Category Archives: Uncategorized

aurora


aurora noun, the dawn (literary)

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“But tomorrow may rain, so I’ll follow the sun.”

-The Beatles

Oh the sleep I used to get. There were some Sundays when I wouldn’t get out of bed until 1 pm. I would just lay in those crisp sheets letting their cool wrinkles enfold my rapturous laziness until my body and mind felt it was just the right time to rise, shower and go out for a mimosa filled brunch on Smith Street. And I had the nerve to complain during those days – of how hard I was working and how stressed I was – all while getting 20 hours of sleep every weekend. I was a seasoned, professional sleeper. I slept so deeply I couldn’t hear the garbage trucks driving down the street at 4 am picking up all of the garbage from the restaurants around us. I used to not go out on a Friday night just so I could sleep.

This past week, I was up at 4 am because I couldn’t sleep. There must have been some sort of sound that woke me up or dream I can’t remember that bothered me. Since it was 4 am, I just got up, went downstairs, did some cleaning, answered some emails and began my day. There just was no point in rolling around in the bed, thinking too much, wide awake. The sheets that once were such heaven are often heavy and bothersome. Sometimes it’s the kids randomly waking up or utility work being done in the street, but it is most often my mind which won’t stop racing that wakes me up and keeps me from dreaming about those brunch filled days of my Brooklyn youth.

So the other morning my restlessness inspired me to go for a walk in the neighborhood. We are blessed to live on a cove off of Narragansett Bay and the sunrise is almost always divine. The other morning, it didn’t disappoint, with the bands of dawn reflecting off of the calm water and turning the bay a soft pink color. The sails from the boats at the yacht club casting a perfect reflection in the waters ripples while cranes and cormorants gracefully glided past casting their own shadows in the water. If I could sleep, I would have missed all of it. I found myself very thankful for not being able to sleep and to have seen the sun rise another day.

How life changes in ways you can never predict.

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convenience


convenience noun, the state of being able to proceed with something with little effort or difficulty

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I’ve been turning over a blog post in my brain for several weeks now and am finally writing these few words down after such a long hiatus from this site. I toyed with the word “analog” after using my old typewriter a few weeks ago for an unrelated project…and then the other morning I was rather peeved on the drive into work so I wanted to write a post about wanting to be Kanye West. Then this morning I was in the shower using a bar of lavender soap and thinking to myself about the pros and cons of shower gel versus bar soap. My brain jumped back to my thoughts about analog and I realized that I didn’t want to write about analog at all. The word I was searching for was convenience…and so here we are. (I still want to write about being Kanye though.)

I’m an odd bird, which you will know if you really get to know me – or just talk to me for an hour over a bottle of wine. I collect antiques and watch a lot of PBS. I paint and sketch. I like, and work, in jewelry but not because I like the glamour but rather because I crave the tradition, process of fabricating and long history of jewelry. I’m addicted to the making of things in general. Sometimes I wonder if I watched the crayon factory video on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood too many times and it created too much of an impression. I appreciate the process, the history and the story behind physical objects – to the point where I can’t sleep some nights because I think about the details of things too much. I haven’t discovered what I am meant to create in this world or what the culmination of my obsessions might be. I’ve been a part of the back story for many things that people purchase and enjoy, but cannot take credit for their entire creation. In a lot of ways, I am a mother to the products I have worked on much in the way I am the mother of my children. I have ushered them through their troubles and tough spots until they have grown into adulthood and landed on Amazon or a store shelf somewhere.  I haven’t decided if that is enough of an accomplishment yet. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see. Anyway – I like the time and attention it takes to make a physical thing.

So when I think about the world today and the things we use the theme I most often happen upon is convenience. We use shower gel instead of soap because it’s easier to lather and friendlier than a hard rectangle of lard that you glaze your body with and then rinse off. We type on keyboards now and rarely write in handwriting so much so that schools have ceased to teach cursive or penmanship. Baby food comes in easy to squeeze pouches instead of jars and you can buy entire meals chopped to arrive at your home to make an authentic home cooked dinner easily and fast. We are creatures of convenience. Even as a working mom, I often wonder why we feel the need to save so much time. For more stalking time on Facebook and Instagram, judging by the world’s obsession with social media. We don’t seem to be connecting with people more with all of this time we have gained. Sometimes I think that it’s the greatest marketing ploy of all time – to get us all to think we are too, too busy and that we need all of these things to save us time when what we actually need is to use our time actually doing something. Using our senses or hands or brains instead of focusing on efficiency and convenience.

