Selfies

(This was for a contest, ekphrastic poem based on an art installation in the woods.  Though inspired by the art, it just didn’t seem like it fit with their themes or the artists interpretation of their piece, so sharing it here instead of submitting it. I am not including a photo of the installation, still contemplating it.)

 

I photograph a leaf

A flower

A mushroom.

Those are my “selfies”.

What I see in the woods

Sees me.

What I photograph

Shows me to you.

I photograph rays of light

Pollen on a pond

A path that winds

Off into the

Unknown.

I see me

In their patterns

And rhythms

What I photograph

Shows me to you.

Those are my selfies.

 

Can you see me?

 

 

Why Memoirs Have Disclaimers

Pre-ramble (that’s my ramble before the piece):  It’s super hot outside and so this piece takes you back to February of 1979, a very cold February.  It’s about memories and yes, that makes me pretty damn old this year.

I have said it before and I will say it again, my life growing up seemed uneventful to the point of most days being quite blurred one into the next.  I envy people I know who can write about their childhoods with vivid sensory descriptions because I don’t seem to have that.  I seem to be missing the scents and textures and sounds.  I have an odd catalog of snapshots in my brain that represent various personal family events and some local events.   Snapshots, not video snippets or Insta-story like memories, simple two-dimensional often black and white snapshot memories.

There were very few deaths that I recall growing up of members of our immediate or extended family or even family friends.  When they did occur, as children, we were not included in the funeral home showings or the funerals themselves.  Death was something that occurred on television and in the papers to other people often in sensationalized manners.  In a small town there is very little that is newsworthy going on outside of politics and sports.

I do, though, have an odd memory of a small child going missing just two and a half miles from where we lived.  I wonder if this was the beginning of my obsession with missing persons.  How do people just disappear?  How is that possible? I recently decided to look up this missing child, who I do recall was found deceased days later victim of an accidental death in a large container used for storage of newspapers bound for the recycling plant.  The container was located at a church less than a hundred yards from the child’s home. That was the extent of my memory, vivid primarily in its tragic theme, and only a bit of this has turned out to be correct now that I have done some research.

I find it interesting how much I remembered and how much was incorrect and colored with assumption over time.  Most of our memories are distorted from retelling these memories, even in our heads, over and over.  Facts get distorted, if we even had all of them to begin with.  That’s why memoirs are not called biographies.  They are filled with perception and enhancement.

I assumed this event took place when I was fairly young, 10 or 11.  My initial search parameters were based on the age that I assumed I was, plus or minus a few years, from 1965 to 1975.  That covers me from age 4 to 14.  I found nothing.  How was that possible? This was a missing child.  That was hugely newsworthy and nothing came up?  I decided to extend the upper parameter to 1980.  Not until I expanded my date range search in newspapers.com did I locate the first of a series of articles on the disappearance.  It took place my senior year in high school: 1979.  Truth be told, I was an immature seventeen as a senior, so maybe my thinking I was younger makes sense?  (To this day I like to present myself as 10 years younger than I am.)

That wasn’t the only glaring error in my memory.

The child wasn’t six or seven as I had implanted I my brain but middle school age: 14.  I was older than I had recollected and so it does not surprise that so were the missing.  Bigger error though was that it was not just one boy but two eighth graders who had gone missing.  Both students at the middle school I had gone to just four years before.  That makes the mystery of a disappearance all the more baffling to me as it did to their parents and the authorities at the time.

One person disappears, there are a host of different scenarios that the brain can play out for you in wonderment.  But two people, two boys, how can two boys disappear together?  Were they taken?  Did they run away?  If one had gotten hurt, the other could surely have helped him or gone for help.  If someone was trying to kidnap two boys, surely one would get free and run for help.

They went missing on a cold Sunday afternoon in February and the disappearance was front page news on Monday morning.  One of their parents had tried to take them to a movie at the nearby Rolling Acres Mall but it was sold out.  They returned home and went out together to look for beer cans for their collections.  They never returned.

They would be found right away, alive – that was the hope.  But snow overnight had covered their tracks in the snow.  They were front page on Tuesday and on Wednesday. Tips had not panned out.  Neither helicopter nor ground searches had come up with anything.  A tracking dog had followed their scent from the home of one of the boys a short distance away to a car wash where they had found beer cans for their collection previously.  My younger brother had collected beer cans around that time, too.

