Surroundings

I’ve spent a ton of time at my desk during pandemic.  Usually I prefer to work in one of my walking-distance spots, with little asides from neighbors, the noise of life going on, views of old architecture, and dogs, and the taste of some baked something I loved.

One of the pieces of my grief is walking past my favorite “fancy” coffee place, which has been completely closed for maybe four months.  Whenever I had especially difficult work to do, I would take myself there.  The bathrooms have beautiful painted tile, and a swan pouring water out.  I was taken care of.

At home, I have usually had a little work space that I never used.  In my carriage house, I had a beautiful window in a gable, and a desk my dad built for me, but most often, when I sat down there, I was petrified by the idea that I was supposed to write something good.  So I wrote out in the world.

In this home, I have a jutted out piece of the house, so there are big windows on both sides of me.   I never understood the importance of light in a home until I lived here.

I have the table that my dad found in my step-grandma’s basement.  The table was in bad shape.  My dad lovingly brought it back to health.

Let’s continue our tour.

On the left corner, a Black & Decker five cup coffeemaker.  It took me a while to bother to get one, because I almost always got coffee out.  Then I realized just how little money I had as a GTA.  I have a can of New Orleans’ Famous French Market coffee and chicory.  The red makes me happy, a bold red.  The picture on the can is clearly Cafe du Monde.  Assholes.

I have a tarnished silver sugar bowl that my stepmom gave me.  It has two jaunty hands on its hips, and little feet with line details.  I don’t sugar my coffee, so I thought it was silly to have a sugar bowl, but I use it when I make spaghetti sauce, I add a bit of sugar.  My stepmom just told me step-grandma did the same thing.

I have a Rubik’s cube covered with bits of text from a friend who worked with me in an experimental writing group.  This was unexpected, and I was touched.

I have a San Francisco cable car pencil sharpener from my middle sister.  She loves California like I love New York.

I have four coasters underneath various items on my desk.  They were made by my cousin, from maps of Disney World, our favorite place.

I have a plastic shoe that squeaks when you squeeze it.  It looks like an old-fashioned house slipper.  I found it out shopping with some colleagues when I worked in Queens.  At a dollar store, I think.  I just loved it for no reason.  It’s a cartoon character that exists in life.

I have an aloe plant I bought at a big church garage sale a couple blocks away.  In the aloe plant are two tiki swizzle sticks, one from Trader Sam’s at Disneyland, and one from Tiki Cat in Kansas City.

I have a mother-in-law’s tongue in a blue pot.  Also in that pot, I have a bear finger puppet from the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian.  I was very into bears then.

In front of the bear, a wind-up photographer in a pith helmet, ready to crawl on his belly.  He’s from the KC Zoo.

A small orange plastic cat who came with a My Little Pony set I got when I was a kid.

Finally, a dove mounted on wire, so I fixed him to the top of one of the mother-in-law tongue so it looks like he’s flying, and he’s reflected in the mirror behind him.

I have a red elephant cup that says “Nixon/Agnew.”  I love the color, I love that it is Nixon, the bastard, reminding me of the house I grew up in, where there was a bumper sticker on the basement wall that said “Nixon’s It.”

I bought a gold-painted bust that I say is Diana, the warrior.

I have dirt from Kurt Vonnegut’s yard in Iowa City, and dirt from Hannibal, Missouri, where Mark Twain grew up.

I have another elephant, this one baby blue, with his trunk raised.  He cost $3 and I love him so much.

What I see on the wall before me: a photo of my great-grandma and her sisters in cloche hats, a picture of my cousin and I in the middle east, having just finished our rose petal desert.

A picture of a whale wearing a boat, another cousin gift I adore.

A poster from the cat circus I volunteered at in Brooklyn.  (Yes, yes, yes.)  A poster for “The New Woman” at the Comedy Theater London (from a book).  \

An illustration called “Prairie Fires from the Great West,” with a train.

The quote “I urge you to notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.'”

A framed napkin, on which a former student wrote a passage from the Iliad.  My principal was mad as hell that I was teaching that text.  I can’t read it.  But I loved that kid, Joe, who was smart as hell.

A postcard showing the dreaming barn where people pay homage to Walt Disney.

An image I found in some art magazine that I just loved.

A soldier/saint from the Notre Dame cathedral we built last winter for Mardi Gras.

This quote from Pema Chodron: “What do you do when things become unbearable?  Did we become wiser or more stupid?  As a result of our pain, did we know more or less about what it means to be human?   Were we more critical of our world or more generous?”

A 1950s illustration of the Brooklyn Bridge.  A framed picture of King Kong hugging the Empire State building, from a friend.

A picture made of circles that I made at an art gallery in Kansas City, in the kid or grown ups willing to participate area.

A picture of my grandma and her dad, in front of a car.

A tambourine with our krewe name, used for Mardi Gras.

A flying pig, a gift from former colleagues who used it as inspiration to do our job teaching inner city kids.

Two sconces with the new glass I put on them.  The old ones were horrible country ’70s frosted with flowers.  Now they are sleek ribbed glass.

The spiderweb image I created with Elmer’s glue and dirt.

The mandala I made at the monastery in March.

Two more quotes.  Simone de Beauvoir: “It is the knowledge of the genuine conditions o our lives that we must draw our strength to live and our reasons for acting.”‘

Tolstoy: “Most people worry and suffer because they have been involved in so many bad things in their lives.  In truth, though, good things often happen in spite of our wishes, and sometimes even in opposition to our wishes, and often after our excitement and suffering over unworthy things.”  That one seems especially helpful now.

Tuned in to one frequency, when the conditions are right, we are surrounded by love.

Image: Place card holder, ca. 1872, Minton ceramics, England.

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