Whiteboard future

By Shlomit Auciello | Oct 15, 2020

One of the benefits of being a college student in the pre-COVID 21st century was access to the Free Box at College of the Atlantic, in reality, a large L-shaped hallway in the basement of the building that housed a computer lab, the school's administrative offices and the library.

In addition to being a way to pass on items I no longer needed, the Free Box gave me warm clothes, interesting reading, kitchen utensils, art supplies (including a French easel that I successfully paraded around campus, giving the donor time to confirm such a generous offering), excellent organizing tools and, on more than one occasion, ideas for my on-campus gig as open mic emcee.

One afternoon, a trip to the Free Box inspired me to open the show by singing “Second-Hand Rose” slowly removing my winter coat, Carhartt overalls, turtleneck, sequined tunic, and khakis, to end up in a wispy black full-length gown, its tulle overskirt embroidered with red skulls. One of the last items I picked up, shortly before graduating in June 2017, was a whiteboard calendar.

Anyone who has used a whiteboard knows the advantage of being able to eradicate one list of ideas or things to do, and replace all or part of it with a completely different set of tasks and topics.

I used to buy a pocket-sized week-at-a-glance calendar every fall and spend the holidays carrying over repeating events and addresses. That habit fell away around 2014 when a smart phone entered my life, but after graduation, the whiteboard calendar helped to organize the time that college filled with class structure, community events and common deadlines.

The whiteboard has a permanent monthly grid with the dates left blank. A column to the left of the grid I use for shopping lists is titled “Remember” and a bottom section bears the heading “Looking Ahead…”

For the past three years, it has kept me aware of ongoing tasks, distant appointments and long-anticipated entertainments. Family events share space with volunteer commitments.

This summer began a period of transition for me. I sold my home of the last dozen years and moved in with a friend, shrinking my material footprint and returning to the shared living skills recently learned in dormitories and student apartments. I look at real estate listings and, occasionally at actual houses, with the market being what it is right now.

I wonder when and how the current bubble will settle, who will survive with an affordable roof over their heads, who will use the latest migration of rusticators to successfully speculate and who will lose shelter in that peculiar roll of the economic dice. I wonder how our local community will look when the dust settles and which one of those descriptions will apply to me, a year or two or three from now.

The contentment I felt a few months ago slipped away when I moved from a sunny, well-built house that was far too large for me, to two large rooms with a shared kitchen and bathroom. I'd gotten used to living alone, to the built-in cabinets that held empty drawers a dozen years after my mother, daughter, husband and I filled the place with our everyday needs and the inherited furnishings of more than 100 years lived by us and our forbears. It all fit.

There was plenty of wall space to hang the work of Marjorie Strauss, Nicolas Snow, Peter Ralston, Bill Ronalds, Matthew Messina and a number of folks from away, leaving what felt like acres of space, in a color called Seapearl, where my mind could wander freely.

The larger paintings and photographs hang here, now. Small paintings, photos and way too many tchotchkes rest on about 25 feet of four-inch shelf that runs around the rooms at shoulder height.

Today, I woke up slowly and stayed in bed for a bit. My plan was to warm up the oatmeal my housemate left for me, go to the coop and start this column. It started as planned, but about halfway to these words, I decided to take a break, eat some lunch and transplant the parsley that has been outside since May. The pots I used in the spring are just too big for that four-inch shelf.

What a lovely day. The whisper of the leaves, an occasional birdsong, the smell of soil and the warmth of the autumn sun on my back as I worked.

I don't know where all those flowerpots will go. There are a half dozen that should be fine on the shelf, if the cat doesn't object to their placement in front of the two sunniest windows. A couple of parsley plants will have to take their chances with the portulaca in shadier spots; their pots are too big for the ledge.

The white board made it to the wall. It hangs behind me in the small alcove that is my office space. According to the most recent updates, I have a volunteer gig and a couple of appointments every week, three column deadlines, one monthly Zoom meeting and a washing machine delivery to look forward to.

I shopped this morning, so I can erase garlic and Ewing's blueberries from the side panel and, while the bottom section lists the date of Thanksgiving, I have long since erased the reminder to visit my friends in Rumford. The truth is that “Looking Ahead…” is hard to do.

I guess I'd better get comfortable with that and find contentment in the breeze, the smell of dirt and a weekly appointment to video chat with my daughter. Perhaps, in a month or so, there will be vast fields of crystalline white where my mind can wander. I live in a quiet part of a quiet town, within walking distance of three of my closest friends.

My host in this living arrangement is someone I've known for many years. We get along, so far, and it feels good to deepen our friendship. While I can't imagine feeding a dozen friends at Thanksgiving, in three weeks I may put on the wispy black dress, perhaps over leggings and a turtleneck, and walk around the neighborhood and its environs.

Like all the cold weather celebrations, Halloween will be different this year, but my favorite part has always been the mystery of being out after dark, wearing a persona other than the one I usually show.

It's a dry-erase existence, this COVID life.

Shlomit Auciello is a writer, photographer and human ecologist who has lived in Midcoast Maine since 1988. Letter From Away has appeared online and in print, on and off since 1992.

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