photo-2What I moved to Brooklyn was: three of my paintings, my great-grandmother’s dresser, three busts (Schumann, Chopin, Shakespeare), my yellow foo dogs (look it up), and the lamp I bought the day that Grandma died in an effort to make myself feel better, the lamp which I immediately broke on the threshold of my apartment building and spent the evening gluing back together.

Somehow this filled a van.

What did not fit in the van is in the storage unit in Lenexa.  My boxes and I, we hadn’t seen each other since September, when I was so dazed I would say I was only sort of alive.  I was, in the clinical sense, alive.

I’m enjoying “Walking Dead” now because I get what it is to be only sort of alive.

My box of Bastille Day supplies happened to be up front, too, so I took three tiles of scenes of Paris and my cheese plates.  I found two smaller paintings whose compositions I still liked, and a finger bowl made of blue and white ceramic that I used to keep rings and necklace charms in.  I found the red lacquer tray that was one of my ex’s best gifts to me.

It was chilly, fifty degrees and gray, and I had chatted a bit with the people who worked there, about payments and codes, and changing my address.  The roll-up door was orange.  Very orange.

I felt so sad for my books.  There was no reason to open any of their boxes.  Books are dead technology, now, anyway, but my books remind me of what I’ve read.  And they are good insulation.  When I had a grown-up sized bed, there were usually books in bed with me.  I liked knowing I could run my hand along all their spines to find some idea I had forgotten and needed.

And there are a few special ones: my autographed Cider House Rules and my autographed Frederick, my Oxford Study Bible with many notes, my green Complete Works of Shakespeare, a ridiculous book, but one I did use to read most of Shakespeare when I took that class, my many-times-read Two Part Invention, with ideas about love I used to love, Katharine Graham’s autobiography that I have and could still read over and over, Natalie Goldberg’s books on writing that I can’t read anymore because they taste too much like me now.

Yes, they also show and prove that I am a literate and educated person, that I have read quite a bit, and it’s hard to separate my egotism about them from the comfort.

The metal of that rolling door was cold, I was chilly, it was grey.  To leave, I pulled up to the gate, and sat there a minute.  A guy in his car nearby pointed out the place to enter the code.

“Thanks,” I said.  “Last time I was here, I was moving, and I didn’t know what was going on.”

photo-3I thought I might go hunt down, grab, and hug my cat until he whimpered, but I happened to drive right near the Shawnee Indian Mission.  I wrote about it a few months ago.  Although the whole area I grew up in is named after this place, I didn’t know much about it.

I pulled up to one of the brick buildings, and there was a sign in the window that said, “PRIVATE RESIDENCE.  See museum for admittance.”  The area around the mission is now some of the ritziest neighborhoods in Kansas City.  It’s the capital of getting pulled over because your tags have expired.  It is rolling hills, curled and braided residential streets, lots of green, many pretty little creeks, lots of big pretty trees.

There was one of those creeks running between two buildings of the mission.  I forgot how that was part of where I grew up.  There was a creek behind my elementary school, next to my middle school, and these were places foxes lived, and there was a little cheerful bit of water.  A creek (not a stream or a crick) is the size of water I enjoy.  Lakes are too big, the sea is certainly unnecessarily large.

I walked over to another brick building, and that was where the museum was.  I opened the door and walked through the museum shop.  A man walked in and asked what I needed, and I told him I wanted to pay someone the $5 admittance fee.  He got an old lady to come over.  She told me there was a wonderful 20-minute video, led me to a hard wooden pew, and started it up before I could tell her I was not sure I intended to spend 20 minutes there.

photo-4Johnson of Johnson County, a Methodist minister who got the grant to open a mission school near Westport.  His previous mission was not a great location.  They boarded Indian boys and girls, made them speak English, taught them to read and write and make shoes and do farm work.  Mostly they were Shawnee, east coast Indians who had been moved at least once, and were about to be moved one last time, to Oklahoma.  There were kids from other tribes, too, and white kids went to school with them.  For a little while, they also had a high school.

The ethics of having a mission at all, the idea of this government education for those kids, and how the students were treated, was there to be read about.  Maybe not enough, or maybe not well enough, but I don’t know enough about it to judge.

For a little while, in those buildings, they held the first Kansas Territorial Legislature, known now as the Bogus Legislature since the Union won the war.  The Bogus Legislature set up some laws forbidding the aiding of escaped slaves.  They, like Johnson himself, were pro-slavery.  Johnson had six slaves.  When Kansas went free and the war got going, he changed his tune and got on the right side of things.  Two of his sons fought for the Union, and one for the Confederacy.  For a little while, Union soldiers were stationed there just in case something happened– a lot happened on the Kansas-Missouri border– but nothing happened there.

For a while, one of the buildings was a roadhouse with fried chicken and (then) illegal liquor.

It made sense to me that I remembered so little about the place.  I had gone there in fourth grade, and the history is confusing enough for adults.

It was as confused as I felt, and troubled with loss, which also felt right.  People displaced, not sure where they belong, things beautiful like little spring streams and the daffodils up, but also the fields still dead, still brown.

I had planned to let myself be sad during Lent.  I had thought a lot, before I moved, about “losing your life to save it.”  I am still amazed at how great my life was in Kansas City, and how I had to walk away from it.  I still don’t really understand.

