My grandmother, the tweeter

I awoke this morning with a question: would my grandmother have tweeted?

She passed away before twitter was even a germinating notion and before email was as ubiquitous as it is now. The most prevalent form of social media were the conversations during which she and I would dissect plot and motive from a recent episode of “Murder She Wrote” or “Hunter.”

But she was a correspondent. True, she had a readership of just one: her younger brother who lived in India. But to him she told the news of the day, of the goings-on in her corner of the States, and general musings about her quotidian observations. She wrote in Tamil, a script I only recognized by shape but whose meaning eluded me. Sometimes my grandmother would translate what she was writing; only now does it occur to me that she could have been lying! I doubt it, but…

If she were to tweet, I bet she would have adopted a less publicly public persona. That’s not to say her tweets would be protected. But they might be somewhat disguised, and her twitter handle would likely hearken back to the days of early email usernames when people relished in concocting absurd monikers for themselves, a time when anonymity reigned supreme (rather than the branding and self-marketing that marks today’s norm).

Some options:

@Kalpathi4eva (she was born in the village of Kalpathi, and so…)
@Hunterfan (self explanatory)
@Breadupma (would take too long to explain)
@Loosekanji (so would this)

As for the content, I wonder if her tweets would contain bits of song she would often invoke to underscore a point, draw out unexpected contours of experience, or simply as an excuse to break up the afternoon. Or might they be quotes from the Bhagavad Gita or the Ramayana, two books she read and reread incessantly? Or perhaps, if she were to continue with her flaneuse-like tendencies and resume circumambulating our childhood neighborhood as once used to do, perhaps she would recount odd bits of conversations that caught her as she passed by — below, snippets I overheard during last night’s walk:

 [Young man to a young woman he was walking with]: “Do you smell that?” deep breath “I love the smell of late evening in the spring.”

[Teenage girl crossing the street with two girlfriends]: “Omigod, I am fat. No, I am. I am! I am fat.” Over her friends’ protestations: “That’s rubbish.”

[Young woman sitting next to a young man on a bench in the park]: “I’ve never had a one night stand.”

[Two men standing on the corner smoking cigarettes, the one with worried eyes did the talking]: “Have you heard anything? Has there been any communication?” The other shakes his head.

So, would grandma have been a tweeter? I can’t say for sure, but given the way the platform keeps people in the forefront of my mind’s eye, I’d like to think so. 

Senioritis

Sure, the colloquial meaning of the word refers to an attitude of slacking off often found among the behaviors of high school seniors — and occasionally college seniors — who are nearing graduation. It is the lame duck period after college acceptances have been confirmed and graduation is not threatened, when the motivation to perform according to the rules of school decorum and expectations is dangerously low. I experienced a significant bout of this myself when I was seventeen, causing one of my teachers to worry that I may have to sit for a final exam instead of being exempt, a reward given to seniors who received “all A’s” in each of the four marking periods; I was poised to receive a “B” in my English course, a class I loved and looked forward to, but I had simply run out of words. I could write no more. I had no words left to produce the perfunctory papers that were required of me and my fellow students. It was also the class in which I discovered and read (and re-read) Anna Karenina; and verbally dressed-down a classmate for his insistence on literary insouciance. It had been a relatively good four years, but I was done. And I was ready to move (on).

But, I digress… and as we(e) academics are wont to do, I am opting to take a perfectly familiar notion like senioritis and imbue it with yet another meaning. (Take heart that I haven’t gone the path of creating arbitrarily complicated language for perfectly simple notions. Well, not here, anyway…)

I am referring to the character that gyms take on between the hours of 11:00a – 12:30p and 2:00p – 4:00p — the quality of being overrum with silver foxes tending to their arthritis, looking to soothe their bursitis, searching for exercise elixirs to ease other their joint pains as they commune with fellow septua– and octogenarians.

