Are You Paying Attention?

Are you a person who notices coincidence? I am. In fact I just can’t stop noticing patterns and coincidences everywhere in this strange, beautiful world. In this post I’ll focus on my favorite correlations: those I find in reading and writing.

I have a literal pile of books in my home; these were bought for $1 at the library, or given to me, or bought for myself – at full price (gasp!). I also cruise the library weekly and borrow any book I can’t resist. This is all in addition to a virtual pile of books on my Kindle.

I read in a promiscuous manner – anything and everything – fiction, non-fiction, books published this year, books published twenty or fifty years ago. I typically read two books at a time, setting myself up with fiction/nonfiction, or a horror/comedy, etc. My reading choices are most often random and blind (as in I heard this book was good but that’s all I remember about it), so when coincidences jump out at me from the books the only explanation I can come up with is that the universe is telling me something. Something that I haven’t yet been able to decipher; but something just the same. Here are some examples.

I picked Uni the Unicorn from the library to read to my son at bedtime. I read two each night, and that night, I plucked another book at random from O’s shelf; it was I Wish You More. Both were written by Amy Krause Rosenthal who then died a few days later; a tragic coincidence.

I read Gone Girl set in a small town in Missouri at the same time I read another book set in the same area of that state. Though N. Carthage in GG was a fictional town and I can’t even remember the other book I was reading, this still counts.

I wrote a post on my blog about love at first sight , then started reading Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff. Love at first sight (or is it?), New York, the art world. The very next book I picked up was Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss. New York, the art world, synesthesia. I myself have synesthesia and have sort of written about it it on this blog. Closed circle. Also I wonder if Lauren Groff and Molly Prentiss know each other. I feel like they should be friends based on those two books.

I read The Girls by Emma Cline, which is roughly about a girl who joins a cult in 1969. The girls in the cult go on to murder people in a celebrity’s home. The day after I finished this one, Charles Manson died. I mean, come on!

I read Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. The aunts have a cat named Magpie, who lives for an abnormal amount of years. Immediately after this book, I read Promise Not To Tell by Jennifer McMahon and a main character in that story has a cat named Magpie, but he gets his throat sliced.

In the fiction chapter book I’m writing: I write about a magical oasis and an Oasis song comes on while I’m writing that part. Thank you for the sign, universe. I write a short story about a person who eulogizes others for a living: the Sia song Breathe Me comes on. (Now bear with me here) this song was the last thing to be seen and heard on the late great series Six Feet Under (binge it NOW if you’ve somehow missed this in your life). Six Feet Under was about death. You can’t eulogize someone unless they are dead. Bingo, universe, why yes I’ll keep writing!

It must mean something right? Or does it just mean that I get really excited about coincidences that no one else would even bother to notice? Does this happen to you?

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My TBR vortex
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Falling Asleep Wrapped in an Old Book

One of my favorite things is falling asleep. The best thing about it is not the actual sleeping, but the few magical moments between being awake and asleep.  I’m tired, but in a satisfied way like a puppy – eyes closing, body cozying in on itself, mind going to one of the happy places it hides in at night. That’s my sweet spot right there. And of course that feeling is tied up with books.

Last night (as most nights) I fell asleep while reading. This time it was my book club’s selection –  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. The copy I’m reading is old. The book was published in 1943 and even though this isn’t a first edition, it’s close. There is a note inside from the publisher stating that the book is “manufactured in strict conformity with Government regulations for saving paper.”

I lifted this copy from the library of my Grandmother’s vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard. When I was in my early twenties, we had to sell the place. Even though the sale included its contents, I raided the built-in book shelves that lined two whole walls of the living room, taking my memories: this book and many others that I had read during summer weeks in that place.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has my great, great Aunt’s name inscribed on the inside cover. “Helen Aston” it says in her spiky handwriting; familiar to me from The Lobster Pot, though I never met the woman who built and ran the place as a restaurant and rooming house with her sister in the 1920s.

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ill-begotten books

The book is musty. The pages are thin, discolored, and about to rip at any moment. The cover is faded pink cloth with a peeling spine label, and the binding strings are coming loose.  I couldn’t love it more. The noise the binding makes when the book is opened, closed, or page-turned is supremely satisfying. The smell of it is my childhood.

