Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Today, I went to the Beverly Hills Cheese Shop with my quasi-employer, who made me try too many cheeses as she fussed over what kind of cheese plate to make for her friend/quasi-employer's birthday. After complaining of dairy tongue, snacking on Dead Sea Salt crackers, and finally prosciutto, she spotted the Toblerone. If you aren't Italian, you probably won't care about Toblerone. It's a white nougat, cut into squares, soft and doughy, springy, filled with pistachios.

I haven't eaten Toblerone in a long time. (I use the brand as a generalized name, but it's not, btw.) My grandpa gives a box to my sister every year at Christmas. It's a funny gift that we all know is coming, and which he dutifully passes to her with a mischievous laugh, like they share an ancient Italian secret. We all cheer.

We're half Italian, did I mention that? My sister, Erin, is the least so of all of us. With blonde hair and blue eyes, and a heavily Irish name, she is the oldest of the cousins. She gets special gifts because she is.

I tried some of the Toblerone in my car today, after dropping aforementioned faux-boss off. It's made of sugar, honey, vanilla, but I could taste something else. Lemons? It tastes like warmth, of home. I called my sister. I told her why I was thinking of her. She laughed, and cooed over the connection. She told me our grandmother loved Toblerone, she was the one who always had it in the house, and the winter after she died, when Erin was 17, my grandfather presented it to her on Christmas morning. He wanted her to have it, because he wanted to keep doing what my grandmother always had done: give her first grandchild a soft sweet to make her feel loved, to remind her where her blood came from.

I didn't remember that about my grandmother. I remember she had soft and perfect skin, evenly powdered with layers of gentle smells and rose colors. I'm named after her, did I tell you that too? Theresa Saltarelli. She didn't want that, she thought I'd be teased, but my mother promised she'd drop the "h", and I was named Teresa.

It wasn't until I was 17 myself, the first time I went to the beach overnight without my parents, the first time I went to Senior Week, when I learned something else about my heritage. All my best friends had just graduated, a year ahead of me, so I went to Maryland to celebrate with them. A handful of us went to the beach, late at night, and didn't leave til morning. We counted stars, and did flips in the sand, and talked. I curled up with a boy, who later would become a boyfriend, and felt like I was so incredibly awake. He'd been drinking, not beer, I guess it was liquor, and all I could think of was my grandfather. I know, it's very strange, disconcerting to me, being wrapped up with a teenage boy, while all my thoughts were wrapped around my grandpa.

It was because that smell of liquor, of whiskey, was his smell. My grandfather drank, not til he was drunk, but enough so that I knew alcohol was his mark. I associated that breathy heat with him, with being cradled in his arms in a warm, orange kitchen, with Christmas trees, with cookies. My sister had nougat, and I had bourbon.

I wish I could write my grandpa's story. He's writing it himself. A whole memoir, his whole life. I wouldn't know what to say about him anyway.

Maybe, "He loved a woman who loved candy, and he gave little pieces of himself away every Christmas in soft, doughy squares, and he held me tight in his arms, and no boy will ever not be sort of like him." I think he'd hate it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Just Be Yourself, Stupid

Does it ever occur that you talk to yourself in a way you'd never let anyone else talk to you? I fancy myself to be a generally kind and genuinely caring person, but not in reference to myself. Take for example, this class I've been taking. I think I'm the dumbest person in there. I make the stupidest mistakes. I flub up. I fluster. Meanwhile, the teacher is literally shouting, "JUST BE YOURSELF." And I keep thinking, "Yes, but how can I make myself more interesting?" And then I think of how much I'm spending on aforementioned class and whip myself into more of a frenzy. "JESUS CHRIST BE MORE INTERESTING, LOOSE-POCKETS MCBORING!"

Which is why I love my car. She's my buddy. I spend more time with her than anyone else. If I have nothing else in this town, I have Tawanda Jane. I try to take care of her, but I know I'm not great at it. I feel safe with her. She doesn't judge me. She doesn't think I'm interesting or care. She's a car. So far I haven't damaged her too much, although I worry she'll rebel against me one day and I'll have to call Car Talk, the Click and Clack Brothers, and get their opinion on my feisty and broken Toyota Matrix. And they'll laugh at me, and make fun of my name.

Minus One Point LP McBoring.

Plus One Tawanda J.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Warmup for a New Year

I'm about to work on some writing assignments, and I quickly want to stretch my fingers in the 40 minutes before Whole Foods closes. (I bought a minimum amount to be able to steal a booth guilt free. It's just me and a bag of dried organic cranberries sitting here.)

So it's 2009. It's bound to be an anxious year, fringed with angsty bill payments and group worrying over future security, with a sprig of terror decorating our global landscape as the days warm and the bees keel over. After an intense 2008 in which I flushed everything normal down the toilet and restarted my life in California, I'm hoping 2009 will be nothing but good. I have to believe in a universe that cares, and so I have to believe the energy I put out will one day reciprocate. I'm not asking for the lottery, I just want a guest spot.

Or a paycheck. Or some respect. Or some fulfillment. Or hope.

I guess I already have hope. I couldn't have moved if I didn't. I realized, as I literally tore myself away from my warm childhood home in Pennsylvania in the early morning after Christmas, loneliness is crowding my head right now. Even when I'm with friends, I feel so lonely. I don't know what will change that, other than work that has the potential to fill me up. (Fill, for non-artists, as a verb to describe the feeling that you are using your whole body, mind, and voice, to do something wonderful, useful.) Lonely or not, I, for the first time in a long time, believe happiness is possible. I'm not quite sure what I'm doing as I stumble through blindingly sunny days here, but some part of me has to know that good things exist. It's an epiphany really. I guess I always assumed that wasn't really true.

I have to believe in 2009 I'm not alone. I have to keep putting out the good, and keep hoping it'll come back. It already has, really (hey, Obama won, right?), but it's easy to look down on myself, like Jack and the Giant roaring down the beanstalk, and think, "I'm so insignificant. I'm so small. I'm so easy to crush." I have to remember, Jack wins.