Inktober: Candy

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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.

Inktober: Farce

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dollyhaul, flickr

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).

Inktober: Muddy

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Composite made from a bust of a statue and a stained-glass texture that was doubled and transformed. “Lost (in one’s thoughts)” by Wayne S. Grazio, flickr

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.

Dopesick

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Cindy Shebley, flickr

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.

Inktober: Thunder

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Palatka, Florida 1983). From my film archives, digitized. Wayne S. Grazio, flickr

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.

Inktober: Drained

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Image from page 108 of “Classification of wetlands and deepwater habitats of the United States” (1979), flickr

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.

NYC Midnight

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Nursery School, National Library of Medicine, flickr

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.

 #MicrofictionChallenge250 #writers #flashfiction #writingcompetition #nycmidnight

NYC Midnight

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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.

https://www.nycmidnight.com/

“Come Ye Sinners”

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This really got to me today. I don’t cry to love songs anymore, but anytime I hear a deeply spiritual song, I can’t help it. And this one is so powerful, and the soloist’s delivery incredible.

From what I understand, this group is out of Southern Seminary, which is Baptist. I don’t yet know of their theological leanings, but I have to say, their music does it for me. I went to a conservative Baptist seminary, one that was in the city where I lived with my then-husband. I grew up a conservative Presbyterian minister’s daughter and I wanted to study Christianity and the Bible for myself. I had thought I might teach or work in some capacity in the church but decided not to pursue this. I think the writing was more or less on the wall for me.

I felt a little like Yentl when I was at the seminary, especially as I got further into my courses. I was often the only female student and there was only one female professor in the theology and Biblical studies courses. My own theological biases did not always mesh with the courses and I remember refusing to answer one particular essay question on a final. I passed the course by a hair. I tested them, and they schooled me. I learned so much.

Inktober 2021

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This is an image I have posted a couple of times this October, a list I found of some awesome Inktober prompts on DeviantArt by Lineke-Lijn. I post this once more mid-October in case it inspired some spooky writing, or other types of writing, leading into Halloween.

What I am finding this year is I am inspired to write not simply dark and Halloween-related posts—though I do write dark at times— but also lighter or just neutral posts related to interests, memories, and things happening in my life. I am posting this list again as a reminder and an invitation. I am around to prompt 21, but I have not always taken these in order and I have added in a few of my own, writing something super short I wanted to cover and providing my own title. I think it’s ok to repeat prompts in trying new pieces, exploring different aspects of a theme. Furthermore, I enjoy writing some nonfiction as well as fiction, using whatever research I can pour into tiny writing.

I want to say something that applies to creating in general, but here, for the sake of the tiny piece, relates especially to tiny writing. Take it easy in writing tiny, especially in creating goals like this. Some pieces will feel inspired, and some, well, just what was possible for the energy of that particular day. What is good in tiny writing is being able to look back and lift out the strong moments and add them to a growing body. And maybe there will be moments to recast other not so strong pieces. Forgiveness is huge. Forgive yourself, laugh, say “I tried. I knew what I wanted to say but, well, I can’t tell this reflects my desire.”

Writing something new every day, or several new somethings, requires specific energy, awareness, openness. Sometimes for me, it requires a certain mood. Trying to make a complete 50-word gem can at times be difficult. There is definitely a great deal to be left out. I would say “mystery” plays a large part in all writing but especially so in 50-word writing. If there is something intriguing about creating mysteries, you may enjoy trying your hand, or continuing to do so.

If you have read this post before, what follows will be familiar….

These are prompts for visual artists but I think this particular list is also stellar for writers and here’s why: the nouns are specific and concrete; the verbs are action verbs; the verbal adjectives are equally expressive and action-oriented; the nominal adjectives are precise, concrete. One-word prompts that are abstractions and nonspecific are non-starters.

The kind of prompts listed above translate into powerful sketches and drawings. And I think these give writers that mental picture we need to begin translating an interior vision into the written word. You may think you’re not a screenwriter, but if you want to write powerful fiction, you will think in scenes and images.

If you are interested in an exploration, even if you’re an experienced writer, start jotting down small pieces in a notebook or document. It is highly likely first drafts will go over the fifty-word count that is set in flash fiction writing for Inktober. Over time, as pieces are refined to meet the word count, a wonderful miniature will emerge, conveying the heart of something distinct. The word prompt may be included as a word in the piece or it can simply serve as the inspiration.

Even if you don’t want to write fiction or publish, exercises like this sharpens verbal ability; broadens thinking; enhances problem-solving; and develops voice and self-knowledge. Yours —Margaret

Tips for Writers: Always Tell the Truth, Even When You’re Lying

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Another reblog, some invaluable thoughts about telling the truth in writing.

