Tag Archives: General

The language of flowers

I have always had a general reluctance towards flowers. Not so much an aversion as a mistrust. Very possibly it comes from the fact that they purport to send one message, but oftentimes end up sending another. I mean, there are books on flowers and their meanings. A black locust, for example, means platonic love. A buttercup; wealth, a daisy; innocence; a rose; love, desire, passion.   But do you think people nowadays have any inkling what they are sending? Highly doubtful. In all likelihood it’s not so much that I dislike flowers as that I have always poorly  understood human nature to the point of knowing that someone may say one thing but mean another. Seriously. Most women know by a certain point in their life that a flower isn’t just a flower, but rather, a symbol with some message attached. And unfortunately, that message isn’t always the cute, flowery one that FTD would have you believe. Couple that with some pretty traumatizing associations to flowers and you have a recipe for dismay.

For starters, my grandmother died when I was 14. She was obsessed with flowers and so, prior to her death, she arranged to have a gazillion flowers at her funeral. There were daisies and tiger lilies and begonias and whatever else, and the whole funeral parlor was popping with yellow. I loved my grandmother dearly, but the smell of all those flowers paired with the smell of embalming fluid? Not good. For years every time I walked into a florist’s shop I thought of death.

Then there was high school. Every February there was a carnation sale. And depending on how much money your parents gave you, whom you were dating at the time and how many friends you had, you could buy carnations till all three ran out–friends, sweethearts and parent’s money. Then, on Valentine’s day, the teachers during homeroom would call out your name and you’d go up to the front desk, where everyone would see you, and you’d collect your carnation. Most of us received one, maybe two carnations with a little note attached that generally said something like “BFF,” and that would be the end of it. But then, there were the popular people. The cheerleaders. The football players. The jocks. The preps. They’d get some ridiculous amount of carnations, somewhere upward of twenty or so. And you’d have to watch them all day, carrying these carnations around, struggling down the hallway, fidgeting with them in class. Of course, they never put the damn things in their lockers. No. It wasn’t that easy. These people rubbed your nose in it. Literally. You didn’t just brush elbows with classmates in a crammed hallway on V-day. You had carnations smashed into your face. Oops. Sorry my forty-seven carnations just whacked you in the head. All this, to the point where you found yourself sneaking around the gym locker room or looking in trashcans for discarded carnations to claim as your own. Who can get over that level of trauma? I didn’t. To this day, any time I see someone giving out carnations on the side of the road or something, I want to ram my vehicle into their plastic bucket and drive off.

Thankfully, I was able to recover from my botanical complex, if only for a short while. But, it was only a matter of time before I too, hater of anything with a stem or a bud, fell victim to that ancient and perennial commercialism of love, which states that if you do not receive a flower from a man, you have no worth.  My life changed at this point. I suddenly adored flowers. Not so much for their beauty as their ability to define me. And most likely because I’d never received any. And by the time I hit my twenties I felt I was something of a freak. If society validated a woman by the flowers she received, I must have been an alien.

Until S.

I was 22 and dating this Air Force police officer named S when I lived in Greenland. We had fallen in love, and despite my leaving to return home, we remained in touch. For my birthday he sent a dozen yellow roses. They were stunning. Everything I had imaged they’d be. It was the first time I’d ever received flowers. And I probably have every petal saved in a box somewhere up in my attic, that’s how amazed I was at the idea of flowers.

He drifted into the past, of course, but his flowers were possibly the last I’d see in a really  long time.

Throughout my first marriage I only received one bouquet of roses from my ex-husband. He never bought me flowers for anything. Not Christmas. Not Mother’s day. Not any holiday whatsoever. Not even on the days I gave birth to either son, or the day I graduated with high honors from Rutgers University, after 16 years of trying. I don’t believe he even gave me flowers when my father died. Like I said, I only received one bouquet from him. Back in 1999, when I was about four months pregnant with my second child, I found out quite to my dismay, that he had sent some girl down in Georgia a dozen white roses. It would be the first of many more, ahem, awkward moments in our marriage. Truth be told, I was most annoyed that he sent a strange woman flowers and had never given me so much as a dandelion. Anyway, shortly after this, I came home one day to my own bouquet. Out of guilt or embarrassment, who knows, he had sent me the clichéd dozen red roses that I still affectionately refer to as the “I fucked up” bouquet. I can still remember throwing those things out long before they died on their own.

