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Posts Tagged ‘memories’

I have not come close to death. But I have feared it. Taunted it, too. Repelled down the sides of cliffs. Spelunked in the bowels of caves. Flown over the Arctic in a small plane that landed on a short gravel bar on the banks of the Nahanni. Once I drove through the mountains on a cold snowy night, joyriding with friends. We ended up stranded in a ditch, no coats, no water, no food. Another night I got lost hiking in Arches National Park. But I sat tight with the bats, two camera bodies, flickering distant desert, until rangers whispered my name.

I was younger then, took more risks. I feel more cautious. Older and prone to safety. It’s boring to lose that sense of adventure. The bones creakier. The face more wrinkled. The risks emotional.

Who do I know that has come close to death? A girlfriend in high school told me she had meningitis as a baby and nearly died. She was scarred from the shots, said it was a miracle that she was still alive. What must it be like for a parent to lose a child? My grandmother lost her son, my mother her brother, at the age of 18. There are ways I would not want to die. I wouldn’t want to be in a fire or drown in the ocean. I don’t think I’d be fond of a shark bite ripping me in half. Car accidents don’t sound like a way to go either. Maybe there is no good way to die. To imagine death.

There have been times when I felt like I was a millisecond away from making a wrong turn with the wheel, a swerve of a bald tire, and something righted the machine. The hand of Fate? A God or Goddess? Is there something bigger, unimaginable to the mortal brain, there to intervene? I believe so. What if reality turns out to be only what we believe. I watched a movie recently called Paper Heart. It was an exploration of love. What is love. When was the first time you fell in love. Have you ever been in love?

I was thinking of the broken heart. In the movie, a faux documentary, the experts said love wasn’t in the heart, but chemical reactions in the brain. How then to explain the tight chest, crackling near the ribs when someone suddenly says goodbye. When I think of death, I wonder about being ready to die. Will I feel like I’m ready when my time comes. And when will that be.

It’s unpredictable, a good argument for living in the moment. And here I am writing about death like it was love and love like it was death. And on the screen in front of me a shark swims next to a narwhale, elusive creatures of the sea. You could go your whole life and never see a narwhale. Yet there he was, the National Geographic photographer who spotted the ivory tusked cluster from the air.

And when he zoomed in with the telephoto, face to face in the water, who was closer to death, animal or human. Do skeptics believe in love? Maybe they don’t need to. Dense and blue. I think love is blue. “In love” is that bright color mix of powder and turquoise. Broken love, a deep blackberry navy. Death. What color is death? In the end it does not matter. The one thing we share besides birth is death. I haven’t come close to it. Yet skin cells continue to shed. New skin, new me. Haggard and prunish, a raisin in the sun.




-Related to topic post WRITING TOPIC – 3 QUESTIONS. [NOTE: This is the first of three questions mentioned by actor and writer Anna Deavere Smith in an interview with Bill Moyers (see link). She talked about the questions in the context of interviewing people and listening to them. The three questions came from a linguist Smith met at a cocktail party in 1979; the questions were, according to the linguist, guaranteed to break the patterns and change the way people are expressing themselves. QuoinMonkey, ybonesy, and frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman take on the three questions by doing a Writing Practice on each.]

-Also related to posts PRACTICE: Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by ybonesy), PRACTICE: Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by Bob Chrisman)

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By Bob Chrisman


The question strikes me as amusing because I wonder how many times I’ve been on the edge of dying and didn’t realize it. How about the time the gray BMW swung around the corner as it turned left? The outside mirror on the right side caught my open coat and flung it in the air. Even the driver thought he had hit me because he stopped, at least the brake lights flickered before he drove away. But the question is about a time I knew I was close to death.

In college I ran with a group of theater people. My friend, Margie (not her real name), lived at home in the suburbs with her family: Mom, Dad, and a younger brother and sister. The parents regularly invited us to their house for taco night, a family and friends feast of food and laughter. One night in February I left their house to drive back into the city. I felt so lonely and depressed as I headed home in my VW bug.

I took a shortcut down a curving, two-lane road to the main highway. At the beginning of every curve I pushed the accelerator hard. Looking back, I may have wanted to die at that moment. My friend and her family showed me what I would never have in the way of a warm, loving family.

The car entered one curve. I caught the sheen of ice on the highway. Too late I took my foot off the accelerator and stomped on the brake. The car spun around like a yoyo, first one way and then the other.

