To go from visiting Idlewild as a child every summer to growing up and never visiting it at all to randomly going one day at the end of summer, near my 24th birthday . . . yeah . . . that's what happened.
I was on assignment yesterday for Ligonier Magazine, a publication that I'm working on that will soon be printed by the Daily American. Obviously I can't write a magazine without writing a story about Idlewild, so I called up Idlewild park, told an employee that I needed a press pass for Sunday, and snagged two--one for me and one for my boyfriend, who graciously helped me carry my notebook and camera as I walked through Idlewild for the first time in years.
Admittedly, nothing much has changed. Storybook Forest is still there. The Spider and the Tilt-a-Whirl are still there. But as we walked through the park, I couldn't stop thinking about how much I have changed. I'm not a little girl anymore. My mom, sister, cousins and aunts didn't accompany me on this trip--my fiancé did. There are new families enjoying Idlewild now. The park didn't seem as big. The Round-Up, which took my best friend Cristy years to get me to ride, doesn't seem nearly as scary as it did a decade ago.
As we navigated our way through Storybook Forest, I asked Eric to take a photo of me on the magic carpet. There exists a photo of a younger-looking Kayla surrounded by her younger-looking cousins, sitting on this exact same carpet. So this one goes out to them:
I was pretty thrilled that I got to go on the Tilt-a-Whirl. It was exactly as I had remembered, and just as fun. We also rode the Mister Rogers' Neighborhood train, the Wild Mouse and the wooden roller coaster. One of my favorite "rides" was always Confusion Hill, and this time around, Eric and I got our own personal tour of the place, which was a blast. Since it was just the two of us, I volunteered to be poor old Pete, who sleeps on a chair in the "Four Star Hotel." I remember being picked to go up on the chair when I was little, too, so I dorked out when it happened again:
I'm glad that we took our time making our way through the park. Although it was a little strange for us to be in the park without any children in tow (yeah, some people looked at us a little funny), it definitely made me look forward to taking our kids there one day. They can see what I saw. Have as just fun as I did when I was a little kid. And of course, stuff their faces with sticky globs of cotton candy the whole way home.
The big glass bottle wasn't even mine. I didn't even know it existed until Chris slapped a price sticker on it and placed it amongst the other items scattered throughout our lawn. But I liked it--its pronounced roundness, scuff marks, small neck, mini handle. It wasn't even mine, I know that, but I was devastated when some scruffy-looking stranger picked it up, handed my boyfriend one dollar, and walked away carrying it lazily by that mini handle that I liked so damn much.
Yard sale day. One of the worst days of my summer.
And to think that it was all my idea in the first place.
"Chris, why don't we get rid of all our stuff in the basement?" I asked a week before our big sale--the sale that we advertised online and in our local newspaper.
Boom. A week later and there we were, sitting on our back porch, inviting people to swing by and basically steal our shit like untamed monkeys.
'Cause that's what a yard sale basically is--a place where people can invade your lawn and carry away with them the things that used to mean something to you.
"How come none of this stuff means anything to me anymore?" I asked Chris.
We sold my sister's old basketball for 50 cents.
"Catch," Sarah says, throwing the basketball with all her might toward her older sister.
It bounces on the hot pavement and I run after it in my flip-flops.
"Run faster, Ash, o'else you're not gonna catch it!"
My seven-year-old laughter parades into my mother's ears as she leans against the door that leads into our one-car, one-truck garage. She looks young and beautiful. For a moment, I think I can somehow see my childhood reflected in her two front teeth.
"Here, Sarah," I say, throwing the basketball over my head, "next time try not to make me run after it like that."
"Will you take $1 for this disco ball?"
Suddenly I hear Janet Jackson's "All for You" playing in my childhood bedroom, where I used to plug in that very disco ball and dance like crazy in front of my small wooden-framed mirror. In addition to this disco ball and one awesome strobe light (also for sale at our yard sale), I had a blacklight that made all the stickers I plastered below it glow a bright neon green. The disco ball was there, disco balling around, when my sister walked in on me dancing like a mad woman, pretending that I was Janet Jackson (minus one exposed breast) live in concert.
