New Year's promises, sort of
1. Just showing up every morning at my desk in January and turning over the calendar page isn't enough. Something is intriguing about a writer's nature that each new year I am compelled to make a resolution, a promise whatever, to take up paper and pencil on a steadier basis. In other words, a fresh start is what I am referring and no more sluffing off (I'll own up to that with my head hanging low).
When I was thirteen, a school friend gave me a pink plastic diary with a ballerina outlined on the cover for my December birthday. It wasn't any ordinary one that could be purchased at Woolworth's for a small amount of spending money. This particular diary had a lock, and taped to the back cover was a short gold key. My friend told me later that she had gotten it at the stationery store on Main Street, which sold the finest products. That I knew to be accurate as I had spent many a fine afternoon perusing the shelves while visiting my father's store up the block. Sometimes I would be there to pick up adding machine tape, and I would take extra long looks at the aisles of pens and notebooks. The owners recognized me and left me alone.
I remember taking that pink plastic diary up to my bedroom, closing the door, and glancing through all the lined blank pages running my hand over the glossy sheets. Indeed, I had reached the heavenly realm so aptly described by our minister during Confirmation class. I could write all day to my heart's content with the angels singing in the background. Maybe this is how my favorite author, Louisa Mae Alcott, felt when she went to her desk by the Concord window and composed Little Women.
What struck me was there were only eight lines on a page, and I thought that wasn't enough room every day to compose all the essential things that I had to say. I riffled through my bottom desk drawer and pulled out one of those black and white speckled composition notebooks, where I would write the critical life-altering messages. It possibly could have been the year that I wanted to be a writer. I don't think so. That would come much later.
You see, my younger sister by four years was a bit of a gossip, which shouldn't surprise anyone raised with siblings. I could see the sparkle in her eyes when I had opened my gift at the party, and it made complete sense to me that it wouldn't be long before she would get her hands on it. A paper clip or any pointy object would open the diary easily, and as our mother, she was brilliant.
I figured that I would give my sister a run for her money, so to speak. In the pink plastic diary, I entered the weather and temperature for the day and what outfit I wore to school, along with the library book due date. That was it—boring kind of stuff. Not to attract her suspicions, I hid the diary in my sock drawer under the special cuffed white ones I wore on Sundays and for special occasions. The key I put in my nightstand taped to the top.
The dilemma came deciding where to hide the composition notebook so that my mother wouldn't find it either. I settled for placing it in the shoebox containing my black patent tap shoes and lined the box up under three others in my closet.
To make a long family story short, my sister was in and out of my diary more than once. I could tell that it wasn't placed back strictly under the fancy socks. She lost interest like I thought that she would. I did, too. My real important ideas were in the black and white speckled notebook. I haven't seen that notebook in years, so I would imagine it left for the dump.
2. I am obsessed with journals—all different sizes and shapes. Where I might, or might not, skimp on an expensive pair of jeans, that's not the case in purchasing a handcrafted leather-bound journal. It gets no second thought.
Here's another odd thing about journals and me. I faithfully keep them, and at the end of every year, instead of putting them on a shelf with many others from years of accumulated life, I toss them in the garbage on January 2. When I die, my remarks won't be left behind for others to dissect. If people haven't figured out what they need to know about me by then, it's too late.
During this past year (2020), I read an article about how it would benefit my mental health if I would record my observations about the pandemic. Some far off day, people would find it a useful piece of history. As a matter of fact, I did read The Plague by Albert Camus. It was evident that people are people in the way they act regardless of the century. Many refused to stay indoors and kept on socializing in the courtyards and plazas. How has that changed?
I would write a sporadic few sentences about the looming pandemic and then nothing for weeks at a time on the subject. It was uncomfortable permitting my mind to go into murky waters. When I reread the entire year for myself, I wanted to leave everything behind and remember how I became enriched through virtual book groups and concerts on Zoom. There would be plenty of other writers to do the task.
Surprisingly, social media became an outlet for new stories and advice for those in a similar boat rowing in circles waiting for the tide to take them out. My personae became Mama Kay, and the tips and brilliant wit provided relief for readers. That was my pandemic writing mission. So far, I have kept the pieces on my desktop until I decide what to do with them.
3. Creativity happens at the oddest moments. My aim is to take advantage of and put other less important things aside. What's stopping me?
Once I was on one of my international journeys, I started writing a blog to keep my friends, family, and newspaper readers informed. I could see the growing number on my followers' list indicated that I had people journeying with me from their armchairs. One told me that she didn't like to travel but appreciated my experiences vicariously.
Since I promised readers a daily record, I pressured myself to write before I went to bed. There were nights that I was so exhausted I couldn't see straight, and my spelling and grammar were questionable. In the morning, I would check over what I had posted and often would revise, hoping people would still be asleep on the other side of the world and not checking my blog.
When I abruptly woke up in the middle of the night, which is relatively uncommon for me, I posted a new piece with a couple of pictures to set the scene. I simply didn't want to disappoint. Then I would have a hard time falling back asleep and I stayed up reading the new day's itinerary or handwashing underwear.
The first and last time
The furthest thing from my mind was having my parents find out. I naively thought that I had an air-tight excuse when I bolted down the stairs after exchanging my prom dress for my comfy blue jeans and sweatshirt. I was going on a sleepover to a not-so-close-friend’s house with a couple of other casual friends from my senior class. There was my first mistake. What happened next, I’d prefer letting slip into my lost memory.
