Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tripping Down Tremont Road

Photograph taken by Barbara Schmidt, 2010
www.twainquotes.com

***

Clouds of frost crept up from the base of my windshield; I could barely see above the clustering haze. Luckily, my defrost kicked in just in time--partially so I could drive safely, but mostly so I could see him.

I would have pulled over to snap a photograph, but the street bit narrowly around the bend, and I could sense the rush of cars around me. And so I kept driving. I kept plugging along at the appropriate pace, but instead of deep-sighing at red lights and propelling myself from stop sign to stop sign through sudden bursts of speed and hard stomps on the break, I turned down inconvenient roads, and casually meandered through neighborhoods, relishing the pure joy of seeing a man walk down the street--nose to a book--stumbling over elevated ridges on the sidewalk. The mere sight of his pure indulgence sent a smile fulgurating from the seams of my mouth; I've waited for this moment for nine years.

This is the first Ohio man--or woman--whom I've seen reading in an odd public place. People in Ohio read in libraries, schools, parks and coffee shops; however, I have never once seen someone I don't know reading somewhere unusual--in their car while in traffic, at the mall, in line at the BMV--or while walking down the street at 5pm on a wintery, Wednesday afternoon.

I didn't recognize how rare that was until six months after I moved from New York City back to Columbus. In the heat of summer--on some poorly advertised holiday parade day--I found myself buried in a traffic jam and I pulled out a book. Shortly into my venture, a police office knuckled my window. I could hardly hear his voice above the cacophonic symphony engulfing me--honks, shouts, music, cheers--but I turned my head mid-sentence, while my car rested in park, my knees pressed against the steering wheel, and Ayn's Rand's Fountainhead weighed heavy in my fingers.

"Excuse me, miss," the officer said. His words were muffled by the glass and distorted by the noise around me, nevertheless, I turned the keys in my ignition, and rolled down the window.

"Excuse me, but what are you doing?" he continued now that nothing separated us but air.

"I'm reading, sir," I replied, knowing perfectly well my activities had to be quite obvious.

His jaw sunk a little and his face fell to the right.

"Why would you be reading? You're driving," he said, more befuddled than angry. It seemed quite logical to me though. I couldn't turn around, I couldn't go forward, and I saw no reason to explode with anger--like all of the other drivers around me. Instead of letting it ruin my day, I figured I would read.

"Well, I haven't moved for ten minutes, sir. This parade seems a bit long, and I have a good book. Is it against the law for me to be reading right now?"

"I guess not--since your car is in park. You don't do that while you're driving, do you?"

"Of course not," I said. Then he spun on his heels and slowly wobbled away, as dumbfounded by the situation as I was--but for different reasons.

Refusing to let the interruption squander anymore of my precious time, I continued to read until the parade passed. Then I spent the next nine years waiting to see someone--in some "odd" place--clutch a book and bury their brain in thought. I started looking for it--everywhere. When I took continuing education classes at Ohio State, I gazed around the bus stop; never once did I see anyone reading. They didn't read on the bus itself either. I paid attention to restaurants and bars. No one pulled out a book while they were waiting for their date or their friends or their family. And I most certainly have never caught anyone walking down the street, lost in sentences and thought.

These were all common indulgences in New York though. In fact, I persistently found myself in the company of public readers, people aiming to extract every ounce out of time otherwise wasted in waiting. No one here seems to do the same. It could be largely because we don't commute to the same degree as New Yorkers or it could be because reading lost its sense of cool. Regardless of the reason, I, too, have fallen victim to the absence of books. The longer I live here, the less I find myself toting a treasure.

Today though, on Mark Twain's birthday, some random, middle-aged man tripping down Tremont Road managed to remind me how positively brilliant it is to slip away. How positively brilliant it is to bump into someone because you are so utterly lost in a story or a thought that you don't even notice them in front of you. How positively brilliant it is to embrace Twain's assertion that "life does not consist mainly--or even largely--of facts and happenings. It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever blowing through one's head."

I put a book in my purse for tomorrow, and no, it isn't To Kill A Mockingbird or Beowulf, the two books I'm currently teaching in school. It's the book I never got to finish on my honeymoon, and haven't had the time to pick back up. I might not have too many moments to get to it before Christmas break, but I'll have it with me just in case I do.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Addiction



"I have a problem," I admitted to my husband last night, eyes cast downward, shame seething from my eyeballs. "I really love it. I love it so much," I mumbled, cradling my new iphone against my chest.

He burst out laughing--kind-heartedly, course--and then gave me a hug.

"That was so genuine," he told me, as I strained my eyes in the darkness, attempting to play "just one more game of 'jewels' and one more game of 'words with friends'" before I turned in for the night. Logic very much in place, I knew how utterly ridiculous it was for me to prop up my head and play games in the darkness. Nevertheless, I didn't want to pull my fingers away from the touchscreen--I wanted to beat my previous score; I wanted to find the perfect word. As logic edged out desire, I attached the charger and relinquished my prize, setting it beside my bed....then I thought about it for the next thirty miserable minutes, desiring just one more...anything.

The addiction happened quickly--much quicker than I expected. I figured it would occur gradually over an extended period of time; however, I readily admit that in a very short span of time--two days to be exact--I have grown utterly and completely consumed by my desire for this brilliant piece of metal. I thought loved my Blackberry, but I'm quite convinced that I didn't fully comprehend, or whole-heartedly feel, phone love until the iphone 4S became mine and Siri entered my life.

As I sit and write, I see my husband with his iphone; I yearn to be in his place. I yearn to tangle letters and match colors and ask the computer ridiculous questions about anything I desire. I yearn to find the perfect application, one that will help me cure cancer, end the oil crisis and crush tyrannous dictators. I yearn to stop working and simply play.

Then I look again, tracing my eyes from the beast in his fingers to the smile on his face. I know he's smiling about the baseball game, but I pretend he's thinking about me. I pretend we didn't spend the evening side by side in silence, sans a few growls and scowls and "darn-its" here and there. And I decide that as much as I love my phone, I'd rather hang out with him...

After I make my Words With Friends move, of course.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Tom & Lisa

For the latter half of my single-digit years, two goldfish held residence in my room. One boasted the name Lisa, while the other bared the name Tom. I greeted Tom and Lisa every day, offering them food and occasionally, a clean bowl. Over the years, Tom and Lisa heard countless stories as I wandered around my room, shaking my hands with reckless abandon each time I stumbled upon the appropriate words to bring my imaginative tales to life. And they listened, patiently, to my temper tantrums over botched French braiding efforts, as well as failed endeavors to “teach” my little brother every component of second grade, and my unsuccessful foray into personal training—a bleak attempt to torture Barbie with calisthenics so she could adequately compete with GI Joe.

I’m sure Tom and Lisa didn’t survive for five full years; however, when I think back to my childhood, I only recall two fish. As soon as one died, we replaced it with a new fish, and in an effort to preserve the order of things in my room, I promptly named that fish either Tom or Lisa. In my little mind, those two names were the most fitting names for orange-gilled creatures moving into my fish tank.

