Yesterday I forwarded a shipping confirmation to my husband, just to shore up the odds against me forgetting to be home for a very special delivery.
He texted me back: is this about bugs or snakes?
And I was all: in the history of this world I wonder if any husband has ever had occasion to ask such a question of his wife?
But I'm pretty sure the significance was lost on him, dear reader. I don't think he paused for a moment of silence to let the moment sink in as it properly deserved.
He may have had a moment of silence. But it wasn't for that.
I'm not sure how much longer I can keep getting away with this, dear reader. I'm not sure how much longer I can keep posting pictures of fish before someone sends me a mean text demanding a return to the elevated standard of content for which Tollipop is so renowned.
As a matter of fact, yesterday I received a notification someone had unsubscribed from my blog. That happens every now and then, fair enough, though I couldn't help but wonder if it had anything to do with the fact I made reference to coyote poop.
Here's the thing about me: I have no desire to shock. I have no desire to offend...to the contrary. I'm not the kind of impish girl who seeks occasion to say words which will make you choke on your cookie or sputter in your tea.
But I did grow up running with the wolves, dear reader. Running with the wolves and reading Jane Austen. So I'm a bit of a study in contrasts when it comes to that: prim and proper, yet roundly able to discuss feral droppings if the situation calls upon me to do so.
This time, for my dear little Sophie.
Two weeks ago, her club volleyball season ended and I lost no time in requesting her to practice the piano half an hour every day.
She gave me that scathing look teenagers invented which says: Don't you know I'm 15 going on 30??
So I came back with one designed by the Pentagon which says: Honey, I've got 30 beat by a mile.
At any rate, she complied, a bit grudgingly at first, but before long practicing well over half an hour without even realizing it.
However, this week volleyball practice started back up and I felt sad, thinking this would mean the end of Sophie's time at the piano. In fairness to her, the practices are grueling and schoolwork is demanding...she is a very busy girl.
So imagine my reaction the other day when I returned from an afternoon errand to hear the sounds of a Chopin nocturne floating through the house!
Sophie was home from volleyball practice and had gone straight to the piano, plunking herself down and churning through miles of Hanon, unlocking the intricacies of Bach, crashing down upon octaves of Gottschalk, Joplin, and Beethoven.
Dear reader, most parents give their kid roses in celebration of a cello recital. But when Caroline saw what I came home with the other day, she wasn't about to be appeased by a few frowsy blooms.
No, she wanted a fish of her own.
To be clear, she's wanted a fish since Izzy got one, but I've been fending her off with hapless excuses (can't you just pretend Gatsby belongs to you?) which were working like a leaky boat until I suffered a moment of impulse and got a betta for myself.
Then the boat sank.
So after Caroline's cello recital the other night, we stopped at a pet store.
Apparently Caroline doesn't care if it's a boy.
It's a little awkward, getting them together for playdates.
Mainly, I think, because they want to kill each other.
All of which has left my guy with a bit of a complex.
This morning he was all: you like him better than me.
I was all: no way. you're my favorite fish in the sea.
So he was all (a tad hysterically): then how come he has a name already?!!
And I was all: dude, she gave him a girl's name. I would not do you like that.
But he could not pull out of his slump: you just don't care about me.
And I was all: honestly, the scary thing is once you get to know me better you'll realize it's not that I don't care enough. It's that I care too much.
In other news, I came home from a bridal shower last night and ordered some dung beetles online.
The answer to your next question is: I don't know.
I don't know what's gotten into me, dear reader. I really don't.
But I will give you a hint as to what dung beetles eat...
Think. Long and hard.
I already gave you the clue.
It's going to be easy enough to find, dear reader. That stuff is everywhere.
Is it just me, or is it a tad forward to collect poop from some random coyote while out in the desert?
Call me old fashioned, but it seems you've skipped a few stages in the relationship. It seems you should share a few laughs together before having to do something like that.
How are you doing, dear reader? It's been busy here, lately...the season of recitals is upon us, the end of the school year approaching, all sorts of duties and events presenting themselves with escalating momentum.
I wish I had more time to talk. I want to tell you about things...about the desert, about my story, about the girls, about this fish.
Yesterday I woke up having not the faintest idea I'd end up with a fish by lunchtime.
If you would have asked me: do you think you'll end up with a fish by lunchtime? I would have looked at you as if you were mad, darling! Stark raving mad.
And yet it happened.
Isn't he the loveliest thing? When he moves, he turns from blue to green. What's that called again?
What's that you say? Tons of fish do that?
Well, I still think this one's brilliant.
And the way he moves...it's like a dream...a ghost in a dream. A ghost in the water in a dream.
