REPORT A PROBLEM
I’m almost done with my third stop-motion animation movie. This one took over a month to create. Finding the right storyline, figuring out how to convey emotions on pipe cleaners, creating a moveable set out of cereal box panels, taking about 500 pictures, editing every single one, uploading them onto iMovie, and deciding the different number of seconds of playing time for each individual frame. In a year or even a few months I’ll watch this movie and cringe seeing my rookie mistakes. But right now, I’m really pleased with how this huge undertaking has turned out.
Wiping sunflower butter over a blueberry, pressing two Cheerios on top. Tilting the blueberry, Cheerios positioned like eyes. Why not add a chocolate chip nose? Looks like an owl face. Rummaging through kitchen drawers, asking the location of toothpicks. Piercing thin wood through the top of the owl’s head, through its blueberry stomach, into a banana nest. Spreading sunflower butter along the top of the banana for a brown nest color. Making three more. Positioning the owls on a container’s lid, carrying the impromptu tray outside for an outdoor background. Deciding the pictures look better inside resting on an Easter-colored checkered tablecloth.
Bountiful beautiful baked black bean beet brownies, blindly breakfasted by Bob. Dad devoured; delicious, divine, dearth. Soliciting secret strands; should Snug say? Persistently picky pig, probably pass prospective palatable projects. Yet yielding your yearnings. Beets! Beans! Best brownies! Bitter, but better between building bites. Surprise, shock, suspicion. Serving some scandalous sections? Fear fends frightening foods from fostering fuels. Alright, already ate an auspicious alluring appetizer; ain’t awful. Maybe make me munch more, make monstrosity my minute meal. Smiling, serving several sections. Microwaved, melty mushy messy masterpiece. Delightfully devoured. Awful additions and all.
“You wanna take a peek at the kids on the playground?” “Yeah!” We exit the double glass doors and walk onto the concrete entryway. I feel calmer in the outside air, away from the crowd inside. “This week went by quickly, with going up and down the states....” She looks down, still trying to accept her grandmother’s recent death. I hold my arms in a V shape to offer her a hug. She smiles and accepts the hug. Even though I’m trying to do the comforting, she rubs my back and rocks me side to side. I give her a squeeze before letting go.
Things I have lost: a purple water bottle in the dining hall, a garden snail, tadpole, two guinea pigs, two cats, five wisdom teeth, ability to trust marital relationships, belief in family, a sister’s company, people I thought would be forever friends, willingness to eat animals, knee-jerk ‘no’ reaction to every new experience offered, depression from loneliness
Things I have found: apple cider vinegar, ability to approach strangers, an interest in movie making, happiness in communities, two people I thought were lost, an opening heart, independence, bravery, itchy plants, a fondness for snakes, knowing there are indeed potential friends out there
Some friendly advice: Don’t eat ice cream for breakfast. It is scrumptious, but the sugar load on an empty stomach will make you feel too hyper and unable to sit still and concentrate. iPhoto has buttons labeled “copy” and “paste.” Use these buttons to let the computer remember your adjustments so you don’t have to manually adjust the gazillion levels for every single picture in the set. Appreciate every moment spent doing what you love, because you never know when it will disappear. It will. Don’t decline every new experience even though it seems scary. It might be more fun than you think.
“Do you wanna stick around, maybe have lunch, go for a walk?” “A walk sounds good.” She’s a bit taller than me, but her strides are longer. At a cul-de-sac on a hill, I turn around and announce, “This is the view.” We look down at dark cedar trees on either side of a strip of gray/blue pavement. For a couple minutes we stand in silence, listening to the birds and an occasional dog. After enjoying the silence she turns to me with a grin. “Thanks for showing me this place.” We walk slower on the way back.
In the 7th inning, two people came on the field and led the whole stadium, even the baseball players, in a patriotic song. Everyone in the stadium stood up and sang along. Watching everyone go through the same motions of standing, singing, and seeing everyone chatting with their relatives, eating, it felt like a community. Even though nobody could know every single person who came, there was some sort of in-group connection between everyone in the stadium. I thought it was sad how this connection came from watching a sport while eating junk food.
“You throw like my brother! You don’t kick like him. Whoa! Arg,” my mom adds sound effects as my pipe cleaner characters move around and change emotions. At the end of my 4:54 minute movie, she turns to look at me. “That’s so good. It makes me want to cry.” After two months, my stop-motion animation movie is finally finished. Its positive feedback makes every frustration worthwhile. My mom and I played double Solitare while my movie was uploading onto Facebook. At the end of each round I scurried into the living room to check the movie’s progress. When it was finally loaded, I felt celebratory. And so did my mom.
Writing dialogue for a new movie feels odd after wracking my brains to find a way of silently conveying information with body language and expressions. Written dialogue sounds so cheesy because of its grammatical correctness. It leaves out stuttering, repeating words, and a mess of grammar mistakes. No real person talks as well as characters in a book, which makes story chit chat sound phony. But if written dialogue includes the stuttering, repetition, and mistakes, the reader won’t be able to follow the meaning because he will get lost in the tornado of mismatched words and symbols.
