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Life: Just a spin of the rainbow dial?

photoI recently downloaded a version of the board game “LIFE” from the app store. It’s fun and vibrant with jazzy little cars that speed along a winding road past lakes (with moving boats!), apple trees, and lit houses. At certain points along the path, you must stop and pick a career, salary, and house. Hitting the “Congratulations, twins!” square always seems to mean they’re identical. And by the middle of the game, I often find myself upgrading to a mega-mansion before retiring to Millionaire Estates.

Then, if I’m lucky enough to win, a scrapbook of my life flashes across the screen. It shows me my college years, my job, husband, children, house, and a few of my most noteworthy activities. In under 30 minutes I’ve lived 85 successful years and even snuck in a trip to the Great Wall of China.

But life’s rarely that neat and concise. There are an overwhelming amount of choices to be made, and unfortunately, no neat stack of cards to choose from.

Two weeks ago, I found myself standing in the middle of the daunting display floor know as Ashley’s Furniture HomeStore. I was unsure which was the best couch or bed to pick for my new apartment. The place was vast and overflowing with vases and mirrors and dining room sets. Small children scrambled from one gray ottoman to the next, lost in a safari of wooden legs and desk drawers. Tired from a 2.5 hour drive up to my new university home, I flopped on one couch after another, determining that they were either too hard or too squishy or lacking tall enough backs. I felt like Goldilocks.

Yet even after the furniture’s all picked out, sometimes you wait for hours for the furniture delivery man only to find out a salesman sold the coffee table you’d already bought to someone else. Sometimes the full-length mirror breaks apart when you try to screw nails into its back. Sometimes you come to the realization that your legs will never touch the floor at the dining table unless you go out and buy a shorter chair.

But beside the glitches, there have been fun trips to pick out paintings of Paris and pleasant afternoons lining kitchen drawers with decorative paper. I’m organizing my space and looking forward to welcoming guests into it – yes, the futon is already bought.

These days, I am more well acquainted with the Home section of Target and TJ Maxx than I ever planned to be. I’ve watched pushy old ladies practically ram into my shopping cart if I’m in the way of their pursuit of a half-off “Grandma loves me” picture frame. I’ve spent days fussing over shower curtains and dish towels, strainers, and lamps.

It was up in my parent’s attic that a certain realization hit me though. I was looking into the dusty eyes of old stuffed animals and pawing at frilly dresses that haven’t seen sunlight since I was seven. It turned out that the abstract paintings up there weren’t what I had in mind for a blank wall in my apartment. But looking at the bags and boxes full of years of memories, I realized all the “stuff” does have some purpose. It’s a connection to the past. Proof that we were once different people with different priorities living in an alternate reality. No, the doll house with its pink roof and happy Milton Bradley family is no longer my most prized possession. But it once was.

Those old objects freeze time for me and for all of us. It’s like the first time you read about a favorite character’s death in a beloved children’s book. I recall being devastated when Sirius Black slips beyond the veil in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, while his cousin-murderer, Bellatrix, cackles in victory. Reading the book again, however, brought him back to life, at least for a little while. Once I knew how the story ended, I could return to it and the Potter books that preceded it and relive the parts I most enjoyed without fear of the unknown future. Harry may be in his mid-thirties with three kids, starting to go gray, and weary from his Auror work – at least according to Rita Skeeter’s latest article. But when I open the pages of those books now, I’m 11 again and so is he. And we’re waiting to board the scarlet steam engine that will take us to Hogwarts and a world of fantastic adventure.

It’s the same with your old clothes, toys and trinkets. When they’re in your hands, you too remember all the versions of yourself you have been.

I know the Potter books will grace my apartment’s book shelves. Just as I’m sure that laughter from reruns of “The Golden Girls” will reverberate off my walls, too. In that cozy Miami kitchen where Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Sophia came together in the 1980s to share secrets and cheesecake, there is comfort. I know and love all the show’s wacky plot lines, from a trip to the sperm bank with Blanche’s daughter to Rose taking in a “show chicken” who plays the piano. I grin when Stan shows up broke again at the front door or Sophia begins a story with her trademark, “Picture it: Sicily.” I love the women’s silk floral dressing gowns and interdependence on each other. I love how they still have vibrant social lives, an obsession with men and a fearless attitude that allows them to tackle hobbies like tap dancing and pursue careers as teachers, art directors, consumer reporters and counselors. Yet at the end of it all, their world is contained and, though incredibly fun, predictable. Sometimes, all you really need is 30 minutes of comedy and closeness when your own life seems uncertain.

I’m moving down a winding road, strapped into my little LIFE car, and I don’t know where the bumps or best parts of the journey will be yet. It can be daunting – like staring at a blank page when you know that to be a writer you just need to start writing. But in these types of situations, you’ve just got to rev the engine and find out what lies ahead for you.

 

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Say the words

Friends 2008 1 bw

The first time I heard of Dr. Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages was in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. The dark ocean stretched toward a starry sky as I walked around the deck of a cruise ship with my Israeli dinner companion. Raised in the Middle East, his mother was American. He looked more like a center for a Midwestern college basketball team than anything else as he explained Chapman’s research to me.

He told me about five love languages which symbolize how people give and receive love in social relationships. Time, physical touch, gifts, acts of service and words of affirmation represent the primary tools we use to show one another we care.

