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This Square Peg.

Happily Not Fitting In Since 1978.

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memory

when they met.

eclipse
Photo courtesy of NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

If you haven’t heard, a total solar eclipse took place yesterday, August 21. Pretty historical stuff. I was excited beyond words, not necessarily because of the historicity of it or the celestial phenomenon, per se. I, This Square Peg, a writer of words and a purveyor of poetry, have used the moon as an allegorical foil/subject since I started writing eons ago. There was something about that big, gray, somber ball in the sky, not peppy and cheerful like the sun, ruler of tides, that struck me in a purely deep and artistic way. To me, there wasn’t a man in the moon. Symbolically, she was a woman in every way. My kind of girl. Powerful and moody and boss. Naturally, I frequently turned to her in my poetry. In my fiction, she’s always a character; whether providing silvery light for my character before his/her eventual epiphany or the third person in a two-person scene, viewing the action with a cool, disaffected gaze. In my poetry, though? In my poetry? The moon runs things.

When I was moving to Texas and engaged in my bout of horrifying packing, I found a poem that I wrote in college. The subject? Frustrated love. (Nothing new there.) The allegorical character? The moon. The denouement? An eclipse.

poem

So college-y. So eclipse-y. So moon-y.

I was able to see the eclipse yesterday, courtesy of a co-worker who shared his special sky glasses with me and some of my other colleagues. Because our city here in Dallas wasn’t on the path of totality–those cities would see the full, total eclipse; we would see a partial eclipse–I didn’t get to experience the moment my moon met the earth and the sun. But halfway is still pretty cool, no?

Here’s to my fabulous moon and her big moment yesterday.

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Oprah.

What an introduction. Let’s get right to it: when Her Excellency was was still on the air with her daily talk show, I won tickets to be part of her audience.

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Back in 2011, I remember going on the official website for the show and noticing one of the upcoming episodes. The theme of the impending show was going to be all about best friends. (Title: An Oprah & Gayle Kind of Friendship) Made sense, given the longtime friendship between Madame O and her bestie, Gayle King. The requirement to be part of the audience was to write and send in an essay about your best friend and why he/she was wonderful. That was a no-brainer. I’ve discussed my bestie on TSP more than once. She.Is.Everything. And so I got to writing. Looking back, I submitted the essay with only a small twinge of excitement, being that 1) I was probably 1 of a million people doing the same thing, and 2) I didn’t want that level of disappointment if I didn’t get chosen.

Then I received an email on March 23, 2011. Yes, I searched my inbox for that date. And yes, I’m giddy that the email still exists. Bottom line, the main idea of the email: my bestie and I were invited to join the audience during a taping of the themed episode.

I reacted a bit like this:

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So at this point, dear reader, my bestie didn’t know I had done any of this. I kept it all to myself in case we didn’t get chosen. Welp, that didn’t happen. After receiving that email, I called her and engaged in the following conversation:

Me: Hey, are you free on April 11?
Her: Let me check…yes, I’m free. What’s up?
Me: We’re flying to Chicago that day to be part of the audience of the Oprah show.
Her: *crickets*
Me: Are you there?
Her (whispers): This better not be a prank.
Me: It’s not! I wrote an essay and they picked it and it was about you and me and our friendship and we’re going to see Oprahhhhhhhhhh!

Her reactions, from 1-3:

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3

 

 

 

 

 

Needless to say, by the time we got to three, we were both primal screaming on the phone. Flight plans to Chicago were made; outfits were discussed (we had been asked by Queen O’s team to wear colorful clothes that would show well on TV); mild disappointment was expressed because a giant rule was that no pictures were allowed inside the Harpo studios; and finally, more primal screams were shared. You guys, it was one of the best experiences of this life. And you know how Empress Oprah’s audience would go mad? I admired her, yes, but I just couldn’t understand the mania oprah6these women showed on national TV. Well, I can easily say that on that morning in April, as Oprah was introduced and walked out and waved at us and smiled: I. Get. It. I truly do.

