A wedding! I was so thrilled to discover that my Midwest heritage included a love of dancing.
It was at a New Year’s party that I first loved to dance. Ah, the often horrible New Year: the holiday which holds so much weird anticipation and disappointment, countdowns and quickly fading dreams. Freshly twenty-one, I was finishing up a challenging year of grueling leg surgeries. I was nearly on the mend. I had spent so many years not moving that it all had to come out at once. The right spark of electronic music came on and a wave of movement came over me and I danced hard with my friends. It took me by surprise.
A few months later, I hit the town with Mika. We were new acquaintances just beginning a season of roommate-ship and it was the first night we went out together. I recall the lights and the sweat and crowd. Madonna and WHAM and Billy Idol.
I have since spent my happiest nights dancing with my best friends. On another New Year’s Eve, Mika grabbed my shoulders during Billie Jean and exclaimed “I CAN’T BELIEVE HE’S GONE” in a drunken howl. (She has no memory of this). She was nearby when I danced so hard to Ratatat during my twenty-fifth birthday party, I fell over and sprained my knee. A wild joy in our limbs, the energy of a room, falling in and out of love. Too much alcohol and ringing ears, late-break cigarettes.
In small-town Minnesota, I participated in the age-old pre-wedding ritual of “getting ready” with a lot of other women in a small room. We then sat through the ceremony and all of the in-between moments, leading up to the best part of any wedding celebration: the dance floor. Footloose came on and Aunt RoJean and I threw our hearts into it. We belonged there together. And even at a wedding, when the DJ is churning out every cliche song we’ve already heard too many times… it is wonderful.
THIS is the way to celebrate everything - the glory of shared movement. We belong here together.
Mika stayed on in Minneapolis for a few more days, I headed to the farm. We said goodbye in an early-morning Amtrak station parking lot.
In the early nineteen-seventies, my mother drove across the country from small-town Minnesota to Portland, OR. She stayed there, met my dad, etc, etc… I grew up rooted in Portland, never went East; other than a few occasions in my first years, never even saw my grandmother. She just existed, someone related to me that I’ve never known. We began writing letters to each other last year and, after decades, began our relationship.
I think of the way letters and postcards hold us together. I hold this parcel in my hand, and a few days later, you shall hold it in yours.
I was so excited that our journey took us through Minnesota: at last, a chance to visit the farm. Additionally, I arrived for the perfectly-timed wedding of a cousin: a reunion of everyone in Minnesota with my blood and my nose.
My very-delayed train arrived in Winona and I met my grandmother for the first time as an adult. I found myself amidst a mighty matriarchal pack of mother and aunts: I saw where my mother’s laughter came from and my height.
So swiftly I saw resemblances and familiar facial expressions. I’ve seen it in Mika’s family too, I hear it in the phrases and jokes that I’ve absorbed. And on these family trips: how many times shall we pile in and out of the minivan together? How many ways shall we be delayed, shall we not reach our destination? We are too large a pack, too unwieldy, we are nothing but pure wind-resistance to our surroundings.
What a marvel to see where we come from!
My mother and I slept that night in her childhood bedroom: “the girls’ room”. I tried to imagine the eight of them living in this small farmhouse and could not. Ah, how I’ve missed exploring a grandmother’s house! It was a wonderful time capsule - the closets were filled with perfectly hung 1970s- and 80s-era clothing. Colorful woven rugs carefully folded on a shelf, snapshots in dated frames. Hand-sewn quilts and a Jesus on the wall. There were a lot of rifles stored under my creaky bedframe.
That night, we threw the windows wide. The country dark was rich and deeply silent. A breeze blew the curtains, it tasted sweet: a deep green-scented quiet home-like thing.
I am not a swimmer. I want the water around my body, but never beneath my feet. I wish the earth to remain there.
I’ve long heard of the Lakes of Minnesota. (I recall my aunt producing Minnesota-tourist-produced pasta once that was 1,000 Lake-shaped. None of the shapes were recognizable as lakes, they were just odd blobs. I do not recall eating these bodies of water). There are indeed lakes constantly. And swimming in a lake is a particular thing. No awkward current, just a lovely slope slouching its way deeper through the surface. The reflections are so different with stilled water.
Mika and I visited art museums in every city we visited. As we stepped through the doors we fell into a natural rhythm: young artists exploring the ENTIRE WORLD. We easily let the current carry us through the galleries.
First stop: contemporary art.
Then: we’d each immediately bolt to our own favoured medium: she to painting, I to photography. We’d regroup and brag to the other about the amazing things she’d missed.
"Mika, Morrel turned an ENTIRE ROOM into a camera obscura! The glory of the Manhattan skyline on an unmade bed! The outdoor exposure of Half-Dome on the rocky ground?" Photography sleeps against my heart.
"No, no - YOU missed the entire room of Latrec!" We’d half-seriously argue. "Ah, paint on a canvas…" she’d sigh. Her ribcage is ever-breathing with colours and paint.
The paint that Mika put down on canvas is hung on many walls in my home. These pieces live and breathe and have their being. I begin to understand.
We went to a lake with Abby and her two children, Esther and Michael. They are both small and full of fresh enthusiasm. We waded and swam in late-afternoon, the sun welcomingly blinding us a bit, melting water off of our backs.
I waded with the small boy: hardly have I seen a human look so happy to exist wet. I swept him side-to-side in the water as if he was a paintbrush on the canvas’ still surface. He bubbled with deep joy. And it was such a joy to hold his weight, a perfect almost-heavy weight, baby-nearly-boy. ”Doesn’t he feel great?” Mika asked, and I grinned.
