Reminders of Robin Hood

I’ve been thinking a lot about Nottingham, randomly remembering the curve of our street between the park and the cemetery, picturing myself suddenly there at random moments throughout the day.  I miss it.  I miss the Left Lion at the courthouse, my nondescript little room in our flat, the tea places tucked into every spare shopfront, the wide sidewalks around the university, the way the castle was just suddenly there when you turned certain corners.

This could be partly because the neighborhoods around here are full of streets named after various British Things – Robinhood Road, and Guinevere Lane, and Sherwood Forest Elementary School.  Then there are the fairytale names, like Fernhaven and Friendship Circle (not joking), which somehow don’t seem too saccharine because of the stately mansions lining both sides of these streets.  With every turn onto another Yorkshire or Greenbrier Farm, you think Yes, that makes sense here.

In Notts, I never knew where I was going to spot another beautiful, astoundingly ancient building.  Our flat was in a boring block of similar brick buildings, but it only took a short walk to reach the historic part of town.  The castle, of course, was the most obvious, stumbling into the old moat where the Robin Hood statue stands, which made me feel like a villager living in the shadow of Castle Rock way back when.  But there were also the pretty neighborhoods where our architecture tutors took us walking, the twists and turns (our new town isn’t laid out like a grid either, and I can’t quite make sense of it yet).

Here, in North Carolina, our house is in an early-aughts subdivision sandwiched between two parkways.  It’s pretty enough, especially compared to our old apartments, but a few minutes’ drive from us is a castle-like hotel with sweeping grounds, a mews, a stable, and guesthouses that look like mansions in their own right.  When we were house-hunting, when we got tired of the depressing reality of homes within our budget, we would get lost in the Robinhood Road neighborhoods, oohing and aahing over the columns and wraparound porches.

So once again, I’m living on the edges of grandeur.

I’m happy that this new place in which I know no one reminds me of another place in which I knew no one that turned out to be one of the most wonderful places I’ve been.

(No matter how long I live in the South, however, I will never be able to pronounce it Notting-HAM.)

Where the Hell is Our Mailbox?

When the Engineer and I were house-hunting, we had a wish list.  We wanted a garage for his motorcycle, an in-unit washer and dryer that were not coin operated, a cat (not included with the house, but we wanted the option to get a feline friend), and a mailbox in which we could not only receive our own mail but have outgoing mail picked up (our old apartment complex didn’t have an outgoing mail slot, so we had to go to the on-campus post office).

We got some of the most important things on our list.  The Engineer’s motorcycle is safely tucked in our garage, and we’ve already run several loads of laundry in our Very Own Laundry Room.  Unfortunately, though, the cat is not allowed.

And at first it seemed like we didn’t have a mailbox.

We noticed a bank of locked mail slots at the end of our street in our little townhouse/apartment community.  The keys we received from the realtor included a mail key, so this seemed a likely spot for our mailbox to be.  On our way out on an errand one day, we pulled over to see if we could find our mailbox.  There were four sets of boxes, numbered from 1 to 14 over and over.

Our house number is above 1200.  We have no other unit number for it.

We texted the realtor, but she just told us the mailbox was at the end of our street, which we already knew.  She didn’t know what number it was.

We resolved to flag down a neighbor the next time we saw them, ask which mailbox was theirs, and extrapolate from there.  But we kept missing them in our comings and goings.

Finally, we stood together in front of the bank of boxes, trying the mail key in as many boxes as we could before someone drove by.  None of them worked.  One of them even tried to eat my key.

Then, at last, on his way to a meeting today, the Engineer spotted the mailman himself at the mailboxes.  Pulling over briefly, he explained that we had just moved in and didn’t know which mailbox was ours.  He came home triumphant.

“I found out which one is our mailbox!”

So we took a stroll up the street, stood again (less suspiciously this time) in front of the boxes, and ceremoniously turned the key in our box: Number 11 in Row 3.  Sure enough, on the inside of the little metal door was our house number and our last names.

And right below it, etched in a little metal lid over another slot: OUTGOING MAIL.

We had to hunt it down, but we sort of got our wish after all.

