750words March 20, 2015 ~ Words and Heroines

It’s been a good month for words and falling in love with the people they build—again. I forget how charming and willful, stubborn and ugly they sometimes tend to be, then they come knocking, rising up from the page one by one, dusting the dirt from their knees, and I think, Hey! I know you. You’re the gal I gave the same hairstyle as my friend Sooz.

I’m talking about Irene’s crew of family and friends. Irene is the title character of a first novel (by me) due out in July 2015. Irene’s grand-niece is the one I gave the hairstyle of my dear friend, Sooz; her nephew (Buddy) is the one I gave characteristics of another friend’s cousin; the elderly detective who failed, in 1930, to solve the mystery of Irene’s early demise owns all the curmudgeonly charm of my favorite uncle. This month I found them again, these characters wrought from the real world I occupy into the fictional story-scape of vaudeville, circus, farm and city. Like best buddies from grade school or cousins from out of state, folks I haven’t seen or talked to in years, possibly decades, they warm this old heart when I hear their voice on the line.

A laugh escapes across the miles of telephone line and, just like that, their face is before me, a smile remembered, a cheesecake shared on a bench under a tree outside Riverside’s Mission Inn, a hike from the end of the road to the river bottom and, crossing the Santa Ana, the abandoned Power House on the river’s far side, flats of cardboard used as sleds to slide the steep and long-dry concrete slipway, wild rides perched in the back of a rusting blue pick-up truck through corn fields … oh, and all the crawdads caught in the irrigation canals running the perimeter of pastures and alfalfa fields … It’s like that, this reconnect to ginger-haired Irene who bruised and healed and bruised again, yet stood her ground with undaunted willfulness.

Words built my Irene, gave her freckles and a family which, for the most part, didn’t know how to handle the girl, much less the woman. Words constructed her worlds. From the Williamsport, Pennsylvania farm and the platform she dove from to slice into Loyalsock Creek as a girl to the Poseidon Park, Coney Island stage where she climbed into a cannon to be shot over the heads of paying spectators below—words gave these venues walls and windows, fields, ponds, farm houses and brownstones, kitchens, wall-papered bedrooms, railroad tracks and circus trains.

Reading and revising The True Life Adventures of Irene in White Tights for (what promises to be) the final draft, I came to the end and found myself already missing these fictional folks I’d brought into the world the way I miss my children and grandchildren when they visit—here for five days or a week—and gone, as if they’d only just arrived and their stay was too short. As if there were more conversations to explore, more Valentines to build with white glue, paper and glitter, more places to investigate, secrets to share, friends to introduce them to and shells to collect from the ocean’s shore.

So it is with Irene and her crew. They’ve been such a long time coming, growing into their environment … give me a sec while I figure out how to explain changes that have occurred, characters gone missing, scenes/settings which, at one time, filled pages …

You know how it is when you live in a neighborhood and gradually make the acquaintance of those who live around you, perhaps sharing cuttings and starts from your garden or recipes or cocktails at the 4 o’clock hour or coffee in the morning? Maybe you get to know more than you want (or need) to know about the nephew of this neighbor or the ex-husband/wife of that one, or the comings and goings of the mailman or too much about the personal life of the pastor at your local church or the manager of the Little League team your son or granddaughter or whoever plays on.

It’s like that—Irene introduced me to too many neighboring characters. I couldn’t leave them alone.

Regardless of how far afield they might lead me or how little they had to offer “Irene”—I wanted more and more of their personal stories. I let the novel’s neighborhood chatter take over, left Irene in a wobbly lawn chair on the periphery of the patio! (For those of you who find it difficult to follow my writing style, the gist of this is: I had to shush! the crowd. When this didn’t work, I had to ask some to leave.)

