collection

The driveway to my house growing up was made up of small rocks. Not gravel or pebbles, but rocks maybe one to two inches in diameter. In the winter, this made the driveway a nightmare to shovel; and in the spring, we would have to pick out and put back all the rocks that had been shoveled into the lawn throughout the winter.

Unsurprisingly, as I originate from the Granite State, most of those rocks were granite. There were, however, a fair number of quartz ones, and ones with sparkly mica throughout, and these I collected. Any time I found an interesting or appealing rock, I would remove it from the driveway and pile on the outdoor fireplace. Perhaps it’s needless to say that, by the end of my childhood, our driveway was practically bare.

This interest extended into the greater world, too: I distinctly remember a library day in elementary school when I took out (and then renewed) the Smithsonian’s Rock and Gem Book, just to pore over the brightly colored jewels and minerals photographed. (There was even a rock that looked like what we would later know as the poop emoji.)

I collected other things, too. During the autumns when my sisters were away at school but I was still too young, my mom and I would take nature walks and collect the brightest fallen leaves we could find. We “laminated” them with packing tape onto a large roll of paper. We kept that for years.

But my biggest and longest-lasting collection is stickers. I can’t tell you how many times during college that I kicked myself for not having brought my sticker collection with me to school. I finally righted that wrong senior year, and it has not left my side since. It’s always there for me in a time of need, which in recent years has primarily meant my nephews’ birthdays.

I keep them all in a small, red, plastic briefcase that has the words “Sticker Treasure Kit” emblazoned on it in sparkles with twenty-seven sparkly smileys beneath. The hinge was taped back together long ago.

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A trove of untold treasures

As I worked on my nephew’s belated birthday card this afternoon, I pulled out the ol’ kit in a hurry and flipped through its contents to find what I needed. Letter stickers. I knew I had many pages of different kinds of lettering, but what were the odds that I would still possess the correct letters for a birthday message? I always used them sparingly, but of course there would not be an “L” to be found. (It is, after all, the greatest letter in the alphabet.) Miracle of miracles, I dug up enough of the same style lettering to write “HAPPY 8th B*DAY ARI” in curly, yellow letters. The remainder of the card I littered with other stickers, among which were a great cat from Disney’s Tarzan, a sun wearing nerdy glasses, a bee, and some planets.

My collection is extensive. Stickers intended to be used as the nail-art of a nine-year-old. Braille letter stickers from a code kit I got as a present. An unimaginable number of ladybug stickers from my grandmother, because she called me her Ladybug. Smiley face stickers of every shape, size, and color. Psychedelic dancing beans (?). Creepy snowmen. A lot of fruity scratch-and-sniff stickers that have long since lost their scent.

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Miscellaneous wonders
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Only some of the ladybugs

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From a Scholastic Book Fair book I bought that totally also came with a Magic School Bus fanny pack. Choose your books wisely, kids.

To some I realize this might make me seem like a hoarder. (I promise, it’s a very small box.) But I know you can picture the way a kid’s face lights up when you offer them a sticker. Even a toddler who can’t speak yet brightens up at a sticker, and a spark of intelligence passes over their eyes because they already know, as I do, that stickers are awesome.

So, even if this collection of mine brings some criticism my way, who’s the one standing here today with four pristine condition, vintage Lisa Frank stickers, hmm?

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Seeing is believing
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time

Time. There often seems to be too much and not enough, simultaneously. The pressures of what needs to be done and of what needs to be waited for, swirling around my mind, paralyzing me. The thought I don’t have time for that! crosses my mind multiple times a day, but for the most part it’s just an imagination of my anxiety. Once I realized this fantasy of helplessness, I decided to compile a list of things that I do have time for, things I can squeeze into my day pretty much no matter what, even when I feel like I can’t.

I have time to wash a dish in the sink.

I have time to make a cup of coffee in the morning.

I have time to leave my house ten minutes earlier and walk to work instead of drive.

I have time to give my partner a hug.

I have time to check the mail. (This one’s easy for me; I check it somewhat obsessively. Even on Sundays.)

I have time to be kind.

It seems crazy that I have to remind myself of such simple things. When life gets overwhelming and The List reaches a record length, it helps bring me sanity to remember that there are daily victories hiding in the chaos.

