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Book Fetish

In books on June 15, 2011 at 3:50 pm

*editors note: this post was originally written a few weeks ago on the way to the race at Whip City. Before you ask for the make and model of my car, I was in the passenger seat. But for the record, it’s a lime green 1970 hemi ‘cuda.** in the post to follow I allude to my book hoarding issue as being my only real compulsion. That’s a lie. I also get an assignment with a two month timeframe and wait until the week before the deadline to even call a source. (ok. AND I’m a hyper vigilant hypochondriac. And sometimes I lie. But this isn’t Dr. Phil, people.)the point is, I haven’t posted this post because I’ve been busy un-bleeping the ripples of all of last week’s almost missed deadlines. But it’s a good thing i didn’t because I had a really good idea…

I am lucky enough to be alive in a time when every action, whether noble or perverse, can be ascribed to a psychological condition. If you do something bizarre that you would rather not take credit for, all you have to do is blame your condition. I’m not trivializing these issues either. I’m just pointing out the convenience of being fluent in them. And it’s nice to all be in the same boat. The other day I was out to lunch with two of my dearest friends, Sandi and Alterna-mommy. (AM) Sandi was updating us on the progress of someone else’s OCD.

“Shit,” I said. “show me someone who doesn’t have OCD.”

My friends looked wounded.

“I don’t,” they each said.

“Sandi, you clean and paint your house all day long. AM, you frame all your jewelry and hang it on the wall. OCD, my friends. You’ve got it. And I hoard books. So there. We’re all crazy.”

Then we did some eating in silence. I envisioned my books. When I say I have at least a thousand, probably more, I am not even dipping my toes into the river of hyperbole. Our house is roughly 2,000 square feet, counting the garage. That means at least one book for every other square foot. My family lives in a used book store. We laugh at the library and the Internet when we need to research a paper.

Since Scott does not like to read unless it’s something that’s been posted on Craig’s List, sometimes he makes little sighing noises when a stack of books restricts his movement in some way. I tolerate the sighing, but when he escalates into suggestions that I donate a portion of my collection to the trash can, I kindly draw his attention back to the 25 bicycles that occupy the garage. We are all crazy.

Who cares about rooting around for the source of my crazy? I love to read and I will never quit. If I go blind, I’ll learn Braille. I loved to smoke and I quit doing that for all the loudmouths in the world like my doctor. A little complaining wont make me get rid of my books.

I’m certain, though, that I inherited book hoarding from my parents. When my father died, I also inherited his lifetime collection. He was an engineer and a computer geek. I donated most of the books, like the ones with titles I couldn’t even sound out, to the book box at the elementary school. Most of the espionage books went to Paul at Annies Bookstop in return for a lifetime worth of credit. But I kept the library books he forgot to return in 1957. I kept the books he read out loud to me like The Neverending Story, The Once and Future King and Pet Semetary. And I kept the ones that looked well loved. The ones he must have read between weekend visitations or during all the years we didn’t talk.

One day, Sandi was over marveling at the quantity of books. “Dawn, if you drop dead tomorrow, no one is going to know which you really loved because there are so many,” she said. That’s true. What if someone throws away my copy of The Phantom Tollbooth without thinking about how it kept me company when I changed schools in the 3rd grade? Of course, another psychological condition, narcissism, leads us to believe that anyone would even care. But I would have loved to know which my dad liked better: the dog eared Asminov or the dog eared copy of 2001.

Which leads me to my good idea! I’m starting a quest to weed my books down to the ones I love. That means cookbooks, self help books, and outdated how to build your own farm/robot/computer books as well as paperback novels. I’m going to read them all. If I don’t love them after 34 pages (I know, harsh.) I’m going to give them away or leave them somewhere for somebody else to love. It will be like a treasure hunt! And then, I will be left with the treasures.

So, let the games begin. I began with Frankenstein. Not the one by Shelley. The one by Koontz. I love Dean Koontz because once I sent him fan mail and his dog wrote me a letter back. She even signed it with her paw. And now I get a monthly newsletter from him. My dad loved Koontz too. There are a billion paperbacks in my collection. But Frankenstein will leave me later on today or tomorrow when I am finished with it. I will leave it somewhere secret and mysterious so that somebody can stumble upon it and say, “oh look, a book! The universe must want me to read it.” so, it’s not like I’m trying to cure my hoarding issue or anything. But I’m happy to share. Oh, and Scott? You’re welcome.

