REPORT A PROBLEM
Paragraphs. Paragraph construction, putting sentences together. Procrastination in putting said sentences on paper or screen. Topic manipulation to alter procrastinating writer: how do you make varicose veins sound the least bit interesting to the average citizen? Poking a hole in someone’s thigh, then ripping those little non-working suckers right out of your leg—this is not your everyday dinner topic. Bring out the laser, that all-purpose surgical miracle. The question is no longer about what a laser can do; it’s what it can’t do. It’s zapped its own list. But what it can’t do is write my article for me.
Why is it when I try to write, some old alligator or crocodile decides to chomp his way into the fray? They skulk behind every tadpole of an idea, seize control of my pen as if it’s some juicy leg steak. Alligators that chime the hour, crocodiles whose eyes follow my movement across the page…they manage to lurch their way into images of sultry, summer evenings. Drab green or brown, bony plated, these are not happy little backyard visitors, splashing in the pool, ingesting vegetation in the off chance a better meal floats by their snouts. I can’t escape them.
Guilt sucks. It’s heavy and unbending, nagging at you at inopportune moments, like when you’re in the middle of teaching kids how to use a thesaurus. You’re writing all these words on the board, they’re looking up synonyms and antonyms, and suddenly, some word they want to use reminds you that you’re a schmuck because you told someone a white lie. So what the other person was pushy, putting you on the spot. You reckon she won’t ever catch on. My mother used to do that to my dad all the time. So despite everything, I’m just like her. Figures.
Thesaurus hopping is a great way to get the kids to loosen up their vocabulary. A good lesson when all they’ve done for two days is write paragraph after paragraph, practicing order and theme and purpose and all that boring grammar stuff. It’s supposed to be a creative class, not another form of regurgitating rules. Here’s where they get a chance to break those rules. It all started when we discovered a mistake in our lesson, words that made no sense the way they were used. So now they’ve become word-lovers extraordinaire, hunting down the best expressions—my Logophile Bunch.
I wonder how K can manage to manipulate her life so she fits every mold. It doesn’t make any sense. Don’t people see through her? Unless she’s 162 years old, or perhaps her experience adds up to 15 or 20 minutes on the job as an assistant for the moment. Reminds me of that basketball star who wrote an autobiographical account about his sexual prowess with women. Said he had sex with over 20,000 during the height of his career. Mr. Quickie of the basketball court. Sex under the bleachers after he fouled out on the floor. Get real, K.
It’s almost fall. When all the leaves shrivel and curl after bursting with a last blast of color, bright dots of orange, yellow, or red against the cold sky. I like fall. I like spring, too—at least I used to. I can still remember the first grass, hesitant as it shoved itself from slumber, stretching toward the warming sun. As soon as I saw those specks of green, I grabbed my coat and sketchpad, racing to capture the first moments of new life sprouting from withered branches. That was before, when earthbound was nothing more than a spelling word.
So if I’m excited at the prospect of another grandchild, why do tears fill my eyes and my chest heave with longing? I have no desire to bring forth new life into the fray. It’s my daughter’s time to feel the tug of innocence at her breast, listen for the coos and gurgles, the pitter-patter of baby feet, wake to the music of morning laughter…yet irrational jealousy tugs at my brain. My father would understand. He surrounded himself with more than a baker’s dozen. No, I don’t want more. I have the memories, and they are sufficient. It’s Jeni’s turn.
Meandering through Victoria’s Secret yesterday, I noticed few pieces for anyone of “normal” size. Except the bras. Big is in again, and enhanced cleavage, second skin contraptions in a full array of sizes favoring pinks over blues, cream, and white, were everywhere, mixed with corsets and peignoirs. The face of an elderly man, blushing profusely behind his whiskers as his wife tugged at his arm, insisting he help her pick out a new bra, is forever engrained on my neurons. He seemed as uncomfortable as the myriad of wires and stiff cups that didn’t actually look like they covered anything.
I wonder what would have happened if…words that open up a myriad of scenes and possibilities along the time continuum, all dependent on one action at a specific moment. What if I had said no instead of yes to a date with the soccer team captain? What if I hadn’t talked to David? My interest, if you will, is digging out those scenes and possibilities—a curiosity for sequential equations. If A=B=C, then A=C, right? Maybe—but after B left, something could have happened. What I want to know is, why did B leave, and did A and C care?
I wonder what would have happened if Robby had lived instead of died. Would we have been as close as Raymond and I were? He would have been twenty years older, so we wouldn’t have had much in common when I was young. What about later, after he’d married, had kids? He was loner, according to my father, so he might not have married. He was the first of us to seriously explore art, and he love magic and mystery. I have a haunting image of him dealing cards from a special deck—hollow eyes, pale, waiting for our call.