Time has been trucking on at an unbelievable pace these last seven months. Days away from my wedding now, I’m thankful for my ability to accomplish tasks that I know, though simple to me, are real challenges for many people. I can wake up every morning and go to work. I can feed and bathe myself. I can drive to the store. I can sleep seven hours.

The days fly by. But they haven’t run me over.

le café

I’ve been quite sick for over a week now. One thing that sickness always affects is my coffee consumption—it irritates my throat and tastes funny, so for the first few days of being sick I just don’t bother. This probably makes me feel even worse than I would, since I’ve been a cup-a-day-er since fifteen. Anyway, being sick had me thinking a lot about coffee (because green tea just doesn’t cut it).

I have an interesting mix of snobby and trashy coffee habits. For example, I only drink pour-over and I can’t stomach dark roast, but I’ll also leave my coffee out for hours and still drink it later. I try not to judge people too much for their own coffee habits (I’m looking at you, Pumpkin Spice), because mine have changed drastically over the years.

For a couple years we only bought expensive locally roasted beans, until we finally admitted that we weren’t quite rich enough for that lifestyle yet. From sugar and 1/2 and 1/2 to black (out of the necessities of college life at first, then out of preference); from automatic drip to manual pour-over; from the darkest I could find to medium-light at most; from pre-ground to my worst nightmare being that the power goes out and we can’t use the grinder.

Here are a few of my current feelings and practices.


How many coffee mugs do I need to be happy?

Answer: Four functional ones. Right now I have three functional and one broken, which I haven’t thrown away yet because coffee cups can be sentimental too, you know.

How much coffee should I drink before it’s safe to drive?

A: At least one-third of my cup. Before that, my brain thinks it’s too much effort to look both ways before turning. I have accidentally driven right past a stop sign, which left me wondering how it’s not illegal for a coffee drinker to drive uncaffeinated.

Have I experienced caffeine withdrawal?

A: My first thought many mornings, especially on days I get to sleep in, is that I need to make coffee. Sometimes it’s my first word of the day, croaked out in supplication to my partner. It has also occasionally been my main motivation for getting out of bed, even though I don’t feel like I actually like coffee all that much. I rarely finish a whole cup, and I often don’t enjoy it. It’s simply a fact of life. With any luck this will be the closest I ever edge toward an addiction.

I drink my coffee black, so why should I wash the mug with soap?

A: This practice is acceptable in college, but not after (although my partner would protest). But, if I’m being honest, I still think a good, hot rinse-and-rub is okay about every other time.

What is the perfect temperature for coffee consumption?

A: Right between “my mouth will never taste again!” and “why do people even drink this shit?” This window lasts roughly 45 seconds.

How many times am I going to microwave the remaining half inch of coffee in my mug before I accept that I’m never going to finish it, or decide to turn it into iced coffee instead?

A: About five.

And, related:

How long is too long to have my coffee sitting out, unfinished, before I can no longer in good conscience turn it into iced coffee?

A: More than a day.


Judge away.

This morning’s coffee, the dregs of which I turned into iced coffee.

good

The house is almost out of food, but my feet hurt too much to grocery shop and it’s too hot to cook anyway, so here I am, writing, prolonging the inevitable.

I had a good week. My car, which had been making a sound that concerned me, was discharged with a clean bill of health (and a mere thirty dollar bill) by my trusted mechanic. My partner and I watched through the new Netflix original show, GLOW, which we enjoyed immensely and recommend.

I planned every morning to get up early so I could make coffee and lunches and have enough time to sit on the couch and drink my coffee instead of heading directly to work…and I made this happen one whole time! Monday morning I had enough time to do all of the above, and to finish a short story by The New Yorker author Yiyun Li, from her stories collection Gold Boy, Emerald Girl. The experience was so lovely, so the rest of the week I continued to set alarms for 5:30, 5:45, 5:55, 6:00, 6:10, and 6:15, but, alas, my half-asleep self has always been a stubborn, brutish fiend. I hope someday to replicate the experience. Maybe when I’m forty.

