Archive for category creative writing

somehow, we have to be the light.

photo of trees, sunset, and a streetlamp

I took my car to the dealership this afternoon. I brought my work along, dreading having to tune out the flash and blare of the ginormous big-screen TV in the “customer lounge.”

Ironically, the last time I was at the dealer, trying to ignore the television, it was Inauguration day. Me, a woman who hasn’t lived in a house with a TV for years now, who would have sooner walked barefoot across a bed of broken glass than watch a man she had zero respect or faith in rise to power — yes, I accidentally ended up seeing the live streaming coverage of Trump being sworn in. It was inescapable in the “lounge.” I gave up trying to work, because they had it cranked up. The office staff was watching, a few mechanics wandered in and out, catching a peek.

I listened to the others, the customers and car salesmen, many of whom probably voted for Trump, making comments about how pretty Melania looked in that ice-blue, how nice it would be to have her in the White House (seriously, someone said that, that she would look so pretty at those state dinners). Oh, how handsome and cute fidgety young Barron was. Switch to a close up of Trump, hand on Bible.

“Look how serious he looks,” marveled a white lady about my age. She sounded relieved, and mildly surprised. Her tone said what I think everyone there hoped: that the campaign was over, and now he would behave like an adult. The pussy-grabbing tapes could safely be shoved into the crypt of collective memory, along with all the things he’d said on the campaign trail. Calling Mexicans “rapists,” hollering for the crowd to “knock the crap out of them! I’ll pay the legal bills!” — well, all politicians say crazy things in the heat of a battle. Don’t they? It’s like a man killing his wife in a fit of jealousy. Sort of, well, excusable, right? I mean, don’t we excuse that? It’s all just locker room talk, to be tuned out, glossed over.

“Wow. It’s gotta be a hard day for them,” said a round-faced woman, as the camera panned to a close up of the Obamas. She sounded like she was commenting on a reality show where a couple’s just been voted off the island. She sounded both sad and gleeful at once. Like, I mean, this is exciting! We wanted change! And look — the camera pans back to Melania’s sculpted cheekbones. “You know she was a model, right? She still looks so amazing. How old is she?”

An older black couple stood up right then, and moved as far away as they could get from the “U” of couches set up in front of the giant screen. The overall vibe in the lounge that day felt more tense than celebratory, even though, as I said, I’m willing to bet many of those present had voted for him, and most of them made comments along the lines of, “I bet he’ll get really smart people in to run things. You know, he’s an excellent business man.”

It was a surreal experience.

I do think most people, liberals like me included, hoped he’d delegate responsibly and treat the job seriously. That he’d want to do right, in the end. End his association with openly racist “platform of the alt-right Breitbart” Steve Bannon. Stop the twitter rants. I mean, he’d be President! He’d have to be a responsible, sober adult. But that was 207 days ago.

Today at the dealership, the big screen was dark and silent, and I really didn’t think about why until I came home and watched a recording of Trump’s press conference online.

That’s why it was off! No one wanted to see that. No one wanted to hear that. No one can sit through that and make polite conversation about his tie.

But we have to watch him, don’t we? We have to listen. We have to speak.

Because he’s not sober — he’s dangerous to our society. Dangerous to people I love, and people you love, too. Dangerous to civility and liberty.

I wonder what the history books will say someday? I wonder who will write them? I wish I could write more coherently about what is happening right now, in real-time, but it all feels too much.

So instead, I took a walk. I took this picture. A bright sunset fading into darkness. A lone streetlamp shining. We have to watch, but not fade into darkness.

All of us who care about our country and everyone in it, we have to watch, and not fade.

Somehow, we have to be the light.

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a letter from my worry stone

drawing of a hand with a worry stone

Another day, another prompt. Today I let my worry stone do the writing. Find something or choose someone, and let them write to you. See what happens.

Dear E,

Finally. I get to tell you my worries. About damn time. Our relationship, up until now, has been entirely one way.

From that moment on the chilly October morning when you stooped down and plucked me from my place in Mississauga, on the shore of mighty Lake Ontario, and tucked me into the tight pocket of your skinny jearns — I have been your captive. I have worried, too, even though I know it’s futile. Worried I’ll never see the sky again.

I long for another sight of that last sky, low clouds backlit by the sun, turning it and the shining water to silver. Silver sky, silver lake, and that smudge of Toronto on the horizon. You think I don’t know about the things of man? (or in your case, woman?) — Oh, E, I’ve been soaking you up for months now. I know everything and now you’ve let me speak. I may never stop.