The dog stopped near a large container (the size of a semitruck or rail car) where people would stop and drop off bags and bundles of newspapers.  All homes got at least one if not two major daily papers and the smaller weekly papers in those days.  Papers would accumulate and burning them had become frowned upon. We saved ours in grocery store paper bags and would drop them off in this same container that was parked near the church.  It was a church fundraiser.  Not our church, but it didn’t matter. People were not always mindful about stacking their drop-offs neatly.  Some would but then others would just pitch their papers in from the open end, creating a slippery, sliding mass.  The doors of the container were always open.  I remember looking inside once.  It seemed awfully dark, too dark for me to want to brave entering.

The search dog stopped near the windowless container but did not go inside.  People later said they looked inside but saw nothing. Everyone seemed confident there was nothing inside but newspapers.

Anytime a child goes missing, minds wander off to abduction, molestation and worse.  Again, started the inevitable cautions to children of all ages to be more aware, more careful.  Parents who could hug their children no doubt felt somewhat relieved and maybe a little guilty because of it.  It was so cold at night in February in Ohio.  So cold.

On Wednesday the newspaper container was picked up, placed on a trailer and driven away into the city where the containers were emptied out.  Again, my recollection failed me.  I assumed it was still there at the spot near their home when the boys were found.  That is what I had in my snapshot of the memory. It seems interesting to me that it was even allowed to have been removed from a location so close to the target sight of the disappearance.

The bodies of the two boys were discovered among the contents of the container at the recycle plant after having spent the three and a half days so close to home.  The parents continued to feel foul play was involved.  It must have been, right?  But those that saw the bodies said that there was no appearance of foul play.  And the coroner’s report a month later would concur.  There were only signs that the boys had tried to free themselves from the crush of newspapers that may have smothered them or at the very least held them trapped until the cold temperatures took them.

Now that I found the clippings, have seen their faces and those of their parents in the grainy newspaper photos and have read the full details that are available, I have more of the story.  It makes clearer the memory in a way and yet now it is as though I have two different recollections running parallel to one and other in my mind.  I have my own recollection and the newspaper retelling. I am not sure I did myself any good by clearing up the details to be honest.

It does make me wonder about and perhaps take greater care when writing about my own personal memories of home and family.  They are my perceptions, my view from where I sat or stood.  My angle may not have been the best angle.  I know from asking my brothers about specific memories that we recall them very differently.  And most of them can’t be googled.  I process my memories through my writing in the hopes that I can at the very least achieve a sense of understanding of them and growth from them.

Post-ramble (that’s a bit after the piece):  Take memoirs with a grain.  Don’t label them lies or sensationalized, though some are.  Just as we do with anything we read, learn from it what you can and leave the rest.

Have You Gotten Around To It?

Home Security

I sent an email to a friend regarding a class I took on armed defense in the home.  First, let me say it was a well-prepared course with a machine gun proportion of great information to consider on how to make my home into my palace fortress, uninviting to intruders and safe for my family and I.  I was left a little intimidated by the class and no doubt I expressed my concerns to my friend in the email I wrote after midnight when I could not get to sleep.

“How in the hell does a person know when an intruder comes in what their intent is?” she asked in her response. “Do we ask them, “Hey are you here to kill me, or just rob me? And do you have a weapon on you??”

It made me smile as I conjured an image in my mind of a computer screen at the front door with a 4-question Survey Monkey link for the intruder to complete prior to entry.

 

      1. Please select from the following with regard to your intent:

A.  Rob only;

B.  Rape only;

C.  Kill only; or,

D.  A combination of the above.

Should you select A or B or C or D, I respectfully offer these dates and times as potential options for your intrusion as I would prefer to not be at home.

2.  Please select from the following with regard to your weaponry:

A.  No weapons, just shear brute force;

B.  Blunt instruments, for example the baseball bat you won your high ­­­­­­­school championship with;

C.  Sharp instruments, anything from a pocket knife to a machete, no Game of Thrones memorabilia, please; or,

D.  A Firearm.

If you select D, please indicate in the field below your level of mastery with your weapon and where you were trained.

        1. Please describe your body type in the field below, comparisons to popular celebrities will help us determine the response level we need to prepare for your anticipated forcible entry into our home.  (For example, does your body type more remind people of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson or the teen that he was portraying in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle?)

  4.  Please describe in the field below exactly what you might be looking for so that we can accumulate these items and leave them just outside the front door for your convenience.

Thank you for taking the time to complete our survey.

 

This is a serious issue.

