I took to my stoop

A Bug’s Life

We did things in secret a lot: a movie after running errands, a meal out when we could have eaten at home, a run by Wendy’s after she’d gotten her nails done. These were always “treats,” “flukes,” “secrets.” But it was ok, she assured us. “I’m just not ready to go home yet.”

This was before the divorce, of course.

“Meghan, I swear, if you don’t stop fighting with your sister we won’t go to The Olive Garden later. I MEAN IT.”

She yelled this over her shoulder, in the general direction of the back seat. She didn’t really know who was fighting with who, but I was an easy target. I would shut up immediately. I knew she didn’t mean it. She wanted to go to The Olive Garden as much as we did. The Olive Garden meant no dishes, less outright fighting, and maybe a semblance of family time.

Even so, it surprised me one night when she asked, after running errands all over the city, “Want to see a movie?”

I almost didn’t know how to respond. I was the only one with her, and the day had been a boring slew of banks and small shops and department stores. Seeing a movie was a dream. This never happened!

So I nodded, enthusiastically, and blubbered a half mute “Of course.”

I was confused by the act of compulsion, but I knew I was in for a rare treat too. Alone with my mother? Just the two of us? I couldn’t say no.

She smiled in the front seat, knowing she’d done something good.

We parked in front of the dollar theatre, in Sugarhouse Park. Before the movie started, we went to a Greek place where she got Souvlaki and I got french fries. She complained about the meat in the souvlaki, something about it being fatty and cooked the wrong way. I was vegetarian then, so I wasn’t even interested in tasting it, and therefore didn’t really care.

We finished our meals, packed our trash into a tight ball, and discarded it on the way out of the shop. She bought us tickets, to “A Bug’s Life,” which had been out for almost a year but we hadn’t seen it yet. We got soda and popcorn and milk duds, and then made our way into the theatre.

She never liked sitting too close to the screen, so we chose some seats halfway up the incline. They weren’t quite in the center (which was my preference), but our seats were close enough to the front of the theatre that I could still forget I wasn’t part of the movie.

It was perfect. She and I laughed together. We got teary-eyed at the right moments together. At the end I was tired, not used to being out past nine o’clock, and she put her arm around me to guide me back towards the car. I felt close to my mother while we put our seatbelts on, got onto the highway, and drove back up the canyon.

Then we got home. Dad asked, she yelled. All the wonder of the evening disappeared in the moment. Squished like a last thought into the fibers of our lives.

Flight

Yesterday I planned my escape. I considered provisions, distance, and how pissed Ben would be if I did something to his car. In the end, I realized the only truly important thing was that I end up alone somewhere.

I survived the drive through Bed-Stuy and Williamsburg, over the bridge, through Chinatown and up FDR. While I was making my way through the outskirts of the Bronx, I saw the promise of trees. I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed and relieved by the sight of something beyond the range of a subway entrance.

As I moved farther and farther North of the city, something about the roads change. Or something about the way I was driving on them. They felt free and exciting, delightfully treacherous. I was moving fast and enjoying it, and suddenly I found myself considering death. How devastatingly poetic it would be if I died in an accident, driving my boyfriends car while he was out of the country. I checked myself, realizing the thought was morbid. I tried to distract myself by focusing on the lyrics of Taylor Swift’s crappy new song.

I passed White Plains, Pleasantville, and Peakskill. All the while, the landscape morphed: residential developments, then open space, and finally dense packs of trees. At certain points, the Hudson river peaked between branches, and I started noticing mountains climbing around me.

When I reached Cold Spring, I’d almost made it. I decided to park and walk around for a bit, not realizing I’d been driving for close to two hours.

I got lunch at a bar and grill that was empty with the exception of myself, a pair of middle aged women at the window, and an old guy snoozing over his pint glass at the bar. My waitress, Aberdeen, was in her 50s or 60s, wore all black, and had a cheeky grin. She  set me up with a menu and water and left me alone for a good 60 seconds before asking, “Alright doll, what’ll it be today?” She said “today” like I was a regular of the place. I appreciated that.

