Pounding out words

I inhale the earthy, crisp scent of leather, breathing in decades of memories, images flashing like a “This is Your Life” montage from some old TV show.

Riding bareback through the rice fields on my horse, the chocolate-colored reins held loosely in my hands, I sing loudly to an audience of white cranes and brown ducks. I catch my reflection in the water and pretend I’m a fairy queen, my hair wild, riding toward some imagined kingdom created just to honor me.

Sitting in my closet, my teenage heart is broken, I’m writing down the feelings in my pink leather journal. I want to be like everyone else, but I can’t seem to even fake it. I’m doing everything wrong and nobody will ever love me. I’m destined to be alone.

I’m standing in my friend’s dusty garage while Enya softly sings from a tiny speaker, “Let me sail, let me sail. Let me crash upon your shore.” I’m frustrated at my lack of skills, as the leather in front of me doesn’t look as I want it to, but my friend playfully throws a scrap at me and fills the space with a booming laugh. I can’t help but smile.

I’m not any of those places now.

I’m not any of those versions of me now.

I’m in my own garage.

Alone.

My tools lay orderly, waiting for me to begin.

I wet the leather. I pick up a square piece of metal, the letter “F,” and snap it into the handle.

I set the letter carefully in place and hit it hard, just once, with my heavy hammer.

img_3499.jpgI repeat this with each letter, feeling a connection, not only to the person I’m making the leather bracelet for, but to the letters themselves. The sound of the letter, the shape, the history of the words and to the printing press.

I snap one letter into place after another, developing a rhythm of motion.

Letters become words, and words become phrases.

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IMG_3543Letters become words, words become phrases, and phrases can change the world.

I picture early printers, hunched in a dark room, carefully and secretly placing letters into the bed by candlelight, words designed to topple monarchies, to protest injustice and to fight against oppression. Steady hands, or are they shaking hands, place each metal letter, so similar to the ones I’m snapping on and off the handle, purposefully in place with a full awareness of the risks.

Humbled.

My action is so small. Stamping leather bracelets for friends hardly seems worthy of mention, let alone connected to revolutionaries who changed the world with bold ideas and brave actions.

Yet, we all have to do something. Be something.

We all have to believe little things matter because otherwise, it seems so fucking hopeless, a tiny grain of sand in the ocean being pushed by the tides, a speck of nothing in a vast expanse of universes and black holes.

Our actions matter.

Our suffering matters.

I’ve been consumed with grief, the heartbreaking loss of my tiny baby niece in August and now the end of a close friendship.

I don’t know how to deal with these things.

Sometimes I can’t.

I’ve been unable to write, each time I sit down it feels like the words swirl away from me and leave me fearful and uneasy. I take long baths. I sit silently for hours next to the river, rolling rocks in my hands, and watching birds. Yeah, it’s weird.

Stamping leather has become a way to connect with lost parts of myself and to give back to those who have touched my life. Yeah, it’s weird too.

I’m hopeful the writing will come again (I managed this blog post).

New adventures will be there too, as they always are.

There is nothing revolutionary about any of this.

We all have to reinvent ways to conquer fear, to push away grief and to move forward in life. It’s as universal as eating and breathing, yet it never feels any less suffocating or lonely.

But we aren’t alone.

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Falling snow, bubbly car washes and joy

I am one of only three sophomores on the biology trip to Yosemite. The remaining are seniors and they are not shy about their dislike of me being on the trip.

It hurts, but I don’t care. I am too excited.

We track wolves, sleep in a log cabin, snowshoe and slide on our bellies through a pitch black cave formation called “the birth canal.” These experiences are unlike anything I’ve done before and I feel a joy so big it vibrates my entire body.

“It’s so beautiful, like I’ve fallen into a storybook,” I cry out.

I throw back my head, close my eyes and breathe in the cold piney air.

“You are such a child,” I hear one of the girls say.

A picture from my trip to Yosemite in 1993.

A picture from my trip to Yosemite in 1993.

We venture across a beautiful white meadow on our cross-country skis and it begins to snow hard. The guide decides we need to stop and wait out the storm. We pack down a circle of snow, stick our skis deep into the bank behind us and drape a tarp over the entire group. The snow is coming in sideways and blowing into our sandwiches and trail mix.

Some start complaining about the soggy bread and a few mumble about how tired they are. I am beaming. I’ve never seen it snow like this. The feeling becomes so big and suddenly I am crying, hot tears streaming down my frozen cheeks.

“Seriously,” one of the girls says and rolls her eyes at me.

On the last night, we are given a chance to eat dinner at the famous Ahwahnee Hotel. We dress in the big, shared bathroom. I feel like a princess as we walk to the hotel, my shiny black pumps slipping in the ice and snow.

We walk into the lobby and it’s all wood, chandeliers, comfy chairs and an enormous stone fireplace. I start to laugh as my heels click on the hard floor, the sound echoing all around us.

The restaurant has the biggest windows I’ve ever seen, wood beams crisscrossing over a green ceiling, candles in brackets along the wall, triangular-shaped chandeliers and stones that make me feel like I’ve been transported to a medieval castle.

We sit at a table in the middle of the restaurant and prepare to order.

“What did Queen Elizabeth order when she came here?” I ask the waitress.

She tells me and I order everything the same as her, wiggling in my chair with the pure pleasure of it all. Everything tastes divine and I can’t stop smiling. The rest of the students act as if they eat artisan cheese platters and prime rib every night. They laugh at me, but I am incapable of holding back.

On the return walk to the cabins, my biology teacher takes me aside. I love this man, admire him greatly, and I expect him to tell me more history or something interesting about the cabins.

Instead, he takes both my hands into his and gives me a very stern look.

“You really are naïve,” he says. “Tone it down a notch. OK?”

I nod and feel my cheeks burning hot. I lower my head and dart into my cabin. I cry myself to sleep, suddenly aware at how ridiculous everyone sees me.

What I view as excitement, they see as naïve.

What I see as being myself, they see as wrong.

It has been over 20 years since I heard those words, yet they still bring tears to my eyes.

It was the moment I started to realize what being an adult meant.

It was the moment I started to hear and care what others thought of me.

A few days ago, I went through a car wash with my friend and his 12-year-old son. I have not been through one in years and I could not believe how fun it was.

I point at the vibrant blue and pink bubbles being shot along the side of the truck.

“Did you see that?” I say.

The huge foam rollers smack against us, rocking us back and forth, and I giggle. I know it is just a car wash and my internal voice is yelling at me to “simmer down now,” but it sounds like a huge storm and I close my eyes and laugh.

“No offense,” the boy says. “But you sound like my sister.”

His sister is 6 and it makes me giggle more.

“None taken,” I answer back truthfully.

It felt good to let my joy out, to let the rush of excitement fill me up.

It felt almost like Disneyland.

I am tired of holding back the awe and wonder I feel every day.

I’m tired of drinking to squash my feelings down.

I’m tired of thinking there is something wrong with me.

There is not.

I’m going to take my kids through a car wash today.