My children throw everything in the swimming pool.
I wish they wouldn’t, but it seems to be part of their play. Sometimes they’re out there for hours in the afternoons after school, talking to themselves, stripping bark off the old stumps in the backyard, peeling papayas and sweeping black dirt into the pool.
I knew Sierra was going to do this when I saw the broom, but I couldn’t bear to break the spell until the last minute, and then it was too late. Garden soil drifted through the chlorinated blue to the bottom, where it rested like spilled ink. She looked up, startled, when I called her (Sierra, dirt does not go in the pool! But why not? I’m making mud balls!) and then, finally, as if it were the only other option, she came inside to play a computer game.
Another day, a Sunday, I was drawn outside by a family of papayas huddled together on a boogie board, a scene that clearly needed to be Instagrammed. I was distracted by a sliced papaya floating in the pool and, deeper down, a shipwrecked lawn ornament in the shape of a hummingbird.
In my daughters’ minds, I know, each random piece had a story, a reason for being in the pool. What does it say about me that, instead of fishing them out like a responsible adult, I photographed them?
Miscellanea in the pool.
I can play this game too, I thought. But, since I don’t know their stories, I’ll make up my own.*
(*Note: Each story is exactly 50 words long. Because 1. I was never gonna get around to publishing this blog otherwise. Wish I had more time to write… and 2. Conveniently enough, they now fit pretty perfectly into this week’s WordPress creative writing challenge.)
The boy next door had a papaya tree. She sneaked over there sometimes. They’d shake the tree, cut the fruit, then– juice dripping, sticky hands–share it, sitting in the shade. They didn’t talk. Or mostly he talked. They’d sit side by side, then she’d come home. Momma never knew.
Aunt Sophie had a hummingbird hatpin. He found it in the room at the end of the hall with the junk boxes and that weird book about Münchausen syndrome by proxy.
“William! Where are you?”
He covered the book; clicked the light.
The hatpin he put in his pocket.
She walked along the perimeter of the pond, and the wind through the saw palmettos made a satisfying sound, like dried bones. The sun, trapped inside the water, was boiling. She’d left his body in a ditch up the road, and she wasn’t going back. Yeah, she felt lighter already…
And that, my friends, is how writers play. :)
How do you play?
© Jaime Greenberg and discovered in play, 2014
In my dreams (the nighttime ones), my husband and I are always traveling. We board ships and planes and trains and moving hotel rooms and wake up in locations north of here or over the ocean from here…
In these dreams, we haven’t arrived yet, only traveled. Sometimes we lose each other in labyrinthine corridors and behind elevator doors– stuck on the wrong floor, going up up up when we should be going down–but we always find each other again.
In real life, lately, we’ve been traveling a lot too.
It all started last summer, our 13th wedding anniversary (I like to think I’m not really that old; I got married that young). We took our first road trip together– just us– since our daughters (ages 5 and almost-8 at the time) were born. We drove nearly 3,000 miles, all the way from South Florida up to Chicago and back. Our goal, ostensibly, was Lollapalooza 2012. But I guess what we really intended to do, like in my dreams, was to find each other again.
And we did, like we always do. Like we always have.
Along the way, I thought up a game.
To make the trip interesting, we would visit a different independent coffee shop in each city along the way. It was already a given that we’d be stopping for coffee anyway. Finding the coffee shops only took a little Googling, plugging the address into our GPS and– voila!— instant adventure. Kind of like a scavenger hunt, or like geocatching, but with the most deliciously satisfying payoff: mmm coffee! As a bonus, our forays to independent coffee shops tended to take us off the beaten path, sometimes to places only real locals know about. And it was a great way to support the economy in the local community– wherever that local community happened to be.
And then, of course, there was the novelty.
I’ve been to many a Starbucks in my day, taking advantage of their free Wifi and expensive coffee. The trouble with Starbucks is, they’re all basically the same. And they all kind of blend together.
Our brains have a tendency to remember the unexpected, the unusual, the new— and to discard automatic routine. I can’t (and don’t want to) remember every single time I’ve walked into a Starbucks and ordered my favorite, not-terribly creative go-to drink (“Grande nonfat latte, please. Yes that’s all. My name’s Jaime. Thank you.”) In Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything Joshua Foer talks about how novelty “unfolds time” and new experiences “serve to anchor our memories,” thus making our lives seem longer, richer, fuller. Mmm kind of like a good cup of coffee…
In this way, our great Perpetual Independent Coffee Shop Tour (that’s #picstour on Instagram and, yes, it’s expanded from one summer’s pastime to become never-ending) now anchors our journeys, wherever we happen to go. I take my coffee shop adventures seriously, so I could probably write an essay about each and every one of the stops on our tour– detailing the smells/sounds/tastes/touches/sights, the people we met/watched, and my specific emotional state/daydreams/ideas/tangents at each. My life in coffee shops. But I won’t– not for now, anyway.