For that reason, death never seemed like a real thing to me. I knew it existed and I came to understand it a little more when I watched both of my grandfathers die, but even then, I didn’t fully understand the depth of their absence until several years later when I noticed how much I missed them, when I started to lose the image of their faces, when I began to accept the fact they would never materialize on the recliner, or around the dinner table ever again.

Since the passing of my grandfathers, I’ve experienced a slew of other deaths, but instead of growing callus to the departure of life, each time I lose someone, I find myself increasingly more saddened, and increasingly more appreciative of the people who are still with me.

This all struck me today when I found out that a friend of mine lost her father. A bowl of sorrow opened in my gut as I empathized with her plight. I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been to get that phone call; how do you respond to that type of news? What comes next, after you hang up? What happens in the silence that engulfs you?

As I thought about my friend, I wished so badly she could venture out and find another Tom or another Lisa to make her smile. I wished she could go to the store and pick out a shiny, new goldfish, one who could do everything the old fish could—that way, she could go home, plop him into the tank, pick up the pieces and go on. When it comes down to it, I wished so badly that she could slip into my seven year old life.

Sadly, I realize life doesn’t work as simply as it did when I was seven years old, but I do hope that the best part of that simplicity is still possible. I hope that even though we cannot replace those we lose, we can find joy again in our lives. And I hope—that despite the deepest dips of sadness—we can always find the strength to pry open the cracks in our hearts and let loveliness leak into the gaps.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thankful

I approached the dumpster sporting oily hair, a bare face, and grossly mismatched clothes. My recycling bin was overflowing and I couldn’t handle it a moment longer. Since it seemed silly to shower prior to a trash transport, and it seemed wasteful to apply perfectly good make up to a face I would wash as soon as I returned from my field trip, I ventured across the park wearing what ever I could locate on my floor.

Sadly, I walked up to find the Channel 10 News crew 50 feet from the recycling bin. Tino Ramos sported a microphone, and several guys gathered around him. Hoping to slip my disgusting self past the camera man, I zipped across the parking lot, head down, imagining that if I couldn’t see them, they most certainly couldn’t see me.

“M’am, do you mind if we film you throwing out your recycling,” Tino called from a distance.

I shook my bag even harder, hoping to empty it before they could reach me; they were clearly much faster than I planned, standing beside me before I could even raise the bag for a prompt dumping. The “record” light blared in my peripheral and I wanted to cry.

“I’m sorry, but I really don’t want to be filmed. Could you please not put this on air,” I begged as I imagined how entertaining my presence would be on TV.

“We’ll just get your hands. No one will recognize you,” they assured me. I felt more and more violated with every shake of the bag.

Once I finished emptying my goods, I rushed back to my car. Then I turned the key and actually started it; I couldn’t, however, bring myself to drive.

Putting it back in park, I switched off the ignition, opened the door, and ran back to Tino and his crew.

“Excuse me,” I yelled across the parking lot. The entire group of men stopped talking and turned to look at me.

“There’s this guy named Arthur who lost his job so he comes here every day to organize our trash. He got sick one week and this place was mess—the entire area reeked of spoiled food. Whoever is supposed to clean it up, never does anything. Arthur is the real story here. He never asks for money or handouts. He just helps us take trash out of our cars, and he organizes it so we don’t have rodents and insects feasting on everything out in the open. You need to come back when he’s here. Someone seriously needs to pay him. This place would be a disaster without him,” I explained, then I turned to go back to my car.

“Thank you for the tip,” Tino said. Then he turned to the man next to him, “This is the guy who runs the recycling. He’s in charge of the pick up and maintenance. We are doing a story about the program's success.”

I felt like a jerk. My face burned and my stomach flipped in half. I was just trying to do a good deed. I was just trying to give credit to a man who selflessly works his butt off to help out his community. I was just trying to turn a really boring story into something far more entertaining. Instead, I found myself staring at a man who was ready to bite my head off. This was his moment of glory and I doused it with kerosene and lit it on fire.

It's been a year since that fateful day, and I still feel like a jerk. I wonder how the conversation went once I shook his hand and ran to my car, sweating bullets of awkwardness. I wonder if Tino ever got to meet my neighborhood hero. But mostly, I wonder where our world would be without people like my Arthur, people who selflessly strive to serve.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Delightful Shivers

I shivered all day long and that's typically not a good thing. I relish warmth--warm feet, warm skin, warm blankets, warm coffee, and thick, warm, fuzzy socks. Today, though, I relished the chill, and I relished an entire day spent talking and writing at North Star Cafe.

At several points, the day boasted potential for disaster. I woke up with spasms in my neck and spent the first half hour in the shower, engaging in a masochistic version of yoga. Pulling my head and stretching my neck as hot water pelted against my skin, I pressed and twisted my thumb on the knots, as hard as I could, in an effort to release them. Once I got used to a certain threshold of pain, I did not stop, satisfied, like a normal person. Instead, I stepped it up a notch, pressing harder and turning more dramatically, hoping that in some strange way my caveman antics would produce 21st century results.

When the alien in my neck stopped twitching, I made my way to North Star, beginning my morning with Annie, sipping coffee and chatting about law school, teaching, the housing market and writing. Every new exchange inspiring me to remember why I need to invest more effort into seeing her more often.

Potential disaster number two ushered its way in mid-conversation. Sensing a stranger on the other side of the glass window, I turned to catch sight of a guy slumped over at the waist, clearly inebriated with some sort of mind altering chemical. I turned to catch him scowling at me through the glass, his eyes spinning in optical illusion circles.

Having done nothing to warrant this behavior, I released an uncomfortable laugh. Well aware that my response was inappropriate, I wished to retract it. Nevertheless, the nervous/awkward chuckle not only happened, but it incited him. Appalled, he battled his wobbly legs and bent down to the ground. I'm not sure how he maintained his balance; nevertheless, he swept his hands along a patch of loose gravel, collected a healthy handful of pebbles, and launched them directly into the glass, right in front of my face. Then he took off. Inching like an ape, knees slightly bent, feet turned outward, throwing pebbles as he went, eventually disappearing down High Street.

Shortly after the brief interruption, we resumed chatting and writing, wallowing in the blissfulness of our day off. Annie left for a meeting around 11:30, but I continued to punch out an idea trapped in the fibers of my imagination. Inspired by a short story competition, I wanted to finish a solid draft before the end of the day, and once I completed a draft, I spent the rest of my afternoon reading Writer's Digest, devouring articles about short story climaxes, the necessity of the denouement, and pressing on through criticism and rejection. When I finally picked up my belongings, six hours after I arrived, I felt an unwavering sense of gratitude for the day I was given.

Despite aliens attacking my neck, and stones being thrown into my face, my day was delicious, and that deliciousness had little to do with the organic grub I stuffed into my mouth, and everything to do with the delightful shivers that accompanied the freedom to be, and to think, and to express. I have piles of papers to grade the rest of the weekend, but thankfully, today was mine.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sweet Stench

Pages turn before me; I miss her. I miss the memory of her, the idea of her. I miss what could have been.

