"Symbolism of"

Finding Meaning and Being Meaning


In the distance are several small brown shapes. Perhaps they are napping birds, waiting for the heat to dissipate (October and midday heat still offends), so they can resume their search for food. Maybe they are tree stumps, forever moored to the ground. Or maybe they are palm fronds torn from their treed-connections by Hurricane Ian, which seemed to have gardened our area, not gutted it like it did the west coast. (Yes, when people here say the “west coast,” they are referring the west coast of Florida, not to California. A singular mindset in a peninsula.)

Without binoculars, I cannot tell what they are. I guess I could walk over there when I finish sitting in this library, soaking in the quiet until the students arrive to wait for their parents to pick them up or to work with tutors.

Groups of white birds (storks?) have just taken flight. They are too unattached and small in number to count as a flock. A small yellow butterfly has raced past at an astounding pace. The birds have flown to another grassy area, all except for one bird that seems to be looking for a mini-flock to join or rejoin.

The brown shapes have not moved, so I assume they are not birds for, surely, they would have responded to all the movement around them, even if to bristle at the disturbance as I will do soon when the children arrive.

When I taught, I prided myself on always finding meaning in even the smallest details in a story. It was a challenge I enjoyed. But now, I’m a person who doesn’t need to instruct on how to think and how to analyze. I am simply a person experiencing a moment with no agenda to find or impose upon it.

Which is better or truer to me? Does it matter? Are both meaning-finding and being true expressions of my existence? And at this moment, this day after Yom Kippur, I can find gratitude for the wholeness of this moment. I can adjust my demands/expectations/hopes for myself and try to be purpose—as a bird or butterfly or fallen leaf. Do I need to proclaim (to myself) who I am in order to be enriched, or is acknowledging and respecting each moment enough?

In each moment, to be and to be that being is purpose. My insight.

The Symbolism of a Downed Tree

Yesterday when I was driving home I found the way blocked by a tree that had fallen across the street that I take to get home. There was no way to get around the tree: it spread its trunk and branches from curb to curb. I drove into the parking lot next to it, thinking that I could get back to the street, but I couldn’t so I did an inelegant 3-point turn. When I got to the stop sign at the top of the street where I was planning to turn left, there were two cars in front of me, the first one seemed to be driven by a new driver because s/he was not moving even when there was time to go. So I turned to the right, thinking I’d make a u-turn at the next opening. Of course, there was a “no u-turn sign” there, and since I’m not into breaking obvious road laws, I took a left into the street and did another inelegant 3-point turn to get back to where I needed to be. I made my right. At the light where I needed to make my left turn to the street that would lead me to my street, I temporarily became disoriented by the dusk and the rain and turned into the left side of the street—as in the side where three lanes of cars were coming right at me with their white lights shining—right into my eyes. Luckily, at that moment my temporary road-rule amnesia left me and I did yet another inelegant 3-point turn. Everyone waited for me to turn around, that is except one asshole who was, I guess, aggravated by me and my unfamiliarity with the rules, who drove around me in the middle of my turn. No compassion from him. I bet HE (I am sure it’s a he, sorry guys) was going someplace really important that he couldn’t wait for someone who was obviously in distress or distraught to correct her error. Everyone else waited for me to finish my turn, thankfully, and then at the light, I made a U-turn to my street because there wasn’t a “no u-turn” sign there. I was also afraid what would happen if I needed to go down another street and make another 3-point turn. I needed to get off the road, I felt lucky to still be driving.

The rest of the drive home, all seventy seconds of it, were uneventful.

Those roadblocks and mistakes made me think that the drive home might be symbolic of the meeting I just had, and what it might mean for the future—and what it might represent for the past. I had come from meeting a woman in response to her Craig’s List ad (no, I’ve not so completely given up on men) to start up a Jewish-Palestinian dialogue group and this woman, as we learned through our emails and our first meeting, is the Palestinian-American version of me. It wasn’t odd at all to hear how the trajectories of our lives were so similar, rather it felt right—the embodiment of people connecting as people and not being the representatives of any side or cause. We moved to Israel and the West Bank at around the same age. She married a Palestinian and I married an Israeli. We both suffered from their words. We both had to deal with “dealing with him” with the children and in bitter divorces. And we both came back to the states. We both worked on getting our careers on-track, for ourselves and our children. And we both want to do something about abuse and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And we laughed and enjoyed telling the stories of our lives to each other.