I ordered a beer and a sandwich, and for the first time in memory didn’t ask for salad instead of french fries. Licking ketchup and salt from my fingertips, I questioned my avoidance of fries for the last five years.

When I finished, Aberdeen packed the remnant sandwich bits in a box, and I headed back towards the car. I drove farther North for a few miles, saw the parking lot off to the left, and settled into one of the spots.

Without even taking off my sweatshirt, I grabbed my backpack and ploughed towards the trailhead. After about a mile, without time for breaks up the steady incline, I make it to my destination: the ruins of the Cornish Estate Mansion.

Among the toppled rubble, and the rustle of leaves and birdsong, I finally found what I’d been looking for: the blissful calm that comes with being alone.

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Some technical difficulties…

The bad news: my computer decided it was time to go last night.

The good news: I have a couple of fun posts planned for you guys once I’m back up and running, so stay tuned!

The Chickin Lickin

June, 2013 – a memory

At exit 17 on Interstate 95 North, I discover there are only two options if you need to eat. Two shops, facing one another, flanked by highway and open field.

The first is a roadside fireworks shop, doubling as a gas station and convenience store. Inside there are rows of unpacked firecrackers, sparklers, and Roman candle boxes. Candy bars and the occasional year-old case of soda are placed intermittently between the rows.

Across the way, beyond refueling trucks and some pudgy kids stretching their legs, is the second option. The clear winner, too. Gleaming red and yellow in the sunshine, it bellows “the South.”

Proudly it advertises “ World famous Chickin Lickin.”

Chickin Lickin front

Market Girl

For everyone out there who’s done the customer service schlep.

“Hm, so what do we have here,” asks the fourteenth person today.

She saunters up to the table, tray of chicken bones in hand, hips forward, sauce still dribbling down her chin. I resist the urge to politely respond “just look at the fucking sign.” I also resist pointing out the mess on her face.

“Well,” I say, making sure my saleslady smile is in place before taking a deep breath.

“Today our pie is blueberry apricot. The crust is made with butter and a bit of vegetable shortening, and we have ice cream if you’d like it a la mode.”

Next.

“Right here is our pecan bar. It’s kind of like pecan pie, but we make it with a little bit of fresh ginger, candied ginger, and bourbon.”

Breath.

“These are our s’mores bars; it’s pretty much like a s’mores you’d make camping, but ours are a layer of graham cracker, chocolate, and home-made marshmallow that we torch like crème brûlée.”

BREATH.

“And this is our maple bacon cupcake: it’s-a-maple-cinnamon-base-with-buttercream-frsoting-a-little-sea-salt-and-a-piece-of-bacon-on-top.”

She makes a face at this last one.

“If you’ve never tried a dessert with bacon on it, I promise it’s worth the hype!” My voice is dry from my monologue. The word “hype” comes out squeaky.

She squints her eyes at me, gesturing towards a smile, but not quite committing. She ignores my attempt at eye contact, pointing at the display of desserts instead.

“Are any of these gluten-free?”

“Unfortunately not today. Sometimes the pecan bar is, but I think they have a little flour in them today.”

She touches her fingers to her lips, just now noticing the sauce. She tries to lick at it, missing.

“Hm, maybe later,” she says, eyes already drifting to the next stand . She grabs one of my napkins on her way into the crowd, dabbing at her dribbles.

I take a chug from my Nalgene as another guy makes eye contact, bellying up to the table.

“So!” he says cheerily, wiping crumbs from his mouth directly into my desserts. “Tell me what I’m looking at!”

cupcake

Kid – Summer 2010

I wake up before Amanda does, when the sun starts warming the room through the thick plaster walls and the dogs start barking in the field behind our rented room. I don’t want to wake her, but the wooden table we’re using as a bed creaks as I try reaching for my journal. I roll quickly out of the mosquito netting, settling on the floor, away from the walls, just in case any spiders are still lurking in the shadows from nighttime.

