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the thirty day project


The Thirty Day Project is one of the most personal works I have ever done. It details over two dozen of my memories, ranging from seemingly trivial to obviously formative. Each memory has influenced me in a lasting way, and each I found important enough to share. The project was brought from idea to finished work over the course of a month, hence its title.

Memories are multifaceted, and each of mine expressed in this piece contains three aspects. The first is the symbol: the image and idea that manifest in my consciousness when I consider each story. The second, subtler level is that of the feeling, in which a field of color represents the impression the memory has left. The third and final level of memory is the last to be discovered: the anecdote itself.

My first language was Swedish. I started talking at ten months of age; my first word was lampa (lamp) and my first sentence was titta på månen (look at the moon). I was apparently very interested in light. I stopped using Swedish when I was about five years old and I realized no one but my mother could understand what I was saying. Now I barely remember any of the language. I've always been pretty solitary. When I was young, my imaginary friend was a small white cat named Elimae. She didn't talk or anything, but sometimes friends don't need to talk. At the summer camp I went to every year for about a decade we played a daylong annual game using the whole of the nature preserve on which the camp was located. The first year I was there the camp was called Human, Fox, Rabbit but no one wanted to be a human so they changed it to Hawk, Snake, Mouse. I liked being a hawk best because you didn't have to be afraid of anything. My brother and I used to play make, an activity that was as simple and as complex as sitting down and making things. Sometimes we made paper houses for our plastic lizards, sometimes we created cities out of blocks and Brio trains, and sometimes we drew whole civilizations of creatures my brother called Stroodles. I had close friends all through elementary school, as long as I didn't try to assert myself. In fifth grade I got into an argument with them over whether worms were animals. My friends insisted they were not and thus could be exterminated without remorse. When I refused to back down from what I knew was right, they began to follow me around, calling me names and throwing rocks. They never apologized, but I forgave them anyway. My friends have a summer house near the shores of Lake Willoughby, Vermont. While there, we would make card castles, send our stuffed animals to camp, watch Beatles movies, and play wiffle ball in the meadow below the house. Once we tried to make potpourri; it smelled mostly of thyme. We also wrote and performed short plays, though we did that wherever we were. We call ourselves the JEAM team after the first intitials of its members. I was an odd child for many reasons, but one of them was that I liked neither soda nor pizza until I was in my teens. I started drinking sodas when I went to Sweden, which had the most amazing flavors: Pear, Passionfruit, Raspberry, and even something called simply Sockerdricka (or Sugardrink). My pizza-eating days began soon after, though for years I would not eat pizza unless it had ketchup on it. When I was little, I wanted to be a reindeer. I've also wanted to be a marine biologist, a paleontologist, an ornithologist, an actress, an architect, a graphic designer, and many other things, but the one that really sticks out in my memory is reindeer. My brother was born when I was three. He got so much more attention than I did; I decided it must have been because he was a boy. So for the next month I answered only to Michael (like Michael Banks from Mary Poppins). Eventually my parents told me that Santa didn't know of any Michaels at our house, so I wouldn't get any presents unless I was Anna. I've been Anna ever since. My best friend and I used to like to play with stuffed animals together. We had a surprising number of matching toys, but one we always used to fight over was her Baby Kermit. Whoever did not get Baby Kermit had to be Baby Santa Kermit, and that was not nearly so cool. Then my brother got sick during a long car trip, so we stopped at a yard sale... and there was a Baby Kermit for my very own. Since then my best friend and I have not fought over anything. I fractured my wrist in first grade. I was wearing fuzzy gloves on the monkey bars, and my hands slipped. The school nurse did not believe my arm was really hurt at all, though I cried out in pain when she shook it. The next day when I woke up my wrist was swollen and purple. My cast was turquoise, and all my friends signed it. Shortly after my friends and I graduated from high school, we held a costumed croquet tournament on our town green. I won the game, mostly through good luck. I was dressed as a chicken in a chicken suit, just one of the many complex costumes I've come up with over the years: in elementary school one of my Halloween costumes was Wolf in Sheep's Clothing, which I was very proud of and which absolutely no one understood. I got glasses when I was in fifth grade. On our family trip to Hawaii I was unable to see the dolphins that were jumping in the ocean in front of my grandparents' house. At first no one believed me. When we got home I had an appointment with an optometrist, and sure enough my eyes were bad. I used to have a terrible phobia of telephones. I remember being forced to call one of my friends in elementary or