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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anopisthographic


anopisthographic  adj. having writing or printing on one side only

desk

“The only thing that makes one an artist is making art. And that requires the precise opposite of hanging out; a deeply lonely and unglamorous task of tolerating oneself long enough to push something out.”
― David Rackoff, Half Empty

I have to admit that lately I haven’t been scouring the OED as much to find words. I cheat a bit here and there and look at sites on the web that list strange or rarely used words. Anopisthographic is one such word that was found in this manner.  When I found this word, it made me recall what it was like to physically write on paper with a pen…for pages and pages…and how I rarely, if ever, do that any longer. It is in the physical “pen in hand” practice of writing that I feel I am working the hardest at creating something. Typing just doesn’t match up. If you are writing with a pen and you make a mistake, you have to work to remove it. You really have to think about what you are going to put down on the paper as it isn’t very easy to remove or rearrange it. In a way, you physically live your story. If you want to move a paragraph, you have to cut the paper and move it. If you misspell a word, you have to scratch it out or erase it. It leaves a mark as a reminder of your mistake.  If your pencil breaks or your pen runs out you have to sharpen or find a new one. I often think about the fact that I rarely physically write and if I did that it might strengthen my words that same way exercise strengthens my muscles, gives me stamina.

The act of writing on paper is also quite therapeutic. About a year ago I started “The Artist’s Way” because I was suffering from a creative block and just general malaise caused by being a stay at home suburban mom. The first thing you do when you start the Artist’s Way is wake up and write. You basically rise from a dead sleep, open a notebook and just write whatever it is that comes to mind. They are called “morning pages.”  At first it starts out as gibberish and doesn’t make a lot of sense. If you keep thinking of the same word over and over again, then you just write it. You’re not supposed to judge it.  It’s supposed to be a sort of cleansing of your “artist soul.” Sometimes it felt like a continuation of my dream and I would start in one place and end up in another. Other times, it was a struggle and made me angry. Rarely, a phrase or sentence would happen and start the creative journey. I haven’t gone back to read what I wrote in some time and I probably should. I didn’t get through the entire process of the Artists Way. I never created a masterpiece.

When I wrote my morning pages I filled up both sides of the page. Not writing on the other side felt wasteful and this has always been my feeling about writing on paper in general. I suppose it comes from a desire to fill up a page or pages the same way I do so many things in my life – my fridge, my closet, my brain. Having all of the pages embossed with lines of penmanship makes me feel accomplished, like I reached my creative quota, tangible proof that I made something.  I love pressing hard enough on the page so that the lines create a relief map on the other side and crinkle the paper, making it look worked over.

This word also makes me think about the old wooden school desks we used to write on when I was in elementary school. Every student was assigned their own, permanent desk each year and they were quite old. Each was like a time capsule from all of the other students who had sat at that desk before. Despite the constant warnings from teachers not to vandalize them, we still did. We had to leave our own mark. Random carvings on the wooden tops, crusty dried up bubble gum caked along the underside that looked like little upside down mountain ranges when you stuck your head under and looked up. Secret messages and love notes scribbled in permanent marker, sometimes in hidden places. We’d always have to write on top of workbooks or stacks of loose leaf to avoid inadvertent impressions on our vocabulary exercises. The surface of the desk was almost like the other side of the page coming through the one we were writing on. Like secret messages the desk was sending us about its history, its life story.

It makes me sad to think that my son won’t know a desk in the same way. That a white screen with buttons will be his most familiar definition of a page. It is up to me to ensure he  experiences the physical act of writing on paper despite the fact that the world we live in is making it obsolete. I want him to know and understand the meaning of “page” outside of an LCD screen. I want him to know how to create them in his own hand and have his own style of handwriting the way I have mine. I want him to have both sides to write on.

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imbroglio


imbroglio n. an extremely confused, complicated, or embarrassing situation

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I am a champion eavesdropper and general observer of people. I do it often, especially on the morning train. It is a bit of a game for me, to overhear conversations, on the phone or actively between two people. If I was a novelist I think I might ride the train just to gather ideas for character sketches. It’s more than just a few moments of a conversation. It’s the way that particular person talks. Their speech pattern and intonation, the overall cadence of their speech, what they are talking about and the emotion they are audibly emitting. Piece it together with what they’re wearing, the bag they’re carrying, their ID badge hanging off of their zipper. It all creates an invented persona and I am a detective trying to solve who they are to place them in my own story. When I am lucky enough to catch someone lamenting on an imbroglio, it ties it all together – but I am rarely so lucky. Instead I watch and create my version of them in my head.

