651: New Perspective

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Losing weight doesn’t seem to be working for me, so from now on, I’m going to concentrate on getting taller instead. Worth a try, right? 🙂

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650: Birthdays and Daisies

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Any day spent this side of the daisies cannot be all bad. Today wasn’t the best day of my life, but it certainly wasn’t the worst one, either. That puts it comfortably somewhere in the middle – a pretty darn good day. Woo-HOO! And many more!

649: College Pathways

You didn’t kiss me when I left.

I traveled two and a half hours over two-lane roads to arrive at this University, where I will spend six days a week this summer working on a research project, attending class, conducting research, and returning to my youth as a responsibility-free college student.

Except…. I’m not. I am not a college student, even though I feel very much the same as the teenager that I was then. The outside does not match the inside, and hasn’t done so for at least the last thirty-five years. Inside, though, inside – that’s pretty much the same person that walked the shaded footpaths at the University of Georgia, Athens in the late 1970’s. But this is Georgia Southern University, Statesboro in 2018, and the silver sparkles in my hair aren’t glitter, and I didn’t add them on purpose just for the wow factor, either.

The sidewalks don’t seem to be as shady as I remember they were, and the South Georgia sun is hot on my neck and shoulders, making me grateful for the travel size sunscreen I slathered on the back of my neck and the cheap sunglasses I’m wearing. Heck, everything I’m wearing is cheap. I visited Goodwill today for a pair of closed toe shoes and another pair of jeans, instead of the old lady teacher clothes I brought with me fully intending to wear while I am here. I probably will wear them, even though they make me stick out from the fresh-faced millennials like the sore thumb that I am.

The trees and shrubs that have been planted along these university walkways have been strictly pruned – this far you may grow and blossom, and no further. The flowerbeds contain lush profusion, all the way up to the edge, where a military haircut neatly ends the clipped foliage like an invisible force field. The expanses of mulched bed beneath the evenly spaced young trees are flawless. No weed seed would dare sprout to mar the unblemished field of uniformly aged, dusty grey-brown chips.

There is remarkably little human detritus to be seen, either, in the twelve minutes it takes me to purposefully walk from the student residence apartment I have been allotted to the imposing brick stateliness of the College of Engineering building. The paver blocks (two shapes, three colors) that make up the walkway I’m on were meticulously laid in a deliberately decorative pattern that required a concrete saw’s precise cuts to match up the paver blocks’ disparate shapes and colors at the edges to produce this ornate and ordinary walkway that borders this ordinary and unimportant side road.

I imagine the thoughts of the stonemason laboring in Georgia’s heat and humidity as he cut, set, and fit these walkway pavers so precisely that so few people will see and use. Perhaps he was missing his wife, like I am missing my husband. And then, why am I so sure that the person was a he? I chide myself on my thoughtless sexism. Probably was a he, though.

It occurs to me, after two days of College of Engineering workshop sessions and research laboratory tours, that these men (and most of them are men) are a lot like professional athletes. They come to work every day and pursue their own very narrow interests, playing at deriving better numbers in the same way a professional athlete seeks to shave a place value off their previous best number. Their projects have impressive sounding names (my brother and I christened one of our backyard forts “The Impregnable Kingdom of Fuller,” even though the rain later proved it not to be). Some of those research projects are probably going to be useful (some day), and maybe even affordable (one day quite some time after that). At least, unlike the athlete or the stonemason who paved the pathway to their building, they mostly work on improving their numbers inside in the air conditioning.

I am here at this university this long hot summer to narrow my own far-flung interests down to an Engineering research project on renewable energy, to construct a prototype, and to derive some numbers of my own that I can take back to my impoverished school district to perhaps ignite some youngsters who can dream and maybe believe that the world does not end at the county line the way their lives have shown them, repeatedly, is true. Perhaps some of them might then set their sights on achieving better numbers in air-conditioned comfort, instead of trying to win the professional athlete lottery against their own genetics, or instead of simply opting to labor outdoors in the hot sun, which they all know is a possibility, however unwelcome.

First, though, they have to believe such a future exists, that it isn’t just another fairy tale like the stuff they see on the TV screen and in the movies which they all know is just make-believe, of course. Then they have to believe it is possible, seeing beyond the effort it will cost and the money they don’t have. Then, the biggest stretch of faith of all, they have to believe they maybe, just maybe, they could do it themselves, instead of watching someone else do it who had more than they had to go on. Faith isn’t easy, and changing your beliefs isn’t encouraged, where they come from.

648: Philosophy of Relationships, Blackberry Style

There is plenty of time while picking blackberries on the side of a dusty red dirt Georgia road on a hot, humid, and sunny June day to entertain philosophical thoughts. The task itself is repetitive, though fairly exacting, so that the mind is mostly free to pursue other pursuits while the hands are engaged.

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When you see a blackberry on the bramble that you desire to pluck, you must first weigh the relative possibilities of achieving it versus the potential difficulties, for example, its position nestled within the thorny brambles that protect it. This is very much like that first full look at that gorgeous guy or girl that spikes your blood pressure and makes your eyes dilate. Once you determine the difficulty level for that particular berry is surmountable, you must grasp the berry gently, or all you will be left with is a red-purple stain on your fingers, as blackberries are very tender and easily crushed. Another person’s feelings are often just that tender, especially at first, when you don’t know their triggers and tender subjects.

If you can grasp the object of your desire gently enough not to crush it, then comes the process of bringing it to the basket. Its defenses will snag you in this retrieval effort, and you cannot allow yourself to react harshly or instinctively, jerking back when you feel the bite and sting of the bramble’s thorns, or they will merely dig deeper, drawing blood. You must negotiate with them, twisting, turning, maneuvering gently, always gently as you draw the succulent berry closer. This is the intricate relationship dance as each of you come to know the other, drawing out old splinters and working through the unpacking of old baggage, which each of us brings with us to every relationship.

