Sunday, March 17, 2019

Melting Sunflower Tears



March.  Oh, you miserable month.  

The only positive you bring is Alek’s birthday.   

And yes.  The great event of St. Patrick’s Day rests in the middle of the month.  How can we forget? 

That day in March when anyone with a drop of Irish blood in them has the right to partake, and should partake, in gorging themselves in alcohol and corned beef brisket.  
The glorious corned beef brisket with potatoes carrots and cabbage.  It seems like the brisket doesn’t last long when served.  You’re lucky to get a second helping of the beef.  
Now the cabbage and potatoes… there’s always enough to go around 3 times.  We all know the brisket is the star in the meal.  And everyone wants more and will fight over the last bit of corned beef.

Outside of these few events, the month of March really sucks. 

March is full of anxiety.  

The weather can’t make up its mind.  

Yesterday, here in Central Indiana it was sunny with a high of 60 degrees.  The wind was a tad chilly, but it was gentle.  The warmth of the sun had a refreshing feeling against our sickly pale, vitamin D deprived skin.  

It felt nice.  

People were out and about walking their mammal pets.  

Migratory birds were making their presence known by their various calls.  

It was a nice day.  

A day to say, “Hey, the cold winter is almost over.  I can feel spring in the air.”

This morning, it was snowing.  

It was a short-lived snow shower.  It did a good job of giving a good ground cover.  Like maybe we might see a few inches by the afternoon.  

But just as quickly as the snow started, it stopped. And within an hour after the snow stopped, the snow was gone.  

Melted into the muck’n mud of the brown barren countryside landscape that winter brings us in central Indiana.  By mid-afternoon the sun was trying to show its face.  It was warm enough to get outside to play, or accomplish whatever outside with just a light jacket.  

Oh, March.  You tease us. 

You give the crops and gardens hope of warmer days to come. The tiniest signs of spring show up with the smallest of green sprouts trying to come out to show us the beauty of life.  

You give us hope of no longer seeing bleak brown farmlands and gardens but lush green vegetation.  

Warm days and long summer nights to come. 


Oh, March you tease us with the signs of what’s to come. And then you shut us down.  You blast us with another cold reminder that winter is still here.

And for that, I thank you.  

I thank you for delaying the coming season.  The season full of beautiful colors and warm days with blue skies.   The season where you wake up warm and comfort.  You look forward to letting the sun kiss you all over.   You look forward to going out and doing adventures outside. 

But when you do go out you become paralyzed.  Paralyzed by the humidity that the spring and summer proudly brings.  The humidity that can melt you down to a pile of goo the moment you step out in it.  Humidity that is always there no matter the time of day, sucking the life out of you. 

So go on March.  Please continue to hold back the inevitable.  Blast us with just a few more weeks of cold.  I am in no hurry to get into the humid months to come.  I do not want to be like the sunflower in the picture below.  Engrossed in magnificent green all around.  Admiring beautiful flowers and a magical monarch.  At the same time, peddles melting away by the Indiana humidity.  

This Alaskan loves the summers for all that it brings but the humidity.  
Soon, I will be just like the melting sunflower.   




Sunday, March 3, 2019

The New White Board

Once again, I'm writing about my new office.  Having a space and a supportive husband make for amazing improvements in my writing life.  

Now, I just need a little more time and structure.

A few months ago, I told my husband I wanted a white board for my office.  He put it up a month or so ago:


I'm only 5,000 words into this new beast, but I'm enjoying it.  The rough background and inspiration are the craziness of work politics and Graham Greene's Doctor Fischer of Geneva or The Bomb Party. 

Anyway, this is the ramblings of my latest, crazy idea.  The top part of the white board outlines characters, setting, and conflicts.  The bottom part snakes through the main plot parts, starting with,



And, of course, here is the ending:


Not to give the ending away, but, yes, someone will go postal.  And, yes, I'm thrilled about who this character is--I look forward to writing this character's downfall.

I fully recognize that prewriting and outlining and mapping are not for everyone.  On the other hand, I have enjoyed mapping out this project in a short amount of time, seeing who these characters can be, and pushing this plot further than reality or Greene could push this.

So here I go again, on a fun journey through fiction that helps me laugh at reality....



Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Trammel Net

Anteros

You have beckoned me to your throne, for Oizys called upon you -- though I should not have allowed her to do so. Please refrain from retrieving Aphrodite’s scales. I ask only to sit on that oak stump within the gates of your mountain sanctuary -- where gardens of sleeping hyacinth meet the trail, and silver bees in their hives dream of purple and rose -- so that I can share my case of love, unrequited.

Who is this warrior sleeping near my stump? Is he a God? For, as with you, the reposed soldier is too magnificent to look upon but a brief glance of the eye. But, I think I know who he is, for his lyre is set by his side and his laurels have slipped from his head. He is Apollo, and he is not sleeping -- only lost in his memories. His tears seed your sanctuary with hyacinth, and he draws his fingers along your clay in unrecognizable symbols.

Shall I stay, Anteros? I will not take too much of your time.

I am an old man in spirit, though I am much younger by age. I do not know what face greets you, but I was once a handsome man. My trade is the sea; and the sea ages men quicker than those of the land. Yet, if I may be so bold, will you permit me to think my face is still desirable and pleasant?

I feed the agoras of mortals. I catch sardine and, if the land dweller wishes, octopus and larger fish, too. When I cast my net in the midnight hours, I do so alone, unless I have the rare chance of spending it in good company. I am often lonely, as you are aware. So, I give sacrifice to Poseidon and give fair sacrifice to you.

