Ascension

Girl

She lightly licked her pointer finger, her pink stub of a tongue barely flicking out. Holding it aloft in imitation of her grandfather’s memory, she scrunched her miniature features in serious concentration. She pulled the small finger and fist back to her body. Looking determinedly solemn, she nodded to the setting sun.

She glanced down to her other hand; its grip tightened reflexively, pulling purple plastic wrinkles tightly toward it. Purple streamers of plastic rustled in anticipation.

Stooping, she used her licked-finger hand to scramble a spool into its too-small palm. Looping curves of cheap string threatened to come away between her fingers. Regardless, her grip was certain.

She stared ahead. Taking in the moment, her grandfather had called it. She breathed deeply in, raising her tiny shoulders up to her ears to ensure it was the deepest moment-taking-in possible.

Her breath came out dramatically, lowering her shoulders and entire upper half clumsily. She paused. Then, she ran.

Dandelion spores scattered, grass blades bent, and a languishing dog yawned near its park bench owner. Her stubby legs drove her rapidly down and up the small rising knolls of the field, convincing her of an immense speed.

Now! Her left arm flung wildly up and behind her shoulder, releasing its purple quarry. The flailing plastic tails flew behind her ungainly man-made bird. They struggled and whipped and bobbed in the erratic running rhythm.

The kite caught, tugging at her right hand and its death-gripped string. She kept moving as fast as she could, nearly outstripping a few passing, drifting butterflies. They floated translucently away, as their sunset meeting was rudely interrupted by the large, purple, flapping object.

No butterfly nor bird ever bobbed and wove such a barely buoyant path before. The purple kite fluttered and flopped obediently. It followed closely behind her pumping legs, her taut string, her stubborn grip.

Let out some string, her grandfather’s gruff voice directed her mind. Stumbling slightly, she loosed some string from the matted bunch inside her clammy hand. The freed clump reached the flapping purple animal tailing her; straightening, liberating, lifting.

She felt the tug of success. Chancing a quick backward glance, she saw her kite rising, rising!

Stop! Her furious toddler-run wobbled to a halt. She immediately turned, releasing yet more string and running it through both hands. That’s it, keep her steady, grandfather complimented.

Orange-red beams from the Westward sun glowed up the bobbing string. The plastic purple kite flew high and sure in the light evening winds. She pulled a few sweat-wiped strands of blonding hair from across her flushed face, immediately re-gripping the twisting, pulling string.

She looked up at her kite. Her whole face smiled.

From a higher vantage point amongst the painted clouds, Grandfather looked down. The glorious rays spread across the entire expanse as he smiled in return.

 

Ascend

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A Different Path

I find myself at a loss for words, today -at least, for creative ones. Often when writing, I get some sort of inspirational idea. I think it over in my head, turning it round mentally like a monkey examining a shiny bauble.

I can’t just write shiny bauble, though. I need to express how the lights play within its miniature depths; how the fragile, intricate primate fingers clasp and turn the ball. Its head cocks to the right, then left, then right. Golden-green eyes stay focused, mirroring the reflected lights from its hands.

But, today is different.

I began the day in an industrial mood. Excited at the prospect of gem-hunting, I picked up my monkey and headed into the jungle. He cuddled excitedly against my shirt, chittering.

“So sorry, Miss,” a guide intercepted us. “This is the path you must go today.” He directed me back to the city, to reality.

The jungle flora gave way to recently-planted elderberry and yew, swaying amidst fresh-turned earth and wood chip mulch. Indigenous village huts became a one-level, stucco and brick building. It had a courtyard, the sort built only to stare at.

Alzheimer’s Facility, the sign read.

They let me in, said my ape was cute. He, in turn, burrowed his head shyly into my shoulder. He doesn’t usually say much to strangers.

After signing in, I entered somewhere scarier than any dark-jungle adventure, lonelier than any abandoned temple, more depressing than imagination -for, here at the end of our redirected path, lay the truest reality of all:

Death.

Though, not merely death. Here in the halls of failing minds; the shells of people shuffle, so terribly slowly, eventually to Death.