I watched Chris work the lawn; he was a natural salesman, but his price slashing was getting to be a bit outrageous. Older customers waddling in to our yard with their canes wanted to pay half price for already cheap items ("Instead of 50 cents, I'll give you a dime for this!") and Chris accepted every offer.
There went my pack of old guitar picks. A pair of Chuck Taylor's. A purse. A wallet. An old kerosene lamp that I probably could've done something funky with, thanks to the invention of Pinterest. And what did we make on all of these items? A lousy $4.
"Chris, I feel like I'm better off keeping all of this stuff."
He looked at me with his you've-got-to-be-kidding eyes. Then I got self-conscious because the last thing I wanted was for my boyfriend to think that I was being materialistic.
"I'm not materialistic, Chris . . . I'm just saying . . ."
A couple in a green Ford Escort jumped out of their car and started perusing our items, hands behind their backs, walking so slowly around the tables that it was driving me crazy. Man, they were taking their grand old time. Meanwhile, I was secretly hoping that they wouldn't find anything they wanted to buy, that they would just jump right back into that green Ford Escort so Chris and I could start carrying all of our stuff back down to the basement.
"This penguin fountain . . . this is a real nice fountain."
I can't believe I sold that cute little penguin fountain for $3. I bet my mom paid approximately $25 for it a few years ago. Poor mom. She poured so much money into my penguin collection. And what did I spend my Saturday doing? Giving it all away. And it's not that I don't like penguins anymore; I love penguins! I'll always love penguins.
And I especially loved that penguin fountain. I kept it in my bedroom. It hung on my wall, to the right of my bed, and I turned it on at night because the sound of the running water helped me fall asleep.
I wondered if we could cancel our yard sale. Run around the neighborhood and take down all our signs stapled to the staple-covered telephone poles. Call the newspaper's advertising department and tell them that we wanted our money back. Box up my penguin collection and strobe light and walk up to the playground to see if that old woman was there and if so, would she let me buy back Sarah's basketball?
I couldn't help thinking that all my items for sale had feelings, and they couldn't help feeling betrayed by me--just like Radio, Lampy, Blanky, and Kirby from one of my favorite childhood movies, The Brave Little Toaster.
At 3 p.m., I started boxing up all my stuff.
"Chris, I promise I'll find a place for this stuff in the basement . . . and I promise it won't take up too much room."
"Oh. Well I was planning to just donate all this stuff to Goodwill."
To Goodwill? What good was that?
We spent the next hour packing Chris's car with boxes full of all the unsold items that used to mean something to us. All the things that we treasured, at one time or another. All of the items that I wanted to keep without worrying that Chris would think less of me.
My entire penguin collection is now lining the shelves at our local Goodwill. I don't have the heart to go in there. I'll probably avoid the place for months.
"Just think: now all of these things can mean something to other people," Chris said, wiping his hands on his denim jeans before putting his sweaty arm around me.
Lucky duck that I am, I got to spend Memorial Day weekend at Touchstone Center for Crafts in Farmington, PA. I enrolled in the “Creating Pottery for Everyday Use” extended weekend workshop with Amanda Wolf (view her work at http://wolfsdenpottery.com/) and arrived to campus Friday evening.
I was assigned to Cabin #1. This cabin became my humble abode for the next three nights and four days:
The first thing I noticed about my cabin’s interior was the smell. To my delight, it smelled exactly like the clubhouse in my parents’ backyard that my dad built for my sister and me when we were little! It was practically an adult-sized, squarer version of our triangular clubhouse; for that reason alone, I felt quite comfortable . . .
. . . but maybe not so comfortable at night. The first night was the worst. I slept cocoon-like in a sleeping bag. And when I say cocoon-like, I mean it. I was wrapped up as tight as possible in that thing, trying my best to retain all my body heat so I could get some sleep. Night number two was probably the warmest, and night number three was slightly colder than I had anticipated. Alas, staying in the cabin made me appreciate my own warm bed at home. And even though I had the option to upgrade to a dorm, I’m glad I didn’t. It was a true summer camp-esque experience (I even decided to forego the meal plan so I could eat canned foods and packaged snacks!).
