This is the personal essay I wrote in the fall of 2010 for my “Creative Non-Fiction” class that made my professor, the brilliant Thorpe Moeckel, observe that I “loved sentences.” He was right, I do.
I have several stories and observations about this particular essay and I think next week I will share a story that examines its narrative structure while also talking about rejection. But before you read it today, I want to note a few things. This essay was written before I was diagnosed with my dairy allergy, making mention of my “continual aches.” I wrote this at a time in my life where I just assumed that eating was painful and my friends were constantly pointing out my pain, begging me to go to a doctor and get it figured out. That next summer I would.
I also remembered an important life lesson while re-reading this about the one-at-a-time method of gifting something to someone. I have a tendency to overwhelm. Want to borrow a book? Here are 15 of them! But the marble a day attitude allows you to savor and enjoy. It is one that I will try to embrace again when it comes to my own enthusiasm.
Of Marbles to Bears
Kylie Louise McCormick
I am perpetually enthralled.
I used to sit for hours feeling the smooth glass of marbles, round and curve, against the palm of my hand. I’d start inspecting one, looking at its color against my own, whether it was see-through or supposedly too opaque to let in light (those were my favorites). Then I would lie on the red carpet in my basement and hold them up, one by one, to the light staring. Enthralled by the light transforming the thick solid colors, this would last until my eyes grew tired.
I did not know any traditional marble games. The ones that I tried to learn left my fingers feeling sore and abused. Instead, I settled for organizing and re-organizing my growing collection, always returning to old favorites. Such as the large shooter marble that had a chip against the smooth glass, giving it a top and bottom in my mind. When held up to one eye and peered through, its clear green would color the world like a light jungle, wet and fresh. Another was the fascinating clear marble with the band of blue twisting in the middle, seemingly hovering in space. But by far my favorite was the irregular small dark marble with just a deep dot of royal purple springing up from its depths. The dark colors and small size made it seem regal in my hand where it would sit like a little queen. Even with my eyes closed I could pick it out of a group. I kept it in my pocket, rolling it between my fingers and thumb most days until the day I lost it.
Playing house alone in my basement the mother had made a fine soup with my marble and as the daughter I was scooping invisible mouthful after mouthful. A year and a half later I would break down in the dressing room of the doctor’s office, putting on a gown to get a stomach x-ray. Through tears I confessed my fear they would find my marble rolling around the lining, the secret cause of my continual aches.
That was the last time I played with marbles, and I had forgotten my fascination with them until this summer. While cleaning a campsite I found six marbles buried in the sand. Each came to me as individuals, pulling themselves up from the grains, as precious as pearls lost by a clam. Upon finding one I would sit around the hole we were digging to be our campfire and inspect. A singular glass marble contains enough wonder to enthrall me for a good long while. By the end, I had a handful. Yet, I felt as though I knew each one personally, as though we had all become friends. The unfortunate thing about marbles is that they easily lose their individuality. When in a group of six or more the marbles become too plentiful to sit and allow your mind to wander through the unique singular marble. Sitting with all six rolling around in my hands I looked up at my mother standing over me and told her promptly, “If you ever buy me marbles again, give them to me one by one, a single marble a day.”
To enthrall, figuratively: to delight, to enslave. Can slavery be delightful? What type of chains am I bonding myself to? Certainly I find myself enthralled. Oxford English Dictionary traces the word back to 1576, where Newton warns “A man should not give over or enthrall his credit and honour to Harlots.” What is it to be enthralled to a harlot? To be a slave to the movement of bodies, the art of selling love; to bond your honor to a carnal nomad. Can a word be so seductive to make you forgo your studies, all credit you would have earned?
En-thrall: to en-slave. If a thrall is a slave, does that “all” serve to be inclusive? Are we all thralls to life? Feel the word roll around inside your mouth, round and curve against the roof, slipping hard against the back of your tongue and throat before slipping down slightly and forcefully like a mis-swallowed marble: enthrall, enthrall, enthrall, enthrall, enthrall, enthrall. Does it lose its enchantment after six or more times of saying it?
When I was old enough to know better, on a long car ride through Nebraska, I pressed my face up against the backseat window smiling at everyone we passed. I tallied the reactions in three categories: 1. Smiled back/positive acknowledgment (such as waving), 2. Did not look or see me, and 3. Negative reaction/blank stares. While my first and third columns competed for the most tallies, the positive feedback eventually winning over by a small margin, the second column remained low. I continued this until my father noticed and I got a “talking to” about smiling at truck drivers. Looking back over what I argued to be my scientific results, I pondered the middle column. Could it be that strangers are just as enthralled as me?
