Writing: This Package

There is a little package I keep with me. It’s grey, with patterned white dots, fraying edges, and tied with a brown string like twine. I keep it tucked in my purse, mostly. On good days, I forget it on the bedside table. But some days, like today, I take it out and hold it in my hands, feeling the rough, cotton-fiber texture, and I tug at the corners of the wrapping, at turns tearing the edges and then smoothing them out with my dry, pruny, thin tapered fingertips.

It used to make me clench my teeth and hold my breath, this package. But now I find I can’t sit still at all, and the clenching has turned into more of a chattering or a gnashing, where before I never quite knew what it meant to “gnash one’s teeth.”

I turn the package over and over in my hands, splaying my palms against its weight. I theorize the whether and whys it all exists in the first place, hoping that comprehension will make it somehow less. That dropping it by the roadside somewhere is somehow a matter of choice.

It’s heavy, this package. But the hardest part to contemplate is the underlying sense that, if I were to actually open this package up, and strew its contents out on the floor, I’d find the whether and whys are all just trimming for the nothing that’s inside.

 

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Writing: The Button

This vignette was a free write, in response to the prompt: “Her button was undone”, from A Writer’s Book of Days.

::

She wore the blue chiffon blouse that day – the one with the finicky button that had to be turned just-so – a touch of sophistication against her gray wool skirt, a thin veneer of feminine armor in a masculine world.

She slid on her blazer, checking to make sure her portfolio was neatly tucked in her briefcase, even though she already knew it was, stepped into low-heeled pumps, and walked out her New York apartment door.

She had time, so she decided to take the metro rather than a taxi, walked the five blocks to the nearest station, stopping to grab a coffee to go from the cart on the corner. Four bucks poorer, she made her way down the dirty, mucky, filthy, banana-egg-rotten stairs, through the turnstile, past the blind beggar, down to the subway below.

Two minutes to the next train. Lines and semi-coherent groups had already begun to form, with everyone either checking watches, talking on cell phones, or staring off in the middle distance in mute pleas for mercy from the tedium of their days.

She joined the starers staring off into the middle distance in a move that might have been perfectly normal and tedious, except…

…her phone rang, and she went to grab it from her briefcase, and the finicky button at the top of her sophisticated blouse popped open, and she as well as four others saw a great gift of cleavage announce itself so spectacularly, she gave out a soft, involuntary “oh!”, and in doing so, she sloshed hot coffee across her blouse and onto a protesting bystander’s faux suede loafers. Torn between reaching her briefcase-laden hand up to cover her breasts and digging for the tissues she knew where in the upper right inside pocket, she struggled to apologize but all three impulses crammed in her brain, so all she could accomplish was a semi-ridiculous grin, which the offended bystander seemed to take entirely the wrong way, as he looked at her as though she’d sprouted cabbages for ears. And before she could explain, there was the train and the sudden crush of people streaming off and streaming on, until she was quite alone on the platform, coffee dripping over her hand, clinging to her briefcase – which was still emitting an increasingly demanding tune – and staring down at her breasts on absurd display. In a tardy lament, she reflected it might have been more fortuitous to wear the pullover instead.

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In search of celestial orbs

In college, I once took an Astronomy class, and despite the valiant efforts of an enthusiastic professor, I slept my way through most of it. I took the class because I wanted to learn more about planets and stars, wormholes and black holes, but soon got lost in equations to calculate the size of Neptune by multiplying the velocity of mars by the trajectory of whatever divided by the appearance of such-and-such comet every three years, and…snooze.

My husband is very science-minded and remembers details like which dinosaurs lived in the Cretaceous period, which are stalactites and which are stalagmites, and could probably calculate a trajectory given force and wind.

I have no mind for such details, and I took that Astronomy class not to fill my head with them, but because I wanted to daydream about celestial bodies. Somehow the mathematical equations robbed the subject of its mystery and wonder and I found that I didn’t want to capture knowledge so much as I wanted to seize awe and childlike fascination. Equations were not the truth I wanted to know.

Years later, I pursued post-graduate degrees in political science on a quest to understand culture and identity, to find the vocabulary to encapsulate the clash of emotions I felt growing up as a mixed-race child in a multi-cultural household, that sense of being half, and half, and never quite whole. There, I found still more equations and long-winded debates about the importance of culture in shaping perceptions and whether it matters, and feeling myself intellectually frustrated when my heart was already screaming its answer, yes. But your heart doesn’t get published in a world that privileges science.