My journal has become my friend these last couple months. The first week in the country was a whirlwind spent travelling from Delhi, to Gwalior, to Shivpuri. After that we went through so many small towns I couldn’t keep track. I wrote silly things in that first week, about how excited I was, about how new and “interesting” everything was. Mostly Amanda and I were just overwhelmed.

Even now, just a eight weeks later, I can feel the security growing in my own writing. I hold the book in my lap for a moment before opening it, appreciating the way the leather has worn, and that the tie keeping the thing together is filthy with dirt and sweat from my constant nervous twisting and untwisting of it. These are the pages that hold my summer. My confusions and angers and joys. Imperfect as it is, this book holds a new version of me that I still need to work on getting to know.

The first line of a poem was what woke me up, a poem I have to write before I’ll be able to go back to sleep. I open the journal to a page already cramped with writing, and flip to the next. I’ve been trying to conserve space as much as I can, knowing I’m bound to run out of pages before the end of the summer. Out comes a poem that’s been writing itself inside of me since I got here, swelling and heavy and insistent.

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Kids, afternoon, away from school

The truth

I return home after the seventh “test run” for employment. The seventh unpaid afternoon spent chopping brussels sprouts and tearing kale, washing dishes and making potato salad. It’s the seventh afternoon I’ve wasted doing all sorts of silly, menial tasks in an industry I have no intention of pursuing a future in. I’m sweaty, and tired, and still unemployed because I’ve already decided I can’t bring myself to take this job even if it’s offered to me. It would feel like giving up on myself. I’d be ignoring the six years of education I’d worked hard for, for what? Eight bucks an hour plus tips, one day a week? I just can’t. I hate myself for knowing my own inability to settle.

I make the hike out of the subway station, into the damp heat. The streets in my neighborhood are putridly familiar: welcoming in the sense that they lack overwhelming movement, hostile in their distinctive rotten, garbage-y, piss smell. No one rushes as I make my way down the few blocks towards home.

I pass a few groups of stoop sitters, and even a couple guys barbecuing sausages and hamburgers on a grill set up on the sidewalk. I attempt a smile, but I can tell they see the frustrated sadness in my eyes. One guy holds his hand to his chest, calling after me in a Caribbean accent, “What have you down guhl? Don’t no one have da right to put dat look in dem eyes.” I smile feebly, shrug, and keep walking, but it makes me feel better to know that I live in a New York neighborhood where there’s still a little humanity left.

Once I get to my building, and climb up to the fourth floor, and make sure no one else is home in the apartment, I take off my sticky shoes and pants and socks and bra, and without really thinking about it, I settle in the middle of the living room in my underwear. Despite my nakedness, I’m still sweating, and the moisture settles in slick pockets between my breasts and the ripples of my stomach. I don’t stare at anything in particular, but I notice a fat fly buzzing near the basil plant in the window. “How long has that thing been alive?” I wonder. I glance at my bookcase, at the couches, at one of my photographs of Utah hung on the wall. I try to remember if I have any tomatoes or avocadoes left in my drawer in the fridge.

I can’t help but recognize how ridiculous it is that I’m stuck in this meditative frustration. It’s hard not to feel disappointed in the path I chose that led me to this moment.

It’s painful, realizing you’re just like everyone else.

In Crown Heights, near home

The first few times he called out to me, it caught me off guard.

“Hey neighbor,” would come the sound of a man’s voice from my left. He’d be sitting on his stoop, loosely surrounded by a few other men. They’d cock their hips and lean against the stair railing, one of them picking at something on his shirt. All of them would look in my direction, but not at me.

The man who said hello would look me in the eyes directly though, with a warm stare, a permanently grin-creased jaw, and irises deep brown-blue.

The first few times a half sputtered “hi” would escape my lips as I walked by. I’d look up from the sidewalk or my phone at the last minute, not really knowing what else to say in response.

