A story I shared here briefly has been accepted by a journal. I will publish a link when it’s up! I hope you are having a good Monday. Sincerely—Margaret
Unfortunately, there is nothing to be done about the coupling of tombstones. First of all, their copulations are deafening — how they grunt and sigh! — and secondly, the sparks spewing from the friction — blue, green, yellow, and purple sparks — ignite fires in the dry season. (And when the fires erupt, corpses awaken and are enraged. They must be put down by truckloads of cool, damp earth.) But the biggest problem with stone sex is this: A cemetery of newly formed stones. And no one has managed to escape the certain pairing between death and a stone.
One time, a stone cutter, ambitious that his town should live, fashioned the tombstones into paving stones, stones for the fireplace, the threshold, the garden, thinking he could circumvent their original purpose. When he disappeared they only found a pile of stones beside the cemetery where he had been working.
What was convenient about the situation, however, was that the stone pile was a nice place for the townspeople to eat their sandwiches, so they stopped asking questions and began hanging out. Also, what was good about it was that the smooth stones made nice little ledges for their beer. So when a man did not return home at night, other women would relay this information to his frustrated wife: “Oh, he’s still on the stone pile.”
One night a man materialized across the cemetery where they were sitting and drinking.
“Are you a ghost?” said Jacob. He had begun driving them crazy with this idea of diverting the creek so it ran next to the graves. They could sink a barrel of ale into its cool body, he said. It would be woman for them and they could be like the man, filling her vessel, and together, they could make cool beer. He was always wild with his crazy metaphors and his stupid ideas. His horny talk was probably inspired by the horny stones they had subdued for the season by anchoring them to the ground with chains.
“I’m not a ghost,” said the man.
“Are you a newcomer?”
“ This implies I’m staying.”
“Are you God?”
“Would God do this?” and he reached into one of their sacks, grabbed a beer, popped off the cap, and guzzled it down.
“I don’t know,” Phillip said. He was the town tombstone engraver and he was a philosopher of sorts. Engraving the dash between the dates of birth and death made him shaky. What did the dash represent? It was all so ordinary. Were they all so alike? It made him depressed. “Jesus ate even after he rose from the grave.”
“Stop being morbid,” Jacob said. His wife Tatiana said the same thing. In fact, he sometimes wondered if they slept together. They said many of the same things, in exactly the same way. It made him angry, then it made him depressed and he couldn’t do anything about it. He couldn’t even prove anything definitively.
“Well I can assure you I’m not God. Excuse me, this is underfoot,” and he picked up a long-handled scythe they had not noticed before. Apparently it had been on the ground. He leaned it against a tree. “I hate it when stuff like this could bean you in the head any moment if you step on it wrong.”
A scythe, what a cliché, thought Phillip who expected more from the grim reaper. Did even religious clichés have to come true? Were there no surprises?
“I’ve had sex with your wives. They’re all very good. You are lucky men.”
Was this guy nuts? Phillip thought. They would kill him, all together, with their hands around his throat. There were about twenty five of them. But he wasn’t a cliché in this: He was pretty buff for the grim reaper.
“While you guys have been yucking it up on the pile, which by the way, is the grave of a dead man, I’ve been enjoying life. Your women are very lonely and very receptive. I’ve learned how to knit, how to dandle your children on my knee. They gave me tea and gossip and practically talked me into their beds. I love this town. I love this place. I think I’ll stay.”
“We’ve got to get rid of him,” said Jacob when the man had wandered off into the misty fields with his scythe. “Our women were fine before he got here. We’re screwed.”
“We must have interfered with the balance of things,” said Phillip. “Maybe that’s why we’re being cursed with this maggot.”
And so they released the stones so they could couple. At night, when they wanted to drink, they cooled them down with water from the creek and it was quiet and peaceful again and the men got drunk and the women went back to their creative, secret occupations which involved, among other things, ruling the world.
First appeared in the following: Danse Macabre and The Strange Edge.
“This must be the least favorite part of your body,” said the manicurist, rubbing a rose-scented cream into the woman’s hand. The manicurist’s eyes traveled up to the woman’s neck and rested on her face. “In fact, your whole right side is damaged.” The manicurist gave her some cream to take home.
The manicurist was not exaggerating. On the back of her wrist was a long purple scar where she had surgery to remove a ganglion cyst. It looked like some kind of backward suicide attempt. There was a puckered white patch on a knuckle where she burned her hand ironing her husband’s shirt on his first day of work. Her pinkie had suffered third-degree burns from the hot glue gun when she was helping her son make Gandalf for a Tolkien diorama. There was a slash on her neck where another cyst had been removed. There was a sprinkling of hypopigmentation on the right side of her face, a result of pregnancy that no amount of makeup could hide.
She used the cream. It worked. She looked nothing like herself. She freaked out. She slashed the back of her wrist and the base of her neck. She burned her knuckle with an iron. She covered her pinkie with hot glue. She dotted her check with household bleach. She took herself to the emergency room and said she had been tortured, and no, she did not know her assailant.
First appeared in 52/250
How are you this Friday? I thought I would share this. I love it so. I’ve been revising my stories and submitting them to journals for consideration. I should learn about the status of one next Monday and if I learn something, I’ll share. I look forward to the season turning as much as it ever “turns” here in central Florida! I hope to publish something more personal here on my blog before long. I hope you will enjoy your weekend. Sincerely—Margaret
Go to my link to experience a unique voice. I don’t mean the writer’s actual voice when she reads her original flash fiction story out loud, I mean the narrative voice of the story, the way the storyteller is conveying her reality, her perceptions and beliefs.
I hope you enjoy it. I did. It’s fun to listen to as well as read. I hope you are doing well this Monday. Sincerely—Margaret
I’m listening to Maggie Gyllenhaal’s excellent reading of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, a first-person semi-autobiographical narrative about a writer sliding into mental illness, severe depression. I’m looking back at an old story of my own and am wanting to fill it out, to add detail and interest. Like Plath’s Bell Jar, my little narrative is told in the first person, and Ms. Gyllenhal’s helping me give a kind of approach with her annunciation and dramatic reading of Plath’s flawless diction. Some recent work I’ve been doing concerns mental illness. It’s a challenging subject, even if you have some firsthand experience. I liberally apply here the Wordsworth quote my Romantic poets professor often used back in the day: “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.”
Have a great day.—Margaret
This weekend, I am continuing to submit my stories to journals. Today, I gathered 10 of my 50-word dark pieces into a mini-collection and submitted it to a new journal. Fly, my little pretties!
I wish you well. —Margaret
I have been watching some series and revisiting film on a certain theme. I stumbled across the HBO series “Generation Kill” yesterday and was so impressed by its gritty nature, its absence of non-diegetic music. I’ll have to say, I love that, especially for something as irreal as war. The series does well in portraying absurdities, surrealities, mindblowing military protocols and formalities in the running, executing, and justifying of the war machine in Iraq. The series is focused on a group of highly trained marines who must experience and encounter everything as it comes while attempting to maintain some semblance of sanity even if that sanity is the kind that has been proferred them by their ranking superiors. Apparently, the series received high praise from marines for its accuracy. It also made me think of “Apocolypse Now” though there is more invention in the Coppola interpretation of Vietnam with its incorporation of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” Below is an interesting podcast critiquing Coppala’s project. In it is also a discussion of “distance killing” which is something I began to question when I dated someone midlife who was involved in this kind of warfare in the Middle East. I wrote an autofiction piece about our dating experience which I then subbed to a journal, but then withdrew it when I realized it needed more work. I am puzzling through some of this stuff, something to think about during so many things going on in our world. Cheers, good people, on this Monday. Peace.
Florida Memory, state archives, Vehicle assembly building at the Kennedy Space Center, 1973, flickr
How are you? I went out of town to see my parents last weekend for Mother’s Day. This weekend, I’ve given myself some downtime with movie therapy. Actually, I’ve given myself lots of time off for this. I keep telling myself that I’m going to let a couple of services drop for at least a month, but then, something good comes out and I lose my resolve. Some highlights over the past couple of months: Breeders, The Staircase, Ozark, John and the Hole, Gaslit, The Sound of Silence, Candy, Julia, Life & Beth, Jim Gaffigan’s Comedy Monster, Meltdown: Three Mile Island. I include the picture above to point out that I have considered watching the Challenger series on Netflix, but can’t quite bring myself to do it yet. My high school English class went outside to watch the Challenger ascend, and then we observed the tragedy. I just don’t know if I can watch the series. Maybe sometimes personal losses get attached to national losses, and it can be all too painful. Anyway, there are so many good series and movies streaming. I hope you are doing well this May and have some time to relax. Sincerely—Margaret
I was out today in my little yellow Ford Focus doing some errands. I felt just a few pounds lighter; my hair had grown out a little from an unwanted severe cut; the sun shone down through the sunroof, delivering light to my pale face. The weather was warm but breezy, beach-perfect on this spring Florida Saturday. My body has felt the stresses of the last few years, yet I still wear a mask when I go inside businesses to make purchases and post a package. As a cancer survivor, I don’t want infection and long covid effects, though I realize a piece of cloth at this point is a feeble defense in a sea of germs. I don it anyway. However, I take my sunglasses off when inside to at least appear less lady-bank-robber. And today I wore a light blue shirt, a blue and white paisley cotton mask, light summer jeans, sandals. I was feeling good vibes.
One of my errands was the liquor store where a tall, sandy-haired guy greeted me in an aisle and asked me how I was doing. He did this in a way that seemed like he could be either just a friendly customer or a well-trained employee. I noticed that he was handsome, young, fit but in an easy surfer, Florida way, nothing overdone. Well done, liquor store. He was likely 30s tops, maybe good-lifestyle 40. But the friendly part was the thing that mattered.
They were playing “Ring My Bell” from my Arkansas-roller-skating grade school days, though six of us Orlando high school girlfriends used to ride around in one of our mom’s minivans and sing it, on our way to the mall through the heat and humidity, on our way to a night out somewhere, the vigorous palms and live oak overhead dripping with Spanish moss watching over us in loco parentis.
It was lunch hour at the liquor store, the time most populated by my generation. Usually most of this set have minivans or hybrids and do an economy spend of a few cases. I often see them packing up in the lot from their full carts. I’m more of an as-needed shopper since I live just a few miles down the street on the other side of the highway. I pick up a six-pack or a liquor bottle and/or mixer.
It is a nice store, bright and well-kept in a well-manicured area of town financed by Disney, financing soon to be destroyed by a strange man, apparently a not-Disney person who wants to crush everyone’s good times. I thought of that as I drove around today, enjoying the incredible, lush beauty, but tried not to think of it as well, tried not to think too much of stupidity and wretchedness and how ego can literally crush everyone’s life and environment. No, I try not to think of it too much.
At the store, I headed straight to the refrigerated section stocked with variations of my brew, a Belgian wheat. They were out of the light, so I took a six-pack of the mango-flavored. I’ll have to admit, I was happy when a floor walker directed me to a register manned by the employee who had greeted me in an aisle. He was a tall 6’2″ or so, very Florida, so like many of the surfer guys I have known; like my late brother, a surfer and chill person; like my friend from high school, a lover of Jimmi Hendrix a generation too late and eventually a heroin addict on the street; and like too many to list, from high school and even into adulthood.
Surf-liquor man was a very good salesperson and knew how to talk and field my question about my preference for the light. He was ready with a story about it and a quip about supply chains and the lack of creativity of certain manufacturers in meeting demand.
He reminded me of my own son, the same sandy blond hair, easy conversation.
All these moments and more, moments of sharing space and conversation and laughs, had not happened as much for a few years of pandemic isolation, at least not as much for me. For me, it was sometimes the fear that kept me further away than I should have allowed myself. And today, I didn’t really feel that fear so much. And I thought of how much we need these little moments, sometimes even more than “significant” ones. The lack of these tiny human exchanges over a long stretch of time can break us down a bit, and sometimes they can break us down a lot.
On my way home, I had a sudden urge to hit the road, to drive until I hit the beach about an hour away. But my second thought was that I needed to save my gas money for the drive to see my mother on Mother’s Day. My tank is now is 3/4 full which means if I’m conservative, I can fill it a few less times this May. My irrational hope is that somehow the world may soon be absent one less dictator; may soon be absent one less ruiner of lives, economies, and peace. My irrational hope is that soon I will breathe easier when I think of trips, of beach trips, of family trips, of just-because trips, of just-sanity trips and beauty and fun trips. And more to the point, I pray against all hope those most affected by the crushing will finally and somehow be afforded the chance to survive; be afforded the chance to recover; be afforded the chance to put their lives and communities back into some sort of discernible order.
Another favorite song I heard today was one I played in my car on my way home from errands: George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord.” In a fleeting music-inspired-feel-good-moment, it caused me to think romantically that there must have been so much idealism in the world when it was composed. And yet, and yet…there was war then too, and this song was in heartfelt protest.
Today afforded me a little breath. I can now hear the wind filtering the leaves outside of the living room of my apartment. I think there have been many days these leaves moved with the wind, but my own breath has awakened my senses.
And now, I hear a bird…And now, I wish you a good Saturday.
Elora had been dreading her follow-up to the ultrasound of her neck. Several years ago, her neck had been the site of an invading cancer. Her surgeon had performed a miracle surgery of her thyroid, leaving only a faint line, as if it were a midlife wrinkle.
The Women’s Center was a new experience: near downtown, luxuriously appointed, a good place to receive any news—for good or ill. Even the phlebotomist’s office would have been a desirable place to linger with a coffee and a good book: The ceiling was vaulted, the windows immense, the light pristine.
She had made acquaintances with the receptionist and the nurse, a good practice in her experience. Today she was surprised to see a patient out of sorts. The elder lady was impatient within five-minutes’ waiting, scooting to the front on her walker to demand how much time is “a little while?” Fifteen minutes? Thirty minutes? Most of the waiters assumed their stay would be however long, but Elora recognized something in it—the sense of powerlessness, the loss of control, the invisibility. The woman wore a knitted beanie of white and green shamrocks for St. Patty’s. Elora had complimented the woman for her hat but had been unable to discern the response.
Elora sat, waiting. She worried. She hadn’t been sure she would come in today. She hadn’t slept well for a week, ever since the ultrasound technician hovered long seconds over certain areas of her neck, the pressing yielding a dull ache. She had to have her wits about her to navigate the traffic, but she finally fell asleep for two hours before leaving home. It was enough.
Only a month ago, her new doctor had been a pristine presentation of professionalism yet sympathy, that unique combination that was so reassuring. A petite Hispanic woman, she had been as flawless in her appearance as in her manner—beautifully dressed and coiffed. Although she was far along in her pregnancy, her protruding belly fit her slight, feminine frame.
Things had changed in just a month. For them both. Elora was actually worried. And not for herself. There was a graying at her doctor’s temple, a dishevelment in her overall appearance, a weariness in her eyes. She was closing things down with her patients while she readied herself for her coming hiatus. And she was struggling with her three-year-old. Do you have children? she said, though as much for a sense of camaraderie as a question.
Together, they looked at the film of her neck, at what nodes seemed normal and which ones may be suspicious. The radiologist had not rendered an opinion, so these were only speculations her doctor said. The wisest doctors Elora had ever had brought her along at certain stages, letting her see numbers and tests and reasoning through them with her, as if she had the powers of medical discernment.
Outside, and on the way home, she thought: It was like looking at the craters on the moon, those pictures of the inside of my neck. And, she thought: How can I send my doctor a baby gift? And then she imagined what a challenge it was for her doctor to balance what she did so well professionally with what was so unknown and unchartered for any woman at home with children. And at night, laying on her pillow, there were familiar tears of fright, an old friend now, but just a few tears she indulged: I don’t want to die. Followed quickly by another thought: Until informed otherwise, results are inconclusive. And with this, she fell asleep.
Have you seen the movie Slapface? A teenage boy and his younger brother struggle to survive after the death of their mother. The father is absent, but apparently, he was an abusive alcoholic. The boy hangs out alone in the woods, though sometimes he is joined by a pack of three girls who bully him. He forms a special bond with one but even though they have a special relationship, the girl joins the other two in bullying him when they are all together.
The boy meets a monster when he is hanging out in an abandoned building. It is a tall shadowy figure with draped clothing, a gaunt face, a hooked nose. Although the boy thinks at first that the monster might be attacking him, he realizes that this may not be the case. In fact, they enjoy many quiet, mysterious moments together, just hanging out, quite a contrast from the more raucous moments he has with his brother who abuses him in games of “slapface.”
There are times the monster seems to be a kind of mother figure, or even father figure. The boy starts to love the monster and want to know her/him. Yet the monster is also violent at times, sometimes chaotically so. However, it is notable that the monster does not hurt the boy. And sometimes, it hurts others in an effort to protect the boy or fight for him.
Nothing becomes clear about the monster, only that its unpredictable, contradictory nature means the boy cannot continue their friendship. The boy grows into an understanding of violence and abuse and its limitations in a relationship. He matures and separates. Perhaps the monster is only the conflicted feelings in the boy as well as his dire need of maternal love and presence.
It is a beautiful and mysterious movie. I like it that much is left unexplained.
As a horror and dark fiction writer, I am frequently confronted by the issues discussed here. I thought I would share this excellent article and point you to an interesting blog on this Wednesday. I hope you are doing well! Most sincerely—Margaret
(A late Women-In-Horror Month posting with apologies to regular readers: my computer died and took my originally planned post with it. This is a reconstruct… from the best of my failing memory…)
Here in the climate of #MeToo, female writers of Horror do not have far too look for a sad sisterhood.
How quickly must I apologize to male readers of this blog? How deeply must I sublimate the resentments that still haunt every writing decision I make like so many Leng Hounds?
This is how we know there is a problem: “No offense to male writers of the genre, but…”
Because here we are not talking about a casting couch. (Perhaps those of us who are writers of fiction too often seem unsexy in our sweat pants and pinned up hair, locked for long periods of time like mental patients in our writing rooms, we only “glam up” on…
View original post 4,010 more words
A short and sweet flash fiction piece I have posted on Simily! For every view, I get two cents! Yay!
Good morning! And it’s another day for busking. On Simily yesterday, I posted a short flash fiction piece, something I originally posted on this blog five years ago. I wrote the piece for the occasion of the inauguration of the former president. The sentiments expressed are still felt as deeply and the situation still applies as we head toward another election. Every view I get for a post on Simily equals two cents, so I would be much obliged.
I have also set up shop for providing editing services for a minimal fee or voluntary donation in exchange for my chance to gain experience. If you read my blog, you’ll know I’ve taken a couple of editing courses, one at the University of Washington and one at the University of Chicago, and I hope to complete a certificate in editing with a specialization in fiction. I also have an MFA in Fiction, a BA in English Literature, and an MA in Adult Education. If you or someone you know is interested in any level of editing, please see my website for contact information.
Hi! I’m sorry I haven’t posted in a few days. I’ve been in a bit of a panic, as indicated in my last post, regarding rising rental costs here in central Florida. But now, it seems I’ve resigned to hunkering down where I am for another year, starting to sell a lot of my stuff, and possibly moving when a renewal offer is on the table again.
I am taking the challenge by the horns and setting up ways to bring in a little extra money. On a new writing platform called Simily, I have set up an account where I can post my stories, interact with other writers, and get paid when I receive views. It’s two cents per story view, but I expect the site audience to grow and the corresponding passive income to grow as well. If you would like to help me, or if you’re just curious, check out my profile to get links to my stories. I will be adding more over time.
And check out the site as a whole while you’re there. Consider subscribing. One thing I like is how easy it is to find content I want to read. I can go to “groups” and I can see the genres and categories writers are posting work to. I can join those groups if I want to post and share and participate in conversations. Or I can read without joining. By being a subscriber to the site, I can follow my favorite writers. Subscribing is not expensive. And because the site is still new, it’s not overwhelming to navigate. It’s still in development, an exciting time to hop on board.
