Tag Archives: love

Food for Thought

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“What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?”  –Lin Yutang

Today Anderson Cooper spent his new show talking about (disordered) eating.  Food is such a base, simple need that is loaded with unbelievable baggage.  We need food from before we are out of our mothers’ wombs, and continue to need it until the day we die.  It is ever-present, both background and foreground for the most important and mundane moments of our lives.  Food is a matter of life and death.  While it seems so simple, such an afterthought, it really is a complex piece of our lives.

As someone lucky enough to live a life where my next meal is not a mystery, where I know that I can choose what I consume, food takes on much more symbolism.  It intricately ties itself to memories and people, to places and emotions.  Cooper admitted to being a surprisingly picky eater and other people talked about idiosyncrasies with respect to their dining rituals.  As a picky eater, I felt validated that there are others out there who share in my aversions, my fears, and my embarrassments.  As I prepare to make myself dinner, with this show on my mind, I’m thinking very seriously about food.

I go through phases when I will crave something and eat it almost exclusively, and then will lose my taste for it.  Right now my taste for spicy food is dominating my palate.  While I still fear new foods, my old standbys are getting a little punch with some chipotle or jalapeno.  And while there are foods that I try and gain a taste for, there are some things that I will never refuse, that I am always in the mood for.

With the absurd request of recently-executed Lawrence Russell Brewer, many are asking what their last meal would be.  I spent a long overnight shift answering this one for myself.  After one of the most fascinating stories I gleaned from This American Life (Poultry Slam 2007), the question stuck with me.  After hearing about the legendary last meal of forbidden ortolan (you really need to listen to, or at least read, the story), I wondered what I would eat.  During a silent night of work, the thought settled on my mind and I quietly realized what I would eat, with no reservations.

If I knew I had only one meal left to eat, I would want my mother’s chicken and dumplings, drink strawberry Quick, and enjoy my grandma’s chocolate balls (yep, laugh all you want) for dessert.  When I’m hot and craving something sweet, nothing quenches my thirst like Diet Coke.  There is no pizza like a hot Round Table pie.  I love the soft, gooey sweet bread my grandma makes each Christmas.  I have a sandwich place I would eat at every day to keep in business.  There are plenty of foods that I love and would eat any time, any place, but that would be my last meal.  I would savor the hot broth, tender chicken shredded in it, saving the heavy, chewy dumplings for last, sprinkled with salt and lemon pepper.  I would remember every cold night, warmed by the scoops out of the steaming pot.  I would remember my family, silently gathered around the table, burning our tongues on the hot broth because we cannot wait to eat the delicious tradition.  I would sip my pink milk, remembering my little mouse glass, the lunches of grilled cheese and crackers.  I would remember being young, as much as I could, and the special treat that strawberry Quick was.  The cool milk soothing my burnt tongue, I would eat until my stomach burst with warmth, heavy with winter.  Then, after the hot meal, I would enjoy the semi-frozen chocolate candy that my grandmother makes each Christmas.  Small, sweet balls of graham cracker, peanut butter and coconut, coated in dark chocolate, are a sure sign that the holidays have arrived.

My mouth waters as I think of the foods, able to recall the tastes as I imagine the glorious meal.  While delicious and satisfying, the meal would be made infinitely better because it is tied together with love.  My mom, leaning against the counter as she stirs the large, stainless steel pot of chicken never gets more thanks than on those nights.  My grandma, year after year baking, her tanned hands forming each ball and dipping them, freezing them and always keeping a few hidden until New Year’s for us.  My dad, stirring the gritty drink mix in as we kids climbed up to the table for lunch.  The last meal I would choose wouldn’t be some of the best food on earth, but it would be food that makes me feel indescribably loved.  It is food that links me to my family, food that brings me home.  There are plenty of other things I enjoy eating and restaurants I love, but this is the food that sustains me, the things that make eating life-giving.  What would your last meal be?

“The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.” –Mother Teresa

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“All was well.”

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“He’ll be famous–a legend–I wouldn’t be surprised if today was known as Harry Potter day in the future–there will be books written about Harry–every child in our world will know his name!”  –Professor McGonagall, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

This weekend I will go see my very last Harry Potter film in the theater.  I will see the final new movie.  Ever.  As I wrote yesterday, this is exciting and incredibly sad for me.

