Finally, A List of the Rules

wood-721871_1280Writing these rules down won’t change the mind of anyone who believes in them and holds them close to the vest, like Reince Priebus, but for a moment, it felt good to think that it could.

1. “It’s your job to make me feel very comfortable while I listen to you, as if upsetting me is the farthest thing from your mind. Only then might I consider your points. But remember, don’t say or do anything I might view as weakness. That brings out my dark side and it’s hard to hold it back.

2. “Smile. This is important. I don’t have to smile, but sometimes I smile at you to be dismissive because it can be very effective and its meaning can be hard to prove if you want to build some sort of case against me. You have to smile, but make sure you never smile like that.

3. “Groom yourself in a way I consider acceptable. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean — I assume that you bathe and launder your clothes, but we are both aware of popular culture. You know the ideal you should be aiming for.

4. “Be careful when you try to change a thing. I may find your passion unbecoming, and the thing you want to change could just be a tradition. We have those for a reason.

“If you ignore any rule listed above, it will only cloud your point if I disagree with something you say. Then I’ll have to respond by explaining, in great detail, why I refuse to listen to you. Or, if I don’t want to take so much time, I may respond with a disapproving quip, or that dismissive sort of smile. Remember though, that I may disagree with your point no matter what, because it will probably be wrong. I am amazed at how often that happens.

“Lastly, remember I don’t respect people when I’m aware of them following rules, like sheep. It’s up to you to figure out how to follow these rules so I don’t notice. How I love watching you try. For some reason, you always seem to get it wrong.”

George Clooney’s Bed

Sometimes I use a scene from my life or an off-the-wall idea to practice creative writing here — in the same way any other writer would. Feedback is always welcomed and appreciated. Your impressions help me grow as a writer. 

          I dreamed again last night after a lonesome stretch, but woke uneasy after George Clooney came to nap and found me in his bed. He’d given me a heartfelt talk the last time he found me there, keeping his calm and explaining why he needed his space to be predictably his own. He had touched my wrist and given me that one last time as a buffer to help me cope (being kind enough not to say the icy word ‘over’ out loud), but he was cold now, and resigned, pacing at the foot of the bed first, then lying down on the other pillow as if he had no choice. I saw a hardness form inside him and knew the safe place for me was gone.

         I collected myself and stretched my pain into a little smile to soften it, hoping to signal sanity and melt his anguish as I prepared to leave. He averted his eyes and kept kindness and praise to himself as if he suddenly knew those things would kink into the situation, like spores, and grow weedlike into more of the same. I was ashamed to be his bad penny, who burned the kindness he had left between us before he knew better.

         His presence had comforted me in so many dreams before this, ones where I needed respite from spies who wanted me dead, ones where the things chasing me had no form, just intent to harm. This morning reality tainted another of my hidden corners. I want it to stop. Without George to listen or let me cuddle when night threatens to eat me alive, the tender parts of me threaten to disappear behind artificial shoulds and shouldn’ts. Why can’t I be safe while I’m tender? Why do I have to stew until I’m more than done, but toughened into a thing that bares less and less resemblance to who I was?

         I don’t always need to hide in my dreams; sometimes I fight and win. But tonight, if I’m able to sleep, I hope that dreams can be erased and repainted in warmer colors. Or that someone willingly takes George’s place and let’s me feel safe and quiet and myself when I need to, in those times when I need a bed that isn’t my own.

         

On Another Earth

As an exercise, I used the three contest words in another 500(ish) word story. One Drop in The Sea of Love is the obvious entry, so with this one I tried more for fun, writing out the first paragraph as a riff without really thinking about it. I just finished the tweaking and editing. Hope you enjoy it.

