Duple (Story A Day May)

Having missed Story-A-Day-May yesterday, I give you a double story today:

1. Crawling through the underbelly of a city was not something I envisioned doing in my lifetime, which amounted to all of thirty-seven years and eleven months. Yet here I was, hands and knees, sparse clothing covering what needed covering, a helmet made of a cut-in-half soccer ball resting on my shaggy once-shaved head. Palms dirty, knees beyond, nose unable to smell anything anymore. It was a new low. Literally.

2. They say that cities have character. That Rome feels different than London feels different than Istanbul different from Tokyo from Paris from Cairo New Delhi Amman Tel Aviv Moscow Bridgetown Cape Town… It’s true. Each of us is different, created from the underbellies of human filth and the topsoil of human kindness, the biblical animals of the sea and sky and beasts of the earth covering us and the scientific spellbinding microscopic germs and plain-to-see beetles spreading themselves widely across us. Years and months and hands and knees don’t mean a thing to us. We’re larger than that and smaller too. We are multitude and each singular.

1. I wish I could say I was looking for an engagement ring, one hidden in a roll or at the bottom of a glass of champagne, but I hadn’t tasted either bread or bubbly for some years. I subsisted mostly on leftover chips at McDonald’s and the soup made of too many things without proper names served in kitchens when I was lucky. I wish I could say I was looking for anything at all down there, in the sewer pipe between two larger tunnels but the truth was I wasn’t looking. I hadn’t gotten to that point yet. When you’re running away from something, you tend to only start looking for a hiding or resting place when you’re sure you’re not being pursued anymore, or at least that you have a decent advantage on the other person. Persons. Beings. Whatever it is that’s chasing you. Or, in this case, me.

2. We spawn. Cities do. We create things imagined by too many people to ignore, things that we listen to intently in nightmares and daydreams, things described and things hidden behind walls of consciousness. We give birth not only to the biologically sound but to the criminally insane visions of murderers and CEOs alike. Sometimes we allow our creations to escape the place where only we can see them – what do you think we create them for if not for our own amusement? We know human patterns, and they become dull after a generation or two. Watching your reactions to visions and impossibilities, to things that go bump in the night or Tinkerbell in the day is almost as amusing as natural disasters on our outskirts. As a general rule, we don’t love those disasters happening inside us. It tends to be painful in all sorts of ways that we couldn’t explain to beings like you with sensory underload. Five senses and you think maybe a sixth and that’s a lot? If only you know how limited you are.

1. I’d always thought of the seventh sense as something that few people had. I’d discovered it when I lost everything. Them’s big words: “lost everything.” An exaggeration, maybe, but when my hands and knees were dirty and disgusting and yet only a little worse than they’d been for the last few years, being dramatic didn’t seem like altogether blowing things out of proportion. Especially when something was pursuing me. It skittled and scuttled and my helmet-soccer-ball made the noise reverberate in my ears even more so I wasn’t sure if I was getting any farther away or what. I was certain, though, that I wouldn’t be able to run forever. When I realized that, I stopped. I was in another tunnel between two hallway-sized areas, on my hands and knees again, but I maneuvered so I was leaning my minimally clad back against the clammy wall. The reason I had so few clothes on was because I’d left most of them in my hiding spot and let myself walk around in the July heat with the sun on my skin, which felt nice, and rare. Until I started being chased. Now, when I turned my head to see the thing with the tick-tick-tick feet that was chasing me, I saw that it had stopped too. It looked at me, cocking its body or head or whatever the glowing bit with the eyes was, and then turned and scampered off in the other direction. My heart pounded and I thought I’d have a heart attack, but I’d survived worse, and I probably would again.

2. When we get tired of entertainment we let them go, our prey, our bait, our playing-with-our-food-toys. We’re all different, cities, but we all agree that if there’s something we share, something vital, it’s a nasty streak a stratosphere wide and a galaxy high. Think we’re bad? Try living in the suburbs.

Introductions [in a post-ironic age]

I don’t quite know why, but I’ve apparently reached the point where I’m gaining new followers ever few days, whether or not I post. So – hi, everyone! I don’t now who you are, and you don’t know who I am, so let’s get some introductions out of the way. I’ll introduce myself, and my goals for how to keep you amused, and if you feel like saying hi and introducing yourselves in the comments, I’d be absolutely thrilled.

But instead of the usual introductions, which can be found at my About Me page, I’m going to list five things that are important to me, and why. Call it a journaling exercise. Maybe it’s just a late-night idea that feels good right now but will end up disastrous.

