Wednesday, November 11, 2009

pre-surprise teaser

There have been A LOT of surprises in the last two weeks. Don't worry. I'll tell you all about it later.


Friday, October 30, 2009

39 percent fun!

Last weekend was really fun. It was SO FUN that I am worried that no other weekend -- not even HALLOWEEN WEEKEND -- could possibly be as fun as last weekend.

The trouble, I think, is that the week that followed was NOT particularly fun. It was one of those long-haul, rough weeks at work, where everything feels like a grindstone. Even kittens feel like grindstones. On the plus side, my job is to hang out with the most intelligent, loving, enlightening, hysterically funny people in the world, and talk to them about books and shapes and feelings and the habits of light. So even when the universe seems like one giant grindstone, all you have to do is turn around and say, "Hey,
Bracuan! HIGH FIVE!" And then at least you know that you're all in it together. For example, we did a feelings circle on Thursday. We had to go around and say Good Morning, and then say "I feel..." and fill in the blank with how we were feeling. (I was feeling obsequious. Big words are funny to people who are seven.)
Bevans: Good morning, M.
M: Good morning, I'm feeling JEALOUS.
Class: .... .
Bevans: I have a question. Who are you jealous OF?
M: (Somewhat impish laugh). I am jealous of my DREAMS.

But last weekend, after I spent Saturday at work, I let everything go. I didn't think about bills or about grocery shopping or about laminating anything or about non-toxic adhesives. I just thought about FUN.

But actually, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's go back to Friday. It was Sam's birthday. It was a beautiful, sunny, cold day in New Orleans. It was a pretty OK day at work. And now, for our purposes, I will ask you to refer to Sophie's Ten New Years' Resolutions: Resolution 1:
1. Get over my fear of fish. I secretly believe that I am already over my fear of fish. Well, I believe that SOME of the time. Rationally, I understand that my fear of fish is irrational. And I understand this in ways that I don't understand that my fear of the dark is irrational, or that my fear of zombies is irrational. So I'm going to do something symbolic like go SCUBA diving. I'm not really ALL-CAPS excited about that, it's just that SCUBA is an acronym and you're supposed to capitalize it
I did go SCUBA diving this year, it's true, but not in an ocean with real life fish. I went SCUBA diving for a certification class with Outdoor Venture Krewe high schoolers in a big, deep pool. And that was fun, too. But my fear of fish had not been symbolically overcome.

UNTIL I was walking along on Friday, gasping under my breath because the sky looked as if a bottle of maddenlingly expensive paint had spilled all over it, and the water in the bayou was stretching out lazily among yellow-green reeds, and it was just too freaking beautiful to ever hope to describe, when I ran across what was either a) a bluebill (see right) or b) A MAGICAL FISH just lying on the bank of the bayou. I am hesitant to say it was a bluebill, because while it was that general shape, it was MUCH BLUER than that fish is. Dark blue and sparkly. And glowing. And it could talk. OK OK, it was just VERY blue, but all the Louisiana Lists of Fish I have looked at are trying to convince me that this fish could only have been a bluebill, so I'm going to go with it.

So anyway, I walked up to it because that's usually what I do when I see an object lying on the banks of the bayou. When I saw that it was a fish, my heart sank a little bit, because I don't like when creatures of the world die, but I was also excited to see it. It was so blue! I stared at it for a while, thinking, "This is really a beautiful fish." I think what must have happened is that the fish got so excited that it jumped out of the water with glee, and then accidentally ended up on land, where it suddenly could not breathe, and it died.

Only... its gill were moving ever-so-slightly. And its eyes looked oddly pleading. I was thinking about these strange fish features when the "dead" fish gathered all the strength in its helpless, legless body, and flopped from one of its side to the other.

Holy shit! I thought. Well, actually, scratch that. "Holy shit!" I said out loud, because I was on the phone with Sam, casually discussing his birthday at the time that this happened. "There is a FISH, and it's LYING HERE, and it's DYING, and I AM THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN SAVE IT!" I threw my phone to the ground. I looked at the fish. It looked at me. I looked at the fish. It looked at me. Time was running out. Here are thoughts that went through my head:
1. The oils in my hands will surely cause this fish instant death if I touch it. But there are no pieces of cloth or smooth sticks I can use to aid me!
2. This fish may be suicidal. I may be doing it a terrible disservice by throwing it back into the water. It probably takes a lot of energy to hurl oneself suicidally at a landform from water.
3. This fish has fangs and it wants to bite me and give me a fish disease.

But I had to dismiss all these thoughts, because there was no time. I held my breath, bent over, and PICKED UP THE FISH. Then, with unprecedented swiftness and might, I hurled it back into the bayou, where I watched it swim away.


And that was only Friday.

On Saturday I spent the first six hours of the day at work, toiling away (see above). Then I came home, crawled in bed, and read for two hours while listening to Aaron Copeland until I passed out in one of those afternoon naps that actually TASTES good because it is so exactly what you need.

When I woke up we had to scrounge to finish our Loteria Card costumes. You may feel like you missed a step here, and that's because you did. Two weeks ago, Leah had the great idea of marching in the 6 t' 9 parade dressed as creepy loteria cards. We all sort of thought that cutting, painting, sandwich-boarding, drawing, and re-painting plywood would NOT be that time-consuming of a costume. But then it was. Actually, that was sort of a blessing in disguise, because it meant we all had a lot of excuses to hang out and craft and talk about boys and school and not school and crazy outfits and goals and dreams and sauerkraut. Well, not sauerkraut. But we COULD have talked about that if we wanted to do. That's how much time we had to be together. I have to admit, of course, that like most things that work out in my New Orleanian life, the pull of the work was really Leah's, and it never would have worked without her. For that I am a very lucky person.

The final loteria krewe for the Amigos at the 6 t' 9 Parade were: Leah, Hannah, Ari, Mariette, a girl I hadn't met before, and me. On Saturday evening we got to dress up in front of the bathroom mirror and spray things out of aeresol cans like we were going to a high school prom. Then we
headed down to St. Claude Street, and became spectators. No matter how good your costume is, it's impossible not to become a spectator when you are marching in a New Orleans parade. So much goes into them! You see people in crepe paper dresses and hats that light up; babies decked out in lace and face paint; tall shoes full of water and beads; amazing music and smells and everything gold and glittering and neon. This time there was Mexican candy and a mariache band. A woman filled her pull-cart with marigold plants to hand out to people watching the parade. A whole band of children rode in a Day of the Dead Carriage with skeleton faces, gritting teeth out the windows. A woman dressed like Frida Kahlo danced to the second line behind us while jutting out of enormous cardboard picture frame like a painting come to life.

See? That's New Orleans.

We marched for three hours. I want to show you pictures of everything we saw -- the wedding with the bride in a
whispery off-white lace gown, watching the parade from the church steps with her new husband and all her well-dressed guests. The sunset that made the whole parade stop and turn around and collectively groan, "Oh my God." The dancing children and drunk Mexican wrestlers throwing Milky Ways into the intersections of streets. It was all worth documenting. But my camera ran out batteries within the first ten minutes, and I guess I'm almost grateful. In the end, I got to drink it all in. That was a tremendous gift.

On Sunday, Ari and I had our annual Harvest Festival. This is its third consecutive year of existence. At the first Harvest Festival, Ariana and I lived in a house together at 140 Otis Street. We bought thirteen pumpkins from the pumpkin patch down
Isaacs and invited ten people over to carve them on the front lawn, drink apple cider, and decorate pumpkin cookies (see left).

This year, we wanted the sentiment to be basically the same, but we decided we would only invite each other. And Leah. This really took a lot of the stress out of the whole event, to tell you the truth.