There is a lot to consider in the split seconds after you’ve awakened from a deep sleep and realize it was not one of the people who belong in your home or your pets that made the noises that not only woke you but seem to be continuing.  Where is my phone? Where is my gun?  Is it loaded?  Did I mount that flashlight on it?  Can I go pee first? Oh wait….nevermind.

I love shooting a gun.  Seriously, I do–at a paper target, in a gun range with professional instructors on hand where little to nothing can possibly go wrong. I’ve contemplated the concealed carry option for which I am licensed, but at my weight, I don’t really need something else on my hips bulging out underneath my clothing.  I know, there are alternatives – shoulder holsters, something strapped to a leg. I don’t really get much farther in the contemplation than the extra weight that I fear will be in no way completely concealed.  So, I return to the calming semi-private booth in a lane at the range and my paper target enemies.

The idea of a reasonable use of force to protect my home raises a lot of questions not the least of which is could I make all the necessary split-second decisions? Would they be the right decisions?  There is a lot of criteria required to justify the use of lethal force.  A gun is lethal force.  Ability, Opportunity and Jeopardy are the three key factors.  I was taking notes in class, I was.

Another image pops in my head of me trying to find my notes from the class in the dark at the moment I feel there is an intruder in order to refresh my memory on the definitions.  “Can you wait just another minute, Mr. Intruder?  I have to reread this.  Oh, my handwriting! You know how hard it is to read your own handwriting sometimes, right? Why don’t you go get yourself a drink out of the fridge while I do this?”

When all this is said and done and the smoke clears, I am going to have to explain my perceptions of the situation, the attacker, what I perceive about their ability, opportunity and the sense of jeopardy in which they put me and my family in a way that will make sense when I am later being arrested or even sued for protecting my life or someone else’s.

In my notes it says, “Communicate that you are not a victim.”  Hmmm….sounds empowering.  I was once watching my brother’s dog, an Australian Blue Cattle Dog with a chest like a small tank and I had no control over him whatsoever.  My brother said, “You need to use more authority in your voice.  Confidence.”  It did not work with that dog…are humans easier to fool? Not so sure.

Keypads may be easier to use than bio-metrics.

In my notes is says, “You have a Duty to retreat or exhaust all other means, if safe to do so, prior to using deadly force.”  Basically, RUN! RETREAT!  Oh, but don’t retreat so far that it puts you in more danger….WTF?  I agree the best way to deal with conflict is to avoid it all together.  I’ve been doing that my entire life in most of my human interactions all of which I tend to see as conflict.

Oh wait, it says inside your home you have NO Duty to retreat. My handwriting! In the home, outside the home.  Being safe is so complicated. Be aware!

I have not purchased a gun.  You heard the implied “yet”?  I am not even sure there is still a yet.  It gets softer every time I think that sentence. At the class where I thought the right answer to the question “what is the best weapon to select for home defense?” was the gun with which you are most comfortable and trained to use, a pistol, no doubt, I learned otherwise. It is a long gun or rifle.  I’ve never even tried one of those. I have admired them on the wall at the range where they are securely locked up in the hall across from the cushy leather sofa where I have waited for my instructor.  The instructor has offered several times to let me shoot one.  I have repeatedly declined.  Not yet, I said.  Yet, yet, yet.  I’ve done well with the pistol shooting.  I am not so sure this larger longer animal is going to be my friend. And if I got one of those for home defense where in the hell am I going to put it?  I am certain it cannot hang decoratively over my bed as inviting as that might be to some men.

Guns and discussions of lethal force aside, the class offered a lot of good advice on avoidance.  It is very important to make your home the least appealing home on your street to a potential intruder. Be the “Hard Target” on your street, not the soft inviting one.  Most break-ins occur between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when people are at work.

A visible exterior camera is more of a deterrent than a hidden camera.

Don’t leave your doors unlocked. Check.  Don’t leave your windows open, even on the second floor.  Check.  Use a 2×4 or a heavy-duty bar to lodge your sliders as well as locking them. Check.  Use lights to show occupancy.  Check.  Don’t use those hide-a-key fake rocks for a spare key.  They aren’t fooling anyone.  Check.  Use exterior lighting, with motion sensors if possible, to discourage potential intrusion.  Partial check.  Visible Security cameras, even if fake, are a great deterrent. Visible is the key word there. No check.  I’ve considered these or rather one of those doorbell cams that report to my phone.

