It's harder to take a self-portrait when you're also focusing the camera.
This entry might not make any sense.
I'm just warning you. Normally, I try really hard to make these entries make sense - I slice and dice and chop until what is in the entry is at least close to what I'm actually trying to say. I do not, usually, have an easy time writing these journal entries. Or at least I don't have a quick time writing these entries.
But the way these days have been, lately, I have no time to write the way I normally do, with visions and revisions and cutting and pasting. I don't have a grand plan for this entry. We'll see how it goes. I'll try to explain.
Last weekend Geoff and I went to Gatlinburg, Tennessee to have a little vacation with Laurie & Carlos. Gatlinburg, Tennessee (in case you don't know anything about it) is like Vegas - except without the gambling, porn, or desert environment. No, really! Gatlinburg and its neighbor Pigeon Forge are bursting with neon lights, wedding chapels, tourist amusements (a sky lift, a Ripley's Believe It or Not museum, arcades and restaurants and places to shop), tattoo parlors, and people on vacation. Surrounding the neon glitz and glamor is the natural beauty of the Smokey Mountains. (In the pictures I've gotten back so far, I seem to have captured more of the latter than the former.) It's a hilarious, silly, great place.
We visited with Laurie & Carlos and with Big Baby Jack (who now has lots of teeth!). And everything fit together. I felt connected to everything, to everyone I care about, to the world around me. Over the weekend, I talked to Bert, who was at our apartment taking care of Molly Dog, on my cell phone. On Saturday, I talked to Tracy, who called me while I was in Gatlinburg to give me good news and bad news, neither of which I'm sure I should be sharing here yet, but the good news is great wonderful news that made me cry and smile and laugh and feel jealous. (The bad news? As you might expect, it kinda sucks.) Laurie & Carlos & Geoff and I drove to Cades Cove in Laurie & Carlos' car. Geoff and I actually spent some time together. We had a lot of fun. We were happy. I was happy.
I have so much to say about the weekend, but I don't know how to say it, exactly, because most of what I have to say is not Stuff That Happened, but Thoughts That I Had.
Here's part of it: I love that family.
We had such a good time with them, the way we always do, and just like always, the great time we had reminded me how much I miss having them closer. Sometimes when I visit them, I duck away into another room, because my eyes are welling up with tears at how much I love them. This time, I had the same problem that I had the last time I visited Tracy & Tim in Cincinnati - I couldn't find a way to say what I wanted to say to one of my favorite people in the world.
What I wanted to say was very simple. I wanted to walk up to her, put my arm around her, and say, "Hey. I sure do miss you." And I wanted to smile warmly and kindly, and I wanted to hug her. I didn't want it to be a momentous occasion - I just wanted it to be a nice, happy moment. I wanted to do that with Tracy the last time I visited there. I wanted to do that with Laurie this past weekend. It doesn't seem like a difficult thing to do, does it? What the hell is my problem?
My tears are the problem. I cry so easily. And although usually I don't mind this (and in fact I take pride, really, in the fact that I am so sensitive, so caring, so in tune with life - see how wonderful I am? do you see? - that I am touched enough to cry about these little things), I know it makes other people uncomfortable. If you're at a funeral, or if you are saying goodbye to somebody who is moving away, or if you are at a wedding, then tears are usually appropriate, if not expected. But the middle of a restaurant is probably not the right place to be sobbing out your love for your friend. I think that it would worry my friends more than it would please them, to have me clinging to them in the middle of ordinary every day activities, weeping about how much I miss them. Even if I were smiling at the same time.
I mentioned this journal at dinner on Saturday night, and Laurie said something about looking here for mentions of her, to see what I had to say. And the feeling I got, and the feeling that I think she had, is that how much or how little I talk about something here is an indication of how important that something is to me. And that I haven't talked about her all that much in the journal, and that sometimes she wonders what that means.
I can understand feeling that way. I don't know what it would be like to spend the weekend with one of my friends who kept an online journal, go back home, and read her journal, only to find that instead of writing about me and the weekend we'd just shared, she had written an entry about passing Mayor Daley on the street or about some pictures she'd taken. I would probably feel a little bit sad, a little bit let down. I think I would be a little bit jealous. I might wonder just how important I really was to her. I would know that that was silly, and I would tell myself that of course I am important to her! We are friends! We have been friends for years and years! But then, see, there she is, writing about her life. And she is not writing about me. And maybe that would hurt me a little bit.
