This day last year

20161129_084902For all of 2015, I kept a tiny Moleskine journal next to my bed. It’s one of those page-a-day journals, with the pre-printed date at the top of each page. At five and a half inches tall by three and a half inches wide – it had just enough space to record what I did that day.

Moleskine is way too overpriced – I don’t need something so fancy just to write down what I do everyday. So for 2016 I got just a regular blank book – a quarter of the price, larger – a more typical eight by six inches – and without the pre-printed date.  I kept it by the bed – with the same pen as before.

There are probably twenty or so blank pages in the 2015 journal – days I missed because I was away from home.

Most of the 2016 journal is blank.

Why? Is it the size?  It takes only a dozen words to fill the page of the tiny journal – far less intimidating and makes it easy to justify the occasional, “What a blah day – nothing happened” entry.  Is it the pre-printed date? The pressure of knowing that that page will remain forever blank if I don’t take the time now before I switch off the light to write down what made today unique?

Whatever the reason – I’ve learned that the Moleskine journal does exactly the job it is meant to do – it makes me write down what happened that day.

You might me wondering, why is writing down the events of the day important to me?

The entry from November 29th 2015:

Tonight’s Doctor Who was excellent.
Mostly just watched doc. about the Roosevelts today.
Back to my routine tomorrow for 4 days – then I have to work =(

That was a real day – but nothing momentous happened.  Without those three lines, it wouldn’t exist anymore. Now it will last for as long as I hold on to that journal. And that is good.

Certainly worth $19.95.


A Composition on Composition

A Composition is a thing composed of various elements.

This post is a thing composed of definition and memory and an attempt to find balance.

First – definition:

See first sentence.

Second – memory:

Seventh grade english class: I am wearing my glasses because they are new. Before the week is out, I will lose them through a combination of negligence and embarrassment. ‘Four-Eyes’ is a commonly used phrase. Nerds are not cool yet.

While I can still see the board, I absorb the teacher’s lessons like a sponge. She is and always will be my favorite teacher. The repetitive boredom of summer sluffs off my sun-soaked brain and I leap into learning grammar and poetry and composition with the thrill of a diver on the high board.

The first composition assignment is written in purple ink at the top of my brand new homework notebook. The title of the composition is written in blue ink on the top of the first page of my brand new composition book. Over the weekend, the book bag containing both items sits ignored in the back-hall, while September skies pull me, briefly, back into summer.

Sunday night, at the dining room table, its varnished surface covered in the pressed pen-marks of two generations of homework-doers, my siblings and I struggle to finish what should have been done by now. The composition fails to live up to anyone’s expectations, including my own. On Monday the first C  is given and received, establishing the pattern of the year to follow.

Third – balance:

The word ‘composition’ always felt the way sour milk smells. Bad – off – wrong.  Back when writing was a chore, back when I didn’t know how to move thoughts from mind to paper. So hard back then, not so hard now. I’ve had a lot of practice since then.

The word ‘composition’ always related to words, a softer sort of essay, an alternative for the old-fashioned theme. But now it is reorienting itself in my brain. Expanding into new territory the way an amoeba moves a pseudopod to the next place it wants to go.

The word ‘composition’ now relates to art, my newest skill. Composition is what makes art interesting. A drawn banana is just as boring to look at on paper as it is to look at in real life. No matter how perfect the execution, a banana is a banana is a banana.

There are, as I am currently learning, eight elements of composition in art. One of which is balance. I learn that the balance of the elements of a piece can affect the mood. As in real life, when things are balanced, I am calm; when things are out of whack, I am a stressed out wacko.

Last – the composition:

At this moment, I am wearing my glasses. Perhaps the twentieth or so pair of my life. I can’t think of the last time I heard the phrase ‘four-eyes’ and nerds are cool now. Composition doesn’t turn my stomach any more. Composition takes the pieces of my abilities, my old skills and new skills, and sparks potential creative recombinations. The trick is finding the balance, holding on to the things that let me see what’s on the board, and not getting sucked into dull boredom of repetitivity.