These movies are so special to me, and the memories of watching them are sweet.  It is a bit surreal to see the book that I loved played out in front of me, see how the images match up with my own imagination.  I moan and whine when directors make choices that I would never have imagined (cough REMUS LUPIN cough) and swoon when things appear exactly as I had dreamed them.  But the movies are more than that.  They are connections, memories, a world I share with people I love.

The first film I saw in the theater was Azkaban.  I was returning from college and went with my friend A.  We went to a late night movie, sitting far in the back of the theater.  When we left, we saw many, many friends had filled the dark theater in front of us.  We sat wrapped in scarves–scarlet and gold striped, of course–that my mother knitted for us to wear to the movie.  It is one of the last memories I have of A before she moved across the country, but every time I see that scarf, I think of her and my mother’s love.  I remember being in a small town, in a dark room, enjoying being young.  It was love.

The only midnight show that I was able to go to was Goblet of FireE and bought our tickets ahead of time for a theater as far from our campus as we could find.  We waited in anticipation and the afternoon of the film, loaded our bags with books and notes and went to sit in line.  We sat on the sidewalk in front of the theater surrounded by middle schoolers and those special breeds that dressed up.  We intended to study, but the evening faded into darkness and we simply talked.  I’m sure we discussed the book and the films, but mostly we were just happy.  We laughed and shared a night that no one else has shared with me.  We smuggled hot Starbucks in with us and settled in for a late, long movie.  We found out the next day that plenty of our friends went to the theater about a mile from our school, but our secret adventure made the night all the more magical.

Order of the Phoenix was another beast altogether.  It came along at an odd time, was a bit more inconvenient–the summer after my graduation.  I actually saw that film twice.  I saw it first with my parents, sitting in the back of a theater while they visited me.  Then I saw it with a friend that I had classes with.  In our Modernism class, we discovered a shared goofiness, disregard for pretense, and love of Harry.  It was different, going with her and her friend, and not nearly as cozy as my other movies, but it was wonderful because it was yet another way that I connected, a friend of my geeky heart.

Half-blood Prince was the summer again.  I was alone in a big city, missing my movie buddy E.  I reconnected with an old college friend and we met up for an opening day matinée.  The line was surprisingly short and we watched the film further back than I would have chosen to sit.  As I rewatch this in my living room right now, as I write, I remember very little of the film.  I remember the book well, its heart-shattering end.  I remember being very dissatisfied, robbed of my beautiful grief.  And I remember talking with my friend after the film, enjoying when our criticism or kudos aligned.  It was delightful to have someone to talk about it with passion, who loved the books and world as much as I.  It was a wonderful recognition of a friend who is far more like myself than I realized.

Deathly Hallows was my last venture into cinematic Hogwarts.  This time, E was back from deployment and living in my city again.  We were reunited and it was as it should be.  A tiny twinge of guilt shadowed the night because we both had other people who we should have gone with, but we had to see it together.  We hadn’t been in the same city for long, and it was a special chance for us to embrace what makes our friendship wonderful.  As the film ended, we were determined to end the series together, but that was not to be.

So now I anticipate going to see the very last movie for the first time.  A sent me a message, reminding me to wear my scarf.  My mom will be visiting next week, and I have a hunch a movie is in our future.  My dad and I talked at length about the lead up, about what is to come.  E is deployed and we will have a movie night when she returns–she has already emailed me to ask how it is.  And I will go back with my excited Half-blood friend.  We are making an early day of it and enjoying a morning show.  I’m excited to talk with her about every word that strays from the book and sends a pain through my soul.  And we’ll enjoy the final reveal, the last moment of this adventure, and it will be another magical movie memory.

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.  –Albus Dumbledor, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Weddings and Flowers

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“The best things in life are nearest: breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you.  Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life’s plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life.”  –Robert Louis Stevenson

This is delayed, but tonight I collect my thoughts about the royal wedding.  I admit, I was more than happy to wake up in the middle of my night to watch two strangers marry.  I was excited, not sure of what to expect.  I just knew, as I went to bed, that I wanted to wake up and be a part of something historic, to watch with millions around the world. 

I was sad, when I flipped on the television, that I had missed most of the ceremony.  I thought I had calculated everything right, but I was misinformed.  I was hoping to see Kate walk into the church and barely got to see the couple walk out.  But I stuck with the newlyweds.  I watched them leave the church, ride away, kiss, and begin life, husband and wife.  I did this with a joyful heart.  The much-anticipated dress was lovely, but so unexpectedly ordinary.  It could be on any bride, fit any ceremony.  The two walked down the aisle and the future king gave side glances and small smiles as he met familiar eyes.  They invited friends and family and the people who sell them candy. 

