Category Archives: Uncategorized

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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simplicity


simplicity n. the quality or condition of being plain or natural montage2 Most days, I am a sherpa. My mornings begin with bags – bags for everything – most of which filled with things that do not belong to me. There’s the lunchbox that gets loaded with mac n cheese, goldfish and sometimes the odd cookie or over ripe banana. The tote bag with swim trunks and water shoes for water play on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The back pack with extra toy cars and a full water bottle. My purse stuffed with train passes, mints, and hopefully my wallet and keys. My gym bag or extra tote for the massive book I am reading plus extra “office” shoes that I swap my flip flops out for. Sometimes there are more bags, sometimes (if I am lucky) there may be less. Such is the life of a working mother. Shuttling to daycare, running to the train, walking through the city streets in snow, sleet, hail and heat to get to work on time. What I crave most these days than anything else is simplicity, some spare moments of ease. When I was a stay at home mom, I found those moments during nap times, sometimes in the simple acts of folding tiny clothes, stacking diapers in the nursery closet or preparing new foods for Graham to try. pear flower I didn’t know back then when I was steaming and coring out pears with a spoon to make Graham a new puree that I was actually preparing for my future at OXO. It’s one of the more interesting twists in my life story – that my break from the working world was more like a learning sabbatical for my next career adventure and that I’d form such an intimate relationship with the tiny containers with the snap on green rimmed lids that I came to love so much for their simplicity while I was a suburban stay at home mom. BabyBlocks1 I’ve come to appreciate the art of making baby food on a much different level since starting my job. I have an appreciation for textures and notice the way things freeze and expand, how products work for or against these natural tendencies. I’ve also learned how to accentuate otherwise bland and subtle flavors with the addition of spices, adding gradual complexity to an otherwise simple fruit or vegetable. Now that Graham is 3, he eats much more complex foods – most of the time not without coaxing and bribery. Whenever I miss those early, simple days when pears and apricots were earth shattering flavors and vanilla and cinnamon were his first tastes of sweetness, I head into the OXO kitchen and cook up some new purees to remind myself of the simple joy of making a child’s first foods and to appreciate how small and simple it all once was and how far we both have come. These are 2 simple baby food recipes that bring me back to those simple days… Pureed Pears with Vanilla Bean & Steamed Apricots with Cinnamon Apricots are beautifully in season this time of year and pears, to me at least, are a year round favorite. It all starts with finding the nicest and ripest fruits. Those are the ones that have the strongest natural flavor. Don’t skimp on good quality spices. Since the vanilla bean and cinnamon are the stars of the show, invest in actual cinnamon sticks and real vanilla beans instead of pre – ground powders or extracts. Fruit in bags Clean and steam the pears and apricots (my favorite part is coring out the centers of the pear with a spoon…they always look so fresh and beautiful.) The skins of the apricots should slip off easily after steaming for about 15 to 20 minutes. Cut them in half and remove the pits as well. Cored Pears I like using a food mill to puree the steamed pears and apricots. You can choose how fine your puree will be by switching out the plates in this OXO Food Mill, which is great for when you’re child is ready for more textured and chunkier foods. Milling Once you have your puree, you can slit open the vanilla bean and scrape it with a paring knife to remove the beans. Then mix it into your puree. For mixing in cinnamon, you can use a small grater directly into the puree. Taste as you go along to gauge the strength of the flavor based on what you think your child is ready for. My son enjoyed the stronger flavors, but every baby is different and moms tend to know what is best for their child. Baby Food in Bowls You’re done! It’s as simple as that. Feed fresh or freeze your puree into blocks for thawing later. OXO Tot Baby Blocks are great for early stage purees as they come in 2 oz. portions that can later be used for daycare and play date snacking as your child grows. BabyBlocks3

 “Simplicity is the glory of expression.”

-Walt Whitman

Disclosure: I am employed by OXO and received these products for free. The views and opinions expressed on this site are my own alone and do not represent the views of OXO and/or its affiliates.