I thought that the roadblocks on the way home represent the roadblocks that we may face to create whatever group or program we have yet to envision (we’re at the brainstorming phase). They could also represent the immense and intense roadblocks that Israelis and Palestinians have placed between themselves so that in Israel we never would have met. I lived in Israel for seventeen years and the two-hour conversation that I had yesterday was more than I had spoken with any Palestinian in all of that time, unless you add the time I spent ordering meals from Palestinian waiters.

In the three years I spent studying for my master’s degree in conflict studies I never met anyone with whom to have a dialogue. Most of the people were, from my perspective, so anti-Israeli that they couldn’t do the most basic thing the field demands of people--to see those on the other side as people, as individuals, and not as representatives of a side. So there we were, two women—mothers and ex-wives—meeting as women do, by sharing their stories and seeing how they can work together to make the world a better place. A more peaceful place for their children—for everyone’s children. 

It’s raining and dreary outside, but I feel a warmth that I haven’t felt for a while.

The Symbolism of the Garbage

The other morning when I threw the garbage out in the little enclosed area that contains the garbage bins, there were two empty boxes. The boxes were for two different kinds of nerf weaponry. Both of them seemed to be of machine guns. From the picture they both looked big, they both were supposed to simulate the real thing, although the brown and orange colors were probably a give-away. The weapon in the bigger box included an ammunition belt that could be slung over the shoulder.

A few days before there was another empty box in the garbage area that caught my attention. It was for a beer pong table. I didn’t know that there was such a thing. I had heard of beer pong (and do not laugh and say I’m lying when I say I have never played the game) but I didn’t know that there was equipment to purchase.

Unlike my very annoying and nosy downstairs neighbor, I don’t know all of the people who live in my new neighborhood. But I have my suspicions as to who goes with which box. There are two quite buff and attractive young twenty-something men (one is a slightly smaller version of the romance novel cover guy, Fabio; my daughter looked shocked at me when I told her he was handsome) who I suspect have called dibs on the beer pong table. And either they, too, can claim ownership to the guns, or the two red-headed brothers who my daughter might babysit for if she is ever here long enough, what with visiting my parents, going to camp, going to the beach with a friend, having sleepovers with other hair-straightening friends, oh, and being at her father’s house, she hasn’t had the time. But I could be wrong, the hunks might also own the machine guns.

While I am not in the habit of checking out people’s garbage, I was startled/annoyed/upset by those boxes. I even did a double-take, reading that the beer pong table was in accordance with an organization (I think it was the Beer Pong Federation). Seriously, official equipment for a drinking game? And the guns. I just stared (putting my head at a sideways angle) at the picture of the cute boy who could just as easily be in an ad for milk holding this huge gun imitating some macho gunslinger movie hero. What? It’s not enough to feel masculine with a little revolver, they need body-size machine guns? 

For weeks now I have been reading about the health care debate and how it’s so heated. I even went to a town hall meeting the other night and was witness to the screeching and shouting and rudeness (post to come; note, on top of an official sign I wrote “Healthcare Not Warfare” on my proudly-raised sign). Is it no wonder that our society is so loud and unhearing when our foundation seems to be non-existent? I know it’s a leap, but seriously, guns as toys and mindless drinking games are not new, but they seem to have become so cornerstone or so emblematic that it’s no wonder that there is no problem with throwing money at the military but none to drop in a bucket for the sick.

Is it silly or simplistic for me to tie those boxes into the healthcare reform debate or even the health of the country? No. As the English teacher I will resume being next week, they are symbols—standing for themselves and something else. Guns. Well, the worth of a life is surely one thing. So, too, is the ability to think that your life and beliefs are more important than someone else’s. And drinking. Becoming numb—casting off thoughts or doubts or concerns or questions for blankness. Every time I hear people (even the wonderfully gentlemanly director of the writing program class I took this summer) talk about getting drunk to celebrate something it makes me wonder why people want to deaden their minds? Is that why people can believe untruths so easily, because not only are they not used to thinking for themselves, but even thinking itself is disparaged? I can imagine that the thoughts one has might be so painful that haze is better, but at some point, the haze must be cleared.

This debate is surely about more than healthcare. It is about the mental health of our nation as a collective whole. Behind the chants “Yes We Can” and “No You Won’t” there is a pushing and a pulling to and against what it means to be an American, about what America stands for.

What I perceive as garbage (I would have preferred the boxes and their contents in the garbage) is someone else’s gift that was saved for and anticipated. Maybe the most that can be hoped for is that one person can’t deny another person her gift. Yes, that seems right. And perhaps the person carrying the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag should look at how her pronouncements would deny someone else what she sorely wants—and needs.

