The last 10 months can kind of be summed up as follows: good news, sad news, hello, goodbyeGood news
My last semester at RISD was spent prepping for the first weekend in May—the Spring Conference for the New England Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators. This is a huge networking event in which writers and illustrators wander the halls of a huge hotel and trade business cards with everyone they meet. So I had to design a business card. But I needed information to put on the card, and the only information anyone cares about on said card is a website. So I had to make a website. So I made the website and it turned out to be as good as it gets when you learn the basics of writing html and css code in a 6-week crash course on web design for dummies.
And then I made a promotional postcard, which is like a business card, but you mail it to art directors, hope they hang it on their wall, and that maybe they offer you a job in 5 minutes or 5 years.
Just for fun, I decided to send samples of artwork for the Ann Barrow Illustrator Award, because if you win, your name is announced at the NESCBWI Conference and for two seconds, 500+ people know who you are and possibly make a mental note to check out your website. The judges claim to have sifted through a lot of applicants and that it was a hard decision, but it’s a small recognition, and I kind of wonder if I was the only one who entered…
I also redesigned my book dummy so agents could read it without wondering whether a one-armed, blind 2nd grader drew it. Making a book dummy is a multi-week project that includes taking breaks to sleep and eat, OR, an all-night project if you wait until 12 hours before the conference starts to stay up all night finishing the drawings, scanning them into PhotoShop for touchups, and sending the digital file at 6:00 am to be printed so you can pick it up on your way to the conference a few hours later. Which is what I did. Because there was no other way to do it.
Overall, the conference was really fabulous. I got to hear Jane Yolen say things like, “To do this job, you have to have fire in your belly, passion in your heart, and always, your butt in your chair.” And I heard Peter Reynolds tell the story of how The Dot started by accident when he fell asleep one night with a Sharpie resting on a piece of paper on his chest.
All my project deadlines made me antisocial.
I designed an awesome promotional postcard, ordered 100, and when I opened the box, I realized there was a typo on the back. If anyone would like to wallpaper their child’s room with purple rhinos, let me know.
I graduated from RISD.
Our trip to the Philippines began with Uncle Frank’s funeral. He was one of my mom’s closest brothers and died without giving anyone advance notice.
Death is a venture to such “unpathed waters, undreamed shores” as noted in The Winter’s Tale. Uncle Frank is on a magnificent journey. I just know it.
In Cebu we reconnected with cousins I hadn’t seen in over 20 years. We stayed in Alex Tan’s house, where my cousin Ariel has been the caretaker since my uncle died in 2006. It’s a lovely house of which I have no memory, likely because I don’t think Alex didn’t lived there in 1992 when I was last in Cebu. The house has a garden with trees that shed pink petals every morning, and it was strange to look out the upstairs windows and watch my mom doing yard work at 6:00 am, sweeping up piles of petals in shorts and a tank top. So far removed from Kotzebue where our yard is a plot of lifeless gravel and a labyrinthine maze of drab scrap wood piles, old snow machines, and rusted oil drums—my dad’s domain where only he does the outside chores.
It’s hard to sleep in Cebu. Mainly because of the heat. When you finally do fall asleep, it’s only a few hours later that all of this happens: roosters start crowing at 3 or 4 am instead of at dawn like they’re supposed to in the movies; motorcycles zip up and down the streets all night, trailed by the occasional SUV blaring last century’s hip hop music; dogs bark, and neighbors shout back and forth. All this peripheral noise, plus a completely screwed up circadian rhythm prompted Ariel and my mom to go to the market at the bottom of the hill every day at 5 am to buy lapu-lapu, danggit, squid, octopus, and shrimp to cook for breakfast. And “breakfast” in Cebu was bowls heaped with steamed rice, a chicken or seafood dish (sometimes both), eggs, and plates piled with mangos, pineapple, or avocadoes. We could eat several platefuls each without feeling disgusting and bloated because the food is lighter and fresher, and we went for hours before eating again in the late afternoon. Dinner was usually breakfast leftovers. For about five minutes, I thought how life changing it could be to cook dinner for breakfast. The grocery store was right across the street. How hard could it be? Stop & Shop with its overpriced produce and aisles of processed food was totally uninspiring after perusing stalls filled with tubs of chicken heads and dried fish in the market at Consolacion. In Rhode Island, we just went back to eating cereal every day. Besides having personal chefs make me dinner for breakfast, I miss only one other thing about the Philippines: the bakeries. Pregnancy cravings drove me to consume excessive quantities of pan de coco, a roll filled with brow sugar and coconut, and ensayamada, the ubiquitous Filipino sweet bread that you can buy in miniature, or in rolls the size of hubcaps.
And snorkeling. I miss that too, which is weird because I don’t like swimming and generally don’t get in the water unless I have to. But for half an hour, I don’t mind strapping on a life vest and sporting those hideous goggles that moosh your face into grotesque proportions. I think I like snorkeling because all I have to do is lie face down and stare at the fish and no matter what I do, I won’t drown. At Boracay, we forgot to bring crackers on our snorkeling excursion so someone on a neighboring boat loaned us a hotdog bun. Jesse simply held it in front of his face and the fish darted straight toward it. The excitement of being swarmed by tropical fish underwater is enough to make you forget about what processed white bread might possibly do to their digestive systems, but oh well.
