Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sarah and Men: A Story in Two Parts (with Glossary)

Part I.

At one point last year, Reija turned to me and said, "Sarah, I've been trying to picture all of the men that I know you think are attractive to see if I can find what they have in common."

"Oh?" I said.

"Yes," she said. "And the only thing I've come up with is that none of them have great hair."

Note: My apologies to those of you male readers who might think I find you attractive.

Part II.

This last Sunday was my second Sunday in my new ward. Because I've been busy with my move-in-to-do list--namely, painting my room and setting up my bed so I can stop croaching on Jeanette and Erika and the couch, and sleep in my own bed, which I finally did last night (wahoo!)--I haven't been thinking much about the fact that a new city will also mean new boys to meet. And date. If all goes well. But the thought started coming to me this Sunday as we were walking into church, so as the services started, I looked around to check out the situation. A quick survey of the men in my ward and the thought, These boys look nice, but there aren't any yet that I feel like really could be, you know, for me. At first look. I figured I'd have to wait to get to know people or know more people or let life unfold or whatever, but that's what I was thinking. Until the second speaker.

He stood up. He started telling his leaving-Provo-and-coming-to-DC story in this way that was funny and charming and tender. He spoke heartfully of his testimony of repentance and of the Savior. He was bald. And I thought, "Oh good, there's at least one guy in this ward who looks like he could be my style."

He was the high council speaker.

The end.

Note: To my credit, he was youngish (in his early thirties? nothing the Stanford Second Ward hasn't seen), and he isn't married. He wasn't wearing a ring, he didn't mention a spouse or children, and then we checked him out on the stake website afterwards. No woman with the same last name at his address. In fact, he lives near me in a townhouse with some single guys. But still. STILL. Still.

But who's surprised?

A Glossary for the Mormoncentric Terms Used Above:

  • Ward: An LDS church congregation.
  • Stanford Second Ward: One congregation of young single adults between the ages of 26 and (heh hem) 35 (or older) in northern California. I was a member of this ward for about a year and a half.
  • High Council: A group of men selected from a number of wards in a given geographic area (we call it a "stake"), who are chosen for their spiritual maturity (ish). They are typically middle-aged or older. And are almost always married; though, it turns out, they don't have to be.
  • High Council Speaker: One Sunday a month, each ward in a stake is visited by a high councilman from (often one from another ward in that same stake) who gives one of the talks during services. High councilmen, being middle-aged or older, are known for being long-winded and dry. Not the kind of speakers that usually prompt crushes by girls in the visited congregations.
  • Reija: Pronounced RAY-uh. A newly former roommate of mine, with whom I lived for two years at Melville, an Edenic sort of mansion-cottage in the un-self-sustainably affluent and idyllic town of Palo Alto. She is seerlike and observant. Like an eagle prophet.

I just saw Charlotte Gray with Billy Crudup and thought he was ridiculously good-looking. And he has great hair. Ish. Right?
(He's the one on the right. The one who doesn't look like a high councilman.)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

We do!

I attended a wedding in Pennsylvania on Saturday afternoon. That's one of the glories of the East coast. State-trotting is like hop-skotch. It's child's play.

It was the wedding for a friend from law school, who was one of our most discontented law students during our first year. And maybe all the way through. But she ended up marrying the law association president, who was essentially the posterboy for law school and the law school life. As Karren would say, life unfolds.

But they were a beautiful couple--beautiful--and they were married on the front steps of her family's home. They had a Quaker ceremony, which meant that there was no officiator, just my friend's grandma reading them questions and waiting for them to reply, simultaneously, "We do." I don't remember the questions, exactly, but they were wedding-like and lovely.
Do you promise to love each other, cherish each other, value each other's independence and spirit, while working still to become one and one family?

We do.

Do you promise to be rich and poor and still in love?

We do.

Do you?

We do.
And then, at one point, the grandma asked us, the audience, a question:
Do you, friends and family, promise to welcome this new couple into your lives, to support them in their marriage and help them to become parts of your communities and become the strong and loving family that they desire to be?
And, from our white folding chairs under a large white lawn tent, the eighty of us had to/got to answer:
We do!
We do. Which of course made me wonder--do we? Will we? Do I? Can I? Will I? How?

