The Pondering Grapefruit
a blog of moments
Today I ate some fresh mangoes. It had been a while since I had this fruit--I got it the other day from Market Basket. You could call it a splurge, an investment in happiness. It felt strange to eat them by myself and not with my family.
My family loves eating mangoes, especially those sweet ones that are super yellow on the outside and inside. If we're motivated enough, we would peel the skin and cut the mangoes into cubes. But oftentimes, each person would take their own mango and then eat cubed slices with the skin still on.
And my father, without fail, would repeat the same story every time about UNICEF in Vietnam. "We were so excited for them to come," he said, "and the whole village prepared fruit plates of watermelon, mangoes, grapes, all sorts of tropical fruits already cut and plated for them." My father usually dominates most of the dinner conversation. He's extroverted and likes to talk, and my mom and I are introverted and like to listen.
He continues, "The UNICEF workers saw the fruits and were very thankful, but ultimately denied the gifts, saying they could not eat that. What they did instead was ask for an uncut mango, and then pull out their knife. They cut off big slices and then cubed the interior, inverted the slice so that the cubes stuck out, and ate it. Like this!" He points to how we are currently eating. "Why did they do that? Well, it's because they didn't want to get sick from any dust that stuck to the cut fruit. This method is the cleanest." With that he finishes his mango with satisfaction.
My father has told that story enough times that today I could hear him as though he was standing right next to me. I ate the mangoes way he described in the story. They had been in the fridge, so they were perfectly chilled. The fruit was just ripe enough. Standing there in my tiny kitchen in Central Square, resting my elbows on the counter top as I savored the succulent, yellow flesh, I thought of my father, of his voice, how when people die their voice is one of the first things that fade from memory, and I thought of William Carlos William's plums, delicious, so sweet, and so cold.
So, I have a job, and my jobs deals with books. I work in the Shelf Preparations Department for Harvard College Libraries. For seven (it used to be ten, but you know... life) hours a week, I scan hundreds of books and then pack them to be shipped to the Harvard Depository, where they may never be seen again. It's extremely repetitive, but that's the reason I like it. Everything else about my life is not very repetitive, and it's nice to have a routine that repeats every week, like an anchor in my experience of time.
Here is the order in which you prepare a book: Grab the book off the shelf, put it on your cart with the spines facing out, stamp the side of the book, discharge it on the computer, and put it back on your cart with the spines on the bottom to prepare for packing. To pack, you must place the books spine down and fill the entire length of the bin, cover them with a rain catcher to prevent water damage during transportation, close the lid with a zip tie on one end, insert a slip on the side, and then place the bin on the carts, three to a row, three bins high.
To make work more interesting, I am trying to perfect that sequence of actions. It is deceptively hard. Working with books is extremely physical, and I am surprised at how cumbersome I can be, dropping books left and right, bumping my cart into things. I am trying to develop the perfect ratio of books to hold in my hand when transferring them to my cart. Perhaps my biggest sense of pride comes from being able to stamp books well.
In order to make a perfect stamp, you must first position the book properly: spine down, with the front cover facing away from you. The ink pad must be well inked, and the stamp in good condition. When inking the stamp, make sure to put even pressure along all parts. Position the stamp at the center of the side, and stamp in one smooth motion. A good stamp will be dark, centered, and evenly legible. The stamp process can get tricky when handling an extremely large book, a flimsy paperback, or a book with ridged pages.
This must seem so stupid and trivial to a lot of people, but I think it is good to find pleasure in your work, and to take pride in your work, even if it is the most banal of things. Work then becomes much more tolerable, and you also develop integrity with every well-stamped book.
Painting can get expensive really fast. Especially when you like to work on large canvases. For the past couple of months I have been starting a new series of wood grain paintings, where I find stranded pieces of wood that people are throwing away on the street and use them as my canvas. It's cheaper, and I think it's cooler.
After setting up the wood on my easel, I apply long, horizontal strokes that follow the grain patterns. My hand is guided by the natural lines of the wood, following its history, and the only decisions I have to make are which colors to use, and where.
It's a form of controlled abstract expressionism, and I find that whatever I make expressed both the beauty of the wood as well as my current emotional state. I like these series a lot, because the final look always feels like a landscape. The process itself is very calming too, and I can finish a work in one sitting.
