I set a goal of reading 12 books this year, and accepted Goodreads’ the challenge to do so. Since I made it, and it is only mid-September, I’m going to set an additional goal three more books by December 31.
I’ve been stressed out this week. And when I get stressed out I like to cook. Obviously, there’s some psychological connection between food and stress, but I won’t go into that now. Needless to say I was engaging in a little “self care for the creative” this morning as I made this batch of harissa, a North African condiment made of dried chilies, spices, garlic and oil.
My point here in mentioning this is that as creatives, we need to take the occasional mental or emotional vacation, if we can’t take the real thing. Knit, fix cars, read books, go hiking, garden, do whatever it takes to clear the decks and prime the pump.
Here is the recipe I used. I used all guajillos, the juice of half a lemon, and fewer cloves of garlic.
“I can’t stand this anymore!” Glenda flung open her front door, letting in a rush of cooler air to her stifling apartment. She stomped onto the porch and plopped down on the top step. She wiped her sweaty face with the hem of her tee-shirt.
The late afternoon sky had transitioned to a deep cobalt blue and the thin sliver of a waxing crescent moon reflected the light of the setting sun. The streetlights were beginning to glow.
A wave of anxiety overtook her and she glanced around. The street was quiet. This was odd for an August evening. There should be runners and walkers headed toward the beach and beach-goers coming back, but she was utterly alone. The restraining order that she had placed on Roger was working, it seemed, since she had not seen him for several days. Not wanting to take the chance of running into him, she had played it safe and spent the entire day inside her apartment. She kept the windows and door shut to suggest she was not home. That, and having no air conditioning as well, made her apartment feel like an oven.
She buried her face in her hands. “I can’t live like this,” she muttered. She felt so cold inside. Glenda snorted and shook her head at the irony of being so frozen on a hot summer night.
Out of the corner of her eye she caught a movement. She looked up and saw an animal trotting down the sidewalk towards her. It was moving at a fast clip, with a smooth gait, and its head lowered as if it were trying not to be seen. As the creature came into the pool of the porch’s light, Glenda saw its big triangle-shaped ears, pointed muzzle, bushy tail, and gray-flecked tawny pelt. It stared ahead and gave her no notice. Its eyes did not have the knowing, engaged look of a dog. This animal was wild.
Glenda became completely immobile. She was no more than ten feet from it. She had never encountered a wild animal capable of injuring her at such a close distance, but it did not break stride and continued on as if it were on some urgent mission. It glided past her down the sidewalk and slipped around the corner.
It took Glenda a moment or two to realize that she had just encountered a coyote. She knew they often came into urban areas, but the closest wilderness habitat was it least twenty miles away. She had no idea that they could range so far. Glenda quickly stood, pulled shut her front door, and took off in the direction the coyote had trotted.
She carefully peered around the corner and could see the coyote halfway down the street. Glenda pulled out her cell phone and asked it to dial the front desk of the local police precinct. She felt that someone in authority should know that a potentially dangerous animal was roaming the streets of her neighborhood. Not wanting to lose sight of the coyote, Glenda broke into a jog while waiting for her call to connect.
A man with a flat, bored voice answered. When Glenda finished with her report, the man said, “Are you sure, ma’am, that you didn’t just see a dog?“
“I did not ‘just see a dog’. I saw a coyote,” she emphatically stated as she jogged. “I’m only reporting this because I figured you’d want to make sure that no one‘s pet or small child is attacked. I hope we’re on the same page here, officer.”
The man sighed and asked her for her name and phone number. “We’ll check it out, ma’am.”
“Thank you”. Glenda shoved her phone back into her pocket. She had reached the place where the street dead-ended into the neighborhood park. As she paused for a moment to catch her breath, she spotted the coyote running in and out of the shadows across the outfield of the park’s baseball field. Glenda entered the park and headed in the same direction. She had nearly caught up with the animal, but it slipped into some bushes at the edge of a grove of trees.
Glenda came to a stop, and with her hands on her hips, she bent over gasping for air. “You win, Wile E. I gotta rest.”
“Who you talkin’ to, Glenda?”
Glenda spun around.
Seated on a park bench was a matronly woman. Her legs were too short to reach the ground so she swung them, clad with black sneakers and white socks, like a child on a swing set. She wore purple spandex yoga pants and a blood red tee-shirt with faded lettering that said, “Stay Calm and Yell Bingo.” Her silver hair was drawn up and tucked under a blue Dodger baseball cap that crowned her head. In one hand she held a barbecued sparerib bone while the other balanced an open takeout container on her lap. Next to her on the seat of the bench were two open Corona bottles. Her round smooth face beamed with a toothy grin.