I’ll just introduce you to a few of my favorites, in Instagram pictures. I’ve included website links and physical addresses in case you want to visit. Go there and cast your own anchors. Make up your own stories. Tell me what you find.
I’m taking recommendations too– what other independent coffee shops should we visit?
The Frothy Monkey * 2509 12th Ave. S., Nashville, Tennessee
Wherein I enjoyed a yummy chai latte made from scratch with milk from local Hatcher Family Dairy. As it happens, I grew up on the Hatcher Family Dairy farm in Macon, Georgia (no relation to these guys, but the milk in Nashville certainly tasted serendipitous).
Lazy Daze Coffeehouse * 10 Johnson Ave, Indianapolis, Indiana
We found this shop after a night of ill-equipped camping at the Indy KOA. That morning we woke up before the birds and drove around bleary-eyed, in the dark, looking for the coffee shop. When we finally found it, I noted on Instagram, “The ground is pretty hard in Indianapolis… but the coffee’s good. Nice day, definitely worth waking up early.” Drink of choice: double Americano.
Cup o’ Joe German Village * 627 S. Third Street, Columbus, Ohio
This was a special place. I spent some beautiful time alone here, while my husband went to a business meeting. I snapped this picture and wrote, “Quiet morning in German Village, Columbus, Ohio. Got an iced mocha; gonna do some writing…”
That iced mocha was gooood, too! This is what I wrote while I was there.
Kahwa Espresso Bar * 475 2nd St. N., Downtown St. Petersburg, Florida
This one was fun because we did it with friends. In total: four adults, two 5-year-olds, one 8-year-old, two jack russells and a vizsla puppy, to be exact. The pack of us wandered around St. Pete on foot –up one block and down another, dogs and children and leashes tangling up together in joyous, barely contained chaos –until we found it.
Caffe Sapore * 790 Lombard St San Francisco, California
The Official San Francisco stop on our PICS Tour, during my recent birthday trip. I ♥ San Francisco.
Cafe Muse * 785 8th Ave., San Francisco, California
Shout out to our ‘unofficial” San Francisco Stop on the PICS Tour. We stumbled onto this shop–in Inner Richmond, right outside Golden Gate Park–while we were looking for a bathroom. We settled in for lunch– why not? I ate a tuna melt and watched, through the window, a young man arranging plants in an apartment across the street.
The Steaming Bean * 635 S Lincoln Ave Steamboat Springs, Colorado
My home away from the snow in Steamboat Springs. We visited this one twice. My Florida-born daughters caught snowflakes on their tongues and built snowmen right outside the shop, while I, warm and toasty, watched through the panoramic window. They looked like figures in a snow globe. So magical! Here I am wearing an insane amount of clothing (I’m from Florida, remember?) and celebrating St. Patty’s Day with a Nutty Irishman (hazelnut and Irish creame latte)– which was amaaaazing!
© Jaime Greenberg and discovered in play, 2013
ISO real friends.
I’ve mostly been ignoring Facebook lately, and really only paying peripheral attention to Pinterest and Twitter. Occasionally I’ll visit LinkedIn to bestow random work-related endorsements on my contacts there… but it all feels pretty empty.
Sometimes I feel like I have lots of “friends” on social media, but not nearly enough real friends in my life.
I’m not even sure how to make friends anymore. Everybody’s busy these days, doing our own things, pausing now and then to upload photos and update statuses. It’s weird to me– and a little awkward– that I can know so many intimate details about people’s lives without ever having in-person conversations with them, without honestly knowing them in real life.
But I do it too. I post about my fabulous vacations, my funny pets and my clever children—hoping you’ll like me a little more because of all that. (Although researchers say you’re more likely to be jealous of the extremely edited and happy version of my life I choose to share with you. So, go figure.) I blog about all sorts of personal stuff. I post song lyrics and YouTube videos and inspirational quotes and Instagram photos of my latest visit to some independent-coffee-shop-you’ve-never-heard-of, because (maybe?) you’ll think that’s cool too. But does anybody really know me any better for learning all that trivia? Does anybody really care?