As I cast and draw my net into the shoals, I can often see the torches along the trail that leads mortals and Gods to your sanctuary. It winds and rises and disappears behind shadowed valleys, and I have gazed upon it for so many years that I can see its path with my eyes closed. I never thought that I would take to this very path, until my heart was stolen by ---. I must not mention his name. You, no doubt, know him, for he is the one I have accused of squandering. I am sure Oizys has revealed all to you.

Yet, Anteros...before you weigh his worth, hear me out.

It is true that Eros had found me some months ago, though Pheme sent rumor that Eros regretted his careless sting. I had taken my fish to the agora, collected my due, and I hurried to get back to the shore where I have more solid footing on the sea than I do the land. One of the many sons of Petraeus, the Elder, whom I still cannot say his name; he admitted many days later that he had been following me that particular morning and had done so several times prior when I sold my catches. He had boarded my vessel, and he waited for me in my tent.

Bold. Handsome. Smiling. His shoulders broad like Atlas’s. He was thoughtful, and his promises fulfilled in the hours of our binding. I had never been so blessed! Many nights I stayed in the port awaiting his nightly arrival, failing my duty to agora and depleting my trust in Poseidon for fear that I might miss my new love’s visitations -- or that I might drown in a gale.

I happily -- and greedily -- traded Poseidon’s salt for this man’s sea. Never had I been so intoxicated!

And, most pleasantly, my new love faithfully committed his passion and, when he could not make some nights, confirmed those miserable absences so that I would not fear the worst. Yet, he warned me; never could I search and find him; never could I visit his home.

I agreed. I understood. As you must know, however committed he was to me, my man adored his wife and his children and he would never stray from his duties to them.

So, now you ask me, Anteros, what was I to him? May I have a moment to give this some thought?

Anteros

I was a ghost that came to life with his beckoning. I was the sea that he could traverse without fear of drowning. I was an isle he could escape to under the veil of night. I was the man he could never have in his own bed, yet the man he could always discover in mine. Until….

He ceased to come to my vessel. He no longer sought my company. Without warning. Without cause. I feared he had drowned at the docks. I called out for him between the other vessels and over the rocks and among the drunken men and their women who gathered near the shore. I waited another close of day. He came no more.

I had to find him!

I went to the agora and asked the villagers where he lived. Some knew him -- and they did not find him a fair man of business -- yet told me where I might find his home. I lost my way wandering the unfamiliar streets, having not walked those streets since I was a child. I found his residence, and...confirmed his family. He, a wealthy merchant; yet. they did not know his business affairs; and sweetly, they asked if I wished to wait for his return. I did not take the offer.

Anteros

I was furious that he still lived!

I gave his youngest child with the most familiar eyes a coin and asked him to make sacrifice to you. He said that he would do so, and I hope you received it well. Yet, I swore to never set foot on land again beyond the length of port-to-agora. And, I swore I would someday seek your vengeance.

I hated Nyx and her false promises with each death of light. I seethed in my hatred, too; swore at the paucity of my net and its frequent shredding upon the rocks -- and I cursed the sea nymphs for their cruel jokes. Some nights ago, I prayed to Poseidon to capsize my lover’s vessel -- for I was sure he still visited the port for a richer one than mine. I feared to rest, for Oizys might haunt my sleep. And, this evening, when I thought to plummet into the depths where the nymphs circled my tired vessel and stole what little bounty I could catch, Pasithea wrapped her arms about my waste and begged me to seek my warm tent -- to leave my net frayed -- and escape the shivering rain and the gnashing teeth of nymphs about my vessel.

I did as she asked. Pasithea guided me into my bed where I agreed to take to the arms of Morpheus. Yet, as usual, Hypnos had yet to visit, for Poseidon still roamed too close and stirred the sea in his wake. And, as I feared, Oizys -- who searches for company when Hypnos fails to visit -- crashed onto my vessel and spilled into my tent -- and took to lie by my side. She shared my pillow, as she often does, and I heard her retelling the stories my lover and I once shared. Shen then sent me wandering -- and alone did she have me go -- through a labyrinth of what if and if only and what could have been.

Despite my attempts to rid her, Oizys remained in my bed and demanded me to look out my tent--for the evening sky will clear, she claimed-- and she was certain my plea will have finally been heard by you.

Anteros

Did you compel Selene to breach my tent then? For, it came unlatched. Did you have her cast her luminous net over my naked body and expose my loneliness? Did you then beckon me from my small and fruitless vessel to seek your justice in this affair?

I returned to port. I crossed the village where the fire smoke thinned in the late hour, and I took to the olive-ladened hills where your trail begins and, for the first time in my life, set foot onto a mountain’s spine. As the trail wound about the perimeter, each step a painful pull in my legs, I looked out over the village and onto the port where I could see my poor vessel tucked between far larger and richer vessels. Though I could never know, I was certain one of those vessels held my former lover and, soon, would receive his ballast of lies. I spat over the edge -- and I hurried up the trail to seek your justice!

Yet, where the trail stabbed into the mountain and the torches were nearly extinguished by shadows, I heard the thunder of water some steps ahead that gave me pause. I saw a young woman -- her skin pale, her eyes dripping blue, and her white robe yellowed and covered in mud. She hid like a frightened child behind cut stones Hephaestus had left abandoned from some nearby quarry. I asked the poor woman if she was lost.