Mitch Teemley

'Vintage Words' by Thom Milkovic (unsplash.com)
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…

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Snake River

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I like this.

Eunoia Review

Two dogs colored like copper circuit wire

circle us.

We kneel and cajole, hoping to feel
their pink noses press into our palms.

Instead, they watch us like we are the strangers
who don’t belong.

The boys have built a fire
and this is where we remain

leaning
and leaning
and leaning

towards the smoke and flames,
which broadcast this shadow burial.

Then we stray, breath ash in sighs.

The red dogs circle
vultures round a new grave
They ease closer now

and when they think we’re not looking
they roll
in the earth freshly turned by spades.

Molly Headley-Benkaci received her B.F.A. from the California Institute of the Arts and was shortlisted for a Fulbright award shortly thereafter. She finished her Master’s in creative writing through the University of Oxford in England in 2011. Her work has been seen in Beginnings Publication, SWAMP, travel writing anthology The…

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Inktober: Change

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Inspired by the BBC select documentary The Pregnant Man, Amazon Prime Video

Seahorse by Randall van Gurchom-Colijn, flickr

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.

Inktober: Scorched

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Check out the stories in The Poisoner’s Handbook before it leaves Amazon Prime Video at the end of October.

last drink by martin.much, flickr

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.

“News of the World”

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SMU Libraries Digital Collection, Fourth Mission (San Antonio), flickr

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.

Inktober: Bottle

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solitary coat rack by Greg Hirson, flickr

Bottle broken my promise to you left the divorce papers on the hall tree your mother’s wedding gift to us to whom was also given a baby a name you used to call me whose life consumed with mid-day drinks, as well as midnight when I see our end.

Inktober: Swollen

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Mouldy tarts by mediamolecule, flickr

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.

Inktober: Angular

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wither by Jessica Lucia, flickr

On a central Florida All Hollows’, an angular figure snatches me from my front stoop. We fly over my childhood home and I break off in rose petals and tears and aged orange peels. I lie in my old backyard until the next thinning of the veil when souls rise.

Influential Women: Sammuramat to Semiramis – From History to Myth

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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…”

Under the influence!

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.

QUEEN SAMMURAMAT

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…

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Inktober: Weak

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Oi…Not good…by DanniLovesNarutoandGF, flickr

Do not let weakness discourage you. You will live on despite this frail body. Become a vampire if you must, metaphorically of course, feeding off the derring-do of the young. But if you must take it to a literal level, don’t advertise. We don’t want to know, but we understand.

Inktober: Guarded

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On the Water Terraces at Blenheim Palace near Oxford by JR P, flickr

The brilliant French socialite, Gladys Marie Deacon, who inspired works of art by Boldini, Rodin, and Degas, and who married the Duke of Marlborough, became a guarded recluse because of a botched cosmetic surgery. Yet her last visitor to the insane asylum testified to her sharpness and quickness of wit.

Sleepy bees

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Sleeping bees in a pumpkin flower by Hope Abrams, flickr

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.

WordPress what gives

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Kenny P., flickr

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.

“Those Who Wish Me Dead”

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Tonight I enjoyed an action/thriller starring Angelina Jolie: Those Who Wish Me Dead (HBO Max). It’s been a stressful week or so, and so this was a great escape. Plus, I learned of a musician whose song plays during the closing credits. There is violence and cursing during the movie, but older kids may like watching this with their parents. A screening is always recommended, of course. I thought it well done. —Margaret

Inktober 2021

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I found this list of awesome Inktober prompts on DeviantArt by Lineke-Lijn. I posted this initially a couple of weeks ago and wanted to post it again as a reminder and an invitation in case anyone wants to do some October writing.

These are prompts for visual artists but I think this particular list is also stellar for writers and here’s why: the nouns are specific and concrete; the verbs are action verbs; the verbal adjectives are equally expressive and action-oriented; the nominal adjectives are precise, concrete. One-word prompts that are abstractions and nonspecific are non-starters.

The kind of prompts listed above translate into powerful sketches and drawings. And I think these give writers that mental picture we need to begin translating an interior vision into the written word. You may think you’re not a screenwriter, but if you want to write powerful fiction, you will think in scenes and images.

If you are interested in an exploration, even if you’re an experienced writer, start jotting down small pieces in a notebook or document. It is highly likely first drafts will go over the fifty-word count that is set in flash fiction writing for Inktober. Over time, as pieces are refined to meet the word count, a wonderful miniature will emerge, conveying the heart of something distinct. The word prompt may be included as a word in the piece or it can simply serve as the inspiration.