When I walked to the pottery studio (conveniently located about 30 steps away from my cabin) on Friday evening, I was introduced to Amanda and my two fellow students, Cindy and her daughter, Taylor. We spent the evening making clay stamps and sprigs for our pottery. Then back to my little cabin I retreated. The next morning would be my first full day at the wheel.
Our day started at 9 a.m. We learned how to wedge the porcelain clay with which we were working. The next step was to center it on the wheel. I experienced problems with centering when I took my first pottery class at my workplace back in March. Fortunately, centering came quite easy to me at Touchstone. “Pulling,” however, didn’t.
Pulling the clay basically involves lifting it up and allowing it to take shape. Silly me didn’t think to cut her crazy-long fingernails, so I couldn’t grab the clay the way I needed to in order to master the technique.
“Your nails are beautiful, but they gotta go,” Amanda said.
A few minutes later, she emerged from the glaze room with a pair of scissors. I refused. I mean, I can “go grunge,” but not that grunge. Haha. So I learned to deal with my long fingernails getting in the way (I did cut them as soon as I got home, though!) and stayed focused on the wet clay circling around in my hands.
Pottery, my friends, isn’t easy. You have to wedge the clay, center it, pull it, shape it, trim it, bisque it, decorate it, glaze it, and fire it again. It takes dedication, patience, and skill. The process itself is a long one, and it’s risky, too. You can’t get attached to a piece because it might not survive one of the many stages (I lost three mugs during the trimming stage . . . sigh). When I encountered a hiccup in the process (there were many, many times when I pulled too hard and completely ruined the piece), I wedged a new piece of clay and started over again. Despite being the kind of person who gets frustrated and discouraged quite easily, I was determined to master the pottery wheel. Luckily, our awesome studio assistant (shout out to Eric!) and two talented potters (hey, Lee and Bridget!) were kind enough to let me continue to work after our allotted open studio hours. On Saturday evening, I stayed in the studio until about 10:30 p.m., throwing and throwing and throwing until I emerged with a little jar that, I decided, I would give to my boyfriend. Amanda was also kind enough to stay with me for awhile, offering me advice and telling me what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong.
Cursive, by the way, got it right: "Art is Hard."
It was dark by the time I left the studio, and I was happy to know that the next morning I would wake up and get to do it all over again.
Here’s a photo of me late Saturday night--sticky clay hands and all!
I admired our schedule: working for a few hours, taking a small lunch break, working a few more hours, taking a supper break, and then working again until almost dark. I imagined myself hanging out with Henry David Thoreau (okay, so I should also admit that my cabin made me think of “Walden”), enjoying that type of technology-less, connected-to-nature, working-hard-all-day way of life.
Aside from making some bowls from molds that Amanda provided for us, I spent a majority of my Sunday on the wheel. I was comfortable there. Eager to learn more. Appreciative of the opportunity to have a teacher who kindly pointed out the progress I was making. So, by Sunday afternoon, I finally understood how to pull the clay. To get my clay to take shape. Gracefully.
Sunday was also the perfect day for a walk on Meditation Trail. With my notebook in hand, I walked into the woods, crossed over the creek, and sat on a rock and wrote. Here’s a photo of me enjoying that alone time:
The entire Touchstone campus is gorgeous. It’s nestled in the boondocks, where cell phone service is limited and artists gather to create art with like-minded artists. Even though I was only there for four days, it felt as if I became part of an artist’s colony. The people there talked art, made art, celebrated art. I loved it.
We spent Monday morning and afternoon decorating our pottery, adding handles to our mugs, and letting our work dry so that we could take it home. By the time check-out time rolled around, I didn't want to leave. I made some new friends. I wanted to jump back on the pottery wheel. I discovered that not only could I use my hands to write, but also to bring a lump of clay to life.
I ended up leaving Touchstone with 12 finished pieces (all of which have yet to be bisque fired, glazed, and then fired again). I created mostly mugs, as you can see:
I have a long way to go when it comes to reaching Amanda’s skill level . . . a longggggggggg way . . . but I’m grateful that she was gracious enough to teach us what she knows. She offered me the perfect mix of constructive criticism and praise; now I have the confidence to keep learning, to keep creating. This means I need to get my own pottery wheel!
