Everything’s an Essay

http://books.hamlethub.com/booksink/local-writers/42845-my-life-on-the-post-road-everything-is-an-essay

My writing instructor, the talented and nurturing Marcelle Soviero, Editor-in-Chief of Brain, Child Magazine, often gathers her students at her comfortable shabby-chic home for evenings filled with food, drink, and writing-related crafts. And, of course, writing-related conversation.

We talk about our works-in-progress, or lack thereof, about feeling blocked and getting unstuck, about sh*tty first drafts and exasperating revisions. And we talk about our children, our partners, and our lives. Inevitably, I find myself exclaiming “Wow, that’s so funny-sad-incredible-amazing! You have to write it! That’s an essay!”

The storyteller often demurs. “No one wants to read about how I kill every plant that crosses my threshold! It’s so boring, so self-focused.”

I disagree. Vehemently. All art is self-centered to a certain extent. It expresses, whether in words, with music, or on canvas, our feelings, fears, and frustrations. Someone, or more likely –ones, somewhere at some point has lost a plant, a pet, or a parent. And perhaps sharing our experience will make that reader, listener, or viewer laugh or cry. Nod their head in recognition. Acknowledge something they were loath to see in themselves before. Drive them indignant with disagreement. After all, every good essay is about something other than what it’s about. If Marcelle has taught me one thing, it’s the hot spot, not killing the philodendron, that matters.

Great literature makes me marvel at how people I did not know who lived in times and places completely foreign to mine get me so completely.

What, I think, if Shakespeare had thought to himself, “no one wants to read about a confused prince in Denmark,” and put his pen down? Not that reading about killing houseplants regularly will rise to Hamlet’s level of greatness, but what ever will? If that were the goal, we would all just put our pens down.

It seems to me that the humble goal of every writer is, syllable by syllable, to combine words that craft essays (or poems, or novels…) that take everything from life’s most quotidian moments to its most outrageous events in a unique way that is at once specific and personal to the author and relevant and evocative to the reader. So, I assert again, Everything is an Essay. Have a seat. Pick up that pen. Write away.

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Rose Campion

http://blankspaces.alannarusnak.com/2016/10/rose-campion.html?m=1

Rose Campion

by Diane Lowman

Suzanne and I kneel, Japanese tea ceremony-style, in a field of velvety, sea foam green stalks up to our shoulders. A delicate deep fuchsia flower tops each stem, nearly grazing our chins. She, five, sports blond hair cut in a short Dutch Boy bob and sparkly blue eyes. I, eight, grin with brace-worthy, tangled teeth and thick wavy brown hair tamed in a pony tale. My mother must have just cut my too-short bangs. We look amused and slightly impish. I remember my mother taking that picture in the tangle of weeds, brush, and wildflowers behind our tiny lake cabin in Upper Greenwood Lake, NJ.

We enjoyed endless adventures in that patch of nature behind the porch. We hunted for berries and spotted stones. We played house, ‘cooking’ with leaves and branches and grasses, or ruled our imaginary kingdom; I, the queen, and my sister the princess. We wiled away lazy summer days.

At the same time each season – maybe mid-June – these diminutive, vibrant blooms atop long, thin, spindly stems would proliferate and overtake our space. We petted their sturdy but downy-soft stalks, and marveled at the blossoms of a colour so deep and unique that we’d never seen before; certainly not in nature.

My mother took an animated delight in this unexpected and bountiful gift right in our own back yard.

“Come on girls! Just sit for a minute. I want to get a picture of you in these flowers. You know they are my favourite.” She held my father’s Konica in its beat up brown leather case in her right hand, and tried to corral us like a pair of baby chicks with her left. We dodged and rolled.

“Not now, mom. We’re playing!” we said. But she persisted and it was easier to acquiesce than to continue to protest. So there we sat, giggling at nothing, with the carefree abandon of two young sisters sitting in a field of wildflowers on a summer morning.

That photograph became iconic in our family. It spoke of innocence, carefree times, and a place we all loved. When my father, and twelve years later, my mother died, we cherished it even more. They both found a peace at that lake house that they found nowhere else.

I am not much of a gardener. My defcon-1 level allergy to poison ivy keeps me away from not only the three-leafed menace, but also anything that might have come in contact with its urushiol.

But when, at my home, I had a small patch of soil right in back that cried out for colour, I thought of those flowers. I had no idea what they were called, nor any idea of how to find out. I tried all sorts of Google searches: light green tall stems fuchsia flowers; furry green stems deep pink flowers. Nothing. I asked friends who garden. I asked my sister. “I have no idea,” she said, “but if you find out, let me know. I want to plant some out back, too.”

I went to our local nursery and herb garden, figuring I had nothing to lose, and again described the coveted flora in question. I began to relate the characteristics to an aproned, middle-aged man working in the greenhouse. Before I even finished, he started to nod.

“Oh, sure. You’re looking for Rose Campion.” He said. I was? “They grow like weeds. Seeds blow all over the place from the dried pods. You’ll have a field full before you know it.” Bingo! Just what I wanted.

He directed me to the seed packets and I grabbed three.

“You may not need that many,” he said, they really spread fast.”

I thanked him profusely, explaining the origin of the search.

“And the extra packet is for my sister.” He nodded and smiled.

Indeed, in short order, the blossoms swarmed our respective backyards. Neither of us dared ask that our kids pose poised in them. They’re too old for that; and anyway, by the time we slathered them with sunscreen and sprayed them with DEET to prevent Lyme, West Nile, Zika, and other bug-borne threats, the flowers and the children would have wilted. But we do both smile just to see them. Mom would be very pleased that they make us feel like kids again.

