26 October 2008

our epic something

For Sarah:

Can we just waste away the day –
This day
Like we did when it was summer
And we were
By long hazy nights
On the back porch at Granthony’s
Holding tight to the railing and laughing at wherever tomorrow would take us?

With Gin Ginger Ale and Djarums
(And Tequila and Dos and limes)
And sleepovers
Just the three of us
in my bed
hours scrambling into whole days like the pieces in our games of Scrabble

Our lives were semi-charmed
You remember?
We'd sing every word we could
And on that last
When we still had Austin
And things made sense
Metro Station sang the words we couldn’t and dresses and jeans hid nothing

Let’s waste our days again
Like that
Where the words we write mean everything
And the boys we read are perfect
Cause now you and me
Just spend our days
Looking for that epic something
We’re missing – that one great whimsical story of our precious young and wild lives

20 October 2008

The Then

Like Waking Up Fully Rested

Journal entry: August 19, 2007
I have just finished reading In Other Words: a Language Lover’s Guide to the Most Intriguing Words around the World by Christopher J. Moore.

“esprit de l’escalier” [es-pree-der less-kal-lay]
(French Idiom)
“A witty remark that occurs to you too late, literally on the way down the stairs.”

Memory # 1:
I am eight years old. Jamie Kissell, our next door neighbor, is riding bikes with my sister and me. Our u-shaped driveway is the best in the neighborhood for bike riding, so Jamie and the other neighborhood kids are here almost every day. With his brand new speed bike, Jamie is the fastest of all. I’ve worked all summer to condition my legs and my 10-speed Magenta to keep up with him, even though he’s two years younger than me. And right now, I’m so close. I’m not sure how long we’ve been circling my driveway, but I’m only a few feet behind him. We lap my sister – again – and a few seconds later I hear a crash and a scream. Jamie and I stop pedaling and run over to her. My mom appears beside us, and the three of us gape at the huge patch of scraped flesh that used to be her unscathed back. Red and raw and mixed with bits of gravel, the sight makes me cringe, but I pretend to be calm so I won’t cause my sister any more panic. My mom assures us my sister will be fine as she carries her towards the house to fix her up. Jamie and I don’t feel like riding bikes anymore, and I’m not sure I’ll even want to race him again tomorrow. I put my bicycle away in the garage and return to find him inspecting the patch of gravel where my sister fell. We spend the next half an hour searching for the piece of skin it had scraped from my sister’s back. We never find it. For weeks I will gaze downwards every time I bike over that spot, and the memory of the accident will sicken me. It won’t take long for my sister to heal, but wondering how such a huge piece of skin could just disappear will distress me for months afterwards, even when I realize that “skinning” a knee or another portion of the body doesn’t mean the literal removal of a large chunk of skin. I will never own another bicycle after I grow out of the Magenta.

Words of wisdom:
To remind you that some people are meant to do great things, and others are meant to do humble things in great ways. Happy 20, Tara. ♥ Lela

