Monday, September 21, 2015


Our finger prints don't fade from the lives we touch. 
Judy Blume

I used to be a clean freak of the highest order, so much so that I'd nightly dust my childhood bedroom with tissues and cross a room nine times to make sure a pillow on the couch sat at just the right angle.  When I was a teacher, Thursday was cleaning day and I was often up until midnight scrubbing floors, waxing furniture, and polishing the stove, but I didn't mind.  I knew I would come home on Friday to the ecstasy of fresh vacuum ridges in the carpeting and a sparkling clean bathtub.
It's the little things in life...right?
Over the years I lighted up...and so did my cleaning schedule.  Sure I still had my first graders sift through the black holes in their desks and organize their books and assignments.  On Friday mornings I would squirt a huge dollop of shaving cream on their desks and had them smear it around so they could practice writing their spelling words before the weekly test.  Their little fingerprints dotted and dashed on the faux wood finish as they giggled with delight.  When they were done, a few swipes of a sopping wet sponge removed all the dirt, grime, and glue blobs that had dried there over the past week.  They ooo-ed and ahhh-ed to see how shiny their desks could be and often asked, "Can we use shaving cream every day?"
Who says you can't have fun AND clean at the same time? 
These days I regularly have folks in and out of the house.  I daily disinfect the bathroom sink and change the towels.  The floors are vacuumed at least twice a week and I regularly walk through the house, putting stuff away before it looks too cluttered.  Sure my desk gets messy now and again, but I'm not one of those people who can stick their hand in a pile of paper, knowing exactly where the odd receipt or bill is hiding. 
I need my stuff in order...and not just the stuff you see on the outside.

It's been a messy spring and summer for me.  If you've been keeping up with Open Road, then you'll know I spent the better part of the past four months being roused from sleep by diggers, jackhammers, and the like while our street and surrounding area were being torn up for a host of reasons.  But just last week the last of the repairs were put into place and the lawn outside my front door was reseeded.  Now I wake up to the sound of crickets and the breeze blowing through an open window...and it's more enjoyable than any cleaning day ever could be.
Still, during all this time I've been cleaning up the messes of circumstances and people who have inadvertently left their sticky fingerprints on my life...some which were stubborn and didn't come off that easily.  And there was no magic shaving cream that could easily remove them with a few swipes of a sponge.  But no matter.
I had elbow grease to spare.
Now that fall is here my schedule has doubled and I'm working so much I hardly have time to write a blog.  Not that I'm complaining.  All that work I did over the summer is paying off in spades since I can appreciate how shiny and new I can be whenever I take the time to polish up my ability to let go of things I can't control.  That seems to be a theme this year, but one I'm learning by heart, so the next time a lesson comes along, I hum the familiar tune and move on...pronto.

When I was a gardener in Big Sur, I often spent time in the afternoon walking up and down the rows of kale, chard, and basil, marveling at the myriad of fingerprints that were still embedded in the compost.  On planting days, we often had up to a dozen people working on the farm so that the over 2,000 little babies could be settled into the soil in a timely way.  Over time I found there was a rhythm to planting, especially the fennel, which was my favorite.  And there in every single bed, were the imprints of my hands.  When I left Esalen, the last thing I did was visit the farm, knowing that a part of me would linger there long after I was gone.  It was a memory so striking, that I lent it to one of my characters in Common Threads, and still can't truly find the words to express what that moment meant to me.
But I can clearly reveal another one that happened this weekend.
On Friday I picked up my pals, Satish and Danta, from school.  After a quick jaunt to Mr. Freeze, we headed over to a bookstore where Danta could pick out his birthday gift.  I told Satish that if he wanted his birthday gift early, I'd be happy to buy him a book or two as well and he eagerly took me up on the offer.  After perusing the shelves for a while, Danta chose an Avenger's title while Satish found a Big Nate comic that he hadn't read yet.  There was still a little birthday money left over, so both of them found the rack of Berenstain Bear books and each chose one to take home.
Now mind you, my pals read well above their grade level. Danta just finished reading a Harry Potter book I wouldn't have tackled in fifth grade...and the kid's only in third.  Satish and I discuss the symbolism of some of the chapter books we've both read and he consistently devours anything on his bookshelf.  Still, it was heartening to watch them sift through the stack of children's books to find a couple that they hadn't yet read.  While they searched, I thought back to all the Monday nights I'd tucked them into bed and read a Berenstain book or two.  When they were old enough, they took over and I enjoyed listening to them read out loud.  
While Satish was at soccer practice, Danta and I laid on a blanket at Pacesetter Park.  We played chess.  He read one of his books while I watched the clouds drift by.  Not once did I think of all the work I had to do at home.  The cleaning and organizing and preparation for this week's busy schedule. 
At one point Danta asked me, "Are you going to be a famous author someday?"
"Maybe," I replied.
"Wow...that'd be so cool."
I shrugged.  "Well, I'd rather be famous to you."
Danta laughed.
"I suppose I could have both," I told him.  "But if I had to choose what I want first I'd say I'd rather hang out with you here while Satish is playing soccer."
He nodded.  "And play chess...and read books."
"Yep," I beamed.  "'Cause you're one of my favorite people in the whole world."
          Danta grinned.  "Awww!"
Later that afternoon when Danta and Satish's dad came to pick them up, we gathered their backpacks from my car.  When Satish shut the trunk I could clearly see his fingerprints gently smeared into the black finish, right next to a set of Danta's who had called dibs to shut the trunk when I had picked up the boys from school. 
"Hey...look at that!" I laughed.  "Your fingerprints are right there to remind me of all the fun we had today."
And to this day they're still there.  Whenever I run an errand or strap my bike onto the trunk rack, I smile when I see the residue of their little fingers...and make sure I don't mess them up.  I suppose I'll lament when the next rainstorm or car wash dissolves them, but no matter.
Their fingerprints have left wonderful memories to spare...ones that remind me that sometimes messiness is the very best part of being human.