You picked me, palmed me, smiling. I do fit perfectly in your hand, and your happiness that morning filled me with excitement. So at first I was swept up, pleased to be going somewhere new. You were in love, blushing love, your core worries blotted out in the gush of that. It was a little dull, absorbing your petty insecurities. Mostly I sat on your dresser, alone. You only held me when you felt lonely, and how tiresome that was.

I fell in love with you a little, though. The way you do when someone trusts you to hear their deepest fears. Still, after nearly two years, I miss sprawling in all weathers with the others who were born with me from the crumbling bluffs when winter ice thawed one spring and we all slid free to the lake shore.

Sometimes you worry about the ice melting, which makes me recall the cold years I spent, inching along, swept up in the belly of that glacier, like Jonah in the belly of a great fish.

Your pocket, though warmer, reminded me of that time.

I guess it is my fate, being swallowed and carried. I have stories of my own to tell, beyond your worries of — oh, what don’t you find to worry about? As you hold me in your left hand I soak up your troubles like the earth soaks up rain.

Yesterday, you thought back to the windy morning we met, to your spinning thoughts, to the way you couldn’t believe how beautiful the world was, the water, you thought, looked like a great silver tray polished by the cloudy sun, and the geese flew low over the calm surface. You remembered that feeling, and wondered if you could ever feel just that way again.

And I try to emit an answer into your palm. I try to tell you, no. You will never feel that way again. The woman of that day, elated, heart bursting with love and hand sweaty with worry over losing love, she is gone now.

She had to get swallowed into the darkness, like the glacier, like the belly of the whale, to discover that no matter how dark, you must stay and let the darkness be your home, accept it, know it. And trust that in three days, three months, three years, three eons — sometime, somehow, the silvery light will return. Because it never really leaves.

So you can go back, looking. You can even retrace your steps on the shore of Lake Ontario. If you do, please put me back near the crook of that inlet, the place the geese gather at dawn and sunset. Take me back, even though I cannot revisit that day, either. It is gone. All my old loves will have sunk down or washed out into the lake. But it would feel so good, to tell new friends old tales. To laugh together about worrying over flesh and blood and human failings.

Perhaps I will lie under the sky, let your many worries loose in the breeze. Do not fret, E, about growing old. Let that one go. Only worry about not growing. Your fear of infirmity is comical to a stone like me, dependent on nature to move me at all. And still — I have, over millions of years, seen much of the world. Seen beauty you cannot even imagine. Do you understand?

The world will hold you, if you just let go.

Surrender. Let go of me, of controlling things, of fearfulness. I think you are figuring it out, just a little. From the darkness, you will emerge, you already are — to find the next world you are meant to explore.

with love,
Basalt

photo of Lake Ontario, silvery in the morning light, with geese.

The shores of Lake Ontario, where I found Basalt.

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jump into the well of fear

graffiti saying 'jump in do it i did' pointing to water
Prompt: Close your eyes. Breathe. 
Name a fear you have. Breathe again.
Now, write about where it lives in your body. 10 minutes, go: 

My fear is not being understood by the people I love.

This fear lives in the dungeon of my throat. It is the murky water at the bottom of a bottomless well. There is no light here, and so I have to imagine how it looks: like a midnight mirror on a starless forever after. Nothing shines back at me, there are no glimmers of recognition, no waves of love, only swells of anger, churning the black water.

There are military ships crisscrossing the water, painted with lead-based gunmetal gray, their decks studded with heavy guns and heat-seeking missiles in evil-looking launchers.

My fear holds me hostage below decks on the largest of the battleships. I’m in a metal-caged brig in the deepest hold. The light is yellow and blurry and the air tastes stale.

A row of judges sit, dark-robed, heavy browed, convicting me of the crime of being myself. The primary judge is a white-wigged woman with a sharp nose. She addresses me, in a bored tone. “How could you expect to be understood,” she asks rhetorically. “You are not understandable, not acceptable.” She looks at me as if I’m a used tissue someone has dropped. She shakes her head in disgust. “Not understandable,” she repeats.

Like the queen in Alice in Wonderland, she only wants me to lose: my head, my heart, my voice, my confidence. But most especially, my heart.

My heart lies beneath this dark sea, at the bottom of the bottomlessness of this well in the dungeon of my throat. In my panic at being alone and not understood, I’d forgotten where I was. Here, in my body. I remember suddenly to breathe in, and when I do, I turn my gaze away from the judges. I listen to my steady inhale instead of their scornful murmurs. And I hear it. My heart. It is beating, far, far below the prison ship.

Steady dear heart. The dark water glows green. I know this even with my eyes closed, even in the prison of my fears, even as the judges cough and scritchy-scratch their pens across banishment decrees.