But it was still ideal. We started by carving twenty apples. Then we made: pink cinnamon apple sauce (We used Red Hots. Brilliant.), apple cranberry pie, apple cider, and three flavors of pumpkin seeds, including curry, Cajun, and sugar and spice. The house smelled
so good. The air outside was cold, so we opened the doors and let all the crisp fallness of the October night mix in with cinnamon and cloves and baking apples and cranberries, and we put on sweaters and Lindy Hop music and just hung out in the kitchen for like five hours.

The pumpkins, however, presented a bit of a fiasco. They didn't have any at
Rouse's, so we had to use a pie pumpkin and a couple of white pumpkins. The white pumpkins carved out fine (and it was pretty novel, actually), but we had to use a SAW to get the lid off the pie pumpkin, which made the very thought of carving the features on the face of the pumpkin impossible. After much deliberation, we decided the best route would be to use an electric drill to make a nice pattern of holes in the pumpkin. This is not a joke.

On Monday Ari and I went to see "Where the Wild Things Are" for the second time. On a Monday night!!! Are you GETTING how much FUN I have become?!

It's Halloween again. Already! I know, I can't believe it, either. I am very excited about living life right now. There are so many things I still want to experience and do before I leave New Orleans. Thank goodness I'll be here another year at least.

That said, I can't articulate how much I am looking forward to coming home (because Portland is still, and will always be, home) for a week for Thanksgiving. I can't wait to eat my mom's cooking and to let my dog lick me all over my face. It will be weird to be home without Alexis. It's the first time we've ever not spent Thanksgiving together as One Big Happy Family.

But we're all doing a pretty good job of taking care of ourselves these days. I'm proud of the Johnson family. We have had some nutty times, that's for sure. At points, I think we actually redefined "dysfunctional." Now we're redefining it again by being enigmatically functional, normal, rational, and sane. Cheers to us.

Another month has unwound and lies, autumnal, in the rear view mirror. I am practicing, above all, patience. Tom Petty says, "It'll all work out, eventually." He was a good songwriter, so I'm gonna go with him on that one.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fun-ometer reinstated: 12 percent fun

Last Wednesday, I started to update my blog, but I wasn't even fun enough to finish said entry. I dissolved into a puddle of gross misery and left this entry unfinished. It sat in my Drafts folder, like an unhatched egg. Would you like to read it? Very well then. It was titled, "8 percent fun." If you will notice, my funness percentage has already risen since then. I am a very proactive type! Either that, or I'm a little bit bipolar.
Look at this fun percentage. Things have definitely been better. I think 8 percent fun actually might be generous, to tell you the absolute truth. Case in point: it's Wednesday night. But I'm not at Wednesday night dinner. I'm in bed, with my sweet potato puff pastry (which I can't even finish eating because for days on end I've only been eating freaky-gross foods and my stomach can't handle any more of them), chillin' out, staring at the ceiling, drifting in and out of pathetically restless sleep. It's bleak.

On the other hand, two things:
  1. I think I'm a pretty fun teacher. I really do. I know some good circle games (thanks, Girl Scout camp!), and I know bookoo awesome songs to sing, and I am pretty sure I make science fun and interesting, what with all the wacky experiments we do, and I have a lot of good read-aloud voices. FUN! I think kids even sometimes look at me and say, "Oh hey, there goes Ms. Johnson. She is the FUN teacher. I wish I could be in her and Ms. Bevans' class. They have a HEDGEHOG." Fun, fun, fun!
  2. I went to Portland this weekend, which makes me a really great traveler. And I did a super-fun prank! I didn't tell my parents I was coming. So that Saturday morning, I telephoned my mom. "I'm so glad it's you!" said my mom, thinking I was in New Orleans. "Yes, me too," said I. Then I rang the doorbell. "Oh, Sophie, let me call you back. I think Mancel has come to trim the garden," said my mom. "Ok Mom. Bye," said I. And she opened the door and SCREAMED and said "No!" a bunch of times, and that felt AWESOME. I also got to see Sam Alden, and Ben Stevens, and Vince Levy. It was a really beautiful weekend, full of a lot of good coffee, and a lot of good comic books
You know what? It actually IS very fun to travel across the whole entire country for a single weekend. So let's spend a little more time on that. Portland is unfathomably beautiful this time of year. Last weekend, New Orleans was still the spitting image of hurricane season, with smudgy storms and 90-degree heat (with 94 percent humidity), so when I walked out of the Portland International Airport into the 50-degree air without a sweater I almost swooned over and kissed the ground. This is what fall is supposed to feel like. All weekend I got to wear sweaters and scarves, and coffee tasted better and jeans didn't feel sticky against my legs, and my hair didn't end up in a ratty ball of overdone spaghetti every time I walked out the door. The weekend was so full and beautiful that I forgot to take pictures of most of it, but I have a few highlights:
How unbearably Portland-in-October is this picture? We were sitting on Broadway at a coffee shop that taught you Swahili on Wednesday nights and helped you plan your trip to Sweden on Sundays, and we ordered vegan apple cake (because any coffee shop in Portland just happens to have things like vegan apple cake) and had to wear jackets while we sat outside by the hip bikes to drink lattes (Sam) and fat cups on drip coffee (me). I am loving coffee, incidentally, more and more with each passing hour. Since I completely quit smoking, drinking, and eating animal products, strong coffee has become my number one vice. I think it is way more acceptable than any of my previous vices.

We also went to Cathedral Park, right under the St. Johns bridge (you can click on that link if you would like irrefutable proof that this is among the most beautiful bridges in the world). I had never been to that park, and I actually have dozens of pictures I took there with my jaw perpetually scraping the ground because I had never seen a place quite so sublime. We sat on a bench overlooking the park and I could see the pine trees puffing up their chests on the mountain, and the oaky things blushing for the onset of fall, and a hummingbird singing like a creaky gate on a branch right over us, and a pair of children riding Their First Bikes along the walking path, and a set of maybe eight people laughing as they shot some sort of movie by the water, and I actually cried because Earth, in that moment, seemed singularly peaceful and extraordinary. I couldn't imagine -- and I tried! -- that anything bad ever happened on Planet Earth. That was a strange thought, but sometimes when you are intensely happy, you can't help but think it, even though it seems irresponsible. I thought, How nicely all these species can coexist when every one has space to breathe and run around and be themselves, and no one is competing for anything, and everyone is nonchalantly letting everyone else exist just as they are. But, of course, the world wouldn't be the place any of us loved if it weren't for competition, and I knew that those thoughts were born out of the sort of transcendentalist utopia I had briefly fallen into, so I pulled myself out. The picture I've included is not of the space I'm describing to you, anyway; it's a little up and to the left of that bench, in an old shipyard where Sam and his family once discovered this huge propeller. Wait. I wrote that sentence wrong. Let me try again: That photo was taken in an old shipyard where Sam and his family ONCE DISCOVERED THIS HUGE PROPELLER!!!!!!!! Have you ever seen anything like that? You can climb around it and blackberry brambles are shooting up through the middle of it. I have no idea why it's there, or what it was intended for (presumably a ship, says Sam), but it's one of the awesomest things I have encountered in my brief life.

This is what the leaves look like in Portland. This photograph makes me feel tremendously homesick.

The week following this trip was tough. I think a lot of the reason for that was that I never caught up on the sleep I lost from hanging out all weekend and then traveling ten hours both ways. But also, I am not doing enough for myself in general. I almost re-typed that sentence because it sounds kind of selfish, but what I mean by that is that there are so many things in the universe that I love to do (a short list: Draw with sidewalk chalk! Go for long walks! Explore museums! Eat by myself at restaurants! Listen to music! Go to the library! Experience the cinema! Chat with wildlife!), but I haven't had the chance to do any of it in the last few months. I hear a chorus of "Told You So"s echo whenever I say that out loud, because Teach for America is generally supposed to do that to you (you know: weed the life out of you and turn you into an incredible teaching robot), but I guess I had to experience it for myself. I think the trouble is that I've grown so terribly invested in this school and in these kids, that I find myself pushing outside the realm of normalcy to do the best job possible. Now I sound like a martyr. Well, look, World: I'm not a great teacher yet, because I have only been teaching for one year. I'm still learning it! I have got to figure out how to forgive myself for that, and be patient. It will come. That's why I've decided to stay in New Orleans and teach for third year. In the mean time, I should go on more long walks, and sign up for more cooking classes. A teacher with a lot of fun in her life is a good teacher. I think Albert Einstein said that.

