Friday, August 27, 2010


            He was seated at one of those rickety bistro tables that try to look chic in some part of town that tries to look French, or at least multi-cultural.
            He had a pipe with him, un-lit, because he thought it might make him more distinguished, but he didn’t know how to hold the damn thing in his mouth. On the side? Sticking out perpendicular to his nose? Or at a jaunty angle to his jaw? And how did it stay in? You couldn’t press gently with your lips like with a cigarette. But pursing his lips made him look like a fish. An angry one. He tried biting down on it to hold it in place and that worked for a time – but his jaw started aching from the clenching.
            He set it down on top of the paper he was reading, and looked around the other outside tables again. The street in front of him offered people to watch and laugh at and the noise was a gentle hum – as cliché as that seemed.
            He repositioned the pipe at a more pleasing angle and picked at a stray thread on his sweater. He rumpled his hair and rubbed his face with both hands, then sighed.
            She wasn’t here yet. Did he want her to come at all? He hadn’t seen her for eight years.
            And then.
            Before he could re-live the past, as he’d done countless other times, and pondered the what ifs and if onlys, she walked up the street.
            He saw her before she saw him. A confidence he remembered shown in her walk, but her lips betrayed a nervousness that delighted him. No. But that was un-charitable. He only meant that it was gratifying to know that she was nervous, too. That she’d been thinking of him, as he had of her.
            He’d known near nothing of her life after they’d moved on from each other. And that seemed so strange to him. For, once he knew the locations of the freckles on her shoulders and of that one to the left of her right kneecap. That one killed him. He always missed it when her left leg would cross the right and the freckle would be hidden for a time.
            He knew what brand of cocoa she liked and what movie reminded her of her drunken uncle. He knew her. Ah. But she knew him well.
            It occurred to him that the café he’d picked, because of – what he considered – its Frenchness, would absurdly pale from Lydia’s reality in France. And she’d see through that gesture. It was stupid to have picked this one, and she’ll see the shabbiness in comparison and transfer it to him.
            He will now be shabby, and not as good as she remembered.
            She approaches the line of black wrought iron tables and scanning, she sees him.
            She smiles and warmth floods to his elbows. Her bag slips to the floor and she sits in the chair opposite him, all in one graceful motion. Her short blond hair swings about her jaw when she sits back up. She pulls the sleeves of her tee shirt down over her hands and wraps her arms around her legs, her knees bent up under her chin.
            “I like this place. It reminds me of France,” she says. But she doesn’t look around as she says it. She only looks at him.
            This might be a good day, he thought, and cleared his throat. His hands trembled, unseen, under the tabletop. But whether from excitement or trepidation he could not tell. But then she often made him feel that way.
            “A pipe?” She raised her eyebrows.
            Fuck. He shouldn’t have brought the thing. He didn’t even smoke it. It just seemed writerly. Like it would lend credence to his three published articles and the lone manuscript he’d edited twenty-three times and still remained agent-less.
            “Oh this?” He flashed what he hoped was a comically conspiratory grin. “It’s nothing.” And he swiped it off the table clattering to the ground. He moved it over with his shoe until he was stepping on it. Invisible now. Like it had never been.
            She tilted her head at him in question. Though this also seemed cliché. A waiter came by with a coffee cup, which Lydia nodded at, and a water goblet. He pulled a menu from under his arm, placed it on the table and then expertly disappeared.
            The man opposite Lydia – sometimes he thought of himself as Adam, but other times Matt, though neither were very scholarly – just smiled and tossed the quizzical look back.
            “So tell me. Where did the world take you?” he asked.
            Her answer was slow coming, like deciding where to start with 800 puzzle pieces spread out on the table in front of you. He really had no idea what she’d say, or why, really, she’d called. She’d shared no particulars, only that she was back from some travels in Europe and wanted to see him.
            Her finger traced the rim of her mug, and she offered another smile. A coy one this time, but he saw through that right away.
            She was terrified.
            “It’s brought me back to you,” she said.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Woman on the Floor

