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

Image

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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jibe


jibe v. to be compatible with or similar to

Realistic

There’s a song that they sing when they take to the highway,
a song that they sing when they take to the sea,
a song that they sing of their home in the sky, maybe you can believe it if it helps you to sleep,
but singing works just fine for me.

-James Taylor, Sweet Baby James

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve heard this word a number of times in my life and not exactly known what it meant…well not enough to explain it with words. I sort of knew, but I think I thought it was “jive” and didn’t realize it was a B instead of a V. It always reminded me of dancing or catching some musical vibe. In a way, jibe is a combination of jive and vibe and I consider it a pretty musical word.

I listen to music a lot. With my depressive personality, it’s pretty much a form of self-medication. I love wine and I love music, and I love them together, but I would give up wine before music. I don’t think I could ever do without music…ever. I think I’d rather die. There are a few things in life that serve as fuel for my melancholy soul – music, exercise and books are three of them and in order to “jibe” with me, you need to agree with at least one of them. If it’s music, you’d be considered a close friend.

When I was a teenager, I didn’t have an abundance of friends. My parents didn’t have to time to drive me back and forth to school, so I walked a lot. It wasn’t a short walk either. My first “Walkman” was not a Sony, but a Radio Shack Realistic brand that was about the size and weight of a VHS tape. It had a cassette player and AM/FM receiver and it came with a pair of cheap foam covered, tinny sounding headphones that didn’t fold up and broke in a week. The kind with the metal adjustment sliders that caught your hair in them and hurt like a bitch. Nonetheless, I’d tape my favorite songs off of Z100  or HOT97 and keep that cassette in it or I would sometimes buy a single cassette from time to time to change things up. Sometimes I’d listen to the radio, but for the most part it was pretty homogenous and there wasn’t a lot to listen to. Whatever it was I was listening to created the soundtrack in my head as I walked. When I first started this practice, I listened to a lot of Belinda Carlisle and the GoGos. Later, I was really into hip hop and rap. Whatever the genre,  I would walk a daydream set to my soundtrack the entire way home. It relaxed and balanced me for all that I had to face. I still walk this way to and from work every day. Those foam headphones have been replaced by purple Beats and it’s my Iphone playing a curated playlist or shuffle instead of that old brick of a Realistic. I’m a seasoned practitioner now, but my tunes still get me through whatever the day holds.

My memories are also cataloged according to music and some days when I feel like the world is just being a bitch, I can pull them out like shelved records and play one to feel better. Just the other day someone was describing how Billy Joel no longer sings “Uptown Girl” because he divorced Christy Brinkley. I really didn’t want to hear this conversation so I just took that single down from the shelf in my brain. In my mind I was transported to my living room, to around 7 years old, listening to that song and getting ready for school, dancing around in my plaid uniform and knee socks. I remember having seen the video on television with Christy Brinkley in a sleeveless black dress dancing cheesily around with Billy Joel.  I wanted to be the uptown girl. Sometimes I still do.

Then there’s the Barbara Streisand, Barry Gibb “What Kind of Fool” memory of what I believe was my brother’s christening party at my Grandmother’s house in Bergenfield. It was in the basement – which was awesomely disco. It must have been around 1981.  I remember hearing this duet while watching the purple, plastic, beaded curtain sway amongst cocktail carrying relatives wearing fabulously large polyester collars. I can still see the red velvet wallpapered walls and burgundy sombreros that my aunt used as decoration. (She loved Acapulco.) I was playing with one of those plastic slot machine toys that squirted water in your face when you hit the jackpot and remember faintly of someone trying to explain to me what the party was all about. I apparently had a brother…or whatever that meant. Years later I heard this song in my head while we packed up that old basement and I carried away crates of old records that are now a personal prized possession. I feel authentically 70’s when I reminisce on this one.

But my most treasured, catalogued song is by James Taylor, whom my husband hates. It doesn’t bother me that he hates him and doesn’t enjoy this particular song, though. This song belongs to my father and I and I’m not interested in sharing it with anyone, so it’s fine that we don’t particularly jibe on this tune. When I listen to it, I feel like he’s with me the way he used to be, driving along in our beat up old Isuzu Trooper singing along on the way to who knows where. The sound and the sentiment embody who my dad was and listening to it feels more like a hug than a collection of harmonically pleasant notes.

