Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year

The stapler forced to hold everything together
with its metal teeth finds out later the lion’s maw
of staple remover rends it. My bare foot
discovers the bracket shaped discard.
Always, the hungry hum of the paper shredder,
the scissor’s ample and clean cuts,
pens bleed maps onto my fingers
that I can’t wash off, and the receipt spike –
oh, how it lives to gore! Paperclips
hold permanent yoga poses.

I press a stamp of approval down hard,
also a delinquent stamp, neither declaration
ever changes. Both grin their red grins.
Only the date stamp laughs –
Wrong year.

I notch a fingernail into the gear
for its last number, edge it forward.
How behind I was. How behind.
How could I forget?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve Meditation

Good morning. It's December 24th, and it is 5:32 a.m. I am sitting here in this chair. It's a tough and sturdy chair, a chair of penitence and patience. It is dark outside, still. When I walked the dog, the sharp edge of the air jabbed itself inside my coat and grazed my collarbone. No stars. The wind composes music with the chimes, the dog snores from his pillow. I am wearing one of the many pairs of glasses I own - the brown oval frames with the loose right arm. I keep them in the blue flower pot with my arsenal of pens and one u-shaped bobbypin.

There is a clamshell on my desk that has "Quiet, Please," written in script on it in black Sharpie marker. To my right is a painting of the beach that I bought for my daughter as a Christmas gift. I haven't wrapped it yet. I have other gifts to wrap as well, yes. To my left is the door where a draught slinks in from the bottom. The coffeepot just beeped off. I'm trying to drink all of the coffee I made before anyone else wakes, because I put cinnamon in it and I'm the only one in the house who likes that.

I should be writing, but I am just sitting here in the mostly dark, thinking. My hair has a tangle in the back that feels like felt. When I run a comb of fingers through it they catch, and I use my thumb and forefinger to wiggle the matted strands loose. That tangle is always there. I like it. It is like time, or the sea, or the sky. Maybe a mouse nest or the mouse itself. It is a mess that is mine alone and I wear it everyday, even on holidays.

Good morning. It's December 24th, and it is 5:52 a.m.

Monday, December 20, 2010

I Still Do

for Kenneth Patchen

It takes a great deal of love to give a damn.
Be rebellious. Do more than kiss a cheek – punch
the button of the heart’s elevator. Become a battering ram.
It takes a great deal of love to give a damn.
Point to where the pain is, call yourself alive, a dram
of care in your blossomed fist, a cup of blood clenched.
Be rebellious. Do more than kiss a cheek.

- Jennifer Hill

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Base Price of Going Blonde

On a semi-lark, I walked into a hair salon to have my hair colored. I wanted to try blonde. It's on my list of "100 Dreams." I've never been blonde and thought I would like to try it.

I found myself flipping through a large book of hairstyles, and found one or two examples that looked right. A stylist with white, fastidious hair and his collar buttoned asked, "Now, what do you want?" He was flat-lipped in his delivery. I told him I wanted to try blonde and his jaw dropped. His co-worker, who was crossing off appointments in a book on the counter, cocked her head and smiled in a way that said "crazy."

"It's on my list of 100 Dreams," I smiled. A short, plump man with a walk like a pigeon said, "Your Bucket List." I corrected him. "No, a list of 100 Dreams. The word bucket implies something I'm not ready for yet."

My stylist introduced himself to me as he sat me in the chair. His name was unique and reminiscent of high school English classes. He walked in the back and produced a large gateway folded book filled with little loops of hair in different colors. Each loop was marked above with a number. He held the book up to my head and said, "You look like a 6. Well, maybe a 5." I got a lecture against going blonde. "You know you can't put color on color and go lighter, right?" He ran a hand through my hair. "And with all of this, it's going to be a base price of $150. Then there's color and cut."

He talked me down off the ledge of blonde, and onto the concrete sidewalk of brunette. Together, browsing the Book of Loops, we chose a brown that matched the summer lightened ends of my hair. Fine.

In the time that passed we discussed teaching, poetry, the War of the Roses, Prince. We shared our mutual distaste for certain Christmas carols. He shared a story about an 11-year old girl who came in wanting a "scene" hairstyle for a big event. "I wouldn't do it. She was pre-pubescent. It would damage her hair. I said 'Honey, life isn't about things. It's about people, knowledge, and experiences.' So I just straightened her hair and she was happy."

My hair was piled on top of my head and covered and goo while he cut the hair of three other clients. Iridescent snowflakes twirled above our heads, advertising "Cut, color and style from $59.95 and up." A couple of older women got some extra hairspray applied to their holiday teases.

As my stylist washed my hair, he chatted with someone across the room. "God brings certain people into your life for a reason," he said. His fingernails scritched my scalp. From my angle I could see right up his nose. Fastidious there too. All of his buttons were completely and neatly threaded through their holes. Years of experience lined his face. He taught high school English for thirty years, he told me, "and then they offered me an early retirement. Of course I took it!" Now he cuts the hair of women who try to make rash decisions.

As he cut my hair, I asked for bangs. "No. You don't want bangs. You told me you pull your hair back a lot. Do you want to be like a 16-year old, pushing your hair out of your eyes, and looking out at people from a curtain of bangs? No."

