New try at Shaping My Story with New “Topic”: The Green Umbrella

The green umbrella was not mine.

I did not buy it the New York Rain Day way: It’s raining. Of course you didn’t bring an umbrella to work or wherever. You ran out the house without it. Maybe you noticed a few minutes into the rain, Damn I need an umbrella. There is always some kind of sidewalk person who sells an assortment of things: weird stuffed animals, Dora paraphernalia, iPhone cases with cats and other animals on them, cheap head phones, sunglasses of course, rain or shine, snow or sun, and other random items. This person will definitely have a few types of 5$ umbrellas: the small black ones with the old fashioned curved handle that last one shower and end up skeletons peaking out of the street garbage can where an angry person sick of the umbrella going the opposite way finally lost the struggle and stuck it there, looking like an upside down Barbie doll with one leg. This guy also sells bigger ones, maybe a few more bucks and some others. You buy one. If it doesn’t end up driving you nuts with the wind added to the rain, you will leave it in a restaurant soon.

I have a thing with umbrellas. I’m not sure how to describe it. I love looking at everyone else’s umbrellas, it’s like tattoo watching in a swimming pool; a total smorgasbord of colors, patterns, sizes and styles; I only have a temporary tattoo but I love seeing real ones on other people. Sort of like with umbrellas. I didn’t used to let myself spend more than 5-10$ on an umbrella for the obvious reason that I’d break it or lose it soon. Now I have a great rainbow umbrella that was cheaper than the red Ikea with white pattern that died a quick death. I was wanting a rainbow umbrella for quite a while. Like most things you yearn for, I found it when not looking. The kind where each segment is a different color. It’s a large one, also something I used to deny myself. There are umbrellas that do their job reluctantly and badly, keeping you from getting soaked but popping out with the wind so you have to hold it the other way to get it back to it’s shape. You forget that a useful umbrella needs to be shaped a certain way to avoid this back and forth thing and to keep you more dry than just somewhat dry.

I have other umbrellas. There is the pink one from Duane Reade that refuses to get broken or used up or lost. It’s just a small retractable one, not too tiny, probably cost 5-7$. There is always some cheap umbrella you hardly notice you’ve had for so many years; the survivor umbrella. This pink umbrella is a cat with nine lives.

Umbrellas for children. That’s a whole other category. I used to think cheap, but first it was: don’t get an umbrella for a child, just use yours with them; those dinky little kids umbrellas with annoying Dora or Disney characters on them – I refused to surrender for a long time. I relented and changed my philosophy to: get a really cheap tacky one made for kids in Chinatown at one of those places that sells that again strange assortment, where you could get a live turtle or this umbrella. Then recently, I finally got the concept of a child having an adult umbrella, and getting to start a whole relationship of their own with umbrellas and rain. It could be the making of a young pluviophile.

I do know a child who loves to be inside looking out her window and watching people outside getting wet in the rain. It’s that sadistic pleasure of watching others suffer and feeling extra cosy and not wet.

Last week I was in a New York kind of storm, the kind where you surrender and just get completely wet. The kind you can’t wait out under an awning crushed together with others. The kind where you have to pick your moment to just get in the wind and rain and take your chances.  I noticed that still, an umbrella seems useful, after you’re soaked to the point that your sneakers are full of water. Then you get to be soaked but no longer frantic and watch other people frantically holding things over their heads or fighting with their umbrellas or hiding under scaffolding waiting it out. By that time, you’re having fun finally getting to admit the real thing about rain: it’s water. It will get you wet and maybe cold.

