What matters now

April 23, 2014 § 19 Comments

What matters now is the sun. It is out, is is warm, it is shining on the days and I want to walk in it.

As I age, running hurts. It hurts my joints, it hurts my shins, it hurts my lungs and my throat. Likewise, exercise DVDs – the Jillian Michaels workouts that got me through winter – have destroyed my wrists so that I can barely bend my hands back; I can’t lay them flat on the floor to do a pushup – I have to form a fist.

I never walked for exercise because it wasn’t fast enough. I got bored walking. I’d find myself wanting to break into a run so I could get home faster, so I could get my exercise over with, so I could get to the real stuff of life: eating, writing, drinking coffee, laughing with my family. But now, after huffing and panting and shredding my joints in the dark cave of our basement, but now that I’ve begun listening to podcasts while I move slower than a run and gentler than burpees, but now with an aging body and a warming sun, I crave walks like I crave coffee and writing practice.

Because what matters now is sunshine. I see it slanting through our spring-cleaned kitchen windows, I see it warming our back deck, I see it dappling the tender new shoots in the park and lighting the flowering Appalachians and I want to be out in it. I want to enjoy it in a way that I don’t when I’m gasping for air on a run.

So now, in spring, I find time, I make time, I carve time out for walks in the hills with my headphones. For long walks in the spring sunshine that does my moody self such good.

Fahrvergnügen

April 21, 2014 § 7 Comments

Vintage Beetle and modern Jetta Volkswagen keys on andreabadgley.com

1976 Super Beetle (left) and 2009 Jetta (right) keys

My car key is a rectangle of black plastic that fits in my palm like a rabbit’s foot, like any car clicker does these days. Only mine has no protruding key. The clicker is compact; I can wrap my whole hand around it, like a talisman. On my clicker, there is a shiny button I push with my thumb, and when I press it, a silver key pops out like a switchblade.

When we first bought our Passat wagon, I was giddy to have a Volkswagen again. My first car was a robin’s egg blue Super Beetle with a white canvas top. I was the first of my girlfriends to turn 16, the first to get a driver’s license, the first to be granted access to a car and the silver key that inserted into the ignition and (sometimes) made the car go. The key had the letters VW encircled on its round silver head: the logo that I maintain as silly an attachment to as hipsters do to that clean-edged apple with a crescent bite out of it.

My girlfriends and I push-started that car all over Savannah. We smoked cigarettes, laughed with the top down, drove to Tybee Island to go to the beach, not caring if we tracked sand in the Beetle because it just fell through the holes in the floor anyway: the holes that allowed water to splash up on my uniform shoes and my plaid Catholic school girl skirt when I raced through deep puddles on rainy days, in a hurry to get back to class after coffee at the downtown Daybreak Cafe.

So when we got that VW station wagon, my husband and me, and installed car seats in back for our two beautiful babies, I was pretty excited. The dashboard was edgy, lit in reds and cobalt blue in the dark night we drove it home. The engine was solid, the car black with silver details – sexy despite its family wagon-ness – and there, on the steering wheel, padded and filled with airbag (unlike the Beetle), was that circle that embraced those beloved letters: VW. The Passat, like its switchblade clicker, marked a milestone transition, a leveling up of sophistication over the the holey floor and plain silver key of the Beetle.

The key I have now, though it looks so like our station wagon key that we often confuse them, is not for the Passat. It is for the sporty six-speed Jetta we bought when my husband was offered his tenure-track position. For nine years he had lived without a car while we scraped by on student loans and his graduate school TA income.  My husband walked to school in the sweltering heat and violent thunderstorms of Florida. He bought studded snow tires to bike to work in the punishing winters of Minnesota. We rented and bought houses based on proximity to his workplace so we could live on one car payment, one insurance payment, one gas tank, one repair bill. Though we owned a Passat, we still lived a Beetle life.

When all my husband’s hard work paid off, we bought him a shiny new-to-us car. And now I carry its key. Come to find out, it’s not just men who take to sports cars when they hit middle age. I love the supple feel of the steering wheel on my fingertips, the round head of the gear shift smooth in the palm of my hand. I love pressing the gas hard and releasing the clutch quick and feeling the car surge, zipping past all these college boys vroom vrooming their engines at traffic lights. I laugh with the sunroof open as our Jetta blasts past them.

