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The morning after Obama was elected, I walked out my front door and expected the world to be different. It seemed surreal to me that nothing had changed, even though in my mind, something amazing and world-changing had happened the night before. Despite the fact that something major had happened, people still went to work and went to the store and got gas in their cars. There was still litter on the side of the road and a squashed squirrel in the intersection. Even though it was a pretty day, the world was not a brighter place. The world was the same, even though something had changed inside of me. I had seen the power of hope; I had rejoiced with perfect strangers; I was ready for the new world which didn't exist.

It reminded me of the days before I lived in St. Louis when I would come to visit Mike. He and I would have a fantastic time of it for a weekend, maybe four days, and everything about those days would seem to have a different color, a different sound, a different feel. Even making dinner or walking around the grocery store seemed to have a different motif underneath. I would get on the plane and go back to school or back to work at the end of it all, and I would cry because I'd had a glimpse of what my life could be and now I was going back to what it was. And the next morning I'd wake up and expect the world to be different, to be changed, to retain that color and sound only to realize that it wasn't the world that was different: it was me.

So last Wednesday when I realized I was expecting the world to look different, perhaps a bit gloomier, and getting the same results, I had to remind myself that politics is not life. My street, my corner, my commute all stay the same no matter who is in office. (Well, unless certain municipalities decide to vote down certain municipal maintenance measures... but that's another story.) One of the benefits of living in a stable republic is the peaceful transition of power that doesn't cause much upset to the basic goings-on of most of the people I know. We still go on and keep going to work and going to the store and putting gas in our cars no matter who was or wasn't elected. Our country, right or wrong, is still here, and we make the best lives we can for ourselves because or in spite of it.

But I know I'm not the only one who feels change inside after an election, the joy regarding my candidate's win, the grim "we'll get 'em next time" of a defeat, or the utter disappointment in my countrymen and women when something passes or doesn't pass that feels crucial to me. If it weren't for the change we believe in, why would we vote? If we didn't think it mattered, why would we go stand in lines in elementary schools and senior centers on cold Tuesdays in November when we could be sneaking that extra few minutes of sleep? If we didn't think the change that we feel inside could apply to the actual world, we would let the world happen to us rather than taking charge in our own small space.

Last Tuesday, we all won and we all lost. I can't imagine anyone was completely happy with how the results came out, but I can't see an America where that could ever happen. But enough happened that made me happy with the process (Missouri's vote yes on stronger regulations on puppy mills; Christine O'Donnell's resounding defeat in Delaware) to chase away the gloominess I thought the world would reflect on Wednesday. It wasn't all my way, but nothing ever is. And, as I keep reminding myself, the world is not politics, and we must be the change we want to see in the world.

"What the responsible citizen really uses is his imagination, not believing anybody literally, but voting for the man or party that corresponds most closely, or at least remotely, to his vision of the society he wants to live in. The fundamental job of the imagination in everyday life, then, is to produce, out of the society we have to live in, a vision of the society we want to live in." -- Northrup Frye, The Educated Imagination
I came to LiveJournal this morning to write about the election, and the aftermath, and my own musings on the future of our country. And I still intend to do that.

But while I was here, I realized that I do not check LiveJournal anymore. I used to check in on this site multiple times a day -- more often than I checked Facebook. I took a minute while I was here to check in on the journal of a friend who I've never met, never talked to on the phone, who I met through this crazy medium five years ago, who I've followed through her college years and her DC years and her struggles and her joys, who I worry about and occasionally pray for, because she is an amazing woman I wish I knew for real. But because I don't check LiveJournal anymore, I hadn't seen a word from her since June or July.

As I caught up on her life (and she chose to share with the world quite a few things that have happened to her in the last few months), I grew wistful.

I have had this quasi-blog for nine years. Nine. And I used to update it nearly daily, with random stories of my life -- the good, the bad, the funny. I used this box to keep my sanity when I worked in the Great American West. I poured out my soul while I hated my advertising job. My lonely days in undergrad, my frustrating days of grad school, my odd days in between all found a home here. And now I feel as though a story about my day isn't enough -- if I take the time to post to LiveJournal, I think, I need a point. I need to be writing an essay or a column or a review, not just blathering on about myself in a witty but cathartic way.