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hustler


hustler n. an aggressively enterprising person;  a go-getter. FIFA World Cup Besides the risqué connotation that this word holds due to a well – known and scantily clad publication, this word bears marked significance in my life and, in general, success in life as a whole. I was in the third grade (or thereabouts) when I was first told that I had a talent for hustling. I remember it so vividly I can almost smell the fresh cut grass at Votee Park in Teaneck, NJ on that day. My parents had pushed me to join the CYO track team at my school, mostly because I was always running and they wanted a break from watching me for a few hours. Practices were held at the small running circle at the park –  which is remarkably still there. My coach put me up against an older girl to sprint 200 meters – most likely as a joke. I completely sucked at distance running and my dad insisted I could sprint – so here was my chance to see what I was made of, if anything at all. The nerves came on, even though we weren’t starting out of blocks, and he set us off to race. I started a little behind and then something clicked in my head and ran through my whole body. I somewhere found speed -it felt like I had to bring it up from the bottom of myself. I don’t remember for sure if I won. I might have. But what I do remember is my coach’s smile when we called me a hustler. Whether I realized it or not, it was at that moment that one of my best qualities was discovered. Throughout my life I have been referred to as a hustler and thought it was a bit negative. To me it sounded like I was forcing things to happen while it came easily for others. I’ve come to think differently as I’ve grown older. Hustling is more than just working hard to get what you want. It’s about defying the odds of success. If you’re a hustler, you don’t take no for an answer or accept that the odds are not in your favor. You fight on anyway knowing that failure is likely. It’s that 10% chance that keeps you vying and motivated. You need tenacity, perseverance and the ability to withstand repeated failure. The life of a hustler isn’t pretty. You also know a hustler when you see one. I was watching the World Cup this past weekend and this word came to mind when I saw Gary Medel from the Chilean team playing against Brazil. He had a major muscle pull that the coach said would have put him out of commission only a day earlier. Not only that, but he was playing as a defender and not in his usual midfield role. The 109 minutes he played was all heart and hustle, all about reaching deep down and finding strength to endure. He hustled through that game and when they carried him off the field I nearly wept with him. His performance had me wanting Chile to win despite my loyalty to Brazil. No one seemed to want it more than he did. Few people in life are born with an innate or natural ability in any specific thing. Many of us are talentless, completely ordinary in the grand scheme of things. But most of us have a spark, even if it’s extremely small – maybe even hidden way down deep. Just a hint of something we might be capable of. Hustling is taking that spark, that teeny tiny starting point and working like hell to make it into something more – not taking no for an answer and continuing to plough forward despite disappointment or failure. Hustling blazes the trail that becomes the story of your life. In the end, if you land on failure you still have the fight, the path littered with what you accomplished trying to get to the finish.  Hustlers may not always win, but in their journey they inspire others and contribute the much needed hope that the world is often so short of. “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” -Abraham Lincoln

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remembrance


remembrance n.  the action of remembering something

remembrance

Rosemary is for remembrance. I know this because we gave out small potted plants of rosemary as favors at my wedding. I’m coming up on my 11th wedding anniversary so it’s fitting that I chose this word. There was quite a drama over our photographs that day and although it is almost laughable now, 11 years later, I still have the same hang ups about photos. Photographs are totems of remembrance. When I think of this word, I recall the scent of musty photo albums and boxes of photographs all curled together in stacks that you peel apart, revealing a moment, a second in infinite time, long forgotten. When I find these boxes in the back of a closet, I could sit for hours sifting through them, looking at the people and trying to remember them. Remember the smells, the noises, the feeling of that polyester cat face sweatshirt I was wearing at that birthday party in the 5th grade. What I notice most, though, are that most of the photos, the best ones, are not posed, arm-over-shoulder -types. They’re more candid, casual, in the moment. These in my opinion are the very best photos.

Photos are sacred to me and so is the act of taking them. My father was a photographer and I lived amongst his Hasselblads and Minoltas and all their accoutrements which existed in the time before digital. You used to have to work much harder to take a photo back then. You had to know how to manually focus a lens. Just getting the roll of film into the camera was difficult because you could expose it, let alone the difficulties of developing it. There was a sense of waiting that used to exist when you took a photo. If you went on a trip you would have to sometimes wait weeks to see how your photos came out, praying that you at least got one or two good ones. Taking photos required patience, perseverance, and sometimes, luck alone. I remember all of my cameras with nostalgia. My first camera was a purple Le Clic that I got as a gift for my very first trip without my parents to Washington DC with my girl scout troop. My favorite camera was my pink Polaroid that I would bring to school and sneak photos of everyone with, especially my secret crushes. My most treasured is my father’s manual Minolta 35mm he gave to me when I wanted to “get serious” and I struggled with it for a good while learning how to use it, getting used to its ticks. These days I wield a 6 year old Nikon D60 digital camera. I like to switch it to manual and make myself work for my photos just to see if I remember all that my father taught me.

