Last month, Steve and I visited the Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania
to see a closely guarded exhibition of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings.
In the museum gallery, as we admired one of Wyeth’s large, detailed paintings, Steve motioned me closer to the painting and, with his index finger, pointed to a wooden table in the picture. He wanted me to notice that the painted wood’s grainy, uneven surface looked so vivid it seemed that if you ran your hand across it, you’d risk a splinter.
“How do you tell for certain that a cantaloupe is ripe?” I once asked my Uncle while restocking the melon display. My Uncle is a fruit and vegetable expert. He is a New England farmer who has grown and sold plants and produce in Pepperell, Massachusetts for decades.
When I asked him about the cantaloupe, I was a college student earning tuition money by waiting on customers who frequented the fruit and vegetable stand that my Uncle owns.
To that point, in my life, I’d tried a number of techniques to select a ripe melon. I’d tried holding the melon to my ear, knocking my knuckles on the outer rind, and listening for a hollow sound. I’d tried sniffing the end where the stem had once been to see if I could detect a sweet, fruity smell. I’d tried examining the melons to find one with a light-colored oval on the skin—I’d heard a light-colored oval was a sure sign that the melon had ripened in the patch.
At a public library, I stood in line to check out books not knowing I was about to face a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give.
In front of me in line, a young, slim girl lifted an unwieldy stack of children’s picture books up onto the high checkout desk. She smiled as she unzipped a small change purse, pulled out her library card, and handed it up to the librarian. The girl’s mother stood to the side, watched, and nodded approval.
The child self in me envied the girl’s large pile of books. When I was a child, the library I frequented limited the number of books a patron could borrow to five at a time. Probably the girl didn’t even realize her great fortune. Continue reading “The smallest gift I ever gave…”
“Has anyone ever turned in a paper that you considered too long?” a student asked when I mentioned an approximate page length for an assignment.
Once, I asked students to define a term from their major area of study. Write two or three pages explaining the term to someone who’s not in your major, I said.
A zealous physics student emailed me a detailed, fourteen-page discourse on time travel. I opened the file, scrolled through the fourteen pages, and postponed grading the paper.
I did not put reading the paper on hold because its length discouraged me. I put the paper on hold because its promise engaged my curiosity. In the introduction, the student declared that time travel is currently possible. I was excited to learn about the possibilities. I saved his pages for last, so I’d have reading to anticipate. (I hear you. You aren’t the first. Others have called me gullible.)
The idea of time travel fascinates me. I have read A Wrinkle in Time, The Time Machine, and Danny Dunn Time Traveler more than once. I watched all the Back to the Future movies. More than once.
Last week, I felt sad and perplexed when the author of a book that I treasure compared herself to other authors and came up lacking.
The author Christina Baker Kline ,who wrote a book that I’ve recently enjoyed titled a piece of the world, spoke at the Princeton Public Library. I was in Princeton for a writer’s conference held at Princeton Seminary and when I discovered that she was speaking at the library, I happily skipped a conference event, so I could attend her outstanding presentation.
During the presentation’s question and answer part, I asked her to talk about her writing process. How did she get that novel written?
She explained that writing a book takes her a long time. Then because she had recently spoken at an event that included John Grisham and Harlan Coben, she compared her writing process to theirs. Wistfully, she said: They write so fast–a book or more a year–I wish I could write as fast as they do. Continue reading “Beyond comparing…”
I was 12-years-old when I first felt a pang of not belonging. I stood on the sidewalk at the corner of Drewry and Valleyview with my back to the wind. My chin dipped deep into a woolen scarf which was tied around my neck. My crossed arms held school books tight against my chest–another layer to keep out the biting cold—and my mittened hands were pressed under my arms in search of warmth.
I waited for the school bus with my friend—for this post, I’ll call her Sally. At the bus stop that morning, I considered Sally my very best friend; even though she was a grade, maybe two, ahead of me in school. We shared seats on the bus. We played marbles in the snow. Every Monday evening, I went to her house to watch “The Partridge Family”. We spent hours in our fort in the woods paging through a wallpaper sample book discussing which wallpaper pattern we’d like to paste on our fort walls. We both had crushes on the teen idol of the year, Donny Osmond.
That morning on the corner, I chattered away proposing activities to do after school once we finished homework. Maybe we could put on a play and invite neighborhood friends to come watch it.
I was thinking about what the play would be about, who would act in it, and whether we’d serve refreshments when Sally said, “I’m not going to be your friend anymore. You do baby things.”
For this blog episode, I decided to experiment with breaking an unhealthy habit and to write about the experience because I hope that what I learn will help you when you try to break a bad habit.
When it comes to bad habits, I have many to pick from: when making decisions, I second guess myself–a lot. When I’m reading books, I fold down page corners to mark my place. When grading papers, I’m the Queen of procrastination. In fact, if a title more emphatic than Queen exists, I’m that. I’m Queen x ten of procrastination. I could write a 300 page manual on how to procrastinate. And then I could go through it and dog ear the best pages–anything to put off grading papers.
And, of course, there are other bad habits that I won’t divulge. You can ask Steve.
My Great Gram–who taught me a secret to aging well long before I needed it. I was forty before I realized I needed it, and, just recently, I’ve learned to practice it.
At a restaurant in our town, birthday guests are invited to celebrate their special occasion by culminating their meal with a silly act. They are invited to sit on a saddle which is mounted on a rolling sawhorse. When the birthday person sits, servers and guests clap and shout birthday cheers.
Last spring, when my husband Steve turned sixty, because he likes their steaks, he chose this restaurant for his birthday meal. “You’ll have to sit on the saddle,” I warned.
Please don’t share this confession with anyone who will agree with me, but sometimes I find myself asking, “What kind of idiot am I?”
This morning, I pulled a pair of sunglasses from the bottom of my book bag and realized that for the second time this year, my carelessness in stowing them had resulted in the costly, polarized lenses getting scratched.
I rummaged in the bag until I found the special square cloth the optometrist office provided with the glasses. I polished the lenses with intensity. I peered through them. The special cloth had not wiped away the scratches. I was forced to conclude that, yet again, the scratch is in the center of my field of vision.
Apparently, I am the kind of idiot who will make the same mistake two times in a row even though I have repeatedly determined not to.
I’d like to share a little of the blame with the companies make sunglasses. Why don’t they make scratch resistant lenses? I’m sure that with all the technology at their disposal, they could.
Speaking of blame, last week I wrote a post in which I told parents of troubled kids that they aren’t to blame for their kids’ circumstances. Some readers asked, “What helped you move past the blame?” Continue reading “How I stop blaming myself”
So the pink van that I mentioned in last week’s blog stirred some reader interest and prompted memories for me.
“That van is so tacky, it’s awesome,” said one reader.
I understood what she was saying. I’ve reacted that way to lawn art. I can take or leave an occasional garden gnome or a metal flower. I say a firm “NO!” to large, colorful, wooden backsides placed in the flower bed, but show me an overstuffed armchair upholstered in succulents (which I saw at the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh last year ) and I’m thinking: that’s so tacky its irresistible, I want it for my yard.
For about a decade, I drove the streets in that pink van. The van had a name.
Do you name your vehicles? Some quick internet research revealed that about 25% of Americans name their vehicles. Researchers say that people name their vehicles to establish a bond with their driving machines. Maybe I named the van because, subconsciously, I was trying to bond with the beast or maybe because I recall my mom referring to her cars by name. Usually, she called them “Betsy.” Which, I learned, is the country’s most common car name.