six: paper or plastic

“paper or plastic, ma’am?”

how many times in a human life are those words uttered or heard?  too many, antiquated now as they may be.  the environmentally conscious among us carry an ever growing supply of reusable shopping bags.  it’s not hard to see how we acquire so many.  we pick a few up in line at WalMart or Target, only a few dollars, a small price to save the planet.  we promise ourselves to keep them with us, in the car or pantry or wherever, and to use them religiously on weekly grocery runs.  we never do, though.  life happens, as it always does.  the weekly grocery run is replaced by near daily pop in/pop outs for necessities, and the sturdy and occasionally stylish bags are left to languish in the car or the pantry or wherever.  we’ll find them after a few weeks or months and make the same empty promise to ourselves, knowing full well we’ve only begun another cycle of good intentions and poor planning.

but she didn’t think about this as the check-out boy on the other side of the conveyor belt waited for her answer.  her first thought was irritation that he called her ma’am.  she was not a ma’am.  no unmarried woman under the age of 35 is a ma’am, didn’t this little shit know that?  she allowed herself a few minutes to bemoan the ignorance of today’s youth, only to realize that simply having these kinds of thoughts about “today’s youth” granted her ma’am status regardless of her age and (lack of) marital status.

the second thought was about her grandmother.  grandma took paper and plastic.  that was a long time ago, before the modern miracle of self-checkout.  a pimply high school boy at the end of the checkout lane would pick through the items as they were scanned and passed down the line, packing everything into the structured paper bags like tetris pieces, not a space wasted.  the whole package was then carefully fitted into a plastic sack.  it was the best of both worlds.  the paper bags kept everything organized and upright in the trunk on the way home.  the plastic bags with the handles made it easy to get the stuff from the car to the house.

once the groceries were put away, the paper bags were carefully folded up and tucked into a cabinet over the washer in the kitchen for later use.  their uses were innumerable.  they’d tote garden produce, line wastepaper baskets, or be handed to the grandkids for art projects and to carry toys about the house.  that’s what she remembers.  a couple of paper grocery bags, a little battery-powered toy cash register, and a store of hard, plastic fruit.

she never knew what happened to the plastic bags.

she wondered what happened to all that stuff, all the toys and books and the things she always associated with grandma and grandpa and their house.  it was conceivable that it had all been thrown away, or maybe donated, but it was unlikely.  her grandparents were children of the depression; they never threw anything away.  she remembered the things they found in the house after grandma had died, just over a year after grandpa.  it had been… what?  twelve years now?  she marveled at that.  it didn’t seem possible.

yes, even with its owners in the ground the house gave up treasures interesting only to a curious granddaughter. certificates of insurance for policies that had long since lapsed or paid their last dollar, relics of her father’s and uncle’s childhoods still carefully arranged in their attic bedrooms, as thought the boys had just dashed downstairs for dinner, but had transformed into men after dessert, and never came back.  whole shelves’ worth of canned produce, some even from the year she had been born.  they had thrown those out; in theory, they may still have been good, but no one could bring themselves to sample 16 year old stewed tomatoes.  she wished briefly she’d had the forethought to at least save the mason jars.

they had found paper bags, too, full of old pictures grandma had probably intended to catalog, but never got around to.  or clothes she had gathered up to throw away or donate, but int he end were left sitting on the floor of the closet.  her brother found the jackpot, though, stashed in the back corner of the coat closet in the dining room: a paper bag so weighted down with rolled coins that it threatened to burst the moment it was picked up.

but that was always the way of things, it seemed.  her brother placed more value in practical treasures; cash is always handy.  she was more sentimental, always had been.  she’d take a houseful of vintage mementos and assorted junk any day of the week.  it was her incurable weakness.  she fancied she could still sense the former owners, as if these people long gone had left a bit of themselves with the stuff they collected, and they would remain with their possessions no matter how many times they may change hands.

she had come by it honestly, her inability-or at least her reluctance-to get rid of anything.  it was the family opinion that she had inherited her father’s and her grandmother’s sentimentality; that was all they could attribute it to, this strange compulsion to keep things.  age and half a dozen moves between various homes and college dorm rooms had brought out her more practical side, but she still caught herself sometimes when making the twice yearly purge of her belongings.  some things could be tossed into the purge pile without a second thought.  some things never even came off the shelves or out of the closet; parting with these things was unthinkable.  but a fair few things lived in that in-between.  they may start on one side of the keep/purge line, but would inevitably make countless trips back and forth before settling somewhere.

it had been grandma’s way to take paper and plastic, and it was her way to do what has always been done, because it had always been done.

so she smiled at the checkout boy’s irritation as he packed away her groceries in the sturdy, coarse paper bag and then carefully lowered it into the flimsy plastic sack.

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five: fictional nonsense, vol 1

an excerpt from some of my fictional rubbish, because some of it probably should see the light of day at some point.

A breeze swept over the lawn, redolent with the heady scents of late summer: cut grass and damp earth, apple blossom and roses.  It’s a sweet, homesick smell that leaves you with the unmistakable feeling that it’s all ending too fast and there’s nothing you can do about it.  I filled my lungs with it.  For the briefest moment, I was entirely at peace with the universe and my place in it.  I felt light as the wind that ruffled my hair, but at the same time I was as heavy and dull as the packed dirt beneath my feet.  It was a strange sensation, comfortably uncomfortable, and I couldn’t make myself go back to the house just yet.

So I did what any sensible girl would do.

I ran.

four

it is no sin to be angry.  the real sin is choosing to channel your anger to the emotional, physical, or psychological hurt or destruction of another.

the truest measure of maturity is how well you handle the things (and the people) that make you unhappy or uncomfortable.

childhood is undervalued by children, and grossly overvalued by adults.

your entire life is a series of choices; your days are shaped not just by the things you choose to react to, but how you choose to react. make better choices.

don’t depend on others for your happiness, unless of course you’re looking for a life of disappointment. perfect self-sufficiency before seeking external satisfaction.

don’t take anything personally.

don’t make the mistake of thinking that everyone you meet is a reflection of your motives. the single biggest mistake we make as human beings is assuming that everyone reacts to everything the exact way that we would. we are wrong, and it won’t kill us to admit it from time to time.

three

and sometimes someone else creates a box that you don’t fit into.

so what do you do?

you ask questions that have no answers.
you realized the futility of such an exercise and promptly abandon it.
you shed a few tears, because loss is loss, no matter which way you cut it.
you feel really stupid, for no discernible reason.

and then you remember that this person was one of an untold many, one leaf in the tea bag.

on to the next, yeah?

two

i have sorted nearly all aspects of my life into boxes. these boxes have very clear, easily definable labels, and until now nearly everything i know falls within the scope of at least one label. family, friends, work, home, relationships… all things have their place in my little universe.

occasionally, i am presented with something that does not fit into one of these predefined spaces. rather than simply enjoy the thing for what it is like a sensible creature, it is my instinct to mutilate it. i cut it down until it fits into a box, even if that means trimming away the essence of what made the thing enjoyable to begin with.

the boxes are a myth. i know this. the boxes exist because i called them into existence, because some part of my brain tells me that obsessively cataloging and categorizing everything in my life with make it more manageable. that may be true, but it leaves very little room for life to actually happen. twenty eight years of living has (slowly, almost painfully) taught me that life is not organized. it is messy and complicated, and most of what makes it worth living cannot be tagged an sorted and stored in a box.

i created the boxes. i can un-create them if i choose to. i just have to choose to.