These things

“Thoughts were things, to be collected, collated, analyzed, shelved, or resolved. Fragmentary ideas, apparently unrelated, were often found to be part of a special layer or stratum of thought and memory…”  –H.D., Writing on the Wall


I seal in plastic Ziploc bags photographs, letters, my child’s artwork. I pile up large Tupperware containers of high school journals, college scrapbooks, and sticker albums I’ve saved since 3rd grade.  There is even a small box inside a larger box in which I store cut-up cotton shirts; remnants of all the graphic tees I ever stuffed into the set of almond-colored formica drawers of my childhood bedroom. The idea was to make a quilt one day. But it’s been more than 20 years since I cut them and still they remain fragments of a former social life.

Sometimes, I let go. I purge, actually; for the movement is swift and forceful.

I gather up books and plastic toys from McDonald’s and washed out jelly jars I was saving for just-in-case. I rally the troops in their respective bedrooms and we dig out unaccounted for Lego, DVDs, and well-loved teddies they once birthed at Build-A-Bear.

It used to be that we would prepare a yard sale — display all our attachments large and small on the grass for others to descend upon and barter for. Now, I push it all down into a free tote bag I got once at the grocery store and drive to the recycling area.

My load becomes lighter then. I feel clean in the same way I do when I make the bed before sleeping in it.

It’s temporary, though, this weightlessness. I will feel dirty again. I will feel weighed down by the objects that make up my life.

* * *

Sometimes I want it all back.

Not all. But something specific.

Days or years pass, for instance, and suddenly I long for the floor-length sleeveless, blue and white flowered dress I traded in for credit at the secondhand shop on Broadway because I could never bend down when I wore it. When I realize it’s missing, I’m surprised. How could I have given up that dress? Didn’t I understand that one day it might fit me differently? There are photographs of me in that dress I can actually tolerate – black and white strip photos taken on the boardwalk in Ocean City. I was younger then. I wore contacts. But, I think it was the dress that made me pretty.

Sometimes, in a dream, I’ll be certain I still own a pair of shoes I have long since abandoned. Where are they, the black wedges I know will be perfect for the job interview I have tomorrow?  I frantically shuffle around my dusty, hardwood-lined closet floor, pushing to the side my brown suede clogs and my untied docksiders and my Naot sandals. My fingers will never find them because I listed them on a Freecycle board two years ago and subsequently dropped them off in front of a Tudor in South Orange, NJ.

One morning, I wake up and realize I’ve been dreaming about the brown leather backpack I carried with me through four years of college and some years after. I don’t even remember when I threw it away. This pains me. Documenting my losses is a coping mechanism.

Soft to the touch, but robust enough to manage three spiral-bound notebooks, a heavy “baby chem” textbook, and a glass bottle of Raspberry Snapple tucked away in a side unzippered pouch — that brown leather backpack was the security blanket of my young adulthood. Sometimes I tucked the yellow Sony Walkman into the other side pocket, a long track of rubber-lined wire snaking out and up into my ears as I hiked the city blocks between my apartment on F Street and the modern mirrored building on 22nd where I took beginner’s Hebrew on the 3rd floor and piano lessons in the basement.  There were crumbs of a chocolate chip cookie that smelled like nicotine once at the bottom of that brown leather backpack.

There was a flap, too, that closed off the main compartment, but also served as a wallet-like coin holder, with room enough for a wad of cash and easy access to my student ID. With one hand, I could click the flap shut into a magnetic metal clasp. Even though it appeared to be a complicated buckle, it wasn’t. It was very simple actually.

I must have gotten rid of the brown leather backpack in Tucson.

It must have been after my mother treated me to the high end, shiny Petunia Picklebottom diaper bag.  Like the brown leather backpack, it was a handy carryall with suitable compartments – an easy-access exterior pocket for diapers and wipes; one of the side pockets for bottles. It even came with an interior zippered pouch for personal items, a nursing pad, or eventually, a tampon.

When my son was two, we decided to leave Arizona to head back to where we came from in New Jersey.  That’s when we had our first yard sale. We sold the glass tables we registered for at Pottery Barn. We sold one of the lamps, too. We sold the swing set in the backyard.  I don’t remember what else.

It must have been then I parted with the brown leather backpack.

I guess.

* * *

Now, it’s a black canvas backpack I carry daily (a leftover promotional gift from a job I left 14 years ago). Inside are two pieces of uneaten fruit and half a cream cheese sandwich prepared on a gluten-free pita.  There is an unzippered side pocket from which a Laken thermo-insulated bottled filled with filtered water peeks out and another side pocket in which I carry plastic bags for “just in case.”  In two exterior zippered compartments, there is spare change for use in either Israel or in America, but not in both.  There are markers, pencils, pens, bubblegum already chewed.

It’s durable, my black canvas backpack.  And loved, too, in a colder more practical way. I carry it on two shoulders instead of one. I am often in awe of how long it’s lasted.

From time to time –in between classes at the university where I am studying for my Master’s degree or on a plane seated in the middle of two of my children — I consider how long and often I’ve weighed the black backpack down. How I’ve tested it. How it still serves me.

I wonder, too, how I will one day lose track of the black canvas backpack or if I will wear it until it breaks.

Synchronistically delicious

I am often troubled when I hear people use the word “serendipity” when I think they mean “synchronicity.” But I never really investigated the difference between the two words.