Even if you don’t want to write fiction or publish, exercises like this sharpens verbal ability; broadens thinking; enhances problem-solving; and develops voice and self-knowledge. Yours —Margaret

Inktober: Flowing

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Asylum Window by Frederico Limonta, flickr

Nightmares of the liquid asylum flowing and engulfing, stealing memory with high voltage and the habit of the pill cup are overtaken by mental anguish, an inner voice which pleads: “We who love you call you back to your bedlam, your soul’s dark night.”

Inktober: Precious

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Photo by Kent Pilcher on Unsplash

We didn’t realize we had precious moments. Instead, we argued over who was right, whom we should save, what monies should go where. When the end came and monies and righteousness became meaningless, we had only the sun, the fields, the water. We made our way as beasts.

Genius

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typo…Jim Orsini, flickr

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

Why are writers so weird?

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Image from page 238 of “Bizarre,” (1914), Lebanon Valley College, flickr

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.

Inktober: Star (Happy Birthday Don McLean “Starry, Starry Night”)

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Photo by Guillaume Issaly on Unsplash

I sought your falling star in October, your birthday month, in the Draconids over Cocoa Beach.

Although I lost your bear paw ring and the dry cleaner burned your silk shirt, I remember your eyes—piercing and blue as Bahamian waters.

You fell silver for me, dear brother. May you rest.

Playing Musical Vases – Sobek’s Tears — The Alchemist’s Studio

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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

lil’ ole me

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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

Conrad Aiken’s “House of Dust,” part V

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Winter is hear by Morten Siebuhr, flickr

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.

Inktober: Exhausted

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Florida Fall Colors by Florida Fish and Wildlife, flickr

Down the center of the peninsular state, the tropical climate briefly withholds its sauna so a few exhausted leaves of august trees may die in their golden glory. Yet the fanfare is ignored amid the ravenous, eternal green, impatient heat, marauding winds—the energy of youth and growth and destruction.

Half beast

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Buck by Thomas Hawk, flickr

They had arranged to meet at the kitschy sandwich shop next to the used vinyl records store. He thought it might appeal to her what with its eclectic confusion of chandeliers and stained glass panels suspended from the ceiling. He preferred simple and clean spaces with vaulted ceilings, no ornamentation. But for sure, she would like it. They would both wear masks, as agreed, what with the pandemic. They were new to each other though they had chatted on Zoom for months.

He waited for her in a church pew, another affectation of the place. For the first time, he worried about whether his antlers would become entangled with low hanging crystals, whether they would smash into a stained glass window and bring it crashing to the floor. People were generally accepting of him, of his difference, but he found it inconvenient nonetheless to carry this weight around on his head, though of course, his rack gained him respect. Who could argue with a 15-point man-buck? She knew about him though he didn’t have the space in his apartment to get the full screen picture of his singular crown. He didn’t care anymore, didn’t have the luxury of self-consciousness. Now, the second year into the pandemic, loneliness was beginning to gnaw away at him. She had said she felt the same way.

She was all freshness and sweetness and light, just as he had expected from their screen-time, and she laughed at the marvel of his Royal set of points. She gave him a hug and said how much she loved it. The first bit of trouble was, as he had anticipated, with a chandelier, though their waiter seated them in the most accommodating location. The height of his body had added to the difficulty so that he had inadvertently unhooked a chandelier with a point, but he shrugged and wore it while they drank their wine. This tickled her. The staff scurried around them for the tall ladder while they ordered. The bigger trouble came with the meal. She had made him so comfortable that he forgot himself when he ate his salad. He had long practiced eating in the way civilized people ate but with the pandemic and the social isolation, he had apparently slipped back into some old habits and chewed with his elongated face in an exaggerated circular motion, much in the fashion of beloved deer.

He saw her staring at him, watching his mouth. She was no longer laughing and delighted. She had nothing to say to him to help him save face. She made an excuse to make a phone call outside and she didn’t return.

Out by the railroad tracks which led to the woods where his brother had died, where his mother had given birth to him, and his father had taught him to forage and fight, he wondered if it had been an overreach for him to be in this other world. He gave into this likelihood and let his hands become hooves. He bolted through the empty city and out through pastures and orange groves, and up into lands father north, familiar breezes, forests of berries and trees and acorns.

Surreal Friends

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Leonora Carrington & Leonor Fini, bswise, flickr

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.