I am responsible when the kids are with me, I promise I am. That’s why my husband wanted me to take the nice car and give him the beat up wagon. The sporty Jetta is the more reliable car now, the one that he feels safer about the kids and me being in.

This key I hold in my hand – this black plastic rectangle that fits perfectly in my palm, whose silver shaft snaps out like a switchblade – it carries all of my Volkswagen memories: that first robin’s egg Beetle with the white canvas top and holes in the floor, the Passat station wagon we drove from Florida to Minnesota to Virginia, moving our babies, and finally, the Jetta, the most grown up Volkswagen we’ve owned. And the coolest.

Vroom vroom.

My god, could I place more products here on my blog? WordPress last week, Volkswagen this week. I swear nobody’s paying me for this. Anyway, this piece came out of a prompt in our writing group: keys.

*Fahrvergnügen is German for “driving pleasure.”

All the things I want to learn

April 17, 2014 § 7 Comments

the year without pants by Scott Berkun cover

Get your bookmarking finger ready – lots of blogging resources ahead.

I received a care package from the WordPress.com team a few weeks ago after I guest hosted a writing challenge for The Daily Post. In that package was a book: The Year Without Pants, the cover of which our children thought was hilarious. I put aside whatever I was reading at the time and read Berkun’s story cover to cover. In it, he writes about his year at WordPress.com during which, as the title suggests, he worked remotely and had no need for pants.

This book made me want to work for WordPress.

(And when I told our kids why the book was called The Year Without Pants – because Automatticians work from home and therefore don’t need pants – they wanted me to work for WordPress too).

In addition to making me want to work for Automattic, the company that makes WordPress.com possible, this book also opened my eyes to how powerful WordPress is as a blogging platform, not just because of the tools, themes, and continual upgrades it provides, but because of the culture it cultivates. The WordPress community is vast – users produce about 44.5 million new posts and 56.7 million new comments each month (from WordPress.com Stats) – and the folks who work for WordPress, as Berkun describes in his book, are constantly striving to provide tools for bloggers to improve and become the best we can be.

The editorial team’s efforts include writing and photography challenges to spur users to posting, free Ebooks covering Photography 101, Writing Prompts, and How to Grow Your Traffic and Build Your Blog, essays on the craft of writing, and the course I am currently enrolled in – Blogging 201: Branding, Growth, and Traffic.

In my two years here on WordPress.com I have read many articles that I knew would help me hone my blogging skills, but at the time they pinged my inbox, I was not ready to process their information. Now that I feel comfortable in my blogging skin – enough so that I’m no longer focused solely on writing but also on crafting a user-friendly, easily navigable resource on my new Andrea Reads America blog – I am digging deeper into the tools WordPress provides.  And despite my advice to you to warm up your bookmarking finger, I decided that instead of bookmarking (because I never go back and look at my bookmarks), I would list the resources I plan to dig into for Andrea Reads America (and possibly Butterfly Mind) here.

After two years of blogging on WordPress.com, these are the elements that I keep coming back to each time I find myself wanting to tailor my sites. Over the next few weeks, as I work towards achieving the goals I set for myself in the debut Blogging 201 assignment, I plan to dogear – and ultimately implement – the pages listed above. I hope you find them helpful too.

Do you have any go-to articles that helped you get your blog just the way you like it? Please share if you do!

 

Everything I need to know about creative spaces I learned from the art on Mad Men

April 14, 2014 § 13 Comments

Mark Rothko: No. 13 (White, Red, on Yellow), 1958

Mark Rothko: No. 13 (White, Red, on Yellow), 1958

There’s a Dar Williams song, “Mark Rothko Song,” that affects me. I have listened to it over and over again over the past ten years, and though I never knew who or what it was about there is something about this song that makes my heart shift every time I hear it, that makes me feel something: something warm and also like marine blue currents, something both smiling and melancholy, something incandescent like flashes of sunlight on the surface of dark fathomless water. Something I can’t contain with words.

She said, “I don’t know what he meant to me
I just know he affected me”
-Dar Williams – Mark Rothko Song lyrics

Bert Cooper's Rothko, Mad Men Season 2

Bert Cooper’s Rothko, Mad Men Season 2

Despite my love for the song, I only cared about how the song made me feel, and I never bothered to research Mark Rothko. Then, last year, quite by accident, I came face to face with his work. In season two of Mad Men, on the wall of Bert Cooper’s office, was a Rothko. I saw his work for the first time, and my heart shifted. When I saw his work I felt the same feelings I feel when I listen to “Mark Rothko Song” and I thought, “Ahhh, now I see,” and I understood, for the first time in my life, abstract art.