The Symbolism of the Laundry

I just did a load of laundry. One bath towel. One blouse. Three tee shirts. One tee shirt-pajama top. Three pairs of undies. One bra. One pair of jeans. One cloth napkin. Two kitchen towels. A white wash is in the machine. I think there are four white shirts in that load.

The laundry is hanging to dry on a portable air dryer on the terrace.

Before May 16th, the last time I did a laundry for one, was in the apartment where I lived in Ramat Gan (a suburb-city outside of Tel Aviv) before I got married. Since then I have done thousands of loads for two, then for three, then for four.

Then for three, when I no longer did his laundry. He started doing his own laundry when I stopped folding his undies. The idea of touching them disgusted me and so I left them in a pile on the bed. I guess he got the message.

Then for two, when I no longer did younger daughter’s laundry. She took the modern version of home ec last year and once she had to do laundry as part of her class, she decided that she was going to keep doing it for herself. And she has stuck with that.

Then for one, when older daughter moved to California. She did her first load out there, all by herself. Apparently it’s not so hard and she has managed. Though I do think that younger daughter showed her how to do it before she left.

I’m glad I had all those endless piles of clothes to wash. I’m glad I got to care for loved ones in so basic a way. I loved folding clothes; such a simple way to nourish and nurture. And I loved doing the wash, such an obvious accomplishment. And now I’m glad that I only need to do my little loads that go into the small-capacity machine in this apartment.

It’s very insightful, doing just my own laundry. I see how much I bought things for them and not for myself. I see how my clothes are brighter than I thought they were. I see the continuity of life. Their lives. And mine. 

The Symbolism of a Worm

This morning, after looking out my window and seeing that the snow that had blanketed the lawn for a week was completely gone, I went on my morning walk with Poops to the mailbox to get the newspaper.  As I walked up the road I noticed a worm, and then another one and another, all drying on the pavement. And I realized that in one week we had gone from winter with 13 degree temperatures and wind chill factors and six inches of snow to 60 degrees and worms seeking sunshine. And then I noticed the twittering of birds in the trees. Spring, yes, spring is coming. What a relief.

It’s not that I don’t like winter, after all, in Virginia it’s not so harsh and not so long, but still, I need a change. What could be better than a change from the cold and bare trees to colors on the ground and in the bushes and on the trees?  As a lover of fall and its vibrant colors I must say that this year, this year I cannot be happier about the change of seasons, even if it entails losing an hour of my life tomorrow and a vast number of sneezes.

What a relief that soon I will not feel confined, I will not feel forced to stay in because the sting of cold is so discomforting. I look forward to not having a built-in excuse for getting out, because I so much want to get out and I want to cajole myself with ease.
When I got home I took off my light raincoat that I barely needed and made my breakfast of tea and toast. A few days ago a friend told me that her doctor told her to refrain from coffee and chocolate, and without a moment’s hesitation I decided to join her. For friendship, that suffering together thing, and because what’s good for her body is probably good for mine, I decided that I was going through with it. So for a week I haven’t had coffee and just one piece of chocolate and one brownie, and I feel good about the internal change of season. Could it be that my body also needed to move from the heaviness of winter hibernation to a lighter spring diet? Could it also be that I hate how anything controls me, be it coffee or people?

Surprisingly I didn’t have much of a withdrawal headache and I don’t think that I was much grumpier than usual. It feels good to have (at least for a week) followed through on a decision that is for my physical well-being. It’s time not to let another spring come without my acknowledging that as the earth tends to itself, I, too, need to tend to myself.

On Monday when I was shoveling I watched as a bird drank water from a tiny pool of melted snow. Then it flew off to sit in a branch of the forsythia bush and watch me. A little while later the neighbors came out and the bird flew off, but as soon as they left, it was back. I could interpret that bird’s presence as happy coincidence or I could say it was my own little winged messenger from nature telling me that each animal must watch out for each other and itself. Later that day my friend told me what her doctor said.

I will be watching the orioles’ nest in the forsythia bush on the front lawn for yet another harbinger of change and newness. While I won’t be taking any direct messages from that, I will rejoice in how we are continually given the opportunity to tend to those in our care, and ourselves.

And now I’m off for another walk with Poops.

The Symbolism of “Baby”

There are far too many love songs being written, recorded and played that call women “baby.” I fundamentally object to this. It is demeaning, even for a term of endearment. It is not sweet, it does not show or shower affection, it is a put-down. I know what a baby is; I’ve nursed, diapered, burped, and wiped two of them countless times. Babies are helpless; they need help with most tasks, except body functions. So what the heck does calling a grown woman “baby” have to do with her turning your love button on?

