Sentimental Value

‎”People with a psychological need to believe in marvels are no more prejudiced and gullible than people with a psychological need not to believe in marvels.” —Charles Fort

This has been a tough post. I’ve rewritten it multiple times both in my head and on the screen. I could blame my second head cold of the winter (and it’s not even technically winter for another five weeks), or a lot of editing, backspacing, cutting and pasting. And don’t forget control + Z.

I’m thinking about what I wrote last week, about how “We’re all doing the best we can all of the time.” I wrote about how sometimes synchronicity abounds, and how sometimes we feel like we’re banging our heads against a wall. And sometimes the wall hammers back.

I’m also thinking of something a friend said years ago while she was dating a particularly challenging man, “If I expected him to act the way I want him to act I’d be disappointed, so instead I expect him to act that way he acts.” So simple. So complicated. So.

Election day had my nerves in tatters and I counteracted that by announcing on Facebook that I was going to send a big box to Sandy victims back east, and that if anyone in Missoula wanted to contribute I’d box their stuff and ship it. Two days later I had two big bundles delivered to my doorstep, and off to the garage I went to dig out more big boxes.

I picked up a few more generous heaps. I wanted to finish what I’d started, but started to worry about the cost of shipping. I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask, so I got in touch with a friend who works for a shipping company and asked if it would be possible for him to ship my boxes using his discount.

Thank goodness he said yes, because then another friend (who works in a real estate office with over fifty agents) said she’d let her co-workers know about my drive. Woah. My drive? Was this getting too big? When did a collection among a few friends turn into a drive? The only answer I could come up with was: when it needs to.

So, “I said yes! That would be awesome!” Her texts started rolled in letting me know about the big bags people were bringing in and the boxes she was packing and maybe I would need to do two pickups. {woah.}

I turned my living room into sorting/boxing stations and categorized the items. Kids clothes together, cozy sweats and fleeces together, guy stuff together. I packed the boxes tight. I rolled t-shirts and tucked socks into gaps and slid scarves into corners until all the air space was taken up. Then I wrote notes on cheap Snoopy cards, because I’m a sucker for a handwritten note and nobody writes enough anymore. I recently heard about Paperless Post—it’s sure nifty, but in my opinion it lacks the punch of finding something in your mailbox.

I’d been semi-annoying the friend who was going to ship the boxes all week. I wanted to be able to use his discount, but didn’t want to create too much extra work for him yet realized that was inevitable. He was going to have to schlep my boxes to work with him, so I felt obligated to let him know that my “one big box” was now looking to be quite a bit more than that, like maybe four, and asked if there was a limit. This guy is a gem of a human for a multitude of reasons, and he told me “No. No limit. Glad to help.” {I didn’t know yet that I’d be getting an incredibly generous SEVENTY-FIVE percent off.}

Before I went to pick up at the real estate company I had seven(ish) boxes, and my station wagon was not quite half full. As I was getting ready to walk out the door my friend asked, “ Is the boy coming? I have treats….” Lucky ran through the office like he owned the place, got his treats, gave his old buddy a bunch of hugs (he jumped up on her when she asked), then posed with her and the bounty.

Two of the best helpers with some of the boxes. Grateful for heavy-duty tape and a handcart. And those two.

Everything fit in my car, no second trip necessary, which was good because I didn’t want the generous shipper to have to make two trips, but I figured one more box wouldn’t tip the scales. Before the drop-off I went back in my house and got ruthless with my drawers, my closet, and myself.

I found half a dozen pairs of good socks. A scarf. Another hat. Oh no, could I pack that hat? The hat is in great shape, but twenty years old. I brought in on my 1992 post-high school NOLS trip. It’s freezing in the Wind River Range, even in July, and I slept in that hat every night for thirty nights. If I took a “bath” in an above tree line lake with a view of the snow that was its source, that hat was the first thing I put on before drying myself with my “towel,” which on a NOLS trip is a bandana that triples as napkin and snot rag. That hat served me well then, but now? I don’t wear it because it barely covers my ears. It’s a kid’s hat. It was time to give it up. (By the way, I still have the the long underwear top and fleece jacket from that trip. Please, no judging.)

Two Yankees caps hung on my back door hooks. Do I need two? No. The unworn one went in, despite the fact that it was a gift from my Uncle Jimmy who sends me the sweetest care packages filled with pieces of New York.

Jimmy was a NYFD firefighter who became President of the Uniformed Firefighters Association. His son Michael hoped to follow in his father’s footsteps, but boarded Engine 33 at its East Village firehouse in civilian clothes—he was off-duty—the morning of September 11, 2001 and died when the North Tower collapsed. His body was among 244 bodies found intact.