That’s one of my busking projects at the moment. I’ll be back to share more. I hope you are doing well this Friday. Yours truly.—Margaret
Ok, no it’s not that cold here in central Florida, and thank God for Great Clips, but as far as the weather down here is concerned, it was 36 degrees in the wee hours of this morning. Many of our warm-weather creatures have it rough right now. This awesome pic is from a Huron County Museum archive on flickr. The date is circa 1917.
In other Florida news, rental prices in Central and South Florida have skyrocketed, up by approximately thirty percent. It has affected me and so many Floridians. I’m a little worried for our state, to say the least, regarding this and other things. I keep thinking about Ola Belle Reed. She was wise and talented. Be well.—Margaret
I’m so happy my horror story “Liquid Asylum” was published today in The Chamber Magazine.
When my son was 16, I took him to a summer camp in Tennessee. But first, we spent July 4th in Tellico Plains which a vacation website describes as a “vintage mountain town in East Tennessee, at the gateway to the Cherohala Skyway and the Cherokee National Forest.” As I recall, it was indeed vintage and I was glad I had stocked a cooler full of supplies before entering this part of the country. I was also grateful for a sturdy four-wheel drive SUV for, after having dropped my son at camp, I had a terrifying moment of having to weather a flooded road to get to my cabin, tucked deep into the woods. It was an early single mom experience. When I was young, I embraced wildness and adventure and feats of derring-do. Let’s just say life has schooled me in the ways of caution. I love this little gem of a song by Jimmie Rogers. Be well on this Sunday.—Margaret
Check out my flash fiction piece published today in Shambolic Review, originally published in S/tick. While you are there, check out the work of Marty Shambles, a master of sardonic fiction. I hope you are having a good Friday—Margaret
Tonight, I watched the movie Patrick’s Day. It dramatizes a Nurse-Ratched style relationship between a mother and her mentally ill son. Blessedly, it is the son’s love for another woman, a romantic relationship, that begins to shake his mother’s domineering hand.
It is a wrenching movie at times, though again, a bit dramatic. Electroconvulsive therapy is portrayed as a horrendous instrument and in the movie, is used as a tool of control, whereas in IRL, it helps people at the end of the line who often have no other options. I’ve heard it’s more patient-friendly (At one time, yours truly was presented this depression-busting option as a way through a medication-free pregnancy, but I felt fortunate I did not require it, regardless of reassurances.)
Though the finer points of mental illness and treatment may have been stretched a bit, I thought it a great movie about mental illness, and a great movie in general. Movies have only touched the tip of a very big iceberg when it comes to exploring mental illness as a fictional subject. Sometimes the movies that are made follow a kind of morbid trope. For example, we have seen a Nurse Ratched before, though the Nurse-Ratched-type mother in Patrick’s Day inspired some pathos. (The mother of Patrick’s Day also reminded me of Frances Farmer’s mother in Frances.) It’s a big bravo for the movie that the plot continued to spin out, using character change and development to level up as it were. Ergo, it is a step beyond the grimness of Cuckoo, Frances, Girl Interrupted, etc.
I’m interested in finding out other people’s opinions of the portrayal of illness and caregivers in this and other movies. I hope for continued dialogue, and of course, more movies.
Buenas noches, mis amigos.
Have you seen the movie Rare Beasts? It’s fun and quirky. Roger Ebert says “I can’t make heads or tales out of this bleak black comedy about a single mom dating a borderline incel coworker who craves the status of marriage but seems to hate women and wants none of the work involved in actually making a relationship.” Oh, Roger. Take a breath. And like, laugh? The movie is hilarious. Its greatness is its lack of predictability. Here, have a rose. RIP. We miss you—Margaret
To read the full piece, go to the “view original post” link below. If you’re on WordPress, follow the blog! Some great gems there.
The long night of human history
is drawing at last to
— Terence McKenna
Look at how politicized
we’ve all become
Look at the barbed wire
and the needless shit
that surrounds our
Look at the vast idiocy
we see in the cities and
on our screens.
Look at us —
heavy on information yet
starved of intuition and
insight, paralyzed by
Hardly anyone thinks or feels
outside the group or the party
or the race or the nation
they belong to.
Critical thinking is irreparable
and our readymade opinions
are quite expected
along with the synthetic
desires we hold.
Even the most intelligent minds
among us lean towards conformity —
particularly when their careers
and reputations depend on it.
Social media algorithms
nurture our biases and
our will and amplifying
View original post 642 more words
Janneth rolled back her screeching patio door to the mild night, to a pleasant weather belying the human realities of plague, of economic and political collapse. On her hip, she held baby Isla who played with her bright yellow necklace. The bauble had been an impulse purchase during her now extinct state of existence. The little red-headed wonder put a beaded strand into her mouth and Janneth’s heart skipped a bit, grateful for this tiny source of joy.
Guntar had awakened them with repairs to his vehicle, a noise that in an earlier time would have annoyed her to the point of submitting a written complaint to the apartment management. And now, she wondered if he knew she was the cause of them shooing him away to the outer edges of the lot for his nighttime maintenance, somewhere remote (Yet now, with management seemingly shuddered, he was apparently taking liberties.)
She wondered if he was someone to be relied upon, someone to graciously receive a request for assistance. She had never noticed a spouse or girlfriend. Maybe he had been the kind of son to be helpful to his mother or father even later in his life. While she listened to his work, she cooked a bread round on her camp stove which she kept on her porch, her new makeshift kitchen. She would heat the bean soup as well. She hadn’t been camping since she purchased the stove several years ago ahead of an anticipated category 3 hurricane. She and her family had lived through Hurricane Charley but had been weeks without power. She had a fear of a return to that helpless sense. And now, Isla depended on her. Her father would be proud, that she was surviving. She only ever wished she had as much faith.
Isla’s father had left to find his parents, to help them, and he had not returned. In the distance in the direction of the theme parks where Janneth had worked as a creative director, a dark cloud of smoke plumed out over the trees, obscuring the stars. Something in the pit of her stomach warned her it was time to leave. Weeks before, there had been talk on the internet of people fleeing further north, into Canada. It would not be safe here much longer for those who did not have a bunker and an endless supply of resources and weapons.
She held Isla on one hip and with her other arm, lifted the pot of soup and the warm bread. Guntar was bending intently over some project when she approached. She tried to make her presence obvious so he wouldn’t be startled. To her, his truck looked like it could go anywhere. Most days, he had parked it in the lot where it sat unabashedly caked with mud. Now, it couldn’t look more appropriate.
She hoped to appeal to some sense of a protector instinct. When she asked him what his plans were, having laid the fragrant food offering beside his bent knee, he seemed willing enough to share that he was leaving, traveling farther north and over the border.
I think that is very wise, she said.
Next day, she was glad she had added the last of the whiskey flavored coffee to the bean soup for he softly knocked on her door.
Do you need a ride? he said.
And she tried to hide her brimming eyes as she turned to let him in.
It has been well known for quite some time that on the outskirts of Munir, a city that could well be considered a test city for its heretofore untapped source of fuel, the bodies of useless women are currently housed. We use the term “bodies” to denote that for all intents and purposes, such women as these are barely alive by today’s standard of living and for all intents and purposes will soon be dead, either through despair or other natural causes induced by such. And we say “useless women” to mean that such unfortunates have no use in our mainstream consumer society and must therefore be removed in order to fulfill their highest potentialities: The usage of their bodies as an alternative fuel source, their heroic sacrificial contribution to our community.
We have found marginalized groups have the highest wattage output per kilogram and though findings remain uncertain, we surmise this must have something to do with the epic operation of the soul that is crushed and aggrieved. Having observed the transfer of energies of suffering beings into ghost forms upon death, we are determined to tap into this energy surplus and use it to the good use of the operation of our fair city.
Our future alternative fuel source are the bodies of women who die naturally in our community center designed to house them, women who have lived well past their prime, those women who, in life, have been neglected by husbands who, by sheer neglect or harsher means, express their displeasure. Also, an excellent source of fuel are women considered burdens by their offspring where once they were considered vital sources of nurture. These women have cadavers that will burn most efficiently, and we will see to their disposal as we honor them, giving them flags and medals pre-incineration and hosting ceremonies, providing mass punch and cake gatherings with balloons.
Unless such women have managed to overcome the barriers against them and build a world for themselves based on talents apart from chasing male providers’ affections and gaining the ongoing affections of their children, midlife women often find themselves at a place we provide: a death house we call Sunny Meadows, a name signifying heaven. Though we attempt to meet the essential needs of our residents at Sunny Meadows, we practice restraint in complying with the spiritual fulfillment mandates for housing a human being, realizing the energy potentials would be compromised should happiness be fulfilled to any real degree.
We are not beyond taking women or any beings for that matter who, lost to despair, are searching for a place to exist, beings who have lost functionality in our free market including but not limited to politicians and activists labeled “nasty,” beauty queens labeled “pigs,” actresses labeled “overrated,” pre-menopausal women who bleed, violated women labeled “liars.” We anticipate the bodies of all such marginalized women and others whose psyches are crushed by the current oligarchy will make excellent sources of fuel in our alternative energy program and we anticipate in fact an uptick in fuel reserves to get us through times of famine, that is, more benevolent future regimes, should that eventuality become realized.
When evil flourishes, either privately on the personal level in homes — between family members, a husband and wife, children and parents — or when it flourishes in our public sociopolitical machine, we are operating in the black and so we say, unofficially, of course, may evil reign, yet it always does. It is simply a matter of degree and so this method of securing this previously untapped fuel source is flawless.
First appeared in s/tick as part of “The Repeat Defenders” issue. Also appeared in Shambolic Review.
Today, on my way home from my booster shot on the other side of town, I drove by a sushi restaurant where I used to pick up food for a man I dated. I would get food for his family on my way over to his house. It was their favorite place, and the order was always the same: hibachi chicken or steak with lots of noodles. They used to like the “white sauce” on their marinated meats and noodles. They used it until everything was drowning in it.
The man was nice enough, but he had issues, like the kind where humor escaped him, but he tried out comedic material he had observed from television: comedy trope-type bits. It never went well. And all I felt was pain. Inside. Like, what am I doing? My therapist used to tell me in my midlife dating, I seemed to pick men I could feel superior to. What exactly was she saying? I think I knew, but I don’t really want to know: I was a bitch.
He was fairly successful as in having a job only someone with a master’s could have. So who was I? And he drove a big red Chrysler. And he supported and raised two daughters. And he took me to New York. Still, all those cups of white sauce. All those poor jokes. (Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week.)
It was the beginning of the end when he started snubbing me, failing to invite me to his office Christmas party. It was also the beginning of the end when I saw him observing his daughter once. I couldn’t quite make out the nature of the gaze. I had my limitations too. I found it unsettling, but I was also prone to an overactive imagination. So I have been told.
He took me with his daughters to help the oldest pick out a dress for her prom. She admitted to me in the dressing room that her father had never provided her with the means to buy a bra. At the department store, I had her father buy her one. And I had her father buy her a beautiful dress, maybe more “adult” than he had planned to, but it was totally appropriate given her age. The next day, I gave her a purse and dress sandals from my closet. For Christmas, I gave her younger sister a flattening iron, hair products, and lessons from my hairdresser. If this was going downhill, I was going all out.
A fatal blow came when he told me his daughter had pretended to be a “gangster” and had laid the Chrysler passenger seatback to almost fully reclined. Something odd. What female had been sitting/lying there? What had happened in the driveway in the car? The rushed, unsolicited explanation was suspect.
I don’t remember how it ended exactly. But I burned my bridge when it was over, making use of some of my suspicions and questions in a thinly disguised fiction which I posted on an obscure place online. Still, we were social media followers of each other and so he shot me an angry email. I replied that no one would know who I was talking about if anyone even read it in the first place. I had not used names. And none of my friends had even met him, not to mention family. But for sure I had been a bitch. I told him that for him, I would do something I never do for someone else: take down a story. I was still being a bitch. Apparently, it never ends.
It pained me to drive over to that end of town tonight, a place of such reminders. But I needed a booster shot to stay ahead of a mutating virus. So much of my licentious, post-divorce-angry-bad-decision-life lies to the north of me where white sauce is slathered on dishes for obese Americans.
For a while, I had thought I liked being with his family. With everyone I dated, I tried hard to figure out the picture with me in it. How would I feel? What role would I play? Would I be happy? In the long run, I could never form a picture. Maybe I was just play-acting. I was lost.
He probably knew I patronized him. He was smart enough to know that.
I hope those girls are ok.
Last night I had a dream of a man who caught me observing wedding preparations I wasn’t invited to. Somehow, the washing of long strands of hair to be woven into a horse’s mane was a ritual that was involved. If everyone in the preparation party participated, the mane would have been washed a thousand times, some sort of symbolic number. We were seated in a kind of a rotunda, a place of worship. The man was about to “turn me in” for being an interloper but said to me I seemed to be so curious, I might as well have been a part of the ritual. He invited me to go with him and his two boys to lunch. Although I was supposed to meet my sister, I said yes. I figured that somehow, it would all play out.
When I woke, I felt rested. But I don’t know what it is supposed to mean. I am still in a dark wood in the middle of my life.
I have been bragging about how I have been submitting to journals the last couple of weeks. But then again, I’m experiencing how hard it is to submit to journals for any length of time and pursue it conscientiously. I used to send stories out scattershot, more or less, not because I wanted to waste anyone’s time, but because I really didn’t know how to discern which stories would match with which markets. Or, I just didn’t want to feel too much. I could always blame rejection on my ignorance and so I wouldn’t have to feel as bad.
I know more now. And the possibilities don’t look as plentiful; and my voice, range, and writing interests have narrowed. I am glad I know myself more as a writer, that I have “found” my voice and the scope of my style and genre, but this sometimes makes me feel more limited in terms of direction and choices.
I have also been trying to figure out how I might package and promote a collection of dark microfiction, how I might find a possible publisher. Hopefully, there’s a market that would be interested in my particular, and peculiar, collection. At a time when I had more money and the world wasn’t what it is now, I would fly to attend conferences to discover markets and publishers.
Over the years, I have changed in my writing and thoughts about writing, as well as what I value as a person. When I was a newer writer, the world was almost overwhelming because I was stymied by seemingly endless choices and I wasn’t as sure what direction would feel most natural. After I have made a number of choices and made my way down a path, the way has started to seem more predestined. I’m not sure all my choices have left me with the best possibilities. And it’s not cool in America to talk about limitations, but these could also be coming into play.
But, I’m going to be ok for now with living my life and doing the best I can with what I have and staying off of social media when those little feelings of inadequacy come haunting.
The Humans is a dark, atmospheric movie, a tale of unease, about three generations who gather together in a pre-war Manhattan apartment for a holiday meal. Though it is billed as a horror-comedy, it doesn’t quite match this description. There is lightness at times, but only in relation to the more interior and pain-filled moments portrayed by increasingly claustrophobic scenes. I didn’t know what this movie was at first but became spellbound with each new shot—almost like a dark modern art piece—and each new turn in the story. Part of what captivated me is the way sound is used—the muted effect of conversations and the occasional silence as well as the disturbing noises of a very old building. It is all a slow burn. I feel the idea of it—the realities it portrays—is very “now” though it is timeless as well—the darkness, the starkness of a contingent existence, a yearning for hope, light, and connection. Amy Schumer does a magnificent job in this dramatic role. The cast is stellar. I highly recommend it.
Streaming on Amazon Prime
I love writing seasonal fiction. But even more than this, I love reading seasonal fiction. This novella is set in the snowy and haunted landscape of Europe’s Black Forest during the time between Christmas and Epiphany. A man returns to his childhood home to figure out what has become of his estranged brother, rumored to have fallen into a depression after the death of his wife. It is a beautiful immersion into the natural world and an exploration of mystery, storytelling, and tradition.
This is a wonderful presentation of the Southern tradition of Hoppin’ John at New Year’s—its history and the dish’s components. And when you eat leftovers the following day, it’s called Skippin’ Jenny and stands for extra good luck because it shows you are thrifty and don’t want to waste what you have. Whatever your food traditions, may your new year find new opportunities for exploration and community. —Margaret
Happy New Year! I’ve decided to start the first weekend of the year by submitting fiction to literary journals. Since mid-December, I’ve submitted eight stories to eight journals. May we all turn a productive new leaf past the pandemic mayhem! Be well. —Margaret
What are you up to? I’m enjoying a Guinness and cooking up some Hoppin’ John, that southern New Year’s tradition. I hope mine turns out. I’m not used to soaking black-eyed peas. The few times I’ve made it, I’ve used canned. Also, I bought a ham hock, which is new for me. I need all this for good luck! If I bomb, I will be desperately tracking the dish or a can of peas down tomorrow, lols. Be well. And Happy New Year. —Margaret
Update: It’s made, and it’s a success! Yay!
My father, who is now a retired minister, frequently incorporated this story into his sermons. It is beautifully told by this blogger. I know my father would love this post. You can read more about my father here. He wrote a wonderful book about the Biblical figure of Joseph, tying in his own history and the history of our family. He and my mother, a former English teacher, gave me a love of language. I wouldn’t be writing my stories and publishing pieces on my blog were it not for their influence on my life. I encourage you to read the story of my father and his work and follow this amazing blog post. I wish you a holiday of peace and joy, wherever you are. —Margaret
The guns had fallen silent, but soon they would be pounding again, shaking the earth, shaking the rats out of their holes, making the dead tremble out in No Man’s Land. Christmas Day, yet nothing to show for it – no snow, no laughter, no celebration. Nothing to celebrate. Rags of torn clothing hung on […]The Beautiful Game (900 words) — Slumdog Soldier
Since December 13, I’ve submitted six of my stories to six literary journals, and I’m so excited. The origin of one of the stories dates back to about fifteen years ago, though it has evolved over time. Other stories are more recent. I used to submit stories to several journals on the first pass, but these days I try to be more targeted and really try to figure out which journals would be best suited for my work. I have become braver about submitting work. And although rejection stings a little, self-acceptance and a can-do attitude cover a multitude of woe-is-me’s.
Maybe I’ll settle down for my long winter’s nap, but this is good work for now.
Sometimes I feel caught between my best interests as a writer and my needs as a person, especially during this shifting scene of our pandemic and the resultant isolation and lack of community. For example, I find it helps me to share what I have written on my blog. It helps me feel less isolated. Sometimes I may even be fortunate enough to get a comment or two. As a writer, I really need this to keep going. It helps me to produce and move forward. After getting some encouragement, I will often, but not always, take a piece down and try to publish it in a journal.
Not all journals will accept a work that has previously been “published” on a blog, however brief its appearance. I understand and respect that. As a former journal editor, I used to have that same policy. However, I have loosened my views about this. That being said, I recently missed out on the chance to have a story appear in a journal because it briefly appeared on my blog. When it came to signing on the bottom line, I checked with the editor regarding their policy, and sure enough, the piece was ineligible for publication with this particular journal.
Writers have to sometimes do what they need to do to keep the synapses firing. At times, this is the larger concern. Pay for publication is rarely beyond token for short fiction, for example, and in the tradeoff for the psychological gains of an audience, however tenuous that support, I often err on the side of doing what feels best in the moment. I pray for venues that might like what I’ve written and not mind its archived history on some obscure patch of the interweb, a history that will be close to obsolete in a few months’ time after I have deleted my blogpost.
It is a tradeoff, but I do understand editors’ perspectives on this.
Still, the larger value for me at present is happiness.
This is the extent of my Christmas decor this year. On the table beside my chair is a Henry James collection, including one of my favorite stories: “The Turn of the Screw” The Victorians used to share ghost stories around the fire on Christmas. That is the frame for the story within the story in James’s masterpiece. I think that people yearn for meaning over the holidays, especially in these years of our global pandemic, and that is why stories we find in movies and books; houses of worship; and gatherings with friends and family bring such comfort. Be well and reach for a story. —Margaret
Tonight I watched an excellent film called Minari. It is about a Korean American family who moves out to Arkansas to farm and start a new life. I spent part of my childhood in Arkansas. There were farmers in my father’s congregation who endured some of the hardships depicted in the film. This was a unique take. I loved it.