But I don't really have a name for him yet.
Last Christmas I hatched this amazing plan with my little brother to be penpals for a year. Like, we would exchange letters once a month: real, honest-to-goodness letters filled with anecdotes, musings, observations, and profound insights on the subtler nuances of life.
So far, Jonny is the only one holding up his end of the bargain.
He pardoned me due to the fact I'm trying to write a novel, for crying out loud. Which, let me assure you, does not go down the way you see it in the movies. It's not all, attacks of inspiration followed by furious scribblings while the heroine maintains this dreamy expression and fabulous hair, even when she's too busy being brilliant to make the slightest effort regarding her appearance. With an English countryside thrown in for good measure.
No, it's more like some wild woman in the middle of the desert with hair that makes you wonder "is she being serious?" (the answer is not really), texting herself some burst of inspiration she conceives in the middle of the night, only to consult her phone the next day and wonder what on earth she meant with that garble, who sits down to write while trying to ignore the fact she has no plans for dinner nor any idea what the house looks like five feet beyond where she's sitting, all the while dealing with the nerve of characters who make themselves completely contrary to her overall vision of a masterpiece.
...wait, what was I talking about??
Oh yeah, Jonny.
At any rate, I'm off the hook letter-wise due to that little fiasco and provided I make the occasional appearance here at Tollipop.
Otherwise he mean texts me.
But his letters. They arrive monthly and nothing in Jane Austen's wildest imaginings could have conjured up such brilliantly eclectic ramblings.
What does he talk about? Oh, just stuff. Wild animals he sees on his walks to and from the metro. Books he's reading. Food he's cooking. Who knew brussel sprouts weren't disgusting?
In this last one he was mentioning a metro ride into work wherein he amused himself by imagining a SNL-type skit based on the movie Rebecca, a lampoon of the scene where that creepy Mrs. Danvers gives the new mistress a tour of Manderley (if none of this makes sense, I highly recommend this film for your next movie night...or read my brother's review). In Jonny's version it's called Becky, and Mrs. Danvers makes a point of telling the new bride how nothing has changed in Becky's bedroom since she died, so the girl looks around and it's all covered in Cheeto dust and half-eaten Twinkies.
That made me giggle, both the scene itself and the thought of my brother laughing about it while surrounded by strangers on his way to work.
Then I emailed Jonny back and said how funny would it be if the house was still pristine and Mrs. Danvers took the second Mrs. de Winters through the house, making a big deal about the original state of Rebecca's bedroom, but every time she turned around she kept catching the timid new bride using Rebecca's hairbrush, poofing clouds of her face powder into the air, lounging on Rebecca's bed and eating cookies which crumble all over the place.
You really have to know Mrs. Danvers for any of this to resonate. Shiver. She haunted me half my childhood.
Anyway, so last night I was at the bookstore with Caroline, a sort of mummy-daughter date, and this was my text conversation with Jonny...
Me: What book were you reading that was so good? Was it The Scarlet Pimpernel?
Him: Yeah, I loved it. It's a pretty quick read, as well.
Me: I'm getting it. Thanks. xo. Saw a cool snake on my run today.
Him: I hope you like it and that I haven't overhyped it.
Me: If you did, you're dead.
Him: Whatever, if you don't like it then that means it was too classy for a rotter like you.
Me: Come here and say that.
Him: You come here and then I'll say it.
What does any of this prove, dear reader? That one need never grow old or mature? That the art of letter writing is called art for a reason? That siblings, with all their crazy, shared history, are still some of the best friends to be had?
Yes, yes, and yes.
Dear reader, am I to deduce, by the paucity of comments on yesterday's post, that the elusive appeal which draws you to Tollipop has very little, if not nothing, to do with snakes??
I'm utterly flabbergasted. Stunned beyond belief.
Am I to understand you'd rather see pictures of girls, their arms filled with blossoms, and sigh in rapture over the glories of springtime, the nostalgia of youth?
Or young ladies sitting sedately at the pianoforte, wandering through a prelude by Bach?
Would you rather contemplate quiet rabbits and inquisitive hedgehogs?
Or bookish maidens in pensive moments?
Because that's just half the equation around here, dear reader...genuine, to be sure, but hardly the sum of the whole.
There are other penchants, other affections.
A bloodlust to hit a ball so hard it leaves a permanent mark on the floor. A will to play the violin with such ferocity it spontaneously combusts. A soft spot for little old men. A habit of wandering in the wilderness. A tendency toward messy rooms. A fascination with tiny creatures, including pencil thin serpents who weave their bodies through your fingers and hopefully don't fang you in the eyeball. Curiosities and interests which might surprise you. For one, I'm presently reading a book on the history of the ancient rulers of Israel and keep thinking, wouldn't it be fun to distill the essence of these reigns for the tea party here at Tollipop?
