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Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

The Monster Under My Bed

Pulling the covers over my head violated one of our unwritten rules. but I had no choice. Why me? Why did they have to plant a full moon street light outside my bedroom window? I retreated under the covers to keep the light out. That was my excuse but my bedroom was in a sort of perpetual twilight where things best left unmentioned might dwell. I don’t scare easily but hiding made me feel better.

All the others had bragging rights to aliens hiding under their beds and impossibly huge hairy monsters lurking behind closed closet doors. I didn’t dare tell them about her and when my turn came I stammered and stumbled over my lies and imaginary beasts. I feared they wouldn’t believe me if I told them the truth and feared they would believe me and make fun of me because my monster was a girl.

Either she finds me (how could she not find the kid with the covers pulled up over his head?), or I find her in the darkest hours of the night. When you sense a monster in your room, turning the lights on almost always makes the cowards run away. But I didn’t want my monster to go anywhere. Because, well, I was in love. She always kissed me but never allowed me to touch her. I never could figure out why she behaved this way.

We touched with lips and voices and hers were so sweet. I wanted to drown in that voice, be forever seduced by those lips. When I would reach for her she danced away laughing. “Soon my young love, soon. Soon I will come out of my closet home to share your bed with you. You won’t be able to resist lover.” Then her laugh changed for an instant sending chills up and down my body, hair standing on end — but the feeling left as soon as it arrived as though that laugh never existed.

That ‘wrong’ laugh was the chink in her armor. I know she didn’t want to warn me ahead of time. Maybe it just slipped out. After that one time I tried not to listen too hard when she spoke because her musical voice mushed my brain. I began to detect a few other oddities as time went on yet I never let on that I knew. It tried hard to sit still for her kisses.

If her voice turned my brain into mashed potatoes, her kisses were the gravy smothering me so I couldn’t think let alone try to peek behind her mask. One night she hit me, let off a screech and disappeared. She never left like that before. I usually fell asleep only to find her gone when I woke up.

“Why can’t I touch you?”

She laughed: “I cannot say.”

“I must see you.” I looked in her direction and pulled the chain, the light switch held in my hand behind my back. I saw her at last, young and beautiful, screaming, holding her hands to her face as her features ran melting like ice cream on a hot July night. Then she was gone. She never came back. Maybe she couldn’t? Maybe it was my fault? I’ll always wonder.

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I don’t know why I remember my ingrown toenail, such a silly little thing. I don’t remember the sore toe but I remember sitting all alone in the foot doctor’s office on Chester Avenue and I think it was a rainy day. The AM radio was playing hit songs of the 1950s like “The Green Door” and Arthur Godfrey (howaya, howaya) was touting the merits of Lipton Tea in the background while I sat waiting.

I was ten or eleven years old, maybe twelve? Can’t rememeber but I do remember me as scared of my own shadow and if you looked up shy in the dictionary you might have found my photo.

The problem toe was my big toe on my right foot. The doctor did what he did and wrapped my poor toe up in a bandage that was way too big to fit inside my shoes so I was wearing a sneaker with the toe cut out, giving my bandaged toe plenty of room to wiggle in the air. I think I was wearing a shoe on the other foot. That was kind of dumb. I should have been wearing both sneakers.

I had to wear that sneaker with the hole cut out for my big toe for a couple of weeks. I remember having to serve mass wearing that silly sneaker. Standing there in the quiet church, smell of candles burning, I tried to tell the priest that I had to wear the sneaker because I had an ingrown toenail and couldn’t wear regular shoes until the bandages came off. I was on the verge of tears. Looking back, my condition was obvious. I was wearing that old sneaker on my right foot. My big toe was bandaged and sticking out for all to see. What other explanation was needed? None but I was so self conscious. Maybe I’m remembering the old sneaker and my embarrassment more than the pain of a sore toe.

Funny the kinds of things you remember.

 

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Remember Christmas seasons past? I do, especially the special magic of the children and how that magic came into sharp focus, magnified at Christmas time. The anticipation, the belief, the wonder — all part of the magic of Christmas. I loved Christmas then and still do. Children’s magic is contagious and some of that magic rubs off on adults. Hey, it’s magic after all. But we live in the present moment and there comes the time when Christmas has past and the magic packed away in cardboard boxes for another year.

