The 7-Up Lesson

I love how sometimes the seemingly smallest and simplest things can so perfectly portray the grandness and complexity of life. Take for instance, the lemon. But, before I get to the lemon, I have to start with the lime.

Jason and I met and fell in love in Austin, Texas where limes reign supreme. It isn't a large or often recognized throne, but if you think about it, the lime plays an important role there. Austin is very much a drinking culture, and what goes better with your favorite mexican beer, tequila, or margarita than lime? Austin is also very much a mexican food culture, and there are very few mexican or tex-mexican dishes which cannot be made even better by a little cilantro and lime. In Texas, limes are not only plentiful, they are cheap! Surrounded by good food, good drinks and good friends and family, Jason and I were living in the lime light, and we didn't even know it.

So when we first came to Australia we were dismayed at the fact that limes are hard to find and when you do find them, they will cost you. But lemons! They are everywhere and are one of the cheapest things you can buy. We went to a "Mexican" restaurant here and they actually tried to serve us lemon margaritas. Lemon?! We started to snub the lemons because they weren't limes. The lemon-lime issue became for us representative of how we were not seeing Australia as Australia but seeing Australia as Not the U.S. And that, my friends, is a dangerous game to play. As they say, you can't compare apples to oranges. Or lemons to limes. Which brings me to the lemon...

Lemons have an interesting and varied reputation. A lemon can have the connotation of something full of life and vitality and happiness:

Think of the color lemon and what comes to mind? Probably sunshine and happiness. Think of how a bowl full of lemons sitting on a table can change a room. Or how a sprinkle of lemon juice or zest can change a dish. How a tall, cold glass of lemonade on a hot summer day can revitalize your body and your perspective on the day. I recently started drinking green tea, and a little splash of lemon juice makes that tea sing! I cannot eat a lemon drop without thinking of my Grandma, who almost always had an old jam jar full of lemon drops handy. And anytime I hear or think of lemon drops, I automatically think of the song Somewhere Over the Rainbow where troubles melt like lemon drops... All of these lemon memories, tastes, and thoughts are happy and positive ones. Now, because I try hard to live on the bright side of the road, this is my preferred view of the lemon. Sometimes, I like to pretend like this is the only reality of the lemon and of life.

I hate to break it to myself, but that isn't the whole truth, and let's face it, a half-truth is no truth at all. Truth is wholeness. Just when I start thinking that life is all roses and lemon drops, I wake up sucking a lemon of a different variety. The truth is that lemon can also mean something negative or defective. When life gives you lemons means life is giving you trouble. That car is a lemon means that car is defective. On this side of lemon life, there is pain, there is suffering, there is greed and selfishness and defectiveness. Lately, I've been more aware of this side of life. Maybe I've read one too many articles about the plight of the planet and its inhabitants and who is to blame for that plight. As a member of the guilty party and as an active participant in its destructive tendencies, I have been feeling weighed down, with a barrel full of sour, sour lemons bearing down on my chest. But then I remembered, that without this side of life, there could be no transformation.

"The most important lesson that man can learn from his life is not that there is pain in this world, but that it depends upon him to turn it to good account, that it is possible for him to transmute it into joy."
-Rabindranath Tagore

"I am the poet of the Body and I am the poet of the Soul,
The pleasures of heaven are with me and the pains of hell are with me,
The first I graft and increase upon myself, the latter I translate
into a new tongue."
-Walt Whitman

Some people say, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Atmosphere says:

When Life Gives You Lemons,
You Paint That Shit Gold

I say, yes, let's make lemonade! let's paint that shit gold! But before we do, let's look that lemon in its pimpled, yellow face and ask it what it wants from us. Accept it for what it is and let it teach us something.

". . . . perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us. So you must not be frightened . . . if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloud-shadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any agitation, any pain, any melancholy, since you really do not know what these states are working upon you"
-Rainer Maria Rilke

Our time in Australia has not been ideal. Literally and figuratively, it is as if life has been giving us lemons over the past year. I didn't find a job, we haven't really made many meaningful connections with others, Jason is not all that impressed with his school here (which is the reason we came here in the first place,) we have missed our friends and family like crazy, etc. We have often analyzed and criticized our decision to come here. In many ways our time here has been difficult, but mostly just plain weird. We think it's appropriate that Australia is referred to as Oz because that's certainly what it feels like. But as our time here draws to an end, I can't help but be overwhelmed by the transformative experience of being here, by the beauty of this country and its people. And while I don't think we've really made lemonade out of the lemons we've been given here and we definitely haven't made gold, or even an Australian dollar for that matter, we have learned a thing or two about life, and if you ask me, life lessons are worth more than gold. What we learned is that sometimes you have to go to Oz to see the beauty of Kansas, er Texas. Sometimes you have to go to lemon land to appreciate the lime life. And sometimes, just when you think you've taken a wrong turn, you wake up to find that everything is in its right place.