Luckily, I have a handful of really fun friends who are tremendously good influences on me. On Friday, we had the most successful Crafternoons (Crafter-dark?) we'd had in ages. Friday was also the day that New Orleans started to cool off. The night that night was too frigid for mosquitoes, even! We had the doors hanging open and we let the cakey smell from Leah's evening baking endeavor coupled with dusty sweaters from last year warm us up. Oh yeah; we also ordered a life supply of MSG and corn syrup from Yummy Yummy Chinese Food and ate like pregnant women. I crafted until 3:30 a.m. the next morning, which may be my longest crafting session of life. Maybe. Twelve hours is a long time. As a sidenote, I think that at some point in my life I would like to live in a house with a lot of artist-bum-types and make shit to sell at fairs and carnivals for a living. I think I would like to do that for one year. That will also be the year when I watch all 1000 of the Best 1000 Movies of All Time. I never want to watch good movies anymore. Too much work. My last Netflix batch included "Tuck Everlasting" starring Alexis Bledel and "No Reservations," which is about a surly chef who has to raise a child alone -- until she meets hunky Aaron Eckhart, and her life is changed for good! I ran into the postman yesterday and he asked me what two movies I was returning. I was like, "Taxi Driver" and "Casablanca." He said, "You don't wanna tell me, huh?" "Nope," I said.

Yesterday I took a long walk with Ari (check and check!) and we talked about boys and moving and New Orleans and our respective prior weekends. Kevin came to visit her last weekend and they got to gawk at beautiful buildings and eat bengiets (sp?), and ride the streetcar and dance to jazz music in drizzling rain. It is so wonderful to show New Orleans to someone who has never been here. I also don't know how often I have seen two people more in love than Ariana and Kevin. Seeing people in love is something I can appreciate in any phase of my own relationship life. When I'm single, I still love to see people in love. You know that when people are deeply in love, they have found a corner of their lives which will always exist in their memories and intense and whole. There are so few things in life that so completely stay with us like our experiences of being in love. I hope that when I write shit like that it doesn't come off as super-arrogant and condescending. Maybe I should have just written, "Seeing Ari and Kevin together made my heart physically flutter." That also would have been true, and maybe less annoyingly introspective. That's a picture of Kevin wearing two things that are plaid. He's pretty badass. Plaid-ass? Hmm.

I simply cannot walk around New Orleans without falling in love with New Orleans all over again. Every time I let myself take it in, I feel dizzy with infatuation.

This blog post is getting too long for anyone to feel like reading all the way through. There is a lot more I want to tell you, but I've rambled on for a long time. Here are two things I should add before I go, because they are important:
  • I'm sorry, haters, but I thought "Where the Wild Things Are" was lovely. I really did. It was the first movie I've watched that felt like I was watching one of those sleepy childrens' books that grown-ups like a whole lot more than kids do. You know, the kind with lots of little magical aspects, but not much plot. I cried through the whole thing. It did a great job of depicting childhood the way adults want to picture childhood. Yes, it was simple, and yes, it had some kind of obvious metaphors, but WHATEVER! It was built to show us what we remember about our own childhoods. Maybe in some ways it was built to reimagine a childhood we would have created if we had had the emotional depth to build it as children. In any case, the monsters said some really beautiful things, and the structures in the movie were gorgeous, and the kid was a great actor, and the house Caroline Keener lived in was perfectly staged, and I found the lack of exposition and explanation refreshing. I went with my school to see it (K-3. Not my choice, actually), and the children loved it. At least, Barshall loved it. I sat next to him and he had great commentary for the whole thing. He said stuff like, "I would like for that monster to eat the other monsters and then eat all the trees." A whole new angle!
  • Avery's birthday (I can now tell you, since he has graduated and become my friend more than my student, that his name is actually Arthur) was yesterday. Celebrating it was the fuzziest, warmest experience of my whole year, hand's down. In fact, it was how a movie might end. For one thing, a lot of things we tried to set up for Arthur last year are finally falling into place. For those of you who have been following (read: have been forced to listen to me talk on and on about) the Arthur saga, you should know that Arthur is doing GREAT. The Personal Care Assistant we applied for finally came through, and she's amazing. She has helped him with so much! She's gotten him a volunteer position at the ARC. Next week they are going bowling. Arthur looks clean and well-dressed and I've never seen him so happy. Kristen and I brought Arthur a big pizza to eat with his grandma at his house. It was gross, but Arthur sure likes pizza. Then we took him to Wal-Mart and bought him a new hoodie and some markers. It's fun to pick out your own birthday presents! The best part, though, was that we took Arthur to Creole Creamery, where he was surprised by Ms. McGough (his old teacher and my dear friend), and her fiance Drew (an amazing man, whom Arthur is also obsessed with), Drew's rap partner, and their perfect, amazing five-month-old twin boys. It was like being in a real family. Jayda (Ms. McGough) looks beautiful; and Drew was smiling constantly. The babies are cuter with each passing second. We all got to hold them while we passed ice cream around; and even Arthur bounced Savion up and down on his bum knee. I felt very nearly content in that moment.
So it's The Next Year now. What will I learn? Already, I have learned a whole lot. But only, it seems, when I get out from under my covers and poke around in the universe. That's very hard for me, but well-worth it. If I ever need proof, there's a yearlong backlog on the Internet in the form of my blog to remind me.

Monday, September 28, 2009

funder and lightning

This is probably my most original blog title yet. Especially since in New Orleans the weather is so often so stormy.

Wow, Blogosphere! It's been a long while since we've talked, yet again. Remember a year ago? I was such a good correspondent back then, while I was trying to get my fun back on track. Now I am a little less concerned with being a fun person, and more concerned with being a sane and rational one, which means it's been quite a long time since I've done any beautiful exploring or learning about this amazing city I find myself in. It's okay, though: I have time.

The weekend was nice and long. I just spent ten minutes going back in my brain trying to think of events that I could brag about this weekend, but I couldn't come up with any. Ariana and I went to the Art Museum and looked at the beautiful photographs. I broke off on my own and walked through the lonely rooms upstairs no one ever goes in because they are full of permanent collections of Chinese, Japanese, African, and Native American art that people dismiss as generic ("I could see that stuff ANYwhere," they say). I do have my hesitations about those rooms, of course. It's not really fair for museums to have those beautiful artifacts locked away in glass cases like that. They don't belong to us. When I look at the gorgeous craftsmanship of a mask or a vase or something, I feel like I am in the presence of something sacred that is being totally exploited. I tried to walk through the rooms as appreciatively as possible. I do love the Japanese brush scrolls a great deal. They remind me of my mother.

And I was riding my bike on another beautiful sunny day in the Quarter and ran into Lily and Jazzy and their friend Tah, whom I have not seen in aaaaages, and they shouted, "Sophie!" and I shouted, "Lily and Jazzy and Tah!" and they were sitting outside Port of Call, which is this famous burger place that always has bookoo people outside it. They were like, "Hey, we're going to go to Port of Call, do you want to come?" and in my head I was like, "No I have way too much work." And then in my head I was like, "Whatever! I don't have that much work! I have never BEEN to Port of Call!" So in real life I said, "Yes, I would love to." And then I joined them for lunch and ate a baked potato with chives and had an iced tea. I have this to say about Port of Call: the burgers cost a lot of money, but they did look really pretty. I have no idea how to judge a good burger. I do have an idea of how to judge "Good Burger," starring Keenan and Kel from Nickelodeon. And I judge it like this: A+.