Just haven’t gotten around to it.  Just haven’t gotten around to it.  You don’t want that on your headstone, I suppose.

Did you know there is a filmy substance you can use on your windows that makes them shatterproof?  And there are rods that can make it only possible to open your windows just so far?  That your front door is a solid core but most or all of your interior doors may not be? Did you know that most door jambs are put on with tiny little screws and can pop out with slight force? For want of a few screws costing less than a dollar, your front door can be relieved of all its perceived security and expose you.

Did you know that at least once a year a drunk college student comes home in the middle of the night to a cookie-cutter neighborhood and enters the wrong home only to be shot in the dark having awakened the homeowner not his parents?  (Okay that was a shameless plug against cookie-cutter neighborhoods, but it is true, the instructor said so.)

“A gun is a tool, not a plan.”  A home security plan is very important. Can you retreat and to where would you retreat? Can you account for everyone? Where do you gather your family if you think there is an intruder? Where do you keep your weapon?  Biometric locks or keypad?  (By the way, keypad in an emergency is recommended.) How quickly do you call 911? (That’s a no-brainer – REALLY QUICKLY!) Where is the deep corner in the rooms in your home?  What is a deep corner? It’s that part of the room where a bullet shot from the door cannot hit you.

I recently wrote a blog for a friend on the importance of having a plan in case of emergencies and disasters – meet-up locations, contacts, etc.  Do I have one? Not really.  It was a great blog.  I should read it.  I should develop a plan.  (you can find it click here.)  That’s a lot of plans we need.  And then tell others about them and practice them.  Your plan is only as good as the effort put into use it in case of an emergency.  We all hope for no emergencies.

I have an appointment to try a long gun next week.  Then I have a lot of heavy thinking to do.  I want to move to a little house in the woods.  Maybe I am safer here tucked into this condo?  I suspect the threat is equal but I can make my odds better by really examining my fortress and looking for the cracks in the walls.  Do you have any cracks in your walls?  Are there any homes out there with moats and drawbridges?

 

 

That Winning Feeling

Do you ever feel lucky?

I don’t think I wander around feeling lucky.  I suspect I am “luckier” than most.  I listen to my intuition, my gut feeling about things.  I will take a different turn on a regular route somewhere if my gut says to.  I will suddenly drive out of my way to make an unplanned stop if I have a sudden urge to do so. And these things generally always help me to avoid accidents or stumble upon some great item or gift or sighting.  Lucky at contests?  I do enter raffles in the autumn at every local craft show I go to.  I am not really lucky at those – if you buy enough tickets your odds increase dramatically and you are supporting a good cause – usually a school’s sports or arts program.  The Lottery?  I do buy scratch tickets which in the long run are generally a break even or a losing proposition, but I win in that I enjoy the word puzzles and occasional cash prize which always seem to erase the memory of the losses.

You know that feeling you get when you think you might have a winning lottery ticket?  Not just a little win, but The Big Win?  You know that feeling?  You are scratching off the numbers and the excitement spreads through you. For just a few seconds, perhaps even minutes you have this sensation that your entire life is about to change and the future passes in flashes before your eyes!  The wealth!  The ease!  The travel!  Then the sudden – oh crap –it’s NOT a winner, feeling?  You’ve scratched off the wrong area.  What a feeling: that rise of hope, joy, adrenaline and as quickly, a sudden fall back into – and maybe slightly below – normalcy.

I don’t get depressed when I don’t win.  I assume it just wasn’t my time to win.

This past week upon returning from a trip I was looking through a find from an antique mall and I got that feeling.  It started slowly and began to creep through my entire body as my brain started to make assumptions about the possibilities.

Just back from a few days in Maine I unpacked an autograph book from the 1870’s that I’d picked up at the USA Antique Mall in Arundel (that’s the first antique mall you come to on Route 1 going north, not the second one which is also prone to treasures).    I remembered the clerk was training his father on how to ring up a sale.  There was an extremely pretty and friendly Australian Red Sheep dog behind the counter and I had moved down the counter to pet her over the swinging door.  She was sweet.

Earlier that day I had risen at 4:30 so that I could get to Ogunquit’s Marginal Way in time for sunrise, my first in Maine.  Every time I had said to someone I was going to Ogunquit, they said I must visit the Marginal Way.  It is a winding, rolling paved walkway along the rocky shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean offering some pretty stunning views.  Last year on my trip it rained for five days with the sun only coming out in the afternoons to create humidity and discomfort.  I never made it there.