When my friend cleared his throat and asked me which one I identified with most, I barely hesitated. “Quality time,” was my immediate reply.

But now I’m not so sure.

As an only child, capturing someone’s undivided attention is very appealing, no doubt. But after spending the last 15 months working at a place where I’m rarely verbally affirmed in any way, I’m starting to think I really need to hear “I appreciate you” a little more often.

Your primary love language is supposed to be the one it would hurt you the most to go the longest without. Knowing that solidifies for me that spending quality time with those I love is my highest priority. But when you feel like you’re giving so much and not receiving much back, life can seem a little less magical. I believe we should support our friends and neighbors in whichever way comes most naturally. Everyone needs a boost sometimes. You never know who just lost a loved one, who’s been diagnosed with a disorder, whose car wouldn’t start that morning or whose dear friend just betrayed them.

To that end, I stumbled across a website the other day, http://www.moreloveletters.com, that is striving to create a little more light and love in our world. It’s a worldwide initiative started by a 20-something woman when she was depressed and living alone in New York City. Strangers hand-write letters to someone in need – stories and addresses are posted on the site – which are delivered in ribbon-wrapped bundles to the unsuspecting recipient. In a world of 140 characters or less, constant pinging, and more virtual than face-to-face communication, a little cursive and a few sparkly stickers and neon markers couldn’t hurt.

Digital Nightmare

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I fully realize that we live in a modern, digital world. While there are times when I entertain daydreams about attending balls in Victorian England or reading poetry by a fireplace in a log cabin somewhere out in the American West Little-House-on-the-Prairie style, that was not the hand I was dealt.

I’m only in my early twenties, but I’m old enough to remember receiving hand-written letters at girl scout camp from my family, newspaper classified ads being the primary place to find job postings and small, family-owned bookstores standing out in a landscape not yet overrun by big box stores.

I miss those days.

In the film “Midnight in Paris,” Owen Wilson’s character engages in a conversation about the nature of nostalgia, of wanting to go back to what’s perceived as a “simpler time.” Yes, genuine time travel would be awesome, but in many ways, it’s not like life in 1997 was so drastically different than life is today.

Yes, the Internet and mobile phones are ubiquitous, but kids more often than not still learn from textbooks and hands-on science lab experiences. Nickelodeon soldiers on and still attempts to sell your doe-eyed darling glittery Barbie dolls. Politicians have moved off of the global catastrophe of Y2K and now fight about how to fix the devastating economic aftermath of 2008 and how to combat climate change—if they believe in it that is. Yes, drones are being used to virtually attack our enemies abroad, but communities are still hosting street parades to welcome back their military heroes.

Technology, on the other hand, has brought about some amazing advancements—like Skype for instance. How amazing is it to talk and see my good friend in Amsterdam at a moment’s notice? How extraordinary that I can find out everything I ever wanted to know about The War of the Roses on EncyclopediaBrittanica.com to supplement my understanding of “The White Queen?”

Still, I’m glad I went to middle school in the age of passing notes during locker breaks as opposed to sexting. If my 8th grade English teacher told me to read “Animal Farm” on my school-provided Kindle, I know I’d be upset. And it’s a shame that you now have to turn to HBO in order to watch a program that doesn’t allow mindless tweets from strangers to fill the bottom of the screen.

Yet stores still sell books, stationary, newspapers, magazines, and thank God, CDs. (Yes, I own an iPod and iPhone). And I’m glad they do because in my opinion, no experience with the digital screen can ever come close to the joy of smelling the remnants of sunscreen on a paperback book I once brought to the beach. Besides, I like the CDs cover art and the lyrics printed inside.

Children in public schools adeptly typing out their Algebra lessons online but not being able to read the eloquent swirls of cursive adorning a card from their grandmother is depressing. And signing a “virtual receipt” at Target seems a little ridiculous. I’m as big of a tree hugger as the next person, and I recycle all of my paper products. But I don’t enjoy the feeling of dried-out eyes at the end of a workday spent staring at my computer.

My friends and I send postcards to each other when we go on vacations, and occasionally, write letters — yes, actual, 1960s style pen pal letters — to each other when we have the time. I love seeing their handwriting in my mailbox; it always brings a smile to my face.

And working for a group of community newspapers, you can bet that I support the work of journalists and authors with my hard-earned paycheck. Pay walls for news content online will be the real wave of the future, because it simply isn’t fair for you to read my work for nothing. You wouldn’t ask that I allow you to fix my television or cook my meal without being compensated, would you?

Perhaps we can all be a little more conscious about slowing down our lifestyles occasionally and reacquainting ourselves with the wonders of White Out as opposed to always relying on the backspace key. There’s nothing like a newspaper spread all over the coffee table on the weekend, nothing like the excitement of waiting at midnight with hundreds of other people at the local bookstore for the release of the next Harry Potter book.

When we lose the brick-and-mortar, the real, the tangible, we lose the visceral. We lose a little bit of our community, a little bit of ourselves. If you agree, send a letter to your best friend this week, support your local bookstore, or go see an artist live and in color as opposed to watching them on YouTube.

Technology is a beautiful gift, but we shouldn’t let it take away the connection that makes us human.

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