Things fear has taken over: not going to the theater to see Inside Out because of sitting in a dark room with hundreds of strangers, putting off a playdate with a classmate, not going to the beach because of the long car trip and week away from every friend I have, didn’t say bye to a friendly staff member from school because of the uptight feeling I get being in a small room, didn’t walk across the baseball stadium to see if the blond lady was indeed a teacher, avoiding a family get-together because I feel suffocated being around ten people while not having anyone to talk to.
Things conquered because I ignored fear: volunteering at an animal place even though it is in an unfamiliar building in an unfamiliar part of town with unfamiliar people, texting classmates even though I don’t know my peers’ social codes of conduct, accepting an on-campus job, saying yes to seeing a baseball game, saying yes to attending church with a friend even though I’m not religious and she has a huge family she wants me to meet and what if I disappoint them because of my views, seeing a hoard of crushing tents at the market but entering it anyway and having a blast.
“Here, you want to sit too?” She scooches to the side to make room for me to sit on the other end of the foldable market table. She cautions, “We’ll have to keep an eye out for the car, because I’m not sure we’re supposed to sit on these.” While waiting for her ride to arrive, we talk about pizza, zucchini crust, and different types of flour. All around us other venders take down their stands. I jump up when I see the familiar brown van pull onto the grass. With three people, the red tent folds without a hitch.
A lady asks, trying to find the connection between me and my vender friend, “And you work at the market...?” “I used to,” I answer, feeling that this topic is more complicated than the lady bargained for. Looking at me, my friend chirps, “You might as well, right. You were helping me out yesterday.” In an easier tone I reply, “Well, with the utensils.” I’d gotten plasticware out of the gallon-sized Ziplock bag and handed them either to her or the customers. My friend explains to the lady, “She keeps me company and makes sure I don’t get bored.”
Six graham crackers pulverized by a food processor. Skippy honey roasted peanut butter melts with salted cow butter in a microwave. The liquid tan and yellow spiral into each other as they’re whisked together. More chopping, more grinding, the three ingredients become one. The gritty mass smooshes against the bottom of a square pan. A variety of chocolate chips clatters into the bowl. A spoonful of Skippy honey roasted plops on top. Slide into the microwave for a minute. Hot peanut liquid completes the chocolate’s melting process. Dark brown chocolatey gloop smears over the peanut butter graham cracker crumbs. Chilling.
“We could always watch a classic, like Mary Poppins,” my dad suggests. I look down and eat my zucchini pizza crust in silence. Last time I watched Mary Poppins, it was the first night we spent at my mom’s new apartment. Because I’d accidentally turned the seldom-used cell phone off, my dad’s goodnight call didn’t reach us. He panicked and drove to the apartment. His banging on the front door shook the walls. He was so stony towards my mom. No hint of a sign that they’d spent the last eighteen years together. Mary Poppins is ruined.
“Ok. C’mere. Come here,” she says, beckoning me to stand with her behind a large mailbox. She plants her gray sneakers firmly on the clover patch with about seven inches of space between her feet. “I’m thinking it might be, but it might be something else.... In between my feet!” I crouch down and scan the smaller area. “You’re getting closer,” she encourages softly. “Walk your little fingers over.” All greenery still looking the same, I move my right hand closer to the toe of her shoe. Then I see it, a clover different from all the rest, right by my fingers. “Wow! How did you find that?!”
“We’re going out in public. I’ve just realized that,” my sister remarks in horror from the back seat. I laugh from the driver’s seat, “You’ve just realized that?” I’m dressed as a wizard, my sister’s a pirate, and my cousin has a big white tutu. We drive to McDonalds to get ice cream, then walk to a bench and eat. It’s becoming tradition to dress in costumes and sit in a public place, just for fun. Passersby either ignore us, smile, smile and wave, or look back at us. It feels good to give people a reason to smile genuinely like that.
I’m sick of the “family” term that keeps being thrown around. “But family can see it, right?” “It runs in the family.” “Got caught up in the family time.” It’s as if it’s something special to spend time with blood relatives. Being related doesn’t automatically give you warm fuzzy feelings toward another. Example: My dad hates his parents; he never sees them. Having the same blood or a marriage contract isn’t what keeps people together. I’d rather a solid relationship built on shared memories and trust, no matter if related or not.
I like hearing different perspectives, even if I don’t agree with them. I love books that include more than one character’s point of view, and hearing different ideas is kind of like that. In a philosophical book on CD my mom was listening to, the reader said, “98% of the population believes in something. And 100% of them believe they are right.” With a gazillion beliefs out there, who’s to say that any one of them is right or wrong? I think acceptance is a better thing to strive for than conversion.