Some things are greatly lost in this quest for convenience. The process, the details, the work – all of those things that make great things great – are lost in making some things easier. Take oil painting for an example. There is acrylic paint now that dries faster and blends easier than what the great masters used, but there is something lost in that medium when you compare it to traditional oil painting. The color is not as rich and the texture is like plastic – because that is what it is – plastic. Painting in oil requires patience. You can only load so much paint onto a canvas until everything blends and turns brown. You have to thin it with Gamsol – but not too much or you lose the thickness for building it up and creating that impressionistic texture. You have to wait for the first layer to dry to add the second, more accurate and refined attempt. And there is the key – the waiting. In that waiting – in which if you were to try and continue hard headedly to fix the layer you’ve put down you would only make things worse – you learn what you must do that will make the painting good. Because you are forced for days to look at your errors in the shadows and light, in tones, you figure it out. You reach a different perspective and in reaching it are able to approach things in a better more enlightened way. The convenience of the paint drying quickly eliminates the most important element of oil painting – the standing and looking back. The reflection on what you’ve done. The reassessing and having another go at it. That is what makes the painting better.

The record player is another example. I have had one since we purchased our first home in Pawtucket over a decade ago. My husband thought I was crazy when I brought it home from the Homegoods for $50 with an old record of traditional Italian music from the Salvation Army. But once he heard the crackles and pops, the imperfections, the way it sounded bouncing off the walls of our new house, he was hooked as well – more so than me at this point. Now, streaming music is a beautiful thing that I enjoy, especially when listening to very loud Notorious B.I.G. on the way to work on a Monday morning. However, it never makes you listen to an entire album the way a record does. You gain the convenience of hearing any song you want to at any moment, but you don’t get to know that artist in the same way that a record forces you to. For example, Radiohead –the bends. Radiohead is pure genius listened to on any format, but when you listen to it on vinyl and it’s not convenient to skip past your least favorite track, the music becomes a statement that the artist is making rather than a few songs that are great. In the case of the bends, Radiohead creates a mood that is only captured when listened to as an inclusive album.  It changes your perspective on what it was you thought you were liking and captures a rainy day with a beauty that cannot be described with words. It also makes you appreciate how amazing their music really is.

My last example is probably my favorite – the Moleskine notebook. I have for many years, and always will, take my work notes in a Moleskine notebook. I have all of my old ones from my many jobs piled up in the furnace room of our home. Sometimes, when I am struggling to remember why I do what I do or I see something that was a project I worked on at a store or online, I will go down to my stacks and pull an old Moleskine. I almost always remember which one it is in. They are a history of my career. I’ve never been able to journal in a book but can and will only take work notes in one of these durable, black leather books. This blog is the closest I have come to chronicling anything digitally, but my Moleskines record the winding and odd journey of my career from my very first job here in Rhode Island. I find it magical to flip through the pages and remember where I was when I was writing those notes and how my handwriting changes from page to page, year to year. Sometimes there are sketches or other peoples writing – you know those times where your coworker wants to tell you something but has to write it on your page? Sometimes I remember what those comments were about. Other times I can’t remember who wrote them or what they were about, but they are always amusing nevertheless.  All of those moments, thoughts and places are in these black leather books in a way that typing something on a computer will never be. More convenient to type? Of course. But not nearly as important or as special in my life.

I saw that our local bookstore is selling records and the record stores we visit are all bustling with customers where not too long ago I was the only one there. I also saw a Moleskine store at the Short Hills mall during a recent visit. (I’m not so sure about bar soap vs. shower gel as I am still on the fence about that one.) I think that people like convenience and the ease it adds to their life and I do as well.  But I also think that people secretly crave and need something else. They need the experience, time, perspective and manual work that only analog, old things and tradition can offer to fill in the details of life.

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scaramouch


scaramouch noun, a boastful but cowardly person

scaramouch

“I see a little silhouetto of a man
Scaramouch, scaramouch will you do the fandango
Thunderbolt and lightning very very frightening me”

– Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen

Today I opened up the old OED the way I used to when I started this silly blog and flipped around looking for a word. I landed on scaramouch and am pretty happy with it. I have heard, like everyone else in the world, the song Bohemian Rhapsody a few hundred times throughout my life, I am sure. I always glazed over this word and didn’t think much about it. I wasn’t even really sure it was a word until I found it today. I thought maybe Freddy Mercury just made it up. Naturally I went to Google and looked up the lyrics because now I was intrigued. I may be wrong but I took the singer, the subject of the song, to be the scaramouch and I ended up reading the lyrics as if they were poetry…and my mind opened up for me this beautiful morning.

