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2010-01-09 - 10:53 a.m.

...35, 30, 25, 20, 15, 10, 5, and the here-and-now...

Happy new year, everyone. School already has me buried, so I'm a little late in posting this update.


THIRTY-FIVE: I think this was the year that Nixon was impeached - I remember my father telling me about it late one night when we were watching the news. He explained to me that he was going to go to Washington DC and tell Mr. Nixon, "thank you for your hard work. here's your pay, now please go."

My father loved Christmas with us and desperately wanted us to believe in Santa Claus. I was going to be in the Christmas play in our church on Christmas Eve. My part was the letter "I" in CHRISTMAS - "I is for Israel" was my line. When we came back from the play, we discovered that Santa, having thought that we were already asleep in our beds, had already delivered all of our presents! We gleefully ripped them all open, right on the spot.

Later that night, Santa and his reindeer came back to check on us. Daddy came into the bedroom and woke us up to see Rudolph's red nose glowing in the window (a red lantern hung from a tree branch), and to hear the other reindeer hooves clattering on the roof (rocks thrown onto the roof). I was convinced, and still wanted to believe even after my brother told me that it was all Daddy..

I was in first grade and my best friend was a girl named Cathy. She and her brother Billy and I were a team - the three kids who were sent to the library to read while the teacher taught the rest of the class the basics. The three of us put on a play of the Three Billy Goats Gruff. Cathy and Billy recently found me on FB. Kind of cool to reconnect with them after all this time. The best part is that I think that I would still like them today.

THIRTY: 1979 was the year that my mother decided to move from the farm - with our dogs, cats, ducks and tons of snow - to the city. My father was horrible to me about it. He told me that my mother's moving out was all my decision. If I didn't want to leave leave my dogs, cats, and ducks to live in a big dirty city, then it wouldn't happen. I remember my insides feeling ripped apart, and trying not to cry when he asked me why I wanted to leave my father. My mother finally intervened and told him to stop. We moved that summer. And I spent the next several years commuting to the country on weekends, dealing with many other situations in which my father forced me to choose between the rest of the world and him.

My brother, my mother, and I lived in our little duplex on San Bonita with our three cats. I was a junior in high school, and playing clarinet in the regional youth symphony. I was in love with a little flute player named Alex - but only for a couple months. After my father's latest set of mind games, my mother asked my father for a divorce. We were going to spend Christmas together but my father called to cancel, and told us that he was going to end his life. I didn't really believe him, and told him that a hot shower would make him feel a lot better. Instead of Christmas dinner with my father, we had Chinese takeout.

Twenty years ago was December, 1989. I was in my senior year of college. My father had just remarried, and my baby brother was about eight months old. I have a hard time thinking of that year without embarrassment, because all of my enthusiasms were usually over exaggerated. As a 21-year-old, I was not one to do things half way. I loved the color pink. I loved dancing and would do it anywhere. I loved music – especially singing – and I was happy to do that everywhere, too. I loved men, too, and I was finally realizing that there might be something lovable about me, too.

I had found my niche at college, and was passionate about Earth history, climate history, in particular. The seminar room of the big Geochemistry building had become my home away from the dorm, and I used to go there at 6 in the morning to study until the staff started to trickle in between 8:30 and 9am. My friends must have thought I was insane, although my excessive enthusiasm about my schedule is probably in keeping with my entire character of excessive enthusiasm at the time. I kept to this schedule because I felt that I had found MY way. It was mine alone, and it worked. I was just about to leave on a tour of west coast grad schools: Santa Barbara, Corvallis, and Seattle. I was applying to Ph.D. programs and I had it all mapped out in my head. I would get my Ph.D. in five years and be a professor by 26. I was pretty darned certain of myself.

Or was I? I look back and remember a person of extremes. But I also remember sitting in a pub with my friend Brad, whom I had known since our first year of college. Brad and I had gone through all four years of college without really liking each other, although we shared the same friends, and probably also the same ideals (at least for the most part). I was about to say that we were a ‘textbook’ example, but in reality we were more of a novelette example of two people who couldn’t stand each other at first, and then grew into a pretty sturdy and very important friendship. I’m not sure what happened over those four years, but something did. I’d like to think we both had grown up quite a bit, but really I can only speak for myself. Somehow, during our last year of college, I felt a strange kinship with Brad, made deeper by the fact that we’d had such a rough start. Most of all, I remember our sitting in a pub and his remarking about the change. I don’t even remember the exact words, just the moment, and the fact that our friendship of this year remains memorable achievement to me after twenty years.

Fifteen years ago, I was in grad school in Nyack, NY. Professionally, I was in hell (huh, I think I've stated this before.) I was taking a course on the physics of isotopes (which was the best part of school), and my advisor was happily ignoring me and my samples that had been waiting to be analyzed for over a year (which was the worst part). In a few months, and after nearly five years in the program, this advisor would tell me to find a new advisor and a new project. This upheaval would set me spinning for another year. But it would also serve as a turning point, forcing me to develop a central core of determination and independence that would carry me forward to today.

Personally, I wasn’t faring much better in 1994. My boyfriend had just quit his job and moved back from Texas to live with me. I wondered if it was natural for me to feel so uncomfortable about our future together right from the outset. Shouldn't I be thrilled, or was this just a normal case of nerves? I sunk my energy into Saturday-night dancing, Thursday aerobics, and jogging with my friend’s dog Jack in the forest. My best friend Blighty had gotten married and moved to England, and in a few months, at the ripe age of 27, I would visit Europe for the first time. And big doors would open.