I picture myself as a hack impersonation of Ernest Hemingway in “A Moveable Feast:”

…A girl came into the cafe and sat by herself at a table near the window. She was very pretty with a face fresh as a newly minted coin if they minted coins in smooth flesh with rain-freshened skin, and her hair black as crow’s wing and cut sharply and diagonally across her cheek.

I looked at her and she disturbed me and made me very excited. I wished I could put her in the story, or anywhere, but she had placed herself so she could watch the street and the entry and I knew she was waiting for someone. So I went on writing.

The thought of Ernest Hemingway writing in a café, observing people and turning them into his characters inspires me. I don’t know if I’ll ever write a novel, or anything deemed publishable for that matter, but I can still create the story to pass the time. Here are some of my favorite, frequent characters.

The Fun, Fearless Female

She is one of my favorites and I hate when she sits in a car farther down the line and I don’t have the chance to observe her. She works for Cosmopolitan Magazine, or at least I think she does because she is always carrying tote bags that have bedazzled sayings like “Fun, Fearless Female” with fake kissy marks- the kind they give away at workplace events. She surely looks fun with her honey highlighted bob, a hint of cleavage showing through her light, acrylic Forever 21 sweater in the Spring and Summer. 100% fun. The most notable thing about her, though, is that she is always telling some long, drawn out, exquisitely animated imbroglio to at least 3 or 4 men – most of them bald and overweight, but nonetheless gathered around like a moth to a flame. She comes across as young, peppy and seductive in a very suburban way, but if you look close you see the tiny creases of crows feet, her foundation and powder caked there signaling a clue to her age. She must be mid 40’s going on 17. I wonder if she’s writes those sordidly famous Cosmo sexual advice columns. Or if she’s just a functionary, a cog in the wheel of the smut publishing universe.  

Kate Spade

The girl that all of the men stare at on the platform. The perfect hair, the clear complexion. She always carries a Kate Spade bag and has work friends that she sometimes talks to on the train. She has an immature taste in clothing…like this morning when she wore espadrilles and a tailored jean blazer on this rainy, 40 degree day. She smiles with her mouth closed because her teeth are crooked. It seems like a source of embarrassment for her. At first glance, you would think she has it all together, but if you look closer you see that the strap on one of her handbags is torn and taped discreetly back together. That her iPhone screen is so marred with cracks that I wonder how she uses it without slicing her fingertips. The day she sat next to me on the train she stabbed me with her bony elbow at least three times because of her feverish texting. She was whispering on the phone, gossiping about work and about her upcoming trip to LA. She is married, the standard large, flawed diamond solitaire and channel set wedding band combo. I wonder what her other half is like. If he’s like her, clean looking and popular or if he’s a nerd.  I always pair her with “Tom Brady”, the good looking tall guy who carries the Coach diaper bag as a man purse who always stands near her on the platform. They would go so well together – Kate Spade and Tom, walking side by side, she in suede ankle boots, he in grey loafers (no socks). But she is uninteresting, not because she has to be, though. I feel like she’s just looking the part, playing the role. Maybe she doesn’t have the courage to be anything else or maybe she just wants to be the pretty girl on the platform, and that is enough for her.

Bob

Sometimes I take the train from a different town, with different people crowding the platform. Sometimes I see Bob, and he doesn’t know it, but I listen to his music. Sometimes it’s Jay Z or Kanye. Other times it’s something I can’t place but wish I could. Usually when I hear a song I like, I try to remember a line or two to Google later and then download it. But I can’t hear the words through Bob’s ear buds, tucked behind his long dread locks. It makes me sad to catch a beat and not know what the song is. He drinks Dunkin Donuts coffee – not flavored, medium – and wears a suit under his overcoat.  Sometimes he stands next to me and we wait, I with my purple Beats, he with his white ear buds, and we share the platform in our own individual, music laced bubbles. I wonder what the probability is that we have ever listened to the same song at the same time, our headphones secretly communicating our comradely in static code.