Her presence: dynamic. Her personality: open and charming. Her overall nature: amazing. In the minutes between her walking out and sitting down before the cameras turned on, there was no change. She was the same onscreen and off-screen. She was also just fun. During commercial breaks, she joked and laughed and told us about her painful high heels…it was surreal. My bestie and I spent the entire time just like holding each other in disbelief and Oprah-generated joy. And yeah, we got some gifts, too. And food. It was incredible. I’ll say it again, and in French: incroyable.

But the best part of that whole thrilling experience, dear reader? It involved a years-long, amazing friendship with one amazing lady, that being my bestie, and it involved another love of my life: my writing. My bestie kept saying the following throughout the day. “You are a writer. It was your words that got us here. You are a writer.” It was definitely a boost in confidence with the mighty pen. Nevertheless, the topic at hand, why this woman was such an indescribable presence in my life, made it easy. I didn’t hesitate. The benefits of a worthy subject.

Got any thrilling moments with your bestie that you’d like to share with me? Don’t fret because Oprah isn’t involved in any of them. The comments await you below…

big bag, small bag.

Once upon a time, our fair chocolate princess was at work and in the middle of typing when a sharp pain shot though her wrist. Of course, she gazed at her wrist as if the body part could communicate why it did this to her. Thankfully, there was no answer (talking body parts may be cute in animated films, but in real life? Nah), and she assumed that it would go away. No such thing. The sharp pain became unrelenting. She could barely type, hold things with her left hand, etc. At first, she diagnosed herself, because she’s done this all her life, often running to her parents’ basement to consult various medical journals whenever she experienced pain and/or discomfort, which resulted in giving herself an assortment of ailments. (“Stop doing that,” her mother has demanded many, many times in the past and last week in the not too distant past.) Her final analysis was carpal tunnel syndrome. And yet there was something intense about this pain, perhaps bigger than carpal tunnel. Reluctantly, she realized that it was time to consult a real physician. The medical journals and all those years of watching ER, St. Elsewhere, and other medical shows just wouldn’t suffice this time.

Since there was a clinic right across the street that accepted those employed at her former company, our chocolate princess trudged over one afternoon, her wrist in agony. When the doctor finally came in to see her, he checked everything, asked a variety of questions, etc. He then gazed at her handbag sitting nearby in a chair. “Do you mind if I pick this up?” he asked. Curious but ultimately knowing what he was about to tell her, she nodded. He picked it up. “What do you have in here?” he then asked. An umbrella, an iPad, my wallet, normal things, she responded. The doctor nodded again. “Do you need all those things?” Affronted, our princess explained that as a commuter who lived in Somewheres, VA and worked in the DC area, it was important to bring things to be prepared since her vehicle was miles and miles away. An umbrella for rain. The iPad for metro reading. Other things. And only a large bag would fit. “All true, but your handbag weighs about the size of a small toddler. That’s why your wrist is in distress. Your handbag is too heavy.”

A small toddler?

But, our princess thought to herself, she’d always had big bags. High school, college: what minuscule bag would fit her life??

The doctor went on to say: “If you need to bring all those things, perhaps consider a backpack. You can use both straps for both your shoulders and take the pressure off your left arm.”

A backpack? Was she 11? Was she in elementary school? Was she still walking to the bus in the mornings?

Obviously the doctor saw the horrified (mixed with a bit of snobbery) expression on our princess’s face. “Or you can decrease the items in the bag. But you’re doing damage to your tendons if keep holding a bag that weighs this much.” She muttered her thanks and assured him that she would figure it out. He told her to pop some pain medication if the pain continued. Eventually, the pain dissipated and disappeared and our princess resumed her life.

But she didn’t change her bag.

The End

So I had an epiphany the other day, dear reader. After years of rubbing my shoulder after wearing my bag, or picking up my bag and wincing in pain, or warning the lady at the nail shop to be careful when she picks up my bag in order to protect my wet nails, and so, so on, I realized that it’s finally time to quit playing games with my limbs. Stubbornly refusing to listen to the doctor’s recommendations was one thing (and not a great thing). But now living in an area where I drive to work and no longer need to be loaded down with an entire aisle of a CVS because I can leave things in my car is entirely another. It’s time, y’all. This Square Peg needs to buy a smaller purse.