He caught me off guard at first, maybe because when I first moved to the neighborhood I’d try to greet passersby too, but most people never really even made eye contact. I wonder for a moment if maybe I’d allowed the perceived rejection to get in the way of my friendliness.

He holds up his hand. I smile before continuing on my way.

“Bye neighbor.”

How cultures around the world think about parenting

Meghan:

“Craziness? Culture.”

The most succinct tagline I’ve read for an article related to anthropology in a long time. This is a great piece on how sharing differing styles of parenting around the globe could be beneficial to moms and dads everywhere… that is, as long as the sharing doesn’t involve exporting American-style anxiety about how to find the one “right” way to be a “good” parent.

Originally posted on ideas.ted.com:

What can American parents learn from how other cultures look at parenting? A look at child-rearing ideas in Japan, Norway, Spain — and beyond.

The crisis of American parenting, as anyone who has looked at the parenting section of a bookstore can attest, is that nobody knows what the hell they’re doing. Yet despite this lack of confidence and apparent absence of knowledge, many American parents zealously believe that their choices carve out their children’s futures. Indeed, they seek the advice of expert after expert in the field in order to succeed at one goal: to raise the happiest, the most successful, and the most well-adjusted leaders of the future.

But what dangers lay in thinking that there is one “right” way to parent? How much of how we parent is actually dictated by our culture? How do the ways we parent express the essentialness of who we are, as a…

View original 1,247 more words

Polo

When Maro leaves, I hold onto Polo until the Range Rover is out of site. He and I sit in the dirt, me holding his collar, petting the dust and straw out of his coat. He sits patiently next to me, enduring the petting, panting as he watches the car move slowly down the road, up over the ridge, disappearing at the crest of the hill. We stay where we are for a few minutes. He leans into my leg when the car is finally gone, resting in the shade of the fig trees. The sound of the buzzards swells around us again. In the moment, a nap feels appropriate.

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One of the stray cats wanders out of the shade, and Polo lunges. I watch them chase one another through the trees, Polo eventually getting the cat between his teeth to playfully chew on her ears and tail. I can’t move yet, feeling suspended in the moment of strange bliss in this place. No suburban noise or buzz. No electric hum. No people. For the first time in a long time, I love the feeling that I am alone.

My legs start to itch from sitting in the straw, and I lift myself from the ground, dusting what straw and dirt I can from my backside. Polo releases his grip on the cat’s neck, letting her wander back into the shade with the other cats. He licks his chops, shaking his head in an effort to get that last bits of cat hair from his tongue, and then bounds in my direction.

We make our way back up the driveway, to the side entrance of the house.

I pull the curtain onto its peg by the doorway. With a hefty nudge the kitchen door swings open, and I prop a stone against the bottom to let a breeze into the house for a while. Polo plops himself at the doorframe, head resting on his front paw, staring disinterestedly into the house. I am still amazed that, in his 8 months of puppyhood, he has never walked into the house. That he instinctively knows it’s off limits.

I put a kettle on for tea, pull a chair close to the table, settling myself for an afternoon with a book from the Norman’s library: Run, by Ann Patchett. It feels right to be reading this book. It’s set back in Boston. Back where I feel like my own life is on pause. Separate but still existing. Back where things are important? It feels right that I found it nestled among the thousands of other books. Like it found me.

- July 2013

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Photo Walk: storm from the rooftop


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The New York I’d almost forgotten

Back in the city, on the subway, letting the train rattle my body.

Across from me a young woman and a sleeping toddler are folded into each other. He rests in her lap, one leg reaching to the floor to keep him steady, the other on the bench. His thumb rests in his mouth, his eyes glued shut.

I glance up, expecting the woman to be staring stoically into the empty space in front of her, like so many other mothers and sisters and caretakers I’ve seen on the train.