A month or so ago we took my son to an Easter egg hunt at our parish. When we arrived there weren’t many people there and my son was hell bent and determined to eat as many of the free munchkins he could grab. But as people arrived rapidly I began to notice something that really bothered me. Instead of letting the children roam and play, their parents were grouping them together in front of things and taking posed photos….dozens and dozens of posed photos – in front of brick walls, next to trees, with friends, with family, with the creepy girl/guy in the Easter bunny costume…constant clicking and so little living in the moment. It made me sad to see that they were ruining the natural beauty of children just having fun.

It set me to thinking about how we remember moments and how photographs stand for so much. Wouldn’t a picture be worth so much more if it captured the intangible seconds of time that aren’t perfectly set or posed? A photo should be a queue for the memory – an icon that sets our brains wild with memory, filling in the gaps that the photo doesn’t show. And so what if we remember it not so perfectly?  Remembrance isn’t something you can hold in your hands anyway.  The beauty of a photo is its ability to capture a second of time forever for you to return to whenever you want. With such power why would you choose to control it with posing, standing, and rigid smiles? You miss so much living with incessant clicking and directing. Life isn’t a movie, its life – breathing, screaming and laughing living. If a photo is blurry it’s because it should be.

There is a photo of my wedding that was taken on the porch of the house we rented for our reception. It’s a huge photo of my husband’s entire family with us, the happy couple. I don’t think I’ve looked at it since I received it from a family member shortly after the wedding. Months before I had specifically asked that the posed photography be kept to a minimum. We felt very strongly about it, but despite my wishes on my wedding day, the gathering still occurred. If it had been the only instance, I wouldn’t have cared. But it wasn’t. A few guests even stood next to the actual hired photographer and took the same pictures he was taking. It doesn’t make me sad any more that this happened. To be honest, I was not at all surprised. Yet sitting next to the rosemary plants on each table were disposable cameras for the guests to use to take their own photos of the day. Although many of them are blurred and some of them just didn’t develop, those are my favorite photos – and the ones I cherish above all the posed and professional photos. When you put them all together, they may be blurred and I don’t always look the way I would choose, but you get a sense of how much fun we had that day, how young we all were and how much was going on.  They give me many more minutes of remembrance than any posed, family picture. In those blurs and imperfections, I let my memories step in and fill in the spaces between. That’s what a good photo should do.

Long ago it must be

I have a photograph

Preserve your memories

They’re all that’s left you.

 

 

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petrichor


petrichor n. the smell of rain on dry ground

feet

It’s a rainy day. The sky is gray and the clouds are all smushed together, blocking the sun. The city air is embalmed with petrichor. As a lover of perfumes and scents, I’ve always noticed that “rain scented” perfumes don’t smell like petrichor at all – at least to me. It is true that they capture an essence of it, but I always feel that the imitation version smells much too nice. Petrichor seems to smell a little bit more like soil than the man – made versions do.  I think the world tends to glamourize petrichor with the high language of music and poetry, but quite honestly, there are some days where the rain on the pavement kicks up the scent of feral cat piss more than it makes me wax poetic about the odor in my nostrils. NYC  petrichor can smell like China petrichor to me – mildew and dirty. Suburban petrichor is a mix of cat piss, cedar chips and fertilizer most of the time. I would guess the petrichor of the forest is probably the best there is, the one closest to the imitated version, but couldn’t it be confused with mountain air or just the scent of the woods? In general, smell is an odd and wondrous thing not easily described or pinned down.

The other day my son and I were playing “pee-yew” feet,” which is mostly just me taking his nasty socks off after a long day at daycare and pretending to smell his genuinely stinky feet. He thinks it’s pretty funny for me to say “pee-yew feet” and repeatedly stick his feet in my face. We both crack up laughing over and over again. On our way to the kitchen to have the 3rd yogurt of the day, I started thinking about whether he understood the meaning of “pee-yew” or even smell at all. To my knowledge, he’s never complained of a smell to me. I wonder if he knows about smell. I know he can taste, so I am assuming he can smell as well. But how can I describe it to him? It’s not like sight or sound or even taste. Those senses seem so much more tangible. Smell is like the umami of senses. You just know, I guess, but it is frustrating to not have the words to describe since it’s actually quite an important part of life.