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home


home n. the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.

boyer_family_old_01

I am often frustrated with my surroundings…especially when it comes to the place where I live; the place that I call home. When I lived in my childhood town of Teaneck, N.J., I wanted desperately to leave to go to school in Rhode Island. Providence was the place where my dreams were waiting for me. For the most part, this was true. Independence, my husband, my dog, my first real house – all of these things began, fittingly in a place called Providence. But after many a harsh winter and a dwindling economy without career growth in site it lost it’s luster and Brooklyn was where I was bound. Brooklyn – with it’s too small apartments and hipster neighbors. The flash and fury and life outside my door was home for a time. Yet after years of being stuck in subway tunnels and walking past piles of sewage smelling garbage, I ended up full circle back in Jersey with an expansive yard and looming maples – the picture perfect version of what every person thinks they want. Now I stand in my quaint, eclectic home with my husband of 10 years, 2 year old son, 9 year old dog, piles of things I have collected and made in order to call this house, this place a “home”…and yet I am still not sure that it is. My past homes beckon and the unknown future homes tempt…often. When I think about where I am right now, I don’t want to be here 10 years from now (good thing my husband agrees.) I used to think it was the places that I lived that made me bored and tired, yearning for change, but now I think I have a different definition of the word home than the sage and wise, old OED. Home is not just a “permanent place” – it is many things…

 “Hot and heavy pumpkin pie
Chocolate candy Jesus Christ
Ain’t nothing please me more than you”

Perhaps it is my Italian heritage and upbringing, but home involves a combination of good food and people I love. One cannot exist without the other. Home is a sensory experience – the smell meatballs roasting in the over, musty old books on the shelf, the cadence of voices echoing off of the walls during a quiet night. The clanking of the heat in the winter and rain storms battling the glass of the skylights. My home is also filled with the people I love and the good and bad memories we make within the confines of our walls. It’s the times when the baby was sick and we spent the whole weekend in the family room playing with Duplos despite the beautiful Spring weather. The special occasions and family parties that bowed out the walls with people. Or just the evenings curled up on the faded leather sofa with the dog, some cheese and a few glasses (or bottles) of wine. These moments and sensory experiences don’t happen because I live in a 3 bedroom bungalow. They happen because we are home.

“I saw the streets all ripe with jewels
Balconies and the laundry lines
They tried to make me welcome there
But their streets did not feel like mine”

Just like every other 25 – 65 year old with some extra cash and living in the tri state area – I love to travel. I won’t bore you with my impressive list of cities and countries or tell you how I reminisce over the intricate ceramic tiles of Lisbon over glasses of Fonseca Tawny. That would be annoying, not about “home”, and just like every other New Yorker you know.  I love to travel because it makes me leave my home. It makes me appreciate how fortunate I am on a daily basis. In some ways, the places I travel to feel a little like home in a few days, but never fully the way it feels when I actually am home. I’ve walked down countless cobbled streets and fallen in love with too many European alleyways. During my travels, I often daydream about what it would be like to make some of these new places my home, always leaving out the actual toil and strife that would ensue if we ever did make that decision. Because the grass is always so much greener and my brain seems to leave out the memories of how much work went into where I have ended up. In the end, I always look forward to being back; returning to hugs and familiar smells, dirty floors and dog hair squalls. The good and the bad that make up the everyday that I take for granted so often.

I suppose the word “permanence” is important when defining the word home. The fact that I can count on all of the things I return to and leave from every morning and night still being there at -my will – as long as I can get there – even if only in my memories. When you speak with someone about home, they often go back to their childhood or a time in their life, a memory or feeling they had that creates their definition of home. I remember my father speaking fondly of growing up in Manhattan and my mother lovingly of her childhood home in Leonia, NJ. The stories were rich and filled with countless memories and stories. Home is permanent in that we can remember it forever. It is not the city, the edifice or the bric-a-brac that make a place a home. Home is the stage, a diorama for our minds –  set for memories to be made. Our permanent and portable journal that inspires us, challenges us, forces us to leave and come back, teaches us how to love.