I'm still thinking that through. But it was lovely. And it was followed (in an even larger white lawn tent) by barbecue chicken and pasta salad and cupcakes and the best veggie burgers I've ever had and drinking (but not for me), and I was back in Virginia before midnight.

Welcome to the East coast. We love marriage here. We do.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

When the L Burns Out, Whose Gym Is It Then?

At one point in college I thought I was earning $7.00/hour because I had been earning $6.50, and they gave me a ten-cent raise.

I was 19 years old.

It took me a few weeks to figure it out.

Tonight, I joined the Gold's Gym near our house. I went in, bought a yearly contract from a woman named Victoria Valeur (rad, RAD name) (but no, she was not wearing a velour suit), worked out, and walked home, all between 8 and 9 pm. As I told V.V., I needed to get home in time for the season premiere of The Office. She was sympathetic. And sufficiently speedy.

My point is this: As I was running at minute 19:30, I thought, "You have thirty seconds left until you can change the speed," and then I thought, "No! Don't get caught in that trap! You really have seventy!" And then I remembered college.

Oh, time. How it teases.

(I actually saw a Gold's Gym in Austin with the L burned out. It was glowing there in the dark, a floating, illuminating reminder that heaven cares about our corporeal existence. And wants us to take action.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Coffee Cake So Immense

I saw a coffee cake today that was so big that it made me think of a poem KT recently posted on her blog. It is a poem about autumn. It begins with this line: "Lord: it is time. The summer was immense."

I quoted it to one of my co-workers, another new associate with whom I was going to lunch. She and three others and I found ourselves unusually without scheduled lunches (it's typical for new attorneys at my firm to lunch with more senior attorneys for most of the days during the first few weeks of work), so we headed to the Corner Bakery. We paid for ourselves. I'm not sure what she thought of my comparing summer to a coffee cake or quoting Rainer Maria Rilke at a casual Tuesday lunch, but it was a nice moment. A nice moment of collegiality and humanness and food we were buying ourselves (like real working adults) in the midst of two days of sitting, drinking free herbal tea, eating free fruit, and listening to people say, over and over again, in many and different ways, "Welcome to firm life." For example: "Here's a gift umbrella."

Tomorrow I start actually working with my assigned practice group, which works solely on pro bono cases (meaning, cases we do for free, for the good of thing). I'll spend three or four months with them, until I rotate into another group, another practice area, another kind of law with other co-workers. Maybe by then the mean blisters I got yesterday will have healed.

But my shoes. They were oh-so-pretty. Once the blisters die down, I do plan on wearing them again. Half-size too small and all. Patent leather stretches, yeah?

My next goal is to have a job where I don't spend the second day of work thinking mostly about my feet and whether or not anyone would notice if, underneath my computer-training console, I wore the flip-flops I'd smuggled in my bag.

Autumn Day by Rainer Maria Rilke

Lord: it is time. The summer was immense.
Lay your shadow on the sundials
and let loose the wind in the fields.

Bid the last fruits to be full;
give them another two more southerly days,
press them to ripeness, and chase
the last sweetness into the heavy wine.

Whoever has no house now will not build one anymore.
Whoever is alone now will remain so for a long time,
will stay up, read, write long letters,
and wander the avenues, up and down,
restlessly, while the leaves are blowing.

(Translated by Galway Kinnell and Hannah Liebmann, “The Essential Rilke” (Ecco))

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Mary Tyler Moore

I've started watching the Mary Tyler Moore Show on hulu.com. I'm about eight episodes in to season one, and already I'm charmed. Wikipedia calls it one of the best sitcoms of all time. I can see that. It's about Mary Richards, a girl who'd been putting her boyfriend through medical school, until she realized he was graduating but still wasn't going to marry her. So she took off for a new life--and got a new job as, she was boggled, an associate producer of a news show--in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her new day had dawned.

The opening credits are this lovely montage. Pictures of Mary Richards/Tyler Moore driving off in her car, alone, overlaid by images of her last days at work, the party that bid her goodbye, packing her things up. And she gets to Minneapolis and she wanders the streets in her fur-lined hooded overcoat and in the end, she's surrounded by the people of her new city, who walk by busily, and she revels in it all and throws her mod beret triumphantly into the sky. Mary Tyler Moore. You're going to make it after all.

