Thursday, August 4, 2011
My Own Private Oregon, Part II: Go The F*ck To Sleep, Or: Will I Need A Vacation To Recover From My Vacation?
Author's note: If you don't know, "Go The F*ck To Sleep" is a children's bedtime book by Adam Mansbach - the title of which cracks me up, and seemed appropriate to the fact that I just COULD not sleep for almost a week, between pre-vacation and vacation excitements.
How I arrived at the family reunion alert and perky is beyond me. I didn't sleep the night before I left– I mean, at all, in fact didn't even try – so I can only conclude that the briefness of the plane portion of the trip was a major factor. Or maybe I was just excited. Or maybe it was my brother Michael's special magic. Or maybe it was just one of those things.
The lack of sleep is mostly – though not completely - my fault. As usual before a trip there were a million things to do, of course, but between making arrangements for my cases to be cared for in my absence and making my private arrangements, it was more than I'd expected. Luckily, the 4th of July – a Monday – the clinic was closed and I was not on call, so that gave me an extra day to get everything done.
One of my pre-travel tasks was a haircut – and I mean a serious haircut. I was anticipating it'd be hotter in OR than I was used to in AK, so I wanted to have a little less mane to contend with. This is usually something not even worthy of mention, but in this case I'd been growing my hair out for several months for the express purpose of donating it to Locks of Love – so when I got it cut I really got it cut. Fourteen inches, to be exact. It freaked me out a bit. I've never voluntarily had my hair that short. In fact, the only haircut I ever had that was that short was one given to me at the age of three by my older sister, then aged five. She very carefully spread out newspapers to catch the mess, and made me squat down in the middle. Then she cut my hair about six inches long on the one side - and about two inches long on the other. Strangely, my mother was not best pleased with her. Even though she put out newspapers and everything! I'm sure you're nearly as astonished as my sister was to learn that her thoughtful preparations somehow didn't endear her to my mother at that moment. I was perfectly happy with it, of course, but I was only three and could not have cared less what kind of frightful mess she made of it. Since then I've become a lot vainer about my hair, however, and quite a bit pickier about who cuts it. I personally don't think short hair suits me (in part because, due to its waviness, it tends to poof out and scrunch up when short, in ways that are unpredictable no matter how good the cut).
Still, it's for a good cause, and for that reason I pretty much didn't care how dorky I looked. It's just hair. It grows back. And mine luckily grows fast, so I figured that no matter what kind of Bozo the Clown effect I got, it wouldn't be for very long. Besides, it's an easy charity for me, a chance to help someone with little effort on my part and only a temporary sacrifice of vanity. I can grow hair like nobody's biz. I know this will surprise you, but I can even grow it in my sleep! I know! Amazing!
At any rate, between my head practically floating away from lack of hair and the usual pre-travel shenanegins (complicated by Independence Day activities) , I wasn't getting much sleep anyway for a couple of days. There was an added distraction in that I'd be going along, industriously setting things up for travel, when I'd suddenly go: Aaaugh! What's that on the back of my neck?!? Hmm, okay, that would be your own hair, you moron. I've had long hair my entire life (my sister's tonsorial debut notwithstanding). I'm just not used to feeling it move like that on the back of my neck, as if small spiders or maybe a fleet of mosquitoes are dancing around on my nape. It's not restful.
As for the night before travel – for some reason I decided to watch a couple of movies. I don't know why. I just did. So by the time I got done with that, it was time to pack and drop off dogs and go. I'd already planned everything I was taking with me, so it didn't take more than 15 minutes (and probably less) to pack. I'm notoriously a light packer – I once went to Africa for 13 days with only a camera bag and a single shoulder-carry duffel, not even full – so I managed to get everything into a single standard-size student backpack. I still felt like I was over-packing – I took a rain shell, even though my brother had told me it rarely rains in Eugene in July, and none was forecast – but you know how it is. Sometimes you just can't help yourself.
At any rate, I arrived at the airport in good time, kicked off my travel shoes and deconstructed my backpack for the security scan, made it to my gate with an hour to spare. I napped a little on the plane – which is never restful, but I got a lot of practice at sleeping in an upright and locked position while I had pneumonia this winter for three months, so it was actually better than it might have been. The hop to Eugene left Portland 1o minutes late but arrived on time. Since I had no luggage, Mike waltzed me out of the airport and into his house in hardly any time at all.