I’ve ‘met’ so many interesting people—all over the country, all over the world even—through blogging and various other social media. I feel like my world is broader because of the internet; my connections are wider-ranging. But it’s harder (or maybe just as hard as it ever was) to find genuine lasting friendship in real life. I have many friends who live in the same city as I do, that I see more often online than I do in person. I’ll admit, that’s partly my own fault. But that doesn’t make it any less messed up.
These days, most people socialize with their friends online, at least in part. But a lot of what we’re posting is just surface stuff. Noise. With all the static coming through our overstuffed news feeds and in-boxes, are we really even listening to each other anymore?
We can excuse each other if we’re not, right? Because listening is hard to do. There is such a sheer volume of information out there that curating it has become an art form—both highbrow (see Maria Popova) and lowbrow (see _insert name of meme-y Tumblr of the week here_). Which, in the online world, almost gives me the sense that I could curate my list of friends, too, carefully editing and culling until I achieved just the right mix of interesting people with whom I’ll admit to being associated. But people are not bits of data. We are all so much more—more beautiful, more subtle, messier, more complicated—than our Facebook profiles would suggest. It’s this extra dimension, this completeness, that I cherish in my in-person friendships. It’s a depth I miss when I follow my friends online.
And then, there are human qualities– like empathy, a skill so vital to all types of interpersonal interaction, especially friendship — that are easily muddled up in online communication. Is empathy even something that can be experienced through a keyboard? It’s hard to say. At the very least, I think, it’s different online than it is in person. If I pour my heart out to you in a blog or an email… do you really, truly get me? Can you get to know me– for real, I mean? Can you imagine yourself in my shoes? Or, without body language and eye contact and every other little nuance and intuition gleaned through old-fashioned senses, do things just get lost in translation between my brain and your screen?
One of the things social media does extremely well– by allowing for all sorts of collecting and cataloging– is point out just how many scores and scores of people I actually do know. It turns out that I, like most everybody else reading this, have an incredible number of acquaintances. I will even be super broad in my definitions and say that I probably do have a lot of actual friends, as well (and not just fake, placeholder Facebook “friends” either). But, for me at least, the ability to measure comments and “likes” and friend quantity (not just my own, but my friends’ friend quantity too) — only highlights the lack of quality and depth in the vast majority of my relationships. And that can sometimes feel… really lonely.
It shouldn’t, of course, but it does. By now I think we’ve all heard the neat little fact that humans can really only hold about 150 meaningful relationships in our heads. Your real list of tried-and-true, hardcore, BFFs probably brings that number down to a mere handful (it does for me, anyway). Which is as it should be.
But when I’m feeling lonely, and everybody else seems all chummy with each other on Facebook, the type of friendships I wish I had more of are the deep and long term ones. The real ones. The ones that start up kind of like magic, and to which there really are no shortcuts. The kind where you really, truly know the other person and they know you– no agendas, no strings attached– where you’re understood and loved, and missed when you’re not around. Isn’t that what everybody wants?
© Jaime Greenberg and discovered in play, 2013
On one of those early spring days that feel already like summer—high sunlight and the faint smell of rain on dirt whispering their promises—you find yourself wandering.
You’re holding a stolen gardenia flower, which you breathe in every few steps, eyes closed, not so much smelling but remembering. You barely even slow down to glide around a dead ??? lying smack in the center of the sidewalk. No head, ribcage and spine like a too-many-legged spider, shaped all wrong for a cat… raccoon maybe? One time on a walk like this—not so far from here, actually—you found a purple dildo lying spent on the sidewalk. You didn’t slow down then either. But you did pull out your phone and take a picture.
You’re walking because you’re in search of something, but you can’t quite put your finger on what it might be… You decide you’ll know it when you see it. It is, obviously, not a dildo or a dead cat.
You leave the sidewalk when you reach the canal, walking along the grass for a while next to its onyx-smooth surface. A purple-blue flower called “kiss me and I’ll tell you” makes you smile, makes you wish you weren’t alone so you could share the joke. You jump as a heron, nearly as tall as you, breaks cover on the opposite bank, cutting across your path.
This is when you finally do stop. There’s a single cabbage palm next to the canal, and in the new quiet of your mind, the wind blowing through it sounds like a rainstorm. You breathe. Laugh.
