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, November 28, 2013

The Orange Prayer

Years ago, when I was student teaching in a rather snobbish Midwestern high school, I sometimes ate lunch with another teacher. The two of us were outcasts who ended up tablemates due to our respective disabilities. Hers was that she was blind. Mine was that I was 21. I don’t remember what my friend’s name was or what she taught. What I do remember is the time she ate an orange.

She divined her way around the rind, then held it in front of her face like a crystal ball and pried off the peel, smiling into the air as she did. The finest sparkling spray, backlit by the fluorescent lights of the teachers’ lounge, poofed into her face like a magic spell. When she laughed with childish delight, I realized she’d cast it on purpose.

Then she carefully separated the segments, arranged them on her napkin, and steepled her orange-scented hands in front of her nose and breathed in the scent as if it were a life-giving prayer of thanks. And I believe in a sense it was.

She turned to me and beamed. “There’s nothing like eating an orange,” she said.

I have never seen an orange in quite the same way since. In fact, she taught me to see thanks itself in a new way.

For that gift, too, I am immensely thankful.

“…that’s why God needs us. Because God loves to feel things through our hands.” Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Past Love

When editors Kate Harper and Leon Marasco of Spruce Mountain Press informed me that I’d won an honorable mention in this year’s Past Loves Day competition, they did so through one of the loveliest and most personal letters I’ve ever received. I was moved all over again. If you are so inclined, hop on over and take a look at the 2013 winners.

And take a minute to think about the loves you may have left behind.

This is the most profound spiritual truth I know: that even when we’re most sure that love can’t conquer all, it seems to anyway. It goes down into the rat hole with us, in the guise of our friends, and there it swells and comforts. It gives us second winds, third winds, hundredth winds. ~Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Ode to the Dying Turkey Décor

Christmastime is here again!
No, it isn’t, actually. The only thing that’s here in this mall is these stupid carols that annoy the crap out of me and a bunch of decorations.

The weather outside is frightful! 
Again, no it isn’t. It’s really pretty balmy.

'Tis the Christmas season! 
See, but it isn’t, and that’s just the point. It’s really more post-Halloween. Christmas used to arrive with fanfare—Santa used to land on the roof of The Cool Mall in a helicopter to long lines of eagerly anticipating children. Now he must sneak in sometime around October, because every time I try to pick up a few things at the mall since then, they’ve assaulted my senses with Christmas carols and decorations that shouldn’t have been put up for another month. The mall and television keep trying to convince me that it’s the Christmas season, but saying it doesn’t make it so. Halloween just got over, and all this Christmas junk is eclipsing the Thanksgiving season and ruining it for me.

I have decorations, even, Thanksgiving ones, and all but one were gifts at some point, which makes them that much more special to me. The year my mother-in-law inexplicably gifted me with a giant, accordion-type crepe paper turkey that ushered in Thanksgiving on enormous cardboard wings, I decided to embrace seasonal décor—the tackier, the better. I added my own Avon turkey basket in the 80s that really isn’t designed to hold anything because it’s too small for fruit, too basket-y for candy, and not tall enough for anything useful, like serving utensils. The cardboard turkey has long since flown the coop on lame and crumpled wings, but I still have the basket, which is currently trying to hold TV remote controls even though the weight causes it to topple over.

It’s joined by tapers designed to look like a pioneer couple. Never mind that their heads have melted off so that Papa Pioneer drips wax remnants of his hat like so much dried blood down his decapitated body. I admire the determined way their little arms still clutch that harvest bounty to their headless bodies. They are Halloween and Thanksgiving at once, festive in their own macabre way, and I hate that the malls are trying to deprive me of enjoying them along with my stuffed pumpkins and leaf dishes and maple-scented candles.

Home for the holidays….
This carol I agree with, fleeing the mall and racing home to be with my turkey handprints and not-so-tasteful gourd arrangements. Bah, humbug.