Pixilated stills and a few videos stream in from the past, but the sound is dull and the image is unclear. I can’t pinpoint my age. Heck, I can’t even recall if we ever had this conversation anywhere besides the kitchen.

“Do you want to practice?” she asks, every time I remember it.

“Kako-si nana,” I repeat syllable by syllable, the little version of me sits, giggling over the roll of foreign vibrations on my tongue, before scribbling phonetic cues along the lines of my tiny notepad.

“Dobro Hvala,” she replies, her arm rhythmically circling a stockpot, activating the sweet stench of vegetable soup. Moving from the pot to the oven, she withdraws a tray covered with perfectly burnt caramelized cherry turnovers, and she sets them out to cool.

Then, the scene goes black.

I wish I remembered what came next. I wish I could hear her voice louder than the logic of my memory, but her figure is hazy and her sound is nothing more than a hum. Everything I remember has been replaced by the smell of soup and the sweet taste of tart and butter.

I wrote about her once, a story that wasn’t even true. I rewrote a teenage love story. I rewrote the final days. I made her understand me. I wrote 5,000 words about a character bursting with the acceptance and pride I always wanted her to feel about me. Scanning those pages, I realize I can’t remember what’s true anymore. I can hardly see her face. I can hardly remember what she was like before Alzheimers devoured her spirit.

I wish she would have known me better. I wish I would have known her. I wish I had asked her everything my inquisitive mind could have ever thought to ask. I wish I could have stained the canvas with something that lasts bit longer than dust. I bet we had some things in common—something more than soup and tarts. I remember she played football with the boys on the farm. I remember that during The Depression she and my Aunt Jo used to share a can of corn for dinner—I tell that story every single year when I teach To Kill A Mockingbird. And I remember that she liked to tell stories. She liked everyone to turn and listen as she sank her voice, or shifted her accent, her eyes rising as a mischievous smile spread across her cheeks. The fairy tales always started off the same way, but by the time she arrived at the end, they became something far more entertaining than Hans Christian Anderson probably ever dreamed.

I wish we could have swapped ideas, bantering and conjecturing, recounting stories with hyperbolic flair. I wish I would have tried harder. I wish I would have opened up. And I wish I remembered more than the sweet stench of vegetable soup and the tantalizing taste of caramelized cherries.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Center of the Earth

PROMPT: Imagine that you know nothing about the center of the earth insofar as science is concerned. As such a person, what do you think is in there?

***

Maybe spirits don’t rise, maybe they sink—not to Hades or anything hot and miserable—but into some place pristine and preserved, protected by the weight of the earth. Maybe they are swimming below us, looking up, gliding through air like fish through water, diving and rising with the ebb and flow of ethically-driven desire. Maybe those spirits are looking up at us, laughing at our shortsightedness and self-absorption, waging bets on which creative genius will dig deep enough to discover the fountains of wisdom gurgling beneath.

Maybe the center of the earth is like a heartbeat, or even like a soul. Maybe the surface is merely skin, burned and abused by toxins. If we drill deep enough, perhaps we’ll find a whole expanse of land free from pollution and chemically conceived concoctions. Heck, there could even be a whole new solar system replete with a brand new sun and moon, and string of planets full of second-generation livers, livers who have learned enough to do better next time.

Maybe the center of the earth is squishy, saturated with a gazillion gallons of water--water that fills clear through to the other side. Maybe the ocean doesn’t have a bottom; maybe if we actually dug our way to China, it would involve more swimming than shoveling.

Maybe the center of the earth is jam packed with compassion. Each time she rumbles and cracks, maybe she is just leaking a little more of her heart, a humble effort to soften our edges. And maybe it's this compassion, more than anything else, that helps the plants grow, the mountains rise, the fruit ripen, and the blossoms burst free.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Blue

Grayness chews away the scarlets, golds and tangerines, painting me blue--not the pretty kind of blue--cornflower or azure, for instance--the cruel kind. The kind that seeps into your fingers as they wiz through still air and slam the snooze button, and into your toes the moment they tap against the chilled floor boards. The kind of blue that latches onto your skin and tugs it further and further to the floor. The kind you feared when monsters lived under your bed. Even though you couldn't quite confront them eye-to-eye, you knew they feasted on the fibers beneath the mattress, waiting for the precise time to crawl out and consume you.

This blue usually makes his first appearance the second week of October. Due to some unforeseen delay--at least so far as I can tell--he's arriving late this year. I'm happy that he spared me a few extra weeks of color, but now that he is slowly leaking into my life, everything seems to be heavier. Winter has so many days, and bright skies and bare skin seem oh-so-far-away.

I wish I loved the cold. I wish I could find joy in the gray. I wish could swat away the blue. But mostly, I wish I could reach out my arms and squeeze the sun. I wish I could run barefoot through the grass. I wish I could dip my brush in tempera and flail it around like a pinwheel, spinning faster and faster until gallons of pigment swallow the blue, imbuing the grayness with bright, splattered perfection.

Midst a bout of wishing, I realized I could--figuratively of course. Pulling out words--quotes, excerpts, poems--I let the letters fly like a stampede of wildebeests, stirring me like a rumble in the savannah. When I reached Dale Carnegie, he made me stop and reread. He changed the direction of my wind.

"It isn’t what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about," he said.

I promptly hopped on the wings of a bird. I soared into cornflower skies. Blazing rays caressed my skin as I dove between saplings. My eyes burned as color invaded them.

Then I blinked.

My husband was next to me. We were riding elephants. Lions thundered in the distance and they made the earth tremble. We were laughing in the face of danger, consuming life with the full force of adventure.

Then I blinked.

My kitchen table spread out before me--dinner begging for transport to the refrigerator, mail yearning to be read, papers screaming to be graded, keys waiting to be loved, to be touched, to be transformed into something useful, something more. I ignored my other to-dos, and then I pressed the plastic letters, watching images come to life.

A smile tugged at each edge of my lips. Joy scaled the walls of my gut, reaching the summit of my brain, and the promise of tomorrow began to spit rounds of color--we're talking a machine gun of pigment. When the attack ceased, I suddenly realized the winter was a little bit sunnier and the gray was suddenly gone.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fighting the Green Bottle



I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I have not been adequately acquainted with Spiderman. I haven't seen his life span out in a single Marvel comic book, or observed him throwing webs and climbing up movie screens. I saw Toby Maguire once at a party in New York, but other than that, I'm entirely ignorant about this old-school superhero and his vigilante antics.

One of my former students taught me all about him though. Reading her college essay, I learned that The Green Goblin and Spiderman both aquire super-human powers; The Green Goblin chooses to use his powers for selfish gain, while Spiderman dedicates his life to helping others. She used the archetype of the good guy/bad guy relationship to illustrate larger issues in our world--particularly with respect to what's going on in our economy.