I think about my Facebook status updates, and I would guess that over half the time when I update my status, I cram into 450 characters what I would have expanded into a whole LJ post five years ago. For instance, on Monday, I said, "Abbi just opened a Tootsie Roll Pop and instinctively looked at the wrapper for the Indian shooting a star." In another time and place there would have been a discussion about nostalgia, about third grade, about candy, about whatever. Do I have time? Probably. Do I have the energy? Debatable. Does anyone else care?


I abandoned this medium when my friends did, when I realized I was writing and not getting any reaction. I quit writing here when I realized that I was one of the few of my friends left. I felt stupid putting so much work into something, sending it out into the void and realizing that nobody cared.

I realize how this sounds -- how self-aggrandizing, how selfish, how needy it sounds to only make the time to write when I think someone else will care. But part of my main draw to this place in the first place was the fact that I had a sounding board. I put my world out there, and my friends wrote back. They put their worlds out there, and I wrote back. When I write now and find that the community aspect of this project is gone, I'm better off writing an e-mail to a friend or two, or just talking to Mike about it. I get my community without worrying about trolls.

I'm wistful, though, as I said above, for a freedom to write like I used to. For the snippets of my friends' lives. For this last tie to my version of the old internet, the pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter, pre-"total connectivity" internet where I chatted with my friends on AIM about what they'd said on LJ or what they'd said in an e-mail. I suppose there's the argument that Facebook, et. al., have made our lives better but I feel it's a false connectedness. And perhaps my memory of the pre-Web2.0 world serves me poorly, but the connections I made in that world were real and they were lasting. Two of my three best girlfriends come from that world. My husband comes from that world. My world today would be nothing at all like it is without that world.

I have nine years of journal entries to prove it.

regarding the Founding Fathers...

I honestly don't know much about the Tea Party movement. So last week when Morning Edition hosted a point-counterpoint between two leaders within the movement about what the focus of the Tea Party, I was intrigued.

The woman out of Waco, Toby Marie Walker, spoke first about how the Tea Party is all about economic issues and limited government, and that party designation is not as important as issues. She said, "[W]e have Republicans, Democrats, independents, all over the spectrum. And that's why we stick to the issues that brought us together. It would be like asking the NRA to take up an abortion issue. That's not what the NRA is about. They're about gun rights."

I found her to be reasonable and informed.

The man out of the American Family Association in Mississippi, Bryan Fischer, said that the Tea Party needed to have a conservative social agenda as well to reflect the views of their constituency and their responsibility to their Constitutional roots. He said, "[P]art of why we got involved in this [movement] is we believe the country needs not only to be called back to constitutional government, not only back to physical responsibility, but also to the same cultural and social values that were embraced by the founders."

He then went on to say that what he specifically meant by that was that the Founding Fathers were pro-life and anti-gay. Later, he said, "I think the Tea Party movement is no longer [--] they're not going to be able to claim the mantle of the founding fathers unless they affirm that morality and religion are indispensible supports of political prosperity."

I, as you might imagine, did not find him to be so reasonable and informed.

It drives me crazy when people invoke the Founding Fathers without doing their research. (These are often the same people who talk about the "good old days" and say that nobody got divorced until women started burning their bras.) These men were, as a general rule, brilliant. They believed that independence, revolution and their new country were not just political movements but moral issues. However. Looking to them as pinnacles of morality? They counted among their ranks slaveholders, philanderers, manipulators. Looking to them as supporters of the Evangelical Christian movement? Many of them were Deists. In their eyes, voting rights should only be extended to white males who owned a certain amount of property, and although it was "We the People" who were ordaining and establishing the Constitution, a great deal of skepticism existed around whether or not those same people could be trusted to select a government.

These men could hardly agree on anything. The Constitution was a compromise in and of itself, and the inclusion of a Bill of Rights was not a universally agreed-upon necessity. The unity and single-mindedness that Mr. Fischer implies was a hallmark of the Constitutional Convention only exists in paintings; the "cultural and social values" he lauds were rooted in a system that condoned and endorsed the buying, selling, trading and exploiting of an entire race of people, and the displacing and dominating of another.