**a complete lie. It’s actually a rust colored Bentley convertible.

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The Badass Biker Gets Taken Down a Notch

In Life Lessons, Monday Review on May 27, 2011 at 4:51 pm

The idyllic scenery of these roads almost negates it's treachery. Almost

So…I will preface this blog from a remote location by saying that Scott was right. I should not have ridden to the bakery. It’s only an eight mile ride– four there and four back. After my ten mile crucible earlier this week, I thought to myself eight miles? pshaw. But I forgot that the four mile stretch in question was made out of volcanos. I had to stop four times up one hill in order to not die of cardiac arrest. Then, on the next hill, I had to get off and walk. This is not badass behavior! My spirit is crippled. But, on the plus side, I’m eating a delicious almond croissant.

The other day I came to this bakery, called the Madrid Bakery, because it was my stepdad’s birthday and I needed a cake.

Wait– let me ask you something. Have you ever read the book “Chocolat?” Its one of my favorites and its about this woman and her daughter who move to a little French town and open a chocolate shop. The woman can tell what kind of chocolate will fix what ails you as soon as you walk into her shop and her chocolate is magical. I read this book years ago while in Cancun so some of the details escape me….but I think she added something Mexican to her recipe, or maybe it was tears. Anyway, I have always wished for a chocolate shop like that to come to magical Framingham. Why not? So the other day after i purchased the chocolate and vanilla ganache cake at this little Spanish patisserie, the woman said that I needed to come back on Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday and try her fresh croissants because they were the best in the world. Naturally I made the connection. A magical shop in which people can cure me with delicious food has arrived! Being pragmatic, I realized that I should ride my bike to negate the calories in the croissant.
“Not a good idea,” said Scott. “it’s all uphill and full of treacherous and windy roads.”
“Oh dear,” said my mother. “I will pray for your safety.”
“you have certainly earned your croissant,” said the little Spanish lady behind the counter when at last I arrived.
She could tell because my face was the color of a bad rash, my hair was sweaty and plastered to my cheeks and I huffed into the shop like I was going to either eat something or blow the house down. So she prescribed an almond croissant for me.
“Next time,” she said, while I handed her my cash, ” you try this.” she pointed to a mysterious, angel sprinkled cake with a name I couldn’t pronounce that looked like the name of a saint. “Its my personal favorite. And every morning before I work, I have a slice.”
I will take her up on that offer. But next time, I will drive.
Now for the ride home.

I’m a Badass. Just Saying.

In Life Lessons on May 23, 2011 at 4:21 pm

SO, this morning I decided to ride my bike to the
market. I only had to get a few things. On the way, I saw my friend Shannon.

“Just riding around?” she asked.

“No.  I’m in
training,” I answered. “I got picked up by a bike team this morning.”

Then Shannon laughed and laughed. I don’t think she
was laughing at me. It’s just that she knows that I have never been on a team
in my life and it must have struck her as delightful. Also, I’m not exactly
what one would refer to as “athletic.”Shannon belongs to a soccer team AND a
hockey team and God knows what else.

“That’s fantastic,” she laughed, tears spilling over
the rims of her eyes.

Then I went on to the market, parked the bike and
headed in. I carried my helmet instead of leaving it with the bike just in case
anyone else wanted to ask me about how badass I am.

Over by the meat department, I bumped into another
friend who neglected to notice the helmet slung over my forearm. He is a small
business owner and wanted to talk about how taxes are killing him. Lots of my
friends own businesses, however, so this isn’t news to me. It’s not that I’m
not compassionate or anything, it’s just that I really wanted to get my $1.99
per pound chicken before the sale price changed. (This guy’s a talker.) As
Chris neatly segued from taxes into an oral dissertation on the meaning of “axis
of evil,” I realized I had to make a move. I dropped some of my groceries and
when he leaned over to pick them up for me, I offered my helmet, as if to say,
throw them in there.

“Did you ride your bike here?” he asked. “Like, as in your bicycle?

Then I told him how I’ve raced at the BMX track
twice now and how this morning I got picked to be on the first team I’ve ever
been on EVER and how my heart was beating out of my chest and my vision was
woozy and I thought I would die standing on top of that giant starting hill
waiting for the gate to go down. And then how, all of a sudden, I felt this
crazy calm come over me and it was like nothing existed anymore but the moment.

