Friday, October 9, 2015

In this Universe

My honeymoon phase with San Francisco is over, and I settle into the daily life of love, the subtle, tender side. I grow used to the grumpy groans of the bus system, the passive aggressive nature of days of clouds and mere minutes of rain, the echo of snoozed alarm clocks in my dorm hallway every morning. I welcome the crows on the ledge outside of my window that transform each waking moment into an Edgar Allen Poe poem, and I smooth down the upturned corners of wall posters. I pin down origami cranes and prayers of the Pope to my bulletin board, and descend into a misty morning with too light of a jacket and a single squeaky shoe.

I have come to love these things, to smile at the early morning kiss of the cold and the operatic bellowing of the boy three doors down. I notice them more than the big things now, and it is as if I have moved to a new city, to a small simple universe of unconventional beauties that I alone notice before they slip through the cracks.

In this universe a fraction of the beauty is in the ocean’s sunset, and the rest is in the man who feeds the seagulls as his girlfriend sleeps. He kisses her sandy hairline and positions Doritos in a circle around him.  He watches the seagulls inch closer with a smile that never quite breaks the surface. My smile is as strong as the crashing waves when his slight movement sends hundreds of startled beggars into flight. I am suddenly immersed in the black and white TV static blur. The shadow of wings is painted on my creamy skin.

In this universe the best people-watching is not always of people. I watch the wrinkles of a pug on the bus form into pointed emotions. His owner is San Francisco born and raised: a man bun, tattoos growing up his arm like vines, a battered baseball cap, designer sporty sandals. His dog side-glances him, but he only stares out the window, his head bobbing up and down with the bumps of the road as if he was moving to the rhythm of music. The dog’s eyebrows raise and drop with every opening and closing of the doors. When humans internally sigh, can you see it so clearly written in their sunlit murky eyes?

In this universe the best poetry is scribbled in forgotten corners. I attend readings in colorful coffee shops that beckon amongst gray watercolor streets. Hipster college students ride on skateboards and carry their laundry baskets outside the window, loose articles billowing like sails in the wind. Fog presses against the window as poets utter beauty too quickly for digestion and I cannot taste the richness before it is stuck in my throat. I am left in a shell of inexplicable warmth. I wait in line for the bathroom and find beauty etched all around me. I read for a long time, even as the line grows long out the door. I am finally tasting the words in my mouth.

In this universe sun pours around my friends, their souls aglow. Light streams through them as it does through the stained glass windows of a church. The coloring of recognition forms the most beautiful reality I have known. In a bus overflowing with the fluctuating personalities of humanity, my heart flutters to look upon those I know, those who are my home there on the bus and anywhere else we venture. Like the impromptu cloth forts children throw up in living rooms, we are always rebuilding, layering the sheets of memories under which we giggle uncontrollably.

In this universe, in my dorm room, my friend is wrapped up like a gift. She sits amongst draped damp clothing the dorm dryer machine failed to finish. She sits amongst unopened boxes and a microwave in need of an extension cord, amongst drooping sunflowers and folded shawls. She sits in the heart of my city, in the cluttered epicenter of my heart. Where seagulls dance through my thoughts and pugs ponder alongside of me and the wheeze of the bus helps to sing me to sleep. My universe has a rhythm and poetry scribbled in its stars. I would not trade in my single squeaky shoe for the world. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015


If someone told me that something magical would happen to me in the next 24 hours, my mind would jump to predictable anticipations. I would expect a romantic moment maybe, involving a beach and sunset (though I am nowhere near a beach—I would expect fate to figure that one out). Or I might win the lottery. Or hop on an airplane to somewhere exotic in Europe. I would think all of these things, because societal “magic” means love, money, travel. I consider myself open-minded, but it is not the small miraculous things that I dream about and look forward to. Though I’m starting to think they should be.

I certainly could not have predicted the beginning of said small miraculous magic to be a power outage. My days at Spread Eagle, the U.P. lake town where I’d been staying to visit family, had been filled with nothing but sun-soaked smiles and heroic sunset silhouettes splashed against the shore. After another sigh-provoking evening, I walked up the hill to the family’s glowing cottage. I was almost to the door when the power shuddered off. I didn’t realize right then that the entire chain of lakes had just experienced the same thing.