Memory #2:
It’s July, and the South Texas heat is unbearable as Megan, Jeramie, Colleen, and I load into Jeramie’s 1995 Toyota Land Cruiser, “Frank the Tank.” Nicknamed for his uncanny ability to start running smoothly again whenever Jeramie’s parents decide to trade him in for a shiny new Sedan, the Grandpa SUV is the vessel that will see us through our end-of-summer (for high school sophomore Colleen), off-to-college (for Megan, Jeramie, and I), break-from-our-jobs-and-families (for all of us) road trip to San Antonio. We’re all absolutely pumped as we hit expressway 83 going north. Jeramie is “treating” us to some of her iPod’s infamous ghetto beats, and Megan is clutching her seat nervously as Frank plateaus at 75. We stop for Taco Bell 15 minutes into the trip – not even the miserably high humidity level can curb our appetites for some Nachos Bell Grande. Besides, once we hit that barren stretch of road between the checkpoint and San Marcos, there won’t be any place to stop for miles. When we do hit that barren stretch of road, we hear a tiny thud. Jeramie pulls over to find that her left rear tire is flat. I start laughing because none of us really know how to change a tire and this sort of thing would happen to us on an empty highway with spotty cell phone service. We get out the manual and Jeramie calls her dad for help, even though she can only make out every other word of his instructions. Megan gives Jeramie a spiel about the physics of tire changing in her car, Herman, but as Jeramie’s spare tire is secured underneath Frank, and Herman’s is conveniently located in the trunk, Jeramie doesn’t really listen to her. Colleen and I see a state trooper heading the opposite direction so we dash to the highway and flag him down. Officer Hernandez is our new hero. He takes Jeramie’s tire changing kit and gets to work while the four of us gawk at him. I’m still laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation, when, as fate would have it, it begins to rain. Not just a light drizzle either, but fat, hard drops pouring down so fast I can hardly see three feet in front of me. I’m also wearing white shorts. But with the Texas countryside stretching for miles all around me, my best friends right beside me, and the comfort of knowing that we would get out of this predicament, my heart is too full to hate the irony. And finally pulling back onto the highway minutes later, the rainstorm steadily decreasing, and the San Marcos Outlets closing in a few short hours, I almost feel sad, like we somehow left too soon that place where our plans were interrupted with the pop of a tire and the crunching of gravel on the shoulder.

August 19, 2007 continued:

“kvetchtc” [kvetch]
(Yiddish Noun)
“The deepest of sighs for all the burdens and troubles of the entire world, past, present, and future.”

Memory #3:
I’ve only been in school for a few weeks, and my best friend Sarah and I are not in the same classroom. The only time we see each other at school now is when we run into each other in the hallway. But she’s always with friends from her class and so am I. We don’t get to play every afternoon anymore like we did in the summer, but we promise each other we’ll always be best friends. I return home one afternoon to what sounds like a thousand buzzing hornets in my backyard. My mother won’t stop asking me questions, and I know that she is trying to keep me from seeing something. Fear like fire licks my insides, consuming every inch of me. I’ve known this day would come for weeks now, ever since someone tied an electric orange ribbon around the trunk of Sarah’s and my beloved tree fort in the woods. When summer turned into fall, and the ribbon began fading a little, I had hoped that they had forgotten. Part of me still hopes that as I dash to the sliding glass doors that open towards my backyard and the woods beyond. Except today I see right through the woods and into the ashen realm of the backside of Goldenrod Lane. The woods behind my house have been demolished, every tree leveled into a grotesque graveyard of lifeless stumps and branches. I rush outside, tearing down the back porch steps and praying with each step that our fort has somehow averted the massacre. It hasn’t. My mother must have called Sarah and her mother, because the three of them soon appear at my side. When I feel Sarah’s thin shoulder brush against mine, the full weight of everything hits me with a crushing blow. Hot, bitter tears escape from both of us, and one sideways glance at our mothers’ dampened cheeks reveals they share our anguish. We stand there until we can no longer bear the sight of our fallen palace in the trees. Then we walk together along the well-beaten path that leads to my house, now clearly visible in the distance. The next time I walk that path is to explore the foundations of a cavernous, three-story house – a skeletal memento of my summers with Sarah.

Words of Wisdom: He has made everything beautiful in its time. – Ecclesiastes 3:11

