In the gaze of the other

"My mistress' eyes are nothing…"


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Dime Stories


Last year I organized a Meet-up writers group to see if I couldn’t get workshops and writing collaboration. After a few sessions, I ended the group for several reasons, not the least of which was a growing ghostwriting business. I just didn’t have time. 

I enjoyed the people, even for that short time, and have stayed in touch–loosely–with a few of them, bumping into them on social media and in following blogs. I even met one of them, Kate, in person for a lovely, long, luxurious sit down at a local Starbucks, chatting about dying mothers and writing, and whatever else came to mind.

It was Kate who introduced me, by a quick Facebook messenger note, to Dime stories. I had been writing these ten minute writes as exercise, keeping my writing muscle going and my notebook full of ideas, a la the Life in 10 Minutes people who graciously publish my scribblings when I submit (I’m not sure they turn anyone down, but maybe). She thought this was right up my alley.

And she was right. A group of writers meet once a month in a wine store in Costa Mesa to read their three-minute stories (500 words). On a whim, I went, thinking I had a few dozen pieces I could rip out of my cyber notebook to polish up or down into three minutes. I chose one, printed it out, and went.

After the first one, I knew I had done it again–leapt before scaring myself sensible. I realized I had no idea about the rules of the game or the competition, the first being not too complicated, the second being stiff. I was intimidated after the first reader raced through a thousand scenes in 180 seconds–or at least it seemed that way.

I hadn’t even read mine out loud beforehand to test its timing–and time was of the essence. It.had.to.be.three.or.under. Uh oh. And I brought my sister along to witness my humiliation. It also dawned on me that I had but only once or twice read any of my work out loud (reading to the dog doesn’t count). I did read my poems from my cell phone to the beat of bongos and a bass guitar at the street fair once, but this was a quiet, attentive (seemingly) audience. It was timed, for crying out loud, so someone was paying attention. 

I grew slightly anxious as the readers continued, one, two, three, four…and then my name was called, a folded paper drawn out of a felt hat (was it straw?) 

I got up before the mike and jumped the gun. Yeah, yeah, I’m supposed to wait for the signal from the recorder. False start and go…I thought I’d start slowly to gather myself up in a comfortable pace. I think it turned into a race, though. I wish I’d inherited a voice the timbre of Audrey Hepburn’s, not the lady with the stuffy nose in the cold medicine commercial–nasal. But it was done. 

We voted (good thing I brought my sister) on our first three picks for best of the night, and left. It was such a fun experience in retrospect. I think next time I’ll go to enjoy the stories rather than worry about how I’m going to read mine. Lovely crowd (about 17) of talented writers, including Kate.  Thanks, Kate.

Oh, and my story was one in a three-way tie for second (strategic accompaniment on my part–at least I hope she voted for me). You can listen to the selected stories here. Mine’s titled, “Taco Love.”


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The Sun Tower to Crazy Gods: 10 for Today

 

Ever try and look at all the pieces of your life, all the jobs paid and unpaid you do, all the habits conscious and unconscious, and all the words spoken and silent, and put them in a pattern? Have you ever tried to read your life like a puzzle starting to form the picture it’s going to be? Ever place the links in the chain of cause and effect in a line (a necklace) or a mosaic (fence) to see how it all fits?

I do that. It feels good. I’m a pattern maker, a puzzle solver, and a radical analyzer. I’m also critical and judgmental, as collateral effects. I do that–knit patterns, crochet chains of events and behaviors–because I want to know. We’re all seekers.

It’s not just death, either. Some people have that question covered, while still more probably don’t. The notion of doing right or wrong is somehow tied up in prediction and calculation. If I do this, the result will be this, so I should or shouldn’t. It’s not rocket science. It’s logic.

But long ago, I gave up the god of logic. I know there’s more to this living thing than logic. And whose logic anyhow? Mine? Yours? Intuition and sense are real. No denying them. Mostly, I comfort myself with balance. Life is balance. It glides off the mind’s tongue. But aren’t I just looking for patterns again?

What if…?

Yes, I know I can count on one thing for sure. Chaos is my creed. And randomness. There’s comfort there. Neither disappoints. They just are. Fact. I don’t understand why the more fearful of us don’t embrace random chaos more.

It’s not anarchy or nihilism. I believe in order and cause and effect. I just don’t let them rule my world. My sigh of relief is the mystery, the storm-flurry of ideas, flung pieces, like the shrapnel of cogitation embedded in the skin of consciousness.

Surrender. Give up; you can’t build a tower to the sun, so lie down in the grass and let it bathe you in warmth instead.

 


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she’s got me: ten for today

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I don’t like my beer with a melon-flavored after taste. I should have driven past the turn-in to my tract, straight down a half mile to my usual watering hole and gotten a right-hoppy Stone IPA with an order of stinky fries and be done with it. Instead, I made that left turn, thinking I’d just go home and enjoy a cold one at home.

But the fridge had one whole beer left, a craft something or other with a fancy label and cursive writing, all in browns and mint greens. Lovely can, but the melon after -taste…meh.

