keep telling myself to take a shower. “In 20 minutes, take a shower.” 20 minutes pass and I do not take a shower I do this thing where I look up people I admire on Twitter and see who they admire and then follow them — half because I want to learn from them and half because I want them to pay attention to me. Not showering yet is evidence that the half that wants them to pay attention to me is diminishing because not taking a shower shows I want education more than I want to be pretty or smell good and so these days not showering is a good sign that the ego (or is it the superego) is deflating.
or the fact that my long hair no longer looks better after I shower so why bother. My hair which used to be the best of me after my breasts but now lies as flat as they do, shower or no shower, is no longer a win-win is betraying me is possibly falling out no not now but possibly soon. I think of my Nini that time I walked in on her adjusting her wig in the mirror at the dresser in her bedroom. This was before the cancer and I confirm it with my father who says “her forties, I guess.”
The Wonder Years. Especially the one in which Paul becomes a bar mitzvah. Or any episode with The Byrds as background music.
What is a classic?
Mighty Love. Let My Love Open the Door. All You Need is Love. In My Room.
What is a classic?
What is a classic?
Square dancing in gym class. Sorry, more Wonder Years.
What is a classic?
I don’t know. Classics are supposed to be timeless and yet some classics have changed for me with time. Like, The Giving Tree used to be IT for me and now I suppose The Missing Piece is. But that just happened 15 minutes ago. Can it be a classic already? Moby Dick is not a classic, and yet it is, just not for me. Not yet. But it might be one day and then I will look back at today and realize I was ignorant of the classics. The Wizard of Oz is a classic, but I’ve watched it too many times and now it is a classic, but stale.
Like The Shawshank Redemption.
Like Apple Pie.
I suppose if I had to say, a classic is that which makes me cry when I am not sad.
What is a classic?
The tune to My Darling Clementine.
Feet in the sand.
The Barbie Dreamhouse with the elevator.
Half-burnt marshmallow on a stick.
Josh and Jodie.
My dad’s green fiat.
That time my Bubbi cried at Denny’s because her eggs were runny.
That time my brother threw a rootbeer bottle at me.
That time the car was stuck in the mud in a rainstorm, but I only remember that one in a dream.
What is a classic?
Forgot my locker combo.
Forgot to study for the final.
Left my passport at home.
What is a classic?
“These poems do not live: it’s a sad diagnosis.”
What is a classic?
“In those years, people will say, we lost track
of the meaning of we, of you
we found ourselves reduced to I
and the whole thing became silly, ironic, terrible.”
I love photography even though I’ve never been as good at the art as I might have liked; might have been. I’m grateful — seriously, grateful — to Instagram, for allowing me an outlet for the scenes I capture in my mind’s eye and feel compelled to share, but hardly ever render to my satisfaction on a traditional camera.
I took photography as an elective in high school — learned how to develop my own film (not very well), and presumably how to properly use a camera. Whatever I learned there didn’t stick, however, and now I find more pleasure in photography as a researcher than as a voyeur. Although I imagine there is an element of voyeurism to my research, as well.
I love the evidence photography provides. I love the secrets revealed. I love the accidental body of information that corroborates or undermines the collective or individual stories we tell ourselves.
As I dig up old photographs in my cardboard boxes, or in the basement storage room of my mother’s house, I’m getting an education on the people I love … and who loved me. But almost as often as questions are answered or light is shed; there are mysteries. There are, in those photographs, chapters to the stories of my life that were never told to me.
On a recent trip to New Jersey to visit my family, I discovered a photo album my mother acquired when my Bubbi died a couple of years ago. The album chronicled a European trip — the only one, I think — my grandmother took with her aunt when she was in her late forties or early fifties.
Though I can’t be sure, I imagine this trip must have been monumental for my grandmother, who grew up poor in the Midwest; who was a small school girl when she was forced to care for her ill mother and eventually watch her die; who was shifted from relative to relative as her father journeyed from town to town for business. Her Aunt Edna (her mother’s sister) never married, and was very generous to my grandmother over the years (it’s believed Aunt Edna made a small fortune by investing early in Xerox). The two were very fond of each other. Beyond that, and beyond the little I know about Aunt Edna (she was a school teacher and an author), I don’t know much more about the intricacies of their relationship. I do remember my Bubbi, in her younger days, often going out west to Indiana to visit Aunt Edna. I also remember once meeting Aunt Edna myself in the lobby of the hotel in Philadelphia for which my grandmother worked for many years: She was perched on a velvet-lined settee and looked like an Aunt Edna. She called me Jennifer, as did most of my grandparents’ friends.
