I've moved! Well not my actual, physical office thought I did paint the walls peach instead of blue and got rid of that fuzzy thing hanging on the door and a few other decorative changes that really don't matter. What does matter is that you can now find my new blog at:
Didn't have to move any furniture or unplug a computer, but only had to click a few keys to reach my new home.
I spent most my elementary school years staring at the proper way to write using cursive. This did not mean I did it well. My mind would wander during math, or science, to the cursive handwriting examples nailed to the classroom wall. I would ponder such great thoughts as why did the z looked so different in print than cursive. I hoped if I stared long enough at the script that maybe it would somehow seep into me, and I would achieve the word that no teacher ever said about my writing. Neat. Teachers made us practice again and again the correct way to loop a p or curve a q. Printing was easier, sure, but it looked like the poor relation of cursive with its exotic swirls and twirls. Cursive possessed the soul of an artist, its flair difficult to achieve, unlike printing which any person able to hold a pencil could accomplish. In the third grade I remember the despair, well that's a big word for a third grade emotion, perhaps disappointment is better, at receiving a big fat U for my handwriting. U meant unsatisfactory. My best friends, the twins, Lisa and Cheryl Miller both got S for their cursive. Damn them. I'm not sure what was better than satisfactory. Perfection perhaps. All I know is I kept my U hidden from my friends. Actually, I lied. I told the twins I got an S, too. Sorry Lisa and Cheryl. And as years passed, I achieved that S. Except for me it meant Sloppy. My handwriting was sloppy. It just took too much time to make those careful As and elaborate Ks. I was always in a rush.
I write big and this actually is not as messy as I can write. I have to work hard to make my handwriting legible. In the long ago days we used to write personal letters to one another, that seems now as ancient as carving on stone slabs, I would receive letters from my friends with penmanship that was worthy of framing. Now and then friends would tease me about my the difficulty reading my handwriting, and I would try to improve. I would start the letter out neatly but, alas, it would dissolve into...sloppy. Here in Arizona there is a push to end cursive handwriting being taught in the schools. I can't imagine not knowing how to write in cursive, even if I am a poor example of the talent. I would feel cheated. Even though I've never excelled at it, I still like writing short personal notes with the flourishes of cursive. Today if I receive that rare note from someone written with cursive, it's like a gift. Who takes the time anymore? Also, how could one sign their name properly? A signature in cursive shows it's really you.
I cherish the letters and notes written in cursive that I've received through the years. When I read this last one written by my mother who died many years ago, it is like having her here with me. Print wouldn't have the emotional punch. I have saved many birthday cards and letters from family and friends. If I start to forget that person, all I have to do is look at their handwriting. I feel as if I have come home to them again.
If a writer tells you he or she doesn't use a computer, in all likelihood the writing is being done in cursive. There are some writers who still write manuscripts with pen and paper. There's some magic to that. I would do that except I'd never be able to read my own writing. At work we are required to write down a short note on receipts explaining why we had to give a guest something for free. I sometimes have to translate them for the manager. The other night the manager said to me, "you can't even read your own handwriting." And he was right. I fear as I get older I will get that spindly handwriting that my grandma had. And yet, when I see my grandma's cursive on an old black and white photo, or in her bible, it looks gorgeous to me. Better than any computer print. Our handwriting is like snowflakes. There are no two alike. And I bet there are even some sloppy snowflakes out there who enjoy dancing from the heavens to the earth the same as the perfect ones.
In the old days, before we spent most of our time on cell phones, or staring at a computer screen, my parents would sit with my grandma and Great Aunt Louise at my grandma's kitchen table and tell stories about Chicago. They would tell story after story about their beloved city, from its street cars to its weather, to its politics. Chicago was entwined with who each of them was, for they had each played a role, however small, in what the city had become. I was too young to pay much attention, but I would pause from playing in my grandma's rambling, clapboard house in Chicago, long enough to listen and wonder why these stories meant so much to my family. Playing store with the cans in my grandma's pantry seemed way more fun. I enjoyed pretending I was a cashier at a grocery store. Now, of course, I wish I had recorded the personal history of the city where I was born. If only to hear the voices of my loved ones who had died, but it's too late. And I don't want to be a cashier. Still, listening to those stories instilled in me the love of story-telling which perhaps made me a writer. Even more so, I learned the importance of sharing our stories because through stories we grow closer. One doesn't need to be a writer to appreciate story telling.