The nurses have thoughtfully detailed the lives of residents on little plaques outside their doors. “Bob was the middle of nine children,” “Doris was an active community member, volunteering anytime a helping hand was needed,” “Marie used to love visiting every grandchild on his birthday, recording the day with an ancient video camera nearly half her weight…”

It doesn’t matter anymore. There’s no one there.

Slippered residents wander, lost, examining a world completely incomprehensible to them. Maybe they have family, like me and my monkey. I came, embraced a seated woman, said, “Hi, Grandma. How are you?”

Her familiar face turned my way, completely void of recognition. Her light blue eyes, the ones she passed onto my father, looked emptily beyond me. She said nothing. She’s forgotten how to speak.

“Heh-wo,” my small helper chirped, trying to peer cutely up at her. She looked down at him, and sweetly smiled.

Eat, Pray, Love, for Tomorrow We Die

Why does losing ourselves in the service of others help us find our true selves?

I don’t know. I’m with the view of the world: that our true self can be found Eat, Pray, Love style in a soul search involving a year off for pleasure, meditation, and sex (I think).

A glaring problem I’ve noticed with that approach is that I can’t get a $200K grant from my publishing company to pursue this idea. My husband (our current bread-winner) only fronted me his salary, and my children can’t even grant me two minutes off.

Another problem many people don’t seem aware of is: you may find yourself, but who is that and do you really want to be stuck with her?

Before anyone attacks me, please listen.

I really enjoyed reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book I mentioned. I could relate to her dissatisfaction, her depression (GREAT chapter, by the way), and addictions to needing someone.
The end, and follow-up reading about her, were what bothered me. Concerned me. Gave doubt to this approach.

I read some of the social media posts she’d made since. They were the same issues she supposedly admitted to and embraced and addressed a third of the way into the book. Back again to old habits.

I watch others and envy them. I’m not naturally sweet or optimistic. I worry that this is my core person; and, believe me, she’s not one you want to be stuck in long hours with -if she could get those hours.

I live in a community of people that are very service-oriented. Like any good thing, we can do a few things that should be better compensated from following this mentality.
However, maybe service is the better philosophy.

Just me in my corner gets nothing done except permanently imprinting the carpet.

In service, I’ve formed a human chain to move a truckload of sod to a rooftop garden. I pruned my great-aunt’s backyard roses with my cousins. I made meals that helped someone who couldn’t cook. I benefited far more from my neighbor’s social company than I know she did from me, by asking her to a weekly lunch after her husband passed away.

In this selfish world, the gullible serve. Helpful people get screwed out of their money. People accepting handouts often use them misappropriately.
The concluding lesson? Think of yourself, find yourself, pamper yourself. Teach the rising generation to give in to selfishness. Then, wonder at the results.

I keep thinking my true self is the person I’m stuck with. “You learn behaviors and follow those synaptic connections because it’s easier,” my counselor said. She thinks I may be negative, but I can change

I hope she is right, because not changing is slowly killing me.

Maybe I need to come out of myself to find the better me. We’re told our true self may be something divine, and it’s a valid idea that we need to connect to our family to uncover that heritage in all of us.

Whether we connect with something divine, recall our ancestry, or improve through true self-healing with a therapist; we still need to step out of ourselves.

I will not become different squatting forever in my carpet spot, lamenting my personal defects. I certainly will not feel loved.

Utah Jones

An arid wind swept across the lonely landscape. It smelled of hope, memories, and lunches forgotten in school bags.

Utah Jones wiped a yellow-latex-gloved wrist across her bare brow, pulling a few limp strands from her eyes and mouth. Piles of discarded archaeological pieces stood sorted in orderly rows to her left: her morning’s work. She’d spent all of the half hour carefully extracting, lightly cleaning, and stacking the worthless artifacts.

So much of her job involved sorting worthless artifacts.

Just then, two aboriginal youth ran into her site. Nevermind that she’d carefully staked out the area; or set up the shiny, illuminated distraction for them. Nevermind that she’d talked patiently with them about disturbing her work. Jones sighed as they ran up to her, babbling and wantonly smacking each other.

She had convinced herself they’d understood; but knew inside, as she’d gesticulated and slowly enunciated, that the savages had actually not heard a word of what she’d said.

The younger native began pulling at her legs. “Fooooooood!” He bellowed, toddler-like. Of course he’d know that word.