It’s hard to believe that ten years ago, I had already been living in Europe for three years. (This sentence reminds me of the famous Tom Lehrer line – “Hard to believe that when Mozart was my age, he’d been DEAD for nine years.”). Anyway, K and I had already met on the soccer field, and subsequently at several parties, and I had already wondered whether he was single….or gay. Heddy and I (mostly Heddy, really) had already taken Jena by storm. Heddy, Jens, and I had just organized a huge holiday party at the Pink Place, and invited her entire company and the members of all three Max Planck Institutes. More than 200 people came, gave the password (‘Fernando’) drank awful 2-dollar gin-n-tonics, and danced until closing. My favorite exploits with Heddy had already begun – late nights dancing followed by lazy Sundays drinking coffee at Stilbruch, and long Saturday afternoons shopping in Mueller for perfumes and shampoo. (crunchy peanut butter and wine in doggie Dixie cups on the train to Prague was still in our future, though). Yesterday, Heddy and her family have left on her next adventure – they are off to live in Uruguay for two years. I am excited and envious. They are living the dream of moving to someplace that is completely new and different – where they will be sponges absorbing life in the same way that their 2-year-old daughter is. They will live in a new land where just establishing an every-day routine becomes an adventure. I miss that life. And I’m sorry that I didn’t get the chance to call or write good bye to them. I think that instead I will try to send them regular hellos during their first months there. My own experience tells me that these are the times that can be most exciting, but also the loneliest. It’s good to have a connection to the old life at these times.

Ten years ago I was home for the holidays in St Louis. I had bought Russian language tapes in preparation for my 2-week visit to Russia, to be with my Russian love. I was also on my way to Washington, DC, to bring in the new millennium with my friend Stephen. We went and stood, freezing cold, on the mall in DC. We listened to Bill Clinton give perhaps the worst speech of his career – every phrase sounded as if he were REEALLY trying to spin profound and meaningful phrases that would make history. It didn’t work. Halfway through the speech, most of us turned around to wait for the fireworks on the Washington Monument. (Yes they were actually ON the Washington Monument). And then, after hours of standing in the cold listening to a live stream of Celine Dion (why? why?) and Bill waxing philosophical, the fireworks were over in less than ten seconds. Kind of like a really bad sexual encounter, actually.

Stephen and I made our way home on the Metro, and shared a slightly strange couple of days. My Baltimore family – whom we visited the following day – was having a great time teasing us about our young budding relationship, although I was in reality completely smitten with the Russian. I know my family and so I could brush it off. Unfortunately, their joking seemed to create some strange awkward sulkiness in Stephen. Actually, I didn’t quite figure out the cause of his mood. Was he just tired? Did he want to prove to me that there was nothing in our future? Was I simply annoying him over and over again? I remember feeling kind of disappointed in him. And at the same time, I felt relief that he was confirming my instincts that he was really just a friend.

Five years ago was 2004. I had already been a professor at Dutchess and living in Queens for one whole year. Eegads, and just in case I try to forget those days, I still have dreams about them. Last night I dreamt that I visited Dutchess and was asked to pay back 3000 dollars of salary. In my dream I was asking myself, maybe I should just pay the money so that I can be rid of this place. In 2004, K was visiting me, and we were visiting St. Louis. This time we were actually “engaged” in the eyes of US immigration. I put it in quotes because we had to manufacture a lot of hooha about announcements, engagement parties, catering invoices, and notes from our pastor as part of the immigration application. For us, engagement meant, “how do we make it so we are allowed to live in the same country?” It’s funny, because I remember that I didn’t even want to TALK about marriage and weddings, especially with my family. Five years later, I can say that marriage has been a pretty darned good thing. It has far far FAR exceeded my expectations. I guess K and I were late starters, and truth be told, we bicker all the time. But we also have a great time together and my life feels 100% natural around him. I wouldn’t want to spend my life bickering with anyone else.

This year has been all about us, our new house in Funcouver, and our little Susi. We have nothing planned for New Year’s Eve, apart from hanging out in the living room, playing board games, and watching movies. Boring, huh? Like most stereotypical new parents, Susi consumes our time and energy, and we enjoy almost every minute of it. Just this past month, she’s started singing, and reading her books to herself. Her favorite book is “Gniaue Moon”(at least that’s how she pronounces it). Her other favorites are “Olivia,” “Bear in the Big Blue House (or “Oh hi!” as she calls Bear), and“Olive the Other Reindeer” (we pretty much get Olive and then infer the rest of the title from the flow of vowels and consonants that follow).

Her favorite games are stacking blocks and kicking the soccer ball (which she does with astounding skill). OUR favorite Susi game is the hug game, where she stands at one end of the house, gathers up speed, and then takes a running leap into our open arms. I can play that one for hours…. Her new-found love is the “Upanddown,” or the escalator. (except when we call it an ‘escalator,’ she hears ‘alligator’ and imitates an alligator mouth opening and closing with her arms). The “upanddown” was THE BEST part of Christmas shopping this year. They should sell tickets at the mall – they would haul in a fortune from desperate parents of toddlers who need to find new entertainment over the holidays. We spent about 20 minutes shopping, and the following hour going up and down every escalator we saw. I think the upanddown outranks the skytrain for fun and adventure these days – or should I say the skytrain doors? Our trip to the mall mostly involved a quiet skytrain car with Susi announcing the opening (AUF!) and closing (CLOSETHEDOOR!) of the skytrain doors at each stop. But even if the novelty of the skytrain is wearing off, the choo choo is still high excitement. Last night we went to see the ‘festival of lights’ at the botanical gardens and had a hard time pulling Susi away from the model train at the entrance. One thing about Susi remains very consistent as she grows and changes. Every new thing is a great adventure, for which she asks “more?” repeats ad infinitum, and executes with unabashed enthusiasm.

In thinking about it, I hope that we can all approach 2010 and the next decade with unabashed enthusiasm.

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