Among the many gifts Uncle Jimmy has sent me, I have a few t-shirts commemorating Michael and his childhood friend David Arce, who he worked and died with. In my quest to find things to send to Sandy victims I came across a navy blue t-shirt, too big for me and never worn, with Michael and David’s names on the front and a big, white FDNY on the back.

It was hard to let it go. I never wore the shirt though I enjoyed looking at it, but I wondered if the unearthing of that shirt might make someone’s day the way it had made mine numerous times.

I imagined a pile of meaningless t-shirts on a folding table somewhere in New York or New jersey. I imagined someone just needing something to sleep in. I imagined the possibility that someone who knew Michael or David might find that shirt. The discovery of that shirt might provide a glimmer of hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.

Or maybe they know Jimmy or had heard of him. In addition to his union work for the FDNY, Jimmy also lobbied lawmakers to pass the James Zadroga Act, which provides treatment and compensation for Ground Zero workers. (Daily Blood Boil: Health insurance won’t cover people hurt at work—even in a national crisis such as the attack on the WTC—so this was necessary to help those hurt there.)

And now for the daily non sequitur: New Yorkers are survivors. But we know this.

I didn’t couldn’t stop there.

An old boyfriend gave me a fancy Paul Smith hat and scarf set for Christmas in 2005 (AKA almost seven years ago). I loved it. The bright color blocking, the fine merino wool, the thoughtfulness that he picked something “so me.” I loved that set, but for a variety of reasons rarely wore it. The shape of the hat didn’t quite work with my head, and the unlined Merino irritated my forehead. The scarf was a little stiff. But that’s only part of the story.

I don’t like to be too matchy-matchy (this from a former girl who adored the mix-and-matchability of Esprit in the 1980s), and for whatever reason I didn’t want to separate the pieces. When worn together something that was “so me” became exactly it’s opposite.

He’d bought the set at Barney’s, and each piece probably cost close to two hundred dollars. It was shame for it to be unworn, though they did look cute on the shelf in my closet. Truth be told, I tend to “save” my more expensive things and wear the bargains. This is a habit I’m breaking myself of slowly but surely; I understand why I (and other people) do this, but it’s really silly.

It translates into this: I usually have a brand new cashmere sweater on hand to wear on a date (best not to ask when my last proper date was), but I walk around most days in Mossimo. I’d moved that dang scarf and hat into and out of too many houses and storage units to count; into the box it went.

More. I wanted to put more in there but had just a little bit of room. Then I saw the perfect thing: a pair of sterling silver Tiffany hoop earrings. They’d been re-gifted to me ages ago, and I’d been meaning to sell them on eBay. For years. But I hadn’t. Guilt? Hard to say.

I tucked them into their robin egg blue bags then into a wooden, heart shaped box and placed that heart on top of the box before cramming it between my thighs like a Thighmaster and forcing it closed with tape. Done.

There’s a good chance they’ll make someone’s day, and when I almost second-guessed the decision I reminded myself: Some people lost everything. Everything. It was a win-win. I packed some sentimental value into that final box, but also some needless baggage.

There is tremendous sorrow and suffering in the world, and it’s often beyond explanation. And what do I do with the unexplainable? I look for answers in astrology. Rob Brezsny, one of my faves, let me know that November 13th was World Kindness Day. (This is fairly irrelevant, but 11/13 also happens to be my half-birthday, and I dare to ask: what kind of thirty eight year old counts half birthdays?)

Brezsny quotes journalist Andy Fraser:

“Scientific research is showing that being kind and compassionate to others is surprisingly good for you. Did you know that when we do something for someone else it activates the same parts of the brain that turn on when we eat a piece of chocolate, receive a reward, or have sex?”

Oh good. That makes sense. But there was another piece to the astrological puzzle this week. Deborah O’Connor, another favorite astrologer who doesn’t have the exposure of Brezsny, emails notes when the moon, planets and stars align in particularly precarious positions. Below is a condensed version of her notes from this week. If you want the complete version email me at

The Sun is eclipsed Tuesday afternoon/evening, and many of the other planets are shifting so intensely that you may feel as if you’ve wandered into a carnival and are wondering which wild ride would be the least bumpy. Hang on. This month promises to stay interesting.

We are being shown what we’ve hidden, or are hiding from. This deep work cannot be carried on by your shining intellect. You must trust your instincts on this, allow yourself to believe those feelings you keep trying to shove back into the depths of your chest. Stop that. It can only lead to more self-delusion and confusion.

If you feel anxious, understand the anxiety is only a light flashing in your inner sanctum, asking you to let go of something you think is of great value but which has completed its role now.

Scorpio asks for the naked truth. “Don’t mess with me,” it says. “I promise you will rise back into the warmth of the Sun if only you will drop away from your debilitating old patterns.”