I left my body. From the backseat of the VW, I watched my physical body frantically try to regain control of the spinning car by turning the steering wheel. Finally “I” gave up. As I watched the accident unfold, I said, “Oh, crap. I’m gonna die.” The car ran up the side of the hill and turned over on the left side. In that instant, I found myself in my body watching the asphalt speed past my driver’s side window.

The car ran into a ditch, stopped and flipped upright. I stumbled out into the cold, dark night on a lonely road in a wooded area. A young couple, on their way to a movie, stopped and made me climb into their car. They took me to a pay phone so I could call the police. When we arrived back at the wreck, they insisted on staying until the police arrived. A tow truck pulled my car from the ditch. The officers told me I could drive it home and I did.

I always remember that night whenever I drive a car. The accident made me more cautious about my driving. To have death come so close made me appreciate how quickly life can be snatched away.



-Related to topic post WRITING TOPIC – 3 QUESTIONS. [NOTE: This is the first of three questions mentioned by actor and writer Anna Deavere Smith in an interview with Bill Moyers (see link). She talked about the questions in the context of interviewing people and listening to them. The three questions came from a linguist Smith met at a cocktail party in 1979; the questions were, according to the linguist, guaranteed to break the patterns and change the way people are expressing themselves. QuoinMonkey, ybonesy, and frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman take on the three questions by doing a Writing Practice on each.]

-Also related to post PRACTICE: Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by ybonesy)

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I have a tracheotomy scar that I got when I was 18 months. Mom said I used to get croup and that this particular time my croup turned into pneumonia. By the time they realized how bad it was, I was turning blue. They rushed me to the emergency room, and Mom says that a little Mexican doctor, a woman, performed the emergency tracheotomy on me. They kept me in an oxygen tent for days, and Mom said that’s when my hair went curly. She said I looked like an angel under the plastic of the tent.

Later, as a young girl, any time I got fever, I would have dreams where it seemed angels were hovering in the room with me. I could hear people talk, my brother and sisters, but it was the underwater sound of voices. And I felt like there were other children with me, except these children were calm and light. Those were the angels who visited any time I was sick, and I often wonder now if they related at all to the time I almost died.

Also, in my mind, I picture that little Mexican woman. The doctor. Mom and Dad had great pride in saying that it was a Mexican woman who saved my life. Mom’s grandmother on her dad’s side was a little dark woman with a long thick braid. Mom talks about how as a child she would go in and see her grandmother, who was sick in bed. Her name was Elena, and Mom said she’d be in a white bed dress, sitting up, her gray-black hair pulled back in a thick braid. Mom says that she thinks Elena had Indian in her, Spanish and Indian, which is Mexican. And somehow, when Mom talks about the Mexican doctor, I often think of Elena as being that woman. She wasn’t, of course, but that’s who I picture saving my life.

The other thing that I picture is the doctor puncturing my throat with a pair of scissors. I don’t know why I see that, but I do, and it’s comical now to think that someone would take whatever object they could find, a good pair of steel scissors with black handles, and poke them into my throat to open up a passageway.

And I see myself under the tent afterward, sweaty from the oxygen and heat that builds up. And then like when the house falls on the Wicked Witch of the West and Dorothy takes off the witch’s ruby slippers, and all of sudden the witch’s feet curl and retract under the house, this is how I picture my curls happening. Mom and Dad are staring at me in the tent, my hair is wet but straight, and suddenly the entire head of hair starts to curl into ringlets. I picture my parents’ eyes getting big and the two of them looking at each other, incredulous.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like for my parents to almost lose a child. Mom says that after that, she didn’t like to take me out. She didn’t like it when people with colds came over. She tried to keep me covered and away from germs. Back then we had relatives visiting all the time. And neighbors, too. We were a big family, social. All my sisters’ friends would come to our house to play and hang out. And Mom’s friends, too. On Sundays my Aunt Barbara and her eight kids would often drive up from a town just south of us. Eventually Mom must have just let it go, let me be a normal kid again. What do they say? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.




-Related to topic post WRITING TOPIC – 3 QUESTIONS. [NOTE: This is the first of three questions mentioned by actor and writer Anna Deavere Smith in an interview with Bill Moyers (see link). She talked about the questions in the context of interviewing people and listening to them. The three questions came from a linguist Smith met at a cocktail party in 1979; the questions were, according to the linguist, guaranteed to break the patterns and change the way people are expressing themselves. QuoinMonkey, ybonesy, and frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman take on the three questions by doing a Writing Practice on each.]