On Another Earth

On picture day at her school, eight-year-old Georgia had been warned not to mug for the camera. She did it anyway. Her mother, Amandine, tore the mailed proof into tiny pieces (discarding them into different trash cans on separate floors of the downtown mall), then tried to have the photo redone before it was sent to every personal news outlet on earth. But Georgia’s cross-eyed, bulgy-tongued, ‘fingers pulling from both sides of the mouth’ grin would be traveling the ether alongside beautiful glossy photos of sweet little darlings who had learned well and done as they were told. The response would be quick, the embarrassment intense as reaction upon reaction piled in. The Book of Faces would never understand this. Amandine knew she was going to get a letter.

It was bad enough when someone’s camera was on the fritz and the ministry acted as though the world might end. A purposely ridiculous likeness could bring a fine. They were both getting low on their specially blended, Ideal Personal Color lipsticks– Amandine’s multifaceted plum with highlights of poppy and the subtlest touch of gold, Georgia’s translucent age-appropriate honey mixed with pale peony pink. How would they be able to buy lipsticks and pay a fine?

Amandine decided that this time Wyatt should be the one to admonish the child. Georgia hadn’t been listening to her mother for weeks. Perhaps the father so chiseled that he could do no wrong could get his daughter to stop pretending that unkempt and weird were actually viable options in life. That silliness was for history books. Modern Life took one’s visage very seriously.

If Wyatt couldn’t get the child in line, Amandine had one more idea. She’d seen an advertisement the other day for something called an Outer Layer Converter. One of its settings enabled the wearer to look good in every photo taken during a twenty-four hour period, from studio shots to selfies– perfection, no matter the angle. The thing was pricey, but there were low interest beauty loans for big ticket items like that. Anything to keep The Book of Faces happy and off their backs.

Amandine was jotting down notes about this at her desk, when little Georgia pushed through the front door, smiling as splendidly as she hadn’t for her school photo. With her bookbag and mary janes left haphazard on the the front hall carpet, the girl sidled up to her mother’s chair and pushed a sheet of glossy paper across the glass top desk, gliding it toward her mother with ceremonious glee. She said, “Look, Mommy.”

Amandine turned over the paper to find the brilliant face of her only child wearing her best graceful smile.

“They didn’t mail the proofs, Mommy. They passed them out at school today. Daddy and I played a trick on you.”

Amandine’s happiness dulled the impulse to scold. She embraced her daughter, pondering the effect a bit of her Hair Away cream would have on Wyatt’s Bald Be Gone.

In the Loop

Photo by Re' Harris

Photo by Re’ Harris

The lack of response to yesterday’s post (and its only one view) fills me with angst. Shaking off that feeling, of not understanding or really knowing anything, is quite a job. If life is going to feel that hard, I’d rather be writing. I think.

The imaginary commenter in my mind says: Of course I’d rather be thrilled by a piece of writing! How can you not know that? If you have a talent for words, why would you bore me with a faithful recounting of some wretched person’s experience? I don’t care if you part the clouds a bit in the end, it doesn’t fill my main requirement for spending precious time: Show me something new. Not new because you just thought of it — but new. Figure it out!

My imaginary commenter is very outspoken, often cruel. She ignores praise and isn’t necessarily honest. She’s borne of pure emotion, the kind with the power to obfuscate facts so there’s no way for me to judge her veracity. Still, there’s the chance that what she’s telling me is right.

She also tells me to stop writing if I don’t enjoy the act of doing it as an end in itself. Everything about that scares me. That’s where my questions come from — fear — which implies neediness, which drives away comfort, which breeds… you know. I’m in this loop, wondering if I should just stop. Anyone else there, too?

One Drop in the Sea of Love

While trying to get back to my writing, I came across this contest at MashStories.com. The prize is $100 (oh how I can use that!) and the rules are few — mainly a 500 word limit, and the use of this quarter’s words within the story: converter, mug, happiness. 

I’ve been a no-show here for quite some time, but if any of the friends I miss so much come across this, and could spare a few minutes to give impressions on what I’ve come up with, I’d be very grateful. Any thoughts at all would help me decide if this is too little, too much or just plain boring. Or if I should choose a new subject and just start over, which has been a prominent theme in my life for quite a while now.