I remember originally reading it while lounging on the “reading porch” that ran around three sides of the house. I read my summer books while reclined on a noisy, ancient metal wheeled chaise covered with a lumpy pink (it was red 40 years before) cushion that resembled the cover of the book in both choice of fabric and utter mustiness. It was heaven.

I drifted off to sleep last night in the comfort of the same feeling I’d get while reading books on that porch in summer (in the rain, the sun, the middle of the night.) I smelled the ocean while I read the Poisonwood Bible. I read Shakespeare while sitting there listening to the buoy bong. I read Stephen King there (in day light only, of course.)

It’s not the stories I remember as much as the feeling of perfect safety, comfort and harmony. A feeling we all need more of as adults. But last night, for one magical moment before I lost consciousness, I was back on the reading porch, engrossed in Francie Nolan’s hard life.  In my happy place.

The Importance of Being Open

Confession: for years I have pretended to be something I’m not – and it’s changed my life for the better. I am a naturally shy introvert who loves to be alone, yet I often act as if the opposite is true. In a situation in which my social anxiety could be paralyzing, I put on my “game face” and act like I’m someone who loves what is going on around me.

I’ve been practicing this for so long that I have grown out of the original label I imposed upon myself. And that is great because labels are limiting at best, destructive at worst.

After a while, it became immensely satisfying for me to shed my “shy” label. While I still think of myself this way; sometimes the opposite can be true.

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Like my mind

Now, I’m open to the possibility that an event, or people, or a situation might not fit my preconceived expectations and I’m so much happier for it. This may not be news to most people, but somehow it took me almost 40 years to realize.

When I was in high school, I was so closed off. I had this friend – we’ll call her Maria – who was the opposite. She was excited about and open to new opportunities, and often tried to drag me along with her. Even now I see photos of her on social media feeding tigers, lounging on tropical islands, deep sea fishing – basically still being open to new opportunities. She has been good at saying yes to things whereas I often let negative thoughts (what if I don’t like it/it’s not fun/I can’t do it) stop me.

One of the regrets of my life is not going to a U2 concert in 1993 with Maria. I didn’t want to take off work and spend the money on a ticket so I missed a bucket list band. What a bummer, right? Similarly, I didn’t go on a college trip to Malaysia because I needed to use the trip money to buy a car – which ended up being the worst lemon ever (thanks, karma!)

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Actual photo of the car I bought instead of going to Malaysia

In an ironic twist, the top two goals on my list of “things to do to have a better life” are to go to more concerts and to travel places I’ve never been. I wasted so much valuable time saying no.

The real reason I didn’t go to the concert or on the trip was because I was afraid. The money thing was just an excuse to hide behind. Maria always saw through that. Man, I must have been frustrating for her.

Just yesterday, I thought of her again when Pandora led me down a country music rabbit hole that started with Margo Price, who I’d heard on NPR the night before. I spent the afternoon listening to the Pistol Annies, Buffalo Clover, Sturgill Simpson, Kacey Musgraves. And I loved it. I was incredulous that I hadn’t opened my mind to this sooner, as I’d always labeled myself as someone that doesn’t like country music – but why? I don’t know any more. Label thrown away. Maria gave me a Green Day CD in high school and I was all “thanks, but I don’t really listen to this type of music.” She told me to shut up and listen to it anyway, and of course Dookie became a heavily-played favorite for years.

Opening myself up to new things – specifically saying “yes” to things that I would not normally has altered me in the best way. If I have to pretend to be brave to get myself there, that’s fine by me. In recent years I’ve done things I never would have thought – like writing this blog post, getting involved in a flash mob, submitting my writing to contests and agents, and taking a yoga class at the very intimidating Cross Fit gym in which I am the only jellyfish*, and I treasure these experiences.

I am not suggesting that anyone reading this should try to “think” their way out of anxiety or depression, or pretend to be someone they are not. I’m just letting you know what worked for me to expand my horizons. I went from being a shy person with a relatively mild form of social anxiety to being a shy person with a relatively mild form of social anxiety that participates anyway and finds immense happiness in doing so.

If you are feeling depressed or experiencing anxiety symptoms that are getting in the way of your life, please reach out to someone you trust or call a depression hotline for help and resources. I like the National Hopeline Network: 800-784-2433.

