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.

Song and Dance

I’m pondering the end of summer. It’s a transition that can be hard on many of us, and I’ll write more about it in the next day or two, but in the meantime I wanted to post a few family pictures from summers in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

My grandmother is eighty-eight, and if you ask her she’ll tell you she’s doing great. She might even give a shimmy and a shake and ask if you think she’s still sexy though the question is rhetorical and there’s only one right answer. At eighty-eight you’re never what you used to be—not of body, mind, or spirit—but she still has a special sparkle, which I attribute to her stellar attitude. She’s always told me to “be my own boss” and “don’t let other people’s troubles get you down.” Her health advice is to eat a full size Hershey bar as often as possible (daily, for best results), get a good night sleep, and don’t worry too much. “Let that stuff roll right off your back,” she’s always said to me.

Maybe she has such a positive perspective on life not because her life has always been easy, but rather because it hasn’t. She dropped out of school in the eighth grade so she could look after her younger siblings while her mother went to work. Her father regularly disappeared on drinking and gambling binges and it wasn’t unusual for him to leave his family of six with no food or money. In more recent years she lost her three sisters and her husband in a four year span, and it would be unfair and untrue to say that the cumulative loss didn’t take a toll on her. These are not extraordinarily troubles or losses; they’re a part of life. And she knows that.

When I think of my Mimi I think of her singing, and I think of two songs in particular. The first one is, I think, her own creation. It has a lively tune and a coordinating dance and goes, “We’re gonna have a good time, we’re gonna celebrate!” (I think this song originates with my grandmother—perhaps at one point it started as a mantra—so if I’m wrong and you know the origin please let me know.) The other song is more melancholy, but the message is sweet. It’s a Nat King Cole song that starts out, “Smile though your heart is aching. Smile even though it’s breaking.” When she sings that song she likes to dance, and she’ll grab me and we’ll faux-waltz around the room; neither of us lead, we just look into each other’s eyes adoringly.

Sometimes life is a song and dance that comes naturally, and sometimes it takes more thought, effort, and coordination. Sometimes more than we have. But now onto the photos that remind me that even in hard times there are always some good times.


I love everything about this. The light. Her pose. The outfit!


Same outfit, different pose. Mimi on the porch of her mother’s bungalow in Rockaway, Queens.


My mother mimicking her mother’s pose.


My mother on her grandmother’s shoulders in Rockaway. Nanny was a tough bird and a true gem of a woman.


My grandparents at a lake. There’s something about the blur that I love.


Lounging in a Hammock and reading the newspaper on a bench. There’s nothing about these pictures that isn’t pure bliss. I love that contented smile on her, that “I’m reading” look on him.


Rockaway was their beach, and I love this sassy pose.


They didn’t always go to the beach, and sometimes stayed in the city. I found this picture in June when I was visiting and I asked my grandmother about it. “It’s Central Park,” she said, and when I asked for more detail she looked at it for awhile then said, “It’s nuns in the park.” I did not need to press her for more information; her memory is fuzzy on some of the past these days and as much as I wanted to know more I settled for “Nuns in the park.” What else is there to know, really? They were having a good time, they were celebrating.

Last Sunday my mother and her cousin took Mimi out to Rockaway for the afternoon. Here she is on the boardwalk:


I think she’s still pretty damn cute.