“You were in the zone,” he said. His eyes narrowed. “So,
you know about the monk and the strawberry then?” he asked, as if that made
sense. I shook my head.

“This monk,” he began, “Was running from some
hyenas. He ran and ran and came to this tree. He climbed up and saw that at the
top of the tree was a hungry lion. So he jumped off the tree and ran some more.
Meanwhile, the hyenas and the lion are chasing him. He comes to this cliff
overlooking a ravine. At the bottom of the ravine is a river full of
alligators. So he has the lion and the hyenas coming up behind him and down
below are the alligators snapping their teeth. The monk backs to the edge of the
cliff and he slips. He’s falling down into the ravine and all of a sudden, his
robe catches on a branch that’s sticking out. He looks up at the branch and
sees that his robe is ripping. He shuts his eyes and starts to meditate and
when he opens them again, he sees this perfect, juicy strawberry growing out of
the side of the ravine. It’s perfectly red, perfectly round. Time stops. All that
exists is this strawberry. So he reaches out to grab it and pops it into his
mouth. It’s the most delicious strawberry that ever existed. The monk achieves
enlightenment. Nirvana.”

“And then what?” I asked.

“And then he fell to his death, of course. The point
is the strawberry. He was in the zone. That’s what it’s all about. The zone.”

I thought about zones on the ride home, backpack heavy
with chicken and bananas and oranges. There’s lots of “zones.” There’s the
combat zone, The Zone diet and Auto Zone for starters. I’ve also heard my
athletic friends make references to this mythical “place” in which they enter
from time to time but I’d assumed it could only be reached with the aid of gross
motor skills (which I lack) and endorphins.

I thought about how I felt on the starting hill. How
that supernatural calm overtook me. How, even though I lost both races, I
glowed for the rest of the day. I thought about the monk and the strawberry. Like
the monk, time stopped for me on that hill, alligators besides. For me and the
monk, there was a little eye of calm in the middle of a terror storm. Was that
nirvana? Probably more like an adrenaline rush. But whatever. I’ll buy it.

Alone-ly

In Two Things That Did Not Get Published on May 19, 2011 at 2:49 pm
http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://thisisframingham.com/images/panacheinside2.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.thisisframingham.com/panache-coffee&usg=__FfnPRVUeMuI3XPOo-Pr6XIQ8BcU=&h=343&w=350&sz=150&hl=en&start=0&zoom=1&tbnid=pGook9G7Kfp1uM:&tbnh=151&tbnw=154&ei=2SzVTZy4M4TLgQfRt4S3DA&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dpanache%2Bcoffee%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DN%26rlz%3D1T4GGLL_en%26biw%3D1659%26bih%3D796%26tbm%3Disch&um=1&itbs=1&iact=rc&dur=699&sqi=2&page=1&ndsp=32&ved=1t:429,r:7,s:0&tx=109&ty=84

None of these people is me or my interviewee. Or the politician for that matter. Not my BFF either.

I am a freelance writer who is lucky enough to be way too busy. The vast majority of what I write goes in doc.x format to a faceless boss named Kristina who lives in Washington State where she grows a vegetable garden amongst the towering Sequoia and Redwoods and edits my weekly columns. That’s my ghost writer work. I often liken my ghost writing to the work of a habitual sperm donor. We both pour forth our seed, get a check for it and I never see where my babies end up. Whatevs. At least I don’t have to worry about any of my kids marrying my other offspring.

I also work for a Boston-based magazine and a Boston-based newspaper. Those jobs, too, are manned by faceless bosses, though I have met my boss/mentor at the paper a handful of times. At those places, I am given a byline. But I rarely read my work once it’s published because it embarrasses me to the point of physical pain to see my words in print. I write lots of papers for college, stories for my writing group, stories to indulge myself and I keep a journal. The point is, I write A LOT and words are an alone-ly thing.  Sometimes I lurch out of my (second floor bell tower) office like a deranged Quasimodo and can’t figure out how to make it WORK in the world where people actually LIVE.

Take this for example. The other day I was meeting with an interviewee at a local coffee spot. He also is self-employed. I don’t want to speak for him, but I’m pretty sure I saw a bit of the I’m-OUT(!!!!!)-of-the-office mania reflected in his eyes. We leaped and barked and nipped for a few minutes, just happy to be let out of our cages. Then we settled down to our coffees in their wide porcelain cups and spoke into my tape recorder. After a while, a local politician we both are acquainted with came by. He just recently won an election, so he was dressed in a very politicianish way in his battleship gray suit, his subtly striped shirt and his bold, I-can-do-this tie. On his lapel was a little pin that looked like the state of Massachusetts. He also had a smudge of mania on his face and I recalled that before he represented me, he was self-employed. We shook hands with each other and with his female companion and then we made ironic small talk (which is the human form of the canine custom of butt-sniffing) and then we all went back to work.