Yesterday, reaching the end of Irene’s rewrites, I wondered, “Where’s Ricky? What happened to Ricky Towne?” I found him today—day-dreaming about the bicycle shop he’d have if the world would just give him an effin’ break. A character of pimply-faced wonder, Ricky Towne was found in an early chapter on a file buried within a flashdrive at the back of a seldom used desk drawer. What a mouth that young man had, “F” words all over the place, and a bad attitude for a chair pusher on Atlantic City’s boardwalk. No surprise Ricky never earned much by way of tips on the boardwalk, or found his way into The True Life Adventures of Irene in White Tights final draft.

[He may, however, find his way into a short story. I do hate to think Ricky’s dream of a bicycle shop ended on my account … but—he’ll have to clean up his language before he finds space on my page.]

Advertisements

750words March 14 2015 ~ Tequila and Transplanting Shock

Yesterday I wrote of whales and bricks. Today, while this two-story townhouse casts cooling shade over the backyard, I should be pruning pelagoniums, removing the once broad but now thrashed and wind-shriveled leaves on the banana tree Marcelo planted, soaking the ground to dig up dozens of cana shoots, reducing the spread of red apple—lush succulent that it is—with its fiery pink blooms so loved by the bees. Instead, I’m writing.

Thus far, with the exception of one day, I’ve maneuvered 750 words plus to the page. I blame tequila for the missed day. The thing with tequila is this: It makes a person mis-remember. Or not remember at all. The thing with the missed day is that I know I began my 750 and believed I’d completed them only to find, on the following day, I hadn’t. This lapse may have been age-related, but I choose to blame it on the tequila. Why? Because tequila intake is by choice; aging and memory loss due to aging—is not. By opting for tequila as cause, I avoid the unavoidable proof of a failing brain. Did I, in fact, have tequila on the third of March, the missing day in question? I haven’t a clue …

By May, I will be gone from here, moved to a different place. I will miss my garden: its sandy paths through the red apple groundcover; the palm trees Fernando planted when they were mere pups—barely a foot tall—not even close to the tall dogs they’re meant to become; yucca starts that took hold in this ground after Jennifer brought them to me; creamy white blooms of the calla lilies happily shaded beneath a wall of magenta bougainvillea; mounds and leafy galloping stems of white, purple and pink African daisies; vining tendrils of orange and yellow nasturtium … yes, I will miss all of this. This greening and growing. The chaos of it all. I’ll even miss the weeds.

There are things I can take, dig up and replant at the new place. The double-orange hibiscus must leave Rancho Santini with me just as it left Hacienda Villa de Floresta and the tiny casita where I lived when Jo Ann delivered it into my hands as a house-warming-bienvenidos-welcoming gift. For a time, that hibiscus and I lived at Terraznos in a big party house on the hill across from Calafia; for another spell, the hibiscus in its pot adorned the front porch of the pink house in Rosarito centro before moving with me to Plaza del Mar’s Los Arcos section into Doug and Anna’s charming cabana (which no longer exists). Another move—up the hill from the cabana—the hibiscus occupied an upstairs patio with a view of sea and dolphins at play while I occupied a studio apartment and enjoyed the comforts and friendship of my landlady, Ruth.

So many moves (five) in so few years (three) … it’s a wonder she’s survived. (I think of this particular hibiscus with its double-orange blossoms as female, representational of Judith Hollahan, a precious friend who lost a nasty battle with cancer before a sufficiency of tick-marks decorated her bucket list, a friend who loved “orange” in every possible way—from nail polish to crockery, lipstick to flowers—and is, very likely, the reason I signed the first lease on the tiny casita south of the border. Judith’s death, a few weeks before I traveled south to “visit” a friend, caused me to consider my own “bucket list.” Living in Mexico may not have been on the list when I arrived—but it was once I got here. End of story.)

For three and a half years, I’ve put down roots at Rancho Santini. The double-orange went into the ground here; she’s blossomed as never before, happy beside a deep-pink blooming sister I purchased in early 2014. I’ll take them when I go, dig a hole in new ground, nurture them with food and water, watch them grow, become lovely again after the shock of transplanting. I’ll do the same with the flax, with the blue agave (a gift from Fernando), with the calla lily and new starts of African daisies.