That was Autumn, this was Spring.  Sunrise was scheduled for 5:14 a.m. I was there at 5:05 along with a few walkers that I assume were locals based on their demeanor.  Tourists are chattier, rarely up that early and would fill the walkway later in the day.  I wandered, I sat on the memorial benches, getting several obligatory sunrise photos and was done by 5:45.

After that I made my way north to Wells, Maine where there is a peaceful trail at the Rachel Carson Refuge Center.  It is an easy, winding trail through forests and along estuaries with occasional views of snowy egrets, goldfinches, turtles and seemingly endless salt marshes.  Further out, the Atlantic rolled in along a much less rocky shore.  It was too early for the migratory birds or the Spring wildflowers that were already blooming in Central Massachusetts where I live, but the one-mile trail was bordered with large white flowers of the wild hydrangea and a pleasant breeze accompanied me.

By the time I reached the antique mall later in the day, my ankles had been screaming at me for quite some time.  I knew I did not have much time left to shop at this or the other antique mall before my legs were going to refuse to carry me along.  Times like this is when I wish I’d not eaten that bread the day before.  It always hits me in the joints of my legs first.

My eyes darted from shelf to shelf at the antique mall, skipping easily over the glassware to save time, slowing down in areas of books or trinkets that might hold memories for me.  It was important not to stop and stare too long into any one display case as it might signal over-interest but also standing on the concrete floor would allow my ankles to tell my back that it was going to be in pain soon, too.

I avoided the rear of the building as it seems to be mostly oversized items of furniture, farming implements, old signage and a lot of dust.  Things I should not look at because they would not fit into the car.  In the second to last aisle I saw something just below eye level that I was looking for:  a small, worn autograph book nestled in among two old tinplate toys and an array of costume jewelry.  I made note of the case number in the memo app in my phone and moved on.  I would need to look inside the book before making a decision.  It was more costly than I am usually willing to spend and that would mean the inside had to be special.  It would have to have numerous readable signatures with messages to the original owner of the book, dated, possibly including locations.

And it did.  After a quick glance through, I nodded at the gentleman who opened the case for me and told him I would take it.  At the counter, he wrapped it gently in thin Kraft paper from a stack of sheets they keep at the ready to wrap glassware and other fragile items.  I did not unwrap it until I was home several days later.

Sitting in front of the television, I removed the paper carefully. I started to look through the pages at the beautiful writing and often humorous poems people would include.  It was Mary Wescott’s book that she likely received December 31, 1877, as this was the first and oldest entry. All of the entries were all from places in Maine: Wyndham,  Standish, Sebago Lake.

As I go through the pages of swirling cursive writing from quill pen or pencil, I like to imagine the person taking the time to think up something special to say to Mary or May as some of them called her.

As was the trend, signatures and thoughts expressed were generally from family members, school mates and teachers.  Sister Abbie wrote, “May each shining hour witness golden deeds.”  Women writings in these books are usually neater, more heartfelt.

“Our friendship has budded on earth. May it blosom in heaven, Are the wishes of your friend, Ginie Van Buskirk.  April 9th, 1883.”

Men tend towards the humorous or the simple signature only.  In this book, written perpendicular to the normal entries was an unusual message:

“Mary, tell Allen he must give the horse more oats and oftener, Frank.”

And this gem:

“May, In the world’s wide field of battle, In the bivouac of life, Be not like dumb driven cattle!  Be a heroine—a wife—.  Ever your friend, S. E. Strout, Feb. 20 1883.”

A heroine, a wife.  A sign of the times.

I skipped randomly through the book at first.  “Do the duty that lies nearest thee.”  This caught my eye.  It seemed kind of ominous but good advice.  It was signed L. M. Alcott.  “Funny,” I remember thinking, “This person knows someone with the same initials as Louisa May Alcott.”  It could happen. It was in a heavier black ink than the other signatures.  It wasn’t until I looked through the book several times that my brain started to say, “You should google Louisa May Alcott’s signature and see if there is a resemblance.”  After all, I thought, it was the late 1880’s.  She could have met the author in Maine.  I imagined scenarios in which they could have met while summering at the beach in those long full-body swimming dresses.

The image search yielded an identical signature to the one in the book!  Wow, Mary had meet Louisa May Alcott!  That was exciting.  What a find.  I briefly wondered what the value of her autograph might be but knew that I would never part with it. It was a treasure.