maybe even middle school; I panicked and said nothing. I still don't like calling anyone, even close friends, and and I still don't answer the phone unless I know who is calling. I had braces twice, for a total of about five years. When I started the process I had crooked incisors and a horrific overbite; now that's all fixed. My orthodontist is very proud of his work; he shows before and after pictures of my mouth at conventions. One of my friends at Bennington told me I had insanely perfect teeth — in restrospect, I'm pretty sure he was hitting on me. When I was in junior high and high school I acted with a local organization called the Theater Project. One of my roles was that of Miss Spider in James and the Giant Peach. When the theater did Charlotte's Web I was afraid I was going to be typecast; as it turned out, I wasn't cast at all. When I was sixteen I spent four months living in a cabin with seven other girls at a semester program called Chewonki. It was heated only by woodstove, but we weren't very good at keeping the fire going. Chewonki was an extremely close community: one morning at brunch I made pancakes for over fifty people, and I knew every one of them. I was thirteen when I dyed my hair for the first time. I chose blue because it was my favorite color. It was awesome at first, but soon faded into an ugly grey-green. My parents were very supportive of my plight; I've never been able to rebel against them because they are so very accepting of my decisions. Sometimes I feel like I missed out on an essential part of being a teenager, but mostly I don't mind. I was eight when I got my first pet. She was a red-gold guinea pig I named Sweetie. We soon realized that she was pregnant; she ended up having eight pups, two of which were stillborn. The average for a guinea pig is three. She was a great mom, but she seemed kind of overwhelmed. I spent my sixteenth birthday in Quebec City with three of my best friends. It was over seventy degrees in the middle of October, and because it was Canada's Thanksgiving weekend there were street performers everywhere. There was also great food: I bought a treat that can really only be described as waffle on a stick. When I was in high school I stuck a couple of feathers in a matryoshka-shaped bead and called it Bon-Bon. I eventually got most of my friends to worship Bon-Bon; I was the high priestess. Tragically, Bon-Bon went through the wash in the pocket of my jeans and my fledgling religion fell into disfavor. I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease a month into my first term at Bennington. It took some time for the doctors to decipher what the problem was; one neurologist I saw insisted there was nothing wrong with me and told my mother he thought I was on drugs. By the time I was prescribed the antibiotics I was too sick to finish the semester and had to go home. I went to a nightclub while I was in Greece. I didn't really want to go, but my friends insisted. There were a lot of Greek college students there; I danced reluctantly with one. He had a moustache. He got a little too close so I tried to escape into the women's bathroom; he followed me in. I ran, out into the unfamiliar night and back to my hotel. I still don't know where my friends had gone. The stone wall at the edge of Bennington's Commons Lawn is called the End of the World. There's a great view of the town and neighboring Mt. Anthony from that wall. One night a friend and I decided to jump off the End of the World. It's not very high, but we figured it was pretty symbolic. I went solo camping for a weekend when I was sixteen, on the coldest couple of days in an unusually cold April. My campsite was beautiful but also full of dead trees, and it was very windy. On the second night I came back to my sleeping area just after sunset and noticed that a tree had fallen into one of the supports that held up my makeshift tent. My flashlight was dead, so I packed up all my belongings in the encroaching darkness and set off down the trail to a safer clearing. The student mailboxes at Bennington were open for anyone to put things in. During my time there I loved to surprise my friends with notes, small gifts, and random ephemera. It got to be so that other people began to join in the giving; I'm proud to have been the catalyst. When I went to Greece, I found a gorgeous monastery on the island of Hydra. I spent most of my time there sitting atop a cloister and deciphering the names of monks from centuries long past. I was transfixed; I nearly missed my boat. I played ice hockey for a couple of years in high school; I wasn't very good, but it was fun while it lasted. It's an unfortunate tendency of mine to stick with things for approximately two years and then give up. Other things I have abandoned on this schedule include ballet, softball, soccer, and my first attempt at college. I was one of two girls on my pre-orientation hiking trip for Bennington. It was a real bonding experience: we played trail games and made camp food and gave everyone nicknames. I had an asthma attack while climbing one mountain, so the original suggestion for my name was Weezy. Luckily I managed to veto that particular moniker and ended up with Swedish Fish. I don't have a driver's license. I took driver's ed when I was the right age for it, but I never really got into driving. I took my license test once, in another town where I didn't know the roads, and then my permit expired. I love my bicycle; his name is Tag. I refuse to bring him to Portland out of fear that he’ll be stolen.

© Anna Simmons 2010. All rights reserved.