I am not a huge Queen fan. I enjoy Queen here and there but am not an aficionado in any way. They are part of a large collection of music I enjoy. Until today I did not appreciate this song for what it was, which is a mini opera in 6 minutes. It is a work of genius. I have always known that it was because everyone told me it was. Forgive my naiveté. I am not musical in a way that musicians are and I have never studied music. I am merely someone who enjoys listening. I have never approached music the way I would a book or a poem but now I see that I should have. I suppose it’s harder for me to do that with music because the enjoyment is two fold. The lyrics may be amazing, but if the music or voice is not quite right, well then I have no patience. With a book, if it is written well and the story is compelling, I will happily read along. With music, I have no patience if it doesn’t hit my sweet spot.

I also find that I am more willing to forgive a song if it is catchy. I’ve listened to “Call Me Maybe” a few thousand times and it’s a horrible, gibberish song…but it makes me energetic and empty brained for a few minutes, and sometimes that just feels good. The problem that I am seeing now is that because I don’t have the patience sometimes to give some music a chance to develop or to listen more closely to the lyrics and forgive the less than perfect instrumental, I am contributing to the rise of Justin Beiber and his ilk. It scares me to think that my children will be listening to the music that I have listened to my whole life and not their own generation of musicians . Or even worse, listening to Justin Beiber and Selena Gomes vocally gyrating and thinking it’s good music.

I’ve watched David Bowie and Prince die so far this year. Along with many other things declining in the world right now, I feel like music is also in a bad state. The radio is dismal and filled with manufactured pop stars. One really has to dig deep into Google Play or Spotify to find something inspiring. I don’t mean good, or catchy or enjoyable. There are plenty of songs like that. I mean something different. Music that can change your life, mix genres and blur the lines between instrumental and art. There are only a few people like that born every hundred years or so. I just hope we find out who they are soon so as to take the sting out of watching the ones we know and love die without replacement.

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columniate


calumniate verb, to make false and malicious statements about; slander

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It has been a long while since I have written here. A year to be exact. It’s time to return to this practice of writing again.

So calumniate. A fitting word for the current politics of our time. It would be easy to write something about Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, but how boring would that be? You can just go watch the media outlet of your choice for an update on that.

I am at home again taking care of a baby and not working full time. The one thing I notice most about my days here in the house is the silence. It is often pierced by the screaming of a baby or my 4 year old, but there are times when it is deadly silent. I often find myself turning on the radio or tv just for sound. If you were to walk into my home in the middle of the day, you would hear something different in each room. It’s a mechanism I use to calm myself and actually helps me focus. Something to listen to instead of my own head, which will always get me into trouble. This being the case, I find myself listening to snippets of conversations, sometimes not knowing what came before or what they are even about. I feel like one focusses on what is being said right at that moment more then when you have been following a conversation. I also find this way of isolating conversation can cause you to judge someone more harshly or form a stronger opinion based on the small amount that was heard. Sometimes I form an opinion because I recognize the voice as someone I do not like or vice versa just because I am not concentrating on the plot line they are discussing. I’d never really thought about these things until I started avoiding silence.

This habit of listening to partial conversations is not unlike how we all go through life. In the office or out and about. I rarely listen to someone 100% when they are telling a story or explaining something. I usually zone out and concentrate on where my eyes are looking so they can’t catch onto the fact that I am not listening at all. If I had to calculate it, I’d say I probably listen 30 to 40% of what most people have to say. I probably shouldn’t admit that…I am guessing the higher percentage you listen is proportional to how much of a caring person you are. I will refrain from judging myself in this way for now.

I wonder what the impact is of the 60 to 70% I have missed. If other people are doing this the way I am, I wonder how much we are all missing. If we honestly don’t know those other pieces, it is easier for us to be mean, to calumniate others – because we honestly missed the parts that might have explained the sentences that we just heard. There might have been some vital information in there that we passed over. The few words that would have completely changed our opinion.

Case in point, arguing with my husband. When I am arguing, I probably only hear about 20% of what the other person is saying because I am listening to my head, which is behind the steering wheel and heading us straight into a long, convoluted argument about something trivial. Often times after the argument, when things are calm and we are recapping the stupidity that took up too much time, I will explain to my husband, “all that he had to say was,” to have prevented the escalation or to have made things right. He often tells me that that is exactly what he did and I wonder to myself if maybe I need to try and listen closer to 80% of what people are saying instead of catching the snippets, which are much more interesting and open ended.

