Monday, August 23, 2010

In An Ocean or A Glass

When I was 7 or 8, my brother tried to convince me that it was OK to drink ocean water.

“Go ahead,” he said. “It tastes just like the water that comes out of the faucet.”

I totally knew better. First, kids are smart so they know these things. And second, growing up in a beachy town, I’d been rumbled enough (big mouth wide open, of course) to have partaken of the Atlantic firsthand. But I really wanted to believe him. Maybe things had recently changed with the ocean, and I hadn’t heard about it. Something so big that you couldn’t see the bottom of had to have magical powers. And isn’t it so industrious—in a fairy tale sense—to think that if you were thirsty and had nothing to drink, you could just take a sip? Or maybe if I just thought really hard, it would become clear and cool and kind, having lost its sharp edges…

But no, it was as salty and gritty as always, and I could now say I’d conducted an official experiment to prove it. Next time I’d know.

That sort of head-in-the-clouds thinking has followed me throughout life. It seems like I missed out on basic common sense, like you shouldn’t stick your pen in an electric socket (thank you so much to whomever stopped me in high school bio), and no matter how much you feel the need to purge and move on, you should not put old letters from a boy you want to forget on a cookie sheet in the oven and turn the knob to “Broil.”

And always check charming coworkers’ left hands before you develop a massive, pull-out-all-the-flirting-stops crush on them.

When I first moved to New York City after college, I worked part time in the scholarly remainders section at Barnes & Noble while I looked for a job (ha ha, would this be the right time to mention my surprise that there weren’t any job listings specifically for philosophy majors in the New York Times classifieds? Yes, I looked under “P” for a couple of weeks until I figured it out.).

Anyway, Neil was all long hair and laidback and British, calling me his “little pie crust.” I was smitten, and was always the first to volunteer to go down to the basement to pick up the books that had been restored and rebound, or whatever it was they did down there. My heart sank the day that a fellow coworker told me, after watching us interact all moony in the elevator, that he was married. “See his wedding ring?” she pointed out, not unkindly.

Errr, no. I had pretty minimal experience with men, and since I only really knew college guys who weren’t married, wedding bands and left hands were just not on my radar. But this was something very important that I was glad I’d learned.

And can we go back to Georgica Beach for just a minute? As I’ve been writing this, another important memory has surfaced—of a young woman I met one night during the summer after high school graduation. “Woman” is not a word for her, though…I’d have to say “lady.” She was married to a local fisherman who’d recently been lost at sea, and our short conversation was, I realize now, bruised deep with her grief and devastation and vulnerability--and sad-earned wisdom from being so young and so intimate with loss.

I liked and connected with her instantly, and at one point she asked me if I was a fairy, too. Yes, she meant a little magical creature. I hadn’t thought about it, but indeed I wanted desperately to be someone magical.

The talk in our tiny town was, of course, that she was just crazy. Our paths never crossed again, but if they were to, I’d tell her this:

I have it on good authority that there’s a realized being who lives at the bottom of the sea. But you probably already know that, and you probably already know her secrets. Here’s to you, my fellow littoral fairy, and anyone else who dances and dreams at the place where the waves end and begin.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The "Is" Girl

Is there a statute of limitations on secrets? And is there some sort of automatic half-life on this statute if the person who told the secret wasn't supposed to tell me in the first place? Irrelevant. Mum’s sooo not the word today…

I'm telling on you, blabbermouth high school teacher!

It was nearing the end of senior year, and a friend reported that a teacher—we’ll call her Mrs. Blah Blah—was talking trash to her about our fellow classmates. The teacher described one girl as a “poor dumb thing.” Another, and I’m proud to say one of my best friends, was labeled “smart, but a bitch.” (Were you high, Mrs. Blah Blah?! Heck, she’s definitely smart, but way too empathetic and trusting in the world to be bitchy. This is a girl who, late for work one summer morning, randomly threw on one of her boyfriend’s T-shirts, and noticed that people were especially friendly all day. She realized why when her boyfriend asked her to look at what was printed on the shirt: “No Muff Too Tough/We Dive at Five.” A bitch wouldn’t laugh at herself so heartily and easily, which is what my friend did.)

