You Are A Mystery to Me

A Sunshine Girl Zentangle Flying on a Balloon! by Persephone Pomegranate

Yet another good prompt and writing exercise inspired by Crafting the Personal Essay.

A list of people who baffle me and the things they do that make no sense.

  • My hubby’s relationship with time and timers
  • Morning people
  • People who clean when they’re mad or at the end of a long day
  • Arrogant people who believe they’ve earned the right to comment on my life
  • Moms who love to do crafts with their kids
  • My husband’s inconsistencies about housekeeping
  • A man I know who reuses napkins and paper plates

I chose to write about the man I know who reuses napkins and paper plates:

There is a man I know who shall remain nameless. He has many baffling habits, many of which have become endearing over the years.

One of these habits is NOT endearing.

Every time I eat at his house, I must beware as I reach for a napkin. And every time we’re at a picnic together, I eye him warily if he hands me a paper plate.

“Is this clean?” I’ll ask.

“Oh, yeah. It’s clean,” he’ll answer.

“Yes, but is it new?” I ask.

“Oh, well, I used it this afternoon to eat my sandwich and chips. I dusted it off; just a few crumbs.”

In addition to the possibility of eating off a used paper plate for lunch, I must beware of pulling a napkin out of the napkin holder. The first time I chose a napkin for myself off his table, I wondered at its somewhat crumpled nature. So I took a closer look. Were those grease stains?

“Wait a minute. Have you used this napkin?”

I bet by now you know the answer.

What?!?!?! While I am baffled by this behavior, I do have some understanding of it. He grew up in the home of a woman directly affected by the Great Depression. Napkins, paper towels, and toilet paper were like gold in those days. I can’t imagine the kind of suffering she must have endured to pass on such enduring habits to her son.

Me? I grew up in the home of a woman of German descent. You wouldn’t know it by looking at my house, but Germans are known for their cleanliness. This same endearing man once told me that in a village where Germans lived with dirt floors in their homes, they swept their dirt floors daily. I think this is as baffling as offering me a used plate for dinner.

My mom and grandma are testaments to the strength of heritage. At my mom’s house, you can eat off the kitchen floor. At my grandma’s house, I’d dare say you can eat off the floor in the bathroom.

If someone offered my mom or grandma a used plate for a meal, or a used napkin! I shudder to think what they might say. Even if they held her tongues, they would NEVER eat with that person again.

Now, I’m not ready to beg off eating with this delightful person. Nor am I nearly as cleanly as my maternal relatives. I would not advise eating off any of my floors. In fact, I’d prefer if you do your best to keep your gaze at eye level. Otherwise, those sneaky dust bunnies and their cobwebby pals might just scare you away.

However, I do draw the line at sharing napkins, and I definitely prefer a clean paper plate. In fact, I’ve been known to throw away the top plate on a stack of brand new paper plates, if it’s been sitting open to the air for more than a week. Why eat those dust bunnies and cobwebs of that one if I can use the clean one it’s been protecting all that time?

I daresay that if that dear man who offered me his lunch plate for my dinner knew that I routinely throw out unused paper plates he would as confounded by my behaviors as I am by his.

Whose behavior confounds you?
Do share with me, but please be kind and don’t name names!

Written by: Angela Magnotti Andrews
Exercise inspired by: Dinty W. Moore

Lazy Summer Days

Green Hut Fittie Aberdeen by Gordon Robertson

Memories from childhood are wonderful ways to prompt your writing. Simply close your eyes, find a moment in time when you were in high school or college, and describe the scene. From there, let the scene unfold to show your action within the backdrop of your memory.

I found this exercise a lovely diversion, a blissful reminder of what I once had and what I have now.

Lazy summer days reading on the grass. The sun shone brightly in a vivid blue sky. The air was still and fragrant, slightly dense with the heat of the afternoon. I lie on an old bedspread with dark blue flowers and their green leaves on a white background. I pulled it out of the back of Mom’s car, where she still keeps it during the summer months.

I’d start out seated, maybe cross-legged, with my sunglasses, t-shirt, and shorts on. As my mind sunk into the story and my body slumped further and further into relaxation, I’d stretch out my legs, holding the book aloft in my left hand as I rubbed out my sore muscles with my right hand, hopeful that the pins and needles in my feet would subside before they transported me all the way back to the real world.

The lyrical sentences and fanciful stories would lull me into a magic land. I was no longer a teenager, awkward in life. I was now an adventurer chasing down treasure, or a lonely shopkeeper about to be surprised by love. The lives of the characters became mine, as my real life was suspended. Eventually, never taking my eyes off the page, I’d gently roll to one side and lie flat on my stomach cobra style, not once breaking stride in my reading. 