One year, a woman decided to splurge on some expensive silk thigh-highs for the office Christmas party. They looked great with a dress she had bought in New York, one she thought would be classic enough to outlast the whims of fashion. Sure enough, she was a hottie and caught some attention, but she snagged them on a corner of a filing cabinet and had to throw the stockings away when she got home.
The next year at Christmas, the same woman thought it would be nice to splurge on a pair of expensive thigh highs for the party that would be held at the office. The lace bands gripped well and she found a garter belt in her drawer that looked great. Her boss noticed how hot she looked and rubbed his hand along her leg when she was sitting on a desk, drinking. She slipped and snagged the stockings on a drawer. The next morning, she threw the stockings away as well as some things she found in her apartment – a couple of cigars, a kerchief.
The next year, the same woman wanted to do add something to her Christmas party dress that would make her feel sexy. Overworked and overscheduled, she’d been feeling more rat than woman. She took a bath before the party, drank champagne, and put on these great silk thigh highs. Why hadn’t she thought of these before? When she got to the party, she was so drummed up she hit on a young male intern. When she went into the office the next day, still in her thigh highs, there was a note on her desk from her boss, telling her what she’d done was most inappropriate. “This is a warning,” the note said. When she looked down, she saw a huge runner in her stockings, starting at the knee.
The next year, the same woman saw these thigh highs on sale. In a kind of mad frenzy, she gathered up as many as she could carry and took them to the register. The saleswoman gave her a little smile, just a slight upturning of the lips. “This is a great price,” said the woman, ringing up the stockings. She agreed and tried to ignore what the saleswoman might be insinuating. She could wear whatever stockings she wanted for whatever reason. That night, for the party, the woman decided to stuff extra stockings into her purse. Sometimes these silk stockings tend to snag, or at least she’d heard, and she was intent on being more polished about her look these days though she wasn’t about to stoop to nylon, at least not for the office Christmas party. She also remained sober. She had filed the warning the previous year among her pay stubs and came across it from time to time. She went home with all of her stockings intact and put them away neatly in her drawer the next day.
This woman became so particular about silk stockings, especially the kind that come up to the thigh, that she put it in her will that she be buried wearing this particular kind of hosiery. When she had passed, her daughter brought to the mortician the stockings her mother had requested for her coffin attire. The mortician was a friend of this woman’s daughter and was surprised the woman had worn thigh highs while alive and wanted to don them while dead. She was a crusty old broad. Plus, the stockings themselves were incredibly expensive as was obvious from the feel of them, their quality, the packaging. The mortician slipped off the stockings she was wearing and slipped on the woman’s stockings and garter. The lace gripped her thighs and her legs felt great. She put her own stockings on the corpse and wheeled it into cold storage. She called her boyfriend and they snagged the dead woman’s stockings all over the place.
I’m considering crossing town tomorrow night for a little jazz education at an Asian fusion restaurant/lounge. A musician will be teaching some insights to some wannabe jazz cat groupies lol. I’ll play it by ear. In the meantime, there is Freddie. And Miles.
To keep the Freddie mood going, try out the Freddie Freeloader list on youtube. Primo.
When I took command of my dog in the presence of men is when I knew I had turned a corner, when I rejected the men who didn’t understand dogs, worship dogs like I did, men who tried to be the alpha to my dog which was easy to do with my small submissive fluffy she-dog. Some men were weird, would treat her like she was their very own bitch. My little darling died of heart failure and after a period of grief, I began to take my vitamins and sharpen my nails. I got me a man dog. Muscled haunches, shoulders, and jaws, bite up to 743 pound-force per square inch, power on a choke collar, loyal to the death, command ready. I loved this dog as much as any other but in a different way. He required I command respect. He required I show who’s boss. Further, he would brook no suitor’s disrespect toward me, not even a hint. That low, rumbling thunder growl was my built-in red flag. The moment Joe shambled into my life, held his hand upside down for Brutus to sniff and approach unthreatened was the moment my life clicked into place.
When I have to say goodbye to family these days, I get a little emotional. This takes various forms. After family departed from my little place on Thanksgiving Day, I did some binge-watching of series on Hulu and Amazon. I have now moved on to movies and music. To help salve the wound, I am going back to my birth state, Texas, the early ’80s, kicked off with the stripped-down noir masterpiece Blood Simple starring Frances McDormand. I had seen it before several years ago but was not attending to its quiet power. Especially now, so many movies rely on non-diegetic sound and special effects to move and inform the viewer. This one lets the viewer fill in all the blanks, much like excellent minimalistic fiction. I think this film captures the essence of the state. And nothing else says a type of sound and aesthetic from the region and time period like Willie Nelson’s “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain.”
On Thanksgiving, I sit in my room after my guests have gone, a room darkened by the dying day. From my bed, I can see my grandmother’s Audubon Society print of blue hummingbirds. It is cream-colored and blends with my walls except for the mat and gold beaded frame. If you were here, I could show you the shadow created by the white lights in a wreath on my secretary desk, a wreath placed around a tall cream vase. I like the way the shadows create a frame around the frame of my grandmother’s Audubon society print.
When I open my bedroom door and step into the family room, I am grateful I can still smell the huge feast my son and I made in the adjoining kitchen and hear echoes of the laughter of my company over prosecco and my sister’s dessert. I am grateful for the items I have managed to bring with me to furnish this place, items that create meaning, items everyone can enjoy such as furniture to sit upon and tables for plates and wine, items that are pleasing to the eyes and spirit.
But for now, in the silence and the dark illuminated by tiny lights, I am grateful to write about things as tiny as shadows, for the gift of tiny things, for the things we need to live and fight, for small instances of beauty, for signs of life—joy, and even pain.
Barbie—lady boobies, blond hair, pointy toes. I held her by the waist in the room with the spindle bed, the room in the dark church manse in Texas, the home my new mother and father had prepared for us. Barbies were our first gift. That early memory began my years-long obsession of hoarding my dollar-a-week allowance in order to purchase my tiny blond god raiment. Her richer patrons—my parents—provided a bicycle, a convertible, Ken, a working shower, a pool, a dream townhome. When I dressed as a Kilgore Rangerette with my younger sister, complete with white boots and a broad brim hat, it was Barbie I hoped would approve. Barbie. Barbie. Barbie. My preacher father did not grasp the extent of my idolatry, but he was not the kind of father to deprive his children of their obsessions.
On Thanksgiving, a picture of a young man’s face popped up on the news. My breath caught. It was the same young man who had stood out in the freezing cold last year on an Orlando Christmas Eve, trying to flag down a ride. The buses had stopped running for the holiday. When I see his face on the news, I remember how much he resembled my late brother, in height, stance, and mannerisms. My brother had died Christmas Eve twenty-five years before, careening around one of the lakes where many had died. It had nearly killed my mother.
That night we were driving home, I begged my husband to give him a ride. We had our baby in the car as well as my elderly mother-in-law. It was a huge risk, but I couldn’t take leaving this guy outside in these conditions.
The young man was on the news for walking into a bank, naked. When I saw his face, I thought: Some mother’s heart is breaking.
My husband took me aside as I served our guests. What is wrong? he said. I could tell he didn’t see what I saw, didn’t remember this young man who had appeared on the news we always watched while we drank our morning coffee. I hadn’t said anything. He had barely tolerated the risk I took with our family and I didn’t want to dredge it up again.
The young man’s face, that fragile face, penetrating blue eyes, so much like my brother.
For years, my mother had been unable to enjoy holidays. She now convalesces in a memory care home.
I made it through Thanksgiving meal but let my guests help themselves to dessert and the way to the door.
I rocked my child to sleep, savoring his warm cheek on my chest.
I closed the door to my bedroom and wrote a story for my brother.
Hi. Do you read stories on Medium? Do you write and post them? I just got started.
Here is a piece of writing you may recognize from my blog in case you want to check it out and maybe even follow me. I published another piece several months ago.
I love learning new things and would love it if you followed me there.
I hope you’re having a good Friday night! —Margaret
I have learned a few things by being someone with hair. Hair can help you win and it can cause you to lose—affections, jobs, confidence. It can help you lie and it can betray you. By its presence or absence, color or cut, it can reveal others’ true feelings and motives towards you. My hair is not part of my body, it’s a chameleon, an animal that shows by its changing nature what life is.
When I was young, my mother loved to fix my tow-headed hair, pulling the sides up into a yarn bow—red, yellow, white, blue—depending on the season, depending on my outfit. Although I was adopted my hair when I was young was the same color as my parents’ hair and matched their hopes, though when I grew up and it darkened, I had to dye it to stay in line with what they wanted for me. It was what good young women did. It was what my mother did and I would fall along her path. I had beautiful, light hair and married well.
The year after my divorce, I had to get a buzz cut from my favorite hairdresser. Chemo was causing hair to fall on my shoulders in places like the grocery. Although I had always been very vain about my hair, and it was still shoulder length and blond, it was thinning and falling out because of treatment. I began to think about those poor people in the grocery. What if my hair fell on their food? I sat with my sister in my hairdresser’s living room and we held hands as my head made its debut as an egg.
After treatment, I eventually shed wigs, not being able to take the itchiness in the Florida heat. I read my creative work in a museum downtown with some friends. I dressed up for the reading, but so much of what I had considered “me” had been shed and now, it was penciled in eyebrows and short dark hair, just as short as a pixie if not shorter. “What happened to your hair?” The organizer said, aghast, not realizing that the long blond hair I wore to the last reading was a wig. And that’s when I knew: You have to learn to love yourself no matter what you look like. Some people prefer people pressed from molds.
I thank my chameleon hair. She has always been wiser than I have been. I know so much more because I have had hair, no hair, worn other people’s hair. I could never have done it without her though I must say, I have experienced some pain in her lessons. No pain, no gain as they say.
What with the sight of one of the receptionists stumbling into my general physician’s office looking tumbled down drunk, her ignoring me at the desk, the other receptionist seeming sweet, apologizing for her colleague, but speaking too softly so I can’t hear, and then asking questions I had long since answered on an intake, and then not hearing my concerns about the lab not having my correct address and I, thinking maybe she can’t hear me because of my mask or the counter-to-ceiling glass partition or because she didn’t like the look of me with my red hello kitty t and my pink puffy headband with my now shorter hair and the leather backpack I sometimes wear on both shoulders and my height being very tall and my frame being reminiscent of my biological grandfather of six foot five descended from full blooded Cherokee, I repeat myself several times and then she turns to her colleague and I know she hasn’t understood a word I have said or she hasn’t listened, and so I semi-lose it in a way that it is not frequent for me, though not quite in a youtube-video-lose-it way, but so that I see her flinch slightly, though the check-out receptionist kinda digs me and maybe that woman drives her nuts too, and what with all of that, and Florida having finally implemented infrastructure measures, and high-speed rail being built but a few miles from my apartment, and at night the ground thundering slightly, and hearing it the first first night I was terrified but then remembered the petition that was being signed, though by that time it was too late, petitions hardly ever mattering anyway, and my busy neighbor overhead this morning whose child is often screaming and running around as early as 6:00 a.m., though this morning she was doing a craft project using a tiny harmer to drive in something placed on the floor, and what with all that I stand in the doctor’s reception, over-warm, my face sweating under my mask and the taste of iron on my tongue—blood.
I will miss Thanksgiving at Aunt Mareen’s this year. In a strange turn of events, Covid has wiped out or incapacitated many of the city’s fat Santas and Aunt Mareen has signed up for holiday appearances as Mrs. Claus. She is skinny as a string bean and not super Claus-like we mused as we thought of how to keep her spirit alive at our table. We decided we needed to borrow her plastic pilgrims and Indians for our tablescape to set alongside her favorite solid cranberry jelly with can rings. She sent us selfies of her on the Santa throne at Disney Springs. There was enough room for children to sit beside her on the massive red chair. As a former underwater Weeki Wachee entertainer, she looked right in her element. We were jealous of her little believers. We said they must be spoiled little monsters.
Ladies, do not show your dark unpleasantness, your unhappy, sardonic droll creative pieces. Pursue art in keeping in your faith that beauty is in what is pleasant and proportionate, not in what is felt or experienced. Don’t you know that in prizes given by organizations such as The Perfect Ladies Literary Society we have criteria in keeping with being perfect literary ladies? Unwieldy desires expressed in unbalanced, unwelcome forms surely will not find favor and will lock you into obscurity and loneliness. Do not indulge in darkness—such as anger and bitterness—and in what is occasionally referred to as “truth.” Don’t even entertain this in your creative studies so that these nasty habits cannot take hold. Let us be charming and beautiful. Cause no discomfort. Instead, let lightness of heart and hand win the day. You will be happy. So will we.
Every year for Thanksgiving, Ms. Myska loved to give of herself in a way that was wholly singular. However, being a low-key mouse type of person, she sought no fanfare. And because this year, she was without her beloved Queen Annie, her Coton de Toulears, the holiday was threatening to be dreadfully lonely. Ergo, she became prodigious in gifting—gluing little chocolate kisses to her dribbles and drabbles of written thought, and leaving her “sweet love grams” in random places.
Here is the story she decided to duplicate in her own hand this year, leaving copies in coffee shops and bars; neighborhood book exchange boxes and libraries; churches and synagogues; gyms and homeless shelters: “Do not let bitterness build up within you. Let it flow out in your tears, flowing out of you and down and around, becoming lakes and ponds, rivers meeting with the sea and supporting creatures, evaporating and feeding life, becoming rain that quenches fire and thirst, renewing, refreshing, sustaining, gentling.”
I had only been in town a year when I was sent an invitation to the Michael Smith Club. I had no idea what it was, but when Julie found out, she was crushed. Each year, she thought she and her husband would become members but they never received an invite. If anyone deserved membership to anything, it was Julie. She was hilarious, well-read, generous. I was a bit of an introverted milquetoast by comparison, though I suspected it had to do with my husband’s lucrative career. I blew off the invitation, didn’t say anything to my husband. Bitches.
I was riding to Daytona with Mac on his Harley that day we stopped by Cassadaga. We had been dating a couple of months and in that time, his mother had died. In fact, I had met Mac at the hospice center where he and a couple of friends sat beside her bed. She had already passed when I arrived. Looking back, I realized it was quite strange that I thought it might be a sign of support to show up there. It was just too personal a family situation for me, a relative stranger.
And yet, Mac had wanted me to help him plan with the funeral home, choose his mother’s clothing for the casket. I made a lot of strange decisions in those days, fresh out of divorce, fresh out of cancer treatment. I had been too used to over-involvement as a full-time mother and wife. I had been too anxious to please, too desirous of affection.
Our reader at Cassadaga did a three-card reading for me, based on the three figures in the lovers’ card in which the man on the right rules the conscious mind, the woman on the left represents the subconscious, and the angel standing over the two represents who we think we are, who we think God is. The tarot reader asked me what I wanted to know from the cards.
“Is this like talking to God?” I say, knowing my conservative minister father would be devastated by this situation.
“You can think of it like this,” she said.
I say: “I want to know who I am at this moment.”
The Three of Pentacles, Lord of Material Works, was revealed to be upright and at the angel position of the lovers’ card, meaning I am focused on career. The Page of Pentacles was also upright and in the male position of the lovers’ card meaning I am entering a new phase of life, but in the female or subconscious position, The Star was reversed, showing fear.
On the back of Mac’s bike on the way to the beach, I knew I wouldn’t stay with him long. We were both injured children lacking in some adult capacities to love well. But for the moment, I enjoyed the hum of the engine, the heat of the sun. The water would feel good on my feet. Mac had a good smile.
Pop a .5 mg tablet from the klonopin blisterpack. Let it dissolve on your tongue along with the memory of your panic in the convenience store while your three-year-old son sits in the car – air-conditioned and locked, but still – Baby Ruth or Reese’s? – your mystery disorder having cropped up comorbidly with your move from a three-bedroom two-story Florida cracker house into a temporary two-bedroom apartment, your husband working through the holiday, your father-in-law having drawn a precise map of where every collapsed piece of furniture will be placed, your mother-in-law needing help finding things and on the brink of a migraine, your toddler needing everything, and issues in your marriage eclipsed by events collapsing, falling, descending.
And yet…you are still years from the moment your doctor stops prescribing because of new regulations – only a day-or-two- medication he says, and you have been on a maximum dosage for thirteen years. You are still years before your therapist suggests that as a mother, you are unfit.
Hello, and good evening. I want to thank you for this Lifetime Achievement Award in Escapism. Had it not been for you and others recognizing in me a strong desire to check out, I would not be standing before you tonight. Looking back, I realize I have probably been lost in a total of over one hundred thousand worlds whether it be dreams, ancient histories, wishful thoughts, overthinking, fantasies, streaming shows, social media, and youtube cat videos. And sure, sometimes I have managed to put my escapist visions on paper in thinly shrouded fictions. In fact, if you will look under your seat tonight, you will find how I have used your life, my perceptions of your life, and my feelings about you in a story. As fellow escapists, we never say whether we like how one of us portrays another of our kind, we just play by the rules and agree it won’t devolve into bloodsport. If you accept my version of you or at least find it interesting, let’s work on a small biopic or I’m good for hire as a ghostwriter. If you’re mad as hell, I’m not here for that sweeties! Cheers!
When I was ten, I wore YoYo sandals, Gloria Vanderbilts. Jayne Anne Westerfield taught me the disco line dance. “Are you clicking your teeth to the beat?” she said. I stopped clicking, tried to be cool like Jayne Anne. You were nobody in Arkansas if you couldn’t “Fever” dance. Chad had taught me “Cat Scratch Fever” on my guitar. Karen’s big sister used to drag Cherry Street, something “cool.” But Karen wasn’t cool anymore; her mom was a klepto. No one was as cool and dismissive as Jayne Anne. When I moved to Florida, I realized Arkansas was nowhere.
I didn’t completely follow the instructions, but I put my story in the general vicinity of a bodybuilder going on a disappointing blind date. Admittedly, I did a little research on the sport of bodybuilding. I loved a documentary narrated by Mickey Rourke called Generation Iron. My main character is based very loosely on one of its wholly singular subjects.
Ever since he saw a picture of the warrior and Ethiopian king Memnon in a book at the public library, he knew his destiny: To be a god. But the path was not straight. There were foster families and even prison. In faith, he grew and sculpted his body, grew his long warrior braids, performed poses in subways, fought his demons and doubts, became an artist, both in his body and in his love songs.
He was desirous of a queen to see him to a Las Vegas Mount Olympus for the title: Mr. Olympia. A trainer friend asked some lady friends for a reference, some ideas. Finally, someone was found. She was gorgeous, his impromptu female matchmaker said, offering a picture. Yes, he concurred, a beauty, as he noted a fall of blond hair, a sleek body, a sweet smile.
The night of the meet, she put him at ease with her smile and infectious laughter. She seemed to like him. He felt himself relax. When their dinner arrived, they took their first bite. And that’s when his insides dissolved, but not in a good way. She chewed her food like the evil half-serpent Echidna who devoured her victims after dragging them down to hell!
To this day, he shivers to think of it. He struggles to put it out of his mind before competition, before the front double bicep, front lat spread, side chest, back double bicep. Perfect love cannot be found in life but in art, he says to himself drawing deep from within to flex. It it is found in muscle upon muscle, note upon note, braid upon braid ad infinitum.
I need to smell my mother’s perfume. She is losing her memories but I keep them for her and we tell stories, inspired by Shalimar. I love the smell of classic Listerine on my father’s breath, original flavor. I love the tall smell of my son—the outdoors, his running by Tampa Bay, his cutting up, his brilliant smile. I revel in the smell of my sister’s laughter, always so light and beautiful, like her favorite prosecco. I savor a long history with my niece and nephew, the making-cookies-smell when they would stay over. I remember the chocolate orange memory of making them milkshakes and they, along with my son, drank them on our porch, my dog hovering near, our Bouvier des Flanders—he, a black hulk of a goofy dog with his water-logged smell (R.I.P.) I miss the smell of my brother, his blue-eyed smell, his cigarette and beach smell, his surfboard wax smell, the warm cinnamon smell of his love for animals. I love the smell of roses I buy for myself and the honeysuckle smell of the bougainvillea I’ve transplanted around my Florida yard, these hardy plants that miraculously and profusely bloom. My life smells like the days when the devil beats his wife—sunshine mixed with rain. Nothing is better than the smell of rain, even in a hurricane, even when everything is about to blow. You feel yourself the most alive then, even when you could die, be known no more, disappear. When the sun shines during rain, there is the smell is of wet pavement and earth and your face is soaked but you are no longer burning on a hot day.