So the town experienced true darkness. Resigned, I watched the night swallow my surroundings, a black sea taking the land hostage. But soon frantic lights flickered like a light show in the neighboring houses. My step dad saved the day with a burning lantern. And beyond the row of our silent houses, a sliver of the moon slid gracefully down the sky. I followed it like a fish follows a shiny hook.

    Down to the water I went, and I watched as the flashlights across the lake settled into submission. The lake revealed itself to me in its natural state—where lights would’ve dotted the wooded hills, I followed only the scrapbook edge of the trees against the blue lining of the night sky. Two boats crossed paths under the setting moon, like two lost lovers reunited in a dance. A family member next door hopped in his fishing boat, and as I watched him speeding towards the moon I imagined he would arc up and touch it before my eyes. The ripple of his waves turned the white reflection into a quivering heart rate monitor on the surface of the water.

The moon dropped below the horizon, the fishing boat returned from space, the lovers resigned themselves to their star-crossed corners of the world. I curled myself in a blanket and felt the mosquitoes penetrate my fortress. But I chose the physical itch of the moment over an itch of regret in the future. The stars shined down like shafts of light, and I too was submerged in the dark sea. Bugs swam above me as I lay curled on the sky’s floor. I felt as though I could shake shooting stars free with the intensity of my awed eyes.

I took my time to witness the small miraculous magic moment, the million small miraculous lights that came together in a symphony of silence. Then I rose from underneath the weight of the stars floating above me and walked towards the darkness of the house. Once again, I reached for the handle of the door. And the lights flickered back on.  The universe had given me my time. But in this instance, instead of giving me my time in the light, it gave me my time in the dark.

I witnessed love in the intertwining boats. I witnessed travel, as the fishing boat raced towards the moon. And I—I won the lottery. My payment was scattered across the sky.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Model Behavior

No one knows how he/she will be remembered. When we make our entrances into the world, we ripple outwards, but see only the first few rings. We live our lives without suspecting that we may be touching others, that others may hold a certain picture in memory, that we are immortalized by nature of being who we are, where we are. When I was immortalized, as a model for a painting, I couldn’t quite comprehend it. In my first frantic few moments, I wondered over the state of my hair, clothes, lingering sunscreen smudges or food bits in my teeth. One day such things don’t matter, the next they become art, part of how one will be remembered.

Individuals are scribbled into the margins of others’ memories when they least expect it. Seldom when they look their best, or put forth their best first impression. People are remembered for their humanity, the moments when they think no one is looking and the beauty of their character is stripped to its rawest form. I am sure more than one college peer on my dorm floor remembers me as the wide-eyed girl waiting, exasperated, outside of a friend’s door in my pajamas and moccasins.

This past weekend, at the Evergreen Fine Art Gallery’s annual “paint off” and auction, I passed into memory as the silent, wistful model. The artists were tasked with creating their masterpieces within ninety minutes, pieces that would then enter an auction for charity. Right before the timer was to start, one of the gallery managers approached me and asked if I was interested in modeling for Ron Hicks, a renowned painter whose work I had admired for quite some time. I was speechless. I may as well have been modeling already, I so quickly snapped out of the motion of the summer afternoon.

So I adjusted my hat and smoothed out my frizzy hair, trying to get used to everyone staring, and everyone being allowed to stare, as I sat obligated by an artistic silence. The artist explained that most models ask for breaks every fifteen minutes. But in the course of my runaway reverie, my confident coma, I stayed positioned and concentrated from start to finish.

In the course of the hour and a half, little children came up to try to touch me, whispering to their mothers “Is she real? Are you sure? I didn’t see her move once!” Onlookers remarked to Ron Hicks that he had a beautiful model. Many laughed at the fact that I still wore my medical boot for my fractured arch, crediting Hicks with choosing a model that couldn’t run away. The closest call to jumping out of my seat came when a man said: “Look, she doesn’t even move when there’s a bee buzzing around her head!” That necessitated a smile and a shake of the head to discourage the bee that seemed to want immortality too.

It eventually came time to move, and to survey the strokes of color that ushered me into a record of humanity. I felt like sleeping beauty, dusty and awakened by the powdery kiss of a paintbrush. Sure enough, the girl on the canvas was me, rosy cheeked and glowing in golden browns, shining amidst puddles of poetry smudged around the edges. The eyes were pools of green expression, though I know not what I thought of through my rebirth as art. Perhaps some emotion unbeknownst to me now, one meant to be understood when the paints dry, when my image hardens into an immortal revelation of light.

