Writing is like being able to put life into a snow globe. It takes the things that are too big and scary and reduces them into a form that I can put away when I want and look at from a distance. It also takes all that’s good in life and captures it into something I can take out when I want and look at close up and keep forever. It makes the bad things into something I can hold…and the good things into something I can hold onto. Both help so much that I need that little souvenir of life.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Grocery Store Mafioso

I was just emailing with a friend about how hard it is to deal with pushy people, especially over the holidays. My friend graciously invited the woman behind her (who was invading her space) to go ahead of her in the grocery store line since the woman was holding only two items. The space-invading woman promptly brought over her daughter and an entire cartload of food. In the end, my friend didn’t say anything and just found a new lane.

So we were discussing this. Is the high road a strength or a weakness?

I often wish there were such a thing as Dial-a-Guru, a person we could all call with such questions. Free of charge, of course. Or a Hogwarts class. Defense Against the Dork Arts, maybe.

The whole thing reminded me of the time a woman cut in front of me in the grocery store line. I actually knew her, having volunteered with her once. She was the stuff of which sit coms are made, and I’m sure she really did think her time was much more valuable than mine. Honestly, the thought of what kind of character she would make was enough to keep me plenty entertained as I waited.

When it was finally my turn to check out, the cashier mentioned the incident. This is an older man who's been in the business a while.  He assured me under his breath that he would “get her” next time. Get her! Those where his exact words, too. I told him please don’t. Really, not a problem. But I’ve always wondered what he meant by that. Charge her for the organic instead of the generic? Manhandle her Bunny Bread? Give her plastic instead of paper?

Or did he mean something more insidious? Would she wake up to find prepackaged cow tongues in her bed? Expired ones? For a while I was half afraid they’d find the self-appointed, divinely righteous Ruler of Volunteerism floating in the lobster tank, her head weighed down by tater tots and turkey giblets and bags of Yukon Golds….

Okay, so I got a bit carried away. It comes from spending too much time in lines. This week as you’re shopping for your holiday festivities, be reeeeeal careful. And if somebody cuts you off in the shopping line, just know that somebody way more scary than Santa Clause might be watching.

Just remember that…mistletoe is not an excuse for sexual assault. ~Andy Bernard, The Office

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Memories

Here is a charming Christmas memory to warm your heart. Every year, my grandfather would get a twinkle in his eyes. My grandfather had more than a sense of humor. He had a sense of fun. So the best stories started with the twinkle.

“Know what I’m going to do?” he’d ask. “I’m going to take a greeeat, biiig bag and sit up all night long and watch the fireplace for Santa Clause. I’ll hide behind this chair, and when old Santa comes out of that chimney…I’LL JUMP OUT AND CATCH HIM!”

At this point, my grandmother would yell at him, “Oh, Homer, stop that! You’re scaring the children!”

He wasn’t scaring me at all, though. I secretly thought it was a brilliant idea! Why had no one thought of it before?

Sad to say the only thing I worried about was whether or not it would work. What would my grandfather do with Santa once he was in the bag? Would Santa be forced to live with them, or would my grandfather let him go at some point? Wouldn’t Santa be mad? And since Santa is magical, might he have secret magical defenses against just such assaults? Plus there was also the question of whether my grandfather could take him. They were both old, yes, but my grandfather was clearly much thinner; would Santa’s extra fat slow him down or give him an advantage?

Somehow my grandfather never accomplished it. He always fell asleep waiting. This was Santa’s real magic, I decided.

So that’s my heartwarming Christmas story. At least you know where I got it.

The reason angels can fly is because they take themselves lightly. ~G.K. Chesterton

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My First Sub Job, Part VI

The last day of school was hot. I was desperate to get through it. I still had grades left to enter and would end up staying very late that day. I told the class good bye.

And then she said it. The girl who sat in the back and said very little the entire time I was there stood up and spoke up.

“We liked our other teacher because she let us mess around,” she said. “But I guess you did teach us stuff.” And then she stepped forward and hugged me.

I remember being so floored, I didn’t know what to say. I must’ve stood there like a cardboard cutout. The thing I regret most now is that she will never know how valuable those words were to me. How I cherished them. How important they were to me—not just then, but in all the years since.

Since then I’ve been surprised how often it’s that kid in the back—the one who never looked up, the one who never smiled, the one you thought was completely oblivious to your presence or even hated you—who later tells you that you touched them somehow.

Not for the first time, I cried on my way home. But this time it was for a different reason.

God hugs you. You are encircled by the arms of the mystery of God. ~Hildegard

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Improper Poll: Bad Santa

When I was a kid, Real Santa always went to one particular department store downtown. Going to see him was a big production because we’d go at night to see the lights. He had his own floor of the department store and sat on an enormous throne surrounded by elf helpers and glittering snow and a cute little miniature train that wove around the animated reindeer. He was truly jolly. You could even see where his beard actually grew out of his face. It was magical.

Loser Santa was found at the little mall. They just sort of plunked him down by himself on a folding chair in front of a plywood house next to the cheese display. He had B.O. and a black five o’clock shadow peeking out from under a beard that had visible ties in back and was slipping off. I can still remember the way my mother giggled when I told her about the beard. And my mother was not a giggler.