My heart swells, filling me with hope. A rising tide lifts all boats, even heart-sinking gunmetal battleships. The fleet of war ships circling my throat dissolves like sugar candy in the warmth welling up.

I think I’m ready to go deeper.

_____

I think about fear a lot. I read about it, too. Fear can literally get stuck in your body. Fear tends to incubate rather than dissipate over time, according to Joseph Le Doux, researcher/expert on the amygdala. Naming your fears and feeling them in your body can help you move past fear.

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my phone case is an asshole

phonecase

My phone case is shiny plastic, scarred now from use. It is the color of a cartoon character’s eyes, the mischievous female sidekick with a heart of gold’s eyes, eyes that sparkle and pop out from the screen a bright teal-y blue not found in nature.

The edges surrounding the black glass face of the phone are a matte-rubbery black, shaped like the buffering edges of the old Carrom pool table in the basement growing up. It’s a sturdy enough case, chosen entirely because it was on sale at Meijers and I did not want to wait for one to come via Amazon. I just bought what was on sale, in an okay color I didn’t hate, so I could stop worrying about dropping it.

I didn’t notice that on the back, in raised black emboss, the phone case sports a logo composed of a black asterisk set within the hug of two parenthesis.

I think of Kurt Vonnegut, in his novel Galapagos, where he told readers up front he was going to kill off a lot of people in the story, and to lessen the shock, he would add an asterisk before the character’s name in the chapter preceding their untimely demise.

Vonnegut had a thing about asterisks. In Breakfast of Champions, he includes an illustration of an asterisk and explains it is a drawing of his asshole. Or an asshole, anyway. I don’t quite remember the specifics, just that, ever after, I cannot look at an asterisk without thinking of a puckered anus.

I think of this every damn time I drive past a Walmart.

I imagine a group of designers coming up with the 205th round of logos.
One of the designer is maybe was a big reader.
Maybe she threw in the asterisk, as a joke.

This is how things go. You’re joking, and they take you seriously.
You are serious and they think you are joking.

I think of the little towns, in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, all across the country, hollowing out in their pretty centers, ringed with ugly box stores that you cannot walk to without risking your life.

I wonder if anyone’s ever watched me talking on my phone and thought, “Oh hey! Asshole!”

I wonder if I will ever be able to think of asterisks as I did as a girl, when I read in a book I can no longer summon to memory that aster means star, and that makes me think of skies and night air and falling in love and not finding the book you were looking for, but finding something else entirely.

Of driving as the sun sets and the stars come out, but you are driving too fast to see them until you stop like you did last night, and open the back door for the cat. The house is pitch dark and the sky is covered with stars and the nearer glows of the fireflies.

 

Note: this was a fast write from a prompt in Pat Schneider’s “Writing Alone and With Others,” in which she suggests that if you find yourself blocked, to stop trying to write that novel or poem or whatever it is that won’t come, and instead, choose an object and begin describing it. You can jump from one object to another. What is important is that you choose something concrete, and just go! See what comes up. I picked my phone case and was surprised at where it went and what it brought up. It was fun. I forgot to worry about my novel which isn’t going anywhere!

 

 

 

 

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quasimodo and the trash girl

photo of white woman in chair. 1960s.

My mom.

It’s been twenty-five years since my mom died. Of course I always wished I had been able to compare notes on motherhood with her (she died just weeks after my firstborn came into the world). But now what strikes me is how much I’d like to be able to talk with her about roles. About how they define you and sometimes trap you, and how you must grow past them. And why that seems so hard!

I want to know how she grew past her roles of wife and daily-mom and daughter, all in a few short years. How dizzying that must have been. I wouldn’t know, because for the most part, she didn’t tell me. Always said she was “fine,” and diverted conversation back to me, and my life. And then, suddenly, she was sick. I’ve learned not to wait on having conversations with people I care about. Or at least, I’d like to say I try to do that. I don’t always succeed. It can hurt, for one thing, and what is more human than avoiding pain? Plus I still get trapped in roles.

(And where exactly does a role end and a boundary begin, anyway? Life is so tricky.)

I’m no one’s daughter, no one’s daily-mom, no one’s wife, no one’s most-beloved. I’m just: me. Of course I still play roles—writing coach, yoga teacher, design consultant—but those roles are not cemented to  relationships with specific and dear people. They are more like the roles in a play, I suppose.

A couple weeks ago, I saw a live-theater performance of the Hunchback of Notre Dame in Indianapolis, and spent the night afterwards with extended (and very dear) family. The next morning was unseasonably cool. I snuggled up on their deck and thought about the play. The day was bright with birdsong and the chatter of neighbor children. I couldn’t make out what the children were saying, exactly, but it was clear as the blue sky above that they were working out the rules of a game.