I don't deny Mr. Fischer or anyone the right to believe that their political experience should be religious and moral. This is, after all, America, and your political beliefs can be whatever you want (until they start to cause bodily harm to others or forcibly infringe upon someone else's rights, and even then, you may be overlooked). However, co-opting the framers of our country and molding them to your own political needs without any apparent regard for history is irresponsible. It makes you and your movement look ridiculous. I can't take Mr. Fischer seriously, because I can't decide what's worse, the idea that he and his cohorts have not done their research and don't really know the implications of what they're saying, or the idea that they truly think that their movement should be rooted in a white male-dominated world where the "cultural and social values" were just as likely to condone slavery, oppression, and imperialism as they were freedom and independence.

"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." -- Senator Pat Moynihan

Read the transcript of the interview at: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129901232
Say, just for a minute, that you are at an Indigo Girls concert.

Say you decided to go by yourself, partially by choice and partially because you couldn't find anyone to go with you, despite people asking "Why would you want to go to a concert by yourself?" as though you had just declared you were going to dance a tango alone. Say that these women were on your life list of must-see concerts and you missed them last time they came through town, mostly because you couldn't find anyone to go with you.

Say, also, that rather than perching on your favorite stool near the sound booth, you decide to stand in the dance pit at the foot of the stage, and have bravely put yourself smack in the middle of about two hundred other women and approximately five men so you can have the experience of being roughly ten feet from the stage and thus twenty feet from Amy and Emily. This, you say to yourself, is a true concert experience.

But just for fun, say that the tallest man not just in the theater but in a six-block radius has come in with what appears to be his teenaged daughter and decides that he needs to stand in front of you. And say, for even more fun, that suddenly on your right appears a squat girl with enormous breasts and an enormous husband, both of whom have elbowed their way through the crowd to stand by you as if you had been saving them a spot. She says ridiculous things like, "You need to listen, because I am making a major adjustment to one of my cardinal life principles right now: You can wear a t-shirt of the band you're seeing IF it's not from the same tour. Listen! This is major personal growth for me, because I am amending one of my major rules of life right now! Do you not realize the importance of this?" and "Look at Eve and Eve over there. Can you imagine what they must look like in bed? I wouldn't dream of dating someone so ugly. Gah. Lesbians."

You want to say awful things to her, anything to get her to leave -- because seriously, who goes to an Indigo Girls concert and decides it's a good idea to make fun of lesbians? -- or at the very least, shut up, but the threat of her enormous husband keeps you quiet and you say nothing. You say a silent prayer of thanks when he calls her on being a snob as she mocks some teenage girls next to her for not having seen the Indigo Girls as many times as she has.

Say, then, that at this moment the lights go down and the opening band takes the stage. Despite your doubts about a band named Girlyman, you have to say you find yourself enjoying them, except for the part where the squat girl has decided that her spot is not good enough for a fan of her caliber and is now inching her enormous breasts into your arm and following you with them until you have sidestepped enough to give her your spot. Luckily for you, the tallest man in six blocks says to his daughter that he's going to get a beer and does not return, clearly unimpressed with Girlyman, so you have enough room to let squat girl and enormous husband snuggle their way in front of you.

Say, then, at this moment you are unsure that it was worth it, that thirty dollars and the fatigue you feel and the aching in your feet and back and the desire to reach out and punch everyone, including the new addition to the party in the extremely drunk girl who is flailing about and thus remorselessly hits another girl in the eye with a very long fake fingernail. And then, in that moment, Amy and Emily take the stage.

And there in front of you, unassuming, unpretentious, unflappable, are two of the women who unknowingly got you through your junior year of college, and they sing songs you know and songs you don't know and songs that make you wonder why in the world you don't have that record. You are brought back to that time when the world seemed less harsh and more surmountable when Indigo Girls or Rites of Passage or Shaming of the Sun was spinning off the oversized black CD player on the counter of your newspaper office.

And then, then, they break into the unmistakable opening chords of "Closer to Fine." You wonder how many times they have sung this song over the past twenty-odd years, and if they ever get sick of it, if they ever get sick of people like you who have had many moments of epiphany to this song, who can remember where they were the first time you heard it (newspaper office, November 2001), who find different meaning and comfort in different parts as they grow older. And as you join in to sing along with the chorus, you realize that people don't sing along with shining eyes and corresponding grins to a song that hasn't reached inside and found them somewhere. Everyone has a story with this song, even the ridiculous people standing around you who you felt like punching moments ago. The decision to come out and spend $30 for a concert on a Sunday night is not one you make for a group you kind of like -- that's love, and everyone around you who is singing shares that love. Just as the lyrics made you feel less alone on those dark cold nights you sweated out a newspaper in a dorm basement, you feel a warm kinship as you harmonize that you have never before felt at a concert. Amy and Emily understand what it's like to not have it all figured out, and as you watch them sing, you hope they realize the power of their words to heal people they will never meet. That, you say to yourself, is why they keep singing this song -- it's bigger than they are, bigger than any of you.

