Clearly they have been traveling…

Whelks
by Mary Oliver

Here are the perfect
fans of the scallops,
quahogs, and weedy mussels
still holding their orange fruit –
and here are the whelks –
whirlwinds,
each the size of a fist,
but always cracked and broken –
clearly they have been traveling
under the sky-blue waves
for a long time.
All my life
I have been restless –
I have felt there is something
more wonderful than gloss –
than wholeness –
than staying at home.
I have not been sure what it is.
But every morning on the wide shore
I pass what is perfect and shining
to look for the whelks, whose edges
have rubbed so long against the world
they have snapped and crumbled –
they have almost vanished,
with the last relinquishing
of their unrepeatable energy,
back into everything else.
When I find one
I hold it in my hand,
I look out over that shanking fire,
I shut my eyes. Not often,
but now and again there’s a moment
when the heart cries aloud:
yes, I am willing to be
that wild darkness,
that long, blue body of light.

***

It’s been a long week of writing about home, or of trying to write about home. If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog, then you know I have never had a good grasp on the idea of such a place to begin with.

Throughout the month of June I have been participating in a fun Instagram photo-a-day challenge and decided to use the above photo to define my version of “centered”. The whelk in the photograph is the literal center and my emotional center is the beach beyond. Just this morning I realized the whelk, in its battered and nearly broken shell, is always home no matter where the seas toss him out. That damn whelk gave me a clearer perspective on the whole idea of home.

Does home have to be a single place?

During my research on the definition of home (yes, I’m that bewildered by the topic that I had to do research), I began to feel a little less obligated to call out the name of a single place to point to as home which, to be honest, left me feeling guilty for not giving the designation to all the other places I’ve ever lived. Clearly, I have been traveling.

For the record, I haven’t yet figured out my own definition of home but I’m learning there is more than one way to define it.

The Oklahoma Standard

There is very little left to be said that hasn’t already been said. It all comes down to perspective from this point forward. By now, everyone knows what happened and everyone knows that my family and I are safe. In terms of natural disasters, the EF5 tornado that tore through Moore, Oklahoma was the absolute closest I’ve ever been to that kind of death and destruction. However, in terms of tornadoes, it was nowhere near me. There are 18 miles between my house and the Warren Theater. For the first time in my life, the horrifying images I’m still seeing on my television are literally just down the road from me.

I am now able to compare the absolute fear that takes over when one is about to face the eye of a hurricane and when one is about to take cover from a possible tornado. They are the same yet completely different. You have days to prepare in both situations, but here in Oklahoma, you have mere moments to react. The meteorologists in this part of the country warned us ahead of time that the weekend’s weather, leading into Monday, would be volatile. Saturday I learned of heat bursts as we buckled down for 80 mph winds that never came. Sunday I had my first taste of a non-drill tornado warning and watched Carney and Shawnee get ripped apart on live television. By Monday, I was in go-mode.

The hail started falling around 2:30 and the sirens started wailing shortly after and my husband sent me text messages from his downtown highrise office telling me to get the dogs into the basement. It was absolutely confusing when the meteorologists warned of a tornado dropping on the ground in Newcastle but they continued to talk on the television about a storm near Bethany and Warr Acres, the area in which we live. My husband wasn’t aware that the sirens sounding here at home had already warned me to head underground. He took photographs from his office window of a storm system dropping what initially looked like a funnel cloud closing in over our neighborhood but turned out to be two major storm systems converging.

over Bethany

over Bethany

He took a few other shots of a massive storm just to the south of downtown Oklahoma City, the one that had just dropped a twister down onto Newcastle, west of Moore. The photographs below show a ground-to-sky tower of rain and a huge wall of blackened clouds. Deep within its core is the EF5, slowly making its way into the city of Moore.

rain-wrapped Moore tornado

tail-end of Moore tornado

I eventually came out from the basement and left to pick up my daughter from school where, she tells me, she sheltered-in-place with her classmates and helped to calm down a terrified fifth-grader by explaining to him the Spiderman was stopping the tornado. We (me, the kiddo, and three confused dogs) immediately rushed down into the basement once more when the wailing sirens sounded for the last time on Monday and I think I’ve been in a kind of mild shock ever since. My daughter, it seems, is doing just fine. Now we get to carve a notch in our proverbial belts and claim to be somewhat experienced. I’m grateful to those who have proclaimed my official status now as an Oklahoman, seeing as I still feel somewhat like a stranger in a strange land.