Review: In This House of Brede

I finished this book on the flight from Seattle to Raleigh.  To my left was a dad watching a Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson movie.  To my right, across the aisle, was an Unaccompanied Minor who was too cool for school, or for playing peekaboo with the adorable toddler who kept popping over the seat in front of him.  The toddler gave up eventually, turned to me, and waved with that jellyfish finger wiggle of small children.  I smiled and waved back, but he looked quizzically at the tears in my eyes.  I was, yet again, having A Moment, courtesy of a book, in a public place.

Bird had recommended Rumer Godden’s In This House of Brede to me after she read it – part of her reading had, in fact, overlapped with us sharing a room at our nana’s house, and she kept me awake with her exclamations over the Benedictine monastery at Brede.  It’s a novel about nuns (Bird loves nuns) and a high-powered businesswoman, Philippa Talbot, who refuses a career-making promotion in order to go and follow the (unexpected) call to become a nun.  The book follows Philippa on her journey from preparing to enter the monastery to her Solemn Profession and beyond as she finds her place in the community in the years before Vatican II.

“What do you ask?”

“To try my vocation as a Benedictine in this house of Brede.”

At first, I found Godden’s narration a bit difficult to get used to.  It’s not quite like the third person omniscient one usually reads; there’s too much interjection from various characters, as though you’re dropping in on multiple overlapping conversations held in some sort of nondescript space, because it doesn’t matter where they said it, or even when (many of the side characters’ observations about events are followed by, “Dame So-and-so said afterwards“).  But, much like protagonist Philippa Talbot, once I grew accustomed to the rhythms of the story, I felt right at home.

The hop-around narration fit the community of the nuns, the self-effacement they were meant to seek, and the way each in turn affected all the others.  It is a book about relationships and communities of faith, and about relationships with people who understand neither community nor faith.  In one instance, Philippa’s former secretary is near death following complications from an abortion.  Her formerly shallow husband is shocked when Philippa says the sisters will pray for the secretary – “But they don’t even know her!” he says.  Nevertheless, all the sisters, even those with conflict between them, participate in a vigil praying fiercely for the life of this girl they do not know.

Another nun, Sister Cecily, struggles against her mother’s worldly expectations.  At her Clothing (when the postulant receives her novice’s habit to wear), Cecily’s mother calls the ceremony, which resembles a wedding, a mockery because there is no “real” bridegroom.  Cecily’s pain is palpable, for what could be more real to her than faith?  Godden gets vocation absolutely right – how some people are called to secular life, others to missionary work, and still others to contemplative lives, enclosed in a world of prayer that still touches and works for the world outside.

And meanwhile, the nuns are all too human.  Dame Veronica struggles with weakness of will and pride.  Abbess Hester leaves behind an enormous, secret debt from circumventing her advisers to achieve a pet project.  Philippa herself must unlearn all the things that made her so successful in the business world, realign her values, and learn to lean on the community.

Now, I don’t know how non-Catholics or non-Christians might like or dislike this novel, but I do think it could at least provide a genuine look at what religious communities strive to accomplish and how faith motivates everything they do.  Godden’s amazing portrayal of these characters as they navigate their personal relationships and their relationships with God struck me as so emotionally accurate that, yes, I found myself holding back tears on an airplane when I had to close the back cover and leave this house of Brede.

5/5 stars on Goodreads

The Tide of Adventure

“From sea to shining sea,” to me, always meant from East to West.  Moving west was the proper direction, from the Atlantic that first brought European explorers, troops, and colonists, to the Pacific that halted Lewis and Clark at last.  From the first sea, the Old World, to the second, the New (to white people).  I had a certain amount of pride in growing up in the Pacific Northwest, where, it seemed to my elementary school self, everyone must have wanted to settle down.

Going east now seems strange, like we’re pulling against the tide of adventure that swept so many people to the western expanses of the United States.  “Go West, young man!” our so-called Manifest Destiny proclaimed, and the young men obeyed, and women, too.

(I’m currently reading a history of the Harvey Girls, which may be part of why moving back East [does it count as “back” if I’ve never lived this far east before?] feels weird – I just finished the background section on the Santa Fe Railroad.)

