stories

for the information age

 

 

These bite-sized stories chronicle my efforts, both pitiful and successful,

to understand the world and our place in it.

 

My hope is that they help you do the same.

christmas motive - cross section of red

For years, my friend and I argued over the question of her mother's drinking. Did her mother drink so much because she was in pain? Or was she in pain because she drank so much? Of course, both things were true. But which of the things, we always wondered, was more true? Her mother did drink an awful lot. Sometimes she started at breakfast. And didn't stop until sleep came. We got some absurd satisfaction in trying to pinpoint the culprit. As if knowing would save her.

I often have the same argument with myself about technology. Do I feel anxious because I am on my phone so much? Or am I on my phone so much to distract from the boredom and anxiety I feel?


I have been trying to smile when I wake up in the morning. Not the big, toothy, glad-to-meet-you smile, but a quiet smile, an inward-facing smile. It is not as easy as it sounds, by the way. In fact, it’s downright difficult. What I learn very quickly is that I naturally wake up with a bit of a scowl on my face.


While this effort to smile feels a little stupid, something shifts. Instead of cycling through my list of worries and woes -- election complications, planetary destruction, my aching body, bills I must pay -- I notice the quality of light in the room, how it bleeds from beneath the window shades. I notice the framed needlework sampler I keep on the mantle -- it belonged to a great aunt and dates from the 1800's. Someone, a girl, cross-stitched flowers and vines and each letter of the alphabet onto this slip of burlap. Who were you, I think? The sampler is signed by its maker but also bears the weight of an untold narrative.


Thank you, I think, for letters, for stories, told and yet untold. Thank you for setbacks and for progress. Thank you to all women, who have always created work more profound than needlepoint samplers. Thank you, I think, and I rise to meet the day.



I sent my son, who is away at college, his ballot. He researched all the propositions, weighed their intentions, thought through the social and economic consequences of each. His level of caring, the way in which he can parse apart a problem and come to a sound conclusion, is encouraging. I felt a little swell of parental pride. He filled in all of the bubbles, signed the document, sealed the envelope and then called to ask, “Now, what do I do with it?”

“You mail it,” I said.

“How?” he asked.

I said, “Just stick it in a mailbox.”

He was quiet for second, then asked the question I feared was coming: “What’s a mailbox?”

“Mailboxes,” I said, “You know, the big, navy blue metal containers, scattered all over the city?”

“Huh,” he replied, considering the strange concept of putting something important down on paper, slipping it into a blue metal box on a street corner. A few hours later, he called to say, “You were right, Mum. Those blue metal boxes are everywhere!” As if it were possible that I had made the whole thing up.

Often, we assume a common language, a shared experience, a similar view of the city. Truth is, sometimes we are in different cities – some with blue boxes, some without.