I’m almost insulted Mrs. Blah Blah didn’t call me a bitch, too, but I guess that’s because I was predominantly…


Yup, that’s right. Affected. I remember that I had to read the dictionary definition a couple of times, but she meant someone with affectations, someone who puts on airs and pretends to be something they’re not. Oh, most understanding Mrs. Blah Blah, let me apologize for DARING to be anything other than what I was. I’m sorry I didn’t want to accept my place at the bottom of that typical high-school heap, topped by that tool you so fondly described as “adorable.” I’m sorry the rest of my face hadn’t yet caught up with my nose, and I’m sorry I wanted to get the hell out of that town because gee, I don’t know, Mrs. Blah Blah, I had a very sick family member who thought he was Jesus and ran around town making citizens’ arrests …so sorry, Mrs. Blah Blah, that I was trying NOT to be that girl....

But yeah, you did totally call me on my survival tactics—and if wearing thrift-store clothes, finally finding a voice and giving yourself a new name defines someone as “affected,” then sign me up. And what 17-year-old knows who they are, anyway? If they do, what are they supposed to spend the rest of their lives learning and doing? That’s a diploma with a death sentence to me, Mrs. Blah Blah. Isn’t being all about becoming, anyway?

I think that’s why it bugs me so much when people don’t capitalize “Is” in headlines. (You capitalize verbs in headlines, you know. Did you teach me that?) And “Is” may be two lil’ letters, but to me it’s the most important verb of all. Life is “Is.”

What irks me most? I like you, Mrs. Blah Blah! And I learned a lot from you! It may not have been the greatest high school, but you cared enough to introduce us to stuff that might actually expand our brains. We read Plato, and I remember thinking, “What IS this?!” It was wild and exciting to me in the way that I guess kissing boys would have been if I weren’t a) socially inept and b) c’mon, do i have to bring up the nose thing again?

Anyway, it’s water under the bridge now, Mrs. Blah Blah. I went on to major in philosophy at college, so I really do have you to thank for that. And I’m happy to be thought of as someone who works hard to be who they’re not entirely, but just might become.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Move Over, Rover

I interrupt my “high school byotches and bullies” miniseries to bring you a commercial break of more typical Pollyanna/sunshine supergirly offerings.

On Saturday I noticed that my orchid, Jimi, is not doing well. His purple flowers have dried up (inevitable, since they’ve been out and proud since May), but that’s not the problem… Jimi’s fighting for his life, roots crawling out of the too-small pot like a hungry snake. Looking for what? More room to boom-boom bloom.

He gets lots of water, and I even mist him with Evian in a can. But it’s not enough. He’s outgrown his home, he needs to expand.

I know what I need to do—what any frickin’ normal person would do…repot him. And I am going to today, but let me tell you that for me, that’s taking a chance, accepting a dare. It could be that I just don’t know how to do it properly, but few of my past plants have survived repotting. Is it just that it takes them awhile to acclimate, so when they seem to be flatlining, all this work is actually going on underneath the surface that you don’t see…like the roots are doing their thing, and like any change, just takes time and patience to see results?

That’s no reason to not try. It’s like this viewpoint I heard the other day, so painfully expressed—“better to euthanize shelter animals than keep them in a tiny cage, where they don’t get to live like real cats and dogs.” I hear where that person is coming from—but that shouldn’t stop us from working our tails off to do what we can for them. That shouldn’t stop us from repotting—our plants, our selves, whatever wants to grow.

I know, I know, I can be so annoyingly phototropic. Next post I’ll be sure to badmouth some more people.

Music for growing your inner Pollyanna

My total fave Jimi song. And when I did some online research, I found this at-home-here explanation of the lyrics: The main lyrics in this song ("Let me stand next to your fire") came from a time when the band had just finished a gig in the cold around Christmas, 1966. They went to Noel Redding's mother's house. When they got there, Jimi asked Margaret, the mother, to "Let me stand next to your fire" so he could warm up. They had a German Shepherd that way laying by the fire, which inspired the line, "Move over Rover, and let Jimi take over." (As posted by Jayson, Atlanta, GA)

Hendrixophiles, please don’t tell me that’s entirely true!? You have to admit it’s slightly hokey and though I love German shepherds, well... I think it’s more exciting to think about the…uh…blood-to-groin frenziness of that song.