It was then I decided that science could never capture truth in a way that spoke to my heart, not about the things most important to it anyhow, the fundamental questions of my being.

Maybe that’s because what I want to encapsulate is not truth so much as it is that feeling of awe and submission upon beholding it. I don’t want to meet the Wizard after all, except to approach him asymptotically, and continue along the yellow brick road. I’m not interested in the shadows on the Platonic cave wall, either, you see. I walk towards the light. But I want to stay in that little sweet space just past dawning realization and just before blinding.

Because once you know Truth, once you have that mathematical equation in your hand, whatever happens to Wonder?

I want to wonder.

 


This post was written in response to the prompt “Write about an unfamiliar subject,” from Judy Reeves’ A Writer’s Book of Days, a highly recommended book for writerly inspiration. If you feel the need to Just Write, join in at Heather’s

Just Write: A Party of Two

I don’t cook in metric measurements. Not even for new recipes. I weigh proportions by sight, balance flavors by feel, adjust spice by sight, and judge doneness by smell. I let feminine intuition guide me; the more special the dinner, the more I trust my instincts. I know that squeezing limes by hand makes them taste better, that substituting dried galangal is fine but only fresh lemongrass will do, and that saving a smidge of coconut milk for the last second before shutting off the flame heightens the layers of richness.

But that’s for my family of two.

When I cook for more people, more sweat is involved. The timing is thrown off. The pan doesn’t get hot enough. The flavors become less bold and less savory, losing their balance until that rich coconut soup flounders in a thin, watery mess. What I cook is adequate, but never catches that first bite that makes the sides of your mouth weep. No matter what I do, there is always something just shy of right.

It makes me wonder if the only way I cook is for a party of two. I know two like the feel of falling into my own bed at night. There is a rhythm there that works. It’s comfortable. It fits. It may be that I simply work by muscle memory, knowing the exact sweep of the hand and flick of the wrist to work for two people. I may get befuddled by four or more now, but could learn to accommodate it with time and conscientious practice, until four becomes more natural than two ever was. But there aren’t four. There are only two, and sometimes I wonder if two is all I was ever built to cook for.

 

Do you ever feel like you need to just write?
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Just Write

Through a crack in the door, I see a shaft of light. It shines downward into the dark crevice of the room. There are voices outside, happy, chatting, laughing; the sound of cocktail glasses clinking and holiday music playing softly in the background. It does not invite. Instead, I sit here in the dark, staring at that one beam of light shining golden yellow into its dark surrounds.

I am not cold, but still I enfold myself deeper into the blanket. The noises of the party fade, my attention is focused so steadily on that light.

Why am I so mesmerized by it? It casts angles onto the floor, highlighting the edge of the rug and a forgotten sock. The shapes of immobile objects in the room are unseen, but implied.

It’s the light that calls. So brazen. So resolute. So sure of itself.

I fall back onto the bed and tug the blanket over my shoulders. I do not sleep. I watch the light coming through the crack in the door.

Someone clicks it off.

 

Just Writing: Shaped Like Stars


Do you dream?

I do. From the time I wake up in the morning to the time I go to bed at night.

Okay, so that line is pilfered from Playing By Heart, one of my all time favorite movies. But the sentiment is true – probably why it has stayed with me all these years. One day I want to go on a ride through a magic fairyland where there are camels that carry honey milk and tree frogs sing like Lenny Kravitz. And where there’s clovers. Lots and lots of clovers shaped like stars. I’d drink from butterscotch fountains and sail on rafts of cardamom.

This place in my mind is one that is unfolding even as I think it, shifting and morphing with whatever word pops up next in my head. It’s not about the particulars so much as the feeling: innocence and wonder and things so imaginably unimaginable. It’s a place where the wind blows in your hair just right and there’s sunshine glistening down like diamonds.

And tomorrow I’ll dream of another place. One with sunflowers or castles and thick foreign accents. I’ll dream of saying all the things I never thought to say before and I’ll make up entire people in my head who surprise me when they show me who they really are. Because characters will do that to you: unfold like real human beings – so never trust your first impressions. But that’s when I trust most that the characters are good – when they’ve shown me who they are.