The thing that I loved so much about the wedding, what made waking up more than worthwhile, was the splendid ordinariness of it all.  Yes, they are royalty now.  Yes, it was expensive and pretty.  But they were a happy young couple committing to life together.  The now historic second kiss they snuck was incredibly unrefined and loving.  The stories of Prince Harry’s “survivors’ breakfast” for the guests who could stay up all night was exactly what a best man/brother should have done.  The queen, after the royal reception, left the castle to the couple and friends.  Yes, it was a castle, but it was not much different from the wedding of my friends.  It was beautifully, refreshingly normal. 

That same week I went to see the famous flower fields of Carlsbad.  I had wanted to visit them last year, but did not make it out before they closed for the summer.  I was so excited to go see these acres of blooms.  I wanted to practice a little photography and see if I could get a good shot or two.  I woke up early, made the drive, paid my entrance, and excitedly entered the fields.

The fields were pretty.  There were a lot of flowers.

There were many kinds of flowers there. 

I am glad that I went.  I wish that I had gone a little earlier in the season because some of the flowers were starting to wilt and die, but it was nice.  It just wasn’t the overwhelming experience I thought that it would be.  Perhaps I had built it up too much in my mind, but I expected…more.  I expected breathtaking.  I expected.  I may have expected too much.  I liked the flowers, but had thought I would be inspired, I would fall in love, I would rave about it and never want to leave.  I was satisfied rather quickly, much faster than the driving I did to get there and back.  These famous fields simply were not as great as I thought that they would be.  In fact, possibly my favorite part of the field was a mistake, something only I seemed to notice:

It struck my, on the way home, that it was the ordinary, the unexpected that moved me.  This magnificent flower patch was pretty, but it did not make me feel like I had hoped it would.  Instead, I thought about the yellow flowers (okay, weeds) that line my route to and from work.  The wall of yellow against the freeway, following the river bank, makes me happier than most things these days.  They are my flowers, my spring, my joy.  Today I spotted this poking through the parking lot fence:

I made sure to return and take a quick picture of it on my way home from the grocery store.  These are the things that I love deeply.  They are the everyday.  They are the common beauty.  They make this city of concrete and this world of pain a little more friendly and beautiful.  They are the free, accidental gifts of life.  They are quiet and simple.  This is what made the wedding great, the flowers stunning: the unremarkable.  The simplest things bring the most awe.

Happiness is just outside my window/ Thought it’d crash blowing 80-miles an hour?/ But happiness a little more like knocking/ On your door, and you just let it in?”  –The Fray, “Happiness”

“My mother, that’s who I mean…”

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“A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.”  –Washington Irving

I love my mom. 

Writing about her proves a little harder than writing about my dad because I have always been a daddy’s girl.  On the other hand, I had quite a few years where, at best, I maintained a shallow truce with her and, at worst, was furious with her.  Perhaps that is every adolescent girl’s fate.  Perhaps it is the timeless Greek tragedy, the younger determined to tear down and defeat the older.  Perhaps these are just excuses.  The truth is, I said and did so many things that I now regret.  This shame is why it’s hard to write about my mom.  I didn’t have a life-long friendship, a close companionship.  I have guilt and deep, unquenching love.

I spent a lot of time angry at my mom.  I was angry because I had two little brothers.  I was mad that she babysat other children.  I hated that she was a dedicated teacher that loved her students.  I hated that (I thought) she had all the time in the world for every other child.  I wanted her to myself.  I can seen now how much I craved her affection and attention.  She was in no way distant or absent–it was just never enough for me.  No matter how present she was, I needed more.  To this day, I don’t know why.  I may have been a deeply unhappy child, lonely and unpopular, that just wanted someone to fill that emptiness.  Maybe my jealousies just got the better of me.  Whatever the reasons, I resented her.  I also burned with hatred for her rules.  She was so strict with me, lenient with my brothers.  She was unreasonable when I wanted to go out in high school, unwavering with her rules when it came to boys.  She wasn’t like the other moms who bent curfews and trusted their girls to make good choices.

