Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Nonstandard Staircase

I have drifted away at times from the original purpose of this Staircase Writing web journal. Here is a very literal return to the concept of Staircase Writing -- the staircase in the cottage we call Tim's House (in West Cork), which I painted in homage to the colorful village streetscapes common to this part of Ireland.

As I embark on my new novel and leave 2011 behind, it's a good moment to reflect on the notion of "l'esprit d'escalier," staircase wit, but instead of dwelling on the wise and witty things I wish I had said, or done, or, for that matter, the things I wish other people had said or done, it's a good moment to gather intentions to get my work done in the weeks and months ahead. Out with the old, in with the new. It's a transitional moment for me in a number of ways, and it's time to stop looking back and start looking ahead.

(If there is anything of an elegiac tone here, it is not about this blog, and there will be fresh posts in the new year.)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Tomato Paste in My Lunchbox

My mother put tomato paste in my lunchbox by mistake. I was in third grade. As I reached into my red lunchbox for my can of what was supposed to be pineapple juice, I put up my hand so the roving lunch lady could come to me and punch those two triangular holes in my juice can, with the can opener she wore on a string around her neck. As she bore down on me, I saw to my horror that the oddly heavy can in my hand, identical in dimensions to the juice cans of the era, was in fact a can of tomato paste.

I yanked my hand down and bent over my lunchbox, thrusting the erroneous cylinder of tomato paste deep into the wrappings of my peanut butter sandwich, hoping nobody had glimpsed this embarrassing artifact of my mother's fogginess. The lunch lady crossly demanded, "Who had a hand up here? There was a hand up?" I kept my head down in anxious contemplation of my pleated skirt until she gave up and stomped away.

Sometimes my sandwiches were on bread that was blue with mold, or were made with irridescent ham. I was used to pretending to eat those sandwiches. The tomato paste was worse. I felt let down in some new way.

That was nearly fifty years ago.

How I wish certain experiences around the publication of my newest book did not make me think of that can of tomato paste, and the shame of feeling that all the other kids have nice lunches while I have to pretend to have a nice lunch and hope that nobody notices the difference.