I had lost my alimony, the pandemic being what it is, the source of my income having passed. I sold everything, including my car, furniture, and almost all possessions. I managed to find night work as a turndown attendant for Hilton. I managed to put a roof over my head, but just. I now qualified for low-income housing.
On my first bus ride into work, I sat near the back, hoping to avoid passengers peopling rows on their return journeys home, their night jobs at Disney and surrounding theme parks.
But then, wouldn’t you know who climbed aboard: a repairman for my former apartment. It was the kind of apartment you had to be wealthy to afford. Tony had become overly friendly during those last few months of my residence. Water had flooded into my hallway and soaked the carpet. He spent as much time flirting as trying to solve an increasingly dire issue. He asked me if I wanted to get a massage with him and went so far as to touch my back.
I pulled up my jacket hood and rang the bell to get off. I had managed to avoid him. One more month to find another job. One more month until eviction.
I will never forget that stretch of road outside of Starke, Florida, as we headed up to my parents’ for Thanksgiving. I was singing my favorite Alison Krauss song playing on the CD player and our child was in the back. Apropos of nothing, you banged your hand on the wheel, “The sound of your voice, that strained, breathy quality just makes me want to go out of my brain.” And then the silence, the burning shame, the hours of the drive spent thinking how hideous my voice had been all this time when all along I hadn’t really considered it.
[I am writing this sitting outside a car dealership where I am having an expensive engine diagnostic which could lead to an expensive repair. There are sirens going off, lots of exhaust. This major road is considered a kind of East coast vice alley. And I have never written a story on my phone before. I am determined to have Flashnano adventures. Happy Flashnano day 2 fellow scribes.]
Frankie stroked his pussy, the ginger, while Greta fixed her eyeliner before the gold antique mirror in his retro-styled apartment. She always stopped by before dates to make sure she didn’t look crazy. Or desperate.
He was always cool as a stone sphinx. “You be the judge, not the other way around, honey.” He said, extending his drink out to her, a skinny ‘Rita, and she tripped over the calicos. How did cats always know she hated them? They loved her more for it and wanted to be as physically close as possible.
She slurped down the boozy lime coolness.
“Come back here after,” Frankie said. Actually, that was usually the best part of her night.
When the evening was over and her date had walked her to her car, he wouldn’t allow her to open the door and get inside. Something in his eyes had alarmed her, something dark.
‘Goodbye, Frankie,’ she said quietly.
One thing I enjoy about flash fiction writing is that it often involves community.
A few years ago, I joined an online platform for poets and writers. We frequently posted new short pieces and received encouragement and feedback. It was my first time interacting with other writers who, like me, were writing small, concentrated work.
I have also been involved in a flash fiction competition that was held in a public space. Let’s just say, I didn’t win and the handling of the competition was humiliating. In general, writing can be competitive for certain people and in certain settings. That just isn’t me.
But having a short piece to read at a creative event is a great way to participate in sharing with others. Participants often read for five minutes and flash writing fits into this (I use a shorter 250-word piece for a five-minute reading and a one thousand word piece if I have 20-30 minutes.). A meaningful night organized by a friend had some of us reading our stories in an outdoor museum setting. At the end of the night, I got to read a piece with a band playing in the background.
This month, I have been participating in the NYC Midnight 250 word flash fiction competition. Although “competition” is part of the title, the meaningful part for me has been interacting with others—reading their work, giving feedback, receiving feedback.
Next month, I will be involved with Nancy Stohlman’s Flashnano. Some are meeting on social media to share their short pieces and interact. I often meet new people and this has taken on a whole new meaning for me during this season of pandemic.
While public spaces are shuttered to creative gatherings, it has been a relief to find solace among fellow writers online.
Here is something I am following this year and will be participating in as inspired. Perhaps you’d like to join me! Nancy Stohlman is one talented writer who inspires many other writers in the craft. Enjoy your Tuesday—Margaret
Are you excited yet???
Since we got SO MANY amazing guest prompt submissions, I’ve decided we are going to celebrate our 10 Year anniversary with a month ofALL GUEST PROMPTS(credited of course) from you, the people who actually make FlashNano what it is. It’s going to be extra amazing!
Not already on the FlashNano list? Join us here:
Now dogless, unemployed, and frail during the pandemic, Greta found something oddly comforting in the mechanized kitchen trashcan in that it registered her presence. On Halloween, the lid clamped down on her hand and pulled her inside. There was no dog to sound the alarm.
I want to recommend the documentary The Waiting Room, a cinéma vérité documentary about an emergency room in a public hospital in Oakland, California. Stories of people living on the financial edge and the dedicated care workers doing their best to provide help are often devastating and heartbreaking. But there are many moments of light and hope, especially embodied by a nurse who does health checks in admissions. She reminds me of a phlebotomist I used to see when I had to go into the hospital for treatment. She always knew where to find a vein, what to say to put me at ease, and how to inject the moment with humor. In The Waiting Room, the ER serves a patient population without insurance, those in danger of slipping through the system. There are stories and scenarios that caused me to tear up. So much of our entertainment can be derivative and deadening. Though this documentary concerns itself with life and death, it is truly alive in the most human sense.
When her cancer returned, she held an impromptu dance in the cancer center lobby. She blasted Foxy Brown’s “Candy,” giving a special dance tribute to the administrator who tried to charge $1500 before her first treatment. Other patients, bald and hobbled from treatment, shuffled their feet and laughed.
A mental health screening for an appointment required I say how many days of the week I experience each of the following:
I feel down.
I can’t concentrate.
My family is disappointed in me.
I think of suicide.
No one cared, so I said “none.” I was believed (or ignored).
She had vowed she would do it, end her life today. But she had planned Timmy’s birthday party. She stood in the midst of a party store aisle, her face sweating under her mask. Maybe after her son’s birthday? Tears blurred the colors of the garish decorations. She couldn’t decide.
I am watching Dopesick on Hulu, a drama exploring the rise of the opioid crisis. I highly recommend it. It has me remembering the old days of trying to wean myself off Klonopin and the initial cold turkey approach fallout. When I decided to do a search of its relative addictiveness compared to opioids, I found it right up there with the top 9. At one time, I had a blog under a pseudonym where I wrote about my experience. I wish you well on this Thursday, ten days until the eve of All Hallows.
The trees have planned their revolt against a country using them to string up men by the neck until they are dead, the burning cross somewhere nearby or else deep in the heart. It doesn’t take a hurricane to uproot the trees and send them thundering down. It takes injustice.
There was a time before the draining of Florida swampland when giant cypress towered over one hundred feet tall. In the late 19th century, cypress were felled for shingles. Daily I drive over a bridge spanning the headwaters of the Everglades: Shingle Creek. I hear cypress cousins bemoaning lost histories.
I submitted my 250-word fiction to NYC Midnight, roughly 12 hours ahead of the deadline. I have been assigned to a group of writers who have been given the same parameters of genre, action, and word. Submissions are anonymous. This is all most mysterious. But fun.
In four hours, I will receive a prompt that will begin my 24-hour journey in a 250-word writing contest. I am providing the link because there’s still time to register if you are interested. I’ve heard good things and participants get to meet other participants and receive feedback. There are three rounds (ding-ding). Enjoy your Friday.
Another reblog, some invaluable thoughts about telling the truth in writing.
Photo by Thom Milkovic
Most of us are familiar with the Blind Men and the Elephant story. Its point is twofold:
- No one has a complete picture, even if they were “there in person,” but…
- Everyone knows what they think happened, and what it meant to them
This is true in both fiction and non-fiction.
True, journalists, as non-fiction writers, are supposed to render facts as objectively as they can. But honest, objective fact-finders know that even after interviewing eyewitnesses (“blind men”) their summary will inevitably fall short of “complete.” Hence, “rioting occurred” is more accurate than “the protest turned into a riot” (did everyone riot? Were there no objectors?). And “many wept” is more accurate than “there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience” (did no one roll their eyes and visit the loo?). There’s no such thing as a complete picture, and so, in essence, there’s no such…
View original post 165 more words
Inspired by the BBC select documentary The Pregnant Man, Amazon Prime Video
Respect the woman who became a man who became a woman to carry his wife’s baby and who became a man again. He has lived a thousand dreams of metamorphosis, possibilities curled up inside, waiting for change.
During the Depression, four men took life insurance policies out on drunkard Mike “The Durable.” They poisoned him, froze him, gave him a broken glass sandwich, hit him with a car. Finally, they killed him with carbon monoxide. They were scorched in the electric chair but Mike became a legend.
Have you seen the movie News of the World? It stars Tom Hanks who plays a Civil War veteran turned itinerant storytelling newsman. He agrees to return an orphan who was taken in by the Kiowa. They travel across Texas and face many dangers.
I loved it. And it would be a good family film. There is violence, but not a crazy amount. The young actress Helena Zengel plays the child and she’s amazing.
It may be that I’m originally a Texan and have considered moving back to Texas, but likely it is the stellar performance of Mr. Hanks and Ms. Zengel and the high production value of the film that makes me really glad I watched this.
Stream on HBO Max with membership.
Swollen white molded strawberries like victims of Pompeii; forgotten raw brisket for marinating, bloodying the sink; neglected half-dry clothes mildewing the wash—the ghost of your mother tisks from the corner. You bristle. She used to say you thought highly of yourself. Now you know you are no one, nothing.
If you love myths, legends, history, folklore, I recommend the blog “Under the Influence.” The latest post is about a queen. It’s fantastic.
“The evolution of Queen Semiramis from Queen Sammuramat provided an example for other female rulers to follow. Her legendary and mythical status was achieved possibly because it was unusual in patriarchal societies for females to be allowed to shine or display their intelligence and talents. According to these traditions, she proved herself to be as good or better than males in her governing abilities, civil building works, and military prowess. This was unusual and may be part of the reason why she was elevated to such status. Her mystique and appeal lasted for centuries after her death and was the inspiration for many works in art and literature…
Over the ages her achievements became embellished and exaggerated and new stories emerged about her. In many ways the little that was known about her added to her mystique and after her death the myths and legends grew. In later times was held as a model for good female rulers who exhibited similar characteristic…such as Margret I of Denmark, and Catherine the Great of Russia who were called Semiramis of the North…”
Queen Semiramis was a mythical queen who appears in many myths, legends, works of art and literature through the ages. She was was believed to have evolved from a real, historical QueenSammuramat who ruled the Neo-Assyrian Empire for a brief period. Here we look briefly what is known of the historical Queen Sammuramat and her transformation to the mythical, semi-divine, Queen Semiramis.
Sammuramat ruled the Neo-Assyrian Empire in the ninth century after her husband, King Shamshi-Adad V, died until her young son Adad-nirari III came of age in 806 BC. It is not clear whether she ruled as regent or in some other capacity but it was only believed to have lasted for five years. According to the myths Semiramis ruled for 42 years as queen regnant but it is necessary to separate the historical from the…
View original post 1,857 more words
I figured out my blogging “bug” that I posted about yesterday. Turns out there was an issue with my not changing the settings. Since I have started engaging in Inktober, more posts appear on my initial page because of how short these posts have been. And so, I needed to increase the count for the number of posts that appear in the feed. So, mea culpa. The bees have the right idea here: Let’s go back to sleep. It is nice to know even lovely bees have a siesta. Enjoy your Saturday.
I happened to scroll down my posts and noticed quite a few posts are showing up again further down in the posting order. All of these posts should only appear in order at the top of the page as this is how they are designated in my settings. I have so little buzz today, WP. You wouldn’t try to harsh it? If I see a repeat of this darling bug further down in my posts, I may have to wonder if my blog is haunted by ghosts of posts past.
I have two terrible memories of elementary school. One was of poor Leah, large as a whale, falling off the roundabout and all of us flying past, kicking her while she cried. The other was a nightmare around this time of a tiny bird dying because we stoned it.
If you love literature and you love to watch movies, I would recommend the movie Genius with Colin Firth, Jude Law, Nichole Kidman, and Laura Linney. Firth plays Maxwell Perkins, a book editor at Charles Scribner’s Sons who edited the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald. Law plays Thomas Wolfe, the famous writer of Look Homeward, Angel which was also edited by Perkins.
If you watch this movie, be prepared to feel something. Well, I guess I should only speak for myself. I’ve watched it before but I find in revisiting movies during the pandemic, certain movies almost feel new to me. I don’t remember getting as emotional. Our world has changed so much.
Your friend on this Saturday evening. —Margaret
Often the time of the first impulse to write something is the best time to take it down. For me, impulses don’t age well. It is like knowing you love someone but delaying a response to their own love declaration for you—whether your response is a few seconds late or minutes overdue or you are tardy a few days or longer, heaven forbid.
An idea touches down on my noggin and it’s as if it is saying: “Here I am, waiting to bless you.” But then sometimes I think I must say: “I’ve told myself I absolutely must be serious about such and such (insert adult task) and if you would be so obliging as to interrupt me at a more convenient time.” A few hours or days later, I’m ready to rock and roll with my lovely and I’ve lost a sense of the tone, the pitch, the rhythm. It had a real tangible feel and now it’s just a bit of yellowed nostalgia like aged, delicate paper. I can’t connect words to an old feeling. I can’t recapture the mouth feel (Yeah, that’s a food metaphor).
Why is it hard to write and be a normal person? Because it is. I think early clues of my own “abnormality” would be others’ teasing me for often spacing out or being slow to join classmates in learning activities. Surely that was an early form of the waking dreams I was subject to and later pursued as an adult, attempting to capture them in writing. And yet, to write what I hope to write and that is, the things that are most important to my heart, the stories and words that feel most urgent, means I can’t allow myself to get “too old”—allow myself to get stodgy, curmudgeonly, closed. I have to walk around open constantly and willing to take down words on command. I guess the only hindrance would be lack of writing instruments or going under sedation for a procedure. Or of course, driving.
A couple of days ago, I thought of my response to the Inktober prompt “star” (see my earlier posting of Inktober prompts). I had a sense of the sound, the feel of how I wanted to approach it though I said to myself, you know, I want to learn more about meteor showers and where to watch them. This little research made me even more excited about the prompt. But instead of marrying my feeling and early sense of sound together with my research, I left my love alone to pursue some chores.
What I have now is alright, but it wasn’t what I intended. But this often happens. We live in the world. The world won’t stop for us to write and then carry on once we decide to engage in the world again. Then again, our beloved conception of an idea won’t always be present for us in the same way it was initially, though she is often present for a competent dance or two. This has been my experience. It is both thrilling and frustrating, just like love.
A note from yours truly: One thing I love about WordPress is witnessing beautiful art and writing by people I follow. The memory of this work and the story that accompanies it has stayed with me this past couple of weeks and I thought I would share it. I hope you will check out this blog.—Margaret
Gotta song that you think goes with one of our vases? We invite you to add yours in the comments!Playing Musical Vases – Sobek’s Tears — The Alchemist’s Studio
How are you this Friday night? I keep hearing this song. I heard Peggy Lee’s cover in the soundtrack for the movie The Savages with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney. Peggy Lee’s cover is beautiful, heartfelt, and pristine. And The Savages is a great movie. I’m in the middle of Reds (all three hours of it) starring Diane Keaton, Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, and others. Keaton sings this beautifully.
But I like this homespun cover. I’ve always thought it would be great to learn the ukulele. I looked at them when I was last in a guitar shop, which was ages ago, certainly pre-pandemic. I have long since neglected my guitar, so why not take up with another instrument. This is just the kind of song I would like to learn.
This singer gives it lots of heart and character. It seems just the right style for the lyrics. The sheet music was published in 1894. The composer was W.H. Petri and the lyricist was Philip Wingate. A cursory search on Google reveals that this was commonly sung by grandmothers in the early 1900s.
Blessings and Peace —Margaret
There was a sadness in Aunt Mary after they gave her the medications. Last fall, I had never seen her happier. She was to fly to Jamaica to marry her fiancé. Turns out, that was all a delusion.
“Why did they do that?” I asked Mama.
“I don’t know, baby.”
The House of Dust: A symphony by Conrad Aiken V. The snow floats down upon us, mingled with rain . . . It eddies around pale lilac lamps, and falls Down golden-windowed walls. We were all born of flesh, in a flare of pain, We do not remember the red roots whence we rose, But we know that we rose and walked, that after a while We shall lie down again. The snow floats down upon us, we turn, we turn, Through gorges filled with light we sound and flow . . . One is struck down and hurt, we crowd about him, We bear him away, gaze after his listless body; But whether he lives or dies we do not know. One of us sings in the street, and we listen to him; The words ring over us like vague bells of sorrow. He sings of a house he lived in long ago. It is strange; this house of dust was the house I lived in; The house you lived in, the house that all of us know. And coiling slowly about him, and laughing at him, And throwing him pennies, we bear away A mournful echo of other times and places, And follow a dream . . . a dream that will not stay. Down long broad flights of lamplit stairs we flow; Noisy, in scattered waves, crowding and shouting; In broken slow cascades. The gardens extend before us . . . We spread out swiftly; Trees are above us, and darkness. The canyon fades . . . And we recall, with a gleaming stab of sadness, Vaguely and incoherently, some dream Of a world we came from, a world of sun-blue hills . . . A black wood whispers around us, green eyes gleam; Someone cries in the forest, and someone kills. We flow to the east, to the white-lined shivering sea; We reach to the west, where the whirling sun went down; We close our eyes to music in bright cafes. We diverge from clamorous streets to streets that are silent. We loaf where the wind-spilled fountain plays. And, growing tired, we turn aside at last, Remember our secret selves, seek out our towers, Lay weary hands on the banisters, and climb; Climbing, each, to his little four-square dream Of love or lust or beauty or death or crime.
I am visiting once more Leonora Carrington’s The Hearing Trumpet, a novel narrated by the fictional 92-year-old Marian Leatherby who, early in the novel oft quotes her friend Carmella: “One can never trust people under seventy and over seventy.” There are early opinions of antimacassars, a description of collecting and spinning cat hair for a sweater, and an expression of love for her crone beard which she finds rather “gallant” though she notes the “more conventional” would find it “repulsive.” And of course, there is the the hearing trumpet, a gift from her friend Carmella. It is encrusted with silver and mother-of-pearl and shaped like a buffalo’s horn. The instrument will empower her hearing to bionic proportions, apparently.
Find me a narrative or a comedian that will make me laugh, even in tough times, and I will be forever hooked. Leonora Carrington was a British-born surrealist artist and writer who lived in Mexico City most of her adult life, beginning in the 1940s. I used to have an art book (Surreal Friends) with her work included, along with two other surrealist artists in exile in Mexico in the 40s—Remedios Varo and Kati Horna. I was needing cash and had to sell a couple of art books, and alas, this tome was able to fetch me more than any other. But it was a beautiful book.
Even more precious to me is Carrington’s beloved novel from the publisher Exact Change The Hearing Trumpet which, if memory serves, was recommended me by my first writing teacher and friend over twenty years ago. The narrator turns the world upside down, shakes down its pockets, and admires the paper clip and the dime and the bunched up lint that falls out. It is subversive in that it refuses standard issue readerly expectations and novelistic conventions; it subverts capitalistic, materialistic values; it questions normative views so often adopted even in art and literature, but especially in a consumer society.
It delights: You think you know what this character is about and then, in the next sentence, you have no idea. She defies your expectation, and in fact, any preconceived expectation at all. Despite what judgements our world and our literature would commonly impose on such “characters,” Carrington constantly offers up a world that is more exciting, more imaginative, more full of possibility and less limited, less limiting.
