Friday, February 5, 2010

Things to do with your eyes closed --- 1999 creative writing exercise

Another birthday headed my way. The days are crossed out on the calendar. Not for real, just mentally I cross off the days. I’ve made it through another year by daydreams, wishes and prayers.  Firty-two years this September; enough to cause a serious meltdown on a cake. All those single candles would surely converge into a puddle of wax but there hasn’t been a cake with or without candles the last few years. Childhood parties with pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey and blowing out the candles have gone the way of lying in the sun on the dock or making love on moonlight nights.

The rush to get through the day leaves little time for smelling the flowers. I daydream when in the bathroom; not a luxurious bath with bubbles galore to relax and restore... a daydream when sitting on the can; actually more of a collapse some days. A pause to evacuate body fluids gives me a chance to close my eyes and daydream sometimes without interruption for a minute or two. Usually the day pushes on, the phone rings or John calls out, “You still here Mom?”

I listen to music in the car but that’s not a safe time to close my eyes to imagine the future. I’m stuck. I’m thinking too much. I don’t want to say the same old same old that runs me through each day. I have heard the words simplify in infrequent moments of meditation when a pause to gaze out the window turns into more than a minute. What do I want to say? What do I want to wish for? Not a million dollar lottery ticket that would probably cause more problems. I’ve heard you have to change your phone number immediately after winning because once your name is released closet relatives and new found friends will plague you. No I would wish for comfortableness. Don’t think it’s a word but that would be my wish. Comfortable home, comfortable clothes, comfortable body that I would actually watch in the mirror while dressing; a comfortable kiss, at least a million to make up for lack of intimacy for all these years. Where is a comfortable relationship with comfortable love making? A comfortable relationship where neither one of the couple would have pressure to perform or put up with someone’s idea of being. A relaxed friendship, solid comradeship to support each other through roller coaster rides of life.

What else… what else is so denied, so far out of reach, closed off by my mind. I know its me. I know I could change it all not by a wish or magic but by… by what? The tools I know but don’t do are meditation, Chi Gong and massage. How did I get so far away from what I know works to sooth the soul, to boost creativity, to live the good life?

Some how I got narrowed, my beams are not as sturdy; I have more than faltered on my journey. I look at an abusive marriage and am thankful I was able to choose to get out. I look at my son’s accident but can only make the best or worst of each emotionally overwhelming day. I’m too close to that; I wonder what could have been done differently. Why on earth would anyone choose that struggle? My whole belief system crumbled with the impact of his body on that car hood. I give him my all but neglect myself. I push through an over grown field; one that held great promise. I gave up praying and turned to doing; to getting by. I play peck-a-boo with the spirituality that got left behind. Not able to turn away from this disaster; I flounder to find sure footing. There was no choice but to dive in with eyes wide open to his being born again. When executed by car, John escaped death with eyes closed and mine wide open. No movies are scary as what I went through. No wonder I’m numbered to the soul which has been stranded without sleep. The things I do with my eyes closed overwhelm my friends.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Steamer Trunks - Writing exercise