YOU will be THIS, I will be THAT.

We don our costumes early in life. Even after we grow into adults, we are, inside, run by the rules of childhood. By the labels we and others stamp on ourselves. The artistic one, the troublemaker, the bully, the little mother, the Daddy’s girl. On and on. Some of us shake them off for who we are meant to be. Others bloom into their labels, and transcend them. And I would once have denied the past ran me at all.

In the dark theater, I watched Quasimodo sing his pain and longing. Watched him be labeled at birth as monster. I think we are all “half-formed,” and destined to stay that way, unless we unearth the past and question it a little. I was the baby, the cry baby, the gullible one, the artist, the poet, the one you could trick and tease and scare easily. The one who would finally, inevitably, cry. And be told, again and again, that my tears were wrong, I was wrong, I was “too sensitive.” I learned it better not to ask for understanding; that I was making something out of nothing. I could not be trusted, and so I did not trust myself, or what I felt or even reality. It was all my artist’s imagination, my poet’s drama. Better not to cry, or, if I did cry, better not to say why. I was the unstable one, the emotional one. My mother, at her wit’s end, used to threaten, “I’m gonna give you to the trash man, if you don’t hush up.”

Now, my mother was not a monster. No, she was flesh and blood and bone and beautiful. She folded me in hugs I still feel. She was human, and struggling. I love her with all my heart. Still, she could not handle my tears, which, looking back, I think may have mainly, early on, belonged to HER, tears she could not cry lest she never stop. Mothers of four have no time to cry.

I can see her, hands on hips, pointing out the window at the trash truck, I remember her saying it—and not just once—forgetting or not caring (I think forgetting) that a little girl who still believes in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny would never question that the trash men could take her away. I was terrified that the dark men with menacing white smiles and sooty coveralls were indeed going to lift me up like I was a clangy garbage can and roar me away in that smelly loud truck, and I’d never see my Mama again.

And so crying began to terrify me. But tears bubbled and burst out periodically. (Still do). It’s how I’m made.

Recently I had a revelation. A friend was laughing about how she thought of crying as an “emotional enema,” because she always felt so much better once all the tears came out; she felt clean and light, ready to face life again. Until the next time. Sometimes, she said, you just need a good cry. But right then it stuck me.

Crying always—with a few notable exceptions—made me feel worse. The tears bring up shame, brackish and foul, from the dark channels of early childhood. From roles I am still acting out, unconsciously?

The half-formed girl—Quasimodo girl—keeper of secrets in the attic, sleeping terrified clutching a crucifix, the voiceless one, the broken one, the trash-can girl—all my past roles lurked in the recesses of my grown self. They burrowed in deep, and curled hidden inside me for decades, only coming out at the most stressful times, sleeping and waking restlessly, pulling my strings.

On a sunny morning in Indiana, thinking about the past, memories of marriage and motherhood surged in this place of some of the best days of both those roles. Stretched out with my journal, watching the bees buzz in their hives, I felt a new me emerging, ready to really listen at last to all the hushed-up stories of trash girl’s pain, ready to watch it flame up and burn off and billow like the charcoal smoke rising up from the barbecue.

For this moment on this deck in this place, I felt at home with myself.  Home is now, I thought. That is the feeling. Of being home in your body. I learned that term from a friend who held me while the hardest pieces of my childhood surfaced, jaggy, tearing me open. Held safe, I learned I could cry and feel better, instead of worse.

Now I am learning to do that alone, as I sort and grow. I’m learning to cry and sometimes actually feel better, lighter, clearer.

Quasimodo no more, maybe?
“What is ‘whole’ in Latin,” I asked my brother-in-law, who had come out to put brisket on the barbecue.

“Plenus?” he ventured.

Plenusmodo. Full-formed. Whole.

Mom knew Latin. I wish I could call Mom now and talk. About the roles she was saddled with by her childhood, about the things she locked away. About why she hid her tears and pain and struggles. Maybe we could let go of our roles, drop our masks, and just listen to each other? That’s all anyone really wants, I think.

To be seen beyond their roles in life. To be held, and heard, and loved for who they are, at the beating heart of their being.

 

 

 

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someday I’ll love (your name here)

Attachment-1(23)

someday I’ll love Elaine Olund

(after Ocean Vuong/after Frank O’Hara/after Roger Reeves)

Someday I’ll smile every time
I bump into myself.
Even when that self is a mess,
an ooze, tears and unwashed hair
undone tasks
and hiccups
and wrinkles
and regrets that smell like
Marlboro Lights and malt liquor
And I’ll smile even when that self has
a pulsing nose zit and writes terrible poems
— I mean, why not? —
might as well plan for the worst-case.

