Friday, February 25, 2011

"Is That An Anus?"

Anne Lamott is one of my favorite authors. She’s written a bunch of novels and a couple of books of essays, but she’s probably most well known for her book about writing, Bird By Bird. In it, she talks about how daunting it can be to make up characters and then have them go do things. There’s so much that goes into creating a fictional world that the whole process can become overwhelming. It’s tempting to say, “I don’t know what the hell these people are supposed to do,” and then just drop the project and go eat chocolate. So what she does to combat this, is she keeps a tiny, 2”x2” frame on her writing desk – an empty frame – and this trinket is there to remind her that all she needs to write, at any given moment, is whatever she can “see” in that 2x2” frame.

I could expound a bit on what she means by that, except this post isn’t about writing. It’s about frames. So I’ve already said all that needs to be said about Frames on Desks. Which is that, basically, they can be there simply as reminders.

In a past post, I’ve discussed The Stealing Game that I play with my neighbors. Everyone brings a wrapped white elephant gift – a gift that they themselves have received that they have no use for – and each person gets to pick a present from the pile and, essentially, take home someone else’s rejects.

There is stealing involved, but this, too, is not germane to the story.

Each year, after the holidays, my tennis group also gets together for a White Elephant Exchange. This year the gifts were all displayed in front of the fireplace, and we sat around Shelley’s living room, drinking wine and acting civilized. There isn’t the same cut-throat tension in the room when my tennis group plays this game. The real “entertainment” isn’t so much in the stealing, it’s more about what people wrap up to give away.

Shelley and Ann sat next to each other, close to the gift pile. Shelley picked up a gift bag when it was her turn and started pulling things out of it. I can’t remember all that was in it. One thing may have been a special light that screws onto your faucet and makes your water look bright blue. The last thing she pulled out was a picture frame. It was a small oval with an opening about 2 x 2.5.” It was the kind you’d put a tiny portrait in, but this frame came with a photograph already in it: a pink daisy with a black pistil (center). The photograph was cropped close and tight; mostly what you could see was the pistil, a dark organic looking center surrounded by bits of delicate pink membrane.

Ann craned her head around to look at it. “Hey, is that an anus?” she asked.

Ann is like a 40-something version of Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blond. Pink is their signature color and each of them is informed by a cheerfulness that is unfaltering, even on their darkest days.

“It’s a daisy,” someone corrected.

“Really?” said Ann. She went on to explain that she has a chocolate lab and from a certain vantage point, the photo looks a lot like the dog’s anus.

We speculated a bit, as a group, what sort of marketing strategy might lead a frame manufacturer to fill its frames with photos of anuses. (It’s not “ani” – I checked.) And soon, once Ann herself could see photograph as a daisy rather than an anus, we moved on to finish the game.

I ended up with the framed daisy/anus. I didn’t steal it; Shelley offered it to me and I accepted. I don’t usually like coming home with anything from these events, committed as I am to getting rid of things. But there was something about this photograph that I needed.

The great irony is that Ann is a woman who would normally look at a photograph of an anus and ask if it was a daisy. That’s just how she looks at the world. It’s usually me who would make the mistake that she had.

So I keep the frame on my desk, with the daisy/anus staring right at me. It reminds me that we always have a choice about how we perceive things. And that sometimes it only takes a tiny shift to move from seeing something as an anus to seeing it as a big, fresh, vibrant daisy.

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