Miscellanea in the pool on a Sunday…

My children throw everything in the swimming pool.

I wish they wouldn’t, but it seems to be part of their play. Sometimes they’re out there for hours in the afternoons after school, talking to themselves, stripping bark off the old stumps in the backyard, peeling papayas and sweeping black dirt into the pool.

I knew Sierra was going to do this when I saw the broom, but I couldn’t bear to break the spell until the last minute, and then it was too late. Garden soil drifted through the chlorinated blue to the bottom, where it rested like spilled ink. She looked up, startled, when I called her (Sierra, dirt does not go in the pool! But why not? I’m making mud balls!) and then, finally, as if it were the only other option, she came inside to play a computer game. 

Another day, a Sunday, I was drawn outside by a family of papayas huddled together on a boogie board, a scene that clearly needed to be Instagrammed. I was distracted by a sliced papaya floating in the pool and, deeper down, a shipwrecked lawn ornament in the shape of a hummingbird. 

In my daughters’ minds, I know, each random piece had a story, a reason for being in the pool. What does it say about me that, instead of fishing them out like a responsible adult, I photographed them?

miscellanea

This is what I saw.

Miscellanea in the pool.

I can play this game too, I thought. But, since I don’t know their stories, I’ll make up my own.*

(*Note: Each story is exactly 50 words long. Because 1. I was never gonna get around to publishing this blog otherwise. Wish I had more time to write… and 2. Conveniently enough, they now fit pretty perfectly into this week’s WordPress creative writing challenge.)

I.

The boy next door had a papaya tree. She sneaked over there sometimes. They’d shake the tree, cut the fruit, then– juice dripping, sticky hands–share it, sitting in the shade. They didn’t talk. Or mostly he talked. They’d sit side by side, then she’d come home. Momma never knew.

II.

Aunt Sophie had a hummingbird hatpin. He found it in the room at the end of the hall with the junk boxes and that weird book about Münchausen syndrome by proxy.

“William! Where are you?”

“…Coming!”

He covered the book; clicked the light.

The hatpin he put in his pocket.

III.

She walked along the perimeter of the pond, and the wind through the saw palmettos made a satisfying sound, like dried bones. The sun, trapped inside the water, was boiling. She’d left his body in a ditch up the road, and she wasn’t going back. Yeah, she felt lighter already…

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And that, my friends, is how writers play. :)

How do you play?

© Jaime Greenberg and discovered in play, 2014

The Great Perpetual Independent Coffee Shop Tour

In my dreams (the nighttime ones), my husband and I are always traveling. We board ships and planes and trains and moving hotel rooms and wake up in locations north of here or over the ocean from here…

In these dreams, we haven’t arrived yet, only traveled. Sometimes we lose each other in labyrinthine corridors and behind elevator doors– stuck on the wrong floor, going up up up when we should be going down–but we always find each other again.

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In real life, lately, we’ve been traveling a lot too.
It all started last summer, our 13th wedding anniversary (I like to think I’m not really that old; I got married that young). We took our first road trip together– just us– since our daughters (ages 5 and almost-8 at the time) were born. We drove nearly 3,000 miles, all the way from South Florida up to Chicago and back. Our goal, ostensibly, was Lollapalooza 2012. But I guess what we really intended to do, like in my dreams, was to find each other again.

And we did, like we always do. Like we always have.

Along the way, I thought up a game.
To make the trip interesting, we would visit a different independent coffee shop in each city along the way. It was already a given that we’d be stopping for coffee anyway. Finding the coffee shops only took a little Googling, plugging the address into our GPS and– voila!— instant adventure. Kind of like a scavenger hunt, or like geocatching, but with the most deliciously satisfying payoff: mmm coffee! As a bonus, our forays to independent coffee shops tended to take us off the beaten path, sometimes to places only real locals know about. And it was a great way to support the economy in the local community– wherever that local community happened to be.

sooo much concentration required to drink an iced mocha and take a photo: Ugly Mugs Coffee, Nashville

sooo much concentration required to drink an iced mocha and take a photo: Ugly Mugs Coffee, Nashville

And then, of course, there was the novelty.

I’ve been to many a Starbucks in my day, taking advantage of their free Wifi and expensive coffee. The trouble with Starbucks is, they’re all basically the same. And they all kind of blend together.