Because she wasn’t like other moms.  She has lived a harder life than I will ever understand because she shielded me from it.  She struggled more through childhood than she let me.  Her family was unstable and fractured–she held ours together.  Her mom still works endlessly to support her children–she spent years at home so we were not alone.  She saw what drugs and violence do to people, and put up her iron walls to protect us from those evils.  She is a stronger woman than I ever knew.

As I’ve grown, I’ve understood her better.  My dad told me this time and again, but I now see how deeply she loved us, loved me.  She is not an overly affectionate woman, but I never went to school without a clean, ironed uniform.  My lunch was always full and fresh, my hair washed and combed.  Our home was clean and comfortable, our homework checked and complete.  Our birthdays were photographed and Christmases video taped.  She crocheted me afghans and sewed my bedspreads.  She stitched me Easter dresses.  And Christmas dresses.  And birthday dresses.  And Halloween costumes.  She found the perfect stocking stuffers and underwear.  She made dinner every night and birthday cakes, snacks for class and cookies for the fair.  We never went without. 

I would have prefered more cuddles and tender moments.  But I see as clearly as the keys beneath my finger tips that this was how my mom loves us.  This is how she knows to show her love.  She spent every last penny, every moment giving to us.  She gives things, does things, and makes things to show her love.  She doesn’t say it often and doesn’t talk endlessly about it, but she gives it. 

As I grow older, I see what this has done to me.  I send cards every holiday.  I send gifts every birthday.  I buy things that remind me of my friends when I see them.  I don’t regret spending money on others.  I am happy to run errands for them.  I bake for people.  I do for people.  I try to be better than she is about telling people how I feel, but without realizing it, I have taken on her generosity, the physical form her love takes.

Today, I love my mother just as much as I did when I was young, if not more.  I know more of her, have had more of her, and have been given more of her now.  I like to call her and talk about the television shows we both watch.  I like sending her websites to look at.  I like making her recipes myself.  But I also love making her laugh.  I like to make people laugh in general and want to be thought of as funny, but there is a pride that comes with making her laugh that no one else gives me.  I want to make her proud.  I know that there really isn’t a lot that is remarkable about my life right now, but there was a time I loved to call and tell her about tests or papers I aced, programs I coordinated, projects I completed.

I loved her so much more deeply when I was young than I realized.  My anger and pain eclipsed my devotion to her.  Now that age has tempered that angst, that love is clear and easy to find.  It courses through me, it crosses the miles, and it beats like the life blood she infused me with.  I wish there were no asterisk to our relationship, nothing that I want to forget, but the reality is that life and relationships are complicated.  I would rather not think about the monster that I was, the cruelty that she loved me through, and focus on the now, the true friendship that we have forged.  My mom may not be the easiest person on earth to love, but neither is her daughter, and we both overcome that.  I am so proud of her, so amazed by her strength and resilience, that “love” seems too small a word, my heart too weak to hold all that I feel for her. 

“All women become like their mothers.  That is their tragedy.  No man does.  That’s his.”  –Oscar Wilde

One Good Day

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“Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.”  —J.M. Barrie

I hate my job.  I have been unhappy since the second day.  I have wanted to do more, to be more from the very beginning.  I am sore, degraded, frustrated, bored and annoyed by the end of each day.  I wake up and dread getting out of bed because I hate what’s coming.  Days off are ruined because I know what comes next.  This is a huge reason why I am in need of a life change, why I write, why I named this what I did.  My job makes me hate the general public and want to move to Antarctica and avoid people.  And I had a good day at work on Friday–perhaps my first one ever. 

Very small things added up to one of the best days I’ve had at this job, by far the happiest.  I have had days where I have been productive, days that weren’t miserable, but I can’t actually think of another day where I left happy, not because the day was done, but because the day was happy.  Nothing was particularly noteworthy, but the little things made the day,  little things that caught my attention in a big way. 

I got a free cup!  This job takes everything out of me.  My energy, my patience, my drive, my hope.  It gives so little back: no satisfaction, no challenges, no growth, not nearly enough pay.  And I got a free cup!  Apparently my manager had a stash of cups that he was supposed to give out to all of the employees for a year or so.  He kept them in his office, I would like to think out of laziness or indifference, not malice.  I would like to think that he just didn’t think that we would enjoy a tiny little perk, not that he intentionally kept a little trinket from all of us.  It is a nice cup, one that I have considered buying.  It saves me ten dollars!  I expect very, very little from my employer, and this was the most generous they have ever been.  Who doesn’t love getting something for free?