Cringing at the thought of the consequences, Jones hurriedly pointed them in the direction of her dwindling food stores. She also cringed at possible future effects on the tribes’ growth based on the “nutritional” value of what she had left in those cases. No matter, she rationalized. Hopefully, this project would be done by the time the sugar hit those children’s bloodstream.

Once again, Jones turned her attention to what she’d managed to unearth so far. She removed the remaining detritus, and finally saw her goal just beneath the shallow, murky water. Grimacing, she reached her right hand into the questionable filth. She fumbled around. She braced against the edge of the exposed hole wherein the obstruction lay.

After an interminable few seconds, Jones’ fingers found a gap. She pushed into it. Water swirling inedible remains quickly drained around her groping hand as she pulled the blockage loose.

She rinsed the cup off, loaded it with its fellows, started the dishwasher, took off her dish gloves, then went to kick her children out of the pantry.

Reaching for the Attainable

I was sarcastic before it was cool, before I could even spell the word.

Adults told me people were good, I could be anything I wanted, and my peers would like me for who I was.

Let’s keep this under a few thousand words, and just say that I experienced a few examples to the contrary.

Let’s also clarify that I was never covered in boils, told that my toys all died under the collapsed roof of my bedroom, and that the plush ones ran away after their toy box caught fire.

I had a few of the usual letdowns, disappointments, and lack of any childhood friends to speak of. I probably should have hit less.

Mostly, though, I attained my worldview from watching and reading.
The point I want to make, however, is:

I have been happily jaded for a while and felt unique in this position. But, my complaints are drowned out in a chorus of many whining voices. My wry observations have already been mentioned by other dispirited souls.

Whether the world has slowly become embittered like me, or I just entered an adult world that was that way, I’m not sure.

The discontented dirge is depressing to listen to. I look around at mirrored expressions of frustrated apathy, and wish for a smile.

But, we all think we’ve had it. If any lonely optimists wander into camp, they’re seized upon and beaten down till they join us or die.

Recognition is the first step: yes, life sucks. I’m even okay with complaining about that fact, because I do.

This morning, I remembered a scene from the movie Enchanted: Giselle has just entered The Real World and needs help. In her ignorance, she climbs a billboard displaying a castle and knocks. Not surprisingly, no one answers. Robert and his daughter drive by, notice her error, and rescue her.

Sometimes, we are trying to repeatedly go somewhere we cannot and we do not understand why. Feeling discouraged, we complain. Another person, passing by, points out alternate options: change perspective, look at your accomplishments, realize that things get better, and have a hug.

Take the advice and hug the help. Heal, and move on. You can do it.

Just, don’t get stuck. If all we’re doing is seeking attention like an over-indulged toddler, the adults are going to stop helping and start leaving us pounding on an empty door.

Basic Rules of Composition, AKA How to Not Suck at Writing

Where do you start a story? How do you explain a situation? Describe a person? Paint the landscape ’round the subject?

Some authors allude to a running away of characters once they are formed. “They write themselves!” Those writers explain. Most others warn of much more work than that.

Whatever way you wish to describe the process, one thing is certain: you have got to make whatever you write interesting.

And so, I present to you a brief tutorial of How to Jazz Up a Paragraph of a Story.

Sample Paragraph (Warning: really boring):
Sam is a man. Sam owns a dog. The dog is a golden retriever. Sam and his dog went on a walk to the park. They walked around the park. They came back home.

1. Redundancy.
For the love of Sam, use different words. That is the point of a thesaurus. Besides replacing overused terms like “Sam” with “He” or “The man,” this also means you need to not always begin the sentences the same. Try putting the action first, like, After walking around the park, the pair returned home.

2. Descriptions.
Sam is not just a man. Sam has a height, a weight, blood pressure, blood type, interests, hair color, bad habits, and a golden retriever. Speaking of, Sam’s dog probably has a name.
Instead of Sam is a man, try Tall, pale, and lanky, Sam Stephens did not fit one’s usual description of a man.

3. Show, not Tell.
If we wanted Dr. Seuss or Dick and Jane, we’d pick those up and read them to Kindergartners. Your audience is not likely to be such a young crowd. Therefore, you need to think about the situation your character is in and describe events and landscapes and such.
I often imagine myself watching what I want to describe. I start to feel the wind sifting the hairs of my arms as the grass waves in a soft shush of sound near my feet.
See?
So, try Bright streams of summer sunbeams played across the moving pair, as they walked briskly beneath the arched entry-gate of the nearby park.

