New Year, Old Childhood Books

January 1 – January 8

One of my favorite quotes is from C.S. Lewis, in a letter written to his goddaughter:

Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.

For me, that time may be coming sooner than expected. There is a sudden longing for books again first read during mid-morning visits to the library at Mountain View Elementary School, only 6 years old and never forgetting the stories of Frog and Toad and Rainbow Fish or freaking out over what happened to Ms. Nelson. Simple stories that most of all, excited the senses with their illustrations. I drew a lot as a little girl, and mostly just copying those books if not scenes from Disney movies. When you’re young like I was when reading these silly books, they’re anything but silly, shaping the world for you through rich colors and cozy little pond-side burrows and even down to the frills of a lovely dress. The allure for good books as a child is unforgettable artwork– things you’ll see first before the actual entire world.

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I still haven’t seen much of the world, but I’ve lived long enough where sometimes when I clock out of work right at 5 or overthink anything that gets my blood pressure up (which can be most things as an underpaid young adult in a big city), all I want is to escape back into one of those books. And on a rainy Sunday afternoon, the first day of a brand new year, I stepped into Green Apple Books on the Park and browsed the children’s corner for sometime. I didn’t leave empty-handed.

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Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney

Of all the childhood tales, the drawings of Miss Rumphius took me in, enchanted and showed me the beauty of innocence which I would forever take away from its story. A little girl who grew up doing the three dreams that would change life for the better: travel the world, live by the sea, and do something beautiful for the world. It was the last task she, Miss Rumphius, found the hardest to do, so daunting and yet so vague. As she tried figuring out what it would be, the story’s soft colors and delicate depictions of Main seaside to the far away lands like Egypt or the Bahamas reeled in its readers, wholly convinced that yes! Miss Rumphius, you live in such an incredibly beautiful world, please do something to preserve it!

(Even Miss Rumphius herself had no idea how she would achieve it, declaring on page _, “The world is pretty nice already.”)

Our titular character finds that making the world beautiful was easy after all– she sprinkled seeds of lupine in her village and along the coast where they bloomed into deep shades of pink, purple, and sky blue. By the story’s end, Miss Rumphius is old and white-haired and reminds children of the neighborhood to carry on these deeds to have a full life. On that last note was a lasting impression, a cycle if you’d like to call it that, for a young reader such that I was. For how was it that a kid’s picture book no bigger than 20 pages could tell a person how to enjoy life– get excited about it while all at the same time add to its wonder? That’s just why I know that I need fairy tales again in my life, way beyond 6 or 7 years old and sick of the hardening reality I am in now. A child wouldn’t know this same reality, they haven’t grown up to be aware of breakups, overdrawn account fees, crowded public transportation in the rain, or doing dishes after Thai food takeout. But we all need children’s literature, depicting the world for all its unique possibilities through their magical pictures, a reminder that the world is still the same one as you were a child– only thing is, you are not a child anymore.

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Favorite illustration of Miss Rumphius

I am still trying to accomplish those three tasks from the book I now own and have placed like a Bible right there on my nightstand. I’ve lived by the sea, if you’d consider Ocean Beach only 40 minutes away by bus or working in a skyscraper with breathtaking views of San Francisco Bay. I’ve seen little of the world beyond the East Coast, but I’m slowly chipping away at those borders into new continents and over oceans, but what places I have seen show me how diverse even my home country can be, for better or for worse.

And then there’s this “world beauty” part– how, or when? Then maybe– maybe I have already started this. Every time I walk along Sansome towards the 1 California Street line and greet the old man with the long, white-haired ponytail bent over with a dirty coffee cup for change held out. Or the seats I give up when children or elderly jump onto the bus. With the glass door into my office that I hold open for our front desk security as he thanks me running in as to not be late from his lunch. One of these nights I gave what change I had to the pony tail gentleman with a “Happy New Year!” and then came across a new face: Cindy. In a scooter where she fastened plastic bags stuffed with her personal belongings, she smiled up at me and asked what I did for a living. Her eyes were a lovely soft gray in the street light and her voice a jolly tune– things I took note of as I told her I was a writer. As we shook hands and exchanged names, she sincerely hoped that we cross paths again so that I may show her my work.

These beautiful things I find aren’t in how to create or maintain a literal, beautiful world, but even to keep its beauty alive through what daily interactions I have with it, especially its people. So it’s not so hard, not so bad. Actually, helping the world keep its beauty is in no way bad, and it shouldn’t be something we forget. But we do. But that’s where children’s stories come in, like fairies of their own right waltzing from shelves to save us from ourselves, our loss of memory for better, simpler views. And when you help the world, you’ll see that it’s a cycle, that when everyone does something for this world, it’s for each other.