The heat and humidity has once again turned my kitchen into a sauna, and my plants are loving it. Candice the Caladium seems to have new leaf growth every day, and my partner won’t stop exclaiming about the success I’ve had with my avocado plant. (Yes, it does work! Expecting homemade guacamole in approximately three to fifteen years.)  I keep having to incrementally raise the window blinds because I believe Candy and Avi are having a height competition. Finally, my ginger root decided to become a plant again, its only stimulus from my end being disuse.

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Candy
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Avi. Just decided on this name right now, if you couldn’t tell.
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Well she’s not named Blondie. Do I need pets?

 

It just started to thunder. I’m hoping the torrential rain sends a much-needed cool night our way. But right now, as the walkway floods, I’m enjoying the heavy sound of close thunder and fat rain.

boiling eggs

I am good at following directions. This has made me a teacher’s pet, an over-critical manager, and a passable cook. But following the letter of the law sometimes fails me, as it did today when I was boiling eggs.

I decided to try a new recipe for egg salad in an attempt to cut grocery costs (E. has expensive taste in lunch meat) and because it incorporated radishes, which sounded delightful. A few months ago I finally stumbled upon the best, most hassle-free, repeatable way to boil eggs perfectly, and I was excited because it was easy enough that I could add it to my [very small] collection of “recipes” I know by heart. (Although I must admit, all I remember is that it involves a steamer insert and the number thirteen.)

Fast forward to this evening. I noticed that the new egg salad recipe seemed a bit strange in how it said to prepare the eggs. I even thought the words, “This won’t work.” But directions are directions, and I followed the steps flawlessly. When it came time to peel the eggs, I went to roll the first one along the counter to break up the shell. The entire egg smashed beneath my hand, leaving a gooey, raw mess. I felt utterly betrayed. My partner ignored me as I yelled and cursed in the other room about how it wasn’t fair. Then I did something even stupider and tried peeling a second egg.

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Bottom: four of the six original eggs, round 2. Top: the replacement eggs, boiled according to my own judgment. Reflection: me angrily taking a picture.
I reboiled the remaining four and started afresh with two new ones. After recovering from my anger at the instructions, I am now only angry at myself. May this be a lesson to me, to listen to my better judgment and, for God’s sake, to memorize more basic recipes.

see

Occasionally, my friend and I take trips to garden centers together. Although we have yet to leave empty-handed, we mostly do it for the fun of browsing. We point out the things that move us, say why if we can, and the other joins in the movement.

During one of these trips he observed to me that the plants and flowers that catch my eye are very different from the ones that catch his. Different colors speak up, different forms stand out.

But this happens all the time. When I take a walk, as long as I’m not looking down (I’m prone to trip), certain things catch my eye that, based on my partner’s responses (or lack thereof), I know are not conspicuous or interesting to everyone.

I walked to work today and decided to remember some things I noticed on my way. Here are a few.

A squirrel eating a pinecone.

The cloudless sky.

A beautiful gate enclosing a shitty yard (a metaphor not lost on me).

Bricks and angles. 

The small weeds that grow in sidewalk cracks.

An old window on a collapsing house.

Chipped paint.

I don’t know why I notice the things I do, but it’s an interesting exercise nonetheless. What do you see? Why do you see it?

android

We sometimes hear stories of innocent suspects falsely confessing to crimes. They fail to get a lawyer in time and become entangled in probings and accusations until fact and fiction blur and their minds create a new reality for them – one in which they’re guilty.

People can experience this self-delusion in a less drastic way, as well. How many times have you stood in front of the mirror and told yourself you’re a strong, independent woman, when in reality you don’t earn enough to live alone and can barely dead lift fifty pounds? The idea is that if you say it enough, you’ll start to believe it.

It works with negative things, too. When people ask me how wedding planning is going, especially in terms of decorations, I have found myself repeating the mantra, “I have poor taste in design” (not because it’s true, but partly because I don’t enjoy decorating and am trying to slough the burden off onto another person, and partly because I want an excuse for not having gotten further along on this project), until I am now fully convinced that I’m the last person in the world who should be making decisions about my own wedding decor.

It’s especially easy to rewrite the self-esteems of children. Lasting damage can be caused even by simple suggestions. For example, if you imply to a child that everyone in the family is bad at math, you’ve given them reason to think they will be bad at math too, and it can make them expect failure. If this supposed obstacle is repeated to them often, math might seem too daunting of a task to bother overcoming at all. And that is how you end up with a lot of English majors.

