy again failed to follow up on what I perceived as emotional promises (which means I failed to follow up on my own emotional promises to birthdayguy). And I was always aware of this weird little MLK trivia bit because that is how my weird little brain works: One is birth. One is death. Shouldn’t the choice be obvious?

4BY4: Quarterly Report and Summation January 14, 2016

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After September, I only added one more bird to my list, on October 7: the yellow-rumped warbler, which had somehow eluded me til then. After that? Nothing new. Apparently this is not unusual—in 2013 I didn’t add a single species in the last quarter; in 2014 I added two, and somehow, in 2012, I added five. Still: always slow without travel. (And I can’t count the birds I saw in London, what with it being another continent.)

So here is the 2015 list in its entirety, a poem of bird names: downy woodpecker, black-capped chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, American goldfinch, tufted titmouse, northern cardinal, blue jay, house sparrow, dark-eyed junco, purple finch, red-bellied woodpecker, mourning dove, hairy woodpecker, common raven, American crow, red-tailed hawk, rock dove/pigeon, European starling, rough-legged hawk, snow goose, osprey, bald eagle, snowy owl, American robin, common eider, herring gull, red-breasted merganser, long-tailed duck (oldsquaw), black-backed gull, mallard, common redpoll, wild turkey, pileated woodpecker, eastern bluebird, American kestrel, northern mockingbird, turkey vulture, Canada goose, common loon, common merganser, common goldeneye, song sparrow, hooded merganser, red-winged blackbird, common grackle, horned grebe, pied-bill grebe, bufflehead, American black duck, merlin, great egret, snowy egret, eastern phoebe, ring-necked duck, green-winged teal, killdeer, glossy ibis, American wigeon, greater yellowlegs, Harlequin duck, surf scoter, black scoter, northern rough-winged swallow, double-crested cormorant, great blue heron, house finch, woodcock, Wilson’s snipe, belted kingfisher, pine siskin, tree swallow, chipping sparrow, broad-winged hawk, chimney swift, rose-breasted grosbeak, yellow-bellied sapsucker, eastern towhee, field sparrow, black-and-white warbler, yellow warbler, gray catbird, white-throated sparrow, brown-headed cowbird, swamp sparrow, spotted sandpiper, barn swallow, tree swallow, northern flicker, wood duck, warbling vireo, white-crowned sparrow, Baltimore oriole, bobolink, common yellowthroat, eastern kingbird, eastern meadowlark, barred owl, ovenbird, ruby-throated hummingbird, indigo bunting, veery, house wren, brown thrasher, chestnut-sided warbler, red-eyed vireo, ruffed grouse, scarlet tanager, wood thrush, American redstart, hermit thrush, eastern wood-pewee, northern harrier, great-crested flycatcher, common nighthawk, cedar waxwing, fish crow, Carolina wren, Carolina chickadee, black vulture, great-horned owl, black-throated green warbler, black-throated blue warbler, whip-poor-will, red-breasted nuthatch, and yellow-rumped warbler. (125 species. 2014: 118. 2013: 173. 2012: 115.)

Max January 4, 2016

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Talk about denial.

On December 8, the day of my last entry, the day that I was denying the horrors that are the holiday season (some expected highlights: no well-thought-out present for Tim, a should-have-been-7-hour drive taking 10¼, the package I mailed priority on December 15 arriving at its destination on January 2, and reminders of the way things are as opposed to the way I wish they could have been/could be)—on that Tuesday, Max died.

I heard about it the next morning.

It’s hard to wrap one’s head around death, especially sudden death. His wife, my college friend Lisa, got up that morning and went to work like every other day. When she got home, she found him. The services were held on the weekend, where Lisa herself spoke (I cannot imagine being able to do this). I couldn’t be there, but through the wonders of technology, I was able to watch the service later.

The next Monday I was still thinking, “A week ago Max was alive.” How quickly a person’s entire world can change, with no warning. I ache for Lisa.

And I can’t believe he’s gone.

Denial December 8, 2015

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It is not December. It is not a week til Tim’s birthday. It is not 17 days til Christmas. I do not have to decide whether I’m traveling for the holidays. It is not a 7- or 8-hour drive. I do not have consider whether presents will be shipped or hand delivered. I do not have to conjure gifts for three sets of parents. I am not related to hoarders or right-wing FOXNews-watching nuts.

It is not dark all the time.

Après Paris December 2, 2015

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On October 19 I flew to London and on October 22 I took the Chunnel to Paris and on October 28 I took the Chunnel back to London and on November 2 I flew back to the United States. On November 13 I was on the road again, this time to Concord, Massachusetts, for a reunion of a childhood friends. My sister was driving, and my phone started alerting me to multiple messages. “I’m glad you’re not in Paris today. xo.” “Glad you are not in Paris.” “Jesus, I’m glad you’re not in Paris.”

What the hell happened? I started searching on my phone and turned on the radio.

That night, more Facebook messages.

It’s good to have friends, and it’s interesting to be thought of in connection with a city’s tragedy based solely on when you were there and how you managed to then not be there. (I, in turn, thought about a cyberfriend who was there and gone after I was.)

I felt so lucky that Tim and I had already been, that he’d gotten to Paris at long last and that he loved it. I felt lucky that it didn’t happen right before our plans so that we didn’t have to consider whether we should go.

Religious extremism. Easy access to guns. All over the world, people seem determined to end things.

Paris. Odéon.

Paris. Odéon.

Audrey December 1, 2015

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I run into the post office on my way out of town, off to a staff meeting, and full-bearded Leroy is leaning on the counter talking to Sharon, the postmistress, and I need to mail a shirt priority to New York City, so I get in line behind him, then hear a voice behind me say, “I recognize who that is just by the hat,” and I know it is Audrey, and I know she means me, and I turn around and tell her that I do love this hat and have had it forever and will be very sad when it decides to up and leave me, and she takes a moment to tell me how much she loves seeing the lights on in our house at night (she lives across the street, but not in summer, when she stays at her camp on the lake, a camp that used to have paying campers and horses even, but stopped being that kind of camp some time ago, Audrey now being in her 80s), and I know what she means about the lights, because I too find it a comfort to look out the front door and see her lights and Dorothy’s lights and Martha and Thom and Emily’s lights (I would mention Lynda’s lights too but cannot see them out the front door, only from my living room side) and to know that we are all here close to each other, and it has been my heartbreak these past couple of weeks to stop on my stairway’s landing and look out and see a rectangle of darkness where Laura and Chris and Gigi’s lights used to be, used to always be, even in the middle of the night when I could still glimpse the light they left on all the time, but Laura and Chris and Gigi have moved and darkness dominates that patch of space, especially now, in autumn’s gloaming, as we squint and stumble toward solstice and fumble for light, so I know exactly what Audrey means, and we talk about it, and then she says, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, that she is thankful for the post office, where all we neighbors can run into each other just like this.


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