These are the times of day when I most love to visit the gym. Gone are the early morning, pre-work runners; missing are the mid-day warriors whose presence spreads out across the weights and the bicycles — these are times of the day when the gym is a place to engage differently. Some seniors take a class in the group activity room, raising a five-pound barbell in the air for six or eight repetitions, laughing all the while with the others in the room. (Oh, how I secretly wish to join their cult – the carefree, the years of institutional malarkey behind them.) Others seem to get lost on the elliptical machines, intentional in their workout gear and sporting headbands, knee-braces, and the odd wrist band. And still others are giving the un-retired a run for their money, literally, as they outpace their younger counterparts on the treadmill or climb artificial stairs with ease. What sets these retirees apart is the absence of hunched shoulders, tightened faces, teeth grinding, and the scowl that the others wear — those who must return to their desks/cubicles/offices/trucks/ and other sites of labor. In the locker room, the stories they share are tender, nostalgic, and wickedly funny; not all, but most.

Perhaps Senioritis is not slacking, but instead a slackening of the vice-like grips that govern our lives otherwise – a release of obligations, a recognition of the arbitrariness of social order, a reduced adherence to what were once strict rules of living…

…and the more than fifty shades of gray… their beautiful locks in all shades of gray, proud demonstrations of time gone by, of lives having been lived and being lived.

Viva la Senioritis!

A Christmas story

My father’s birthday falls about a week before Christmas and for the past several years my siblings and I have had some local chocolates delivered to his place of business. There is much fanfare, his employees are also able to participate in the fun, and the delivery makes the day memorable for all involved. This year, as he was approaching a milestone birthday, I thought briefly of doing something different — that is to say, ordering a delivery from somewhere different. The town where I spent my childhood, and where my father still lives, is not entirely devoid of clever gustatory options but since taking my leave many years ago I am less familiar with what those options may be. So after approximately two hundred seconds of google-mediated soul-searching, I opted to stay with tradition. Not being tethered to a sense of tradition in most of other parts of my life, this decision was therefore more practical than sentimental. However, all that changed after a phone call.

I rang the local chocolate shop on the weekend prior to the big birthday and proceeded to explain my request. I wanted a one-pound box of sugar free chocolates (for my diabetic dad) and a box of other chocolates (for his non-diabetic staff) delivered to his office. The voice on the other end of the phone balked. Wha– Um– We don’t do deliveries…? She said in that inflected manner in which statements sound curiously like questions. I explained slowly that I had been placing the same order for at least five or six years now and each time it is a delivery order. Um…. hold on. [I can hear some conversation on the other end between my telephone interlocutor and her colleague (collective age, 35… I’m guessing…) and then returns, with a gasp, to the phone] Yeah, we don’t deliver…? Um, but you can call Sue on Monday. She can help you…? I thanked her for her assistance and then on the following Monday morning, I placed a call and had the most pleasant chat with Sue:

Me: Hi, may I speak with Sue please?

Sue: This is Sue.

Me: Hi Sue, this is [me] and I’m calling to place an order for delivery for my dad’s birthday.

Sue: Oh! I was waiting for your call! How are ya? How’s your dad?

Me: I’m doing well and so is he, thanks. And you? You must be busy this time of year.

Sue: [pause] Yeah… well, I hope it gets busier. [pause] Well, what are we putting together this time? The sugar free box, right?

Me: Yes! And also something for his staff — maybe you can help me with this.

Sue: Sure — so the one-pound assortment – Sugar Free! I always remember [i think i hear her smiling] and I’m putting a label on it, too — and then, do you wanna put together a tray of other goodies? We’ve done a few for some local law firms — we package them up nicely with cellophane and wrapping — the whole works. It’ll be great.

Me: That sounds really lovely. Thank you — I think they’ll enjoy it. [pause] Do you need the address?

Sue: Nah — I know where it is — on the second floor, right? Yeah, not a problem.

I give her my payment information, and spell out the names for the card, and thank her again for her help.

Sue: Oh, it’s my pleasure. And thank you for thinking of us.

We hang up. Her last words linger in my mind as I recall her response to my query about how busy they must be: “I hope it gets busier.” And suddenly I am overcome with a deep (albeit somewhat fleeting) sense of sadness. All of the chatter in the mediaspheres about fiscal cliffs, taxes on small businesses, the pundits and politicians waxing (non)philosophic about the pl/fight of the middle class — all came into stark relief in this small moment. Business decoupled from finance, businesses as staples of communities, businesses as dependent upon and depended on by citizens. In a world dominated by Amazon and the like, it’s easy to forget (or at least it was for me) the importance of the smallness. Local is not mere ontology or discursive opposition to global — local is quotidian, local is lived, local is in many ways global itself. (I’m resisting the urge here to pontificate further on this notion: What is globalization but a series of connected locals?… You’re welcome)