Say, then, that the concert continues, through your other favorites like "Galileo" and "Shame on You," and you realize as it ends that the part of the concert that makes the entertaining story is the people around you, but that isn't the part that will resonate with you and vault this to the top of your concert list. Say it takes you a month to process and find words and you still find yourself not saying exactly what you want to say but you have to say something. And so, awkwardly, you start by saying, "Say, just for a minute, that you are at an Indigo Girls concert."


Dear Music: It's not you, it's me...

Shocking admission: I don't want any new music right now.

Okay, fine. It's not that I don't want new albums. There are albums released in the last month that make my musical heart ache for the wanting of them -- the new Greg Laswell, the new Storyhill and the new Josh Ritter are out there right now calling my name, peeking into my wallet for a glimpse at my credit card number, offering to jump into padded mailers and come into my home and my car and my iPod.

But for the first time in years, I don't want to discover any new music. I need to listen to the music I own. I have a musical backlog. I have albums I like that I never listen to; I have albums I don't even know if I like or not because I haven't had the time to listen to them.

I will always look back at my time as a copy editor as one of the pinnacles of my involvement with music and artists, as I spent my entire night plugged into some CD or another that had been lovingly burned and shipped westward by Julia and Marta (Howie Day, Damien Rice, Cities Samplers, Fountains of Wayne, Indigo Girls and others). Despite the work I had to do while I was listening (and anyone who has hung around here for a while will remember my depictions of the work I did while I was listening), I had never before had seven hours a night to listen to music with relatively short interruptions. I miss this about working at a desk.

Even when I was in grad school, I had the opportunity to listen to music while I studied or wrote papers. And true, I leaned more toward what I called my Quiet Music (Josh Rouse, Bon Iver, Andrew Bird, Sun Kil Moon) while I read simply because it faded behind the museum theory well, and toward albums I knew intimately while I wrote (Barenaked Ladies, Matchbox Twenty, Storyhill, Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers). I needed music without surprises.

And now that I should, in theory, have the time to listen to all the albums I downloaded over the past four years that I put aside to listen to "when I have time," I don't. I listen to NPR in the car, not music (and when I do listen to music in the car, it's more often than not The Avett Brothers, simply because that's what there). I turn on the radio while I cook. I don't set aside time for music, and until I do, I don't have the time for anyone new. I can't even find the time for my favorites. Painful example No. 1: the fact that So Runs the World Away by the incomparable Josh Ritter has been out for three weeks and it has not yet found its way to me.

It pains me to admit it. But give me some time to get through the Alexi Murdoch and the Brandi Carlile and everything else I've downloaded recently, and I'll be back to "new" new music. The idea of stopping my music collection right where it stands is not only heartrending and completely counter to my character, it's ridiculous.

Now I'm off to revel in the Away We Go soundtrack and sort through iTunes. And if you have suggestions for musical discovery I can file away for when I get off my new music hiatus, let me know.
I have tried to stay out of the health care debate, mostly because I know that my opinions won't change anyone's mind. I do have a bone to pick with a doctor's comments I heard on NPR the other day, however.

The doctor was responding to a piece where young uninsured people were commenting on the things they'd let slide because they didn't have health insurance. He was quite offended at the story and said that if twenty-somethings would stop buying iPods and smartphones and would stop chasing the latest fads, they'd have the money to afford health insurance, and that the money that they would spend would have a much better impact on their lives than the luxuries they think they can't live without.

Really, doctor? Is that why you think young people don't have insurance?

When I moved to St. Louis, I was leaving my job as a copy editor where I made $9 an hour for a job selling advertising for $10 an hour (which changed to 12 percent commission after six months -- and, let me tell you, that did not always work out to $10 an hour). Both of these jobs required a college degree, both of these jobs were working among people who were vastly overqualified and underpaid, and neither of these jobs left me with any extra money for a decent health insurance plan.

