Time to take down the clutter

Sun, Dec. 28, 2014

Savannah Morning News column


It’s time to clear the decks, to make a clean slate, to get ready for a new year.

I’m not talking about culling my bookshelves although that’s where I usually start when I’m looking for order or when something inside me is crying out for control because what could be better than running your eyes and fingers across all those titles and then deciding what needs to be returned or given away, either to the public library or to one of those Free Library stands that are popping up all over Savannah, the latest being the one on Gwinnett street just west of that great community garden on East Broad Street.

I’m not talking rifling through about my desk, either, another that can be another satisfying endeavor, if only to see how many pairs of scissors I can find or boxes of paperclips or pens that don’t work or yet another catalog from a seed company or some see-through glassine packages of stamps that are now outdated or torn addresses from last year’s holiday cards.

No, I am starting with my refrigerator. Not the inside, necessarily. Forget the sour cream from last year’s Chanukah party or the remaining tomato paste, now brown and crusty, or the soup swimming in an unfamiliar Tupperware container, a gift from a neighbor when you were sick, stuck way in the back, forgotten, overripe, finished.

Never mind the half-used jars of condiments. But seriously, would we need refrigeration if we didn’t have all those condiments? We don’t even use ketchup anymore, except for the occasional hotdog, and there it is, all bubbled up, ready to explode. It’s time to sell ketchup in smaller bottles. (PS. not going to happen).

I’m not even talking about the deep and mysterious vegetable bins. Those I keep a pretty close eye on. (Too much good compost). Still, there are questions. Is that parsnip or burdock? Are those turnips or rutabaga? Parsley or cilantro? Greens aren’t supposed to be slimy, right? Forget the cabbage. I never have to worry about them.  Those dense and crinkly heads, which go back to 1,000 B.C., or so I read, have a shelf life of decades, minus a few outer leaves, of course, which reminds me, how does a farmer make any money growing cabbage? That’s what I want to know.

Start some water boiling. Time to use all those miscellaneous bits and pieces of carrots, celery, shallots, cabbage, sweet potatoes and beets. What about all the ghost peppers? I had a bumper crop this year but they are way too hot for me to handle, let alone eat. I grow them because they are pretty. Everyone says they want some until you try to give them away and then it’s, “No thanks.”

No, I’m not talking about what’s in the fridge, that enormous appliance that takes up so much room in our kitchens and makes so much noise when it clicks on or off or when the ice shifts.

I’m talking about what’s on the front and the sides of the fridge, all those welcoming surfaces that take magnets so well. It’s time, my friends, to reevaluate, to look under the magnets, to thin the stack, to cull the herd.

That expensive, three-color “save the date” card with multiple photos of the happy couple walking into the sunset? Oh, you mean the one where the couple broke up and/or decided it wasn’t the right time to get married? I think I can toss that and be grateful I never made an airline reservation to Michigan. Or maybe I just got uninvited.

How about the 2012 schedule of the Sand Gnats, stuck way at the bottom? Does anyone even look at these calendars? The magnets make the calendars attractive but only as a vehicle to hold up more junk or to act as advertising for real estate.

Or the birthday parties for the one-year-old or the two-year-old? Cute, yes, but enough is enough. Same with the workout schedules to the latest yoga studio, the latest gym. Are they even in business? Trash.

After a plethora of eggnog, oysters, potato latkes and legions of lines at the post office, my life is crying out for a little negative space, starting with the face of the refrigerator. How else can I ever let anything new in?














Liking Facebook in the face of tragedy

Savannah Morning News column

Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014

I’m a latecomer to everything. Stubborn, I guess. Resistant to group think. Facebook has been a tough one for me. Does someone want to tell me something? Fine.  Pick up the phone and call. Or peck out a one-on-one email.  Write a letter.

Not going to happen. Now it’s Facebook, which doubles as the twenty-first century version of consciousness-raising groups from the 60’s where “sharing” or baring your soul was the big deal of the day. I didn’t do that, either. Too icky. Too much information (TMI). More than anyone needs to know.

But communicate we must. So there I am on Facebook, with my “Facebook family,” looking at pictures, sending and reading individual messages, finding links to stories I missed, enjoying the snark, doing what I said I would never do, just like I insisted I would never talk on my phone while walking the dog, pulling weeds or riding my bike.

Still, I was not ready for a Facebook posting last week from a former teacher of mine from Chatham University, a poet, a colleague, a friend. It read, “Heart broken. My son died today. Heading to Dallas to say goodbye to him. – at Pittsburgh International Airport.”

All I knew of her son was that he was a musician, he was young (30), he was troubled, and she loved him, wrote of him, spoke of him, worried about him.

My first reaction was to close the post, get off Facebook and turn off my phone. How could this happen? And then, how could she put all this out there? It’s wrong. It’s too personal. Too much information. But that simple statement from the airport in Pittsburgh was only the beginning, which I knew because I couldn’t stop reading her posts. Every few hours, I’d wake up in the middle of the night, grab my phone because I didn’t have my laptop and read the next installment. They were bold. They were honest. It was happening in real time and I was there, crying with her and with others.

“One more and then I’m to bed,” she writes, sometime in the wee hours. “Some of you have been asking how Gray died. We are pretty sure it was a drug overdose but are waiting on a toxicology report. He had been clean for several months and seemed happy in his new job and looking forward to the future, so we are all confused.” By then there were hundreds of response posts. I had to read them, too. It didn’t matter I did not know most of the people.

In between posts there was music. David Gilmour, from Pink Floyd, playing, “Wish You Were Here,” Roberta Flack singing “Ballad of the Sad Young Man.”

I listened to all those too.

There was poetry. From Louise Gluck’s “Snowdrops”: “Do you know what I was, how I lived? You know what despair is; then/winter should have meaning for you.” And from Raymond Carver, a short story writer I never knew as a poet: “And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.”

In between there would be posts from Sheryl.

“I wish I could respond to everyone individually, but know that I am reading every single post and looking at every single ‘like.’ I feel sort of numb and like my throat is broken as well as my heart but it helps to see your names and words.”

There were updates about the funeral, the celebration after the funeral, the texts she had from him.

“Things break down from time to time,” he wrote and she posted. “But there are constants. People who stick around. Family. Good friends that will pick up the phone even if it’s been a couple years. I’m lucky. I’m really lucky. Might even say blessed. This is 30 and I think I’m ready to cool it on the whine a bit and just give thanks. Oh yeah. it’s thanksgiving wtf. Haha.”

And that’s when I started to “get” Facebook, as inadequate as the words are: like, share, comment. That’s when I started to understand “sharing,” publicly, from a distance.

So when she started posting pictures of her son, many, many pictures, I felt moved to write, “Keep ‘em coming,” because I could see it was helping. This was her way of grieving or coping. When friends of her son posted memories, she would write, “They showed me a part of my son I hardly ever got to see, and for that I am every grateful to them.”

Regardless, there is the reality. As with anyone who dies too young you wish they could have held on, which is what he said himself.

“Today I picked up his clothes and things from his apartment,” Sheryl wrote. “In his papers were some writings from his time in rehab a few months ago. He had written, in response to some questions from the Center about why he was there, “I don’t want to die.”

How do you “like” that, Facebook?