“When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser.”

-Socrates

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everything


everything noun, the entirety of a specified or implied class

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“I wasn’t exactly sure what had just gone on out there on that dance floor. Whatever it was it was crazy. It was confusing. It was dangerous.  And I really, really liked it.”

-Kevin Arnold

I’ve had this post in my for some time and since Valentine’s Day is around the corner, it makes sense to post it now…I think. Way back when I was a pre -teen, I (like every other girl I knew) had a massive crush on Kevin Arnold and obsessively watched the Wonder Years. I wasn’t technically allowed to watch it, adult themes and all, but I snuck it in on the little black and white TV I had won selling chocolate bunnies during the Easter fundraiser at St. Anastasia’s Elementary.

My favorite all time moment from the Wonder Years is this clip at the school dance….

I was probably around 13 years old when I saw this episode and it has been my favorite ever since. To me, this is the moment when Winnie and Kevin realize that they love each other…and all starting with the most messy and imperfect of moments at the school dance when the night seemed to have been ruined. Thirteen year old me didn’t know it then, but this is a pretty accurate depiction of love, particularly married love. The person that you’re with is everything and you are (or should be) everything to that other person….and that’s not always roses and sunshine.

When I say everything, I don’t mean it in some mushy romantic “you complete me sense” or that you have no identity and have been melded into one being yadda yadda. There is some of that I suppose, but I also mean it in the messy, inconvenient shit hitting the fan sense. Being everything to someone also means that sometimes they are your problem – the one you wouldn’t have if you were solo. They are the consistently unwashed dishes in the sink or the empty toilet paper roll left sitting in the bathroom.  They are the bickering about little things on the way to big events and the secondhand depression and sadness you experience when something has gone wrong in their life.  Being someone’s everything and having someone who is everything has no limits or bounds. When you love someone, you get the whole enchilada – the good and the bad that the other person probably doesn’t even entirely know about themselves yet. It’s stressful, scary and may even make you want to run for the hills at times.

But everything is also that connection that happens when Winnie and Kevin begin to dance…when the bad of what happened earlier transitions into a magical something else. When the talking stops and the music fills the space and all we hear are the Stylistics singing about “everything” but we feel so much more.

Too often we view love as a walk on the beach at sunset or the photo perfect moments we manage to capture at weddings and birthday parties.  Those things are definitely a part of being in love, but they are not everything. To me, everything is knowing how to fold your husband’s tshirts just so because he likes them that way. It’s the tension you can feel in the house after an argument, the burnt dinner that led to take out Chinese. It’s watching Anchorman while in labor with your first child and crying endlessly together for the dog that passed away unexpectedly.  It’s nights spent sleeping on the sofa because you can’t agree and in the morning forgetting what it was you were fighting about and going out for pancakes. It’s spilled milk, flat tires and strep throat – all on the same day. Love is excruciatingly everything when you are lucky to have it. It’s confusing. It’s dangerous…and we really, really like it.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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maplewood


maplewood noun, a suburban township in Essex County, NJ

Shadows of children playing soccer are seen on a wall at street in Benguela

Even with all of the things that are so awful, if you walk into your yard and stay there looking at almost anything for five minutes, you will be stunned by how marvelous life is and how incredibly lucky we are to have it.

– Alice Walker

This year for my office Secret Santa I received a tshirt that said “I Hate New Jersey.” At first I thought it was funny and then I got to thinking about it and changed my mind. It actually bothered me after I thought I about it for a while. I commute everyday on NJ Transit, which is notoriously known for delays and inconveniences. It makes my life depressing most days and lately I haven’t had my heart in it. I do audibly complain about it at work, but people don’t know me very well there and only know what they hear the next cube over. Lately the world misconstrues opinions and preferences for negativity and unhappiness. For an opinionated person like me, that sucks. If you know me, you know that I much more than someone who complains.  The truth is, everyday,  I miss my son, my house, my husband.  I actually love New Jersey – Maplewood to be exact, but I’ve built my entire life in a way that often prevents me from realizing that I do. So the other day, after I came to this realization, I decided to list in my head the things I love the most so that I don’t forget them.

