Baking with Grandma

I took a creative writing class for fun during my freshman year of college. I knew I would minor in creative writing once I got to a four year school, so I thought I could get ahead and take some of the classes at the two year college. Turns out, that method does not work, but I am glad that I took the class, if only because it got me to write again. I had sort of lost my way in writing, and the class got me back on track.

My teacher was open-minded about most things, but she had one pet peeve. She called it the “Grandma Story.” She would always point out that a lot of people tend to write a poem or a story about their grandmother, usually shortly after the grandmother has passed. She hated those types of stories.

Because of her negative reaction to it, I had the impression that Grandma stories were a big no-no in the writing world. So I avoided writing them, which wasn’t a big deal. That is, until my grandmother passed away. It was then that I understood why people wrote these stories.

There’s something essential about a grandmother, something that people take for granted. She’s always there to make you dessert, (sometimes she makes it to lure you to her house, because how else do you get the grandchildren to visit?) and she’s genuinely interested in hearing about your life. Those two things are happiness and love, emotions that people need in order to get through life.

My great-grandmother would always make angel food cake, and one of my other grandmothers would make vanilla ice cream from a machine she had every once in a while. Those treats defined my life. Now, whenever I’m feeling nostalgic, I either buy angel food cake or crave homemade ice cream.

I think I focus on the food not because it has the most memories attached to it, but the most senses. I can smell the vanilla beans in the soft, white ice cream mounds; I can taste them, feel them, see them. The memory begins with the food and expands from there. Through that, I am able to visualize my surroundings. Sitting on the red swivel bar chair with the metal back, the one that looked like it belonged in an old-fashioned barber shop or diner. The toy witch hanging from the ceiling on her broom. The painting on the wall of what looked like a character from Where the Wild Things Are, created by my uncle, her son.

We tend to reach for things long after they’re gone. Whether it’s a memory, a sensation, a person, we long to have it there again, in front of us. Tangible, real. A Grandma story creates that reality. It is our way of baking an angel food cake for our lost loved one, of mixing the vanilla beans into the ice cream. One final meal before departure.

Grandma stories are not overused. They are a necessity. With these stories, we honor grandmothers everywhere for all that they have done for us.


Image © dreamstime

What is Poetry?

The definition of poetry, as well as the written format, has fluctuated over the years. Some people only care for poems that rhyme or have a meter, whereas others prefer free verse. There are those who enjoy concrete poems (poems that take the shape of an image on the page), and those who dislike the very mention of concrete poetry. And there are also people who are firm believers that poetry is not poetry unless it is spoken, performed, or put to verse. These people are often lyricists, musicians, or slam poets.

There are types of poetry that have proper punctuation—some lack any form of punctuation. There are poets who like to highlight the advantages and failings of language. And there are those who write prose poems that read almost like an excerpt from a journal. Essentially, there are as many variations of poetry as there are poets.

So what makes a poem poetry? I have no idea, but I do have a few definitions offered by experts in the field.

According to Robert Frost, “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”

William Hazlitt said, “Poetry is all that is worth remembering in life.”

T.S. Eliot gave one of the most intuitive definitions of poetry that I have ever come across:

Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.

And one of my personal favorites from James K. Baxter: “The poem is a plank laid over the lion’s den.”

From what I can gather, poetry is either an attempt to capture a moment in time like a flower pressed between the pages of a book, or an expression of the desire to speak on a subject the poet has difficulty enunciating verbally. For me, it’s a combination of both. Some things I write to remember. Others, to forget.

As far as the actual writing goes, I don’t really have a system. I don’t go to a park and sit on the same bench at noon every day and compose a poem. Sometimes I write five poems in a single day. Other times, I go weeks without writing. There are moments where a poem will begin in my head—whether I’m driving or staring off into space or sitting in class—and I have to find something to get it down on as quickly as possible. Those moments are rare though. Most of the time, I just get an emotion or a memory that I want to find a way to preserve.

Whenever I’ve gone so long without writing anything, I’ve found reading poetry is the best way to get me back into that world. I will be in the middle of reading a poem, and I’ll have to stop to write one of my own.

Other days, I get a line or two, or an image, and I have to continuously work to mold it into a finished product. The process is very long. Most of the time, poetry does not just happen. It requires dedication and an acute attention to details and all of the connotations that come with a word.