I Will Dare, The Replacements

A Seed’s A Star, Stevie Wonder
The root of me is homeward bound/A trunk, a leaf and there I am/A miracle of least by far
Man, Stevie, you are too much

This song references Po Tolo, “the smallest kind of star” and “tiny unseen companion” of Sirius, the Dog Star. There’s more good stories about it involving extraterrestrials and the Dogon tribe in Mali here.

I can’t say anything about that, but I adore this song because the chorus makes me feel like I could jump up and smash through any ceiling… like one of those cetaceans--right whales, I think they are--who jump out of the water and spin around like there’s no tomorrow.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

I Cloud Nine When I Want To

Cojones. It’s like I’m growing a bigger pair lately, ya know? And as such, there are a few things from my past that I would like to address here.

First up: the Great Brownie Bake-Off, junior or senior year in high school. I will try to protect certain identities of those involved because a) I’m so not a name-namer and b.) authorities were involved. Don’t worry, it’s actually a story of unmatched ridiculousness and absurdity. But oh yeah, it f’d me up for a very long time after that.

So me and my friends are playing tennis at our high school courts. Everything was closed for spring break, but one of our teachers happened to be in school and came out to offer us some brownies. Oh, they were so good! I inhaled mine and, Triple Taurus that I am, requested another. Anyway, after awhile, I noticed that I kept missing the ball. Not that I’m a great tennis player to begin with, but it was like I was still swishing and swatting at the balls that I’d just hit and were already on D.'s side of the net. Good thing we had to stop because I had to go to my job at the local library, right?

D. and someone else…why am I thinking an exchange student?...and I rode our bikes there, and they waited for me while I tried to shelve some books. Dewey Decimal and all. But really, the stacks were moving by then, and by the time I hit the 600s we’d figured out something was wrong with them dang brownies.

D. was in better shape than me and called her parents, who came to pick us up (thank you for that and so much more), and all I remember is lying in the back of their station wagon on the way to the emergency room, thinking the songs on the radio sounded so good. You know, all spacey like “Revolution No. 9,” but it was probably just Rick Springfield and Styx. The next thing I know I’m sobbing…no, leaking tears…and slumped in a wheelchair, being greeted—what a coincidence! —by the volunteer coordinator at the hospital whom we both knew very well because we were…yes, candy stripers! No refillin’ water pitchers on North 3 that day tho. “We ate something bad, we ate something bad,” I kept moaning. D. must have lots of happy brain chemicals, because she was laughing the whole time and was able to stand up and walk to the bathroom to provide the urine sample upon request. Not me, no siree! Bring Miss Supine a bedpan, please…

D. went home and ate a cheeseburger (awww, I just remembered her beautiful meezer Coug and platinum-furred Harlow!); I went home, hoping to dream in Yellow Submarine but wound up crying in my room. Later I got to see the school psychiatrist, a soft-spoken man who told me how I might be feeling and I thought I should tell him I agreed. He was pretty on target tho—violated and scared. I had flashbacks for a couple of months but my parents told me I just wanted attention.

Thing is, it is a good story to retell, and the delicious irony is that I was obsessed with drug culture—I plowed through Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, adored Jefferson Airplane (no Dead, though, curiously. I think it’s ‘cause I love glamour and well, Grace and Marty and Paul and Jorma were way more glamorous to me than, uh, Jerry. Sorry.), and secretly admired anyone who could trust in themselves enough to experiment. I thought I was missing out on something creative, but know now that I’m so blessed to have a mind that lucy/sky/diamonds all on its own…

But you know why I’m mad at that teacher? Not because he gave us brownies that were basically so laced with hash that their rich, moist centers were glowing green—but because, a year later, he yelled at me and told me I was disgusting for giving a girl boxer shorts for secret Santa. He called me “perverted” in front of the whole class, and I turned pink with shame.

It was freakin’ fashion-forward for girls to wear boxer shorts then, Mr Blah Blah.

Music to listen to when the pot calls the kettle black
Oooh, not too crazy about this video, but if you’ve never heard the song, I think you’re all clear to watch. Gorgeous tune, she swoons.

I Want To Take You Higher
Sly & The Family Stone
Everybody higher higher HIGHER!