Now, I’m no purist nor extremist (nor any -ist, really) — I won’t stop using Amazon, but in the moment of my conversation with Sue, and our follow-up exchange (below), the bigness of small moments moved me deeply. And I’m reminded of the fruit and veg stand on Southampton Row near the Sainsbury’s where I bought fruit for several months last year; and the series of coffee shops around my home in Philadelphia that are not franchised, some of which are host to artwork by local artists including:

  • Chapterhouse – where there’s an exhibit by Lynette Shelley and Eleanor Grosch currently ongoing
  • Red Hook Coffee – currently hosting a photography exhibit by students from Fleischer Arts til January 20th.

*****
Later the same afternoon–

Me: Hi Sue, I saw you called.

Sue: Oh yeah, I forgot how to spell your dad’s last name but then I remembered right after I called you.

Me: Ok, great. Did you need anything else?

Sue: No, it worked out fine. Your dad is so cute — as soon as I walked in, he looked up and said “She never forgets.” And he looked so happy. And we put the cookie tray in the main room for everyone to enjoy.

Me: Thank you so much. Really.

Sue: Well, thank you for thinking of us and using us. Have a good holiday.

Me: You, too.

It turns out that they do not, in fact, deliver. Except for this delivery each December. For the past few years, and, if I can help it, for the next several to come.

****

May 2013 bring continued glimpses of humanity, joy, and small moments that make up lives…

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Seen on a wall, on a small street in Philadelphia

Slip and fall

 

The almost-gash on my leg, just below my knee, refuses to bleed. The indentation, the size of a large staple, taunts me as if it is daring me to take a closer look, knowing full well that the sight of actual blood would induce swooning. So instead, the capillaries along the two-inch abrasion scream silently, the bright maroon from a few hours ago now settling into a brownish wine color. Another, smaller patch of this strange hue sits just millimeters below.

It’s not the pain or the embarrassment that lingers after a fall. No, it’s the split second between realizing you’re about to fall and the moment you begin your descent. The heart, perhaps out of self-preservation, holds its breath. We’re falling, it says, steadying itself before bracing for impact. It’s that instant that reoccurs, the memory of the moment just prior to losing all control that leaves the most indelible mark on the mind and in the body. It’s a recognition of fear about which we can do nothing but succumb. Powerless.

Let me go back a few hours, back before I had cause to wonder how early my doctor would be able to see me Monday morning.

Friday, the 23rd, the day after American Thanksgiving. To the internet and consumerist world, it is Black Friday. For me and three others with whom I passed the time this afternoon, it was a respite from the busy-ness of ordinarily hectic and over-scheduled days. All of us educators and researchers; three of us faculty at universities and the fourth a junior high teacher; all of us, despite our geographic distance, are ever in conversation with one another.

I snapped the second plastic buckle into place and adjusted my scarf before swinging the bag over left shoulder. What I was wearing as a scarf was a large, rectangular, thick cut of green wool that my grandmother had used as a shawl. Along the edges thread has been woven back and forth to resemble the shape of flowers or something else in the flora family. Folded lengthwise, I could wrap it around my neck a few times or, as I was wearing it this time, I often left one end hanging low in front of me and flung the other end across the opposite shoulder. As I started walking toward the door, I was filled with a soothing bliss, a flashing remembrance of the last several hours spent in the company of friends and colleagues with whom I had attended graduate school, with whom I enjoy talking and thinking about and imagining new questions and ideas that arise from our intersecting threads of inquiry.

We sat in the corner, occupying two small tables that on one side offered seating in the form of a curved cushioned bench with a tall, arched back covered in dark fabric, and on the other side could accommodate chairs. I had noticed the clusters of food scraps that rose up from the dark, vinyl floor like mini-landfills here and there, but, other than making a mental note to avoid them I hadn’t paid them much mind. During the course of the afternoon spent at the cafe where I once was employed for 36 hours, and to whose food preparers I almost completely handed over the responsibility of meal preparation during the year that I was writing my dissertation, I had successfully maneuvered my way to the counter to order a total of two cups of coffee and a scone. The service had been pleasant — not overly impressive given my very simple order, but worth noting all the same.