She then repeated what I had asked her.

I knew the woman was actually a nymph; she was Echo, and she was addled in mourning. She came no closer to me, and I knew she would never leave the river, for it was her prison as well as her sanctuary. Suffice to say, Anteros; I passed Echo on my way to your throne and crossed two rivers – the one that is fed by the narrow meadows of your sanctuary, and the other that drains poor Echo of hers. For, she wept as Narcissus’s skeleton had long ago collapsed into a pile of white stone at the river’s bank, though she could never be free of him.

I left her hiding behind the refuse of old empires as I returned to your trail. I could hear her sobs grow weaker as she searched the riled waters for her Narcissus, and as I raced to your meadows to seek the punishment of my neglectful lover.

I found the rope bridge crossing Hephaestus’s quarries. The ropes were old and I questioned their strength, yet I could see your sanctuary clearly lit inside the meadow breach, and I urged myself to continue. As I neared the end of the bridge, I heard a terrible thunder to my right where a great cloud illuminated with dancing silver and gold stars cut a path through the pines and scraggly oaks, breaking limbs and pulling up their roots as it set aim towards me. The bridge now swung to and fro, and I clung to its ties and prayed for the thing to leave me be -- though the thundercloud now lingered above me.

Anteros

I saw a most unforgivable thing! A young man -- a boy? with golden hair looked down at me while clutched in the talons of a giant bird. The golden-haired boy-- his face so beautiful as to render anyone ugly -- had the look of tired melancholy as his captor flapped its wings to keep them afloat above me -- to show me its prized possession? The beautiful, sad boy reached down to me, as if to touch me or allow me to rescue him, but the bird then took off to the west where a waterfall could be heard, though not seen. Wearily, I continued on to the meadows, saddened and disgusted to have witnessed the abduction of Ganymede.

And here I sit in your gardens seeking something that I did not first come to seek. Because of your kindness, you have offered to bathe me with your pity. Yet, Anteros; I would rather you hear my heart.

As had the Spartans deduced, the love between men can be commemorated in its devotion and sincerity, by its legends and anecdotes-- or, as in my case, on in the moments before it must end. I have discovered passion within the arms of treasured men wearing strange jewels and ornate metals of their faraway lands -- only to be stolen of my meager possessions or left adrift in foreign harbors. I have collapsed my tired head on many a layered chest -- only to be awakened by that beating drum against my ear and its inevitable spell to depart by Hybris, or by Dionysus’s libations, or by the war trumpets of Ares. I have been carried on waves stirred by men as they were rising to their greatness or were plummeting to their infamy -- only to grant yet another man his ceremony or commiseration.

Anteros

I realize more than ever, for Epimetheus must have followed me on the trail, that love is of many forms and colors...several magnitudes of dedication and layers of beauty -- if forever in legend it lives, or hideously unfair in it’s resolutions. The love that I need is neither Echo’s lonely worship of Narcissus, nor Zeus’s want and pillage of Ganymede. The love that I need is neither a binding resolution in another man's heart, nor is it Apollo’s sad longing and culpability.

I need only a love that cares to visit my small vessel and places me in the hands of Caerus.

I offer a bargain -- if a mortal could ever do. Please set your club back onto its mantle and dissolve this court. I ask that you allow Poseidon to determine judgement of men like me.

Set my lover free. Let Eros find him however He must do. I must allow the same. What love I am blessed or love I am cursed; whomever Eros has stricken or Tyche has set adrift by whim; whatever meager moments the Horae have arranged; whatever arrives with Gaea’s roaming fish -- such love may never return to me, though a new love may fill its void.

Anteros

I ask you to please refrain from avenging love lost at sea.

As Helios and his steeds arrive -- the colors of land are strange and plentiful! I kneel among your waking hyacinth as your humming silver bees now search purple and rose; where Apollo has ceased drawing in your clay and has fixed his laurel straight. Poseidon beckons me!

I pray to you, Anteros:

Grant me a vessel. Grant me the wind’s chill. Grant me Oizys -- for she knows me well. 
Grant Nyx to greet me at the close of day. Grant me Oceanus who will never drain. 
Grant me netting to cast the depths of men. Grant me Eros -- or torn netting to mend.

Dearest Anteros


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Cats in the Cradle

Tonight, dear reader, I would like to relate to you a story of cats. You may read this story and think that perhaps I have over reacted a bit in the telling and that really there was not much to it in the end. However, I would beg the reader’s indulgence in remembering that I write fantasy novels by and large and as such have a rampant imagination. It is with that in mind that I ask that you to bear with me as I tell this tale.

It was on an early spring day last year about mid-March when I found myself at a lonely farmstead in southeastern Indiana. For those of you unfamiliar with the area, it is a landscape of steep hills and broad ravines. Springs are abundant there, welling up from fissures in the bedrock which is ever near the surface. Pasture land falls off readily to wooded streams that meander through the lowlands making their way eventually to Salt Creek. This particular property adhered to this bucolic archetype with rolling hills and a stream bending its oxbow through the lowest part of the land. It was my job to identify and delineate any and all wetlands on the site. I’ll not bore you with the details of my job, but suffice it to say that I finished right as the day was ending.