Many people make the same claim when they see a Rothko or a Jackson Pollack: they snort and say, “I could have done that!” But the thing is, they didn’t. And I would argue that they couldn’t. Sure we can all draw rectangles, maybe even color them in, but I know I can’t mix those paints: that saturated sunshine yellow, the white like shimmering silk, that vermillion red as rich as blood. I can’t scrape a pallet knife to create dimension, I can’t achieve proportions and balance, I can’t intuit where to place the white blocks, the orange blocks, the turquoise blocks, evoke tension with shape, movement with spatters or brush strokes or angles; I would not be able to stop when it was time to stop, to restrain myself from muddying the colors.

Art Credit: Kymm Swank, Structure 2 (Swank's work appears in Don & Megan's apartment)

Art Credit: Kymm Swank, Structure 2 (Swank’s work appears in the Draper apartment, season 5 of Mad Men)

I was walking with my friend last week and I told her, “We finally got curtain rods and throw pillows for our living room.” We panted and pumped our arms. “All we need now is art,” I said.

The new spring heat was getting to us, and she perked up. She’s a photographer and likes talking art. “Oooh, what kind of art are you looking for?” she asked.

Art Credit: Mark Rothko No.5/No.22 on wikipaintings

Art Credit: Mark Rothko No.5/No.22

My heart thumped as I thought about the Rothkos I binged on, the Rothkos I browse on a weekly basis since seeing his painting on Mad Men. His yellows like sunlight blazing on the wall, the electric reds, the horizontal blocks that make me feel stable, that make me feel like the ground is solid beneath me, unlike vertical compositions I’ve seen that make me feel like I’m sliding off the edge of the world.

“Well,” I said, “I really want something abstract.”

She cocked her head at me. “Go on,” she said.

“We get bored with things,” I told her. “We’ll buy a print we like and a year later we’re over it.” I thought of the wooden boats from Maine, the fat fruit from Naples. “A picture of an object will always be that object, you know?”

Art Credit: Autumn textures by AbstractArtM on Etsy

Art Credit: Autumn textures by AbstractArtM on Etsy

Krista Stevens recently wrote a writing craft piece for WordPress, Let the Reader’s Imagination Do the Heavy Lifting, wherein she advises the writer to hold back, to leave things open to the reader for interpretation. To let the reader create his or her own experience. The evening I read her piece, we watched an episode of Mad Men and I started noticing the art on the walls in Don’s office, in Peggy’s office, in the meeting room at Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce. I thought about art in the terms Krista had written about, and how abstract art leaves interpretation to the viewer. Whereas a painting of an object puts you in a box – a boat is always a boat, a tree is always a tree – with abstract art there is no box. Concrete art is relatively closed, it is mostly interpreted for you by showing you exactly what it is (a pear, a flower), while abstract art refrains from explaining itself to you or telling you what to think. Abstract art encourages you to create your own experience.

Art credit: Butternut by Michal Shapiro (appears in first three seasons of Mad Men)

Art credit: Butternut by Michal Shapiro (appears in first three seasons of Mad Men)

The creators of Mad Men are smart. Don Draper and the creatives display all the behaviors of successful creative types: they free associate, they alter their consciousness, they think, they stare into space, out the window, at a real life dramatic scene. They nap. A lot. And they hang abstract art on their walls.

Peggy in Don's office with Butternut painting by Michal Shapiro

Peggy in Don’s office with Butternut by Michal Shapiro

Throughout the offices of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, and Pryce are pieces of art that box nobody in – pieces of art that, in Krista Stevens’s words, allow the viewer’s imagination to do the heavy lifting. On the walls of every creative is art that suggests, evokes, moves, art that nails nothing and nobody down, art that can be anything to anyone. Art I want to look at more because it makes me feel something, because it affects me, because my mind opens both into it and outside of it.

This has been revelatory to me. A creation – whether a successful ad, a piece of writing, or a piece of art – does not have to be an end point, someone else’s rendering of a thing that already is. A rendering that says “This is a boat. It was a boat yesterday, and it is a boat today, and it will be a boat tomorrow and for all of eternity.” An artist’s creation can instead be a jumping off point, a piece of work that walks the viewer into his or her own story.

