Measuring the Marigolds


The way I write has changed over the years. So has the venue where the writing has appeared. Also, the moisture content. It has become drier as a result of working in higher education and the mental health field, spending precious, gentle, vibrant language on diplomatic emails and research papers. This has been a steady biological to mechanical process and I am not sure I am happy with the experiment.


My writing began as most does, on fat-lined paper. Pale beige like wheat sandwich bread, stamped with blue and red guidelines and a stroke of dashed line running down the center. It was a kindergarten and first grade road map. My fat pencil was a golden little car I ground down the miles on, chewing it up in the sharpener, using the rubber tire erasers, always staying with the lines. But oh, how I loved the lowercase letters that broke the rules and dropped down below where they weren’t supposed to go. The little g, j, p, q, and y.  I practiced letter forms over and over until they lead to sentences about the day.

“Today is Thursday April 12th, 1979.”

Along came the mottled black and white inkblot Composition Books that always reminded me of a tight holstein pattern. I imagined I wrote all my best ideas on the inside of a rectangular cow. These led to the privatized home version—flower-print and cloud-covered blank journals with tiny brass locks emblazoned with the clever and conspicuous title “My Diary.” I had no brothers, nor a prying mother, so I tempted no one with my angsty topics of weather, dinner, school friends and dumb boys. I eventually abandoned the locks for black moleskins and journal after half-filled journal covered with gold birds and red flowers and half naked goddesses. One of those journals, foolishly written in a dark pink ink which bled through all the pages, making everything nearly illegible.

I tried typewriters but found them too noisy, clanky, and smudgy. How could my quiet thoughts be made into such an obvious racket?! I would have none of it. It was in high school, the game finally changed and I allowed something mechanical to take dictation of my mind.

My mother bought me a portable Brother word processor which I lugged around with me to write papers and poems. My nerd cred sky-rocketed when I showed up to my art class in a pencil skirt and what looked like a hi-tech briefcase. One of my high school colleagues asked in a gum-snapping voice, “Are you the sub?” No, I wasn’t a teacher, but I wanted to be one. An English teacher. A writer. At least I was beginning to look the part.

Then computers started to hit the classroom, the personal computers were populating more and more homes and workplaces and I clacked my way through some very primitive early word processing programs. I went from NotePad to WordStar to WordPerfect and finally, just Word.

Employment has quite frankly, always gotten in the way of my writing. I dreamily scribbled poems about customers I observed in the bookstore instead of shelving or stickering. I worked as a dispatcher for a carpet cleaner and in between radio calls, I jotted down short stories and essays. It was one of these essays on “The Influential Woman” that won me a small scholarship that took me to my first semester at community college where I enrolled in every literature and creative writing class I could devour. But always, I had to work, and still, I needed to write.

The journals got stacked on my bookshelves and I began carrying 3.5” floppy discs, labeled, and filed into a plastic snap case which I carried with me from classrooms, to  work, to home. Then it was Zip and Jaz discs—my digital library of documents was beginning to pool out into a flood of ever-changing media, leaving my pen and paper methods behind.

Just before blogging, the ability to create homepages and interlinking subpages made it possible for me to show friends and family all over the world what I was writing. I could tell my stories to them, to anyone. To EVERYONE. An expanded audience was a powerful notion. Yet nothing had inspired me to write more and brought me back to the one to one conversational style than when I wrote personal letters—when I put my hand to the paper and formed the letters. Sometimes there were lines, sometimes, I chose beautiful paper and put lined paper behind it, a ghostly image of guides from grade school. These later translated to emails which was a more expedient way to reflect monthly, weekly, daily, instantly on my life and tell not only the letter recipient, but to remind myself of all that I had seen. And while the romance of a one-sided creation sent off in the post was lost, the upside was, I always had a copy. It was a new form of journaling.

Now, well . . . I am dismayed to report that my inbox is largely a to-do list that the whole world can add to. I see more requests and less storytelling. There is more machinations between me and my inspirations.

I read my old notebooks, journals, letters, emails, and blogs and the language is simpler. There is a sense of childlike wonder about the world, there is more nature, more magic, more color, more moisture.


Today I spent a couple hours in a sunny park with David. There was a small creek tumbling  nearby and we spread out a soft blanket, matting down the grass and a soft spray of purple flowers and sticky vines. I lay down on my belly and hiked up my skirt to let the sun warm the back of my thighs. Taking out a little notebook and pen, we sketched out short story and chapter ideas together. Creating new worlds out of nothing without the immediate aid of a computer.

A dragonfly lighted on David’s shorts. A lady bug trundled up and down a blade of grass. Ants worked in tandem on drops of nectar at the base of a flower. Two little boys ran past us with nets and plastic insect boxes to capture the bullfrog tadpoles we’d seen earlier, nearly ready to shed their tails in the water and grow new legs. An inchworm crawled on my finger and I was suddenly reminded of the song:

Two and two are four
Four and four are eight
That’s all you have on your business-like mind
Two and two are four
Four and four are eight
How can you be so blind

Two and two are four
Four and four are eight
Eight and eight are sixteen
Sixteen and sixteen are thirty-two

Inchworm, inchworm
Measuring the marigolds
You and your arithmetic
You’ll probably go far

Inchworm, inchworm
Measuring the marigolds
Seems to me you’d stop and see
How beautiful they are



As a child, my mother took pictures of me on the first day of school in the Fall in front of her garden, always bursting with tall golden Zinnias and burnished red and orange Marigolds.  At the end of the season we’d pinch the crumpled blossoms and let them dry, which, when pulled from the stem became the seeds themselves. We stored these in envelopes, letters to ourselves for the future Spring.

There are seedlings from my past I am planting again. I am stopping my business-like, measuring mind to see how beautiful things are. Taking up pen and paper, scribbling outside of the lines, and leaving the machinery behind to find my voice again among the Marigolds.

7 thoughts on “Measuring the Marigolds

    1. Thank you, Karelia! The marigolds & paper were found, the inch worm, David photographed on my hand that day in the park on the blanket, and the last one my mother took of little ol’ me on the first day of school.


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