But it was nice to laugh and to talk about not-school stuff. Examples of not-school topics that happen when you are with non-teachers (Tah is technically teacher, but she's a cool teacher who can talk about hauntings):
1. Pooping.
2. Spirit animals.
3. Sam Alden yesterday said, "Hey Sophie, I have found a word in the dictionary you maybe don't know. And the word is 'pinguid.'" And I said, "I have not heard that word before. What does it mean?" And he said, "Fat and oily." So I mentioned this to Tah and Jazzy and Lily, and we talked for probably forty-five minutes about 'pinguid.' Subtopics: Can pinguid ever be a positive thing? Would you like to eat a pinguid sausage? Was the guy one of them hooked up with last night pinguid? All valid questions.
4. Tulane.

School, to completely change the topic, is wonderful. Today we don't have students because we are doing data work, and I thought last night for a great deal of time about how much I miss them, and how sad I am that I don't get to see them today. They teach me so much every day. I can't believe we are already at the midterm assessments.

My students are very receptive to learning about history -- especially about African American history. The thing is that they often say things that are truly depressing without ever realizing it. When I read a story to them last week about Martin Luther King, Jr., there was a section in the book that talked about how Martin Luther King, Jr. fought to desegregate the schools, and my students were genuinely puzzled. At lunch Melissa said, "Ms. Johnson, black kids and white kids can't really go to school together, can they?" Apparently the vast majority of my class thinks it's actually still illegal for classrooms to be racially integrated.

But on a happier note, our table groups are named Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi; and our 2nd grade class is completely fascinated with Gandhi. There has possible never been a group of 2nd-graders more obsessed with Gandhi. There are almost no books available for children about Mahatma Gandhi, but Carrie and I both have a copy of the same one -- a dense, boring, dully-illustrated book more suitable for high schoolers than seven-year-olds. My kids daily insist that I read them a few pages from it, and they listen in absolute fascination to theories about karma, and to the stories of Gandhi's life. They can find India on a map.

My students are so unbelievably curious and open-minded. They are ready to learn and they are eager to access information. They hug each other and take care of each other when they think no one else is watching. They don't sweat the small stuff. They draw beautiful pictures and see the world in shades of pink and orange and bright blue and green (I assume, based on the color palate they choose for their art samples). They aren't afraid of school yet. They beg for homework. At what point do we get beaten down enough that we start to pull away from life? I promise you it happens sometime AFTER the age of seven.

We have two great class pets. I tried to take videos of each. One cut off within one second of video taping. The other is the most boring class pet video ever. I tried to wake Chico up but he just tensed up and hissed at me. Enjoy these boring videos. Know that if you were to come visit, you would have a lot more fun with our class pets than these videos immediately suggest.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

things are pretty good.

I feel... lucky isn't the word... I feel unbelievably happy to be alive and to have so much love in my life every day. More soon. There's a lot to say.

Monday, September 7, 2009


Let's just pause a minute and play, "WHO IS SOPHIE LIVING WITH NOW?"

Here are a few hints:
1. Both the people I am living with are in the picture to the left.
2. Both of the two people I am living with are really freaking adorable.
3. Both of the people I am living with are human people, and are not waffles, or grits.
4. I do not live with any men.
5. As beautiful as she is, I do not live with Gina.

If you have guessed ARIANA RAMPY in the Oh-My-Fucking-God-Is-That-An-Actual-Dress? dress, and LEAH HOPE FISHBEIN who cooked the fabulous beyond all words feast which lies on that table (peanut butter waffles, deep South grits, homemade bean-and-cherry sausage, rosemary apple scones, and all of it vegan), then you have guessed CORRECTLY, and you win a PRIZE!

And that prize is a brief-but-thorough update on the Life Happenings of Sophie Johnson, embedded with no fewer than Four Fun Facts about Dolphins!

(I still can't spell "dolphins" right the first time I try. That's not one of the facts. But I legitimately always try to spell it "dolfins," and it is hard for me to understand that I am incorrect in believing it ought to be spelled like that.)

So many things have happened in this last week.

Monday was a pretty regular and ordinary day, for the most part. Someone threw up in the hallway at school. I stayed in the building until 7 p.m., and then worked at home until 10 p.m., and then I felt shitty because that was too much work. So I decided that wasn't going to work for Tuesday. Thus, Tuesday was different.

On Tuesday Hannah, Leah, Karaline and I tried to have our weekly dinner, but we failed for the following reasons:
1. Hannah was stressed out and could not make it to dinner.
2. We picked a Chinese restaurant (because we were all FAR too stressed out to think about cooking) that ended up looking sketchy and then we ended up at a Japanese restaurant that was very fancy.
3. There was almost nothing vegan on the menu, except some of the sushi, and Leah hates sushi.
4. And I had to leave really early BECAUSE:

... ARIANA RAMPY arrived! The excitement is still very, very warm in my blood. In fact, I would go so far as to say that nothing in my immediate past has made me feel so warm-blooded as Ariana Rampy's arrival to New Orleans, Louisiana (by the way, DID YOU KNOW that dolphins are warm-blooded?!?!).

No, folks, she is not just visiting New Orleans. She has moved in here. She has a room in my house, with a bed, and a window looking onto our back porch, which I am constantly rediscovering as one of the most desirable hidden worlds I've ever caught myself in. And ever since she got here, the air has been full of Winnie the Pooh stories, bad eighties movies, gluten-free baking, and that arresting laughter that makes my heart stop in a kind of frightening way -- a barrier only ever broken by Ariana.

Moving is stressful. I watch Ari go through the motions of transporting beds and trafficking dressers around the house, while trying to find a job, and trying to figure out how she is going to hang her dresses up, and trying to cook in lower-than-sea-level tropical humidity, and a lot about last year comes back to me. Except that Ari is infinitely saner than I ever was last year, so while I sit around waiting for her to have a panic attack, she breathes in the dishwasher-wet thunderstorm air and says, "I love it here." This makes me love it here all the more. Sometimes humans can communicate enormous truths without even speaking. Ari being here makes me understand, with my whole heart, how lucky I am to call New Orleans home. (By the way, DID YOU KNOW that dolphins, too, communicate without speaking? It's true! Dolphins can make a unique signature whistle that may help individual dolphins recognize each other, collaborate and perform several other kinds of communication.)

On Wednesday it was Parents' Night. I ate a lot of chips and felt sick. And then I sat in my room in total shock as I looked out at a sea of parents' faces -- moms and dads and grandmas and aunts and brothers and neighbors -- and thought, "Wow. This school really works." I enthusiastically raved to moms and dads about their children, who really are the most brilliant and interesting human beings I have met in my whole life. I know that this is not the way that parent night is supposed to go. You're supposed to say all these things that parents can do to work with their children to help them succeed. But I'm no good at that. That's why I have a co-teacher.

I'll get better at it. I just love them so much. I can't even wrap my own mind around it, let alone put it into words.

On Thursday my co-teacher was sick. It was a very, very bad day. My kids all decided they were sick too (I assume mostly because they wanted to copy Ms. Bevans; and I can't blame them because she is very much worth imitating). The rest of them decided that they should be on their worst possible behavior, particularly when I was being observed. I lost Charles. I lost my temper. I lost my voice. And at the end of the day I needed to be reminded of all the At Leasts (At least the school is still standing! At least everyone is safe! At least you get to go home!) because I couldn't think of them on my own.

It was humbling. It was one of those, "Oh my God, I'm not actually good at this yet" moments. The kind where I felt like I was drowning, about 260 meters below the surface of the ocean (which, by the way, is about as deep as dolphins can swim, DID YOU KNOW?).