The sun is starting to set. You pull “kiss me and I’ll tell you” up by the roots and take it home to plant in your garden, in the dark.
© Jaime Greenberg and discovered in play, 2013
I filmed this short video as part of a WordPress Daily Post video challenge. The challenge was to make a one minute (one take!) video of yourself describing the three most important things you’d like visitors to know about your blog. I think the best part, by far, is when I stick my tongue out at the end… :p
Three must-know things about
discovered in play
1. discovered in play started out as something a little different, but it’s evolved. That happens when you’re playing. Sometimes it’s just fun to go with the flow and see where things take you!
2. It’s a blog about THE MEANING OF LIFE. Or, if you’d rather ease into it… it’s about Play, Creativity and Happiness. That sounds nice, right?
3. I’m pretty sure one of the big reasons I started writing this blog was so I could reach YOU. What do you think? Wanna come play? :)
© Jaime Greenberg and discovered in play, 2013
San Francisco, Sunday morning, February 24, 2013
I had an hour to myself, and instead of visiting the glass dildo store next to our hotel, I stayed in the room. I was reading about fernet branca on my phone and marking a map of the city, when I noticed you on this blog. I don’t know you at all, but I totally feel you. Missed Connections, I think I might be in love…
Missed Connections: Love, Lost & Found: Sophie Blackall: Amazon.com: Books.
(That would be illustrator Sophie Blackall’s wistful, hopeful book/blog about love at first sight, what if and almost-could-have-been, as told by real-life strangers in Craigslist’s Missed Connections section.)
Beautiful. Funny. Sometimes truly heartbreaking. But, definitely, highly recommended.
© Jaime Greenberg and discovered in play, 2013
I recently read a blog in which the writer, a mother imagining the world through her five-year-old son’s eyes, was lamenting the loss of magic in her own adult Christmas experience. She wondered, specifically about Santa, but really about life in general, “Do I let him believe in magic knowing how fast it could, and one day will get ripped away? …do I encourage it?”
My short answer to her is, yes, of course you should. But I suspect she doesn’t really need me to tell her what to do.
My long answer is this…
I’m an adult; I know ‘the truth’ about Santa—but I still believe in magic. I know magic exists; it’s real. I can feel it inside me as surely as I feel my own bones. And most importantly, I know it when I see it
You see, the tricky thing about magic is it’s everywhere and all-the-time, but you kinda have to know where to look for it. It’s not always in the form you’d expect. (Well of course it’s not—I can hear my eight-year-old daughter, an ardent Harry Potter fan, whispering in my ear as I type this—it’s magic!)
One early summer day my friend Jonathan came over to visit and brought his seven-year-old nephew to play with my daughters. We ended up at the neighborhood park where we ran into a bunch of kids, all about that same age. As the shadows grew longer and the light began to shift, Jonathan announced to all of us (because he’s just amazingly cool like this), “The sun is starting to go down. C’mon let’s find a good spot to watch the sunset!” We all followed him to the highest spot on the playground, where the kids continued to run around, slaloming through lines of trees while we waited for the sun to set.
After a long time, it was the blue-haired kid in the hockey jersey who noticed it. Peering through the trees at the melting sky, his eyes suddenly got wide. “Look!” he shouted. “Everybody look! I see a rainbow!” He turned to me. “See? See it!? It’s right there. There’s a rainbow in the sunset!”
I squinted. I couldn’t see the rainbow. But the boy, there was something different about him. As he stood still for just a second beside a low wall on the periphery of the playground, the air tingled with a tiny spark of something… wonder, possibility, ideas taking shape… Yes, just-there: magic! Everything stopped and I felt it. For a second, the whole world was drenched in it.
Maybe I’m cheating here a little bit. I’m describing a child’s experience. Everything is new to children, and everybody knows magic is how children see the world. But the very best magic is transformative, for everyone involved. When I talk about the boy discovering a rainbow in the sunset, I’m really not telling the whole story. What I really mean to say is, watching the boy’s face, as he stood still for just a second beside a low wall on the periphery of the playground—I felt a change in me.
Years ago my husband and I took a trip to Italy. While in Rome I decided we needed to visit the famous catacombs outside the city. On the car ride there I was excited; I couldn’t stop thinking about what we might find, “Do you think we’ll see bones? Will there be bodies? Maybe skulls? Do you think we could touch them?” Brett had no idea, but he knows me well enough to understand I was about to be majorly freaked out by whatever we were about to see– and also well enough to understand there was no use in talking me out of it.