After the dissolution of my marriage, flowers sent to me took a continued downward spiral. In fact, they became downright insulting. There were the occasional carnations wrapped in plastic from Wawa that my dad or boyfriend G would pick up out of obligation on days like Valentine’s day or my birthday. No card attached. There was the “I’ve been neglecting you to go party with friends” flower from S. It was a lily (isn’t that the flower of DEATH?). I planted it in my front yard and the squirrels ate it. And finally, there was the “we just started fucking and I want to move out of my parents house and in with you” roses from M, which, admittedly, were quite beautiful. Yet, they came with such onus that every time I looked at them I couldn’t help but wonder if they were an omen of impending doom.

The truth is, my history with flowers (and men) had been grim. Until D.

I won’t go into detail but I fell in love with D in winter. When I was the most alone I had ever been and yet, strangely, the happiest. A time in my life when, for the first time ever,  I wasn’t looking for hidden messages in flowers nor having (unrealistic) expectations about the men giving them. In fact, I very specifically told D a month into our relationship, “Don’t bother with flowers. I don’t like them.” And so, when our first Valentine’s day rolled around, a holiday I typically try to ignore, I played it off and made other plans.   OK, well, it was easy. It was a week day and he was working. At any rate, I went into the city by myself and walked and walked and walked down Pine and Spruce and then over to Walnut to revisit a few of my favorite antique shops. I bought a little vintage tin sign for the bathroom.  I had tabouli at Sahara’s. And I strolled around looking at windows and doors, which I love to do. I thought of virtually nothing all day except maybe the temperature and how cold it got after a few days of unseasonably warm weather. And, when I got home, sitting on my front porch step, there were flowers.

There were twelve red roses (no, not long stem. These babies were cut), encircling a spray of extraordinarily green tiny buds, which rested upon the lip of a cylindrical glass vase with smooth, black pond stones at the bottom.  I brought them inside and sat them on my countertop and I stared at them for a good 10 minutes. I breathed them in.  I walked around them. I determined that I liked them. A lot.

And then, I actually found them to be quite beautiful.

I opened the notecard. Of course they were from D. And he had scribbled—in his own handwriting—this little “xo” on the card. Just that. Nothing more. No “I’m sorry,” or “Last night was great,” or “I’m giving these to you because if I don’t, you’ll think I’m lazy and cheap.”  Just “xo.” It was possibly the purest, plainest, most direct language of affection I had ever received from a flower, or a man, in a lifetime. A bouquet that actually came with the message it intended.

How rare.

I can’t say me and flowers will ever have the kind of relationship that say, Georgia O’Keeffe has with flowers, but I can say, I’m no longer opposed to them. D and I have been together 9 years this January, and while he doesn’t buy me flowers as much anymore, his steadfast love and the memories of those early bouquets mean far more than the actual flowers of which they were made. Real love, I’ve learned, isn’t complicated. It doesn’t die on the vine or send unintended messages. It just is.  Umberto Eco wrote, “the rose is a symbolic figure so rich in meanings that by now it hardly has any meaning left.” And I suppose that’s true. But like I said, it’s what’s behind the flower; both in the giver and the receiver. It is this that speaks more loudly than anything. It is the underlying current of love, or lack thereof that can wilt a daisy, or make it bloom eternally.

Winter blues

"Beyond Repair"

Day two of severe mood flop. January dragging on too long…Need a distraction…Drowning in my own boredom….Help!

I’m not sure if this is the winter blues or the fact that I’m coming down from a one-month coffee high. Whatever the case, I’m miserable around this time of year. Any new and exciting stimuli is a ray of sunlight. Trouble is, I’m usually too depressed or unmotivated to actually go out and look for stuff to stimulate me. When I’m really withdrawn (hours of watching Cold Case Files and Dr. Phil) I tend to wait for someone to knock on the front door. That’s about the only thing I’ve got going for me from January until late March. Well, hello UPS guy! That package for me? No? Wrong address? But, I’m sure I ordered something online. Wait…come back..!

