Welcome, Walk Free

I arrive in the US at six AM and stand in the customs and passport line to find the first news greeting me is CNN, playing on the television set that hangs on a column and that, in my past experience, usually played TSA adverts. Not this time. No, now it is telling all new arrivals that George Zimmerman, according to the tag line running below the newscasters pink faces, has been acquitted after a sixteen hour-long jury deliberation. This is supposed to be some triumph of democracy, although the image in my head is of pillars crumbling to dust. The newscasters play a clip of Zimmerman’s lawyer, looking tragic for a guy who got what he wanted, and who also looks like the main guy from Breaking Bad but without the moustache and soul. The lawyer is saying that he’s grateful that the tragedy didn’t turn into a travesty. The travesty, I deduce, according to him, would have been his client being punished for murdering a teenager. Determined to enhance my already torrential nausea, the newscasters then turn to discussing the fact that the prosecution lawyer’s not shaking the defense lawyer’s hand is big news, something that “just isn’t done”. Yes. Clearly. The handshake is the real issue at hand, so to speak and pardon the pun.
All I can think of is how accurate a portrayal this is of the current media’s mirroring the symptoms of a nation exemplified in the amusement it consumes (Today, on GENERIC REALITY TV, let’s see who was mean on the playground and who didn’t play fair!), and how sickened I am by it.

My first bit of spoken word poetry

I can’t afford WordPress’s space upgrade at the moment, so I’m going to post a link to where you ca hear me reading it if you’d like to. I apologize – I usually don’t link out from here to other blogs. I will note, however, that the Tumblr I’m linking to is my own, and that if you have a Tumblr, I do spend a lot of time procrastinating there because it is a very quick and easy way to time-waste without needing to think very hard for too long.

 

Click here to listen to my first attempt – one I enjoyed writing, more than I knew I would – at the spoken word poetry form.

Spark of Beauty

I didn’t plan on it. It just happened. I swear, it wasn’t on purpose. I didn’t mean to do it. But I guess I should start at the beginning. That’s what they told me I should do. Just start at the beginning, and everything would become clearer as I went along.
I guess the first time was when I was really young. My aunt had baked me the most beautiful birthday cake a boy could ask for. It had the shape of a rocket ship on it, all made out of candy and and sprinkles. The cake itself was creamy and cheesy, just the way I liked it. I’d always hated chocolate, apparently. I was one of the only kids I knew who liked drinking milk straight up. Anyway, the cake had six candles in it – I was turning five, and there was one for good luck. My aunt lit the candles, one by one, with those big kitchen matches. You know the kind. About as long as an adult’s finger, with a red head the size of the pearls on our grandmothers’ pearls.
I think the next time something happened that made me think about things was later that year, on the Fourth of July. It’s not illegal to light up your own fireworks where I live, so every year the whole neighborhood would get together and make a big show of it. The kids would ooh and aah and the adults would echo them, as if they’d never seen the big sparklies in the sky before. This time stands out in my memory, though, because my aunt had a new boyfriend then, and he was one of the guys who went behind the old silo to light the cracklers away from the crowd so that no one would get hurt. My aunt took me with her to see how it was done – thinking back now, I’m pretty sure they also got to necking some while I was investigating the inside of the disused silo. Anyway, once I’d come out of the silo and they’d stopped fooling around in the darkness, my aunt’s boyfriend bent down and showed me the long tail of the fireworks and how you light one end of it so that your hand doesn’t get hurt from being too near where the big BANG happens when the spark hits the chemicals inside that make it do what it does to light up and burst into a hundred little red or green flames in the sky.
I’m not making sense? But – I started at the beginning, didn’t I? Oh. Oh, I see. I haven’t been clear enough. Well, I guess I have a bit of an issue with that, because, you see, not many people really understand what it is that I do. Or what it is that I like, you might say.
Alright, I’ll be blunt, then. I suppose that’s how you’ve gotta be in this sort of thing. Fire, then. I like fire. Why? I couldn’t tell you that. Maybe it’s because my aunt and her boyfriends necked while I was around. Some shrinks have told me that. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have parents, because they died in a car crash – that incidentally also had a fireball involved in it. Oh, yeah, I was in that car crash too. The shrinks love that as well. They think that part of me remembers that beautiful fireball that must have killed my parents and which I was immune to because my little car seat was covered with a blanket that was still damp from the beach, where we’d been that day. But I’ve never seen what a fireball looks like. The shrinks think that that’s what I’m looking for, that that’s why I light houses on fire, that I’m trying to recreate the scene of my second birth from the ruins of a crashed and mutilated car with the corpses of two dead people stinking in front of me.
I beg your pardon. I didn’t mean to make you queasy. I simply get very… agitated, yes, that’s the right word for it, agitated. Because I take offense at the need to explain why I find beauty in something that you people don’t happen to find beautiful. I think that it’s despicable that you think I need some sort of excuse, some sort of ulterior motive, and that without one I wouldn’t enjoy doing what I do.
My lawyer has told me that this wouldn’t be a very good defense, and I suppose she’s right. But it’s also the truth, as my earliest memories have it. Take from it what you will. Just know that I never meant to kill anyone. I just wanted to see something beautiful.