Hmm … all this “missing” business filling the screen … Am I suffering an early onset of the “shock of transplanting”? If so, let it be. Let it come. Bring me a shot of tequila as the sun sets. Let me grieve for what I’m leaving behind. And forget. There’s new ground waiting, a new place to settle into, take root, blossom as, perhaps, I haven’t yet done. I can become lovely again. I will. In time.

750words March 14 2015 ~ Tequila and Transplanting Shock

Yesterday I wrote of whales and bricks. Today, while this two-story townhouse casts cooling shade over the backyard, I should be pruning pelagoniums, removing the once broad but now thrashed and wind-shriveled leaves on the banana tree Marcelo planted, soaking the ground to dig up dozens of cana shoots, reducing the spread of red apple—lush succulent that it is—with its fiery pink blooms so loved by the bees. Instead, I’m writing.

Thus far, with the exception of one day, I’ve maneuvered 750 words plus to the page. I blame tequila for the missed day. The thing with tequila is this: It makes a person mis-remember. Or not remember at all. The thing with the missed day is that I know I began my 750 and believed I’d completed them only to find, on the following day, I hadn’t. This lapse may have been age-related, but I choose to blame it on the tequila. Why? Because tequila intake is by choice; aging and memory loss due to aging—is not. By opting for tequila as cause, I avoid the unavoidable proof of a failing brain. Did I, in fact, have tequila on the third of March, the missing day in question? I haven’t a clue …

By May, I will be gone from here, moved to a different place. I will miss my garden: its sandy paths through the red apple groundcover; the palm trees Fernando planted when they were mere pups—barely a foot tall—not even close to the tall dogs they’re meant to become; yucca starts that took hold in this ground after Jennifer brought them to me; creamy white blooms of the calla lilies happily shaded beneath a wall of magenta bougainvillea; mounds and leafy galloping stems of white, purple and pink African daisies; vining tendrils of orange and yellow nasturtium … yes, I will miss all of this. This greening and growing. The chaos of it all. I’ll even miss the weeds.

There are things I can take, dig up and replant at the new place. The double-orange hibiscus must leave Rancho Santini with me just as it left Hacienda Villa de Floresta and the tiny casita where I lived when Jo Ann delivered it into my hands as a house-warming-bienvenidos-welcoming gift. For a time, that hibiscus and I lived at Terraznos in a big party house on the hill across from Calafia; for another spell, the hibiscus in its pot adorned the front porch of the pink house in Rosarito centro before moving with me to Plaza del Mar’s Los Arcos section into Doug and Anna’s charming cabana (which no longer exists). Another move—up the hill from the cabana—the hibiscus occupied an upstairs patio with a view of sea and dolphins at play while I occupied a studio apartment and enjoyed the comforts and friendship of my landlady, Ruth.

So many moves (five) in so few years (three) … it’s a wonder she’s survived. (I think of this particular hibiscus with its double-orange blossoms as female, representational of Judith Hollahan, a precious friend who lost a nasty battle with cancer before a sufficiency of tick-marks decorated her bucket list, a friend who loved “orange” in every possible way—from nail polish to crockery, lipstick to flowers—and is, very likely, the reason I signed the first lease on the tiny casita south of the border. Judith’s death, a few weeks before I traveled south to “visit” a friend, caused me to consider my own “bucket list.” Living in Mexico may not have been on the list when I arrived—but it was once I got here. End of story.)

For three and a half years, I’ve put down roots at Rancho Santini. The double-orange went into the ground here; she’s blossomed as never before, happy beside a deep-pink blooming sister I purchased in early 2014. I’ll take them when I go, dig a hole in new ground, nurture them with food and water, watch them grow, become lovely again after the shock of transplanting. I’ll do the same with the flax, with the blue agave (a gift from Fernando), with the calla lily and new starts of African daisies.