I read her essay a few days ago, but it came back to me again tonight when I watched The NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. The show featured a story about "pick up artists" who were traversing the nation in an effort to make a difference. Armed with bags and manual claws, they are traveling coast to coast in pursuit of a greener earth. With unemployment, pollution and political unrest poisoning the lives of many otherwise happy people--some are understandably finding reasons to wallow in self-pity. These kids, however, have decided to spend their time picking up trash along highways spanning from the east coast to California.

I couldn't help but think of M's essay. I couldn't help but consider her argument that we all have a choice whether we want to act like The Green Goblin or we want to act like Spiderman. We all have a choice to sit back and complain or to strap on our suit and find some way to make a difference. We all have a choice, and these "pick up artists" made theirs. Hopping on a bus fueled by vegetable oil, they committed their days and nights to eliminating toxins from our world. The became little spidermen, fighting against pollution and greed one Green Bottle at a time.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Letting It Go

I remember very clearly when Ayn broke her nose. Our collegiate softball field boasted crushed limestone instead of brick dust, and some of the pieces weren't exactly crushed. We were in New Hampshire, after all, so I suppose it made sense to paint our field with white rocks instead of brown dirt. I guess it absorbs moisture better. Unfortunately, it doesn't fare as well with ground balls.

It seems cliche to say the ball took a bad hop, but it did. Regardless of whether or not it was truly spinning, it hopped right into Ayn's nose and she immediately cupped her hands around her face, clearly crying over the matter.

"Are you crying because of the pain?" my coach asked, innocently. Ayn shook her head and my coach gazed at her with a tighter grimace, leaning over, utterly confused.

"She's crying because she broke her nose," I explained without even seeing the damage or hearing the prognosis. Ayn shook her head in agreement and my coach looked even more confused. I remember understanding it all clearly though; she could have very well ended up with a crooked nose, a knobby bump, or a blocked passageway--all terrifying outcomes for a young, single girl.

For that reason, it seemed odd to me that breaking my nose--and my orbital bone for that matter--did not put me on the sideline for good. Sure, it was scary to look at words and not be able to make meaning out of them. And it was embarrassing to ride in an ambulance from Berliner Softball field to Grant Hospital, only to then explain to the x-ray tech that, "no, I did not collide with a teammate during district finals" because "I [was] 28 years-old," but surgery eventually repaired the damage to my face, and time eventually healed the trauma to my brain. I never set foot on a softball field again, but not all competitive games were off the table.

After all, a co-worker asked me to play kickball. He offered me the chance to pitch--as hard as I could possibly throw the ball--and the meathead in me emerged. I saw the promise of a new chapter, and I grew far more excited than I ever should have grown.

Having learned something from my softball collision though, I decided I wouldn't dive or slide, and if a ball required me to chart out-of-play territory, I would certainly let it go without exerting the effort of a 30-year old fool. On the other hand, I would run as hard as I could around the bases--no holding back, toes and all, cutting my turns on the inside of the bag, pushing for the extra base whenever possible. And I would pitch with all of the fervor I could muster, committing myself to learning the art of unpredictable bounces, whilst maintaining proper velocity changes and spins where appropriate.

Unfortunately, I didn't get very much time to hone my craft. Sadly, during warmups one fateful day halfway through the season, I reared back, braced the force of my pivot against a foot planted 90 degrees in front of me---and...

Pop.

I've never actually been a victim of a gunshot and I don't mean to--in any way--minimize the agony those victims endure, but when I pulled my piriformis, the thrush of pain it ignited stirred the heart of my imagination--it felt exactly as I always imagined a metal bullet might feel as it penetrated something important.

I wish I could tell you that I handled it gracefully or courageously. In reality, some terrible noise emerged from my gut and I wrapped my fingers around the area that hurt. Sqeezing it, pushing on it, trying to do something to stop the onslaught of pain, I looked like a fool as I groped my own butt in the middle of a crowded park.

I suppose I should have let go long before I ever arrived at that pathetic moment. I suppose I had clues along the way, clues that I obviously ignored, clues that involved four knee surgeries, nursing sore ribs for weeks after spending a January afternoon diving for fly balls, enduring surgery to repair my broken face after I collided with a man who didn't call me off, straining my thumb attempting to barehand a line-drive up the middle, and acknowledging the pathetic embarrassment of realizing I tossed a fist pump and bellowed "yeeeeeeeessss" after I--as a first-year teacher--knocked someone out in the championship game of a dodgeball tournament played out in front of the entire student body. Yes, these were all clues, and yes, they all came well after my twenty-fifth birthday.

But I didn't notice their weight until I played kickball. I just kept pressing my boundaries until I reached my limit, and apparently that limit didn't involve a broken nose, surgery or blurry eye sight. Apparently, that limit took root in the very body part I've spent years of my life cursing--and in the end, it won. My blasted butt won. It wasn't enough that he prevents me from fitting into many pairs of pants, or that he causes issues with shift dresses and bathing suits. Nope, he had to take sports away from me too. He had to scream loudly and decidedly. He had to stomp his feet and throw a wild temper-tantrum. He had to remember my weak spot, punishing me still every time I turn the wrong way. To be fair though, I'm not sure I would have listened to anything less.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Solidarity


Two trees stood midst a crowd of bare branches, while the sky stretched above them and the grass bled out below. In a world of chaos--changing temperatures, shriveled leaves, befuddled animals, risk-taking park goers--these two deciduous trees stood, needles in tact, dropping deep, rich, evergreen whiffs hellbent on surfing gusts of wind.

I noticed them as I walked home from the grocery store today, and they reminded me of goodness. Odd, I know, but those pillars--bountiful with purity--stole my thoughts away from from sex scandals and political campaigns. They stood out without being tall or magnificent or beautiful or wise. They stood out because they were standing together.

Mid-step, I stopped dead in my tracks the moment I saw them. Neosporin in one hand, tomatoes in the other, I paused to gaze at them. I paused to admire their solidarity. After spending the last few days listening to banter about the evil residing in all of us, those trees took me back ten year before. They took me hundreds of miles from where I was standing in that moment--both literally and metaphorically--and my entire universe halted to pay its respects.

Hours following the attacks on September 11, I ran from my mid-town 8th Avenue office to a mid-town office on Madison Avenue. Left without a properly working cell-phone, a viable apartment to return to, and roommates who were accounted for, I took a friend up on the offer to connect. Seeking support and friendship--more than anything--I idiotically jockeyed crowds crossing through a police-free Times Square, watching the second tower tumble on the jumbo-tron. When I finally arrived at the Y& R security desk, I bounded through the threshold.

In that moment, I wanted Emily more than I wanted anything. Kate and Kristin weren't answering their phones, and I had no idea what was going on.

"Emily?" I asked, panting.

"Emily left," the security officer told me; my insides caved.

Choking over my reality, I tumbled out the door. Bright colors dashed across the edges of my periphery. Light-headed and scared, the world swirled into a haze and I felt like I was falling. Just when I thought the concrete would catch me, a woman from Arizona reached out her hands and pulled me into her. Rocking me like an infant, she turned my cheek into her breast, wrapped her arms around my shoulders and rotated me back and forth.

