After 8 days, and countless photo postings to Facebook, we arrived in Evanston late Tuesday night. We live in southeast Evanston, close to Lake Michigan and convenient to public transit.
We beat our furniture and dishes here, so for the next week or so we'll be living in a no-frills apartment. Our wifi/cable will be installed this Saturday, without a TV to connect it with.
These are very minor inconveniences in the grand scheme. We love our neighborhood and it feels great to be back. And thanks to our numerous means of digital connectivity, we're just a keystroke away from our Bay Area friends now and forever. That feels great too.
One of the great things about this summer, and one of the many great things about living with Pi Wen, is the opportunity to explore adventurous home-cooked meals. I tried my hand at cooking classes a year or so ago, and enjoyed them...but that wasn't enough impetus to actually get down to the business of cooking. Now we've found our new place and settled into the summer of food, as we documented over on Four Pairs of Eyes.
Go on and click the link! But if you don't, you can still look at the food pics below.
When I lived in SF from 2009-2010 I hated it. That's a strong word, hate, but it accurately sums up how I felt. Friends would tell me that my chosen location at the corner of 16th/Mission was a big reason why, as this was a well-known corridor for drug dealing or at least crazy-acting in the plaza above BART.
But my apartment wasn't the issue. Given that Helen and I had just decided to get a divorce, I would have been unhappy anywhere on earth. At least in SF I had the chance to walk home after work, which I did many times. I also nursed my love of fancy coffee shops, making a gradual shift in loyalties from Ritual to Four Barrel as the year ground on. And I tried fruitlessly to pick up women in bars, and maintained my disgust at the mindless conformity that marks SF's supposedly daring political culture. As the year's lease grew close to merciful release, I met Pi Wen and moved back to the sunnier and more congenial East Bay.
The rest is history.
Now we often venture to the city together. For example, today we'll be at Ft. Mason, the Fillmore Jazz Festival, and then a friend's potluck holiday barbeque. Later this month we'll be back at Ft. Mason for a "Forks and Corks" event that pairs Sonoma County wines with food from SF food trucks. It's all very yuppie and all quite pleasant. Even as I retain my belief that SF politics are ridiculous, these days I find myself focusing on the city's beauty and charms.
During our honeymoon Pi Wen and I decided to start a jointly authored blog that would offer "random observations of daily life." We both observe the passing scene closely, and hopefully with humor. Yesterday we started the blog, which will be irregularly updated and regularly hilarious. If you're interested, please pop on over to Four Pairs of Eyes.
Today is Mom and Bob's 26th wedding anniversary. I was 8 when they married, which was a second marriage for both of them. And so the world goes around--I recently began a second marriage myself.
Our wedding this March was the day after my birthday. For a birthday/wedding gift, Pi Wen bought me a copy of Elizbeth Gilbert's book Committed. Gilbert is most famous as the author of Eat, Pray, Love. Committed tells the story of her eventual marriage to Felipe, the dashing older gentleman she'd met in Bali at the end of her year of exploring the world. Gilbert left the US in order to cope with a very messy divorce.
Felipe has also been married once before, so at first neither of them had any interest in remarrying. But US immigration law forced their hands. Felipe's a Brazilian citizen, and the only way he could remain in the US indefinitely was to marry Elizabeth Gilbert. Committed recounts her wide-ranging explorations of what it means to be married. Much of her research is in Southeast Asia, where she and Felipe decamp as their situation in the US is resolved. From this vantage point Gilbert realizes that Western, American notions of marriage--that it should complete everyone, that it should be optional and not required--are very modern and not at all universal. Thus she gradually comes to understand marriage from multiple lenses. Although she never completely resolves her ambivalence about being married again, by the end she is much more comfortable with the idea. The final scene is of a simple wedding ceremony in New Jersey, for which Felipe cooks lunch. She also confides to the reader that this marriage has been a much better match.
Committed resonated with me on several levels. From 2001-2005 the reality of having to square my affections with the laws of my country was ever-present. Helen and I married in February 2001 and began proceedings for her to become a US citizen in March. That was in Chicago. We continued the process throughout our time in Washington DC, and she became a US citizen in November 2005 when we were living in New York. There was a lot of expense; one filing fee was close to $1,000, and very early on we consulted with an immigration attorney. This was not the same situation as Elizabeth and Felipe faced. We didn't have to get married in order to stay together (Helen had a green card). But nonetheless I recognized the angst caused by wondering if you'd done everything correctly in order to move to the next stage of an official process.