Soon after, my interviewee and I reflected on how we both talk and answer ourselves during the day while we are alone as if it were safe to admit such a dirty secret in the glowing sunshine of company.

“What should we do this morning, Dawn?” I told him I ask myself.

“I don’t know, Dawn, let’s have a little staff meeting,” I told him I answer.

We chuckled, content that we were BOTH crazy and thus neither of us was. He admitted that he has considered buying a volleyball and naming it Wilson.

This is not a new thought. One of my BFF’s is a firefighter who doesn’t read this blog. Which is why I can mention him almost by name. Just the other day we talked about how sad we feel when the kids go to school in the morning and we are left with a field full of untamed hours to break. “Freedom,” shouted that lunatic Mel Gibson from astride his horse in the movie about the Scottish guy. What got cut in editing was the part right after that where he hollered, “is so freaking lonely!”

I’m not complaining, I’ve got a kick ass job. Right now I’m “working” and I’m dressed in my un-politicianish polka-dotted pajama pants and a blue tank top. Sans supportive undergarments.  We home based workers are part of a new generation of capitalism. (That scoffs at benefits, insists on overtime and would like to see you try and take a vacation.) We are pioneers in the Wild West. We are free within a set of rigid parameters. So, given that, all I’m asking is that, should you drop by for coffee one morning and overhear me shouting at myself, you’ll understand why.

Read These Books and Live Forever*

In Monday Review on May 18, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Oh God I love books. Stories…. Plots….characters I can bury my face inside…I need not say more. You get or you don’t simple as that. I wanted to say that much, though, because I’m in the middle of a self-indulgent moldering gloom thanks to the weather and the tragedy of the last few weeks and the fact that I quit drinking. I didn’t see that coming. Anyway, as we escapist readers do, I have, this week (give or take a day), read three novels which I love. The first was “A Visit from the Goon Squad,” by Jennifer Egan. The second, “The Girl Who Chased the Moon,” by Sarah Addison Allen and the third, which I am actually not quite done with yet is Chris Bohjalian’s “Secrets of Eden.” I chose these three because the bookstore had Goon Squad on the table of buy-two-get-one-free’s and I’ve wanted to read it since I first read a review…what? Last year? And therefore I should also buy two more books. What can I say? I’m a slave to the red sticker.

So, what I want to tell you is that Goon Squad is one of those books that make you stay up past Craig Ferguson reading. It will make you fake Montezuma’s revenge just to get a little time to yourself with the door locked. It’ll make you leave for carpool half an hour earlier just so you can have an excuse to sit somewhere and finish another chapter. It’s a novel made up of stories told by a handful of characters whose lives intersect at some point or another. The story doesn’t go from point a to point b, despite the section headings, however. Or maybe it does but in the convoluted f*cked up way that time and memory really work.  I remember reading that Egan had screwed around with the construction of the novel at the last-minute because she didn’t think it worked as a linear story.  She nailed it in ways that are going to be analyzed by future lit undergrads.

But, clever construction aside, Goon Squad is an overall smart novel. People should be falling all over themselves the way they did over Frantzen’s “Freedom.”   

*just kidding

Stranded

In Travel on April 10, 2011 at 12:20 pm

In a little while, Scott is leaving for Peoria for 80 hours. It’s a business trip. After my last business trip, I realized that I don’t like travelling alone. But neither do I like being left home by somebody else. I guess I want to have my family travel with me on all future business trips and I would like to be brought along on all of Scott’s future business trips. Also, I’d like all of our future business trips to be in places that are warm, have a beach, and feature an all-inclusive resort. Why do people send their employees to the cold and rugged out-lying wastelands of Chicago? Sometimes Scott goes to Las Vegas for business. That’s what I’m talking about.  In Scott’s line of work, business trips are really like school field trips. He goes places to learn and schmooze and see. Those activities always work better when paired up with an exotic location. *It’s been proven by scientists. Actually, what would make MORE sense would be to live at the exotic field trip location and, on business trips, visit the actual place of employment.