"We'll be okay," she promised me. "Even if it's just you and me, we'll be okay."

I turned to look at her--I don't recall what I saw. Air stagnant and sparse, faces blurred, I disappeared into a nightmare. I wish I could remember what she looked like. I wish her face was stained with permanent ink on the slides of my mind. I wish I could summon her every time horrible things happen in the world. I want her so badly to have a face, but right then, in that moment, I couldn't see anything. In that moment, she was arms, and warmth, and cheap rose scented perfume.

"I'm from Arizona," she told me. "I don't know anyone here. But I do know we're going to be okay. You aren't alone," she assured me as tears streaked my cheeks and fear leaked into every extremity. "We'll get through it," she said again--shaking just a little, slight convulsions interrupting her rhythm.

I don't know how long we stood, two evergreens in a crowd. We weren't moving or rushing or screaming at our phones. In solidarity, we just stood, in the middle of the street, trash falling at our feet, cars zipping by, horror bleeding like a gunshot wound around us.

"Laura?" Emily shouted from a distance, cigarettes in one hand, a bottle of water in the other.

I released my grip. I turned around. I let go of the woman who saved me. I ran to Emily. I never looked back. I never said, "thank you." I never said, "goodbye." I never did my part to save her too.

When I saw the evergreens today, I thought about the lady from Arizona, and I longed to wrap my arms around her. I longed to see her face and to tell her that she has never escaped my memory. I longed to tell her that our encounter was one of the most profound acts of kindness I have ever experienced in my entire life. I longed to tell her that she saved me. That she did more than she was morally obligated to do when she wrapped her arms around my shivering body and kept me from crashing to the earth--vulnerable, scared and alone. I wanted to tell her that she made me believe. She made me believe that in a world with more evil than any of us would care to acknowledge, goodness can arrive, goodness can prevail, goodness can rise--like a phoenix from the ash, like two deciduous trees in park of empty branches.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Weekends

I decided to take a break this weekend. I'm not self-absorbed enough to believe my break caused any sort of turmoil; nevertheless, the rule-follower in me felt an urging to explain.

I wrote for 34 days straight and it felt marvelous. Even in my mucus-ridden state, I enjoyed tantalizing walks through my thoughts, tapping away on keys, looking forward to whatever managed to materialize. Now that I'm on a roll, now that I know I can do it, I've decided to cut myself some slack--some weekend slack.

One of my best friends got engaged this weekend, and I wanted to drive up to Cleveland and celebrate with her. I wanted to hug her and laugh with her; I wanted to look at her pictures and watch stories tumble from her lips--I didn't want to relegate such a vital moment to computer slideshows and cell phone chitchat.

I stared at my computer before I left, knowing full well my day of errands led me right up to the final moment before I had to grab my purse and my keys and position myself behind the wheel of a car which would not return in time to pen an entry prior to midnight. When I crossed the threshold yesterday at 4:30 p.m., I knew I would miss day thirty-five, and by missing day thirty-five, my longest writing streak would come to an end. I paid my respects to the process, then I spun on my heels and headed straight out the door.

People are more important than patterns. As much as writing satisfies me--and as much as neglecting that writing hurts me--I don't need to do it every day for me to feel fulfilled. I knew I would return to the keyboard the following day. I knew there were many more posts left to write. I knew the people who enjoy reading my words would come back again once new words appeared, and I knew the ones who value the way I think will appreciate why I made the right decision.

And even if they don't, when I wrapped my arms around my friend, I was so glad I took the weekend off.

Friday, November 11, 2011

To The Veterans:

Thank you for my breath--
Colliding with clouds of chilled air,
It was visible, tangible even.
And I observed it as I walked,
As the chill prodded open my eyes
Before my able hands pulled open a car door,
And I nestled into my seat,
And I drove myself to work--
Appreciating endlessly
This simple gift of independence.

Thank you for the freedom to dress myself
To choose sweaters and slacks,
Silly shoes and mismatched socks,
Pearl earrings or dangly hoops
Or empty, happy pinholes with nothing at all.
For scarves wrapped loosely around my neck,
Covered slightly by long, styled hair
And framed with bronzed cheekbones,
Which aren't required to hide
Behind a veil I didn't choose to wear.

Thank you for the children I'm allowed to teach--
For their questions
More so than their answers.
For my freedom to ask them why--
To push them to think outside of boxes,
And to read,
And to write,
And to speak,
And to imagine the future
They will carve out of the bowels of their dreams.

Thank you for my choices--
For open doors and opportunities,
For my chance to choose,
To switch directions,
To go to school,
To accept a job,
To head back to the classroom,
To accept another job,
To wait for marriage,
And to be free to marry for love.

Thank you for my space to speak
To shout from the rafters,
To pry open my soul,
To bare my identity,
To type any keys I choose,
And in any combination,
To unravel my disappointments,
To combat injustice,
And marbleize my joys
With the rock of voice.

Thank you for my nation,
For my family,
For my friends,
For my home,
And for the water,
The earth,
And the sky--
And for sacrificing everything you have
To keep it blistering with sunshine,
And glowing a cerulean blue.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Disgust of Inaction

I want to purge sizable chunks of disgust and slimy, wilted leaves of disappointment, and I want every last morsel to stream down the face of every Penn State coach, former coach and administrator who stood by and said nothing. I want to sit them all down on a bench in the locker room and force them to listen to every excruciating detail Jerry Sandusky’s victims endured, and I want them to dry heave and convulse as they wrestle with the images unfolding in their imagination. Then, I want to ask each man—face-to-face—if he can sleep at night knowing there were so many boys who could have been spared if he would have had enough decency to speak up.

And, while this is all unfolding, I want a camera crew there to film it, and broadcast it to an auditorium where every single Penn State student who pounded cases of beer and took to the streets to riot will be committed to a seat and forced to watch the entire exchange, piece by horrifying piece.

As soon as the broadcast ends, I would like to look into their sober eyes and ask them to honestly determine if Joepa should have kept his position. Ask them if they could have worn their Penn State football garb with pride knowing their institution did not take action—didn’t recognize how absolutely despicable it was for their hero to keep his mouth shut when he most needed to open it.

The entire scandal at Penn State is but one example of a much larger issue in society. It is but one example of a hyper-sensationalized culture focused more on “me” and less on “community”, more on money and less on morality, more on saving one’s own butt than saving our vulnerable children.

Nothing about this is okay. Jerry Sandusky’s actions are obviously abominable, but so is the widespread epidemic of inaction. It is not okay that Mike McQuery walked in on a 10 year-old boy propped against the wall, screaming out as a grown man violated him from behind and he did nothing to stop it. It’s not okay he called his dad and not the police. It is not okay that Tim Curley failed to insure Sandusky was harshly punished. And though it may not be against the law, it is not okay for the most powerful man in Pennsylvania to keep Sandusky on his staff, to avoid following up, and to fail the kids who needed someone to stand up for them.

