I Put This Moment Here

1986, senior year of college (don’t judge). One of my room mates was an artist, a creative person who acted the part of a tortured soul while wearing designer jeans and vacationing with friends. To be fair, we were all trying on personas; fortunately the tortured soul façade didn’t stick. One aspect that did was that she had incredible taste in music. My own musical choices were more Madonna and top-40 rock ballads punctuated with Safety Dance. Look it up and laugh if you must – it was big hair and loud voices for me. My friend, though, liked to explore the depths of her soul with acoustically jarring music in a range of styles. She liked my top-40 nonsense, but she also liked more experimental music. In particular, she played Laurie Anderson and Kate Bush almost, but not quite incessantly.

A set of lyrics from Kate Bush stayed with me. The name of the song didn’t, but I still remember Bush’s haunting, melodic whisper:

I put this moment … here

I put this moment … here

Many years and multiple top-40 hits later, I still think of this refrain. Perhaps the song itself was shocking, though obviously not enough that I remember anything else about it. The idea of placing memories in locations, almost like a collection, was brilliant, quite relatable for an overly enthusiastic 21 year old with no clear sense of direction. At the time, I figured if I just kept putting my moments … here, answers would reveal themselves to me because I had organized my memories so nicely.

Obviously, it didn’t work out that way. Some of the moments I put away were painful, others were celebratory. Some didn’t get put away very well at all, their telltale reverberations ricocheting around my noggin. Those memories were the recurring ones: holidays, dinner around the table with my family, laughter in general.

This is, theoretically, the time of year when we give thanks. Some people pass their gratitude around the dinner table only to forget it by the time the pumpkin pie is served. I can rattle off a gargantuan list of what I’m grateful for (my family, friends, health, etc.), but truly one of the biggest things I’m grateful for is my memory. All those little mismatched moments piece together willy-nilly to make up my psyche. Depending on the time of year, the music playing in the background, or my mood, I sift through my memories like a child turns a kaleidoscope. Each memory is unique – and because it’s memory, it changes in the act of remembering.

I hadn’t thought about my roommate in a while, until today when I remembered those two lines as I was reflecting on a difficult moment. I own my internal conflict as much as my tranquility and it usually works out that both are within easy distance of each other. So the kaleidoscope turns, and I file another moment away until I need it again later. I was glad to remember an old friend, and I chuckled as I remembered our different yet harmonious blend of music. Kind of like us.

What I’ve learned about the aging process so far

  1. You are not brave if you go grey, you are smart. Rather than hide behind the apron of your hair colorist or the aisles of hair color in a box at the store, step boldly into the light, my aging friend, and let that silvery, opalescent, salt-and-pepper glory sparkle in the sunshine. Yes, you have to switch up or opt out of certain makeup products because they clash with silvery goodness, but that is your reward for being on this planet for a certain amount of time, not a punishment. I am reminded about a cosmetics commercial that tells me to defy my age, but I’d rather defy the notion that I have to look like I’m 20. I love 20-year-old people, but I don’t want to be stuck in some time warp and pretend to fit in.
  2. Humility is a great quality and aging teaches a good bit of that. You can think you are the fanciest, most knowledgeable, awesome person on the planet, but eventually you realize there will always be someone more superlative than you. Maybe you mask that behind braggadocio, or maybe that causes you to live in fear of being discovered for the human that you actually are. Either way, eventually you start toning that down a bit and understanding that the more you know, the more you don’t know, ya know? I may or may not be an expert in my field, but there is always, always room for improvement. The same is true for everyone, so I’m not sharing any epiphany, just a reminder.
  3. Aches and pains. I won’t bore you with the details of my age-related creaks and rust if you don’t bore me with the details of yours. Aging causes certain body systems to run less efficiently, which is why that whole eating right and exercising gig kicks us in the behind as we age. We realize it’s true with a capital T and how come I ate all those cookies instead of fruits and veggies in my wild, wild youth. We actually start paying attention to what we ingest and whether we spend time in the sun unprotected. Life is real, and the aging process is about the truest reminder that we’re mortal.
  4. We’re mortal. You aren’t likely to get bitten by a vampire or a radioactive spider (sorry), so grappling with our own mortality is a tricky prospect. I am going to avoid talking about loved ones dying, but I will tell you on any given day, someone dies, someone is born, people grieve, and people rejoice; sometimes one person goes through all these things in the same day. Just in case you haven’t already received the memo, life isn’t easy. It’s messy and complicated. What we decide to make of it is what determines who we are. There is choice in this, my friends: sometimes I live life fullest by lying down on the couch and taking a nap; sometimes I’m the one leading the charge; more often, I’m the one standing behind the scenes making sure everyone else has enough snacks and beverages.
  5. Nobody has time for hate. I realize I am posting this after the horror in Paris yesterday, and after the horror of other yesterdays before that. Aging has taught me that a) because I am mortal and b) because so is everyone else, we don’t have a whole lot of time to get messed up in hate. We’re only here for a blip of time. There’s one of me and seven-odd billion of everyone else. I don’t have time for hate, and neither does anyone else.
  6. Dance. Laugh. Make love. Sing too loud and talk too much. Stay out late or go to bed early because you can. Read a book. Write a book. Use the book as a high chair. Getting older has taught me that it is absolutely fine to be me. Maybe I could have learned that lesson in my 20s, but I doubt it.
  7. I love being my age. I am not defiant about being me, not trying to convince anyone of anything. Well, except that kindness matters. There is freedom in understanding that I messed up some choices and I made some good choices too. I hope that I’m still sassy and opinionated at 90 so I can laugh at my 51-year-old self and how silly I was. Today is full of promise and I’m glad to be here.
  8. We all matter. We spend too much time worrying about inconsequential things when we could focus on what’s actually important. What does matter? We do, no matter our age, no matter our belief set, gender, etc. We matter, and we could do well to live as such.

