Today I was running with Tember and I was in the home stretch, about two minutes from our house. Up ahead, I saw a couple of 7 or 8 year-old girls with a mother, packing up what looked to be a lemonade stand. I started bracing myself to refuse their lemonade since I didn’t have any money. (Little kids that age are relentless. I once had one of them sell me a cup after she was out of lemonade. She took my money, poured a tablespoon of lemonade, which was all that remained in the pitcher, and handed me the cup.)
Instead, as I approached, one of the girls said, “You wanna paper?” She held out an edition of the “Naborhood News” for me, and just as her mother was saying, “honey, he’s running,” I grabbed it and said thanks. I don’t believe I was supposed to pay, but now that I think about it, geez. Maybe.
I started reading the paper immediately. I contained three headlines:
- Anna is a new Baby
- Anna Jaye Snortswen (here, the ‘a’ in Jaye is crossed out)
- Girl Brok Hand at Hiatten Green
At the bottom, it says, “thats all the news.” The headlines are encircled in yellow, blue, and pink marker. The Naborhood News title is underlined in green. And then, floating on the left side of the page is the word “stop.” It doesn’t appear to be related to anything else on the page.
I gather the following: Somewhere in this neighborhood, a new baby was born. Her name is Anna. Her last name is probably not Snortswen*. Some adult told a story about how the baby laughs. And in other news, a girl in the neighborhood broke her hand — more likely her wrist or a finger — at the neighborhood playground, which is called Hillington Green. Oh yeah, and that’s all the news.
On the one hand, I can see how this project of handing out the Naborhood News is just a matter of kids imitating adults. But I prefer to see something larger in it. I see it as an extension of our herd instinct. We’re humans. We gather together in places where there are other people. Even if we say we don’t like other people. We express, we communicate, we tell stories only because there’s a potential audience.
(There’s a PBS special on this very topic, incidentally. I haven’t seen any of it, but I should.)
Last week, I was at this Writing “retreat” all week. It was more like a one-week class or series of workshops than a retreat, but. There was this one guy there who was speaking about non-fiction writing. He turned out to be one of the less impressive speakers, actually, but he did say something interesting. He began his spiel by saying, “you should take time to write about the life you are living becuase no one else will do it. We have an obligation to pass onto our children” a record of our existence.
He echoed an Eels song I heard for the first time a couple months ago called “Things the Grandchildren Should Know,” which is a very simple song, but which struck me with the following lines:
I’m the only one who knows what it’s like
So I thought I’d better tell you
Before I leave
The speaker in the poem/song confesses to be something of a hermit:
I don’t leave the house much
I don’t like being around people
Makes me nervous and weird
I don’t like going to shows either
It’s better for me to stay home
Some might think it means i hate people
But that’s not quite right
But as you can see, there’s a hint of wanting a connection. In the next verse, he expounds on this:
I got a dog
I take him for a walk
And all the people like to say hello
I’m used to staring down at the sidewalk cracks
I’m learning how to say hello
Without too much trouble
And then he really becomes human when he mentions his strongest connection:
I’m turning out just like my father
Though i swore i never would
Now i can say that i have a love for him
I never really understood
What it must have been like for him
Living inside his head
I feel like he’s here with me now
Even though he’s dead
The song is not at all lyrical. In fact, it’s downright awkward. But I suppose that might have been part of what he was going for.
I feel silly every once in a while, writing down random observations and sticking them up in a public space that most people will never see. It’s like that guy who graffitied his life story in subway tunnels in New York. It sometimes seems pointless.
But it’s not.
*(I’m a loser. I actually looked up Snortswen in the phone book to see if any exist. I found a Sniff, a Snortum, and a Snouffer, but no Snortswen.)