I start work tomorrow. I'm a new girl in a new city, with a job title that sounds incomprehensibly adult to me. I'll go to work tomorrow, put on my new clothes (no beret), and hope that when I'm pushed on the metro and passed by others busily walking by I'll feel triumphant and not just infinitesmally alone.

Resolution #1: Be like Mary Tyler Moore. Make it after all.

How will you make it on your own?
Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem
Well it’s you girl, and you should know it
With each glance and every little movement you show it
Love is all around, no need to waste it
You can have a town, why don’t you take it
You’re gonna make it after all
How will you make it on your own?
This world is awfully big, girl this time you’re all alone
But it’s time you started living
It’s time you let someone else do some giving
Love is all around, no need to waste it
You can have a town, why don’t you take it
You might just make it after all.

Friday, September 19, 2008

For the Halibut

If I were to say that I had just come back from Alaska, you might ask something well-meaning like this: What was your favorite part? (As did both my parents and possibly one or more of my younger siblings.)

Alas, it's a question that stumps me. But I'm trying not to run from challenge, so, as a stop-gap measure, I will nominate three.

Three Possible Favorite Parts of My Trip to Alaska
  • the (almost) sheer beauty of the place
  • Whittier, AK
  • Christy Y., a long-lost friend I met up with, who was spending her summer driving tour buses around Alaska.
The Beauty
It was rainy and gray about half the time I was in Alaska. The clouds were serious, sometimes masking entire mountain ranges (if I had a dollar for every time someone said, "If the clouds weren't out, right there would be Mt. McKinley!", I'd be well on my way to being able to afford some Sarah Palin glasses), but still, still--the hills were green and the rivers were white and I saw the northern lights. Just one night, in Fairbanks. We had to walk out of the light of our hotel parking lot and stand in the shadows of behind a hulking building. But there they were in the sky. A faint green swath through the low sky, undulating on the south end like a slow, frayed ribbon. And the sun came out for my final few days there. Half the trees were yellow, and valleys opened up on both sides of us as we deadheaded (drove) the coach bus home from Fairbanks. I wanted to build a house on the side of the highway and never never leave.

If I half-closed my eyes and ignored the industrial lots, the functional and unpretty buildings, and all the machinery, it was a seriously beautiful place.

Alaska's state motto is "North to the Future."

During the forties, the Japanese claimed two small islands off the coast of Alaska, and, according to my reliable tour bus driver friend Christy, the American government freaked out. From Alaska, Seattle is only a hop away. (It is three hours from Seattle to Anchorage on a commercial plane today.) So the U.S. government looked to strengthen their Alaskan presence. One place they chose was Whittier because, apparently, Whittier is almost always covered by clouds, making it virtually impossible to see by air. The only way into Whittier (besides navigating through the waterways) was by railroad, twelve miles through a mountain. In Whittier, the government built one giant building, in which everyone did everything. This one building housed all the housing, the doctor's, the grocery store, a church, a movie theatre, everything, apparently. Everyone spent almost every day inside of it, because, it being Alaska, the weather was usually bad.

Today, the one main building still stands, but it is hollowed out, moldy, defunct, and vandalized. Now people live in two buildings: a row of apartments one street away from the water and one high-rise backed up against the base of a mountain. Cars can drive through the railroad tunnel into Whittier, but the tunnel's only wide enough for one car at a time. So the tunnel alternates. In to Whittier, from 4:30 pm to 4:45 pm. Out from Whittier, from 5:00 pm to 5:15 pm. In to Whittier, from 5:30 to 5:45. You see.

Christy and I decided to drive to Whittier on our last day. We hung out at a glacier visitors center until it was 4:22, then we drove to the tunnel. We paid our $12, waited for the green light, and in to Whittier we went. 25 mph, 12 miles, through a small, dark tunnel. And when we emerged, we were in Whittier, which, no one told us, was absolutely beautiful. The small town of Whittier is ringed by high green mountains, with waterfall cascades and blue and brown glaciers. It was covered by clouds today (as usual), but with no rain. A white cap of clouds, a blue water inlet, and a ring of green mountains and glaciers and waterfalls. We got lost trying to get to the old and the new main buildings (who knew there would/could be a dead end in Whittier?), but saw the whole thing (including the excessively creepy old building) in time to make it out during the next out-from-Whittier tunnel window.