Oh sweet mercy! A lime green hatchback! It’s a thing of beauty! ~Cars.com commercial

Sunday, November 10, 2013

In the Silences

When I was growing up, I used to hear about the war my parents had lived through long before I was born. Sometimes I’d ask my dad about being a marine in WWII. He’d pause for a moment and then tell me something lighthearted. To me, those few seconds—the ones that passed as he dropped his head as if in prayer and laced his fingers together to think of something appropriate to tell a little girl—spoke the loudest. It was the shadow that crossed his face that said it all. It was the silence that was significant.
On Saturday mornings, my dad would sleep in, but my mom got up at the usual time. She left the door open because she kept stuff she let us borrow in there: scissors, tape, nail polish. Sometimes I would sneak in there to get something. I’d make a game of it so as not to awaken my dad. I would tiptoe so lightly, my bare feet seemed to avoid the floor, let alone the squeaky floorboards. I wouldn’t breathe. It didn’t mater how quiet I was—I’d look over, and one eye would be watching me.
I used to ask him how he could wake up so easily. He’d shrug and say simply, “My life once depended on it.” Again, it was the silences that spoke.
When we buried my dad, rifles shot and trumpets blew. But the look that the flag-bearer gave us was more poignant than anything I’ve ever seen in my life, before or since. Written on his face, the face of one of my father’s fellow war buddies, was every emotion humanity has ever experienced: Sorrow. Strength. Pride. Sympathy. Empathy. Love. Fear. Grief. Triumph. And more. And they were all—all of them—spoken in total silence.
Last week I attended a middle school’s Veteran’s Day celebration. After the marching and singing and pledges and speeches, there was a moment when the entire student body seemed to be rendered completely silent, all on its own. And I realized this is what it’s about. Not just the day, but life itself. We work hard so that we may know rest, struggle that we may know ease, fight that we may know peace. It’s hard won, this silence, but worth it.
Tomorrow is Veteran’s Day. If you see a vet, please thank him or her. And if not, next time you have a moment of rest, of ease, of peace—give thanks. In the silences, give thanks. For the silences.

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.  ~Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, November 3, 2013

10 Deeply Insulting Ads That Show Up on My Facebook Homepage

  1. Wrinkle creams. These ads have been there since I first signed on to Facebook. But from this very first one, I’ve wondered if there is an actual, human Wizard of Ad hiding behind a curtain somewhere who looks at your picture and decides what you need, or if it’s automatically generated when you enter your birthdate? Either way….
  2. Diets. To throw them off I’ve actually Googled things like “clothing for people who are way too thin,” and “products for really skinny people,” but for some reason they don’t believe me.
  3. Plus Sized Clothing. I may not be minus-sized, Facebook, but I’m not plus either. In fact, size shouldn’t enter this equation in the first place.
  4. Ads about ridding myself of belly fat. Again…you know what you can do with your ads.
  5. Ads for older single men who are looking for faithful women. Who says I want older ones? Or that I’d be faithful? Let’s be fair here. Is my picture appearing on some 30-year-old man’s wall as an older woman looking for faithful men? 
  6. Orthodontics. Really? Bite me, Facebook.
  7. Truly unflattering photos of celebrities. Am I supposed to care that they look ugly sometimes, too? Is that supposed to make me feel better by comparison? It doesn’t. It just kind of confirms for me that you are skanky and low in your advertising practices.
  8. List of suggested movies that I might like. Exactly what about liking “Pride and Prejudice” makes you recommend “Curse of Chucky?”
  9. Free Trucker Schwag. I don’t know what that is, but I bet the wizard who thought I’d like this was the same one who suggested the Chucky movie.
  10. Ads inviting me to join Alzheimer Trials. This one appeared right after I posted that I’d caulked my hair. Which also happened to be right before my birthday. The hair-caulking had more to do with not having a decent and honest handyman than with dementia. I was outside, and caulk was naturally on my work gloves, because how else are you supposed to smooth it down? I had climbed through some bushes to caulk some siding, and suddenly I could feel something WALKING in my hair. And the footsteps felt rather large. Not only am I known for attracting spiders, but I once had a hidden alien pod filled with baby praying mantises hatch in my sunroom after I brought the plants in for winter, and those things are the stuff of which nightmares are made. For one thing, they have necks—which no bug is supposed to have—and they have these robotic movements and little E.T. faces that they tilt just so to give you the evil eye. And then there are the big, green, spikey Popeye arms—like if Popeye fell into a vat of radioactive spinach and sprouted Edward Scissorarm blades from his anchor tattoos—that they hold out in front of them like dukes-from-hell. Praying? Ha. They are ironically holding out their giant green lobster-arms to threaten you like pointy Mohammed Alis with vicious little scythes where the boxing gloves should be. So this was what it felt like was taking giant steps on my head, so naturally it would have been a sign of dementia not to have swiped at it, even if it did leave a big plastic loogie in there that was horrible to get out. Ads for Alzheimer trials? Just because I caulked my hair? And the day before a birthday? Facebook, you are deeply evil.

I don't want to talk to you no more, you empty-headed animal food trough wiper. I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries. ~Monty Python and the Holy Grail