Two For Tuesday

blacktuesday“Be thankful for the small things, because the smaller they are to you the bigger they are to someone else.” ~Anonymous

I never really thought about it before, but we all have agendas. Every single person has a list of things that are important to them, and tries to chart a path to achieving those things. Whether it be a particular career, a certain amount of money, a trip to Disney World, or getting that new razor they’ve been eyeing, it’s special to them. And while having the Donkey Kong emulator on my phone is important to me, you would never understand.

It works the same way with being grateful to others. While some things we thank others for may seem small and insignificant to us, we could very well have made their day just by acknowledging them at all. And it works the same way for us. Others never know how one word might have completely changed our lives, even though to them it was such a small thing. Because we are all different we should never be flippant or forgetful about thanking those who do things for us.

This Tuesday I’m reminded of some things I considered small at the time, but looking back on them I realize they made a profound difference in my life.

1. I’m grateful for the summer of 1994. I had just graduated from high school and was given a trip to Huntsville, Alabama, as a reward. For two weeks I got to stay at my aunt’s apartment (all by myself) and pretend I was already an adult. My first act as an adult? I bought a pizza from Little Caesar’s. My second act? Cranking up the stereo and listening to August and Everything After, by the Counting Crows. It was hot. It was exhilarating. It was a kind of freedom I realized later doesn’t exist in real adulthood.

2. I’m grateful for my memory. I’ve taken it for granted so often in my life because it’s always been in my arsenal, but lately I’ve started to realize just how special it is to be able to recall so much from so long ago. Many others can barely keep track of what happened last week, so their memories just aren’t expansive while mine are. Sometimes I bring up vivid experiences from when I was young and others are amazed at it. I think it’s just something some people have and others don’t, and I wish I was able to share the ability. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I share this blog instead of making it private, because in some small way I want to share my memories with you.

Sam

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Since Sliced Bread

78025859I had a bagel this morning, and I realized as I was putting it into the toaster that it’s been a dog’s age since I’ve encountered a bagel that wasn’t pre-sliced. It got me to thinking about other things that have changed over the years. I remember when we used to get government cheese in a huge brick, then later on the brick was made up of already pre-sliced cheese product instead of that famous hunk. I started thinking that there must have been a cheap sale on a huge industrial sized slicer, and that’s why they made the change. It could have been something that simple, or just that NO ONE HAD THOUGHT OF IT BEFORE.

Isn’t that usually why we have innovations? I had my coffee this morning brewed up extra special by my Keurig. My mug goes right under the mechanism and, voila!, the machine brews up exactly one cup’s worth, with nothing left over that might end up being wasted. How many years did we have “old school” coffeemakers that brewed whole pots that were supposed to last us all day, but instead got old and stale? Someone finally figured out how to make it more convenient for us, and to help us have the best single cup of coffee we could have. I can’t believe no one had thought of it before.

keurig-special-edition-brewing-system-02Pretty much everything we have these days is an innovation of some sort. There is nothing new under the sun, so we create products and industries based off of existing products and services, but aimed at making them more convenient or adjusting them in some way to help us be more efficient. I remember when I was in elementary school sometimes my pencil would get dull and not write well, and instead of getting up to use the crank handled pencil sharpener in the front of the room I would “smudge” the paper on my desk with it, sliding it back and forth at a slight angle until it sharpened itself. No one taught me how to do it. I just figured it out because it made sense. Maybe that’s the key to innovation. It has to make sense.

So, about that sliced bread…

Before 1928 it was incredibly difficult to find sliced bread. Indeed, until a machine was created that year to mass produce loaves of sliced bread most people only ate hunks of bread they were able to tear off themselves, or they sliced the loaf one piece at a time. It was a tedious process, so people of the day would simply eat whatever hunk or individual slice they were able to cut off. But the invention of the bread slicer created entire new categories. Because of the uniformity of each slice people began making sandwiches. Now you can see an entire aisle in the grocery store dedicated to sandwich innards (condiments and such). Crazy how one innovation can do something like that. Maybe that’s why sliced bread is the standard by which all other innovations are measured, food or not.

So what are my favorite innovations since sliced bread, you ask? Continue reading “Since Sliced Bread”

Dear Journal: A Year of Sundays

sunday-fairberlin02052010Dear Journal,

I love Sundays. There’s just something about Sunday that is freeing, at least when I don’t work. Maybe it’s because Saturdays when I was young were always tied up with religion, not being able to do things, so Sunday was wide open, a spot of brilliant sunshine after the rain. And Sundays were always lazy, like an exhale. It was so exciting to have a whole day dedicated to nothing but the things that were interesting to me.