So like fairy tale magic, there’s always a way to make things even more lovely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Merry and Bright

December 19 – December 30

I tried my hardest, God knows I did. but this was not to be the Christmas I envisioned for some redemption of the dark ages to be known as 2016.

Everything is as perfect as it should be for a Christmas by the Bay, and even more so for when I am home in the outskirts of Concord, California. My mom’s wrapped the banisters of our strangely layed-out 1970’s home with multicolored twinkle lights and red tinsel garland, and she’s using the massive white paper snow flakes I created three years ago as mats on which to set her eclectic sets of Santa trinkets in the family room; the smaller red glittering ones for the whitewashed brick fireplace mantel downstairs by the 9 ft. tree that she always needs my dad’s help putting up. It’s not the only tree in the house– the old 7 ft is adorned upstairs with old wooden ornaments that look like candy and and cheap new ones from the 99 Cent Store on Clayton Road in the same strip mall where I later discover she’s bought some of my Christmas presents (black skinny jeans, a metallic notebook with a bicycle on the front) at their TJ Maxx. The tree’s red lights accentuate the warmth of the red decor against he off-white walls of our home and all the Santas and snowglobes within. Santas are the usual motif, even though my mom says she will change the theme every year. There’s some plaid on the coffee table runners and the rags that drape the oven handle in the kitchen where she’s put on display my red candle that’s burnt out and surrounded by nuts and twigs hot glued to a block of wood, a masterpiece of my CCD classes in the Second Grade.

This is the Christmas scene of our home these past nine years.

And to fit these embellishments so have the memories of Christmas past– for the most part. The early morning coffee treks to the Clayton or Oak Grove Peet’s at six in the morning, shaving down the Christmas lists as we shop in Walnut Creek, rewatching The Bishop’s Wife as these gifts are wrapped by the fireplace. There really is no place like home for the Holidays, the familiar and comforting feelings that they bring– but they were gone this year. God knows I did try to find them.

For the full week I had taken off from time and work in the City I only wanted those comforts. With the fondness I could recall from last year’s Christmas and the year before that, you could only anticipate what this time would bring. A natural human default is wondering how things can always be better, just as overthinking is another one– it was in the latter that I believe my turmoil started. A sister absent on Christmas Eve to be at the Raiders’ game with her boyfriend and too drunk to drive back home from his place in Lodi. The NBA Christmas Special almost reenacted to perfect a showdown with the Cleveland Cavs and our Golden State Warriors, and losing a $5 wager on the Super team to my sister’s boyfriend who’s showed up on the misty morning of Christmas Day. Family late to lunch and presents and knowing the game loss throughout the whole opening while your devoted fan of a dad proudly dons his new team sweater without having finished the game yet. Family leaving early– not even when it’s sunset. Too much champagne, or in my sister’s case, having to be elsewhere for Christmas night. This was Christmas day– just one of the whole week that fell short of those seasonal feelings I so badly wanted to have.

With all these small setbacks in the holiday season back home, I now find myself rather pleased with what seemed back  then a terrible Christmas. It sort of was, at lest not in any way a perfect one. But something I’ve firmly believed for sometime now is only telling to this way I feel now about this past week: things can fall apart so that better things may happen. The arrival of my aunt who hasn’t spent a Christmas with us in years. My other aunt’s husband, feeling homesick and yet hoping that this first Christmas makes that feeling less worse. The absence of my sister so that making her own choices and moves away from us may cement other meaningful relationships in her life. Having a breakdown over your weight gain on the 26th because of the frump of your new jeans and exchanging them for your first pair of running shoes in six years. A road trip repeatedly cancelled  so that a compromise may take us not far away, but to new sights and winding roads where little towns rest among towering pines of Highway 9 in the Santa Cruz Mountains and serve you Italian sweets with perfect Chai. Even down to the soothing chill of the eight o’clock wind of the Ygnacio Valley hills where our tire blew out minutes before returning home. All things that only now in my frustration to think back on a wonderful Christmas shine bright against the sour turn of events. They’re all now just another feed into the collective of those memories of the Christmases before, a bigger picture that will always still make me remember and love– and anticipate– the next one. Things fall apart– and what’s left over is a reminder that the constant memories are the only necessities to creating the spirit of the holidays.

I even saw my first live musical during these most wonderful times of the year. White Christmas, with its saturated sets and costumes and glamorous tap dance routines, was to be in my mind a quick yuletide fix. In the end, the snow being blown into the audience and the haunting, lovely lyrics of the titular song crooning in unison from the company, delivered.

May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white.

No, not every Christmas will be peachy and pure, but it’s still a Christmas made merry in its own magical ways.