My friend, who would be giving me a ride home, walked a few steps in front of me and I had no reason to think anything was out of the ordinary… and the next instant, I was gripping onto metal and plastic poles that had been set up to direct traffic to the salad station. Down I went, but not before gliding uncontrollably for what, in that instant, felt like an unending spell of torture — the ground mocking me as I struggled to maintain some semblance of an upright posture before recognizing that pain would be unavoidable.

Perhaps I should have stayed down for a few more seconds, but in that most powerless of moments, the only thing the body wants to do is return to normal. How bad can it be, you think, fully aware that your shock impulses have taken over. There is an inexplicable impulse  to smooth your hair, to dust the unbelievably filthy floor dirt from off of your jeans, and then, while all of this maneuvering is happening, a glimpse of crumbs on the floor. A patch of wet crumbs. The culprit. So harmless looking. A non-issue had the crumbs never been dropped, or had they been swept up in a more timely fashion.

And it was perhaps this latter point that brought the manager, who was working his very first shift, rushing outside while my friend and I waited for our ride. Was I ok? Was I sure? What was my name? First name? Last name? And my number? And my address? But I wasn’t comfortable sharing my address. Oh, well my supervising manager will ask me for it. My head was reeling, I wasn’t all quite there. Thankfully, my friend had the presence of mind to ask for the manager’s card, noting that I would get myself checked out and be in touch if necessary. The man shook my hand asking, Are you sure you’re ok? Do you promise?

My friend later told me that I had inadvertently used the magic words that no business wants to hear: Slip and fall. It was the simplest explanation. And yet, they carry with them the ominous promise of legal action. Litigious action was the furthest thing from my mind as I inspected my leg at the scene of the crime incident. A visible scrape, some swelling, the promise of an abrasion and no doubt a scar to come.

Our bodies carry stories. And now mine carries a reminder of one more.

Stories people tell me (1)

I can’t promise this is exactly how the storytellers worded them, but what follows is how I heard the stories unfold. Below, the first of three heard this past week.

Story 1 – graduate student, my office, in response to a remark about the black plastic bag containing the student’s belongings:

“Yesterday, while standing on the subway returning from [the place I work] to campus, I saw an older European man coming toward me. I assumed he was European – German, maybe – because he was wearing shorts and I guess that’s what I assume when I see shorts on a grown man in October. As he walked by me, trying to find a more suitable place to stand is what I thought to myself, his feet tapped mine. He mumbled something that resembled an apology, but I can’t be certain. After taking pains to circumambulate me, he stopped so that his back was now inches from my face. His shirt was tucked into his shorts, and then, without warning, I see [at this point, the student makes a hand gesture that, in the States, is occasionally used when singing the nursery rhyme “Itsy Bitsy Spider”] … a bed bug. And then, before I could get over my shock, another one crawling up the other side of his back. At this point, I’m thinking, ‘what do I do?’ because I can’t exactly yell ‘Fire!’ in a crowded subway car. As I think, I begin to slowly inch backward, ensuring that the space between us is steadily increasing. What did I do? I got out of the subway car at the first opportunity! But then, realizing that I had further to go before getting where I needed to go, I hopped back onto another car on the same train and hoped that the man with the shorts had not been there first. And so, when I got home, I emptied the contents of my bag and washed it, which is where it is now and which is why I am using this black plastic bag to carry my things.”

Kerala travelogue 3 – Part 1: The Cyprus Edition

(this one’s been in the hopper for a while, unfinished, because there was always more to add. it’s still not quite where i want it to be, and still unfinished, so i offer you here one part of a multi-part reflection that connects kerala with cyprus and the uk through the simple thread of human hospitality and the impetus for story-sharing)

****

What is your hyphenation?

This was the question posed to me during an exchange about identity markers, labels and categorizations — those that are asserted as well as those that are given. It was March and I was enjoying the warm embrace of Cyprus when this set of transnational interactions transpired via twitter direct messaging, and while in this island mecca I found myself, quite unexpectedly, invoking my recent trip to India with startling regularity — startling to me given that my ethnic origin is rarely on the tip of my tongue or the first site of reference. And yet, as I found myself in the company of my friend, the very lovely and peerlessly hospitable S, and her charming and incredibly warm family, I was immediately and frequently moved to share tales of my recent travels to India and the stories they evoked of memories and long-forgotten family traditions. Conversation in the form of story-sharing was the apt garnish to the preparing, consuming, and communing around food that characterized a large part of my time in Cyprus.