In my unresearched opinion, I always imagined synchronicity as attached to “meaningful” or extraordinary. Whereas serendipity is more playful, like a cup of frozen hot chocolate.

serendipity

Lucky. Fortuitous. Unexpected. Right place at the right time sorta thing.  Whereas synchronicity … when it happens … almost feels as if its arrival was fated. Expected, even if not by the participants. Anticipated, in some way, even if unseen to all but the gods until the very moment the synchronicity occurs.

Synchronicity, to me, carries in its meaning a certain divinity, a certain magic.

So much so that I remember distinctly when and where I was when I first heard the word and its layperson’s explanation.  I was at the lake house of a friend in celebration of her engagement. While dipping my feet in the lake, I chatted with a friend of the bride-to-be whom I’d never met before. She shared with me the details of a paper she was working on (perhaps her Master’s thesis or her dissertation), all on the topic of this experience called “synchronicity.”

I admitted to her that I’d never heard the word before.

“Oh,” she smiled. “But you’ve certainly had this experience.” She went on to describe what I had always thought of (at least since reading The Celestine Prophecy in 9th grade) as “meaningful coincidence.”

However, “meaningful coincidence” always sounded lame. Such a deeply moving or spiritual encounter needed a better descriptor.

“Synchronicity,” a word steeped in the concept of time (my favorite philosophical topic of conversation both then and now), was perfect for me. I was so thankful for having met this woman at the lake. Our meeting was, in fact, meaningful. Synchronicitous (synchronistic?), we joked at the time.

Perhaps this is why I loved so much Ginz’s response to my “haiku challenge” yesterday.

Walking alone is
often the first step towards
synchronicity.

This, indeed, is what I was going for when I was trying to describe the outcome of a walk alone I took yesterday. Too me, synchronicity, isn’t just a word, but a timely, yet timeless explanation for magic, for meaning, for connection.

When “alone” unexpectedly transforms into “no longer alone.” And loneliness is replaced by oneness.

A virtual cure for anxiety is almost here

This morning, my hair dryer caught on fire.

Which is a lot better than my hair catching on fire — which actually happened once, the first time I visited Israel in 1992 and forgot to use a converter before I set my curling iron to my bangs.

I lost half my bangs that day … which was probably a good thing, in hindsight.

I sensed something was wrong this morning when I started to smell smoke. I smart girl.

By the time smoke started pouring out of the thing, my hand was already on its way to the outlet. So when fire sparks started shooting out from the plug, I pulled it out from the wall immediately.

RIP Conair Ion Shine. RIP smooth middle aged hair with no fly-aways.

It was startling, for sure, the fireworks display. It’s a fear of mine — electrical appliances spawning disasters. A friend of mine lost her house to a forgotten curling iron once when I was 10.

But the incident today was also strength-building.

How so?

As a lifelong anxiety sufferer, I’ve become really good at imagining the worst. My mind is programmed for disaster and tragedy; not so much survival and rescue. So that when I do save the day — when I manage to get myself out of a hairy situation or when, for instance, my child manages to narrowly escape harm all on his own — the grey matter in my mind has a new paradigm from which to think.

See, I can tell myself. You made it.

You are okay.

Not that I am inviting harm to myself or my children.

But I do firmly believe that a good, solid, quite startling, near tragedy is a muscle strengthener for those of us with anxiety. (As long as the outcome is a happy ending.)

It shows us that the worst isn’t always as bad as we think.

Perhaps one day, in the not-so-far away future, the smarty pants tech inventors I work with will come up with a virtual reality stimulator whose anxiety treatment is designed to fully scare the crap out of us.

So that we will see, once and for all, how strong, indeed, we are.

One compulsion leads to another

I wrote recently about this superpower I possess called synesthesia. How I see letters and words in full color. And how I am going to defeat fear once I manage to harness my power properly.

It occurred to me this morning that my superpower might be the cause of quirky compulsions I also possess like the one that prevents me from listening to the Beach Boys in December, or drives me to listen to Van Morrison when the leaves start to change color and fall from the trees (even if I’m not living in the country in which they do.)

The connection between music and emotion is a studied one that’s not unique to me, but actually quite documented in human beings. But what about music and season? For me, the music must fit the weather outside. And there are singers or albums that are just completely inappropriate in winter, or off limits when I’m driving with the top down in July.

I looked into it a little. And guess what?

There’s a connection…and suddenly my strange compulsions don’t seem so compulsive anymore.

Studies show that music is connected to color and color is connected to emotion — particularly for people with synesthesia. From there, the connection is easy.  Emotion as it relates to season is a no-brainer. Lots of babies are born in August, nine months after couples snuggle up together inside supposedly to warm up from winter’s cold. I think it’s more than shelter from the cold they seek; but love and interpersonal connection that is often sacrificed in the isolation that winter brings.

Ask the average Joe or Jane which emotion is aroused when they envision summer. Most will say joy. Freedom. Fun. Ask the same person to describe the accompanying emotions to winter, Most will say introspection, introversion or sadness.

What about you? What do you say?

Having superpowers can make a girl feel lonely sometimes. Like I’m the only one whose heart hurts as fall moves towards winter. But when I get like that I cry it out to Randy Newman … whose voice and lyrics match perfectly the melancholy and nostalgia that crop up for me in fall.

Or I listen to this video — a performance of his “I Want You to Hurt Like I Do” in Berlin– and I laugh. Knowing I’m not really as alone as I think.