(I didn't take this picture of Whittier. Like most publicly available pictures of Alaska, this one is unrepresentatively sunny. But you can see the beauty of it--and the buildings. The old creepy moldy one is the big white one on the left. The new apartment/multipurpose building is the high-rise on the right. Yes, it does have a waterfall right behind it. So awesome.)

If anyone had spent any money making the buildings in Whittier be charming and not just present, it would be a hideaway destination of our dreams. Oh, the forties. If only they hadn't been distracted by fighting that war.

Christy Lu
I met Christy in the year 2000, during my first (and only) summer home from college. She had been roommates with two of my first-cousins in Cedar City during 1999-2000. When a neighbor in New York wanted a summer nanny, we thought of my cousin Becky, who didn't want the job. But she thought of her roommate Christy, who did want the job. So Christy came to Long Island and nannied, and I came home to Long Island and worked as the drivers' ed department secretary, and when we both weren't at work, we were together. It was a great summer. But we lost touch after one or two post-summer emails, until August, when I emailed her and asked her if I could come stay with her for a week in Alaska. You know how I am.

I found Christy again because I'd run into my cousin at a family reunion. I told her how I was thinking about Alaska (state #46!), and she told me how she'd just seen Christy and how Christy was in Alaska this summer, driving a bus. I was on that bandwagon fast.

So Christy's company let me come along with her for her final tour of the year. I got to watch her charm her passengers, joke with them, delight them. "You had the halibut?" she asked one passenger, after we'd had dinner on a train. "Oh, yes," said the middle-aged, white female passenger. Christy smiled, all dimples and cheeks and little white teeth. "Now you can say you came to Alaska for the halibut."

I got to watch her maneuver the 45-foot coach, checking her mirrors, turning the steering wheel slowly, backing up straight into a 10-foot wide space with her eight-foot wide bus.

And I got to hear her thoughts, watch her movies, share her food, and remember how good it is to be with good women, who are confident in God and positive about life and willing to watch four hours of Jane Eyre before bedtime. What a good time. What a blessing. What a mercy.

Now, South to the Future

Christy is trying to decide what next to do with her life and with her talents and schooling. She knows she will tour Europe this fall and then visit many of her nine siblings. She might even come and stay with me for a month or so. But what then? She's not sure. Talking with her about what is next for her made me think about what is next for me. I'm done with college. I'm done with grad school, with law school, and with any sort of student living, probably. I'm done for now, for the time being, with California. And though my heart remains loyal, I've already moved out of Melville. I am, as I write, on a coach bus to DC, where a key waits for me under a flower pot, where my car waits for me in a driveway, and where I will wait for my new roommates to come home.

I loved Alaska, and I am glad that I went. And I am now especially glad to come home to a future I've been waiting for.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"You've Got to See It Before It Melts," Said Mrs. Klein. (Mrs. Klein Is My Parents' Next-Door Neighbor.)

Tomorrow I go to Alaska.


I have a goal to go to all fifty states before I'm thirty. Alaska will be state #46 (following which I'll have two years to hit four states before my birthday in December 2010: North Dakota, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky).

I'll be honest: I actually never thought I'd go to Alaska in my lifetime. Turns out, all you need to travel are time and money. I guess I grew up thinking that there would be more barriers to exotic locales than those. Checkpoints, papers, purposes, questionnaires, savvy, know-how.* A minimum threshold of glamor or good will, at least.

Nope. Alaska. If Sarah O. can do it, you can too.

I'll be back in a week, and I will tell you how it goes. And if I get a glimpse of the Palin brood.

Oh man. I'm so excited.

Woop woop!

P.S. If you have some extra time and are wanting some more media to consume, I'd like to recommend the Mary Tyler Moore Show. I've been watching it on hulu.com. I started with season one, episode one (to do it right), and I've got to say--the show deserved its fame. It's still charming. And she's still beautiful, fake eyelashes and all.