The one I posted here is the most recent painting. I heard somewhere that green is the worst color to put on a painting if you want to sell it. I think it's kind of true, because I look at it from far away and it feels kind of nauseating. But up close, I think it's reminiscent of spring, pastel awakenings, and trembling buds waving in the still frosty air. Spring is slow to come in Boston, but I find it beautiful along a new level of delicacy.
When it comes to taking care of my body, my face in particular, I have used a facial wash (usually Clean & Clear with microbeads, which are horrible for the environment btw) followed by moisturizer. Since the onset of puberty, I have followed this ritual every morning and every night.
Recently, I had a good friend visit me from Berlin and stay with me for a while. I let her use my facewash, and she told me that it made her face feel like it was burning. "I know this is supposed to feel clean," she said, "but it's just painful."
Since she left I started to question why I was using facewash so much. I had the terrible suspicion that I had probably been brainwashed by cosmetic companies to think that I needed four different types of creams, toners, face washes, and powders for each part of my face if wanted to have clear skin.
After this train of thought, I considered using oils on skin in lieu of everything else. This is what my friend does, and she has beautiful skin. Yet, she is not the only one I know who does this. About a year ago, I met a woman in her fifties that had skin more beautiful than mine. I asked her what her secret was, and she told me that she rubs olive oil on her face every night.
So, for the past few weeks I have been doing just that: in the morning I wash my face with just water. Then I dip a cotton ball with a bit of extra virgin olive oil and wipe it over my face and neck. The water prevents my face from getting super greasy. My skin loves the oil. It's been getting much smoother and radiant, to the extent that my boyfriend touched my face once and was mesmerized by how soft the skin was.
Recently, I tried using face wash and lotion again. The chemicals of the facial wash were acrid and harsh, and the lotion felt like plastic pudding. It looks like the olive oil is going to have a permanent place in the bathroom cabinet.
I got myself some more plants recently. I had a small jade plant that had been sitting on the piano for quite some time, and it was about time that I got Frank (that's the plant's name) some more friends. So I got him a Lasagna fern (whom I called Larry), as well as some fresh flowers--Tulips that I got from the Brattle Street Florist in Harvard Square.
I had been meaning to get these plants for quite some time, but each time I told myself that I should wait to see if I stay in Boston post-graduation to really invest in more plants. This past Sunday, however, I started to question why I was delaying such a simple happiness to myself, and why, if this is my dream, I was holding myself back from fulfilling it.
And so, after swimming for about an hour at the Blodgett Pool, I stopped by the Brattle Square Florist and got myself a Lasagna fern plant, whom I named Larry, and a bundle of fresh tulips the color of fire and fold. It was so simple, so easy, and the woman who wrapped the flowers for me called me "hon." I brought the plants back home and welcomed them into my little family. Larry sits in a shady corner next to my vanity table, and the tulips are on the kitchen table.
I have dreamed of my future home, how I would decorate it, what I would like to have in it. Part of that dream is to always have fresh flowers on the table and a variety of good quality teas in the kitchen. This morning, I woke up and found myself daydreaming again. I looked over at the tulips and realized that my dream had already come true. Better yet, I made it come true.
It was a beautiful reminder that life's happiness is not in the final achievement of some great goal. Rather, happiness is found in small details of every day life. In other words, happiness lies in the present, and not in the pursuit of a future dream. In fact, I've had a close friend of mine, who was going through hard times in graduate school, tell me that the moment she started school at Harvard for undergrad (this had been her childhood dream), she felt empty rather than happy. I think this suggests that just because you finally become a doctor, or pass that test, or get that promotion, you won't necessarily get what you wanted emotionally out of it.
For me, buying plants was the first step. I am going to get into the habit of incorporating more happiness in the present moment. And when I do, I will post those things onto this little blog, which is probably the second step towards maintained, present-focused happiness, as having a daily blog is also something that I have wanted to do, but for some reason have shyed away from.
Perhaps this means that I, and a lot of people, know what will make us happy. The only thing keeping us from pursuing our dreams is this complex, enigmatic fear of being happy.
What this is, I don't know, but when I figure it out, I will share what I learn.
About this Blog
I have no idea how to describe what my writing is about. I just write. I post when I can, which can be weekly or monthly depending on where the universe is taking me. As for the Grapefruit, my Vietnamese nickname, Buoi, means grapefruit.