Some Stories Are Different

Five titles:

1. Befriending Giants

2. Things to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say But Don’t Want to Stay Silent

3. The Summer of Finches

4. The Madcap Man on Wimpole Street

5. Building a Chair

Five first sentences:

1. Catherine didn’t know how she was going to do it, but she’d made up her mind and there was no turning back now.

2. In a small chest, half-buried in sand, deep down in the darkest corner of the ocean, lies a piece of my heart with a gold thread wrapped around it.

3. Sometimes you don’t feel like going to work; it’s a thing.

4. She looked at me and laughed the sweetest laugh I’d ever heard, and I realized finally that she reminded me of my mother.

5. The highway patrolman spat on the ground and looked at his watch; his shift was far from over.

Five fictional quotes:

1. “I wouldn’t touch the balloon if I were you. It’s unsafe, you know.”

2. “Me? Freak out? I so did not freak out. I may have gotten giddy. Just a little bit. But I seriously did not freak out, okay?”

3. “Dickens didn’t write an autobiography. He wrote David Copperfield instead. What does that tell us about the book? Should we treat it as an autobiography? As a novel? As a mix of the two? Come on, people, you’d think I was the only one in this room. Talk to me!”

4. “There are some things you just don’t say. If I ever had any respect for you, it would have dissipated right around now.”

5. “Ready… Set… FLY!”

Five emotions:

1. Anger

2. Confusion

3. Anguish

4. Elation

5. Tenderness

Five last sentences:

1. She died that day, and though I knew that it was a sticky, humid morning, I couldn’t help picturing it as a perfect autumn afternoon.

2. He freed his hair from its restraining cap and shook out his long curls for all the world to see them one last time.

3. An eagle let out a cry and the party below all looked up and shaded their eyes to watch the majestic creature swoop.

4. The coffee cup stayed in the sink for months before anyone dared wash it out again.

5. No one picked up the phone, so I left a message, but the machine cut me off before I finished speaking.

Eavesdropping

The owl sat on its regular midnight perch, on the beam that hung between the garage door and the overhanging roof. It was quite roomy there, and she liked having its nest so close by, in the very corner, where there was space right inside the corner of the roof.

She was just about to hoot softly and then fly out to catch little rodents by the tail when she was interrupted mid-hoot by a pair of loud voices that erupted in the middle of the driveway in front of her.

“You did NOT just say that!”

“What? You think you’re the only one allowed to be mean? I know how to be mean too, you know.”

“I’m not mean, you jerk-wad! How can you even say that to me?”

“‘Cause it’s true! You’re stuck up and mean, and you know what? I can stand it when you do it to me, but not when you start ragging on my best friends, too. They don’t get to see you like I do, so they don’t get that it’s just how you are.”

“Oh, what, so because they don’t get to see me naked then they don’t know the real me? Are you suggesting they all come over and we have a big party together?”

“WHAT? When did I ever say that? Where the hell is your head, Angela?”

“And what’s all this about you being okay with me being mean to you, anyway? I’m not mean to you!”