The artist named the piece “Hannah Rose.” The starting bid was $2500, baffling my bidding father into lowering his number. So I parted with that ghostly image of myself, knowing that she is who I will be to hundreds of surveyors in the future, who look into those oily eyes and wonder. I looked into those eyes and wondered if that girl is who I am, whom I want to be remembered as. But my ripples just so happened to be in paint. That girl can now go forth and touch as many individuals as she can. Onlookers may survey the brushstrokes of her creation, and imagine the life of a girl that passed into oblivion years and years and years ago.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Denver Writes

When I first clanked my way down the stairs of Metropolis Coffee, my boot announcing my entrance louder than any doorbell could, I had no idea what to expect. I try to make it that way, holding back distracting anticipatory butterflies, furrowing fear, and unruly excuses until moments before landing myself in a situation. I figure by that point survival instincts kick in to sedate all elevated emotions, and I can deal with what I may have foolishly signed myself up for.

This week I landed myself in a creative writing camp for kids ages 8-11, run by the nonprofit Denver Writes in the basement of a downtown Broadway Street coffee shop. Past all the angsty, edgy vibes of the hipster coffee shop patrons, I discovered a colorful classroom and smiling instructor. As a volunteer, I took my stance at the doorway like a warrior positioning himself for battle.

To speak in baseball terms, I came close to striking out. Strike one: while discussing star wars with one boy, I mentioned the death of a character, leading a boy nearby to launch into a list of dead relatives and far away funerals. I call that a ‘fowl’ ball. Strike two: a talkative boy from Puerto Rico circled the room challenging the other kids to list difficult English words, determined to translate them all to Spanish. When he came over to me, I offered “Supercalifragelisticespialidocious” with what I thought was a gentle smile. It turns out he had never seen Mary Poppins. My swing entirely missed. 

But the first smile I received back changed everything. I found myself amongst creative, spunky, kindred spirits. I was part of a Charlie Brown cast of quirky characters. This included a boy whose red-headed afro was double the size of his freckled, toothless-grin face, a dedicated child-architect of table-filling “Tornado Towns”, and a drama queen Hollywood actress in the making, quite capable of squeezing affection out of anyone with high intensity hugs. Across five, eight-hour days I came to love these children, amazed at how quickly my warrior-like defense and wacky emotions had been conquered by that all-encompassing feeling of friendship.

As more volunteers filed in, each found the group of children with which they most “belonged.” It seems my heart always lies with the island of misfit toys, the different kids who miraculously find each other and remain lovingly loyal amidst the trauma and drama of every other group. We came to be known as the “Injured Table.”

There was Allison, gifted with natural puppy eyes and a sweet disposition, who had a nosebleed on day two. She was the first to walk alongside me as I limped behind the group, filling the summer air with stories of bunnies and kittens. There was Julian, with long golden locks ripe for jokes from boys with a narrow-minded conception of “girl.” He possessed all the brilliance and stubbornness of an artist, crafting intricate sculptures from Babybel cheese wax wrappers. On day three I accidentally stepped on his toe with the boot I wore on my fractured foot. His parents reported he was fine, but he made a point of elevating and icing his foot when I did, and limping beside me the rest of the week.

Lastly, there was Ellen, the quietest girl I have ever met. Other volunteers grew tired of holding an ear to catch her whispered words, but I was honored to be the mouthpiece of her mature, enlightened, and tragically overlooked commentary. But the children in the group stood up for each other, and just as they would slow to walk with me, they leaned in to hear the inner workings of the girl next to them.

Every day I made my way past the patrons with curled mustaches, puffy hair, and squinty eyes into the treasure of young, creative minds. After a week of characters, conflict, and magic, on and off the page, the camp came to a close with a play and presentation of stories. A surprise usually allotted for fairy tales rose out of Ellen’s mouth when, for the first time that week, her voice rang out confident and clear. As she read her story, the other children’s jaws dropped, and they mouthed their shock to each other. I cannot remember the last time I smiled so hard. Afterwards all of the kids crowded around her to congratulate her. All the scene needed was a Hollywood soundtrack and a teary eyed audience.

