The ramblings of a freelance writer, novelist and avid reader.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Remarkable Patriotism of Coca-Cola

This whole Month of Fundays thing is more difficult then I originally thought. I think I need to be more organized, with more ideas. So today’s post is what I want A Month of Fundays to be like, but I’m not actually doing that month of blogging yet. I’m taking a Month of Fundays out for a test drive because I can’t get my mind around the logistics of it all.

For now, I’m just going to write about today – 4th of July (because I won’t be posting this until the 5th). It’s the Fourth of July! That’s fun in and of itself. Go, America!

Back to the grind after vacation, I woke up bright and early this holiday morning because I had to be at the part-time job hobby by 7:00. I’m married to a British man and I wasn’t sure how long the part-time job hobby would keep me, so although we had a few backyard BBQ invitations, nothing was set in stone. In the end, Chris and I went to the MN Landscape Arboretum in the afternoon. For those of you in MN: the arboretum IS open even with the State Government Shutdown. For those of you not in MN: the government is shutdown because the lovely politicians can not come to an agreement about the state of our state debt/budget and how to get money to pay for it. I have EXTREMELY STRONG OPINIONS about this, but as I’m not blogging about my political stance right now, I won’t bore you with those details. However, I would like to point out that although the general populace in MN doesn’t much seem to care whether we are shut down or not; I really think we all need to wake up and have extremely strong opinions about failing governments in general…and not just stomp our feet because the State Lottery is not playable during a shutdown (Seriously random guy in the line at the gas station doing the foot stomping: What the hell is wrong with you?!)

MN Landscape Arboretum, that’s where I was. It’s open, very nature-like, and pretty much just awesome…It may seem a little odd that my fun day had me thinking about America, since I was just lamenting my return to the country, my state government is shut down, and I have EXTREMELY STRONG OPINIONS about the cons of socialism and my country in general. But here’s the thing: It’s my country! And I get to have all of these feelings because my country – for the most part – is FREE. Men and women died – and are still dying – to make it so. There’s a lot wrong, but there’s a lot right too. And I can write about it, rant about it, and tell you what I really think – without fear of imprisonment or death. So yes, celebrating America is a fun day in my book.

Celebrating it with a British man may seem odd; but he chose this country over his own even before he chose me. One of my favorite Fourth of July memories happened just two years ago – the first year Chris and I were married and his mum came for a visit. We had a big family picnic/firework watching at Normandale Lake’s annual Bloomington Summer Fete. The irony of sitting on blankets outside in the middle of a MN summer, celebrating my country while completely surrounded by British citizens (Chris, his brother and his mother) was not lost on me. But I was mostly impressed by their awe and excitement, and also those familiar Fourth of July things: The smell of corn on the cob and tang of bug spray, sunscreen and sweat in the air; the fireflies dancing in the reeds around the lake – outshone by the red, white and blue light-up jewelry around children’s necks, wrists and ankles. The sound of fireworks exploding into the thick, humid night sky followed; the sky growing increasingly thicker by the smoke screen and burnt powdery, sulfur fire smell. It’s really hard to beat the fun-ness of The Fourth. Go, America! I say again.

Did I mention the MN Landscape Arboretum? Chris and I headed out to that giant garden in Chanhassen. We stopped for cash and water at the shops, and I picked up a coke, too. It was hot today, like Amazon HOT. For those of you who think of MN as snow and cold, July & August are mostly filled with 90 degree days and lots of sticky humidity. I don’t drink a lot of sugar soda, but when it’s really hot and I know I’ll be spending most of the day walking, I grab a Coca-Cola. It’s not frequent at all, but as I was watching two idiots drag-race down 494, sipping my coke and musing about the flowers I’d be seeing shortly; it dawned on me that my last Coca-Cola happened just a week ago on a very hot day in London. That day found me being quite touristy at the Tower of London and The British Museum. I grabbed the coke after viewing an over-whelming and over-stimulating plethora of Egyptian mummies and Ancient Greek architecture (British Museum, you are amazing but you have too much – give some antiquities back already – but not The Rosetta Stone, you should always keep that so I can view it frequently.) but before hitting up the massive gift shop. I remember thinking, this coke doesn’t taste right. I don’t mean how coke always tastes wrong, like the sugar forms strings and then those strings grow on your teeth like fur and you feel like you should shave your teeth after consumption. No, it still tasted like that, but more like it tasted off. I’d forgotten these thoughts until my highway trek on this Independence Day. I realize now the coke didn’t taste off at all, I was just drinking it in the wrong location: Coca-Cola tastes like America. Forget your apple pie, watermelon and hot dogs – Coca-Cola is America in a bottle! Other things taste like London ¬– things like a Snakebite and a Pimms Cup. Lilt tastes like the UK and Stella too, but Coca-Cola is decidedly America.

The arboretum was beautiful, peaceful and summery. Although there were plenty of families around enjoying their Fourth, I still felt calm, relaxed and secluded. Chris took pictures, I smelled flowers and we chatted about nothing but everything; a perfect way to celebrate our Independence Day. Tonight, while I’m writing this we are watching the neighbors grill in their front garden in a fire pit; we’ll join them for s’mores later – and fireworks of course. I’ll turn on the TV and watch some of the Boston Pops celebration and probably not for the last time wonder what it would be like to get on a plane at dusk in New York and fly to Los Angeles low enough to see the fireworks sprout up all over the nation. I bet that’s amazing!