Now “babe” is an entirely different story. Call me babe and a bit of the mortar holding up my walls just may crumble. Babe, it’s cool, it’s hip, it’s risqué in a refined way. Babe. I can be a babe. No one would confuse a babe with a helpless infant in a onesie. A babe gets kissed on the neck right before the door is held open for her. A babe decides what movie to see and where to eat after... and even if that’s necessary.

Call me baby and you get a look, maybe even the look. I am not a baby. But if you intuit that I am a babe, my scorn meter might be turned off, at least temporarily.
Songs that refer to women as “baby” should be censored and banned from the air waves. Words matter, and if you call a woman a word that confines her and defines her as a different sort of eye candy, then it should not be used. Instead, try a word that tussles with and challenges perception.

“Baby come back” just isn’t going to happen, but, perhaps “You got me babe” will.

The Symbolism of a Bird

A bird just flew into my house. It flew in through the window in the kitchen that I had opened wide to bring in some of the crisp December air. It was a small brown bird. It fluttered about; it tried to fly out through the glass door (even though it has not been cleaned with Windex for a very long time it still thought that that was its gateway to the great outdoors). I opened the door as I told the bird to wait. It flew off to another part of the room. A few seconds after I opened the door and walked away, it flew out.

May my flight from this house be soon and as steady as that bird's flight. It didn't look back, it just took off to its next destination--anywhere but here.

The Symbolism of a Toothache

About a week ago I had a toothache from Thursday to Tuesday. Not long in the physical pain department, but enough to make an impact on my life. I had a hard time focusing on anything except my pain; sometimes it was pain and sometimes it was a dull ache, but it was always there, always presenting itself. I was constantly probing the area with my tongue to see what was happening, to see if I could discover exactly where the pain emanated from and to assess if it was getting worse or better. I was not able to sleep because when I lay down I could feel the pain more acutely since I had nothing else to think about (at least not as pressing as the pain). When I ate I had to be careful not to bite on the right side, where the pain was located. And when I was at work, I was spending much of my time thinking about how uncomfortable I was and how I wished I was back on my couch curled up in comfortable discomfort. I was preoccupied in the way you are when you need to make an important decision (something akin to deciding whether you should go to Tahiti or Paris for an all-expense paid vacation—I can dream even while I am in pain).

The impact that this pain had on my life, albeit for a short time, made me think about how my physical circumstances must be impacting my mental and emotional self. But in this I am without a gauge to assess the pain or the ache that constantly accompanies me without being sharp enough to feel. Have I become used to living in pain and am not even aware of it? Do I think that this is the way a person is supposed to feel as she goes about her life? Am I so unaware of what it is to live without the constant fear that I will be insulted or put down or mocked that I don’t know the damage that is on-going? Does it seem normal to put my things on one side of the refrigerator and go up to my room when I hear the garage door open so that I won’t have to see him? Has the image of a normal life been erased from my mind so that I can function within the travesty that it has become?

Now that the physical pain is gone, I can barely remember what it felt like. Gone. Gone like the man who was just sitting next to me (in a coffee shop)—in a moment he put on his glasses, picked up his book, threw out his cup and was gone. Gone like the nail that just broke and is no longer a part of me. But when it was here it was so evident, so demanding accommodation. Is that like the mental pain or chaos that I am living within? Is it a huge pall that has been absorbed within, absorbed to such a degree that I don’t even realize that it is not a part of myself, is not me?

Where is me? Or who is me? A friend told me that her mother told her after her divorce that now she is her self, now she recognizes her. Is that what has happened with me? Is there the Laura before the pain, Laura of the pain, and please, please, please Laura after the pain?

Is it good that I cannot identify the pain, or identify how it is discombobulating my mental functions? If this pain was as alive as my toothache how would I live? Can you live constantly thinking about what is wrong and what is upsetting and what is missing and what is hurtful? Is this the pain of life? Has this pain become the backdrop of my life? Have I allowed it to take over or have I forced it into the background?

And what is pain anyway? Is it a hurt that impedes? Or is it a hurt that demands? Is pain what comes before healing?

Or is pain simply evidence of pain—constant, but present to different degrees? Is pain the pall that is over my life, but which I can blow away if I huff and I puff enough? Or do I need to climb these mountains and get above the clouds of pain? Who’s in charge of this pain that is a dulling agent? Is it me? Is it time? Is it circumstances? Is it a change? Or is it enough to know that the pain is there and that I want to live without it? Is that the true painkiller? Albeit one that works much too slowly.