Worst of all, he lacked proper Santa Clause enthusiasm.

I know he was probably some underemployed guy who had to put up with obnoxiousness all day long, but oh wait, that kind of describes a significant portion of the workforce. Bad Santa still reminds me that every day is a new chance to do a good job in spite of it all.

Did you ever have a bad Santa?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sub Notes: My First Sub Job, Part V

Max possessed two talents that I’ve never seen before or since. The first of these was the ability to say something truly funny in class. Usually if students try to crack a joke, it’s immature. Inappropriate. But this young man kept it appropriate, respectful, and impeccably timed. He was witty. Once after he’d made me laugh, I shook my head. “I can see you being famous someday, Max, but I’m just not sure as what,” I blurted.

“Max can dance,” a girl offered. The others nodded with looks that told me it was impressive. So I asked him if he would perform for my theater class. He shrugged in that way that meant sure, whatever, and we arranged the appointed time.

I still think of those simple words, “Max can dance.” They could not possibly have prepared me. In all fairness, I don’t think any words could have.

There is right now a viral video of a man who is an impressive dancer. I honestly think Max was better. He was a magician. Before my eyes his bones dissolved. He bent in places no human being should bend. His movement wasn’t fluid; he was fluid. He melted and become rubber and elastic and oozing syrup all at once. He was ragdoll, then puppet, then robot, then top. He defied gravity. He glided and floated and flew. He danced with his ears and pores and fingertips. Dance wasn’t something he did, but something he was.

And all the while there was a look of boredom on his face.

I sat dumbly while watching him, though I’m sure my mouth hung open. Because there just were no words. There still aren’t.

The thing with students is this. You always try to find good in them. Sometimes you find wonderful that you never forget, and that is how it was with Max.

He had something going on with his health. I never did find out what, but it made his eyes disturbingly yellow and it made him put his head down sometimes. When I would ask him if he needed to see the nurse, he’d tell me it wouldn’t do any good. He couldn’t go home because he had too many absences. If he missed anymore school, he wouldn’t graduate.

He graduated, and I have wondered about him since. Looked for him—on television, anywhere. Just now I Googled him. I never seem to find anything. I hope somewhere out there he knows. He is special. Many years and thousands of students later, even more so.

(Next week: Part VI)

When it is dark enough, you can see the stars. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Improper Poll: Hangin’ with My Uglies

I’ve been rooting around my basement looking for ugly Christmas ornaments. This is the best I could do, but it’s not my favorite. My daughter decorated this year and I couldn’t find the one I wanted. For her sake it had just better be hidden in the back, because if she threw it out, she is in some big trouble. How I cherish those Charlie Brown ornaments, those ghosts of Christmas Past that were fashioned so carefully from hands that were just learning to cut and color and glue!

I remember being her age; I too thought the point of a Christmas tree was to be pretty. My mother used to insist on hanging a Santa Clause that she’d had since she was a child. It was scary and emaciated and looked more like an old guy you’d see hocking loogies in a downtown alley with a bag made of brown paper. This guy’s lap would be one of the last places you’d want your children.

Now that my mother is gone, I get it. And I sort of wish I had it if only for those memories—not to mention the joke about the really ugly Santa.

Do you have an ugly-beloved ornament?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My First Sub Job, Part IV

The Friedrich thing started in study hall. He was out of his seat. I told him he needed to go sit down and get to work.

Freidrich was a tall, tall kid who moved syrup-slow. He strolled up to me and stood close enough to show me that he towered over me. And then he looked down. “You know what we do to teachers who give us homework,” he whispered.

I flew by the seat of my pants then. Maybe I always do. My pants launched me forward, toward Friedrich. I grabbed his arm and grinned up at him. “I bet you send us thank you notes for helping you to get so smart that you go on to get wonderful jobs and live happy lives,” I said.

I will never forget the corners of Friedrich’s mouth, the way they twitched and then slowly, slowly turned up and broke first into a grin, and then a laugh. An indulgent laugh. Friedrich was humoring me. Giving me a break.

Which was okay with me. I desperately needed one.

We walked, the two of us, arm in arm, back to Friedrich’s seat. And he indulged me again by sitting down.

From then on, Friedrich was my ally. A very valuable ally. He was big and commanding and popular with the other kids. If I told someone to sit down, Friedrich made sure they did. “Miss G says sit down,” he would rumble, and they would sit down.

I took it.

(Next week: Part V)

For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. ~Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Improper Poll: A New Season of Hoarding

Here is a confession: I hoard ideas. Just like the people you see on those hoarding shows. My computer is a metaphor for some of those houses. A computer expert friend of mine once commented about how I have a lot of “…ah…folders and…items” on my computer. It was clear during those pauses that he was choosing his words very carefully so as not to insult me about my stuff. My junk.

And he was right. There’s stuff everywhere. Word stuff. Words from songs and little kids and religious leaders and friends and posters and cartoons and famous people. Some are possibly your words. I started to say, “some of the greatest minds in history,” but they are all great minds in history. The thing that makes a mind great is the way it happens to fit its time—the relevance of the connections it makes. And all of them are relevant. Every single one makes me think or laugh or reflect or feel.

Just like words are supposed to do.

So. Do you have a favorite quote you’d care to share?