You Can (and Can’t) go Home Again

gradI’m about to leave home.

Which implies that I first came home.

(Let me know if I’m moving too fast for ya.)

Thomas Wolfe wrote a classic novel entitled, “You Can’t go Home Again.” Bon Jovi challenged this idea with a wonderful song, “Who Says You Can’t go Home?” The early American novelist and rock-n-roll legend both speak the truth.

(Okay, take a breath if you need to, because this gets interesting soon. I promise.)

With the exception of an enviable few who spent time in Europe or Asia or one girl who visited most of the western US, Scotland, and is now in India, I did actually come home, as did most of my friends. So, in this respect, I bow to the logic of Jon Bon Jovi.

But home-coming isn’t a parade across the football field in a fancy dress, holding a bouquet of roses and balancing a sparkly crown on your head while every girl in the stands sighs and wishes she was you. (Except for Taylor Swift, who’s focused on the guy next to you.)

Life back home feels like a circus. You walk a tightrope, desperately trying to balance the freedom you had before with the fact that you’re back to the house, the room, and the bed you’ve had since you were eight. Meanwhile, the circus freaks keep nipping at your heels, waiting for you to fall. You don’t know if your parents don’t think that you’ve grown up at all or if they just don’t care.

(To be perfectly clear: I do not at all mean to imply that my parents are freaks.)

The friends you spend the majority of the year with aren’t there. Your old friends are scattered across the globe or working or taking summer classes. And you’re not quite the same, either.

But, gradually, you adjust. Home becomes home again.

And then, once again, you tear yourself away.

“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”

(Thomas Wolfe, “You Can’t go Home Again”)

“Who Says You Can’t go Home,” Jon Bon Jovi

What I Learned from Food Network

Every Sunday, my family gathers in front of the TV to watch The Next Food Network Star. It combines two of our favorite things: community television-watching and food. But there are actually some really solid life lessons to pull from the show:

1. Be yourself. Contestants tend to either get really nervous and freeze up or go overboard to appear funny and likeable. Just relax! There are a lot of different personalities on Food Network and they all offer something pleasing to viewers! Don’t try to be someone you’re not, because that will mess you up more than anything else. But also…
2. Be kind. The Villian may provide some entertainment, but he/she never wins the game.
3. Follow your passion. This kind of goes back to “be yourself.” Everyone has a story that forms their interests and tastes. When people follow that, they do best and give viewers what they really want: a relatable or fascinating story, not just an insipid list of instructions.
4. Listen to the people who have been around for a while. They usually know what they’re talking about. And even though they may seem sadistic harsh at times, they really just want to help you improve.
5. Learn to improvise. You don’t always get the ideal situation. Learn to roll with it.
6. Smile through challenges. No idea what you’re doing? Think that you just served the most awful thing to come out of a kitchen? Don’t let the haters judges know until they taste it. It might be better than you think!
7. Take risks. Best case scenario, you succeed and blow the judges away. Worst case, you fail, but they have to respect your creativity and guts. Just don’t be stupid with your risks.
8. Cook good food. This isn’t a metaphor. I just think that everyone should know how to cook.

Shouldering the World

Sculpture of Atlas, taken at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli by yours truly.
Sculpture of Atlas, blurry photo taken by yours truly at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli.

I would never get my mom Life Alert.

For one thing, she probably wouldn’t wear it. For another thing, if she ever fell down and broke her hip, I am confident that she would hoist herself up and hobble over to the kitchen to complete the crossword puzzle.

What’s a three-letter word for “stubborn”?

You just can’t keep a good woman down. Trust me. I’ve tried.

Ye gods, how I’ve tried.

The last day of our beach vacation, Mom, while boogieboarding, fell in the sand and was twisted around by a vicious wave, knocking her knee out of place. This means that ever since we’ve been back, the numbers on my vivofit (the Garmin version of a fitbit) have been spinning wildly as I chase Mom down with an ice pack, begging her to sit down for a few minutes.

Let me tell you, convincing my mother to relax is exhausting.

The closest thing to a crutch we’ve been able to get her to use is the vacuum cleaner.

Even Hercules, who reportedly possessed an impressive amount of both brawn and brain, which he used to trick, tame, or kill the most intelligent and fearsome creatures ancient storytellers could invent, wouldn’t be able to pin down my mom, despite her twisted knee and dislocated rotator cuff.

Not that I meant to compare Mom to a legendary monster. Although I do think that she resembles a mythological being who was tricked by Hercules: Atlas.

I suppose there’s something inside a mother that calls for her to stand on twisted knees and hoist our world on an aching back. They uphold the cosmos with their inexhaustible strength. They keep our celestial spheres spinning with their tremendous energy – mostly in the form of boundless worry and love.

