Thursday, July 17, 2003

Notes from the jungle

Hannes and I went on what was nominally a 25-mile bike ride up Forest Park and along the river, but was actually an exercise in meditation: work through the pain, breathe through the pain, do not get swept away by the pain... I was recently thinking about what the term 'chronic pain' means, and what it meant to a younger me: I guess I just didn't realize that 'chronic' means 'every minute you are awake, which you actually have more of since the pain keeps you from sleeping, and which you are actually more aware of since the pain keeps you from spacing out or really getting deeply into anything that might otherwise distract you'. Plenty of fire to work with, when I am in the mindset to use it for that, and have the energy.

On the way home we stopped by Jen's place: nobody home. Zannah's place: ditto. Off to Scott and Sharon's, where we crash the dinner party they are all having. Some minor uneasiness inside me as I try to determine whether I should just ride away, or stay. After a number of quiet consultations, the determination is made that Hannes and I will stay, and everyone quickly dives into shuffling everything around to accommodate two new guests. Zannah and old friend Karen Ballard had whipped up this amazing meal, and we had a great time sharing past stories and future wishes while we ate. [In the interests of not getting my ass kicked I should also mention here that Jen brought some incredible homemade vanilla icecream with strawberries in it, which truly rocked.]

The scene reminded me of last December, when they invited Anne-Marie's sister Samantha and myself over for a day of food and drink and gift-sharing that just happened to coincide with 'Christmas', but didn't really share any of the other memes that come with that holiday. When the time came to open gifts, I found that in addition to the opening of gifts from family and friends, the Martell sisters have a family tradition that they observe on this day, something that is inexplicably (to me) called 'hobbies', or something that sounds very close to that, so I'll proceed as though that is the actual name.

The tradition of 'hobbies' is this: each person receives a gift, origin unknown. Attached to the gift is a piece of paper upon which is written a poem. When your turn arrives, you must read the poem aloud, and from it's contents and cadence identify both the gift and the giver. It is assumed that the gift (and often the poem) will be something that is meaningful in a light and humorous way. When you think you've got it, you open the gift and see how close you got.

This is actually a very engaging process, since the writers of the poems are sitting right there trying not to give anything away; some of them are more successful at this than others. On one end of the spectrum is Zannah, who has a great poker face, something she is almost too good at: the only indication that she might be the source of a poem is the complete absence of her usual facial expressions. On the other end of the spectrum is Jen, who is almost bouncing out of her seat to make sure everyone realized how awesome and applicable her poems were (NB: they were indeed good.) Everyone else is somewhere in between. This being my first introduction to the ritual, I was not involved in the process of poem writing, and consequently someone had to double up.

The poem I read was clearly from Scott... the cadence and the way he deftly avoided ending a sentence with the word I most expected due to the rhyme and meter of the poem were a dead giveaway. His poem was titled 'Star Car', and from the content I decided the gift would be some sort of toy rocket, something not too unreasonable given the work I have done with the Portland State Aerospace Society. It turned out to be a solar car kit, the kind you see for sale at tech museums such as our local OMSI.

Spending this day with the Martell clan and friends, I had an incredible time. (I happened to be all hopped up on painkillers, which were actually working that day, turning me into something approximately human.) Watching the interplay of the three sisters, the way each gift would bring up stories of their childhood, their autopilot rivalries, their friendship and love for each other... I had never seen or been a part of anything like that before. It was pretty overwhelming. I felt like an anthropologist, visiting a tribe somewhere deep in the jungle: picking up contextual clues, learning some of the common language, observing interactions that were both alien and heartwarming.

I guess that's the point of today's post: that was the real gift I received that day, a heart-warming. My friendships with all of the people involved are not as developed as I wish them to be, mostly due to my habit of falling off of the fucking planet for the last few (more like 10) years. Now that 'better living through chemistry' has given me My New Head™, I am trying to remedy this. It's terrifying, but I'm starting to think (for the first time in years) that it is worth it.