From my cabin to Meditation Trail to the clay studio, my first experience at Touchstone certainly won’t be my last!
For more info: http://touchstonecrafts.org/
As I walked along the railroad tracks with an old friend on a Wednesday evening in late June two summers ago, I kept telling him that I was sorry that we lost touch. I repeated my apology with sincerity, hoping that he would realize that I missed the way he used to finger-pick his guitar at such a fast pace that it almost made me hungry. Then there were the nights when we would run a mile together and afterward catch our breath by lying on the football field, waiting for the stars to come out of their hiding places in the sky. Sometimes he would ask me questions, and not the simple how-many-fingers-am-I-holding-up kind; he would want me to name my biggest fears and count how many times I had thought about people with phobias.
Ever since I saw a lady on an episode of Maury detailing her phobia, I have thought about her more than I could ever keep count. With shaking hands, the lady explained that before she could place her right foot on her car’s gas pedal, she had to plan her trip using a map because she had a phobia of making left turns. Her options were to go straight, right, or in reverse. I pitied that woman on the TV screen and the countless routes she had to plan, including the very route she needed to take in order to even participate in the show.
Before I met my ex-boyfriend, he slept with the lights on and claimed it was because he read himself to sleep. I found Mark Twain books by his bedside. I began to wonder what parts of speech made him sleepy: adjectives? verbs? nouns? and what sentence in “A Tramp Abroad” was read with fluttering eyes. Suddenly, his room was dark and I heard him sigh before wishing me goodnight. He has slept with the lights off ever since.
One night, I dreamt that I was waiting for someone at the airport. Waiting and waiting. I was holding a cardboard sign that didn’t list the person’s name, but rather my favorite color: turquoise. I suppose I was looking for a passenger on the plane who liked oceans and books and pillows of that color. Perhaps I was looking for my cousin, who always wants me to add salt to the water she’s preparing boil; she seeks fast steam, and she wants her romantic woes drained, diced and disappeared. I tell her that all she needs to do is follow her heart; if she doesn’t get butterflies when she sees her boyfriend, then there are caterpillars crawling around her stomach that may need just a little more time. But as for me? I have moths in my stomach--luna moths--and they remind me that love never deserves to be hidden in forests or ceramic sculptures or in between playing cards.
When I was little, I wanted to be a magician. My favorite trick was to ask one of my family members to pick a card, memorize it, and put it back in my card stack. I would open the stack (picture an open-faced turkey sandwich) and slyly place a finger in the stack to bookmark where the card was placed. Then I would go about pretending to shuffle the cards, keeping an eye on the card that was memorized just a moment earlier. I’m not sure if I impressed anyone when I successfully revealed their chosen card, but I never learned to levitate and eventually decided to leave the magic up to David Blaine anyway.
Perhaps my most devastating abandoned dream was that of becoming a dancer. When I was younger, I was enrolled in a dance class; I wanted to be a ballerina. I don’t remember that class or that dream, but I realize it now, and I want it back. I want to be back in a dance studio, learning how to tap dance and make music with my feet. While most people want to make music with their mouths, their acoustic guitars and their hollow drums, my instrument of choice has always been my heels and my toes.
But mostly I just use my feet to walk from place to place, just like I did today when I went to the bank. I swear that one of the bank tellers looked like Mrs. Doubtfire, and for a second I had secretly imagined her peeling off her face and taking off her clothes to reveal Robin Williams underneath. It’s Robin Williams who, at least to me, is the most attractive man in Hollywood. I find a certain charm and comfort in Robin William’s voice, looks, and personality. Perhaps this has something to do with watching his movies while growing up: Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji, and Flubber were among my favorites. I also associate Robin Williams with my godfather, Gary, who died of a brain tumor when I was in the fourth grade. I think they looked alike, and from what I remember about my Uncle Gary, he enjoyed smiling and laughing as much as Robin Williams does. And that’s exactly what should happen when someone has nice teeth.