The woman on the floor was young. In her thirties. Her bandana kept her brown curly hair, that was only hinting a few strands of gray, out of her face while she scrubbed the kitchen floor.  The smell of oven-roasted free range chicken from the Market of Choice grocery store down the block permeated the house and the woman’s stomach growled. But hunger wasn’t the only thing distracting her.
            Normally her two children fighting with each other over somebody touching somebody, or not sharing the computer echoed through her brain – combined with the two dogs racing across the hardwood floors and growling in their play – prevented complete thoughts. But today one was upstairs reading and the other was sick and taking a nap. The dogs were sleeping on the couch, each with a head resting on one of the arms.
            The woman scratched at her forehead with her wrist and sniffed. The dishwasher hummed its sloshy hum and she continued scrubbing apple cider and dirt-encrusted dog drool off the walnut floors.
            The other thing distracting her was her unsettled, restless thoughts. They ping-ponged and pinballed around the desire in her mind.
Unsettled because there was so much she craved that didn’t seem  available to her, at least right now, and she felt guilty for wanting more when she already had so much – she didn’t deserve any more blessings than she already had. She had enough. And she was filled with gratitude for those things. A loving husband; beautiful, funny, unique children; a gorgeous house; friends and food.
But restless because maybe she did deserve more. It was every person’s birthright to pursue his passion and happiness, right?
The woman dumped out the dirty water from the pink washtub and re-filled it with new, hot water after squeezing out the dishrag she knitted last Fall.
She thought of the French language books littering her office floor that begged perusal and the European cruise she longed for. She tallied up the number of friendships she’d started over the years that had faltered and dribbled into nothing. She craved the solitude of writing her novel and the peace and enjoyment she received from reading. And then she thought of all the responsibilities and self-imposed obligations that prevented her from any of those things.
Going to Europe by herself would be lonely, and she’d miss her family, but if they came with her it would be too costly, and afford no time for writing. Or reading, for that matter. And some of the people she felt drawn to befriend were ones that her family disapproved of. Sort-of. Actually, that was hardly fair and untrue to boot. Her husband didn’t disapprove of her friends, just the type of relationship she wanted, and how much time that it would take away from the rest of the family.
She craved closeness and intimacy from many people and worried and wondered again why it was that all her closer relationships petered out. She was sure she was the common denominator in this pattern, but what was it that happened, what was it that she’d do to pre-maturely end these friendships?
The woman sat on her butt and extended her right leg to give it a rest from kneeling on it. She struck out at the blackened floor again. Her elbow ached, too, and she wondered if the chicken were done yet and if she should start the rice yet.
Was it fear of closeness, despite her desire for it? Did she back away from the friendship right as the potential for closeness was realized? Was it too high of expectations for the friendship and when she was disillusioned by her own hand, she’d drift away and then think it was the other person that had done the drifting? Was it a craving for a characteristic the other person showed that was lacking in her own self that attracted her in the first place, and not any real common interests that could hold a friendship together, so that without any contributions of spirit and conversation, the friendship faded?
The woman dumped the water again and washed her hands. She rinsed out the sink and dried it with a polishing cloth, then checked on the children and let the dogs out, then back in again.
 She poured herself a mug of blackberry tea and turned on the movie “Anna and the King” with Jodie Foster and dreamed of travel because it was easier than answering those other questions.
She’d been asking them for many years; they could wait for a couple more hours.

Monday, August 23, 2010

My Writing Place -- a writing prompt

The house smells of brownies.