Memory # 4
Wade has just spent the whole week at his dad’s house in Wise River, which is about 3 hours away from our home in Bozeman. I’m so excited when his mom asks me if I’d like to drive with her to go pick him up. We leave Sunday morning, and I play with Kyla and Caitlin, his adorable little sisters, in the car. We are driving further and further into the mountains, the minivan clinging to the narrow road that weaves in and out of the Bridgers. A sign on the right hand side of the road says we’re only a few miles from Big Hole River Outfitters. My heart does a handspring in my chest and I feel my cheeks blush a little – the feeling I will forever connect to my eighth grade year, though I couldn’t know this yet. Wade gives me a quick hug when we step out of the car, so as not to aggravate his mother. Nestled quietly into a haven of rivers, trees, and mountain terrain, his dad’s resort is one of the most stunning places I’ve ever encountered, and Wade quickly drags me away to give me the grand tour. With his sisters close behind us, we soon reach a tiny clearing that smells of moist earth and pine trees. Laced between two knobby trees is a homemade zip-line. I look down at my brand new white platform tennis shoes and picture them streaked from the dusty ground underneath the zip-line. Wade jumps on the apparatus and lands with a soft thud on the other side. He makes it look so simple, but I’m afraid of smashing into the tree on the other side. What if I can’t stop myself so easily? But I would do anything for him, and he says he will run behind me and use the tattered rope hanging from the zip-line to slow me down. He promises I won’t smash into the tree. I climb up the rickety wooden pegs leading to the top of the zip-line and grab a hold of the handles. When I see that Wade has a firm grip on the rope, I bring my knees to my chest and let go. But halfway down, he falls, and the rope slips from his hands. I close my eyes and dig my sneakers into the ground. They twist and turn beneath me, and dirt flies up around my calves and ankles. I release the handles of the zip-line and brace myself for the feel of rough bark against my bare skin. It doesn’t come, though my landing is far from graceful. My shoes match Wade’s t-shirt now, and I pretend not to care. Of course I’m fine. We leave the clearing and spend the rest of the afternoon soaking our feet in the river, not mentioning how we fell. On the car ride home, he holds my hand the entire trip, pulling away only when his mom stops in my driveway, triggering the interior lights and threatening to expose our secret to the slowly darkening world.

Journal entry: August 13, 2007

Things that make me smile happy [abridged]:

Bleaching stains out of a white t-shirt (so I don’t have to scrub!)
Remembering my first love
Jumping in puddles
Learning new words
Hugs from my daddy
Wise River, MT
Meteor showers
Sitting on my front porch
Tire swings
Having a heart so full it surpasses all words
“When You Are Old” – Yeats, W.B.
Waking up fully rested

Memory # 5
I am relapsing.
On this November evening, I understand what it is not to have a care in the world. I’ve spent the entire day with Serene Cusack, my Montana best friend, and her parents, and it’s been such a wonderful time. They’ve invited me to spend the night and I’ve accepted. When we stop at my house to pick up my toothbrush and pajamas, I see everyone talking in my entryway and it causes a wave of warmth for my two families. Even my puppy is there. He loves Serene’s house too, so with a little coercing my parents let us bring him along. In my driveway we stop and gaze at the stars for a few brief moments. There is nothing like the Montana sky at night – so deep and brilliant and dotted with stars so close and bright not even the Bozeman city lights can overpower them. I can’t wait to see what they look like from Serene’s house, which is higher up in the mountains than my own. On the ride to Serene’s home, I tell them all of the time a few years back when I was in second grade and my best friend Sarah and I sat in the circle driveway at my Minnesota house and watched a meteor shower together. I am about to describe the sensation of being seemingly bombarded by stars, but I am stopped. There is a loud crash and the shattering of glass all around me and someone screams (is it my own?) and all is black. When I wake up, I know I am alive, and that everyone else is too. My hand is streaked with blood, and bits of glass fall from my hair and the folds of my coat when I step out of the car. But what matters more than that is when my parents’ car pulls up behind the wreckage and my daddy runs to me and scoops me in his arms. I am safe, protected from anything else that would harm me.
It’s like the time when, a few years later, Wade and I end it all and I wake up crying after falling asleep crying, and my dad holds me again and promises it will all be ok – even though it’s hard for me to believe him. Or the time Freshman year when I am crumpled in the hallway of my dormitory from a night of heavy drinking and my roommate Ashley rescues me and sits up with me all night, or the time my friend Rolando cradles me in my Texas driveway because I am lost and confused and don’t see a way out of the mess I’ve created.

Someone has always saved me.