Of course, even Atlas – the “Titan of Strength” – got a short break while Hercules shouldered the universe for him.

And if this metaphor makes me a demigoddess, then I accept that.

When You Don’t Say a Thing

Sunrises

Running on the beach is one of my favorite things to do.

But, sometimes, it’s also one of the hardest things to do.

And I don’t mean physically.

It seems almost sacrilegious to run past a glittering horizon, earphones shoved into my ears while it chases after me, calls to me, begs me to notice it, to photograph it, to write about it.

Every morning, I find myself rising earlier to get to the beach, to see the sunrise, to have time to capture the peace that the beach invites.

My bare feet noiselessly pound on the coarse sand, rubbing the balls of my feet and the tip on my toes. I always start running toward theshelledit sun, watching it timidly peek over the horizon. After shocking itself with its beautiful reflection in the waves, it serenely floats to the top of the sky in a bright blaze of pink and golden glory. Then I turn my back to it and run away from the wind, immediately breaking out in a hard sweat.

When I turn around again, the sun is a scarlet ball of flame, blinding me with its radiance. I shuffle and kick my feet in the water, collecting shells, navigating the cloud of translucent jellyfish that washed up on shore, and slowly meander about a mile and a half to the weathered, wooden door that separates the beach from the line of beach houses.

Door2Yesterday, as I walked back to the villa, I kept listening to Allison Kraus, “When You Say Nothing at All.” It fits the peaceful, loving feeling I get from being near the ocean. This is where the people I love the most come together. It’s not just a place. It is a silent witness to squealing children, running into crashing waves. It taught us that sometimes we may run headfirst into where dangers abound and find the greatest beauty and joy we could ever imagine.

Really, it’s like a cosmic love letter, sent to every corner of the world.

Try as I may I could never explain

What I hear when you don’t say a thing…

Summer of Yesteryears

(L-R) Cousin Luke, me, sister Mackenzie pose in our pioneer get-up.
(L-R) cousin Luke, me, and sister Mackenzie pose in our pioneer get-up (circa 2008)

I started my first summer job last week.

Now, don’t misunderstand – this isn’t my first job. I started working when I was 16, tutoring elementary and middle school students. Then I worked as a news reporter. Even at college, I get paid to broadcast the basketball games.

But I’ve always had the summer off.

In yesteryears, I would wake up, put on my bathing suit, and float in the pool, a book in one hand and a frosted lemonade in the other.

If I didn’t take off my bathing suit until bedtime, it was a good day.

My cousins would come over. We’d ride bikes with broken brakes and seats that were too high, exploring the neighborhood, and searching for adventure (because, eventually, stopping my mom’s bike without brakes wasn’t adventure enough.)

We didn’t need to drive because we didn’t need to go anywhere. All the magic we needed was at home.

We dressed like pioneers and frontiersman and paraded about in broad daylight, much to the amusement of our neighbors. We built bonfires and do-si-do’ed, sing-yelling:

OLD DAN TUCKER WAS A FINE OLD MAN!
WASHED HIS FACE IN A FRYING PAN!
COMBED HIS HAIR WITH A WAGON WHEEL!
DIED OF A TOOTHACHE IN HIS HEEL!

It’s funny now, to think of our longing for the adventures of a dangerous past we had never known.

As I sit in a leather desk chair, watching the seconds slowly tick by on a security monitor, all I can think about is the summers of yesteryears.

My Chair, My Insanity

I have a first-day-of-class ritual.

I arrive early to scope out the seats. I find a chair, far away from any air vents, centrally located on the first row, where the professor can take note of my perfect attendance and that is where I sit for the remainder of the semester. 

(I’ve already admitted to being a Goody-Two Shoes, ok?)

I’ve discovered that most people will sit in the same seat all semester (though the majority of them haven’t put the thought I have into it) and I usually arrive at class early, so keeping my seat usually isn’t a problem.

However, one class, one girl (who I will call “Lane”) decided that she wanted to make me sit in a different seat.

And so the battle  began.

One day, Lane walked in class just a step ahead of me. She dropped her bag by My Chair and stood in front of it, talking to someone across the table.

So, naturally, I squeezed in behind her and sat down.

The class got a kick out of that.

Once, Lane did succeed in stealing My Chair.

I saw her riding her bike to class. I ran to try and beat her, but I knew it was useless. I watched helplessly as she parked her bike and walked in, not even noticing me, several paces away. 

I kept cool.

I walked into class, looking calm, frosty and deadly. I didn’t even glance at My Chair. I sat across from Lane.

I stared directly at her.

She laughed.

I did not crack.

I did break silence eventually, and said something about some men just wanting to watch the world burn. (Some smart aleck, either not getting the Batman reference or just wanting to be difficult, pointed out that she wasn’t a man. Whatever.) 