Trudging up the last hill on my way back to my truck, I paused to watch the sun dip below the tree line. Well, truth be told, I stopped because the wheezing of my breath had become louder than the squelching of my boots in the mud and the thought of passing out on that lonely hillside did not appeal to me. The chill wind that had harried me for most of the day faded away leaving only the song of early migratory birds ringing through the trees. I pulled down the hood of my sweatshirt and heard the lowing of the cattle in a distant pasture as the sky faded from rosy gold to pale yellow.



Once my breathing had settled from "Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!" to something akin to normal, I resumed my trek back to the truck. I had parked on a gravel road that led back to the hill above the oxbow facing towards the farmhouse and the silos. This road forked just before reaching the house with the wider lane going left between the house and the silos and barn. The other was narrow and ran behind the house to the right towards the road. I slumped into the cab, grimacing as my muscles protested every move I made. The tires crunched against the gravel as I pulled forward meaning to go through the wider left lane.

The farmhouse was small with white clapboard siding and green shutters at the windows much like most houses in the area that were part of working farms. It was obvious that no one was home, which I took no account of as most farmers have to supplement their work with second jobs. I rolled slowly past the fork in the road and up the gradual slope towards the house. The metal silos were just to the left  of me hiding the majority of the barn which was set back a bit. I could see the the barn doors were open, but again I thought nothing of it as this was not uncommon in the area.

It was then that I saw the cat.

There at the top of the rise came a small grey cat. It was little more than a kitten, really. It walked slowly out to the middle of the road and sat, curling its tail about its legs. What I remember most now is the yellow eyes. They were such a bright contrast to the smoke grey fur that you could not help but be drawn to them.

"Look at those eyes," I said as I rolled to a stop. "Come on, little one, get out of the way."



I pulled forward a few more feet, but the cat showed no sign of moving. It merely sat there regarding me with an aloofness that only a cat can manage. I beeped the horn, but received even less reaction.

"Well, this won't do," I said as I put the truck in park and opened the door.

It was well into the gloaming of the day at this point, but there was enough light for me to see my surroundings. I walked forward towards my little grey friend making shooing noises in my best non threatening voice. The cat, of course, made no movement other than to settle down into a resting position. It blinked languidly at me as I drew near.

It was then that two other cats wandered into to my view from the house.

"Oh, more of you," I said watching a ragged black and white tom and a less ragged calico pad their way towards me.

At this point, my imagination took over with enthusiasm.

You know....this is the point in the story where things go bad.

"And I just got out of the truck..." I murmured to myself.

I turned to go back with the plot of every horror movie and book I had ever read or seen tumbling chaotically in my head. Bram Stoker's Dracula won out narrowly over Stephen King's Cujo leaving me with the thought of demonic cats stealing my breath and/or soul like the old folks used to claim.



"Counteth oneth, twoeth, threeth. Throweth," I whispered, chuckling at my own crazy.

I had gotten three steps into my strategic retreat when I stopped. The barn was in full view now. Both doors had been left open revealing the John Deere green of the machines inside. It was the cats that made me stop.

"What the hell?" I exclaimed.

I watched as dozens of cats in all shapes and sizes streamed from the open doors. Now, had it not been going onto dark and had I not been exhausted from slopping around in the mud all day, I might have welcomed the herd of cats trotting their way towards me. However, as it was, I was left with the overwhelming desire to leave. It was only when I felt the touch of the black and white tom against my leg that I bolted for the truck.



I backed up to the fork in such a rush that I nearly slid into the field. Turning hard, I aimed the truck towards the other lane behind the house. The dash alarm chimed to remind me to put on my seat belt, but I ignored it.

"Yes dear, I hear you," I said to the truck. "But I would rather not have my soul sucked out at the moment, thanks."

It was only when I was out on the main road that I stopped to buckle up. I paused, though, as I was reaching for my seat belt to look into the bed of the truck.

...Just when you think the guy is safe....

As I was driving away, I looked over to the drive between the house and the barn and found the little grey cat still perched at the top of the rise staring at me with those bright yellow eyes. 


 


Sunday, February 3, 2019

There is Water at the Bottom of the Ocean

The past few seasons or two, I have been trying to process composing a post like the one that follows below.  

Trying to get to the root of my processing thoughts has been challenging.    

After chewing on many, many thoughts and no final conclusion, I’ve decided to punch out some of these thoughts.  And really, I feel that is the conclusion to these thoughts that I’m about to punch out though the keyboard.  

It doesn’t really matter….

Many, many moons ago for a short time, I started attending a new start-up church, here in Indiana. This church was nothing special. Just another non-traditional Christian church, reaching out to the world.  

The pastor was nothing special either.  Though I enjoyed his messages, over all, I found them to be blah.  I felt his messages seemed more focused on his journey in life and what he was going though rather than what God wanted him to focus on.  

Maybe that’s why this particular church closed its doors a year or two after they opened.  A good friend of mine will remind me now and then, “If God’s not in it, then it wasn’t meant to be.”

This pastor would always end his messages with “So What”.  He even had a slide in his power point presentation in bold lettering, “SO WHAT.”  That was his wrap up time.  I found that I loved this part of this man’s message.  Not because it was his cue to show us that he was ending his message. No, it was because it showed his reality of humanity.  

“So what?” 

So what did you hear from what I just spoke about, is what he was asking on one level.  On a different level, it was his cry as to, So What does it matter if you heard me at all.   

It was the “so what” that stuck with me from my short time attending that church.  
I think it was the final “dot” that I needed to see/hear, to line up what both my parents told me throughout my up-bring.  