Thanks in advance for any help you can give. My love to you all.

One Drop in the Sea of Love

Ivy stood in the farthest corner of the garage from Abner. He was underneath the car removing its catalytic converter, flouting the law, thumbing his nose at the EPA, risking a fine.

“Half the scientists say one thing. Half say something else.” He said that to her with a straight face. “Liberals pretending the world’s dying… If it’s that bad– time to give up anyway. I’m gonna drive a car that works the way its supposed to.” She thought he was behaving like an ass and almost said so, but that felt like giving up on him. She wasn’t ready.

Ivy had emailed links about global warming gleaned from university websites, offered evidence on how the world’s skewed environment already affected their own area, even pleaded for their baby’s lungs to make it more personal, but mountains of misinformation were standing between truth and Abner’s heart. He’d always been strong. Now he’d crossed over to hard, battered by the gulf between their hand-to-mouth reality and the lost luster of his dreams for success. He wasn’t talking things through with her anymore or finding comfort in his family. She sensed herself simmering in the distance between them, too tender and unsteady, as if the best part of her had broken and was setting wrong.

She listened to him under the car, willing away science with a hammer to make himself feel superior, or remind himself of his strength. She braced herself, suppressing her ache, stitching her family together for the moment until she could decide if their happiness was going to be out of the question.

That evening, she made soup. He lingered in the garage, then paced the front porch, hands deep in his pockets, face contorting, head tossing now and then for punctuation as if arguing with himself or working out a problem. Ivy kept a wide berth until dinner was ready.

They sat at the kitchen table. In his high chair, baby Carl nibbled crackers and slurped cooled noodles and carrots Ivy proffered on his little spoon between sips of juice from his mug with the no-spill lid. Abner went on about the merits of movies on television later. When he paused, Ivy realized she’d stopped listening.

After Carl slurped another spoonful of noodles, her eyes met Abner’s, whose gaze fell over his soup bowl. A low, wet, sound clenched in his throat.

She was so used to arguing and contradiction that she stared in silence, anticipating the phantom guilt that often followed.

He sucked air into his lungs, hard, as if pulling something back inside. “I said, I can watch that Hugh Jackman thing. The one you’d like, without blades in his knuckles.”

Ivy reached for him, curling her fingers around his, and said, “Okay.”

After dinner and the cleaning up, they put Carl into his playpen with the fluffy blanket and his purple bear. The baby yawned as his parents settled together onto the sofa to watch a romance unfold.

This Thursday in March

I’ve been away too long, lax in communication on my blogs, more than behind in email correspondence. I let important work pile up and haven’t yet answered gentle, inspiring letters that make me smile. (You know who you are, my dear patient friend.) I haven’t been ignoring friends and pressing work in my head, but how would they know? I have to get used to writing things down again, all the thoughts I still have.

I tried to explain in Apology but that expression felt so small afterward.

Still, I keep deciding to ‘talk’, receding afterward into my corner while reeling from the enormity of making a plan, making a sound, being heard. That’s why at this moment my frozen burrito has been in the microwave for more than an hour after the bell pinged. I got a rush of inspiration to do something, then refused to leave my chair until I at least finished this one thing.

HitRECord_outdoors_fraeulein

So here it is: Six or seven years ago, I wrote a few pieces of music in Garageband. Two are actually kind of decent, I think. One, “Luminaire”, has a little synth bit running through it that I played myself. The other is called “This Tuesday in March” and it’s all choices of preset loops, editing, and affects. I just put the songs on Joseph Gordon Leavitt’s site, HitRECord. I like the collaborative nature of the site and the fact that if anything makes money from being there, each contributor earns their portion. My artist friends should check it out and see what they think.

Here are direct links to the songs:  “Luminaire”     “This Tuesday in March”

Whew. My hands are shaking a little, but I got through this. I really don’t want to be a stranger. There’s too much to say.

