Paver Stones

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A hundred and twenty paver stones from an unearthed patio are stacked in front of our garage door. I'm not bothered by their presence; no one parks in the garage, they're in the way of nothing. My husband Patrick talks about putting them on Craigslist for a while. He takes a photo but stops there. I feel proactive one evening, so I post the photo along with an appropriately concise description: "Lot of approximately 120 paver / patio stones. Each measures 15.5" x 7.5" x 1.75". $100 OBO for entire lot."

The price was Patrick's suggestion. It seems like a lot to me, but I know nothing about paver stones, and there are no comparative listings for reference.

A man named Bill emails with an offer of $25.

"Someone named Bill offered $25," I tell Patrick.

"Ask for $50," he says.

"We can do $50," I reply.

I don't hear back for two days. I assume Bill's boat has sailed.

His response comes at 12:30 am on the third day. "hi," he writes, no caps of any kind. "the only reason i offered you that low of an offer is that i got some of these same pavers for free - the owner told me i was the only call for them - i will wait to see if you sell them - thank you - bill."

I read and reread it at 4am, when I have woken up early for no reason. I tell myself that the reply is literal, that the anonymity of Craigslist inhibits Bill from knowing anything about me other than my zip code and a random series of 32 characters that replaces my email address. I suppose he can see the corner of our garage door in the photo but that does not give away my gender. Still, I feel the spreading burn of condescension that I so often felt as a young woman when a man decided to tell me how the world worked. All of it is concentrated into that one sentence: "i will wait to see if you sell them." Not, "let me know if you don't sell them," not even the more aggressive, "i doubt you'll sell them." Bill went with: "i will hang back and watch you fail. then i'll swoop in and do you the favor of taking your goods at no cost while smugly smiling down at your petty foolishness."

I consider my options:

Bill,

That's so kind of you to wait. I'm happy to send daily status updates. 

Bill,

I wouldn't let you take these paver stones off my hands if you were Robert Mueller and they were evidence in Trump's collusion with Russia.

Bill,

Wow—I guess I am in over my head with these paver stones! Feel free to swing by later and grab them. Tonight's chicken pot pie night if you want to stop up for a bite!

I imagine grinding the paver stones into a fine powder and adding a spoonful to Bill's breakfast every day until he shits concrete.

I reflect thoughtfully on my anger. I will not reply to Bill. I am a woman in America.

A Woeful State of Planning

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I have a problem with planners. Last year I purchased three, and none during Planner Season (November through January), when one has their pick from a bounty of pre-dated agendas that make you think: Yes, now I can confidently conquer this calendar year and emerge a better, more goal-oriented version of myself. I waited until March, when all that's left is florally bullshit or planners with no dates. Obviously, I opted for the latter.

The first was a 5x8, teal specimen made by Ardium. I probably fell victim to a facebook ad in a moment of organizational vulnerability and was appropriately punished for my spontaneity: the Ardium was charming, but too stiff. It wouldn't stay open on its own, which made it challenging to do all the tedious writing-in of dates required in a dateless calendar. I used it for three weeks. It had to go.

The second was a Passion Planner, which I read about on Esmé Weijun Wang's blog. It was stunning: large, pliable, strategically interspersed with goal-setting guides that would naturally stand in as life coaches, zapping me throughout the year with volts of inspiration. At the back, a stack of crisp, blank grid paper waited to be messily polluted with ideas. I made lists of albums I wanted to buy, sketched the blueprint of a coffee table I'm unqualified to build. From April to September I carried the Passion with me everywhere until one day at Barnes and Noble I spotted a

Red Moleskine Pocket Planner. I've always wanted to be the kind of person that keeps a planner in the back pocket of her jeans! And a red one, no less: a color that would fool strangers into thinking I'm more exciting than my wardrobe suggests. I used it for exactly two months because tiny planners are meant for tiny people with tiny ideas and I am neither.

Disillusioned, I went back to the Passion. It made the most dimensional sense, and also I couldn't live with having wasted upwards of $70 on planners I didn't use. The benefit of a dateless planner is that you can break from it for any length of time and have wasted no space. The dateless planner is like an obedient dog waiting outside the convenient store while you decide whether fingertip Bandaids are worth the extra two bucks (they are). The dog doesn't care; it'll be there waiting when you come out with your fancy butterfly bandages.

The planners of my past faced much less scrutiny. Aside from a diehard At-A-Glance phase, I have often used whatever planner was supplied to me by an educational institution. The last planner I purchased before this period of turbulence was a sort of travel-themed chunky number with little sketches of bicycles throughout; I decoupaged its mediocre cover but over time grew fond of its cutesy insides with their quotes about wanderlust. I used it to capacity and even got a little sentimental at its passing.

Here's what I think changed: most planning has moved to the web. My work meetings appear on a dreadfully utilitarian Outlook calendar, my personal stuff on Google, and local events stay in Facebook, where I will be periodically reminded of their impeding occurrence. ("Why don't you just put everything on your Outlook calendar?" my boss asks. I look at her as though she has asked why I don't buy a pair of velcro power-walker sneakers.) I balk at web calendars but keep them active because, as a person existing in whatever this era is called, that is expected of me. By this point I should have distilled all matter of my existence into one device that never leaves my person. Its constant companionship provides me with immediate access to meeting times, phone numbers, birthdays, recipes, library due dates, and lists of whatever junk I currently need from Target. This is, admittedly, convenient, but also epically dissatisfying and un-fun.

And—cloud or no cloud—I'll never believe the stuff of my phone has any degree of permanence.