Good Friday today, and I got my cello and kneeling and cross-kissing and candle-lighting.  I’m always awed by it.  I’m always relieved to be able to go somewhere and be sad without feeling ungrateful or like I’m bringing someone else’s party down.

I feel like New York and Kansas City have joint custody of me.  I’ve done that before.  Much as my parents regretted it, it wasn’t all bad.

Getting older, you can feel sadder at Good Friday.  I have parts of my heart open now, it echoes in me now when people talk about missing home, students who miss their home countries or home towns.

I know about feeling torn, from when I was a kid, and the good news is, it makes you bigger.


IMG_0625My grandfather’s tombstone has a plane etched into the granite. Just a little east of his grave, I visited into the birthplace of Amelia Earhart. I have no idea if my grandfather had any special feelings about Amelia Earhart, who, after all, lived only a brief time in Atchison, Kansas. She was a pilot, like my grandpa, and neither of them ever settled.

Very settled, on the other end of Atchison, were my nun friends in the monastery. Ever since I moved to New York, I had been longing to be back at the only place I think I’ve ever really been able to rest. The curving little back staircase, my simple room, always a different one, always with a slider rocker, a window that looks at the chapel’s stained glass and stone, my assigned bathroom with travel lotions I sweep into my hands. Walks around the grounds to visit the February-fallow gardens, the cemetery, the beehives, the rusting farm equipment in the back field. Walks to the library to pick out another stack of books.

All the sisters are my grandmother, except the few who, closer to my age, are more like sisters. “I pray for everyone under 50,” one told me. “That they will find what they are meant to do. You have that spark, though. I know you have found it.”

“When, not if, but when you go to Florence…” another sister began. She’s in her eighties, and she’s been many times, studying or teaching.

At the monastery, I run into myself.  This time I realized I don’t know who I am, or if I am coming or going, or where, if anywhere, I belong. It reminds me of the years my parents had joint custody of me and didn’t get along, when I was never totally at home anywhere, when the parts of me from each of them seemed to be natural enemies.

They weren’t, they aren’t.  I have my mother’s openness and her build, my father’s sense of humor and his nose, and rebelliousness and stubbornness and love of religion from both.

During one lunch, I heard myself interrupting a chat that had previously been mostly about who knows who, about “Are you of the Topeka Kleinzes?” a topic my name had failed to get me into. I broke in, a little too loud, to say, “My great-grandpa was in that parade.”

The county fair they had been speaking of, the county fair in Effingham, Kansas. “Oh, who was your grandpa?”

“Uh, let me think,” I said. “We always called him grandpa.” My face reddened, as I knew I had jumped too quickly and loudly into conversation, even if no one else noticed, and I had no idea, suddenly, what my great-grandfather’s name was. I had not wanted to participate in the conversation, but to insert myself into it.

The father of my pilot great-grandfather was William, like Shakespeare, but called Bill, as if could forget that.

I was protesting too much, just as I have written fast and furious about being a midwesterner and What That Means To Me when I’ve gone to a writing event. We write near boats, and I write about how boats will always be exotic to me. We write at the Indian museum, and I write about hating being from a place known for its Indians.

I have spent much of my adult life in places where I don’t belong— at the synagogue, at an inner city school, at the monastery. Maybe because I can learn so much that way. Maybe because I’ve been waiting all this time for someone to tell me I don’t belong, I will never belong, I need to get out, I am not right. None of these communities cooperated with my neurosis, though. They were all perfectly welcoming, proving something to me about them, but maybe not, yet, about myself.

It eats at me that people in New York don’t know me, that is, know me little, but the most confusing part, really, is that I don’t know myself. People will get to know me, and I will get to know myself, this takes time, I know.

I kept telling sister after sister, some of whom remembered me and my story from previous visits, that I had indeed moved to New York. “I live in New York,” I said.

“I live in New York.”

“I live in New York now, in Brooklyn.”

“I teach in Manhattan, in New York. Yes, New York City.”

I started to think if I said it enough I would believe it.  The last time I was at the monastery I decided to quit my Kansas City job. I wondered if I would get another one in New York, if I would find a place to live. To tell the sisters I know best, “I got a job. I got a place to live,” it sounded like a miracle.  Maybe it was, is.

It felt like climbing a mountain, getting higher to where there was no oxygen, but there were some nice views.

IMG_0626I rang a bell, and the woman who answered asked for $5. I took a brochure and looked around Amelia Earhart’s birthplace, the room she was born in, the room that was hers as a girl. The woodwork is dark and thick.  Most of the walls are crammed with photos of Earhart, paintings of her, framed telegrams and letters and such.

There is a plain pointed-arched stained glass window in the end of the upstairs hall. Most of the windows look over the Missouri River, to the bridge now named after her, the bridge I was driven across countless times, as a child on my way to my great-grandparents’ farm. When she was born there, my great-grandparents were young people, just a few miles away.

Earhart decided to become a pilot, she decided to fly all these crazy missions. She could have had such a nice life. What was she thinking? Leaving a perfectly nice husband and life to go drop out of the sky. Or into it, maybe it doesn’t matter if you fall.