tears

The family was gathering for Thanksgiving, oh so many years ago, when my beloved elderly aunt called from Florida. Her long-planned flight to join us was cancelled in deference to a storm and she didn’t see the sense in trying to reschedule; she’d stay safely home raise a glass to us on the day.

My little niece L. burst out “But what about her turkey?” She didn’t mean a plate overflowing with meat and gravy and stuffing. She meant a piece of paper on which L. had traced out her hand, then lavishly illustrated it in marker, adding feet and feathers and a landscape of spiky green grass and, incongruously, a wide-brimmed cockel hat with shiny buckle jauntily posed on the turkey’s head. She’d drawn one for each of the diners expected on Thursday and written their names on each picture.

“We’ll mail it to her,” the grown-ups assured her. And on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, my father (L.’s grandfather) and I went out to do a last errand and took L. with us. We stopped at a mailbox and held L.’s hand as she strained up to drop the stamped envelope into the box.

“Aunt P. will love getting this, L.,” I murmured.

“Yeah?” she asked.

“Oh, yeah. It was sweet of you to draw it for her, and to send it to her. It will be such a good surprise!”

“Yeah?”

“Oh, yeah! Imagine her opening her mailbox to find that envelope in it, and opening it to see your picture! She’ll be so touched you thought of her.”

L. screwed up her face in serious thought, picturing Aunt P. at some imagined mailbox. Then her eyes lit up. “Will she CRY?!?”

Over smothered laughter (and not-so-smothered laughter from my father, ahead of us), I said “… I think she might, a little bit.”

GOOD.”

I’ve been telling this story, now and again, for a dozen years – because L.’s question gets to the heart of what we are often asking ourselves about gestures of kindness and consideration. Is this a big gesture? Is this a small gesture? Will it make a mark in the heart of the beloved? How can we know what word or gesture makes a difference until it does – or it doesn’t?

Aunt P. is gone. L. is a high-spirited, talented young woman at a college halfway across the country from her family. And I am a writer who just finished a film essay about Mother’s Day – a film essay that made me tear up a bit when I wrote it, and again when I proof-read it.

And I understand L.’s question better than ever. Because when I wiped away the trickle of tears, I thought with great satisfaction “Will this make them CRY?” and “Yeah, I think it will.”

GOOD.”

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no words can express…

Pontypool heart screenshot - Version 2

“St. Valentine’s Day is an excuse to express our most intense or obscure passions. But words can be a frail tool to capture the complications and complexities of this thing we call love: the sweet blush of infatuation, the kinship and kindness of true companions, the frenzy of unfettered lust, the torments of jealousy, betrayal, or heartbreak. So perhaps it’s no coincidence that three films set on Valentine’s Day hinge on the fragility and feebleness of words, creating worlds where meaning and reason fall apart.”- Kiss is Kill

Today at The Toast, my guide to three Valentine’s Day films where meaning falls apart: Pontypool, Picnic at Hanging Rock, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Come and play with us…

You are the cocktailer. You have always been the cocktailer.

You are the cocktailer. You have always been the cocktailer.

“It’s February. The winter holidays are long over, the lights are coming down, and the dark is creeping in. It’s time to invite some friends over for a night of bright, lighthearted fun – quick, before the metaphorical winter closes in around you and snows you into the labyrinthian hotel of your heart.” – All Play and No Work

Today on The Toast, my menu – complete with recipes! – for a terrifyingly easy The Shining viewing party.

Come and play with us forever… and ever… and ever…

established

Establishing my food-critic cred: my slapped-together ten-minute lunch includes a tuna melt (tuna mixed with labneh and scallions, grilled between local-ish American cheese on English muffin bread), red potato salad (also in a dressing of labneh, olive oil, lemon, and scallion), green beans with butter-toasted almonds, and a dish of fresh pineapple spears. These are the joys of preparedness, chickadees.

Establishing my blogger cred: I changed back into pajamas to eat it.

Establishing my willingness to experiment within highly gendered expectations: am wearing new shoes with said pajamas and watching the “Sex and the City” pilot for the first time. For the latter, I credit Emily Nussbaum. For the former, I have no excuse.

the playthings, slowly, slowly

From the original Etsy posting:

I love this! It is what appears may have been a soft children’s ball at one time that has hardened over the years. It has a kewpie-like face and lots of personality. There is a stamp that is no longer legible and an indent to the back.

slowly, slowly
To me, that — and especially “There is a stamp that is no longer legible” — sounds like the opening of a story written in partnership by E. Nesbit and H.P. Lovecraft.