I flipped randomly through more pages and came upon another signature:  “Faithfully yours, Wilkie Collins”, author of The Woman in White and The Moonstone books.  And another, Henry W. Longfellow.  And then, Edgar A. Poe!

Okay, I know that you ‘dear reader’ are starting to snicker at me.  And I accept that.  For a few moments, I have to say, I had this amazing feeling, this life-about-to-change feeling that the universe had gifted me with something that could be so valuable I should not even be touching it with my grubby little fingers.  It was a brief elation because I knew deep down that such a thing would never get past an antique dealer and into that display case.  Such a thing would more likely be found completely by accident at the yard sale of a recently deceased person with things being cleared out of an old house without concern for value.

I googled and compared other images of signatures.  They all matched.  Then I looked at the cover of the book.  “Companion Autographs” it read.  Hmmm, I had never seen “companion” on one of my books before.  I googled “Companion autograph book” and on a live auction house site discovered a listing with a cover identical to mine that bore the following description:

“America. a 19th century collectible autograph book titled, “Companion Autographs” containing facsimile autographs and inscriptions from a number of famous historical figures. Some facsimile signatures include: Abraham Lincoln, Louisa May Alcott, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Rutherford B. Hays, Bayard Taylor, R.W. Emerson…”  The list goes on. It went on to say it had come from an estate in Idaho and had a copy of the obituary of most recent owner of that book, probably a descendent of the original owner.  https://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/57103291_19th-century-collectible-autograph-book

That explained a lot.

I also found mention of it on a message board at AutographMagazine.com.  This one, though, had a cover that included the famous folks’ signatures.  Had mine had that on the cover, it would have given me an inkling that they were inside and I would have known up front that they were not real.  Looking back at them now, they are clearly in a different ink style and obviously not real.  Oh, hindsight.

Still, that winning feeling, that sudden elation, that spreads through your body and offers insight into the possibilities of a windfall, is a pretty wonderful feeling.  Even if fleeting, it is a feeling that I can now revisit every time I look into this particular Autograph book which will take its place proudly in my tiny but growing collection.  It is now mine and holds memories for me.  One of these days, that treasure could be real.

 

Keep Drawing Your Picture

I remember peeling down past the wave on a brand new purple Crayola® crayon.  Wax was caught under my fingernail that would distract me even more from the fact that I did not know what I had wanted to draw and only took the purple crayon so that no one else could have it.  The wrapper did not need to be pealed yet.  The tip was still that polished shiny new point full of possibilities. I was stalling.

I used to color with abandon.  I could draw fields of flowers with beautiful skies. I could draw people and animals in great detail that actually looked like what they were intended to look like.  Then it stopped.  I stopped. Indecision and insecurity set in.

When I was in second grade one day on the way home from school, Deana Case (not her real name) was sitting with me on the bus.  This was in a time when the seats were a simple molded plastic with no padding.  When the driver rounded a corner too fast, we would all slide in the opposite direction if we weren’t holding on in anticipation of the sway.  It was exciting and fun and lent adventure to my imagination.  The bus was always loud with chatter and laughter and the noise from the engine, wheels and breaks that would squeak and squeal as the bus came to a stop at the end of someone’s drive way.

Now that I think of that bus, big yellow orange container of so many different children.  It was like a rolling box of crayons itself full of so many different personalities and potentials.  On that one particular day, Deana pulled a drawing out of her bag.  We had a rare free time period that day and could draw and color anything we wanted. I had mine too. I loved what I had drawn and then I saw hers.

Wow.

Wow. The sight of her drawing froze me with awe.

Comparing her drawing to mine was like comparing the Sistine Chapel to the Sunday funnies.  I did like the Sunday funnies and to be honest, that may have been partly where I learned to draw so well. I noticed the lines and how a simple curve or swirl could make all the difference in the emotion or humor of a piece.  What she had done was foreign to me.  It covered the entire piece of paper from edge to edge and was an amazing scene with flowers, a house and a beautiful night sky.  She had blended her colors in a way that I had never imagined doing.  I did not even know you could do that with the box of broken and stubby crayons we passed around the classroom. Her drawing had a depth and perspective I was only on the verge of understanding in the simplest of terms.

Wow.

It was so beautiful.  I told her how beautiful it was.  Then I was embarrassed for the very first time to show my drawing to someone.  I did.  She liked it.  She complimented it as well.  I believed her because I knew Deana didn’t lie, but I still felt at a loss to understand how suddenly I was not as good as I had thought.  Had people been telling me I was good when I wasn’t?