Inside the catacombs, deep underground, our guide– a Catholic priest from Ireland– led us through the burial chambers of early Christian martyrs and popes, past the peculiar sad effigy of Cecilia, patron saint of music, through shoulder-width earthen tunnels lined on both sides with body-sized niches. No bodies anymore in this burial chamber, but that didn’t lessen the emotional impact. The energy inside the empty tombs was intense. The farther we walked into the underground dark, the tighter my chest got, the more I had to fight the urge to shove past our small group of tourists and escape.
Finally our tour wound around one last passageway and I could see stairs and sunlight. I couldn’t handle the psychic energy of the place anymore– or maybe my imagination was running wild. I rushed for the stairs, pulling Brett along with me, “Let’s go, let’s go,” I said. “I have to get out of here now. Let’s go.” Our guide stopped us, puzzled. He was in the process of herding our group into a tiny cave of a room to the right of the stairs. I knew there was absolutely no way I was going in there. “My wife needs to get out of here,” Brett explained. “She’s claustrophobic.”
This wasn’t the exact truth, and although I’m not hugely religious to speak of, I felt bad lying to a priest. The priest stepped forward and looked into my eyes. “I’m sorry to hear that,” he said. “God bless you.” He reached gently towards me and I stepped back, reluctant to have a stranger touch me. He pressed on, and slowly he drew the sign of the cross on my forehead, right at the spot where my third eye might be. Ohhhhhhh! I could feel the energy as he laid his hands on me. Coming from somewhere outside of him, it coursed through him, pulsing and focusing through his fingers and into my body. “Be well,” he said.
I was well. Truthfully I was euphoric. I don’t know when in my life I’ve ever felt such a deep sense of peace and well-being. And power. Where did that come from, I wondered? For days afterward, maybe weeks, I could still feel the imprint of the cross on my forehead. “It’s like magic!” I said. “Or a miracle, that’s almost the same thing right.?” My husband, a martial arts student, always practical, said, “It’s ch’i.“
So, I’m an adult. You can take this to mean that I don’t believe in Santa Claus or (probably not) fairies, or even boy wizards (sigh). And I don’t, at least not in the same ways I did when I was a child. But that doesn’t mean my sense of wonder has just totally disapparated. There is too much undiscovered, unexplored and unexplained in the world for me to give up that easily.
After all, there is a certain truth that lies behind belief in magic—that feeling of possibilities and wonder and everyday amazement—and I don’t ever want to let that go.
© Jaime Greenberg and discovered in play, 2012
I voted, and now along with the rest of the country I‘ll be holding my breath today, waiting to see who won the presidential election. No matter the outcome, I think my overwhelming feeling will be relief that it’s finally over. It’s been a really emotional and divisive—and sometimes really vicious—campaign. The most extreme groups in each party seem to be living in completely alternate realities, where different rules apply. It’s truly shocking to me that some people refuse to look for any kind of common ground. I guess elections are always a bit like that.
Maybe I’m feeling more frustration and incomprehension this time because I’m different than I was before. I’m a mother of two girls, ages five and eight. I’m teaching them—and I’m making conscious choices in my own life—to approach others with honesty and love and empathy. I want my girls to stand up for what they believe in, but also to really listen to the other side—to work together to fix the world we all live in.
I especially want them to know—no matter our political affiliation or group of choice or economic circumstances or whatever—we’re all just people. Like it or not, we can’t escape this ultimate fact: we’re all in this life thing together. And it’s short. There’s precious little time for fighting.
Even the work I do is with an organization that promotes empathy, open communication, creative problem-solving and conflict resolution skills—all admirable qualities that seem lacking, to various degrees, in the political campaigns on both sides. Such, it would seem, is the nature of politics. Is it naive and idealistic for me to believe that we can change that? If not my generation, then maybe my girls will be the ones to do it.
Still, though, no matter how I feel about politics in general—it’s exciting to be part of a democracy. It’s exciting to vote and make my voice heard. And nothing says, ‘we’re all in this together,’ quite like standing in line for two hours with your fellow citizens, no matter who’s voting for whom.
This morning my eight-year-old daughter, always fair-minded, told me she’s voting for Romney because he hasn’t had a turn yet and Obama’s already been the president for a really, really long time.
Which is pretty democratic of her, if you think about it.
© Jaime Greenberg and discovered in play, 2012