Love, Ré

My Pink Ribbon

IMG_0409_2

After my shower I stand

after scrubbing, buffing,
massaging lotion,
dusting powder,
plucking out hairs I don’t want seen,
creating finer lines, a smoother chin

after doing what I could to polish and make fine —
despite the shock of the word obese
spied in my medical record,
despite knowing how the fierce though misguided protection
of the starvation lie my brain sends to mouth
threatens my plans
from health to size eight —
I linger at the mirror after courting precarious beauty,
rueing the false security of sugar, butter and flour,
wearying of all my hungers
while pop culture’s firm admonitions circle me and taunt.

I stand, not wanting to look at my misaligned breasts, but needing to,
knowing I can live with less
and flourish

but wanting more

wanting Angelina Jolie’s means
and self-assurance — or just
a man who wants me the way Angelina’s wants her:
seeing my best first,
loving me through my worst and all my pain.

I stand by myself, calling courage,
angry that I need so much
to simply bend at the waist and look again.

When I’ve bared these breasts to the doctor and his intern’s young eyes
trained on my case to learn as I learn my lessons too,
I speak, but they don’t understand that the subterfuge of the padded bra cup
doesn’t address my fear.
It’s easy to be naked before doctors now —
not easy to say I like to be on top.
Subterfuge only postpones the moment I’m unsure of.
I don’t want to hear them say that if a new lover sees my misshapen breast and recoils,
he isn’t worth my time.
How could they not know how I dread that happening
when that moment is more tender than these …

bending from the waist in my bathroom, naked
hoping magic has occurred,
knowing that if magic was possible
it would have taken away the cancer before surgery mismatched my breasts
leaving the sculpted one to hang shorter,
it’s dimpled scar winking like a more twisted siren’s call
mocking my desire for breasts that look pretty
or at least nondescript,
while I live.

I lived.

Remember that
I tell myself,
spit it at any man who recoils,
spit it at him despite the pain of dismissal.
Attraction and the feel of me in his arms should be enough.

I live

calling up courage
to let the weight of life wash through me and bear me up
as I fumble through it for strength I’ve found and lost before.

I live,
wanting to sing it to myself now
soft,
a personal hymn I can hold tight
or choose to share
like the sight of me now
— sculpted for future’s sake, not art’s —
without courage or comfort,
but inching my way to those far planes.

Nightmare

US Postage Issue: Abraham_Lincoln_Airmail_1960...

Lately I’ve been watching a series on PBS about Abraham and Mary Lincoln. I found the beginning two parts of it to be very interesting, fulfilling my interest in history and my desire to understand people and their motivations. But soon enough I became uncomfortable, as I always do, when faced with people’s strange feelings and reactions to “otherness,” in this case African-American life and the “legal” practice of slavery.

Today, during parts three and four, I nearly changed the channel as comprehension eluded me, or came into focus so sharp that it hurt to see. The story below came up in me — a flailing response to the pain of political ridiculousness, I’m sure — but it took me away from the sharpness far enough to sit at my keyboard and try again to make it understood, because the conversation is far from over. 

Nightmare

The president arrived at his office, closed the door and headed for the stack of papers on his desk. Upon hearing the sound of breathing across the room, he found an unfamiliar man there staring at him. “How did you get in here?”

The stranger removed his hat with one hand and said, “That does not matter at this point.” Before the president could call out for help, the man spoke again. “Your son has been taken.”

“Taken …?”

“Your son has been sold.” The stranger watched the president’s face express shock and the downward trajectory of his heart.

“You are mad,” the president huffed through trembling lips.

“No. I am sane and pragmatic, as are you and surely the other men entrusted with running this country.” He gripped his hat in front of him with both hands, waiting for his statement to sink into the steel trap of the statesman’s mind. “And your youngest is gone now. I doubt that you will ever see him again. I have sold him in such a way as to render your power and finances of little help to you, though I do suspect that if you try very hard, you may eventually find the boy, especially if our side wins the war.”