-Also related to PRACTICE: Hair – 15min

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I sit between two windows, writing. The furnace clicks, gas whirrs, the blower turns on to warm the house. I opened the glass door when Liz went off to work; it took my breath away. Back to the WeatherBug on the desktop, -6. Mr. StripeyPants digs in the Iams Veterinary Formula we buy for Chaco to pull out a few choice morsels. I tap the keys, stare out the Northeast double-hung window to my left. It’s all sky, bare branches, and the tops of oaks. To the right, another window with blinds closed faces Northwest. It’s slightly behind me. Bad chi to have someone sneak up on you from behind, so I don’t open it when I’m writing. North by Northwest. I remember Hitchcock.

Windows remind me of freedom, peace. When I moved to Minnesota from Montana at age 30, I was new to the Twin Cities. I did not have a job. I didn’t know my way around. I got depressed for a time, took on the role of housewife. I’d get the chores done, watch As the World Turns (the only time in my life I have ever watched soap operas), then sit in a pine rocker and stare out the big picture window of our small apartment, the bottom of a two-story vintage 1920’s house.

The outside was white stucco. It was across from a castle-like church with a lawn that formed a triangle. Every day at 10am, children whose parents sent them to the 140-year-old St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran for elementary school would run out on the lawn for recess. The kids were noisy and happy, the teachers would circle them, blow their whistles, sometimes chase balls that dribbled out into the city street. At the bell, everyone lined up and went back inside, exactly on time.

There was a huge maple tree, tall, tall, tall, with a wide bushy crown on the side of the church next to the playground. Every Fall that tree would turn the most magnificent shade of golden red. It always took its time turning. Day by day I would watch it. I could not believe how absolutely perfect that tree was. It must have been over 100 years old. Years later, I would drive by the old apartment, the triangle, and the tree was gone. They had cut it down to make a parking lot. I cried.

The past never stays the same. It is always changing. Only memories keep it alive. What was, was, at least to us. What will be, we can only guess. Windows are a grounding point for me, a focal point. When I was a child, I used them as a form of escape when times were unpleasant. I have always rocked, from the time I was a little kid. Mom told me I used to rock and watch The Perry Como Show. She said I loved Perry Como. Windows hold freedom, escape. And sometimes they become walls. When we never go past the inside glass.

When I sit in Taos, I try to find a spot with facing windows across the room. Even if I don’t look out them when I meditate, I know they are there. And that’s the thing about windows. They let in the light, even when we forget they are doing it. Last night, the end of the March Full Moon shone through the bedroom window and landed on the pillow between Liz and me. She was sound asleep. The house was silent. I held my hand up so that the moonlight hit the tips of my fingers. There was no glow from the inside out, the way the sun shines, the way Liz came out of work yesterday with the bright winter sun blasting her windshield and said, “I feel like a mole!”

No, moonlight is reflective, subdued. And when shining through a Winter window, muted and glorious. How does it sneak past the blinds? What is it trying to tell me? When I moved to Minnesota, I didn’t have good job-hunting skills, though there was plenty of work. Now I have the skills and jobs are scarce. The Moon reminds me, don’t let that stop you. Don’t let anything stop you. If you could do anything in the world, even staring through windows, what would you choose? Within reason, within physical capacity, within the bounds and scope of a person your age, with your family genetics, in this time, I believe you can do it.

Easy does not enter the picture. Nothing worth dreaming about is easy. It’s easy to forget how many who are rich, famous, privileged worked hard to get where they are, to follow their dreams. With privilege and wealth come expectations. Families are families, rich or poor, the 1920’s or the 21st century. It’s not money that makes dreams come true. It’s taking the risk. I had a dream earlier this week. I was walking at Ghost Ranch, hiking the red iron soil in the beating sun near Box Canyon when, in an instant, I was raised off the ground, hanging on to the hand of a man with a black umbrella. He was rising in the sky next to a gray elephant. I kid you not.

A trail of other objects and animals ran behind us like a kite tail. The elephant was weightless, not a care in the world. I remember the bodily sensation of flying, of my stomach dropping when we hit a wind current, a down draft. Then came the next thermal. I felt like the raptors I so love, riding the thermals, floating on air. In that minute, I knew that anything was possible. And all the windows that once guarded and protected me were nowhere to be found.


-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, March 12th, 2009

-related to Topic post:  WRITING TOPIC — WINDOW

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“How is it? Beautiful??”

Jim is excited that I’m here. He loves this place.

I’m standing on the deck of a co-worker’s home outside of Seattle, on the Puget Sound. The sky is only a shade lighter than the slate waters. It’s drizzling and I’m worried that my hair will get frizzy. But yes, the hills with their 1950s-style houses in pastel blues, yellows, and pinks remind me of tiered gardens, and through the mist I make out blue-green firs and the beginnings of fall oranges and reds.

