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When life hands you pizza?

These days a knock on the front door means only one thing: an Amazon delivery. And so I don’t rush to get up, but I do amble over to the door to see what has arrived. I can’t see anything packages from the window in the front door so I shift a few steps to the side, to look through a different window and check from that angle. There are 4 locks on the front door so I don’t want to have to open it unless there’s really a package out there.

I don’t see a package, but I do see a ….pizza box?

We didn’t order a pizza, so when I see a person walking across the lawn back to what I presume is the delivery car, my first thought is to catch them before they drive away. I hurriedly try to undo the chain, turn the deadbolt, shift the lock on the doorknob, but I can’t flip the switch on the screen door handle fast enough, and I get outside just in time to see the car drive away. I’m left alone on the porch with a pizza.

I feel some responsibility for it. It’s not a baby left on my doorstep, but I feel an obligation to keep it warm and protected until I can find its rightful owner.

….though it does smell pretty delicious. There’s a part of me that’s tempted to keep it, or at least check to see if it has good toppings.

Instead, I virtuously decide that I should at least check whether the neighbor who shares our duplex ordered it. I knock on her door, but there’s no answer. I try again, cross the house to try her back door, cross back to try the front door again.

I’ve been carrying the pizza in my hand the whole time. It’s smelling wonderful, and I debate putting it in my oven to keep it warm. If she’s not answering the door, would she really have ordered a pizza? My husband and I haven’t figured out dinner plans yet. And the pizzeria it’s from is our favorite.

No. The pizza belongs to someone who will want it. I put it on the front porch on my neighbor’s side. Maybe she’ll come out to investigate why someone keeps knocking.

And then I second guess that decision. It’s cold out there. Whoever ordered the pizza is probably looking forward to melty cheese and warm tomato sauce. I grab it off the porch again and bring it back inside.

By this time, my husband has gotten into the mystery. Even though we don’t have our neighbor’s phone number (why call when we can knock on her door?), we do have our mutual landlord’s number, and Randy texts him to ask him to let our neighbor know that if she ordered a pizza it was delivered to us.

He follows up by calling the pizzeria. They’re able to figure out that the pizza was indeed ordered by our neighbor, so out the pizza goes onto our porch again. I hope our neighbor brings it inside soon.

In the meantime, it’s time for us to figure out dinner. Maybe it’s a good night for take out.

This is just to say

I have spent the evening

reading

on the couch

instead of crafting a slice that

would simultaneously make you laugh and cry and

inspire all your future slices

for years to come.

Forgive me.

The book was delightful

so funny and

so sweet

Quick trip to France

It’s first thing in the morning and students are trickling into the classroom.

A: Tony, why were you absent yesterday? Did you go to France?

Tony: No. Why would I go to France?!

B: Tony went to France?

C: What? Tony was in France yesterday?

D: Tony went to France?! Why were you in France?

The rumor spreads quickly. Tony tries refuting it, asking, “Why would I go to France on a Wednesday?!” (As if, maybe going on Tuesday or Thursday would have been more reasonable.)

But logic does not prevail this morning, and soon he decides to stop resisting. “Yes,” he finally tells the class, with his fingers in air quotes “I went to ‘France‘. I was in Paris, the City of Quotation Marks.”

Soon the conversation turns to how long his trip was, how much time he was able to spend in France, what he did there.

“I ate bread,” he tells the class. “A baguette and croissants. They were delicious.”

“What about cheese?” a friend asks.

“No cheese. Just bread.”

Later, a substitute comes into the class for the class’s art lesson, and Tony fills him in: “I was in France yesterday. I could only stay 2 hours, but I had a croissant.”

“Is the art teacher in France?” a student calls out.

“Oh, yeah,” Tony answers. “I saw her yesterday. I saw everyone. It was great.”