I love Maplewood…

…because of those little kids always playing soccer in the driveway of Cactus Charlies. Every Thursday or Friday I end up picking up beer at the liquor store on Highland Place in Maplewood Village. There is never parking and I end up trolling the block until someone pulls out of a parallel spot or pull over on the non parking side of the street and put my hazards on. It takes 2 minutes to buy beer and there aren’t generally cops looking to ticket. I usually park near Cactus Charlies, and there are always a small group of young boys – 8 or 9 years old, kicking around a soccer ball against the side of the restaurant in the driveway there. Rain or shine, winter or spring, they seem to be there having the best time. There are no overbearing parents coaching or standing around bragging, just these kids playing around. I never wish for them to be playing in the park or even on the grass. In my heart I feel it is the way that soccer is meant to be practiced – where  ever it’s convenient and natural. And I love Maplewood for this impromptu game of soccer that I always see in the driveway of the Mexican restaurant. It’s because it feels so natural and un choreagraphed, which can be rare in our affluent suburb.

… for my yoga music playing coffee shop that serves Tiramisu flavored coffee once a week. Whether it’s after a tough Crossfit WOD or a lazy Saturday morning after a restless sick toddler night, I walk into Village Coffee and am greeted by the soothing sounds of dharma chanting and a smile. I find buying coffee much more soothing and happy here instead of the trendy bakery down the block. No fuss or pretension. As a friend once said, it’s just normal, not fancy, and that’s what I prefer. Sometimes I’ll head there early before my train and sit at a table and drink my coffee for a bit before heading into the city. It’s peaceful and calming even when it’s crowded and it feels like home.

Speaking of Crossfit, I love Maplewood for that too – but not just because it’s whipped my ass into shape. For so long after we moved from Brooklyn, I struggled to find a workout that would keep me coming back. Flywheel spinning was great for a while, but what I didn’t realize is that having support from others is what was needed to keep me coming back for more. I’ve always been shy and not the most outgoing person in general, but on my first day at Crossfit, I had teammates that cheered me on when they didn’t even know me…when I wasn’t even in very good shape and couldn’t keep up. It reminded me of track practices from so long ago that were my lifeline during tough times. Crossfit made me open up and meet people – different people that I would have never met had it not been for our common interest in exercising.  It’s been nearly a year and I still go at least 2 or 3 times a week at the minimum, mostly at 6 am. I am part of a team. I’ve made great friends. There may come a time when I have to take a hiatus for a while, but I know I will always be back for more.

… for 1978 Arts. Never heard of it? It’s sad that many people don’t know where it is, but I think 2015 will be the year I try to spread the word to more people.  I knew a little bit about it from my neighbor from when I first moved. It’s a small artist community that exists on Springfield Ave in a small cinder block building that isn’t open a lot. The building itself was gifted to Maplewood by an artist and it is run by volunteers that live in the town. It is an undiscovered gem. For the past few months I’ve been able to use the space for life drawing and finally found the motivation to take my love for my AS220 drawing nights in Providence and make them a reality in Maplewood.  I’ve met talented and wonderful people from Maplewood and neighboring towns. People that were hungry for the same type of interaction and creative outlet as I was – a quiet, safe and beautiful space where for a few hours we can reconnect with that neglected, artistic, creative side that probably spends most days latent and brooding.

…because of my neighbors. Yesterday while my strep inflicted son napped, I went out to check the mail and found a cellophane bag of cookies and a note in my mailbox from our neighbor. The note was an entertaining account of their year and the cookies were delicious. On other occasions, different neighbors have delivered the food share when I had forgotten it was ready that day, or walked our dog while I was in labor with my son in the hospital. They’ve mourned the loss of our dog with us, weathered multiple hurricanes and shared bulk garbage pickups. Each year I look forward to the Memorial Day parade that runs down our block just to see everyone out in front of their houses, the first days of blissful summer upon us.  But most beloved of all is the space in our In our yard the shrubs that borders our neighbors yard separate slightly –  where our son and the neighbors children sneak through to visit each other. It’s like something out of an old novel or storybook and I think it might just be the best thing about living in Maplewood – the gateway – as I like to think of it. As I sit here writing this on the most gloomy, damp of days, I know in a few months the sun will be shining and there will be children sneaking into each other’s yards looking to play and enjoy the day.  Even if you took away everything else, I would still love Maplewood if only for this.

Oh yeah….and Garden State was filmed in Maplewood too 🙂

 

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television


television noun.  a system for converting visual images (with sound) into electrical signals, transmitting them by radio or other means, and displaying them electronically on a screen;

television

I decided to take a cab to Penn Station last night. As usual, the cab had that intangible odor that wasn’t pleasant, but not unpleasant enough to make one get out and brave the 15 minute walk in cold darkness. On the ride down 8th Avenue, past the few erotica stores mixed in with raw juiceries, you can look up into the pane glass windows of the apartments that rise above the bodegas and Duane Reades. For the most part, all you can see are shadows of large rubber tree plants and modern lamps, their owners most likely making the same slow journey as I toward their sanctuaries. But every once in a while, instead of shadows of plants and lamps, you will catch the flickering glow of an apartment where someone is watching television, the fuzzy random shadows that cast across the walls colliding with the raucous city outside.