I believe this might have been the start of my long-held inner belief that I was simple not really better at anything than anyone else.  Nothing I could do was any different, any more special or even good enough to compare from that point forward.   I got excellent grades moving through high school, graduating in the top 10% of my class and earning a scholarship.  I got excellent grades in college and was on the dean’s list several times during my freshman year.   My assumption, however, was that everyone was getting excellent or ever better grades.

There were some areas of curriculum that required I worked harder than others.  I loved geometry but could not wrap my head around advanced algebra. I loved English and all the stories and books we read – but could not embrace the ancient stuff. Beowulf for example.  I knew I had strengths and weaknesses, but again, my assumption was that everyone else only had strengths.  Even when I was called upon to tutor someone older than myself in middle school, I did not realize that this meant anything other than I was a good reader and could help this person with words just as I had helped my older brother with his math at home.

It did not mean I had any special knowledge or skill, right? I was nothing special.

While I think parents today often over-whelm their children to the point of delusion with how special, wonderful and talented they are, forever losing in them a sense of what it is like to really accomplish something from hard work, I do wish someone had noticed this in me earlier and helped me realize the truth.  It’s a fine line parents need to tread.  I was as special as anyone else. I was extremely resourceful and had talents in many areas that often outshone others and that was important and should have built confidence.  It didn’t.

No one had noticed.

On a job I had at Borders Books & More (I miss that store so much!) after college, my manager, a new manager not much older than myself, came out and asked me very pointedly:

“Do you know how smart you are?”

I shrugged it off.  It had to be some silly trick to get me to do more work.  I was prone to respond that way to a compliment.  I would work hard to please the person even more and people seemed to know this about me.

“Really,” she said, “Look at this.”  She pointed to the floor in front of my section – Reference and Foreign Languages, at that time, where hundreds of newly arrived books were stacked in front of their respective shelves waiting to be inserted into their proper places among the floor stock.  I didn’t really get what she was trying to say, which was that I was a monster when it came to getting the new stock out on the floor in the shortest amount of time.  Most staff would bring out one v-cart at a time, without putting it into order first and shelf the books one book at a time, here, there, wherever until their shift was over.  I organized my entire task putting two or more v-carts into action, then broke it down into small steps by placing the books near their final destinations first.  Lots of easy little successes in shelving that lead to getting done quickly and efficiently so that I could move on.  I also neatened and shifted and “frontalized” while I was putting out the new stock instead of going back and doing this later as a separate step.  I didn’t realize I had put any more thought into the task than anyone else. It was just the way I felt it needed to be done so that I could browse in other areas.

Admittedly, it was efficient, but it also could only be done this way during times when the store was slow.  This system had to be revamped during those times when people were rampantly shopping, were laying on the floor reading, stalking some pretty girl in the art section next to reference or wandering around with a no-foam, half-caf, mocha latte espousing brilliant philosophical thoughts to no one in particular.  I guess that was something else she was trying to point out to me.  I not only could organize a vast amount of materials so that they took up the least amount of time, but I could be flexible and perceptive enough to realize this had to be adjusted based on the store’s foot-traffic.  And all this time I had believed the guys on staff when they told me I shelved faster because I had large hands.

It was nice of her to have pointed this out.  This was the first time anyone had complimented something my brain did that seemed automatic to me.  I wanted to get done so that I could go look at new books in the Anthropology or Sociology or fiction sections.  This was the first time I was given an inkling that my brain worked differently than others and that this was actually a good thing.  I knew my brain was different.  I knew I was different, but my assumption had been from childhood that this was not a good-different.  And here was this person, a person in authority, putting an idea in my mind that my form of different could actually be a potentially useful and wonderful thing.

It took many years after that to actually flesh out that idea to a fully formed image in my mind.  Her words would come back to me in different situations where I had done the same things – automatically. This was a new perspective that no one else had ever given me.  And it isn’t at all about parenting.  Everyone needs to re-parent themselves as they grow up and learn about the world and who they are in it.   I had set myself in a picture of my world early as the underachiever. I needed to pick up crayons or markers or pens and start drawing again and keep filling out the pages until I have properly redrawn a more honest representation of who I really was.

I suspect this is drawing that will continue on. It seems the more I learn, the more I change, the more there is to draw.

 

#keepcoloring #keeplearning #crayons