Of course there’s my perfect guy, and the kids, and a couple events coming up, and if I’m really in the mood, there’s always planning for a summer vacation. But I suppose it’s just my circadian hibernation rhythms taking over making all that seem, well, a little, dare I say it, bland. So while the seasonal affective disorder makes its yearly round, I’ve come up with a plan. Only read happy websites. Instead of letting the brain atrophy and the heart sink, I’ve found some interesting websites to help draw me back into the world of the living. Let’s hope these do the trick. If not, there’s always shopping online.

  • Jason Shen’s blog is, well, fun. Even though it’s a little media/corporate driven he’s come up with really inspiring blogs. One in particular is something called a “Rejection Challenge,” which, if I were single, might be a huge motivation for me to get off my arse and go ask someone out on a date. I’m a sucker for challenges, and for taking calculated risks.
  • The Happiness Project: “Happiness, many people assume, is boring – a complacent state of mind for self-absorbed, uninteresting people,” says Gretchen Rubin on her highly acclaimed website. And yet we all want it. Well, if this site doesn’t offer a nugget of how to be happy, I don’t know what else will. Peruse the site. See if you can’t find a dozen uplifting concepts. Either that, or be happy you don’t have to visit that site every day. Even for me, Gretchen can be a little too much.
  • Global Good News: This is one of my favorite sites, especially the Maharishi’s funkadelic fashion. And while it’s an India-based religious website, the designers have done a great job collecting positive news around the world.
  • TED: I was surprised to learn that not many people know about “TED,” (“Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world”), so I’m posting it here as one of the greatest resources for learning ANYTHING. I could spend all day here.
  • Horse Pig Cow: Powerful woman, uplifting, inspiring, funny, brave. Subscribe. I did.
  • My Marrakesh: Simply beautiful website on Moroccan design and living. I waste time here every winter, dreaming about the desert.

Crossed off my list for good

My kids and I recently took an 8 hour drive up to Canada, just for kicks. We had nothing else to do for three days and thought it would be fun to just drive and hop a relatively close border. And it was. We got pulled over at border patrol, our car was searched, and I was told I needed “permission” from my ex to leave the country, which I knew, but forgot to get. They let us cross anyway and so, we made it to Ottawa by dinner.

We wandered down Dalhousie Street to Byward Market and amid a grouping of rather cool pubs (which I would have preferred in a pinch if I were with D) I noticed the slumping facade of the Hard Rock Cafe. Oh let’s go here! I immediately remembered my youthful self, circa 1989, and the envy of all my friends when I told them I’d not only been to the Hard Rock Cafe in NYC, but in London as well (remember the eighties when you collected visits to the Hard Rock Cafe and that made you so cool? And then that goofy Planet Hollywood came out and tried to whoop up the same fervor, but never really did, and you suddenly weren’t cool if you liked that place?).

Anyway, I thought my boys would love the HRC. And they did! But the truth is, the food was horrifying. Everything tasted fake and enhanced. J’s burger had that fake char-grilled smoke flavor on it. The sweet potato fries had some weird aftertaste and the salad had rubbery fake chicken, diced perfectly into tiny squares and yellowish white iceberg lettuce (who makes salads with just iceberg lettuce anymore?). On the walls were Britney Spear’s blue sequined shirt, Eminem’s high top sneakers (and maybe even his stinky socks), a turtleneck sweater from Alanis Morissette and a pair of ripped jeans from Shania Twain. Back in my day they had Ringo Starr’s drum pack, Jimmy Page’s guitar and Prince’s purple overcoat. Hard rock memorabilia that hung on the walls where famous people sat down and had a Guinness at the bar. The crowds now? People like me with their babies screaming and their kids running around tables, knocking over trays of rubbery chicken and greasy fries.

So, this got me thinking, firstly, that I will never go back to any Hard Rock Cafe, no matter how big the guitar above their front door. And secondly, that I will probably never go back to a long line of other crappy places. And so, this morning’s blog is my top ten “Crossed off my list for good” list. What’s on yours?