The owl in the eaves of the house cocked her head. The voices changed tones. The whiny, female-smelling one sounded muffled, and the deep-voiced male-smelling one made cooing noises that reminded the owl of the noises she made over her eggs.

“I love you, but don’t you see that you’re going to isolate me from everyone else if you keep behaving like a stuck up bitch with them? I’m not saying you ARE one. I’m just saying you act like it, honey.”

“B-b-but your friends make me nervous, and ever since we moved to this stupid city it’s been all about your friends, and don’t you think I miss mine to bits? It’s not like you were super nice to them or anything…”

“I made an effort and you know it. It was hard when they kept sizing me up with their eyes, checking if I was hot enough for they angelic Angela.”

“Well, they were protective of me. What can I do? All your friends want to do is talk to you. It’s like I’m just a painting on the wall in the room. They stare at me sometimes and then go right back to talking to you about the Diamondbacks or the Razorbacks or whatever that team is called.”

“If you stopped acting like an ice princess, and if you stopped being so cold, maybe they’ll be nicer to you, hmm? They don’t always talk about sports, you know.”

The owl, getting bored with the human jabber and the ensuing wet noises as they did that strange thing humans do with their mouths, decided to get going. She spread her wings and leaped from the eaves, wings spreading out to her sides. She dove and then flew upwards, scanning the neighborhood for some delicious little critters to snap in her beak.

“Wow, did you see that?”

“An owl! I’ve never seen one before! Oh my gosh, that’s amazing!”

“What a beauty, hmm?”

“Yeah, so beautiful…”

Time

The keyboard clacks and clicks,

The clock now tocks and ticks,

As time goes by,

The words do fly,

Little shapes like sticks.

**

The music beats and swells,

Containing sounds of bells,

The speakers thrum,

The voice does hum,

Like echos in a well.

**

The night is damp and dark,

Loud voices in the park,

Dreams are rare,

When sleep is spare,

But wish they could embark.

**

The days are long and slow,

But weeks, they seem to flow,

Confusion reigns,

The body strains,

And missing is the glow.

Lucy’s Diary, May 5th

May 5th, 2008

Dearest Diary,

After many hours of pointless, useless and otherwise simply obnoxious paperwork, I am free to dwell on my own thoughts once more. The flight landed, and I have never been more reluctant to get off a plane as I was this morning. There was a man a few seats in front of me who looked at me rather oddly as I sat there in my seat, making no move to get up and off the plane. But then, I suppose it is rather odd, in the hustle and bustle for the door, that a girl should stay stationary in her seat.

Having finally convinced myself to get up and leave the plane, though, I was plagued by the usual airport routine: passport check, luggage retrieval etc. I was most anxious to get some fresh air, and I almost forgot that I needed to look for my pick-up ride when I entered the arrivals hall.

Of course, they hadn’t forgotten about me – much to my chagrin, I might add. There was a man with a hat and a sign waiting for “Miss Lucy Blake” and I had no choice but to approach him and follow him to the town car, of which he was the driver.

While I wish I could have written in the car, it was much too bumpy and couldn’t be managed. Moreover, having gotten no sleep on the flight, I fell into an uneasy one on the ride over to Pratt and Smith. It was a long ride, because as I’ve said before, P&S is in the middle of many square miles of fields upon fields.

We finally arrived, and I was met at the gates by the woman who I’m supposed to consider as “the mother of all the young girls in this glorious home away from home!” Her words – not mine.

She escorted me to the offices, where I got many a dirty look for joining with them so very late in the semester. True, their semester lasts until the end of August, but my lateness is apparently enough to give me a black mark before I’ve even started. That relation of mine who sent me here [you see, my dear, that I am still too angry to even write her name] will be feeling more of my wrath with her in my phone call to home this week, you can be sure of it, Diary.

It is evening now, and I’m settled in my new room. It’s rather cozy and nice right now, but that is only because my three roommates are currently at the study hall doing their homework. I was assured by Miss Flynn, the self proclaimed Mommy of us all who is actually the supervisor of the girls’ living quarters, that the other girls will be along shortly and will escort me to dinner, which begins at promptly seven-thirty every evening.