The Symbolism of a Basketball Game

Basketball season has begun. My daughter missed the first game because she was out of town. In the second game, she made the tying basket and then the winning basket, so my concern about her abilities is not the problem. (And she played on an empty stomach, my fault, of course, and in sneakers that are too small for her, really my fault.)

For the first half of the game I talked to the mother of the triplets who would be going with her daughters and husband to see a play right after the game. (Speak of conflicted mothers, she had one daughter on each of the teams playing, and then one cheering them both from the sidelines.) Sitting or standing along the walls of the basketball court were fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, grandparents, and friends. For my daughter, I was there. Now it was quite obvious that most of the girls did not have a mother and father watching the game because it was not so crowded; but neither did it mean that they did not have a parent off watching a sibling play his or her game or at some practice. It simply meant that most of the girls had one person in attendance, like my daughter.

But my daughter had me there remembering the last two years of basketball games. Two years ago after her team lost in the finals, ex (with whom my older daughter sat) called me a bitch when I walked over to congratulate her and he was standing by; and last year he didn’t attend a single game, not even the finals, which her team won. He doesn’t even have the excuse of saying that he can’t stand basketball, because that had been his sport. No, the man is such a mental midget that he can’t put aside his feelings of “having to see me” over his daughter’s desire (need) to have both of her parents there.

I know that there are many instances which cause me to regret having married him, but the hardest is to see what a horrible father he is to his younger daughter. He does not ignore my older daughter; rather he has made her into a sort of surrogate wife, which is just too creepy and upsetting to think about long enough to write a post about. But his virtual dismissal of this girl, this charming girl with the beautiful eyes that are so much like his is deeply, deeply damaging and surely must be the cause of intense heartache for her. And there is nothing I can do. Yes, I can be her cheerleader and her punching bag, which I am, but I can never make up for presenting her with a man who is so lacking in compassion, so unable to leave his mental kingdom long enough to nurture another.

During a time out I watched as the coach showed her a move, and then she must have asked him a question, to which he calmly responded. I was thankful that she has at least some positive male role models. That at least some men take the time to nurture their own daughters, and then extend the nurturing to coaching. Maybe she will see her father as one manifestation of a father and a husband, but she will have these other men in her life to think of as well. She has friends’ fathers, her grandfathers, her uncles, her coaches (although last year I was thrilled that it was a woman who led them to victory), her teachers. Please, please, I think, let her not accept a man like her father as the standard, as acceptable.

After the game we went out for lunch, then for ice cream. She told me about her week, told me that I am annoying, even that I was prying when I wanted to know what subjects her best friend was failing. We had a mother-daughter outing, and it was lovely. But I wonder if she would have preferred a father-daughter outing.

The Symbolism of a Doilie

My mother has informed me that her leg spasm was not, in fact, a result of my venting to her. She said this in both a detailed phone message (they are usually very brief, my mother is not a technology maven, so she really was stating and giving a message) and then again, when I spoke to her the next day. I appreciated her saying this; I take it as her way of saying: “keep bringing it on daughter, I can deal with your venting, I’m here to hear the venting, and I will continue in my role as Vent-Receiver-in-Chief, leg spasms or not.”

A good friend of mine has been telling me for years that not only is she unable to vent to her mother, but if anything, her mother vents to her. She is the ventee not the venter. While she can analyze why this is the situation, you can still tell that this pains her, she has no one with whom she can mentally curl up and be mothered. Most of her life has been that way: being the responsible child compared to her mother who needed mothering, and the responsible sister cum mother, too.

I think about this because the two of us talk a lot about our daughters and how we are interacting with them. (Her daughter is 17, and mine are 17 and 12.) It seems that the way we have been daughtered determined how we have mothered our daughters. My more laid-back approach surely is a reflection of my understanding that they know I will be there to catch them and to coddle their egos and bruised selves whenever necessary, because that has been my experience. But rather than think that she is better mother than I am (why, why do I do this to myself all of the time) perhaps her more intense involvement in her daughter’s life is because that is what she would have wanted—needed, even—and so she is giving her daughter what she was lacking. It is not that one style is right, or even better, but it suits our own experiences.

Perhaps there are parenting styles like there are body types. And maybe the whole nature vs. nurture argument is passé, since how we were nurtured was determined by nature (that gene pool that we got from mom and dad) which naturally resulted in a certain type of nurture.