I never liked New Years because it was the day my parents turned off the magic and hid it away in the dark attic until the next year. And if that wasn’t depressing enough, we had to go back to school the next day after a wonderful week of magic, toys, friends and pure play.

School is the antithesis of magic. So is work and when the adults returned to work the little magic that did rub off was gone, magic lights extinguished as we settled into the long dark winter and the desert of days for months on end until the magic of spring and Easter enlivened us once again. I never understood why the new year begins in the middle of the dark winter. The new year should begin at the spring solstice when life renews.

What if we could call up the magic at will? What if we still knew how to play the way all children do? Play is what makes us human. Play is what makes life worth living. Play can transform life into the delicious creative journey that life is meant to be — but only if we remember how to play.

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Click to enlarge

I suppose I’m a bit of an agnostic because I prefer the company of free range chickens over those ‘other’ chickens, the ones with their nearly religious fanaticism and their sanctimonious know it all, I’m right, you’re wrong attitudes.

Sometimes I’ll stop in to eat with the Redmond chickens amid all the cackling about how neat their yard is but I shut out the noise — I’m here to eat because they do have a great feed selection. They’re not a bad group, just misguided and afraid.

Who doesn’t like a nice apple. I enjoy eating apples but I prefer them cut up and seasoned to suit my tastes and eating habits. I’ve passed by and admired the Apple coops. They are lovely and the feed is tempting but the price of admission is too high in both money and self-respect. Pecking approved feed their way or the highway isn’t for me. When I’m hungry please leave me alone and let me eat in peace, one of the reasons I’d rather be a free range chicken.

The idea for this piece came to me one day while hanging out in the Redmond coop. I snuck my own feed into their lot. Nothing they could do about that. I come in here quite often. I was passing by one day in October last year when I saw an opportunity to gain access to the Redmond coop easily with no admission fee because a new, supposedly better coop, was scheduled for a grand opening down the road.

Sure enough, when I arrived at the old address, I saw chickens leaving the comfortable old coop to join a line that stretched up the road as far as I could see. But when I got closer I realized I was on the wrong side of the road. The line was moving slowly to the new (rumored) Apple coop around the bend in the road. None of those chickens waiting in that line had actually seen the new coop but that didn’t matter to them. They had to get in because the rumored coop would be the best ever.

Meanwhile, I turned and watched some of the Redmond chickens making their way to their new coop on the other side of the road. It almost seemed as though they were sneaking. I noticed some of them shaking their heads and wandering off to find a different rooster on their own. These poor chickens wanted to leave the Redmond coop for years but were afraid they wouldn’t get enough to eat so they stayed, but most of the other chickens who made the move to free range seemed fat and happy. And they didn’t have credit cards clutched in their beaks either. Free range enjoy freedom at a reasonable cost.

I’d rather be a free range chicken even though we have to put up with all the cackling from the know it all chickens in the approved coops. We free range chickens get plenty to eat and (don’t tell the confined chickens) some of our food is better than what they are given to eat. We never toss out perfectly good feed for the sake of change and we’re always willing to help fellow free rangers whenever we can. Yep — I’d rather be a free range chicken. Cackle, cackle.

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I learned clustering years ago from Gabriele Rico’s wonderful “Writing the Natural Way” but I’ve neglected clustering until I came across past clustering and vignettes that revived my interest. Actually I started a new notebook three months ago devoted entirely to clustering. Alas, I only put six clusters / vignettes into that book until today when I clustered on the word / idea “CLUSTER.” But before I share this latest cluster here are a few ideas from the book.

Our design minds (Rico’s term for the right side of the brain) are filled with imaginative ideas and clustering is a sort of brainstorming process that frees these images and makes them visible. Clustering is a journey we begin without knowing or concerning ourselves with outcomes. Clustering only takes a few minutes. At some point during the clustering your mind will suddenly know what to write and then you shift into writing a vignette which only takes a few minutes. Now here’s my attempt at clustering “cluster” — the raw vignette / first draft.

clustering

Cluster shifts the view, a dance of messages passing the eye, attracting the eye like clouds in the sky. Pulling together or poles apart repulsed and sent away. Clustering pops ideas, floats ideas ever changing like clouds floating by transforming and dissipating, whisping away — fierce dragon to unformed tendrils waiting for the next breeze to gather together again — always different, bringing the kaleidoscope into another picture of what? The thoughts trapped in your mind. Clustering invites these wordless thoughts to come out to play, to give them voice.

