Margaret Atwood says, “The written word is so much like evidence -like something that can be used against you.” As someone aspiring to trade in words and phrases, I’m increasingly aware of the challenges of finding my authentic voice. I’m fearful at times because I know this kind of honesty demands a price, and attempting to write those words often extract a price at a high interest rate. I worry that I don’t have enough collateral to qualify for that loan, and even if I do, what will be the return on investment? Thankfully, investments like strength and wisdom aren’t finite and can be increased with time, effort, and commitment, even if frustratingly slow.
For example, a significant portion of my childhood involved disappointment at my inability to open jars. My Grandma, “Ma” as we called her, spent a lot of the summer months canning garden vegetables and summer fruits – a process that was intricate and time consuming and involved lots of mason jars along with many lids: lids consisting of two pieces which complicated their simplicity. A flat metal circle that suctioned to the top of the jar was then secured via a metal ring that completed the preserving of the contents. Of course, this was necessary for the vegetables and fruit to be properly preserved, but often resulted in very few ever actually being accessed, because no one, except those possessing herculean strength were able to actually open the jars.
Not that we didn’t try. The attempts to open these jars involved all kinds of creative albeit ineffective methods. I suppose that the methods employed had just enough antidotal evidence supporting their success that they continued to be passed from one generation to the next, like some sort of family meatloaf recipe. For instance, we would beat on the lid with spoons, making me think that aspiring drummers may have developed this method by accident. The beating rarely worked, but it was often paired with running the jars under hot water. If the jar remained obstinate after the beating and water boarding, still refusing to give up its contents, a towel was then draped over the jar. Surely the jar couldn’t resist what it couldn’t see coming? The jar was then pummeled with twists to the right and to the left, and to the right again. Cramping ensued, arthritis flared, gas was passed, but the jar remained tight as a constipated sphincter. Multiple family members would join the fray but to no avail. The jar remained closed, our efforts ineffective, and my family didn’t even eat meatloaf so there was never a recipe.
But my inability to open jars wasn’t limited to the delicacies in my Ma’s canneries, as there were a host of jars that served to taunt my appetites. Peanut butter, pickles, and in my childhood even pedestrian treats such as soda pop were locked behind inaccessible caps in glass and later plastic bottles. I imagine that this was the work of some subversive environmentalist doing their part to sabotage the industry, limiting the carbon footprint by tightening the bottle caps with such ferocity that only a NASCAR pit crew could successfully loosen the impenetrable lids and caps.
Even my Dad, arguably the strongest person in our household, one time met his match when he couldn’t open a glass Pepsi bottle. The glass bottles, forerunners of the plastic two liters, had a twist on cap that wouldn’t budge. My Dad applying all of his strength, engaging both his glutes and abs, managed to break the neck of the glass bottle off completely, yet the bottle cap remained tightly secured. Somewhere a tree hugging socialist laboring away in bitter servitude to capitalism received his wings.
Practically this meant that much of what I ended up eating were easily accessible products, even if they were less desirable than the treasures secured in the vaults of those jars. Bread and eggs were a staple, which made for a decent sandwich, but the addition of condiment dressing was dependent on whether or not the mayonnaise jar was feeling generous that day.
Like those uncooperative jars, there are lots of emotions that remain locked away inside of me. Emotions, memories, and thoughts, secured beneath impenetrable layers that require a great deal of effort to access. Because they are often too difficult to mine for their riches, I settle for less desirable, more mundane relationships and experiences. I engage in mindless distractions, cultivating a comfortable obscurity and missing the treasures of unfathomable mystery. Wonder and enchantment are traded for cheap thrills because they are more easily accessible and extract far less cost and commitment. The result is a life that is perhaps far wider with ease and acquaintances but shallow in meaning and purpose. Like a stripper mounting a pole fully clothed, it misses the point. Life ends up tasting like an egg sandwich without mayonnaise.
I’ll continue to make withdrawals from these memory banks in an effort to pay forward any wisdom that is worth reading. My traumas, experiences, emotions, along with religious and cultural idiosyncrasies make for a currency that fluctuates in value depending on those lives that resonate with my own, but whatever the return on investment I hope that in some small way these efforts will benefit some.
I hope to gain strength enough, so that opening remaining jars isn’t so difficult. Or at least earn enough wisdom to afford a can opener.