I entered the camp with a clunking foot and mentality. I left feeling gentle, fluttery, proud. I learned from an injured table with more of a sense of companionship and strength than most adults. I worked with a cast of novel-worthy personalities and eccentricities. And the ending turned out to be priceless.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Garden of Gods and Crutches

Colorado’s summer has at last arrived, after weeks of stormy indecision. It arrived in a neatly packaged box, ready for assemblage like a beginner’s Lego kit, tied together with shiny ribbons of expectation and wrapping paper folded carefully around the edges. It is hard to delve into summer for this reason. When it first arrives I like to stare at it, to think of all that it could be, to ponder what gift the world has delivered this time.  At last it comes time to crack it open like a fortune cookie, to disturb the untouched beauty with the hope that even more beauty awaits within.

I began to construct my summer, building a structure of sun, pasting wallpaper of pages, inviting friends through the door I’d adorned with a welcome sign smile. I dreamed in the morning and danced through the night. The clouds transformed into anything I wanted them to be. But the fortune cookie crack was not the only one destined for me. In mid-leap, mid-dance, mid-smile, mid-summer, I tripped and fractured the arch of my foot.    

Soon I was given a gift all right—crutches, a boot, pain medication, the whole package. The best way to appreciate every step is to make that step a hop, limp, hobble, or artificial click of plastic. I started the summer as a classic Lego character, clicking my feet into every summer backdrop. But I soon became a Bionicle, an iron woman who first had to assemble herself before any hope of assembling a magical summer. My summer gift had one loose part.

Footsteps are highly symbolic—of where one is going, how fast one ultimately gets there, of which path one chooses to take. What did it mean that I only had one foot, that my clanking boot sent sidewalk ants scrambling, and pitying eyes staring? Did it mean that I temporarily would have no story, no symbolic strides towards adventure? That what is so crucial to so many lives, the intrinsic need to see and experience would not be realized for the doctor’s jail sentence of four to six weeks?

Determined, I went on one foot to see the world. I made each hop, limp, hobble, and click count. I accompanied my dad, step-mom, and brother to Garden of the Gods. Amidst valleys filled with perfectly draped sun, it seemed as though the world danced for me. I could not craft the clouds, yet the sky’s creamy concoction calmed my achy foot and antsy heart nonetheless. I had to be contented floating through the summer scenes, without pounding my foot down, announcing my conquest.

I clicked my way on crutches down the Garden of the Gods trail. A couple passing by remarked on my comical state, saying “Wow, brave girl!” and “You’re going to be strong after this!” I smiled and savored in the ingredients of a story coming together already. I cared less that the smoothness of my summer soup was interrupted by the splash of a chunky boot. So the flavor is a little sour—the other ingredients are still intact. My days settle around my boot, but I swallow my experiences all the same.

Perhaps “brave” wasn’t the best word. At the time, it was more stubbornness. But I am starting to think bravery is the mastery of smiling at each step instead of grimacing. It is trusting in one’s fortune cookie, and a summer that doesn’t come together like the picture on the Lego box. It is trusting life to come to me, even if that means slowing down. I tore into summer too fast. Now I carefully untie the ribbons and salvage the pieces.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The End of the Beginning

 "I think it is all a matter of love: the more you love a memory, the stronger and stranger it is."
Vladimir Nabokov

So the final pen has dropped in triumph or in pure exhaustion. Boxes have been tossed and taped and manhandled into overpriced storage lockers, and the content of suitcases has been squished into oblivion. I stood alone in my empty dorm room, humming ‘I left my heart in San Francisco’ as I contemplated the bumpy paint and my first year of college. I traced the walls as if they would give in like sand, as if my heart beat would impress upon my one-year home one last mark of my existence.

When I regarded the city one last time, it blinked innocently, unaware of any fast-approaching separation. On the plane ride back to Colorado, I surveyed surrounding faces for any sign of insurmountable feelings. I wondered when my own rip tides of emotion would pull me under. In the plane’s last few seconds on the ground, I imagined my feet once more walking me through campus, tickled by the sacred college grass. I remembered the ache of San Francisco hills attempted in heels, and sprints for the bus managed in dresses. I recalled the purposeful steps made to my friends’ doors, in late night slippers or early afternoon flip-flops.

I returned to Colorado with lighter hair and hippie dresses and a college sweatshirt. I think of my days on the beach with hats blown away by the wind, tangoing through golden wisps of fog. I feel the maxi dresses hardened by the water and textured by the sand from strolling. My sweater still smells slightly of campfire smoke and granola. My purse is a scrapbook of ticket stubs and business cards and collector coins. I trace each one and remember the disco light of dancing halls, the echo of opera, the chill of dusk on Alcatraz, the buzzing orange of a Giants game.

