Friday, July 31, 2009

No. 44

1. I was feeling very busy and very stressed out and very miserable to tell you the truth, and one of my customers declared loudly and with great conviction when I delivered his sandwich:

You are so cute! Everything about you is cute! Everything you do is cute!

He was old and gay so it was not a come-on. It was just wonderful.

2. Laughter and a smile when I expected yelling and a furrowed brow

3. The BFF sent me this beautiful poem:

I will be the gladdest thing
Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.

I will look at cliffs and clouds
With quiet eyes,
Watch the wind bow down the grass,
And the grass rise.

And when lights begin to show
Up from the town,
I will mark which must be mine,
And then start down!

...and told me that Edna St. Vincent Millay always reminded him of me. This is such a grand poem and such a grand compliment from such a grand friend.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

No. 43

1. Serious grace for a serious mistake

2. A very sweet, engaging, well-written letter from the remarkable Icca, whom I have not seen in 9 years, but whom I still consider to be one of my closest friends--though we communicate exclusively through epistolary means. That's snail mail, y'all.

3. The other night after work, I noted that I had 4 missed calls from my beautiful friend Megan. As quickly as I saw them, I phoned her, expecting either extremely exciting or terribly devastating news. She answered, "Mar Bar, how are you?" relieving me of dread, and went on to deliver the mirthful announcement that she was an hour from Chicago! This news could not have come at a better time--well, it's always a good time to hear from Megan--but for the past two months she has been desperately needed by me, but very distant in a far-away land called "Ohio."

So, yesterday, between my two shifts, I "shared a contemplative moment" (this is what we call our times together--your barfing is excused) with Megan and I met her husband Luke for the very first time!

It was splendid meeting Luke, and even more splendid to hear him say "I have heard so much about you. And even more about your relationship with Megan. And even more about how much she misses this relationship."

It was also delightful, after I declared "It has been plaguing me, and I'm in the depths of despair," to hear Luke say, "Whoa. You talk just like Megan."

With Megan, I am very much myself. I do not mean this to mean I "can be myself" with Megan, because that much is obvious. What I mean is that I am SO MYSELF-ISH with Megan; I am positively brimming with self-ness.

I so often worry that I am TOO MUCH:
I am TOO loud
I am TOO quiet
I laugh TOO much
I cry TOO much
I talk TOO much
I am TOO awkward
I am TOO enthusiastic
I ask TOO many questions
I talk TOO much about Zac Efron
I talk TOO much about Jesus
I am TOO much of a hippie
I am TOO liberal
I am TOO conservative
I am TOO outspoken

So very many insecurities sometimes!

But with dear ones like Megan, I feel TOO everything in such a deep, good way, as though I was meant to be as TOO as possible. This is how I want to feel with people--I don't have time for people who make me feel TOO much of anything! I want to delight in the freedom of being TOO MARI in just the right amount. Whether or not that makes a lick of sense, it is my desire.

I find it odd that the expression "full of oneself" has negative seems like it would be a good thing, to not be lacking in any self-ness but be absolutely FULL...of yourself. Perhaps it refers to the fact that when you are thinking so much of yourself, you don't have room to think about others. But I find it the opposite when I feel SO MYSELF-ISH; I feel like when I am the fullest version of myself, I have all the room in the world to think about others.

Megan reminded me of this wonderful feeling of fullness, although our sharing of a contemplative moment lasted only 40 minutes.

Monday, July 27, 2009

No. 42

I haven't written on this in a long time (okay a week, but that's like decades in internet-speak, no?), because I've felt very busy and rather uninspired and generally BLEEEEHHHH and, quite honestly, it's been very difficult to summon up the energy for thankfulness and optimism.

Is that kind of embarrassing?

That I have a beautiful apartment, a refrigerator full of farmers-market purchases, a closet of clothes, a wealth of the most brilliant, funny, good-looking friends a girl could ever want, PLUS a goldfish...and it is difficult to summon up the energy for thankfulness and optimism?

