24 April 2008

Alice held between her skinny fingers the bitter white end of a head of lettuce. She had found it nestled between a piece of tomato and a slice of cucumber in the salad she was fed at dinner. She never thought of eating lettuce heart. The black-haired girl sitting beside Alice leaned over and whispered,
“A gypsy told me that if you eat a lettuce heart without breathing, you can make a wish and it will come true.”
Sitting at a table with other orphaned children, Alice swallowed the bitter heart. Her eyes were closed, as if to ensure the granting of her wish. Once the heart had begun its journey through her petite body, she opened her eyes. Through the window that sat next to her, she saw the figure of a woman entering through the lofty metal gate that keep her imprisoned in that foreign home. Her chest jumped with her heavily beating heart. She was in that moment when reverie and reality balance on each other, where life can surprise you or it can deal you a predictable hand. She then recognized the figure. It was her mother walking towards her. It was her mother that she had wished to see.

Alice was born in Paris in 1941 as the daughter of a Tunisian father, who was quite fond of absinthe, and a French mother who could not read or write. When Alice was born, her mother was living in a one-room apartment without a toilet or running water. Alice’s mother had one child every year for ten years. All of Alice’s siblings lived in that one-room apartment for the first few years of their lives, but none of them stayed for as long as Alice. Seven years passed before the French authorities thought it better for Alice to live in a clean orphanage rather than the impoverished home of her parents.

All Alice longed for when she was a young child was to be like everyone else. She felt alienated by the sole detail that her mother’s absence was due to the poverty that plagued their family. Everyday she left school, she longed for her mother to be waiting for her, as all the other children’s mothers were waiting. Once, her mother rode on a bus for nearly an hour so that she could feel like everyone else, so she could live a dream for a few sweet moments.

Alice’s mother did not visit any of her other children. Her mother chose a favorite, such a taboo for parents. She even remembers her mother telling her that she was her favorite, that all her other siblings were hardened by the difficulties, but that Alice kept a softness in her.

When Alice was fifteen years old, she lived alone in Paris in a room the size of a small walk-in closet. Not until eighteen though, did she realize she was alone. As she huddled in that tiny room, she listened to Beethoven and wondered about the complexities of life; but she had no one to ask the myriad of questions that pierced her mind. Her mother loved her, but was unable to give her any guidance. At some point between Beethoven's third and fifth symphonies, she came to terms with the idea that she knew nothing and this stimulated her to engulf herself in people that knew more than her. She surrounded herself with artists, musicians, and writers rather than delinquents, criminals and drug addicts. Her siblings never came to terms with their lack of knowledge. They became those delinquents Alice chose to withdraw from.

At twenty, she moved to London and lived as an au pair in the house of a woman no more amiable in temperament than the callous siblings she had left behind in Paris. She endured the unkindness by seeking out small but gratifying forms of retribution. She would purposefully cook an over-salted, burnt breakfast, and act ignorant when the woman complained, as if the culprit was her lack of skill in cooking and not her devious intentions.

Over time, Alice endured more misfortune, enough to cause some to surrender, believing their unlucky hand would continue. She did not surrender. Not until the age of forty-one did her river of misfortune finally evaporate into a bearable stream, when she found a companion in her neighbor’s brother. She dove into a second marriage, not letting previously failed attempts restrain her ability to become blissfully vulnerable. And she had a healthy child at an age when the odds were against her.

Alice has been living in the United States since 1965, yet still her French accent is as thick as the skin on the soles of her feet. For every English word she mispronounces, no more than a second goes by. To this day I have never heard her utter an ‘h’ without someone articulating it for her first. Americans often mistake her accent for animosity. Policemen regard her accent as grounds for always giving her the ticket.

Americans see her as too French. The French see her as too American.

Her beady brown eyes often water if the air-conditioner is on too cold. Her knuckles are enlarged with arthritis, but her hands are still lean and feminine. When she was in her twenties and it was the sixties, she plucked her eyebrows leaving only a thin row of hairs. The hairs never grew back.

She was a petite child and she is now a petite woman. She's in good shape except for a little belly. No matter how much she walks, bikes, or swims it never goes away. She explains this phenomenon with a statement made by Albert Camus in the Stranger that all women have little bellies when they get older. I looked up the quote later in life, to come upon a much more grotesque description, something involving ‘bulging stomachs’, rather than the little bellies Alice made reference to. It's as if she wanted to expose me to Camus but edited the content until I was mature enough to understand something like existentialism.

She changed the spelling of her name when she was in her twenties, but in no official way. She just started spelling her name with a –ys instead of an –ice. She is now Alys.

And she paints. Alys sees the world in paintings, as a photographer sees the world in pictures, and a writer sees the world in words. But her paintings are of nothing concrete, just collections of brightly colored shapes. When she was younger, her paintings were of bold lines and black squares atop a background of primary colors. Now her paintings are of soft lines and pastel-colored circles. She never uses black paint anymore, unless it’s for mixing with white to make gray.

21 April 2008

Are humans animal enough?

(This isn't really a creative post, more of an argumetative post. Something I've been asked to think about for a class, but I think it's really interesting and I would like anyone who has an opinion to comment.)

