When I was a kid, we used to run away from each other yelling "You've got cooties!" It was a fun game, and also a cruel taunt, and a whispered slur "Oooo she's got cooties!" Nobody knew exactly what cooties were. I imagined them as some kind of creepy crawly. And it seems that the etymology is that they referred to lice. Then in 1948 a guy named William Schaper created the game. It was launched in 1949 and sold millions. It was still popular with my grandkids when they were little. Remember it? You were given a colorful plastic body shaped kind of like a beehive, and the object was to add arms and legs, head and proboscis, with numbers on the dice corresponding to the body parts. The first one to complete theirs was the winner. And then you really did have a cootie!
We do it all the time. Of course we do. We travel in time. If we use past and future tense, if we say "I had a pony," or "one day we will get a pony," we are travelling back and forward in time. In our minds. It's useful to have this capability, especially if you can tap into some positive feelings while you are on that journey.
For me, that's a kind of meditation. When I am feeling stressed or upset, I put myself in a place in my past where I felt safe, where I felt loved, where I felt secure. That tiny little 'ping' of recognition of a feeling generates a dose of positivity that can go a long way toward soothing the present and smoothing the way to the future.
Today I've been mending dramatic play costumes for preschoolers. This is something I do about twice a year, when our daughter's preschool is on hiatus and she is sorting and cleaning and all the other thousand things that go with creating a place for children to imagine and learn. The costumes get washed much oftener, of course, but about every six months decisions have to be made about what can stay, what can be refurbished, and what just has to be discarded. There are only so many times you can stitch the silver trim on a lace bodice for a princess dress, for instance. And there are only so many layers of torn netting you can elminate from a ballerina skirt before it just won't twirl.
Here’s my Christmas confession: I am a Dabbler. I begin a lot of projects with a great deal of enthusiasm, but as they demand more patience and attention, I wander off. You can see this with all the many, many, many knitting projects I’ve started every year when the temperatures drop below 70. And those little projects to create your own ornaments for your tree – so enticing EVERY year – they are subject to the same kind of treatment as my knitting projects. As a consequence, my Christmas décor has always been what I like to think of as eclectic. But I’m sure to many it simply seems bizarre. And then there are all the decorations I have inherited from family who are, shall we say, no longer physically present in this world.
Living in the moment is not my skill. I tend to be looking forward to, or remembering, events of little consequence. The only time that isn't absolutely true is when I'm writing. Even though writing takes up a lot of wading through banks of memory, research, or speculation, the thing itself happens in the moment. You have to focus, pretty much, on the words you string together. At least that is how it works for me. Readability and accessibility is what matters. I want the words on the page to flow in such a way that people can be carried along on my story journey without fuss or bother.
The air outside was already too warm when the sun came up. August in the San Fernando Valley can be that way. The kitty was quiet in his fully-supplied and comfortable holding room (one of our bathrooms) and I thought I might be able to dress quietly and leave the house before he started his very loud requests for breakfast. But it wasn't to be. So I prepared myself with a scoop of cat food, and cautiously opened the door. He started to come into the hall, but when he realized I had food in my hand, he was happy to let me fill his bowl so he could eat. And I quickly left the room and closed the door. He'd be happy enough in there for another hour, and I could rush to meet my husband for my own breakfast.
Yesterday was hot but beautiful here in the San Fernando Valley. The sky was a brilliant blue, my garden had nooks of deep shade under a pergola draped with the cool green leaves of still-blossoming wisteria.
But I spent most of the day inside. I had a vague sense of unease coupled with an overpowering ennui. At first I thought I was just tired. We had a busy day the day before, entertaining family. But that really hadn't worn me out. We kept it simple, people brought things to eat and drink, and the afternoon was full of lively talk and a lot of laughter.
So why was I feeling so glum? I moved through the day listlessly, trying to motivate myself to at least clean up the remaining dishes, make the bed, fold some clothes. All I could manage was a half-hearted attempt to finish a book I'd started, and that didn't hold my attention for long.
Everything old seems imbued with a kind of extraordinary dimension of a silent knowing about the past. My antique mirror saw my great-grandmother brushing her hair, pinning on a brooch, straightening her collar. The music box played for my grandmother's ears, and my father's when he was a child. The cracked tea cup could just have a tiny bit of DNA from my grandfather or a great uncle I never met. I have kept and valued the doorstop my dad made when he was ten, and the handkerchief box he made for his grandmother still holds mine. Sometimes I feel like I could open an Antiques Roadshow of my own.
After several weeks of pragmatic demands and family exigencies, I scheduled a few days of private retreat in the high desert. I have a book I’m working on, and had made no progress at all since before Christmas last year. My body was weary, my spirit was flagging, and my will to write was down to a few drops at the bottom of a deep well. I hoped rest and peace would bring an infusion of energy, and I was looking forward to being in a place that brought me comfort many years ago.
I remembered long, solitary walks in the high desert where I could listen to bird song and marvel at the diversity of nature in that dry, arid place.
It's a rainy day, and feels so cold after all the heat of the summer and fall. Christmas is coming, and I've had holiday music on all morning. There is pea soup simmering in the crockpot for dinner. Lunch by the fire sounds good. Grilled cheese sounds good, so I fill two slices of sourdough with cheddar cheese and put the sandwich in a pan with melted butter. Hot cocoa also sounds good, so I fill a mug with milk and put that in the microwave.. But I am distracted by a phone call, and when I hang up I realize the sandwich is heading towards burnt. I panic to flip it over with the hope I can rescue it.
Clearly it is too late -- but then I remember one of my favorite dinners as a kid.