The president straightened his back with determination to contain his fear. He began to compose a rebuttal to counter this new enemy and make him see reason. “You cannot possibly succeed in this horrible exercise to tear apart my home. If not me, think of my wife. How could the boy’s mother be expected to bear this?”

The stranger turned to the velvet back of the chair nearest him and lightly stroked the fabric as the turn of his mouth registered a mild amusement, his eyes a glazing of anger. “Indeed,” he said with formidable calm.

The president pressed his side against the desk just enough to keep himself from sinking. “This is kidnapping. Surely you know that you will be prosecuted.”

“What would that change? Would you expect his return through our present system of law? You should understand better than anyone how much law is about the moment. All that follows from it stems from those notions and provisions already in place. Even if one does aspire to some semblance of fair treatment for all, changing things is difficult. Is not tending to the whole more important, making human sacrifice necessary?”

“H-human sacrifice? What are you talking about? Are we barbarians?”

“That is a question I have wanted to ask you, sir. Are we barbarians?”

The president’s voice was hushed. “Of course not.” His thoughts flew past him as he contemplated his plight. He had trouble holding onto any one of them long enough to argue sense to the stranger who was breaking him in two. “Listen to me,” he said, “I can see that something is on your mind. Let us discuss your points like men — leave my child out of this. Return my son and let us speak to your concerns.”

“The country as a whole has done nothing but speak to my concerns during these last bloody years. What good has that done for decency and freedom?”

“But my son …”

“Perhaps it is time to think about more important things than your son.”

“You are mad. We are talking about an innocent child here! How can you be so callous?”

“Callous?” The stranger cocked his head as he contemplated the word. “You think my selling your son into slavery is callous? This is something you believe?”

“Wait … how can you say you’ve sold my child into slavery? He is not …” The president’s voice grew silent as if something thick and cold fell over him, muffling his body as it folded in on itself and sank into a chair in front of his desk.

The stranger watched, the glaze in his eyes glinting strong in the lamplight. “You are answering your own questions now, I see. This is all I could hope for. In the years that have passed until now, reason has been too much. Step by step, it has been taken out of the equation because it gets in the way. There seem to be things that those who lead find more important.

“Reason got in my way, too. I preferred to talk and write and appeal to human virtues as if all people had them. I thought those virtues were only dormant and waiting for the right progression of words from a caring soul to bring them to light and move them into the realm of deeds. I thought that until yesterday. Then I decided to ignore reason, too. I fear for tomorrow.”

Soft sobs rose from deep inside the president, becoming rattled retching sounds that filled the space between him and the stranger who lamented, “I have hoped for it, and hope for it still, but I do not see reason on the horizon.”

The Strange One About Kitty

Photo by Ré Harris

 

It’s said that cats don’t communicate to each other verbally. They meow to us because they notice how we talk to them and what happens when we focus on them that way. Cats find that interesting or advantageous things follow after we speak to them: a treat, a meal, a gentle scratch someplace they can’t reach. They learn to meow to us to ask for what they want or to participate in what we do, and we bask in their desire to fit into our lives, comforted by their hard-won attention.

Kitty will ask for a bowl of food or that I get off the computer and let her sit in my lap. She’ll mew through the window to greet me when I come home, or to show concern when steam precedes me out the bathroom door after a shower. She entreats me through the bedroom door when she thinks I’ve overslept and need to come out and feed her, maybe play. Our conversations then go back and forth, her voice rising and falling on syllables that vary, saying things I’m sure I can follow. I answer, calming her if it’s much too early, or assuring her that I’m on my way and only need a moment or two to dress.

But there are times, an increasing number of times, when Kitty stands or sits in a hallway or a corner of a room, looking up and meowing in an earnest, sometimes agitated voice. As I watch her from a far room or close vantage point I’ve crept to without her notice, she engages something I can’t see. Not a bird teasing her through a window — she chirps at those. Not a bug or insect crawling up a wall so slow that she could bat it down — she doesn’t meow before doing that.