Recess during COVID

The sun is finally shining and the air holds a touch of warmth. The students seem a little spring-drunk as they shriek and run, but just about the whole class is playing together, even the student struggling to see her place in the community after live-streaming for three months. For the first time, instead of sitting unhappily by herself, she’s playing with the class, grinning when it’s her turn to race and the rest of her team cheers for her. The quiet, reserved boy has pulled his sweatshirt halfway over his head, and is running around like a hammerhead shark, and the socially awkward boy who desperately wants to be part of a group has copied him. They’re laughing together and admiring the outlines of their shadows. The shy, hesitant boy convinces the class to chase after him, and my students swoop around the blacktop like a flock of starlings. A girl laughs so hard that she sinks to her knees, while the children wheel around her.

* * * * * * *

I watch the beauty of the moment, marvel at the social growth of my students, and I want to cry.

They’re not six feet apart. No matter how many times I remind them, the kids racing inch closer and closer to their teammates while they wait their turns and cheer. The boys-turned-hammerhead sharks stand next to each other as they giggle. The flock of chasers swoop around each other, now moving away, now coming closer as I weakly call, “Spread out! Distance!”

I remember the directive this fall: no tag, no games where kids might breathe heavily near other kids.

I watch a nearby teacher, with his class of calm, distanced students, who is somberly watching my own students in their joyful craziness.

I think probably I should be telling students to stop and find more socially distanced games to play.

I imagine striding in, shutting down the games, sending students to their separate areas of the blacktop.

And I want to cry.

Vocabulary

I’ve been reading The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert MacFarlane. In it he shares two “poetically precise” terms from Hebridean Gaelic.

The first: “Eig” refers to “the quartz crystals on the beds of moorland stream-pools that catch and reflect moonlight, and therefore draw migrating salmon to them in the late summer and autumn.”

The second: “Rionnach maoim” means “the shadows cast on the moorland by cumulus clouds moving across the sky on a bright and windy day.”

Over breakfast with my husband I pulled out the book. “I have to read you these definitions,” I told him, and consequently, on our brief walk between breakfast and leaving for school, we brainstormed words in English that carry a similar poem of meaning. They’re hard to recognize. He thought perhaps “harvest moon”. I thought perhaps “aqua”.

All day now, I’ve been thinking of the reverse: poems of meaning for which I’d like there to be a word.

For starters, the lacy filigree of thin, finger-length twigs at the tips of branches when the trees are bare on a sunny day with a breeze, so the twigs look like they’re dancing in a pattern you can almost but not quite follow with your eyes. I’d like a word to describe that beauty.

There’s also the melancholy that comes upon me in late October and November just after twilight when I look up and see an airplane’s lights blinking across the dark sky. It’s a feeling of loneliness and loss, without actually being lonely or having lost anything. There should be a word for that.

And I need a term for a best friend from growing up who lives far away and we’re bad about staying in touch, so I don’t actually know what’s going on in her life at the moment, but we carry each other’s history in a way no current friends can know, and when we see each other I feel an ease and comfort that I still haven’t developed with current best friends.

Perhaps there should also be a term for someone who doesn’t know we should be best friends because we’ve never met, but I feel like I have because her slices of life are so vivid and give me such a sense of who she is that I know she would be my best friend if only we taught next door to each other. I’d like a word that conveys how much she means to me, how excited I am to read the next installment in her life and spend a few moments “visiting” with her.

Tonight I need a term different from “The End”, conveying that the writing may stop but my thinking will continue–and I hope ripple on through readers and their conversation partners further and further, until the ideas have grown and shifted beyond the tiny slice of life I offer now, in a poem of shared meaning.

March 1

It’s a grey morning. Raindrops create expanding circles of ripples in the puddles. Snow evaporates into a grey mist in the air. Inside the kitchen, the light is warm, golden even, compared to the view outside my window. The refrigerator hums, and the tea mug just the right temperature for wrapping my hands around.

It’s March 1. Last year I sat, like this year, weighing whether to take on the slice of life challenge again. Imagining what to write, imagining nights where I put off going to bed because I haven’t done my slice yet, knowing how easy it will be to procrastinate on graduate school assignments with slices of life that need to be written.