And clearly, it wasn't as though I was spending all my money on something frivolous rather than my health. I didn't have internet at my apartment. I didn't have cable. I kept the thermostat at 65 all winter long. I housed my hand-me-down microwave on a $10 record player stand from Goodwill. I lived on Sunbelt granola bars and store-brand yogurt. When Mike and I ate out, it was 5 for $5.95 roast beef sandwiches at Arby's. We shared a cell phone plan, and had the cheapest phones Cingular sold that still had a camera.

But I always paid my student loan payment and my rent on time. I paid for my car, and together Mike and I paid for our new shared auto insurance. The lights and the gas were always on, and we bought Christmas presents for our friends and family.

And still, the only health insurance I could afford had a $5,000 deductible, did not cover pregnancy and expired, ineligible for renewal, after six months.

If I had gone to the doctor to have her look at any of the things the people listed in the NPR feature, the cost of the visit and the ensuing medication would have meant that something else would not have been paid. So as you can imagine, I, like the interviewees in the news piece, didn't go to the doctor, even when I needed to, because I decided it was more important to keep the lights on.

So yes, while there truly are people out there who buy gadgets and designer purses instead of health care, there are more people on the other side of the story. I know that there are plenty more people out there, people like the Abbi of 2004, who do their best to get by and pay the bills that need to be paid. At the end of the day, there just isn't enough money left over for anything that isn't an immediate demand with a bill collector at the other end.

The idea that some doctor should look down his nose at the uninsured/underinsured twenty-somethings and make a sweeping statement about their financial situations is infuriating when I think about how hard I worked for so little, and how many are in the same place. I hope that he would be similarly infuriated if I were to sit here and say that he was out of touch, just like all overpaid snobs who can't see a world outside of their luxury cars and vacations to tropical locations and demands that everyone speak English fluently because they live in America, dammit. I won't make these judgments on him, but I do wonder: would he feel the same way if it were his kids who, despite their best efforts, were barely scraping by? Would he feel the same way if it were his kids choosing between buying food and getting their teeth cleaned that month?

I'm trying very hard not to judge this guy who decided these judgments on people he didn't even know. I actually had to wait a while to write this until I cooled off (I was going to pull the car over and write an e-mail to NPR on my phone the very minute I heard the comment, but I refrained, afraid of what I might say in anger). But the attitude these comments expressed reaffirms to me how people talk about policies and seem to forget that there are real people with real problems who are affected by the policies. It may be your debate, but it's somebody else's life.

It's not a question of what we want

"Hey ladee, yawannabuysomecanny?"

I had successfully avoided them on my walk to The Pageant. They were fairly well-dressed and polite, and on my way by the first time, their shabby grey van had been surrounded by a crowd of men in their late 20s, all reaching for their wallets.

Apparently this is the reaction you get when your mother puts you, age three, out on the street in the Delmar Loop with your six-year-old sister and a box of Skittles from Sam's.

They had been too busy on my way by the first time, and I was pretty intent upon getting to The Pageant and getting my Indigo Girls ticket before the concertgoers who had taken every available parking spot in a six-block radius streamed back into the streets and into a line for Flogging Molly. But on my way back to my car, there were no customers. Which meant I was greeted with a hearty, "Hey ladee, yawannabuysomecanny?"

I tried to walk by, but walking by a child who's talking to me is like walking by a friendly dog who wants to sniff my jeans and lick my palm: I physically can't do it.

"Do I want to what?" I asked.


"I can't." I spread my hands out in front of my purse. "I don't have any cash. Do you take Visa?"

At this, Mom started to laugh from her post in the passenger seat. I noticed half-eaten wonder bread sandwiches abandoned on styrofoam plates and stifled my questions as I smiled at the little boy.

But he didn't think I was nearly as funny as Mom did. He ran back to his sister and grabbed her box. "Yes! Canny!!!"

"You don't take Visa, buddy."

"Yes! CANNY!"

I smiled at the mom and started to walk away.

"'Scuse! SCUSE!" He shook a lime green bag of Skittles in the air with a fierceness a three-year-old shouldn't know.

"Sorry, buddy, I don't have any money." And I walked away with the sound of "Scuse? Hey ladee!" drowned out by honking car horns and Flogging Molly fans chatting in sidewalk bistros.

