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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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