Instead, our current is bringing us to the shores of history, the New to Us But Old in General world.  From the west coast – where I grew up surrounded by stories of pioneers for whom the Oregon Territory was the endgame, making it seem like the West must be the final goal for everyone – to the east coast, where the water is actually warm and the first growing pains of our nation started.

From one sea to the other.  Our own new adventure.

 

Life Update: Back and Forth

I had a really thoughtful post all planned out in my head for today about song lyrics that struck me the other day in the car.  But then I barely slept last night and I need to go to bed early because I’m flying out to North Carolina tomorrow to start unpacking our new house.  So instead you get a brief update about the logistics of the remaining month until the wedding:

>First, I fly out to meet the Engineer and his brother at our new house (yay!) in North Carolina.  I’ll be there for the Engineer’s first few days of classes, then…

<I fly back to the Pacific Northwest to finish up wedding details for 2 weeks.

<He flies back to the Pacific Northwest so we can get married.

<We go to Hawaii.

>We fly all the way back to North Carolina and finally stay put for a while.

Oh, and here’s a question I was mulling over with the Commodore: can I put Wedding Coordinator and Moving Director on my resume now?

 

Address Book

Starting our own (empty) home means things keep occurring to me that I’ve never had to think about before.  Silverware, for instance, has always just been there, in the drawer, and so has the plastic organizer sorting it into its neat little categories.

My mom has always had an address book we referenced whenever we needed to send out thank-you notes or invitations, so I always wanted to have my own when I moved out.  I forgot that this involved writing out all those addresses.

I’ve gotten through the Cs.

Security Questions Make Me Examine My Life

Due to, apparently, Wedding Thieves, I had to choose a security question for one of our registries this afternoon.  As I scrolled through the options to find my usual choice, I noticed a new one: what was your first concert?

I haven’t been to one, I thought.  Concerts weren’t something I thought of spending my money on.  For one thing, I was raised largely on Disney and Broadway soundtracks, so the closest thing I had to seeing those songs in person was Beauty and the Beast On Ice or going up to the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle.  For another, I didn’t notice advertisements for bands.  In high school, when two of my friends got Death Cab For Cutie tickets, I was utterly baffled by the idea that a band whose name I barely recognized would be nearby.

Then later this evening I suddenly remembered sophomore year, when I was helping the Engineer unpack his new apartment and dancing around to the Love and Theft album I had just bought.  A few days later, the Engineer said, “So do you want to go to CampusFest?”

“W…why?”  (This was not a normal activity for him to suggest.)

“Love and Theft are playing.”

In that case, sign me up.

It was actually pretty fun, crammed onto our campus mall with a bunch of other students, dancing around to the songs (one of which is still “our song”).

And then there was last year, when the Engineer’s sister came to visit because Chase Bryant was coming for a concert.  The Engineer bought our tickets and entered a raffle for a meet-and-greet.  “There are only five people entered right now, so you’ll probably win,” they told him.

He did.

The meet-and-greet was rapidfire and not that fun, but swing dancing on the edges of the room till we were breathless was great.

And I just now remembered that the Commodore and some friends and I went to a One Republic/Sara Bareilles concert at the beginning of sophomore year for a friend’s birthday.

So my initial response to the security question was wrong.  But considering I can’t seem to remember any of these concerts, it still wouldn’t be a great password protector.

Review: The Girl From the Metropol Hotel

We bought this because of the nonfiction link to A Gentleman in Moscow, and Bird, Mom, and I passed it around.  This short memoir chronicles the childhood of Lyudmila Petrushevskaya, who was born in the Metropol but spends little time there throughout her wild, chaotic upbringing.  Told in vignette-style chapters that seem to overlap and occasionally go out of order, Petrushevskaya shares her experiences alternating between near-homelessness and schools/camps with rigid expectations.  Sometimes I was cringing at the feral society she found on the streets, beyond the reach of her aunt and grandmother.  Sometimes I was sympathetic toward the unreasonable strictness of the structures that attempted to socialize her.