Frankly, I didn’t know why the popular circle of seniors invited me, and I suspected that they were a lot more daring than me. I’d heard stuff in roundabout ways and I was uneasy when my not-so-close friend honked her horn in our driveway. Like all teenagers with boundless energy wanting to let their hair down, partying would go on into the wee hours of the morning celebrating the ending of one final major event in our high school years. In a couple of months, I would be heading to college and leaving my hometown behind.
My senior prom was not a highlight of my final year, and I don’t recall the boy who was my date. As much as I’ve tried, I can’t picture his face. So, nameless date and I went through the motions awkwardly in the high school gym chaperoned by the usual teacher volunteers. I recall much better my plain white sleeveless tulle dress with tiny pink ribbons buds scattered throughout the full-length flowing skirt.
My not-so-close friend drove me to her house along the edge of the river, and instead of heading inside, she motioned me to the dock where the other casual friends were waiting in the family bay cruiser. One of the casual friends pointed to a brown paper bag that rattled, and when she pulled out a can of Ballantine, I got my first impression that the not-so-close-friend and the casual friends had not let me in on their plans.
During the late evening, my not-so-close-friend navigated us out of reach of the dock and into the stillness of the starlit night. It got rowdier and rowdier as cans of beer and chips were consumed. I will admit that I did not shy away from imbibing to feel like part of the group, and it wasn’t long before I must have fallen asleep not able to handle the alcohol.
When I woke up we were at the dock and I felt like a sledgehammer had hit me squarely on the forehead. The others seemed to take it in stride, and the not-so-close-friend drove me home in broad daylight. She acted like she couldn’t wait to get rid of me either. I walked up to our driveway with squinting eyes and the worse aches I could possibly imagine never having experienced a hangover.
Both my parents were waiting for me in the dining room. My father offered me some coffee, and just the thought of it made me want to throw up. I didn’t get The Lecture until I had slept off my hangover. Nobody needed to tell me that I had overstepped the boundaries.
The Origin of Clams
i. My Philco portable radio and Casey Kasem were my teenage escape route. I spent an excessive amount of time holed up in my bedroom with the Sunshine Band live from New York City in the 50s. The Top 40 saved me from being left on the outskirts of friendship and awkward dating. As long as I pretended that I was floating along with the magic of the airwaves, I managed. My mother held secrets, and somehow the rest of the family learned to isolate themselves, too, for survival. That's how I became the dreamer I am today.
ii. Clam is a common name for a bivalve mollusk. Clams spend most of their lives half-buried in the sand of the seafloor.
iii. During the 2020 pandemic, I relished those hours in my office without any obligations in the world. Sweatpants. A cup of coffee. No makeup. I stayed relatively undercover, so to speak, free to write on new projects. Sometimes unstructured time is not the most productive, though. Thoughts can hide away and tease me elusively. It would be so easy to pick up the phone or email a friend to stay connected. I didn't.
iv. When I came home from elementary school, my younger sister was under the dining room table, cutting out paper dolls from designs that she had made from the newspaper. That was her portable art studio. She might stick her head out before diving back into her hideout. Later she would study art in college and become a painter. However, her work remained hidden mostly in her studio and not out for a broader public's viewing. She kept that she was dealing with the complications of cancer a secret from acquaintances, too. She lost her life prematurely.
v. I am a fine specimen of a person who falls into a half-hypnotic state, and no one has a clue that my mind is elsewhere. I don't open up what secrets lie beneath the surface, and if I do, those valves are clamped shut quickly.
vi. Clams are shellfish that make up an essential part of the web of life that keep the seas functioning, both as filter feeders and as food sources for many different animals.
vi. Occasionally, in the summertime, my mother would take my sister and me over to the south side of the island to buy fresh clams for clam chowder at the market along the bay. She would never cut us in on her plans ahead of time. All we heard was her telling us to hurry up and get in the car. Where? We would find out shortly. After hours of smelling of soup simmering on the stovetop, the end result would be a giant bowl for dinner. The next day the leftover clams would be minced and put in egg batter for fritters. Nothing went to waste. Even the clamshells were crushed for our driveway.
vii. When I go out clamming, I wear holey sneakers that have seen better days and light pants rolled up to my knees. Searching for clams is a solitary task. Frequently my best ideas surface while the gentle waves cool my calves, and the early morning breeze rustles through my hair as a seagull skirts past on an updraft.
viii. All clams have two calcareous shells or valves joined near a hinge with a flexible ligament.
ix. I was a shy kid. I would get harassed by other schoolmates, and I would clam up when I should be speaking out. Once on the playground, Carol, a bully, threaten to beat me up on the way home for no earthly reason other than she could. She taunted me and had me shivering all the rest of the afternoon, dreading my walk along Roanoke Avenue. How carefully I stepped on the pavement in between the cracks expecting Carol to be lurking behind a maple ready to pounce on me. She never showed up. I avoided Carol for days after that. She moved on to other girls, apparently having lost interest. I never told my parents and kept that secret deep within as another one of my supposed failures.
x. What got bottled up within me came out later. Mostly non-fiction. Pages and pages of a memoir. It did me a world of good if for no other reason.
For no particular reason…I
crave southern smoked barbeque
porch sip a glass of wine on a Monday
clean out part of my garden (and get stung twice)
wear long pants on a Tuesday
launder the runner from the dining room table
read three books simultaneously
scan local Groupon sales
write this piece of nonsense
virtual-stalk a friend of a friend of a friend
check the temperature for 4 pm
rearrange the pillows on my bed
block all incoming calls