Abstract Painting by ARSartshop on Etsy

Art Credit: Abstract Painting by ARSartshop on Etsy

I want this type of art for our home. I want a piece of art that doesn’t box us in, that doesn’t tell us what it is, that we can interpret however we like. I want art that makes me feel something; I want art that affects me. I want a painting that can be a city scape today, a forest tomorrow, contemplation yesterday, passion next week. That right now is warmth, just a second ago was chaos, and in five minutes is a tunnel into the best idea my creative self ever had.

In honor of NaPoWriMo, this post is in tribute to the poetry of Dar Williams and her wonderful “Mark Rothko Song” which led me to the happy place I am now: in love with modern art.

Escape

April 9, 2014 § Leave a comment

She irons and she packs and her heart buzzes like a hummingbird’s wings. She watches the clock and checks the mountain’s weather and washes dishes and taps her pen and eats and checks the clock and when it says 2 she stands at the window and watches for the car.

This is my entry for the fifty-word-story writing challenge.

Feeding the beast

April 8, 2014 § 12 Comments

My husband lowered a glass bowl from the top of the refrigerator, peeled back an edge of plastic wrap, and peered in. “Does this look dried out to you?” he asked.

I looked into the bowl he held in the palm of his hand and saw a tan spongy mass. A dry crust was forming around the edges, but in the middle it was moist and bubbling. My nose got too close to the opening in the plastic wrap and I flapped my hand in front of my face. “Hoooo, it’s fermenty,” I said. He pulled it back to his face and inspected it again; he furrowed his eyebrows as he studied it.

A friend recently called me a food Nazi. She meant it in the nicest way possible, as in, “I wish I were more of a food Nazi like Andrea.” I had no idea what she was talking about. I thought she meant towards our kids, but unless I am totally off base, I feel like we are pretty relaxed with our kids’ food choices. We eat pie for breakfast, enjoy treats after lunch and dinner, eat lots of pizza, mac and cheese, and hamburgers, and the kids almost always have a supply of candy on hand. You know, normal stuff. So when my friend said that about me being a food Nazi, I was confused.

“No, I mean the way you make all your own foods,” she said. Ahh, yes. We do make our own pizza and mac and cheese and hamburger patties. “I wish I made our own Nutella and hummus and hamburger buns like you do,” she said.

“Oh,” I said. “We don’t do that because we have some set of strict rules or anything.” And we don’t. My God, if good pre-made food was available for the buying, and we had the money to buy it, I’d totally buy all the stuff we currently make. Making our own food is time-consuming and, frankly, annoying. You’ve got to start with raw ingredients, prep them, cook them, assemble them, and then clean up afterwards. I would love to eliminate all that work and buy food already made. But the fact of the matter is this: I am a food snob.

I like good food, as does my husband. Good food is one of our favorite things. He and I go out once a year for a dinner date, just the two of us, and those dates are some of my fondest life memories. I remember the velvet of bouillabaisse on my palate, the crisp tang of Hendrick’s gin and blue-cheese stuffed olives, the melt of fresh fish on my tongue. We only dine this way once a year, usually for our anniversary, because we splurge big time when we do: as far as I’m concerned, the only way to get really good food, as good as we want it, is to pay the big bucks for it.

Unless we’re going ultra cheap (fast food) and therefore have no expectations, convenience foods at the grocery store or dinner out in a casual restaurant almost always leave us disappointed. We might spend a decent chunk of change on a family dinner – enough to buy a new shirt, say, or replace that ghastly light fixture – and it’s not as good as what we can make at home for a fraction of the cost: pies, pasta, cakes, Tom Collins; hamburger buns, Nutella, salsa, Gin Slings.

If you’re a food snob on a tight budget, consuming fine things means making them for yourself. It means buying dried beans, soaking them, cooking them, cooling them, processing them, washing the Cuisinart by hand. It means squeezing lemons, soaking cherries, simmering simple syrup. It means weighing flour, kneading dough, shaping buns, brushing butter. It means washing tons of dishes.