This green one was just a symbol of my day to a terrible point. I took it by accident instead of the dependable pink one. Actually I confess I left the house with that pink one and stupidly gave my child the pink one and took the green one, a quick exchange that I didnt notice would shape the rest of my day and cause me to write this.’This innocent looking light yellow green umbrella came from someone who was moving to Berlin from Brooklyn and had the kind of extra stuff you take to your house and are both grateful and annoyed by more stuff you might need or maybe you didn’t know you needed it. Did I need another small collapsable umbrella? Maybe. Probably not. I had already forgotten my last battle with that damn umbrella. I took it out  for the first time and tried to open it but the sliding thing didn’t’ stick to the top, so I wrestled with it while getting wet and got so annoyed I was ready to throw it out, thinking it just doesn’t work and wondering why it was even existing there for me to get angry at.  I even walked with it open holding it at the top, very annoying way to use an umbrella Finally by luck or chance I put the umbrella up and it stayed. The trick was it had to be all the way down, then you push the button and it opens fine in one burst. You can’t push the button and push it up. I don’t know how I missed the simple way to open it. I figure it out a second before I was going to throw it out in a fit of fury that only exists when it’s raining and you’re pissed off at an umbrella.

Of course today i had the same problem, and again even more absurdly couldn’t figure it out. This time I had the added torture of knowing it was not broken, and that I was fighting with it because I couldn’t remember the simple way to get it open.

I actually yelled at the umbrella. I was already in a bad mood so the umbrella seemed right to take it out on. Nobody would think it was weird to see someone having a nasty fight with an umbrella on a street in NYC.

This umbrella with its secret simple way to open it represented my tussles with life. I even had seen a 9 year old open it fine, adding more fuel to the fire. This fight was saying, on a daily basis you waste extra energy fighting facts and the physical world, refusing to admit that not only are you doing it wrong, the right way is so much easier and less histrionic.

Why does this always happen to me? was the usual useless thought pattern. I fight and frustrate and struggle against the forces of my own brain’s inability to do simple tasks, then it makes sense to get angry at the object that has a superiority complex like that umbrella. It was saying, “You can’t remember the obvious way to open me. You’re again almost breaking me trying to figure it out. Just a while ago a child had no problem opening me. It was laughing at me and thumbing its nose at me.

I persisted, as I do these days with such struggles, because my mind says, if you can’t figure this out, your’e doomed; the whole rest of your life will be one endless struggle like this with everything and everyone, so you better figure it out now. Finally through chance I realized: it’s the button that says open/close on it, push it. My umbrella fully cooperated, laughing all the way up.

Well the next time today I was back home and left, I took my rainbow umbrella. It isn’t raining, but when it does, I will have my pride back and my ability to function like the other people who manage reality just fine; I can walk down the street holding my happy rainbow umbrella and pretend I know how to navigate the physical world.


Shaping Your Story, Week One: What’s Your Angle?

I’m taking another blogging class. It’s a writing one, so I’m taking a leap putting up some of my recent writing project I just started a few months ago. I’m taking a piece out of it near the beginning. I tried to edit it. What’s my angle? It’s kind of memoir but it’s about a job, it’s a loss, this program doesn’t exist; my angle is connecting with people with chronic mental illness, close to the homeless person you saw on the subway today. Not sure yet what makes it unique, what I’m doing to make it my story and a different take on a same old same old. Here is the excerpt:

The subway, if you’re alone you could go to the end of the line, the last stop, it’s where I would go if I was homeless sleeping on the subway, I’d pick the F line for Coney Island; I’d have one of those old supermarket carts, the red kind, there would be pieces of paper all over or maybe notebooks.. I think once in Boston I went to the end of the line. It was a horse race track, maybe actually a dog race track; yes it was a dog race track called Wonderland, well it would be; that’s my special book, doesn’t everyone have one book that they keep inside them for life, a book that is a place more than a story. I’ve never been to dog races or the horse races, but there are so many great movies you don’t have to go to the real one. I mean they stick horse races in good and bad and in between movies and those are the best scenes. The last one I saw was a movie you only watch cause your kid wants to watch it with you. This girl goes to the horse race because someone told her to put her money on a certain horse. It had only 3 legs, and she knows the place; it’s not the races, its where her grandfather bets all his money where you get betting tickets for your money and there are small old TVs you watch the races on those TVs. It’s always a kind of shabby place and it’s filled with all these people who bet all the time- they can’t stop. Of course she wins cause the money is to take place of the rent money her grandfather bet on and lost. He gets so excited when she wins and that she has the betting blood in her, it’s a great moment. He doesn’t really want her to be a gambler like he is. He just is so excited to see her win. Of course he loses all the time without her.

