I’m here today to read you an essay about ribbons and also because I was invited. I wish I was better at singing, but I’m not even a fiction writer. If it’s recent and not something from the online Sheridan Libraries at a certain university whose name I don’t want to say at the risk of sounding snobby, I probably haven’t read it and will probably not be a good conversationalist after the reading if you ask me about this book or that book, I just want to say that up front because I am planning on trying to socialize. Also I realized after I wrote this that it’s all about me and a lot about my family. For a while I’ve been trying to be okay with honesty in writing and reading—I used to do a lot of reading from inside things or in front of things, but here we are in real lives and my one real life inhabits every corner of itself and I don’t have anything else to investigate or I don’t need anything else to investigate or I am trying to tell the difference between the two, so what better way. I’m sorry to be so confessional; I hate that too. There are parts with no ribbons, and I’m also sorry about that, except that there is a thread, if ribbons can have threads, of course they do, ones that fray when you pull them apart.
Essay about Ribbons
He left the baker’s string bracelet hanging on the corner of the book on the bathroom mantle, if bathrooms can have mantles. I want to say what else is on there because the way things are set up is in case anyone were to ever come over. There are two things suspended in resin, separately (they do that with clear casting resin): a dandelion puff and a fake antique globe from my Dad’s desk (he’s still alive, I just liked it and took it when I went to college). There are also shells and pinch pots that in the past have been used as ash trays, and a picture of my first classroom of kids, and two horseshoes turned the lucky way, and an envelope by this kid Sam that he handed me once with five dollars in it that says, “Give my Oreo cookie Ms. Lauren.” I told him he could have an Oreo and that he should give Mommy his five dollars. The last time I went to the dentist they said, “Oh,” and something about my gums, and then I went to Wal-Mart and bought an electric toothbrush which really freed up some mantle space because it’s stored in the medicine cabinet and so is the toothpaste which is in a mint green mug, which I just realized is totally appropriate by virtue of what it contains—I love a closed circuit and I would consider that a closed circuit even if it’s just based on one aspect, that being mint paste flavor. I have a pinch pot with floss and tweezers in it, but I didn’t feel like it was okay to have toenail clippers in there so those are in the cabinet too on the other side with my worthless deodorant. The book with the baker’s string bracelet says, “You already have everything in your own pure quality. If you realize this ultimate fact, there is no fear.” I was brushing my teeth there this one time—before the electric toothbrush—when everything went really weird. I texted. I was too afraid to get in the car. I tried to read Everything Falls Apart, or When Things Fall Apart, or When Everything Falls Apart. I took a Xanax. When I woke up I didn’t throw the bracelet away. I’m not sure if it’s still there, hold on.
No, it’s not there. It is there.
I am almost okay with the autism awareness ribbon magnet on the back of my car. My hatchback. My 2013 hatchback. I own a tote monogrammed with my initials. I go to Old Navy by the season. In 50 years it will have been like having a “childhood schizophrenia” ribbon, or a Willowbrook ribbon (which, ironically, when I searched for its name by Googling “Kennedy institution shut down,” returned the website of my workplace). Also in 50 years my autism awareness ribbon magnet will be on a spaceship on its way to drop the kids off at Mars. But right now it means money toward deconstructing beauty. I mean scientific research.
The iconic autism puzzle piece motif is a problem, as in an omission; something missing. As if something to be solved by the smug puzzle-put-togetherer. A hole in the puzzle brain to be filled. An otherwise brain-shaped puzzle in a head-shaped frame held together with that puzzle glue we gave my Dad to paint on his 2,000 piece Planters Peanut puzzle so that it could be hung on the wall. It’s easier to look in the couch cushions for the missing piece than to change the head-shaped frame. No edge pieces—takes longer. Takes acknowledgement of the other and new words, or no words. At the risk of sounding romantic, there is sadness there, in those eyes which are often set deep. Here is a choice to stop having to spin around, or to say, “Hey, let me spin, and leave, and never come back, or when you do, bring me the soft part of the bread with ketchup to dip it in.” I have sat next to one of my friends when he toggles between Google image search pages of color swatches. Tonight I looked up “kinds of green” to find the color of the mug I mentioned earlier. Tell me a time when your arms have been full and you haven’t used the wheelchair ramp. Tell me you haven’t smelled your fingers when you’re alone.