I used to wonder how women ran their lives with smaller purses. Like, how did they exist? Where did they put their wallets in said smaller bag? What about a certain time of the month and hiding certain items? (Speaking of that, I think the trauma of a boy in my 9th grade History class who snatched my bag one day and peeked in to see a row of pink lady time-of-the-month articles did more damage than I care to psychoanalyze.) Anyway, again: how did these ladies survive without a giant bag on their shoulders?

I’ll provide the answers when I buy my small bag. It’ll be a shock to the system, for sure. A bag on my shoulder is like warm tea on a chilly day. It’s like cool lemonade for a dry, summer-inflicted throat. It’s comforting. But my car is a few feet away in the parking lot. If I need anything, I can go grab it. Enough, I say. We must do right by my shoulders, wrists, that poor doctor who tried to save me from the small toddler…

Here are some super cute smaller bags that stylistically call out to me:

Lovely. Now we need to head to the store. I wonder how many years that will take?

So tell me: what kind of purse/handbag do you use? Small? Large? Massive? Little? Share your adjectives in the comments with me, please.

On Smart Cookies.

Let’s celebrate this Throwback Thursday with a ‘lil story/psychoanalysis/discussion/boatloadof unanswerable questions, shall we?

I’ll start by saying this: I’m a smart cookie. No shade or ego. I simply own my intelligence. And if you haven’t done the same thing, please do. You’re not walking around telling perfect strangers that you know it all. You’re just acknowledging what you know to be true for yourself: you’ve got a working brain. Woo hoo. And it’s all relative, by the way. I may not still understand binomials, but I know plenty of other things. In other words, no one is 100 percent amazing brain-wise, perhaps with the exception of the Mensa ladies and Einstein. And there are plenty of folks who side eye a pile of books but know plenty of things about life and how to navigate it. But own it, either way.

However, back in the day, this chocolate bookworm who enjoyed many days reading encyclopedias in her parent’s basement and devouring facts and information entered high school and almost immediately buried her brain. And there was only one group of people I hid this fact from: boys. Don’t ask me how or why. I was 14 years old. (Actually, with the way my birth month is set up, when I started high school, I was 13 years old. A little girl. Le sigh.) In looking back, there was no rhyme or reason to it. One day in 9th grade, a boy in my class asked me if I understood the assignment our teacher had just given us. I described it in detail, interpreting it for him, after which he said, “wow, you’re really smart.” What was my response? “No, I’m not,” I replied, laughing nervously. This happened often: denying, above all, that I had any abilities whatsoever when it came learning, analytical thinking, etc., especially when a boy acknowledged me. There was a bizarre level of panic when this happened–I didn’t want to be mocked or seen as knowing more than the guy standing in front of me. Was it innate? A weird biological response to the age-old adage of girls only needing to look pretty? After all, my mother, one of the most intelligent women I know, never uttered those words to me. I was never told to “dumb it down.” So where did the desire to downplay any kind of smarts even come from? Oh, and there were girls who uttered that “wow, you’re smart” comment to me, too, and although I still downplayed it, I don’t recall that almost manic need to dismiss their words like I would with boys.

Maybe it goes back to what I said above. No wants to seem like an arrogant jerk while acknowledging what they can do. But for women, it’s almost as if we carry 100 pounds of guilt when it comes to acknowledging what we can do, particularly when it comes to intelligence. The archaic, ridiculous notions of women’s abilities being limited to cooking meals and birthing babies have been around since time began; maybe I was carrying that on me, in me, without even fully realizing it. Maybe I was also deathly shy and didn’t want, even for a second, any attention being given to me. Which is also true. Maybe it’s all the above. I don’t know. When I entered college and realized that my education was actually up to me (in other words, school ain’t free; tuition is involved; you get what  you pay for), this need to hide my brain still took a while to go away. I remember being a college freshman in English 101. The assignment was to write about a memory. Our professor chose to highlight my essay and read portions of it aloud to the class. She was full of praise and encouragement. I wanted to fall through the ground. By senior year, when my strengths and confidence as a writer had grown, another professor did the exact same thing. I handled it differently. I thanked him and told him how his encouragement helped me. Was it age? Growing older? 18 vs.22? Or did it have something to do with a female professor vs. a male professor giving the praise and encouragement, the male approval making it seem more acceptable? Insert thinking emoji here.