But Petrushevskaya’s language is the stuff of fairy tales (in fact, now I want to go read her other books, including There Once Lived a Woman who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby).  So the rhythm of the sentences and the pretty diction make the horrible things she writes about seem bearable.  It’s presented in the way of children – this is just how things are.  Her faith that her mother would return someday was a little heartbreaking from an adult perspective, but little Lyudmila is just so sure.  Mama will come back.  No one else will do.

It was the writing itself, presenting uncomfortable realities in such a pleasant way, that made me like the book.

3/5 stars on Goodreads

A Favorite Lie to Tell

I’ve learned that there is hope and that when I feel that there isn’t hope my brain is lying to me.

-John Green, “On Mental Illness (and the end of Pizzamas)”

It seems like most mental health issues have a favorite myth to perpetuate in the sufferer’s brain.  Friends with anxiety have described to me the baseless urgency, the panic without a catalyst, the lie of a magnified threat.  In John Green’s talks on his personal experiences with OCD, he tells of the intrusive thoughts, the lie of an underlying capacity for terrible things.

My depression tells me, as I slide further down the dark spiral, that I am dragging others down with me.  The first time this happened, my sophomore year of college, it told me that I was a terrible girlfriend, that remaining in this relationship would sap the Engineer of his emotional energy as he tried to help me back up the spiral of my quickly numbing mind.  (At the time, I wasn’t exactly the most supportive partner, but that’s because it’s pretty hard to be emotionally available when you don’t have emotions anymore.)  It was kinder, the depression said sagely, to let him go.

Thank God he didn’t let me do that.

Even after I started going to counseling, I tried not to talk about it.  Not because I was ashamed of the depression, exactly, but because I was ashamed to demand anything more from my friends and family.  The depression kept telling me that I would drag them down with me, and that I should at least go through the motions of generosity even if I couldn’t remember how that felt.  Since I no longer felt any real impulse toward either kindness or cruelty, my brain held up the abstract concepts and said, “You used to want to be a nice person.  A nice person wouldn’t do this to her loved ones.”  If I had to be dragged down this path, at least I wouldn’t be bringing anyone with me.  I had forgotten, of course, that emotionally stable and healthy people have more strength to help pull others up.

“Don’t drag them down with you.”  It has a slogan-y ring to it.

A nice person wouldn’t do this.  A nice brain wouldn’t do this.

I’ve learned how to better tell when my brain is lying to me.  I’ve learned that emotional states are not personality traits.  I’ve learned that my family and friends want to help and they do not resent me, nor have I pulled them into the spiral with me.

There are tools available to make the lies more apparent.  That doesn’t mean they can’t sometimes be convincing.

If you suffer from mental health problems, there is hope; when your brain says there isn’t, I promise you, it is lying to you.  And if you know someone who struggles with mental health, help remind them of the truth.

 

Top 5 Self Care Habits I’m Bad At

These are the things that pop into my head whenever I see an article about self-care, the things that I immediately know will make me feel better and more at peace, the things I somehow can’t seem to do consistently despite knowing their benefits.

1. Journaling. I definitely notice a difference when I keep this up for even a few days in a row. My emotions seem more reasonable and orderly if I take time to name them and examine their origins in writing, especially at the end of the day. But my usual excuse is that I’m too tired.

2. Going to bed on time. I am a toddler when it comes to getting myself to bed. The more tired I am, the more likely I’ll stay up reading or scrolling through Pinterest. (And then I’m too tired to journal.)

3. Keeping in touch with family and friends. I love my friends and I like to think I’m close with my family, but I don’t reach out or respond to them as often as I should.

4. Exercise. Cliche, I know, but this is another one that leaves me feeling a positive difference when I do it…but is still hard to keep up past a week.

5. Prayer. My faith is a foundational part of my life, so when I take the time to recenter my thoughts and motivations on God, I’m reminded that I am not the one in control. (Maybe that’s why I approach this habit halfheartedly, given my love for control.)

Bonus! 6. Hydration. It exasperates the Engineer to no end, but I hardly ever drink water unless it’s heated and poured through coffee grounds.

All of these little things make a noticeable difference in how I feel both physically and emotionally. But even knowing that, I can’t seem to make myself keep up the habits. The inertia is too hard to break through.

What good habits do you have trouble with even though you know they’re good for you? Got any tips to get over that inertia of Not Doing Things?