On Friday we all celebrated. The kids were nicer, and I was nicer. Ms. Bevans was still very sick and sat on the stool looking cross whenever someone was out of line. That actually was a better management strategy than anything I had previously tried, so I was very, very grateful for her presence -- as painful as it must have been for her.

It was a long weekend. The highlights were cleaning the house, and eating that amazing brunch. We went to Southern Decadence and just Took Things In -- men as women as men as women; dancers and twirlers; cigarettes and penises; cigarettes shaped like penises; children in coats and women with babies; vomit, beads, gendered-up Mardi Gras fare in September. The heat got very sticky. Ariana continued to bring light into the house, and Leah cooked food I never imagined could exist. The three of us went to see "Julie and Julia" last night, which I'm embarrassed to say we absolutely loved. We made a lot of really loud orgasm noises over the buttery foods that none of us can eat.

The house is feeling a bit more like a home, and I half-expect my mother to be sitting in the living room reading T. S. Eliot in an armchair before dinner. Also, I can FEEL fall. Man, I am SO ready for fall. I just love that season. Right now, it is my favorite.

I swore I would only take 15 minutes on this entry (the amount of time dolphins can stay underwater, DID YOU KNOW?), but it's dragged on and on, as it always does. My mom called a few minutes ago, and with my sister in Costa Rica for the semester (wish her happy and safe travels whenever you can! She just got there last night), I want to talk to her and see how she is doing.

It always amazes me -- and Ari is on the phone with Kevin now, loving him with all her heart from this great distance -- how far we can be from one another and how close we can still feel. What a cliche that is... but there's something very comforting in it, too. So as I turn in, looking forward to another week, I'm sending as much love as I can across miles and miles, hoping you will feel it. Onward!

Sunday, August 30, 2009


I am sitting outside on a hot hurricane-season day in New Orleans at the Fair Grinds. This is all well and good, except that the heat makes the mosquito bite on my ankle itch like crazy. Only since I moved to New Orleans have I learned to correctly spell "mosquito." Previously, I had resigned "mosquito" to being one of those words I would always have to let Spell Check correct for me. But now I've got it. Next up: avocado.

You and I have not been in great correspondence.

The amount of time I spend at work, and thinking about work, and generally immersed in some kind of work-related work, has ballooned to the size of a bloated rhetorical time-whale. But I think I had always imagined that teachers were supposed to work this much, so I don't mind it really. I have the rest of my life to sit behind a blog, making my life sound a lot more eloquent than it actually is.

That is, if I ever leave this whole Teaching At A Charter School In New Orleans thing. The more I am here, the more important it feels to be here. I guess I assumed that the gap would appear less severe if I worked at a school with parents who were involved, and a staff that was supportive, and with kids who weren't twenty years old and didn't know how to read. And yes, the gap does appear, in some ways, less severe. But in other ways, it is just as troubling, if not more so, to see kids who are still so far beneath grade level, swimming against the current. But they're seven, so it's usually a little more cute than depressing, and that makes the whole of this entire situation all the more pressing.

I am not particularly good at teaching. I don't even know if I am particularly good at babysitting. But I'm trying to work as much as is healthy, in good faith that if I take care of myself and do the best I can the rest will fall into place.

When kids are seven they say cute shit.

Example: "Oh Ms. Johnson, B told me that if you go to someone's house and have crawfish over at their house then you is cousins. Is that true?"

Or: "Ms. Johnson, you put coconut oil in your hair? Because your hair feel like the inside of a coconut."


(After reading a book about a raccoon, Ms. J hands out pieces of lined paper)
Ms. Johnson: Okay class. On this paper, I would like you to write a question you have about the book. A question ends with a QUESTION MARK. If you don't know how to write a question, I want you to make your best effort. So you will be WRITING. Not DRAWING. WRITING. A question. About the book. The book about the raccoon.
B (with a raised hand): I'm going to draw a picture of a giraffe, okay?

I get to work at 6 a.m. and leave at 6 p.m. and go home and work from my comfy bed and at night I DREAM about children and on the weekend I browse websites about leveled readers. My life has become a pathetic Teach for America poster existence. I'm kind of really proud of it.

There was a breath of sheer, unsullied fun in there, though, when Sam came to visit last weekend and I put everything on hold to show one of my favorite people in the world one of my favorite cities in the world. So prepare yourself for A LIST. Because these sorts of events can really only be cataloged in effusive, effulgent lists. We:

Stayed up too late, woke up too early, ate vegan jambalaya, cooked brunch (buckwheat waffles, avocados [sp?], mushroom and onion tofu scramble), saw assorted wildlife (two alligators, enormous black grasshoppers, myriad banana spiders, wading birds, lizards with electric blue tails) at the Barrataria Swamp, ate fresh fruit Snowballs, had alligator po' boys (mine was French fries actually, but Sam picked up the slack and ate some real life alligator), biked to City Park, opined about swans and turtles, biked to the French Quarter at night, walked along the Mississippi River and viewed geckos and ibises (is that the true plural of ibis?) in the slick swampy black water, chatted up the gutter punks about ECE, made pancakes with red plums, rode bikes on the ferry to Algiers, had carrot cake with the Sunday crossword puzzle, biked Uptown, ate vegan burritos at Juan's, found a wallet, returned a wallet, biked to Audubon Park, saved a child from red fire ants, counted one hundred turtles, listened to snippets of conversations as they passed by on the bike path ("I hear you can do the same thing with a turkey baster"), had free Indian food at Hare Krishna, slathered ourselves in grapeseed oil to lose the mosquitoes (no "sp?"!), went onandonandon and on about comic books (and on and on and on), ate black beans and eggs at the Oak Street Cafe while they closed up and the piano jazz player was starting to get a little wacky and the girl behind the counter decided she liked us because our glasses matched and gave us a free Arnold Palmer and plates of free doughnuts.

Unless you are Sam Alden (and maybe even if you ARE Sam Alden), you should have read that last paragraph with complete envy, because that, my friends of the Internet, is the archetype of The Perfect Weekend.

I pride myself so much in my ability to explore the beautiful world around me while I am alone. I have never had trouble going to the movies by myself, and I actually believe the art museum is always better that way... but sometimes, when you are so completely tangled up in your job that you can hardly breathe, you need someone to come in and pull you out of it and remind you that There Are Trees! and There Is Art! and Being Alive Is At All Times A Celebration And A Gift! So last weekend was like being handed a self-help manual to remember why we start Internet blogs to chronicle our fun levels in the first place. Because Everything is too breathtakingly wonderful to let pass by without stopping to take it in.

Yesterday was the four-year anniversary of the hurricane that brought so many of us here. I struggle to write about that because one year in New Orleans has taught me, without a shadow of a doubt, that no amount of books or trips to the Lower Ninth Ward will ever, in a million years, give me the perspective to understand the magnitude what happened here then.

I do know that the people who are here now -- the transplants, and those who stayed; those who know the intimate details of the Superdome, and those who came back; the visionaries and the misfits and the idealists and the anarchists -- are the best people, hand's down, that I have met in my twenty-three years. I am so grateful that this amazing city is a chapter in my tiny life.

And the sun has come out. We all, always, move forward.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Take a good long hard look at that face. What does it say to you? Does it say, "I am calm and happy and sane and I have plenty of time to work a flattening iron?" If it says that to you, then you have to go back to Kindergarten and relearn the part with the posters where they talked about feelings. Because that is NOT what that face says.

Now, it MIGHT say to you, "Ew. I am seeing a naked person who I didn't really want to see naked." It's a misleading face. As much as it MIGHT look like that is what is happening with Sophie Johnson at this instant in time, unfortunately, it is not.

Look, I'll just tell you. That face says, "Really? You REALLY think I can teach second graders? Are you truly going to trust me with that?"

