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.