I freely admit to you that I am dreading the introduction of these girls. They will be my staunchest companions in the coming months, if only because we are forced to live within the same very small room and share our bedtimes and awakenings. Wish me luck; I believe I hear the sound of giggling in the hall!

Much love,

Hastily,

Lucy

Austen-Esque

After spending every free moment of the day reading “Sense and Sensibility,” I found myself unable to resist the urge to try to write the sort of passage that might find itself in a Jane Austen book. I’m sure I haven’t succeeded very well, but there’s something irrationally enjoyable about trying to write in such a manner that you must hear the words being read aloud in your mind or you will not understand quite how the sentences end.

While it is true that the estate of Mr P was not large, it is also true that it was spacious enough for him, his wife, and their two young daughters, to live in comfortably. So they did, and while Mr P spent his life working hard in various positions involving sales, he managed to live without worrying about yearly income and without ever needing to trouble the minds of the women of his house.

Mrs P was by nature a peaceful woman, always cheerful, even in the depth of the great aches and pains which afflicted her in older age. She was an excellent example to her daughters, both of which grew up to be miraculously practical and intelligent women. The eldest, Amanda, was educated well and supported herself by her pen. She did, however, make the rather scandalous choice of making a second marriage, even after her first was dissolved mutually by both her and her cold-hearted husband. Her second marriage, by which she provided Mr and Mrs P with two grandchildren, it was agreed by all, was much more successful.

The younger of the sisters, Miranda, was always the more rebellious, and although she might have vexed Mr and Mrs P by her scandalous pursuits at one point in her life, she eventually became a source of pride to her family, for she was free in mind and in spirit in ways which the new world found becoming and agreeable, and even profitable.

While both Mr and Mrs P met untimely and early endings, their daughters kept up a steady stream of correspondences and remained the greatest of friends, even after needing to sell the estate which they so loved. Although deeply regrettable, the selling of their beloved Flora estate was nevertheless an unmatchable help in both the sisters’ lives, for both, headstrong and independent as they were, led quite modern lives and needed funds to keep these in order and comfort, as they aspired to do for many years to come.

An Exercise

I’ve been researching some writing exercises the past few days and trying to find the time to really work on one. I randomly picked one from a random website – I’ve lost which one it was, or I would post the link – and decided to work on it at work today. I always use the down time between phone calls from customers for scribbling, but more often than not I’m just nattering away about nothing in particular. Today, however, I had a goal.

The writing exercise was simple – there was a picture of a boy sliding down a water slide, and the instructions were to write about the boy: who he is, where he is, what he was doing before and after the picture, etc. I didn’t actually have the picture with me at work, but I could remember it pretty well. For some reason, this ended up being the result – I didn’t follow the instructions very well, but I got an idea and went with it.

A picture frame hangs on a wall, the only ornament in the whole dreary living room. The picture, whose colors are perfectly bright and cheerful in comparison to the gray walls, is a photograph of a boy. The boy is grinning widely, and is featured mid-slide on a wild looking water ride – he’s wearing a bright orange swim-suit and upon closer inspection, you could say that he is laughing more than grinning. In fact, you can almost hear the delightful peals of laughter as you look at the photo.

So the balding man that lived in this room felt – as if the boy in the photograph was constantly laughing at him. So many times the man had tried to take the photo off the wall, and yet, again and again, he could not bring himself to do it.

And so, the man lived out his life, jumping from one hated job to another, never happy with the person that he had become. All his days, the boy laughed in his wooden frame, reminding the man of the boy he had been: so full of hope and happiness. The future had seemed endless then, opportunities just waiting right around the bend. Sometimes, when the man lay in bed late at night, he could admit to himself that the reason he never took that old photograph off the wall was that he needed to remind himself how he had squandered his opportunities, how he had wasted his life. And yet, by day, he never changed a thing, and the laughing boy that he had been shined out of the picture frame forever more, while the man he was dwindled in body and in spirit as the days passed.