New adventures. Plenty on the horizon what with a new business and an upcoming steady writing gig that actually sorta kinda pays decent money. Not that my pay is anyone’s fault but my own. I’m learning and growing in the trade while collecting some coin on the way. It’s a journey I’m strolling through.

And the dog? The Husky pup? Well, I thought after the 20th time of her escaping and the 20th hole she dug in my tomatoes (leaving the half-chewed Romas to rot in the dirt as a testimony to her dominance and betrayal) good riddance. I’m not playing go fetch her ass from the neighbor’s yard or the playground around the corner anymore.

But here it is, not even a day that she’s been gone at the vet’s for her, you know, obligatory non-contribution to the population of unwanted animals, and…I miss her. She’s my constant companion at my feet as I write or in and out of my door when I’m trying to clean or biting my hair and mat when I try to do yoga.

She’s a presence, a dufus in the doorway, a gazelle chasing the crows down the field past the monkey bars, and a dragger of filthy, smelly, ripped-up tennis shoes into my bed.  She’s got me.


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Bullies, Terrorists, and Congressmen: Ten for Today


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My head aches with the world, swollen with the chaos and calamity of it. No salve of good will and transcendent detachment patches the soreness, the inflammation, and the throbbing anger.

When I reactively shout at him, my father’s happy. Negative attention is better than none. I’ve raised my children, done my job outmaneuvering ration-less beasts. Why do they appear in full grown men’s bodies now? I’m mad that I can’t return to my former childless self—be the child and not the parent.

And then that runaround with the country of Kaiser. Institutions are built to crush people who pay for them, give them their existence. Medicine is meant to be waved before the eyes of the sick, taunting, “Catch me if you can.” I hated when boys stole a poor unsuspecting victim’s wool hat and played keep away, tossing it just above the desperately grabbing hands reaching for it.

I’m not alone in this now perceived defect, empathy. Yet, it drains the very peace from me, feeling it all, the hands of every eternally colonized American—women, children, people of color, and the poor—with raised hands clutching at their wool hats—respect, pay, opportunity, voice, healthcare, food, dignity—just out of reach by bullies gleefully foaming at the mouth as they expand their world by shrinking others’.

Always a zero sum game to psychotics, paranoids, terrorists, and congressmen.


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Wheat germ and almonds: Ten for Today


 That girl at the party sitting in a chair, plastered from too many beers slurred, “You smell like wheat germ and almonds.” I wasn’t sure whose scent she was describing, but I was the only one close enough to be inhaled and registered.
 
I remember thinking then, almost thirty years ago, what an amazingly precise olfactory perception for a nearly senseless drunk. I laughed after she said it, but she didn’t seem to mind, not taking it as ridicule anyhow. It wasn’t. The weirdness of her image drew a laugh to fill the gap that most certainly emerges after a statement like that.
 
She brought on the chuckle because she used the word wheat germ. Back then, who at this Bruce Springsteen-blaring keg party would know such a thing? Not me. And then I worried about how I smelled. I didn’t know whether wheat germ smelled foul or fragrant. I wrenched my neck to sniff my pits. I still can’t smell myself.
 
Almonds? What do they smell like raw? Nothing. Roasted and chopped, they smell heavenly, like earth and sun. If a lover ever told me my aroma was nothing lovelier than freshly roasted and chopped almonds, I’d blush with the flattery.
 
But here was this inebriated partygoer unconsciously tossing out poetry as if no one was listening or worrying about body odor. She might have been talking to herself, but my youthful narcissistic self felt besieged with momentary muse-filled doubt.
 
A few days later I asked my mother what wheat germ smelled like. And without a second’s notice of the question’s oddness, she replied, “How the hell should I know?”


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Zero-sum waiting game


 
They say a watched pot never boils. And pasta doesn’t cook in the 8 minutes they say it does on the box. Forget about my oven. Add a half hour or more to every cooking time mentioned in a recipe, any recipe.
 
My oven is old as is the rest of my house and the inhabitants in it. My children are now 21 and 18 (in a matter of days)–older children, not grade schoolers any more. And their parents’ late fifties make them older parents. And my parents, who had me when they were in their early twenties, are old. My father will turn 83 in a month, and my mother won’t live out the month. Though younger than my father by four years, she’s older than us all. Her demented body attacked her and made her old.
 
I’m awaiting her death. She breathes laboriously, with her whole body. Her lungs can’t do it alone any more. She needs to breathe with her belly, once ballooned with sweets now shrunken down into her spine. The hospice nurse says this belly barely breathing is yet another sign of her “transitioning.” I tell the caretaker to give her morphine. She doesn’t look like she suffers but just in case. She’s tired of living.
 
I wait. I watch her chest rise and fall. She doesn’t open her eyes any more. Her hands have begun to swell, turning her fingertips purple. Weak kidney function. Soon, maybe tomorrow, she’ll forego all food and water, her body turning on itself for a little peace, just a last bit of peace, for fuck’s sake, mercy, mercy, please peace. She’s waiting–and we too wait, watching her wait.

 

image source/pixabay