 

 

Bookstores: For those who live out loud

Picture a hazy Saturday morning spent with a dear friend browsing through books at the book store, the only sound punctuating the happy silence the occasional turning page. Then there’s me: laughing out loud, tossing my book in my daughter’s lap to point out a particularly colorful turn of phrase or swear-laden pledge, and her patient response of, “I’m just reading this text, right here. You know, the one in my lap, not yours.” Well, sorry my progeny, momma shares her literature (though occasionally I apologize for interrupting her tranquility).

For those of you who don’t find a book store to be an exciting adventure of awesome, you haven’t gone with me. Where else can you go to find freshly repurposed elephant or rhinoceros poo transfigured into notebook paper? Or refrigerator magnets featuring Jean-Luc Picard face palming his oh so sexy forehead? Or bookmarks that don’t look like my used up envelopes, spoons, pens, or the other flotsam I usually use to mark a page? Bookmarks are cool and all, but I don’t use them. I just admire them. Oh, yeah, then the books.

I don’t care why or how you actually find yourself in a book store, just get yourself there. Used book store, brand-spanky-new bookstore, commercial bookstore – I don’t care, just go. There’s some happy stuff hiding out on the shelves, lining the floor, and adorning the wall space of a bookstore. Do you miss the 60s? You’ll find them again at the bookstore. Love comic books but hate to admit it? Own your personality and get yourself over to the bookstore, where there’s these zany things called graphic novels: kinda the adult version of comic books, but quite a bit more R-rated and much sexier than I remember the Archie comics of old.

The beautiful thing about a bookstore is that nobody is going to judge your nerdy/geeky/sports-enthusiast behind for the fact that you entered it. We’re all there together. I had a great conversation a couple weeks ago with a guy whose political opinions were remarkably different, and we got along just fine. Because, you know why? We’re not jerks, and we were after the same book. Yesterday, I found a fantastic vegan cookbook. I’m not vegan, but I eat food and the recipes were amazing. Sign me up. Though I have never seen this nooch stuff in my life, I’m ready for an adventure.

Those of you intellectual superiority types, get over yourselves. If we’re at the bookstore together, chances are we have something in common. Oh, yeah: printed material. I don’t care if you want to read the 500,000 best novels ever written and I’m over in the home improvement section wishing I cared enough about painting my walls to make them gloriously harmonious, we are in this environment together for a reason, so share some space with me please.

I am not quiet at bookstores, not complacent, not minding my own business. There’s all these happy words bounding through various mediums and you expect silence? Nope. Not happening. I will make eye contact with you and I will ask you what you like about the book you’re holding, not because I want to date you, but because I want to know what you think. For real.

Bookstores are fantastic gathering places of all the personalities and thoughts we have smashed together with greeting cards, tshirts, print art and what-nots. If you haven’t been in a while, go. You’ll find all the food groups in one place: the snack food group, the beverage food group, and the good-for-the-soul food group. See? Bookstores are good for you.

Code Peanut Butter

Working in a middle school is a mysterious blend of dread, excitement, confusion, isolation and celebration underneath excessive amounts of Axe Body Spray. I have nothing particular against this deodorant product, but I will tell you that the combination of the various scents does not mix well with the floral tutti-fruity aroma the middle school girls wear. I’m not trying to be gender specific here, just stating that there’s a whole lotta behavioral and olfactory saturation going on in my classroom.