There’s a fine line between tasteful and overkill. I appreciate and respect the need to reconnect with those that have been lost to tragedy, but all this flag-waving disturbs me. Such nonsense brought us barreling into Vietnam, a war that never was, and for some, a devastating sense of utter failure. I was there when 18-year-olds returned home, shell-shocked, their eyes vacant and unresponsive. I was there when husbands returned to wives with fewer parts and lesser minds, mere wisps of who they once were. Patriotism is one thing, but this “kill or be killed” mentality rings hauntingly of jihad.
There is an hypnotic soothingness to watching a twig of incense burn, more than the twirls of smoke climbing past the computer beasties that line my monitor, trailing hints of sandalwood and other spices as they float upward. More than the pinprick-sized red glow from the base of the long ash that splits, then slowly descends toward the desktop. Delicate fibers coil, encompass the burning
in a fragile weave of cinders. Soft powdery film clings to the censer, coats the ceramic dish. Crickets, cicadas sing into the pending darkness; a cool breeze pushes the aroma onward…there is harmony here.
The house was always full from the time I can remember. Not that it was a big house. In reality, it wasn’t even a house. It was an apartment, nothing more than a four-room afterthought planted on top of an old bungalow. For some reason, the owner thought it would sell better with two floors. Maybe he wanted to give it some presence, stuck as it was between a three-story tenement and a stately Victorian house, complete with turrets, porch, and sculpted primrose garden. It didn’t work, but to the kid that I was, it didn’t matter. It was home.
We were not the Brady Bunch. Three sisters in one room, sharing one bed…the adventures were, shall we say, on the unique side of the scale. Mother often threatened us with sending us to one of three places—summer school, the convent, or reform school. Not that it mattered much. The big, wide steel contraption we slept in was perfect as a playground. The springs were coiled so tight that our heads grazed the plaster ceiling every time we jumped. So high off the floor that we held spy meetings, told ghost stories in the dark. Once, we played hopscotch.
About that hopscotch…we drew squares on the bedspread Mother crocheted and patched together for us. It was difficult to see white chalk against yellow cotton, but Geri traced it with black from her paintbox. We didn’t get to play very long, though, because Carolyn had to go and fall off the edge. Geri said she really wasn’t hurt, that scratches were known to bleed a lot, but I figured we couldn’t take any chances. We tried to make her stop crying, but masking tape wasn’t as good as the stuff Daddy used on the pipes. Baby sisters are no fun.
Geri loved to draw. Never saw her without a pencil or crayon. She was the first to grab the paint set at Christmas. Always making decorations for the windows and icebox. Daddy loved Geri’s stuff. Just like Robbie, he said. Robbie was the one who died. Daddy said he had some disease in the head that made him burn alive with fever. That’s why we never met him. But there were pictures. My favorite was taken when Robbie was eight. He looked as if he were staring into space, as if he knew he was going away soon, someplace happy.
Victim of manipulation survives onslaught of theatrics by incensed alumna…I’ve never had someone cry before when I turned down a job. Makes me suspicious. I respect the person. I even like her. But fall to pieces because I choose not to complicate my life further? I wanted to shout, “Get real!” but all I could do was force my face to reshape itself away from the open-jaw look and rework my eyes so they remained sober, not lit like a birthday cake. Then to be told she’d wait for me. Until? I’ve half a mind to check in next year.
Husband and wife, poets and teachers, they share visions and words. Artists of sound, their voices blend but never drown out the other. They are playful and poignant, jealously molding images, surprising us, delighting us, sharing hope and laughter. How could I choose between the two? So I didn’t. The lesser of two evils (I must look for the origin of that cliché, it evokes such curious thoughts in my brain), I left my choices to which
books I would buy. I am hopeless. But I have to believe there are books in heaven. I’ll just bring my own.
Is it possible to dislike someone just by listening to a voice chattering at you across time and space, pleasant though they may be to your ear, soothing vowels and carefully spoken consonants so that you think you know what she’s saying, except there’s this nagging tweak at the back of your suspicious little brain that tells you she’s full of shit and you want to shout it out, tell her half her son’s problems are because she’s hidden him away, disallowed his curiosity except in subjects
curious about, that if she doesn’t let him continue, you’ll haunt her?
Alumna. Part of something lasting, memorable, meaningful—or is part of that hoping that’s what it is? I see these women, some gray, some still shining with the grandiose expectations of youth, and the bond that holds us together despite our age, background, politics, religion, or final destination, is visible in the desire to share stories, memories, and dreams that bring us back together year after year as we welcome new faces into the fold and bid farewell to those faces gone to rest. We are women, strong in heart, determination, and courage as we bring our vision to bear.