1. Hard Rock Cafe
2. Chuckie Cheese
3. Sahara Sam’s
4. Miniature Golfing (any of them!)
5. Medieval Times
6. Planet Hollywood (does this place even exist anymore?)
7. Gillette, Wyoming
8. Hostal Pedregalejo, Malaga Spain
9. Mars 2112
10. Midtown Manhattan during the Christmas holidays
11. Albuquerque, NM
12. “The Pub” in Pennsauken
13. The Berlin flea market
14. A bowling tournament
15. Friendly’s
16. Anywhere on New Year’s Eve
17. Ott’s
18. A football game at any stadium
19. The Mummer’s Parade
20. Any parade…
21. Friday’s
22. The top of the Empire State Building

23. Medford Lakes Country Club

Midtown Manhattan with kids and a neurotic, anxiety-ridden woman, filled with thoughts of imminent doom

312847_10150449021916810_771148774_n

D and I are taking the kids up to NYC today; Rockafella Center, FAO Schwartz, etc. etc. What to any normal human being is usually considered a fun day trip in the city, to me, it is a day spent quieting the obsessive voices of imminent doom and certain death that run through my brain while trying to appear normal and “happy.” That’s not to say I won’t entirely enjoy myself. I will. But I’ll have to work hard for it. I’ll have to fight what many would consider a severe case of generalized anxiety disorder. For example, it’s not a stretch for me to believe that there will be a terrorist around every street corner. A tall building will fall on my head. We will be mugged, shot, victimized, kidnapped, beat up. A bridge will collapse. A car bomb will explode. Someone will get lost. I will die. We’ll all die.

Luckily, this type of thinking doesn’t keep me home. It’s not so severe that I am unable to overcome it and get out of the house. I’m used to it. My little neighborhood street in the middle of no where is about to explode into a million tiny bits too, while I’m naked in the shower, of course. And yet, New York City is a scary place.

So, wish me luck today. And if you read this, Shhhhh…don’t tell D or my kids what’s going on inside my little ol’ brain. I’m going to try my best to pretend that I’m normal. Oh lookie there! It’s the tree!

I shop therefore I am

People in a retail store reaching to be the first to purchase a limited gaming system

Thank God Black Friday is finally over.  Every year it’s a sad reminder of the ugly side of human nature. The day that a good  “deal” can drive us to do disastrous things. Trample people. Steal from them. Even kill. All for the thrill of snatching up a limited edition Wii or an Xbox 360.

I often wonder though, if the whole concept of Black Friday is just a simple case of herd mentality, or if a majority of us are propelled by a relatively new evolving need to hoard stuff and buy? I mean, just as food is comfort, so is a day devoted to retail therapy, right? Nothing  identifies me more than my clothing style. And hell if I don’t have a plasma screen TV like everyone else on my block. I often wonder too if my love of French clothing, espresso makers and talavera tiles is nature or nurture. Is it so far fetched to believe our DNA has mutated to the point in evolution that shopping is now an instinct? Clothing is, after all, one of our top five necessary human resources. It’s up there with food, water, shelter and oxygen. But then, where does the purse hook, the pocket projector or the tattoo sleeve fit in? Especially when we’re going to wrap them up and give them to someone else.

In The Boston Review, Juliet Shor’s essay “The New Politics of Consumption” argues that we “Americans [have] been manipulated into participating in a dumbed-down, artificial consumer culture, which yield[s] few true human satisfactions.” In “Consumerism in America,” Kendra Wright writes,  “Americans are consumed by consumerism.” She says, “Our belongings have become probably the most important part of our life. We are so possessed with our things that it seems we often forget what’s really important in life.” And a Newsweek article entitled, “America’s Crazed Consumerism” the author writes, “Uncontrollable consumerism has become a watchword of our culture despite regular and compelling calls for its end.”

And so here we are, stuffing our souls and dresser drawers with useless crap that 85% of the world’s population has probably never seen or heard of. Do you think societies in the Australian Outback would know what to do with a baby wipes warmer, a pair of laser guided scissors, or a fondu pot? If aliens landed on our planet, and walked through one of our shopping malls,what do you think they would surmise about human culture if they saw baby toupees, clothing for dogs, or the leopard print snuggie? We obviously no longer purchase on a needs basis anymore. According to Globalissues.org “the wealthiest 20% of the world accounted for 76.6% of total private consumption. The poorest fifth just 1.5%.” That tells me that a huge percentage of our purchases go above and beyond the percentage required to simply cover our basic needs.