“It is beautiful,” I tell him.

We almost moved here, me and Jim, before we got married. It was 1989 and I was a year away from finishing graduate school. I had spent almost eight years of my adult life as a college student and decided to go on for a PhD. I loved college life. 

I wanted to walk briskly all my mornings across green lawns and past a duck pond, have all my days punctuated by the sounds of a chapel bell and students pushing their way out of musty buildings.

I applied to University of Washington. Jim had come here several times to bike the San Juan Islands and Vancouver. More than once he rode down the coast and across to New Mexico. I pictured Seattle as young, hip, and progressive.

Besides, my favorite weather was rain. It made me introspective—gave me melancholy without the sadness. People warned that Seattle’s constant drizzle was different from New Mexico’s infrequent thunderstorms, that I’d outgrow my fondness after a few days. Yet I insisted I’d love it, and if I didn’t, it wasn’t for forever. Just long enough to get me to another university to teach.

I got to work pulling together my application. I was so confident I’d be accepted that I told Jim to put in for a job transfer with REI, the company he worked for back then. I didn’t bother to visit the university doctoral program or talk to its advisors. I simply sent off my package and waited to hear back.

In the end, Jim got the transfer and I got rejected.







It’s strange how life takes you in directions you don’t intend to go. Choices get made for you, and then you make new ones.

I remember calling the head of the doctoral program after I got my rejection letter—it was the first time I talked to him. He told me they could accept only two students, that the competition was fierce. He mentioned a young woman from Stanford with a 4.0 GPA. I cried for days, sure that my life was ruined.

After graduation I took a job with the local university. The bubble burst after six years. I discovered the college campus was not the place for me—I strained against the bureacracy and emphasis on credentials.

In all those years since that initial sting of rejection, I never pined for Seattle. I filed it away as a city I’d someday like to visit. We talked about coming here for our honeymoon, biking all around, but Jim hurt his wrist and we took a road trip to Jackson, Wyoming instead.

Now here I am. Did I really once dream about getting my doctorate in Seattle and becoming a professor? If it weren’t for Jim’s excitement about my finally being here, I might have forgotten about it altogether.

Nah. I don’t even know why I said that.

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I thought about getting a tattoo. In my 40’s. I changed my mind at the last minute. It was going to be a lynx. Yeah, the puffy jowls that look like Kiev’s. When you brush her hair back, her face is thin and pointy like Chaco’s. But naturally, it’s wider at the edges than it is at the top. All fur. The girl is all ebony fur and bushy tail.

The tattoos, I don’t remember why I changed my mind. Pain. Or the idea that I might have to live with something just a little bit too long. An image, any image, I might get sick of it over time. I could not find inspiration for this practice. I think it’s because I am tired. I went to the History of Tattoos link, the Tattoo You link, too. The most surprising was the one from The Shining, a tattoo of Jack Nicholson peeking through the door he has just chopped to shreds with an ax, spouting, “Here-rr-ee—rrr—ee’ssss, Johnny!”

Then there was the tattoo of the Holy Mother, all across the broad of a woman’s back. That was impressive. No, I didn’t get the lynx. But I still feel close to her mysteries. The full body tattoo is a signature of classic Japanese tattooing. I didn’t know that before. Women as well as men go under the needle. I’ve always thought that women were able to bear more pain. There is childbirth. I’ve never gone through it. And I never will. But the stories I have heard. Big babies, 13 pounds pushing torque through a small contorted opening.

I’m lost in words. In thoughts. I’m tired. The day was full. But not of tattoos. I can’t land on a pinprick to the skin. My mind wanders out to the crow on the branch of an oak. The pre-spring sunset from a lonely distance. The Fed Ex man stepping up to the door at 3pm. The way my back aches at a certain time of the day, way down in the lower back. Hormones. Maybe the position of the Blue Moon.

Pants crawls into a box tattooed with black ink. A Sony Vaio, a turquoise green screen, a game of Mahjong. I was never good at games. I bought a box of tattoo Band-Aids once. I think I still have a couple of them tucked away in a plastic cylinder I carry in my sling pack, along with a short tube of Neosporin. The black panther swirled in curves across the porous plastic – Band-Aid, yeah, I’d stick her on my paper cuts to ease the drone of a corporate day. I tried those little tricks of the trade, to lighten it up for a serious team of data entry processors.

For some, laughter works. Others, well, they don’t want to buy all the guff. Serious is the way they prefer their jobs, their relationships. I got to the part in Main Street where Carol finds out what the townspeople from Gopher Prairie really think about her. They are serious people who would rather talk about milking the cows or the sloshy mud on Main Street, rather than the last time they laughed or had fun. Midwestern blood.