I don't know how to explain it, to make sense of it. I want to explain, again, that this writing I do here is me, but it's really only a small part of my whole life. I want an easy answer, an easy way to let these people know how much I care, how much they mean, despite everything I say or don't say here or anywhere else.
When I was little, sometimes I would have a fight with my mom, and sometimes during the fight or after the fight she would say something that startled me. She would say something that made it clear that she did not understand, not at all, how much she meant to me, and how much I adored her - how anything she ever did that made me irritated, or any time we got into a fight, or any time I rolled my eyes at something she said or did - that those things were nothing compared to the way I felt about her. That my love for her was unshakeable. I thought that if she could know how I really felt, she wouldn't wonder. She wouldn't say what she had said.
And so this weekend, as Geoff and I drove in our rented white Lincoln Town Car, following Laurie & Carlos in their Mitsubishi Montero, I told Geoff this. "How do I do that?" I asked him, at the end. "How do I let her know? I wish that there was some way to open up my heart. I wish that I could show them what is inside there in my heart, because I think that if they could see, then they would never doubt how much I love them."
I was thinking, as we drove along, that this was all about me. I care so much, I think. Why don't they just know that? How can I tell them?
A few minutes later, Geoff suggested that we should think about moving, somewhere closer, maybe to Louisville. And I was overwhelmed with how kind and generous he is, to suggest such a thing - to suggest that we move closer to these people that I love. He loves them, too, I think, but he is not suggesting this for him. He suggests it out of love for me. I am overwhelmed with how he could love me like that, like he does.
Sometimes I do this thing with Geoff, this dumb stupid obnoxious thing that I'm embarrassed to admit that I do, where I say, out of the blue, smiling and silly and neurotic, "Why don't you love me?"
I'm working on this. I don't do it all the time, and I am never really completely serious about it. But we've agreed that even "do you love me?" would be preferable to a statement that automatically assumes that he doesn't. It makes him feel bad to have me suggest that he doesn't really care.
So after he suggested moving to Louisville, and after we decided that we would consider making that move after he is done with school, and after I thanked him for being who he is, for being so good to me, the way he is, he told me what I should have known.
He told me that it's not all about me. That he wishes he could show me the inside of his heart. That if I could see inside his heart, if he had a way to let me peek inside, then I would never doubt how much he loves me.
Oh, sweetheart. I'm sorry. I'm not as smart as I like to think I am.
On Sunday morning, after getting up at 4:20 (3:20 Chicago time), getting dressed but not showering, driving from Gatlinburg to the airport in Knoxville in our Lincoln Town Car (ok, so I didn't drive, I just rode), returning the rental car, checking in at the ticket counter at 6:10 for a 6:30 flight, going through security (where my scissors - for cutting negatives - and my little bottle opener - for taking the top off of film canisters - were confiscated), we managed to get on our plane in Knoxville, which took us to Charlotte, North Carolina.
In Charlotte, we switched to a plane that would take us to Chicago. The plane that took us to Chicago was almost completely empty, so we all (all of us except for two passengers) got to sit in first class. Our plane had brake problems, so the flight was delayed for an hour while the maintenance crews fixed the problem and the flight attendants distributed snack packs and then drinks and then cookies. We arrived at O'Hare to find out they'd lost my luggage, so we put in a claim and were told that the luggage would be delivered to us in that afternoon.
We got back to our apartment on Sunday morning around 11. The dog had ripped the paper off of part of the kitchen wall. (Apparently she didn't think Bert was spending enough time with her and was hoping to get his attention.) As soon as we walked in the door, I was already late to my meeting with a woman from my photography class who was supposed to take an entire roll of film of pictures of me. I called her and told her I'd be there at 11:30.
And then, unshowered, unclean, wearing mostly clothes that had already been worn once (i.e., not my underwear) since the last time they were washed, I went to my photo shoot, where this tiny hyper trendy woman took pictures of me in and around her beautiful loft condo building. I spent those 45 minutes feeling mostly self-conscious, wondering how fat I looked, how messed up my hair was, how awkwardly I was holding myself.
I saw the contact sheets last night, and there is one picture of me that I love. Out of 36 pictures, that doesn't sound like much. But I love it. One is enough.