The steamer trunks resided in one of the unused farmhouses on the estate. In the center of the attic floor highlighted by light streaming in from the single window, they waited. Our friends, my husband and I were drawn to them like moths to a flame. A childhood dream of finding abandoned treasure, two trunks full overtook us at once. The rest of the house was void of personal belongings; just these two steamer trunks filling the immense attic. Temptation - temptation filled us to open them. Ravage, pillage, carry off, invaders throughout history had no problem with booty, bounty, loot.
Mine was the only voice who questioned ownership of the trunks. The others were too intent on forcing the locks to bother answering me. Nimble fingers prying seeking to assault the rusted devices. Mumbling to themselves, they bent to their task. Frantic in their haste to spring open the prize, my husband and his friend redoubled their efforts. Malnourished children prying open the locked pantry door to stop their driving hunger, not thinking beyond their immediate needs.
First one trunk, then the other was attacked by the treasure seekers. Twisting, forcing the screwdriver under the lock plate, success met at last by the grating sound of the lock flange releasing. Treasure revealed. Hastily heaped on the floor, the discards raised clouds of dust in their flight. Items stored for safe keeping, someone’s life treasure irreverently pawed through, strewn about by curiosity, stolen by greedy hands; precious pieces of someone’s time gone in minutes.
A fever had swept over us upon entering the attic and seeing those illuminated trunks. The disease consumed us overruling common sense, encouraged us to sneak away with stolen prizes. The others were all for leaving it destroyed, wounds agape subject to further attack by rodents seeking shelter. Scattered belongings forlorn at the disrespect given them.
My sense came back as I reverently folded and placed the discards back into some semblance of order. Not even close to the order that we found them in. Never could I equal the fondness in which the owner lovingly tucked her belongings into the trunk, however long ago; softly touching each item, each memory that needed to be put into storage.
I felt dirty, not because of the dusty attic or stale air. I felt dirty in my being for having invaded an unknown woman’s memories. Empty of meaning, I put my spoils back. A fever dream, a nightmare, I understood mass thinking; the crowd mentality which attacks integrity with a ferocious appetite when all hell breaks loose.

Egg --

Egg admired herself in the mirror. Even at this age no lines appeared in her smooth white shell. The light from the lamp cast no shadows over her perfect surface. It wasn’t a question of what to wear to the symphony tonight or what jewels she needed to adorn her. Egg’s absolute beauty would be enough no matter how simply she dressed.
That morning her beautician had suggested liquid foundation, but Egg had resolutely passed on the offer. Her shells’ natural luster would be diminished by the artificial make up. Then the hair dresser had tried to interest Egg in a tint. What had she said? “Just a simple rinse will do wonders, Dearie.” But once you did one rinse, you would be committed for a life of rinses to hide the flaws that would develop.
No, she likes herself too much to destroy the only thing she could count on: her pristine beauty there for all to admire and praise. No adornment, color tint or liquid foundation would cross her fragile surface.
Staring into the mirror at her flawless shell, Egg considered the one thing she feared in life. Just a fine line in her surface would signal the beginning of the end. A flaw no matter how minor would inevitably spread regardless of what emergency services could provide in the way of first aid. Even round-the-clock nursing wouldn’t prevent a fine line from becoming ... dare she even think of it or say it out loud... a crack.
“Crack!” she shouted the word loudly watching her trembling reflection in the mirror. Fear swept over her just from a simple five letter word. How could she face anyone with a mar? Any mar would prove fatal often sooner than later. Egg took a deep breath. “I would rather throw myself from a cliff than wait for fate’s failure of my shell. Yes, that’s right.” With her eyes glued to her flawless reflection, she continued. “I would end my life by my own decision rather than suffer slowly with hangers-on waiting for my fractured end.”
Calming herself, she looked in the mirror one last time as the doorbell rang. Her date for the evening had arrived. With as much spring in her step as she dared, Egg left the mirror and her fears behind. She silently renewed her vow to make every moment count.
Opening the door, she smiled at Bacon, her date for the evening. Tall, lean and handsome, they made a dramatic entrance wherever they went. Voices murmured how well they looked together, a perfect match, and Egg just ate up those indirect compliments.
Bacon offered her his arm as she closed the door behind her. Should she worry about his grease marks, really his only flaw? No, not tonight; tonight she wanted it all. Every moment will count; I’ll live life to the fullest and have no regrets.