Important Thing number one: literacy. In the shape of books, in the shape of words on a screen, in the shape of the joy a child feels when she first realizes that the sign she’s seen across the street from her bedroom window since the morning she was brought home from the hospital reads “Abbas Hardware”. Literacy, the ability to read, the desire to read, and the access to life and knowledge that reading brings, is a relatively new priority in human history. More than any other technology, I’d argue that the printing press – invented in the 15th century – is the one that has had the longest-lasting consequences on humanity, and I am forever grateful for it. By being able to share and distribute ideas, we have developed into a people more humane in every possible way, which includes our direst deeds as well as our best.

Important Thing number 2: stories. Stories are everywhere. Did you tell your son about the coffee-machine breaking at work? Did your grandmother die yesterday, and did you run out of your town and into the forest and scream at the trees about how much you’re going to miss her? Did you see two brothers having a brawl in the street? Everything we experience, and the way we communicate it, is made up of stories. We tell stories about our lives, we tell stories about our histories, we tell stories about our opinions and why we hold them. Stories are the magical spark of life that brings two people closer together – what is pillow talk, if not mutual storytelling? – and can rip their relationship apart as well. There are two sides to every coin, but in my experience, people who are aware of the storyness of life, usually don’t exploit it. When they do, there is an element of the admirable fraud about them, a place inside them that seems to love the story for its own sake in addition to what the story can do for them.

Important Thing number 3: empathy. Since reading is my favorite thing to do in the world, and since my writing has been born of that love, I’ve found that empathy – as well as sympathy – are the most important tools for my trade. If that sounds cold… fair enough. You’ll have to trust me when I say it’s probably a defense mechanism and an attempt to not sound a) like a hippie or b) like a spiritual nutjob. Because I am neither. But empathy is important to me, and though I curse my emotionally roiling innards all too often, I wouldn’t exchange them for the world.

Important Thing number 4: comfort. A broad concept, yes, but it is important to me in the broadest sense. Comfort is something that I believe can be found and made for oneself. In a room that is messy, you can find the one spot that you can feel neat in, or, if you’re a messy person, you can find the one spot in a neat room in which you can feel sloppy and unhindered. Comfort doesn’t mean a certain kind of lifestyle; rather, it means making the life you live accommodating in the smallest, minutest of ways. Having a pair of pants that are soft and cozy and that you change into the moment you get home, for example. Or tucking the extra napkins you got at McDonald’s into your bag so that you’re never caught with a runny nose and nothing but long sleeves to handle it with. But comfort isn’t only physical. It’s also emotional, interpersonal. Comfort can be sitting with your friends, the people who you consider your alternate family, and being absolutely silent with them – without feeling awkward. Comfort is being able to tell a loved one that you’re sorry, but you have to cancel plans. Comfort is being able to be alone, with yourself, inside your head, and not want to scream and claw your way out of it.

Important Thing number 5: balance. Specifically, in this case, balancing introversion with the desire and need to lead a semi-extroverted life. Difficult, yes. Necessary, maybe. Possible, absolutely.

 

Well, there’s my ramble. New followers, if any of you are actually reading this and you aren’t spambots, either take up the challenge – what are five things that are dearly important to your life? Or, say hi in the comments, let’s be friends!

Bright Side?

My dorm room has three windows; four, if you count the one that’s in the emergency exit door, which I don’t, because I keep the blind down on it at all times. The reason for that is that I’m on the first floor of my building, directly overlooking, from two windows, the main entrance used by students to come and go from main campus. The window in the exit door overlooks a little hill on which people sometimes sit and smoke when the weather permits. The last window overlooks an ugly tarred roof and from it I could see, if I wished, the windows of the apartments in what I can only call the second wing of the building. I keep that blind closed most of the time as well. So really, I have very little light coming into the room during the day, and at night all my blinds are closed except one, and that window is blocked by a screen so that the people walking below won’t be able to see me changing.

I’m a pretty private person, which is why I’m still ecstatic to have this single room, even if the windows aren’t quite as useful as I’d hoped. There are other downsides to the room, though. Since it’s right by the entrance, I get to hear all the drunk partiers who go out to smoke at one, two and three in the morning. At first, it really irked me. But lately I’ve grown used to it and have even come to see it as a plus. I can’t recognize people’s voices because of the echoing quality, but I can sometimes pick out some words and I try to remember them, to weave stories from them, to put images and faces to them.

I’m back at school after a lovely mini-break with my brother and his girlfriend in Washington D.C. I’m halfway through the semester. There are bright sides, too.

Three Cars at a Curb/Another Award?