Unfortunately, my sister-in-law K had a bad cold, so she was feeling droopy. My nephew Mr. D was already in bed. Tode and K and I had some hard cider and general happy-to-see-you family chat. I went to bed, read, slept. Hmm. Still not that tired. Up early, and Tode made me eggs and really good coffee. Mr. D bounced and smiled and was generally charming. K, unfortunately, felt worse. Having just a few months ago had a kind of nagging cold that worsened the next day, and worsened more the day after, and then blew up into a big fat bacterial pneumonia, I was fretting, but I tried to confine my remarks to "Wow, when I was sick over the winter the thing that helped the most was sleep and antibiotics. So don't feel you're letting me down if you want to nap. A lot." Personally, I detest being hovered over, and I imagine most adults are the same, so I tried really hard to shut up after that, apart from volunteering to help Michael set up the rental house he'd booked for the family's accommodations, so that K could stay home and rest.
On the way to the rental, Michael and I went by one of the glass-working studios in which he plies his art. One of his partners and mentors, Shag, was in the midst of making goblets, the bowls of which he blows by hand, the stems of which he makes, astonishingly, from closed, hollow tubes of hand-made glass. This is a difficult technique. As glass cools, it contracts, and if you leave an air reservoir inside (as you must if the stem is to be hollow),the air will contract when it cools, either collapsing the stem or shattering it. Yet here stand one glass after another, the bowls of them lush and round as a ripe plum, the stems elegant and whole. Graceful and voluptuous, the glass so thin it looks frail and ethereal; yet these are things forged in fire, and the glass is hard as tempered Pyrex. They're not unbreakable, of course, but they're what Michael refers to as "hard glass"; much stronger than the same thickness of "soft glass", which would be the kind you would normally find if you were to (for instance) buy your wine glasses at an ordinary store.
At any rate, it was pretty interesting to see what beauties emerged, quite casually, from the cluttered confines of a small workshop. It is of necessity hot (because there's a torch and kiln involved) and there are of course large quantities of glass rod and various mysterious tools and instruments. There is also a water bath used to cool the glass abruptly (when this is called for, it's generally, if I understand it, when the artist means to break off the end piece of a rod in order to discard it; immersing the hot glass in water will put thermal stress on the glass, so that when the glass worker taps the rod smartly against the rim of a large coffee can, the glass breaks where he has asked it to, and the scrap glass – called frit – falls into the coffee can.) The space is filled with the necessary arcana of the art, and there are various bits and pieces of projects laying on the scarred worktop. To one side squats the utilitarian bulk of the kiln, graceless as a stump – but when opened, its glowing maw is filled with forged glass, all gleaming , voluptuous curves and brilliant colors, graceful as water and dense as glacier ice. It is a lovely irony that this kind of glass has properties of both ice and water – and yet it is made of earth and born in fire. There is a strange charm in that, for me.
Still, there was the house to provision so after a short inspection of Shag's glassworks, we continued along to the house where we filled the fridge and freezer with staples, and left a supply of dry goods (cereal and the like) on the counter. Knowing his audience, Michael had included several kinds of local microbrew, and some good coffee for the grownups, and frozen pizzas and the like for the kids. We distributed folding cots here and there to augment the accommodations and then we were off to the airport to gather rellies by the carload, dividing them between two vans.
It's amazing how many car seats you need with three families of kids. And then there is, of course, the luggage. Luckily my family is by and large disinclined (as I am) to schlep huge quantities of luggage hither and yon. I've done enough traveling, both domestic and international, that I am heartily sick of dragging big suitcases about. Unless I'm planning a 3-month stay somewhere, I'm going to try to get it all into one bag I can easily carry. If it doesn't fit, do I really need it? The answer varies, but for the most part comes down on the side of "Nope". Except for that dang rain shell in my backpack.
With everyone and everything incorporated into the vans – with every seat occupied, but with a little cargo space to spare – we deposited the main mass of people at the rental house. Bedrooms were apportioned and luggage dispersed, and immediate inroads began on the food supplies. K came by a little later with Mr. D (who had been at summer day-camp during all this) and some bad news: Having felt progressively worse and more feverish as the day went on, she went in to see her doctor. Turns out she has walking pneumonia.