 

 

*jellyfish = person with no muscles

 

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Blue Water

Today kids in my little rural suburb and all over the county participated in walking out of their schools for 17 minutes to honor the lives lost in the Parkland, Fl. school shooting last month. I watched social media as adults debated about this for the past 48 hours. I couldn’t bring myself to read all the comments on the posts on our community Facebook forum “Let’s Talk <insert name of small town here>” though some I couldn’t escape. I read insults from adults; saying things like the march is political propaganda set up by adults and the kids are being used as political tools, among worse.

At best the adults who believe this are insinuating that kids of middle and high school age don’t have minds of their own. I don’t know about these other people but I sure had a strong mind of my own when I was a teenager. I pity them if they did not. If I felt a certain way and a parent or teacher told me otherwise, my will was not automatically bent to believe whatever they said. Are the adults complaining that the teens are being used and victimized the same people who would complain that their teenagers are stubborn, or won’t listen to them about other things (less important) such as what to wear, what sport to play, or who to hang out with?

These people are completely missing the point. How out of touch do you have to be to not understand why they want to do something big to stand up for their lives? While adults criticize on Facebook the kids are out there working. They are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

I have to be at the high school tomorrow night for a meeting. I wrote this note and will be folding it up and leaving it somewhere to be found by a student:

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And here is a poem I wrote weeks ago about ongoing health issues at our local high school:

Blue Water

When the level of copper in water is too high,

It is called blue.

New pipes bring blue water to the high school.

It is unacceptable.

Not fit for human consumption.

 

Protective biofilm needs time to flourish.

Organic slime pulsing, glistening in the pipes,

Shielding H2O from Cu blue.

Writhing coating, defending the water from the very pipes

Through which it is designed to flow.

 

But the children cannot wait for this seasoning,

We must protect them now!

Protect them from the blue water,

Though it never hurt me or you in the slightest,

Never murdered us in our own high school.

 

When the guns are fired,

The adults cannot hear them,

But the kids do.

The sound travels school to school in a deadly game of telephone,

Heard through tin cans connected by string.

 

But, the blue water.

Blue water at the high school is unacceptable.

 

 

 

A Happy Little Post About Death Music*

I love lists, and I love making mix tapes. Therefore, I keep a list of songs that are to be played upon my death. It’s on my phone in the memo app, if needed. It’s right next to my long list of possible future pet names and the shorter list titled “ugly dudes that are actually hot.”

Super macabre? Whatever, we’re all heading there at some point, right? Too controlling? Maybe. But it will be up to someone else if the songs are played at my service or at the after-party.

I’ve thought of burning a few CDs, labeled with “do not play until I die”, and giving them to people I can torture beyond the grave.

Should I play this CD of mom’s death songs? It’s so sad I don’t want to listen to it; is that disrespectful? Will she haunt me? 

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I have gone ahead and chosen the songs I want my loved ones to associate with me, or with death in general. I’ll be an earworm zombie. Most of the songs bring me to tears now, just thinking about my (hopefully far off) demise and how sad everyone else will be thinking about the songs after my death.

Some selections are meant to be funny, and I hope everyone gets that. My dark sense of humor doesn’t always translate. I get that from my mom. Come to think of it she would actually really dig this list, I suppose all the more if it wasn’t affiliated with her daughter’s future death.

I am procrastinating on writing a short story with a working title of The Eulogist. The eulogist is a woman who eulogizes people for a living, and one of the themes that keeps popping up is how much people (or –ahem, perhaps I) may want to control after their death, beyond their last wishes: what is said about them, what food is served at their service, who is allowed to attend, what people should wear, what music should play, etc.

All I care about is the music.

Here is a link to my death song playlist on Spotify and an incomplete sampling of my ever evolving list. If you have a song I should add to my list let me know in the comments.