I hope to successfully revise and find a home for a story of a woman who has a rich inner life as well as an active and rich imaginative life though she is trapped by the ravages of age. She can’t even speak, but she travels in memory, interacts with a ghost friend, imaginatively reinterprets a relative as a fairy tale character. I was perhaps remembering some of Carrington when I wrote the story, though I was also remembering a story by Lars Gustafsson, and likely stories by my first writing teacher as well as writers such as Janet Frame.
No matter what is happening in real time, we can live and create in an alternate reality, perhaps one that causes us to examine ourselves, what we value, who we value. A subversive vision can be mild and couched in humor but it upends the world.
Terramae makes peanut butter chocolate frogs for trick or treaters, but her boyfriend, a chef, uses them for a mole. She yells at him and he says “I wish you would just smoke one big doobie.” She makes a huge batch of frog edibles for his staff. Everyone gets fired.
There is a light in the world for a little Prince and we, the children who have died at the hands of our caretakers, see it at night from where we reside. We are the Realm of the Comforters. We are a ragged crew, deformed, still, from our injuries but beauty in the afterlife is not the beauty that is prized in life. We wear our raggedness like battle scars. It grants us a certain power: The power to empathize, the impetus to act, the motivation to bring justice to children on earth.
Baby Prince was drowned by his very own father. A distraught mother and an angel detective helped solve the crime and and put the father away, but of course, this was not enough to save the child. The dear one came into our world choking and screaming, for children who have been killed at the hands of those who are tasked to love them are in a certain kind of confused state. Our Book of Souls states it is natural for a child to love a caretaker beyond all reason for love is the first rule. And yet, confusion and anger exist in that love and serve to render the child inconsolable.
We found the child in his crib sitting up, wailing, though he had already died. In our Book, we are allowed to comfort the newly deceased but only to bring them rest until they are discovered. It was likely no one heard him die for he had been held under water. After this heinous act, his father had placed him in his crib so that he could “discover” him and cash in on an insurance policy.
We suspended ourselves from the ceiling in the nursery, reaching down in unison to the child in the crib to form a small basket nest, a cradle for rocking, a place over his bed. We sung of babies finding sleep in trees in leaves with birds chirping, a place to safely rock and dream. Gradually, he was comforted, and slept, and we slipped him onto his blanket. The next few nights, a beam of light followed him from his room to the hospital and to his little grave, and at night we visited the grave until he joined us in our Realm, to be mothered and comforted, to play among us, to be our little Prince.
A fit and successful man, Ryan loves his mom, but feels sorry for her too, in the way that only newly minted adults will sometimes feel sorry their older relatives, particularly those closest to them, well ok, admittedly, in the way newly minted adults will sometimes feel sorry for their mothers. It has occurred to him that had his parents stayed together, the burden of thinking so much about his mother could have been displaced, since it would have been largely the responsibility of his father. Now he felt the weight. He had rebelled against taking this on in high school, but gradually assumed the mantel as the years progressed.
When he visits his mother, Ryan has a protocol for keeping track of her. Inevitably, her preparation of an elaborate meal helps him create ruses to slip off into her room: He wants to check his weight because he doesn’t keep a scale at home; he wants to look at her pictures because he likes looking at them; he needs to borrow her Bible to look something up. Had Ryan lived in town, his mother would have been suspicious that he went into her room at all, but she was always so happy to see him, she didn’t ask questions.
He knows where she keeps her blood sugar monitor; he checks recent readings and the ninety day history. He syncs the scale he bought her to his phone and tracks her weight; nothing new there which is both good and bad. He checks the notebook beside her bed where she keeps a written record of finances and doctors’ appointments. She is still in trouble financially and physically though her smile and easy manner seems to bely that. This was just her way. He checks her Bible. The tiny piece of paper he inserted at the edge of a page in the New Testament is still in place which means she hadn’t unzipped the cover and read her Bible and likely hadn’t attended church and Bible study. There is a whiskey bottle bedside— not great—though it is still mostly full. The dust level on her dresser is reaching visible though oft used surfaces like her bedside secretary desk is variably dust free.
Sometimes, he had been surprised by notebooks found in her secretary such as a girlhood diary she kept of her travels with her family in Egypt and Israel. The notebook contained hieroglyphics and their translations and notes about Christmas in Israel, but also complaints about his aunt and grandmother, that they huddled together and gossiped on the trip and left her out. His late uncle and grandfather formed the male unit. She complained she didn’t fit into her own family. This had surprised him, though she would never have admitted any of this to his face. She may not have remembered writing this down. Who knows that she didn’t remember this experience or remember sticking this journal into her secretary desk.
One time he had seen his mother, a younger version of his mother, tidying up the bookshelves in the spare bedroom where he slept. He had sensed her presence, and when he opened his eyes, it was confirmed, but he was afraid. He knew she was not the mother that was alive now. His current mother had thinning hair and moved more deliberately, as if she were thinking before deciding to invest in a certain commitment to act. He was afraid for as he observed this newer version of her—which was younger and more carefree–he also heard his older mother in the kitchen, making his dinner. At dinner, he said nothing about this phantom but he had the unsettling sense he didn’t know his mother, that he didn’t know anything about how she lived or what she thought or how she had experienced life, though she still seemed to know a great deal about him, even what he chose to leave unspoken.
It was always a relief to leave his mother’s home and enter into the chaos of his father’s life, one with fewer memories of the past, a new family with a new mother and brother, where life with his father’s former wife was rarely, if ever, spoken of. And then it was even more of a relief to go home to his own town where there was less history and more possibility, where anything could happen, where the horizon expanded out in all directions.
And he was thankful he had yet to see his mother’s younger double here at his new apartment. He prayed for a stay of execution.
In the early days of the circus, the 19th century, there was puritanical disapproval because “entertainments” were considered a sinful waste of time and the outfits that performers wore revealed too much. But the animal menagerie that was set up alongside the performance tent was a shrewd move to recruit an audience among the faithful. That is the setting of this mini-story which reveals a child’s dreams. Dreams, I think, are the lure and effect of the circus. (I realize I’m not writing of Halloween or writing spooky yet with the circus theme. I’ve become intrigued by the research.)
Henry Buckland, a religious man of New England, took his family to see the animal menagerie. But Little Henrietta broke away to glimpse a forbidden scene under the big top: the trapeze. She vowed to be a trapeze artist one day and wear a gorgeous, glittery outfit.
I’ll have to admit, I have a thing for the #LeaveItChallenge on YouTube. Folks leave delectable items well within reach of their dogs and tell them “leave it” then leave the room. (There is a similar challenge for children called #candychallenge.) The camera tracks just how these tortured subjects react to the temptation.
I have recently purchased a book of the earliest versions of the Brothers Grimm folk and fairy tales. Later versions of these tales were sweetened for younger audiences. The earliest forms are more brutal, just like our R-rated movies and and more salacious forms of entertainment. But then there are some funny tales as well, such as Clever Gretel. I won’t ruin it for you, but let’s just say Clever Gretel is a #LeaveItChallenge laugh-riot.
This story is based on the case of a family annihilation in Mendocino County, California on March 26, 2018. See Broken Harts, Prime Video.
After two mommies drove a vanload of adopted children off a cliff, we the children of the Realm gathered the newly dead children in our arms. There is nothing like the cries of children who have died at the hands of their caretakers. Often, they have been abused for years.
There’s an excellent film on the life of Blaze Foley available for streaming on Amazon with an AMC subscription. I think it may be available through the end of September.
I only learned of Blaze Foley when I started listening to John Prine (for example, Prine’s cover song of Foley’s “Clay Pigeons”). Foley is a stage name the musician took up because of his admiration for the legendary country musician Red Foley. He also had a close relationship with Townes Van Zandt.
Sibyl Rosen, his wife, wrote about their life together in Living in the Woods in a Tree House. The film covers their life as detailed in the book, their life trying to start Foley’s music career, and the years following their separation.
Ethan Hawke directed and produced the film and just about everyone sings in this movie and does so beautifully – the actors who play Blaze and Van Zandt as well as the actress playing Sybil Rosen. Although he doesn’t sing in this movie, Kris Kristofferson plays a major part as Foley’s father.
After the movie, I watched an interview with Ethan Hawke and Ben Dickey—who played Foley—on KEXP (youtube). There is singing and guitar playing and insights about the movie and the choices made regarding why and how to film.
Having endured white torture overseas, the journalist returned home. White rooms, chalk floors, soundlessness—the sensory deprivation of his confinement had cast the spell of Lethe. He did not recognize family and yet he panicked at the prospect of being left alone.
Young men of the Ivy League fraternity hosted a “pig roast,” a competition to score high in bedding women. Tie breakers were won using the scale: The man who slept with the heaviest young lady reigned supreme. There was institutional punishment but heartfelt contrition of members was nowhere in evidence.
Tranquil, Jesus-loving hippies, seduced by the revolutionary music of a new religious movement, found themselves engaging in “flirty fishing” for the cause of God. “The Law of Love” superseded “The Law of Moses” said their guru. Years later, former cult members mourn lost innocence. Some don’t survive the shattering.
Coca Cola Vintage by Antonio Marín Segovia, flickr
Florida man, sociopathic genius, Mensa member, chemist, having silenced his neighbors’ barking dogs for good, laces the boisterous family’s soda bottles with thallium. Like the dogs, the mother loses her hair. Her liter are poisoned. The mother dies, but the Florida man is dismayed to find prison especially noisy.
Have you seen the four-part documentary series LuLaRich on Amazon Prime Video? It’s interesting. At first, I wasn’t going to watch it because in general, patterned leggings, a key product of LuLaRoe, aren’t my thing. Lols. (Well, I do confess, I purchased flowered bike shorts from another clothing store recently!) In terms of real time events, when things were starting to go down with this multilevel marketing company, I was in the throes of crises involving divorce and ill health and wasn’t tuned into the world. Furthermore, I realized, having watched the initial few moments of the first episode of this series, I would not have been the demographic target. There was an upper middle class, married woman vibe. That no longer fit who I was.
Though the story in this documentary may seem an illustration of aspirational-white-girls-getting-their-comeuppance, the dynamics of this toxic culture could apply to other situations as well. I don’t want to spoil the series should you decide to watch it. And I’m not a big business person so I have my limitations regarding the subject. What I do want to say and what this drove home for me is that we are all vulnerable to things when we feel wanting in some way—whether it be a lack of funds; a lack of purpose; a lack of self-esteem; etc.
Regarding things we do because we are vulnerable, I joined a support group that had started meeting on Zoom at the beginning of the pandemic. They meet frequently—every week—and I’m not big into sharing too much of myself with strangers in frequent meetings. Every now and then, ok, I can be this vulnerable, but well, there is a time to share and a time to keep to oneself. In comparing the first time I met with them with a time that is more recent, I have noticed how much emphasis is now given for members to rely on the group. In fact, sometimes the leader made exclusive claims: True support can be found only in the group. Not all statements were as bold, but I sensed a marked difference. I could have been misinterpreting what I was hearing, but I think it equally possible this is a major red flag.
We are all vulnerable, especially right now. I think it is worth listening to the small voice inside, or training ourselves to do this. We may sometimes override this voice, the very embodiment of our intuition, because we are desperate for whatever is being promised by someone else. But how do we know we won’t get trapped by something that could harm us? Everyone is vulnerable to this kind of a trap. It only takes a certain kind of person saying a certain kind of thing during a certain time of need to influence us to take the bait. This certain kind of person can seem to be utterly benevolent, or just radically awesome. We have to test the waters. Sometimes they are grounded and acting ethically. But, in general, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Nothing new there. But for me, the puzzle is how to reach out in vulnerability while also maintaining a kind of critical stance.
This blogpost is longer than I intended it to be. However, to summarize, I really do like LuLaRich and hope you will watch it! And it did make me think that we are now more vulnerable than ever. And though not everyone who misleads people is aiming for their destruction, the process of leading can do a psychological number on the person in charge unless they’re well grounded and make active use of accountability structures.
No matter where you land politically or by any other measure, there is a small voice inside. Listen. It may tell you it’s time to go rogue.
Here’s another bluegrass favorite that’s come to have so much resonance. I hope to learn more about Ola Belle Reed. This was co-written with Dave Reed, her son. It’s in a go-to playlist on Spotify. Good thoughts to you this Saturday. I’ll put another beauty below. — Margaret
When you feel alone in your illness, let your strength demonstrate your dignity, let the sun crown you sister and brother, let the moon guide you as your mother and father. And if it is your turn to lie down, let the gentle earth receive you in her arms.
This reminds me of summers in North Carolina. We would go to a square dance where this song was popular. This was a dance, but not a square dance. It was a couples’ dance. I never learned it and guy partners who knew it were very few. A couple our age always danced to this, flying all over the barn. They were amazing. I am quite fond of this old Red Foley song. Every now and then, I just have to hear it. There is no substitute. Happy hump day.
Whenever she heard certain songs, thoughts of a former boyfriend reached inside and twisted her insides. It had taken time to see his lack of interest, but they had both loved rock and roll. Did she really want to exorcise his ghost? She wasn’t sure.
I begin today this year’s fall-fifty-word-challenge. Some of these small pieces may be kitschy; some may be tongue-in-cheek; and some may not have as much to do with Halloween as with the darker aspects of life in general. I confess I wrote this one sans prompt. I intend to post some prompts for those interested in participating.—Margaret
Sitting on the toilet lid, she slumps against the bathroom wall, her eyes fixed on the shower curtain, the spoon fallen to the floor, blood trickling down her arm.
They found her blue-lipped. Her sister said it was China Girl, come to take her from the pain.
In this week leading into Labor Day weekend, our nation and my state is literally wracked with illness and death; Louisiana has been ripped apart by a hurricane; there is fear and uncertainty in Afghanistan and mourning for lives lost. Furthermore, there are school districts who will be financially punished for trying to keep children safe from a deadly virus and there are many people facing eviction notices. Last year, the inception of the pandemic was only preamble.
This morning, it was in an addled frame of mind that I opened my closet door to see a small open bin on the floor, something from my previous move I have been gradually sorting through. There on the top, I noticed a collection of pictures which were scattered face down. On the backs of the pictures, there were names and dates written in cursive in an unknown hand. I turned them over to see some glimpse of an almost forgotten history, a record someone else kept for interested parties. I don’t remember who took the pictures of me because I was a baby, but there I was supposedly and playing with a playmate I would never see again. There were also pictures of my biological mother as a child and and also as a young woman. There was a picture of my biological grandmother, a few of my grandfather, two of my half-brother. I hadn’t expected to see these pictures this morning. Oddly, I felt nothing. But years ago, when I first saw them, I felt a great deal. It was at that moment of being presented with them that I learned things that were hard to know. For years, I kept the pictures tucked away in a bookshelf in a manilla envelop, away from view as if they held an electric charge. But moving and disruption has a way of discombobulating everything, and there we are, our private things lying about like a tossed salad.
Watching the film Horse Girl this afternoon, I was drawn into a deep grief, perhaps primed by the pictures of my biological mother in various stages of her life. And there was something so disturbingly recognizable about the film’s main character and her story, something so recognizable in her foibles and derailing mind, her struggle with a mental illness passed down by her grandmother and mother. The major existential question she asks is: How much of their illness is also mine?
I have also been in a grieving process since the onset of the pandemic for I have begun to lose my adopted mother to dementia. It brings home more starkly than ever that sense that when everything is stripped away, we stand naked and alone.
I will not get into more detail about the film and I won’t go into my own history here, though I have done so elsewhere, having spent years keeping it to myself. But for now, I’ll just leave it at this: I could relate to so much material that was in this film. I was riveted. It broke my heart. It is worth your time if you care to explore.
Prefatory note by yours truly: I wanted to share this fascinating post. Several years ago, at the Florida Film Festival, I saw the film I Dream in Another Language. a dramatic and beautiful film exploring the stakes of the death of an indigenous language in Mexico. Though the film explores sometimes mystical concepts, it also explores an intriguing line of thought: When a language dies, whole realms of experience and culture die with it. If you are interested in this concept, I invite you to watch the film and read the reviews to start your exploration. And I hope you will follow the link to this website to read about this linguist’s inspiration and work in Southern Italy.
Written by Dyami Millarson This picture was taken during my last visit to Southern Italy, I played football outside like some of the locals. Whilst I was there, I had taken the opportunity to continue my Molesian fieldwork. Profoundly inspired as a teenager by David Crystal’s Language Death, David K. Harrison’s When Languages Die, Daniel […]My Fieldwork in Southern Italy — Foundation Operation X for languages, cultures and perspectives
It is almost September! Which means it is almost October! Which means it’s close to Halloween!
I was revising some posts this morning, and particularly the fifty-word fiction pieces I wrote for last year’s Inktober. A few years ago, I started following someone for this little literary spooky spree, writing a delicious bite-size story each day of October. But for a couple of years, I have blazed my own trick-or-treat trail, creating my own prompts. And last year, I wrote several posts laying out my thoughts about writing fun size.
I plan a return to Inktober excitement this year. And I may start as early as September. October being what it may be for me this year, I don’t want to miss an opportunity to craft gloomy confections. If you want to join me, I hope to post prompts soon, some of which may be repeats, but which I enjoyed, ergo: Favorite prompts, round two!
Prime the pump with scary thoughts while I put a cauldron over the fire.
Recently, I watched an episode of the CNN series This is Life with Lisa Ling – “Women who Fight” (season 3, episode 2, October 2, 2016). In the episode, Ling covers women fighting in the MMA. One of the fighters said the motivation is not beating someone up, but being able to perform under stress, battling an opponent who is often equally as determined and strong.
When I have an idea for a story, I want to see it through to the end, to cut through the doubt and fear, ignoring voices from the past which may have discouraged me or criticized me, including my own. These roadblocks are the “opponent.” I think many writers who venture out in some way creatively, even if the stakes are relatively low, are testing their strength, their will to overcome such obstacles. You can always be a writer in your mind, and certainly that is where ideas begin, but the battle doesn’t begin until the words start to flow.
Recently, I haven’t dealt with too much internal resistance. I try to avoid situations that set me up for failure and block, such as prompts, contests, or markets that do not match my sensibility and interests. And deadlines that are too tight tend to produce creative products that aren’t much use. Somewhere is a happy medium between overload and stagnation. And so, I attempt to post some original content here. My challenge to myself is exposing original ideas out in the open. To me, it is a risk, but if I stop doing it I fear I will not move forward.
Most of my ideas are self generated, but the raw material comes from my reading and experiences. The raw materials are like the scraps a quilter keeps in a special place for that moment he or she sets out to lay out a pattern. Sometimes when I have a theme or topic in mind, a month is often just about enough time to gather raw materials for a completely original story, often the kind of story set in unfamiliar territory and even an unfamiliar time. A month is often about enough time to begin making mental connections, gathering intel from the environment, recalling memories, waiting for news stories and bits and pieces from the culture and written resources, rummaging around in my imagination and dreams. However, sometimes I may complete a story seemingly within an instant, an hour or two, but I wonder if somehow I have tripped over an especially strong obsession lodged below conscious thought.
A month is long enough to make a piece that is seven hundred to one thousand words long. But often a day is long enough to produce a tiny layered quilt, a covering large enough for a doll bed, a piece of fifty words. I often need a prompt, often self generated. I spend the day or a couple of days before, rummaging for content, using the prompt as a kind of divining rod. A two hundred and fifty word piece may only take a day to create if I have given myself some lead time with a prompt or idea. I have these categories of story lengths in mind because word limits are real when it comes time to submit to markets. I have to stay fluid in a practice and writing within limits is a kind of disciplined practice only mastered with continual production. Writing production — both rough drafts and final versions — is the MMA equivalent of time at the gym. But it pays to focus on the mot juste that comes from practicing, from learning how to land a punch at the right time. And if an editor says they want a certain length, that is exactly what they want.