Instead her head bobbles back and forth, the movement of the train bouncing her first forward, then backward.  Right then left. Each time, she catches herself just before hitting the seat bar to her right, or the man to her left. Her eyes flutter in these moments, fighting to open, to stay aware of her surroundings. For a few seconds she intentionally bounces her right leg, her young face grimacing, willing her body to stay awake even if her brain cannot. But again she dips out of consciousness, slips into the comfort of sleep, slumps momentarily to her left.

Her arms hold the young boy without difficulty though, her grasp around him firm.

Ritual

As Father’s Day approaches, this one goes out to my Dad.

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Dad was the one who made dinner. He would get home around six, wash his hands of electrical dust, and get to work on the chicken. Sometimes it was steak. The only time Mom cooked dinner was when she invited people over, and she would make something like fish, or shrimp, or elaborate basil-walnut-chicken pasta dishes. By default, when Dad cooked, everything was marinated in A1 sauce.

The four of us girls helped make salad, or mashed potatoes from a box, sometimes canned green beans, and while the chicken was cooking, we would set the counter with five plates: four plates on one side, one plate opposite. We used paper towels as napkins, and each of us would get a brightly colored kids cup to the upper right of our plate.

Usually Dad cut everything into small pieces before serving it. He’d hunch over the cutting board, spearing the meat with a fork. The chicken and steak were always charred from the grill, but he’d cut it into small enough slivers that we could dip it healthfully in A1 sauce and Ranch dressing to mask the burnt flavor.

While we ate, Dad stood across from us, making sure none of us pushed another off the bar stools, telling us funny stories about people at work.

“Fireball Dave got electrocuted today,” he’d say, chuckling as he re-enacted what it had looked like.

Back then, his belly didn’t jiggle when he laughed. His whole body would bounce happily, and his face would crinkle in a familiar pattern of silly amusement.

He kept a blonde mustache and a beard then. I always thought he looked like Robin Williams.

In April, the trees peel

Around eight, the streets are still mostly empty.

In recent weeks, there has been more light in the mornings. But today, for whatever reason, it is especially brilliant. There’s a bizarre serenity to the lack of movement in the driveways, on the sidewalks, around the backs of houses. There’s something spiritual about the emptiness.

I take my time, walking for the sake of walking. Studying the cracks in the road. Stopping to pick something out from a box of books on the curb. “Open Society,” by George Soros. Even as I tuck it under my arm, I get the sense that I probably won’t open it anytime soon. It’s just that that was the only title I recognized in the box. Other than “Old Yeller,” that is.

Farther up the street, I pause in front of a house. It’s tall, close to the sidewalk, and it leans over me as I stand, confronting it. I get the feeling that it’s been forgotten. Not abandoned, but not remembered either. The trees next to the house peel in sympathy. In thick, pink, papery sheets.

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Photo walk(sit): the front porch

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For the first time since fall, I sat on my stoop today. I people watched. I read a magazine. I ate mango out of a pretty blue bowl. I stifled a giggle when a man passed by on a bicycle, cigar in hand.  I closed my eyes and sat in appreciation of the sun.

Spring, welcome to Boston. Finally.

10 Tips for Surviving Anthropological Fieldwork

Meghan:

A great piece for all you anthro folks out there!

Originally posted on Netnographic Encounters:

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Borobudur Buddhist temple near Yogyakarta, Indonesia. A picturesque respite from the hard work of ethnography.

In two weeks I will have been in Java, Indonesia, for a full year conducting ethnographic fieldwork for my PhD. I’m pretty certain most students who have completed this anthropological rite of passage (yeah I went there) will agree that the theory and methods courses we undertake for close to a decade before entering the field do little to prepare us for it.

I’d say I’ve been pretty lucky so far in terms of my experiences, having chosen a wonderful field-site without any (knock-on-wood) massive obstacles. The people who have taken me into their home and their community have been warm and willing to aid me in my academic endeavors. Yet despite all of their support, every budding anthropologist will encounter difficulties that may hinder their progress.

Below are some tips that might help the…

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[in Just-]

This post doesn’t have much to do with stoops or anthropology, but this poem has always been one of my absolute favorites. It seems appropriate this time of year, so why not bring a little “puddle-wonderful” into our lives, eh?

