Friday, June 29, 2012


I'm leaving for Bulgaria in a week.


I think I need to say that more than once a day so I actually start believing it.

Where is Bulgaria?

North of Greece. South of Romania. West of Turkey.

I'll be in Elena, where the red pin is.

So when I went to ask for a travel guide from AAA, it wasn't supposed to be a weird question. Anjali suggested it. AAA wasn't hard to find either. I just sauntered in last evening and asked the lady if they did indeed have free travel guides. She said yes. I replied that I needed one for Bulgaria.

She snorted. [That description is not an exaggeration]

"I'm sorry," she said when she regained her composure. "We only have guides for countries, like, in Europe."

I blinked a couple of times.

"It's right next to Greece. Is Greece not considered Europe?"

"Oh," She muttered, clearly realizing that she had imagined the country to be in a very different geography location, "Fine, I'll look."

She was right. They didn't have a guide for Bulgaria. Nor was there any information in the general "Travel Europe" guide.

I walked out empty handed but amused: Bulgaria is in the EU. I think that counts as Europe.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What I'm Not

There is greater general interest in the place of my birth when I am here.

Here is South of the Mason Dixon Line.

I was born in Athens, GA.

People ask where I'm from and I say "State College, PA. If you took a pink and put it in the dead center  of the state, you'd be about where State College is." Then I talk about Penn State. If they are still listening, we might get around to my family being in Hershey.

But where I'm born keeps coming up this trip. "Why are you in Rock Hill, SC?" they ask. Or Charlotte. Or Charlottesville. So I explain why I was in Athens this past week: a family reunion. And that I'm road tripping back home and stopping by art communities on my way home.

Then their eyes light up. "You were born in Georgia? That's great! Glad to know you're southern." It doesn't all come out in those words. It comes out in a slight nod of approval. Or curiosity. Or the blatant question, "If you don't mind my asking, why would you leave The South?"

The answer is this: my father got a job. We moved. But that doesn't answer the attack I feel has been made on my Pennsylvania roots. In high school, I had a distinct sense that the green farm hills of Central PA were part of my story just as much as the small New York valley town my father was from and the red clay of Georgia were part of my mother.

Its an odd, unspoken complexity. I was in Georgia for just enough of my formative years that it seems like the place I'm really from. My grandmother and cousins and other extended family are down there and we visit about twice a year. I've driven the 11.5 hour drive with my family more times than I can count in the 13 years we've lived in Hershey.

Long enough that when someone says, "I really wouldn't mind if the South actually seceded. And good riddance," I get a little hot beneath the collar.

But I am from Pennsylvania. My home town is in the north. I'm a "yankee baby" as one particularly staunch confederate woman once noted with slight disappointment. I don't have an accent anymore, lost somewhere in the first year we were in Hershey. I don't freak out at the sight of a grey buggy on the road. I know that Lancaster is pronounced "Lan-kester" in falling syllable emphasis and not "Lan KAS ter". It takes me a while to warm up to a large, new group and I generally walk around new places without making eye contact. I do not own a pearl necklace and am generally uncomfortable in the expression of southern femininity.

I stand as the defender of both. No, I do not want the South to secede because they are too "dumb" or "conservative". No, I do not want to be called a "yankee" with that disappointment in your voice, as if I'm somehow a different creature.

Being born matters. I just don't know what part in the story it plays after that.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Family Reunion

Location: Athens, GA

This is my first in 14 years. 1996. There are pictures. You can see me tucked in the front row since I wasn't any taller than elbow high, sporting my favorite purple hoodie with pink embroidered flowers. It was in NC at a beautiful house with lots of windows. And a creek I played in with an older second cousin named Corbin and my cousin Caleb. I would follow them up the creek and daily fall in the mud and get in trouble. I only distantly remember the various other relatives. Shadow memories, more than anything.

But then, it depends on what you consider a family reunion. If you count seeing my grandparents and my aunts and uncles and cousins, then this happens about once a year. Athens, Georgia is not an unfamiliar town to me. Despite having left here at age 9, I can still navigate some of the roads. I can get myself from Gmom's house to the Tingle Estate in Watkinsville. And I love being here with them. I love Emma and Katie. I love my grandparents. I love the Thanksgivings squished in the Tingle dinning room. It's like a reunion since we don't see them all the time.