Everyone in the neighborhood knew Tía Luna, but no one really knew anything about her. Some said she lived in a flat above a son’s auto body shop. Some said she lived in a fancy townhouse purchased by a doctor daughter. And some quipped that she lived on Mars. She dispensed wisdom to everyone in the neighborhood, regardless of age, gender, language, or color. From how to raise children to how to untangle complicated relationships to how to cure arthritis, Tía had the answer.
“I saw a coyote.”
“And you decided to chase it?”
Glenda shifted on her feet, “Well, I guess that was a pretty stupid thing to do.” She honestly didn’t know why she had done that. Changing the subject, she asked, ”Tía, what are you doing here so late?” She typically saw Tía Luna only in the early morning power-walking with her posse of elderly friends while sipping their cups of senior discount McDonald’s coffee.
“I’m on a date,” she giggled.
“You’re on a date?”
“Why not? You’re never too old to… “ Tía Luna shimmied her ample bosom and gyrated her hips on the seat of the bench.
The old woman laughed and then ripped off a piece of flesh from the sparerib bone. With her other hand she held the container forward to Glenda. “You want some? Johnnie’s makes the best,” she said between chews.
“No, I’m good. Thanks.”
Tía shrugged. “Arturo went back to get some more sauce.”
“Arturo? What happened to Hector? I used to see you and Hector hang together all the time.”
Tía made a dismissive wave with the bone. “Pthhph! Hector is old news. I’m keeping my options open.” Tía narrowed her eyes and pointed the bone at Glenda. “And you— talkin’ about guys— Where’s that no-good piece of—”
“His name is Roger. And I don’t know where he’s at. I haven’t seen him for days.”
“It’s good you took out those papers on him.”
Glenda stared at her. How could she know about the restraining order? She had not even mentioned it to her own family. She was too ashamed to admit what he had done to her.
“But hiding out in your apartment? What are you thinking? That’s no way to live.”
Glenda lowered her face and said, “I know, I know.”
Tía dropped the bare bone into the container and tossed it on the bench beside her. She wiped her fingers with a paper napkin. She sighed and said, “So what are you going to do about this?”
“I don’t know.” She felt tears beginning to well up in her eyes.
“Well, I’m gonna tell you what to do. First of all, get out of that apartment. You can’t live like that.”
“And do not run and hide somewhere else. You being scared is just where he wants you. Being scared is what gives him his power over you. Do. Not. Be. Afraid,” she sternly stated, punctuating each word with a finger.
“But you don’t know what he can do to me,” Glenda pleaded. “I can’t fight him.”
“I’m not saying to fight him. I am telling you to resist him. Bullies run away when they meet a strong woman. You understand?”
Glenda sniffed and nodded.
“Stand strong. And don’t feel sorry for yourself. You are better than that. Right?”
“Yes— I AM better than that.”
“And I have eyes and ears everywhere in this neighborhood and if he shows up around here, I’m gonna know it and I’m gonna send my people after him. I have ‘people’, you know, and we’re looking out for you.” Tía chuckled.
Glenda was about to respond when she heard a rustle. She turned toward the sound. Standing a few yards away in front of the bushes at the edge of the tree line was the coyote. Its yellow green eyes looked directly into hers.
“Tía! Do you see it? It’s back.” Glenda turned her gaze to the bench. Tía Luna was gone. The bench was completely empty. “Tía? Tía, where are you?”
She spun around, looking in all directions. Then she noticed that the coyote had vanished as well. Glenda sighed “Well, that’s Tía Luna for you.“
It was completely dark now, and Glenda slowly walked to the bike path that wound through the park. As she approached a curve in the path that headed alongside the baseball field and towards the park’s exit, she saw a silhouette of a person.
The figure was back lit by the intense white field lights. The figure’s height, build, and gait told her this was a man. Glenda noted that he held a thick object in his hand.
Oh God. Roger.
Glenda abruptly stopped and her muscles tensed to run. Then she remembered something that she had seen in a nature documentary about how when prey runs then the predator will pursue. No, she was not going to run. She was going to stand her ground. She was going to tell Roger to his face to get out of her life forever. She would not be intimidated. She began walking towards the man, picking up speed. She felt her body begin to shake. Even though a feeling of power came over her, a feeling that she was invincible, she nevertheless pulled her cell phone out of the pocket and was poised to dial 911 if necessary.
When she was just a few yards from the man, she opened her mouth to speak. Before she could say anything she heard a squawky, fuzzy voice coming from the man. He reached a hand up to his shoulder and lowered his mouth to it.
“Copy that. I think I see her now. Excuse me, ma’am, did you call about a coyote?”
Glenda stopped. She could barely stifle a laugh of relief. Her legs felt like gelatin. “Yes, officer, I did. I saw it over there.” She pointed back towards the bushes behind her. The police officer pointed the flashlight in his hand in that direction.
“Thank you, ma’am. I’ll check it out. You know, ma’am, the park closed at dusk. It’s not safe for you to be here right now.”