We talked about Lord Byron's real name as he dried my hair. "You know, only one person I've asked knew the answer. It really tripped up my students. I asked a lady working in customer service at Price Chopper. She got it right away. You never know. There's this lady, in her 50's, working at the grocery store who knows Lord Byron's real name."

I failed his quiz, but now I know.

The short pigeon walker complimented my stylist's work. "She was a 6, and we just took her to a 5!" he laughed.

My hair looked neater, and a little lighter, if not all that different. Possibly redder? It wasn't what I asked for, but then, life isn't all about what you want. I put my coat on and walked to the counter to pay for the experience, the new person in my life, and the knowledge that I was given. I tipped generously.

Friday, December 17, 2010


This morning I was described as a light switch that is wired the wrong way. On when I should be off, off when I should be on. It's accurate. The older I get, the more contrary I become. I'm either the only light on in the house, or the only room that's dark. I'm up by 5 a.m. when everyone else is snoozily snoozing, cranky and unreasonable by 7:30 p.m. and in bed by ten while the rest of the family laughs at a movie or reads.

Sometimes my contrariness is automatic and without restraint. If you want quiet, I'll crunch my popcorn. If you want to sit, I need attention. Please talk to me. You like bread? It will kill you, you know. Make you fat. You will rise like a loaf. A wad will catch in your throat and you'll choke. You shouldn't eat bread. Bread is bad.

I say things and I hear them come out of my mouth, and then they are in the room and I can't catch them. They are filthy marionettes freed of their strings. Watch them thrust and gyrate with their creepy hinged hips!

I can be reasonable, but I can also justify my crankitude as being far more fun. I think that sometimes my unreasonable nature leads to good things a reasonable nature would not.

Well, it is either right to think that or not. Talk to me at 7:30 tonight. I may have a decision on it, or a puppet for you.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

In 30 Minutes and 10 Minutes and a Lifetime

The local newspaper urged me the other day to "Take a Minute and Reconsider Your Time." The article advertised a new book titled, "168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think” (Portfolio, $25.95), by Laura Vanderkam. I skimmed it, I'll admit. It was an article of advertisement, but I gathered two interesting nuggets of information that make me want to find the book. (I doubt I'll pay $25.95 for it, since I tend to take more than a minute to consider my pocketbook. I'll wait for the paperback.)

Ms. Vanderkam suggests list making. I come from a family of list makers. We like to plan. I plan, and lose the list, go about my day, find the list later, and am secretly pleased that I remembered to do two things on the list. My sister plans, scratches off, and plans again. My mother makes lists in the morning for her daily schedule. My daughter has kept lists since she was a child, a few of them reading something like this:

1. Wake up
2. Brush teeth
3. Put pants on cat
4. Eat breakfast

You get the idea. We like to keep track, or at least feel like we have some control over our lives. Lists help us feel more comfortable in a confuddling world.

One of Ms. Vanderkam's list suggestions was this -- write a list of things you can accomplish in thirty minutes, and another list of things you can accomplish in ten minutes. I scratched out a two-column list in my morning journal pages of all the things I thought I could do in thirty minutes and ten minutes on that day. The tasks totaled six and a half hours. Compartmentalized like that, it seemed do-able. Sure.

Like an explorer with a detailed map, I set off on my first 30 minute task of the day: pack and ship books. Yes, it takes thirty minutes. Packing and shipping books means a trip to the studio, a fumbling for packing material, grumbling, printing out of receipts, and then a trip to the post office, and more grumbling. I managed that and two other items on my list, and then the phone rang.

A friend was dying. That wasn't on my list at all. My compartmentalized day blurred:

1. Listencryhugholdhandkissonforeheadlistenmore

The next day, I tried Ms. Vanderkam's other list-making strategy; to make a list of 100 Dreams. Do I have time to even dream the dreams? I couldn't stop wondering if I wasting time making the list when I could be out doing one of the items on the list. It was more difficult than I thought. Ms. V's list of 100 Dreams included "Do a wine tour in Argentina” and “Maintain a stash of Trader Joe’s dark-chocolate-covered caramels.”

It's hard to really care about a stash of caramels. I want to get better at listening. That's on my list of dreams. I'd like to sing more, direct a play, learn to make croissant dough, knit something other than a tangle.

I started my list of 100 Dreams in the back of a notebook I keep for the notes on other people's lives. I drank a coffee, ate some melon, twirled my hair, and came up with 38 dreams. Then the day called out to me. I took a minute to reconsider my time, and I'm not sure if I have more time than I think, or less. What I do know is this -- we all have very little control, and the family cat does not like to wear pants.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Voices in My Head

Three of us took aim and fired. One of us killed him. It's a beautiful life, believe me. He said, "Look, you don't have anybody and I don't have anybody. Do you want to go out sometime?" It wasn't an easy life. We had nothing. You try to make your own fun and all, but I was the only one without a father. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about her. I guess my children turned out alright. We had milk delivery every day. I used to watch the carriage with the horse come up the street. I would go out and walk for miles, just to be away from the house, to get away from her. I didn't know my father. He never talked to me. I learned about him from reading history books. One of us killed him, we don't know who. I gave him a cigarette. My life? It was filled with ordinary things.