Even to himself, the man never managed to explain why he didn’t change a thing. Perhaps he lived in the boy in the picture on the wall rather than in his reality; perhaps he just didn’t know how to change; perhaps he didn’t want to change really; and perhaps, just perhaps, there was no one there who cared enough to help him change. Who knows?

Devil’s Yellow Shirt [A Short Story]

Despite some misgivings over it, and especially over its ending, I will post this story here and let the grand populace decide. Or the grand ten or so who actually care. I hope you enjoy!

Devil woke up one morning and lay in bed for a few minutes, savoring the feeling of his good mood. Eventually he got out of bed and decided to wear his yellow button-down shirt to work today. He was, after all, in a good mood, so why not celebrate it with some color?

Devil walked through the small corridor of his apartment and entered his equally small and narrow kitchen. He put some toast in the toaster and turned it on. Then he waited patiently for the toast to pop up, put the toast on a plate, buttered it at the table, and went on to munch it. When he was done, he carefully put his plate in the sink. He then went to wash his hands, face and neck, and to put on a pair of pants- something he had forgotten to do before.

Devil started every morning with this blissfully human routine. Then, every morning, he walked to the bus stop, and took the bus to work. Not many people in his office did the work as well or as joyfully as Devil did. Devil prided himself on his good work, as well as his line of work, one that he felt was particularly devilish. What Devil did was this: he looked at a lot of files of sick people, and figured out how to not get them the current financing they needed for their current malady, whatever that happened to be. Devil figured he was probably contributing to Hell a lot more now than he did when he was actually IN Hell. By not giving many people the financial help they needed, a good percentage of them would die due to the lack of help, and after all, there were many more people in Hell than in Heaven, so a good percentage of the dead people would end up in Hell.

Another thing Devil prided himself on, apart from being exceedingly good at his job, was his physical appearance. He did not have horns. Nor did he have a pointy tail or cloven hooves. He wasn’t even very red most of the time, except when he ate Indian food of course. Devil actually chose time and again to be squat, balding, round and clean cut. This gave him the overall appearance of being utterly harmless, something that amused Devil greatly all through the centuries.

Devil had ruled Hell ever since it had been created by the human mind. He hadn’t done very much in Hell after a while, because eventually there were so many people there, that he got to delegate most of his responsibilities to some of the ones who had been there long enough to know how everything worked. Today though, Devil had no idea what Hell looked like, because he hadn’t set foot in the place for some 300 years or so. He assumed that, were he to go back today, it would look very much like a shopping mall. A very large and particularly infuriating shopping mall.

The reason Devil left Hell all those years ago was the very simple fact of his name. A boy, no older than 10 or 11, had ended up in Hell, and Devil, while doing his routine check that everything was getting done, happened to have a chat with the boy. First he learned that the boy had killed his dog when he was 4, and that he had been sure that he would end up in Hell, which in face, was what made him end up in Hell. Then the boy had pointed out to Devil that if he spelled his name backwards it would be Lived. Of course Devil just patted the boy on the head and sent him off to play, but then he thought about it for a while. Then he thought about it a bit more and realized just how ironic that was. Because of course Devil had never lived. He had existed for what felt like forever, but he had never LIVED. Not like all the people who came to Hell had.

So Devil, who considered himself somewhat the adventurous type, decided to live. He went into the world for the first time, and created himself as Robert Livingston. Then he became James Livingston and then, for a while, Charlotte Livingston. Then he decided he’d much rather stay male, and kept changing his name and whereabouts for centuries. That way, he never had to deal with the same people for too long, and he didn’t have the problem of needing to die at some point. About two hundred years ago he started a tradition, something to make his leaving and moving about a bit more interesting. On his last day in a place, he would tell the person he most got along with in that place that he was Devil really. He enjoyed the different responses people gave him and how they changed over time. He got a lot of Perhaps-You-Should-Talk-To-The-Preacher-About-This responses, and a lot of Oh-Lord-What-Do-You-Mean-By-That responses. Mostly though, he got Ha-Ha-Then-Where-Are-Your-Horns responses.