I’m sorry about throwing around a plethora of metaphors: MMA fighting, quilting, dollhouses, and even an old fashioned way of finding water. Maybe I have cheated a bit with my metaphors today. At some point, perhaps, the other fighter in me who is gaining strength — my inner editor — will come out to clean up the mess. Both of these fighters are in training and if I am doing my job, both will be equally matched.
Weekends are work days for me, though I try to do some “weekend things” when possible, such as a home movie night on Saturday, complete with popcorn and a Diet Coke. I know, sounds wild, right? Ah, pandemic life. Maybe you sense some recognition when I say I am still a bit shocked the pandemic hasn’t ended yet, but has instead intensified, particularly in my home state of Florida. I unapologetically watch movies or tv series when I need an immediate wind-down from the world.
I say all of this to say: Yesterday I enjoyed watching a Swedish drama series called Beartown. It concerns a family who return to their small hometown in Northern Sweden having faced a family tragedy some time before. The father is a retired professional hockey player who has been hired to coach the local hockey team. The mother is a lawyer. The daughter is in high school and the younger son is in grade school.
Trouble is foreshadowed in a dramatic opening scene in which someone is chasing someone else through heavy drifts of snow. The one giving chase carries a shotgun. They run through a forest and down an embankment. At some point, there is a shot, but we do not know what happens and identities are obscured. The story is backtracking to what events, what pressures, what dynamics led up to this particular moment.
I like this series. It’s not sensationalistic though it can be stark. For the most part, my suspension of disbelief gets a rest. I appreciate its fairly balanced realism though some character faults are starkly drawn.
The series explores the impact of pressure in peer groups — especially youth sports culture — and in an insular community focused on this culture. And it masterfully portrays the ripple effect of violence. It concerns issues of integrity, courage, friendship, parenting, grief, group behavior, and shrinking opportunities and resources in a waning industrial town.
I think it is one to share as part of a family with older children, especially teenagers, but also possibly middle graders. It would appeal to students involved in both sports and the arts and students who may feel marginalized as well as those who are popular but who nonetheless feel insecure and under pressure.
Spoiler alert: It does portray a rape but the scene isn’t gratuitous and the subject isn’t used to portray a helpless victim or to demonize an offender. However, it shows the destructive power of sexual violence as well as cultural influences that feed this violence.
While the movie is Swedish and there are English subtitles, the gist of it is easy to follow and text is not rapid-fire. The filming is beautiful and the setting would possibly stimulate interest in another culture among young viewers. It is a very fine drama.
I can picture using this as part of an in-home “curriculum,” complete with thought-provoking questions to prompt discussion, though of course it is best to screen this before sharing it with a younger audience..
For both young viewers and those who are more “mature,” there is something for all. Oh, and don’t forget the popcorn!
Ms. Hardin sat upon her wingback chair by her electric fireplace and took up a book loosely based on the fall of the Roman empire. It had become a lovely book to her, so removed from her life, a place to escape her troubles, her inadequacies. When she was a girl, her mother had her read a biography of Alexander the Great. Of course, this had seemed strange to her at the time, but she had generally tried to do what her mother asked of her. It was ancient history, so what? she had thought. And now she mused, perhaps it opened up that little mental space to imagine other realms in other times. Her current reading project was a speculative fiction about an intergalactic world.
Before beginning, she looked up to notice a black hulking void in her view of her apartment parking lot and surrounding grounds (She was ground level, so she stayed current on happenings). Then she heard the scraping of shovels against sharp objects. She was wearing her her pajamas and so peeked discreetly through the horizontal shades. Men were unloading large beige rocks into the area surrounding the doggie poo trash can. It wouldn’t be long, she thought, before rocks would be sliding out from their place and onto the sidewalk and no one would pick them up, and people might trip, tires might puncture, their rent may go up to fund the expense of rock. What was wrong with lowly mulch? And the bigger problem was that maintenance didn’t always empty these doggie poo cans as often as they should and sometimes the dark green bags would ooze out over the side like Dali’s melted clocks. The project didn’t take long and the men packed up the black dump truck to fix up other doggie poo trash can areas.
So much of our world is made up of these kinds of things, thought Ms. Hardin, it is a wonder we can imagine anything beyond what ties us to present circumstances. She read a few pages of her book until her back and shoulder began to hurt, a familiar occurrence these days. She would order the hemp oil. Deep in the tissues of her shoulder was the skin damaged and disordered by radiation. Recently, with too much sitting in a single position, a pain would shoot down her right arm, more of a dull pain, whereas last summer during the onset of the pandemic, it had been so severe she could hardly move. A chiropractor had made it better in the short term but by trying to force stubborn and frozen flesh, had created difficulties.
She looked forward to her next installment of Empire. She looked fondly at her reading corner while she sat on her couch. I’ll be back later tonight, she promised.
Mrs. Sanderson remembered when she first started thinking about corners, particularly the corners in a room. It was when she first felt the love of Lawrence. It was explained to me like this, and now I will relay the story to you….
Mrs. Sanderson yearned for the corner in her room to contain a chair. It was the room she shared with Mr. Sanderson, a hard-working man with an angular nose and a downward pointed mouth like an upside down u except on days he came back home from poker games with his friends or times out at the bar after work, and then it was a soft, stretched out squiggle.
It was on those nights that he fell asleep almost immediately that she wished to snuggle in a chair in the corner, and facing his back, which was large enough to serve as a kind of partial room divider, drop out of life with a good, absorbing book. She couldn’t read in a chair facing his face. So much vulnerability in that sleeping face. Then she would feel guilty for doing something private, something she enjoyed.
On her way home from the grocery one day, she spotted an upholstered chair in the alley of the wealthier part of her neighborhood. It wasn’t just any chair, it was the chair, she thought. And a sandy-haired young man was about to load it in his pickup when she stopped him and begged him not to take it. Could she sit on it, please, and make sure it was not meant for her instead? He laughed at her and relented, apparently indulging her, even to the point of overriding his own desire to acquire this thing, a cast off.
And so right there in the alley she sat upon the worn, auburn velvet. The curves of the back and arms were outlined by a well-loved dark wooden frame. It had the look of a country French piece, something her mother would have loved. It was hard to believe anyone could have let it go.
Are you sure you would be willing to part with it? she inquired of the young man as she ran a hand around the smooth wood of the arm, not really opening herself up to hearing an answer contrary to what she sought, but trying to soften the forcefulness of her covetousness.
I think you should have it, said the young man, smiling at her. You look at home sitting there.
And the way he said it made her blush, but she smiled. Would you like to help me? I just have a little car. I don’t think it would fit.
Lead the way, he said, and hoisted the chair into the truck bed. He secured it with rope.
She started her tiny box on wheels. She watched him. So cute. And strong. But she was forty! She laughed and shook her head, adjusting her sunglasses up on her nose, something she always did before putting the car in gear.
At home, the young man took the chair up to her bedroom. Where to? he said, looking around her bedroom though it was obvious there could only be one place it would fit. He set it down lovingly, gently in the corner.
Mrs. Sanderson brought her hands together in front of her face, like saying praying a small prayer of thanksgiving. She smiled and flushed. She hadn’t brought home anything new for herself for years.
I think you should make sure this is the right spot, the young man said, and held out a hand to indicate an invitation to sit.
She sat. It felt marvelous!
Now pretend you are my husband, she said, and lie upon the bed. What was she thinking? she demanded of herself. I want you to lie facing the opposite wall with your back to me and pretend to be asleep.
He did as instructed.
Can you see me? she said, pretending to read.
Of course not! I’m sleeping! he said.
And she laughed. He had played along marvelously. What a cute, cute boy. Then she felt ashamed.
Well, thank you for humoring an old lady, she said. You have really made my day. And she reached into her purse for her wallet. I should pay you.
Please, he said, standing and holding out a hand. Don’t. This was fun, Mrs.?
Sanderson. But call me Betty. Or even Elizabeta. That rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? But it is a secret identity. And she laughed.
He had blue eyes that crinkled at the edges. His nose was not a sharp angle like her husband’s but a gentle slope.
I’m sure you have a lovely lady to go home to, she said.
Well, my family will be home soon. This statement deflated her suddenly. It wasn’t true, but she didn’t want to venture too far out on this branch.
My name is Lawrence, he said, taking her hand and holding it with another on top as if he were holding a frail bird. When I put your chair in the corner, I remembered a famous architect. Have your heard of Gaudi?
She shook her head.
In putting your chair in a corner, it made me think: Why do we have corners? I mean, this area could just as easily be a curve, not a sharp construction. Gaudi built great things with many, many curves. Had he built this room, perhaps your corner would actually be a curving wall and you could sit in your chair like you were sitting in an embrace.
And he smiled.
She felt her face warm and redden. She withdrew her hand, but smiled at him. What an interesting man he was, and rare.
Maybe you will go to Spain someday and see his buildings in person, he said.
Oh boy this is a deluded idealist. But she smiled. She also began to think he knew this would never happen.
Lawrence, I thank you for helping me. Simpler is better for the send off, it sent a powerful message. Hopefully.
Elizabeta, it was my pleasure, he said with a playful bow. I’ll see myself out.
The air was charged after he left. The colors seemed brighter, more distinct.
When her husband came home later that night she put her arms about him and kissed his wavery, drunken mouth.
I love you, she said.
What’s this all about? he said, not disagreeably, but somewhat amused and puzzled.
I just wanted to let you know. I’ve made a pot roast if you’re still hungry. It’s warming in the oven. I’ll be upstairs.
She sat in her chair in their bedroom. She heard him banging around in the kitchen. He often ate out when he was out at night and so she had stopped providing a meal. Maybe he was eating her food tonight out of pleased gratitude. Or maybe, simple politeness.
At last the television blasted away. And there it is, she thought, smiling. Sports highlights, news.
She picked up a novel about a young man visiting a sanitorium in Germany. It was said to be one of the greatest of European modern novels, but one that required a constant soaking of concentration and admittedly, she didn’t always have the focus required.
But in her chair in her corner, all sound dropped away. No other sights were visible but the world the author opened to her. She didn’t hear her husband come into the room and drop into the bed. She didn’t hear him ask about her new position in the room or the new furniture. If he had asked her about these things, she didn’t remember responding. And if he had asked her, he wouldn’t later remember asking because of his drunkenness.
The next day, she found a grocery bag on her front stoop. In it was a huge picture book full of the outlandish architecture of a Spanish man: Gaudi.
She was, she thought then, the mysterious Elizabeta of secret worlds, keeper of the marvelous and strange.
For a few minutes on this 4th of July, I miss the smell of gunpowder drifting through the woods. I miss the time that I, as a single, newly divorced mom, set off fireworks for my son in the foothills of Tennessee. My son, without men around who could have afforded better and who would have known how to handle explosives, only watched the ground in disappointment. But I myself knew I set them off, I myself knew I tried, I myself knew I had balanced the enormous cost of food for a week in the Tennessee wilderness with a few minutes’ worth of popping noises. To me, the sound was glorious though the show was lackluster. It was the sound I created. I was making my way. And my son is fine now, well recovered, a man attending fireworks shows with views from mountaintops, not down among the underbrush, frustrated over dying fuses and the bait and switch nature of products sold under a large tent roadside.
At my central Florida home a few years ago, the first home I owned, a home where my son lived with me every other weekend and holiday throughout his high school years, the smoke from the 4th of July fireworks drifted through the woods, and I was not the cause of the explosions, but I was just as pleased. I owned a home. It was in fact a place I could barely afford and the kind of place I will never be able to afford again. But that was enough for the 4th, that and enjoying the noise and the gunpowder smell from my very own balcony with a view out over the dense woods.
On a 4th of July years before the divorce, I sat on a beach with family and in-laws all of whom shared ownership in an an ocean front townhome. I watched the children – my son, my niece, my nephew – and talked to my sister. I thought these summers would go on forever. I thought we would all return to this place. And I thought I would always be able to sit on the bed of the master bedroom on the top floor of the townhome in the afternoons and look out over the Atlantic, the horizon unbroken, the water an incredible blue and green with white strips of waves. But fortunes change, properties are sold, families fracture and reconfigure, and naive beliefs are rendered obsolete.
In my fifties, I think I am learning stoicism. Tonight, I don’t even search for the fireworks I hear outside of my apartment, I don’t even bother to make plans with relative strangers to eat in parks, sharing food we don’t even know if we should be sharing because of deadly viruses.
I don’t know if this alteration inside of me, this stoic kind of stance, is due to my surface knowledge of a philosophical practice or if it is due to emotional burnout, like the eroding effects of water wearing and wearing down sharp edges. I can’t decide if the change is good or bad. I can’t decide if I am actually detached or if I’m in denial. I am beyond old feeling, stress over the old triggering realities: cancer scares, debt, job prospects, school failure, ageism, technology snafus, catastrophic weather, crumbling buildings, pandemics, democracy breakdown, church homelessness, loneliness. As I write this I hear the popping and booming of the fireworks not far from Disney and I think, someone around me has hope, someone out there is looking at exploding stars and smiling. Their children look on with wonder.
Having watched an instructional YouTube video about stoicism which uses Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club to illustrate what it means to be free, I am getting the idea that Tyler Durden, the founder of the club, might kill me if he could on this 4th. But why is it young, healthy Hollywood stars are used to illustrate mad genius? Give me a seventy year old – rough and wizened – and I suspect we’d get another view. But if you have to kill me young Mr. Durden, go ahead.
On this mellow, rainy July 1st afternoon, I am listening to a playlist I created a while ago. I have recently changed it to keep things fresh. I have been listening while reading a novel. But this would also be nice to put on while preparing dinner, studying for school, working from home, or watching a summer storm come and go. I hope you are faring well and no matter your 4th of July plans: Peace. — Margaret
With everything opening up and with new travels, I am feeling both grateful and overwhelmed. I was sick with a bad cold for about a week and a half after flying to see family. And when I got home, I became acutely aware of a neglected social life in my hometown. But normalcy will not happen overnight.
I do feel such a relief to sit in a bookstore and not worry about a mask, to leisurely enjoy the work people have created.
Tonight, I feel a little relief, on the whole, regarding the general state of things, and am spending my classical Saturday on a repeat of a lovely piece of music. Be well. — Meg
There was nothing more than Daddy Pappy had wanted to do than to make sure Little Cinder could see Tinker Bell fly down from Cinderella’s castle.
Little Cinder was Daddy Pappy’s only grandkid, his son having died in Afghanistan a few years before. Little Cinder spent most days and nights with him and Mama Grand while Cinder’s Mama worked at the diner and at the hotel as a housekeeper. It would have meant so much to his son to be present for this Disney moment with Little Cinder, but in his absence, Daddy Pappy did his darnedest.
They had saved all year for the Disney tickets but then the pandemic struck and they had to wait. At last, in July of the following year, the hottest and most popular time at the theme park, Daddy Pappy stationed his wheelchair in front of the roses before the castle. Even so, Little Cinder couldn’t see. He abandoned his wheelchair and pulled himself deep into the garden between the bushes, telling Cinder to follow, ignoring Mama Grand who was scolding him from the chain link fence.
Little Cinder could stand on a little rise in front of a tree and that way no one could obscure her view. There was even a light breeze blowing the roses this way and that, and Mama Grand, having finished with her disapproving looks, smiled at them and shook her head. Daddy Pappy knew she was worried about them breaking park rules but she would know because she knew him that he didn’t give a damn. At that moment, a huge blast of trumpets rose from hidden speakers, the park lights went dim, and an an announcer said, “Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, please welcome a special guest here to meet you on this most magical night!” And music blossomed out – “When You Wish Upon a Star!” Spotlights shone on the high turrets of Cinderella’s castle, where a beautiful, sparkling sprite with wings rode a zipline over the crowd.
At the spectacle, people gasped in surprise and clapped. Little Cinder jumped up and down and cheered. Then suddenly, in a rush of feeling, she flung her arms around Daddy Pappy’s neck.
It would be years later that Daddy Pappy, on one of his last days, remembered that very moment. He never said this to anybody lest anyone feel competitive with Little Cinder, but this moment when Cinder hugged him in a sudden rush of joy was truly the best moment of his life.
This afternoon, I have watched the Janis Joplin documentary Janis: Little Girl Blue. Again. Maybe it’s my third or fourth time. I’m losing count. A male acquaintance in town, a writer, and someone who reviews music, once listed on his blog favorite singers and bands, but created a separate category for Joplin. “I hate her voice,” he said.
But I take exception. She is, at times, challenging, and as the documentary points out, she had to work to control her voice so that she wouldn’t lapse into shouting, an occasional tendency. But few could rock a stage like she did, few could sing with as much feeling and expression and power. And few do now.
Once you see this documentary, you’ll want to go back: What was up with that huge train of feathers billowing out from her head? Why was she so maligned in her younger life? And what about that intense pain, when she is speaking sometimes about something personal and shattering? She can barely face her inquisitor, and certainly never the camera. And yet, she also found freedom and happiness, particularly when she was on stage. I have yet to watch the recording of her performance of “Ball and Chain” at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 without crying. It is what is meant by a tour de force.
And yet she struggled to straddle different worlds: the world of conservative values, which included the expectations of her family in Texas, and her more freewheeling lifestyle in San Francisco and on the road. However, she never appears bitter or harsh. She keeps attempting to reach out and stay open to everyone, even those who seem to be in some measure disappointed. To me, she seems only vulnerable, in both good ways and harmful ways. And yet, it seems it was that vulnerability that helped her create so marvelously, that touched so many. And it seems it was this same vulnerability that left her so open to pain. In some of her story, I can’t help but to over-identify with her. Maybe that was also part of her appeal, and maybe especially for women. She tore apart the neat categories people created for women and yet she always seemed to be herself, as difficult as that made her life at times.
The first Monterey Pop Festival took place the year before I was born. And if I had listened to these types of songs when I was younger, I would not have been drawn to them. For me, at least, it has taken a long time to really understand the connection between soul and art: What is it that gives art its resonance, its connection between artist and audience/reader/observer? In thinking about different types of art, from film to books, visual art, theater, and music, I think it’s soul. In many art forms, there are products that are competently made, products that divert and entertain. But the art that touches the soul is a rarity. In such a transaction, the artist is a shaman, a priest or priestess. Their gift is a gift from God, maybe only bestowed through the press of great suffering. But when we experience someone’s practice of their gift, there is a sense of recognition and relief. We are known. We take a breath. We feel alive once more. And we are strengthened to go on.
On the Atlanta Highway in Montgomery, Alabama there is a restaurant called Martha’s Place.
Beside the parking lot is a huge sparkling double fountain set apart by a brick terrace, trees, and park benches where you can rest. Along the front are one-story-high curtains flanking the generously portioned windows. Immediately, you think to yourself: I am underdressed. And disappointment and panic set in. This would not be a first. But no, there are bodies of all sorts, young and old, making their way to the entrance. They are clothed variously and quite a few in the average casual dress of the street. You feel relief and grab your pandemic mask, your jacket.
Inside, at the hostess station, a woman charges you $11. There is no menu, no waitresses, but a large buffet. You think to yourself: Such a foreign sight in the midst of a pandemic. But of course, there are safety measures, and required gloves as well as masks. And you remember the now foreign process of communal meals, large gatherings, church dinners, weddings, funerals, potlucks. You are both depressed and happy because here it is, something like what you have hoped for all along.
You came here for good old Southern food. Not road food disguised as Southern food, but something a mama or grandmamma might make, an aunt or a favorite neighbor. And there it is: fried chicken and catfish, roast chicken, gravy, fried okra, greens, mashed potatoes. You order your iced tea unsweet, which a waitress does bring you, but you notice, thankfully, it needs nothing added to it, no fake sugars, just a squeeze of lemon. It is the best tea you have ever tasted. And as you sink into soul goodness, you begin to listen to what could be your relatives, all around, you, ‘Bama accents, people telling stories at their tables, a man who could have been your grandaddy telling his stuttering Bible salesman joke, and your Uncle Willie cackling, your grandmamma snickering.
It honestly feels like a teeny bit of heaven, a slice of memory, a piece of your life. I had to go and hit the road, and only had a quarter of an hour to invest in it, but I took my tea. It satisfied for hours later – the food, the memories, the tea.
