The thrills of summer

I had a moment of truth today.

Somehow, for two years of my adult life, my primary responsibilities were writing and teaching. And perhaps even more amazing, I spent two summers driving cross country with the best man in the world.

This summer I started working within 48 hours of graduating - and haven't stopped since.

I suppose we all have to grow up sometime.

I realized, though, that often when things fall into place, I have to resist the urge to break them apart. It's an impulse that must go back to childhood - the same feeling you might get when you find an undone seam in your shirt and you want desperately to unravel it all. It's an instinct I only recently realized I have. And now, since I'm a grown-up, I'm resisting it with all my might, because I worked my ass off to get here. The good news is, it has rekindled a creative fire I worried I might lose.

After my first full day at the office, I came home and found this:

This, to me, epitomizes the ideal summer. It was early June and this was our first campsite of many. The day was long but passed quickly. We fell into a leisurely rhythm of driving, hiking, cooking, and sight-seeing. We couldn't predict where we'd be next, and even when we did plan ahead, something more interesting always came along. We were outside most of the day.

As wonderful as that trip was, and as tempting as it is to think longingly of Carlsbad Caverns or beignets in New Orleans or flea markets in Pittsburgh, I have to remember the stress and anxiety that came with uncertainty. That same month I had to transfer from an already expensive insurance plan to the exhaustively expensive HIPAA plan - something I never could have afforded without my family's help. I was about to start graduate school but didn't really know where it would lead me. I was moving 110 miles from my boyfriend. A lot of things were exciting, and a lot of things were scary.

I'm trying hard to remember that when things feel scary, it is often because deep within them lies some new and untapped thrill. And what says summer more than that?

So here's to weekend vacations - to new beginnings - to stable jobs - to sharing an address with the best man in the world. I promise not to rip the seam.

On music and memory

I have a sonic memory. All the important days in my life are shelved as visual and auditory archives in my brain, little PowerPoint slideshows with accompanying soundtracks that change color slightly over time. My dreams often include a single song, played from start to finish on repeat until I wake up. Last summer's road trip to New York is best characterized by the Presidents of the United States of America's classic "Tiki God." My nine month stay in Fuengirola, Spain is equal parts Julieta Venegas' "Me Voy," Ojo de Brujo's "El Confort no Reconforta," and (weirdly) the Black Eyed Peas' "The Boogie That Be." Without question, my diagnosis of type 1 diabetes is paired with the Dave Matthews Band's "The Space Between." Incidentally, I no longer like that band.

This summer is marked by two songs, the first being MGMT's "Kids." I'd never heard their music until the dance party that marked the last night of the Tin House workshop. We were crowded into the student center on the Reed campus, and Ryan had just flown in after a week away. I was high on all the right things--new friends, travel plans, that superspecial excitement that means it is time to write, and time to read. The minute the song came on, I swore I'd heard it before, though not out loud. It was the pulse of something I couldn't quite put my finger on.

One month later, I requested this song at my brother's wedding. And then Dana the deejay put on LCD Soundsystem's Great Release, my second song for the summer. We were swirled deep within the belly of our neighborhood community center, a pulsing mass of bridesmaids and groomsmen, friends, family. The circle grew tight, with Josh and Shelby at its center, foreheads touching. The intensity of the music built just as the group edged in closer and closer, shoulder to shoulder, shuffling and jumping and clapping and shouting their names. And the sheer joy of it all defied sentimentality; this is no ordinary couple. What's happened there was something that is rare and refined, something we'd all be lucky to have ourselves someday. The song said all that, but the people said it too, looking back over the moonlit lawn, our eyes falling on all the trees we grew up climbing and all the people we grew up loving. There's that sense that men and women fall in love all the time, that sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't, and the ones that do find themselves wound up in tight circles, cushioned by a living, breathing community.

One of my professors believes that all weddings are trite affairs, that in the end we cry for all the same reasons, and none of them original. But maybe that's okay. Maybe all it takes is one song to bring us back to that space, that night, those people, that moon. Maybe what makes it original is what we as listeners, as friends, as family, bring to the music. Maybe that's why, days later, the song still remains in my brain late at night, a reminder that all the important days have multiple dimensions.


Originally uploaded by Julia_h_j

Last night, Wayne Coyne floated past my head in an oversize inflatable balloon. Nothing says summer like a Flaming Lips concert at the Harmony Festival in the middle of Northern California, on a day that hovered right around 80 degrees.

