Saturday, February 23, 2008

February 23

A week ago, someone told me that I should write a book with my stories. As though the life story of someone who has never lived outside of suburban New Jersey is exciting. I'll admit my stories are quirky. I replied that I think everyone has interesting things happen to them, but not everyone looks for or notices their own stories. I don't mean this in a snobby way, like I'm so observant or something. Just not everyone thinks that every weirdo they encounter at the grocery store, or every nice tree they see, or every phone call, is humorous or interesting AND worth telling everyone lengthy, wordy prose.

I realized she was right, though. Many of my stories, the ones I repeat to people, could be compiled into an interesting book. The time a creepy old man followed Marie and me all over Amsterdam. When Marie and I almost missed our train in Prague. Even the everyday stuff that I remember - I guess I did have a pretty quirky childhood, where it was commonplace to go fabric shopping in Paterson and Groundhog Day was really Crepe Suzette Day. Even the everyday stuff NOW, like when I first moved into my apartment and the ice cream truck would be within earshot for three hours at a time, playing "O Come All Ye Faithful" in August.

Frequently, such as when I open my freezer and find, mingled with bags of compost, tupperwares of dead insects (for my collection!), I comment, "I have a weird life." And yet I acted surprised when someone else said this.

I guess that's why I started a blog in the first place.

I think to begin, I wouldn't write my funny stories, the repeat stories, but maybe start with describing my *now*. When I was a teenager and wrote all the time, I fancied I was good at finding the beauty and poetry in everything. You have to be pretty creative to do this in New Jersey - that or desperate. The lights of old diner signs against the black sky, with red and white car headlights zipping by - that can be beautiful in a kitschy way. It's New Jersey regional beauty as well. But a strip mall that's lit up by the signs of chain stores? Glowing yellow letters that say nothing more profound than "SUBWAY" or "McDonald's"...that is different altogether.

I didn't have time to write much this fall, but I would think of things to write frequently. Occasionally it would hit me - almost jarringly - that the place I'm living is conventionally ugly - really ugly. There's garbage on the streets, there's not many trees or flowers, there are a lot of dirty buildings - dirty everything really - lots of traffic, lots of poverty. But it was only occasionally that I'd think of this. Usually I didn't see anything ugly. I don't know if I was just taking in the whole scene and accepting it, or if I was fixating on the few beautiful things and stubbornly, naively ignoring everything else.

If I were to write about my "now," I would probably start with the physical surroundings, and what jumps out at me as a good starting place is the steeple of the church about a block from my house. It's a block in the wrong direction; if you cross over Commercial Ave, which is about three houses down from where I live now, you're suddenly in the not-nice neighborhood.

One of the strange things about this little city is that there are many churches. Juxtaposed with ugly, dilapidated, dirty storefronts and tall, modern, new hotels or apartment buildings are these old churches, some of them rather ornate. Others are like the one by my house; its form is plain, but it is still pretty. What's remarkable about this particular church is its colors. The entire exterior of the church, as far as I can tell, is a bright rusty reddish color. The roof of the church is green - light blue green like an old penny. The steeple is tall, so that I can see it not only from my yard, but also from other points in the city. I can see it from the window of the place I work; when I work with a student sometimes I'll catch a glimpse of the church and feel very comfortable, like home is near. When I am walking back late from a class, approaching my street, before I see anything, I see the lit-up green roof of the church. Sometimes I can even see it from far away, from a highway in another town, crossing the Raritan River.

If I were to write something like in the fall, I would have probably described the view down this one street near mine, Townsend Street. Since that was months ago, I have forgotten most of the details, but I do remember that what I fixated on the most was a small gingko tree. In the fall, its fan-shaped yellow leaves would partially obscure, cutting into puzzle pieces, the view of the light green roof and the rusty red church building. Such colors!

That is what I can say so far about my now--I can sum it up in the green roof of the red church a block from my house, reaching up from the "bad neighborhood." In the cold winter air walking back tired from a late class, or even on a sunny day, rounding a corner on my way home from an entomology class, the green roof is there against the sky, at night illuminated, like a welcoming beacon directing me home.

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