Netflix’s “Midnight Mass”

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Let my Prayer Rise like Incense by Father Lew, O.P., flickr

Though the Netflix horror series Midnight Mass is hardly a Christian apologetic, it offers a masterful presentation of issues in fervent religious communities, particularly in the Christian community. Other religious and nonreligious beliefs are explored as well, including cultic offshoots of mainstream faiths.

I grew up Presbyterian and later in life was confirmed in the Episcopal church. I have had some education in Catholicism as part of my coursework in seminary and my fine arts degree, but I am not as intimately familiar with this faith, which serves as the subcultural setting for the series. However, the Christian faith portrayed in the series could have easily been Episcopalian—except for confession. And the hymns scattered generously and beautifully throughout the series were very much a part of my protestant upbringing. Watching this cultural layer through this particular iteration was interesting.

What impresses me most about the series are the truly deep discussions characters have with one another. This strikes me as a time truly pre-pandemic/Zoom call or simply pre-smartphone. And I kept thinking: I wouldn’t mind living in a little town with no roads where everyone walked everywhere and where people made their living from the ocean.

I didn’t think horror could be beautiful and I truly hate the glorification of violence, but there is something beautiful here. Still, it is not for the sensitive nor is it for children.

Yours —-Margaret

Inktober: Frog

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Chocolate Frog by Jehane, flickr

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.

The little Prince

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Cherub, A clay cherub by Garret Nuzzo-Jones, flickr

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 Good Karen is Hard to Find

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Big angry baby by Sebastien Lienard-Boisjoli, flickr

My great granny, MawMaw, rides in the back seat to Walmart with us on our monthly shopping trip. We have a Ford hatchback so it’s a little tight, but these days, she’s pretty tiny, so she fits in good with Junior and Missy. LeRoy and I are in the front. I ride shotgun.

MawMaw always has to sit in the spot that will be in the shade, especially when we park to wait for pick up. What has never made sense, however, is that she rarely sits in the car when we arrive. She patrols the lot, a tiny derringer tucked in her cleavage held in place by her miniature bra. She doesn’t like the look of “Karens” she says and if “Karens” will ever be out in force, it will be in a Walmart parking lot on a hot Florida Saturday.

MawMaw is a lot of talk. She’s really a dyed-in-the wool Democrat but she says she’s been “radicalized” by the pandemic. Really, she just watches a lot of YouTube videos with Junior and Missy and they hoop and holler at “Karens” and “male Karens” and animal hijinks videos and ignoramus conspiracy people.

She hates white power people and watches a lot of KKK YouTube documentaries, though she was taken aback when I married a black man. So yeah, she’s a tiny little white lady. I’m a bigger white lady and the children I had with LeRoy are mixed race. LeRoy and I let her say her piece about things but if we don’t agree with her or find offense, we just let it go—she’s eighty seven.

MawMaw helps when the Walmart person is putting our groceries in the back, though she does this slowly. One day, we are taking up the only remaining space in the pick up area and a “Karen” in an SUV starts beeping her horn in little taps. When no one looks at her or acknowledges her, she lays on it a bit more.

LeRoy gets out of the car to inspect and be a male presence. This doesn’t deter the Karen who hops out of her car and starts yelling at LeRoy: “Why do you allow this little ole lady to carry your groceries, you lazy asshole? We’re all out here waiting and here you are just taking your time!”

By this time, I’m out of the car, though I’ve begged Junior and Missy to stay put.

MawMaw then reaches into her blouse and pulls out her derringer. She shoots at the hood of the SUV and we hear a clank as the bullet ricochets off the hood. She shoots again at the tire. “Listen, you big ole heiffer, you best be getting in that jalopy!”

The Walmart person is on his phone calling the police. “I’ve called the police,” he announces. “Get in your car,” he tells MawMaw.

“Not til this crazy bitch apologizes to my son-in-law.” She says, her lipsticked mouth set in a firm line, the upper half of her face hidden behind her cataract glasses.

To our surprise, the Karen starts to sob. “I’m sorry,” she says, “I’m sorry! I don’t know what came over me.”

Granny tucks her gun away. She talks to the sobbing woman like I’d seen her talk to Missy or Junior when they’re upset. “It’s ok, little one, we all get a little mixed up, time to time.” LeRoy nods and puts his arm around MawMaw. “I’ll bet you’re a real fine person, deep down. That’s what we all want, to be a real fine person.” And gradually, the woman’s sobs subside and she wipes her eyes with a tissue LeRoy hands her.

When the police arrive, they come across a clot of people in the parking lot. They cuff MawMaw and confiscate her gun.

After she’d done her sixty days’ time at the Orange County Jail, she and Missy and Junior compare her stories of the pokey with the television series Orange is the New Black. She gets back to making her biscuits and fried chicken. And no one really bothers her that much because she is old. But then again, no one really ever sees her coming when her ire is up.