My grandfather keeps his teeth on his living room table. He puts them in only when his children and grandchildren visit him or when he goes to the local bar for a drink. Occasionally, when I glance at his dentures and all their whiteness that complements those glossy pink gums, I think about the teeth that used to be in my grandfather’s mouth and the words that passed through them. I wonder if he ever whispered anything in my ear when I was little: perhaps an encouraging and loving and brilliant phrase that I have unknowingly carried with me all my life.
When I was little, my favorite meal was rice cereal. The Gerber kind, made specifically for babies. It was soft, warm, and sugary. I can remember trying to reach the box in the cupboard, going as far as attempting to climb on the counter to get closer to it. I made some stupid decisions when I was little, and that might’ve been one of them. The other one that immediately comes to mind is choking on a butterscotch hard candy two times
in a row. I was playing Barbies with my cousin April that night. I found a butterscotch candy and tried to eat it but accidentally swallowed it instead. My mom performed the Heimlich and all was well, at least until I tried to give the butterscotch candy a second chance. My mom wrapped her arms around my stomach yet again, and once the candy was expelled past my teeth and onto the floor, she took the bag away and hid it in the cupboard. Those damn cupboards.
There is a clubhouse in my backyard, and I look at it from time to time when I want to remind myself how much I miss my childhood. The ladder leading up to the triangle-shaped room seemed scary to climb, but I have since counted and the ladder is only four steps high. My sister and I decorated that room with little white curtains and drawings. The door had a single lock on it and I feared that using it would mean that we would be trapped in there forever, sitting on the hardwood floor and looking through the single window into the woods. Back in those woods, the birds sang polkas and pop songs. And back in those days, my nickname used to be Sunny, like the Shawn Colvin song.
My life is a conglomeration of songs strung together . . . name a song in my music collection and I can recall when it became a part of my life and who or what I associate with it. If I could write one memoir to leave behind, it would list all the songs in my music
collection and detail what each song means to me. It would be my hope that people would acquaint themselves with those songs and they would mean something to them, too. It may not become a bestseller, but it would be the best gift I could leave behind--that little elbow nudge that could remind people that we need to embrace art and use it to define our lives and the moments within in it that are worthy of being framed and hung on a wall made of plaster and paint.
I don’t need to live in a house with fancy furniture, but going furniture shopping sometimes convinces me otherwise. My eyes are attracted to brown and turquoise. When mixed together, they have a pleasant appeal to me. They always have. I’m not the kind of girl who has planned her wedding day since she was a teenager, nor have I grown up to be a woman who is sketching the design of her house as we speak. For example, I really don’t know how many stairs are going to separate the downstairs living room from the upstairs bedroom. I would reckon that there would be more than five, and that’s good enough for me (especially because five is one of my favorite numbers).
Years ago, my cousins went on a summer vacation to Cancun, Mexico, and in the middle of the night, they awoke to my cousin Johna screaming; she claimed that there were bugs in her hair. Listening to my cousins recall her terror made me frightened for her. But Johna has since given birth to twin baby girls, and I’d like to think that those twins will not awake in the middle of the night with any fears. I want them to sleep soundly and have happy dreams, and maybe once in awhile, matching dreams if indeed that is possible. I’d like to think that it is.
I once met a girl who admitted that she dreamed only in black and white. It made me wonder if I did the same, but I soon decided that I didn’t. But I do dream in waves because—scenes roll in and out, spreading people around my mind like wet sand. I am content with the pace and the peace of it all.
I fall in love with the beach every single summer. The entire ocean is my message in a bottle, politely carrying away all my parts of speech and “sincerelys.” Besides, who couldn’t love a place where every wave gets its turn?
It makes me laugh when I hear clowns say that they are “professionals.” It sounds hypocritical. But perhaps that is what we all are: hypocrites. People who complain and then do whatever it is anyway. People who curse love, yet fall in love and begin to make promises using that irresistible little word named “forever.”
I’m still not sure how I feel about the word “forever.” I think it is a nice form of optimism, as if it's okay to pretend that there is no end to the way things are and continue to be. But even this essay--in all its lost glory--has got to end somewhere, and I have chosen to end it here.
Fiction, poetry, and all that good stuff . . .