If I could take the intensity of a hurricane and compact it into a mile-wide vortex and then combine it with all the anxiety and fear of an impending two-day tropical cyclone crammed into a span of five minutes, that is my best description of what it is like to face a potential tornado. And I wasn’t even there. I’m here, safely tucked away in Northwest Oklahoma City where I can’t even see the destruction unless I turn on my television. And it’s the only thing that is on my television. Of course, there is the schnauzer that was rescued on live TV directly behind his owner who, at that very moment, was mourning the loss of her pet and there are snapshots of teachers carrying their injured young students to safety. I get it – this hope thing – but, truth be told, I can’t stop weeping over Plaza Towers. If only this had happened next week, those kids would not have even been in school… or Why don’t Oklahoma’s schools pull half-days during severe weather alerts, like we do in Florida?…

I have to stop thinking those thoughts. It’s done. The Universe doesn’t make sense sometimes and, quite frankly, I’m still pissed off at her. We all grieve differently, I suppose.

There have been earlier posts in which I’ve entertained my East Coast friends with certain vocabulary that is known only to this part of the country (mesocyclone, fruit salad hail, suction spots). One of my new favorites is this one: the Oklahoma Standard

“There has been a lot of talk about the ‘Oklahoma Standard’ of dealing with disasters, and this community is responsible for setting that standard. We knew all along what kind of people we served and have always been proud to serve them. Now, the rest of the nation and the world know they are the best.”

Oklahomans are no strangers to disaster given that the above quote was born from the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. But in many instances, before and after the bombing, pieces of Oklahoma have been blown down by the big, bad wolf time and time again and, you know what? She has rebuilt time and time again. So why do people live there? I, too, asked myself this very question just over a year ago.

Here is my answer: there is no safe space. In the world. Anywhere. My home in Michigan was constantly under the threat of wildfires, suburban DC was and still is teeming with violent crime, and Florida…well, you’ve all had your say about why people continue to live in Florida. Hurricanes and sinkholes and coastal erosion galore! But it is home for many people, as it was for me for 16 years, just as Oklahoma is home for so many others.

And, for now, Oklahoma is home to me.

ok heart

Open Water | Open Spaces

lake hefner

A few days ago I realized that I have spent my entire pre-Oklahoma life on one peninsula or another. Peninsula – it’s such a romantic word, conjuring up thoughts of being surrounded almost entirely by calming, soothing water. Yes, this Floridian is still missing the water, but I was able to quell some of that homesickness last night at a lakeside restaurant by staring out at the sailboats and windsurfers and imagining the sound of the lapping waves left in their wake.

Oklahoma has a lot of lakes and rivers and they’ve been filling up, for the most part, with plenty of water, thanks to a few good downpours recently. The air has been warm and the sun has been shining and I am almost tempted to toss out my prescription Vitamin D supplements, but no! The forecast for Thursday is calling for a high of 46 degrees with lots of clouds. Because, well…why the *$#% not, right?

It’s been officially decided that I can probably be happy living near the coast, even if the weather isn’t ideal (New England – I’m looking at you!) or someplace with an ample amount of sunshine, but preferably in a sunny and small fishing village anywhere on the Eastern Seaboard.

That’s not happening anytime soon so I am happy to call Oklahoma City home as long as I can see scenes like this more often than not:

sailboat in lake hefner sun

lake hefner lighthouse

lake hefner

The little spit of land on which the Lake Hefner Lighthouse resides could very well be considered a tiny peninsula, a breakwater, or even a jetty, perhaps. There are no oceans or Great Lakes nearby so I have to find familiarity in small-scale ways. But where Oklahoma is lacking in big, open water she more than makes up for in big, open spaces. I’m hoping to get much more of that in the coming months!

To See the Sea Again…

I started reading In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex earlier this week. My bookmark is resting on page nineteen but already I’m pining for salt air, sea breezes, and the stinkeye one gets from those mean ol’ pelicans. I don’t know if I really miss Florida or if I just miss the small fishing and shrimping villages located up and down along the Atlantic coast. Either way, reading about this whaleship and the crew and the harbor town and the island of Nantucket and all the things that remind me of home just seem to remind me of…well, home.

The ocean, the rivers, the marshes, the bridges. Even the cargo ships and cruise lines have a special place in my heart. I feel silly for even entertaining the idea of not returning to Florida this summer. So, so silly.

our camping float-by

a container ship on the St. Johns River, heading out to cross the Atlantic

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Mayport shrimp boats – it’s a way of life

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Mr. Ed is our favorite tugboat.

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Atlantic Coast pelicans are much nicer than Gulf Coast pelicans.