*Okay, I guess technically when traveling abroad there are checkpoints and papers. But I'm a low-hassle kind of girl, I'm realizing. Which deserves its own post. For now, I want to say this: checkpoints and papers are much less hassle than I expected. Maybe because, in my experience thus far, both checkpoints and papers were, at core, just issues of money and time. And, as a new law school graduate, I've got the latter and no meaningful way of appropriately valuing the former. I'm good to go.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Mix Tape?

Or mixed tape?

I'll take comments.

A Short Story (with Plot Points) About My Sister (and a Friend) on Her (Their) Birthday(s)

Today is Beka's thirteenth birthday. She is a teenager.

This morning I made and hung nonsensical and plentiful birthday signage around the house (continuing/importing a long-time roommate tradition because, as Michelle once said, "There's something about signage that's so effective").

In addition to this real world posting, I wanted to do an online posting and bedecor my blog with a short story to the world about the arrival of Bekarek, my youngest sibling and newly teenaged sister.

* * * * *

Thirteen years ago on a day right around today...

[insert graphic of flashback time waves--dddddddd, dddddddd, ddddddd]

My good friend Jen was prepping for her 14th birthday, which was to be on September 9, 1995. She was really excited that my mom was due somewhere near her birthday, and she often (often) tried to convince me to deliver her a baby sibling with which to share her birthday. I tried to explain how little control I had over the situation--so few inducements at my disposal--but she was still hopeful I could work it out. I thought, what are the chances? My life is never that cute.

Rising Action
And then, la, on September 9, 1995, my sister was born. I couldn't believe it. She was beautiful. And she was the things we'd hoped she would be--healthy, human, and compliant:
  • she was born two years after our youngest, making us all two or four years apart--> Nate, two years, Dan, two years, Anika, two years, Sarah, two years, Joseph, two years, Dad's dissertation, two years, Jacob, two years, Peter, four years, Rachel, two years, now Bek, AND
  • she was a girl, keeping with our grouped gender pattern--> boy boy girl girl boy boy boy girl girl. Now Rachel would have a partner, too. (The big boys: Nate & Dan; the big girls: Anika & Sarah; the little boys: Joseph, Jacob, and Peter; and now the litte girls: Rachel & Rebekah.)
But, she wasn't blonde. She was darker (well, just not blonde, really), which, at the time, we figured disrupted our oft-remarked upon alternating complexion scheme--> vanilla chocolate vanilla chocolate vanilla four years vanilla chocolate four years chocolate, now another chocolate.* We were happy to have her anyway.

AND SHE HAD COME ON JEN'S BIRTHDAY! What more does a 14-year-old girl want than to surprise her friends with really good birthday presents? Very little.

So, I decided not to tell Jen or any of my other friends until Jen's birthday party, just a few days after the 9th.

For Jen's 14th, we went to a nice Japanese restaurant. I learned how to use chop sticks and ate food cooked at my table. The beef was so good, and we were laughing so hard, and it was a great, great time. Then came the moment when Jen would open the gifts. I'd covered a box in magazine cut-outs and Modge Podge (a shellaq substance totally in vogue in the mid-nineties), and inside the box, I had placed a piece of paper.

Jen: I love this box, Sarah! It's mint! [Or whatever we were saying then.]
Sarah: Open it, Jen! Open it! [As fourteen-year-olds, we were always talking with exclamation points, I'm sure.]
Jen: Okay! Here I go!

She opens the box. She sees the paper, which says

Born September 9, 1995
Baby Girl Olson [she wasn't yet named]
some lbs, some ozs [I don't remember those details, alas]

Jen reads it silently. Her face! Her face! I can see it! She's excited, too! She exclaims!

Jen: Yippee!

Then, her face falls. She is puzzled.

Jen: (slowly) You named her Chocolate Healthy?

Oh man. I laughed so hard I think I fell off my Japanese bar stool.

No, no, we didn't.

* * * * *

To Jen and especially to Beka: I love you both. Happy, happy birthday to the two of you, on this good September day.

*Not too long later, we realized Beka was a breed all her own. Blue eyes and light brown hair. Caramel.