The “Move It” song from Madagascar booms from the computer. I copy my cousin’s confident dance moves, twisting my feet and waving my arms pell mell style. I glance out the window and see headlights coming down the driveway. “Dad’s home. Can we dance upstairs? I’d feel much more comfortable out of sight.” My cousin screams and rushes to the computer to exit out of YouTube. She and my sister scamper upstairs. I act calm, pretending I wasn’t just dancing, something I only do when feeling goofy with those two girls. Upstairs, behind the close door, we continue.
Sitting by the side of the pool, my cousin’s pop songs thundering on the iPod, the lyrics about kissing. Yuck. My cousin is five years younger than me, yet she seems much older. She knows what’s popular and has had boyfriends since sixth grade. “Have you ever kissed a boyfriend?” I ask out of the blue. She turns to look at me with a seriously-you’re-asking-me-this? expression, still laying on the diving board. I look at her earnestly. Her expression relaxes, knowing I’m clueless about these things. I’m happy to remain clueless.
My sister and cousin took it upon themselves to come up with a list of things I should do in order to be like today’s kids. Go clothes shopping, don’t wear socks with sandals, get a boyfriend, don’t be so weird, stay up until 1am studying or hanging out or doing nothing, wear makeup, listen to pop music. While I am curious about the strange creature labeled “teenager,” I wouldn’t be happy being one of them. I’m going to continue going grocery shopping, wearing sneakers, foregoing dating, being weird, 10pm bedtime, no makeup, listening to heavy metal. That is me.
I visited a church with a friend. The preacher said that he and his brother used to be best friends until his brother became a Jehova witness. Now they won’t speak to each other. I don’t know anything about Jehova witnesses, but it sounds crazy to shun someone just because they believe in something different. It’s like the Salem witch trials all over again, banishing people who are different just because they don’t live the life that the majority of the population follows. I think it all goes back to people being scared of anything that’s unusual.
“Best. Package. Ever.” I present a USPS package to the naturalists. Both their faces light up. “It came!” one exclaims. She slices apart the tape and opens the flaps. She sniffs the inside of the box. “It doesn’t smell dead, not like the last time.” She holds up the box so I can sniff it. It smells faintly of the mealworm container in the back room. The naturalist holds the open box to her ear and smiles. She stands up and holds it close to my ear. The tiny mealworm teeth tearing into the egg carton sounds exactly like snow falling.
“What time will I see you tomorrow?” one man asks. “About seven,” the other man answers. The first man waves to me and heads out. The second looks at me. “Why are you smiling?” How can I explain? I love how venders become friends. No competition, just support and good will. Instead I raise my hands to show him my latest find. “A dead June bug.” “Next time you find a live one, tie a string around one of its legs, let it go, and watch it fly from the end of the string.” “Wow! You’ve done that?” “Sure I have! Sixty years ago. But I did it.”
George Lucas and Steven Spielberg continued wearing jeans when they became millionaires. This is what the juvenile biography books said, so I assume they continued living modestly and put their extra money into funding special effect companies like THX. Both directors are divorced. It feels like divorce is inevitable. Perhaps the more money you earn, the less you need a spouse to earn money, the less you need a spouse at all. But if you don’t make much money and your spouse is doing an equal amount of work, then you need them and make an effort to hold onto them tighter.
What is the purpose of music, movies, books? Does art give more to the creator than the audience? Does art take away the audience’s imagination by showing the details and outcome of a story? I think art gives the audience a world to mull over and relate to their own life. Writing and listening to music gives sound to tricky tangled emotions. Movies show how characters overcome tough situations and inspire the artist and audience to push on. Books help writers and readers figure out the world by illustrating a simplified version of reality and humanity. Art helps viewers interpret their world.
“I figure most these things we can get from your vender friend.” My grandmother shows me her short grocery list of veggies for tonight’s salad. I walk with her and my grandfather on the pavement trail that winds through the market. We approach the orange table brimming with tomatoes. Between my grandparents’ shoulders, I see my friend looking at me, smiling with both her lips and eyes. ‘I know you,’ they convey. I flash an awkward smile and look down at the muddy ground covered in straw. All this flip flopping from coldness, ignorance, and happiness confuses me.
A blue and green chameleon clings to a thin strand of shoulder-high brown weed grass. I pick it up and put it on the ground, intending to play with it. Don’t know exactly what I’ll do with it, but I want to interact with it. The chameleon’s skin changes to red and black, its angry colors. I run on a path between the tall grass while the chameleon chases me, hissing and snarling. I run into a bathroom and slam the door, leaning against it, panting. I crack open the door. The small lizard stands on the other side, ready to bite me.
Once in a Blue Moon: pinned enough bugs to cover the whole styrofoam board, was encouraged to use Cheerios and dead bugs in future stop-motion movies, lost three rounds of double solitaire, felt awed walking in the backyard of a place I’ve grown up in, went down two slides on a rarely empty playground, plucked a four leaf clover, mulled over how the right people make life worth living, ate chocolate ice cream with peanut butter veins for dinner, took detailed pictures of the full moon that showed her craters, read my high school teacher’s book, went to bed feeling at peace with my place in the world.
The Tip Jar