Tuesday, March 15, 2016

On Losing Things. On Finding Things.

Sometimes you lose stuff. You just do. Nobody's fault. Shit happens. A cuff link rolls off your dresser and gets sucked up by the vacuum. A ten dollar bill sails into the wind as you're pulling out your car keys. The world is cruel sometimes. Your Star Trek NCC-1701 Enterprise Pizza Cutter gets accidentally thrown away with the last pizza box. Good thing it was a gift or you'd be pissed off.  It was pretty cool, though. (Stop laughing. Have you ever SEEN one of those? They are COOL.)

Sometimes other people lose stuff and you find it. That's exciting. Occasionally, a little uncomfortable. I found a $100 bill once. I felt guilty for a month afterwards.  The poor sod probably needed that C-note for something important.

However frustrating losing something may be, when you find it again, the joy is immeasurable. Especially if you find it on accident. The tale of loss and recovery becomes epic. A party story told over and over again to rapt throngs. The cuff link winds up in the cat's litter box. (Yeah, don't ask. It's a mystery.) The ten-spot ends up blowing against a rose bush getting stuck on a thorn for a week and returned to you by your gardener. (Who clearly could use the money more than you). The pizza cutter mysteriously appears years later on the same day the new Star Trek movie opens. (Kismet.)

Sometimes, just sometimes, you will find something without having lost it at all. A relationship, a love, a friend, a memory. One of my very best friends from high school reconnected with me via a phone call out of the blue. I had forgotten how much that person meant to me and, strangely, still does. While I didn't actually lose him as a friend, I found the importance of him again. As a result, that simple little action of a phone call, we have gotten back in touch, have spoken many times and actually took the time to meet after a million years and visit for a while face-to-face.  So fun and heartwarming, really.

For those who read my posts or follow me on Facebook, you will know I "found" a daughter I didn't know I had. More accurately, she found me. While I didn't officially "lose" her, the change in our lives once we found each other was profound. I would daresay miraculous even.

Just last year, I had the pleasure of finding some "junk boxes" my mother had kept over the years. She kept Mother's Day cards from the 90s, birthday cards from the 80s, newspaper clippings from the 70s. Letters from her children. Not junk at all. At least not to her. What I really found was what my mom had held dear throughout her entire life. Memories.

It's not that I really needed that Star Trek pizza cutter. I mean, really, it's a pretty limited utensil. It was just awesome to look at, to hold, to have. It was fun. Naturally, I was able to cut pizza after it went missing. I bought a new pizza cutter at Ralph's. It worked. Cut pizza. I forgot about the lost item pretty quickly, to be honest. Until one day, you move something or clean out a drawer or rearrange a cupboard. Hum. What's...that? Hey, it's my  Star Trek NCC-1701 Enterprise Pizza Cutter! Then you cradle it like a long lost love. The memory of losing now itself a memory. So glad I got a couple DiGiornos in the freezer.  Now, where'd I put that corkscrew?

Friday, March 11, 2016

I'm Not a Writer. But, I Write.

Nobody writes anymore. We tap out 140 characters on Twitter. We post funny sayings and scatter birthday wishes around Facebook.  We scratch out a few lines in a thank you card or a text message. We don't really write, though.

Which is kind of odd when when you think about it. I don't know about you, but when I get an actual letter in the mail, I am as "giddy as a drunken man" to quote Mr. Dickens. I reschedule whatever I may have planned in order to locate a letter opener (yes, I still have one). If I can't find it immediately, any knife, pair of scissors or fingernail file will do. Carefully I'll slice open the envelope; gently remove the precious paper cargo as if it were a page from the Books of Kells; gingerly unfold the stationery with baited breath ready to absorb the contents. The subject matter is less important that the fact that this person just took valuable time out of their day to think about me and put words on paper.

I'm not talking about business letters, here. You get that, right? I talking writing of a personal nature. To family and friends and people you care about. I'm talking big sentiments with nouns and verbs and adjectives (no abbreviations allowed) that reach into the other person's mind if not their very soul. These kinds of letters don't have to be novels or even short stories. They can be a paragraph or a few pages. They should, however, be considered and contemplated. They should take some effort. It's okay to re-write a few bits here and there. If fact, consider that prerequisite to a good letter.

A long time ago I used to write letters. Lots of them if memory serves. Then I stopped. Don't know why. Inspiration got overshadowed by something less thrilling, perhaps. Time spent scribbling got shifted to time spent rehearsing. Not that either of those things are acceptable excuses, but whatever the reason(s) my letter writing became more, shall we say, sporadic. I only started writing letters again a few years ago. I picked up the keyboard to write letters to my daughter. [My previous posts address that little miracle.] My thinking was that if I could write her a letter on a special occasion here and there I would be able to subtlety sneak in some information about myself that she might find interesting. Maybe even useful. Or at least, she might get to know me better through my written words and not just my spoken ones. Honestly, I sometimes talk way to much and writing is a good filter. With any luck, I hope she has had a laugh or two while reading my little missives. She certainly has discovered that I have absolutely no regard for grammar or punctuation.

Should you choose to begin your letter writing adventure, start with letters to friends. Those are easy. Just start writing to a buddy to see how their doing. Crack a few jokes. Ask a few personal questions. Give them a couple of updates about your own life. I guarantee you will get an immediate response and, hopefully, a letter in return. Now, I am fully aware that some of you kinda do this already. At Christmastime. You know who you are. Imma let you slide even though you are cheating a Little bit.