One thing is for certain though, do not let anyone tell you what you’re doing is not poetry, because to the writer, poetry is the personal made impersonal. It is an expression of something human and subconscious that others are able to not only recognize, but relate to. It is a representation of the things we are all afraid to speak of.


Entry 6: Introverts and Alone Time

I was around seven or eight, I believe, when Mom dropped my sister and me off at a woman’s house for the day. I assume the woman was meant to be our babysitter, though I can’t remember where our parents went that required the need for a babysitter.

We’ll call the woman Mary. Mary was very nice, and I had met her before; she was a family acquaintance. Everything was going fine until I got upset about something and proceeded to barricade myself in her bedroom. Barricade as in I locked the door from the inside.

That did not go over well. I was laying on the bed bawling while she shook and banged on the door. Finally, she stopped to call Mom and complain about how unruly the children were being. It was only then, in the silence left behind as Mary walked away from the door, engaged in her phone call, that I was able to relax. I quit crying, closed my eyes, and took some deep breaths. It was about half an hour of silence, maybe more—I might have fallen asleep on the bed—before I refueled enough to venture out. I found them on the couch, watching television—Sesame Street. They just looked at me, and I sat down next to them, in the spot I should have been occupying the entire visit.

I’m still not sure what exact event spurred me to lock myself in Mary’s bedroom, but looking back now, I see it’s a common thing for introverts to do. Instinctually, I was craving some alone time, some quiet. I remember trying several times to break off on my own, but Mary always insisted that we stay together, in her sight, which was good babysitting, but bad news for an introvert who can’t stay around people for so long.

That was the one and only time Mary was our babysitter.

All of those pictures that relate the introvert’s predicament with socializing to a picture of a low battery symbol are actually quite accurate, but it’s not the people that introverts get tired of. At Mary’s, I was in a new environment for the fist time. I was not granted permission to explore on my own and therefore make the space more comfortable and homely. I was not given time to stand and process my surroundings without Mary and my sister chattering away next to me. I wasn’t fully adjusted to Mary’s presence either.

These things added up to become one majorly overstimulating situation in which I still couldn’t process whether I was safe or not. I was toggling between fight-or-flight mode the entire evening, and eventually, flight mode won. Hence the locked door—my attempt to escape from what I perceived to be a hostile environment.

Introverts require alone time in order to process their surroundings and come to an internal agreement as to whether the situation is safe or potentially harmful. We need ample time to assure our bodies and mind that we aren’t in danger. When we are denied this basic need, we spend the entire evening on edge, jumping at every noise, nursing a crick in our neck from constantly scanning our surroundings. We’re almost like deer in headlights. We see the light, but we can’t quite make out the car behind it, or the person driving, so we freeze, stuck  in some sort of indecisive limbo. This is why our battery runs low so quickly. We’re overcompensating for that missing information—the face of the driver. Friend or foe? Dangerous or safe? Run or stay?

Give us ten minutes of quiet, and we’ll figure it out. Until then, all we see are blinding lights.

Entry 5: Old Soul, Young Heart

Usually, it’s the INFJs that are referred to as the “old souls,” the people who are considered extremely mature for their age, but people tend to overlook the fact that this is also true of the INFPs. The only difference being, the INFPs are far more abstract in their maturity.

INFJs are known to be rational, almost data-based researchers who seem to require scientific evidence in order to believe something. This does not mean they’re closed-minded. In fact, the INFJs I have met are some of the most open-minded people I know. It simply means they will respect what is said, but they won’t believe it until given proof. This lends to that adult, “old soul” reading of their personality.

INFPs take it a step further. We not only respect the theories people propose, but we believe them. Because of this, people tend to dismiss us or label us as gullible or easily fooled. If someone told me unicorns existed, I would get excited, yes, not because I believe what the person said is true, but because I believe in the possibility that it could be true. It’s not naiveté, but a level of acceptance and an openness to possibilities that is unrivaled by any of the other personality types.

I like to refer to the INFP’s dichotomy as the old soul, young heart situation, because we somehow manage to be wise beyond our years while also maintaining that child-like wonderment that is so vital to living. We do not question the physics of how some caterpillars manage to survive the winter in the Arctic, we simply marvel at the fact that they can. I’m not saying we don’t need people who question things, because we definitely do. At the same time, the world desperately needs the type of accepting people that INFPs naturally are.

