Monday, December 21, 2015


I’m a collector of treasures. Not precious metals or fancy cars, but precious petals and lovely cards. Dried petals destined for potpourri, but foiled by the perfect tin are scattered throughout my house. Decades worth of calendars filled with notes from Grandma Doris, hundreds of letters from friends, get-well cards for hospital stays, congratulatory cards for weddings and babies, my birth announcement declaring that my parents had a girl, and congratulations to my folks for my arrival into the world, are a sampling of my collection. I used to have all my cards in dilapidated boxes, which I carted from Whidbey Island to Ketchikan, Alaska and back to Washington State. More boxes. More weight. More treasures.

I recently dedicated half a closet to cards and photos and organized them in plastic containers. Just as my good intentions toward potpourri are foiled, so are my intentions to create photo albums. I’m just not that organized. Besides, if I were organized I’d miss out on the fun of having to go through stacks of dog-eared photos to find the elusive one. I’d miss the joyful occasion to sit on the guestroom bed, surrounded by memories, and the surprise once again of a picture that captured a moment so significantly. Disorganization has its perks. Nevertheless, I’ve been filling fewer boxes now that e-mail takes the place of letters. Of course I have desktop email folders brimming with entertaining communications. I am a bit more organized with photos now that FB and a cloud has them somewhere in a virtual sky, but I must admit it’s way less fun searching for photos in the vast universe. I am frustrated by my fears of technology, of pressing the wrong button and watching my memories go poof. I prefer the tactile, dusty adventure of breaking into tattered envelopes containing so many wonders.

I’m also a big collector of word memories. I especially like to snag sayings gone awry, or runaway lyrics for a fun memory later. You know, when you’ve been singing the same song for years and finally learn the words have nothing to do with the song, yet they seemed so right. I had an epiphany about a song Dad used to sing to me about “Mersey Does”. I heard the song like this:

Mersey Does and Doesy Does and Little Idey Dideys, a Kiddle Dee Didey Doo

Dad heard me singing it in the kitchen a few years ago and realized he recognized the tune, but not the lyrics. It makes so much more sense to me now that I know:

Mares Eat Oats and Does Eat Oats and Little Lambs Eat Ivy. Kids Eat Ivy Too. 

Remember the rebel playground anthem (circa late 1960s,) that kids sang loud and clear under the monkey bars? I could bellow it as well as the rest of the scoundrels:

Wanda Wanda, Wanda Wanda

Esterly Esterly

Doctors make it, teachers take it

Why can’t we? Why can’t we?

Many years later another epiphany had me blushing when I learned Wanda Wanda wasn’t the character from my Saturday morning kid’s show. Wanda was really Mary Jane, or marijuana, and Esterly was LSD. Gotta love the era of the innocent flower child.

As much as I like to poke fun at myself for my ridiculous utterances or some spoonerism that twisted my tongue into saying what it ought not, Mom and I also take delight in our collection of word foibles of others, such as when I was asked to pick up just the “Bears and Necessities” from the grocery store. Furry friends and necessities are always on my shopping list now. Perhaps that’s why I ended up with three pampered poodles, at least one who thinks he’s a polar bear. Another delightful saying that always elicits a smile is my then toddler son’s can-do-attitude statement, “I can if I don’t want to.”

Ah, the free riches of life. Tangible mementos from those we love, dried petals that evoke a memory, letters honoring friendships and significant events, my grandmother’s calendars reminding me that each day was worthy of at least a sentence, hilarious new sayings derived from more mundane ones that have become part of the family story, and captured snapshots in time.

These are my most treasured collections.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Lines on Paper

When my son was a toddler he was happy to sit at the coffee table for hours, contentedly drawing pictures. He had a colorful imagination. One rainy afternoon he was drawing vertical lines in felt pen on the stack of copy paper I gave him. Several slam-dunked, paper wads later he carefully arranged his creations in a nice display on the table. His uncle showed up and took great uncle-like interest in Jeffrey’s project. Studying the handiwork—much to the delight of his nephew—he said something like, “Jeffrey, what did you draw? Is it the rain?” Jeffrey shook his head. “No, silly. Can’t you see? These are lines on paper.” Oh, how I loved that simple statement. It said it all. No need to attribute more meaning.

I’m always looking for deeper meaning in things that were meant to be simple. I over-analyze. Pick apart words. Yes, they wrote this or that. But what did they really mean? They said this, but did that. What is the significance? Remember answering machines, and the anticipation of a blinking red light? I do. And I remember how certain messages could cause me to spin out—an unexpected call from a doctor, or when I was dating, a low voice confirming or canceling a date. Stop. Rewind. Play. Again and again, looking for a nuance in the voice to reveal what was really behind the words—trying to manipulate the rewind button so the message said exactly what I wanted to hear. Your pregnancy test is positive. Your cancer antigen test is negative. The dinner date? Of course it is still on. I often go into auto-denial before I can absorb what is clearly stated. Before I can take things on faith. Before I accept the words said, results mailed, messages left, texts written, lines drawn, are exactly as the person intended.

Manipulation in my own writing can be cause for pause as well. It used to be my cursive writing took time to flow across the parchment page. One misspelled word and it was a start over project. Plus, trying to make my not-so-pretty handwriting legible forced me to slow down, ruminate, and figure out what I wanted to write. Now, with words flying across the screen faster than I can believe, it makes sense to choose words wisely and allow them to marinate a bit before pressing the “send” button, but this is a balancing act between overworked and words that flow. As a writer, I want my words to be descriptive, elegant and tied together in beautiful phrases. When I strive for this perfection the opposite happens, the words smack of a writer who’s pen has pressed too hard, leaving an overworked mess on the page—as I fear just happened in the preceding paragraph!

For me, the secret is to not thinketh too much, but not sendeth too fast. The best stuff is the stuff that isn’t over-processed, over-marinated, scripted, or formulaic.  When perfect simplicity finds its way to the page.

The simplicity of lines on paper.