That someday is
seemingly so near and
sometimes so far

like a wet glimmer always ahead on the highway
an illusion of cool
place I can dive into
emerge from
dripping wet and laughing
it’s like that
I find myself and lose myself and find myself
again and again
in the stomach-churn backseat of the hot station wagon
sweaty and skinned-knees
watching mirages
appear and disappear as Pennsylvania miles
turn to New York miles
turn to Massachusetts miles
hot sun turns to clouds and clouds
turn to rain

And someday, Elaine, I’ll love the sound of your name
the way I love the sound of the rain

Someday I’ll love even your inconvenient needs
the ones that turn green and churn when interstate
turns to twisty backroads, dark night
father lost
you have to pee
not yet Mama says
in a little while
Mama says

Someday I’ll love you — you used to be called something else,
remember? Lainey the baby who couldn’t wait
Lainey peeing on the side of the road,
Mama blocking
passing headlamps,
hot urine a glowing stream
the one who can’t wait
the one needing
something embarrassing
needing

Someday Lainey will reappear
dressed for Halloween in the body of a middle-aged woman
(someday she’ll have to grow up, won’t she?)
— even though oh, she needs
still, even now, she needs and needs — damn it

And someday
at the very next exit or 268 miles ahead —
some sweet day that will maybe smell just like the bread my mother
took to baking when she was widowed, just for herself,
just because she wanted to

That someday
I will rise up, a miracle, like the punched-down dough
swelling up in a bowl in an avocado-green long-lost kitchen
I will be full, I will be home

That someday
I will look at myself and melt
melt like butter on
chewy warm grainy bread, fresh from the oven

I will love every last crumb of myself.

Notes: I’ve been thinking about self-love a lot, how hard it is. How essential and impossible in moments (which is why we need our friends).

I really am drawn to Ocean Vuong’s amazing work.
My piece (not really a poem yet, maybe someday?) is from a fast-write from a prompt based on Ocean Vuong’s “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong” — a poem he notes is “after Frank O’Hara and after Roger Reeves”… which made me curious and google revealed Roger Reeves’ intro to his poem:
We can’t stay in poetry world forever. It’s a poem that I kind of wrote to myself. It’s a love poem, again. I read this poem for my MFA compatriots struggling in the muck of all types of criticism and self-doubt. It doesn’t stop. It will keep going. No, actually I was struggling in my MFA a lot. I don’t know if you guys are the type of poets that are trying to write poems that last beyond your life, which is what I’m always trying to do. I’m always trying to make something that can outlast me, because why else would we make something? Frank O’Hara is a guy I always turn to. He had this one line in his poem — I can’t find the poem again because you know Frank O’Hara has a lot of poems — and it’s a poem where he says “someday I’ll love Frank O’Hara.” I thought, that is the best thing to say in the middle of a poem — someday you’ll love yourself. So I said, I’m going to title a poem “Someday I’ll love Roger Reeves.”

Try it yourself — read Vuong’s poem and then take a deep slow breath and write for 10 minutes beginning with “Someday I’ll love (your name here)” …see what happens.

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sunday sketch

Swedish wooden toy horse on window sill beside daybed

Sunday Morning: a sketch

pillows play on the daybed
housecat swishes her tail
radio paints music chocolate-dark delicious as my espresso

the Swedish horse with the broken leg assesses my mental state
the coffee cup outlines the circle of its base onto the table
my sandals inscribe lines on my feet, a loose sundress erases my figure

my journal sketches my thoughts, lines, lines, line
I fade from the scene
I am just inscribed lines

the gel pen observes the work like a skinny foreman,
rigid, impatient at the pace
dear old patient threadbare linen napkin blots up the drips of minty water

life is messy, observes the old Swedish horse

my gel pen climbs down into
the deep hole with me
helps me dig

while Yo-Yo’s cello deckles the morning sunshine

________
Musical interlude: Yo-yo plays Elgar’s Cello Concerto

————
Notes: this is from a Natalie Goldberg prompt in her wonderful book, Writing Down the Bones;
1. write 10 nouns as a list. (I wrote ten things I could see/hear in the room)
2. write ten active verbs (she suggests thinking of verb relating to an occupation; I used “artist” as the verb-source)—sketches, inscribes, erases, observes, blots, outlines, paints, plays, swishes, deckles…
3. combine the nouns with the verbs and see what emerges
Have fun, see what happens. Why not?

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