I feel the experiences that at one time surrounded me settle into 2D form, filling my picture frames and Microsoft word documents. What was my constant reality suddenly feels like a hazy, distant past.  But it does anything but fade into obscurity. With distance, in miles and in minutes, every memory becomes more valuable. Every stranger is deemed a friend, every conversation a philosophy. Such is the nature of memory. Every line of music triggers a heartstring, every cable car ride is comprised of bright colors and bright faces, every taste is of elegance.

My rip tide is gentle. My descent downwards from my castle, my university on a hill, is softer than the waves of the ocean, smoother than the steep San Francisco streets. I leave shrouded in the glow of experiences that can now never be taken from me, kept in permanent custody in my heart. This is merely the end of the beginning—soon my return will recolor the memories I will try so hard to preserve until then. When the second chapter comes I will be reminded once more why I started reading.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Decadent memories flutter lightly around me like butterfly kisses, and the city fastens me in its arms. I feast off of the dance in my step, gentle smiles shared between friends, and the ever-climbing click of the cable car announcing the next destination. The entirety of my experience is like a three course meal laid in front of me, each bite worth contemplation, each leading into the next creamy cornerstone. There is nowhere I taste the richness of my experience like the restaurants that become my backdrops. Filled with bubbly birthdays, toasts to tickled-pink triumph, and arrangements of flowers and laughter, I can only describe the taste as warmth.

Part One: A Blooming Breakfast

There is nothing like disgruntled sleepy-eyed souls gathered under one roof, soothed back into the beauty of humanity by the first taste of breakfast. Is it worth a 45-minute trudge through a grumbling city, weaving oneself through coffee breath and watch-obsessed work goers? Is it worth an exponentially growing line of San Franciscans that take this one bite of breakfast and happiness more seriously than most take their jobs?

Absolutely. In honor of a friend’s birthday (and made possible by a sudden class cancellation), two friends and I set our sights on the topic of mystic murmurs throughout the city—Mama’s breakfast diner in North Beach. Known as one of the best breakfast joints in the city, we thought an early wake up call and arrival would expedite our anticipated spiritual experience. Instead we resigned ourselves to the back of a line filled with lip-biting, fluttery customers awaiting their next slice of revelation. As we waited we watched Chinese dance lessons slide elegantly through the park, sword-play grow saucy, and children tug their elderly grandparents along like toys.
   When at last our turn came, a beaming waiter opened the door of the temporary oasis, ushering us in while promising the rest of the line “just one more minute, just one more minute.” A table clothed in sunlight awaited, the warm pressure constant and comforting. Amidst Coca-Cola bottles filled with lone roses and an early morning lullaby of murmured conversation, my friends and I shared hazelnut, chocolate, banana, and raspberry French Toast and an oozing cheeseburger. We let the fruit stain our fingers blotchy red and the grease coat our throats. The sun only added to its richness.

Part Two: Charming Cheesecake

As a sequel to our birthday breakfast, my friends and I set our sights higher—seven floors higher to be exact. We put our name in for the Union Square Macy’s top floor Cheesecake Factory. As we waited we wandered through city streets, poking our heads into coffee shop windows and down alleys where tables stood ready for the next Lady and the Tramp. When our name was called sooner than expected, we sprinted back up the hills down which we had so casually strolled, our sample mall perfumes leaving barely a trace.

When we returned we claimed our seats on the outdoor patio. Around us rose a city airbrushed with the light of dusk. A menu of cheesecakes and creamy feathered coffee awaited us. We decided on a dulce de leche, a pineapple, and a coffee chocolate mix. When they arrived we watched each other carefully position our first bites, rotating each plate slowly and methodically. Each bite was so soft yet so textured by flavor, and even as a fast eater I took time to worship every worthy wisp.

We stayed until dusk turned to dark, watching the lights of the city flicker on like jewels caught in sudden sun. My stomach settled serenely, and my friends remained shrouded in the glow of coffee tendrils and smiles even as the sun sank. It felt as though neither wind nor time could shake us from the top of our peaceful palace, even as the buzz of the city crashed like a wave below us.

Such are the memories, strong and sure, worth reveling in and frequenting when waves crash harder. When my very core warms at the taste of nostalgia, at the sight of a friend, at the stirrings of a city. I want my three course meal to last a lifetime, its presence as pronounced as the sun’s touch on the skin and a city’s place in the sky.