I always wonder what the story is behind the person in that apartment, if there is even a person at home or if they left the television on. Do they have the flu and are snuggled down deep into the cushions of their sofa wrapped up in an afghan their mother in law knit for them? Maybe there are two teenagers home alone from school watching ABC Family or a horror movie, popcorn littering the Design Within Reach area rug beneath them, or perhaps a broken hearted sufferer who couldn’t bear to leave the sanctuary of their small place in the world, relying on reality television to escape the pain of their latest break up or loss.

I guess it might be odd to say that I think of television as more than what comes across the screen for me to watch. There is a comfort in the very act of just having it on sometimes. I know I am a 36 year old privileged white suburban mom who is supposed to scoff at all mainstream television in exchange for a constant stream of This American Life and Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me on NPR, but there is still a place in my heart for this influential invention, the television. Not so much because of a need to watch Bravo schlock and Downton Abbey, but because of the comfort it provides at different times and for different people.

It goes back as far as my early years when I used to sleep at my grandma’s house. She was the type to sleep with the tv on and I remember being 5 years old in her bed with the pink and yellow neon flower sheets watching old Dragnet episodes on her small yellow plastic, black and white console that sat on the dresser, casting those same peaceful shadows I noticed last night during my cab ride. They were a sense of comfort to me even back then, those shadows and her low, nasal snore. I wonder if she knew that I never really slept a wink. I still remember the hours I counted down until Hot Fudge came on and I knew it was Sunday morning.


Or years later when we watched for days the Twin Towers collapsing, asking ourselves over and over whether what we were watching was real. Those days weren’t about peace or sanctuary, but the stark reality of the changing world we were living in. During times of tragedy, television is our connection to those suffering elsewhere, a reality check in case we forget how horrible the world can be at times. It’s true to say that without television we would probably be happier since we wouldn’t be aware of all of the evil in the world and some people ban television in their home entirely because of this fact alone.

Television is most appropriate as a backdrop, as an accent to our lives. It’s when television becomes more than that, that it becomes dangerous and not so good for us. Like everything else in life, used in moderation, it is a beautiful, enriching thing, a tool for providing rich memories – like Sunday football gatherings. A stronghold in times of uncertainty, like on 9/11. It shouldn’t be used in place of parenting or a long term escape from an unpleasant reality, but I don’t think it is inherently evil. Television is like a bag of delicious potato chips. Some days, you can eat 3 and walk away because you’ve got a handle on life and you’re feeling good. Other days you eat the whole bag because you had a bad day at work. The way we use television is a reflection of who we are at the moment and what we are going through. Sometimes we need to be alone, with that low flickering light, curled up under an afghan with a pint of ice cream, pretending we’re friends with people we will never meet on screen while still maintaining the sanctuary of solitude. Television allows the illusion of friendship, when all we want is to be alone, safety while we tend to our voyeuristic nature in viewing life’s disasters and the illusion of safety with its flickering glow casting moving shadows on dark walls that others watch through windows and question what the story is behind them.

Television is a medium of entertainment which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, and yet remain lonesome. – TS Eliot

 

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smile


smile noun, a pleased, kind, or amused facial expression, typically with the corners of the mouth turned up and the front teeth exposed.

smile

I Came to buy a smile—today—
But just a single smile—
The smallest one upon your face
Will suit me just as well—
The one that no one else would miss
It shone so very small—
I’m pleading at the “counter”—sir—
Could you afford to sell—
I’ve Diamonds—on my fingers—
You know what Diamonds are?
I’ve Rubies—live the Evening Blood—
And Topaz—like the star!
‘Twould be “a Bargain” for a Jew!
Say—may I have it—Sir?

-Emily Dickenson

I’m shy. I don’t start spontaneous conversations usually. The thought makes me panic a little. The words don’t flow and I stutter when I’ve tried. Eye contact freaks me out and I feel like the other person is staring at a booger or a hair that doesn’t belong on my face. On some days, smiling is the only way to communicate, just a little bit, that I am not a complete and total bitch. I really do want to talk to people and make friends. I’m just not good at doing it cold turkey. I need to warm up to it. The smile is my starting point.