Wouldn't it be a lark?
Dear reader, I cannot promise to honor any requests but I am curious to know what you like/would like to read about when you come to this place.
Surely it's not my advice on raising children or we are ALL in big trouble, as evidenced by the fact gentle Izzy (worth the click...though it does include wild things) has recently decided she wouldn't mind too terribly having to feed baby mice to one of those slithery things which I will now stop talking about in case that's the reason no one wanted to leave a comment on yesterday's post. xo
As if some cruel twist of fate had endowed him with a pair of gills while she had the nerve to breathe fresh air.
She, from the glittering precipice of high society, from ropes of pearls, summer homes, and Ivy League boors, he from the wrong side of the shore--a stark, penurious existence, limited in trust funds and fast cars, yet endowed with the boundless capacity to dream.
Ah, to dream!
At night he would stare at her from across the water, listening to her silvery peals of laughter, her irrepressible joie de vivre, filled with a longing he could neither articulate nor deny...nor recall past his three second attention span.
It was seriously the saddest thing ever.
But not as sad as this: Izzy and I went to three different pet stores over the weekend yet failed to find the snake of our dreams! I finally had to buy her this fish because she got so depressed, she even began to waver on our resolve to hold out for a snake which doesn't require the consumption of baby mice.
I was all: Stand firm, Izzy girl! Do not compromise us on this point.
And the exotic reptiles guy was all: Uhhhh, you do realize snakes are carnivores, don't you?
I looked at him sourly and said: I'm not expecting to feed it organic kale, if that's what you mean.
Then he muttered, beneath his breath: You look like the type who would.
So I was all: Well, you look like the type who's about to get jacked by a Canadian farmgirl.
Haha. Those last three lines didn't really happen, dear reader. I've been writing too much fiction lately...it's so easy to get carried away!
Anyway. So Izzy has her Gatsby and every time I ask how he's doing, she says great.
That joke never gets old.
And in case you're wondering what snake I'm holding out for, it's the ringneck. They are darling, only mildly venomous, and can live on worms. There also happens to be a snake who feeds exclusively on eggs. So it would appear I know something the exotic reptiles guy doesn't.
Who's more exotic now??
The rest of the weekend went like this: barbecues, birthday parties, and some of the cutest cousins you could ask for, filled with an energy which would solve the earth's crisis if only we could devise a way to harness it.
We love them all, especially the novelty of crazy little boys.
The feeling isn't completely mutual, but it's there.
Everyone was gone. Everyone, that is, except me and Caroline.
Sophie and Roger went to a volleyball tournament in Reno. Izzy travelled with her school orchestra to a competition in San Diego. And Caroline had her first ever volleyball tournament here in town.
It's been an interesting few days.
For one thing, Caroline's team lost every game. Just got...demolished.
Her team was markedly younger than the next youngest team in the tournament, but that fact was cold comfort in the heat of the bloodbath.
Every day for weeks I've listened to my girl say how excited she was to compete in this tournament. It was all she could talk about, that and the latest drama going on in On the Banks of Plum Creek.
And when I say compete, I do mean compete. Caroline does not show up to prance around the court and dream about unicorns. She is there to plunder and lay waste.
So to weather a day long drubbing...was something of a bitter pill to swallow. She wiped away more than a few tears and I gave her more than a few pep talks, telling her she was doing it exactly right: hanging in there, being a good sport, fighting for every point, congratulating her team, rolling the ball under the net, refraining from trash talk or evil eyeing the ref.
By the end of the day I thought she'd be ready to throw in the towel. But it turns out she can't wait for the next game.
Izzy called later that evening to say after the competition, in which she'd been the soloist in a concerto played with her school orchestra, the judge asked her to describe what she liked best about her performance.
Izzy, caught off guard and standing on stage in an auditorium filled with peers, said she thought her intonation had been good. The judge responded by saying her intonation had been one of the weakest aspects of her playing.
I'm not going to sidetrack onto the various tangents this scenario inspired within me, but rather mention my greater curiosity was to know how she'd handled the moment. There was a time when such a public critique would have made my little Izzy's eyes shimmer. But over the phone she shrugged it off. It was no big deal, she said, he was entitled to his opinion.
I often wonder about this, about helping children navigate bumps in the road without losing hope or thinking their world is falling apart.
The weekend went on and Caroline and I had a lovely time together. We watched Ever After. We played Go Fish for Art. She slept with me in my bed and at 3:30 this morning, when I had to pick up Izzy from her orchestra trip, I put a pillow and blanket in the back seat of the car and woke Caroline up to come with me.