You won’t feel unwelcome if you find yourself at Martha’s Place on Atlanta Highway in Montgomery, Alabama. Go. Tell them a weary and grateful traveler sent you along.
I made a recording of my last blogpost. And I have started a podcast on Spotify. I hope to have a Youtube channel as well. With both venues, I am primarily interested in storytelling.
I have really missed gathering for public readings during the pandemic. Recording stories has been a longtime desire, even before the world changed so dramatically. WordPress made it so easy for me to take this step when they directed me to the Anchor platform.
This is a beginner’s efforts, but I hope you will enjoy. — Meg
Here is a fairly unrevised response to a writing prompt from a writing group meeting a couple of weeks ago. I wrote this in my favorite little 4×7 spiral notebook I use to write fiction and track expenses and doctors’ appointments. I did not write this on a keyboard, neither did anyone else. And when we shared our results out loud, we couldn’t always tell what we’d written! But I do think there is something to be gained from putting thoughts on paper. Ok, the prompt was as follows or I remember it as follows: Someone is lost or in danger and someone else shows the way to a hiding place. [We had five minutes to write.]
She felt alone, abandoned, recently expelled from her husband’s home. Her sisters and mother were far away in the hills. She sought shelter in the forest. The trees looked the same – uncompromising sentries, impenetrable gaze. Something tapped her on the shoulder. There was the sound of dry leaves like crackling skin. “I have room for you,” said a tree, “in a quiet place inside.” And the tree made her small, and she walked into a space between the arches of its roots and she opened a little green wooden door labeled #7. A kettle was on over a tiny stove and a fire of moss crackled on a tiny stone hearth. She lay upon a cushion of leaves and listened to the creaking of the tree trunk, its sighs the low moaning an old spiritual. She felt herself drift down, down into a dark pool and she dreamt of poppies and warm springs.
My first attempt at audio! Well, I have recorded a story for a journal, but this is my first attempt for the blog. You can also follow my podcast on Spotify. I am a beginner, so please have mercy. But I do hope you enjoy.
The day Mama forced me to pick up the burned pieces of Uncle Charlie was the day Pony and Apple Pie started hanging out near Daddy’s old rusted car. Pony and Apple Pie were imaginary friends even though I was almost too old to have imaginary friends. I didn’t have too many real life friends by the time Mama forced me to keep her terrible secrets. The day I picked up pieces of Uncle Charlie was the day I almost lost my mind.
“Don’t you tell no one about Uncle Charlie,” said Mama, “not your sisters, not your friends, not that no-count boyfriend.”
I could have told her there was no one I could talk to anymore.
Mama had shot Uncle Charlie because he threatened to tell the Sheriff she had killed Daddy. She had shot Uncle Charlie when we sisters hitched a ride to town for ice cream. When I came home, I saw her on the floor, hair tied up, wearing dishwashing gloves, and dipping a sponge into a bucket of bleach. Something was wrong. And eventually, when she needed my help, she told me what it was.
Uncle Charlie was the best man Mama had ever been with, well, that is, except Daddy of course. Uncle Charlie was Daddy’s brother, and there I was one day, picking up pieces of him, mostly bone and teeth, and scattering these pieces in the woods and all over to help hide Mama’s crime. All I saw for days after were black spots. All I smelled and tasted was burned flesh.
Once, before Uncle Charlie disappeared, my younger sister, Mercy, stood up to Mama and told her she would tell the sheriff on her, would tell the sheriff her Mama had killed Daddy. Mama had one of her boyfriends drive the two of them out to a field. The boyfriend pulled a shotgun on Mercy. He would have killed her, except Mercy snuggled close to Mama real quick so he couldn’t shoot without hurting both of them. Mama held her and stroked her hair and said, “Don’t hurt my baby!”
Mercy said that for a minute, she believed Mama wanted to protect her. When she told me this, that’s when I knew I wouldn’t dare tell her about Uncle Charlie. I didn’t think she could handle it. I was worried she would tell Mama off, then Mercy might get shot and burned, just like Uncle Charlie.
Apple Pie and Pony kept me accountable to Uncle Charlie’s ashes. They kept showing up, in my dreams, in the yard.
“Oooo girl, like you at a barbeque!” said Pony, and he and Apple Pie high fived. They danced around the yard, the yard full of rusty car parts, an old mattress.
“I ain’t never been to a bar-bee-que like dat,” said Apple Pie. “Where da sauce?”
Pony fell out, then made it look like he was a clown and kicked his feet out so he sprung up again. “Sheriff gonna lock you up little ash girl!” And as he said this, he came near and put his face close to mine. There was smoke rising up from his smiling mouth.
“I like Applewood smoked bacon,” said Apple Pie, who was the larger of the two, much larger, and maybe the slower, mentally. He looked down at his hands. He was picking at the skin the way my diabetic grandaddy used to do.
“You know how how dogs gets fleas, chile,” said Pony. “You gots to get yo’ sistas and flee on up outta here. One of you chilrun may already be in danger, you don’t know. May even be you!”
I knew Pony was right and I loved Apple Pie because he was just himself, didn’t even matter if he didn’t have much to say. Any man me and my sisters had ever loved, Mama had eventually cheated on or destroyed. She wasn’t always like that, but looking back, I think being poor made her mean. Too many times, we had no water. Too many times, we went hungry. She started dressing sexy to attract men. She was already pretty, but when she dressed sexy, men couldn’t resist. And then they wanted to marry her.
With all this stuff happening, I could feel myself getting black inside, as if I had sucked up the fire from Uncle Charlie and it was burning from the inside out.
One night, when Mama was out, we sisters held hands and escaped. We made our way across fields and ditches, avoiding roads, until a man and his wife found us crossing their property. None of us would say what we were doing. We stayed at their house until the sheriff came out to meet us.
The night I told the sheriff about Mama killing Daddy and Uncle Charlie was the night Pony and Apple Pie left me sleep in peace. There was no interrupting my dreams to talk of ashes. That night I dreamt of Daddy making strawberry ice cream for us with the old timey machine. He looked at me and smiled. I jolted upright in bed. He was alive! But no, it was morning, and I could see I wasn’t in Daddy’s house anymore. Still, I knew he was an angel. I knew he would always be my Daddy.
- Crime very loosely based on a case of a missing teen whose mother is suspected of killing her husband and then killing her teen daughter in order to prevent her from whistle-blowing. Details have been altered.
Sometimes a film resonates. The 2020 psychological/gothic horror Agony, directed by Michele Civetta and starring Asia Argento is a film that explores family legacy, an entrenched community, prescient wisdom, madness. Isadora, a New York City artist, receives word her mother has recently passed away on her Tuscan estate. This news is especially unsettling to Isadora because her father had told her thirty years before, when she was a child, that her mother was dead. Furthermore, Isadora is told she will inherit her mother’s sizable estate if she will accept the transfer of her mother’s title of Marquesa. Against the guidance of her father, she travels to Tuscany, child and husband in tow, to search for answers.
We learn the father believes he was protecting his daughter by not telling Isadora the truth about her mother’s death. He believes her mother to have been an unstable, and even dangerous. However, as things unfold, it is unclear what has actually occurred in the mind and life of Isadora’s mother, Carlotta, the former Marquesa. Facts begin to blur, Isadora’s own dreams and premonitions begin to mediate reality, the town’s superstitions and tendency to fatalism limit alternate versions of history, and Isadora begins to fall into madness. This is so well done. There are moments in which it would have been nice to have some kind of interpretative narration regarding the meaning of some of Isadora’s private moments of madness, but overall, the story skillfully conveys the idea that Isadora, by returning to Tuscany, has fallen into a confounding maze.
To me, the film conveys the idea that while we may try to find the “truth” about the past, about those we’re related to, people who may share with us a history and disposition, a clear picture may not always emerge, or if it does, we become too deeply entrenched to create a new life and move on. I appreciate the way the film explores this idea in such a rich and colorful way. And in a way that only good horror can do, it operates on a level of conservativism: We think we will go far. We believe we may get somewhere. But we may just be in for a rude awakening.
In the black comedy I Care A Lot, Rosamund Pike plays a ruthless con-artist who exploits a legal loophole to run a long con on the elderly. Such a force requires an opposing force to make a proper conflict and one is found in Peter Dinklage, playing a Russian mob boss whose elderly mother (Diane Wiest) is a mark of the con.
Pike is most convincing to me in this role. She is a brilliant actor though another recent role, her portrayal of Madame Curie, left me unconvinced and unsettled. Will you think less of me if I say I loved and preferred her portraying evil here? There is a precision to her execution that is wholly satisfying, and it seems to me, a great fit.
There is a nice balance in the film, details that bring an almost convincing humanity to this huckster, but realities are never far from the story’s cosmic – and comic – balance. And definitely no one can accuse this grifting character of slacking!
Diane Wiest and Peter Dinklage are perfect. I love Dinklage as a mob boss! Encore!
When we were young and in love, we dressed up when we traveled, even when we traveled for vacation, even though we were born into a liberal, unfettered age. To the airport, we wore suits, dresses, pressed button downs, designer sweaters, polished shoes, manicured hair, new luggage. It was a kind of formality, an austere dignity, a removed way of occupying space with others without speaking to anyone, not even to each other. When we were young and in love, we bought the New York Times and read it cover to cover, quietly shifting through the paper sheets, exchanging favorite sections, reading while we drank rich coffee. We browsed bookstores, bought hardbacks and diaries to take with us on trips.
The way we conducted ourselves when we traveled in our younger years, it was as if we lived something unspoken between us, a practiced script from our parents’ time, our grandparents’ time. When we were children, we were old. And when we were young, we were older still. And yet when we were young and in love, we were too young to realize we could not stem hardships with such artificialities and habits.
When we went on honeymoon, we each bought novels chosen specially for the trip. We read our novels on an old mattress in a friend’s London flat, the sunlight pouring through a dusty window, the owner’s dishes lying dirty in the sink.
When we took trains from Sicily to Paris, we maintained our dressed up dignified formality, maintained our sense that life would always be like this. We believed we would never pick fights, wound never squabble, would raise a family in serenity and stability. We would have our own cool brand of quiet acceptance and separate spaces, clothing ourselves formally, clothing our children thusly.
It was a kind of impenetrable adulthood we created when we were young and in love. This is what it was like when we were young but too young to really know we were playing at something, too young to imagine we may not have been in love. We didn’t know life. We wore blinkers. We willed ourselves not to repeat a kind of pain, a kind of chaos. What we relished when we were young and in love was an illusion.
What are your Kathy-Griffin-pie-my-making moments? Moments where you can close out the world and engage in something self-nurturing and calming? Patty Griffin’s song “Making Pies” strikes me as more and more brilliant the further the world has drilled down into mayhem. In the United States, this mayhem includes the pandemic threat, threats to justice and democracy, gun violence, to name a few. And every time I have heard Patty Griffin’s song – whether several years ago or today – I get teary. Her song speaks to the world. And great songs are timeless. What this song says is that during our uncertain and fear-filled times, it is good to get in touch with a way of being that focuses the concentration and calms the nerve, bringing us back to ourselves.
And no, not everyone makes pies! I couldn’t make a pie to save me, though I had a friend carefully explain the method and recipe years ago when I was staying at her house in Haddonfield, New Jersey.
But maybe it’s good to always have such a thing: Something you do that makes you not mind if you get your hair messed up, if you get a little flour on your face. Sure, maybe you started out worrying about such things, but at some point, you just said “it doesn’t matter,” then got down to business. Maybe just surviving right now may seem pie-making enough although a forgetfulness is what I seek, apart from survival, a kind of self-forgetfulness that is not chemically induced and is a kind of “making.”
At present, a pie-making moment is being in school to learn editing – and doing it no matter how difficult it is for me. But also, on the side, and just as important for my mental and emotional health: doing creative writing exercises, posting polished older fiction and memoir pieces, sharing what is new and vulnerable, reaching out to writing friends old and new, keeping dreams alive and not being afraid of failure. Maybe you like to garden, build something, play with your pet, make beer, sew, crochet, bake, cook, grill, catch fish, play a musical instrument, create videos or visual art, read a book, write in a diary, volunteer. Maybe there is something calling out to you, some new career or avocation which involve those small, self-forgetful, pie-making steps.
Sometimes in my posts, I share the results of creative writing exercises. Sometimes I use my blog as my test kitchen in order to keep challenging myself every day if I can. Maybe something longer will come from these pieces or maybe I will be able to see old stories a new way. Or maybe I will just be more invigorated and encouraged as a person.
These are the things I do because I must do them. Besides, these pies are so delicious, even though some are trial pies. They are delicious because I made them.
Here is an oldie from a previous blog.
In an attempt to gain real world experience after three years of studying Keats, Byron, Shelley, Coleridge, Joyce, Shakespeare, you apply for a summer advertising internship in Hollywood on the shaky notion that at least it’s communications, it’s all communications – right? – the artful use of language to woo an audience. When you arrive you are all east-coast and corn-fed. You aren’t fat, but solid, pretty, but not stunning. Besides, you wear clothes and earrings that match, a purse that goes with.
They have no idea what to do with you so they sit you in front of a huge TV and show you how to use a large knob to stop the pictures. Somewhere, in one of the edit bays, they are allowing a woman your age to write a script, someone, who has never read a book cover to cover, but who is loud and flirty and skinny.
And yet there you sit with Guilala, a giant Japanese Gila monster, who crushes cars with feet that wobble. He smashes elevated trains and spews his wrath while tiny people flee. You are supposed to write down the numbers on the frames to use for film distribution commercials. You are supposed to take notes. They will be doing a Japanese monster campaign sometime in the future. You write down every frame. You have no idea what you are doing. No one cares. No one is watching or holding you accountable. No one is teaching you anything.
You love Hollywood and hate it. You cross seven lanes of L.A. traffic in between your exit in Burbank and Sunset. (This is the only thing, actually, that impresses your parents, that you can navigate this.) You love your night drives down the Pacific Coast Highway. You take day trips to Laguna. The surfers tell you to go home. You walk through rock formations. You spend your day half-self-consiously enjoying the warm sun.
One night, a policeman picks you up for prostitution. You had just gotten out of a movie at the Mann Chinese Theatre. You are shocked but then you remember the cutoffs you are wearing. They are not too short you think. Any woman out after midnight on Sunset is a suspect, he says. He drives you to your car. Luckily, you are not in trouble.
You have never known people to act so self-important as they do here. And yet, you find yourself getting in on the act. It creates a mini-scene that you jump out of your car with the film that is overdue, that you pop out onto the sidewalk to make an urgent delivery. Someone could see you. Someone could say, “That girl’s important. Who is she?” Some tourists could notice you. That’s what you want, most of all, is to be seen as some kind of insider.
At the end of the summer, back in Florida, you break up with your boyfriend of three years, the one your parents wanted you to marry even though he was a Catholic. He hadn’t wanted you to go to Hollywood at all. Neither had they. But you can’t talk of Hollywood without crying. It has broken something in you and how can you explain, in a way that they will understood, exactly what it is.
Sometimes you put yourself out there into cyberspace as a little writing fish in a pond of much bigger writing fish with a spark of something inspired by an exercise. I do this because I need to come up with something created that isn’t simply reflective of what I am constantly surrounded by during a global pandemic.
This is why writing prompts can be so useful. I often pair a prompt with something I am already thinking about writing, such as an idea for a story or vignette, but which I fear could be quite humdrum. A picture prompt helps me give it a tiny twist. I don’t have the picture that inspired the prompt-based writing I did today, a picture prompt a writer posted on social media, but below is a similar picture.
Sometimes I forget but remember when I finally sit down to write to a prompt: Writing is ongoing, even when one is not writing. Prompts just help draw out something that is going on beneath the surface. The writing I have shared below may not be all that great, but I’ve gotten it out there and feel better and will probably be less grouchy.
The one thing they don’t tell you when you are young and small is that when you are old, you will be expected to be loud and outgoing. Brash. I mean, sometimes you try it, right? But you know, deep in your heart, you belong in the forest, in the root of a tree, where you once glimpsed the sun between the leaves and closed your eyes to the dappled light, to the wind shuffling the leaves, a sweeping shush of scattered papers, all these papers covering you. They are the skin of the world and your existence, your body, lies underneath – safe, in hidden calm. In the heat of the day, you curl into a dark place. You ignore the productivity pushers, their outrage and demands. You find a slip of a chair in a dark room, a slip the shape of a soft slipper that is upturned at the heel and you rest open it, fall asleep and dream an earthen dream of moss, of leaves molded and dry, a soft bed of flowers, a table round which happy friends toast libations in acorn cups and fall out in merriment.
In choosing the picture on unsplash, I learned that this is a tree in the Himalayan forest, a little fact that makes this even more interesting to me.
I will share the results of another exercise on another day. It is something I cooked up when I met with writing friends on zoom. This post is getting lengthy.
And now for my movie thoughts: If you like movies that shake you, that take you out of yourself, that are creeping with almost no jump scares, watch “The Open House” on Netflix. I am still so shaken by it and I watched it on Sunday. It is not for the family and maybe not for someone who just isn’t into this kind of thing, or not into it right now.
You won’t forget about it. It is dark. It haunts.
I’m enjoying the documentary Hillbilly on Hulu. If I were to pick an alternate title for the film, it would be something like The Polarization of the United States. If anyone wants to understand what happened recently in our politics, this film would be a strong starting place. If anyone who considers themselves progressive and/or Democrat but doesn’t understand how many Southern Democrats won’t vote for a politician who marginalizes them and lacks respect for their economies, even if that politician is a Democrat, this film would be a strong starting place in understanding this phenomenon.
I’m not savvy enough to gauge whether any progress has been made in binding the rift that nearly brought our democracy to ruins, but one simple thing I do think is true: Respect would be a start in beginning our healing. The easy thing is to rant on social media or hold at arms’ length those who disagree with us. The harder, but more effective thing, is engaging in self-reflection, reaching out to others to listen and learn, owning shortcomings and foibles. The easy thing is to fall in line with any kind of tyranny, whether it be on the right or left in order to fit in with family, friends, religious organizations, community. The harder thing is to work out a position somewhere in between, a position that takes into account different viewpoints, a position that promotes peace and compromise.
I am being overly simplistic. And I think there are quite a few factors not posed in the film that have contributed to the polarization in our political climate. And the documentary is about much more than politics. What I can relate to is not always owning my deep South history and background, of not understanding others, of judging rather than listening. Hillbilly is a welcome, meditative, eye-opener.
Silas House, an author, professor, a contributor to the film, and someone I feel privileged to have heard speak at a southern writers conference, wrote the following poem for the documentary, Hillbilly:
Appalachia is a wound, and a joy, and a poem.
A knot of complication.
But you cannot know a place without loving it, hating it,
and feeling everything in between.
You cannot understand the complex people by only looking at the way
they have been portrayed on the television and movie screens.
One must go to the mountains to drive these winding roads
One must sit and jaw for a while with folks on their front porches
Must attend weddings and high school graduations.
One must study the history of the place and come to understand it
Must sit at a wake and look at the lines on the faces of the people
and the callouses on their hands and understand the
Gestational and generational complexities
Of poverty and pride and culture
Something inside you has to crack to let in the light so
your eyes and brains and heart can adjust properly.
It was clear: The gratitude had completely drained from the situation. Ms. Hardin stood square shouldered to the burly repairman filling her apartment doorway: “Miss, you can’t put items out here! You mus’ move all dis’ stoff!” said the Latin man, indicating donations she had left in the breezeway for her neighbors, the kinds of items that only last year would have met with sly, secret takers within the hour, especially on a Saturday. She had left out welting pads, unopened dog food, a dog bed, a child’s plastic tea set, a stuffed pink kitty. No one had questioned her before when she left food outside, framed art, an unwanted office chair, plastic Christmas dishes, a Christmas stocking, cans of pumpkin.