Once you have the berry free of its entanglements, you can add it to your basket to take home. Marry it – claim this person as yours, and pledge yourself to it, heart and soul.

When your berry basket is filled, you can take the result of your time and effort home to your significant other. If they recognize what you have offered to them, your time and effort, along with the tangible sweetness of the berries, you are blessed in the relationship department fully as much as you were blessed in the berry picking endeavor.

647: Marriage of Berries

We woke early, and my husband asked if I wanted breakfast, and if so, what I might like: eggs, bacon, grits? This is his gift to me, the preparing of the food, and I understand that. I do not want food, because he will prepare it, we will sit and consume it, and he will rise from the table, content in his gift, and leave the room with its littered table, soiled counters and sink filled with the dirty dishes for me to attend to. The food sours in my stomach as I clean the dishes, the counters and the table.

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After the kitchen is clean again, so it will not attract nasty bugs in the heat and humidity that is Georgia, I gather my baskets and leave my house in the township. I drive several miles to the dirt road where my family, and the family of my family that was before my own family, used to live. This is the place I identify as the place where I grew up (even though I didn’t), and I know that this place is where the wild blueberries and the succulent blackberries grow thickly on the raised shoulders alongside the deeply carved and smoothed red dirt road.  Every summer when school was freshly let out for the heat and humidity, my family would come from the place where were living this time, and join with the family that always lived here on the red dirt road. I would take a pail or a pan and I would leave the house and trek to the dusty shoulders of the dirt road to harvest the bounty that only the birds appreciated when I was not there to claim my share.

Today, in my sixtieth decade, I harvest my share of the bird’s bounty while the day is yet cool, filling my baskets before the sun can sink its claws into the back of my neck. I am careful where I put my feet, my dad’s called warning from fifty years ago ringing in my ears, “Watch out for snakes.” The snakes come to these berry bushes, seeking their own bounty from the birds that also feast there. I must also watch for the ruffled, raised heaps of sand that signal the nest of the imported fire ants, aliens long established here, and also familiar from my youth.

I carefully pick only the ripest berries for my baskets, indiscriminately co-mingling the firm shiny round blue-black orbs of the blueberries, and the misshapen black purple softness of the blackberries, staining my fingers with their red-purple juice. When the baskets are nearly full and the sun has bitten my neck, I return to my home and show my offering to my husband, asking if I should freeze them for later or make a cobbler now. He chooses now.

I empty the berries into a large basin and run the cold water over them, watching the bits of chaff rise with the water. I fetch the large baking dish and use my fingers to oil the bottom and sides with Moroccan olive oil, and then I dust it with sugar, so the berries don’t stick. In handfuls, I sieve the succulent berries from their rinse and fill the dish with gleaming purple richness. I have more berries than the dish will hold. I select a plastic, zip-lock bag for the berries I will save for later. And then I sigh with annoyance, put the bag away, and pull out two shallow bowls to use all of the berries today, as instructed.

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I arrange pats of soft butter atop the gleaming berries, add brown sugar, dustings of ginger and cinnamon. In a bowl I whip with a wire whisk the thin sweet batter than will sink down between the berries and rise up between them with the heat of baking, binding them together, even though they are of two different breeds, two different kinds. A marriage of berries, bound together.

When the cobblers are done, I take them from the hot oven to cool, and the cooling batter pulls away from the marriage of berries, leaving visible cracks between them. These are spaces for the freezing cold ice cream to fill, a coldness that will be served with the still-warm cobbler, a temporary patch in the marriage that will keep them together a little longer, until they are completely consumed, leaving nothing but the dirty bowls for me to wash and put into the dish drainer to dry, and then to put away.

I say I will go again tomorrow to pick more berries for later, but we both know that I won’t.

646: Ruin

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How can this be real. Why is this happening?

What cosmic error did I commit that brought this to life?

Or is it just my time to pay the price in the random swirl of randomness that makes up the big bang theory of random happenings that rule the universe and its randomly mutated, Darwineanly selected inhabitants?

I am too well-fed to be deprived – the internal layer of fortification that circles my midriff is ancient protection from the vicissitudes of life – insurance, a hedge for my survival.

That protective fat layer knows nothing of the demands of the twenty-first century.

It only knows the ancient need to procreate, and is attempting to ensure that I will have the reserves – even if I no longer have the necessary equipment, the means, the opportunity, or the desire.

The last thing I would ever, ever consider doing is adding to the lives I already bear the guilt of creating, the horrors I have foisted onto this unsuspecting planet of humanity.

I’m sorry. I did the best I could, and it wasn’t enough.

645: Racist

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I refuse to believe that I am wrong for believing that I should treat anyone else, regardless of color, race, origin, gender, age, what the freak ever ridiculous criterion you choose to insert here, I REFUSE to believe anything other than that I should treat them exactly the same – EXACTLY the same as me.

I believe it is an INSULT to treat them with special deference, prostrating myself on the altar of historical guilt for which I am not guilty in order to make someone else feel special, somehow superior. Idjits, that is the entire premise of equality – that people are equal, not exalted above someone else for whatever spurious, extraneous reason you choose to insert. Not to treat someone equally is an INSULT, an acknowledgement of their inherent inferiority. I don’t believe anyone is inferior to me, nor, for that matter, do I believe anyone is superior to me.

That, God bless America, is EQUALITY. And I don’t give a rat’s behind what the rest of the world thinks on this issue. Anything else, anything LESS, isn’t equality, and should be soundly condemned by any thinking person (and I guess that eliminates a whole lot of people who might otherwise qualify as people).