Double

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Earthbound Souls by matthias lueger, flickr

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.

trauma play

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Dollhouse highchair by Joker Venom, flickr

At night, Jada arranges the Mitchells around their little table in their little chairs. Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell sit at either long end of the rectangular plank and the children—a boy, a girl, and a baby—flank their parents. Jada arranges Mrs. Mitchell near the sideboard and kitchen for the tiny mama has to keep jumping up to get the bread, fetch the tiny pitcher of lemonade, retrieve forgotten items such as the salt and pepper. She is the most ragged of this tiny set, and so Jada performs nightly maintenance, wrapping her arms and legs with webbed fabric from her mother’s first aid kit. Mrs. Mitchell must move up and down, she must climb stairs, she must feed her family. When it is over she must drink and spank her children.

After dinner, Mr. Mitchell reads a paper cover to cover while Mrs. Mitchell deals with each child one by one, carting them up to take a bath and get in bed. Sometimes she punishes them, sometimes she reads to them them, or if the situation warrants, she locks them into the closet for the night. Every time she descends the stairs to retrieve a fly swatter or a belt for a spanking or the first aid kit to touch up burns she administers them from a scalding tap or a food she will force one of them to overeat and throw up because they bother her about their favorite treats–ice cream, banana pudding, strawberry milk–Mr. Mitchell turns a page of his tiny newspaper. Mrs. Mitchell is not a mean mommy. She is just tired. She sees no end in sight. When the children are finally all in bed, she sits on the toilet and cries into her hands.

Jada cries too. Is it that she cries for Mrs. Mitchell? She doesn’t know. She’s so worried she might lose Mrs. Mitchell to her incessant worry and work, that she will deteriorate right before her eyes. Jada worries for herself for Christmas only comes once a year, and who knows if her parents will understand the importance of doll repair, or worst case—replacement. Jada is worried Mrs. Mitchell is being too hard on her children, and that something will happen or they may say mean things to her or run away, but Jada has some odd respect for her as well. Mrs. Mitchell is only being what she knows herself to be, the mommy she knows she must be to raise her children.

Jada remembers when she saw the beautiful new dollhouse under the Christmas tree. Her heart skipped a beat. Everything was a pristine white painted wood. Everything looked so real: a tiny stove; a tiny pan with bacon and eggs; tiny stairs that led up to the second story; a brass bed for the parents; two wooden beds for the children; a crib for the baby; a real porcelain tub, toilet, and sink.

But on the Christmas night she received her dollhouse, Jada developed a belief of something terrible: a belief that the legs of the kitchen table were matches, for the tips of the legs were painted a dark color, a brownish red. She believed she would accidentally scrape the table against the floor and the dollhouse would be enveloped in flames. She believed everyone would die.

She never told her parents about this belief. Even then, she knew there were some things you kept to yourself.

Inktober: Trapeze

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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.)

circus by tmmmb, flickr

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.

50 Horror Writing Prompts

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Here are some wonderful prompts for writing spooky this time of year. I thought I would share them. I have become especially intrigued with the circus prompts and may also expand this to come up with carnival prompts. Really, when you think of it, there are quite a few scenes and situations that lend themselves to scary other than what is typical. What about movie theaters, abandoned shopping malls, libraries, etc.? The English writer MR James is one of my favorite horror writers and he has a good handful of library horror stories. Oh, and he writes a seaside horror that is downright chilling! I think many of these 50 prompts on this site have a great potential to inspire spooky, fantastical, weird writing because they go a little deeper than the typical horror prompts.

Regarding this first category listed, “home horror” listed on the site, I was part of a literary anthology called Demonic Household. We were to choose an item that was “possessed.” That was fun! I used the Japanese horror story of Hanako-san who haunts toilets. When I was describing the way my young characters summoned something haunting and scary, I put it in the same category as the Bloody Mary game that we used to play when I was a girl. But watch out, Hanako-san can drag you down to hell!

Happy getting scary and scared.

Sincerely yours—Margaret

Horror Made

I have been spending more and more time writing, but I keep wanting some prompts to get the inspiration flowing. But I wasn’t finding any that really hit the right note for me. I wanted some with horror or sci-fi elements already baked in. So… I made some!