I make myself sick.

I'm sure I make yourself sick.

Lately, I wake up, and think of everything I must do, everything that is difficult:
my lack of direction
my lack of sleep
my lack of raspberries
the fact that 3-year-old Meadow in my ballet class at 4:30 is trying to ruin my life
my fish is already sick
Megan is far away
there are emails to write and calls to make and lesson plans to study, dishes to wash and blogs about thankfulness to write

Not to mention things I WANT to do but don't have time for: study French, do yoga, listen to a Phyllis Tickle lecture online, light candles and chant in Aramaic, take pictures around my neighborhood, read about organic farming, clean my bathroom, take a walk to the beach and fall asleep on the sand while listening to the Appalachian Picking Society, go explore a new place.

Instead I scurry around the apartment so I can leave by 5:20, fatigued and overwhelmed and always forgetting something. By the time I am back at my apartment, it is 9:15 and I am exhausted. I make Swiss chard frittata, pour myself a glass of wine if I'm feeling so inclined (and I usually am), then rush back into sleep. A cupcake is often involved.

Sometimes I feel resentful toward this blog, because during my days that feel particularly heavy, tired, busy, or just miserable, I think "Ugh, I have to come up with three moments of grace." I'm serious, this is what I think. This is why you should all publicly stone me in the town square.

And yet, they always come to me. Always. I never have to seek them out--they are just there. And I usually have more than three, shockingly enough. The days I don't write, they're still there--sometimes recognized, sometimes recognized a few days or even weeks later, and sometimes they go completely unrecognized, because I'm too involved in my own version of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day.

This is by no means the first time in my life I have felt this way, and it will by no means be the last. And I can feel thankful for the times I have been in a funk before, because I've seen what works, and what helps, and the tiny remedies I can whip up to help me remember that the world is not going to explode just because I want to go back to sleep.

Such as:
the earthy rich flavor of Swiss chard
my morning commute with all its silence and pink light
my little green table, suitable for peaches in the morning
my outfit that makes me feel like I should be stomping grapes in Naples in 1948
the immediate comfort of Earl Grey tea
the smell of incense before I fall asleep

I also really must start carving out more time to make pancakes.

The stunning thing is, is that the things that get me through are the small, lovely things that spangle the day with pockets of joy and peace--peace that surpasses understanding. I have come to rely on these things, in all times of life, to gently push me forward and remind me that the world is flooded with grace, that God supplies and refreshes the world at every moment with goodness.

Today I am panicking about what time I have to leave for work, the things I have to finish before I can head off for the day, leaving the comfort of my coffee shop and my apartment to the stressful and oft-cruel world of preschool dance classes.

But there has already been an iced soy latte (with an extra shot, which made all the difference) made by a beautiful Russian woman who was especially gracious, there has been an email from Nate which was signed "Peace to you Mari," some sort of Eastern European composer whose elegant music is being offered to my grateful ears by a small speaker above my head, peaches with Greek yogurt and Michigan honey and homemade granola at once so familiar and so exotic with all its imported spices, and there has been a haphazard stumblance upon my very favorite quote of all time: All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well (Julian of Norwich).

I have no obligation to you to write. What do you care? But what I am trying to do is condition myself toward observing grace, to surrounding myself in it--to recognize that God's desire for my joy in His world is demonstrated so many moments throughout the day that they could not be contained by a blog alone.

Monday, July 20, 2009

No. 41

1. I bought some brown eggs at the Green City Market. They were so fresh they smelled like fresh; they even felt fresh, and they tasted like Michigan sunshine. I can't imagine ever eating another egg at this point, after having beheld such egg perfection.

I took a look at the carton to remember the farm from which they traveled to Chicago, and on the bottom was a quote from a Psalm, declaring God's love for the earth.

I tend to freak out a little when people put Bible verses on their products, but in this case I believed it served as a meaningful mission statement for the family's farm. They work and care for the land because it is God's, because He loves it.