Then this reminds me of this guy I worked with a long time ago at that job, the day treatment place for people to go to and could even eat breakfast there so you woulnd’t stay in your room at your residences just staring at a wall. I get so mad when I think about how they got rid of all the continuing day treatment places I want to smash something it’s disgusting. A place much better than hospitals and not a place you had to leave after two weeks or a month or a year. It was a place to find and stay at and make your day home and that’s what the clients who stayed long term did. Wow to be part of that was magical every once in a while I’d be stunned by it. All the people there you just loved every one of them, the nasty ones and the sweet ones. You could have a great moment with anyone usually in the hallway or waiting for the elevator or in the kitchen helping the lunch expert clients with lunch.

This one guy I worked with he was a gambler. He was quiet, quiet like you know he is there but nothing can come out really he has no words he’s in a very small room in his head and I don’t remember him in groups at all, I just remember sitting with him I think in my office but maybe it was in the art room.

It was something else to watch him draw; I don’t know if I realized it at the time, but that was the one thing he had that nobody could take away from him that he could do it and keep doing more not like losing on a gambling ticket I can’t even remember what he gambled. His gambling wasn’t some big loud kidn of cowboy gambling; it was the kind where you use any money to buy a lottery ticket and scratch off looking for a few dollars. Maybe he had a secret life where he went to some racetrack. He used a pencil and colored pencils. He drew these buildings and trucks and I wish I could remember them exactly they were just great drawings the kind of drawing where watching him make them I felt like nothing else existed for a moment it was just him drawing and me watching him. Those drawings were of a city but it felt really peaceful; you could step into one of his drawings any one of them and, all the noise would be gone, all that noise of the world that made him sick and was making me sick too; he’s probably dead by now; still there I the same noise of the world and I feel sick just writing abou it. That is partly why he didn’t put people in his drawings. Putting people in there, it would be disgusting. He didn’t want to draw people, he was quiet but his not wanting people in there was good and loud; There was nothing sloppy about him but there was some softness. I was amazed I was there with him it was like being in a church with him his own mind’s church. When you don’t want to draw people, you just want to draw things or buildings it can last for years or it can be forever, but don’t tell the person to put people in a drawing where it’s like so peaceful you are in a part of the Twilight Zone.

I hate when people tell you to put something in your painting. Like I’m outside in the park on a beautiful day, and I’m drawing, filling a square with shapes. Someone says I should go outside and draw the landscape and I can’t draw landscapes: of course what I’m doing will not anything to do with the park and the sun; it might even be a lot of black. I can do dots forever and a day and they will not be in a park.

Yesterday I did birds. When I made my birds picture, I put too much in it and I still don’t know if it’s too much. Did I step over the cliff of too far same as talking too much. Was I into my too muchness there is so much in here it’s like you put a ton of paint on a piece of paper and the middle just goes and the paper can’t hold the paint, if you let it dry it’s a pile of paint and the paper sticks to the table anyway so you rip it pulling it off the table. I copied my birds from an IKEA tray, except I made two tracks so it’s like it’s outside, but you see birds on the first and second floor.

I love the birds on the IKEA tray; it’s black and white. I could get crazy wondering who the hell drew those birds because I know I’m connecting to that artist; I like that drawing on that tray better than some famous stuff in the museum. I put cartoons and the birds were saying things, and I don’t have a clue if it would have been better to have no words. It was already the kind of road on the way there where you stop and sit in a field with stuff in it not too much and you take a quiet nap there. Sometimess I just fill the paper with so much in there it just becomes patterns, and I don’t care; it’s a drawing. Like for the guy I worked with. He didn’t care when he was done. He had to draw the shapes that were the building and cars, so he wouldn’t shut in so far, when you get tuna out of a can and the top doesn’t go all the way off so you make the tuna come out the sides.