The first car is what they call a clunker. It’s unclear whether the original color was tan or yellow – it’s so dirty that it looks gray more than anything else. The back window is full of bumper stickers. One says “Save the Whales!” Another reads “Keep Calm and Carry On.” There are at least twenty more, seemingly random. There are two conflicting ones, side by side, supporting opposing political parties. Other than the stickers, there isn’t much that distinguishes the car from dozens of other similarly dirty, old cars that are scattered around the city. But the stickers give the car character – it’s almost possible to see the teenager driving it, enjoying the confusion as people behind him in traffic try to figure him. He jokes with his friends that his car provides entertainment – something to read on the road. Secretly, he fears someone will cut his tires one day, because they won’t find his ironic take on issues to be amusing.

The second car is stunning, spotless and gleaming in the sun. It looks like a commercial rather than a real car. The curves and planes, the perfect proportions and stylish color – they reek of money. Lots and lots of money.
Every passerby looks at it with a mix of admiration and envy. Some want the car, but some just don’t want the owner to have it. The car has tinted windows, which gives it an air of mystery. Maybe the solution to it is the woman inside, cowering as people peer closely at the car, hoping the windows will do the trick and keep prying eyes out. She has a black eye and a cut lip, and her clothing is piled up in the back seats, haphazardly. All the money she owns is in the glove compartment and she’s spent the day on the phone getting her boss to allow her some paid leave. Just until that pesky cough of hers goes away. Why paid? Because she needs a little extra this month – you know how it is, the taxes are always going up, up, up. The paid leave is given, but she doesn’t want to emerge in daylight. No one needs to know what she’s gone through.

The third car seems dull, after the first two. Not a clunker, not a stunner. It’s just a medium sized sedan, clean, but not gleaming. It has no distinguishing features whatsoever. It doesn’t seem to have any story behind it at all. The people walking along would never notice it – it’s just another car. They wouldn’t even guess that the owners were trying to have a baby, that there were problems and treatments and horrors to go through, that the couple’s relationship seemed to be fraying day by day with the mounting pressure, that they might one day break up, and then who gets the car? Well, the passerby won’t know any of that, but maybe, if they live in the area, they’ll notice one day that the woman is pregnant and glowing and driving off to Lamaze class. Or maybe, instead, they’ll see the man driving off in a rage, never to be seen again. Maybe the car itself doesn’t have a story, but it has, like everything, a story hiding just behind it.

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I can’t believe that I forgot to mention Desiree in my post yesterday… She writes beautifully, and her poems break my heart sometimes. She awarded me this, for which I thank her deeply. I’d like anyone, everyone, who wants to, to receive this award. Because (corny warning!) I truly feel that every one of you whose blogs I read has a magic touch. You all make me think, smile, laugh and cry, and to me, that’s what writing is about – making others feel something. And making someone feel something… well, that’s magic. (I warned you, I warned you! But I mean it.)

Stories

We’re all made of stories.

We’re all living stories.

We’re all making stories.

Everything in our lives can be seen as a story. There’s the story about how you were born, the story of whose braid you pulled in first grade, and when you got braces, and why you chose to take physics in high-school and where you had your first kiss.

We all tell stories every day. There’s the story you tell your best friend about how your date went last night, the story you tell your aunt about whose car you dented last week, and the one you tell your coworker about when the boss got drunk at the office party, and the one you tell your cat about why you’re giving him canned food instead of dry today, and the one you tell yourself about where you wish you were right now.

We all make up stories all the time, too. There’s the story of how you wish your father was alive, the story of whose life you’d want to try out for a day, and the story of when you’ll really feel like a grown-up for sure, and why you’re going to win the lottery next time and where you can picture yourself living in ten years.

But then, there are the missing stories.

The stories of horrible events that need to be suppressed.

The stories that you’ll never know, because there’s no one who can tell them to you.

The stories that will never be, because they’re too frightening to really accept.

Even then, though – there are stories. Every minute of every day of your life. They are stories.

After the Last Page is Read

There is a unique feeling that one gets when finishing a novel. When one closes the back cover of a book, it isn’t quite over yet. If you’d look carefully, you’d see a fine trickle of fairy dust flowing from that last page and right into the reader’s mind – it is the story, refusing to lose its hold on a reader so quickly and to be put back on a shelf as if it doesn’t matter. The story would much rather walk around with the reader for a while, influencing his or her thoughts and ideas.

Stories are living things, full of their own characterizations, personality quirks, stylistic choices and charm. They can cause a reader to think seriously about an issue, to laugh hours later at a funny incident, to remember fondly a particular passage or simply to contemplate the way the story ended and what that means. Stories can play with their readers minds, causing them to jump at sounds in the night if they’re scary, or to sigh over a couple kissing if they’re romantic.

And so, even when a reader puts a just-finished book back on the shelf and leaves it, the story sticks around, replaying images and words in the mind’s eye. It is one of the greatest wonders of words, that they’re able, within a few hundred pages – and what are pages? Such flimsy things – to preoccupy the reader’s thoughts and affect them. Words are powerful, and stories focus their power.