4. Be Specific.
This option is a bit of icing on the cake.
Being specific means that an author needs to write something the reader can relate to very personally.
Let’s take Sam, since we’ve brought him this far. Instead of just a park or a golden retriever, name them. Or, if you don’t really want to, have something happen at the park or have Sam be thinking about a troubling event many people think about.

5. As a Grammar Fiend, Please Fix Spelling and Grammar, Too.
That’s fairly self-explanatory. You have tools, and a few annoying friends who love to correct people’s mistakes.

And now, Class, let’s re-write our paragraph using what we’ve learned:

Tall, pale, and lanky, Sam Stephens didn’t fit one’s usual description of a man. Sam’s dog didn’t mind. Of course, golden retrievers didn’t usually mind much of anything, particularly when they were walking outside on a fine day. Sam stretched one long leg in front of another as he and Captain strolled down the sidewalk. A slight breeze ruffled Captain’s fine coat, distracting Sam from moody considerations of Sylvie. Sylvie didn’t exist out here; she was back in the dark apartment, behind the door he’d slammed after grabbing the dog leash. Bright streams of summer sunbeams played across the moving pair, as they walked briskly beneath the arched entry-gate of the nearby park. Friendly passersby said, “Hello,” and “How are you?” to the handsome dog and his owner. They couldn’t stay long, however, and Sam knew it. After walking around the park, the pair returned home.

Today’s Lesson

“All right now, class: each of you will receive a copy of this sheet of a family. You’ll need to color it, cut it out, then paste it onto card stock. We’ll be displaying them on the bulletin board for everyone else to see.

“You will only have a short amount of time to work on it, so color what’s most important to you. Maybe it’s the house. Or, you’ll focus on the mom’s hair and the kid’s clothes. I know I like to pick lovely colors for those flowers.

“When I say it’s time for scissors, you will have to see what you have time to cut out before we need to paste them. Sometimes, students only get the mom and dad out, and one of the dogs, before we need to move on. I had one classmate who removed the house, family members, and a flower very meticulously but the card stock was gone by that time and they had no background.

“If everyone is ready, then, you may begin. Hurry, but have fun!”

Life Cycles

As a child, I was cripplingly shy. I spoke barely audibly, hated to look people in the eye, and cried at social stresses.

Then, I started to grow and mature. During this stage of metamorphosis, which usually takes from two weeks to several months, the larval tissues completely break down and reorganize. The outlines of adult features—the wings, eyes, tongue, antennae, and body segments—can be seen on the surface of the pupal skin.

When fully formed, the pupal case splits and the butterfly emerges. The butterfly first expels its meconium, metabolic waste products that have accumulated during the pupal stage. It then expands its shriveled wings—by pumping them full of blood—before flying off.

What? Sorry; I dozed off and let some autofill site finish this post. I’d better get off to bed. Goodnight, everyone!

C.S.I.

Two a.m. was never an easy time to go to a job. But here they were again, hedged by police tape walls and squinting in the dark illuminations of floodlights.

“It don’t look good, Hurles.” He dragged at his e-cig, blew the filtered, no-emission, smokeless, digitally-altered remains of what may have been fumes into the air as dramatically as he could, and gave his partner a serious look.

Julie Hurlesman turned to the prostrate female form on the floor before rolling her eyes, to give him his illusion of dignity. “You’re right, Tray.” She responded cooly. “I don’t see any silver lining in this case.”

Richard Tracy shrugged away from the wall he’d been moodily supporting and effectively shrugged his oversized lapels higher round his neck. Finally abandoning the e-cig to one of many pockets within the long coat, he instead used his right hand to pull his hat brim even tighter down his brow. Satisfied with the final results, he hunched over to stand behind the squatting Hurles.

“Tray,” Hurles said with a decade of patience, “You’re blocking the spotlight again.”

Tray pretended concentration on their assignment as he sidestepped a foot to her left. She pretended not to notice, then intently tried to eliminate distractions as she began her usual examination.