It’s sort of amazing that turning up the corners of your mouth can say so much and that others can use it to judge your personality or feelings at a particular moment in time. I suppose this is reasonable. Our mouths take up a large portion of our face. They provide breath and nourishment. When I’ve been pissed off or in a bad mood, I’ve found it physically difficult to get myself to smile. You would think it wouldn’t be so hard, but a smile isn’t quite a smile unless is conveys something – like warmth or humor. I don’t know how it communicates these things, but a smile just does. There must be some sort of research into how we can physically communicate so much with so little movement. There has to be some sort of science to it.

Then there is the smirk, which is sort of like a smile, but not really. It’s a bit lopsided and snarky. We smirk when we “told you so” or are enjoying the misfortune of others. A smirk is an anti-smile in a way. It’s a sure sign of being smug. Yet it’s still a sort of smile, right? Again, this whole smile theory should be some sort of scientific endeavor.

When I think of smiling, I think of beauty queens in swim suits floating over sparkly stages with smiles plastered perfectly in lip gloss matching their bikins. Politicians discussing government on talk shows with their foundation plastered faces flashing pearly whites at the camera. Toothpaste commercials with young twenty somethings getting ready for dates when – oh my! – they realize their teeth aren’t blindingly white. (Someone should seriously make a diagram of the whiteness of teeth over the course of history. If you watch old movies from the 70’s you’d be amazed at how un white they are.)

Nearly every day I walk down the long corridor at work facing the oncoming traffic of coworkers. It’s an awkward situation for someone who isn’t that outgoing. But I have found that my best plan is usually just to smile a small, closed mouth smile at my fellow passerby to let them know that I am, indeed friendly, just not in a talkative way. In contrast to those professional smilers – the beauty queens and senators – a smile for me is a life raft saving me from being that awkward or weird person who doesn’t know what to say. It’s my genuine effort at putting something pleasant out there into the world without taking too much of a risk. Those two little corners at the sides of our mouths hold way more power than they reasonable should.

 

 

 

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bananafish


bananafish noun, imaginary fish that swims into banana holes and eats so many bananas that it cannot swim out, subsequently dying in the hole

bananafish

 

 “They lead a very tragic life,” he said. “You know what they do, Sybil?”

She shook her head.

“Well, they swim into a hole where there’s a lot of bananas. They’re very ordinary-looking fish when they swim in. But once they get in, they behave like pigs. Why, I’ve known some bananafish to swim into a banana hole and eat as many as seventy-eight bananas.” He edged the float and its passenger a foot closer to the horizon. “Naturally, after that they’re so fat they can’t get out of the hole again. Can’t fit through the door.”

I was at the ABC Kids Expo in Las Vegas a few months ago for work when I saw a brand of children’s bedding at the exhibition named “bananafish.” It had been a long time since I had read JD Salinger’s “Nine Stories” but I still remembered the plot and the meaning behind the fictitious creature. I wonder if this bedding company knew the story as well or even at all. What a strange thing to pick for a brand name.

I suppose you could regard the bananafish as a positive creature as opposed to it being connected with the sadness of Salinger’s tale in a twisted sort of way. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s short, not cheerful though, so be in a good mood or at least a contemplative one before you do. In fact it’s a bit shocking when you read it for the first time. The main subject commits suicide at the end after having been lounging on a beach and playing with a toddler named Sybil in the ocean. As he guards Sybil on her inflatable float, he tells her to look for bananafish. It’s one of the last and few things we know about the main character, Seymour Glass, other than the fact he came back from WWII a bit off his gourd – most likely PTSD, which in those days carried quite a stigma.

Salinger has a magical way of isolating his characters and their pain from the world around them while simultaneously and clearly emphasizing that everyone and everything else goes on despite their troubles. He does it famously in Catcher, even better still in Frannie and Zooey. He has a magically simple and perpendicular way of doing so with stark dialogue and perfectly chosen adjectives, completely without literary frivolity. His writing is beautifully simple. His characters are complex and loveable, but often intensely melancholy. They always seem quite realistic and relatable. Reading about them somehow makes me feel less lonesome and I often seek their stories when I am feeling down.

So, bananafish and Seymour Glass…

Before we are given the scene of Seymour and Sybil, we learn about his wife, debating with her mother on the phone about her troubled husband, Seymour. Her mother is quite worried about his mental state and that her daughter might be in danger; the same Seymour watching over Sybil in the water and inventing imaginary animals. The Seymour that we are introduced to says a few strange things, but overall is funny, imaginative and protective of the little girl – the way a toddler, lacking the cynicism of an adult, would regard him.