"For God so loved the world," John 3:16 begins...God loves the world right now, as it is. Not just as it will be, not just as it was, but right now: God SO loves the world. God SO loves the grass and the chickens and their gorgeous brown eggs. He delights in all of this, and so should we! Thank you, Family Farm from Michigan, for reminding me of this. And giving me fixings for a heavenly tomato-chard frittata. The thing melted in my mouth, y'all.

2. Chocolate milkshakes on the beach after dark, being told that things will get better and really feeling it.

3. Seth called me early in the morning; what comforting glory to hear his voice. I rode the bus and kept talking to him, crying twice quite explicitly, missing:
a) him
b) Chile
so, so much.

Almost exactly a year ago, I flumped all my luggage onto my tiny yellow bedspread at Hostel Santiago, then sobbed and shivered for half an hour, my insufficient blanket pulled over my nose as a shabby attempt to comfort myself. It was freezing and grey and it was such a strange, terrifying thought to acknowledge "I am on a continent where not one person knows who I am."

Eventually I summoned enough energy to walk out of my room to get some tea in the common kitchen, and overheard the following exchange from the living room:
"Te gusta Bob Dylan?" said a male voice.
"Siii, a mi me encanta Bob Dylan!" replied Zarita, our Peruvian hostel mom.

Then the gentle familiar guitar chords, and a soft sweet rendition of "Mr. Tambourine Man" from this tall guy with a hat. No more than an hour after beginning the Grand Chile Adventure, and I knew that it would be okay. This whole scene reminds me of that line in a Denison Witmer song: I thought about the day when we first met/I knew from there on out, you'd be my friend.

And Seth indeed became my friend, my first Chile friend: a friendship cultivated through many explorative walks and gelato afternoons and weekend travels and text messages of encouragement on nights of heartache and homesickness.

I hope that soon I can re-capture that feeling I felt with such conviction my entire days in Chile: the feeling that everything was going to be okay--that any challenge would be covered by God's grace, that any joy could be fully savored in its joyful moment. I want to come back to this feeling of reliance on grace. I want to again depend on these moments of grace, moments like hearing a familiar song on a drizzly morning when I felt so desperately lonely, a friend to show me around town and tell me that he'd be there if I ever needed, or wanted, anything.

I know I can rely on grace, but need reminders that I can. Seth's call was one of those. Now, I will make eggs.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

No. 40

1. We have a new cook at work, and he is delightful. The rest of the cooks scare me because they are so intense and say things like "DON'T DISRESPECT THE FOOD" when I slice a tomato incorrectly, but latest addition Connor is top notch and completely non-scary.

Today as he was leaving, I noted the bar code tattoo on his forearm.
"Have you ever tried scanning yourself?" asked I.
Connor looked crestfallen and sighed, "Yeah. My arm doesn't work at Borders."

I love this guy.

2. Whenever my boss has a bad day, or drops a cupcake, or breaks her rib, she refers to the experience as "special," i.e. "That was really special." I love this. I love how different it makes the whole thing sound. Which is really important. Take Kristina's living room for instance: it's a beautiful shade of butter yellow, but because the paint color itself is called "Citron Ice," it makes Kristina nauseated and she wants to re-paint.

I am going to think of my less-than-positive experiences as "special" rather than "miserable," and "horrible," and less-than-lovely people as "special" rather than "douchebags."

In doing so, I am saying to myself that this event is abnormal, and be thankful it doesn't happen more often. I am also saying to myself that I can bring some sort of good out of it; I can see something unique in it that can deepen my understanding of the human experience. I think.

[Side note: Remember when Rory and Logan were slow-dancing, and Logan tells Rory that he thinks she's special? And Rory says "Like 'Stop eating the paste' special?" Favorite moment of Season 5 you guys.]

Anyway. I'm going to see my 13-hour work days as special. My customer Myra, who must complain about everything she orders, as special. Olympics for people with disabilities as the Special Olympics. And so on.

