“Pick a small object to be given one day to your great-grandchild. Write a letter to that child explaining why you have chosen this object.”

Dear Strongly-But-Tastefully-Named Great-Grandchild That I Doubt I Shall Ever Meet,

Enclosed in the small box that accompanies this letter, is a very unremarkable object. In fact, it’s something you probably already have, but I don’t suspect pay much attention to. It, my child, is a pen. Just a simple metal tube full of ink that fits snugly among the first three fingers of your right, or left, hand. I imagine those fingers are tired, busy from tapping screens and sliding across smooth glass that takes you to infinity. Despite all the technology that I’m sure has made your life vastly smarter, faster, broader, and perhaps limitless, I encourage you to pull your weary eyes from those screens every now and then. Sit down (I know they say sitting kills you these days, but I assure you it won’t hurt for a few minutes), look down at a piece of fresh, creamy paper, pick up this pen, and write. Don’t type, don’t dictate, don’t text. Just pull and curl those magic lines of ink across the page and see what comes out. Get in touch with a magic that I so hope hasn’t yet been lost.

Love,

Your Loving Great-Grandmother
(and best-selling novelist, of course)

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Filed under 642 Things to Write About, Fiction

The vacant joy of black Friday.

This past Thanksgiving, I was fortunate once again to be able to spend the holiday in a tropical clime. Thanks to my husband’s hobby/side job as a field hockey coach, we travelled to a national tournament in Palm Springs, allowing me to leisurely explore the desert and spend time with extended family. It was pretty much perfect.

IMG_3802Also perfect, it turns out, was my decision to venture out to Joshua Tree National Park on the day after Thanksgiving. While the rest of America was sating their appetites for rampant commercialism, I was hiking around Skull Rock, basking in the temperate California winter sunshine, and enjoying the silence of rock and scrub brush. IMG_3770

Now, I do believe the arid desert landscape is admittedly dull in comparison to thick forest land. Though the absence of rivers and lakes is disconcerting (I live blocks from Lake Michigan…I thrive on bodies of water), there is a certain beauty in all that nothing that can’t be taken for granted. My visit to Joshua Tree took place during a couple of hours in the afternoon, but I would have loved to have been able to stay for a night just to be able to see all the colors that paint the sky at sunrise and sunset. Sure, coyotes are a little more threatening than raccoons, but it would have been nice to hear and see the difference in fauna, particularly at night.

IMG_3799While most of my visit was simply driving along the ribbon of black asphalt that cuts through the heart of the park, stopping here and there to hike and take photos and just breathe, the most notable feeling came as I was on my way out. There are not a ton of roadways in and around Joshua Tree, so rather than turn around and exit the way I came in, I decided to drive all the way through to the south entrance and meet back up with the highway that would take me back to Indio. This ended up being a 50-some mile venture that left me wondering if I would ever see civilization again.

The landscape changed from vast sweeps of Joshua trees and towering rock formations to flat plains ofIMG_3812 low scrub brush that ran for miles along mountainous formations that seemed to never break way for anything besides more of the same. Were it not for the road I was on, along with a few road signs and scenic stopover areas, I would have assumed this landscape would ever end. After half an hour of driving at a 45-mph pace along the winding road, the breathtaking vistas of gorgeous nothingness turned into a bleak desert infinity that was overwhelmingly empty and obviously ready to swallow me and my tiny Toyota rental.

I have never been more thankful for a full tank of gas.

When I passed a sign that indicated there were ten miles until I reached the highway, I noticed I was white-knuckling the steering wheel not for sake of speed, but for what I can only assume was a hint of anxious agoraphobia. There was so much open air it was hard to take a breath…it was a concept I’d never understood until I was in the middle of a very large, very empty piece of earth with nobody else around to see me. Or hear me. Or annoy me. Depress me. Or save me.