There are certain characteristics of human beings that would be difficult to attribute to other animals. Researchers agree that humans are the only animals that have emotional tears (contrasted with tears from irritation), for example. Overall, one would have to argue that human habits are relatively similar with those of all other animals, only maybe more intricate. Our complex languages would have to be seen on par with the communication methods of other animals, in that language for humans does just as much as chemical cues do for fish; simpler brain, less of a need for complex messages.

Comparing modes of communication is one method that may aid in deciding whether the principles of animal behavior can be applied to human behavior. Our complex brain allows for our complex language, and our complex brain is what really distinguishes us from the rest of the animal kingdom.

There is one notable difference between the communication of most other animals (if not all) and that of human beings. Human language is capable of discussing objects and events that are in the past or the future . Animal communication, on the other hand, only appears to be capable of exchanging information about the present moment. There is no known vocalization, chemical cue, or movement of the body that an animal uses to indicate what it did yesterday or what it will do tomorrow. This idea can be applied to animal behavior in general, in that animals are only concerned with the present moment rather than the past or the future. Human beings, alternatively, sometimes dwell in the past or the future and have trouble living in the present.
On the level of communication, humans differ greatly from other animals. But one may argue that this concern for the future and the past that humans possess is really just another evolved trait of our species and that other animals would not benefit from having such a trait. I believe it worth an attempt to use the techniques of animal behavior to elucidate the behavior of human beings because, all in all, it’s not really a matter of whether we’d get it right with humans, but whether we get it right at all. Humans are no more elusive that the rest of the animal kingdom.

18 April 2008


We made chicken soup and sat around a fire. pretty nice.
oh hum. a fire, and some chicken noodle soup.

08 April 2008


04 April 2008

The Life of an Apple.

From the mother tree to the hands of a consumer, an apple has a very ordinary life. Rarely is it rejuvenated. Seldom are its seeds acknowledged, planted and patiently attended to.

For the great majority of people, the process of eating an apple has a clear beginning and end. First, an apple must be chosen. Apples are organized as if to assume they are all the same, as if picking up one will ultimately end in the same satisfaction of any other. They are always piled together, yet separated from all other varieties. They are not separated by quality. They are not separated by smell.

The smell of each variety of apple is different, let alone the smell of each individual apple. The secret is to smell the apple at its core, near the stem. Its true life, flavor and richness can be derived from this aroma. The pungent scent of a perfectly ripe apple may even jolt you into the future, the moment when the knife breaks the apple’s thin barrier, and the first succulent piece is slipped into your mouth.

The smell is one thing, but the beauty of an apple is another. There must be no brown marks intruding in the fantasy of perfection. The design of a worthy apple is a unique painting, with only red, yellow or green paint at its disposal. For beauty that prevails over limitations is even more extraordinary.

A lonely shopper may linger in front of the apple stand without a record of time, searching for flawless individuals. Until the perfect group is composed, which in all likelihood is never, the lonely shopper will not be contented. Other curious shoppers may look and wonder what mystery lies in finding the perfect bunch of apples. Soon this brief experience with curiosity will float out of their ears and baby food, potato chips and bacon will return.

The apples are placed in a fruit basket with an array of other fruit upon returning home, their individuality once more taken away. Rarely will an apple be eaten immediately. It’s as if they ought to be forgotten. Days will pass, but the apples remain in their place, ever so modestly. Forgetting their presence makes having them so much sweeter.

A red glint catches your eye while standing in front of the pantry. And you remember them. Their simplicity settles your indecision.

The knife is out, and the apple is standing upright, its posture prepared for the sacrificial moment. The best way to cut an apple is into sixteenths. Eighths are entirely too big, and thirty-seconds butcher the exquisite crispness of a well-chosen apple.

You place the apple slices into a shallow bowl. Like clockwork, they disappear, one after another, time taking no toll on even the last piece. The bowl sweating the apple’s remains is usually placed into the sink and forgotten. But something is in the air. Something is different. You look down at the bowl, millimeters before its submersion into the murky dishwater, and you notice a little brown seed.

As if planting seeds is a completely revolutionary idea, you realize you could plant this seed. You could have your own apple tree. New fantasies race through your mind, not of perfection, but of growth.

Out of ten apple seeds, only about three will germinate and live to adulthood. You have one seed. It takes more than six years to even discover whether the seed you plant will grow into a full-sized tree and bear edible fruit. There is a one in twenty chance of having a tree with edible fruit. There is an even smaller chance that the fruit will be as tasty as its mother. You are tempted to throw away this apple seed like all the others, and continue buying apples that you aren’t required to invest anything in. Your mind searches for reasons to abandon your familiar practices to consume and discard. You remember a concept you have often applied to your own life: it is the not end result that matters, but the process from which you learn everything.

So you plant the apple seed and wait. Maybe you’ll learn something along the way. But don’t forget, you need two trees to make fruit. Apple trees cannot pollinate themselves. And now you’ve already learned something, no matter how well you care for your little apple tree, its purpose will stay unfulfilled without a companion to complete the cycle, to take the ordinary out of its life.