Well, crap. THAT just sucks. Having spent most of my winter that way, I'm pretty sympathetic. We (as a big group) have planned a big giant burger cookout, but K goes home early – wisely – to sleep. My other brother (known to you as MaskedMan) mans the grill, the kids play in the fenced back yard or wrestle each other into happy exhaustion in the rumpus room, the grownups sample local microbrew and eat and weave in and out through the tides and eddies of conversation.
The next day in the morning Michael leads a hike up the butte. I've been there – on my last visit to Eugene, lo these many years ago – and I'm afraid that, cold-adapted as I am, it will be too hot for me to enjoy. I stay at the house with my mother, who – at seventy-six – might still attempt such things, except that she's had a total hip replacement and it likely to need knees done before much longer. We have an enjoyable, rambling catch-up sort of conversation, and I, at least, am surprised when the rest of the crew returns home. There's lunch and an astonishing amount of romping from the kids, considering they just hiked the butte. They are like small nuclear reactors, powered by a glowing core, perpetually in motion. Mr. D is excited to see his cousins; in particular Mr. I, MaskedMan's son. They are of an age – only a few months apart – and look enough alike they might easily be mistaken for brothers. They gravitate to one another like magnets, but it seems to be a peaceful conjunction. There is, at any rate, no screaming, no tears, no broken bones or broken toys, and blood is not spurting to the walls.
My favorite Aunt (who is also my only aunt, but would probably be my favorite anyway, unless I had one who was equally cool but also gave me a million dollars and a pony) has arrived with my absolutely hilarious cousinette (who is not my only cousin, but is certainly a favorite of mine). We plan a giant take-out Chinese and Vegan feast (two restaurants are required for this feat). Eventually we assemble a vast buffet, eat and share, mix and match dishes, and drift leisurely in the conversational waters. By the time the leftovers are being packed up I am sleepy (finally! Maybe I've realized I'm on vacation at last!) Mike and Mr. D and I head home, where K has slept most of the day; she is still wan, but starting to feel better. We have a beer, chat, relax, make each other laugh. Tode gives me a popsicle before bed, and now for some reason it really feels like a vacation.
This is a thing which I think plagues some people: We tend to get so busy that we forget to relax. To stop being so busy, to let go of all the frantic accoutrements of everyday life, to. leave work and similar cares behind and take fallow time and spend real attention on just being. I am more than guilty of taking work home – I give my unlisted number to certain clients; I carry the clinic cell on weekends when I am not on call if I have a dicey case that might need my attention; I think about cases and clients while I am on my own time. I do this a lot. And there is (it seems to me) a tendency in modern life to schedule vacations so that they are so packed with activity there is not time to relax and just be. My family is good about consciously scheduling no more than one event per day, and intentionally scheduling "off" days and blocks of time in which we might do no more than laze in the yard, enjoying the breeze and maybe a beer, letting the chirps and squeals of the kids wash over us like the rustling of the leaves overhead.
There is a danger in vacationing with so many interesting people, especially ones you have not seen in some time: It is tempting to spend all your time interacting with them, hearing stories, telling your own, so that there is no time left for the mere enjoyment of simple company. That kind of perpetual motion and input can be exhausting, not restful at all, so that when you are done you need a vacation to recover from your vacation. But there is, sometimes, a peculiar magic that takes place internally for me. I don't know where or how I came by this; perhaps it's a result of growing up an introvert middle child, fourth of seven, surrounded by people more extroverted than myself. Perhaps it is a gift of medicine, a thing learned at some cost in the service of my art: The ability to both engage and disengage at the same time, to be clear of thought and entirely focused on whatever is at hand, and at the same time to stand in a small oasis of peace and clarity, no matter how frantic the activity around you. Maybe everyone experiences this and it is only notable to me because I came to it through effort and struggle. Whatever the case, it allows me to listen to all the stories, watch the bouncing kinetic antics of the children, savor the luxuries of having no responsibilities, no cases pending, no one who needs me, right this second, to help them with a matter of life or death – and to do so while feeling myself at rest.
So, as it turns out, I do not need a vacation to recover from my vacation. The days of disruption and sleep deprivation prior to Eugene began to settle about me like the folds of a luxurious skirt, falling into place in voluptuous abundance around me. And in the end, despite the massive inputs of the day, I did in fact go the f*ck to sleep, peaceful and calm, at rest in the cradle of my own private Oregon.