In the past two weeks, I've figured out the following: I am a trouble-maker. It's not my fault. I genuinely want to be a good, mature, professionally dressed, trustworthy teacher. My brain and my mouth BETRAY ME. Today I asked the sweet, wonderful curriculum director at our school -- who has been teaching for like thirty years and who is quite possibly my favorite educator I have ever met -- whether she wanted me to make her a cookie shaped like a penis. I WAS JUST EXCITED! She said I could participate in this amazing program which teaches teachers how to implement art into their lesson plans, and I freaked out because of how cool it sounded, and all I could think to offer as compensation was the penis cookie thing. This poor woman had no idea what to say. But you see how this was a potentially damaging choice? I'm going to lose my job by accident for sure.

And also: what am I supposed to do with all those blank walls in that classroom that I am supposedly supposed to be half in charge of? I, too, defaulted to asking Carrie (probably my second favorite educator, and co-teacher). But Carrie can't do it all. I should make a joke here about Carrie "carrying" the entire load. I would do that if I weren't so PANICKED right now about being IN CHARGE OF YOUNG LIVES.

We get the students on Monday. I called all their parents last night. You can't tell just by looking how much those two statements weigh, so let me tell you: They weigh A LOT.

I can't talk about teaching right now. I love LHA, legitimately. I would go to bat for this school. I really love what I'm doing. This is the kind of job that I might never walk away from because it makes so much sense to me.

And while I could go on and on about that, and bore you until you turned into a potato, I'll keep it brief and get the most urgent updates out there. Let's do a top ten. The top ten most important things that have taken place since we last spoke:

10. There are mice at our tiny, very clean house. I am always so torn about this. I know that you are supposed to be mad about mice. I mean, I get that. But they're so cute! I don't mind sharing my food with them. And while I understand that mice potentially cause diseases, they also potentially ask for cookies. And that's just adorable.

9. It's my mom's birthday on Sunday! This is the second year where I won't be there for my mom's birthday, and it feels very strange. Holidays and birthdays are just something that families always share. The most noticeable thing about living across the country is that I have to suddenly send birthday presents and Mother's Day presents, and I have to make phone calls, instead of just climbing in bed with her and kissing her a ton. My mom is one of my all time favorite people, so her birth should be super-celebrated. You can send her an e-mail if you want. Her e-mail address is She's a great mom and a great teacher and she smells really good all the time and she just rode on one million roller coasters with my sister and my dad at Knott's Berry Farm because she (and I guess the rest of my fam) is a badass. Personally, I can't do roller coasters. They freak me the fuck out.

8. The first Crafternoons of the year was at our house. My goal was to make a shrinkable-plastic blue whale necklace like I saw at the art store in Portland. This proved to be reeeallly hard because the whale kept curling up in the oven, and it wouldn't lay flat again. Finally I settled for this imperfect version. I had to go with it because I ran out of Shrinky Dinks. I also made a similar one with a bicycle, and some Crest toothpaste earrings. We ordered pizza from Naked Pizza which has VEGAN CHEESE if you ask for it, and GLUTEN FREE CRUST if you ask for it, and you HAVE TO REMEMBER that this is NEW ORLEANS, so that's a pretty big fucking deal. I think I ate half of the vegan cheese pizza all by myself. Please don't think that's gross. It's only a little bit gross.

7. Speaking of making shit, living with Leah is the best thing that has ever happened to my diet. I mean, I've lived with vegans before, but never a vegan who likes to cook and bake the way Leah does. She's amazing. In the last three days I've eaten homemade vegan jambalaya, zucchini bread, and asparagus soup. I'm jealous of me too.

6. You HAVE to visit the NOMA. You HAVE to. Hannah took me to see the exhibit on the Art of Caring -- it's an exhibit of beautiful photography that has to do with: Family, Love, Caretaking, Health, Disaster, and Remembrance. It's incredible. It's like taking a journey. I don't know what's up with me and art lately, but it's been making me cry in a really good way. Art never used to quite do that for me, but now it does, and that freaking exhibit, man.... I cried like five or eight times. Openly. Children gawked.

5. Sam Alden is coming to visit! I know that's in the future... but it's a recent revelation! And an EXCITING one! We can go see the Art of Caring. Also, I don't know if I'm allowed to say this over the Internet, but he finished a really amazing art project he has been working on for seven months. How's that for ambiguous? I just want to let him tell you, that's all. This is like the gossip section of Sophie's Blog. It's basically Us Weekly up in here.

4. We furnished the house. This was such an expensive process, especially since Leah and I are both the kinds of people who are like, "Yes, that's good enough, let's buy that;" and not the, "Let's wait on that," or "Let's talk them down" kinds of people. We went to Target and bought a whole box of pots and pans for $100 that are light pink. Light pink. Also a waffle maker. But you know, it is this irrationality that makes us live together so well, and that makes our newly furnished house the belle of the Gayoso Street ball. ((Here is a short tour of our house. Notes on this: I say that this house is located at 917 Louisiana Ave. That's not true. I was confused. Also, the house is now furnished. Clearly, it was NOT furnished when this video was recorded. Now it is. So you can visit and you'll like it and think it is pretty inside.))***

3. My cat lost his collar. If you find it, please call. I'm pissed because I JUST BOUGHT IT FOR HIM and it had a BOW on it.

2. I got a new bike. It's a really cool 10-speed bike that you have to lean forward really far to ride on. You know that type of bike. A ROAD bike. It also has a men's frame, which I think is a ridiculous type of frame, because it forces you to kind of straddle the bike in a weird way when you want to get off, and I've had to buy bike shorts so that I don't flash my vadge every time I have to get off the bike. I named this bike Charley. Then I crashed this bike. It was a big, bad, nasty crash, and I whined about it a ton. I got reeeeally sick bruises and everyone at work was very concerned. I took Charley to get fixed (yes, this IS the bike equivalent of neutered), and I had the man give Charley a new seat, and that changed my life. Kind of utterly.

1. Radical Educators is a group that Hannah and Derrick started, and they probably wouldn't want me to blog about it because it has this kind of secretive air to it right now, but I am just so excited to be a part of it. We sit upstairs at the Fair Grinds on Sundays and discuss amazing new tactics to teaching, and support each other, and it sounds lame, but it's like THE BEST THING THAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME IN MY TEACHING CAREER, seriously.

So that's the top ten, folks. And I have been blogging for a hundred hours, and my alarm is about to tell me that it's time to read my book. And tomorrow it will be time to go back to work. And one day it will be time for me to buy a house. Inevitably I will someday get a dog. And a hug from a friend.

*** Blogspot would NOT upload this video in less than one hour. WTF. So you don't get to see the video. I'm sorry. It's only two minutes long, so I think that's pretty fucked up.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Complete with Photo Booth!

Moving is very difficult. It's physically difficult and emotionally difficult and difficult in every other way you can imagine. I think for me moving just strikes me in the middle of the forehead with how much FUCKING STUFF I have. Box. After box. After box. And I thought that once I left all my books in Portland and threw out half of it, and abandoned the furniture and MOST of the kitchen stuff, I would end up with just five neat boxes, a desk, a bed, and a piano. And a cat.

But noooo. BOXES. Check it out.

(In lieu of having both my digital cameras stuck in one of those boxes, I am resorting to visually impacting you with the high-resolution and top-notch quality of Photo Booth. Prepare yourself.)

As I get readier and readier to move out of the 1230 house, I... well... I get readier and readier. When the house was full of everything, it felt really FULL. A large part of me just wanted to stay so my heart could be in one place for the rest of time, and I could continue accumulating more shit, effectively pack-ratting myself into a nest of compliance. But now that I have spent a cumulative 24 hours cleaning, boxing, packing, throwing, tossing, wheeling, and otherwise dismissing the sticky total mess that has become the summative artifactual existence of the last twelve months, I feel deeply relieved. Like I'm ready to move forward; and there's no other real direction, after all.