And besides, now we have 7-Up souls. ;)

Taken in the Yarra Valley
Victoria, Australia

Here is a two song lemon mixtape for you to enjoy with the songs I alluded to above, which also happen to be two of my favorite songs of all time and which I have named Yesterday I Woke Up Sucking a Lemon Somewhere Over the Rainbow:



Would you like to see a slideshow of some very random things I have seen over the last few months which may be interesting to you or may not be interesting to you at all?

Hmmm. Still not sure? Well would it help if during the slideshow you could also hear not one but two! songs from Taxi Taxi!, a Sweden based, not so well-known group comprised of twin sisters Miriam Berhan and Johanna Berhan? Would it help if I told you they have really cool voices and make really pretty harmonies? If the answer to at least one of these questions is yes, then click play below.

Song 1: To Hide This Way
Song 2: Old Big Trees

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: this random life
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Picture slideshow created with Smilebox

P.S. Please excuse the garbled sound of the music. It's smilebox's fault. Just pretend like you are listening to it under water. And please also excuse the fact that sometimes smilebox has a little trouble loading up the pictures which really breaks up the fluidity of the show and drives me nuts. Someday I will find a slideshow maker that I am happy with.


The Good in You

We must carry each other.
If we don't have this,
what are we?
-Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces

Two uplifting examples of the good in you:



All of Us

From In Switzerland by Raymond Carver


Like this: Lessons from Strangers

A few weeks ago, I was struggling with shyness as I sat on a bench in a park near an old and interesting man (pictured above) who paces the park most days making strange gestures and mumbling to himself and whom I desperately wanted to talk to, but couldn't find the courage to strike up a conversation with. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, the answer came in the form of a young man walking by, who saw me sitting there and simply walked up to me and said, "Hey. Whatcha doing?"and just like that, struck up a conversation with me. Isn't it amazing how sometimes we ask these questions of Life, how we struggle and complicate, and cry out, "How?" and then Grace comes in the form of a stranger who says, "Like this."

For The Sake of Strangers
by Dorianne Laux

No matter what the grief, its weight,
we are obliged to carry it.
We rise and gather momentum, the dull strength
that pushes us through crowds.
And then the young boy gives me directions
so avidly. A woman holds the glass door open,
waits patiently for my empty body to pass through.
All day it continues, each kindness
reaching toward another - a stranger
singing to no one as I pass on the path, trees
offering their blossoms, a retarded child
who lifts his almond eyes and smiles.
Somehow they always find me, seem even
to be waiting, determined to keep me
as it must have once called to them -
this temptation to step off the edge
and fall weightless, away from the world.

I remember sitting in my car one day, several years ago, at a stoplight in downtown Abilene, Texas, on my way home after a long shift at the bakery. I remember it as a time in my life when I had lost sight of something important, life seemed to have lost its meaning and I grumbled through my days discontentedly, crying out to the ether, "How? How should I live?" And as I sat, waiting for the light to change, the downtown trolley passed by in front of me. In that trolley, hanging out the window was a young, mentally handicapped boy, who had the closest thing to bliss I have ever seen all over his face. He seemed to be having the ride of his life and was looking with fascination at and pointing to some shiny thing on the ground as the trolley slowly rolled through the intersection. I don't even know what it was he was looking at, I remember following his eyes, trying to see what was bringing him such delight, to some shiny spot on the ground beneath him. Maybe it was a spot of oil, a coin, or a shard of glass, shimmering in the light, I can't recall now. But what I can recall with perfect clarity is the image of his rapturous face, so perfectly filled with delight at the sight of the simplest thing, something shining in the light, at the touch of the subtlest thing, the soft breeze in his hair. It was one of those moments where time slowed down, almost stood still. It was as if life, slowly and deliberately, was giving me the answer to my question in the form of this gift of a moment. And somehow, it was what I needed. Somehow this tender gesture jarred me awake to the joy of living. Some of our greatest teachers enter and exit our lives quickly. Be attentive to the things and people around you. They might be embodying the answer to your question, whispering in your ear, "Like this."


Happy Mother's Day!

Jason and I love our Mamas and each other's Mamas. They are both the coolest ladies! We realize how fortunate we are to have Mothers that we also happen to actually like and whom we hope actually like us. If we didn't both Love and Like our Mamas, would we have gotten these?