But this kind of reunion? When we go back three generations to my great-great grandparents and invite everyone who has ever been born from their 8 children and children's children and children's children's children?

Yeah. It's been 14 years. Maybe even longer.

There are almost 100 people here.

The simple truth is that I don't know very many people. I know my cousins and what not. But I don't really know all these other people who come from distant sides of the family. There are some memories like of Cousin Jackie (my mother's cousin) teasing me about boys when I was little. Or of Great Uncle Jack's voice. But I don't really know them.

Three days into this affair, I have many stories I can share about this strange family. But right now I have two predominant feelings/observations:

1) These people like each other. They like me. And I really like them too. In reality, we're strangers. Strangers sitting around talking, swapping stories, and finding out who each other are. It's weird being related to so many people. And very cool.

2) Time is deep. And my own life story is very small and very short. When you start counting back the people within living memory and when they were born, you're easily in the late 1800s. And there are so many people in eachother's life web.

2) Three days wasn't long enough. It took the first 24 hours for my Yankee Social Ice to thaw. And we all leave in the morning.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Friend Groups: Starting Over Post Graduation

I had a pretty stellar friend group in college. We were an odd collection of thinkers and doers. We liked discussing theology. We liked night hikes and camping without tents. We liked food. As we grew older past 21 years, we liked a good bottle of wine and cheese from the Cheese Shoppe. We like Firefly and Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog. We liked to make fun of Eric Seidle's facial hair.

It was easy.

I woke up this May after finals and realized: they were all gone.

Not entirely. There are still several in State College and we hang out together. Melanie is my roommate. There is a decent turn out for each of Dan Conway's "Wine and Cheese" nights at the end of every grading period. There are people and they are my friends and I see them often.

But it is smaller and growing smaller. Seth moves next week. Anjali moves in August to Oregon and will no longer be able to head us all towards Zbar on a weekend evening or tell us the proper way to hold pipettes. I won't be living with Mel next year.

I woke up this May after finals and realized: I had not re-established a community.

It had been busy. I was completely engaged in work at Calvary and on campus. I had fabulous roommates. My sister was nearby. And #PSUBallroom was well over 40 people whose names and faces I was trying to learn.

But then May came and the empty space opened around me and I realized that for the first time since my first year in college, I was going to have to go hunting for community.

It's humbling to put yourself out there and say, "I need friends. Please be my friend."

But I'm finding them. Lois and the Third Place crew are letting me do it and don't make it seem as strange as it feels to me. Walking into parties where I'm "the kid" again unsettles me, but I'm trying. I'm having to face my "I'm not a grad student and therefore not as capable or legitimate" insecurity complex [a strictly college town phenomenon I'm pretty sure]. I'm showing up to help in community gardens (I don't garden) and at stranger's houses for meals. I'm trying to remember to introduce myself to the people around me and I'm relearning the small talk codes I've leaned on since high school. I'm horribly shy, an experience I really haven't dealt with for years. I'm on new turf and it isn't mine and I'm used to knowing the layout in the dark.

It may have taken me a year, but I'm finding my way out of undergrad and into this strange Next.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Did You Read...?

I picked up a book from the box. "Look!" I cried to my brother Mooney. "Look, it's 'Stewart Little'!" He nodded but clearly didn't know the story. "But it is such a good one!" If he wasn't older than me and clearly uninterested in my finds, I would have made him buy it for himself.

But I didn't. I heard a laugh beside me and I turned to see a young mom piling kids books in a large canvas bag. Her younger daughter, bright blond hair and pink hoody, was exploring under the tables during the search.

"That is a good one," she agreed. "I keep finding treasures here. 'A Wrinkle in Time' and a bunch of others!"

I made an appreciative gasp. You can't really go wrong with Madeleine L'Engle. I asked what else she had found and she listed some others.

Then I found "Lyddie" by Katherine Paterson. The mom didn't know the author right away until I mentioned "Bridge to Terabinthia". "My girls are just getting old enough for me to do read alouds. And I'm loving it!" She added the book to her pile.

A morning well spent.

What books did you read or were read to you as a child? Picture books? Chapter books? What were your favorites?