I’ve watched Kitty speak to something that reminds her enough of a human that she wants to talk to it, asking or demanding something I’m powerless to understand, perhaps responding to a provocation I’m unable to hear. At those times, I wonder what that something is. When those moments pass, I work hard to forget the feeling that something shocking is at play, something I don’t want to know.

Avoidance may be the wrong way to go according to Stephen King stories or the kind of movies that glut the market at Halloween, but it’s the best I can do without being privy to the plot.

I wish I really did understand Kitty’s language. I think.

 

Entanglement – Part Twenty-One

At sidewalk's edge

“At Sidewalk’s Edge” by Wanderin’ Weeta via Flickr

Previous installments of Entanglement can be found by clicking Home on the header menu and scrolling down. If you haven’t begun the series and would like to, here’s a shortcut to Part One.

Aliss hadn’t forgotten logic. She’d stopped searching for it. “If you can relax a little, you’ll see the sense here — what there is of it.”

An older man in a dark suit with vest and tie, stepped onto the edge of the lawn. She observed him peripherally at first. He was shorter than Miller with thin shoulders and limbs, yet broad around the middle. Beneath his brown fedora, she saw a fine spray of white hair flutter in the breeze at his temples, garnering her attention like something caught in a camera, as if that was where she was supposed to look. The man watched Miller with a focus that accentuated the creases of his face, and spoke to Aliss. “Are you all right, dear?”

She answered, “Yes,” without thinking. The man held the handle of a long umbrella with both hands and leaned his weight onto it like a walking stick. His gaze moved to her. With a second’s thought she added, “It might not look that way, but I think we’re all right.”

“Are you sure?” he asked.

His question hung in the air, shifting in her mind as though the breeze was catching it like the strands of his hair. She appreciated his concern, but not the interruption.

Miller moved his hand away from her shoulder and rubbed the palm on the front of his sweater as if wiping away something he hadn’t known was there. As if waking from slumber, he stood taller, faced the stranger and said, “I was upset for a minute, but I … I’m calmer now. I’m sorry.”

The gentleman straightened and raised an eyebrow. “You should say that to the lady.”

Miller turned dutifully toward Aliss and she saw reason returning to his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said, the heft of his anger retreating to some corner or another inside him as he spoke the words.

She said, “I know.”

As if chastised by the man’s very presence, Aliss was unsure what to do or say next. She walked closer to him thrusting her hands into her pockets, trying to smile. “We’ve had a little trouble lately. Sudden trouble … but we’re figuring it out. I hope we didn’t upset you.”

“You’re so young,” he said, the skin at his eyes crinkling even more though his expression relaxed, “the both of you … there’s less time than you think. You should be enjoying yourselves as best you can. Leave the fighting to the inevitable wars and people who don’t care about love. I can see in your eyes, I heard in your tones of voice, that something draws you together. Let the feeling be pure and unclouded.” He bent lower to her, his face imploring. “If it can’t be, then protect yourself. Each one of us is worthy of that.”

Aliss stared for a moment. “Who are you?”

The man smiled. “I suppose I’m no one to you. Just making my way home to share supper with my wife. When I saw you, I was reminded of my daughter when she was a younger woman.” He sighed. “Perhaps I’ve intruded. Perhaps I’ve given you two a bit of time to settle down.” He nodded in both their directions. “I’ll be going now.”

As the gentleman walked away, Miller went to Aliss’s side at the edge of the walk. His voice a hoarse whisper, he said, “The old man’s right. I’ll try to listen.”

“What happened?”

“Just now?”

“Back there. You had to be talked down from something.”

“What you did … reminded me of something.”

“Something that scared you?”

“I guess … when I was a kid.”

Aliss leaned into his body. “Let me take you someplace wonderful.” She placed her hand in his and waited.