In fact, most of my writing back then happened on Sunday. I would get up early and get out my notebook, or my journal, or both, and my #3 pencil, and I would just start with no particular literary destination in mind. There was no coffee to sharpen my mind because my mind was as sharp as that pencil back then. That’s not to say my writing was sharp and uncluttered, because it wasn’t. It was emergent, as was I.

Sundays began to take on a different hue as I got older, though. More of those “Monday” trappings began to attach themselves to me early, gearing up for school, ironing clothes, various responsibilities that begin by creeping in and end up taking over. Parties, and games, and day trips, and those responsibilities started ruling Sundays, and my writing disappeared. For a year of Sundays it languished in the prison of cacophony, penned in like chickens in a coop, and I missed it like a phantom limb.

But slowly it came back to me, the Sunday that I used to know, only in bits and pieces. I learned how to make use of moments in my Sundays, moments to sit and write before moving on to the next project. It was a shift, a maturation of thought that helped me coordinate those precise moments to my best advantage. I learned that I don’t need to deny myself Sundays, that I can fit a year of Sundays into moments of Sundays parsed out over a larger span of time. And it has made all the difference.

Now it’s laundry time.

Sam

Living With Women

I’ve lived with women for 37 out of my 38 years of life, except for the two years of boarding school, and everybody knows that they don’t count. From the moment I could look up and recognize my surroundings my life has been filled with women, for better and for worse. Life would have been immeasurably different for me if I had been raised in the wild, by a gaggle of men. Of course is it possible to have only a group of men raise a child (outside of a popular 80s movie starring Ted Dansen, et. al)?

My mother and sister were the biggest influences in my life from day one, so my thoughts and actions can be measured through my myriad interactions with them, at least until the day I turned 21, and maybe beyond. They shaped me with their biases, with their fears, with their complications, and with their love. Each of them had a particular way of showing love that I never understood until later in my life, mistaking it instead for judgment way back then.

Then I got married, and I graciously passed on an X chromosome to each of my children, so the circle remains as complete as it can possibly be. Now I live every day amazed by what they do and say. It’s plain to see that they influence me in more ways than a few, these women who dominate my life. And that’s okay. That’s a blessing I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate 20 years ago, but it’s one I get down on my knees and praise god for now. It’s this life with women that I couldn’t have anticipated, but that I love more each day.

So what’s it like living with women? Yes, they can be moody. Yes, they can be imaginative, and forceful, and deliberate, and crazy at times. Yes, they are complicated, and frank, and they follow the beat of their own drummer. They can be so frustrating at times, but they’re individuals, and that’s more precious than gold. I could never regret living with women because all of the women I’ve lived with are the reason I’m the man I am today. I can’t even imagine living with men, of having more Y chromosomes around, because women have everything I’ve ever needed: a sense of compassion that can move mountains, but also a resolve that fortifies them.

Living with women has been all I’ve ever known, and it will be all I’ll ever know. And I am forever grateful.

Sam

300 Writing Prompts: #38

4c6cb904a2d15966297029f7e41e58dc“What are you recovering from right now?”

It was twenty years ago, and I was just testing out my sea legs, except I wasn’t on water. But you know what I mean. Any person who’s ever been 18 knows what I mean. I was an adult but I wasn’t an adult. I thought I knew what life had in store because I had always known what was going to happen. I was going to finish college with a phenomenal degree, get a phenomenal job straightaway, get married to the most phenomenal woman ever, and live the perfect life. Most 18-year-olds thinks this way, open-ended and free. But as 18-year-olds we fail to take into consideration that this world doesn’t just hand out “phenomenal.” It likes to take something from us as payment for a dream that may still never become reality. It takes our innocence.