Sometimes I fantasize about moving to an exotic island. Not the Galapagos, because we all know that didn’t turn out well for the last people who tried. I’m thinking more along the lines of someplace off the coast of Cancun so I’m close enough to America to get a heart transplant or something if I need it,** but far enough away to feel like I’m Alex from the Black Stallion.

Here’s what I would bring:

  1. My family
  2. A library. I would say an iPad, but if I had my own library there I wouldn’t have to worry about bringing the books back on time. Plus, if I got starved for companionship I could talk to the librarian. I’ll bring my iPad anyway because it’s my favorite thing.
  3. A solar outlet for my iPad. Once a month I can go to the mainland for supplies and WiFi updates.
  4. Some ativan for when I get carried away
  5. Some chickens
  6. Blankets because it gets cold on the beach at night even with a big bonfire
  7. Notebooks and pens
  8. A toothbrush
  9. A huge jar of Ponds cold cream

     10.  Sunscreen

     11.  Lip balm

     12.  Fishing poles

     13.  That big bag of matches we have on the fridge leftover from when Olivia made her valentines out of empty matchbooks

     14.  Some cards and a couple of board games

     15.  Smencils and a sharp knife for sharpening and other things

     16.  Various seeds for vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers

     17.  A water purification kit

     18.  Courage

     19.  Fearlessness

     20.  A pillow

     21.  Some gum

     22.  A frying pan, spatula and some pepper.

     23.  A bar with live music every night and excellent pina coladas and fire dancers.

*Possibly

**Yeah, I know where it is, Paul.

Just Sittin Here Watchin the Wheels

In Life Lessons on April 5, 2011 at 4:45 pm

I have two friends who are, right now, this instant, fighting for their lives. Well, one is technically not a friend of mine but the friend of a friend. But we do wave in carpool and occasionally say hi. We have several past get-togethers in common too.

She has cancer. You can read about her here. She’s a brilliant writer.

The other is an old friend from high school who I lost touch with only to be re-connected on Facebook. I remember about a year ago I saw her in Starbucks. She was wearing tiny shorts and a tank top and looked like what a fitness model would aspire to be. I was wearing sweatpants, a sweatshirt, a ball cap, hadn’t showered yet and was trying to hide behind the unidentifiable stains on the front of my shirt.

Right now she is unconscious on life support. She has been for a while. She has some infection that no one can fix. She’s only 34.

God – I feel for them and their families.

Though I write for a Jewish newspaper and look like a Muslim in my FB profile pic, I’m generally Catholic.  Its Easter season. I can’t help but think about life. I spent this past weekend thinking about life and how much of my allotted sentence has already gone by.

I don’t want to let it go. I LIKE it. I want more of it. I want to slow it down and hoard it like I’m on A&E.

One of my favorite bloggers ever likes to make exhaustive lists about things. Following his lead, I’ve made an exhaustive list of how I can slow down my own life a little bit. If you think of any other ways, please let me know.

1)      Get more rest. I know this seems counterintuitive since sleep takes up the precious time in which I could be LIVING. But getting enough sleep helps concentration and concentration helps awareness and therefore it’s imperative.

2)      Limit the amount of to-do’s in a day. I’m really considering hiring an India based company so I can outsource the things I don’t want to do. I already outsource chores like emptying the dishwasher and putting away the laundry and taking out the trash to the people I gave birth to. But I think I could get some more to-do’s knocked off if somebody in India would order my groceries, make my appointments, keep track of my tax deductions and so on. Until then, I’m going to cut things out.

 Scott says that he puts three big-ticket items on his to do list each day. That way they all get done and he can take the time to do his best. I like that idea. Unresolved lists stress me out.

However, lists also clear up my mind so I don’t have to think about what to do. It’s a careful balance. Three things it shall be, in addition to the many other things the house requires. Today, for me, it’s this blog, a chapter in my novel and my homework that is due tonight. I am almost done.

3)      Make walking a mediation. My poor dog can walk and pee at the same time. I think I should leave my iPod at home and be fully engaged in my walks with her. At least I should let her squat to pee. I’m always in such a hurry when I get out and walk.

4)      Spend more time listening. Especially to the people who empty the dishwasher, take out the trash and put away the laundry. I think that listening without thinking about what I need to do or what to say next is probably a Jedi mind trick. Therefore, it’s worthwhile.

5)      Play Board Games. Instead of computer games or Wii games. They are slower and more interactive.