In other words, it means work. Lots of work. Lots of work that I don’t always want to do. I used to think I loved the kitchen, I used to think I loved preparing foods, I used to think I loved cooking. But when my friend said that about me being a food Nazi I realized it’s not the cooking I enjoy, it’s the eating; cooking is a means to an end. We cook from scratch not because of a health agenda or an environmental agenda but because home made food is good food we can afford, because we can cater to our own palates, because our taste buds are beasts who demand flavor and complexity, heartiness and wholesomeness, real food that is food, not “food” that is chemicals.

Which is why I can’t stop adoring my husband for his latest culinary exploration. When he lowers his glass bowl to inspect and prod, poke and punch, it makes me want to skip around him like a butterfly in our kitchen.

“I’m not sure if this is doing what it’s supposed to do,” my husband said. He pulled The Bread Baker’s Apprentice off the shelf and paged through to the sourdough starter.

I used to make bread for us, but then gluten went out of vogue, and bread’s calorie count is outrageous, and bread-baking is time consuming, and a million other reasons. But the thing is, bread is one of the most beautiful foods there is. It is golden, wholesome, can be savory or sweet, can be eaten as breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack, a side dish or a main dish, toasted or soft, buttery, drizzled with rosemary olive oil, broiled with cheese, dipped in onion soup, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, slathered with jam, smoothed with almond butter and honey, dipped in batter and fried with cinnamon. Bread can be all of these things and more, and store-bought bread is not recognizable to our taste buds as the same crust and crumb we pull warm from our oven. Also: bread is our son’s favorite food.

So after a year without homemade bread, my husband has decided to take over the bread baking.

“Is it done? Do you need to do anything else to it?” I asked after he read the sourdough passage.

He pulled the gooey mass out of the first bowl and placed it in a new bowl. The lump was the size of a sea biscuit. He added flour, kneaded the dough, turned it in the bowl, worked it in his hands. “I need to keep feeding it,” he said.

And so he feeds our beasts.

The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhartcover on andreabadgley.com

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread by Peter Reinhart: this is the book I recommend if you want to bake your own bread. If you want to explore whole grain breads, Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor is also excellent.

Toes like telltale crocuses

April 1, 2014 § 6 Comments

Last weekend, when the sun finally shone bright after weeks behind steel clouds, and the air was warm enough for short sleeves, our daughter and I waited on the front stoop for company to arrive. The sun was like warm honey on our skin, and for the first time since October, I peeled my socks off. I wiggled my naked toes in the yellow light and realized, my toes are out!

“Let’s paint our toenails,” I said. “You want to?”

We sat on the concrete steps and clipped and buffed and listened to the clink of glass polish bottles as we explored the bright pink cosmetic bag of color. I found a red like a Corazon rose, propped my right foot beneath me, and painted new life onto my toenails.

Two days later, winter returned. My toes went back into their socks, their electric happiness hidden, like a surprise party waiting for the honoree to arrive. At the end of the week, our Florida guests departed, bundled against the cold.

When Saturday came around again, so did the sun. We opened the house back up to let another day of warmth inside, and the kids asked to take a walk to the duck pond. After telling them, “In a minute” for about an hour, we finally threw on flip flops and told them to grab their ball. We walked out the door to dark grey clouds looming, shrugged our shoulders, and went anyway.

A huge raindrop splatted on my cheek as we arrived at the pond. Five minutes later, the clouds burst, and I ran under the gazebo with my go-cup of wine.  The wind blew rain in sheets across the pond, and when thunder boomed, the kids and their dad ran laughing to the shelter. Our teeth chattered as the temperature dropped, and our son said, “Can we go home now?”

“Uhhhh, I’m not leaving in this.” My husband gestured to the torrents of rain coming down. “You can go if you want.”

Our son took his ball and stepped out into the downpour, and a few seconds later, our daughter followed. Soon they disappeared up the hill towards home, while their dad and I shivered under the gazebo, the wind blowing spray onto us despite the roof over our heads. When it finally seemed to let up, I said, “You wanna make a run for it?”

We walked out into the now light shower, hunching our shoulders against the chill. Thunder boomed, a new deluge began, and we ran in the rain, our squeaky flip-flops splashing, our heads down. My red lacquered toes flashed bright against the wet gray sidewalk.

My husband shouted, “I like your toenails!”

And we smiled at their fun color in the spring rain.

I am on vacation! This is a revision of the entry by the same name published March 18, 2013. Now that it’s spring, I am happily reliving that day.

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