Eventually of course, the highway appeared in the canyon below me: a tiny gray thread of sun-glittered vehicles and completely insane California drivers that I was all too happy to join the ranks of, now that my daily freaky beauty fix was over.

IMG_3810

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“Describe an electronic device in the future that you won’t know how to operate.”

My TV in 2025 is going to be a thin sheet of polyurethane that can be rolled up and automatically adhered to any flat surface. Wherever you feel like watching TV, just roll it out and tap away on the touch-screen. So easy, right?

Well except for when it won’t roll out flat and there are creases in the middle of people’s face when you’re trying to watch a show and the touch screen won’t work because your fingers are oily or else they’re too cold to register on the surface and jesus h, it’s 2025 already, why on earth can’t I just talk to the damn thing and have it register my voice? But then I suppose that wouldn’t work either, and then my life would turn into that stupid Gary Busey commercial where he’s yelling at the Amazon Fire.

If there’s anything life should not be, it’s a Gary Busey commercial.

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The pen is ______________.

A couple of years ago, I deleted the journaling program that lived in a small, dark corner in my laptop. It wasn’t that I didn’t use it, or that the app wasn’t up to par (it’s a fucking blank screen, obviously). It was that the thoughts that I was transferring from my brain onto the screen were too virulent to be put into something concrete. Nobody ever thinks about how cohesive thoughts, mere abstract rumblings in a series of microscopic synapses, can turn into something so damaging once they make an appearance on paper or screen. Maybe I rely too much on the wealth of words that used to come from being young and overly dramatic and emotional. Or maybe I’m just a quiet wreck. But I didn’t want to think about those words, in that order, taking shape in real life.

I don’t talk a lot. In fact, I never say the right thing. But you can be for damn sure that I have plenty to say…even if no one ever reads it.

The pen is always mightier.

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Rules for Attending a Wedding Alone.

  1. Shut up about attending a wedding alone. No one actually notices or cares that you are here all by your lonesome, so just buck up.
  2. Pay attention. No one is around to point out the programs, so you’ve got to pick one up on your own. Related: Ushers won’t seem to notice that you’re being seated, or that you are alone, so they will ignore you, forcing you to remember which is the bride’s side. (hint…it’s on the left.)
  3. It’s totally cool that you just forgot that the bride’s side was on the left, and sat down on the wrong side of the church. Nobody noticed that you awkwardly scanned the crowd for familiar faces, finally realizing that you were sitting on the wrong side, before shifting as discreetly as possible to the proper side.
  4. After the ceremony, locate the bar. For the love of God, locate the bar.
  5. Is it an open bar? You lucky asshole. Just make sure you don’t drink too much. You’re driving yourself home, you know.
  6. Is it a cash bar? Too bad. Don’t go broke on the drinks. You’re still driving yourself home.
  7. Get as drunk as possible before dinner. You are sitting with complete strangers and you need to make small talk. Luckily everyone has a common denominator, and it’s the reason you’re at this party.
  8. Dancing brings everyone together. Thankfully.
  9. Except doing a line dance on your own is kind of sad. No Cupid Shuffling for you. Yes, I know you’re tempted. But I mean it.
  10. Remember when I said nobody cares that you’re attending a wedding alone?

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“Name the trees in neighborhood where you grew up.”

The two in the front yard were non-descript. They were tall, thin things that needed to be trimmed every couple of years so they wouldn’t get all tangled up in the power lines. Back when I was a baby, splashing around in a plastic pool in the front yard, they were too small to provide shade. So…worthless.

The apple tree in the side yard was cool, in theory. Who doesn’t like a fruit tree? Well, nobody, actually, when the only apples the thing every kicked out were small and sour and wormy. So….no good.

The line of poplars on the other side of the yard were ugly. I liked the name, once I learned it. ‘Poplar’ just like ‘popular.’ But they weren’t so popular, and my dad cut them all down. So…no more windbreak for the poor dog in his outside pen.