Today I offer you 50 Horror Writing Prompts. With 10 in each subcategory:

  1. Home Horror
  2. Sci-Fi Horror
  3. Circus Horror
  4. Aquatic Horror
  5. Supernatural Horror

Home Horror Prompts

  1. There’s a demon in my teapot
  2. Someone keeps writing messages on the bathroom mirror
  3. The doors and windows have suddenly sealed themselves shut with your main character stuck inside
  4. A monster has found its way into the house using mirrors
  5. Someone is living inside the walls
  6. One doorway in the house is actually a portal to another dimension
  7. The back porch transforms into something that stalks the streets each night
  8. A cursed object is brought…

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Inktober: Circus II (lion tamer’s wife)

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Ballroom ceiling by Steve Parker, flickr

My husband would not have harmed my son, but the child was so devoted he would have willingly jumped into a den of big cats. Now that my son trains lions and my grandchildren show interest, I realize a woman’s worries are without surcease.

Inktober: Circus (a lion tamer’s retirement)

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Lion tamer, zeit punkte, flickr [chromolithograph, c. 1873, Library of Congress LC-USZC4-2994 (color film copy transparency)]

It was in the lion enclosure that the brain tumor struck the lion tamer. His vision blurred, he fell into a bulk of fur, and a giant tooth tore his cheek. He retired soon after.

Clever Gretel

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german-dirndl-dress-heidis-closet-18 by Alessandra Nölting, flickr

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.

Inktober: Double

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The Enemy Within Unleashed by Arne Halvorsen, flickr

My doppelgänger arranges dates for me. She lies about me on a dating profile.

I tell her: I’ve put that all behind me now.

One day I get a text: I loved meeting you last night.

I want to tell him it wasn’t me, but relenting, I reply: Thank you.

Inktober: Broken

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This story is based on the case of a family annihilation in Mendocino County, California on March 26, 2018. See Broken Harts, Prime Video.

Diana: Broken Wing by Matt Callow, flickr

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.

Inktober: Bananas

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I’m veering from the prompts list I put up several posts ago. Sometimes, I just like trying to write what I want to write and doing it in only fifty words. Having written a couple of seasons of fifty-word fiction pieces, I’m starting to sense that maybe every season needs at least one or two interesting relatives. Last year, there was an interesting Thanksgiving relative. Here, this Halloween is seeing at least one of these imaginative folk in Aunt Bettina, who brings life to the party, though society may have its own way of dealing with the interesting and imaginative. I’m sure there will be other trends as well. Enjoy your Friday night —Margaret

p. 700 of 1889 Ladies’ Home Journal, flickr

For Halloween, Aunt Bettina would stick our hands in covered bowls so we could identify “body parts:” big greasy olives were eyeballs; macaroni was brains; sausage links were intestines. When Aunt Bettina was locked up in Florida State Mental Hospital, Halloween died.

Inktober: Drooling II

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Bizarre but true, my friends, well at least the part about the rulers and the open casket, which was a first for me as a young kid. My teacher lived in my neighborhood. I made cookies for and campaigned hard for myself to be liked by this powerful person. —Margaret

School, Grade Classroom by IMLS Digital Collections, flickr

My first grade teacher broke yardsticks over our desks when we colored “wrong.” At her funeral, I wondered if she drooled after her stroke. Since it was open casket, I was terrified she knew my naughty thoughts and was gonna get me.

Inktober: Drooling

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Based loosely on a true story. I just love it when siblings are heroes to each other. —Margaret

The Breath of God by Dee Ashley, flickr

She had been drooling on her pillow but wasn’t worried until she saw her face: It was twitching. Her brother took her to the ER but the nurse brushed them off: She was too young to have a stroke. Her brother yelled for the doctor and saved her life.

Blaze

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Guitar by Quinn Dombroski, flickr

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.

Inktober: Chicken

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I’ve always loved Chagall. I guess his work is considered surrealist. It can be bizarre, so what’s not to love and it helped me craft this mini-story. —Margaret

Floating Feather by Paul Kitchener, flickr

After miscarrying, I started sleeping in the nursery under the Chagall print—a chicken pulling a carriage for a couple and their baby. While I was asleep one night, Marty left a note: “I love you but I can’t do this anymore. I’m sorry.”

Inktober: Spell

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Check out Shrouded Hand’s video on this on youtube. —Margaret

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

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.

Inktober: Roasted

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A sad but true story. —Margaret

siluet by JuanRax, flickr

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.

Inktober: Tranquil

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Check out Cults and Extreme Belief, episode 3, IMBdTV on Prime. I have a resource called Kingdom of the Cults I bought when I was in seminary. Cults are the scourge of our age. —Margaret

Shattered by Valerie Everett, flickr

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.

Inktober: Poisonous II

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Check out the “Death by Neighbor” episode in the series Fear thy Neighbor on Prime Video’s Discovery+

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.