When she saw the arrangement, she exclaimed, "Ooooh! A hotel!"
Sometimes that kid kills me. She really does.
Seemingly out of nowhere, she mentioned she was bothered by the fact she didn't have many memories of her grandma, who died when Caroline was five. All through the weekend, then, she randomly remembered details about my mom and shared them with me.
Today, as we were setting up chairs for choir practice, she said she remembered attending a funeral with my mom. I stopped what I was doing and asked if she was sure it had been a funeral and she seemed very definite on that point...which is interesting, considering the only funeral she ever attended was my mom's.
She was eager, when Sophie came through the door, to demonstrate how she'd played in her tournament.
And Sophie knew just how to listen, just how to commiserate.
Tonight my head is full of thoughts...of the sweetness of my youngest, the gift of having her to myself this weekend, of raising resilient children, of teaching sisters to build friendships, and feeling how good it is to have everyone safely back home.
Yesterday I went for a run in the desert and made a new friend. No, this is not the little old man I was telling you about..though the resemblance is uncanny.
It would have been a match made in heaven, had the attraction not been so one-sided. Indeed, if you are holding someone in your hands while he scuffles and tries to prong you with his horns, it's a good sign he's not that into you.
I may have a vivid imagination, dear reader, but I'm not in total denial.
I tried to be mysterious and unfathomable, I exhausted all my charms, but in the end it was not to be. Nothing could persuade him otherwise, not even my promise to read him the works of Thoreau at night.
He could have made me happy beyond my wildest dreams, if only I didn't have to physically restrain him from leaving.
So I let him go.
Where do you go to find your wilderness, dear reader?
I often think, practically the last reason I go out to the desert to go for a run is to go for a run.
I am there to see things, to find things, to catch things, to observe. I am there to experience the seasons of the year, the nuances of the day, to witness the circle of life, to be out in the middle of nowhere.
I am there to examine the head of a frog, to wonder at its ignominious death.
I am there to drop a leaf on this web and run like crazy when I see what shoots out of that hole.
I am there to remember, to forget, to marvel, to ache, to fly, to escape, to time travel, to pass through a wardrobe door.
I have all the rest of the day to be civilized. All the rest of the day to drive carpool, exchange pleasantries, sign permission slips, make dinner, scrub toilets, oversee homework, and smell good.
And the only way that works for me, the only way I'm willing to be civilized, is if I can find such moments to be uncivilized, as well.
Out in the middle of nowhere.
Yes, out in the middle of nowhere, dear reader. THAT is where you will find some of the dearest little old men you could ever hope to encounter.
To wit: the other day I was running along, minding my business, when I came across the dearest, littlest, oldest man I've ever seen in my entire life! He was sitting on a rock, hunched over, beneath a prickly bush which afforded him the sparsest measure of shade.
I stopped, of course. At first I made sure he was still breathing. Then I made sure this wasn't another moral test, like my encounter with the blue carpenter bee or the ringneck snake, to see if I would leave a desired specimen in its natural habitat.
Because believe me, my first instinct was: can I take him home??
After visiting a moment, however, I was able to ascertain he did, in fact, belong to someone else already.
We talked on and he told me a bit about his life. People can tell you the saddest things in a mere matter of moments, dear reader. Out there, in the middle of nowhere, that little old man surprised himself, I think, by telling me about the death of his daughter last December.
He told me about it, then stopped talking and just sat there, caught by grief.
So we passed the time in silence.
I ached to move closer and sit down beside him, but if there's one rule about crossing paths with a total stranger out in the middle of nowhere, it's that you respect one another's space.
And who should I come across, but the legendary silver fox?
I'm pretty sure he's a legend in my mind alone, but when I see him racing across the desert, so wild and free, what else can my thoughts do but hearken unto mythical figures...to shapeshifters, winged shoes, and rites of passage?
But this time, he ruined all that.
This time he stopped and introduced himself.
I didn't want that, dear reader. I didn't want to know his name.
I wanted what I had in my head.
I wanted to believe, at worst, I was catching a glimpse of some Hollywood look-alike and at best, of the ancient Norseman, of some silver-haired spirit who glides upon the wind.
But all that's been sacked like the ancient city of Troy.
I don't have high expectations, dear reader. I leave specimens in their habitats and forever live in regret, I wear the same yellow cardigan fifty days in a row, I adore my family and hope to someday finish writing my crazy, elusive story.
Plus ramen. And the odd dead beetle.
Is it too much to ask, then, when I'm out in the middle of nowhere and happen to cross paths with the mythical silver fox, that he not come and lay waste to my wee, harmless fantasy by telling me his name??