Once in a Lifetime – Talking Heads

Dirt – Phish

Amazing Grace – ONLY the Rod Stewart version from Every Picture Tells a Story

I’ll Follow You Into the Dark – Death Cab for Cutie

So much Dawes: All Your Favorite Bands/A Little Bit of Everything/We’re All Gonna Die

So much Cat Stevens: The Wind/Trouble/Miles From Nowhere/If You Want to Sing Out

Lazarus – David Bowie (duh)

Just the piano part at the end of Layla by Derek and the Dominoes

My Sweet Lord – George Harrison

Home Sweet Home – Motley Crue

Knocking on Heaven’s Door – ONLY the Guns n’ Roses version from Use Your Illusion

[Straight to Your Heart] Like a Cannonball – Van Morrison

 

*I am not sick, nor actively dying (to my knowledge.) I just think about the big questions a lot. Plus, I recently turned 40. You know how it works.

Fact

Fact: The other day, confusing animal prints appeared on my front lawn. They were all over the small hill leading up to my house. I pictured something romping about and tossing its head in glee before walking up to my picture window and staring in to contemplate the life of my dog, inside and alone.

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Fact: There are many random animals in our area. I felt pretty stupid not being able to identify the prints immediately, so I said nothing to anyone other than my kids. I showed them and they said (quite dismissively) “horse.”  Pshaw, even I know horses wear shoes that are shaped like, well, horseshoes.

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Fact: Three days later my 10 year old neighbor announced to me, “my Dad saw a unicorn outside the other day.”

My ears immediately perked up. “Tell me more,” I commanded.

“Well, he said it looked kinda like a horse, but smaller, and it was white with brown spots. He said it was a unicorn.”

Fact: A freaking unicorn played in my yard, people. Magic is real.

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The Daily Post:Fact

Field Trip

My kindergartener is on his first field trip today. They are visiting the aquarium. He recently announced that he’s “really into fish” so I am happy for him.  However, I will spend the day vacillating between frustration and guilt regarding the chaperone situation.

When I was in second grade, my dad came on our field trip to the Museum of Science in Boston. I was thrilled about him getting a peek into my world, meeting my school friends and sharing that experience with me.  He bought me a gyroscope and a prism in the gift shop. It was a big deal and I knew that I was “lucky” enough to have my dad come because he was unemployed at the time.  Lost in these fond memories, I filled out the volunteer form to be a chaperone for this trip and sent it in immediately.

The VERY NEXT DAY the teacher emailed the parents of the class saying that so many parents had volunteered as chaperones that they couldn’t fit us on the bus. Therefore, if we still wanted to come we could drive our own cars behind the bus. This is where I lost interest. I am trying to get O to be more independent, and I was going to have to alter my work schedule to go anyway. I let this one go.

I know a bunch of parents of the kids in O’s class. They are all going on the field trip.  They’ve taken off work and lined up babysitters for their other kids (or just bringing siblings along).  They are driving their mini vans and SUVS behind the bus and attending the field trip with their children.

I’m trying not to judge the parents that are going; I wanted to be one of them. But, I wanted it to be special. In our school it is definitely NOT special that a parent is there. Because a parent is always there. Every day there is at least one parent volunteer in class. I have a friend who randomly stops in to say hi or see her kid at lunch. It’s nice that we live in a time and place that allows us to do all this, but is there a hidden cost to the kids? Are we as parents doing this type of thing for ourselves?

I think the parents that are going are doing so with the best of intentions:  because it will be a fun thing to do with their kids. Maybe it will be something that these kids write about on their future blog. Except, maybe not. If a parent is present for all the things, even the school things, are they still unique experiences? Or is it like taking a trip to the aquarium with your mom, but you happen to run into all your friends and your teacher? I don’t know. But I am viewing this as an opportunity for O to find out.

skenazy

I recently read and am recommending the book Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy (http://www.freerangekids.com/). It gave me a lot to think about. You don’t have to get on board with everything in the book; I have not. But it is definitely an interesting read. While I probably wouldn’t put my 9 year old on public transportation in NYC like she did – noting that I do not live there and am not comfortable with it myself – I can let O go on a very supervised field trip with his class without my attendance.  I recommend this book for every parent; those that agree with my sentiments and those that do not. She has an interesting perspective and makes a lot of valid points. Not all of them were for me, but the book as a whole has really opened my eyes to the culture of invulnerability we are trying to surround our kids with.

So, how to explain all this to the five year old looking up at you with big brown eyes asking why you aren’t coming on the field trip because all his friend’s mommies are:  I don’t know the right answer. I do know that like so many times in this parenting game, I gave the wrong one.