I’m not sure what my Month of Funday question/thing is today? Possibly: How do you celebrate? Or: Think of and drink a beverage that embodies your town, state, region, country. Watch some fireworks. Eat outside. BBQ. Walk through a garden. Apparently I had an entire month of fundays in just this one day. Feel free to answer/comment with any of those things. Or, more ideas for The Month of Fundays project!

Oh, and I'm thinking about adding a related song for every Month of Fundays post. Simon & Garfunkel's America seems appropriate for today.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Haste Ye Back

It’s entirely my own fault; realizing that fact doesn’t make it any better though. When you love travel and you have no money, you inevitably get super excited when you get to go on a trip…pretty much anywhere. When you travel to an unknown place, everything is so new and intriguing; it’s overwhelming and tiring, but usually rather lovely. In such cases, six or seven days are very much enough time. In such cases home is a welcome reprieve and a panacea to the travel bug – for a while at least. But, when you travel to a well known place you once lived in; a place your soul sings for, your eyes yearn for, your emotional and physical person craves…well then – 14, 15, even 20 days are never enough. Returning home feels a bit like being stuck in a box, sealed and posted to a place you don’t want to go to.

So it’s my own fault for taking most of June to wander through the UK and Ireland – stopping at all of my favorite places including Dublin, Giant’s Causeway, Belfast, Edinburgh, Skye, The Highlands, and of course, my London. Really, what was I thinking? June in London. With Wimbledon and the year before the Olympics – It’s like being on the highest high of your life and then crashing straight to your lowest low. Yes, apparently I’m equating traveling to meth – maybe it’s not quite that bad. The realities of my daily life are just encroaching in on me right now. Probably because I’m typing this while watching Wimbledon – when just a couple of days ago I was there; or the seven loads of laundry, paid bills & rent, grocery shopping and general house cleaning I’ve done today. Whichever, I’m in a melancholy mood that’s been hard to shake.

Don’t get me wrong, it was brilliant and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat; over and over and then over again. I was just hoping for a little respite from the travel bug. It really is a problem when you are a broke and unpublished writer. The month of June, as it goes out and is replaced by a sticky hot Minnesota July, was as perfectly golden as I thought it might be months ago when I realized I would get to go on said trip. A trip I took with some of my closest friends and favorite people; and also a number of blog followers I did not know before (Hi, Anna, Michelle and Brooke!). And those blog followers are amazing and exactly the sort of people I want following my blog. I journaled every day and therefore improved my capacity for writing well. There is something about a travel journal full of notes, ideas and thoughts; it’s very organic in its execution. I made an effort not to engage too much in the outside world: The cell phone was left at home, the net book as well. I grabbed pen, pencil, journal and half a manuscript – set mostly in Dublin and London – I needed some fact checking on.

And I really am happy to spend July – October in MN. Really, there’s a reason I live here. I’m not sure if there’s any place better during these months. Look, I’ve talked myself around. Yay, I’m home…OK, fine, I’m mostly home. Here’s where travelling becomes a pain. Because my heart and soul are often in two places; and although I’m in the one I chose to reside in, I just left that other place – which grows more enticing on each visit because I don’t have to deal with the mundane while I’m there. It’s all happy fun no work time; a place I spend money but don’t have to worry about earning it. Really, is there something wrong with me? I already miss the London black? And Scotland - all purple, brown and green while simultaneously shrouded in mist and rain with bursts of the most glorious sunshine in the world. See what I’m up against here.

I set out on a much needed vacation and ended up on a pilgrimage of sorts. The problem started with the manuscript – which on a re-read is a detailed description of how much the writer loves the places she’s talking about – oh, I manage to fit in a plot around these descriptions, but really I’m all about the beauty and deepness and warm people and I’m extolling again; make me stop that. The next problem, chaperoning a group of high school and college-aged students who’ve either never travelled before, or never thought about the journey they take each time they step outside their comfort zone. As a YA writer, just watching the travel-transformation is about six months worth of library research. I am constantly amazed and moved by their zest for life and child-like awe. It’s why I write dammit! Finally, there is the simple realization that living in the UK all of those years ago is one of those profound life moments that made me who I am. I’ve discussed this before, so it wasn’t a new realization, but it always manages to smack me right in between the eyes each and every time I go back. This time, I realized both my British husband and I live with one-foot in both worlds at all times. This is what makes us so compatible. I’m not sure either of us belongs to either country anymore – we’ve chosen the US as home but the UK has a strong pull. It means we constantly question the practices and policies of both countries and can find an equal amount of pros and cons for each: It’s a unique but nerve-racking place to be.

So what’s that great moment of self-awareness? Why a pilgrimage? I’ve got nothing but Enya song lyrics for you:

Will you find the answer
In all you say and do?
Will you find the answer in you?
Each heart is a pilgrim,
Each one wants to know
The reason why the winds die
And where the stories go.
Pilgrim, in your journey
You may travel far,
For pilgrim it’s a long way
To find out who you are…

I’m one step further to finding out who I am. And sweet lord, I’m complicated! So, UK I will miss you, US I’m glad to be home and Scotland you are a magnificent wonderful place and I will heed your road signs which all say – “Haste Ye Back” on the back side.

Also, I’m getting over myself, spanking my inner moppet and moving on to A Month of Fun Days and Harry Potter next week! That is for reals and not for play, play (Fists of fury, Matt!).