ralph robert moore
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Copyright © 2001 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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Return to lately 2001.
nothing but blue skies
september 22, 2001
Like everyone else, we've put order into our home by decorating it, believing the way we decorate reflects us, as of course it does. Our decoration shows enough of our personalities that even were we not present, the interior design we've chosen reveals something of us.
For example, in my loft, where I write-- where in fact I'm tapping these sentences into existence right now-- I'm surrounded on three sides, all around my back, by floor to ceiling bookcases holding about a thousand or so books, mostly fiction, but also essays, memoirs, collected letters, biographies (directly ahead of me, beyond my monitor, beyond a waist-high white wall, is the open space of our downstairs living room. All I can see of it from where I'm sitting is a slanted white ceiling of light shadows, the brass ceiling fixture of a ceiling fan, and a foot or so of the fan's down rod.)
Behind me, on the bookcases, in front of the books, four shelves up, is a display across two cases of birthday cards Mary has given me over the past decade. All of them mean something special to me, but one in particular, which she created herself with software, featuring photographs of our four (back then) cats, and greetings from each of them, means the most. Elsewhere in front of the books around the cases are dried pine cones (their structure is fascinating), sea shells, river bottom stones, glass paper weights with interior worlds of blown bubbles and swirls, a small root beer-colored alabaster box (Everytime I pick the box up, touch its sides, it feels like it's made of stone), a succulent plant on a window ledge overlooking our backyard, one story down (Sheba, one of our cats, loves to jump up on the ledge, as he did a few minutes ago, pulling down with his white fangs a scissored point of one of the olive blades, chewing on it with a demented look in his eyes, so that many of the blades' tips are now shredded and brown).
Now all of that, of course, except Sheba's chewing, we consciously arranged. But also in this room, on the ledge, is a pale beige box with its flaps up, out of which I pulled twenty minutes ago a new NEC SuperScript 870 toner cartridge, because when I printed an e-mail from a visitor to SENTENCE, I noticed that paleness of print on the left side of the page.
Next to the white plastic trash can on the carpet to my right is a small, horrible looking arrangement of different-colored fur which used to be a fake mouse, but which has since become our cat Chirper's new girlfriend. When we first got it for him, he started out only sniffing it, and in fact sniffing its rear end, which proves cats will never take over the world, but within a few weeks he got in the habit of carrying it upstairs in his mouth, courting it on the carpet with a few bats of his paws, then scooting rapidly against it, seizing it from behind, and tearing at its body with fangs and back claws. Even though it's unrecognizable now as anything other than police evidence, he still, occasionally, flirts with it, albeit much the same way Lenny petted rabbits.
The point is that a home tells you about its inhabitants not only by its conscious design, but also by the elements that have since been randomly introduced into that formality; elements that reveal us without consciously meaning to, by their happenstance.
For example, in our white downstairs foyer, facing our brown front door, is a black ladder back chair, set against a tall, two-story wall. We put the chair there because we really didn't know where else to put it, but it looks really good against that wall. The black vertical and lateral lines amidst the white lends a sternness to that view. It's at the bottom of our stairs.
I spoiled that sternness the past couple of weeks by draping some brightly-colored short-sleeve shirts across its seat, introducing randomness. The shirts all had one thing in common. They were good shirts, still ready to go on further adventures with me, but all missing a button.
This past Tuesday, Mary decided to take a half hour or so and sew on all the missing buttons.
She gathered up the shirts over her left forearm, going up the stairs to her workroom (Next to my loft. We lean back in our chairs and smile at each other, while we work).
Once in her room, which is colorfully crowded, she looked around for her button collection. Looked behind all her paint brushes, her easel, fabric samples, dress-maker's form, boxes of software, sketches of HTML page designs, and came up with a large, circular, black, beige and red tin container from decades ago.
The tin belonged to her mom.
Across its circular lid it reads, 'Famous Dane', and, 'Imported Danish Butter Cookies. Product of Denmark'.
Around the gripping lip of the lid, ingredients are given in a variety of foreign languages, including Arabic, but not English.
Lifting the lid, uncovering a musty smell, revealed an incredible hodgepodge of saved buttons from decades past, in plastic bags, Pez dispensers, and a small container marked across its top, 'S&M Drugstore'.
She forgot about the shirts on her lap, and for a few minutes just lifted through these treasures from her mom's past. She told me that as she did so, she could hear the start of a distant lawnmower outside the window of her room, a neighbor tending to their lawn in the early evening after work, and felt happy, and at peace.
I've been working on a new story, called Truth Be Told. As always, the right tone and details of it have been hard to capture this early in the writing. I write on though, knowing the submerged truth in my mistakes will surface as I hone. The other day, when I wasn't thinking of anything at all, just looking out a window while the TV talked about survivors, the setting for the next story in this same cycle suddenly came to me. I saw a large village built upon the side of a mountain, overlooking the sea, all the buildings and streets in this town made of the same material, gray slate. Now, this story had nothing at all to do with where it takes place, but I suddenly saw how in fact it did, how the cheerlessness of the town in winter, streets and sides of buildings rain-slicked the same dull color, contrasted so nicely with the village in spring, when orange, yellow, blue flowers appeared everywhere amid the monotony. The joy I felt in discovering this new aspect to a story I had yet to write was comforting. Even now, when I doubt as I sometimes do that I'll be able to write that story, I just let myself drift to imagining those wet, gray slate streets, and immediately feel a surge of confidence and excitement about creating that slice.
There's a theory that all of us, no matter where we live, or how, feel the same amount of joy and sorrow in the span of our lives. That it's all relative. If your father has been hauled off and beaten until he's dead, and then they come for your mother, that's not that much different than your dad being fired from twenty years of carrying luggage, and your mom getting called into a meeting where they tell her with the politest of smiles they don't need this many stewardesses anymore. Having a father murdered is much worse than having a father laid off, but if someone's father hasn't been murdered, seeing him laid-off may bring the same degree of discombobulation, bitterness.
An extrapolation of this theory is that we all feel about the same amount of stress in our lives. Again, it's all relative. A CEO worrying about a plunge in his company's stock, to where he jumps everytime the second phone on his desk brrrings, feels no more stress than the manager of a hotel reservations desk who now has to cope with two less assistants.
I've known people who have been devastated by a ding to their Mercedes, as if they just lost a child; and people who remain cheerful even after being diagnosed with inoperable cancer. We all decide how our lives will be.
I was scheduled to fly to Portland, Oregon next month for about half a week, and then to Columbus, Ohio for a day. I decided not to go.
Yesterday, Friday, I drove Mary into work. We always eat out on Fridays.
Approaching the green and blue of Dallas on 75, we saw something unusual these days in the sky.
"Look, a plane!"
In the early morning turquoise sky, all we could see of it was its two white-blurred front lights, tiny and tall above the buildings.
We watched silently as it approached our city. Passed above it. Finally, passed beyond it.
We looked at each other.
Mary pointed at the top of our windshield.
"Look! Another plane."
We watched silently as it approached our city.