Hmm … all this “missing” business filling the screen … Am I suffering an early onset of the “shock of transplanting”? If so, let it be. Let it come. Bring me a shot of tequila as the sun sets. Let me grieve for what I’m leaving behind. And forget. There’s new ground waiting, a new place to settle into, take root, blossom as, perhaps, I haven’t yet done. I can become lovely again. I will. In time.

750words March 13, 2015 ~ Whales and Bricks

On May 1, 2015, I will live in a different house with a different view of the ocean. Olga has said the whales cruise close to the shore there as they make their way north from the lagoon at Guerrero Negro, close enough to see the babies jump and play.

Last night I fell asleep thinking of Guerrero Negro and the baby whale who rested above the water on his mother’s back, offering those of us in the panga (boat) his or her gaze from an innocent blue eye, that eye large and unwavering as it scanned us, the mother whale holding place alongside the boat and near enough for our human hands to reach out and stroke her offspring.

I thought about humans, our distrust of our own species, and tried to imagine myself with an infant or toddler or juvenile child, the child cradled or held by the hand as we approached a gathering of people never previously met. I imagined the stance we might take to observe those strangers—perhaps wearing turbans, feathered headdresses, striped muslin gowns, denim pants with the crotch bagged down to the knees, backward ball caps, pink spiked hair, safety pins laced through lips and/or eyebrows, loin cloths, less than loin cloths, etc.—and if I could or would allow them to touch and run hands over my baby/child/loved one.

I wouldn’t. This kind of behavior is not in my DNA.

Then I tried imagining introducing my offspring to a flock of geese, a family of coyotes or orangutans, a colony of ants, a hillside warren of rabbits, bears (any color or size), alligators, ostriches, elephants, yaks, racoons and any number of other terrestrial creatures.

Imagination failed. Although, I must say, not as dramatically as it failed while visualizing sharing (introducing) my young to strangers of my own species.

Eventually, I drifted into sleep. No dreams come to mind as I write this. If they came, they came quietly and left on tiptoe.

Now, I consider the days until I’ll live at the new location. Will the gray whales still be migrating north with their young—those miraculously inquisitive and trusting creatures? Will I take the time to watch for them, plant a chair of adequate height near the balustraded property edge and rest elbows on the top railing, binoculars in hand? Will I need binoculars if they migrate as near the shore as Olga has indicated? Of course, I may miss the migration north. The weather is unseasonably hot and sightings along the coast occur with frequency according to friends with such views.

Movement. Migration. Trust. How we glide through life currents. How different are lives—from whale to woman to child to Monarch butterfly? First steps. First flights. First breach by a youthful gray whale among Guerrero Negro’s calm waters or from the swells of the blue-gray-green Pacific Ocean.

Later steps and glides and slides—tempos at passages ever swifter—until days seemingly pass as if seconds, months as if days.

At 68, recent years are a tumble of formed bricks at my feet, bricks shaped by choices I’ve made and fired by blazing experiences. All recyclable. Nothing is lost. Even the dust of what was once mortar flies off to another horizon, becomes part of another landscape, or sediment, cool under its blanket of water. What does that mean? What am I trying to voice with this misshapen pile of rubble meant to be a metaphor of time (my time) and experience, what I’ve built out of life and what I’ve either (1) allowed to crumble through negligence, (2) intentionally dismantled, or (3) witnessed the forces of nature disassemble.

A line from Sense & Sensibility, a line I won’t quote properly comes to mind: Nothing is lost which cannot be again found.

I think that’s what I’m trying to voice. What is lost, what tumbles down—can be again found, rebuilt. The shape won’t be the same; textures and colors will differ … but maybe, just maybe, new configurations will wear more comfortably, stand stronger against whatever nature may throw their way. Who can say?

Finally, what does all of this have to do with the whales? Let’s say it has to do with their ability to “trust” what’s out there when they breach, break the horizon line with great exhalations, spume rising all but invisibly against a backdrop of blue; it has to do with their great gray-blue inquisitive eyes; with their migratory patterns and timing, their generational runs north and south, south and north.