I got a compliment!  It is incredibly, unbelievably rare that anyone compliments anything.  Customers complain.  Managers complain.  Coworkers are petty.  I try to do good work and every once in a while someone will speak up to a manager, but my efforts go largely unnoticed, or at least unrecognized.  But it wasn’t my hard work that was complimented.  It was me!  I feel like a failure more often than not these days.  I feel pretty darn worthless at the end of a long day on my feet and I, like many, don’t see much that I like when I look in the mirror.  But my customer complimented me!  Not my accuracy or politeness or attentiveness.  She told me I had “the most soothing voice.”  She liked how I sound.  She liked something that is me, that is unchangeable, undeniably me.  It’s not something that I worked at or practiced or could try to improve.  It’s just who I am.  Who I am was enough, was enjoyable, was worth complimenting.

I witnessed true love!  We see newly weds and engaged couples all the time.  I see people moving in together, parents shopping for children, children shopping for parents.  I see love and affection all around me and it is rarely refreshing.  Mostly it is depressing or annoying or frighteningly insincere.  With just a few minutes left in my day, a customer came up with his phone to his ear.  This annoys me and is an incredibly rude message that I am invisible, unimportant and not worth acknowledging.  As he listened to his phone, he asked me, “Do you want to hear something funny?”  Sure, why not.  He grinned and told me that his fiancée had accidentally called him and didn’t notice.  He told me he could hear her driving and singing in the car.  He said that she never lets him hear her sing, so he was just “soakin’ it in.”  He had been on the phone for more than a half hour just listening to her sing.  It was a smile, a gesture, an indulgence of pure, sincere love and adoration.  He left with the phone still to his head, a small smile fixed on his face.  He was happy.  He encouraged me, reminded me that romance is real and love is simple.   

I had a good day.  It was unexpected, unprecedented, and unimpressive.  There is nothing about that day that, to an outsider, would appear spectacular.  It was.  It was refreshing, like the chill of walking into an ice cream shop on a hot day in the middle of summer.  I want a job and a life where this is everyday, the norm, not the exception.  This is not nearly enough to make the job worthwhile or pleasant.  It is enough, however, to remind me that the little things are important, are everything, and that they beg to savored.  Good days really can happen, if I am open to them. 

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.”  –Anne Lamott

One Red Heart

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OR: A DEFENSE OF VALENTINE’S DAY AND THE POSTAL SERVICE

“And none will hear the postman’s knock/ Without a quickening of the heart./For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?” —W.H. Auden

(It’s been much too long since I have written anything and there has been so much that I have thought about since July.  But internet was spotty and time was wasted and the longer I wait to write, the more daunting it becomes.  So I’m diving back in because I feel and think better when I write.  I write better when I write.)

I used to consider myself a romantic.  I was a sucker for any film starring Drew Barrymore or Freddy Prinze Jr.  I gushed over boy band lyrics and was convinced that Prince Charming was just waiting to make his move.  Now I fear that I am a garden-variety cynic.  Love stories are too neat and cliché.  Declarations of love are too optimistic and blind.  And I hate Valentine’s Day.  It’s a day to remind me that love remains elusive, romance a stranger, and affection distant.  That being said, deep inside, a small flicker of the optimist remains and fights to reclaim her territory.

I am a fan of the ease technology lends to communication.  Living far from my family and old friends, it’s nice and convenient to go online and send a message, to email when I have the time, to text when I can’t talk.  However, I embrace these only because the world has moved so fast that it leaves me no choice.  I highly prefer a phone conversation to the 160-character limit of a text message.  I like the nuances of voice much more than an emoticon.  I’d rather have lunch than repeatedly message that we should.  I will never, ever, EVER embrace the electronic reader.  I find photo prints far superior to clicking through a flickr file.  Going to college gave me a new appreciation for mail.  To get a care package or letter from home rivaled any e-Card forwarded to me. 

Loving the physicality of mail, the weight of a card, the feel of tearing into an envelope lingered after graduation.  I have continued to try hard to get cards in the mail for holidays, send home a little reminder that my family and friends are on my mind.  I spend time searching for the right card for each person, choosing humor or sincerity, addressing and decorating each envelope.  I love getting mail, but I have come to love sending it just as much.  Just before Valentine’s day I was waiting in line at the Post Office to buy stamps.  Losing precious minutes on my day off, I stood in line for what everyone knows is far too long.  As I neared the front of the line, I saw an older woman leaning over the counter addressing an envelope.  She then turned it over and with a red marker, drew a large red heart over the sealed tab and colored it in.  This is why I love mail.  I almost cried, overcome with emotion watching her.  I was filled with love for her, for whomever that letter was meant for, for my family and friends I was mailing. 