EMM 4/18/98


“What tastes gritty in your mouth is time” or is it just the sand in your sandwich at the beach. The wind blown particles so small as not to be noticed until you begin to chew. As a child I decided: why chew, just mush it around and swallow. I never liked sand in my sandwiches or grit in my mouth then or now.
What I did love was the bites of time spent on Cape Cod’s sandy beaches. After I graduated from high school, my parents and I would spend a week’s vacation every summer at Brewster, then later at Wellfleet. My grandmother’s quiet brogue questioned us. “Why go all the way up there. Its nothing but flat sand and scrub trees.” I suspect that comment reflected her hurt that we didn’t spend my Dad’s vacation time with her at the family summer cottage on Crystal Lake. All the weeknights and weekends spent at the lake were somehow nullified by our yearly week at the Cape.
Why did we go to the Cape? These vacations did not start when I was a young child. I was seventeen when I worked the summer of 1965 at an Inn on the Cape. My cousin Nancy preceded me at the Brewster Inn, a modest form of nepotism. The summer job and my Uncle Blake’s enthusiasm, that’s what, first brought us to the Cape with our trusty sailfish tied to the roof of the family Rambler.
My parents started trying “new things” when I was in high school. Sailing was the first in a line of these new activities. So many times we were dumped into the water by an unforgiving gust of wind on the small lake where the summer cottage was. Tricky wind conditions combined with inexperience lead to many a nautical roll over numbering in the thousands. As our confidence grew, we sought new challenges, new horizons and new waters to sail.
My Uncle Blake introduced us to sailing at the Cape. My parents rented a cottage that summer while my Uncle and Aunt camped at Nickerson State Park. It was love at first sight. Did the Pilgrims feel that way? All that sky with no interruptions... seemingly endless. The salt water intrigued us with so much to explore when the tides went out. The mud flats revealed treasures for the picking with crabs resting below the surface in the damp sand. Did the Pilgrims go barefoot and leap upon being pinched?
As for the vast sky, I suppose the Pilgrims saw enough to last a life time on their trip across the Atlantic Ocean. Moving off the Cape they sought land that would be better suited to live on, not flat sandy expanses with scrub trees dwarfed by storm winds.
But for us, every summer after the first one in Brewster brought us back like the swallows to Capistrano. My poor grandmother did not understanding the pull of the tide on our beings. Our relationship was deeper than most parents and a daughter: three adventures marveling at the early morning sun across the shallow bay waters, walking the mud flats feeling the pull or push of the tide, sailing the bay’s expanse, listening to the cries of the seabirds or watching the night sky while curled up in blankets to ward off the salt air chill.
Our eyes searched the endless blanket of stars overhead while the rhythmic sounds of the waves upon the shore filled our ears. Our souls became one with the infinite universe. The sand beneath us, each particle ground down from ancient rock from the corners of the world, was filled with mystery. Sand brought by wind and sea to rest upon a constantly shifting arm that stretched out toward the ocean as far as the eye could see. Sand like a living entity in constant movement; under our feet, in our hair, imbedded in our clothes ... everywhere you looked sand, water and sky. The vastness and timelessness opened us up to new possibilities.
For months after the vacation, the sand remained with us. No matter how many times the car carpet was vacuumed it still worked its way up and out. Reminders of three adventurers bound together in life, not immortal but for a length of time ... a life not without grit but with limitless possibilities.

emm 4/17/98

Ribbon Candy

The satin luster of ribbon candy resembles the reflections from the Christmas tree lights on the glass ornaments, not clear enough to actually reflect anything but the surface gives the illusion. My grandmother always had a pressed-glass bowl of ribbon candy set out for the Christmas holiday. I don’t remember her having a tree those last few Christmas’s but the overflowing bowl of ribbons was a constant. No one else set out a bowl of ribbon candy.
The McNeill family had grown so large that no one had a house big enough to hold us for the Christmas Day gathering so a church hall was rented. Hours of food preparation filed Christmas Eve with only a pause for steamed chestnuts dipped in butter and a strong cup of tea. It amazed me how the huge meal was gobbled up so quickly by our raucous clan of young and old. Then it was time for games, presents and laughter. The children took advantage of the basketball court or played with their new acquisitions. Clustered around the large folding tables, the older members reminisced. Their voices would ebb and flow creating a multi-part harmony as members joined in the chorus. A litany of voices tinged with sadness that Granddad was no longer present, filled with hope because Jane’s children were recovering from a car accident, touched with concern over Grammy’s failing eyesight, dismayed over teenage behavior and commiserated about the onslaught of middle-age.
Eventually the ribbon candy was passed around. Just as inevitably someone would knock against the tree sending a fragile glass ornament crashing to the hardwood floor. Tiny shards and splinters of glass went everywhere. Bits of reflections scattered across time. Ribbon candy is like that when you hold it in your hand and rotate it. The color changes as the light moves across the surface. Break a piece free, shards and splinters of sweet reflections scatter everywhere.
The echoes of laughter, the rustle of wrapping paper, the smells of a Christmas dinner, the small talk while cleaning up the kitchen are suddenly brought back as clear as the pressed-glass dish overflowing with colorful ribbons. Ribbons of memories looped together revealing their prism of color. Some pieces are broken evenly; some remain whole, while some are just splinters; all in a bowl waiting for selection.
Memories made of broken promises and disappointments, of life’s fulfillments and joys, or of pain and sorrow. Every life has a little of each in varying intensity and hue. All entwined, these colorful ribbons are passed around the family gatherings in a transparent glass dish for all to share and feel.

