Instagram Love

27 Nov

Twelve years ago I bought my first cell phone. I called it my electronic leash and grumbled every time it buzzed in my pocket, interrupting what I thought was my busy life.

A few weeks ago I finally bought my first smart phone. It took a total of fifteen minutes for my life to change. That was specifically the amount of time it took for me to load my social media apps and finally sign up for this “Instagram” thing my friends all talk about.

Insta-love.

As a closet-photographer, I have quickly become one of those people standing in the middle of the sidewalk, my iPhone at arm’s-length, a wide Cheshire grin stretched across my face as I snap Hipstamatic shots of leaves.

And #hashtagsaremynewlanguage.

Yet, with this new electronic distraction, my life also became easier. Convenience fit into the palm of my hand. I can now access my Kroger coupons with a swipe of an index finger. I can reply to emails without having to drive uptown for the wi-fi. I can check my Facebook at 3 a.m.

And I can play (and win!) 5 games of Words With Friends simultaneously, while walking across campus. In the rain.

But Instagram has won my heart. It was the unexpected experience of this new plugged-in life. My creative self was craving an outlet that wouldn’t require too much of me, something I wouldn’t have to find time to fit into my working/schooling/living calendar. A way to make pictures without carrying an extra 10 pounds, hanging off my shoulder 16 hours a day. Now I can giggle at footprints in the snow, and share that moment with my friends. I can smile at the sun reaching across a hillside and post that experience for others to feel.

I’ll freely admit, it’s nice to check my bank account balance by only moving my thumb. Yes, I like to wake up and see that I have a dozen Facebook notifications. Yes, I want to scroll through pictures of life through the tiny lens of these very portable cameras.

(I just need to stop calling it Hipstagram.)

Find me @elleeprince

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Connections.

13 Oct

There’s bass coming from the stereo speakers of a nearby car. They wait at the top of the hill for a light to turn green. I wait for them to fade in the distance, muffled by the rows of brick buildings as they turn the corner. An older woman, with short faintly tinged lavender-white hair rocks her foot to the beat. She wears bright orange Crocks with the back strap positioned over her heels. It seems a subconscious motion – she continues to talk, unbothered, to the table of other older women. “Sexual interaction,” she says in her long stream of explanation. Hand motions accompany the topic. A breeze pulls her voice away, after the bass softens in the background.

 

For a time, when I dated my husband, I lived in coastal Virginia. Crowded beaches. Jet noise. Flip-flops year round. And bass resounding at every stoplight. Never mind the pick-your-own strawberry fields in late May, or the ferry ride from the south coast to North Carolina, or the vineyards full of muscadine grapes. I don’t immediately recall the salty breezes miles inland or moonlight walks along cold sand beaches in December. Instead, I recall air-conditioned car rides – not because of the heavy humidity, but because of the people’s love for a specific kind of music. Bass rhythmically shocking their side view mirrors, so the reflection looked like one of those slow photos capturing a moving object. Bass so loud that the plastic and metal frame of each car buzzed high-pitch with each beat.

Once when I was a teenager, but not yet driving, I depended on an older friend to get me around. She would swing the car door open by leaning across the seat with a wide smile, her blonde bangs hanging half over her blue eyes. “Hey!” she’d shout as I dropped my body in. Turning the volume up, she’d lean back into the driver’s seat, still smiling. The bass would vibrate in my ribs, nausea rising to my throat, as I pretended to hear the conversation she was attempting to shout over the rattling hum. My ears would ring for days.

I was in a band with my brother for years. We played what we thought at the time was incredibly unique music: a mix of folk and rock and punk and psychedelic emotional laments. We carted our own equipment with us – guitars, drums, microphones, speakers and one short black monitor that we positioned at a forward center point on the stage. The only place that every band member could hear: about two feet directly in front of me. As I sang, my soprano voice always floating on top of the mid-range sounds of the instruments around me, I could feel the bass pulsing through the chaos. My feet absorbing the sharp insistence of it’s beat.