All the while, in the parallel universe of the ‘real world’, the sun beat down upon me, warming me from the outside in. Eventually, my eyes would begin to droop, imperceptibly at first. With each blink, my eyelids would stay closed a split second longer. My reading pace would slow, and I’d find myself rereading a sentence here, a paragraph there.

The sun’s magic eventually overtook the magic of the story, and my grip on the book slowly loosened. Sweat would drip down my temples, streaking through the sunblock I had applied hours before.

Finally, after nearly dropping my book, I would relent. Marking my place and closing the pages, I’d lumber to my feet, pulling up the warm bedspread. I’d stumble up the porch steps, punch drunk with the heat, and open the door, stepping into a new sort of magic realm – a realm of cool air and comfy couches.

I’d let my book fall to the floor and wrap my goose-pimpled body in the sun-warmed blanket, then stretch out on the couch and allow myself to fall into the mysteries and wonders of my dreams.

As I remember, I feel a longing for those moments of freedom – to read uninterrupted for long hours of the day. To lay undisturbed on the couch, cozy beneath my blanket, sleeping soundly and deeply.

Today I can’t read for more than 20 minutes without a child asking ‘an important’ question, or an alarm sounding to remind me to change the laundry or start dinner.

I still read in the sunshine. I still curl up on the couch with a blanket to nap. But the sun rarely has a chance to infuse me with its delicious form of tryptophan, and my blankets are more likely to be kissed by spit up than by the sun and fresh air.

My dreams are no longer the whimsical fancies of childhood. Instead they’re laced with the anxieties of losing children, being cornered by inevitably difficult decisions, or spending all my money at the grocery store and having to ask the clerk to put half of my cart load back.

I feel nostalgia and a bit of sadness, realizing I can never go back. But would I really trade what I have now for those lazy summer days? Were those moments really free in the way that they seemed?

Didn’t I worry then just as much as I do now? About how I looked in my shorts. About whether I would pass that test, be laughed at behind my back, have a date for prom, or write my report in time.

I never have to worry about those things now. I know who I am. I’m married to a man who loves me like no one has loved me before. I have three beautiful, charming, delightful children who give me more joy than I can contain. I have deep, rich friendships with women who remind me of who I am when I’m at my worst and celebrate me when I’m at my best.

Would I really trade all of that for an uninterrupted afternoon in the sun with a book and a blanket?

Would you?

Written by: Angela Magnotti Andrews

Only One Me?

Drop001 by unbekannt270

In Crafting the Personal Essay, Dinty W. Moore discusses the masters of essay writing from long ago and how we can use their works to inspire new works. He discusses the power of voice and the importance of finding our unique way of writing that fits perfectly within the time that we live.

For some of us, that means that we sound just like our neighbors when we talk or write. For others of us, it means that we sound distinctly different. Both are vital.

As an example, Moore discusses Montaigne, a master essayist from a long time ago. His works are universal, but his voice is a tad outdated.

In this exercise, prompted by Moore, I rewrote a passage from Montaigne in my modern voice. This required me not only to read the passage several times, but to attempt to discern the universality of what Montaigne meant. I enjoyed this exercise.

I found it exciting and challenging. Exciting because I realized how much the process of writing helps me dig deeper into the meaning of what I’ve read. Challenging because I am an imitator, which makes it difficult for me to resist the urge to mimic the beauty of whatever prose I’m reading.

In this case, Moore explicitly instructed me to write in a modern voice, to make it read as if I were saying it to a friend. That was a fun challenge.

To encourage you to pick up Moore’s book for yourself, I will share only my writing here and not the passage that inspired this piece:

 

There is always only one me, and that one me is subject to everything I’ve ever seen, heard, done, and believed. And what I’ve seen and heard changes as I age. We’ve all gone back to the house we grew up in, the grade school we attended, or the neighborhood we played in, only to remark, “It seems so much smaller than I remember.”

No one can pin me down, because even as they approach me, I shift. I’m suddenly out of their reach. This scares me, but I don’t resist it anymore.

I’ve come to cherish the this freedom. It’s a freedom to be all that I am today, knowing that I can’t really count on “myself” tomorrow. In this way, I am off the hook while still holding staunchly to everything I deeply cherish – my people, my morals, my doctrines, and my values.

Slowly they erode, as the Grand Tetons lose an ounce of dirt each day. And one day I look back and see that where there once was a mountain, there is now only a mole hill.

It is refreshing now to be me. I can write all that I am thinking today, and tomorrow I can argue that the opposite is true. And yet I remain true to myself in every single moment. That is true freedom, a freedom worth fighting for.

Now you try:
Take my words here and put them into your own words, as if you were speaking to your best friend about this topic.

 

Written by: Angela Magnotti Andrews