Autumn Colors 

http://books.hamlethub.com/booksink/local-writers/42833-my-life-on-the-post-road-colors

It happens every year. And every year I marvel at it as if seeing it for the first time. The colors of autumn. So many things in nature amaze me time and time again: the tides, the rising and setting of the sun and the moon in all their myriad guises, the silence of a nighttime snowfall. But the brilliant colors of fall occupy a special place in my psyche. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a September baby and hence partial to the season or because of the associations, but there you have it.

The deep, almost winey reds remind me of falls in Middlebury, Vermont during college. Even as students who took many things for granted, we never did the crisp seasonal colors. The range that far north was deep and vast but known as it is for maple trees and the syrup therefrom, the bright bursts of New England crimson that I see driving around now always take me back to those years. I relish that invigorating chill in the air, the omnipresent scent of fireplace smoke, and the ritual taking out of boots and sweaters and putting away of flip flops and tank tops.

The orange and yellow make me think of my mom. She, also a September child, relished the coming of fall and its foliage too. As a retired preschool teacher, she’d collect fallen leaves covering the color spectrum and use them to make craft projects with my sons and my sister’s daughters when they were young. When she moved full time to Florida, she’d lament the constancy of the green down there, so I would collect leaves as she did for my children. I’d either press them in wax paper or adhere them to cardboard with clear shelving paper every year and mail her an array. She put them on her refrigerator like she did the art we brought home to her when we were schoolchildren.

The yellow ginkgo leaves were her favorite, so I’d check every time I’d go in to the Westport Public Library, where those trees gracefully adorn the entrance. I’m sure anyone who saw me scavenging on the ground for the perfectly shaped and colored leaves thought me a little strange, but that was a perfectly acceptable price to pay for making my mother smile.

She’s gone almost two years now, and I still think about collecting, collating, and sending my creations to her. My boys now live far away, and while they both have access to foliage, this year I will gather ginkgo leaves at the library entrance and carefully attach them to index cards, and mail them to my boys. I hope they make them smile as much as they did my mom. I know that keeping the tradition alive will make me smile.

As do the Technicolor trees this time of year, exploding in their last hurrah of hues before they fall, letting their trunks hunker down for winter to start the whole cycle again come spring.

Reflection 

http://books.hamlethub.com/booksink/local-writers/42821-my-life-on-the-post-road-reflection-repentance

On my way to an interview for a volunteer knitting teacher position, I stopped at (you guessed it) a coffee shop to (you guessed it) write.

As I settled into a window seat, an older woman sat down at the table next to mine. She reminded me of my Russian grandmother, with her hair parted down the middle and collected loosely at the nape of her neck in a bobby-pinned bun. She had stature, but her too-big clothes made her look small. A peasant skirt with a diminutive flower print billowed below her knees, and an asymmetrically cut blue cotton vest covered her hips and hung sadly off her shoulders. Both hands cradled her white coffee cup, as if for warmth, although it was temperate outside and toasty inside. She looked around furtively.

I stood up to get my drink when the barista beckoned, and she happened to stand up at the same time, took one of three travel mugs off an adjacent shelf, and put it on her table. By the time I came back to my table with my iced green tea with extra ice, safely ensconced in its cardboard sleeve to prevent condensation from dripping onto my laptop, the travel mug on her table was gone.

I instinctively looked back at the shelf from whence it came, thinking, “she must have decided not to buy it.” But there were still only two mugs left. And the navy blue Longchamps tote that sat on her table had a big bulge in it.

“Oh my gosh!” I thought, “She just brazenly stuck that in her bag!” She saw me staring at her. She looked flustered and looked down, but quickly up again, and said “Excuse me, can you work outside? I mean, are there plugs for computers?” Well played, I thought. Diversion. Distraction.

“Um, I’m not sure. I don’t think so,” I said, looking out, as if for outlets, in the small courtyard. “But that’s a good question.” Really, Diane? Complimenting her?

I shut up and sat down and went back to work, wondering if I should tell the manager. Make a citizen’s arrest? Mind my own business? While I pondered these options, she got up and hauled her bulky Longchamps bag out to a large silver SUV and drove away.

This moral crisis broke my concentration. Should I have said something? Say something now? She was parked right in the small lot in front of the store; surely there was a security camera out there. But what if I was wrong, and there were only two mugs on the shelf originally (I knew there were three), and the bump in her bag was an umbrella (it was really sunny out)? I imagined them hunting her down. Humiliating her with arrest, prosecution, and conviction. What if she just really wanted the travel mug as a gift for someone and couldn’t afford it? Or suffered from some kind of mental illness? I was responsible neither for store security nor for policing the town.

But, I thought, stealing is not OK, period. If she had, in fact, taken it, she hurt the coffee shop, its employees, and its customers. Not outing her was condoning her behavior. Maybe she needed help, and getting caught would get her closer to it.

I looked around to see if anyone else had noticed what had happened, but only I seem conflicted.

This week the Jewish community observes the highest holy day of the year. We fast (well, some of us fast) and spend the day reflecting on our actions over the past year, particularly those that may have caused harm to others. We repent our sins and think about how we might do things differently in the year to come. It’s a good practice and one that I, at least, ought to do more than once a year.

So my question is, in this one small moment of the year, in this one small incident, between the two of us, who ought to repent? The accused, or the one who sat idly by and let the presumed crime occur?