I didn’t time myself as I should have but this entire process only took 5 to 10 minutes. The next thing would be to give the vignette a rest and come back later for additional work (or not).

Here’s a [It’s my turn again] vignette after clustering on TURN from Writing the Natural Way on Oct. 9, 2011.

It’s my turn again where / when I flip over and repeat but am I repeating the same things over and over? My turn is another invitation to return for another look, to see / hear / taste / feel now, to spin on the axis of the moment. Do I remember my last turn? Should I? Each turn is a new chance, an opportunity for now, the again that’s always different than last time. The again that puts last time in proper perspective into the past of has beens that can be no more. My turn is an invitation to new creativity —  now.

I wrote this one [Wonder and the Fragility of Ideas] from Writing the Natural Way, on October 11, 2012

My head bobs up and down anxious, no, eager (because we don’t like worry words and anxious is a worry word). We like words like eager, a puppy aiming to please, a child wondering about his world, living in the moment, the wonder of Now. Wonder sneaks up on me when I sit quietly. No thunder — who needs thunder? Thunder is suspect, drawing attention to itself with noise rather than substance. When I don’t know what to wonder about, wonder tells me. All I need to do is pay attention. PAY ATTENTION! ATTENTION means ATTENTION!

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Grandmom_john_May_1949_smI’m having a difficult time projecting myself back to my childhood to specific measures and perhaps my dreams. Maybe I’ll connect somehow. Could my dreams and aspirations have been so vague that they existed as mist? Do I need to dig out the bad (and the good)?

Don’t all kids have dreams and aspirations of ‘what they want to be when they grow up?’ I thought something must be wrong with me because I don’t remember. Could it be that I had no dreams or aspirations? I learned that there’s nothing wrong with me or my childhood memories (or seeming lack of) when I discovered an article from aeon online magazine (it’s free) this past summer — “The Great Forgetting” by Kristin Ohlson (July 30, 2014). I’m not the only one who doesn’t remember much from their childhood. I’m not alone.

I’ve always loved books and reading and wondered if I ever had aspirations to become a writer when I grew up. I don’t remember. But I do remember how I found my refuge from the world in books and my imagination. When I discovered reading and got my own library card, new worlds opened to me. I could retreat into my books and learn, discover, imagine and dream without interference, a love affair that was destined to endure for the rest of my life.

I cannot imagine my life without books. Who planted those seeds? Who encouraged me? It was probably my grandmother. I don’t remember that either but I’ll always be grateful. Now that I think on this, I lived in my imagination and like to think I still do — as a reader and a writer. Maybe I was repressed back then (watch for an article on the subject). Maybe I was shy, but imagination and creativity are reborn and very much alive.

Note: This piece was stimulated by handwritten notes from May 6, 2010. Some of the text is verbatim, some revised and more added. The photo was taken with my maternal grandmother, the most wonderful person who ever touched my life, in May, 1949 when I was four years old. Click the photo to enlarge.

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“I Don’t Know Why I Remember…” is the first exercise from Alice LaPlante’s “the making of a story,” a book I recommend highly. The point of the exercise is discovery of material “that remains ‘hot’ for you in some important emotional way.” I have four of these from my archives that I’ll be posting soon. But, in the spirit of Christmas, I decided to write a new one. Here goes.

Merry Christmas from John

Merry Christmas from John Click to enlarge

I don’t know why I remember peeking downstairs that year on Christmas Eve. It cost me dearly (or so I thought at the time). The living room was brightly lit, just pouring festive up the stairs. The adults were enjoying the holiday merry while we kids were all nestled in our beds. Yeah, right. Sleep was impossible. I lay there trying to will myself to sleep until the idea that morning would never come pushed me out of my bed and down the hall for a peek at the head of the stair. What was all this noise? What am I missing?

Of course they caught me and told me to get back into my bed, that Santa had already taken one of my toys back for being naughty. No way was I risking the loss of another toy, so my angelic self set a world record hustling back to my bed where I lay wondering which toy Santa took back but sleep came. Morning came. Christmas was here.