6)      Don’t go to Chain Stores on the Weekend. I don’t know if I have mentioned this before, but living in the suburbs creeps me the hell out a lot of the time. Especially on Saturday. It’s like “Night of the Living Dead” and Target is calling us all to the Mothership. Kids sports games creep me out too. What a strange beast, this culture of the suburbs. Oh, I just noticed that the root word of “culture” is “cult.” Being out and about in the suburbs on the weekend makes me want to:  a. rush back home and b. rush to beat everybody else to the parking spot. I just don’t want to rush anymore. I want to BE with the people I love.

7)      Learn how to sit with myself. I want to learn how to be present in the moment. Everyone always says that. I want to learn how to encapsulate my days so I don’t have to worry about all the other days. I want to calm my monkey mind. When I’m walking, I want to walk. When I’m cooking, I want to cook. When I’m writing, I want to write. I want to use all my senses and be fully engaged in the world as its happening.

8)      Spend more time in nature. Of course, this gets easier as the weather gets better. This past weekend I was raking acorns. It’s a hopeless task. But it made me feel so peaceful.  I Felt like I had tapped into the speed of the world and it was right. Sometimes I go too fast and give myself anxiety and other times I go to slow and lie on the couch eating popcorn. But being outside makes me feel like Goldilocks. In other words, it’s just right.

9)      Speaking of Acorns…I think it’s helpful to have a long project that you know you won’t finish. That way, you aren’t in a rush to do so. The good thing about raking acorns is that by the time I get them all raked, the oak trees will drop more.

Maybe these are shallow thoughts in light of the opening paragraph of this post.  Fighting for your life is no joke at all. But, you know, I don’t think fighting life is too funny either. I think about that old John Lennon song, the one about the watching the wheels go round and round.  I don’t want to be on the wheel anymore.  

 

My Mother Kills It

In Life Lessons on March 26, 2011 at 1:18 pm


Peppermint is a delicious thing. I love peppermint. Peppermint tea, peppermint white stuff in a chocolate shell, peppermint ice cream, peppermint gum, peppermint jelly. Well, I don’t really like peppermint jelly. But I do like peppermint schnapps. It’s like getting drunk and brushing your teeth at the same time. But peppermint in the garden can be too much of a good thing.

This is a lesson my mother taught me. Too much of anything good becomes a pain in the ass. (Especially the schnapps.)

If you don’t know, peppermint takes over the garden by spreading its roots. Mint can escape from big pots and separate beds as well. As the story goes, one year my mother planted a few pots of mint in her perennial bed. She knew that mint’s a thug, but she thought she’d be able to keep on top of it by edging and whatnot. She was wrong. Before she knew it, the mint had taken over. Whole perennials were covered with mint graffiti. Birds were taken hostage. My mother had to start carrying a handgun when she walked to her car because the mint kept trying to shake her down.

She was forced to go in and rip the plants out by their roots. And then it got her thinking.

“This is what my mind looks like right now,” she said to herself. “A mess.”

She was, at that point, shipwrecked in a particularly thick mess of mint and probably woozy. Mint had wound around all her limbs and was trying to ingest her and it’s possible that there was some sort of “fragrant nectar” being used to intoxicate her senses. But she found a sort of Zen in the experience and by the power of her mind and her machete,  she fought her way out and survived to pass on her wisdom.

“Dawn,” she said, with the calm, battle-scarred demeanor of the true sages. “Your garden is a reflection of what is going on in your mind. If it’s a mess, you are a mess and you must go out and make it better. My mint was like my thoughts. At first, in small controlled bits, it was nice. I had mint for tea. Mint for juleps. Mint for lamb. But then it became like an obsessive boyfriend stalker. I couldn’t even see anything else because of all the mint.” *

For the last few years, my perennial bed has been behaving like the Mums, Black-Eyed Susan’s and wild rose bushes are acting in a summer long production of Animal House. It’s embarrassing. People used to love my garden. They would stop and put their chins in their hands and talk in soft voices to each other while contemplating. They would hold up their thumbs and forefingers and then make sketches in their notebooks. Now they just walk by and shake their heads. The poor Lavender bushes and Bleeding Hearts have become ashamed to even send up their new shoots.

My mother is right. My mind and my garden are a mess. I’ve been having a hard time, lately,  working through the fact that a long-term friendship has ended. The thoughts have consumed me.