Glenda smiled at him. “I’ll be fine.”
The officer gave her a bewildered look. “Yes, ma’am.” He walked off towards the bushes.
Glenda continued on her way, the anxiety, fear, and anger sliding off her shoulders and melting into the darkness. She looked up at the crescent moon sailing across the night sky and trembled with delight.
Image courtesy of Morguefile
I am actually in the process of writing a story. I outlined it this week, started it last night, and hope to have a first draft on Monday. We’ll see, but that’s the plan.
In the meantime here’s a little quickie for you. It is a montage of clips from various lectures by Ray Bradbury. Enjoy!
I honestly believe that stories float around in the ether looking for a storyteller to bring them life. They send out little snippets of themselves– images, clips of dialogue, a tripping phrase or two– capturing the attention of the writer who then puts the pieces together and writes the story. That has happened to me this week.
For me, the structure of a story is classic: three acts comprised of a set up, rising tension or conflict, then a finale with a resolution. On Sunday, an image presented itself to me and I thought it would make a great “first act”. Then another image with some dialogue captured me on Monday for a second act. Then last night I fell asleep while watching television. When I woke up about midnight, the third act was right before me. I had the complete story in bits and pieces.
Before I finally went to bed, I scribbled a tangle of one line phrases into my journal — I was that afraid I would forget it. Now when the day job settles down a bit and I am not so darn exhausted when I get home, I plan to get to the business of actually writing the story.
The story captured me and will not let me rest until I write it.
I was orbiting the blogosphere this morning hoping to be inspired. (I feel the need to write some fiction). The Internet fairies took pity and sprinkled some magic dust on me, and I had an “aha” moment wherein I realized that instead of agonizing over coming up with something new that I could do what countless other writers and creators have done and retell a story from the Public Domain. From there I stumbled across this wonderful video by author Jill Williamson. She explains in detail what constitutes a work in the Public Domain and thus accessible for re-telling. I urge you to take a look. Now, I’m off to re-read some Homer and Grimm.
My mother once told me the story of how she watched MGM Studio burn down some of their old stages while filming the burning of Atlanta scene for its movie Gone with the Wind. My grandfather used to regale me with stories of the Marx Brothers’ antics on set and how the Prince came to visit Grace while she was making one of her last movies. My regret is that I did not pay much attention to these stories when they were told nor did I ask to hear more like them. These stories from the “golden age” of Hollywood were part of my upbringing and were stories that connected me with my family heritage. I wished I had asked more questions.
Stories, it seems, are important in imparting our familial and cultural identities. Stories are also important in their power to change things for the better.
As I have stated before on this blog, the old 1990’s television series Northern Exposure was one of my favorites. I especially enjoyed the character of Ed Chigliak, a young indigenous Alaskan whose desire was to become a film maker. He was also studying to be a shaman, and he frequently cited scenes from movies to help members of the Cicely community with their problems and issues. There is healing in hearing our stories. There is power in telling them.
I don’t know what healing would come from my family stories, but they would have provided some fodder for my own stories if I had listened more. Perhaps I might have eventually found some wisdom in them.
Columnist and humorist, Dave Lieber, in a 2013 Ted Talk said this about story telling: “So tell your story. Take the data of your life and turn it into real people doing real things and you will move mountains. You will change the world.”
I have not posted about drumming in the last few months. This is because I have not been to my favorite drum circle in the last few months. When friends ask “How’s the drum circle? Still going?”, I’ve been telling them that I’ve been too busy, or had a commitment elsewhere, or the hot weather was not to my liking, and so on.
The truth is I stopped going mainly because I felt intimidated.
Some of the people who regularly attend the circle are professional musicians. Several of them specialize in Latin jazz or traditional African drum rhythms. I find these rhythms difficult to ease into. I just can’t nail those syncopated beats. I felt like I was messing up their drumming because I could not get this. I had convinced myself that I was not a good drummer.
During my hiatus from the drum circle, I continued to drum with some other musician friends who play and sing contemporary folk/pop/rock arrangements. I get enough affirmation from them to know that I’m not completely hopeless. Those arrangements are my style, it seems.
I returned to the drum circle today because I missed the people there. But I held back, finding the base beats and softly playing around them so as not to throw off the other drummers. Mostly I sat there and just enjoyed their playing.
The take away from this lesson is that I need to learn the nature of my own creative expression—what I enjoy, where my strengths reside— and be comfortable enough to not be intimidated by other Creatives who might be better in some respect. My creative genre is primarily writing. I need to know my style. I need to write in that style with no regard of what critics, both my inner and outer, think or say.
If someone doesn’t like my style of writing, so be it. I am going to keep on writing anyway. If my critics make a racket because they don’t like my writing, I’ll quietly persist nevertheless, hearing my voice in the din.