I was confident back then, a well-read young man with well-read friends and a small penchant for the dramatic. College was free, and most things I wanted to pay for weren’t expensive either. Even if they were, I had a job for that, a job where I got to interact with people on a daily basis, one that kept me fluent in the language of youth but at the same time trained me for how to be when I really did grow up. But I wasn’t grown then, not by a long shot. I was probably the youngest 18-year-old ever, and what’s sad is that I didn’t know it at the time. All I knew was that I had a sense of freedom I had never known before, and I abused that sense of freedom as often as I possibly could.

t-shirt-about-drinkingYes, I was drunk more often than I wasn’t. I went to every party that was anywhere near, and when one wasn’t near I sketched and painted one in on the spur of the moment. People said I was the life of the party, which I figured out later meant I was a good caricature for them to point at and laugh, and I was too drunk to notice that they were laughing at me, not laughing with me. Even though I was laughing, and I kept laughing even after I got kicked out of school. They called it being put on probation, but I knew what it was. And they weren’t wrong. I had no business being in classes, not in my condition. I hated them for it then, but they did me a great service.

Before I knew it, though, I realized my life was in a holding pattern. I was as confident as ever, but it wasn’t getting me anywhere. Then the job was gone and the money started to run out. College was on hold, and I was listless. Literally without a list of anything to do or anyone to do it with. I was no longer the life of any party, and I didn’t know even how I was going to get to and from the places I wanted to go. So I took what I needed from people who didn’t deserve the way I treated them. I begged, borrowed, and stole to try and make myself feel better about myself, to make an impression on others. And the only thing I ended up doing was ostracizing those who cared about me, setting them in a corner and turning my back on them. I was completely lost.

I could have become a statistic, too, this kid who had the whole world in front of him and disdained it, who took it for granted, this Peter Pan wannabe who never found out how to grow up. It was the greatest sickness, taking youth for granted, taking people for granted, obsessed with this idea that the world somehow owed me. For what? Then it was all over, and I was all alone, and life kept moving forward while I stood still. But I shouldn’t have been surprised. It was what I had prepared for, the listless nature of my existence, the pain of self-imposed loss. And it’s 20 years later but I don’t think I’ve ever really looked in that mirror of time and examined the 18-year-old version of me, the kid who was fresh-faced and blazing with confidence. I don’t think I’ve ever really recovered from the blow I dealt myself by getting caught up with myself, by loving this idea of me that never came to fruition.

Am I in recovery? Well, I think the first step is recognizing the problem, identifying the disease, and I might be 20 years late, but better late than never.

Sam

Playing “Family Reunion”

It happened again. While waiting outside the therapist’s office this black guy assumed we knew each other. Or maybe he didn’t. I can’t tell the difference anymore. What I do know is that he walked in and said…

“How you doing, Bro?”

Which we all know isn’t really a question but rather an introduction to nod at him and say…

“What’s up, Bro?”

Which is also not a question but is instead an implied understanding between two people who don’t know each other from Adam but happen to share some common ancestry way back. But instead of that reply I said…

“I’m okay.”

Which threw him for a bit of a loop. I could tell, not because I know him well (which I don’t) but because his eyebrows arched. I had thrown off the balance of the exchange and he didn’t know what to make of it. I guess I wasn’t in the mood for playing “family reunion” this morning.

You know how to play “family reunion.” It’s when people you just meet treat you like you’re familiar enough to be family. It happens in stores where the associates wear nametags, or in restaurants when servers leave their names on napkins at the table. When you check out you call the person by name like you’re sisters or something. “Thanks for the great meal, Rachel,” you tell the server, like she made it special for you. You know, because you’re close like that.

And playing “family reunion” happens quite a bit when you’re black and you happen to run into other black folk. I can’t speak for other ethnicities because I’m not a part not them, but I feel like it’s unique to black folk, the quick assumed familiarity. Maybe we feel it’s solidarity considering some type of shared history, even if it was so long ago and even if it wasn’t even our personal shared history. It’s as if our ancestors both being slaves means we’re all related or something. I’m not really sure.

Sometimes I play the game and other times I do what I did above, depending on my mood. I mean what good is it having people you’re close to like family if you also treat any old shmoe off the street the same way? To me it’s a form of disrespect to the people who are truly there for you, who have forged those friendships, if you act like a guy you don’t even know is your best friend.

Don’t get me wrong. I was nice to that guy this morning. He was actually confused as to where he was supposed to be and I helped him out. Once he realized I wasn’t going to play the game he was really quite civil. Sometimes people get all twisted up if I won’t play, but life is too short to play pretend for someone’s sake who I don’t even know. I quick prefer not to look to the distant past to tell me who my friends and family should be.

And I’m looking forward to a real family reunion very soon. You know, with my actual family.

Sam

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