In my opinion, Salinger’s gift to the reader is Sybil’s version of Seymour. The bananafish is his final act. His humor and imagination devoid of depression and mental illness in this moment of invention. His flaws are forgotten in their watch for the bananafish and what we and Sybil know of Seymour is marked by a feeling of paternal comfort, the last gasp of his true soul and being…the part that everyone else overlooks in their doubts and fear of him.

Or perhaps Seymour is the bananafish, having eaten his full of all the disappointments and sadness that the world so abundantly offers, now stuck in the hole of his own despair, full and ready to die.

You can think of bananafish in many different ways – none of which make me want to purchase children’s bedding, however. Perhaps the moral is to be more like Sybil and allow us to be more accepting in order to see the good – no matter how small and imaginary – others have to offer. If only for a brief moment, to suspend judgment and give someone that moment as it could be their life’s last gasp, like Seymour. Or maybe we should stop being bananafish and consuming the world, gorging on every fear, disappointment, horror that it serves to us daily, hourly, by the second. That we should slow down, digest it all and swim out of that hole instead of dying, trapped inside a victim of our own devices.

 

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rustic


rustic adj. of, pertaining to, or living in the country, as distinguished from towns or cities; rural.

khaki scout

Spiders, bugs, ticks, snapping turtles, geese poop, cold, wind, rain, ticks and wet socks…these are all the things that make me cringe when I think about spending time outdoors, specifically, in the country. A decade ago I would have said the opposite of myself. I used to be a seasoned outdoors-woman, the kind you see in Patagonia catalogs – complete with handmade hemp necklace and Teva tanned feet. Girl  Scouts served as a refuge for my difficult childhood / teen years and I came to enjoy the beauty of the natural world. It became my comfort when I had no other. I knew how to survive, how to pitch canvas tents with stakes and start campfires with one match. I taught boating and canoeing, was a certified waterfront lifeguard who swam under docks during drills. I could repel, hike, brave rapids and cook a mean shepherd’s stew on an open fire. This past weekend as I listened to myself whining about the hard mattress I had to sleep on and the bug bites on my ankles during our annual trip out to my in law’s lake house, I started to wonder what had happened to make me so much different from the girl that used to count the days until the next camping trip…and more importantly, how to get some of her back.

My son is well on his way to becoming a lover of nature and the outdoors. He caught his first fish this past weekend and loves throwing rocks into the lake for hours on end. His knees are eternally bruised and scraped from running and climbing outside. He sat at the fire circle this past weekend and I could see in his face joy as the light from the flames danced across his cheeks. I knew that joy once too.  The nights of singing silly songs and acting out skits that only my friends and I thought were hysterical. The memories are as sweet as the piles of s’mores we ate and the sticky tree limbs we left behind from all of the charred marshmallows we roasted.

I also remember the not so pleasant things about living in the woods. The way you had to let yourself get completely bitten up by bugs and mosquitos for the first few weeks of the summer in order to become immune to their venom. The rolling over in the morning to find a squished daddy long legs on your pillow when you woke up. The rush to tie up tent flaps when a thunderstorm ran its path through the woods. Walking to the latrine in the middle of the pitch black night with a small flashlight and hearing the hidden animals around you rustle. I endured these things summer after summer, year after year, always returning to camp eagerly, yet now I scream at the mere sight of a spider.

To enjoy camping and the outdoors, you have to surrender control to a thing much bigger than you, that thing being nature. And these days, that scares the hell out of me…but I really, really want to find a way. I suppose at 36 years old, I have a lot more to lose than 17 year old me did. Still, I don’t want to be the suburban housewife standing idly clutching her handbag and reading texts while her husband buys their son their first mess kit. I feel that would be selling myself short. So in the next few months, I am going to try and give it my all. I am not going to turn this into an REI shopping spree either. No gear will be bought, no books other than my old scout handbook and some Google searches are needed. I’m going to go deep and find that person inside me that used to do all of those cool, outdoorsy things. This will be the most important badge I’ve ever worked for.  Hopefully I don’t hurt myself or anyone else, but I’ll have to face it if it happens.  There are bags of marshmallows waiting and wood teepees to build fires for them to roast on. But most importantly, there are all of those amazing camp songs I know are being wasted on bed time when they sounds so much better echoing through the forest, the way they were meant to be sung.

 “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity…”
John Muir

 

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