Swirling dust motes and remnant e-cig particles outlined the shadow puppet hand orchestrations of her careful, thorough search. Tray looked on, more distracted in his somber thoughts of how he could finally get Hurles to use the nickname he kept asking her to, instead of the one his mother always used.

“Aha!” Hurles whispered. Tray immediately drew closer, even forgetting to flail his coattails behind him as he squatted next to her elbow. Hurles never made a verbal exclamation unless she’d found something really important.

“What?” He asked excitedly, also forgetting to use his gruff voice.

Infinitely meticulously, Hurles lifted the damp, lanky, unwashed locks from the pale face of the prone body before her. Damp eyelashes bordered a bottomless pool of darkest sadness. A deep brown iris contracted slightly at its sudden exposure to the glaring light beyond Hurles and Tray. The lashes slowly closed and reopened in calculated effect of misery. The rest of the long, drawn face held its agonized expression.

Tray took in a surprised breath. This was important. “You don’t mean -?” He began, turning to Hurles and regaining some of his former composure by raising his thick eyebrows over a fierce glare of suspense.

“Yes, I do,” Hurles told him, meeting his eye and successfully keeping her expression both neutral and normal for the circumstances.

They simultaneously moved their faces slightly to watch, as the woman on the floor heaved the heaviest sigh in human existence. She lifted just enough to turn away from the two investigators, her hair falling naturally from Hurles’ fingers like rain-soaked tree fronds. She lay still once again.

Hurles withdrew her hand, and unobtrusively wiped it on her jeans. She stood. Tray followed suit.

“Another one,” Tray concluded in a deep, gravelly voice. “A victim of her own emotions.”

Over the River and Through the Woods

This morning, I dreamed of returning to my grandmother’s house.

I walked through the door in wonder, and my feet slowly echoed a dark tread through memories. Everything was browns and shadows. The walls and floors were like stage walls -façades of what her house really had been.

I sought her lookout living room. This had been hers: from the praying Harvesters guarding either side of her music cabinet to Where’s Waldo? books hidden near the wall by the glass doors leading onto her narrow, darkwood deck. We always felt like kings overseeing her vast backyard, since her rambler-castle opened up to two floors in the back.

Now this room was as empty and nondescript as an uninhabited paper shack. There were no signs of any decorations, and only my imagination furnished it.

Eagerly, I turned to the stairs that steeply dropped from one side of the living room. I had always loved these narrow, turning steps into the dark, unfinished lower level. Down there had been a cement floor carpeted with fraying rugs; an old, metal wood-burning stove she might light; paintings of Victorian figures looking disapproving at us from shadows; antique toys to play with; a huge stuffed couch; a bar we played pretend at; and the hallway to her food storage, computer, bedroom, and art studio.

Even in life the basement was a dim, dusty, disused area. Now, not even the stairs were there. I looked over the empty gap and saw an incomplete staircase of books. How would I get down and salvage what I could?

The floor gave way beneath me, in an impossible tilt of the entire slab, and I traveled to the lower level on a falling teeter-totter of living room.

I walked around this angled now-ceiling to look around. My mind told me I was downstairs, but it was one, closed-off room. There were secrets stored behind a wall, as all basements appear in my dreams; but, there also was an enormous, dirty cardboard box with a torn-open top to examine. The book staircase was a stage prop of shiny-bound classics purchased only for looks that would never be read.

Inside the box, though, I found mounds of literature that were her. Antique Dick and Jane and dusty A Child’s Garden of Verses sat piled on Old Hat, New Hat and hundreds of unnamed children’s classics, properly faded and aged and loved. Scattered atop this scattered library was a large collection of pages, like a broken-binding calendar or matte-sheet magazine, covered in her writing and illustrations. She had been an artist.

I was in a state of near-waking, and told myself to get these things out, somehow, and get them to my mother. My mother coveted her mother’s things, especially after the house, furniture, and artwork had never resurfaced since her death.

This was a physical impossibility, however; as I saw the enormity of the cardboard box, tested the weight of the books, and wondered at the boxed-in state of the basement itself. The dream slipped away, leaving only memory dust and frustration.

I awoke determined to somehow get my grandmother’s belongings from some hidden location I must have been inspired to seek. Only, it really is all gone. The house has been sold. And even the living model of my imagination has turned to facsimile.