Of course, Helen and I divorced. As thngs were becoming more serious with Pi Wen, people often seemed surprised that I'd ever want to remarry...or at least not so soon. This makes sense, I guess, but I always knew I was the marrying kind. Gilbert discusses the constraints marriage places on women at length, but also notes that marriage (by design) is a constraint on men. But I guess I'm different; when Helen and I split the hardest thing for me to accept was my loss of identity as a married man. All's well that ends well, though, because now--just like Elizabeth Gilbert--I'm in a marriage with a much better match.
Marcus: The other day Pi Wen and I played checkers, for the first time. All was going well at first. I moved, she jumped. She moved, I jumped. We were required to make any jumps we could, but would cut each other some slack if we forgot a jump.
Eventually we got to the other end of the board and said those majestic words: "King me." I was happy, because I could now move forwards and backwards. Of course, I could only make legitimate moves--when I had a clear jump, and over the minimum number of squares at a time. Obvious! Suddenly Pi Wen, after she became king, began flying across the board to make a jump, not just plodding along. Huh? What was wrong with this woman? Where did she learn to play checkers?
Pi Wen: We were jalan-jalan'ing in the lobby of the Claremont Hotel when I saw this checker set on the table, begging anyone who would pay attention to "please play me!" Marcus and I sat down and started moving our pieces. It was all fine at first, we each moved one square at a time, and I would "eat" his piece or he would "eat" my piece. Once, he forgot to "eat" my piece so I reached over to forfeit his piece. He said "Oh, I forgot!" So I pang-chan and let him reverse his move so he could "eat" my piece.
Marcus made it to king first, but I soon followed suit. Then, to my surprise, his king only "ate" one of my pieces that was right in front of him. I thought he could have flown in a zig-zaggy pattern and finished three of my pieces. Hmm... okay, maybe he wasn't paying attention, let it be then. I'll have more chances to win. Next was my turn to fly my king to eat one of his pieces that was 3 squares away from my king.
Marcus protested immediately. "No, you can't do that!!"
"Why not? That's how we play checkers in Malaysia."
What's the point of being a king if you can only move one square at a time? How boring. By then, I saw that it would take us much longer to finish the game. And the remaining pieces showed that I was losing, so I conceded. Marcus was kind, he agreed to play a second round of checkers using my rules. This time, I won. But he was grouchy because he thought having "flying kings" gave too much power to the first person who becomes king; in this case, me. But I insisted that this was how we played in Malaysia and Singapore. What's the problem?
Conclusion: We were both right! Thanks to Wikipedia, we now know that the Malaysian/Singaporean game allows "flying kings" and requires a forfeit if you miss a jump. This is Pi Wen's version of the game. English checkers is what Marcus played growing up.
The next time you see someone who is breaking the rules, make sure you know whose rules you're using.
Jalan-jalan: a Malay word for taking a leisurely walk.
Pang-chan: a Hokkienist-English word that means "give him a chance."
This week two old friends from my religious days--one an adult counselor for the church youth group, another person who was my age--sought me out on Facebook. Of course I friended them, and I've already had some nice wall exchanges.
Nonetheless it felt like worlds colliding...or, perhaps, different phases of life colliding. I'm not religious at all these days, and have great misgivings about the out-sized role of evangelical Christianity in American politics in recent years. My two friends are still religious and still great people. But there's a rift there now, however cordial we would be if we saw each other again.
It comes down to this: these days I'm the man who's madly in love with the bubbly atheist. That's a very different life than I envisioned at Cypress Wesleyan Church, but it's a great one.
Tonight I accompanied Helen to the airport, and as I write she's en route to JFK airport in New York City. From there she'll move on to Danbury, CT. She'll be completing an internship at Duracell (located in Bethel, CT) this summer.
I already miss Helen, and can't wait until I visit her in five weeks. In the meantime I am enjoying all the nice touches she left around the apartment--books, notes, even a stuffed animal. All I did was go to the airport, so I have some making up to do!
Over the summer (and then again when Helen goes to London in the fall) I've set a goal of living "hermit Sundays," when I keep to myself and write more seriously than I ever have before. Blog posts are great, but I also want to write essays that go through many drafts and look nothing like you expected when you started. Writing on any day is fine, but hermit Sunday will be the focal point for sustained energy.
On most other days I'll come out of the hermit shell and hang out with the great friends I've made here in the Bay Area. And Helen already has great plans for all the fun times she'll have in New York over the weekends, and the activities (pottery classes? voice lessons?) that will fill up her weekday evenings. And of course we'll talk every single day.
So although it will definitely be lonely sometimes, I'm happy that we will both make the most out of this summer.