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[in Just-]
BY E. E. CUMMINGS

in Just-
spring         when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles         far        and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far             and             wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and

it’s
spring
and

the

goat-footed

balloonMan            whistles
far
and
wee

Photo Walk: Utah

Circa December, 2010.

 

Bird Man

Up in the air the seed flew
“Here guys!” He said

And gathering
around the generous bits on the ground, among pebbles
Were the birds
swooping and scratching

The thrower giddy, the birds picking at his palms
gruffly he lisped
“Hope you guys like birds!”

To me
Perched on the bench

-March, 2012
New York City
Neighborhood walk

The fig tree

Behind the house, and the roundhouse, down the slope of a small hill, with a path running through the bamboo, is the first fig tree. It sits in a clearing, the ground around it littered with twigs and grass shoots. A ladder leans against the painted, white trunk (to protect the tree from ants), and a pile of large stumps are stacked in the distance. Beyond the first tree, to the West, is a steep, grassy drop off. Down the hill are the other fig trees, and the olives, and beyond that the pomegranates, and then the sea.

Maro leads the way down the path, her long, patterned skirt swaying as she walks. I notice, walking behind her now, that her shoulders are curved, and that her head bows gracefully towards the earth. Her red hair is piled on her head, and her arms extend slightly to either side. She makes her way slowly through the thick of twigs and tall grass, until we stand before the first tree.

Maro instructs me to look up.

“See my dear, they are the fat purple fruit,” she says, pointing and walking in the direction of her finger. Though she has perfect English, I can’t help but note when her accent bleeds with hints of Greek. I love the way she says “fat,” as if the word is really a drawled out “fehht.”

She stands below the fruit now, stretching her body from its curved shape, reaching as far as she can above her head. I see the heavy fruit she is aiming to pick, and walk towards her, ready to step in. I am sure she will tip over when suddenly she reaches a bit further and plucks the fig. She folds back to her normal height, her breath noticeably quickened.

“Alright darling, now it will be your turn. Do you see any more now?” She huffs for a moment, walking to distract the air from the noise of her breath. We turn our heads back, searching the branches for more fruit. I see one to my right.

“Is that one, over there?” I ask, pointing.

 “Ah, yes,” she says, inching towards the spot. “Grab the ladder darling, I don’t think you can reach that one without.”

I move the ladder from the trunk, towards the spot below the fruit. After fumbling to balance it in the correct direction on the slope, I begin to climb. Maro stabilizes the ladder from the bottom. “Now careful darling, if you can’t reach it, I will,” she says. I turn my body from her, so that she can’t see the mix of amusement and concern on my face in response to her comment.

I settle myself at the highest step of the ladder, leaning slightly into the top bar. I reach through the branches, grasping the muted purple fruit gently in my hand. I can’t ignore its weight, its perfect smoothness.  I begin twisting to the left, letting the top of the fig fold into itself.

After a few turns, it comes off the branch into my hand, and I almost drop it in surprise. I find myself thinking this must be what it would feel like to hold an oversized tear drop. It is perfect, soft. It makes me irrationally happy.

I turn to Maro grinning. “Lovely, darling,” she says, giving me a “hm” of approval.

“Now over there my dear.” Maro points me to another fig, and we adjust the ladder beneath it.

We continue like this as the sun moves deeper and deeper behind the trees, dusk enveloping us, the figs, and the bamboo forest. Maro points, I pick. My first day on the farm ends in the twilight hours.

Dial Up

Spotted on the T.

Dial up on the train

Sound Walk: Oreoi, Greece

Please listen with headphones for optimal experience.

Photo walk: Franconia, New Hampshire

Re: Shelter

http://www.frameworkradio.net/2014/01/450-2014-01-19/

Shelter window

My piece, “Shelter”, recently included in the first of a three part series called framework:afield.

Check out the related sound website: shelterwalk.wordpress.com

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