When visions of shattering glass disrupt my sleep and I wake up afraid, or when the plaguing anxiety that comes in springtime overwhelms me yet again, I am held.

And it gives me the power to save myself.

19 October 2008

"You don't just say, Well, see you around sometime, bye."

For Lexi. (And my literary journalism class)


The breathless rhythm of the message ends in one word: serendipitous.

“How could it happen that I would find that little piece before it was broken beyond recognition? Or swept away by the street cleaners? Or washed down the gutters by the rain? Holgas are not that common at all. That I happened to stumble upon the one piece of Holga in Paris is incredible,” she wrote, in the same breathless tone.
For Lexi Trauger, the moment truly was serendipitous.

It brought her back to that freezing January day, eight months earlier, when she had first encountered the Holga camera amongst the strange plethora of toy cameras lining the back walls of an Urban Outfitters store. She’d never heard of a Holga before, and the bright, bold letters on the outside of the box, which proclaimed: “The World Through a Plastic Lens” were a little strange to her. “Sixty dollars for a little plastic camera?” she had puzzled. “And wasn’t film photography a dying art?”

But the Holga was so much more than that, the friend who was shopping with her had gushed. The nature of the camera’s plastic lens often creates images featuring blur, extraneous streaks of light, vignetting (the unintentional darkening of an image around its edges), and other distortions. The Holga even has a built in color flash – also plastic – that emits a tiny burst of red, blue, yellow, or white light, further adding to the surrealism of Holga photographs. The aesthetic of these images, Lexi’s friend told her, have made Holga the instrument of choice for an entire sub-culture of photographers. They call themselves lomographers, and their art, lomography. They live by the Kodak-inspired mantra: “Don’t think, just shoot,” and they rely wholeheartedly on the uniqueness only a toy camera image can provide to convey the spontaneity of everyday life in a way that pays no mind – defies even – the formal elements and precision that are so highly valued in digital imaging.

Her friend’s excitement spread to Lexi like wildfire, and approximately one week later, a brown box bearing the Amazon company logo arrived at Lexi’s Minneapolis apartment. The Holga inside, which has since documented many an adventure with Lexi, would now be the lomographer’s dearest companion as she immersed herself in Paris for the 2008-2009 school year.

On the first Monday morning in September, while her friends back at the University of Minnesota are going about their routines in and around campus, Lexi sleeps in. She awakens in the late hours of the morning to the sun slanting through her window, illuminating the desk that stands in the corner of her tiny upstairs bedroom. Her eyes flutter at the sudden onslaught of sunlight, and then pause to rest on the empty film cases strewn about the desk surface. Accompanying them is an ever-growing pile of film just waiting to be processed, and an ever-dwindling pile of yellow Kodak boxes which she eagerly – though against her better judgment – exchanged for her last two paychecks before leaving the states. The sight of them stirs within Lexi the excitement that she constantly squanders as she walk amongst Parisians, feigning the bored expressions they carry as they go about their own daily business (she would hate being labeled as yet another enamored tourist) and collecting on film (discreetly, of course) those images that would always bring her back to Paris when her memories begin to swirl and fade like scenes outside a speeding metro window.

“I’m in Paris! You’re in Paris! We’re in Paris.”

A tiny, junky piece of plastic, placed tenderly on the shelf by Lexi’s bed, stands in memoriam of the previous day’s events. On that day, which was a Sunday, Lexi had met up with a friend in her study abroad program so the two could explore the city together. The weather was sunny with a touch of wind, the perfect day for a long-sleeved shirt and a very French scarf – the perfect day for photographing. But as the skinny streets of Paris go in every direction, hours later, lost and confused, feet throbbing from walking so long, the two friends found themselves forced to abandon any plans they might have had. In those hours, the childhood terror of being lost had seeped through Lexi’s very skin, bringing with it a longing to be carried away from the beloved sights and smells of Paris and back to the safety of her apartment. Anxiety welled within her chest, threatening to swallow her whole, when she spied between the crevices of the cobblestone street a tiny piece of Holga. It was a piece to connect the batteries to the flash. Lexi recognized it instantaneously and hurried to rescue it from its graveyard in the streets.