Monday, September 08, 2008

What We Lose, What We Hope to Find Again

She told me what she misses most right now is the hugging. "No one hugs me here," she said. "I'm so lonely, and no one hugs me." She listed her new friends: "My roommate doesn't hug me. My friend doesn't hug me. My neighbor doesn't hug me. My classmates don't hug me. And I don't have visiting teachers, so they don't hug me."

"Do you hug them?" I asked, knowing, of course, that it was an unfair question. Unfair because I didn't really ask it to know the answer--if she was hugging in her new life, she would already have said so--and because I had wanted to imply that the solution was within her grasp. (Her grasp. That's funny.) My know-it-all/colonizing tendencies. I'm working on them.

"Well," she said, "I already instigate enough touching that I'm trying to be sensitive about it. Sometimes I give side hugs, and sometimes I put my arm around this boy I know. I don't want--I don't want him to get the wrong idea."

She and I were talking on the phone. It was late where we were, in the same time zone, in the same state, but not within six driving hours of each other. I wished my arms were longer.

I was okay with her living apart from me, I thought. We'd been roommates before we both moved. "I'm okay with you living apart from me," I said. "But only when I think that the people around you are treating you well."

"Oh, they are, they are!" she said quickly, then stopped. We were both quiet.

"Maybe I should start hugging them," she said. "Or scratching their backs in church, like I want to. Or playing with their hair when I come into a room and they are sitting down." She laughed. "What would I say to them, when they asked what I was doing?" She laughed again. I said, "You'd say--the human body needs to be touched seven times a day to be healthy." Touched positively, I thought. I didn't say it out loud. I figure she'd understand the distinction. "Launch your loving on them," I said. "I'm for."

Seven times a day. Here, where I am, in this few-week period when I'm between lives--between California and DC, just living in NY with my family--the touching for me is fine. My sisters and I are close, and we voluntarily squeeze onto couches, onto the benches around the kitchen table, onto the chairs at church. I get hugged well at church, too, by Jane B. and Marissa and a variety of other Relief Society sisters when I see them. They hug me often and tightly. In my home branch, I feel like a rock star.

But I'll soon be on my own, too. Making a new life in DC. I'll need to find new grocery stores, new Blockbusters, new places to buy sweet potato fries. I'll spend the first weeks, months, picking up new habits, routines, defaults. I'll refit my old things into new spaces: my mugs in new cabinets, my clothes in new closets, my oh-so-familiar face looking back at me from mirrors that shine and crack in ways that are new to me. And I'll have to find people to hug. To hug and be hugged by.

I've lived in DC twice before, and I already love my roommates there. So I will, I'm sure, have a leg up. An arm, I guess, if you will. But this moving and loving and need for touch.

What else am I going to find I've lost in the transition?

Friday, September 05, 2008

Wrinkles in Time

I have a wrinkle. My first one. It's a small vertical line in my skin, not quite halfway between my eyebrows. It doesn't go away when I stop smiling. That's how I know it's a wrinkle.

I'm not so much concerned that I have one. I'm one of those who's excited about finding gray hairs, admittedly maybe at least as much from principle as from a sense of aesthetics. (Though among many others, a young John McCain reminded me again that gray can be good--who knew he was so good looking back in the day?) But I am worried about how I got it.

I got it from furrowing my brow.

Brow furrowing! Alas. I didn't realize I'd spent so much time being grim.

I told this to a friend recently--"I have a wrinkle, and it's from furrowing my brow"--and the friend said, "I always thought it was a prayer line."

Prayer. That's a nice thing to think about me. But always, as in, before this conversation?*

I just got back from a week-long visit to Texas, and there my best friend Laura had this idea: If I want laugh lines (and I do--they're the romanticized result of a life of buoyancy, good health, and cheer), then I should turn lemons into lemonade. I should start laughing with my wrinkle.

Genius. Reminds me of my brother Jacob's newest favorite quote: "There go my people. I must find out where they are going so I can lead them." (Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin)

As a child the "it will stay that way" threat about ugly face-pulling seemed silly to me. Its illogicality was so obvious as to be nonsensical. The face--it's so plastic, so malleable. Wide mouth, rabbit nose, bubble cheeks, evil eyebrow, pursed lips. Turns out, I was wrong and folk wisdom is finally having its day. Who knew?

What I'm saying is this: The furrowing. Watch out for the furrowing.