Despite the “talking to,” the captivating nature of strangers has followed me through to today, although now I focus on individuals instead of strangers as a whole. I have done this through what I call a series of “Hello-Hello Relationships.” A Hello-Hello Relationship is a process I go through with random strangers over a period of months. First I identify a stranger I see most every day, or every other day at a particular place. Then I start acknowledging them: making eye contact, smiling, nodding my head (if you are from a rural town you know the classic nod one gives when driving down a dirt road and meeting a fellow wanderer). This first stage of acknowledgment lasts three to four weeks. By now, I have established a connection. The second stage is moving into actual contact: I will wave, or verbally say hello when I see them. It is important to be enthused, but not too much so—try your best to seem friendly and approachable. This will catch them off guard if done too soon, but do not pull back contact once initiated. Now give this greeting one and a half months. One day be busy while you are walking down the familiar path; if the person says hello to you before you see them, then you have succeeded. You can continue this until an opportune time to end the relationship, by introducing yourself, arises: “Hi, we have been saying hello to each other for months, my name is…” Always shake their hand; it is the only proper way to end something.
I am a thrall to my wonders and curiosities. Perhaps, that is why the long list of nicknames given to my Hello-Hellos continues to grow. Brown Eyes, Adam Sandler, Polite Wrestler Boy, Boy with Hat, the list goes on and I find myself wondering who will be next? It may be that is the reason Newton specified Harlots in the plural. The fascination that entangles our mind and captures our thought is not one that is physical, rather it darts: elusive, captivating, addicting, these ideas sentence us all to our own enthraldom where our fancies reign over us. A place where a marble is a queen and a stranger nicknamed after a comedian is a king. The princesses, princes, and jesters fill the court with smaller ponderings on yo-yos, geography, smiles, mirrors, buttons, music, the way leaves fall from branches, and anything that stops your forward motion and holds you still for a moment.
Again, I must ask: Can slavery be delightful? Can I be a slave to the moment, to the miniature that captures my imagination and stops me on my way to class? Slave as enthrall, thrall, and all. The “L” and “A” sound together to fill the mouth. The “S” cuts this sharply and the “V” traps the sound tightly. Slave. I think I’d much rather be a thrall. Though they mean the same, slave, cut down by language, has the negative sound and carries with it the violence and weight of history. It is no wonder that enthrall became synonymous with delight based on sound alone. Yet, is this word deceiving? With slave, you know what you are getting confined between an “S” and a “V”. Enthrall lures you, and captivates you with ideas, promises, and impossibilities.
I once wrote a speculative conversation with a stranger I had seen in a Cabella’s in Sidney, Nebraska, (yet another long drive through the flat land). In it, we talked about bears while staring at the stuffed black bear crinkling its nose as if it were about to sneeze. The bear is a part of a much larger display showing off animals familiar to the area, and surrounding states, as well as the much chillier polar bear and arctic fox. This display was always a highlight of my youth on the long prairie-filled drives to see my grandmother. I stood, too enthralled to move, looking at the black bear and imagining the blonde-haired boy I had seen a minute earlier was standing next to me. I imagined surprising him with my thoughts on bears.
You see, I’ve always had this desire to hug a bear. I believe that society has bred this into me: bear hugs, teddy bears, Winnie the Pooh, beards (bear-ds), commercials, colloquialisms, movies: “Brother Bear”, children’s books: “Popcorn”, “Happy Birthday, Moon”, or really any Frank Asch story I grew up reading. Society has shown me that bears are just grumpy, and in need of a hug. Yet, if I am being honest, blaming this desire on society is a lie. The fact is that I am enthralled by the enveloping idea: burrowing into the fur of a bear, while it wraps its arms tightly around me and squeezes. Imagine how soft a black bear’s fur is—I bet it feels like the warm fuzzy blanket you pull out to make yourself feel better at night when you are missing home. Imagine how warm a bear’s body runs, the heat that will encompass you like sipping hot chocolate or sitting by a fire. Picture even, if you can, how tightly a bear could hug you. I bet it squeezes with the strength of a lover or close friend scared to let go because they don’t know the next time they will see you. Luckily, for now, there are many other ideas and small wonders to hold my attention. This will continue until the day I walk into a forest in Montana and find me a bear.