EMM 4/22/98
rev 5/19/98


What I didn’t know then was how difficult life can get. When I hear giggling girls on an afternoon visit to the library, I too remember a time when everything was a giggle. Nothing seemed all that serious to me and I wondered what was wrong with the adults. Life just was; looking back there seemed to be more sun light, more joy. I want to tell the girls to hold onto the laughter, pack some in a jar with a tight lid, for times when they’re older.
When sorting out my dad’s belongings, I came across a box of old photos. The subjects looking back out of their rectangles of frozen time were from family gatherings, friend’s get-togethers, school pictures and places we’d vacationed at as a family. Special times captured forever in their instant, better than one’s own mental recall, and able to kindle the emotions anew.
Carefree, living in the now, the occupants captured in the miniature time capsules saw only bright futures ahead. Loose plans would jell up when needed. Grown-up responsibilities were far off on the horizon. All that was important and necessary was to enjoy being with cousins and friends. Sharing these good times is what I remember most clearly, especially summer days in the warm sun with the light sparkling off the water at Crystal Lake. Floating in inner tubes with our legs connected to someone else’s tube, we’d bob along like a row of ducklings towed by the surrogate mother, a wooden rowboat full of the bigger cousins. The underwater path was worn through the lake grass from diving one after another off the same spot on the dock. The cannonball contests which were usually won by my cousin Ray who was then and still is chunky.
In high school, we hung out in a group, few of us paired off for individual dates. We had nicknames for each other, not bad or hurtful names that you’d never outgrow. Endearment’s to show you cared were based on variations of last names. Miff, Mickey or Smitty were a few. The light in our eyes seems different in the old photographs. A trick of the camera and film produced more sparkle or were the eyes not yet dulled by major disappointments, hurts or setbacks. Eyes full of life expecting the best in each situation that would be encountered.
Life was simpler then or just remembered that way. What I didn’t know then was how complex life can get. The surface doesn’t always reflect the truth. That there are a million shades of black and white. Our memories have a way of softening the hard times by surrounding them in diffused light to make them more palatable and safe to recall.
Dark days don’t spring to mind as easily, but there were some in my youth. Painful times were interspaced with the good. It takes loads of them over the years, varying in size and intensity, to dull the eyes and the senses. I had a brother whose reputation preceded me through school. “Oh, you’re Albert’s sister.” A trial before a crime this conviction greeted me each year. In high school, a crush so intense that walking past “him” in the hall was unbearable without the support of friends. No date for the Junior Prom, a rite of passage missed. Simultaneous splitting up of the cousins and the school group of friends at graduation, we knew that it would never be the same as we went our individual ways. These were just a start of what was to come.
The good and bad accumulate to make us who we are. Perspective changes us as we age but underneath it all, under all the layers of protective covering we’ve installed to pad our journey, our eyes are still bright. The laughter may not be as cascading as childhood giggles that once started are like a slow motion avalanche taking everything in its path into the chorus. When sifting through boxes of old photographs or poring over neglected family albums, we reaffirm who we are and from whence we came. Our tenuous hold on life can be reviewed and processed to assure our continuity.
What I didn’t know then was that wisdom gained gives insight into the nuances of daily trials and tribulations which then enables us to live each day fully. Strength and encouragement come from mentors, family or a network of friends, as each phase of the journey begins and ends. Full circle... the dance continues filled with laughter and tears, joys and sorrows, ups and downs with a million shades of black and white until completion.