On my first night in Larnaca, the town where I spent three of my six nights in the island nation, I was taken to a restaurant that was known to S and her husband from the time of their youth; a place that despite the immediate blanket of low light that greets its visitors, is filled with brightly colored paintings and other artwork — some of which, S told me, were made by the owner herself, who greeted my hosts with an air of familiarity, not quite the intimacy of family but certainly not the reservation of strangers. So consumed with our conversation had I been, that I was literally caught off guard by the flavor of the tomatoes in the salad. Tomatoes! Fruit in vegetable’s clothing that I rarely, until that night, ate fresh because years of mealy, overripe, flavorless varieties had made a jaded tomato eater (read: avoider) out of me. Tomatoes were, until that night, strictly relegated to the sauté pan for stir fry or tomato sauce recipes.

It would not be an exaggeration to state, plainly and without hyperbole, that first taste of tomato was nothing short of a gustatory revelation. No, a revelation. Period.

The next night, with not-too-distant memories of a familiarly strange flavor on my mind, I was treated to a homemade dinner of two traditional Greek soups: Trahana, made with the dried and sour wheat cakes and halloumi cheese and a second soup made of lemon, egg, and rice, the name of which escapes me at the moment. Once prepared, the soups joined the salad, asparagus dish, a pastry-type appetizer, and bottle of wine already placed on the neatly set table around which S’s parents, brother and sister-in-law, spouse and little V had already gathered. As the soups and libation flowed, so, too, did the stories – of living in Larnaca, of being forced out of the now-Turkish occupied northern section of the island, of being a teacher in Cyprus – and the questions – how was I enjoying myself? Was I born in the United States? How often did I visit India? What was my plan for the week?

In this scenario, I was the linguistically disadvantaged one, with nearly zero Greek words in my language knapsack – it was just on this trip that I learned that “ne,” contrary to phonological leanings – means “yes” – and my hosts bridged our language gap with ease, sharing stories, asking questions, answering my questions, and making me feel completely at home. It was here when I was first aware that I was reaching into my deep stores of childhood memories and recent conversations with familiar and unfamiliar strangers while traveling through Kerala.

There is a kinship between these countries and its inhabitants that was rendered in the abundant offerings of food, in the understood practices of talking over one another to communicate a point, and found in the unspoken transitions between hospitality and communion. When learning about the preparation of food, I shared my own early experiences of learning to cook alongside whomever was in the kitchen – very often, this was my grandmother, who catered to my particular and fickle adolescent tastes. And no story of my grandmother is complete without the added detail that she was my very first roommate, personal storyteller, and witness to my earliest dream-state ramblings and pontifications.

The dining table is a gathering place, a get-to-know-you spot, a place in which to learn about the world and debate its great possibilities and unspeakable disappointments, a mantle on which to lay the intersecting storied histories each of us weaves.

We traversed the small but culturally expansive terrain, S and I, and stayed overnight in the mountain village of Kalopanayiotis. I fell in love with this tucked away cluster of homes and homestays much in the same way I was enchanted by the tea plantations and hills of Munnar. In both places, the roads twisted and wound their way from one side of the mountain to another. Unlike the “only in Kerala” imagery of construction happening (quite literally) at the speed of one grandmother carrying a large stone on her head at a time, Kalopanayiotis was even less hurried in its existence; and unlike the countless shacks and more makeshift housing structures found on the subcontinent, the Cypriot village homes that we saw all had doors and small gardens and, I suspected and fantasized, an endless supply of halloumi cheese in their refrigerators.

But places, no matter how picturesque, gain meaning and memory through the people who pass through them. And on the morning we were set to leave the village, S and I encountered a woman that I know neither of us will forget. She looked to be at least seventy – we later learned that she was well into her 80s – and was standing at the foot of a small bridge and holding a bag as we approached after visiting the nearby church. The grey of her hair that was half visible underneath the scarf that was tied around her head matched the shirt that was tucked into a long, black skirt that was topped a black apron – as if she had left her house with great urgency; I imagined food that was in the process of being cooked and wondered how long she had been in possession of her apron, acknowledging that it could might also just be a fashion statement.