One-Eyed Steve: Part I

Sometime, somewhere, a burly man, dressed in comfy jeans and a heavy flannel shirt, his hairy toes bare on the carpet, sat in front of the fireplace of his small house. In his hands was a steaming mug of much-watered mulled wine which he was sipping occasionally. On the carpet in front the hearth, the three small figures were clutching equally steaming mugs of hot-coacoa. They had been obsorbed in a board game until the fat, ginger, family cat bounded onto it and chased the pieces around, ending the game.

The three children clustered close to their father and begged “Story, Papa, story!”

The man, used to such requests from the three children, ranging in age from four to seven, stroked his stubbly chin. He took a sip from his mug, and then, a twinkle in his eyes, looked down at his three little ones.

“A story, my ducklings? Ye shall have a story. A night like tonight is a time for stories. Now, the story I’m abou’ to tell ye is about a man called One-Eyed Steve.”

Superpowers

As countless and timeless stories tell us, we humans have always striven for something more than our mortal talents. Stories as old as the Greek and Roman myths tell of people who had the gift of seeing the future or supernatural strength or cunning that took them far. Stories in the bible tell of the gift of speaking with animals or of healing or of being able to talk to god. We’ve always been and always will be fascinated with things that are beyond the every-day things that we can do.

I’ve heard many people ask each other what superpower they’d choose if they could. This question has always stumped me.

Mind reading? Oh no, way too horrible. I don’t want to know what everyone is thinking, because most thoughts would probably be either extremely tedious [“I’m hungry… What should I eat? Yum, grilled cheese!”] or disturbing [“What I wouldn’t do to that guy… *Rated R thoughts*”].

Invisibility? Seems depressing, in a way. Sure, it would be useful for spying on people or stalking them, but I wonder if it would be that easy to turn it on and off like that. Plus, stalking should involve more effort than that or it’s not worth it, right?

Super strength? Meh – Buffy Summers is cool, but I’ve yet to face a vampire and so I don’t really know whose face I’d want to bash in anyhow. Girl-power would be cool, but I don’t want to be scary…

I suppose the only superpower I’d really welcome would be the ability to fly at will. Being able to soar around would be wonderful, and I can’t think of a drawback to it. But really, that’s the only super-power that I can see as being worth anything.

So… how about you?

My Goal – To Have Voices In My Head

Writing descriptions is all very well, but no work of fiction is complete without dialogue. It doesn’t have to be incredible, it doesn’t have to be witty, it doesn’t have to be much – except that you have to be able to hear it. You have to able to have two characters, two characters that feel real, and you have to know that when you’re reading, or in my case writing, their conversation, you can actually hear two distinct voices in your head that make sense.

You wouldn’t think that would be such a hard thing to practice. It is though. I’ve realized lately that I love writing descriptions and indeed, I know I write them fairly well, at least well enough. But I don’t know, or rather haven’t attempted to know, how to write dialogue, and that’s bad. I need to learn how. The problem is that I can’t just practice dialogue for the sake of itself. I need to have a situation, characters, voices that I can clearly imagine.

I’m not managing to find a way to practice this. I might be obsessing over something silly, but I truly feel I need to learn to write believable conversations. And for that I’ll need people, stories. So that’s what I’m going to try to work on in the next few days.

Little Dramas

It’s so strange how, as the time goes by, I learn more and more about my co-workers and their dramatic little lives. I feel rather privleged that I’m considered trustworthy enough to become privy to their lives. Then again, I also know that they know as well as I do that we’re not really friends, and we’ll never really be friends. We’re just people who are stuck together for a few hours a day and we better try to make conversation and get along or we’ll turn those hours into hell. But now, onto some of the dramas!

A. lives with her husband and her twenty month-old daughter in a small apartment with her mother-in-law. She is the mother-in-law from hell, the real classic kind, and A’s life is a misery. She’s trying to raise money to be able to move out of their already, and she seems to be blossoming in her job, having something of her own for the first time in years.

I. was religious. She met a boy, fell in love, and slept with him. She had iregularities with her period after that, and fainted from loss of blood. She was hospitalized and through this her mother learned somehow that I. lost her virginty. I. was then shunned completely, and at twenty, she already lives alone and completely supports herself out of necessity.

Last but not least, we have S. who is in love with a man who probably won’t be able to ever give her what she wants, which is commitment. At her birthday party a few days ago, her friends surprised her by bringing him, after they hadn’t seen each other for months. They slept together, and then she realized he’s the same as he always was, cannot commit and doesn’t realize that he’s with someone who’s willing to give her all. And so, mere days after her hope was egnited, it was cruely extinguished again.