My friend has told me that whenever her mother brings a gift for her home, it always comes with a companion doilie, or rather a piece of antique lace. The bitterness with which she talks about the doilies and her mother’s concern for not scratching the surface of a table is especially evident after a discussion of how her mother is, well, unavailable for venting. The doilie and her mother’s attention to it is what she would have liked. And so to ensure that her daughter does not have the bitterness from mothering that she has, she has become a doilie for her daughter.

My mother still insists on using coasters. Me, I never use them (except at her house, I don’t want to get one of her looks). If you get a ring you get a ring. Life goes on.

* * *

The Symbolism of Floral Print Skirts

I was in Office Depot the other day with my younger daughter buying school supplies. Since I was responsible for staying by the cart—and not moving it—while she carried her list and a pen around with her and shopped for color-coordinated binders, pocket folders, notebooks, dividers and pens, I had the time to watch mothers (is it alright to say mothers and not parents since I did not see any men around?) and children as they hustled about in various stages of panic and frustration. And as I watched from my perch by the binders, I saw a midlife woman wearing a knee-length floral print skirt in blue, green and white with wide pleats. It was quite bright. It was like a garden around her. And, I must admit, I watcher her as she walked around in the vicinity of my shopping cart and me. Her tee shirt was a bright turquoise and she was very tan; she stood out, in a good way, as opposed to the woman in her black and red biker (as in bicycle) outfit.

As usual with my mind, I was off to contemplation-land, wondering “Why do so many women wear floral print skirts?” An obvious answer is that they look nice on us and they are a wonderful pattern that does not emphasize the flaws as would a horizontally stripped skirt. But there must be more to it than that. Mustn’t there be a connection to the natural world that we invite into our lives in the very fabric of our skirts? And mustn’t there be a reason why we want our thoughts to be drawn to flowers and gardens and fields of wildflowers and lands where hibiscus blooms? Do we ache, in the midst of our lives with their constant movement, to be in a still place, a place that is beautiful and summons up feelings of contentment and repose?

When we were on vacation in Hawaii a few years (and a divorce) ago, I bought a knee-length skirt with blue and green flowers on a white background. I don’t wear it out any more, but I love that skirt. I love how it made me feel sexy in the way we felt when we were teenagers at the beach before we realized what sexy really means, and before those boys walked over to our beach towel and not that we just giggled about the possibility with our girlfriends.

I don’t think another type of pattern would be able to convey that joy to me. Polka dots? No sex appeal there. Chunks of colors, nah. Swirls, maybe swirls; but they seem to evoke the sky which evokes mystery, and not the mystery of sex, or the mystery that is inherent in life. Do not get me even thinking about skirts with little sailboats or bugs or martini glasses on them because I can’t even use the word “convey” with them, I can only say that they are skirts that mock, mock the sensibilities of the women who bought them. Who the heck wants to sashay down the street decked out in little cars? So we’re back to flowers. Blossoms. Blooms. Petals.

Perhaps they are a modern fertility garment. Not fertile in the sense that wearing them helps you get pregnant (wouldn’t that be a great idea), but fertile in the sense that our minds open up—as if on vacation—when you wear them. Maybe, too, we are channeling the flowers that inspired the pattern; we are the very muse of the pattern maker. Do flowers wrapped around our waist and hips and thighs give us the illusion that we are as natural and effortless in our beauty (whatever your definition of beauty) as the buds on our cloth?

In my most slender summer, I bought a pair of tight jeans that had flowers painted on them. (Yes, yes, I mean 1986). My latest foray into floral-patterned clothing is a flowing skirt that is brown with blue flowers on it that I bought a few years ago. When I picture them both, as well as my Hawaiian skirt, in my mind’s eye, I smile. I smile because those flowers make me feel good—made me feel good in a way solids never did. Maybe this is how we practice positive thinking: we enwrap ourselves in fields of flowers. Whether they are paired with ballet flats or stilettos, there is something so pure and innocent about a flower that there can be no mistaking the essence that is at our core: that to be a woman is to be an element of nature, an element that sustains, an element that engenders fields of flowers where she walks.

* * *

The Symbolism of a Charm

I was best friends with Carly in middle school and high school; we were friends from an after-school activity, so our friendship never had the day-to-day grind to it, but was always a weekend thing, making it more special. But as often happens, we went our separate ways after high school, and I do mean separate: she went to live in a frigid state and I went to live in a sweltering country. Years passed, decades in fact, without seeing each other. And, I must admit, I am the type of person who believes that friendships have their time and if they end, there’s no sense in mourning them, rather rejoice in having had them and move on.