“So now what?” I can hear my mom ask with a side of sarcasm.  

“Now what are going to do with that?” my father would ask with a blank face.

After stewing on these moments from my past, I have been asking myself many questions.

What does it matter if I write this post?  What does it matter if I write a book? What does it matter if I take more beautiful photos? What does it matter if I toy with writing music?  What does it matter if I cook an amazing meal to enjoy with family or friends?  

What does it matter if I do creative things?  This is my thought in lining up the “dots” to my parents and this pastor from my past.

And no.  I am not looking for acknowledgment to my craft or art. Nor am I asking for the meaning of life. For those non-believers who may still be reading this post who may have pre-judged me or this post already,  I can hear you now. “Here we go again. Another Bible thumper asking for the meaning of life.”

How’s that for pre-judgment? 

No.  I’ve asked these questions to myself many times.  

Why do I do the creative things that I do? 

And selfishly I’ve come to accept the following.

It doesn’t matter.

It gives me joy.

And that’s all that should matter.

So, go on and continue to do your arts and express you creativeness.  It doesn’t matter if it makes sense.  As long as it makes sense to you and gives you joy.

The title to this post is a lyric from a song.  Why did I choose this title?  It doesn’t matter.  The lyric gives me joy.  I feel it’s fitting considering the conversation of this post.   





I will give each of you a gold star for naming the song.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Let's Take the Long Way Home, Gail Caldwell

I have moved recently.  Only my husband can attest to the boxes I have emptied and stacked on bookshelves--many have gone to Goodwill, and many have ended up on funny piles stacked haphazardly by my reading chair and my bed.

These books are my "one chapter chance."

I have collected many books over the years, and as awful as I feel about this, I have started the "one chapter chance" rule.  If I can't get into the book after one chapter, I give it away.

This doesn't always work.  I'm fearfully stubborn, and I hate not finishing books, so I tell myself "one chapter chance."  Many books shouldn't have made it but continue to dog-ear where I leave off and start something else.  I finish many of these books after putting them down and picking them back up, losing the intended impact.

Anyway, one of these "one chapter chance" books is Let's Take the Long Way Home by Pulitzer Prize winner Gail Caldwell.  It's a memoir.  I'm not too sweet on memoirs generally, but I've read a few that I have enjoyed.

This one was good.

Caldwell writes about her friendship and loss of Caroline Knapp, another successful writer.  The parts of the book that struck me were the parts when Caldwell spoke of herself or Caroline as a writer:
She was so quiet, so careful, and yet so fully present, and I found it a weightless liberation to be with someone whose intensity seemed to match and sometimes surpass my own.  Her hesitation was what tethered her sincerity: As much as Caroline revealed in her books, she was a deeply private person who moved into relationships with great deliberation.  I had known enough writers in my life, including myself, to recognize this trait: What made it to the page was never the whole story, but rather the writer's version of the story--a narrative with its creator in full control.
 I have felt this way about other writers and artists.  This friendship, this kindred of intensity, is what we share in writing.  Other artists understand; many others do not.

Thank you, to all of my writing friends, "whose intensity seemed to match and sometimes surpass my own."

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Opportune

A note to self before you leave work,

As you walk to your car and pass by the 20-somethings leaving classes looking past you to a future with no physical obstacles and with no thoughts but for today...while students plan...

When you drive by Methodist Hospital and know the accomplished men and women fighting for another minute of life have earned it and all their breaths remaining and can't comprehend your ease...while patients heal...

As the sycamores along Illinois snap their bark exposing their white armor turning their backs to your miscalculations of time...while trees expand...

When you reach the canal that barely moves - yet moves - as you drain away the months and years...while the canal spills...

As you cut through Broad Ripple village and the revelers come to play yet hate your secured introversion as they glance at to your secured domestication...while the villagers masquerade...

When you take note the young and the old taking to the trail along Westfield are indifferent to your consistent stumble through life...while the individual extends....

As you reach your drive on up the perpetually green hill of ivy stretching away along the ground and up the pines to escape the disease of your fading...while you fade...

you have dog-eared all your opportunities.



Saturday, December 22, 2018

Folding Sheets

There are moments in a person’s life where reality dispels the illusions we build for ourselves and lay bare the basics of our lives. It is in these times that we discover the fundamental elements that make us who we are. It is the basic programming of our lives that remains when all else is stripped away. One such moment happened to me in the summer of 2017 when my mother was taken to hospital with sepsis.

She was there for ten days. We took turns - my sister, father, and I - sitting by her side as  the doctors struggled to diagnose her condition. It was only after the third day that they were able to ascertain that her bloodstream was infected with staphylococcus oralis, a bacterial infection likely obtained from an over zealous dental cleaning. During this time, and for some time after the antibiotics had started to work, she was delirious. The woman who had been my mother was no longer there, but rather replaced by this frail and gaunt soul in contest against Death. 

Yet, as I sat there watching her, there were signs that she was not completely lost to us. There was one constant during those early days even as she drifted in and out of lucidity. She kept folding her sheets. It wasn’t that she was merely turning them over in her hands, but rather taking measure of them with her hands and precisely folding as if to place them straight into the linen closest. The fact that she was lying on them didn’t seem to matter much at the time. She did this with her blankets and wash cloths as well, all the while tsk-ing and muttering at them when she couldn’t get them put right.