 

The group of older women have left. Their Crocks and Danskos and Earth shoes have moved somewhere else and left an empty table. A couple to my left speak Slovenian, while the man smokes strong smelling cigarettes. His voice dipping into a lower register when he laughs. Haw haw haw, a smoker’s crumbling laugh. He must have made a joke. Her laugh, a giggle almost, tucked tight in-between the words she says in reply. Their language reminds me of rolling down the grass hills of my youth.

 

The night I met my husband, a mutual friend introduced us. I shook his hand while I looked at his shoes and tried to decide where he was from. Pennsylvania? his blue patterned Velcro Tevas suggested. No – there were no socks. I walked to the front of the room and sat on the assigned stool. My brother lifted the fabric strap of his acoustic guitar over his head, looked at me, and smiled. My cue to relax. Even after years of performing, my ears filled with my heartbeat and my mind grew light above me. Like a helium-filled balloon in a small child’s hand, soon to be lost. We sang, and I gripped the microphone – squeezing out the songs we had written together for almost ten years. I didn’t know then that we were singing one of our last few shows together – him off to college, me off to marriage. I didn’t know then that I had just ignored my future husband based on a pair of shoes – a man who would see more potential for life in me than I would ever see in myself.

I was putting away cords, wrapping them palm to elbow to palm, when someone made this future love of mine laugh from the back of the room. His unusually low baritone hitting the floor beneath me and shocking weakness into my knees. I reached out to steady myself as I noticed his smile for the first of a million times, wondering how I might hear those deep tones again.

 

The empty table next to me is now occupied by a balding man in moccasin-type house shoes and a thin ponytail. He reads a tiny book with a blue ballpoint pen steadied in his fingers, while my husband walks across the street with a friend. Justin Timberlake belts from a four-door at the top of the hill now. Every fourth beat hits a deep electric bass. I look up to see my husband now sitting with his elbows on his knees, and my heart thumps out a low sustaining pulse.

I have a black thumb.

5 Oct

To get to the root of it, you have to dig. Which requires you to get down in the earth, on your hands and knees, back aching and fingernails ruined. Even more unpleasant if you weren’t planning on this level of gardening today.

People tell me I’m very self-aware. They tell me I really know who I am. And apparently that’s great. What they don’t know is that the root of me is still stuck in the ground. I’m still buried beneath the public relations filter that we all walk around with: Like me. Think I’m smart. Support my choices. They hear me talking honestly about my emotions or traumatic experiences and they think I’m so real.

The trouble starts when I begin to like that perception of me – and even to depend on it. I stop gardening. I stop digging.

Today I started to dig again. And I’m not very pleased with what I’m unearthing. It’s a little too honest to fit into my schedule right now. A little too messy – covered in dirt long undisturbed. But here I am. And here I choose to be, working in the garden, trying to cultivate a real life. I’m exhausted and aching, but I’ve managed to face it this time: the work of it.

I will be grieving the loss of parts of me, which I’ve found rotting just below the surface. And I will be extremely conscious of my black thumb, but I am determined to bear good fruit. Unfortunately, that requires some Saturday afternoons spent sweating just inches above the earth, being honest again. Digging into life again.

It starts by planting an awkward blog-seed into cyberspace.

Four miles down, one billion to go.

26 Aug

For the first time since major surgery, I ran four miles without stopping. This was a significant milestone for me {pun intended}.

I celebrate these small victories of health with mini-parties. If anyone is around, they receive the gift of my wide grin and an endless stream of words explaining to them the awesomeness of my run. If they’re lucky, there is also a vigorous high-five involved. But often, after these moments of effort and focus toward a specific goal, I am alone. Unlacing my shoes, stripping of my socks, walking with sweaty tip-toes across the cream-colored carpet, and still talking out loud a half-octave higher.

Running changed my body, my health. It changed my lingo (hello, farleks and PR). Eight years ago, it changed my perspective.