(Told you there’d be unanswerable questions.)

I do know one thing: “dumb it down” has been said to me in my adult life more than once. Not at 14 and not at 22. While adulting. And although I don’t necessarily understand when I turned the corner from terror of smartness to finally feeling confident in my abilities, I do know that each time I heard that silly, objectionable phrase, I laughed in the speaker’s face. So there you go. 

These days, my abilities are only important to one person: me. Sometimes I’d love to revisit that 13/14 year-old and help her to stop choosing fear and pretense. But we’ll wait for another smart cookie to build that time machine. 

Blogvember #15: Your Square Peg.

Had no clue what to talk about today. My equilibrium is off and I want to nap. So here’s a photo of me at 8 years old, sitting for a passport photo, giving you frosty face/don’t come at me/who do you think you are?/just try me. An expression that has served me well through the years.

Happy Tuesday.

Blogvember #4: Sleepy on the Tube.


After landing at Heathrow, my hostess and friend had already taken me to dinner, ice cream, a walk around Leicester Square (where I saw my love), and a bit of other sightseeing in between. Here on the Tube, finally headed to her home in Ipswich, was the face of gleeful jet-lagged sensory overload. Look at those eyes.

How I miss London.

Happy Friyay, y’all.

The Spray of Water.

Let’s just get into it.

When I was 15 years old, I was washing dishes in my 10th grade Home Economics class one day. Since I was barely passable during the cooking part, but bomb when it came to suds and plates, I was very comfortable at the sink. A boy in my class, Mario, approached the other side of the sink, adjacent to me, and started to “play” around with me while I washed the dishes. Trying to touch me, attempting to tickle me. I told him to stop, to leave me alone. He certainly didn’t listen, ignoring my protests and continuing with the touching and “playing” around. I repeated that I wanted him to stop. He continued. So I sprayed him in the face with the water gun. He smacked me across the face.

Growing up, my sister and I got into some physical altercations. Being sisters close in age who shared a room, every pair of socks looked the same and therefore had been stolen by the other and deserved some kind of retribution, every eye roll needed to be avenged, so on and so forth. The few times my brother and I got into it officially ended when my mother reminded me that he was no longer a five year-old. “Quit it,” she said sharply, focusing on me as the eldest sibling. “He’s a growing boy and you’re a young woman.” I got her drift. Here’s the point: we were family and therefore not actively trying to hurt each other. We succumbed to physical displays of anger and irritation, trying to prove our respective (largely juvenile) points when words failed us. After a few years, we grew up and dealt solely with words. Mario wasn’t my brother. He wasn’t my sibling. We weren’t family. Looking back, I specifically recall how inexplicably calm everything was, how calm I was. As the right side of my face burned with shock, as tiny stars floated around before my eyes, I continued to wash the dishes. I remained there, glued to that spot, my hands repeatedly drowning in warm, soapy water. After hitting me and demanding what was wrong with me, Mario eventually walked away. I finished my task, wiped down the counters, and returned to my seat. No teacher was summoned, I didn’t run screaming to a friend with tears in my eyes. (In case you’re wondering, apparently none of the students or our teacher saw this. If they had, no one said anything or intervened.) Prior to this, we had been somewhat friendly in class, sitting at the same table at times. After that day, I never spoke to him again.

Sometimes I wonder why I’m so sensitive to tales of domestic violence, why the thought of one person violently attacking another joined to them by marriage or relationship leaves me disturbed and shaken. Eureka. I’ve never forgotten the feel of his hand against my face, the way my cheek stung, how it hurt. I can’t imagine the thousands, millions, of women and men who have dealt with more than that and beyond in their relationships. Might be why I whisper “leave, please leave” when I hear about this happening, especially to women. It’s never justified. Mario’s actions weren’t justifiable. I don’t care about the spray of water dripping from his face.

