One woman, lots of paint and hundreds of tiles. If you're here because you found a painted tile, it's yours to keep.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Long Live the 5-7-5

Haiku Jones’s parents met at a poetry event and bonded over their love of haikus. Naturally, they named their firstborn daughter after the 17-syllable form of Japanese poetry that brought them together and extremists that they are, both agreed that it would be wondrous and magical to only speak to their daughter in the language of true love: haiku.

Perhaps because that was almost all little HJ ever heard for the first years of her life, her first word, was not momma or milk or baby. One day, Haiku simply blurted out: “I really want milk. I want it right now, Mommy. Pass my bottle please.”

Haiku's parents, Shelby and Vince, were overjoyed. Vince even shed a little tear. The milk request was the first of many, many haikus their daughter would utter in the years leading up to kindergarten.They kept many of them in a scrap book that showed her growth and development, and would share them with others. One read: “Play Doh is awesome/Red, yellow, blue or orange. Mold it into balls.

Shelby and Vince’s friends thought their haiku-spitting daughter was pretty cool at first but after awhile the novelty wore off and they just felt kinda sorry for Haiku, and stopped letting their kids plays with her.

Until Haiku went off to kindergarten and even for years afterward, she didn’t fully grasp just how different she was, or exactly what set her apart from the other kids. She just knew that other kids told her she “talked funny.” She thought they talked differently too, but thought it was sort of beautiful the way they rambled on incessantly, like a river that just kept flowing and never felt the need to stop and consider things before moving forward.

In second grade, her very wise teacher, who had majored in English, sat Haiku down and explained that the language Haiku had spent her life developing was indeed gorgeous, but more than a tad limiting and that there was a world of other possibilities, other ways to express one’s self. She told Haiku that a girl her age shouldn’t try to limit her thoughts to 17 syllables even if she clearly was very good at doing so. Haiku was intrigued, though a little confused. She never knew she was developing anything or consciously trying to limit herself. It’s just the way she always talked.

But she told Mrs. Lively that she would try to break her 5-7-5 habit and try new things, like just “free talking.” Mrs. Lively said she thought that would be for the best and that she’d even talked to Haiku’s parents and that they had agreed it might be a good thing for her to explore other conversation options.

That made Haiku feel like she’d done something wrong. She hoped her parents weren’t going to be mad at her. That night on the way home, she started practicing new speech patterns. It was more difficult than she imagined it might be. As Mrs. Lively pointed out, she did consistently speak in the 5-7-5, but it was never an effort. It’s not like she counted syllables; they just flowed that way for as long as she could remember. But now she had to count them all the time to make sure she didn’t have the 5-7-5 pattern because then she would have to reword it in such a way that it seemed “free.” Oddly, all this effort, made her new sentences feel anything but free.

But soon, the efforts began to pay off. Sort of. Not that her new language felt natural. It didn’t. But in the years to come she did begin to fit in better. Other kids began to accept her and were allowed to come over to her house and stuff. She liked that part of it, even if she had to keep counting and saying things that didn’t feel right to her. She never talked to the other kids about it, except for Inky, the girl who always had ink stains on her hand. Inky felt like her one true friend because she accepted Haiku even back when Haiku was openly doing what her teacher called the 5-7-5. Inky loved words and was always writing in one of the many sections of her gigantic loose leaf paper- filled binders. She had about 7 dividers in there,with pictures drawn on them to represent the various categories of her writing. "Love" had a gigantic red heart with lots of little teeny conversation hearts inside it. “Diary” had an illustration of a giant keyhole and a kid with a key hanging around her neck. “Overheard” had a giant drawing of an ear that Inky told her belonged to an artist named Van Gogh. She said he didn’t need that ear to hear with because he listened with his eyes and talked with his paintbrush. She was funny like that, always saying really unusual things, but Haiku liked her because she was just so darned interesting, not like other kids who just talked about boys and dances and other stupid stuff that didn’t mean much at the end of the day.

Haiku told Inky about that talk she’d had back in second grade with their teacher Mrs. Lively and how Mrs. Lively explained that her talking in the 5-7-5 all the time just wasn’t right, and how she tried hard never to do that anymore but that secretly inside her own head, everything was still all about the 5-7-5.

Inky was fascinated and said she wondered why Haiku had stopped speaking in what she knew must have been her native language, but agreed that a secret haiku language was indeed special and that sometimes secrets are the only way we can protect such special things from the ridicule of those who don’t understand them. She made it clear, however that she understood about her language and would be honored if Haiku didn’t feel the need to hide her 5-7-5 ways in her presence. So Haiku talked to Inky in the language she was most comfortable with and Inky would sometimes ask Haiku’s permission to write something she’d just said into her giant binder of words. Inky clearly loved Haiku's language, and Haiku loved the stories Inky obsessively wrote in binders that lined the shelves of her room.

Inky told Haiku someone once tried to tell her that there was something wrong with her, too. … that some therapist her mom dragged her to discussed her obsessive writing habits, and even had some long name to describe it and pills to "cure" it.

“See how life is,” Inky said. “The minute you develop something unique and beautiful, people wanna tear it down and call it a disease, just because they don’t have it, and if they don’t have it, then for God’s sake, there must be something wrong with it." You believe in God?” Haiku asked.
“I thought you were atheist. Believed in nothing.”

“I believe in some things,” Inky says. “I’m not exactly sure what yet, but I do think it’s interesting that people are always asking other people if they believe in God. I never hear anyone ask anyone whether God believes in them, because if God does believe in them, then he should trust them to do what’s right. And if people can be trusted to do what’s right, then they don’t really have to keep putting all of their decisions in God’s hands, like I always hear people saying. Think about it. If there is a God and he created us, then don’t you think he’d have given us what we needed to make decisions for ourselves? You think he’d wants us having to come to him for every little thing. I mean, what is that, job security?"

It was these sort of frank discussions that led Haiku to remain friends with Inky for years to come, and to find her own voice again -- the 5-7-5 that came so natural to her. No longer did she have to hide it or feel ashamed of it. She knew now that it was a beautiful and natural thing, a rhythmic language that was involuntary, like a heartbeat, or breathing, or a genuine friendship.

She didn’t speak it all of the time. She knows what she must do, to get a job, hold a job and deal with people who were nothing like Inky, but occasionally she meets another free spirit and in her head, she always sums up every conversation, every life experience, and every major event in her life, in the language of her people.

Recently, for example, her kitty Blackie began having dreams about a big black dog and developed an irrational fear of being alone, so Haiku was unable to leave her apartment for more than a few hours a day on weekends. This meant she could not go see her big fancy boyfriend and spend the night, and he in turn was unable to stay at her house either. Haiku’s bed was just too tiny. It was sad, and after he explained why he could not ever stay, she replayed his conversation in 5-7-5: “I love you a bunch/but your bed’s smaller than mine/no where for my feet.”

She’ll do the same thing after an afternoon of gardening, summing it up with something like “Vines are so gnarly/They kill everything in sight/And then reach for more."

She had haikus for each of the 19 times her heart got broken, and summed that all up with "When hearts do flutter/Know just how fragile they are/Not unbreakable."

The 5-7-5 is what helps Haiku keep her head on straight, and for the last few years she’s been touring the college circuit, talking to students about celebrating their differences and making the most of the things that set us apart from one another, because somewhere at the heart of those things that set us apart, lie our strengths, our beautiful shiny little cores.

Long live the 5-7-5. Haiku is hiding in a drawer in the ladies room of Total Wine on Cordova Road in Fort Lauderdale. That's right, second drawer down, in the ladies room.


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