The most elegant form of letter writing is, of course, the love letter. One needn't be a poet to write a good love letter. If the meaning is truthful and heartfelt, the person you are writing to will think it poetry. If sincere, the words will come. Just throw in a couple complements and some flower references and you are golden! (Spray a little perfume with some rose top notes on the envelope for good measure. Rose lingers. Viola!)

If you are not going to heed my advice and start writing letters, then at the very least -- start a blog.  Write something. Even if no one ever reads it. Write. Not all the time, just once in a while. Give yourself the  chance, even the permission, to be vulnerable, to spout off, to express yourself.

Here's the thing (pardon me while I step up on this soapbox for a minute), as I see it, our  society has developed a terrible avoidance to speaking from the heart. Oh, we can rattle off an uneducated or ignorant opinion faster that you say "Donald Trump's a racist asshole." But to share a real piece of our heart is much harder. We have come to think of anything even close to sentimentality as bad, uncool, silly, unbelievable. From movies to personal relationships, we shun the sentimental in favor of "being honest." Plain, blunt, often coarse talk has smothered our ability to cry at movies, our longing to sigh at songs, or our need to whisper in our lover's ear. But in order for a love letter (any letter, really) to be truly effective, the writer must let down their own guard. They must be emotionally available. A person who writes, must openly make themselves vulnerable to the person to whom they are writing. You must risk something of yourself to make the connection. No one can do that in a tweet a post or a meme.

There is also a very personal je ne sais quoi about signing your name to something. Especially, something other than a tax return or a credit card receipt in a restaurant. Even when I print out a letter written in Word, I will sign my name. With an actual pen. Your signature on a letter is the equivalent of a politician endorsing a commercial. It's you saying, "Yup, I wrote this and mean every word." This flies directly in the face of most social media that is hidden behind bogus screen names and false identities. There we hide our meanness behind anonymity. With letter writing we wave our heart around like a white flag hoping the person reading it will take up the order to parley.

I know a few people are real writers. I mean, pros. For reals. Gifted, creative friends who can expertly craft a movie script, weave together a story for book or magazine, invent a beautiful poem. I'm not suggesting that we all suddenly add another hyphen to our credentials and I would never insult my highly talented friends by comparing my own work to theirs. However, I do think there is value in the process of writing. You don't have to be a writer to write a letter. You just have to have something important or nice to say - to someone else.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Secret Stashes of Circus Peanuts

On July 13, 2015 my mother passed away. Now, don't worry, this isn't going to be one of those kind of posts. Yes, it was hard. Excruciating. Fortunately for me, I really had no unfinished business with my mom. We were good. But the grieving process got me thinking about a whole raft of things. Some linked to her directly and others just far away thoughts that would come rushing into the vacuum created by the loss. Some I had predicted would show up, others were little surprises. Still others -- earthquakes.

But life is like that, right? Sometimes in the middle of a perfectly perfect Southern California day there's an earthquake followed by some aftershocks. Then, all better, back to perfectly perfect.

After my mom's death, my brothers and I set about "getting her affairs in order." And while I remember little about what transpired over the course of those few days, I do remember one thing in particular -- and vividly. In what my mom referred to as her "computer room" was a desk. It had four drawers. As I opened the bottom most of those drawers I was shocked to discover...her secret candy stash. My 87 year old mom had candy hidden away. My audible laughter turned into sobbing. So much so that one of my brothers came rushing in to check on my state of being. This drawer contained two boxes of Dots, a bag of Cinnamon Bears, and two large unopened bags of possibly one of the most inexplicable candies in the world of confections -- Circus Peanuts. The fact that she squirreled them away like a teenager's porn collection just struck me as profound.

I cannot for the life of me figure these things out. They look like peanuts, but are made of some kind of strange marshmallow only not really marshmallow. And, if we are to believe Wikipedia, they are banana flavored. Right. Okay. Who thought that shit up?  Who makes a banana flavored marshmallow peanut? That's craaaazeeee! I love 'em!

Forrest Gump was wrong. Life is nothing like a box of chocolates. Life is like a bag of Circus Peanuts. Looks like one thing, tastes like another and is made out of something not quite what it should be. Our stroll through this life is littered with these bizarre little candies. People and events that make no sense in any way except the one way that matters most. The heart way.

We all have certain friends that continually disappoint or drive us insane. Family that embarrasses us or angers us with their small mindedness or opinions. But if we ever really needed someone to help us fix a flat in the middle of the Mojave Desert, they'd drive half way across the country with a brand new jack and a spare tire. We may hide them from the world like my mom's candy bags, but they'll always be right there if we need them.

Long lost friends, forgotten lovers, distant relatives, former classmates. People passing through your life that you may not have heard from in years. Memories that have been effectively sunken at the bottom of our muddy brain seem to bubble up out of nowhere (how they find our cell number is still a mystery) and we laugh through the whole hour long catch-up session like we had never been apart. Opening yet another bag of familiar sweetness and pushing the silly thing into our mouth like an orca eating a seal.

Every once in awhile, on an inexplicable whim, I'll buy a bag of Circus Peanuts. (They're only a couple bucks at Target.) Not because they are delicious. Not because of the health benefits of Yellow 5 and Red 40. Certainly not because they are gluten free. (Which they are, BTW.) My motivation for supporting this ridiculous treat is purely because that first bite releases a flood of memories. All of them good. It's hard to remember sad things when you're eating a Circus Peanut.

No one should live in the past. But it's totally okay, to taste it now and again. If for no other reason than to remember how delicious things can be if you only open the bag. Thanks, Mom.