Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Secret Lives of Little Girls, Part 5: The Tribe


Denise, age 3, in Pottstown, PA with Freckles

An excerpt from my 10th grade English essay "Problems in South Africa" on CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY:

"Perhaps at the root of all the problems in South Africa is the total destruction of the tribe. In order to be successful in this world, everyone must have a base at which morals, family bonds, pride in history and background, and a sense of stability exist. Without these, a person has no guidance, no roots, and no future. To live is not just to survive, like so many natives in South Africa found themselves doing, but to truly feel that you have a place in this world. For all natives, this place was once in a tribe, that is, before it was ripped out from under them. Throughout history, people have always been weakened when they were by themselves..."

I made an A+/52 on this paper. Mrs. Williamson loved the content, but she was a grammar Nazi, and I had a few run-ons that killed that part of the grade. I have always loved everything I've ever read by African writers. I haven't loved what happened to my tribe, how my tribe has not flourished in this world, and how I have struggled myself. As hard as I try, my darkest moments are about feeling incredibly alone, and my biggest fears are about being sick and never wanting to disappoint anyone. Death, depression, anger, and illness dominated the major events of my childhood, and have certainly continued as themes within my family. But there are many stories to tell, and there was a life that I lived that was about survival and joy and love and laughing.

This series about my childhood is my modern tribal dance.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Warm Fuzzies & Cold Pricklies



“Our friendships hurry to short and poor conclusions because we have made them a texture of wine and dreams, instead of the tough fiber of the human heart.”
--from “Friendship” by Emerson

When I was in the second grade, Mrs. Mault, the guidance counselor came around to our classroom and taught us the difference between “Warm Fuzzies” and “Cold Pricklies.” She held up pictures. They existed. They had eyeballs. She talked like they were things people gave you. Things like a feeling. Feelings exchanged back and forth like gifts, like toys. Toys that could you make you cry. We were to understand that there was not only a temperature to relationships, but also a texture. Good friends left you with heat in your cheeks. Heat and softness beside you, like a Smurf right out of the oven. During her talks, Rhonda Miller used to sit behind me, sucking her thumb with her right hand and twisting my hair with her left. I loved it. She gave me warm fuzzies. Thirty years later, I think “cold prickly” is a simple but accurate way to talk about the ice of a toxic friendship, and about the sting. The cartoon drawing of the Cold Prickly looked just like you think – a big, dry brown burr with sharp hooks – just like what falls from the tree and pays you back for running around barefoot. In the interest of making more merry about friendship, more light from the dark, I asked myself some questions:

1. Have you ever been a toxic friend?

Yes, I have spread gossip, judged, offered too much advice, lied about my whereabouts, coveted someone else’s partner/house/job/figure, misplaced or abused things I borrowed and competed.

2. Anything else?

Oh, yes, I’ve been over-sensitive, in-sensitive, too proud, needy and selfish.

3. Do you have any friends left?
Yes, tons.

4. What’s your secret to keeping friends?
Self-awareness and apologies. Nothing’s wrong with being wrong unless you don’t have the moral fortitude to make it right. Nothing’s wrong with not keeping a friend -- moving on. Some people come along in your life to teach you about yourself. They prepare you for the next, bigger friendship.

5. Sometimes the success of my friends makes me question everything in my life and it throws me into a Level One Funk. I just want to be happy for her. Why does this happen?
Because sometimes the wave forgets that it is water and sometimes you forget that you are love. One wave wants to compete with the other wave, but it’s all the same water. Give yourself a break. It’s not always easy to take someone else’s good luck/good work/good notice and quickly, like a flash, turn it into shiny, happy, carrot-colored motivation for you to aspire to and be inspired by. Come on. You’re at least as complicated as the weather. Feel it and then move on to some sunnier thoughts.

6. What’s the danger in never saying anything about what’s really bothering you?
Getting stuck in what you think she thinks, and even worse, what you think she thinks about what you think. Wow. If you’re getting tangled in projecting and guessing, it’s time to ask questions. Friendship is more like a thing with eyeballs and less like a trophy. It wants oxygen and water, and it doesn’t want to be collected. It hates to hear, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” It loves to hear, “You look frustrated. What’s going on?”

7. My friends get upset with me because I’m busy all the time. Why don’t they understand that when I’m not available, I’m just not available?
I know, you’re slammed with work. Me, too. I’m super-busy. 2010 is my 20th anniversary of being busy. Isn’t that cool? Cool like a cold prickly, my friend. Even when you’re really busy, and it’s really the truth, sometimes it’s you getting isolated from friends, and I bet you do have an hour. Remember that how you respond is like a thing you give to her, and she’ll have to determine the temperature and texture.

8. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Always. Invest in the warm fuzzies. Little love offerings are more than bumper sticker ideas. Who gives off heat and softness? Call her tonight. Who could use a card from you, a little bit of your ridiculous humor? Go to a concert with a friend and know that the touch of her arm beside yours is like the old days when you used to sit cross-legged on the floor at storytime and there was time for twisting hair and lessons about feelings.

The Secret Lives of Little Girls, Part 4: The House



1. where I shaved my legs for the first time.
2. where my mom grew zucchini, tomatoes, squash, watermelon, rhubarb and green beans.
3. where my mom parked her Pontiac Catalina.
4. where the previous resident killed himself.
5. where my trundle bed would pull out -- when she visited, my grandmother would sleep on it with her arms folded across her chest.
6. where my grandmother taught me to pray with a rosary.
7. where the Siamese cat used to sit at night and cry like a baby.
8. where I took Reader's Digest magazine stickers and licked them and stuck them all over my closets.
9. where the cat walked through all the pumpkin pies on Thanksgiving Eve.
10. where my mom painted clouds on the ceiling.
11. where my sister kept her 2 pairs of high heels that I would sneak in and try on.
12. where Mom kept her hundreds of Harlequin novels (that's embarrassing)
13. where my mom slept and stacked up books and magazines on the other side of the bed.
14. where I read all of Nancy Drew and Spiderman.
15. where I found the previous resident's fake leg.
16. where we played cards with my grandparents when my mom was in the hospital.
17. where my mom talked on the phone and the yellow cord would stretch all the way across the kitchen.
18. where I hid when the older ones started picking on me.
19. where we all stood and listened the morning we found out that John Lennon died.
20. where we kept my father's album of all the pictures he took in Korea.
21. where the Christmas tree went.
22. where I set up my bank teller operations.
23. where all games of Monopoly, Clue, Sorry, Trouble, Parcheesi, Risk, Frogger and Dungeons and Dragons were played.
24. where I played with a Ouija board for the first and last time.
25. where I watched Mommie Dearest every time I could catch it on HBO.
26. where Jeff played with matches and burned up his blinds.
27. where we waited for Santa.
28. where my mom's friend, Judy, spent most of her time.
29. where the previous resident would shoot his gun into the ceiling to scare his wife and it left bullet holes.
30. where the previous resident's wife killed herself by overdosing on pills.
31. where the pot plants grew.
32. where my mom made a Japanese-style garden and where I found my cat, Tiger, dead.
33. where we spent most of the summer.
34. where my brother and his friend set an old abandoned van on fire.
35. where we hid the key.
36. where we played basketball and tether ball.