Her smile was instant and grew even wider when she spotted S; she took a few steps forward and said hello and in Greek asked S if we were visiting the village. For the next few minutes, the two Cypriots talked and I could tell there were questions being asked and answers being proffered; S occasionally paused to translate for me in the middle of bemused laughter at this situation that would turn out to be a highlight – not only of this trip, but also of the sabbatical thus far. The animated chatter stopped abruptly and the woman linked her arm with S’s and began walking, with me following alongside them. As we walked, S quickly filled me in: the woman was newly widowed, her husband had passed away just 45 days ago and she was returning home from visiting his grave. When she learned I was visiting from America, she told S that her brother lives in San Diego, that she had visited him before, and that another brother makes his home in Madison, WI. It turned out that the brother in the Midwest was known to S and this instantly made her like kin to the old woman who insisted we accompany her to her home for some food and drink. There was no argument that would be worth launching in the face of such staunch conviction. For a woman in her eighties, she had an impressive gait that she did not break as she turned back and shouted to her friend Antigone that she had “found some company!” and was going home. (S translated this, as well, in between her own laughter at the woman’s joyous declaration.) Antigone, just a few years younger than her friend, it seemed, quickly followed suit.

Once we reached the woman’s home just steps away from the other side of the bridge, we were treated to an assortment of Greek sweets and pastries and homemade iced tea served to us by a younger woman who appeared to be a housekeeper, while our host shared photos of her children and grandchildren during momentous occasions in their lives – graduations, weddings, anniversaries. (I was involved in a rather peculiar exchange with the woman’s youngest son, which I will save for a future post as it contributes to my ongoing musings about how the world views the US.)

The offerings of food and stories and memories that were being made to us was reminiscent of the impromptu visit my travel companions (one of my parents and my spouse) and I had with an octogenarian living in the village where my grandmother spent her childhood. In fact, the woman lived next door to the home where my great-grandparents raised most of their sixteen children, only about half of whom survived to reach adulthood. My grandmother was the youngest daughter and she was closest in age and in communication with the brothers who were immediately older and younger than she. The woman answered our knock on the iron bars in front of her door verbally first before making her way to the entrance. She paused as she looked up and listened as we announced our presence and purpose of the visit. Once she had made the connection – that we were relatives, descendants of her one-time neighbors – she turned the lock and joined us on what amounted to her front porch (or stoop, depending on your geo-linguistic preference).

Dressed, as my spouse pointed out later, in her Wimbledon best, she instantly began to recall stories of my grandmother, her parents, and her siblings and their various comings and goings. As she talked and gesticulated and directed her attention alternatingly at each of us, she interrupted herself briefly to ask her nephew – who was visiting from Canada and who, dressed in sweatpants and a tee shirt was clearly not expecting visitors – to bring out bananas that were in her kitchen. He obliged and our protestations were in vain, and so we obediently consumed the mini-bananas that are indigenous to this and other warm climates, as we listened and laughed and allowed ourselves to be temporarily transported to another moment in time.

[end of Travelogue 3, Part 1. Part 2 coming soon… including tales about my great-grandparents, village hospitality, and how this all relates back to a peak hike in Sheffield via a discursive pitstop back in Larnaca.]

Our eyes are always adjusting

Charlie Chaplin was supposed to be performing silly gestures on the large screen in the auditorium. At least that’s what my classmates and I had been told by our teacher about the movie we were watching just before the winter break. Or was it the day before spring break? Does The Tramp have a designated season? No matter — he is only relevant to this story because of what he represents in the longer narrative about my ability to see. I was in the eighth grade, sitting on a wooden seat that folds down to accommodate the occupant, in one of several dozen rows filled with the thirteen and near-thirteen year olds, and as the film reel flickered high above us onto the wide screen on the stage, I was hit with a startling reality: I couldn’t see. The black and white masses bled into one another creating, in the wake of their forced union, pulsating figures of grey shapes for which no other name but “blob” would fit. What was Charlie doing? Was he dancing? Bouncing? Running away from comic villains? For half of the movie, I sat quietly, stunned by this realization — a combination of anger and bewilderment consumed me: hadn’t I been able to make out the details of Spartacus and Ben Hur that were shown just months earlier on the same screen? Had I been squinting then, too? (And no, I can’t quite explain my middle school’s penchant for showing impressionable schoolchildren epic-length films featuring aged or long-dead actors resurrecting the tales of ancient Rome.)