Her pet had died a few months ago. And the hope of the online job she thought she might take teaching children in China had shriveled up with the news that the country’s government would not employ uncertified teachers. So she was giving away pet supplies and props she would have used to teach Chinese children English remotely. Plus, she had bought too much food with news of a global pandemic. The things she left in the breezeway had been representatives of old lives shed, old hopes abandoned and withering, foolish, extravagant purchases, signs of her weakness and anxiety, and it was always a relief when someone took them away.
One of her neighbors, Jose, had always made her feel important in who she was as a person. He smiled and said hello whenever he saw her. His dog and her dog had seemed to like each other. She and Jose had often talked about their dogs, their families. Jose was Latin too, just like the apartment repairman, and in fact, most of the residents of the old Orlando apartment complex were Latin, though some came from other areas of the world as well. Miss Hardin was very Caucasian. She tried dyeing her hair a dark brown, but it inevitably lightened. She couldn’t remember much of her high school Spanish. She had been to Mexico once on a church mission trip with other high schoolers when she was younger. She was a marvel then, and was able to hold entire conversations in a foreign tongue. And the Mexican people of the small town in the Yukatan Peninsula had seemed happy the young Americans were there. And that was the first time she truly felt of use to someone.
Jose had shown his wife the two framed pictures and a fancy side table with gold leaf Ms. Hardin had left outside her apartment that first month of her residence. “These will look great in our place!” he had enthused. “Don’t you think?” he said, consulting his wife. She merely nodded. She didn’t talk as much, seemed rather quiet. And later Ms. Hardin noticed they had moved the items up to their apartment because when she went out on an errand, they were gone. The warm feeling of their gratitude gave her a sense of buoyancy, energy.
This began the pattern of Ms. Hardin’s life among her new neighbors, interrupted and crushed only by a couple of thefts of delivered packages from her doorstep. The thefts left her flabbergasted and angry: She had been so nice to everyone! So generous and friendly! She felt a deep sense of betrayal, and even fear. She avoided everyone for a while and wasn’t as talkative or outgoing. She posted an angry note to the apartment community as a whole, asking for the return of her items. She called the apartment office to ask them if they had cameras on the buildings for security, or if they minded her installing her own. The apartment manager talked her down, sharing stories of her own negative experiences, experiences wholly foreign to Ms. Hardin, who had always lived among neighbors who took care of each other.
Over time, the sense of betrayal eased. One morning during the pandemic, Jose had spoken with her outside her apartment and had thanked her profusely for the cans of chicken soup she had left outside her apartment the night before. She was glad he and his wife had made use of them and that feeling of pride swelled in her again, that feeling she had made someone happy, that sense that she herself contributed and made people feel grateful. She knew in her heart Jose and his wife were not the thieves. Since the reassignment of another couple to a different apartment building, the thefts had stopped.
And yet, here, on this day, one year into the ravenous worldwide pandemic, the ingratitude had shown again in the repairman’s brusque manner. Jose and his wife and their dog had recently moved away. And apparently, there were no more takers. Normally, she would have left the items out all Saturday and they would have been gone by Saturday night at the latest. The repairman hadn’t bothered to know her name and was only harsh in his tone, not minding her fair complexion, the pearls at her neck, her family’s history in town, the fact that she was once a debutante, a Daughter of the American Revolution, a member of the homecoming court. She was a fussy, plump middle aged white lady who wore capris jeans and clogs, whose face looked sour when she wasn’t smiling, whose tiny readers sitting propped on her nose fogged up from her face mask. That was all he saw. And someone who made trouble. And someone who didn’t obey rules. And an example of someone who made his life more onerous. And a person who didn’t belong on this side of town, who didn’t fit in, but who for some reason was trying to. And in her secret heart, she knew many of the residents were not people she would choose to be with had circumstances not created the necessity.
As she pushed past him to grab her donations from the breezeway, she mumbled to him that she was only trying to help. And then she hurriedly shifted the items to her little banged up car for a charity run later.
There was no gratitude. And who was she if not magnanimous? Who was she if not looked up to and appreciated? After returning from the heat of her car, she closed herself up in her apartment and snapped shut the horizontal blinds. It was 4 p.m. She poured coke and whiskey into a highball and turned on the Christmas tree lights. It was April but she didn’t care. She missed Jose and wanted to cry. He was just a friend, and not really that, just someone who knew how to speak to people. And no doubt, people wanted to know him and know how to help him. He had been popular. And now the apartment community was quiet and dull.
Her son was away starting his new life. Her son, a senior at a small liberal arts college, well spoken, accomplished, a staunch Christian. Ms. Hardin was a divorced woman, and she sometimes grieved mistakes she had made, including ones the god Lord himself would have been aggrieved to witness, but the boy wasn’t one of them. And now with her sweet little dog gone, there just didn’t seem to be as much going.
The numbness started to overtake her, that warm, familiar feeling when she drank at this hour and for this purpose: the purpose of shutting down, shutting off. Who was she? She didn’t know. There were tiny achievements, however, and as the sky changed light with the dusk, she made note: A woman on her porch who had always stared at her when she walked by to the post office boxes, stared at her without returning her wave, had finally waved back at her the other day. It wasn’t much. But maybe, she thought, maybe people who see you a lot, who get used to you, and see you are not their worst fear, their worst nightmare, not the stereotype of every negative thing they’ve imagined or experienced, may eventually come to some sort of acceptance, recognition. Ms. Hardin was almost certain the woman knew no English. But they had shared a gesture. That was all. It didn’t inspire the self-satisfied and important feeling she had experienced when Jose had been overtly grateful to her. But the woman’s tiny wave had given her something to hold onto.
She put down her whiskey and joined in what she had done for many years for her family and what women all over her apartment complex were doing at this moment: The preparation of dinner with the heating up oil and garlic in a pan, the adding of spices, the opening up packages and cans. Tonight would be black beans, with jarred red peppers, olives, raw onions, the kind of dish her Cuban neighbors had made her family when her son was young, when she was still married and her family lived in a new home in a new neighborhood carved out from a defunct military base. Her neighbors were beautiful, wealthy neighbors who had escaped Castro, and who were solicitous, grateful. Ms. Hardin had been young, and her neighbors had invited them to family events.
No one would believe all the people she had been. Some days, she hardly believed it herself. And they were all – all these people she had been – were all together with her in this apartment, shuttered away from the mayhem and disaster of the world. Likely everyone, in their own little boxes, were also concatenations of selves – immigrants and refugees, racists and thieves, lapsed Christians and fearful hypocrites, disabled soldiers and irascible elderly, lonely travelers and lost children. These were easy, romanticized categories, she knew, but in thinking somewhat philosophically like this, Ms. Hardin liked to think herself an amateur mystic with a penchant for the tiny, broken things, the flotsam and jetsam, the simple and forgotten, herself one among many of the tiny people who somehow mattered despite invisibility. It was silly, she knew, but it was all she could think about for now.
And at least there was this: She wasn’t alone.
Definition of shortcoming
: an imperfection or lack that detracts from the whole also: the quality or state of being flawed or lacking
There are times I become uncomfortably aware of a shortcoming, and I do indeed have more than one of these! The above definition of “shortcoming” is taken from the online version of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. I looked it up this morning in my hardcopy reference as part of an exercise which tests my copyediting ability and diligence in working with compound words. As part of working on a certificate in editing, I am learning that relying on authoritative texts, rather than simply memory or instinct, separates a quality copyeditor from one hobbled by shortcomings. I have to dismantle a kind of glib, glossing over and really see each letter and word afresh in order to truly help remedy a text.
Being in school and learning new things can be a very humbling experience, even humiliating if one has an extra layer of pride. I failed my first copyediting test last week. I didn’t give myself time and I missed at least half of the typos I should have caught and marked with my newly minted Frixion red pen. If “shortcoming” had been on my quiz last week, I wouldn’t have bothered to look it up. I would have been safe in not doing so because that is the correct spelling and no hyphen is required. Still, I know I have to develop new muscles to begin to be a better copyeditor. I have to slow down and look more things up. I have to give myself more time. I have to consult the dictionary and the style manual. And as the quarter moves along, I will be consulting other references as well.
Are you ever scared to try new things because you are worried about your own shortcomings? And yet how can we grow if we can’t face our shortcomings? Editing copy and creative writing don’t always feel like the same thing to me, but they seem to be two sides of the same coin. I think I have been a bit lopsided when it comes to the world of words and I hope to add to the whole in terms of my abilities and skills. But it can be scary. What if I can’t ever strengthen this underdeveloped side of me so that I can be useful to others? All I can do is wake up every day, learn from past mistakes, and do better. I invoke Yoda who exhorts Luke Skywalker to full commitment in Empire Strikes Back: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
Tonight, I took a break from life to watch a movie starring Elisabeth Moss who plays a 90s punk rock singer. (Her Smell) She is the leader of a band who has made it big. However, her narcissism has all but destroyed her band, her relationships, her life. After watching the film, I compared my reaction to some other critics who admit to extreme discomfort for the first hour, more or less. Interesting. I was fascinated throughout.
The movie actually has a Shakespearean quality, not a nails dragging on chalkboard quality. I think the discomfort is because it’s a woman playing the narcissistic, paranoid, and unlikable king, drunk with power, heading for destruction. No, she is not a “good mother.” She is not a good person. That is a little beside the point though it is indeed a point.
But I never felt the plot or content of the text or staging and character actions were wrong or cause for discomfort. The character is unhinged, not the movie. Nor was the beginning still or stagnant. It was appropriately dark. It set the tone, the mood. And the drama was age-old. It had bones. It had a dark, dark patina. Moss took us into the darkness and I felt her commitment.
I won’t give away what happens. It is not completely of the tragedian persuasion, but it holds onto its darkness until almost the bitter end. Powerful and effective. Impressive. Not one for the children or those who are in the mood for lightness, but if you stay open to what comes, and hold on throughout, you may find quite a range is worked through. The language and rhythm of spoken exchanges and unhinged monologue is dizzyingly intoxicating. And the score undergirding the spoken words and actions of the characters contributes wildly to the mood: There are vague sounds such as amplifier feedback and crowd noises even as they are sometimes non-diegetic sounds and sometimes only tangentially related to the present action. The score bringing home the underpinning pressures, the ground situation; they are the waters through which these character must swim if they are ever to find air. They are the dark and stormy night.
On a hot Florida spring day, the ragged Easter bunny ripped through the outdoor Christmas lights lining the little row of bushes between apartment buildings. He was delivering expired chocolate candy manufactured in the days when there was regular commerce. The wrapped chocolate eggs in his basket were chalky and the bunny was worn, the once white fur gray, the once pert ears stabbing the air before his face. Mrs. Burkinsales had skimped on the ribbon for her cheap door wreath rather than buy the more expensive wired ribbon. The lifeless burlap bow hung in the heat. He crushed some chocolate in his paw and tossed a handful into Billy’s basked which lay under the spectacle of the wreath. He was burning up and wanted to take off his head but then he wouldn’t get paid. He spun around to the next door and took Angelina out with the trail of broken lights streaming from his furry body. She screamed, her legs bleeding. People in the breezeway were opening their doors. He stole around the corner, facing away from view, toward the fountain, but far enough from the apartment office. A smoke would be good. And a nip. He took off his head. The whiskey went down nice and fiery. He wanted to yell “Fuck!” but he returned his flask to his bunny pocket, put on his head, and punched a cheap plastic pumpkin forgotten and cracking on a window ledge. He snuck around the outside perimeter and went to the office to collect his pay. He was greeted by police who charged him for assault. In a delusional, heat-stroked moment he thought he was being charged for punching the plastic pumpkin, then realized it was for the plastic shards in the child’s leg. No one would bring his wife a check and he wouldn’t be able to buy candy for the child. Once he was put in holding, he punched out another unfortunate soul. Finally, someone punched him back. Nothing felt better than that blood.
This afternoon after doing errands, I thought I might watch television to see what was happening in my very own hometown, a convention (CPAC) just down the street: A televised speech of the most corrosive political influence in our nation’s history.
Instead, I made the choice to turn off the television. Rather than indulge my grief over so much unmitigated darkness, I streamed the movie The United States vs. Billie Holiday on Hulu. And yes, this also caused me to grieve. I grieved for the crushing of a beautiful, talented, brave spirit by forces still in existence, forces recently emboldened.
It has tumbled down upon me today – not just from watching this movie – but all weekend as I’ve been hearing about who has been speaking at this conference, who is and who is not attending, who is and who is not being represented – that things have not changed. If they were changing, they have somehow snapped back like a released rubber band.
In the spirit of Billie Holliday, we who want to forge a new path must keep singing our songs, songs of truth. We must sing our hard songs, the songs that threaten because people don’t want to listen. Billie Holiday’s Grammy-Award-winning song that was recognized by Time Magazine as “Best Song of the Century” was “Strange Fruit,” a powerful calling out of the lynching of black Americans in our country. There is not to this day national hate crime legislation against lynching and there has been a case of lynching as recently as 2020 (citation of then-Sen. Kamala Harris, Senate floor). That this dark conference today consisting of white nationalists is taking place in the south bowled me over as I watched this movie today.
I have lost a couple of relatives because they don’t want to hear these kinds of songs and understand how the outcry in them speaks to the kinds of dark politics literally taking the stage at present. I mourn this loss. I love these people. They made me who I am but many are trapped. I hear the attempts to embrace certain policies promoted by this party, a party who foments racism, sometimes seeming to do so while “politely” looking away. I hope to get the call one day that my loved ones are singing the song too.
Who is meeting in my town represents dark elements, some of the darkest in our nation. There is just no getting around it. I feel the day would have been best met with black skies, hurricane weather, the ground shuddering with the force.
But in Florida, a hot, sunshiny day can be just as ominous.
I am told that to be a professional (writer, editor, writing coach), I should not get political on social media. But as someone who is involved with the arts and people creating the arts, I’m just not sure I can separate all these selves. Billie Holliday is a stunning example of the undivided self. Look at her experiences and the truth and pain welling up in her art. She was a genius. And that was her power.
For my birthday, my sister sent me a text of a picture of a quote by Henri Nouwen. It basically states birthdays are about celebrating the joy of one’s existence. Unlike so many other celebrations in our lives, what makes the day special is that the day is an existential recognition. It was such a wonderful quote it inspired me to peruse my bookshelves to see which of my Nouwen books survived my recent move and downsizing effort. From a distance, I saw a friendly cover, a deep red paperback cover for Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. I thought: Isn’t spotting a cherished book a little like seeing a friend or beloved relative from afar? You know their walk, their stance, the things they tend to wear. You see and know them immediately.
With my book beside me, the cover art the classic Rembrandt “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” I am beginning to recall a scene in Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son: When the father sees his son from a distance, he runs out to embrace him, to welcome him home. Aren’t we all yearning to be welcomed home? Whether in a relationship, or in some personal, spiritual sense, is this not our hope, our journey? Happy birthday to me, and well wishing to you, for we should all know no matter who we are, there is hope for healing, for belonging.
This afternoon, I have had a few minutes to pour over the latest exercise in Kathy Fish’s newsletter. It offers so much gold. I am glad I have decided to post this because it is a discussion of the creation of the beginning of a flash piece. I actually used the guidelines to go back and evaluate a nonfiction flash piece I submitted to a journal yesterday. I did spot ways I could improve my piece, something I often do in the process of receiving rejections and turning revised material into future submissions.
I would say also when someone says “exercise” a connotation of school comes to mind although in a way, this is a “school” without grades! Thankfully! Often, creating does take a little bit of time. I need to think through what I want to write. Sometimes in moving through my day, something will occur to me.
I hope you will consider perusing the newsletter. If you have considered writing fiction, it is a good chance to work on some fundamentals. Even if you go on to write longer forms, or if you are currently engaged in any kind of writing, you will have gained some helpful writing muscles. A good argument for this is made in the newsletter.
Best wishes — Meg
Kathy Fish is an accomplished writer in the flash fiction form. In her newsletter, she generously shares thoughts about writing flash fiction and provides prompts to help get you going. Her posts draw from her craft book The Art of Flash Fiction. I strongly encourage you to sign up for her newsletter. I have! In this week’s installment, she gives a prompt for starting a flash fiction story. I hope to squeeze in some time to follow along! Best wishes – Meg
Kathy Fish is an accomplished writer in the flash fiction form. In her newsletter, she generously shares thoughts about writing flash fiction and provides prompts to help get you going. Her posts draw from her craft book The Art of Flash Fiction. I strongly encourage you to sign up for her newsletter. I have! In this week’s installment, she gives a prompt for starting a flash fiction story. I hope to squeeze in some time to follow along! Best wishes – Meg
The magic turtle, the most powerful animal in the swamp, failed to use his power to save the other animals from the Burmese python. After the behemoth was freed, the magic turtle stood on a very high and guarded platform to lecture the ravenous apex predator.
The Saturday night before Valentine’s Day, there was a sharp rapping on Ms, Myska’s door. By the time she slipped on both of her face masks, her face shield. her gloves, the visitor had gone. On her doormat was a red foil gift bag with tufts of tissue paper jutting out. She looked in all directions, but there was no one in the hallway of her apartment building. She retrieved the package, stepped back inside, and applied the deadbolt.
She set the package on her hall tree bench. She gently removed the tissue paper to reveal a large box that smelled faintly of something rich and sweet – chocolate. She removed the box from the bag: “St. Basil Gift Box Assorted Specialty Chocolates.” There was a card. All it said was “Tony.”
She had met Tony Lasko, the ice cream man, months ago, when he drove his truck through the neighborhood. After he became sick from the coronavirus, she had not heard from him. And after more virulent strains had entered the population, she was even more reticent to go outside. She doubted she would have met him out anyway.
She took off her disposable gloves and sat on her sofa beside her window, the window where she had first seen the ice cream truck go by. She hugged the chocolates of her motherland to her chest.
Along the shore of his lake in the city of lakes, he fashions boats from waxed paper, affixes huge tissue heats to the corners, sets candles inside and lights them so that the miniature craft are drawn along on the dark water. Lovers pay fifty cents to see their boats glowing and drifting only to witness their incineration somewhere near the opposite bank, the cinder and ash ascending into the grey twilight, the smell of burnt paper, like kindling that flames and is quickly gone, filling the air, an acrid, comforting smell of home fires and warmth.
No one asks him any questions about the meaning of all of this or how or why he started, nor does he think of it too much. He thinks only of the delicate feel of the tissue, the lightness of the string, the slippery paper smoothed and sealed by wax, the fire on the water, the lovers’ faces as they stare at what they have paid for, prompted by who knows what, fascinated to see what becomes of their boat though they all must know what will be so why do they stay to watch? It is a mystery. Are they sad or satisfied somehow in the justification about their beliefs about tissue and hearts and fire, or had they hoped to see their boat, of all others, land safely on the other side?
Every night a woman who brings him a snack of rice and vegetables wrapped in a tortilla pays him fifty cents to place something small in her boat – tiny babies from Mardi Gras cakes, bodkins she wore in her hair when she was a girl, pieces of wool from her sewing basket in which she keeps materials to make socks for soldiers, crosses she buys in packets of ten, pieces of kibble. She always has a prayer and dedication which she asks the man to recite though every night he protests he does not have his glasses and every night she gives him her late husband’s readers from the nightstand. As the boat floats out, he says her prayers for the soldiers, the young life, the married couple, the single women, the woman herself and her cat and her grandchildren.
One night, he found himself reading a prayer in which he was the subject. He had set a boat in the water containing a gold heart. He snatched the boat back, soaking his trousers. He retrieved the heart. This is my gig, he said gruffly, as if she had taken something from him. She asked for his blessing upon the heart. She asked him to kiss it. Instead, he chucked it out into the lake with all of his force where it plunked into the dark center and disappeared. They stood for a moment, the frogs screeching in judgment. It’s time to get a move on, he said. People are waiting. Indeed, a line had formed and that was the last night he saw her.
Every night he was hungry for the food she gave him and every night he had nothing to wonder about, what she would put into her boat, how she would ask him to pray, the feel of her late husband’s glasses upon his nose. How he missed that feel, strangely enough, and the strange prayers she had written, not like