So don’t let the skeptics get you down. What they fail to realize is that the INFP’s willingness to accept things at face value is becoming a rare occurrence. The world is full of nonbelievers, of prove-it-to-me individuals who stand with feet planted and arms crossed. America has lost some of the foresight that comes with believing in people, even when the things those people say seem ridiculous or impossible. I don’t mean blind faith either. Definitely do not agree instantly with everything someone says. Use your brain, but use it in such a way that you are viewing the situation from every side.

The metaphor I like to use is a Rubik’s cube. Some people spend their entire lives contemplating one wall of the cube, trying in vain to make all of the colors match up. They fail to expand their mind outside of that one-dimensional world—they do not see the other five sides of the situation. Others are born color blind, raised to only see the white panels, or the yellow. INFPs not only recognize all sides and colors of the cube, but they handle it daily, alternating through each of the sides, observing, debating, note-taking.

I encourage people to peek around the edge of the wall, to see what other sights and colors are out there.

Entry 4: Headache, Migraine, Internal Bleeding?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell which one it is. A couple years ago, I started getting headaches, daily. Well, not necessarily daily headaches, but more of a never-ending migraine. I told my mother about it, as everyone who has some kind of problem does, and we started seeing the doctor. I tried a total of three or four different migraine medicines over the next year, and none of them did the trick. In fact, they all had side effects that were almost as crippling as the migraines.

One medication gave me mood swings—extreme mood swings. I’m a relatively calm person, very mellow, but when I was on that medicine, I had one particular day where I was in the middle of getting ready for work and my pants fit a little tighter than usual (probably another side effect from the medicine, because a number of them made me gain weight). Well, I broke down. I started bawling and telling my mother that I had gained weight, that I was too fat now and I couldn’t possibly go to work. If normal me had found herself in this situation, she would have just shrugged and thought, Well, I’m gonna have to buy new pants soon. She would have left it at that. No drama.

I was even aware of how irrational my behavior was at the time. I knew I was being overemotional, yet I couldn’t stop sobbing. It was a horrible experience, and I still feel sorry for making my mother listen to my idiotic rant.

That wasn’t the worst one either. Another version of migraine medicine I had to take made me depressed, and I’m still not sure if I have gotten over this one. It wasn’t until I was off the drug that I began to feel better, more like my old, mostly up-beat self. But I still have the occasional days where I’m sad for no reason.

After a year of dealing with all the test drugs, I decided to quit. I would figure this out on my own, without any of the weird, voodoo medicine the doctor gave me. I researched other people who have migraines and how they deal with them naturally. They gave a list of what they called “triggers,” things that, well, trigger a migraine. Some of the ones I’ve noticed that pertain to me are alcohol, drastic weather changes, strong smells, overexposure to bright screens while in the dark, such as cell phones and laptops, or even overexposure to screens in general. If I spend all day on the computer, I have a major headache by that night.

The reason this is relevant to the fact that I’m an INFP is because we’re more sensitive to things like smells, and so we’re more likely to get a headache or a migraine. Over time, I’ve learned to avoid the triggers as often as I can. I never order alcohol—I rarely ever drink it either, but when I want some, I usually steal a couple sips from a friend or parent’s cup. It’s cheaper that way too.

Some triggers, such as weather changes, are unavoidable. The best thing to do is check the weather ahead of time and plan your day accordingly. If it looks like a wet day, then I stay indoors, although I do open the blinds and try to use as much natural light for the majority of the day as I can, because if I spend all day in artificial light, it gives me a migraine.

If you’ve tried avoiding all the triggers, and you still get migraines, there are some natural remedies that may help. The only thing I’ve found that gets rid of migraines is a nap. It can be difficult to get to sleep. Sometimes it takes hours, but once I have, I wake up refreshed and migraine free. The nap usually lasts for two to three hours. Don’t set any sort of alarm to wake yourself up though. I’ve found this causes stress and makes the nap ineffective.