I don’t trust memory.

I am nine or ten, and I am sleeping over at my friend Holly’s house. (Holly is not her real name.  It shouldn’t matter, since she is dead now, but I feel the need to protect her.)  I know Holly doesn’t have a dad, which isn’t too strange.  This is the early eighties and divorce has become an epidemic in my upper middle class town, and it is always the dad that leaves. Actually, I have no idea if her parents are divorced, or if they ever married.  Maybe her father is dead. Strange thing is, I don’t remember seeing her mother that night either.

I don’t remember arriving at her house, or what we ate for dinner but now it is really, really late, hours past my bedtime and Holly and I jump up and down on her bed, loud music is pouring from her cool robot-shaped cassette tape player and we eat candy necklaces. Lots of them.  She has an endless supply and there was no one around telling us, you’ve had enough. She has so many cool electric toys, everything I ever wanted from the toys-r-us catalog is lying there on Holly’s bedroom floor.

We are doing every thing I always imagined I would do if my parents disappeared.  And it is fun!  We are giggling and dancing, being loud and silly and nobody is getting hurt. Well, my tummy is hurting just a little bit.  I blame the jumping.

Her room feels small and cluttered and dark.  I don’t remember seeing a desk.  Just the bed, the toy and candy strewn floor and a closet full of more toys and lots of clothing.

I guess we slept eventually, but no one ever told us to go to bed.  The next scene is in Holly’s backyard.  It is daytime. A huge tree dominates the square, fenced-in space.  There is a dog roaming around, its dried piles of feces litter the patchy grass. There is a man sitting at the picnic table with us and he is shoving a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into Holly’s mouth.  Holly is sobbing and choking.  Snot and tears and jelly smeared all over her face.  The man is angry, I made you the damn sandwich and now you’re gonna eat it.

I don’t know who the man is.  Her mother’s boyfriend?  The concept of a ‘mother’ having a ‘boyfriend’ is too foreign for my sheltered mind.  The sandwich this man made for me is disgusting. He slopped the peanut butter and jelly an inch thick over the bread.  It isn’t cut up into child sized squares or triangles, I have a hard time holding it, and the excess jelly oozes over my hands as I eat it, fast, bite after terrified bite.

That memory ends there.  My mother told me later that she was furious to learn Holly’s mother had left us alone with a stranger. I never went back to her house.  I switched schools after that year and that was the end of our friendship.

I have two more memories of Holly. The first is passing by her in the stairwell of the high school.  She wore all black, a long black skirt, black blouse, black nail polish, even her eyes were circled in black.  The word ‘goth’ wasn’t in my vocabulary at the time, but it fits now.  Did we speak?  I know she smiled at me.  Her teeth were crooked, but the smile was sweet.  The moment feels kind in my head.  We walked completely different paths through that building, weaving among two thousand other students, and I don’t remember seeing her again.

If I stopped the story here – you might predict drug use, dropping out of school, maybe an unwanted pregnancy, and eventually death by overdose.  I already hinted at an early death, no one would be surprised if the story continued on this trajectory.  Unfair, true, but that is what we do.  In between the bits and pieces of fact we imaginatively fill in the gaps.

I don’t know what the truth is.

My last memory is of her memorial Facebook page, a year after she died of breast cancer.  I was not connected to her, but a friend of a friend wrote a note of sympathy and it popped up in my feed.  People like to speak well of the recently departed, but I’ve never seen so many specific, positive memories written by so many people. She was married and had a good job; much of the grief came from her co-workers and boss. Her mother and sister do breast cancer walks in her honor. Even now, the page is still updated with variations of the phrase: I miss you.

The memory of that strange and horrible sleep-over, of a neglected and abused child, is the memory I have of her.  But the evidence of other people’s memories, and the pictures of a smiling, happy woman, belie my singular experience.  An individual life is a complicated, many faceted thing.