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another container ship, returning overseas

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at the harbor-front in Fernandina Beach

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more Fernandina boats

Dames Point Bridge

Dames Point Bridge that connects North Jacksonville to Arlington, Southside, and the Jacksonville Beaches. A cruise ship makes it way out to sea by navigating under this bridge with barely a few feet of clearance at low tide.

Spring Break. It’s Just Like Every Other Week.

A few weeks ago, I was thrown off by the fact that my university’s spring break wasn’t actually the week I believed it to be. It was made worse when, midway through spring break (not the real one, but the imaginary one I was already celebrating), I realized classes had started two days earlier. Needless to say, I had to work through the real spring break and I feel like I’ve been playing catch-up ever since. But when I finally got the chance to share my future career plans with a friend of mine recently, it all seemed worth it. It still does, but I can tell you that it’s a lot easier to recognize the worth of your hard work when it’s coming to an end.

After scrambling to write up four research papers and read hundreds of pages on everything from dark matter and nebulas to Darwin’s finches and Mount Toba (holy shit, y’all – Google it), my brain shut off on Friday when my husband took me out for pizza and shopping for used books…of the fun kind! You know, books about the Mayflower, 1950s race relations in the Deep South, and that asshat King George III. This is fun reading for me and I hope I can put what I read to good use one of these days. Call me, Trebek!

With that, I was able to enjoy this weekend and, dare I say it – I enjoyed Oklahoma. I soaked in my hot tub at night and in the middle of the day and decided both were awesome. My friend and I watched a thunderhead form from nothing in my backyard, far enough away that we stayed dry but close enough to see the towering layers continue building up and up. With drinks in hand, we turned our chairs around to see an incredible lightning show that went on for at least an hour. I was impressed; she told me not to be impressed. Bigger ones, more impressive ones, are on the way.

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My husband, being the more adventurous of the two of us, invited me on a motorcycle ride and I accepted. With conditions, of course, because I’m a pain in the ass that way. Rattling around on the back of a bike is not my idea of a good time, but Matt loves it. Probably the same way I love sitting at the beach. I offered to join him but only if he took me to the nearby gardens. He obliged because he’s a good husband. The best, in fact.

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And so with this Monday begins another round of reading hundreds of pages followed by hours of researching and writing. I don’t mind it, if you can believe it.  Especially because after months and months of searching (actually, I’ve been searching since I moved out here to Oklahoma City), we finally found my perfect desk at a nearby antique shop. Matt and I were able to strike a deal with the seller and brought it home later that afternoon. After moving some furniture around and reorganizing the bookshelves (which, to me, is like reorganizing my brain – I love it!), our office has a bit more color in it.

new office space

Teddy seems to be quite comfortable in the new office, too.

How’s Teddy?

My parents often ask, “How’s Teddy doing?”

They don’t ask out of favoritism, but because they are aware of my hysterics months ago upon realizing what a nightmare with four legs we’d brought home. All is good now – Teddy and I are snuggle buddies, which I find surprising for a cat. To clear up any confusion, though, he really is a dog that just acts like a cat: bats the ball around all by himself, rests on the back of the couch, steals socks, licks my hair, and is easily distracted by random strings and stray yarns (anything tassled, like a throw blanket, is just asking for trouble).

This morning, while starting to watch an episode of The Grand (I have no trash television channels and must import the dramatic filth from BBC via Netflix), I was cozying myself on the couch in my bathrobe. Teddy crawled on and up the back of it, put himself down directly behind me, rested his nose right on my shoulder, and proceeded to snooze away.

Here he is just a few hours ago, blissfully asleep at the crook of my neck.

snuggle buddy

I wish there were more moments like this. They do happen quite often, but usually after Teddy has been tuckered out from beating the hell out of me. I pay a price.

Keeping in mind that he is still young and playful, this morning (pre-snuggle) he ran me over with his tennis ball tug toy in his mouth and knocked me to the floor. When I tried to get up, he and his sixty-four pounds jumped on my stomach and swung his toy around, aiming the tennis ball directly for my face and clocking me at least three times. I lost count.

Thankfully my glasses are still intact.

After my daughter came out of her bedroom to rescue me, I stood myself up and was immediately pounced on again by Teddy who, as it happens, likes to spontaneously attack the loose sleeves of my bathrobe. Unfortunately, my arms get in the way. The act might look vicious to a passerby, much like how a K-9 police dog is trained to attack a fleeing perpetrator (we’ve all seen the hilarious videos where the German Shepherd goes for the suspect’s arm), but I know Teddy is playing and he’ll stop as soon as I tell him to be nice. And after a few reminders to stop and be nice, he did, because he’s a good cat, er…dog.