Other people have told me that long salt baths help, or teas made from nutmeg or cinnamon or other fragrant spices. I haven’t tried any of these methods though. So far, napping is the only thing that does the trick. There are some days where I’m at school or work though, and I can’t rush home to take a nap. On these occasions, I just have to cope until I can escape to my bed. Just let people know what’s up and keep trying to avoid those triggers, especially strong odors and fluorescent lights. If you work in an office space, try taking a break and sitting in the dark for a few minutes—complete darkness, with your eyes closed. It should help.

Migraines suck, quite simply, and I don’t have a method to get rid of them for all time, but I hope these coping mechanisms have been beneficial.

Entry 3: How to Greet People

For anyone who is introverted or prefers deep, one-on-one conversations to idle chit-chat about the weather, this post is for you—the philosophers, the dreamers, the cerebral merry-go-rounders.

I watched Finding Dory the other day, and one of the new characters, an octopus named Hank, makes a comment about how much he hates small talk. “News flash,” Hank says after his mini rant about our society’s standard greeting system. “No one’s fine!” As soon as I heard him say that, a giant “THANK YOU!” sounded in my mind, almost pushing its way out of my mouth.

I’ve always hated the standard “How are you?” “Fine, how are you?” way in which we greet each other, because they’re empty words. No one expects an honest answer, but if that’s the case, then why do we still have to go through the motions? Because it would be awkward if we didn’t speak to each other while passing? Is a simple wave not enough?

Whenever I find myself in a greeting situation (which is every day), I go through a quick, internal micro argument about whether I should just vomit up the standard response, or try to break the barrier a bit and tell the person something that matters. Sometimes this is not possible. If you’re passing someone going down the street, he expects a short response so he can continue on his way without having to stop. (I always freeze up in these sort of situations, by the way,thinking, Should I tell him that I just saw a red-haired squirrel? Will he care? Maybe I should just say hi. Oh, wait, we’re already shoulder-to-shoulder, and I haven’t said anything yet. Smile, you idiot! And then I give an awkward smile and he just thinks I’m peculiar and really shy, when in actuality, I’m too busy trying to decide what to tell him on my long list of stories to share.)

Other times, I find myself in a situation where I can open up, but then I reach another hurdle that says, “Does this person really care? Or is she just doing the meaningless greeting thing?” I usually trip over that hurdle.

On the rare occasions when I do manage to bypass all the bothersome hurdles, I take full advantage of breaking the barriers. I usually launch into a story, keeping in mind to select one that I think the particular person I’m talking to will enjoy. And, low and behold, it works! Especially if you can transition into a topic that verbally engages the person you’re talking to. For example, if you’re telling a story about trains, and you picked that story because you know the person you’re talking to like trains, then find a way to ask him or her a question about said trains. Get the person talking about something (s)he’s passionate about. It’s a lot more fun than an emotionless greeting, I promise. Just watch out for those hurdles. They can be tricky sometimes.

The Metaphorical Anatomy of a Willow Tree

They always grow next to water.

That’s what initially attracted me to the willows. I grew up with a lake only a short walking distance away, and a river in my backyard. My parents used to own a pontoon boat that we would go out on all summer. I was small then. 6ish, I believe, around the time we first got it. I have many a fond memory of that boat. There were also a lot of Jet Ski adventures—and incidents—as well.

Water is happiness to me, childhood, a picture of a full family on the pontoon. My younger sister passed out from exhaustion on the shaded back couch, Dad driving with his sunglasses on, Mom with her flimsy visor with the dolphins jumping across it, my older sister insisting that we stop to go swimming. All of these memories are conjured by the sound of the rocks licking the water further downstream.

Shelter was the next thing. The willows with hair so long they dirty it playing with the wind in the soil and dust at their feet. I love to slip behind that gentle curtain and merge with the bark, run my hands through a different kind of river.

For the willows with short hair, I imagine an unrequited love story. They are forever stretching to reach the water, to touch the smooth surface that’s always just out of reach. I like to think they’ll make it someday, if only because I’ve seen willows with their hair dunked heartily in the water, bathing or drinking, I can never decide which. Maybe it’s both. All  I know is they look happy.

Which brings me to my last point. Willows have a dreary connotation to them. They’re almost the gothic/alternative children of the tree family, with their heads bowed, moping around. I like to think of it as purposeful diligence, always striving to grow that hair long enough to reach the river, to return to childhood, to happiness. Isn’t that what we’re all doing? Searching for that time in our lives when the direction was clear, when the water only flowed one way—toward home?