On Friday I went to an estate sale and bought these bunny book ends. (Those are the books where my essays and stories are published. I hope it motivates me to write more, and make those bunnies really work at keeping the books upright.) Anyway, at the estate sale I noticed a lot of bunny items. There were bunny china figurines, bunny pictures, bunny kitchen towels and enough bunnies for a lifetime of Easter celebrations. I mentioned to the middle-aged man who was taking my money for items purchased, that the person who had lived there must have loved bunnies. Oh yes, he said. He looked please to tell the story about the woman who died. He said she didn't have dogs, or cats, or birds. She always had a bunny. One at a time. And she always named the bunny... Bunny. I was enchanted.
"And," he said, warming to the subject. "She always had birthday parties for her bunnies." She was an elderly woman when she died, he said, but she had found a home for her last bunny. Before I left, I took another long look at the house, painted violet with purple trim. The story he told me felt important because it was about love. For bunnies. And I realized if he had told me a different story, about how much money she had, or how popular she was, or what an important job she had, I would have shrugged and not cared. It was her bunny story that I will remember.
My friend Jo Anna died last March from breast cancer at 58. I think about the stories she would tell about growing up in Buffalo, New York. Her mother would take her to the zoo every day. Even in the winter. Imagine that. I won't remember, or care, if she had a big car or a big bank account. I will remember that when she tap danced she moved as if she was on a Broadway stage. She did her best. Her house with the claw-foot tub, and all her jewelry, belongs to someone else now. All that remains are the stories people remember about her.
I know material things are important for survival, but how often at funerals do people share stories about how someone drove a Lexus or managed well his 401k? What people talk about is the stories, the funny times, the crazy moments, how someone touched our life. Here's one about me. My first boyfriend was named Bruce Adams. He's that dapper little fellow just to the right of the photo of Fairview Elementary School. He was a year older than me and my neighbor. He was the first boy I ever kissed. Our relationship didn't progress past the third grade, and the kiss was just on his cheeks, but I will always remember Brucie. That was my nickname for him. He wore sweaters and bow ties to school. In then end, the stories are what remain. I feel happier knowing there was a woman who lived down the street from me who gave birthday parties for her bunnies. It's a great story. We all have great stories. We just need to tell them.
My friend Tracy sent me this photo of deviled eggs she made. The picture is blurry, but it's still possible to make out her failed attempt. Tracy makes fabulous deviled eggs, or at least she did until she took the advice of a friend who told she had been doing them wrong. So she did what a friend suggested and made them another way. Instead of her usual delicious looking, and tasting, deviled eggs she got this mess of yellow and white. Tracy's going back to trusting her own tried and true methods. Why did she listen to her friend, when she already knew what worked for her? For the same reason we all question ourselves. We think we aren't doing it right. It's part of our endless quest to be perfect. To find the right path to success or love or happiness, or even making deviled eggs even better. They were fine to begin with. Her friend's right way, turned out to be Tracy's wrong way.
In tap dance I want to do the steps the "right way." Yes tap steps are suppose to be done in a certain manner, but my tapping will never look like the teacher's tapping. Comparison makes me cringe. I try to remember I am different. First, my size 10 wide feet are way bigger than my teacher's in her snazzy little shoes. If I keep feeling as if there is something wrong about the way I tap dance because I don't look exactly like the teacher, I will be in perpetual frustration. Likely this is the reason many people come to a tap class once or twice and give up feeling they just don't look right. Especially when dance rooms are full of mirrors. Also, I can not do this dance step but it's fun to dream. Cooking or dance is like writing. Many a critique group I have participated in has included people who like to tell other people what is wrong about his or her writing. I'm sure in the early years, I did the same thing, act like a writing know-it-all. I avoid critique groups now as I've moved beyond searching for someone who knows exactly how I should be writing. There is no one but myself who knows just the right words I should be using in just the right manner. I must confess though a spiffy editor would always be nice to have. Missed words, wrong punctuation and questions about content is always appreciated. But not someone who wants to tell me the right way to write.
At the retreat center in Oregon, I found this library. I loved how messy the books were on the shelves. Neat book shelves always look to me as if the books are just there for show. Each book was written by someone who pushed beyond the bounds of worrying whether they were doing something correctly, or changing what they were doing because someone else might have the secret to success. The writers took risks, made mistakes and kept writing. They did it their way. Not easy in this word of conformity. Standing out is not always prized and doing something "my way" can be faulted.
Which makes me think of Frankie. I always liked how Sinatra sang My Way. And it was a big hit likely because he sang it with conviction and style. Oh he did have style. So don't let anyone dim the light inside of you that needs to shine. Trust yourself to be creative, to live life, the only way possible. Your way.