Anyway, a minute or two later, she had to leave to print something, so I ended up with My Chair after all.

In fact, I sat in My Chair all semester. Until the very last day.

When Lane walked in, there was a note at My Chair: 

Dear Lane,
You fought well. Happy end of the semester!
Lots of Love,
Ali

I sat in a chair (no capitalization) on the opposite side of the table.

Another girl in our class told her, “I hope you realize that that is the most sincere gift of love you are ever going to get.”

I did want to show Lane that our battle was all good-natured. (And I won!)

But I wanted to show something else, too – things change. People always move forward, whether they want to or not.

And I accept that.

Besides, sitting in the exact same chair at the exact same time over and over? Wouldn’t that be like insanity?

How College Made Me a Criminal

I am an accessory.

And I don’t mean that as a metaphor, like, “I am a silver necklace in a world of oversized t-shirts.”

I mean like the criminal kind.

In the past, I have been what laymen commonly refer to as a “Goody-Two Shoes.” Or, as my more technical-speaking sister called me, a “Goody-Goody.” (I never saw the insult in this statement, which is a defining characteristic of the Goody-Two Shoes species.)

But, as I’ve said before, college changes you.

It gives rise to crimes of desperation. Sheer desperation.

I mean, there’s no thrill or glamour in stealing toilet paper.

Sometimes, it’s just kind of necessary.

Coming out of class today, I saw my friend, Lydia. I ran up behind her and tapped her on the shoulder.

“Hi,” she said, taking out her earphones. “I’m going to the PAC to steal some toilet paper.”

That’s the thing about Lydia. It doesn’t matter whether she is watching Netflix or planning murder. She will tell you exactly what she is doing in the same frank, outright manner.

“Oh.” I looked up at the building. “I’ll go with you.” We live in the same dorm building. I figured we could walk back together after stealing a roll or two.

But Lydia was a woman on a mission.

We went to. Every. Single. Bathroom. In. The. Building.

It isn’t actually that dramatic. There are only three bathrooms, all on the same floor.

And we walked away with only one roll.

My roommate did the same thing once, when we were out of toilet paper. And, to be completely honest, I have, too. (Fine. I’ve been an accessory twice and perpetrator once.)

Still, if the punishment fits the crime, I cannot imagine we would have a harsh sentence.

It reminds me of a case in New York where a man was found guilty of stealing a loaf of bread. The judge fined everyone in the courtroom for living in a city where a man had to steal a loaf of bread, then gave the collected money to the man.

I sympathize.

Though, thankfully, we’re not starving. Thanks to mandatory, pre-paid meal plans, we feast like kings on greasy cafeteria food.

We just need something to clean up with.

My College Addiction

2014-10-20 10.32.39You know how when you spend a lot of time with someone, their habits start to rub off on you? And when you live with them, becoming them, even in every terrible way that you swore not to, is inevitable? (Since going to college, I’ve discovered that I am/will be exactly like my mom. Completely unrelated to the previous comment.)

I think that is one of the most potentially dangerous things about college. It is nearly impossible not to be influenced by the people you live with, and in college, at least your first year, you are likely living with someone you have never met before in your life. Who knows what habits they have that don’t show up on the room request form? I won’t even dive into all of the horrifying possibilities. And, despite the well-intentioned, valiant effort that your parents made to raise you right, sometimes you cave.

But I have decided to get myself back on the straight and narrow. I am staging a self-intervention. I am completely cutting myself off. No gradual decline, I am just ripping the bandage off and exposing a dark, ugly wound for the world to see.

My name is Ali Renckens and I am a popcorn addict.

I blame it entirely on my roommate. She has a love for microwave popcorn, so our dorm room always smells like a movie theatre. When the smell of butter and salt greets me before I even put the key in the lock, I know Hannah is home.

Naturally, with Orville Redenbacher as a third roommate, I started buying popcorn. And consuming several bags a week. Kroger was my enabler, being open 24/7 and selling Skinny Pop for $1 a bag. (As a college kid, I have a new appreciation for sales.)

If I get the freshman fifteen, it will be entirely due to popcorn.

The situation came to a crisis one day when I strolled into Kroger, basket over my arm to fill with bags of air popped goodness. Turning into the aisle, I stopped. There it was, or rather it wasn’t: the red sale sign.

I’m a broke college kid! I can’t afford full price at the dollar store!

Foam pushed out of the corners of my mouth. My eyes rolled back for a view of my convulsive brain. I realized then and there that I had to quit before it destroyed me.

Then I saw it: 479 degree popcorn on sale.

That’s right; I’m typing this in between handfuls of artisan popcorn.

I suppose it could be worse. I could be addicted to marijuana. Or One Direction.