The Day of the Button


When I was in ninth grade, I was sitting in biology class, mind wandering, when I noticed one of the buttons on my teacher’s shirt was unbuttoned. Let’s be clear: this wasn’t a sexy thing. She was a middle-aged woman with a dark brown bouffant who once made us use the biology concepts we had learned to explain why a handful of Far Side cartoons were funny (because nothing makes a cartoon funnier than having it explained to you in scientific detail).

The button was obviously an oversight on her part, hardly at the level of “wardrobe malfunction” that would cause my classmates to pay any mind. Even so, I noticed it, and a thought struck me. I’m not sure what sparked it, but I told myself in that moment, ‘I am going to remember this.’ I resolved to focus on this insignificant detail and remember it for as long as possible. I would remember it was a Thursday, and the rebellious button in question was the fourth one down. (I made no such resolutions to remember the content of the class, which is, predictably, totally lost to me now.)

It was an experiment I set for myself in a moment of boredom, and for the most part, it worked. Every so often, even more than fifteen years later, the memory of that lone button comes floating to the surface of my mind. While it doesn’t mean anything in and of itself, the intention behind it somehow does. I can’t remember why I set myself the task of remembering, and I’m not a hundred percent confident that I have the day of the week or the location of the button correct, but the general memory remains in tact.

It’s a curious thing to me that something as insignificant as a button could be so easy to recall, and yet twenty-five percent of the time I walk into a room I can’t remember why (though a safe assumption is that I’m looking for snacks). And more often than not, the brilliant ideas I know will stay with me forever vanish into smoke the next time I try to recall them. I definitely can’t remember what the lesson was on The Day of the Button, nor can I remember most of what I learned in fifteen-plus years of schooling.

But the button remains.

I’d like to think I have the same capacity for focused intention that I had back in that moment in ninth grade. That if I really, truly wanted to commit something to memory I could do it. Fourteen-year-old me was not yet subject to the distracting twenty-four-hour tyranny of screens, so perhaps she had a strategic advantage when it came to remembering things for more than six seconds. Still, the potential for focus is surely buried somewhere in this jumbled mess of sensory input and occasional original thought I call my mind.

It may require throwing my phone out the window or feeding it to a bear, but I’d like to carve more time out of my life to commit to the practice of focus and intention. In a world of constant stimulation it can be hard to sit still; my eyes ping-pong inside my head all day and have gotten dry from staring, and almost every tidbit of knowledge I Google in a moment of curiosity is forgotten a minute later. When journaling, too many times I find myself unable to form a complete thought, much less write a complete paragraph, and in fits of frustration I think, ‘There has to be a better way!’

If that button is any indication, there is a better way. I just have to get back to it. I just have to get quiet, even bored, again. And from there…F O C U S . Make a point of it. Continue the experiment.

And, of course, remember to check my buttons before leaving the house.

Blank Walls

It’s been a couple weeks now since I moved out of my charming one-bedroom apartment—the one with the eroding stone wall and the upstairs neighbor who vacuumed at least four times a week, usually at ten o’clock at night—into a two-bedroom that I now share with my boyfriend. Moving weekend was brutal, as we chose the hottest weekend in twenty years to haul all of our belongings up and down stairs all day, but the pain of that experience is now a distant memory, and the bruises I incurred are at least 70% faded. Of course, they have since been replaced by other mysterious bruises, but that’s just how my anemic, olive-skinned self rolls. It is not uncommon for me to look like I’ve recently been in a fight with something about as tall as my shins, like an angry goose, or a fire hydrant.

It’s been a few years since I lived with anyone else, so there is an extra level of adjustment in this relocation, a constant checking of the more self-centered habits I’d gotten used to indulging in when I lived alone. Despite that, and despite the fact that I’ve never lived with a significant other before, so far things have been…comfortable. As anticipated, the change of setting has been simple enough for me to adapt to, and I’ve fallen easily into my new routine, which includes a seven-minute commute to work and, so far, no need to adjust my sleep schedule to accommodate my neighbors’ obsessive housekeeping. So far, so good.

Buffy posterIf there has been any source of angst in this move, it has been in the fact that I am aggressively no-frills in my home decor aesthetic. For a long time I’ve had a strong aversion to the collection of crap. If something isn’t immediately useful, I don’t want to waste my time or money on it. As a result, for the entire first year I lived in my previous apartment, I hung up perhaps one picture, leaving the rest of the walls bleak and bare. For a long time I didn’t even have a bookshelf, leaving my books stacked up in piles on the floor.

My significant other belongs to the “more is more” camp, and gets more satisfaction out of the art of interior design than I ever will. Thus, I now find myself in a position where, to be equally represented on the walls and shelves of this new apartment, I need to grit my teeth and invest in more art and *dramatic music* tchotchkes.

It seems like such a silly thing to be angsty about. There are certainly worse things to spend your money on. Like drugs. Pyramid schemes. Crocs. That burger where the buns are replaced with fried chicken. As someone who presumably appreciates art and has a reasonably developed aesthetic sensibility, you would think I’d be thrilled at the opportunity to decorate my space with objects and images that inspire and delight me. Somehow, though, my frugality and laziness merge with a latent sense of utilitarianism, and the end result is bare apartment walls and an office at work completely devoid of personal items. If I had a nickel for every time someone walked into my office and said, “You should put up some pictures in here!” I’d have…well, at least enough to feed the parking meter.

So to fight against this tendency towards sparseness, I’m keeping my eyes open and thinking about the things that, while not useful in the strictest sense, still serve a purpose in the memories they evoke or the feelings they inspire. I find it all too easy to get caught up in asking what the point of things are, asking why I do the things I do, and sucking any potential joy out of experiences in the process. I still think it’s wise not to spend time and money recklessly on things that have no positive value, but at the same time I have to remind myself that it’s possible to simply enjoy and appreciate things and experiences for what they are, whether or not they have an immediately apparent utility.

The new apartment is a lovely, comfortable, quiet place, and I think we will get along just fine here. In the meantime, though, I need me some more art! STAT! (Or, you know, whenever I get around to it.)

Moved Again!

I tried blogging on Tumblr for a little while, but when it came down to it, I didn’t really like the platform for the long-form blogging I wanted to start up again. And try as I might, I can’t get my Tumblr posts imported into WordPress, so if you want to browse the archives for some unknown reason, take a gander at gemllama.tumblr.com. Going forward, though, I’m back here on gemllama.com, WordPress-style. Because I’ve never been that good at being a cool kid.