Mostly though, it’s not okay that the majority of the hoopla surrounding this case has focused Joepa’s sad story, rather than on the damage Sandusky’s action, and Paterno’s inaction, caused for the boys who were violated, vilified and shamed. It’s not okay that in every interview he seems to focus more and more on himself—and very little on the bigger issue. It’s not okay that he doesn’t seem to understand what is so very wrong.

Seething with hubris, Joe Paterno fell like a greek herobut perhaps all of us are a little bit to blame. We crown sports heroes with jewels of idolatry, worshipping them, abetting them, dangling money in front of them, hoping to get “in” with them because the affiliation breeds envy and status. But the moment they are caught, we throw our hands up and wonder what’s wrong, wonder why this keeps happening, why our heroes keep collapsing. We wonder why they think they’re infallible even though we are the ones who propped them high on ivory towers.

Paterno might have been a great coach, he might have built an empire, he might have made a difference in a lot of lives—but when it mattered most, he let everyone down. He let down the potentially dozens of kids who were sodomized by Sandusky. He let down his players who bought into his myth and lost the purity of their dream. He let down his loyal fans, his community, his institution. And he let down all of the kids who are missing out on the lesson he could be teaching right now—the lesson of fully owning one’s mistakes, and promoting the cause of action, of speaking out, of realizing that we all have the responsibility to protect each other.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Brothers

Every year, I read "The Sniper" by Liam O'Flaherty with my students, and every time we make our way through the story, I choke over the last line: "Then the sniper turned over the dead body and looked into his brother's face."

The story illustrates the intimacy of civil war. Two opposing snipers head off in Dublin, Ireland, and ultimately one sniper must kill the other to survive. Curiosity gets the best of the victorious sniper, and when he wanders over to see the face of his enemy, he realizes that he killed his own flesh and blood.

As much as I accept the reality that in every civil war siblings could potentially be pitted against one another, I still struggle to stomach it--to imagine how the issues of a nation could position someone to kill his own relative.

Today, scanning through CNN.com, I came across an article called "Brothers Went to War, but Not All on the Same Side," which was a true story about 7 brothers who fought on both sides of World War II. Five fought for the United States, but the other two--left behind in Japan--fought for the Japanese. All seven were drafted by their respective governments.

This headline caught my attention, but its resemblance to "The Sniper" gripped my heart.

Don Oka, one of the brothers who fought for the US, said that "[o]n Christmas Eve, 1944, he remembers running for cover while his younger brother Takeo--a pilot--dive-bombed an American Camp on Tinian Island in the Marianas...As [Takeo] returned to his base in Japan, he was shot down. The wreckage and his body were found on an island near Iwo Jima. I knew he must have been serving because he was at the age, but I didn't know until it was all over and I came back and found out he died."

His story led me to think about war on a much larger level--neither man chose to enter the war, and neither man actually chose his side. And in this war they were both forced to fight, both Don and Takeo were squaring off against an enemy very much like himself--his brother. On a more general level, how often does this happen? How often do opposing soldiers fight against people who are more similar than different?

Despite being fictional, the fact that O'Flaherty's sniper killed his own brother in the Irish Civil War saddens me year after year, but the improbability of real brothers in a world war attacking one another provoked a whole host of other emotions. In a global society, our wars abroad are far more intimate than many civilians probably stop to consider. The intimacy is heart-wrenching. And the intimacy ignites every idealistic sentiment I've ever possessed about diplomacy. After all, despite our differences, if we go back far enough, we all share the same blood. Maybe one day we'll find a way to stop shedding it.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Setting the Record Straight

Herman Cain said he was “going to set the record straight now that somebody’s publically detailed an alleged incident of sexual misbehavior” and last night on Jimmy Kimmel, he asserted that “he’ll fight the latest harassment allegations head on because there’s not an ounce of truth to it.”

The fact he is speaking now, rather than last week, leads me to wonder if there was “an ounce of truth” in the other allegations—or at least documentation to substantiate unacceptable behavior, documentation he was hoping ghost accusers were unwilling to share with the public in a detailed, personal manner.

Now that voters can put a face with a story—a story which carries with it absolutely zero proof—does Herman Cain now feel he has a platform to speak out? Why were the previous settlements—accusations where some fault was acknowledged—completely disregarded? If he’s so utterly innocent, why not expose the terms of the agreement? Why not make himself transparent before a society who will ascertain the details whether he gives them or not?

If he wants to win the election, he will have to eventually come clean. While in some ways I applaud his desire to “stay on message,” I think a large part of his message must demonstrate integrity—a quality that is slipping away from leaders and role models alike.

If Herman Cain is truly an upstanding, respectable man, he needs to show us. Voters need to know who they are electing because we’ve been regularly disappointed by hollow facades. Lies flood the newswire until extra-marital affairs are unmasked by the prevalence of proof. People we came to trust bribe, threaten and promise luxurious opportunities to those who keep their secrets—that is until the media promises their secret-keepers more.

The media feasts on scandal like frenzied sharks because its audience demands and devours it. The exacerbation of suspicion sells magazines and advertising space, and the public consumes it as readily it consumes candy bars and big macs.

As much as I doubt Cain’s proclamation of innocence, my suspicion of the media generates a little bit of doubt regarding the allegations. Stories can easily spin out of control and venomous rumors can obliterate good reputations in a heartbeat. And because it is so easy to steal a few moments of fame, sensationalism often crowds out the integrity of truth. People are so bent on becoming “famous” or “heard” or “visible,” they choose to violate any honorable code of conduct in an effort to steal the spotlight. Perhaps these allegations stem from a deliberate effort to destroy him rather than reveal his character; perhaps they’ve been planted; perhaps the media made more of it than it should have—but perhaps not. After all, in this situation, all but one of the victims are remaining silent; all but one are spreading their message without seeking fame.

The fact the first three women didn’t want the spotlight leads me to wonder if there is something more at stake. I suppose it could be what Cain suggests—a democratic ploy to destroy his ratings. Or it could also be that they are good, moral women who want the world to know this leader is another dirty scoundrel. Perhaps the latest subject of these attacks, Sharon Bialek, is right—perhaps Cain sees nothing wrong with what he did. Perhaps he cannot admit wrongdoing because he doesn't understand that his behavior was, in fact, inappropriate.

Regardless, I keep coming back to the same conclusion—if Herman Cain has nothing to hide, then he needs to say more than “there isn’t an ounce of truth” to the allegations. He needs to own up to what happened, what was decided and why he settled. Did it happen because it was cheaper than fighting? Or did he settle because he violated the law? It’s going to come out one way or another. He can be a big person now, or he can cower later—or worse yet, if he really is innocent, he can look back and wish he would of shared the truth.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Stained

Another misdeed tucked under the rug. Another story about a leader misusing his power to abuse kids. Another stain that couldn't be cleaned, so instead of facing it and dealing with it, they covered it with furniture--dressers, bookcases, couches, something really heavy. Eventually though--as with everything--the furniture will move and the blemish will still be there, glaring back, waiting for acknowledgment, for someone to own it, to admit it and to be punished for making it.