I remember the Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers, the Tattoo You cover. I wasn’t a big Stones fan. The Beatles were more my style. Keith Richards was in a Saturday Night Live sketch last weekend. He was advertising leather bags, was it Louis Vuitton? But the news anchor could not figure out which was the bag. Poor joke, I know. That’s what I’ve stooped to on a late Monday evening, tired, with an aching back. This is what comes out of a tired mind.

I don’t have a tattoo. And I probably never will. I think it takes a certain kind of “guts” that I probably don’t have. I do appreciate a good sketch. What I noticed when I checked out the Tattoo You site, is that some tattoo artists are better than others. More detail and color. Just like real life.

I colored another mandala last weekend, the second in the March series. It relaxed me. Liz has taken to drawing her own, surprising me with the accuracy, proportion, and line detail she is able to draw freeform. I could not draw a straight line if my life depended on it. Thank goodness it never has. Even with a ruler, I am straight-line challenged. I’m more of a curve person.

The last mandala was an early labyrinth. The one before that, a Celtic knot. Even the Celts were big fans of the tattoo. All those strings tied up in dyed knots. The journey is like that. A craftless series of heartfelt decisions. I like to think I have choices. That life is a series of daily decisions: what to say, what not to say, how much to reveal, what to cut, how honest should I be. I have not revealed much in this Writing Practice. Some days that’s what happens. The bear eats you.

Too many words floating serifs to the wind. I like to think of sheets to the wind as my grandmother’s laundry, cool blue summer on a sweaty aqua breeze. But truthfully, I don’t remember my grandmother ever hanging out the laundry. It was Mom, rows and rows in the backyard in Pennsylvania, strung line to line through humid afternoons. The damp end of the day. When fireflies lit up the hill at Hershey. And I in my Mod Squad straight hair, faded bib overalls, sans tattoo, rolled one more time down the lawn with the capital H.


-posted on red Ravine, Monday, March 10th, 2008

-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – TATTOOS

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I don’t remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., not like Jim remembers. Jim was in 4th grade when Martin Luther King was assassinated. He says he remembers Walter Cronkite cackling over a black-and-white TV tube. I can picture the television, set in a blond wood console with long spindly legs. I can picture Jim’s dad with his tortoise-frame glasses and Jim’s mom with big dark eyes and a small round mouth.

I’m feverish now, not dangerously so but enough that my arms ache as they hold the notebook and pen upright on my stomach, against bent knees. I’m lying down, not wanting to get up again today, although I know I will, eventually. Feverish, which seems like a good state to be in, a non-remembering place. I have blurry vision, and all I can say is, I was young young and innocent.

I would have been in Mrs. Salisbury’s class, or wait, she was second grade. She was tall and black and wore shoes I associate with nurses. I bet she remembers Martin Luther King as if it were yesterday, MLK-the-time as well as MLK-the-man.

They say, these days, I hear it on the news almost every day, that Latinos and Blacks don’t get along well. They say it when talking about Barack Obama and whether he’ll get the Latino vote or whether Hillary Clinton will. I was thinking about that in the bathtub this morning, trying to steam the sick out of me. I thought of a guy I knew in Malaysia who told a joke about crabs in a bucket, how some crabs were Malays, some Indians, some Chinese. It was a politically incorrect joke, the punchline being something to the effect that one of the nationality of crabs pulled down the others while another nationality got out of the bucket by stepping on the others.

It’s auto-discriminación. Self-discrimination, this so-called feud between brown people. You get stepped on enough by white people, you start looking for somebody else to step on. It happens around the world among people who are marginalized.

I remember South Africa and how the neighborhoods ringing Johannesburg went out in concentric circles based on color. Whites in the middle. Indian-White next. India-India, Black-White, Black-India, Black-Black. We get closer to the core the lighter our skin is.

I remember making up a story about being Italian. Italians were Europeans. Caucasians. It was a way of saying, I’m just white like you, a way of stepping on someone else’s back to get a little bit higher. Except I’m not just like you.

I don’t remember Reverend King, don’t remember where I was when I was seven and he died. Probably formulating my story, revising myself so that by the time I got to high school I’d have an alibi when the kids called us spics and called our school Vato High. Mom says she remembers. Her voice gets thin (and forgive my feverishness now — I really should be sleeping not writing) when she says, Oh, I remember it. Those were sad times, she says.


-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – MARTIN LUTHER KING

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