From Bangkok to Calgary

At just about half past four today it already felt like the day was leaving and I don't know why. I mean, I do know why, because the light is leaving, has been since June, and our apartment faces East, and I keep replaying "I will follow you into the dark" even though I'm not a huge Death Cab fan but my cousin played that song Sunday when we spontaneously stopped by my aunt's house by the beach and it really is a hauntingly beautiful song, better when my cousin sings it than the original. And that means I can't hear the version that is going around in my head. It's there somewhere, but I can't grasp it. It feels spectral. So much felt spectral in August 1999 when I first moved to this city into the apartment on West 87th with no kitchen where Kristin and I spent the evenings awash in toxic fumes from her paints, vodka splashed and I tried to write, our duffel bags and mattresses on the floor in the other room. Just for a short while really until we moved out. So much felt packed--was packed--into those 7 months and now years fly by in the same amount of time.

Other years we have been on vacation toward the end of August, and I think that is the time to be on vacation, because then you still feel that it is summer.

It's okay though that the summer went by in a blink because this time I was awash in Joyce, crickets chirping in that oasis in the Bronx, the late rides home on the D-train, the feminist and post-colonial jargon, my final paper seeping its way into my vacation this year up in Vermont.

For years I've been accused of over-analyzing, thinking too much about what someone said, reading too much into...strange currencies...into a word, a signal, a nod, a little breath...and then I went to get my master's in English...and oh my God, of course, of course that's what all these years in the back of my mind I thought I had to do. 

But it also feel crazy now, to be sorting out schedules constantly with two kids, my nonprofit work, my new poetry job, my new classes about to start. And I think with-- I don't know if it can accurately be called nostalgia? --I think back on days when I actually looked at cookbooks and thought about what I'd make for dinner that night, or clicked on mommypoppins and thought about where I'd take Wally that day. 

Somewhere I fell off where I was processing things though, and that's what I want to get back. I want to get back to where I am feeling and processing things enough and I did that that first year the sangria summer when I started this blog.

I remember nights at my dining room table with the air the perfect spring new air (I'm thinking about many many years ago now, high school) coming in through the window and my books and papers spread out in front of me overwhelming crushes all consuming and listening over and over and over again to "Half a World Away" - "This lonely world is wasted on pathetic eyes" after that I never understood what he said. You know how the chorus is not that satisfying, not very melodic, you just almost can't stand how perfect it is when it swoons back in turn to marigold I always thought, but it's miracle? I haven't watered the garden today we have a pumpkin problem we did not realize how long and greedy the vines were going to be. A pumpkin is not the thing to plant in July in a tiny NYC garden patch.

Back to the vacation timing. I think I didn't realize that by this time even just half way through August everyone is in back-to-school mode. I know stores are, because they want to sell college-ruled paper and compasses. But was everyone always like this so early on? I thought August was legit full summer, but I swear everyone for a good week now has been moaning bemoaning the end of summer. And I think because we were usually up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire at this time or at least the back porch in Massachusetts I never until now thought of it that way. 

Last year on this exact day I believe we were visiting my friend Heather and her family, the boys roasting marshmallows maybe at this very minute, Alex and Heather's husband drinking the choc au vin we'd gotten at a roadside store. I got a voicemail on August 21 from a school downtown saying they had a seat for Wally and my stomach was in knots for the entire night trying to figure out if I should keep him at our local school -- community was so important, I'd been talking about it for months, trying to help improve prospects for under privileged students (the majority of the student population there) for nearly my entire adult life -- or send him downtown. It created this haze of the next few days. 

He's in Queens now, where he is king. The house is quiet. I have a chance to work. But the quiet means that my mind stirs. Calgary, that's Canada, right, not a holy place outside Jerusalem where Christ died. 

In all these songs, it's what you think they say or mean that matters. Once you find out the actual words, that can't change the way the song was imprinted in your memory. August was always the hottest month, the longest playing outside after dinner firefly evenings, the lambent, swelling, dog days of our green and crazy summers, even if for days now for all these years we've been slowly tilting away from the sun.


  1. I had this very thought recently- has August always been so "back-to-school?" or am I just noticing it now that I have a school aged child...i settled on this year being especially pushy. You are such a great writer Rachel and I always look forward to your posts. I'm headed to the pool with my boys because it is August 22 and I'm not letting anyone take summer away from me! And if I see one more ad with a cashmere sweater for fall I might scream. It is 103 degrees here in Austin today.

  2. So glad to hear others feel the same way and that you were off to the pool with your boys yesterday! You're very sweet, Holly and I am grateful that you continue to check back here. This does seem like the pushiest back-to-school August ever to me but maybe it is the school-age child factor. I'd be curious to hear from others. Also with Christmas moving up to November, Halloween prep starting mid-September, I guess the back-to-school season has adjusted accordingly. Let's continue to rebel in our quiet ways against the flurry of corporate-fueled anticipation that attempts to steal the moment from us.

  3. I like your new cover pic. Is that coney island?

  4. I love your last line! Night Swimming captures this inscrutable spirit by pinning the current over the past.

  5. Bearette - Right nearby - Brighton Beach - I think it's that very afterschool trip we talked about (and thought we might one day do again together).

  6. Hello! I just somehow stumbled on your blog ... You write so clearly and poetically - beautiful prose.

  7. Wow thank you Lynn. I'm curious what led you to it. There was a time I was really hoping it would take off but it just never happened. Never even close! Very gratifying to get this comment from you today -thanks.

  8. I'd love to hear more about Wally's new school. I know he was stressed out by school last year...

  9. I can't remember what I said about it - oh yes - the high-pressure Kindergarten. Yes it does seem to be working out better this year - I honestly think he still needed a nap last year and was a wreck by 3 pm without it. How about M & E?


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