            My roommate is cooking lunch. My son and a new friend are playing video games in the living room in front of me. My daughter, my roommate’s daughter, and my friend’s son just came in from playing outside to remove the brownies from the oven.
            The sounds of my house include at this moment: water running from the kitchen sink, my son singing to himself, laughter, conversation, the oven door closing, the digital timer being set, the keyboard letters depressing under my fingernails, the kids’ feet stomping up the stairs, a fork scraping the bottom of a skillet on the range top, the dishwasher running, the oven heating up again from when the kids put the brownies back in because they weren’t quite done.
            Something just fell on the floor.
            Visually I am distracted as well. When I write, I am often drawn to what my peripheral vision conjures up: wine colored yarn, file folders, my camera, a candybar wrapper, a bag of cough drops.
            When I raise my eyes beyond the kitchen table that I am writing at, my craft table looms with clutter and other things I could be doing right now. Five dvds that need to be returned to Blockbuster, a ship my daughter made out of toothpicks and other pieces of wood and gave to me for my birthday, fingerless mittens, more skeins of yarn, a sewing machine and bins of notions. Also a basket of knitting needles.
            Beyond that the coffee table has folded clothes that I didn’t fold piled high. The video game graphics rush past and, though there is no sound turned off – a stipulation I had for the tv to be on at all – my son is supplying his own soundtrack.
            Kaya munches a raw carrot and the other children cut the too hot brownies. Steve cleans out the refrigerator, the trash can nearby for the moldy rotten food that we waited too long to eat.
            “I can sound like a goat,” my daughter informs our guest.
            “I can sound like a pigeon,” he counters.
            More laughter.
            My house is full of enchantment and experiences and clutter and toys and dogs and dirt and paper art on the walls. Also quotes and lists and bulletin boards. My friend says this is hard to look at. That if I took all the scraps of paper taped to kitchen cupboards down, the qi would flow better. That it would feel less scattered. That then I would feel less scattered.
            It makes sense. What she says. But I like the lists and quotes that remind me to treat my children with love and kindness and respect. That remind me of the holiness and divinity within myself and all that I meet. That remind me to eat all my vegetables and what foods have protein in them. That showcase my children’s brilliance in art – reminding them that they are loved and important and capeable of greatness. That  remind me of small things I can do to save the planet. That remind me how to build community.
            The clutter that bothers me, that affects my mood and creates those stagnancies of energy in the house, are the paper collections on horizontal surfaces. The ones that grow vertically at alarming rates. The pile on top of the stereo: Japanese flash cards and dictionaries and a sewing calendar. The pile by the back door: bills and phone numbers and scratch paper and pens and markers that are spilling out of their jar. The pile on the bar: old science dioramas, a laptop case still fresh in its packaging, laundry that is drying over bar stools, homemade candles and more paper of unknown origin.
            The dryer buzzer sounds and I wonder about the timer for this writing prompt. Only two minutes remain.
            The writing space I envision is so completely different than what I’ve just described that to say that it is laughable would be cliché and …. laughable. 
            The writing space I want is mostly silent. But how do you visualize silence? Maybe a room with the breeze blowing white gauzy curtains and no paper on the walls or flat surfaces. One where the children aren’t playing Apples to Apples with friends or squealing at the Xbox 360. One where the puppy doesn’t ring the jingle bell hanging from the back door’s knob to let me know he wants to go outside. Or where the dishwasher doesn’t remind me that another load needs to be done, or the laundry piles in the laundry room don’t remind me that I still need to pack for an upcoming trip – which then reminds me that the rest of the day holds: a counseling appointment for one of my children, a trip to the bank, a cacophony of phone calls to finalize the able-bodied friends that are helping me move a hot tub tonight and the electrician I will need to find-hire-and-pay for the hooking up of said hot tub.
            My imagined writing space will be a place of silence and harmony where distractions are minimal and where I can access the section of my soul that knows what needs to be written. The key will unlock with a delightful click and the room I enter will be fresh and new and I will write down what I see.
            Conversely, if the room the key opens – because it is different most times I go there – is alley dark with the ammonia stench of fear and shameful loathing, then the silence allows me to excavate in privacy and to take time with the slow removal of the bandaid that covers this super ouchy time in my life.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How Am I Not Myself?

"How am I not myself?" ~ I Heart Huckabees

If Art is communication -- and that makes sense to me -- what message am I trying (or what message do I want) to send? What do I want to say?

When there are no words, I go deeper. Feel inside. See in color and texture. See pictures, movements. Do I hear sounds?

Art is also self-expression, though it has been argued that even self-expression is communication. Either by receiver seeing who the artist is, or by the artist receiving as he is creating. Understanding who she is through her own artistic expression, even when no one else sees.

How am I not myself?

Cooking dinner for my family. Cooking -- for me -- is not an expression of love for my family. I don't feel love when I cook.

When I clean house, run errands, carpool and chauffeur when I'd rather be creating art: painting, writing, building with clay.

When I watch my life in a movie or read it in a book, but don't live it.

That's how I am not myself.