… Yeah, it does, doesn’t it? There are worse sources for inspiration.

The Playthings, Slowly, Slowly
Chapter One (and possibly Chapter Only)

Amanda leaned in closer to the cracked surface of the doll’s head, peering at the tiny spidery writing on the once-soft rubber. Adding the maker’s name and a year of production to the item’s description could raise the asking price, maybe double it. The box of goods from the estate sale was a jumble, mostly worthless, but this doll head was promising. It might draw a collector’s eye, even in its damaged state.

Amanda trained the desk lamp closer on the antique toy and squinted, trying to mouth the sound of words she couldn’t… quite.. read. Absently, she muttered. “Rev. Riv. Hmm. triple, tribble, truffle. Rise. Rise!”

Encouraged, Amanda drew a battered jeweler’s loupe from the desk drawer, seated it expertly in her eye, and looked closer. Slowly, slowly, she deciphered the thready letters — not stamped, she now saw, but hand-inscribed finely and in rusty-colored paint, all but invisible against the sienna of the painted-on hair.

She read it out slowly, slowly, hesitating over each word. “‘Riven trifles, rise and gather?’ Huh.” Disappointing. Not the maker’s mark she’d banked on. Not even the name of the child who owned the doll, a sentimental touch that might nudge up the appeal for the right buyer. Just this nonsense, painted so delicately, so carefully, and for no apparent purpose.

Amanda read it again, hoping to squeeze some sense from it. “Riven trifles, rise and gather.” She tried it a third time, lilting the syllables brightly as if she could wring meaning out of the mere sound. “Riven trifles, rise and gather.” Nothing. It was nonsense, it was no sense, it made no sense.

A heavy thunk came from the office closet, startling her in the quiet of the night. She sat in the dim office, its one bright light trained on the flat brown of the doll’s nape, and tittered at her own nerviness. Something toppled from a shelf, one of the many old game boards or half-dressed dolls or boxes of grimy wooden blocks, one of the pieces of yard-sale detritus Amanda had stashed away, planning to clean it up and sell it off to a buyer motivated by nostalgia or sentiment or irony.

Smiling wryly at her skittishness, Amanda tucked the loupe back in its drawer, switched off the light, closed the office door, and went to brush her teeth. There were no great treasures in that jumbled stash of toys and trinkets. Tomorrow was soon enough to check on them, to face the mess behind those doors. She forgot all about the thunk, the sudden thump of something falling, until later.

That thunk was the start of it all. That thunk was echoed for miles around. Thunks and thuds and rustles and wriggles, whispers and stirrings and scratchings. Everywhere, small noises of escape and unearthing.

All night long and slowly, slowly, in all corners of the city, discarded toys shudder and rise, slowly, slowly, from their resting places, from attics and toychests, from middens and cellars, from under long-abandoned beds and cluttered closet floors. Slowly, slowly, they gather their broken bits — their sundered limbs, their shattered glassy eyes, their sprung battery hatches — and they start to walk. Slowly, slowly. Stumbling on their shattered legs, rolling on crooked wheels, or jerked along on marionette strings that rise up impossibly with no hand to guide them, they shuffle and scuff along, all drawn in one direction, all headed toward a single destination. Slowly, slowly, the scatter of shambling toys and games and dolls draws closer, gathering into an ever-tightening band, pulled inexorably closer to the voice that uttered the words.

[Thanks to Jagosaurus for bringing this Etsy item to my attention. It should be obvious that all details of the story, including the seller’s name, their selling practices, and the history of the item, are completely fictionalized.]

common man

Turns out, writing poems by recontextualizing movie quotes gets to be addictive.

I call this one:

I could tell you stories

You might say I sell peace of mind.

Insurance is my game.

Door-to-door.

Human contact’s the only way

to move merchandise.

In spite of what you might think,

I’m pretty good at it.

It doesn’t surprise me.

I believe in it.

Fire, theft, and casualty aren’t things

that only happen to other people.

Writing doesn’t work out,

you may want to look into it.

Providing basic needs

you could do worse.

I’ll keep that in mind.

and yes I said yes I will yes

It’s unanimous!



You’re Ulysses!
by James Joyce
Most people are convinced that you don’t make any sense, but compared
to what else you could say, what you’re saying now makes tons of sense. What people do
understand about you is your vulgarity, which has convinced people that you are at once
brilliant and repugnant. Meanwhile you are content to wander around aimlessly, taking in
the sights and sounds of the city. What you see is vast, almost limitless, and brings you
additional fame. When no one is looking, you dream of being a Greek folk hero.


Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

… and…

I write like
James Joyce

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!