I dream and dream and dream, because I think that everything I’ve ever learned about life is hidden in the thoughts I never knew to think.

It’s when I wander that they find me.

“Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.” ~ Allen Ginsberg

 Join in Just Write with Heather at The Extraordinary Ordinary!

Things That Enter By Way of Silence

There’s a book that I believe should reside on every writer’s bookshelf. It’s called A Writer’s Book of Days, by Judy Reeves. I met Judy at a writer’s conference – she was running one of the workshops – and she’s such a fabulous, energetic spirit who cuts straight through to the quick of things. She taught me to appreciate, nay, savour first lines.

I keep a lot of writing resources on my bookshelf, mostly to do with the mechanics of writing. But this book is a book of inspiration (which I use side-by-side with Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird). It’s for every day practice and it’s for weed whacking your way through to your most authentic voice, when you’ve fallen out of touch with it.

It’s also chock full of writing prompts: 365 of them, to be exact. One for every day of the year. She offers a word or phrase or quote, to make of as you will in a 15-minute freewriting session. For a quarter of an hour, you kick out the censor, the critic, and the editor, and you just respond, stopping only to see more clearly in your mind’s eye.

I did one today, and I thought I would share it with you, raw and unedited. I hope it inspires you to write freely.

The Prompt: Things that enter by way of silence

When I think of things that enter by way of silence, I see an old barn style chapel, where the air is a cozy kind of dark, except for the one ray of light streaming in graceful from a window in the rafters, highlighting dust motes like lazy particles of fairy dust. A white pigeon flies in, floating onto one of the long wooden rafters, its wings cupping the wind like velveteen parachutes.

This is what they look like, those things that enter by way of silence. Secret dreams, unbidden thoughts, a space of calm in a turbulent heart.

They float in unexpected – and yet only mildly surprising, like a good friend dropping by unannounced.

You invited them in because it’s far better than the memos and faxes and emails and noise you’re supposed to be attending to. You invite them in because you suspect real life is lived in the silences in between notes. It’s that lingering space in the air that calls you. The negative space, that throws what’s truly important into sharp relief.

It’s that one ray of God-light filtering into that barn that smells sweetly of hay and sweat, dried grasses and living things. It waits patiently for you to reach out and touch it, to know it is there, except you can’t feel anything of it but its warmth. You know there is something more to it, expanding and immense outside. But you are content to hold it to yourself, here in your secret, sacred barn.

Indulge yourself in a free write and link up with Heather at The Extraordinary Ordinary!

On Not Living Numb


I admitted that part of the impetus for us to pack up our lives and move to the other side of the globe lay in a secret, deep-down need to feel…something. There we were in a little paradise city snuggled up against the mountains and overlooking the beach, and ohmigod there’s the most amazing new coffee shop…and have you been to Red’s yet? And Edomasa is just a little jaunt down the street, for the nights you don’t have the energy for the Farmer’s Market and fresh, organic, free-range, local, sustainable, guilt-free produce to cook Ayurvedic style in between yoga and chai.

It was a beautiful life, with beautiful friends and beautiful habits…and we gave it up. We screwed up our courage and threw caution out the window like yesterday’s old coffee grounds. For a different language. For signs we can’t read. For food that might make you ill if you don’t wash it properly and smog in the air and incoherent traffic. For impenetrable social customs. For alienation. For bewilderment. For frustration. For discomfort.

For joy.

For childlike wonder.

For stretching and growing.

For beauty and profundity and spiritual depth.

For fear and challenge – and, oh, is it not amazing what you learn about yourself?

That you weren’t sure you ever really wanted to know. Things like: the fact that you will rearrange how you dress, how you speak, how you commute, how you show respect and how you conduct business, but you will not – WILL NOT – learn to drive stick.

We had the gauze ripped right off us, and we knew once more what it was to feel.

But the truth is, even the most alien eventually becomes routine. You find the good restaurants, and the good coffee, the pretty mountain views, and the friends to call when you want to share a glass of wine.

And some days you find yourself sipping tea and looking at flowers and realize you could be anywhere in the world, and you’d still be doing this. Just this.

And that’s okay. So long as you’re okay with the you that’s you underneath it all.

Also linking up with Heather @ the Extraordinary Ordinary, for Just Write.

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