The pages of the photo album my Bubbi created are filled mostly by blurry, over-exposed shots of the landscape, of the sites, of the Coliseum, Venice, the streets of Paris, and presumably, the Alps. There are only three photographs of Bubbi in the album and four or five of Aunt Edna. There is one of somebody’s hand — opening up a compact, perhaps? Getting ready to put on lipstick? — as the other snapped a shot of windmills out the window of a tour bus.
There are no captions. No notes on the backs of the matte photographs. No written word at all. There are a few blank postcards — one with a watercolor of Buckingham Palace; another from an Italian resort.
What do I learn about my Bubbi from this album? Other than the fact that she was more traveled than I thought, I am presented with more questions than answers.
Did she slide the photos in under the cellophane and never look at them again?
Did she take the album out, every year on her birthday, reminisce and long for a different sort of life?
Was she grateful for this trip? Satisfied? Or did it only give her a taste for more?
I knew my Bubbi pretty well as far as Bubbis and granddaughters go. I took an interest in her life while she was still with it enough to recall it. But she never told me about the trip to Europe she once took with Aunt Edna. Never recalled the windmills or the Hotel Napoleon or the view from the Spanish Steps.
Of course, there are so many stories we never share; never tell. Not even the ones we love. Not even the ones who ask.
In fact, it’s often the stories closest to our hearts we keep for ourselves.
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If you liked this post, you might also like this one; also about Bubbi and about photographic evidence.
You thought crying started scientifically in some space
No way, Jose.
Crying starts as a lump —
there in that undefined on the anatomical map because it’s function is almost obsolete
like the appendix.
Except it functions still.
I know it because I try to make it stop sometimes and it won’t.
Nervous anxious I don’t want to talk to you right now cries
How could this happen I don’t understand it cries
My baby’s okay my baby’s ok my baby’s o.k. cries
And you …
you little one little new one little brand new life that just began first as an idea then as a mister mister then as a real live thing in the world as a lump in my throat cries.
You started in someone else’s belly but for me you start now as a lump in my throat trickling up through that space between my esophagus and the back of my tongue.
I breathe in relief and gratitude and respect for your mother.
(I also sigh a long sigh called MOTHERHOOD because this is what all mothers silently sigh the minute a new baby is born and all our collective memories swirl together in an almost scream.)
But then I stop.
You are you. Something new.
The lump, I swallowed it.
You are in my stomach now. In the space I hold allllllllll my love. All my love is there. So much. Too much. Old love. New love. If I could keep it all there I would but I can’t and it turns into lumps sometimes. But what’s there in my belly, all that love, keeps me alive and going and facing forward.
When I was a girl, our refrigerator was stocked. Not just with food, but with memories.
My mother liked to collect magnets from places she had visited — and while it’s difficult to remember exactly from where and from when, I do distinctly recall a trail of experiences splattered like paint across the front of a series of refrigerator doors of my childhood.
It’s a tradition I’ve, without much serious intention, carried forward. It started when I moved in with my now-husband. He already had a few refrigerator magnets that predated me, but we began building a refrigerator of love of our own. The first addition was a magnet we found at a gift shop in Hoboken where we lived at the time.
We loved the quote so much we incorporated it into our wedding invitation.
A few weeks ago, after a bunch of dreams of messy houses, I realized my home was in need of attention. In the middle of mopping up the kitchen floor, I noticed how dirty, disorganized and jumbled our refrigerator had become. We had been mindlessly putting up A+ exams, beautiful art class drawings, and promotional magnets from every local business, from the hairdresser to Pinchi the clown, birthday party extraordinaire I don’t ever remember being entertained by. I don’t have “before pictures,” but imagine a Leap Frog alphabet game scattered in more than 26 places; a Made in China set of Hebrew letters ready to be choked on by a visiting baby; and hidden beneath five field trip permission forms was the Marcel Proust quote.
I held it in my hands — saw how smudged and worn it had become in 13 years — but smiled knowing it remained. Intact, across continents and seas; still stuck to my refrigerator door.