I’ll be heading farther south shortly (six weeks is a minute these days). Yes, let’s say the whales are the vehicle I’ve opted for to carry the metaphorical bricks of a life I’ve chosen (and continue to choose) to live. May not work for every reader. Doesn’t have to—so long as it works for me. And at the moment, it does.

750words Apr 14, 2014 ~ Gone Astray. The Words.

Gone astray. The words. They were there in the middle of a pasture of green thoughts and when I looked off in search of one, all the others disappeared. If I had a boss, I don’t know what he might say. Might even fire me from this current position I hold. If he did, how he would go about advertising for a replacement?

Wanted: Reasonable speller although, with spellcheck as a back-up, reasonable may be asking more than is required. Must know the difference between “where” and “were.” Would also be to applicant’s advantage if the “to” “too” and “two” problem of which to choose is a known. Dress codes are not applicable for fieldwork during word herd tending. Must provide own imagination and arrive on time with details at the ready to fill stanchions placed here and there at the edge of the meadow. Employer prefers applicants experienced in word culling, a history of separating weaker members of the herd from the stronger. Sturdy yet comfortable shoes will be a plus as the words often stray out of sight and into surrounding woods. A stick is also advised as the beasts are sometimes stubborn, unwilling to move without a good poke or solid thwack of encouragement. Word counts at the end of each shift are a must. The herd will fluctuate in numbers—this is a side effect of good husbandry and expertise, as mentioned earlier, in culling methods. Noxious “thats” and articles (“the” and “a”) should be weeded from otherwise nutritious green swards of clever clover whenever possible. Articles are often difficult to see; applicant should have a good back for stooping low, knee pads for crawling and keeping his/her nose to the ground in search of these pesky interlopers. Pay is next to nothing and what is paid is offered not in cash but as barter. Applicant works the herd of words with applicant’s imagination and receives, in trade for hours and frustrations, permission to work.

I don’t have a boss. Other than me. So what’s all the above nonsense about? Finding a new me to shepherd the words? Yes. I think that’s exactly what it’s about. I’ve embarrassed myself. Vanity. Thinking what I write, how I herd the words and cull and cajole and spoil the words is better than it is. Thinking when I enter them at the State Fair I’ll be the one winning blue ribbons—not Best in Show—but blue, red or white ribbons to hang on the walls of imagination. Marks of success. Kudos from friends. Applause. Atta-girls. Ovations. Silly me.

I have comfortable sturdy shoes for chasing down and rounding up what’s gone missing. I also have stone bruises on both feet. And worn out knees from crawling through the lushness of what’s good to weed out what’s bad. Additionally, my vision’s gone. Not entirely, but very much depleted, very much dulled. If I can’t see the bad, how can I pull it out by the roots?

You can see my dilemma, can’t you? How difficult it is to lace-up the boots of brown writing and tie off the laces in neat double-knotted bows, to trudge into the valley where words huddle in groups hungry and waiting for stanchions to be filled with details I’ll haul there in buckets. They shouldn’t be so heavy, these details. They’re only airy images of places visited (Italy, Greece, Mexico, Brooklyn, Raleigh, Ann Arbor, Jamaica), houses lived in (on the ranch, above the college, behind Thrifty’s Drugs, near the creek, at ocean’s edge), emotions felt (rage, betrayal, pride, love, love, love), and scents–the perfumes and sweat worn by the living and dead. Yet when they stack upon one another for what seems eternity, they bring this writer to her knees (and not in search of worrying articles).

Foolish writer, me. Wanting a cheering section. What I need to do is imagine myself as a cross-country skier, alone, in the cold, exhilarated, clouds of moist air pushed from my lungs leading the way up a hill and down a slope on a path nonexistent before my skis made visible tracks. Alone, working hard. Managing the trail from station to station. From one cup of steaming hot story to the next.

Or a surfer. I could be on a board, feet dangled in the water, watching the horizon from a seated position. Watching the white caps if there’s wind. Watching gulls soar and swoop. Waiting for words to roll in swells. Words I can ride from the deep to shore.