That's what happened yesterday when the victims were validated, and Coach Sandusky was forced to face his crimes.

Unlike a stain, neither purchasing new carpet, nor employing the services of professional cleaners will do anything to clean the mess. Children who looked up to him as a role model were violated by the very person proposing to guide them. How can they ever look at the world through anything but distorted glass? How can they admire anyone else? How can they trust ever again?

I know nothing about the victims, but I do take a minimal amount of solace in the fact that we are built to regenerate. Like skin and bones, the scars remain, but the whole is capable of growing back stronger. The human spirit will once again be able to take new risks and see them play out justly, those individuals will eventually find a mentor who is honorable and wise, and in time, they will once again be able to trust those who reach out their hand and offer love.

These violations will have stained just a bit of their spirit, but now that the furniture has moved and the stain is visible, they can begin to heal. They can speak, they can deal, they can grow. It's just too bad we live in a world that put them in the position to have to.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Team Daylight Savings


My friend Annie’s “Team Daylight Savings” status happened to be the first Facebook post I saw today. I laughed at the allusion to the Twilight saga—Team Edward or Team Jacob—and then I scrolled through the rest of my home page, looking for links to interesting articles or videos.

Surprisingly, as I scrolled, I saw status after status berating Daylight Savings Time. Given everything else one could be angry about, the venting struck me very oddly. Never, in my wildest imagination, would I ever think an additional 60 minutes would incite parents whom I hear repeatedly complaining about a lack of time to accomplish the many additional tasks they now have as a result of bringing a child into the world. Nevertheless, friend after friend has posted attacks on daylight savings because those of us without kids get to sleep in an extra hour and they do not.

I don’t recall such an onslaught of bitterness last year, and I can’t fathom why so many people are so mad. Even if your precious little children bound out of bed at the same time they do every day, it seems reasonable that you could convince them to go to bed at their “regular bedtime” that night. I’m not a parent, so perhaps this is a silly concept; however, I recall my parents having a pretty strong authority when it came to turning in for the night.

If you’re concerned your toddler can read clocks, don’t change them until they fall asleep. Cover your cable boxes and keep them from your cell phones. Or, better yet, toss technology aside, take them to the park on this gorgeous day, and play with them, laugh with them, enjoy them for just a little bit longer so they are tired enough to actually fall asleep early. And then, even though you might have had to wait a little longer than the people without children, take solace in the fact that you will also get your extra hour. An extra hour that you, too, will be able to spend in the most fitting manner—tucked into bed, or ticking off a widening list of daily tasks.

The last I checked, time is the very resource none of us can buy, but all of us want. Instead of squandering it with bitterness, why not open your arms and embrace it? On one day a year, we get sixty extra minutes to spend as we choose. So even though my sinus infection is making me feel pretty crummy, these extra 60 minutes are making me feel thankful. I have a huge stack of papers to grade, and that extra hour of sleep cleared my head just enough to make grading them seem possible.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

A Letter to My Nose

PROMPT: Close your eyes. Which body part jumps to your consciousness? Write that body part a letter.

***
Dear Nose,
We need to talk. Sometimes I feel like I care more about the relationship than you do, and your current behavior is driving me insane.

Despite my recent frustration, I want to point out the distinct effort I've made to pay attention to you over the years. I notice that fragrances make you twitch so I keep you from them. I coat you with unscented lotion in the morning and at night before bed, and I avoid close range perfume spritzes. I only choose candle flavors you like, filling my condo with vanilla and cinnamon because they are your favorite. And even though I love flowers, and find myself yearning to inhale their beauty, I know they bother you. For that reason, I can't remember the last time I bent down and actually smelled roses.

I know cold weather incites bouts of insanity, but I implore you to consider all of the things I have tried to do to appease you before you decide to continue with your current acts of vengeance. I don't punish your whiny outbursts with cheap, rugged tissue; I invest in you by emptying your baggage with aloe coated Kleenex. Though tempted, I never went through with piercing you. I saw so many enticing studs and imagined, on many occasions, how cute you might look with one imbedded into your cartilage. Nevertheless, I always refrained from prodding and poking you because I respected your right to peace. And even when I'm late, I always make time to netti pot you, to clean you out and to free you from gook that could build up and infect you.

Over the years, I've endured allergy shots on account of your temper-tantrums complete with twitching and dripping and pouting. I've spent ridiculous amounts of money on antihistamine and decongestant to try to calm you down, and I pour gallons of hot tea down my throat hoping the warmth might creep up into you and inspire you to relax your hold on my life.

I know I've never addressed any of this with you, so I'm hopeful this letter might encourage you to reconsider your behavior. I would really love to wake up tomorrow morning free from the chains of your control. I would love to wake up tomorrow morning as your partner, feeling fulfilled by your decision to befriend me, to work with me, and to negotiate with me. Hopefully you will feel this way too.

Thank you for your time,
Me.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Gather 'Round

In her commencement address to Rutger's University, Toni Morrison wrote:

"Although you don't have complete control of the story of your life, you can still create that story. Although you will never fully know or successfully manipulate all of the characters who surface or disrupt your plot, you can respect the ones you can't avoid by paying them close attention and doing them justice. The plot you choose may change or even elude you, but being your own story means you can control the theme. It also means you can invent the language to say how you mean in this world.

Well, it's true. I am myself a storyteller, and therefore, an optimist--a firm believer in the ethical bend of the human heart; a believer in the mind's appetite for truth and its disgust with fraud and selfishness. From my point of view, your life is already a miracle of chance waiting for you to shape its destiny. From my point of view, your life is already artful--waiting, just waiting, for you to make it art."

***

I'm not even sure where to begin with my response; nevertheless, I had one. It's Toni Morrison speaking after all, and who can really top her ability to craft wisdom with language?

I read her address yesterday in a teaching workshop, and I haven't been able to extract it from my mind; it won't step down off the tip of my thoughts. In fact, I have this deep yearning to chew every single word and spit it out into every moment of my life.

Stories interest me beyond anything else--beyond facts, beyond formulas, beyond theory. Stories are at the crux of what makes us tick as human beings. They've entertained, inspired and persuaded us for ages. We are who we are not because of what we've discovered, but because of how we've told the story of our discoveries--how's we passed on our learnings, realizations and truths.

And in each of us rests a bank of stories we've lived, stories we are meant to experience and stories that have preceded our place in the world. I believe stories can change the world because they are what change people. They are what move us to act, and they are what teach us to be good. In a world where more and more power seems to elude us daily, all we truly have are the stories we choose to tell. The stories we make each day when we wake up, and the stories we commit to each night when we fall asleep. We may not be able to control who bounds into our path, but we can certainly control how we respond, how we fight and how we walk forward.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Silhouette in the Coffee Shop

PROMPT: Is there a stranger you encounter daily? Who is he/she?

***

Perched behind the entryway glass, chair propped against the wall, he sits there every single day. Leg bent at the knee, inner edge of his foot balanced on the top of his thigh, newspaper held in out-stretched arms, while a mug of coffee rests on the table beside him. Occasionally, the cup interests his fingers enough to warrant a tip to his lips. More often, it just stays there, a statue fixed in marble.