I spent some time then sorting, throwing away, and putting the dusty alphabet letters in a bag to give to a friend whose children would use them — mine had grown too old for them while I wasn’t paying attention.
I filed away some papers, recycled others. I organized the promotional magnets in a big square on the hidden side of the fridge.
Afterwards, I pulled out the Marcel Proust quote — made it a centerpiece holding up a series of photographs that represented experiences we treasure, times and places … faces almost forgotten in the everyday rush of life.
I made love, once again, the focus of the refrigerator door. And said a quiet prayer that Proust’s words would continue to carry this family forward in 2014.
“Let us be grateful for people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
Yes, our days, if only we are lucky, will still be filled with exams to study for, dentist appointments to run to, and permission slips to sign, but somehow, in spite of it and in light of it, let us be grateful for the people who make us happy.
I surprise the people I love with small treats or notes.
I want to be around people.
I want to know them.
I want to learn more about them.
I want to discover what we have in common and how we can help each other.
I kiss my husband.
I take beautiful pictures.
Or silly ones.
This isn’t a list of the things that make me happy.
It’s a list of ways I know that I am happy.
That life is working for me.
These are ways I know I am doing what is required to care for myself so that my life is one I enjoy … or, at least, feel reasonably satisfied by.
Often times, we think — if we think at all — about the things that make us happy.
We make mental or actual lists of all the things we need in our life in order to be happy. Or we delineate end goals or possessions we are convinced will make us happier if only we reach them or one day have them.
And while some of us are good at being grateful for what we have– and even acknowledging the good in our life — I don’t often hear from my inner voice listing off the ways I know I am happy now.
Or what happy looked like back when it colored my life.
What does happy look like?
Who are you when you’re happy?
If we don’t know what happy looks like, how will we ever get there?
I’ve noticed over the past few weeks that my happy evidence is somewhat missing from the scene.
This was a red alert for me to DO SOMETHING.
So I started thinking about my list.
The list of things that act as evidence that I am happy.
And I started doing those things.
Even though I wasn’t yet happy.
And today, I’m happier.
(I didn’t say HAPPY.)
I’m spending time with real live human beings.
And engaging a little with the imaginary real live human beings on my screen.
For almost a month, I have been running for 15 minutes every day except for Shabbat.
That’s it. 15 minutes.
And it works. I finally found an exercise regimen that works.
Maybe it’s not enough for everyone, but it’s enough for me.
I’ve also committed to writing more.
Tiny tidbits here and there.
A blog or the start of a new short story or a poem for fun spurred by a random writing prompt.
I find, the more I write, the more I write.
And the better I feel.
So between the running and the writing, my physical and emotional health seems to be on the up and up.
I know because my hormones say so.
They say so by being quiet when they are normally loud.
Quiet hormones. Quiet head.
But I think I could add a third element to my personalized workout:
Gratitude, as we know, is such an energy boost. It’s a life lifter.
When we feel gratitude — the day after a violent stomach bug, or the minute after you avoided a tragedy or danger, or simple moments of love between you and your spouse or your child or your cat — we love life.
In the very moment we feel gratitude, we love life.
And loving life is all any of us ever want. It’s why we exercise. It’s why we write.
It’s why we exist at all — to love life.
So, I’m going to try to add 15 minutes of gratitude to my daily workout regimen.
In fact, I have a few distinct memories of moments in which I felt very present to the experience of being watched.
This makes me sound crazy. Paranoid. Egotistical.
But, nonetheless, every once in a while I’d be walking down the street with a friend or engaged in a song and dance with my brother, and suddenly sense an observer.
I’d look around. Nobody was there.
Over time, I resolved this to be an inexplicable sensation I labeled, “My life in pictures.”
Now, as an observant adult, as a mindful lifer, as a humbled human being awed by her children, terrified by her own mortality…I find I am a member of the audience, instead; with one greasy hand inside the popcorn box and the other gripping the side of the aisle seat wondering…
How will it all end?
Meanwhile, I’m also the excited, but cautious cinematographer.
Struck breathless by extraordinarily poignant scenes
Obsessed with capturing light
Wondering all the time if other people can see what I see…
If other people feel the love and the loss inside a half-eaten cupcake
Or the extraordinary sadness of a broken plate
I sometimes watch my husband chase the children and know that once there was someone who watched me.
Someone is still watching.
A critic, a fan, or just a curious spectator of my life in pictures.