Last year I was in the middle of a weekend of visiting friends in Maine. I sat in their house and ate dinner with them, then gave their children goodnight hugs. I reserved a part of my brain for planning the week ahead in school, half wishing for a snow day, half not-wishing because that would push back the end of our school year another day.

Today I celebrate that this week holds the potential for 5 days with students in school–if we make it (the “if” always looming large), it will be the second in a row since last March. The fact that this week last year was my final full week of school until now looms heavy in my brain.

March feels like a starting over. Rediscovering myself as a writer. The coming of spring. And yet. This year it also carries the reminders of everything that changed a year ago. There are anniversaries I don’t want to recognize. When students were sent home, I told them, “See you in two weeks. This might end up being an early spring break–it’s possible we’ll have to make up these days during April vacation.” So much I couldn’t imagine then. Libraries closing. Mask wearing. Teaching with desks in rows–and feeling grateful for even that. How do I shift away from mourning the last year and mourning that the present doesn’t match my hopes?

It’s a grey morning. The kitchen, the light, the tea are warm. Knowing that there’s a writing community out there, waiting to welcome me, warms me too. “This year” is never the same as “last year”. And yet. It’s raining.

Little House in the Woods

I’m in the middle of chopping garlic for dinner when Randy says, “I’m going to go do some extermination work in the hopes that we won’t hear those critters again.”

I nod.  It would be nice not to be woken by the sounds of something chewing through the insulation in our roof.

We’re in a tiny house for the summer.  Cozy and sweet, but when you hear critters in the roof, you know they’re not so far from your head.  I (nominally) helped my husband build the house, so I’ve seen the layers, and there aren’t many.  Not enough to make me feel secure when I hear gnawing in the night.

It’s not until the screen door has shut behind Randy and I’ve heard his footsteps fade away that it occurs to me that perhaps he wasn’t talking about spraying pesticide into the eaves.  Having grown up hunting, he’s a believer in what he calls “a high-speed lead delivery system” to dispatch unwanted animals.

I keep chopping, but wonder if I should have nodded.  Maybe I should have discouraged him.  I’m a vegetarian, and don’t even like to kill ants.  I’m not sure how I feel about killing chipmunks (or maybe squirrels?) just so I can sleep securely through the night.

Now I’m aware that in addition to the bird song I’ve been hearing, I can also hear the chittering of a squirrel.  Is that what Randy is going after?

As I slide the garlic into the pan and reach for the broccoli, the chittering stops.  I stop a moment, too, to wonder: Did Randy kill it?  But, I reason, I didn’t hear anything like a gun.  My mind asks back: Would I hear it?  This is the first time we’ve had a reason to hold a grudge against animals in the area.  The chittering starts again, and I breathe more deeply, though I also don’t want the squirrel in my ceiling. With each bite I hear at night, I imagine less insulation warming the house in the winter and wonder how close the animal is to hitting our plywood ceiling.  Would it gnaw through the plywood?  Will there come a night when it might fall through the ceiling onto our bed? It’s hard to sleep when I’m trying to detail an escape plan.

In the middle of chopping zucchini, suddenly, a boom.  I regret wanting to be rid of the critters, regret being complicit in their deaths.

More chittering; a brief reprieve.

And then another boom, and silence.

The bird song begins again, but no chittering.

A few minutes later, Randy returns to the house, saying, “I wish I had better aim.”

I eye him, trying to decide whether he really missed, or whether he’s saying that because he knows I’ll be happier thinking the squirrel got away.

I decide to believe him because really, I am happier thinking the squirrel got away.  Or at least I will be until I’m awakened again tonight.

 

A new genre of writing

“The voice is inviting and educated, but not pretentious,” she explained to me.

I nodded, wondering how to make a catalog description inviting and educated but not pretentious, and, furthermore, if I myself was inviting and educated enough for the task.  Perhaps this was where the rose-colored glasses of our friendship would shatter and I would be revealed as not as smart or cultured as she’d always thought.