This particular day, the yellow shirt day, was Devil’s last day in his current town. He felt sad about it, because he would have to move far away and change profession and name, because people were so easily traceable these days what with Google and all. Still, his good mood would not be ruined, and he would give himself a good last day.

He got to work, sat at his desk, and ruined people’s lives for a while. At 12:35 he decided to take his lunch break, and he asked his best friend in the office, Mort, to join him.

Devil and Mort got along splendidly ever since they realized that they both didn’t feel any guilt over what they were being paid to do. Devil had decided more than five years ago that Mort would be the one he would tell the truth to on the day of his departure. He knew that perhaps he should stop his silly game, most especially because of the rash promise he made to himself about a hundred years back. But Devil was addicted by now, he just HAD to see people’s reactions and then never see them again.

So Devil took Mort down to the cafeteria, and they both got strong coffees and big salads and even bigger bags of potato-chips. They sat down at a table and talked for a while about the weather, about politicians and about the crime rates. Once they’d both polished off their meals and burped and groaned for a while, Devil decided it was time.

‘Mort, buddy,’ Devil began. ‘Today’s my last day on the job.’

‘What? Why, what happened, Ned?’ Mort replied, taken off guard. He very much liked Devil, or Ned, and didn’t want to be the only guilt-free one in the office again.

‘My mother, she lives in Paris and she’s sick as a dog. I’ve got to go take care of her. Haven’t got a choice. My poor mother did everything for me,’ Devil spun his little stories completely at random each time he left. He enjoyed seeing what his human imagination would crop up with each time.

‘Ah, buddy, I’m sorry to hear that. Any idea when you’ll be back?’

‘Not a clue, old pal, not a clue. I can tell you one thing though,’ Devil paused and waited for Mort to say ‘What?’ which he obligingly did. ‘I can tell you something real weird. I’m Devil, Mort. No joke, old buddy, I’m really THE Devil. The one who supposedly tortures the damned and all that.’

Mort stared, and then he chortled, and then he said ‘Ha! If you’re the Devil, where are your horns, huh?’ and then he chortled some more.

Devil thought to himself, Damn, and then he regretted his promise. Devil was a man of his word, and even if the promise had been to himself, he had to follow it through.

‘Aw, Mort, why’d you have to go and say that? See, I made a little promise to myself. You know those ads online, the ones that blink all these colors so you notice them. The ones that say something like “You’re the millionth person to see this ad! That means YOU win a prize! Click the banner for more details!”?’

‘Yeah,’ Mort wasn’t quite following what was going on.

‘You know how whenever you see that you know for sure that it’s a lie and that you’re not the millionth on that site and you’ll only get a virus if you click on the banner?’ Devil pressed on.

‘Uh, yeah, but buddy, what has this got to do with-‘

‘Well, see,’ Devil interrupted the wary Mort. ‘You really are the millionth person who’s asked me that stupid question about the horns. And you know I’m a man of my word, Mort. And I made myself a little promise that on the day I’d hear the millionth person ask me that question, I’d give him a little prize. And the prize would be, I’d go back to Hell and I’d stop making that person a consort and friend of the Devil. So there you go, Mort. It’s too bad, I enjoyed being here. Goodbye.’

Devil then seemed to drift out of his yellow shirt, as if he turned into mist, and then the yellow shirt and his pants were just draped over the chair, and his shoes and socks lay on the floor.

Mort stared at the chair with the clothes on it. Then he looked around. Nobody else in the cafeteria seemed to have noticed what went on. That is, no one noticed that a person – the Devil? – seemed to have disappeared out of his clothing. Mort stood up and looked around again. Nobody took any notice of him still. He walked calmly up to his cubical in the office, sat down and thought for a moment.

He wondered what was better, the Devil being IN Hell or OUT of it. He decided that for him at least, it was good for the Devil to be IN Hell. When he got to Hell, he would at least have someone to play golf and have a nice chat with.

Mort thought for another minute, and then walked back to the cafeteria and took the yellow shirt from the chair Devil had been sitting in, which no one had touched yet. He thought to himself ‘At least I got a fine yellow shirt on this odd day’. That made him cheerful, and Mort whistled to himself about his free shirt all afternoon.