Somewhere along the way, we lost our common sense. We believed in Capitalism so much that we were willing to buy into the ads and the culture and the lies that told us the more we bought, the stronger we, as a Nation, would become. We believed it when they told us we’d be happier, stronger, more beautiful, better. We wanted happiness and perfection so badly, we believed Calvin Klein and Gap and Whirlpool and Kenmore. We bought into the idea that we all needed bell-bottoms, Beanie Babies, and  hand soap in a pump. And we wanted so desperately to keep up with the Joneses and fend off our own self-hatred and insecurity, that we (yes, me) believed in the plasma TV, the iPod touch and the HTC.

The author of “America’s Crazed Consumerism” summarizes the work of Economist John Kenneth Galbraith, who argued that “the modern economy didn’t flourish by satisfying the needs of consumers, but by creating the desire for products consumers didn’t need at all.” Even Dorothy Parker once said, “people don’t know what they want until you give it to them.” We were told that if we don’t consume, others lose jobs, shops go out of business, our economy fails, the stock market crashes, we fail as a society. But if we do consume, we lose touch with our basic human dignity and succumb to false gods. We become something we probably never expected to become: a product.

At this time of year I always think of the Grinch and how he “stole” Christmas. Bad, ugly Mr. Grinch straps a pair of antlers on his little dog Max and steals all the Christmas stuff from the Whos down in Who-ville, for what purpose I’m not sure. On the surface, it’s to stop Christmas from coming. But in reality, the Grinch is probably somewhat of a cranky Marxist who believes that Capitalism is evil. OK. A stretch, perhaps. But the bigger message is that despite the Whos having nothing, they wake up Christmas morning and still sing their hearts out. Mr. Grinchy “hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME! Somehow or other, it came just the same!” But the depressing reality is that Americans most likely wouldn’t be so happy without their stuff.  Would any of us really be able to celebrate a holiday without all the packages, boxes or bags? Are family and friends enough? These are good questions and ones that I am trying to get to the bottom of. I confess; I love stuff. But I’m willing to make sacrifices if it means altering the direction in which my DNA is mutating. Shopping does not have to be the “be all and end all” of my existence.

This post is “lovely”


Someone said it at lunch. A student. I can’t remember now who. It was a warning to vulnerable, over-sensitive student-writers with flimsy self-esteem: “You gotta toughen up for these workshops.”

Twenty years ago when I took my first writing class at a college in North Jersey run by Dominican nuns, I would have agreed. Sister Bridget was a fairly kind-hearted woman but she’d rip you to shreds in front of your peers if you failed to put together a story with some semblance of meaning. But times have changed and now, successful writers with huge credits to their names (New York Times book review, New York Times Op Ed section, Granta, Harper’s, three published books, etc.) forewarn their workshop groups to be “compassionate,” “sensitive,” and to “discuss the piece’s finer points.”

We don’t want to offend anyone, now. Do we?

Here’s my gripe: The pros, who are all having nightmarish flashbacks of their MFA workshop experiences are applying these nicey nice terms (Great, Lovely, Has Potential) to everyone’s work. It’s not just my stuff that’s “great.” It’s John’s, and Jane’s and Larry’s and even Juanita’s who’s never taken a writing class in her life. We’re all “great,” and “lovely.” And there’s no distinction among us. And while this is great and lovely for our self-esteem (God forbid anyone’s sensitivities are offended) it doesn’t do squat to help us learn, grow or trust the validity of our professors’ opinions.

Granted, I’ve only been to three workshops so far this summer, but inevitably, they all begin with the same recurrent address: “First off, let me say that overall, this was a lovely piece of writing…I really enjoyed the bit about the blah, blah, blah, and I love the way you intuited blah, blah, blah…Also, I think you have a lot to work with here as far as blah, blah, blah goes.” If we’re lucky, the lecturer says this: “I have one criticism…”

Inevitably, when I’ve been workshopped previously, that “one little criticism,” no matter how clearly it comes across (which, usually it doesn’t because no one wants to offend me), no matter if I take notes and write it down in my binder and later, circle it and put arrows around it to mark its existence, goes in one ear and out the other. It evaporates. I’ll tell you why. Because I don’t want to be a writer that has to go back and edit her work. I want to be a writer who delivers a work of art on the first draft. I want to be the diamond in the rough. I want to be a star. And forgive me if I’m wrong, but I think others are like this too. Heck, who doesn’t want to be told that what they’ve created is a flawless shiny ball of fuzzy perfection?