EMM 5/11/98

Inside Picnic

When it rained the adults of the family would cram around the cherry table expanded with four extensions. The damp and warm bodies crowded together in the low ceiling all purpose room of the cottage. A collage of summer colors circling an incandescent lit table mounded with food. Laughter drowned out the sound of the drumming rain on the roof.
The children were delegated to a separate table moved in from the rain swept porch; partially in defense against squabbles of “I wanna’ sit with the grown-ups!” All of us cousins were ordered there. Elbow to elbow we defended our small piece of table territory waiting impatiently for the picnic that had been forced indoors.
The plates that had migrated to the summer place were a magical collection from years of full sets owned by the different relatives; a respite before their last stop, the final journey being to the dump. We all had picked out a favorite pattern on a specific plate or cup and woe to anyone who tried to jump our claim on that piece of china. The mismatched table settings were not considered rejects. The riotous variety of patterns and colors added to the special feeling about those cottage meals whether in or outside.
The food was typical 1950’s picnic fare and each aunt had their favorite recipe that was anticipated all week by other family members. Aunt Marion’s doctored canned baked beans, Aunt Marge’s potato salad, Aunt Edna’s jell-o with fruit and my mother’s carrot pineapple jell-o salad. Dozens of hot dogs and hamburgers were grilled by my father in the granite stone fireplace built by my Uncle Alfred’s brother. All the usual accompaniments were there as well, relishes, pickles, mustard and ketchup. A myriad of half empty jars marked the progress of the summer season.
Silverware travelled back and forth between my Aunt Edna’s cottage and my Grandmothers. No one knew whose was whose as the knives, forks and spoons travelled back and forth with every weekend’s picnics. They resided during the week at the cottage where they were washed and dried. Plates were worn down to a dull scratched surface unable to reflect the high sun of noon or the evening meal sunsets of rose and tangerine. My cousins and I even had our favorite patterns of silverware that we looked for amongst the piles set out for use.
The jumble of mismatched flatware and dishes just was. No one cared or questioned where it all came from... some very expensive, some dime store variety. Like flowers in nature, all the colors, shapes and patterns blended not clashed when clustered together for use. The family was that way, different yet the same. The clashes were set aside, blended for harmonies sake. Like the variety of chairs that were placed around the extended cherry table, a peace table for the sharing of food. The sacred act, breaking of bread, makes us one with one another.
The sideboard of veneered oak stood groaning under the weight of the overflow of casseroles, bowls and serving plates filled with the summer menus. The deserts were stored on top of the cabinets in the kitchen away from sweet toothed predators. Usually the rained out crowd limited the pathway space around the table so that a few end sitters were runners filling the requests for wedged in dinners. The meals weren’t as rushed when it was raining. More time to fill up the nooks and crannies with what everyone had been up to during the last week. Too wet for the adults to swim, sail or fish, my cousins and I ached for action and movement. Sometimes crawling under the far corner of the table we bolted for the door despite the rain cooled air.
The cherry table sits in my basement now, the leaves stacked up in a corner. It’s too big to be in my kitchen or my living room. Alone it sits heaped up with boxes and other cellar offerings. My mother refinished six of the chairs, caning the seat herself over the summers before her stroke. The chairs are scattered throughout my house like my cousins scattered across the country. An end of an era, a time for reflection and memories since my parents, Aunts and Uncles who have gone on before me must have reflected over the changes they went through. Generation after generation, time moves steadily along leaving a few favorite plates or spoons, a chair or two and a table big enough to seat twenty comfortably.

EMM 5/21/98