The Twin Beaks

They both look amazing from behind. Him in a brown tweed overcoat, her in a smart red trench. They hold hands, they talk with their heads close together and you think to yourself – wow – what a great looking, loving couple. You expect them to turn around and blow you away, like in some cheesy rom com movie where the music queues up and the wind blows their hair just so. Instead you notice that they both have strangely large noses. Everything else about them is perfection – except for their twin beaks. I suppose it’s not very nice to say that perhaps it is their facial protuberance that brought them together, but I would bet it was, even if it was only subconsciously. I wonder if they ever think about how big their noses are, perhaps even laugh about it together over glasses of wine and pate. What would happen if one day one of them decided to fix their nose, or would they do it together? Would they argue about it? It’s funny how something so small like a nose can change your perception of an entire face that might otherwise be quite beautiful. If in focusing so much on a large nose can cause you to miss the perfect mouth and hazel blue eyes. Maybe that is why they belong together, because they share their noses and can see beyond it when a regular nosed person may not be able to. I suppose it might be rather liberating, to find a counterpart that doesn’t accentuate your flaw, but shares it and intimately understands it. In a way, I envy the twin beaks.

I am, indeed, no Hemingway, but he was possessed of many vices the same as I. I too have the girl in the café who looks away for another and is unaware of me, staring clandestinely, making up a story about her. There is always the temptation to want to break that line, to reach out across and meet these characters, these personas that I have invented. To know if what I am making up is in any way accurate. But that would ruin the magic of it all. I know that it is better to never know so that I can fill my mornings with these people and to pretend I am Hemingway, waiting for the train with my music and coffee.

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LOSS


loss n. the state or feeling of grief when deprived of someone or something of value

ImageEnjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.

– Robert Brault

I can’t walk in the house these days without feeling a little bit like a stranger. Each night when I drive home I bite my tongue before I tell Graham that we’re headed home to her. When we walk in the door, there is no one there to greet us, no one there to be happy that we made it through the whole day successfully. No train delays or daycare biting incidents. We take our victory lap at the place we call home.

The red sofa is empty and you can see how ruined the leather is from years of hound sweat. That same sofa we were so proud of when we bought it to be the centerpiece of the living room in our first house 10 years ago in Rhode Island.  We would find her on laying on it as a puppy and would shoo her off only to find her there again soon after. I remember the day we finally gave up telling her to shoo because she looked so happy sleeping there. Now there’s just a mark, an indent where she used to lay. The sofa feels out of place without her on it and the spit stain she used to leave on the French door is still there just because I can’t bear to wipe away a part of her.   

We always complained about the dog hair tumbleweeds that littered our home, reminiscing of a time 10 years ago when our house was so clean, but dog less. We’d talk about how we’d rather have her than a clean house and then would hint at a day long into the future when the dog hair would be gone, not knowing that that time would be approaching much sooner than we ever wanted. We didn’t realize that all of the food that we dropped would litter our floor instead and that each time we had to stoop and pick it up instead of calling her name would remind us of her absence.

There were so many times she was there when no one else was. The nights when I was all alone in a tiny apartment while Dan was traveling and she filled his empty space in the bed. The times when things were rough and crying was all I could do. She was always the silent shoulder of support who would lick away my tears and stay by my side until I fell asleep. When I quit my job to stay home and care for my newborn son in a lonesome new town, she was my only companion and friend. Sometimes the only thing that got me through the day was the comfort of having her familiar and peaceful presence.

I’ve come to believe that the level at which loss manifests itself in your life is inversely proportional to how much you loved the one you lost. My life is like a curio box, a sort of frame work that is filled with all of the little moments and insignificant things I collect that eventually add up to the story that is me.  These little things are tediously important in ways I don’t understand and I sometimes forget how essential some of them are to my happiness and hope. Sometimes I change them or replace them when I feel the need to. But when I lose one or many unexpectedly, they are not replaced easily or in short order. The light shines through to mark the emptiness that asks to be repaired so that the story will make sense again and I am only armed with memories and time to begin the work.

 

 

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