3. Had a really nice bonding moment with the girl at Whole Foods. I realize all I talk about are my trips to Whole Foods, but Whole Foods plays a very large role in my life. Anyway. She had a chipped tooth which immediately endeared her to me, and then we briefly but enthusiastically discussed grumpy customers, and the wonderful blessing of exact change. There is something to be said for working in the service industry: you make instant friends.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

No. 39

1. Hannah (age 5): Miss Mari, push on my bruise!
Me: Uh, no, Hannah, I will not be pushing on your bruise actually.
Hannah: But it doesn't hurt my knee!
Me: No, but it hurts your soul.
Hannah: What's a soul?
Me: You'll find out when you get to college.
Colin (age 4): Miss Mari, I know what a soul is.
Me: Please tell me, Colin.
Colin: A soul is inside of your stomach. It tells you your feelings and what you feel and who you are.

2. I couldn't even finish the thought "I want a place to sit down," before I found a place to sit down.

3. A girl my age-ish came into the cafe this morning to buy a croissant and a mocha; she paid with a card and I noted that her name was Mari.

"Is your name Mari?" asked I.
"Yes," she replied.
"DUDE--SO IS MINE." I replied with grand delight.

Whenever I meet someone named Mari--spelled and pronounced the same way as mine and not short for anything--I feel all kinds of excited. I can't give you any good reason why, other than perhaps narcisism, but also because I enthuse over any kind of connection...and a name connection is particularly propitious because this stranger and I have already shared a lifetime of experiences specific to just us and our small club.

I always ask "Where did your parents get it?!" and then I always say "DID YOU KNOW THAT MARI MEANS STRAWBERRY?!" because not a lot of people know this, and I think this is just so great.

There is no way for me not to rejoice when I meet another Mari; it feels so special. And of course I always take an immediate liking to this person. And ask if she gets called "Mars Bars" a lot (she always does). And sometimes suggest she goes by The Mars Volta (one of my favorite, but underused Mari nicknames).

Monday, July 13, 2009

No. 38

1. I am watching a man in very thick black glasses dance with his 6-year-old daughter to Aretha Franklin. She looks embarrassed; he looks absolutely delighted. He is supposed to be doing work, but instead he is dancing. I am so thankful to witness this moment.

2. Dave wrote: Last year was the hardest, most stressful and lonely year of my life, but it has greatly prepared me to be a better friend, a better teacher, a better Christian this year. I finally feel ready. It's like when you never feel like you're ready to take a philosophy class until after you have completed the philosophy class.

This was so encouraging to me. Not only because I'm having a bit of a rough time myself, but because of the message of that last line...sometimes you don't feel ready to embark on something until you've already done it. That is so profound and so helpful.

3. Last night I watched a 60 Minutes segment on food icon and visionary Alice Waters who has written a couple of my favorite books and is the international governor of Slow Food, a movement for which I am particularly impassioned. This interview really changed my entire evening; I felt a small step closer to one of my life's goals, which is to come to a place of complete adoration for the gift of my body, and appreciation for all that I can give it as nourishment.

Alice Waters seems to have triumphantly arrived at this place, and I am inspired by her message--however insane the delivery--and her celebration for life. How can I live this fully? I suppose it starts with tomatoes.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

No. 37

1. Church is becoming such a source of joy lately I cannot even tell you. I know I am always talking about how independent and introverted I am and whatever, but obviously I so deeply desire community and church is beginning to provide such a strong, growing, stable one for me. Only in the past couple weeks have I started to feel an unfailing sense of belonging there; I believe because I can be quite shy, and also because I keep leaving the country, it took a while (three years) to be remembered, and known, and socially brave, and all that comes with belonging to a group of people. But I am getting there, and it is so needed right now.

Today Priest Sarah and I and others were delighting in the idea of bringing out some different vestments for certain days in the summer (that’s some serious church-nerd humor you guys), and this one lady I love but rarely talk to said “And Mari can be the fashion consultant!”