I don’t trust memory. And as I am the only person with this memory, there’s a good chance I made it up.

Memory of something that hardly happened

Memory is shadow.  A 2d projection of a 3d event.  Warped and wrung by heat and light. Mushed and mangled by time and experience.

A memory of seeing the Mona Lisa, an event almost a decade old, passed, unrelated to anything, to the front of my mind on a day when other, more interesting things were happening, as if my mind accidentally hit the ‘shuffle all’ button on my life’s playlist.

The memory isn’t of the painting at all, it is from above, looking down on a sea of disembodied heads and hands holding cameras, although I’m sure cameras weren’t allowed, all pointed towards a small glass box on a wall, inside of which, we were told, hung the most famous painting in the world.

I wanted to be moved. I guess the existence of the memory proves that I felt something. Enough anyway for my mind to use up precious synapses or neurons to hold a permanent impression of the event.

In the end though, my memory isn’t of the thing, (the painting,) it is of seeing the thing.

It is a memory of something that hardly happened at all.

English: Eye painting on a wall in London.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unfinished Memory

A few months ago, Robbie’s 2nd grade class had added a class photo and a picture of the last Space Shuttle to his school’s time capsule. Today, as he stood near his grandfather’s grave, watching the people throwing mementos on the coffin, Robbie thought it was just the same. Except no one was going to dig it up in fifty years and ooh and ahh over all the old stuff.

Robbie thought long and hard about what to throw in for his grandfather. Mom said it should be something special that would remind Grandpa of Robbie. Just like the teacher had said, the picture of the last Space Shuttle was something that made this year special.

Grandpa liked playing cards, usually War because there was no way to cheat. He liked puzzles, the ones with millions of pieces. But throwing a deck of cards or a box of puzzle pieces didn’t seem right. They weren’t special enough.

The thing Grandpa loved most was his trains. In the basement of his old house, Grandpa had a huge oval table with a hole cut in the middle to stand in. A model town covered the table with a train track running through it. There were tiny trees and fake grass and little houses and stores and even streets with cars that could get stuck at the railroad crossings.

Every Sunday they went over to Grandpa’s house for eggs and bacon after church. As soon as he was excused, Robbie ran downstairs to see if he could find the new thing Grandpa had added to the table. Mom always warned him not to break anything but he knew it was ok because Grandpa liked fixing things.

The basement smelled funny and the lights that hung from the ceiling made a funny sound. Sometimes one of the long bulbs would start flashing on and off. Grandpa would just tap it softly with his finger to ‘calm it down,’ and it would stop. When he was little, Robbie asked Mom if Grandpa had magic in his hands, because they could fix anything. Mom just laughed and said that Grandpa was Clever and that was better than magic.

Sometimes the new thing on the train table would be easy to find. A new house or a new train car. But sometimes the new thing was really hard to find. Once it had been a tiny gray cat walking along the sidewalk. Grandpa, amazed at how fast Robbie spotted the cat, had told Mom that she should be proud to have such a Clever boy.

At the grave, it was Robbie’s turn. In his hand he held the most special thing in the world. It was a tiny model school-house, Robbie’s first addition to the train table. It wasn’t finished. Grandpa went into the hospital right after the Sunday that they started working on it. This morning, when they were all at Grandpa’s house before the funeral, Robbie sneaked downstairs to see if he could add the white paint for the windows and doors, but the paint had dried up.

Robbie uncurled his fingers and looked down at the little half-painted structure laying in the palm of his hand. This really wasn’t like the school’s time capsule, he thought, because Grandpa was the only one who would ever see the things they put in the grave. And even though the model was the most special thing in the world, it seemed wrong to throw it in like this.

He looked up at Mom and whispered, “I want to finish it.”  Mom nodded and wrapped her hand around his, closing both around the unfinished memory.
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