I got on top of my shit this week. I finally got myself a personal care doctor in New Orleans. I made an appointment to get the recycling picked up. I DESTROYED my first cockroach nest (I know: They nest? But yes. They nest. And it is the grossest thing I have ever encountered in the whole of my little life). I got my bumper fixed. I called my landlord.

Like a grownup, I have committed myself to personal problem-solving. When my shoe broke irreparably on my 12-mile bike ride today, I sucked it up and biked home without shoes. And when my cat got fleas, I took him to the vet.

This was an extremely traumatic experience. It is possible Satchmo (who has been seriously freakishly nuzzly for the last two days [see photo at left], and chatty, and sometimes clutches my arm and looks me deep in the eyes as if to say, "Please, please never leave again." Often, this is all we long for in life, I suppose) has always had fleas. I may have just been too self-obsessed to really take notice. Fleas are QUICK! And when they have someone as warm and chompable as Satchmo to bite on, they don't necessarily make the transition to me, so it would make sense that I might not have noticed my cat's obvious discomfort. Satchmo was kind of a rockstar at the vet -- everyone was very impressed with his quirkiness and compliance, which did not surprise me. The nurse brought in all the other nurses to talk to him, because she was so impressed with him. He truly is superior.

But the flea treatment they gave him was very difficult for both of us. The vet warned me it would be, but I went forward with it anyway. This medicine she forced down his throat made all the fleas simultaneously have seizures and die twenty minutes after Satchmo took it, which made him GO CRAZY. He ran all around the house and flung dying fleas at everything still not in boxes. For most of the time he just sat next to me with pleading eyes and let me help him pick suicidal insects off his fur. Poor thing. Now he is napping in the shower. And my sheets, which presently contain approximately two thousand flea corpses, are in the laundry.

I've changed my hair in an effort to fully embrace the new school year and perhaps take on a brand new and more awesome persona. In the end, I don't like change, and I can tell because even when I am pretty happy and things in my life are unraveling marvellously (for example: now*), I still go out into the night and feel freaked out by the darkness when things are changing, and everything seems a lot more lonely than it really is. Last night I rode my bike for an hour deep into the park to listen to the sounds of summer night: cicadas and bullfrogs and something that I can only describe as "heat." James told me today that he had done the same thing last night in Crete. I guess summer nights are sort of the same everywhere; even if they are radically different. They sound good. They smell good. They have bugs in them.

Now I'm off to say goodbye to Kittee (Alex introduced me to her last year by way of a birthday present, and it was one of the best birthday presents I've ever received. She is a crazy, beautiful vegan who organizes the Totally Vegan Potlucks in New Orleans and is now moving, irony of ironies, to Portland). I have been writing these totally frivolous and self-involved entries lately in a desperate attempt to encapsulate this pretty momentous time into a nice little packet. Impossible. I am listening to Otis Redding! I feel pretty pumped up. Outside it is thunderstorms.

* Oh, by the way, did you know [and James told me this, in a very polite way] that you are not allowed to put "i.e." when you mean "in other words?" You are only allowed to put "i.e." when you mean "for an example." This is a mistake I make a lot. And so do other English majors. So I'm pointing it out now to save you all a lot of embarrassment)

Monday, July 20, 2009

88 percent fun!

Holla, PDX!

The Portland International Airport is simply more pleasant than any other airport. I have spent a lot of time at the Louis Armstrong Airport in the last year, and I used to say it was my favorite (1. It is named after Louis Armstrong. 2. It looks a lot like a post-apocalyptic wasteland and that is interesting to anyone who writes poetry in airports). But upon reevaluation, it's clear that Portland's airport is grandly superior in every possible way. I used to come here on the Red Line MAX train and sit in the little cushiony place where people wait to see the people they love come off planes. I stole this from Ferris Bueller's Day Off, it turns out, but at the time I didn't realize it and thought this was a very creative endeavor. In any case, I could spend entire afternoons here, creepily investigating hugs like a connoisseur. For that reason alone, PDX should be my favorite airport. And then it goes ahead and has a Powells right inside it, and that pushes Portland International over the edge.

Flying out of Portland today means that summer is officially over.

Although New Orleans will feel like summer for the next three or four months (with its humidity and swampy creatures taking over porches and backyard gardens). I start training for my new job on Thursday, and pretty soon kids in impossibly unhip school uniforms will overflow on streets and city buses. And so begins the year.

My last week in Portland can be marked by a series of re-discoveries.

Hannah and Leah (who both look good naked) and I went to the nude beach and looked (at least 2/3 of the way) good naked. We swam in the river, where the grimy sand has turned muddy and feels like wet felt on the ground (there's probably a grosser, more accurate way to describe that). Leah said, "Yep. This is what we are supposed to be doing."

We cooked vegetables, corn on the cob, raspberry cake and vegan mac and cheese, and had some pretty good-looking and interesting people over to eat food and discuss the merits and demerits of fungi in cooking.

This was really the launching point, and everything that followed either composed the largest group of mistakes I have ever made, or some of the best choices of my life. But let's be optimists here. After all, I was crushingly happy for four days. The only trouble was that then I had to leave, and I promised myself to never again get quite so attached to anything I had to leave.

But you know, non-attachment has never been in the cards for me. For the two weeks I spent lying in bed, reading books and sleeping for fourteen hours a day, I was categorically pretty depressed.

Honestly, I don't know why I am so addicted to commitment. I mean, I can love Portland and New Orleans equally if I want to, right? The way you're supposed to love children: exactly equal amounts of love for completely dissimilar qualities.

I kind of want to digress here and gossip about the people in my life. In my high school blogging days I would write mile-long LiveJournal entries about every single person I encountered in my life, as if every day was the Sophie Edition of Us Weekly (Vince Levy was wearing purple skinny jeans! Ian made an inappropriate joke over the phone! Trevor Hancy is scared of horror films!). But the truth is that relationships are beautiful as private quietnesses; and I have a paper diary, after all, to expound upon my thoughts on Ben Stevens' current wardrobe (hip). But, just in case you're out there wishing I would tell you about the fashionable and interesting people I surround myself with, I will write ONLY TEN WORDS on each of the ten people I have seen in the past week:

1. Jessica has grown up and fixes trails. She has dimples.
2. Ben Stevens is enjoying his life: Life's primary goal fulfilled.
3. Ben Malbin brings more people more joy than anyone. Underpants!
4. I wish I could sit inside Sam's mind for years.
5. Alexis is probably more mature than me. This is unacceptable.
6. My mom is still the best person to gossip with.
7. Leah makes me want to live my own life better.
8. Dad had lots of surgery and he still looks good.
9. It is impossible to be near Hannah and not smile.
10. Who knew Ethan was such a good farmer? Eugene did.

I'll mention here that I can't believe I got through this entire summer without getting my act together enough to see Andrew, or Nadim, or Ariana (who are all only four hours from me as I write). I think a pretty big part of me secretly can't quite go back to Whitman College yet. I need a little more distance before I can go back and not be a total nostalgia-obsessed basketcase. I know that basketcase is not a good look for me (trust me: I have experience in that department), so I stayed here. Maybe just for the vegan food.

For the coming year, I primarily want to learn how to build things. I went to Sam's house and I'm surprised that he was able to get me to leave (luckily, the Aldens have a forklift for exactly this purpose) because it was the best house I've seen in my whole entire life. The main reason for its perfection was all the cool stuff his mom built. I want to build cool stuff. I'm going to subscribe to construction magazines and hoard sun-bleached discarded wooden planks.

Also, I am going to fix my own bike.

I should warn you that I'm in the midst of consolidating all my blogs into one server, so someday you're going to have to change your RSS feeds in order to read all these fascinating and life-changing details about my existance in New Orleans. I am hoping that in the coming year I will suddenly be at 100% fun all the time, so I may have to start naming my blog entries after the names of songs just like they do on Degrassi: The Next Generation. Be warned. Change is on its way.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

80 percent fun!