Added to this is the logistical challenge that my female students experience when they start their periods and are out of supplies. I was grading papers before school one day when one of my 8th graders rushed up and gasped, “I need a pad! Right now!” I directed her to the supply drawer in my file cabinet and sent her on her way. During lunch break, she came to me for another. She said, “I feel like we should come up with some kind of code so that we can tell you what we need without attracting attention.” While I thought it was pretty subtle already that all she had to do was go into the file cabinet, I was curious. “What kind of code?” I asked.

She didn’t even hesitate. “We could tell you we are having a Code P emergency.”

I tried to keep a neutral expression. I failed. “If you call a code P emergency and then head to the bathroom, you’re already communicating you’ve had an accident of some type.”

She caught on. “Oh! Right!” She turned to her friend, and they had a serious discussion about code words, secret messages and hand signals. While I continued eating my lunch, I imagined both of them as spies. They interrupted me from my reverie with, “Got it! We’ll come and ask you for peanut butter.” I’d been dunking my apple slices into peanut butter, so evidently the visual cue was enough for them.

“Why peanut butter?” I managed to choke out.

“Because you eat it often enough that no one will wonder about it. Plus a code is pretty cool,” my 8th grader advised.

“Ummm, okay?” I answered, somewhat flummoxed.

Both ladies thanked me and then left. A couple days later, another student said, “Miss! I need some peanut butter!” and rushed to the drawer. This was a person I hadn’t spoken with about secret codes or locations of feminine products. I was amused and impressed with how well the Gossip Network worked.

Of course this plan of theirs had a flaw. During lunch today, one of my male students said, “Miss, I hear you have extra peanut butter. Can I have some, please?”

I didn’t exactly spit out my coffee, but it was close.

We’ve now reverted to the original plan where students get their emergency supplies out of the file cabinet drawer and I get to eat my lunch in peace. I can assure you, though, I won’t have peanut butter again for a while.

A Healthy Dose of Fear

Avid fans of the scary movie genre, I salute you. I have watched two scary movies in my entire life: Chucky and The Blair Witch Project. While I’m told that these aren’t the best examples of heart-rate elevating frightful goodness, somehow I feel like my life is worth living anyway. I admit, I thought parts of Chucky were funny. But parts weren’t. I figure that the Chucky series tapped into that part of my childhood psyche that imagines dolls and playthings are real. Or possessed. Kind of like Raggedy Ann and Andy, or Toy Story run amok.

It took me a couple weeks to get over the Blair Witch Project. I am not cinematographically awesome enough to engage in some debate over whether the movie was as horrible as some people claimed or as inspired as others thought. All I do know is that, in the aftermath of the movie, I was a little jittery, a little on-edge. I suppose it’s because I have often been startled while out camping by strange sounds and unknown critters that go bump in the night. Or maybe I’m overthinking this whole scary movie thing and I just need to pop some popcorn and hunker down for a spookily good time.

I get it that suspension of disbelief is essential in bonding with our imaginary-onscreen or in-book characters. We identify with a character or situation and, through them, rise above whatever the antagonist tosses at us, and emerge victorious, or die trying. Or undie trying, if what we’re identifying with is outliving zombie critters. It’s complicated.

I understand that people who like scary movies also like the adrenaline rush that extreme sports like mountain climbing or skydiving provide. There’s a psychological intensification that movies, scary movies in particular, create. I guess that this is just another example of brain wiring being different in people. Some people crave the rush; others don’t like it.

I’m not averse to the ideas that scary movies project all in my face, I just deal with them in other ways. I’ve read most of the Stephen King and Dean Koontz oeuvre, and I’m a mom, so the notion of being afraid doesn’t bother me. I understand that facing fears is essential to psychosocial development. Doing the thing that scares me, facing my fears so that I can overcome them, blahblahblah. I guess I’d rather my fear be real, or imagined in my own way so that I can control it. I can’t control how a movie is presented to me, therefor I stay away from the scary ones. I guess I like to choose the things that make my heart thump.

While I’ve been typing this, a slew of trick-or-treaters has been ringing the doorbell. Princesses and Swamp Things, zombies and silver plated droids have all been stopping by to say hello and get a couple goodies from me. We play with the idea that our imaginations aren’t imaginary every so often, and then we get to put them away for another year. Me, I’m dressed up as Jack Skelton because I love a tight, form fitting jacket and pipestem pants. I’ll let other people tap into their inner Freddie whatnot.