I fell into this naturally.  One minute my friend was talking about being stressed with too much work, the next I was offering my abundant, not-structured-enough-summer-vacation time to help, imagining sweeping the floor of her store or carrying mail-order packages to the post office–and then the next minute she was saying, “You’re a writer–what I really need is someone to write product descriptions for the website.  Can you come on Tuesday?”

So here it was Tuesday, and I’d dutifully, though apprehensively, showed up.  I was a few minutes late, due to last-minute studying of her website, with its already written catalog descriptions; I needed mentor texts to draw on.

“It’s fun!” she told me as she set me up at a table with beautiful, handmade goods. “You get to research the artists and different types of wood.”  (Yes, I confirmed to myself.  I’m definitely not as intellectual as she imagines.) And she handed me a painted welcome sign, suggesting I start with that.  “It’s the first product we’re selling by this artist, so you’ll get to write the artist description!” she gushed. I gulped.  I was hoping to get to do at least a little cutting and pasting.

The sign was beautiful.  A cheerful orange with daisies on the sides (Were they daisies?  Could I write that in the description if I wasn’t sure?  Should I research daisy varieties?  In the end, I decided to leave out the daisies.)

I looked at the other product descriptions on the website.  Should I start with a question?  None of the other descriptions did.  (Not educated enough?)  What about a dependent clause?  (Too pretentious?  I decided to go for it anyway.)

Painted on reclaimed barn wood, this cheerful welcome sign cheerfully greets you…

Too many cheerfuls.

Painted on reclaimed barn wood, this cheerful welcome sign sings a greeting…

Did the other descriptions include personification?

I searched through the website again, finding no personification.

Painted on reclaimed barn wood, hang this one-of-a-kind sign in your entryway to welcome yourself home after a long day of errands….

Who does long days of errands anymore?  What if the buyer didn’t do any errands?

Painted on reclaimed barn wood, this one-of-a-kind sign sends a cheerful greeting to guests…

But how many guests are people having over these days? It’s cheerful for the owner too.  How can I work that in?

I agonized more over my two sentence description than I do over report cards, typing and deleting, rereading “mentor texts” over and over.

Painted on reclaimed barn wood, this one-of-a-kind sign combines rustic character with vibrant hospitality. Display it by an entryway to greet guests and add cheer as you return home from outings.

In the end, I came to love the sign. How can one spend an hour examining the details of something and not appreciate it? This is what I learned this afternoon.  Not how to write in an inviting and educated, yet not pretentious style (though perhaps I learned to approximate that, as well), but the intertwining of attention and love.

As I worry about the beginning of the school year, perhaps this is what I need to hold onto.  With careful study of details, comes appreciation.  With attention comes love. However school starts, students and I can study each other and get to know the details.  We’ll fall in love.  I didn’t know I could write catalog descriptions, but given enough time, I can.  I didn’t know if I could build community in the new (as yet unknown) “normal” of school, but now I do.

 

 

 

 

Wild Geese Chase*

I stand in the dark for a moment, then sigh and pull on my robe.  “Slice of Life,” I remember.  It’s not midnight yet.  I can still make it.

I sit at the computer, thoughts swirling.  Do I write about despair?  (“Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine”) Hope?  Spring?  Love?  Frustration?

I can’t.

Like the meditation that is so elusive these days (Oh no!  I realize.  One more thing I forgot to do today!),  my mind refuses to settle.  Too depressing.  Too complaining.  Too trite.  Too overdone.

There are a million excuses, a million reasons not to share my writing, but I choose to ignore this voice in my head.  I choose to–well, not embrace it exactly, but to live with imperfection for the night.  Tomorrow will be imperfect, too, and I will live with that, as well.

As Mary Oliver says, I do not have to be good.

Meanwhile, the world goes on.

 

*Thank you and apologies to Mary Oliver for the lines I’ve stolen from her beautiful poem “Wild Geese” https://livelovesimple.com/wild-geese-mary-oliver/

The Forsythia Bush

so much depends
upon

a golden bush
of forsythias

bursting with sun
shine

against the blue
sky