Since she arrived in Paris, all Lexi has dreamt of is the metro – checking the map, finding the line she needs, the direction she needs, the stop she needs. Then transferring to the next line, the next direction, and the next stop, over and over as she fights to keep her balance. The smells of hot charcoal and the sweat of everyone around her, which only grow stronger with each opening and closing of the subway doors, surround her, and the alarm that sounds to warn passengers of departure rings through every crevice of her brain. Her eyes strain under the feverish flickering of lights, and she can feel the heat outside clashing with the wind that blows through the windows and in the tunnels. She reads the same ads again and again, climbs and descends the same stairs, runs her ticket through the same readers, and works her way through the always unfamiliar crowd, praying she doesn’t get stuck in the turnstiles. Even in sleep, the same overwhelming anxiety threatens to devour her again and again, night after night, causing a nagging, plaguing longing to be home, where she is surrounded by friends who love her and a place as constant and familiar as her own steady breathing.

More often than not, so are her nights as well as her days.

But not with Holga. When she found the piece, Lexi knew it was silly to be excited over something so utterly worthless. The lifespan of a Holga flash is never long, and the cost to fix it is more than the camera is worth. Her own Holga’s amazing four-color flash had expelled its final burst of light only a few blissful weeks after Lexi had torn into its box. She laughed aloud at the irony. Underneath that laugh, Lexi had felt “like some greater force was intervening, reminding [her she] was on the right track.” With certainty she would write home later: “I [will] figure out which direction I need to go. I am supposed to be in Paris, it's the right thing to do. [The piece] was an encrypted glimmer of hope meant only for me.” In the midst of creeping doubts and fears, the Holga piece brought not only a sense of reassurance and belonging, but the energy she needed to make it through the harrowing metro ride back. And even more, the Holga piece reminded Lexi of the home that would always be waiting for her as she pursues crazy photo adventures and fulfills her dreams of Paris.

For Lexi, Holga lomography is “wonderful… a mix of no thinking at all and constantly thinking about everything.” She loses herself in the setting up of a shot and the subsequent clicking of a shutter. From the lighting of the scene, to which type of film to use, to the distance between Lexi and her subject, life behind the plastic lens leaves little room for her to focus on anything else. It grabs the nuances from the world around her and exposes them, preserves them. It allows a second glance into the funny, the interesting, the unique beneath the surface. The serendipity of finding the piece of Holga is “what lomography is all about. [It’s about] finding the extraordinary in the very very ordinary, having chance encounters, capturing something that lasts only a moment, shedding new light on something old, turning something banal into something magical.” The piece is her greatest souvenir so far – “free, dirty, broken, worthless, special. Holga.”

Before leaving her apartment on any given morning, Lexi grabs three rolls of film off her desk and loads them into her purse. Like any great lomographer, she knows that such over-preparedness will save her from the agony of missing that one photo-op that would inevitably occur on the day she is fresh out of film. After checking that her Holga is nestled safely next to the rolls of film, she makes her way towards the kitchen, determined to cook a successful Parisian breakfast that will carry her through another day of her new life – another day of crowded metros and snapping shutters and endlessly sore feet. “Like learning to play guitar, I’m learning how to get around Paris,” she wrote in another letter, “French women must be made of steel.”

As she will soon be, she hopes.

12 October 2008


My roommate and pseudo-mom Kelsey. This girl teaches me everything I know about living in "The Brick House" and being an all-around "hot mess." She cleans my side of the room cause I never do, drives me to all of my errands when I'm too lazy to walk, puts up with my indecisiveness and wierd sleeping habits, laughs at my terrible jokes, and brings me pitchers of water when I'm -er- sick. She has the most hilarious baby voice ever and sends me texts just to say she hopes my day is going well.

And she's taught me the beauty in waking up early. Cause you can't find sunlight like this in the afternoon.