His silhouette catches my eye the moment I reach the last row of pigment diagonally streaking the parking lot asphalt. Even though I see him, I never look—at least not then. I purposely direct my gaze to the front doors, catching him only out of my periphery. Without looking though, I always notice him peering out the window.

When I reach the second entryway door, I question a turn to my left and wonder if I should meet his greeting with an acknowledgment, or continue to the counter and order my coffee. The neighborhood is a friendly one, after all. And this guy seems to survey each person who skirts through the door; he never directs his attention solely at me. When I do turn, I find his smile to be warm and friendly, not creepy and suggestive. And he has never once risen from his seat to make an unwelcome advance. He just sits there—a body bent on observing, sipping and greeting the bleary-eyed morning-goers who regularly seek solace in a cup of caffeine.

As I wait for my coffee, I always pass the time by reflecting on my turn—or lack thereof—wondering whether or not my culturally conditioned gut is unfairly questioning his intentions. Should ask him about his day or attempt to discuss a story peering from the front page of his newspaper? He could be lonely, after all, sitting in the coffee shop because he has nowhere else to be. Or he could be a recent retiree seeking pleasure in a morning routine. Or a writer seeking inspiration for his characters. I’m sure one of those possibilities is a bit closer to the truth than the suspicions coloring my imagination; nevertheless, every day the suspicions prevent me from asking.

When I open my situation to the broader context, it leads me to wonder how many experiences we miss trying to be safe, and on the other end of the spectrum, how many tragic moments could have been prevented if someone just took the care to listen to his gut. Mostly though, I wonder how we can strip out the factor of luck, and actually identify how to discern the difference.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Pistachio Toes


PROMPT: In her blog, my friend Betty wrote, "[w]e look at colors every day, and yet, we don't really see them." Where or how do you see color?

***

I jinxed myself yesterday.

"I haven't been sick all year," I bragged to my friend Caryl as we exchanged theories about developing immunity to germs--school germs, kid germs and baby germs.

Then I proceeded through the rest of my night in usual fashion, crawling into bed at 11:30, lying there, staring through my eyelids at the ceiling I knew hovered over me. An hour or so ticked past, while my mind wandered and twisted down whatever trails unfolded in my imagination, and occasionally, I retrieved my phone so I could enter reminders and send last minute emails.

At some point, the real world slipped away, returning again at 6 am with a blaring alarm. Slothfully spinning in the sheets, I flung my hand across my body to stop the auditory insanity erupting in my otherwise silent room. When I tried to open my eyes to see reminders, and emails, I discovered a crusting of goo sealed them nearly the whole way across. As awareness slowly seeped back, I also discovered a runny nose, a sore throat and a pounding headache.

Flopping onto the floor, I trudged to the bathroom and did what any sinus infection hater would--I netti potted.

The rooms were all dark, and despite the fact I generally wear black muted colors every day, I felt even darker than usual. Deep brown coffee puffed in my face, while khaki colored granola lumped on top of my yogurt--white yogurt abrasively peeking through through the flakes in an oddly satisfying way. I devoured my treasures, then moped into my room and decided to embrace color. Digging, delving, dredging through layers of black cotton, wool and polyester, I finally found pistachio colored socks--fuzzy, inviting and cheery, everything I failed to feel in that moment.

I gazed at them all day long, occasionally laughing at the absurdity of wearing a bright color I didn't repeat anywhere else in my outfit. Though they didn't sway my grayness for more than a moment, on a few occasions, they provoked a smile that would have never crept across my face.

It's funny that Betty wrote about color on a day when I subconsciously turned to it. When my allergy medicine, netti pot, coffee and warm shower could not do the trick, I ambled to my drawer and waged all of my chips on socks--bright, green pistachio colored socks, socks that warmed a bit more than just my toes.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Little Things

In light of Kim Kardashian's divorce, I've heard a surge of comments about weddings. Despite the fact I've never actually seen her show, and know virtually nothing about her life, with my own wedding two weeks after they tied the knot, and our honeymoon to Italy shortly after theirs, I couldn't help but take interest in their recent announcement to split.

I still don't know the details, and to be honest, I don't really care. What I do care about is the fact that this divorce is adding to a long line of other divorces, divorces stemming from the essential problem that some people want to get married more than they want to be married. Some people fantasize so much about the dress, the ring, the cake and the attention, they forget the weight of their promises.

This has always seemed odd to me. For so long, I knew I would never settle. I would never marry someone unless certainty exploded like dynamite in my gut. For that reason, I questioned whether or not I would ever go through with a wedding, and I certainly never fantasized about one. When I met my current husband, I grew certain within a few weeks. Already in my thirties, I dated so many of the wrong guys, I knew when the right one arrived. I might not have been able to articulate exactly what I wanted, but I knew myself well enough to recognize him when he finally came along.

For that reason, my wedding experience was the exact opposite of Kim Kardashian's. My husband, our families and I worked our butts off trying to make our wedding as personal as it could possibly be. Details mattered not because we were trying to impress anyone, but because we wanted to give everyone a special glimpse of who we were, and what was most important to us.

We threw every single wedding tradition onto the table, and we only chose the ones that mattered to us. We didn't want to dress up and become anyone but ourselves, so every part of our wedding bled with who we were. Instead of holding our reception in ballroom like nearly every other wedding we've attended, we decided to have our reception in the winery where we got engaged. Instead of fancy flowers and chair covers, we lined the space with candles, and we converted photos into black and white, placed them in frames and decorated the entire place with pictures of our family and friends. Instead of arbitrarily choosing first dance songs, we picked songs that had significant meaning. Our "first song" was the song my husband played when he proposed, my "father-daughter" song started with a game of catch before we danced to Carly Simon's "Take Me Out To The Ball Game," and being the biggest fans of Neil Diamond I have ever met, the "mother-son" song was "Song Sung Blue."

The only reason why it was sad to see our wedding end was because it was the last time all of those people would ever be together in the same room. We will see some here, and others there, but never again would they all fly to Columbus, Ohio, at the exact same time. As our eyes scanned the room, absorbing every face, every smile, every laugh, we felt overwhelmed with love. Don't get me wrong, part of us did feel sad for the night to end, but a bigger part us felt eager to walk forward--to spend our first night together as husband and wife, to traverse the canals in Venice and stumble down the streets of Florence, to set up our goals and our plans, to rearrange our tiny condo, to dream about a house and kids and a future--and then to actualize those dreams moment by moment.

Though I've enjoyed opening gifts, looking at pictures, watching the video of late night dancing, and recalling funny wedding stories, I haven't felt wistful at all--I'm perfectly happy where I am right now. I'm perfectly happy with all of the little things. I'm perfectly happy having a teammate, a rock and a pillow. I'm perfectly happy in a t-shirt and jeans, giggling over a cheap glass of wine. I don't need the fancy dress, or manicured nails or everyone treating me like a princess; I just need him.