Let's work backwards.

I am just getting home. The house is full. My sister, who has the world's brightest blue eyes and the kind of blonde hair that people kidnap babies over, has about 20 (drunk) people in the family room. They are all sitting in a circle and it smells like beer.

Before this: I was at Pilar's house (I just met her. I'm pretending that I know her well enough now to put us on a first-name basis, but I don't. I didn't even have an entire conversation with her, except about how my once-aunt was named Pilar [she's not my aunt anymore... her name is still Pilar], and how Pilar [my aunt, not this woman I just met] used to sing erotic children's songs about the zoo). I was there with Katie Presley (remember her? Beautiful, creative, with a lovable affinity for things like "Degrassi: The Next Generation" and all members of NSYNC [is that band all caps?]). This is where Leah is staying. Everyone was dressed up like a French supermodel from 1963. Try to imagine anything more intimidating than that.

Well, HERE is what is more intimidating than that: not only were all these people unbelievably beautiful, with whispery voices and Size 5 shoes and bottle-platinum-white hair that would stop deer, but they also all played beautiful instruments. Classical guitars, mandolins, an accordian. They all sat about and played nonchalantly and sang with their oh-so-charming voices in French. This could not possibly last. I knew I was going to be found out (revealed to be, SHOCKINGLY, Someone Not Cool Enough At All) within minutes. Which is why I am home now.

This morning I was lying in bed catching up on this and that. I had epic phone conversations today with at least three people (for those following vicariously through me, James is swimming in a salty Greek ocean every single day. This is like my life dream, realized. Resentment and jealousy is bound to set in soon, stay tuned). I wrote letters. I started playing my iTunes library all the way through. I think it's time to delete all those songs that I have Just In Case. You know. "Just In Case I meet someone who will be, for whatever reason, looking through my computer and will want only to listen to ACDC. Just In Case I ever throw a party with a Seattle-1992 theme, and I need every Nirvana album ever all of a sudden."

Before that it was yesterday, and I got to split the day between Leah, my sister, Jessica, and Sam. If these people were not people, but were instead NetFlix movie rentals, I would intentionally "lose" them and pay NetFlix the $20 for each one so I could play them on repeat for the rest of my life.

Sam and I went to Laurelhurst Park, to which I had never gone. It is breathtaking. I say "breathtaking" here because it physically took away my breath on several counts, and that was a little tough for my lungs. But when they recovered, and then breathed in really deep, they joined with my nose in deciding that this Portland air is, for sure, the best air in the whole of the universe. I couldn't believe how good it smelled, in the rain. Likewise, the rain SOUNDED good, pounding on the leaves and slapping against the dirt. And you know how ducks LOVE that shit. And you know how I love ducks. There were bookoo ducks in the rain yesterday. And bookoo love.

Powells in the rain is the best, warmest place, and it feels like Portland, and in one thousand and one ways that feel Right with a capital R.

Before that we were driving through forests and past junque shops and Tie-Dye stands to get to the incomparable Oregon Coast. Above all, this is fun because my dog loves the beach more than I have ever seen any living organism ever more vehemently love any one thing. That just brings me joy to witness. Then there's that song by Le Ann Womack (I think) that goes, "I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean." I do, Le Ann. Very small.

She should know, too, that even without any kind of music or prompting or partner, at the beach, and anywhere else I should find myself emphatic and alone, I ALWAYS dance. I never sit it out. I am quite obviously good at following the advice of country song lyrics.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

not very fun, but pretty relaxed.

Man. It is going to be preeetttty hard to pull myself out of this sleeping-all-day-reading-when-I-wake-up-falling-back-asleep-eating-unhealthy-food-exclusively rut I have fallen into. It's pretty comfortable, honestly. I could do this for a couple of weeks, at least. It's a pretty unattractive state to be in, I guess. I just lie here getting fat, finding out about the history of handwriting and getting lost in Haruki Murakami novels. It's the life.

Generally, I love the Fourth of July. Last year I was already knee-deep into Institute, getting absolutely no sleep and working my fucking ass off every single day. On the Fourth of July last year I went with Leah and Sean to Whole Foods and then we lay on a bit of grimy grass and watched so-so fireworks, but so enjoyed just being out of the penitentiary that was the ASU dormatory.

I like this stupid little shitty little country called America. It's full of my favorite people! (WARNING: PREACHY LIBERALIST ANGLE ALERT!!!!) But I do think that today is one of those days that we should take to remember that everything we love in this country was built on the backs of slaves, immigrants, and the oppressed. I hold that reality particularly heavy in my heart every July 4th. And then... celebrate how far we have come, and remember how much farther we have to go.

Today has been awesome, as far as Fourth of Julys go. I spent the morning reading in bed and letting the sky get nice and warm, listening to Dvorak (classy or elitist?). Then Alexis, Foofy, Mom and I went for a lazy long walk through the ravine by our house (Foofy wasn't lazy). My glasses are broken beyond repair, and watching the world pass by me as a blur has cast it in a new light. I can't see anything for sure, but I can imagine how things look, and sometimes -- often -- my imagination is way more interesting than reality. For example, I fashioned a mushroom growing on a log into a little naked pixie sprawled out in the sun. Awesome. Way more erotic.

Alexis and I turned on the sprinklers and ran through them. That used to be fun. I don't quite remember why. Then we ate popsicles and played Mario Kart for the Wii for like two hours. Then Quiddler in the sun and cut up a watermelon. Tonight: corn on the cob with butter and potato salad and an overpowering smell of meat. Every year my dad buys the world's most excessive box of boring-legal fireworks from Fred Meyers, and then he only lights like half of them, so we have this bordering-on-comically large bucket of fireworks just chilling out in our wine cellar dating back as far as I can remember. Generally, we all sit in the front yard and Dad sets off the little fireworks on a plank and shouts unnecessary warnings of "Stand Back! Danger!" And we all drink beer.

There's a threateningly sad air draping my family lately. I want to see my mom laugh that big chest laugh she has at least once tonight.

I just spent my last two weeks with James, maybe forever. In Portland this meant swimming in natural bodies of water, eating blueberries in Gabriel Park and playing frisbee (I know you thought you would never see the day when I would play frisbee, so just to return your mind's eye to normal, I concede that the me-plus-frisbee phase of my life lasted appoximately five minutes before I decided to sit it out), Mario Party, downtown Portland and every kitschy little hipster vegan brunch joint we could squeeze in, and a lot of time with the Johnson family. In Colorado it meant unbelievably beautiful mountain towns (see photo at right: there were about six people total who lived in this town, and it was comprised of a tiny, faded post office, a bakery that still left bread outside, a church built in the late 1800s, a babbling brook, and a cafe where the menu boasted ONLY quinoa burritos, butternut squash soup and cherry-rhubarb turnovers), vegan fried food that made me unbelievably happy and simultaneously sick as fuck, dinner parties, guitar on back patios with buzzing mosquitos, ice cream inside while watching the hot rain and spending the day at the Museum of Science and Nature in Denver. General summer activities. It was a very full two weeks, that's for sure.

About every two seconds I catch my breath and say (often enough out loud), "Jesus fucking Christ, what a year it has been." This is the first time anything has slowed down enough for me to reflect, and it's been almost too much to handle. Often I'll be lying in bed and I'll be struck in the middle of the forehead by the immensity of everything that has happened, and I'll suddenly find myself sobbing quietly, all by myself in my parent's old bedroom, like a little girl.

I keep clinging to this word, "Forward." Look forward, Sophie! But I guess for a week or so I can just be in this present, letting the past wash over my toes like the littlest waves at the beach. And I guess it's okay if it makes me cry sometimes, because no one has to know.

Unless I blog about it. Oops.

EDIT: Looking back at old entries about the Fourth of July, I must say that this year, the holiday truly did live up to my every expectation. Thanks, Dad.