With these things in mind, I would like to make a proposition regarding a well-loved character from a well-loved sci-fi show. A few years ago, Netflix graced us with the full body of Star Trek shows, including all seven seasons of The Next Generation. Being a Trekkie and infatuated with Commander William T. Riker from childhood, but bound by the restraints of cable, reruns, and bedtime, I was excited to finally see the episodes in order and in their entirety (and commercial-free!). My friend beat me to the punch and I ended up watching many episodes sporadically during his binge sessions; however, my partner and I started from the beginning last fall and are now on Season 6.

*Be advised: spoilers and extreme, unabashed geekiness of the philosophi-sci-fi variety to follow!*

There are certain TNG episodes that immediately get you excited (for example, Q episodes), bummed (Geordi episodes), or scared (Borg episodes). But nothing beats the realization that you’re about to experience a Data episode.

Lieutenant Commander Data is an android and the first artificially intelligent lifeform to become a Starfleet officer. He put himself through Starfleet Academy and over time earned his position as third in command aboard the starship Enterprise, where he holds the position of Chief Operations Officer. He was given human functions by his maker, as well as the ability to reprogram himself, i.e., to adapt to his surroundings. One of the very few things he incapable of is human emotion – a fact he reminds people of at the slightest provocation. Data makes attachments (read: friends) by growing accustomed to people’s presence and idiosyncrasies. He has sex. He, in a manner of speaking, reproduces. He mimics art and music and even laughter (sort of…), but he is not capable of experiencing or sharing the passions behind them. And in this one aspect Data falls hopelessly short of humanity.

Or so he is convinced.

I, however, am convinced that Data can – and does – feel.

In Season 4, Episode 3 (“Brothers”), Data finds out that his maker has built an emotion chip specifically for him, which will allow him to finally feel the human emotions he has wished to experience for himself his whole existence. This immediately becomes problematic for me. If he’s programmed to be human but is not given human emotions, is it also part of his programming to notice that lack and to strive to fill it as something that would make him complete? And if that is the case, in what way does this noticing-a-lack-and-striving-to-fill-it differ from desire, the essential human urge at the root of emotions like love, lust, and loneliness?

The beauty of a story built over the course of 178 episodes is that you really get to know the characters. And the beauty of this story also being something that you watch is that you can pick up on visual hints from the show which, in writing, would be implicit at best. You get to watch Data’s face as his maker offers him the emotion chip. And you get to watch his face when, in Jacob-and-Esau fashion, he finds out that his evil brother has duped their maker into giving it to him instead.

Did I simply impose that flicker of hope on Data’s face? Did I project his devastation? Maybe so. In the most recent episode we watched, Data asks his best friend, Geordi, whether his original poetry elicited an emotional response, and Geordi doesn’t answer right away. Data says, “Your hesitation suggests you are trying to protect my feelings. However, since I have none, I would prefer you to be honest.” After hearing him repeat this spiel over and over again over the course of the show, even to people who definitely know it well by now like Geordi, it begins to sound like self-delusion.

To be a human comprises what one does and what one feels; to be a robot comprises function without feeling, utility without self-consciousness. As an experiment, I asked Siri a few formulations of the same question.

 

What differs between Siri and Data is that Data is sentient. He’s alive and he knows it. He has thought about having human emotions; in fact, his pursuit of it consumes the majority of his free time (which is considerable, because he doesn’t need to eat or sleep). We often find him in his quarters painting or talking to his cat, Spot, or working on his Shakespearean acting skills or practicing his laugh.

One reason why Data episodes are so beloved in our household is because they’re extremely touching. Despite being rather stoic, my partner usually tears up during these episodes and expresses his love for the android. Are we touched because Data can’t experience love even though he is undeniably lovable? Are we sad because he can’t feel how tragic his story is? I, for one, am touched and sad because he has convinced himself that he cannot have the full human experience, when it is clear to those close to him that, despite all his automated claims to the contrary, he already experiences a variety of emotions: friendship, loyalty, amusement; desire, disappointment, isolation; and affection toward his cat.