The last song on Ben Folds' new CD is called "The Luckiest," and lately this song is everything and everywhere for us. Geoff and I play it all the time. I bought the CD a couple of weeks ago, and the first day I got it I put the CD in the CD player and let it play while I went to sleep at night. I heard a lot of the songs, but I didn't ever hear the last one.
Geoff heard it before I did, and later, when we were listening, again, to the first part of the CD, Geoff said that the last song made him think of us. It made him think of me.
And so the next day we were in the car, and we brought the CD, and Geoff was holding the CD case, and when we got to the last song, Geoff said, "Here it is. This is the song that makes me think of you. Of us."
So the song played, and the song is Ben Folds singing and playing his piano, and later there is a cello and a violin playing, and I would say that the tune is mostly simple. I would say that the tune is mostly beautiful.
I listened to the lyrics (and now, for a limited time, you can listen to them, too):
in fact, i am told that a lot
now i know all the wrong turns,
the stumbles and falls brought me here
and where was i before the day
that i first saw your lovely face?
now i see it every day
and I know
that i am, i am
i am the luckiest
[somewhere in here I started to cry, I think]
fifty years before you
in a house
on the street where you live?
maybe i’d be outside
as you passed on your bike
would i know?
and in a wide sea of eyes,
i see one pair that i recognize
and i know
that i am, i am
i am the luckiest
i love you more than i have
ever found a way to say to you
[I know I was crying by now]
who lived to his nineties
and one day, passed away, in his sleep
and his wife, she stayed
for a couple of days and passed away
i’m sorry, i know that’s a
strange way to tell you that i know
[And this part, this last part, we sang along. I picked a
harmony, and Geoff picked a different harmony, and the three of us -
Ben Folds and the two of us - made a trio of luckiests in the car.]
that i am, i am
i am the luckiest.
I was wearing sunglasses, and Geoff was driving, so I looked out the window. Eventually, even though I was crying, I smiled at Geoff. "It's so sad," I said.
"It's not sad!" he said.
I know it's not all sad. I know that in fact, it is deeply, intensely joyful. How weird am I that deep joy also makes me feel sadness? Is that normal? I find it hard to ponder just how much I love somebody, or just how much goodness I have in my life, without comparing what I have with what I may someday not have, or with what must eventually end, or with what other people might not be lucky enough to have. What will happen if you leave? What will happen if you forget me? What will happen if you don't love me anymore? What will happen when you die? Will I be ok? How?
I am so grateful, especially in the wake of the attacks of September 11th, for what I have, because I can't forget what some other people have lost.
When I think about how much love I feel, I find myself wondering how I will survive their loss, and what my world will be like without them - my old orange cat, my parents, my friends, my Geoffrey. (And my tail-thumping dog who is staring at me this very minute. Her, too.)
When I am overwhelmed with happiness right there in the moment, I feel a pang of grief to know how transient a place the world is, and how we are all subject to the whims of the universe.
And it hit me, as I was telling Geoff these things, explaining why the song was so sad to me, that it's not just me who feels this way. Ben Folds set the song up to frame his happiness against sadness. What was my life before you? What if we'd been born at the wrong time? Someday, when you die, I will be so lost without you that I will die, too, and that will be right.
In my head, this song has been related to almost everything lately. It reminds me of how the world seems more precious when I'm grieving about all of those people who died on September 11th. It reminds me of my friends, and how lucky I am to have them. It reminds me that instead of looking at the six year age difference between Geoff and me as a big difference, I could realize that - out of the whole universe of possibilities - six years is nothing. Six years is a miracle. Out of all the billions of people in this world, I have been amazingly lucky to have discovered people I love so much that I can't find a way to explain it to them.
So we play the song a lot lately. Sometimes we play it on Geoff's computer in the back room, and sometimes we dance in the kitchen while it's playing. Sometimes Molly tries to dance with us. Sometimes I play it by myself in the car. Sometimes I play it in my computer at work. Sometimes I take it to the bedroom and play it in the portable CD player at the foot of the bed. Sometimes, after the song ends, we immediately play it again.
It's not a bad thing to repeat to myself, over and over, is it? It's not a bad way to feel, even if it does make me cry.
I am. The luckiest.
Isn't that amazing?
(I took the pictures shown here in, around, or en route to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. With my Nikon camera.)