Inktober: Poisonous

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Paper (I am Not) by Brad Greenlee, flickr

As she ascended the stairs to her bedroom, her mother’s poisonous words followed her: “Just go on up there and write to your God!” And the poison dripped out of her eyes as she bent over the once-private journal, dampening the paper and blurring the lines.

Inktober

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I found this list of awesome Inktober prompts on DeviantArt by Lineke-Lijn.

These are obviously prompts for visual artists but I think this particular list is also stellar for writers and here’s why: the nouns are specific and concrete; the verbs are action verbs; the verbal adjectives are equally expressive and action-oriented; the nominal adjectives are precise, concrete. One-word prompts that are abstractions and nonspecific are non-starters.

The kind of prompts listed above translate into powerful sketches and drawings. And I think these give writers that mental picture we need to begin translating an interior vision into the written word. You may think you’re not a screenwriter, but if you want to write powerful fiction, you will think in scenes and images.

If you are interested in an exploration, even if you’re an experienced writer, start jotting down small pieces in a notebook or document. It is highly likely first drafts will go over the fifty-word count that is set in flash fiction writing for Inktober. Over time, as pieces are refined to meet the word count, a wonderful miniature will emerge, conveying the heart of something distinct. The word prompt may be included as a word in the piece or it can simply serve as the inspiration.

Even if you don’t want to write fiction or publish, exercises like this sharpens verbal ability; broadens thinking; enhances problem-solving; and develops voice and self-knowledge. Yours —Margaret

LulaRich: A Cautionary Tale

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Photo by Isabella and Zsa Fischer on Unsplash

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.

Will I miss the devil, will the devil miss me?

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I invite you to read this story. It is powerfully written.

 

Chop Resistant by Chuddlesworth, flickr

Gingerbread House Lit Mag

I went out back and found my father standing under the apple tree. He at least had the decency to look embarrassed.

You trying to sell me to the devil again? I asked.

He tricked me. He always tricks me, my father said.

We both knew a person might get tricked once, maybe twice, but after that, well, motivations are laid bare. A cold wind blew and an apple the size of my fist fell into the grass. It made a quiet sound, but it was unmistakable, and I know we both heard it.

It doesn’t look like he’s coming, my father said. You always get out of it anyway. Bitterness nearly overwhelmed the pride in his voice, but it was there. The devil had never gotten me, but not because of my father. Only me. Even when I had to protect myself with my own tears. Truth be told…

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Ola Belle Reed

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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 who I just learned is her son, cool. It’s in a go-to playlist on Spotify. Good thoughts to you this Saturday. I’ll put another beauty below. — Margaret

Quietus

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Purple on Green by Aslam Karachiwala, flickr

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.

Salty Dog Rag

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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.

Inktober: Haunted

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B/W Turntable, luis exposito, flickr

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.

Inktober: Escape

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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

Unkempt Angel, Wayne S. Grazio (Abandoned Mauseleum, Manila Chinese Cemetery, Manila, Philippines) flickr

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.

taking my respite with May Sarton

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This week, I finished a course at the University of Chicago: Essentials of Grammar for Professionals. I trust I am finished. I am waiting for the score on the final assignment. But my work has essentially concluded.

I’m not going anywhere for the holiday weekend. I lack the funds. And I’m tired. I do plan to take life at a slower pace for the next couple of days, even though I am at home. I feel grateful to have this time and this space.

In the spirit of taking it easy, I opened an old book I keep on my desk along with a few others, books that are meditations, devotionals, words of encouragement. The book I chose this morning was May Sarton’s Journal of Solitude.

I include here a few pictures of the extra bedroom, converted into an office. The final picture is a picture of the opening paragraph of Journal of Solitude.

Be well. May respite find you.

“Horse Girl”

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Greg Westfall, “ghost,” flickr

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.

My Fieldwork in Southern Italy — Foundation Operation X for languages, cultures and perspectives

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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

Inktoberfest 2021

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Man in chair with dog in his lap, Florida Memory, State Library and Archives of Florida, flickr

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.

writers in the ring

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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.

Ticket to “Beartown,” Swedish Drama Series

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See a Movie Tonight! Ride CTA lines!
Chicago Transit Authority, “See A Movie Tonight! Ride CTA Lines!” flickr

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 reads of the fall of empire

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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.

Elizabeta

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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.

I don’t.

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.

July 4th

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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.

Music for July

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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

Classical Saturday

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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

Little Cinder

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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.

Rare Songbird

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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.

Martha’s Place

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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.