But the trouble is, none of us are perfect and only maybe one or two of us (yes, that’s it) have submitted a publishable piece that has real potential at the moment it is being workshopped. And we as students know this. We have to read all the manuscripts as well and comparatively speaking, we all know what’s crap and what isn’t. So two things occur: cognitive dissonance—we recognize something as being black, but then we are told it’s white, and an internal prompt to follow the herd and be nice too. No one wants to offend anyone else. No one wants to step up to the plate and go against that social construct known as correctness (political correctness, social correctness, etc.). And why should we? We’re taught, so as to bolster our self-esteem of course, that Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury was rejected 20 times before someone published it, or that no one wanted to publish Bukowski for years. Not only that but the very nature of art and creative writing is subjective. Who’s really to say what’s crap and what’s not? And who am I to be so presumptuous?

And yet, this is our business. This is our life’s work. There is standard in the industry that, as students, we need to know if we are to attempt to reach it. My guess is that Obama will not “gently suggest” to McChrystal that he should resign. My guess is that Ben Bernanke got where he is by virtue of a lot of hard knocks and struggles, not by a gently cresting sea that propelled him forward with “First off, let me say that overall, you’re a lovely person…”

Bullshit.

In yesterday’s workshop I felt Big Brother was watching, controlling what we said and how we said it. And we were not given enough credit for trying to be humane on our own. We were forced into using words like “lovely,” “great” and “nice,” even if we didn’t mean it. Everyone was on guard. Even men like ______ held back their idiomatic language and bold criticism that for an entire year, inspired me to work harder and strive for better.

I am not suggesting that we denigrate or disparage individuals. There’s no place for “you suck.” But work is another matter. Work cannot be taken personally, despite the fact that it is the product of the individual. Work is in the public realm and when you put it there, it is up for criticism.

There was this kid yesterday whose piece was about to be discussed, until we were reminded to be nice. He spoke up and said, “I can take it,” but by then it was too late. Instead of a more accurate discussion of his work, he got the “this is lovely” version. And to add insult to injury, everyone talked it to death out of nervous energy. Truth is, it wasn’t bad. If he held his focus, if he removed the immaturities and judgments in his voice, if he tightened up a few parts and expanded on others, it would have read better. Would he believe me amid the phoniness that ensued? Could he trust anyone brave enough to tell him the truth? I don’t know. I hope so. Because that’s what will make him a stronger writer. And if he’s able to identify with and trust the judgment of people whom he admires, he just might be led in the right direction.

Teachers have an ethical responsibility to students not only to foster an environment conducive to learning, but to tell the truth. We need to know when our work works and when it doesn’t. The problem is, no one wants to suppose that there is one truth or that they have the right to judge. And maybe there isn’t one truth, and maybe they don’t have the right to judge. But someone needs to step up to the plate an offer up what’s known as an OPINION. Because there is a standard of good writing, and opinions count, and if a teacher is not willing to cultivate someone’s work, a student has to be willing to seek out the truth, even if it hurts. As for me, I’m looking for the truth in magazines. One thing I can be sure of is that the publishing industry isn’t afraid to tell me if my work sucks or if it truly is lovely.

Thanks Freshly Pressed

I was in abundant joy yesterday reading and receiving so many wonderful comments on my work. What should have been fifteen minutes of fame lasted a good 24 hours. Nothing beats that. And more than anything, it’s motivating me to write more and try to submit my work more aggressively.

Par example: the Summer Writers Conference begins in two weeks. I’ve redone Fertility from this older version and will submit that. I had my trusty “first reader” read through the revised copy and though he found a couple flaws, decided it was, overall, in good shape. I was glad to hear that because after having worked on it for almost 10 hours straight the other day, I couldn’t even focus on one line without getting dizzy. I’ve determined that  I do not make for a very good editor.

C’est la vie. At any rate, I’m happy today. The weekend is upon me, the weather’s supposed to be nice, and I have no plans.

Thanks again for reading.