There's no fancy way to say I felt awful. For one, my job demands that I just don't walk away from a kid who wants something of me, and I was walking away. Second, I lied to a kid. Not only did I have a twenty in my purse, I'd just spent $30 on something I didn't need.

And third and probably most importantly, I was nagged all the way back to my car, all the way to my house, by the idea that these kids probably think it's normal to sell candy on the street. I don't know their story, I don't know their situation, but the dollar I could have given them wouldn't have changed a single thing. Even the twenty in my purse wouldn't have made their world into what is normal for me. Should I have given it to them anyway? What would change their world? Do they think it needs to be changed?

I don't have any answers, but I do know that it feels rotten to say no to a child, especially one in baby kicks and a little red polo shirt. No, make that especially to one who you could easily say yes to but all you can do is hope and pray that someone else whose yes wields more power comes along.

Posted via LiveJournal.app.


Shouldn't this be my dream come true: the ability to carry 16GB of books on my phone? To have not just a book but a whole library at my fingertips? To be able to pull out a book anywhere I have my phone? To not have to lug around a book everywhere I go and wait? To not have to buy purses based on whether they hold my current read or not (and yes, I have taken purses from the accessories section at Target back to the electronics and media section to test-fit various sizes of books before I bought one purse over the other)? To have a whole compliment of classics at my disposal -- for free?

One would think.

I downloaded two eReader apps for my new iPhone -- the Amazon Kindle for iPhone and the Barnes and Noble eReader -- and so far have six books between the two of them: The House of Mirth, The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, Little Women, Dracula, Pride and Prejudice and a pocket dictionary. The latter four were included with the B&N reader and were frankly one of the impetuses for downloading both readers. Grant seemed useful and requisitely geeky.

And then we have The House of Mirth. As I mentioned on Facebook, Ophelia Joined the Group Maidens Who Don't Float recapped Edith Wharton in such a way that I wondered why in the world I'd never read anything by her, save for excerpts from The Decoration of Houses for my material culture class. Something about Lily Bart grabbed my imagination and held until I caved and downloaded her to my iPhone for free.

And all of the things I said above about the perks of the reader are absolutely true. It's convenient and easy to hold and I don't have to look for a bookmark or remember my page number. But three short chapters in to the book and I'm remembering all the little things I love about books -- making margin notes with a stubby pencil, flicking back through the pages when a character is reintroduced to remember why I recognize the name, knowing my progress just by the heft of what's held in my right hand versus what's held in my left. Flicking my finger across the screen every couple paragraphs to turn the page doesn't feel like reading a book. The width of a column on-screen is about like the width of a newspaper column, so I feel more like I'm reading a lengthy article.

I read quickly regardless, but I feel like I read more quickly and less deeply when I'm reading something on a screen. Whether it's my computer screen or a screen I'm holding in my hand, it doesn't matter. What I read on screens always feels more fleeting, less important, than something that has been printed and I hold in my hand. So reading classic literature on my iPhone doesn't really feel like I'm reading classic literature. Sure, it says Edith Wharton wrote it, but the medium tells my brain it could just as well be fanfic.

So I'm struggling a little bit, especially as digital everything seems to be the way of the world. I fear for the future of 2-D movies, especially after the success of Avatar and now Alice in Wonderland. 3-D movies are not made for near-sighted people like myself, and as a result Avatar made me motion sick. I don't look forward to a world where I have to choose between going to the movies and keeping my lunch down. Similarly, I fear for the future of books, and my feeling that my failing eyes work harder to read on the iPhone than a regular book is, in the end, much more important than my silly hangups and nostalgia about books.

But in the meantime, I am really enjoying The House of Mirth. So much so, in fact, that I may be persuaded to buy the actual book someday.

I swear, it was the penguins.

He stood in the brown wedge of grass off the freeway exit. A cheesy salt-and-pepper mustache dominated his lined face, and though worn, his clothes were fairly neat and tidy. He held a cardboard sign:


I waited at the light, the man not ten feet from my window. I felt his eyes on me. My gaze flicked away from him, to the radio, to the clock, to the stoplight.

Garrison Keillor had been telling a very, very long joke about penguins, and in the middle of a bit about being on an island outside Antarctica, he said, "And there I was. Alone. I put up my collapsible yurt." I couldn't help myself -- something about a collapsible yurt and the sound effect made me laugh.