With these milestones I built a road. A smooth path to remember moments of strength and sweat and rhythmic determination. And miles. Miles and miles and miles. And every time I return from this road, I celebrate the miles I have left to go. Which suddenly seemed odd today, when I looked at how many rows were left in the database, how many to-do items were left on my list, how many months until I graduate. Too many, I thought.

Yet, after running another four miles last night, I considered how many miles I have left until I simply can’t run anymore.

Not enough, I said out loud. With a wide grin.

Docking in Illinois.

15 Aug

As children, we use friendships as boats. We sail along, exploring the world that crashes against our bow. Some days we are pirates — pillaging and lying and singing rowdy songs. Some days we are sailors together, our boats with sails a pristine white against soft blue skies. Our shipmates are our comrades of discovery. We are in this together. Until our boat hits an ice-burg in frigid waters. Or our ship runs out of ocean and we run aground.

Most friendships don’t last through childhood, teenhood, and into adulthood. The ocean ever-expanding as we age, and our boats shrinking in comparison.

Last weekend I drove to Illinois to visit a friend that built a boat with me when we were both twelve — barely old enough to realize how fragile these ships were. Within a year and a half she was gone and our friendship was tested with the distance between Virginia and Florida, and with the naïvety of the strength of a telephone cord wound around our hull.

We lost touch. We found each other. We got lost and found again. Years washed by. There were marriages and divorce, while illness threatened to toss each of us overboard and we hung on over the phone. Meanwhile, she had created three sweet girls that trail behind her like baby ducklings, as I wonder how I haven’t had children yet. Our twelve-year-old selves would not have predicted this outcome.

In Illinois, the middle point between our two homes, I sat drinking tea (which the children tried and declared was just “okay”) and nibbling on dark chocolate (which the children also tried, but decided was pretty much inedible, “like coffee”). I sat and watched and listened and wondered aloud, “How did you figure out all this Mom stuff?” The other half of this story, the half that belongs to the other captain of this boat, is filled with tragic details and heart-wrenching dilemmas that would have dismantled any person, much less any friendship. And yet, I sat there observing what I had only been hearing over the phone for years: She is amazing.

As a twelve-year-old I was shocked by her brazen disregard of social norms. She would plow, headlong, into any situation that she wanted to be a part of. While I, the timid one who didn’t question bedtime, covered my mouth with wide eyes and yelped.

As a thirty-something, I am amazed at her brazen disregard of social norms. She has defied the abusers in her life, the ignorers, the nay-sayers. She has a 3.95 GPA in pre-law and economics. She will be a lawyer.

I have a picture of our bright, preteen faces. One of those thumbnail-sized images captured in a mall photo booth. We’re grinning, squeezed into the frame. The picture brings back memories of silver hoop earrings and seeing how high we can build a ponytail on the top of our head. It brings back tearful conversations about very adult concepts. It brings back a handful of lyrics from a Toni Braxton song. It reconnects me to the rickety frame of a ship, built by two brokenhearted little girls who had no tools between the two of them. All they had was love and complete acceptance. The pockets of their baggy jeans filled with mistaken ideas of what love should be, yet somehow offering each other love unconditional. Vowing to not abandon ship, even if it meant risking tender hearts dashed against the rocks.

I showed the picture to her three girls and they giggled. Her oldest is now on the cusp of twelve. They listened as we laughed and tried to explain the beginnings of us. “Who is that?” one pointed to my tiny face in her hand. “That’s me,” I smiled, looking at each of the faces that I hadn’t met before, seeing small pieces of a face I’ve known for more than half my life. A face I’ve only seen once in the last eighteen years.

They looked back at the picture and giggled again. They all recognized their mother.

So did I.

Life as circus art.