I don't think so. You know I really don't remember my childhood all that well, but I have this feeling like little Tracy was probably a selfish little ungrateful brat who didn't even realize she was being a selfish little ungrateful brat. Kind of like this kid:

It's funny how long it takes us, or, at least how long it took me, to realize that my Mother is an actual human being and not just some machine programmed to take care of me, to feed me and clothe me and generally make my life easier and better. Like the little kid in the video, I had no concept of the fact that I could hurt or annoy or exhaust my Mom. From my perspective it was more just like ME WANT FOOD. The fact that it took me so long to finally put this all together (Mom = human being?!!!) serves as a great testament to my Mother's selflessness and to my own extreme selfishness. Growing up, it never occurred to me that my Mother might get tired or might not feel like cooking the 1, 332, 688th meal for our family or washing all of our underwear over and over and over or the bajillion other things she did for us.... Cause the thing is she just kept doing all those things day in and day out without ever complaining about any of it. It wasn't until I finally had to start doing all those things for myself and now for Jason, too, that I started to notice, hey, sometimes these things are a pain to have to do, hmmm... I bet my Mom sure did get tired of doing all these things for four people for years and years and years. Ding, ding, ding! And a lightbulb lights up the scene! I mean, how do Moms do all that stuff for all those years and in the case of my Mother at least, not even complain about it? How did you do that, Mom? I used to like to think that parents secretly get granted super powers on the day they become parents and that it's just kept very hush-hush because they don't want everybody rushing to have kids to get the super powers. But all the crappy parents out there sort of ruined that one for me. I guess maybe Love is the closest we can ever get to super powers. That's cool with me.

Dear Mother, I am sorry for reducing you all those years to my maid, my cook, my chauffeur, etc. without ever recognizing your wholeness. I'm hoping to have a brighter child who will catch on to that fact a little sooner and cut me some freakin' slack, but it will only serve me right if that doesn't happen. Sometimes I like to think about the little one or ones Jason and I will hopefully have someday who will undoubtedly take us just as much for granted. And when I think about this little ungrateful kid selfishly demanding things from us, I like to picture you and Pops and Jay and Barbra all sitting around us, watching with smiles in the satisfaction of things come full circle and thinking, "It's your turn now, suckas!" And while in my own slow way I am coming to understand and appreciate the hard work that is involved in being a Mother, I am also getting glimpses of the Joy in taking care of loved ones, of the Gift that Motherhood must be. When I think of my time as a nanny and all the Joy it brought me to take care of litle Eli and little Abe, to witness their daily struggles and triumphs and general adorableness...I am blown away by thoughts of what Motherhood must be like. All of this is to say, you have accepted the pleasures and pains of Motherhood with such Grace. For that and for all the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made and underwear washed and dishes cleaned, I could go on and on and on, I Thank You. I Love You. You are a Good Mom.

I agree with everything that Tracy said. I too have taken my mother (both my parents actually) for granted for the majority of my life. It hasn't really been until the last few years that I have really been able to think of my parents as actual people. As I get closer to the age they were when they had me I've started to realize how big of a life adjustment it really must have been to all of a sudden have this new, helpless little person to be responsible for. It's nothing that you can really prepare yourself for, but when I was younger I thought that I would reach a certain age and I would have children and it would all just happen naturally. I didn't realize that before parents are parents, they're people just like everyone else. They don't have it all figured out. They don't always know the answers to the questions in their own lives, so why should they be expected to have the answers for someone else's? As a child I was frustrated by my parents' limitations. I thought that if they had the power to bring me into the world, they should also be able to make sense of it for me. Now I realize, however, that their limitations are what make them so special. The fact that they are ordinary, limited people who did such an extraordinary thing in raising me with such love and patience is what really makes them wonderful people. What I'm trying to say, without sounding too conceited, is that I feel lucky to have such great parents who raised me and made me into a person I'm happy to be. Not everyone can say that. Also, I know it's mother's day and I've been talking about both of my parents. That's because they're such a good team, that I find it hard to attribute anything about my upbringing to one without giving credit to the other. It would be easier if there were a parents' day. That being said, mom, I love you! I wouldn't be the man I am today without you, and I fully realize that and appreciate it. I feel lucky beyond description to be your son! Love, Jason

Barbra and Jason, Christmas 2007

My Mama and Me, Wedding Day 2009
photo by Emily Chastain

P.S. Don't worry; those are not real tattoos. We figure Chrissy has enough for all of us.