Our brains have a tendency to remember the unexpected, the unusual, the new— and to discard automatic routine. I can’t (and don’t want to) remember every single time I’ve walked into a Starbucks and ordered my favorite, not-terribly creative go-to drink (“Grande nonfat latte, please. Yes that’s all. My name’s Jaime. Thank you.”) In Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything Joshua Foer talks about how novelty “unfolds time” and new experiences “serve to anchor our memories,” thus making our lives seem longer, richer, fuller. Mmm kind of like a good cup of coffee…

In this way, our great Perpetual Independent Coffee Shop Tour (that’s #picstour on Instagram and, yes, it’s expanded from one summer’s pastime to become never-ending) now anchors our journeys, wherever we happen to go. I take my coffee shop adventures seriously, so I could probably write an essay about each and every one of the stops on our tour– detailing the smells/sounds/tastes/touches/sights, the people we met/watched, and my specific emotional state/daydreams/ideas/tangents at each. My life in coffee shops. But I won’t– not for now, anyway.

I’ll just introduce you to a few of my favorites, in Instagram pictures. I’ve included website links and physical addresses in case you want to visit. Go there and cast your own anchors. Make up your own stories. Tell me what you find.

I’m taking recommendations too– what other independent coffee shops should we visit?

The Frothy Monkey, Nashville, Tennessee

The Frothy Monkey

The Frothy Monkey * 2509 12th Ave. S., Nashville, Tennessee
Wherein I enjoyed a yummy chai latte made from scratch with milk from local Hatcher Family Dairy. As it happens, I grew up on the Hatcher Family Dairy farm in Macon, Georgia (no relation to these guys, but the milk in Nashville certainly tasted serendipitous).

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Lazy Daze

Lazy Daze Coffee House

Lazy Daze Coffeehouse * 10 Johnson Ave, Indianapolis, Indiana
We found this shop after a night of ill-equipped camping at the Indy KOA. That morning we woke up before the birds and drove around bleary-eyed, in the dark, looking for the coffee shop. When we finally found it, I noted on Instagram, “The ground is pretty hard in Indianapolis… but the coffee’s good. Nice day, definitely worth waking up early.” Drink of choice: double Americano.

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Cup O' Joe

Cup O’ Joe

Cup o’ Joe German Village * 627 S. Third Street, Columbus, Ohio
This was a special place. I spent some beautiful time alone here, while my husband went to a business meeting. I snapped this picture and wrote, “Quiet morning in German Village, Columbus, Ohio. Got an iced mocha; gonna do some writing…”

That iced mocha was gooood, too! This is what I wrote while I was there.

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Kahwa Coffee

Kahwa Espresso Bar

Kahwa Espresso Bar * 475 2nd St. N., Downtown St. Petersburg, Florida
This one was fun because we did it with friends. In total: four adults, two 5-year-olds, one 8-year-old, two jack russells and a vizsla puppy, to be exact. The pack of us wandered around St. Pete on foot –up one block and down another, dogs and children and leashes tangling up together in joyous, barely contained chaos –until we found it.

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Caffe Sapore

Caffe Sapore

Caffe Sapore * 790 Lombard St  San Francisco, California
The Official San Francisco stop on our PICS Tour, during my recent birthday trip. I ♥ San Francisco.

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Cafe Muse

Cafe Muse * 785 8th Ave., San Francisco, California
Shout out to our ‘unofficial” San Francisco Stop on the PICS Tour. We stumbled onto this shop–in Inner Richmond, right outside Golden Gate Park–while we were looking for a bathroom. We settled in for lunch– why not? I ate a tuna melt and watched, through the window, a young man arranging plants in an apartment across the street.

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The Steaming Bean

The Steaming Bean * 635 S Lincoln Ave  Steamboat Springs, Colorado
My home away from the snow in Steamboat Springs. We visited this one twice. My Florida-born daughters caught snowflakes on their tongues and built snowmen right outside the shop, while I, warm and toasty, watched through the panoramic window. They looked like figures in a snow globe. So magical! Here I am wearing an insane amount of clothing (I’m from Florida, remember?) and celebrating St. Patty’s Day with a Nutty Irishman (hazelnut and Irish creame latte)– which was amaaaazing!

Cheers!

© Jaime Greenberg and discovered in play, 2013

Do I know you?

ISO real friends.

I’ve mostly been ignoring Facebook lately, and really only paying peripheral attention to Pinterest and Twitter. Occasionally I’ll visit LinkedIn to bestow random work-related endorsements on my contacts there… but it all feels pretty empty.

Sometimes I feel like I have lots of “friends” on social media, but not nearly enough real friends in my life.