750words Feb 12 2015 ~ Ellen Bass & Me & Two Odes

Because I’m stuck I’m writing words not mine to establish a pattern of sound and rhythm. The initial words belong to Ellen Bass, the poem is:

Ode to the God of Atheists

The god of atheists won’t burn you at the stake
or pry off your fingernails. Nor will it make you
bow or beg, rake your skin with thorns,
or buy gold leaf or stained-glass windows.
It won’t insist you fast or twist
the shape of your sexual hunger.
There are no wars fought for it, no women stoned for it.
You don’t have to veil your face for it
or bloody your knees.
You don’t have to sing.

The plums bloom extravagantly,
the dolphins stitch sky to sea.
Each pebble and fern, pond and fish
is yours whether or not you believe.

When fog is ripped away
just as a rust-red shadow slides across the moon,
the god of atheists isn’t rewarding you
for waking in the middle of the night
and shivering barefoot in the field.

This god is not moved by the musk
of incense or bowls of oranges,
the mask brushed with cochineal,
polished rib of the lion.
Eat the macerated leaves
of the sacred plant. Dance
till the stars blur to a spangly river.
Rain, if it comes, will come.
This god loves the virus as much as the child.

*

So, the above is the Ellen Bass poem. Now to come up with an appropriate subject other than the god of atheists … and not a god. I think I’ll run with a house. The house of (what?) … The house of love? The house of death? The house of loneliness? The house of happiness?

The House of Happiness

The house of happiness will make your face ache
and drum songs on your sternum. It’s not like the house
of sad, of lonely, of broken,
or wooded with coffins satin-lined.
It makes no promises nor expects
cartoon hearts to float from your eyes.
There are no window curtains, no locks on its doors.
You don’t have to knock your knuckles raw
or ring bloody bells.
You do need to step in.

The rooms are organza,
the decor is vanilla ice cream.
Each sofa and lamp, bed and bowl
is an apple or bon-bon treat.

When day becomes evening,
when lavender spokes wheel the dome of sky,
the house of happiness won’t begrudge you
for walking the shores of midnight, or returning
with sand-glittered feet.

This house welcomes what falls away,
the silica shine of journeys,
the nacre-blushed debris,
totems of chocolate.
Sleep the dreamed sleep
of lambs curled against ewes. Laugh
till stones burble songs down high mountains.
Tears, if they come, will spring.
This house welcomes you, welcomes every lost one.

*

Ok. It’s done. Unedited, but done for the moment–these words replacing a master poet’s words. Ellen Bass is fantastic. Not to be trifled with, not to be matched. Ode to the God of Atheists is a poem found in Like a Beggar — a book full of exquisite work. An apology seems in order:

Dear Ellen,
Forgive me for trespassing, wandering onto your property, taking the paths you’ve created and redecorating your lovely garden of words with different bouquets. Without permission or invitation, I’ve spent time with a blanket thrown down in your forest. Will it help if I mention Prayer, the poem gracing the back cover of Like a Beggar? The opening line: “Once I wore a dress liquid as vodka.” (Who can resist wanting more?) Will it help if I encourage every reader of this flimsy blog of mine to buy Like a Beggar? Such a feast, this book. Such a feast.

I have no excuse for my actions here, other than a desire to improve my skills as a wordsmith. Who better to follow than you? (Yes, Mary Oliver … but her books are not within reach at the moment.)

Respectfully, lynn

*

It’s a thing I do, this imitation of other writers. I’m never certain about the right or wrong of my efforts. I don’t want or mean to plagiarize. I try not to directly repeat the words of others. It’s the rhythm, the sounds, the abrupt change of directions, the use of similes and metaphors, adjectives, adverbs, etc. that I go for–or the absence of same. It’s the syllables, the beat, the simplicity or complexity of syntax, the story arc, the movement from A to B to C, the assonance, alliteration, the esses and efs and hisses, the magic of words a maestra has spellbound me with–and I just can’t seem to stop reaching for that.