Politicking, my father called it, that oozing sweet talk hovering around pockets of men and women gathered beneath trees older than grandparents, each striving for the semblance of sincerity as they say what’s on their minds, maneuvering their words around God’s honest truth without making promises they can’t keep. Amid personal anecdotes of life beyond the red brick walls, they blend voices of concern or question for inevitable changes wrought by circumstances beyond their control with words of hope for administration’s ability to meet challenges wrought by issues at home and abroad. Opinions abound, lines drawn. Go Etas, go Evens!
So you think you have it all figured out when someone reminds you that there is more to gay relationships than the physical, that relationships no matter the preference are complex, organic entities consuming oxygen, expelling carbon dioxide, sharing the weight of how to let another go without too many bruised feelings and a blitz of tears. Poignancy in the midst of passion, discretion the better part of valor when faced with jealousy or ridicule: I stand, hat in hand, subdued, disquieted by my lack of perception, working to remove the veil of ignorance from my soul. Forgive me, friend.
Trouble in paradise…again. She really thought there’d be less hassle, less problems with the mundane. After all, it’s a bigger area, but then space is limited. But no, she has plenty of outlets, but they hooked up her cable wrong. What about the new television she bought? Thought it was a good deal, but she forgot to look at the fine print. Doesn’t have all the features she had on her old one. More windows to look out of means more glass to clean off puppy dog nose prints. It’s noisy, crowded, most neighbors are college kids. I miss her.
Her old place is rented, haven’t seen but one person yet. Doesn’t look like there are any kids or pets hovering about the doorframe. New carpeting, fresh paint fumes seeping through seams not quite sealed. No more footsteps and snorts along the baseboard, remnant echoes of friendship scanning innumerable photographs, crippled, crumbling corners tentatively wedged against the ridge of glass, preserving history and memory with the touch of a button. Lewis and Clark stare at the door, waiting for that oversized creature to make an appearance but he doesn’t show. They don’t realize he’s elsewhere chasing down shadows. Lucky them.
To accept or not to accept the inevitable pathway that stretches before me now that teaching has become my daily convention—that is the quandary. Whether it’s self-sacrificing to bear the chucks and slugs of kismet, or strengthen resolve against onslaught of well-meaning yet unsolicited petitions for extended devotion to duty, and thereby through divergence halt them? Do I give up the ghost in the name of faith, faith for an uncertain future, that undiscovered country of my dreams? There is no shame in capitulation when submission is for a cause most necessary. Sleep? Nay. No sleep when children suffer.
The Bobbsey Twins have nothing on me. Adventures lurk around every corner. Just when you think you’re safe, when you’ve got it all planned down to the last minute detail, something inevitably arises that throws a wrench in the works, and the Murphy’s Law against Day Timers takes over, giving you ten minutes to eat a full course meal because you’ve wasted the other forty or so staring at trinkets that no one in their right mind would buy, except perhaps you might need some more muffin cups, after all they’re only a dollar. Japanese food doesn’t reheat very well.
You think there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, then someone snuffs it out, right when you weren’t looking. Sure you know he needs the time, but now there’s some fat dude with red hair and freckles who’ll be breathing down your neck for a week just to justify letting the kid stay in the program. After all, you might be called on the carpet because of the way you use chalk instead of dry erase markers that smell like dead squirrels rotting in the corner as soon as you pull off the cap. I hate this crap.
I wonder how many others feel they have inherited memories from someone when they let their minds wander along the hidden recesses of thought and imagination…there is a sense of being out of oneself that arises, as if you’re no longer you but another entity with a whole other life experience to feel, to share, to explore. Are these the shadows of a schizophrenia that never was? Has fantasy and reality overlapped without my knowledge? Yet I don’t think of myself in the “real world” as someone else, or parts of me as independent individuals…is that the difference? I wonder.
Is there a magic pill somewhere that can eliminate procrastination and obstinance against completion of a project that you loathe? Especially if you’ve already done the damn thing once, but of course something cursed the file, chomped bits and pieces away so that it floated into the ether, nowhere to be found, never to return at least in your lifetime. I want to clone my mind, xerox the details, write by osmosis. Nothing emerges from the page. White space calls to me; I ignore it. The tape recorder stares at me from the desktop; I turn away. God help me.
A month in the life of a writer, ruminations abound, queries, questions with no hope for answers tacked along the wallboard, waiting for attention. Notes to self, reminders of dates long passed, faded kudos pale against tan cork, stuffed into crevices for safekeeping in case I need an uplifting moment. Evidence of some practicality and concern for environment with recycled scratch paper—why someone would pay for something like that is beyond me, with all the scraps that line my blotter. Do I dare toss the lot into the wastebin? What if I need a word? Maybe keep another month.
The Tip Jar