I’m not even sure how to make friends anymore. Everybody’s busy these days, doing our own things, pausing now and then to upload photos and update statuses. It’s weird to me– and a little awkward– that  I can know so many intimate details about people’s lives without ever having in-person conversations with them, without honestly knowing them in real life.

But I do it too. I post about my fabulous vacations, my funny pets and my clever children—hoping you’ll like me a little more because of all that. (Although researchers say you’re more likely to be jealous of the extremely edited and happy version of my life I choose to share with you. So, go figure.) I blog about all sorts of personal stuff. I post song lyrics and YouTube videos and inspirational quotes and Instagram photos of my latest visit to some independent-coffee-shop-you’ve-never-heard-of, because (maybe?) you’ll think that’s cool too. But does anybody really know me any better for learning all that trivia? Does anybody really care?

I’ve ‘met’ so many interesting people—all over the country, all over the world even—through blogging and various other social media. I feel like my world is broader because of the internet; my connections are wider-ranging. But it’s harder (or maybe just as hard as it ever was) to find genuine lasting friendship in real life. I have many friends who live in the same city as I do, that I see more often online than I do in person. I’ll admit, that’s partly my own fault. But that doesn’t make it any less messed up.

staying connected

staying connected

These days, most people socialize with their friends online, at least in part. But a lot of what we’re posting is just surface stuff. Noise. With all the static coming through our overstuffed news feeds and in-boxes, are we really even listening to each other anymore?

We can excuse each other if we’re not, right? Because listening is hard to do. There is such a sheer volume of information out there that curating it has become an art form—both highbrow (see Maria Popova) and lowbrow (see _insert name of meme-y Tumblr of the week here_). Which, in the online world, almost gives me the sense that I could curate my list of friends, too, carefully editing and culling until I achieved just the right mix of interesting people with whom I’ll admit to being associated. But people are not bits of data. We are all so much more—more beautiful, more subtle, messier, more complicated—than our Facebook profiles would suggest. It’s this extra dimension, this completeness, that I cherish in my in-person friendships. It’s a depth I miss when I follow my friends online.

And then, there are human qualities– like empathy, a skill so vital to all types of interpersonal interaction, especially friendship — that are easily muddled up in online communication. Is empathy even something that can be experienced through a keyboard? It’s hard to say. At the very least, I think, it’s different online than it is in person. If I pour my heart out to you in a blog or an email… do you really, truly get me? Can you get to know me– for real, I mean? Can you imagine yourself in my shoes? Or, without body language and eye contact and every other little nuance and intuition gleaned through old-fashioned senses, do things just get lost in translation between my brain and your screen?

One of the things social media does extremely well– by allowing for all sorts of collecting and cataloging– is point out just how many scores and scores of people I actually do know. It turns out that I, like most everybody else reading this, have an incredible number of acquaintances. I will even be super broad in my definitions and say that I probably do have a lot of actual friends, as well (and not just fake, placeholder Facebook “friends” either). But, for me at least, the ability to measure comments and “likes” and friend quantity (not just my own, but my friends’ friend quantity too) — only highlights the lack of quality and depth in the vast majority of my relationships. And that can sometimes feel… really lonely.

It shouldn’t, of course, but it does. By now I think we’ve all heard the neat little fact that humans can really only hold about 150 meaningful relationships in our heads. Your real list of tried-and-true, hardcore, BFFs probably brings that number down to a mere handful (it does for me, anyway). Which is as it should be.

But when I’m feeling lonely, and everybody else seems all chummy with each other on Facebook, the type of friendships I wish I had more of are the deep and long term ones. The real ones. The ones that start up kind of like magic, and to which there really are no shortcuts. The kind where you really, truly know the other person and they know you– no agendas, no strings attached– where you’re understood and loved, and missed when you’re not around. Isn’t that what everybody wants?

© Jaime Greenberg and discovered in play, 2013

Aside

Impressions

Impressions

On one of those early spring days that feel already like summer—high sunlight and the faint smell of rain on dirt whispering their promises—you find yourself wandering.

You’re holding a stolen gardenia flower, which you breathe in every few steps, eyes closed, not so much smelling but remembering. You barely even slow down to glide around a dead ??? lying smack in the center of the sidewalk. No head, ribcage and spine like a too-many-legged spider, shaped all wrong for a cat… raccoon maybe? One time on a walk like this—not so far from here, actually—you found a purple dildo lying spent on the sidewalk. You didn’t slow down then either. But you did pull out your phone and take a picture.