It was also during those early days before the diagnosis came through that she came perilously close to passing. I was alone with her as my sister and father were yet to arrive when she settled into a moment of clarity. Her eyes were watery, but clear as she clasped my hand as tightly as she could. She raised her free hand and rested it shakily on my cheek as she smiled sadly at me. 

“My boy,” she said weakly, patting my cheek with her trembling hand.

I cried then as I do now at the remembering of it.



But, this story has a happy ending of sorts. She survived the ordeal and has returned home, though a bit worse for wear. The Alzheimer’s that just begun to take hold prior to her illness is now much more pronounced. Yet, she remembers each of us though  she cannot say our names. Music still comes to her easily despite her losses, especially Christmas carols. Sentences may be beyond her reach now, but tonight as we were folding their laundry, I set Pandora to the “Fred Waring” Christmas channel and we sang Silent Night together word for word as we put the sheets in the linen closest.


Sunday, December 9, 2018

Eavesdropping @ DFW TGIF



Eavesdropping.  Everyone does it to an extent.  Listening in to others talk about what ever.  Business or personal, it doesn’t matter.  Not knowing all of the context or the background to other peoples’ conversation can be very interesting.  

My wife and I tend to do it a lot when we are out and about. It’s great way to pick up story ideas. Let it be from a whole story, a sub story, or a way to build up someone’s character.  Different accents, or dialects, so on.   

Recently, I was on a business trip.  A quick two-day trip for some training and a factory tour.  I love traveling.  It is a great time to people-watch and eavesdrop.  And this latest trip I got to see and hear some interesting people.  My favorite stranger that I came across on this trip, well, I should say to be fair, she interjected herself onto me.  
   
We had just over a two-hour layover in Dallas Fort Worth International.  Walking through terminal C, my co-worker and I saw a TGIF restaurant and bar just around the corner from our gate.   We agreed it would be a good place to grab some food and drink. We had no problem finding a spot at the bar, only one other guy sitting at the end.  We dropped our bags at the foot of our stools and took a seat. 

The bartender came up to us with the usual bartender jargon, “Can I get you guys something to drink?” as he laid down two white drink napkins.  

We got our drinks.  My co-worker downed his beer looked at me and said, “Nick if you don’t mind watching my bag.  I’m going to step outside and smoke a cigar.”

I nodded, and said, “No problem.”

He picked up his bag and put it onto the bar stool that he was sitting on and off he went.

Not more than three minutes after he left a women came up to me, asked if she could sit where my co-worker was sitting.  I informed her that the seat was taken but she could sit one seat over.  

She was an older lady.  I would guess she was mid 60s, maybe early 70s.  She had money, or maybe she wanted to look like she had money. Regardless her style was that tacky, clunky old lady look.  Long fake fingernails that were thick with chunky light blue nail polish.  A thick woven white sweater with light blue accent throughout the sweater.  Big chunky rectangular shaped gold earrings, matching necklace and bracelets. Chunky. Gaudy.  Her makeup was just as over the top as the rest of her.  Red lipstick and all.  

She ordered her drink which was just a tacky as her.  I felt sorry for the bartender.

“I’ll have a very dirty vodka martini.  But I want you to splash in a little of the olive juice into the martini glass first with a little vermouth.  I want the vodka shaken not stirred and go ahead and put in more olive juice into vodka shaker.  I also want six green olives. Three, in the martini glass. And three on a skewer.  Oh and I will be ordering some food.”  

The bartender grabbed her a menu and went off to make this women’s olive juice with a little bit of vodka martini.  He came back with the drink and took her food order.  

It was just as interesting as her drink order.
            
“I would like to order the mushroom and onion burger.  But I don’t want a bun or fries.  And I don’t want the onions ether.  Can the cook just put the mushrooms on the patty with no bun or onions?  Also I would like a leaf of lettuce next to the patty.  Oh and I would like a house salad with no onions.”

The woman proceeds to get her iPhone out and start going though Facebook.  Sipping her martini.  

She then started texting whomever.  The clickity tap of her thick light blue fingernails against the screen of her phone was getting a little annoying.  It appeared that the nails were preventing her from getting a good solid connection to the keypad on her screen.  I could tell that she was getting impatient.  She started to talk message instead of typing.  Talking into her phone and then hitting send.  

At first, her messages where normal.  

“Just got into DFW.  Having a drink and getting something to eat.”

Normal correspondence…

Then she dropped a message that got my attention. Speaking into her phone with one hand and holding her martini in the other.

“I wanted to ask you.  Are you available to fly down to Nicaragua with me next month?  I have a friend with a condo and a butler.”

I causally turned and looked her direction.  She was looking into her phone.  The glow of the phone lit up her face and the make-up.  

Thinking to myself.  What kind of question is that?  Who gets that question?  Better yet, who has a butler?  Who uses the term butler?  Why Nicaragua?

All these questions flooded my mind.  And I thought this woman would make an interesting story character.  

I almost turned to her and said, I’ll go to Nicaragua. But I thought better.  She might agree and demand that I learn how to make her olive juice martini for her.   






Monday, November 26, 2018

Scattered

I'm a bit scattered.

Forgive me.

In the last month, we have moved into a new home with arched doorways, remodeling projects, lots of haphazard boxes still waiting for a purpose, and a new office--just for me.

My office is lovely.  The green, high-backed chair is perfect for reading.  My desk stores all my letters and random office supplies.  I have pulled out some old antiques and trinkets, too: my great-uncle's wind-up chime clock, the pottery cat Randy got me, my grandfather's old cigar boxes, my Katherina from Mexico, and some of my old books.