What I want to say is that there is mystery there and presumption of suffering and our compulsion to solve or ease or assimilate by force, and all of those things are necessary and compassionate and horrible. Objectively there is beauty there just as there is beauty everywhere. I dissected a cow’s eyeball and there was a membrane in the back, behind all the structures and diagrams. It was opalescent and concave. It was the beginning of the universe. The cow never knew it was there. And what was my knowing? It was extravagant. I peeled off the membrane with tweezers. It lost its concavity; it folded over wet on itself and was black. There was no name for it that I could find, and yet surely it continues in every cow eyeball to this day. Surely we have named it, and it is ubiquitous and gorgeous and completely functionless and mundane and the cow with its stomachs just keeps chewing and knows when to lie down for the rain. People believe that like they believe that feeding a cow its own hair will make it forget its former home. The cow wouldn’t want to do either of those things.
I would like to design an awareness ribbon awareness ribbon for my spaceship.
My dad didn’t really go through a puzzle phase but he did go through a model plane phase and a stamp collecting phase and for a while has been in the gardening phase which has included a pond phase. On Christmas we take turns opening things from youngest to oldest. In the past there have been so many presents that we’ve been late to Grandmom’s house. I’ve been ashamed to have significant others come to Christmas; luckily it starts around 7am so that’s a good excuse because we have to leave around 6 to get there on time.
Between the pond and the new sunroom and the presents,
I just don’t know. When we broke up my parents brought me a flat-screen TV
from Costco. They walked around the yard holding my hands and my dad asked me
which color of some flower I liked better. My mom sent me home with zucchini
bread and her own Tupperware, and she gave me a set of mixing bowls, and my dad
gave me a Christmas cactus. The other night they came and we went to Grano down
the street. They loved it. I showed them where my leg was bitten. I said,
“Shoot, this place is BYOB, I forgot.” My dad said, “That’s okay, we can have
water.” They had just come from the baseball game. My dad was wearing a soft
tangerine t-shirt. My mom was wearing a darker orange top with a collar that
looked like a braid. They had gotten some sun. The water glasses were small and
the water came in a tall glass bottle with a stopper and my dad said it was
some of the best flan he’s ever had.
Do you feel like this is disingenuous? I’m just trying to be honest with you and I know that even the fact that I read that first part about not reading many books these days was not quite honest because I was reading it instead of just saying it. I felt like even making eye contact with the audience and trying to be honest would be confrontational and would require something of you which some people would say is collaborative and I believed that at one point and probably will again but to me it felt presumptuous and demanding. Am I trying to just seem like a nice person?
Could I describe DNA as ribbon-like? I’m afraid that my twin sister and I are not actually identical. When I found out from my mom that we were in two separate fetal sacs I was devastated to a disproportionate degree. I thought we had had our bulbous and bent limbs around each other, and our foreheads touching during that big preparatory snooze, and that some nonexistent pink light had illuminated the same fluid around us with no membrane to filter it and change our experiences of it. The fact that this knowledge didn’t seem to affect my sister isolated me further and I assumed a lack of concern or callousness on her part in utero. This is why I can be codependent, or not why but this is symptomatic of my codependency. She said, “Laur, it’s not like we weren’t together—those sacs are so thin, I’m sure we were still touching all the time. Are you really sad about this?” I probably teared up and she probably said that we should go for a walk and get out for a little bit.
I haven’t said much about my mom and nothing about my brother—my mom of course did our hair and so there were ribbon barrettes for holiday pictures, so there’s that. My brother had hair like corn silk but straighter and would cry until he choked and gagged on the other side of the baby gate at the end of the hall. He’s so angry most of the time. I made him candles for Christmas. In conclusion, a bracelet given in Harper’s Ferry for him to wear on the trail, a magnet to one day be stolen from the back of my car, gluttonous Christmases, vascular membranes, and the downy hair of small children. Things that can be held in the hands and between the fingers, all of them. Material. I would say “woven together” or “fabric” but thankfully there is no tapestry, just a fragmented experience like yours but with different people in all the parts. My sister likes a library metaphor where each person is a book, and certain shelves more familiar and with a certain smell. That’s pretty good and I was impressed that she had carried around this thought probably for years with no need to share it until necessary. The end.
Lauren Bender is a teacher, student, and twin living and working in Baltimore. Publications include The Dictionary Poems: Some Bees (New Lights Press), Whale Box (Publishing Genius), [there is no YOU in poem] (Big Game Books), and I'AM BORED (Produce Press, with Kevin Thurston). Selected exhibitions/performances include CorpOreo (Transmodern Festival) and Big Pink (The Baltimore Museum of Art). Lauren curated the BOITE: Show&Tell series at Minas Gallery in Hampden and is co-director of Narrow House. She feels pretty good lately.
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