As with other things that happened during those tenuous teen and adolescent years, I told no one about what happened and suppressed all the emotions that came with it. (I literally just told my sister about it a few weeks ago, when the memory randomly made itself known.) I don’t think I even wrote about it in my diary. I shoved it away as I was prone to do, youthfully unaware of all the little explosions that these events were causing inside of me. But those are the benefits of getting older and working on yourself: I’m talking about it now. I acknowledge the pain, anger, confusion, sadness, and shock I felt in that moment. I acknowledge that I did begin to hate him. And yet I can also say that hate is not an emotion I will presently allow. Wherever he is, I simply hope he’s no longer responding to situations the way he did when we were 15.

It constantly and honestly amazes me that I made it through those strange, long years, dear reader. But with healing comes memories, revelations, conversations. And we shall have them.

Meanwhile, in Paris: To All the Crêpes I’ve Loved Before…

…bow before your benevolent mistress.

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It was inevitable that I, a faithful lover of crêpes since my aunt introduced me to them when I was about six years old, would enjoy one of my favorite desserts in the country of its birth. I ate it in seconds, pausing only for one of my girls to snap this photo of me. (Can we talk about her marvelous photo, by the way? Capturing that lovely Eiffel and the breathtaking moon all in one fell swoop? I still hold my breath when I look at this picture.)

A few things:

  • Inside the crêpe was warm Nutella chocolate. So basically all of my dreams coming true and life being given.
  • You’ll notice my one gloved hand. It was chilly that evening, but I certainly had to eat my beloved delicacy with a free, naked hand. Enter the quirky compromise.
  • See that joy in my eyes? This is what crêpes do.

All right, that’s my cue to stop before I start penning sonnets.

Want to tell me everything about your favorite dessert? Make it good and yummy. 

i knew you before i knew you.

There are certain bold names that I associate with my Dad. Sidney Poitier. James Taylor.

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Image courtesy of here.

The Beatles. Milton Berle and Lucille Ball. Aretha Franklin. I associate these people with Dad because growing up, his appreciation of their art and talent was long discussed in our household, and he never shied away from showing us kids visual (and audible) examples of why he thought they were so cool. And what I love about that, among other things, is that it opened the window to generations and people way before us. We fell in love with music, film, performers, etc., of another time and I really treasure that. One of those bold names I grew up hearing about was Muhammad Ali. I knew his bio from early childhood, it seemed. Before I saw his face, before I heard his voice. That he was Cassius Clay before he changed his name to Muhammad Ali, following the change in his religion. That he floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. That he called himself The Greatest. That he fought this guy and that guy and won. And above all, that Muhammad Ali came to Ghana in 1964.

Ali in Ghana
Image courtesy of here.

My father spoke so many times of Ali’s visit to Ghana in ’64 that I imagined I was there. Never mind that I was hardly a twinkle in anyone’s eye in 1964: my father was a swinging single then, and wouldn’t meet the lady who would bring me into this interesting world until 10 years later. But trust me that the man could invoke excitement from a story: how he saw Ali, how the crowds were going wild, etc. I would observe the grin on his face and his wide, luminous eyes, and wish, so much, that I could have been there to see this larger-than-life man that had whipped my Daddy into such a frenzy. Needless to say, watching his interviews and marveling at his bravado when I was older was always a treat. I knew this guy. We had been introduced so many, many times.

Hearing about his death on June 3 was so sad. I thought about his children, his wife. I thought about how that confident, cocky, and cool man became slower, less mobile, less vocal as he bravely dealt with the effects of Parkinson’s syndrome. I thought about the grief that comes from losing a man of stature, of such significance, especially in the family unit. So many parallels that hit close to home. I thought about those, too.

Ultimately, however, I’m glad I knew him. Even though I didn’t.

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