Mail is time.  It is money.  It is effort.  I have to pick out a card, or at least find paper.  I have to put my hand to the paper, write out my own thoughts, articulate my own feelings.  I leave a piece of me on the paper, my handwriting, my words.  I put the writing in an envelope.  I lick it, tasting the glue and feeling the rough paper on my tongue.  I line up an address label and stamp.  Mail is intentional: one card to one person.  No Cc or BCc.  No mass forwarding.  No Tweeting to the masses.  I then spend time putting stickers and colors all over the envelopes, making my letters special.  I want my people, my loves, to stand out and be unique.  I can be impatient, but I also appreciate that mail is not instant– it goes on a journey, taking time to arrive.  Mail is anticipated, delivered, discovered.  Junk mail is annoying and wasteful, but it’s worth wading through for the good stuff.

This incident at the Post Office reassured me that perhaps the hopeless romantic I bragged about being in Junior High isn’t gone.  She’s wounded and scared, but she’s in there.  Like Bukowski’s blue bird, my optimist survives quietly.  If she weren’t, I wouldn’t send Valentines.  If she weren’t, that woman and her heart-sealed letter would not have been on my mind for more than a month.  I wouldn’t be bitter and resent romantic holidays if I didn’t believe in romance, feel that I am missing something.  I go out of my way to show my love, even if it is a small gesture.  Watching that little old woman with her red marker, it was clear to me how much I value the written word, communication, and love.  True love, strong and simple, is not grand gestures and big romances.  It is small devotions, simple reminders, and hand-drawn Valentines.  You can see it, touch it, read it, and send it– it is very, very real. 

“Christian, you may see me only as a drunken, vice-ridden gnome whose friends are just pimps and girls from the brothels. But I know about art and love, if only because I long for it with every fiber of my being.” –Toulouse-Lautrec, Moulin Rouge!

A Toy’s Story

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“We’ve done our duty.  Andy’s grown up.” –Army Man, Toy Story 3

Last week I went and watched the newest (final?) installment of the Toy Story world.  I knew going into the film that it was an emotional story for me.  Andy, like any real boy, grows up and leaves home.  He heads off to college and leaves behind the toys that defined him, the story of his childhood.  I looked back through photos that I took of my room before I cleaned it out after graduation.  I looked at my collections, my awards and pictures that plastered the walls.  My dolls, my toys, my books and movies–it was the product of fourteen years of life.  I decorated rooms in college and now have my own apartment, but nothing has ever been as truly, deeply, boldly me as that room I grew up in. 

I was choked up within a matter of minutes watching that movie.  It pulled at  my heart throughout the story.  I later read a “confession” in Entertainment Weekly by a man who had seen the film.  It was about his own emotional outburst, and those that men confessed to him they cried while watching it.  Something about the movie is so painful, so beautiful, so personal to adults.  Yes, there are moments that children are enjoying, but Pixar knew that they were targeting every person who had ever packed up toys, ever decided to grow up, ever had to become an adult.  It asks the question of what a toy really is.  Is it something that you enjoy and then put away until it’s needed again?  Does it wait for the next generation to find joy in it?  Or is it never really happy unless it’s being loved and played with  by a child?

I know that all of this is silly to question, because toys are pieces of wood and cloth and plastic.  They do not feel or think.  They just are.  But this is the whole magic of the movies.  Everyone who has ever carried a toy everywhere, who has had ongoing games and stories they imagine, knows that a toy is much more than what it’s composed of.  I think of my Polly Pockets (the real ones, the tiny ones I couldn’t play with if my brother was awake) and Barbies and Precious Places and American Girl dolls all packed away.  The Littlest Pet Shop (again, the real ones, not the creepy new generation) and Beanie Babies and Legos that fill buckets in the garage make me feel guilty.  Should we give them away?  Should they be somewhere where children will love them as much as we did?  Is it selfish to keep them for the children I want someday?  Is a toy something that we can rightfully hold onto?  The army men left because their job was done: they saw Andy through his childhood.  After that, they had no more use.  Is there truth in this?  Or do we really never outgrow our need for the toys that accompanied us through the years?