Breakthrough Queen

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The night my son graduated college I lay in my hotel room and dreamt I failed at my own assisted suicide. As I write this, I am happy to say, the dream had no real basis in my life and everything has been a success for my son. All efforts on my part to mold and help him have created a life of sorts for him, though of course it has been through his own applied effort that he has seen success: his graduation with honors, his happiness, his friends, his securing of a promising job, his blossoming relationship with another. It was all I have wanted for him. Then why in my dream did I die, or want to?

In the dream, I survived my own suicide attempt, an assisted operation by a company offering death to those who had reached a dead end. It was all most clean and clinical. Reasonable, really. Nothing messy or obscene. They shaved your head and you lay down in your medical gown and you ingested a dram guaranteed to bring an end. In a probably not so original turn, I changed my mind after swilling my portion. But I emerged, having labored through the effects.

On the long drive home from my son’s graduation, I encountered a cat at the hotel where I was staying. She was black and white. I don’t know why I assumed the cat was female. She was slight, so maybe that was it. I surmised she lived at the hotel where I was staying in Tallahassee where I stopped both on the way up to Alabama and on the way down to Orlando. The cat was scruffy and hung around the garbage cans. She was scrappy, a survivor. I was going to write a little story about her, about a prostitute who lived in that hotel and fed her, or about a child who stayed in that hotel and loved her. Maybe the child was kept there against her will and the cat represented her own little soul. Or maybe the child was the daughter of a preacher or hoodoo priest. She worked on her school lessons at the desk in her room and she soaked dreamily in the tub enclosed by the striped curtain while her daddy went out and healed people, sprinkling them with holy water, feeding them wine for sacrificial blood. Or simply grape juice for said blood. Maybe he cleansed people and their homes with Florida water, readying them for a spiritual encounter.

The hotel in Tallahassee seemed to attract human kinds of ghosts as well as cats, people who drifted around the property, including a man who gruffly approached me that night when I was on my way home. The man presumably hoped to get a light. I emitted a small shout of surprise when he started speaking. Passing semis on narrow highways all day can make you nervous. My son’s college town, campus, surrounding neighborhoods were shiny, beautiful, well kept. People walk with purpose, laugh a lot, smile. Likely in that place, people had their own lighters, if they smoked. Likely in that place, lighters were made of gold. When I left my Tallahassee hotel to hit the road for Orlando, the man was still in his car in the parking lot, a small beat up white number, a sporty vehicle popular in the eighties. Presumably, this was his overnight space.

On the road home, I wondered about the dream. I did survive cancer, so maybe this was it, the dream’s raison d’être. In a way, the treatment is voluntarily almost killing yourself in order to survive. I was not sure if that’s what the suicide dream was. I had also committed myself to surviving until my son’s graduation and Lord willing, without relapse. Mission accomplished. So maybe it was that ending point that triggered it.

Something else occurred to me regarding set purposes and deadlines – literal deadlines – and how such a dream as mine might have arisen in my subconscious. My preacher father recalled a story for all of us, all having dinner the night after my son’s big graduation day in Alabama. It was a story about his journey to the Dead Sea. He along with my mother regularly conducted a group to the Holy Land and on one occasion, at the shore of the Dead Sea, a group member told his wife: This has been the realization of my life. [Dad’s storytelling words were better, but this is the gist.] And then, on the spot, the man died! Such an incredible story had all of us reeling. It was a tale among many fabulous tales of the lives my parents have led and with which my father, when gently prompted, will regale us.

And also, what’s more, regarding my puzzling through the dream’s origins, there is this: I am bipolar. Suicidal ideation is an erstwhile friend, though never a realization, kept mostly at bay by effective meds and treatment. Surviving cancer treatment and bipolar together was no small feat. And I had, years before, learned my biological mother killed herself. When I passed the age at which she killed herself, I considered myself a victor. (As if you cannot tell, and can probably guess if you read my blog occasionally, a bipolar person can sometimes have an odd way of structuring her own reality.)

Furthermore, my own adopted parents – I consider them my only parents – having taken care of me since I was a baby, did so with considerable care and sacrifice. I do not feel myself identified with this foreign history. I am not the dream because it is my dark underbelly and fear, and that darkness is not me on the whole, though the dream suggests it is some part of me. I am a kind of cat, a black and white cat like my feline friend at the hotel.

At certain points, we are born into something we hadn’t anticipated and past histories fall away and we are left, blinking, having survived all self-destructive drams. We have rashly made promises to ourselves and set goals, not realizing that even lofty visions and hopes can be limiting. We become more more opaque as decades pass. We move on, hardly noticing one another, but we thankfully pick up the leftovers until we decide what to do, before we can clean up and start again.