Last weekend I decided to try my mother’s advice. I went out and had a “conversation” with the John Belushi of the bunch. He’s a big wild rose that is almost as thick in stalk girth as the ornamental Japanese Maple that lives next to him. I brought my machete and some heavy-duty bolt cutters from Scott’s toolbox. I knew that I had to cut him down to size in order to set an example for the others. He was easily three feet taller than me and four times my size around. Once he figured out what I was going to do, he wrapped his arms around me and clawed at my shoulders. But I was armed. We battled for an hour or more.

After he was chopped and cremated, I went on to the Butterfly Bush and the weird giant weeds I had let grow last year because I was too busy with work and other things and plus I wanted to see what they would end up looking like. I burned them all in the fire pit. My driveway and yard had a definite post –apocalyptic vibe. There was the little rose bush. The little butterfly bush. The sparse, early spring, smoke drift covered bare beds. The bonfire. And me, in flannel, with a machete and bolt cutters and the dirty, bloody look of the victor. Splattered mashed potatoes from the rose bush’s last stand covered my vehicle.

And guess how I felt? Better.

 

*The conversation went something like that. That’s the gist of it. My mother probably used different examples because, as far as I know, she doesn’t drink julep or eat lamb. And she probably used sage-ier wording. I’m just an ordinary schmuck. I know not what the Yoda would say.

 

Ten Important Lessons I Learned at the Laundromat:

In Life Lessons on March 18, 2011 at 2:15 am

I’ve had a rough couple of weeks. I’ve decided to try Logotherapy to help myself through this tough time. Logotherapy, in a nutshell, is the practice of finding meaning in the random things that happen to you in order to make sense of it all. The idea isn’t new and it isn’t mine. Viktor Frankl came up with logotherapy and somebody tweeted about it this morning. Sounded like a good idea so I thought to myself, Dawn, find some personal meaning in the broken washing machine. So here it is.

  1. Don’t act like a know it all. It’s better to ask for help than act all cool with your roll of quarters and then pour your soap in the wrong hole. And fabric softener. Just let the Russian lady who runs the Laundromat help you. I act like a know it all a lot. I think life would be easier if I didn’t bear the burden of having to act like I know everything. Also, more interesting conversations could happen if I let somebody else know something from time to time.
  2. Don’t pay in quarters. Or dimes or nickels or pennies for that matter. They don’t call it nickel and diming because it’s cool. Laundromats, toll booths and arcades used to operate on coins. Now the toll booth is operated by a white box glued to the inside of my windshield. The arcade is operated by make-believe quarters that have pictures of a giant talking mouse stamped on them. And the Laundromat is operated by a special Laundromat debit card into which you must put cash. And cash only. No coins. I feel bad for coins in a way. I wonder why people don’t like them. I can only assume it’s because they are rigid, they rattle, they stink, and it takes too many of them to buy anything. Which leads me to lessons #3 – 6:
  3. Don’t be rigid.
  4. Don’t rattle.
  5. Don’t stink.
  6. Don’t be cheap.
  7. If you want to accuse the Russian Lady of being both a spy AND a thief, accuse yourself first of being an idiot My grandfather used to say that if you want to criticize, don’t. If you still want to criticize, don’t. And if you STILL want to criticize, criticize yourself. I don’t think he made that up any more than I made up logotherapy but I heard it a million times throughout the course of my childhood. Clearly I still haven’t learned the lesson. When I couldn’t find the debit card for the Laundromat, I had a little conversation with the Russian Lady that went a something like  this:

 

Me: Should I use the same card next time I do laundry?

RL: Yes of course the card is yours!

Me: Well, can I have it back then?

RL: I don’t have your card.

Me: Neither do I!

RL: What do I want with your card?

Me: How should I know?

RL: Darling, I think your card is on top of the washing machine.

It was. After I thought about it, I realized that since I already fed my fifteen dollars into the machine, she already had my cash. The card was just a meaningless piece of plastic. Then I realized that ALL MY CASH is represented by meaningless pieces of plastic. Then I dug a hole in my yard in which to place my entire coin collection. Those aren’t plastic. No one can take them from me. Not that anyone wants them.

8.       Don’t carry your crap around in a black plastic trash bag and expect to get any respect. It just looks bad. And believe me, people judge you by the bag you carry.

