Our assignment: find an object and hold it in your hands for ten minutes. Feel it. Move it along the surface of your arms if you wish. Don’t smell it or taste it. Allow the object to tell about itself through the sense of touch.
I walk around my house. It’s a small space filled with too many objects. I could pick up a piece of my beloved folk art, which I keep on a set of floor-to-ceiling corner shelves. There, the wooden and tin retablos, Santa Rita cradling a white skeleton against her black nun’s robe, or Omnipotent Hand spewing blood into a small golden chalice. I could hold the long carved cow I picked up on a back road in Costa Rica, its black-and-white body flashing as we sped past tropical greens and blues.
But I don’t pick up what’s familiar. Instead I am drawn to the crystals and fossils and shards my husband and daughters have collected from their many rock-hounding expeditions west of here on the dry Rio Puerco. Maybe it’s because I under-appreciate these objects or know so little about them.
I pick up a big rock, almost too heavy to hold in one hand. I keep it in both and it’s a minute into my holding that I see the subtle crystal formations at the rock’s ridge. This is a geode, a wedge of a geode. Not the kind of beautiful specimen you’d pay money for in a mineral shop but a found rock, demure and prehistoric.
I sit on the warm tile floor in the late morning. The rock is cold in my hands, and it seems that no matter how long I hold it, it remains cool and lifeless. I touch it to my cheek. The outer edge is almost sandy like limestone. Everything about this rock is ancient looking and seeming. The yellow-brown color, as if it’s been buried absorbing clay-sand earth for millions of years. I will it to tell me about itself. How long it is in this world? What has it seen?
I close my eyes and picture an ocean where the desert is now. I see a kind of Jurassic Park scene of big dinosaurs chasing smaller ones across the land, and I know it’s popular culture and Cinemax that speak to me more so than this silent, solid mass.
This is the problem with me and things of the physical world. They tell me more about me than they do about them. My husband would be able to say how geodes are formed. Why this particular one is not hollow on the inside, why its crystals are yellow and not clear with purple veins. Me, I notice that the lower layer of crystals look like water bubbles or plantars warts, the growth going inward not out. It’s only the top of the wedge where the pyramids break surface.
After my ten minutes are up, I look up geodes on the Internet, read about why some form with the interior hollowed out like beautiful quartz-lined bowls. Why others, like mine, fill up completely. I see words: “chalcedony,” “silicon dioxide,” “dolomite,” “limey sediments.” I say the words over and over. None of it sticks. Here’s how my mind plays tricks with those words. Cacophony. Silicon implants. Dolmas. Blimey!
I picked Geology as one of my high school science concentrations, but only because earth strata seemed solid compared to Physics. I don’t even remember who taught Geology. He or she was nowhere as memorable as goofy, gap-toothed Mr. Grunner, my Biology teacher, who started each class by picking up a ruler, pretending it was a microphone, and announcing, “Testies, testies, one-two, one-two.” I consider it testimony to how much I enjoyed Mr. Grunner that my vocabulary from that time still runs somewhat intact: Paramecium, Amoeba, Gonads, Mitosis and Meiosis.
I also remember Mr. DiNello from Chemistry, although it’s only because he was a curmudgeon of a teacher. He hated that I whistled while I worked. Considered it a base form of insubordination. What he didn’t realize was my dad whistled whenever he was happily preoccupied with making Cream-o’-Wheat, shaving, doing taxes. Dad’s was a soft half-whistle, the sound you get when you blow hard over a bottle opening.
Like Dad, I’d settle into contented concentration following directions on how much of Element A to measure out and mix with Element B in order to raise resultant vapors, and wa-la, there it came seeping out: my whistle. By the time the semester was done I barely made it out of Mr. DiNello’s class with a D, my only grade other than an A or B.
The thing is, I have this picture of myself as someone who never understood chemistry when, in fact, chemistry was never that mysterious to me. I have this picture of myself as a mental, not physical, creature. I put my husband into one category, me into another. That explains why we sometimes don’t mesh. Why he constantly plays the stereo or has on the TV while I seek quiet inside my head.
Maybe my settling on a geode is my subconscious saying precisely this. That none of it is so mysterious, so misunderstood, that I can’t grasp what it has to tell me. I held that geode for ten full minutes. Felt its coolness. Ran my fingers over the bumpy crystal top. Maybe I was drawn to the geode for what it represents. Something exotic and beautiful inside an otherwise nondescript outer shell.
I don’t think now that my geode and I couldn’t speak the same language. It seems to have told me quite a lot.
-Based on a 10-minute writing practice on WRITING TOPIC – OBJECT.