It is the best time of year--that time when cherries are plum and red, when the sun stays out so late that you can walk out into the fields long past dusk, when even on the shittiest of work days you know that by Friday you will have an adventure in your back pocket. Thursday was my last day of work as a graduate student researcher at UC Davis, and after spending about 30 hours that week on my final term paper, I walked off campus with that special kind of glee reserved for the last day of school. I don't care how old I get; this is still the best feeling in the world. That feeling that you have finished what you set out to finish, and hopefully you're smarter for it; and if not, well at least you've produced something that you probably wouldn't get to finish, if it weren't for deadlines and professors.

It helps that I got to spend the weekend with my best friend, boyfriend, and extended family; also that I spent the better part of a day driving along the California coast just one week after the rainiest, stormiest June 4 I've ever seen. This week I am supposed to get this pesky cast off my arm--decorated though it is, I am impatient to jump in the water. I have a short list of things to accomplish this week, and then Ryan and I are off to Discover America, Part Deux: Canadian Invasion. There is so much of this world left to see, and goshdarnit, we are off to see one more slice of it--while we both have vacation time and health insurance.

I keep thinking of this image that the Flaming Lips projected onstage last night: it was the silhouette of a naked woman pounding the drums. She started her set by pointing one drumstick straight outward, like a wand, walking in a circle as this beam of green light was beamed out across the audience. She stopped right before the band launched into its drum or guitar solos, at which point she'd throw all her weight into this one drumstick, slamming down on the drums with explosive force. The screen erupted into a series of rainbow pixels.

I want to be her, ringing in the summer with unabashed energy, force and rhythm. Who knows, maybe by the end of August, Ry and I will no longer be driving my little white Volvo, but rather rolling from state to state in a huge plastic ball. Hey, it could happen. The nights are long enough this time of year.

On summer

I read two novels by Virginia Woolf this weekend. The first, The Waves, is a dense little bugger - one I didn't think I could make my way through until at some moment her prose cracked and out shone a series of startling, vibrant soliloquies. About 30 pages in, one of her characters has a monologue about how exactly she plans to spend her first day of summer, and it reminds me of how, as a kid, I would keep a tally of the number of days until summer and write it on the class board every morning before first period. This says it even better:

"'I have torn off the whole of May and June,' said Susan, 'and twenty days of July. I have torn them off and screwed them up so they no longer exist, save as a weight in my side. They have been crippled days, like moths with shrivelled wings unable to fly. There are only eight days left. In eight days' time I shall get out of the train and stand on the platform at six twenty-five. Then my freedom will unfurl, and all these restrictions that wrinkle and shrivel--hours and order and discipline, and being here and there exactly at the right moment--will crack asunder. Out the day will spring, as I open the carriage-door and see my father in his old hat and gaiters. I shall tremble. I shall burst into tears. Then next morning I shall get up at dawn. I shall let myself out by the kitchen door. I shall walk on the moor. The great horses of phantom riders will thunder behind me and stop suddenly. I shall see the swallow skim the grass. I shall throw myself on a bank by the river and watch the fish slip in and out among the reeds. The palms of my hands will be printed with pine-needles. I shall there unfold and take out whatever it is I have made here; something hard. For something has grown in me here, through the winters and summers, on staircases, in bedrooms.'"

--The Waves, pg. 32-33

In related news: Four more weeks of work, one more paper, and then Ryan and I are embarking on our second cross-country trip. Destination: Calgary.

We shall let ourselves out into the summer air. We shall tremble. We shall burst into song...

Sign of a Good Day

big sur. julia fords river
Originally uploaded by Julia_h_j

The water was a bit deeper than I originally anticipated, but it was worth it to get to the other side of the sand dunes at Andrew Molero State Park in Big Sur. My housemates, boyfriend and I drove down the coast this morning, stopped at the Henry Miller Memorial Library, ate tacos near the river, and tromped around because tromping is the singular best activity for a birthday. The older the better.

Adventure is in the air. Ryan and I have planned an ambitious road trip with stops in Phoenix, Austin, New Orleans, Atlanta, Durham, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Denver and St. George in mind. We might very well be underestimating the size of the United States. But you know, I'm okay with that. Underestimation. Size. Time. Not knowing. I think, as I reach the cusp of my 26th year on the planet, I'm getting more and more comfortable with the idea of just letting the things I can't control dictate the things I can. So be it.

We hope to blog, take pictures and draw comics of the trip as we go. And then make up all the money we spend in gas by printing the comics into handy little zines that eventually we sell for gobs of money, in which case we celebrate by driving to who knows where.

Seriously though, I hope to be fording more rivers this summer. Bigger ones, greener ones, faster ones. Stay tuned and I just might.