I remember the way school smelled on the first day of school. It was a mix of chalk dust, the teacher’s perfume and fresh paper. I loved that smell.  The smell I hate the most from my life are the medical smells – hospital cleaning solutions and iodine. I remember the pungent odor of chemo and alcohol swabs. I dread those smells the most and almost enter into a panic attack just thinking about them. When we were house hunting not too long ago, I always noticed that the houses smelled similar, as if there was a prescribed “clean” scent that they all achieved. It must have been some sort of Glade air freshener that was popular or possibly a mix of lemon Pledge and bleach. That smell means “clean house” to me now that I own my own house. The treasured chlorine reek of an indoor pool makes me warm and happy just thinking about it. I used to love swimming in that smell and then satisfyingly showering it off after as a reward for my efforts. But the smell of art supplies – paint, conte crayon, rollerball ink – these are among the most intoxicating for me. They signify freedom, relaxation and excitement for what I am about to create.

One day my son will understand what smell is and he will have his own opinion on petrichor. I will just give him time. For now he can enjoy our scentless game of “pee-yew” feet for everything but the smell.  I hope someday the memory of stinky toddler feet reminds him of me and our silly “pee-yew” game.

Smell

by William Carlos Williams

Oh strong-ridged and deeply hollowed 
nose of mine! what will you not be smelling? 
What tactless asses we are, you and I, boney nose, 
always indiscriminate, always unashamed, 
and now it is the souring flowers of the bedreggled 
poplars: a festering pulp on the wet earth 
beneath them. With what deep thirst 
we quicken our desires 
to that rank odor of a passing springtime! 
Can you not be decent? Can you not reserve your ardors 
for something less unlovely? What girl will care 
for us, do you think, if we continue in these ways? 
Must you taste everything? Must you know everything? 
Must you have a part in everything? 

 

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birthday


birthday, n. the annual anniversary of the day on which a person was born, typically treated as an occasion for celebration and present-giving.

???????????????????April 8th is never a good day for me. It’s my late father’s birthday and for some reason, every year, the day is tainted with sadness. No matter how hard I try to make it better, the day is just miserable for one reason or another. One would think that the anniversary of his death would be the worst day…or even the anniversary of his diagnosis…that I would remember how awful those particular days were and dwell on them. But I hardly remember those roughest of days. I think about them randomly from time to time, but they don’t haunt me the way April 8th does. I think this is because the father I remember was not the one that had a brain cancer for 2 years and slowly faded. Don’t get me wrong, there were many wonderful moments during that period despite his illness. But the father that I want to remember forever is the one that didn’t have cancer. The one that participated wholly in life and the world, was imperfect and not always the best but was always the rock I could depend on. I prefer the living version of my father instead of the dying one.

It makes sense to me that the birthday is the thing that hurts the most. It is, after all, a reminder that he is not here. Rather than a day to be celebrated, it is a marker of another year that has passed without him. Another season of holidays, weddings and births that he is absent from and there is nothing that can be done to revise the course of history to bring him back. It makes me think about the fact that my son and husband will never know him outside of my memories. That my mother is alone. That each year the memories of him fade a little and I wonder how much I have already forgotten. The forgetting is what bothers me the most. This April 8th was not the worst day. In fact, it was actually quite fine if I look at the actual day instead of my thoughts. I fear that I am already too deep into the forgetting.

Last night I was baking cookies and listening to On The Air on WNYC. It was a story about Kurt Cobain. April 8th is the anniversary of his suicide and I never realized that until last night. His death definitely had an effect on me when I was a plaid clad teen in high school. I used to spend rainy weekends at my friend’s house listening to Nirvana and writing down the lyrics, reading them like poetry and searching for meaning. My father thought Nirvana was crap and I wonder if I could have ever persuaded him to like their music if I had had more time.

One of my favorite Nirvana covers is “Jesus Don’t Want Me For a Sunbeam.” It reminds me of my father. He never considered himself extraordinary, special or worthy of any particular praise. He was pretty selfless and tenaciously stubborn. I turn 36 in a month or so and the stigma of April 8th needs to go. I’ll have to remember to listen to this song and celebrate my father’s spirit instead of mourning the memories we didn’t get to make. My father may never have been persuaded that Kurt Cobain’s music was worthy of admiration, but I think he would have agreed that Jesus probably wouldn’t want him for a sunbeam either.

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