He felt like the make-heavy of the cool viewfinder against my eyelid, of the brush movement in her hand. I begin to understand.
When you’ve heard of someone for years: does it blow your expectation of them out of proportion or simply set you up to love them immediately?
In my case, it’s often the latter.
I was set up to be smitten with our Minneapolis hosts a few years ago.
A significant, intentional element of our journey was that we were visiting friends across the country. We’d stay in their homes, drop into their cities and be swept along in the current of their daily lives. This is the greatest way to visit a new place: no landmarks, please: let me just sit in your kitchen. And so, I’d heard about Ben and Abby for years. I already loved that they only had a landline and already loved the ways they’d impacted Mika’s life. I was set up for victory.
So when I met Abby in her backyard at dusk, it was natural to follow her into the kitchen and chat while she smiled contentedly and made beautiful pie crusts. And when I woke up, of course Ben offered me a coffee while their daughter wreaked havoc in the living room. I held the small boy and we stared at each other, happily. The day was mundane and quiet and perfect. A lower-case day, out of the day-to-day.
I had an afternoon away and saw long-lost Liz. She also is a woman I was set up to be fond of: I met her at a lovely wedding: we’ve since run into each other in different cities over the years. Friends of friends of friends are now my friends etc. etc. As we progressed across the country, of course I kept loving everyone I met because of course my dear friend would have dear friends who would be amazing… you understand. A twisted tangled wonderful web of the smallest world imaginable. I am happy to keep being surprised.
For Abby’s birthday, we sat out under a rich pink sunset. We sat amongst her friends, we laughed and what is better than a summer table laden with pies?
Mika had been harbouring fireworks from Japan for over a year. (There is no end to my delight at her constantly bragging that she “smuggled them on the plane”. As though the Feds were ever on the edge of our revelry, shutting down the speakeasy).
You cannot imagine what they looked like! Friends! What careful small fires! Flashing rooted tendrils of flame, elegant little sparklers with everything good to say about the world.
Elaborate root systems: that’s what we are! Intertwined and firing.
From what I can see, there is nothing in North Dakota.
Just land, and miles to put behind us.
In my notebook, you will find the following ominous phrase:
"MORALE IS LOW"
… scrawled hastily before noon. Coffee and high-energy music was no longer working. This did not bode well.
There are three ideal places for having a particularly deep conversation: on a walk, working together on a project, or driving in a car. These all involve a side-by-side-ness that invites the movement of our bodies into our speech. Rather than introducing a distraction, I find that we may contemplatively dwell within a space, created by shifting landscape and conversation.
Let’s watch the earth roll by and we’ll be held in this space together. We’ll be held and listened to as we move.
We spoke for hundreds of miles. Under the perfect circumstances of elapsed years, a trusting friendship, and a bleak landscape, we told each other our life stories. Absolutely none of it will be written here.
We’ve been through so much.
We are not yet old, and yet: how much life has been thrown at us! The lives we’ve led (and now, share) take up so much SPACE. They are heavy and full.
Our very bodies have sustained so much. I think of the narratives we walk around in all day. We both of us carry striking, visible scar tissue on our bodies. So much of our conversation dwelt upon our experience in our bodies. We have survived living in them thus far and continue to flourish.
The view of that landscape is glued in my mind and I am made better by it.
Late, we finally rolled into Minneapolis. The air was overwhelmingly humid and sticky. We were coated in car-sweat and grimey air. Always, we would be gathered up and fed. Handed fresh towels and directed to that glorious traveller’s paradise: an open bathroom door that leads to a shower.
We stayed in the toddler’s room and her safe sleep made ours even deeper.
Sometimes, you must wake up early for things to happen.
There is a magical concoction of druggy chemicals in your brain that are the perfect result of:
a lack of sleep,
the day’s early chill,
the buildup of anticipation,
the blinding excitement of adventure,
the worry that you’ve forgotten something important,
the rush of caffeine graciously hitting your bloodstream.
This happens at six a.m. or earlier and it is the greatest feeling in the world.
It is what beginning feels like. It is a moment of boundless hope and optimism.
Jump into the loaded car, let’s go NOW.
We looked forward to THIS moment the entire summer. THIS rising sun, THIS frightful air, THIS hour of time.
I cannot describe to you the light.
Ah, the Gorge!
I will not take this moment to compose a love poem to the Columbia River Gorge. All you need to know: it is of my favourite places on the planet. My heart swells every time I see it, it is ever-changing and perfect. And imagine: we saw the sun rise into this perfect place and can the greatest moment of weeks and weeks merely be the first hour? It isn’t as though all other moments were less than this one; rather: it was the first.
It set the tone - we kept having moments of magic, one after the other, all we could do was marvel and be grateful.
This was the start.
The day carried us through four Western states and our first time zone. Wildfires casting orange skies, rivers, forests. Windmills in the desert, painted hills. In Montana, we encountered a white sedan from Oregon, exchanged a rare gleeful wave with its occupants and never saw another for the whole trip. We watched the sun set in our rearview mirrors, not for the last time. We slept fitfully in a motel and awoke to all of the car-packed belongings still intact. It was a good day.
The story: Anna Sjogren and Mika Nakazawa took two weeks to drive from Portland, OR to Boston, MA.
We slept in homes, in every kind of bed: in living rooms, spare rooms and babies’ rooms, on cots and air mattresses, sharing wide coupled married beds. We spoke with friends for hours and hours. We visited art museums in each city along the way. We were profoundly changed.
The project: We will share our journey with you. We will create 22 pieces for 22 days of adventuring. Anna will write, Mika will draw. Entitled “WE ARE…”, each entry will be marked by an agent noun, a word from which we draw an aspect of our identity.