The two oak trees in the backyard were obviously the most majestic. The biggest one stood tall and broad and old in the very center of the back edge of the lawn. It was too big to climb, but perfect for a swing. My dad built it and I used it right up until I got to the age where suddenly you’re really aware of what you weigh and suddenly the branch is totally gonna fall if you sit your fat ass on that swing one more time. So…it stood.

The other oak, the one closer to the house, could have been a maple. I sure hope it was an oak though, because it used to be my favorite and I named it “Oakey” after local basketball sensation Sam Okey who was a pretty big thing at the time. I wanted a treehouse in that tree more than anything. But then a storm struck and Oakey was a little too big and too close to the house, and before I knew it, he was no more than a stumpy memory that got in the way when Dad mowed the yard. So…no dice.

The walnut tree in the back corner was climbing perfection. I spent many an hour lounging in its boughs, reading books, listening to music, taunting the cows on the other side of the fence. Back when my sister and I were into amateur cinematography, I filmed a Nelly Furtado music video nestled semi-precariously in it’s branches. So….”Like a Bird.”

When we moved into our new house, when I was fifteen years old and had no time for trees, it was a good thing: there were none in our new yard. Nothing but wind and corn stalks, and snow drifts for miles.

 

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“Describe something you wanted badly and, once you got it, never used.”

Before entering the fifth grade, everybody had to have a Five Star® brand (by Mead, obviously), cloth-covered binder. Or else. This was law.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t really a law. Teachers didn’t expect anybody to buy that binder, mainly because over half the population of my town lived in a trailer court off Hwy. 59, where most everybody’s family income went towards cartons of Marlboros and a DirectTV subscription so nobody’d miss the Nascar races every Sunday.

And that binder was expensive. But it wasn’t just the binder, of course. You needed some roller ball gel pens to go with it, so you could decorate it with flowers and those S symbols that also look like vertical infinity signs and the name of your crush and song lyrics and peace signs. And all those cool things.

Nobody in the fifth grade had a normal binder, of course. Except me.

Each time we went to Wal-Mart (twice weekly), I yanked at Momma to buy me that binder. I had the color picked out (maroon), and I knew exactly what I was going to write, and where. I knew that I was even going to write Ryan (my crush’s name) on the very inside corner where no one could see it except me.

The greatest day of my life (I thought) was when Momma found a Lisa Frank® brand Trapper Keeper® with two rainbow-colored dolphins jumping out of an emerald sea in the five-dollar discount bin near the Wal-Mart checkout on one blessed Tuesday evening.

“Here,” she threw it at me, “Quit hollering about the other damn binder and use this one. It’s just as fancy, ain’t it?”

Lisa Frank®. The Louis Vuitton of all things school supply. It was only $5. And it was all mine. Everyone was going to be SO jealous.

The next morning on the bus, I made sure to carry my brand new Lisa Frank® Trapper Keeper® rather than shove it in my bag like I always do. Just so everyone could see it. But what do I see when I climb up those dumb metal steps and start making my way towards the middle of the bus?

Jennifer C. Jennifer C. with the crimped hair and the acid-wash jeans, and apparently, the Lisa Frank® brand Trapper Keeper® with three jewel-colored rabbits performing ballet on a glittering stage in front of rhinestone jungle animals. I knew that if anyone saw my binder, they’d accuse me of copying the coolest girl in school. Of being the wannabe. Of being the poor girl that was desperate to fit in.

I hugged my Lisa Frank® Trapper Keeper® to my chest and plopped down quickly into a seat before anyone could see me. I took some pens out of my binder, the boring black and blue Bic ones that are like, 20 for a dollar, and began to color in the dolphin’s eyes, covering up all those bright colors and happy hues.

By the time we arrived at school, just half an hour later, my new binder was a zig-zaggy mess of blue lines and black blobs, the plastic torn and jagged by the angry slashes of my cheap pens.

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Filed under 642 Things to Write About, Fiction