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Location: California

I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Beautiful Garbage

I found this list written in red marker on a damp sheet of paper under the hedges in front of my living room window:
any orange candy; 2 sheets of toilet paper; 1 stick of gum; 1 tea bag; 1 coffee filter; 2 carrots; 1 plastic fork; 1 pen; 1 safety pin; 1 sandwhich [sic] baggie

I find myself fascinated more with the person who wrote it down -- a mother, a nanny, an older sibling? -- than with what the list is for. I'm tempted to put together in my head a certain life for her, to imagine conversations she has with her kids and her mother-in-law, arguments about money and sex with her husband, delicious gossip she gives into with a girlfriend over the phone. I wonder if she cooks dinner every night, if she watches CSI or Masterpiece Theater, if she's on a diet or thinks she's beautiful just as she is at size 12 or 14 or 16; I wonder if she's happy. What book is on her nightstand for reading before sleep? And do her kids jump into her and her husband's bed at six on Sunday morning, laughing, wanting to be tickled and read, for the thousandth time, their tattered Olivia the Pig book?

I can't resist picking up stray pieces of paper fluttering against curbs and clinging to fences, and reading what people write to themselves and to each other and to the teacher they must please in school. If it wasn't so smelly I would dig up in garbage bins to see just what kinds of things people throw out. Once, on top of a recycling bin, I found a rain-soaked copy of Lauren Bacall's autobiography. Another time I got my hands on a stack of notes for math class and handwritten drafts of an essay about ethics. I love getting these peeks into people's lives, examining what they don't value and believe they can do without. If I had enough room I would keep everything I find. There's as much history, I think, in what we throw away as in what we keep; our garbage says as much about us as our valued possessions. The parts of our lives that we wash our hands of, that we can't stand looking at and holding on to -- they turn me on, intellectually and aesthetically.

They drive me crazy, too. Toilet paper and plastic bags in trees, gum melted into asphalt, fast food wrappers in the middle of the street, make me want to go around kicking ass and taking names. But even this is all us, all human. The stories we put ourselves in the middle of by hanging toilet paper on the branches of a linden tree, by getting fries at two in the morning -- I want to know them. I'm curious about the people who live them, especially if they're nothing like me, especially if they can take me out of myself and force me to find my bearings in a place entirely new.

To give credit to whom credit is due: The picture above was taken by Steve Bridger of Mexicanwave.


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