You’re walking because you’re in search of something, but you can’t quite put your finger on what it might be… You decide you’ll know it when you see it. It is, obviously, not a dildo or a dead cat.

You leave the sidewalk when you reach the canal, walking along the grass for a while next to its onyx-smooth surface. A purple-blue flower called “kiss me and I’ll tell you” makes you smile, makes you wish you weren’t alone so you could share the joke. You jump as a heron, nearly as tall as you, breaks cover on the opposite bank, cutting across your path.

"kiss me and I'll tell you"

“kiss me and I’ll tell you”

This is when you finally do stop. There’s a single cabbage palm next to the canal, and in the new quiet of your mind, the wind blowing through it sounds like a rainstorm. You breathe. Laugh.

The sun is starting to set. You pull “kiss me and I’ll tell you” up by the roots and take it home to plant in your garden, in the dark.

© Jaime Greenberg and discovered in play, 2013

In the Dark

Sometimes it’s easy to forget, in sunny South Florida where it’s still t-shirt weather in November, that the days are getting shorter. But even here in paradise we’re not exempt from the greater laws of nature, whether we notice them or not.

I was out running the other night at about 6:00, when I suddenly realized: it was dark. The street lights weren’t on yet, and the only illumination on my tree-lined street was the faint white glow of the sun already over the horizon and the occasional flashing of headlights as cars sped past. I slowed down, turned off my iPod and listened.

Beneath the whooshing of cars was another layer of sound: crickets and wind gently shaking oak leaves, something tiny moving in the hedges. And beneath those little sounds, silence. I realized I could barely see anything with my eyes anymore, so I closed them and took a deep breath– smelled the down-low scent of ferns and wet earth, and higher up, just a suggestion of someone’s dinner floating past me on the breeze. I smiled.

I love the dark. It’s one of my favorite places to be. A secret, safe, exciting place. A creative place, full of possibility. A place to really feel alive.

There’s disagreement as to exactly how many senses we humans have (some say as many as 30), but it should be clear to anyone who’s ever made the effort to use them all–it’s definitely more than five. At no time is this fact more apparent to me than when I’m in a dark place.

Darkness reminds me of my first photography class in college: loading black and white film rolls into processing tanks in a pitch-black bathroom next to the darkroom. I did it all by feel, closing my eyes (even less necessary here than during the night run in my neighborhood), then unspooling the film from the safety of its canister–stretching it all the way to the floor before winding it back up into the tank. In this dark room I was acutely aware of my body in space; I could feel the very contours and limits of it. But at the same time I felt more than my body–it was as if my extra senses stretched out before me, and I could see the room and its contents even more vividly than if the light had been on.

me, in the dark

There’s a reason most meditation takes place with eyes closed. Not being able to see with your eyes sends you deep inside yourself–and outside the limits of your ‘self’ at the same time.

Darkness is where we go to dream, to imagine and to create. In fact, many of my favorite in-the-dark memories are tinged with a magical quality (did that really happen or did I dream it?):

On a beach in Trinidad, under a sky filled with the light of what seemed like every single star in the universe, I didn’t really see, but felt, a leatherback sea turtle climb out of the crashing waves, dig a hole and lay her eggs. Her soft, sturdy head felt, absurdly, like the leather recliner in the house my grandparents lived in when I was a child…

Late one night, jet-lagged and sleepless in Rome, Italy, I stepped onto my balcony to listen to a lone guitar player sitting under a light on the deserted street, playing for nobody (or maybe for me)…     

It’s easy to underestimate the sheer volume of visual stimulation we encounter every day–phone and computer and TV screens, billboards, the general rush and blur of life. When you cut this out, even just a little bit, the world comes into a different kind of focus.

Like the intimate vulnerability, the easy camaraderie, people share when they’re together in the dark: around a campfire, at a coffee shop at 5:00 am, on a train at midnight headed back home. At times like this it feels like we’re all in it together, this collective dream.

Sometimes at night, after my children are asleep, I go out to the backyard and lie in my hammock. Each night is dark, of course, but always different. One night clouds move restlessly across the sky. The half-moon looks like a melon with the top chopped off, and the sound of the wind moves through the trees like the ocean, just out of sight. The next night the sky is clear and quiet: no wind, only crickets. Connect-the-dot stars cast an invisible net across the moon.

I find my eyes are closed but my imagination is open. My senses are alive.

© Jaime Greenberg and discovered in play, 2011