Once the stupefication wore off, I asked my teacher if I could visit the nurse’s office. I was thankful in that moment to have built up a lifetime of trust in the form of obedient student behavior. She let me walk myself there. I can’t remember whether I pushed or pulled the door, or whether there was a door at all, but I recall the nurse asking me to sit on a cold, metal stool, hold a spoon-shaped piece of thick plastic over each eye and read the letters arranged in lines of decreasing size from top to bottom on the opposite wall of her small office. My eyes failed me, let me down when I needed them the most. An eye test! And all I could read was the large E at the top of the chart.

Within days I was outfitted with contact lenses. The eye doctor I was taken to by my mother treated adults, mostly, and was convinced that I, being a teenager, would not want to wear glasses. He insisted, to my mother rather than to me, that I should just start wearing contacts from the beginning. I was torn. I had secretly harbored fantasies of being a proud owner of eyewear, and displaying such hardware in public. So on they went, these tiny, bendable, plastic saucers that were tinted just enough to be seen and handled, but not enough to affect the appearance of my dark brown irises.  For those who haven’t worn contacts, the phrase, “You won’t be able to feel them” will seem like a bald faced lie. It isn’t. And just like that, these flexible plastic discs disappeared into — or rather onto my eyeballs and, barring a handful of incidents when one went missing somewhere into my eye socket, sight has been a managed and manageable part of my life. Laser eye surgery, with its promise of being able to wake up sighted, intrigued me, but only momentarily. At some point in my deliberations, I began to appreciate my less than 20-20 eyesight as a gift — the ability to not see, to obscure, to redouble my efforts in honing the other senses. The option to visually check out (an option I have selected on more than one occasion during group classes such as zumba — in other words: the ability to be aware without risking a glimpse at my lack of coordination).

To put it simply, I had a handle on my sight.

Oh, but the fates are funny and they play with the very things you not only hold dear, but take for granted.

Yesterday was a delightful day, an easy day spent in the company of friends and a visit to an enchanting bakery (that I will blog about later), that included hearing about interesting and thoughtful research about teaching and literacy taking place in Tanzania, and a stroll through the Upper West Side of Manhattan on the way to pick up my new glasses at a local eyewear retailer (a far cry from the old ones I had been relying on for evening reading, when my contact-wearing eyes would tire, the same that M said made me look like one of this country’s founders; this comparison was not made as a compliment). What happened when I slipped off my contacts and placed the new specs onto the bridge of my nose can only be explicated in the following hurriedly composed prose-poem:

The world is a funhouse, no mirror required.
Circles bend into oblongs,
pillars and buildings appear miniature,
and squares have not retained their structural integrity.

Turning my head quickly is only an option
If I don’t care about interrupting the path of an oncoming car,
or bike or passer-by.

The man at the counter sees me,
I am visibly reeling, trying to strike a balance between
giddiness at this strange sensation and
being perturbed at the possibility that my prescription
has been botched.

It takes a while to adjust, he says in my direction,
looking past me, and then
looking at me expectantly because he is ready to close out the account;
It’s because you just took off your contacts,
he tries to convince me.

Bollocks! I want to exclaim,
but then I remember I’m neither British nor
the protesting type.

At his request, I lean in toward him over the counter between us
and he assesses the fit.
They fit, he says. They look good on you.
I can’t disagree.

Another stroll around the store while he and his co-worker,
whose very short hair defers to her
shoulder length copper earrings,
keep an eye on me.

Blinded by my own vanity, I accept the glasses and
walk out the door onto the sidewalk
full of hurrying walkers who have no time for people
waiting for their eyes to adjust.
I know how they feel; I was one of them just ten minutes earlier.

Twenty-four hours have passed.
I feel my optic nerve. I don’t know what it’s doing,
but its presence on my consciousness is
unnerving.

But it’s the height that unnerves me the most.
The pavement below appears to be miles away,
I feel seven feet tall,
or what I assume a seven-foot-tall person might feel like,
less a sense of towering over things and more like
soaring, unbounded, or
floating
not merely inches, but whole feet above the ground.

This part I like.

I’m going to give it a week.
Meanwhile, I’ll continue to embrace my inner Gulliver,
in this suddenly-new, Lilliputian landscape.