I have a place! I am joked about! This is so exciting for me! The easiest way for me to receive love, feel belonging, understand affection, is through people making fun of or joking about me.
Today, I was involved in a fashion joke. So that was great and I am happy.

2. I went to my married friends Tyler and Kelli’s apartment last night for this four-course, three-wine dinner party and I stayed until 2:30 and realized that I have these wonderful precious years to do this kind of insane(ly fantastic) thing. How much I enjoy being with hilarious people!—and eating spectacular food created with fresh ingredients from the farmers market and drinking French wine in grand celebration of Bastille Day and needing to run to the bathroom because I am laughing so very hard.

More than any quality, I love humor in my friends; I am only mildly impressed by winning intellect and keen ability to bake really good cupcakes, but I love funny people and I know so many of them! I am so lucky!

3. Kelli and I went out to lunch at Whole Foods—an unplanned activity which brought me cheer and extraordinary gelato. The truth is that most of my inspiration comes from my conversations (well, and also pie). I am not one for surprises but I do appreciate the complete gift of an unplanned hour with someone, with time to relish a burrito while coming to life-affirming conclusions about the Bible and pistachio ice cream—sometimes even how the two relate.

We discussed gender and sexuality in the Church, which of course I would talk about all day every day if it were up to me. We discussed the beauty of feminine strength and how we love being part of a church which celebrates our whole entire selves—not just our souls, but also our bodies and our minds.

And Kelli said this really beautiful thing: “When I joined the Episcopal Church, I began to truly love my body.”

Thursday, July 9, 2009

No. 36

1. Today I was told: "Whenever you're here, I am so happy. Whenever you're not here, I'm sad and I miss you." The barista-customer relationship truly is one of the most precious.

2. This evening was the first time I felt really good about teaching. I taught a grade school gymnastics class, which I prefer a million times to preschool classes, even when they involve tap dancing. The 4th grade girls are funny, sharp, bright, sarcastic. I love teasing them and I love encouraging them. They have invented their own personal languages, their own styles of movement, and already have a solid sense of identity. They are kind to each other and respectful toward me, and they rock at front handsprings. Strong confident girls completely inspire me.

3. My first piece of mail at my new apartment: a small, stuffed, fabulous package from Caitlin the Dreadlocked Poet, who is not dreadlocked anymore but that's still her name, and she is so treasured and knows exactly what I want and need in my moments. A CD full of brilliant Asa, Andu, Joshua Radin, Iron & Wine...fall leaves from Chile, a crocheted magenta scarf, a letter--"I hope this day finds you feeling beautiful"--completely colored my afternoon. My dear friend in Idaho makes me want to be a more vibrant person.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

No. 35

"I am very well; how about you?"
"I am so happy you're here! OH! How was your cupcake the other day?!"
"Oh it was overwhelmingly delightful. And you were right; after eating it, my day went beautifully!"

I am sometimes very self-conscious about how enthusiastic I can be, particularly on issues such as cupcakes. It is really nice and wonderful to talk to someone as enthusiastic as I am. Particularly on issues such as cupcakes.

2. A guy from church found a CTA 1-day Fun Pass on the floor of the Belmont Station. He gave it to me. I rode free for 24 hours, saving me $7.25. I bought a carrot cupcake and incense. Thank you so much, Guy From Church.

3. "Are you aware that you are my rock and my inspiration?"
"You are my rock star too, dear."

Sunday, July 5, 2009

No. 34

1. My landlord is taking his sweet time in turning on my cooking gas, so I am oven-less for another week. Ergo, I have been brainstorming meals that do not require any heat. Perhaps this will be the week when I finally become a raw vegan like I've always dreamed of! Perhaps not.