I have a thing about old books.

Nick has gotten me quite a few that I have mentioned on the blog--a grammar book from 1896, Lord Jim from 1931, and several Graham Greene editions, including a 1929 copy of The Man Within, Graham Greene's first but lesser-known novel.

Anyway, with the boxes and books, everything is a bit scattered. 

Amongst my boxes I found some things from my grandmother.  She lives alone in the house she has owned for nearly sixty years, and she sends things to me and my family.  I found this diary from 1943 that my grandmother sent about the time we were moving.


My grandmother would have been in her late teens when she wrote this diary.  I recognize her strong, angled handwriting with its open loops but closed vowels.  


I loved reading this diary about my grandmother and the straightforward actions that she told about simply in her diary.  I wanted more glimpses into her mind and thoughts to understand her better.

I may burn all my journals....

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Running Man

"Please try not to blink that bad eye while we do our thing. I know its uncomfortable with your lid bent around like that. What I found is that the strain of keeping one eye from blinking can be lessened if you blink away with the other eye. So...blink away! Good. And don't hesitate to cuss me out. It's all good." 

"Good. Just a few more pulses -- steady. Good.


"Feel like God is opening up inside your head? Well, I mean, you see a blinding light, but I promise it's just a the laser and not a celestial event. It's all good. All. Good.

"Just a few more seconds, Paul. Good. Good. I understand this has distracted you from life? Amazing what a little floater can do to your psyche. Good."


------------------


Forever, since he first saw him appear during a Ninth grade English class twenty years ago, Paul Cowlings knew the man running away in the corner of his right was a peculiar manifestation. He thought it began when he was forced to read, “The Fall of the House of Usher”, when he realized while staring into page 3 after several attempts to absorb the book's plot, but then lost interest and tried to envisage how Roderick Usher might look that a man appeared; or rather, someone appeared to be running inside the Usher home. 


The odd thing interested him more than anything else. He could stare into the page no matter what story he was forced to read and there he was: Running Man. Paul could watch the man run for hours. 


"Pay attention, Paul!"

Soon, Paul could see Running Man just about everywhere in school. He heard "Pay attention, Paul" throughout his school activities. During Math class before lunch, or PE in the early afternoon...during History class at the end of the day and eventually outside of school and during football practice, church, and at home. No matter what he was doing or where he was at, Paul could clearly make out the man running in the corner of his right eye, just within the periphery, and forevermore interesting than what he was told to do or expected to do, or even when he thought better.

Paul tried to mentally tempt Running Man to go away -- hundreds of times. He tried more fervently to get the man to look back at him, or to just slow down and walk to wherever he was going. No matter what he said to the man running, pleas or suggestions, both mentally and verbally; Running Man never stopped running.

Running Man never looked back.

Pay attention, Paul. He heard throughout his adult life, too. He had been accused by family and friends, professors and bosses, girlfriends and college mates of just skidding by...just knowing enough to keep abreast, but never a strain beyond. Smart, even gifted -- if only he did a bit more or simply paid attention to his surroundings. He was always naturally aloof, his mother once said to a neighbor friend. He's good looking, but it's a shame he once heard his ex-wife's mother say on the cell. Even just the other day, his grumpy boss sat him down and claimed he liked Paul's software development skills well enough, but it's a shame he didn't try to fit in. Are you hearing me, Paul?


Running Man was easy to keep an eye on when developing and testing software. Paul was always at his best studying Running Man when work was laid out in replication events and outlined and when double- or triple-checked. To an extent, Running Man was a partner in all his life events...or non-events. Paul did his best work when Running Man was just within his sight. 

Running Man never changed over the years. While the 90's and 2000's fads came and went (not that Paul took much notice), Running Man always wore his pinstriped baggy suit that crumbled just above his polished black shoes and his dark-gray brim hat half tilted to the left of his head that hid the man's hair and gave only a glimpse of a profile. He looked more like an Al Capone, or a John Dillinger, and not some Roderick Usher or Nineteenth Century guy. And always - always - the man frantically ran away from some unknown pursuing thing -- or, did he run towards something? 


Paul asked this a trillion times -- and he rather enjoyed thinking about it, even killing his favorite guesses so as to beget more guesses. He thought to ask his colleagues what they might think of Running Man -- but no; no. Only Paul never brought it up. Only Paul and Running Man knew of each other. Why should he tell anyone? Running Man was harmless.


Running man never got old.


Paul could not 'not' see the running man. Even when he closed his eyes, the man was there; albeit, less defined and more shadowy like he was chasing – or being chased - into a gray fog. Yet, Paul could make out the usual baggy folds of the man's pants; see the brim of the man's tilted hat, silhouette or no. 


Of course, the man running distracted him from time to time, especially during Paul's most stressful moments.


Job interviews, the running man kept running. Marriage and the ultimate divorce -- the running man never slowed. Parents death, one just after the other -- running man still ran to or from something or someone unknown. Apartments, diploma, text books, graduation, roses, wedding ring, a corner house, trips, bills, threats, lawyers, wreaths, wills; Running Man ran.


Paul, however, took a pause one summer afternoon at work when his boss rolled a chair next to him and, with a sense of hesitancy, finally plopped down and scooted closer.

"You've read and signed your evaluation. But, Paul -- I figured that I just lay this on the line for your benefit. To the point...to the point. If you don't push yourself a little harder, Paul. Well, I really hate to tell you this, but I'll have to let you go. Again."