I always wondered which toy went back into the sleigh. Did Santa give my toy to some other more deserving kid? I carried this burden until I discovered the truth about Santa, when part of the magic of Christmas disappeared forever.

Christmas magic is a special kind of magic kept alive by the children. There are other forms of ‘kid magic,’ but Christmas magic is the best.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. The photo above of me could have been taken that Christmas many years ago when magic reigned and I still believed.

Update: I was 3 years old when this photo was taken which dates it to Christmas, 1947. That’s 67 years ago!

 

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dragonfire01_wmI can’t remember the Ninja Nun Warrior’s name but Sister Ninja will do. I don’t remember what she looked like and can’t quote her words. Sister Ninja was the antithesis of holy and a witch who hated me. She belittled, scolded and rained who knows what other torments down on my head.

I remember the day I refused to go to school. At first I hid in the alley (like mom wouldn’t find me?) and mom sent me to school but each time she tried, I came back until my father put me in the car, drove me to school and abandoned me to the the clutches of Sister Ninja.

If stress can cause our bodies to be sick, then maybe she was a direct (or indirect) cause of my German measles and Scarlet fever. After all, I was home from school and away from Sister Ninja for months because I was very sick and in the hospital for part of the time.

Wow, that creature did affect me. I never considered her treatment of me as a possible cause of my long second grade illnesses. Of course I’m speculating and can’t prove a thing and maybe imagining too much but her vitriol was pure poison to me as a young kid. I needed encouragement and guidance but she did nothing but discourage and belittle. I hated her and school. She was a truly evil woman.

But even after missing months of school during the winter and spring of 1952 I finished first in my second grade class and was done with the Ninja Nun Warrior for and out of her clutches forever. I proved that the pen is mightier than Sister Ninja’s weapons of kid destruction. What if I had said “Remember the Cricket on the stairs Sister? That was me.” And put the cricket on her desk on the way out her classroom door on the last day of school?

I remember my third grade teacher as a tall, thin nun who liked me, appreciated me, encouraged me, praised mea and contributed to my feeling of self worth. What a change from second grade!

I wish I could picture her or remember her name. It’s enough to remember her as a happy good woman, to remember her as an encouraging nurturing influence on me as a young child. She was a healing force. Though I don’t remember specifics, I remember third grade as a happy time.

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800px-Cricket_InsectI wasn’t trying to pin the blame on another person, I dumped the evidence into the other kid’s pocket so I wouldn’t get the blame. What was I thinking? I wasn’t. When Sister Ninja Marie went into attack mode, we were all paralyzed with fear.

All you heard as our second grade class snaked down the fire stair at the end of the school day was the noise of dozens of feet. That is, until I took my cheap tin cricket noise maker that I probably got out of a Cracker Jack box out of my pocket. That sucker was loud, a bold move for a normally shy kid. And in competition with the ever present wooden nun’s clicker.! What was I thinking? As I said, I wasn’t. Ninja nun’s screaming, and thundering up the stairs. All I remember is thinking that I had to get rid of that cricket before Ninja nun spotted me so I dropped it into the open pocket of the kid next to me. And then? My memory stops there — after 63 years, I have no recollection of what happened next. But what if…

What if Ninja nun had been closer than I thought and saw me drop the cricket into my neighbor’s pocket? I can feel the outrage, see her face getting red as she explodes (my name explodes form her mouth), grabs both of us and yanks us out of line. My neighbor has innocently become part of her conspiracy. No matter that his pocket was nothing more than a convenient dumping ground for the incriminating evidence.

Would she have grabbed my ear? Who knows where she would have attacked first but you can be sure it would have gotten physical and fast. Now she’s on a roll, her destiny to bend young minds and bodies to her will or beat the crap out of said young bodies and minds.

Ninja Nun Warrior, fearless against the forces of seven year old evil children who were destined for eternal punishment in the fires of hell were it not for her timely intervention. What a culture this was because Sister Ninja Marie (who cares what her real name was) was only one example of a way of thinking, a way of life.

No wonder I was scared of my own shadow as a kid. The cricket incident must have been my way of fighting back, feeble as it was.