“‘What is REAL?’ asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. ‘Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?’

“‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'”  –Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

I grew up in America.  I had parents who loved me and my brothers, who provided for us and wanted to make us happy, give us a childhood of joy.  Part of this meant that we never wanted for much.  We had clean clothes, plenty of food, shelter and attention.  And we had toys.  We had too many toys.  Many of them I would never recognize if I saw them in a thrift store, but there are many others who I can feel in my hands, who I can smell and hear and never forget.  I remember the cardboard Grocery Store my parents assembled for me.  They painstakingly kept boxes from food and resealed them so I had REAL food for the shelves.  I can remember the way my mom’s doll house she handed down to me smelled, even after I started using it more to throw clothes on top of than to play with.  I can hear the swish of the water and plastic that swirled in my little pot, made to look like soup cooking.  Nothing on earth sounds like the clatter of hundreds of Legos falling out onto the floor. 

We were raised to appreciate our toys.  We were relatively good to them.  We didn’t draw on them or leave them outside.  We loved our toys.  My brothers both had a propensity for choosing the ugliest, hardest, sharpest toys to take to bed with them every night.  We kept the accessories and pieces and took care of what we loved.  My dolls all had names.  My mom made beds with blankets and mattresses for them. 

“‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?'”

Another part of Toy Story’s universality is the tragedy of it.  Again, the unnecessary guilt sets in.  We all have favorite toys.  We would be excited by new ones, revel in the adventure of playing new games, but they would mostly fall by the wayside.  I feel sad for those toys, who were wonderful and gifts and special, but not special enough.  They were fun, but not lasting.  There were so many that eventually broke, or were lost, or handed down to other children.  As irrationally sorry as I feel for these toys, I feel an awe for the ones that stayed around.  When my grandma continues to give my little brother Legos for Christmas, a little part of me stings with jealousy.  Where’s my new doll dress?  Don’t I get a new stuffed animal?  There’s a piece of me that wants to know that others recognize that child that’s still inside me, that I still love my toys, that I’m not the only one who has no idea when I got old enough to live on my own or hold a job or make restaurant reservations.

“‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.'”

On my bed right now, next to my pillow, is the Pound Puppy I got for my fourth birthday.  She is now old enough to buy alcohol.  She has been everywhere with me.  She has gone to the hospital with me when I was scared.  She left for school with me when I was terrified.  She has been dragged all over our home, shoved in suitcases, gone on sleepovers, and seen two decades of my life come and go.  When I read this passage from The Velveteen Rabbit my throat tightened.  My dad told me that the last time he saw Nicky he got choked up.  She doesn’t look like she did coming out of that box.  She looks old.  She has almost no fur left, few of the strings that separate her “toes” and much of the paint on her big eyes is scratched.  Her nose and bow are faded.  She is dirty and stained, looking more like she’s gray on accident.  She has soaked up tears and secrets.  She has no stuffing left in her neck, the perfect place for a child to carry a toy.  She is soft and floppy in all the right places for her to fold in half and fit perfectly in the crook of my arm as I sleep.

“‘I suppose you are real?’ said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.”

I know one day Nicky will have to go away.  My parents have talked about having her cleaned and preserved, like they would in a museum.  One day I will have someone else to occupy my bed, and her place will be taken.  One day she will simply not be able to withstand the demands a girl puts on her.  I dread that day and prefer to think that if she’s made it this far, she’ll make it forever.  At a time when my family is far away, she is closer than anyone else.  When I’m alone and realizing that friends are not as true as I thought, she is steadfast.  When I feel like things are out of control and chaotic, she brings me back to the simple.  When all the fears and anxieties and dreams and wishes that I build up in my head get too big, she can bring me back to the small, to the little me that made her leashes and buried my face in her tummy.  She is more real than almost anything in my life, more than cloth and stuffing and thread.

‘The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,’ he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.'”

“Just Friends”

Standard

“Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part gets in the way.”

“That’s not true.  I have a number of men friends and there is no sex involved.”

“No you don’t.”

“Yes I do.”

“No you don’t.”

“Yes I do.” 

“You only think you do.”

“You say I’m having sex with these men without my knowledge?”

“No, what I’m saying is they all want to have sex with you.”

“They do not.”

“Do too.”

“They do not.”

“Do too.”

“How do you know?”

“Because no man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive.  He always wants to have sex with her.”

“So you’re saying that a man can be friends with a woman he finds unattractive?” 