For once, Paul paid attention. He liked his job. He liked his boss. He liked his computer...his desk...and his post-it notes. He liked the simplicity of his career...of following his outlines drawn up by the team...he liked doing exactly what he was told to do -- and, for once in his life, to not look out of place. He liked having a job that did not take too much attention away from Running Man.


"I wish you weren't so distracted in your own thoughts. Your staring into space scares the hell out of us -- but, we know you don't mean to do that. We accept people with, uh, disabilities. Don't want to live in a world that doesn't. Listen, Paul. Any chance you can get out of your head? Get some help? For once?"


The psychologist referred him to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist referred him to another psychiatrist who then figured something out, more on a hunch than by some intense therapy session: Paul had an eye issue, and not a psychosis issue.

"You are naturally inside your own head. To others, you might seem aloof. Adapt to your surroundings. Be aware. Pay attention more, and you'll do just fine. I want you to visit the Optometry office across the hall. I think you are suffering from some kind of vitreous abnormality of the eye."

--------------------

"Okay. Let's see if that works. Now...where's my slate. Look directly at the blank slate. Tell me, Paul; what are you seeing? 


"Do you see a projection any longer? Well, I call it that. Don't mean to offend. As I understand it, you might 'think' you see the dog running -- What's that? Oh. man running. Got it. But, that's just your mind subconsciously trying to make sense of the floater shadowing. 


"We have a tendency to associate natural things and events to what we see with our own eyes -- even when they can't be real in the slightest. Ghosts. Deja vu. Trump elected President. Gotcha. Takes all your attention, doesn't it?


"Good, keep looking. What do you see, Paul? Keep blinking. What do you see? All good?"



Paul blinked. He stared at the slate held by the doctor. Gone. He then stared at the mauve color of the doctor's office. Gone. He blinked again. Gone! The man running in the corner of his right eye; he had disappeared. He was no more. Running Man finally ran away!

It was all good. For once.

--------------------
Paul was their last patient. After the procedure and with no Running Man to take his attention, he felt all alone, but heard every scuffle of papers from the receptionist desk; heard every unanswered call and every shutting of the door. He saw nothing but the white ceiling as he lay there recuperating -- no Running Man; only white plaster, until the nurse's face appeared over him. She bandaged the patch over his eye, asked if he needed a ride back to his apartment. No, that won't be necessary. Not at all. Paul saw well enough out of his left eye, and thankfully, he saw nothing but black out of his right.

"Mr. Cowlings. Please reconsider. I know Dr. Irvine won't be pleased that you turned down our Lyft service."


Paul started the rental car. He rarely drove. He had to renew his Driver's License twice and take three Driver's retraining courses to reduce the points added to his license -- but, he still drove short distances, if infrequently. His ex-wife Logan used to do all the driving. She didn't mind it. She was afraid he'd be, well...distracted. The engine noise was hardly noticeable. He stared at the radio and thought he might do something he had never done before: listen to music. Did Logan listen to music? Yes, he remembered that she did. But, he couldn't recall what kind. He drove across the parking lot, took note of the few cars remaining. He discovered the southeast exit was blocked and wondered if he had noticed that before. He returned to the doctor's building and drove around back to get to the north entrance.


He thought the world anew! He wanted to do things. He looked forward to driving his car...the sun-baked plastic dashboard was intoxicating. He might stop by a park and go walk...maybe go to the used book store after picking up some coffee and find that House of Usher story-- and finally give it a good read. He never ordered anything but 'coffee'. Maybe he'll buy one of those seasonal drinks! 


Logan, too. He will give her a call tonight and just -- well; he would just like to talk to her, instead of just hearing her talk. This time, he'd pay attention to what she says. What she needs. He remembered they used to sit on the couch and watch TV. He never paid attention to what they were watching -- Running Man sometimes lost his step and had to restart. It was a fairly new phenomena, and he had wondered if the television screen might have had something to do with Running Man stumbling and needing to regain his pace.


He admired the large sycamores in the parking lot islands left behind by the land developers, to give the new complex some feel of age. He tried to guess how old they were until his guessing was interrupted by a familiar blurring in the corner of his right eye.

He blinked.

The blur only grew larger with each tree that he passed and clearer and clearer. Yes. It was not a figment of his imagination. It was that floater. It was that man. Running Man had returned!

Though, the Running Man seemed to be walking. No. No. Now, he was running. He ran frantically, too, not like the slower pace run from before. Running man took on a new gate and, frankly, seemed more real, as if the laser treatment made him more dimensional, more vibrant than ever. Yet, the man no longer wore a hat, and he had on what looked more or less like modern pants and a striped shirt.

The therapy -- it only brought Running Man to the modern world, to the forefront. He even appeared to be running towards the office building, and -- for once in over 20 years, the man actually looked back. Finally! Paul strained to get a good look, and for once -- for once! -- Paul would see Running Man's face. Paul focused his attention on the man's eyes: wide with fright as if he was, indeed, running from something and not towards something.

And, just before the guy disappeared from Paul's sight forever, as Paul finally, somehow, met up with Running Man and he even appeared to run over him by Paul's car; Running Man had a kind of resemblance to Dr. Irvine.

But, Paul didn't pay much attention to how the doctor looked. He just wanted the laser thing done and hoped he would see Running Man less frequently -- but not gone forever.