Suppose the kid next to me noticed me dropping the cricket in his pocket? No, he felt something different about his pocket, stuck his hand in and, to his surprise and eventual demise, pulled out the cricket just as Ninja nun’s evil eye landed on us. Aha! He became the guilty one and I was stunned to silence by her rage. I had opened my mouth and was about to proclaim his innocence when her look froze the words in my mouth. I was paralyzed with fear. My neighbor’s surprise turned to fear as Sister Ninja attacked. The poor kid had no chance, Ninja Nun had her man and no explanation, no confessions from me would change anything. She made her grab, caught the culprit, announced it to the world and no matter what happened next, would never admit to being wrong. God was infallible and she, as God’s minion (and wife because she had the ring) was always right. But she wasn’t right about me and I proved it at the end of the school year, But that’s another story.

Note: The ideas and raw text for this story were transcribed from morning pages 02/16/2013.

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The Knowledge Vampire

The following is a piece I wrote to myself nine years ago on May 19, 2006

The knowledge vampire. Yep, that’s me. I’m a knowledge vampire. I don’t suck the juice out of anything, I absorb. I have this hunger for knowing. I just gotta know. I remember when I was a kid. Sitting on the front porch in summer or on the living room sofa waiting for breakfast. Reading. I love to read. I love to discover stuff. Find out why things are. I got up early every Saturday morning to watch Mr. Wizard. Made my own breakfast too. Why would a kid, or at least any normal kid want to get out of bed early on Saturday. Saturday was the day you’re supposed to be lazy. No school, nothing to do or at least nobody telling you what to do all day. Except when dad would give me the hose and expect me to wash all the dirt down the alley. Why didn’t we sweep the alley with a broom?

Waste of water. But what did we know then. Water was free and there was always more where that came from. The water squirted out of the hose as long as you wanted it to. Besides, sweeping was work and crouching with the hose was easy – the hose was doing all the work. Me? I’m just holding the hose and moving it back and forth.

What chore did I hate the most? Weeding the garden. I had to get down on my knees and get dirt under my fingernails. Nasty bugs and stuff on my hands. Ech! I wanted to be sitting in the back yard with my soldiers. Now that was real playing in the dirt. Same dirt, but it was my dirt instead of the garden dirt. I was playing instead of working.

So, why did I get up on Saturday morning? Because Mr. Wizard was cool. He did all kinds of neat stuff and I learned things. Same reason I got so many books out of the library. I found out about all kinds of stuff. Stuff I never knew. Was it useful? Did it matter? No. I was having fun.

I was left to my own devices? Crazy way to talk. Who ever talked that way? As I was saying, they would usually leave me alone so I could read or whatever. I liked reading better than baseball. I was never much of an athlete. Nobody made me and nobody took the time to show me. So, I learned things on my own.

I had a magnifying glass. I had a few of those over the years. I liked to shine the sun on leaves and burn holes in them with my magnifying glass. Burned up a few ants too. Looked a bit closer that I could with my regular eyes.

So, I’m a knowledge vampire? Maybe better to call myself a knowledge sponge. Absorb all I can then wring me out and start over.

I was a good little boy too. Never deviating from the rules they gave me. Memorize the catechism. Every day with the rules. Break one and go to confession and all would be right again (after I said the hail Marys and our fathers.)

Remember walking over to DeSales on Saturday afternoons in the summer to confess my sins. Wearing a nylon shirt outside my pants. Long pants and combed hair. Wouldn’t do to show up in church looking like a regular kid, even though I was a sinner.

Knowledge. Asking questions? Yeah, but I didn’t ask too many questions when I was a kid. I just did what I was told to do (most of the time.) Never a rebel, but I always had my secret world. If I didn’t share by telling people, then they never knew what I was thinking.

Confessing sins sucks. Having to kneel there and share intimate things with this priest guy. Share my secrets with a guy in a black dress. Never went to Fr. Gallagher because I was afraid he’d recognize my voice. Poof, there go the secrets. Bad enough you had to kneel there, but imagine how bad, even scared I’d be if the guy in black knew who I was.

Am I different now? Hope so. I’m 61 now. Bit older than the scared kid who sat and read books all the time, but I still want to suck all of the knowledge I can. I want to know more stuff!

Afterword (written today) I’m 69, soon to be 70 and I’m still a knowledge vampire.

 

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