Today I thought of an idea--hummus and pita!--my staple in the last two years of college. So I schlepped all the way over to Salam ("peace" in Arabic), my favorite restaurant in all of Chicago. It's a tiny Palestinian dive restaurant smelling of oil and chickpeas with sweaty guys behind a counter displaying piles of pale pink unidentifiable meat. And I love it. And their hummus is delightful beyond belief. Beyond what you can believe delightful to be. I lie not.

In her homily this morning, Sarah discussed ideas of home and what home can mean for different people, and all the tiny constituents which make home so home-ish--the smells, the feelings, the people. And walking through Albany Park again felt so undeniably home-y. I guess I didn't realize that when I call Chicago "home," I am thinking of Albany Park. I am thinking of falafel fresh out of the oil vat, Ecuadorian bachata blaring as I walk to the El station, Korean newspaper stands and all the baklava bakeries I could ever want--Al-Khaymeh, Holy Land Sweets, Jaafer Sweets, Nazareth Sweets.

My neighbors remembered me: Nacho the pita-baking Mexican asked how I had been--I haven't seen this guy in over a year but he remembers my name; his hair has grown. Sayyid from Salam still knows my order (small hummus, extra khubz--"pita") and gave me free falafel; "My boss doesn't know" he whispered with a wink. The couple who owns that wild Latin Catholic-magic store with all the saint statues were still watching the same telenovela they were watching last time I came in months ago, and helped me find a Virgen de Guadalupe candle for my mantle.

Now I won't be taking out hummus and shwarma but rather coconut curry, and Ethiopian dishes I have yet to learn how to pronounce. I love my new neighborhood and I can't wait until I can claim it as my home--have MY coffee shop, MY grocery store, MY Indian place (there are literally dozens to choose from)--but going "home" to crinkly rusty old Albany Park is so, so sweet. As is this baklava from Jaafer Sweets I am devouring like it's my last meal.

2. Church felt joyful today. And I felt joyful on a post-church excursion to Tyler and Kelli's to see their new dining room painted dreamsicle orange with light grey trim. "Whaaaa?" you say. But it works, and beautifully. They let me borrow The Omnivore's Dilemma, which I fully expect to change my life, and gave me back my beloved Book of Common Prayer which already changed my life a few years ago.

3. Barah Sauer drove me home last night, a huge relief from the otherwise 2.5 buses I would have had to take at 1:46am. She laughed at me and I laughed at myself and we listened to Regina Spektor really loudly and sang really loudly and everything about it was cherished.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

No. 33

1. I found a lovely coffee shop two blocks from my new apartment, offering free wi-fi, Intelligentsia coffee, and pretzel-chocolate cookies from Southport Grocery which are one of my many weaknesses. I am happy to report the barista and I had winning rapport, and there are reading lamps at every table.

2. G-Chatting, mid-crisis, and Jon says: "What gives me hope for you is that you by nature do so many things so very right, habitually. So, I don't know when the awful's gonna end, but I have all kinds of faith that you'll come out the otherside, and better than before."

3. I read an interview with John Krasinski who described Alexi Murdoch's soundtrack for "Away We Go" as "very melancholy but so sweet." I feel like this is how my entire life is. It's encouraging to have it validated in this way...that melancholy but sweet things have value exactly as they are, for exactly what they are.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

No. 32

1. Today's weather was so fall-like, so Seattle-like. I wore my knit beret which my mother sent all the way from our Ellicott City shoe closet for my ears, and delighted in apple pie with Ellen on the top floor of a well-worn, creaky-cozy coffee shop where drizzle collected elegantly on the windowpane adjacent to our table as we talked and laughed loudly.

2. Text message: "I am wherever you are."

3. I read this in the introduction to a book I am reading, written by a female rabbi:

Beloved of my soul, compassionate parent, draw Your servant to Your will. Let your servant run like a gazelle to bow down before Your splendor. Let Your affection be sweeter than honeycomb or any other taste. Splendorous one, most beautiful radiance of the world, my soul is sick with love for you.

This is a medieval poem sung in Hebrew during Shabbat liturgy.