If you cannot hold back the flood of emotion which may fill you today and over the course of the next few weeks, please just let the dam break down. This week it is time to welcome the dark, to build an enormous inner fire, and let go.

Debilitating old patterns. Let the dam break down. Let go of something you think is of great value but which has completed its role. Let go.

Be kind. Be compassionate. Activate that feel good part of your brain.

The Story Within the Story

“ I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end.” –Gilda Radner

I’m always thinking about stories. Everything tells a story, and often the stories are woven and layered. There’s the front story and the back story. Some aspects of a story are conspicuous while others are veiled. There are stories within stories.

I love opening a book and finding a boarding pass. It will remind me of not only of when I bought the book and where I read it, but also who I was with, how I was feeling, and what reading those words meant to me at that time.

Maybe that book was my first introduction to an author I loved and later filled my bookshelves with. Maybe the book has a warped spine or puckered pages from being read in the bathtub or at the beach. Maybe I loved the book so much that I dogeared it and wrote all over it. I underlined phrases and drew stars, hearts, and smiley faces in the margins when I felt the words were speaking directly to me.

Maybe it’s not a book, but it’s a bag. Maybe I find a long-lost lip gloss, a few receipts, and a bottle of vitamin C and I remember the friend’s wedding where I was so sick by the time the dancing started that I had to go sleep in my car. That triggers other details about the wedding: who was there and who wasn’t, who said X or Y, who brought a bottle of whiskey to my car to see if we couldn’t scare my flu away.

Maybe it’s a jacket pocket. Maybe there’s some cash in there. It reminds you of a ski trip, a concert, a farmers’ market. A pair of socks can remind you of a marathon. A sweatshirt can remind you of a school you attended. A package of AA batteries from Costco can remind you that you overestimated your battery usage and you’ve moved those dang batteries half a dozen times. A sleeping bag….oh, sleeping bags tell a thousand stories.

I wrote a post last October called “Keepers”, which was sparked by my grandfather’s death and the last voicemail I saved from him. I was happy I saved that one, but it is easy to get a little obsessive about what we keep and what we let go of. The inevitability of mortality can sometimes grab hold of us a little too tightly, and we can tend toward smothering and hoarding. We think: what if it’s the last time we hear someone’s voice? The last time we embrace? The last time we take a walk together? Ugh. It can be a bit much.

As important as it is to know what to keep, it’s equally important to know what to let go of. A few weeks ago I wrote a post about going to a Naked Ladies party and second-guessing what to keep and what to get rid of. I got rid of several bags full of things I still like, but that I would not pack for a road trip.

I brought a pair of earrings that I fell in love with at first sight and was lucky enough to score at a 50% off sale at Betty’s Divine. Here they are in Mexico….

They’re flashy. They dangle below the collarbone. They jingle. They weren’t exactly “me,” but we’d had some fun together. I hesitated—I love them!—but the truth is they’d been gathering dust at my house. I hadn’t even considered them in six months. I’d moved on, but was loitering in the past. They were not on my short list, and they deserved to go home with someone who might take them on a road trip or at least out to dinner.

At the party I spread them out on a side table with other jewelry. I hoped someone would see them and recognize their awesomeness. I’d like to say I watched the table anxiously to see who scooped them up, but I was too busy digging for new treasures to notice.

Then I spotted them on Melissa. They had met their match. I hurdled ladies and piles of clothes to say: “Girl. You are rocking those earrings.” I felt oddly compelled to tell her a couple of things about them, as if she was adopting a dog and needed to know that he drinks a lot of water, doesn’t like thunder, and will claim any couch as his own.

She’s a smart cookie who can handle her earrings just fine. She loves herself a wild accessory and I knew she’d incorporate them into her wardrobe without a hitch. I figured she might even take them on a trip knowing she’d get a lot of mileage out of one awesome accessory that can dress up a plain white tee.

I thought about telling her that they snag on scarves, can be hazardous when hugging, and have so many hinges and moveable parts that sometimes a piece (or two or three) drops off, but instead I told her about how that last detail turned into one of my favorite things about them. “I lost one of the crystals on the beach in Mexico, which was a bummer, but when I got home I replaced it with this little piece of bone….” She fingered the bone gently as she listened to then story, then said “I love it! That makes them even more fabulous! I love it!”

An hour later I was sitting across the room when someone complimented Melissa on the earrings. I saw her hands go up to the bone as I watched her tell my story, which was now part of hers. Maybe she’ll take them on a road trip. Maybe she’ll lose another crystal and will replace it with a bead or a shell, further layering the story.

Look around. I dare you to find something that doesn’t have a story. There’s your slice of the story, but there are also the elements of the story that began before you and the pieces that you may never know.

Live your stories, share your stories, love the stories within your stories.