And then I panicked. What if the guy with the sign thought I was laughing at him?

I bit my lip. Garrison went on, talking about taking tea and Spam sandwiches with penguins. And it wasn't really funny, but the fact that I was so determined not to laugh made it funny. And then the penguins told a joke.

I burst out laughing.

And again, I was so worried that the guy with the sign thought I was laughing at him. I can't remember the last time I was so happy for a stoplight to change. Clearly the man had more important things to worry about than the girl in the Lancer who was laughing, but I still felt bad. In retrospect if I really felt so bad about it I should have changed the station. But that didn't occur to me in the middle of the penguin hilarity.

I have a tendency to worry like this, that people take my actions in a completely different manner from how they were meant. I know people pay way less attention to me than I think they do, but still, the last thing I want to do is inadvertently offend a stranger.

(It made it worse that just this morning I heard a story on Weekend Edition about a former homeless man who goes around the country trading clean socks for interviews with homeless people, and it reminded me yet again how fragile we all are in our lives. I hope that somewhere this evening the man with the sign found something as funny as I found the penguins. I hope it was good news.)

my mystery of Lily Frost...

I don't know when she was born, or where. I don't know where she went to school, if she did at all. Her details come all from her husband and from the eleven children they had together. But she fascinates me.

Her name was Elizabeth Smith Graham Frost, known to her friends as Lily. Her story for me begins in 1851 when she married Daniel Marsh Frost, a New Yorker with states' rights leanings, in or around Jefferson Barracks. They had their first child that year, and his various jobs took him to Europe, Texas, Kansas and Jefferson City over the next few years. If she went with, or if she stayed home in Hazelwood, I can't discern. But by 1861, they had six children and he was firmly entrenched in the Confederate army. He was embroiled in a plot to take over the U.S. Arsenal in St. Louis (the Camp Jackson affair) in May 1861 and eventually surrendered, was traded in a prisoner exchange and was allowed to go home, presumably to Lily and their children.

In 1862, he was sent off with the Confederate Army and she stayed in St. Louis with the children. Eventually, the pressure of being the wife of a Confederate general in a city that was under Union Army control became too much. She took the children and fled to Canada. When Daniel found out she'd left the country, he deserted from the Confederacy and went to Canada to join them. After the war, they felt it was safe enough to return to Hazelwood and farmed.

I don't know when she died. Her last child, Thomas, was born in 1872 and he died that same year. Daniel had a baby with his third wife in 1875. So sometime in between Thomas being born and Daniel remarrying between 1874 and 1875, Lily died.

I've been researching General Frost for work, and although he was fairly important in St. Louis Civil War history, it's her story, not his, that seems more interesting to me. I want to fill in the blanks I can never know about her. I want to understand her and be her friend, help her pack for Canada and write her letters once she gets settled.

I can't tell you what intrigues me so much about Lily Frost. Is it my vast respect for a woman who had eleven children over the course of 21 years, and raised nine? Is it my awe in the strength and determination of a woman who would pick up and move with six children to a different country by herself in a time when she would be packing in trunks and traveling in wagons? Is it the untold details of this woman that haunt me? I'll never know if she was a brunette or a redhead, a listener or a talker, a girly-girl or a tomboy. I'll never know how she felt about the war or secession or slavery; I'll never know if she wanted a big family or if all those children were a duty to her. Was she a reader? A letter-writer? Did she dance or play an instrument? Were her eyes poor like mine? Did she love Daniel or was their marriage a convenience to a man who had already lost one wife? I will never know. I don't know anything real about her. I can't even visit her grave. She died over a hundred years before I was born, and I mourn.

The one consolation of not knowing anything about her is that I can imagine anything I want about her, and as far as I know, I'm right. She can be whoever I want her to be. But I mourn anyway, for this woman who was very likely beloved of her husband and children and friends and family but is completely unknown today. She was the center of someone's world enough that he would give up everything -- his job, his beliefs, his honor -- and move to a different country to be with her, and I can't even find when and where she was born.

I'm not done with Lily Frost. There has to be something more to find about her. And her story, or lack thereof, makes me want to leave a record of myself somewhere, somehow, so someday I'm not just someone's footnote in someone else's genealogy.

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November 2010


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