It’s where I want to be.

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friend


friend n. a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection.

friends

“True friends stab you in the front” – Oscar Wilde

The word “friend” is a loaded word for me. I am and never have been good at making or keeping friends. Perhaps it will be my life’s greatest challenge. Lately I have been thinking a lot about friends and friendships. Once upon a time in a world without social media you could just move on and forget your previous friendship failings or tragedies, but these days they linger in throwback photos that a “friend” posted online of that 5th grade birthday party that you weren’t invited to. Seeing your bully included in that photo instead of you can inflict quite a sting and bring back all of those insecurities and questions you once had about yourself…and justifiably didn’t want to deal with in adulthood having already triumphed over them.

I think I am a member of the majority when I say that I was a victim in a female trio friendship tragedy. Early in my life (Kindergarten), things were pretty copacetic. I never attended preschool so most of my “friends” were neighbors who stole my Barbie dolls and babysitters whom I idolized and watched Duran Duran videos with when my parents weren’t home. It should be this way as a child. Friendship should be simple and far from tragic. When I started Kindergarten I was pretty reserved, but I made friends easily. I got along well with little boys better than little girls, and that is still the case. Things were just great. I had a “best friend” and I was hers as well. She had another best friend who wasn’t really my best friend – and we tolerated each other. We were both in competition to be the only “best friend” but in the end it was mutually accepted that we would coexist…until around the 4th grade that is.

The 4th grade was a really turning point in my life. It was the year that my bully came to town. Being the new girl at a small, private school made you an instant celebrity – especially if you came from a street clothes wearing, bubble gum chewing allowed, public school. You were a rebel, the cool kid – automatically – even if you sucked. Usually the cool kid was indeed cool – or I just got along with them relatively well. But this year the new girl set her sights on my trio of friends and I was marked as the odd man out. She did all of the back talking, rumor spreading, “mean girl” things a bully does and the result was the end of my friendship. She sought to replace me and as 9 year old girls haven’t learned a ton about loyalty yet, she was successful – and I became the lone wolf.

Having been ejected from my first foray into friendship, I sought new friends and found some. They were never the same. The bond just wouldn’t form the way it had back when I was 5. They already had other friends and I wasn’t new or interesting enough to be an attraction. I spent the next 2 years as the third wheel, all while watching the girl who bullied me fill the space that had been meant for me.

The school closed and I ended up in public school, finally away from one bully only to find another. Being new in public school as a 12 year old was like being a leper at the Oscars. I was also pretty awkward and fat, so of course I was tortured day in and day out for being so. My new name was “meatballs” and I was called that for almost a year until I starved myself thin.

Things weren’t awesome in high school either. Being an athlete helped, but the connections I made never stuck. College was a fiasco which is worthy of a blog post of it’s own – until I met my husband who is the bestest friend I have.

When I think about this checkered past, I have to believe that what happened way back when left an indelible mark on my ability to make and care about friends. Having been hurt so early on, the fear is now an innate part of my personality. I’d like to think there are others in the world just like me.

When I was friended on Facebook by the original “best friend” I was hesitant to accept for the reason that I am writing about today. I questioned why this person wanted to add me to their list having rejected me so long ago. Could she have never known how painful it all was? Did she ever care? Then I saw the posted photos of the fun times without me…the group photos of the 3 of them where I should have been, and I felt hurt and hatred all over again. A thirty five year old mother with a successful career and loving husband reduced to an insecure 8 year old in the blink of an eye. So I’ve been thinking on it for some time, and here is my conclusion.

I have a handful of people that I can call true “friends” that I am convinced will be with me throughout whatever comes my way, and I with them. We don’t take a lot of group photos or give each other “BFF” embroidered pillows. If you look on Facebook you might not even see them – because they are real people and I don’t need to post them like badges on the internet to prove to the world I indeed have friends. Some of them might not even know I consider them so close. Sometimes we don’t talk for months – years even – and it doesn’t matter. We are not a fad or a trend. We are not cool or begging for admiration. They don’t abide by the rules of FIFO or seniority. We can connect on day 1 as well as 10 years from now. We like each other “as is” – warts and all.

