Friday, February 22, 2008

Antarctica, here I come...

So, we're moving! Monday! And here I am, Sunday night, blogging instead of packing. In my opinion, the least amount of time spent packing, the better. This, admittedly, does not always work out well for me. When it comes to travel, whether across town or across the globe, I tend to do one of two things: overpack or underpack. My theory has always been that opening a box or a suitcase should be a surprise! (Quick sidenote: When I was little, I used to spend a LOT of time going through the L.L. Bean catalog, hypothesizing what would happen if a person was only given 5 or 6 things -- say flannel-lined jeans, a down parka and 3 dog beds -- and sent to Antarctica. This memory may not seem related, but I assure you, it is.) So when a person has to pack everything in his/her entire house into boxes, and label those boxes, I get a little overwhelmed. But instead of Antarctica, we are moving to a great house 2.7 miles from our current one.

You know how lists make me feel better. So here are 10 things I would rather do than pack (also called The Packing Procrastinator's Checklist):

1. Watch Emeril fondle a lamb shank.
2. Drive to Austin. Revel in sunshine, Amy's ice cream and great friends.
3. Ogle at the Oscars.
4. Practice the Boston accent.
5. Sing/dance with drapes like Julie Andrews in "Sound of Music."
6. Mourn absence of girl scout cookies.
7. Staring contest with pet.
8. Watch lunar eclipse.
9. Organize email inbox. (1,919 and counting!)
10. Plan a trip to Antarctica.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The State Swim Meet

This weekend N and I are going to Austin to meet some of our great friends, Hope and Chris, and Hope and I will attend the UIL State Swimming and Diving Championships. I am looking forward to going because Kingwood High School, my alma mater, always does well, and I love to watch competitive swimming. Anyway, the last time I went to the State Championships was two years ago, and I was deep in the midst of writing my dissertation. I thought you might like to read a little bit of it about that experience. I know this time it will probably be different and yet much the same. I'm glad Hope will be there to share it with me.

The State Meet

My husband Nathan and I went to the UIL 5A State Swim meet in Austin, Texas, during a weekend in February, a couple of months after the miscarriage, to get away from our sadness. I wanted to see if I could connect with that part of my life, if I could feel the same excitement of my youth, cheering for someone racing fast into the wall. On the way to the swim meet, my husband asked me how long I wanted to stay (he was looking forward to going to the UT basketball game against Kansas that night). I said a couple of hours, and that I was sure I would be ready to leave. I was excited about seeing the Kingwood team and knew that there was a good chance that my old coaches would be there. I wanted to find the rest of the parents and supporters in navy and white, our school colors. However, most of the seats at the Jamail Natatorium were filled long before the doors opened, and there were no open seats in the Kingwood section. Nathan thought it would be important to see the end of each race (the fingers actually hitting the touch pad at the end of the lane), so we sat at the top of the middle section next to some rival Houston Cy-Fair fans, whom I immediately disliked. I felt a surge of protectiveness towards the Kingwood swimmers and their families, as if I still belonged in their clique, and cheered quietly, although inside I was ecstatic whenever a Kingwood swimmer took a medal. The chlorine stank and the air was warm and muggy. It felt like home.
Popular rap music played loudly as we found our seats, and the lanes were full in all three pools (the 50-meter pool was divided into three 25-yard pools). The competitors swam in concentric circles, one almost on top of the other, and looking down on it from such a great height made me a little dizzy. I immediately felt a tightening in my chest, a pull towards the water as if a rope connected me down there. I felt nostalgia but also a very present sense of excitement, as if I were one of them and would be swimming a race in a couple of hours.

After we squashed ourselves into our white plastic chairs, I looked through the program to see where Kingwood’s swimmers were seeded. How they had swam in the semifinals would automatically place them in their lanes for the final race – in descending order – lane 4 being the fastest, followed by 5, 3, 6, 2, 7, 1, and 8 being the slowest-seeded time). For each race there was a consolation heat and a final heat. I went through my program in excitement, checking all of the names and looking for pool records set by the Kingwood team in the past. At the top of the page, where the records were listed, I saw many names I recognized – Olympic gold medalist Natalie Coughlin from California, Dana Vollmer from Granbury, Texas, and even a Janet Evans record from the 1980s still stood in the 500 and 1500 free. I also found that the 200 free in the Boys section was still unbroken from 1993, during my years at Kingwood. I remembered those boys, their bodies lean and tan and smooth. One of them committed suicide a couple of years ago. With that recollection, I suddenly felt like an impostor. I had never made it. I was never good enough to swim with the elite. I had gone to the State Meet in 1994, and it was the last thing I ever did in my swimming career, but the fact remained that I hadn’t qualified. I just rode the bus with the team. My 200 free time was close but not good enough. I swam the best 200 free of my career at the Regional meet at Humble High School, a 2:12. These swimmers were all qualifying in under two minutes. Not much had changed.