I should also note that Filipinos love to sing. Karaoke is probably their favorite modern invention of all time. Ariel cleans the house every day after breakfast and sings to the sound of Kenny G blasted at full volume. This was good practice for the musical number he would be performing at his sister, Lovella’s wedding reception, which was scheduled for the day after our departure. When Lovella happened to turn 38 while we were there, birthday celebrations were in order, and where did we go to celebrate? An open-air seafood restaurant with a karaoke bar upstairs. While we ate, we were regaled by teenagers singing off-key renditions of Taylor Swift’s Love Story. I knew we would be next but felt strangely at ease, knowing that there would be no audience because the restaurant was pretty empty. But when we got up to leave, I realized we weren’t going upstairs, but to another karaoke bar an hour away because they didn’t have subpar microphones. It was already hours after I would have gone to bed so I could hardly form coherent sentences, I had eaten too much and couldn’t zip my pants, and I just wanted to go home and eat part of the cake Ariel brought home for Lovella. But how do you tell your cousins that you hate karaoke and just want to go home and eat their cake?
Neither Jesse nor I can sing on key. We cursed ourselves for joking about being willing to sing karaoke at breakfast when Ariel first suggested it would be a good way to spend the evening. We really just wanted to listen to him sing. We warned Ariel that if we did karaoke, it would be bad. This didn’t curb his enthusiasm. He probably thought we just being modest.
We sat there poring over the song catalog and hoping a typhoon would sweep away the foundation of the karaoke bar before it was our turn to “sing.” Everyone else in the bar was drunk, and even so, they each could have been fierce contenders on American Idol as they belted out the high notes of Mariah Carey or Dionne Warwick’s greatest hits. So Jesse and I thought we’d pick something easy and different to mix it up. I was hoping they’d have anything by Ke$ha because she can’t sing so all we’d have to do is sing talk in our best valley girl voices as quickly as possible for 3 minutes. No such luck.
We chose “Poker Face.” It was a bad idea. We were already a few beats behind by the time they handed us the microphones and we figured out how to turn them on and make sense of the lyrics as they bounced along on the screen in front of a montage of Victoria’s Secret swim suit models (these images played on a continuous loop no matter who was singing). I thought I knew the song “Poker Face.” But the lyrics mention glue guns and muffins and Texas and I don’t even know what it all means. I got all the words in the chorus right though. Jesse kind of saved the whole song and carried us through, even though he was sick. That’s true love, I tell you. The Filipinos in the bar undoubtedly thought we were idiots. Luckily, they ignored us after they realized we were idiots.
We sang first. Then Ariel. He got a standing ovation when he ad libbed in falsetto to Luther Vandross’s “Dance With My Father.”
I was too pregnant and it was too hot to enjoy doing much of anything else in Cebu, except sitting in air-conditioned spaces like the mall—which is the least interesting thing to do in the Philippines. But whatever made me less irritable was good enough for everyone else.
On July 6th, we got one step closer to saying hello to New Haven. I was released from my church calling as Primary President. Sunday morning before the alarm clock went off, I woke up and thought of the kids. I cried quietly so I wouldn’t wake Jesse. It was fast Sunday and I was holding it together until J—, the new Primary President, got up to bear her testimony. She was already in tears before she stepped up to the podium, and that’s all it took to get me started. I soaked a few Kleenexes before she was done saying, “Nobody is more upset about this than my boys. When they heard I was the new Primary President they turned to me and said, ‘Mom! Why did you say yes?’…” JM claimed that her kids thought Primary had been fun for the last year and a half and that I had done well, etc. The whole time I was thinking about how much I had complained about how hard it was and all the things I might have done had there been more, if I’d had more patience, more love…But the real reason my tear ducts went haywire was because JM reminded me that the one thing I would always miss about Rhode Island would be our friends.
These are all the things I thought about when JM stood there bearing her testimony:
I’ve never had many friends because I never needed more than one or two truly reliable people—I had one childhood friend, one person I trusted in high school, and in college, I had four stellar roommates. When I got married, Jesse was my friend. Before moving to New England, Jesse and I went to school and we went to work and minded our own business because nobody needed us. I suppose we were partly to blame for not having friends because of our insanely busy schedules and because we’re introverts. Because it takes much more effort to get to know an introvert (in my opinion) and because a curious phenomenon of life in many places in Utah is that your-family-probably-lives-next-door-so-why-go-out-of-your-way-to-make-friends, we sort of blended into the walls. When we moved to Rhode Island, we were still insanely busy. But here, we found people who lived thousands of miles from their nearest relatives and who didn’t think we were completely weird; if they thought we were weird, they didn’t care. And for some reason, without even trying, we were suddenly interesting.
For the first time in my married life, I met people who: invited me to go bowling at 9pm on a Tuesday night; wanted me to go see the late night showing of The Great Gatsby at the mall (and who later called after midnight to make sure I wasn’t still driving around in circles trying to get out of the parking garage because that happened once); talked about you-know-what for miles while training for the half marathon; celebrated my birthday by making Italian food and poking around on Pinterest to find ideas for DIY décor in my favorite colors.
When we arrived in 2011, I would never have expected to be missed. Or that I’d miss anyone when it was time to go. Without moving to Rhode Island, I’m not sure we when we would have realized that we’re not boring, we’re just quiet.
Lots of people came to help load up the moving truck. JM was last to leave because she insisted that since I was 7 months pregnant, I should not be cleaning baseboards. In the morning, the Rehons came to see us one last time, and the Taylors almost made it, but baby Max needed his mom, so we postponed our goodbyes.
Jesse had to drive the moving truck. I had to do some last minute errands so I drove away first. Twenty minutes into the drive to New Haven, I received a text message from JM: Sorry I missed you! Tell Jesse to save one for you! She had driven all the way to Allie’s Donuts—half an hour away—to get us breakfast and see us one more time.
It made me cry. Had it not been raining and had I not needed to watch the road, I would have cried all the way to New Haven.