All over the greater Los Angeles area, Painted Lady butterflies dot the landscape. A few clusters greeted me on Saturday, a week after I spotted them while driving around town.
Every time I see a stray butterfly or two going past my kitchen window, a little feeling of delight washes over me. It’s kind of like discovering mac and cheese for the first time as an eight-year-old.
A few days passed from my initial sighting before I asked the internet to explain what was happening. The mystery of the butterflies felt too good to unravel immediately. With more information, though, I just became more curious. How do they know to fly north? Perhaps the weather patterns? Questions I can probably look up online as well. But sometimes I prefer daydreaming and wondering.
Pads and tampons are given many different labels, but they serve one purpose: to soak up period blood. Red blood of the period kind. It’s a fact of life for many. Deal with it.
Crude signs are taped to many a bathroom wall, born of a hasty afterthought. The signs use outdated, condescending language, to make the reader feel as if their very biology is unclean. These signs shake an all-caps, Times New Roman finger at whomever enters the stall, seconds before they’re about to do their private duty.
No. Thank you for the constant reminder that:
Only hygiene products of the feminine variety end up in toilets.
Microsoft ClipArt tampons look like mitochondria.
Periods are unsanitary and unhygienic.
My period is (always) coming soon.
Every now and then I will avoid the line to the ladies’ room by making a detour into the deserted men’s room. The wall in the men’s room is bare. Serene, even.
On entering the supermarket, I abandoned my mom and made a detour to the in-store rental shop. We didn’t have cable, so this was where I gathered ideas for my mental watch list. The shop was often unattended so I hung out in Children’s and New Releases, flipping the boxes over and reading the descriptions. It helped if the supplemental movie stills captured just the right moments, something to make me hungry for more.
Then, along the back wall, there was the Horror section. Once bored of skimming my usual genres, I shuffled past the Horror movies, my peripheral vision doing a quick scan of the movie art. None of the films along that far wall were going into my mental list. It was just that my childish curiosity got the best of me. I had to know what these films were all about. And maybe repeated exposure to the scary imagery would dull the creep factor.
Avoiding the Horror section altogether might have been a wiser move. It was one thing to invent a plot line in my head based on the cover art. To satisfy my curiosity by reading the movie description…now a chilling story line and a couple choice movie stills were imprinted into my brain. I couldn’t unsee the death and suffering, caused by murderous, antique dolls or men with knives for fingers. I was already a kid with an overactive imagination. I just ended up feeding the beast.
First we had fish. Then we had hamsters. It began as one hamster. One hamster gave birth to many. And then my brother and I were forced to give them all back to the pet store.
After the hamster debacle we weren’t allowed any more pets. Somehow we managed to acquire a parakeet. It was lonely, so we got another parakeet and they became fast friends. One parakeet was eventually found dead, stuck in an odd position in the food dish. The other parakeet died soon after, presumably due to aching sorrow and loneliness.
Through all of this, I longed for a dog. I wanted a small dog, because small dogs were cute. And I was a small child myself, so I guess I wanted something in proportion to my own size.
There was no way, with my history of animal ownership, my parents were going to let me have a dog.
Preparation was in order, for the day my parents would give in. I prepped myself for becoming a proud, new dog owner by reading about them at the local library. The book section that carried a volume for each dog breed became a routine stop during my library trips. Each book was rich with photos and information on canine temperament and care. I thumbed through many of those dog books, before realizing we were definitely not getting a dog. Eventually I bought a small guide book (with my own allowance) on common dog breeds and read it cover to cover. Identifying dog breeds while I was out and about grew to be a favorite pastime.
More than 20 years later, at long last, I have a dog of my own. His name is Bear. Bear is a shelter dog, likely a schnauzer-poodle mix, rescued from the mean streets of Long Beach when he was less than a year old. He’s still got youthful energy at about six years old. I must be doing something right.
My mom showed me how to look for blemish-free produce. She taught me to look for packaged meat that had the farthest sell-by date possible. She reminded me to double-check the expiration stamp on the milk. She made a show of examining every egg in the carton.
And after my mom watched every item ring up at the register, she scanned the receipt, line by line, making sure we paid the price as displayed on the shelf sticker. She remembered the exact price of every item she put into her cart. There were many trips up to the customer service counter to dispute an incorrect charge.
It was years later when I’d realize how little my parents took home from their blue-collar jobs. My mom did all the grocery shopping so it was logical that she would be meticulous about the items on her list. I cringe thinking about my poor attitude, every time we walked back into the store to point out mismatched dollars and cents. Sometimes I served as translator for my mom and did little to hide my irritation.
I’m not nearly as diligent of a grocery shopper as my mom was (and still is) but I do have a strange memory for price tags.
On the rare occasion that I do question an overcharge while in the checkout line, I think of my mom. I think of the petite, Asian woman, standing at the customer service counter of a suburban, Midwestern supermarket, pointing out the mistakes on her receipt. Her daughter stands beside her and watches, a little embarrassed, but also proud of her mother’s resolve.
Upon entering the drug store and turning the corner, I found myself staring at the shutters, stretched across the pharmacy countertop. I walked back to my car with a frustrated, dejected feeling, blaming myself for not checking the open hours before leaving the house. It was an optimistic, last-minute trip right before work, when time was most precious.
It was foolish to be spontaneous. Traveling anywhere in Los Angeles without a plan – even on routine trips – is a gamble. Scanning online reviews from three different sites and stalking Street View for two hours before leaving the house makes simple sense.
It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when I didn’t own a smart phone or know what the place looked like until I arrived. I received awful directions from several strangers: the gas station attendant, the customer at the gas pump next to me, the drug store employee. Eventually, I arrived to where I wanted to go, late and flustered. Why would I want to go back to that?
In getting lost, though, I was forced to “explore” and make wrong turns. I absorbed the street signs and landmarks around me. I took notice of my surroundings and committed parts my trip to memory. I was continually optimistic about the people I approached for help along the way.
The ceramics instructor demonstrated the basic steps to making a bowl on the pottery wheel, with what appeared to be minimal effort. My co-workers and I, all six of us, stood around and marveled at her skill.
Centering the clay on the wheel was the most challenging step. Once we completed a series of actions leading up to the point where the lump resembled a bowl, I surveyed my colleagues’ work. Each bowl-like configuration was unique to each other, as were our personalities:
As beginners in this medium, we each landed somewhere on a spectrum between aggression and caution. The aggressive and eager ended up with misshapen bowls, or bowls with asymmetric, concave lines. The cautious ended up with bowls that gave the appearance of symmetry, but in actuality were made up of structurally unsound walls: thin on one side, thick on the other. I fell into the latter camp.
Before class began, I walked into the studio with much anticipation. I envisioned myself being secretly gifted enough to create a beautiful bowl on the first try, but the vision didn’t pan out. As with yoga or painting, pottery is a practice…the more I learn, the more there is to learn.
We evolved to take the path of least resistance. We categorize everything that surrounds us because it’s easier for our brains to process broad ideas rather than zoom into minutiae. Black and white both have clear definition. Gray areas are uncertain. Gray areas contain more questions than answers.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs largely determine what we want to exert effort on. If foundational needs such as safety and stability are lacking, one will seek clear definition. If one’s cup is full in the areas of safety and stability, exploring the gray, great unknown is less likely to feel like a burden.