9.       Don’t fight with your spouse in public. Exact same reason as for lesson #8. Exact. Also, don’t try to get all dramatic and grab your spouse’s arm and sigh and roll your eyes and genuflect either. While it’s entertaining for the rest of us, you just make yourself look melodramatic. I was accused of being melodramatic this week. I’m not. I’m plain old dramatic. If you have to overdo it, overdo in authentic drama. Not melodrama.

10.   If your car stinks, try keeping open bottles of Downy and Gain in the backseat. This was a lucky bonus lesson I learned after I lost the caps to the Downy and Gain bottles.

I might follow-up with meaning found in all the other things that broke this week: a long-term friendship, the dishwasher, a cup one of the kids made, the 4-in-1 printer, the sand dollar I found on the beach in Charleston, the furnace, the thermostat that runs the furnace and a bowl that Scott made in his pottery class. I’m not sure. For now, I’ve got to catch up on the laundry.

Snapshots from the Train

In Travel on March 6, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Last week I took a train ride down to Charleston for work. The trip took 18 hrs. Sure, I could have whittled those long, lonely hours down to about ninety minutes or so in an airplane but a. I don’t belong up there and b. I love trains. In fact, I love trains more than the average six-year-old boy. I believe that has something to do with the past life I spent in St Petersburg, a story for another day. I especially love the Carolinian, or, as I call it, the Soul Train. In DC, at the Union Station, the Soul Train switches out the electric engine car that it uses for NorthEast travel to the heavy, hard-hitting diesel it uses for the south. The passengers, equalized by time and miles,  shake off their guise of business travel, pull out the travel sized containers of Grey Goose and Jamison and meet up in the cafe car for a party on wheels. You don’t even need to bring a book on board the Carolinian. It’s that much fun. But before the reward of the party train, one must endure long, bitter, Russian accented northeasterly hours. The following are microbursts of description from my last trip.  

~I sleep from Boston to New York City (thanks to my hypnosis playlist) But I awake beneath the city in the frigid guts between 7th and 8th avenues. Left to stagnate, undigested, with the doors open and welcoming the coldest air on the planet to settle in beneath my purple peace sign Snuggie. The reddest of red-eyed travellers stumble aboard up too late or too early. I am too cold to sleep. This is an act of terror.

~The outskirts of New York City are blanketed in amber lights except for a single, red cross rising above.

~Even as I sleep I am aware of the train as if I have become part of it. I can sense the uphills and the reckless, out of control downhills. Sometimes the train crashes over places like we ride on steel thunder. Pennsylvania.

~They are not as nice in Business Class as they are in coach. Whatever. The drinks are free.

~Ghostly trains on other tracks pass inches from my face separated by a thin sheet of window. I reel from the concussive force of their speed.

~Crazy blue-white train headlights lights strobe against the snow and the skeletal branches of the nation’s back yards and forgotten woods. I have transported, magically, back to 1878. Dickens is writing my script. There — there! It’s the spectre by the tracks. The moon is a pearled fat garden grub. Shadow beasts dance alongside us as we snake through the woods. The wheels kick up debris that bounces off the train’s belly and reminds me of how little separates us from them.

~Little fires mark the crossings. Only, they are not fires. They are lights. Back to 2011. Behind the fat and massive ass of a distribution plant and now careening over a trestle that has no discernible rails.

~Wilmington Delaware. Have passed through such places as New York City and Philadelphia and all the major East Coast cities like a thief in the night. Am now thinking in clichés. This train is switching to commuter rail mode. A silver-haired Kennedy lookalike in a silver suit with a turquoise striped tie that is either from Europe or the early seventies.

~Diagonally across the aisle the man I slept with last night wakes and stretches showing off a tiny stripe of tanned abdomen. He snored gentle little snores last night as did the other three passengers who shared my bed on wheels. Sleep is our velvety white underbelly. Intimacy shared with strangers. But this silver headed interloper breaks the spell with something buried in his briefcase. He makes us all feel as if we have to put our shoes back on. The sky outside is at it’s last blackest.  I suppose I’ll have coffee.

~Baltimore, Maryland. The cute guy gets off after shooting me a look that acknowledges the romanticism of the train. The Silver Kennedy oggles me when I get up for another coffee then pulls a banana from a plastic shopping bag and devours it in two bites.

~Here. We glide along the line between day and night. The stripe of rainbow, muted and pale, just beyond the capital city. Gone are the beasts. More commuters come with their productivity and their legal briefs and their gadgets. We must all be busy now. I wave to night.