writing to survive
. . . only the retelling counts

For those in the know

I wish we could have a conversation, share the commonalities, outside of the one that brought you here. That commonality is, of course, a thin wedge to place my assumptions upon. The meanings we create out of dust, minor clues, and imagination . . . . Perhaps it is all pure fantasy.

That thing, the first cause, is a faded memory. Surely you are aware that our shared context has dissolved? What you have in full Technicolor is a yellowed newspaper clipping for me, as out of date as newsprint and the Technicolor process itself. It’s a story about people I used to know, like that wedding announcement I ripped out of the
Times 23 years ago. We no longer exist the way we once did.

I did something stupid and got hooked. Over time, the hook rusted away to grit and dust. The only evidence it ever was is a ghostly stain, a memory of corrosion. So perhaps it is not what we once shared which continues to draw you. Maybe you are here for the writing, for those glimpses at and full-on flashes of the intersection between fact and fantasy.

I will never know.

Here is what I wish for you -- no hooks, just hand in hand love, trust, and the ability to hold and be held, to contain the knowledge that you are loved, even when it feels like there is no bottom to the ache. It’s not as simple as it sounds.

But you know that.

Painting [Conciencia (Conscience)] by Aimee Garcia Marrero, courtesy of a Washington City Paper review of her 2004 show at the Fraser Gallery in Georgetown.


And all around me, life

Tomato vines reach. Citrus, berries, apples, kale, and poblanos fruit, sprout, green. A baker’s dozen selection of herbs roots in pots and expanses of earth. A thrush thrashes as it sifts through straw. Hummingbirds, nectar-seeking fighter pilots in colorful garb, hover over trumpet vine flowers. The local calico kitty, unusual boy, travels the railroad-tracked top of the fence, a path to his other life. Hunched raccoons take the same route in darkness.

Salamanders under backyard rocks in the damp of winter. A desiccated amphibious corpse flattened under trash can wheels. The latest generation of rust and black herky-jerky jumping spiders among the terra-cotta pots. Orb weavers’ translucent traps pinned across the path.

One small human plus two larger ones enter, sleep, wake, and exit. Two kittens curl together, a fully grown cat pouts, an elderly dog sits watch, and a leopard gecko, in the prime of life, basks in the heat lamp. A continually replenished cacophonous collection of crickets chirp. Silverfish hide. Sly cobweb makers place their work in hard to reach corners.

Dust. Fur. Sand. Ash. Litter. Piles of newspapers, circulars, and magazines never to be read. Minecraft to-do notes written on days of no play. A gnawed-on bone. The tap of a solar-powered beckoning cat against glass. Three mugs filled with pens and broken-tipped pencils next to three pencil sharpeners of varying degrees of quality. A huddle of jackets and coats on the rack above a clutch of lined-up shoes. Cat scratchers, cat trees, and official and impromptu cat toys throughout.

Hair and nails ignored too long. Stubbled legs. Core that desires, but does not necessarily receive, consistent exercise. Rapidly fading eyesight. Two pairs of reading glasses placed for convenience, bedside and bag to bag, especially useful in low-lit restaurants. Slowly shifting facial features. Mirrors passed with oblique peeks.

Markers of responsibility. Markers of time passing. Markers of life.

Photos by me.
From the prompt “Here’s my list.”


When all else fails . . .

think of kittens!

School started yesterday with one of those long 13-hour days and it continues today with an early afternoon class. I’ve already dropped a class, which is a relief, and I’ve gotten used to being the only one of my constantly shifting cohort without a placement this year. Tomorrow, the boy begins fourth grade. And so time will compress. I will be three steps closer to the completion of my graduate degree, the boy will get taller, and the kittens will grow into their feet.

In lieu of writing more of the blah blah about my cranky, school-going self, I leave you with this prompt from last week.


I miss art and artfulness, the naivety of youth, the first crisp taste of that first beer, the love of spring and its bounty. I miss the fresh pain of the initial blows, the way I could fall into his arms and believe that he could save me, the nervous thrill of getting away with something which made our relationship even sweeter.

Colors lose their intensity, and cynicism crumbles pure joy. The third beer muddles your mind. Too many asparagus stalks and strawberries bore the palate. Sharp blows leave ugly scars, and people disappoint. Deception creates a chasm deep within.

And I will never see a
Helen Frankenthaler painting the way I first did, standing in the National Gallery in Washington, DC, drunk on cherry blossoms and new knowledge, still feeling the ache of adolescent wounds. On my way to the gallery, I saw homeless men bathing in the fountains by the Capitol building. On the walk back, the fountain water flowed in their absentia. So I opened the door of my dark E Street studio with the parquet floors, disturbing the cockroaches as I reached into the half-sized refrigerator for a beer, 21 years old and alone again because it was safe and contained what felt unbounded.

Top image by me.
Bottom image of Helen Frankenthaler in 1956 from wikipedia.

From a photo prompt.


Opening up the doors

The prompt Asking for help is about as loaded a topic for me as hope. I pretend to eschew them both, would prefer to believe that I live without either, a pack animal on a solo jaunt, always looking for the next meal, never reflecting or projecting too far into the future. I want to form an argument, a syllogism for why I don’t do x, or why it’s all a load of hooey anyway. I go back and rewrite and overthink, the result being a tightly packed box of emotion disguised as thought. My writing becomes something for which the lovely Grace might want to smack me upside the head, a sure sign that I’ve gotten myself into the mental weeds!

Whatever I do, whatever impulse I follow along these lines, also makes for pretty dull writing on the technical end. It’s like riding the shadow of remembered pain, tracing a path I’ve worn from soft dirt and pine needles down to rock and fossil. Sometimes I can take my responses to the daily writing prompts to another place (after
Francine’s secret* is revealed, does she become more hopeful about humankind and finally ask for help?), but I afraid this week so far is about a series of mental traps, of self-reflection gone in circles. Being plumped on anxiety about the impending school year makes it worse.

I want to take you to a small cottage that smells of kerosene and mildew, want to place you there with me, 16 and abandoned to myself after a tragedy whose ripples will never smooth, and say – there! This is why I don’t ask for help. Would you do this to your own teenager? Was I that terrible? Did I deserve it?

I’ve been down this dead-end lane before. The brambles catch on my 1980s The Limited Forenza cargo pants, the moonvine threatens to wrap around my ankles and pull me back through that door, but I ask for a hand and, with help, pull myself free.

*Writing prompt from last week.

Title from the Beatles song “Help!”

From the prompt “Asking for help.” Image from the album cover of
Help! courtesy of Lady P3pper.
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