Where I write

Where I write

August 26, 2016

To Cursive or not to Cursive...

    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.




August 9, 2016

Story Time

   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. 

July 12, 2016

The Right Stuff

     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.  


June 8, 2016

The Good Old Days of the Restaurant Business

     I was watching a black and white comedy sitcom from the early
1960s the other night after work. The dialogue was corny and the plot trite, though the living room set with the giant lamps, glass ash trays and low couches, reminded me of my childhood and that was fun. I was about to turn the channel, when one of the characters, an elderly uncle from "the old country" talked about sharing some goat cheese he brought over on the boat with him. The man and woman hosting the uncle were aghast. They exchanged embarrassed glances and looked ashamed. It was obvious they thought their uncle was out of touch with the modern times. 

   Now if the uncle had gotten as excited about this miracle of the 1960s, he would have been met with approval from his relatives. Velveeta cheese.
 Sure it always worried me why I didn't need to keep it refrigerated, but it lasted forever. Economical.  Easy to slice and melt. So creamy. Fast forward to 2016. I suspect people today hide the fact that they even buy the stuff, burying the Velveeta cheese beneath chunks of goat cheese in their shopping carts. It's so not cool. And it's equally not hip to say one does not like goat cheese. I don't like goat cheese. I am not hip. There I admitted it. 
   It's impossible to go to a resturant today and not find goat cheese on the menu. And there are other dining trends I don't find appealing. Kale doesn't interest me, and I don't like beets.  Every menu today includes the red, orange and, yes even purple, root vegetable. In one word. Yuck. 
   As a kid, beets were what my grandma liked on Thanksgiving. My mother put out a special bowl for her. Speaking of trendy,  I don't like the trend of uncomfortable chairs at restaurants. Today restaurants are furnished, as my English professor Dr. Haley once said about another professor, "with style over substance." Everything is metal. Who besides a masochist enjoys sitting on metal? 
      The other day my friend, Tracy, and I went out to eat. By the end of our meal my back was killing me. Her shoulder hurt, likely from the position of her back.  I don't have a back problem, but I felt as if I was going to suffer from one after our meal. Tracy and I love to gab, more than we like to write, but we didn't stick around long after finishing eating.  The chairs in restaurants have become like small torture devices, and maybe that's what restaurants want, to move people in and move them out.  No lingering.
    Now here's a place to linger. Trouble is you need a time machine back to 1970.  Call me ancient, but I like comfort. My bones appreciate softness. They rebel against hard metal. I could sleep in that deep, dark booth.  Even the plump bar stools look inviting. It looks quiet, too, a resturant  one could actually converse with a dinner companion. Booths are so not 2016. It's a shame.
    I have another question. Why, please, tell me why, people like open kitchens? What enjoyment is there in looking at  stainless steel appliances. Do people go to construction sights and watch workers dig holes? Do crowds visit hospitals to watch a surgeon remove a kidney?  I don't get it. And it's loud. I don't need clattering of dishes, flames shooting from pans, and conversations between chefs. It's intrusive. Unless I'm sitting in a friend's kitchen, as I sat one summer day in my friend Stella's kitchen and watched her roll out dough and make a blueberry lavender pie, I'm not interested. I don't need to watch people earn a living.  By the way, Stella is as gifted as making a pie as writing a poem.
    Yes. No kitchen in sight in this resturant. No televisions, either. A resturant manager said to me once that an open kitchen "creates drama." We get enough drama in the national news and in our lives.   It would take time to find the kitchen in this resturant, and that's fine with me if I never found the kitchen. I just want to eat the good food that it produced. Let the employees do their jobs without an audience. 
    One of my fellow servers got a job at a hip new resturant in town.  Everyone there has tattoos and piercings. He said this with pride. I don't need a server with a ring in her nose or tattoos of Chinese symbols on her arms to make a meal taste delicious.  My friend Gloria's mother was a server, and she wore a crisp black dress with nylons and white apron. Neat and clean. She didn't look as if she wanted to be a drummer in a rock band. I get it. Tattoos and piercings are popular, but knowing my server will have arms that have been colored with a tiny needle, does not inspire me to rush to try out a new resturant. 

   All of the above  makes me sound as if I'm a cranky old server. Maybe I am. I will end with a modern trend I really appreciate lest you think I'm totally stuck in 1977.
     Wine has really improved. In the old days we served just three types, Chablis, Burgundy or Rose. In carafes. It was cheap. And it tasted cheap. Now we have extensive wine lists. I drink wine that comes everywhere from the coast of California to the wilds of Australia. Oh and I like tofu. See. I'm not THAT old fashioned. But don't try to sell me on beets. Ain't happening.