I looked down and saw my old coach, Lanny Landtroop, in the stands. I wanted to go talk to him, but I felt fat and insecure. What would I say to him? Would he remember me? I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want him to recognize me. He looked older; instead of a flat top of white blond hair, he was bald. His hands looked exactly the same, though – thick and white, with deep creases in the knuckles. I remembered his hands. I could imagine his feet, the light hairs crowning his toes. I felt nauseous. I had to get out of there.

On my way to the bathroom, I saw a girl I recognized from high school who swam on the Kingwood team with me. I remembered her name immediately -- Tanya. She was standing with a bunch of high school swimmers under the stairs. Maybe she was a coach. She looked exactly the same, too: permed hair, glasses, even the shape of her thighs – like Vienna sausages. I wondered if I looked very much the same, too. I felt a lot older. I wanted to be. Since we used to get ready for school in the locker room, I remembered that we used to make fun of her. I felt like I was back in high school again. I was old and then young, aging again and again. I remembered posing for our Varsity team picture my junior year. We wore men’s dress shirts and ties over our Speedos, creating three rows of magician’s assistants, smiling strangely and cut in half.
As I reminisced, I watched the bodies on deck as much as the swimming. I yearned to feel in shape again, to take the strength of my body for granted. These are the images that stay with me: a girl whipping her arms back and forth, shoulder blades swinging like a seesaw. A boy in a Speedo and white cap hunched over an I-Pod. Four girls with wet hair on a podium, smiling into the flash of light.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

#2 in a series on Young Adult literature

When they were all gathered and Bridget stopped aerobicizing, Carmen began. "On the last night before the diaspora" -- she paused briefly so everyone could admire her use of the word -- "we discovered some magic." She felt an itchy tingle in the arches of her feet. "Magic comes in many forms. Tonight it comes to us in a pair of pants. I hereby propose that these Pants belong to us equally, that they will travel to all the places we're going, and they will keep us together when we're apart."

"Let's take the vow of the Traveling Pants." Bridget excitedly grabbed Lena's and Tibby's hands. Bridget and Carmen were always the ones who staged friendship ceremonies unabashedly. Tibby and Lena were the ones who acted like there was a camera crew in the room.

"Tonight we are Sisters of the Pants," Bridget intoned when they'd formed a ring. "Tonight we give the Pants the love of our Sisterhood so that we can take that love wherever we go."

-- Ann Brashares, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, pg. 20-21.

Friday, February 1, 2008

etiquette, or my new favorite reading material

Recently, at an antiques store, I purchased a copy of Emily Post's (Mrs. Price Post) Etiquette, the New and Enlarged version, published in 1931. I can hear some of you laughing already at the thought of me poring over "The Blue Book of Social Usage," considering my tendency to treat animals like people, trip, awkwardly drop things, and, generally, make a gigantic fool of myself. My parents may have had a similar thought when they enrolled me in Modeling school when I was 13 (But that is a post for another time -- I seem to have misplaced my "portfolio").

Anyway, I would just like to say: this book is delightful. Amusing, yes. Sometimes ridiculous, yes. But I can't tear myself away. And many of the lessons on manners are really quite profound, in a nostalgic sort of way, though I am glad I don't carry a parasol in Abilene winds. The weighty tome, comprising almost 800 pages, and smelling a bit like moss, includes chapters on everything from Introductions, Greetings, Conversation, Cards and Visits, Dinner-Giving, Balls and Dances, Weddings, Funerals, Business and Politics to a very ironic last chapter called "The Growth of Good Taste in America." The word "etiquette" itself, by the way, is French, and it means "Keep off the grass."

So I tried to pick a few of my favorite gems I wanted to share. Thoughts?

Courtesy is especially necessary toward those whose hospitality you accept, and toward those to whom your hospitality is extended. Mrs. Climber, eagerly lunching with Mrs. Greymouse because she knows Mrs. Worldly to be there, and then having eyes and ears so obviously focused on Mrs. Worldly that she never addresses a word or an interested look in Mrs. Greymouse's direction, might as well have a placard "I am an upstart" hung around her neck. It is not only rude, but, from a purely worldly and calculating standpoint, a losing trick."

Do not snatch at it. Let it go for a little while. Conversation is not a race that must be continued at break-neck pace lest the prize be lost. Far, far worse than the longest, most awkward pause, is the tongue which, without a thought to urge it, rattles ceaselessly."

This was quite a long section that I won't type here, but I personally think "bungled" is a hilarious word.

Sport shoes are naturally adapted to the sport for which they are intended. High-heeled slippers do not go with any country clothes, except organdie or muslins or other distinctly feminine "summer" dresses, such as are seen only at weddings, lawn parties, or at watering-places abroad."

The perfect secretary should forget that she is a human being, and be the most efficient machine that she can possibly make of herself -- in business hours."

I will skip THE COST OF BEING A BRIDESMAID, VULGAR CLOTHES, PRESENTATION AT ROYAL COURT, and FOR WHAT SHE REALLY IS, but I can tell you right now, that they are fascinating.