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ichthyic


ichthyic adj. fishlike

Image

I was recently in Lisbon, Portugal which is by all accounts the world capital of the sardine. Every souvenir shop I happened upon peddled hoards of fish emblazoned tchotchkes. Most every menu at every restaurant prominently featured many fish dishes and there were art exhibits entirely devoted to celebrating fin-kind. When I found this word, it made me think about how the fish is an archaic, yet very modern symbol and how I have experienced it in my life.

An ichthys is the actual “Jesus fish” symbol which is much bastardized on car bumpers the world over. The word itself actually means “Jesus Christ, Savior.” It’s a symbol I see quite frequently, mostly in the form of bumper adornment. It is rarely in its pure, innocent, religiously proud form. Most of the time it has small feet and the word DARWIN scrawled within its body. Other times it has devil horns and a tail. Rarely, I see one that is tagged GEFILTE – although I believe the popularity of this particular one is increasing. Sometimes people stencil their own sayings next to the DARWIN variety (I live in a very liberal town…). I find it surprising how passionate people get about this symbol. They get so worked up they have to defile it on the back of something they drive around. There aren’t many differentiating features when it comes to cars, so the stickers and marks you choose to put on your own make it your mobile statement to the world…and so many choose this particular symbol as one of their “pieces of flair.”

I just don’t know why it’s important that I know your stance on creationism while I’m on my way to the Whole Foods. If I met that person would they immediately engage me in a deep debate about evolution while we squeeze avocados in the produce aisle? Yet sometimes it’s the one thing they choose to differentiate themselves amongst the other Hondas and Volkswagons on the road. I can’t talk to other people driving while on the road so the only thing I will know about the green minivan in front of me is that the driver is Jewish (GEFILTE), has a wife, a cat and 2 kids (back window sticker family), vacations / has been to the Outer Banks (OBX in an oval), attended Keane State (obvious back window sticker decal), and has a country club membership (parking decals on the side window). The ichthys seems a bit out of place, no? Or maybe not, now that I think about it…

Ichthyic also makes me think about swimming and my personal relationship with the water. Back when I was in college, it was a life dream of mine to go all Baywatch and become a lifeguard. There was just something so cool about having the ability to be so comfortable and free in the water that you could save another human being at the spur of a moment.( Plus, the work study gigs at college paid really well.) At the time, an opportunity arose for me to become a lifeguard through the summer camp that I worked at – so I jumped at the chance – not entirely realizing that I wasn’t a swimming natural. When I was a kid, my parent’s idea of swim lessons was letting me try to teach myself in the shallow end of my grandmother’s built in pool. I eventually succeeded, but had no technique and knew nothing about breathing or stroke. Over the years I got better, but I wasn’t prepared to rub elbows with Australian Bronze Medallion lifeguards – whom I trained with for a week at Red Cross Certification. For a week of my life, I pushed myself to feats of aquatic agony  until finally I had passed everything but the final coup de gras – the deep water rescue. I remember sobbing on the phone to my mother on the very last day before this final certification exercise – sure of my impending and miserable failure . I am a floater. I don’t sink…so surface diving to the 18 foot bottom of a pool is difficult…and my rescue subject also weighed about 250. Somehow, as I look back on this important life event, the moment I remember is being under water after mastering a splashless jump from the diving board.  At about 10 feet down with 8 feet to go…looking down at that 250 pound Speedo spandex- wrapped- sunk- like- a- rock body thinking, you’re through – you’re going to fail this….and just not accepting it. Somehow, I got down a few more feet and managed to wrap my hands around the spandex Speedo X strap on that wide swatch of freckled fat and sling- shotted all 250 pounds of that glorious flesh up into my arms and scissor kicked to surface next to my rescue tube. When I broke the water, it was one of the proudest moments of my life. I could tell that the instructor that I saved, Barb, couldn’t believe it either.  In that moment of deciding to break through the failure and accomplish something that I probably wasn’t meant to do – an average swimmer saving a 250 pound woman in 18 feet of water – I was at my most ichthyic.

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