29 Jul

I wake up, get ready, pack my lunch bag, pack my work bag, (don’t forget the textbooks), grab my medical bag, bring a scarf and jacket for layers, good shoes for walking, the check to deposit, the grocery list I started, turn on the dishwasher on the way out, take out the pork loin for dinner later, remember to call that person at 10 a.m., text the other person about the appointment later, guzzle caffeine and then water and then caffeine. Is it 8 a.m. yet?

——–

“Plate spinning is a circus manipulation art where a person spins plates, bowls  and other flat objects on poles, without them falling of,” quips Wikipedia.

Sounds like my life (emphasis on the without them falling off  bit). Somehow, while managing my schedule, dietary requirements, close relationships, and autoimmune issues, life becomes some kind of circus art.

Ten years ago, a doctor sat on a hard chair across from me — his white lapel parallel with my knees — and struggled with the decision to declare me legally disabled. I was so young, he said. But he had no answers, he said. I could barely work part-time and spent the rest of my days soaking into the couch in front of the television. Stairs had to be planned for in advance and food was my only enjoyment.

I used to sulk in the monotony of unplanned days — days I couldn’t plan, or wouldn’t plan, because of the likelihood that I would just end up in pain on the couch. I used to weigh the option of effort for hours before making any attempt. Is it worth it to do this, I’d ask myself during commercials. Will things ever change, I wondered at midnight, noon, and all the hours in-between.

My body required so much to be healthy and I spent years balancing plates, giving them a tentative spin, and watching them fling to the ground with surprising force. I practiced and gave up, practiced again and gave in to the couch that had comforted me for years. Every so often, though, I would get a plate or two whirling and enjoy the feeling. I was discovering that this art required training and effort, sacrifice and acceptance.

Now, I busily spin my plates and discover some kind of dizzying art when I manage to keep them from falling all around me. I’ve learned that the circus, which had intimidated me in my inexperience, is simply: Life. In all its wild, flailing forms. In its ups and downs. In all its speed and fragility. Plates spinning.

Thunderclaps on sticky afternoons.

10 Jul

It has stormed here for most of the summer. Loud storms rolled over us with a thick grey blanket of clouds. A shaken aspirin bottle with the cotton still capping the pills. My after-work naps interrupted by a flash illuminating the shadowed living room, and a simultaneous outburst from the mouth of the storm. Wake Up! it crashes against the house.

In between the sudden drenching, the heat shoulders back into the day. One minute I’m stooped against the onslaught walking across the street, tucked underneath my polka dot umbrella. The next minute, the sun crackles heat along my moist hairline.

 

Fog for the river mornings.

Slick and tacky thighs and back.

Weary evenings with moist patio chairs.

No need to water the outside plants for a week now.

The air conditioner ruining the environment, more so than normal.

I haven’t seen the two neighborhood cats for days and days.

 

While at work, I will hear the sudden downpour pattering the roof three floors up. I go stand under the awning  – a smoke break without the smokes. I watch the puddles gather themselves along the dips and ruts of the parking lot, and I nod at co-workers standing along the length of the view. We are birds arranged on a power line. Tittering to each other hear and there, readjusting our wings, nodding our heads, and generally admiring the view. Until the rain stops as abruptly as it began, and again we all wonder aloud how unusual, before we fly back into our little nests.

On the rainy weekends, I crack the windows while in the car and curl my fingers over the edge. I open the kitchen door and stand with a cup of tea watching the wet assalt on the already waterlogged lawn. My bike seat is covered in droplets like a black duck. There are small dirty pools in the recycling bin. Boys ride their bikes through the street during rain-breaks — a stripe of mud along their spine as they hover over seats. Girls are conversational around flooded storm drains, their colorful rainboot-toes pushing the water around politely.

Right now the sky is bright and young, summer is still new. After a slow rainy morning, it covers itself in cloud puffs organized in a grid. But they are moving fast, hurried along by a high mother-wind like kindergardeners on a field trip. A pale sky blinks blankly as they all pass. The horizon is murky and uncertain, while streets are still brown-flooded from the days of rain.

It seems, like me, the sky has no set plans for the evening.

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