So, Mom and Dad, Teddy is fine. We all are.

A Partial Hometown Tour of Jacksonville (Gangnam Style)

A few comments about this video:

00:14 – That’s the Jacksonville Beach Pier. After two of its wood-built predecessors (the original and the replacement pier) were either destroyed or heavily damaged by a few different hurricanes and tropical storms (Floyd, Fay, and Bonnie), the city finally decided to build one with concrete pillars.

00:22 – Everbank Field, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

00:47 – Matt and I had our first date here at River City Brewing Company and dinner with my friends and family when we celebrated getting married. That’s the Main Street Bridge in the background where we also walked on our first date. Dawww, sentimentality.

01:11 – I have a bone to pick with this shot. Never in all my attempts to drive through the St. Johns Town Center have I seen such clearer traffic and better behaved drivers. It’s not about the cop, either. Town Center drivers are usually assholes. I’m impressed by whatever power has been yielded over these Town Center shoppers. Truly, truly impressed.

02:32 – Friendship Fountain was finally cleaned up (thanks, city tax dollars!) and it’s beautiful at night. The fountain changes colors and music plays around the park with the Main Street Bridge lit up in the background. It’s where we held an impromptu photo shoot with our aforementioned wedding celebration peeps. The photos didn’t come out very well though, because unfortunately nobody who attended our dinner was a photographer or even knew how to take photographs at night. Ooops. But here’s my best attempt at such a picture:

downtown Jacksonville, Friendship Fountain

Friendship Fountain & Main Street Bridge

02:51 & final scene – Shahid Khan, owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, is the guy wearing the white shirt and that awesome ‘stache! He’s a Pakistani-born American businessman, not a terrorist as some bigots originally tried to have us all to believe. There are more Arabs in Jacksonville than most people probably realize so I think it’s time America just got the f*** over the whole “all Arabs are terrorists” thing.

I’m not sure when I’ll be going back to Jacksonville (important decisions are being made on November 6th and I’m not talking about the election, folks!), but it’ll be my first time back since July. Although it doesn’t look like much has changed, except the Jaguars are actually losing more games this NFL season, I am so eager to return! Oh, but gaaawwwd the drive…

Mayport shrimp? Fernandina Beach’s salty air? Tangerines from our backyard citrus trees? YES, PLEASE. Also, I’ve made a deal with my mother in which she will send me as much citrus as possible (grapefruits, valencias, and tangerines) in return for the pecans that are raining down from our Oklahoma backyard’s trees.

36

Last year after my 35th birthday, I made a list of things to do, places to see, books to read, foods to taste, and pieces of my personality that I decided to change or just needed to learn to live with. A sort of follow-through document, if you will, by which I would hold myself accountable. Most of the things on my list actually happened, although a few are still hanging around since I realized that even one year’s time is not as much time as one might believe. And time alone cannot change the way I see myself or how anyone else sees me, for that matter.

The 35th year of my life is, quite honestly, the highlight of my life so far. I got married to my best friend and found myself traveling across the country (more than once). My idea of home spilled out from North Florida to encompass the entire Southeastern United States (oh, cypress swamps, I miss you so!). I grabbed circumstance by the neck and told it to take a leap off a high cliff when I declared my independence, finally realizing for the first time in ten years that I had more say in my life than he did. Then I packed up my daughter’s and my belongings and headed west to Oklahoma with my husband, determined to find a bigger, more sweeping definition of my sense of place, my idea of home. It’s my own version of the westward expansion, perhaps, but with fewer covered wagons and probably just as many government documents to get us here.

I woke up this morning, my 36th birthday, in bed with my husband in our house in Oklahoma. I sent my insanely creative kid off to school with signed permission slips allowing her to participate in Art Club and the Talented & Gifted program. I am finishing a research paper this week for a class that will help me graduate from the University of Oklahoma. And I get to eat cake tonight with my family and new friends. None of these things would be taking place if I hadn’t started to believe in the notion of self-worth and, quite frankly, learning to like myself enough to make things happen.

So today I am celebrating how ridiculously awesome it is to make decisions for myself.  I have the support of my friends, new and old, and the love of my family, near and far. And I have birthday cake.

The First Day of October

Exactly one year ago in Florida, the moon and stars fell into perfect alignment and began leading me to Oklahoma. Matt and I had decided to pursue a long-distance relationship and then I lost my job. I didn’t know it at the time, but as a big believer in preordained paths I can, with all certainty, look back and say to myself, “Ha! How could you not see this happening?”