“No, you pretty much want to nail ’em too.”  —When Harry Met Sally

The past few days this idea has been everywhere.  I turned on the Today Show this morning and heard all the reasons why men and women cannot really be friends.  It was an interesting discussion because it assumed that at least one of the two involved was in a relationship already.  The “experts” talked a lot about trust and crossing boundaries and sharing things with a “friend” that you would not share with your significant other.  Perhaps because of the audience demographic, the segment ignored the dynamic of two single friends of the opposite sex.  Then tonight, in a very different realm of television, Family Guy talked about Brian’s attraction to Lois, and his unrequited feelings led him into therapy.  And incontinence. 

It’s such a fascinating relationship and everyone has an opinion on the topic.  I think that most opinions depend heavily on whether or not a person has fallen hard for a friend or not.  However, the fact that a guy or girl hasn’t had feelings for a friend does not mean that they have not been the object of secret affections.  It’s really interesting to look at.  I’m sure that there is plenty of sociological or psychological studies that have examined these interactions and feelings.  It would be interesting to know just how many co-ed friendships cross the platonic line.  I would think a study on this would be near impossible, however, because how often do we risk the friendship and admit the feelings?

I wonder when all of this starts.  And when it all ends.  I know that for a few of my childhood years I felt more comfortable with and enjoyed the company of boys more than girls.  I remember the first friend that I realized I wanted more than friendship from was probably around seventh grade.  I’ve crossed that dangerous line time and again since that formative year.  It really is a point of no return for most friendships.  I have liked guys that I then pursue a friendship with, and had friends that I had feelings for, but I never feel quite the same once the feelings subside.  Does it kick in at different times for everyone?  I can’t imagine that there is anyone that hasn’t felt the pain of knowing that “friends” just isn’t quite enough. 

There is something unique to the male-female dynamic that is different from any other relationship.  Whether there is romance at stake or not, my friendships with guys are nothing like my friendships with girls.  I love the book Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller.  The book has so much to offer and opens up so many fascinating thoughts and ideas about why we are the way we are.  One of the things that Miller looks at in-depth is love, with attention to romantic love.  He writes beautifully about how man was not meant to be alone.  God saw that he needed someone around, he need help and companionship.  And then he waited.  He named animals and that wasn’t good enough.  Nothing would do but a woman, made of the same stuff as man, a piece of himself.  She was the same, but separate and different.  She was what man needed.  I’m sure that I should see this as proof for heterosexuality, or providence to keep humanity going.  And I guess it could be those things.  I think, however, that God knew that guys need girls.  There is just an innate need, a hole that is filled, by companionship with someone of the opposite sex.  We are not meant to be alone.  However, as a girl, I was also meant to complete and complement a guy.  Some might think that it’s insulting or demeaning that Eve was made from a piece of Adam, not on her own, to be his companion, to meet his need.  I think that is one of the most beautiful parts.  Yes, she was made for his solace and pleasure, but she was made because nothing else would do.  Women were created to be loved and to love.  Perhaps it’s maternal instincts or antiquated gender roles, but I think that is such an awesome honor.  God’s plan for me, for my gender, is love and friendship.

“Why do I fall in love with every woman I see who shows me the least bit of attention?”  —Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I assume a big part of the problem is that we all like attention.  We want to feel loved, feel validated, feel special.  When we find someone who makes us feel alive and adored, we don’t let them go.  Friends do this, build us up into our best selves.  This attention creeps into the parts of our minds that spend too much time making things complicated.  We like feeling special.  The way we feel about ourselves becomes connected with the way we feel about the friend.  Then it all gets messy and lovey. 

All of this culminates in the ultimate question: if men and women can never really just be friends, do you sacrifice the love for friendship, or risk the friendship for love?  I always opt for the former, but I also tend to ask my self the torturous “what if…” a lot.  There really is a choice to be made.  You can’t be “just friends” and “more than friends” at the same time.  Which do you choose?  How do you choose?  How much do you risk and how much can you stand to lose? 

“How long can I go on like this, wishing to kiss you/ Before I rightly explode?/And this double life I lead isn’t healthy for me, in fact it makes me nervous/ If I get caught I could be risking it all/ Well, baby there’s a lot that I miss in case I’m wrong/ And all I really want to do is love you/ A kind much closer than friends use/ But I still can’t say it after all we’ve been through…”  –Jason Mraz, “If It Kills Me”