My husband called me from the road last month. He had just dropped his mother off at her home in Milan, Tennessee, and was headed back to our home in Chattanooga.
"I just passed the Laundromat where I sucked the stuff out of a hollow chair leg when I was 5," he said.
Coincidentally, I happened to be doing laundry when he called. I recoiled from the dryer and screamed. I could taste the cocktail of metal chair filings, lint and gritty shoe dirt he has so vividly described in the past. And then I remembered my own Laundromat moment, which unfolded not at a Laundromat but in my childhood bedroom. It was there that I decided, for reasons unknown, that I should suck on the plastic flowers on the corner of my desk. I was about 8 at the time, and I suppose I thought they might have flavors that matched their pastel hues. They did not. What they did have was a thick netting of human hair wrapped around their petals, much of which went slithering down my throat.
Besides having cringe-worthy conversations with my husband last month, I also worked on two pet portrait commissions for a woman in St. Joseph, Michigan, who, each time I texted her progress photos, responded with how disappointed she was. For a month she kept up a tirade of complaints and suggestions, until, miraculously, she decided they were ready to ship. When she received them she complained the edges of the canvas were not polished enough. When I sent an invoice, she said she could not open it; when I sent the invoice again, she said she still could not open it; and when I finally sent a screen shot of the invoice, she said I'd overcharged her.
When at last her check arrived in the mail, I'd already made two important New Year's decisions. One was to never paint again. The other was to throw away my old bras. I'm not sure if one had anything to do with the other. All I knew was that I wanted to dispense with what was no longer working for me, and at that moment, it was acrylics and underwire.
That evening I told my husband my plan to dispense with what was no longer working in my life. His eyes grew wide.
"I promise I'll try harder," he said.
He's safe, of course. You can't dispense with a guy who has a Laundromat chair-suck in his history, because no matter what shudder-inducing thing you yourself have done, even if it's mouthing a bouquet of plastic flowers laced with human hair, you'll always look like the smart one.
But there's plenty else I'd like to dispense with. War comes to mind. As does animal abuse, homelessness, bigotry and forest fires, to name just a few things. On a personal note, in addition to the old bras and the negative painting energy, I'd like to dispense with my insatiable Frito cravings and the perpetual ache in my left shoulder. I'd also like to never again hear the little dinger on my car that lets me know when a tire has lost a tiny gasp of air due to a micro degree of change in atmospheric temperature. This last is a special thorn.
And there's one more thing. I'd like to get rid of ingratitude. Globally would be nice, but I'll start with myself. Ingratitude is that frame of mind I've just dedicated several paragraphs to, whereby I focus on the things that plague and annoy me while giving no brain space to appreciating the things that comfort and please me.
Gratitude is a catchword that's become a cliché, but I find that each time I come across it in print, I give more time to it in practice. Bad things happen, and always will. But when I appreciate the truly tiny — a call from my husband to say sucking out a chair leg never ends well, for example, or the fact that the annoying car still runs — then I feel less like I'm swallowing the unpleasantness of life and more like I'm tasting the colors.
Email Dana at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Facebook at Dana Shavin Writes. Her website is Danashavin.com.