Last year, the first day of October meant I was conflicted . For the first time in my 21 years of working, I was unemployed. The economy was still spiraling downward and for my employer to be able to balance Florida’s grant funding losses, even just by a smidge, my position had to be discarded. I took it personally and I was angry about it, but it was never a secret to those close to me that I also considered that pink slip to be a means to freedom and to finding something else more fulfilling to do with my working hours.

For a very long time, I never understood the aphorism, “opportunity knocks”, although I completely understood the old adage, “when one door closes, another door opens.” To me, these never meant the same thing. Sometimes bad things happen when that other door opens and I would never consider that an opportunity. I have always thought of opportunities to be good things, whereas opening new doors is just plain inevitable and could result in having to do damage control, which is anything but opportunistic in my book.

(Then again, people call me a pessimist. I prefer the term realist but we can all agree that I am certainly not an optimist!)

However, now things make more sense. Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, I actually took matters of opportunity into my own hands. There was nothing left for me in Florida, not anymore. The man I loved and missed (so much at times it actually hurt) lived so far away and there was only one way to fix that. Once I discovered this and made myself accept it (I’m a sucker for nostalgia and not a big fan of change), I didn’t wait for the hand of opportunity to come knocking on any of my doors. Instead, I used a figurative battering ram on the legal system and surprised the hell out of a lot of people by bidding them all adieu. It’s still not over, this legal brouhaha, but I am also beginning to accept that there is a difference between battles and wars.

It was one of the most terrifying things I have ever done in my life but I get it now. I finally understand how losing my job and closing that door gave me the opportunity to make my own life mine, for once. Of course, I am still adjusting to this life in a state so far away from my family, in a state that actually experiences a change in seasons (!!!), but I would do it all again because I have my own family here, in Oklahoma.

This year, the first day of October means Matt doesn’t have to hop on four airplanes and spend five days traveling all over the Southeastern U.S. just to spend birthdays with Elle and me. It means the three of us don’t have to cram so much celebration into such a short spell of a visit while trying not to think about having to drive him to the airport in Jacksonville so he can go back to work in Oklahoma City. It means the world to me, to all of us – this year’s October – that we can all finally wake up in the same house, because we are a family.

Happy October.

Middlemost

I have been struggling a bit with my move to Oklahoma. Not so much that I’m unrelentingly depressed or unable to get on with life here in my new town, but because all of it is still so foreign to me. I find my inability to navigate the interstate system or even the goddamn aisles of the grocery store to be so fantastically frustrating (seriously, it’s okay to put cans of beans in the same aisle as cans of corn!). A few weekends ago, I had my first big emotional collapse, although I don’t know that it was really all that big. It lasted only a couple of days and eventually lifted like a fog, but during that time it was somewhat rough. Only a few days before this hit me, I was so proud of myself for having felt like I had finally cut the cord from Florida, that I had allowed myself to become unattached. I still call it home but now I feel like it’s okay not to be there in order to do so. But afterward, I had nothing, nowhere, to attach to.

Time is a monster when it wants to be, robbing us of those pivotal moments in life when we suddenly get it! Those moments are so short-lived and easy to forget, but they are really, really awesome when they happen. And I want one of those oh-so-badly right now! Maybe it’ll happen when I can walk into the grocery store and know exactly where to find the ricotta cheese (no, it’s not where you think it is), or when I can hop onto the Kilpatrick Turnpike without worrying about whether I have enough change to get through the toll booth (so far, I’ve always been able to avoid the turnpike by driving all the way around it or, as the locals call it, going the long way), or even when I can manage to get to the Oklahoma City Zoo or the Science Museum without having to punch the address into the GPS. Whenever I remember that the numbered streets run east and west, I come across a road that bucks the system by running east and west but has an actual name.  I mean, c’mon!

My friend Liz, Matt, and I talked about this for a short while not too long ago, about my need to attach to things, to places. Am I in limbo? Is this what is happening to me? It is very similar to being lost, knowing where you’ve come from and knowing where you need to get to, but for the moment I am so, so lost and probably because I haven’t attached. Honestly, I am not a clingy person. At least not in the traditional sense when one imagines a jealous girlfriend or a small child attached to the legs of his overwhelmed mother. That is not me at all. I guess I like to feel like I belong to something, to someplace. That I am essentially a part of its fabric, whether or not it has even had a chance to get to know me. Because, realistically, this is how I feel about you, Oklahoma City. You are a part of me now and I barely even know you at all.

Rest assured, we are working on this. So here are a few photos of things that for me mean home. It is one of the places in Oklahoma I am becoming quite attached to :

sea oat look-alike

nice light

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delicious grilled okra

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