But this is not quite about my luddism. On a luddism scale of 1 to 10—one being the kind of person with a smart doorbell and 10 being that guy who lived in isolation in the Maine wilderness for 27 years—I'm somewhere around a 6.5.  I own a smartphone, but won't use Siri. I'm appalled at the discontinuation of things like the headphone jack and the optical disc drive. The thought of getting an entire uncooked meal delivered to my door feels no different than paying a homeless person to shine my shoes. And I just referenced Siri though have no idea if that software is still relevant or if it's even referred to as "software."

This middle-of-the-road modern luddism is not a simple curmudgeonly refusal to embrace new technology; it is a terrible in-betweenness, a sticky tar of romance and nostalgia. I buy into specific technologies when it becomes clear that it is harder not to, but until then, I exist in this liminal space darkened by the presence of useless objects whose former relevancy lingers like a sad ghost.

The planner, I suppose, nearly lost its place in the hierarchy of needed objects but was resurrected, much like vinyl, by those of us unwilling to accept its ruin. It has been reimagined as something artistic and inspiring and fun, like that cool girl you meet at a party who wears overalls and plays clarinet in a marching band (consequently, this was me at 13, and back then it was far from cool—what changed???). Planners are a quiet riot against the onslaught of digital organization, a reminder that crossing things off an actual list will always be more satiating than its modern counterpart. (If you're not convinced just watch this FUN VIDEO.)

And yet, I am still woefully dissatisfied with the state of my planning. Given that plans predominantly come to being on the web, maintaining a planner is now a chore of copying things into reality. I prefer paper but also prefer a life in which I don't have to work so hard to exercise this preference. My struggle to find the perfect planner is actually a struggle to deny the planner's evolution, to stave off a future in which planners go the way of 35mm film. This will be a sad, colorless time built on the precariousness of a digital fantasy.

In the meantime, I return to my Passion Planner and its tangible heft, its expansive white spaces hungry for my ink and my dates and my ambitions. If I forget to update it, I write reminders on post-its that I stick to my laptop. The whole cycle is a masterpiece of mixed-media, guiding my voyage through whatever this era is called.

Here Lies #1: The Green Suitcase

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I recently read a Huffington Post blog about de-cluttering, the kind that makes you feel ridiculous for having clung onto the variety of crap that weeds up tiny apartments: memorabilia, kitchen gadgets, archaic forms of media. The reading propelled me into a jettison frenzy, combing the house for stuff. Stuff I haven't worn since two apartments ago. Stuff I never read and—let's be honest—am never going to make the time to read. Stuff whose initial freeness convinced me that I could find a use for it. An expedition permeated with moments of waving an object in the air and asking, "Why do I have this?!?" before shaking my head and dropping said trash into a recycled paper bag. It's liberating. And because it's so liberating, I've kept that Huffington Post blog an open tab on my desktop for three weeks so that every time I open my laptop I am reminded to throw something away. I have since parted ways with the following items: a stack of paperwork pertaining to a defunct 401K account, two pairs of unworn earrings I found tucked into my checkbook wallet, copies of my grad school application (on paper and compact disc), a box of < 500 since-updated business cards, that backup bottle of eyeglass spray cleaner, and a package of don't-actually-hold-your-hair bobby pins.

In an effort to keep this going and make it more entertaining , I've decided to post about every moderately significant object (in size or merit) I discard. This is both an exercise in letting go and a testament to the wisdom that writing is the best form of remembering. In this case, not remembering the object as much as its history, or sometimes my history of believing in its necessity.

Here Lies #1: The Green Suitcase

The green suitcase is the first suitcase I ever owned. I purchased it from Target in 2005. My choice was based on its shade: an electric neon green, the same green of a pair of shoelaces I had cherished in high school. I was twenty-four, living in Rhode Island, and preparing to travel south to a wedding in North Carolina with my then-boyfriend and a handful of his friends that I didn't really care about who didn't really care about me either. Five of us left at midnight and drove the twelve hours in a minivan with a little television mounted to the ceiling. It was June and we hit hot traffic in D.C. I leaned my head against the car window, watching steam rise from the pavement and make Monets of the landscape.

Our hotel had a pool and my boyfriend had disappeared to attend to wedding party responsibilities. I happily spent an afternoon reading The DaVinci Code on a complimentary towel. One of the friends said, "I'm just not into popular fiction." I defended my book choice by saying that I was taking a summer art history course. We gracefully fulfilled every stereotype we had assigned each other.

unctreesThe wedding was held in a swank ballroom at the University of North Carolina. Finely framed portraiture scaled the walls and the sounds of a live string quartet came from somewhere unseen. The brides maid dresses and groomsmen ties were the same shade of green as my suitcase. This made me realize, for the first time, that weddings didn't need to be stuffed full of unjustifiable and painful tradition. The whole event was a confluence of tattoos and old money, swirled in this surprisingly tasteful fashion.

A beautiful Southern porch stretched off the building and faced an immaculate lawn shaded by oak trees. I spent much of the evening out there, sipping something nonalcoholic, leaning against a stone railing and staring at the campus, thinking about being someone else—a bridesmaid, a UNC student, a banquet waitress. I didn't have it bad; I just had it bad enough to be curious.

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The green suitcase occupies half of the top shelf in my hallway closet—prime real estate in a three-room apartment. It is on wheels but at some point lost the feet that counterbalance its weight; now one must lean it against a thigh or a counter for stability. It has since been relegated to relocation purposes, carting DVDs or audio equipment from one apartment to the next. It's green still glows from among darker closet hues, but that is not enough to necessitate its stay. In its absence, that green will remain—in a dish towel, a vase, a set of nesting measuring bowls—tracing a neon stripe into the future.