So when I saw Carly for the first time a few weeks ago at a three-friends reunion (that was only possible because a third friend, Bernadette, had stayed in touch with her forever; and I had reconnected with Bernadette at a chance meeting in a park two weeks after I had moved back to the states from swelterland eight years ago), I got quite a humbling surprise. After a wonderful friendship hug Carly held up the charm that she was wearing and said that I had given it to her and that I had bought it at a crafts fair. Not only that, but Bernadette said that Carly always wears that charm, that it is her “thing.”


I was stunned. I stood there looking at the charm, willing myself to remember it, which I did, vaguely, after looking at it for a while. Now this is not about how bad my memory has become, but about how things remind us of people, and how, sometimes, with no things around, we lose the thoughts that connect us back to people. I am not a “thing” person, but looking at that charm dangling from a silver chain around Carly’s neck, I wished that I was one. I wished that I had a memento of every friend I ever had, that I had a thing to look at and touch to bring back memories of each friend and things we had done together. I wished that I could hold onto friendships, even if their day-to-day presence was past.


During these decades when we were living our unenmeshed lives, I would occasionally think of Carly; but she, she was committed to our friendship in the intangible way that tangible things manage to create. She wore our friendship around her neck; and I, I felt humbled by that act. Maybe after a while it came to symbolize more than our friendship, but friendship in a more general way, but still she was wearing that two inch gold and silver charm of a woman that created a link between us, that kept alive our friendship. (I now remember that I had spent a lot of money on it, and I am so glad that on at least one occasion I splurged to get the right gift.)


Now I am glad that I took some rocks from a beach in Monterery when I visited a friend there in March. (I still feel guilty about that taking; next time my memento will be purchased.) I have one on my desk at school, and a few more at home. When I look at them I remember the windy beaches that silenced our endless conversations, and the surf unexpectantly rising to soak us up to our knees, and the trees twisted by the ocean’s winds, and the otters and the seals, and the drive in Big Sur where we hit a rock while listening to a Monsoon wedding song, but most of all I remember the talks and the feel of our friendship. And I am grateful for those rocks for they have become memory rocks. 


So maybe being a “thing” person is not so bad. It’s not about the materialism, the act of owning something, but rather the thing as reminder, as container of memory. Oh, how I wish I had a scarf from my French friend, Arielle, with whom I used to raid the kibbutz pantry for late night snacks. And a piece of charcoal from my friend the artist whose name I cannot remember. And a rugby ball from my rugby-playing college boyfriend. And…, and something to touch from everyone who touched my life so that they won’t get lost in the progression of my life. 


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I’d love to hear about the things you have that remind you of your friends. 


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The Symbolism of a Flannel Shirt

I don’t know what’s wrong with flannel shirts, unless not wearing them is a statement of non-conformity. And then you need to wonder if the form of non-conformity chosen is itself a form of conformity? Which leaves you wondering how to express your personality if doing something and doing the opposite leave you categorized? But is that necessarily bad?


As someone who has spent an inordinate amount of time and thought processes trying to ensure that I am not like anybody else, it seems to me now, in my 47th year, that as a non-clothes woman (no one would confuse me with any of the women in Sex and the City) what I wear, although strikingly conformist, reflects only a part of who I am, and no one who knows me would think that I am a conformist. My Old Navy tee shirts, and Banana Republic and Ann Taylor tops I see coming and going, and I basically buy any bottom that fits my thighs, so I have Lee and Merona and LL Bean. Not exactly brands on the cutting edge of clothes statements. And I don’t accessorize very well, if at all. So where and how am being I expressed in the white shirt and black pants?


My hair is a key accessory: think Shirley Temple but in dark blonde with gray highlights. And I guess you could consider my eyes and my smile accessories. Which seems to lead me to reconfirm what we have been told by our mothers, but not the fashion industry, that the clothes are a backdrop and even in the uniform of a conformist we always express who we are, because we’re always in there. And even in the uniform of a fashionista, we are in there, but with more layers to get through. So, flannel shirt or not, the key is to always be an expression of yourself, and not to simply state that you are the anti-someone or something else, or that you are the pseudo-someone or something else.


