chocolate is a verb

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Monthly Archives: March 2012

trying to write…and remember…

wordsYesterday I opened a three-ring binder that was on the shelf next to my desk. It was filled with information about writing workshops, all dated from 2003. Neatly snapped into the notebook was a small envelope with this apparently random collection of words. At first, they meant nothing, my mind a blank. Then, using 2003 as a clue, I began to piece together a jigsaw memory.

My mother had recently died. I was hobbling on a badly arthritic hip. My writing business had been perking along for a while, but the ‘other side’ of my writing life consisted primarily of a bulging shelf of gloomy journals. A workshop seemed just the thing.

So I spent a long weekend at a writing retreat in Northern California. I remember being a little scared, not knowing what was expected of me, assuming, as always, that the other participants were more accomplished, more confident and more capable. I remember the peculiarity of the place — modest bungalows set alongside a collection of rescued exotic cats and equally exotic birds in huge cages.

Looking back into my journal, I see that our first assignment was to write a piece that included the phrases My real name is; Yesterday my name was; Tomorrow my name will be; In my dream my name is or was. I don’t recall whether the phrases were assigned all at once or doled out one at a time as we wrote. We were also to incorporate words we drew from somewhere — a list, an envelope, a hat. Here’s what I wrote:

My real name is doubt beneath strength. Wrapped in a thin skin of milk my days reveal my unnamed soul. Slipping beneath a barrage of words I hide who I am. I hide from myself and pretend to understand the tundra. Yesterday my name was bound in ropes, hidden in the Paleolithic Diaspora of dreaming, doubled over in interlocking chains of queries and bent, ironic question marks. Tomorrow my name will be carried on the wind through the cobbled streets of Budapest. It will be inscribed on the tusk of an ancient mastodon, livid with hope, illuminated with randomness. In my dream, my name is color, frothing along the tear-streaked tracks of secret roads slippery with desire, opulent with sinuous form, luminous with pearly light, an unfolding fan of dénouement.

I don’t know whether the words in the binder (except for tusk) are words I never got around to using, or how I happened to keep them. But once I’d pieced together the memory, everything else went into the recycling bin.



Dorothy in ChenenceauxI keep looking at this picture of my mother as if I might discover hidden answers within it. On the back, in my father’s neat printing, is written Chenenceaux 9/66. It’s impossible to know whether Dorothy is moving toward the castle or away, but she’s walking away from my father, alone in the tunnel of trees, head down, dressed in her traveling suit — jacket, skirt, stockings, sensible low heels — a remnant of the ’50s that would soon give way.

Maybe she was even wearing a girdle and feeling the constraint of her narrow clothing. Perhaps she was looking for the perfect leaf among those early harbingers of autumn, or thinking about the colors she’ll use when she finally reaches a bench and can pull the pencils and little sketch pad from the purse that hangs over her arm. Maybe she’s formulating what she’ll say about this place, these trees, this trip to France, or feeling an ache of disappointment at finding herself so alone.

In some way, this was always the mother I knew: turned away, just beyond reach, alone in the very center of the picture.

the squeeze…

Squibb Dental Cream adStruggling with my plastic-y, twisty, uncooperative toothpaste tube this morning, I was reminded of the Squibb Dental Cream that we used when I was a kid. The metal tube was a buttery ivory color, businesslike and serious looking. The toothpaste was firm and very pink, not a frothy goo, not slimy or foamy, and it lay on the toothbrush in a round sausage, not settling or spreading or sinking into the bristles. The taste was slightly minty, with a hint of chalk, a very lightly astringent bite, and sweet without being saccharine. It was not a popular brand and my friends looked at it uncertainly when they came over to spend the night. But both of my parents had struggled with the results of inattentive dental hygiene and they now took it very seriously. The fact that Squibb was not silly was appealing to them, and it was our family toothpaste until its lack of flash drove it out of business.

early light…

plum buds in snowAt 4:30 a.m. I open my eyes and see a strange light shining through the window onto the east wall. Sitting up, I discover that the nearly-full moon has settled into a cleft between hillside trees to shine into my bedroom, across a surprise snowscape, for the last few minutes before moonset. In the moon’s glow, the ground shines upward and every twig is limned with light.

the right spot…

Don't forgetIn the back of the recipe box I find this plaintive reminder to my mother in my youthful script. Clearly, there had been an incident of forgetting, or waiting in the wrong spot. Though I’m not surprised it happened, I don’t remember it — not standing forlorn or impatient in front of the school or biding my time outside Bullock’s or the movie theater or the orthodontist’s office.

The note would have been left on the end of the kitchen table, which was on the ingress-egress route and our most reliable communication center. Notes, reminders, birthday cards, mail and lost things that had been found all stopped there, at least briefly. There was also a small magnetic board on the back of the kitchen door, where my parents sometimes left notes for each other — a place I remember looking, carefully lifting and examining the slips of paper, to try to understand the mysteries of adulthood. But that board became cluttered, and the aprons that hung on the hook at the end of the cabinet would knock the magnets and papers off the board, so the table became the default note zone. Instructions to baby sitters, report cards and prescriptions would alight, rest and flutter away.

Written in some earnest belief that I could instruct my mother in how to be better at her job of taking care of me, this note ultimately found a greater purpose: the recipe for Carrot Ring that she scrawled in pencil on the other side.

the invitation…

wedding dress brunchLooking for the Sunday paper, which might be clutched in the fronds of a low shrub, I find instead this scrap of an invitation delivered 24 years too late, almost to the day. Wilted and damp, it has blown from someone’s recycling bin to tell me a story.

The quote ladies end quote arrive at the church in their wedding gowns, which are, perhaps, a bit snug now. Grass stains on the train, petticoats torn, buttons missing at the wrist, the shoes long gone or impossibly tight. A few seed pearls from the embroidered bodice left at home, rolling in the bottom of the trunk like lost hopes.

The “ladies” step from their cars, carefully, slightly embarrassed but also excited to be part of this merry confusion of brides. They glance at each other through their veils, shyly at first — “Is that you, Barbara?” — then gather their skirts and hurry to the social hall, which smells of bacon and old bibles. They admire one another, touching bits of lace with gloved fingers, turning to display a now-plump shoulder, a row of 23 (“That’s how young I was!”) tiny satin buttons from nape to waist. From draw-string bags at their wrists, they pull small wedding portraits and gasp at themselves almost impossibly young, at the perfection of their dresses and their innocence.

The room swagged with ribbon and styrofoam wedding bells, the round tables decorated with white mums and daisies and a profusion of silver cherubs, the brides seat themselves, a foaming tide of skirts filling the space beneath each table. There’s some throat-clearing and then, as if to offer a toast, the pastor, that token husband to them all, rises to lead them in prayer. Gloved hands folded beneath bowed heads, they pray, almost forgetting, for a moment, who they are. Their voices whisper, together, “Amen.”

Then, with a rustling like feathers, they raise their veils, shuck their gloves, and tuck into the scrambled eggs, hash browns, syrupy pancakes, toast and bacon mounded on the plates before them. Mouths full, they chirp and chatter, wondering to themselves whether their fragile seams and buttons will hold for just one more memorable day, and why they’re here, and who will be the first to cry.

Dear gray,

greyscaleYou look gorgeous on fox, rabbit, poodle, dove. You’re handsome in granite and pearls and hair. Your silvers and charcoals and smokes and taupes enliven artwork, stones, mountainsides, elephants, whales. Your ashen coat fits the mouse, the old mare.

But listen, gray: it’s March. Your leaden weight bears down from cindery skies. Your dusty fog obscures the trees. Your battleship clouds scrape along the hilltops. Day after day. After day.

Step aside, gray. Please. You’ve had your months. Don’t be greedy. Make a little room for blue. For pink and peach, for purple. Let the first verdant burst of spring feel the sun as it muscles up from the saturated earth and the wintered twig.

Take a break, gray. Remember the old adage about absence? Don’t abandon us altogether. Just give color a chance. Please.

Respectfully, desperately,


moving day…

Adohr truckWhen I was 3, we moved from an apartment into the house where I grew up and where my parents lived for the next 50 years. My memories of moving day are patchy: the moving truck, which seemed to fill the entire street; the house, so bare and filled with echoes; the trips I made, carrying little things, trying to be helpful, warned to stay out of the way.

But what I remember most clearly is the milk. After the moving truck had departed and our possessions, looking smaller somehow in this larger space, awaited further intervention, the Adohr truck stopped in front of the house next door to make a milk delivery. Carrying his wire basket, the milkman walked the few steps up the hill to our house to welcome us with three little glass bottles of ice-cold milk.

On a day in which every other thing seemed enormous, this bottle was sized perfectly for my little hand. I sat for a long time on the sun-warmed cement of the front step, sipping the milk, looking out at a view that would change little and become familiar as a friend, absorbing the shape and colors and rhythm of this entirely new place we would call Home.