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The Symbolism of a Black Shirt

I am sliding back into black, and that is not good. I wore a black tee shirt and black pants today, although I also wore a white cotton jacket. Notwithstanding the white jacket, I am sliding back into black clothes, and that is not good. Last summer I wrote off the black clothes. I told myself to perk myself up with color; I admonished myself for dressing to hide and not dressing to at least state that I am here. And for a whole year I eschewed black tops; but today, today I just couldn’t face white or purple or brown or stripes. Black, that’s how I felt. And even though I am from NYC, I did not feel chic in my black ensemble, I felt, well, bleak. It was a lusterless outfit, and it made me feel that way.


Maybe that was the point: I thought that I would be comfortable back in black but I felt subconscious. Even though I am going through a dip, I was not comfortable seeping back into the all-black genre. Perhaps I needed to try on that old identity to see that it no longer fit (the shirt was a bit tight, but it was a medium, and even last year it was a bit too fitted). I don’t want to be wearing all-black; I don’t want to force the depression onto me and into me. I want to brighten myself up, not match the inner mood on the outside. I don’t want to let myself go; I don’t want to feel comfortable in clothes that hint at doom and gloom; I don’t want to seep into sadness.


But all must not be lost, since I also wore my new ivory and gray snakeskinesque sandals from which my bright red toe nails peeped out. A ray of life and brightness on my feet (which used to be the blackest part of my outfits, even in summer, with black shoes and black stockings). Now I need to recall how that brightness lifted me up as the shirt brought me down. I need to let the colors anchor me, and not let the bleakness drag me back down.  


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The Symbolism of Bug Spray

I am taking my life into my own hands: I am sitting outside at dusk on a summer eve. I have put bug spray on, hoping to prevent the onslaught, for it is too lovely out here to let the mosquitoes and their ilk drive me inside and have absolute dominion over the great outdoors. And so I sit, protected by a light coating that, remarkably, does not smell; and I am at peace. The mosquitoes go their way, and I sit in mine. And it is good. I am protected from getting bitten and the accompanying hours of itching and scratching; and they are prevented from getting savagely slapped, or tooling around with my blood in their bodies.


Could bug spray symbolize experience? Is it what protects us from our true habitat: human interactions? Does it protect us from those who would cause us to scratch our heads in shame or disappointment? Does it protect us from those who torment us from within, from those bites that feel more internal than external? Is that thin veneer all that guards us against the vagaries of other people’s moods and needs and desires, those who would suck our blood, leaving behind a trail of irritations? 


Can I spray on a coating so that only the fireflies could come near? Could I find a brand that discerns between good bugs and bad bugs? Or is it about the right combination of type of spray, thickness of coating, time of exposure that would enable one’s peaceful, contented presence in the great outdoors?  

I’m not sure, but I think I missed a spot, my left calf is itchy. I guess it’s time to go inside, where the bug spray offers no protection, but the windows will remain closed until I turn off the lights. In some places I know (from experience) how to deal with the bugs, in other places I am still experimenting. Isn’t that what experience is: experiments that continually need to be fine-tuned and adjusted to get a positive result. I know what a positive result is for bug spray; I’m still working on it for life. I guess I’m mixing my own formula (or is it mixing up my formula?). 

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The Symbolism of Chocolate Cake

Some people seem to think that “midlife” is a bad word. Not me. How wonderful is the middle of something. Take, for example, chocolate cake. The middle of a slice of cake means that you have enjoyed quite a bit of it, and that you still have more to enjoy. You're not at the end, anxious, trying to savor every bite before it’s over and anxious that you really didn’t focus on how good it tastes and how it made you feel yummy. And you're not at the beginning when you are still too hungry for the cake that you don't enjoy it. No, you're in the middle. You have gotten over the thoughtless initial bites, and are satisfied that there is more to come, and so, you are finally able to enjoy the cake you have. Midlife is the same, it's the time to savor where you've been, where you’re going and certainly, where you are!


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The Symbolism of Snapdragons

A few weeks ago a fierce storm ravaged my garden (well, more than my garden, but that’s what remains with me now that the electricity is back on). The snapdragons had no defenses against the winds and rains, and they fell, prostrate, to the ground. Their white blooms were washed away. All that was left were a few green stalks. I leaned over them and thought to pull up the plants; they were dead, and I figured that they would be reminders of what they had once been. Something held me back, and I let them lie there, reminders of what they had once been.


This morning when I went out to walk the dog and get the newspaper, I noticed that the snapdragons were in bloom. The stalks had righted themselves and rather than coming out of the stalk from the side, they were reaching straight up to the sun and happily, exultantly, they were blooming. Beautiful white blossoms. A next generation thriving on the remnants of the previous generation.


And I thought of how life is an ever-unfurling cycle, and how there is nothing to do but firmly step into your life and begin unfurling.


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